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Improving 2/1 Game Force - Part 1
By: Fred Gitelman

Originally Published in Canadian Master Point, November, 1993

A great many club and tournament players these days write "Two Over One Game Force" in the General Approach area of their convention cards. The main advantage of playing 2/1 is that the early establishment of a game force allows for extra bidding space to explore for slam or choose the right game contract. There are two main weaknesses inherent to the 2/1 system:

  1. You cannot play in 1NT if your partner opens the bidding with one of a major. The 1NT response is forcing.
  2. Responder often has a rebid problem after his forcing 1NT when opener rebids 2 of a minor (possibly a 3 card suit) due to the wide high card ranges and many possible distributions of both hands.

If you are going to play 2/1 you better get used to these problems since there isn't much you can do about them. The way that most partnerships play 2/1 creates many other problems that are not inherent to the system. The purpose of this article is to discuss some of the problems caused by the way that most people use 2/1 and to suggest some solutions.

PROBLEM 1: The lack of definition of the 2/1

Since a 2/1 response to a major suit opening is a game force, many pairs use a 2/1 simply to establish a force without regard to the fact that they may be misdescribing their hands. They assume that all of the room that they save will allow them to "catch up later". They are wrong. Imagine, for example, that you hold:


You open 1 and your partner bids 2, forcing to game. You rebid 2 and partner raises to 3. Do you like your hand? You should. Despite your minimum point count you have good trumps, good controls and a good fit for partner's suit. Unfortunately, partner's "suit" may not really be a suit. Partner could have:

where even the five level is not safe. On the other hand, if you reverse partner's hearts and clubs slam is laydown. If you reverse your hearts and clubs, slam is also laydown. Would you like your hand as much if you had a singleton in your partner's suit? You shouldn't, but when a 2/1 can show just about any balanced hand with game forcing values you are asking for trouble like this. There are several popular solutions to this sort of problem. Most of them involve making some other bid besides a 2/1 when responder has a balanced game force with 3 card support for opener's major. Some players bid 1NT forcing followed by a jump to four of opener's major as showing a balanced 13-15 with 3 card support. Some players play that a 3NT response to a major suit opening shows this type of hand. Variations of the Swiss convention use jumps to the four level to show various balanced raises. All of these methods have the problem that they take up too much room and make it impossible to find out how well the hands fit at a safe level.

The solution that I suggest is to use a 2NT response to a major suit opening just like Goren did - as a game-forcing balanced hand with 13-15 HCP (you can play that it could also show 19+ with a 3NT response showing 16-18). The 2NT response can (and frequently does) contain 3 card support for opener's major. 2NT usually should not contain a side 5 card suit (make a 2/1 with that), but if you have a really bad five card suit (like Qxxxx) in an otherwise suitable hand, it may be best to bid 2NT rather than make a 2/1. Opener's rebids after the 2NT bid are natural. Opener will bid another 4 card or longer suit if he has one giving responder a chance to take preference with 3 cards in opener's major. Opener can rebid his major when he has 6 or more cards or bid 3NT or 4NT (quantitative) with 5332. Over opener's 3NT rebid responder may elect to pass with 3 card support for opener's major, especially if he is 4333.

As a consequence, a 2/1 response will almost always show a good 5 card or longer suit - a source of tricks. Having this information will frequently help opener decide how well the hands fit and if a slam try is warranted. It will also allow opener to feel more comfortable with raising the 2/1 suit with 3 card support.

If you currently play Jacoby 2NT, you will have to find another way to make a forcing raise of opener's major. I suggest using the cheapest jump shift (1-2 and 1-3) as a forcing raise. Hands for strong jump shifts are very uncommon and modern methods like 2/1 and fourth suit forcing are usually effective for dealing with these hand types. If you play Bergen raises, the 3 response to 1 may already have a use. In this case, I suggest that you make 3 and 3 your Bergen raises over 1. I will not get into my suggested responses to the 2 and 3 forcing raises here - perhaps in another article.

To continue reading Improving 2/1 Game Force - Part 1, click here.

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