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Martian Standard Defense to Big Club
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Introduction

When Jeff Meckstroth was “in the well” a few months ago, a reader asked which strong club defense Jeff recommended. System nuts everywhere were shocked when Jeff replied he knows of no defense better than natural bidding! It made no sense. Artificial defenses can show more hand types, surely they must be “better,” right?

Showing more hand types does not necessarily make a defense better. If the defense sacrifices valuable natural bids, the cost of that loss may outweigh gains on other hand types. An artificial defense must accomplish some useful goal more often than a natural defense to be superior. Against a strong club opening, that goal is preemption. If a defense does not help you preempt significantly more often, it isn't better and it might be worse. I would rephrase Jeff’s statement this way, “Popular big club defenses don't enable preemption more effectively than a natural defense.”

I took this as a challenge to do better. This article describes a method invented by my partner Phil Clayton and myself and inspired by the Meckwell defense to an opening 1NT. We believe it exploits preemptive opportunities more effectively than natural bidding. We call it “Martian Standard” after our bidding system which is understood better on Mars than on earth.

 

Martian Standard Defense to 1

Call             Meaning

(1)--Dbl     5-4 or better in the majors

(1) -- 1     Transfer to hearts

(1) -- 1     Transfer to spades

(1) -- 1     4 spades and a 5+ card minor

(1) -- 1NT    6 cards in either minor suit

(1) -- 2     5+ clubs and 4+ hearts

(1) -- 2     5+ diamonds and 4+ hearts

(1) -- 2     6-card heart suit, or 5 hearts and a 4+ card minor

(1) -- 2     6-card spade suit, or 5 spades and a 4+ card minor

(1) -- 2NT    5-5+ in the minors

 

Bid to the 2-level More Often

The method has two goals. First, to create more opportunities for 2-level overcalls. An overcall of 2 is a far bigger nuisance than an overcall of 1 (which is no nuisance at all). 2 may not sound like much, but the opponents are considerably more likely to err after 2 than 1. Contrast the 2-level overcalls with CRASH.

CRASH uses cheap calls (double, 1 and 1NT) to show 2-suiters. While it does find fits, unfortunately, it also allows responder a cheap call (double) to distinguish moderate values (4+ to 7) from minimum values (0 to 3). The negative double reduces the preemptive effect of advancer's raise. Opener often knows whether he can or can not afford to compete. By overcalling at the 2-level before responder, Martian Standard forces responder to double more conservatively, and thus pass on a wider range of hands, giving opener a judgment problem more often.

 

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1
X
XX
3
?

X = Reds or blacks

XX = 4-7 HCP

Opener can enter the auction knowing it's his hand.

 

W
N
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S
1
2
P
3
?

2 = diamonds and hearts

The auction was higher for responder, meaning responder must pass on 0-5 instead of 0-3. Opener has a more difficult decision at the 3-level with less information about responder's values.

 

Find Every 9+ card Major-Suit Fit

The second goal of the method is to discover every 9+ card major suit fit immediately. Preempts do not have an equal effect. A preempt in a major does more damage than a preempt in a minor to the same level.

W
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1
2
X
3
?

The 3 raise is a nuisance, but opener still has the 3- and 4- levels to bid his suit.

 

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N
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1
1
X
3
?

With no room below 3NT, the opener is in a real pickle. 3 was much more damaging than 3 in the last auction.

 

A method like CRASH contains ambiguity about suits. Advancer must preempt in the lowest ranking of the possible suit fits to cater to that ambiguity. 

W
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S
1
X
P
?

X = reds or blacks

Does partner have reds or blacks? Advancer can only preempt if he has a fit for both a black and a red suit, and he must preempt in the lowest ranking possible fit. Worst of all, if advancer has a shape like xxxxx, xx, xxx, xxx, he can not preempt at all! If overcaller's 2 suits include spades, this was a golden opportunity to preempt. Martian standard always identifies major suits so we can always raise preemptively when our preempts do the most damage.

Double

Both majors, 5-4 or better

  • Minimum: shapely 4 HCP
  • Maximum: unlimited

Since the partnership can escape at the 1-level, we need only modest values to double. But what about shape?

I have seen some good players show 2 suits after 1 on as little as 4-4-3-2 shape. But is this a good idea? When the opponents open a big club, the goal of 2-suited interference is preemption to the 3-level or higher, if possible. If second hand can hold a flat hand, advancer must preempt cautiously, undermining the purpose of entering the auction in the first place. A 2-suited overcall should show 5-4 or better to facilitate raises to 3M+.

