(Written for players in my country club games in 2017, this seven part series has a new section added in at the end. It is entirely possible that I have been snarky about your favorite convention. Deal with it.)
Quick Quiz–Check off all of the things below that are proper uses for a convention card:
Perhaps you noticed that there is no number 1 above; there is a reason for that. The boxes you should have checked, as being proper uses for a convention card, are the composite numbers, not the prime numbers (those that are divisible only by themselves and one). Mathematics is still debating whether 1 is prime or composite, so I left it out. Correct answers are 4, 6, 8, and 9. Let's go through the wrong answers first:
Every game I direct seems to leave one or more completely blank convention cards on the table, folded but unmarked. At a tournament both players need to have a convention card filled out, but at a club game this is a regulation that we usually let slide. If you play only basic conventions and you don't wish to keep score, we won't force you to use one. But there are advantages — some which may surprise you — in doing so, which we'll get to in a few paragraphs. You may be surprised to note that a convention card can be used without folding it; in fact, folding it tends to increase the chance that it will become unfolded and expose your scores, especially if you use one of those convention card holders and have old cards in there that date back to the Mulroney years... I usually use one, unfolded, placed on the table facing my opponent.
Convention cards are actually two very different things back-to-back: the ACBL system card (the colourful side) which lists conventions you play, and the scorecard on the other side. The system card part is not supposed to be a memory aid while a hand is being played. Just as you cannot make a table of 13 rows and 4 columns and write down played cards as they appear, you cannot sneak a peek at your own convention card to help you remember what you play. (Nor can you look at your partner's. It's OK to look at the opponents' and if it helps you remember, great.)
Don't feel you need to play something in each area of the system card. Your system, the collection of special agreements you have with your partner, need not include some special gadget for each possible situation. In almost 100 years of contract bridge, even the last 50 or so during which new conventions were popping up every week, we still haven't settled on the best system of bids to play when an opponent opens 1NT, and there are literally dozens to choose from! A 2♠ overcall, which in 1956 showed a long spade suit, now might show weakish spades (DONT), hearts and spades (Brozel), spades and a minor (Cappeletti), or even clubs OR both red suits (Suction*)! If you play natural overcalls over 1NT openers, that's fine: there will be days when you have the advantage and days when the other pairs do, and the 'conventioneers' may think that they get the edge more often, but the difference is not that great. I prefer to play 2/1 over standard, but I don't like to add a lot of modern gadgets. Some do, some don't: the winners are decided by who bids and plays well far more often than by who has the best system. (And Suction, in case you are interested, is only allowed at certain tournaments and in certain events...)
The system card is for some players a gauge on how good they think the opponents are: the more things they can write on the system card, the more intimidating they seem. I have seen paragraphs in tiny print describing intricate leading systems, multicoloured indications of conventions that come up at different times, and abbreviations that the CIA could not work out. When you come up against a pair like this, one of two things tend to happen. Sometimes it is an established partnership of equals, in which case they may beat you but they will not allow you to be at a disadvantage, explaining their calls clearly when asked so that you can easily work out which countermeasures may be most effective. It's a pleasure to play against good players like this. If they are actively involved in ensuring that you know as much about their system as you need to, they are usually beyond the petty bickering that plagues bridge at tournaments and open clubs when players are trying to play too many conventions without a clear understanding of them. These other pairs are more difficult to play against, but when it becomes clear from their demeanor that they are not top class, the survival strategy is to play your best, get the information you are entitled to when you need it, and maximize the gain when they have a 'system oops', which they will. So don't be intimidated by an opponent who has used a lot of lead or ink on his system card: on the majority of hands, system is irrelevant (unless it is misused or forgotten).
The advantages of a good system card are many:
In the next few weeks I will cover the ACBL system card little by little, describing each check box and common write-ins like "RONF," "Specific Kings," "ASG," and even "VWOSVSEOB," which my opponent once read as the Volkswagen Convention. But for now, let's start at the top right and do the bare minimum: write your name and your partner's name, clearly and legibly. Even in the most familiar of circumstances we occasionally get a new player, and there are no bridge clubs I know of who don't want new players to come back. One way to ensure this is to let the new person know your name, as everyone else does. Writing your name on your convention card also prevents awkwardness when someone forgets who you are!
You have filled in the names of you and partner on the convention card, right? Even if you know everyone in the club by name, you might play with more than one person and have different agreements: putting names on the convention card ensures that you don't accidentally use the wrong one and confuse the opponents.
Below the names is a box with the most basic three questions about the bidding system you and your partner play. You should fill these out even if you don't have many agreements. The third question is easy: which opening bids in your system are forcing? For most of us, the answer is 2♣. A few play 1♣ systems where 1♣ is artificial and shows a hand of about 16 or more. Not many still play that all 2 bids are forcing, but there is a box for it. Note that forcing does not necessarily mean strong. Some people play that an opening bid of 4♣ or 4♦ is a stronger 4♥ or 4♠ opener than actually bidding 4♥ or 4♠, and while this is not a strong bid, it is forcing.
The second question is designed to highlight highly aggressive bidding systems which can take action on hands much lighter than expected. Most of us need not worry, but watch for this at tournaments; one or two pairs may admit to it. If they do you may want to look slightly more at the possibility of reopening an auction passed around to you with a double, in case partner was forced to pass because double would be for takeout.
It's the first question that will be the first thing people look at when they view your card. It is in two parts: a short description of your general approach, and whether a two-over-one response (in a new, lower-ranking suit, without competition, by an unpassed responder) is game forcing or not. These are the most common general approaches you will see at tournaments:
What you write in will be important to your opponents each round, and your convention card should be in plain view as you begin so they can have a quick look. At the same time, you should have a quick look at the opponents' card so that you are not totally surprised when they begin 1♣ (Pass) 1♦ and both bids are alerted. The most important thing to remember is that the system the opponents play, or the amount of detail on their card, is never an indication of how well they play. Never assume that because their card has all sorts of markings on it that they are going to be better or worse than a pair with fewer marked agreements. Never decide that because they are playing a system with which you are not familiar that you will have to take a poor result. Ask what their bids show if you are interested in possibly competing in the auction, and be courageous when you have the cards to back up your actions. All systems are less effective when there is opposition bidding. Don't let the fact that the opponents' system is different prevent you from competing when appropriate.
This area is limited to notrump openers and the follow-ups. Overcalls in notrump and interference after the opponents open 1NT are covered on the left side of the card. The first thing you will notice is a new colour: light blue. This colour tells you that a bid is announceable: partner should announce what it means immediately, without prompting. Opening bids of 1NT are announceable, partner says "15 to 17", or whatever your agreed range is. This regulation is about ten years old and many players still hate it*, but it is quite useful in avoiding confusion among the opponents. Forgetting your own notrump range is quite rare so it gives the bidding side very little advantage.
(*From time to time a player returns from Palm Springs or some other place to claim that announcing notrump ranges is no longer a rule. Wrong. There is some latitude given to clubs to relax some ACBL rules, but the strong recommendation is to use the same rules one would encounter at a tournament.)
There are actually two lines, since some systems have different ranges depending on vulnerability, or position in relation to the dealer. If yours is always the same, why not print it in large enough to span both lines? I even saw one once marked "15-17 (she), good14-bad18 (he)"! (You are required to play the same system but players can disagree on judgment...)
The next line asks if you can open 1NT with a five-card major. Check the box unless you have agreed not to. Advice: check the box and open 1NT with suitable hands with five-card majors.
Some players play that the entire system (Stayman, transfers, etc.) is still on over a double or over 2♣ (doubling 2♣ is Stayman) by the 1NT opener's LHO. If you have this agreement with your partner, write in "dbl, 2♣" (or maybe one of the two if that's your agreement). It's a useful agreement to avoid confusion against those two calls. Later we'll see how to get around higher overcalls.
Everybody knows 2♣ Stayman, but what on earth is Puppet? Puppet is an alternative form of Stayman that asks opener to bid a FIVE-card major if he has one, diamonds with one or two four-card majors, and notrump with no four-card major. Usually seen over 2NT openers, a few scientists have extended it to 1NT openers, replacing (they would likely say enhancing) Stayman. I find Puppet to be occasionally useful, but right on the edge of my ability to remember conventional details in the heat of battle. I usually need to work out what the continuations are, and I sometimes get it wrong.
Transfers (note the light blue ink, making them announceable, partner of the 2♦ or 2♥ bidder says the single word 'transfer') are fairly well-known, but what is Forcing Stayman? This is an old convention where 2♣ and 2♦ both ask for majors, 2♦ showing a game-going hand, allowing 2♣ to be wafer thin. Since Jacoby Transfers took over the world Forcing Stayman has been forced out of the forefront and is seldom seen.
Your agreement about 1NT (Pass) 2♠ can be any of several options, and some players assign a special meaning to 1NT (Pass) 2NT, so there is a small space to indicate what you play. INV for 'invitational' is what most play 2NT as, and 2♠ can be MSS (Minor Suit Stayman), a transfer (alertable, not announceable: only transfers to majors are announceable), or a request for opener to bid 3♣ so responder can pass or correct to 3♦. If you don't play transfers 2♠ might even be a natural signoff. Do what you can to indicate whatever agreement with your partner you have.
