# How does one evaluate a hand responding to a "strong" two clubs?

When opener bids a "strong" two club, responder bids two diamonds (waiting), and the opener rebids his suit, e.g. two spades, the responder is now the "captain" of the partnership. That's because s/he knows that opener has 8-9 tricks in hand, and what partner's suit is. In most cases, it's now the responder's job to evaluate his own hand at 0, 1, 2 or more tricks for the final contract. Nevertheless, some cards in responders' hands are more valuable than others.

Where would these (responder) tricks come from if s/he's relatively weak. An ace is a sure trick, but opener might have most of these. Can a king be counted as a trick on the theory that opener has the ace, or maybe the queen for "synergy?" How about other assets such as the queen of "trumps" (the opener's named suit), small "trumps," or "distribution?" I don't give as much weight to random queens and jacks (outside the named suit), even if they add up to 5-6 high card points or should I?

How do various systems or experts formulate their responses to two clubs, two diamonds, followed by a rebid of two of a suit or 2NT?

• Trumps are still unknown by responder to a 2C opening - how could a key-card system showing the queen of trumps possibly work? Feb 20, 2015 at 23:31
• In your answer below, you said that I (the responder) would become "captain" after the opener's second bid. This means that after opener rebids, e.g. "two spades," it's my prerogative to decide whether or not spades are trump. Why can't I use a "key card system to make that decision." Feb 21, 2015 at 14:57
• Because key card tells nothing about fit, which is far more important to determine than defensive strength (key cards in unknown suits) at this early stage of the auction. Feb 21, 2015 at 15:12
• Sorry - your edit is making the question worse not better in terms of removing my down-vote. The single most important fact about every auction is who is currently the captain and thus it can never be ignored because no auction makes proper sense without that information. The failure to appreciate that in your question is the key reason for the down-vote. If you can phrase your question in terms that respect the importance of captaincy I will up-vote it. Feb 21, 2015 at 15:22
• @PieterGeerkens: I have rephrased the question to the best of my ability regarding "captaincy." Feb 21, 2015 at 15:59

The system I have played for many years is as following:

1. Opener rebids NT to show a balanced hand with a well defined point range:

Responder evaluates his hand as balanced unless making a transfer bid into his own suit. These auctions are very similar to 2NT openings except with greater strength having been shown by Opener.

1a. Opener rebids 2NT with a semi-balanced hand of appropriate strength (usually a range of 22-23 HCP) and a 5-card major (not longer) with an agreement enabling Puppet Stayman. Advantage is that Responder's second negative doesn't place Notrump contracts in his hand with the strong hand exposed and led through.

• Responder will almost always rebid 3C (Puppet Stayman) to allow Opener to reveal a hidden 5-card major (or 6-car minor).

2. Opener makes a simple rebid in his Major suit:

• Responder bids 2NT as a second negative with either less than 3-card support or 3 cards only and a bust hand.

• Responder raises to 4 of Opener's major with 3 or 4 card support and a few scattered points.

• Responder raises to 3 of Opener's major with 3+ card support and slam interest, but no outside control.

• Responder bids a new suit to show a control (either A or K) in the suit bid, 3+ card support for Opener's major, and no reason to deny slam interest.

• Responder jumps in a new suit to show 4+ card support and shortness in the bid suit with no reason to deny slam interest. Generally this call is preferred to the simple cue-bid, as controls can be asked for later.

3. Opener makes a simple rebid of his minor suit:

• Responder rebids as above, but with the change that all bids above 3NT emphatically deny interest in 3NT (obviously).

• Responder rebids 3NT with a balanced 7 or 8 count well scattered and lack of interest in slam. The inference is that responder believes 9 or 10 tricks are available through sheer power, but that the fit is insufficient to make slam realistic. Opener continues only if a) his hand is completely unsuitable for notrump; or b) his hand requires only 2-card support to play well in his minor.

It is vital to remember that will not be Captain for the auction will not be the 2C opener but rather responder. The key descriptive features of a 2C opener are that it is a strong hand, and can be described adequately in 2 calls so that partner can be captain. More complex hands should not be opened 2C, and both members of the partnership needs to be aware of that.

As such, all attempts at step and control responses to the 2C opener have been abandoned by serious players (with the possible exception of pure relay systems, which you cannot play in most tournament events).

For instance, the hand `xxxxx-xxxx-x-xxx` can be golden if opener's suit is spades with three worthless diamonds, and garbage if opener's suit is diamonds with three worthless hearts. No bidding system can hope to describe the range of partner's hands adequately to opener, especially when that conversation has to start at the three level, which is why responder is the captain as soon as the 2C opener is made, until and unless the opener can glean enough information to bid Blackwood.

