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Which suit to respond to a 1 ♠ opener (with six or more points but fewer than four spades)

You cannot bid a suit at the One-level (it’s illegal!). The first decision is, can you bid your longest suit at the Two-level?

Use the Rule of 14 check. Add up the number of cards in the suit you wish to bid at the Two-level to your total high-card points. Do you reach 14?

If you fail the Rule of 14, you have to bid either the “dustbin 1NT” or raise to 2 ♠. I recommend raising to 2 whenever you have three cards, unless you have a very flat hand and three small spades. With either a small doubleton or a singleton in another suit and/or a picture in spades, support partner.


If you satisfy the Rule of 14, go ahead and bid at the Two-level, following the normal responding guidelines ie (a) longest suit, (b) cheaper of fours, (c) higher of fives.

Repsond to 1 with these



Hand a) Hand b) Hand c)
♠ Q 8 4
A 4
J 9 8 4 3 2
6 2
♠ 8 7 2
A K 3 2
A 5 3 2
7 2
♠ - -
8 5 4 3 2
Q 8 7 4 3 2
A 2

  • With (a), respond 2 . Failing the Rule of 14, responding 2 would be an overbid. Prefer 2 to 1NT – more helpful to partner (partner may have only four spades, but, if so, she’ll have 15 or more points – she didn’t open 1NT).
  • With (b), respond 2 cheaper of fours. Don’t worry – you won’t miss a heart fit as you have given partner an easy opportunity to rebid 2 if she has four of them. [Indeed a corollary of always responding the cheaper of fours is that a response of 2 to 1 shows five+ cards. Responses of 2 and 2 show four+ cards.]
  • With (c), respond 1NT. Don’t worry about being unbalanced. The 1NT response doesn’t say anything about wanting to play in notrumps; the bid is made because it’s the only legal One-level bid over 1 . It says nothing about being balanced.

Which suit to respond to a 1♣ opener (with six or more points but no club fit)

Here are the guidelines:

  1. Always bid your longest suit
  2. Always respond the cheaper of four-card suits. That way, no fit will be missed.
  3. Always respond the higher-ranking of two five-card suits. Start high, so you can finish low.

You may ask why I’ve specified that partner opened 1♣ (rather than, say 1 or 1♠). The principles are the same, however, there’s a potential complication which never arises when partner opens 1♣ (as long as your right-hand opponent passes): namely that you may have to decide whether or not you are strong enough to respond at the Two-level. We’ll leave that thorny issue for another time.


Respond to 1♣ with these?.
 

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c)
♠ K Q 8 4
7 4
J 9 8 4
 9 6 2
♠ A 9 8 7 2
A K 7 3 2
2
7 2
♠ A K Q 2
♥ 8 5 4 3 2
9 7 2
 2
  • With (a), respond 1. This leaves plenty of room for partner to make her rebid – which could be 1♠. If partner doesn’t bid 1♠, you won’t need to bid your spades for there will be no fit.
  • With (b), respond 1♠ “high fives”. Plan to bid 2 next time.
  • With (c), respond 1 – your longest suit. It may be tempting to bid 1♠ but it’s wrong. 

After all, the suit you most want to be trumps is hearts. Those top spades will win tricks whatever the trump suit; the hearts will win tricks only if they’re trumps.

Which Suit to Open?

Here are the guidelines:

  1. Always open your longest suit – length, not strength is key.
  2. With two five-card suits, always open the higher-ranking. Start high, so you can finish low.
  3. With two four-card suits, open 1 if one of them is hearts, otherwise open 1. With 4-4, it doesn’t matter. You choose.
  4. There’s a fourth guideline, less important (and far rarer) than the above:
    1. With three four-card suits, the dreaded 4441, it’s best to open 1 with a red-suit singleton and 1 with a black-suit singleton.

Which suit would you open with these?.
 

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c)
♠ K 10 8 4
K J 10 4
A 4
A 10 9
♠ 3
K 10 9 8 2
A 2
A Q J 7 2
♠ A K Q 2
♥ 2
A J 2
 8 6 5 3 2
  • With (a), open 1 (with 4-4, open 1); 
  • with (b), open 1 (“high fives”); 
  • with (c), open 1 (always longest).

Opening 1NT

An opening bid of 1NT shows a balanced hand with 12-14 points. However, it is important to realise that high-card points are but a guide to trick-taking, not a gospel. Take these three hands.

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c)
♠ Q 10 8
K J 10
A J 10 9 4
 10 9
♠ J 6 3
A J 2
K J 2
 Q 7 3 2
♠ A Q 2
K J 2
A J 2
 8 5 3 2

  • Hand (a) is superb – a good five-card suit in a hand replete with intermediates. This hand is clearly worth at least 12 points. You should open 1NT.
  • Hand (b) on the other hand is really grotty – no intermediates, no sequential high cards, and the barren 4333 shape. This hand is not worth 12 points and you should not open 1NT, rather pass.
  • Hand (c) is a very poor 15 for the same reasons as (b) is a poor 12 – barren shape, no intermediates, no sequences. Your hand is worth only 12-14 points and you should downgrade and open 1NT.

If someone says, “You can’t open 1NT with (say) Hand (c) because you’ve got 15 points” (as though you’re in some way cheating), show them this Beginner Corner.

Google “K & R Hand Evaluator”. You can input a hand and it will tell how many points the hand is worth. If you’re curious, (a) is worth 12.45, (b) is worth 9.55 (wow – that’s low), (c) is worth 13.50.

Good or Bad?

In that holistic vein, you pick up the following hands, all with ten points. Before the bidding commences, would you say they are good, medium or bad?

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c)
♠ J 4 2
A J 3 2
K J 2
8 6 2
♠ 6
A Q 10 9 3
K J 9 8 2
 10 8
♠ J 10
A 7 6 3 2
9 6 2
 K Q 10
  • (a). Bad. Yucky 4333 shape, no sequential honours, no tens or nines.
  • (b). Good, fabulous shape, all the honours in the long suits – and good intermediates to-boot.
  • (c). Medium. Fair shape – at least you have a five-card suit but nothing special.

You would open the bidding with Hand (b) but would not consider it with either of the others.

However, say your partner opened the bidding 1 and, over your 1 response (correct on all three), partner rebid 1, showing five clubs and four spades. The best hand of the three is now Hand (c) – with a good club fit, good bolstering spades and a side ace – you’d jump to 3. However, Hand (b) is now looking markedly less exciting, as the hallmarks of a misfit are present – indeed it may be sensible to slow things down by bidding 1NT. Hand (a) remains unexciting, although you do have a club fit. I guess a 2 preference is called for.

Tricks not points

Which is the better hand, (a) or (b)?

Hand a) Hand b)
♠ Q J
A J 7 3 2
K J
 K J 3 2
♠ 8 6
K Q J 10 2
A 2
 K Q J 10

Hand (a) has more points but hand (b) is far stronger because it contains more TRICKS. Never ever forget, Bridge is a game all about tricks, not points. Your point-count means absolutely nothing once play begins, point-count is a guide only to bidding, nothing else. If partner has a flat “Yarborough” ie no points at all, you will make eight tricks with hearts as trumps with (b), yet barely two or three tricks with (a).

I should say, however, that you must always have a flexible mind-set at Bridge. If your partner is bidding spades and diamonds very strongly, suddenly you’d rather have Hand (a); if partner holds AK5432, 4, Q109872, -, you can make 6 opposite Hand (a) yet may not even make 4 opposite Hand (b).

Exercise: Right hand opponent opens 1. Would you overcall with these?

Hand i) Hand ii)
♠ Q J 2
A J 2
K J 7 4 2
Q 2
♠ 3 2
♥ 2
K Q J 10 9 2
Q J 10 2

With Hand (i), the answer is no. You have NO TRICKS. With Hand (ii), yes, facing a bad dummy, you have seven likely TRICKS. Note, your point-count in no way tells the story.



   
   
 

 

Finding the Trump Suit

There are 13 cards in each suit. The more cards you and partner hold in one suit, the better the trump suit (or “fit”) it becomes. For example, a ten-card fit is fabulous, leaving the opponents with only three cards. It’s rare, though.

In practice, experience shows that a fit of eight or more cards constitutes a decent-enough trump suit. That leaves the opponents with only five cards; five missing cards will normally split 3-2, so three rounds and their trumps will have gone.

The first goal of the bidding is to find a fit. When partner opens or responds in a suit, they guarantee at least four cards. If you have four cards, you have immediately found your fit. Therefore, with four-card support, do not introduce a new suit1.

I was asked this question the other day (relating to a column I wrote in The Times), “Andrew, you suggest, with KJ982, J852, J2, 32, to respond 2 to partner’s 1 opener. I would respond 1 – is this wrong?” And the answer (which I expressed as politely as possible) is, “Yes, it is wrong to bid 1. You have found your eight-card major fit – hearts. You should support.” Fail to support hearts straight away and partner will never believe you have four-card support. For example, if you bid 1, then go back to hearts next time, your partner will think you’re making a (probably) reluctant preference bid, holding three or even only two hearts.

I co-wrote a weighty tome for tournament players over a quarter of a century ago which in truth could have been condensed down to three words, “Support with support"

Exercise: Partner opened 1. What would you respond with these?

 

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c)
♠ A J
5 4 3 2
K Q 8 5 2
 K 2
♠ 8 6
♥ J 7 4 3 2
A 9 4 2
 3 2
♠ J 8 4 2
A K 2
♦ 8 6 5
Q 5 2
  • (a). Bid 4. You have an eight-card heart fit and the values for game (25+ partnership points).
  • (b). Bid 2. Your 2 bid classically shows 6-9 points. Your great support easily compensates for the lack of a sixth high-card point.
  • (c). Bid 1. You may not have a heart fit, so introduce spades. It’s entirely possible partner has four hearts and four spades and that spades is your trump suit.

