Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Unbalanced Diamond Opening

I was intrigued when I saw that Marshall Miles introduced "His System," which included an unbalanced diamond opening. I have used an unbalanced diamond opening for about 20 years, but not exactly what he describes. As the technique does have some "slam aspirational" benefits, and thus is perhaps relevant to this blog's theme, I thought I'd share.

Natural 5-card Major opening structures usually feature some variant as to "how many diamonds" if you open 1D. Maybe better minor, maybe 3 only if 4432, maybe 4+ (open 1♣ if 4432). I have seen 5+ as well.

My preference is 4+ if unbalanced, or 6+ (possibly with an exception if 2245/2254). This means any 4-4-4-1 (with diamonds), or 5 diamonds and 5431/5530/5440/5521, or 6+ diamonds. 1♣, then, will promise either (1) any balanced hand with at least two clubs (could, e.g., be 3352) or (2) any unbalanced hand with at least four clubs (same patterns as for 1D).

The obvious downside is that 1♣ is nebulous, although those who have used a nebulous 1D will know that a nebulous opening has some unexpected benefits (harder to make TOX when short in the other minor, picking off the opp's minor, less info for leads for the opponents, etc.).

The main benefit is that a 1D opening is sort of a min-splinter before the fit is found. A simple example. Your partner opens 1D and you respond 1♠. If the 1D opening was unbalanced, a 2♠ raise from partner will guarantee a stiff or void on the outside. As a stiff and a fit is worth about 3 points, the minimum opening range of maybe 11-14 now will be 14-17 by adding in the known shortness value. This makes game tries easier. BTW -- the relay should usually ask for the stiff, perhaps with a way to show min/max or 3-card/4-card support.

Note, that the ability to show the shape immediately allows Opener to not bid as aggressively. With a 16-17 count, because of the shortness value, you might ordinarily want to jump. As the 16-17 count is close to partner's expectations with an unbalanced diamond opening, however, you simply raise and trust partner to push when it matters. +110 is great also.

The obvious other benefit is in slam exploration. Knowing of the stiff immediately allows Responder to assess slam prospects at a lower level.

Some subtleties. 1D-P-1M-P-1NT is typically stiff in Responder's major and otherwise "balanced." Thus, 1D-P-1♥-P-1NT will almost assuredly be the auction for when Opener has 3154 pattern. This can help in minor slam exploration, and even with exploration of Opener's stiff suit. I mean, 1D-P-1♥-P-1NT-P-3♥ now shows a suit playable opposite a stiff.

There are many other inferential benefits to this approach. If anyone wants to discuss this more, feel free to email me.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Trying Out the Modified Super Standard

A regular partner of mine and I have been trying out the Modified Super Standard 2D Opening.

The first "occasion" was my 2D opening with six diamonds and 8 HCP. I was mad as Hell to be the one to forget first. No bragging rights.

The second. I held AKJxxxx-Kxx-AQx-v. Partner held Qxxx-AQx-Kxx-xxx. Our auction was straight-forward. 2D opening (9 winners). 3♥ response (power spade raise -- I now like 2NT for this better). 3NT (one-suited spades). 4♣ (shortness ask). 4♠ (club shortness, 9 winners -- answer RKCB with 10+ winners). 4NT (RKCB). 5♣ (this partner is not a 1430 man). Now, we discussed afterwards whether Opener should show the void immediately (discarded because it takes up too much space) or whether Responder should bid the short suit (here 6♣) to ask (or Opener can cue the short suit to show). We had not yet implemented ask-or-answer. In practice, we were on different pages ad missed the grand. This was particularly irritating, when we heard from the opponents their stumble-bunny auction to the grand, and auction that gave no information upon which to base even a small slam decision. Work in progress.

The third occasion was humorous. I opened 2D with a 4414 pattern. Partner responded 2♥, general GF and artificial. I rebid 2♠, which we now play as possibly including this pattern. Partner relayed 2NT to ask more. I bid 3♣ to show 4414 pattern (or 4504/4405). Partner bid 3♥, setting trumps and asking more. I bid 3♠ to show a stiff (not 4504/4405) and a minimum (I had Axxx-Kxxx-A-AKQx). Great auction so far. We later discussed that at this point that partner probably should be able to bid 3NT as Serious 3NT or cuebid, with LTTC available. Instead. partner was a child at Christmas and wanted a story, so he blasted 6♥ with a true dog (King-empty in diamonds, amazingly actually worth something, and AJxx in hearts, out). The slam would have made if the heart hook works (it does), hearts split 3-2 (they do), clubs split 3-3 (oops), and someone revokes (well that's the kicker). He simply lost his mind in the excitement. However, it is nice to know that our great tool, on this hand, showed him to be a complete dunderhead and not simply aggressive. That helped when I botched the defense on the next hand.

