I don't care much for complicated bidding systems. I've always believed the most important part of bidding is to avoid accidents.
Sure, everyone uses some conventions, but even the most simple ones are accident-prone.
For example, look at the following Stayman and Blackwood auctions:
First of all, is 4NT Plain ace-asking Blackwood or RKC? What are West's responses after the interference?
What do West's actions show? What if he passes? Is he saying anything about having a club stopper?
All of these issues should be discussed by a good partnership. My "Partnership Checklist" is a good place to start.
However, the purpose of this article is to give you a general way to avoid accidents. In a nutshell:
If you have a choice of bids, and one might cause an accident, choose something else.
Here are some real-life examples:
Q 8 7 6 5
A Q 8 7 6
My partner, South (not a regular partner) held this hand and the auction began as follows:
Thinking this was a good hand for a Michaels bid, my partner tried 2. We had actually (briefly) discussed that this bid is NATURAL in our partnership, but it isn't always easy to remember. Why take a chance? Surely a bid such as 2 could cause an accident (it did), so why not settle for a pedestrian 1 (or double) and avoid disaster? If you were thinking that maybe 1NT shows the two unbid suits (a "Sandwich Notrump") you had better be sure your partner knows what it means (that's another bid to avoid if you are not on sure footing).
The following took place in a different event and thankfully not at my table:
A K Q J 10 8 7
This time, the hero thought it would be a good idea to play in 3NT opposite a spade stopper. Maybe partner would hold something like: Q J 6
6 5 3
Q 8 7 6
Q 6 5
. Maybe 3NT would make while 4 would fail. What did he bid? He tried 3, thinking it asked for a spade stopper. This is a reasonable treatment played by many expert pairs. It's surely covered in the aforementioned Partnership Checklist. However, without discussion, why risk it? The partner of the 3 bidder thought it was Michaels and charged into 5-of-a-minor (he was 3-1-5-4) and the pair ended in 5 down 1. Next time, South should not risk an accident. Why not start with double (or 4) and avoid disaster?
Here's one last chance (from real life) to practice disaster-avoidance:
K Q 2
K J 10 2
A Q J 10 9
Playing with a new partner, you pick up this hand and open 1. He responds 1. What's your rebid?
If you have thoroughly discussed auctions after reverses, then I can live with 2. Even so, I still might not make that call. In a new partnership, why get involved with a reverse auction? Simply bid 2NT to show 18-19 balanced. Yes, I know, you have a singleton--but it is in partner's suit and is an honor. Now, let's hope you at least discussed what you play after a 2NT rebid!
Summary: If faced with a choice of actions, take the one that clearly will not be misunderstood and will simplify the auction.
Good luck and KISS!
Updated: June, 2013