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June 15, 2003
Design for Bidding - Part 4 and Part 5
The Scorecard is the publication for ACBL District 16. I was asked and consented to write a regular column aimed at the 0-299 masterpoint player. I will post my columns here as they may be of benefit to the same readers that benefit from my newsletter.
Scorecard, Volume 35, No 2 - March/April 2003
The next area of discussion for our Design for Bidding is auctions that begin with a minor suit opening. The Standard American approach just does not provide you with the necessary tools to adequately compete in the duplicate environment. Modifications are clearly needed.
As opener I strongly recommend that you use the convenient minor approach and forget any "short club" or "better minor" styles that you may have dragged into use from your kitchen bridge days. When opening in a minor suit, open your longest suit, diamonds if you are 4-4 or 5-5, and clubs if you are 3-3. Using this method the diamond suit will almost always be 4 cards or longer (allowing you to support freely with 4 card support). The only hand where you will open a 3 card diamond suit is specifically 4-4-3-2. This means that when you are 3-3 in the minors, you should open 1 even when your clubs are of poor quality and the diamonds are of high quality.
The first line of approach to bidding is an exploration for major suit fits. The search is mandatory for success. Never bypass a 4 card major of any kind. Always locate and play in a major suit fit if you have one.
Any auction that begins with a response in no trump does not contain four cards in any major suit unless that major has been bid competitively by the opponents. A 1NT response is invitational with 6 to 10 points. I highly recommend that you alter your agreements for the 2NT and 3NT responses. These responses in Standard American show 13 to 15 and 16 to 18 points respectively. Most duplicate partnerships have altered those to 11 to 12 points for the 2NT response and 13 to 15 points for the 3NT response. This change not only helps the accuracy of your bidding but also increases the frequency of use. You get a great deal more 11 to 12 point hands than 16 to 18 point hands. The 16 to 18 point hand can be handled by bidding the other minor first (forcing) and then continuing at your second opportunity based on opener's rebid.
The other significant change to the minor suit structure that is of value in the duplicate world is a convention called inverted minors. The basic idea is that the instructions of a single and double raise are reversed. A double raise (1-3 or 1-3) is a weak hand with 5+ card support. The strength is in the range of about 5 to 9 support points. With a weak hand and a fit it is often beneficial to use up as much bidding room as possible. The opponents will find it more difficult to compete and balance with the bidding already at the three level. The single raise now becomes a one round forcing bid and can be made with a hand of limit raise strength or greater. If at your second turn you rebid the minor at the three level (1-2-2NT-3) then it is a limit raise strength hand. Any other bid is available for hands with game going strength (1-2-2NT-3). Neither of these bids can be made on a hand with a 4 card major suit so subsequent major suit bids by responder show stoppers, not a real suit (1-2-2-2). There are more details and follow ups that I can cover in a short column but there is a volume of bridge literature that covers this convention. If and when you decide to add this convention to your arsenal a more detailed study would be appropriate.
Next, what about jump shifts? I think you should follow your own style in this area. I do not happen to be a big fan of preemptive jump shifts, but if that is what you like then they certainly can be used over minor openings as well. You should, however, take the time with partner to discuss boundaries. What kind of suit quality is acceptable? What suit length? What, if any, outside honors or distribution is acceptable? Voids? Worthless 4 card suit on the side?
The standard approach is strong jump shifts which should be limited to good quality 6 card or longer suits and about 18+ points. With less that that you should simply make a forcing bid by bidding the suit at the lowest level. Be aware that jump shifts preempt your own auction. If you use them make sure you know where you are headed.
Even some partnerships that play strong jump shifts play preemptive jumps when in competition. This makes more sense to me. If partner opened and RHO has enough to overcall, how often will you have a hand that qualifies for a strong jump shift anyway?
What about jump shifts by a passed hand? Here I like a fit showing jump. Jumps in a new suit promise 5+ card support for opener's minor suit and 4+ cards in the suit bid (P-1-2 would hold 5+ clubs and 4+ hearts and 11-12 points). This approach works well and utilizes a bid not often used by standard methods.
Another area for discussion is ace asking tools after a minor suit opening bid. Blackwood will frequently get the partnership too high when two aces (or keycards if you prefer) are missing. There are a few ways to solve this problem. One approach is to play that all jumps to four of the agreed minor are ace asking (RKC if you play it). So 1-2-2NT-4 would be ace asking. Another approach is to play that any jump to one over the agreed suit is ace asking. So 1-2-2NT-4 would be ace asking. These agreements are not absolutely necessary but if your partnership is ready, they will help on some hands.
