5. Opening The Bidding

What Hands To Open

Open all hands with 13 or more HCP, almost all hands with 12, and any hand with an Ace in one suit and an AK in another.

Hands with more extreme distributions can open with fewer points. Use the Rule of 20: Add your HCP and the lengths of your longest two suits; if the total is 20 or more, consider opening the hand if you have at least 10 HCP.

However, I suggest you do not open using the rule of 20 when your two suits are the minors. Why? Because opening the bidding is a two-edged sword. When you bid, the requirements for your opponent to bid over you are less than for them to open the bidding. When you open one of a minor, the opponents can mention either major cheaply. Conversely, opening 1♠ makes life tough on them, and so you can shade your 1h♠ requirements.

In third seat, chances are greatly increased that your LHO will open. Bergen says one estimate is to subtract your points from 24, and that’s the average number LHO will have. Therefore your incentive to bid to at least show your partner what to lead goes up in third seat, and so does your incentive to preempt (opening a weak hand at the two or three level). You may open “light” (perhaps as few as 10 HCP with a major suit).

In fourth seat, use “Pearson Points”: add your HCP and your number of spades. If you have 15 or more, open. Always open with 13 HCP.

There are always other considerations to ponder as well, such as seat and vulnerability. Generally, second seat and vulnerable are good times to be somewhat careful.

In the ACBL it is not legal to open one of a suit with a hand containing fewer than 8 HCP unless it fulfills the “Rule of 17”. In a limited game using the “Basic” chart this is the “Rule of 19”. However, be very reluctant to open one of a suit with fewer than 10 HCP. Your opponents are more likely to compete than usual, and your partner may end up doubling them because he thinks you have a better hand than you do.

The opening bids are:

  • Opening 1N to show balanced (and sometimes semi-balanced) hands of 15 to 17 HCP.

  • Opening 2N to show balanced (and sometimes semi-balanced) hands of 20 to 21 HCP.

  • Opening one of a suit to show an unbalanced hand or a balanced one with too few HCP to open 1N, and up to 21 HCP.

  • Opening 2♣ (artificial) to show a very strong hand (22+ HCP balanced or somewhat fewer with a long, strong suit). Forcing!

The opening bids from 2♦ through 5♦ are preemptive. Do not make them with weak hands even though you have the correct length. Note that you and your partner must agree on how strong your suit is. One suggested agreement is that a preempt promise at least a Queen in the suit if non-vulnerable, or a good suit (two of top three honors or three of the top five, excluding QJT) if vulnerable.

In third seat you can stretch a bit. Be careful not to preempt with too good a holding; many 10 HCP hands are too good for that.

  • 2♦, 2♥, 2♠ show a usually 6(or more)-card suit and 5-10 HCP.

  • 3♣, 3♦, 3♥, 3♠ show a usually seven-card suit and 5-10 HCP. Sometimes 3♣ is bid with six good clubs, since the 2♣ bid can’t be used.

  • Opening four of a major shows an eight-card suit. Usually we don’t do that in a minor since it tends to push them to bid a major game out of desperation. Instead use five of the minor. These are weak bids – don’t make them with good hands.

The next few chapters will give details on these bids and their sequelae.

Choosing An Opening Bid

The rules are simple and depend only on your strength and shape. Choose the first bid in the following lists that applies:

  • If a preempt is appropriate, make it.

  • Open 2♣ with 22+ points.

  • Open 2N if you have a balanced hand with 20-21 points.

  • Open 1N if you have a balanced hand with 15-17 points.

If you have 12-21 points (or an 11 HCP hand with an AK in one suit and another A):

  • Open the longest five-card or longer suit at the one-level. If you have two suits that are the same length, open the higher ranked.

  • Open 1♦ if you have four diamonds and four or fewer clubs.

  • Open 1♦ if your shape is exactly 4=4=3=2.

  • Open 1♣.

With two shapes you can consider breaking the rules:

  • With five clubs and four diamonds, you can open one diamond with less than 17 points. You aren’t strong enough to bid 2♦ on your second bid if you open 1♣, and rebidding clubs usually shows 6(or more) clubs. So you can consider the qualities of each suit to choose which lie you are willing to tell.

  • With a 4=5=2=2 hand and 14-16 points you might open 1N, as long as one of the doubletons is Kx or better. You aren’t strong enough to bid 2♠ on your second bid if you open 1♥.

"It's not how good, it's how many." -- Mike Moss

In following the rules for bidding, you almost always disregard the quality of the suits. It’s all about shape. This applies to many situations, not just the opening bid.

Opening in 4th Seat

Pearson Points: To find your Pearson Points, add your HCP to the number of spades you hold. If this number is 15 or more, open the bidding. The idea is that getting into a part-score battle when your opponents are likely to have the spade suit is probably changing their score from zero if you pass it out to some positive number.

Larry Cohen has this take on it: CRIFS (Cohen’s Rule In Fourth Seat): If you have a borderline situation (10-12 HCP), evaluate your opponents! If you are playing one of the better pairs, pass. They may take you to the cleaners in a part-score battle.

In fourth (“passout”) seat it makes no sense to preempt. You can “keep them out of it” with a pass. So the range of a “weak two” becomes 10-14 HCP.

Opening at the three- or four-level is likewise not weak in passout seat.

In The Hand we met these two hands and evaluated them to around 16 and 15 points each:

West           East
♠K862          ♠AQ
♥AKJ95         ♥T632
♦T5            ♦AKQ6
♣KJ            ♣964

What would East open? 15 HCP, balanced, we open 1N. In real life East was the dealer and did so.

But what would West open? That’s a little harder. The textbook says 1♥. Hearts is the longest suit, and it is a five-card major. Is that all there is to say? No. For reasons we’ll get into later, West would also consider opening 1N to avoid a rebid problem: if East answers 1N, West is shy of the values for a reverse to 2♠. As we’ll see, West would be forced into a lie of one kind or another.