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Conventions: Negative Free Bids Part 1

Source: Articles published in the ACBL Bridge Bulletin

Part 1 – The Basics

Here’s a common situation that can create awkward auctions for standard bidders. Partner opens 1 , your righI-hand opponent overcall 1 , and you hold:

5 K98632 764 A 102

In standard methods you can’t  bid 2 since a new suit bid at the two level promises al least 10 or 11 points (perhaps a good 9). The usual but inelegant solution is to start with a negative double. Since you’ll seldom be fortunate enough to hear
partner bid hearts, you plan to bid a non-forcing 2 over his expected rebid of 1NT, 2 or 2.

But what if your LHO raises to 2? When this is passed back to you, you’ll have another dilemma: Pass and lose a possible partscore (even a game), or risk a 3 bid, which could be a disaster if partner doesn’t have a suitable trump holding. 

You’ll face an even tougher guessing game with a hand like this:

743 Q52 14 AQ1087

After 1 by partner and 1 by RHO, the negative double isn’t an option, so you are more or less stuck with passing. If LHO raises spades, you’ll be effectively shut out. Even if LHO passes and partner reopens, you have no good way to describe this band. If partner rropens with a double, a jump to 3 would show some values, but it suggests a six card suit. And 2 would be an underbid, since you have considerably more strength than partner might expect.

A Popular Solution

In the 1980’s I began playing a convention called the Negative Free Bid, which allows responder to make a natural two-level bid with a weak hand. Back then, my Alert of one of these free bids would often be met with confused looks and lots of questions from my opponents. Some even asked if we offered a suggested defense for such an unusual competitive tactic.
In recent years, though, the convention seems to be creeping into the mainstream. Today, my 0pponents usually give a knowing nod when I Alert the bid, and many of them have it listed on their convention cards, too. Even if your partnership doesn’t use the Negative Free Bid, it’s likely you»ll be playing pairs who do, so it’s a good idea to become familiar with how it works.

Guidelines for Responder

The purpose of the Negative Free Bid (NFB) is sometimes misunderstood because of some confusing semantic. It’s not an artificial convention, as all of responder’s and opener’s bids are natural. It’s also not really «negative» because it is not an ultra-weak or sign-off bid. A more appropriate name might be the Non-Forcing-But-Constructive Free Bid. Finally, it’s not really «free,» as it comes with some risks and tradeoffs.

An NFB is used when an opponent overcalls your partner’s opening bid and you have a long suit you cannot show at the one level. In these auctions, your free bid of a new suit is natural, limited and nonforcing. In the examples above, you
would bid 2 with the first hand and 2 with the second.

Responder’s NFB is always a nonjump, new-suit bid between 2 and 3. It’s an alertable bid that shows:

• A long suit – six or more or a strong five-bagger.
• Less than game-invitational values – about 5 to 10 points, but il could be a «soft» 11.
• No support for partner’s major, if partner opened 1 or 1

Note that responder’s new-suit bid is not an NFB if it’s:

• At the one level. After 1 by partner and 1 by RHO, your bid of 1, standard and unlimited, showing 6-plus points and a five card or longer suit (since you would make a negative double with four spades).
• At a level of 3 or higher. If  partner opens 1 and your RHO overcalls 3, no NFB is available. Your new-suil bid of 3 or 3 is forcing, as in standard bidding.
• A jump to three of a new suit. In the NFB structure, a three-level jump-shift is invitational, showing a good six-card (or longer) suit and about 8 to 11 points. The stronger your suit, the fewer high card points you need. After 1 by partner, 2 by RHO, bid 3 with

Q3 KQ1875 Q64 ’12
54 Ato98632 KJ7 ‘2.

Beyond the Basics

These guidelines are simple enough, but since the NFB can be made with a fairly wide range of hand strengths and suit qualities, your initial decision won’t always be an easy one. Next (in Part II), we’ll discuss tips for evaluating marginal hands, weighing the vulnerability, making other system changes and interpreting the follow-up actions.


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