In a spirited auction your opponents have made a bid in five of a suit. Should you compete at the five level?

When I contacted 2013 Player of the Year Marty Fleisher, he replied, “I find it often backfires. An old bidding rule that ‘the five level belongs to the opponents’ is a good rule.”

Bridge author and many-time national champion Marty Bergen agrees.  “I find it often backfires,” he says. “Players do it too often.”

Philippe Galaski, a top player at the Northampton Bridge Club, goes deep into the issue. “What I play with Roger (Webb): if I am in the direct seat I either pass or double. If I’m in the balancing seat and partner passes, it tends to be a forcing pass and I have to do something other than pass myself.

“That can depend on the auction. Did the hand belong to us or did we push opponents higher? In the latter case I won’t compete. I will either double  (we don't belong in five and we should set them) or bid five assuming the hand belongs to us and I am pretty confident we will make.” 

When can you compete at the five level? Possibly if you’re vulnerable and they’re not, meaning you’d need to set them four doubled (+800)  to get a better score on defense than you’d have on offense (+650). Also, you might compete if your side has the overwhelming balance of power, or your prime values are poor for defense.

“Marty's point, though, ‘the five level belongs at the opponents’ is a good rule,” Galaski continues. “Most often leaving opponents in the five level will give you a plus while competing could result in a minus.”

To be sure, there are times when you’re more than tempted to bid five of something. I was sitting South, with East dealing and no one vulnerable:

                          ♠ K 10 7 5 4
                         ♥️ J 10 2
                         ♦️ A 7
                         ♣️ K 6 5

WEST                                        EAST
♠ Q J 9 2                                   ♠ —
♥️  9 8 7 6 4                            ♥️ K 3
♦️ J 4                                       ♦️ K Q 10 8 6 3 2
♣️ J 7                                       ♣️ !0 8 4 3

                        ♠ A 8 6 3
                       ♥️ A Q 5
                       ♦️ 9 5
                       ♣️ A Q 9 2

The bidding began as follows:

East        South        West        North
3♦️         DBL          Pass        4♠
5♦️         ?

My finger approached the 5♠ key, dangling dangerously over the precipice like a daredevil contemplating a jump. Closer, closer, closer I came. Then I realized something: “East expected to go down when she pre-empted, and now she’s bidding again at the five level.”

I doubled her and led a safe diamond. East could muster no more than six trump tricks. Down five for +1100 our way. Somewhat better than a 5♠ contract for, at best, +450, don’t you think?