Saturday, May 3, 2008

Free Advice from Larry Cohen

Those who read my website will not be surprised that I blow Larry Cohen’s horn, loud and clear. As a bridge professional, I contend that he is arguably (with his partner David Berkowitz) the best in America at matchpoints. So, why haven’t you visited his website ( and signed up for his FREE Newsletter? Larry is an excellent writer with due care and attention to novices and intermediates who read his material. His words of wisdom are not commands, but always come in the form of suggestions or recommendations, leaving the door open for the reader to think for himself. His critics may say that he is too basic – duh, reaching a common level of understanding for all players without over complication is his objective! Unlike other bridge writers, he doesn’t feel compelled to establish his qualifications through complexity.

In his last newsletter he wrote about responses to minor suit openings. In the preceding Newsletter he had written about opening hands with 1 of a minor. Here is his protocol for opening a hand with 1 of a minor:

(a) 3-3 in the minors, open 1 club to help establish the 1 diamond opening as being from 4+diamonds. So, you are a “better minor” guy, go ahead. Even Larry says that he would open Axxx, xxx, AKQ, 987 one diamond because of the overwhelming strength, but not KQT.
(b) 3-4 open the 4 card club suit.
(c) 4-3 open the 4 card diamond suit.
(d) 4-4 open the 4 card diamond suit,
(e) 5-4 or 5-5 open the 5 card diamond suit.
(f) 4-5 open 1 diamond! Yes, the 4 card suit! Assume you hold x, xxx, AQT5, AQxxx. You decide to ignore Larry’s advice open 1 club. The bidding now goes 1c/1s/? Do you want to rebid 1NT with a singleton? Not me, I value my partner’s too much. Wouldn’t it have been easier with this minimum hand to open 1 diamond so that you can next bid 2 clubs without reversing? It is better to let partner think you have 5 diamonds than it is to rebid 1NT with an unbalanced hand. Actually Larry is much kinder, he says this is what I do, and do whatever you want.
(g) 3-2. Now your holding is always exactly 4=4=3=2. Open 1 diamond, this is the one exception where you will not have the 4+ diamonds. You can’t open a 4 card major. Could you open 1 club with this hand? Yes, some good players do that just so they can be absolutely pure about their 4+ card diamond suit guarantee. Larry says that he would rather not worry about 2 card club suit every time he hears 1 club and then have to “sound off” with that tiresome and annoying announcement “may be short.” How often will the hand have 3 diamonds and 2 clubs and no 5 card major? Larry says it is 3% of the hands, and he is satisfied with being 97% pure on his diamond guarantee.

How many clubs should you assume opener will have when he opens 1 club? Using the above treatment for minors, I think you will find the result surprising. Here are the percentages:

(a) 3 clubs = 17%
(b) 4 clubs = 26%
(c) 5 clubs = 38%
(d) 6 clubs = 15%
(e) 7 clubs = 4%

Partner will have a real club suit (at least 4 long) 83% of the time, and it is more likely to be 6+ than 3. Doesn’t that give you some reassurance and reduce your panic level when partner opens 1 club?

Jumping forward to the next newsletter on responses, Larry talks about Inverted Minors. This is not one of the more exotic inverted minor treatments, just plain vanilla where a single raise is 10+ hcps and support and the double raise is preemptive, not more than 7 hcps. He promises to discuss this subject more fully at a later date, but for now he advises that if you do play inverted minors, fully discuss them with your partner. Here are some of the items that need to be on that discussion agenda.

(a) Is it on after a double or overcall? Larry recommends NO and NO.
(b) Is it on by a passed hand? Larry recommends Yes.
(c) Is the single raise forcing to game. Larry recommends NO.
(d) How high is the single raise forcing ? Larry says that if opener rebids 3 of the minor or 2NT, the responder can pass with a minimum hand.

At the recent Nationals in Detroit, Larry was the top Masterpoint winner among North American bridge professionals, finishing ahead of stalwarts such as Rodwell and Meckstroth. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he barely made the top 10, with many European and other foreign players dominating the tournament.

It is generally agreed among all top professionals that there is very little difference in the quality of the play of the bridge hand or defense, since they are all equally adept and nothing ever really changes. The European and other foreign players simply have better bidding systems and develop a keener sense of both constructive and defensive bidding, and are masters at communication and strategy. Contrary to the stifling influence of the ACBL, in Europe, innovation and change are welcomed as an important part of the development of player skills and the game. The Italians may have gotten wrong sided in WW II, but they have been making up for it ever since.

No comments: