Poorbridge Theoreticians and Conventions III: Rainbow Gerber
By Chris Cooper

Recently my occasional partner Alan Shillitoe and I realised that we were no longer capable of the free-wheeling style of Junior bridge and that it was probably time that we moved towards a more adult, some might say "mature" bridge bidding system. Our task was to devise a system that could be used by those past their 25th birthday to enable them to sit down with fellow old people and happily play a system together. Most juniors are familiar with a "standard junior" system which involves a weak no trump, weak twos in three suits, four card majors and lots of ways of raising partner and bidding far too much. Our solution is a system that we've imaginatively titled "standard old".

I'll open with a bidding problem — this hand comes from the Tollemache from this year and I found myself playing against the North East with this magnificent collection...

CA K Q 10 7 5 3

What an incredible collection. You're in 4th at love all (Board one of the competition) and after two passes, your RHO opens 3S which is most inconvenient. What do you bid? 5C (conservative, but should make), double (could be right, but the opps might bid an awful lot of spades and you might have to introduce your clubs at the six level), 6C (Well partner might have an ace). Make your choice and I'll come back to this one a bit later...

The general philosophy of the system is that although we're old, we still like to bid so we like to open the bidding as much as possible. Once there though we need to respect our age and then stop preempting quite so ridiculously. The other important criteria is the necessity for the presence of Gerber... come to think of it, we want lots of Gerber as old people are rather fond of it.

So the general bidding methods are:

5 card majors — 4 card major systems involve judgement and give you quite a lot of licence to overbid. Now we're settled into our dotage, it's important to remove decisions and tell partner how many cards we hold in a suit. After all, you do learn that if you have to make decisions you usually get them wrong.

11-13 no-trump. I did say old people like bidding. A daring innovation is to lower the range of 1NT. Well, it doesn't really recapture the youth, but it's a start. Besides, most of you upgrade hands anyway. Even if you forget and open a weak no-trump, you'll be right most of the time.

EHAA style weak twos (6-12 points and 5+ cards in the suit). Well this seems to be a bit of an anomaly — how can you condone EHAA style bidding in an old-persons system? After all, surely opening any old five card suit of indeterminate quality is reckless and dare I say it "Junior". Well the answer to this is easy; although your two level openings are quite ill-disciplined, you actually stop preempting once you've bid them and then bid sensibly. After all, no-one expects you to bid aggressively twice in one auction at your age! The response structure is easy (a lack of complexity is important to old people — juniors like to experiment with system but we couldn't care less about that — just bid relatively naturally and be done with it). So over the two level openings, a new suit at the two level is non-forcing and three level bids are forcing. When should you bid the non-forcing response? If you have four more cards in that suit than the one partner has bid. Easy — even I can remember that one. Your raises are now constructive... 2M—3M is invitational with three or more trumps and 2M—2NT is invitational with less than two trumps. With your weak hand with three trumps, you just pass with the dignity that age bestows.

Another important feature of Standard Old is your escape from 1NTX. This is an easy one — why would you need to escape? You play the cards well, you might as well put the fear into the opponents. The solution (and for this I'm greatly indebted to Dave Cropper) is the Cooper (or "Coops") redouble. This is used following a penalty double of 1NT and is extremely intimidating.

A redouble is to play. Pass forces a redouble but is also to play.

That might seem strange but I can assure you that it is a potent weapon indeed. All you need to do is look the opponents in the eyes and decide who you want in the pass-out seat. If you think the doubler is looking a bit nervous but the contract will likely make, then make sure the doubler isn't in the pass-out seat. On the other hand if the doubler looks confident and you're not so confident, you should make sure again that the doubler isn't in the pass-out seat as their partner will surely pull it. So the strategy is to decide whether the contract is likely to make and then look how best to ensure you get to play in it if it is making and escape through sheer bravado if not.

And that's it really... well not quite, Gerber hasn't quite been broached as yet and as I mentioned it is rather important to give you that safety blanket.

Originally we'd planned to play Gerber all the time which is in line with current age doctrine. But a chance encounter at the Oxford Bridge Club gave me a new insight into the real world of Gerber. While sitting rather bored at dummy, I spied a convention card from my opponents and saw their responses to 2NT.

3C = stayman — fine so far
3D = transfer to hearts
3H = transfer to spades
3S = transfer to clubs
4C = transfer to diamonds

But it was the small addition in pencil that caught my eye....

4D = Gerber

Wow — could this really be true? Clearly this is an ingenious use of Gerber for the 21st century and is an outstanding improvement on an already great convention. I must admit I didn't pluck up the courage to ask whether this fine bid had its own name or was too new, too radical to have yet earned itself a name.

Anyway, I polled a good selection of old people and was given a variety of suggestions for suitable names for this exciting new bid. South African Gerber, Texas Gerber, Gerberwood, Daftwood, Elevated, Superior, or even Incremented Gerber, RedBer, RedBear, RedBeer, "Sliding folded arms we don't alert above 3NT anymore-ber", South African RedWood, South African Red Beer.

