The california club system overview



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It is not necessary to spend a lot of time describing the 1H and 1S openings in this system. These bids are very much like those in any standard system except that they are limited to a range of 11-16 HCP. An opening bid of 1H or 1S guarantees a 5-card suit. The only important departures from standard bidding occur in opener’s first rebid. Jump bids at opener’s second turn (whether in the same suit or in a second suit) show 15-16 HCP, not 17+.

The big differences in our approach to the majors comes with our response scheme. There we find many non-standard treatments and conventions. Some of them are fairly radical departures from standard practice. Because of this, at the end of the section I will provide a brief outline of a more conventional alternative set of bids which work quite well with the system.(They just aren’t as much fun.)

The first section will introduce what I have modestly labeled “Sartor 2/1” responses. We start with this because these bids include the weakest raise of opener’s major along with new suit responses. We will then to proceed to constructive raises, “Sartor Raises”(limit or better) , “Sartor Jump Shifts”(don’t ask), and splinters. You may have noticed that I have attached my name to several

of my personal brainstorms. There are two reasons for this. First, I don’t think that conventions should only be named after the Jacobys and Bergens of the world. We nobodies should be able to grab a little notoriety, too. Secondly, after you have gotten into a couple of them, you may conclude that nobody else would allow their name to be attached to them. Anyway, as I mentioned before, I have provided more standard alternatives for those who don’t recognize pure genius when they see it.

Sartor 2/1 Responses

Sartor 2/1 responses actually involve the use of transfer responses to an opening bid of 1H or 1S. These are not ordinary transfers, however. They are two-way bids. A two-level suit bid either shows the bid suit with at least game- invitational values OR a weakish , non-forcing transfer into the next highest suit. The weak hands have either a weak raise of opener’s major or a 6-card or longer off-suit - the type of suit standard bidders try to escape into via the forcing NT.

For those of you who haven’t just tossed the book into the fireplace, let me clarify with specific examples. A 2C response to 1S would show either a club suit and 10+HCP, as in old-fashioned Goren, OR a weak hand with a 6+-card DIAMOND suit. Opener is expected to accept the transfer unless he has a very good suit of his own or two 5+-card majors. Responder will then pass in what figures to be a reasonable partscore contract or describe an invitational or game-forcing hand with a second bid. This type of two-way bidding scheme is especially suited to a strong club system, because opener’s hand is limited to a specific range. When responder drops the bidding by passing the transfer, there is almost no chance that he is missing a game. On the rare occasions that game is possible despite responder’s weakness, opener will refuse the transfer and show his extra strength and /or distribution.

Probably the best way to start the discussion of this scheme is to provide a summary. Here are responder’s possible bids after a 1H or 1S opening bid:

*With fewer than 8 HCP and 3+ cards in opener’s suit- two of the suit below opener’s major (1H/2D or 1S/2H) This is the weakest type of major suit raise.Opener MUST accept this transfer except with a very exceptional maximum. Responder will always pass if he has the weak raise. Since opener must bid 2M, responder can risk very weak preemptive raises when they seem appropriate.

*With fewer than 8 HCP and 4+ cards in opener’s suit – three of opener’s suit (1S/3S or 1H/3H) The bid suggests but does not guarantee side shortness.

*With 8-10 HCP and 3+ cards in opener’s suit- two of opener’s suit(1S/2S or 1H/2H) Opener can then use short or long suit game tries to explore for game. Constructive raises will be discussed in detail in a separate section.

*With 11-12 HCP and 2 or 3 cards in opener’s suit- two of responder’s best minor and then 2M , 2NT,or a raise to 3M. The minor suit may be a real suit OR a weak 6+ card holding in the suit above it. It is a strong suggestion that opener should bid that suit with any normal opening.(The exceptions are a very strong rebiddable suit of his own or a second 5-card major.) After opener accepts the transfer, responder can bid 2M with either 3 small trump or a doubleton honor. He also has the option of bidding 2NT. If the transfer was into opener’s major, a raise to 3M shows the hand and guarantees 3-card support. If opener has only 5 trump and wants to check on responder’s holding after a raise to 2M, he bids 2NT or a suit at the three level. Responder bids 3M to confirm 3-card support. As a side note, should responder hold the same hand with 3-card trump support including the A,K,or Q, he bids a forcing 1NT and then makes an invitational jump to 3M.

