7. Responding To Minor Openings

If using this chapter as a reference, be sure you’ve read Notation and Nomenclature and review Classifying Your Hand to classify your hand as weak, competitive, invitational, game-going, or slam interest.

Our partner has opened 1♣ or 1♦. If we mean either we can write “1m”. Partner could have a three-card suit but most of the time it is four or five cards. For diamonds, only 5% of the time do we have only a three card suit.

So where are we going? If we don’t have 25 points or more, we want to stop in the cheapest suitable contract we can find. If we have game strength, we hope to find a 4-4 fit for a major, if possible, but more often our game, if we have one, is 3NT. If they compete we might find a suit is unstopped. In that case we may stop at 4 of a minor or press on to 5 of a minor, or even sometimes settle for a 4-3 fit in a major.

In a possible slam exploration, the point at which we go past 3N is a point of no return, and we should be thinking of the alternative to 3N as six of our minor. Especially playing matchpoints, bidding five of a minor when a 3N contract is making is a recipe for a bottom score.

Before choosing a response, remember to take note of your seat, the vulnerability, and do a classification of your hand. See Planning The Auction.

When choosing what suit to bid, the general principle is raise partner, and if you cannot, to bid your longest suit.

Rules For Choosing Your Strain

Here is the decision tree:

  • If you have two 5(or more)-card suits of equal length you choose the higher-ranked suit.

  • Between two four-card suits of equal length choose the cheapest.

  • Bid notrump if you don’t have an eligible four-card suit.

  • We’re not telling you the whole truth yet.

This principle will be filtered with a constraint that will depend on your hand strength, whether you have previously passed (are a “passed hand”), whether your RHO interfered (overcalled or doubled), or neither. We choose the strain amongst the feasible suits.

You will also choose a level to bid, depending on hand strength.

For example, suppose your hand is 4 spades, 4 hearts, 0 diamonds and 5 clubs. We write that hand shape 4=4=0=5. If your partner opens a diamond, then your longest suit is clubs, but clubs would need to bid at the 2-level. As we will see, you can only bid that if you have a certain number of points. If you don’t have enough points, then we rule out 2♣, your longest suit, and choose between your two four-card suits, hearts and spades. And that choice goes to the cheapest, hearts.

When partner opens a minor, do not revalue your hand yet, even with a fit. If you have five of his suit as required for a raise, you’re likely to have more cards in the suit than he does and ruffing in your hand won’t win any extra tricks.

Responding With A Weak Hand

With a weak hand just pass. If there has been interference from your RHO, and you have five of partner’s minor, you can bid a weak 3m as a preemptive raise.

If you have 6(or more) points, you have to bid something. Your partner could have as many as 21 points, so a game is not ruled out.

Responding With A Competitive Hand

With a competitive hand, you just follow those rules subject to this constraint:

You can raise to the two-level but otherwise you have to stay at the one-level.

A raise requires 5(or more) cards in your partner’s minor. Sometimes you can cheat and raise 1♦ with four good ones. Remember that 5% of the time a one-diamond opener has only three of them.

Example:

♠Q654
♥754
♦8
♣KQJ42

Partner opens 1♦. You have a competitive hand with 8 HCP. You’d like to bid 2♣, but that’s out. So you look for the longest suit amongst the ones that can be bid at the one level. That’s spades, so you reply 1♠.

Now change the hand to:

♠Q543
♥8754
♦8
♣KQJ4

Now you have two four-card suits you can bid at the one-level, so you choose the cheapest, hearts. Even though your hearts are worse than your spades, you bid 1♥. Maybe partner can bid spades next.

Let’s suppose partner actually opens a club. You have enough points to raise to 2♣ but don’t have the required five of them. You’ll bid a heart. You can bid 2♣ on the second round if your hearts aren’t raised. That kind of “suit preference” bid tells partner the story: I have a minimum, but do have some club support but not five of them.

Finally, let’s suppose the hand is changed again and partner opens 1♦:

♠Q54
♥875
♦84
♣KQJ42

Now you cannot bid clubs (need to be invitational or better for that) and you don’t have a four-card suit to bid, so you bid 1N.

Bidding With An Invitational Hand

With 10 to a bad 12, we have an invitational hand. Our primary goal is to show a major if we have one, and lacking that to raise if we can.

We raised to 2m with a constructive hand, so we will raise to 3m for an invitational raise, also called a limit raise.

If we have 6(or more) clubs and invitational values we can bid 1♦ - 3♣. The opener can force to game but should not bid 3♦ to try to improve the part-score.

If we don’t have a major and we don’t have a fit, and we have exactly 10 points, we will change our mind and treat the hand as a competitive hand and bid 1N. Otherwise we can bid 2N to show our 11 or 12 with no four-card major.

