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Bridge: Two level preempts

Norwegian defence to the Ekren 2D

Links to the main archive, site index, more advanced methods and brown sticker sub-pages and an index. See also my Ekren's original article also in translation and the the main assumed fit section. The Archive also has battle-tested Swedish defence methods.


Defending Ekrens 2 diamonds

annals magazine logo by Tor Eivind Høyland {Norwegian} - translated with permission from Bridge i Norge: Feb. 1997

Ekren 2D's power is to show defined suits rapidly Used with discipline this is a formidable weapon. Its biggest strength is that frequently the final contract will be reached in one round - all before your opponents can communicate their values or distribution. This alone makes defending an Ekrens opening difficult.

On the other hand there are the usual weaknesses of this sort of destructive opening
  • Your opponents probably have the balance of honour strength
  • Not infequently the auction becomes a high level guessing game

My experience has been that Ekrens players often stretch a level too far. However they rarely get punished for such impudent bidding. As their opponents we do have some information: at least we don't have to look for playable spot in the majors! The chance of a successful major game against Ekrens is small. Our defence should be based on different lines.

  • Is 3NT playable?
  • Should we be in minor suit game?
  • Can we make a minor slam?

And always of course keeping our scythe sharp .. to gather in those doubled undertricks that Ekrens openers so frequently provide!


More than against any other weak two, a double of Ekrens should show a balanced 15+. It makes no difference whether this is from 2nd or 4th hand

    2D  double
2D pass 2H/S double

.. both showing a strong no trump or better. Doubler's partner can now apply total trick theory to decide whether to leave in the double.

    2D  double  2S  double

Here the second double shows four or more spades and some values. Similarly in the delayed sequence

    2D  pass  2S  double
pass ?

You should usually pass out the double with 4 spades. Although this seems risky you will get a lot of tops, and on balance your good scores will outweight the disasters. One warning: you must be disciplined about the strength of the initial double and never make it with a major singleton which will throw out partner's trump estimation. Furthermore with a 2245 shape you should be looking at minor aces and kings, rather than lesser honours.

As I have recommended against the Multi, your 2NT overcall should show some type of unbalanced hand. Against Ekrens this should furthermore be minor orientated, bearing in mind that we are looking toward contracts in either no trumps or a minor.

    2D  2NT
2D pass 2H/S 2NT

showing a good unbalanced minor orientated hand (at least 5/4)

Advancer can now chose to play in 3C/D. Bids of 3H/S indicate stops with a view to 3NT. Such bids can of course also be advance cues - on the way to minor suit slam.

Direct overcalls of 3C/D are strong one-suited hands. Should you also hold a 4 card major (say a 4153 shape) then assume this major is the enemy's suit. Thus strong hands of this type should still make a three level minor overcall. How about moderate hands? Say the bidding goes

    2D  pass  2H  pass
pass ?

A delayed double shows 12-14 points with 2-3 hearts. Holding 4 hearts it is generally better to pass. Your partner won't have enough hearts to stand your double, and should his takeout flounder you will have preferred to simply taken some undoubled undertricks.

2NT again shows a minor orientated hand, but not good enough to bid on the first round. We still know that Ekrens opener has 4+ spades, and so at least won't be ending up in a spade contract!

A Digression

    2D  pass  2H  2S     Shows good spades,  whereas  ..
2D pass 2S 3H ... shows an even better heart holding

You might find this inconsistent. Perhaps it is, but I have not been able to devise any useful conventional meanings for these bids. If you have better ideas - please write in!

{Presumably direct 2H/S overcall by 2nd hand also shows a strong one-suited hand - the article doesn't say. Ed}

Now these are the easy auctions. There is a a good probability that we shall get our plus score, as the opponent's bidding suggests they don't have a safe contract. However it does not always go so easily, and you may have some difficult decisions to make

    2D  pass  3H/4H  ?

A double still shows a 15+ balanced hand type. We can't let them steal our hand! However partner will have a difficult choice and must count the trumps carefully. If they jump to 3H/4H you should bear in mind who your opponents are, and the state of your match before taking action. Remember that the Ekrens opening has a wide range. If responder were genuinely strong he would commonly have enquired with 2NT to clarify this.

An overcall of 3NT (or 4NT) still shows a minor orientated hand, generally unbalanced. You are under considerable pressure, but must not give up (at least at pairs).

    2D  double  3S  ?

More problems. Opponents seem to have good fit, but 3NT might still be on. However if opponents have fit then so have we! Double is best played as a spade stop, interested in the no trump game. Partner will have to decide whether to bid 3NT or take the money.

