Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

Systems … why do North Americans avoid forcing club systems?

Peter Clarke from Australia emailed me to ask me the following question:

Why don’t Americans play forcing club systems? He plays Blue Team Club which he describes as an old-fashioned big club systems. He asks if the majority of “world-class” players play Standard American and why.

Actually I think the majority of people who play in world championships play many different systems and even if they play “Standard American” it is really nothing like what most people would call Standard American.

So let me answer that question another way. In North America the majority of players do play Standard American with lots of variations. Standard American has evolved over the years and now is based on 5 card majors, 15-17 notrump openers, two clubs as the strong bid with other 2 level suit openers as weak. Over 1NT transfers are usually played. Over one of a suit 1NT is not forcing and 2 level responses such an invitation hand or better.

But now quite a number of North Americans who would describe themselves as advance or better play 2 over 1. The main difference being that the 1NT response is forcing and that 2 level responses in a new suit are game forcing.

Most players doctor their system with all sorts of conventions and treatments. So bidding methods are not as uniform as it seems.

One reason these type of systems are popular in North America is that most teacher do start out their students on Standard American.  One good reason is that is what their friends will play and that is what they will meet in the games they will play at the bridge club.

The ACBL promoted Standard American with a series of subsidized text books and some free how to play material that is based on Standard American. Not only that but players are expected to know Standard when they play in tournaments.

So it is only later in your career that players who want to become experts or better start to think about other systems. The first thing they will encounter is 2/1 which has some advantages and isn’t too much of a departure.

Only the more adventurous will venture into forcing club systems which require more change.

In other countries for other reasons forcing club systems are popular. Players in China are taught Precision. C.C. Wei and Kathy Wei introduced Precision and bridge to China.

As you travel around the world you find Acol (England) Polish Club, SEF (France) and so on.

It would be fun to have some challenges matches to pit one system against the other but in the end at the top level the caliber of the players will lead to the outcome not the system they play. For one thing at this level partnerships have put a lot of work into their system and it doesn’t resemble what is taught to beginners.

Anyone else have any thoughts about this?




Judy Kay-WolffMarch 10th, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Dear Linda:

I find your above blog interesting — but very challenging, as I don’t believe there is anything ‘standard’ about Standard American since the system varies from partnership to partnership. We describe our card as General Approach (Standard with Gadgets). However, there are many variations, to which, of course, we alert. Besides, there is not nearly enough room (even with short cuts and abbreviations) to squeeze in our methods and options. Despite the alert forthcoming, it is intimidating to the average club player to note a card that is replete with red lettering, though it is a necessary evil and incumbent upon all of us to do so.

“Standard American” is a far cry from the Standard American of old!

Thanks for such a thought provoking subject.



Larry LowellMarch 10th, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Forcing club systems are well represented among the USA younger players: Lall-Bathurst, Grue-Cheek, Owen Lien-? And even some older players: Meckstroth-Rodwell, Berkowitz-Sontag, Greco-Hampson, Picus-Levin, Deas-Palmer to name only a few.

During my first year of duplicate bridge I changed to Schenken Club at the encouragement of my partner.

LakMarch 11th, 2013 at 12:06 am

Precision is probably an easier system to learn than SAYC with all the gimmicks (checkback, reverses, nmf, etc.). The ACBL is serving new players poorly by starting them off with “Standard American”.

Precision was the first system I learned (I learned in college in India). SAYC and 2/1 are not as easy.

You can complicate Precision with alpha & beta asking bids, but that is not what we are talking about, I hope. CC Wei’s original system would be my preference for a first bidding system.

bobbywolffMarch 11th, 2013 at 1:10 am

There is only one country which plays a simplified form of Standard American and my guess is that well over 80% of their tournament players play it.

That country is France so if anyone wants to understand what simplified Standard American is, just ask a French International and he or she will teach you.

lindaMarch 11th, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I agree that serious tournament players in North America often play a sophisticted system which is modified on a Standard American base. But still the majority of players, tournament or other wise do not learn or play forcing club. Yes, there are some but it is few in percentage terms.

Over the years I have played a lot of things including some experimentation with forcing club but the basis of what I usually play is either 2/1 or standard or even a bit of Acol.

It isn’t even a matter of what is best – it is a matter of what you know and are comfortable with. You can then soup that up to make it better and solve some of the deficiencies.

Steven GaynorMarch 11th, 2013 at 3:04 pm

If we are going to grow this game we need to teach a relatively basic system so people can play with almost anyone without hours of pre-game discussion. The bells and whistles can be added later as a partnership grows.

Since most people in North America learn Standard American it takes some experience and desire to move up in the ranks to tackle Precision. Even then you need a partner willing to do it also. It is a good system, superior to ‘standard’ in many ways, but unless it is taught to the masses I would guess only a limited # of partnerships will want to spend time to change.

Judy Kay-WolffMarch 11th, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Hi again Linda,

I appreciate your last paragraph above more than you know. Adapting one’s system to something with which you are comfortable is imperative. I learned the hard way — from personal experience.

When I was married to Norman (1963-2002), per force he was playing Kaplan-Sheinwold, being partnered by Edgar Kaplan (and successfully I might add for forty three years –with a three year hiatus when he partnered Sidney Silodor till his death in ’63 ).

Thus, when Norman came into my life, I was converted from mama-papa kitchen bridge which I had been playing with my friends to this more sophisticated system which worked fine for me (although KS as well as Roth-Stone is now gone with the wind).