As before I have placed a Design for Bidding worksheet on my website to help you and partner record your agreements. From the feedback I have received a number of people have found them useful. In the next column we will cover two level openings as the final installment to this series. Let me hear from you.
Scorecard, Volume 35, No 3 -May/June 2003
In this, the last in my series of Design for Bidding, I would like to cover the subject of opening two level bids. As before, I placed a Design for Bidding Worksheet on my website so that you and partner can document your agreements and understandings. Simply go to www.bridgecompanion.com and follow the link on the opening page.
We will begin the discussion with the 2NT opener. Most duplicate players use a range of 20 to 21. If you want to stay with the majority of the field, then that range will work pretty well. I actually think that 21 to 22 points is slightly superior, but the most important thing is to limit your range to two points. I see convention cards marked 22+ and 22 to 24 all the time. These are way to broad and undeveloped. Define a two point range and stick to it.
As for the responses you should use many of the same tools that you employ after 1NT openings with a few modifications. Pretty much any balanced hand 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, and 5-3-3-2 with the appropriate strength should open 2NT. This means balanced hands with five card major suits. That should not bother you as it is a common practice. You just have no real way of describing the hand unless you open 2NT. Most everyone plays Stayman and Jacoby Transfers after 2NT openings. Other conventions that you might experiment with include Puppet Stayman (to ask about four or five card major suits), and Texas Transfers. You should assign some meaning to the 3 response. I think the most obvious need is to use it for a minor suit slam investigation tool. There are several approaches find one and try it.
At least one of your two level opening bids needs to be allocated for your strong forcing opening. This is the 2 opening. I see lots of people opening 2 on hands that are just not appropriate. Be aware that opening at the two level can be preemptive for your side. You have at least one level less bidding space to find a fit and determine the correct level. There are several tests that I like to help determine if a hand is appropriate for a strong forcing opening. I think you must at least 20 high card points. If it is a suited type opening (i.e., not balanced) then it needs to value about 24 by the length or shortness methods. I prefer not to open 2 unless absolutely necessary. Another good sanity check is to see if one honor card alone will be enough to produce game opposite your hand. If all you need is the king of diamonds or the king of spades then a 2 is probably in order (I still think you must meet the point test mentioned above) since partner would pass holding just the king of diamonds or just the king of spades. If you need partner to hold two honor cards in order to make game (say the king of diamonds AND the king of spades) then open at the one level. Partner will always respond holding those cards.
As to responses to the 2 opening I see lots of choices out there and many of them are worthless (in my not so humble opinion). I see lots of partnerships playing some variation of “step responses” (2 with 0-3 points, 2 with 4-6, etc). This is just not very helpful. What is of absolute most importance opposite a 2 opening are ACES and KINGS. My particular favorite method is the super negative approach. 2 is artificial and promises at least one ace or king (maybe more) and is game forcing. 2 is artificial and denies holding any aces or kings. The partnership is still forced to 2NT, to the three level if opener’s suit is a major, or to the four level if opener’s suit is a minor. You will be surprised how often that simply knowing that partner has no aces and no kings, simplifies the decision process. There are other satisfactory approaches, I just happen to like this one best.
That leaves 2, 2 and 2 openings open for assignment. The most popular choice is weak two openings. This is probably definite for 2 and 2 at least. I strongly recommend that you and partner sit down and agree on expectations for weak two bids. What is the expected suit quality? What is allowable to hold as a side suit? I think that a disciplined approach in first and second seat is correct. I like pretty good suit quality (2 of the top 3 honors or 3 of the top 5). Always hold a six card suit. Hold no side four card major suits and no voids. That makes responder’s job much easier and will prevent the partnership from taking bad sacrifices. In third seat all bets are off. You can bid whatever you think you can get by with based on the vulnerability and your assessment of the opponents. Fourth seat weak two bids show pretty good hands without much defense and are invitational to game. As to responses, if you play a disciplined style in first and second seat, then 2NT for a feature probably works best. If you are more flexible than that, then you probably should play Ogust of something similar so that partner has some tool to help her decide what to do.
The last decision is what to do with 2 openings. The good news is that there are lots of choices. Weak two diamond bids are not very effective. It is just too easy to bid a major suit over a 2 opening. My particular favorite is Mexican 2 (strong two bid with diamonds or 19 to 20 balanced, this allows my 2NT opening to be 21-22) but you should try lots of them and see what you and partner like. Flannery 2 is popular (4 spades, 5 hearts and 12-16, therefore not enough to reverse – but this might effect how you respond to a 1 opening with spades). Also look at Roman 2 and Mini-Roman 2 which use the bid to help with 4-4-4-1 hands.
This concludes my series on Design for Bidding. I hope you and partner have found it useful. Let me hear from you.