Gary Harper is a retired conflict resolution trainer and writer who returned to duplicate bridge in 2012 after a 30 year hiatus.
Rip van Winkle awoke from a prolonged slumber only to find that all he knew to be true had changed. Having returned to bridge about five years ago after a 30 year absence, I experienced a similar feeling. That may have accounted for this following post-mortem following a 3♣ contract on a 3-2 fit:
Me: “I’m wondering why you bid 3♣ over my 2NT with only two?”
Partner (patiently): “Because it was Lebensol – I was forced to bid 3♣.”
Me: “I though 2NT meant that I could take eight tricks in NT.”
Partner (glancing at opponents with a “look what I have to put up with expression): “That changed years ago. We have to distinguish between a hand where you have to bid and one warranting a constructive bid.”
Me: “So 2NT in competition is always Levenshall?”
Partner (taking deep breath): “Lebensol. It’s LEE-BEN-SOL. And only in certain circumstances. Otherwise, it’s showing the minors.”
Me (relieved to be on familiar ground): “Like the unusual NT that was coming into vogue in the 1970s.”
Partner: “Sort of, though it doesn’t have to be a jump over their opening, nor does it have to be a distributional hand. It could be looking for a 4-4 fit in which to compete.”
Me (eyes starting to glaze over): “When would it mean that?”
Partner: “We don’t have time to go over all those situations – it’s like the U.S. Supreme Court test of obscenity – you’ll know it when you see it.”
Me (with only a hint of sarcasm): “That clears it up.”
Departing from those muddied waters, we proceeded to the next hand. I opened 1&spades and partner responded 2NT. I dutifully bid 3♣, following which partner bid Blackwood (correctly assessing that I wasn’t ready for Roman Key Card and the like). Finding we were off only one ace, he bid slam. Unfortunately, we were missing ♣A. And the ♣K.
Partner: “You can’t bid 3♣ with a three small.”
Me: “But you told me I had to over 2NT. Lebensol, right?”
Partner: “Not in that auction.”
Me (slightly indignantly): “Well, even if it wasn’t Lebensol, I was bidding my better minor – you know, the new unusual NT.”
Partner: “No, no – it’s a Jacoby raise.”
Me (relieved to hear a name I recognized from the past): “So I should have passed?”
Partner (his face reddening): “No – 2NT is a raise – you must bid your singleton.”
Me: “But how do we actually play 2NT?”
Partner: “No one has bid 2NT to play since 1989. I think you have to alert 2NT if it’s ever to play.”
On the final hand of the night, I opened 1NT. Partner bid 2NT. I froze. Was this a relay to 3♣? Maybe it’s one of the four-way transfer he may have mentioned. Or is he asking for my singleton (I was told that I could now open 1NT with a singleton.) Or could it be “unusual” for my better minor. I squirmed. Partner looked increasingly anxious with my “break in tempo” (which, incidentally, replaced “balk” in bridge lingo).
Finally, it became obvious that there was only one way to extricate myself from this dilemma. I excused myself to go to the washroom, but “accidentally” took a wrong turn towards the parking lot. When my senses cleared, I found myself homeward bound, wishfully thinking of simpler times playing with my long-departed grandma. Simpler times, in which 2NT meant 2NT.
The following week saw a flurry of emails, a visit to a sports psychologist and several book recommendations from well-intentioned bridge friends. I studied and studied, until I had committed both Lebensol and Jacoby 2NT to memory. I even researched several other 2NT conventions just in case. I aced the “2NT Quiz” that partner demanded I pass before he agreed to play with me again.
We played again the following week and I’m pleased to report that we had no misunderstandings over that pesky 2NT. In fact, we were cruising along for the first three rounds until partner trotted out a “double” in a competitive auction. But that is a tragedy for another telling.