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, March 27, 2010

Canapé and Molson against Notrump

Yesterday, I bought Ken Rexford's new book, Modified Italian Canapé System, at the web site I think Master Point Press (Linda & Ray Lee, and others, see Linda's blog at has a real winner with their ebooks approach: I was able to buy the book for just over $8 and get it delivered immediately - great prices, free "shipping", instant use - I love it. I'll review the book at a later date, but I'll note that Rexford's new book is not a dry system notes book, but one with a strong narrative discussion - for example here's just a small part of his comprehensive look at two-bid concerns:
The result of intermediate two-bids is two-fold and complimentary. On the one hand, we more often buy the contract when the opponents miss a superior partscore, or even game. On the other hand, frustrated opponents often compete in a leap-of-faith overcall that yields severe penalties when Responder doubles. Preemption is, in essence, a unilateral decision of one partner to engage in anticipatory fast-arrival. The theory is that consumption of space before opposition exchange of information creates an often irresolvable problem for the opponents.
The book covers much of the current thinking in the system design area, and I strongly recommend it based on my initial reading so far.

Since the last post I've been contemplating Canapé because of a question I received from Ken Scott about the Molson convention against notrump. I recalled the first time the convention ran over me. We were playing in a regional pairs, in the days where regional pairs events were large. We were having a great game, aside from two showstopping problems.

The first problem was we were using a 14-16 notrump opening, and on three boards we opened 1NT with 14, partner invited, and we ended in 2NT with only seven tricks: down 1, where most of the rest of the field would be in 1NT for a plus score. Those three results had our ship listing badly, but the torpedo that sunk us was the Molson convention.

Markland Molson and Boris Baran arrived at our table, and on the first of the two boards we had a decent result. On the second board, we opened our 14-16 1NT, this time with a whole 15 points, and Molson overcalled 2D, showing 3+Ds, and a five card or longer major. This got them to 2H, and a beautiful +110 for them. Molson had overcalled 2D with a 3-5-3-2, on a hand where most would not have the methods or desire to get into the bidding over the field's 15-17 notrump opening.

The next day I asked about the rest of the convention, which was:

2m: 3+ in the minor together with an unknown five card or longer major (usually just five)
2M: 4 in the major, with a longer unknown minor
Double: Single suiter in any suit but diamonds, or both majors

The reason that Double is not a single suiter in diamonds, is to allow for: 1NT-X-P-2C(waiting);-P-2D to show both majors. With a single suiter in diamond one must overcall 3D or play an approach such as 2NT overcall showing diamonds, either both minors or single suited diamonds.

Essentially the Molson convention employs Canapé overcalls over notrump openings. It's not a common approach, and on David Stevenson's detailed look at Defences to 1NT, Canapé is only mentioned as Canapé Transfers here: (eighth defence given on that page).

For the next couple of years I tracked the convention by comparing our actual table results when the opponents opened 1NT, with how it might have turned out had we been using the Molson convention. My subjective results were that the 2m overcalls were great, the 2M overcalls were less frequent and randomly had great or poor results depending on whether it hit a fit or swam ashore on misfit island. The double took some unwinding, and the opening side could consume bidding space to make that impossible. Recent convention cards with Baran (Bo on BridgeBase) don't use the convention, but that might be the choice of his partners.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Big club: five or four card majors?

A question that gets regurgitated on the net from time to time is whether to play a big club system with five card majors or four card majors. The right answer is likely a compromise: 1S 5+, 1H 4+.

One of the worst big club/five card major sequences is 1H-2H uncontested so far: 2H announces at least a 5-3 heart fit, which implies the opponents have a fit too, and since both 1H and 2H are limited, the bidding tells the opponents they have some values to bid. Perhaps one could alert 2H, and, when asked, explain, "you are getting sleepy, you don't want to bid" or in Obi-Wan's voice "these aren't the bids you're looking for".

If 1H is 4+, unbalanced if 4, and responder freely raises with 3, then 1H-2H can be just a 4-3 fit, and now the opponents can't assume anymore that they have a fit: there is some risk for them to get into the auction. In a big club/five card major system, 1S(5+)-2S is open season for competitive bidding as well, but at least the opponents have to reach at least the three level (or a questionable 2NT or 2S doubled), and that will turn out okay on much of the hands. 1H(5+)-2H often drives the opponents to the perfect partscore of 2S, and that is bad news usually.

Playing 1H as 4+ eliminates the the need for a Precision 2D short-diamond opening - the 4-4-1-4 and 4-4-0-5 hands can open 1H, as well as 3-4-1-5. It can take out the hands with 4Hs & longer clubs out of the 2C opening: thus 2C will be 6+Cs or 5Cs+4Ss. Now after a 2C opening, and opponent's spade overcall, double can just show values, since it's not needed as a negative double to indicate four hearts. There is extra space to unwind hand types after 2C-2D(asking), since 2H can now be used as a rebid on many hands, with a 2C-2D;-2H-2S re-ask.

Here's a big club system framework that uses the half five-card majors approach, with a couple of other innovations, to produce a bulletproof system. The innovations are:

- 1C with not be too-shapely or short in a major if 15-16. This is two-fold: we want to start with natural bidding if the opponents are likely to compete in a major, and if we open 1C and the opponents compete, we would like responder to be able to bid a major suit as non-forcing opposite a minimum 1C opening. When opener has a 15-16 natural suit opening, opener will be able to show the extra values whether the bidding is contested or not, since the hand will be shapely and/or have major suit shortness.

- 1C will not be balanced if 18-21, and thus if the opponents compete over 1C, responder focuses on the 15-17 balanced or close to balanced possibility for opener, knowing that if opener is shapely and/or extra values, then opener will be able to show those hand types easily on the next turn to bid. This competitive-bidding-aware premeditated distinguishing of hand types by the system design is a characteristic of many modern systems.

1C: Big club, either:
a) 15-17 balanced or close-to-balanced with no major suit singleton/void
b) 17+ unbalanced
c) 22+ balanced

1D: 4+Ds, 10-16, unbalanced, can be 4D-5C in minors, if 15-16 shapely and/or major suit singleton/void

1H: 4+Hs, 10-16, unbalanced, can have longer clubs, if 15-16 shapely and/or spade singleton/void

1S: 5+Ss, 10-16, unbalanced, if 15-16 shapely and/or heart singleton/void

1NT: 11/12-14 balanced, can have five card major

2C: 6+Cs or 5Cs+4Ss, denies 4+Hs, 10-16, unbalanced, if 15-16 shapely and/or major suit singleton/void

2D: 18-19 balanced, can have five card major

2NT: 20-21 balanced, can have five card major

Rest: Preemptive to taste


Friday, March 12, 2010


Even though many of us play cards for the intellectual competition, another important aspect is social. At the farmhouse of Karen's family, once the deserts (always more than one) were done, the plates were all cleared off, the table cloth put away, then a deck of cards were placed in the middle of the table. Playing cards was one of the bonds between the computer geek I am, and the farmer that Karen's Dad was. How the noise would rise at the table as the playing became intense, and the storytelling got in high gear. It was far from the quiet of a bridge table at a duplicate bridge club!

If you now look up to heaven, and think you might hear a boisterous card game going on, then Karen's Dad, Lloyd Brown, will be there. We miss him.