Conventions

The word “convention” in bridge refers to a bid, or a series of bids, which have an artificial meaning; that is, the bid does not mean what it would literally appear to mean.

You should know that when a convention giveth, it taketh away something else. For example, bidding Stayman 2♣ in response to partner’s 1N opener makes it easier to find major suit fits. But, you cannot ever play 2♣ as a contract after partner opens 1N. In this case the tradeoff is worth it. That isn’t always true.

Burn This Chapter

An expert pair came to our bridge club after a layoff of 30 years. During that layoff a great deal of the bidding that we discuss in this book was invented. They used very few conventional bids. They were, of course, doomed, right?

Strange thing is, they won the first week. And the second. And most of the weeks since then. Their discussions after a board are more often about defense, not bidding. They have since caught up on bidding methods, but they don’t have the same intense focus on them that the rest of us seem to have. When shown these notes, they remarked that our notes on defense should be as big as our notes on bidding.

There are books about defense, but they must be outnumbered 20 to 1 or more. Defense is hard work; conventions are fun and some people seem to think they are getting an “edge” using them and are as excited to add a new one as someone going to a Black Friday sale.

Every time you and your partner have a misunderstanding using a convention, you will likely get a bottom board. The advantage you get from the convention may be at most a few percentage points, in a situation that doesn’t come up very often. If you blow that convention just once, it may take a year of correct usages to get back to break even. Many of the conventions simply do not occur very often, so it can’t be a big loss not to use them.

Be sure to have a good experience base before adding conventions – nothing can erode your partnership and your own confidence faster than a lot of blown conventional calls. Only play conventions you are both solid on. Do not play a convention someone offers to teach you in the last few minutes before a game.

Almost the worst thing to do is learn a convention’s opening bids but be unclear on some of the followups. Learn the whole convention or don’t play it.

Note

Better work on your defense first! You’re on defense half the time!

What Should I Learn First?

I’m not an expert, and I’m sure experts value things differently than I do. But for what it is worth, here’s my opinion.

Other conventions mentioned in these notes and Advanced Bidding are strictly options.

Note

New Minor Forcing (NMF) and Fourth Suit Forcing (4SF) should be learned together, as they are very similar.

Where To Find Conventions Described

The two-suited bids Michaels, and Unusual 2NT are described in the chapter on competitive bidding.

Conventions that apply to notrump openers and overcalls are described in the Opening a Strong Notrump chapter and include Texas Transfers, Gerber, Stayman, Major Transfers, and Minor Relay.

Conventions that apply to major suit raises only are described in the Major Openings chapter, and include Reverse Drury, Jacoby 2N, Help Suit Game Tries, and Bergen Raises.

The Minor Suit Opener chapter includes information on Inverted Minors.

Conventions related to slam bidding are described in the Slam Bidding chapter.

The Two Over One System has its own chapter. As explained there, it is not legitimate to play the 1N Forcing convention by itself; it has to go with Two Over One. When people say they play Two Over One, they are commonly going to be playing New Minor Forcing and Inverted Raises, plus all the above Mandatory and Worthwhile conventions mentioned above.

Many conventions have more advanced variations or alternatives, as explained in two other books in this series: Advanced Bidding for offensive conventions, and Defensive Bidding for defensive one. Included are an expanded discussion of Bergen Raises and popular defenses to 1N openers.

New Minor Forcing and Fourth Suit Forcing are explained below.

Some books on conventions are listed in the Resources chapter.

About Alerts

An alert is a procedure required when someone makes a bid that does not show the “expected length or strength” that it appears to mean. Such bids are shown in my books with an exclamation mark after them.

Some bids that would appear to need an alert do not because they have become so common that they are no longer “unexpected” meanings. In some cases the ACBL has decided the alert is helping the offense by reminding partner of the special meaning more than it is helping the defense. The most famous of these is Stayman: 1N - 2♣ would seem to require an alert because it does not show clubs. But by now, “everybody” knows that.

It is better to alert if you aren’t sure. Opponents will help you learn when it is not necessary.

