3. Notation and Nomenclature

In the beginning there was a Dealer. The Dealer gets the first chance to call, and sits in the first chair. When in turn each person makes a call, the first one to make a call other than Pass is called the opener. Technically, a call other than a Pass is a bid, but we confess sometimes we give a list of possible bids and one of them is Pass.

LHO means “left hand opponent”, that is, the person bidding and playing after the opener. LHO’s partner is RHO, the “right hand opponent”. The partner of the opening bidder is called the responder. If the opener’s bid is overcalled, that bidder is the “overcaller” or intervenor, and his partner is the advancer.

The terms “first seat” through “fourth seat” refer to position with respect to the Dealer. Thus “opening in third seat” means opening the bidding after two preceding passes.

In writing bids, we write a level number from 1 to 7, followed by either a suit symbol or:

  • M meaning a major, either hearts or spades

  • m meaning a minor, either diamonds or clubs

  • W meaning the “other” major after one has been mentioned

  • w meaning the “other” minor after one has been mentioned

It might help to remember the W and w if you think of these letters upside down.

Bids by a partnership without interference are separated by spaces or a dash, as in 1N - 2♥ - 2♠ or just 1N 2♥ 2♠. If a bid is alertable, it is followed by an exclamation point and a suggested explanation, as in

1N - 3♥!(both majors, game force)

where the suggested alert is either in parentheses, or immediately follows, or has just been explained. When opponents intervene, their bids are shown in parentheses, as in

1♦ (2♥) 2♠ - 4♠

which shows a 2♥ overcall of an opening 1♦, followed by a bid of 2♠ by the responder, and the opener going to game with 4♠.

The adjectives “weak”, “competitive”, “invitational” (abbreviated inv), “game-forcing” (abbreviated gf), and “slam interest” are descriptions of hand strength. We use these descriptions often rather than point counts so that they make sense in varied contexts. We say “Responder is competitive” as a shorthand for, “Responder’s hand has competitive strength”, i.e., good enough to cause trouble but not good enough to invite game.

When we get to discussing competitive and invitational hands, the numbers 10 and 12 are very important. When we say “bid 2♥ with 6-10 points” and in the next sentence say “bid 3♥ with 10-12”, what we mean is in the first case a “bad” 10 and in the second an ordinary 10. A similar apparent overlap at 12 happens too. We’ll talk about upgrading and downgrading hands in Hand Evaluation. “Bad” means the hand has more flaws than usual.

In showing hand shapes, hyphens (or mere conjunction) show shapes without assuming precise suit order, as in 4-3-3-3 or 4333 meaning a flat hand, the four cards being in an arbitrary suit. Equal signs show an exact spades = hearts = diamonds = clubs count, as in 4=4=4=1, showing a singleton club. Parenthesis show an exact order outside them and an arbitrary order within, such as (45)22 meaning 4=5=2=2 or 5=4=2=2.

A good suit is a 5(or more) card suit with 2 of the top 3 honors or 3 of the top 5 (not including QJT). And, by the way, we’ll usually use a “T” like that rather than “10” when we mean a card whose rank is 10.

Some other language issues:

  • We will say “four spades” or “4(or more) spades” to mean this, and “exactly four spades” when we mean that.

  • When we say someone is 5-4 in two suits, we mean either five of the first and four or five of the other, or vice-versa, unless we are explicit about which one is the longer. It being rare to treat a 6-4 hand the same way you would treat a 5-4 hand, when we say 5-4 we do not mean longer than 5.

  • When we say something like “5-4 or better” we mean not only 5-4 but 5-5, 6-5 etc.

  • When we speak of a control bid we refer to a bid of a side suit to show features in that suit that prevent fast losers. These bids used to be called cue bids but the term is easily confused with artificial bids in a suit an opponent has already bid, which are also called cue bids, so we use the modern term.

    Control bids are explained in the chapter on Slam Bidding.

  • “Controls” as a noun usually refers to Aces and Kings. When a number of controls is referred to, we are counting Aces as two and Kings as one, so that “a hand with four controls” would include hands with two Aces, or an Ace and two Kings.