Improved Major Contracts

This chapter highlights advanced treatments of major openings and their related conventions, and the case of opener raising responder’s major.

Two-Way Reverse Drury

In Reverse Drury, we bid 2♣! as a passed hand to show a limit raise or better. In Two-Way, we bid 2♦! to show a limit raise with four or more trump, and reserve 2♣! to show a limit raise with exactly three card support.

Bergen Raises

Bergen Raises are an option; again, some people do not play them because of the difficulty of recognizing them, or thinking something is Bergen when it isn’t. Do not try them until you are experienced in the standard raise structure.

The emphasis is on distinguishing three-card from four-card limit raises. A four card raise has a great deal more potential for game than a three-card raise.

With 4+ cards,

  • 1M - 2M 6-10 HCP with 3 cards in M; or a good five, particularly Axxx in trumps.
  • 1M – 3M! 2-6 preemptive, 4 card raise
  • 1M – 3♣! 7-10 constructive 4 card raise
  • 1M – 3♦! 10-12 limit 4 card raise
  • 1M - 1N forcing is forcing for one round, may have 10-12 and 3 trump.
  • 1M – 2N! 13+ game forcing 4-card raise. (Jacoby 2N)
  • 1M - 3N 12-15 points, 3 spades, very balanced.

If responder has 3 trumps and 10-12 points, he bids 3M the next chance he gets.

The following part is optional: a bid of 3 of the other major shows game-forcing values, four trump, and a singleton or void somewhere. If opener rebids the next available step, responder shows the suit by making step rebids:

  • 1♥ - 3♠!(gf raise, stiff or void somewhere) - 3N!(asking where)

    Responses are 4♣! clubs, 4♦ diamonds, 4♥ hearts

  • 1♠ - 3♥!(gf raise, stiff or void somewhere) - 3N!(asking where)

    Responses are 3N! clubs, 4♣ diamonds, 4♦ hearts

Note the collision here with the normal splinter or jump shift meaning.

When Is It Not Bergen?

Bergen raises are off:

  • if responder is a passed hand;
  • if there is an overcall or double

Rationale: If there is a double, 2N! is a Jordan raise so you wouldn’t need 3♦ for this. After an overcall, you have cue bids.

Reverse Bergen interchanges the meanings of 3♣ and 3♦.

Constructive Raises

Constructive raises require 8 to 10 HCP and four card support for the raise to 2M. With only a good 5 to 7 HCP, or 3 cards, we bid 1N forcing for one round, (or 1♠ over 1♥), and then sign off with 2M on our next bid.

The idea is to prevent partner from making a game try unless we might say yes. In return for safer and more appropriate game tries, we cannot stop at 1N by the responder. Therefore, constructive raises are least disruptive when used only when 1N is already forcing, such as in 2/1 by unpassed hands. Or, you have to play 1N as “semi-forcing”, announce it, and have your opponents laugh and ask, “What does that mean?”. (Larry Cohen says it means, “Forcing”!)

Kokish Game Tries

After an auction beginning 1M - 2M, Kokish game tries are an alternative to Help Suit Game Tries, combining that with the ability to show shortness instead. The first step up is an inquiry, while other suits show shortness.

After 1♥ - 2♥:

  • 2♠! asks in what suit responder would accept a game try; 2N by responder meaning spades. Responder just bids 3♥ if there isn’t one.
  • 3♣! / 3♦! / 2N!(spades) is a game try that shows shortness.
  • 3♥ is a game try needing trump honors.

After 1♠ - 2♠, the idea is the same:

  • 2N! asks in what suit responder would accept a game try.
  • 3♣! / 3♦! / 3♥! is a game try showing shortness.
  • 3♠ is a game try needing trump honors.

In responding to a bid showing shortness, the responder should judge based on his values and whether or not any of them are wasted opposite the short suit.

Variation: always use 2N! as the inquiry bid.

Raising Responder’s Major

When opener opens a minor, and responder shows a major, when can opener raise that suit?

