Rubensohl and Transfer Lebensohl

Transfer Defenses to Overcalls Over 1N

This chapter covers the situation where we have opened 1N, and opener’s LHO has made an interfering bid: double, or an overcall; or, after two passes, opener’s RHO has interfered and it has been passed back to opener’s partner.

If the interference shows two suits specifically we would use our defense against two-suited bids such as the version of Unusual vs. Unusual explained in Bidding Notes, “General Defense Against Two-Suited Bids”.

An overcall of 2♣ or 2♦ may also show two definite suits and we again defend it as a two-suited bit.

After a penalty double, we play a runout. For a double with a different meaning you have some choices, discussed later.

Over 2♣ that is natural, shows a long suit, or shows clubs and an unknown suit, it is easiest just to ignore it and play “systems on”. Double is Stayman, and other transfers are on. Many players already play this “systems on, stolen doubles” method on all overcalls.

In the previous chapter, we learned Lebensohl as a better alternative. However, it has a particular weakness. If responder bids 2N!(relay), and then advancer intervenes, such as raising his partner, opener does not know responder’s suit or strength yet, or even if he has a suit.

If, on the other hand, responder with a suit can show which one it is immediately, that is a big advantage. A transfer bid can do that, and the transfer opener can complete the transfer or not in some cases, which gives us more useful choices of meanings. The methods covered in this chapter, variously called Rubensohl or Rubinsohl or Transfer Lebensohl, merge the ideas of Lebensohl with the idea of using transfers, gaining the best of both worlds. And, like Lebensohl, they can be applied in other competitive situations.

The main idea of this class of methods is that two-level suit bids are competitive only, while 2N! and the three-level suit bids are transfers. They define the bids up through 3N over overcalls of 2♦, 2♠, and 2♠, as long as the bid shows one definite suit and possibly another undefined suit. The definite suit is referred to as the “overcalled suit”. For example, a 2♦! bid showing diamonds and a higher suit will be treated as a diamond overcall.

So, to sum up, we cover only overcalls of 2♦, 2♥, or 2♠, except those that specify no suits or two suits.

In the case of an artificial bid showing an unspecified suit or suits (such as a Woolsey 2♦! which shows a long unspecified major), responder may make a bid from our normal system or responder may pass and await his next turn, at which point if the opponents specified a suit, that is not clubs, the transfer system will apply.

As with Lebensohl, you can play this system over a natural club overcall, and if you want to do so just apply methods similar to those over a diamond overcall, with appropriate modifications.

Transfer Lebensohl versus Rubensohl

Many different versions of this idea exist. Rubensohl and Transfer Lebensohl (TL) are the two main branches. Assume that we have opened 1N and they have made a suit overcall. If the overcall was itself a transfer or artificial, then of course it is the target of bid that we consider the “overcalled” suit.

In all these variants:

  • Two-level suit bids are to play. A two-level bid is only possible if responder’s suit is higher-ranked than the overcall. Therefore, the availability or not of such a bid changes what the other bids mean.
  • 2N! is a relay to clubs or a transfer to clubs:
    • In TL, 2N! does not show an intermediate or better hand, and is just a relay to clubs, pass or correct, as in Lebensohl.
    • In Rubensohl, 2N! is a real transfer to clubs.
  • 3♣!(diamonds), and 3♦!(hearts), and 3♥!(spades) are transfers show invitational or better hands when the two-level bid was available.
  • 3♠!(balanced hand, gf) either shows or denies a stopper, while 3N is the opposite.

Variations are created by the following decisions, which are inter-related:

  • Is this system on over clubs?
  • The meaning of a double: is it takeout, or penalty oriented?
  • The meaning of a transfer to their suit (a “transfer-cue”).
  • The meaning of a “slow” cue bid if 2N is just a relay.
  • How we bid toward a notrump game with or without stoppers.
  • How we bid Stayman and continue if there is no major fit.

When I first wrote up Rubensohl several years ago, there was a real paucity of explanations available. Now you can get more information on these methods on the web. Larry Cohen has a description of TL. An article by Michael Donnelly, “Handling Interference”, in the Nov. 2016 Bridge Bulletin has a one-page description of an idea more similar to what follows.

