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A Novel Use for the Sequence 2C-2D-2NT

BobCiaffone In Standard American bridge, it is almost a universal concept that a 2NT opening bid is weaker than the sequence 2-2-2NT. The usual values are 20-21 HCP for opening 2NT and 22-23 HCP for opening 2 followed by rebidding 2NT. I think the strength order of the two big notrump sequences is more a matter of bridge tradition than bridge logic. The 2 opening can be tailored to allow the partnership to stop below 2NT on some sequences if the appropriate partnership agreements are in place.


If one wishes to take advantage of the opportunity to stop below 2NT after opening 2, it is logical to use the sequence starting with 2 and rebidding 2NT as weaker than starting with a 2NT opening bid. The fewer points the partnership may have, the more valuable is the ability to stop at a low level. I have felt for many years that we should use this potential of the 2 opening bid to allow the partnership to stop below the level of 2NT when responder has a very weak hand, and use the 2NT opening bid for a stronger hand than 2-2-2NT.

I have used this basic concept of switching the strength requirements of 2NT and 2-2-2NT in a number of different ways over the last ten years. Let me tell you about my experiences with this switch, and the method I presently use for reaping the rewards of it.

If partner opens 2 and you wish to bail out below 2NT, you obviously need the agreement that the response of 2M is non-forcing. Bid 2M on any hand that has a five-card suit that will not make a game opposite a hand within the 2-2-2NT point-count range being used. If opener is within that range, he should pass. A rebid of 2NT by opener shows a strong balanced hand the next notch up from a 2NT opening bid, as does a raise to three of responder’s major. The bid of a new suit by opener denies support and is forcing, showing a strong two-bid in that suit.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, but I do not believe giving up strong major-suit responses to 2 is a painful sacrifice. In fact, the most notable result of such a bid is to wrong-side the contract if that suit becomes trump. It also raises the bidding an extra level when the 2 opener has hearts and responder has a positive response in spades. While it is sometimes nice to have partner guarantee two of the top three honors in a suit, it may be possible to ascertain this later in the auction if that suit becomes trumps.

My first attempt to build a framework using 2-2-2NT as a weaker bid than opening 2NT was to simply flip-flop the pointcount required for the bids, making 2-2-2NT show 20-21 HCP and the 2NT open show 22-23 HCP. The results were not bad, but the positive yield was small. For one thing, the system could not be put to use as often as I would have liked, as big notrump hands do not grow on trees. It is hard to convince a partner to learn a new system when it arises so seldomly.

Another problem I encountered is when partner made a non-forcing 2M bid after our 2 opening, it did not always place us in a good spot. We would play a 5-2 fit in a weak trump suit too often, losing to pairs playing notrump contracts. Stopping low is seldom a virtue when you park in the wrong strain. So I went back to the drawing board.

Bridge players are used to playing a 2NT opening bid as 20-21 HCP, so I eventually decided to keep that as part of the framework. I then used the sequence 2-2-2NT to show specifically a 19 HCP hand. This increased the frequency of this sequence dramatically. More than half of our 2 opening bids were balanced hands of 19 HCP.

Using the sequence 2-2-2NT for a hand weaker than the 20-21 HCP 2NT opening bid meant we now needed to add another way of showing balanced hands of stronger than a 2NT opening bid. This problem was solved by using a modified form of Kokish Relay, where after a 2 opening and a 2 response, opener rebids 2 on both a strong two-bid in hearts and certain balanced notrump hands. After opener’s 2 bid, responder now puppets by bidding 2, whereupon opener can either bid 3 to show a strong two-bid in that suit or bid either 2N or 3N to show a big balanced hand. This adds two new sequences to our big notrump arsenal. We have 2C-2D-2H-2S-2NT (non-forcing) to show a balanced hand of 22-23 HCP, and the same sequence except with a jump by responder to 3NT to show a hand of 26+ HCP. (A 24-25 HCP hand is shown by 2C-2D-3NT). So we can now use 2-2-2NT for a weaker hand than a 20-21 2NT opening bid and still have the ability to show all the huge balanced notrump hands.

