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What's the thickest part of your system notes?
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If you're like most people, the 1NT opening, continuations, running from doubles and handling sundry interference is easily the biggest section of your system notes. The sections for 1C,1D,1H and 1S openers will have a lot of commonality which keeps them compact. So the question is do you want to make your system more compact, get rid of all the special cases and bizarre, non-natural stuff e.g. 1N-2D-2H-3S and 1N-2H-2S-3H where the last bid is artificial and sets the transfer major. Even more would you like to get extra and simpler slam bidding sequences. Lastly, there's the steak knives!

How do we do this? Well let's take it in small steps. Firstly, a question: is 2NT a contract you like playing in? Of course not! If you make 9 tricks, you have underbid and if you make 7 you have overbid. If you make 8 tricks, the scoring table doesn't pay you any more than those in 1NT and they are more able to survive a bad split or less than optimum line of play. Can we play without an invitational 2NT response?

Assuming you play a 3 point range 1NT opening it seems easy to implement. It doesn't work for a 4 point range 1NT. When holding a flattish hand, just bid using these two rules

  • if the total partnership points are <= 25, stop in 1NT
  • if the total partnership points are >= 24, reach 3NT (or 4M)

This means that 8 points opposite a 15-17 1NT always passes and 9 points always reaches game. Simple! It has the advantage that there is no number between 8 and 9 so no need for that pesky invite. It needs a little care with revaluation with a (minor) suit of AQ10xx and a side queen but that's not difficult. Try it or, at least annotate it's outcomes beside yr current method on your score sheet. Now 1N-2C-2any-2N is forcing and asking any sensible question you might desire like asking for 4 card minors, asking for fragments, asking for unstopped suits. Whatever you feel! Any ideas?

Having gotten over that step you feel strangely bound to question more invitational bids! Are they just something invented by teachers to make the game seem more complicated and to increase their own chances of employment and/or remuneration? Aren't 3H and 3S just as unattractive contracts as 2NT was since they are only correct when exactly 9 tricks are available and offer no scoring advantage over a 2M contract? Perhaps we should allow contract of 2M and 4M only and make 3M always forcing (except in competitive auctions, obviously).

In these days of Stayman/Smolen, one solution to setting a major forcingly seems to be transferring to it and then bidding 3 of the other major to artificially set the first one. It's an OK method for practised partnerships but how much simpler is it for most people to play 1N-2D-2H-3H and 1N-2H-2S-3S as natural and forcing with slam interest. With no slam interest one could bid 1N-2D-2H-4H but a 4 level transfer, like 1N-4C-4H, is less likely to let the oppo in. I hear you say "but it's even easier to use 1NT-3M for that hand" and that's so; as far as it goes. How are you going to handle all the hands like {13}{54} that currently reside in those spots?

This works well with 6 card suits but what about 5 card suits? You could handle it via 2C then a forcing 2NT continuation in two obvious ways (ask for 5 then show 4 or show 4 then show the fifth) but there is  another solution available and it even let's you keep some invites if you must!

There are number of continuation over 1NT openings and rebids which are similar like 2-way checkback, 3-way checkback, XYZ, Keri and a Gladiator based method described in Richard Fleet's article (for which he is happy to distribute the PDF) for Bridge Magazine. Basically all these methods give you, at least some of, 3 ways to proceed after 1NT:

  • 2C is a puppet to 2D and weak with diamonds or the following bid has a prescribed forcingness (weak, inv or FG)
  • 2D is artificial and the following bid has a second prescribed forcingness (weak, inv or FG)
  • 2M is natural and the following bid has a third prescribed forcingness (weak, inv or FG)
  • 2N is a puppet to 3C and is weak with clubs or a fourth prescribed forcingness (weak, inv or FG)

The checkback and XYZ schemes set 2C->2D to introduce an invitational bid; 2D to be FG and 2M to be weak. The Gladiator system described sets 1NT-2M as the invite so that you can play 2M, 3N or 4M (but not 2NT, of course). Using this sort of scheme requires the Gladiator puppet (of 2C->2D) to handle a wide range of hands but they are weak (or, at least, non-ongoing) or FG. The invitation hands are dealt with in one bid and don't suffer dangers in transfer sequences like 1N-(P)-2D-(3D) where opener has no idea whether partner has nothing or something. It's an interesting approach but the strong 1NT herd is a transfer herd and won't go there!

There is a small group of players, in Geelong and Melbourne, who have been playing this (no invites) for a few months without any problems arising so far.  What do you think?

Sorry, I lied about the steak knives!

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