Bridge Greats are known as such because they have done something outstanding for the game of Bridge. This page contains articles authored by Bridge Greats and the Conventions they invented.

Blackwood on Blackwood

by Easley Blackwood

The following rubber bridge hand resulted in the birth of Blackwood:

North South
K Q 6 2 A J 10 8 7 4
K Q J 8 3 9 2
K Q J A 7
6 K Q 5
Bidding
North South
1
3 3
4 6

 

The defenders had no difficulty in cashing their two aces and North-South were at each other’s throats. North reflected in no uncertain terms upon South’s ability; South pointed out that North could easily have held AQxxx in hearts in which case the slam was cold.

North-South were using the Culbertson 4-5 notrump convention. As the Culbertson bid of 4NT guaranteed either two aces and the king of a bid suit or three aces, South was precluded from using it. Instead, he gambled and lost.


The Blackwood Convention has become the most universally used convention in contract bridge.


 

I felt that it was asking too much for the 4NT bid to be both an asking and a telling bid. Why not let this bid ask a question and let it go at that? Let the question be, specifically, “Partner, how many aces do you have?” The responses would be simple:

5 …………………………0 or 4 aces
5 ………………………………….1 ace
5 ………………………………. 2 aces
5 ………………………………. 3 aces

The fact that the 5 response shows either no ace of all four should not bother you. It always is possible to distinguish which – if partner responds 5 and you have even one ace in your hand, he must have none. If you have no aces, he should have four. If you are investigating slam off all four aces, perhaps your bidding system needs an overhaul.

After a Blackwood 4NT and an ace-showing response, a bid of 5NT guarantees that your side holds all the aces and asks partner to show his kings in steps similar to the responses over 4NT.

The Blackwood 4NT bid starts a captain and mate relationship. Your duty as responder is to tell partner how many aces you hold, and if partner then decides to play at the five level, you need an exceptional reason to doubt his word and go on. Similarly, if partner bids a slam, that is where the hand should be played.

However, once partner bids 5NT, confirming possession of all four aces and showing an interest in a grand slam, you come into your own. No longer need you meekly respond with the number of kings you hold – you may exercise judgment. A solid suit of your won that will provide discards or a singleton in an unbid suit may be all that partner needs to make a grand slam, even if one or more kings is missing, and you may jump straight to the grand slam. Caution – danger!

The first thing to learn about the Blackwood Convention is that it is not suitable for all hands in the slam zone. Possession of a combined point count of at least 33 does not guarantee that a slam can be made. You cannot be missing two aces, but there is the possibility that you are missing the ace and king of the same suit, and the opponents can cash two quick tricks in that suit. The Blackwood Convention will not uncover this fact. Consider this hand:

K Q J 7 6 4   K Q 10   7 6   A Q

You open the bidding with 1 and partner makes a forcing raise to 3. It is obvious that if partner holds the right cards, you should be able to make a slam, so you bid a Blackwood 4NT. Partner dutifully responds 5, showing two aces. Whiter now? Partner could hold either of these two hands:

(a) (b)
A 10 5 3 A 10 5 3
A J 2 4 2
8 4 A J 4
K J 3 2 K J 3 2

 

The point count and distribution pattern of the two hands are exactly the same. However, opposite hand (a) there are two quick losers; with hand (b) 12 tricks are there for the taking.

Thus we have discovered the first cardinal rule for not applying Blackwood: Do not use Blackwood with a worthless doubleton in an unbid suit.

An extension of the above principle brings us to the second cardinal rule: Do not use Blackwood with a void. Unless partner’s response confirms that your side holds all of the aces, you will not know whether one of his aces is in your void suit. If it is, you might have too many losers in one of your side suits.

In summary: If partner’s response to your 4NT inquiry for aces will not tell you whether or not to bid a slam, DO NOT employ Blackwood.

About Easley Blackwood

When the late Easley Blackwood first thought of the convention* that bears his name, he was a rising star in the insurance world. He submitted the original article to “The Bridge World” magazine in 1934 under the nom-de-plume Earnest Wormwood, as he was not eager for publicity. It was returned by the late Albert Morehead with a polite note that the Wormwood Convention would never become popular! Morehead was rarely wrong in these matters, but this time.

The Blackwood Convention has become the most universally used convention in contract bridge. As a natural corollary, it also has become the most misused. Many players tend to overlook the fact that the Blackwood Convention was designed as much to stay out of unmakable slams as to get to slams where the only information needed is the number of aces held by the partnership.

A Different Kind of Game-Forcing Raise

by Jim Jacoby

Conventions designed to show a trump fit and distributional features in the responder’s hand have become increasingly popular among tournament players. These conventions often enable partnerships to reach sound slams that are based on a good fit rather than on an abundance of high-card points.

The Jacoby 2NT response to a major-suit opening serves a similar purpose, but is different in that it attempts to elicit information about distributional features in the opener’s hand.

2NT Response = Traditional Double Raise

The immediate response of 2NT to a major suit (1 – 2NT) replaces the traditional double raise (1 – 3) as a force to game announcing at least four-card trump support.

Opener’s Response to 2NT

Opener’s responses to 2NT are automatic:

  • With a singleton in a side suit, opener identifies it by bidding that suit at the three level.
  • With a void, opener jumps to the four level in the void suit.
  • When opener has no singleton or void and 12 to 14 HCP, he bids four of the agreed trump suit.
  • When opener has no singleton or void and 15 to 16 HCP, he bids 3NT.
  • When opener has no singleton or void with 17 or more HCP, he bids three of the agreed suit.

 

Opener’s Hands without a Singleton or Void

There is an easy way to decide which response to 2NT best describes the value of the hand for those who would rather not be restricted to using an exact point count to determine what their rebid should be when no singleton or void is held.

  • If you would pass a limit raise of 9 to 11 HCP, simply bid four of the agreed suit over 2NT.
  • If you would accept a limit-raise invitation to game, bid 3NT.
  • If you would begin looking for slam over a limit raise, rebid three of the agreed trump suit.

 

Partnership Understandings

There are a few commonsense rules involved in playing the Jacoby 2NT.

  1. First, you and your partner should have the understanding that when four of the agreed suit is bid, this connotes a general lack of interest in slam. Of course, if the player who is signing off has cuebid some controls earlier, partner is free to continue the investigation.
  2. Second, regardless of opener’s strength, he must show a singleton or void in response to partner’s 2NT inquiry. The only exception may come in that rare instance when the agreed suit is hearts and opener has a void in spades. This would necessitate a jump to 4, taking the partnership past the game level. In this case, opener, with a mediocre hand, may choose to treat his void as a singleton initially by bidding 3 and await later developments.

 

Slam Possibilities

In determining slam possibilities, the key is to check for wasted strength. If the player who has bid 2NT discovers that his partner holds a singleton in a suit in which he has some values, he should realize that those values are likely to be wasted. Conversely, it pays to be aggressive when the holding opposite partner’s singleton is A-x-x or all small cards – this means the values in the other suits are all “working.”

Examples of the Convention in Action

1. OPENER RESPONDER
K Q 10 8 3 A J 7 4
3 K Q 10 7
A Q 4 K J 3
A J 3 2 10 6
The bidding:
1 2NT
3 (a) 4 (b)
a. Singleton heart.
b. Heart values are wasted.
2. OPENER RESPONDER
A Q 8 6 5 K 10 7 4
K 10 3 2 A J 4
A 3 2 K 8 4
4 A 7 6
The bidding:
1 2NT
3 (a) 3 (b)
3 (c) 4 (d)
4 (e) 5 (f)
5 (g) 5 (h)
6 (i)
a. Singleton club.
b. A
c. Not a signoff, but a waiting bid to allow partner to show the A economically if he has it.
d. A
e. A
f. K
g. K
h. “I’ve told my story.”
i. “We should have a good play for slam.”
3. OPENER RESPONDER
A K 5 4 2 Q 10 9 6
K J 3 A 8
A 7 4 K Q 9 5
7 5 A 6 4
The bidding:
1 2NT
3NT (a) 4 (b)
4 (c) 4 (d)
4 (e) 5 (f)
5 (g) 6 (h)
a. 15-16 HCP, no singleton or void.
b. A.
c. A.
d. A.
e. “I’m going to need more.”
f. K
g. K
h. “Slam’s a good bet.”

About Jim Jacoby

Jim Jacoby, one of the world’s leading players until his untimely death in 1991, was one of the original members of the full-time professional bridge team known as the ACES. It was organized by Dallas financier Ira Corn for the express purpose of returning the world team championship to the USA. The team won the Bermuda Bowl in 1970 and 1971. Jacoby is the co-author with his father, Oswald Jacoby (1902-1984), of the Jacoby 2NT and Jacoby transfer conventions.

The Jacoby Transfer Bid

by Oswald Jacoby

In the late 1950s, Alfred Sheinwold wrote a column for The Bulletin called, “Current Conventions.” In January of 1957, he wrote the following about The Jacoby Transfer Bid.

The following description of the Jacoby Transfer Bid is very slightly expanded from notes furnished by Oswald Jacoby. The purpose of printing it in The Bulletin is to give all players a chance to become familiar with it, whether they intend to use it themselves or whether they want to know what is going on when their opponents use it.

The Jacoby Transfer Bid has a history. Since the basic idea is for a player to bid a suit that he doesn’t really want to play, the JTB was at first vigorously opposed by the makers of League policy.


The JTB is a method of getting the opening notrumper (16 to 18 points) to bid the long suit held by his partner. This permits the strong hand to become declarer and get the advantage of the opening lead, together with whatever advantage may come from having the strong hand concealed instead of being exposed as dummy. Essentially, it is the idea of the Texas Convention (a transfer bid at the level of four) applied at a lower level of the bidding. This permits the strong hand to become declarer at a suit contract at the part-score level; and it permits the responder to indicate certain values that are either difficult or impossible to show by standard bidding methods.

The response of two clubs to the opening bid of one notrump is Stayman, as usual.

The response of two diamonds guarantees a heart suit and demands that the opener bid two hearts. (He may jump to three hearts if he has a maximum notrump and a fine fit for hearts. This corresponds to the auction in which the normal weak response of two hearts is made and the opener goes to three hearts to show his maximum and fine fit.)

The response of two hearts guarantees a spade suit and demands that the opener bid two spades. (He may jump to three spades with a maximum notrump and a fine fit for spades.)

The response of two spades guarantees a club suit and demands that the opener bid three clubs.

The transfer to the diamond suit is handled by the Stayman response of two clubs, followed by a rebid by responder of three clubs. (If the responder has a club bust, usually shown by bidding two and then three clubs, he bids two spades, as we have just seen.)

