Note: This page is subject to change as I continue to learn new treatments; if you have a suggestion, please contact me.
On this page I detail something approximating my idea of the best set of two-over-one conventions and agreements for most serious players. This card includes some fairly complex agreements, appropriate for more advanced players who are already comfortable with everything I include on my intermediate card. Please don’t use or even worry about the stuff on here if you’re just starting out.
The card I write up below is based on a two over one game forcing framework and employs a strong (15-17) opening notrump range. Neither of these agreements is actually my favorite way to play and eventually I may write up some other cards for weak notrumps and strong club systems. But thsi card is quite robust and can form the basis for a partnership with almost any other serious player in North America.
I start with an image of an ACBL convention card filled out with the conventions I’m recommending for an advanced card (which I put together on the Bridge Winners forum1; you can view the card here). Below the card I explain most of what’s on it.
Much of the writeup on this page is copied from my intermediate card page so that this one can stand essentially alone. I do point out specifically the instances wherein I’m recommending something different, not just additional, on this card.
Write your name, and your partner’s, on this line; it’s nice to have your ACBL numbers here too for filling out entry forms and so forth.
2 over 1 Game Force (except 1♦ – 2♣). It’s fine to have every two over one create a game force but I do think it’s slightly better to make an exception for the specific sequence 1♦ – 2♣, which can be invitational or better. This isn’t very important so if you don’t like having exceptions, straight two over one is fine.
NOTRUMP OPENING BIDS
Most of what I list here is unchanged from the intermediate card, but there are important exceptions.
1NT Range: 15 to 17. Weak notrump players can use all the same stuff shown here, though there are some reasonable alternatives.
5-card Major Common. You should be opening every 5-3-3-22 hand in your notrump range 1NT even when you have a five card major. When your suit is hearts the statistics are clear that opening 1NT is better; with a spade suit it’s too close to call, and in my opinion it’s best to treat the two suits the same.
Systems on after: conventional double and any 2♣. In the past I’ve said double and artificial 2♣ here, but the distinction isn’t important, as you’ll see when we get to doubles: If systems are on after 2♣ then double is stayman, while if systems are off after a natural 2♣ then double would be takeout, which works almost the same. This way is simpler to remember.
An exception: If a 2♣ overcall shows two suits, both of which are known (usually majors, in several common systems), then systems are off; double is penalty oriented or some other strong hand, bidding one of their suits shows a stopper, two of a suit they didn’t show is natural and to play, and higher level bids are as after other interference (transfer lebensohl, basically).
After a penalty double we play TNT runouts, described below.
After interference higher than two clubs, systems are off: Suit bids at the two level are natural and nonforcing, and starting at 2NT we use a version of lebensohl. If the interference is at the three level you have some guesswork to do but suit bids at the three level are natural and nonforcing. The exception to systems being off is texas transfers, which are still on as long as they’re jumps, or specifically a 4♦ bid after an opponent’s 3♦ (which is still texas to hearts; with both majors you would usually begin with a double, or with 3♠ if you can’t stand to have a double left in).
2♦ Transfer to ♥ and 2♥ Transfer to ♠. Normal… but rebids aren’t. Instead, after a jacoby transfer we play second round transfers: Responder’s second bids after a jacoby transfer, up through one step below three of the major suit major suit, are also transfers, showing (usually) length in the (second) suit transferred to and at least invitational values. Because the transfer may be a merely invitational, opener accepts the transfer, or rebids three of the first suit, only if he would decline a game invitation; with a hand that would accept an invitation he does something else.
The tough one to remember: Rebidding three of the major you transferred to is natural and forcing, usually promising an unbalanced hand. (The next step up, by opener, asks responder to show where her shortness is; responses are as natural as possible, meaning bid the shortness if you can; the only auction in which you can’t is 1NT – 2♦; 2♥ – 3♥; 3♠, after which 3NT shows the otherwise-unshowable spade shortness.) 4♣ is keycard in the major (3014 responses), and 4♦ a balanced slam try (to which a 4NT response is natural, not ace asking).
Thus, for example, after 2♥ transferring to spades and a 2♠ rebid:
- 2NT transfers to clubs. Opener rebids 3♣ or 3♠ to play in those respective contracts opposite an invitational hand, bids 3♦ or 3♥ to show a maximum hand with values in the bid suit (often a probe for 3NT with no great fit for the major), and 3NT with a maximum, stoppers in both red suits, and no great fits. New suit bids at the four level promise a maximum with a spade fit and should probably be treated as control bids; 4♣ should probably promise a double fit because going beyond 3NT with should be eschewed when that’s reasonable.
- 3♣ transfers to 3♦. 3♦ and 3♠ are to play opposite an invitation. Only 3♥ is available as an intermediate bid so it should probably show a diamond fit with a maximum; 3NT is a maximum with no great fit, and again four level bids should promise a maximum with a spade fit.
- 3♦ transfers to 3♥. This promises at least 5-5 in the majors, as with 5-4 shape responder would use stayman followed by smolen if necessary. No intermediate bids are available so I suggest 3♥ and 3♠ to play opposite an invite, 3NT to play, 4♣ a good hand for hearts and 4♦ a good hand for spades, and 4 of either major a good fit but not suited for slam.
- 3♥ transfers to spades (yes, again), usually to show invitational values and a one suiter. (A sensible addition because the bid is forcing: it can also show a game forcing hand with a side void; responder plans to show the void at his next opportunity of possible) Opener bids 3♠ to decline the invitation, higher to accept it. Opener should not go all the way to game with a fit and any slam potential at all, in case responder has a game force with a void; instead, I suggest he bid four of the cheapest suit in which he would benefit from a void (typically no soft honors; ace is OK).
- 3♠ is natural and game forcing (which is one of the hardest things to remember about the method); it implies (but does not promise) an unbalanced hand. A 3NT response to this bid asks responder to show her shortness.
- 3NT is choice of games, usually with exactly five spades.
- 4♣ is keycard in spades (3014 responses)
- 4♦ shows a balanced slam try.
- 4♥ has no meaning that I’m aware of
- 4♠ is to play.
- Most higher level bids aren’t necessary, though five of a new suit would be exclusion keycard.
It’s similar after a transfer to hearts, with a 2♠ bid transferring to 2NT, to show invitational strength and exactly five hearts; opener accepts that transfer by bidding 2NT only if he wants to play there.
Second-round transfers allow responder to handle a lot of otherwise problematic hands, but they do create one problem hand: exactly five spades and invitational values. (Playing conventional methods, this hand would transfer to spades and then rebid 2NT, but in our methods the 2NT rebid shows clubs.) With that hand responder needs to go through stayman and then rebid 2♠ after any response; this sequence shows five spades, not just four, and invitational values, and should be alerted.
There’s no great place to put it on the card, but we play structured superacceptance of transfers. When responder transfers to suit with which opener has a great fit (four or more card support and some shape), accepting the transfer at the three level shows a minimum; with great support and a maximum opener rebids a weak doubleton if he has one or 2NT if he doesn’t, whereupon responder can retransfer or bid naturally as appropriate.
2♠: Range ask or clubs. Opener treats 2♠ as a balanced invitation, rebidding 2NT to decline it (with a minimum) or 3♣ to accept. If responder has a balanced invite she3 will pass 2NT and correct 3♣ to 3NT; if she was transferring to clubs she’ll bid 3♣ herself, pass if opener bids 3♣, or bid another suit at the three level to show a game forcing hand with clubs. Treatment of the new suit bid varies but when playing a strong notrump it’s normal to have any new suit ostensibly show shortness in the bid suit; it may be a choice-of-games bid, or later turn out to be an advance control bid as part of a slam try in the minor. It’s also reasonable to play that 3♥ and 3♠ each show four cards in that suit (playing this way this is how you handle game forcing hands with a four card major and a longer minor; do this if you want stayman-then-bid-a-minor to be nonforcing), meaning 3♦ is sort of a generic “what do you think about our fit” kind of bid. I play the latter way only when using a weak notrump, but either way is fine.
2NT (response to 1NT): Transfer to diamonds. Opener bids diamonds with a fit, clubs otherwise, which allows responder to use this with the rare weak minor two suiter (weak enough that you’re confident 1NT won’t make) with which she can try passing the 3♣ bid. Note that transfers to minors are now announced (say “diamonds”).
3♣: Modified puppet stayman. Though it’s fine to play a 3♣ bid as regular puppet stayman, this modification is a little bit better. In this version, opener rebids 3♦ with any hand having no five card major regardless whether he has a four card major. (When using regular puppet, opener distinguishes immediately between hands that have one or both four card majors and hands than don’t.) Responder can then use smolen to try to find a four-four fit in her major; this approach limits information leakage as we never reveal whether opener has four cards in any major responder doesn’t care about. The disadvantage is that responder can’t use it if she has two four card majors; regular (two-level) stayman needs to be used for that instead. (This disadvantage is the reason the modification doesn’t work after a 2NT opening.)
3♦: 5/5 minors, game forcing. We don’t play minor suit stayman but this captures a lot of the hands that would use it. (With 5-4 in the minors we will usually use our 3♥ and 3♠ bids; we do lose the 4-4 minor suit slam hands but those are very rare.) Opener shows that he likes clubs by bidding 3♥, and diamonds with 3♠; 3NT denies a good hand for a contract in either minor.
3♥: 3=1-(5-4), game forcing. Responder shows a singleton heart, three spades, and 5-4 either way in the minors. Usually she’s angling for 3NT or 4 of the major (possibly on a 4-3 fit when the other major is unstopped), but sometimes these auctions end in a minor suit at the game or slam level. Followups are natural.
3♠: 1=3-(5-4), game forcing. As with 3♥ but with the major suit lengths reversed.
Side note on other response schemes you might see in use:
2♠ transfer to either clubs or diamonds (usually in conjunction with 2NT natural and invitational): 2♠ is first treated as transfer to clubs, with responder next correcting to 3♦ if she wants to play that contract. This one’s quite common among gold-rush level players, much less so among more advanced players. The main lure is the natural, invitational use of 2NT, which makes newer players comfortable (even though there are other ways to handle that hand, either with a range ask or by using stayman) but comes at a significant cost: Unless you have fairly sophisticated followups there’s no good way to distinguish between a slam try in clubs and one in diamonds. You could play that a subsequent 3♥ bid shows a strong club hand, 3♠ shows strong with diamonds, or even some more complicated relays, but this gives up lots of definition for a minuscule gain. In practice most people using this methods are doing so only to get out in three of a minor, which isn’t something you want to do very often after a strong notrump opening. If you’re going to the trouble of playing transfers to minors you should use a method that optimizes slam sequences, which are much more important.
2♠ minor suit stayman (promising at least 4-4 in the minors; responder has either a very weak minor two suiter or a game forcing strength with no interest in the major suits. (Some versions don’t include the weak hands). This convention is fairly useful when it comes up, and I think it’s close whether to play four suit transfers, as I recommend, or a minor suit stayman based system. Be sure you discuss followups with your partner, as I don’t know that there’s a universally agreed upon method.
3♣ and 3♦ natural and invitational (usually a six card suit with two of the top three honors and nothing much else). Fine when they come up (which is rarely), but not necessary at all if you play four suit transfers as opener will superaccept (meaning accept the transfer rather than making the intermediate bid) with any hand that would make 3NT good opposite these hands. In other words, these bids add nothing at all to a well designed card that uses four suit transfers.