Usually one wants four cards in the major, because the responder has only shown four. However, sometimes opener will raise on three cards to an honor, provided he has a a stiff or void. For example, holding ♠K32 ♥8 ♦KJ83 ♣AQ965 we will open 1♣. If partner replies 1♠, we can raise to 2♠ rather than rebid our five-card club suit. Especially at matchpoints, we’d hate to find out later that responder had five spades. And in this case, we don’t have enough to reverse into diamonds.

However, how should responder proceed to make a game try? Is there a way to know more about that raise? Eric Rodwell developed a game try convention for this situation, which simplified is called Spiral. It is a spiritual cousin of Ogust.

There are different versions, of course, but here is one for us mortals.

After hearing 1m - 1M - 2M, responder can bid 2N! to ask about the nature of opener’s raise. The next steps represent:

  1. 3 card raise, minimal (11-13)
  2. 3 card raise, maximal (14-15)
  3. 4 card raise, minimal
  4. 4 card raise, maximal

These bids are all alertable, of course.

In addition, bids at the four level below trump are splinters with four-card support, any strength. With more than 15, opener should bid game.

In our example, the bidding would go 1♣ - 1♠ - 2♠ - 2N!(inquiry); 3♣!(min, 3 spades). This allows responder to stop at 3♠ if needed.

Had the suit been hearts, the auction would start 1♣ - 1♥ - 2♥ - 2N!.

Variation: over hearts, use 2♠ as the inquiry.

A Better System After J2NT

The standard scheme of responses to Jacoby 2N (1M - 2N!(4 trump, opening hand)) have problems. When either opener or responder make a jump to game, showing no slam interest, their partner with extras is stuck – it may be right to go on, or it may be bad, and it is most often just a guess. Another complaint is that the standard answers gives away shape information even when it turns out nobody has slam interest at all.

For the “standard expert idea” see Larry Cohen’s web pages. Here is a simpler version of the same idea for established intermediate to advanced partnerships:

Consider an extra King or so as “extras”, or a hand with great playing strength.

After 1M - 2N!(game forcing, 4+ card support), opener bids:

  • 3♣!(minimal opener) to show a minimal hand. Any other bid shows extras.
  • 3♦! extras without shortness
  • 3♥! extras with club shortness
  • 3♠! extras with diamond shortness
  • 3N! extras with shortness in the “other major”
  • 4M shows the worst imaginable opener, always 5332.
  • Other four-level suit bids show a great second five-card suit. These bids tend to not show extra HCP, just the great shape.

After a reply showing extras responder should cue-bid if above minimum.

If the opener does not have extras, the responder may have extras and still have slam interest. After 1M - 2N! - 3♣!, responder can bid 3♦! to inquire about shortness, and the same 3♥!, 3♠!, and 3N! responses show shortness. With no shortness, opener cue bids at the 4-level below game if possible.

The shortness bids are easy to remember, since they are “steps up the line” through the two minors to the other major.

Note: Since a 5332 with 15-17 HCP would be opened 1N, the 3♦! reply to 2N! is usually 5422, or it is 18+ HCP.

Gitelman’s Major Raises

In a series of three articles entitled “Improving 2/1 Game Force” (1993), Bridge Base founder Fred Gitelman explained his ideas for improving 2/1. He suggested a different approach to major raises, avoiding J2NT, and explained three helpful slam-bidding conventions: Serious 3N, Last Train to Clarksville, and Lackwood. While the latter two are complex expert-level conventions, Serious 3N is presented here.

Serious 3N

If we have agreement on a 8-card or better major fit at the three level, there are three bids available to continue to game: bid game, bid 3N as an artificial bid, or make a control-showing bid.

With the Serious 3N convention, 3N is a serious slam try, while the control-showing bid is mild interest in slam, and just bidding game shows no slam interest.

Experts have of course many different opinions and variations, including making 3N the non-serious choice. Some say the agreement must be in a game-forcing auction.