The transfer bid may be made by almost any hand that includes at least five cards in the transfer suit. The opener must make the bid in the long suit, and then the responder is in position to pass or make some further bid to show additional strength.

Here are some examples of the JTB response of two diamonds (showing a heart suit), with rebids (if any) of the responder:

2 Q 10 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 7 5 3

 

Responder bids two diamonds to get the opener to bid two hearts. Responder then passes. The opponents should be alert to the fact that the responder has a weak hand; for otherwise, he would make some attempt to get to game opposite a 16 to 18 point hand.

With normal bidding, the responder bids two hearts himself. This makes it easy for second hand to take action when two hearts is passed around to him. If he fails to take action, his partner makes the opening lead through the notrump hand.

When the JTB is used, fourth hand gets the chance to act when two hearts is passed around. It is more dangerous for fourth hand to act because he is under the notrumper.

2 Q 10 8 7 6 5 K 3 2 7 5 3

 

Responder bids two diamonds to get the opener to bid two hearts. Responder then bids three hearts. This can invite game without demanding it. By standard methods, responder must guess whether to bid a pessimistic two hearts or an optimistic four hearts.

2 Q 10 8 7 6 5 A J 2 7 5 3

 

Responder bids two diamonds to make the opener bid two hearts. Responder then bids four hearts. This gets to the same spot as normal bidding, except that the notrumper gets the benefit of the opening lead when the JTB is used. (As an offset, however, the singleton spade is in full sight in the dummy; and this may help the defenders.)

3 2 A J 7 6 5 K 3 2 7 5 3

 

Responder bids two diamonds to make the opener bid two hearts. Responder then bids two notrump. This indicates a balanced hand with a heart suit, inviting but not demanding a game.

The opener should pass with a weakfish notrump and normal or sub-normal heart support. He should raise to three notrump with a strong notrump but not much in hearts. He should bid three hearts with a weakish notrump and good hearts. He should bid four hearts with good hearts and a strong notrump.

This hand is almost impossible to bid well by standard methods.

3 2 A J 7 6 5 K 3 2 Q 7 5

 

Responder bids two diamonds to make the opener bid two hearts. Responder then bids three notrump. Opener passes or bids four hearts, depending on the nature of his hand. He has been offered a clear choice.

3 2 A J 7 6 5 4 K J 9 8 5

 

Responder bids two diamonds to make the opener bid two hearts. Responder then bids three clubs. This shows a two-suiter in hearts and clubs. The opener’s rebid depends on his hand, but he has much more information than he could get by any other method.


About Oswald Jacoby

Oswald Jacoby (Ozzie, Jake) 1902-1984, one of the great players of all time, first achieved international preeminence as the partner of Sidney Lenz in the famous Culbertson-Lenz Match of the early 1930s. Having already established himself as a champion at both auction and contract bridge, Jacoby next became a member of the famed Four Horsemen and Four Aces teams.

He won the McKenney Trophy (now the Barry Crane Top 500), a contest for amassing the most masterpoints in a year, four times in five years (1959 through 1963) at ages 57, 59, 60 and 61. In 1963 he became the first to acquire more than 1000 masterpoints in a single year (1034). He surpassed the 10,000-point mark in 1967, at which time he retired from active competition for the McKenney Trophy.

A member of the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame, Jacoby was a longtime bridge columnist as well as the author of several books on bridge, backgammon, mathematics, gambling, poker and other card games, including canasta.

The Proper Use of Suit-Preference Signals

by Hy Lavinthal

Prior to the introduction of the suit-preference signal, there was no signal available in lead or play, whereby a card in one suit signified a definite preference for one of the other suits. Where a switch to another suit was obvious, the choice of one of the remaining suits often was a sheer guess. If your guess was wrong, the element of timing was lost. This gave the declarer the opportunity to nullify the trick-taking ability of the defense. Many persons, well versed in the play of the hand, do not realize how often the opportunity arises to use suit-preference signals to advance the timing of the defense.

Where a suit-preference signal is used, both partners on defense should have an adequate understanding of the proper use of all other signals. Knowing how to use the other signals will clearly mark the unmistakable situations where these signals are of no avail. At this point, if both partners understand the use of the suit-preference signal, they can eliminate the guess as to which of two suits to lead on the first opportunity.

The application of suit-preference signals, as well as the use of other signals, depends on the co-operation of the partner. Where one partner does not pay attention to the cards being played, or does not know how to apply the use of signals in various situations, the game becomes a hit or miss affair. The use of all signals calls for a certain amount of psychology. If your partner plays a mediocre game, your signals should be limited to simple situations. If he does not recognize suit-preference situations and the application of suit-preference signals, limit yourself to signals that your partner can comprehend. Save your use of suit-preference signals for the partner who understands the application of suit-preference signals, in co-operation with the use of other signals.

Suit-preference signals are used in clearly marked situations, where the use of the come-on signal or the discouraging signal is of no avail. If you follow this simple rule, you will have coordinated the use of the suit-preference signal with the other signals used in contract bridge.

On those rare occasions where ambiguous situations arise, the come-on signal or discouraging signal take precedence over the suit-preference signal. A review of the bidding, plus the application of common sense, will in nearly every case furnish the clue to the proper line of action.

In actual play, the use of the suit-preference signal makes the indication of the desired suit quite simple. At a suit contract, where the discontinuance of the led suit is self-evident, the play of an unnecessarily high card cannot be read as a come-on signal. In situations like this, the play of an unnecessarily high card loses its normal function as a come-on signal and becomes a suit-preference signal calling for a switch to the higher ranking of the two plain suits. (Trump and led suit excluded.) In referring to use of an unnecessarily high card, I mean a situation where this high card does not overtake the trick.

By this same token, where the discontinuance of the led suit is self-evident, the play of the lowest card denotes a preference for the lower ranking of the two plain suits. (Trump and led suit excluded.)

To make this perfectly clear, we will assume that you are defending against a heart contract. Your partner leads the ace of spades. The dummy is faced with three or four hearts and a singleton spade. It is self-evident that a switch is desirable. In following suit on this trick, you can indicate a preference for the club suit, which is the lower ranking of the two plain suits, by playing your lowest spade. If, in the same situation, you play an unnecessarily high spade, you are indicating a preference for the diamond suit, which is the higher ranking of the two plain suits.

You should not think that a suit-preference signal is mandatory in this situation. If you have no worthwhile line of play to offer your partner, choose a card from your holding that your partner would recognize as neither your lowest card nor an unnecessarily high card. In some instances, your holding in the suit may be such that your partner might get the wrong inference from the card you play, but with every signal you try to convey the best message you can, even if you have a limited holding. Your partner can only interpret your lowest card or an unnecessarily high card as denoting suit preference. Any other card in this situation tells your partner that the course of action is left to him to decide.

With the identical dummy situation of three or four hearts and a singleton spade at a heart contract, your partner may make a lead which the declarer may overtake with a higher card. The card that you play third-hand can denote a preference for the higher or lower ranking plain suit. It does not matter if the defense retains or loses the lead; the suit-preference signal has offered valuable information that can be used at the first opportunity.

Suit-preference signals can be made on follow-suit cards, in leading; also by discards when not following suit. The discard suit-preference signal is simple. If you do not follow suit, you are now limited to three suits in your hand. Your discard is chosen from a suit that you are not interested in having led to you. The first discard is the only discard that may be read as a suit-preference signal. If this discard is evidently your lowest card, it is a suit-preference signal calling for the lower of the two remaining suits. If your first discard is an unnecessarily high card, it is a suit-preference for the higher ranking of the two remaining suits. At notrump contracts, it is extremely effective. At suit contracts, it is also very effective, where you do not follow suit on trump in the early stages of the game and with your first discard show a preference for one of the two remaining suits.

I am going to offer an example where the use of a suit-preference signal would have defeated a slam contract. I sat South and was the declarer at six hearts. Back in 1931, slam bidding was rather crude, and you will have to admit, if you review the bidding, it would be hard to stay out of a six-heart contract after your partner has given you a free raise.

 

North

Dealer: South
K 6
Q 10 8 6 5
10 9 4
Q J 10
West East
A 10 9 7 3 2 J 8 5 4
void 2
8 6 5 2 K 7
9 8 7 A 6 5 4 3 2
South
Q
A K J 9 7 4 3
A Q J 3
K
The bidding:

South West North East
1 1 2 2
6 Pass Pass Pass

West opened the ace of spades and immediately was in a quandary. West thought for a while, made the wrong guess and finally led a diamond, allowing me to make the six-heart contract by discarding my losing club on the king of spades.

In this case, a simple application of the suit-preference signal would have eliminated the guess by indicating a preference for the lower ranking of the two plain suits, in this case, the club suit. In following suit on the first trick, East could simply denote suit-preference for clubs by playing the four of spades.

Suit-preference came about because I realized that if the defense had a way to immediately denote a shift to a certain suit on the current trick, the six-heart contract would be set one trick. In seeking the proper solution of denoting a shift to a certain suit, I noted that the come-on signal and the discouraging signal were of no avail in many situations. I came upon the thought of giving high and low cards in these situations a useful function – that of indicating a shift to a certain suit.

There are ample opportunities to use the suit-preference signal and at the same time, all other signals can retain their full usefulness. The timing of the hand is definitely advanced where the suit-preference signal can show a way to gain extra tricks.

The following example will show the gain in timing by the use of the discard suit-preference signal at a notrump contract. This hand was reported by Albert H. Morehead in his column in The New York Times in a 1935 issue. The hand was defeated by Mrs. Lavinthal and myself, making use of the first discard to show preference for one of the two remaining suits.

Dealer: South
N-S Vul.
North
K 8 3
10 5 4
Q 9
A Q 7 6 4
West East
10 6 4 J 9 7 5 2
K 7 2 A Q J 9
K 6 8 5 4 3
J 10 9 8 2 void
South
A Q
8 6 3
A J 10 7 2
K 5 3
The bidding:

South West North East
1 Pass 2 Pass
2NT Pass 3NT Pass
Pass Pass

West opened the jack of clubs, which was won in dummy with the queen. On this trick, East discarded the three of diamonds, asking for a shift to the lower ranking of the two remaining suits. South, seeing that clubs could not be run, led the queen of diamonds. On winning with the king, West switched to the heart suit and the contract was defeated.

Here again, you can observe the gain in timing by using suit-preference. Being void in clubs, West discarded the three of diamonds on the first trick, asking for a shift to the lower ranking of the two remaining suits. The choice was simple and eliminated the possibility of making the wrong switch.