3♣ 5-5 minors weak and 3♦ 5-5 minors game forcing. Usually in conjunction with 2♠ transfer to either minor plus 2NT a natural invite, which I discuss (and criticize) above. This method is OK (though the systems it usually goes with aren’t). Having a way to show a strong minor two suiter is good and I do use 3♦ this way; I suggest handing weak 5-5s differently because I want to use 3♣ for modified puppet stayman but this is fine too (though it rarely comes up).
3♦ 5-5 majors (with strength variable; I’ve seen it played as both intermediate and game forcing). This makes some sense to play (though I don’t love it) if you don’t have another way to show your major two suiters, but playing second-round transfers we do so there’s no need to waste the 3♦ bid on this.
3♥ 5-5 majors invitational and 3♠ 5-5 majors game forcing: Again, not terrible in some systems, but not useful at all if you have second-round transfers available.
3♠ transfer to 3NT (with various followups). This can be useful but requires a ton of discussion to make it work. I do like doing this after a 2NT opening but there it’s necessary because you otherwise lack the room to handle minor-suit-oriented hands adequately.
3NT transfer to 4♣ (with various followups). Theoretically a good thing when played in conjunction with 3♠ transferring to 3NT, but let me be clear: You should not play this. Why not, if it’s theoretically good? Because you will forget. Or your partner will. And the damage when that happens is huge. Like it or not, 1NT – 3NT sounds so normal, natural, and passable that all but full-time players need to play it that way.
It’s not shown on this part of the card but responder’s immediate jump to 4♣ is gerber. Play regular, vanilla gerber (4♦ shows zero, 4♥ one, and so forth), not some keycard-y variant thereof. And please recall that if responder next bids 4NT, after getting a response to gerber, that’s to play.
4♦, 4♥ Transfer. Note that a jacoby transfer followed by 4NT is a natural choice of strains (notrump or the major) slam try; after a texas transfer, the major is set as trump and keycard is on. And a jacoby transfer followed by a raise to game in the major is a mild slam try, usually balanced (and weaker than a 4♦ rebid, which is a strong slam invitation; I’m assuming we’re playing second-round transfers, which I discuss above); an unbalanced major suit slam try begins with a transfer and then rebids the suit at the three level, which initiates a slam-invitational or better sequence and invites control bidding.
Smolen at the 3 level. After a 2♦ answer to a 2♣ stayman bid, 3 of either major (a jump bid) by responder shows game forcing strength and five cards in the other major (and therefore four in the major bid, else why use stayman…). This is how we handle 5-4 major suit hands with game forcing strength. With 6-4 (either way) in the majors, either suppress the four card suit entirely (i.e., transfer instead of using stayman) or use stayman, then a delayed texas transfer (a jump to the four level) to the six card suit if you don’t find a 4-4 fit.
Transfer lebensohl (fast denies). You should definitely play lebensohl — the transfer variant thereof, or the original if you haven’t learned transfers yet. I prefer the fast denies version primarily because it’s far more common than the alternative so it’s probably what your potential partners already do, but fast shows is perfectly fine too. Ron Anderson’s book on lebensohl is a pretty good treatment of all things lebensohl. Note that whether you play lebensohl has nothing to do with what meaning you attach to doubles (see next).
I do believe that the transfer variant of lebensohl is best. Here’s how it works. After an opponent’s natural or natural-ish (by this I mean that it actually shows the suit bid, whether or not it might have another suit) direct overcall of our 1NT opening, but not counting 2♣ overcalls (after which we use our normal systems):
- Double: Takeout, can be passed. (This isn’t part of lebensohl but I include it here for completeness.) Suggests but does not promise support for the unbid suits, especially unbid majors, but flexibility is required here.) See details below.
- Two of a suit that the opponents haven’t promised: Natural, not invitational.
- Two of a suit the opponents have promised (e.g., if the overcall was a DONT 2♥, promising hearts and spades, a 2♠ bid by us shouldn’t be natural…): Shows a stopper in the bid suit, implies lack of of a stopper in the other suit, and shows invitational or better values.
- 2NT: puppet to 3♣; shows either a hand that wants to compete in a suit that could not have been shown at the two level, or starts a “slow shows” game forcing auction with a stopper in opponent’s suit.
- With a competitive hand, responder passes the forced 3♣ bid or rebids her own suit next;
- With a stopper in opponent’s suit and a game forcing stayman hand, responder next cuebids opponent’s suit.
- With a stopper in opponent’s suit and a desire to play 3NT, responder next bids 3NT.
- A rare sequence: puppet to 3♣, then bid three of a suit that could have been bid at the two level. This isn’t merely competitive, as responder could have competed at the two level. And it isn’t invitational because that hand will use a transfer. So it’s natural and game forcing, but there are two ways to show that. By extension of the “slow shows” principle, this slow auction should show game forcing strength and a stopper in the opponent’s suit.
- 3X: transfer to the next suit up (where that’s below the suit an opponent bid), promising invitational or better values. Opener should accept the transfer only if would decline a game invitation; if accepting, opener bids higher than that, as naturally as possible.
- 3X, where X is just below opponent’s suit: a “transfer” to a cuebid, usually stayman without a stopper in their suit (and also not happy to defend at the two level, because no takeout double) although other hands are possible.
- 3X, transfer to the next suit up, where that’s higher than opponent’s suit: An invitational or better transfer to the suit in question, denying a stopper in opponent’s suit. (I suppose that starting with 2NT and then correcting to your suit at the three level could be used to distinguish between invitational and forcing strength here; I’m not sure what’s standard.)
- 3♠: A “transfer” to 3NT, after which responder is going to do something else. I’ve never used this; sequence and am not sure what it should mean; probably it should be the same as a 3♠ response to 2NT, looking for slam in one or both minors.
- 3NT: To play, but denies a stopper in opponent’s suit. (“Fast denies”)
- 4♣: Gerber? To play? I’ve never wished I had an agreement about this bid. Without one, I’d play it as gerber (and wait a lifetime for the right hand.)
- 4♦, 4♥: texas transfers.
Negative Double at the 2 and 3 level. I’d prefer these were called takeout doubles as they are typically takeout of a single suit (the one bid by the opponents), but no matter what you call them these are good to play — somewhat better than penalty doubles and loads better than stolen bid doubles (which are atrocious). Basically, responder’s double of any natural suit bid (i.e., it shows the suit bid, either alone or plus a second suit, whether known or unknown) at the two or three level is takeout, showing shortness in the suit doubled and sufficient values to compete. Opener can leave the double in with length in the opponents’ suit so responder shouldn’t double with a very weak hand; many players require invitational values but I consider that too limiting, just be sure to have the balance of power.
Playing takeout/negative doubles, what if responder wants to make a penalize? She passes, and opener is required to reopen with a double any time he is short (a doubleton) in the suit bid.4 (If he has three in the suit you may be out of luck because he’ll pass the deal out — when the good guys’ trumps are 3-3 you may not be able to double the opponents even when they’re going down, and when they’re 4-3 and you somehow stop there you’ll soon be racking up the undoubled undertricks. But 3-3 is a fairly narrow target and playing penalty doubles doesn’t solve the problem either; holding more trumps than that very rarely happens in the modern game.
It is common to play takeout/negative doubles at the three level only and something else (usually penalty or stolen bid, sometimes “cards”) at the two level. This approach is an improvement over not playing takeout doubles at all but it doesn’t go far enough because responder can’t handle her hands that want to compete, don’t have a suit of their own, and can’t force to game.
Side note about stolen bid doubles: They stink; this is the worst convention played in a typical US club game. The reason is that if you’re playing stolen bid doubles you miss both many of your 4-4 major suit fits and almost all of your opportunities to penalize the opponents; the first of those problems is moderately serious and the second is a huge problem against opponents who overcall aggressively.
To see why, consider for example what options you have as responder after partner’s 1NT opening is overcalled with a 2♦ bid that actually shows diamonds (if the opponents are bidding naturally, or for example if they play DONT wherein it shows diamonds and a major). If you have a five card heart suit you can double to transfer to it, and 2♥ transfers to spades, so the major suit one-suiters are handled. And the minor suit hands can run through lebensohl. But what if you have a four card major you’re interested in playing in? You’re out of luck unless you have game forcing strength (which would allow you to cuebid as a stayman substitute, either immediately or after a lebensohl 2NT if you play that), but often you will want merely to compete, not drive to game. Playing stolen bid doubles it is impossible to get to a 2♥ or 2♠ contract unless responder has five of the major. And what if you want to penalize a overzealous opponent – say you have four diamonds and a scattered seven count? You can’t — double isn’t penalty and if you pass and so does LHO, partner won’t reopen with double unless you have made the agreement that he has to.
And what about if you agree to reopen with double? Some of the above problems can be solved if partner always reopens with shortness in the opponent’s suit, but that helps only when responder wanted to penalize or when she can scramble to a playable fit; it’s useless when responder is the one with shortness but no suit of her own and opener with length. To handle those responding hands you need to play takeout doubles; now whichever member of the partnership has shortness in the opponent’s suit doubles, and partner leaves it in when that looks right and bids on otherwise. The bad guys can escape undoubled when our trumps are divided 3-3, but few methods handle that problem well. (Only a “cards” double will get ’em when we have the balance of power and three trumps apiece, and that method suffers on all other holdings.)
If you play with me: I can live with negative doubles at the three level only, with two level doubles being penalty. I do not play stolen bid doubles except under duress.
Baze after stayman. Finding slams after starting with stayman can be tricky but this method helps. After responder bids 2♣ stayman and hears a response of 2 of either major, she sets trump (the major that opener bid) and establishes a game force by bidding 3 of the other major. Other new suit bids at the three level are natural and forcing (note that if you play them nonforcing, as many weak notrumpers do, you need to make some adjustments); Recall that a 2♠ bid after a 2♥ response shows five spades and invitational values (which is part of the system of transfers-after-transfers). A jump to 4♣ is keycard (3014) in the major suit (as with our transfer system), and a jump to 4♦ is a balanced slam try (again agreeing trump).
After the three-of-the-other-major bid, which sets trump and tends to suggest an unbalanced hand (with a balanced hand too strong for a jump to game, responder will usually bid 4♦), opener can relay for responder’s shortness by making the next bid up, whatever it is, or can bid naturally to show a strong source of tricks.
TNT runouts: Having a system of runouts from opponents’ penalty doubles isn’t critical when you play a strong notrump (but is absolutely necessary if you play your notrumps weak), in part because most opponents these days don’t even play their double as penalty, but it can be nice to have when it comes up and here’s the best one I know:
- The system applies after a penalty or penalty oriented double in direct seat (i.e., immediately after the notrump bid). If the opponents describe a double as “equal values” play that it’s penalty unless they also say that it’s for takeout (or some equivalent, such as “she wants me to bid”). Unfortunately some opponents will be obtuse — sometimes intentionally — about what their partner’s doubles mean; default to penalty (and therefore use the runout system) unless it’s clear that they mean it as something else, because my experience is that most of the opponents who refuse to be pinned down about a meaning are planning to pass for penalties.
- This system works only when the double is in direct seat; I’ll get to balancing seat later.