The use of Kokish means there is another sequence where opener has to awkwardly rebid 3NT added to the usual 2C-2D-3NT. Although having opener rebid 3NT is admittedly less desirable than the rebid of 2NT, this is only a minor problem, because such huge hands are so rare. For hands above 21 HCP, the frequency of a high point-count hand reduces dramatically each time a point is added. There are more hands of 22 HCP than all the hands combined in the category of 23-40 HCP; there are more hands of 23 HCP than all the hands combined in the category of 24-40 HCP. How to better handle hands bigger than 23 HCP should not be of much importance in your whole bidding framework.

I was a bit uncomfortable with Kokish Relay results with hands that were a strong two-bid in hearts. After opener bids 3, there is no way for responder to raise the suit except on hands lacking any controls (which can bid 4). I even dropped using modified Kokish Relay for a while, only to come back to it in an improved version. Opener having a strong two-bid in hearts could show it by bidding 3, which allows responder on a hand of value to set the trump suit by bidding 3. A 3 bid by responder could be played as a double negative, or simply a neutral bid with values but no real heart support. When I mentioned this 3 idea to my friend Alan Schafer, he said he had thought of the idea himself and was playing it with his favorite partner! I started using modified Kokish Relay again, using the Schafer modification, and found it to be a workable system.

I also started using another modification of my 2-2-2NT system, in order to alleviate the problem of getting into an inferior major-suit contract when partner has a weak hand with a five-card major. The new method said that the 2 opener could not have a five-card suit, and has to have at least Qx or xxx in both of the major suits. That put a stop to playing in bad major suit contracts at the two-level.

One of the worries I had when initially using the 2-2-2NT sequence on hands of only 19 HCP was arriving in 2N with inadequate values. This has turned out not to be a problem. In fact, in 2010, I expanded the use of the use of 2-2-2NT to include hands of 18 HCP as well. Now the range I use for this sequence is 18-19 HCP.

You may be thinking that using the sequence 2-2-2NT for 18-19 HCP balanced hands is wasteful duplication of function, because we can already describe these hands by opening in a minor suit and rebidding 2NT. This is not true. Having another way––a more eloquent way––to express an 18-19 HCP balanced hand has many benefits.

As you recall, my initial purpose in this whole system was to enable responder to stop at the two-level with light major-suit hands. Now that I have a decade of experience, I can say that there are some other gains of more help than this one. Let me describe the most important benefits.

The most important benefit of using the sequence 2-2-2N on 18-19 HCP balanced hands is to right-side major suit contracts. The big hand plays last on the opening lead and is concealed throughout the play. There is scarsely a partnership that does not use transfer bids when they open 1N, but only the big club systems right-side suit contracts with an 18-19 HCP balanced hand involved. Right-siding gains big-time on most of the field.

Another important benefit to using the sequence 2-2-2NT on 18-19 HCP balanced hands is to avoid playing minor-suit contracts where everyone passes your one-level minor-suit opening bid and the opponents turn up with far more trump cards than you have. In the system I am advocating, opener with 18-19 HCP will usually have a five-card suit when he opens 1m.

A related benefit to using the sequence 2-2-2NT for 18-19 HCP balanced hands is to reduce the need for responding on a sub-minimum hand to a minor suit opening by partner just to avoid the type of bloodbath mentioned above.

The ACBL permits this treatment of the 2 opening in any type of event. If you decide to give my 2 system for balanced hands of 18-19 HCP a try, here is how the ACBL would like you to handle alerting it. The opening bid of 2 does not require an alert. A response of two of a major as non-forcing must be alerted. A rebid of 2NT by opener must be alerted with an explanation of the unusually light point-count. Naturally, the Kokish Relay components of 2 rebid by opener and the puppet to 2 by responder require an alert, as does the use of 3 by opener to show a strong two-bid in hearts.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to make you aware of the concept of using 2-2-2NT on lesser hands than your 2NT opening bid. It can be used in far more forms than are presented in this article. There are many worthwhile and interesting ways the concept could be employed.

Every time you wrong-side a contract involving an 18-19 HCP balanced hand, think about my article.

Every time partner and the opponents pass your opening bid of one of a minor on an 18-19 HCP balanced hand and you suffer a bloodbath on a 3-2 fit or some-such, think about my article.
Every time you respond to partner’s opening bid of 1 or 1 on inadequate values to look for a better spot and consequently get too high, think about my article.

These bad results are not the inevitable price of playing a Standard American system; many are avoidable.


Bob Ciaffone is also a world-famous poker player, instructor, and has authored numerous books.

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