During his last interview, Norberto Bocchi mentioned the “Big Bang”, a system he plays with Agustin Madala. Recently Giorgio Duboin and Alejandro Bianchedi have been playing Big Bang as well. Given the interest and curiosity generated by that interview, we asked Norberto to better illustrate the guidelines of his new system and to explain its essential points.
Please, Norberto, tell us in a few words what is new in Bocchi’s Big Bang System.
The main innovation is the focus on vulnerability. The bidding style changes depending on vulnerability.
How would you unfold the philosophy of Big Bang to intermediate players?
The core innovation of the system does not simply consist in adopting different systems depending on vulnerability: this has been done for a while. My idea is to have one system, but to change the way one bids, depending on vulnerability.
Some Italian and foreign pairs, for example, alternate a Strong Club and Natural system depending on vulnerability. But I think that this strategy is already outdated. On the contrary, Big Bang consists of one basic system at all vulnerabilities. Only some opening bids are more aggressive, when non-vulnerable.
The clearest example is the 1NT opening which ranges from 10-12, 12-14, 15-17 points depending on the vulnerability. Big Bang’s idea is to exploit one of the four vulnerability situations, that of favourable, to bid very aggressively, to the point of exasperation; at love all it is fairly aggressive, and at game all it reverts to “normal”, stable, balanced.
In Big Bang there is only one forcing opening bid, 2♦ (game forcing or balanced 23+)
Exactly, and I can guess what you are telling me… this is perhaps the “defect” of the system. But I willll now explain the way 2♦ works within the system. Eight or nine times out of ten, game forcing opening bids show balanced hands, and in such cases they do not create any problems: the auction runs smoothly. For instance, we have the auction 2♦-2♥-2NT and it develops normally. But one or two times out of ten you might have a game forcing unbalanced hand. In this case, even if our system has been worked out accurately, it is still not perfectly accurate, and there are other pairs who surely have better sequences than ours, in this case. For example, the 2♣ opening bid is better because it gives more bidding room.
But why did we decide to use 2♦ as the only game forcing opening bid? Why did we choose to use 2♣ to show balanced 18-19 hands, which are shown via 2♦ in other systems? Our choice is motivated by a careful statistical study: out of one hundred hands which fit into the parameters of the 2♣ opening (18-19) or 2♦ (game forcing), 96-97 are 2♣ openers, and only 3-4 are 2♦ openers. Therefore, the calculus of probability shows that it is better to use the 2♣ opening bid to show the more common hand pattern, because it leaves more bidding room: even one extra bidding step allows to show an almost infinite number of additional hands.
On the contrary, using 2♣ as game forcing works better with distributional hands, because with balanced ones the bidding sequence is almost the same. But how many unbalanced game forcing hands do you pick up? Roughly one out of five hundred, i.e. a negligible number. Thus we can easily give up this small advantage and use 2♣ for more common openings. The system set up, then, comes from a deep and careful study of the calculus of probabilities.
In the previous edition of your system, even 2♥ and 2♠ openings were game forcing. Why did you change them?
Because a game forcing 2♥ or 2♠ opening bid took too much bidding room for too few hands. In the current version we play 2♥ and 2♠ as natural weak opening bids, when vulnerable, whereas 2♥ and 2♠ show two-suited hands when non vulnerable. Weak one-suited hands are opened at the three or four level, in these circumstances.
The choice to assign different meanings to 2♥ and 2♠ opening bids, depending on vulnerability, is one of the elements which determine the aggressiveness of the system. Our analysis shows that three-level openings are fifteen times as annoying as two-level ones. At the moment, weak twos do not make life that much harder for the opponents, because many conventions are available to defend against them. If I open 3♠ and west has a 23 point hand, he will be forced to bid 3NT; his partner, even with 12 points, must pass. The opponents can make 7NT but have no way to get to theright contract! The 2♠ opening, instead, would leave them all the room they need to bid the slam. At the moment, we are working hard on the development of bidding when favourable and at love all.
You often open at the three level even with six card suits, is that true?
Yes, we do, very often. We are not too fussy about the length, six or seven cards. With a seven card suit and a good hand we usually open at the four level. But six times out of ten, we open single-suited hands with a six card suit at the three level when favourable. Agustin Madala opened at the three-level even with five cards, for instance KQJ10x.
One of the reasons why you have called your system “Big Bang” is that it is in continuous development; in practice, it continuously evolves.
Sure, study and research to improve the system is never ending. As I explained other times, Italians, especially Lorenzo Lauria and I, have always launched innovations in the bidding technique, but as others have been using and developing our sequences and conventions, we need to evolve in order to surprise and overcome opponents’ improvements.
When you decided to change the 2♦ opening, did you consider adopting Strong Club? If so, why did you decide not to go for it?