- After a direct seat penalty double, responder’s calls’ meanings are:
- Pass: A puppet to redouble by opener; after the redouble, responder passes to play 1NT redoubled (for either a very good or a very bad score; if you’re in doubt about whether to do this, I urge you to lean toward doing it as defense is hard and even good defenders often freak out when the contract is redoubled) or shows a non-touching two suiter by bidding the lower of the two suits. (For this purpose clubs and spades are considered non-touching.) This pass must be alerted.
- Redouble: A puppet to 2♣; responder passes with a club suit, or bids a suit of her own, or redoubles (if we get doubled) to ask opener to bid his longest suit. In other words, redouble shows any one suiter (though spades is less frequent than the other suits; see below), or occasionally a scramble.
- 2♣/2♦/2♥: Show the suit bid and the next suit up — a touching two suiter.
- 2♠: natural, and reasonably happy to bid it, meaning pretty shapely. (The slower route to 2♠, via a redouble, shows less shape.)
- 2NT: very rare, this is used for shapely two suiters that might want to bid game even after the penalty double; opener shows tolerance up the line. I can’t recall ever using this tool.
- Higher level bids: Natural, to play.
The TNT mnemonic may help: touching/nontouching, because touching two suiters bid quickly, nontouching two suiters slowly.
By the way, 1NT redoubled is my favorite contract:
Side note on the math of 1NT redoubled: At matchpoints the math is pretty simple: playing 1NT redoubled is going to be a top or a bottom, period. If you’re playing a strong notrump most other pairs won’t face the same decision (at most other tables the opponents won’t even be playing penalty doubles, or won’t make one), so you should play 1NTXX if you think your odds of making it are greater than 50%. (Note that playing our system you can’t choose to play it merely doubled.) In close cases it also makes sense to give it a shot if you think the alternative you scramble to would also yield -200 or worse, which will probably be a very bad matchpoint score, so if you’re vulnerable and you have no particular expectation of finding a fit (i.e., your hand is flat) and you have enough values that you think your partner might make 7 tricks, then go for the redouble.
At IMPs we theoretically would have to consider what alternative contracts we think are likely, and that may be hard, but let’s make some approximations. If we’ve been doubled in 1NT and are considering 1NT redoubled but aren’t sure about it, then it’s likely the points are about evenly divided, possibly with the bad guys having a bit more. So let’s say for argument’s sake that our alternative is playing in a suit, probably doubled, maybe making or maybe down, or defending their contract, making a part score. (We can’t achieve that latter score but maybe they will at the other table, particularly if the opponents at that table use a different notrump range; they’re also likely to bid a making partscore if they can’t beat whatever we scramble to.) Let’s round the other possible score to -110 and then see the IMP odds we’re getting by choosing to defend:
If we’re not vulnerable:
- Down 2 (unlikely if the decision is close, so let’s say 10%): −600, for lose 10 IMPs
- Down 1 (say 40%): −200, lose 3
- Making (40%): +560, win 11
- Making +1 (again unlikely but I see it happen, say 10%): +760, win 12
With these assumptions, floating a redouble is a clear winner (expected value 3.4 IMPs) because of the huge value of making on the nose versus the small loss of being down one. If you change the probabilities so we’re a little less than 50% to make the contract, it’s still a winner.
On the other hand, suppose the alternative to playing 1NT redoubled is a (small) plus score in a suit contract (call it 110), but we’re still about 50% to make 1NT:
- Down 2 (10%): −600, lose 12 IMPs (versus +110)
- Down 1 (40%): −200, lose 7
- Making (40%): +560, win 10
- Making +1 (10%): +760, win 12
With these assumptions it’s much closer: The expected value of 1NT redoubled versus a making partial is +1.2 IMPs. Notice the value of sitting for the double (and redoubling) is still positive, even versus what we’re assuming is a 100% chance of going plus if we run. The game bonus is what drives this result.
Here are the equivalent tables for when we’re vulnerable. First, versus −110 as an alternative (even though −200 is probably more common):
- Down 2 (10%): −1000, lose 13
- Down 1 (say 40%): −400, lose 7
- Making (40%): +760, win 13
- Making +1 (10%): +1160, win 16
Again the game bonus makes the payoff positive: The value on these assumptions is +2.7 IMPs. Only when the odds are about 3 to 2 against making it do the odds turn around; in other words, yes, you are well advised to float 1NT redoubled even if it’s a bit less than 50% likely to make.
Finally, if we’re choosing between a making partscore (say +110) and our same marginal 1NT redoubled, when vulnerable:
- Down 2 (10%): −1000, lose 15
- Down 1 (say 40%): −400, lose 11
- Making (40%): +760, win 12
- Making +1 (10%): +1160, win 14
This one’s almost exactly even (0.3 IMPs).
Bottom line rules:
- If you think that if you run from 1NT doubled you’ll go down, and you think there’s any reasonable chance notrump will make, then play 1NT redoubled. This is slightly clearer when nonvulnerable but it’s still true when vulnerable. You need about a 40% chance of making it when vulnerable, less than 1 in 3 when not vulnerable.
- If you think the alternative is a plus score it’s closer, but you should still play 1NT redoubled if you think it’s as likely as not to make. If you’re not vulnerable it can be a bit below 50%.
2NT: 20-21 (but good 19s aren’t uncommon).
Jacoby and Texas transfers.
Puppet Stayman. Even if you play 3♣ modified puppet after 1NT, play regular puppet here — the modified version doesn’t work when responder has both majors). Not alerted, but opener’s rebids are.
If you know muppet stayman (which is not the same as regular puppet; muppet switches opener’s 3♥ and 3NT rebids, with various other changes) then go ahead and play that; I don’t play it with anyone at the moment but it is increasingly common among experts.
3♠ puppet to 3NT, followed by minor suits. With one minor and game forcing strength (and usually with slam inspirations as we’re automatically higher than 3NT), rebid the suit at the four level after opener’s forced 3NT. With a two suiter rebid 4♥ or 4♠, showing a singleton or void in the suit bid and length (usually 5-5) in both minors.
3NT showing a long (usually eight card) broken minor and nothing outside (i.e., what would usually be a four-level preempt): A necessary adjunct to namyats, and mildly useful in its own right when responder has a good hand with sufficient for for the minor to make 3NT a decent prospect; you can’t get to 3NT if the opening bid is at the four level. A 4♣ response is pass or correct; it’s probably best to play that 4♦ is also pass or correct, 4♥ and 4♠ are to play, and 4NT is a request to show the minor, but I admit I’ve never discussed most of this with any partner.
While we’re at it, namyats: a 4♣ or 4♦ opening shows a very strong one suited hand with (usually) eight solid hearts or spades, respectively, and little or nothing outside (typically no more than a king; this means the hand usually has eight or eight and a half playing tricks). With a side ace, or a void, or nine solid, it’s best to open at the one level; with more than that open 2♣, though I will point out that many players don’t impose such strict requirements.
Responses to namyats vary, depending mostly on exactly what the namyats bid promises. What I suggest is this: Bidding the transferred-to suit is to play, bidding the in-between suit asks for a side king (opener bids his long major without one), bidding the usual keycard asking bid (4♠ or 4NT) is keycard, and bidding higher than that is a control-asking bid (CAB) in the suit bid or shown (with hearts the long suit, a 4NT bid is a control-asking bid in spades because 4♠ is kickback; sorry, you can’t play 4♠ when your partner shows eight solid hearts.) In response to a control ask, opener rebids 5 of his suit with no control, six of his suit with a singleton, 5NT with the guarded king, and an intermediate bid, if there’s one available below five of the trump suit, with a doubleton. (If there’s not room, don’t distinguish between third round control and none at all. If you happen to have the ace, or a void, bid 6 of the CAB suit.
Expected Minimum Length: 5, but 4 by a third seat opener. 4 card major openings (by minimum hands only) in third seat are effective and you should employ them; you’ll usually want to have a reasonably strong suit because partner will raise you with three and will often lead the suit if your LHO declares.
I don’t open four card majors in 4th seat but some good players do. In third seat I open four-carders liberally.
Double Raise: Weak. Promises four card support. (It can be five, but with five and a side singleton it’s almost always best to jump to the four level.) When not vulnerable, can be very weak, but beware flat hands. Alerted. Works only because we have another way — bergen raises — to handle our invitational raises. I’m sort of on the fence about what’s better, bergen raises plus weak jump raises, or the more standard invitational raises; today I prefer bergen but tomorrow I might feel differently, and if you have a strong preference either way I say go with it.
Fit jump raises are a reasonable alternative here, as are mini-splinters.
After Overcall: Weak. Regardless how you play your double raises in uncontested auctions, nearly everyone plays them weak in competition and you should too. Not alerted. With invitational or better strength, start with a cuebid if they overcall and either 2NT or a redouble if they double.
Conventional Raise: 2NT and Splinter. 2NT is the jacoby 2NT, a conventional raise showing four or more card support for opener’s major and game forcing strength; responses to it are conventional (and alerted). I do prefer a more complicated variant wherein 2NT is also used with invitational-strength hands and rebids use a relay structure, but I’m not including that at the moment; it’s fine to use the usual set of responses wherein three level new suit bids show shortness, four level new suits show sources of tricks, and rebidding 3 of the major, 3NT, and 4 of the major deny shortness and show, respectively, strong, intermediate, and weak (in context) high card values.
Splinter bids are double jumps (i.e., to 3♠, after 1♥ opening, or the 4 level) into new suits promising game forcing strength, four card support for partner’s suit, and a singleton or void in the suit bid. You may hear some players say that hands with slam aspirations shouldn’t splinter bid, because they won’t know what to do if partner signs off in game. That approach is understandable but not we can do better: When you have the shape for it and sufficient strength to force to game, make a splinter bid with either a seven loser hand (which will respect opener’s signoff) or with five loser or better (which is enough playing strength that you can make another slam try even opposite a minimum). It’s the six loser hands that are the problem; with those try something else, either a jacoby 2NT or a two over one response.
There’s no convenient place for it on the card but in general, other unnecessary jumps into new suits are also splinter bids, usually in support of the last-bid suit. For example, If the auction proceeds 1♦ – 1♠; 4♣, the 4♣ bid is a splinter bid with spade support (4 or more spades, and enough strength to bid game opposite what responder has promised, which isn’t much). We say it’s an unnecessary jump because with a real club suit opener could force with 3♣; the extra level distinguishes the bid as a splinter.
Technical side note about alerts: conventional bids higher than 3NT aren’t alerted right away if they occur on the second round of the auction or later; instead they are “delayed alerts”, meaning you alert (and, usually, explain) before the opening lead, assuming your side winds up declaring.
A similar-appearing sequence that’s not mentioned anywhere else on the card: After one of a minor – one of a major, opener’s rebid of four of his major is a raise of responder’s major promising game forcing strength (which is a lot opposite a possibly-minimum response), four card support for responder’s major, and a very strong minor (the suit opened) that will be a good source of tricks.
Major suit stuff that may not all fit in this part of the card:
Bergen 3♣ and 3♦ raises. There’s more to the bergen raise system but this is all you need. I play that 3♣ is the weaker of the two bergen raises (“regular bergen”) but some players reverse these two responses; it barely matters one way or the other. Bergen raises are on after a double (unless you play something else, which I do on my advanced card) but not after an overcall.
Bergen raises are optional. If you don’t play them then your jump raises can show four cards and game-invitational values; jump shifts to 3♣ and 3♦ can be natural and weak, fit jumps, or something else. And if you want to play a relay-based 2NT that shows invitational values, with 3♣ and 3♦ either weak (which is OK) or fit-showing (which is better), that’s great.
