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A few years ago, I submitted a question here about opening a balanced hand in the so-called "no man's land" of 18-19 HCP, ie. too strong to open 1NT and too weak to open 2NT. Many thanks to those who responded.

Since then, I have learned to open one club with such a hand, and my partner responds in one of the following two ways depending on her HCP. With less than 7p, she bids one diamond, which we both understand as a denial. With 7 points or more, she bids as she would normally, and I rebid with 2NT. That bid is forcing to game, as the sum of the partnership's HCP (18+7) is at least 25, the minimum required for a game. The rest of the bidding is fairly straightforward thereafter.

My question is what should I rebid if partner's first response is the one diamond denial mentioned above ? Of course, any other thoughts about how to bid such a "no man's land" balanced hand of 18-19 HCP will be most welcome, especially within the restraints of Standard American.

  • Out of curiosity, what do you open if you have 13 points and five clubs? – TimLymington Nov 3 '17 at 13:23
  • It would depend what else I had in my hand, Tim. For example, if I had a 5-card major, being a well behaved Standard American player I would open one heart or spade. – Stefanovitch Nov 3 '17 at 23:51
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I think it is tricky to stuff your artificial 1D response into the rest of SAYC. When you consider the standard bidding structure over 1NT and 2NT, the pattern is that the weaker hand shows its shape as quickly as possible (via Stayman or transfers, for instance) and then either signs off, bids game, or invites to slam (giving the strong hand control in the latter two cases). It is difficult to replicate this pattern after 1C - 1D because the opener would need to make another forcing bid in order to give the responder a chance to show his/her shape. The best I can think of is to treat 1C - 1D - 1NT as an artificial force with systems on, but the usual systems over 1NT often terminate in 2NT or part-scores at the 3 level, both of which are too high if opener has a normal 1C hand and the responder is weak.

So I think you more or less have to pick one of the following two frameworks:

  • SAYC: The first two calls are normal, and a jump shift by opener (with cuebidding in competition) shows 18-19 points. Responder can't pass with 7HCP, so you don't miss game, and s/he has some space to show features (like 4 card majors). SAYC full provides two additional tools for handling some tricky edge cases. The first is structured reverses for showing 5m/4M shapes; for instance, 1C - 1S - 2H is a game force with 5+C and 4+H. The second is 4th suit forcing for finding difficult fits without wasting bidding space; for instance after 1C - 1H - 1S - 1NT, declarer can bid 2D to artificially force to game, giving responder the chance to show 5 hearts or other features.

  • Strong club: If you want to really pursue the reasoning behind your 1C agreement, you can choose one of several strong club systems (such as the precision club). In these systems 1C is artificial and shows any hand with 16+ HCP, the thinking being that these are the hands where you want to have the most bidding space available. This has all of the advantages of your approach, but since 1C can't be just 13 points you can use your usual systems without worrying about ending up too high. It also allows you to use bids like 1NT and 2NT preemptively, which can make life quite hard for your opponents. The downside of these sorts of systems is that they can get quite complicated and awkward in certain cases.

  • Nice answer - You have clearly played a good deal of bridge, with capable opponents and partners. – Forget I was ever here Oct 31 '17 at 23:34
  • I like your "1C - 1D - 1NT" sequence for the "no man's land" balanced hand that was the basis for my question, Paul and Petqwe. Could I expect my 1NT rebid in that sequence to be answered by Stayman or a transfer by my partner? If so, would that require any additional notations on ACBL's "fat-free" convention card ? acbl.org/tournaments_page/general-information/convention-cards – Stefanovitch Nov 4 '17 at 0:09
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Before knowing how to bid with 18-19 balanced, you should first find out how you bid 12-14 balanced.

Under your supposingly forcing 1C opening scheme, positive hands bid 1H or above, while negative hands bid 1D or other preempts. When you have a 12-14 hand against 1M response, you have an easy 1NT rebid. But when your partner responds 1D, how do you bid your minimum balanced hand?

You should now realize that those weakish 12-14 hands should NOT rebid 1NT, but 'fake' a suit by bidding 1M. This is standard practice in Polish Clubs anyways.

It also follows your 1NT rebid upon receiving a negative response is 18-19.

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I have no experience with Standard American. However, looking at the options after 1D:

  • Pass; this isn't much of an option. You might have as few as 2 diamonds, partner bids diamonds as a convention. Also, you have about 20 points between you, so it's not a given that your opponents should be on the play.

  • 1 hearts/spades; Partner has already given a denial and you continue bidding. This automatically puts you on a hand stronger than 15 HCP. You should be able to use the 2-level to find a fit or park it in 2NT. Game is unlikely.

  • 1NT; This raises the bidding to 2-level for your opponents if they want to intervene, and it's very realistic if you and your partner have a balanced hand and 20 HCP.

  • 2NT; for the same reasons as 1NT: shows pretty specifically the shape and strength of your hand, raises the level and is still very probably playable. This is a tad more aggressive.

As usual, this sort of thing comes down to preference, circumstances (did opponents make an intervening bid? Did they double? Who is vulnarable?) and establishing a clear agreement of the meaning of these bids.

  • Many thanks for your rapid response, Steenbergh. I like your suggestions and will discuss them with my partner. – Stefanovitch Oct 31 '17 at 18:02
  • In response to your questions: neither side is vulnerable, opponents neither doubled nor intervened, and my opening bid of 1 club is forcing for one round. Any further ideas ? – Stefanovitch Oct 31 '17 at 18:05
  • @Stefanovitch I didn't mean: "do this at vul none, this at vul NS..". I meant that you'd need to assess each situation to see if a more or less aggressive bid is appropriate here. – steenbergh Nov 1 '17 at 8:18
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Realize that your partner is very weak, with an "average" of 3-4 high card points, and possibly zero. Because you might not be able to go back and forth between the two hands, your 18-19 point hand is worth less than one with 14-15 points and your partner having the "extra" four points or so.

I would bid the lowest suit contract in which I had five cards (pass with five diamonds). If my distribution were 4-3-3-3 pr 4-4-3-2, or five weak ones in clubs, I would bid 1NT. Normally, this means 13-15 opposite partner's 7 hcp for a total of 20-22 in a seven trick contract. Because partner is so weak, you''ll probably get to 20-22 (combined) in a different way.

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Your agreement to bid 1D in response to 1C on all hands with 7 HCP oir less is not standard in Standard American (SA). It leaves quite a few questions, which you need to settle before you can decide how to handle a 18-19 HCP balanced hand.

What does your partner do with 9-11 points and no major suit, say 5-card diamonds, 4-card clubs, and 2 in each major? In SA this would be a 1D bid. How about a 6-card diamond suit?

What does your partner do with KQJXX or even KQJXXX in a major, with no other honors? in SA this would be one of the major, even toguh it holds only 6 points.

In SA, the classic way to handle this is to open 1 of a suit (better minor or a major if you have a 5-card suit). Over a 1-level suit response, jump to 2NT. This shows your hand precisely, and responder becomes the captain to place the contract or learn more about your hand. Over a 2-level response, you can still bid 2NT, but it doesn't as fully show your strength, as you might do the same with a 14 HCP hand, no support for partner, and a suit you aren't comfortable rebidding, and a balanced or semi balanced hand. Or you could jump to 3NT, although that uses up a lot of bidding room. This is something that should be discussed with partner. Over a 1NT response you could bid 2NT or 3NT, depending on suit texture and partnership agreement. 3 is a bit of a stretch if partner has a 6-point hand, especially with a bad 18. With a good 19, you have at least 25 between the two hands, and 3NT is attractive.

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