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Bad Conventions (Feb/Mar 2005)


I asked the panel the following question. Your average partner gave you his standardish convention card with many conventions on it. He said that you could change up to two conventions or understandings. Which conventions, (conventions you think are either silly or likely to be misused) would be top on your list to change or remove?

Try to limit your list to popular conventions or understandings.

Jeff Rubens: Assuming this means what would I do to try to improve results under the given constraints, I would suggest no changes. Making small dents in something partner finds familiar is much more likely to lose than to gain.

There are two main reasons why the experts vetoed some conventions. One is that the convention is good if used correctly but is often misused or misunderstood. Second is that they think that it is just a bad convention.

Ace-Asking Bids

One expert picks regular Blackwood. Regular Blackwood is often misused but I think it is necessary. How else do you stay out of slam off two aces? The common misuse is to find out that you are off only one Ace, yet stay out of slam.

Karen Allison: Frankly, I'd remove Blackwood (and I played and did very well with a partner in the seventies without it on the card).

Most experts say that any convention that is not discussed is a bad convention. Keycard, Kickback or Exclusion ace-asking conventions, which, if there is no discussion, can lead to disasters.

Two experts pick Exclusion Blackwood: A jump in a suit at a level higher then keycard, which shows a void in that suit and asks partner how many keycards he has outside of that suit. If the auction goes 1 - Pass - 5 and you play in your three-card fit, maybe you shouldnít be playing Exclusion.

Bart Bramley: Exclusion Blackwood - This is the most disaster-prone convention around. My basic complaint is similar to my complaint about Smith (see defensive carding below): Its failure-to-success ratio is too high. I agree that, when it works, it's great, but, when it fails, it's usually catastrophic. I would rather take my chances with whatever else I have available (splinters, cuebidding, regular non-Exclusion Blackwood, or plain guessing) than risk one of the many misunderstandings that befall Exclusion users regularly. You can have your rare triumph, but I will reach the right contract most of the time anyway with my "crude" methods, and with far fewer disasters

Ralph Katz: Take off Exclusion Blackwood

A group of experts pick Roman Keycard Blackwood or its offshoot Kickback. The problems that arise most often are deciding what the trump suit is and then what the continuations are.

Nick Nickell: Keycard Blackwood. It tends to be under discussed and is subject to being interpreted differently by partners. It is not so important to use the best treatment in these areas; it is important to use the same treatment.

Bobby Wolff: RKC Blackwood where you allow opponents to lead a trump from the Jack against certain sequences and you improve their sacrifice judgment without helping your cause much and subject your partnership to misunderstandings. In return for comfort, your partnership becomes soft and easy to play against.

Larry Cohen: RKC because it involves lots of discussion to get it right--a great convention, but not to be used after only two minutes of discussion.

Marty Bergen: RKC Blackwood

Kickback is another ace-asking convention, which played without discussion can lead to disasters. If clubs are trumps, 4 ask for keycards. This works out well if diamonds have never been bid but what if diamonds have been bid?

Mike Becker: Kickback (any form ace asking at the four level other than 4NT or Gerber).

Barry Rigal: Kickback

Chris Compton: Minorwood. The popular idea that you must have a low-level RKC available at all times is overrated. Taking a natural and forcing four-of-a-minor call to define it as RKC, especially misplaces priorities. In bidding, you need weak auctions, invitational auctions, and game-forcing auctions all before RKC. To say that forcing to slam with the correct number of KC's + trump Q is more important than a natural slam try is to reverse the frequency of those hands occurring. There are more slam tries than Ace asking hands.

Geoff Hampson: Four-of-minor RKCB

Special Doubles

Kit Woolsey: Maximal double. Reasons:

    a) It isn't necessary.  Invitational sequences should generally be avoided anyway, particularly in competition. The best way to make a game try is to bid game and then try to make it.

    b) The penalty double is too important. When the opponents have competed to the three-level over your two-of-a-major contract after you have bid and raised, the original bidder is in great position to judge the offensive and defensive potential of the hand. Throwing away his opportunity to make a well-judged penalty double is silly.

    c) There is always the possibility of a mix-up, in which case you could wind up doubling the opponents into game.

