A brief story of the 2/1 Response (by P. E. Garrisi)

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A brief story of the 2/1 Response. The Two over One response is played today mainly as game forcing (2/1 Game Forcing), but many still play it Standard (2/1 Response); in the latter case, the Responder promises to bid again before 2NT, but the pair isn’t committed to bid game. At the very beginning of Contract Bridge (1925), the 2/1 was passable. It was called “denial bid”, meaning so that it denied tolerance in the opener’s suit and that the responder was weak. The other responses were:

1NT: semipositive, not forcing, without support.

Single raise: support, inviting (the weak response with support was pass: the pre-empting raising didn’t exist).

The forcing response were: jump shift, 2NT, double raise.

In David Burnstine’s Method (1931), for example, the 2o1 Response required a five card suit by at least QJ, and an overall strength of six points or few more. David Bruce, called Burnstine, was one of the “Four Horsemen”, the strongest team of that years, with Hal Sims, Willard Karn, Oswald Jacoby.

It is clear, so, that North was without acceptable bids when he had a strong hand with weak suits; and in the same times Ely Culbertson warned: the denial bid denies the support, not the strength. But the same Culbertson thought that such strength couldn’t exceed 10-11 points, and that it forced the Opener only to rebid with 14-15.


The 2/1 Response eventually becomes forcing in Acol (1934), a system created in London by Maurice Harrison Gray, Ian McLeod, Terence Reese, J.C.H. Marx, Skidelski John Simon. The bridge club where they played was in Acol Road, then the name. Their 2/1 Response was forcing one round; after, the Responder could pass. Example:

1♠-2; 2-Pass.

The forcing one round response is the basic step toward the today bridge, but it still sometimes leaves the Opener in troubles. For example, holding:

♠AQxxx KJx xx ♣AQx – What to do after 1♠-2♣, if the Responder is allowed to pass 2♠?


The Roth-Stone System, by Alvin Roth, in 1953 borne the “2/1 Response that promises rebid”. With the above hand, the Opener now can bid 2♠ and the Responder still has to bid again. A specification need: in Roth-Stone system, North promises to rebid if the contract is still within 2NT, and only once. Here are some examples to clear the matter as used today (in the original, there were other meanings):

1-2♣; 2-2NT

1-2♣; 2-2NT

North has rebid, as promised, and the level is 2NT: South can pass.

1♠-2; 2NT

The level is 2NT already: North is no longer obliged.

1-2♣; 2-2

1♠-2; 2-2♠

South can pass. Still the level is under 2NT, but North rebid, and that is enough. Note that the last auction of North isn’t a support: it only means that he is less poor in the opening suit than in the other. The minimum strength of the Roth’s 2/1 Response is higher than the one of Acol, as it pushes the auction at higher level. Alvin advised to hold a five card suit and eleven points; in the Acol, eight were enough.


Let’s go back, again to the early times of contract bridge. In late Twenties the leading systems were the “Natural” of the Portland Club (London), and the “Official System” of Sidney Lenz and of the Knickerbockers Whist Club (New York). They were similar: in both, the opening suit was fifth or longer. With the balanced hand, the opening was 1NT when love, was in the best minor when vulnerable. The vulnerable 1NT required 16-18. In both systems, the strong opening was at level three, there was the “Intermediate Two” (15-20), and the One over One Response was not forcing. And, of course, was not forcing the 2/1 as well.

A new and of increasing popularity system was the Approach-Forcing of Culbertson: its strong opening was at level two, and in the opening at level one the suit was fourth, so finding all the 4-4 fits. In 1930, Ely Culbertson challenged Sidney Lenz in the famous “Bridge Battle of the Century”. The match was broadcasted by radio; Culbertson won, and all the world started to play the new four card opening system.


In 1953, the Roth-Stone System brought in a new treatment of the Five Card Major: the forcing 1NT response. This novelty worked out mainly to narrow the strength of the support and its length.

It need highlight that, contrarily on what is common thought, the Five Card Major is not the “modern” system but the ancient one: the new was that of Culbertson. The Roth-Stone was new because its forcing 1NT, not for the Five Card Major alone. Without the forcing 1NT response, every 5CM system is old as the systems played by our forefathers in the pre-Culbertson Era.

