The Opening Bid


        The first bid of the auction (other than passes) is called the opening bid. Here are the rules for the opening bid:


         Opening Strength.    You need to have 13 points to open the bidding, counting both HCP and distribution (see counting points). You should always open when you have 13, and you should never open with 12 or fewer.


         Which Suit to Open.    The rules for deciding which suit to open are quite simple:

                •    If you have a five-card major suit, open in the major.

                •    Otherwise, open your longer minor suit.

Using this system, you will sometimes have to open in a three-card minor suit because you have no five-card major. Don't worry: partner knows that you might not be serious about your minor suit, and will make every effort to find a major-suit fit before supporting your minor.


  Q 8 6
  A Q 5 3 2
  K J 4
  9 2
         You have 13 total points: 12 high-card points plus 1 distribution point for the doubleton. Therefore, you should open 1, your five-card major suit.

  K Q 9 6
  K 4
  A Q 8
  8 6 3 2
         Open 1, your longer minor suit. You cannot open 1 since you have only four cards in the suit.

  A J 9 6 5 4
  A K J 2
  A 9
         Open 1. You will probably jump in diamonds on your next bid to show your enormous strength.

  A J 8 6 4
  7 5
  K Q 6
  9 3 2
         Pass. With 11 points, you do not have enough strength to open the bidding.


         The 1NT Opening.    You can open 1NT to show strength but not emphasize any particular suit. The requirements for a 1NT opening are as follows:

                1.    You must have between 15 and 17 high-card points.

                2.    Your hand must be balanced. That is, it should have no voids or singletons, and at most one doubleton.

Here are some examples:

  K 3 2
  A Q 5 4
  Q J 6
  A 9 5
         Open 1NT. You have 16 high-card points and a perfectly balanced hand.

  A Q J 6
  K Q 4 3
  K 9 8 7
         Open 1. You cannot open 1NT with a singleton.

  Q J T 4
  8 3
  A K Q 6
  K Q 5
         Open 1NT. It's ok to have a doubleton for a 1NT opening.

By the way, it is often right to open 1NT with a five-card suit. With a five-card major suit, you can open the major if you want to emphasize it, and you can open 1NT if it is weak and you want to emphasize your strength. With a five-card minor suit, always open 1NT if you have the requisite strength and shape. (No one cares very much about minor suits.)

  A K J 8 3
  7 5
  Q 5 4
  A J 2
         Open 1. You have a nice spade suit, and your low doubleton makes a 1NT opening unattractive.

  K Q 5
  J 8 6 4 2
  A 3
  A Q 6
         Open 1NT. There's no reason to emphasize your heart suit, and you'd like to communicate your strength immediately.

  K Q 6
  Q 8 3
  A K J 9 4
  5 3
         Open 1NT. Don't worry about your five-card minor suit.


         The 2 Opening.    When you hold a very strong hand, say 22 points or more, it is very dangerous to make a normal opening bid. Your partner will often pass with 3 or 4 points, and you could easily miss game. The 2 opening is designed to counter this problem. Here's how it works: an opening of 2 says nothing at all about your club suit, but merely states that you have a very strong hand. Partner must not pass your 2 opening, no matter how little he has.
        To make a 2 opening, you should have:

                •    A hand worth 22 or more points, or

                •    A very strong, wild hand within one trick of game.

Here are some example 2 openings:

  A K Q 5 3
  K Q 8 6
  A K 2
         Open 2. You have 23 total points: 21 high-card and 2 for the singleton. If you open 1, you could easily miss game.

  A Q 3
  A K 7
  A Q 5 4
  Q J 6
         Open 2. You have 22 high-card points!

  A K Q 9 8 6 4
  A 4
  A 6 2
         Open 2. You have only 20 points, but your hand is worth nine tricks in a spade contract. All you need is one trick from your partner (e.g the king of clubs), and you can make game in spades!


         Weak Two-Bids.    A bid of 2, 2, or 2 shows a weak hand with a very long (6-card suit). The purpose of such a bid is to interfere with and generally annoy the opponents. Since you are weak, the opponents are likely to have the majority of the points, and may even have game. By bidding at the two level, you give them significantly less room to find a fit. Furthermore, you should be relatively safe if they double you, since you are guaranteed to take many tricks with your long trump suit.
        The requirements for a weak two-bid are as follows:

                •    A six-card suit with at least two honors, and

                •    Less than opening strength.

The most important requirement for a weak two bid is that you have a good suit. At minimum, your suit should be headed by at least the Q-10, and it would be preferable to have the K-Q or Q-J-10.


  8 5 2
  A Q 9 8 4 3
  7 4
  K 3
         Open 2. You have 11 points and a beautiful six-card suit.

  Q 6 2
  Q J 6 5 3 2
  J 4 3
         Open 2. Your suit isn't great, but hopefully you can rob the opponents of their spade contract. (Maybe pass would be better if you were vulnerable.)

  A Q 9 8 6 3
  K Q 4
  T 8 6
         Open 1. With 13 points, this hand is too strong for a 2 opening.

  A 7 3
  J 8 6 5 4 2
  Q J 2
  J 5
         Pass. Your heart suit isn't strong enough for a 2 opening.


         Strong Balanced Hands.    Recall that a 1NT opening shows 15-17 high-card points and a balanced hand. How should you bid with a balanced hand and more than 17 HCP? First of all:

A 2NT opening is similar to a 1NT opening,
except that it shows 20-21 HCP.

Note that there is a gap between the point ranges for 1NT and 2NT. With 18 or 19 HCP and a balanced hand, you should open in a suit (usually a minor) and then jump to 2NT on your next bid. This combination functions like a "1 Notrump" opening.
        Finally, when you have a balanced hand with 22 or more HCP, you should begin by opening 2. After your partner's response, you can bid 2NT to shows 22-24 HCP, or jump to 3NT to show 25-27.
        In summary:

Bidding Strong Balanced Hands
    • With 15-17 HCP, open 1NT.
    • With 18-19 HCP, open in a suit and then jump to 2NT.
    • With 20-21 HCP, open 2NT.
    • With 22-24 HCP, open 2 and then bid 2NT.
    • With 25-27 HCP, open 2 and then jump to 3NT.


  K J 2
  K Q 6 4
  K 6
  A K 8 2
         Open 1. If your partner responds 1 or 1, you should jump to 2NT (the 1 notrump convention). If your partner responds 1, though, you should raise to 4 instead.

  A Q 8 5 4
  A K 6
  A 3
  K 7 2
         Open 2NT. Do not fret about your five-card spade suit: if you open 1, your partner is likely to pass.


         Preemptive Openings.    A suit opening of 3 or higher is preemptive. Such a bid is similar to a weak two-bid, but shows at least a seven-card suit.


  K Q 9 7 6 4 2
  Q 8 6
  7 4
         Open 3. This should make things very difficult for the opponents if they have game in hearts.

  6 2
  Q J T 8 7 5 3
  Q 5 2
         Open 3. Your hand is very weak, but your shortness in both majors begs for a preemptive opening.

  A Q J 8 7 4 3 2
  J 7 3
         Open 4. You may open an eight-card suit at the four-level.

  K 3
  9 6 4 2
  K Q T 8 7 5
         Open 3. Since 2 is not available, you can sometimes open 3 with a six-card suit.