Squeezing The Dummy

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Light Openings?

Times have changed a lot. Opening bids are getting lighter and lighter amongst experts. Some people have asked me why I hold strong to my belief in soundish openings, so I will try to explain.

First, what is the purpose of light openers? Getting in early has a lot of merit in putting the opponents on the defensive and not getting shut out yourself. If you pass on too many hands you will force yourself into nasty guesses later. However, the line must be drawn somewhere when it comes to light initial action. Opening ALL hands, for example, would obviously be silly as it would be impossible to ever limit your hand. It seems to me like many modern experts and theories are crossing this line.

The main problem of super light openers comes in competition. If you would open a hand like A8432 52 A9652 6 (which is recommended by ZAR) then what is partner to do with his balanced 13 count if the opponents were to preempt 3? If he passes, he also misses game when you have 13 or 14, but if he bids he gets to game opposite this hand. This is not uncommon either because when you have a light, shapely hand the opponents are very likely to have some shape of their own.

In a standard system your range is simply too wide to cope if you open very light, even if they don't interfere. Some seem to think light openers are inherent to systems like precision, but the fact is you still become extremely susceptible to preemption. Even if your range is 9-15 instead of 12-20, it is not the same. When they preempt and you have a maximum standard range you can safely bid at a high level because your hand is so good. If you have a maximum limited opener that is not the case. This leads to more guesswork by your side than the opponents.

It is true you will find many thin games by opening light when you have a fit. This does not mean that you will MISS these games if you start with a pass. By passing you are able re-evaluate your hand later when a fit comes into play. For instance, with the example hand if it goes p p 1 p 1 p 2 you can always now bid 4 . However if partner had rebid 2 you will be able to stop low. Many advocates of light openings will claim that if the opponents don't bid they are able to stop low on misfit deals. In practice, this is hard to do, and often will mean giving up on establishing low-level game forces. This is a big price to pay. Being able to start with a game forcing response with most 12 and all 13 counts facilitates getting to the best game and finding slams. To give up on this in order to stop in partscore when partner has opened with nothing is detrimental to constructive bidding. If you keep 2/1's as game forcing and just bid a forcing NT a lot that is no better. If you do discover a fit, you will never be able to investigate slam intelligently. When you have your 11 counts you will be fearful of inviting, and may miss a game. Basically, you will have more guesswork.

Light two and three suiters are also best described by passing and then Xing or making some two-suited bid later. Most of the time when you pass it doesn't come back to you at the 3 or 4 level and you will get your chance. It's true you could get blasted out of a fit by passing, but equally true is partner may have been forced to X them had you opened and he had no fit. If you go the other way and don't X, you may be getting stolen from quite often. All of these problems leave no solution other than guessing well.

Are all these negatives worth the price of putting the opponents on the defensive more often, and finding your fits early on when there is a slim chance of getting preempted out of them later? I don't think so.

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4 Comments:

  • I am delighted to see the Justin blog back, since I was enjoying it immensely.

    Regarding the current question, I think that you are missing the essential element of the Zar system, and other similar approaches. The exponents of this method do not regard their openings as "light." They expect their partners to bid just as they would opposite Charles Goren. Their hands will "deliver the goods" both defensively and offensively.

    We'll take this up on my site, including a discussion of the Kaplan and Reuben count, which I have used successfully for years. Most of the stuff there is for us old guys(!) and related to our methods, but you might take a look

    By Anonymous Jeff Miller, at 1/5/06, 9:59 PM  

  • Hi Jeff. I did not mean this post to be side tracked by ZAR points, just systems in general that follow "light" openers with shapely hands. Most of these systems do make some kind of adjustments to avoid silly contracts.

    I think no matter how well you declare if you open 5-5 hands with 2 aces, and find that you have a misfit later and are in a GF opposite a 13 count, you will not enjoy playing 3N.

    One of my points was that these hands only deliver the goods if they find a fit. The re-evaluation can and should be done after passing and then later finding the fit. I concede there is a chance the fit will be blown away by passing initially, but it is unlikely.

