Monday, 12 January 2009

Strengthening the bridge

A Happy New Year to all Chillians and bridge players everywhere! You may still be suffering from the after effects of the festive season, but here at Chilli Towers we have been beavering away at the coalface of human knowledge (or something like that).

Last month I blogged about the new Chilli disturbed structure with the weak 2NT and shunts (Bridge over disturbed waters). Now we want to get some more work out of one of these wonder beasts, the cue shunt.

The first thing to say is a simple clarification: with a natural shunt, it's possible to stop short of game if partner completes the shunt, but with a cue shunt you can never want to stop after completion. So it's simplest if we treat the cue shunt as forcing to game in all variations.

Now to something more substantial. We would strongly prefer that a natural shunt to a previously unshown suit guarantees at least five cards, but if that is the case we will struggle to find four-four fits in an unshown major. Now traditional Lebensohl has a mechanism for this – either a direct cue bid or a cue rebid after 2NT shows four cards in the other major, the difference being that one route shows a guard, the other doesn't. This has a number of defects:
  1. It restricts the use of the cue bid to hands with four in the other major and excludes many other hands with uncertain destination

  2. It provides a memory task to remember which route shows the guard in this particular partnership

  3. It compromises the 2NT bid by including a strong hand amongst weak ones

  4. Intuitively the cue bid sounds like a no-trump try rather than a bid of the other major.

Given that we have highly expressive two-step transfers at our disposal, can we do better than that, and in a Chilli sort of way? Yes we can. Here's a revised response scheme to a cue shunt to a major:
  1. under-break with four cards in the other major; otherwise

  2. bid 3NT with a guard; otherwise

  3. over-break in a suit to show a five-card suit; otherwise

  4. complete to deny any of the above.

So the auction goes 1 (2) 33. Opener has responded to our cue shunt with an under-break showing four hearts. Isn't this very irritating if all along we wanted to play in 3NT?

This is a good bit. One of the characteristics of shunts is that they can be used only once, since by definition you are above 2NT after first use. This means that after partner under-breaks your cue shunt, you can cue bid again! So here we can continue with the repeat cue bid 3, which systemically asks for a stop for 3NT.

(After a cue shunt to a minor, the repeat cue bid occurs above 3NT, so we give preference to bidding 3NT if we have the guard. But the repeat cue bid is still available as a general force and so can be used to find any major suit fit.)

The Chilli cue shunt can be used (a) when we are looking for 3NT and/or (b) when we are looking for a four-four major fit or (c) when we have nothing better to say, and requires no specific holding in any suit. It's more flexible than the Lebensohlic cue bid, and works without compromising the weak 2NT or having a nasty 'which way' memory load.

This is all lovely stuff for Chilli, but it did occur to me last week that the weak 2NT plus shunts set up was perfectly playable in any system. What you would need is some understanding of how to continue in a fit-like manner in your particular bidding system and – more importantly – just when it applies. Here at the Towers we smugly say 'always', and that's a choice that has a lot going for it.

Alan Williams
January 2009

The Chilli bidding system is described and defined at


Anonymous said...

Hi Alan

I stumbled across the website last weekend by accident when doing a search for "majors first." And I just keep coming back for more - this system looks great. Jim and I play a system at present (Jon Drabble's Ideal) which is majors first and has virtual no conventions (honest!) - certainly no Stayman or transfers - and some years ago we played the rule-based strong-club system COBRA. So the idea of a majors-first, virtually convention free, rule-based srong-club system looks like a winner for us.

In a previous post you mention that you may look to write a book. This sounds like a great idea if you can get it off the ground. Scrolling through the web pages is trickier than flicking pages in a book and, as I'm very new to the system, I need to see a lot of examples particularly competitive auctions after a majors-first opener and that hair-raising heart-spade canape! I found the convention card for you and Geoff Lacey a great point of reference - it helps to put the system in some kind of context. One can immediately see that the system has a beautiful symmetry.

Anyway good luck with the development of the system, things seem to be effortlessly falling into place. Is this down to hard work or is the system 'just meant to be?'



PS It was touch and go whether I stayed with the system when I saw the post about Leben... (I can't say it!) and transf... (wash my mouth out!) because I thought to myself: "in the heat of battle a club bid is going to sound like clubs not hearts." But I see that I should be thinking more about the auction types and then the bids fall into place.

PPS Andrea recalls the Little Major's opening 1C/D. I note that Liggins-Crouch also use 2-under responses over their 1N opener: 2C=4+H and 2D=4+S. And Bergen used to use 2-under preempts with Cohen in order to unravel different strengths (weaknesses?) of weak two bids. 2-unders certainly look to pack a lot of system into very little space.

