Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Combined Bergen Raises --The Final Word!

My recent post on Combined Bergen Raises was one of the most popular ever. It has generated comment not only from United States, but also two comments from Europe, one from Portugal and one from Spain. I always claimed my blog was read world wide, now I can prove it.

With Combined Bergen ,the 1NT response to a major sit opener can be played as semi-forcing instead of forcing. Opener can pass a 1NT response if he has a balanced minimum hand and no secondary 4 card suit. In my original blog post, I panned this idea saying it sounded like Old School Bridge. Since my initial writing I have played 1NT semi-forcing. Guess what – I am now a convert! I have benefited from some nice boards playing 1NT contracts after a 1 of a major opening. The results speak for themselves. So we have reached another blog landmark, I made a mistake – or maybe the landmark is that I am just admitting it for the first time!!!!

I have also had commentary from several hard core Bergen Raise advocates who claim Combined Bergen is flawed since in the sequence 1 heart/3 clubs (7-12 hcps)/3 diamonds(constructive raise or limit raise?)/3 spades (limit raise) opener has lost the opportunity to stop the auction at 3 hearts with a minimum holding. True enough. My Rochester NY partner, Jim Bailey, made the same observation, but also provided the obvious answer. If you do not want to play at game when responder has a limit raise, why did you bid 3 diamonds in the first place! If you don’t want to go to war with a limit raise partner, don’t bid 3 diamonds, bid 3 hearts and get out.

This functionally is no different whether you are playing Original Bergen, Reverse Bergen or Combined Bergen. If partner opens a Rule of 20 hand, he has to have a way to stop the music. The bidding sequence in all three is the same, 1h/3c/3h. I hope you don’t think that 3 hearts is invitational? Are you going to flog opener forever for his good intentions. I hope not, but if so, I have a seat for you as a permanent East-West at my table.

Yesterday I held xxxx, Qx, Kxxx, KQx. My partner, Kenn Thornton, opened 1 spade and I bid 3 clubs. Now this hand is no thing of beauty, but I liked the fact that my values were outside the trump suit, that I had Kings and Queens and no Jacks, and that I had touching honors in clubs. I also liked the doubleton but certainly the value of the Queen of hearts was suspect. It is an 8 LTC hand, the minimum expectation of a limit raise. I toyed with the idea of just making a single raise, but was able to resist masterminding the situation. Time to trust partner to do the right thing! What a noble concept!

Kenn for her opener held AKQxx, Jxxx, x, Jxx. I certainly want her to open this hand: it meets the rule of 20, it has 2 quick tricks, it is a 7 LTC count hand and has a convenient rebid if necessary. A potential analysis for opener is “if responder has an 8 LTC hand for his limit raise, our total LTC is 15, one too many for game.” I don’t know if Kenn made that analysis, but she did have the sense to bid 3 spades and shut down the auction. The hand made exactly 3 spades and everybody at game went down one.

If all forms of Bergen correctly bid reach the same contract, why bother with Combined Bergen? The answer is that standard Bergen/1NT forcing treatment has some systemic issues that are effectively overcome with Combined Bergen.

First, by using the 3 diamond response to show the 3 card limit raise, we no longer have a need to make a 1NT response forcing. Simply being able to pass partner's 1NT response has been demonstrated to be matchpoint correct with certain minimum hands.

Second, with the 3 card limit raise I think it is important to bid three diamonds rather than 1NT forcing, since the 3 diamond response does have preemptive value. Notice that the three level is well protected by the law of total tricks. If the bidding goes 1h/p/1NT/2s/p/3s, all the room in the auction to show your limit raise has disappeared. You can try 4 hearts, but a lot of 3 card limit raises do not make game against a minimum opener, mostly because responder often has 3-3-3-4 distribution, and there is no ruffing value in the dummy.

Third, another positive is that the 1NT forcing response can now show a hand with exactly 2 trump. No more guessing whether partner has 2 or 3 card support.

Lastly, if we are using 1NT forcing to show a limit raise, and partner with a big hand opens 1 heart and subsequently makes a jump shift to 3 clubs, what does responder do next? Would a bid of 3 hearts show a limit raise, or could partner with a minimum response and 2 hearts be taking a simple preference? With the limit raise hand does partner have to bid 4 hearts over 3 clubs, and if so how does opener know that is not simply “fast arrival”?

For all of these reasons I suggest you try Combined Bergen. Yes, I know it is new and we all hate anything new, but in final analysis, it is more than just “just another mousetrap.” Now as to the part about “final word”, don’t count on it!

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