At the top of the middle column are the 3-level responses to 1NT and space for you to write what they mean in your system. Standard these days is for 3♣ or 3♦ to be a hand of less than 10 points which may make 3NT if partner has a high honour in the bid suit that will turn responder's AQJxxx or KQJxxx or AKJxxx into a key source of tricks. 3♥ and 3♠ are commonly played as 5-5 in the majors with 3♥ invitational and 3♠ game forcing. I admit that I have agreed to this structure without really knowing much about what to do if it actually happens...
There's a blank line below for extra detail if you have it. Maybe it is there for the real scientists who play 1NT (Pass) 3NT as conventional...
Higher and higher we go, with the next line in light blue again with four-level Texas transfers. (We skipped a 4♣ response, which is usually Gerber and in the ace-asking section elsewhere.). Next we come to two conventions, invented by one and a half people! Smolen is a convention invented by Mike Smolen, a California expert who died in 1992. It comes up when opener denies a four-card major by rebidding 2♦ over a Stayman response. Responder continues with a jump to his four-card major, which promises at least five cards in the other major. Opener can choose notrump without three-card support for the other major, and the transfer principle (getting the stronger notrump hand in as declarer often gains a trick in the play) is preserved. With 6-4 in the majors the Smolen bidder can make a 4♦ bid after opener chooses 3NT to insist on opener playing in the six-card major.
Lebensohl is a rare convention 'name'; the convention became popular and was believed to have originated with a successful tournament player. Once it reached the lofty heights of a high profile article in _The Bridge World_ it was discovered that the player's name was actually Ken Lebensold and Mr. Lebensold, possibly wanting no part of the disasters that would ensue should someone forget the system, denied all responsibility! The response to this development was to continue calling it Lebensohl and make the inventor a character of fiction! These days the fashion has gone one step further, with the ubercool bridge writers referring to the convention as lebensohl--no capital L because there was never such a person!!
Lebensohl applies when a 1NT opener is overcalled by the next player with a bid of 2♦, 2♥, or 2♠. The key call from responder is 2NT, which forces the 1NT opener to bid 3♣. This relay allows different gradations of meaning to bid suits: after 1NT (2♦), 2♠ is weaker than 2NT 3♣ 3♠, which is weaker than an immediate jump to 3♠. The relay also allows responder to bid 3NT directly without a stopper in the opponent's suit, and use the relay then bid 3NT to show values for game and a stopper in the opponent's suit. This idea is called "slow shows."
You can see why Ken Lebensold wanted nothing to do with this. Lebensohl players are notorious for adopting the convention without answering any of the obvious questions it presents. For example: 1NT (2♦) 3NT. In the 1970s this was easy: 3NT showed game values but denied a diamond stopper. Today that 2♦ bid could have any of a dozen different meanings. Perhaps it shows both majors. What suits does partner deny a stopper in now? The system also uses cuebids of the opponent's suit as Stayman type bids, which fail spectacularly whenever their overcall is not natural. My advice: learn the basics (a Google search will get you a cheat sheet) if partner wants you to, but fasten your seatbelt if it comes up.
As scary as Lebensohl is, it is better than having no agreement at all, and it is better than most of the alternatives. I must admit I know little about Negative Doubles over 1NT and I either try to avoid playing them, or, if partner insists, I hope they don't come up. It seems to me that they cannot co-exist with Lebensohl, which saves doubles for penalty. Another one you may see from time to time is 'stolen bid' doubles. The idea here is that doubling an overcall of 1NT is like making that bid, with whatever meaning it may have had. 1NT (2♦) Double is a transfer to hearts. 1NT (2♠) Double shows whatever 2♠ shows in your system. Not sure what to do if they steal the bid above what you wanted to do. 1NT (2♠) and you want to transfer to hearts: no idea what to do here. And if you want to make a penalty double, stolen bid doubles just get in your way and you collect 100 or 150 when the rest of the room is getting 300 or 500.
The 2NT and 3NT areas are just basic questions along with space to write your point range for these openers. If your 2NT or 3NT openers are not strong balanced or semibalanced hands, write something indicating what it is that you play in the small space provided.
Conventional NT Openings at the bottom right is seldom used except by the most avant-garde scientists. There is at least one system I know of where 1NT is a forcing opening bid. If you see this area used, you're up against a very seldom-seen system! Don't panic. Playing good bridge and waiting for your chance to strike, you may discover why it is very seldom seen!
The things opponents will want to know with a glance, with a look at your convention card, after you or your partner open one of a suit, are these:
Most players have different answers for majors and minors, so the questions are similar but the range of responses are different. Let's have a look, switching between majors and minors over the three areas:
1) Suit Length
Five-card majors have almost become universal. It has been decades since the ACBL Bridge Bulletin ran a four vs five article, and the last time I read about four-card majors it was in a 2/1 workbook where the opening comment claimed that four-card majors was the most fun system — if you enjoy playing bad contracts well enough to recover matchpoints. Almost everyone these days marks the '5' box for first and second seat openers, and most mark it as well for third and fourth seat openers. The real story is how this affects minor suit openings. If you need five cards in a suit to open a major, you cannot promise four in a minor without having awkward distributions that have no proper opening bid. A 4=4=3=2 hand (the equals signs mean that we are indicating suits in order, four spades, four hearts, three diamonds, and two clubs) with 14 points must be opened, but if you cannot open a major and your 1NT range begins at 15, you need to open a short minor.
Surprisingly, it is not five-card majors that caused this: even in the old four-card major systems there was usually a restriction on "unbiddable" four card suits, Qxxx being usually considered the minimum biddable suit. So a hand like ♠ J963 ♥ J742 ♦ AQ7 ♣ AK is a problem since neither major suit is biddable, you haven't enough to open 1NT, and you will need to open a short minor. The only thing that five-card majors have done is to make it more common to have to open a three-card minor. And because this is such a common hurdle, the ACBL defines a natural opening bid in a suit as promising four cards or more in a major suit, but only three cards or more in a minor.
Some players go further and want 1♦ openers to promise four. This means that the hand above needs to be opened 1♣ with only a two-card suit. And as you can see, if you promise two or less in a minor, you're into the blue area, announceable as "could be short" when partner opens a suit that could be only two or less. A few years ago, the ACBL decided that these two-card suits still apply as 'natural' so that their use doesn't trigger a whole slew of other restrictions. But promising two or less does require the announcement. (You might encounter systems where the minor suit opening promises one or even zero, but these should be alerted, not announced, since they are clearly conventional.)
My advice: play five-card majors. When you have to open a short minor, open 1♣ except for the 4=4=3=2 distribution, the only one where you will open a three-card diamond suit. If you choose to open four-card majors in third or fourth seat occasionally, you might mark '5' in all seats but circle the '4' in the third/fourth seat to indicate "usually 5, occasionally 4." Similarly, you can check the '3' box for clubs and the '4' box for diamonds, but circle the '3' box for diamonds to indicate the possibility of a rare 3-card diamond suit.
2) Supporting opener's suit
It used to be so easy. Majors, minors, supporting partner's suit one-bid was the same: jump with an opening hand and suitable support, single raise with 6-10, and with a hand in between, make some other bid first and then support on the second round. This feint to a different suit before supporting partner's was called a "temporizing" bid by Charles Goren and very few of his many books didn't have that word somewhere in it. Temporize (I looked it up!) means "to avoid making a decision to gain time." Today we don't dither around: in most modern systems we have lots of different ways to raise partner's suit, because we've come to realize that when you temporize, you let the opponents into the auction and your eventual decision may be much harder. The first four lines of the majors and minors area are all about bids by responder with trump support.
The first line asks what your double raises without competition show. The following line asks what a double raise after an overcall shows. (Double raises after a takeout double are covered elsewhere.). In the majors area, pickup partner standard is limit raises and weak in competition (because a cuebid shows a limit raise or better). Some pairs may play something more interesting, like Bergen Raises (where a double raise is weak, and 3♣ and 3♦ are special four-card raises of different strengths.). The next line asks what calls in your system are forcing, artificial bids which show support for partner's suit. Most of us play Jacoby 2NT over major suit openers, so 2NT is the box to check, but as you see there are other possibilities. Splinters are double jump responses (1♥-3♠/4♣/4♦, or 1♠-4♣/4♦/4♥) that show a small singleton in the suit bid (sometimes a void), four-card support for partner's opener and game forcing values. This allows opener to bid game as a signoff with honours in the splinter suit but make some positive move toward slam with small cards only in that suit. If you have 26 combined points in three suits and you know you have only one loser in the fourth suit, you are in the slam zone: the ten missing points in the splinter suit are not going to hurt you much!
In the minors area, many modern players now play that a double raise is weak and a single raise is game forcing or nearly so. Most players prefer to use a 2NT response as a 10-12 balanced hand without a four-card major, so 2NT is not available for a raise, as it is on the major side. But some use the jump in the other minor, 1♣-2♦ or 1♦-3♣, to show a limit raise in the opened suit, forcing opener to at least three of the original minor. If you have agreed to play either of these special raises, check their boxes and remember to alert.
