Bridge rules are not rules

Karen Walker1

When I was learning to play bridge, I was told that “just about everyone”follows these two rules for the opening bidder:

1. With 4-4 or longer in the minors, open 1D. and rebid 2C. .

2. Never rebid 1NT with a singleton.

I found these rules a bit confusing, as they were sometimes in direct conflict with three other basic rules for opener:

3. Always open your longer minor.
4. Never rebid a five-card minor.
5. Rebid no trump when you have balanced distribution.

The only way to resolve these contradictions is to treat the rules as guidelines, not commands, and to be flexible in deciding which to follow on any given deal. That requires evaluating your hand, anticipating how the auction will go and planning your rebid.

   Balanced 4-4 and 4-5 Openers

Its easy to discount Rule 1 when you hold balanced hands such as:

S. K J H. J 7 2 D. Q 9 7 2 C. A Q 10 6
S. A 8 H. K Q D. J 8 4 3 C. K J 10 5 2

There's no point in opening 1D. unless you plan to show a two-suiter, and that's not the message you want to send with either hand.

Both are notrump-oriented, so Rules 3, 4 and 5 rate to be more successful. You can easily open 1C. and rebid 1NT, with no qualms about “hiding” your diamond suit or long-ish clubs.

   Unbalanced 4-5 Openers

Planning the auction is more difficult with hands such as:

S. 10 H. Q J 6 D. A J 7 2 C. K Q 10 5 4

Experienced players have long debated the best way to handle this pattern, and there’s no consensus. One camp follows Rules 1 & 2: They open the ‘prepared’ 1D. and rebid 2C. over the expected 1S. response. With strong clubs and weak diamonds, they may choose to open and rebid clubs.

Other pairs prefer to follow Rules 3, 4 and 5. They open 1C. and rebid an off-shape 1NT over 1S. .

Whether you open 1C. or 1D. , your rebid will mislead partner about your distribution, so decide which rule to break. If you open 1C. , every rebid tells one lie. If partner responds 1S. , you're a club short for a 2C. rebid and a spade short for a 1NT rebid. If he responds 1H. , you're technically one trump short for a 2H. raise.

A 1D. opener, however, leads to two lies. When you rebid 2C. , partner assumes you're 5-4, so this auction misleads him about a club and a diamond. With a minimum and equal length in your suits, partner will take a preference to 2D. and you may end up in a 4-2 fit.

Thos who follow Rules 3, 4 and 5 have fewer problems with this pattern. They open 1C. , and if partner responds 1H. , they evaluate this as a good dummy for a 4-3 fit, so they raise to 2H. . If partner responds 1S. , the values look right for a no trump contract.

   1-4-4-4 Openers

Your considerations are slightly different

with a 1-4-4-4 opener. The same problems arise if partner responds 1S. , but with only eight cards in the minors, you're reluctant to insist on a suit contract.

Your best approach will depend on where your honors are and how suitable your hand is for suit or notrump play. With a solid opener and honor concentration in the minors:

S. 3 H. K 9 7 4 D. K Q 10 6 C. A K 9 4

open 1D. and rebid 2C. over a 1S. response. You could have as many as 16-17 points for this rebid, so partner will stretch to keep the auction open and you'll have better chances of finding game.

With softer values and more high cards in the majors:

S. Q H. A J 9 2 D. J 6 5 4 C. K Q 10 3

limit your hand (and slow partner down) by rebidding 1NT over 1S.. Opening 1C. rather than 1H. will keep all contracts in the picture and, if it's the opponents who bid spades, it gets partner off to the right lead.

No strategy will be right for every hand, but it’s a good idea to discuss your tendencies with partner. If you prefer the 1D. —then—2C. approach with a 1-3-4-5 opener, partner should think twice about retreating to 2D. with a doubleton. If you lean more toward 1C. —then—1NT with this pattern, he’d better not insist on rebidding a five-card spade suit. 2


1This article is reprinted from the original October 2006 "Bidding Matters" column (ACBL Bulletin), and is used here with kind permission of the author and publisher.

2Karen Walkers's articles and bridge resources are available on her web site