You may say that East could have given a come-on signal on the first trick by playing the nine of hearts. True, and then the defense would get the king of diamonds and three heart tricks, making a total of four tricks and allowing the opponents to make three notrump.

You will note that the use of your first discard to indicate suit-preference gives positive information without impairing the trick-taking ability of your good suit. While the come-on signal, used at notrump when discarding, may give you the same information, giving the come-on signal may be discarding a potential winner.

The same situation arises at suit contracts. You show out on the second lead of trumps and are faced with a choice of discards. If you use the come-on signal when not following suit, how can you discard from a holding like K-J-3 to denote a come-on in that suit? When I refer to the come-on signal, I mean its use to denote with one discard on the current trick the indication of your desired lead.

In discard situations, the exclusive use of the discard suit-preference signal can give positive information without altering the potential trick value of the suit indicated by the discard.

With holdings like K-7, Q-J-5, A-J-9 and many other combinations you can readily picture, the discard of any one card on the current trick to indicate a come-on signal would immediately impair the value of your holding. In discard situations where you would normally use a high-low signal because you do not have a really high card to denote a come-on, you are making use of a chain signal. If the cards at your disposal are the three and the deuce, the opportunity to discard the deuce after first discarding the three, may come a few tricks later. In the meantime, the three could easily have been misconstrued as a discard from a worthless suit.

Another alternative in discard situations was a discard of a low card in one suit, followed on the first opportunity by another low discard in another suit. This method suggested the possibility of having something worthwhile in the remaining suit. This chain signal also has the inherent weakness of not being completed in time on many different types of hand.

The bidding that precedes the play of the hand often gives valuable clues, whereby the suit-preference signal can show the only way the contract can be defeated. Take a situation like this. In the bidding, your partner has revealed the fact that he has a long suit. As an opening lead against an opposing contract, your partner’s lead is a spot card in his bid suit, which you easily recognize as not being a fourth-best lead. It may be the lead of a deuce or a nine. In situations like this, your partner counts on you to take note of his variation from a normal like of play. He is using suit-preference to convey to you that a switch to a certain suit may create a ruffing situation or that he has a tenace holding over a suit bid by his right-hand opponent.

Here is an example in which the use of suit-preference signals are based upon the logic that arises from the prior bidding.

This hand was played in a Memphis team-of-four match on December 3, 1941, with Mrs. Olive Peterson and Mrs. Ben Golder in the North and South positions, respectively. Mrs. Peterson and Mrs. Golder, both life masters, use suit-preference in coordination with all other signals to gain extra tricks in tournament play.

North
4
A J 9 4 3
Q 9 8
K J 8 2
West East
J 10 6 A K Q 7 5 3
7 Q
A K 6 3 2 10
A 10 7 4 Q 9 6 5 3
South
9 8 2
K 10 8 6 5 2
J 7 5 4
void
The bidding:

South West North East
1 1 4 4
Pass 5 Pass Pass
Pass

The usual lead would have been the six of hearts, but Mrs. Golder, hoping to get in a ruff in clubs, led the deuce of hearts, showing that she wanted the lowest ranking suit returned. Mrs. Peterson won the trick, returned the deuce of clubs, and Mrs. Golder ruffed. Later, Mrs. Peterson made the king of clubs and defeated the contract one trick – the only way the contract could be defeated.

I am quite sure that you will find many hands where suit-preference will gain an extra trick. But this extra trick can be gained only where your partner also knows how to use suit-preference properly.

Reprinted from The Bridge World, Jan & Feb 1947.


About Hy Lavinthal

Hy Lavinthal (1894-1972) invented the suit preference signal that bears his name (1933-34). A retail store manager and innovative bridge teacher from Trenton NJ, Lavinthal also served as associate editor of The Bridge World. His book, Defense Tricks, explained all the stipulations of his theory of defense.

The Michaels Cue Bid

by Mike Michaels

The Michaels Cue Bid (as it has become known) was invented for the purpose of competing with sub-minimum hands without misleading partner. It is nothing more than the combination of a distributional double and a variation of the unusual notrump being substituted in meaning for the game forcing cue bid.

Many times when the opponents open the bidding, we feel that we have something to say. However our hand is not adequate for entry into the auction because of the meaning any action we took would normally convey to our partner. For example, suppose we are not vulnerable and the opponents are. The bidding has proceeded:

Partner Opponent We
Pass 1 ?
We hold: or: or:
Jxxxx QJ9xx KQxx
AKJx J9xxx Axxx
x Kx xx
xxx x xxx

 

There is no safe way to enter the bidding. A double would imply more high cards than we own. An overcall would indicate a better suit. We feel that we want to compete, since it could conceivably be our hand, yet no bid is available for us to tell our story.

The Michaels Cue Bid is the answer to hands such as these. By giving the direct cue bid a new meaning, we immediately suggest a hand with the major suits and a range of from 6 to 11 points in high cards. This allows partner the option of selecting a fit, preempting or waiting in the shadows when he has a concentration of minor suit cards.

If partner has the type of hand in which he visualizes a game, he can ask for more information by re-cueing the opened minor. For example, the auction might go:

Opponent We Opponent Partner
1 2 Pass ?
Partner holds: Kxxxx
Ax
AQx
xxx

 

He can bid three clubs. This asks us to specify if our bid was at the maximum end of our limit. If it was, we would reply with four clubs, and he selects the game contract. If we had minimum values, we would bid three diamonds, which would permit him to place the contract.

Had we originally cued the diamond suit,

Opponent We Opponent Partner
1 2 Pass 3
Pass ?

 

we would reply 4 with our maximum, but would bid three hearts as a negative reply even if our hand was

AQJ10x
Jxxx
xx
xx

 

because we do not know which major suit partner fits. If partner prefers hearts, and we bid spades, we are forcing the contract to the game level.

Should partner have a notrump type of hand where he needs high cards from us, he invites a game by bidding 2NT in reply. We then evaluate our hand as if he had originally opened with 1NT and carry on accordingly. To illustrate: the auction is:

Opponent We Opponent Partner
1 2 Pass 2NT
We hold: Kxxx
AJxx
Jxx
xx

 

If our hand (on this auction) is completely unbalanced such as

QJxxx
A9xxx
xx
x

 

we would force a preference by re-cueing diamonds. We should be willing to play game in one of the majors.

A minor suit cue bid then is actually a weak distributional double. It has an upper limit in high card points and promises no specific amount of quick tricks. The soundness of the takeout double is maintained because, by definition, the cue bid’s upper limit embraces the lower limit of this takeout double.

People who are interested in using the cue bid for takeout must remember that the beauty of the bid is lost when the controls are violated. One shouldn’t make a cue bid merely because his hand is in the 6 to 11 point range. The hand should have the desired shape, and the correct vulnerability situation should exist.

Along with the theme of using the cue bid for a controlled takeout double came the variation of the unusual notrump. This arose from the limits of the cue bid itself followed by an instinct for self-preservation.

When a major suit is cue bid, it forces the partnership to at least two spades. Should partner prefer one of the minors, he has to bid at the three level. If he is busted, a nine trick contract might cost 700 points in penalties. Therefore, a little care must be exercised when cue bidding the major suits. The limit of 11 points in high cards makes entry into the three level far too risky. Factually, the only conceivable distributions, limited in high cards with support for the unbid suits, are 5-4-4-0 or 4-4-4-1. These patterns would be mangled if partner had to select a three-card suit opposite one of the four-card suits, since this hand would be subjected to the forcing game at trick 1. With a maximum of 10 or 11 points, these distributions would make better takeout doubles than cue bids. However, with TWO-suited hands, the cue bidder would not only be able to withstand a force, but he could keep within the limits of the cue bid itself, as well as safely exert a preemptive influence upon the auction. Since the unusual notrump handles two-suited minor-suit hands, it follows that the major-suit cue bid must consist of a major and a minor. Therefore, as a logical conclusion, the major-suit cue bid is the unusual notrump with the proviso that one of the suits involved is the opposing major.

The yardstick for making the major-suit cue bid is the same as that for making a normal unusual notrump bid. Here’s how it works:

Not vul against vul, you hold: x
Kxxxx
A9xxx
xx
Opponent You
 1 2

 

This tells partner that you have five hearts and another suit. If partner doesn’t have three hearts, he can ask for your minor by bidding 2NT, giving you the opportunity to name it. Naturally, vulnerable, you would not dream of forcing a preference with the above hand. However, make the hand:

Not vul against vul, you hold: x
Kxxxx
A9xxx
xx
Opponent You
 1 2

 

and you have a fine vulnerable major-suit cue bid as well as a marvelous one-pop description of your hand. The knowledge that you have a two-suiter enables partner to evaluate game potentials immediately.

To summarize, the Michaels Cue Bid has taken the rarely used Direct Cue Bid and given it a new meaning. In the minors, a cue bid is a weak distributional double. In the majors, it represents a two-suited hand with the opposite major acting as one of the suits. It has taken away nothing from the bidding format because the game-forcing hands may be controlled by doubling first, and subsequently cue bidding on the next round. The Michaels Cue Bid allows for a quick description of a weak competitive type hand, jams up the auction and is instrumental to partnerships for bidding games or partials or taking premature saves on hands which come up all too frequently and which previously had no course for action because of the inability of the partnerships to get together intelligently. The nature of the bid is easily explained to opponents, and as a consequence, the incorporation of this bid into our modern bidding systems should become a boon to the game.

(Reprinted from The Bulletin, February. 1960.)


About Mike Michaels

Mike Michaels (1924-1966) of Miami Beach FL was a bridge writer and lecturer. He was best known as the inventor of the Michaels Cuebid and for his long-time association with Charles Goren in various journalistic enterprises.

The Murray 2 Bid

For the Players Who Already Have Everything

by Eric Murray

This convention was invented for a number of very important reasons.

  1. Everybody else has a convention named after him.
  2. It is higher ranking than either the Drury 2 or Stayman.
  3. It helps clutter up a convention card.
  4. The name “MURRAY” on the card automatically puts your opponents ill at ease, as they suspect cheating.
  5. It is innocuous, and it can’t get you into too much trouble.

The response of 2 over partner’s 1NT is artificial, so the convention can easily be avoided by shying away from no trump openings. The bid asks opener to bid a major suit even if it is only three cards in length. If opener does not hold a four-card major, he bids his lower-ranking three-card major. For example:

A. A 3 2 J 8 7 5
Q J 3 10 9 6 5
A 7 6 5
K Q 9 5 8 6 4 3
1NT 2
2 Pass

 

Here you probably go down gracefully in 2 rather than annihilation in 1NT.

