in the EBU's online survey.
I would like to think that they were making some ironic statement about the deficiencies in the EBU's polling methods.
Playing Half-Astro there are not so many hand-types to worry about: instead of three possible two-suiters in each bid, we have only one (for 2C) or two (for 2D). And after either of these bids, overcaller's partner can use the next step to ask which suit is longer.
Of course, what Half-Astro does not have is a way to show hearts and a minor. With these hands we have to bid naturally (or pass if we do not have a suit good enough to overcall). But this is not such a huge disadvantage, since showing two-suited hands without spades is less important - sometimes when we could find a heart fit opponents might be able to bid spades over it.
I play this defence because it is effective and yet very simple. You could agree it with a new partner and expect not to have any mishaps. It's one of the very few conventions I've come up with which has been taken up by people who aren't my partners!
Since I posted the link to the Polish Club system notes last week a few of us have been practising bidding on BBO. Some parts of the notes have been clarified, and we've made some slight changes to the auctions after 1C : 1D , 1M. I expect there will be a few more details changed while we get used to playing the system. The latest version is on the webpage.
This post is about the response structure that we've chosen to use.
The responses are built around a 1D negative; 1H and 1S are natural with 6+ HCP. This is not the only possible way of doing things, but it is by far the simplest, and it's not obviously worse than anything else. When playing Polish Club, a 1D negative is very useful so that all the other responses can promise enough strength for game when opener has the strong hand. With more natural systems many people have started to use transfer responses to 1C, but if these were incorporated into Polish Club you would have to worry about how to show a strong hand while leaving open the possibility of playing in a part-score. While it is interesting to investigate how you might get this to work, I don't feel it offers any improvement on the simple negative. Another possibility is to keep the 1D negative but invert 1H and 1S; this seems to be more trouble than it's worth, forcing the bidding to 2S when opener has clubs and spades, which is worse than forcing to 2H when he has clubs and hearts.
So, our 1D, 1H and 1S responses are essentially the same as in most Polish Club variants. The other responses are perhaps a little more unusual.
In WJ05, the 2C response is forcing (with at least invitational strength), and weaker hands with clubs have to start with 1D. We prefer to bid an immediate 2C on the hands which want to play in 2C when partner has a weak NT. So 2C shows about 6-10 HCP with a 5+ suit. This works particularly well if the opponents interfere: then we are pleased to have got the club suit in immediately, whereas if we had started with 1D we would be worried about missing a club fit and do not have a strong enough hand to compete at high levels without help from opener. Even if the auction is uncontested, the 2C response is an excellent way to start when opener has a strong hand, because responder has shown a suit and limited his hand, and opener's rebids are all very easy, forcing to game with 18+.
Of course we have to find somewhere else to put the strong hands with clubs, and we use the 2H and 2S responses for this. These bids are not particularly useful as natural bids. In WJ they are natural and show strong hands, but this does not come up very often, and if opener has a weak NT (as usually happens) we have so much space available after 1C : 1M , 1NT that there is no problem showing the strong hands there. In a natural system I like to use 1C : 2M as weakish (maybe 4-8 HCP), but the main advantage of this is that 1C : 1M , 2C : 2M can then be an invitational hand (rather than having to jump to 3M). This is not needed in Polish Club because the 2C rebid promises extra strength. Using 1C : 2M to show an even weaker hand would just pre-empt partner in the very likely event that he has the strong type. So none of the normal, natural meanings for 2M make much sense in my opinion. This, then, is the perfect place to put some strong hands with a minor suit. In fact we use 2H to show precisely 5 clubs and 2S to show 6 or more.
Next we need to think about the 1NT response. It's actually rather difficult to find a suitable meaning for 1NT. Here are two possibilities that we considered:
In the end we have chosen to do neither of those things: our 1NT response is natural and shows invitational values opposite the weak type (a good 10 or 11 HCP). This is one of those bids which is a bit infrequent but is great when it comes up; it avoids having to go to 2NT to make an invite. In fact we might use this bid even on some hands with a 4-card major. We can compare this to the 1NT response in WJ05, which shows 9-11 HCP. This seems an odd choice: it is not a genuine invite, and if you allow opener to bid 2NT on a maximum weak NT you might play an unnecessary 2NT with 14 opposite 9. If you're happy bidding 1C : 1D , 1M : 1NT on an 8-count, it seems much more sensible to do this on 9-10 as well, so that 1C : 1NT can be a real invite.
