Competing Against Pre-empts
In today's bridge world, the opponents are much more aggressive than in the early days of the game. That means you will occasionally find yourself faced with the problem of starting the bidding at the three level or higher.
Pre-emptive bidding is a two-edged sword, of course. Jumping around at high levels can cause your side more problems than you cause for the opponents, particularly when you open at a high level and find your partner with a good hand but no support for your suit. You will see when the dummy hits — partner will pass most of the time — that your bid has kept the opponents out of trouble and landed you in a minus position.
Nevertheless, the pitfalls of aggressive pre-empting do not appreciably slow down some players, so you will have to learn ways of coping.
Fire versus Fire
An obvious tool is the takeout double, but some cautions are in order. The higher the pre-empt, the more you should have for a takeout double. What would qualify as a reasonable double of a 1 ♣ opener would fall woefully short of the requirements for a takeout double of 3 ♣, for example.
When the opponents possess the spade suit, even the three level is gone after an opener of 3 ♠ unless you or your partner can bid 3NT.
When an opponent starts the bidding at the two level or higher, especially in first seat, you risk going for a number if you bid or double. Why does the first-seat pre-empt make a difference? Mainly because nothing is known about the other two hands. The next player could be loaded and ready to double you. On the other hand, if you pass, it could be your partner with the goods, so going quietly could result in your missing game.
With that in mind, it is best to be consistent in your approach. If you generally have a conservative style — you don't bid on marginal hands — your partner will take that into account if the opening pre-emptive bid comes to him after two passes. Similarly, if you normally take an aggressive stance, partner will know you probably don't have much if you pass. This will help partner make more accurate guesses in close situations.
Do not let emotion dictate your action. Yes, it is annoying to have an opponent start with 2 ♠ against you. If you let that get under your skin and you bid just to show them they can't push you around, your results will suffer in the long run. Your partner should have confidence in your bidding.
It's difficult to outline specific guidelines because pre-emptive bidding takes many forms, and the methods available will vary from pair to pair. In general, it will probably pay to be slightly aggressive in combating preemptive bids, especially when the vulnerability is favorable (they are, you aren't). Vulnerable overcalls should be sound and based on good suits, and you should be very sound when the vulnerability is unfavorable (you are, they aren't).
The level at which you have to bid also makes a difference. You can be a bit more frisky if you can get in there at the two level, as when the opponents open with a weak 2 ♦ or when partner might be able to bid at the two level over your takeout double.