1Unless partner has bid a minor, in which case it makes sense to introduce a major, because game in a major requires fewer tricks.

Bidding Zones

There are three bidding zones: part-score, game and slam. Slams, that’s a small slam (bidding and making 12 tricks) or a grand slam (that’s bidding and making all 13 tricks) are fairly rare. Most auctions focus on the decision of the partnership as to whether or not to play game – that’s 3NT,4, 4, 5, 5.

Let’s assume you have the auction to yourselves (no opposing bidding). If your partnership definitely does not have enough for game, stop right there (assuming you’ve found your denomination ie which trump suit or notrumps).

The auction 1NT-2NT doesn’t say, “I want us to contract for eight tricks”, for there is no material advantage in playing the contract of 2NT rather than 1NT. Why give yourself a stiffer challenge for no real reward (who cares if you earn a 70 part-score rather than a 40 part-score – in practice it almost never makes a difference)? Instead, the auction 1NT-2NT invites game. It says, “I don’t know which zone we’re in – whether we’re in the part-score zone or the game zone”. The point-count guide for 3NT is 25 points, so presumably responder has calculated there may be 25 points, there may not. (Facing a 12-14 1NT opener, he will therefore have 11-12 points.) 

Exercise:  You opened 1 and partner raised to 2 (about 6-9 pts). Which zone are you in? What would you do now? (The point-count guide for 4 is 25, although this is approximate as good shape compensates for points.)

 

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c)
♠ Q 2
A J 7 3 2
K Q 2
 K 6 2
♠ K J 6
A K J 6 3
A Q 4 2
 3
♠ K 2
K J 6 3 2
♦ A J 5
 A J 2
  • (a). You’re definitely in the part-score zone, not the game zone. So pass. Don’t bid 3 or 2NT – what would be the purpose?
  • (b). You’re in the game zone. Bid 4. You may be a point shy of 25 but the lovely shape (that singleton club) more than compensates.
  • (c). Bid 3. You’re not sure in which zone you lie, whether part-score or game – although you know you want to play in Hearts. So bid 3, inviting game, in effect telling partner you don’t know which zone you’re in and you need her to choose.

Declaring tricky One Notrump contracts

We all dread declaring a 1NT but here’s the good news (i) the opponents hate defending 1NT (and there are two of them) and (ii) they need to win more tricks than you in order to defeat you.

In a 3NT contract, if you let the opponents in to run a long suit, it’s probably curtains. Not so in 1NT – you have more time as you can afford to lose more tricks. And time is the key. Do not rush; be happy to lose the lead. After seven tricks, an expert will probably be five-two down. But she’s cleared the deck, and can win most of/all of the remainder.

  Rank your desire to play the following three spade suits:



A. B. C
Dummy
 8 5 4

-1 NT-
 
Declarer
7 6 3 2
Dummy
 K 4

-1 NT-

Declarer
A 6 3 2
Dummy
 J 9

-1NT-

Declarer
10 8 3 2

 
The worst is B. There is no hope of an extra trick. Play out AK and all you do is set up the opposing spade winners. The only time you’d ever play on B is if you’d already made five tricks and were running for home near the end.

The best is C. You have a lovely four-card sequence. Eventually, you’ll have forced out AKQ and set up 10/8 as a winner. And you’ve not set up any extra tricks for the opponents – they were always entitled to AKQ.

In the middle is A. It’s not bad – the opponents are going to win their spades anyway. And it could be good – if their spades are 3-3, you’ll have a lucky 13th length winner. Experts will often play on this type of weak suit, hoping the opponents will get over-active and present her with extra tricks elsewhere.

Remember, the 1NT contract is a marathon, not a dash. The tortoise wins, the hare loses.

The Rule of One Position

The Rule of One: When the opponents have just one trump outstanding which is higher than yours, normally leave it out. Why waste two of your trumps to lose the trick to a trump which will win anyway.


The Rule of One Position is very powerful. If you won’t have to lose the lead in another suit, try to reach a Rule of One position.



A. B.
Dummy
 K 5 4

-Spades trumps-
 
Declarer
A 7 6 3 2
Dummy
 8 5 4

-Spades trumps-

Declarer
A 7 6 3 2

 
In (A), play out K and A. Assuming the five missing spades are splitting 3-2 (68%), there’ll be one higher spade outstanding. Leave it out.

In (B), you should duck the first spade. On regaining the lead, you can play A and (assuming a 3-2 split) you’ve reached the Rule of One Position. Note if you’d erroneously have led out A and another, the defence could have won and led a third spade, removing two of your spades (including dummy’s last).
 

So why did I say the Rule of One position is powerful only if you won’t lose the lead? It’s because if an opponent leads the master trump, drawing two of yours, that’s very bad news for you (take note, defence).

Establishing a Long Suit

Losers are cards that will lose tricks. Dumping (not a technical term) simply means discarding them, throwing them away. Here we are talking about discarding losers on winners in the other hand, usually dummy.

A. B. C.
Dummy
 7 6 5 4
 A Q 2
2
-Spades trumps-
Declarer
 K Q J 10 9
 K 3
3
Dummy
 7 6 5 4
 A Q 2
2
-Spades trumps-
Declarer
 K Q J 10 9 8
 3
♣ 3
Dummy
 7 6 5 4
 A Q 2
2
-Spades trumps-
Declarer
 K Q J 10 9 8
 K
3

 
The lead is in your hand, and you have no entry to dummy (eg in diamonds – not shown). Say you need to dump your losing 3 on dummy’s hearts before losing to A.

In (A), you cashK (high from the short hand) then lead over to Q. When you follow with A, you can dump 3 (and hope both opponents follow to three rounds of hearts – likely).

In (B), you’ll need to take a 50-50 risk. You lead 3 and finesse dummy’s Q, hoping K is in the second-plays hand. Note, if you can afford the club loser, you won’t need to risk the heart finesse, which will give you an unnecessary loser if the finesse loses.

In (C), overtake K with A, so you can lead Q and dump 3. You have to sacrifice your third heart trick to get over to dummy.

Ruffing in Dummy

First of all, ruffing simply means trumping. We hear plenty of Trump these days so I like to use ruff.

Contrast these two layouts of two suits with spades as trumps:

A. B.
Dummy
10 9 8
 A 3 2
--------
Declarer
 A K Q J 7
 4
Dummy
 10 9 8
 2
--------
Declarer
 A K Q J 7
 A 4 3

 
In A, you can make just six tricks, five spades plus A. It doesn’t help you to cash A, voiding your hand, then ruff 2; you’re making that spade anyway.

However, in B, cashing A and ruffing 3 gains you an extra trick because you’re ruffing in dummy with a trump that would otherwise have fallen helplessly under yours. You can cross to your hand and then ruff 4, scoring another extra trick: eight tricks in all.

Ruffing in the short trump hand (normally dummy) is a fabulous way to make extra tricks. But you need to do it early. You cannot draw trumps (not all of them) or you’ll draw dummy’s trumps. So next time you declare a trump contract, look to see if there’s a shorter suit in dummy. If so, void it early, so you can do some ruffing with trumps that wouldn’t otherwise win.

Good Bad Hands

Good hands can deteriorate as the bidding progresses. If you have wasted values (especially queens and jacks) in the opponents’ suits and partner seemingly doesn’t like your suit(s), retire gracefully.

You are South and the bidding proceeds (North dealer):

 

North East South West

Pass
Pass


Pass


??
2
3

Here are two possible hands for you:
 

South (a) South (b)
A J 8 5 4 3 2
 Q 2
 Q 2
 K Q
 K J 9 5 3 2
 Q J 9
 K J
A Q

 
With South (a), your red-suit queens are almost certainly waste-paper (falling under the opposing ace-kings) and partner doesn’t like your spades. Pass, don’t come again with 3.

With South (b), your hearts look good for a trick on defence to 3 but may be worth little in a spade contract. Your KJ likely lie “under” AQ (the 2 bidder). And your spades are pretty emaciated facing partner’s presumed shortage. Pass. Get out.

If you had: 
           

K Q J 10 9 3
 2
 5 2
 A K 10 8

 – now that’s a 3 bid; no defensive red-suit values and a spade suit that plays for one loser opposite a singleton or even a void. Lots of TRICKS in fact – and that’s what bridge is all about.
.
 

Good bad hands

Don’t despair when you pick up a bad hand. It could get better. Here’s what to look for:

  • a)    A fit with partner.
  • b)    Good shape eg a singleton
  • c)    Honours (those honours you have) in partner’s suits.

You are South and the bidding proceeds (North dealer):
 

North East South West

3
2
Pass
Pass
??
3

Here are two possible hands for you:
 

South (a) South (b)
 Q 3
 Q 7 3 2
 9 7 3 2
 8 5 3
 J 10 3
 K 3
 9 7 4 3
 8 4 3 2

 
With South (a), you have a heart fit and your two queens are in partner’s long suits – golden honours. Don’t pass, raise to 4.

With South (b), you now know for sure you have a spade fit and J10 are worth much more than one point. Plus your Kx is gold-dust. Don’t merely give a preference to 3 (which you’d do with small doubletons in both majors); jump to 4♠.
 

Lead low for like, lead high for hate

Lead low for like, lead high for hate

(This, and articles like it can be found at andrewrobson.co.uk.)

