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The Fantunes bidding system
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Like everyone, I was shocked and angered at the revelations about Fantoni and Nunes’ apparently blatant cheating whilst defending.

This begs the question, whether they were also cheating during the bidding, and indeed there have been several posts from distinguished players along the lines of: “how did they know to bid that?” It is entirely reasonable to ask such questions, although as Kit has often reminded us, one needs a thorough investigative process to determine the truth or otherwise of such allegations.

There have also been posts that, in summary, say: “the system is not playable, therefore they must have been cheating with it.” And that’s where I come in. I am the author of “Fantunes Revealed”, a system book about the Fantunes bidding system. Together with my partner Ben Thompson, we took up the system in 2009, and have played it at local, national and international level ever since.

I would claim that, outside of Fantoni and Nunes themselves, Ben and I have the greatest understanding of Fantunes of anyone, and are therefore best placed to answer the question: “is it playable?” In this article, I would like to make a few observations on that question.

In terms of my personal results, there’s no doubt about it. I’m a good but not very-good bridge player, and my results since taking up Fantunes have improved markedly. Part of this was due to the positive effect of any change, renewing interest and excitement.

But I also kept detailed records of our results on each hand, and how it compared to what would probably have happened had we been playing our old Standard-based system. The bottom line was clear-cut: over a sample of 1500 hands that we opened, we were half-an-imp to the good per board, and that was with very conservative estimating.

In my book, I put the case that not only is Fantunes playable, but it has a design with a very strong theoretical basis. In many ways, it shares the philosophy of strong-club systems. The idea is to open strong hands at a low level, to allow as much room as possible to explore for the final contract. Conversely, the weaker hands are opened at a higher level, all the better to disrupt the opponents’ bidding.

In Precision for example, the 1, 1 and 2 openings at 11-15 HCP represent the weaker openings. Their well-defined but limited nature make them a powerful bidding tool, both constructively and obstructively. Fantunes takes this a step further with its 2-suit openings.

A Fantunes 2-level opening, in 1st or 2nd seat, shows about 10-13 HCP, a 5+ card suit, and some distribution: either a 6-card suit, or a shortage somewhere. You cannot open at the 2-level with 5-3-3-2 or 5-4-2-2 shapes.

I have seen posts in this forum that such openings are “not playable”. That is nonsense.

To calculate the nett value of any opening bid, one must consider at least 4 factors:

1. How well does it work constructively?

2. How well does it work obstructively?

3. How does it assist in the architecture of the system as a whole?

4. What has been lost in not having this bid available for another purpose?

In the case of the Fantunes 2-openings, the answers are:

1. They work reasonably well, constructively. 2 is best; 2 is worst. Constructive bidding is assisted by the tight distributional requirements for the opening bid. But they have their bad moments. In the book, I listed a couple of these, where F-N were left stranded in a 5-1 and also a 5-0 fit.

2. They work brilliantly obstructively. 2 is best; 2 is worst. Hardly a surprise. The 2-level openings are “swing bids”: they create chaos for all. You win some and you lose some, and sometimes the losses can be embarrassing. You need a thick skin and sympathetic team-mates. It’s a bit like the weak 1NT: a fantastic bidding tool, but be prepared for the occasional -1100.

3. The 2-level openings are an essential component of the Fantunes structure. They enable the powerful forcing 1-suit bids.

4. The 10-13 2 and 2 openings prevent you opening a natural weak two. Such hands have to be passed. That is a clear minus for the system.

Putting it all together, of course the 2-level openings are playable. In fact we have found them to be a strong positive for the system. Whenever we open them, we feel a frisson of excitement and a clear expectation (or is it hope?) that something fun and good is about to happen.

The main objective of this article is to defend the system, as distinct from the inventors. I know it is a good system. After publishing my book, I have had lots of correspondence, some of it with world-class players, discussing and agreeing on its merits.

I have also observed the enthusiasm and enjoyment with which people have taken it up. There are several Australian pairs who have played it and achieved much higher than expected placings in events. The system is never going to take the world by storm, and this is for a very simple reason: it is actually quite complex to learn and play. There is a lot of artificial bidding in the middle of the auction.  But it deserves its place in the system list.

One can only hope that the situation with Fantoni and Nunes themselves will be properly separated from the system that they pioneered.

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