The Case for Sound Openers
In the not-too-distant past, conservative bidders were sometimes called Roth-Stoners, the appellation coming from the bidding system advocated by Alvin Roth and Tobias Stone. The Roth-Stone methods were very conservative, especially where opening bids were concerned. In their day, however, they had a lot of adherents.
Roth and Stone made up one of the top partnerships in the Fifties, and their ideas were popular in their time. They had great credentials, including a number of wins in high-level competition. Roth, now deceased, was a brilliant bidding theorist. He developed negative doubles and weak two-bids, among many innovations. Many players today adhere to his conservative approach.
In the Roth-Stone system, many 13-point hands did not meet the requirements for opening the bidding. Quick tricks (aces and kings) were also essential components of acceptable opening bids. Today, players are opening 10-point hands, some even weaker, with alacrity.
There are sound arguments for each approach, most of them applying to tournament or duplicate-style play.
Pay the Piper
Two important advantages of a sound opening bid structure are greater bidding accuracy in certain situations and more comfort in doubling the opponents for penalty.
When your partner opens the bidding and you can be confident she has the goods, you won't worry about getting too high trying for slam when your hand is borderline. It is very frustrating to make a slam try only to find that you are too high at the five level. Even worse is holding back because you can't be sure the five level is safe, then finding that partner had a very good opener and you missed an easy slam.
When you don't have a good suit fit, you generally play in no-trump after partner has opened the bidding. For that, you need high-card points. Shapely hands without high-card strength don't do you much good in no-trump.
In a sound opening bid structure, when you have a 12-point hand to go with partner's sound opener, you can be confident in most cases that you will be able to bring home nine tricks in 3NT.
In today's highly competitive arena, you can reap handsome profits by doubling the opponents when they overbid, which they will do frequently. It's easier to make them pay for getting involved in your auctions when you know that your partner's opening bids are sound and that he has at least a certain number of quick tricks.
To be sure, there are downsides to a conservative, sound opening bid structure. To start with, when you routinely pass 12-and even 13-point hands that others are opening, you lose the initiative and advantage that go with taking the first shot in the bidding.
Further, the player in third seat will be under more pressure than usual to “protect” against the possibility that opener has passed a hand that others have opened.
Why does the player in third seat after two passes have to consider opening on very thin values at times?
If you employ a sound opening bid structure, your partner will pass many hands others are opening, so just because partner has passed does not mean the balance of power is on the other side. You can't afford to pass if your side could have up to 23 or 24 points, so you must strain to keep the bidding open in third seat after two passes.
Think about it. If partner has passed a 13-point hand as dealer and you have a 10-point hand yourself, your side has a major advantage in high-card points — 23 to 17. If you pass that 10-point hand and partner has 12 or 13, there is a good chance the deal will be passed out and you will receive a very poor score.
This will make for some dicey opening bids after partner and your right-hand opponent have passed. If your partner has passed with a normal non-opener, your side could be in danger of getting much too high when you “protect.” It's like walking on a tightrope. Sometimes you will fall off, and in bridge, there's no net.