Charles Goren, 1901-1991
Charles Goren's legacy
  1. Introduction

  2. The 1NT Opening bid

  3. Suit raise responses

  4. The Emperor's clothes

    Main page - The TBB System

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CG 1 : Introduction

Charles Goren, the undisputed "Mr.Bridge" of the 20th century, created the Goren system in the 1930s.
He used as keystone for his system the opening bid of 1NT = 16-18 points, reputedly borrowed from an earlier convention from the preceding auction bridge period.
Around this focal point of his system Goren devised a symmetrical sequence of 3 HCP bidding segments : 13- 15, 16-18, 19-21, 22-24 and 25-27 which could be revealed through specific opening bids, responses and rebids.

Over the next half century little changed except for the system's new name, "Standard American", and the conversion from a 4-card major to a 5-card major bidding system.

However after Charles Goren's death in 1991 some changes have been gradually introduced (and formalised in the SAYC system*).
Some of these alterations have disturbed both the symmetry and some of Goren's clever underlying intelligent bridge logic underpinning his system.

Two changes published in some teaching manuals (but not adopted by Jazclass Bridge online) and in widespread use by novice players in the USA and Australia are discussed below.

* Standard American Yellow Card system (for novices tournaments)

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CG 2 : The 1NT Opening bid

In recent years statistical evidence has revealed that a combined strength of 25 HCP is enough to make a Game contract of 3NT or 4♥ or 4♠   55% of the time.
Consequently most players worldwide have reduced their Game strength target by 1 HCP from 26 HCP to 25 HCP.

Whereas the other two mainstream bidding systems (Acol and Precision) absorbed this change by adjusting their responses, Standard American reduced the range of their 1NT Opening bid from 16-18 to 15-17 HCP. (The 1 in a suit opening range was also widened from 13-15 to 12-15 points.)

This shift of the central 1NT opening bid range has two adverse effects on the bidding system :

  1. It distorts the symmetry of the original system

  2. It widens the range of balanced opening hands stronger than 1NT that require a 1-level opening bid from 19-21 to 18-21 HCP.#
    It therefore increases the number of deals where Opener is left stranded in his opening bid of 1♣ or 1♦ after the other three hands pass all round.

Jazclass Bridge
In line with professional statistical analyses revealed in a recent publication "Better Balanced Bidding" (Jackson & Klinger, 2010) Jazclass Bridge now uses the Extended Milton HCP valuation by counting ½ a HCP for each 10.

A = 4     K = 3     Q = 2     J = 1     10 = ½

This increases the total of HCP in a deal from 40 to 42 HCP and restores the Game points target to 26 points.
As a result the original Standard American system remains largely unchanged and the adverse effects (1 and 2) stated above are avoided.
At the same time a more aggressive approach towards reaching a Game contract (25/40   >   26/42) is achieved, while the hand valuation method has been improved.

#: Jazclass Bridge has removed this gap entirely by means of a slight modification of the system presented in Intermediate Lesson 9.

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CG 3 : Suite raise Responses

Charles Goren's selection of suit raise responses was based on a well thought through strategy, incorporating three intelligent ideas.

1. The Game Force raise : 1♠ - 3♠
Rather than a direct raise to Game (4♥ or 4♠) by a Responder with 13+ points, Goren defined the single jump raise (1♥ - 3♥ or 1♠ - 3♠) as the Game force response. This allowed for Slam investigation (cue bids, multi cues, slam trial bids) to commence at a lower level, providing more bidding space.

In modern day bridge this also allows for the Blackwood Convention to start with 3NT, rather than 4NT (see my Intermediate Lesson 6).
This provides an extra level of bidding, and (in case of a negative result) enables the partnership to stop at the 4-level instead of the 5-level (as in traditional Blackwood).

2. The Limit bid raise : 1♠ - 2♦ - 2NT - 3♠
Responses of 11-12 pts (later also 10 pts with 8 losers) must bid a new suit first, then raise Opener's suit to the 3-level on their 2nd turn.
This also makes good sense, as Responder's raise to the 3-level is invitational, so that his first bid provides additional information about his hand to help Opener decide whether to bid Game or not.

3. The Pre-emptive Game raise : 1♠ - 4♠
This is an iconic Goren bid. The response shows a weak hand in terms of HCP (6-10 HCP) but with a singleton or void and 4+trump support for Partner's major suit.

The ruffing potential of this favourable hand distribution makes up for the lack in HCP and Game contracts are easily achieved with these type of hands (even opposite a minimum Opening hand).
This is an important member of the suit raise response options which many novice players appear to overlook consistently.

Hands with the same unbalanced distribution but more HCP (11+HCP and 7 losers) represent the seamless transition from a pre-emptive raise (1♥ - 4♥) to a Splinter raise (1♥ - 4♣) where the double jump-shift to a new suite shows the hand's singleton or void (see my Intermediate Lesson 2).

Unfortunate common current usage
Present common usage is to reverse the Limit raise and Game Force raises :

  1. 1♥ - 3♥ = 10-12 points with trump support

  2. 1♥ - bid new suit first = 13+ points with trump support
    If you absolutely insist on using 1 above I recommend you use Jacoby 2NT with 13+ pts and trump support.)

The necessity to bid a new suit first produces a variety of muddled rebids by many novice players :

  1. a 2nd round response of 3♥ showing 16+ pts, or 4♥ showing 13-15 pts.
    This is the correct response under these circumstances.

  2. an indiscriminate 2nd round response of 4♥, showing 13+ pts

  3. some players do not bid a new suit first and raise directly to 4♥.
    In the process nullifying the Pre-emptive Game raise response.

The upshot of all this is that many players going through above muddle rarely investigate for a possible Slam, and fail to reach numerous Slam contracts which otherwise would have been easy to bid.

Players of good Intermediate and higher skill level use the single jump raise response (1♥ - 3♥) to show a weak hand (6-9 HCP) with 4+trumps but no singleton or void. A "mini Goren pre-emptive raise" you might call it.

These bids are standard responses when using Conventions like the Bergen raises, Inverted minors, and (after Enemy interference, in association with) Cue bid raises and Truscott 2NT responses.

In other words the single jump raise has a clear function in two different bidding strategies :

  1. Either it is a Game force response, showing 13+ pts (in a basic system)

  2. or it is a mini pre-emptive raise, showing 6-9 HCP (in an advanced system)
Using the single jump raise as a Limit raise response (10-12) clearly falls into no-men's land between the above two strategies.

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CG 4 : The Emperor's clothes

Like the little boy in the famous fairy tale, history shows again and again that being on your own usually is the precursor to proving to be right.
Many novice players however go the opposite way, seeking security and comfort amongst the majority.
At the intermediate level most players grow out of this, for ultimately the bidding system you end up using is a reflection of your own style, perception and intelligence.
Be sure to follow your own thought process and make your own assessments, considering of course the capability of your (regular) bridge partner. But ultimately the way you bid is a reflection of who you really are.

So why not have a close look at the TBB System I have introduced at my newly established Trailer Boat Bridge Club in Darwin.

Right at the Novices level you start from a logical, coherent base, from which, over time, you will be able to naturally progress to an intelligent intermediate and advanced level of bidding.

© 2014 Michael Furstner