Last Update:  20th June 2016
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Defenses Over Weak / Pre-Emptive Two Level Openings
by Bob Pattinson

Many players in Ireland weak two bids in the majors, and quite often in diamonds too. These bids are normally in the 6-10 point range and show a 6 card suit , usually of at least QTxxxx strength. The Rule of Seven helps to decide whether or not you should intervene over a two level pre-emptive opening:

  • Add your high card points and distributional  points to the “ average” holding of 7 high card points your partner is likely to have
  • If the total of high points and distributional points is 21 or more and you
  • hold no more than a doubleton in the opponent’s suit  then double
  • If you hold 3 cards in the opening suit deduct a point from the total
  • If your planned action forces partner to respond at the 3 level you require a little more points

This rule assumes that opener and yourself hold between 20-24 high card points, leaving a balance of 16-20 between the remaining players. Thus a baseline of 7 points for partner seems to be a safe bet.

There are several conventions designed to counteract  weak two openings and this article outlines the three most popular ones in use:

  • Treat as one level openings
  • Hackett Convention
  • Lebensohl Convention


TREAT AS 1 LEVEL OPENINGS

  • Double = take out and 13+ points
  • Overcalls = 2S over 2H = 5+ suit, and 3C/D = 6 card suits
  • 2NT = 15-17 balanced
  • Cue bid = 5-5 in the minors (over 2H/S)
  • 4C/D = Leaping Michael's: over an opening 2H/S shows 5-5 in the other major and the bid

EXAMPLES: over a weak 2 Heart opening:

   A B
C
D
E
  ♠AQJ7
32
KJT5
♣A86
♠KQJ87
A6
765
♣K64
♠KJ9
AQ
KJ76
♣K876
♠32
6
AQ765
♣KQ753
♠KQJ65
9
43
♣AQ753

HAND A:    Double shows the tolerance to play in any of the other suits.
HAND B:    A natural overcall showing a 5+ suit.
HAND C:    2NT describes the points range of 15-17 and the balanced shape.
HAND D:    The cue bid shows 5-5 in the minors.
HAND E:    4C confirms the 5-5 shape with 5 Clubs and 5 Spades.

In responding to the take out double opportunities arise for converting the double to penalties, as demonstrated from the following hand:

    ♠ QJT72
2
T853
♣J96
 
 SOUTH        WEST    NORTH        EAST
    2H                 X             P                 P
    P
  ♠ K653
A3
KQ9
♣Q743
N
W    E
S

♠A8
T854
A742
♣AK8
 
South managed to make 4 tricks!
    ♠94
KQJ976
J6
♣T52
   


HACKETT CONVENTION

This convention differentiates the strength of the intervening takeout bids by employing the minor suits to act as take out doubles, thus leaving double for

Double         = Penalties
2NT              = 15-17 balanced
3 Clubs        = take out: 12-16
3 Diamonds = take out: 17+

One drawback to this approach is that over a weak 2 Heart opening it is not possible to double for takeout and then play in 2 Spades. Also it is difficult to play in a minor suit at the three level unless the partner of the intervenor happens to have a reasonable holding in the artificial minor suit bid:

♠765
432
65
♣QJT98

With this hand if partner overcalls 3D (17+) over a 2H/S opening it is necessary to bid 4C, which could be a step too far

Whilst the Hackett convention solves the problem of showing the intervenor’s strength at the outset, and retains the option of making an immediate penalty double, it can take the bidding a little too high.

An alternative solution to this problem is to reverse the strength showing process, so that it is the turn of the intervenor’s partner to differentiate any assets held. This approach leads us to the Lebensohl convention.



LEBENSOHL CONVENTION

This convention allows the partner responding to a take out double of a weak two opener to place the strength of their own hand into three categories:

1.    Weak:                 0-6
2.    Invitational:         8-10
3.    Game forcing:    11+

1.    WEAK: 0-6

⦁    Bidding a suit at the two level is sign off: 2H/S over 2D, or 2S over 2H
⦁    If the suit is below the opening bid ( over an opening 2S the remaining 3 suits are all below) bid the artificial Lebensohl 2NT. This asks partner to bid 3C. You then pass this holding clubs, or bid 3D/H with a red suit. Your suit might be 4 cards only and your strength 0-6, but partner is aware of this playing Lebensohl.
⦁    With a very strong double (18+) partner may decline the 3C relay and bid a higher suit, but this is a rare occurrence.

