Kokish Relay

A Space-Saving Measure

The Kokish Relay is a clever little trick that keeps the auction lower and simpler when bidding strong balanced hands. It can be added to your bidding system without any disruption whatsoever, and I recommend it very highly.

The Problem

Playing a standard bidding system where 2 is strong and artificial and a 2NT opening bid shows 20-22 hcp (or 21-22 hcp, perhaps), there needs to be a way of showing balanced hands that are stronger than the 2NT opening bid. Traditional practice is that 2, 2, 2NT shows 23-24 hcp and 2, 2, 3NT shows 25+ hcp. That is fine for hands in the 23-24 hcp range, since you can use your familiar 2NT response system to investigate for suit fits. But when opener's rebid is 3NT your system becomes either undefined or, if your partnership has spent at least some time discussing how to handle very strong balanced hands, at the very least awkward: already at the four level and exploring for fits in unfamiliar territory.

The Solution

Eric Kokish invented an extremely neat solution to this awkward situation. The solution is so easy to use that nearly all top players have adopted it.

By using the Kokish Relay, you can show a 25-26 hcp balanced hand with a bid of 2NT, and your partnership can explore within your well-known 2NT system. 25 and 26 hcp balanced hands are common enough that this is a very real benefit.

A Suggested NT Ladder

If you adopt the Kokish Relay, your No Trump Ladder is compressed without any changes being required to the rest of your system. The standard ranges are:

The Kokish Relay in a Strong Club System

The Kokish Relay is even more beneficial to those who use a forcing 1 system, such as Precision or the Blue Club. It works the same way, but one level of bidding lower, and its increased efficacy is due to its being used with lower strength hands. If you play a 14-16 hcp opening 1NT, your No Trump Ladder might be:

If you play a different strength 1NT opening you can adjust the above ranges to suit your system.

Remembering the System

These two rules will enable you to recalculate the range for each balanced hand opening sequence at the table, so that you don't have to commit each sequence and its corresponding range to memory:

  1. A strong artificial opening followed by a NT rebid shows the next range above the range that the direct NT opening would have shown.
  2. A sequence using the Kokish Relay shows the next range above the range that the NT rebid would have shown without the Relay.

So long as you can remember the range of your 1NT opening bid, and the size of the step increase in the ranges, you can work out which sequence to use to show your strength or, if your partner has used any sequence, what his strength is.

Author: Chris Burton
Gravesend Bridge Club