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Thinking Twice About Two-Way

In Billy Miller's September ACBL Bulletin column, a reader asked about a New Minor Forcing auction where he and his partner disagreed about whether responder's third bid was forcing: 1-1; 1NT-2; 2-3. Billy gave the obvious answer: if the direct jump would've been invitational, the delayed sequence is forcing. You don't need two invitational sequences. He also points out that an invitational (non-forcing) jump risks missing a 5-3 spade fit.  (More likely, responder uses NMF and, failing to find a spade fit, cannot then bid 3 invitational.) Here the answer also seems obvious: play the immediate jump as forcing, go through NMF on invitational hands. After 1-1; 1NT-3 (forcing), opener will usually show three card spade support.

What Miller does instead is insist that everyone should play 2-way NMF (better styled 2-way Checkback.) Really? Does everyone play all the time in a well-oiled partnership with hundreds of pages of system notes? I don't. At the club, most players play with multiple partners of varying skill levels. Many are fine card players but have a mishmash of confused bidding concepts. The only partner who I play with regularly who is interested in discussing bidding asked whether we should switch to 2-way "which almost all experts play."

So I did some thinking: the logic of plain NMF includes the ability to respond in a major and then retreat to opener's minor. On a 1-1!M; 1NT auction, responder with 5 cards in the major and 4 in clubs is certain of a fit, but not certain whether it is in clubs or spades. No problem: bid 2 and opener can take a preference back to spades with 3-3 in the black suits. Not so simple playing 2-way: responder can guess spades or clubs, but cannot offer opener a choice. The point is that every gadget costs something.

I think it is a disservice to advancing players to rush them into a gadget solution for bidding problems. Far more important is knowing your basic agreements, such as which sequences are forcing. Then, choose as best you can from among the tools you have available.

I plan to keep track of NMF situations over the next year or so and analyze whether 2-way would help, hurt, or break even. I doubt there will be much difference especially since we play flexible two-level strong jump shifts and jump rebids by responder forcing.

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