last update: 20 February 2022
As Charles Goren once pointed out
"In all the bridge books South always holds fantastic cards.
The secret of my success is that I always sit South."
On these webpages the abbreviation HCP means 'high-card points' and DH means 'Distribution+HCP'.
'Opener' is the person who 'opened' the bidding, and 'Responder/Partner' is the person who must reply to their partner's opening bid.
Using both hands partnerships need to make these contracts:-
Suit part-score (bid of 1, 2 or 3 in any suit) - 18-24 DH and at least one 8-card trump fit.
A partnership has a 57% probability of holding between 18-24 HCP, and a 84.3% probability of holding at least one 8-card suit.
No Trump part-score (bid of 1NT or 2NT) - 20-24 HCP and no 8-card major suit fit.
A partnership has a 37% probability of holding between 20-24 HCP, and a 51% probability of holding an NT distribution with no 8-card major suits.
Based upon an analysis of 700,000 random deals, part-scores should be played only 39.8% of the time, and game contracts 60.2% of the time. This analysis includes double dummy (i.e. best line of play and defence when all four hands are visible and as someone once said 'played by superhumans'). This does not mean that in real life 40% of the hands will be bid and played in the 'best' part score.
An analysis of more than 17,000 deals played more than 210,000 times points to what real-life players do. Low to average players play significantly more partial scores and less game contracts. Low level players or beginners will play as many as 56% of deals as partial scores, even very good players will still play about 46% of deals as partial scores, well above the 40% of the double dummy. Real-life world-class players play only about 36% partial scores, so better than the 40% 'ideal' of the double dummy.
One surprising additional piece of information is that based upon a group of expert and world class players an analysis of tournament statistics showed that they played 60% of contracts in No Trumps, 35% in majors, and only 5% in the minors. One of the conclusions was that excellent players play better No Trump contract because they play them more often, and because they are easier to play (a lot of bridge players would disagree). The argument is that No Trump contracts require fewer techniques than playing trump contracts. Bridge simulators are better at suit contracts, in part because the coded point counting and distribution estimators are more effective in suit contracts. It is said that human players are better in No Trumps because they are able to 'visualise' options whereas a simulator can't always differentiate between two situations having the same probability.
The important thing is not in the exact figures, but in the pointer to where improvements in bidding can be profitable (provided everyone knows how to play the cards!).
Major-suit game (4H, 4S) - 25+ HCP and at least an 8-card major suit fit (27 points DH).
A partnership has a 12.7% probability of holding 25+ HCP, and a 42.2% probability of holding one 8-card major suit.
No Trump game (3NT) - 25+ HCP and no 8-card major suit fit.
A partnership has a 12.7% probability of holding 25+ HCP, and a 51% probability of not holding at least one 8-card major suit.
Minor-suit game (5C, 5D) - 28+ HCP and at least an 8-card minor suit fit, and no 8-card major fit (30 points DH).
A partnership has a 5.8% probability of holding 28+ HCP.
Based upon an analysis of 700,000 random deals, game contracts should be played 46.6% of the time (excluding slams). In real life it is not certain that everyone bids and makes these game contracts, but it is also not certain that defenders compete and play perfectly the correct sacrifices. In only about 1% of that 46.6% can one partnership bid and make a game over the other partnership who bid and could have made game (usually 4♠ bid and made over 4♥).
Looking again at 17,000 real-world deals played more than 210,000 times shows that poor players and beginners only play between 42% and 44% of game contracts, but average and good players bid and make game contracts more or less as the double dummy would predict (this is in part because these players play game when better players might continue to bid and make slams). Real-life world-class players play more slams and still play about 56% of hands in game, so well above the 47% 'ideal' of the double dummy.
This is probably the most important area for improvement for almost every partnership, they must bid and make more game contracts.
Small slam (any bid of 6) - 33+ HCP/DH (ensuring at least 3 Aces).
A partnership has a 0.35% probability of holding 33 or more HCP.
Based upon an analysis of 700,000 deals, small slams are played 10.7% of the time.
Grand slam (any bid of 7) - 36+ HCP/DH and all four aces.
A partnership has a 0.03% probability of holding 36 or more HCP.
Based upon an analysis of 700,000 deals, grand slams are played only 3% of the time.
In the real-world all partnerships, except world class players, play fewer slams (only about 6%) than that predicted by double dummy scores (about 13%). However, even world class players play and make fewer slams than predicted by double dummy, but they make up for it by bidding and making far more game contracts.
These contract guidelines apply when a partnership has a relatively 'standard' hand. If they have a strong trump fit, long side suits and/or unusual distribution, they will need fewer points to make these contracts.
When we start to read about bridge we soon learn that for expert and world-class players the auction (bidding) is the hardest and most important part of the game. We are told that there is little variation in the level of the players during card playing, so bidding is the decisive factor. In matches between international teams maybe half of the hands play out the same, and most of the differences in scoring for the other hands is attributed to superior bidding.
Benito Garozzo once said:-
"In pairs competitions, you can effectively forget all about slam bidding.
You need to concentrate on declarer play and defence - that is where most of the points are lost.
At team events, you need to have the best bidding system, particularly for competitive bidding."
This is certainly true that the bidding system is key for expert players, but is this equally true in local bridge clubs or at those bridge evenings with friends? What is true is that in a club evening of 24 hands maybe only 4-5 hands are bid and made the same way by everybody. It is certain that pairs don't bid game when it should be bid, and they bid the occasional games when they should have stopped earlier. But the big problem is that the results often appear less related to bidding skills and more to bad card play.
So in these webpages I will try to keep the bidding simple, and on other webpages focus on how to better play the cards. How can bidding be simple if everyone says it is complicated?