Kokish game tries. After 1♥ – 2♥ and 1♠ – 2♠, the next bid up (2♠ or 2NT) asks responder to show what suit(s) she would accept a help suit game try in (meaning, in part, which suits responder has values in; without extra trump length, shortness should usually not be considered “help”); with more than one such suit responder bids the cheapest. Note that after 1♥ – 2♥; 2♠, a 2NT rebid shows that responder would accept a game try in spades (the cheapest suit-showing bid). Responder returns to 3 of the trump suit with no side suit values to show. If opener needs to know about a suit responder hasn’t answered about yet (because she showed acceptance of a lower suit), he next bids the suit he cares about.
Opener can make a kokish “game try” even with a slam-invitational hand; if he bids on after a signoff this confirms slam aspirations.
Short suit game tries. If you’re playing kokish game tries you don’t need new suit bids to show length or values, so instead we use them to show shortness (singleton or void); responder evaluates her hand for game knowing of the shortness. (Often this is actually a slam try so responder should usually not jump to game with a good hand and a good fit; instead, control bid in case opener is slamming.)
1-2-3 stop. In the auctions 1♥ – 2♥; 3♥ and 1♠ – 2♠; 3♠, opener’s rebid shows a desire to shut the opponents out, not interest in game. This works only if you have artificial game tries available, in our case kokish and short suit tries. Not very important as the opponents haven’t bid yet so they often won’t, but no other use is terribly useful either. With one partner I play this as a “power try”, asking responder to bid game with lots of high card points, but that hand can usually be handled via a kokish try; with another I play it as a “trump try”, asking partner to bid game with good trumps (king-queen or better, let’s say), which is nice when it comes up but that’s rare. Whatever you do here, it’s not likely to come up a lot.
1NT Forcing (after 1♠, at least; see below regarding the kaplan inversion). But it’s not forcing by a passed hand; a third- or fourth seat opener passes a 1NT rebid with a balanced minimum.
If , but only if, you play flannery: Kaplan inversion. After a 1♥ opening, we reverse the usual meanings of 1♠ and (forcing) 1NT:
- 1♠ is artificial, usually denying holding 5 or more spades (but it’s possible with game forcing strength), and includes any hand that would normally respond with a forcing notrump; opener rebids 1NT with a balanced minimum and the partnership can play there when the field finds itself forced to the two level.
- 1NT is artificial, showing (usually) five or more spades (there’s usually no need to show four because we play flannery, so opener can’t have four and a minimum-strength hand; occasionally a four card suit can happen if you’d be happy to wind up in a 4-3 fit). It is a one-round force, so we miss playing one notrump when opener has a 2=5=3=3 minimum. It’s also possible to play this as nonforcing and I mildly prefer that, but it’s a little more complicated because now you need ways to distinguish between responder’s various spade one-suiters. The meaning is the same by a passed hand except that it is not forcing.
Reverse 2-Way Drury. 2-way drury, wherein 2♣ shows a three card raise and 2♦ promises 4, is nice but not necessary; one way is almost as good. I generally play that drury applies after RHO’s double, but not after an overcall; opinions differ on this one so check with your partner. “Reverse” means opener returns to the trump suit with no interest in game.
A few players reverse the meanings of these two bids, using 2♣ for a four card raise and 2♦ to show three, but I believe that’s not a good idea, because having extra room above the three-card raise is a little more valuable, as I explain below. It’s close, though.
If playing 1-way drury I don’t require limit raise values, but rather something like 8 or more (meaning a simple raise can be very weak); opener should often make a counter-try with 2♦ rather than jumping to game. Playing 2-way drury this works only with the 3-card raises, but see the next paragraph. In response to the 2♦ relay, responder bids of the major with a minimum in context, 2♥ (after a 1♠ opening) with a minimum with a four card heart suit, 3♥ with a maximum and a four card heart suit, and something else (whatever seems most descriptive) with a maximum that lacks four hearts. If you’re playing one-way drury there’s no reason for responder to show a four card heart suit when she also has four card spade support.
If playing 2 way drury, after a 2♦ response to 1♠ the only intermediate bid is 2♥, so that becomes the strength-check relay. Notice that there’s no need to look for a 4-4 heart fit when responder is know to have four card support for spades.
Whether a 2♣ drury raise shows exactly three, or three or more, if spades is the trump suit then a 2♥ rebid by opener is natural, showing a four card heart suit, and is not forcing. This lets us capture some of our 4-4 fits, which often play better than the 5-3s. To force to game while showing four hearts opener first relays with 2♦; you find the heart fit as described above.
Passed hand fit jumps: With good (four card or better) support for opener’s major, constructive through mildly invitational strength, and a good second suit, respond with a single jump bid in the side suit. This descriptive bid will allow opener to evaluate his hand more precisely than a more generic drury approach.
Expected Minimum Length: 3 (for each minor). With 4=4=3=2 I open 1♦, but if you open 1♣ with that shape, meaning your 1♦ opening always shows four cards in the suit, that’s fine too.
I do like a transfer-based system wherein 1♦ promises 4, 1♣ handles all balanced hands outside our notrump range, and many of the responses are transfers, but it does require a lot of work.
Double Raise: Weak. Part of inverted minors. Alertable even though it’s the most common treatment.
After Overcall: Weak. Not alertable.
Forcing Raise: Single Raise. Part of inverted minors. Alertable. I prefer to play that after this start the auction can stop in 2NT or three of the agreed minor, but many people play that it’s game forcing. See the discussion below (at “2NT Forcing”).
Frequently bypass 4+ ♦. A standard part of “walsh” style 2/1: Bid a four card major if you have one, even with longer diamonds, unless you have game forcing strength.
1NT/1♣: 8-10. With a balanced minimum (5-7), respond 1♦ to 1♣, instead of 1NT, even when without a long diamond suit, reserving an immediate 1NT for stronger (8-10) hands. This approach means notrump is rightsided more often (when opener has 11-14 or 18-19 and responder has 5-7; it’s even more important if you play weak notrumps so you don’t wrongside 5-7 opposite every balanced 15+).
2NT Forcing (13-15 or 18-19): Most players these days play a 2NT response to a one of a minor opening as invitational (11-12) but I prefer that it be game forcing; invitational-strength balanced hands that don’t have a four card major start with a single (forcing) raise of opener’s minor, planning to rebid 2NT. This is the main reason I prefer to play inverted minor raises forcing but not necessarily all the way to game; with a balanced 11-12 responder makes an inverted raise and then rebids 2NT, which is nonforcing. If your favorite partner isn’t comfortable with this that’s OK, you can play it the 2NT response as invitational, but I believe the approach I suggest here is better.
3NT: 16-17. If you play 1m – 2NT invitational then you’ll probably want to write 13-15 here; I don’t love this sequence when responder has a minimum game force because it takes away lots of room so you can’t check on stoppers (I don’t like watching the bad guys take the first five tricks against my 3NT contract when we could have bid and made five of a minor instead). Your choice. Note that balanced responding hands with 18 or more points and no suit to bid need to do something else — some forcing bid — no matter which way you play, lest you miss 6NT with, say, 18 opposite 14: 2NT if you play that as forcing as I suggest, an inverted minor suit raise if 2NT isn’t forcing. In each case you’re planning on inviting slam with a 4NT rebid at your next call.
In theory I play splinter responses to minor suit openings because there’s no other great use for them, but they almost never come up.
The sequence 1♦ – 3♣ is odd. It can be played as natural and weak but that often misses the best contract of 1NT; the best use may to be natural with constructive values (enough to make 3NT playable opposite a good 17 count, say). I’m willing to consider other approaches.
TWO LEVEL OPENINGS
2♣: A 2♣ opening is artificial and strong (generally at least 22 HCP or nine very likely tricks, but you don’t have to define this carefully). A 2♦ response is waiting, meaning it doesn’t say much but in our case shows that responder has at least something — an ace, a king, or a couple of queens will do. A 2♥ response is artificial and negative (and is alerted; a 2♦ response is not alerted regardless what it means), saying responder has basically nothing; if responder bids anything other than 2♥ then the partnership is forced to at least the game level. Other responses in suits show at least five cards and a good suit (at least two of the top three honors); responder should never bid notrump at her first call.
It’s fine to play something else here instead: I don’t love the 2♥ negative approach, I just dislike it less than I dislike other methods. Methods I have recently seen in use:
- 2♦ is an artificial waiting bid, including almost all hands; responder bids the cheapest available minor suit at her next call as an artificial negative while all other rebids are natural and establish a game force. This is fine when it works out but the auction gets awkward when opener’s next bid is 3♣ or, worse, 3♦, and responder hasn’t yet shown a bust. Opener should keep this problem in mind when deciding whether a minor-suit-oriented hand is strong enough for a 2♣ opening.
- 2♦ waiting and nearly automatic, and no way to distinguish between terrible and all other responding hands other than passing below game. I don’t think this is very good but I know good players who like it.
- 2♦ waiting and positive (as in the method I recommend); bad hands bid their longest (five card or more) suit immediately, or notrump with no five card suit. I played this for a while with a partner who loved it and I can confidently report that it is terrible; do not play this way. A variation I came up with would be for 2♦ still to be waiting and game forcing and to have all bad hands transfer to their suit (or transfer to 2NT, using a 2♠ bid, with no suit worth showing); doing things this way would be better except when responder has a bad hand with hearts and you’re at the three level already with no known fit. I suspect this modification would be better than the original and it may even work OK (I don’t know for sure as I’ve never played it) but I still don’t recommend it.
- Control-showing responses. Counting an ace as two “controls” and a king as one, responses are in steps as follows: 2♦ shows 0 or 1 control, 2♥ two controls, 2♠ three controls, and so on. A reasonable variation is to have 2♠ show three controls comprising an ace and a king, while 2NT show three controls that happen all to be kings (which might be worth protecting from the opening lead, which you just did a lot of the time by having responder bid notrump first). This method is reasonable. Another variation changes the scale a bit, with 2♦ showing zero controls, 2♥ one, and so on; again, reasonable. Controls matter a lot opposite 2♣ openers so this method helps the partnership get to the right level, but it can make finding the correct strain more difficult.
- Point count responses. A 2♦ response shows 0-3 HCP, 2♥ 4-6, 2♠ 7-9, and so on. Or the ranges can be a little different. This method is substantially worse than the control-showing version because mere high card points can mean nothing opposite a shapely 2♣ opening hand while control cards are usually good to know about, so I don’t recommend anyone play this way.
- Another twist: some people who play 2♥ as an artificial negative, as I recommend, use a 2NT response to show a positive response with biddable (KQxxx or better) hearts. I don’t recommend this — if you have a game forcing hand with hearts, either bid 2♦ waiting or, if your hand is pretty one dimensional, respond 3♥ — but it’s not terrible and I play it if my partner wants to.
