Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Polish Club: Responding to 1C

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:

  • 7-10(11) HCP balanced, no 4-card major. This has the advantage of preventing LHO from bidding a major at the 1-level. It's also a good start to the auction if opponents do compete. On the other hand, playing 1NT this way means that the sequence 1C : 1D , 1M : 1NT is underused and gives away too much information to the opponents (they could deduce that they have half the deck).
  • Showing 5+ diamonds (6+ diamonds if less than a game force). This would probably be used in conjuction with a 2D response showing 5 diamonds and 4 clubs. This has the advantage that all unbalanced hands with positive values can show their longest suit immediately over 1C, putting us in an excellent position in competitive auctions. The problem with using 1NT this way is that if the partnership has the values for game, it has probably wrong-sided the potential 3NT contract. We like to play methods where responder can show shortage when he has an unbalanced hand, but it is not so good to point out this weakness to the defence if this hand is going to be declarer.

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:

  • 0-6 HCP, any shape.
  • Up to 10 HCP with no 4-card major: balanced or 5D-4C.
  • Game force with 5+ diamonds, or invitational with 6+ diamonds.
  • Balanced game force with no 4-card major, not wanting to be declarer in no-trumps.

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.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Latest Developments in EBUland

For the bidding theorists amongst us, this minute from the latest meeting of the Tournament Committee is of interest:

The committee considered a letter from Bob Rowlands, addressed to various parties, including the Laws & Ethics Committee. The issue raised was the use of a system of transfer openings and responses [presumably moscito or something similar - DC] by a pair competing in the National Pairs Final. The pair was also the subject of previous similar correspondence regarding the National Inter-Club Knockout.

Mr Rowlands felt it was totally inappropriate that such a system should be allowed in events involving short rounds, when opponents have little chance to prepare themselves, and also in events such as the NICKO, which should be used to encourage club players to participate in national tournaments. If the EBU should stand by its decision to run all events at level 4, then this system should not be allowed at that level.

The committee unanimously agreed with Mr Rowlands’ sentiments, and wished to strongly recommend to the L&E that they reconsider their stance.

Despite playing a Level 4 system myself, I have to agree with this - in fact I said so in an earlier post. It just reinforces my belief that the "correct" level for general tournament play is somewhere "between" Level 3 and Level 4. It will be interesting to see what the L&E has to say about this, since they previously decided that it was "a Tournament Committee matter" ...

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Polish Club System Notes

One of the reasons I haven't posted much on my blog recently is that I've been writing up my system notes for Polish Club. This is a system that I've been playing recently with Mike Bell, and we've tried to come up with a version which is an improvement on standard Polish Club variants such as WJ.

The notes can now be downloaded from this page.

The notes focus only on the 1C opening, and are very detailed, with a particularly extensive section on dealing with interference.

A few things that make our version different from other Polish Club variants such as WJ05 are:
  • All balanced hands without a 5-card suit in the 12-14 HCP range are opened 1C.
  • Not all 18+ HCP hands are opened 1C: some are opened 1D or 1H instead.
  • The 2C and 2D responses to 1C are not forcing; we have artificial sequences to deal with game-forcing minor-suit hands.
  • The 1NT response to 1C is invitational.
  • After an overcall, we use a mixture of natural bids and transfers by responder.
  • There are many other artificial sequences, both in an uncontested auction and in competition, including frequent use of opener's diamond rebids as artificial.

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.