Improving the 2-over-1 Bidding System – Part 2

By Karen Walker

Courtesy of Karen’s Bridge Library:

Design weaknesses

Many of the problems encountered by 2-over-1 pairs are caused by confusion about how to interpret system bids and make the best use of auction space. Other problems are inherent in the system itself. Not all are fixable, but many players have fine-tuned the structure with new treatments and gadgets that have proven effective. Here are some of the system’s limitations and ideas for solutions.

Forcing Notrump woes

All bidding methods involve tradeoffs, and the big one in 2-over-1 is the loss of an easy way for responder to show invitational strength. Most of these hands are handled by starting with the Forcing Notrump, which is the “necessary evil” of 2-over-1 and can be blamed for many of the system’s flaws.

Every 2-over-1 player has landed in at least a few ridiculous contracts after Forcing Notrump auctions where opener rebids a minor. The 2 and 2 rebids often give responder an uncomfortable guess because they’re only “semi-natural” (each could be a 3-card suit) and they don’t pinpoint strength (opener could have up to 17 high-card points). It’s not uncommon to be playing a poor fit at the 2-level when your only making contract was 1NT.

The most basic advice for responder in these auctions is “Try not to pass”, especially when you hold a good 9 points or more, which could be enough for a game. Keep the bidding open by taking a preference to partner’s major with a doubleton, even if you have fair support for his minor. With stoppers in the unbid suits, stretch a bit to rebid 2NT with 10 points. Avoid bidding a new suit unless you have 6+ cards or a strong 5-carder. Accept that some deals will be misfits where you have to settle for what could be a 3-3 fit.

You may want to consider adopting some of these methods for improving (or avoiding) Forcing Notrump auctions:

Semi-forcing Notrump: This change helps you locate “real” minor-suit fits and stay low when opener has a dead minimum. Your 1NT response is still 5 to 11 points, but opener is allowed to pass with a balanced 12 or “bad” 13 points. If he bids a new suit over 1NT, he promises 4+ cards or extra values.

One drawback is that although opener will be balanced when he passes 1NT, responder might not be. You may struggle in 1NT when a suit contract would play better — and would have been located if opener had been forced to bid again.

If you adopt the semi-forcing treatment, you’ll want to modify other parts of your 2-over-1 structure. Unless you don’t mind missing 5-3 major-suit fits, you can no longer use 1NT to start the description of hands that have support for opener’s major.

A problem hand with this structure is a balanced 14-point opener such as

AQJ54 AJ10 64 Q84

If you open 1 and partner responds 1NT (semi-forcing), he could have up to 11 points, so you can’t pass. A 2 rebid, though, defeats the purpose of playing the Semi-forcing Notrump, which is to avoid the 3-card rebids. One way to accommodate these hands is to switch to a 14-16 range for your opening 1NT.

Bergen Raise modifications: 2-over-1 provides an inelegant method for inviting game when you hold three cards in opener’s major — after a 1 opener, a hand such as

Q74 A3 K9743 J102

To describe this 3-card limit raise, you must start with 1NT, then jump to 3 at your next turn. This delay can make it difficult to communicate your strength and support if the opponents overcall or partner makes a jump shift.

Those who play Bergen major-suit raises can build in a way to show this hand immediately, without going through the Forcing Notrump. After partner opens 1 or 1, your jump to 3 is the 3-card limit raise. A jump to 3 is a two-way bid — either a 4-card constructive raise (8-10 support points) or 4-card limit raise (11-12). If opener wants to know which one it is, he bids 3 to inquire. Your retreat to three of the major shows the constructive raise; any other bid confirms the stronger hand.

Impossible 2: This widely used convention applies after the auction 1-1NT; 2 or 2. A 2 rebid here is “impossible” (therefore artificial) because you’ve already denied spade length. It promises a good high-card raise (10+ points) of opener’s minor with at least 4-card support — a hand such as

954 43 KQJ4 KQ65

Some pairs specify that it also denies a spade stopper.

This allows you to distinguish between invitational and constructive raises. A direct raise of partner’s minor (1-1NT; 23) suggests a more distributional hand with 5+ trumps and fewer high-card points — a hand such as

654 5 A764 KJ1084.