*With 10+ HCP and 4+ cards in opener’s suit- two choices- a”Sartor Raise” or a “Sartor Jump Shift”. The Sartor Raise covers hands from limit raises to slam tries. It is a sort of modified Jacoby 2NT. The Sartor Jump Shift can show a kind of mini-splinter with 10-12 HCP when it doesn’t show an old-fashioned slam try. I will go over these two bids in detail in their own separate sections.

*With 11-12 HCP and balanced distribution –bid a forcing 1NT. After opener’s forced rebid, make an invitational bid of 2NT or an invitational single raise in either major.

*With 13-16 HCP and 3+ cards in opener’s suit and no slam prospects-bid 4M directly. Another option would be to bid a good 5-card minor and jump to 3M if possible(or 4M if opener rebids his suit). This would allow allow opener to bid 3NT occasionally if he thought that would be the best spot. Sometimes it might even allow slam exploration based on a perfect fit. Of course , 1M-4M may also just be a tradional distributional raise with 5+ trumps.

*With 13-16+ HCP, 1-3 cards in opener’s suit, and no slam prospects- bid

a forcing 1NT, then 3NT(or 4H if a 4/4 fit is uncovered. Remember the forcing NT can be used with 11-12 HCP hands to make invitational bids in NT or either major)

*With 13+ HCP, 4+ cards in opener’s suit , and shortness in a side suit-use a splinter bid. The splinter may be a direct jump to 3S, 4C, 4D, or 4H or a delayed double jump after the bid of a GOOD side suit.(refinement on P.43)

*With 16-17+ HCP, 4+ cards in opener’s suit, and and no short suit, bid a forcing 1NT and jump to four of a good side suit- a sort of Swiss –type raise.

*With 17-18+ HCP, 2 cards in opener’s suit- bid a direct 3NT.

*With 19+-20 HCP, 2 cards in opener’s suit-bid a forcing 1NT, then 4NT.

*With 17+HCP and unbalanced hand- Sartor Jump Shift (strong part of a three-way bid) This bid may also be used to divede splinter bids into three

distinct HCP ranges for more accuracy in slam bidding. (see P.43)

These bids form what I hope is a pretty seamless overall scheme. In some cases the description in the outline is sufficient to play the system. Some bids require a more detailed discussion, however . I’ll use the next few sections to go into more detail on some of the bids listed above.

Two-way Transfer 2/1

The system’s most obvious deviation from standard bidding is the set of bids I have labeled “Sartor 2/1”. As I outlined on pages 24-26, these bids allow responder to describe hands that range from anemic to slamworthy. The most unorthodox feature of these bids is the use of what I have termed “two-way transfers”. These were not created just for the sake of novelty. They allow responder to bid some weak hands that are handled awkwardly in standard and 2/1 bidding. They also allow both invitational and game-forcing sequences.

The reason these bids can work is because the opening 1H or 1S bidder is limited to 16 HCP. When a two level response is made to a major suit opening , the opener knows that he is in no danger of missing game if it is a weak bid. With any ordinary 1H or 1S bid , he can confidently accept the transfer to a new suit if he has any tolerance for it at all. He can be confident he will be playing in a reasonable contract, even though it may be based on a 6-1 trump fit. If the transfer

is into his own suit he MUST accept the transfer , because responder is often trying to set the final contract. The single exception might be a jump acceptance with an extraordinary hand.

Should the responder’s bid be based on a better hand, he will always get a chance to make a second bid to make his intentions clear. He can then make a game-invitational or game-forcing second bid. In effect , these sequences mimic the standard responses that most players use when partner opens 1NT, though there are a couple of major differences.

