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Gazzilli: An Introduction
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The Gazzilli convention, where 1M - 1NT - 2 is artificial with a possibly-strong option, can probably be summed up as follows for the US-audience:

"I've heard of it, isn't it supposed to be useful? I don't play it, though."

Nonetheless, it offers a remarkably natural-showing approach to bidding. I would like to share the version I play, and some of the reasoning behind it. It's based on the Lauria-style* of Gazzilli, where the Gazzilli 2 bid contains a minimum 6-card major option or a strong hand. While some people are good at learning off of system notes, I find that style next-to-impossible due to my general inability to read. In this first article, I review the reasons to adopt Gazzilli and descibe some of the choices you have available.

* Apologies -- what follows may have rather little to do with what Lauria's version of Gazzilli actually is. All I mean is the 6-card major option, compared to the traditional 5M+4 version. If it's inaccurate, I need a better name, maybe just 6M-Gazzilli.

 

The problem

After 1M - 1NT, opener has a large variety of hands possible in a standard 5-card major, strong NT context, which broadly falls under:

1. strength

  • minimum
  • intermediate
  • strong (possibly super-strong)

2. shape

  • (semi-)balanced
  • 1-suited major
  • 2-suited (particularly 6-4 or 5-5)
  • 3-suited (5-4-4-0)

 

The standard approach

In practice, standard bidding covers the 1-suited major hands pretty well (1M - 1NT - 2/3M). Consider for a moment the alternative standard opening rebids of:

  • 1M - 1NT - 2m*
  • 1M - 1NT - 3m*

* I secretly include 1 - 1NT - 2/3 when I write this. I hope that was evident, but you never know. 

Since the standard treatment is to use a strong jump-rebid to force game (opposite a presumed ~6HCP), this puts a lot of pressure on the cheap two-level rebid. In particular, a standard sequence like 1 - 1NT - 2 may be:

  • natural weak
  • good 5-5 hands
  • good 6-4 hands
  • possibly awkward heart hands (just less than a game-force)

 

If you play a forcing NT, then the 2m rebid loses even more integrity: it is systemically only a 3-card suit, and may be two if you're forced to take a call on 4-5-2-2.

 

Possible alternatives

The Meckstroth adjunct is one possible treatment -- it uses 1M - 1NT - 2NT as an artificial (and relatively cheap) strong bid, taking out the strong strength-slice in one swoop. This allows the other three-level jump rebids to be natural and shape-showing, the type of 5-5 trick-taking hands that are so under-acknowledged in standard bridge.

It's hardly a new idea to put multiple-strong options into a cheaper bid. The earliest is probably the shift away from Acol strong 2's to any-other-alternative. Yes, strong forcing 2's are probably quite good when they come up, but the rarity and opportunity cost means that it's a clear overall loser. As a remark, different bridge communities have moved to different extents. French standard has a strong 2 and a stronger 2, while many strong Italian pairs also use both as strength showing (possibly a Mexican 2/2 variant). You should think of the Meckstroth adjunct as collating only the strongest hands.

A different take on the problem is BART-type treatments where after, 1 - 1NT - 2, the partnership tries to find 5-3 heart fits at the two-level. While commendable, I think of this as more of a tweak on standard to avoid missing heart fits. While a good treatment, I don't think BART goes under the "deal-breaker" banner for any partnership, and it has little impact on the rest of your system.

Gazzilli: the 2 bid

There are, needless-to-say, many variants. However the underlying principle is the same. After 1M - 1NT, the Gazzilli 2 bid is forcing, and shows:

  • either a specified limited minimum handtype, or
  • any strong hand.

As above, strength is determined by general high-card strength. In the Lauria version, these two choices are as follows:

  • 6+M in a minimum opening hand (a standard 2M rebid) -- opener's next bid is (hopefully) 2M
  • 17+ HCP, any distribution.

In contrast to the Meckstroth adjunct, Gazzilli collects a larger subset of opening strong hands. The Gazzilli 2 is a lot cheaper and so offers more room to clarify. I leave the details unstated for now, but similar to the Meckstroth adjunct, Gazzilli frees up 1M - 1NT - 2NT/3m for shapely invitational hands. Furthermore, it's never been clear to me what happens to the balanced 18-19 option under the Meckstroth 1M - 1NT - 2NT (perhaps that counts as game-forcing?), but it should be noted that this strong balanced option is handled quite well in a Gazzilli context (it's just one of the strong options under the 17+ banner).

 

Structural alternatives and extensions

In standard Gazzilli, the limited handtype contains minimum 5M+4 hands, instead. Depending on your preferred style, you can alter the 17+ HCP requirement (some play 16+; even 15+ is a possible treatment, say in a weak NT context; see below) with obvious tweaks. 

Furthermore, it is possible to extend Gazzilli to 1 - 1, 1 - 1M, or even 1 - 1Y sequences. In each case, the details are somewhat different and become less-and-less standard. In a follow-up article (if people care), I can explain the small modification necessary to sensibly play Gazzilli after 1 - 1.

