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I have decided to suspend the Tuesday lessons until further notice in slight anticipation of me being gated.

6: 1-level, RKCB and 2C

Seminar Six

Lyn shared an insight from Mike: try and visualise partner’s hand. The example auction was “1m”, “1M” (sensibly stretching with a long suit but fewer than 6 points), “3NT”. If partner had 19 HCP he should only bid “2NT” now. If he held more, why not open “2NT”? The likeliest explanation is that he had the HCP but not the shape: the H response filled a hole, assuaged a concern! With this insight, the weak response hand, with no entries, may not be worth any tricks: keep your nerve and correct to 4M. 

Taking the same idea further, the point of the auction is to help partner visualise our hand. So we proceed to…

Opening Ordinary Hands

Bids of one of a suit and responses to such bids are unlimited in strength and rather unspecific in shape so the first bid needs careful thought. It’s all about handling whatever partner may throw at us without misleading him too badly. This is also a key reason why we open “1NT” if possible so we never mislead partner by bidding it later with a mere 12-14. Postponing weak hands (suitable only for pre-emption) and exceptional hands, both described later or in future seminars, most biddable hands can be considered in 2 strengths:

  • moderate
  • strong

and two and a half shapes:

  • balanced
  • semi-balanced 
  • unbalanced

Moderate balanced hands, 12-14 (maybe shaded), are opened “1NT”. We have discussed these and continuations extensively. Moderate unbalanced hands are in the range 11 (maybe slightly fewer with exceptional shape) to 15 or so and usually have two suits. We will open our longest suit and, unless absolutely at the top of the range, will not rebid NT which would mislead partner about strength and shape, preferring to rebid a second suit or, if partner’s response makes it necessary, our first original suit misleading about length only. 

4-4-4-1 hands are awkward, especially if moderate! Fortunately they are also rare. Choose a suit to open which will least mislead partner with your next bid. It is safer to falsely suggest a 5-card minor than a 5-card major: game in a minor is uncommon at pairs. With a singleton...

  • club, opening 1H misleads about the H length (presumed 5+) but allows support of S if partner names them and a not too misleading rebid of D if he bids clubs (partner here promising values for a 2-over-1 bid, rule of 14). Other openings are worse: D presents insuperable problems if partner bids “2C” as a M now shows reversing strength and rebidding diamonds suggest a single suit, inevitably 6+; S makes it impossible to find a H fit (a 4-3 fit may be playable) if partner is too weak to bid beyond 1NT.
  • diamond, opening 1C is safe. After the anticipated 1D response, H just shows 4 (we are not too fussed about the 5-card club implication) while a major response hits pay-dirt.
  • heart, opening 1C is safe. After the anticipated 1H response, S just shows 4 (we are not too fussed about the 5-card minor implication), a D response allows opener to show his 4CM and maybe retreat to the D fit later, a S response is good news.
  • spade, 1H is forgivable but more misleading than 1D which still allows a C rebid but is less misleading about a M, more likely to be trumps.

Strong balanced or semi-balanced (like 5422 or 4441, 15-19) hands will open with a suit and can rebid NT. Strong unbalanced hands (16+) will open their best suit and usually rebid their next best suit at a level forcing their partner to make a choice at the three level—a reverse.

Practice Hand & Control Investigation

Our practice hand was #31 from Farnborough on 11 July.

Lyn, S, dealer, chose to open “2D”: a bit pushy with only a suit of ATxxxx but fair holding just 3 cards in the majors and first in hand with both opponents to frustrate. Teresa overcalled “2S” with 

S: A Q J T 2

H: 2

D: Q J 5

C: A 7 6 4

and Rob, her partner, with the exceptional hand of

S: 8

H: A K Q T 9 7 6 5 4

D: K 3

C: T

jumped to “4H”.

SInce deep finesse claims 6H is makeable, I encouraged Teresa to re-evaluate her hand and she (correctly) decided the short H was less significant than the two aces and worth a slam try.

When slam seems likely, controls (Aces, Kings, voids & singletons) are hugely important. Most players misuse Blackwood, an ace-counting convention, in the hope of finding slams. Actually, conventions for control-showing are to stay out of unmakeable slams. If Teresa (with her two aces and some goading from Tom and his crib sheet) thought a slam likely it became important to see if there were enough controls.

Roman Key Card Blackwood is something for nothing: an improvement on what many people play with virtually no downside. Once a suit is agreed (as Rob had correctly done unilaterally with his jump to game in H), 4NT asks not for mere aces but Key Cards: Key Cards are the 4 Aces and the King of Trumps. Responses are:

  • 5C: zero or three Key cards;
  • 5D: one or four key cards;
  • 5H: two key cards but not the Q of trumps;
  • 5S: two key cards and the Q of trumps
  • 5NT with all 5 key cards if you like—but this is impossible: with no control, the 4NT bidder won’t find out enough from the response and shouldn’t use a control-asking query.

You have to expect the “4NT” bidder has enough controls and remembers the auction well enough to distinguish between the upper and lower possibilities of the “5C” and “5D” responses. I’m sure you could construct pathological hands, but I’ve never found this a difficulty in reality.

Continuations can find out more, and there is one key variation both of which we’ll address in a later seminar. Meanwhile just this bit is so much better than standard Blackwood that you should all encourage your partners to play it. It fits with any system, no matter how primitive.

Back to the hand. Rob showed 2 two key cards and the QH with a bid of 5S so Teresa bid 6H. Luckily there were not 2D losers and no potential for opposition ruffs so 6H was lay-down. 

At Farnborough, 5 of the 12 pairs bid and made slam (one was doubled for a top), 7 only bid game of whom just one failed to make 12 tricks (no idea how).

2C Opener

About 20% of hands have a 6-card suit and half are weakish. We want to use 2H and 2S to name a fair 6-card major in a weakish hand. For simplicity, for now, we are using 2D similarly. So 2C has to be used for all really strong hands. By strong hand we mean too strong if balanced to open “2NT” ie 23+. If unbalanced, we must still (by EBU rules) hold at least 16 HCP. The bid is 100% forcing: the bidder could have no clubs and just be trying to decide between a small and grand slam in his suit! (We also briefly addressed Benjaminised Acol and Reverse Benjaminised Acol which a few play. We can return to them if people like. Some use 2D as “multicoloured” and we will explore this later, like it or not.)

After “2C” responder, with nothing, bids 2D, the cheapest possible bid. Holding something, he has other options which we will describe more fully next time. Briefly partnerships can choose to bid “2D” on all weak or fair (in the context) hands reserving all other bids as better than fair (some choose fair as maybe 7 HCP others focus on controls, wanting an A and K). Or one can bid “2D” on all weak and better than fair hands, reserving other responses for hands between these two extremes. We’ll continue with this next time. Most play the former, I recommend the latter.

Losing the strong 2M bids seemingly poses a small problem. Traditionally, an Acol 2M opener was a one-round force while a “2C” opening forced to at least “3NT”. We must open “2C” with either. Enter Kokish. In our usual style, fast approach suggests a weaker (relatively) hand than a slower sequence. In an unopposed auction starting “2C” “2D”, if opener jumps to “3H” or “3S” he shows the old strong 2-bid, not forcing, while if he bids “2H” or “2S” (forcing) he initiates a traditional forcing to at least 3NT sequence. Cake and eat it or what?