My method, playable by advanced intermediates, is given in the next chapter.

My Rubensohl: R

The presentation below is, in the spirit of these writings, an attempt to construct a learnable yet effective method. It is in the Rubensohl school. We’ll call it “R” just to emphasize that there are other versions.

Note

This defense requires considerable experience and a regular partner.

When Does R Apply?

Bid using R if the opponents’ bid over our 1N opener shows:

  • one specified suit that is not clubs, or
  • one specified suit that is not clubs, and an unspecified second suit.

Treat the bid as if it is a natural overcall in the specified suit.

In cases where the bid does not specify any suit, so requires action on the part of the advancer, responder may pass and wait to see a specified suit, and if at that point R bids would have been used with the direct bid, they are now on. If responder bids immediately, then R does not apply and we’re “systems on”.

Examples

If we wait until we know a suit, and R would apply to that suit, it applies after the delay:

1N - (2♣! long suit) - P - (2♦!(required))
P - (2♥) - ?
1N - (2♦! unspecified major) - P - (2♥! required)
P (P) ?

In both cases, at responder’s second turn, R now applies as if the auction had been a simple 1N - (2♥).

Of course, if the suit is clubs, R doesn’t apply:

1N - (X! long suit) - P - (2♣! pass or correct)
P - (P) - ?

A bid here of any sort is “systems on”; for example, 2♦! would be a transfer to hearts.

Acting immediately before the suit is known, R does not apply yet, so this is a Stolen Bid double, Stayman:

1N - (2♣! long suit) - X

A fourth seat overcall passed back to responder is treated as if immediate:

1N - (P) - P - (2♥)
P - (P) - ?

R applies as over an immediate heart overcall

Otherwise the R bids are off. In particular any immediate bid showing two suits, such as both majors or both minors, is dealt with as a two-suited bid.

The R Bids

If the opponents overcall a natural 2♦, 2♥, or 2♠, possibly showing an additional unknown suit, we can show competitive or game-forcing hands, and some invitational hands. Details follow.

  • Pass with a weak hand.
  • Two-level suit bids, when available, are competitive only, with 5+ cards in the suit.
  • Double is for takeout.
  • 2N! transfers to clubs.
  • 3♣! transfers to diamonds.
  • 3♦! transfers to hearts.
  • 3♥! transfers to spades.
  • 3♠! shows game values with a stopper (“slow shows”).
  • 3N! shows game values but denies a stopper (“fast denies”).

The sub-sections below discuss the continuations.

Transfers to Suits

The bids of 2N! through 3♥! are suit transfers to the next higher strain.

  • If the two-level bid of the target suit was not available, opener must complete the transfer. Responder may pass with a competitive hand, or bid again, game forcing.

  • If a two-level bid of the target suit was available, the transfer shows invitational or better values. Opener will treat it as invitational at first, completing the transfer to decline the invitation, or making a descriptive bid to force to game.

    If the opener completes the transfer, responder gets a turn to make the auction game forcing by proceeding. If available, 3♠! shows no stopper for notrump. For example, after a heart overcall, a transfer to diamonds followed by 3♠! is a game force, denying a heart stopper but showing game values with 5+ diamonds.

  • A cue bid after a transfer to a minor shows a six-card suit and exactly one stopper, game forcing. Does not apply if the overcalled suit is spades, as the 3♠! bid will be needed to ask for a stopper for notrump.

Game sequences involving minor suit transfers tend to show no four-card major, or a Stayman takeout-double would be preferable.

Trying For Notrump

With balanced hands and game-forcing values, responder can affirm or deny a stopper in the overcalled suit:

  • 3♠! “transfers” to 3N, showing a stopper in the overcalled suit. (“Slow shows”)
  • 3N! shows game values but denies a stopper. (“Fast denies”). If Opener is lacking a stopper as well, he may bid a five card suit or bid suits up the line looking for a fit.

Takeout Doubles

The takeout double serves as Stayman as well. The double requires invitational values; responder bids again with more. The double promises four cards in an unbid major, and usually two or fewer cards in the overcalled suit. It is nice to have two cards in the overcalled suit, in case opener wishes to convert the double to penalty.

If opener replies 3♣, responder’s 3♦ does not show extras but can be passed. This allows one to make the takeout double with only two clubs. Responder may continue otherwise to force to game. A cue bid can be used as a second bid if nothing else suits.

Opener’s replies when the overcalled suit is a major, in priority:

  • the unbid major suit, with four+ cards; jump if you would accept an invitation.
  • 2N to decline the invitation, or 3N to accept, showing a stopper.
  • 3♣! if no stopper and no major.
  • Pass to convert to penalty.

Opener’s replies when the overcalled suit is diamonds are similar. In priority:

  • a four-card major; hearts if both are held. If responder had spades but not hearts he must now bid 2♠. Opener would again revert to 3♣! with no stopper and no spades.
  • 2N to decline the invitation, or 3N to accept, showing a stopper, but no major.
  • 3♣! with no stopper and no major, or pass to convert to penalty.

Since responder has presumably at most doubleton in their suit, opener would be lucky to find him with more than a half-stopper and should not reckon on it.

Transfer-Cue Bids

A bid that transfers to the overcalled suit (a “transfer-cue”) is a game-forcing 4441 or 4450 hand with the shortness in the overcalled suit.

The opener can bid a game in a major suit, bid notrump with a stopper, bid 3♣! to deny either.

Four-Level Bids

Replies to a 1N opener at or above the four-level are whatever you play now, such as:

  • 4♣ is Gerber.
  • 4♦! and 4♥! are Texas Transfers to hearts and spades, showing six card suits and values for game only. With a strong hand and a six-card major, transfer first and then bid the suit at the four level to show slam interest.
  • 4♠! (rare) invites opener to pick a minor game.
  • 4N is invitational to 6N. One note, however: If the responder could have made a bid showing a stopper but did not, then a later 4N that is quantitative would show at most a poor stopper or a half-stopper. So that is the case with 1N -(2x) - 4N, as with a stopper responder could bid 1N - (2x) - 3♠! - 3N - 4N (quantitative).

Three-Level Overcalls

Over three-level overcalls, use your normal system, such as:

  • A double is for takeout, showing support for the other three suits.
  • Bids at the three level are natural, one-round forcing, and,
  • 3N, 4♥, 4♠, 5♣, and 5♦ are to play.

Why R is Hard

The R convention is hard.

It requires calm thinking to be sure to use it when, and only when, it applies, (If you just skimmed it, re-read When Does R Apply? carefully.)

After you get past that issue, the system seems deceptively simple. The difficulty is in the amount of inference required. To illustrate, consider the sequence:

1N (2♦) 3♦!(hearts)
3♠!.

We know that:

  • Responder has at least an invitational hand. Responder had a 2♥ bid available to just compete. He transferred.
  • Opener must be max because he has accepted the invitation when he did not complete the transfer, so the auction is now game forcing.
  • Opener’s 3♠! has asked responder to bid 3N, rather than bidding 3N himself, so opener does not have a diamond stopper.
  • Opener does not have three hearts, or he would have bid 4♥.

That’s a pretty good information haul with just two bids! Unfortunately deductive reasoning is required – considering what partner did not bid as much as what he did bid.

Show A Minor Or Just Go?

Suppose as responder you have a game-forcing hand with a decent minor suit, say diamonds, but lack a stopper in the overcalled suit, say hearts, and do not have a four card major. Both these approaches seem plausible:

  • Transfer to diamonds, then bid 3♠! next to ask for a stopper.
  • Bid 3N immediately, denying a stopper, looking to play there if opener has a stopper.

Answer: You should transfer and then continue with 3♠! asking for a stopper. If your partner also lacks a stopper, you may be looking for a fit and so you should show your diamonds on the way.

On the other hand, if you do have a stopper, your normal bid is 3♠!, not the transfer; So if you do make a transfer and then bid 3N, opener would wonder why you bothered to show the diamonds if you could have just bid for a notrump game without his help. Therefore, he should conclude that you have slam interest with diamonds.

Another strategy is to make the transfer and bid 3♠! when you have a less than premium hand and worry that you really need a stopper from partner to help. If he goes back to your diamonds, perhaps it will be for the best.

Don’t forget the funny end-case of a transfer to a minor followed by a cue bid, showing six cards and a single stopper, but that it doesn’t apply for spade overcalls.

Examples

Examples When Our Suit Is Lower

When responder’s suit cannot be bid at the two-level, his values may be just competitive. Opener must therefore always complete the transfer. It is up to responder to continue when he is game forcing.

Say responder has a club suit, lower than the overcalled suit, diamonds:

1N (2♦) 2N! Transfer to clubs, competitive or game forcing
3♣!(forced) - 3♦!(six clubs, exactly one stop, gf)

The transfer to a minor, followed by the cue bid, means six plus of the minor and exactly one stopper. The opener should be able to judge where to place the contract.

Responder asks for a stopper and opener doesn’t have one:

1N (2♦) 2N!(clubs)
3♣!(forced) 3♠!(stopper ask)

It is safe for opener, if he is lacking a stopper, to bid 4♣ since responder has five of them. Responder can bid 5♣ with sufficient values.

In the next two examples, the overcall is in spades. Suppose responder has a game-forcing hand with five hearts:

1N (2♠) 3♦!(hearts) 3♥!(forced)

With a spade stopper responder can now bid 3N, or bid 4♥ with six cards, which suggests slam interest because he didn’t use Texas Transfers. Opener will of course correct to 4♥ when appropriate.

Without a stopper, responder can cue-bid 3♠ to force to game.

In that case there is a possibility of playing in a 5-2 fit, worst case, when opener has just two hearts and no stopper. Note that in this process responder will know that if opener does not have three hearts, he must have at least three of everything else, because we do not open 1N with two doubletons.

Examples When Our Suit Is Higher

In the next set of examples, our suit is higher than the overcalled suit (and therefore is a major).

The two-level bids are to play:

1N (2♦) 2♥ is to play, as is
1N (2♦ or 2♥) 2♠.

A transfer is at least invitational; the opener can decline the invitation by just accepting the transfer. He can accept with 3N if he has a stopper, or bid 4 of the major.

In this example, responder is invitational with hearts:

1N (2♦) 3♦!(hearts, invitational or better)
3♥ - Pass

Opener declined the invitation by completing the transfer.

Getting to game is easy when responder has a stopper:

1N (2♦) 3♦!
3♥ - 3N

Responder has a diamond stopper, and game forcing values. Opener can pass or correct to 4♥.

This is the same idea as an ordinary transfer without interference: you transfer to the major and then bid 3N. If the opener has 3 in the major he corrects to 4M.

The 3♠! bid can be used when responder does not have a stopper:

1N (2♦) 3♦!
3♥ 3♠!

Responder has game-forcing values but is asking for a stopper.

A 2♥ bid was possible for responder, so opener had a choice. Completing the transfer showed no interest in accepting an invitation in hearts. However, responder bid on, using the artificial 3♠ bid to ask for a stopper. Opener must now bid 3N with a stopper, or bid 4♥ with three hearts, or look for a minor fit on the way with 4♣ or 4♦. Worst case we’re in a 5-2 heart fit.

When responder’s suit is spades there is not a lot of room. If an opener does not have a stopper and does not have three spades, things will get awkward:

1N (2♥) 3♥!(spades)

A 3♠! bid does not show a game force, no stopper and two spades – because that’s accepting the transfer and therefore declining the invitation! However, accepting the invitation may be a bad idea anyway. A responder continuing to game without a stopper should show their best minor or cue-bid, praying for opener to correct to 4♠.

Super-accepting is possible (but not when our suit is lower):

1N (2♦) 3♦!
4♥

Opener has accepted an invitation in hearts to game.

Remember, our four-level bids do not change:

1N (2♦) 4♦!(six hearts)

This Texas Transfer shows six hearts, no slam interest.

