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Bridge: Two level preempts

Generic defences to weak twos

It pays to be straightforward in your approach, and remember that if your methods don't facilitate penalty doubles - your opponents will take liberties against you.

The main difference compared with defending 1 level bids is that you have lost a whole level of bidding, in which you wouild normal explore whether the hand is worth game or not. To get round this you can either provide overcaller with two levels of takeout, or give advancer a mechanism to show weak or intermediate values

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The double/lebensohl method

note double vision The versatile lebensohl 2NT convention has many uses in bridge. Here we use to distinguish between poor and intermediate hands, when partner has doubled opponent' weak two for takeout.

The auction goes (2S) double (pass)

  • A new suit is played as forcing
  • 3NT shows a stop and 12+ - or perhaps less with a source of tricks
  • *Cue bid 3S shows 4 hearts, and a spade stop (or big hand)
  • 2NT asks partner to bid 3C
    • You can pass this with a poor hand in clubs
    • Your new suit is now non forcing, 0-8 points
    • Your *cue bid offers 4 hearts and no spade stop (or big hand)
    • Your delayed 3NT shows doubt about the spades stop - say Qxx
    The meanings of *cues/3NT must be agreed with partner - there are two incompatible styles commonly played:
    1) Slow shows a stop, and 2) Slow denies stop
    where 'slow' means sequences via 2NT lebensohl
  • When opener has doubled a red suit
    • 2 level bids are weak and natural
      (remember partner has already assumed you have about 7 points)
    • suits via lebensohl are intermediate - 9-11 points
    • Immediate 3 of a suit is still forcing
    • cues and 3NT are as above

Taking the money

Pass-out hand
S 3
H J853
D AQ1062
C K83
If you like a takeout double, it pays to "transfer a queen" and double light in protective position. With this collection, after 2S weak and two passes .. where are the spades? 3rd hand will commonly may a 'tempo' raise with three, and game try with 3 and points.

I would make a light take-out double and hope a "fixed" partner can convert for a nice penalty. Note I do have some useful defensive cards. Agree this style beforehand with partner, and he will allow for these light 4th doubles and 'disappear' a queen before valuing.

A useful tip is to ask the range of the two bid, and what 3rd hand might pass on before trying this gambit. I got seriously burned in the UK Pachabo when a London opponent had passed a 17 count! Had he said anything to me other than "my partner's preempts might be qite worthless and we can pass up to 16", I might have had redress for my own -800.

If your decision is close, be more willing to go for blood if opponents are vulnerable (obviously), if you are not vulnerable (lest you miss a 600+ game), or if their style shows or includes a 5 card suit. Level of fit is all. If they have less then 8 trumps and a minority of HCP they are going to suffer. While you might get them off with 9 trumps, your own contract will usully score better. Those 8 card fit are the judgement calls .. good luck!


The Hacket method

note Paul Hacket is an English international player, as are his twin sons, and daughter-in-law for Germany)!

In this approach we use the minors as two levels of takeout as a way round that invitational values problem. We maintain an ability to swing the axe. Playing "Hacket" in 2nd position:

picture of a hatchet - apologies to Paul
  • 3C = 12-15 "for takeout"
  • 3D = 16+ (may still have own suit)
  • Immediate majors are natural. 3H clearly sounder than 2S
  • cue bid = "strong 2 or 3 suiter"
  • 2NT tends to be 15+ with a source of tricks
  • Double is "for money"
In 4th position the immediate business double is not so useful, and is recovered for takeout
  • Double is "takeout"
  • 3C = 16+ hand
  • Immediate majors and are 3D natural

Other bids are as before. As objectives include punishment many would put less stress on points, protecting 3C with more offense than defence; doubling when they don't mind partner converting.

The really sophisticated might learn both takeout double and Hacket, prefering the latter when opponents are vulnerable, known kamikazi's, or playing 5 card weak twos.

Paul originated this method when weak two's swept England after Albert Benjamin's modification to Acol strong bids. He tells me that he hasn't played it himself for several years. However it might make sense if you play a lot against EHAA style or similar

Defences to assumed fit preempts


Defending Ekren and other 4-4 openings

note This advice is based on my own experience playing 2H assumed fit, and on Scandanavian experience sent to me by Ulf Nillson of the Swedish team. The Scandinavians tend to meet traditional 2D Ekren.

There are two major groups. Those that include the suit bid and those that don't. The latter are restricted, but oddly are easier to defend as you can afford to pass and await events {Bjørn Ekren argues otherwise!}

Essentially opponent's bad results come from the non-fit auctions and assumed fit may be a liability if you are confident defenders. Nillson plays his standard "Multi" defence - "as against all weird openings".

"After Ekren there may not be any fit, and even if there is opponents often bid to the three level or more, when a simple preference is more appropriate. Consensus in Scandanavia is that good strategy is to double flexibly. Then if lacking a clearcut alternative own contract, convert to penalties".

