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Lebensohl

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Lebensohl

You will see mention of Lebensohl, Transfer Lebensohl (aka Rubensohl), and extensions to the Lebensohl concept on almost every single page in this site, and with very good reason. This page aims to pull together most of the main uses of Lebensohl under one roof for easy reference, even though bits of it are covered fairly fully elsewhere as well.
The system makes heavy use of Lebensohl and extensions to it that Jason Hackett and I devised because, for my money, Lebensohl is one of the most brilliant and useful bidding concepts ever devised and should form a part of every pair's arsenal of conventions. Put simply Standard Lebensohl enables Responder to compete effectively and precisely in almost any situation when his partner's Opening 1NT bid is overcalled, disrupting the normal scheme of Stayman and Transfers, or whatever else you have in place.

The key element of all versions and varieties of Lebensohl is the 2NT-3♣ sequence, the 3♣ bid being 100% forced and the 2NT bid saying nothing whatever about responder's hand, but simply telling Opener to bid 3♣. This creates three kinds of sequences:
  • Competitive sequences, where Responder bids a new suit at the 2-level if space permits
  • "Slow" sequences, that go via 2NT-3♣, and
  • "Fast" sequences, where Responder bids immediately at the 3-level without going via 2NT-3♣
These concepts apply to every version and variety of Lebensohl, although there are slightly different nuances in some of the extensions to Lebensohl.

Standard Lebensohl

As stated above the original and standard use of Lebensohl is when opponents overcall your partner's 1NT Opening. Although my reccommendation is that you play Transfer Lebensohl (also known as Rubensohl) in this situation, I will explain standard Lebensohl first, because the concepts involved are easier to follow in basic Lebensohl and they are used elsewhere in the system (eg: in other competitive sequences not involving a 1NT Opener). The scheme for "standard" Lebensohl is as follows:
  • 2-level suit bids are merely competitive and "to play" with no interest in game.
  • 2NT is the "Lebensohl" bid and commences what are called "slow" sequences. At this stage 2NT says nothing whatever about their hand. It simply commands Opener to rebid 3♣, after which Responder will clarify their hand-type:
    • Pass shows a hand merely wanting to compete in Clubs
    • A "slow" new suit bid is competitive if it could not have been bid at the 2-level. It says nothing at all about Responder's holding in opponents' suit and is strictly "to play"
    • A "slow" new suit bid is invitational if it could have been bid at the 2-level. It also says nothing at all about Responder's holding in opponents' suit and Opener has to evaluate the invitation based entirely on his own hand
    • A "slow" cue-bid of the opponents' suit shows values for 3NT, 4-card interest in any unbid Majors and also promises a stop in opponents' suit.
    • A "slow" rebid of 3NT shows values for game, denies any interest in unbid Majors, but promises a stop in opponents' suit
  • Immediate bids at the 3-level are called "fast" bids and, with the exception of 3NT, are all 100% forcing:
    • "Fast" new suit bids are strong and game-forcing, showing at least a 5-card suit. Initially they say nothing about Responder's holding in opponents' suit. Opener bids naturally.
    • A "fast" cue bid of the Opponents' suit is showing values for 3NT and interest in any unbid Majors, but denying a stop in Opponents' suit (Whereas the "slow" cue-bid promises a stop). Bidding from here is natural. Opener can show any unbid Major they hold or bid 3NT naturally if they have values in opponents' suit. If they have no Major and no stop, then they can bid a 3-card Major or a 4-card Minor.
    • A "fast" 3NT shows values for game, denies interest in unbid Majors and denies a stop in Opponents' suit. Typically, it shows a long running Minor with values in the Majors. Opener passes with a stop in opponents' suit or converts to 4♣ otherwise.
  • If Opponents' bid shows a 2-suited hand or is in some other way artificial then action is broadly as follows:
    • If their bid has shown two specific suits then Lebensohl proceeds as normal except that both of the opps suits are available as cue-bids (slow or fast) and cue-bids show or deny stops in the suit that has been cue-bid but always promise a stop in any of the opponents' suits that have been by-passed. The cue-bids still express potential interest in any unbid Major (but see below where responder has no Major interest and a stop in one of their suits). See also below when their bid shows both Major suits.
      • A "slow" 3NT always promises stops in both of the opponents' suits.
      • A "fast" 3NT denies a stop in either of the opponents suits.
      • With a stop in one suit but no interest in an unbid Major, Responder makes a cue-bid in the lower-ranking of the two opponents' suits (ie: either slow or fast depending on whether or not he can stop it, as if he does have a Major suit interest). Opener takes what seems the most appropriate action: With a 4-card suit in the unbid Major he always bids it at the 3-level and 3NT from Responder now shows no Major-suit interest and exposes the suit in which they have no stop.
        eg: 1NT-(2 [&])-3-3♠-3NT Here the 2 shows both the red suits and initially 3 from Responder shows no Diamond stop and 4-card Spades. Opener now shows 4-card Spades with 3♠ and now 3NT from Responder shows no interest in Spades but a hand with game values and a Heart stop but no Diamond stop. Opener passes or looks for a fit at the 4-level by bidding 4♣.
    • If their bid has shown one specific suit and a second unamed one (eg: Spades and a Minor) then Lebensohl proceeds as normal with cue-bids available only in the suit that has been specified and with 3NT bids showing or denying stops only in the specified suit. The unnamed suit is ignored until it is actually shown by opps in subsequent bidding.
    • If the bid from Opponents is completely unspecified (eg: Double to show an unspecified single-suiter) then the recommended action is to pass and wait until opps actually show the suit, and then come in with Lebensohl if it is appropriate.
    • If their bid shows both Majors then then slow and fast 3NT bids promise or deny a stop in both Majors, as above. "Slow" cue-bids promise a stop in the suit bid and at most a half-stop in the other Major, whilst "fast" cue-bids show no stop in the suit bid and and exactly a half-stop in the other Major
Thus Lebensohl permits responder to compete or force in any suit, and to invite in any suit higher-ranking than the opponents' suit. It allows Responder to show or deny 4-card interest in any unbid Major suits (ie: a sort of Stayman) and at the same time to show or deny a stop in the opponents' suit.

