Source: Yuan Shen

Yuan Shen
Yuan Shen

There’s been long threads recently about transfers over a 1Club Suit, and so I thought I would provide a small reference about why I like them. I am not going to supply a particular method, or any defenses in this article. Rather I want to explain why you might want to play it at all.

I’m going to stick to a standard American context.

In this article, I’m going to discuss the relationship between NT’s and transfers. These are only my opinions, and you get what you pay for.

The first question to ask when building a natural system is: how am I going to separate / distinguish different hand types? You can choose for extreme separation (strict negative inferences) or a more fluid approach. You can choose separation by HCP and/or by shape.

Any strong Club Suit (or strong Diamond Suit, or Forcing Pass), the basic separation is initially one by HCP/actual playing strength. Then there are more mixes and striking variants, such as Polish Club, or canape based systems. I have very little experience with relay-systems.

NT

In a 2/1 natural context, in my opinion, No-trumps become the most important differentiating aspect.

When you cut-out a NT swathe, your other bids deny what you’ve cut out. Here are familiar examples:

  • 15-17 strong 1NT. Awkward intermediate range. Separates weak NT from one-and-a-half NT.
  • 12-14 KS-style weak 1NT. Improve 1m-1M-2M (good hand), and minor suit slam searches, at the cost of part scores. Puts responder as captain to make-or-take penalty doubles.

Strong NT’s happily throw 5cM into 1NT, for the most part, and some weak NT’ers do the same. It’s not clear what’s the best approach, but separating out the unbalanced hands is essential in either setting.

Aside: some partnerships are willing to give up these negative inferences to cater to a pre-emptive mini-NT. I don’t have anything useful to say on that topic: it’s a choice.

Transfers.

But why transfers over NT, rather than always? The key is exactly that having opened a non-informative NT (4333 all the way to a funny 7222), responder wants to hear if opener actually has fit, or a super-fit. Think of it as an optional-UNDO setting for opener.

Examples:

  • Strong NT: stayman and transfers.
  • prec 1Diamond Suit – (X) – transfers (to find the level of our M suit fit).
  • 1m – 1M – 2NT – transfers as a simple way to get-out / checkback.

Indeed the precision nebulous 1Diamond Suit is often explained as a 0-NT: an automatic checkback for a 4-4 M suit fit.

In another article, I have suggested a simple transfer structure over 2Club Suit, where the 2Club Suit bid can often be a stronger NT (e.g. 20-21) hand. Too often over a standard opening 2NT, you just don’t have enough room for opener to UNDO. Missed 6m again? Tough. (Except it’s not so tough.)

Transfers over 1Club Suit.

Transfers over a short Club Suit are an attempt to combine the best aspects of the weak NT, while avoiding some of the downsides. You give up the pre-emption, in order to avoid missing 4-4 (o 4-3) partials (especially in the spade suit!), and large penalties (which in my experience, are surprisingly frequent). Instead of making all 3 opponents at the table guess with a pre-emptive 1NT weak NT opening, you bring partner into the picture to co-operate and improve both your sides’ judgement.

Anecdote aside: Playing vs Tom Kneist and Don Stack in the Lebhar Imps, on one normal hand, Don puts down dummy and something along the following ensued (I can’t remember the actual convo):

Don: “Good luck partner, I don’t have much”

Tom: “Thanks, just bid your hand (ed: Don had done so, accurately) and I can judge where to go”

Result? Ave + for them. It’s so important to help partner out and trust their judgement, even if that sometimes means describing more about your hand than you might feel you’d like to. For those of us who don’t have GLM’s as partners, we can choose to play methods which actively help partner out. I’ve found that having played methods that systemically are “helpful”, when I revert to standard, some of that spirit passes on.

Low-level partials are almost always determined by the M-suit fit (and that M suit is itself nearly always the spade suit): either yours, or your opponents’. If you know your fit first, you can better judge if you should go to the 3 level. A 0-NT sacrifices minor suit distribution in order to provide negative inferences for the unbalanced hands (where you tend to actually want to compete over their M suit / or get to a fitted slam).

One of the principles I follow is that when we drive to a thin game, we drive to a fitted 4M, or a quick-trick-taking 3NT. If we push to 5m, then we know we’re making. The doubt there (which I like to not have much of) is whether we’ve missed 6 (or 7 sometimes).

To finish, I will provide 3 examples of transfers over 1Club Suit in action, and why “judgement” becomes so much easier when you know the level of fit. It’s the mundane hands (the most frequent) where against better opponents and better methods, you can haemorrhage 5 IMPs here and 7 Imps there.