Let's look at a simple bidding sequence 1NT - 2♣ - 2♦ - 3NT. Is this not just like a conversation "I have a balanced hand with 15-17 high card points. Thank you and I have some support, but do you have 4 cards in ♠ or in ♥? Sorry, I don't have 4 cards in either. Never mind, I think I have enough support for you to make a game in 3 No Trumps". During this time the opponents were passing, or "I don't have enough points to say something. Shame, nor do I, and I can't even double the 2♣ as lead directing. I can't double the 2♦ either. And neither of us can double the contract, so now I have to think about a lead".
Just how complicated can bidding be? We will see.
Below I have outlined a very simple set of opening bids and replies in order that we start to think about what is important and what is not. These bidding 'rules' are generic and could be different depending upon a detailed partnership agreement.
Warning: Bidding systems involve inevitable ambiguities. The systems are a set of rules that cover the most probable situations (or distribution of cards), but rules can overlap.
In general experts talk of two types of games, some are like chess where all the information is available to all parties, and some are like bridge and poker where the players do not have access to all the information (cards are hidden). Increasingly the difference between expert and world-class bridge players is in bidding, given that their card playing skills are comparable. For the less expert bridge player reducing ambiguity in bidding systems is a desirable target, but at the same time systems must be simple enough to memorise. There are literally hundreds of different bidding systems, and Wikipedia just lists a few of the more popular, but there are multitude of different systems ranging from the 'natural' to the 'unusual' and through to the bizarre.
'Natural' bidding systems are said to be easy to learn and use, but they employ opening bids that often have a wide range of points and are therefore imprecise and sometimes difficult to control. However since they are often used, they are well developed, well taught, and can be played almost anywhere in the world.
Acol, originally a British bidding system, is supposed to be natural and simple, and employs light opening bids and systematic limit bids. Many Acol players use a weak No Trump of 12-14 HCP, and strong-two bids. A weak No Trump solves the problem of rebidding a minimum flat hand, and it creates problems for the opponents. There are many variations of Acol, some including a Multi 2 Diamonds which incorporates the weak-two bids. It was Acol that set the 'gold standard' for an 'opening' with 13 HCP and a 4-card suit, or 12 HCP with a 5-card suit, and or 11 HCP with a 6-card suit.
Majeure Cinquième (5-card major), originally a French system, employs opening bids with 5-cards majors, a 15-17 HCP No Trump, weak-two's in majors, an opening 2♣ with 18+ HCP and a 5+ suit, and an opening 2♦ forcing game and any shape.
Standard American is similar to the Bridge World Standard system, and employs opening bids with 5-cards majors, a 15-17 HCP No Trump, weak-two's in majors and in ♦'s, and an opening 2♣ with 22+ points and any shape.
Many natural systems, including the Majeure Cinquième and the Standard American, use the conventions Stayman, Jacoby transfer, and a form of Blackwood. Most of the earlier natural system have migrated to more or less the same basic set of rules with the same conventions.
In addition there are a number of 'Strong Club' bidding systems (sometimes also called 'Precision' systems) which reserve an opening artificial 1♣ to mean 16+ HCP and any distribution. Thus all other opening bids are limited to less than 16 HCP. The early Blue Club adopted a strong club opening, but they also reinforced the Acol 4-card opening bid. Precision Club, originally developed as a simpler form of the Blue Club, introduced the 5-card major bids. The move to an opening 5-card major was quickly adopted by many players who had not adopted the strong club systems.
Benito Garozzo once said that "the Blue Club system …. is not good enough for top-level play today. The old system was based upon controls, … [today] distribution is the most important thing and you should gear your bidding to concentrate on that first".
There are literally hundreds of bidding systems being used around the world, so the key is to pick one that corresponds your needs, learn it, and above all use it often with the same partner. Most problems with finding the right contract is because one partner does not follow the agreed bidding rules and does not respect or understand the principles underlying those rules.
The basic bidding rules outlined below assume that there are no interventions by the opponents, i.e. often called "uncontested auction".
First or 'Opening' Bid
The basic opening bids are an opening in 1 of a suit, an opening No Trump, the weak-two openings, and the forcing strong-two bids.
Opener is the first player to make a bid other than 'Pass'.
You should always try to open the bidding at the 1-level if you have 12+ HCP.
Remember you have a 26% probability to hold between 12 and 20 HCP with any distribution. Many 'natural' systems advise to open with 12 HCP or 14 points DH. Some versions of the 5-card major system include a range 12-23 DH, to take into consideration that the distribution 4-4-4-1 (a singleton) is difficult to bid from a 2♣ opening since it usually requires a 5- or 6-card suit.
Originally many systems preferred an opening bid with 13+ HCP. The probability of holding 13 HCP through to 20 HCP is 19%, but the opening range has now been extended to 12+ HCP based upon the idea that Opener is 'likely' to hold a long suit (min. 5-cards) and therefore has some distributional strength and a default option to repeat their opening bid. Some players are willing to use distributional strength and/or good quick tricks to drop the lower limit to 11 HCP. This increases the probability of holding a hand in the point range 11-20 HCP to 34%. The key here is suit length, you have a 46% probability of holding a 5-card suit, but only a 17% probability of holding a 6-card suit. If a player does hold a 6-card suit then there is also a 36% probability that they are holding a singleton or void. Some players feel that it is better to 'get in quick' so they can properly inform their Partner about any unusual distributional features. Other players might consider downgrading their 6-card suit and use a weak-two opening bid, again preferring to bid rather than 'Pass'.