After Norman’s death, along came Bobby with a system which did not in any way resemble KS.
I had been taught weak no trumps, inverted minors, 3NT as a strong forcing major raise, etc., etc. In 2003, when I married Bobby — for the second time in my long bridge career, I was faced with re-learning just about everything I knew – discarding the old and ringing in the new! That included being converted to Weak No Trumps (non-vulnerable only) which was a compromise for Bobby (as he always played Strong NTs — both red and white), simple minor raises (vs. inverted), Jacoby, Flannery, Jordan, Truscott, Ogust, Lebensohl, Two-Way Stayman, Mitchell/Stayman, Ripstra — for starters. I also began playing many defenses over opponents’ calls — which previously were unfamiliar to me. The major change was — I always bid cautiously until Bobby taught me to jump into the auction early to muddy the waters as it was a much more effective approach. Caution be damned! I never took chances before, but it is now second nature to me. Sometimes I even scare myself when I gaze down (in somewhat disbelief) at my radical weak twos and threes with favorable vulnerability. In the long run it works although on occasion you may go for a number.

I did learn to be comfortable with my new style (after reversing many of my earlier learned approaches) as it made up for a great number of the deficiencies my former system presented.

With apologies to Edgar whom I adored, but time marches on!


D MilesMarch 11th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

I would guess that in general auctions have become more competitive over the last say, 20 years. You’d have to consider that a strike against a strong club system. I’m sure some will disagree – in fact, a NON one club opening by a precision pair probably helps them in competitive auctions.

JodyMarch 11th, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Thanks for this topic! Is it allowed to print this off so I can show it to my LOL and LOM pards, or is it copyrighted. Good post, Linda

Gary MugfordMarch 11th, 2013 at 9:34 pm


Bridge, bidding in particular, is almost always about telling the least-biggest lie. it’s one of the reason that big club systems are easy to learn. Most of the bids are fairly highly descriptive with control and shape responses coming into play almost immediately. When was the last time you heard a big clubber talk about ‘table feel?’ Instead of spending three or more decades developing ‘judgement,’ club systems and their time-sapping cousins the relay systems, cut down on the judgement and follow the rules. The price? The catchall diamond and INTERFERENCE.

Realistically, the best ‘system’ is probably a position and vulnerability multiple system where the big club is used in favourable vul situations, a solid 2 over 1 system at unfavourable vulnerability and something oriented around weak NT when equal. Conversely, I could be persuaded to go something Kamikaze-like at favourable vul and Precision at equal. And then there is working around the NT range depending on position, weak with more opponents still to bid then our side, mid-range otherwise. Or …

Guess it comes down to how much work you are willing to do and how small your handwriting is when filling out a card. Last time I played at a WBC event, I played variable NT 2/1 and then Precision at favourable vulberability. And didn’t place.

Damn system let me down [G]

Rick BenstockMarch 13th, 2013 at 8:52 pm

@Bobby Yes S.E.F. (not sure what it stands for but the last word is “Français.” The French are pretty rigid about five card majors though!Do you like them (5 card majors, not the French!) or did the conformist pressure just become too much?

M JhaMarch 18th, 2013 at 10:20 am

I think one must start with Standard American system as that is the basic. When one is adept one should think about variations be it modified Standard or Precision!
Apart from the system I think the hand play of expert players should be learnt to become an accomplished bridge player!

Rosanna F. HendrixJune 8th, 2013 at 9:29 pm

While the basics of the system are learned by most beginners, its details have continued to evolve and now incorporate many partnership agreement variations and optional conventions . The advent of on-line computer bridge play has led to the adoption of a variant known as Standard American Yellow Card (or SAYC) which uses an explicit set of bidding agreements to enable quick consensus between strangers as to the bidding system to be used. Most advanced or expert players play the more modern derivative known as 2/1 Game Forcing or strong club systems such as Precision .

Larry HarrisJuly 16th, 2013 at 7:21 pm

‘Standard American’ has many faces. To some it is BWS, to others it is a neanderthal 1950’s Goren.
Larry Cohen’s take is probably the closest to evolving current thinking. For his primarily North American audience, he advocates teaching 2/1 from day 1, as in the long run, it is not that complex and is far superior to a ‘vanilla’ Standard. However, he is quick to point out that a basic Precision system is the easiest to learn from scratch.
Some decades ago Kathy Wei Precision became quite popular in North America. Over time it faded, mostly due to the average rank-and-file club players getting whacked with interference and not being willing to invest the time/study to counter it. A forcing club system can’t be that bad because if it was, the majority of our world class players would not be currently playing exotic artificial club systems.
Bottom line after the smoke clears…it is not so much what you play, as it is who plays it.

DanMarch 3rd, 2016 at 2:32 pm

Very interesting and to the point comments. What I haven, the seen is Blue Club being mentioned. Very powerful system, although complicated, with its 4-card major, weak no trump, precise canape hand description, etc., all having also a preemptive consequence and muddingg the water, as someone said. Wey’s Precision was actually developed in response to it, to counteract the Italian Blue Team winning year after year all the world championships. I played successfully a simplified version in 1970’s until
my partner moved out of town and I love it. The drawback, as Garozzo himself mention it, is that it does not account for the distribution points but rather uses on controls. Thus, a simplified version that would also account for distribution may be the way to revive this beautiful system. We’ll see, maybe I”’ll get to it on the rainy days when my wife doesn’t ask me to cut the grass….

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