Monday, 9 June 2008

Unscrambling the scramble window

Putting up the Chilli Two site involved an intense review of the system, and – you'll never guess – we've already come up with some improvements! Most of them are simplifications, which are always popular. Over the course of this week I'll be posting on this blog as I put in the changes.

The first change is an important one, and that is to simplify the scramble window idea. It worked very well for its original purpose, which was to provide a special environment after a 2 invitational relay was declined. Everything in the window (2 to 3 inclusive) was then natural and to play, although a raise such as 1 - 2; 2 - 3 would be a repeat invitation, asking for reconsideration on the basis of the fit.

Unfortunately and incorrectly I then complicated it by also including two other types of sequence:

  1. one in which someone jumped into the window without using a relay (e.g. 1 - 2)
  2. continuations after 1 such as 1 - 1; 2
  3. or 1 - 2; 3

The problem in both cases is that one hand is unlimited. To cope with strong hands we had to specify that bids that went beyond the window were forcing. But that was still clumsy, as these bids are all suit-setters: it left us badly placed if we wanted to explore for fit, or to strongly agree a suit (because it was a scramble, 2NT was natural).

So the fix is a three-parter. First, we've reverted to the simple window I described at the top, specifically for when one hand invites with 2 and the other declines.

Second, a jump into the window in sequence type 1 is now a disturbing bid. You'll find that this gives you all the tools you need to carry on when you have a strong hand opposite partner's space-stealing but highly descriptive bid; and there's no real need for scrambling, as partner's bid has already identified the strain in which we can play if are going no further.

And finally, we have to deal with the continuations after 1

1 - 1/1; 2 shows a minimum hand with 5-4 in the minors and no three-card fit for partner's major. Again, we want to be able to manage responder's strong hands constructively, but we don't want to lose scrambling here – we want to be able to choose between opener's minors, or play in two of a major or in 2NT. As opener has defined his hand quite well, the best solution seems to be to make 2 an artificial game force, and to treat all other bids in the window as starting a scramble. In other words, continue as if the 2 bid is an invitational relay. This works well except in one small respect – we are forced to 3 if we want to play in diamonds. I think that is a small price to pay for having a really economical route forward when responder is strong.

1 - 2/2; 3/3 is a bit easier: we simply make the final bid disturbing.

Alan Williams
June 2008

The Chilli bidding system is described and defined at

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