On Tuesday night I listened as the Mad Scientist offered a detailed, impassioned explanation of McCabe redoubles to his partner, Washington. Washington knows and, more to the point, understands more conventions than most players even if he spurns the vast majority of them. And while I’d wager that he plays more conventions with TMS than with any of his other partners, when the disquisition drew to a close with the phrase: “It costs nothing,” Washington’s reply was still, “We’re not playing that.”
Yesterday I set TMS off on more or less the same explanation when I arrived at his table and asked a specific question about the redouble. His partner today was another good player, again someone who knows more conventions than the average player, and again his description ended with “It costs nothing,” this time with a hand gesture indicating a zero and the reply was exactly the same, “We’re not playing that.”
While I wasn’t able to find an exact match for what he was describing (TMS has a well-established transfer fetish, so it seems plausible that he added that feature on his own — but it is actually useful to be able to give partner information on the quality of responder’s holding in his/her suit), Methods 2 & 3 here come pretty close. Both of those methods are indisputably simple.
This is the somewhat more complicated version that TMS was describing with transfers (translated from Madly Scientific Bridge-ese to just Bridge-ese, you can thank me later):
After ones RHO makes a take-out double of partner’s pre-emptive opening bid (I could make it more complicated than he was by noting that this could apply after a pre-emptive over-call and a negative double too, but I wouldn’t dream of it), a redouble shows the next ranking suit (either a single-suited hand or that suit plus partner’s or simply lead directing).
Any bid of NT is natural or systemic (i.e. typically 3NT is to play while 2NT is Ogust or feature asking).
Suit bids are transfers to the next suit in line and are also lead directing (again showing a single-suited hand or both that suit and partner’s or simply lead directing).
A “transfer” to partner’s suit shows the ace or king in partner’s suit telling them it is safe to lead (or even under-lead) their holding.
Lastly and leastly, a direct raise of partner’s suit shows length but denies having either the ace or king.
Okay, so that does sound kind of complicated, it’s simpler when one looks at an example:
XX = Spades or Spades + Hearts or Hearts wanting a Spade lead
2♠ = Clubs or Clubs + Hearts or Hearts wanting a Club lead
2NT/3NT = unchanged
3♣= Diamonds or Diamonds + Hearts or Hearts wanting a Club lead
3♦ = Hearts with the ace or king
3♥ = Hearts without the ace or king
XX = Hearts or Hearts + Diamonds or Diamonds wanting a Heart lead
3♥ = Spades or Spades + Diamonds or Diamonds wanting a Spade lead
3♠ = Clubs or Clubs + Diamonds or Diamonds wanting a Club lead
3NT = Unchanged
4♣ = Diamonds with the ace or king
4♦ = Diamonds without the ace or king
So does the McCabe redouble really cost nothing (aside from the requisite minimum of three disasters one has whenever adding a new convention)? Well, one gives up the ability to redouble for penalty after partner’s opening pre-empt but the value of that is so marginal as to be almost non-existent. (If one really had a penalty redouble, most opponents would be with it enough to bid something.) As conventions go, this is as close to cost free as one is likely to find.
So why is it that not all bridge players want to play every good convention that comes their way?
Those of us who engage in promiscuity bridge-wise do so at our own peril when it comes to remembering which conventions we play with which partner. So even adding a helpful, relatively easy to remember convention is tough if you’re only adding it with one of several partners.
Then there’s the issue that one person’s “simple” is another person’s OMGWTFBBQ?!?! But this isn’t a static characteristic. I remember when my bridge teacher first introduced us to Stayman. I was right there with him until he mentioned the existence of the garbage-variety. At that moment I remember quite clearly thinking that I was never going to be able to get a hang of it. My brain kicked the information it wasn’t processing into a deep, dark recess somewhere and a few months later something brought it back to mind and I went to my notes and there was Garbage Stayman and it seemed so simple and logical that I was surprised that a few months earlier I hadn’t understood it.
I attended some classes held by one of the experts at our club. I have a huge amount of respect for him as a player, but he isn’t big on teaching conventions even though he is hugely knowledgeable about them. At some point he was talking about doing away with all the unnecessary conventions that partnerships have. His argument was these would really only help on something like 5% of the hands that one would face … or about one per session. I guess I had my poker face on because he called on me to see if I had something to say about it. What I said was that I wasn’t in it for just twenty-four boards or even a thousand, but that I was in it for the hundred-thousand hands I’d play in my life time and then whether or not I played those conventions would really make a difference. (A conservative estimate of how much I play puts me reaching that 100,000,000 mark in just over 15 years whether or not I’ll actually play that long mostly depends on when one of my partners finally snaps and kills me, but I digress ….) I want to play all the good conventions because I don’t want 5,000 bad results that would otherwise have been avoided. Other people, do not feel as I do.
Mostly it boils down to the same old problem of convention tolerance. My tolerance for filing away new conventions is high because my brain is relatively good at that. I would much rather learn new conventions than, say, work on my declarer play (and it shows). In fact, outside of my adventures with TMS, it is relatively rare for me to forget a convention. But it still happens once in awhile, my partner looks across the table and instead of the usual cool, calm collected girl throwing her bids on the table in an instant sees this:
"What do you mean we play
snap-bunny pancake doubles?"
But it is safe to say that typically (again the big exception is when I’m playing with TMS) my partners are far more likely to forget conventions than I am which makes me very reluctant to thrust the conventions I want to play on them. Even playing mostly (or only) the conventions they want to play, it’s happened repeatedly that they’ve forgotten. One of my favorite examples was with a partner who has a real thing for Puppet Stayman and wanted to play that 3♣ was Puppet over both 2NT and 1NT. I agreed while internally noting that I was going to have to watch for the 1NT-3♣ sequence, lest I forget it. A few rounds in, he opened 2NT. I bid 3♣. He failed to alert my bid (which made me a bit nervous) and bid 3 of a major, long story short, we ended up in a 4-3 fit that didn’t play as well as 3NT would have. I mocked him mercilessly for forgetting his pet convention because I’m mean and he’s particularly fun to mock. But my point is, people forget conventions, even easy conventions and I won’t be introducing McCabe to any of my regular partners anytime soon, but maybe one day because, after all, it doesn’t cost anything.