Sunday, October 31, 2010

Montreal Relay

For some reason that I still don't really understand, the ideal of the "Montreal Relay" seems to have fallen out of favor with most experts.  I learned to play Montreal Relay some 30 years ago, and I taught it to my wife.  It just seems so much easier than all the nonsense of today's world.

For those who don't know this, it is sort of like a Puppet 1C opening, in a sense.  Partner responds 1H or 1S with a 5-card suit, or 1D to deny a 5-card major.  As 1NT would show 8-11, 1D is bid with a 4-card major (or both), just long diamonds (and not right for 1C-P-1D as 8-11 or so), or balanced with a range other than 8-11.

The pundits seem to suggest that this approach somehow is prone to problems with interference or something, but my experience is otherwise.  First, when I play Montreal Relay, I don't ever need Support Doubles for these situations.  Second, I never need to check back to see if partner really has 4-card support.  Third, checkbacks generally are not needed at all.  I mean, auctions are extremely easy.  Imagine playing bridge where the most common opening (1C) comes up a ton, and yet I never seem to have any occasion where I need checkback, xyz, support doubles, structured game tries with pattern asks, or any of the things that usually take up 20 pages of notes.  No "Kranyak Jump Reverses" to show 3-card support and a great minor.  You just raise with 3 and have a fit established.  EASY.

These sequences are SO friggin' easy that most of us use a short club, and most of my partners only open 1D when unbalanced.  This actually creates another interesting twist -- you end up on occasion opening 1C and then rebidding 2D to show just a balanced hand with long diamonds.  This happens in competition and almost never seems to cause a problem (one instance being because I made a foolish bid). 

The amazing thing is that this structure works better, IMO, than anything I play with "better players."  I sit down with people having 5000+ ACBL Masterpoints, and we play xyz and support doubles and 2NT game tries with unwinds and all that jazz.  Pages and pages of discussions and notes.  Odd situations that arise. 

Then, I sit down to play Montral with my wife, who has 150 masterpoints.  Never a problem with strain or level.  Easy.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Here's another one, with a timing issue.

Partner opens 1NT and you bid 2C stayman.  Partner bids 2D, so you bid 2NT invitational.  Partner bids 3D.  What now?

This is an easy one, for the first call.  Partner has six diamonds.  What you do next seems more troubling.  A partner of mine suggested something I think to be fairly good here.  A new suit probably should "super-accept" diamonds and show shortness.

The "timing" issue is the other thing.  You may be thinking that partner might have bid 3D directly over 2C if this was his intent.  However, the problem with that is that 2C covers a lot of territory.  By bidding a mere 2D first, YOUR hand was able to define general parameters well, which THEN allows your calls AFTER 3D to have more understandable meaning.

In other words, showing the exact same thing in one round as opposed to in a different round of bidding has consequences.  Late unusual action, as opposed to immediate unusual action, does not help define YOUR call sometimes, but it may allow partner to better FIELD his options after your descriptive call.

So, what should the immediate pounce show, if anything???

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


So, here's an example.

You sit down with partner and agree to play that a 2NT response to a 1NT opening is a relay to 3C, possibly weak with clubs but possibly a 4441 with slam aspirations.  So, you hear a 1NT opening and bid 2NT, ready to go, expecting partner to bid the 3C relay, when suddenly partner bids 3H.

What kind of nonsense is this?

Actually, partner has done that which he should do.  Rotely bidding 3C on every hand seems wrong.  Sure -- 3C is the "agreed" call, but then there must be room for thought.

So, think.  Partner is showing something in a way that seems safe but that is constructive, with a hand that cannot afford your one end-the-auction action of passing 3C.  So, he must he clubs.

Give yourself an average bust-type club hand.  Maybe 6322 with nothing but honor-sixth in clubs.

What would make partner move opposite that hand?

How about three side Aces and the rest internal honors?  Maybe KQx in clubs, with three side Aces?  Opposite that hand, you don't need much for 3NT to be right.  Consider two possible hands:


Nine tricks.  Easy.

OK, so the first step is that partner could easily have a super-accept of clubs.  But, why 3H?

