This article is the first of a series in which I will discuss some bidding notions that appear weird, and perhaps even mistaken, to my eyes.
I am stepping onto a minefield, since many of these notions are upheld by famous authors, and followed by high level partnerships. Criticisms are welcome, since my intent is to help us to reappraise some ideas and conventions.
One of the oldest ideas in bidding theory, one which I first heard, and already thought it strange, when I was a bridge "infant", was the notion of free bid. According to this notion, if you want to respond to your partner's opening after an opposing interference -- even at the one level -- you must have a better hand than if the opponent had passed. Our minimum is no longer the 5/6 points (taking distribution into account); these authors require something like 8+.
In my view this notion has no leg to stand upon, either logically or in practice. I even think we should do the opposite: in other words, after interference, we can and should strive to bid even with a worse-than-minimum hand. By interfering, the opponents have started a struggle for the winning denomination -- at least at the part-score level. This should be a flag for action, not for passivity. We should contest the auction.
Suppose you have the following hand:
When your partner opened in 1 of a minor suit, I imagine that the vast majority of players would consider this hand good enough for a 1 Spade response.
But what if the opponent interfered with 1 Heart before your turn? I see no reason why this should hinder us from bidding what we expected to bid -- either by doubling (if this indicates precisely 4 spades), or by using any other agreement selected by the players.
To pass would be to give the opponents the reward they are waiting for when they interfere. In effect, we would be granting to the overcall of 1 Heart a "preemptive power" that it absolutely lacks.
After partner opens 1 Diamonds, the natural response is 1NT. But if the opponents bid 1 of a major (whether spades or hearts -- the lack or presence of a stopper is not the main factor in this hand), my emphatic recommendation is a 2 Clubs bid. This is probably your last opportunity of showing such a good suit.
Of course, the partnership must discuss the meaning of all possible reactions after the opponents interfere. Cuebids, jump shifts, many kinds of raises, 2/1 weaker than GF (as in the last example) must be defined clearly.
But this is a subject for another article. This one's goal is solely to criticize the notion of free bid.