This blog provides supplementary thoughts and ideas to the site. If you haven't seen the main site, there is a lot there including the Martel and Rodwell interviews, photos, and articles. This blog is focused on advancing bridge theory by discussing the application of new ideas. All original content is copyright 2009 Glen Ashton.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Two Clubs: Artificial, Strong, Forcing, and useful!

I received a question about Two Club (2C) openers as strong, artificial, and forcing.

Let me walk through the 2C opening and structure concerns:

1) 2C: Strong, Artificial, Opening

Often played as 22+ balanced or any game force. It does not come up enough: one is not getting sufficient value out of the bid. Adding a weak option, such as a weak two in diamonds, gives more value, but a transfer preempt in diamonds tends to assist the opponents as much as it hurts them - it gives them extra options into the bidding with a major or majors.

Adding near game forces work if the suit is a long major, but if the longest suit is a minor it doesn't work as there is not enough room to investigate all contracts (major/notrump/minor) and still stop short of game if necessary.

Adding more balanced hands works well, if we can have the structure for it. It can have a great impact on the majority of opening hands - how? - take this notrump ladder:

1X: 11/12-14
1NT: 14/15-17
1X: 18-19
2NT: 20-21
2C: 22+

Now let's adjust to:

1X: 11/12-13
1NT: 13/14-16
1X: 17-18
2C: 19-20
2NT: 21-22
2C: 23+

In the second structure, if opener is minimum balanced it is more defined: 11/12-14 becomes 11/12-13. This allows one to have better auctions (e.g. knowing when not to invite or slam try), and it allows more 11s to be opened than with the wider 11/12-14 range where the 11 counts needs to be truly exceptional.

The 13/14-16 1NT is more frequent and opening NT is good for you.

The 17s now have to bid 1X-1Y;-2NT, but usually either one has 23+ combined points and 2NT or higher is a good spot, or you can land in a three level contract (recommendation: play transfers over the 2NT rebid) or the opponents enter the bidding. A nice feature is that 1X-1M;-3M can include the 17-18 balanced (or less points but more shapely hand), while if 1X includes 18-19 balanced, usually the extra point gets the 1X-1M;-4M space eating auction.

21-22 is a better range than 20-21 for opening 2NT, since that extra point allows responder to use Stayman on weaker hands, and deceases the chances of just starting and ending in a 2NT no-hope contract.

For the 2C opening, 23+ is a better range than 22+, since a 22-24 range rebid is too wide. If 22-24 is a 2NT bid at some point, responder will need to consider it a 22 since these hands will occur more often than the 24s. Thus a 22-24 range treats 24 as 22, and will sometimes miss the best spot. In the best of designs, 1NT bids (opening or rebids) would be 3 point ranges, and 2NT bids would be 1.5 point ranges, but using 1.5 point ranges requires a lot more delayed sequences to 2NT and plenty of partnership discussion on how to split that half point - for example what is a good 18 compared to a bad 18.

In summary, adding 19-20 balanced into your 2C opening can have a big impact across the board for your system - it even changes which 11 counts you can open.

If you open 2C with 19-20 balanced, should the 2C opening handle 19-22 balanced or any game force, (2NT being 23-24) or should 2C handle 19-20 balanced, or 23+ balanced, or any game force? I don't have a strong opinion, but in using the latter we have found that in competition opener's pass will usually show precisely the 19-20 balanced hand, leaving the partnership well placed for further decisions.
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2) 2C-2D

In a February 09 Bridge World article, Powerhouse Openings, Danny Kleinman confirms my opinion that since "only two diamonds does not shut out any of opener's intended rebids; therefore it should be the usual action" - he goes on to explain that 2H can be a wide ranging positive in hearts, as it will not eat any room either. The Bridge World article seems based on this article on Kleinman's site:

(There the phrasing for the 2D waiting response was "Responder's first priority should be to avoid preempting opener's intended rebid".)

A popular treatment now is to play 2C-2H as "super negative", or "bust", or 0-3. This tends to be the extend of the agreement, and we often see break-in-tempo auctions like 2C-2H(bust)-?, and finally after a 1 minute trance and looking to the ceiling for system notes, a 2NT bid is tentatively placed on the table. After 2C-2H(bust), are 2S, 2NT, 3C, and 3D all non-forcing? Does opener pass 2H with non-forcing hearts, with the risk of finding responder with a heart fit and a useful shortness? With a game force must opener jump the bidding or bid 3H to ensure game is reached?

To avoid this super negative mess, tend to use 2D waiting with most hands, and we will look at an exception next.
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3) 2C-2H, 2C-2S

These are usually positives. If they have stringent suit quality requirements (e.g. two of the top three) they don't come up very often. If they are played more free-wheeling they are useful, but using a 2D waiting response would be workable on the hands as well.

