The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (September 2008)

They strive to be sensible, not brilliant. (Part 14)

Many pairs’ bidding systems are perpetual works in progress. They constantly add and discard agreements that seem valuable or just fun to play, including conventions – and sometimes entire systems -- they invent themselves.

It’s usually easy to add an established convention, especially one that makes use of an idle bid in a specific auction. More difficult is an agreement that changes a bid’s current meaning, which often affects other parts of your system. An idea that appears to be a brilliant solution for one situation may create problems in others, so you’ll want to think through all the consequences before making a major change.

“Pre-tests” for new agreements

Is it legal?  If you’ve created your own convention, your first responsibility is insuring that it’s legal. Events at clubs, sectionals and regionals usually permit methods on the ACBL General Convention Chart (GCC), but clubs have the right to impose their own restrictions. Higher-level events may allow treatments on the ACBL Mid-Chart or SuperChart.

Most bids that are natural and constructive are allowed at all levels. Examples of agreements that are not permitted on the GCC and Mid-Chart are forcing-pass systems, weak two-bids that show two-suiters, and opening bids that can systemically be fewer than 8 points.

Convention charts are on (under the “Play” menu). The language is very technical, so if you have doubts about the legality of your methods, check with a tournament director.

Is it compatible with the rest of our system?  Even simple gadgets can turn your system into the proverbial three-legged table, where one change requires another and another, plus some you may not discover until they come up in actual play. Before you add a convention, consider its impact on auctions where you don’t use it. If you assign an artificial meaning to a natural bid, for example, how will you describe the hand that bid formerly showed? Will your new slam-try tool take away a bid that’s needed for finding the best game?

What can go wrong?  Try to anticipate situations that might cause confusion or complications. Define the auctions where the new meanings are “on”, then consider the variations. If you use a convention for opener’s rebid, will it apply in a similar sequence that starts with an overcall? Do you need a different set of meanings if the opponents compete? Write your agreed uses into your system notes, then add “when-in-doubt” guidelines that will apply to all undiscussed situations.

Bidding practice can help you identify other potential pitfalls. One exercise is using dealer software to create and print pairs of hands that match your requirements. If you want to practice 2-over-1 auctions, for example, you can set the software to deal opener 13+ points and 5+ cards in a major, then deal 12+ points to responder.

Another popular – and free -- option is the partnership bidding rooms on You and partner can set deal parameters, bid an unlimited number of hands and use the chat feature to discuss your auctions.

The best test drive

Years ago, two college students at my local club, Scott and Brandon, asked my permission as director to play a new system they had devised. It was “out there” (ultra-light opening bids, zero-point overcalls) and not legal by the letter of the law. They were so anxious to try it, though, that I said they could use it until someone made a legitimate objection.

I didn’t get a single complaint. Their opponents were too happy with the penalties they collected from the garbage overcalls and the games Scott and Brandon missed when they happened to hold “real” values. A few weeks later, Scott informed me they had decided to give Standard American another try.

Of all the ways to test new bidding methods, none is more helpful than putting them into action against humans. Scott and Brandon had written up detailed notes and practiced with computer hands, but there were no opponents to interfere or make penalty doubles in their practice auctions. They couldn’t judge all the ramifications until they encountered them at the table and saw how their contracts scored in a typical field.

A good laboratory for the four-player test is the relaxed atmosphere of a local duplicate or online club, where it’s easier to experiment and cope with mistakes than in a tournament. If you’re comfortable with how your system works there, it’s ready for permanent addition.

©  2008   Karen Walker