2♦ Flannery. This is optional and I go back and forth about it; it’s great when it comes up but I do like my weak 2s too. Anyway, flannery: a 2♦ opening bid is artificial and shows 5 or 6 hearts, exactly four spades, and minimum (10 to 15 or so) high card points (i.e., not strong enough to reverse). Responder passes (rarely, but it can work!), bids a major at either level to play, bids 4♣ as a slam try in hearts and 4♦ as a slam try in spades, and asks for further description with an artificial 2NT inquiry which promises invitational values but otherwise could be any hand. Responses to the 2NT relay:
- 3♣: any minimum valued hand; now a 3♦ relay is a re-ask, with shape-based responses as below but a step higher (and the six heart bid moved higher to keep 3NT in the picture with the 4=5 hands, so the order is a bit different):
- 3♥: 4=5=1=3
- 3♠: 4=5=2=2
- 3NT: 4=5=3=1
- 4♣: 4=5=0=4
- 4♦: 4=5=4=0
- 4♥: 4=6 majors
- 3♦: six hearts, maximum (in context). If responder wants to know more (and force to game), she relays again with 3♥; now responses are of the form (in order): high singleton, low singleton, high void, low void:
- 3♠: 4=6=1=2
- 3NT: 4=6=2=1
- 4♣: 4=6=0=3
- 4♦: 4=6=3=0
- 3♥: maximum, five hearts, longer clubs (i.e., 4=5=1=3).
- 3♠: maximum, five hearts, 2=2 minors (i.e., 4=5=2=2).
- 3NT: maximum, 4=5=3=1.
- 4♣: maximum, 4=5=0=4.
- 4♦: maximum, 4=5=4=0.
An improvement on 2♦ flannery, available only in selected events: Play 2♥ as flannery (with 2NT still the asking bid, and the same response structure), 2♦ as multi (i.e., a weak two in either hearts or diamonds, possibly also including a rare strong meaning or two), and 2♠ as something else — my favorite use is as part of a transfer preempt structure. Unfortunately the ACBL thinks that multi would be too scary for most tournament players (even though in most of the world it’s perfectly normal even at the club level), so it’s legal only in open-plus events with six board or longer segments — in practice, only in flight A knockouts and swiss team events. Boo.
2♥, 2♠: Natural and weak; usually a six card suit. You can write down 3-10 HCP but this varies by vulnerability and position (second seat openers shouldn’t use weak twos as much, third seat should do so very frequently, and fourth seat never should). New suits by responder are forcing; 2NT asks about opener’s hand. I favor playing feature responses when vulnerable (note that a queen or better is a feature, and a singleton is not) and ogust when not vulnerable (3♣ bad suit and weak hand, 3♦ good suit and weak hand, 3♥ bad suit but strong [in context] of the opening preempt hand, and 3♠ a good suit and a good hand; each of these rebids is alertable).
A fourth seat opening of 2 diamonds, hearts, or spades should show a minimum full opener (with less you could pass the deal out), say in the 13 to 16 high card point range, with a good 6 card suit; responder can evaluate game prospects pretty well after such a specific description.
A fourth seat three level opening is similar to the above (13 to 16 points with a good suit), but with one more trump (i.e., a seven card suit).
OTHER CONVENTIONAL CALLS
XYZ. Exactly the same as 2-way checkback (also known as 2-way new minor forcing) except that it applies to any auction that in which our side opens and makes its first three bids at the one level. After such a start, a 2♣ rebid by responder is an artificial puppet to to 2♦; after opener makes the (forced) 2♦ bid, responder either passes (to get out in 2♦) or bids naturally to show some invitational-strength hand. With game forcing strength responder’s second call is an artificial 2♦ bid, after which bidding is natural. a 2♥ or 2♠ rebid by responder is natural and shows less than invitational strength. 2NT is a puppet to 3♣ (not a natural bid, though it sounds like one so be careful), and three-level suit bids are natural, and forcing, showing strong suits and game forcing strength.
XYZ applies even if there has been an intervening double, bid, or both, provided we opened the bidding and our first three calls were bids at the one level.
XYZ is modified by a passed hand: 2♣ is still a puppet to 2♦ and starts most invitational sequences, while 2♦ is strongly invitational (it can’t be game forcing by a passed hand). I can also live with XYZ being entirely off by a passed hand; on the other hand if you play a weak notrump then XYZ applies, without modification, even when responder started with a pass.
Weak Jump Shifts in Competition. When the opponents double or overcall it’s common to want to preempt them and rare that we need to have a delicate slam-going auction, so weak jump shifts work well here. Against silent opponents I mildly prefer responder’s jump shift (i.e., a jump bid into a new suit) to be game forcing, but probably a majority of experienced tournament players play them weak. Not alerted in competition; alertable if you play them weak without competition.
Other uses are fine too, if you know them. For example, after an opening bid of one of a minor, using 2♥ to show flannery shape (five hearts and four spades) and less than invitational values can be useful; also useful is playing it as showing reverse flannery shape (five spades and four hearts), again with less than invitational values. Or 1♣ – 2♦ can show one of these hands. Nothing’s perfect here.
4th Suit Forcing to Game. A normal part of 2/1. Some play that it’s only a one round force, but this way is simpler and arguably better. Note that a passed hand cannot create a game force, so a fourth suit bid by a passed hand is natural. Alerted.
Modified lebensohl after reverses. Regular lebensohl after reverses is fine but I slightly prefer this variation: After opener’s reverse, responder’s two choices with non-minimum strength are 2NT when she holds as stopper in the fourth suit, and bidding the fourth suit at the cheapest level if she lacks a stopper in it; each rebid establishes a game force. All other bids are nonforcing (other than some jumps, which I don’t discuss here but use your judgment). There’s no real disadvantage to this method and it rightsides notrump a bit more often than regular lebensohl. The main thing to remember is that when a game force is established, opener has to show support for responder’s major at the earliest convenience, because responder hasn’t denied five (or more) cards there.
Psycho suction against artificial strong auctions. When the opponents have opened the bidding with an artificial, strong bid (in North America, almost always 1♣ or 2♣), interference can be remarkably effective. Some players play mathe in strong 1♣ auctions (wherein double shows majors, 1NT shows minors), which is better than playing naturally but only by a little as it handles only two of the six two suiters and takes up little or no bidding space; psycho suction is far better. It applies in direct seat after any artificial opening, and in fourth seat after any artificial response to such an opening provided that response does not say anything about shape (if it does, getting doubled is too likely so we revert to natural bidding). In such auctions:
- Any suit bid, at any level, shows either a one suiter in the suit bid, or a two suiter in the next two suits above that. (We consider clubs to be the suit above spades.) Advancer can pass (especially if we’re not vulnerable and haven’t been doubled yet, and if we are and intervenor still gets a bid, it’s also often best to pass), or bid any of the three suits that intervenor might have; any of these suit bids, at any level, is pass or correct. If advancer sees that he wants to compete to a certain level regardless which of the two possible hands intervenor holds, he bids to the appropriate level. (Be brave!) Advanvcer’s only bids that aren’t pass or correct are bidding the fourth suit (the one intervenor can’t have, which is natural albeit pretty weird), or bidding some cuebid (if the bad guys have subsequently bid naturally) or some number of notrump (but see below for an exception) asking for further description (whereupon intervenor rebids eiher her one suit or the cheaper of her two suits; advancer may be planning on bidding strongly depending on the answer).
- Almost every notrump bid (see below for the exception) shows a two suiter with two non-touching suits, i.e., either clubs and hearts or diamonds and spades. All of advancer’s bids are now pass or correct, keeping in mind each of the two possibilities intervenor has shown.
- A double of an artificial bid shows that intervenor would have made that bid (i.e., showing either that suit or the two above, or a nontouching two-suiter after an artificial notrump bid).
- Doubling a natural bid, or an artificial bid that shows something about shape, e.g., a transfer, has its normal, non-psycho-suction meaning, whatever that would be, with one exception discussed below.
- Exception 1: Doubling a strong 1♣ opening (but not 2♣) or an artificial weak response thereto, shows values (roughly the equivalent of a strong notrump or better) and signals that game or doubling the opponents is possible.
- Exception 2: Bidding 3NT after a a strong 1♣ (but not 2♣) opening or a weak response thereto is to play, either as our side’s first action or by advancer of a psycho suction overcall.
The biggest key to playing psycho suction is getting to the appropriate level as fast as possible. With sufficient playing strength intervenor can safely preempt the auction, something most pairs deal poorly with, in part because they may find it hard to double; with a fit for both of intervenor’s possible hands, advancer can further the preempt, sometimes high enough to make life very hard on the bad guys. This actually works better after a 2♣ opening, as players who use 1♣ as their strong bid tend to get a lot more practice at dealing with opposition bidding; against the latter, one level interference is not likely to be very helpful so if your shape justifies it, make your psycho suction bid at a higher level.
Unusual versus unusual and unusual over michaels. Even if you’d never heard of this convention you might work it out at the table, but let’s make it explicit: When we open and the opponents have made a conventional call (often a cuebid) that shows two suits both of which are known, a cuebid of the lower of their suits shows invitational or better values and interest in the lower of the two suits they haven’t shown, while cuebidding the higher of their suits shows invitational or better values and interest in the higher of “our” potential suits. This treatment means that we can bid one of our suits (usually this is a raise of partner’s suit) with merely competitive values. Because both invitational and game forcing hands can use the cuebid, partner needs to be careful not to make a passable bid below game with enough strength to accept an invitation.
There is another reasonably common way to play unusual versus unusual but this way is about as good and easier to remember (lower cuebid = lower suit, higher = higher).
If their two-suited bid shows only one known suit (e.g., a michaels cuebid showing a known major and an unknown minor), then cuebidding the known suit is used for most invitational or better hands; again, an immediate raise is therefore competitive only.
Nonserious 3NT. If we have bid and raised a major suit and it’s clear that 3NT is not a possible contract (unfortunately some judgment may be required here, but assume it’s true if a known nine card fit has been established), then a 3NT bid by either member of the partnership shows that she would cooperate in a slam try (i.e., does not have a dead minimum in context) but doesn’t have a particularly strong slam try of her own. The implication is that any control bid that bypasses 3NT shows substantial interest in slam. There’s no effect on control bids below the level of 3NT.
Last train. When we have established a known trump fit, usually in a major suit, and are control bidding or other slam-investigative bidding (e.g., splinter bidding) has begun, and the last bid was two steps below the game level (e.g., with spades agreed, the last bid was 4♦), then bidding the last suit bid below the game level (in this example, 4♥) is sort of a generic I don’t know whether to go higher bid. Often the bid is made when the bidder cannot control bid in the last train suit, as with control, he could safely bid higher, but auctions vary. This convention was originally know as Last Train to Clarksville.
C/1MX (Cappelletti over one of a major doubled). Recently this is usually referred to simply as transfers after doubles, but there’s more to it than just transfers; the other big part is fit jumps. After we open one of a major and the opponent direct seat doubles, responder’s bids are as follows:
- Redouble: Values, usually no great fit, suggests penalizing the opponents.
- 1♠ (if the opening bid was 1♥): Transfer to notrump, i.e., something like 7-10 HCP and scattered values without any great suit or particular fit for opener’s major. Be careful — some players play 1♠ as natural here, or as a transfer to clubs, so ask. It would also be sensible to play this as the honor-doubleton tolerance raise, and 1NT (after a 1♥ opening) as promising legitimate clubs.
- 1NT: Transfer to clubs, usually showing sufficient values to compete with a club suit and sometimes also a fit for opener’s major; or showing tolerance (usually a doubleton honor) for opener’s major and a desire to compete to exactly the two level. With this and all the other transfers, opener completes the transfer if he would have passed a nonforcing bid in the transferred-to suit. If responder next rebids opener’s major at the cheapest possible level, this confirms the tolerance raise (and usually about 5 to 7 points).
- 2♣, and 2♦ if the opening bid was 1♠: Transfer to the next suit up; sequences as with the transfer to clubs except that these transfers always show the suit bid
- 2♦ if the opening bid was 1♥, and 2♥ if the opening was 1♠: Transfer to a raise, typically showing three card support, with constructive strength. Transferring to a raise and then bidding a new suit is a natural game try.
- Simple raise of the major: Typically three card support but less than constructive strength; because the transfer to a raise is available, the immediate raise can be very weak.
- Jump bid in a new suit: A fit jump, showing four card (usually) support for the major and length and strength in the suit bid, and usually somewhat less than 10 HCP.
- Jump to 2NT: invitational strength (about 10-12 HCP) and four card support for the major.
- Jump raise of the major: Natural and weak.
Fit jumps in competition. After our one of a major opening is overcalled, responder’s jump bid in a new suit, below the level of three of opener’s major, is a fit jump similar top what we do after the opening bid is doubled: It shows four card support for the major, length and strength in the bid suit, and not-quite-invitational values (but there’s a fairly broad range).
Transfers after 2NT rebids. After opener’s jump to 2NT, showing about 18-19 balanced (or the playing strength equivalent, sometimes with a singleton in responder’s suit), methods vary: Some players play new minor forcing, others play something called wolff signoff (wherein a 3♣ rebid is a puppet to 3♦, whereupon responder will make a nonforcing bid; all other sequences are game forcing). Just about everything —other than natural bidding , which sometimes can’t distinguish between choice of games and signing off — is fine here, but I prefer transfers: All of responder’s three-level suit bids are transfers (including 3♠ transferring to 3NT offering a choice of contract; a direct 3NT is to play, period). Opener doesn’t always accept the transfer; instead, he has to consider what possible shapes responder can have and allow for the possibility that responder is planning to pass whatever opener bids. This isn’t as hard as it sounds but does require some thought.
Other side of the card…
Negative Double through 4♥. This applies when our side opens with one of a suit and LHO overcalls; the level referred to is opponent’s overcall. If LHO overcalls 4♠ or higher, double is penalty. Negative doubles show the unbid suits, more or less, with at least some emphasis on any unbid major.
Note that negative doubles apply only when we opened at the one level; if opener preempted then his hand is presumed to be known, and responder’s doubles are for penalties.
Responsive Double through 4♥. Similar, but this time it’s for when our side has made an overcall or a takeout double; the level referred to is that of the bid right after our overcall or double. A responsive double by advancer (partner of the doubler or overcaller) shows either both majors (if neither has been bid) or both minors (if neither has been bid) and asks partner to choose.
Support Double through 2♥. Support doubles are optional and I might have left them off the basic card, but I do think they’re a good idea. They apply to auctions in which we open with one of any suit, responder bids one of a major suit (whether second hand has passed or doubled), and third hand overcalls; opener’s double shows exactly three card support for responder’s major and therefore an immediate raise shows four. The level referred to is the level of the bid that we are doubling to show support. For example, after 1♣ (pass or double) – 1♠ (2♥), double by opener would be a support double.
It’s possible to play support doubles after responder bids 1♦ (with the double showing three card diamond support), but it’s fairly rare and I don’t recommend it. Note that the robots on BBO do it, for whatever that’s worth.
Even if you play support doubles and the situation for making one arises, you don’t have to use it; if opener judges that there’s a better action (including passing) he can elect that instead.
Support Redouble: Applies in auctions in which a support double would have had fourth hand overcalled, but this time fourth hand doubles (usually for takeout but it doesn’t matter unless it’s agreed to be penalty, which would be unusual); redouble shows a three-card raise of responder’s major. If fourth hand’s double is penalty (which I guess is conceivable after the auction begins 1 of a suit (X) – 1M, and wouldn’t be alerted — essentially no doubles are — so you’d need to ask) then redouble says it’s our hand (meaning we plan either on doubling the opponents or outbidding them; they can’t play undoubled); interestingly, when opener has non-minimum values and exactly three card support this will still often be the right call, even though it no longer explicitly shows support.
Maximal double. When we have opened the bidding, responder has raised to the two level (either after direct seat intervention or not), and fourth hand has bid a suit, we want to be able to distinguish between competing to three of our suit and trying for game in it. Sometimes there’s plenty of room between their suit and ours, in which case opener can bid at least somewhat naturally, making a game try in a suit in which he has values. When there’s less room these tries aren’t as well defined, and when there’s only one bid in between (for example, 1♠ (2♦); 2♠ (3♦) leaves only 3♥ below three of our suit) then that bid becomes a generic game try. But if there’s no room at all — e.g., 1♠ (2♥); 2♠ (3♥) — we use double as a game try, with a 3♠ bid still being merely competitive. This does cause us to lose the penalty double but often responder can float (pass out) the maximal double when she has length in their suit and doesn’t fancy bidding game, and when responder is the one with shortness she should usually reopen if the three level overcall passes undoubled to her.
Snapdragon. When our side overcalls and three suits have been bid, without any of the bids being conventional or jumps, and by the time advancer gets his chance, double by advancer shows a desire to compete in either the fourth suit, in which she should have five or six cards, or intervenor’s suit, in which he has tolerance (usually a doubleton). For example, after (1♥) 1♠ – (2♣), double would show diamonds with spade tolerance, therefore a 2♦ bid tends to deny spade tolerance.
Minimum offshape takeout double with equal level conversion. For most players, when intervenor doubles and the bids a new suit of her own this shows a very strong hand, one that’s too strong to begin with a simple overcall (thus stronger than ~17 points). But playing this way makes it awkward to get involved with certain hand types containing a four card major and a longer minor, and if you don’t play michaels (and I suggest you don’t), it can also be hard to show two suiters that include the higher two of the unbid suits. For these hands I suggest using what’s called equal level conversion: After making a takeout double and hearing an advance in the lowest unbid suit, intervenor’s correction to the next unbid suit up at the same level does not show the big hand. An example to illustrate: After (1♦) X – (P) 2♣; (P), if intervenor (who began with a takeout double) bids 2♥. that’s equal level conversion (it’s at the same level as the 2♣ bid, and correcting the lowoest unbid suit, clubs, to the next one up, hearts), showing five or more hearts (six isn’t uncommon) and takeout double values, but no more. Why did intervenor folowo this path rather than overcalling clubs? The implication is that she must also have spades — at least four of them, and sometimes five. (The inability to distinguish between 4=5 and 5=5 in these auctions is the method’s main weakness; note that if you’re playing michaels instead of top and bottom, the 5=5 hand is no longer possible.) Because this “conversion” to 2♥ doesn’t show extra values it isn’t forcing. And because this non-forcing nature is dramatically different from how many people play, the conversion is at least arguably alertable.
Equal level conversion applies after takeout doubles of one-level suit openings. It would also be reasonable to play them after doubles of weak twos, but this doesn’t mesh well with roman jumps (see below), so I suggest doing it only after one level openings.
A majority of players who say they play equal level conversion do so only for corrections from clubs to diamonds (a restriction I don’t suggest you use, so be sure you and your partner are on the same page. (the most common treatment is to play michaels for majors, even with the occasional 4=5 shape, and use ELC only for conversion to diamonds, but if you can convince your partner to try it my way I suggest you do.)
Strength: ~7 to ~17 points (but it’s not really about high card points). This is a very wide range but in practice it works fine; methods that require intervenor (the player who either overcalls or doubles) to double with any 16 point or stronger hand get very tricky to use well in competition. You should include something for shape here, so 17 high card points in a very distributional hand is too strong. It’s never completely safe to make a takeout double without support for a suit partner might bury you in, so we still keep our overcalls potentially heavy.
New Suit Forcing. When playing transfer advances, which we do (see below), it’s probably slightly better to play new suits below the level of a cuebid as forcing for one round. (One big advantage is that you can sometimes find a 4-4 fit this way.) But even Jeff Rubens, who first proposed transfer advances (in an essay in The Bridge World), wasn’t sure what’s best so anything you want to do with this is probably fine.
Transfer advances of simple overcalls. After the opponents open in a suit at the one or two level (but consider one level openings first) and we make a simple (non-jump) overcall, advancer’s new suit bids, begining at the cuebid and continuing through the suit bid just below a raise of intervenor’s suit, are transfers; as usual, the partner of the transferror (here, the overcaller) accepts the transfer if she would pass a nonforcing bid in that suit. To illustrate, consider an example auction that begins (1♦) 1♠ – (P). Advancer’s bids:
- 1NT: Natural (transfer advances apply only to suit bids; you may actually want to play 1NT and if so, you’ll want to be declarer)
- 2♣: Natural, forcing for one round (unless you agree to play them nonforcing constructive)
- 2♦: Transfer to hearts (not a cuebid raise, which is what it would otherwise sound like). It always shows hearts and advancer may pass if intervenor completes the transfer, but it could also be a game try in spades with heart values.
- 2♥: transfer to a raise, usually meaning a good (maybe 7 to 9 point) spade raise with exactly three card support but can be stronger than that. (With the stronger version, advancer transfers to the arise and then rebids naturally.)
- 2♠: A raise, but merely competitive
- 2NT: natural, invitational to game
- 3♣/3♥: fit jumps (as we play in other competitive auctions)
- 3♦: generic game try but usually looking for a stopper for 3NT, thus game-invitational values but no great fit
- 3♠: natural and weak.
It’s important to recall that to the extent possible, transfer advances are on if responder doubles, raises opener’s suit, or bids notrump, but off if responder bids her own suit. By “to the extent possible” I mean to the extent there’s room; note that if responder raises, double of the shows whatever the cuebid would have shown i.e., it’s a transfer to the next suit up.
We also play transfer advances of overcalls after the opponents open a weak two, but with a range of strengths the most useful application is to distinguish between a sort of a courtesy raise and a strongly invitational one by transferring to the latter.
Jump Raise Weak: As in most other competitive auctions, jump raises are weak, in part because shutting out the opponents is good and in part because strong raises can use a cuebid.
3/4 level openings light or very light: Fairly normal, if aggressive, and not well defined. When you’re not vulnerable, almost any hand with a seven card suit will do for a three level opening in first or third seat, if it’s too weak to open at the one level; this is most true against vulnerable opponents at IMPs, in which case you can take enormous liberties.
Some players downgrade seven card suits to weak two openings if the suit quality is bad, but I recommend against that practice because it makes life hard for partner.
Top and Bottom Cuebid. Michaels is fine but I prefer the specificity of the top and bottom cuebid, which promises the same shape (almost always 5-5 or better) but specifies the highest and lowest unbid suits. Because both suits are known, it’s a little safer to do this when 4=5 in your suits than it is with a michaels cuebid of a major suit.
The way I play, a two-suited bid can show just about any strength but some play that it’s either pretty weak or quite strong (strong enough safely to bid a second time), not in between, and that’s OK too. If you do play it wide ranging, use a 2NT bid to ask intervenor how strong her hand is; she should rebid her cheaper suit with a minimum or do something else with a max. (I guess it’s possible to play 2NT natural on these auctions also but it strikes me as a bad idea.)
Direct: 15 to 18 HCP, Systems on. Note that this is slightly stronger than our opening notrump range. A stopper in opponent’s suit is nice to have but not strictly required, but do have a balanced hand. (If you have no stopper you’ll probably find another call; with no stopper, no suit to bid, the wrong shape for a takeout double, and a minimum for this bid (15 HCP or so), you’re probably better off passing if the opponent’s suit is a major). “Systems on” means advancer (partner of the overcaller) bids exactly the same as he would if responding to an opening 1NT bid (except for allowing for the tiny strength difference), as if the other side hadn’t opened at all.
