Bob Mackinnon

The Two Diamond Reverse

Progress may have been all right once, but it has gone on too long

– Ogden Nash (1920 -1971)

I am a believer in progress, although I don’t imagine we can ever achieve perfection. There is no way around it – the greatest obstacle standing in the way to perfection is the human race itself. Close inspection of ancient Greek statues relieves that today’s men and women are being built in the same way as always. Any progress we have made must be a result of what isn’t always apparent, our great accumulation of knowledge.

We think of progress as a drunkard’s walk: 2 steps forward, one step back, with an occasional fall into the gutter. Like Descartes, Adam Smith, the 18th century eccentric, held a mechanistic view of human behavior. He thought that an economy unfettered by regulation would achieve a natural, dynamic stability governed by the law of supply and demand. Random stresses and strains might cause momentary instability, but collapses, although painful, would be temporary. In the long run onward and upward movement would be sustained by invisible forces. When we hear a TV commentator misquoting Smith to explain to the masses that government regulators, not greedy bankers, caused the economic collapse of 2008, one can’t help imagining a wolf lecturing to sheep on the evils of vegetarianism (under a banner that reads ‘Every Sheep for Himself’).

The same dynamics apply to the obvious advances we have made in bridge bidding. We might have progressed even farther if it weren’t for regulations that limit our actions. Imagine a world where a partnership can use any system without restriction. According to the concept of the survival of the fittest, competition would act to reward good agreements and punish bad ones, effecting an evolution to the best of all possible bridge systems. One can imagine a long and painful process at the end of which very few bridge players at the top remain to enjoy the benefits (as with unfetter capitalism). Progress is being achieved but under regulatory restrictions that are gradually being relaxed as the remaining bridge playing society becomes conditioned to advantageous change. There is no reason why the general mass of players shouldn’t benefit from the changes as, once understood, they are accessible even to those of modest talent or limited time. One example is the evolution of Stayman. Not long ago one could not use Stayman without promising the possession of a 4-card major, but the removal of the restriction has benefited all while causing undue distress to only a few intransigent traditionalists.

Is there is an Economic Law of Bridge Bidding, like the law of supply and demand, that drives the major changes that we have experienced in the past 50 years? One invisible but obvious driving force is the need to utilize bidding space so as to facilitate the exchange of information. In 1980 Jeff Rubens proposed the Useful-Space Principle, which states, in part, ‘when allocating bidding space, assign it where it is most useful without regard to the natural meaning of the call.’ The desire for more efficient communication has driven the movement away from natural bids that necessarily require and reveal some qualification within the bidder’s hand. The definition of ‘useful’ should include a quantitative as well as qualitative aspect.

Let’s rephrase the rule: assign bidding space in a manner that is most likely to produce the greatest profit on average. This takes into account both the scoring method (what is right at matchpoints may be wrong at Teams) and the cost due to a loss of bidding space, the necessary requirement for transmission of detailed information. In some cases one may sacrifice bidding space when it is judged that further information would help the opponents more than one’s partner. So, it is sometimes good strategy to bid 1NT – 3NT, and leave the opening leader to find the killing lead if there is one. This is the Principle of Fast Arrival – akin to charging the most the market will bear. But the strategy of minimizing the exchange of information will not work well when there are several options that should remain open. In this situation one wants to use the cheapest bid available to facilitate the exchange. This is the basis for relay bids used to gather information while giving little away. It is akin to engineering the best result at the cheapest price. A bidding system should be partly natural, partly relay, and partly preemptive, so as to allow different approaches under different circumstances.

History of the Polish Club

The development of bridge in Poland is interesting, as under Soviet rules the game was forbidden up to the time when the Goren era of 4-card majors was coming to an end in the USA. Coming late to the game Polish players were free to develop their own methods without baggage. Eventually they came up with was a mixture of the best from the US, Britain, and Italy: 5-card majors on a 2/1 base, strong NT, a 1 bid that promises diamonds. Weak twos were expanded. The strong 2 bid was quickly abandoned in favor of a 2-way forcing 1. Over 1 they always bid a 4-card major up-the-line, unless a minor suit slam is highly probable. There are many relay bids scattered throughout the system, which enable development of the subsequent auction along natural lines. One can see evidence that bridge bidding in America is coming around to the Polish space-saving approach. Is it only a matter of time until they merge?

It is an inevitable consequence of the need for information that, whatever system is proposed, saving bidding space is a top priority in a constructive auction. As time marches on, diverse systems become more alike under the pressing need to conserve space, so the 1 bid assumes a larger load. Last month playing against two veteran ladies with 2/1 on their convention cards, I saw my RHO open 1. Opposite a passed partner I happily bid 2 with 4 HCPs and 5=4=3=1 shape. In a short space of time the opponents had propelled themselves via Blackwood to 6 on a 6-card fit, A10xx in dummy opposite Kx. Holding 6 clubs my partner threw them a life-line double which they nobly refused to grasp. In the spirit of the times I led the major my partner had not bid Down 1100, declarer explained, ‘I had only 2 clubs, but I did have 18 HCP!’

