Jeff Lehman

Avoiding partnership misunderstandings from conventions

In reading about bridge results in The Bridge World and other publications, I admire the experts’ use of various conventions to hone their bidding judgments.  Although I could see the merits of two particular conventions – good/bad 2NT and kickback – I was reluctant to propose to adopt them in my partnerships.  My reluctance was caused by fear that partners would use the conventions in circumstances in which I did not think the convention would apply and vice versa.  Better, I thought, to not adopt the conventions than to suffer bad results from one of us misapplying the conventions.

I still subscribe to the underlying tenet suggested by the above reluctance – that it is winning strategy to fail to adopt a convention for which you and partner might have differing interpretations.

However, with respect to good/bad 2NT and kickback, I think a few simple rules of application can allow a partnership to obtain most of the potential benefits of the conventions without running substantial risk of suffering a partnership misunderstanding.  Although I am sure that expert pairs can adopt more sophisticated rules for fully benefiting from use of these conventions, my partnerships will get by just fine by adopting some pretty easy rules of application, thank you.

Before detailing the simple rules I have proposed for using these conventions, allow me to discuss the general purpose of each of the two conventions.

Good/bad 2NT is designed to allow a partnership to compete with a distributional hand and also inform  partner whether such competition is from a weak, distributional hand or a stronger, distributional hand.  For example, assume you open 1 on xx, xx, AQJxxx, Axx.  LHO passes, partner responds 1, and RHO overcalls 2.  You want to compete to 3, but you fear that partner might read a 3call as suggesting a stronger hand, say one where one of the small spades is the A.  Thinking that your 3 call shows such a hand, partner might rebid 3NT on a hand such as KQxxx, Kxx, xx, Jxx.  What good/bad 2NT accomplishes is to allow you to bid 3 on each hand.  You just bid 3directly with one such hand (most play the direct call shows the stronger hand) and you bid 3indirectly with the other hand (by beginning with a good/bad 2NT call and then, over partner’s 3 puppet, bidding 3; most play the indirect call to show the weaker hand, sort of lebensohl-like).  You would also use the good/bad 2NT call to distinguish between distributional hands of differing strength that contain a good second suit such as xx, x, AQJxx, KQTxx and Ax, x, AQJxx, KQTxx.

Kickback is designed to allow a partnership to have more room for follow up responses to keycard auctions.  When spades is trump, 4NT keycard works best.  Should partner respond the second step of 5, asker can bid 5 to ask about the trump queen and not be beyond safety level of 5 of agreed major.  But what happens when the second step response to 4NT keycard is 5 and hearts is the agreed trump suit?  Then 5 is needed as a signoff call and is not available to ask about the trump queen.  How kickback helps this situation is by redefining the keycard ask call, depending upon what suit is agreed as trumps.  When spades is trumps, 4NT remains the keycard ask.  But when any other suit is trump, the keycard ask becomes 4 of the suit immediately above the trump suit (so, 4 is the key card ask when hearts are trump).  Easy enough one would think, but the scope for partnership misunderstanding is great.  When the partnership has shown and supported hearts and is engaging in a control bid auction, how can the partners tell that a 4 call is kickback asking for key cards or just another control bid or even an attempt at signing off?

Here are the simple rules I have proposed in my partnerships:

  • Good/bad 2NT
    • Conditions of application
      • By opening bidder only
      • Requires:
        • opening 1 bid
        • suit or notrump response at 1 level or negative double of 1 level overcall by responder
        • bid at 2 level by RHO
      • Meaning of opener’s bids
        • Direct bid at three level shows extra values
        • Bid of 2NT is relay to 3C, with follow up call by opener being natural and weaker than a direct bid at three level.
          • Exception: if opening bid were 1D and responder’s diamonds are better than his clubs, responder should relay to 3D rather than to 3C
          • (optional) Exception: in specific auction 1m-(1S)-dbl-(2S):
            • 2NT is good/bad 2NT, but without heart support
            • double is a hand that would have raised 1H to 2H in an uninterfered auction
            • 3H is a hand that would have raised 1H to 3H in an uninterfered auction

    • Identifying call which is key card ask (“kickback”)
      • When spades is agreed suit, 4NT is key card ask
      • When suit other than spades is agreed suit
        • Key card ask suit is 4 of suit ranking directly above agreed suit
        • Exceptions when 4 of suit ranking directly above agreed suit is:
          • a suit that was bid by either partner on first round of auction; or
          • a single jump that can be a splinter bid
        • When an exception applies to eliminate as key card ask suit 4 of suit ranking directly above agreed suit, then key card ask suit is 4 of suit ranking two suits above agreed suit, etc.
      • When key card ask suit is other than 4NT, then 4NT becomes a control bid in suit of keycard ask.  Similarly, a call of 5NT substitutes in meaning for 6 of the key card ask suit.

Below represents correction of May 7, 2011

    • Identifying call which is key card ask (“kickback”)
      • Precondition is that in subject auction, 4NT would, absent kickback agreement, be keycard and not quantitative, choice-of-suit, etc.
      • When spades is agreed suit, 4NT is key card ask
      • When suit other than spades is agreed suit
        • Key card ask suit is 4 of suit ranking directly above agreed suit
        • Exception when 4 of suit ranking directly above agreed suit is a suit that was bid by either partner on first round of auction
        • When exception applies to eliminate as key card ask suit 4 of suit ranking directly above agreed suit, then key card ask suit is 4 of suit ranking two suits above agreed suit, etc.
      • When key card ask suit is other than 4NT, then 4NT and the 4-level key card ask swap meanings.  Similarly, calls of 5NT and the 5-level key card ask swap meanings.


2 Comments

KevinMay 5th, 2011 at 7:00 pm

I heartily advocate you call for clarity and your resistance to ambiguous conventions.

Personally, I believe that Kickback should be avoided except in expert partnerships. Similarly, forcing passes are a potential source of confusion.

Good-bad 2NT is worthwhile, but I think your rules are too restrictive in that it is restricted to opener. I played GB2NT at an NABC with a sporadic partnership. It worked because we had the rule that GB2NT was always on even if it didn’t make sense as long as partner has bid once.

It was appalling from a bidding theory perspective, but very effective in practice.

Jeff LehmanMay 5th, 2011 at 11:57 pm

I realize that the notes I wrote above on kickback are not as straightforward as they should be. What is missing is the caveat that the 4 level kickback bid must be in an auction where, absent the kickback agreement, 4NT would clearly be keycard BW. So, for example, an auction such as 1H-3H-4S would be kickback because we would, absent kickback agreement, clearly recognize the auction 1H-3H-4NT as keycard (addition: and 4NT would have meaning of whatever the partnership had previously agreed for 4S, such as shortness in spades). The note about the exception when the ask could be a single jump that is a splinter makes the write-up more confusing that it should be. Back to the drawing board for me.

See revision to post, dated May 7, 2011.

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