Say “Alert” and show the Alert card, promptly, when your partner makes an alertable bid. Do NOT explain the bid unless asked. When asked, give the explanation. Tell what the bid means (“a limit raise”) rather than the convention name (“Reverse Drury”)

It is unfair to your opponents not to give a clear explanation. If you aren’t sure, say what you’re going to believe about it without any hemming and hawing. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong.

If you realize some time later in the auction that you failed to alert partner’s bid, call the director immediately. If the auction is over, call the director immediately if your side is declaring, but wait until the end of play if you are on defense.

If your partner explains your bid incorrectly, or failed to alert, you have to tell the opponents that, but only at the right time:

  • If your side declares, call the director at the end of the auction.
  • If you are on defense, do it after the hand is over – to do it earlier is to help your own side’s defense and not allowed.

You do have to volunteer this information. You might say to the opponents, for example, “There was a failure to alert my 2N bid. It showed a game-forcing spade raise”; or, “My partner’s explanation of my 2N bid was not correct. We do not play it that way over an overcall.”

If your partner explains your agreement correctly but you didn’t bid it that way, you need not say anything. An upset opponent may call the Director or press you about it, and your answer is, “My partner explained our agreement correctly.”

If your deviate from your agreement frequently, it creates an illegal implicit understanding; if you forget now and then, or very rarely do something odd because you want to, it is ok. The test is that your partner should be no more likely to guess that you’re not following the agreement than your opponents are.

Read the ACBL’s Alert Pamphlet, Alert Chart, and Alert Procedures documents for more information.

Some advice: when an opponent alerts a bid, or makes a bid you do not understand, it is good strategy not to ask for an explanation until the end of the auction or at some point when it might affect your bid. You’re only helping them remember or discover a misunderstanding. They aren’t supposed to profit from the latter but they often do and directors have a horrible time with such cases. I call this, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, because a consequence of asking is telling their partner, not just you. When you do ask, ask the partner of the person who made the bid.

If on defense, and your partner has the opening lead, you should wait until he places his lead on the table face down and says, “Questions, partner?” My favorite answer is, of course, “Why are you leading? It isn’t your lead.” That’s why he puts it face down, to save face if he’s leading out of turn.

New Minor Forcing

When a 1N or 2N rebid has been made over a major suit call by the responder, any bid of an unbid minor (hence, a new minor) is NMF. It is forcing for one round and is at least invitational. Over 2N it is of course game forcing.

NMF is usually made holding five cards in a major that has been bid at the one level, hoping for a 5-3 fit in the suit. It also can be bid holding four cards in the “other major”.

Here are examples:

  • 1♦ – 1♥ – 1N - 2♣!(NMF)

    Responder holding five hearts wants to know if we have a 5-3 fit.

  • 1♣ – 1♠ – 1N - 2♦!(NMF)

    Responder holding five spades and possibly four hearts would again like to check for a fit. Note the subtle difference with the preceding case. Responder bypassed 1♥ originally, so he either does not have four hearts or he bypassed them because he had five spades. In the first case, opener should not have four spades.

  • 1♥ – 1♠ – 2N - 3♣!(NMF)

    Responder holding five spades would like to check for a fit.

Responding to New Minor Forcing, in order of priority, responder bids:

  • Show four of the other major by bidding it. For example, 1♦ – 1♠ – 1N – 2♣!(NMF) - 2♥
  • Show three in partner’s major and a maximum (14 points) by jump bidding it. For example, 1♦ – 1♠ – 1N – 2♣!(NMF) – 3♠
  • Show three in partner’s major but no maximum by bidding it. For example, 1♦ – 1♠ – 1N – 2♣!(NMF) – 2♠.
  • Repeat your minor to show no fit and a minimum.
  • Bid 2N to show no fit but a maximum.

Note that we bid the other major rather than show 3-card support at first. If there is a double 5-3 and 4-4 fit, we want the suit with the 4-4 to be trump, hoping to set up the other for discards as a side suit.