I think Strong Club system is outdated. Bridge has become so aggressive that after 1♣ opponents interfere with anything, and as a consequence Strong Club lost much of the advantages that it had in the past. Adopting this system would be an own goal, because opponents’ overcalls would take away the steps which we need to describe the hand.
You see, bridge was different thirty years ago, Strong Club worked very well because opponents only overcalled with strong hands and solid suits. Today, opponents overcall with anything and very few points: thus they effectively obstruct your auction, taking away the room you need to describe the hand. The 1♣ opening in Strong Club only shows the hand’s strength, because opponents’ overcalls often do not even allow to show your suit.
The use of transfers is a typical feature of your style – you used them even in the Bocchi-Duboin system – and it is widespread among Italians, but I wonder: does it not leave too much room to intervention?
Transfers have been used by all pairs for fifteen years. We play it in an exasperate manner in order to let the stronger hand play or let the most suitable hand get the lead. Actually transfers do not help opponents much because the space left to overcall is narrow and not much can be done with it. The use of transfers is not a random choice, but a necessity, because the advantages for declarer heavily outrank opponents’: I would say that the proportion between declarer’s and opponents’ benefit from transfers is 97-3 for the bidder.
How much did Giorgio Duboin contribute to this system?And Agustin Madala?
I carried over into Big Bang some ideas already developed in Bocchi-Duboin system. You will find many similarities between the two systems, if you compare them. However the core idea of the new system is fairly different from Bocchi-Duboin’s. When I started building the Big Bang I did not consult Giorgino, but since he started playing with Bianchedi and began to use Big Bang, he also started improving the system.
I must say that this new partnership has given Giorgio great enthusiasm; he iss dedicating himself with passion to the system, which he already feels his own, and almost every day we talk to study modifications and improvements.
Agustin’s role, from the beginning, was mostly to check and approve the changes I proposed, and, of course, to suggest what he wanted to change and bring into the system. One of his most important contributions was to tune up our Gazzilli convention: the specific Gazzilli we are playing today is Agustin’s. But Giorgino is now unstoppable and is getting his hands even on this…
How much does Madala invent or create at the table, breaking away from the system’s norm, and how do you react to his “irregularities”?
Agustin is one of the few players in the world capable of exiting the schemes and of inventing on the spot. When he does it, I never react negatively because he always does it for good reasons. To be clear: you cannot get angry with a partner who invents at table, if he finds the winning move most of the times. Agustin is a phenomenon who has bridge into the blood, and his ideas are the winning ones eight-nine times out of ten. In those rare circumstances when we lose points because his inventions, I do not say anything, because I recall all the situations where his improvisations won us points. Agustin knows how to invent and you should go along with him. You see, a pair’s chemistry lies in the capacity to pattern after one another, until you become perfectly complementary. In the partnership Bocchi-Duboin I was the one who invented and Giorgino was more balanced. Now I am the one who tends to be balanced and to go along with Madala’s inventions. A pair where both partners are inventors would be madness; one needs to redesign one’s role in a partnership, according to the partner’s character.
Some days ago I briefly interviewed the Irish champion Tom Hanlon, and I asked him to suggest a question for our interview with you. The question is the following:
“Hugh and myself have developed our system over the last 23 years and it is still a work in progress, so we are always looking for new ideas. I was wondering if losing a 2h/2s weak opening is a handicap? Also, what is the most effective part of Bocchi-Madala’s system to score IMPs?”
I do not think that losing weak twos in the majors is a problem. As I was saying earlier, we need to develop new ideas because the classic weak twos are not as effective as they used to be, and have lost much of their aggressiveness. For what concerns that most effective part of the system, it all depends on the kind of bridge you want to play. Let’s look at Lauria-Versace: their bridge is stunning, sometimes it might appear boring, but their steadiness gives away few or no gifts, and the IMPs come from opponents’ mistakes. They gather points playing their stable and classic bridge, patiently waiting for opponents’ mistakes.
If instead you prefer a system that brings points in, you have to be aggressive and surprising, up to the point of putting opponents off road. The system’s part which offers the widest margin to creativity is the pre-emptive opening bids: working in that direction can create effective solutions to bring points in. The basic idea is to raise the level of opponents’ auction. Systems would be perfect if opponents let you speak, because you could unfold all your most accurate sequences. And in a measure all pairs have by now developed very accurate systems. In bridge all is perfectible, but a strong pair could get a percentage of accuracy next to 95 per cent. A weaker pair can bid with a percentage of 85 per cent, but it is not the 10 per cent difference that makes you win. What makes the difference is the skill to build up pre-empts and overcalls that obstruct even the best opponents’ systems.
Modern bridge is characterised by interferences: such interferences always involve some risk, and what makes the difference is indeed the ability to know how to risk, when and how far one can push.
I think that bridge in future will be more and more destructive when non vulnerable and constructive when vulnerable.