When defending, you can send a message to partner according to the size of the card you lead. The crucial ditty is “lead low for like, lead high for hate” .
Leads of…   
Ace…………….Ten: honour leads, normally top of a sequence, showing the card below
Nine………about six: Leading high for hate cards.
About five…….two: Leading low for like.

Which card would you lead from these holdings (and I’m talking about the first round of the suit, not merely the first trick)?


  • a)    K J 5 2
  • b)    8 4 3 2
  • c)    Q J 5
  • d)     J 9 6 2

  • (a). Lead   2 – leading low for like. Note that I’m not telling you to lead a club, another issue entirely (indeed leading from  KJxx is very dangerous – potentially round to  AQ), merely which club to lead if you’ve decided to lead the suit.
    (b). Lead  8 – leading high for hate. Partner is not clairvoyant – by leading  8 you tell partner not to return the suit.
    (c). Lead  Q – top of a sequence, showing  J.
    (d). At trick one, lead 2 – leading low for like because you have a picture. However, say dummy is tabled and you are switching to this suit but have the information to know that you don’t want partner to return it; now lead  9 – telling partner not to return it.
     

When it’s safe to lead a trump (in defence)

Say you, on opening lead, have nothing very appealing such as a singleton or top of a sequence. In fact all your suits contain broken honour(s) such as Qxxx or KJxx. Yuk – these are very dangerous leads. It may be best, especially if dummy has shown weakness, to lead a trump, giving little away.


However, you must be careful you do not butcher you or partner’s trump holding by leading the suit. Say you are leading v 4. Which of the following trump leads are safe and which not?


  • a)    7 5 2
  • b)    A 5 2
  • c)     Q 5 2
  • d)     J 5 2
  • e)    2
  • a)  752 is pretty safe; you may pick up partner’s  Q4 but probably declarer would have picked up  Q for himself.
  • b)  A52 is also fairly safe, although a holding of  Jx in partner’s hand would likely be squashed.
  • c)  Q52 is most certainly not safe, for you would lose your protection for  Q. Don’t lead a trump, instead wait for declarer to cash  AK, promoting your  Q.
  • d) J52 will be safe if partner has no high card. However, it is not completely safe. Take this layout:
  • Dummy.

  Dummy  
   K 9 4  
West   East
 J 5 2     Q 6
  Declarer  
   A 10 8 7 3  
Left to his own devices, declarer will lose a trump trick. If you lead a trump, you’ll lose that trick. 2, 4, Q, A; then 3, 5, 9, 6; then K felling J.
  • e) 2 is not at all safe. Indeed this is much misunderstood, “Surely my 2 is worthless, so why not lead it?” I hear many say. But think of partner, who is likely to hold a useful holding such as Qxx, J10xx. Your trump lead will severely compromise partner’s holding. Make the lead of a singleton trump a very rare occurrence in your repertoire: it’s very, very dangerous. You could almost say, “never lead a singleton trump.”

Opener’s rebid (part 2 - unbalanced)

This is the pivotal bid, where your show partner that you are unbalanced and tell them much more about your shape. Here are the seven common unbalanced hands starting with the most frequent: 5431, 5422, 6322, 6421, 6331, 5521, 4441. Let’s group them:


  • Group A: 6322, 6331
  • Group B: 5431, 5422, 5521
  • Group C: 6421
  • Group D: 4441

Group A contain the one-suiters. They have a six-card suit, which can be repeated. With 16+ pts, you should repeat the six-card suit with a jump bid.

Group B contains the two-suiters. They all have a five-card suit and a second suit of four (five) cards which can now be bid – almost certainly at the lowest level. If partner has responded in your four-card suit, great: support (with a jump, if holding extra values).

Group C, the 6421 (or the less frequent 6430) fit into both Groups A and B. You have a choice of rebid; you could repeat the six-card suit, or introduce the four. In general, you should choose the cheaper option.

Group D is the dreaded 4441 (but mercifully rare - under 3% of hands), the only unbalanced shape without a five-card suit or longer. Generally, rebid your cheapest four-card suit.

You open 1 and partner responds 1. What now with these unbalanced opening hands?:
 

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c)
♠  2 2
A Q 10 9 5 3
A Q 2
K Q 
Q 2
A Q 8 5 2
J 9 4 2
A 2
♠ 2
A J 7 4 3 2
9 2
A Q 9 4

Answers:

  • a) Rebid 3, showing six hearts and 16+ pts.
  • b) Rebid 2, showing 5-4 (at least).
  • c) Rebid 2, more descriptive (showing nine of your cards) than 2 (showing six of your cards).

Opener’s rebid (part 1 - balanced)

The third partnership bid, opener’s rebid, is the most crucial of many auctions. Opener is now able to tell partner whether his hand is balanced (he’ll rebid notrumps) or unbalanced. If balanced, he’ll be able to show partner how many points he holds to within a narrow range. If unbalanced, he’ll be able to tell partner more of the shape of his hand.

Say opener is balanced – ie no void, no singleton, not more than one doubleton (4432, 4333, 5332). Here is the basic rebid structure:

  • 12-14    You opened 1NT.
  • 15-16    Rebid notrumps at the lowest level over partner’s new suit bid*.
  • 17-18    Rebid notrumps with a jump over partner’s new suit bid*
  • 19    Rebid 3NT

*If partner supports, or responds 1NT, things are different. After, say 1-2, you should pass with 15-16 and rebid just 2NT with 17-18. Bear in mind that partner has shown weakness, so you should rein things in.

You open 1 and partner responds 1. What now with these balanced opening hands?:



Hand a) Hand b) Hand c)
♠  J 7 2
A K 9 3
A 2
K 9 6 4
9 6 2
A Q 8 52
A Q
A Q 2
♠ A 2
A J 10 2
A K J 2
Q 10 9

Answers:

  • a) Rebid 1NT, showing 15-16.
  • b) Rebid 2NT, showing 17-18.
  • c) Respond 3NT, showing 19. Partner should have six points for their response, meaning the partnership hold 25.

I should say that some modern partnerships are adopting a slightly different structure, whereby a 1NT rebid shows 15-17; a 2NT rebid shows 18-19 and a 3NT rebid is rarely used but shows a gambling (unbalanced) hand with a near-running suit.

When to support 1♥/♠ to 2♥/♠ and when to respond 1NT

The simple way to play is that a raise of 1/♠ to 2/♠ always shows four+ cards, just like 1/♠-3/♠. The trouble is, that’s far too restricting.

When partner opens 1/1♠, she will have five+ cards more often than not. She will be far happier hearing you support her, than responding the nebulous 1NT. So support as often as you can.

Partner has opened 1♠. With which of these would you respond 2♠ and with which 1NT?:
 

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c)
♠  J 7 2
 6 3
A 9 3 2
K 9 6 4
9 6 2
 2
A Q 9 7 3
Q 8 6 2
♠ 7 4 2
J 3 2
Q 9 4 2
K J 2

Answers:

(a). Raise to 2. If partner now bids 2NT, she is showing 17-18 with (normally) just four spades. So raise to 3NT.

(b). Raise to 2. Although your spades are just three low, responding 1NT is misguided. Although you have not shown a balanced hand, partner will nonetheless pass with 15-16 balanced; declaring 1NT will be nerve-wracking affair given your hearts (or lack thereof). Note that responding 2 would be incorrect, as you fail the Rule of 14 (points in the hand + number of diamonds do not get to 14).

(c). Respond 1NT. You exceptionally prefer 1NT to 2 with three spades, because your spades are low and you are very flat. 

The guideline is to raise to 2/♠ with three cards in preference to responding the dustbin 1NT, unless you have both a very flat hand (eg 4333) and three small cards.

After the Dustbin 1NT response

Partner opens 1♠. You will have to respond 1NT with a wide assortment of weak (6-9 point) hands (that fail the Rule of 14: the points in the hand plus the cards in the long suit not reaching 14). For example:

 

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c)
♠  4 2
A Q 6 3
♦ 9 3 2
K 9 6 4
♠ 2
Q J 9 7 4 2
9 7 3
A 6 2
♠ --
 4 3 2
7 4 2
K J 9 8 5 3 2

The aim of the 1NT response is to keep the bidding open for partner in case she has a big hand, but not take the partnership overboard if she has a more normal hand. Say she now rebids 2, to show five spades and four diamonds (at least). What do you bid now with the above hands?

    1♠-1NT-2-?
 

With Hand (a), you may be tempted to bid 2NT. Don’t – such a bid would show 10-12 points. You can’t have a 6-9 point hand and a 10-12 hand simultaneously. Nor should you try 2 – if you go via the dustbin 1NT and bid your own suit, you should (95%) have six cards (and never, ever, four cards). You could pass 2, but there are two good reasons for going back to 2♠. Firstly, A 5-2 (spade) fit is easier to handle than a 4-3 (diamond) fit. 4-3 trump fits are notoriously tricky, because six missing trumps rate to split 4-2 and this will draw all your trumps (whereas you’ll have a spare trump if you have a 5-2 fit). Secondly (and this is the more important reason), bidding (2♠) gives partner another go, should she have a good hand – she could still have as many as 17 or 18 points. Note your 2♠ bid should be regarded not as happy support but reluctant preference, typically with a doubleton spade.

With Hand (b), you should bid 2. This shows (normally) six cards, and a weak hand, about six or seven points, so opener will very likely pass – even with a singleton heart. Note that if you’d have fallen into the trap of responding 2 straight away (not 1NT), the bid would be 100% forcing; opener would perhaps have rebid 3 and you’d likely be overboard. Hence why the dustbin 1NT is such an important slowing-down manoeuvre.