A Polish expert would have started in the same sensible, space-saving manner, however, if one is going to adopt the Polish Club, one must at the very least keep one’s partner informed. There are many instances where a 2/1 player is under pressure to ‘lie’ about his hand because his system as defined presents no suitable choice. It was Al Roth, not coincidentally an advocate of sound opening bids, who made famous the expression, ‘if I can only get through this round of bidding….’ Gradually opponents catch on, and as time goes by some bids of convenience eventually, like actresses, gain respectability through age and frequent use. The classic example of this evolution is the Fourth Suit Forcing convention. We shall find use for another version: FSWW – Fourth Suit Weak and Waiting – a designation that would not be endorsed by Ely Culbertson.

A Bit of US Bridge History

I was very happy to receive some informative comments on my last blog from Judy Kay-Wolff, the gracious and beloved wife of Bobby Wolff. If anyone can convert Bobby to the use of inverted minors, she can. I feel a bit guilty dredging up some old hands from 40 years ago, but I do so solely in the interests of science. If we can’t learn from own mistakes, maybe some of us can learn from the mistakes of players much more gifted than ourselves. We have at our disposal the results of practice bidding hands for the US Aces as they prepared to regain the world championship in 1970. As part of that team, the partnership of Bobby Wolff and Jim Jacoby became world champions in 1970 and 1971. In his autobiography The Lone Wolff Bobby writes, ‘Jim did great against palookas, but he tended not to measure up against the top players. In the early years of our partnership, Jim and I were undisciplined and not very effective, but things brightened up when we started playing a system similar to the Neapolitan Club.’ I feel this is an honest assessment that might be applied to many talented players who, blinded by success, refuse to adopt superior methods knowing they can outsmart the field.

Be that as it may, we will examine a couple of their faulty auctions that began with a natural 1 and included a reverse to 2, ostensibly a natural sequence, but one which was understood at least partially as a bid of expedience needed to fill a gap in the methods of the time. We shall then suggest a way to formalize such an agreement in a manner that saves space and provides a convenient and flexible continuation.


Jacoby Wolff
A109 KQJ53 1 1
K106 Q842 2 2
Q4 AJ102 3 4
AKQJ3 4 5
6 6
6 NT Pass


Jacoby had to find an appropriate bid over 1 to show his fine 19 HCP hand. As we shall suggest below, 2 is an efficient choice, provided partner recognizes the possibility that the bid does not promise length in diamonds, but is merely a device for pushing things along cheaply. With a game force established, Wolff chooses to rebid his spades rather than introduce hearts cheaply. If it were available at the time, Jacoby might have tried 4 over 4 as Last Train to Clarksville, today’s waiting bid suggesting slam ambitions – 4 looks to be inadequate. Wolff cuebids shortness in his partner’s suit, always dangerous, and Jacoby raises himself to 6. Wolff attempts to sign off in 6 another non-suit. Jacoby bids 6NT rather than 6 because he wants to protect the K on the opening lead.

Just as with the elderly ladies at my club, trouble arose because there was no firm agreement as to the live possibilities associated with a presumably natural call. They were still struggling at the 6-level to find the strain. That 5 bid is truly hair-raising: Wolff thought they had agreed on either diamonds or spades. Lest we think this hand was a singular aberration, here is a second example of the nebulous 2 reverse at work.


Jacoby Wolff
65 AQ 1 1
AJ9 K1042 2 3
KQJ 84 3 3
AK942 QJ1065 4 6


The end result is not horrible, but the slam needs a bit more luck than is usually granted to us lesser players. The point of this auction is that consideration was given to a NT game contract, either 3NT or 4NT. Wolff appears to over-value the J, bidding aggressively on just 3 controls, when it would be much better if that extra HCP transformed the Q to the K. Then slam would depend mostly on the heart finesse.

A Proposal

These examples illustrate the use of a 2 reverse as a convenience that forces the auction without necessarily delivering a diamond suit. At least the presence of a club suit is assured. I suggest we can expand the use of the reverse by introducing simple agreements that would overcome the need for restriction even on the club suit. Let opener’s reverse to 2 allows for a 2 types of hands: 1) the normal reverse where opener holds 16+HCP with more clubs than diamonds, and 2) a NT hand with 5+ clubs, 17-19 HCPs, and no 4-card major. As we have seen above, the second type can lead to trouble if responder puts too much faith in the nature of the diamond suit. To function well the system needs good separation between type 1 and type 2 so that responder can exercise informed judgment later in the auction.

One should realize that a 2/1 auction that begins with a ‘natural’ 1 is fraught with uncertainty. Responder bids 1NT with 8-10 HCP and no 4-card major. With a 4-card major he may bid 1 initially only if he holds game going values and a long diamond suit, planning to reverse later. Thus, a response in a 4-card major may be woefully weak. Naturally responder will not be in the right mood for pursuing high level contracts, and may be hard put to suggest stopping in a playable partial. To alleviate the problems while maintaining the overall philosophy of the Walsh scheme we suggest the following agreements in which the opener keeps control of the auction and responder provides a better description of his values. This leaves the opener in control of the auction at least up to the point where suit agreement has been reached. It provides the opportunity to stop at a low level if the responder has stretched on minimal values.

