Monday, February 18, 2008

"Combined Bergen Raises" - Nirvana at Last!

As back ground, when partner opens the bidding 1 of a major, Bergen Raises are used to show card 4 card support and 7-12 high card points. Marty Bergen in originally explaining the system stated that the jump raise to 3 diamonds showed 10-12 hcps and the jump raise to 3 clubs showed 7-9 hcps. This is called the Bergen Raise and always shows 4 card support at either level. Just when Bergen Raises gained popularity, Marty changed his mind and said that 3 clubs should show 10-12 hcps and 3 diamonds 7-9 hcps. Naturally this became the Reverse Bergen Raise. The Reverse Bergen Raise is almost universally used today. There are other Bergen modifications, including Bergen Splinter’s, but they never gained significant popularity.

Just when you thought you finally could remember the difference between Bergen Raises and Reverse Bergen Raises, Combined Bergen Raises made an entrance. Although the origins of Combined Bergen Raises are not clear, the late Max Hardy sounded the first alarm 10 years ago when he wrote a book entitled Major Suit Raises – What’s Wrong with Them and How to Fix Them. He brutally attacked a cornerstone of bridge, Constructive Raises, and pointedly said they should be “thrown in the garbage.” He got the critique right, but may have missed the fix, Combined Bergen Raises. We don’t really know who was there when the light went on, but I credit Pat Peterson for popularizing the treatment in Central New York and for polishing the structure of the system.

Using combined Bergen Raises the sequence 1major/3clubs combines the Bergen bids of 3 clubs and 3 diamonds and shows 7-12 hcps and 4 card support for the major. Opener now bids three diamonds asking responder whether he has 7-9 or 10-12 hcps. If responder has the 7-9 raise, he bids 3 hearts and if he has the 10-12 raise he bids 3 spades.

If responder shows the 7-9 point raise, opener passes or corrects at the 3 level if he has no interest in game. If he wishes to play at game, he bids 4 hearts or 4 spades as the case may be. In this case, opener is the captain of the ship. If responder shows a 10-12 limit raise, opener bids game, or if slam is a prospect, can cue bid or ask for responder’s controls via 4NT. Once responder describes his hand, he simply takes his cue from opener, who is the only one who can put the two hands together.

The current accepted manner of showing 10-12 hcps and 3 card support (a 3 card limit raise) is to bid 1NT forcing and then jump in partner’s bid major. Under certain bidding sequences this sequence can be equivocal and has little preemptive value as opponents have no trouble coming into the bidding or raising the bidding over 1 NT responses. Forget they may not have anything; they still get in your hair, what else is new? Once they get a bid and then find a fit, it’s a struggle to bring any reason to the auction. Since using Combined Bergen we no longer use 1 major/3 diamonds to show the 7-9 hcp raise, we have the 3 diamond response that is not in use. We put it back to work as showing a 3 card limit raise. So 1spade/3 diamonds shows 3 card spade support and 10-12 hcps.

So, what do we have left? (i) The sequence 1major/2 major shows 3 card support and a good 5 to 9 hcps. No more using 1NT forcing if you have 3 trump and 5-6 hcps. Again we enjoy the advantage of hoisting the bidding making it difficult for opponents to come in even if they do have some decent cards. (ii) 1 major/3 major is a weak preemptive raise (iii) 1 major/4 major shows 5+ card support and very little in outside values or defense. (iv) 1 major/1NT forcing can be used with 5-11 and shows exactly 2 card support for the bid major.

There are players (not your blogger) who resist 1NT forcing over major suit openers and prefer a semi-forcing treatment. They complain about never getting the chance to play 1NT when opener has a balanced minimum hand. Here is an optional treatment if your partner is of that mind. If opener has a balanced hand and less than 14 hcps, he may choose to pass 1 NT and let responder play it. This must be a partnership understanding, must be announced as semi-forcing and must be fully explained if asked. Also, responder must be very careful not to bid 1NT forcing with more than 11 hcps. Personally, I think it is retro, but if it makes you happy, just get partner on the same track and go for it.

My thanks to Pat Peterson for describing this treatment for me. Pat’s 2 page summary has several examples. If you want a copy of her original memo, please contact me, not Pat.


Jim Bailey said...

I like it, Tommy. Let's give it a try when you're in Rochester this summer. -Jim

Anonymous said...

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Jim Bailey said...

Using combined Bergen raises, if the auction goes 1H-3C-3D-3S, then we are committed to game in hearts, even if opener only has a minimum (12-13hcp). For this reason, if partner is minimum, he should never bid 3D after the conventional 3C response but rather should just sign off at 3H (or 3S for that matter, if he opened 1S). The 3D response to 3C by opener should never be used unless opener would accept a limit raise invitation to game.

Anonymous said...

How does this system deal with interference from the opponents?

For example:

If opener is of the range that would take a limit raise to game but no more he is on a guess is he not?

Likewise even 1S-P-3C-3H can find similar trouble, though you can elect to surrender the double in that case. Though surrendering it allows a good amount of leeway for defenders to get lead direction or sac.

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