Some examples (opponents' interference shown in brackets):

Sequence

Explanation

1NT-(2)-2♠ Purely competitive and 100% "to play"
1NT-(2)-3 Natural and game-forcing. Bidding proceeds naturally. Responder is neither promising or denying a stop in Hearts
1NT-(2)-2NT-3♣-3 This is just competitive in Diamonds, because Diamonds could not have been bid at the 2-level
1NT-(2)-2NT-3♣-3♠ This is invitational in Spades, because Spades could have been bid at the 2-level competitively
1NT-(2)-3 A "fast" cue bid, showing values for 3NT, 4-card Spades and denying a stop in Hearts
1NT-(2)-2NT-3♣-3 A "slow" cue-bid, showing values for 3NT, 4-card Spades and promising a stop in Hearts
1NT-(2)-3NT A "fast" 3NT, showing values to play there, denying 4-card Spades and denying a stop in Hearts This is normally a long 6-card Minor (but doesn't have to be).
1NT-(2)-2NT-3♣-3NT A "slow" 3NT, showing values to play there, denying 4-card Spades and promising a Heart stop.

Transfer Lebensohl (aka Rubensohl)

If standard Lebensohl suffers from one defect, it is that Responder can only invite in suits that are higher-ranking than the opponents' suit. Transfer Lebensohl overcomes most of these potential problems. Using Transfer Lebensohl, when opponents overcall a 1NT Opening at the 2-level, then action by Responder is as follows:
  • 2-level suit bids are merely competitive and "to play" with no interest in game.
  • 2NT is "Lebensohl" and commences all "slow" sequences. At this stage 2NT says nothing whatever about their hand. It simply commands Opener to rebid 3♣, after which Responder will clarify their hand-type:
    • Pass shows a hand merely wanting to compete in Clubs
    • A "slow" new suit bid is invitational whether or not it could have been bid at the 2-level. It says nothing at all about Responder's holding in opponents' suit
    • A cue-bid of the opponents' suit shows values for 3NT, 4-card interest in any unbid Majors and also promises a stop in opponents' suit.
    • A rebid of 3NT shows values for game, denies any interest in unbid Majors, but promises a stop in opponents' suit
  • "Fast" bids at the 3-level, with the exception of 3NT, are all transfers into the next suit up. In all cases it is the suit that is being transferred into that matters, not the suit that is being bid:
    • Transfers into a new suit are either weak or strong (if the suit could have been bid at the 2-level, then clearly they are strong). Opener completes the transfer and Responder then passes with a weak hand or bids again with a forcing game-going variety. Normal arrangements for breaking transfers apply. When Opener completes the transfer, Responder is able to take whatever action they like, to pass, bid 3NT, show a second suit or bid game in their first suit.
    • A transfer into Opponents' suit is a "fast" cue-bid of their suit, showing values for 3NT and interest in any unbid Majors, but denying a stop in Opponents' suit (Whereas the "slow" cue-bid promises a stop).