In the next example, responder has slam interest in hearts:

1N (2♦) 3♦!
3♥ - 4♥ (six hearts, game-forcing values)

Responder has slam interest and six hearts, because without extras he could have just used a Texas transfer, and he wouldn’t bid 4♥ on his own without a six-card suit.

Examples When Our Suit Is Diamonds

Say the bidding has gone:

1N (2♠) 3♣!(transfer to diamonds)
3♦

Opener had to complete the transfer, as a 2♦ bid by responder was not avilable. If responder has game-forcing values,

  • 3♥! game forcing, probably a hand with long diamonds and some values in hearts but no stopper. Note that 3♥ is not promising four hearts.
  • 3♠! game forcing, asking for a bid of 3N if opener has stopper.
  • 3N to play, has stopper.

Example Of A Takeout Double

After a 2♥ overcall, holding ♠KT93 ♥J3 ♦AK9 ♣T987, responder doubles for takeout, and if opener bids 3♣!, passes. Recall 3♣! showed no spades and no stopper in hearts. While there is a possibility of a 4-2 fit, opener did not leave the double in so figures not to have too many hearts, and with less than four spades, figures to have some clubs in most cases.

Upgrade the hand to ♠KT93 ♥Q3 ♦AK9 ♣AJ87, and responder will want to go on, and might try 3♥ to show no stopper and a desire to hear opener’s further description, such as 3♠ showing three in the suit, or a preferred minor, or even 3N to show a partial stopper.

Example of A Transfer-Cue

After a 2♦ overcall, holding ♠KT93 ♥3 ♦AK95 ♣AJ87, responder bids 3♣!(4414 or 4405, gf). Opener should be able to place the contract. With only ♠KT93 ♥3 ♦K954 ♣AJ87, not enough to force to game, the takeout double would be preferred.

Problems

Here are some problems using R. I have gotten some of these problems from other sources on Lebensohl systems.

In these problems, the 1N bids will show 12-14 and the responder will treat 11-12 points as invitational, but often game forcing if it is a balanced 12 with good intermediates.

  1. Partner opens 1N, and your RHO overcalls 2♥. You hold:

    ♠5 ♥QJ7 ♦KJ742 ♣AQ52 (13 HCP, gf)

    What is the bidding from here?

  2. You hold, as responder:

    ♠A ♥K9743 ♦A93 ♣8643 (11 HCP, inv)

    The bidding starts with 1N (2♦). You bid 3♦!, a transfer to hearts.

    • What do you bid after your partner answers 3♥?
    • This time your transfer is super-accepted with 4♥. Your call?
    • Suppose your transfer sparks a 3♠ call. What now?
  3. Your partner opens 1N, which your RHO overcalls with a natural 2♣. What do you bid?:

    ♠AJT ♥Kx ♦KQJxxx ♣xx (14 HCP, gf)

    Suppose instead the overcall was 2♥. What then?

  4. Partner opens 1N, RHO overcalls 2♥. What’s your plan?:

    ♠KTxx ♥x ♦ATxx ♣KQJx (13 HCP, gf)
  5. The bidding goes 1N (2♥) to you. What next?:

    ♠Kxxx ♥xx ♦AQJxxx ♣void (10 HCP)

Answers

  1. Partner opens 1N, and your RHO overcalls 2♥. You hold:

    ♠5 ♥QJ7 ♦KJ742 ♣AQ52 (13 HCP, gf)

    What is the bidding from here?

    Answer: Bid 3♠!, relaying to 3N with a stopper. You have a game forcing hand and you have a heart stopper. You have no interest in slam and no particular reason to show the diamonds. Without the interference, bidding would depend on the meaning of 3♦, whether you were playing Minor Suit Stayman, etc.

  2. You hold, as responder:

    ♠A ♥K9743 ♦A93 ♣8643 (11 HCP, inv)

    The bidding starts with 1N (2♦). You bid 3♦!, a transfer to hearts.

