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Responses to Strong Club (by P.E. Garrisi)

Posted on 23 March 2011

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 The Strong Club is an idea of Harold S. Vanderbilt, published in his: “Contract Bridge and the Club Convention” (1929). In the original scheme, the response 1 was weak; the others were natural. Most of today Strong Club’s players use the old Vanderbilt responses. In late 1940s, Eugenio Chiaradia, instead, adapted to it the responses of the “Norman 4NT”: This convention was originally a modified slam asking where the responder showed by steps his kings and aces, computing each respectively one and two points; the “Norman points” are called today “controls”. Norman De Villiers Hart, the inventor of Norman 4NT, played in the Austria Team that in 1937 won the World Championship defeating the US team.

 

Responses to 1♣ (one king is worth one control; one ace is worth two).

1: 0-1 control. Two controls, less than 6 HCP. Forcing to 1NT

1: two controls and 6+ HCP. Forcing to 2NT

Note: an hand 6332 by AJxxxx and no side points is strong enough for the response 1, even with only five points.

1♠: three controls. Game forcing

1NT: four controls

2♣: five controls

2: six+ controls

The reader must note that only the first two steps are linked to points and controls; the others only deal with controls. This feature is constant even in the overcalled opening.

The responses over 2are natural very weak jumps:

2/2♠: six card suit headed by the queen, or seven cards by jack. No more points but a side queen

2NT: 7-8 card club suit headed by no more than a jack

3♣, 3: six by KQ or seven by KJ; no side points.

3, 3♠: six by KQ; no side points (with seven by KJ, the response is 1).

 

Responses to 1♣ when West overcalls. The Norman-Chiaradia responses are simple enough but, when West overcalls, they become pretty complex as North has to describe his hand, not only in terms of controls, but also showing pattern and suit. This complexity is one of the critical points of the system, however it is unavoidable: more the North’s response will be accurate, easier will be the decision for South when the auction comes back to him, often at high level. The double at level one is punitive; it has to deter West from entering the auction with little, or even in bluff: the punitive double is the body guard of the Strong Club, saving it from West’s aggressiveness. From the interference 1NT, North’s double becomes quantitative, showing points in a balanced or semi balanced hand. When the interference is at level one, the auction is still forcing to 1NT, as not overcalled.

 

On West’s 1 (the double is punitive):

Pass: no controls, any strength by Qs and Js. One-two controls and less than 6 points

1: 1-2 controls and 6+ HCP

1♠: 3 controls

1NT: 4 controls with the stopper

2♣: 4 controls without the stopper

2: 5 controls

2/2♠: suit, no controls. The hand is weak, but not as weak as without interference: it can hold 5-6 points by Qs and Js.

2NT: 6+ controls

3♣: six card suit by KQ or seven by KJ, as not overcalled

3/♠: Six card suit by KQ, as not overcalled

Notes. 1. The first two steps over the interference – “pass”, and here “1– are yet linked to points and controls, but the second step is now available also with only one control (for 1 in uncontested auction need two controls). 2. The 6332 by AJxxxx still is worth the second step.

 

On West’s 1(the double is punitive):

Pass: no controls, any strength by Qs and Js. One-two controls and less than 6 points (as above)

1♠: 1-2 controls and 6+ points

1NT: 3 controls with the stopper

2♣: 3 controls without the stopper

2: 4 controls

2: 5 controls

2♠: suit, no controls (as above)

2NT: 6+ controls

3♣/3: Six cards suit by KQ or seven by KJ, as not overcalled (as above)

3♠: Six cards suit by KQ, as not overcalled (as above).

 

On West’s 1(the double is punitive):

Pass: no controls. One control and less than 7 HCP

1NT: 3 controls with ♠ stopper

2♣: one control and 7+ HCP. Two controls and 6+ points

2: 3 controls without the ♠ stopper

2: suit. 0-2 controls (see note 3 below)

2♠: 4 controls

2NT: 5+ controls

3♣/3: six cards suit by KQ or seven by KJ, as not overcalled (as above)

3: six cards suit by KQ, as not overcalled (as above).

NOTES. 1. The second step should be 1NT, but here it becomes 2♣ as 1NT becomes descriptive (controls, stopper, shape). 2. From 1♠, the strength for the second step rises from 6 to 7 points (or 6 with 2 controls). It involves that South, who opened with 17 points, can count at least 24 points in the line, enough for safely bidding at level three if East supports. In Precision style, where the opener has 16+ (not 17+ as in Neapolitan), 2♣ still can be by 7 points, as having 8 rarefies the response. 3. From 1♠, the 6332 by AJxxxx is bidden at level 2, showing the suit (here 2), no longer as “two controls”.

 

On West’s 1NT (the double becomes quantitative):

Pass: less than seven points, or 2 controls and less than six.

Double: 0-2 controls and 7+ points (or six with two controls). Balanced or semibalanced

2♣: 3 controls

2: 4 controls

2/2♠: suit. 0-2 controls

2NT: 5+ controls

3 ♣,,,♠: suit. 1-2 controls. Unbalanced.