The following example shows how the artificial 2NT bid works in practice:

    WEST    NORTH        EAST    SOUTH
    2H               X                  P         2NT
    P                 3C                P           ?

Now South has several options:
               
⦁    Pass =    0-7 and a club suit (could be a 4 card suit)
⦁    3D    =    0-7 and a diamond suit (could be a 4 card suit)
⦁    3H    =    Cue bid asking partner to bid 3NT with a stopper
⦁    3S    =    Good suit and game forcing
⦁    3NT =    To play and promising 2 secure stoppers (eg KT98)

Here is a hand from a recent club duplicate:

    ♠ AKQ432
976
63
♣ 84
  NORTH        EAST    SOUTH        WEST
   2S                 X             P              2NT
    P                 3C           P                 P
    P
  ♠ 987
2
K54
♣ JT7653
N
W      E
S
♠ J6
AKJT
QJT9
♣ AK9
East can make 9 tricks in Clubs, losing A, two top spades, and South makes a ruff in spades with Q.  North/South can take 6 Spade tricks and A in a NT contract
    ♠ T5
Q8543
A872
♣ Q2
   
  
2.    INVITATIONAL: 8-10

To express hands in this range bid at the 3 level:
⦁    After partner’s double of a weak 2H opening bid 3C with :
76   32   QJ76   AQT86
⦁    After partner’s double of a weak 2H opening bid the Lebensohl 2NT first and over the 3C relay  bid 3S with:
A975   87   K65   Q654
This shows 4 spades and a more balanced hand.
⦁    After partner’s double of a weak 2H opening  jump to 3S with:
KQJ32   76    K54    542
This shows 5 spades and more shape than the previous hand.

3.    GAME FORCING: 11+

There are 4 responses to partner’s take out double which show game going values, the first two employing the Lebensohl 2NT /3 mechanism to try to reach game in 3NT:

(1)  A direct cue bid is game forcing

WESTEAST NORTH    EAST    SOUTH    WEST
AJ1098
AJ3
K5
K98
KQ54
2
AJ76
AJ72
    2H             X             P           3H
    P              3S            P           4NT
    P              5D            P           5H
    P              6S            P           All Pass

West shows a good suit with a game forcing hand. When East shows at least four spades, West employs Roman Key Card Blackwood to confirm the minor suit aces and the King of spades (the 3 missing key cards),  and 5H (next suit up) asks for the Queen of spades. East can deny this critical card by bidding 5S, or show the Queen of trumps without a side suit king by jumping to 6S ( holding either minor suit king East bids six of the minor).

(2)  After using the 2NT/3 mechanism, the cue bid of the opening weak two suit asks partner for a secure stopper in the opponent’s suit:

WEST
EAST
NORTH   EAST   SOUTH   WEST
QJ
A87
A732
QT93
AT6
KJ43
KT98
K32 
   2S            X           P           2NT
   P             3C          P            3S
   P            3NT         P         All Pass


(3) A direct 3NT over partner’s double confirms game going values but denies  any secure stopper in the opponent’s suit, leaving partner to take out into a suit contract if lacking stoppers:

WEST EAST
 NORTH     EAST     SOUTH    WEST 
32
AJ9
KJ63
AJ87
J8
KQ6
AQ4
KQ965
    2S              X             P            3NT
   
P              4C             P            5C
    P                P             P             P

East realises that a no trump contract is doomed, so bids the longest suit. West has an easy bid of raising to game.

(4) After going via the 2NT/3 route a rebid of 3NT confirms 2 secure stoppers.

WESTEASTNORTH   EAST   SOUTH   WEST
QJT6
K3
A76
QJ63
A5
AQJ9
QJ87
A54
   2S            X           P           2NT
    P            3C          P           3NT
    P             P           P             P

         
SUMMARY

It is important not to be talked out of a sound part score or a game contract because the opponents open with a weak two bid. Two approaches to making an initial intervention over weak opening bids have been outlined. Whilst the Hackett convention has the merit of revealing the strength of the intervening hand at the outset, it can push part score contracts one level higher.

Treating weak two openings the same as opening one bids keeps the bidding lower, and on more familiar ground. Whichever approach is used it is critical to have a system for advancing the bidding when there is scope for game.
The details of the Lebensohl convention have been outlined here. However, it is important for each partnership to fine tune any such agreements  to fit into their normal bidding style.







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