3NT here is better played as both minors and game values but denying anything in spades. A direct 4C/D should be a good suit. Pass is well .. pass and partner should give up without extra values. If he bids 3NT it is to play, whereas another double is takeout. Bear in mind that he didn't bid no trumps initially, and so won't hold the only minors.

    2D  double  4S  ?

Now we are in deep trouble. You just have to do what you can and remember the principles. For the foolhardy ..

    2D  pass  3S  pass
pass ?

3NT here shows a minor two-suiter not good enough for initial overcall. Double is 12-14 with at least one spade stop. Remember opponents will have 8-9 card fit, on assumption that they are bidding up according to total trick theory. On the same basis the LAW predicts that we will not get an adequate score by doubling them. The "spade stop" agreement leaves chances of a successful 3NT contract (honours in opponents suits being a so called "trick reducing factor"). But this sort of thing is too risky for me. If opponents can take 2 spade tricks straight off it is unlikely that either no trump or minor game will succeed and it seems best to pass.

Examples - Santiago Championship and other events


I have tried to use play at Santiago to test out these principles. Examples are of course quite random and limited, for often no action was appropriate. I have added in some of Bjørn Olav's own deals from our previous discussion {Bridge i Norge 2-94} to explore our method against his. There were no records of the Santiago Round Robin, but this deal came up in the 8 team final stage:

both vul
North hand
S A4
H A7642
D Q53
West hand
S K765
H Q983
D A82
C 53
table East hand
S Q82
C Q98642
  South hand
S J1093
H K105
D 10964
C 107

Most N/S pairs bid to a heart contract, but had Geir and Tor sat E/W and opened 2D the bidding using our defence should have gone

West North East South notes
2D double 2S double 2D=Ekren both majors
pass pass pass    

With 2S doubled going two off this is a a fine result. Note that on traditional methods North will bid 2NT - down 1-2 tricks in practice.

  Now the quarter-finals ..
both vul
NORTH hand
S K987
H AJ102
D 9643
WEST hand
H K965
C AK1096
table EAST hand
S A1062
H Q7
D K102
C Q752
  SOUTH hand
S Q543
H 843
D Q85
C 843

The usual contract was 3NT making 10, but say we were defending against North's Ekrens. (and playing in "sparkling" form) ..

West North East South notes
  2D pass 2S 2D=Ekren both majors
3C pass 3S pass  
4C pass 4D pass  
4NT pass 5D pass  
6C pass pass pass  

Are you an imaginative slam bidder? I hope you are going to find that queen of diamonds. Note that we have to bid 3C directly. We don't care about hearts - that's their suit. A further inference is that East's cue bid has to be the SA opposite his partner's likely singleton. With doubleton spade West would have doubled!

  Returning to reality, here is deal 93 from the semifinal against Brazil.
both vul
NORTH hand
S J983
H void
D J9842
C 10742
WEST hand
S Q10
H Q852
D K1065
C A98
table EAST hand
S K652    
H 9763
D 3
C KJ65
  SOUTH hand
S A74
H AKJ104
C Q3

At the table North passed - and so did Tor! South opened 1Hand played there. But doesn't Tor have an Ekrens opening? Or isn't his 4414 seven count enough? Let's move on.

On a more usual 2D opening would the Brazilians manage to extract a penalty? Probably not with North holding only 2 points and void hearts. Otherwise the deal would be a killing ground for Tor and Geir. Let's see if we can manage the business double:

West North East South notes
  pass 2D double  
2H 2NT pass 3C 2NT thought to be lebesohl
pass 3D/3NT pass pass  

North is looking at a heart void with a feeling that opponents have found their play level. With such a poor hand my recommendation (unfortunately) is to bid your own suit .. and our big plus score disappears. One comfort is that you can blame the methods in this article!

  The first really interesting Ekrens came in the final
N/S vul
NORTH hand
H A8532
D 1095
C 76
WEST hand
S J1096
H J1074
D A32
C 105
table EAST hand
S 87542
H 96
D Q76
  SOUTH hand
D KJ84
C AJ8432
West North East South notes
2D pass 3S 3NT 3NT = minor oriented
pass pass* pass   *=holding the majors

Unfortunately at the table Leufhen's 3NT didn't show the minors and they bid to 4NT - with 3NT cold. On a spade lead you make 3NT by leading out king of diamonds, taking 6 major tricks and just 3 in the minors. The Dutch would have saved 12 IMPs had they played our defence.

