Monday, May 29, 2017

Opening a strong, artificial two clubs

I think it may be a general truism that the more experienced at bridge you become, the less likely you are to open any given hand 2. Many hands that look like something you want to shout about, especially if they are somewhat balanced with a good minor suit, probably shouldn't be opened 2 but will be by many inexperienced players. Minors and 2 openings don't go well together because you will be at the three-level by the time you've mentioned an actual suit and 3NT, the favorite landing spot, is rapidly approaching. Once you go beyond 3NT, you need good systems to land in the right spot. So much is conventional wisdom.

But I want to talk about something a little different: overall shapeliness and suit quality. I can't emphasize sufficiently how important it is to have a twice-biddable suit when you open 2. You simply don't have a lot of room to show a two- or three-suited hand. You can happily open a no-suited hand that falls in the appropriate range (usually something like 22-24 hcp) because partner will be able to take charge and steer you to the right contract. But, when you open 2 and hear the expected 2 from partner (heaven help you if you play 2 artificially as the bust hand), your rebid, assuming it's a major, will be at the two-level--and it's forcing. So, partner's second bid is usually going to be at the three-level so any third bid that you might make, to suggest a second suit for instance, will have to be on (at least) the three-level too. Again, 3NT is rapidly approaching.

Life becomes a lot easier for responder if he can rely on your primary suit being a good one: that's to say playable opposite a small doubleton (or even a singleton). I've had several arguments with the BBO robots when they just wouldn't raise my suit with, say, xx. They end up bidding their own lame suits and we often get to the wrong spot. They should assume that my suit is a good one. Part of their problem is that they don't play any kind of puppet Stayman to eke out a five-three major fit in opener's major. So, therefore they tend to assume that 2 opener simply has a five-card suit.

Of course, I am also a believer in the raw power of a good suit. Making a game with a good six-bagger (or longer) is just going to be so much easier than with even an excellent five-card suit. The latter will need compensating values.

Here to illustrate this point is a hand I held in a robot tournament on BBO recently: AQ87435 AKJ8 AJ 8. Only 19 points but a decent six-card suit, three aces, a singleton and, by the losing trick count, only four losers. By my estimation, this was a 2 opener. I expected to make game opposite not very much. Here's what happened at 25 tables: 1 passed out, making between 9 and 11 tricks (10 mostly). Two players made sure of reaching game by simply opening 4, making with an overtrick. The auction at the other three tables, including mine, was identical: 2-2-2-3-4. We made either 10, 11 or 12 tricks (I made 12, the proper number--three tricks more than should properly be made in spades).

So, did I get lucky? Was this an anomaly? It was marginally on the light side perhaps. But I would bid the same way again.

One other hand of interest cropped up in this 12-board set. Put yourself in the position of my robot partner: Your hand is: J43 J653 KJ AJ63. We are not vulnerable vs. vulnerable and LHO deals and opens 2 (weak). Partner doubles and RHO bids 4. This is followed by two passes and partner doubles again. Your call.

I've seen so many -530, -710, -990 etc. result in my bridge career that I make it a point of honor never to make a penalty pass when I have an asset that partner is seeking. Here I have four hearts. I also happen to have seven cards in the other two suits that partner is promising. It's no big surprise that partner is short in diamonds given their bidding and my holding. Clearly, I have no diamond tricks at all unless I'm lucky. But I have a working ace and two, maybe three working jacks. This hand cries out for a 4 bid.

But not the robot. He converted the double to penalties, despite knowing that it was for takeout. So, despite our 25 hcp, we suffered the ignominy of -910 (not one of the commonest bad scores) and I lost more IMPs on this hand than I had won on the hand I mentioned above. They are actually cold for 600 their way, but of course they weren't going to bid it until I (re)-opened my mouth :( But the robot could have at least attempted to save the day by bidding 4. That would have scored 420 for the good guys and we have a cheap save over 5 (if we should take it) at -100. The first of these scores would have gained about 13 IMPs (a positive swing of 24); the second 5 (a swing of just 16).

So, that silly robot cost me either 16 or 24 IMPs! Fortunately, it made no difference to the overall result, as I still managed to win, barely, after flubbing the final board, costing myself another 14!


  1. My father is like this classic undefeatable champion at bridge and I've learned most of the tricks from him. Nice post with some helpful tips. (Y)

  2. Robin, I've really enjoyed your posts on PLC. I'm an intermediate players and would like to pick your brain on PLC further (instead of trying to memorize a bunch of card combinations). My email is

    - Brad

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. PLC? Not sure I know that one. Probability of losing cards?

  3. PLC = Principle of Least Commitment...didn't you call it PLC?

  4. Indeed is shape important.
    This week I opened two clubs with;
    ♠KDkn962 ♥5 ♦- ♣EK9853
    Only 13 points but also only 3 loosers.
    After learning of four spades and one ace in partners hand we made 6♠ with only 17 points combined.