Digression: an alternative forcing treatment after 1 - 1 is described by Adam Meyerson's Zirconia. There are additionally, alternative "Gazzilli"-rebid options instead of 2 after 1 - 1M (can use 1NT) or even 1 - 1Y (use 2) but we're getting way beyond the scope of this article. My own preference is to use: Gazzilli after 1 - 1; transfer rebids after an unbalanced 1; and an artificial 1 - 1Y - 2 reverse. To be honest, I think the biggest gains for Gazzilli come after 1M - 1NT, but then again I love Flannery and try to avoid weak 1 - 1 sequences.

 

Gazzilli: the 2 bid

Whereas standard opener rebidding (or transfer-oriented rebidding) is suit-based -- I'm saying something pretty trivial: you bid the suits you've got -- Gazzilli is fundamentally power-based. It's when opener fails to make the power-2 bid, that he can bid more naturally than natural-bidding.

If responder has sufficient strength to force game opposite a (possibly misfitting) strong hand, then

  • 1M - 1NT
  • 2 - 2 = artificial game force opposite the strong option.

Traditionally, this 2 is explained as 8+, but as ever, HCP are just an approximate guide to playing strength. Note that the only other strength-showing bid is responder's invitational jump to 3M. 2NT by responder should be 2-places to play (other than the major), with weak values.

I've seen writeups where the preceding sequence is however only the start of an invitational sequence. This has merit, but context matters. If you strictly open 1M with a five-card major, or alternatively play a weak NT, so that the Gazzilli 2 might include balanced strong notrump hands, you would need to be able to stop with 15-16 opposite 8.

Indeed, Gazzilli is a possible approach if you always want to open five-card majors -- there's something to it, although it's not my own style -- or want to ameliorate the effects of the weak NT on constructive auctions. The obvious solution is to use opener's next 2NT bid as non-forcing, but for the rest of this article, I'm going to stick by 2 = GF opposite any strong hand, which allows that 2NT to be put to other uses.

Even in a strong NT context, particularly prime suit-oriented hands ( AKQxx xx Axx Axx) deserve the justice of being opened 1M. I'm perhaps worried that one of my former partners will carry out his threat directed at me following one such opening:  

"I'll end you the next time you open 1NT on a hand like that."  

Notice he said he'd end me and not the partnership, although perhaps the end justifies the means.   

 

 

Why Lauria-style?

Since the natural 2 has been replaced by the Gazzilli 2, it's not unexpected that the club suit will suffer. In standard Gazzilli, the usual weak-club-showing sequence is as follows:

  • 1M - 1NT
  • 2 - 2-banana
  • ?

Opener rebids 2M with 5M+4 and a minimum holding. I've yet to provide any detailed follow-ups, but the main issue is that in traditional Gazzilli, responder is obliged to try 1M - 1NT - 2 - 2NT! on weak hands with 0-1 cards in the major (he doesn't have the values to bid the Gazzilli 2). Moreover, it's unclear if this 2NT runout ought to be (or is) two-or-three suited. If ever there's a time for the opponents to make a speculative double of a 3 runout, this is it (responder promises <7, and opener is forced to the three-level on a possible misfit, and if there is a club fit, usually has minimal values).

The club runout in Lauria-style comes after

  • 1M - 1NT
  • 2M = 5M+4 minimum.

Responder can pass 2M, or correct to 3 with a club preference (rarely, I suppose you might hit the jackpot of a big club fit, but I emphasize the common scenarios). Importantly, the opponents will not know the strength of responder's preference. It's often important to be able to bid quickly on relatively-weak hands, and let the opponents guess whether you're stealing.  

In practice, it's fair to say that the M+-showing 1M - 1NT - 2M sequences are not terribly pleasant, and it's not surprising for practiced Gazzilli partnerships (whether tradtional, or Lauria-style) to pass 1NT with 5M+4 and a minimum notrump-tolerant hand. The 1 - 1NT - 2 sequence is particularly room-intensive and unappealing to those that like BART. I could be persuaded that traditional Gazzilli (which offers some chance to reach 2 after a 1 - 1NT sequence, on weak hands) is might be better after 1, but I think the overall advantage lies with Lauria-style.

Compare the alternative weak sequence in Lauria-style:

  • 1M - 1NT
  • 2 - ?

Responder can take a weak preference to 2M, even on a singleton (possibly even with a void!) which offers at worst 6-1 fit at the two-level. Moreover, when responder is weak (and thus fails to offer the values promised by the Gazzilli 2 response), opener can re-evaluate on some moderately strong hands (say 6-3-2-2 upgraded-16/17 HCP). I have seen the Italians confidently win IMPs against 3M-1 at the other table by stopping in 2M on such re-evaluated sequences.

 

Next time?

 

I hope to have persuaded you that it's sensible to play some form of Gazzilli, and if you do, then it's sensible to play the 6M-variant.

I can write a follow-up detailing some of the sequences, but only if interest exists (I can also send a pdf to email, via PM). I have taken advantage of some sensible tweaks courtesy of Jay Barron. EDIT: Ok, I've had sufficiently many requests that I will write a follow up explaining possible follow-ups (in a much more traditional format), so just wait for it ...

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