Packaging raises and preparing for the best and worst - part 3
This post is the third of three on raises.
Playing standard, you have a 3-2-2-6 shape (6Cs), partner opens 1C, next player passes, and you have:
8 points - you bid 2C, 5 to 10 with club support
11 points - you bid 3C, 10 to 12 with club support, game invite
13 points - you have no bid - you could try 1S on just 3 spades (yuck), or bid 1D on 2 (double yuck), or 3NT with a hidden fit (triple yuck)
You need a way of handling the forcing raise. If you stick with just 2C and 3C as your primary club raises, there are several ways of allocating the raises by packing more into the 2C raise:
a) Inverted minors, with 2C as 9+, and 3C as the 5-8 (with flaws discussed in the last post)
b) 2C 5 to 11, includes game invites, and 3C game forcing
c) 2C less than a game invite or game forcing
Although b) might seem to be troublesome to play, it's not the bad - both opener and responder will often have a chance to show extras (for responder, game invite values) by bidding below 3C, and if the bidding has quickly got above 3C, responder's double is used to show the game invite values.
Likewise c) is quite manageable - the game forcing hand is relatively rare, and it can "come alive" by showing strength on the next turn to bid. If the responding structure includes 3H and 3S as splinters (with a club fit, game forcing), and perhaps a 3D splinter, then the game forcing hand is easy to distinguish later, and will often double to show the strength and 2-3 cards in the suit doubled.
In both a) and c) 2C is forcing, which allows the opponents to avoid bidding on some marginal hands. a) bids quickly to the 3 level on weak hands, but this can hurt the opening side sometimes.
Some partnerships incorporate a third bid as a club raise. Schemes include:
d) 2C=standard, 3C=preemptive, 2D=game invite or better
e) 2C=game invite or better, 2D=constructive (decent standard single raise), 3C=really preemptive (no game opposite 18-19 balanced)
f) 2C=game forcing, 3C=really preemptive, 2D=constructive or game invite
g) 2C=standard, 3C=game invite, 2D=game force
h) 2C=constructive or game invite, 3C=really preemptive, 2D=game force
In ACBLland the advantage of the last three schemes is that you can put more into the game forcing bid, since it can represent a set of game forces, not just raises. For example with g) and h), 2D could be game force balanced, club raise, or any long suit slam try. Now opener bids 2H if balanced, 2S if unbalanced, and then responder bids 2NT to show balanced, 3C to show a club raise (can be slam try), and any other suit bid is a long suit slam try.
The problem with telling the opponents your range is it allows them to draw a bead on their target zone for their contracts. Since opener will tend to have minimum values, 12-14, often balanced or semi-balanced, the opponents can estimate fairly well whether they should compete and how high they need to compete to.
If it goes 1C-2C, standard, 5-10, opponents can assume they have 16 to 23 points, will need to compete and investigate if there is a game. If it goes 1C-2C, inverted, 9+, opponents can assume they have 0 to 19 points, can compete if shapely, and should only move towards game if quite shapely as a two-way shot - either it makes (rare) or it's a good sacrifice.
Now, to show the extreme, if 1C-2C is a wide ranging raise, 0 to any, the opponents do not know what they need to target. Say the opponents focus on the 3-14 possibility of the raise. Now, if opener is a minimum 12-14, they have somewhere between 12 and 25 points. They may need to stay out of the auction, or compete, or get to game, or even find a shapely slam.
This raise, while it looks completely unwieldy, is actually playable, since opener will often a sufficient space to indicate if they would accept a game invite or not, and if they are 18-19 balanced. The unbalanced hands that are better than a mere game invite are not a problem, since they will have enough shape and values to want to propel the partnerships beyond 3C - even if 4C was going down, the opponents will have their own nice spot.
What are some of the problems in this raise? First, it gives the opponents considerable room - they can double, bid 2D/H/S/NT, cuebid, bid 3D/H/S/NT etc. Second it is forcing, so the opponents know they get a second chance to act, albeit perhaps at an uncomfortable level when responder is able to bounce the bidding at their second turn.
To take up bidding space, we would prefer an artificial raise closer to 3C. However it can't be 2NT if responder can have some values but often with a singleton/void or weak doubleton, as this would badly position a possible 3NT contract. The "next best thing", or closed to 3C thing, is 2S.
What about the 2C bid - can what can this be used for? First we would like for it to be non-forcing, so that the opponents are under some pressure to act. Second, we want the bid to range up to a game invite, and to be made on as little as zero, so the opponents can't target well. Third, we would like to remove the guaranteed fit for the opponents - if 2C promises 5+, the opponents almost always have a 8+ fit.
