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Improving the Weak Notrump System
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There appear to be two main types of weak notrump systems in widespread use. They are the 13-15 weak notrump used by big club players such as the Precision System, and the Kaplan-Sheinwold (K-S) system’s 12-14 weak notrump, which uses the rebid of 1NT after a minor suit opening bid to show balanced hands in the 15-17 point range. Many players who use the 12-14 weak notrump do not use it all the time. They vary according to vulnerability, and sometimes seat position as well. The 12-14 weak notrump is fun to play and has its advantages. It certainly gives practitioners the opportunity to go against the field, which may be good or bad, depending on how you go about it.

A great drawback to the 12-14 HCP weak notrump is the way it handles the balanced 15-17 point range hands that the field opens with a strong 1NT. Transfer bids, now universally used by the strong notrump players, allow the strong hand to play contracts that in the weak notrump system must often played by responder. Even a partnership that wants to go against the field ought to be unhappy doing it by wrong-siding contracts.

The simple solution to avoid wrong-siding contracts is to use transfer bids. Obviously, it is too late to do so after responder has bid a major and opener has rebid 1NT. One must use transfer bids immediately after opening the bidding with 1 (using them after a 1 opening starts the bidding at an awkwardly high level).

Unfortunately, the ACBL has chosen to lump the K-S 1 non-forcing opening bid in with the Precision type forcing 1 opening bid and thus kept it off the ACBL General Convention Chart. True, you can play 1-level transfer bids after 1 in a national championship, and even in a club game if the director lets you. But you cannot play them in an ACBL sectional or regional tournament without special permission at the district level. You also cannot play them online on a site such as BridgeBase, as the ACBL wants their convention charts used by online sites that award ACBL masterpoints.

Many transfer systems over 1 have been proposed and played, but the general bridge-playing public has a hard time trying them out and improving them when it cannot play them in sectional and regional tournament events without making special arrangements to do so. I have put together an interesting transfer system that I hope will spur the use of the 12-14 notrump. Also, I am going to fight as hard as I can to make transfer systems for a natural non- forcing 1 opening bid acceptable by the ACBL for general use. What follows is both an explanation of my 1 transfer system and a discussion of how to get the ACBL to change its attitude so weak notrump players can use transfers after a 1 opening bid.

 

 

Which hands may be opened with a bid of 1

The 1 transfer system is designed to be used by a Standard American opening bid of 1, with a range of roughly 11-20 HCP. Opener’s hand will have three or more clubs unless it is a balanced hand that has exactly 4-4-3-2 distribution. Note that the ACBL defines a 1C opening as “natural” when it has only a 2-card club suit if it is a balanced hand. The ACBL General Convention Chart says, “An opening bid of one club is natural if, by agreement, it may be exactly 4-4-3-2 with two clubs, three diamonds, and four cards in each major.” So a simple definition of what is allowable that uses the word “natural” encompasses all the hands that the weak notrump users would like to include for their 1 Transfer Bid system. Opener does not hold a suit of five or more cards that is longer than the club suit.

Which hands may respond to an opening bid of 1

The opening bid of 1 is not forcing. Opener’s partner responds to 1 only when he has a hand good enough to respond in a Standard American bidding system (roughly 6+ HCP).

The basic ideas of the 1 transfer system

After our 1 opening bid, responder transfers to his lowest-ranking major suit of 4+ cards by bidding the suit that ranks immediately below it. If opener supports responder’s suit by bidding it at the 2-level or higher or splintering, this shows 4+ support. If opener accepts the transfer, this shows exactly 3-card support and undetermined strength. I believe it is better to play that opener’s 1-level acceptance of the transfer can be passed by responder on a very weak hand. Opener would not be obliged to show 3-card support for responder immediately. Holding a powerful hand that would not want to be passed at the 1-level, opener may show his power first and 3-card support later. So an opener rebid of 2NT, 3, or a reverse would not deny 3-card support for responder. A non-acceptance by opener with any other bid would show two or less cards in responder’s suit. Acceptance of the transfer would be limited to opener hands of less than 18 HCP. Responder lacking a 4-card major can bid notrump by either bidding 1NT directly over the 1 opening or by transferring to 1NT via bidding an immediate 1.

Here are four of the benefits to playing the 1 transfer system:

(1) Most major suit contracts are played by the 1 opener, who usually has the stronger hand.

(2) Opener can show exactly 3-card support at the 1-level by accepting the transfer.