The "Other:" space ending the section can include many things. On the majors side, you should write Bergen if you are playing Bergen Raises, where a response of 3♣ to 1♥ or 1♠ is a four-card raise of 6-9, and a jump to 3♦ is a four-card raise of 10-12. (Some pairs reverse these two and call the resulting convention Oslo, which isn't really fair to Marty Bergen, who named the convention after himself and not after the second-largest Norwegian city...) A cool bid I never see written here is the Impossible Splinter. You respond 1♥ to partner's 1♦ opener...and partner rebids 4♦. This cannot be a splinter in diamonds since partner opened 1♦, so what can it be? It shows four-card support for hearts, game-forcing values (a very good hand since your response can be on a 5 or 6 count), and a solid six-card diamond suit. Have a look at these hands:
Responder: ♠ QJ4 ♥ KQ73 ♦ 74 ♣ 9632
Opener 1: ♠ A32 ♥ AJ95 ♦ AQT86 ♣ 8
Opener 2: ♠ A2 ♥ A985 ♦ AKQT92 ♣ 5
After 1♦-1♥, opener 1 rebids 4♣ to show a game-going hand with four-card heart support and a singleton club. Opener 2 instead rebids 4♦ to promise a solid six-card diamond suit with the trump support. Responder can shoot for slam on hand 2 but knows in hand 1 that partner's diamonds may not provide enough parking space for losers, so should stop in game.
3) Other responses
The rest of the section in both major and minor areas deals with other conventional calls that don't promise trump support. Since there is a lot more room at the one level after a minor suit opening bid than over a major, the options are quite different. Let's start with the major suit openings, where we have more light blue ink...
1NT Forcing is a convention where the response of 1NT after 1♥ or 1♠ and a pass by the next player, is forcing for one round. Even those who don't play the Forcing Notrump are aware that we sometimes make that 1NT call on some very un-notrumpish hands:
Responder: ♠ J2 ♥ T763 ♦ KQT952 ♣ 5
If partner opens 1♠ and the next player passes, few would venture a 2♦ call on only six points, but passing is even more dangerous. 1NT is the only alternative, and in standard it is not forcing, and you might play there. The inventors of the Forcing Notrump, Al Roth and Tobias Stone, two of the best American players in the late 1950s and 1960s, discovered that playing in 1NT is too often a bad spot, so they experimented with making the 1NT call forcing for one round, getting opener to make a descriptive rebid. With the above hand, if opener can rebid spades (showing a six-card suit) it is an easy pass. If opener bids 2♥ or 2♦, responder is happy to pass, and when opener bids 2♣ (the most likely scenario), the system says that a rebid of 2♦ is weak with long diamonds and should almost always be passed. Opener also has rebid options, 2NT and jumps, to show a strong hand that has a good chance at making game opposite a minimum, but most often opener makes a rebid at the two-level and the partnership lands somewhere safer than 1NT. Occasionally opener must rebid a short minor after a forcing 1NT response, but the system seldom leaves opener in that suit unless responder has enough to compensate.
If you play 1NT Forcing, the partner of the 1NT bidder is supposed to say "Forcing" when the 1NT response is made. Note that this is it for the light blue ink, only four situations: 1NT opening ranges, transfers to major-suits, natural minor suit openers that may be only two cards, and Forcing Notrump. Nothing else is announceable. If partner makes a conventional call, most require an Alert, but we don't voluntarily explain partner's call unless the opponents ask, with the exception of these four announceable situations.
There is also that confusing 'Semiforcing Notrump,' which throws a lot of players. How can a bid be semiforcing? What this refers to is a 1NT response to a major suit opening bid that was made in third or fourth seat. Such bids are often made on bargain basement values, and the 1NT responses are only forcing to opener if opener has a hand that would have opened as dealer. If opener is light, opener may pass 1NT if there is no descriptive rebid available, rather than bid a short minor.
The next two lines are for natural jumps to 2NT or 3NT over a major suit, asking you to write in a point range and state whether 2NT is forcing or not. If you play 2NT or 3NT as a raise in opener's suit, there is no need to write anything here. These lines are primarily for point ranges if your notrump response shows a balanced hand with possibly as little as two-card support.
The last line before the section-ending space for other agreements is for the Drury Convention, named after Vancouver-born player Doug Drury, who was a member of the Toronto bridge expert clique that produced many world-class players who represented Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. The group had decided that it was winning strategy to open light in third or fourth seat, and the Drury convention was a simple question designed to ensure survival — was that a real opener or should I be cautious? — which was asked by responding an artificial 2♣ to partner's third or fourth seat opening bid. In the sixty years since, the Drury convention has expanded and bifurcated to several different variations. We tend not to open minor suits light in third seat, preferring major openings with subminimum hands. We've learned that the best time for the convention is when responder has a limit raise (10 points in support) or more for opener's suit. Instead of the original idea of opener rebidding 2♦ to show a bad hand, many now feel that opener rebidding his original suit (even without a suit normally regarded as 'rebiddable' such as 97652) is the smarter way to proceed. And some pairs have added a second question with a 2♦ response. The convention card reduces the options to four boxes:
My Drury advice: open light majors (try not to be completely suicidal unless the vulnerability is favourable) in third seat and sometimes in fourth, play Drury with all four boxes checked. It will keep you out of unmakeable nine-trick contracts when partner opens in third or fourth seat with a terrifyingly weak hand.
The 'other' line at the bottom can contain many things, but you should be aware of the common 'other' conventions at the bottom, below the 2-bids section. Also, remember that this side of the card is mostly for uncontested auctions, contested auctions going on the left side in the appropriate category. If you play a convention after a 1♥ or 1♠ opener that is nowhere else on the card, this is the line to list it.
On the minors side, you'll see the same 2NT and 3NT lines, intended only for jumps to those bids which promise no fit for the opened suit. If your 2NT or 3NT is in fact a raise, it should go beside 'Other' on the fourth line.
It is the other two lines: Frequently Bypass 4+♦, and 1NT/1♣ point range, that are the most interesting, and allows me to write a few paragraphs on another pillar of modern bidding: Walsh.
The Walsh idea applies after an opening bid of 1♣. The basic idea is that responder ignores diamond suits to prefer four-card majors, even if the diamonds are much longer and/or stronger. But there is a key exception: when responder has the strength to force to game, a diamond response is preferred over a four-card major even if the diamonds are weaker. In this case, responder will be able to bid a major at the next turn and show a good hand with diamonds and the major suit. From opener's perspective, when it goes 1♣ - 1♦, opener knows that responder cannot have a four-card major except in a strong, game going hand. It is perfectly safe to rebid 1NT with any balanced hand of 12-14, even those with four-card majors, since responder will certainly make another call with a four-card major. It follows from this that a rebid of 1♥ or 1♠ by opener, after the 1♦ response, promises an unbalanced hand, since all balanced hands will be rebid 1NT (or 2NT with 19+, or a 1NT opener with 15-17). The general direction is more descriptive rebids for opener, without losing the possibility of the key eight-card major suit fit.
This is what the Frequently Bypass 4+♦ box is all about. Richard Walsh was a California expert who designed this structure in the late 1960s and deserves more credit. Maybe a future convention card version will rewrite it as Walsh Diamond Bypass to honor his work.
So many players play 6-9 or 6-10 for a response of 1NT to a minor suit opener that the line on the card instead focusses on a newer wrinkle: the specific sequence 1♣ (Pass) 1NT. Many 2/1 players play that this bid promises 8-10 points, preferring to bid 1♦ with less, even on some hands that don't have four diamonds. There is no reason I have been able to find for this, but 2/1 players learn it early on in their books and find it important. I can't remember the last time I bid one of these short diamonds not wanting to respond 1NT with 7 or less, but I guess it is possible.
In the 'Other' row on the minor side you'll see several different common things: splinters over minors, Lebensohl over reverses (another one that I agree to reluctantly and hope I can figure out what to do when it comes up once or twice a year). One I used to play was 1-2-4 = RKC: after a game forcing single raise in a minor, a jump to four of the minor was ace-asking, allowing that information to be discovered below the bailout point.
Four parts into this series and I fear we have forgotten the original ideas. I know many players are eager to consume the thoughts of an experienced player like myself on which conventions to play and which to avoid, but let's not forget that:
It's been fifty years since there was a defined 'standard' that players could assume in the absence of a system card; these days there are so many variations that there is beginner standard, novice standard, intermediate standard, expert standard, and little agreement even on any of them. The only way to be sure your opponents have the information they are entitled to is to be sure you have a system card filled out.
OK, let's move on. The lower right-hand portion of the system card begins with two-level opening bids. For most of us 2♣ is a strong forcing opening, and for 90% of the rest, who play 1♣ as strong, a 2♣ opening shows 11-15 with either six or more clubs, OR, five clubs and a four-card major. If you come up against one of these, you will get an alert. If so, remember that the opener here is limited to about 15, so overcalling carries less of a risk unless the partner of the opener has a big hand. If it starts pass, pass, 2♣ (alerted), you should be getting in there with almost anything.