Special: We can bid 1♦ - 2♣ only if RHO interfered or we were a passed hand. In those cases it shows 10+ points and 5(or more) clubs.

Attention

The Whole Truth

Our decision tree on what suit to bid didn’t tell you the whole truth: With less than a game-forcing hand we prefer to bid a four-card major first rather than a five-card diamond suit:

♠A4
♥9876
♦KQ762
♣97

Partner opens 1♣. You bid 1♥. (If you had four spades as well, you’d still bid hearts, up the line.) The problem is that you can’t bid 1♦ and then try to show hearts later; that would be a responder reverse and show a game-forcing hand.

You have plenty of time in a game-forcing auction to mention your major. When you’re not strong enough for that, we mention the major first. As a consequence, if we do bid a diamond over a club, and later bid a major, it is game-forcing.

Note

Bypassing a diamond suit to show a major with less than game-forcing values is a style of bidding called Walsh. This book assumes this style.

Responding With A Game-Going Hand

See the discussion of weak jump shifts in All About Jump-Shifts. Unless we are playing strong jump-shifts, there is no game-forcing bid over 1♣, and only one game-forcing bid over 1♦.

To force to game, responder has to keep making bids that cannot be passed short of game, which usually means bidding new suits. We have one new bid in our repetoire, 1♦ - 2♣. As an unpassed hand and without interference it is forcing to game and promises 13 or more HCP and 5(or more) clubs.

The 1♦ - 3♣ bid being invitational rather than weak is a consequence of 1♦ - 2♣ being a game force. One variant of 2/1 is to play that bidding 1♦ - 2♣ and then repeating 3♣ on the next round cancels the game force. That kind of loses the 2/1 spirit, in my opinion.

The Inverted Minors convention helps alleviate this problem. Inverted Minors is one of the expected conventions with 2/1.

If you cannot get to 3N you may need to stop in 4m or 5m; 5m has to usually include around 29 points.

Looking For Slam

Bidding minor slams is awkward. Until you have agreed on a suit, 4N is not Blackwood (an Ace-asking bid). Jumping to five of the minor is not inviting to slam, it is just shutting down with a distributional hand. All you can do is bid as if you seek only game, and then keep going if you’re positive a slam is likely. Going past 3N is crossing the Rubicon.

Opinion differs on 1m - 4m. Is it a preempt with 8 in the suit, or a slam try, or a game invite?

Preempting is so lovely but 4m tends to make desperate opponents bid four of a major and sometimes make a game they would not have found over 3m.

See Gambling 3N for handling long solid suits when that’s all you have.

The situation can be improved by playing Inverted Minors and Redwood but it is never easy. In most cases if the slam is not clear-cut most of the field is not going to know how to get there so there is less pressure to bid it.

Opener’s Rebid

Opener’s second bid is called his rebid. Choosing it depends on what responder did. It is opener’s turn to classify his hand (after revaluing it considering partner’s response):

  • up to 14 is a “minimum” hand; we don’t have a game if partner has less than invitational values.

  • 15 - 17 is game try territory. We might have a game. More about that later. But note that opener must be unbalanced or they would have opened 1N.

  • 18 - 19 is almost enough for game even if responder has a minimum.

  • 20-21 is game forcing. We might even be in a slam hunt.

Minor openings often lead to the following scenario: responder bids a major, and opener rebids 1N or a third suit. Responder has promised four cards in his major, but he might have more.

Responder who has a five-card major would like to ask the opener whether opener has three-card support; and when opener might hold four cards in the other major, he’d also like to know if opener does too. Finding out if we have a major fit is our most important goal.

Responder’s conventional second bids that ask about major holdings are called checkback, and the two basic ones are Fourth Suit Forcing when opener has rebid a new suit, and New Minor Forcing when opener has rebid 1N or 2N. Those are detailed in the next chapter. To make those bids responder will have to be invitational or better.

The Auction 1m - 1M

If responder has bid a major M, and opener has four in that major, he will raise. Responder has an unlimited hand; all we know is that he has six or more points. So opener can raise to 2M at least, and 4M if he has 18/19+ points (because 19 + 6 are 25). The 3M bid says, partner, if you’ve got something more than six, say nine, take us to game or start looking for slam if appropriate. Opener has a good 15 to 17/18 points.

With an unbalanced hand that does not have four of partner’s major, opener should bid 1♠ over 1♥ with four spades, bid an unbid suit, or rebid his opening suit. The unbid suit might not be possible if it is a reverse and opener does not have sufficient strength. For example:

♠92
♥87
♦AKT7
♣KQJT4

After 1♣ - 1M, opener cannot bid 2♦ lacking the 17+ points a reverse would require. So he bids 2♣, knowing partner will usually expect six clubs or more. This is why some choose to open such a hand 1♦, and then rebid 2♣.