It’s not shown on the card but a 2NT overcall of an opponent’s weak two opening is pretty similar, showing a good 15 to 18 or 19 high card points, a balanced hand, and this time definitely a stopper or two in opponent’s suit. Advancer uses the same system he would when responding to a 2NT opening (in other words, if you use puppet stayman then it applies here too, and so do jacoby and texas transfers).
Balancing: ~10 to ~15 HCP. This applies to auctions that begin with one of a suit by the bad guys followed by two passes. It’s possible to play the range a little narrower, and when vulnerable I wouldn’t bid it with a ten count. You’ll usually have a balanced hand (or you’d be overcalling instead), but this time a stopper in opponent’s suit is not required. It’s common to play the same systems by advancer of a balancing notrump as you play by responder to a 1NT opening (i.e., “systems on”), although the issues are a little different and it’s also reasonable to play everything natural (i.e., “systems off”). I prefer systems off.
Jump to 2NT: 2 Lowest. The “unusual notrump” shows the two lowest suits that the opponents haven’t bid. Note that not all 2NT bids are unusual; it has to be an overcall (i.e., the opponents opened the bidding), it has to be a jump bid [there are some rare exceptions that you can ignore for now] and it applies only if partner hasn’t done anything but pass. In most circumstances you really should have five or more cards in each suit, but the strength can be nearly anything. Note that the “minors” versus “two lowest” issue becomes more interesting when the opponents open a “could be short” minor, but I still think it’s best to play as if they have the suit they opened because on average they do.
In certain competitive auctions 2NT can show the minors, even if one of the opponents has bid one of them. This happens when a 2NT can’t possibly be natural (usually because it’s by a passed hand) and when double would be for takeout; 2NT is also for takeout but with an emphasis on the minors. This is very auction-dependent; I’m mentioning it just so you’re aware of the possibility.
DEFENSE VERSUS NOTRUMP
Even on an advanced card I favor playing the same method against an opening 1NT in direct and balancing seat, mostly for simplicity’s sake; the advantages of a different method in balancing seat are small. However, it’s important in tournament play to have a different method for weak notrumps, one that gives you a penalty double, so on this and the advanced card I advocate a split system according to strength.
Technical note that you should feel perfectly fine about ignoring: What’s a strong notrump and what’s a weak one? I favor putting the line at 16 points, meaning that if the agreed range includes 16 or more high card points as a possibility, it’s strong. Many players put this cutoff at 15 instead but I think that’s a mistake, at least in North American tournaments. Here’s why:
Players whose range goes to 15 points are usually playing either 12-15 or 13-15; players whose range goes to 16 are usually playing 14-16, with 13-16 being much less common. But because average strength hands are the most common and more extreme strengths (weak or strong) less and less common as their strength deviates from 10, the high end of opening notrump ranges is always less common than the low end; this skews the average of every range toward its low end.5 Here are the approximate frequencies for some balanced hands6:
- 10 hcp: 9.2% (of 4-4-3-2 hands; very similar for other balanced shapes)
- 11 hcp: 8.8%
- 12 hcp: 7.9%
- 13 hcp: 6.8%
- 14 hcp: 5.4%
- 15 hcp: 4.4%
- 16 hcp: 3.6%
- 17 hcp: 2.4%
You don’t have to crunch the numbers to see that, say, a 12 point hand is a lot more common than a 15 point hand. (The ratio is almost 1.8 to 1.) Using these numbers we can compute the average (mean) high card points for some commonly played ranges for the 1NT opening:
- 10-12: 10.9
- 11-14: 12.3
- 12-14: 12.9
- 12-15: 13.3
- 13-15: 13.9
- 14-16: 14.8
- 15-17: 15.8
Glancing at these numbers (goodness knows I don’t expect you to study them hard!), you can see that on average, a 12-15 notrump is a lot weaker than a 14-16. Because those are the common ranges that look similar but have the largest spread, I put the cutoff there, at a 16 count.
Another interesting thing to put under your thinking cap: the average hands are more common effect gets even more pronounced as you consider higher point counts, meaning that at the upper end of the scale the stronger hands are much less frequent. The practical effect is that it’s usually safe to assume partner is on the lower end of his bids, especially if he’s already shown a strong hand. An extreme example: Suppose partner has shown a 22-24 hcp notrump (by opening 2♣ and then rebidding 2NT). He’s about 55% likely to have 22 points, versus 30% for 23 points and just 15% for 24.
End technical note…
Versus Strong (includes 16 HCP) Notrump: meckwell
Playing DONT, which I did list on the basic 2/1 page, is fine but I prefer meckwell, which is similar; the simplicity and ubiquity of DONT is the reason I put it on the simple card. The main advantage of meckwell over DONT is that with a heart suit you bid 2♥ directly; this takes away responder’s opportunity to show values by redoubling, meaning that against most pairs you’re much more likely to to be permitted to play 2 hearts undoubled. Anyway, here’s meckwell:
- Double can be any of several hands — it shows either a one suiter in either minor or a two suiter with both majors, or (very rarely) some game forcing hand; advancer bids 2♣ and intervenor then passes, bids 2♦ with diamonds, or bids 2♥ to show both majors. With the rare game force, intervenor’s subsequent bidding is natural.
- 2♣ shows clubs and a major (though playing it as clubs and another is fine too); advancer either passes, bids 2♦ to ask for the major, or bids his own major (i.e., 2♥ is natural, not pass or correct).
- 2♦ shows diamonds and a major;
- 2♥ shows hearts;
- 2♠ shows spades.
- 2NT shows both minors and enough shape to belong at that level, or a strong (game invitational or better opposite a random six count, let’s say) hand that doesn’t know where to play but doesn’t want partner to pass at the two level or pass a double.
If you want to play something different here that’s fine; almost every system commonly employed today is at least reasonable.
Versus Strong (less than 16 HCP) Notrump: Modified cappelletti (this is optional; regular cappelletti is fine too)
Double is penalty (which is important to have available against weak notrumps, meaning that many of the common systems aren’t appropriate against them); 2♣ shows either diamonds only, or some major-minor two suiter; 2♦ shows both majors; 2♥ and 2♠ are each natural; 2NT shows minors. As against strong notrumps, higher-level interference is natural and requires a lot of shape. Notice the modification from cappelletti (also known as hamilton) wherein we show hearts and spades immediately. Bidding 2♥ and 2♠ naturally tends to work pretty well, particularly against inexperienced opponents (who won’t double much) and especially against those playing what are called “stolen bid” doubles (because they can’t double you for penalty, which is why you shouldn’t play them).
After we double for penalties, if advancer decides to pull to a suit (which he usually should not do without either great playing strength or a truly terrible hand), his bids are natural. (Many people play their normal 1 notrump systems here — i.e., as if the doubler had opened 1NT — and that’s acceptable too.)
AFTER OPPONENT’S TAKEOUT DOUBLE
New suit forcing at the 1 level only. It’s normal and probably best to play that responder can escape to a new suit at the two level with a long suit and a weak hand, so we play such bids nonforcing.
2NT Response: limit+ after majors and minors. In other words, with a good hand and support for partner, we bid 2NT (artificial, alerted) rather than raise directly; this frees up jump raises to be weak, which is nice to have in competition. This treatment is often called either jordan or dormer. One implication of playing this way is that redoubling instead of raising or bidding 2NT suggests, but does not promise, that responder has no great fit for opener’s suit; note that the redouble shows about 10 or more points and asks opener to double (for penalties) anything the bad guys bid if possible, and usually to pass otherwise.
This treatment is optional, but nice to have. One way to remember it is that 2NT should almost never be natural in a competitive auction. Playing 2NT is rarely a great deal in competition, especially if the opponents have a fit, as usually it’s better either to play in a suit or to double the bad guys. (Of course, determining which one is best can be tricky…)
Versus Opening Preempts Double is Takeout through 4♥ (penalty above that). Note that “takeout” doubles are left in (passed for penalties) more and more often as the level gets higher.
Lebensohl after doubles of weak two bids. After our side doubles in direct or balancing seat, their weak two opening, advancer can use lebensohl to distinguish between weak (generally 7 HCP or fewer) and not so weak advances to suits lower-ranked than opener’s, and to draw other distinctions similar to those in standard lebensohl auctions. The transfer version is best, wherein 2NT is a puppet to 3♣ and begins all signoffs while higher-level bids are transfers showing invitational or better values.
Roman jumps after preempts. Many players play leaping michaels after weak twos but this is an improvement: If an opponent has opened with a natural preempt of 2♦ through 3♣, then intervenor’s single jump into a new suit shows that suit and the next suit up (with clubs the next suit above spades; obviously we don’t count the opponent’s suit). It’s probably best to play these as a game force, but note that the force can be based on shape, particularly because with both of intervenor’s suits known, advancer can make good better decisions than in more ambiguous auctions.
I play that roman jumps are off starting at 3♦ because it’s too valuable to have the jumps to game in either major be natural.
Gerber. Gerber is a bid of 4♣ that is used conventionally to ask for aces (not keycards — there’s no trump suit). While for some players, particularly those who’ve been playing since the 50s or earlier, a 4♣ bid is usually or always gerber regardless the auction, I don’t recommend that approach; instead, play that 4♣ is gerber only in certain very particular auctions that always involve partner having bid notrump:
- If partner’s last bid was in notrump and notrump is a possible strain (i.e., the notrump bid was natural and we have not found a 4-4 or better major suit fit), and neither player has bid clubs naturally or otherwise shown that suit, then 4♣ is gerber. (Exception: If partner’s first natural bid was 3NT, as for example in 2♣ – 2♦; 3NT (showing 25-27), then 4♣ is stayman; any time 4♣ is stayman, 5♣ substitutes for gerber (and is then called supergerber).
- If partner’s first bid was a natural (not unusual) notrump bid (including an overcall) and no suit fit has been found, then a jump to 4♣ is gerber unless there is a specific agreement that it is something else. (The specific agreement we’re worried about is usually a splinter bid, but it could also be part of transfers-after-transfers, or baze-after-stayman.)
When 4♣ is not gerber it can be natural (usually part of a slam try), a splinter bid, a control bid, or certain other conventions once we start adding things on the advanced card.
Neither Gerber nor any other ace-asking bid is alerted during the auction unless it occurs on the first round of the auction; starting with opener’s second bid, no bid of 3NT or more is alerted until after the auction is over.
3014 kickback. The only value of the now-more-common 1430 responses (wherein a 5♣ answer to a 4NT keycard inquiry shows one or four keycards, a 5♦ bid 0 or 3) is that when hearts are trump, you have room to ask for the queen when answerer has shown one keycard. But the better way to solve that problme is to play kickback: When hearts are the agreed suit, the keycard-asking bid is 4♠, not 4NT. Respond to a 4♠ keycard inquiry in steps, up the line, using 3014 responses (4NT shows 0 or 3 keycards, 5♣ 1 or 4, 5♦ 2 with the queen, and so forth).
Playing kickback there’s no particular reason to prefer 3014 or 1430, but we go with 3014 for consistency with some other auctions (in which the choice is important).