The clearest difference, and the one that will probably cause ACBL directors to have apoplexy if you try to use this system in any event short of the Vanderbilt or the Reisinger, is that the transfers do not always show the next highest suit. They may actually show the bid suit and a good hand. Specifically, a response of 2C shows EITHER a weak hand with long diamonds OR a good hand with a club suit or at least club values. A response of 2D to 1S shows a weak hand with 6+ hearts OR a good hand with diamonds. If the opening was 1H, then the weak option is a transfer back to hearts-a weak raise of the suit. A 2H response to a 1S opening shows the weak spade raise OR good hearts. A minor glitch in the system is that there is no way to make a definite transfer into clubs. The best we can do is to use the standard forcing NT with some slightly non-standard responses. Opener bids 2C any time he has nothing special to show- no 6-card major or 4+ card side heart or diamond suit. If responder has a weak hand with long clubs, he may be able to pass opener in a 2C contract. I’ll outline more forcing NT sequences in a little while.

Assuming opener bids the next higher suit after a two level response( in effect accepting a transfer), responder can then pass, make an invitational or a game-forcing raise of opener’s major, or even bid a new suit to create a game-forcing auction and perhaps explore slam possibilities. He can also bid an invitational 2NT or a forcing rebid of his own suit. Probably the best way to continue the description of the entire scheme is to go through actual auctions using the 1NT, 2C, 2D, and 2H responses. First we’ll take a brief detour as I give a few more details about the system’s various uses of the forcing NT, as promised.

I have tried to blend the standard forcing NT into my system of transfer responses. As I already mentioned , I use 2C as a kind of default bid for the opening bidder. Opener will rebid 2C unless he has a decent 6-card major, a 4+-card side heart suit, or a decent 4+ card diamond suit. Responder may pass with long clubs and a weak hand or raise to 3C , 2NT, or 3S with an invitational hand. He may also make an invitational raise of opener’s 2D, 2H, or 2S second bid to 3D, 3H, or 3S. Beyond those fairly mundane options, the forcing NT is also used for several types of strong hands(refer to P.32). These include raises to game, slam invitational Swiss Raises of opener’s suit and slam-invitational bids in NT.

Now let’s go through some illustrative auctions. In all of the first group, opener bids 1S. We’ll start with a forcing NT and proceed on to 2C, 2D, and 2H responses. I won’t try to give every possible variation, but I’ll illustrate the variety of hands responder may have.


1S 1NT opener does not have 6 spades, 4 hearts or 4 good diamonds

2C P responder has a weak hand with 6+ clubs

1S 1NT opener has at least 4 decent diamonds / 4 hearts

2D or 2H P responder chooses to play in the second suit (hand unclear)

with better values he could invite or jump to the 4 level

1S 1NT opener has 6+ spades

2S P responder could raise to 3S or 4S with better values

1S 1NT

2X 2NT responder has 11-12 HCP, balanced

1S 1NT

2X 3S responder has a balanced 3-card limit raise (11-12 HCP)
1S 1NT

2C/2D/2H 3C/3D/3H responder has an invitational hand with at least 5 clubs,

4 diamonds , or 4 hearts ( with a good 6-card suit he may bid

1NT and then jump to3D or 3H directly over 2C or 2D)

1S 1NT

2X 3NT,4NT responder has a balanced slam invitation

4C,4D, 4H responder has a balanced slam invitational raise in spades

Special Situation Involving 1S-1NT

1S 1NT This special sequence can help find a HEART fit after a 1S opening.

2C 2D or 2H Since responder would have bid a direct 2C to show a weak hand

with 6+ diamonds and would have bid a direct 2D to show a weak

hand with 6+ hearts, these two bids can be used as a way to find a

better fit when responder has exactly five hearts.2D shows a

5-card heart suit with 0-1 spades. 2H shows a 5-card heart suit with

exactly 2 spades.This serves the same purpose as the BART

convention, which could certainly be used as an alternative here.