Counting losing tricks helps you decide about 'boarder line' hands. Some players will open if they have 2½ quick tricks and a good suit. Sometimes it might be better to pass if the likely response of your Partner will make your next bid awkward, e.g. your Partner bids your singleton and you have no place to go. Some 'boarder line' hands are better described by not opening and waiting to make an overcall later in the bidding. One border line hand is 12 HCP with a distribution 4-3-3-3, which many players will consider 'weak' and downgrade to an initial Pass. On the other hand, sometimes it is safer to open a vulnerable 1-level bid rather than making an overcall later in the bidding, e.g. partnerships can compete better for a partial score and also pass if needed. If players have an easy rebid they should always try to open.
One point worth noting but not actually discussed very often is the need to exchange information about the type of the hand. Partners want to tell each other that they have a 'balanced' hand, 'semi-balanced' hand, or an 'unbalanced' hand. Balanced hands are ones with no more than 1 doubleton, e.g. 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, or 5-3-3-2. A semi-balanced hand is the distribution 5-4-2-2. For some experts an unbalanced hand starts with 6-3-2-2 or 7-2-2-2, for others these are still semi-balanced hands. Everyone agrees that a hand containing a singleton or void (starting with 4-4-4-1 and 5-4-4-0), and including also two-suit hands such as 5-5-3-1 and 6-4-2-1, are unbalanced. The most important balanced hand bid is No Trumps, but an opening suit bid could also be made with a balanced 5-3-3-2.
Take an Opener who has 12-14 HCP and bids with a 4-card ♦ suit, whilst also holding a 4-card ♠. Partner replies 1♥, does Opener bid 1♠ or 1NT? If Opener bids 1♠ he tells the Partner about the two 4-card suits, i.e. about the 'shape' of the hand. If Opener bids 1NT Partner knows that the distribution is regular and that opener has 12-14 HCP, i.e. the type of hand. Unless the ♠'s are good, it is often more important to tell Partner about hand type by bidding 1NT. We will see that exchanging information about unbalanced hands is a key element of bidding systems, and partnerships need to decide what they mean by balanced, semi-balanced, and unbalanced.
Many players will open 'weak' in the 3rd position (10-11 HCP) if they have a good suit or if they can pass on any reply of their partner. In the 4th position it is better to only open if 'solid' (at least 13 HCP).
Opener starts the bidding
1♥ or 1♠ means 12-23 HCP or 14-23 DH, and at least a 5-cards major.
With a 5-5 in the majors always open 1♠ and then bid 2♥. With a 5-card ♠ and a 6-card ♥ open 1♠ and then bid 2♥ with 12-14 HCP, but open 1♥ and then bid 2♠ showing 15+ HCP. Remember with a 5-5 or better and 20+ DH an opening of 2♣ is recommended.
Some players use a weak 2♦ and only have 2♣ as their strong opening bid (22+ DH). In this case the range for an opening 1-level bid is 12-21 DH (some quote 12-21 HCP others 12-19 HCP).
Some players use the 'Rule of 20' to decide on boarder-line opening hands, others may use a form of Losing-Trick Counting. The Rule of 20 is the addition of the HCP and the number of card in the two longest suits, if 20 or more, an opening bid is suggested.
You will see different point estimations for an opening bid ranging from 13-20 DH …
1♦ or 1♣ means 12-23 DH and at least a 3-card suit (and no 5-card major). A 1♣ or 1♦ opening is often called a 'better minor', it tells Partner that Opener has the points but not the distribution for an opening 1♥, 1♠ or 1NT.
Opener should choose the longer minor, not the stronger minor. With two 3-card minors, always open 1♣ to keep the bidding low.
Some players use a 1♦ for at least 4 cards, but this means that they will be sometimes forced to open 1♣ with only 2 cards. The best idea is to only open 1♦ with at least 4 ♦ cards, except when Opener has exactly 4 ♠, 4 ♥, 3 ♦ and only 2 ♣, then they also open 1♦. The better minor is the best approach since a 1♦ opening with only 3-cards (and no alternative bid) will happen only 1.7% of the time.
Let's just stop for a moment and think about this percentage, there is 'more to percentages than meets the eye'. The percentage 1.7% is for a situation where you do not have a 4-4 in the majors, and you have exactly 3 ♦ cards and exactly 2 ♣ cards. Firstly, this means a distribution 4-4-3-2, which occurs 21.55% of the time. However there are 12 ways the suits can be distributed 4-4-3-2, and we are only interested in one of those twelve, i.e. 4 ♠, 4 ♥, 3 ♦ and 2 ♣ (thus 21.55/12 = 1.7). There is a 23.9% probability of holding exactly 4 cards in a specified suit, but the remaining cards can be distributed in any way from 4-3-3-3 to 9-4-0-0. Our opening 1♦ implies, exactly 4-cards in ♦, no 5-card majors, but can include a 4-card or longer ♣. This exact distributional situation will occur just over 10% of the time. Remember these percentages are only a distributional probability, and the hand may be too weak to open, or it could be strong enough to open in No Trumps, etc. And of course your partner might have already bid, or the opponents might be competing as well.
With 5-4 or 5-5 in minors most players will try to open 1♦ and rebid 2♣, even when the ♣ may be 5-cards and ♦ only 4-cards. A hand with 5 ♣ and 4 ♦ and just an opening point count is a difficult hand to bid. After opening a minor try if at all possible to get into 1NT, showing 12-14 HCP. Remember a bid of 1♣ followed by a rebid 2♦, show 4-5 ♣, 4 ♦, and 16+ HCP.
A partnership might decide to always opens 1♦ with at least 4 ♦ cards and thus be forced to opening 1♣ with a distribution 4-4 in majors and a 3-card ♦. If this is the case the player must 'Alert' when bidding both 1♣ and 1♦. If the partnership plays the better minor but will open 1♦ when holding 3 ♦ cards and only 2 ♣ cards, then an 'Alert' is not needed.