With Hand (c), you may have baulked at bidding 1NT but bid 1NT you must. Don’t think of it as a proper notrump bid; it is merely a slowing-down manoeuvre on a weak 6-9 point hand that fails the Rule of14. Over partner’s 2, you’ll bid 3♣, and by going up to the level of Three, you’ll often have a seventh card, or you’d have preferred one of partner’s suits at the Two level.

Responding to a Suit Opener – without a fit (2) Rule of 14

You plan to respond in your longest suit at the lowest level, but sometimes this is made awkward by the level at which you would have to make your response. To respond in a new suit at the two-level, you hand should satisfy the Rule of 14: the point-count of your hand added to the number of cards in your suit should get to 14 or more.

If you fail the Rule of 14, you have the following options in priority order:

  • a). Respond in a four-card suit at the one-level. So with say four spades, five diamonds and seven points, you should respond 1 to 1, not 2.
  • b). Support partner with three cards (preferably headed by a picture). Raising from One to Two in partner’s suit does not guarantee four(+) cards, unlike One-Three (or One-Four, which guarantees a fit)
  • c). Respond 1NT, the so-called “Dustbin One Notrump”, for it is what you bid with those 6-9 point hands that fit nowhere else. 

Exercise: Partner opens 1. What would be your response holding these?

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c) Hand d)
♠ J 6 4 2
 3
♦ 9 3 2
A K 9 6 4
♠ 9 4 2
Q 4 2
A J 9 7 3
5 2
♠ K 2
 4
J 7 4 2
Q J 9 8 5 2
♠  5 2
 3 2
K Q 10 8 4 2
K 10 7

Please click here for  the answer

Responding to a Suit Opener – without a fit (1)

Without four cards in the suit your partner opened, the basic principle is to “bid a suit to a suit”, ie bid your longest suit at the lowest level. When you have two equally long suits, you should bid the cheaper of fours (to give the partnership maximum chance to find a 4-4 fit), but the higher-ranking of fives (you’ll bid the lower one next, thus finishing the two-stage process more economically).  

Exercise: Partner opens 1. What would be your response holding these?

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c) Hand d)
♠ Q 6 4 2
KJ 4 3
♦ 93
9 6 4
A 9 4 2
Q 4
♦ J 9 7 3
10 5 2
♠ K 5 2
 Q J 7 5 4
♦ 5
9 8 5 2
♠ A 9 8 5 2
Q 9 6 3 2
K 2
2

Please click here for  the answer

Responding to a Suit Opener – with a fit

With four cards in the suit your partner has opened, you have a fit: eight+ combined cards. You should tell partner the good news immediately .

The higher the level you bid in support of partner, the better your hand. Use The Responder’s Support Line:
  

Point Count Strategy
6-9 points Bid two of partner's suit
10-12 points Bid three of partner's suit
13+ points Bid four of partner's suit

Don’t be a slave to your point-count though. Be prepared to upgrade a shapely supporting hand. Shortages are very valuable for trumping purposes. A doubleton is worth about one extra point; a singleton is worth about three extra points; a void is worth about five extra points. Also be prepared to upgrade a hand with five-card suit support: eight cards make a fit, but the ninth and tenth trumps are very valuable.

ExercisePartner opens 1. What would be your response holding these?

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c) Hand d)
♠ Q 6 4 2
K 4 3
♦ K 93
9 6 4
♠ Q 9 4 2
 9 4
A Q J 3
10 5 2
♠ K J 5 2
 Q J 7 4
♦ 5
9 85 2
♠ A 9 8 5 2
- -
K 6 3 2
7 6 5 2

Please click here for  the answer

How do I bid with a 4441 shape?

These are very awkward shapes to handle. Bidding has developed such that one-suited hands (six-card suits) and two-suited hands (five-fours) are easy to describe. You bid and repeat the six-card suit; you bid the five then the four. The 4441 shape cannot be described in two bids. A small lie has to be told.

First, the opening bid. There is no perfect solution, but best, on grounds of economy and simplicity, is “TAPS” where you open 1
with a black-suit singleton and 1 with a red-suit singleton. “H” and “C” – the taps.

Your problems are only just beginning! Say your partner responds in your singleton (they always do!). Best is this:


Point Count Strategy
12 Pass – don’t open the bidding at all – then you won’t have to worry about your rebid.
13-14 Rebid your cheapest four-card suit. Lying about your (lack of) fifth card in your first suit is the lesser of evils.
15+ Rebid Notrumps at the appropriate level (15-16: at lowest level; 17-18: with a jump; 19: 3NT)

Exercise: Which suit would you open with these hands? What is your planned rebid if partner responds in your singleton?

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c)
♠ 4
K J 4 3
A K J 3
K J 9 6
♠ J 9 4 2
Q
A Q 8 3
K 7 5 2
♠ Q 8 5 2
 A Q 7 4
♦ 5
A Q 5 2

Please click here for  the answer

The difference between 4-4 and 5-5 in the Majors

When you are 5-5 you will bid both your suits. It pays to open 1so you can next bid 2. That is more economical than opening 1 and rebidding 2 (you’ll never be able to bid 1 after opening 1 because the bidding will have gone past that point).

 Say responder has a weakish “dustbin” 1NT response with three cards in the suit you bid first and two cards in your second suit. Contrast these two routes:

  • a)    1 -  1NT - 2
  • b)    1 - 1NT - 2

In (a), responder has to go to the Three-level to give a preference back to the first suit, 3.
In (b), responder can give a preference back to the first suit at the Two-level. 2
.

When you are 4
-4, you are not planning to bid both your suits. You’ll bid one, then rebid Notrumps (I’m assuming you’re 15-19, for with 12-14 and 4-4, you’ll open 1NT ). It’s better to open 1, because that gives partner the easy opportunity to introduce spades at the One-level. If partner doesn’t respond 1, you’ll presume he doesn’t have four of them and rebid Notrumps. Mistakenly open 1 and partner may lack the strength to respond 2. A heart fit might go a begging.

Which suit to open?

First of all, open your longest suit. No exceptions. With two equally long suits, the emphasis is on the majors (they score better). So open the higher ranking of two equal length suits. The one exception to that rule is when you have precisely four hearts and four spades: it pays to open 1 to keep the bidding cheaper.

Exercise: Which suit would you open with these hands?

Hand a) Hand b) Hand c) Hand d)
♠ A K Q 4
K 4 3
6
♣ 10 9 7 3 2
J 2
♥ A 9 7 4
A K J 3
♣ Q 9 8
Q 5 2
J 9 7 4
A K 5
♣ A K Q
KJ 9 3 2
A K J 7 2
6 3
♣ 5

Please click here for the answers
 

Third Hand Plays High but cheaper of touching cards

“highest card necessary”
 


  North
 7 6 2 
 
West
J 9 5 3  
  East (you)
  K Q 4  
  South
  A 10 8
 

After 3, 2, you must play Q, the cheaper card. If West sees the trick proceed 3, 2, K (erroneously), A, he should deduce that declarer holds Q.

  North
8 6 2 
 
West
K 7 5 3
  East (you)
Q J 10
  South
A 9 4
 

After 3, 2, you play 10. When West sees this force out declarer’s A, West can deduce that you also have QJ – or declarer would have won the trick more cheaply.

  North
A 5 2 
 
West
Q 6 3
  East (you)
 J 10 9 4
  South
K 8 7
 

West leads 3, dummy plays 2 and you as East should play 9, the cheaper of your highest cards. When West sees this force out declarer’s K, he can deduce that you also have J10 – or declarer would have won the trick more cheaply.

It’s the beauty of the partnership. It doesn’t matter to you which of the equals you play. But it helps partner hugely to draw the right inferences.

Third Hand High

This is perhaps the single most important motto for defenders. Bridge is the ultimate partnership game. When you are playing the third card to the trick, your partner has already played a card. If your partner has led low and the second card (of dummy’s, or declarer’s if during the play) is also low, you must play high, or declarer will win a cheap trick.
 

  North
 7 6 2 
 
West
K 9 5 3  
  East
  Q 10 4  
  South
  A J 8
 

After 3, 2, you must play Q, or declarer will win a cheap trick with J.

  North
8 6 2 
 
West
K 10 5 3
  East
 A J 4
  South
Q 9 7
 

After 3, 2, you must play A, not J, to prevent declarer winning Q. After winning A, you should return J, the top of two remaining. In this way the defence can scoop the entire suit without blockage (especially important at notrumps).

Finesse (3)

(NB this piece is somewhat post-Beginner!)

Finessing is intrinsically about the positionally powerful ploy of leading towards a card you are trying to promote, hoping the opposing higher card is in the hand playing second.

Say you are in 4 and this is your trump suit:
 


  North
J 2
 
West
Q 10 9 8  
  East
  7  
  South
♥  A K 6 5 4 3
 

Many players make the mistake of actually leading North’sJ. However you can’t promote a card by leading it – if East holds Q, he will simply coverJ with Q and you’ve achieved precisely nothing.

You must lead 3 towards J. Only by doing this do you restrict West to one trump trick. Whether or not he plays Q, North’s J is promoted.

Say you are in 4 and this is your trump suit:

  North
 Q 2 
 
West
 A 10
  East
 J 9 8
  South
♠ K 7 6 5 4 3 
 

You’ll need to be skilful – and lucky – to restrict your heart losers to one. You’ll have to find West with the ace and just one other card. You need to lead 3 towards the short Q, West playing second hand low, 10. Q wins (meaning that you know West holds A) and you now lead back 2. When East plays 9, you must “duck” (ie play low) from hand, hoping, as here, West’s A takes nothing. On regaining the lead, you can lead K felling J and you’ve picked up the suit for just one loser.

