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Watching the champions: Sam Lev and Norberto Bocchi

Posted on 09 September 2012

Watching the champions: Sam Lev and Norberto Bocchi –  The Anticipation and Preparedness Principles. Wandering some days ago in BBO I noted a table with more than hundred kibitzers, and in facts there were Sam Lev in north and Norberto Bocchi in south against two other well known champions (the opponents entered anonymous, and don’t star in our story, so it is not necessary to say their names). In an hand Sam Lev was dealer with: ♠AJ62 A763Q62 ♣87. This hand isn’t worth the opening: it is true that the aces are underrated in the 4-3-2-1 count; it is true that a 4-4 Majors is worth more than a 4-4 minors or Mm; and it cannot be denied that two douces in the short suit are the best that could be asked to a 4-4-3-2.

All this notwithstanding, the defensive tricks are only two, the two aces, whereas since Ely Culbertson’s age was stated that the minimum to open had to be 2,5; what’s more, the Israeli champion was vulnerable. However, it has to be said that many players only mild aggressive would have opened it; anyway, right or wrong would have been it, Lev passed.

West passed, Bocchi bid 1♣, East passed.

Lev now doesn’t have a way to show his strength. The opening would have anticipate an information, here the strength, that now becomes impossible to give, and not only impossible: it is not even advisable to do it. Bocchi, in facts, has opened in third place, thus it isn’t still clear whom the contract belong to, and already the 2NT level could be catastrophic: 2NT with two balanced hands and only 20-22 overall points means that the race to establish own suit will be often lost, and the declarer could be forced to part with his winning cards of the long suit to keep the guard in the short ones, with the outcome of multiple down.

Said in a nutshell, the Anticipation Principle sometimes demands to open these borderline hands. Having been passed before, Lev now could only respond 1.

West passed, Bocchi bid 1NT, East passed.

That 1NT by the opener has been the kiss which woke up the sleeping beauty; Lev has raised to 2NT and Bocchi has gone to 3NT, the happy end: “For me 2NT is transfer to 3NT”, the Italian commented humorously. The complete auction:


Lev     Bocchi

Pass      1♣

1       1NT

2NT     3NT


Now the question: how could Lev afford to bid 2NT? How did he understand that Bocchi had at least a normal opening?

First and foremost it must be said that the Anticipation Principle retains all its value, just it wasn’t to be applied here. Sam Lev, a great champion, well know that in these situations it needs not to show one’s strength, but is partner’s task to explain himself.

Let’s study Bocchi’s hand:

♠Q10QJ4 AJ43 ♣A652

Let’s suppose that it was weaker, for example with J54 instead of QJ4:

♠Q10 J54 AJ43 ♣A652

Could it still be opened, even in third place? The reply is no but having very aggressive style or at least could be opened by 1, not 1♣. After the opening 1♣, if the response was 1♠ the opener should have bid 1NT, triggering the unavoidable reply of 2NT off when the partner has good nine to eleven points, and very often he has it. The rule – the safety rule – is that the light opening in third or fourth place must be “prepared” to avoid the 1NT rebid. The general rule to bid thinking forward to the next auction takes place in many other situations and is called Preparedness Principle. Then Bocchi wouldn’t have opened with this weaker hand, or would have opened by 1, prepared to rebid 2♣ over the response 1♠.

In this article I have dealt with the Anticipation and Preparedness Principles; the Official Encyclopaedia says that they are synonymous; they are not, instead, and right this hand explains why. Sam Lev had (seemingly) the problem to anticipate or not what couldn’t have been said later. As seen, the problem was instead in partner’s options: to be prepared to invite him to raise by the sequence 1♣… 1NT, or – with a weaker hand be discouraging opening 1 and rebidding 2♣, or not opening at all.


Paolo Enrico Garrisi

September 9, 2012


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