Professor Silver

Conventional Wisdom

I suffer from convention envy. Let me explain. My partner Peter Hambly and I play Acol. Acol, the way we play it, is a natural bidding system with few conventions, most of which I usually forget during an auction. There are limits to even Peter’s patience and he, defensively, refuses to add new conventions to our meager collection. Recently, we were playing the open pairs at Caledon and Peter opened, first in hand with 1 club, almost certainly a 4-card suit when you play a weak NT system. RHO bid 2 clubs and I, belatedly, looked at my hand. I held:

♠  —

  K x

  A K Q J 10

♣  K J 10 9 x x

Two clubs was Michaels showing the majors, we don’t play it, and I was stuck. If Peter held two non-spade aces, we were on for a grand slam. It was then I thought enviously of Ray Lee’s favourite convention, Exclusion Blackwood. How handy it would be if I could jump to four spades and ask Peter to count his non-spade aces and tell me how many he had. But, however nice my hand was, I didn’t think it would play well in a spade contract. The weakness of any convention is that both partners must play it at the same time. So, I recalled Percy Sheardown’s advice and decided “To bid what I thought I could make,” 6 clubs! That became the final contract. RHO led the ace of hearts, shifted to a diamond and Peter claimed.

Luckily, we couldn’t make a grand off a cashable ace, but I began to think that perhaps we should have a method of making an informed choice. However, the next hand gave me second thoughts. After three passes Peter opened a 12-14 weak notrump and I held:                

♠  Q J

  K 10 8 5

  A 10 7 4

♣  x x x

Another popular convention we don’t play after a NT opening is negative doubles so I was able to make a penalty double and collect +800 against our potential part score. Score one for the natural bidders.

But I like opponents who play lots of complicated conventions. Later that afternoon I held:

♠  x x

  x x x x

  A K Q x

♣  J x x

My left hand opponent opened 1 spade, Peter passed and RHO bid 3 diamonds, which turned out to be a Bergen spade raise. I doubled (penalty in our primitive system). Opener lept to four spades and Peter dutifully led a diamond. Diamonds were 3-3 so I cashed three tricks and then led the thirteenth diamond promoting Peter’s doubleton queen of trumps. One down for a terrific score as Peter had a natural heart lead from QJ109 which would enable declarer to draw trumps and pitch a diamond on dummy’s club suit.

Notwithstanding these results, I think I should learn some modern conventions like Ripstra or Landy. The world is moving and Peter and I should move with it. Perhaps its time to change to the Roth-Stone system?

1 Comment

Ray LeeOctober 7th, 2008 at 7:32 pm

After years of browbeating,. Linda finally agreed to play exclusion with me just before a Regional Open Pairs, basically only because she was convinced it would never come up anyway. In fact it came up twice in the first session, but I don’t remember using it too often since. It is certainly fraught — one pair in this year’s US Team Trials had the auction 1S-pass-5H-all pass! For those looking to know more, the new edition of Eddie Kantar’s RKCB book, which includes Exclusion (so to speak!), is now out.

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