Weak Two in First Seat
Recently we saw on BBO men and women competing for places at the world’s championship in Wroclaw. Male commentators, who tend to be judgemental when it comes to women’s bridge, place the likes of Karen McCallum two rungs above Elizabeth Warren on the Goofy Ladder, while showing sympathy for male players who are just as loony. We men have trouble with interpreting what’s really going on in a woman’s mind.
A man shouldn’t ask a woman directly what she wants. There is a huge difference between what women say they want and what they settle for. If you asked Hilary Clinton what she wants she might say, ‘a world safe for our grandchildren, free from poverty and discrimination,’ but I suspect she would settle for becoming President of the United States and bombing the bejeezus out of Libya. It’s like bidding at bridge – you learn to make do with what comes your way. You’re happy only if you think you’re happy.
I see there were USBF competitions for youths. The trouble with the next generation is always that they want to change things rather than leave well enough alone. Here is my version of what the younger generation of bridge player may be thinking, but I hope I’m wrong.
Dear Secret Diary:
I can’t believe that in a week’s time I’ll be playing for the Rona Cup in my first USBF Championship ever. I’m sure to meet lots of famous players, like Adam Kaplan and Ben Kristensen (He’s gorgeous.) Tomorrow Leni and I will go twinning at the mall so we can catwalk our sisterliness at the tournament. She can have Ben if he doesn’t see me first! Our moms insist on tagging along, but at least Leni’s mom works at the mall, not 20 miles away downtown. Get a life, Mom. Leni wants so much to win – I hope I don’t totally screw up. (I won’t.) She’s a Leo and I’m a Libra, so we’re a good combination. Leni thinks you can get anything you want if you want it bad enough, but I think that if you want something too much, you won’t.
I wonder what my very first opening bid will be like. I hope I have 5 spades, is that too much to ask? I know that’s not everything, but those hands are so much easier to bid. Points aren’t so important. Dad taught me good players make do with less, but, call me chicken, I don’t feel comfortable with less than 9 HCP including an ace and a king. It’s nice to be surrounded with helpful queens and jacks and tens, like relatives you’d invite to a wedding, but I found singleton kings aren’t much help. Those are like smelly Uncle Ed all by himself in the Klondike panning for gold and never taking a shower unless it happens to rain while he’s out wandering around. Talk to you again tomorrow, when I bet you won’t recognize me behind my neat Revo wraparounds.
In 1989 Mike Lawrence published Passed Hand Bidding, a book that dealt exclusively with opening bids opposite a partner who had previously passed. He applied commonsense in allowing light opening bids with a 4-card major. For example, he recommends 1♠ on ♠ AQJ7 ♥ 85 ♦ 764 ♣ QT53 and pass on ♠ QT53 ♥ 85 ♦ 764 ♣ AQJ7. The problem with opening the second hand with 1♣ is that it might provoke a partner to overbid with a good passed hand. We’ve all experienced that. The first hand can be taken care of by using the Drury convention. A key element of Lawrence’s third hand bidding structure is the weak two whose role is expanded to include hands that have only a 5-card suit, or have a second 4-card suit in the other major, or have a void, or are extremely weak. For example, he suggests a 2♠ opening bid at favourable vulnerability on ♠ QJ987 ♥ 8643 ♦ — ♣ Q643, an 8-loser hand.
Lawrence asked, ‘why not open light in all seats?’ His answer, ‘responder will have to spend so much time finding out if opener has a real opener that other important facts will get lost.’ That was true in 1989, but no longer as response structures have been devised to overcome the apparent flaw. Nonetheless, sometimes partner is handcuffed, as Karen McCallum showed during the recent USBF Women’s Semi Finals. On Board 17 of the 6th segment she opened 2♥ in first seat on ♠ T85 ♥ AT964 ♦ 3 ♣ 8532, a 9-loser hand, only to find partner doubling the 3♦ overcall. What can one do in that case except hope partner has her double?