Responses After 1 – 1 – 2

2 is natural, forcing; 2 artificial, weak and waiting, FSWW

2NT is 9+ HCP, flat, forcing; Suit bids at the 3-level are game forcing and natural.

Responses After 1 – 1 – 2

2 is FSWW, 2 is natural forcing, other bids are the same as above.

(If opener had clubs and hearts he would have reversed to 2, not 2.)

The simple agreement is that a bid in the other major is a weak waiting bid. Opener should be prepared to be passed in 2NT or 3. Opener rebids a forcing 3 to show a very strong club-diamond reverse. Apart from the weak waiting bid, and because of that wrinkle, one sees that bidding can proceed in a come-as-you-are manner in a natural setting. Let’s revisit the Jacoby-Wolff hands to see if this scheme provides improvement in any way to situations that have proved difficult in the past.


A109 KQJ53 1 1
K106 Q842 2 (strong) 3 (game force)
Q4 AJ102 3 4
AKQJ3 4 5
6 6


3 establishes a game force, and describes a major 2-suiter. Opener may hold 4 hearts without longer clubs. 3 sets the trump suit, 5 patterns out responder’s hand, so 6 is reached in the knowledge that the clubs in opener’s hand are somewhat wasted. The diamond situation demands the hand be played by responder. It is important to note that once the trump suit is established, the auction becomes cooperative with responder having more of a say in determining the final contract than opener whose failure to introduce diamonds has indicated a type 2 hand – balanced but with a good club suit.


65 AQ 1 1
AJ9 K1042 2 2 NT (game forcing)
KQJ 84 3 3
AK942 QJ1065 3NT 4
4 4 NT


In this auction we have allowed responder to make a mild slam try on the basis of the fine club support. It is important in a NT contract to have the spades protected on the opening lead. In a situation where the opener has limited his hand with a 3NT signoff, a subsequent 4NT can be taken as a place to play. This allows responder to bid 4 without the fear of being carried beyond his depth. Alternatively responder could bid 3, forcing, over 2, then 3NT over 3, but this may shut down the auction prematurely.

In Conclusion

An artificial reverse to 2 is a convenient way for a player with a strong opening 1 bid to show his strength without fully revealing his shape. Responder’s next bid describes his hand. On this simple and efficient basis a partnership can proceed in a largely natural manner to explore jointly the possibility of various games and slams. To readers who find this approach attractive, I can recommend the excellent (2005) book by Krzysztof Jassem, WJ05 – a Modern Version of Polish Club. The WJ05 system is similar to Precision in the extensive use of light and limited opening bids at the 1-level.


Rainer HerrmannMay 21st, 2010 at 10:38 am

you write

3♥ establishes a game force, and describes a major 2-suiter. Opener may hold 4 hearts without longer clubs.

I do not understand this last sentence and it seems to be in contradiction with your earlier statements:

Let opener’s reverse to 2♦ allows for a 2 types of hands: 1) the normal reverse where opener holds 16+HCP with more clubs than diamonds, and 2) a NT hand with 5+ clubs, 17-19 HCPs, and no 4-card major.

Scott NeedhamMay 21st, 2010 at 11:43 am


Nice to see such a well-reasoned and well-crafted article in the blogosphere.

Interestnig also to note the similarities beteen your proposal and K-S treatments as modified by use of Ingberman/Lebensohl structures after a reverse. Having learned to play bridge using K-S, these problems don’t seem like problems to me–but some of my partners are not amused when I tell them I like to play a 1C-1M/2D auction, or a 1D-1M/2C auction, or — God forbid — a 1C-1S/2H auction (rare) as showing perhaps a two-card frag with a card in the reverse suit: As EK said, ‘strength, not necessarily length.’

Regards and Happy Trails,

Scott Needham

Boulder, Colorado, USA

Bob MMay 22nd, 2010 at 12:42 am

Hi Scott: Thanks for the encouragement. I once visited the NOAA in Boulder where they do great science. Right now we could all use their help, I think.

There is always this shape versus power conflict, and we need to get some resolution in place.

Bob MMay 22nd, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Hi Rainer:

A hand that comes up rarely and doesn’t quite fit is the 1=4=4=4 shape, where one may wish to open 1 club and reverse to 2 diamonds when the strength lies in the minors. There is a possibility that responder may be reluctant to show his 4-card heart suit, thinking there is no longer a possible 4-4 fit, but it is not entirely ruled out.

With a poorer hand, responder can bid 2 Hearts weak and waiting, then bid 3 hearts with shape and fewer HCPs.

With long spades, he can bid 2 hearts, then 3 spades for signing off.

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