3

Non vulnerable and playing five card majors, South opened onw spade. West passed. North raised to 3 spades. This was a "Bergen" raise, which is to say that North promised only four spades (Law of Total Tricks), but could have 0-9 high card points, not 6-9.

S W N E
1S P 3S1

Who, if anyone, is the "captain" of the partnership if the bidding goes further after this sequence? Or is one of the disadvantages of a Bergen raise the fact that strength ranges are so wide that it is hard to identify a "captain" even after another bid or two?

3
  • I edited in a table of bidding - sort of to see if it would be helpful, and I think it is - if you don't like it feel free to remove it, just might make it easier (and be a nice thing to do for other questions in the future). – Joe Jan 26 at 19:30
  • @Joe: Fine, thank you. – Tom Au Jan 26 at 19:35
  • The direct raise in Bergen is usually played as 0-6 or 2-6, not 0-9, with 7-9 hands going through 3C (originally) or 3D (many players have switched the original 3C/3D bids). – Alexander Woo Jan 27 at 6:47
4

For the most part, in Bergen, the opener is the "Captain". Responder does what Opener tells them to, nothing more. This is particularly true here, in the 1S-3S sequence, which is often described as "preemptive" - it describes a weak hand.

The way you can tell is how the response is very tailored to provide fairly specific information, and then the rebid from opener is either signoff (including pass), or (to lower 3-level responses) includes the help suit game try, which is still fairly limiting in the options it provides. Opener could have almost any hand (could be 12 HCP, 5-3-3-2, could be 18 HCP, 5-3-4-1, could be 11 HCP, 6-4-2-1, etc.)

Most of the time in this auction, opener passes or raises to 4S (if opener is particularly strong, particularly shapely, or in competition if opener has a 6 card suit or is otherwise willing to tolerate 4S competitively). Since opener didn't open 2C, you're out of slam territory excepting very limited situations, and so the standard Bergen sequence such as described here doesn't usually mention any other options.

More generally, when you see a conventional sequence, you can tell who is captain because that's the "asking" hand. The asker is captain, deciding what the ultimate contract is, and the responder just answers questions. Often conventions are structured so that the eventual declarer is captain - because that way defense finds out the least information possible about that hand - but not that's always possible.

There are cases where it's handed off - like in the sequence

S W N E
1S P 3C P
3H P ?

There, South has made a help suit game try, and is giving control to North - asking if North thinks 4S is worth considering.

3

The only time I have played 3M Bergen raise as wide as 0-9 was when I played it in a Precision shell, but even then, it was "no interest in game opposite a maximum" (just that the maximum was 15, not 21, HCP)[1].

As others are saying, traditionally 1M-3M is 0-bad 6. And the message being passed is "we don't have game given you didn't open 2C". There's another call for the good 6-9 hands, and another yet for the traditional limit raises, and another yet for GF+, and others yet for GF-ish with shortness in a side suit.

Captain-ness is neither a rigorous nor a static thing. It's usually a bad idea to overrule the Captain, but there's nothing wrong with it, if it's right. It is common for captaincy to be transferred, as well, for instance 5NT King ask after Blackwood, if 5NT promises all keycards are held.

A quote from some system notes I got a copy of decades ago: "As much as possible, one of the first three bids by a partnership should limit their hand. Once they do, partner is captain." And the reason should be obvious. And if you're asked to play some system that seems to violate that maxim, you should be looking askance at it and asking "why?" It might be, as here, that someone has the wrong idea of what the system is, or it has been adjusted to the rest of the system in ways that don't work in your system.

[1] If you're wondering, we defined 3C as "go on a Goren opener" (we opened all 10s that weren't 9s NV, all 11s that weren't 10s V), 3D as "go only if, had you known you had a 9-card major fit, you would have opened strong 1C to start with". People asked us for HCP limits. We didn't need, or have them. Strengths of a limited-opener system.

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  • I'm struggling to come up with a 9hcp hand that neither has game opposite AKxxx AKxx xxx x nor has the excess defensive values suggesting a raise to only 2M despite a 9 card fit. (Surely you'd raise to 2S not 3S with QJxx Qxx Qxx Qxx.) I think you were playing 0-bad8. – Alexander Woo Jan 28 at 20:52
  • We played what we played. Which, yes, meant that we weren't beholden to rules, especially vulnerable. But Precision has always had many limit bids that played the odds, and the odds are that my partner's 1S opener looks closer to AJxxx Qxx x KJxx than 6 working controls and both majors. Opposite that hand, I can't think of many 13-15 semi-balanced hands that don't have a play for slam, but we'd still bid it 1S-4S. – Mycroft Jan 29 at 16:02

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