Even though I’m relatively new at the columnist game, you may have already figured out I’m an old timer. One clue came in the Reply section to my first column when one of you, Miamijd, mentioned that he’d been my student 35 years ago. Anyone who can count to thirteen can infer some seasoning on the columnist.
I learned in the 1960s a useful rule I don’t much hear now, nor see in action. Quit counting points when it comes to deciding whether your hand is worth an opening 2♣ bid [other than with NT shape]. Count honor/quick tricks. (I meet players who don’t know what those are.) Count losing cards or losing tricks. If the number of honor/quick tricks equals or exceeds the number of losing cards, then the deal is worth an opening 2♣ bid. (There may be some exceptions where you have a long suit and few defensive tricks, say an 11-card suit to top honors and a small doubleton. That hand has more honor tricks than losing cards, but partner will be disappointed if he counts on you for any defensive tricks, so you need to alter the rule a bit, but I won’t go into that rare exception here.)
Let’s do some hand evaluation by opening bidder partnering Robot Gibber and look at a deal I played recently, then compare results at other tables in an Instant Tournament scored with matchpoints. You hold as South, East dealer having passed, all VUL:
Is that an opening 2♣ bid? Nineteen high card points plus three distribution points as conventionally counted sums to 22. Close? Not close? I don’t know, but I don’t look at it that way. I count 4.5+ honor tricks: 2 in spades, 2+ in diamonds plus 0.5 in hearts. Losing Trick Count provides one loser in spades, one in hearts, one in diamonds, and one in clubs, a total of at 4, but I think maybe a bit more because I think Kx is more than 1.0. Still, I hold more honor tricks than LTC losers. I think this qualifies for an opening 2♣ bid but before I make that bid, I think about what happens if I open with a one bid. I can imagine that 1♦ won’t as easily be passed by partner as would be 1♠, but if I open 1♦ I will have some distortions to overcome. I think I’ll be better off getting my good story out with the opening 2♣ bid because over the expected 2♦ response, I have an easy 2♠, rebid and 3♦ next rebid to complete the picture. Four and one-half defensive tricks ought to satisfy any partner, if not a point counter.
Let’s see what happened. The auction proceeded as I imagined in might until partners re-rebid:
How about that.
Let’s look at just declarer and dummy and see what we think of the auction and our prospects.
Looks like a par contract. With a club lead and the King knocked out, we need either the spades or the diamonds to break for us. We don’t have the time to test both because the South hand must discard from one of them before we can do the tests. (If we discard a heart and then test spades, then the only way to cash the second heart is for diamonds to break 3-1 or 2-2, allowing re-entry to North with the 10, so we can cash the second heart.) I conclude that with a club lead and continuation, we must rely on one of the 5-carders to break and diamonds is the better bet. So win the second club in dummy, discarding a spade from South. Hope for the diamond suit to provide five tricks, plus four spades, two hearts and one club.
I judge that the opening 2♣ bid with the two rebids worked splendidly for responder who could count on five tricks in spades and five tricks in diamonds with decent suits in the 2♣ hand or decent breaks. He sees ten tricks there plus his heart Ace and surely there is another trick somewhere in the 2♣ opening bid, perhaps one of the suits being six cards. Or an opening lead to his club K. I’d be happy to have my partners raise that 3♦ re-rebid to 6NT anytime.
What about you? Think about the auction before I tell you about the other auctions and the results. You don’t want to be results driven in your evaluation of deals.
First the auction outcomes:
3NT by North ............. 3 times
5♦ by North .............. 1
2♦ by South .............. 8 [guess who didn’t open 2♣]
5♦ by South .............. 1
6NT by North ............ 1 [roman99, the only one to open 2♣]
6♠ by South .............. 1
Total ........................... 15
The 2♦ declarers opened 1♠, were immediately overcalled 2♣, passed back to them, whereupon they bid 2♦ and the auction ended. Those who re-opened with 3♣ or 3♦ were raised to 3NT and played there. Only I of the 15 opened 2♣. I’m not so confident of my bidding heuristics that I think my practice superior. This outlier result for me makes me question the heuristic. Why does no one else use it?
I’ll tell you at least one reason why. One of the praised texts on modern 2/1 books is Max Hardy’s 2002 Advanced Bidding for the 21st Century. He first advises avoiding the 2♣ opening, except for NT-shaped hands. Then gives several examples of near-game-in-hand holdings better opened with one bids and explains why. Here are some of his examples with more honor tricks than losing cards:
Example 96 d)
Example 96 e)
Example 96 g)
The anti-2♣ -opening theme for these two and his other examples is that opposing preemption is likely to keep you from describing your hand and that risk is larger than the risk of your opening one bid being passed out.
Yipes. Diamonds split 4-0 and spades split 5-1, so slams went down, 6♠ one trick more than 6NT. The club King was on side saving an even worse outcome. I went down two for a 7% board. Top scores went to the six pairs who played 3NT and made four. But who’s worrying about results when we are learning about methods for hand evaluation?
Evaluation of My Heuristic
One of my expert advisors from a younger generation, referred to in my opening paragraph, responded to my initial draft as follows:
Sorry, but I vehemently disagree about whether this hand is a 2♣ opener. I think if you gave it to 100 world-class experts and asked them what they would open playing a 2/1 system … I don't know that any of them would say 2♣. I think it would be 100% for 1♠, which I think is clear with no second choice…. It's not wise to open two-suited hands 2♣ unless you have a true rock-crusher. The reason is that if you have a fit here, the opponents are likely to have a nice fit of their own, and if they start upping the bidding, you're in trouble. If the bidding goes: 2♣ (3♥) X[weak] (4♥) you are stuck with an impossible guess. Conversely, had you opened 1 ♠ : 1 ♠ (3♥) pass (4♥). Now you have an easy double and can correct 5♣ to 5♦.
A bit of research informs me that Paul Thurston, as well as Max Hardy, warns against opening 2♣ with two-suited hands. Thurston’s warning is in an answer to a quiz problem. Hardy’s is part of a diatribe against 2♣ opening bids generally: “There is a rule for opening two clubs. Do so only when absolutely necessary….”
All three of my teachers here worry that if I open 2♣ with a two-suited hand, I’ll find the auction levels go so high that I’ll not be able to show my two suits, maybe not even one of them.
Now, I wonder, how come I’ve not experienced that myself in the months I’ve been intensely playing since I’ve resumed play. Miamijd gave me a hint in some of his comments on other materials I’ve shown him: the BBO GiB robots are not programmed to compete preemptively the way expert humans do. In an earlier column I wrote for BBO, I wondered why GiB’s competitive bidding was so wimpy, my word—why GiB failed to intervene preemptively in a situation where every human I showed the deal said they would—not even close. The BBO consultant told me this:
[T]he robot … made the bid that best describes its hand. Our robots are simple creatures, they tend not to make judgement calls to disrupt the opps. We considered adding more scenarios where the robots evaluate gains and risks of deviating from the usual definition of their hand in order to interfere with the opponents. It's somewhere on the nice-to-do list of things to do to improve the robots.
Nice to learn that. It will inform my bidding against robots. And it will toughen me a bit in playing against humans as I resume more of that.
So, learn from this column, but not the lesson to open two-suited hands with 2♣, just because they have more honor tricks than losing cards.