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Reverse Flannery

The problem: You’ve been dealt a pretty nice hand with five spades and four hearts. ♠KQ987 – KQ87 –75 – ♣62.

Your partner opens the bidding with one diamond and you dutifully bid your longer major (spades). Your partner rebids two clubs. What do you do? Your “obvious” options are:

  • (a) correct to 2;
  • (b) bid 2;
  • (c) bid 2♠;
  • (d) bid 2NT.

Each has various insufficiencies.

  • (a) is a sign-off;
  • (b) would be fourth-suit forcing
  • (c) could be correct but at the table partner might glumly apologise before placing down a 0-4-5-4 distribution;
  • (d) this bid may be often correct, but will miss the making major-fit part scores at least some of the time.

As you can see, without Reverse Flannery, partner can systematically prevent you from finding a major fit.

In this article, I shall briefly outline the responses to 1 of a minor called Reverse Flannery (by responder); explain how the continuations of the auction progress from there; and, briefly discussed the influence that this might have on other systems.

Three Forms of Reverse Flannery

Take note! In each example I treat it as though the bid can only be 5 Spades and 4 Hearts, but the distributions allowed vary by partnership agreement.

One-Way Reverse Flannery
WestEastExplanation
1 ♣ / 25 Spades, 4 Hearts
Invitational hand (10-12pts)

This simplest structure is best for people who want to keep 2 Spades open for weak jump shifts or are scared of jumping to the two level with weak major oriented hands!

If eager to maintain the weak jump shift into hearts also, then one can replace the 2 bid by 2. This is easily forgotten as at the table 1 – 2 can easily be mistaken for diamond support! And, notwithstanding that, can raise issues for how one shows natural diamond support!

Two-Way Reverse Flannery
WestEastExplanation
1 ♣ / 25S and 4H and “weak” (between 5-9pts)
 2♠5S and 4H and “invitational” (between 10-12pts)

This version of Reverse Flannery is most common.

There are two key differences that might alter the shape that one is willing to make these bids on: (a) a response of 2 Hearts will more often be passed and therefore weak 5-5 hands in the majors will often be simpler bid directly (especially over 2 where the auction 1-1♠-2-? leaves little room for showing a weak second major); (b) a response to 2♠ will more often be continued from, this leaves open the ability for (6 spades and 4 hearts) or (6 spades and 5 hearts) shaped hands to be bid and shown through enquiry bids.

This inclusion as described is common but will depend on the continuations chosen and alternative auctions.

N.B. adding 5-5 in the majors to the “stronger” bid has a downside that “correcting” to the better fit increases the level of the auction. This may or may not be worth it in all the circumstances, but has certainly caught on amongst some world-class players.

Three-Way Reverse Flannery
WestEastExplanation
1♣2Shows 5-5 Majors weak or 5-4 majors (either way), weak.
 2Shows 5+S and 4+H and invitational (not 6-4)
 2♠Shows 6+S and 4H and invitational
12/♠As two-way Flannery

Once you’re feeling confident with reverse flannery and its continuations, this is a fine way to play it. Of course, once you are this confident, then you might have your own ideas about how the system can be developed!

Example Hands:

Let us consider some example hands and compare how they might be bid under Reverse Flannery as a response to 1♣:

a)b)c)
♠ K10752
Q953
108
♣ 86
♠ 87643
A5432
65
♣ 2
♠ 86543
KQ984
A4
♣ 7
d)e)f)
♠ AJ754
K954
6
♣ Q72
♠ J10543
Q987643
5
♣ A
♠ AK864
A9653
105
♣ 4

Hand a is straight forward. If playing one-way you pass or bid. With two-way you bid 2. If playing three-way you bid 2 opposite 1♣ or rebid 2 opposite 1 (as opposite 1 one plays two-way).

Hand b is similar to hand 1. In this instance, however, you can only bid 2 if the agreement allows for 5-5 weak hands. If you aren’t playing Reverse Flannery, you have to choose between bidding and passing.

Hand c is of invitational strength but 5-5. As such, if playing either one-way or two-way reverse flannery you’ll have to bid it naturally. If you’re playing three-way the bid of 2 will more than suffice.

Hand d is of invitational strength. A bid of 2 for one-way and three-way, and a bid of 2♠ for two-way will do the trick.

Hand e is weak and distributional. Playing one-way flannery you pick which major to show first. Otherwise, it’s up to partnership agreement how to treat these distributional hands. Personally, I think Reverse Flannery is sufficient. Partner is likely to pass with equal length and the dire high-cards in the majors don’t tempt me to bid more constructively.

Hand f is very good. With such a nice hand you’ll show your spades, when you show your hearts your partner will know that you can’t be 5/4!

Continuations

Note that because of the number of variations of the system that there is no standard way to define continuations. Let us consider the potential priorities (not ordered):

  • Showing the strength of the bid. “Good/Bad”
  • Showing the length of the majors.
  • Showing shortages.
  • Showing support for partner’s minor.
  • Showing suitability for No Trumps.