Still working on it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

More on the Variations

I'm not sure what order these rapid-succession posts will fall, so see the one following this if this comes first.

The variational scheme has me thinking of a methodology that may appeal to some who have strong feelings about other schemes. One could easily use a blended scheme. Here is how it would work.

2NT would be serious. One could play that 2♠ over heart agreement is serious and 2NT a non-serious spade message.

That would make 3NT a trump cue. The bidding of three of the agreed major would show good trumps, but that would now mean two of the top three. 3NT would show poor contextual trumps, just like 2NT does in the normal scheme. That would allow the partnership to stop at 3NT with horrifying trumps on occasion. Plus, the entire trump-strength message would be equally transmitted, just later and in a slightly different manner. But, explained.

Now, in the blended scheme, one could agree that 2NT, as serious, or 2♠ if using that, initiates cuebidding. One might be "serious" if one wanted to use a cuebidding-first approach because of tactical concerns.

The "blended scheme" would involve non-2NT auctions, or 2NT bypasses if you will. In that event, the partnership could use pattern bidding. Explaining yourself as "non-serious" might also be a tactical decision based upon a desire to pattern out on that specific hand. Of course, one would need to establish methods for patterning out, and this could be natural, semi-natural, or completely artificial. For instance, perhaps 3♣ shows a 5431 hand, 3D asking. Maybe 3D shows a 5-5 hand, 3♥ asking for the shortness. Whatever.

The idea of the blended scheme is complicated, but it may be of interest and does seem to have some merits.

A little more on this. If the picture jumps are all retained, and if 2♠ is serious after heart agreement, then that would leave four steps between the two-level agreement and the lowest Picture Jump. After spade agreement (2♠), Opener would have 3♣, 3D, 3♥, and 3♠. After heart agreement (2♥), Opener would have 2♠ as serious and thus 2NT, 3♣, 3D, and 3♥ for patterning.

Suppose that the first step shows 5431/5440. After 3♣ (spades agreed), the relay would ask for clarification in steps: 1st is lower-stiff 5431, 2nd is higher-stiff 5431, 3rd is lower void 5440, 4th is higher void 5440. After 2NT (hearts agreed), 3♣ is the asking bid. I have not yet figured out what the non-ask calls should be.

Suppose that the second step shows 5521/5530. Same asking relay, same steps and stiff/void.

The third step could be 6-4 hands, if 6-4 is possible.

The fourth step could be catch-all, showing balanced hands (5422, maybe 5332).

Something like that.

Some variations

As always, folks have different preferences as to methods, based upon personal assessments of risk-benefit analysis. This got me to thinking about two variations that seem reasonable and may be worth consideration.

One is a simple change to the impact of a 2NT (poor trumps) cue. One might agree that any cuebidding sequence that includes a 2NT call can end at 3NT. Thus, for instance, consider 1♠-P-2♣-P-2♥-P-2♠. If Opener cues anything but 2NT, the contract would be forced to 4♠ (if game only). However, under the variation, a 2NT call could yield a final contract of 3NT.

A second variation, along similar lines, might be to invert the meanings of a Picture Jump to 3NT and a Picture Splinter in partner's second suit. Thus, after 1♠-P-2♣-P-2♥-P-2♠, Opener might jump to 3NT to show a stiff club, good trumps, great hearts, and no diamond control, a call that Responder might actually want to pass. That would make a 4♣ call by Opener instead show good trumps, no heart control, a stiff diamond, and HHx in clubs, a holding where 3NT is very unlikely to be right.

A third possibility I have considered is also to invert the meanings of 3NT and 2NT, where 2NT is "serious" and bypassing 2NT "non-serious," or perhaps frivolous and non-frivolous, with 3NT being the "poor trumps" cue. The upside is for those who very highly value non-disclosure when a quantitative bash analysis suggests that slam is remote. The downside is that it negatively impacts the nuances available for delayed picture jumping. But, that itself might be worked out sufficiently.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Amazing Debate

Consider this auction:


Now, stop there and assume that everyone agrees on parameters. 2♣ established a game force, and 2♠ 100% agreed spades. Not everyone agrees with this so far, but just assume that it does.

