Ask the Experts Volume 1, Number 4


Ken Graebe of Northford asks "Other than finding a partner, what are the disadvantages of a strong club system?"


Rich DeMartino leads off for those who haven’t played a strong club system but have a good sense of some of the challenges associated with playing such a system effectively:

I personally have never played a strong club system but since MANY of the country’s top players do play a Strong Club, they obviously believe such a system is an advantage as long as both players fully understand the system and have complete agreement on the rules.

This suggests there are benefits in playing a well-understood strong club system but it does require a lot of work. Not something I would want to do except with a very regular partner.

One man’s opinion.


Jeff Goldman’s experience confirms his sense:

Agree with Rich. I had never played a strong club system until recently and played it with one partner. Our version was VERY involved and had a lot of new content for me. I would only suggest it if you’re committed to learning the system and playing it with a very regular partner. It’s a lot of work!


Steve Becker, similarly:

I concur with Rich and Jeff.  There is ample proof that strong club systems work very well in the hands of experienced players, and may even be better than what we now call Standard American, but to succeed with it, you'll have to find a partner who is willing to put in the time and effort it will take to master it.  Think starting from Square 1 all over again.


Jeff Horowitz starts to touch on some of the intrinsic disadvantages:

I think the advantages are obvious in an unimpeded auction. The problems occur when there is interference showing various types of shapes as with any type of preempt.


I agree that since so many strong pairs use the strong club that the advantages probably exceed the disadvantages in a professional partnership with many pages of notes.


The average local club partnership playing a strong club system has no advantage, in my humble opinion.


Larry Bausher gets a bit more specific about some of the advantages:

I’ve played two strong club systems over the years.  One of the advantages is that the bidding is kept low and you often know after the first one or two bids whether you have the points for game or not.  There is more room to explore whether you have a suit fit or belong in NT.  As others have noted, you have to be on the same page with partner to know which bids are forcing and which are not, but that applies to any system you are playing. 


John Stiefel goes into a bit more depth about advantages and disadvantages:


  1. The biggest advantage of a strong club system is when you don’t open 1C. Examples -
    • You can open very light; e.g. 1S with AKJxx, Jxxx, xx, xx. This puts more pressure on the opponents and partner will know not to bid too much because you might have a hand like this.
    • You can jump right away to the game you want to play and know there’s no slam since partner didn’t open 1C; e.g. respond 4H to a 1H opening with AQxx, Kxx, KQ, J10xx. Opponents won’t know if you have this hand or xx, J19xxx, Qxxxx, x and they could be very wrong competing or not competing.


  1. Accuracy of bidding (slam bidding, in particular) when you do open 1C.  Examples –
    • You open 1C (16+) and partner responds 1S (5+ spades and 9+ points).  You are now in a game forcing auction and have plenty of room to investigate the best game or slam.
    • Asking bids – the strong club opener can ask about the quality of partner’s suit or his/her holding in any side suit without revealing anything about his/her hand. This is a huge advantage when the strong club opener becomes declarer.


  1. “Not for the faint of heart” – playing a strong club system is much harder than playing a standard system. This is particularly the case when you play asking bids and other nuisances (and you should, if you want to maximize your system’s advantages).


  1. Vulnerability to pre-emption – most players have learned now to go out of their way to bid when you open 1C.  This makes it harder to find your best spot, especially when they bid and raise (or jump raise) their suit and you haven’t bid your best suit yet. (Note – consider playing a strong club when not vulnerable and standard when vulnerable to reduce this problem.)


  1. A strong club system is most suitable for bridge players who have the time to spend learning it; e.g. professional players or serious amateur players who play together exclusively.




Among 13 of the well-seasoned pairs who won premier events at the New Orleans NABC, only three were playing a strong club system. Perhaps the best known of these pairs, Joe Grue and Brad Moss, play a strong club only in 4th seat and in 1st-3rd seats when non-vulnerable, in keeping with John Stiefel’s suggestion.

Interestingly, even Jeff Meckstroth, whose previous Meckwell Precision partnership with Eric Rodwell was one of the most successful ever, is not playing a strong club in his current partnership with David Berkowitz.