Well, if he had the perfecto, he might have opted 3NT.  So, perhaps he has a problem?  Maybe:


Still 9 tricks, as long as hearts are under control.  But, why would 3H send that message?  Couldn't you simply bid where you live instead?  In other words, bid stoppers up-the-line?

Perhaps.  But, there is something else going on here.  Partner also needs to cater to your possibility of being 4441, right?  So, perhaps with any perfecto he should bid a focal suit for that contingency.

For example, consider a slightly different Axx-Axx-Axxx-KQx hand.  3D could operate as a call that super-accepts clubs but identifies diamonds as a suggested strain opposite the 4441 hand.  3NT, then, would "flag" or identify clubs as a strain suggestion in the event of a 4441 hand (typically 3-3-3-4 or 5-card clubs).

So, let's just assume that 3D flagged diamonds for the 4441 consideration while also super-accepting clubs.  How would you proceed under that assumption?

With no interest in 3NT, you should be able to rescue to 4C, but otherwise bidding 3NT to accept the game try (honor sixth) works.  But, you would also bid 3NT with a 4441 hand with club shortness (because Opener should have two top clubs, one would think).  Does it matter that partner does not know which?  Of course not.

What if you had that 4441 hand and diamonds is a good strain?  No problem -- bid the shortness, if it is a major.  so, 3H or 3S would logically show that 4441 hand with shortness in the bid major, right?

What about a 4441 hand with short diamonds?  Again, you may want to bid 3NT.  But, you might be missing a 4-4 major fit.  Wouldn't partner think of that problem also?  If he has THAT hand, he would typically bid a 4-card major before diamonds, if he had 4-4 in the major and diamonds plus clubs super-accepted.  So, 3D would seem to eliminate a major out, making 3H and 3S continuations purely shortness calls.

But, partner bid 3H.  Could he not, then, have four hearts and diamonds?  Or, 4H/4C?  Or even 4H/4S?

This seems to call for some slightly different situational handling.  With the 4441 hand with short hearts, you would bid 3S and let partner unwind this appropriately, as all will work well.  With hearts, you can bid the shortness or bid 4H with short spades!  Problem solved, when 3H is the call.  But, you cannot bid 4C to show club shortness!!!  That shows an escape.  No problem -- you now kick into your meta-agreement.  If up-the-line, 4D for short clubs, 4H short diamonds, and 4S short spades.  If "natural," reverse 4D and 4H.

What about partner bidding 3S, then?  Well, you can eliminate having both majors, as 3H would have stood out.  So, if he has two suits, they are spades and a minor.  Maximizing space for the unwind, you could bid 4D with the "short spades" 4441 (if too good for 3NT), because 4C is again that escape.  With a spade fit, then, the shortness calls start at 4H.

Now, all of this sounds like quite a bit to make up at the table.  And, it is.  And, perhaps you would assume or reach different conclusions from me.  Ideally, these situations are discussed, but that is not realistic.

In my opinion, however, it is tough to draw a line as to when the assumptions to make during an undiscussed sequence are "too much."  I would expect that a well-tuned partnership might know well how to anticipate assumptions in sequences like this and to get fairly deep into the analysis.

This is, of course, quite dangerous, but then NOT taking advantage of this type of thinking during the bidding is perhaps just as much of a loss, for you end up simply bidding 3C every time and missing opportunities.

An idea might be to run a few odd examples through the partnership.  For example, take an auction like this and run with it.  Have each partner write down their thoughts independently, and then compare.

A good starter example might be Kokish.  You might write down this question:

"Opener bid 2H as the start of a Kokish relay, but Responder whips out 3C.  What should 3C show, and how should Opener react to this?"  If you have never discussed this, which would be great, see how you and partner respond independently and then discuss this.  Allow no "that call cannot exist" lame escapes.  This is a theory test, not a bidding test.  Play along, and then see where you end up.  You might discover a lot about partner's way of thinking, and about your own.

Plausibility Defaults

One of my favorite experiences was playing with a pickup partner in a midnight swiss who played a home-spun strong club system.  His base structure was odd.  I agreed to play his system (why not?) and asked for the meanings of the opening bids.  When he started to tell me the responses and rebids, I cut him off and said, "Let's play -- that works."  We ended up winning the midnight swiss, with almost no bidding misunderstandings.  How?

