Bidding Philosophy

Topics are listed below in order of decreasing importance to the system.

The Strong Club

One thing we didn’t have to think about was that Eastern Mysticism would remain a strong club system. Many of the best partnerships in the world have preferred a strong club (among USA players, Jeff Meckstroth/Eric Rodwell and Larry Cohen/David Berkowitz), and the reason is simple.

Although you may hear that strong club systems help players bid slams, that’s only a side benefit. Slams don’t come up often enough to build a system around. No, the real power of a strong club system is that every other bid is limited. In today’s highly competitive, bid-on-anything tournament world, you don’t often get an uncontested auction. Strong club players don’t have to worry about whether partner’s opening was 11 HCP or 20 HCP after RHO jumps to 3. Nor do we worry about passing partner’s nonforcing 1-level openings with a smattering of points and no fit.

We’ll look at all the benefits of the strong club in the next section. Let’s move on to the other fundamentals of Eastern Mysticism.

The Weak Notrump

This was another easy decision, since all 16+ HCP hands open 1. The only question was, “How weak?” Frankly, the more often we can open 1NT, the better. It conveys a lot of information to partner while hiding specific assets from opponents. It preempts the opponents more than any other 1-level opening. And it provides well-defined bidding sequences to find the best contract.

I used Thomas Andrews’s excellent program Deal to compare the frequencies of all typical 1NT opening ranges. (You can review the TCL script I used.) Out of 1,000,000 deals, a hand was opened if it was balanced (no singletons or voids, at most one doubleton; 6-card minor is allowed) and in the appropriate range. Moreover, the weak notrump ranges (12–14 HCP and below) were not allowed to have a 5-card major. (This is actually another plus for the weak notrump; strong notrumpers often have to hide a 5-card major to show their strength.)

Frequency of Opening 1NT Ranges (1,000,000 Deals)
Range Percent Opened
15–17 HCP 5%
14–16 HCP 7%
13–15 HCP 7%
12–14 HCP 9%
11–13 HCP 10%
10–12 HCP 11%

The results are clear: Even though the strong NT includes more hand types (allows a 5-card major), the weaker your range, the more often you get to open. We decided to keep 1NT in the same opening range as 1 and 1M, so we chose 11–13 HCP instead of 10–12.

The Mystic Diamond

Traditional Precision requires at least 2 diamonds to open 1, which entails opening 2 or 2 with 0–1 diamonds and a 4-card major. As mentioned previously, we found this to be a terrible inconvenience. But we weren’t sure how else to accommodate such hands until we became more familiar with the Law of Total Tricks.

A weak corollary of the Law is that you are safe bidding to the number of trumps in the combined hands. That is, with an 8-card fit you should be safe at the 2-level. The Law is frequently inaccurate, but its general message was a wakeup call to players: Distribution is far more important than HCP in trump contracts. Any expert bridge player will tell you not to let the opponents play at the 2-level when they have a fit—points don’t enter into the decision.

What this meant for Eastern Mysticism was that we could open 1 with zero diamonds and let Responder bid a major with 0 HCP. If we found a 4-4 or better major fit, great—points, schmoints! If Opener didn’t have a 4-card major after all, he’d either rebid 1NT and be just as safe as opening a weak NT or rebid a long minor and likely be safe at the 2-level. Does bidding with 0 HCP bother you? It’s a bidders’ game these days.

5-Card Majors

Not much to say here. We tried opening 4-card majors, and it just didn’t work. Responder isn’t sure whether to support with only 3 cards, and Opener has to rebid the major to show 5+ cards (which takes up too much bidding space). Since Responder to 1 can show a 4-card major even with 0 HCP, we don’t miss many 4-4 major fits.

2 Over 1

From the beginning, the core of Eastern Mysticism has been limiting hand ranges. As many Standard players discovered, a great way to do this after opening 1M is by playing 2 over 1: Any 2-level bid is game-forcing. Constructive/invitational hands must start with 1 or a forcing 1NT. Weak hands can pass or jump shift with a long suit.

Keeping strong responses at the 2-level and using weak jump shifts adheres to the principle of Fast Arrival, another of our cherished bidding philosophies. Weak hands should bid as high as possible as fast as possible, to preempt the opponents; strong hands should keep the bidding low to find the best contract. (You can easily see how this relates to a strong club system.) So incorporating 2-over-1 responses to 1M openings was a natural decision.

Preemptive Bids

Another example of Fast Arrival is that all bids higher than 2 are preemptive. 2 and 2M are normal weak 2s, promising 5–6 cards in the suit and 5–10 HCP; 2NT is unusual, promising 5-4 or better in the minors and 5–10 HCP. The 3-, 4-, and 5-level preempts are also standard.

We play a Gambling 3NT that shows no outside stoppers, which is another kind of preempt. Although it is a flawed convention, typically wrong-siding the contract, it ensures that our 3-level preempts deny a solid suit.

Infinity Symbol