    I have posted a LOT about my feelings on ZAR points on the bridge base forums. If you are bored, check it out, the link is on the main page. Search for ZAR points or something similar.

    By Blogger Justin Lall, at 1/5/06, 10:50 PM  

  • I think some people miss the point of 2/1. 2/1 was always supposed to be more accurate for bidding and stopping in games and slams and was inherently worse at partscores then the "Standard" of the times it was created in. Whatever system you choose to play you must be able to think and bid within it. Why play 2/1 if you want to open super light? It doesn't make much sense to me.

    Light openings can be valuable but bids must be predicated on position, vulnerbility, and judgement of suit quality.

    By Blogger Grypho, at 1/8/06, 12:37 AM  

  • Hey Justin, I was just told about your page. I've just read this one post so far, and I thought I'd post my thoughts on the subject.

    First of all, I agree with most of your post. In a noncompetitive auction, it should be possible for opener to both describe his shape and to limit any hand to about a 3-pp (playing point) range after a few bids. If your opening range is more than about 10 pp, this becomes very difficult to impossible, as you would have to be distinguishing from more than 3 strength categories. Hands such as the 5251 2-ace hand don't fall into the standard pp range if there is no fit, as you said.

    Second, I agree that playing light openings and 2/1 GF responses at the same time is impossible. If you GF on your 13-counts, you will often get too high for no reason. If you GF only on stronger hands, (~15) you will have many awkward auctions involving forcing 1NT responses that stem from the fact that there is no way in Standard bidding to separate a "normal" invitation (11-12pp) from a "heavy" invitation (13-14pp). Even worse, 1NT forcing auctions are not designed to find slams, so you will miss many light, well-fitting slams when opener rebids in your long suit when you have 12-14pp. Basically you are getting 1 step behind in the communication process since you must respond 1NT the vast majority of the time and lose that opportunity to communicate valuable information.

    The point I am about to make is that I believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with playing light openings if the bidding system accomodates. There are obviously some competitive points of discussion, which I'll address later.

    I believe that playing certain light openings with a limited point range (9-15) and good methods on opener's rebid has few disadvantages compared to the benefits you listed in your post. The methods I play permit my partnership to open light in the following cases:

    * 1M opening is the only "light" opening, and has an upper limit of 15 working HCP (16 is OK with HCP in short suits)

    * "light" openings are restricted to the following hands:
    > 7 or fewer losers, to ensure Standard playing strength when a fit exists for opener's major
    > two-suited hand, so opener must have a side suit of at least 4 cards. one-suited 8-10 HCP hands still normally open with a weak two, and balanced hands still pass

    Essentially, our lower end is Standard-2, (really it is Standard-in-practice minus 1.5) and our upper limit is Standard-5. Thus we are playing about an 8-pp range divided into equal segments of about 2.75.
    (9 to 11- "submin"),
    (11+ to 13 "std min"),
    (14 to 16 "std extras")

    Of course, if a large major suit fit is found, opener's hand may be worth a lot more than this (cases like AKxxxx --- xx AQxxx)

    We play that a 2/1 response to 1M shows 12+ HCP (usually) and is one-round forcing. These are exactly the same hands that would make a 2/1 response playing 2/1 GF in Standard methods, so opener will force game if he would have opened playing Standard methods. Most of opener's rebids clarify whether opener is light or not. Here is an example bidding structure:

    1s-2d:
    2h: 4+h, any strength
    2s: 4+c, light (NF)
    2n: 6+s, std (GF)
    3c: 4+m, std (GF) [can ask which]
    3d: 4+d, light (NF)
    3h: splinter, std
    3s: std meaning

    After a 2s or 3d rebid, responder will be able to place the contract most of the time. After any rebid which promises std strength, the auction is game forcing anyway so little to nothing has been lost.

