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Acol and 5 card majors

On BBO the strong consensus among the experts is that that Acol with 4 card majors is an inferior system, and that top British tournament players including Andrew Robson rarely use it in competition- they play 5 card majors. They say that UK authors and the EBU concentrate on teaching Acol with 4 card majors  because it is the Lingua Franca for their target audience in clubs up and down the country. 

I know BBO is a US based site and that in the USA Acol is rarely played, so I would expect a biassed view, but is it true that  we are being fed what we like and are used to rather than being enlightened. 

Comments

  • One way of looking at a bridge auction is to think of it as a “conversation” between two partners in order to reach the best contract. Using this analogy, the bidding system used is like a language, the bids and sequences of bids are like words and understandings as to whether a bid is a limit bid / forcing bid / game forcing bid are similar to the grammar and punctuation of speech.

    Clearly, the conversation can only work if both are speaking the same language – preferably the same dialect. The best conversationalists have a deep understanding of the words used and their context. But conversations can take place as effectively in English, French or Chinese.

    The point that I am trying to make is that it is far more important to have a deep understand of your bidding system, rather than worrying whether the system itself is optimal. Players play a variety of systems, including strong, weak, variable mini no trumps; four-card majors and five-card majors; canapé systems; strong club systems; other exotic systems. If one system was clearly superior then everyone would be playing it.

    For historical reasons , most players in the UK are taught weak NT and four-card majors (Acol) and most players in the US are taught strong NT and five-card majors (SAYC). If you turn up at your local club in the UK you will find it easy to find a partner to play Acol with you. 

    There is a gradual trend for more players to play five-card majors / strong NT. To return to my language metaphor, American English is becoming increasingly dominant due to the influence of American popular culture and similarly the internet and BBO are helping to promote the gradual shift towards American bidding systems.

    It is certainly true that few, if any, leading international players use Acol in top tournaments. But it is also true that few play SAYC in its originally conceived form. The top players tend to develop systems with far more artificiality than we would be able to master. Unless you are playing at the very highest strata, I would argue that Acol is a perfectly playable system, which is easily taught to beginners but is also capable of development into a formidable weapon in the tournament world – provided the partnership have a good understanding of the system. I am perfectly happy to play Acol.

    My main worry is that bidding systems need to be developed and improved over time. Bidding systems from the 1950’s and 60’s – even the 1980’s and 90’s have become out-of-date. I am concerned that there are less efforts being put into developing Acol – and this becomes progressively harmful. I haven’t seen too much good literature published on Acol in recent years.

  • I am an American, a tournament player, and I have played in several world championships. It is VERY rare to see anyone playing either SAYC or Acol at tournaments. Far and away the most popular system is the 2 over 1 system. The reason that neither Acol nor Standard American is played in big tournaments is that it is much more difficult to accurately bid slams in those systems because they involve so much jumping, which robs valuable bidding space. I play Acol, I play Standard American. I play 2 over 1. When people ask me why they have so much trouble bidding slams, I advice them that their bidding system is a primary cause of their difficulty. Team games are often won or lost on slams, which is the weakness of Acol and SAYC. Both systems, especially Acol, have the benefit of ease of learning, so they are excellent at getting people to learn bridge. But their shared weakness is revealed in their absence from the list of winners in team games.
  • Terrence - makes some good points. The key to good slam bidding is to establish a forcing auction early. I have often advised partnerships that they should spend time discussing and agreeing which bids are forcing, rather than discussing additional conventions.

    The 2-over-1 system does have a major advantage, in that it does allow you to create a forcing auction at your first response.

    The system is not perfect though. Hands that are weak or invitational all have to go through a forcing 1NT bid. To enable these hands to be described accurately, there is a proliferation of artificial conventional bids. For this reason, this is not an easy system for newer players (or experienced players in casual partnerships) to master - you have to put in a lot of effort to get the most out of the system.

    Acol has also improved over the years, with bids that were previously defined as non-forcing now considered forcing or game forcing (e.g. 1H, 2C, 2D or 1S, 2D, 2NT etc.). It is also important to realise that auctions have become increasingly competitive over the years. The weak no trump and opening majors more frequently in a four-card major system both have the effect of making it more difficult for the opposition to compete , by preventing a cheap one-level over-call. Acol can have advantages in competitive bidding - particularly effective at pairs (which is what most club players play).

    My view is that you can go a long way in the game before you out-grow Acol.

  • "The weak no trump and opening majors more frequently in a four-card major system both have the effect of making it more difficult for the opposition to compete , by preventing a cheap one-level over-call. Acol can have advantages in competitive bidding - particularly effective at pairs (which is what most club players play)."

    My parents played bridge, but they used a tablecloth with rules on it :)

    I have sympathy with your view of Acol, since it was the first system I ever played, and my first American system was Goren, a 4-card major system, and most of my life I have played weak NTs. I love those systems, but they lack the precision of modern 2/1 or strong club systems. I say this based on my personal observation that when I played bridge in the 50s and 60s, I regarded bidding as an art. I gave up bridge and returned in 2000 -- and I recall thinking that these days, bidding was much more of a science than an art. Now there were enough bids to assign shades of meaning to bids, so the results more accurately reflect the play or defense potential of the partnership's resources. In a recent world championship (perhaps national championship), John Kranyak said the bidding was so clear that he claimed on a double squeeze when the opening lead was made. That is extreme, but it exemplifies that it is much more common today that bidding can paint a picture, so bidding decisions improve. For most people, the improvement comes at a cost -- an investment of time. Why bother in most cases? But it is more difficult to bid accurately in non-competitive auctions using Acol than using 2/1 or strong club systems. But Acol gets people to play, and here we are losing ground, and bridge players need to be replaced by younger players. We have not succeeded in doing that.

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