What happens from 1NT.

1. The double becomes quantitative in balanced hand and it constitutes the second step.

2. The three level responses become the counterpart of the double, showing the same strength in unbalanced hand with the named suit.

3. When the overcall was under 1NT, the auction was anyway forcing to 1NT, then North could pass with many points by only Qs and Js, or with very unbalanced hands without controls: he will have another chance to bid. Since 1NT or higher could be passed by South, North must call (double or suit) when he has points or good shape without controls. This is the reason why the double becomes no longer punitive after West’s 1NT or higher: it helps in the descriptive auction.

 

On West’s 2♣:

Pass: less than 7 points, or two controls and less than 6.

Double: 0-2 controls and 7+ points (or six with two controls). Balanced or semibalanced

2: 3 controls

2/2♠: suit. 0-2 controls

2NT: 3-4 controls and ♣ stopper

3♣: 4 controls

3//♠: suit. 1-2 controls. Unbalanced

3NT: 5+ controls

 

On West’s 2

Pass: less than seven points, or two controls and less than six.

Double: 0-2 controls and 7+ points (or six with two controls). Balanced or semibalanced

2/2♠: suit. 0-2 controls

2NT: 3-4 controls and stopper

3♣: 3 controls

3: 4 controls

3/♠: suit. 1-2 controls. Unbalanced

3NT: 5+ controls

 

On West’s 2

Pass: less than seven points, or 2 controls and less than six.

Double: 0-2 controls and 7+ points (or six with two controls). Balanced or semibalanced

2♠: suit. 0-2 controls

2NT: 3-4 controls and stopper

3♣: 3 controls

3/♠: suit. 1-2 controls. Unbalanced

3: 4 controls

3NT: 5+ controls

 

On West’s 2

Pass: less than seven points, or 2 controls and less than six.

Double: 0-2 controls and 7+ points (or six with two controls). Balanced or semibalanced

2NT: 3-4 controls and ♠ stopper

3♣: 3 controls

3/: suit. 1-2 controls. Unbalanced

3♠: 4 controls

3NT: 5+ controls

 

West bids over 2♠. Double: 7-8 points, no more than three controls. New suit: natural, forcing one round

 

West doubles. When West doubles, the responses up to 1 become: Pass: zero controls and 0-4 HCP. Redouble: zero controls and 5+ HCP. 1: one control or one bare ace. Others: as uncontested.

 

Responses after conventional overcalling. The RAN Double.

Despite the common thoughts – how easy is overcalling the Strong Club, and how useless is the punitive double – there are many conventions that aim to overcall the Strong Club without being cursed by the punitive double. Many of these methods employ transfer bids for one suiter hands, or, in other ways, show a two or three suiter without letting know which are, or show only one of the suits (Anchor suit). The conventional overcall can better show two suiter hands – so increasing the chance to find support, therefore lowering the risk of being doubled – and, concealing the suit, can throw sand into opponents’ responding gears.

The general principle for countering with the conventional defenses is the “RAN Double”, where R.A.N. deals with the suit being doubled at level one: Real, Anchor, or, when no suit is identified, the double aims to the one Named by the Overcaller. In the last case, North by double simply shows his suit. When the interference is at level two or more, the double becomes quantitative, regardless named or known suits. The North’s NT calls, that in natural overcall show the stopper, follow the same RAN Principle. In the following examples West overcalls by the Tony Forrester’s “Trap” Convention.

 

Example A: West overcalls 1showing spades. The North’s responses become:

Double: punishing spades, the real suit

Pass, 1, 1♠: controls steps, as after natural 1

1NT: 3-4 controls and ♠ stopper. 2♣ and 2: as after naturale 1, just 2♣ denies the stopper in the real suit. 2 doesn’t change too: suit and no controls. 2♠, that becomes useless, could be used for controls, but it is better leave it meaningless, as it is for the level three cue-bids after level one natural overcall. Keeping it simple, helps to recall. 2NT and following have the same meaning, but 3: on natural overcall it wasn’t used; it now shows the suit, as the other level three bids (and 3♠ now becomes meaningless).

 

Example B: West overcalls 2, meaning diamonds or other three suits; this is a variant called “Panama”. Nothing is known on West’s hand, then all is normal, referred to the named suit. 2NT still retains its meanings, 3-4 controls and stopper.

 

The level one conventional overcalls that name a suit of lower rank than the one owned, as in example “A”, are rarely harmful, and often become even helpful for the opening side. At level two, on the contrary, the overcall is always noxious. It must be noted, in the example “B”, that North’s responses 2NT, 3♣, and 3 could be changed, untying the first from the stopper and rescuing the last to a natural meaning with diamonds. But it is more important to keep the simplicity, paying for it a tribute to the opponent’s endeavour.

Summing up, the RAN Principle states: Double, when punitive, the Real or the Anchor suit, or the Named one when no suit is known. Show stoppers in the same fashion. Keep all as unchanged as possible.

 

Paolo Enrico Garrisi

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