Sunday, February 24, 2008

Combating Opponents from the Poison Gas Factory (Part 1)

In his soon to be released book, Lone Wolfe (2008), 4 time World Bridge Champion Bobby Wolfe talks about opponents whose tactics are devised in the Poison Gas Factory. By that he means opponents who get in your face with seemingly no other reason than they want to be in your face. Among the suspects are rude and intrusive overcalls after partner opens 1NT. We have demonstrated in earlier posts how hard it is sometimes for responder to get deals back on track once the overcall is made. There are two types of “fixes” for these poison gas guys (i) a convention called lebensohl and (ii) everything else. As Larry Cohen said, the small “l” is right, don’t ask!

Lebensohl is the best, so why not just skip “everything else.” As one expert recently said “lebensohl [is superior] but it’s a complex convention (entire books have been written about it) and the average club player is unlikely to want to invest the time to learn it fully.” I couldn’t agree more, and I might add even if you learn it, try to get a partner to do so. While I am going to discuss lebensohl in a later post, I am going to give you some more “doable” alternatives first.

If opponents double 1NT:
For sake of simplicity, most simple solutions suggest that you ignore the double and play all systems on (front of the card). Redouble is an unused option, so you and partner can decide what that means. I like redouble as a relay to partner who bids 2 clubs. Now with xx, xxx, KT9xxx, xx, I can bid 2 diamonds to play. Redouble could alternatively mean “cards.” A third alternative is to use redouble as a “run out” saying partner I have very little, but we would be better off almost any place else. Opener should bid 4 card suits up the line.

If opponents overcall 1NT: (Several options).
(a) Systems Always On/Stolen Bid: This is what we most commonly see and is probably the worst choice. All bids retain their system meaning and double is “stolen bid.” So the sequence 1NT/2c/x is stolen bid for Stayman. 1NT/2d/3c is also Stayman since the opportunity to bid Stayman at the 2 level was lost. The same rules hold for transfers.

(b) Limited Systems On/Stolen Bid: In this modification, when opponents overcall 2 clubs or 2 diamonds, double is stolen bid. Any higher 2 level double is for penalty, including a double of 2NT overcall (usually minors).

(c) Red, Black and Blue: Double of the black suits is for penalty and double of the red suits is stolen bid (transfer). In this system 3 clubs would be Stayman.

(d) Systems Off: In the event of any overcall, all systems are off, doubles are penalty and all bids are natural showing 5+ card suits. Suit yourself, but I think all non- jump bids should be to play. This is the way they did it for years under the Goren System. With a good 7-8 points, they would simply “whack” the overcall, but remember the 1NT openers in those days were 16-18 hcps. Yes, you get the hand wrong sided, but one bridge authority claims that having the strong hand as declarer is only a 55-65% advantage. When we get to lebensohl, we will see the same problem.

(e) Jerry Helms: Systems on with stolen bid after 2 clubs overcalls only. Jerry sez: “Beyond this point, well…. I cease to understand any merit to stolen bid.” If the overcall is beyond 2 clubs, all responses are natural. He goes on to say that if the overcall is 2 diamonds or higher, he prefers “some form of lebensohl” but he doesn’t give any details as he knows it is a “bed of snakes” for his readers.

(f) Larry Cohen: Here is a guy that has his feet firmly planted and is not going to be trapped. He says that to deal with interference we need to do a “little studying and memorizing.” He goes on to say that: “It is impractical (unless you are a world class bridge pro) to try to memorize different schemes versus different methods [of interference] …. it would be too much memory drain.” He finesses his way around this by first offering what he calls a medium complicated scheme of Transfer Lebensohl which is, as you may have guessed, actually is extremely complicated and requires way too much memory drain for “us folks.” Realizing the impracticality of that, he offers a simple “for dummies” scheme that most of us would find useful.
(i) If opponents make a “conventional” double, just ignore it. Systems on.
(ii) If they make a penalty double (equal value bid), then play everything natural, no systems.
(iii) If the overcall is 2 clubs, systems on, double is Stayman.
(iv) If they bid 2 diamonds or higher, abandon transfers and bid naturally. In this auction if you double the overcall, the double is “negative!” Larry says “it would take too long to explain exactly what qualifies as negative. But here is a simple explanation. It is not penalty. It is not purely showing the other major(s). It just means partner I have values to bid, but no bid I can conveniently make.”

If you go to his website and look at his 2 articles on interference over 1NT, you will find some examples of hands that he would make a negative double on. They clearly show no more than 2 cards in the bid suit, and strongly imply a major. If the bidding goes 1NT/2d/p/p/x, the double by opener is also negative. The example hands range from 6-8 hcps. This negative double stuff is hot and cutting edge, so give it some thought.

In is own evaluation, he says “this [less complicated] scheme [for dealing with interference] is not 100% complete but will help you cope with most situations with a minimal amount of memory drain."

OK, you have my ala carte offering of how to deal with interference. Actually you can mix and match these if you want. Next time we will deal with lebensohl. I will try to make my version slightly less complicated than Larry’s, but I will not have a perfect bid for each scenario. In the meantime, visit Larry’s website for so me good reading. It is in my favorites and I go there often.

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