Ideally before taking an action at the table a player dispassionately estimates the risk-to-gain ratio. Lynn Baker is a law professor and a world champion, a consultant in corporate law, so she is well qualified to exploit the loopholes in McCallum’s bidding system, but it is hard to argue on the case that her penalty double had much to gain and little to lose in this situation. Yes, looking at her hand alone, 3♦ might be going down 1, but the score would be increased insignificantly from +50 to +100. There is a real risk that partner will contribute very little to the defence. On the other hand, if the preempt has been effective, after a pass Debbie Rosenberg, motivated by greed, will be obliged take some risky action opposite an unlimited overcall. The defence against 3NT doubled should prove much easier than the defence against 3♦* as the South hand contains 5 tricks off the top after a black suit lead.
When Baker avoided leading her partner’s bid suit, opting instead for 3 rounds of clubs, she lost 12 IMPs. No one says it’s easy – and even Stephen Hawking might pursue the same you-can’t-fool-me defence without the benefit of an intelligible signal from a nearby terrestrial being (and I am not referring to some wee doggie signalling a need to leave the room.) The strategy behind the weak weak-two is to promote uncertainty, but there should be some way for a partnership to unravel the mystery subsequently if it is in their interest to do so, and clear defensive signalling was required in this situation.
At the other table Shannon Cappelletti passed as North and Irina Levitina pre-empted with a bid of 3♦, which under these circumstances implied weakness, not strength. Jill Meyers doubled as South and got the response I would have feared, 3♥ from partner. This contract on a 5-2 fit at the 3-level was ‘unbeatable as the cards lie’, as critics say disapprovingly when someone successfully violates one of their sacred conservative principles.
The Weak Two in the USBC Open Trials
The strategy of the God-awful Weak Two is based on greed that distorts the process by amplifying the potential gain while reducing the possible risk. An opponent may be provoked into imagining he is missing game. He bids his suit rather than doubling, which fits the aim of the preemptor to get away with murder.
When one is pre-empted it is often good policy to keep greed in check as far as possible and to settle for 3NT. The actions on Board 27 of the Open Final offered the viewers a contrast of styles with greybeards at one table and young guys at the other.
The greybeard auction hardly needs comment. It is like a ferry ride across a calm harbour. Martel has rather too much defence for a preempt, but there is still hope the Multi may cause confusion as it did decades ago when it was first introduced. The opponents bid the obvious bids and Diamond made an overtrick after Martel led from his long suit. Three boards to go before lunch. At the other table the sea was rough, the journey hazardous.
If the South hand is too good for 2♥, it must be right for 3♥. Now the greed engendered by a preempt is proportional to the level of the preempt, so although Platnick’s bid of 2♠ is reasonable, Moss’s 3♠ may be classified as being overly stimulated. Grue thought his partner must have a significantly better hand than he did, so he made a move towards slam somewhere, perhaps imagining 4NT would be a biddable and playable contract. It was playable, as Diamond demonstrated, but biddable it wasn’t. The cost was 11 IMPs.
More Weak Twos at the USBC Open
In the quarter-finals Grue opened 2♦ on: ♠ 7 ♥ 87 ♦ KJT952 ♣ AQ75, and incurred a loss of 8 IMPs. Partner showed a good hand, so when Levin-Weinstein bid to a doomed 4♠, Grue with extras carried on the 5♣, also going down. The lesson is this: don’t have extras when you preempt lest you be tempted to bid again. An 8-loser hand is about right.
It is wrong to think that light opening bids makes constructive bidding more difficult. Here is an example from the finals where Moss, not vulnerable vs vulnerable, opened a Weak Two on a 5-card suit in an 8-loser hand and Grue, rich in controls, raised immediately to game. The Weak Two made their life easy for the time being.
Greco got off to the good lead of a diamond to partner’s ♦K and Hampson switched to a spade. With one trick to lose in each suit it appeared that the preempt would cost 6 IMPs as at the other table the contract was 2♥ making 4. Bathurst had passed, Lall opened 1NT and was transferred to 2♥ with no one the wiser. However, with Moss’s hand something of a mystery, the defence failed to cash their aces in a timely fashion and the game came home with an overtrick for a gain of 7 IMPs. Results like this encourage rough-and-ready bidding after partner opens with a descriptive limited bid. At Teams there is little advantage to exploring with a delicate auction and stopping below game when the defence may be persuaded to yield an extra trick. Nonetheless, in the end, after a long struggle, discipline overcame gamesmanship as the all-Precision Diamond team won the honour of representing the United States.