The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Bridge Wonkery

(This will make no sense unless you play bridge at least semi-seriously.)

Last fall I started a new partnership playing Polish Club. Now that I’ve played half a year (at least a few sessions a month), I have thoughts.

In general — Polish Club is like Precision in that the major suit openings have a narrower range. So responder won’t have to cater to rare strong hands when we open 1 of a major.  Also, if we have a minimum opening with great playing strength, we can bid aggressively without having to worry that partner will expect lots of cards and get us too high (or double the opponents expecting lots of defense). Finally, we can just bid game and safely skip slam investigation on some hands, which keeps the defense in the dark. Precision does this better than Polish, since it has an 11-15 range, whereas Polish has 11-17, as compared to Standard’s 11-20(ish).

Also (like Precision), we can show moderate strength (18-21) hands at a lower level. Just today I played in two spades holding

S:AKQxx H: AJxx D:Kx C:xx opposite S:Jx H:xxx D:xx C:AQxxx. Depending on your variant of standard american, you’ll probably be in a touchier contract, and if you are in two spades opener will worry until dummy hits that he’s missed something. (I was disappointed to find that every card was on; every reasonable contract was foolproof. Our opponents were in three spades for a push. With average luck we’ll likely lose 2 hearts and 3 minor cards, to make two exactly, for a solid swing).

We also gain the ability to quickly set a game forcing auction at a very low level.”Two over one Game Forcing” has that as a big advantage, but only  when both partners have opening values (13 opposite 13). With 18 opposite 8, a forcing club system lets you set a low level game force to look for the best game or investigate slam without jumping. Being able to do this when the points aren’t evenly divided is huge. Again, Polish and Precision share this feature.

So what happens when you open 1C in either system?

In Precision, opponents hog as much space as they think they can get away with. The hand probably belongs to you. If responder isn’t totally broke, your side has the balance of points.  So you’ll get at least one hundred, and maybe a game. Slam isn’t out of the question. Offering a few hundred points to muddy the waters is a good bet, particularly since you can make the offer to your partner at the one level, where even huge hands don’t get rich doubling.

In Polish, since the 1C opening includes weak and strong hands, the opponent’s can’t jump in wily-nily. More importantly, the weak hand is usually a balanced 12-14 count. One of the strengths of any 1NT opening is that responder knows instantly which level the hand belongs at (part score, invitational, game, slammish) and which suits may be playable as trumps. So if the opponents do pre-empt,  responder is well placed to make a positive response, a negative free bid (showing shape, but denying game values unless opener reveals a strong hand) or double under the simple assumption that opener has a balanced ~13 count. If partner isn’t balanced, he’ll be stronger, which compensates.

The opponents face a dilemma:

  1. If opener has a weak hand, when an opponent steps out of line (by bidding too aggressively) responder is well placed to compete or double, and they may find they’ve given us several hundred points on a hand where we could only earn 100 or they deserve to get a positive score. Whereas an undisciplined bid against precision probably won’t miss a game (since the opening side has a minimum of 16 points, often more) that’s not true against polish. Blatant psyches (and routine stretching, like pre-empting heavy) are much more likely to catch a strong partner who gets taken in, instead of the opposite side.
  2. So, when opener does have strong hands, he’ll often get to convey good information while the level is low, at which point intervening is too late.

Given all that, our opponents in general seem content to only interfere with our 1C bids when they’d do so against a “Standard” 1C. Our big hands face much less obnoxious competition. I’ll take Polish with little competition over Precision with heavy competition.

One hand jumps out at me. I had the king of spades (with two small) and no other points. Partner opened 1C, I responded 1D (usually showing less than 7 points, but also including some awkward bigger hands) and partner bid 1S. I still didn’t know what partner had, but it was capped at 21 points, so I passed. Now my LHO asked some questions:

“What does your partner have?”
“Most likely 12-14 points with 4 spades. But it could be 18-21 with 5+ spades.”

My LHO was staring at a balanced opening hand, but had no idea if his partner was almost broke, or had an opening hand. He hadn’t bid after my 1D bid because he had no good suit and was worried that opener had a strong hand. But now passing meant possibly missing a game or, more realistically, a making partscore. Re-opening risks finding partner with a misfit trash and opponents who know they have half the deck. My opponents, in this case, guessed wrong. Bridge is all about risk and reward, but this is complex and tough to evaluate …. for the opponents.

We do pay a price for that, namely when partner opens 1C (strong) and an opponent has a classical pre-empt. Then responder has to cater to a weak hand and can’t always show values. But these happen much less frequently than 1C-(frisky 1 or 2 level bid)-something-(raise). We’ve had numerous auctions where we are investigating slam or probing for the best game on hands where a precision pair would be having to name a first suit at the two level or higher. I’ll take it.

Finally, a minor difference from precision — Precision’s 1D opening is nebulous, showing possibly only two diamonds, but constrained with 11-15 points. In Polish we promise four diamonds, but have a wider range. 11-20. (While 1C can be any hand with 18+ points, it’s difficult to bid 18-20 point hands with both minors or unbalanced with 6+ diamonds). So our 1D opening is effectively like standard in range. Is it better to have a confined range or to show a real suit? I suspect for expert pairs the precision way is better, slightly. Not being an expert, having a real suit works out well.

Finally, playing at the club level, it has to be said that Polish (like the weak NT) will provide a good result from time to time just because opponents blunder. Also, from necessity of learning a new system, partner and I made a detailed set of system notes; so we have much better defined agreements as compared to other non-expert partnerships with similar playtime. (Yay for google docs!) (Not particular to Polish, but we both have decent memories, and enjoy system tinkering and have had shockingly few cases of one partner just forgetting an agreement. We’d probably get decent results no matter what system we played).

Basic Polish isn’t difficult. You learn the 1C system and responses (and the 2C opening), practice the bidding for a few hours, and you’ve got it. You can use the same system you like for the rest of your one level openings and can keep your two level openings (except 2C) the same if you like. You can add as many (or few) gadgets as you like. I recommend it.

One convention (not part of the system) I also recommend for serious players — Raptor 1N overcalls. These occur much more often than 1N overcalls, the negative inferences are useful, and often when you have to pass (or double) with your strong NT hands your opponents tend to get too high. Especially at matchpoints, where the frequency of occurrence (and fighting fo the partscore) it’s a handy little agreement.


Written by taogaming

February 26, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Posted in Bridge

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