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Strong 3-suited hands are a problem for all natural bidding systems. Basically standard bidding theory isn't
geared for these three headed dogs! You haven't the space to jump, and if you do this to show strength
partner reads you for at least 5-4. Worse, your 'natural' third round suit usually gets interpreted as a 3NT probe.
5440's can stand natural bidding, but 4441's are best expressed via the various Roman 2 methods.
However with a (more than a) little cunning it turns out there is just enough 'bidding bandwidth' to pack a complete 3-suiter
system through a strong (eg 2) opening and a 2NT rebid. The sequences below are very coded.
Keep your alert card on the table if you decide to play this!
Your system objectives should include ...
- Detect all useful fits
- Reach four of either major, or stop in 3NT where appropriate
- Stop in 3 of a suit where fit is poor, or not enough power
- Bid to light slams with pin-point accuracy
- Open (eg) 2 with 3-suiters of 18 points or more
(experiment shows 16+ is safe with superb controls)
- Preserve other 2 sequences (except 2NT natural of course)
For obvious reasons, this method can't stop in 2 of a suit!
- Manage to memorise all the asking bids involved!
- Get good scores in tournaments
A 'declare 19-22 4441, show the shortage and then guess' version is occasionally seen in Britain but in my experience
and experiments asking bids are essential. My 16+ method is anyway 4x as frequent. These are still rare hands, only
¼ - ½% of deals, and the method puts strain on your system memory.
A more significant but less obvious pay-off is that you take pressure off your
other sequences. For example, with 4441's taken care of a jump opener's rebid in Approach
Forcing is now always 5-4. You lose the 2..2NT sequence
showing a massive balanced hand. But I think it's worth it.
I have borrowed much from the Roman 17-24 2 as published in The Blue Club but of necessity
my sequences are more closely packed, and I have solved the trump queen problem. I've lost only a facility to play in low level
spade contract opposite rubbish.
ref: The Blue Club by Benito Garozzo, Léon Yallouze, adapted Terence Reese. Faber (London) 1970 ISBN 0 571 09265 9
Typical and suitable hands
The requirement for the 2NT rebid is 5 or less raw losers and upward of 16 points. If you
are just 16-17 you should have excellent controls (and ideally both majors). Asking bids assume
6+ controls if the hand is 2-3 loser and you will have to downgrade otherwise
Absolute minimum for the method, 18 HCP with a possibly wasted king
- I might prefer to open , lacking both majors
This bare 16 is OK with its 7 Blue Club controls - you may need a cross-ruff!
3 losers - note we use raw loser count - that queen is "a winner"
Marginal, but 5 controls and a fair bet holding both majors
Technically 3 losers, but you will bid this as 4 due to relatively weak controls. Otherwise
partner will go too high.
What a fine hand! Try bidding this last one "scientifically" after
2* - 2* .. negative from partner!
2NT as a 3 suited hand - asking bid method
Bail out now if you don't like asking bids . I use my own idiosyncratic responses to
2 and generally that's a 2 light positive.
I think 'standard' two level positives should work - but haven't really experimented. Partner's 2NTshows a 2-5
losing trick count three suiters. You are going to use several levels of asking bid to find out
- Rough strength and precise shortage. Repeated calls in this suit are then efficient further asks
- Precise losing count, and whether partner has singleton or void
- The number of 'Blue Club' controls (A=2, K=1 point)
- Whether we hold the queen in our trump suit
Apart from an ability to scramble at the 3 level, and a dive into 3NT with a diamond stop,
all sequences start ..
2* - 2
(light positive relay)
2NT* - 3?
(first asking bid)
here we go ..
- First ask (always 3) is for broad loser count and "bid below" the shortage
Special cases These reflect space constraints of a 2NT rather than
- 3 = 4-5 losers, short hearts
- 3 = 4-5 losers, short spades
- 3NT = 4-5 losers short clubs (yes - a bid was missed!)
- 4 = 4-5 losers, short diamonds
- 4 = 2-3 losers, short hearts
- 4 = 2-3 losers, short spades
- Second ask (in the shortage) is for "further definition" - step responses
(See special ask below when opener shows strong with a short minor)
If opener has shown upper range short major its the same, but 3 and 2 losers. There's then always space for ..