Bridge theory is fairly predictable, I think.  There are a set of general principles that will emerge from context, often very complicated but nonetheless present.  These can be predicted.

Granted, some situations call for choice.  For instance, consider a Mini-Roman 2D opening.  There will be a shortness ask, and that will usually be 2NT.  The shortness will be told in steps, either bidding ther stiff or bidding one under the stiff, usually. 

Within the context of any start, therefore, there is a predictable set of defaults.  Partnership agreement seems to be a combination of tasks, therefore.  First, we start with definition of various starts.  A "start" could be mid-auction, but nonetheless it is a "start."  The start will usually call for a logical set of follow-ups, based on general plausibility defaults.  However, there may be two or more plausible defaults, which call for meta-agreements.  Some plausibles are "better" than others, and sometimes understanding the reasons for calls provides and answer to the PD's.  At times, however, discussion yields a more artificial "improvement" to the PD.  These are discussed and perhaps memorized.

Good structure involves a combination of these factors intertwined in as consistent a manner as possible.  Thus, if shortness asks tend to be in steps, they should probably be in steps always.  If shortness bids are "one under," this should be a repeated theme.  Repetition of theme and defaults enables understanding in undiscussed parallels.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Possible Stayman Tweak?

Just an idea...

I think that it might be possible to re-structure Stayman to have a 2S rebid by Opener (1NT-P-2C-P-2S) show four spades and a minimum.  2D, then, would show either no 4-card major OR if spades a maximum.

For examples of how this would unwind...

2S-P-P-P  (stopping at 2S is good)

3S = four spades, accepts game try

3H = five spades, maximum

4S(four spades maximum)

2D-P-3H(4-4 or 4-5)-P-
3S = 3 spades
4C+ = 4 spades

2D-P-3NT (not four spades; spade situation kept secret)

This type of tweak might allow some stops at 2S and might further allow some degree of knowing whether pener has minimum or maximum, in some sequences.

I am not sure whether this is worth it, but ideas are ideas.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Impossible 2S Not So Impossible

In the ACBL Bulletin, a problem hand was given.  Something like xxxx-x-xx-AKJxxx after a 1H opening from partner.  A large number of expert votes came in for a forcing 1NT, because focusing clubs even at the cost of burying spades seemed right.

If we assume this to be reasonable theory, an exception to the general Walsh thinking, then why not expand this further?  It seems that the "impossible" 2S is not so impossible.  Why not, in theory, 1H-P-1NT-P-2H-P-2S with 4-0-3-6 pattern?  Focus the clubs, but mention the spades.  Could not partner have 4-6-3-0?

If you take this out, then any 4-6 holding could be handled this way, and perhaps even 4-1-3-5 (perhaps passing 2D but converting 2H to 2S).

I am not sure where this thinking leads me, but the thinking is nonetheless suggested.  Namely, there is nothing "impossible" about the "impossible" 2S.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Other Blogs

Two blogspots that you might find interesting.

My friend, Ken Eichenbaum, has made some additions to his blog at, including info on ordering several new e-books by him, as well as some smaller e-pamphlets.  These include books and articles on slam bidding, 2/1 GF structure, defense, bridge comedy, etc.

Also, my local club newsletter for each month is available at  The newsletter has a lot of articles that many have enjoyed and is more than just a list of who did what (but it has that too, of course).  This month, for example, the newsletter is 13 pages long and has articles on cuebidding in a 2/1 GF system, "the Bickersons on Bridge," Ruth's Bridge Tips (largely rules-oriented), play of the hand shorts, analyses of a couple of deals from the instant MP event, Roman Gerber, avoiding the Stumble Bunny, etc.

Chek these sites out!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cuebidding the Stiff Trump King

Opener: A109xxxxx-Ax-void-AQx
Responder: K-10xx-AKQxx-K10xx

An enjoyably curious sequence yesterday...

Opener started with One Spade, Two Diamonds response.

Opener repeated spades; Responder showed clubs.

Opener repeated spades yet again (never jumping), to Responder.

The curious solution was the cue of Four Hearts.  Four Hearts operated as a trump cue, contextually, at least in a sense.  This was just what Opener needed to hear (and thus the good decisions to not blast Four Spades at any point), and the slam was reached.

Not that tricky, except for the rest of the field.