B. You hold:
A 10 7 5 3
K J 7 3 2
8
J 9

 

and you bid 2 over partner’s 1NT, supporting his major suit bid to game and thus achieving a transfer bid.

C. A 9 7 4 3
Q 10 8 5 4
9
7 6
1NT 2
2 3

 

D. Not forcing but invitational:
1NT 2
2 3

 

At this point it should be obvious that all the initial bid of 2 guarantees is 13 cards.

Now proceeding a step farther, if bidding proceeds 1NT – 2; 2

2NT, the 2NT bid initiates a variation of the English Baron Conventions and compels the opener to start bidding his four-card suits from the bottom up. Very early in the use of this convention, two disciples, Bruce Gowdy and Bruce Elliott of Toronto, proceeded to use the convention as follows:

A 6 5 K 9
A 7 4 3 8
K Q 6 5 A J 9 4 3
A 7 K Q 8 5 4
1NT 2
2 2NT
3 4NT
3 6*
7

 

* — Grand slam force with diamonds agreed.

If, however, the responder is a passed hand and the auction proceeds.

1NT 2
2 2NT

 

The 2NT response announces a bare nine points and lets all the third- and fourth-hand fifteen-point notrump cheaters off the hook.

If the opening notrump bidder has ignominiously chosen to open a notrump with doubletons in both majors, then with 5-4 in the minors, he rebids 2NT and with 6-3, he bids his six-card suit. Any rebid by the responder at the three level in this situation is not forcing and likely will be passed, and must be passed, if it is a minor-suit bid.

As in the Drury 2, there are other variations of this ill-conceived convention. Those readers who have nothing better to do (unlikely) might try this convention and if they have any problems, just forward them to the writer c/o General Deliver, North West Territories, Canada.

A superb example of the convention taken from a recent tournament was the following hand:

North
K 7 5
K 9
K Q 9 3
A J 7 4
West East
5 J 10 9 8
J 10 6 8 7 5
6 4 2 A 8 5
K 9 8 6 5 3 Q 10 2
South
A Q 6 4 2
A Q 4 3 2
J 10 7
North East South West
1NT Pass 2 Pass
Pass Pass

 

Opener obviously forgot he was playing Murray, but declarer had no trouble making an overtrick in this fine contract, resulting in a top board. All other misguided N-S’s reaching six spades, down one. True, this N-S pair did not win the tournament, but then neither did their opponents on this particular hand.

The writer was waxing enthusiastic to Gerry Friedlander and Robert Freedman about the virtues of this convention at the recent Buffalo Sectional when Friedlander rudely interrupted to remind the gathering of the six-spade contract he and Bob had reached in Syracuse and when Friedlander laid down his dummy, Freedman quickly noted that both his hand and Dummy’s contained five spades to the AQ, whereupon he groaned “duplication of values” and a witness kibitzer remarked, “First time I’ve ever seen a two-way finesse for the king of trumps.” They then replaced their hands in the proper boards and took two averages which is more than they’ll get in the future for ignoring this convention.

Edgar Kaplan’s remark, following publication of the article on the Drury 2 was, “The most magnificent handling of an absolutely worthless convention I’ve ever seen.” Mr. Kaplan’s observations on the merit of the Murray two diamond convention are specifically not invited.

(Article reprinted from The Bulletin – Sept. 1960)


About Eric Murray

Eric Murray (b.1928), a barrister and solicitor, has had considerable success in North American and international competition. He is a former president of Unit 166 (Ontario) and a former District 2 representative to the ACBL Board of Directors. Murray, an ACBL Grand Life Master, is a member of the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame. He is the author of the Murray 2 convention and the co-author of the Drury 2 convention. Murray, a brilliant humorist and raconteur, chooses to treat his subject lightly, but the 2 bid itself if not to be so treated by its opponents.

The Drury Two-Club Convention

Introduction by Alfred Sheinwold, editor of The Bulletin

For this issue we present a new convention that has swept down from the plains of the North and threatens to subjugate the entire continent. In accordance with The Bulletin’s standard policy of pussyfooting whenever possible, we neither recommend nor condemn the Canadian invader. If you like it, use it; if you don’t like it, learn it anyway so that you can tell what’s being done to you.

The Drury Two-Club Convention attempts to solve the problem of the third-hand opening bid: Is it a real bid, or is it garbage?

There are other approaches to this problem, not the least of which is mind-reading. In order to conform to postal regulations, The Bulletin will not advertise courses in sorcery nor list the prices of crystal balls or other useful bridge apparatus.

The article that follows is reprinted from a recent issue of The Bridge World, by kind permission of A. Moyse, Jr., its distinguished editor, and of Eric Murray, the no-less distinguished author of the article. (We promised faithfully to say something nice about these two gentlemen, and we keep some promises.) We might add that the serious bridge player who does not regularly read The Bridge World magazine is patronizing the wrong dentist or the wrong bridge club.

For those who want a counterweapon, we have only this to suggest: A double of the Drury Two Clubs should be used as a takeout double of the original bid (showing support for clubs as well as for the two unbid suits).

For example:

South West North East
Pass Pass 1 Pass
2 double

 

West has nearly the value of an opening bid, with support for clubs and both red suits.

If West has a sound overcall in hearts or diamonds, he bids it. If he then goes for a “number,” he should remember that South has shown some sort of maximum pass and that his partner has been busy saying nothing. In this situation, West should step in only if he has excellent values or a generous disposition.

What should West do if he has clubs? Should he let the enemy steal the hand and likewise steal his suit? Yes. He must probably suffer in silence.

West must decide whether a double of two clubs should call for a lead or should ask for a takeout. The double cannot mean both.

Most experts think that the double should be used competitively, for takeout. If you have a very strong club suit, you may either bid it originally and avoid this whole mess, or you may wait to see if you can bid three clubs when the dust has clearned. There is no overpowering need to bid three clubs immediately, since you will get a chance later if North has a weak hand. You don’t want to bid anything if it turns out that North has a strong hand.


The Convention

by Eric Murray, co-author of the convention with Doug Drury.

“We play simple Stayman (excuse me, Sam) and the Drury Two Clubs, Ma’am.”

“What, young man, is the Drury Two Clubs?”

“Two clubs is an artificial one-round force by a passed hand responding to partner’s third or fourth-hand major suit opening bid. Opener negatives with two diamonds.”

“You are out of your mind, young man. Why don’t you learn to play bridge?”

* * *

Partner opens third-hand with one spade, and you, South, gaze at something like this:

Q x x x K x x A J 9 x J 10

 

What do you bid? Three spades, I suppose. Now partner holds:

A K J 10 x x x x x Q 9 x x

 

Of course, he passes, but you still get a disgusting minus. (Naturally, the ace of hearts is wrong.)

We bid two clubs, not three spades, with the passed hand. Partner, with a holding that he would open in any position, i.e., a normal opening bid, rebids normally. But with a light third or fourth-hand opening, he negatives with two diamonds. Thus, in our example, opener bids two diamonds and responder bids only two spades. All pass.

As a passed hand, we might jump to three spades with

K J 10 x x K x x x x x x x

 

i.e., a distributional mess with fewer than 9 high-card points.

This method was invented for the express purpose of mitigating the losses suffered by my partners because of my uncontrollable mania for opening balanced Yarboroughs in third or fourth position with one spade. The bidding used to go:

North East South West
Pass Pass 1 Pass
3 Pass Pass D’ble
Pass Pass Pass .Down six

Now the bidding goes:

North East South West
Pass Pass 1xxx Pass
North East South West
Pass Pass 1 Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
2 Pass Pass D’ble*
Pass Pass Pass

 

* Not as loud a double.

And the result is: down only five. A nice savings over the years.

Then again, up hereabouts, we play the dummy one trick worse than everywhere and so it’s nice to be one level lower.*

Perhaps the prime reason for the Drury Two Clubs – named for Douglas Drury, one of the best bidders in the game, and a long-suffering partner – is the avoidance of minor suit contracts at matchpoints. Viz:

West East
J 6 4 A 8 5 3 2
K 6 2 A 7 3
A J 9 5 3 Q 10 6
Q 10 J 5

 

The bidding

West North East South
Pass Pass 1 Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
2 Pass Pass Pass

 

Without the convention, the responder, West, has quite a problem: Two diamonds might be passed; two spades is an underbid; three spades is a wild stab; and two notrump is fatal.

There are quite a few other vagaries of this ill-conceived convention.

Example 1:

South West North East
Pass Pass 1 Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
2

 

The two heart bid shows four hearts and fewer than three spades. With five hearts, South would have bid two hearts directly; or with three spades he would bid two spades over two diamonds, ignoring a five-card heart suit and thus sometimes achieving the zenith in bridge: the Moysian 4-3 fit in preference to a much distained possible 5-4 heart fit.

Example 2:

South West North East
Pass Pass 1 Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
2NT

 

South does not hold four hearts, nor three spades, nor five clubs. Nor does he hold five diamonds, because with that length, he would have bid a normal two diamonds over one spade.

Example 3:

South West North East
Pass Pass 1 Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
3

 

Egad, South has many clubs.

Example 4:

South West North East
Pass Pass 1 D’ble
2

 

This two club bid is not Drury – with a good hand, South redoubles.

Example 5:

South West North East
Pass Pass 1 Pass
2NT

 

The two notrump, naturally, shows a balanced hand, without four spades and probably without four hearts.

South West North East
Pass
Pass Pass 1 Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
2 Pass 3

 

North shows a genuine opening bid with spades and diamonds – not a light fourth-hand opening.

Summary

The convention may not be too effective against the American Experts, but it plays havoc with the Indians and Eskimos up here.

* We can’t stand for this, though we enjoy the spoofing. Mr. Murray is one of that select group of Canadian experts who are held in the highest esteem by every American expert who encounters them. The names of Sheardown, M.M.Miller, Boland, Gowdy, Drury, Elliott and Murray – we hope we haven’t overlooked others – are widely known and deeply respected on both sides of the border. – ED.

(Reprinted from The Bulletin, March/April 1957)


About Doug Drury

Doug Drury (1914-1967) of Sebastopol, CA was a stockbroker, bridge teacher and club owner. He was best known for his invention of the Drury Convention. He made his mark early as a tournament player while living in Toronto. A capable and popular bridge administrator, Drury served on the ACBL Board of Governors and the Systems and Conventions Committee.

Sputnik and its Satellites

Doubles in the Roth-Stone System

by Alvin Roth and Tobias Stone

We have found that many doubles which are used for penalties in “go-as-you-please” are better played for takeout. This treatment permits us greater freedom and flexibility in competitive auctions yet, as you will see, still allows us to obtain our share of lucrative penalties.