Opener bids 1 No Trump
1 No Trump means exactly 15-17 HCP and balanced distribution (4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, or 5-3-3-2 with a 5-card minor). Distribution points are not counted. Some expert players will open 1NT with a good 14 HCP.
Remember a player has a 4.1% probability of holding a 1NT opening hand. This can be compared with the old 16-18 HCP range used in the past, which had a probability of only 3.6%.
Some players will avoid opening 1NT with a hand like Kxx Kxx KJx KQxx and all the x's lower than a 7. A 3-3-3-4 distribution with a minimum 15 HCP and lots of isolate honours is not a good hand. A hand such as Kx Kxx KJxx KQxx is also poor, but swap it around with two 4-card majors KJxx KQxx Kx Kxx then a 1 NT opening is fine since partner might bid Stayman or transfer. Expert opinion is always to bid 1NT if the points are there and the distribution correct, and not to down-grade hands. Often down-grading can produce rebid problems if partner replies 1NT and later cannot properly assess Openers hand.
There are some players who will bid 1 NT with a semi-balanced 5-4-2-2 and 17-18 HCP. Again expert opinion is not to down-grade an 18-point hand because it will be more difficult to show the 18-points later in the bidding. The 18-19 DH does not occur frequently but when it does it is very precise and thus very useful (i.e. with 1♦ - 1♠ - 2NT).
An important additional point: Opener can bid 1NT even when holding a weak doubleton x-x.
A option used by club players is to open 1NT (and 2 NT) with a good 6-card minor (6-3-2-2) or 5-4-2-2 with a 5-card minor. Examples: ♠Q-8 ♥A-J-9 ♦K-5 ♣A-J-9-7-6-2 can be opened 1NT as can ♠A-Q ♥A-J-9-7 ♦Q-3 ♣K-10-8-5-2.
Another option used by club players is to open 1NT with a 5-card major and 3-cards in the other major (i.e. distribution type 5-3-3-2). However this option includes two new replies to Stayman. As far as I know this option should be indicated on the system card, and I think altered.
2♥, 2♠ means a weak hand (6-10 HCP) with a robust 6-card suit (2 of the top 3 honours, or 3 of the top 5 honours). No more than one Ace or King in a different suit (i.e. poor defensive strength). Many players will open very weak when not vulnerable, but if vulnerable they will promise a stronger suit and more playing strength (possible 8-11 HCP). Some partnerships also play a weak 2♦.
Remember players have a 2.2% probability of holding 5-10 HCP with a 6-3-2-2 or 6-3-3-1 distribution. One commonly applied rule is not to open a weak-two in one major if they hold 4-cards in the other major.
Firstly weak-2 bids must be indicated on the system card, and as far as I know also alerted in play. I think they are what is called "special bids that may require defence".
Opener's strong-two bid's
2♣ means strong, artificial and forcing (20-23 DH) normally unbalanced with a good 5-card suit (6-card minor), quick controls in other suits. Players may use this bid with fewer points if they have a long and strong suit with at least 8 playing tricks in a major and 9 playing tricks in a minor (or only 4 losing tricks).
Remember that players have only a 0.8% probability of holding 21+ HCP with any distribution.
Some players use 2♣ to mean strong, near game force, any suit(s), any distribution (and they use the weak 2♦).
Some systems play a 'super 2NT' with an opening 2♣ and a rebid of 2NT showing a 'regular distribution' with 22-23 HCP. They use a strong 2♦ (24+ HCP) game forcing.
Some partnerships play a weak 2♦, so 2♣ is the only strong, artificial and forcing opening (22+ HCP or 22+ DH). These players don't use the 'super 2NT'.
A option used by club players with an opening 2♣ is to reserve it for 5-cards or better in the majors (and the 'super' 2NT) and not to open 2♣ with a strong minor suit. This option is followed by a set of conventional opener rebids over Partners reply of 2♦.
Firstly 2♣ must be indicated on the system card, and as far as I know also alerted in play. I think it is a "special bid that may require defence".
A strong 2♦ is artificial and forcing game (24+ HCP), any distribution.
Some partnerships still play both a strong 2♣ and strong 2♦ forcing game, other have adopted a weak 2♦.
2 No Trumps means exactly 20-21 HCP and balanced distribution (same as for 1NT but some partnerships will open 2NT even with a 5-card major).
Remember that players have a 1.2% probability of holding any type of hand with 20-22 HCP (and they have a 1.5% probability of holding 20+ HCP)
3 No Trumps means 25+ HCP.
Remember that players have only a 0.05% probability of holding 25+ HCP with any distribution.
An alternative is the so-called Gambling 3NT, which means a 7-card minor headed by A - K - Q. Some systems appear to also require an A or K in a major. If used, the strong hand alternative would then be 2♣ - 2♦ - 3NT.
3 of a suit means a weak hand (5-9 DH) with a long, robust suit (7 or more cards with at least 2 of the top 3 honours, or 3 of the top 5 honours). Some players will bid 4 of a major with 8 or more cards and solid honours, a so-called 'shut-out', but be careful of vulnerability. A pre-empt also shows poor defensive values, e.g. no Aces or Kings in side suits and (in principle) no 4-card majors. A pre-empt usually means a max. of 1½ defensive tricks, and assumes one of the opponents will have a singleton in that suit. Opener is not expected to bid again unless specifically asked to by Partner, e.g. bidding a new suit, cue-bidding opponents suit, or asking for Aces.
Some players 3-level pre-empt with 6 cards, and 4-level pre-empt with 7 cards.
Some players pre-empt with 6-10 HCP and 6 playing tricks non-vulnerable, and 7 playing tricks vulnerable.
