Monday, December 24, 2012

A few observations on Walsh and XYZ

I find that I wrote a draft on this subject some time ago (during 2011 I think). I'm going back to it now because I want to make a few remarks on Walsh and XYZ [although I don't mean to imply that these two conventions must go together – but as we will see, it helps].

Continuing our discussion related to opening with a (possibly prepared) minor bid in Prepared Bids (part 1). Now, Mr. Walsh comes along and makes life yet more complex. Playing Walsh, both partners agree that, holding a four-card major, there is little point in responder bidding 1 over 1♣ unless he has at least invitational strength. If responder has a weak hand and a four-card major he simply bids it. This maximizes the chances of finding a four-four fit and being able to stop at the two-level. If responder has at least invitational values (i.e. enough to make a "check-back" bid at his second turn), he can afford to start with 1 if he wants to. Partner will assume temporarily that there is no major suit fit and rebid 1NT with any balanced hand that didn't fit in the range for an opening 1NT [yes it's OK to rebid a major if the hand is unbalanced]. With a four-card major and invitational values, responder now makes a check-back bid (New Minor Forcing, XYZ, etc.) and if there is a major suit fit, it will be found.

Playing Walsh, therefore, even the second hand (♠84 KQ65 KJ6 ♣A963) must rebid 1NT. If partner has a weak hand with four hearts, he would have bid 1 to begin with. If he has invitational or better with four hearts, he will now make his checkback bid and all will be well.

Not everyone feels that Walsh is an advantageous system – so are there really any drawbacks, assuming that you have a good check-back system? One disadvantage is that with two minimum hands, our best contract might well be two diamonds on a 4-4 fit and we could miss it. But if you think about it, the chances of us actually being allowed to play in this ideal contract are negligible. If we have an eight-card fit and around half the points in the deck, the opponents are very unlikely to allow us to play there even if we do bid it.

In some cases, where we have a safe harbor in two diamonds, XYZ can come to the rescue. Suppose you have ♠3 AT83 QT832 ♣Q7. Playing Walsh, you bid 1, eschewing your five-card diamond suit. Partner now rebids 1NT. While 1NT may be the ideal matchpoint contract when non-vulnerable, it can be a liability when the opponents have at least an eight-card fit in an unbid suit (spades in this case). Although there are a lot of hands types that partner can have, he certainly has at least two diamonds since if he was unbalanced with a singleton diamond we would either raise hearts (possibly on three), bid 1♠ or rebid 2♣. It's also even possible that opener has 4-4 in the minors (see below) in which case his shape is most likely to be 3244 (although 2344 is also possible). In all of these cases, two diamonds should be a playable contract if you can get there. Having agreed XYZ (this also applies to two-way checkback), over his 1NT rebid, you bid 2♣, partner bids 2 and you pass!

Now, if the opponents come in over 2, you won't mind so much: you weren't that thrilled with the contract anyway. And even then, opener might raise with a diamond fit.

We touched briefly there on opening 1♣ with four-four in the minors. Since writing the draft of this, I published a blog entry specifically on that subject: Opening with 4-4 minors.

Now, let's concentrate on how XYZ works. I don't know who first developed it, but I think it is one of the best conventions around. I was fortunate to learn it in my early days of bridge so to me it is second nature. I'm still awaiting the book on XYZ (David Metcalf, Howard Piltch, are you listening?) but there is a reasonable summary on the internet here.

Like two-way new minor forcing, which operates over opener's rebid of 1NT, XYZ operates after any sequence that starts with three bids at the one level, including some which involve competition. The basics are easy of course. Responder's rebid of 2♣ forces a 2 response by opener, although in the case of a major-suit rebid by opener, who at that point is almost unlimited in strength, it is permissible to skip 2 if the hand is too good to allow a drop at 2. Because there are many more sequences available than in the special case of the 1NT rebid, there's a lot to discuss with partner about follow-ups. But to be honest, in ten years of playing the convention, I don't think that it's ever mattered that we didn't have all the follow-up sequences defined.

One thing I do like is this: after the invitational sequence 1X–1Y–1Z–2♣–2, responder now gets to show directly which potential "asset" he is interested in hearing about from opener. This allows more auctions to end at the two-level.

Let's look at an example: opener holds ♠KJ93 T87 A3 ♣KQT4 and responder ♠84 KQ652 JT6 ♣A93. Opener starts with 1♣ (assuming a 14-16, 15-17, etc. notrump opener) and responder bids 1. Opener rebids 1♠ (admittedly, 1NT is also possible). Responder bids 2♣, opener 2 and responder 2. Knowing we have an eight-card heart fit and and fewer than 25 hcp, we can decide to pass and we are still at the two-level (yes, I'm sure there's a few of you out there who will re-invite with 3 or jump straight to 4).

As always, however, we must ask ourselves if the natural meanings for the artificial bids wouldn't be more valuable. Basically, we are giving up the possibility of giving preference to partner's clubs at our second turn. We can play three clubs by going through the relay and then bidding 3♣ to play. What about a weak responding hand like ♠8 KQ62 JT6 ♣98732? If, after 1♣–1, opener rebids 1♠ or 1NT we could, playing standard methods, bid 2♣ to play. When we can't do that it's occasionally a concern, but I can't actually remember the last time it caused me any kind of a problem. Again, if we have a good fit in clubs, we will never get to play it.

To summarize, I have found that playing Walsh and XYZ together is simple, effective and feels very natural. Like any convention, if you choose to adopt XYZ you must realize that you'll have a couple of disasters before it shows its worth.  But I really think it's well worth the trouble in the long run.


  1. I remember a regional in Gatlinburg in which a friend of mine held X, XXXX, AKQJ10X, XX and responded 1H over 1C. Some people teased her about it.

    When I asked Soloway (or maybe it was Swanson) if 1H was the book bid playing Walsh, he said that strict Walsh-ites would indeed bid that.

    1. An amusing anecdote. But totally bizarre. Hard to believe that any expert would really think that. Maybe with x xxxx AQJxxx xx it might be the "book" bid.

  2. Memphis Mojo is not correct. That is a MAFIA bid, not Walsh. With invit+ hands Walsh players do show th Ds here.