Now, an amazing debate is ongoing on BBO Forum. The debate started as to what is best to play next. I, of course, advocate a combination of Picture Jumps and cuebidding, with cuebidding taking shape from the lack of a Picture Jump. Others (the old school) prefer pattern bidding and then cuebidding.

So, the debate seemed to be going nicely, with various positions and reasons for positions and the like. Most notably, however, Fred Gitelman decided to announce position in such a way as to induce a retort, and the heat started rising. Good stuff. The best debates don't quite result in poked eyes and pulled hair, but you really do want to get close to that, right?

Then, the most frightening thing occurred. There was a discussion about the difference for the pattern bidders between 3♣ (5413-ish) and 4D, a splinter (and, hence, 5413-ish). This seemed to be a redundancy, because there was little in the way of parameters. Fred G. noted having no agreement with partners about 4D, guessed as to its most logical meaning for him, could not understand how it would really matter much anyway, and then claimed that that kind of detail was too much memory work. The conclusion was that his method was superior because that's what folks do, at least the top-notch folks.

It amazes me. I have known for a while that the "standard pro" approach to cuebidding and slam auctions was bad. But, the ignorant arrogance astounds me. I doubt that anyone reading this would disagree that confusion about a 4D call is hopeless. Granted, we all in the past would have scratched our heads and wondered how the two bids were, in fact, different. Or, maybe no one ever bid 4D because it seemed dumb and redundant. But, I hope that y'all now find this silly. Whether you have adopted my idea that 4D is a Picture Splinter (great hearts, good trumps, stiff diamond, no club control) or some other variation that suits your style and system better, I think you'd agree that all is lost if this auction is still a mystery.

The old school is getting older, as it always does. There are new kids already winning in Shanghai and elsewhere. Such is life.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Q: Is ♠ -- ♥KQxx [D]AKJxxx ♣J10x right for a Walsh Fragment after 1[D]-P-1♥-P-?
A: The diamond suit quality is a tad light for my tastes.
However, if you want to use this tool, the objections concerning the location of your stiff is somewhat easily solved. Responder can use the relay as an asking bid. If, say, clubs are opened and spades agreed, 4[D] by Responder can ask for the stiff, Opener bidding 4♥ with a stiff heart and 4♠ with a stiff diamond.
Consider the actual auction, however. This is a tight bid, because the "relay" if 4♠, which forces the slam. A walsh fragment bid immediately below the trump suit, or even one below, is a very tight bid.
It may be useful to agree that the Walsh Frag that is one-under shows a specific shortness, the one that is least convenient.
The easy way to understand "convenient" is to ask which option is most difficult to bid in another manner. That leads me, in this situation, to handling the short club holding through the Walsh Frag.
Reasons. If Opener opts for a splinter, 4♣ bypasses a Serious 3NT, but 3♠ does not. If Opener opts to bid around a void, 3♣ is recognized as possibly manufactured but 2♠ is not.
Thus, ideally the one-under Walsh Frag should be with shortness in the other minor and a frag in the other major.
The same GP applies to a two-under W.F., IMO.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Emapthetic Roman Key Card?

A new idea popped into my head this weekend that has me thinking of a better approach. I had a discussion concerning answering RKCB with a "useful void" in an auction where my shortness was known. It seems a waste of space to use most approaches. Consider 4NT-P-? If you "skip up" and answer 5NT, 6♣, 6D, or 6♥ with a void, you lose a lot of space for queen-asks and side asks and the like, to show something that might be irrelevant (partner might have the Ace, after all). It seemed easier to just answer and then have partner bid, say, 6♣ to ask if you club shortness was a void or not.

But, then I thought through another idea I had earlier, and a "better way" became obvious. The idea is to use an ask-or-answer approach.

Consider a simple auction. 2♣(strong, artificial)-P-2♠(spade positive)-P-4♥(spade fit, shortness in hearts). Now what?

Using the "ask or answer" approach, Responder could bid 4NT as RKCB with the heart Ace, making the void showing irrelevant, or less relevant. Without the heart Ace, Responder "answers" and bids 5♣...5♠ as his hypo key card answer to a hypo 4NT from Opener, but without the heart Ace.

How about another situation. Hearts are agreed. One person has shown shortness somewhere. 4♠ by his partner denies the missing Ace and is an ask-or-answer relay. His partner can then bid 4NT as Exclusion (void or stiff Ace) or answer (singleton). 4NT instead of 4♠ is RKCB but promises the Ace in the short suit.