      Bidding from here is natural. Opener can show any unbid Major they hold or bid 3NT naturally if they have values in opponents' suit. If they have no Major and no stop, then they can bid a 3-card Major or a 4-card Minor.
    • A "fast" 3NT shows values for game, denies interest in unbid Majors and denies a stop in Opponents' suit. Typically, it shows a long running Minor with values in the Majors. Opener passes with a stop in opponents' suit or converts to 4♣ otherwise.
    • A "fast" transfer into Diamonds followed by a cue-bid of opponents' Major suit specifically shows a running Diamond suit and exactly a half-stop in their Major, asking for additional assistance in the suit. eg: 1NT-(2)-3♣-3-3. Unfortunately this option is not available with a Club suit.
  • If Opponents' bid shows a 2-suited hand or is in some other way artificial then action is broadly as follows:
    • If their bid has shown two specific suits then Transfer Lebensohl proceeds as normal except that both of the opps suits are available as cue-bids (slow or fast) and cue-bids show or deny stops in the suit that has been cue-bid but always promise a stop in any of the opponents' suits that have been by-passed (Bear in mind that a fast cue-bid of Clubs is 3♠). The cue-bids still express potential interest in any unbid Major (but see below where responder has no Major interest and a stop in one of their suits). See also below when their bid shows both Major suits.
      • A "slow" 3NT always promises stops in both of the opponents' suits.
      • A "fast" 3NT denies a stop in either of the opponents suits.
      • With a stop in one suit but no interest in an unbid Major, Responder makes a cue-bid in the lower-ranking of the two opponents' suits (ie: either slow or fast depending on whether or not he can stop it, as if he does have a Major suit interest) (Bear in mind that a slow cue-bid of Clubs is not possible). Opener takes what seems the most appropriate action: With a 4-card suit in the unbid Major he always bids it at the 3-level and 3NT from Responder now shows no Major-suit interest and exposes the suit in which they have no stop.
        eg: 1NT-(2 [&])-3♣-3♠-3NT Here the 2 shows both the red suits and initially 3♣ from Responder (Transfer to Diamonds) shows no Diamond stop and 4-card Spades. Opener now shows 4-card Spades with 3♠ and now 3NT from Responder shows no interest in Spades but a hand with game values and a Heart stop but no Diamond stop. Opener passes or looks for a fit at the 4-level by bidding 4♣.
    • If their bid has shown one specific suit and a second unamed one (eg: Spades and a Minor) then Lebensohl proceeds as normal with cue-bids available only in the suit that has been specified and with 3NT bids showing or denying stops only in the specified suit. The unnamed suit is ignored until it is actually shown by opps in subsequent bidding.
    • If the bid from Opponents is completely unspecified (eg: Double to show an unspecified single-suiter) then the recommended action is to pass and wait until opps actually show the suit, and then come in with Transfer Lebensohl if it is appropriate.
    • If their bid shows both Majors then then slow and fast 3NT bids promise or deny a stop in both Majors, as above. "Slow" cue-bids promise a stop in the suit bid and at most a half-stop in the other Major, whilst "fast" cue-bids show no stop in the suit bid and and exactly a half-stop in the other Major
Some examples of Transfer Lebensohl (opponents' interference shown in brackets):

Sequence

Explanation

1NT-(2)-2♠ Purely competitive and 100% "to play" (no different to standard Leb)
1NT-(2)-3 A Transfer to Spades either weak or strong, but in practice will always be strong, since Spades could have been bid competitively at the 2-level.
1NT-(2)-2NT-3♣-3 This is invitational in Diamonds.
1NT-(2)-3♣-3 This is a transfer to Diamonds and can be either weak and competitive or forcing, depending on whether or not Responder continues over Opener's 3 bid
1NT-(2)-3 A "fast" cue bid, showing values for 3NT, 4-card Spades and denying a stop in Hearts (ie: transferring into Hearts
1NT-(2)-2NT-3♣-3 A "slow" cue-bid, showing values for 3NT, 4-card Spades and promising a stop in Hearts. This is identical to normal Lebensohl
1NT-(2)-3NT A "fast" 3NT, showing values to play there, denying 4-card Spades and denying a stop in Hearts This is normally a long 6-card Minor (but doesn't have to be) and the same as normal Lebensohl.
1NT-(2)-2NT-3♣-3NT A "slow" 3NT, showing values to play there, denying 4-card Spades and promising a Heart stop. This is identical to normal Lebensohl
As you can see, Transfer Lebensohl allows almost all possible hand-types to be shown. The only exceptions are invitational-strength hands with Clubs and hands with long Clubs and a half-stop in Opponents' suit. You can always show interest in any unbid Major suits and at the same time show or deny a stop in the opponents' suit. Competitive and strong hands can always be shown and the sequences are flexible enough to be able to cope with most contingencies.