  Ekrens was back again on deal 107
both vul
NORTH hand
H Q98
D J7654
C KQ84
WEST hand
H J64
D K983
C 105
table EAST hand
S 962
H A72
C 97632
  SOUTH hand
S 108743
H K1053
D 102
West North East South notes
pass 2H pass pass  
double pass 3C pass  
pass pass      

The double shows 12-14 and 2-3 cards in hearts (recall you pass with four). East can now bid 3C and West passes without a fit. 2NT from East here would have been a 'scramble' - offering the choice of suit back to partner.

At the table West was unable limit his hand in his way and his natural 2NT bid was left in .. more IMP's lost.

  Two examples from "Bridge Nytt"
NORTH hand
H A943
D 42
C KJ632
WEST hand
S J854
H KJ752
D 85
C A7
table EAST hand
S K9632
D 10976
C 1094
  SOUTH hand
S 107
H 1085
C Q85

Bjørn Olav said that North had missed the boat in thinking he could bid on the next round. But you cannot assume that against Ekrens. The ideal sequence is

West North East South notes
2D double 4S double  
pass pass pass    

Although North has only 14 points there are extras in the spade honour sequence, and a source of tricks in clubs should the bidding lead to to 3NT. 3C would be a fair alternative call.

Once partner has doubled South can estimate that opponents are above their playing level with a maximum 9 trumps. A double is therefore appropriate even with his fine diamond suit.

  Another Bridge Nytt example
N/S vul
NORTH hand
S void
H Kxx
D 10xxxxx
C Qxxx
WEST hand
S KJxxx
H Qxxx
C 10xx
table EAST hand
S Q10xxx
H J10xx
D x
C Jxx
  SOUTH hand
S Axx
H Ax

Against Helgemo and Ekren in Ålesund, South was cautious, bidding only 3NT after 2D - 3S. Let's look at what might have happened if North is as adventurous as Ekren himself!

West North East South notes
2D pass 3S double  
pass 4D pass 4NT  
pass 5C pass 5NT  
pass 6D pass 7D  

Once partner shows 5-6 diamonds and values South is unstoppable. There are now many routes to the grand slam. How would another theoretician (eg Jan Mikkelsen) have bid? With Jan as South the bidding may have gone:

West North East South notes
2D pass 3S double  
pass 3NT pass 4C 3NT=lebensohl - puppets 4C
pass 4D pass 4H* 4H*=cue
pass 4S* pass 5C** 4S*=cue 5C**=can count 12 tricks in diamonds
pass 5H pass 7D 5H=grand slam try

Perhaps odd that 3NT should be Lebensohl, but this will rarely be the right contract once opponents know what to lead. If we have the values for 3NT a second double (as above) is the best call - offering partner choice between play and defence. So 3NT as lebensohl is appropriate. With a good minor 2-suiter you would jump to 4NT.

{I personally find south's 4C opposite possible long clubs an incredible underbid on this hand. ParadoX solve this of course. And 5H surely another cue (clearly sniffing at the grand) Chris}
  To finish ..

I have laid out some tools to find our own contracts, while keeping open possibilities of penalty doubles. I'll finish with an example from "Kretserien" playing these methods with Werner Lyseng. The deal:

both vul
NORTH hand
H A10x
D xx
C Jx
WEST hand
S xx
H 9xxx
D Qx
C Qxxxx
table EAST hand
S 8xxx
H Qxxx
D J8xx
  SOUTH hand
S x
D AKxxx
C K10xxx
West North East South notes
    2D pass  
2H double pass 4D  
pass 4NT pass 6C 4NT=to play
pass 6S pass 6NT  
pass pass pass    

I was cowardly in passing on the first round as South. Had I bid 2NT I would have been declarer, and 6NT easily home on a club or heart lead. (How can East not play the HQ?). It isn't so easy played by North with HJ holding the first trick. Werner might have crossed to SA and led a club to the king. After cashing the heart honours he then can squeeze East in the red suits. But to play like this you have to be a genius.

My Aunt Agatha would probably have cashed the hearts and then run the spades. East has to keep three diamonds and CA leaving no room for hearts. Auntie wriggles home by playing a club to the king, and to her astonishment gets put back into dummy with a diamond! She's just happy have found the ace onside!

Both these lines require four diamonds with the Ekrens opener, which isn't likely. Assume rather that he has the values for his opening and play him for short clubs including the ace. If West holds the CQ a really cunning line is a pseudo-finesse toward CJ at trick two! Once this brings the CA the hand plays itself.

This article was recommended to me by Bjørn Olav Ekren and is one of a series on defense in the Norwegian journal Bridge i Norge (February 1997). Reproduced here by kind permission of its editor Boye Brogeland. Special thanks to Liverpool University visitors Maria Andersen and Mona Brun for their invaluable help in baseline translation from the original Norwegian.

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