Last week, we discussed the Bergen and Lawrence styles of rebidding after a 2/1 game-forcing response, and advantages and disadvantages of each approach. The comments were interesting, and showed that I clearly struck a nerve. Many players came to the defense of the Lawrence approach. In the comments, I promised to show a different approach that provides the benefits of both approaches.
John Schuler of San Diego came up with a bidding twist which I find superior to either Lawrence's or Bergen's method. John noticed that if you reverse the meanings of opener's 2M and 2NT rebid, you solve most of the problems of both styles. His approach provides the benefits of the Bergen school without wrong-siding 3NT contracts or forcing opener to bid out his pattern on dead minimum hands.
The advantage of the Bergen structure was unambiguously showing extra length in opener's major at the 2-level which helped find 6-2 and 7-2 fits, makes slam possibilities more clear to responder when responder holds 3-card support and sets the stage for further clear descriptive rebids. John liked this advantage, so he used the sequence 1M -- 2X -- 2NT to show 6+ cards in the major suit to keep that benefit.
The disadvantages of the Bergen structure (and the strength of the Lawrence structure) were two. First, rebidding 2NT often lacks a stopper in an unbid suit. Second, if opener has only a 5-card suit and he can not rebid 2NT, then he must bid his second suit, even if it raises the auction uncomfortably high and even with a dead minimum. For example:
Holding this dead minimum opener, the Bergen structure has opener rebid 3♣, a call that was once known as a "high reverse." 3♣ propels the auction high, without giving responder any notion whether opener holds extras and hence whether slam is in the air. Opener might hold 11 or 18 for this sequence. With such a wide range for opener, and with space rapidly running out below 3NT, the partnership wil be forced to guess well to get to its slams without getting overboard if 3NT is the limit. In the Lawrence style, opener would instead rebid a comfortable 2♥ on this example hand. He would need at least another king to justify a 3♣ call. Since the Lawrence 3♣ bid has a higher minimum floor, it makes slam auction easier after a Lawrence 3♣ than a Bergen 3♣--responder will guess less often.
Like Lawrence style, the Schuler shift rebids 2M to show exactly a 5-card major with no good descriptive rebid. 2M is a waiting bid announcing "I have nothing more to say at the moment" and allows responder to continue describing his hand. Since 2M is waiting, any call other than 2M promises either extra shape or extra values (similar to Lawrence style). So where does Schuler differ? Using the Schuler shift, opener will rebid 2M on hands where Lawrence-style bids a natural 2NT. This may seem scary, but the reality is virtually nothing is lost. If responder has a notrumpy type hand, he can bid 2NT. If not, he will make a natural call and opener can rebid 3NT at his next turn. Here is the entire structure:
Schuler Shift Structure
1M -- 2X -- ?
Rebid 2♠. If partner bids 2NT, rebid 3♣.
Rebid 2♠. If partner bids 2NT, raise to 3NT. If partner rebids 3♣, you will rebid 3NT.
Rebid 2♠. If partner bids 2NT, raise to 3NT. If partner rebids 3♣, you will rebid 3H to show your heart stopper and deny a diamond stopper.
Rebid 2NT. Show your sixth spade. 3NT is unlikely to be the final contract.
Rebid 2♠. This is the exception to the rule. With your 6-2-3-2 distribution, 3NT is a probable final contract, and your hand will not relish being declarer. Bid 2♠, nominally denying a 6th spade, and planning to raise 2NT to 3NT.
If partner rebids 3♣, you can correct to 3♠ to show your excellent spades.
Rebid 2♠. Another exception. Once again, 3NT is a probable final contract, so its best to treat this as a 5-card suit.
The weakness of the Lawrence structure comes from using one bid, the 2M rebid, on two different types of hands:
Merging these handtypes into one bid leads to problems later in the auction as the partnership struggles to disambiguate which hand type opener holds. Schuler shift also uses 2M to show two hand types:
The difference is that the playing strength of a natural 2NT and a minimum opener with a 5-card major is far more similar. Even if responder does not know which of these two you have, he has a good general idea of how much strength and shape to expect. Consequently, he is already well-placed to judge when slam is or is not likely and it is much easier for responder to evaluate his hand. In addition, since 2M denies a 6-card major, when opener continues the auction by raising or showing a second suit, he absolutely denies 6-4 or 6-3 shape. For example, in the auction below, opener can unambiguously show a 5-4 minimum with doubts about the wisdom of playing 3NT.
The Schuler 2NT rebid puts responder in a similar position after a Bergen 2M rebid. He has lost a little bidding room (he no longer has a 2NT rebid) and so for that reason responder is slightly worse off. You may fear getting to 3NT from the wrong side when opener shows a 6-card major. As long as opener shows good judgement, and doesn't rebid 2NT on 6322 hands with poor side-suit holdings, this risk is small.
In practice, I have had excellent success with the Schuler shift. It has helped me reach 3NT from the right side more often, it has helped us to play 3NT with 5-3 major fits when that was right, and it has made some slam auctions much easier. I recommend it to all of you as a first step to improving 2/1 bidding.
Schuler Shift is a step on the road to a more general improved structure in 2/1 auctions. In the coming weeks, I will talk more about improving 2/1 auctions, including the treatment that 1M -- 2♣ can be bid without clubs and extending the artificial Schuler notion to more auctions.
Plus... it's free!