Each of our methods can be useful to you, even if you do not play The System. But even if you do not adopt any of them, we hope to familiarize you with them, because you are likely to encounter them at the table. However, because of space limitations, we cannot present as complete a discussion as appears in our book.*

The Roth-Stone Double (Sputnik)

Everyone is familiar with the standard takeout double (Opener: 1; Opponent: Dbl). The extension of this convention to the opening bidder is also familiar (Opener: 1; Opponent: 2; P; P; Opener: Dbl). We take the next logical step by introducing takeout doubles by the partner of the opening bidder (Opener: 1; Opponent: 2; Responder: Dbl). Although in other systems this is a penalty double, we use this bid as a takeout double. (“Sputnik” as this type of double has come to be called, was first used humorously by Stone and Oswald Jacoby in the expert rubber game at the Cavendish Club in New York in 1957. Others in the game, including George Rapee, Howard Schenken and Sam Stayman, adopted the term enthusiastically.)

Suppose as opener you hold:

Axxxx
Ax
xx
AQJ10

 

The bidding proceeds: 1, 2, P, P. You would like to double for penalties, but you must pass. The double would be interpreted as takeout. But if partner had made a sputnik double, you would convert it to a penalty double by passing.

Similarly, as responder holding:

xx
xx
Kxxxx
AJ108

 

If the bidding proceeds: 1, 2, you must pass. Partner will reopen with a double on hands with which he would have accepted a “go-as-you-please” penalty double. He will bid a suit on distributional hands. He will only pass with a minimum hand with length in the opponent’s suit, which will almost never happen when you also have length in the suit. So you have not lost the opportunity to punish an unsound overcall.

Then what have you gained? The responder can now compete on hands which cannot be adequately handled by standard methods – either because the hand is too weak for a free bid or because no descriptive bid is available. A Roth-Stone double should not normally be made, however, with a hand satisfying the requirements for a free bid.**

In the Roth-Stone System, the maximum for a “sputnik” is quite high – just under a free bid or a free raise. The minimum varies from a bare seven points at the one-level; 1, 1, Dbl:

Kxxx
xx
KJxxx
xx

 

to an opening bid at the higher levels: 1, 4, Dbl:

KJxx
xx
AJ10x
Axx

 

The opener acts in accordance with these strength limits. He may bid or jump in a new suit or notrumps, or rebid his suit if it is very strong or cue-bid the opponent’s suit. (This would be the only absolute force on partner.) Or he may pass the double with great strength in the opponent’s suit.

Note that opener is under no obligation to take out a high-level double, even lacking strength in the opponent’s suit, as his side should have sufficient high cards to yield a substantial penalty. Consequently, when partner opens with a major (which shows five cards in the System) and the opponent pre-empts, we hardly ever double when we have support for partner’s suit, as he may pass. We have therefore lowered the free-raise requirements at higher levels as follows: 1, 3, 3 is not forcing, typically:

Kxx
xxxx
AQxx
xx

 

1, 3, 4 may be bid with a hand which would have rated only a maximum game invitation without the intervening overcall, typically;

Kxx
Qxxx
AQxx
xx

 

The situations we have been discussing occur after an opening bid of one of a suit and an overcall – direct or jump, strong or preemptive, up to and including four spades. In only one other situation is the responder’s double “sputnik:” when the opening is 1NT and the opponent makes a natural 2, 2, 3 or 3 overcall; the double would then show support for one or both major suits, but is not forcing to game*** Opener may choose to pass the double with a good holding in the opponent’s suit, but more often he will bid. With interest in a major and a strong hand, responder may cuebid the opponent’s suit, thus forcing the hand to game. Any suit bid at the two level is purely competitive and requires no particular high-card strength, whereas any bid at the three level would be forcing for one round.

Perhaps you wonder what we do when an opponent makes a Roth-Stone double of our partner’s overcall. We treat this very much as we would a standard takeout double. With support for partner’s suit, we raise as high as our hand permits (the jump raise is preemptive). We redouble to show high-card strength.

Responsive Doubles

When opener’s suit is freely supported, a penalty situation exists. Therefore, if partner doubles or overcalls and the opener’s suit is supported at the two-, three- or four-level, we play that a double is a takeout for the unbid suits – a “responsive” double. Example: 1, Dbl, 2, Dbl:

x
Qxxx
Kxxx
Qxxx

 

How can this hand be handled adequately without responsive doubles?

If partner has overcalled, a responsive double requests him not to rebid his own suit unless it is self-sufficient. He may bid any three-card suit with assurance of support. Example: 1, 2, 2, Dbl:

K109xx
KJ10xx
xx
X

 

It is important to note that if responder’s bid is anything other than a support of opener’s suit, a double is for penalties.

Takeout Double by Overcaller

Often a player will have a hand strong enough for a takeout double, with one long suit and support for the other suits. If he doubles and the responder preempts, he may be unable to show the suit. Therefore he should overcall, planning to double at his next opportunity to indicate support for the unbid suits.

The overcaller requires no extra high-card values to reopen the bidding with a takeout double. However, in a “live” position, considerable extra strength is needed.

Bidding: 1 2 2 Pass
Pass Double
x
Kxx
Axx
KQ9xxx
Bidding: 1 2 Pass Pass
2 Double
x
KQx
AKx
KQ9xxx

 

Two-Suit Takeout Doubles

There are a number of situations in which a double after the opponents have bid two suits is for takeout, showing support for the two unbid suits. For example:

1 Pass 1 Pass
2 Dbl
or 1 Pass 1 Pass
2 Dbl
or 1 Pass 1NT Pass
2 Dbl

 

A typical hand might be:

xx
KJ9x
xx
AQJxx

 

With length in the opponent’s suit, partner can pass the takeout double with assurance that the doubler has some high-card strength. With a very distributional hand, we use the unusual notrump rather than the double. So, with

xx
KJ10xx
x
KJ10xx

 

we would bid 2NT in each of the above sequences.

Note that a double of a suit rebid after a 1NT response is for penalties.

1 Pass 1NT Pass
2 Dbl
AQ109x
x
AQx
KJxx

 

The Roth-Stone use of doubles for takeout in situations where they have traditionally been played for business lends itself to flexible treatment. “Classic” hands have been used for illustration in this article. However, the expert can adapt these techniques to many other hands, as long as he is prepared for partner’s responses. For example, having overcalled, he might double not having support for a lower-ranking suit, if his own suit were strong enough to rebid. If the bidding proceeds:

1 2 2 Pass
Pass

 

the overcaller could double holding:

xx
AJ10
AKJ9xx
xx

 

If partner responds 3, the doubler will rebid 3, but if partner had responded 3, a superior contract would have been reached.

In summary, let us state that the Roth-Stone double (Sputnik) can be used only when partner opens with one of a suit and, in some cases, with 1NT. Responsive doubles, on the other hand, may be used with opponents open with one, two or three of a suit. For example, Opponent:: 2 (weak); Partner: Double; Opponent:: 3; You: Double; would be responsive.

* Bridge is a Partnership Game (E.P.Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1958).

** Bear in mind that we practically never bid freely with four-card suits. For example, if partner opens with 1 and the opponent overcalls with 1, suppose we hold: AQ9x, Jxxx, K, AJxx. We would double first (Sputnik) and, at our next turn, cuebid if convenient, thus driving the hand at least to game.

*** If the overcall is artificial, a double shows strength in that suit and is primarily lead-directing. A bid of that suit at the next level shows at least six cards and is preemptive.


About Al Roth and Tobias Stone

Al Roth (1914-2007) and Tobias Stone (b.1921) are both members of the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame. They met in 1935 at City College and formed what came to be a legendary partnership. Together they created the world-famous Roth-Stone System, which enjoyed great popularity upon its publication in the 1950s.

The Weak Two-bid

(Warning: Dangerous if Used Improperly!)

by Howard Schenken

The weak two-bid is very effective when put to proper use. When bid on hands that are too strong or, far more important, too weak, it will boomerang and the results will be disasterous. The weak two-bid has always been one of my favorites, possibly because I invented it way back in the 1930s. My theory was that if a jump overcall would cause the opponents bidding problems, a weak two-bid introduced before they had a chance to bid would act as even more of a hindrance.

Requirements for the weak two-bid

Here are my requirements for the weak two-bid.

  1. 8-12 high-card points with one and a half to two defensive or honor tricks (except in certaintactical situations.)
  2. A six-card suit headed by at least Q-J-9.
  3. At least five potential winning tricks, often six or more, especially when vulnerable.
  4. Little or no support for the other major suit.

 

Some good and some bad weak two-bids

Here are some examples of how to and how not to use weak two-bids.

  1. QJ109xx x xx AQ10x (9 HCP)Bid 2. You should win at least six tricks.
  2. xx AKQxxx xxx xx (9 HCP)Bid 2. You should win five or six tricks.
  3. x AQJxxx xx QJ10x (10 HCP)Bid 2. This fine hand should produce seven tricks.
  4. KJ10xxx x Axxx xx (8 HCP)A minimum 2 bid, worth about five tricks.
  5. xxx A10xxxx Ax xx (8 HCP)Pass. Your heart suit is too weak.
  6. K109xx Q10x x AJ10x (10 HCP)Pass, or bid 1 if you wish. You have a weak five-card suit. You also have heart support.
  7. xxx AQJxx Axx xx (11 HCP)A borderline 1 bid. Some players make a weak two-bid merely because they think their hand is inadequate for a one-bid. This is a very fallacious theory.

The last three hands illustrate the wrong type on which to open a weak two-bid. They all have at least two defensive tricks, but are very weak in playing strength. Remember a weak two-bid takes bidding room away from your partner as well as the opponents. Should you ever make a weak twobid in a five-card major? Hardly ever, except with hands like this:

  1. KQJ10x xx Axx xxx (10 HCP)Bid 2. You have five fairly sure tricks.
  2. x AKQJx J10xx xxx (11 HCP)Bid 2. You should win at least five tricks.

 

Responding to a weak two-bid

Most players agree in principle with my requirement for the weak two-bid. Mishaps occur because they cannot resist shading the requirements. But when it comes to responses, there are two distinct schools.

