Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

How big is yours? I mean system book

Do you have a system book with your serious partner?  I have recently started to mentor two talented young bridge playing women.  I was surprised to see that they played cards quite well but had only rudimentary system agreements.  Usually I find people are “way into bidding” but are not good card players at all.  So this was a bit of a surprise.  Having a talent for playing cards is a big advantage because building and learning a bidding system, understanding how to value hands and so on is somewhat easier to teach/learn than card play.   Although of course developing judgment in competitive situations takes a lot of experience.

So, I told them to start a system book.  I gave them a sort of outline and sent them off (while they go on a winter cruise) to work on one of a minor.  I explained that they needed to look at each opening bid, then the responses to each opening bid and opener’s rebid and special situations such as reverses, associated conventions.  Sometimes they should go a bit deeper and look at what happens next.  This has some problems because the deeper you go the more variations there are.  I haven’t got to this yet but it is a good idea to have some general rules for situations you don’t want to flesh out in detail.

Francine and I have done a good pass at a system book.  Oddly enough it looks much different than our “book” of four years ago.  A good piece of what we plan to play is new to each of us.  For example, despite encouragement from Marshall Miles I haven’t as a rule raised responder’s major with three card support and a 12-14 balanced hand.  I have always bid 1NT and let partner search for the fit.  But Francine pointed out that responder might not try for a game on a hand which is a stretch without knowing that there is a fit.  This does have a price of course, as do many of the decisions you make.  For example,  you can’t play 1NT which is sometimes the best place.  But Francine believes that the price is worth paying.  She does have a pretty good system of continuations after that so that responder can find out how good the support really is.  So now I have to understand (deep down) all the implications of this.  As responder with a borderline hand should I balance not knowing if partner has a three card or four card fit and so on.

A lot of it ends up in the system book but some just ends up in your own deeper understanding of the implications of each bid you make, when to take risks, when to push, when to play safe.

Is it worth developing a 150 page book of notes?  Well, my students, if you really want to be a serious partnership I think it is a good idea.  I hear that some expert pairs have hundreds of pages of notes.  Bridge at a serious level is a lot of work.  It is more than filling out a convention card.

Let’s see how the ladies do.


PaulDecember 28th, 2010 at 2:44 pm

127 pages.

You can do worse than copy the format that Richard Pavlicek uses and has published on his web site ( At least taking the headings gives you a framework of things that are worth covering.

Dave Memphis MOJO SmithDecember 28th, 2010 at 9:55 pm

“Is it worth developing a 150 page book of notes?”

For me, no. Many things in 150 pages won’t come up often enough to be worth the memory work. I do, however, what to know what I’m playing if they double Stayman. I do want to know what I’m playing if pard overcalls, I cuebid and they double. Bids like these come up all the time, so I want notes.

Gary M. MugfordDecember 30th, 2010 at 11:17 am


It’s been awhile since I played regularly, but I was the system nut in all partnerships. So, I wrote an agreement book or seven. What I discovered in the process was the need to make space for PRINCIPLES. Big highlighted boxes that basically outlined agreements that covered ranges of calls. For example I would have ALL “SHOWING CALLS” START WITH THE CHEAPEST BID SHOWING THE CHEAPEST SUIT. This was applicable in a variety of ways. There are dozens of asking bids and the responses were always based on that one principle … unless specifically agreed to otherwise. Getting a partner who I hadn’t played with in awhile to just go through the book looking for the big yellow boxes during the drive to where ever we were playing was as good a system review as anything.


Larry LowellDecember 31st, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Yes, I have a system book or three. 36 pages for 1 club strong with transfer responses, follow-ons (outline form) and interference. Other openings take another 20 pages. Defensive bidding agreements take another 12 pages. This is only with my ACBL Tournament Partner, other partners are less serious about system and so I play simpler ones.

Linda LeeJanuary 1st, 2011 at 11:10 am

I certainly agree with the idea of having standard principles and I have generally done that.

I really like your idea of stating that all showing bids start with the cheapest bid showing the cheapest suit. Not only is it good to state the principle but it is very important to be consistent.

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