Friday, November 12, 2010

Pre-Alert: Canape, Variable 1C Openings

Last weekend, I sat at the bridge table with the Feagins 3 times - once as a kibitzer and twice as an opponent - and each time (over a mere 14 boards) they had a bidding misunderstanding. This is easily one of the top 3 or 4 pairs in Georgia and a pair that has been playing together longer than I have been alive, maybe even twice that long. So, bidding misunderstandings happen even for the best and most experienced partnerships. The one against us in the Sunday Swiss epitomizes one of the main difficulties of playing against a mulit-meaning 1C opening such as Polish or Swedish and some problems with the ACBL pre-alert system.

We got to the table and, per ACBL procedures, pre-alerted that we play canape. I also mentioned we play a variable 1C opening and they quickly agreed to treat it as natural. I normally don't mention the 1C opening in a pair game because it's not a pre-alertable and can take up a lot of time, but in an 8 board match, I generally try to mention it to them as a courtesy. A couple of boards into the round, Sean opened 1C, alerted and explained as balanced 12-14 or unbalanced 17+ or any 18+. Jack overcalled 1H, I passed, and Claudia bid 2C. What happened with the rest of the hand is unimportant. The point is that they didn't know whether 2C was natural or a cuebid showing heart support, even after agreeing before-hand that they would treat our 1C as natural. In my opinion, and the opinion of most people, you should play "imaginary cuebids" to show a good heart raise. Opener is very likely to have a weak balanced hand, and you definitely need constructive bidding available. There are several specialized defenses to multi-purpose 1C openings, but I don't think any of them are worth playing - just assume it's a "could be short" 1C and bid naturally.

ACBL laws and most directors I have asked clearly state that canape is pre-alertable but any system with 1C as a forcing opening is not pre-alertable, whether it is precision, polish, swedish, or some similar variant. Most good players know what methods they use over a big 1C opening, over a standard 1C opening, and over a "short" 1C opening, but I have found that most do not know what they do over a variable 1C opening even though such systems are fairly common worldwide. In Poland, 1C is a typically a balanced 12-14 or 15+ with long clubs or any 18+. In Sweden, it is a balanced 11-13 or any 17+. In the Asbury-Gannon Swedish Canape system, it is a balanced 12-14 or unbalanced 17+ or balanced 18+.

The purpose of pre-alerting is to allow the opponents to discuss how they will defend against a system or convention that is highly unusual. Canape is definitely unusual and the fact that we can frequently open the bidding and conceal a 5 card side suit is unexpected (which therefore could never be alerted in the bidding), but there's not really anything the opponents could have to discuss about their bidding. Bidding is still natural (opening 4 card majors is and never will be any sort of an alert). The canape rebid of a 5 card side suit is definitely alertable, but there's still nothing the opponents should do different from standard, at least in what their bids mean. A variable 1C opening seems to need a pre-alert more than canape, at least in the US where most players are unfamiliar with such systems. Without a pre-alert, the opponents will be caught off guard and frequently do not know whether to treat 1C as "could be short", natural, or big, opening up many potential cases of mis-information, bad alerts, failures to alert, and general confusion.

I sometimes want to tell people what our 1C opening is and then tell them that they need to decide how they are going to defend against it but that is very time consuming, especially when playing only 2 or 3 board rounds. And sometimes I think that when I alert one club and explain it I should suggest some defense or tell them they can discuss what they play over it at that time even thought neither of those are technically allowed. But it would eliminate the need for a director call for misinformation or having all of us at the table just unsure about whether he had a takeout double of 1C, or the majors, or a strong hand, or just clubs. In a way, though, the lack of an agreement probably keeps many people from entering the auction and gives us a slightly unfair advantage, even though I'm sure we are following the alert procedures properly. The fact that our 1C could be a flat 12 count probably keeps out some of the ragged nuisance overcalls and preempts that people often make against a strong club because you don't want to deceive partner who may well hold a very good hand if we have the weak NT variety.

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