Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Stormin" Norman and Four Suit Transfers

“Stromin Norman” Gath, affectionately known in Rochester, N.Y. bridge circles as the “Mad Rhino”, was a friend of mine for years before we realized that we both played bridge. Bad health took him down about 2 years ago, but he went out like a warrior on his shield, in touch with his bridge friends until the very end. Norm was a real Renaissance man with interests in everything from music, to antiques, to coins, to the stock market, Persian rugs, golf, bridge and more.

If Norm thought your bridge was within the “salvageable” range, he would send you his two favorite bridge books. Dee Brown’s “Two over One in a Nutshell”, a 2”x 3” miniature book covering all you need to know about 2/1 and “4 Suit Transfers”, a 32 page monograph by Ann Reese. What, you didn’t get them? That is not good! Mine contain a personal thanks and endorsement from the Rhino himself. Well, needless to say, I couldn’t go into this 4 Suit Transfer blog without a tear in my eye for the great Rhino and a bunch of pleasant memories.

Four Suit Transfers operate after partner has opened 1 No Trump. The first of the 2 transfers are actually just Jacoby Transfers with 5 card major suits which everybody understands today. According to “4 suit transfers” a super acceptance of a Jacoby Transfers (a jump in the transferred suit) shows 4 card support for the major, a maximum hand and at least one doubleton. Marty Bergen makes a super accept on little more than 4 card support for the major, since he has 9 trump and is properly aligned with the Law of Total Tricks. You can look in my recent blog archive for a post on “Super Accepts” that discusses this issue. The other two transfers are transfers to minor suits. Almost everybody in duplicate bridge has some system to transfer or relay the 1 No Trump opener to a minor suit.

One system for dealing with hands dominated by minor suits is Minor Suit Stayman. The actionable bid over 1 No Trump is 2 spades and it shows responder with 9+ minor suit cards, minimally 5-4 and 9+ hcps. There are detailed rebids by opener to show hand strength and distribution with the object of bidding game or slam in a minor suit or no trump. The bidding sequences are very specific and for me have never been easy to remember. Since this is not a post about Minor Suit Stayman, I will leave you to do your own research if you are interested.

Another popular system for minor suited hands is to agree that the response of 2 spades over 1 No Trump relays opener to 3 clubs, and from there responder sets the contract in either clubs by passing or bids 3 diamonds to play. The big advantage of this system is its simplicity. Easy to remember and hard to go wrong in the bidding, but other than “right siding” the hand so that opener becomes declarer, it doesn’t accomplish much. In his last newsletter Larry Cohen talks about “truck driver” bids. Bids that show no imagination and do not serve to further define either hand, using a sledge hammer where a scalpel might have been more appropriate. In these relays, opener does not know what suit you want to play in so it is difficult for him to offer any constructive help. You have turned opener into a relay robot and you are masterminding the hand. How good can that be?

When using 4 Suit Transfers the sequence 1NT/2 spades transfers opener to clubs. The sequence 1NT/2NT transfers opener to diamonds. Responder could have four different types of minor suit hands:

Transfer and Pass: x, xx, xxxx, QJTxxxx. If responder passes 1NT, opener will probably be playing the contract out of his own hand, never getting to the dummy. If you have never done that, take it from me that the contract is down 2 or 3. The hand rates to play better in 3 clubs, so bid 2 spades to transfer to clubs and pass.

Invitational: xx, xx, AJTxxx xxx. With 15-17 no trump openers, I usually figure partner for 3 ½ quick tricks. If opener holds Kxx of diamonds, we are surely favorites to make 3NT even though responder holds only 5 hcps. Responder bids 2NT transferring opener to diamonds. Note that in between 2NT and 3 diamonds, there is an unused bid of 3 clubs. In 4 Suit Transfers, opener’s bid of 3 clubs in this sequence (rather than 3 diamonds) is a ‘super acceptance” showing 3 card support with one of the top three honors in diamonds or 4 card diamond support. If opener has Kxx in diamonds he bids 3 clubs, and responder with new information bids 3 NT rather than 3 diamonds. Suppose opener held AQ, Axxx, Kxx, Axxx (17 hcps). Although the combined hands hold only 22 hcps, the no trump game makes most of the time. Perfect fit? Of course, I made it up, but it didn’t have to fit this well to have a good play for 3NT.

Game Values: AQx. xx, AQTxxx, xx. With 12 hcps, responder bids 2NT (a transfer to diamonds) showing his diamond suit and a distributional hand. If opener takes the transfer to 3 diamonds, responder bids 3NT showing game values. Opener apparently does not have Kxx in diamonds, but the hand is good enough to play in 3NT in any event. If opener shows Kxx in diamonds by bidding 3 clubs, responder would be rethinking his options.

Slam Interest: Axx, x, Kxx, AKxxxx (14 hcps). Assume opener holds Kxx, Ax, AQxxx, Qxx (15 hcps.). The bidding goes 1NT/ 2s (transfer to clubs) 2NT (super accept for clubs) 4c (ace of clubs – 3 clubs would be to play) 4d (ace of diamonds) 4h (ace of hearts) 6NT. If clubs split 3-1 or 2-2 and diamonds split 3-2 it will make 7 No Trump.

Notice how useful it can be to find a solid minor suit that will produce 6 tricks. One of Max Hardy’s favorite sayings was “fits take tricks.” Fits are only found through good communication. Four suit transfers with super acceptances permit this. Relays are just one man shows.

It should be noted that the super acceptance can be flip-flopped so that taking the in-between bid could say “no super accept” and bidding the transfer suit could say “super accept.” If you decide to do this, the opening one no trump bidder will be declaring the hand when he has a super acceptance and responder will be playing the hand when there is no super accept. There is no compelling evidence that one treatment is better than the other. Just reach agreement with your partner and stick to it.

You may have rejected this idea already saying “I don’t want to give up my 2 no trump invitational bid just to occasionally transfer to diamonds.” Good point, neither do I, but there is no need to give up anything. If you have whatever you consider an invitational 2 no trump hand, just bid 2 clubs (Stayman), even if you have no 4 card major. Opener will make some response representing his holding in majors, but no matter what he bids, if you don’t find a major fit you now bid 2 No Trump!!! This delayed 2NT is invitational and partner should alert at this point that you may not have a 4 card major.

By using the wide variety of bids that are available to us we are able to cover all situations. Four Suit Transfers are not a substitute for judgment, but they are calculated to provide you with information on which your judgment can be based. Did I get this right Norm?


Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for the kind words about my dad. Your description was spot on and I know he valued your friendship.

Tim Gath

Becky Overton said...

I like the 4 suit transfers with super accept for the minors, but isn't there an issue with:
1NT--2C--2H--2NT? Since 2NT denies the heart fit, partner can no longer bid 4 spades (with 4S of his own and 17 points) with confidence that you are holding 4S. I guess opener has to bid 3NT?
Thank you,

Tommy Solberg said...

Becky: Thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. With 4 way transfers responder need not have a a 4 card major, so after 1NT/2c/2h/2NT responder is showing an invitational hand and inviting opener to bid 3NT with a maximum. If you were not playing 4 way transfers you would show the same hand by simply inviting with 2NT. Maybe I am missing your point. If you want to elaborate, write me at tsolberg@tampabay.rr.com.