Hands with both majors are a golden opportunity for preemption. When advancer fits either major, the partnership almost always has the highest ranking fit. Raising to 2M, 3M, or 4M will often give opener a major headache and are defined as blocking. When responder has strength, bids of a minor artificially show a fit in the corresponding major at any level which allows us to both jam the auction and convey values to the doubler.

 

W
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1
?

QJxxx, Q109xx, xx, x

Double. Even though the hand is terrible, if partner can raise to 3M or 4M, the opening side is sure to make game or slam. -800 in 3M doubled loses only 3 IMPS when the alternative was -680 and it wins 11 IMPs when the alternative was -1430! Almost any hand with 5-5 shape can double.

 

KJ10x, Q109x, xx, xxx

Pass. A terrible double because your hand has defense and little offense. If partner raised to 3M you are probably in -800 territory at least, yet your defense might let your side beat 3NT.

 

KQxx, Q10xxx, x, xxx

Double. 5-4 shape with values in the long suits is fine for double.

 

xxxx, xxxxx, AKx, Q

Pass. With such good defense, do not encourage partner to overbid by doubling.

 

Jxxxx, KQ109xx, x, x

4. With such suit disparity, go for maximum preemption.

1/1 

These calls are transfers to hearts and spades respectively, showing 5+ cards in the next higher suit, although 4 is possible as a lead director (e.g., AKJx, x, xxx, xxxxx)

  • Minimum: 5-7 HCP, if values are concentrated in the shown suit
  • Maximum: Unlimited

1-level overcalls are cheap, making it safe to bid on relative garbage. But is that a good idea? Not really. Low-level overcalls, by themselves, do no damage to big club bidding. Your opponents can use a negative double and other gadgets to neutralize the low-level interference. Unless partner can raise, an overcall is just free information to declarer. To risk that loss, you need some compensating upside, either in lead direction or by holding enough values that the hand could belong to you. Transfers are bid on three hand types:

  • Weak hands with values concentrated in the major.
  • Hands with moderate strength inappropriate for a 2-level overcall (5-3-3-2 shape, too much defense, bad colors)
  • Hands with a 5-card major, good shape, and too strong for a 2-level overcall (14+ HCP)

 

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1
?

AQxxx, x, AK10x, xxx

Bid 1. Holding the boss suit, the deal could belong to your side even though RHO holds a good hand. Since your hand has plenty of defense, you are not eager to preempt. The last thing you want is for partner to remove an enemy 3 contract to 3, and you also don't want to walk into KJ10xx of spades on your left and go down several in a doubled 2 contract, when your defense means the enemy can only make a part score.

 

Qxxxx, xx, xx, Axx

Pass. With such a bad hand, your overcall will usually have no effect on the enemy and it may undermine the partnership on a different hand when you hold a full-value overcall. If partner can rely on your overcall for values or a good suit, he can make more intelligent decisions to compete, bid game, or double.

 

Axxxxx, AQx, xx, xx

1. With 3 potential defensive tricks, a 2 call looks unattractive.

 

KQ109x, xx, xxx, xxx

1. Dead minimum transfer overcall. But if you wanted to bid 2 at favorable, I will not criticize.

 

AKQx, xx, xxx, xxxx

1. You want a spade lead don’t you?

 

Qx, K10xxx, Kxx, xxx

Pass. Your values are primarily defensive. You can stand a lead in 3 suits. You have almost no chance of winning the auction. A 1 overcall won't cause any impediment to the enemy, has some risk, and might lead the defense astray.

 

AKxxx, xx, xx, AQxx

1. With 4 likely defensive tricks and poor shape, bidding to the 2-level is an unnecessary risk. The enemy likely can’t make a game, so there is no reason to risk a 500+ penalty.

 

AQJxxx, x, AKx, Qxx

1. Later you will compete to 2. You are too strong for a jump overcall of 2.

1

Promises exactly 4 spades and a 5+ card minor.

  • Minimum: approximately 7 HCP
  • Maximum: approximately 14 HCP

Since this call often forces the partnership to the 2-level, the minimum is something like a shapely 7-count. It has a limited maximum because the call is non-forcing. If your hand is too strong, start with 1NT and bid your spades later.

 

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1
?

Q109x, x, A109xxx, xx

Minimum 1.

