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October 26, 2002
Design for Bidding - Part 1

The Scorecard is the publication for ACBL District 16. I was asked and consented to write a regular column aimed at the 0-299 masterpoint player. I will post my columns here as they may be of benefit to the same readers that benefit from my newsletter.

Scorecard, Volume 34, No 5 -September/October 2002

I just finished playing in a local sectional pairs game. What it made me realize is that many players, new to duplicate, struggle simply due to a lack of an organized understanding of the bidding language. How can you make good decisions if you do not have a clear concept of what partner�s hand contains?

A typical auction started 2 � Pass � 2 � Pass � 3NT � Pass � Pass � Pass.

�What does 3NT show?�, my partner asked. The answer, �A good hand.�

�Is it a balanced hand?�, my partner continued. The answer, �Well, probably.�

�What do you expect in terms of point count?, my partner persisted. The answer, �20�

A quick check of the convention card showed that a 2NT opening was 20-21 so what was clear is that this new player had no true accurate understanding of what 3NT described. Just as sure was that she had no idea of what follow up bids might mean either. It did not look good for the player that is supposed to be the captain.

Before I continue, let me ask you a question. Which pair would you think is more likely to win a matchpoint game? Pair One is a very good player and an average player but they have never played together previously. Pair Two is two average players but they have played together for an extended period of time.

The answer, in my judgment, is the two average players. An established partnership is a very valuable thing because of the greater understanding each player. There will be fewer �guessing� situations in the established partnership. The greater the understanding of the bidding between you and partner, the better your results will be.

One of the great things about duplicate bridge is that each partnership gets to decide just what bidding language to use. If you look around the local club or tournament you will find that most partnerships play the same basic structure (strong no trump opening, five card major openings, etc.). However, if you look more closely no two partnerships are identical. The conventions and agreements that each partnership chooses are as unique a fingerprints. Think of everyone speaking the same language but each with a different dialect.

This article begins a several part series that I will call Design for Bidding.

The purpose will be to break down the bidding language into manageable parts and help you to tackle each of them independently. You and your regular partner need to look at each part and decide on your personnel �dialect�.

This part will cover no trump auctions. The choice of an opening 1NT bid is the cornerstone of most bidding systems. Statistically your partnership is in great position after an opening no trump bid (1NT, 2NT, or 3NT) because opener�s hand is already narrowly defined both in terms of strength and distribution.

Most duplicate partnerships choose a strong 1NT opening with a strength range of 15 to 17 points. However, other choices are possible including 12-14, 13-15, and 16-18. I have even seen (and played) a 10-12 point opening 1NT range! This decision is primary and must be made first.

You next must agree on what type of hands are allowed to be opened 1NT. Certainly balanced hands with shapes 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, and 5-3-3-2 are acceptable. What about 5-4-4-2 or 6-3-2-2? Under what conditions are hands with these shapes acceptable? Is a five card major okay? Record these decisions in your �Bidding System� notes.

Next you must decide what set of conventions you want to play after an opening 1NT. Certainly Stayman should be included but there are many decisions to make here as well. At a minimum you should have an agreed method of handling these hand types by responder:

At first glance that is a daunting list. Look it over and examine your current system. Discuss with partner how you would handle each hand type. Make a list of any gaps in coverage as you will need to address these later. Make sure that one auction does not carry two different messages.

Here is a list of conventions that you might want to look at or consider including in your no trump structure (some are mutually exclusive): Stayman, Forcing Stayman, Jacoby Transfers, Texas Transfers, Gerber, Blackwood, Roman Key Card Blackwood, 4-suit Transfers, Minor Suit Stayman, and Smolen. There are many others as well.

In an effort to help I have created a worksheet for no trump auctions. You and partner together can fill it out and it will help to focus and define your no trump structure. You may download it from this website. There is a link on the opening page. Let me hear from you.

-Gary King

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