The Culbertson’s has been the first great American system (1929); the Roth-Stone (1953) was the second one; third, in 1958, comes the Kaplan-Sheinwold. Based on Roth-Stone, in K-S appears for the first time an embryo of 2/1 Game Forcing Response: was game forcing the 2/1 response followed by support or by 2NT; was not forcing the rebidding or a new suit. For example, 1♠-2; 3♣…was forcing one round, not to game: if North rebids 3, South can pass.


Take now these cards: ♠73 AQ75 AK865 ♣82

The partner opens 1♠, we reply 2: it is forcing one round and promises rebid (as in Roth-Stone Treatment). The partner rebids 2. Now?

In standard systems as Sayc (Standard America Yellow Card), this problem is solved electing 3 to forcing, so the treatment is: when the Opener rebids the opening suit (es 1♠…2♠ or 1…2) the raise at level three is inviting; when he switches (1♠…2), the raise in the second suit is game forcing. A doubtful adjustment, and it is easy to see that the above problem doesn’t exist in 2o1gf.


Four champions met once a week since 1966 to 1970 to condense the Alvin Roth’s forcing 1NT, with the Kaplan-Sheinwold, in an utterly new Five Card Major System: it is, in order of time, the fourth and the last great American System. The four champions didn’t publish it, so many don’t recognize them as the originators (but the Encyclopedia does); they were the Californians Richard and Rhoda Walsh, Paul Soloway, John Swanson. Their purpose is clearly said by words of Rhoda Walsh:

“2/1 gf was created to cure the ills of Standard American wherein partners had to jump to game to avoid the dreaded possibility of being dropped at the three level. 2/1 gf allows for far greater subtlety in both game and slam bidding.”


For example, take the poll recently published by BridgeTopics ( click here >>)

Love all. South has: ♠A10973 AQ2 82 ♣AKJ and the auction goes:

Ovest Nord Est Sud


Passo 2♣* Passo ?

*2o1gf, at least two cards.

The options presented in the poll were:

– 3NT:18-19 balanced. (It has taken 15 votes, last)

– 2NT: balanced, followed by 4NT quantitative after North’s 3NT (31 votes, winner)

– 3♣: natural, extra’s (23 votes, 2nd)

– 2♠: waiting, not necessarily six spades (17 votes, 3rd)

This was our comment:

3NT shows the strength but hides the club support, and the diamond stopper is lacking. 2NT is even worse as, existing a rebid when holding 18-19, it denies such strength. 2 is better because it avoids to bid NT without a stopper, but 3 does the same and shows four or good three card support. 3 only can be in 2o1gf [we now underline this] as it is worth a sound opening, good 13 or 14, not more. But after a possible North’s 3NT – that grants the red suit stoppers at once – 4 by South is doubtless slam inviting, releasing later the captaincy to North, which will end in club if the suit is real, in NT if it is not.”

So won 2NT, the auction we called “…even worse…”. But Bridge tourneys differ from democracy as the winners always belong to the minority party.

Note that both the above problems are of the same kind: how to support partner’s suit at level three and contemporaneously force to game. The Californian Foursome solved it, but their solution isn’t the only one possible. For example, the poll problem – from the Opener’s side – is solved by the Vanderbilt’s Strong Club (1926). And the former, from the Responder side, is solved in Neapolitan Club by the 4♣/4 Convention, synthesized in the interview to Agustin Madala : click here >> 

The 2/1 gf is the most used system, today; even intermediate and weak players try it. Many thinks that it is not a system, that all lies in the forcing 1NT and in the treatment as game forcing of the 2/1 response. On the contrary, it is a true and pretty complex system, and it is not advisable to play it with casual partners, also because there are too many sequences that have to be agreed before. For example: are all the 2/1 responses game forcing? Or, in style Kaplan Sheinwold, 1♠-2 or 1-2♣ aren’t? And what about 1-1NT; 2♣? Is it forcing? Still: after 1-2; 2♠…is the Opener strong or just is he telling he has both majors? And, of course, it need state exactly the strength and the length of the single and of the jump support, bidden at once, or after 1NT. And what does happen after 1♣-1? We present this part as developed by Rhoda Walsh herself:



Paolo Enrico Garrisi

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