20. Dealing With Distributional Hands

Having learned the basic bidding rules, you’ll be confronted with hands that just do not seem to fit. Often these are hands that are distributional, that is, they have one or two long suits. For example, you might pick up a hand that is 1=1=8=3, or 1=1=5=6. These hands can be difficult because they have a longer suit that is of lower rank than the upper suit, or because they are often worth more than their HCP would suggest – and then suddenly you find a misfit with your partner and the value drops sharply.

Hands With One Long Suit

Here are a few examples and how you might approach them. Let’s say you are in first chair and pick up this hand:

  • ♠5 ♥6 ♦AKQ98752 ♣932

We could imagine opening this 3♦, 4♦, or even 5♦, trying to keep the opponents out of the auction. However, there is another person you are keeping out of the auction, your partner. This hand will take 8 tricks all by itself. It just takes very little to make a game and not that much to make a slam. In short, the hand is just worth a lot more than 9 HCP. Open this a diamond, and keep making minimal diamond replies, and let your partner participate.

This is the kind of hand that the convention Gambling 3NT was designed to handle. However, change it to ♦AKJT9852 and it won’t qualify for Gambling even if you’re playing that convention.

You don’t need to panic that 1♦ will pass out. If your partner has fewer than six points, your opponents have 25 and probably a spade or heart fit. They are not going to pass. Worst case, you end up with a diamond part-score.

With a really poor 8-card suit and little outside, you can consider treating it as a seven-card holding and open 3♦.

Remember that if you are in fourth seat, bids other than 1♦ are NOT weak. Still, if you would open the hand you can open it 2♦, which says you have a hand that would open one of a suit and then rebid it at the two level. (At least, that’s the way I play it; not everybody does).

The Namyats convention is designed to help you distinguish between opening 4♥ or 4♠ as a preempt or with a better hand with an 8-card suit. As a side effect it has a 3N opening to show a minor preempt. However, you give up the 4m preempts.

When your partner is a passed hand, things change. Preempting then does not risk making a game as much.

Two-Suited Hands

Two-suited hands are not hard to bid except in two cases. If the longer suit is the lower-ranked one, and you are not strong enough to reverse, it is a problem. For example, you have a 13 point hand with four diamonds and five clubs. If you open a club, and your partner responds with a major, what do you do next? You can’t bid diamonds, you are not strong enough.

If the longer suit is higher-ranked than the shorter, you just bid normally. Of course if you are strong you have to do something like jump to be sure your partner will not pass. But that typically is a jump-shift and takes 19 HCP.

The second difficult case is that you have a strong two-suited hand and are tempted to open 2♣. It can be quite difficult to show both suits before getting too high. Especially with both minors, the auction 2♣ - 2♦ - 3m gets you to a very awkward place. So, opening 2♣ with say 22 HCP is not required. If your partner really has nothing and passes your opening bid, you probably are not missing a game anyway. But certainly with hands even better than that, you have to open 2♣.

With shapes like 1=1=5=6 and 2=2=4=5, you have the option with a minimal hand to open the diamond suit. This “distorts” your shape; you will never convince your partner of your true shape after that. But for an intermediate player, opening the 4=5 hand that way is taught by many teachers, so that you can rebid clubs. Rebidding clubs without six of them is generally to be avoided. If you open clubs and rebid diamonds twice your partner will know you are 5=6 in the minors. Likewise with other 6=5 hands where the six is lower-ranked than the five.

Six-Four Hands

When six-four, you of course open the six, and with a minimal opener you have to rebid the six if it is lower-ranking. Otherwise, you have a choice: bid the six twice and then the four, or the six, then the four, then the six. The latter has the advantage of showing your partner both suits, and more of your cards, earlier and is recommended for good hands as long as you watch out for the rule on reverses.

If it really bothers you to bid minimal hands with four spades and five hearts, look into the 2♦ Flannery convention.