Friday, 20 February 2009

Financial crisis causes double to weaken

Hello Chillians

Like everyone else, Chilli is not immune to the global financial crisis, so here at Chilli Towers we have been conducting a mid-winter review of our operations, and we have come to two important decisions which I will tell you about.

First, although we have always believed in rewarding our staff richly for success, we recognise the zeitgeist and, unlike some, we will no longer be paying ourselves huge bonuses. One can safely say that those juicy +1100s and +1400s are history.

Second, after an intensive management consultation using the latest 'two pints of beer' methodology, our review of the system ended with quiet satisfaction overall but a recognition of two areas where we could do better. With our usual zeal for improvement, we've come up with two small but very significant refinements in these areas. I'll blog about one here and now, and the other next week.

The strong double refers to our opening double of their one of a suit, which might be either their opening bid or their first response. It shows 16+ points, and is intended to be a replacement for our lost 1. The auction stays neutral, and as far as possible we retain the normal neutral structure.

The strong double has been around for a long time. The main reason for its existence is that we were trying to avoid a whole new set of continuations that would be needed after a standard takeout double. So if we could squeeze everything a bit (well, quite a bit) we could pretend that they hadn't bid and continue on our neutral way.

In practice, the strong double is a bit of a pig over one of a major, and particularly so over 1. All the continuation ranges have to be compressed, so we have to respond 1NT on a very wide range of hands, leaving doubler with a difficult decision as to whether to continue. A lot of weaker overcalls have to be placed unsatisfactorily in a 1NT or 2 overcall, thereby polluting their world too. And finally there is the rather ugly and somewhat unsound three-suited cue bid.

During the review we realised that the original main reason for the strong double had now gone. If we made an opening double of one of a major be a takeout double and made it disturb the auction, then the weak 2NT and shunts would provide all the vocabulary we could possibly want responding to it on stronger hands, while two-level suit bids would sensibly all be to play.

A little research and some practice showed that the idea was a significant improvement. The scheme:
  • An opening double of one of a major becomes takeout, disturbing the auction

  • The immediate cue bid of one of a major is retired as a takeout - pending some perceived better use, it reverts to being natural

  • 2 over 1 reverts to being the equivalent of a 2 opener, so e.g. six cards in second position

  • 1NT over one of a major remains as neutral 12-15 without necessarily a stop in their suit (which continues to be a real money spinner) but it will now always be a balanced hand

  • A 1 overcall of their 1 continues to show an opening hand with four spades (another money spinner), so double instead will deny a minimum hand with four spades.

What about over their one of a minor? Over 1 the strong double works perfectly as a substitute for 1, but over 1 it's slightly cloudy. But if you think about it, there are very few (if any) hands of less than 16 points that cannot be handled with an overcall of one of a major, 1NT or at the two-level. The exception would be the minor two-suited type that would have opened 1, and surely the best action with these hands over their 1 will be to pass smoothly and await developments.

So the idea is that the neutral strong double remains as now over their one of a minor. But we do scrap the takeout cue bid idea, which was never necessary over one of a minor in the first place.


The Chilli bidding system is described and defined at


Andrea said...

Hi Alan,
I like this takeout double idea... I had always been slightly unhappy about the strong double over enemy one of a major (and the resulting ambiguous 2H over 1S).
But... what should I do now, over enemy 1S, if I have a one-suiter with hearts and opening values? In other words:
1) With 5H-3-3-2, Double or 1NT?
2) With six hearts, Double (but shouldn't Double be at least 2-suited in Chilli?) or 2H (which would then remain ambiguous as to strength)?
And if I had a really strong hand? The only forcing bid over enemy 1H/1S seems to be Double anyway.
Finally, have you considered making Double over enemy 1S show always Hearts (alone or with other suits), like in some other systems?
Sorry for the many questions, but I feel this is a big (and good) change and should be as clear as possible.
All the best,

Alan Williams said...

Hi Andrea

These are all good questions, so I gave myself some time to think about them.

First some generalities. When they bid spades and we have hearts, we are in one of bridge's darker places. It seems they have all the fun and we just have to make difficult choices.

