Balancing (bridge)

In the game of bridge, the term balancing (or protection) refers to making a call other than pass when passing would result in the opponents playing at a low level. Balancing is done by the player in "balancing position", i.e. at the right of the last bidder. This is to be compared by "direct bidding" which refers to bidding in "direct position" (i.e. by the player left of the last bidder). Balancing is normally done with values unsuitable for a direct action, but after the opponents have not demonstrated a significant strength in their previous bidding. The aim of the tactics is to find a makeable or nearly-makeable contract of its own or to "push" opponents a level higher. It is more common in matchpoint games, where even a defeat of 100 points is a worthy gain over opponents' 110-140 points.

Examples

After a passed-out opening bid

Balancing situation result from sequences like:

:(1Hearts) - Pass - (Pass) - ??

Note that a Pass in this "balancing position" would result in having to defend a 1Hearts contract. When a player finds himself in a balancing position, you know that the opener made a non-forcing bid and therefore has limited values, and that the partner of the opener has denied values required to respond. In such a situation, it is unlikely that you and your partner have significantly less than half of the high-card strength. It is important to be able to enter the bidding on hands in which you and your partner both have about 9-11 hcp. Therefore, in balancing position, a takeout double can be made on values less than in direct position. Also the 1NT overcall is typically lighter than in direct position.

Mike Lawrence gave a detailed account of the various balancing situations in his "Complete Book on Balancing in Contract Bridge". He stressed the fact that balancing over a minor suit is markedly different from balancing over a major suit. The difference stems from the fact that on a minor suit you can double and - after partner's response at 1-level - can rebid 1NT with 15-17 hcp. However, on a takeout double over a major suit, partner will seldom bid at 1-level. As a result, the 1NT overcall over a major suit needs to be stronger.

The following summarises the balancing agreements made by competitive bridge players:

(1Diams) - Pass - (Pass) - ??:::dbl = 8+ hcp:::1Hearts/Spades = normal overcall:::1NT = 10-14 hcp, does not guarantee a stop:::2Clubs = normal overcall:::2Diams = unknown two-suiter (Cf. Michaels cuebid):::2Hearts/Spades = good 6+ card, 12-16 hcp:::2NT = 18-19 hcp, balanced

(1Hearts) - Pass - (Pass) - ??:::dbl = 8+ hcp:::1Spades = normal overcall:::1NT = 12-16 hcp, does not guarantee a stop:::2Clubs/Diams = normal overcall:::2Hearts = unknown two-suiter:::2Spades = good 6+ card, 12-16 hcp:::2NT = 17-19 hcp, balanced

In later rounds

Balancing can be also executed in later rounds of bidding, in the sequences where the opponents have found a fit but stopped at a low-level. Normally, it is performed with some values, but less than if it was in direct seat. The opponents' fit requirement is important: statistically, existence of one side's 8+ cards fit favors the possibility that their opponents also have one (see Law of total tricks). Also, the opponents fit gives a clue to the partner's length in the suit, and, by inference from previous rounds of bidding, in other suits.

Balancing in direct seat

Although the "balancing in direct seat" term is self-contradictory, it is occasionally possible to have the "balancing values", yet to act relatively safely in the direct seat. Most often, it occurs when the LHO has bid a sign-off:

Also, when opponents have found a low-level fit in a non-forcing sequence, it can be desirable to "balance in advance"; in that cause though, the prior partnership agreement is in order. The tactics/convention is often referred to as "OBAR BIDS" (acronym for "Opponents Bid And Raise - Balance In Direct Seat").

References

*Mike Lawrence, "The Complete Book on Balancing in Contract Bridge", 1st edition (1983), ISBN 0-939460-13-0
* [http://bridgehands.com/O/OBAR_BIDS.htm Description of OBAR BIDS]


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