(3) Opener shows 4+ support for responder whenever he makes a direct raise of responder’s major suit to the 2-level or higher, or uses an immediate splinter bid.

(4) Responder can more accurately define his strength when he bids one notrump, distinguishing between 6-8 and 9-10 HCP. Drawbacks to the 1 transfer system: There is, as they say, no such thing as a free lunch.

Here are some drawbacks to the system:

(1) Responder hands with a diamond suit are not handled as well, because a natural 1 response is no longer available.

(2) Hands may be wrong-sided when playing notrump when responder has a 4-card major and opener bids responder’s suit at the 1-level showing 3-card support. Responder can now get pushed into bidding 1NT with an unsuitable hand for declaring in that contract.

 

Here are the specific responses to the 1 opening bid and what they show:

  • 1 shows 4+ hearts 
  • 1 shows 4+ spades 
  • 1 shows a notrump hand of 6-8 HCP without a 4+ major suit
  • 1NT shows a notrump hand of 9-10 HCP without a 4+ major suit. 
  • 2 is a raise of opener’s clubs, showing 5+ length, and 6-10 HCP 
  • 2 shows a 6-card or 7-card diamond suit and a weak hand, non-forcing. 
  • 2 shows an invitational or better hand with 5+ club support, forcing to 2NT or 3 
  • 2 shows a 5+ diamond suit and is invitational or better, forcing to 2NT or 3
  • 2NT shows a balanced 11-12 HCP, no 4-card major 
  • 3 shows 5+ club support and is preemptive. 

Defensive measures against the 1 transfer system:

Most bridge players are well-equipped to deal with the 1 transfer system by their present agreements that cope with transfer bids used by a strong notrump. These typically include:

The double of a transfer bid shows that suit. A bid of the transfer bid suit shows that suit. A bid of the suit shown by the transfer bidder is for takeout.

Explanations to the opponents:

It is reasonable to require players using a transfer system after a natural 1 to pre-alert this convention. When responder uses a transfer bid, it is alerted, and the explanation should make it clear that responder may be transferring into a 4-card suit and that opener does not accept the transfer unless he has a fit for responder’s suit.

Legal status with the ACBL of using the 1 transfer system:

The ACBL classifies any transfer system built around a 1 opening bid as a Mid-Chart Convention, meaning it cannot be used without getting permission from the event sponsor. It is wrongly lumped together with forcing club systems. Not all 1 systems are alike. This blanket policy of lumping the 1 transfer system in with big club transfer systems is a faulty classification method. The weak notrump is an American invention that dates back to the Eli Culbertson days and is deserving of convention system labeling that does not put it at a disadvantage by a faulty ACBL chart classification.

After a natural non-forcing 1 opening bid, 1-level transfer bids by responder should be allowed by the ACBL General Convention Chart. How can anyone justify allowing strong notrump players to use transfer bids after their opening 1NT bid but disallow weak notrump players from using transfer bids after their 1 opening bid on those same hands of 15-17 HCP?  This unfair rule discriminates against weak notrump users. The problem can easily be repaired by a rule saying, “After a natural non-forcing 1 opening bid, one-level transfer bids by responder are allowed.” To be placed on the ACBL General Convention Chart, this type of transfer system that aids the weak notrump players needs to be recommended to the ACBL Board by the ACBL Competition and Conventions Committee (C and C committee) as a worthwhile candidate for this chart. However, this subject has not even been discussed as a possible candidate for the G-C Chart in recent years. At the summer 2009 meeting of the C and C Committee, it was nominated for consideration, but no member of the committee seconded the motion!

You can help by emailing the C and C committee at candc@acbl.org and asking that the Committee discuss this subject when they meet at the Chicago Summer Nationals in August of this year. Bob Hamman, who has served on this committee, told me that he thinks 1-level transfer responses to 1 are ready to be placed on the General Convention Chart because so many people nowadays are familiar with transfer bids. He thinks playing against this convention should not present a heavy burden to opponents if they are properly pre-alerted. Transfer responses next need to be approved for the chart by the ACBL Board of Directors. If you would like to support this effort to gain acceptance for an ACBL reclassification for transfer responses to 1, you can contact the person in your ACBL District that is your representative on the ACBL Board and ask them to request the C and C Committee to put transfer responses to a natural non-forcing 1 on the agenda for their Summer Nationals. If the ACBL Board is then given a chance to vote on this reclassification, contact your Board Representative again. Weak notrump players need fair treatment in convention chart classification so they are not hampered in right-siding contracts: you all can be a part of that effort.

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