With enough to reverse, there would be no problem, just show the second suit.

If responder has bid a major and we have three of them and either a singleton or no other good bid, we can raise. Mike Lawrence gives this example:

♠ 52
♥ QJ9
♦ AJ763
♣ KQ4

After 1♦ - 1♥, he recommends 2♥. “If you bid 1N expect a spade lead and your goose may be well done,” Lawrence says. “That diamond suit does not merit a rebid.”

Once opener has made a three-card raise, which responder thinks is a four-card raise, opener can bid NT at his next bid, if he gets one, to show this. Playing in a 4-3 fit is not the end of the world.

So, to sum up, with an unbalanced hand, after 1m - 1M the priorities are:

  • Raise partner;

  • Bid 1♠, forcing unless parter is a passed hand;

  • Bid a second suit of four cards or longer; or,

  • Rebid your suit if you don’t have the strength for that;

  • Jump-rebid your suit with 15-17 points

  • Jump-shift with 18-19+. (Jump-shifts by opener are never weak). Game forcing.

With a minimum balanced hand, opener will rebid 1N if he cannot raise or bid 1♠. He doesn’t make a three-card raise, because if responder has invitational or better values and really does have five cards in M, he will checkback with New Minor Forcing.

Important

If opener rebids 1N he promises a balanced hand. Never rebid 1N with a singleton or void.

This rule, which I jokingly call the Prime Directive, is so important because of the conclusions partner can draw. For example, suppose responder has six hearts and hears opener rebid 1N. Responder now knows he has an 8- or 9-card heart fit. An opener who is 4=1=4=4 is going to be shocked to hear a 4♥ bid.

The priorities therefore are:

  • Raise partner;

  • Bid 1♠, forcing if unbalanced;

  • Bid 1N with a balanced minimum hand;

  • Bid 2N with a balanced 18-19 HCP. This does not deny any major you may skip over:

    • 1♦ - 1♥ - 2N does not deny having four spades

    • 1♦ - 1♠ - 2N does not deny having four hearts

    Note: Opener rebidding 2N always shows this strength of 18-19, including the auction 1m - 1N - 2N. Of course, we are denying a fit if responder bid a major, but we’re not denying four in the other major.

  • Bid 3N with a balanced 20-21 points.

Note

The system we use after opening a notrump does not apply after we rebid 1N and likewise the system after we *open* 2N does not apply after a 2N rebid. Those systems only apply when we open or overcall in notrump.

Bypass 1♠?

Is it ever ok to bid 1N rather than 1♠, if your hand is balanced? Experts sometimes do. Gavin Wolpert gives two cases where he would. First, he’s 4=3=3=3. Second, he has a hand that is say 4=2=3=4, with say ♦AQJ. After 1♣ - 1♥ he bids 1N thinking that if he bids 1♠, partner won’t be able to bid 1N with no diamond stopper. In both cases, Gavin says he is willing to lose the spade suit when his partner is not strong enough to check back, in order to get to a 1N contract when it is right.

The downside is that the opener with four spades will never believe we have a fit. Your partner, like one of my partners, may say they never want this to happen.

The Auction 1♣ - 1♦ - 1N

This auction is special because opener should bid 1N even though they have a four-card major. The reason is that if responder bids a major now, it is game forcing. With a less-than-game-forcing hand, responder would have skipped over 1♦ to bid the major. Remember Walsh?

So we’re basically done unless responder has an invitational or better hand. Responder can bid a suit preference to clubs, bid 2♦ with five of them, or pass; invite with 2N; or bid 3N as appropriate.

The Auctions 1m - 1M - 1N

The auction:

1m - 1♠ - 1N - 2♥

is drop dead, one of the surprising exceptions to “a new suit is forcing by an unpassed hand”. Also drop dead are 1m - 1M - 1N - 2M.

More of these kinds of auctions are discussed in New Minor Forcing.

The Auction 1♦ - 2♣ Game Forcing

Partner has made a game-forcing bid promising five clubs. We’re looking for 3N initially. Notice that responder will only have a four-card major if they have longer clubs. What follows is the scheme suggested by Gavin Wolpert. Opener’s rebids are:

  • 2♦ shows 5+ diamonds, any strength. Does not deny a four-card major. If partner has one we will hear about it next and can raise it.

  • 2♥ or 2♠ shows a 4-card major, denies five diamonds. Because we are in a game-forcing auction, this is not a reverse, so does not require extra strength.