- Step 1 = 5 losers + singleton
- Step 2 = 5 losers + void
- Step 3 = 4 losers + singleton
- Step 4 = 4 losers + void
- Third ask (in the shortage) is for "Blue Club" controls - step responses
- When lower range (4-5 losers) on a scale of step-1=4, 5, 6 ..
- When lower range (2-3 losers) on a scale of step-1=6, 7, 8 ..
- an Ace = 2 "Blue Club" controls
- a King = 1 "Blue Club" control
- Singleton aces count - singleton kings don't
- Forth ask (rare: in the shortage, or 5NT if lower) is for queens not held
This sounds bizarre, but grand slams lacking a trump queen may annoy team-mates.
The 4441 hand is asked to bid the lowest suit (which may be his shortage) without a queen. Partner
then passes, or sets the suit with the understanding that opener must raise 6 to 7 if he holds
that queen. Convoluted, but it always works!
- Special sequence Recall we had only 7 steps, but 8 hand types. The bidding has gone ..
2* - 2
We will to use 3NT to unwind this ambiguity. This is therefore an unplayable 3NT spot,
but in the context of opener having both majors.
If opener has short diamonds it's the usual 'bid below' ...
2NT* - 3?
= 2-3 losers, short minor
With short clubs - opener make a step response as if a 4? second
ask has already been made ..
- 3NT? - 4
= 2-3 losers, short diamonds ... followed by normal second ask 4? as above
This is not a railway track. Responder may judge to terminate asking bids at any
time, setting the contract which opener must pass. The only artificial bids not in
the short suit after 3 are 3NT after 3,
and 5NT alternative forth ask. We like to keep 4NT to play, but you could use it as alternative
3rd ask. Imagination pays in these hands and you should generally bid out the sequences
to the limit and apply the asking
sequence tips below.
Scrambling a fit with weak responding hands
With my unusually weak negative 2/
responses to 2 - if opener shows 2NT=3-suited over this
we drop the asks and just bid suits upwards to scramble into a fit and stop.
Even after a semi-positive 3 - 2NT
I still play 3 and 3 as scramble.
3 would be a weak 6 card suit. I have to say these latter
sequences almost never come up.
If your own system hasn't let you show a poor hand you should certainly play this escape,
while retaining the important 3 relay. You may then have to bid a three-card
suit on occasion rather than risk the four level.
Notes and tips
- It pays to take the plunge if your hand is suitable. Any 18+ or 16+ with goos controls.
If in doubt go with both majors, and hold with both minors
- Losers: Count singleton king a a loser. Qxxx as two losers.
The method essentially assumes you will find a fit and uses raw losing count
If you don't have 6 controls downgrade a three loser hand to four.
- Controls: Blue Club style with A=2 K=1. Stiff K=none! We found experimentally
that with a bare 16-17 points you need 5 controls for safety.
- The weaker your hand - the more you need jacks and tens to provide some stuffing,
although coded this system is not a substitute for judgement! However if your
controls are very good the hand may crossruff. Conversely they should lead trumps!
- Trumps have to work hard in marginal contracts. You should hold back with
8 and be adventurous with 9 as on a 2-2 break the extra one may be worth two tricks
- We initially insisted on a 5 card minor if the hand was 5440.
Other methods are prefered for (eg) the 5044 shape because of a possible useful 5-3 major fit.
However it is difficult to bid all 3 suits out (the last might seem a cue) and in practice
we found that 5 card majors work unless all the meat is in the major suit. Note that there
is just not enough bidding space to identify the actual 5 card suit - just the shortage.
- That extra relay over 3 (strong - short minor) is needed as there are only
7 levels (count them) between 3? and a possibly playable 4. This is the only
workable sequence and we found it the hardest to commit to memory.
- The sequence 2NT-3NT is used to show a sound diamond stop and no major interest.
This is the only way to reach 3NT as if partner is 4414 - he would reply 4
to the first ask, and you'd be too high.
It is quite safe - if partner's singleton is elsewhere you have a good diamond fit!
With values use the alternative 2NT-3? It might take you to
4, but will usually be better if you have two suits. This is
one reason why I like 4NT "to play".
- The method can fail if your only fit is in clubs - you may land in
4 or have to punt game
- There is usually no need to ask for queens other than the trump suit.
and if you are not contemplating grand slam it doesn't matter. Quite commonly after the 3rd
control ask you can place the key cards precicely in any case.
- Over intervention use takeout double/penalty pass.
The 4441 shape is powerful defensively!
- Against these hands - lead trumps!
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