Opening Strong Balanced Hands

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Opening Strong Balanced Hands

Post by rod »

Last update 2024-07-04

The Problem

At a recent Swiss pairs event my partner picked up this hand:

♠ AQ97
♣ AK92

Partner opened 1♣, next hand overcalled 1 and I doubled to show a heart suit (playing transfers). Next hand passed.

At this point partner would have done better to bid 2NT but understandably chose to accept the transfer with 1. Thus I ended up as declarer in 3NT. This had no play after the expected diamond lead (I had Jxx).

Two things led to the demise of this contract: allowing a cheap lead-directing overcall, and wrong-siding the declarer.

A Solution

It would have been better if partner could have opened 2NT or some equivalent. So I worked out an alternative set of opening bids for strong balanced hands, as follows:

18-19 HCP: Open 2♣
20-21 HCP: Open 2NT
22-23 HCP: Open 2 (Multi) and rebid in notrump
24+ HCP: Open 2♣ and either jump to 3NT or improvise with suit bids

This adds a strong option to our Multi 2 opening, which is shown by rebidding notrump at our next opportunity. That could cause the weak hand to end up declaring a heart or spade contract, but hands this strong come up very rarely.

More Benefits

Freeing up the 2NT rebid after partner's 1-level response also offers a solution to some problems such as the so-called "Bridge World Death Hand", typically something like this:

♠ KQx
♣ x

where you open 1 and partner responds 1 or 1♠. You don't have enough to unilaterally force to game, but game is almost certain if partner's suit is 5+ cards. A 2NT rebid shows either this situation or a game-forcing hand with no side suit to jump shift into. Partner can then bid as follows in the case of a 1 response:

3♣    Temporizing, either 5 hearts or better than a minimum
3    Bad hand, denies 5 hearts, may be passed
3    6+ hearts
3♠    Spade feature, better than a minimum, denies 5 hearts
3NT   To play

Here's the equivalent after a 1♣ opening:

♠ KQx
♣ AKJxxx

You open 1♣ and partner responds showing hearts or spades. You now bid 2NT and partner (if spades were shown) has these choices:

3♣    Bad hand, denies 5 spades, may be passed
3    Temporizing, either 5 spades or better than a minimum
3    Heart feature, better than a minimum, denies 5 spades
3♠    6+ spades
3NT   To play

Or after a 1 opening:

♠ KQx
♣ x

You open 1 and partner responds 1♠. You now bid 2NT and partner has these choices:

3♣    Temporizing, either 5 spades or better than a minimum
3    Diamond feature, better than a minimum, denies 5 spades
3    Signoff, weak with 4 spades
3♠    6+ spades
3NT   To play

This 2NT bid works because you would open 2♣ with a 5-card major in a balanced 18-19 HCP.

Similarly, an auction like 1x - 1NT - 2NT is a game force with a 1-suited hand. Bidding can proceed naturally.

This also means that jump shifts by opener will show a real second suit and need not be "invented".

Changes to 2♣ Auctions

This also calls for some special treatment for 2♣ openings so that transfers can be used to stop in two of a major or three of a minor. It works like this:

2♣    2    5+ hearts, partner bids 2 only with 18-19 balanced
      2    5+ spades, partner bids 2♠ only with 18-19 balanced
      2♠    No long suit, partner bids 2NT only with 18-19 balanced
      2NT   6+ clubs, partner bids 3♣ only with 18-19 balanced
      3♣    6+ diamonds, partner bids 3 only with 18-19 balanced

2♣    2/
2/♠        (accepting the transfer) 18-19 balanced, may be passed
2NT         Game force, asks for clarification (3♣ is 0-5 HCP, otherwise natural)
3/♠        (super-accept) 18-19 balanced, 4-card support, not 4-3-3-3
4/♠        (game raise of partner's suit) Enough for game opposite nothing, but not more
3♠/4♣//   (jump shift) Game forcing raise of partner's suit, slam interest, shows a feature
Other       Game force, natural (includes 2♣ - 2 - 2♠)

Note that opener must accept the transfer with 18-19, even with only 2 cards in the suit.

2♣    2
2    2NT   Invitational, 5-card suit
      3    Invitational, 6-card suit
      3NT   Opener to choose between 3NT and 4
      Other Game force, natural

Similarly to the above for the transfer to spades.

The sequence 2♣ - 2♠ - 2NT is special. Responder has already denied a 5-card major or 6-card minor so transfers are not needed, but all the reasons for Puppet Stayman are still there. The following are simple and effective:

2♣    2♠
2NT   3♣    Puppet Stayman
      3    Slam interest with 4+ diamonds and possibly also any other suit.
      3    Slam interest with 4 hearts and possibly also spades or clubs.
      3♠    Slam interest with 4 spades and possibly also clubs.

If 2♣ is doubled or overcalled with a natural 2 or 2 then the same methods are used, with double as "stolen bid". With a stack in their suit you may pass and partner is then likely to reopen with a double. Pass is also an option with 0-5 HCP and no long suit. 2♠ is 6+ HCP with no long suit.

When the overcall is 2♠ I recommend Lebensohl, same as if the opening was 1NT. This means 2NT is a relay to 3♣ (to sign off in a suit or cue-bid 3♠ as Stayman, promising a stopper) and 3-level suit bids are natural and forcing. Double is negative. Pass is either a bad hand or hoping to pass partner's reopening double.

With higher overcalls transfers are off and natural bids must follow. Negative doubles apply to whatever level is agreed. A pass implies 0-5 HCP or a stack in the overcaller's suit, and it's possible for the overcall to become the final contract.
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