Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Redefining "Two Hearts Trash" - A Systemic Update

Many decades ago the opening bid of 2 clubs became the only forcing opening bid in the Standard American System. A companion response to this opening bid was a response system called “Two Diamonds Waiting.” The response of two diamonds was neither negative or positive, but merely was a temporizing bid to allow opener to further describe his hand. Responder on his rebid, not having previously described his hand, would show positive values and a fit by raising opener’s suit, positive values but no fit by bidding another suit, or a negative response hand by biding 3 clubs (if available). A negative response denies holding “working cards” defined as an Ace, King or Two Queens.

This system, still widely used today, has several weaknesses. The initial response is a wasted bid since it tells opener nothing about responder’s hand. Not only that, it uses up valuable bidding space. Consider a sequence 2c/2d/3c or 3d by opener. The bidding is already at the 3 level and opener know no more about responder’s hand than when he started. Suppose responder holds no working cards, do you know how to show a negative bid when the bidding level is passed 3 clubs? The answer is that you make the cheapest bid at the 3 level, but I have known many good players who failed that test. Do you and your partners understand that? Suppose you have a balanced hand of 25 hcps. I had this hand on successive days recently. Under 2 diamonds waiting opener must show that hand by jumping to 3NT. Three no trump leaves little room to find a 4-4 or 5-3 major fit. Wouldn’t it have been nice to simply rebid 2NT to facilitate both Stayman and transfers?

Enter our old friend Oswald Jacoby who said let’s rearrange our systems so that first bid by responder will actually define the hand as either negative or positive saving a level of bidding and solving other problems as well. I call this system “two hearts trash” because the immediate response of 2 hearts shows a trashy hand that lacks any working cards. Working card retain their definition, an Ace, King or 2 Queens. Some explanations of this system do not specify 2 queens but replace it with 4+ hcps. I think it is best to reject the concept of hcps and stick with two queens. Max Hardy in his excellent book Advanced Bridge Bidding for the 21st Century shows on page 177 an example J73, J62, J94, QJ87 and states that this fails the “2 queens” test and should be shown as a negative hand. He notes that the club holding could face club shortness in opener’s hand and be completely worthless. If opener should bid 2NT (22-23 hcps) responder would gladly raise to 3NT.

If responder has working values he bids anything other than 2 hearts. Any bid other than 2 hearts is game forcing. If responder holds a 5 card major to 2 of the top 3 honors he can bid that suit. If that suit is hearts, the substitute bid for 2 hearts is 2 no trump. If responder has a 6 card minor suit to 2 of the top 3 he can bid that suit at the 3 level. While under the “2 diamonds waiting” system these bids also suggested holding additional values as well (8-9 hcps), under “two hearts trash they do not require additional values beyond suit length and honor strength. Thus with KQxxx, xx, xxx, xxx the correct response is 2 spades.

If your hand does not meet the requirements for the more descriptive suit bids and you have working cards, your bid is 2 diamonds. This is much different than “2 diamonds waiting” since it clearly indicates a positive hand with no better bid to make. Since it is a positive bid, it is a game forcing bid. While under “2 diamonds waiting” responder having bid 2 diamonds could pass a rebid of 2NT, in 2 hearts trash responder may not pass 2 NT. Now opener with the big balanced hand does not have to make some jump bid in no trump to force responder, he can take it slow, rebid 2NT and pick apart responder hand values and distribution. Note how nicely this accommodates both Stayman and Transfers at reasonable levels.

The only bid that is not a game force is the negative response of 2 hearts. If opener now bids 2NT and responder has non-contributing values he may pass. Responder does not have to pass. With values like those shown in the earlier example it would be appropriate to raise to 3NT. This is a two edged sword. If opener has a big hand and wants to play at game against a “bust response”, he better bid that game.

If responder first makes a positive 2 diamond response, on the second response he further describes his hand by showing support, or showing lack of support by bidding no trump or a new 5 card suit. From this point the bidding flows naturally.

Suppose opener has a hand like 6, AKQJT75, AK5, 83. The bidding goes 2c/2d/3h. Certainly with 9 tricks this qualifies for a 2 club opening bid. The jump rebid shows a solid self supporting heart suit and asks responder to show controls. If responder has an ace, he bids that suit and without an ace but with 1 or more Kings, bids 3NT. Thus, the raise to 4 hearts would simply show the positive response was based on two queens.

