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Bidding the Majors - Bridge 218

In the previous issue of ESRA Magazine (#217), I made a case for favoring a suit contract over No Trumps as, I went on to say, most often a suit contract will yield at least one more trick than NT. This is particularly true at the game level and higher, when the suit is Hearts or Spades. As it turns out, roughly 70% of all game contacts bid and made are in 4 of a Major.

Small wonder, then, that all modern bidding systems and their component conventions are geared to uncovering partnership holdings of 8 or more cards in a Major suit. The subject of bidding in the Majors is a wide one, but at least I want to get us off to a good start. So in this article I hope to outline a sound approach to responding to partner's opening call of 1 or 1♠, 1M in the general case. The discussions and recommendations will be given in the context of a basic system like the American ACBL Yellow Card and the very similar Israeli Standard systems.

Clearly, this article can be neither rigorous nor comprehensive but I will try to keep them relevant to the more common every-day issues one encounters at the bridge table.

As standard, an opening bid of 1 of a Major by partner, sitting in first or second position, shows at least 5 cards in that suit and 12-21 High Card Points (HCP). In those cases where you are a passed hand, partner can by prior agreement open 1M in third or fourth position with less points. In either case, sitting opposite the 1M opener with less than 6 HCP, you should pass unless you have 4 or more (4+) cards in the opener's bid suit, in which case you could make a preemptive raise to 3M or 4M, depending on your partnership agreements.

With 6+ HCP and no support for partner's Major, that is, less than 3 cards in the suit, you may bid 1♠ over 1 with 4+ cards but you generally need at least 11 HCP and a 5-card suit to bid your own suit at the 2 level, so with 6-10 points your only option would be to bid 1NT. The bid of 1NT over 1M is forcing for one round in the 2/1 Game Force system which is rapidly gaining support around the World. Even if you are playing a standard system, I recommend that you and your partner agree to make the 1NT forcing for 1 round as well.

In those cases where one has 6+ HCP and support in partner's suit, one would generally expect that the final contract would be designated in that suit, but when and how to show your support is the main subject of this article. Traditionally, direct raises of 1M to 2M, 3M and 4M were strictly limited, almost solely, by responder's HCP count. Modern bidding techniques are more flexible and while direct raises are still largely restricted to responder having under an opening bid (generally,11- HCP), factoring in the shape (distribution) of responder's hand may indicate a response bid different (higher or lower) to one you would expect from traditional methods. Modern methods also challenge the 12+ HCP requirement for opening bids. Bids of 1M with only 11 HCP are fairly common, and those with as little as 10 HCP are permittable in given situations.

For an overall understanding of two of the modern approaches to which I allude above, I refer readers to an article I wrote in March/April 2011, published in ESRA Magazine 159 and still available on the ESRA website. In that article I covered light openings using the Rule of 20 and hand evaluations based on the Losing Trick Count (LTC) method. It is interesting to note that both the Rule of 20 and the LTC method are the brainchildren of Marty Bergen, whose book, first published in 1995, Points Shmoints! Bergen's Winning Bridge Secrets, helped liberate the Bridge World from the shackles of HCPs. In keeping with the spirit of Bergen, I shall hereinafter use the term "points" rather than HCP.

Nowadays, many players use Bergen jump responses of 3♣,3 and 3M to 1 of a Major, to show a good fit of at least 4 cards in the Major and 6-9 points (3♣),10-11 points (3♦) and less than 6 points (3M), the latter being preemptive. Personally, I don't particularly like Bergen raises and prefer using direct raises based on LTC, 1M-2M showing an LTC of 9, 1M-3M an LTC of 8, leaving the way open for jump shift responses (3♣, 3, 2♠ over 1, 3over 1♠) to show strong rebiddable suits with more than a minimum opening bid and suggestive of slam possibilities. A direct jump to 4M over1M shows 5 or more cards in opener's suit and is generally pre-emptive with 5-8 points.

Be that as it may, with both the Bergen and LTC approaches, direct raises in the Major are limit, non-forcing bids, so what do you do when you, yourself, have an opening bid opposite partner's 1M opening? If your hand is unbalanced, your choice of response is virtually unlimited. Even with support in your partner's Major, you may, of course, chose to bid your own suit, forcing for one round, and show your support in a subsequent bid – an approach that I generally endorse. For example, partner opens 1 and you are sitting with ♠ 9 3, K J 4 3, K 10, ♣ A Q J 9 8. While your side can almost certainly make a game in Hearts, a direct jump to 4 is wrong: Your hand is simply too strong for that bid and it virtually kills off any possibility of your side reaching a slam if there is one to be bid. Alternatively, you lose nothing by making the perfectly valid bid of 2♣. You can always jump to the Heart game if partner responds weakly to your Club bid.

