Monday, April 11, 2005 6:17 PM

Hand Evaluation - Artificial Club Systems ( Fixes )




            Theoretically,  artificial club systems are a better way to bid Bridge hands - period. Starting at a low level with well defined HCP ranges must lead to better results. You have lots of room to explore & exchange information with a nice starting point. There are 3 major disadvantages to club systems . 1) it is artificial so natural bidding describes your distribution better 2) the opponents pre-empt all the time so spoil your auctions anyway 3) the degree of memory work involved is prohibitive unless you play professionally.


            The artificial club systems start at 17 HCP for a reason. Standard bidding handles hands 17 HCP+ less well than the other ranges. With HCP’s under this range , simple raises & 1NT rebids describe the hands quite well so no help is required. It is the higher range hands , right up to the demand two bids that problems arise. Expert players only have two options to keep the playing field level. Switch to a forcing club system or improve standard bidding. Improving standard bidding usually means “brain storming” & figuring out how a relay can fix things.


            Here is our attempt to level the playing field. We are trying to improve Standard Edmonton by adherence  to the “useful space” theory & keep bidding as low as possible similar to forcing club systems. One of the worst bids in standard bidding , is the raise of partners major response directly to game with huge hands. This violates the principle of fast arrival & forces slam exploration to start at the 5 level. This “standard bidding drove people to artificial club systems. We have the understanding that a jump to game is always done on distributional hands. I held ♠xx AJxx x ♣AQJ109x & opened 1♣ . Tom bid a heart , I bid 4. Tom knew I had distribution rather than HCP’s for this bid. He had ♠Axxx KQxx Axxx ♣K so pulling full weight to his stiff club king,  drove the hand to 7 . This made & most people were in 4 or 6 .


            OK , if you jump to game on distributional hands , how do you show the 18-19 HCP ranges with balanced or with distribution ? With distribution , there is no problem as you can splinter. With 5-4-2-2 or 4-4-3-2 hands enter the 3♣ strong jump shift.  The 3♣ jump shift is our attempt at having a forcing club bid within a standard system . A 3♣ strong jump shift is used for a multitude of hands. In any auction , a 3♣ strong jump shift demands a relay to 3 . Now partner can describe his jump shift . If he bids your major at the 4 level he has the old fashioned jump to game in that major with 4 of them but rich in controls. If he bids 3NT,  he has the club strong jump shift. If he bids hearts , he has a heart strong jump shift or if he rebids his major he has a hand too strong to rebid his suit at the 3 level. A simple fix to a difficult problem.


This opens the door for 1♠-P-1NT-P   3-P to be done on invitational values so prevents the obligatory raise to 3 by responder. If partner opens 1♣ with partner responding a major , the out is rebidding 2NT with all balanced hands including the 4 card major. This makes the structure complete so that a raise to game in a major is only done on distributional hands.


            Leaping to 3NT to show strong hands just pre-empts partner from further exploration. The club system fixes that aspect of bad bidding. Now, within a standard system,  we have the understanding that a leap to 3NT is a picture bid. We have the 2NT raise as showing the 18-19 HCP hand & relays sort things out after that. 1♠/-P-1NT-P  2NT  (18-19 ) & 1♣/-P-1NT-P 2NT (18-19) . This allows us to bail out to a minor with an unsuitable hand. 1♦/♣-P-1/♠-P 3NT is a picture bid with a long suit. We use a 2NT rebid on 5-4-3-1 or a club jump shift to show the strong hands. The only variance to this understanding is a leap to 3NT after a 2/1 or other forcing auction always shows 15-17 HCP’s.


            Another fix you should do with standard bidding is take advantage of the fact that it is a natural bidding system. This means rebid NT will the class of all balanced hands whether there is a major or not. This implies that one of a minor , a response & a bid of a major always shows 5 of the minor. This identifies the minor fit quickly so good games or slams can be reached. You just need 2-way new minor forcing after 1NT rebids to ferret out your major fits .


Exploit the strength of natural bidding by keeping it natural. Do not be a slave to 5 card majors especially in 3rd or 4th seat. Open a natural 4 card major if that’s where you live. Opening 1 on xxx is terrible bidding.


            Another shortcoming of standard bidding is invitational 2NT bids & jump to 2NT rebids . These are very clumsy for follow up bids to work with any degree of accuracy. The forcing club has a decided advantage with these hands. Enter the club relay as a band aid for all 2NT rebids  & jumps to 2NT. The 3♣ bid always relays to 3 after a 2NT rebid & signifies just game interest or worse. This bid also checks back for major fits so allows natural raises to be limit raise or better . The relay puts on the breaks so to speak & allows natural bidding to be the game force & slam try hands. The relay also allows a slam try in partner’s minor below 3NT. 


Natural bidding is one of the strengths of a non club system. Identifying weak hands quickly with the relay prevents futile slam tries & wrong games. The relay also allows you to bail out to a partial ,  if you had a “distributional” response.


            The direct jump to 2NT or 3NT by responder after a minor opening has many gaping holes in the structure. 4th suit forcing auctions at the two level are awkward so Granovettor has come up with a nice fix . He proposes 2NT by responder be treated as a “new suit” & forcing one round. Opener may bail out with a weak distributional hand by rebidding her suit. The 2NT bid as a new suit again allows the power of natural bidding. Partner can pattern out & describe her distribution before 3NT is reached. This allows nice Moyseans , alternative games & minor slams to be reached. The direct invitational jump to 2NT after a minor opener is poor & should be replaced by 2NT as forcing to game or  invitational plus . This avoids the silly leap to 3NT after a minor opening with a game force hand pre-empting partner to the 4 level.  This 3NT bid should be a picture bid of a soft 1NT opener.


            Another area where standard bidding is at a disadvantage to a strong club system is the 2♣ opener. Since we start at the 2 level , strong two suiters are not handled very well or very strong balanced hands. Enter the relay to try & fix things. The 2♣-P-2-P   2  demands a relay to 2♠ so now a 2NT bid shows a stronger range of the NT hands. If partner bids a suit after the relay , it’s a heart two suiter. A 2 spade rebid also demands a relay to 2NT and all spade two suiters can be shown. Relays are a useful fix for standard bidding shortcomings.


            1NT openers & 2NT openers need minor suit exploration tools or a way of identifying 5 card suits bid by the NT opener. We have a 3♠ relay after a 2NT opener to find our minor fits. We also have a club “re-stayman to find 5 card suits or minor fits after NT openings. The NT bid is the corner stone of standard bidding so having fine tuned understandings after that bid is to your advantage.  Additions to Stayman & Transfers to show all the Smolen hands , all the 5-5’s major/minors or both minors forcing to game or invitational completes the system. Playing Puppet Stayman after 2NT is a decided advantage & relays to 3NT to show minors completes the system after 2NT.


            Experts are always trying to fix standard bidding. Lebensohl like bids like the good-bad 2NT , Rubensohl & Lebensohl are designed to patch ambiguities in standard bidding . D.S.I.P. doubles add more structure to competitive bidding & reins in the penalty double. With enough good understandings & treatments , standard bidding (in my opinion ) can compete quite nicely with artificial club systems at any level. You need these standard bidding fixes well understood & ironed out by the partnership though or advantage forcing club system.