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Raptor 1NT Explained
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I've been playing Raptor 1N for several years now, and at the NAOP game mentioned it to another reader of BridgeWinners (who enquired about it). Based on that conversation, I decided to write an article explaining Raptor.

Raptor is a 1N overcall (we play it in direct seat only) that promises:

  • A four card major
  • A longer minor
  • Competitive values (we expect a decent ten count for a 4522 hand, but it can be less with extra shape, particularly a 46 hand)

(We do allow that sometimes the major will be five terrible cards, but that's not strictly necessary).

One suit is always known, since opener's suit is excluded. For example, if RHO opens 1, then 1NT shows 4 spades + a longer minor.

Why Raptor?

Raptor trades an infrequent hand (a strong NT overcall) for a much more common hand type, and a hand type that typically cannot make a bid at all, and provides a mildly preemptive effecti. Consider the following hand:

Qxx AQxx AQxxx x

After a 1 opening you'd be happy to double. as would I. But what if the black suits were reversed? Now double has a real problem. And what if the hand was too weak for a double. Your standards may very, but let's just say x Axxx AQxxx xxx

Overcalling 1 does show your suit, but has almost no preemptive value, and hearts may get buried. Double is out of the question. Most likely, you just pass (depending on your spots, vulnerability, etc). But 1N Raptor has a lot going for it:

  1. Two places to land reduces the risk (nothing eliminates it)
  2. Raptor preempts the auction.
  3. You haven't hidden your major.

 

You may go for a number (of course), but there's a lot of good results that can happen. And, by my experience, Raptor hands happen frequently, about 1-2 a session. You can easily look over your last few sessions and see how often (if at all) Raptor would occur, as compared to strong NT overcalls.

Advancer's actions after (1m)-1N-(P)

When your LHO opens a minor and partner bids 1N Raptor, we play the following system:

  • Cue bid (LHO's minor) -- Asks partner to bid his major
  • Other minor (any level) -- To play
  • 2 of a major -- A real suit, willing to play opposite shortness. They Raptor bidder will (of course) bump if it's a fit.
  • 2N -- Strong ask. With a weak hand opener shows his major at the 3m level (=, =) and bids 3M with a stronger hand.
  • Higher bids are usually just more length, but a jump cue bid can be Western (etc)

So, to be more concrete:

(1)-1N-(P)-?

  • 2 -- Asks for major
  • 2 -- To play
  • 2 / 2 -- Real suit, willing to play opposite expected shortness
  • 2N -- A strong ask 
  • 3 -- Also to play. 

Jumping to 3 of partner's (known) minor is a powerful shutout bid, especially if responder doubled ("values") instead of pass. (You could call it a Law of Total Tricks bid, and just say that an 8 card fit will want to get to 3m if the opponents have a fit. But that's assuming that the other side does have a fit).

But if you do jump to 3m the opening side must start groping for their potential major fit at the three level, but have to wonder if they do have a fit (since overcaller promises one major). The ambiguiuty of the Raptoring hand's suit cuts both ways. Sometimes advancer wishes he knew, sometimes the opponents wish they knew.

When your LHO opens a major and partner bids Raptor, we play the following:

  • Clubs at any level is Pass or Correct
  • Diamonds is a real suit
  • The other major is to play (at any level)
  • Cue bid is a limit raise (or better) of partner's major.

So, after (1)-1N-(P)-?

  • 2 -- Pass or Correct
  • 2 -- A real diamond suit, NF
  • 2 -- Limit+ in spades
  • (at any level)  -- To play (4 may be bid as a sac or to make, of course).
  • 2N -- Strong ask (again, 3m is weaker than 3M, which shows corresponding minors).

Sometimes, as advancer, you won't have a good option and will be stuck with the choice of 7 card fits. With some stoppers you can also pass 1NT, although this should show some reasonable values. In generally, just pick the 7 card fit you want to play in, bid it confidentally, and hope that you don't get doubled. Often getting to a Moysian 2M contract can be a good matchpoint result.

Obviously if it makes, that is great. But if not, you've jacked up the auction fairly significantly before the opener can re-bid and the opponents have to judge whether to compete (to the 3 level) when you may have a 7, 8 or even 9 card fit.

 

How Strong is Competitive?

In theory, you can play Raptor as having no maximum, but (after some consideration) we've decided to play a similar range to overcalls. (Which is fairly wide ranging, but tapers off around 17 HCP or so). There are a few reasons:

  1. Advancer can realistically pass 1N and not worry about missing games.
  2. Overcaller's rebids now typically show extra shape (or rarely, minimum shape but an upper end of strength).

