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# A Primer on Reverse Bidding – Part III

By MikeH (Mike Hargreaves) for BBO News

[box type=»note» style=»rounded»]I thought that it might be of some use to set out some guide to reverses. In what follows, I am describing North-American ideas, since that is the approach I know. My apologies to those who seek help in the context of other methods. Furthermore, these concepts do not translate well into big club methods, because the hands with which standard or 2/1 bidders reverse are dealt with in big club methods via the 1 opening.[/box]

If you missed the beginning of this series, click here for A Primer on Reverse Bidding – Part I and here for A Primer on Reverse Bidding – Part II.

In Part I of this article we discussed how strong reverses can be, and how can responder handle a reverse using standard methods. It became obvious quite quickly that it would be useful for responder to have a way to show right away if s/he is interested in game or more, or if s/he is really weak. Part II discusses using a lebensohl-type 2NT over a reverse as an artificial bid to differentiate between hands that would love to be in game of higher, and weakish hands.

All of this is fine, and works reasonably well, but for those interested in something even better: use Ingberman.

This convention is similar to the lebensohl-type 2NT discussed previously: in fact, on many hands, it works exactly the same. Ingberman uses the cheaper of 2NT and 4th suit forcing as the ostensibly negative bid. As with the lebensohl-like 2NT, use of the Ingberman bid is the only way that the partnership is allowed to stop short of game.

This is an improvement on 2NT, when it happens, because it increases the chance of the strong hand declaring notrump. After all, a very common hand pattern for a reverse is 5431 with a stiff in responder’s suit.

Say you hold AQx KQxx AKJxx and partner responds to your 1 opening with 1. You reverse to 2.

If partner were to have a weak hand, without rebiddable s, he has to bid 2NT and now you play 3 of a minor or 3NT from the wrong side. By allowing him to use 4th suit 2 here as the artificial, usually negative response, you as opener get to bid 2NT! From the right side!

Change your hand to AQx KQxx AQJxx and have the same opening, response and reverse. If he has to bid 2NT, you are torn between 3 and 3 . If he has 5 s, 3  is definitely best, but if he has 10xxx Kxx xxx Kxx, you want to play 3.

How do you know?

Well, allow him to bid 2 and you bid 2 : a perfect description of your 3=1=4=5 hand:

Now you find the 5-3 s (and find decent games when he’d have passed 3 over 2NT) while allowing him to play 2  rather than 3, or allowing him to intelligently decide between playing s and s.

Also, responder can now comfortably bid 2NT naturally when 4th suit would be available: establishing a GF, showing stopper(s) in the unbid suit and allowing opener free rein at the 3-level to further describe his hand.

For this reason, many experts and advancing players use Ingberman.

Strong 5-5 hands

I am going to close with a few comments on a typical beginner mistake: which is to yield to the temptation to open, say, 1 and reverse into 2 on strong 5-5 red suit hands, in order ‘to show strength’. It is a fundamental principle of bridge (outside of certain non-standard methods) that one bids long suits before short(er) suits. Any reverse absolutely, without any room for exception whatsoever, promises more length in the first suit than the second.

If you hold a good 5-5, your choices are open the higher suit and rebid the lower without jumping, or open the higher and jump in the lower.

Now,

1 1

3        is gameforce. While the upper limit of the hand is the same as the upper limit of a reverse, the lower limit of a jumpshift is higher than that of a reverse. We have seen that advanced players and experts have ways to stop short of game after a reverse: no such way exists after a jumpshift.

That can lead to tough decisions:

1 1

2       is exceptionally wide range: from whatever your weakest opening 1 bid looks like to just short of an absolute GF… for me, 2 could be an 11 count 54 or a bad 18.

Reversing into a 3-card suit

Another potential source of confusion, to those who watch or read about expert bridge, is that there are hands on which it is appropriate to reverse into a 3 card suit. Let’s say we hold Axx AKx AKJxxx. We open 1 and partner bids 1 . What do we bid?

