Thursday 21 February 2008

Systemic Opening Pass

Suppose we hold this hand as dealer, playing Polish Club:

S 8
H KQ73
C JT653

What do we do? The normal opening bid with this shape is 2C, but the club suit doesn't really look good enough for that. Alternatively we could consider opening 1C, but then partner will expect a balanced hand, not a small singleton in spades.

I believe that by far the best option is to pass this hand.

Now, certainly, this hand is better in terms of playing strength than a typical balanced 12-count which is an automatic opening bid. But when deciding whether to open the bidding it isn't all about strength. In particular it is perfectly appropriate to consider how well our system deals with the hand. Hands with this 1=4=3=5 shape are particularly bad for systems with a natural 2C opening, so there is no need to open them on minimum values. With only 12 HCPs, passing is not an unbearable risk.

As well as being a bad hand type for opening the bidding, there are also some reasons to think that passing will work quite well. This is essentially because of the singleton spade. The singleton improves the prospects for a pass in two ways:
  1. We are not so worried about the hand being passed out - firstly because the other players at the table are more likely to open if they have length is spades, and secondly because there is a good chance that if the deal is passed out, it actually "belonged" to the opponents in a spade contract.
  2. If the opponents do bid spades, this hand has a good way back into the auction via a take-out double.

So if you were ever going to consider passing a hand with opening strength, a 1=4=3=5 shape is the best candidate. Indeed the same is probably true in a natural system, though there the problem is not so much in finding an opening bid, as finding a rebid after 1C : 1S.

Having observed that it can work out well to pass, we could just use this as an occasional alternative on borderline hands. But it becomes much more interesting if it is an agreed part of the system. The systemic opening pass works like this:

  • We identify some specific shapes where passing seems to work well with minimum opening strength. (Let's say just 1=4=3=5 and 4=1=3=5.)
  • We agree that pass is allowed with these shapes on a little more strength than normal - say up to 13 HCP.
  • Now when a passed hand shows this sort of shape, partner will be aware that it can be relatively strong.
  • We can also define some specific bids which show these hand types as a passed hand.

Although partner will be aware of the possibility of a stronger hand, it would be a mistake to let this affect things like our style of opening the bidding in third seat. The relevant hand types are very rare. The whole point is that we would expect passing to work well even without partner doing anything differently - at least until the passed hand gets a chance to clarify what he has. So on the first round at least, partner should just bid as normal.

Once the partnership's methods are designed to cater for these hands being passed, the pass becomes even more attractive. So we could pass hands with these shapes even when the club suit is not so bad, perhaps even with a hand like this:

S AJ96
H 5
D 753

Note that these hands are still relatively bad for opening a natural 2C, because of the difficulty in investigating whether we belong in spades.

In the next post I'll go through some more implications of this agreement.


Paul Gipson said...

I believe Wilkinson-Sinclair, the U25 Scottish pair, were doing something similar at the Junior Camrose.

Playing a form of Precision, they passed 12-counts without 4-card diamond suit rather than open 1♦. This seemed strange when their 1NT rebid was allegedly 10-12.

I'll ask them properly for a description next time I see them.

Michael said...

You probably have to alert your opening passes though, don't you? If it could contain a 13 count then that's potentially very unexpected.

You should print up some flash cards or something, or the constant explanations could become quite annoying. :-)

DavidC said...

For alerting, as far as the EBU is concerned, I don't think they've ever considered this sort of agreement. So I don't believe anyone really knows at what point "sound minor-suit openings" turn into an alertable agreement (or even into an illegal agreement).

Personally I think the practical thing to do is explain it at the start of the round. I actually think it's extremely *un*helpful to alert things like this, as an alert makes people think it's more different from standard than it actually is.

Nick the Toll said...

David, the problem you raised is tough also in weak NT systems, when you can't even manifacture a 1NT rebid being short of values.

Years ago I read about a 2H opening bid, used by Eric Kokish in a weakNT-with-Multi base, showing a 5431 hand with four hearts and a five card minor, less than reverse strength. This 2H (or a similar 2D with natural 2M) can help to some extent, provided that one wants to give up any other use of the bid, and is ready to play at the two or three level anyway...

Does anybody know more about this bid?

Paul Gipson said...


Friends of mine play 2M as 9-14, 4M with longer minor. It has been the main generator of bidding problems for our email alias, with most of our comments being ... "well, I wouldn't start from here".

In particular, competitive sequences and invitational hands seem to struggle.