But most of the time 2♣ will be a strong hand, and there are two schools of thought on responses, both geared around the idea that the 2♣ opener needs to be able to show his hand with a second bid and responder should not get in the way. The standard scheme is that responses of 2♥, 2♠, 2NT, 3♣, and 3♦ show positive hands: five-card rebiddable suits (QJxxx, Kxxxx or better) and eight points or more. 2NT shows eight or more without a rebiddable suit and preferably balanced. This leaves 2♦ as the most common response by far, and once opener describes his hand further with a suit bid, responder needs a call that shows virtually nothing, which we term a 'second negative.' In the standard scheme this is the cheapest three-bid available, usually 'cheapest minor' but if opener rebids 3♦ it could be 3♥. A second negative denies an ace or a king and usually shows less than four points.
If opener's rebid is 2NT, responder can pass 2NT or bid 3NT to sign off, no second negative is needed: the normal scheme of Stayman and transfers applies as though opener had opened 2NT, except that this route to 2NT shows 22-24 points. For example: 2♣ - 2♦, 2NT - 3♣, 3♦ - 3♠. Responder has less than eight points but used Stayman and showed 5-4 in spades and hearts (unless you are playing Smolen, in which case the 3♠ bid promises five hearts and four spades). Opener should treat this as a forcing call since responder with a bad hand would transfer and pass.
The new way is to use the 2♦ response as a game-forcing waiting bid, and use 2♥ as a negative response: no aces or kings and 0-3 points. To make a positive response in hearts (rebiddable hearts and 8+), responder must bid 2NT: the original 2NT response showing 8 or more balanced is loaded onto the 2♦ response. This allows responder to distinguish between truly bad hands and decent responding hands with one call, in case the next player decides to pre-empt. But it does sometimes wrong-side heart contracts, when opener has a big hand with long hearts and responder has a bad hand.
How to fill out the 2♣ section: check the 'strong' box, of course. The HCP section should say 22+ and you should write in 'if balanced,' since many distributional 2♣ openers have less than 22 points. If you play that 2♥ is natural, check the '2♦ negative' box, and write in CM2N or C32N (cheaper minor/three-bid second negative). If you play that 2♥ is a bad hand, check the '2♦ waiting' box, and write 2H=bad, 2NT=H.
Here's something I put on my card with most partners if we've discussed this: pass is game forcing. How can a pass of 2♣ be game forcing, you ask? Obviously it cannot if the next player can pass the hand out in 2♣, so this applies over interference. If 2♣ is overcalled, expert standard these days is that all good hands start with pass, while weaker hands bid a suit naturally or double/redouble if balanced. This is an alertable agreement but it works, especially against players who like to disrupt our 2♣ auctions. If responder passes and opener doubles, you can write 00 on your scorecard and fill in the first digit (or two) later. If responder doubles and opener passes, you're probably getting a plus as well.
Before we leave the happy realm of 2♣ openers, I should address a common question with a simple answer I learned long ago. How strong do you have to be to open 2♣? When balanced this is a no-brainer: 22 or more. It's the unbalanced hands that are hard to gauge. The ACBL is mostly silent on this, ruling only that as long as the 2♣ opener feels he has enough for game opposite a near minimum, that is fine. But it's not practical to open ♠ AKQJT8532 ♥ QJT ♦ 2 ♣ 63 with a 2♣ call: the opponents will compete, partner will double for penalties, and you have very little in defense. The simple rule is: more quick tricks (a maximum of two per suit) than likely losers. The above hand has five losers but only two quick tricks. A hand like ♠ KQJ532 ♥ AQJ ♦ void ♣ KQJ3 has three likely losers (one and a half in spades, a half in hearts and one in clubs) and three and a half quick tricks (KQ=1, AQ=1½). Just enough!
On to 2♦ openers, which have more variation than any other opening bid. Weak Two, Flannery, Mini-Roman, Multi (popular in the rest of the world but disallowed in most ACBL events), Romex, Weak Two in an unspecified Major, and the list of possibilities goes on and on. I even played a strong club system once where a 2♦ opener promised 11-15 with 4-4 in the majors! Guess what. The vanilla weak 2♦ opener is the most underrated bid in bridge. Not kidding. Weak 2♦ openers, long derided because they leave so much room for the opponents to find their best spot, cause as many problems for the opponents as major suit weak twos. Consider: against a 2♥ or 2♠ opener, the opponents, once they decide to come in, have to work out whether to play in the other major, or in notrump, or (rarely) in a minor. Usually it is the other major or notrump and a takeout double tells the other opponent exactly what is needed to make the right choice. Against 2♦, there are three possible spots to investigate, hearts, spades, and notrump: it is 50% harder and only one or two bids lower. Weak 2♦ is my choice and should be yours as well.
And the other 2♦ conventions are mostly for people who need silly crutches. If you can't figure out how to handle minimum openers with five hearts and four spades, sure, play Flannery, but really, it's not that hard: open 1♥ and see if partner can respond 1♠. If three-suited hands throw you, play Mini-Roman and introduce some complexity into your life, rather than just bidding suits in the normal order and seeing which one partner can support. We have a system to remember over minors, majors, notrump openers, and 2♣: who needs to learn another for 2♦ openers? Play 2♦ as a weak two (as well as 2♥ and 2♠ of course) and relax!
Your weak twos should be marked 6-11 and the general consensus on these calls is:
All of this is well-known and need not be written on the system card. What's important for the system card is extras like what a 2NT response asks for, and whether a new suit by responder is non-forcing (they should not be). A 2NT response to a weak two can ask for a feature (a side suit ace or king that may help responder to bid 3NT), a singleton (to help responder value his hand: honours opposite singletons are wasted values, while two or three small cards opposite known singletons mean all honours elsewhere are working), or the Ogust Convention, where opener rebids at the three level to show point count (majors 9-11, minors 6-8) and suit quality (pointed = good, rounded = not so good). None make a lot of sense if partner has passed: if you hear 2NT from a passed hand RHO, there's a good chance partner passed hoping you could double. Indicate which you play if you have an agreement.
The final section on the right hand side covers some common agreements that players play, mostly in uncontested auctions. New Minor Forcing is a convention that comes up whenever responder bids a major and opener rebids 1NT, showing a balanced 12-14. Responders rebid of an unbid minor (not the minor opener opened in) is artificial and shows at least a good ten points, and almost always indicates five or more of responder's major. Opener can support responder's suit with three card support or go back to notrump, jumping with 14 or a good 13 since the New Minor Forcing bid promises at least a good ten and usually more. Other rebids by responder are weaker attempts to escape the perils of 1NT. It's a good convention; check it if you have agreed to play it. 2-Way NMF is a more scientific variant where 2♣ always promises a hand of 10-12 and 2♦ shows a game forcing hand. Other variants along the same lines are Checkback Stayman and X-Y-Z.
Weak Jump Shifts are jump bids by responder that are not game forcing. Some like them; I like to use the jump shift to show a strong hand, indicating immediately that we are in the slam zone. But when the opponents are in the auction, many pairs switch to weak jumps. Some conventions interfere with jump shifts, such as Bergen Raises. Discuss with your partner before deciding what to write here.
Fourth Suit Forcing means that the responder, rebidding after three different suits have been bid, can use the fourth suit as an artificial force to elicit more description about opener's hand. The key decision is whether to play '4SF' as game forcing or forcing for one round only. Look at these two hands:
Responder 1: ♠ AKQ532 ♥ 62 ♦ J42 ♣ K53
Responder 2: ♠ KQJ532 ♥ 62 ♦ K42 ♣ J53
After 1♥ from opener, 1♠ from responder, and 2♣ from opener, a pair playing game forcing fourth suits will bid 2♦ with the first hand, and make the invitational jump to 3♠ with the second. A pair playing fourth suit forcing for only one round will reverse this, making the invitational 2♦ call with the second hand and jumping to 3♠ with the first hand. Forcing to game is more popular than one round these days, but either is playable, as long as you and partner are on the same page.
The rest of the space is for other conventions that don't involve competition from the opponents, and while there are a few that you might see here, it has been a while since I saw anything that made me sit up and take notice. I do recall an opponent in a Swiss Teams writing "4:00" beside the fourth suit forcing to game box after the Director announced that the next round would begin at that time. Sure enough, on the next hand they bid all four suits and I made sure to look at the card, then check my watch, then ask which version they played prior to 4:00!
The plan for covering the left side of the card is as follows: we'll save ace asking and defensive agreements until the end, and spend two parts covering the nine boxes above the Blackwood area, this part on the five boxes on the left, and part 6 on the four boxes on the right. That means this section is all about the boxes titled 'special doubles,' 'simple overcalls,' 'jump overcalls,' 'opening pre-empts,' and 'direct cuebids.' They begin with the most complicated one and get simpler as we descend.