Some players use the sequence 3♥ - 3♠ or 3♠ - 4♥ to show at least 5-5 in minors.
System On - System Off
Before we move to the first replies of Partner, we should mention a simple rule that must be agreed by a partnership. We have seen that in the opening bid there are some artificial or 'conventional' bids, e.g. strong- and weak-twos, etc. Other bids such as No Trumps will include conventions in the replies, etc.
So what happens if opponents interfere with a bid that would normally be used by a convention? An example might be an intervention of 2♣ over an opening 1NT. Partner wanted to bid Stayman with 2♣, but now can't, so what happens?
The partnership must decide what the agreement is. Should the partnership go back to 'natural bids' with a 'System Off'. The wicked opponents have stopped the opener-partner from using some valuable conventions. Or should the partnership continue to use the conventions 'System On' and find a way to deal with problem?
The easiest way is to bid as per the conventions, so if opponents inject a 2♣ and partner wanted to make a transfer bid to ♠, the agreement should still hold and a bid of 2♥ should still be taken as a transfer. If partner wanted to use Stayman with 2♣, but can't, they can just 'double' the opponents bid telling partner "I wanted to bid 2♣ but they stole it, so I doubled to tell you to continue in Stayman". What if Opener bids 1NT and Partner wanted to transfer to ♥ but the nasty opponents injected a 2♠. With 'System On' Partner can just bid 3♦. Some additional care is needed, should Partner have a few more points, or perhaps it's about vulnerability. This is for the partnership to decide, but the key message is to decide 'System Off' or 'System On'.
Now back to Partners first reply.
Rules for Responder (Partner)
Basic replies by Partner are support for Openers suit, bidding a change of suit, or bidding No Trumps.
Respond to Opener bid with 5-6 HCP or more (at least 6 DH or distribution+HCP).
If Opener started with 1♥ or 1♠ and Responder has 3-card support and 6DH or more, always raise to confirm the 8-card trump fit.
If Opener bid 1♥ or 1♠ and Responder has 4-card support, add 1 addition distributional point in the reassessment of the hand. The reassessment includes adding 3 points instead of 2 for a singleton and 5 points instead of 3 points for a void. The 1 distributional point for a doubleton does not change, but some partnership will in fact downgrade a doubleton if the support hand is 'flat' with only 3-card support for Partner. Other partnerships will downgrade a Q-x or J-x.
Some Responders will even add an extra point when holding A or K in opener's major.
If Opener started with 1♣ or 1♦ and Responder has a 4+ card major, always respond 1-level in the major. If Responder has two 4-card majors, respond the cheaper major to keep the bidding low.
If Responder has fewer than 10 HCP, they must not go to the 2-level unless they are raising Opener's suit (to confirm a trump fit) or rebidding their own extra-long suit. With some unbalanced hands, Responder will be forced to bid 1 NT to keep the bidding low.
A change of colour by Responder is forcing on Opener.
What are Responders simplest replies?
Passing Openers suit bid means less than 5-6 HCP, and more than 9 losing tricks. Responder can pass even an opening 1♣.
Most systems appear to suggest to pass an opening suit bid with 0-5 HCP, and to bid with 6+ HCP
Partner supports Openers suit
Single raise in Openers minor means at least 4-5 cards in Openers suit, 6-10 DH and no 4-card major suit and no possibility to bid 1NT.
Jump raise in Openers minor suggests a stronger hand than a single raise.
One common option used by club players is to jump-raise Opener with a weak support hand. This is a kind of Partner pre-empt in Openers minor suit, showing 5+ card support and 6 HCP. This weak jump raise can be made with as few as 3 HCP when non-vulnerable, but alway promising good length in Openers suit.
Single raise of Openers major means at least 3 cards in Openers suit and 6-10 DH (alternative 6-9 DH or 5+ HCP).
Jump raise in Openers major suit shows support (10-12 DH) and usually with 8 losing tricks (invitational to bid game with a better than minimum hand).
Many partnerships use 2NT to show trump support, and forcing game. In this case a bid such as 1♥ - 3♥ is weak, promising 4-card support and 6-10 DH.
Some systems limit a single raise to 6-9 DH, jump raise with 10-12 DH, and to always change suit (forcing) with 13+ DH (e.g. 1♥ - 2♦ - 2♥ - 4♥). The idea is that this allows Opener to indicate their strength (this is similar to a 2/1 forcing game). Some experts advise that a distribution type 3-3-4-3 should be down graded because it offers no ruff potential.
Jump to game in Openers suit shows a good hand with support (13+ DH) and more importantly only 7 losing tricks.
So one option is to replace the 'classical' jump-raise and jump to game in Openers suit by a series of artificial bids. The best known of these artificial bids is 1♥ - 2NT, which is promising a fit with 4-card and a strong hand. Depending upon the convention this can be asking Opener to indicate their shortest suit. And a bid at the 4-level over an opening major is a splinter, promising a singleton or void in the mentioned suit. You can see that the 'classical' 2NT reply of Partner has also been hijacked, and there are a whole series of artificial bids (or relays) for Opener to use to describe their hand to Partner. This 'package' is not for the beginner.
The above competitive reply is used in the case where Partner had not previously passed. On the other hand if Partner had passed before Opener bid, then Partner can use the 2NT for a mini Splinter. This indicates 4-card support, a singleton or void and a point range 8 HCP (11 DH with the singleton) up to more than 20 DH.
One very useful alternative to simply jumping to game in Openers suit, is to bid the better minor at the 2-level. This will allowed Opener to indicate their strength, and allow Responder the opportunity to either bid game, or consider a slam.