Our 2D response shows 6-10 HCP with 6+ diamonds, similar to the 2C response showing clubs. This means that our 2-level responses look rather similar to those in some Swedish Club systems (2C/2D natural and not forcing, 2H/2S show strong minor-oriented hands). However, we cannot bid 2D on hands with a bad 5-card diamond suit because we frequently have shortage in diamonds for our 1C opening. So hands with 5 diamonds in this range have to go through the negative instead - these hands will either be balanced or have 4+ clubs, since we would bid 1M with a 4-card major. We also have to start with the negative on strong hands with primary diamonds.
Our 1D "negative" in fact has four possibilities:
As with most Polish Club variants, this means that if the auction begins 1C : 1D , 1M both partners could still have a very wide range of hands. But it is very easy to sort things out: responder bids 1NT if he wants to play there opposite a weak NT type, and now opener can make a very descriptive rebid if he has a stronger hand. We use responder's 2C and 2D rebids artificially: 2C shows the strong hand with diamonds, and 2D shows the 5D-4C type with 6-10 HCP. We do not need to worry too much about interference in this auction because both opponents have passed at least once already.
Some of the reasons for these things have already been discussed in this blog. I might write about a few of the other ideas at some point.
These are absolutely non-negotiable. To give an example, it was once suggested that all take-out doubles should be announced as "take-out" and all penalty doubles should be announced as "penalties". This scores well in terms of being easy to understand, and does solve disclosure problems, but it still would be an awful regulation because of the second condition: in complicated auctions, no-one has firm agreements about the meanings of doubles (though they might have general agreements which are relevant), so they can't be expected to make an announcement.
In addition to the above points, there are two other things that would be helpful:
However, these are not as essential as the three main conditions above, and indeed these two things tend to work in opposite directions: unusual methods will generally be more difficult to describe.
Given these conditions, there are only a very restricted number of situations where announcements might usefully apply. Two in particular stand out, and I would like to talk about those.
1. "Negative" Doubles
This forms part of my wider ideas on the alerting of doubles. In contrast to the proposal mentioned above where all penalty and take-out doubles would be announced, which I think is a terrible idea, there is one particular situation where announcing doubles might well be useful. This is when there has been an opening bid, followed by a natural suit overcall from opener's LHO (below 3NT) and a double from opener's partner. Ignore for the moment the importance of making the rules in this situation consistent with the rules for doubles in general. What would be the best rule in an auction such as 1S : (3D) : Dbl ? My suggestion is this:
This would solve two problems that we currently have in this situation: firstly that some players who play double as penalties don't realise they have to alert, and secondly that when a double is not alerted, some opponents feel the need to check that it really is a take-out double as it is supposed to be.
But perhaps the best thing about this rule is that it also works when the opening bid was at the 2-level, or was in NT. In the auction 1NT : (2H) : Dbl , for example, the traditional and most popular meaning is penalties: so again the current rule means we have problems with people not alerting penalty doubles, but here it's worse because opponents might get the wrong idea even if it is disclosed correctly. And in the auction 2S : (3C) : Dbl , I've seen people very angry to find out that they were supposed to have alerted a penalty double. The EBU's current rule (an unalerted double is take-out) does well in minimizing alerts when the opening bid was a natural 1-of-a-suit, but people find it terribly confusing in the other situations.
Of course, my suggested rule wouldn't fit in with the rules we have at the moment about alerting for doubles in other situations. It is designed to be part of a system where, with the one exception for negative doubles, only very unusual doubles are alertable. In fact my specific suggestion was that apart from the negative double situation, no doubles would be alertable except:
So really while the rules for the specific negative double auction may appear slightly more complicated than the current ones, the scheme as a whole is much simpler.
[Incidentally, I could do with some help in lobbying about this, so if you think this is a good idea, or even if you just agree with the basic principle that neither take-out nor penalty doubles should be alertable in auctions more complicated than the "negative double" auction, please grab your nearest L&E member or other influential person and tell them.]
2. Opening bids which are currently alertable
This is an obvious candidate for announcements because opponents will very often want to know the meaning of such a bid. As with a natural 1NT opening, the problem is opponents asking questions. For example, after a 1C opening it is easy for an opponent to ask a question in such a way that he reveals that he has clubs himself. While we could say that opponents should be able to find out the meaning by looking at the convention card, experience suggests that even when a convention card is available, opponents still like to ask directly.
