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The square peg I am referring to is the upgrading of hands to fit the round hole of the 1NT or 2NT opening range.

The arguments to support the upgrading are:

“I had a good hand!”

“I had a 5cd suit!”

The “good hand” argument posits that aces and tens are undervalued. No one will disagree with this argument but, it seems to me that, the upgraders have not considered that changing the basis of valuation affects other parts of the equation. “Traditional” valuation says that 25HCP are needed to make 3NT and this is predicated upon a 40HCP deck. If you are going to change valuation methods to say 4.5 value points for an ace and 0.25 value point for a ten then you have a deck that holds 43HCP. Under this “new” valuation the HCP needed to make 3NT should also be adjusted. 25HCP is 62.5% of “traditional” valuations and is time tested and seems a reasonable benchmark for 3NT. So if one is upgrading for aces and tens, then the needed benchmark HCP for 3NT should also be adjusted to 27HCP. But, of course, that’s not what happens. Opener values based on “new” valuation and Responder raises based on “traditional” valuation.

A common upgraded 1NT is AKxx, Txx, Tx, AKxx. Holding say QTx, Kxx, Q9x, QJx any traditionally valuing Responder will raise to 3NT. Sure, 3NT might make but it is rated to go down around 80% of the time. However, using “new” valuation, Responder will rate his hand a good 10 and will issue an invitational raise, which Opener will pass. Using “traditional” valuation methods most pairs will stop in 1NT, and there will be some in the precarious 2NT.

The traditional valuation approach has accounted for some distribution of the aces and tens between hands that has distilled into 25HCP as a good benchmark for 3NT. If one hand has more than it’s share of aces and tens then the other hands will have less. Sometimes both partners will have extras and you get overtricks; and sometimes both partners have less and you go down. So if you adjust one hand for “extras”, partner should also evaluate using similar methodology for the sake of consistency. The approach has to be holistic! 

The 5cd suit argument has merit, but can it be any 5cd suit? Consider the following two hands opposite this dummy: Qxxx, Kxx, Q9x, QJx:

Hand 1: AKx, Tx, Txx, AKxxx                                                                     

Hand 2: AKx, Qx, JTx, A98xx.

Hand #1 has good chances to make 3NT, whereas Hand#2 virtually none. The difference is the good 5cd suit. We have all made 3NT with a combined 21HCP holding a running suit ( AKQxxx ) and three aces on the side. The key ingredient is the running suit. There are many upgraders who dont make this distinction. 

Undoubtedly, the idea to upgrade started with astute players looking for an edge in hand evaluation. Others have latched on to the idea of upgrading without considering all the ramifications. I remember a hand from the Palo Alto Sectional a couple of years ago where one opponent opened 1NT and his partner passed holding what seemed an obvious “traditional” invite, and scored a top. The aggrieved pair showed responder’s hand to Chris Compton, whose response was, “well, if partner is one who upgrades his NT opening, I am passing this hand!”. The world class players have an holistic approach to system!

I seem to be in the minority in looking at upgrading in this way. And so I put down my thoughts and look forward to comments from the BW Community on the issue. 

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