Scrambling 2NT is a tool for taking risk out of balancing and pre-balancing (making a double in the direct seat). The bid is conventional and has nothing to do with playing any level of no trump. One of the fears of balancing is that when you double as a balance or pre-balance, partner will bid one of his 4 card suits and it will turn out to be one of your 3 card suits. Now, I would rather play a 7 card trump suit than let opponents play 2 of a major with a fit, but not if it is not necessary.
Let’s set the stage in the “classic” balancing auction: The bidding goes 1s/p/2s/p/p/X/p/? The good news is that “trusty partner” has balanced and they are not playing 2 spades. The bad news is that it is your turn to bid. Suppose you hold xx, Axxx, Kxxx, Qxx. Since hearts is the major, many players are just going to bid 3 hearts and hope. The minute you do that partner will hold xxx, Kxx, QJxx, Axxx. Some may decide to bid their 4 card suits up the line and hope for a fit in diamonds. The minute you do that partner will have a hand like xxx, KJxx, QJx, Axx. Yes, you could fall into an 8 card trump suit if doubler’s hands were reversed, but bridge is, by and large, a perverse game and justice is rarely served. There must be a better way!
Enter Scrambling 2NT. The Scrambling 2NT bid is used after partner makes a double in the direct or balancing seat and you hold two 4 card suits. The bid of 2NT is designed to find an 8 card fit. It asks doubler to bid his 4 card suit or if more than one to bid them up the line. In my first example, after 1s/p/2s/p/p/X/p/2NT, doubler will bid his 4 card diamond suit and we will play 3 diamonds. In the second example, doubler will bid his 4 card heart suit and we will play 3 hearts. Yes, if doubler has four hearts and four diamonds, we will be playing our diamond fit rather than our heart fit. Forget about it! Our objective is to jolt opponents out of their 2 level spade fit and find an 8 card fit of our own at the 3 level. Put greed behind you and take the guarantee. Your master point profile will appreciate it.
Let’s spin it around and look at it in a pre-balance format. This time the bidding goes 1s/p/2s/X/p/?. You hold Kxx, xxx, Kxxx, Kxx. Note again the 2 four card suits, with a random chance of making the correct choice. Here again bid Scrambling 2NT to search for a 4-4 fit. If doubler in the direct seat has xx, Axx, AQxx, Qxxx, he will bid his 4 card club suit up the line to start the scramble. Since you do not have 4 clubs, you bid 3 diamonds showing your four card diamond suit, and hopefully we play it there in our 8 card fit. We may go down one, but in balancing that is pure gold. For sure we aren’t going -110 or worse.
Note that in each of these examples doubler’s partner does not have a 5 card suit. In fact, if he has have a 5 card suit he must bid it and not use Scrambling 2NT. Scrambling 2NT has a good negative inference. When we scramble we are either 4333, 4432 or on very rare occasions 4441. Helpful information in either the bidding or the defense. Since partner's square hand will not play as well as a distributional hand, you may want to think twice before competing further.
I can’t believe that I have gotten this far and nobody has pointed out to me that we have given away the natural bid of 2NT. Why would b we ever want to play no trump when they have found an 8+ card fit and will be on lead. Hopefully, this idea makes no sense to you as well. Nirvana, we have found a vacant bid and put it to good use.
The Scrambling 2NT bid is alertable. Just say that partner is asking me to further define my hand looking for a fit. This is not overly complicated. Think of the Scrambling 2NT as being like a responsive double. You are passing the bid back to partner to make a choice since your choice is not clear. One of the major benefits of the bid is that it will enable your partnership to make more aggressive doubles knowing that you can find your 4-4 fits safely. Yikes, if I balance any quicker I will be out of tempo.
Talk this over with partner in advance, not while the director is passing out the boards. It takes a moment to digest, but with minimum thought it pretty much sells itself.
This is my last post from Rochester, New York. On October 13 Axel, Virgil, Alla and I fly to Florida for the winter. Axel and Virgil are my two cats who do my proof reading. Looks like it doesn’t it. Rochester is a wonderful bridge town and I will miss my many friends who have made me feel so much at home. I look forward to seeing all my old bridge buddies in Citrus County, Florida. I can only hope that majority of them feel the same way.