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Open letter to Robb Gordon

To: Robb Gordon, ACBL Recorder

From: Sam Dinkin

CC: Michael Shuster, Bridgewinners

Dear Mr. Gordon,

Here is some background about the system I am playing with Michael Shuster that you asked to be briefed on.

Michael and I play a strong diamond system with weak 1M openings in first and second seats. An open+ version of the card can be found at and a system summary form at .

Here's the method:

(Everything except 2 is an alert or announce)


1 = 10 to 14 artificial, could be as short as 0 (Open Chart, but not a pre-alert)

1 = 15+ artificial, forcing (Open Chart, but not a pre-alert)

1M = 4+M 8-11, could be canapé (Basic Chart, pre-alert for canapé and because it's light)

1N = variable, NV: 10 to 12-, V: 12+ to 14 (Basic Chart) -- for Open+ 6+ boards, we play that small singletons in a minor are permitted

2 = 10 to 14 artificial, 5+, not 5332 (Open Chart, but not a pre-alert)

2 = 15+ artificial, 54m31 or 6+0-3 (Open Chart, but not a pre-alert)

2 = 10 to 14, 54m31 or 6+0-3 (Open Chart, but not a pre-alert)

2 = 3 to 9, 54m31 or 6+0-3, (Open Chart--Basic chart requires 4+HCP)

2NT = 15-17, 6+, one suited (Open Chart, but not a pre-alert)

3rd/4th (all bids are alerts or announces)

1 = 15-17 unbalanced (Basic Chart)

1 = 17+ to 37 (Open Chart, but not a pre-alert)

1M = 15 to 17 usually bal or 4441, could be canapé (Basic Chart, pre-alert for canapé)

1NT = 15 to 17 natural, no major (Basic Chart) -- for Open+ 6+ boards, we play that a small singleton is permitted if 6331 or 5431

2 = 15 to 17 5+ (Open chart, but not a pre-alert)

2 = 17+ to 33 54m31 or 6+0-3 (Open chart, but not a pre-alert)

2M = 0 to 14 5+M (Open chart, pre-alert due to light)

2NT = 17+ to 19 6+, one suited (Open Chart, but not a pre-alert)


The genesis of the strong diamond system was an attempt to implement strong 1 bids and intermediate two bids according to the old General Convention chart. That led to a strong diamond and 1M and an artificial 1. Playing that, Matt Smith ruled that 0-14 weak twos in third seat were "destructive methods" according to the loosely defined rules in force at the time (the new charts are much clearer). He ruled that 3-14 were ok as long as no conventions were played. To work around this ruling, I created an asymmetric system where we open 8-11 1M 4-card majors, that could be canapé, 1st and 2nd seats so that a 3-14 2M in 3rd and 4th seats reflects about the same assets as a 0-11 range given that 70% of 8-9 counts and all 10 counts would already have been opened in 1st and 2nd seats with 2 and 2 strong with one major.

The asymmetry is that since we have opened 70% of 8-9 counts and all 10 counts 1st/2nd, we raise the opening requirements to 15+ or more for all bids 1 through 2NT, except 2M, in third and fourth seats. A 15-17 NT is actually weak in 3rd seat given that partner is most likely 0-7. This makes the system both "blue sticker", strong or , and "red 2 sticker", different ranges 1st/2nd, 3rd/4th in Europe. In third fourth, we split our 15-17 balanced between 1, 1 and 1NT, essentially opening a stayman response to a 15-17 NT. 

As a result, we will never pass out 10 vs. 10, but we will sometimes pass out 7 vs. 13 if the 13 does not have a 5 card major or 6 card minor.

Surprisingly, this method was very effective. I was able to use the method to beat much better opponents, place a couple of times in the North American Swiss teams, get to the round of 32 in the main event several times, be in the top 20 in the European open teams a couple of times (before they changed the ko final to 32 teams), and have a 100% BAM 1st 10 boards in Tromsø before a director call.

We also play some other unusual agreements 1st/2nd. Suit preference carding as our primary signals, strong 2 showing 54m31 or 6+ 0-3, 2 the same pattern 10-14, variable NT, 2NT 6+ 15-17 one suited. We play a direct double as a strong NT and a 1NT for takeout and roman jumps to 2R second seat. The 1NT for takeout is a highly unusual method in Europe, but basic chart in the ACBL. 

Natural 2 bids or strong 2m, strong 1 and natural 1 bids were all "general chart" so I was able to play the system in General Chart events such as the Fast Pairs--at the time 2M 3-14 was permitted on General Chart if conventions were not played. The old restriction against "relay systems" was vacuous so we were also able to play a tell-me more system starting with opener's rebid to pattern out all hands after all openers 1 through 2NT 1st and 2nd seats. With twice weekly practice, I was able to practice the methods sufficiently to not get any time warnings or penalties in the fast pairs. 

With the new charts, even the Open+, 6+ board version of the system does not require us to carry defenses. Even though we are not required to, we are quick to offer common defenses since we are not interested in playing "Gotcha" bridge. E.g., Mathe vs. the strong , 2 Michael's vs. 2 strong showing and X for takeout, etc. We also offer some negative inferences on the bids we did not open even though we are not required to, because given our unusual system, we consider it a kindness to tell the opponents this extra information.

I am sympathetic to the daunting overload of so many novelties in the system. In Europe, they have a "brown sticker" system that discourages players from playing too many hard-to-defend conventions in team games--too many and they lose the option to sit around the opponents. Those brown sticker conventions are also banned from pair games. The ACBL could adopt a brown-sticker system, but none of our opening bids would be considered brown sticker in Europe. Short of introducing an even more restrictive chart or adding more yellow card only events, I do not see a way for ACBL to restrict novelty. 

Every new system is unfamiliar at first. A light version of the system without the relays is being played at the Bridge Center in Austin by several of the local players. Tom Reynolds and Lance Kerr also play a version of the system. The system is fun with lots of action. With the last major new system to become popular before I started playing in the late 1980s and the last artificial system, Precision, 50 years ago before the moon landing, bridge could use some novelty and fun to invigorate the game.

Best Regards,

Sam Dinkin

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