These depend, therefore, on both the kinds of hands partner opens 1♣ and 1, the strength of an opening 1NT and the kind of scoring. After all, finding 5 is a lower priority at matchpoints than teams.

Nevertheless, I will outline a potential rebid system:

WestEastWestComments
1m2X2MSign-off. No further interest in bidding.
  2N*Artificial Inquiry bid (see below)
  3mSign-off.
  3omFourth-suit forcing. Seeking stops for NT.
  3MInvite based on fit.
  3NNatural.
  4mGame forcing single-suiter.
  4omSome form of splinter or two-suited hand, per partnership agreement.
  4MSign-off
  4NTTwo-suited Roman Key Card (Six ace RKCB)

The above is simple in that it acts to clearly define the auction and avoids using opener’s minor as invitational. However, if willing to use 3♣ as an artificial enquiry, one can gain 2NT as a way to progress the auction in more ways.

Kokish (whose three-way system is outlined above) does this by using 2NT as a bid that says “bid 3♣ if you would pass 3♣ otherwise bid as you would opposite a natural 3♣”. Such a system allows opener to show a two-suited minor hand when one has opened 1D. Any further rebids then act as slam-tries.

Below I assume that 5=5 and 6=5 are possible.

WestEastWest Comments
1m2X2N* Artificial Enquiry
   3om5=4=2=2 minimum
   3pm55 majors with three card support for partner’s minor
   3/♠54 majors. 3 shows club shortage, 3♠ shows diamond shortage. (i.e. lower suit shows lower shortage, singleton or void)
   3NT5=4=2=2 maximum
   4♣/55 or 65 either way in majors, splinter.
   45=6=1=1 or 6=5=1=1
   4♠? perhaps best as strong 4 card support for partner with 5=4=(0-4)

We can see how this tries to balance between our priorities. With only 9 cards in the majors we attempt to keep bidding at the three level and only venture as high as 3NT. The only bid that does not is the delayed raise for partner’s suit where partner may now have three places to consider playing in (a major, a minor and no trumps).

At the 4 level we assume that partner is enquiring for the purposes of finding a major game or slam. As such, the priority is showing shortages to aid partner in bidding further.

Note that in many places the minimum/maximum difference is treated as not existing. Even though the difference between the bottom and top of a weak bid can be as much as a King! If playing Reverse Flannery without the possibility of 5=5s and 6=5s then one can use this bidding space far more precisely.

Final Thoughts – Inferences!

Often, the auctions where the effect of Reverse Flannery by Responder are truly felt are those where the auction has not used it!

To illustrate consider the auctions:

(1)

WestNorthEastSouth
1♣Pass1♠Pass
2♣Pass2 

(2)

WestNorthEastSouth
1♣Pass1♠2
PassPass2 

(3)

WestNorthEastSouth
1♣Pass1♠Pass
2Pass3 

Supposing they play two-way Reverse Flannery we have that East cannot have:

  1. 5 Spades and 4 Hearts and less than a Game Forcing Hand
  2. 5-5 in the majors and a weak hand.
  3. 6 Spades and 4 Hearts and an invitational hand.

As such the ranges for these bids (if playing naturally) is distinct from the normal ranges. What these bids mean is therefore subject to partnership agreement and discussions of general principles.

The first auction is, I think, the simplest. Since partner can, at worst, have a 5-5 with invitational values, this auction is almost surely forcing to game. (I do not say absolutely forcing, as partnership agreement may prefer [e.g.] 1♣-1♠; 2♣-2; 2NT-3 to show this exact form of hand and be able to be passed).

The second auction is, I think, similar in form. The implication of the 1 Spades opener suggests a lack of Hearts. As such, this 2 bid should be more constructive than merely competitive, despite the balancing position.

The final auction is somewhat nebulous. If playing a form of Lebensohl (so a 2NT rebid by East would show weaker hands) this 3 is not only game forcing but incredibly slam encouraging! If not, however, it could be used to show the “weak” 6 Spades and 4 Hearts rebid and the stronger forms of support can be bid through other mechanisms.

The negative inferences that come with Reverse Flannery are often useful throughout an entire auction and (if the opponents end up declaring) in defence. As such, the system makes a fabulous addition to many players repertoires.

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2 Comments

  1. Carlos Dabezies

    My partner and I play 2-way Reverse Flannery with a twist. The 2H response to either 1C or 1D shows 5-9 pts and 5+ S and 4+ H, i.e. responder can be 6-4 or 5-5.
    Opener’s rebids over 2H are as follows
    pass/2S =sign-off
    2N= sign-off in a minor or slam interest in a M
    [Responder bids 3C if 1C opening; if 1 D opening, resp bids 3D unless 2- D +
    5+ C; openers, 3M then shows slam interest]
    3C = asking [Responder 3D = min 5/4, 3H/S shows extra length, and 3N = max 5/4]
    3D = game force with 6+C/D [Resp 3H = Qx/xxx C; 3S = Qx/xxx D; 3N = neither]
    3M = invitational

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