After (1) - 1N - (2) - P - (P) a raptor bidder could continue with 2 to now show extra length in your minor (while giving partner the option to pass. Or over spades you could bid 3 of your minor to show 4 hearts and a 6 card minor.

As to the low end, 10 HCP is a standard given for 2 level overcalls, but we stretch that down fairly frequently. Just as nobody expects a 10 count for a Michaels (or unusual 2N) bid, having two places to land gives some level of safety.

When not to Raptor?

Well, if you have support in both majors (after a minor suit opening) and a hand that's close to a double, then by all means you might want to make a takeout double. Particularly if your 4 card major is weak and your three card major is strong. If your hand is closer to 3 suited than two suited, then double away. Also, if you are 5-5 in your suits, give serious consideration to Unusual 2NT (if you have the right suits) or a more offensive bid. My partnership does include 5 card majors in Raptor, but they are typically empty major suits (T or J high) coupled with near solid minor suits. Partner will expect four cards in a major, and having 5 may mean you wind up in your minor when you had an equal fit in the major, which can be matchpoint death. If you have a super-freak, like a 5-6 hand, you can raptor (particularly if you have no other way of showing the two suiter) and carry on, and partner will get the picture.

If your values are stacked in the minor, you may want to preempt and simply hide your 4 card major. (Typically in this case, partner is a passed hand).

If your values are primarly defensive, you don't want to be on the low end of the point range. Raptor is for offensive hands.

In general, I also take into consideration how much preemptive value I'm getting. I'm much more likely to Raptor after a minor suit opening. 

There are a few reasons:

  1. It takes up more space. In contrast, bidding 1N after 1 isn't much of a burden for responder.
  2. After a major suit, responder probably knows if they have a major suit fit (and is now warned -- if he has the other major -- that his partner doesn't, or it's breaking atrociously). It's rare that responder will go hunting for a minor suit fit.
  3. Partner won't be able to jack the auction up to 3m unless he's 3-3 (or better) in the minors. (On the other hand, partner can easily make a limit raise with your major if you've caught a fit).

If they do brush aside your intervention (more likely after a major suit opening, since responder will raise with 3 cards), then the 1NT bid will often turn out to be revealing to declarer and guide the play. So, my general belief is to make raptoring more constructive (and not as free wheeling) after our opponent opens a major.

We also don't play Raptor:

  1. In balancing seat (if the opponents have dropped opener in a one bid, preemption isn't much of a concern).
  2. Above the 1 level (a strong NT is much more likely over a weak 2, and an important hand to cover)
  3. Over a "could be short" minor. 

As for the last point, we could certainly play Raptor (since the suit may not be short). But we've got a another issue....

But what about the Strong NT hands?

Well, there's always a downside. There are a few potential approaches.

  1. Double -- You'll have to make some doubles with 3 (or 2) card majors, and alert. In these cases, partner shouldn't be so quick to jump on four card suits, but hopefully
  2. Pass and then bid NT (or double back in) later -- I know that Kit Woolsey has (in one of his Kit's Korner's) mentioned that Strong NT hands often present more problems for the opponents when they sandbag one round, then act. I must admit I have less practical experience using this method, but it could work out.

In practice, we tend to just double with strong NT hands. In practice that just means that doubling and then correcting to NT (cheaply) tends to show 15-18 (and a misfit for the major partner picked) instead of "too strong for a 1N overcall." Obviously that means we're really far behind when we actually have a 19 count. I can't recall it coming up in the last few years. More practically, the opponents will compete. Sometimes they will overcompete, because the doubler will have less trumps and more points than they expect (our double is alertable, for this reason).

Incidentally, the problems with Strong NT is why we don't play Raptor against "Could be short" minors.

The rationale? We feel that we need to make "Double" a 'grunt' bid in those cases. A hand that would open, with almost any shape (weak NT hands as well as normal doubling hands). If you don't get in your grunt right away, then the opponents will often be at 2 of a major when it gets back to you, and you are stuck. We believe that having double mean both a weak NT and a strong NT hand and possibly a monster too strong to overcall covers too many cases, so against short minors we revert to strong NT overcalls.

(This is part of the theory in several parts of the Polish system that if a bid can mean Weak-Medium-Strong, it is best to pull out the medium hands into a different system). 

Even without hyper-detailed agreements, bare-bones Raptor has been a solidly positive addition to my system.

At the cost of making the (infrequent) strong NT hands ungainly, we gain the ability to handle major-minor hands and jam the auction with potentially unbiddable hands (even playing equal level conversion, some hands have the wrong shape). For the next few sessions, afterwards, go over the hands you had and say "What would happen if I were playing Raptor" and I think you'll see the value in the system.

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