Difference Between Transfer Lebensohl and Rubensohl

Transfer Lebensohl and Rubensohl are often treated as the same thing, but there are a number of fairly critical differences between the two systems and they very definitely cannot be interchanged.

Rubensohl
  • Using Rubensohl, the "slow" bids in a new suit at the 3-level are always weak and "to play", whilst the "fast" transfers to a new suit at the 3-level are always at least invitational.
  • Using Rubensohl, there is no concept of a "slow" 3NT. Instead, 3♠ is a transfer to 3NT (not to Clubs) showing values for 3NT, but denying a stop in Opps suit, whilst a direct 3NT is strictly "to play" and promises stops in Opps' suit.
Transfer Lebensohl
  • Using Transfer Leb, the "slow" bids in a new suit at the 3-level are always invitational (unless Responder passes the 3♣ Relay), whilst the "fast" transfers to a new suit at the 3-level are either weak or forcing, depending on whether responder bids on or not.
  • Using Transfer Leb, a "slow" 3NT (ie: via 2NT-3♣) promises a stop in Opps suit, and a "fast" direct 3NT denies holding a stop in their suit. 3♠ is a transfer to 4♣, not to 3NT as in Rubensohl
This system uses Transfer Lebensohl rather than Rubensohl.

Extensions to Lebensohl

(1) Transfer Lebensohl over Weak Twos

The easiest extension to Lebensohl to explain is the use of Transfer Lebensohl when partner has made a takeout double of a weak two opened by an opponent in one of the two following positions (Opponents' bids in brackets):

(1) (2x)-X-(Pass)-???, or
(2) (2x)-Pass-(Pass)-X-(Pass)-???

In either of the above situations we are at the 2-level and in a position where partner has shown values and support for the other three suits. We are wanting to compete, invite or force to game and potentially show or deny a stop in their suit and to distinguish between 4-card interest in a suit (usually a major) and a 5-card or longer suit.

In short, either of those sequences above is very similar to 1NT-(2x)-???, and Transfer Lebensohl (or standard Lebensohl) works in exactly the same way as explained above.

As over 1NT, my suggestion would be that Transfer Lebensohl works better because it always allows responder to merely compete, to invite (except in Clubs), and to force, whereas your ability to invite using normal Lebensohl is somewhat limited. A few examples, (opponents bidding in brackets):

Sequence Explanation
(2)-X-2NT-3♣-3 Invitational in Diamonds, says nothing about the presence or absence of a Heart stop.
(2♠)-X-3 A Transfer to Hearts either weak or strong.
(2♠)-X-3 The "fast" cue-bid, transferring into Spades, showing game values, 4-card Hearts but no Spade stop.
(2)-X-2NT-3♣-3NT A "slow" 3NT, game values and a good Diamond stop, but no interest in the Major suits.

(2) Lebensohl in any competitive sequence

This is a somewhat more flexible and open-ended use of normal Lebensohl and applies in any sequence where both sides are bidding and the bidding has reached the 2-level. This can be both when our side has opened and opponents have overcalled or when we have overcalled their opening. Unless specific provisions are in effect (as over 1♣ Openings), the following guidelines should be used:

  • "Fast" raises of partner's suit are largely pre-emptive.
  • "Slow" raises of partner's suit (via 2NT-3♣) are genuinely invitational
  • New suits at the 2-level are competitive and non-forcing.
  • "Fast" new suits at the 3-level are forcing and imply at least tolerance if not support for partner's suit
  • "Slow" new suits at the 3-level are invitational if they could have been bid at the 2-level
  • "Slow" new suits at the 3-level are competitive if they could not have been bid at the 2-level and tend to imply a lack of support for partner's suit.
  • "Slow" & "Fast" 3NT bids have much the same meaning as in normal Lebensohl
  • "Slow" & "Fast" cue-bids of their suit are always strong and always show support for partner's suit and any forcing raise of partner's suit goes via one of these routes. If Partner has bid a Minor suit, then "Slow" shows a stop in their suit and "Fast" denies a stop for the purposes of playing in 3NT. If Partner has bid a Major suit, then the "Slow" cue bids shows 1st or 2nd-round control of their suit and "Fast" cue bids deny having 1st or 2nd-round control of their suit.
This cannot possibly anticipate every kind of competitive sequence, but the general principles will guide you and the scheme is flexible enough that partner will normally realise when your choices are constrained by the opponents' action. A few examples (opponents' bidding in brackets):
Sequence Explanation
(1)-1♠-(2)-3 Forcing, showing Diamonds and a decent tolerance for Spades, if not support
(1)-1♠-(2)-2NT-3♣-3 Not forcing but merely competitive, decent Diamonds but not much support for Spades
(1)-1♠-(2)-2NT-3♣-3 A forcing raise in Spades showing 1st or 2nd round control of Hearts
(1)-1♠-(2)-2NT-3♣-3NT A "slow" 3NT, game values and a good Heart stop, but no interest in Spades.

(3) Lebensohl in 3-suited Auctions

The next extension to Lebensohl is when in a natural bidding sequence we have bid 3 of the 4 suits in an unopposed auction (ie: the situation is where we or partner are in a position to make a 4th-suit-force) and the bidding is still at the 2-level with or without a reverse. In practice this applies mostly over One Heart and One Spade Openers, but there is one Two Club sequence where it can apply (2♣-2-2♠), and a small number of One Diamond sequences where it might be used (eg: 1-1♠-2). Lastly, After a 1♣ Opening and a negative response, a natural sequence that follows might fall into this category, eg: 1♣-1-1♠-2♣-2).

In any of these circumstances 2NT is not a natural bid but Lebensohl, forcing 3♣ and so creating 'slow' and 'fast' sequences just as in standard Lebensohl. Given this, the following general considerations apply:
  • A simple preference to Opener's first suit at the 2-level is non-forcing
  • A fast 3-level raise/preference in either of Opener's suits is forcing.
  • A slow (ie: via 2NT-3♣) raise or preference in one of Opener's suits is strictly preference and "to play" if the suit could not have been bid at the 2-level, but invitational if it could have been bid at the 2-level as a simple preference.
  • In general, fast bids at the 3-level are strong and forcing, whereas slow bids tends to be less strong and "to play".
  • Fast 4th-suit-forces are more interested in clarification of partner's exact distribution, whereas slow 4th-suit-forces are more interested in opener's holding in the 4th suit with a view to playing in No Trumps if they have a stop.
A few examples:
Sequence Explanation
1♠-2♣-2-3 A "fast" 4th-suit force, interested in clarification of Opener's exact distribution
1♠-2♣-2-2NT-3♣-3 A "slow" 4th-suit force, more interested in whether Opener has a Diamond stop for the purposes of playing in 3NT. Implies good long Clubs and a scant tolerance for Opener's majors but no good support.
1♠-2♣-2-2NT-3♣-3 Invitational in Hearts
1♠-2♣-2-3♠ A forcing raise in Spades. This is mildly slam invitational and inviting cue-bids. A hand stronger than this would have gone via the Forcing No Trump and a Gamma Relay

(4) Other uses of Lebensohl

There are numerous other places where the Lebensohl concept can be utilised to good effect. By this I mean creating "Slow" and "Fast" sequences to give different meanings to the same bids, not necessarily the full use of standard Lebensohl. These include:
  • Romex Trial Bids (See 1 and 1♠ Openings) where "fast" trial bids are in a long-suit and 2NT is used to request to make a short-suit trial bid.
  • Action over pre-emptive interference when you can use Pass to request partner to Double and now you can either pass for penalties or make a sign-off bid, whereas a "fast" double by you or a "fast" bid is forcing and forward-going (For examples of this see the section on Asking Bids where this is used)
  • Transfer Lebensohl can be used over takeout doubles at the 1-level as well as over weak 2's. Identical considerations apply as over weak 2's but simply one level lower (but you need a fairly good agreement as to the values shown by takeout doubles for this to work well.
  • It can also be used in conjunction with defences to the Multi-2 such as Dixon.
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