Probability enthusiasts amongst you may like to consider that the chances of this favourable layout are ½ of 68% [the probability of a 3-2 split is 68% and only half of that will work – we need West to have the doubleton] x 2/5 (the chances that the ace will be in the doubleton rather than the trebleton). That’s 13.6%: about a one in seven chance.

Finesse (2)

Finessing is that method of card promotion where you lead from the opposite hand to the card or cards you’re trying to promote, in the hope that the opponent playing second holds the missing higher card(s).


  North
♥ A Q
 
West
? K ? 
  East
 ? K ?  
  South
♥ 3 2
 

You lead 2 to Q. Half the time Q will be promoted (when West, playing second, holds K); half the time Q will lose to K. Your 50-50 gamble failed.

Now look at this:

  North
♥ A Q 10 
 
West
?♥ J? or ?♥ K?
  East
?♥ J? or ?♥ K?
  South
♥ 4 3 2
 

Your best way to play this suit is to take the “deep finesse”, trying to promote your lower card first.  Lead 2 from South to 10. A quarter of the time, when West holds both K and J, 10 will win. You’ll now return to the South hand and lead to Q. If 10 draws K, you’ll have promoted Q. And if 10 loses to J, which will happen half the time, you can still lead to Q.

Now look at this:

  North
♥ K J 2
 
West
♥ A Q 9 7
  East
♥ 10 8  6
  South
5 4 3
 

You can promote both of North’s honours, but only by leading to J first. When this wins (lucky you – a 25% chance), you’ll return to South and lead towards K. Note that swap East and West’s spades and you’d win not one spade trick. No way. It’s all about the relative position of these high cards.

A little “Je ne sais quoi”

A word connoting some “je ne sais quoi” in common parlance, a finesse in Bridge is more straightforward. It is an attempt to promote a card, when the opponents have a higher card in the suit. Normally, you must lead from the opposite hand to the card you are trying to promote.

  North
K 2
 
West
?  A ?
  East
A ? 
  South
43
 

You lead 3 towards K. You hope the opponent playing second, West, holds A. If he does, he is powerless to prevent K from promoting. [He can play A, but North’s 2 is played and K makes next time; or, more likely, he can play second-hand-low, in which case K, which you’ll now play, will win the trick].

Note that it doesn’t matter which is declarer’s hand and which is dummy; it doesn’t matter if the opponents can see what you’re doing. It’s all about the relative position of the card you are trying to promote and the opposing higher card.

Now look at this:

  North
K Q 2
 
West
?  A ?
  East
A ? 
  South
♥ 5 4 3
 

Making one heart trick is easy. You can lead K, forcing out A (wherever it is) and promote Q. However say you need two heart tricks so have to promote both K and Q.

Now finesse technique is required. You must lead from the opposite hand to those two honours you are trying to promote. You lead 3 and, assuming West plays low, try Q. Half the time East will hold A and Q will lose to A. You’ve promoted K, but cannot make two heart tricks. However say West holds A, in which case Q is promoted. You must now return to the South hand (in another suit), then lead 4 towards K. Whether West plays A or not, K is promoted.

Finessing is like the toss of a coin, a 50-50 chance.

The Six Point Rule

The reason why you must always respond to partner’s One-of-a-Suit Opener with six+ points is that partner can have 19 points. 19 + 6 = 25: game (well, 3NT, 4 & 4 - 5/5 require nearer 28, 29 and should generally be avoided).

However if the opponent sitting on your right bids, you no longer have to bid with six-seven-odd points, for partner now has another bid.

Exercise: Partner, South, opens 1 What would you do as North if West passes?

 
Hand A Hand B Hand C
♠ J 7 4 2
7 4
A 9 5 2
J 5 2
♠ 9 7 3
K 6
J 7 4 3 2
K 5 2
♠  4 3 2
7
K J 7 4 3 2
Q 7 3
 
A). Respond 1, showing four+ spades and six+ points.
B). Respond 1NT, the “Dustbin One Notrump”, showing 6-9 points in a hand that cannot bid anything else ie not four spades and not the strength to respond in a new suit at the two-level [**use the Rule of 14: respond in a new suit at the two-level when your points added to the number of cards in your long suit reaches 14].
C). Respond 1NT. This does not show a desire to play in 1NT (as you see) merely a hand that has to bid (six+ pts) with no other bid.


However say West bids 1, the auction going 1 from partner, 1 on your right. Does that change things?

You bet they’e different! When West bids, the pressure is taken off you, as partner now has another bid. Your 1NT bid remains as nominally 6-9, although in practice nearer nine than six, but you are actually expressing the opinion that you want to play 1NT. It is not some nebulous dustbin bid any longer.

A). Pass. If you bid 1NT, you are saying you wish to play that contract. Do you really want to do that with this barren six-count? I don’t really think so.
B). Pass. To bid 1NT after an overcall guarantees a stopper in the overcalled suit. You do not have the vestige of a spade stopper.
C). Pass. Not 1NT as you have no spade stopper, nor a real desire to play in 1NT. And not 2 as you fail the Rule of 14 (see ** above).

Opening Lead Line

When leading a suit for the first time as a defender (the opening lead and subsequent leads), the correct card in the suit is given by the Lead Line:

  • Ace through Ten. These are the honour leads, showing the card immediately below and denying the card immediately above (although not necessarily higher cards than that) Eg: 
    • A K 5
    • Q J 6 2
    • K J 10 4
    • Q 10 9 4
  • Nine through Six/Five(ish).These are the “high for hate leads”, saying that you don’t want the suit led back to you. Eg:
    • 9 4 3 2
    • 8 5 4 2
    • 9 3*
    • 8 3 2 
  • Six/Five(ish) through two. These are the “low for like leads”, showing picture cards at the head of the suit (non-sequential ones, though, or you’d have led top of the sequence), Eg:
    • K J 5 2
    • Q 10 5 3
    • K  9 6 5
    • K 10 4

It should be said that leading from such broken/lone honour holdings is quite dangerous, so you wouldn’t necessarily choose such a suit (unless dummy was already tabled).

*Always lead top of a doubleton

 

Opening lead: versus Trumps (2)

Versus Trumps (2)

No good lead: When you have no sequence nor singleton, you must look at each suit and eliminate the real no-nos and see what you’ve got left.

Generally the lead from an ace is worst of all – and to be avoided at all costs. Look at this typical layout of a suit:



  Dummy  
  9 6 4 2  
West   East
A J 5 3   Q 10 8
  Declarer  
  K 7  

Left to his own devices, declarer will try to promote his king using finesse technique, leading from dummy towards the card. Unfortunately for declarer, with West holding the ace, playing after, the trick will go 2, 8, K, A. There is no way for declarer to score a trick with his king....unless West leads the suit. If West leads the suit, the trick will go 3, 2, Q, K; and it is no better for West to lead the ace: A, 2, 8, 7.

Next worst is to lead from a king; then a queen; then a jack.

Preferable than to lead from lone or broken honours (eg KJ32 – yuk) is to lead from suits with no honours eg 9642, 8432. However it is important to send a message to partner that you do not like your lead and here is where there is a very useful ditty:

If you’re leading a suit you like, lead low
If you’re leading a suit you hate, lead high.

Lead Low for Like – that’s three “Ls”       
   
Exercise: 
After the unrevealing auction by the opponents of 1-4, what would you lead from:


  ♠ Q 6 3
A 9 4 2
♦ K 8 3
 8 3 2

Answer: 8. Not a spade (trumps – especially bad from Q); not a heart (from the ace); not a diamond (from the king). That leaves clubs by elimination. And choose 8 – leading high for hate.

Opening lead: versus Trumps (1)

Good Leads: The choice of opening lead decides the fate of many contracts – about half of all contracts that start life in the balance. Sometimes the defence have to win their tricks quickly – when dummy has a long strong suit. Sometimes the defence can sit back and play a waiting game. It’s hard to know which without a sight of dummy, so if you are lucky enough to have an ace-king combination, you should always lead the ace (top of a sequence) and have a look at the dummy. Then you can decide what to do with more information. Ace-from ace-king is most decidedly Andrew’s favourite lead: a 10/10 lead.

Other good leads (9/10) include leading the king from king-queen. This is good because you are happy if the king forces out the opposing ace, as this promotes your queen; you are even happier if your king wins the trick, for now it looks like partner holds the ace. The other 9/10 lead is a singleton: you void yourself in the hope of being able to trump a further round of the suit.

Exercise: After the unrevealing auction by the opponents of 1-4, what would you lead from:


  ♠ 9 6 3
9
A K 8 3
J 8 4 3 2

You have a singleton heart, yet that is not the best lead. Better is to leadA to have a free look at dummy. You can always switch to 9 should a look at dummy make that attractive. Or cash K. Or even switch to a club. You won’t know until you see dummy and that’s why A is best: it keeps all your options open.

Opening Lead: Versus Notrumps

The opening lead is the pivotal card in many defences. It’s a unique card too, the only card played without a sight of dummy. Because there’s no dummy to help you, you have to fall back on tried-and-tested winning formulae and versus notrumps, that’s generally leading the “fourth from the top of the longest and strongest suit”. The reason for leading your longest suit v notrumps is to exhaust the opponents of their cards of the suit, so you can win tricks with your small left-over cards.

