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Part 3 — Other system changes
One of the benefits of the Negative Freebid (NFB) is that it allows responder to make more natural bids in competition. This can simplify low-level bidding and help you find trump fits that might otherwise be lost with standard methods.
The NFB comes into play when partner opens, your opponent overcalls, and you have a long suit you cannot show at the one-level. In these auctions, your non-jump bid of a new suit between 2 and 3 is non-forcing, showing a 5+-card suit and 5-11 pts.
Since so many of responder’s calls are passable, you’ll need to make a few other system adjustments to show stronger hands. These involve changing the meanings of responder’s jump shift and negative double.
Responder’s jump-shift in competition
The non-jump NFB covers a fairly wide range of strengths and suit qualities, which can vary depending on the vulnerability. Some of these hands — near-maximums with good 6+-card suits — qualify as invitational, so you’ll want to distinguish them from the weaker NFB responses.
Responder uses a jump in a new suit to show a highly invitational hand — around 10-12 playing points and a suit strong enough to play opposite a singleton. After 1 by partner, 2by RHO, 3H by you shows a hand like:
85 KQJ1073 75 K106
Opener is now well placed to evaluate game chances. He’ll know you don’t have much high-card strength outside your suit, so he can pass with a soft, non-fitting hand. With good quick tricks and a fit, he can bid game, even with a bare minimum.
Negative double auctions
The most difficult auctions in the NFB system are those where responder holds a long suit and forcing-to-game values. To show this hand, responder must start with a negative double. After opener’s rebid, any new-suit bid by responder shows a 5+-card suit and sets up a game-force.
This approach doesn’t change the way you bid “normal” negative-double hands of limited strength. The double takes on the forcing-to-game meaning only if you rebid a new suit later.
After 1 by partner, 1 by RHO, you would make a negative double with each of these hands:
1 – AJ8 K1084 76 A1062
2 – 4 AQ3 K106 AKJ1076
3 – K106 Q10742 A86 KJ
4 – 2 AQJ1093 K965 74
For the time being, opener will assume your double is standard and he’ll make his normal response. You’ll then clarify your hand type with your next bid.
Hand #1 is a regular negative double and you’ll bid it as you would in standard. If partner shows a minimum with his rebid, you’ll bid 3NT. This auction guarantees four hearts, so if partner has 4-card support, he’ll usually correct to 4H.
With Hand #2, you plan to bid clubs over partner’s response. You won’t need to jump or cuebid — the double followed by a new suit shows a forcing hand. You’ll follow with a cuebid or other move toward slam. 6, 6 or 6NT are likely contracts.
With Hand #3, you’ll bid 2 (or 3, if necessary) at your next turn. This doesn’t promise any minimum suit quality — it merely shows game values and 5 or more hearts. If partner doesn’t raise hearts, you’ll bid 3NT.
Hand #4 has the right point-count for a jump to 3, but it has the playing strength of an opening bid, so you must start with the double. Depending on how the auction proceeds, you plan to bid hearts twice or perhaps even find a diamond slam.
These negative-double auctions can occasionally become awkward, especially if the opponents continue bidding. Partner may even throw a wrench into your rebid plans by jumping or cuebidding after your negative double. In these cases, you have to be flexible and use good judgment to find your best contract.
No matter what your system, there will be some hand types that are difficult to describe over an opponent’s overcall. The theory behind NFBs is that it’s better to deal with temporary ambiguity when you have a forcing rather than a non-forcing response. The weaker your hand, the more valuable it is to be able to make simple, natural bids at low levels. The stronger your hand, the more bidding room you have to find your fits and the less likely it will be that the opponents have enough strength to outbid you.
Next, we’ll look at the meanings of opener’s rebids and ways he can evaluate his hand.