Joel Wooldridge: Maximal doubles (needs discussion).

Larry Cohen: Interesting question, but my reply would be based on the level of my partner. My regular partner is David Berkowitz, and I wouldn't remove anything from our card, because we both have discussed and agreed upon what should be there. If by "average partner," you mean an "intermediate" player that I just sit down to play with in, say, a one-session charity event, then I would take out Support Doubles because they always seem to forget and forget to alert.

Bobby Wolff: Drop support doubles where you tell your opponents how to value their hands and you receive nothing of value by playing them.

Gary Kohler: Two-of-a-major Ė double Ė three-of-same-major - double everyone plays this as responsive. I try to insist with my partners that this be penalty as you may still guess the right suit without use of responsive double but you give up a lot of penalty doubles especially in this age where they could be on a seven-card fit.

Joel Wooldridge: optional doubles

David Berkowitz: Would play all low level doubles show extra offense.

Responses to strong artificial 2

Curtis Cheek: 2 negative response to 2. We're already starting hand descriptions at the two-level. Why waste even more space. Whether I'm the responder or the opener, if my main suit is hearts it sure would be nice to introduce it at the two-level instead of the three-level.

Ralph Katz: Take off 2 double negative over a 2 opener

Henry Bethe: Point count step responses to 2. These make no sense to me at all. The older control steps made some sense since aces and kings are useful, almost no matter what, but when the 2-bidder has a distributional game force, points-schmoints. In addition, steps use up space and take the auction to uncomfortable levels very quickly.

Flannery 2♦

Mike Passell: Flannery, since I believe the range is too wide and commits to at least the two-level.

Zeke Jabbour: Very few of the conventions that hang around are totally silly--but a lot are abused. Flannery, a convention that resolves the 5422 problem of forcing notrumps, comes to mind. The temptation to stretch the point parameters whenever the requisite distribution is there, seems to be difficult to resist. There are better uses for opening 2 calls. I don't play Flannery.

Drew Cason: Flannery

Joel Wooldridge: I'd get rid of Flannery/Mini-Roman.

Slam-try Conventions

Barry Rigal: Last Train slam try

Kit Woolsey: Serious/non-serious 3NT. Reasons:

    a) It isn't necessary.  If you have a mild move, simply bid 4 (4 if spades is trump is okay, but don't bid one below the trump suit) to let partner know you have interest, and then sign off -- if there is a slam, he will have to drive there on his own. If you have a real slam try, again, make a cheap Q-bid, and drive to slam yourself if partner cooperates.

    b) 3NT is allowed to be the right contract, even when you have an eight-card major suit fit. Throwing away the opportunity to use your judgment in this area is silly.

    c) There is always the possibility of a mix up where one player thinks it applies and the other doesn't. If that happens, you could wind up in a very bad 3NT contract.

Mike Passell: Any kind of forcing passes seem to lead to mass confusion unless it is really obvious forcing passes seem to lead to more disasters than any other understandings.

Barry Rigal: No choice-of-games cue-bid

Bergen Raises. Some like Bergen Raises and some donít. I see nothing wrong with them.

Marinesa Letizia: I don't like Bergen raises, as I feel invitational jump shifts are much more important.

Billy Pollack: Limit Raises and replace them with Bergen raises, which I much prefer, and are high frequency.

Cappelletti

Steve Bloom: Mostly, I like conventions. I am a mad scientist at heart. I donít like Cappelletti. Using 2 to show a one-suited hand over notrump makes my life, when I open 1NT, very easy. Why would you ever waste your cheapest interference bid for the most common hand types? Time after time we have had easy, pain-free auctions after 1NT - 2 overcall, while our counterparts at the other table struggled over 1NT - 2 or 1NT - 2.

Over 2, which shows any one-suiter, most players play system on. If responder has anything to show he gets to show it first. 2, showing both majors, is a better convention.

Ron Smith: Cappelletti

Jacoby 2NT

Billy Pollack: Simple Jacoby 2NT, replaced with the much more effective treatment of 3 responses over 2NT to show all bad, shapely hands; so 3 = short clubs with extras, etc. Again, this is effective, high frequency, and not too hard to remember.