It is beyond the scope of this post to attempt to promote disputes about what an opening bid of 2 clubs means. Right or wrong, it seems to be meaning less and less. I suggest that this rush to open all good hands with 2 clubs is misguided and that we would be better to retain traditional standards. Max Hardy says that it shows a balanced hand and 23+ hcps or hand that has 9 tricks. In part this standard was the basis for determining what constitutes a positive or negative response under both 2 diamonds waiting and 2 hearts trash. If you have a real 2 club bid and partner has one or more working cards, you should have a realistic play for game. If opener makes some watered down 2 club bid, then the safe guards built into the system will not protect you at game levels. Of particular vulnerability are single suited minor hands or two suited hands where competitive action by opponents may take up too much bidding room.

This brings us to our final issue. Tough and aggressive opponents do not always let you alone when you open two clubs. This frequently occurs where the 2 club bid is based on a single suited minor or a two suited hand. If the interference is an overcall, then double by responder is a negative bid and any other bid by responder is a positive bid. With the interfering overcall responder just bids his hand and the bids of two hearts (now natural) or two spades simply shows a 5 card suit headed by an Ace of King. If the interference is a double, then redouble is the negative bid and any other bid shows one of more working cards.

I am aware that some partnerships simply respond showing controls over 2 clubs. It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss those systems other than to say that they have their pluses and minuses. Similar to “two hearts trash”, they focus solely on working cards and showing hand strength with the first response. Give a copy of this post to your partner and send “2 diamonds waiting” to the recycle bin.



Tommy, I enjoy your column as always. It makes me think!

You open 2C, strong, artificial, forcing. You are playing 2H "trash" responses. Pard bids 2NT, showing 5
hearts to 2 of the top 3 honors. You hold AQJ2 Q3 KQJ3 AKQ. Pard has T976 AK764 45 76. You now have several insolvable problems. First, is your next bid of 3C Stayman or Clubs? Do you show your Spade suit? How do you find out if pard has 5 or 6 hearts? He doesnt know you have 2! How high should you bid? I dont know the answers but I do know the hand has been "wrong sided" and a Spade contract has been practically denied. I think you will be opposite most of the field.

I still like 2D "waiting." It allows opener to show his hand at a minimum level. Conventions like Stayman and transfers still operate. It is normal and comfortable. The 2 diamond bid tells opener he does not have one of the special holdings. 2H or 2S shows 5 or 6 card suit with 2 of the top three. That is almost standard. 3C and 3D is the same with a six card minor. Here is the good part. A jump to 3H or 3 S shows a solid 6 card suit or better while a jump to 4H or 4S shows a similar semi-solid suit. Finally, 2NT should show a solid minor and 3NT a semisolid minor. Opener can probably figure which one it is. So 2D is useful in denying any of the
above holdings. Next, I dont show controls since I can usually place the final contract level if I have an Ace and King or other useful cards. If my pard has game in his hand and I have a couple of tricks, I bid the slam.

Finally, I use 3S in response to a 2NT opening or rebid as Spadewood to check to see if we have all the aces, 31-32 HCP and a good 4-4 or better fit. If we dont fit all 3 I sign off at the minimum NT level. Lot's of fun and gets some good results. Sorry the comment is so long but it is a difficult topic.

BTW, Steve Robinson wrote a column in 2005 discussing "bad conventions." In it Raph Katz and Curtis Cheek say they do not like 2H "trash" response to 2C opening.There are probably many others.

Best Regards, We'll play sometimes this summer.Your friend SPADEWOOD (Larry Miles), Happy bridging.

bill shaw said...

What is the appropriate response by the 2C opener to a "trash 2H" when opener's suit is hearts. Since the 2H bid says nothing about a heart suit, passing may not be the best place to land.


Larry said...

A solution: play paradox major responses -

2H = no trick if H are trump
2S = no trick if S are trump, but a trick (ruffing) if H are trumps.

Larry said...

Solution, use Paradox Major responses to an opening 2 clubs:

2H = no trick if H is trumps, maybe a trick (ruffing) if S is trumps.

2S = no trick if S is trumps, but a ruffing trick if H is trumps.

2D as before, GF A, K, 2Q

2NT = Natural with tenances.

GS_Rider said...

Marshall Miles has suggested playing 2D as trash, and 2H as an unspecified positive. Requirements for 3H (positive heart response are lowered to having just one of the top two).

Tommy Solberg said...

GS: I am interested in your comment. Can you give me a reference to the source or spell it out in more detail. Marshall Miles (RIP)was a great bridge theorist and perhaps I should update my post. tommy@rochester.rr.com