2006 June 25

1♣ Opening

Topics

Eastern Mysticism is first and foremost a strong club system. This means that all hands with 16+ HCP (or with 8+ tricks) open 1 regardless of distribution.

Advantages of the Strong Club

We’ve already mentioned the primary benefit of opening strong hands with 1: the upper limit to all other opening bids. In Standard American or 2-over-1 bidding, the 1M opening could be anything from about 8 HCP (in third seat) to about 20 HCP. When the opponents enter the bidding, it can be hard to tell if Opener is being constructive or competitive.

Then there’s the danger of being passed out after opening 1m with 20 HCP. Not to mention the uncertainty of who’s in charge of the auction when both hands are undefined.

By opening all strong hands 1, Responder can often tell immediately whether the partnership is headed for slam, game, or just a partial. This takes a great deal of pressure off Responder and often shortens the auction, giving away less information to the opponents.

Just as important is that it’s always clear which partner controls the auction. After a 1 open, Opener is the captain. After all other opening bids, Responder is the captain.

Many people assume the advantage of a strong club is to provide more room for bidding slams. That’s hardly the primary advantage, but it’s definitely a plus. Standard bidders with really strong hands must start 2, and partner’s usual response is 2, which conveys nearly no information. Lacking a 5-card major, Opener will now have to bid 2NT or 3m, which means the search for a 4-4 major fit is essentially starting at the 3-level.

Compare that auction with Eastern Mysticism’s 1 - 1. At this extremely low level, the partnership already knows that Opener has 16+ HCP, while Responder has 8–12 HCP and 4+ hearts. If there’s a 4-4 major fit, it will be found within the next two bids.

The strong club also relieves Opener of common Standard worries, such as whether to open 1M or 1NT with 16–18 HCP and which order to bid suits to avoid reversing.

Are There Any Disadvantages?

There are two theoretical problems with the strong club. The first is that opponents can interfere with your strong auction much more easily over 1 than over 2.

While that’s true, it’s almost never a problem. First of all, many opponents are intimidated by a strong club and clam up. (Admittedly, these are the weaker opponents.) Second, this situation is no different from a Standard bidder opening 1m with 20 HCP, intending to reverse or jump shift. The strong club partnership is actually better off, since Responder knows that partner has 16+ HCP, not just 12 or so. Finally, any interference high enough to pose a real problem would also have been made over a 2 opening.

The other issue is that the 1 opening is extremely vague since 1 is completely artificial. This means that after 1, Responder won’t know whether Opener has long clubs, long diamonds, both minors, one or both majors and a minor, or is balanced.

Many times this simply won’t matter. If a major fit is found, or if Opener is balanced, hiding the minor-suit distribution can help by keeping information from the opponents. If Opener has both minors, s/he opens 2 instead of 1 in Eastern Mysticism. And Opener can nearly always rebid a long minor.

That leaves two times strong clubbers might be at a disadvantage:

  1. When the opponents interfere and you don’t realize you can compete because you haven’t found a 4-4 or 5-4 minor fit, and
  2. When Responder’s decision about a game or slam depends on minor-suit values.

While these are real concerns, in our experience they don’t occur often. We believe the advantages of a strong club far outweigh these potential difficulties.

Why Not Precision?

You might be thinking, “There’s a perfectly good strong club system already. Why construct another?”

We could say that Precision is just too complicated—the “impossible” rebids and Gamma TAB bids are good examples—but the truth is that any highly developed system is going to be complex. Still, we’ve striven to keep Eastern Mysticism more natural than Precision.

The History and Philosophy sections discuss our real reasons for building a new system: We tried the others, and they didn’t work the way we wanted. [Note that we’re not saying they don’t work, period; just that they don’t work for us.]

Our specific problems with Precision are:

  1. Opening 2m with a 4-card major,
  2. Too high opening notrump range, and
  3. Awkward responses to 1.

Since responding to 1 is the most significant part of Precision bidding, that last assertion bears closer examination.

Responding to 1

In Precision, Responder to 1 must immediately give a negative response with 0–7 HCP by bidding 1. This is pretty common to strong club systems, and Eastern Mysticism is no exception.

But Precision requires 5+ cards to respond 1M. This has two drawbacks. First, Responder frequently bids 1NT, thereby wrong-siding any notrump contract. Second, it takes up valuable bidding space.

Eastern Mysticism prefers Walsh-style responses. Responder bids major suits up the line, preferring a 4-card major to any length of minor. This keeps the bidding efficient and frees up the 1NT response. Since limiting hand strength has always been the heart of Eastern Mysticism, we have happily mandated that a 1NT response guarantees 13+ HCP.

When Responder is that strong, it’s much less likely to matter which side declares a notrump contract. Also, this means the 1M and 2m responses are limited to 12 HCP at most. Opener can often immediately tell whether to look for slam or stop in game.

With 8–12 HCP and no 4-card major, Responder simply bids the better minor. Opener doesn’t need to bid a 4-card major now, which helps keep the opponents in the dark.

Though rarely used, Responder can also use weak jump shifts after 1 to show a long suit with fewer than 8 HCP concentrated in that suit.

A final note about responding to 1: A positive response (1M, 1NT, or 2m) is nearly always forcing to game. But since Opener may have only 16 HCP and Responder may have only 8 HCP, neither partner should bid above 2NT with an absolutely minimum balanced hand. These days, 25 HCP is often enough for game in notrump; 24 HCP is pushing it.