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Defense against Polish Club
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The Polish Club system can be tricky to deal with. In the 1993 Bermuda Bowl, Balicki-Zmudzinski were no longer able to play their forcing pass system, and changed to Polish Club instead. Apparently one of the later winners said he was more comfortable defending the forcing pass system than Polish Club...

Before choosing a defense, it's important to know what your opponents are doing. Opening bids of 1 through 2 are natural, so we don't worry about those. 2 nowadays is often used as Multi, which is probably one or more articles by itself. I'll therefore focus on the defense to the 1 bid. In general, 1 can be one of the following four hand types:

  • 11+ - 14 NT
  • 12 - 17, three-suiter with shortness (e.g. 4414) 
  • 15 - 17, 5+ unbalanced 
  • 18+ any 

Without further information, opener approximately has a weak notrump 60% of the time, a strong hand 30% of the time and one of the other two types 5% of the time.

Responder then bids 1 negative (may also include some stronger hands without 4-card major), or bids naturally with constructive hands. In contrast to most natural bidders, a response of 1/1 shows a "real hand", e.g. it isn't bid on Axxxx and out (as they have 1 available as a negative response). An example hand of this is shown on the next page.

After 1 - 1, opener's 1NT rebid shows a big notrump (too strong for the 1NT opener of 15 - 17), which means that with a weak NT, opener has to invent a 3-card major (1 or 1 rebid). Some prefer to always bid 1 without a 4-card spade suit.

Weaknesses of the system

Since we are defending, I won't go into the advantages of the system. Rather I will focus on the two main weaknesses of the system:

1. If we take a lot of space in the first bidding round after 1, this may be uncomfortable for opener.

2. If opener has a weak NT opposite a negative 1 response, they may be in trouble, especially vulnerable.

The first one can of course be attacked by bidding a lot, which isn't really a helpful advice, since we also have to be careful about constructive bidding. The second can only be taken advantage of if you know about it beforehand, as will become clear below.

Suggested simple defense

Many pairs use "treat as natural" after a Polish 1. I think this is not optimal because, as we have seen above, the hand types that really show clubs (the 3-suiter and the intermediate hand) only make up about 10% of the 1 openers! Even including the other hand types, is opener's longest suit less than 50% of the time. Instead it should be treated as "either a weak 1NT or a strong 1", which means that is not a "bid suit".

One simple way of defending against the Polish 1 is as follows:

  • Dbl: Major-oriented T/O double (e.g. a normal T/O of 1 or 1, or any 18+ hand)
  • 1/1/1: Natural overcall
  • 1NT: 5+ with a 4-card major
  • 2: Natural overcall
  • 2: 5+ 5+
  • 2/2: Weak jump overcall
  • 2NT: 5+ 5+
  • 3/3/3/3: Weak Jump Overcall

The first thing you might notice about this defence is that a strong notrump is never mentioned. This is intentional. I suggest passing initially with a strong notrump, but I will cover this later. Another thing is although this list looks simple, there is more to it.

Further bidding after (1) Dbl

I hear you say: Well, I know how to bid after a T/O double! There is however one thing missing here: the opponent's suit. Since 1 says nothing about clubs, it is perfectly fine to double with, say, 13 HCP and 4=3=2=4 shape. This means that advancer might want to scramble into some major suit 4-3 fit a lot of the time. However, this is only really a problem if responder passes. In this case, we use their own system against the Polish Clubbers and use 1 as a negative:

(1) Dbl (Pass*) ?

* Negative with 3+

  • Pass: 6+ HCP with good 4-card or 5+ (bid 1NT if you don't want to pass)
  • 1: Negative (0-5)
  • 1/1: Natural, promises at least 6 HCP, forcing
  • 1NT: 6 - 10 HCP, no 4-card major, "to play"
  • 2: Cuebid (both majors)
  • 2: "Inverted minor": 11+ with 5+
  • 2: 6 - 9 HCP, 5-card suit
  • 2NT: Natural invitation, not enough to pass

Note that after the most likely response, 1 or 1, we can now bid just as if we had opened 1 in a minor. This is much more efficient than the T/O-double structure that most of us have available. Also, we don't expect too much interference after this point, giving us enough space to find out if we have game or not.

Responder has a second way to make a negative response, which is 1. Since this denies clubs, over (1) Dbl (1), we treat diamonds as the "opponent's suit". Notice however that opener can hardly pass this, as he has a maximum of 4 cards in and partner's shape is not known. For this reason, we use a forcing pass here, not allowing 1-X to be the final contract.