But one response from Alan Shillitoe told me that this incredible vision was the way forward for bridge: "Does this mean that if we play again we can play all 4C bids AND all 4D bids as Gerber? This is some kind of incredible systemic advance."

I quite agree and I was pleased to get to work again with Mr Shillitoe in this enterprise. For the record the name that I'm most fond of was actually found by a junior — Rob Myers — "Coober or Coopber". I do like the sound of that.

Well, this may seem to be a bit of an aside but it did lead me to the next step of my odyssey. What is the single biggest criticism of Gerber? You could say that you can't cuebid — pah who needs to cuebid, aces are by far the most important thing to know about. No, the real problem is if partner has already bid clubs. What are you supposed to do if clubs are your suit?

The solution now seems so obvious and I'm positively embarrassed that I couldn't see it before. Why not just use Coopber or 4D if you've already bid clubs? So simple. And from this moment the whole concept of "Rainbow Gerber" was born.

Rainbow Gerber — ace asking conventions for sophisticated old people.

4C is always Gerber to ask for aces.

Unless you've bid clubs, then 4D is Gerber (or Coopber).

What if you've bid clubs and diamonds? So easy, 4H is Gerber of course.

Could have bid clubs, diamonds and hearts? Sure — not a problem, spades is Gerber — naturally.

Well it could be possible I guess that you bid all four suits naturally — say you raise fourth suit forcing. What do you do now? I can see you've got the answer already, you must be on my wavelength — it just shows how simple Rainbow Gerber is. 4NT is Gerber. I'm already hearing people cry... "But that's Blackwood". Rubbish! This is Gerber — it's not our fault that 4C is unavailable — that's just the way it is. Does Blackwood require you to bid all four suits before asking for aces? I thought not.

At this point, I thought my work was done but Mr Shillitoe was already moving Rainbow Gerber on to a new level. What about an auction of:


You've bid all four suits naturally and no trumps. You're sunk — Rainbow Gerber has failed! Step forward Mr S. Easy — just bid 5C. That's right — 5C is Gerber and is affectionately known as over-extended Gerber. Beautiful. This opens up a whole new sequence of bids in the locker as you even get to bid 4NT naturally in competition — no chance of a misunderstanding here!

And there is the system — we've been busy adding several refinements already and have even taken some advice from Juniors who are old before their time — well done Rob Myers "Fourth suit forcing is no longer forcing to Game, but is now forcing to Rainbow Gerber". Obvious really, but does need some clarification. The fact that it makes constructive bidding impossible is rather tricky, but does improve your judgement based on limited information if you're too scared to get to Gerber.

A recent improvement was as a result of a knockout teams match in Oxford. The auction (1C) 4C occurred. A four level overcall in the opponents suit — must be Gerber... So we could add (1x) 4x = Gerber which increased the Gerber content of the system.

I asked Mr Shillitoe what about the elevated auction: (1C) 5C? His reply was succinct — exclusion Gerber of course — aces outside of clubs. Again, the simplicity is the virtue. So an additional Gerber position is: (1x) 5x = exclusion Gerber.

A logical consequence is an unnecessary jump in the Gerber level in all situations should also be exclusion Gerber which brings us to the summit of bidding excellence. I'll return to the sequence above


As we know 5C is over-extended Gerber here. Now using this great new development, 6C here is over-extended-exclusion-Gerber asking for aces outside clubs. Words now fail me. Who'd have thought that this system could end with 6C as Gerber? I could only dream.

I mentioned a hand right at the beginning...

CA K Q 10 7 5 3

What was I supposed to bid over a 3rd seat 3S? Easy one this. 4C of course and given the chance when partner shows one ace, I can bid 6C in confidence. Beautiful bidding to the top spot. If partner shows zero aces, I can just settle in 5C or double the opponents' final contract. Partner for the record had:

S5 4
HA 10 8 6 3
DQ J 6 5
C4 2

and 6C is indeed the top spot. 6H, although a decent contract, actually goes off as the preemptor is 7-4 in the majors and when forced in hearts, you can't get to hand to draw trumps... If only I'd had Rainbow Gerber at the time, perhaps the Tollemache would have gone rather differently...

So that, is that. A CC is ready and we're itching to try this out on an unsuspecting world. We've tried it out on BBO (Bridge Base Online) with some success. One auction that worked out well was:


It only went for 200 — but it might have been an excellent contract that we would never have to got to if we hadn't been able to find out the number of aces so easily. I would hope you'll soon be seeing this bidding system at local clubs the world over but I can assure you that you heard it here first. Get ready to play in 4NT and 5NT like adults.

P.S. Our second installment of Better Bridge Bidding for the 21st Century will include Last-Train Gerber and OTT Gerber (when partner invconveniently bypasses Gerber.