- 12-14 HCP, balanced (usually without 4 diamonds) or 4=4=1=4;
- 15+ HCP with a real club suit;
- 18+ HCP with any shape.
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.