I have included here a few pointers to competitive options. The variety and complexity of club bidding options is vast, and will not be included further on this webpage. It is sufficient to know that bidding options can change based upon whether someone has previously passed or not, and if the opponents have intervened or not. In many cases the options are artificial, and the answers can also be artificial.
Partner replies to Openers 1 No Trumps
Pass with 0-8 HCP and balanced hand
Some systems prefer a Pass with 0-7 HCP, and those systems that use 0-8 HCP usually mention a 'good' 8-point hand should bid 2NT and not be Passed. What makes a good 8-point hand? Firstly the presence of a 5-card minor with an honour card, secondly the presence of useful honour cards such as 2 Kings and a Queen, thirdly a sequence of honour cards Q-J-9-x, and lastly the presence of useful cards in sequence such as 10-9 or 9-8.
2 No Trump (8-9 HCP) and balanced hand, including a 'good' 8 HCP hand as described above
3 No Trump (10+ HCP or 11+DH) and balanced hand, can include 9 HCP with a good 5-card minor with 2 honour cards (e.g. A-K-10-9-x in ♦)
4 No Trump (16+ HCP) and balanced hand, invitation to 6NT
2♣ Stayman (9+ DH) looking for a 4-4 in a major
Replies of Opener are 2♦ no 4-card major, 2♥ or 2♠ means 1 4-card major, and 2NT means both 4-card majors. There is a strong recommendation not to look for a 4-card major with a distribution 4-3-3-3, since there is no potential for a ruff. With 9+ DH and a 5-4 in the majors Responder should also bid Stayman, and later correct to the 5-card major (e.g. (e.g. 1NT - 2♣ - 2♦ - 2♥ indicates a 5-card ♥ and a 4-card ♠). Some players then bid a transfer instead of bidding their 5-card major. Responders rebids after completing a Stayman are an invitational 2NT or 3 of the major if a 4-4 fit was found, meaning 8-10 DH. With 10+ DH Responder can bid game in 3NT or 4 in a major.
The Stayman sequence 1NT - 2♣ - 2NT indicates that Opener holds two 4-card majors. Responder might still want to 'transfer' the play to Opener. This can be done, but in a way that avoids confusion with the traditional 'transfer' bidding outlined below. So over the 2NT reply of Opener, Responder can bid 4♣ for a transfer to 4♥ and 4♦ for a transfer to 4♠.
2♦ or 2♥ - this family of bids is called a 'transfer', or Jacoby Transfer (sometimes incorrectly called Texas Transfer). It is used when Responder hold 5+ cards in a major, but there is no range of points and it can be used with 0-points or a slam hand. Bidding 2♦ is requesting a transfer by Opener to 2♥ and a bid of 2♥ requests the transfer to 2♠.
There are a multitude of versions and options. For example 1NT - 2♦ - 2♥ - 3♦ is forcing and shows a game hand and two 5-card suits in ♥ and ♦. Another option is 1NT - 2♦ - 3♥ is not forcing but it is showing maximum points (16-17 HCP) and a good 4-cards in ♥.
Once Opener has replied to a 'transfer' bid, Responder must decide what to do next. 'Pass' with 0-8 DH, and invite with 9-10 DH. The invitation can be 2NT showing a 'regular' distribution 5-3-3-2 and Opener can 'Pass' or correct to 3♥ with 15 HCP or a 'poor' 16 HCP, or bid game in 3NT or 4♥ with a good 16-17 HCP. Responder can also bid 3♥ or 3♠ indicating 9-10 DH and a 6-card major, and again Opener can 'Pass' or bid game in the major (they always have an 8-card major). Other partnerships would bid game with 9-10 DH and a 6-card major.
2♠ or 3♣ - this is the 'transfer in minors' when holding at 6+ cards in a minor. Bidding 2♠ is a transfer request to 3♣ and 3♣ a transfer request to 3♦, again this transfer has no range of points and can be made with 0-points or with a slam hand.
With the 'transfer' bids there are a multitude of versions and options which are too complex to describe in this basic description. Many of these options involve artificial bidding sequences that must be remembered but that occur quite infrequently.
What does Partner do when holding a 5-4 in majors and Opener bids 1NT? Above it was mentioned that with 9+ DH Partner should start with Stayman and then use a 'transfer' bid if a 4-4 fit is not found. But what if Responder has less than 9 DH? The answer in that Responder should look to immediately 'transfer' to the 5-card major, and then simply 'Pass'.
3♦ or 3♥ or 3♠ is a natural jump bid showing a strong 6-card suit and slam potential (15+ HCP)
Partner changes suit (forcing)
1 of a new suit means at least 4 cards in Responders suit and at least 5+ HCP or 6+ DH (e.g. 1♥ over 1 ♣, but can also be 1♠ over 1♥ but also denies 3-cards support for Openers suit). This usually also means no more than 9 losing tricks.
2 of a new minor (non-jump) means a decent 5+ card suit and at least 10+ HCP (e.g. 2♦ over 1♠).
2 of a new major (non-jump) means a decent 5+-card suit and at least 10+ HCP (e.g. 2♥ over an opening 1♠).
Change of suit if Responder has not passed previously is forcing, but can be passed if Responder has previously passed. Responder should always prefer a 4-card major to a longer minor, except if they have a strong hand.
Jump-shift in a new suit means a strong hand (16+ HCP) and a long, robust suit. Can also mean a very long, strong suit and only 5 losers, or a fitted two-colour hand which inevitably will also hold additional distributional points (i.e. so also holding support for Openers suit). This is always forcing and expresses an interest in a slam.
Some systems require 19+ DH to jump-shift in a new suit.