Alan Williams said...

Hi Jeff

Many thanks for your comments and interest.

I've not come across Jon Drabble's system. My quick search on the web didn't come up with anything except that Jon has written some books, one of which is called 'The Ideal Bidding System' which is I guess the one I need. Sounds very interesting.

I looked at Cobra quite a while back. I was particularly taken with its evaluation system which seemed more accurate than anything else I had seen. I think while studying this I learnt to resist bidding slams with two non-skew hands and a combined 30 points

I've visualised how I want the book to go, but it's a question of finding the time amongst many other things. But thanks for the encouragement.

Your use of the word 'symmetry' was very pleasing!

I think Chilli is more hard work than anything else. It would be nice to be a great top-down thinker that could envisage the whole package as a concept which is then realised into its components.

But I'm built the other way up - I try things for a while, and if they don't work, throw them away after a while; and if they do, I try to integrate them into the rest of the system in a way that reduces the rule base.

I think the main thing is that I have tried to stay true to the original idea (which is now over ten years old) that you could build a pleasing and practical compromise between simplicity and technical efficiency.

It was touch and go whether I stayed with the system after I dreamt up my version of Leben... and transf... For quite a few weeks I wandered round thinking I had taken leave of my senses.

I think I justified it to myself because Disturbed auctions were always the least pleasing - essentially just some reasonable but uninspiring set of normalish rules. So I didn't mind too much giving them a good kicking.

I'd forgotten about Liggins-Crouch playing two-unders in response to 1NT. I played them twice in matches last year, and didn't really take it in. So much for my table presence!

Again, thanks for the interest, and stay in touch.


Andrea said...

Hi and a Happy New Year to Alan, Jeff, Geoff, Michael and all other Chillians!

It is very nice to have another contributor to this blog. I don't remember how I found the Chilli system site, other than it was a few years ago. However, Jeff nailed it: "symmetry" was probably the main reason I appreciated the system (Chilli One then) so much right from the start.
What I didn't like so much about Chilli One:
1) The 1D opening (too rare for such a low bid, and its development was not comparable to the one I was used to in "Quadri Italia"). And so... the new 1D.
2) Problems in adequately showing the playing strength of the hands, particularly after 1 Major openings. And so... the minor relays.
3) Disturbed bidding (lackluster). And so... shunts. ;)

So you may gather that I love this 2009 avatar of Chilli. Not only it is my favourite system now, but shunts are my favourite convention, both in Chilli and elsewhere. And it is right, they could (and should!) be adopted in any system. And the new cue shunt left my mouth hanging: Alan managed to make two-step transf... to cue bids (with 4-major-showing/guard-showing/suit-showing responses, and the possibility of "natural" cue bids after transf... cue bids!) sound as simple as supporting one of a major!

About evaluation: Chilli (very wisely, in my book) treads very lightly on that matter. I like when rules say, eg, "values for three" without trying to define that too precisely. This policy of laying the rules and leaving the evaluation task mainly to the player makes me wonder what could Chilli do if played by a world class couple.

Speaking of world class couples, actually I think that the most effective system around is that played by Fantoni-Nunes, but they have not disclosed the developments other than the notes in their convention card. It is a pity, as their idea of having all level 1 openers as natural strong (14 or more) and all level 2 ones as semi-preemptive (9-13) is fantastic if developments can handle it.

All the best,

P.S. If I may ask, who is Keable?

P.P.S. What about telling about Chilli to Daniel Neill, who keeps a catalogue of almost all bidding systems in existence?
( ) By the way, he seems to love strong club systems.

Alan Williams said...

Hi Andrea

A Happy New Year to you too.

'Keable' is Brian Keable, a local grandmaster and good friend who I played with for a couple of years in the very early Chilli days. He was forever complaining that the system didn't let him stop bidding, a complaint with some merit.

Like you, I love shunts, but like Jeff I initially had great misgivings about them. As he says "in the heat of battle a club bid is going to sound like clubs not hearts" - a very legitimate concern.

But then Jeff goes on to say "I see that I should be thinking more about the auction types and then the bids fall into place".

This is key to the whole of Chilli: each of the three auction types has a completely different structure, so you must know for certain at all times what is the current type, otherwise disaster strikes!

For that reason the transition rules are explicit and simple. And because shunts apply in all disturbed auctions while we are below 2NT, after a while it gets automatic that when rightie overcalls partner's opening 1H with 2S, you go

(a)Ah, they have bid 1NT or more ... disturbed

(b)Ah, we are disturbed below 2NT, so all the three-level bids are shunts.

It is only the universality that makes shunts playable.

Best wishes