Drew Cason: Jacoby 2NT.

Cason likes 2NT to be natural.

Miscellaneous Conventions

Joel Wooldridge: Weak notrump (unless there was extra time to discuss).

David Bird: I don't like Forcing Stayman, where 2 is used as Stayman on a strong hand. Transfers are great! It seems a shame to abandon them to give yourself two different Stayman bids.

Grant Baze: I agree with Bobby Goldman that any convention that negates the raise of 1NT to 2NT as natural is terrible. If responder is forced to go through Stayman to raise 1NT to 2NT, the defenders have too much information, and will defend much more accurately than after 1NT - 2NT - 3NT (or pass of 2NT). Furthermore these natural NT raises are much more frequent than any hand types that use 1NT - 2NT as artificial. Finally, the natural raises that end in 3NT are the bread and butter of winning bridge, while any advantage from using the raise to 2NT as any kind of transfer is minimal and extremely infrequent.

Joe Kivel: I think Texas is useless. When he bids 2 over 1NT and then 4 , does partner have AQx JxxxxxxKJx- or does he have Qxx AKJ10xxKxQx or something in between. I play 1NT - 4 as showing the first hand, 1NT - 2 - 2 - 4 as showing the second hand, and 1NT - 2 - 2 - 3 as showing an in between hand such as KQx KQ98xxxAxx.

Mike Becker: Lebensohl

Bobby Lipsitz: Gambling 3NT

Eddie Kantar: Two over one and forcing notrump

Richard Schwartz: One-of-a-major Ė Pass - 3NT = good four-bid. Allows the opponents to bid at the four-level.

Richard Schwartz: Mini Splinters

Gary Kohler: One-of-a-minor Ė pass three-of-the-same minor as preemptive I would change this to mixed showing enough values where partner can make intelligent decisions.  I also would use mixed raise here in competition.

Grant Baze: Walsh style responses to a minor, especially to a 1 opening. If partner opens 1, I think it is a grotesque distortion to respond 1 with a hand such as xxxx xxAKJxxxx, or 1 with xx xxxxAKJxxxx. The concept of suit quality is destroyed with these responses, constructive bidding is more difficult, partner's lead if we defend may be disastrous, and on and on.

Fred Hamilton: 2NT non-forcing over 1 or worse over 1. Perhaps over 1 at matchpoints would make some sense, but at IMPs it seems pennywise and pound foolish. It forces responder to bid 3NT with 13-15 when that may be an unsuitable contract, and uses up bidding space needed to investigate alternative contracts. To gear your thinking to stopping on a dime in 2NT is unsound, after all there is a 300-500 bonus for game. It doesnít have to be a good game, just has to make!

Henry Bethe: Weak Jump Shift responses, particularly at the two-level by unpassed hands out of competition. First, that the range is too great: from a zero count with six to the 10 to a minimum weak two. Second I believe that two-level strong jump-shift responses are very valuable.

I agree with Fred. You need 2NT as forcing so you can get to your correct game contracts. You open 1 holding x AKxAxxxxJxxx and partner bids 3NT showing 13-15 HCPs.

David Berkowitz: Would play all jumps as fit-showing.

Kerry Sanborn: The most confusing convention and the least understood is Wolff signoff. Everyone has his own version with different twists. I would need a lot of discussion to be sure I was playing the same convention that my partner was.

Marinesa Letizia: Ogust -- I refuse to play it as hand evaluation seems to be a problem for many as to reply and feature is much more important.

The problem with feature is how do you distinguish between AKJ10xx and QJ10xxx with seven small cards on the side?

Chris Compton: Namyats is simply hopeless. No one knows what it shows, how to respond, or understands truly the negative inferences extending from when it does not occur. Allowing the opponents extra bids, (example 4 overcall of Namyats 4, extra doubles, and two rounds of doubles) is playing for the other team. Finally, not being able to preempt four-of-a-minor is a large cost.

Steve Bloom: I simply will not play CRASH. I've joked for years that when people stop playing CRASH, I will stop playing a big club. Occasionally we get hurt, but the typical result is that we end up in our normal contract with a lot of information about the defenders' hands. Even worse, most users of the gadget bid it with completely inappropriate hands, so that, when they should be able to jam our auction, their partner, expecting the more typical junk hand, does not preempt to a high enough level.