One very important distinction to always keep in mind as we delve into the world of competitive bidding is this: of the hundreds of conventions used in competition, the vast majority can be divided into two groups: those that apply when our side opens, and those that apply when their side opens. Takeout Doubles: they opened. Negative Doubles: we opened. Very very few conventions apply to both scenarios. The first thing any player should do when adding a new convention to the repertoire is learn when it applies...and when it does not. This knowledge will help you in the heat of battle when partner makes an unexpected bid and you think you discussed it a few weeks ago...
That upper left box is a very small space to cover the world of doubles, and it is limited to common situations. The first question is about a double by responder after the opening bid is overcalled. Up until the Soviet Union sent the first orbiting satellite into space in 1957, most people played these doubles for penalty to prevent opponents from overcalling on complete junk. Success was rather hit or miss, because a clear opportunity to get a large penalty often prevented the pair from bidding a game or slam for an even better score. It was the successful American pair of Al Roth and Tobias Stone that decided to reverse the meaning of this double from penalty to takeout, and the original name (still sometimes used) was the Sputnik Double, but we know it more familiarly as the Negative Double, named because the meaning of the double is reversed from what long ago was normal. Those few still playing these low level doubles as penalty need to mark the red box and alert when it comes up, for the Negative Double has become standard. (If you play Negative Doubles like everyone else and want to pummel the overcaller for 800 or 1100, you have no choice but to pass and hope partner can reopen with a double.). Negative Doubles generally apply up to 3♠, but some pairs prefer 2♠, and I even saw a pair claim on their system card that their negative doubles were on up to 7♥! Indicate the highest overcall that you can double for takeout in the space to the right of the box.
A responsive double is a double by the advancer (the first four bidders in a competitive auction are known as 'opener,' 'overcaller' or 'doubler,' 'responder,' and 'advancer.') after a one-bid is raised by the responder after a takeout double or an overcall. That last sentence was a doozie, so let's have an example: 1♥ (Double) 2♥ (Double). The first double is a takeout double, the second, following the response in the same suit by responder, is a responsive double. In most partnerships, it only applies if the opener's suit is raised, not after something like 1♥ (Double) 2♦ (Double), where the second double would be for penalties. The responsive double says 'I'm happy to compete but unsure which suit to bid,' and usually indicates both majors if the opponents are raising a minor, and both minors if the opponents are raising a major. A maximal double, sometimes called a maximal overcall double, is similar but applies when opener's suit is raised and the opponents also bid and raise the suit just below opener's suit: 1♥ (2♦) 2♥ (3♦). Bidding the suit just below opener's suit leaves little room for special bids. Playing maximal doubles, opener can double with good hands that want to encourage partner to compete, and bid 3♥ with no extras.
The support double is yet another species. This one is a double by opener when opener's RHO comes into the auction, either in support of LHO or alone after LHO passes and partner responds in a major suit. Some examples: 1♦ (Pass) 1♥ (1♠) Double, or 1♣ (Double) 1♥ (1♠) Double. When RHO comes in, there is a danger of missing a 5-3 fit in responder's suit for fear responder may only have four. The idea is to double to show three-card support for partner's suit, while actually raising partner's suit shows four or more. Both examples above promise three-card heart support. Again, a level that this applies to is requested, 2♠ or 3♠ being most commonly seen. I play this when I play 2/1 but I do find that I have to struggle to remember it in the heat of battle: the temptation to bid 1NT to show your balanced hand of 12-14 is sometimes too strong and I do it without thinking, and when I have three-card support in such a hand for partner's suit, partner will think I have denied such support.
'Card-showing', and 'Min. Offshape T/O' on the last line are two sides of the same counterfeit coin, not recommended. 'Card-showing' means that low-level doubles when our side opens and they overcall are not negative or penalty, but instead show general values without any hint at distribution. 'Min. Offshape T/O' is the same thing but when the opponents open the bidding. If you make takeout doubles often with three or four cards in the opponent's suit and minimum values, check this box. Or better yet, stop doing that! Nobody enjoys a partner who just has to make a 'takeout' double with every 12 or 13 count, then looks for a better spot when partner bids an awkward suit. Takeout doubles should promise support for all unbid suits, at least three-card support. Making a takeout double and then overruling partner's suit choice to bid your own suit shows a massive hand, at least an ace or more better than a minimum opening bid. If this is not a rule you subscribe to, check the box, but consider changes.
The next box down is about overcalls, 'simple' meaning 'non-jumping' overcalls. Indicate the approximate usual point range for your overcalls on the top line: your minimum should be about 8 and your maximum might be about 17 (with more, most would start with a double) or even no limit (write '8 to +' or some such). Whatever you write here is not binding, as indicated by the word 'usually', but if you are outside the range often, you may want to adjust it. It's expected that vulnerability and shape will have some effect on this range. If you often (not just rarely) make overcalls on four-card suits at the one-level, check the box on the next line. If you are more likely to be at or below the bottom of your range, check the 'very light style' box.
The word 'responses' in bold is misleading; as we've seen, the partner of an overcaller does not 'respond', but rather 'advances.' When partner overcalls and you bid a new suit, this can be non-forcing, forcing, or non-forcing but constructive. The third one, which I prefer, means you probably have tolerance for the overcalled suit if partner returns to it but are OK if partner passes your bid. Check whichever one applies. After (1♥) 1♠ (Pass) I might bid 2♣ on ♠ 873 ♥ A6 ♦ K86 ♣ QJT86 but not on ♠ 3 ♥ A643 ♦ K86 ♣ QJT86, since partner might retreat back to spades with no fit for clubs and suffer greatly on the second hand but survive the first.
Jump raises of overcalls used to be strong or at least invitational, until we figured out that all strong hands by advancer, including those with support, ought to start with a cuebid of opener's suit. Now jump raises are pre-emptive (weak) and we cue-bid, then support to show a good hand.
Similarly, in the next box down, virtually everyone these days plays a jump overcall as a weak pre-empt. No doubt this is why the other two options are red, requiring an alert.
Some players have intricate systems that are put into play against a strong club system, where the opponents' 1♣ opener is artificial and shows a good hand. The extra lines in the doubles and overcalls box are the proper place to put these details, although some prefer to put them in the lower right 'Other Conventional Calls' area.
Opening Pre-empts: partner opens 3♠ as dealer with everyone vulnerable. Check the box that describes the weakest hand partner can hold for this action:
Sound: ♠ AQJT976 ♥ - ♦ A64 ♣ T765
Light: ♠ QJT9763 ♥ 86 ♦ 4 ♣ 765
Very Light: ♠ JT97632 ♥ 64 ♦ 54 ♣ 65
To me the sound hand looks like a routine 1♠ opener, and the very light hand looks like frustrated recrimination for something partner did earlier. Most people check the middle box.
Direct Cuebids are almost as simple: bidding the same suit as RHO opened one level higher used to mean an ironclad rockcrusher of a takeout double. Now most people play Michaels Cuebids, where (1♣) 2♣ or (1♦) 2♦ shows both majors, (1♥) 2♥ shows spades and a minor, and (1♠) 2♠ shows hearts and a minor. To find out which minor the Michaels bidder has, advancer bids 2NT (and should be prepared for either possible response if weak). Again here, some scientists may have some special cuebid over 1♣ or 1♦ openers that are part of strong club systems, but Michaels has pretty much taken over otherwise. To make the Michaels bid, you should virtually always have five cards in both suits promised. Some Michaels players have a zone between about 12-15 HCP where instead of making the Michaels cuebid they will bid one suit and then the other. With less than 12 they will make the Micheals cuebid and pass the response. With more than 15 they will make the Michaels cuebid and bid once more to indicate the extra strength.
This series seems to have more installments than Star Wars! I've been calling it the Convention Card series, but we should be referring to the front side of the card as the System Card, since when filled out it gives the opponents a quick reference guide to the system you play. (It also lets you look at it and reinforce your memory, except that this is not allowed once a hand begins.) Two more parts to follow this one: one on the slam conventions and defensive carding section, and a finale on how to best use the back side of the card, where you keep the scores you have obtained. Today's installment covers the four boxes down the right panel of the left side of the system card, which are titled 'notrump overcalls', 'defense vs notrump', 'over opps t/o double', and 'vs opening preemepts double is.'
For almost all players, an overcall of 1NT by opener's LHO will promise about the same as a 1NT overcall, 15 to 17 for most of us. I used to have the idea that the true range was 16 to 18, but you get to add a point for each stopper in the suit of the opening bid, so a 14-count with two stoppers was OK, while 15 without a stopper was not. I had a good reason for this which requires a new paragraph:
Did you know that when you are up against expert players, your notrump bids are being recorded in their minds like the NSA with cellphone calls? If you always, always have 15, 16 or 17, they will count the points that come out of your hand, watch for clues from partner, and often know your whole hand before trick six. If you occasionally add a point for supporting 10s and 9s (5 or more 'baby controls' -- 10s are 2 BCs, 9's are 1 BC -- are worth a point extra), long suits, and stoppers in opener's suit when overcalling, while subtracting points for uncertain honours like Jxx or Qx, inflexible suits like AKQ or KQJ (where there is no chance for skill to play a part since everyone plays them the same), and aceless hands, you will open or overcall 1NT with some good 14s and some bad 18s, and the experts will not be able to count out your hand as easily on defense. Just be sure not to go overboard with this tactic: add and subtract where appropriate, and be prepared to accept the blame when your judgment leads to a bad score. (Also, you have to accept the fact that nobody will notice when your judgment leads to a good score, except the occasional expert who will sometimes be explaining to his partner why he defended the way he did when it doesn't work.)