An important point to bear in mind is that a 4-4 fit in a Major generally plays better than a 5-3 one, so partners should not bypass the bidding of 4 cards in the other Major where possible. With a hand like ♠ Q 9 3 2, K J 4 , 7 , ♣ A Q J 9 8, over 1 you should bid 1♠ rather than 2♣. If partner opens the bidding with 1♠ and you have ♠ 9 3, K J 4 3, K 10, ♣ A Q J 9 8 you cannot bid 2♥ with only 4 cards in that suit, but no problem: You can bid 2♣ and partner is obliged to bid 2 with 4+ cards in Hearts, which you will raise to game in the second Major.

There is one situation which bears special attention: You have a 4-4-4-1 distribution (possibly also 4-4-5-0 or 4-5-3-1) with 4 card support for partner's Major and 12-15 points in the suits outside of the singleton, you should make a Splinter bid, a triple jump in the suit of the singleton or void. Say you hold ♠3, K J 4 3, K 10 9 7, ♣ A Q 9 8, and partner opens 1. A jump to 3♠ perfectly describes your hand. Partner with, say, ♠9 6 4 A Q10 4 3, A Q J 9, ♣ 8, has no wasted values in Spades and with your12+ HCP dovetailing with his otherwise modest holdings in Hearts and the Minors, will now bid 4 or 4NT to explore the possibility of a Heart slam.

The last, and perhaps most important, situation that needs to be addressed under the topic of opening hands opposite partner's 1M, is the one in which your only biddable suit is 4+ cards in partner's Major. For example you hold ♠9 6, A Q10 4 3, A Q J 9, ♣ K 8. What do you bid after partner's opening 1? You are too strong for a direct raise in Hearts and not quite strong or shapely enough to drive the partnership to slam without further investigation. You don't have a long enough suit to bid Diamonds nor do you a have singleton or void to accommodate a Splinter bid. Fortunately, Oswald Jacoby came up with a solution: The Jacoby bid of 2NT over 1M is a conventional game-force raise in the bid Major and basically requests the opener to show shape and strength. Opener's bid of a new suit at the 3 level shows a singleton or void in that suit; 4M shows a minimum opening bid and no interest in a slam; 3M shows better than a minimum opening bid with an unbalanced hand; and 3NT likewise with a balanced hand. A jump in a new suit to the 4 level by opener would show a solid 5+ second suit and a strong slam interest. The Jacoby 2NT has become a very popular convention and one which I highly recommend. Many partnerships eschew all forms of game-force raises over 1M, including Splinter bids, in favor of the Jacoby 2NT convention. Many partnerships even agree that 2NT can be bid with only 3 cards in partner's Major, provided the 3 cards include 2 of the top 3 honors. I don't personally play these deviations but otherwise consider the convention a sine qua non.

Thus far in the article, I have discussed responses to openings of 1M with no intervening bid by the opposition. Clearly interventions impact on one's choice of responses and bidding sequences can become very complex. In addition to analyzing the implications of the opponent's overcall one needs to take into account additional factors such as vulnerability. For now, I will restrict my discussions to three simple, though most commonly encountered, scenarios: The first is where the opponent makes a take-out double; the second is where the opponent makes a simple, non-jump suit overcall; and the third where opponent bids 1NT.

When opponent intervenes with a take-out double. I generally ignore the double and respond as I would otherwise to partner's bid, except that a redouble from me would be a support redouble indicating 9+ points and exactly 3 cards in partner's Major. So for example, partner opens 1♥ and I am sitting with ♠ 9 6 3, K J 4, K 10, ♣ A Q J 9 8, I would redouble over the opponent's double. 2NT would show a Jacoby bid requiring a fourth Heart; 2♣ would be taken by partner as weak and denying support and therefore stands to be passed; 3♣ would be a no-no for Bergen Raise aficionados and for me, an unnecessary complication.

When opponent intervenes with a suit bid you have, in addition to your normal raises of partner's 1M (except possibly Jacoby 2NT), several possibilities like doubling or bidding the opponent's suit at various levels. In the case where the opponent intervenes with the other Major, a double from you would be a support double indicating 9+ points and exactly 3 cards in partner's Major while a double of opponent's Minor suit intervention would be negative double, showing 4 cards in the unbid Major, 4+ cards in the unbid Minor and generally less than 3 cards in partner's Major. Most often you should support partner when you can with direct raises or, with stronger hands, cue bids of the opponent's suit: A one-level overcall would the equivalent of a Jacoby 2NT response; a two-level jump overcall would be a Splinter bid with a singleton in the opponent's suit.

Finally, when opponent intervenes with 1NT, I generally pass with less than 10 points unless I have a reasonable hand with support for partner's 1M, in which case I will raise partner's suit as appropriate. With 10+ points, I will most likely double for penalties.

I hope this article was not too heavy in the reading and at the very least has given some insight into the quiz I set in my previous article.

 

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Wednesday, 17 July 2024

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