Help-Suit Game Tries

Suppose you open a heart, and partner raises you to two hearts. We now know partner has at least 3 hearts, and 6-9 or a bad ten points.

First, we re-evaluate our hand. Now we can count shortness. We can add for extra trump length. Methods of evaluating hands vary, but which ever method you use, now’s the time to remember to use it!

“When you find a fit, stop and smell the roses.”
– Mike Moss, my teacher

Having stopped to revalue our hand, we know if bidding 4♥ is possible or not depending on partner’s hand. It takes roughly 25-26 points for a major game. So:

  • Subtract the six partner has for sure, and we see that we need around 19 to bid game.
  • If partner has 8-9 points, or even a bad 10, then we might need only 16-17 points.
  • If partner has less than that, we probably don’t have a game.

It is hard to be strict about this, since many things matter: do you have lots of 9s and 10s? are your honors together or scattered? are your points where they will help set up tricks or are they in a short suit? Perhaps you can use an advanced technique, Losing Trick Count, to get a clue.

So, we might know the answer is yes, I can bid game, or we might know it is no, I cannot. But what if the answer is “Maybe?” For example, you hold:

♠A3 ♥AKJ54 ♦432 ♣KT9

You’re up to 16 declarer points, but those three small diamonds are a big worry. If partner has three small diamonds too, that could be three losers off the top, making the heart game quite a problem. We need to ask partner for help in making the decision.

Answer: bid 3♦. This is called a help-suit game try. Diamonds are the “help-suit”. You usually have at least three of this suit, but they don’t all have to be small cards.

Answering The Try

Help is defined as having the Ace, the King, a singleton, a void, or five cards in the help-suit.

Your partner should answer your question as follows:

  • With a minimum, do not bid game. Stop at the three-level.
  • With a maximum, bid game, even with no help in the help-suit.
  • Otherwise, bid game if you have help in the help-suit.

In a different situation it is also ok to bid a suit between the “help-suit” and trump. This means, “Partner, I don’t have a maximum and I don’t have a minimum and I can’t help you in your Help-Suit, but I could help you in this other suit.”

For example, you have raised 1♠ to 2♠ and partner mades a help suit try with 3♣. You can bid 3♥ to say, I can’t help you in Clubs, but we might have a game if help in Hearts is useful to you. We’re still below 3♠ so opener can stop.

Note that some people also extend help-suit game tries to trump itself: raising responder to 3♥ says, partner, we might have game, but my trumps are poor. Can you help me there?