1S 2C opener has nothing special –is willing to play 2D

2D P responder has a weak hand with 6+ diamonds
1S 2C opener is willing to play 2D if responder has 6 diamonds

2D 2S responder has good CLUBS, xxx or Hx in spades, 11-12 HCP

1S 2C

2D 2NT responder has good clubs , 0-2 spades, 11-12 HCP

1S 2C

2D 3C the auction is now forcing to 3NT or 4 of a minor

1S 2C

2D 3S responder has good clubs and forcing 3-card raise

Many of the same continuations apply after 1S-2D and 1S-2H.

1S 2D opener is willing to play 2H if responder has 6 hearts

2H P responder has a weak hand with 6+ hearts
1S 2D

2H 2S responder has good diamonds, 11-12 HCP, and Hx or xxx

in spades

1S 2D

2H 2NT responder has good diamonds, 11-12 HCP, and 0-2 spades
1S 2D

2H 3S responder has good diamonds and a forcing 3-card raise of spades

1S 2D

2H 3D responder has 6+ diamonds; the auction is forcing to 3NT or

four of a minor

Special Situation Involving 1S-2D

When responder bids 2D, it is possible that there is a game for us even when all he has is

the weak hand with 6+ hearts. Therefore, he can’t just meekly accept the relay to 2H when he has good hearts and/or extra values. He can use two special rebids to indicate a good heart fit. 2NT shows 3 good hearts and extra values. If responder has 6 hearts he can retransfer with 3D or 4D. A jump to 3H shows a 4-card suit and extra strength. If responder has hearts, he can pass or bid 4H. When responder really has diamonds and at least invitational values, he can always bid a new suit or NT.

The 2H response to 1S is different from the minor suit responses in one major respect. It is still a 2-way bid. It may show a real heart suit and at least 11 HCP OR serve as a relay to the next suit-spades. However, that relay is obviously not going to show a 6-card spade suit. I’m sure anyone with 6 or 7 spades opposite a 1S opener will be able to figure out some other sort of spade raise. When the 2H bidder has a spade raise , it will be a weak raise (0-7 HCP) not suitable for a preemptive jump. This allows us to make a bid that has at least some preemptive value without getting too high. It may also allow us to exercise a little creativity.It might occur to certain devious types to make the bid with a doubleton , 7-8 HCP, and good intermediates, in hopes of luring a vulnerable opponent into a rash balance at the three level. But we can’t get too frisky if partner might bid a new suit at the three level himself.

In order to make sure that partner doesn’t do anything rash, we have a firm rule. Opener must accept the relay unless he has really extraordinary distribution.

Our basic premise is that there will rarely be a game when opener has any ordinary sort of limited (maximum of 16 HCP) 1S opener. We can safely pass 2S without worrying about missing game. With a great hand and a solid suit he may occasionally jump to 3S. With a big two-suiter he might be justified in bidding three of another suit. But 98% of the time the auction will go 1S-2H-2S-P.

When responder actually has a heart suit, the auction will proceed just as those which follow 1S-2C or 1S-2D. 1S-2H-2S-2NT and 1S-2H-2S-3S are invitational.

Bidding a new suit or rebidding 3H is forcing to 3NT or four of the minor. A jump to 4S is a mild slam try, since responder could have just jumped to 4S to begin with.

1S 2H 2H forces opener to bid 2S in most cases

2S P responder has a weak (0-7 HCP) spade raise

1S 2H

2S 3S responder has a heart suit, 3+ spades, and 11-12 HCP


The sequences after 1H-1NT are essentially the same as those after 1S-1NT, with a couple of necessary adjustments. First, there is no need to show a 5-card heart suit, so 1H-1NT-2C-2D is available for another purpose. So is 1H-1NT-2C/2D-2S,

since responder would have bid 1S in response to 1H if he had a 4-card spade suit.

