Since moving to the USA, I have played less bridge than I am used to. But I have played enough to note that Bergen raises are very popular.
Responder's 2nd bid
We are about to enter one of the most disputed arenas of bidding theory -- fast arrival vs. picture bids.
Other rebids by opener at the 3-level and beyond
Getting back on track in these 2/1 discussions, we will finish our look at opener's first rebid today.
This will be a quick one. Our experts are playing in the finals of the Brazilian Trials, and we are building a backlog of interesting hands to comment upon in the coming days. This next hand, in the semifinals, struck my eye:
Miguel Villas-Boas picked up this nice collection, vulnerable, 3rd in hand. He was already thinking about how to deal with spade preempts when his partner pleased him by opening 1 Spade, himself. He bid 2 Diamonds (game forcing), and partner rebid 2 Spades.
I gave this hand as a problem to some intermediate and advanced players, and none of them chose Miguel's bid, 4 Diamonds. I think his bid is clearly the best. This little digression shows how people are reluctant to jump in a forcing auction even when they have the hand for it (setting trumps, asking for cuebids). This creates problems in the later auction. Not in Brenner-Villas Boas table, though (at least not yet!).
Diego Brenner bid what was probably the best thing Miguel could wish for -- 4 Hearts (cuebid), depicting either the King of hearts or shortness. East could perhaps bid 7 Diamonds now, but he chose to go through 4NT. Partner showed one Ace, and he bid 7 Diamonds. This was Diego's hand:
Excellent bidding, wasn't it?
But the auction was not over yet. Diego had a thoughtful idea. Since he had an undisclosed source of tricks, (and a nice hand of his own), perhaps 7NT would be safer, protecting against some bad break in diamonds. (He would have two bites at the apple rather than one -- if diamonds did not ran, perhaps spades would). And so he bid 7NT.
He picked an unfortunate time to do that, since his hand had no entries!
Luckily for them, South had a tough problem in picking the lead, and he picked... a spade. A happy ending for our experts, and 13 imps when the other table ended in 6 Diamonds (after East did not jump to 4 Diamonds over 2 Spades).
Opener's 2nd bid #2 - rebidding his suit, bidding 2NT, or raising partner's suit
These bids are also unlimited (though the 2NT bid is a special case), continuing the description of opener's hand while establishing the foundation for the choice of games or for slam bidding. Let us take each possibility in turn.
1. Rebid of own suit
The rebid of opener's own suit can have any strength, and does not guarantee 6 cards in the suit. It is, indeed, the "default bid" whenever a hand does not fit any other bid. Some examples of minimum and maximum hands after the auction 1 Spade - 2 Clubs:
Again, if you feel that 2 Spades is not enough with the 2nd hand, your instincts are in the right place. But there is no better bid. A jump to 3 Spades -- which will be discussed in the next article -- would require a better suit. There is no doubt you would have a lot of catching up to do once the bidding starts 1 Spade - 2 Clubs - 2 Spades, since partner will -- initially! -- picture you with something closer to the 1st hand We will discuss how to deal with that in a later article.
What are the kinds of hands that rebid opener's suit with only 5 cards? It depends on responder's suit. The auction 1 Spade - 2 Clubs leaves space for opener to rebid any red suit at the 2-level; the auction 1 Spade - 2 Hearts preempts the minor suits, which must now be shown at the 3-level. Bidding at the 3-level requires extras -- either in distribution or in high cards -- and so opener may be stuck with a rebid in his own suit with a hand like the following one, after 1 Spade - 2 Hearts:
This is a mild example. You could be forced to bid 2 Spades with a minimum 5-5! (It is a disgusting notion, and I try very hard to show the second suit, but some hands are so weak that I cannot bring myself to do it).
What this all means is that the more space you have to bid new suits, the less likely it is that you will have a hidden suit when you rebid your own suit. 1 Spade - 2 Clubs is the best auction in that family: opener is denying 4+ diamonds or hearts, and so will only have 5 spades if his hand is inadequate for a 2NT rebid, to be reviewed shortly. On the other hand, 1 Spade - 2 Hearts is an auction in which the rebid is quite vague, and it will probably have only 5 cards more often than not, considering how 5-4 hands are so common. I haven't done the research to establish this, but you should take this rebid with a grain of salt anyway.
2. The 2NT rebid
Here we have one of those bidding areas in which more than one style is popular and playable. Let me present each one in order:
2.1. 2NT shows extras
In this style, 2NT shows at least a good 14+ hand (i.e., 2NT is one of the bids which require a non-minimum, just as all other 3-level new suit non-jump bids). With a hand weaker than that, you rebid your own suit, the default bid.
Note some corollaries of this style:
2.2. 2NT shows a minimum (12-15)
This gives better definition to the opener's rebid of his own suit (since it takes the balanced 12-15, with adequate stoppers, out of it). It is still not a guarantee of a 6-card suit there, since some hands will be quite inadequate for a 2NT rebid (imagine AKJxx xxx xxx KJ, 1 Spade - 2 Clubs - ?). But it increases the odds of catching those 6 cards.
