Squeezing The Dummy

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Fast Arrival

Perhaps the most misused principle in bridge is fast arrival. Fast arrival means that if you are in a game forcing auction a jump to game would not be as strong as bidding slower. For instance:

1: 2
3 = extra values
4 = minimum values.

Perfect, you have more room to explore when you have extra values, right? No, unfortunately everything is not so cut and dried.

The first problem with using fast arrival in this sequence is that it commits to a strain prematurely. Spades or notrump could easily be better strains here. If opener had 6322 with a minimum would he bid 4 or 2? If he chose to rebid spades and later raised hearts it would sound like honor doubleton. If he jumps in hearts he could easily lose out on a superior 6-3 spade fit. If opener is 5332 it's not hard to imagine layouts where 3N or 4 will play better. You may be thinking partner could correct a jump to 4 to 4 if he has 3 of them, but for all he knows you are 5-4 in the majors. Sure, on many deals hearts will be the best strain, but if you were able to bid 3 you could use your judgment and hand evaluation to figure out what the right strain is instead of blindly hoping that it is hearts.

The second problem arises with preempting partner when they are unlimited. Sometimes responder has xxx in a side suit and a great hand otherwise. The tricks are there for a slam if you have the side suit controlled, but you may have 3 fast losers. He is forced into a nasty guess that he would not have otherwise faced. Sometimes responder will have a great hand opposite 4 card trump support, but it will be greatly diminished opposite only 3 trumps. Again, he will be forced to guess at the 5 level instead of being able to bid cooperatively 1 level lower.

Lastly, hand values are dynamic not static. This is very important. If opener had a 5341 11 count he would obviously consider that a minimum hand. However, if he had bid 3H and his partner bid 4D he would now love his hand. There is no club wastage and partner has values in diamonds. Many decent 14 counts are unsolvable as well because if partner's honors are located well, the hand would be good enough for a simple 3H bid, but if not then opener would need to rebid 4H. Opener will not always know how much his hand is worth until he knows how well the hands mesh.

So, we know the losses of fast arrival, what are the gains? You are able to distinguish between better hands and weaker hands (even though you will often not have enough information to know what your hand is really worth). The thing is, you can always sort that out later. Say opener raises to 3 with both minimums and extra values. If he judges to go past game after he hears another bid from partner, then he will have extras. If he does not go past game he just has a minimum. The same principle applies for responder. The point is, both players will be much better informed to make a decision about both strain and level if the auction has gone slower and more descriptive bids have been made. They are limited once they judge not to go beyond the game level, but their partner still can if HE has extras. The only real advantage of fast arrival is concealment; unfortunately this also includes concealment from partner.

I am not suggesting that a jump to game should never be made. I do, however, believe that the more room a bid takes up in a game forcing auction the more descriptive it should be. I recommend picture jumps; usually indicating concentrated values and an ability to commit to a specific trump suit while denying controls in other unbid suits. In the example auction 4 would show 5422 with concentrated values in the majors. This is highly descriptive, as a jump should be in a forcing auction.

Fast arrival does have its place. It can be applied when partner is a limited hand and you are in a strong position to place the contract. If you already know what strain and level you should play go ahead and just bid it. The point is that if partner is unlimited, then you never know what level should be played. So let's stop abusing and misapplying a very valid principle and only use fast arrival opposite a limited hand.

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