So after an unrevealing 2NT-3NT auction by the opponents, lead 4 from:

  ♠ J 8 6 3
♥ K 10 6 4 2
A 3
9 7

it wouldn’t be a big deal to lead  2 rather than 4, but an aspiring partner would think “ah, if 2 is my partner’s fourth highest, he has only four hearts”. So stick with 4.

Change your hand to:

  ♠ J 8 6 3
♥ K Q J 4 2
A 3
9 7

and now it would be a mistake to lead 4. This risks declarer winning cheaply with say 10. When your long suit is headed by three touching* honours, lead the top of the sequence. So lead K. That way you’ll force out A.

*Or near-touching: lead K from KQ1042.

Defence: When to cover an honour with an honour?

When declarer/dummy leads an honour, the default position is to cover the honour with your higher honour, to draw two of declarer’s high cards for one of yours:


 
♠ Q 4 2 (♠Q led)
♠ 10 8 7 3
 
North
(Dummy)
West   East
(You)
South
(Declarer)
 
♠ K 9 5
 
♠ A J 6

If you as East are too mean to play ♠K on dummy’s ♠Q, ♠Q will win and ♠2 to ♠J will follow, enabling declarer to score all three tricks. Instead, cover ♠Q with ♠K and declarer can win ♠A and ♠J, but not ♠Q.

Do not always cover an honour with an honour as a reflect reaction, however. If there is no chance of promoting lower cards for your side (effectively the point of covering an honour with an honour), then don’t bother.
 

 
♠ Q J 10 9 (♠Q led)
♠ 7 5 3 2
 
North
 (Dummy)
West   East (You)
South
(Declarer)
 
♠ K 8 4
 
♠ A 6

If ♠Q is led, you as East should play ♠4. You can see that covering ♠Q with ♠K will promote ♠J109. By playing ♠4 on ♠Q, declarer’s ♠A will win the second round perforce (because he only has two spades) and your ♠K will be a third-round winner.

So cover an honour with an honour if you think you can promote lower cards for your side. Otherwise don’t.

Defence: The difference between the second card to the trick and the third card to the trick.

When you are playing the third card to the trick, your partner has already played a card. Assuming that card is low, and declarer/dummy playing second has played low, you must play high or declarer wins a cheap trick:


 
♠ 8 4 2
♠ Q 10 7 3
(♠3 led)
 
North
(Dummy)
West   East (You)
South
(Declarer)
 
♠ K 9 5
 
♠ A J 6

After ♠3, ♠2, if you as East are too mean to play ♠K and instead play ♠9, declarer wins a cheap trick with ♠J. You should instead play ♠K, prepared to sacrifice it to ♠A, so preventing declarer scoring ♠J. Your partner’s spades are promoted and provided it is you (East) who leads a second spade through declarer’s remaining ♠J6, declarer will be restricted to one spade trick.

Hence the motto: third hand high.

When you are a defender playing the second card to the trick, things are quite different because your partner hasn’t yet played a card to the trick. If a low card is led (by declarer/dummy), you can normally afford to play low; declarer will have to play high in third chair, otherwise partner will win a cheap trick. Playing second, the pressure is off.

 
♠ K 9 3
♠ J 7 5 2
 
North
(Dummy)
West
(You)
  East
South
(Declarer)
 
♠ Q 8 4
 
♠ A 10 6
(♠ 6 led)

When declarer leads ♠6, do not, playing second as West, be tempted to play ♠J “to force out ♠K”. Dummy’s ♠K will have to be played anyway, otherwise your partner East will win the trick with ♠Q. After ♠6, ♠2 (the correct card), ♠K... declarer can but score ♠K and ♠A. However if you as West erroneously insert ♠J, then after ♠6, ♠J, ♠K, ♠4; declarer can lead back dummy’s ♠3 and when East plays ♠8, he can insert “finesse” ♠10 and score all three tricks.

Hence the motto: second hand low (when a low card is led)*.
*NB Normally cover an honour with an honour

Overcalling 1NT

That expression causes endless confusion – and I’ve finally worked out why (I think). In Bridge players’ jargon, “overcalling 1NT” means “bidding 1NT as an overcall”. 

The confusion arises because it is perfectly natural to interpret the expression “overcall 1NT” to mean: bid at the two-level as an overcall over the opposing 1NT. This is not what “overcall 1NT” is intended to mean in “BPJ” (Bridge Players’ Jargon). 

Bidding as an overcall over the opposing 1NT is not really much different to bidding as an overcall over an opening such as 1 ♠. You’d have a good five/six card suit and at least about eight/nine points at the (very) low end.

To bid 1NT as an overcall, you should have 15-18 (or 19) points, balanced with a stopper in the suit opened.

After your right-hand opponent opens 1 ♠, you would bid 1NT as an overcall (“overcall 1NT”) with these hands:

Hand (a) Hand (b) Hand (c)
♠ K 10 3 2
A Q
J 8 2
♣ A K 8 6
♠A Q 2
9 2
A Q 8 3 2
♣K 9 7
♠ 7 3
A J 2
K J 8 3
♣ A Q J 6

Hand A: Bid 1NT
Hand B: Bid 1NT, a better description than 2.
Hand C: Double - for take-out. Do not bid 1NT as an overcall because you have no spade "stopper".
 

Opening at the three level

An opening bid at the Three-level shows a good seven-card suit, but less than opening values. The more you have in your suit – preferably two of the top three cards or three of the top five – and the less outside, the better.

Hand (a) Hand (b) Hand (c)
♠ K Q 10 9 6 3 2
Q 8 5
4 2
♣ 2
♠ 6 3 2
9
A Q J 8 5 3 2
♣9 7
♠ 7 3
A 8 7 5 4 3 2
J 9
♣ 4 2

Hand A: Open 3♠.
Hand B: Open 3.
Hand C: Pass-heart suit quality too poor.

Responding to Three-level opener

"Put up or Shut up" - probably "Shut up". 

West North East South
  3 ♠ Pass ??

Hand (a) Hand (b) Hand (c)
♠ Q
A K 8 5
A 9 6 2
♣ 9 7 3 2
♠ 3 2
Q J 2
Q J 7 3
♣A K Q 3
♠ void
A Q 10 7 4 2
A J 6 2
♣ Q 9 6

With Hand (a), bid 4♠. You have a magical queen in partner’s suit and three quick tricks outside.

With Hand (b), you should pass. Those queens and jacks are probably completely useless – partner will be out of the suit once they start to work. Aces (and to a lesser extent) kings are what partner wants. I’d be surprised to see partner make even 3♠.

Pass with Hand (c) too. Partner has told you they have a useless hand unless spades are trumps. 4 would be very likely to fail.

Avoid Minor Suit Games but not Minor Suits

Clubs and diamonds, the two minor suits, score at just 20 points per trick. You need to bid 5 ♣ or 5 to win game – that’s 11 tricks: better, normally, to play game in Notrumps (3NT – two fewer tricks) unless you are very, very shapely with a big, big fit.

However whereas you should avoid minor suit games, it is a mistake to withhold minor-suit support in the part-score zone. Practically, there is precious little difference between, say a 40 part-score (eg 2) and a 60 part-score (eg 2 ♠): if you have better cards than your opponents on the following deal, you will be able to convert both 40 and 60 into 100.

Exercise:   
 

West North East South
  1 Pass 1 ♠
Pass 2 ♣ Pass ?

Hand (a) Hand (b) Hand (c)
♠ K J 3 2
Q 8 5
 4 2
♣ A J 8 2
♠ A 9 6 3 2
9 7 3 2
 2
♣Q 9 7
♠ K Q 9 7
K 10 8
J 9
♣ A 7 4 2

With Hand (a), you should prefer to raise 2 ♣ to 3 ♣ than bid 2NT. If it is a game deal – partner holding extra values, the partnership has time to bid to 3NT not 5 ♣. But if partner has a minimumish opener, 3 ♣ will be better than 2NT. Avoid minor-suit games but not minor suits.

With Hand (b), you should pass. Stop before the partnership gets too high. Do not bid 2 (or 2 ♠). Be happy in clubs.

With Hand (c) you should bid 3NT. Unlike Hands (a) and (b), you have game values. Here, with the unbid hearts well stopped and a balanced notrumpy hand, you should prefer 3NT to 5 ♣.

The Six-Point Rule

When partner opens One of a Suit, they can have anything from 12 points* to 19 points. With 20+ points they’ll open at the level of Two.

*Even slightly fewer than 12, using the Rule of 20: open the bidding when the number of high-card points in your hand, added to the number of cards in your two longest suits, gets to 20 or more.


Because partner can have 19 points, you should always respond with six+ points, to give a partnership total of 25 points, the guideline for the three game contracts of 3NT, 4 and 4 (5 and 5 are less attractive, needing nearer 28/29 points).

Say partner opens 1♣. What should you respond with these responding hands?



Hand (i) Hand (ii) Hand (iii)
♠ A Q 10 4
9 8 5 3 2
7 3 2
♣ 5
♠ 7 5 3
A J 9
J 7 4 2
♣ 10 7 6
♠ 9 4 2
A 10 9 2
Q 8 5 3
♣ 9 6

Hand (a). Respond 1- quantity before quality.

Hand (b). 1. Your response is just a stepping stone. It does not promise a rose-garden, either by way of suit or overall hand.

Hand (c). 1 Respond in the cheaper of four card suits. Don’t worry – you won’t miss a fit in the more valuable hearts – for partner can introduce the hearts now – at the One-level – if they have four of them.

 

Hand Evaluation - not all points are equal

When you count up your high-card points, you should be aware that points in your long suits are likely to be pulling more weight than points in your short suits. 

