Those who rely on the Law of Total Tricks to make competitive decisions – and that’s just about everybody these days – also tend to favor conventions that incorporate Law principles. As with other Law bids, though, nothing is automatic. The most successful pairs treat their conventions as options, not commands, and they consider both the letter and the spirit of the Law before they use them.
The ultimate Law convention is Marty Bergen’s major-suit raises, which take you immediately to your maximum Law level (the trick level equal to your combined number of trumps). When partner opens a major, you have three 3-level bids to show four trumps and less than a game-force: 3C (a constructive raise, 8-10 playing points), 3D (limit) and 3 of the major (preemptive).
Three-card support is shown by a raise to two, which many pairs like to play as constructive. With weaker or stronger three-card raises, they start with a forcing 1NT.
Six ways to
support partner might seem enough, but there are still some hands that don’t
quite fit the structure. Suppose partner opens 1S and you hold
8763 KJ3 1062 Q84 .
This is a problem hand for Bergen raises. A nine-card fit normally calls for a three-level bid, but this hand has more high cards and less playing strength than partner will expect for a 3Spreempt, and too few points for a 3Cconstructive raise. Still, strict abiders of the Law wouldn’t consider bidding below the nine-trick level, so they would decide between the overbid and the underbid (with the overbid probably winning).
The reason Bergen raises work so well is that the fourth trump gives most responding hands, even those with paltry high cards, enough playing strength to make the three-level safe. This hand, though, has liabilities that negate the power of the extra trump. The flat distribution, weak trumps and low side-suit honors are all negative adjustments in Law evaluation.
One solution is to broaden the hand types shown by a two-level raise. Define 1S-2S as three-card support or a hand like the example – a four-card raise that has the effective playing strength of a three-card raise. With softer values (all queens and jacks), you might further devalue the hand and respond a forcing 1NT, then retreat to 2Sover opener’s rebid.
Inverted minors is another convention that relies on Law principles for its weak responses. A raise to two of partner’s 1Cor 1Dopening shows invitational-or-better values; a raise to three is preemptive.
The problem hands are those that would be a single raise for standard bidders – 6 to 10 points with some useful values. Playing inverted minors, if partner opens 1C, you have a dilemma with Q4 642 KJ4 QJ752 .
Since partner will usually hold at least four clubs (more than 80 percent of the time), the odds favor having a nine-card fit. There’s no accurate way to raise, though, because you’re too strong to preempt and too weak to invite. Even if you agree to shade down your 2C raise to include a good 9 points, this hand is too soft and balanced to qualify as invitational.
Those who play the auction 1C-1NT as 8-10 points have further problems with hands such as 643 J62 A2 Q8765 . Some players respond a temporizing 1D. Others opt for a heavy 3C and pray they haven’t talked partner out of a laydown game.
You can improve your results with these awkward hands by adjusting some ranges and giving responder more options for not making an inverted raise. Here are ideas you may want to discuss with your partner:
Adapt your response ranges to the form of scoring -- a freer style for matchpoints and more constructive methods for IMPs.
Promise some useful values for the preemptive raise, especially at IMPs. If your minimum is around four points (instead of zero, as some play), opener will be able to make better decisions when he has extra values. Promise near-maximum strength if you’re vulnerable.
Play inverted raises “off” in competition and by passed hands. Over a double or overcall, use a redouble or cuebid to show a stronger raise.
Respond 1NT with semi-balanced hands of 6 to 10 points. 1NT is often difficult to defend, and even if it’s not your ideal strain, at least you won’t be too high. 1NT will also keep you from going past your Law level when partner opened a three-card minor.
© 2006 Karen Walker