by Phillip Alder

Perhaps the biggest quandary a bridge teacher faces is what to cover, in particular with respect to bidding. This is why I much prefer to give lessons on card play, especially defense. However, as you are aware, it is harder to teach card play than a bidding convention, and everyone is so bad at defense that it gets them frustrated.

First of all, what is the level of play of your students? Are they regular duplicate players in bridge clubs? Do they travel to regionals and nationals?

If so, set your sights quite high.

But if they are primarily country-club players who might occasionally go to a local club, you need to be realistic.

Next, which basic system: Standard or Two-over-One?

Today, two-over-one has permeated into the social game, but it is much harder to use than Standard and has several minuses. Granted, it has some pluses also, especially when bidding a slam. But I see my students make many more mistakes using two-over-one than they ever did with Standard.

To be honest, I dislike discussing a convention because if someone doesn’t want to learn it, he or she will think that the class was a waste of time and money.

My basic rules are:

  1. Do more than 99 percent of experts use this convention?

    For example, transfers into the majors and negative doubles.
    If it is less popular with experts, don’t cover it. Even if you believe it is one of the best conventions ever devised, do not discuss it. For example, I would never teach Gazilli.

  2. Does the convention have a reasonable frequency?

    It is silly to teach something that comes up at most once a year. The older one gets, the worse one’s memory, so limiting the number of agreements is good, and the number of unusual methods even better.

  3. Will most of my group’s other partners also use this convention?

    If so, fine; if not, probably better to ignore it.

  4. Does a convention have a big knock-on effect?

    For example, Lebensohl, which also comes up rarely, requires a lot of discussion of the various sequences. Unless you have a really serious group, it is probably best ignored.

  5. Will players use the “new toy” at the wrong time?

    For example, transfers into the minors. First, they have a very low frequency, primarily because, as you are aware, they should not be used unless one has a weak hand or a strong hand. Less experienced players cannot wait to show off the new toy and do not understand that an auction like 1NT-2♠ {transfer to clubs}-2NT (I do not like clubs; I would have passed if partner had bid three clubs game-invitational)-3NT is a slam-try. Another minus: The opener’s two-step rebid baffles many players.

  6. Raises in Competition.

    Because I teach in county clubs, I rarely discuss cue-bid raises. But with the better and more serious players, they are a must. They make a pair so much more difficult to play against. In addition, I really like using a cue-bid raise of a major to show exactly three-card support, and employ two notrump to indicate four-plus trumps and at least game invitational values. Yes, this has a knock-on effect, so I recommend it to only my best students.

  7. Responses to a two-club opening.

    This is one situation where I feel using Neanderthal methods is best. The tournament world things that if the responder makes a positive response in a suit, (s)he guarantees a good suit. But I have lost count of the number of times that I have seen an auction of this type:

    The opener, thinking that his partner might have only four or five points, bids four spades to indicate a minimum two-club opening. But the responder has eight or nine points and is thinking about a slam.  So the weak hand uses (Roman Key Card) Blackwood, which is obviously crazy.

    If only the responder had given an immediate positive response, showing eight point or more, both players would have known it is almost certainly a slam deal. This must make the subsequent auction more accurate.

    The most common argument against this idea is that if responder bids two notrump with a balanced eight points or more, you might end up with the weaker hand playing it. In my experience, this almost never matters when we are in six or seven notrump. In fact, once I was in six notrump from the weak side, where it was cold, and the contract was not going to make from the strong side on the normal opening lead.

  8. Roman Key Card Blackwood

    Better than regular Blackwood, but not perfect because the trump king is not an ace. Also, in my experience, everyone can handle the initial reply, but for most the trump-queen ask is far too complicated.

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