This allows the RKCB responses to stay at the normal level but resolves the "stiff or void" question "before" the answers. This approach suffers from the loss of other meanings for the five-level calls and, accordingly, should probably only be used in pre-discussed auctions or types of auctions.

An example from real life.

Opener: ♠AKJxxxx ♥Kxx [D]AQx ♣void

Responder: ♠Q10xx ♥AQx [D]Kxx ♣xxx

2[D]: 22+ or 9+ tricks, 4+ spades, unbalanced

3♥: Power spade raise, Qxxx+ or xxxxx+ support, very good hand

3NT: 6+ spades

4♣: Shortness ask

4♠: club shortness (minimal LTC)

5♣: one(1430), no club Ace

5♥: King of hearts?

5NT: yes, but no diamond King

6D: diamond Queen?

6NT: yes, but no heart Queen


Compare that with the auction up to the 4♠ call and 4NT as just RKCB. Opener has a 5D response (0/3). He jumps instead to 6♣ to show the void and 0/3. Responder can ask for the heart King (6♥) but not the diamond Queen.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Simplified Super Standard Ideas

My friend and partner, Ken Eichenbaum and I have been working on a simplified version of part of the Super Standard System by Mats Nilsland.

We have incorporated most unbalanced hands into a 2D opening, including 4-4-4-1 hands. With those, you rebid 2♠, which either shows a 4-4-4-1 hand or a 6+ spade hand. The simple relay of 2NT allows Opener to show his stiff submarine-style (3♣=4414, 3D=4144, 3♥=4441) or rebid 3♠. This of course requires that hands with 5♠ and 4♣/4D/4♥ be opened 2♣.

That's fine with us. We also did not want to lose the two-way balanced hand approach from Kokish. What we did was to change the three-level response structure around:

3♣ shows 5+ clubs (0-4♥/0-3♠). 3D asks for more info as to the majors, with Opener bidding 3♥ with four hearts or 3♠ with 0-3 hearts but three spades. 3♥ by Responder shows 5♥ and maybe 5♠ (opener can introduce spades). 3♠ shows 5♠ but not 4♥. This handles all situations.

3D by Opener denies a 4-card major.

3♥ by Opener shows 4♥/5+D and 0-3 spades.

3♠ by Opener is minors, 5-5, with no 3-card major. With a 3-card major, Opener bids 3D. If Opener bids 3♥ and Opener has a fit, great. If not, he bids 3♠ before a possible 4♣. If Opener hears 3♠ and has a fit, great! If not, he might bid 4♥ with a big 0355.

3NT by Opener shows 1444, the missing pattern.

There is more, but you can work out what makes sense. The idea is to simplify (missing 5-5 nuances immediately, but easier), save the 2-way balanced hand handling, but retain ability to handle the main problem hands effectively.

We are supposed to try this out this weekend, if we feel ready.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

I was only joking, but...

Insanity sometimes leads to interesting ideas.

A deal was posted on the Bridge Base Forums where East-West bid like lunatics and paid heavily. The short version is that E-W ended up in 7♣X with stiff Q opposite 9xxxx instead of 7D with AQ10xxxx opposite xxx. Strange.

However, in looking at the North-South hands, it occurred to me that N-S had a chance at 7♥, so long as SOUTH declared 7♥. A club lead happens to beat 7♥, but it makes on any other lead.

The auction was 1♠-P-2NT-5D-5♥-P-6♠-7♣-X-P(!!!)-P-P.

So, how to get to 6♥ by South?

Well, an idea to consider. If Opener's RHO blasts up into the stratosphere, he seems reasonably likely to have a void. If Opener has a void in RHO's suit, and sufficient values for the six-level, maybe he should be allowed to use transfers into alternative strains.

Had our Opener held a better hand or been frisky (he held a nice collection of QJ108x-KQJxx-void-KJx), perhaps a 6D transfer/choice would have been better than a 6♥ natural choice. With tactical reasons to play it himself, Opener could bid 5♥ and then 6♥ if needed.

This idea of transfers may be useful in other sequences. Suppose, for instance, that you play simple Jacoby 2NT. You open 1♠, partner bids 2NT, and you are planning to show a source of tricks in diamonds. RHO, however, bids 3♣.

Now, what if you play transfers to show side trick sources? If Responder has diamonds and spades, with a positional diamond stopper (Kx), then the contract can be right-sided. The auction would be 1♠-P-2NT-3♣-4♣-P-4D...

So, it seems that one nice treatment might be to determine in what situations you might make use of transfers when the anticipated declarer hears interference or a lead director by his RHO.