Partner bids No Trumps
1 No Trump = a weak hand (6-10 HCP) with no support for Opener and no 4-card major. If Responder has 4-card hearts and 6-10 HCP, and Opener bid 1♠, then Responder must bid 1NT (some systems use 6-9 HCP). This is not forcing on Opener.
This can be an 'artificial' reply in that Responder may have no alternative, and thus it may not be a balanced hand.
Jump to 2NT shows a stronger balanced hand (11-12 HCP) and usually with 8 losing tricks (invitational to bid 3NT with a better than minimum hand).
Jump to 3NT shows a strong balanced hand (13+ HCP) and more importantly only 7 losing tricks.
Reply to Openers weak-two
Raise partner's weak-two to a 3-level with (0+ points) and 3-card support.
Raise partner's weak-two to game with either (0+ points) and 4-card support, or bid game in NT or major if certain about game chance even with a minimum hand with Opener.
2 No Trump (15+ DH) artificial and forcing, asking for Opener to define the hand.
Instead of defining hand Opener can be asked, with maximum points 9-10DH, to describe a pre-agreed 'feature'.
Reply to Openers strong 2♣ or 2♦
Relay 2♦ over opening 2♣, or 2♥ over an opening 2♦.
Some partnerships allow an alternative bid to show a good suit.
Reply to Openers pre-empt
Pass even with a strong hand (max 16 DH) and less than 3-card support.
Raise or bid game with 16+ DH and 3-card support.
Change suit is forcing with 16+ DH and 6-card major, looking for 3-card support or min. Q-x.
Bidding NT is usually dangerous unless responder has good entries to openers hand, etc. 3-cards in openers minor.
Openers Second Bid
Once Partner has replied Opener needs to try to decide if game is not possible, if game maybe possible, or if game is certain. If game is not possible, stop as quickly as possible. If game is possible, continue with an 'invitational' bid, and if game is certain select a 'forcing' bid.
Let us have a look rapidly at the most likely second bid options (assuming Partner has 'responded' and opponents have passed):-
Shows either 13-15 (minimum), 16-18 (medium), or 19-20 (maximum)
Pass (no reason to continue)
Bid suit again (6+ cards)
Bid second suit (5/4+ distribution)
Raise partners suit.
In general with a minimum hand, bid at the most economic level, with a medium hand, jump a level, and with a maximum hand, jump to game.
Pass by Opener means are minimum hand (max. 14 DH), no interest in rebidding a 5-card suit, and Partner initially passed before being forced to reply on the 2nd round of bidding (e.g. Pass - 1♦ - 1♥). Opener could decide to repeat a 6-card suit, in particular over a Partner forced to bid 1NT.
Some systems place the 'pass bar' slightly higher at 15 DH. There is no reason to bid again except when 'forced' or in competition with opponents. Opener is not unhappy with Partners suit and cannot see an alternative contract.
Opener supports Partners suit
Single raise in Partners suit means 4+ cards support and a minimum opener (12-16 DH including any reassessment of distributional points). If Partner bid 2♥ (meaning a 5-card suit) Opener can raise with just 3-card support (distribution 5-3).
Some systems propose a narrower range of points to support Responders change of suit, i.e. 13-15 DH.
Jump-raise in Partners suit shows a strong hand with a fit (17-19 DH). If this was after a 1-level reply to a 1-level opening, then this bid in not forcing (e.g. 1♦ - 1♥ - 3♥). A jump-raise in a 2-level minor response to an opening major which goes past 3NT is forcing game (e.g. 1♠ - 2♦ - 4♦). With this last example the 'classical' bid should almost always be (1♠ - 2♦ - 3NT), so going past 3NT is 'exceptional' and indicates an irregular distribution with shortness/weakness in at least one of the unbid suits. Supporting Responders (Partners) minor suit is not a priority, so supporting a minor suit provides important information on the distribution and weaknesses in Openers hand. Remember, concerning (1♠ - 2♥ - 3♥) the responders bid of 2♥ promises a 5-card suit, so the support from opener with 3♥ promises a 3-card support.
Some systems propose a slightly lower range of points to jump-raise Responders change of suit, i.e. 16-18 DH.
Raise to game in Partners suit means an excellent distributional hand (19 DH) and good support for Responders suit (you should have only 5 losing tricks). If this was after a 1-level reply to a 1-level opening, then this bid indicates a semi-regular hand and no perspective for slam. If the Opener is too strong for a jump-raise above 3NT or a raise to game, then they should bid a new colour or a splinter (both are forcing).
Opener can also support a Responder bidding 1NT with 2NT (17-18 HCP) or 3NT (19+ HCP)
Opener can also support a Responder bidding 2NT with 3NT (14+ HCP)
Opener bids a second suit
A new suit at the 1-level means at least 4 cards in the suit (13+ DH), but can mean (12-19 HCP). For example 1♦ - 1♥ - 1♠) provides distributional information, not a narrowly defined range of points. Alternative is to bid 1NT (12-14 HCP) or 2NT (18-19 HCP).
Bid at the 2-level a new lower-ranking suit than your first suit means at least 4 cards in the suit (e.g. 1♥ - 1♠ - 2♦) and 14-19 DH non-forcing.
Some systems propose a slightly lower range of points for a new 1-level change of suit or for a new lower-ranking suit at the 2-level, i.e. 13-18 DH.
Bid at the 2-level a new higher-ranking suit than Openers first suit means at least 4 cards in the suit (e.g. 1♦ - 1♠ - 2♥) and 18-23 DH forcing.
Some systems propose a substantial alternative to this bid of a new higher-ranking suit. They use range of 16-18 DH for a new higher-ranking suit, and a jump in a new suit for 19-21 DH (e.g. 1♦ - 1♠ - 3♥).
