Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A new approach (1)

It's been a while since I posted, but I decided to start over again. I'm not sure about the frequency, but it won't be as much as before.

The reason why I've been away for so long is that I started working almost 2 years ago. It's been a huge change for me! Before, I was studying, had much free time and played a lot of bridge. These days I'm working long days and play a lot less bridge. It took me a while to get used to it, but these days I'm playing more bridge and I have formed a new partnership.

I've always been a great fan of all sorts of exotic systems. My experience with them is that you can win bigtime when opps are silent, but usually you're badly placed in competitive auctions. MOSCITO for example is a great system if opps are quiet (you have relays and natural bidding available), but when they intervene you can have a hard time figuring out if opener has a 4 or a 5 card Major. Same goes for precision 1 openings, or Polish 1.
That's why my preference goes to natural openings these days (my friend Misho told me 6 years ago that I'd go back to natural, and I must admit that he was right), while continuations may be more complicated. With my new partner we decided to play some sort of 2/1 GF with many useful modifications. It's a combination between American, Italian and Dutch styles.

The natural openings prepare us well for a competitive auction. There's a lot of material on this subject, lots of people to ask for advice if something went wrong,...
Continuations are sometimes quite artificial.

Our 2/1 responses over a 1M opening are as follows:
2 = GF with / GF with fit / GF bal / INV with good 6+
2 = GF with 6+ / GF with 5+ and fit / INV with good 6+
2 = GF with 5+ / INV with good 6+

As this structure suggests, 2/1 is GF except when the suit is rebid.
More and more people are using the 2 response for more than just s. With strong hands without a good 5 card minor, or with strong balanced hands, or even with a 3 or 4 card fit they prefer to stay low and see what opener has. This is exactly why we use 2 as a GF relay.
2 is a special case. Opener doesn't have as much space available as after a 2 response, so we prefer to define 1M-2 a lot better. Basically you need a 6 card suit, although with fit in the Major a good 5 card suit is sufficient (you'll show your hand with your next rebid and let opener evaluate his hand).

After both 1M-2m responses, opener uses similar rebids in steps:
step 1 = minimum, not 4OM
step 2 = any strength, 4+OM
step 3+ = maximum, not 4OM
This saves space, and avoids ambiguity when responder rebids his minor.
When opener has shown his strength and/or shape, responder can decide if he's going to continue relaying (yes, also after 1M-2), describe his own hand, or just signoff.

Using relays combines natural systems with the best method for slam bidding. Although we don't have full relays (2 relay is mathematically too high so don't bother trying) we can handle most hands and have a pretty accurate picture of opener's hand. Responder can always break relays and go back to natural bidding, so this gives us a lot of flexibility.
I've found the relay structure with the Italians, although the Dutch also use very similar structures. You can make this as complicated as you want, for example with specific relays to show fit at low levels, but I won't go into detail at the moment. The basic 3-step scheme is the most important part.

An example hand:
Axxx
AKxxx
AKxx
-

Kx
QTxx
QJxxx
Ax

North starts the auction:
1 - 2
2 - 2
2NT - 3
3 - 4
4 - 4
4NT - 5
6 - 7NT

1 = value of 12+HCP, 5+
2 = GF relay except rebid
2 = any strength, 54+M
2 = GF relay without fit
2NT = 5440 or 6-5
3 = relay
3 = 16+HCP, 4=5=4=0
4 = since this can't be natural, it sets
4 = cue
4 = kickback RKC
4NT = 1/4 keycards (void is already known)
5 = K ask
6 = only K
7NT = you can count 13 tricks