Sometimes it takes longer to tell the story but the story gets told. Compare these continuations after 1♦ – 1♠ – 1N -2♣!(NMF). The responder has bid spades:

  • 2♥(opener has 4 hearts)-3♠(has five spades)-4♠(has 3 spades and accepts invite)
  • 2♠(opener has 4 hearts)-4♥(me too, plus extras)
  • 2♠(opener has 3 spades, minimum, denies four hearts)
  • 3♠(opener has 3 spades, and 14 points, denies four hearts)

When no fit is found:

  • 1♣ - 1♠ - 1N - 2♦!(NMF) - 3♣(no 3 spades or 4 hearts, minimum)
  • 1♣ - 1♠ - 1N - 2♦!(NMF) - 2N(no 3 spades or 4 hearts, maximum)

When opener shows a maximum, it is game forcing, because responder invited by bidding NMF.

NMF is important enough to have its own box on the convention card, in the lower right. It is one of a class of bids that are generically referred to as “checkback” bids, and those bids share generally the kinds of responses that NMF uses. Compare NMF with Fourth Suit Forcing, for example.

NMF has a variant, two-way NMF, described in Advanced Bidding.

Fourth Suit Forcing

Bidding the fourth suit may describe your hand, but is unlikely to find a fit with partner. For example,

1♦ – 1♠ – 2♣ – 2♥

While it is possible opener has four hearts, it isn’t too likely given that he already has at least 8 cards in the minors. Fourth Suit Forcing gives you a way to bid a hand where you need a forcing bid but don’t have a natural one. For example, suppose responder has, in the auction 1♦ – 1♠ – 2♣ - ?:

♠KQJ86 ♥- ♦A93 ♣KJT82

With 14 points, responder must drive the auction to game. But alas,

  • 2♦ will be passed
  • 2♠ could be passed
  • 2N could be passed (besides being frightening)
  • 3♣ could be passed
  • 3♦ could be passed
  • 3♠ sets spades as trump, so we’d need six of them
  • 3N could be very, very wrong.

But 2♥!(forcing, says nothing about hearts) forces the auction to game (or four of a minor). Everyone can slow down, and responder’s next bid will further explain his hand. Note that Fourth Suit Forcing (FSF) almost always implies that the suit responder bid first is five cards long; opener assumes so.

The auction 1♣ – 1♦ – 1♥ – 1♠ is natural, not fourth-suit forcing. You must bid 2♠!(forcing) instead to force to game in this case.

The fourth-suit forcing bid says nothing about the fourth suit. You could have a void in it. So if you want to show a real suit, you have to bid it again on your next turn.

Some play FSF as forcing only for one round; ask a new partner and check the appropriate box in the bottom right of your convention card.

Opener’s Rebid

After FSF, opener further describes his hand, and tries to give responder information on two important fronts:

  • As with New Minor Forcing opener will try to show 3-card support.
  • Lacking support, we want to show a stopper in the fourth suit if we have one by bidding notrump at a level appropriate to our strength.

Example:

  • 1♦ – 1♠ - 2♣ – 2♥!(forcing, says nothing about hearts) Holding 3 spades, we bid 2S. Otherwise, we bid 2N with a heart stopper.

With opener lacking a heart stopper or 3 spades, the auction might go:

1♦ – 1♠
2♣ – 2♥!(forcing, says nothing about hearts)
3♣ – 3♦
4♦

Here responder’s bid of 3♦ showed a two-suited hand in a way that could not be passed since a game force was in effect. Had the responder had an invitational hand with spades and diamonds, he would just bid 1♦ – 1♠ – 2♣ – 3♦.

Opener knows that since he denied a heart stopper, when responder did not bid 3N, that game is not possible, so goes on to 4♦ to await responder’s decision about 5♦. Good defenders will know to lead the fourth suit if you try to sneak through in 3N.

Western Cue

When we are in a contested auction a (usually) three-level cue-bid of the opponent’s suit denies a stopper in their suit(s) and asks partner to bid notrump to show a stopper in the suit bid by the opponents. For example:

1♦ (1♥) 1♠ - 2♣ - 3♥!(asking for heart stopper)

Responder is asking opener to bid 3N if he has a stopper in hearts. Unless responder has quite a few extra points, he’ll generally have some help in hearts.

Generally, Western Cuebids are made at the three level while a two-level cuebid is usually a limit raise or better.

Over 1♠ or 2♠, a bid of 3♠ should be Western Cue, asking partner to bid 3N with a spade stopper. There isn’t enough room for Michaels over 2♠.