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Martian Standard Defense to Big Club
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Introduction

When Jeff Meckstroth was “in the well” a few months ago, a reader asked which strong club defense Jeff recommended. System nuts everywhere were shocked when Jeff replied he knows of no defense better than natural bidding! It made no sense. Artificial defenses show more hand types, surely they must be “better,” right?

Showing more hand types does not necessarily make a defense better. An artificial defense must accomplish some useful goal more often than a natural defense to be superior. Against a strong club opening, the primary goal of defensive bidding is preemption. If a defense does not help you preempt more often, it isn't better and it might be worse. I would rephrase Jeff’s statement this way, “Popular big club defenses don't enable preemption more effectively than a natural defense.”

I took this as a challenge to do better. This article describes a method invented by my partner Phil Clayton and myself and inspired by the Meckwell defense to an opening 1NT. We believe it exploits preemptive opportunities more effectively than natural bidding. We call it “Martian Standard” after our bidding system which is understood better on Mars than on earth.

 

Martian Standard Defense to 1

Call                Meaning

(1) -- Dbl     5-4 or better in the majors

(1) -- 1     Transfer to hearts

(1) -- 1     Transfer to spades

(1) -- 1     4 spades and a 5+ card minor

(1) -- 1NT    6 cards in either minor suit

(1) -- 2     5+ clubs and 4+ hearts

(1) -- 2     5+ diamonds and 4+ hearts

(1) -- 2     6-card heart suit, or 5 hearts and a 4+ card minor

(1) -- 2     6-card spade suit, or 5 spades and a 4+ card minor

(1) -- 2NT    5-5+ in the minors

 

With the exception of the double to show both majors, 2-suiters are shown using space-consuming calls. We abandon the natural 1 overcall to provide an extra call for show hands that include a major more accurately. The method has two goals:

  • To overcall at 1N or above as often as possible
  • To find all major suit fits immediately and raise to the maximum

 

To overcall at 1N or above as often as possible

Overcalls cheaper than 1N do little or no damage to the enemy auction unless raised. 2-level overcalls create ambiguity and cramp enemy auctions even when they are not raised. Hands that justify a 2-level bid have shape. By allowing both 1-suited and 2-suited calls at the 2-level, we can overcall at the 2-level more often and do more damage to their constructive bidding.

To understand why a 2-level overcall is more destructive, let's examine CRASH which uses cheap calls (double, 1 and 1NT) to show 2-suiters. The CRASH calls of double and 1 do no damage to the enemy auction because responder has a cheap call--(re)double--to distinguish moderate values (4+ to 7) from minimum values (0 to 3). When advancer preempts, opener often knows whether the partnership has the combined values to compete. However, if overcaller shows his 2-suiter at the 2-level, responder has fewer bidding options. When advancer raises, opener will be forced to guess more often.

W
N
E
S
1
X
XX
3
?

X = Reds or blacks

XX = 4-7 HCP

Opener can enter the auction knowing it is his hand because of responder's double.

 

W
N
E
S
1
2
P
3
?

2 = diamonds and hearts

The auction was higher for responder, meaning responder must pass on 0-5 instead of 0-3. Opener has a more difficult decision at the 3-level with less information about responder's values.

 

To find all major suit fits immediately and raise to the maximum

Even when you hold 9+ cards in 2-suits, most of the time you can't do much damage because you catch a limited fit. The exception comes when you catch a 9+ card fit. However, not all 9-card fits are the same. A preempt in a major does more damage than a preempt in a minor. So we designed our defense to identify all big major suit fits immediately, allowing advancer to raise to 3M or 4M as often as possible.

W
N
E
S
1
2
X
3
?

The 3 raise is a nuisance, but opener still has the 3- and 4- levels to bid his suit.

 

W
N
E
S
1
1
X
3
?

With no room below 3NT, the opener is in a real pickle. 3 was much more damaging than 3 in the last auction.

 

CRASH contains ambiguity about suits. Advancer must preempt in the lowest ranking of the possible suit fits to cater to that ambiguity. 

W
N
E
S
1
X
P
?

X = reds or blacks

Does partner have reds or blacks? Advancer can only preempt if he has a fit for a black and a red suit, and he must preempt in the lowest ranking possible fit. So even when you catch a situation where it is safe to preempt the enemy, CRASH limits how much you can exploit it. And if advancer has a shape like xxxxx, xx, xxx, xxx, he can not preempt at all! If overcaller's 2 suits include spades, this was a golden opportunity to disrupt that has been missed. Martian standard identifies major suits so we can always raise preemptively in situations where preempts do the most damage.