  1. Every response is forcing except a raise. This may work out well whenever responder has slam possibilities, since it leaves more room to explore. Also it assumes that the opening bidder has a very good suit. Against these virtues are certain defects.
    1. You always must get to at least the three level. At the same time, the quality of the opening bid may remain a mystery to the responding player. Hence he may be in doubt whether to continue or stop bidding.
    2. You can only proceed on the assumption that the weak two-bidder always has a very good suit.
  2. Two notrump as the only forcing response. This response always shows at least the equivalent of an opening bid, although not necessarily a notrump-type hand. It has several distinct virtues.
    1. It gives opener a chance to clarify his hand. With a minimum, he simply rebids his suit.
    2. With a solid suit or a strong suit with a sure reentry, opener can bid three notrump.
    3. With a sound weak two-bid, he can show a feature such as an ace or a subsidiary suit.
    4. The negative aspect when responder takes out in a new suit is most important. A bid in a new suit is an absolute denial of support for partner’s suit. It announces that responder has a long, strong suit of his own, and he wishes to play the hand. Opener is commanded therefore to pass unless he can raise his partner’s suit.

 

Some sample hands

Assume your partner has opened with 2 and your only forcing response is 2NT. What do you respond with the following hands:

1. Ax 2. xx 3. AQJxxx
Qx Qxxx x
Q10xxx Qx Axx
Axxx AJxxx AQx
4. Jxx 5. AKQ10xx 6. x
__ xx x
AQJ10xxx x Q10xx
Qxx Q10xx KQJxxxx

 

  1. (12 HCP) Respond 2NT, but pass a rebid of 3.
  2. (9 HCP) If not vulnerable, jump to 4 as a further shutout bid. If vulnerable, bid 3.
  3. (17 HCP) Respond 2NT. Over a rebid of 3, bid 3. This also is forcing.
  4. (10 HCP) Bid 3. This is a firm denial of partner’s suit. He can only pass or raise your suit.
  5. (11 HCP) Bid 3. This response shows a strong suit. It is very encouraging, but still not forcing.
  6. (8 HCP) Bid 3 for two reasons: (1) you hope to buy the contract at that price; (2) if you pass, your LHO is sure to enter the bidding.

 

Summary

Both the weak jump overcall and the weak two-bid are primarily designed to interfere with the opponents by depriving them of several rounds of bidding space. If you use them soundly, you should get many good results and few poor ones. But if you fall in love with the word “weak” and use them to excess, you will find the opposite is true.

About Howard Schenken

Howard Schenken (1905-1979), the bridge player’s bridge player, was one of the all time greats and an original member of the Bridge Hall of Fame. He was a major player for more than five decades. In several polls he was declared by the majority of U.S. experts the best player of all time. Schenken standardized and popularized the weak two-bid and was the first American expert to realize the enormous advantage the Italian teams enjoyed with their strong opening bid of 1. He incorporated it into his Schenken Club System. When the rank of Life Master was created in 1936, selection was based solely on success in national events. Schenken was named Life Master #3.

The “Unusual Notrump” Overcall

by Alfred Sheinwold

The convention known as the Unusual Notrump Overcall, unlike many others, has a history and a parentage. It was conceived, appropriately enough, in a mixed pair event (Miami Beach Winter Nationals, 1948). The convention sprang full-grown from the brow of Al Roth in a post-mortem discussion of the following hand:

9 7
K 10
A K 10 7
A 10 8 3 2

 

Roth’s partner made a takeout double with this hand when her right-hand opponent opened with one spade. LHO raised to two spades, which was passed around to the doubler. She doubled again.

This put it up to Roth, who held:

10 4 3
Q J 8 2
Q J 6 2
9 4

 

Roth’s hearts were slightly stronger than his diamonds, as any bridge player can plainly see. Also, the double of one major urges a response in the other major. So Roth bid three hearts and went down one. He could have made three diamonds either by playing it out or by throwing the hand against any convenient wall.

Now, Alvin Roth is a gent who doesn’t like to land in a bad contract when a good one is available. How, he wondered, could he have known that this was no time to be bidding the other major? Was there any way for his partner to indicate that her hand was strong in the minors but weak in the unbid major?

He came to the conclusion that his partner should have bid two notrump at her second turn instead of doubling for a second time. It seemed clear to Roth that his partner couldn’t really want to play the hand at notrump. Hence the bid of two notrump would be idle or meaningless – unless he assigned to it the special conventional meaning “Partner, this is a takeout double that asks you to choose between the two minor suits.”

That was in 1948, and the resourceful Mr. Roth submitted the bid to his then-small coterie, polished it, refined it, and made it officially part of The (Roth-Stone) System. Then, as now, one always thought of The System in capital letters.)

The Unusual Notrump became better known when Roth published his book in 1953. Since that time it has been adopted by most tournament experts whether they play The System or just a system.

Essentially, the meaning of the convention has remained unchanged. An unusual overcall in notrump is a takeout double asking for a response in a minor suit.

What is Unusual?

There are times when a player wants to make a notrump overcall with a natural meaning, and there are other times when a player wants to do so with an unusual meaning. Which is which and when is when?

Before we go on to discuss the answers that are in current use, let’s consider the general problem of expert disagreement. In some bidding situations, the bid or call may have one meaning for Player A and a different meaning for Player B, even if the players are equally skillful and play the same system.

For example, there is some disagreement among experts about the Blackwoodness of certain bids of 4NT. There is also disagreement about whether certain doubles are for penalty or takeout; about whether certain redoubles are shouts of triumph or shrieks for rescue; about whether certain free bids are constructive or admonitory.

We accept these disagreements, perhaps because we have become accustomed to them. We must expect disagreements on the use of new conventions also.

All of which leads to the statement that there is some disagreement on when a notrump bid is unusual and that there is even some disagreement on the exact meaning of the unusual notrump overcall.

The classic unusual notrump overcall is made in the reopening position when the opponents have bid one or both majors:

West North East South
1
Pass 1NT Pass 2
Pass Pass 2NT

 

East promises support for both minors and denies support for the unbid major. East may have a rather good hand with length in both minors, such as:

xx xx KQxxx AQJx

 

or East may have a bad hand with excellent distribution, such as:

xx x QJxxx QJxxx

 

(If East reopens with a bad hand, he is relying on the enemy to know what they are doing. If the opponents have accurately gauged their strength, West may turn up with the best hand at the table! If the opponents have underbid, however, East’s reopening bid may give them another chance to get to game or to a better contract.)

Another classic reopening situation:

West North East South
1
Pass 2 Pass Pass
2NT

 

This time it is West who is last to speak. He is unlikely to have a really good hand, since he passed over the opening bid. He may well have a bad hand with good distribution since this is a much clearer case of the compulsory reopening bid than the previous example. In any event, West advertises length in both minors and asks his partner to choose one of them.

Sometimes a player doesn’t wait for the last-to-speak position.

West North East South
1
Pass 1NT Pass 2
2NT

 

In this case, West acts at once to relieve the pressure on his partner. West may have some hand as:

xx x KJxxx AQxxx

 

If West fails to step in, East may have to sell out to two spades, only to discover that three of a minor was cold. Alternatively, if West passes, East may reopen with three hearts. West acts to avoid these dangers.

Mind you, no guarantee of safety goes with the unusual bid of two notrump. Partner may have two doubletons in the minor suits, and your side may be headed for a bad penalty as soon as you enter the auction. At total points, therefore, the unusual notrump should also be uncommon. At match points or board-a-match, the occasional disaster may be accepted with good grace.

The intervention may take place in the other position:

West North East South
1
Pass 2 2NT

 

In this case, we see the beginning of a problem. How do we know that East has the unusual overcall of two notrump? Could his bid be perfectly natural, snowing a very powerful hand with spade stoppers and probably upwards of 20 points in high cards?

Perhaps the bid could be natural if nobody had ever dreamed up the unusual two-notrump overcall. Even then, however, the chances are that no expert would ever make the bid for the natural purpose. If the opener and his partner are telling the truth, West should have a Yarborough, and East should either stay out of the auction altogether or should double for a takeout.

In fact, much the same can be said for an immediate intervention by the second player:

West North East South
1
2NT

 

When does anybody ever want to use this bid to show the real, natural stuff? Fifteen or twenty years ago, when babes in the wood were more plentiful , you might jump to two notrump in this position in an attempt to talk the enemy out of their hand. If doubled, you would retreat to your prepared position with some sort of weak seven-card suit.

The trouble with using such a bid for deceptive purposes is that the word gets around. You can fool some of the bridge players some of the time. And there it ends. The next time you try your deceptive bid, the opponents smile knowingly and go right ahead with their auction.

Far better to abandon the deception that doesn’t deceive. Use the jump to 2NT as the unusual notrump overcall, asking partner to choose a minor suit.

Similar comments may be made on an overcall at the level of three:

West North East South
1
Pass 3 3NT

 

Conceivably East may have seven solid clubs and a spade stopper, in which case he might hope to stay in three notrump undisturbed. The odds are that somebody will bid four spades even if East has this pleasant notion. It is far better to give up the idea of playing the hand at three notrump in order to use the bid in its unusual sense. East should have length in both of the minors, with whatever strength is necessary to underwrite a good sacrifice.

A more imprudent example:

West North East South
2
4NT!

 

After South’s (strong) two-bid, West acts at once to demand a sacrifice at the level of five. If West is non-vulnerable against vulnerable opponents, he may take the action with good distribution and an astonishingly bad hand, such as:

x __ Jxxxxx Qxxxxx

 

We must now try to distinguish the usual from the unusual.

To begin with, the opening bid of any number of notrump is a natural bid. The unusual notrump is used only when the opponents have opened the bidding.

An overcall of one notrump is usually natural.

West North East South
1
1NT

 

West should be showing a spade stopper or two, balanced distribution, and a good hand. (Some players make this bid with 15 to 17 points, others with 17 to 19 points, still others with an indefinite range. It always shows a good hand.)

West North East South
1
Pass Pass 1NT

 

East should have a spade stopper and balanced distribution. The strength shown by the reopening bid depends on the partnership philosophy. Some experts make it a practice to reopen with a double whenever they have 11 points or more, so that the reopening bid of 1NT would show not more than 10 points. Other experts, who have no firm policy, might have a good hand for the reopening bid of 1NT.

Even at the level of one, however, a player who has previously passed may make an unusual notrump overcall:

West North East South
Pass
Pass 1 Pass 1
Pass Pass 1NT

 

East should have clubs and diamonds for his bid of one notrump. This is, however, a very rare situation. The unusual overcall in notrump is almost invariably at the level of two or higher.

The notrump overcall over a preemptive bid is natural:

West North East South
3
3NT

 

West wants to play the hand at three notrump. East is expected to pass unless he has a rather good reason for bidding.

West North East South
2 (weak)
2NT

 

It’s hard to say what this bid means. Quite a case may be made for employing this bid either in the natural or in the unusual sense. Obviously, you may have a takeout double with length in the minors, and this is probably the better use for the bid. Alternatively, you may have a good balanced hand, lacking support for the unbid major. Most partnerships have no set policy on this bid and may have to guess when the situation arises.

