Source: www.abf.com.au. Newsletter; Nov2015

10 is the Magic Number by George Cuppaidge

[box type=»note»]ABF Note: Recent articles have featured radical departures from the norm in opening point count requirements (the Crunch system employed by Matthew McManus – Michael Ware and featured in Warren Lazer ‘s NOT articles, for example). Readers are invited to come to the defence of time honoured methods, speak out in support of opening with weaker hands, or make suggestions inspired (or provoked) by the proposition George espouses. his article sets out to demonstrate that the most 1 important thing you can do in bridge is to announce that you hold 10 points. The slogan from bridge’s earliest days was, «An opening bid opposite an opening bid produces game.» To bid game required 26 points and 13 points were needed to open. Today the numbers are 25 and 12.[/box]

How often is game on for both sides? What does that say about the need for 25/6 points combined? In order to bid one of those sub-26 point games, or sub-20 point games for that matter, you must be in the bidding. It follows indisputably that the more often you open, the more likely you are to find one. You will hold 10+ points far more frequently that you will hold 12+, so you will be in the action more often. To pass and then try to come in later is losing strategy, it is all downside. To open first is all upside. It is safe, constructive and obstructive. Too often you will simply be shut out if you do not.

Bidding may once have been all about bidding game. No more. Most auctions are contested. It is so obvious that to land the first blow, the first bid, is advantageous that one can only wonder at those who stoically pass 12 counts and allow their opponents to land it. Points are not important at low levels, the law of total tricks will look after you. It is a very unrewarding exercise for opponents to try to extract penalties from a pair who have settled in the contract of their choice at the two-level, albeit with a combined 15 points. Practically, it is virtually impossible to double these contracts for penalty. When partner’s opening bid is doubled, don’t bid if you don’t want to, especially if a misfit looms.

Balance of power is the vital factor in bidding. The hand will usually belong to the partnership that holds it. You must be in the bidding when you have it and you must know when you have it. If you wait until you hold 12 points, before you open, double, or overcall you may never find out.

A simple overcall must show values. It is not its upper 16 limit that is important it is its lower limit. Unless you can rely upon finding useful values opposite you will find yourself bidding a hopeless game opposite junk. Lacking 10 points including distribution, or the suit to justify a pre-emptive bid, pass.

Pass is an opening bid too. If your pass might include 11 or 12 points, its range is too wide. Decisions by the partner of a wide range passer are often impossibly difficult. To open or to pass out in fourth seat is one of them, whether or not to act over an opponent’s opening is another. Simply knowing that partner’s strength is limited to nine points is powerful. A creative action in third seat will not be brought undone by a 12 point passer who now feels he must «catch up.» When your pass limits your hand to nine points, you can confi-dently and constructively respond two over one in reply to a third or fourth hand opener. It shows 5+cards in a 6-9 point hand. You will often play there. A passed hand 1NT reply will not contain a five-card suit.

The proposition that an opening one-bid must promise some number of «defensive tricks» is of no value. There are so many hands which are far too good to pass or to open with a pre-emptive bid that lack this requirement. Forget it. You cannot know, in advance, what is a defensive trick. AKQ may turn out to be none. You can do no better in bidding than to try to bid your own cards to perfection. This must be your objective and the sooner you start the better. It does not take the brain of Einstein to adjust when partner’s opening bid promises a little less than you are used to. Only if the meddling opponents give you a clear opportunity to double them should you aim to do anything else. It bears repeating that point-count-only penalty doubles are beginner-bridge, you cannot see your opponents’ hands.

Strong pass systems offer another means of showing strength. Reasonably enough, pass might be used to show 10+ points while using your one-bids to simultaneously show your longest suit and to make first use of the bidding space. It may be your only chance. There is safety in the first two levels and merely announcing length in a suit is often a powerful thing to do. Pairs that open these hands often find themselves bidding and making games that no one else thought of until the post-mortem. The all-important thing, whatever form of system you play, is to be able to announce that you hold the magic number.

Assuming you do not wish to depart from your existing methods significantly, and you see the value of getting into the bidding with 10, can you do it? The answer is a resounding yes. As desirable as it may be to do so, accommodating even lighter opening bids requires a complete re-work of standard bidding.

Using the familiar five-card majors and 15-17 notrump, the following scheme accommodates 10-point openers comfortably. An opening bid of one-of-a-suit shows 10-19 points including distribution. One point is counted for each card over four in a suit headed by an ace or a king. Your minimum rebids show 10-14 points.

All hands with 20+ points, except the balanced 20-22 points which is opened 2NT, are opened 2+. Getting occasionally too high is counter-balanced by not missing game when opener is super over-strong. You can confidently pass opening bids with sub six-point hands. A simple overcall promises 10+ points. Treat it exactly the same as an opening bid. Double is made on 10+ points, but only on three-suiters and balanced shapes. Honour values, even the ace, in an opponent’s suit, are discounted. Weak twos and other pre-emptive actions deny the holding of a hand strong enough to make a lower-level bid.

Abandon «invitations.» This will keep you within the safety zone of the first two levels when you do not see game. Pass or correct with an «invitational» hand. Bid the clear cut games. The first round of bidding will often tell you not to insist on game holding 12 points opposite an opening bid. Bid to game holding 13 points or more. You will bid some «thin» games but you will never telegraph the fact to your opponents. 23-point games often make, especially when the bidding has not alerted your opponents to the situation.

Nor do you deter a prospective balancer by announcing, always, that you have something in reserve, akin to sandbagging in poker.

Follow the philosophy, «Do not venture beyond two-of —a-suit unless you are going to play game or have a big fit. Never play in 2NT.» (The only 2NT bid that can be passed is the opening bid.)

Good bidding is not an exercise in arithmetic. There are means of distinguishing between the 6-9 point and the 10-12 point raise, below the level of two of the suit. This scheme is adopted, when opponents enter, in either seat, after a simple raise to two.

  • To bid one more shows no more than a desire to compete, usually an extra trump.
  • A new suit, invites partner to re-consider bidding game. The opposing bid may have improved your hand.
  • Double is penalty, but may be made on flat hands with high-card strength to spare and three small trumps. Partner should remove with extreme shortage or an extra card in the partnership suit. Hands with no big fit will rarely make nine tricks on a combined 15-18 points.
  • Redouble announces a maximum and a desire to play for penalties.
  • Pass, you may have already done the damage. It is futile simply to bid one more