In theory, all opening bids which are currently alerted could be announced instead. That would certainly be a simple enough rule to understand. But it might be wise to look at narrower categories of opening bids.
So there are particularly good arguments for those opening bids to be announced. Note that this wouldn't make the rules much more complicated, since "announce natural 2-of-a-suit bids" becomes "announce all 2-of-a-suit bids" and the "short" 1C/1D is an unusual method which most players would not need to worry about. Having said that, I think there is still a good case for all alertable opening bids to become announcements instead.
But there is one difficulty which I've avoided talking about so far. That is, there is such a wide variety of possible meanings for these bids, it would be impossible to define "official" wordings for announcements for them all. I used to think that this made the idea of announcements for these bids a non-starter, but now I don't believe it would be a serious problem at all. The solution is to allow players to word their annoucements in whatever way they think best, but to have a list of recommended announcements for the more common methods. (These recommended announcements would include the short ones we already have for natural two-level suit bids.) Add to this a little bit of common sense - for example if a relatively long explanation is given the first time a bid comes up, a shorter form would be acceptable if it comes up again against the same opponents - and I think it would be fine.
The other opening bids in the system are mostly natural. The 1D opening promises 4+ diamonds, but may have a longer club suit. 1H and 1S are natural 5-card major openings. 1NT is 15-17. And 2C shows a minimum opener with 6+ clubs, or 5 clubs and a 4-card major, "Precision-style". Higher opening bids are pre-emptive.
Some slight variations on this are possible. The above is what seems to be the standard, as described in "WJ05".
One variation which is a significant change is to discard the Precision 2C opening, and open all natural club hands with 1C, freeing up the 2C bid either for another pre-empt, or to show some very strong hands. This makes a huge difference to how the 1C opening works, and I would hesitate to call such a system "Polish Club", though the name does still get used. Furthermore, I think this version is inferior, and I won't be considering it here.
But WJ05 is not perfect either, and I would prefer to make some changes. Most of the changes would be to some of the more detailed sequences later on in the auction, but some other changes are to do with the opening bids. In the rest of this post I'll explain why I like the opening bids in Polish Club, and how I would try to make things even better than in WJ05.
First of all, the natural 1D, 1M and 2C bids are an excellent way of showing shape, particularly the 5-card major openings which are very homogeneous. With 1D promising 4+ cards, this is clearly better than in systems like Standard American where a 3-card suit is allowed with 4=4=3=2 shape.
A strong NT opening is, as we saw, an excellent way to ensure that you show strength on balanced hands. In Polish Club, the strength of any balanced opening hand of up to 17 HCP will be adequately shown by the opening bid. For stronger hands, the strength is not shown immediately, so these hands are treated as two-bid hands. This is sometimes a problem, though of course it is a problem shared by most standard systems. In competition at high levels, opener's double tends to show this sort of hand.
The advantages of the 1C opening itself are similar to those of the Swedish 1C opening. It is important to remember that, when compared to the 1C opening in standard systems, the Polish 1C opening does a much better job of describing minimum balanced hands. In competition, responder will initially assume the weak NT hand type, and this means can bid his suits much more freely than he would be able to opposite a standard 1C opening since he can expect some support. Essentially, the advantage here is that we are showing the shape of minimum balanced hands, as well as the strength. While strength is usually more important for balanced hands, being able to show the shape as well is a huge advantage over standard systems, particularly since these hands are so frequent. Of course, playing a weak 1NT opening would do this just as well, but by playing Polish Club you can describe the shape and strength of both the weak NT and the strong NT hand types.
The main problem with the Swedish 1C opening is the lack of flexibility: the "strong" hand types have to take a second bid (or else risk not showing their strength), which does not work well if those hands are not pure two-bid hands. Polish Club is slightly better in this respect since it is a more conservative system. In Swedish Club, the strong hands typically start at 17 HCP, whereas Polish Club requires about one point more than that. This may not sound like much of a difference, but it does tend to make the strong types a little more pure.
