In June of 2009 I led (more or less) a discussion about when to open 2 clubs. The discussion centered around 2 hands sent to me by a reader. Rather than simply respond, I asked my readers to select the appropriate opening bid. The hands were:
I got a lot of varied responses. The only things the responses had in common were that none of them were equivocal and all lacked any discussion of standards that would be useful to my blog readers in the heat of battle. Almost everyone vilified hand one as a perfect example of abuse and overuse of the 2 club opening bid. Hand 2 gained more support and there was almost an even balance between 1 spade and 2 clubs.
Always practical and useful, enter Marty Bergen who has it all figured out and reveals his answer in depth in Chapter 4 of Slam Bidding Made Easier (2008), my summer beach book. His standard for opening 2 clubs is based on a combination of Quick Tricks and Losers (tricks you would expect to lose if partner shows up with no help at all).
Note that there is a distinct difference between the concept of “losing tricks” in opener’s hand and “Losing Trick Count.” Losing Trick Count (see my earlier blogs) is a valuable valuation tool when a fit has been established with partner, but of dubious value when there has been no bidding.
Most of you know the definition of Quick Tricks since it has been around from the early days of Bridge. A=1, AK= 2, Kx= ½, AQ= 1 ½ KQ=1. That’s it, and there can only be a maximum of 2 Quick Tricks in each suit.
Now you are ready for the Bergen Gold Standard:
(a) If the hand is balanced (4333 or 4432) open 2 clubs only if you have 22 high card points. Opener intends to rebid 2NT.
(b) If the hand is semi-balanced (5332) or unbalanced only open if the hand has 4 or fewer losers and the hand also has 4 or more quick tricks. Thus in Marty speak, “4+4.” Astute observers and mathematicians may point out that if you have only 4 losers, the hand also has 9 winners. Does that standard sound familiar?
Marty is not going to open either Hand 1 or 2 with 2 clubs. They both meet the 4 quick trick requirement but also have too many losing tricks. Let’s look at some example hands from Chapter 4 of Marty’s book.
(a) AJ, KQJT762, AK4, 8. (4 losers and 4 quick tricks). Open 2 clubs.
(b) AKQJ9874, 72, 65, A. Open 1 spade, only 4 losers, but just 3 quick tricks.
(c) AKQT2, AKQJ2, 42. 8. Open 2 clubs, 3 losers and 4 quick tricks.
(d)A, AQ643, K763, AKJ. Open 1 heart. 5 quick tricks, but at least 5 losers. The hand should also be downgraded for the singleton A of spades. Aces that are not supported with other honors in the suit or iare in short suits have diminished value. If you don’t have firm control of the trump suit, you also run the risk of a “pumping defense” in spades.
(e) AKT54, AK5, AKT3, 8. Open 2 clubs. Marty sez any hand with 6+ quick tricks is too strong to open with 1 spade or 1 heart.
What is the downside of the “2 club overuse syndrome?” In three words, “loss of communication.” You are starting the auction on the 2 level and by the time you get through with responses and rebids, it is no trick at all to be on the 3 level and not know much more than you did when you first sorted the cards. If your hand is one that deserves to play in game no matter what partner has, then opening 2 clubs is an effective way to tell him that. You don’t need a lot of bidding room. If your hand is not that strong, then give yourself the optimum opportunity to gain helpful information from partner by a one level opening.
What? Worried about getting passed out? Trust me, in this day and age good partners are looking for reasons to bid, not reasons to pass. Even if partner does not have a minimum bid, the chances are very good that the opponents will either overcall or balance. This sucker is not going to die, and on the rare occasion when it does, you are probably in the right spot.
So what do we have? Marty Bergen who said “Bridge is a Bidder Game” rejects the current fad to reduce standards for forcing 2 club opening bids and goes traditional on us. When you have one of the World’s most aggressive bidders saying “Pull in your horns”, maybe it is time to listen.
So consider making 4+4 your partnership standard.