The corollaries are:
I honestly don't have any strong opinion on which is the best style. I have played both, effectively. Pick the one with which you feel most comfortable. If I had to make a guess about how an unknown partner would interpret it, I would go with the first option (2NT shows extras), but you should not have to guess. Discuss it with your partner!
3. A simple raise of partner's suit
This is unlimited, but the parameters change noticeably depending on whether partner`s suit is a minor or hearts (the only major suit that can be shown as a 2/1 response). Raising a minor suit shows extras (14+), and 4 cards in the suit, for two reasons: game in a minor requires more power, and responder can (and often will) have only 4 cards for his natural 2/1 response in a minor.
On the other hand, responder always shows 5+ cards when he responds 2 Hearts over 1 Spade, and so opener may raise with 3. Also, opener may be minimum (and even subminimum!) with this raise, since raising a major suit takes precedence over any fine-tuning of strength.
These are examples of minimum / maximum raises of a minor:
Note that these auctions are often tricky. You should not pass (with the 2nd hand) when partner bids 3NT over your raise, but change one of your Aces (or even both of them) to Kings and the issue becomes less clear. That's the trouble with minor suits -- you have to take a chance (of bypassing the best contract, which is often 3NT) when deciding whether to explore a slam.
The major suits are different in that you are not so interested in 3NT if you have found a fit there. (Though 3NT is often better than 4 of a Major...). This is why we raise hearts freely over the auction 1 Spade - 2 Hearts. Your hand can be like one of these, or anything in-between:
It is easy to foresee difficulties if the same bid can have hands of such different playing power. We use some tools to help with slam bidding (Serious/Non-Serious 3NT, splinters rather than a direct raise, etc. All will be discussed at later articles.), but this is an area in which judgment will always be rewarded, and rote bidding can be harshly punished.
In the next article in this series (to be published next Monday, Jan 20th), we will finish the exploratory look at opener's first rebid.
Opener's rebids #1 - new suit at the 2-level
You opened 1 of a Major, and your partner responded with a new suit at the 2-level. The auction is forcing to game (or at least to a rebid by responder, if you prefer the style that allows for the one-suited invitational exception. More on that in the next article). This means that there is no need to jump with strength. Jumps are therefore defined to show specific hands.
The general principle governing the entire structure is that hands without a clear direction bid slowly. This means two things:
So, after 1 Spade - 2 Clubs, you should bid 2 Diamonds with both of these hands:
If you are thinking that you may never catch up if you bid only 2 Diamonds with the 2nd hand, all I can say is that your instincts are in the right place! You should be yearning to show your enormous playing strength (particularly after partner shows a nice hand with 2 Clubs). But the hand is too complicated for you to jump around. You can end up playing a contract in spades, diamonds, or clubs (or perhaps notrump if partner insists on it after you show your diamonds, i.e., if he has good heart stoppers); and you can stop in game only (which is admittedly very unlikely), or in a slam, or in a grand slam. To explore all of these possibilities properly, you should take advantage of the entire bidding space available.
Note that you will have to take control of the auction later. Partner will never play you for a hand this strong. One of the most common pitfalls of 2/1 bidding is that a player believes that, because the auction is forced to game, he should just go through the motions (of suit establishment and cuebidding) and then the final contract will be reached almost automatically. That is not correct. When the hand is in the slam zone, one or both players must take the plunge and go beyond the game-level. The second hand above is far too strong to not invite slam (very strongly).
(Actually I think I overshot when imagining that hand. I can't really picture myself stopping short of slam once partner shows clubs and a game-forcing hand).
The most difficult hands for the 2/1 style are the in-between hands. When you have, say, one less King than hand 2 above, you often have to take a chance at the 5-level to explore slam possibilities. But that's a subject for future articles. For now, the point is that a non-jump rebid in a new suit is unlimited in strength.
It is also unlimited in distribution. 2 Diamonds shows at least 5-4 in spades and diamonds, but it can go all the way to a 7-6 hand (you won't see those very often). More realistically, it can be bid with 6-4, 5-5, 6-5, and often with 7-4 (although in this last case rebidding spades will also be attractive in many situations).
So far all I've been discussing here is "standard and best". There is one case of the non-jump rebid in a new suit at the 2-level which has no "standard" interpretation, and which must therefore be discussed with your partner. I mean, of course, the 2 Spades rebid by a 1 Heart opener: the auction 1 Heart - 2 of a minor - 2 Spades.
There are two main schools in play here. Either this shows extra values (roughly 14+; a hand which will accept a one-suited game invitation if that is allowed in your structure), or it may be bid with any minimum. The core of the problem is how to bid a minimum 4-5 hand:
I have seen hands like this result in lost imps at a very high level, due to a lack of discussion between partners as to how to deal with them. Should this hand bid 2 Spades after 1 Heart - 2 Clubs, or should it be content to bid 2 Hearts? Let us look at the pros and cons of each approach.
Style #1 - 2 Spades is a reverse (showing extra values)
Pro: gives more definition to a 2 Spade rebid, which may come in handy if responder is interested in slam.