I like to modify this so that the strong hand types are even purer. As I've said, I don't believe that playing limited openings is an end in itself: rather, it is important to look at whether a natural opening bid would be a better start to the auction on some types of strong hands. One particular hand type to look at is where diamonds is the longest suit:
My feeling is that it is much more effective to open hands like this with 1D, compared to 1C. They are difficult to describe after a 1C opening because (amongst other things) a 2D rebid is usually defined to be artificial. Also, in competition, it will be difficult to describe the shape of this hand in one bid: you might be able to make a take-out double of spades, for example, but this wouldn't tell partner about the diamond length. And if the opponents bid some other suit (say they compete to 3C) it is a very difficult hand to get across. Opening 1D makes it much easier to describe the shape of the hand, usually either by reversing into hearts or making a take-out double of spades. If you change the hand to be a diamond single-suiter then it is less clear, but I still prefer to open these 1D in order to clarify the rebids after a 1C opening.
So in my version of Polish Club the 1D opening is not limited: it can be anything up to 21 HCP or thereabouts - only with a game-forcing hand would the opening bid be 1C.
When the longest suit is a major, things are different. The 1C opening is an excellent description of strong major single-suiters. So we definitely want to continue opening 1C with these. But with a more flexible hand, or a two-suiter, a natural opening might work better in competition. My preference, for hands with exactly five cards in the major, is to open 1H holding hearts but 1C holding spades. So 1H is not a limited opening (though it denies a single-suited hand with 18+ HCP), but 1S is. The reason for the difference is mainly that you are much less afraid of competition when holding spades. Holding the boss suit you can outbid the opponents on any level. Also, on a flexible hand you have the option of doubling and correcting partner's response to spades. This would often not be possible if you held hearts, since correcting a spade bid to hearts would mean raising the level of the auction. By opening 1C you get the advantages of showing strength. Note also that contructive bidding is slightly easier over 1H than over 1S (you have more space) so there is a little bit of extra room to fit in the additional hands which are opened 1H.
By moving many of these strong hands from 1C into 1D and 1H, particularly the "flexible" hands with 18-20 HCP or so, the remaining hand types in 1C are more likely to be pure two-bid hands, or at least are easier to describe with the second bid. This is what we wanted from our multi-way 1C opening.
Of course, getting in the way slightly are the "medium club" hands, which are the main difference between Polish Club and Swedish Club. The natural option of the 1C opening bid contains hands of 15-17 HCP which are almost certainly not pure two-bid hands, and so these can be a problem. These hands are also present in the 1C opening in standard systems, but there you have the option of rebidding in a new suit - this is not usually possible in Polish Club since such a bid would show the strong variant. Generally, if the bidding is at a very low level (certainly at the 1-level), you are better off than in standard systems since when you rebid clubs partner knows you must have at least 15 HCP. But if the bidding has reached the 3-level then life is much more difficult. Perhaps, though, the most important auctions to consider are when the bidding has reached the 2-level. This can happen because of an opponent's 2-level bid, but it will also frequently be due to partner bidding at the 2-level "to play opposite a weak NT". Unless opener has support for partner's suit, his usual action in this situation will be to rebid 3C. But this obviously requires a decent club suit. So you have a problem with a hand like this:
There's not really much you can do about it: this is precisely the hand you do not want to hold playing Polish Club. The biggest worry is that the auction might go 1C : (1S) : 2H and now you're hopelessly stuck. I don't offer any easy solution to this nightmare hand, but one thing I am certain of - you should aim to open 1NT as often as possible. Change the hand slightly to
and now I would say a 1NT opening is clear despite the weak doubleton. This works best when you are at the minimum end of the range for 1NT, since there is less chance then that your extra shape will cause you to miss a game. Hands with six clubs in a 6-3-2-2 pattern can also be opened 1NT if the club suit is weak, but single-suiters are less of a problem for a 1C opening since they are generally happy to rebid 3C if necessary.
There is one more big change that I like to make to the opening bids in Polish Club, which I will explain in the next post.
Still, while you can never say that one idea is more important than anything else - it is so much more complex than that - description is the main thing that I look for in a bidding system. And it is all too easy to overlook description if you are not careful: while pre-emption is generally easy to spot, and leaving holes in uncontested sequences will also be easily picked up, protecting your side against opponents' bidding is a much more subtle problem.
Let's end by listing the main principles we've come across:
How often have you looked at your hand and thought, "I haven't described my hand as well as I would like, but I don't have a good bid available." This problem is exactly what we are trying to avoid. It doesn't require lots of artificial bidding - indeed one of the main themes is that standard natural systems are very effective. But whether your preference is for natural systems or for lots of artificiality, by following these principles as far as possible your hands will be easier to bid.