Example 1.

Vuln IMPs. N dealer

N1: Spade SuitKxx Heart Suitxxx Diamond SuitAJxx Club SuitAQx

S: Spade SuitQJ9xx Heart SuitAxx Diamond SuitKxxx Club Suitx

Standard auction:

1Diamond Suit – 1Spade Suit

1NT –

North could have raised to 2Spade Suit, but with 4333 and tenaces, I think 1NT would be a popular-enough choice. If you vehemently believe that 2S is the correct call, good for you, but there are many hands where 1NT is an excellent spot. Passing 1NT by south is conservative but not so insane: indeed that’s what our opponents did (on a similar hand)

Personally, I think the S hand should try NMF (say you play 2-way), and continue

– 2Club Suit*

2Diamond Suit – 2Spade Suit (invite) and N will accept.

But there was a guess at *. I hate guessing.

Transfer auction:

1Club Suit – 1Heart Suit!

1Spade Suit! – ?*

No guess here! South knows they have a 5-3Spade Suit fit, and can happily make a game try (again with 2-way NMF), which N will again accept. Please remember that if you disagree with my judgement calls as to what the N-S hands are worth (whether to invite, or accept etc), feel free to substitute your favorite replacement. These auctions are a dime-a-dozen.

Aside: At the table, my RHO West, chose to make a silly lead-directing double of 2Club Suit … Well there was no chance I wasn’t accepting after that gift horse!

Example 2.

Same south hand

N2: Spade Suitxx Heart SuitKJxx Diamond SuitAxxx Club SuitKJx

S: Spade SuitQJ9xx Heart SuitAxx Diamond SuitKxxx Club Suitx

Standard auction:

1Diamond Suit – 1Spade Suit

1NT – ?

Did you get it right? You are on the same guess as the last hand, but this time, if you choose to press on, I don’t fancy your chances in 2NT (this time the opponents’ lead-directing double of a 2Club Suit NMF will not be healthy for you. I hope you’re good enough to get to 2Heart Suit if you don’t play 1NT).

Transfer auction:

1Club Suit – 1Heart Suit!

1NT – clear pass in my opinion. No fit? No spots/tricks? No game. I would subside in 1NT.

Example 3.

Standard auction:

1Club Suit – (P) – 1Heart Suit – (P)

2Heart Suit – (P) – P – (2Spade Suit)

If responder has 5Heart Suit, firstly they don’t know if opener has 3-or-4 pieces and if it’s “right” to compete to the 3 level. Opener, with spades, also doesn’t know if she can DBL, in the fear that responder won’t know when to pull. How often have you been forced to guess, despite seemingly having had an unobstructed auction?

Good opponents know how to listen to an auction and make it work for them. The goal of bidding is to get to the best contract for *our* side, not theirs! I hate hate hate it when our auctions make life *easy* for the bad guys.

Transfer auction:

1Club Suit! – (P) – 1Diamond Suit! – (P)

1Heart Suit! – (P) – 2Heart Suit! – (2Spade Suit)

Here, (at least in one version of transfers), responder heard that opener has 3 pieces and a bad hand (usually balanced), and has tried to buy the auction in 2Heart Suit. We know our level of fit (8 cards): let the opponents guess if it’s right this time to enter with 2Spade Suit.

Opener can have: Spade SuitAQTx Heart Suit9xx Diamond SuitKQxx Club SuitKx.

Or responder might be deliberately goading the opponents with a hand like Spade SuitKQT9 Heart Suit 9xxxx Diamond SuitAx !xx. In these methods, either hand can show a desire to take blood from 2Spade SuitX, in the full knowledge that partner will sit as-much-as-they-can.

I love “co-operative penalty” doubles: as in partnership-co-operation. Below their 4M, I strongly believe that penalty doubles should not be decided upon by 1-member of the partnership via decree. Both partners should be in-on-it. When we hit them, it should be a happy state of affairs, not the “you gave me a heart-attack” style as we go for yet another -670.

Conclusion

I am not stating there are no downsides to a short-C-with-transfers. There are, and a google search will give you many comments about such.

The first time I came up against these transfers was in the Open Swiss in Philly: I think it was against a World-champion who was having a terrible session (to be playing us) (rant at the GCC: thank you for protecting us, so that when we do meet an unfamiliar system aka totally normal in other parts of the world we are well prepared!).

At the end of the set, I asked: “Huh, do you find these transfers worth it?” And he said “On balance, yes. The gains outweigh the losses”. Having learned it, and played it, and thought about it, I’m inclined to agree.

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