Con: Makes it necessary for responder to bid 2 Spades over 2 Hearts whenever he has 4 cards there, else the fit will be lost. 2 Spades may not be the most natural bid (imagine something like Q9xx x AJ9 KQJxx -- he would like to show a strong preference for NT now, rather than suggest a spade contract), but this is the trap that must be avoided if you are playing this style. Someone has to bid spades when that is the best strain!
Style #2 - 2 Spades is not a reverse (may be bid with a minimum)
Pro: releases responder to bid more naturally with 54 in the blacks (or even 44 in the blacks, which should often start with 2 Clubs with game forcing values -- a subject for a later article).
Con: may make it harder for responder to sort out opener's strength, when he is interested in high contracts.
I prefer to build the system so as to make it easier for us to reach the best game. Choice of games is more often important than slam bidding. (Though it must be noted that slam bidding is a very close second issue in that hierarchy). So, my recommendation is that you should play Style #2. But whatever is your choice, discuss it with your partner! Both of you must be in the same page here, and without clear discussion of this issue, there will be bad results, guaranteed.
Style #2 will be assumed when we discuss responder's 2nd bid.
In the next article, other non-jump rebids by opener: the rebid of the major suit, the raise of partner's suit, and 2NT.
This series will present the foundation and further developments of the most popular system of natural bidding, called "2/1 Game Forcing", or "2/1" as a shorthand. We will explore the reasoning behind the system, and discuss situations in which there is more than one obviously superior approach. In fact, there will be 3 categories of agreements that will be presented here:
This series has no end in sight. I don't know how many articles will be written. If there is enough interest, we can even get into more space-age approaches (such as 2 Clubs artificial over 1 Major opening, and Gazzilli). But for now we will begin at the beginning, from the ground up.
Why play 2/1?
2/1, as the most popular natural style, replaced what is nowadays called "Goren" (after the player who most popularized that style), or "Standard American". Online, it is easy to find people claiming to play SAYC, which stands for "Standard American Yellow Card". If you have learned bridge before, say, the 2000's, the odds are that you have learned to bid in that style, and was only later presented to 2/1.
The replacement is understandable. 2/1 produces better results. And it is even easier to play! It is not a panacea; we will see some soft spots in the system. But it is superior to SAYC, and it is important to understand why.
2/1 better conforms to a bidding principle, which is, determine as early as possible if the combined strength of the hands are enough to produce game. The idea behind that principle is that the main goal of any bidding system (in the unimpeded auction... contested auctions are a different animal, which will be discussed later) is to reach as many makeable games as possible. Incidentally, this is why we focus on looking for a major suit -- because game is easier to make there than in a minor. If all suits had the same worth, bidding systems would suffer an enormous overhaul.
SAYC would respond with a 2/1 (e.g. 2 Clubs over a 1 Heart opening) with hands in the 10+ range, i.e., in the invitational-plus category. It makes for a better description of invitational hands (which often have to respond with a forcing NT in the 2/1 system). But it also means that the partnership is still unaware of whether the hands should bid game. Then, if opener made a minimum but forcing rebid (a new suit, traditionally), the partnership was still in the dark. And then someone had to jump in order to announce game-forcing strength. This wasted space and was prone to accidents.
2/1 is simpler. If you bid at the 2-level over a 1-Major opening, you are indicating game forcing values. (There is a popular style that includes one exception -- invitational one-suited hands. We'll discuss it in a later article. For now, let us assume GF values). This means that nobody needs to jump. And so the partnership has plenty of space to focus on the next two goals of bidding (once GF strength is established), answering the following questions:
Let us look at a typical hand to check the superiority of 2/1 over the SAYC:
14 high card points opposite 13. Everyone would like to be in game with these cards. But the best game (4 Hearts) requires careful exploration. In a Standard American context, the auction would begin (with West being dealer) with 1 Spade - 2 Clubs - 2 Hearts. Now, East would like to indicate a stopper in diamonds, while also leaving open the door for further exploration. He is not sure of the best contract. There is one snag, though: 2NT would not be forcing! It would typically show a hand with something like 11 points and 1=3=4=5 distribution. It might also be 2=3=4=4. It would be the last way to warn opener that the hand might not make a game.
So, East would have a real problem here. And it would probably be solved by a 3NT bid. (3 Clubs would also not be forcing). East might try a piece of delicate bidding by essaying 3 Diamonds, and it would work well in this situation, but this would make it quite hard for him to show a 5-6 in the minors, in another hand. Any way you slice it, it is worse for the partnership if East has to bid a non-suit or jump to game, crowding the bidding.
How much simpler is their auction in a 2/1 context. East bids a comfortable 2NT, since the auction is already forced to game, and the whole 3-level is available for exploration. West rebids his hearts, showing 5 cards there, and East, with 3-card support and only one diamond stopper, has an easy 4 Hearts bid.
This was a choice of games hand, but it is easy to see that the pursuit of slam will also be hindered if players have to jump, or bid non-suits, in order to announce the strength to force to game.
By giving priority to that bidding principle -- the partnership must know, as early as possible, whether they are looking for only a part-score or whether they have the strength to try game -- 2/1 has reached its current popularity.
In the next article, we will take a look at opener's rebids in the 2/1 context.