    • What do you bid after your partner answers 3♥?
    • This time your transfer is super-accepted with 4♥. Your call?
    • Suppose your transfer sparks a 3♠ call. What now?

    Answers:

    • After 3♥, Pass. Partner declines your invitation.
    • After 4♥, Pass. You have no extras.
    • After 3♠!, (which you alerted, right?) your partner is looking for 3N. You have a stopper, so bid the 3N game.
  3. Your partner opens 1N, which your RHO overcalls with a natural 2♣. What do you bid?:

    ♠AJT ♥Kx ♦KQJxxx ♣xx (14 HCP, gf)

    Suppose instead the overcall was 2♥. What then?

    Answers: Trick question. R is off over clubs.

    After 1N - (2♥), transfer to diamonds with 3♣!; after partner perforce bids 3♦, your 3♥ shows six diamonds and a single stopper in hearts. Perfect!

    If the overcalled suit was spades, and you had ♠Kx ♥AJT ♦KQJxxx ♣xx, you could consider the transfer to diamonds followed by 3♥, this time game-forcing with some heart values but not feeling great about spades.

  4. Partner opens 1N, RHO overcalls 2♥. What’s your plan?:

    ♠KTxx ♥x ♦ATxx ♣KQJx (13 HCP, gf)

    Answer: The bid of 3♦! is a transfer to hearts, their suit, and hence is a transfer-cue showing a 4=1=4=4 or 4=0=5=4 or 4=0=4=5 game-forcing hand.

    • If partner has four spades he will bid 3♠, or with a minimum, 4♠.

    • If he has a stopper but not four spades he will bid 2N, or with a minimum, 3N.

    • If partner bids 3♣, he does not have four spades, and does not have a stopper.

      If you want to keep going, bidding diamonds would allow opener to show three spades for your consideration, or leave it there if his clubs are shorter, or confirm clubs. Cue bidding is your strongest option, of course.

    In the first two cases, opener bids the game directly to show a minimum. Otherwise, we’d like to leave more room for slam exploration.

  5. The bidding goes 1N (2♥) to you. What next?:

    ♠Kxxx ♥xx ♦AQJxxx ♣void (10 HCP)

    This hand is a rule of 20 opener. Since diamonds is lower than the overcalled suit, there is a stark choice of playing this hand as game forcing or just competitive.

    • If you transfer to diamonds with 3♣, partner must accept it with 3♦, and you could pass.

    • If partner has spades, your chances of game are great. Unfortunately a takeout double here would get really painful if partner replies 3♣. Bidding diamonds at that point would be passable as an Equal-Level Conversion, however, so this works. This case is the reason for that part of the system.

      Transferring to diamonds followed by 3♠! doesn’t show spades, and you don’t really have the points for notrump.

    • If you Pass, partner might reopen with a double if he has four spades, or just bid 2♠ if he had five. Or, defending might be pleasant.

    The moral of the story: interference works. This particular hand is an advertisement for the version of Rubensohl in which the transfer-cue is Stayman and the takeout double is penalty-oriented (See below). But, change the hand to:

    ♠Kxxx ♥x ♦AQJx ♣Kxxx (10 HCP)

    and the takeout double shines, or (perhaps with a little more HCP) your transfer-cue would be perfect, showing a game-going 4=1=4=4 or 4=1=(54).

The Path Not Taken: Ask and Stayman

For those who find not having a penalty double available too annoying, or who prefer a more Stayman-oriented approach, one can give up the transfer-cue as showing unusual shapes and have it be Stayman.

If double is for penalty rather than takeout, the transfer-cue is used to ask for stoppers and majors. The language, “Ask and Stayman” with the “Ask” first, emphasizes that the first duty of the opener is to show a stopper.

Completing the transfer-cue denies a stopper, and if the overcall was a major, completing the transfer-cue denies that other major as well. Over diamonds, it denies the stopper but not an unbid major.

Conversely, not completing the transfer shows a stopper. If opener has an unbid major, he bids that, or bids 3N, instead of completing.

I leave it to the reader to fill in the blanks on all the cases. Obviously, one can end up in the “no stopper no major fit” hunt for a place to play.