So, write your range for 1NT overcalls in direct seat (directly after an opening bid) in the space provided. If you add or subtract points by judgment, you might write g14 - b18 or 14+ - 18- to indicate that, but it is not required. The 'systems on' box is a new wrinkle on the latest version of the system card, with a funny story. Checking that box means that your regular systems that you play over a 1NT opening -- Stayman and tranfers, and whatever else you have -- are also on over a 1NT overcall. On the previous version there was no space for this, but most expert players wrote 'ASG' at the bottom, which stands for 'all systems go.' But in that very strange and funny way that bridge players emulate the experts without finding out why they do what they do, this 'ASG' was often misinterpreted, and I recall seeing on many cards 'as Goren,' even though for the life of me I cannot recall what Charles Goren would have recommended over a 1NT overcall: Stayman maybe, but even the final versions of his books kept transfers to the back pages for the real experimenters!
By the way, it is understood that even if you have systems on over a 1NT overcall, that some auctions are not going to make sense. For example: (1♥) 1NT (Pass) 2♦. Without any sort of agreement, unless my partner was a real expert or known scientist he would be playing 2♦. If partner is a real expert or scientist I announce transfer and convert to 2♥ and await the next call, but we are going to have a discussion about this sequence later! (There actually are some conventions calling for this move, but I have long forgotten them.)
There are revolutionaries out there who play a 1NT overcall as some sort of weird takeout double or overcall, and they are welcome to describe their innovations on the second line. Mortals like you and I can safely leave it blank.
A balancing 1NT overcall: (1♠) Pass (Pass) 1NT for example, is a much different beast. 11-14 is the standard range in expertville, and sometimes it is as little as 10. Most hands with support for the other major will double, so usually the balancing 1NT will have three small or honour-doubleton in the other major, or in at least one of the unbid majors if the opening bid was in a minor. With a balanced hand of 15+ the idea is to double and then bid notrump.
Another secret trick from the expert world. The idea that you need 25 or 26 combined points to bid a game in notrump is out the window when one player opens. When that happens, you can often make a game with as little as 23 combined points! The reason: you're going to know fairly early in the play where most of the high cards are. The partner of the opener cannot have much, and once you pinpont the few highcards that player has, you can place the rest in opener's hand. Suddenly you are taking 100% finesses or playing for drops that you normally would not play for. With AKJxxx opposite xx, most will finesse the jack on the first or second round, but if you are virtually certain that the queen is offside, you play the ace and king and hope for a drop. This little trick works just as well, possibly better, when you find a fit and play in a major suit game.
Back to that first box. The Jump to 2NT item gives two choices: minors, or '2 lowest unbid'. Most of us play the latter, and the combination of Michaels and Unusual '2 lowest unbid' Notrump covers most two-suiters: If they open 1♣, you would bid Michaels (2♣) with majors and 2NT with red suits; with spades and diamonds you would have to bid them both. If they open 1♦, you would bid Michaels (2♦) with majors and 2NT with rounded suits; with spades and clubs you would have to bid them both. If they open 1♥ or 1♠, you would bid Michaels (2♥ or 2♠) with the other major and either minor (2NT by partner asks which minor), and bid 2NT with both minors.
I am so glad they revised this box here as well: it used to say 2 lower unbid, not 2 lowest unbid. I had a partner some time back who would count back from the opened suit and decide that 1♦ (2NT) showed clubs and ... spades!
The final line is seldom used, since most players in North America love the Unusual Notrump. I understand that in Europe they have revised it with a convention called 'Ghestem' which one wit has described as 'an excellent convention for generating rulings, record penalties, and animosity' because when it is forgotten in the heat of battle, the carnage is often spectacular. One player made a jump overcall of 3♣ and corrected to 4♣ after partner converted to 3♥. It turned out that in Ghestem, 3♣ promised diamonds and hearts. The 3♣ bidder's name was ... Pierre Ghestem, the inventor of the convention. The ruling was to adjust the score to 4♥ doubled, down seven!
On to the next box, defense vs notrump, covering the dozens upon dozens of schemes to compete when the opponents open 1NT. There is a website online here that lists 115 different schemes, what their names are, and what they show! (If you pick one from this list, be sure it is a 'Yes' in the ACBL GCC line*: many are not allowed in the ACBL except at the highest levels.) But the system card space does not want you to write Cappiletti or DONT or Astro or Brozel on the card, it wants you to write in what each call, from double to 2NT, shows. There are two columns, in case you play different systems in different situations (weak/strong NT, direct/balancing seat, etc.) Extra detail goes in the red 'other' box. If you play that suit bids show that suit only and a double is for penalty, you can write 'NATURAL' over the grid and be done with it.
(*I know, the ACBL's most recent updates have done away with the General Convention Chart GCC and redefined what conventions can and cannot be played, but the website with the 1NT defenses has not been updated. Sticking to GCC-OK schemes should in almost all cases be legal under the new regulations.)
Whether any of these 115 variants are better than natural is an unanswerable question: it depends not so much on what you play, rather than on how well you play it. It is all well and good to have a bid that shows a 4-card unspecified major and a 5-card unspecified minor when an opponent opens 1NT, but if you like the bid so much that you make it when you shouldn't and consequently go for 1100 every third time it comes up, it might not be the elixir you've been waiting for.
Onward, to what happens after partner opens and the next player makes a takeout double. If responder bids a new suit, is it forcing? The answer most experts arrive at is surprising if you haven't considered it. They say that at the one level a new suit should be forcing, as it would be without the double, but at the two level, not so much. The reason: a new possibility, redouble, has been bestowed upon the responder, who should use it with virtually all good hands. I used to call the redouble after a takeout double the Alexander Haig redouble. Haig was President Reagan's Secretary of State and is remembered for claiming "I am in control here" shortly after the President was shot and rushed to hospital (and with Vice President Bush still on his way back to Washington). Redouble means "it's our hand, opener: if they keep bidding, don't panic, I will know what to do." There is nothing more frustrating than to catch the opponents speeding, redouble their takeout double with a rock crusher expecting to get some astronomical number from whichever suit they select, then have opener panic and rebid his suit, letting them off the hook.
One thing a redouble might mean is support for opener's suit and a good hand, but many players prefer to make an immediate bid with these hands. The most common scheme is to make 1♠ (Double) 3♠ preemptive, 1♠ (Double) 2NT a limit raise or better. The same for hearts, but over a minor suit opener many switch them around, so that the double raise is a good raise and the 2NT call is a preemptive raise. (I'm going to have to write an article some day about bridge bidding theorists and their propensity to swap the meanings of bids for no apparent reason.)
So, what to write in this box? New suit forcing at the one level only (be aware that auctions like 1♥ (Double) 2♣ are non-forcing and you may play it in 2♣, so don't bid 2♣ with a strong hand). A jump shift like 1♠ (Double) 3♥ should be weak. (If you play Bergen raises, these may be played as on over a takeout double.) All this means that your redoubles will show strong hands which only occasionally will have support for partner's suit, so redouble implies no fit should be checked, even if sometimes you will have a good fit. If you play 2NT as some sort of special raise after a takeout double, check the appropriate box and remember to alert it when it comes up.
Next up is what we do when the opponents begin with a preemptive bid. How high does this bid have to be before it ceases to be a takeout double? Doubles of 3-level calls are clearly for takeout, and most would say that even doubles of 4♣, 4♦, and even 4♥ are at least takeout-oriented (although partner might pass with good defense against the suit bid). 4♥ is the limit though. Most experts play that this auction: (4♠) Double is primiarily for penalties, while (4♠) 4NT is not ace-asking but for takeout. So 4♥ is what most players write in that spot, with 4NT/4♠ written in on the next line.
The really interesting part of this box is the Lebensohl 2NT response, which is this auction: (2♦/2♥/2♠) Double (Pass) 2NT. Many players play the Lebensohl scheme which we discussed way back in the notrump section here; some claim this is the most useful application of it. The 2NT response to the takeout double requests that the doubler bid 3♣ next. The doubler's partner continues by making a descriptive bid, and the 2NT gadget allows multiple ways to bid to the same spot, giving the doubler's partner a better way to show strength:
(2♦) Double (Pass) 2♠ -- weak hand with spades (0-7 points)
(2♦) Double (Pass) 2NT
(Pass) 3♣ (Pass) 3♠ -- invitational hand with spades (8-11 points)
(2♦) Double (Pass) 3♠ -- game forcing with spades (12 points)
It also allows notrump bids with and without stoppers:
(2♦) Double (Pass) 2NT
(Pass) 3♣ (Pass) 3NT -- values to bid game and a diamond stopper
(2♦) Double (Pass) 3NT -- values to bid game but no diamond stopper (opener bails unless he has a stopper)
In some cases you may have only two ways to bid a suit, with jumping providing the third:
(2♠) Double (Pass) 3♥ -- hearts but could be weak (0-7)
(2♠) Double (Pass) 2NT
(Pass) 3♣ (Pass) 3♥ -- invitational hand with hearts (8-11)
(2♠) Double (Pass) 4♥ -- more than 11 with hearts.