This is a problem that all systems have to face, and I certainly haven't solved it! But at least we are better off than most, because we have the weak 1NT overcall to take care of the balanced hands.

My second thought is that within the context of three-suited hands, I'm happy if one (or more) of the suits are three-carders. In other words, when partner responds to my takeout double, I will pass his response.

Now to your questions ...

(1) With 5H-3-3-2, I would double if the doubleton were spades, treating it as a three-suiter. Otherwise I would bid 1NT.

(2) With six hearts, I would bid 2H. That would leave 2H ambiguous as to strength as you say, which is a pity. But my main concern with the old 2H was the corruption with five-carders, which make it difficult to make TNT decisions later in the auction.

(3) I must admit I had been preoccupied with responses to the double, and had given insufficient thought to what doubler rebids, in particular with a strong hand wanting to bid again opposite a non-forcing two-level response.

As you point out elsewhere, a Chilli takeout double is normally two- or three-suited. We clearly have to make an exception here (since there are no other starter bids available), but we can do so in a clear and intuitive way.

After a two-level response to a takeout double of 1S, the doubler can:
(a) pass with a minimum hand and a fit;
(b) bid the next suit up to show a minimum with the other two suits;
(c) bid 2NT to show a strong hand with the other two suits;
(d) fit shunt to show a strong hand with a fit;
(e) natural shunt with a strong single-suiter;
(f) cue shunt with a strong balanced hand.

All these are, I think, obvious once one allows that a strong hand may be one- or no-suited.

If you are being eagle-eyed, you may have spotted that there is no way to handle a minimum 5-4 minor hand with less than three hearts. If you cannot legitimately 'bend' the hand into an immediate 2NT, 2minor or 1NT, then I suggest we pass it. To be honest, it is unlikely to be going anywhere useful if partner also cannot speak.

Which leads into your final question ...

(4) If what I have said is the right way to go, then the double either shows a strong hand that will be bid again after a minimum response or it will have at least three hearts.

I can see the benefit of taking it further and guaranteeing four hearts, but that would exclude 1345 and 1354 hands that may be going somewhere useful. I'd like to think about that one a bit more.

Thanks as ever for your interest


P.S. I've just had an interesting email from another new Chillian, with several useful observations and including some very encouraging words about shunts (which do seem to be working out really well in practice). I'll pick up on them in a subsequent post

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan

Apologies if this is a little off topic but I'm looking for examples of how to handle the heart-spade canape possibilities in the uncontested auction.

I dealt myself the hand:

KJxxx Axx
QJxx Kxx
AKx Qx
x Qxxxx

and bid it 1H-2C-2D-2H-3C(see footnote 1)-3N-P

I chose 2H because I was working to the rule of bidding 3-card majors up the line. But now I was in a fit auction and couldn't now get to spades because suit bids were splinters.

So I thought that I must have misinterpreted things and so bid 1H-2C-2D-2S-3S-4S. Seemed OK but what if opener's majors were reversed?

QJxx Kxx
KJxxx Axx
AKx Qx
x Qxxxx

I'd bid 1H-2C-2D-2S-ouch. I don't think opener can now bid 3H because this would be a forcing suit setter.

I know I've gone wrong somewhere. Can you please give me a nudge back onto the spiritual path?

(1) What are your views on showing the splinter in these game forcing auctions? Should the potential declarer be splintering with a minimum acceptance of the invitation? Might it give too much information in what would be a tight game? I think at matchpoints I might even suppress showing splinters unless slam was a distinct possibility. I suspect the strength needed for showing splinters is very much a matter of style and not system.

Other than one or two teething problems I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable with Chilli. One impressive aspect is the language of Chilli. In your last post you talked about making the double of a major takeout and suggested we "made it disturb the auction." You said it without batting an eyelid and we all immediately understood what the responses would be, simply because “disturb” is part of the Chillian (not Chilean - which Wikipedia tells me is Spanish) language. Imagine telling an opponent that the double has disturbed the auction!

Keep up the good work.



PS How do you get hand diagrams to line up neatly?

Alan Williams said...

Hi Jeff

Spiritual nudge coming up ...

