I am sometimes asked, by novice players seeking to improve, for my view on some bridge 'convention' - which is to say, a bid which has an artificial meaning not immediately apparent on its face. My usual response is to express caution. I am all too well aware of the appeal of conventional bids, but they are not the holy grail of bridge success. Whilst it is desirable in principle to expand one's bidding vocabulary - and conventional bids enable you to do that - doing well at bridge is not primarily a matter of building an arsenal of artificial bids. What matters far more, in the bidding phase of the game, is judgement, and thereafter, card skill.
Nonetheless, if you are to bid well you do need to expand your bidding language, and that is what conventional bids, properly used, enable you to do. Accurate bidding requires one to bid different hands differently, and that is hard to achieve with a vocabulary of just 38 bids. Hence the development of new meanings for some bids in some contexts. It's an attempt to expand what would otherwise be a very meagre bidding vocabulary.
So, over the next few weeks, I shall offer a guide to what I believe are the most practically useful artificial bids (or 'conventions'). Always remember, as you read them, the following three things.
a) Any conventional treatment has to be agreed with your partner - and not only agreed, but remembered.
b) Conventional bids have to be alerted to the opponents (alerted by the partner of the person making the bid).
c) In agreeing to employ any bridge convention you are also agreeing to abandon a more 'natural' use for that particular bid. So conventional bids come at a cost. You and your partner need to be sure that, for you, the cost is worth it.
The following is my list of conventions worth adopting by players (I really mean partnerships) keen to expand their bidding vocabulary. I'll rank them in order of importance - just a bit of fun in which I've indulged myself. I won't explain them now - that will follow, when I'll consider them one at a time.
1. STAYMAN - the 2C response to partner's 1NT opening or overcall, and likewise 3C in response to an opening 2NT or overcall. (Click on Stayman.pdf for Gwynn's guide to Stayman. Once you have the document on your screen you can print it off by clicking on the printer icon at the top right of the screen.)
2. TRANSFERS - the bid of a suit one step below a suit in which you have an agreed number of cards (usually 5+), requiring partner to respond and thereby, in effect, giving you two bids in succession. (Click on Transfers.pdf for Gwynn's guide to Transfers. Once you have the document on your screen you can print it off by clicking on the printer icon at the top right of the screen.)
3. THE TAKE-OUT DOUBLE. Doubling the opponents' first or subsequent bid as a request to partner to begin to describe her hand. (Click on Doubles.pdf for Gwynn's guide to Doubles. Once you have the document on your screen you can print it off by clicking on the printer icon at the top right of the screen.)
4. THE 'NEGATIVE' (OR 'COMPETITIVE') DOUBLE. This is a double made at a later stage of the auction, after you (or partner) have already bid. As with the take-out double, it asks partner to begin (or to continue) to describe her hand.
5. FOURTH SUIT FORCING. This is the bid of the fourth suit (in your own auction) as a means of asking partner to supply you with some further description of her hand.
6. THE UNASSUMING CUE BID. This is the bid of an opponent's suit either as a request for further information from partner or as a means of conveying information about your own hand.
That is my top six. There are of course others. Other conventional understandings that I like to employ, and find useful, include:
7. 2C 'checkback' after partner's 1NT rebid;
8. The 2NT 'Jacoby' response to partner's suit opening;
9. Splinter bids (showing a singleton, along with a fit and moderate game values) in response to partner's suit opening;
10. The 2C opening to show a very strong hand, forcing to game;
11. Lebensohl - in competitive auctions, employing 2NT as an articial relay (forcing partner to bid 3C) as a starting point to describing a particular hand type;
12. The pre-emptive raise in partner's suit - bidding to a higher level than your hand is worth in high card strength, in order to signal a fit and to deprive the opposition of bidding space;
13. The Ghestem (or alternatively the Michaels) convention as a means of showing at least a 5/5 distribution;
14. The 'Landy' 2C bid over the opponents' 1NT opening as a means of showing a hand containing both major suits;
15. The penalty (or 'trap') Pass - a necessary corollary of the negative X in some auctions;
16. Cue bids to show first or second round control when exploring for a possible slam;
17. Roman Key Card Blackwood. (Click on Roman Key Card Blackwood.pdf to see Gwynn's guide to Roman Key Card Blackwood)
There are others, but this is more than enough to be getting on with.
Commentary on all these conventional treatments will follow in due course.