Friday, February 1, 2008

Interfering Over 1 NT Opening Bids

In my last blog I demonstrated the important role of interfering after opponents open 1 NT. You pay a price if you permit opponents to systematically pitty-pat their way to their best game. I promised you I would demonstrate how to become a “pain in the ass.” I suggest that on any level that is something that I am well qualified to do.

If your current practice when opponents open 1 NT is to use Cappelletti, Hamilton, Brozel or similar systems, you need to rethink your options. If your current practice is to bid only when you have a 6 card suit or are two suited with 5-5, you probably noticed you are just not much of a factor at all. Those hands at all hcp ranges occur about 20% of the time, but if you only open them when you have 15+ hcps (equal value), you reduce your frequency of occurrence to about 2%. Everybody can ignore the “2 percenters.”

You need to get into the game. Did you hear Marty Bergen’s call when he said it is a bidder’s game? He said it so long ago you may have forgotten. It is fine to bid when you have the cards, but it is critical to do so when you do not have the cards – that’s what “getting into the bidder’s game” is all about.

You need a system that in the direct seat permits you and partner to find all your possible fits at the two level. Often you will find an 8 card fit with partner, but having 8 cards in any suit suit do not support a three level contract. This is just the law of total tricks, something else that is not new. None of the systems mentioned permit you to find all of your potential fits at the 2 level. The one system that meets that requirement is also a Marty Bergen creation, DONT (Disturb Opponents No Trump). It is a system that is based solely on interference, not constructive bidding or even competitive bidding. What you are doing its getting in the face of your opponents.

The system is simple. You double to show a single suited hand, the relay is 2 clubs. Suit overcalls in clubs, diamonds or hearts show the bid suit and one undisclosed higher suit. The relay to get the second suit is bidding the next higher ranking suit. A spade overcall actually shows spades (can you believe that!). You will note that there are two ways to show a spade suit double and bid spades on the relay or simply overcall 2 spades. You can assign any distinguishing features you want to the spade hands. Since I like to overcall 2 spades anytime I have 5 spades to maximize the interference problem, I likely will have 6 spades if I double and bid spades. That may not be for you. Keep some “Pepto-Bismol” on hand and take liberal doses!

You do not have a penalty double! That is a blessing in disguise. Larry Cohen says the only thing worse than having to play 1NT doubledis to have to defend 1NT doubled. In those cases, usually the hcps are about equally divided and declarer has all the advantages of control, timing, seeing 26 cards and being able to develop his line of play. In addition, the lead is coming up to the strength of the one no trump hand and is coming right through your partner. When you lead 4th best, you very likely kill an honor in your partner’s hand. You may want to play a system that preserves the double against weak no trump openers, but I don’t think that is necessary either. Weak no trumpers are never going to sit for 1NT doubled, they always bail out and seemingly run to a safe 2 level contract. House of pain!

When playing DONT, how many points do you need to bid? That’s another wrong headed idea. What you do not need is points, they can become a liability when you are interfering since if we have too many, opponents may only have a part score or may get set. What you do need is some distribution, and the more the better.

What I can say with certainty is that you should always pass with 4333. Beyond that, use your imagination and watch the vulnerability carefully. If you are non-vulnerable and have some distribution, it is almost impossible to make a mistake by overcalling. If you hold 5-4, it is a “no brainer” -- just make a 2 suited overcall in your lowest ranking suit. If I am 5-5, even without a point, it is hard for me to stay in tempo. That card just rips out of the bidding box.

While I am not necessarily suggesting that you do so, when non-vulnerable, I often overcall when I am two suited 4-4, and recently did so with 2 jacks. The opponents reached their small slam anyway, but went down when they finessed me for the missing honor. House of Pain.

How about the risk of being doubled? Well, since 90% of the club pairs play stolen bid (a terrible choice), they do not have any way to double me other than to pass and hope that partner will double. Will partner actually double back in if you pass? How does he know that you don’t have a blow out. Defenses to overcalls will be the subject of the next post, but let me leave you with the thought that I seldom have been doubled, and I have made some egregious overcalls. Larry Cohen, arguably the best matchpoint player in bridge, recently said “Even experts with well oiled mechanisms (lebensohl, negative doubles) have a difficult time coping with interference.”

You must be sure that partner is in on this charade. He will not know whether you have a good hand or a bad hand, but hopefully he will have enough sense to look for a fit and not look for game. I like to keep this a secret from my partners, but if you must look for game, bid 2NT, it is the only forcing response. My advice is DONT!

Finding your best fit is the quest. If partner bids 2 clubs and you have 3 cards in the club suit, pass. You are not likely to improve on that and further bids may put you in a 6 card fit. Remember the suits in which you have length are most likely to be partner’s shortness. If you have a tolerable fit stay there, and don’t go jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Effective scrambling is what this is all about and our job is to play a suit at the 2 level, undoubled if we can. If responder bids, a double by partner is asking for the second suit. Note that we off the hook and it may be time for us to duck. If responder doubles, a redouble asks for the second suit. Pass shows a 3 card fit, redouble shows trouble. You cant win them all, but disasters are simply one board in matchpoints.

How about bidding when the auction goes 1NT/p/p/? Well, if your partner won’t bid, almost anything is justified. It is hard for me to think of a hand that I wouldn’t take some action in the 3rd seat unless I am 4333. Mel Colchamiro in his recent book says that in the pass out seat you make a DONT bid if you have two shortness points, even with no high card points. The point is do not pass out 1NT. We probably have half the points and they are favorites to make 7, and very likely 8 tricks. If they do, its limbo time, “how low can you go?”

Is this point of view aggressive? Yes. Is it foolish or radical? Not if you are to believe the best bridge players in the world. For authoritative reading on this subject, see Larry Cohen’s Following the Law (1994) at page 197 and Appendix C. It was the bridge book of the year so there should be some available. Also visit Larry’s web site .

OK, they read the blog and they overcalled. Time to D.S.I.P. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The nt overcalls has resulted in instant success. I got some neat scores on ok brigde by sticking my toe in. Including some that lost pts when ops had game and a couple of great ones when they decided to punish our 4 4 fit. thanks. ee