My own suggestions

  • Don't be terrified of playing in their suit. However, over say 2D "Ekren" both majors you are seeking 5-3 fits as bad trump break is already known. Bids of 2 of a major should therefore be natural, although double may work better unless you are short in their other suit.
  • Double if you can, showing a balanced 14+. Doubles should not be made with a singleton/void in the currently bid suit - or you will be defending against fit!
    Nillson's advice is to is to always tend to double with 3-3 majors
  • Agree a mechanism for counting trumps when they run. I penalty double showing 3+ trumps under the bid and 4 over it.
  • 2NT should have 16+, stops in both majors and a source of tricks in a minor
  • Your good results will come from penalties, and occasionally from luck in staying out of bad major games
  • Should "assumed fit" achieve hoped for 8-card fit you may be fixed, unless you can push in say your minor. Smile, and get on to the next board.
  • Do discuss these preempts now. They are coming your way!
    • 2 of any suit showing four in suit called and another has been legal in UK for years.
    • Original Ekren 2D showing 4-4 majors is on general EBU release from April 2005

Schuler defence

note Americans only get to meet wimpy 5-4 assumed fit preempts. ACBL protects them from Europe's "wild type" 4-4. John Schuler and his partner Michael Crawford developed this structure against 2H assumed fit, which aims to punish. It's not far away from a simple "takeout double of hearts", but it's the attitude that matters. John's method is based on sound theory, backed up by simulations and some tabel experience. It also works against Flannery. Or even better against 4-4!!
(2H) Pass.. could have hearts
 x "penalty of spades" 12+
 2S minors, 12+, subsequent major bids by either pard shows a stopper
 2NT 15-18
 3C/D natural
 3H/S 6+ suit, like an intermediate overcall.
 3NT long minor type
(2H) x (2S) x Penalty
(2H) p (p) defend as a weak 2H opening, x=t/o, 2NT natural
(2H) p (2S) defend as a weak 2S opening, x=t/o, 2NT natural, pass with spades
(2H) p
? .. ..
(2S) p
.. ..

x = takeout, must have hearts
2N = minors, weaker than an immediate 2S
3C/D = natural, weaker than direct call
3H = 5+ hearts

See also Norwegian defence to the Ekren opening by Tor Eivind Høyland is also available on this site.

Some generic defences to brown sticker openings

A brown sticker opening is generally where there is no guaranteed "anchor" suit - removing a cue bid from any defencing scheme. This page provides some "quick fix" solutions. However - note that you should not meet BS openings in general competition. Where you do opponents must give due notice and suggested defence. You can even read your notes at the table!


The XXX method

note Posted by Australian professional Kieran Dyke in the 2003 r.g.b brown sticker debate. Castlemaine XXXX is a famous Australian beer
  • First double = strength
  • Second double = takeout
  • Third double = blood

XXX covers perfectly well against every two-bid I've ever encountered, including the superfert 2C (0-4 any) played by one forcing pass pair, and the 6-9 any 2C opening from old-style Moscito. RCO twos, Myxos, Tartan twos are easily shrugged off. Opening bids like Ekrens are tougher because of the more ballistic preemption that they can achieve, but that's a consequence of their good definition, not the lack of definition.

Playing against Regres or Suspensor (with frequent opening bids showing poor hands with little reference to suits) or coping with the Fert in FP systems requires a little more work, so I can see a case for restricting them to events with 14+ board matches. But in nearly all cases, a few guiding principles should provide simple and effective (if not optimal) defenses to almost all situations that the opponents can produce. Kieran Dyke


Strong and balanced

note Curry spices While admitting that these preempts are "hot stuff", UK/European player and 1970's CUBC croney John Armstrong suggested this line to me over a curry. John had met with some quite wierd methods during many successful expeditions into European and Bermuda Bowl Championships.
  • With a balanced hand double
    .. and be prepared to defend for a nice penalty
  • With some shape bid your hand naturally
  • Accept the occasional bad result with grace

John is quite properly renowned for his excellent table manners both in the restaurant, and while playing bridge!


UK team policy

note GB coach David Burn posted to the 1998 r.g.b discussion on the Wilkosz opening: "Our experiences in the British team, when preparing defences to either-or two-suited openings, have been as described below". The British flag
  • It is not wise to look for 4-4 major suit fits. Thus, if it is our hand, we try to play in 3NT or something doubled by the opponents, unless we are very distributional. The reason for this is fairly clear: if the opener is 5-5, then either our trump suit will break 4-1 or opener will have a singleton and may get some ruffs.
  • It is very dangerous to have to pass with a good hand over a pass or correct response. Tony Forrester in Killarney 1991 had something like: Ax AQ109xx Axx Kx and had to pass over 2D (reds or blacks) - 2H (pass or correct). When LHO unexpectedly bid 3S (though it might easily have gone 2S - 3S), he had no alternative to 4H, and missed a cold slam (facing a well-fitting eight count). Thus, we play double of all P/C bids as two-way - either takeout or penalty. This is not at all as dangerous as it might seem, since the opening bidder dare not attempt a double-cross by passing after 2D - 2H (Double) with the blacks.
  • Our defensive scheme {agaInst 2D= Wilkosz} is therefore:
    • Double 13-16 or 20+ balanced, or a one-suited monster hand
    • 2NT 17-19 balanced, with Stayman for five-card majors only
    • Overcalls are natural, jump overcalls are strongish
    • 4m that suit plus a major (the major is deemed to be known)
    • 3N to play, source of tricks type hand (but not a solid suit)

    After 2D-2H: Double hearts in a good hand or takeout of hearts Overcalls (including 3H) are natural

    If a P/C bid is passed by opener, sixth hand's double is for takeout. If a P/C bid is corrected by opener, eighth hand's double is for takeout. Delayed doubles cannot conceal good hands, which would have acted earlier. In response to takeout doubles, we do not use Lebensohl (in keeping with the aim of trying to play balanced hands in no trumps by us our something doubled by them).

    If an opening bid is doubled and third hand passes for correction, it is right far more often than you think for fourth hand simply to pass.

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