Double

Both majors, 5-4 or better

  • Minimum: shapely 4 HCP
  • Maximum: unlimited

Since the partnership can escape at the 1-level, we need only modest values to double. But what about shape?

I have seen good players show 2 suits after 1 on as little as 4-4-3-2 shape. But is this a good idea? After a big club, the goal of 2-suited interference is preemption to the 3-level or higher. If second hand can hold a flat hand, advancer must preempt cautiously, undermining the purpose of entering the auction in the first place. A 2-suited overcall should show 5-4 or better to facilitate raises to 3M+.

Hands with both majors are a golden opportunity for preemption. Raises to 2M, 3M, or 4M are blocking. Bids of a minor artificially show a fit in the corresponding major at any level.

 

W
N
E
S
1
?

QJxxx, Q109xx, xx, x

Double. Even though the hand is terrible, if partner can raise to 3M or 4M, the opening side is sure to make game or slam. -800 in 3M doubled loses only 3 IMPS when the alternative was -680 and it wins 11 IMPs when the alternative was -1430! Almost any hand with 5-5 shape can double.

 

KJ10x, Q109x, xx, xxx

Pass. A terrible double because your hand has defense and little offense. If partner raised to 3M you are probably in -800 territory at least.

 

KQxx, Q10xxx, x, xxx

Double. 5-4 shape with values in the long suits is fine for double.

 

xxxx, xxxxx, AKx, Q

Pass. With such good defense, do not encourage partner to overbid by doubling.

 

Jxxxx, KQ109xx, x, x

4. With such suit disparity, go for maximum preemption.

1/1 

These calls are transfers to hearts and spades respectively, showing 5+ cards in the next higher suit, although 4 is possible as a lead director (e.g., AKJx, x, xxx, xxxxx)

  • Minimum: 5-7 HCP, if values are concentrated in the shown suit
  • Maximum: Unlimited

Transfers are bid on three hand types:

  • Weak hands with values concentrated in the major.
  • Hands with moderate strength, inappropriate for a 2-level overcall (5-3-3-2 shape, too much defense, bad colors)
  • Hands with a 5-card major, good shape, and too strong for a 2-level overcall (14+ HCP)

 

W
N
E
S
1
?

AQxxx, x, AK10x, xxx

Bid 1. Holding the boss suit, the deal could belong to you even though RHO holds a good hand. Since your hand has defense, you don't want to risk a preempt when your defense means the enemy can only make a part score.

 

Qxxxx, xx, xx, Axx

Pass. With a bad hand, your overcall will have no effect on the enemy. If partner can rely on your overcall for values or a good suit, he can make more intelligent decisions to compete, bid game, or double.

 

Axxxxx, AQx, xx, xx

1. With 3 potential defensive tricks, a 2 call looks unattractive.

 

KQ109x, xx, xxx, xxx

1. Dead minimum transfer overcall. But if you wanted to bid 2 at favorable, I will not criticize.

 

AKQx, xx, xxx, xxxx

1. You want a spade lead don’t you?

 

Qx, K10xxx, Kxx, xxx

Pass. Your values are primarily defensive. You can stand a lead in 3 suits. You have almost no chance of winning the auction. A 1 overcall won't cause any impediment to the enemy, has some risk, and might lead the defense astray.

 

AKxxx, xx, xx, AQxx

1. With 4 likely defensive tricks and poor shape, bidding to the 2-level is an unnecessary risk. The enemy likely can’t make a game, so why risk a 500+ penalty.

 

AQJxxx, x, AKx, Qxx

1. Later you will compete to 2. You are too strong for a jump overcall of 2.

1

Promises exactly 4 spades and a 5+ card minor.

  • Minimum: approximately 7 HCP
  • Maximum: approximately 14 HCP

Since this call often forces the partnership to the 2-level, the minimum is a shapely 7-count. It has a limited maximum because the call is non-forcing. If your hand is too strong, start with 1NT and bid your spades later.

 

W
N
E
S
1
?

Q109x, x, A109xxx, xx

Minimum 1.