For the game invite hands we can afford to bid 2C on a balanced 11-12 with 3-4 clubs, since we are comfortable rebidding 2NT if necessary. Thus the first set of hands we will put into 2C will be 3-5Cs, game invites, no singleton/void, no 4 card major. Now if the opponents just faced that, they would figure out they had no guaranteed fit (since they might have 7 clubs, and then less length elsewhere), and they have 14-17 points - generally they want to stay out of the bidding unless quite shapely.
Now let's package 2C with 0-6 5+Cs, and a hand that has a most a game invite opposite 18-19 balanced, but wants to raise clubs to show a fit and introduce an obstacle for the opponents. Now if the opponents were just concerned with this set of hands, their target would be 20-28 points with 8+ fit very likely - now they want to bid.
When we package 2C as:
- 0-6 5+Cs, no 4cM
- 10/11-12, game invite, 3-5 Cs, no 4cM, no singleton/void
The opponents target zone increases to 14-28 points, and if in the 14-17 range there is no guaranteed fit. They face auctions like 1C-Pass-2C-Double;-Pass-2H-?, and now responder can bid 3C with 5Cs, either game invite or 0-6, and can pass with game invite with exactly 2Hs and 3/4 Cs, and can double with a game invite with exactly 3Hs and 3/4 clubs. However if they don't enter the bidding they risk getting stolen from when responder has the 0-6.
What about the 2S artificial club raise - what we have left (after 2C as above, and 3C as in the second series in this post), is 6/7+ (a game force opposite 18-19 balanced), 5+Cs and either a major suit singleton/void and/or 6+Cs (if not major suit singleton/void then game invite), packaged with 4+Cs no major suit singleton game force. Over 2C, a structure could be:
2NT: would accept a shapely game invite or better hand, asking responder to show hand type including singleton unless minimum (after 3C minimum, 3D would re-ask for shortness, 3NT=short Ds).
3C: minimum, not enough to accept a shapely game invite
3D/H/S: a suit that opener wants to be in at least a club game if responder has a singleton/void in the suit
3NT: 18-19 balanced, not that interested in knowing any singleton/void
What's the opponents target zone? - they have 22 or less points, and likely a fit. They might have a game if near maximum and shapely. Thus if the opponents are carefully not to come into the bidding without values (to avoid the cases where responder has a game force flat hand that can double on the next turn to bid) this raise does not cause the opponents a lot of grief. However it does consume bidding space: if the double of 2S is takeout of clubs, the opponents will have to bid 3S to overcall in spades, while if the double of 2S shows spades, 2NT and/or 3C has to be used for takeout of clubs - either way the opponents are at the three level fast. Even better, opener can often bounce after the raise if unbalanced - club fit and if responder has less than game going values will have a singleton/void and/or very long clubs.
Here's the raise structure, all with no 4 card or longer major:
2C: 0-6 5+Cs OR game invite 3-5Cs no singleton/void
2S: 6/7+ 5+Cs with a major suit singleton/void OR game invite 6+Cs OR 4+Cs game force no singleton/void in a major
3C: 6/7-10 5+Cs with no major suit singleton/void
Note the driver on these minor suit raises: how can we change the risk/reward ratio for the opponents so they are reluctant to compete effectively when we have a minor fit? We did it by considering the situation from the perspective of the opponents, and then changing and packaging our raises.
Here are some useful characteristics of the raise structure:
a) 3C as 6/7-10 has higher frequency compared to 5-8 or just a game invite.
b) Having 2C as the game invite with 3+Cs, allows for positioning of the notrump contract to be chosen (perhaps responder has xx or xxx in a major), and it frees up the 2NT response. Thus 1C-2NT can be a natural game force - with a balanced game invite (3+Cs) start with 2C - if opener passes this you are in a good low spot.
c) It allows you to respond to 1C with support and 0 points - no need to give the opponents lots of room to find the best game or even slam.
What if you want to use 1C-2C as an artificial game forcing asking bid? Now it might be better to combine the 2S and 2C raises into a wide ranging 2D raise (see The Bridge Pirate Club post), except move the flat game forcing hands into the 2C asking bid. The idea is if 2D is a wide ranging raise, the opponents are faced with too wide a target zone to cover in their reduced bidding space, while opener on rebid can narrow down opening hand types and leave responder in charge.