  • 3♣ shows 3+ clubs. This doesn’t settle the question of strain: we still wish we could find 3N rather than 5♣. Time to show stoppers.

  • 3♦ shows 6+ diamonds, at most one loser in diamonds, and 16+ HCP.

  • 3♥, 3♠ are splinter bids, with 4+ clubs.

  • 2N is natural, balanced with 12-14 or 18-19 HCP.

Of course, all these are forcing to 3N or 4 of a minor.

Notes:

  • The only auction where 2♥ is unbalanced is when opener’s hand is 4=4=4=1.

  • Opener’s splinters show a nine-card fit but do not show extra values. This is also a general principle of 2/1 auctions. We will discuss more of these principles in the section on 2/1 auctions for a major.

  • Some may be more comfortable as opener bidding their four-card majors up the line, bidding 2♦ only if they don’t have a major and can’t support clubs. I think the concern with this is possibly losing a diamond fit. However, this auction is rare and possibly not worth a lot of extra memory work so this is ok.

The Auction 1m - 1N

After 1m - 1N, bidding 2N is 18-19 HCP. You don’t deny a four-card major but you know responder hasn’t got one. Responder sometimes has a bad 6 HCP so it is best not to jump to 3N. Otherwise, a reverse or jump-shift here is forcing for a round.

Subsequent Bidding

If responder has bid a major, and opener does not have four cards in it, there might still be a 3-5 major fit. Or, there might be a four-four fit in the other major, for example when responder has five spades and four hearts but opener has two spades and four hearts.

Two expected conventions that solve the problem of detecting such fits are covered in the next chapter, Basic Checkback: New Minor Forcing and Fourth Suit Forcing.

Over a 1N rebid, responder’s natural second bid is not forcing. The most commonly misunderstood of these is 1m - 1♠ - 1N - 2♥. This is a new suit by an unpassed hand but it is NOT forcing. If responder now bids 2♠, that’s just agreeing to play spades rather than hearts. The chapter on NMF covers all the non-conventional bids after 1N as well.

When opener is unbalanced, the responder must make sure we get to game if we have the values. If we agree on a minor suit, the usual issue is, do we have stoppers for an NT contract. When there are two unbid suits, bidding one SHOWS a stopper and denies a stopper in the other; while bidding NT shows stoppers in both:

1♣ - 1♦
2♦ - 2♠

shows a spade stopper, and the values for 3N, but no heart stopper. Opener will bid some number of diamonds without a heart stopper, depending on strength.

In case of a straight raise, 1m - 2m, opener bids a new suit at the two level as a Help Suit Game Try. After 1m - 3m, bid stoppers up the line to accept the game try. The first partner who knows we have all three suits stopped bids 3N.

Interference

A minor is so easy to overcall, it happens a lot, so we must be prepared. Responder’s bids over the overcall mean what they would have meant, except that the limit raise or better is shown with a cue bid. That’s a bid of their suit, such as 1♣ - (1♥) - 2♥. That has the same meaning as 1♣ - 3♣.

A cue bid at the three level after partner’s 1m opener is overcalled is Western Cue, asking partner to bid 3N with a stopper in their suit. A Wester Cue bids says, “We have the points for game, partner, but I do not have a stopper. I probably have something to help though.”

Worst case is they have a nine-card fit in a major suit. Without two good stoppers 3N will be a very poor contract.

If they double, the bid 2N! becomes an artificial bid showing a limit raise or better (Jordan 2NT. When you don’t have a suitable bid but do have 10+ HCP, you can use a Going For Blood redouble.

Inverted Minors

Inverted Minors is listed as one of the expected conventions for a 2/1 player but you can not play it without a lot of harm.

Inverted Minors is off in competition but on by a passed hand.

The convention simply makes a single raise a better hand than a double raise. 1m - 2m! requires:

  • 10+ points

  • 5+ cards in the minor, or four really good ones if it is diamonds.

  • No four card major

The 2m bid must be alerted. It is forcing for one round. In competition, 2m reverts to its standard meaning. If 3m is a jump, as in 1♦ - (1♥) - 3♦, it is weak.

After a strong raise, the partners bid stoppers up-the-line. While some do not look to confirm a stopper in the other minor, we do. The first party that knows we have stoppers bids 2N, or a responder with a game-forcing hand can go directly to 3N. “He who knows, goes”, as Marty Bergen says. If 3N or 6m is not possible we will head for 5m. Stopping in 4m is possible but if 3N makes expect a score of 0%.

Some experts prefer to use 3m as a “mixed” raise, showing 7-10 HCP, so that an opener with 18-19 points can bid 3N, but that won’t be what your partner means unless they bring it up.