My suggestion is that both 2D and 2S be used to show a need for a stopper in a hand that would otherwise qualify for a 2NT bid. Any other suggestions should certainly be considered.

Beyond those exceptions, both partners’ rebids are familiar. Here are some example auctions:
1H 1NT opener doesn’t have 6 hearts or 4+ diamonds

2C(default) 2NT responder has 0-2 hearts, 11-12 HCP

1H 1NT

2C 3H balanced limit raise


Again , sequences here are similar to those after 1S-2C.

1H 2C

2D(default) P responder has a weak hand with 6+ diamonds

1H 2C

2D 2H responder has good clubs, Hx or xxx in hearts, 11-12 HCP

1H 2C

2D 2S responder has 11+ HCP, good clubs,and a spade stopper,

searching for 3NT or another game

A rebid of 3D and all new suit bids after this sort of sequence are forcing to 3NT or four of a minor. Responder may even be trying for slam.

The 2D response to 1H, just like the 2C response, begins many invitational and forcing sequences like the ones discussed in previous sections. With those hands , responder shows a good diamond suit and 11+ HCP. The 2D bid also is our way of making a weak raise of hearts. Opener is essentially required to accept the relay and bid 2H. Responder will pass with a weak raise.

We have now established our method for getting from 1H to 2H and from 1S to 2S without risking any rash actions by opener. It is time to examine better raises.

Constructive Raises
What about those 8-10 HCP (7 HCP hands with four trump and side shortness also qualify) hands that may produce game opposite a good major suit opener? For those hands, we use constructive raises with short and long suit game tries.

When responder raises opener’s 1H or 1S directly to 2 of that suit, opener may want to try for game with a 15 or 16 HCP hand, or even a very shapely 13 or 14. He does so in one of two ways. If opener bids the next higher denomination, he is beginning a relay to a long suit game try. If responder has a singleton or void, however, he may skip the relay and bid his short suit directly. Assuming the relay is accepted, opener bids a suit of 3 or more cards where help is needed. If opener bids any of the three denominations above the long suit relay bid, that is a short suit game try. Responder will usually accept opener’s relay by bidding the next higher denomination. If he skips over that bid and bids one of the next three denominations, he is making a short suit game try of his own.

To clarify the last paragraph, here is an outline of constructive raises:

Opener Responder

1S 2S 8-10 HCP

2NT long suit relay to 3C; then 3C -accepts 2NT relay

3D, 3H, or 3S (clubs) are (no singleton)

long suit game tries If responder has singleton

If opener has singleton Alternate Second Response

Direct Short Suit Try(bypassing 2NT) (bypassing relay to 3C)

3C singleton club 3D singleton diamond

3D singleton diamond 3H singleton heart

3H singleton heart 3S singleton club (relay suit)
The auction 1S-2S-3S is not defined. It is unlikely to be needed as a preemptive bid. Perhaps it would be best used to describe a maximum hand with a very weak trump suit.
Here is the scheme for hearts:

Opener Responder

1H 2H 8-10 HCP

2S long suit relay to 2NT, to be 2NT accepts 2S relay

followed by 3C, 3C or 3H (no singleton)


Alternate Second Response

Direct Short Suit Try (bypassing relay to 2NT)

2NT which shows a single spade 3C singleton club

(relay suit)

3C singleton club 3D singleton diamond

3D singleton diamond 3H singleton spade (relay suit)

Again, to recap, if opener makes the cheapest bid over a single constructive major suit raise, he denies a singleton and wants to make a long suit game try. Any other bid up to 3 of the trump suit is a short-suit game suit try, including 2NT, which shows short spades in a heart auction.

