Crossing the Rubicon

In the 1950s and '60s, a group of Italians devised a few artificial bidding systems, mostly based on a strong club. They found that strong three suited hands were hard to bid, so they used a 2D: opening bid to show three suiters with, typically, 17+ high card points. More recently, many players have adopted the ``Mini-Roman 2D:,'' which shows the same shape with 10-12 or 10-13 high card points. I have never understood the point of this convention; it does not help fill a gap in system as the original did, nor does it help get to the best contract, since, unless you find a fit or unless partner has a strong hand, it preempts beyond the best contract, often 1NT. Worst of all, it draws a roadmap for the defenders, who know that it is usually best to lead trumps.

Playing in the North American Open Pairs with a partner who does not share my bias against this convention, but who knows mine, I pick up in third seat:

 S:AKQ86 H:AJ75 D:103 C:Q5
Hoping for a nice constructive auction, I am somewhat disappointed, but then elated when partner passes and RHO opens 2D:, which is alerted and explained as Mini-Roman. I am still not sure whether to bid spades or not when I look at their convention card for more information. They did not mention that 2D: guaranteed spade length, but there it was. I find even more confusing that Mini-Roman users would choose to anchor around a spade suit. Guaranteeing four or more diamonds I can see, so that responder can pass when you are in trouble, giving them fewer chances to crush you, but why spades? Why preempt when you have spades and a decent hand?

Anyway, upon finding out that RHO has four spades, my enthusiasm for bidding is entirely gone, but this hand suddenly becomes a perfect candidate for our defensive convention to Mini-Roman. I double, showing a balanced good hand with interested in defending. Upon their reaching a final contract, my double almost commands a trump lead, which must be good for us.

After the double, alert and explanation, LHO passes as does partner. I have some apprehension about this; they may have an eight-card diamond fit which they couldn't reach if I had passed. No, RHO converts to hearts, showing a singleton diamond and it is crushing time. I reach for the trusty bloodstained axe and get even better news when LHO converts to 2S:! I am able to put another notch in my axehandle since they are willing to play doubled in my best suit! I am about to lead (out of turn) my fourth best trump, hoping to score partner's stiff Ten or Jack when he leads the S:J! Happiness and Joy, this is going to be fun. Dummy hits and I see the cheese with which they have volunteered to be splattered:

S: 10732
H: Q1086
D: 5
S: AKQ86
H: AJ75
D: 103
C: Q5
Partner's S:J holds, of course, and I signal with the smile of the executioner. (We play Right-Side-Up signals.) He finds the heart shift (I whipped 2H:, too) and declarer inserts the 8, losing to my Ace. I happily draw all the trump, partner beginning with the expected singleton. Partner signals discouragement in diamonds, but that is within the context of his already announced penalty pass, so I am sure that he has at least something there. I continue with a small heart, knocking out declarer's now-stiff King. Declarer hopelessly misreads the position and takes the club finesse immediately, which is an error, of course, since partner has diamonds and I can only hold 16 points left, but I win and sever the two hands with a diamond. Declarer wins the Ace, and cashes his King and the two high cards in dummy, then disgustedly concedes the rest for 800.

Such a nice convention; it prevented us from playing our 4-3 heart fit at the two-level, going down. It is so nice when they save vs. our partscores, but it is even nicer when it is a phantom.

Later, when comparing scores with my ride home, I find that at their table, the auction went identically, but declarer played it a trick better (also not finding the endplay for down 1.) He was disappointed not to get a top for +500, but, since he shares my enthusiasm for their convention, vicariously enjoyed the hand at our table, too.

During the ride home, we were able to figure out the best reason to play Mini-Roman 2D:, which is the same reason to play mini-micro (aka Fishhead1) notrump openings (5-8 HCP, balanced). It is to be able to give a review of the bidding thusly, ``The opponents have doubled throughout. The bidding has gone...''

1From Bill Cole's Fishheads, a collection of fine and funny stories.
Copyright © 1993 Jeff Goldsmith