Frank Stewart v. Zebulon
Frank Stewart, as he is proud to note, "has authored 17 books and hundreds of articles on bridge. His nationally syndicated column appears in almost 200 newspapers as well as on OKbridge's home page on the World Wide Web. " He also writes a monthly column for the on-line OKBridge Spectator, titled "Hand of the Month." Stewart's personal preferences run to Standard American as opposed to 2/1, and he often uses his column as a soapbox for those predilections.
This was the relevant portion of Stewart's October Column:
Two Cheers for "Two-Over-One"
A more fundamental problem with "two-over-one" is illustrated by this deal from a recent IMP game I watched on OKbridge. The North-South hands were
Since North's 2 was forcing to game, South didn't have to jump with his massive trick-taking power, club fit and red-suit controls; he could rebid 2 "to save space." This bid told North nothing. Neither did South's 3; and whatever his 4 was supposed to show, North didn't get the message. (6 is an excellent spot, a nd 6 is almost as good; it makes an interesting play problem with a heart lead. East actually had KJ4, so North-South were washed clean of sin for halting at game, and the shortco mings of the bidding were left undiscussed.)
Using hopelessly old-fashioned methods, I would expect
(1) A cue-bid, since South would have bid 2 over 2 if he wanted to suggest hearts as trumps.
The actual auction was a typical two-over-one debacle; a lot of murky "minimum bidding," a lot of suggest-imply-infer. But nobody ever made a good, descriptive bid, and neither player had any idea what his partner held. I consistently see two-over-on e players produce equally unsuccessful auctions. Is this bidding? I think not.
I found this characterization was both inaccurate and demonstrated that Stewart failed to understand the understand the system he was attempting to criticize. I wrote the following letter to the Editor of the OKBridge Spectator, which was published in the November issue.
Mr. Stewart observes that South's bid would have been 3S in Standard, and the partnership would have found the spade slam after such a bid. Mr. Stewart has chosen a poor hand to illustrate an alleged 2/1 shortcoming.
The point Mr. Stewart has missed is that South has both 2S and 3S as available game forcing bids in 2/1. The mere fact that South does not have to jump to force game does not mean South may not jump with an appropriate hand. The partnership, now having two forcing spade rebids below game (unlike one in Standard), may assign different meanings to each. Recommended treatments are easily found in 2/1 literature.
In Workbook on the Two Over One System, Mike Lawrence notes that the 3S rebid here shows a solid suit with slammish values. One way to look at it is that it is a suit which will play for 6+ tricks at notrump opposite a small doubleton in partner's hand. Mike's example hand is:
It seems clear to me that the playing strength of Lawrence's example is equivalent to Mr. Stewart's problem hand, with extra spade and the diamond singleton making up for the missing king of hearts. The hand observed by Mr. Stewart is a solid 8 trick hand at spades or notrump even opposite most bad spade splits, while Mike Lawrence's example rates to be 7.5 tricks and the spade suit is more vulnerable to a bad split.
Similar to Lawrence's treatment, Max Hardy notes in 2/1: Game Force, "The other popular method is to play a Three Spade bid here to show a solid six-card suit, with or without extra values. The theory is that the advantage of playing a two-over-one system is to eliminate the necessity to jump, saving valuable bidding room. Therefore, an unnecessary jump should have special meaning. And that meaning is to show six or more winners and no losers in the suit rebid."
It is easy to criticize a bidding system if one uses as an example a hand which was misbid. It is also possible in a pick-up partnership that one partner may play the unnecessary jump differently than the other, and confusion may occur. It is not possible that a bidding system which permits two options and allows an experienced partnership to assign specific meanings to each is less accurate than a system which forces a partnership to use a single bid for these hand types. If Mr. Stewart is going to criticize a system on the basis of how it functions in connection with a specific hand, he should also point out how proponents of the system believe it should have been bid.
- John Vega (Zebulon)
Much to my surprise, Frank Stewart must actually read the Letters to the Editor, and chose me as the subject of his December column:
Two Cheers for Two-Over-One (II)
The November Spectator had an articulate letter from an OKbridge subscriber, commenting (unfavorably, alas) on my October column in which I expressed doubt about the utility of "two-over-one-game-forcing." I appreciated what "Zebulon" had to say, although I must admit I was perplexed: after all - golly gee - nobody's ever disagreed with me before.
Zeb and I could argue the theoretical merits of 2/1 until the cows come home; he and I and the whole world harbor our own prejudices about what systems work best. (For my part, I could have cited a dozen other "alleged" weaknesses of 2/1 if OKbridge were paying me by the consonant and vowel.) But the fact is that deals are bid at the table; most players are more interested in actual gains than in theoretical ones.
The column deal was:
I decried South's "space-saving" 2rebid, which told North nothing. (Neither did South's 3; and whatever his 4was supposed to show, North didn't get the message.)
Zebulon says I missed the point that South should jump to 3to show a solid suit. He doesn't give me credit for having many gray cells. Even I know that any intricate system will narrowly define as many sequences as possible; when you construct a system, that's the goal. I also have some conception of how 2/1 works.
As a practical matter, though, no system is more effective than the players using it. Most of us were brought up on simple methods. We all know what the jump to 3means in Standard American; but in 2/1, its meaning seems to depend on your partner's biases or on whose book he has read.
Even a sequence as simple as 1-2, 3is open to interpretation; but the problem is that if you play 2/1, you will meet dozens of ambiguous sequences. I can illustrate that with one of my own disasters; I was playing 2/1 in an unpracticed partnership, and we had an auction as prosaic as pie:
Opener thought 3NT showed extra strength; responder did not. All it cost was a missed slam that mama-papa bidders would have reached in ten seconds - and a Vanderbilt match. The practical test of a system is what results it achieves - not only by partnerships who can discuss their methods for hundreds of hours, but by casual partnerships who are concerned with ease of use and avoiding catastrophic misunderstandings.
Zebulon said that my October deal was a poor example of 2/1's shortcomings; he contended that in fairness I should have stated how proponents of 2/1 would bid it.
Well, I wouldn't call the actual North-South "proponents" of 2/1 if that implies authority. I can't say they were a regular partnership, but I believe they had played together before. In any case, they must have felt at ease with 2/1, else they wouldn't have been using it. Yet they produced an auction I found incomprehensible.
But let's suppose I did pick a poor example. (I used the deal since there was an interesting aspect to the play as well as to the bidding.) Then how about these two hands, which a 2/1 pair bid in a recent feature in The Bridge World? (Readers must forgive me for offering more anecdotal evidence, since there are few other kinds.)
An excellent slam missed. No doubt proponents of 2/1 would bid these hands to slam; but East-West weren't proponents - just multiple national champions.
The 2/1 advocates may contend that the system wasn't at fault: West should have bid more or East should have bid more. I don't know. I do know this is what I consistently see when even experienced players use 2/1: the failure to make a descriptive, value bid that leaves the partnership groping.
I had hoped the real lesson in my October piece would be apparent: playing any system without thorough discussion is foolhardy; but if your system is 2/1, you magnify the problem.
I insist that the fault, dear Zebulon, is not in our stars but in ourselves and in our system - or in your system.