Update

One of the ways in which opener becomes captain if he has support for a quality 5-card suit (or longer) shown by responder as a positive response. When this happens opener sometimes is in a better position to judge the combined playing capability of the hand by bidding Key-Card Blackwood in responder's suit.

Update #2:

Only the captain can ask for key-cards, because the premise is that the key-card responses will allow the asker to place the contract, both denomination and level, and only the captain can make that call (or make the requisite invitation).

Opener can take over as captain only when responder leads opener to believe that his (responder's) hand is fully described - there are circumstances where it may be appropriate for responder to have a stronger hand and/or a different fit in mind than he has lead opener to believe, but that is an advanced bidding technique that intermediate players have difficulty handling.

Also, it is critical that all responder's calls while opener believes himself captain be in sente rather than in gote, so that responder will have the guaranteed opportunity to make the final correction. This can require responder to have considerable foresight in planning the auction.

• I'm sorry if I confused you by "implying" that under the "key card system, the opener is usually the captain. That was not my intent. To that extent, the analogy with Blackwood does not completely hold. Feb 21, 2015 at 15:05
• Only the captain can ask for keycards, because the premise is that the keycard responses will allow the asker to place the contract, both denomination and level, and only the captain can make that call (or make the requisite invitation). Feb 21, 2015 at 15:13
• Accepted for your improved answer, and for helping me to improve the question. Feb 22, 2015 at 20:21

Your question depends strongly on partnership agreements about 2C openings and followups. Evaluation as the weaker hand in the auction depends strongly on the types of hands partner might have. A reasonably common 2C agreement in the US follows these lines:

2C shows most hands with 22+ HCP, and shapely hands with 8.5+ top tricks (though e.g. AKQJxxxxx x x xx, lacking any honors outside the primary suit, is not appropriate for this call). Whether this includes strong, shapely two-suiters that do not have game in hand (e.g. QJxxx A AKQxxx A) depends on your responding style -- since I do not pass 1D holding Kxx xxxx xx xxxx, my partner can safely open that hand 1D with little fear of missing a game.

Responder bids 2D (waiting) with nearly all hands, reserving positive responses for very limited situations (e.g. bid 2M with a six-card suit holding exactly two of the top three honors and no outside A, K, or Q, or bid at the three level with similar honor holdings and a 7-card suit).

With balanced hands (including those with 5-card majors), opener bids NT at some level (though strongly consider adding the Kokish relay to your repertoire) to limit their hand strength and make responder the captain.

With hands unsuitable for NT rebids, opener rebids a suit. A typical agreement is that a jump in a suit sets that suit as trump. Here opener typically has a shapely hand and is looking for specific cards to bid slam, so opener is captain. With one partner I play that after 2C-2D-3M, responder should cue-bid an ace or bid 3NT to show no aces but one or more kings in hand, or 4M otherwise.

After opener's non-jump rebid, neither partner is captain -- neither partner has enough information to make decisions about strain or level. Bidding must proceed naturally, and partnership understandings are necessary to determine whether and how it is possible to stop short of game.

So how do you evaluate your hand as responder?

After opener's NT rebid, evaluate using standard methods.

After opener's jump-rebid of a suit, opener has captaincy -- you're there to tell partner about the key cards in your hand.

After opener's simple rebid, opener is unlikely to be very shapely, so you'll evaluate as in a normal auction, just starting a level higher. Things to look for: sources of tricks (long suits headed by multiple honors), cards that fit with partner's suit(s), aces and kings. Queens and jacks in unbid suits are unlikely to be terribly helpful.

Recognize that your partner has a powerhouse hand and needs relatively little from you to go far.

9+ points: Slam zone. Partner should have at least 22-23, the two of you have at least 31-32. If you have a suitable fit, your main worry is that the opponents will take two tricks off the top with two aces or AK of the same suit. With no more than eight or nine points between them, it's unlikely (though possible) that they will have such holdings that bump up against their point limit.

6-8 high card points: Game plus. With a reasonable fit, a ten trick contract is all but assured, eleven are probable, and a slam is possible with the right fit and controls.

3-5 high card points. Game zone. You should drive to game with a hand that might not merit a response opposite any other opening.

0-2 high card points. You discourage game if your system allows a sign off after say, a 2NT bid. For instance, after two clubs, two diamonds, two of a major, you bid 2NT, which allows partner to sign off at three of his suit. If partner bids 2NT, limiting his hand to 22-23, you should pass there, under such a system.

As for partner's bid of three of a minor (to play), let's just say that opener needs more than 22-23 to try for an 11 trick game. Plus the additional disadvantage of exposing the strong hand as dummy if the suit is diamonds.

If you have good shape and/or more than three cards in your partner's main suit, you need fewer high card points than listed above. You will need more points in the event of a misfit.