 

KQ10x, x, AQ109xx, xx

1. Solid, but still only 1.

 

AJ10x, x, xx, AKQ109x

1NT. Holding a good hand, start with 1NT to guarantee a second chance to bid. You can bid spades later

 

W
N
E
S
1
1
X
?

AQxxx, x, xxxxx, Jx

4. This hand is an easy 4. Stick it to the enemy before they can bid hearts.

1NT

Shows 6+ cards in a minor suit (either one).

Minimum: Approximately 7

Maximum: Approximately 14

Unlike a 1-of-suit overcall, a 1NT overcall has a preemptive effect. The big club opener is denied a 1NT rebid to show a balanced hand. As a result, overcalling 1NT on garbage has more upside than any 1-of-a-suit overcall on an equally bad hand. While it is nearly pointless to overcall 1 with 1 with Kx, xx, Q10xxxx, xxx, overcalling 1NT on the same hand has upside.

 

W
N
E
S
1
?

Axx, x, Qxx, AKxxxx

1NT.

 

xxx, Qxx, x, KJxxxx

1NT.

 

xxx, x, xxx, KQ109xx

3. Go for maximum preemption.

 

Ax, Kx, Ax, Jxxxxxx

1NT. With excellent defense and a bad suit, don’t preempt 3.

 

x, KQxx, Ax, AKxxxx

1NT. With such a strong hand, start with 1NT to guarantee yourself a second chance to bid. You can show your strength later by bidding hearts.

Could you miss a game with a wide-ranging 1NT overcall? Possible, but not likely. It is rare to hold a game after a strong club opening.

2 and 2

4 hearts or 5 poor hearts, and 5+ cards in the bid minor. With a good 5-card heart suit and a 5-card minor, bid 2.

  • Minimum: Approximately a good 7
  • Maximum: Approximately 13

Since these calls are non-forcing, they have a limited range of about 7-13. When overcaller is strong enough that game is a possibility, start with 1NT and bid a second time.

W
N
E
S
1
?

x, AQ10x, xx, Qxxxxx

2. A prototype 2 overcall.

 

x, AQ10x, xxx, QJ10xx

2. Another 2 overcall.

 

x, Jxxxx, xx, KQ10xx

2. because the major suit is bad

 

x, AQ109x, xx, KJxxx

2, not 2, because the hearts are excellent. 2 is more preemptive.

 

x, K10xx, xx, QJ10xxx

3. You might miss a heart fit, but the extra preemption justifies that risk.

 

xxx, AKQx, xxxxx, x

1 to direct a lead. With such suit disparity, settle for half a loaf and get the right lead. You probably can’t compete effectively unless partner happens to hold a big fit for hearts anyway.

 

x, AJ10x, AKQ109x, xx

1NT. Holding a good hand, start with 1NT, ostensibly showing a 1-suiter in a minor. If you overcall 2, you will probably play there. Overcall 1NT and then bid 2 to show a strong hand with 4 hearts and a long minor. You can bid 3 later to complete the description of this hand type.

2 and 2

Shows 6 cards in the bid major, or a good 5 in the bid major and 4+ cards in a minor. Typically, that means 5-5 or 5-4 with values concentrated values in the long suits.

  • Minimum: A shapely 7
  • Maximum: Approximately 13

W
N
E
S
1
?

AK109xx, xx, xx, xxx

Bid 2.

 

KJ109x, x, xxx, KJ10x

Bid 2. Your values are in your long suits.

 

Axxxx, xx, Qx, Axxx

Bid 1 or pass. When your shape is only 5-4, your hand needs to be suitable for preemption to justify a jump to 2M. This hand doesn't cut it.

 

xx, Axxxxx, Qx, A109

Bid 1. This would be a dangerous 2 bid. You have enough defense that the maximum for the enemy is often only a part score. It would be a shame to go for a number against a part score.

 

QJ109xx, x, xx, xxxx

Bid 3. With a completely offensive hand, wreak maximum destruction.

 

x, QJ109xx, x, Axxxx

Bid 4. The 6-5 shape justifies even more aggressive action. 4, not 2 or 3.

 

Conclusion

Using the Martian Standard defense to 1 allows us to preempt more effectively by maximizing our opportunities to bid 3 of a major or higher. I hope this adaptation of the Meckwell NT defense will both flatter and annoy Eric and Jeff by making their next trip to a championship more challenging!

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