Contrast these two hands:

Hand (i) Hand (ii)
♠ K Q
A J
9 6 4 2
♣ 10 8  7 5 3
♠ K Q 10 7 3
A J 9 8
4 2
♣ 6 5

Both (i) and (ii) have ten points – indeed they each have precisely one ace, one king, one queen...all the way down to one two. They also have the same 5422 shape. Yet there is a world of difference between the two hands. Having honours in long suits, as in (ii) is far more powerful.

Contrast these two suits:

Dummy (a)   Dummy (b)
K Q 6 5 4   6 5 4 3 2
     
Declarer (a)   Declarer (b)
3 2   K Q

In (a) you can lead towards the king and queen. If the ace is sitting on your left, in front of KQ, both will be promoted. In (b) the ace will take one of your honours, wherever it lies. Plus the suit is blocked, making trick-taking all the more awkward.

Back to our original hands. It is hard to see you taking even one bid with (i), unless partner shows a good hand. (ii) is probably worth opening and certainly worth overcalling. All those points in the long suits – lovely.
 

Hand Evaluation - the power of shape

In the previous article, we looked at the power of tens. Here we look at the power of shape. 

Contrast these two hands:

Hand (i) Hand (ii)
♠ K J 3
Q J 4 2
A 9 6
♣ 10 8 5
♠ K J 8 5 3
Q J 4 2
A 9 6
♣ 10

Hand (i) is the most barren shape in Bridge, the dreaded 4333. No short suits, no long suits. You would not open the bidding, nor would you bid as an overcall if an opponent opened.

Hand (ii) is far more interesting. 5431 is my favourite of the common shapes (it’s also – after 4432 and 5332) the third most common. You will open the bidding (1♠) with this hand – using the Rule of 20 (high-card points added to number of cards in two longest suits getting to 20) and you’ll also bid 1♠ after an opposing opening bid. Having your suit lengths the way they are is particularly nice, giving you an easy bidding strategy (1♠ - then 2).

Shape is so important that I would recommend looking at your shape before even counting your points. I would mark the common shapes as follows (out of ten):

Shape (in decreasing order of frequency) Marks/10
4-4-3-2 5
5-3-3-2 6
5-4-3-1 9
5-4-2-2 7
4-3-3-3 3
6-3-2-2 8

 

Hand Evaluation - the power of ten

When Mr. Milton Work invented the point-count method, ace = 4, king = 3, queen = 2 and jack = 1, he did the ten no favours.
Contrast these two hands: 

Hand a)   Hand b)
♠ A 6 3
Q 7
Q 6 4 2
♣ K J 7 4
  ♠ A 10 4
Q 10
♦ Q 10 9 3
♣ K J 10 9

Both contain the same shape and the same jacks, queens kings and aces to make up 12 points. But what a difference!

You would open 1NT with the first, but with huge trepidation. If partner raises to 2NT, a response that invites you to bid again – to go on to 3NT with an upper range hand and pass with a lower range hand – you couldn’t pass quick enough. You’ll probably not make 2NT, let alone 3NT.

The second is a completely different kettle of fish. Your hand is replete with tens – those minor-suit nines are pretty good too. You’d raise 2NT to 3NT quick as a flash, as your hand is worth (at least) 14 points. Examine the diamond suit and give partner, say J5. Q642 facing J5 will probably generate no tricks at all; Q1093 facing J5 will generate two tricks: for sure. What a difference!

Milton really should have given the ten half a point (or perhaps 0.4) and the nine about a quarter (or perhaps 0.2), but that’d be way too complicated. However don’t forget how useful these intermediate cards can be.

Opening Lead

The single most important card in a deal of bridge, the one that affects the number of tricks both sides end up with more than any other by far, is the opening lead. It’s a unique card too, the only card played without a sight of dummy.

The very best lead, enabling you to have an all-important look at that dummy whilst retaining control and keeping all your options open, is the ace from an ace-king combination. Other top-of-a-sequence leads are good too (the higher up a suit, the better). They are King from King-Queen, Queen from Queen-Jack, Jack from Jack-ten; Ten from ten-nine (this is the lowest top-of-a-sequence lead, because the higher card needs to be an honour: the ten or above).

Exercise: What would you lead from these hands after the opponents have bid to 2♠ and no other suits were mentioned either by the opponents or by partner?
Hand A   Hand B   Hand C   Hand D  
♠ 8 6 4
A K 7 3
J 8 6 5
♣ Q 4
  ♠ J 7
J 6
K Q 8 7
♣ J 9 7 3 2
  ♠ A 4
K J 6 3
Q 7 6
♣ J 10 6 4
  ♠ 8 7 4
Q J 7 5
K 7 6
♣ A J 7
 

Answer:

(a)   A - Ace from Ace-King is Andrew Favourite Lead (AFL).
(b)  K - denying the Ace and promissing the Queen (top of a sequence).
(c)  ♣ J - denying the Queen and promissing the Ten (top of a sequence).
(d)  Q - denying the King and promissing the Jack (top of a sequence).

Second hand plays?

Consider this suit:

  ♣Q 6 2
♣K 9 7 5
Dummy
W   E
Declarer
  ♣A 10 8
  ♣J 4 3
The question is: if declarer leads this suit, can he score a trick?
The answer is: No, he cannot make a trick. But only if the defence do the right thing.

First consider if declarer leads ♣3: West must play low; dummy’s ♣Q will be beaten by ♣A and West holds ♣K to beat ♣J. If West erroneously rises with ♣K on ♣3, then that card has taken nothing and now declarer holds ♣J and ♣Q as equals against ♣A: one of ♣J/♣Q to force out ♣A and promote the other.

Now consider if declarer leads ♣J: West must play ♣K this time; then East holds ♣A to beat dummy’s ♣Q and no trick is made by declarer. If, however, West erroneously plays low on ♣J, then East will win ♣A but declarer can later lead towards ♣Q; West can win ♣K if he likes, but ♣Q will win the third round.

We have reached a very important general conclusion for a defender playing second to a trick: on a low card, the second player should play low, but if an honour is led, he should cover an honour with an honour.

Bidding with a fit

The first objective of the bidding is for the partnership to find a FIT – that’s eight combined cards. Major-suit fits are the most valuable as you can win the 4/4♠ games with ten tricks [5♣/5 require 11]. So if your partner opens 1/1♠ and you have four-card support, then never bid a new suit, always support.

Exercise:What should these hands respond to partner’s 1 opener?

Hand A   Hand B   Hand C   Hand D  
♠ K 7 4 2
 10 7 4 3
J 6
♣ Q J 3
  ♠ 3 2
Q 9 7 2
A K J 7 4 2
♣ 3
  ♠ A Q 7 3
J 6 4 2
9 8 5
♣ A 2
  ♠ A K Q 2
6 4 3 2
3 2
♣ Q 5 3
 

Answer:

(a)  2.This shows a weakish hand. Six points up to eight or nine, with a fit*.

(b) 4. Not diamonds. Your singleton club is huge – for ruffing, as is your side source of tricks in diamonds.

(c) 3. Allow partner to pass if he has opened with just 12 or so points, otherwise he’ll press on to 4.

(d) 3. Not 1♠.

*Immediate supporting bids guarantee four-card support except 1-2 with can show three.

Declaring Notrumps

Play like a tortoise, not like a hare. Do not rush with your aces and kings, try to promote cards into tricks that do not start as top tricks.

Plan the play in 1NT on the following deal. West leads 6

  ♠ 10 8 5 2
K 4 2
K 5
♣ A 7 4 2
 
N
W   E
S
 
  ♠ J 9 3
A 8 5 3
A 8 4 2
♣ K 6

You have six top tricks - AK, AK, AK but must not play them out, or that is all you will win, losing the last seven tricks. Instead play on spades, using the four-card sequence to force out the three higher spades. Eventually you will set up a spade trick – your seventh.

Tip: Be happy to “lose to win”.

Responding to a 1NT opening bid

After partner opens 1NT, you as responder wear the captain’s hat and can normally place the contract right away. The two issues to focus on are (i) whether you have a game-going hand (around 12+ points – to give a partnership total of practically 25 points)* and (ii) whether you have a known fit (six+ cards in a suit will guarantee a fit as the 1NT has at least two cards in every suit).

*Focussing on the game contracts 3NT, 4, 4 but not 5and 5 - to be avoided.

Exercise:What should these hands respond to 1NT?

Hand A   Hand B   Hand C   Hand D  
♠ Q 7 4
K Q 10 7 4 3
-
♣ Q J 6 3
  ♠ Q 3 2
Q 9 7 2
A J 7
♣ J 8 3
  ♠ 4
10 9 7 6 4 2
J 8 5
♣ A 6 2
  ♠ Q 5 3
6
 9 8 6 3 2
♣ Q J 5 3
 

Answer:

(a) 4. Eight+ hearts and the values for game (within one – and the wonderful shape more than compensates).

(b) 
Pass. There cannot be 25 partnership points – plus what a trickless hand!

(c)  2. Clear to remove 1NT to 2 - there must be an eight-card heart fit and 2 will surely play better than 1NT. Note partner will not bid again - 2 is a weakness take-out.

(d)  2. There may not be a fit – if partner has a doubleton diamond. But experience has shown that it is better to rescue 1NT into a five-card suit when you are weak (ie up to 10/11 points).

Bidding as Opener - the “Rule of 20”

You should always open the bidding with 12+ high-card points. You can open the bidding with slightly fewer than 12 points when you have a shapely hand. Use the Rule of 20 – which states that you can open the bidding when your high-card point-count added to the number of cards in your two longest suits gets to 20.

Exercise:Which of these hands should open the bidding?