In your sequence 1H - 2C; 2D - 2H, the last bid is correct - showing the three-card heart holding - but it isn't a fit bid as it's not a direct raise, so the auction is still neutral.

If opener held five hearts (as in your second hand) he could now consummate the fit with 2NT. But with the first hand he would continue with 2S to show the five spades, and responder can now agree spades with 2NT.

On the question of whether to splinter or not, I often do so even with a minimum, partly to keep it simple but sometimes to expose the possibility of 3NT when partner has a heavy honour holding in the splinter suit.

But on your example hands opener has a minimum opposite responder's strictly limited hand, and so 1H - 2C; 2D - 2H; 2S - 2NT; 4S (hand 1) and 1H - 2C; 2D - 2H; 4H (hand 2) would both be quite in order and sensible. On hand 1, though, it would be wrong for responder to raise 2S to 4S, as opener could still be quite a lot stronger.

Thanks for the thoughts on Chillian. I did once say exactly 'you've disturbed the auction' to an opponent. After I had apologised and bought him a drink, he saw the funny side.

Best wishes

P.S. I can line up hands in a post but I don't know how to do it in a Blogger comment. It seems that you have a very limited set of tools to work with.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan

Thank you for the speedy reply.

Wow, I have seen the light! Do you know, I think this sequence is one of the most striking ideas I have come across in bridge bidding. Clearly I have become so bogged down in the old way of thinking – 2H over opener’s rebid is preference i.e. a tentative fit – that I have carried forward those same wooly thought patterns.

I’m still amazed! 2H continues the search for a fit – it doesn’t establish a fit. Brilliant! If I write any more I’m going to wear out the “shift” key and “1” key on my keyboard.

Reading through the notes again I see that “An auction becomes fit when we explicitly agree a suit…” So, this would be a direct raise, 2NT directly over a natural suit, or a shunt to the bid suit. And, as the delayed 2H is still within the neutral window, the auction remains neutral.


oh dear. i need a new keyboard now.



Andrea said...

Hi Alan and Jeff,
your exchange has been another "wow" moment for me about Chilli. The heart/spade canape used to be one of the aspects of Chilli I was a little doubtful about, but not any more!
To remain off-topic, a little question. Partner opens (for example) 2S, now do a 3H shunt and a 4C direct bid mean exactly the same thing? Or is there a difference?
Best wishes,

Alan Williams said...

Hi Jeff and Andrea

Jeff, the heart-spade thing still amazes me a bit .. if I was to pick out one thing that was fundamentally Chilli, it would probably be that. It comes in several flavours ... I particularly enjoy 1H - 2C; 2D - 2S - just in case you have a five-card spade suit partner, which always gets people smiling round the table when explained.

Andrea, currently 2S - 4C and 2S - 3H do mean roughly the same thing - forcing and clubs. Clearly after the shunt you can stop in 4C or 3NT and you can agree clubs with 3S, so it is a much more flexible bid and therefore recommended.

Because of all this, it is on my 'ideas to consider' list to give 4C and 4D some special meanings in low disturbed auctions. At the moment nothing obvious has presented itself so I am happy to wait until it does.

It's very un-Chillian to say 'this sequence is not useful so let's invent a meaning for it', but it's useful to remember the sequence for when a real need arises (see the next post!)


Alan Williams said...

Hi all

This is a comment on my own post. When writing up the changes from this post on the website, I found myself thinking about doubling after (1C) pass (1D).

The idea was to leave this as strong, but bidding strongly and amorphously in a non-fit sandwich is not something we'll be wanting to do very often. It will usually be better if we bid to show a major, for the lead if for nothing else.

The double might be better as a disturbing takeout double showing a decent holding in both majors.

Incidentally, in writing up the changes (now up, together with some better words suggested in emails from Alan Malloy) I found it difficult to capture the useful information in my first comment in response to Andrea with the current structure of the site.

That's not the first time that has happened when updating the site, and it is probably time for a complete overhaul, and a rethink along the lines of the book I mentioned in an earlier post.

But alas that won't happen in the immediate future. I now have seven websites all awaiting my urgent attention and I will unfortunately have to attend to them, even though I would rather be Chilling out.