It works quite well over weak twos. Against notrump overcalls where most of the bids are conventional, it can be baffling, but over weak twos it is a good convention. Without it, you never really know what partner has after you double.
Aside: The background colours for the eight sections of this long document were coloured using the ACBL sequence for section letters, which Directors remember by the mnemonic sentence "Would You Get Our Boards Please" which leads to the six-colour sequence white, yellow, green, orange, blue, pink, which covers sections A-F, G-L, M-R, and S-X. Sections Y and Z are white and yellow, and then section AA-ZZ and AAA-ZZZ (used at very large tournaments) are the same colours as A-Z. (I used a slightly different shade of white and yellow for the last two sections.)
A bit of strategy here: we're going to insert some new material here on how best to use the back side of the convention card, the scoring sheet. The original series had only seven parts, and despite saying I would do a piece on scoring, I wrapped it up after discussing the slam section. We're inserting the new material on the scoring side here to keep you waiting for the exciting conclusion...
Scoring, ugh. Some players want nothing to do with it. Some score until the first time they get a bad board, then they stop once the chance of a 75% game is mathematically gone. At the other end of the scale, others seem to write a novella on the back of the card. What's up with that?
In matchpoints, it's important to keep an accurate score; in teams, it is required. In a pairs game, there may be a strange score entered into the BridgeMates or onto the travelers that the Director needs to check. If you and your partner don't have a record of that hand but the opponents do, the Director has to take their word over yours. In a team game, if you and your partner go back to your home table without scores, your teammates will stare at you dumbfounded for a few minutes until the other team comes along with the result ticket claiming a two-IMP win: and you will not be able to contest it!
Not scoring is a bit like flying an airplane at night with no instruments. You may think that you can tell from the feel of the flight whether you're climbing, decending, or level, but any pilot will tell you that fly-by-butt is notoriously unreliable. At the bridge table, you may feel that you can always tell a good game from a bad one, but I know from watching people express surprise at the leaderboard that few really know. But if you keep score, you usually can get a reasonable idea of where you are. And you can circle interesting boards to look at later, when you have hand records.
You may think: what's the point, I never remember hands later anyhow. Scoring is the first step in improving that situation. Something hidden happens in your brain when you write the score down at the end of the hand, as you think about what has just happened. That line of thought remains in your brain even if you can't access it. The physical act of scoring is like a neural bookmark, helping you remember at least some of the hands. It might not happen right away, but gradually, you'll see that you're remembering more and participating more at post-game meals, and learning more from the stories of the others who are there rather than just nodding because you can't at all remember the deal they are discussing.
You might not even have played that hand in the game. Wouldn't it be great to have a record that told you right away that you didn't play Board 5, the one that Harriet is so energetically discussing? She starts talking and you figure that something will be familiar, but nothing rings a bell, so you go into the grinning and nodding routine. Suddenly Harriet asks what you did on the deal and you can't say "I don't remember," implying that all your grinning and nodding was as genuine as a soccer injury. Wouldn't you rather have a complete scoresheet that you can refer to?
Of course you would. Here's how to get from no scores to all scores quickly:
All this is not difficult, and many players do all this without thinking much about it. That's the goal: once you get to the point where this is a natural part of the game that takes a few seconds here and there but can easily be done without thinking much about it, you're ready for the next step: estimating how well you are doing!
You could find out what top on a board is and guess that you will get 11 out of 13, or 5 out of 6, or 1 out of 8, but there is an easier way that removes the necessity of changing the scales all the time. I call it the G0T0BAT system (and yes, those are zeroes, not letters). Here's how it works: every hand is one of five results:
You can take a guess or (if your director allows it on the BridgeMate) you can look at other results on the board and make a better estimate. The best thing about the GOTOBAT system is that you can translate it into a percentage quickly. T, G, A, B, and 0 translate to 4, 3, 2, 1, and 0 points, and if you play 25 boards, your percentage will be the sum of your results. If you play more than 25 boards, subtract 2 points per extra board from the sum, if you play less than 25 boards, add 2 points per board less than 25. The sum will be your estimate of your percentage. During the game, you can keep track of how well you are doing just by knowing how many points above or below average you are. A first round with two T's and a B is nine points where six is average, so you are three above average: average results from here on will leave you at 53%, but seven more rounds of two above average will get you to 67%!
A word of warning: some partners are sensitive to what you write on your card if you estimate a bad score. You can create a code, or just cover what you write with your hand. (Or get a new partner that is less childish.)
You don't have to estimate your scores. But you should mark up your card when you encounter an interesting deal, a difficult question, or something else to look at later. Some players write out the entire auction on each line, in case the deal comes up later. I think that is admirable, but unnecessary on most deals. Once you get to the point where you are writing all the scores on your sheet, you'll find that you can reconstruct most boards from the hand records and your results alone (sometimes with partner's help). But there will be some hands that are worth an extra mark. Circle the board number if you like. Create a code of shapes: circling the board number is a bidding question, squares mean take a look at the play of the hand, triangles mean ask partner about a strange bid that you misread, etc. These extra marks are the way you learn and get better: they remind you to check the online results or your hand record later to learn what you need to learn. Plus, they lead to great stories:
David Bird's stories about the bridge-playing monks included this gem after the Abbot and his partner Brother Lucius misdefended a hand: "the Abbott marked the score on his scoresheet and wrote beside it 'LD'. It was generally understood from long experience that this meant 'Lucius, defense.' Very occasionally the Abbott was seen to inscribe the letters 'AD' on his scorecard beside a result, and it was just as well understood that this meant 'awkward decision.' "
My own favorite ruling of all time was one from many years ago, before BridgeMates. The deal in question featured E-W making eleven tricks in hearts or spades, and at some other tables North-South were making eleven tricks in clubs or diamonds; in notrump from any position the defenders would take eleven tricks in their suits without trouble before the poor declarer got in. It was therefore worth checking when a player saw 3NT making five on the traveler. The defender on opening lead was an elderly Chinese man and I asked to see his scorecard. I then returned to the original table and told them that "Mr. Li's scorecard clearly says three notrump making five by east, but beside this score are five very large and angry-looking Chinese characters." This was one of those scorecards where there is one column and space on the right for comments; the comments in this case (board 18) stretched from board 16 to board 20! At the end of the game we asked Mr. Li what the Chinese characters meant and he said, with great pain "very bad defense!" It turned out that Mr. Li had led the king of clubs and partner had overtaken with the ace, establishing declarer's doubleton queen as an unlikely stopper. Back came the ace of diamonds and declarer dropped the jack. Mr. Li was so surprised that his partner had overtaken the opening lead that he did not notice that partner had played the ace of diamonds to trick two, so he "won" the trick with his king. Declarer's doubleton queen of diamonds won the third trick, followed by a claim, and five huge Chinese characters written onto Mr. Li's scoresheet. The passion of Mr. Li in relating the sad story at game end was enough to leave a half-dozen players picking themselves up off the floor once they had recovered from the general hilarity!
The slam section of the card, a small strip above the leads and carding area, is surprisingly small...but maybe that's a good thing. I have a bridge book about slam bidding that claims that in a recent European championship, every team eliminated from the second stage would have advanced had they simply decided not to bid any slams at all!
The slam area is mostly about ace-asking bids and the surprise is that nothing is in red. In fact, Gerber and Blackwood and all other variants are alertable, but the ACBL rule is that for any alertable call above 3NT, starting with the opening bidder's second turn to call, the alert is delayed until the end of the auction. Virtually all ace-asking bids fit this category, so theoretically we are supposed to wait until the auction ends and then say "4NT was ace-asking," allowing the opponents to enquire further if they wish, before play begins. In practice it is usually obvious what is going on and nothing needs be said unless there is a possibility of confusion. I have watched snooker countless times on TV and the rules of snooker clearly state that a player must designate which colour he is aiming at after potting a red ball, but I have never seen a player say anything to the official: aiming at a ball is usually sufficient. Same principle.
Gerber is a convention invented by American expert John Gerber, usually used after a 1NT or 2NT opener, which uses 4♣ as an ace-asking bid because your system uses 4NT as a quantitative slam try. Quantitative, a term often used and more often misunderstood, sometimes when it is erroneously used, means exactly this: partner, you have made a notrump bid showing a balanced hand and a limited point range; if you are at the top or near the top of this range we have enough for slam, so I am making this special bid to allow you to convert to the right contract based on how good your hand is. Here are some examples:
There is a small space after the Gerber box to describe if you play one of its many variants. Gerber seems to attract the strangest variants, from "rolling" or "sliding" Gerber, where after the response the next suit up (not 5♣) asks for kings, to what I call "Gerber uber alles" where any 4♣ call asks for aces in any situation, and we just give up on any other useful meaning a 4♣ call may ever have. My cynical defense against pairs who play "Gerber uber alles" never failed:
It seems suicidal, but players who prioritize ace-asking to the "Gerber uber alles" level never seem to land on their feet when there is interference. If you play Gerber, limit it to hands where partner shows a balanced hand of a known range. 4♣ is a useful bid in many auctions and should not be wasted.