Hand A   Hand B   Hand C   Hand D  
♠ A Q 7 4
K 4 3
6
♣ Q 10 9 6 3
  ♠ Q 3 2
K J 7 4 2
A J 7
♣ 9 8
  ♠ 4
Q 9 7 4
7 5
♣ AK J 10 6 2
  ♠ J 8 5 3
6
Q 9 6 3
♣ A K J 5
 

Answer:

(a) You should open 1 (satisfying the Rule of 20), planning to rebid 1 over a 1 / response.

(b) You should pass. Balanced hands with fewer than 12 points should not open – they will never satisfy the Rule of 20.

(c) 1 ♣  (satisfying the Rule of 20), planning to rebid 1 over 1 but 2 ♣  over 1 ♠.

(d) Pass. 4441s are notoriously awkward shapes, in fact when I began “you should always open 12 point hands” there is something to be said for passing a 12-point 4441: so difficult to describe in the bidding and so often disappointing in the play.

 

Which card to play

The typical structure of a trick is a low card led, second card low, third card high, fourth card either higher or lowest. This issue we look at plays by the third-hand. As noted, the third player should normally play high; however they should play the cheaper of touching highest cards.

Exercise:Say Hearts are trumps and partner has led 2. Dummy has three small cards and plays low. Which one do you play from these:

    Dummy      
     ♠ 8 6 4       
West leads    North   East (you)  
Leads ♠ 2        (a) ♠ A J 5   
    West                East   (b) ♠ A K 5  
        (c) ♠ A K Q J 5  
        (d) ♠ K J 5  
    South   (e) ♠ K Q 5  

Answer:
(a)    A.Third hand high.
(b)    
K. Cheaper of touching highest cards.
(c)    
J. When partner sees J win the trick, he can work out you have the higher spades (this is the logic of why you must win with the cheaper card).
(d)    
K. Third hand high.
(e)    
Q. Cheaper of the touching highest cards.

Overcalling in a suit

Bidding after an opponent opens shows a good five+ card suit. You don’t need opening points, however (although you may have them).

Exercise:Which of these hands should bid 1 after right hand opponent opens 1?

Hand a)   Hand b)   Hand c)  
♠ J 3
A K 9 7
Q 7 3 2
♣ Q J 4
  ♠ 10 9 2
K Q J 9 8
3
♣ Q 9 3 2
  ♠ J 4 3 
A 6 4 3 2
Q 7 2
♣ Q J
 

Answer:Only Hand (b) should bid 1, despite having fewer high card points than (a) or (c). Hand (a) should pass – because you should never bid a suit as an overcaller with fewer than five cards [and to bid 1NT as an overcall shows a big hand – 15-19 points]. Hand (c) should pass – because the suit is not good enough.
Try to think in terms of the trick-taking potential of your hand. (Hand (b) makes three-four tricks facing absolutely nothing; Hand (c) just one trick – those queens and jacks (“quacks”) look pretty useless.

Bidding One No Trump as an overcaller

If you were planning to open 1NT (to show 12-14 points and a balanced hand), do not bid 1NT as an overcall after an opponent opens. You may find yourself sandwiched between two strong hands and things can go very very badly. Instead pass. Bidding 1NT as an overcall shows at least a good 15-count.

Exercise Each of these hands would open 1NT. What should they do after right-hand opponent opens 1

Hand a)   Hand b)   Hand c)  
♠ A 6 3
Q 7
Q 9 7 2
♣ A J 7 4
  ♠ 3 2
Q J 9 7 2
A J 3
♣ A 3 2
  ♠ 7 4 3 
 K 3
A 7 2
♣ A J 8 6 2
 

Answer: Pass with (i), bid 1 with (ii) and pass with (iii). Note that an overcall at the two-level – that’s an eight-trick bid – requires a better suit than (iii)’s clubs.

What does “vulnerable” mean?

When you have scored a game, you are half-way to winning rubber and you become “vulnerable”. This means that when you fail in a contract, your opponents win 100 for each trick to go down by. When bidding vulnerable, you should be more cautious if you are bidding to spoil, expecting to fail. What is less well understood, however, is that you should be bolder when you think you might make game. For if you are vulnerable and make game, you have won Rubber (playing Chicago you get a 500 bonus for a vulnerable game as opposed to a 300 bonus for a non-vulnerable game so the reasoning is the same).

Exercisevulnerable, you open 1 and partner bids 3. Would you bid 4 with these?

Hand a)   Hand b)   Hand c)  
♠ A Q 8 6 3
K 10 7
3
♣ K J 7 4
  ♠ K J 7 5 3 2
A 3 2
3
♣ A 3 2
  ♠ 10 9 7 4 3
A K 7 3
A J 7
♣ 4
 

Answer: Yes with all three! Shapely fitting hands work out well even if the point count is not that great.

Moral: Bid up when vulnerable.

Tip for assessing your hand

Try to look beyond your high-card point count when assesing the value of your hand.

Exercise: 

You pick up these 10 point hands (that's the average point count). Would you say they were promising (P), barren (B) or in-between (I).

Hand a)   Hand b)   Hand c)  
♠ Q 5 3 2
K J 4
A 4 2
♣ 8 6 2
  ♠ A 10 9 6 3
Q J 10 5
K 9 4
♣ 4
  ♠ A J 9 6
 10 6
Q 9 6 3 2
♣ K 9
 

Answer:

  1. B. Yucky barren 4333 shape with no tens and nines. Trick-taking will be tough.

  2. P. Lovely 5431 shape, three possible trump suits with the two longer ones being the higher-scoring majors. Also, those major-suit tens look pretty good yet count for no high cards. Really a great 10-count.

  3. I. Reasonable hand, some useful shape and intermediates. But no sequential honours and the five-card diamond suit is not that great.

Choosing a suit to play on

When deciding which suits offer the best prospects for making extra tricks, look for sequences. Provided you have more cards in a sequence than the number of missing higher cards, you will eventually establish extra tricks, regardless of the opposing split (assuming Notrumps or trumps already drawn)


Rank these suits in terms of their desirability to be broached early in a notrump contract.

Hand a)   Hand b)   Hand c)  
Dummy
♠ A 6 4 2
  Dummy
 Q 10 2
  Dummy
♣ K 8 6
 
           
Declarer
♠ K 3
  Dummy
J 9 6 4
  Dummy
♣ A 7 4 3
 

Answer:

  1. is worst of all. There is no chance of an extra trick on top of your ♠AK, which you will win anyway. This suit you should not play until near the end, when (hopefully) you have enough top tricks for your contract. Play them out earlier and you will achieve nothing, and promote the opponents’ queens and jacks

  2. is best – by far. You have no top tricks, but by using two of the cards in your four-card sequence, preferably Q and 10, the high cards from the shorter length, you will promote two cards. It doesn’t matter if all six diamonds are held by one opponent.

  3. is a mediocre choice, but at least if the suit splits 3-3 you have a long card after ♣A, ♣K and giving up a club (you could equally well – better indeed – give up the first club).

Making tricks in suits

When making tricks in suits, remember the maxim that tells you in which order to play your sequential high cards between your hand and dummy:

If leading from the hand with the shorter length, lead the highest card.

If leading from the hand with the longer length, lead the lowest card.

Think L-L: Lowest-Longest. 

Exercise: How would you play these suits? You are leading from your hand

Hand a)   Hand b)   Hand c)  
Dummy
♠ K 2
  Dummy
A Q 3 2
  Dummy
♣ A K J 5 2
 
           
Declarer
♠ A Q 3
  Declarer
K J 4
  Declarer
♣ Q 3
 

Answer:

  1. Lead  ♠3 first – lowest card from the longer length – to  ♠K – highest card from the shorter length. Now  ♠2 back to ♠AQ.

  2. Lead K first, then, reapplying the motto, J, then 4 to AQ.

  3. Lead  ♣Q first, then  ♣3 over to  ♣AKJ. Unless the suit splits 5-1 or 6-0 (unlikely), you will have a long card (♣5).

Responding to a one of a suit opening bid

The first goal of the bidding is to find a mutually agreeable trump suit with partner – a fit – that’s eight cards between the partnership. 

Exercise: Say partner opens 1. What would you respond with these hands?

Hand a)   Hand b)   Hand c)  
♠ 8 2
J 8 6 2
8 7
♣ A J 10 3 2
  ♠ 3 2
7 4 3 2
7 6
♣ A K J 8 7
  ♠ A J 4 2
6 3
Q 9 7 2
♣ Q 7 6
 

Answer:

  1. 2. Partner must have at least four hearts so you have a fit. Your 2 bid shows a weakish hand.

  2. 2. No need to mention clubs as you have found a fit. And in a major-suit to boot, higher-scoring.

  3. 1 ♠. No heart fit, so try to find a fit elsewhere, choosing your cheaper four-card suit.

The One No Trump opening

You pick up your cards and count the points: say you have 12+ and can open. Your first duty is to ask yourself whether your hand is balanced or unbalanced. A balanced hand contains no void, singleton nor more than one doubleton. The three balanced shapes are 4432, 4333 and 5332. Holding a balanced hand with between 12 and 14 points, open 1NT

Exercise: which of these hands should be opened 1NT?

Hand a)   Hand b)   Hand c)  
♠ A J 8 2
J 4
A 2
♣ Q 9 7 3 2
  ♠ A Q 3 2
J 10 5
A K 6
♣ Q 8 7
  ♠ J 9 7 4 2
K J
A Q 2
♣ Q 10 8
 

Answer: Only (c). (a) is unbalanced - two doubletons, whilst (b) has too many points.

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