Queen ask. The queen ask is part of keycard (1430 or 3014), including the kickback version, but let’s make it explicit: After a keycard ask and an answer that neither shows nor denies the queen of trump (e.g., with spades trump, 5♣ and 5♦ don’t say anything about the queen; 5♥ and 5♠ do), the cheapest bid that is not a possible contract (in other words, it’s neither the agreed trump suit nor anything else that the bidder might want to sign off in if the trump suit has already been passed) asks for the queen of the agreed trump suit. In answering a queen ask, return to the trump suit at the cheapest level (which should be five unless something has gone wrong) without the queen, and do something else with it: either bid a side-suit king (the cheapest you can show) if you have one or bid six of the agreed suit if you have no side king.
A rare auction that sounds similar but means something entirely different: Suppose a minor suit is agreed, someone asks for keycards, and the response is higher than five of the agreed suit. A 5♠ bid now, by the player who asked using 4NT, is a marionette to 5NT (i.e., it’s a near demand that partner bid 5NT). The usual reason for using this bid is a desire to sign off in exactly 5NT because the player who asked has learned that the partnership is missing two keycards but the bidding has gone beyond the safe five of a minor contract.7
A subtle addition: If you can tell from the bidding that the partnership definitely has at least ten cards in the agreed trump suit, then bid as if you have the queen even if you don’t. With a ten card fit you will lose a trick to the queen only if you’re very unlucky (about 5% of the time) so it’s reasonable to ignore that possibility in judging whether to bid slam.
Another addition that you don’t need to worry about unless you’re comfortable with it: If partner asks you for keycards, you answer, and partner then signs off in five of the agreed suit, you can raise to 6 if three things are all true:
- You have the higher number of keycards that is consistent with the answer you gave (for example, you answered 5♣ showing 1 or 4 and you have 4);
- It’s possible that partner does not already know you have the higher number (consider as a counterexample: you opened 2♣ and later showed 3 or 0 — partner will assume, correctly, that a 2♣ opener can’t have zero keycards); and
- Partner didn’t bid five of the trump suit noticeably slowly.
The last point, that partner can’t have signed off slowly, isn’t part of the system but it’s a concession to practicality: When partner spends a long time thinking and then signs off short of slam, you have unauthorized information that he was thinking about going further. In practice the directors probably won’t give you the benefit if you bid on and it’s right (i.e., they’ll adjust the score to 5 making 6, assuming slam does make) even if you otherwise would have. You can argue that bidding on is obvious but that argument probably won’t be successful.
If you have all five keycards and for some reason partner is the one doing the asking, you should never pass an attempted signoff at the five level. What more could partner be looking for?
Specific king ask. After a keycard inquiry and any response, a bid of 5 of the keycard ask (5NT with spades trump, 5♠ if hearts are trump, etc.) asks for kings (not counting the king of the trump suit, which we already counted as a keycard). The same applies if a second round inquiry was necessary to ask about the trump queen. Respond by bidding the cheapest king you can show below 6 of the trump suit. Notice that if hearts are trump you won’t be able to show the spade king, which is a weakness that we handle on more complex versions of the card; if a minor suit is trump this method works pretty badly, which is why we try not to use 4NT keycard in minor suit auctions at all. There are better ways, but for now this will do.
If you don’t have any side kings you can safely show, bid six of the agreed suit. Also, if you don’t have any showable kings but you know for sure that you have a source of tricks that should be enough for partner (who must be looking for a grand slam, else why ask for kings?), then you can bid the grand yourself. This is rare but it does happen when you have a solid source of several tricks, one you haven’t told partner about, in a suit that’s higher than the agreed trump suit.
If you are comfortable showing the number of side kings in response to 5NT, rather than specific kings, that’s fine too; specific kings is only a little bit better.
With a minor suit agreed: either minorwood or kickback (also known as redwood). When a minor suit is trump, using 4NT as the keycard ask (regardless the response structure) has a frustrating tendency to land the partnership too high. The solution is to use a lower bid than 4NT to ask for keycards. there are two common methods, each of which I’m happy to play:
- In minorwood, four of the agreed minor suit (in which a fit should already have been established) is keycard in that minor; use 3014 responses with steps up the line as described under kickback. The main difficulty that I have found with minorwood is that I often want that bid to be natural (and forcing), but I admit you rarely need that.
- In kickback (which is often called redwood when employed over minors), the keycard ask is one step above four of teh agreed trump suit, provided that bid can’t possibly be to play. The can-it-be-to-play problem tends to arise when diamonds have been bid and raised but someone has los bid hearts; if 4H makes any sense as a final contract, you don’t want to use it as a keycard ask too. (Or, worse, one of you play it as keycard and the other as a natural bid…) If 4H would be to play, then 4S would be your keycard ask.
My suggestion is that you play kickback (3014 responses) in all suits including minors, but make an exception when diamonds are agreed but hearts were bid naturally too, in which case you should use minorwood to avoid ambiguity.
DOPI/ROPI/DEPO. This almost never comes up but just in case: If an opponent interferes in our keycard auction, after the keycard ask and before the answer, then:
- If the interference is an bid below five of our trump suit, double shows zero keycards, pass shows one, and bidding higher than that shows two (in steps, if there’s room, to show the queen or not).
- If the interference is a double (which would be weird if the ask is 4NT, but makes sense if it’s a kickback-type suit bid), then redouble shows zero and pass one; a new suit should probably be two keycards with the queen and a king in the bid suit, while five of the agreed suit is two keycards but no queen.
- If the interference is a bid higher than five of our suit, double shows an even number (including zero) of keycards while pass shows an odd number.
While we’re on the subject of opponents doubling our artificial bids: In general when they do this, a redouble is for business, not rescue, pass shows no particular reason to bid, and bidding over the double shows whatever the bid would otherwise have meant.
Exclusion keycard: With a suit agreed (explicitly or implicitly) a jump to five of a new suit is keycard in the agreed suit, but asks the answered not to count the ace of the suit the asker jumped to. Why not? Because the asker has a void there. Responses are 3014 style, stepwise.
Versus Suits: Standard honor leads (i.e., top of a sequence, including an internal sequence). Ace from Ace-king (which is standard these days even if the card implies otherwise); playing the king first would imply a doubleton.
Fourth best from length (when you don’t have a sequence to lead). Low from three, whether you have an honor or not. (“Top of nothing” is playable but I prefer this method; leading the middle card is a poor method.) Top of a doubleton (except ace-king).
Versus Notrump: About the same as versus suits, with a few exceptions:
Honor sequence leads against notrump require three cards (possibly with a single card missing, as in KQT versus just KQx), and lead the king, not the ace, from AK combinations (which should be AKJ or better except from exactly AKx). As for spot cards, lead top of nothing if you’ve chosen to lead from three small cards; rarely lead a doubleton against notrump unless partner bid the suit but if you do, lead high. It’s also OK to lead the second-highest card (or the highest, if you’re sure it won’t be needed to take a trick) when you’ve chosen to lead from exactly four cards without any honors (though usually you should lead a different suit).
Upside-Down Count and Attitude (against suits and notrump). It is fine to play “standard” (high encourages, high for even count), but somewhat better to play “upside-down” (low encourages, low for even count). It’s also not hard to make the switch because you get tons of hands on which to practice — after all, you defend about half the hands you play and you should be signalling on most of those.
Using upside down attitude and standard count is playable but generally considered a poor combination, and in my experience is considerably harder to do well. Many players do play this way but I urge you to switch to upside down count and attitude (UDCA) instead.
Reverse smith echo. An optional addition, but a very nice one to have available. Playing smith, which applies only against notrump contracts, both defenders signal their attitude about continuing the suit of the opening lead, as follows: Suppose declarer has won either the opening lead (usually) or defenders’ continuation in the same suit, and suppose that based on the bidding, the cards already played, and dummy’s holding it is not obvious whether one, the other, or both defenders should continue attacking the same suit when they regain the lead. If this is the case, each defender signals attitude about her partner continuing the suit, using spot cards in the suit declarer next attacks. In reverse smith, which I find easier to learn and remember, an unnecessarily high spot card from either player asks partner not to continue the suit that was originally led. This discouraging signal can be made because doing so would be unsafe from one side or the other (perhaps the suit needs to be continued only from the correct side), or there’s a more fruitful line of defense; the latter will often be the case if the opening lead was from a short (two or three card) holding, hoping to hit partner’s suit.
If you play smith, it’s important to know when it doesn’t apply. The obvious exception is when the correct defense is, well, obvious (picture dummy with a triple stopper remaining, for example); in such cases defenders’ cards retain their normal meaning, whether count or suit preference. But there’s an importabt specific exception too: When dummy has a source of tricks (a long, strong suit) but is missing a high honor or two, and has no outside entry (or is missing two top honors and has only one entry), and declarer starts to drive out defenders’ stopper(s) in that suit, it is very important for the defenders to show count in the suit declarer is attacking (so they know how long to hold up) so that’s what their spot cards should show.
Of course it may be impossible to read whether partner has used a Smith echo until she plays a second spot card (which will reveal whether the order was high-low — an echo — or low high — no echo), but if you have to decide before you can be sure, do your best. This applies to any high-low signal.
A reminder: A smith signal is never a command — no signal is. If you know what to do, do it.
Primary signal to partner’s leads: Attitude. Attitude is your first priority in all carding, whether following to partner’s lead or discarding. When attitude has been shown already or is obvious (for example, it’s declarer’s suit), the next priority is count. In certain specific circumstances suit preference is the signal and as you gain experience you’ll probably show suit preference more and more often.
- Bridge Winners is a discussion board that you might consider joining (it’s free and they don’t spam you); some of the discussions get silly — it’s the internet, after all — but there’s also a lot of good information available there.
- Regarding suit lengths: I follow the method used by The Bridge World magazine (and others), wherein one uses hyphens to denote generic hand shapes and equal signs to show specific shapes. Thus, for example, 5-3-3-2 denotes any hand with a five card suit, two three card suits, and a doubleton, while 5=3=3=2 shows specifically five spades, three hearts, three diamonds, and three clubs.
- Regarding pronouns: There is no universally accepted treatment of personal pronouns in English when the person’s sex is unknown. What I’ve settled on for all my bridge writing is this: Opener and fourth seat is “he”, responder (opener’s partner) is “she”, intervenor (the player who first doubles or overcalls) is “she”, and advancer (the partner of the intervenor) is “he”. This works out to be darned close to 50/50 over the course of a typical writeup.
- Unfortunately it may not be that simple when responder passes slowly: I have been ruled against several times after reopening with double after my partner has tanked and then passed, even though I had mandatory reopening printed on our convention card. The lesson is to learn to act in tempo, please.
- If the ranges were less than average strength this effect would be reversed, but an agreement to open 1 notrump with less than average strength isn’t allowed in ACBL play.
- I got these number’s from Richard Pavlicek’s excellent site; the tables I used are on this page. Here I’m considering only 4-4-3-2 hands as a proxy for all balanced hands
- A little story: When I was first getting started in bridge — I had about a dozen or so masterpoints — the best player in Meadville, Pennsylvania (yes, really) had agreed to play with me in a club game. We had had about ten minutes to discuss agreements and certainly hadn’t discussed this 5♠ – 5NT marionette, but he sprung it on me anyway with clubs the agreed suit. I had read about it and got it right (and he made 5 notrump for a top), and forever after he treated me with respect and we played together quite frequently.