CRASH is a defense against a forcing club where Double shows either the red suits or the black suits, 1♦ shows the majors or the minors and 1NT shows the pointed or the rounded suits. Should be at least 5-5 but the convention has been used when 4-4.

Ron Smith: Sandwich No-trump.

Kerry Sanborn: I would scratch off Michaels type cuebid after two suits had already been bid. I would switch this cue to be natural, since double and 2NT can still be takeout bids

Marinesa Letizia: Western cue (silly).

I agree with Western Cue being silly. Cuebids are forcing and the most likely option is to bid notrump with a stopper. However, Iíve seen many situations where cuebids have better meanings. I refuse to play Western Cuebids.

Doubles

Mike Passell: The old negative slam doubles lead to so many accidents I donít believe they are widely used.

David Bird: I was in this position recently, partnering someone new in a match against the House of Lords (in the House of Lords!). I insisted that we played take-out doubles of three-bids, rather than his preferred 'lower minor for take-out. Absolutely essential to give yourself extra space by using the cheapest call - a double - for take-out. Even worse than 'lower minor' is '3NT for take-out', robbing yourself of an important natural bid.

Carding agreements are misused or misunderstood.

Nick Nickell: Defensive carding agreements. Tend to be under-discussed and are subject to be interpreted differently by partners.

Zeke Jabbour: I often play third best leads and I have two objections to them: They relinquish a card that is large enough that it may sometimes be of crucial value, and they are occasionally confused with a top of a doubleton lead. A seven or an eight can easily be either when there is no information gleaned from the auction. I suspect this is a minority opinion, but I can live without third and fifth leads. I also frequently play standard signals, but I have a strong preference for upside-down, which I feel to be technically superior.

Two experts dislike Smith Echo. Again like most conventions Smith Echo, if used correctly works well, but it is often misused.

Bart Bramley: Smith Echo -- This convention is the poster child for "signal fever", by which I mean the defensive philosophy that every card must tell a meaningful story. I prefer to use signals on a "need-to-know" basis: If I have something to say that I think is worth saying, I'll try to tell you, and otherwise I will just shut up and play either up-the-line or random cards. Smith players, on the other hand, are FORCED to express an opinion. Even if they can manage to play in tempo (the tempo issue is NOT my complaint), they must constantly worry about (a) whether Smith applies. (Was their sides' opinion of the opening lead suit already obvious? Was the lead a short suit? etc.), (b) whether some other signal is more important, like count in the suit declarer is leading, (c) whether they actually HAVE an opinion they wish to express and what to play if they don't, and (d) whether partner will be able to read the signal anyway. (There are more reasons, but those will have to do.) Smith is at best a break-even. Its practitioners work overtime to get normal results on normal hands in exchange for one good shift (or, more rarely, continuation) every 100 notrump contracts or so. But my observation is that they blow lots more of the 99 normal hands than I do using only basic principles and common sense, and they strain a lot harder even when they get them right.

Curtis Cheek: Smith Echo -- For an expert partnership it may be necessary, but in a casual partnership there are simply too many situations where somehow Smith seems to override common sense and create zeroes out of thin air or lets notrump games make that my mother would beat every single time.

Ron Smith: Foster echo carding convention and leading low from a doubleton (without playing the whole 2nd and 4th).

Joel Wooldridge: Coded 9's and 10's (I just don't like them), Lavinthal (don't like), odd/even (don't like).

Conclusion:

If you are going to play a convention, itís important to not only learn the basics, itís important to learn the follow-ups. In order to play a convention you should read about it first. You can find good write-ups of every convention. Then play it with a partner who either knows it or wants to learn it. I used to think that you should add one convention at a time. The best way to learn a convention is to have it come up. When it comes up you either get it right or mess it up. After messing it up a few times, you can decide that you either know it or decide that you will never learn it and deep six it. If the convention never comes up, you wonít get any practice. If however, you add 20 conventions, you are guaranteed to get practice with some of them.