Opener’s rebid after an overcall:


The vagaries of the Forcing Notrump give you a difficult decision when you hold a hand such as

AKJ43 4 Q962 AK10

An “expert standard” agreement is that opener’s double here shows extra values and shortness in overcaller’s suit. A freebid of a new suit promises five cards. This gives you a flexible way to define your strength and cater to as many of partner’s hand types as possible, without getting too high.

Bart and Gazilli: Many experts like these conventions because they allow you to show a wider range of hands after a Forcing Notrump response. Both have complex, artificial structures and are for serious partnerships only.

Invitational hands with long suits

The basic 2-over-1 structure offers no clear way to describe a response such as

43 K2 J104 KQJ985

after partner opens a major. There are two ways to fill this “hole” in the system:

  • Non-forcing minor rebids: This treatment allows you to respond 2 or 2 with a long suit and invitational strength, which is confirmed if you rebid your suit at your next turn (1-2; 23). This meaning applies only if opener has made a suit rebid at the 2-level. If he has made a “fitting” rebid (2NT) or any bid that shows extra values, your rebid of your minor is forcing.
  • Invitational jump shifts: More popular is to define an immediate jump to three of a suit as natural and invitational — a hand similar to a good weak two-bid. This precludes the use of Bergen raises and weak jump shifts.

Out-of-control cuebidding

Earlier, we discussed the questions that arise in this type of auction:


Partner’s 4 is obviously a control bid, but does it promise slam-going values? Or is he making a “courtesy cuebid” on the way to game, just in case you’re interested in slam? Is it possible that he thinks your slow-arrival raise to 3 demands a cuebid?

The simplest agreement is that cuebids are not mandatory here, and the first partner to make one promises extra values. To show a minimum, partner would raise to 4H. That will keep you from getting caught up in cuebidding sequences with unsuitable hands, but it wastes valuable bidding space on deals where you hold slam values and wanted to hear a control bid.

Serious 3NT: You can improve your cuebidding with this convention, which is used in forcing-to-game auctions where you’ve agreed on a major at the 3-level. A 3NT continuation by either partner says you have serious slam interest and want to hear a control bid (ace, king, singleton or void). If you fail to bid the Serious 3NT when you have the opportunity, you deny extra values. In the auction above, partner’s 4 is therefore a “non-serious” cuebid with a minimum opener.

Note that some partnerships reverse the meanings, so 3NT is “non-serious” and a cuebid is the stronger move toward slam.

Picture Jumps: These rebids can also help you avoid unsuccessful cuebidding expeditions to the 5-level. In 2-over-1 auctions where you’ve bid only two suits, a jump to game in the major — by opener or responder — denies controls in the unbid suits. For example, if you open 1 and partner responds 2, your jump to 4 shows a hand such as

KQJ54 AJ72 Q4 83

Hand-evaluation problems

The ideal suit for a 2-over-1 response is 5+ cards, but a 2 or 2 response will often be a 4-card suit in a balanced hand. This possibility makes it difficult for opener to evaluate his holding in your suit, and he’ll be hesitant to raise with 3-card support.

Natural 2NT response: One solution is to play that a 2NT response to a major-suit opening is a balanced 13-15 high-card points with no 5-card suit. It may contain three cards in opener’s major, which you can reveal later. Over 2NT, opener makes natural rebids at the 3-level, allowing you to find 4-4 fits in other suits.

With this agreement, a 2-over-1 response is always 5+ cards or 16+ points. The only drawback is that you can’t use Jacoby 2NT as your forcing major-suit raise. A workable substitute is the cheapest jump shift (1-2 and 1-3), which will require you to develop a new set of follow-up bids.

Handling interference

Opponents’ overcalls in your 2-over-1 auctions are relatively rare but can be troublesome. After you’ve made a 2-over-1 response, there’s little need for playing doubles as takeout. The typical overcall is a lead-director with a weak hand, and you need a way to make the opponents pay when they’ve stepped out too far. A double of an overcall should be penalty-oriented, showing tricks, at least moderate length and (usually) little or no support for partner’s suit. Not all agree, so discuss this with your partner.