Here are some constructive raise auctions:

A. ♠ AKJxx ♠Qxxx 1S 2S (8-10 HCP)

♥ Axx ♥ xx 2NT(relay) 3C (accepting relay)

♦ xx ♦ xxx 3S (asking 4S (I’ve got great help)

♣ KJx ♣ AQxx help in clubs)

B. ♠ AKJxx ♠ Qxxx 1S 2S

♥ Axx ♥ x 2NT 3H (ignoring relay-heart

♦ xx ♦ KJxxx singleton)

♣ KJx ♣ Qxx 4S P

C. ♠ AKJxx ♠ Qxxx 1S 2S

♥ Axx ♥ Qxx 2NT 3S (stands for club

♦ xx ♦ KJxxx singleton-relay suit)

♣ KJx ♣ x P

D. ♠ x ♠ xxx 1H 2H

♥ AQxxx ♥ Jxxx 2NT (bypassing relay- 4H (perfect

♦ KJxx ♦ Ax shows singleton spade) spade holding)

♣ AJx ♣ Kxxx P

E. ♠ xx ♠ QJx 1H 2H

♥AQxxx ♥ Jxxx P (not max.,no singleton-may just

♦ KJxx ♦ Ax decide to “protect the plus” at MP) OR

♣ AJx ♣ xxxx 2S,then 3C (LSGT if vulnerable at IMPS)

Don’t forget that if you have a standard raise to two of a major with less than

8 HCP , you must use the “suit under” Sartor 2/1 transfer. 1S-2H includes the

weak raise in spades, and 1H-2D includes the weak raise in hearts. This actually can be used as a semi-psychic bid, since opener is not allowed to refuse the transfer without a very unusual hand. You can make the bid with 0 HCP if you think it might steal a contract or confuse the opponents. Against vulnerable opponents, you might do it with 7 HCP and a doubleton in partner’s suit, hoping to get a shot at doubling a 3-level balance. In the hands of someone with a devious mind like mine, this bid could be a lot of fun.

Sartor Raises
If this book is going to be a best seller, it needs either sex or controversy. I’m sure you’ve noticed how sexy the first few sections are, so let’s try for controversy. How about this?

In a strong club system, the limit raise in a major suit is one of the most useless bids in bridge, at least in terms of accurate evaluation of game prospects. How do I reach this conclusion, which is obviously not in line with the common wisdom? Let’s look at some typical one spade openers, all limited to no more than 16 HCP.
A. ♠ AQxxx B. ♠ KQxxx C. ♠ AKQxx

♥ Kxx ♥ x ♥ xx

♦ xxx ♦ AQxx ♦ Jx

♣ Ax ♣ Qxx ♣ Kxxx

All of these hands have 13 HCP. All are perfectly good one spade openings. All have one thing in common. It is a pure guess whether they will make four spades opposite a limit raise to 3S.

If the responding hand has a singleton diamond, hand A is likely to make game. If it has key honors in clubs and not much in hearts, hand B will probably take ten tricks. Shortness in either red suit or a good fit in clubs would be nice on hand C.

In practice, the average aggressive player will probably close his eyes, rub his rabbit’s foot, and bid game on all three. On a good day he may make all of them. On a bad day, he can blame three minus scores on his partner’s lousy limit raises.

Unfortunately, once partner bids three spades, it’s a little late to get a detailed description of his hand.Which brings me to the point of this discussion. There is a much better way to raise partner’s major suit opener. It is especially useful when opener’s hand is specifically limited to a range of 11-16 HCP, but it could also be adapted to any standard system.

Some of the raises I’m about to outline are basically modifications of the Jacoby 2NT and standard jump shifts. My contribution is merely to alter them so that they can cover hands with limit raise values. The set of 2/1 responses are original and probably too offbeat for many prospective system users. We need a snappy label for these bids, and for some reason, the names “Sartor Raises”, “Sartor 2/1” and “Sartor Jump Shifts” seem to roll off the tongue.(Heck, if Marty Bergen and Oswald Jacoby can get their names on bids , why can’t I?) So henceforth we will refer to our set of major suit responses by those names. We will combine them with a forcing 1NT, constructive single raises and splinter bids to form a comprehensive set of responses to major suit openings.

Here is a detailed description of Sartor Raises:

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