Now, there are players and partnerships who have gadgets for this. I do myself, in one partnership. But what if you don’t? A jump to 3 is a huge underbid, given that the bid traditionally shows 15-17 hcp, and this hand is worth more than the 19 points we assign it using the 4321 scale: it has Aces and Kings rather than Queens and Jacks and we have Axx in partner’s major. So 3 is wrong, and no raise of  is right: imagine playing 4 opposite xxxx KQx Qxx Qxx.

So most experts would manufacture a reverse into 2. Sure it is a distortion, but it is the easiest distortion to recover from. I am not encouraging these fake reverses, but I hope I am showing you why they can be, on a very small number of hands, the better alternative to other choices.

1444 hands

No way do I reverse!

I would usually open the higher minor and rebid either the other minor (4=1=4=4 or 1=4=4=4) or rebid some number of notrump. Obviously, if I open a minor and partner responds in a 4 card fit, then I raise: whether that be a direct raise to an appropriate level or a splinter depends on the hand.

I am one of the old-fashioned players who generally avoid rebidding notrump on 4441 hands, although I am increasingly convinced that I should be more open to doing so. That issue (typically, does one rebid notrump or the appropriate number of s after 1 1  and I hold a 1=4=4=4) has nothing, I repeat, nothing to to with the standard treatment of reverses.

I am well aware that the expert community allows for a variety of approaches to fairly basic issues. Thus there are two schools of thought on the correct opening with 4=4 in the minors, when one has to open in a minor. I am very strongly a 1 bidder, but there are players whose opinions I respect who are as adamantly of the opposite view.

There are those who open 1 with most 5-5 black two suiters: I play on occasion with a good friend who is an ACBL Grand Life Master and a multiple National Champion who is a fervent believer in that, yet I refuse to play it with anyone else: I think it is an inferior treatment, he disagrees.

And, as I set out in Part I of this series, there are ‘strong reversers’ and ‘weak (though still strong in one sense) reversers’.

But there are NO reversers on 4441s to my knowledge: at least not in the expert community.

Now, if someone were to tell me that an expert pair from Europe or Russia or Australia played a reverse structure on 4441, I wouldn’t dispute that, but I would strongly dispute an argument that this was an acceptable school of thought in North American Standard.

Conclusions

I appreciate that introduction of these devices might seem a bit much. I do believe that Ingberman is not too tough for Intermediates… once you master the idea that reverses require big hands and are one round forces, then having no discussion about follow-ups is actually worse: the beginner/intermediate player is led out into the middle of the raging current and left with no boat or bridge to safety: he or she has to wing it as to what various bids mean.

Learn Ingberman early, don’t be afraid to tell your partners about it, and if partner says ‘OK’ then you are going to be able to handle reverses almost as well as an expert.

Now, is this practical for playing online with beginner/intermediate players? Not in a casual pickup game, but if the partner is compatible, and you want to arrange other games, why not send him/her an email or a private message and suggest trying Ingberman?

If you are dealing with a real life partner: someone you hope to play with on a regular basis, then certainly Ingberman is a gadget that you can add ahead of many other optional devices, such as complex methods over their 1NT. Surely Ingberman is no more complex than Cappelletti, a dreadful (in my humble opinion) method many non-expert players love?

If you recognize that you need to understand and use reverses, but are not willing to learn either the lebensohl-like or Ingberman, then probably you should use 4th suit forcing to establish the game force and use bids of opener’s suit as weak preferences/raises. That approach, flawed though it is, is better than no agreement at all: no one is passing 4th suit no matter whether they understand what you are doing.

I did not write this article intending to generate a debate about which methods are best. I intended to describe the most popular expert styles as I know them to be.

If any reader, after considering the methods shown, decides that it makes more sense to play reverses as non-forcing or to reverse on 4441 hands, go for it! But if you try this with a pickup partner don’t be surprised when your pickup partner, especially if that partner is a good player, doesn’t agree with you.

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