Variations

Some players use the unusual notrump overcall to ask partner to choose between the unbid suits when the opening side has bid two suits. For example:

West North East South
1
Pass 1 Pass 2
Pass Pass Pass

 

East asks for a choice between hearts and clubs. If East happens to have a fairly good three-card holding in spades, he may reopen with a double instead of 2NT.

When the opponents have bid both majors, a reopening bid may take the form either of a double or of an unusual notrump bid. In either case, partner is expected to bid a minor:

West North East South
1
Pass 1 Pass 2
Pass Pass 2NT or X

 

Most players in the East position will double or bid two notrump as the spirit moves them. A scientific partnership will draw a definite distinction: two notrump shows only the minor suits; a double indicates some strength in the other major. In the example given, East would show some spade strength by a double and would deny any spade strength by a bid of two notrump. In either case, he would show length and strength in the minors.

Past of the reason for drawing the distinction is that spades may be the best spot for East-West even if North has some sort of legitimate spade response. Another reason is that West has a better picture of his partner’s hand for the defense, if opponent becomes declarer.

In one situation, it is possible to show up a psychic response:

West North East South
1
Pass 1 X

 

There is no need for East to double for a takeout if he uses the unusual notrump convention; he can either jump to 2NT at once or bide his time. The double may be used, instead, to show a long and strong spade suit. East would keep quiet with an otherwise poor hand but would double for penalties if he thought that North was trying to steal the spade suit.

Similarly:

West North East South
1
Pass 2 X

 

East would bid 2NT for takeout. The double is for penalties.

Conventional Agreements

If you employ the Unusual Notrump Convention, be sure to list it one way or another on your convention card. Don’t take it for granted that your opponents will know what you are doing.


About Alfred Sheinwold

Alfred (Freddie) Sheinwold (1912-1997) was one of the world’s foremost bridge columnists, authors and analysts. He is best known for a writing career that spans nearly seven decades. Sheinwold, a member of the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame, served as the chairman of the ACBL Laws Commission and of the Appeals Committee at NABCs. He was chairman of the ACBL Board of Governors in the early Seventies and was named ACBL Honorary Member in 1983. Of Sheinwold’s many popular books, the most successful, 5 Weeks to Winning Bridge, has gone through many editions and sold more than a million copies. He was a story teller and raconteur without peer. A real audience pleaser, Sheinwold had an amazing memory and an endless file of entertaining talks and anecdotes. During World War II, he was chief code and cipher expert of the Office of Strategic Services. For a decade in the Forties and fifties he was a singer with the Cantata Singers. Sheinwold was a top-ranked player until he retired from competition. Sheinwold’s partnership, friendship and collaboration with Edgar Kaplan is legendary. The two co-invented the Kaplan-Sheinwold system, which features the weak notrump and other features still widely played in tournament bridge.

The “Upside Down Defensive Signals” Overcall

by Alfred Sheinwold

Every experienced bridge player knows that a high card played by a defender is often an “encouraging” signal, and that a low card is “discouraging.” Sometimes the player can confirm his signal with a second card; high and then low is unmistakably encouraging; low and then high is unmistakably discouraging.

The purpose of this article is to suggest that you turn your signals upside down. If you adopt this suggestion, you will use a high card to discourage your partner and a low card to encourage him. In the case of a completed (two-card) signal, a low card followed by a high card is a “come-on;” a high card followed by a low card is a “stay-away.”

When Edgar Kaplan and I began to use this signaling method a few months ago in ACBL tournaments, we wrote “upside down defensive signals” on our scorecard and explained the general idea to each set of opponents. About half of these opponents raised their eyebrows silently and rolled their eyes heavenward to indicate the futility of discussing serious bridge with such heretics. The other half gave us the benefit of their wisdom in such instructive phrases as “Anything to be different,” or “Why don’t you fellows cut it out.”

We expected this reaction, of course, and in many cases we were able to reply in short phrases consisting of very short words. A different kind of explanation is suitable, however, for a family magazine like THE BRIDGE WORLD.

We have no pride of authorship, for the idea was first developed (as far as we know) by Karl Schneider, the veteran Austrian bridge star. Schneider discussed his idea with Sam Stayman this spring at the international tournament in Juan les Pins, adding that he had been playing it for five or six years with his favorite partners.

Stayman mentioned it to Kaplan at our own Summer National, and he gave the method its American debut in a one-session game with Dick Kahn. Kaplan suggested it to me, and we tried it since we both enjoy novelties. The method is, however, well past the novelty stage and quite ready for recommendation to the American bridge public.

The chief reason for suggesting a change in the orthodox signaling method is that sometimes you can’t spare a high card for an encouraging signal. Every experienced player is, of course, familiar with this situation, but the following hand may serve as a reminder:

North

Dealer: South
Both Vul.
10 7 6 3
10 6
Q 10 9 6 3
A 8
West East
J 5 K Q 9 2
J 4 3 A 8 7 5 2
A 7 2 8 4
10 7 6 4 3 5 2
South
A 8 4
K Q 9
K J 5
K Q J 9
The bidding:

South West North East
1 Pass 1 Pass
2NT Pass 3NT Pass
Pass Pass

When this hand was dealt in a pair event, most tables got to three notrump by some such route as the one shown. Several declarers got a heart opening lead and had no trouble in winning eleven tricks.

At three tables, West opened the jack of spades. In each case, East had to follow suit with the deuce, not being able to afford the encouraging nine. Each declarer won with the ace of spades, since a holdup would have let the cat out of the bag.

At each table, South next led the king of diamonds, taken by West’s ace. In two cases, West then despairingly shifted to a low heart. East took the ace of hearts and two spades, holding South to nine tricks. This was a fine result, to be sure, but not good enough.

I was one of the foolish Wests who opened the jack of spades in the hope of finding partner’s long suit. Kaplan’s deuce of spades was an encouraging signal, and South couldn’t conceal the situation by winning immediately with the ace of spades.

South led the king of diamonds next, and it was easy for me to take the ace of diamonds and lead my remaining spade. Kaplan took three spade tricks and the ace of hearts to defeat the contract.

The difference between top and a tie for second was only 1 ½ matchpoints, to be sure. At total points, the swing would have been at least 700 points, which is no trifle.

What would have happened if my spade opening had struck some nondescript holding in the East hand? Exchange the North and East spades, for example. Holding 10-7-6-3, Kaplan would have played the discouraging seven.

The point is that you can almost invariably afford a high card if you’re not interested in the suit. If you can’t spare the high card, you usually want the suit continued.

The upside down signal is used, likewise, against suit contracts. It’s just as easy to signal a doubleton 7-2 with the deuce first and then the seven as the other way around. (A singleton deuce becomes a come-on, which is sometimes helpful; but this is counterbalanced by the singleton eight, which is discouraging. Such singletons tend to offset each other.)

The second advantage of the upside down signal is that it’s harder for declarer to false-card against. For example:

Dealer: South
N-S Vul.
North
10 8 5
Q J 8
K 10
A Q J 7 6
West East
A K J 7 9 6 3
7 4 6 5 2
Q 9 8 3 7 6 5 4 2
5 4 3 K 9
South
Q 4 2
A K 10 9 3
A J
10 8 2
The bidding:

South West North East
1 Pass 2 Pass
2 Pass 4 Pass
Pass Pass

At both tables of a team match, West opened the king of spades against the game contract in hearts. At one table, East played the normal three of spades. South casually played the four of spades.

West observed that the deuce of spades hadn’t appeared. Perhaps East had Q-3-2; or perhaps South was false-carding. West looked anxiously at the threatening clubs in the dummy and thought about overtricks, which were important at board-a-match team play. So he continued with the ace of spades, thus giving South the contract.

At the other table, Ralph Hirschberg and Edgar Kaplan were defending with upside down signals. Hirschberg, East, played the nine of spades at the first trick to discourage a continuation.

Just try to give declarer a combination of cards with which he can successfully false-card against the nine!

When you don’t want your partner to continue, you usually have an unwanted nine or eight that you can spare as a signal. Such a card will have no trick-winning value, but as a signal it has the great virtue of absolute clarity. Experiment with various holdings, and you will soon see that the upside down signal is often clearer than the normal signal, and that it is far safer against declarer’s false-card.

When Hirschberg signaled discouragement with the nine of spades, to return to the actual hand, Kaplan looked warily at the dummy’s clubs but reflected that Hirschberg had seen them likewise. Ralph wouldn’t have asked for a shift unless he had a fast trick in clubs or trumps, so Kaplan shifted to a club.

Declarer took the finesse, losing to the king. Now a spade return defeated the contract.

A third advantage of the upside down signal is that a one-card signal in the middle of a hand is often clearer than if normal signals are used.

Dealer: East
N-S Vul.
North
7 4
A 3 2
K Q 10 9
9 5 3 2
West East
Q J 6 K 9 8 5 2
Q 10 6 5 9 8 7
A 6 5 4 8 2
K J 10 8 7
South
A 10 3
K J 4
J 7 3
A Q 6 4
The bidding:

South West North East
Pass 1 Pass 1
Pass 1NT Pass Pass
Pass

Leonard Harmon opened the queen of spades from the West hand, and I signaled encouragement by playing the deuce of spades from the East hand. This was not an important play, of course, since the normal signal of the nine of spades would serve every bit as well.

In this situation, any signal or no signal at all comes to the same thing. South is virtually marked with two or three spades – not a singleton, since he has bid notrump and not four, since he has failed to bid the suit at the comfortable level of one. Hence West knows that East has five or six spades, and there is no need for special signals.

At any rate, South held up his ace until the third round of spades. He then led a low diamond to dummy’s king, and I began a distributional echo by playing the eight.

This is an important point. The signal to encourage or discourage has nothing to do with the signal that shows an odd or even number of cards. It likewise has nothing to do with the trump echo. It doesn’t matter whether you use normal signals or upside down signals for encouragement, you will still high-low in certain situations to show that you have two or four cards in the suit.

Harmon naturally wanted to reach my hand so that I could cash the rest of my spades. He decided to hold up until the third round of diamonds in the hope that I could give him a signal on the third round.

How would you like to play a discouraging card from the 9-8-7 of hearts if you’re using normal signals? If you play the seven, your partner may play you for the K-7-4. This gives declarer a very anemic opening bid, to be sure, but it isn’t at all impossible that South has opened with

A 10 3 J 9 8 J 7 3 A Q 10 8

In our case, there was no possibility of error. I could signal discouragement with the nine of hearts.