    After an unclear auction (opener rebids below 2 of his major) like 1s-2d-2h, if responder has merely 12-14- and sees a misfit, he may attempt to sign off in 2 of opener's major, 2NT, or 3 of opener's minor. All other rebids are game forcing, and show 15+ by inference. (especially valuable if opener himself holds a maximum) Opener will continue on to game opposite a signoff attempt if he holds a std opening.

    We play similar clarifying rebids over all other 2/1 responses. (and also 1h-1s - after this responder can distinguish a heavy invitation from a normal one) There are some minor disadvantages about this structure, but there are some advantages too. One example: it would be ideal if 1M-2x-2M could show the std hand with 6+M; (instead of 2NT) that way responder could bid 2NT, which might be more helpful for space and siding reasons than what we're forced to bid. However, at least we know that opener has 6+ for sure and his approximate strength (11-15). In 2/1, there is going to be some rebid problem as well after 1s-2d-2s no matter what your agreements are; if you play 1s-2d-2s shows 6, then you'll have to play 1s-2d-3c doesnt promise extras, or you can play that it does but then youll have to bid offshape 1s-2d-2n a lot or lie about your spade length. If you play that 1s-2d-2s only shows 5, then you are a step behind on your 6+s hands. You are basically forced to rebid S again just to communicate the 6th card, which you might nto want to do depending on responder's bidding. Even if you do, how good are your spades? It's impossible to have perfection even with normal methods.

    Having played both 2/1 and these methods for years, I definitely prefer the disciplined light openings outlined above - for all the positives you mentioned plus the fact that opening is simply more comunicative than passing if your openings don't encompass too wide a range. I would like to open hands like AJ10xx Axx xx xxx as well (1s is preemptive, safe, and good as a lead-director), but if I started opening these sorts of hands too than constructive bidding would indeed go to sh*t.

    To address some of your comments:
    ---
    The main problem of super light openers comes in competition. If you would open a hand like A8432 52 A9652 6 (which is recommended by ZAR) then what is partner to do with his balanced 13 count if the opponents were to preempt 3? If he passes, he also misses game when you have 13 or 14, but if he bids he gets to game opposite this hand. This is not uncommon either because when you have a light, shapely hand the opponents are very likely to have some shape of their own.
    ---
    What do you do in Standard when you have a balanced 11-count and the opponents preempt 3h over your partner's 1s? As long as youre playing disciplined light openings and not opening any trashy 9 count you pick up, it is the exact same problem.

    ---
    Even if your range is 9-15 instead of 12-20, it is not the same. When they preempt and you have a maximum standard range you can safely bid at a high level because your hand is so good. If you have a maximum limited opener that is not the case. This leads to more guesswork by your side than the opponents.
    ---
    Certainly true, but what if you pass x AQJxx xxx Kxxx, LHO opens 3s and partner has some balanced 3424 14-count? Is he really going to bid 3NT? double? I think he'll just pass. What will you do? Will you now bid 4h? you could easily be stepping into a misfit with your RHO waiting to double you. I think it's safer to communicate earlier than later. (I apply this, in a disciplined manner (meaning good agreements and narrow ranges) to many situations in my main partnership)
    My point here is that opening light doesn't simply create a problem, it trades one problem for another. I think that if LHO is thinking about preempting at a high level, he is more likely to do it in close cases if you pass than if you open the bidding. When you play light openings in a disciplined manner, you face lots of situations that are non-issues for you but are problems for Standard players.

    I think a lot of good players are against light openings because they dont want to face these sorts of problems that would be non-issues playing normal openings. Why deviate from the field when you can win the event as long as you are consistently in the same situations as the other tables? This is certainly a valid point, and perhaps the strongest case for not playing light openings. However, I don't think it means that light openings themselves are wrong.

    This wasn't edited, so I am sure there are mistakes. If anyone wants to discuss this subject, my email address is nobleshore@gmail.com

    -Noble

    By Anonymous Noble Shore, at 1/16/06, 1:38 PM  

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