Strong 1=4=3=5 opposite 1NT
In previous blogs we suggested modifying standard Stayman practices after a strong 1NT opening bid in order to allow for competing for part scores in a minor suit, a much neglected area. Note that the part score deals (7-9 HCP) outnumber the slam try deals (14-16 HCP) about 6:1, which justifies pursuing the part scores if we can do so without greatly degrading the pursuit of slams. The most obvious change was a definition of a 2NT follow-up by responder as a forcing bid. Essentially this 2NT is akin to the Lebensohl 2NT for the Better Minor as recommended by the late Ron Andersen in his book, The Lebensohl Convention Complete. The loss of 2NT as an invitational bid with 8 or so HCP and a flat hand is not a serious one.
In this blog we look at how this modification affects slam bidding. Basically to explore slam after the Stayman reply, responder starts with a forcing 2NT. Opener replies 3♣ or 3♦, the latter only with distinctly better diamonds. There are 2 ways responder may proceed thereafter. If he wants to bid cooperatively to slam, he bids a new major suit at the 3-level indicating this major as a trump candidate. If he wants to take charge, he jumps to 4♣ or 4♦ as Six Ace RKCG. The designated suits are as follows: 4♣ for the 2 suits bid by the opening bidder, and 4♦ for the two suits not bid by opener.
Here is a computer example where the responding ‘standard’ software takes charge and employs Simple Gerber after Stayman to reach the wrong Grand Slam.
One can’t complain about responder taking charge with his terrific hand. After partner shows the ♠AK and ♦AK responder guesses that 7NT will be better than 7♥. Clubs could be 3-3 or opener could hold ♠AKx ♥ Jxxx ♦ AKxx ♣ xx.
Which is the more likely: ♠ AKxx ♥ Jxxx ♦ AKx ♣ xx or ♠ AKx ♥ Jxxx ♦ AKxx ♣ xx?
There are more card combinations for 2 out of 10 missing spades than 2 out of 8 missing diamonds. The a posteriori odds are about 5 out of 9 in favour of 4 spades and 3 diamonds. In fact clubs were 3-3, so all went well in Cloudland. Under our revised scheme the bidding would proceed as follows.
It takes 2 extra rounds of bidding to get to the better contract, but I feel the headache to be worth it in the long run. Let’s go through the mechanism to see what information responder has been able to gather and at what cost.
2NT (Better Minor): responder wants information on distribution
3♦: better diamonds than clubs
4♣: 6 Ace Roman Key Card Gerber in ♦ and ♥
4♥: 3 key cards ♦AK and ♠A
5♣: control in clubs?
5♥: third round control (xx)
7♥: safer than 7NT.
In 6ARKCG the 6 key cards are AK of the designated suits (diamonds and hearts) and the aces of the other 2 suits. The relay over the reply (here 4♠) would ask for the number of queens in the designated suits. A new suit bid (here 5♣) asks for the control of that suit. If the reply had been 5♦, xxx, no control, responder would have bid 7NT.
Some may look upon this as an example of Science getting in the way of a good result. Admittedly it may have been easier if responder could have described his hand accurately so that opener would be in a position to make the final decision (Danny Kleinman’s Principle of the Balanced Hand), but responder’s hand is too good to relinquish the captaincy. Most pairs are going to get to a Grand Slam, regardless. There are other hands where the opener would tend to be conservative on a minimal hand when there are favourable factors from the point of view of the responder, as in the following case.
Responder’s 15 HCP make it safe to go beyond 3NT, in which case it may pay to explore fully for a club slam. Here 4♣ asks for key cards in spades and clubs. 4♥ shows 3 from the six: ♠AK, ♥A, ♦A, and ♣AK. It is just possible that the ♥A is the missing key card, so responder bids 4NT, nonforcing, after having shown slam interest. The ♠QJ and ♣9 are important extra not revealed by the auction, so opener invites slam by showing genuine club support. In the end the auction becomes cooperative after all. The bidding method is not optimal because the full extent of the club fit is not revealed until late in the auction. The main advantage is that the structure is easy enough to remember and apply under many circumstances.
There are deals where the better approach is one of early cooperation with opener using judgement in his selection of bids. To switch into cooperative mode early, after 2NT responder bids his major at the 3-level, as below, where 3NT goes down on a diamond lead. The pair needs to recognize the weakness when there is an alternative game available.
Over 3♥ the opener bids what is most obvious based on what he sees. Although responder’s minor is unknown, with just one ace and a 4-3-3-3 shape he is not worried about missing slam. This is deceptively simple. The following is more complex.
Responder has 6 controls and a good suit, so with the appropriate fillers slam may be a good proposition. He moves over 3NT, thinking that 4NT could be a safe resting place. Responder’s minor suit length is unknown, but opener has good cards in both minors and can accept a correction to 5♦. With ♥K3 he would bid 3♠/3♥, but with just 4 controls he has done enough and responder takes the initiative. The 5♣ bid indicates that opener has 4=2=4=3 shape, as he would not raise on a doubleton club. As the cards lie, despite a 4-1 split in trumps, 13 tricks are made with the ♥KT7 under the ♥AJ92.
What’s the Problem?
The analysis is based on the assumption that the 1NT opening bid is restricted to flat shapes not including 5-3-3-2 in a major or 4-4-4-1 with a singleton honor. This goes against the current trend of opening 1NT on a numerous variety of shapes. The more deviation one allows the more dangerous it is for the responder to take control. A player whose wide-ranging bids raise doubts is a player who remains partly in charge. With regard to opening 1NT with a 5-card major, there are better ways to handle 5-3-3-2 shapes with a 5-card major than are available under American systems, but the naked truth is that the human species feels an irresistible attraction to concealment and deceit that predates even the invention of unnecessary clothing.
A system has as its hidden foundation a set of priorities which bias the auctions towards results that are favourable before the auction begins. In his book, The No Trump Zone, Danny Kleinman emphasizes the application of judgment when selecting an opening bid and attempts to convince the reader that both these hands should be opened 1NT:
♠ KT ♥ AQ ♦ JT653 ♣ AQ82, and ♠ KT92 ♥ K9763 ♦ AQ ♣ KJ.
This is not judgment at work so much as an attempt to bend the auction towards an end that appeals on the basis of one player’s preconception of where the hand should be played. What these hands have in common is 16 HCP with slam potential, in which case opening 1NT will be a bad start, unless, of course, the system being used can’t provide better alternatives. Under such circumstances I would judge it to be a rotten system indeed. Both hands could be opened 1♣ in a Strong Club system which facilitates the exchange of specific information about how the cards were dealt. A player knows where good scores come from, so can apply judgment based on facts, not fancies.
If one’s partner opens 1NT on the hands given above, what motivation is provided to look for a minor suit part score? None, as it is highly unlikely that a minor suit partial will provide the best score. The system’s bias is a wind that blows all ships in the same direction.
Polonius’ advice to Laertes on his way to his first Nationals was: stay within the field; be neither the first to take up new fashions, nor the last to abandon old ones; count your points and strictly bid thereby; beware of entering the auction, but, once in, act with firm resolve; if you must join with female partners choose age over beauty; above all to your own self be true, and it must follow as night to day, no great harm need come to you.
(Of course, Laertes obeyed none of his father’s instructions, overspent his allowance, and had a marvellous time.)