Opener repeats their suit
Simple rebid of Openers suit normally means 14-17 DH and a 6+ card suit (uni-colour). However Opener might not have an alternative to rebidding a 5-card suit with 12-14 DH. It is a good idea to think about a rebid before opening and avoid opening 'light' if it could lead to a rebid of a poor 5-card suit. Opener should try to avoid re-bidding a 5-card minor suit, and prefer 1NT rebid if at all possible. Opener may rebid their 5-card suit when responder makes a 2-level bid over a 1-level opening (e.g. 1♥ - 2♦ - 2♥). A natural 2NT rebid would promise 15-17 HCP, so unfortunately the only option with 12-14 HCP is to repeat the 5-card opening suit.
Some systems propose a narrower range of points to support Responder rebidding the opening suit, i.e. 13-15 DH. It would usually imply a 6-card suit, but the rebid of a 5-card opening suit might be the only option.
Jump-rebid your suit shows a strong opening hand with a 6+ suit, over a 1-level reply (18-19 DH) or over a 2-level reply (15-17 DH). The opening suit must be a strong 6+ suit, but what to do if opener has the points but the 6+ suit is poor (AJxxxx)? With 18+ DH opener should bid a strong 3-card minor (type A-K-x or A-Q-x).
Some systems propose that Opener can jump rebid their 6-card suit with 16-18 DH.
Raise to game in your own suit means excellent distributional hand (19 DH), your opening suit is long and solid, and you have values in responders suit (you should have only 5 losing tricks).
Opener bids No Trumps over Responder (Partner)
1 No Trump means a balanced minimum opener (12-14 HCP) without 4 cards support in partner's suit and without a new 4-card suit you could bid at the 1-level. To show a stronger balanced hand, you would have opened 1NT (15-17 HCP). 1NT can still be declared by opener with a small doubleton in an unbid suit.
2 No Trump over a 1-level reply to a 1-level opening means very strong balanced hand (18-19 HCP), too strong for an initial 1NT opening. A sequence 1♦ - 1♠ - 2NT opener could still be holding a 4-card ♥.
2 No Trump over a 2-level reply to a 1-level opening usually means a regular 1NT (15-17 HCP) hand, but with a 5-card major (e.g. 1♥ - 2♦ - 2NT). The exception is 1♦ - 2♣ - 2NT, where 2NT means only 12-14 HCP.
3 No Trump over a 2-level reply to a 1-level opening usually means a strong hand (18-19 HCP) hand (e.g. 1♥ - 2♦ - 3NT). With a 1-level reply to an opening 1-level bid, Opener can bid 3 NT with 19-21 HCP (e.g. 1♦ - 1♥ - 3NT).
In the case that Opener bid 1NT and Partner replied 2NT, Opener should bid 3NT with 17 HCP, otherwise Pass.
In the case that Opener bid 1NT and Partner replied 4NT, Opener should bid 6NT with 17 HCP, otherwise Pass.
Opener's rebid after support from Responder (Partner)
Over 1♥ - 2♥ - ? Reassess opening hand and bid 'Pass' (up to 16 DH), invitational (e.g. 3♥) or change suit (17-19 DH), bid game (20+ DH)
Over 1♥ - 3♥ - ? Reassess opening hand and bid 4♥ with 14+ DH
Over 1♥ - 2♥ - 2NT (17-19 DH)
Over support for Openers minor, bid 3 NT with 19-21 HCP (e.g. 1♦ - 2♦ - 3NT)
The above declarations are just the most basic and natural ones, there are many more customised replies to opening NT, two-weak, pre-empts, etc.
The next step is to start playing, and below we have a few test hands just to 'start the ball rolling'.
So what do you think? It is not clear how N-S might bid, but E-W is likely to push to 4♥. Given a chance N may well push to 4♠. If N-S bids game what should E-W do - pass, double or bid 5♥? Against a solid defence E-W cannot make more than 4♥, but N-S can make 4♠. N-S has 15 HCP, plus 11-12 points in distributional strength. In fact only 40% of the experts evaluated this hand correctly.
So what do you think? N-S can bid and make 4♥, but can E-W get to 4♠? Again what should N-S do - pass, double or bid 5♥? If E-W are careful N-S can't make 5♥, but E-W can make 4♠ with only 15 HCP plus 8-9 distributional points and double counting the 2 singletons. On this hand 80% of the experts bid and made 4♠, but surely 5♥-1 is then the 'best' contract.
So what do you think? Here we can see that E-W could bid 4♠ (21 HCP plus 4 distributional points). The question is then what should N lead if N-S had competed with 2♥ or 3♥? N will almost certainly lead Q♥ and E-W will go down 4♠-1. The question is then what would S lead if E was playing the 4♠? If S touches ♥'s then E-W makes 4♠. What would you lead? If S leads a ♦ what happens? If S leads the Q♦ then it will be also 4♠-1, but what if S led the 3♦ for the 9♦ and K♦ taken by A♦? Now N does not have an entry to play Q♥ and W can discard a losing ♥ on the Q♣. Experts found the right defence from N (80%) but not from S where only 50% of the experts made the Q♦ lead.
So what do you think? Here we have what should be a E-W game, but it was played in 6♠. Due to the favourable distribution in ♠'s, E who has to finesse the Q♠ can make a grand slam despite N-S holding 14 HCP, 7 trumps and a singleton.
So what do you think? It looks like NS can make 2♠ or 2NT, and 80% of the experts felt that 8-tricks was the best contract. But N-S has 25 HCP and no short suits. Actually 20% of the experts (and the simulator program) found 9 tricks by promoting the 4th ♦.
So what do you think? This could go either way, with N-S in 2♥ or 3♥ or E-W in 2♠ or 3♠. Who can make their contract?