Harmon had been expecting this signal, as a matter of fact. He would expect me to reopen the bidding if I had five spades to the king and a side king. All the same, the signal made his course clear. He returned his last diamond, allowing declarer to develop the hand by himself.

South could have done well at double-dummy, but Harmon and I keep our cards well away from roving eyes. Declarer rather naturally tried the club finesse, losing to the king. Harmon returned the jack of clubs, and South took the ace and got out with a low club. This put me in with the ten of clubs, somewhat to my surprise, and allowed me to cash a spade. (I had discarded one spade on the last diamond, in the effort to avoid giving declarer a complete reading on the hand.)

We thus held South to seven tricks, for a score of 90 points. It turned out to be an important overtrick that we had saved, since at the other table (of a board-a-match team game) the East player reopened the bidding with two spades and went down one trick for a loss of 100 points.

To sum up, these are the advantages of the upside down signal:

  • It works when you can’t spare a high card;
  • It is harder for declarer to false-card against;
  • It often provides a clear one-card signal in the middle of a hand.

If you like the idea, don’t try it in a pivot game of rubber bridge. Save it for tournament play with your favorite (flexible-minded) partner. And don’t forget to write it down on your convention card.

(reprinted from The Bridge World – Oct. 1954)


About Alfred Sheinwold

Alfred (Freddie) Sheinwold (1912-1997) was one of the world’s foremost bridge columnists, authors and analysts. He is best known for a writing career that spans nearly seven decades. Sheinwold, a member of the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame, served as the chairman of the ACBL Laws Commission and of the Appeals Committee at NABCs. He was chairman of the ACBL Board of Governors in the early Seventies and was named ACBL Honorary Member in 1983. Of Sheinwold’s many popular books, the most successful, 5 Weeks to Winning Bridge, has gone through many editions and sold more than a million copies. He was a story teller and raconteur without peer. A real audience pleaser, Sheinwold had an amazing memory and an endless file of entertaining talks and anecdotes. During World War II, he was chief code and cipher expert of the Office of Strategic Services. For a decade in the Forties and fifties he was a singer with the Cantata Singers. Sheinwold was a top-ranked player until he retired from competition. Sheinwold’s partnership, friendship and collaboration with Edgar Kaplan is legendary. The two co-invented the Kaplan-Sheinwold system, which features the weak notrump and other features still widely played in tournament bridge.

A New Notrump Convention

by Samuel M. Stayman

The use of the opening one notrump bid to show definite minimum and maximum limits of strength is quite general in the most widely used bidding systems and among the large majority of experts. Incidentally, the strength required, nowadays, doesn’t differ much among systems. Whether they are based on honor count, point count or count by ear, opening notrumps are pretty much the same.

Using the limit notrump, the responder is often faced with a problem. If a response of two of a suit is forcing for one round, it is impossible to reach a partscore contract of two of a suit. When the responder has one or two four-card major suits, it is impossible for him to describe his hand. If the major (or majors) were bid, it is unlikely that the opening bidder would allow for 4-4-3-2 distribution in the responder’s hand. More important, if the responder bids spades and then hearts and the notrump bidder does not know whether four-card for five-card suits are being shown, the game reached may be inferior.

So, when the responder has one five-card major and the minimum values for a raise, the standard action is to raise to two notrump. The possibilities of a major-suit game are by-passed.

In consideration of these faults of standard bidding practice, several new conventions have been tried in recent years. The writer has experimented with new ideas along this line, finally accepting one.

Originally suggested by George Rapee, this convention has been played by several partnerships for over a year. It seems to have worked out very well. Playing with Rapee, Edward Hymes, Howard Schenken and Waldemar van Zedtwitz in rubber games and tournaments, the writer has found it superior to the usual methods of handling responses to one notrump.

The convention:

  1. In response to an opening bid of one notrump in any position, two clubs is artificial and is forcing for one round. Partner is requested, in rebidding, to show a major suit, Q-x-x-x or better.
  2. Rebids (after the two-club response) by the opening bidder:
    • Two hearts or two spades shows possession of the major suit, but implies no added strength.
    • Two diamonds is artificial. It denies possession of a major suit, Qxxx or better. It also shows that the general strength of the hand is minimum within the range employed for one-notrump opening bids.
    • Two notrump, like two diamonds, denies holding a biddable major suit. However, it shows that the general strength of the hand is at or near the maximum of the range for the opening one notrump.
  3. Logical consequences of the two-club convention:
    1. When the first response to partner’s notrump bid is two of any suit except clubs, it is a signoff. It will be passed almost all the time. It shows insufficient strength to raise the notrump contract. With the limit of strength shown by the one-notrump bid, it denies prospects of game. In effect, it simply chooses a contract of two in a suit, in preference to one notrump, for a partscore.
    2. All other responses are natural. Raises to two or three notrump can be made. Jump responses in a suit have their usual meaning.
    3. The inference is clearly present that the failure to respond two clubs, when this convention is being played by the partnership, denies interest in exploring what the conventions could have shown; except
    4. The two-club response, like the opening notrump bid itself, is strictly limited in strength. It denies slam possibilities (through failure to make a natural jump response in a suit). Therefore, after first responding two clubs, the responder may bid very strongly without fear that the notrump bidder will carry the bidding too high.

Let us look at a few examples of the use of the convention. In all the following cases, the bidding has proceeded:

NORTH EAST SOUTH WEST
1NT Pass ?

 

South holds:

AJxx KQxx xxx xx

 

South bids two clubs. If North rebids two hearts or two spades (showing no added strength), South will immediately bid game in that suit.

If North bids two diamonds South will rebid three notrump. (If South should rebid only two notrump, North might well pass. North has already told South that he has a minimum one notrump. If South doesn’t have the values to bid game, why should North take charge and bid again on the same cards? He may, if he has an added jack or so; but the reason for the two-club bid in this case was to probe the possibilities of play in a major suit. There never was a question about reaching game. Therefore, South must bid it.)

Axxx KJxx xxx xx

 

As in the previous case, South bids two clubs. However, South will now raise a two-heart or two-spade rebid only to three of that suit. If North has an absolute minimum, the opportunity is given him to drop the bidding below game.

Is North rebids two diamonds, South now bids only two notrump.

If North rebids two notrump, South goes on to three notrump. Since North has a maximum one notrump, South should go on to game.

xx KJxxx Qx Axxx

 

South bids two clubs. If North bids two spades or two notrump, South now bids three hearts, giving North a choice between three notrump and four hearts. This tells North that South holds a five-card suit; South would not offer a four-card suit at this point, since it is almost sure that North does not hold four hearts.

If North rebids two hearts, South bids four hearts.

If North rebids two diamonds, South bids two hearts (again, logically, this will show a five-card suit), and game will be reached in hearts or notrump depending on North’s action.

Kxxxx Qxxxx x xx

 

South bids two clubs. If North rebids a major, South can go to game.

If North bids two notrump, South will bid three spades and then four hearts (unless North raises to four spades).

If North rebids two diamonds, South will bid two spades; then only three hearts over two notrump. North could pass three hearts in this sequence with a minimum hand and strength largely in the minors. South, conversely, can pass three spades if North belatedly gives only a preference by bidding three spades over three hearts, very exact information as to the holdings having been exchanged.

KJxxx AJxxx x xx

 

South bids three spades, not two clubs. South knows he will go to game in spades or hearts irrespective of the strength or distribution of the notrump hand. Note, therefore, that showing a 5-5 two-suiter denies this strength when initiated by a two-club response as in the previous example.

Jxx xx KQxxx 10xx

 

South bids two clubs. The purpose here is simply to find the strength of the notrump. If North rebids two diamonds, South may pass, but may risk a two-notrump bid.

Here is a hand from the recent Vanderbilt Cup Tournament which displays the convention:

Dealer: East
E-W Vul.
NORTH (Stayman)
A 10 4
K Q J 7 4
10 6 2
5 3
WEST EAST
J 5 3 2 8 7 6
9 6 5 3 2
9 8 7 A 5 4
A J 10 9 2 Q 7 6
SOUTH (Schenken)
K 9 8
A 10 8
K Q J 3
K 8 4
The bidding:

EAST SOUTH WEST NORTH
Pass 1NT Pass 2
Pass 2 Pass 2
Pass 3 Pass 3NT
Pass 4 Pass Pass
Pass

 

  1. 2 – The conventional bid. In this case, North expects to get to some game. Initiating this sequence will give a choice between notrump and hearts.
  2. 2 – Conventionally denies a biddable four-card major suit, shows the hand is a minimum one-notrump bid. (Four Aces count 10 ½. This is the bottom.)
  3. 2 – The heart suit must be of five cards, or else it would not be offered when South has denied having four hearts.
  4. 3 – This raise can not be misread. South has shown he doesn’t have four hearts and that he has a minimum notrump.
  5. 3NT – North could have no more even distribution and still have a five-card suit; and he has already shown his five-card suit. He bids three notrump to show that his distribution is proper for notrump play, in spite of the five-card suit. With 5-4-3-1 or 5-4-2-2, North would bid four hearts at this point.
  6. 4 – Reading all of North’s bids together, South realizes that North has 5-3-3-2 distribution. South also knows that North cannot have a very strong hand, because the strength of the two-club response is limited. Assuming that North has 5-3-3-2 distribution and somewhere between 2 and 2 ½ tricks, why did North try to get into a major suit instead of raising the notrump bid earlier? Probably because North has his strength concentrated in two suits – say, with a good heart suit and one outside ace. If this ace is in diamonds, of course, three notrump can probably be run off;but if the ace is in one of the black suits (which is twice as likely), there will be only one stopper in the other black suit and three notrump will probably go down. Even if North has the ace of diamonds, there will still be a good play for four hearts.

This extra-fine bid won its just reward. Four hearts was made easily. Three notrump would have been beaten with any opening.

Reprinted from The Bridge World, June 1945.


About Sam Stayman and George Rapee

Sam Stayman (1909-1993) of Palm Beach FL was a leading bridge administrator, an innovator, an author and a successful business man. Stayman’s name became a household word in bridge circles following the publication of the above article. He was LM #48 and is a member of the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame. Stayman was a Diamond LM with more than 8,000 points at the time of his death. He was the ACBL Honorary Member of the Year in 1969. Stayman won all of the major National Titles a number of times.

George Rapee (1915-1999) of New York City was an attorney and real estate investor. Rapee was LM #44 and is a member of the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame. He won three world championships and 25 North American titles to be noted as one of the most successful and talented players of all time.

You can read more about conventions on the Commonly Used Conventions web page.

* Convention: A call (bid, pass, double or redouble) that carries a special meaning not necessarily related to the number or denomination (spade, heart, diamond, club, notrump) of the call.