4NT is the main ace-asking bid, of course, and you can play Blackwood, Roman Keycard, or 1430 responses, or even some other schemes. Entire books have been written about these five-ace Blackwood variants, so be sure you and your partner are on the same wavelength about responses, how to determine the trump suit in strange auctions, and what 5NT means.
My own preference is to play Gerber when partner shows a balanced hand with a limited point count (notrump openers or rebids), as well as after a transfer auction (1NT 2♦ 2♥ 4NT is quantitative with five hearts, 1NT 2♦ 2♥ 4♣ is ace-asking). I play RKC but I dislike the 1430 responses because I will forget that 5♣ shows more than 5♦ in the heat of battle. A continuation to 5NT confirms that all five keycards are present and starts a grand slam try by asking partner to bid the suit of the cheapest king he holds. For example: 1♥ 1♠ 3♥ 4NT 5♣ 5NT 6♦ 7♥. Responder bid one spade and then launched an ace-asking sequence after opener made the jump rebid of hearts. 5♣ showed zero or three keycards, presumably three since it is difficult to imagine a jump rebid without any keycards. 5NT promises the other two keycards and asks for specific kings. 6♦ denies the king of clubs and shows the king of diamonds. Responder chooses a grand slam based on this information, perhaps able to count 13 tricks based on the information so far.
Once every decade or so, some intrepid soul will bid at the five level over your partner's 4NT, and you need to have countermeasures. DOPI (actually, D0P1) says that double shows zero aces or keycards, pass shows one, the next bid up shows two, and so on. DEPO is similar, double showing an even number, pass showing an odd number. Most experts use both, using DEPO when the intervening bid is 5♥ or higher, and DOPI when the intervening bid is five of a minor. ROPI is a variant that some use when they double 4NT, where redouble shows no aces or keycards.
On to leads. For most of us, the bold cards in each combination will be what we go with, but there are some exceptions to note:
The only lead that ever needs an alert is if you have an agreement with partner to lead the lowest card of a doubleton. If you do, this requires a pre-alert, a notification before the round begins to each opponent you face.
Below the leads section is the main question about length leads: fourth best (which most play) or third/fifth (the scientists choice). Attitude vs NT means that you would lead a low card from honours and a higher spot card from suits without honours, without caring whether it is third or fourth or fifth best.
The last bit on the left side switches abruptly from leads to signals. There are three main types of signals on defense: encourage/discourage, even/odd, and suit preference. Most will prioritize the three types in the order indicated, there are some experts who prefer count signals to attitude signals. A good upgrade is to play attitude on suits that partner leads, and count on suits that declarer leads, since declarer choosing to lead it means that your attitude can safely be assumed.
Chthonic, the computer bridge player in a pair of recent entertaining bridge books, marks this area with a '3' beside attitude, a '4' beside count, and a '5' beside suit preference. When asked, Chthonic will explain that the number one priority is to avoid signaling with a card that could cost a trick, and the second is to avoid signaling with a card that could tell declarer how to play the hand!
The Defensive Carding column is fairly clear: 'Standard' means that a high card encourages, indicates an even number, or requests a switch to a high ranking suit. 'Upside-Down' means the opposite. Upside-down players claim that encouraging with a ten or nine may cost a trick, but it seldom does. I once played with an eager beaver who wanted to play upside-down signals. On the first hand we defended 6NT and partner's first signal in all four suits was a deuce. I figured we would beat it two or three based on this; when the smoke cleared we had no tricks at all — partner forgot. Mark 'Standard' unless you have a strong agreement to do something else.
What you do the very first time you cannot follow suit is the next topic. Lavinthal discards are an invention of American player Hy Lavinthal, and works like this: whenever you make your first discard, discarding a card of one suit upon the lead of a second suit, you send a message about the other two suits: a high card says you prefer the higher ranking of them, a low card says you prefer the lower ranking of them. Example: declarer is in 4♠ and partner follows to the first trump but discards on the second. A discard of the 2♥ prefers clubs over diamonds, the 9♥ prefers diamonds over clubs, the 3♦ prefers clubs over hearts, the T♦ prefers hearts over clubs, the 2♣ prefers diamonds over hearts, the 9♣ prefers hearts over clubs. Middle cards are likely to confuse partner unless dummy can help: a discard of a 5 is low if dummy has the 432.
Odd-even discards are similar: a discard of a 3, 5, 7, or 9 encourages in that suit, while discarding a 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 is discouraging and a low even card suggests the lower of the other two suits, while a high even card suggests the higher of the other two suits. If you don't have a suitable card, a high card followed by a low card of the same parity sends this message. Declarer is in 4♠ and partner discards the 6♦ on the second round of trumps; dummy has the 987♦. The six seems to discourage diamonds and suggest hearts over clubs. Declarer pulls a second trump and partner plays the 4♦, indicating the opposite: partner is encouraging in diamonds but does not have an odd card to do so with!
Smith Echo is a special signal, usually used against notrump, which appears to have been devised in the 1960s in England by a Mr. I. G. Smith, a military officer. Defenders lead their suit and declarer wins and starts playing his suit. The partner of the opening leader signals attitude not for the suit of declarer (which is assumed to be discouraging), but about the suit led by partner. This is information that the opening leader needs to know, and often helps if the leader gets back in and wonders whether to continue his suit or switch to a new one.
Trump Suit Pref. means that where possible you will follow with small trumps in such a way as to indicate suit preference. Not many play this. A better answer might be "dark with absurdly-long ties..."
Foster Echo is a special count signal that applies only to the partner of the opening leader, only when he has three cards or more in the suit led, and only when dummy is going to win the first trick. The defender plays his second highest card and next plays the highest card to indicate an original holding of an odd number, and follows it up with the third-highest card to indicate an even number. Check the box if you think you would have a chance at noticing this if your partner did it. I doubt I would.
There are lots of wild and crazy leading and carding conventions out there. A Norwegian scientist discovered that all bridge hands contain either one suit of even length and three odd (5431, 4333, 5530, 8311, etc.), or one suit of odd length and three even (4432, 5422, 7222, 6421, etc.) -- and created a trump signal so that partners could tell each other which type they have. You will know when you play against one of these players because they spend 45 seconds thinking once partner makes this signal, then shrug their shoulders because there isn't anything they can actually do with this vital information. (To save time, when playing against this signal, I avoid pulling trumps if I can.) Anyhow, if you play something as crazy or crazier than this, check the big box marked 'special carding, please ask'. Just don't be disappointed if nobody asks.
And we're done! After a seven part series, a refresher seems to be a good idea:
♠ Fill out a convention card with your partner, either each time you play, or over lunch or coffee once and use a paper clip to attach a new scorecard each time you play. (If you attend a Regional tournament you can purchase a convention card holder, a gadget that holds your system cards and score cards separately. At some tournaments they give them away during one of the sessions.)
♥ No need to fill out everything, nor to have agreements in every section of the system card. Be sure you know what is meant by every box you check! Don't adopt others' conventions without checking them out online or with experienced players to be sure you have it right!
♦ Filling out your system card, or reading it over before the game, helps you remember your agreements. Displaying it to your opponents during the game allows them to see at a glance what you play.
♣ The scorecard is for your eyes only. If you leave it face up and others catch an accidental glimpse of '7NT' they won't have the fun of getting there. Turn it over. But use it; keeping score improves your memory of events in the game and leads to better bridge, as well as occasionally being helpful when there is a strange result that needs to be checked.
♠ Alert things in red, or anything that you think might be alertable. It is rare to be penalized because you alerted something that is not alertable. But if you forgot to alert something that requires an alert, you might have your score adjusted if the opponents are damaged. You are not required to memorize the alert rules, only to do your best to do what's right.
♥ When you meet a pair with lots of writing on their system card, do not despair. What matters is not how many conventions you play, but how well you play.
In the 1950s, before the explosion of different systems, Charles Goren and Helen Sobel would go to tournaments and mark on their system card 'YOUR SYSTEM' and take a quick look at the opponents' card, then play that for that round, and often win! In 1960, Al Roth was asked by his wife to play at the annual married couples Hadassah fundraising game. Al agreed, but having seen his wife declare before, insisted that Mrs. Roth stick to a simple system: open 1♣ with hands of 13 points or more, otherwise pass. Al played 60% of the hands, some in terrible contracts, but was such a good player that this system was good enough to win the event. In 1961, Mrs. Roth asked again, but complained that everyone laughed at her simple system the year before. Al updated the system so that she could open 1♣ with 13 or more, and open 1♦ wih 10-12.
They finished second.