There are basically two forms of competitive bidding after a strong 1NT opening by our opponents. The traditional bids employ a penalty double and a set of artificial conventional bids to describe specific distributional holdings. More recently, a group of conventional bids have been devised that have as their primary function, disruption of the opponents’ bidding. These new bids all forego the use of a penalty double and instead concentrate on describing various distributional holdings.
I think it makes a lot of sense to be able to interfere with your opponents’ bidding after a strong opening 1NT when overcaller has distributional values. Such bids as DONT, Jumpball, Astrolite and now Hammer fit this latter category.
One major problem with these other contemporary conventions is that it may require a second bid by the overcaller before partner learns which suit(s) are involved. Accordingly, if the opponents bid on, partner may be put in an insoluble position.
As a result, I have invented a convention that addresses this problem. It retains the interference advantages of DONT et. al., and yet allows responder to always know at least one of overcaller’s suits.
Hammer allows you to show all single-suited and two-suited combinations at the lowest possible level of bidding. Hammer has been devised primarily to muddle the bidding for the opponents with distribution being your ally to protect you from going for a big number.
Here is how it works. After the opponents have opened a strong 1NT, bid as follows:
- Double = a relay to 2♣, showing clubs or clubs and a higher-ranking suit.
Doubler may pass the relay to show a weak single-suited hand with clubs or may bid 3♣ to show a good single-suiter with clubs and interest in game. If doubler instead rebids 2♦, 2♥ or 2♠ after the relay, these bids are natural showing a two-suited hand with clubs.
- 2♣ = a relay to 2♦ showing diamonds or diamonds and a higher-ranking suit.
The overcaller may pass 2♦ to show a weak single-suited hand with diamonds or may bid 3♦ to show a good single-suiter with diamonds and interest in game. If the overcaller rebids 2♥ or 2♠ after the relay, these bids are natural and show a two-suited hand with diamonds.
- 2♦ = both majors
- 2♥ = hearts
- 2♠ = spades
These are the basic bids.
Although occurring less often, Hammer can also be used when the overcaller has a strong enough hand to allow for game interest.
We already showed how such hands are treated with single-suited hands in the minors; just raise the relay.
With a strong enough single-suited major-suit holding, overcaller should simply bid 3♥ or 3♠ immediately.
With very strong major/minor two-suited hands, overcaller initiates a minor-suit relay and then jumps in the major with his second bid.
With a strong major two-suiter, the overcaller makes the regular bid of 2♦ and subsequently raises responder’s choice.
With a strong minor-oriented two-suiter, overcall 2NT.
When responder has invitational values in reply to partner’s overcall, he may alternatively (a) bid 2NT in response to a minor-suit relay, (b) jump the bidding when selecting a major in response to 2♦ or (c) raise partner’s 2♣/2♦ overcall.
Hammer may also be used in the balancing seat as well. However, as with all conventional bids in this position, remember that you no longer have the positional advantage. Thus, temper your bids accordingly.
Another possible use for Hammer in competitive bidding is after the opponents have overcalled partner’s opening suit bid with a call of 1NT.
Using standard methods in this situation, I found it to be less of a problem after partner has opened in a major suit. Knowing that partner has at least a five-card suit allows me more room to be frisky in support.
It is after a minor-suit opening bid that we have a bigger problem because opener may be short. It is in this situation when Hammer could be very useful. When I first addressed this problem, my partners and I employed Hamilton/Cappelletti, but rarely put to use the penalty double. Thus, we switched to Hammer.