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Understanding the Logic and Merit of Strong Pass!

I have set out below an article which is primarily aimed at North American based players as a means of exposing you to the legitimacy of bidding methods that the ACBL, in its wisdom, has decided it does not want to have a bar of. That it has done so, and in doing so has entered into close affinity with the WBF, in my view is a contributing factor to the 'death by a thousand cuts' that the game we love faces in this, the 21stC, it does this by stifling innovation and change, the lifeblood of all vigorous organic systems. 

I urge you to read the article with an open mind. if you disagree with me, by all means get stuck in, but if you agree with me in principle at least, I challenge you to beat the drum in the palaces of power.  Become ambassadors for change. 

Peter Fordham

25 Jan 2017

 

The Theoretical Basis of Bidding Systems Adopting Limited Openings, and a Strong Pass.

(Successful bidding based on a different paradigm.)

Successful bidding systems utilising limited openings and a strong Pass have differences from one to another, but there are a number of features commonly adopted, arising from common objectives.

1. A desire to compete the part score and tight game regions by opening all hands in the most common hand strengths, namely, 10 HCP +/- a number of points. 8-12 is a commonly adopted range. Thus a wide range of opening bids are based on different hand types in this range. This allows for constructive bidding to the best part score and tight game contracts while providing maximum difficulty to the opponents in these common battlegrounds by getting in the first blow (the opening bid) and an immediate bid by responder to the expected best spot.

e.g. 1S (8-12, balanced hand 3-4 spades): 3D (6+ D, to play, insufficient values for game, knowing partner has 2+ support. Precise, elegant, efficient and effective.)

Note: Everything flows from this central principle of opening the bidding on these most common hand strengths. Thus, the bidding systems are NOT constructed to achieve a primary desire to Pass in first and second seat for all 13+ point hands. (This is a consequence of wanting to open all 8-12 hands.) Neither is the system constructed to open 0-7 pt hands. That too is a consequence of the primary desire and the secondary desire to give maximum opportunity to fully and accurately describe strong hands by opening them as low as possible, i.e. with Pass (1st/2nd).

2. A desire to bid games and slams to the very best contracts once the values are established, by adopting precise methods to establish both hand pattern and high card location using a captain-crew approach to uncover the best contract.

What do I mean by captain-crew?

I mean that one partner, usually responder (not always) bids an artificial bid, usually a step to an (often natural) opening call that, on the one hand announces the combined strength for the partnership to be at or above game invitational values, while seeking further definition of partner's hand, starting with hand pattern, and later, if slam is in view, the exact location of high cards.

e.g. 2C (8-12 pts. 5+C, no singleton or void, no 3+ major): 2D (game invitational + values; artificial enquiry); 2H (8-10):2S (further enquiry and game forcing); 3C (2-2-4-5): 3H (setting D as trumps and enquiring about key cards) and so on to the final spot which might still be 3NT or game in responder's major, knowing of the doubleton opposite.

3. The desire expressed in 2. above influences the choice of Pass as the strongest opening call. The principal reason for this is that the lower the opening (when the opening is wide ranging in both strength and distribution) the greater the capacity to describe the combined strengths at a sensible level, usually below 3NT or game in a suit.

Note: For the mathematically minded, the Fibonacci Series governs the amount of information that can be gleaned in a finite number of steps. Thus, if opening the bidding with 1C allows (say) eighty nine distinctly different pieces of information below a given level, by opening just one step lower with Pass, there is opportunity to express one hundred and forty four discrete pieces of information by that same level, a tremendous advantage, and, greatly increases opportunity to get full information out, at or below 3NT, a critical potential stop point.

4. A desire to minimise the opponents' opportunities to optimise their exchange of information is balanced against the risk of being heavily penalised in choosing which bid or bids will describe the 0-7 point hands.

Why 8-12 as the focal point?

Examination of a table of frequency of hand occurrences by high card point strength gives -

0-8 = 37.48% 9-11 = 27.70% 12+ = 34.82%

0-7 = 28.58% 8-12 = 44.63% 13+ = 26.79%

0-6 = 20.56% 7-13 = 59.56% 14+ = 19.88%

So 8-12 allows nearly half of all hands to enter the battle zone of bidding immediately, usually in a natural or semi-natural fashion. Every (or nearly every for the argumentative.) expert on the planet will tell you what a great advantage opening the bidding with a closely defined point range is in competing for the hands where the points are reasonably evenly divided between the partnerships, as well as judging whether to bid game or slam, stay in part score or aim for a sacrifice. In reserve are the one hand in four where the non specific, but unlimited strength Pass starts proceedings.

7-13 gives six out of ten for opening, but are relatively much wider in strength and thus much more prone to ending in game when part score is the limit and vice versa.

9-11 gives greater accuracy in judging level but only one hand in four fits the bill and a much greater proportion of hands are opened with the 0-8 bid. (nearly 40%) and the strong Pass.

It is a matter of judgment what one might want to do, but 8-12 looks to get the Goldilocks Award, not too wide, not too narrow, just about right.

Does the use of 8-12 openings necessarily, mean that Pass be the call for strong hands?

The short answer is No! The longer answer is Yes, because of the reasons already touched upon. The lower, the non specific opening is made, the greater the opportunity to fully describe the hands at a useful level.

The corollary of this longer answer is that the 0-7 hands must be opened with a bid.

What might be the bid that best addresses the 0-7 hands?

This is a matter of balancing the risk of bidding with such paucity of values (There is only one partner to help out and two opponents potentially circling and baying for blood.) against the opportunity to interfere with the opponents' lines of communication in the bidding.

The more conservative of the methods adopt either 1C or 1D which give opportunity to play at one level (a 7-6 balance of trick taking is less daunting than an 8-5, two level venture with meagre assets.) The more adventurous, sometimes play two such bids, a one level bid with hands containing a singleton or void, and 2C for balanced hands. The paradox of the 2C bid is that there is more chance of finding a fit as against the two level risk.

Where does an 8-12 focal point bidding method win and where does it lose?

I do not have the data to prove this, but my experience of several years experience playing at national with some international experience is that the 8-12 openings are big winners, the Pass and the 0-7 openings are small losers.

Why do these bidding systems cause organisations such as WBF and ACBL so much angst?

I cannot answer that categorically, but I expect it mostly comes down to failure to understand that these methods are a serious and effective alternative to traditional approaches to bidding. Failure to get heads around concepts that differ from the traditional also contribute. Other factors might also include an inalienable belief that 'our approach is best' and anything else is 'an attempt to destroy' (a categorical error in thinking).

 

 

You will no doubt have noticed that I have not emphasised either the Strong Pass or the 0-7 openings. That is because, they are not the cornerstones of these approaches to bidding. The heart and soul of these methods are firstly the limited range openings and secondly the adoption of a captain-crew approach to getting to the best game or slam when the overwhelming majority of the strength is held by the partnership.

These bidding systems in many respects are quite naturally based, and lead to short sharp auctions on many occasions though it is true that, in the search for perfection in the slam zone there may be several rounds of bidding as successive answers to a stream of questions are provided before a final decision is made.

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