 

KQ10x, x, AQ109xx, xx

1. Solid, but still only 1.

 

AJ10x, x, xx, AKQ109x

1NT. Holding a good hand, start with 1NT to guarantee a second chance to bid. You can bid spades later

 

W
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1
1
X
?

AQxxx, x, xxxxx, Jx

4. This hand is an easy 4. Stick it to the enemy before they can bid hearts.

1NT

Shows 6+ cards in a minor suit (either one).

Minimum: Approximately 7

Maximum: Approximately 14

Unlike a 1-of-suit overcall, a 1NT overcall does have a preemptive effect. The big club opener is denied a 1NT rebid to show a balanced hand. As a result, overcalling 1NT on garbage has more upside than any 1-of-a-suit overcall on an equally bad hand. While it is nearly pointless to overcall 1 with 1 with Kx, xx, Q10xxxx, xxx, overcalling 1NT on the same hand has upside.

 

W
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1
?

Axx, x, Qxx, AKxxxx

1NT.

 

xxx, Qxx, x, KJxxxx

1NT.

 

xxx, x, xxx, KQ109xx

3. Go for maximum preemption.

 

Ax, Kx, Ax, Jxxxxxx

1NT. With excellent defense and a bad suit, don’t preempt 3.

 

x, KQxx, Ax, AKxxxx

1NT. With such a strong hand, start with 1NT to guarantee yourself a second chance to bid. You can show your strength later by bidding hearts.

Could you miss a game with such a wide-ranging 1NT overcall? Possible, but not likely. It is rare to hold a game after a strong club opening and even if you do, the enemy can often outbid you in a higher-ranking suit when your fit is in a minor.

2 and 2

Shows 4 hearts or 5 poor hearts, along with 5+ cards in the bid minor. With a good 5-card heart suit and a 5-card minor, bid 2.

  • Minimum: Approximately a good 7
  • Maximum: Approximately 13

Since these calls are non-forcing, they have a limited range of about 7-13. When overcaller is strong enough that game is a possibility, start with 1NT and bid a second time.

W
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1
?

x, AQ10x, xx, Qxxxxx

2. A prototype 2 overcall.

 

x, AQ10x, xxx, QJ10xx

2. Another 2 overcall.

 

x, Jxxxx, xx, KQ10xx

2. because the major suit is bad

 

AQ109x, x, xx, KJxxx

2. not 2 overcall because the spades are excellent. 2 is so much more preemptive.

 

x, K10xx, xx, QJ10xxx

3. Yes you might miss a heart fit, but the extra preemption justifies that risk.

 

AKQx, xxx, xxxxx, x

1 to direct a lead. With such suit disparity, settle for half a loaf and get the right lead. You probably can’t compete effectively unless partner happens to hold a big fit for spades anyway.

 

x, AJ10x, AKQ109x, xx

1NT. Holding a good hand, start with 1NT, ostensibly showing a 1-suiter in a minor. If you overcall 2, you will probably play there. Overcall 1NT and then bid 2 to show a strong hand with 4 hearts and a long minor. You can bid 3 later to complete the descirption of this hand type.

2 and 2

Shows 6 cards in the bid major, or a good 5 in the bid major and 4+ cards in a minor. Typically, that means 5-5 or 5-4 with values concentrated values in the long suits.

  • Minimum: A shapely 7
  • Maximum: Approximately 13

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1
?

AK109xx, xx, xx, xxx

Bid 2.

 

KJ109x, x, xxx, KJ10x

Bid 2. Your values are in your long suits.

 

Axxxx, xx, Qx, Axxx

Bid 1 or pass. When your shape is only 5-4, your hand needs to be suitable for preemption to justify a jump to 2M. This hand doesn't cut it.

 

xx, Axxxxx, Qx, A109

Bid 1. This would be a dangerous 2 bid. You have enough defense that the maximum for the enemy is often only a part score. It would be a shame to go for a number against a part score.

 

QJ109xx, x, xx, xxxx

Bid 3. With a completely offensive hand, wreak maximum destruction.

 

x, QJ109xx, x, Axxxx

Bid 4. The 6-5 shape justifies even more aggressive action. 4, not 2 or 3.

 

Conclusion

Using the Martian Standard defense to 1 allows us to preempt more effectively by maximizing our opportunities to bid 3 of a major or higher. I hope this adaptation of the Meckwell NT defense will both flatter and annoy Eric and Jeff by making their next trip to a championship more challenging!

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