(1) Dbl (1*) ?

* Negative with 0-2

  • Pass: Negative, or strong with interest in a penalty (partner will Dbl with most hands)
  • Dbl: 6+ HCP, 4+
  • 1/1: Natural, promises at least 6 HCP, forcing
  • 1NT: 6 - 10, no 4-card major, "to play"
  • 2: 6 - 9 HCP, 5+
  • 2: Cuebid (both majors)
  • 2/2: 6 - 9 HCP, 5+card
  • 2NT: Natural invitation

Of course, if responder bids something else (positive), we are in a similar situation as if we would be after a natural opening bid. However, we do not treat clubs as a "bid suit" here:

(1) Dbl (1) ?

  • Dbl: 4+
  • 2: Natural
  • 2: Cuebid

Note that this is a change from "standard" bidding, in which 2 is a natural bid for most players. Nevertheless, since opener often doesn't have clubs, this bid is needed more. Also, in case responder was kidding with his 1 response, don't do him the favor of letting him off the hook by bidding a natural 2.

Bidding in the sandwich position

In the sandwich position, there are two basic scenarios: Either responder has made a positive response, or he has bid 1. Let's look at the 1 case first:

(1: Polish) p (1: negative or some hands w/o 4-card major) ?

Again if we have a good hand, we know that opener often has a weak notrump, and responder often has an unspecified weak hand. The situation is similar to in direct position. Again we are not in a hurry to bid 1NT on a strong NT, however we now have one step fewer available to us. For this reason, the 1NT overcall covers either minor.

  • Dbl: Major-oriented T/O
  • 1/1: Natural
  • 1NT: Unspecified 6-card minor
  • 2/2: 5-card suit + a 4-card major
  • 2/2: Preemptive

As in direct position, we pass with a strong NT.

When responder has made a positive response, then we can throw out 1 as a "bid suit" and focus on responder's bid by assuming responder has actually opened the bidding. Note that again there is limited urgency to show a strong NT, because unlike natural bidders, 1 - 1M is not bid on tram tickets. For example:

West
AK53
J6
KQ3
KQ93
East
42
A8432
842
842
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

In "standard", you would hate to pass out 1 so you will respond 1, hoping to survive the inevitable 2NT rebid by partner. Polish Clubbers can bid a negative 1 and get the contract into the strong hand on a safe level. Therefore 1 p 1 is rarely bid on a hand with less than 6 decent HCP.

(1) p (1) ?

  • Dbl: T/O against
  • Suit: Natural
  • 1NT: 4-card in the other major + longer minor
  • 2: and a minor
  • 2NT: Both minors

Similarly, after (1) p (1NT) we can use our favorite defense against a strong NT opening bid.

Bidding with a Strong Notrump

When holding a strong notrump, our first action is to pass. Now there are several scenarios:

1) Responder makes a negative response, opener makes a rebid of 1/1.

This is the most likely case when we have the majority of points. When opener has a weak notrump, the major can be shorter than four cards. Now a double shows a strong NT with 4 cards in opener's "suit", and 1NT shows a strong NT without 4 cards in opener's suit. The first available suit bid (1 or 2) shows a T/O of opener's major.. Responder makes a negative response, opener rebids 1NT or 2.

This is the situation you are hoping for:

West
A76
KJ76
K76
K76
North
KQ10
AQ108
Q109
Q109
East
J53
532
J532
J32
South
9842
94
A84
A854
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
X
P
P
P
D
1X West
NS: 0 EW: 0

2) Responder makes a negative response, opener rebids 1NT or higher.

As these are strong rebids, we are usually glad to be out of the auction. Only after 1 - 1 - 2 (15+ with clubs) might we have a game, but in this case, partner will stretch to balance after 1 p 1 p 2 p p.

3) Responder makes a positive response.

Unlike natural bidders, Polish Club pairs generally do not respond 1/1 to 1 on 4 HCP (see above), meaning that in our worst-case scenario, the auction 1 - 1M - 2M, we are less likely to have missed a game than against natural bidders. Still we can double for T/O when we have tolerance for the other suits. Partner should be aware of the possibility of a strong NT in this case.

One last auction to watch out for is:

(1) p (1NT) p (p) ?

Although most pairs use a range similar to natural bidders (i.e., 6-9/10 HCP), some play it as 9 - 11 HCP. If this is the case, beware of doubling here.

 

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