An approach used locally (by former Canadian champ Ed Zaluski) was to treat these bids as natural busts - in the version I like these are five or longer suits with 0-3 HCP. It turns out what really works here is the inference from not using these bids. These natural busts (btw sorry to those who searched for this phrase and found no pictures here) don't pop up that often, but the sequences that start with 2D waiting and then rebid the major works well - e.g. 2C-2D;-3D-3S showing 5+ spades, 4+ HCP.

These bids really mesh well with the 19-20 balanced hand approach, as the partnership can stop at the two level on hands where standard partnerships must end up on the three level or languish in the wrong contract at the one level. Even cooler: after the 2C-2D;-2NT rebid by opener showing 19-20 balanced, if responder transfers to the major, opener can super accept both with a fit (by bidding a new suit or jumping in the major), or super accept with no fit by bidding 3NT, to show a maximum and good playing value.
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4) 2C-2NT, 2C-3C, 2C-3D

When used as natural positives these bids consume too much bidding space. Whenever we had the auction 2C-3D, either opener would rebid 3NT and we sometimes missed a nice slam, or opener would skip 3NT and we missed the best spot on many hands. The waiting 2D response gives the partnership the room for both players to show hand types. For the 2NT, 3C, and 3D responses, this is recommended:

2NT: 5-5+ in the majors, 5+ HCP, game force
3C: 5-5+ in the majors, 0-2 HCP, only 4C and 4D forcing.
3D: 5-5+ in the majors, 3-4 HCP, only 4C and 4D forcing.

Again the purpose is not to have these bids come up, but have the inference that these hands are not possible for the 2D waiting bid.
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5) 2C-3H and higher

Often these are defined as highly specific hand types (e.g. seven card one loser suit) - these are useful for bidding contests but in real life they will not come up until the cobwebs are all over the system notes. To avoid wasting memory cells, just define these as natural slam tries with a very good suit, forcing to game in the same strain (using 2C-3NT to show diamonds).
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6) 2C-2D;-new suit

Before we get to the Kokish/Birthright 2C-2D;-2H structure, the key point here is we want to find 4-4 major fits. Thus we play that 2C-2D;-2H/S will be bid with 4 or longer in the major, unbalanced hand, unless holding 4Hs, longer clubs and fewer than 4Ss. 2C-2D;-3D will be natural, without a four card major. 2C-2D;-3C will not have 4Ss, and over 3C responder can bid 3D re-waiting (checkback style, asking if four hearts or three spades). With 4-4 in the majors, unbalanced, opener starts rebidding with 2S, since 2H will be doing double duty with balanced hand types.
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7) 2C-2D;-2NT

We need this for 19-20 balanced if we are including this in the 2C opener. 2NT structure is on.
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8) 2C-2D;-2H

Following a Kokish type structure (what he calls Birthright, but let's stick with the name Kokish in proper admiration), 2H will be either hearts or balanced, either:

a) 4+Hs, unbalanced, not 4 spades unless longer hearts, and if just 4Hs has longer Ds or 1-4-4-4 exactly;
b) balanced 23+ (or if your splits are different, balanced 21-22 or 25+).

We take advantage that the 2D waiting response will not have a weak hand with a five card or longer major:

After 2C-2D;-2H-?
--2S: No five card major, no five card minor if 8+ HCP.
--2NT: 5+Ss, 4+ HCP.
--3C/D: five card minor, 8+ HCP.
--3H: 5+Hs, 4+ HCP, not 4+Ss.
--3S: 5+Hs, 4Ss, 4+HCP.

This works since the space consuming bids of 3H and 3S will either hit a heart fit and/or a balanced hand, and the bids of 3C/D are very close to slam going.

After 2C-2D;-2H-2S;-?
--2NT: 23-24 balanced, system NOT on, since transfers not necessary (both majors already bid, responder does not have a five card major) - 3C/D/H/S are all natural suit bids, game forcing.
--3C: Stayman-like, either 25+ balanced with a four card major or 5+Hs & 4+Ss game force.
--3D: 4+Hs, 4+Ds, unbalanced, game force. Responder now bids 3H with exactly 3Hs.
--3H: 6+Hs, game force.
--3S: 5+Hs, 4+Cs, game force.
--3NT: 25-27 balanced and no four card major (with 28-30 balanced bid 2C-2D;-3NT).

The key wizardry here is 2C-2D;-2H-2S;-3C as a Stayman bid - if responder bids 3D (no four card major), opener can rebid 3NT to show 25-27 balanced, or bid 3H/S naturally. Since 3C handles the Hs&Ss hand, 3S is used with Hs & Cs.
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9) 2C-2D;-2S-2NT

We use 2NT to show exactly 3Ss. With 4Ss raise to 3S or higher, and with less than 3Ss bid naturally, bidding a four card minor if necessary.
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10) 2C-2D;-3H/S
These bids are available for special use, such as showing a long suit with exactly 9 tricks, non-forcing.
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Many of the above design principles are found in the BRASS approach here:

Once we started playing BRASS I stopped cringing at our 2C openings and now it's an essential part of our system design.