Playing Nil (For and Against)

A nil bid is taken when a hand is so bad that to take a trick is an impossibility. However, it can also be made even when several tricks are possible. This is especially the case when high-cards are backed up by several low cards in a suit. It is very seldom wise to bid nil with four spades in a hand. Consider it a nearly impossible bid when there are five or more spades in the hand. Given an even distribution, with spades led a few times, even an extra deuce will likely take a trick. Nil and "blind nil" should be played the same way.

Bidding a Nil Hand
How Would You Bid This Nil Hand?

The thinking, when going nil, is almost precisely backward from normal play, since the player is trying to avoid taking any tricks. This is generally done in a straightforward manner, playing the highest card possible, under the highest card in the trick. The high cards in the hand may then become worthless as the lower cards of the suit run out. Thus, even an ace in a suit that has been led three times is not likely to take a trick.

The partner of a player going nil should also be thinking in terms of covering for his nil bidding partner. It is better for him to take bags than allow his partner to be set. It is even better for him to be set, as in this case a failure of his bid does not negate the success of the nil bid. This means the partner should be leading high, even when this could mean he is finessing himself out of a trick. This kind of play is likely to be compensated by the opponents who will probably lead some low cards in an effort to disrupt the nil bid.

Playing Against a Nil Bid

Opposing a nil bid can be difficult. The general procedure is to lead low into the nil bidder's possible strong suit. This can be difficult as his partner will be trying to cover for him. Do not lead suits in which he is obviously void as this will only allow him to slough off high cards in other suits. (The exception here might be if your partner is void in the same suit and he can play out his spades - after the nil bidder has played.) Sometimes a nil bidder is foolish enough to bid nil on four spades. If this is the case, given otherwise equal distribution, three spade leads will guarantee a set even if the nil bidder's spades are 2,3,4,5.

Because a nil bid upsets the natural order of things, the opposition is likely to take several tricks upon which they were not counting. For this reason, going after the nil bidder is a viable option. Of course, the contract bid upon by the opposition should always be kept in mind. Yet, making the contract should often be left until it is obvious that the nil bidder cannot be set, or continuing to pursue the nil bidder would mean failure of the opposition contract.

Depending on the strategic situation, it is sometimes better to allow the opponent to make his bid. If a player bids nil before your bid, you know he will be playing his hand not to take tricks, meaning it is even easier for you to take tricks. In this case adding one, two, or even three to the bid may be warranted. However, watch out for traps, your nil bidding opponent may be calculating that a nil bid would be worth losing if he could set your optimistic bid at the same time.

Sometimes the best answer to a nil bid is another nil bid. As nil bids sometimes arise as a desperation tactic the team comfortably ahead can often pull off a nil more easily than the challenger.

[Editor's Note - WJR] Depending on the experience level, and tolerance for risk among players, nil bids will occur more or less often. I have set at tables where there was one nil bid at least every other hand. Yet it is also my experience that the best players and teams are those that adjust their risk taking to the disparity in score.

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