Andrew Kambites argues that most bridge players would do better
if they played no conventions
WAY back in 2002 I started an article for Let’s be serious In short
English Bridge with the following scenario.
Two bridge players sit down at 6.50pm. My premise is that most bridge players So let me summarise exactly what I am
The session is due to start at 7pm. ‘A’ is would do better if they played no trying to say:
the dominant male. ‘B’ is as near to being conventions at all. Am I mad? Do I not
a normal human being as any bridge recognise the huge merits of Stayman 1. There are a few well chosen con-
player gets. Let us listen in to the and red suit transfers? Of course I do! ventions that everybody should play.
conversation: However, in practice even these worthy However, they need full discussion
citizens bring grief. It is easy to agree to and understanding. Stayman and red-
A: ‘And of course we must play play transfers, but most partnerships suit transfers come into the category
Modified Reverse Cowpat.’ find it very hard to know exactly how to of ‘must play’ conventions.
B: ‘Um, er, I am not totally . . .’ discuss the implications. 1NT – (P) – 2t 2. There are many more conventions
A: ‘No problem. I will teach you.’ shows at least five hearts, but how about that are regularly grossly misused.
B: ‘But . . .’ 1NT – (Dble) – 2t? What if 1NT is an Blackwood comes into this category.
A: ‘Just listen. We will never get our overcall, for example: (1´) – 1NT – (P) – Your partner opens 1´ and you hold:
system sorted out if you keep 2t? When is ‘system on’? When is ´ K J 7 6 ™ Q 8 6 t A J 6 ® A Q 6.
interrupting.’ ‘system off ’? And how about You jump to 4NT, because it is a toy
continuations? How forcing is this to be used. Partner shows one ace.
Of course it was a tongue in cheek attempt sequence? You sign off in 5´. 5´ may be too
to parody how many bridge players tackle high if partner has 12 points and a
conventions. The fact that I received cor- West North East South 5-3-3-2 shape. Alternatively, 6´ may
respondence from readers requesting me 1NT Pass 2t Pass be laydown. Of course, you cannot
to send them details of Cowpat demon- 2™ Pass 3t know: you have taken control of the
strates just how close to the truth I was! auction before you have given part-
So what role is Cowpat going to play in At club level, responder is usually trying ner a chance to limit his hand. If
this budding partnership? desperately to convince opener that he has Blackwood didn’t exist, you would
For A it is a status symbol. It is miracu- forgotten they are playing transfers. His have had to engage your brain. Maybe
lously going to transform a pair with little body language fulfils its aim and partner start with 2®. If partner could do no
communication skills and dodgy judgment passes. And yet, the tournament director is better than rebid 2´, then 4´ would
into world beaters. called and inevitably rules that the final have been ample.
On the other hand, B is going to have a pass is fielding a misbid. The Unusual no trump is also a
miserable evening, hoping the damn thing However, I will accept that most club prime suspect. Your right hand oppo-
doesn’t come up. His limited energy levels players get real benefit from Stayman and nent opens the bidding with 1´. You
are drained by worry: stamina that should red-suit transfers, which means that lurk- hold:
be spent focusing on counting and draw- ing in the background are a whole range ´ A J ™ K t Q 8 5 4 3 ® K 5 4 3 2.
ing inferences in declarer play and defence of other conventions that come up rarely You have a toy, so why not play with
are wasted in brooding resentment that and are either not understood or for- it? You jump to 2NT to show the
once again his opinion has been trampled gotten when they do occur. I frequently minors, showing perfectly the con-
into the ground. All my experience tells get calls for help. I am given a sequence centration of honours and good
me that 90% of the points lost during the fifteen bids long and ending with 5NT. I intermediates in your suits. Your left
bidding at the table are lost not by lack of am asked: ‘What do you think 5NT hand opponent jumps to 4´ and
system but are caused by poor judgement, means?’ I reply ‘Funny you should say partner sacrifices in 5t (doubled
lack of concentration and human error. that! I was discussing this exact sequence and two down). Not surprisingly,
Clearly the psychology of the partner- with my partner last night.’ My gentle your major-suit holdings would
ship is wholly wrong, reflected by a score irony is invariably wasted. You cannot have defeated 4´. Conventions
of 45.2%. However, salvation is at hand for allocate a conventional meaning to every played without judgment are a
A: next week he forms a partnership with conceivable spare bid in a system. In case menace!
C – a fellow convention freak. They enthu- you think it is possible, consider this: Eric 3. My overall impression is that in most
siastically endorse Cowpat but 47.6% Crowhurst’s book, The Acol Index, aims partnerships the damage done by
hardly seems to endorse their aspirations, to classify the first four bids of an Category 2 conventions comfortably
particularly as a rejuvenated and relaxed B uncontested auction. It runs to 351 outweighs the benefits of the Cate-
is playing with D, and scoring 58%. pages. gory 1 type.
34 English Bridge February 2011 www.ebu.co.uk