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two-suited hands in competition?

Brent Manley
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Source Bulletin Day 1 Goald Coast Congress

Here is another true story from a tournament. An experienced player ran into a newcomer heading for the restrooms. As they entered their separate stalls, the newcomer was heard to say, “Whew! I am so glad to be somewhere where I know what I’m doing.”

On the subject of knowing what you’re doing, have you discussed how your partnership handles two-suited hands in competition? The discussion should include how you use these conventions and how you cope with them.
There are many conventions for describing two-suited hands. The two you will likely encounter and use are the Michaels cue-bid and the Unusual No-Trump.
The Michaels cue-bid, named for its creator Mike Michaels, can be used over an opening of a minor or a major. Over a minor, the cue-bid indicates possession of both major suits, at least five cards in each. If you are ever tempted to make a Michaels cue-bid with 5-4 in the majors, don’t tell anyone.

The Unusual No-Trump is generally a jump to 2NT over the opening of one of a major. This bid shows the minors – at least five cards in each suit (same admonition as above regarding 5-4). When used over a minor, it shows the lowest unbid suits (e.g., 1 – 2NT shows diamonds and hearts).

Those are the rudiments. What else have you and your partner decided about these bids?

With Michaels, does it show a strong hand, weak hand or something in between? Most experienced players employ Michaels with hands that are relatively weak and those that are strong. With the in-betweens, they start with 1 and introduce hearts later if appropriate.

The following would qualify as a Michaels cuebid of a minor:

With the first, you have described your hand, so partner makes the final decision, which brings up another point. Have you and partner discussed how to respond to a Michaels cue-bid? Generally, when there is a fit, as responder you should bid as much as you feel your hand is worth immediately. No messing around. Some players use a bid of 3 by advancer (partner of the cue-bidder) to show a hand worth a limit raise in hearts, 3 to show the same in spades. You should discuss how to proceed when advancer has a good hand.

With the second example hand, you just want partner to make a preference. You plan to show your strength by bidding game in whichever suit he prefers.

When your opponent starts with a major, you will end up at the three level on all but one occasion – when the opening is 1 and advancer can bid 2 over the 2 cuebid. That means you will usually have a slightly better hand (in high-card points or shape) when the opening is a major, and especially when your side is vulnerable. You and partner should decide on the worst hand either of you can hold to bid Michaels over a major at unfavourable vulnerability.
With Unusual 2NT, your discussions should probably revolve around what to do when the opponents spring the convention on you.

If partner opens 1 and your right-hand opponent bids 2NT for the minors, what does 3 show? What about 4? What if you jump to 4 or 4 or what if you bid 4NT?

When the opponents roll out the Unusual 2NT, most experienced players employ a convention known as Unusual over Unusual.

There are various permutations, including this scheme: After 1Major – 2NT, 3 shows a limit raise or better in partner’s suit, 3 shows a good hand with the fourth suit (e.g., hearts if partner opened 1), Three of the Other Major is natural and non-forcing and a raise of partner’s major is simply competitive, usually not a very good hand.

You may prefer a different method for coping with this pesky convention. What’s really important is that you and your partner are playing the same thing.

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