The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Bridge Bidding for Gamers, pt 2 — Suits

So you now know how to guess your hands range, via High Card Points (HCP). But now comes the real issue — which suit to bid? Well, here’s another point.

Theoretical Basis —When deciding trump suits, you want at least an 8 card fit. (More is usually better). An 8 card fit where each player has four cards (a “4-4 fit”) is particularly flexible. If you have enough for a game, you are looking for an 8 card major fit, otherwise you probably want to be in 3NT.

The Fundamental Rule of Suits — Any suit you introduce be at least four cards. Rebidding a suit shows (among other things) an extra card in your suit beyond what you’ve already shown (or more). (Typically you bid long suits before short suits, but there’s some exceptions). Any time you raise partner without delay, you confirm an 8 card fit (or better). A delayed raise may indicate a seven card, or just be offering a choice if partner happens to have an extra card (and no way to show it).

The Fundamental Rule of No Trump — Bidding NT usually shows a balanced hand … at least two cards in every suit, and no long suit. It also denies a fit in any suit already mentioned. Ideally you’d have suits of length 4, 4, 3, and 2 (“4-4-3-2”) or three 3-card suits, and a four card suit (“4-3-3-3”).  After you’ve bid some suits, bidding NT shows that you are reasonably balanced, given what you’ve already shown.

Now, in Standard American, an opening bid of 1 of a major (1 Heart or 1 Spade) shows a five card suit. (Standard American is also called “Five card majors” for that reason. This means that you’ll sometimes have to bid a “convenient minor” with only three cards in the suit. The reason? It’s hard to make game in a minor (which requires bidding at the five level) so if you do have a minor card fit, you almost always try for the easier 3NT game, unless you are slammish. Missing a minor card fit isn’t horrible.

Now we add one more rule — Once a fit has been announced (by one partner raising another) then any other new suit bid is forcing, (usually trying for a game if the fit is a major, or aiming at 3NT if the fit is in a minor).

Bidding No Trump (NT) indicates that you don’t have a fit for a named suit, and probably don’t have four cards in any suit you skipped.

Let’s have some examples, focusing on suit length (all examples assume opponents pass):

1 Heart – 2 Hearts — 1 Heart shows 5 cards (in Standard American), and the raise to 2 hearts shows 3 (or more) hearts. You’ve got a fit.

1 Heart – 2 Hearts; 3 Clubs — 3 Clubs shows 4 clubs and is looking for a game.  (How to answer? We’ll discuss that in part 3. And yes, I haven’t told you how many points each bid has shown).

1 Club – 1 Heart; — 1 club is ambiguous. It could be 3 clubs, it could be six. Or more. 1 Heart shows four cards. Does it deny a club fit? No … you look for a major suit fit first.

1 Club – 1 Heart; 1 Spade — Opener shows four spades (by introducing that suit) and probably denied four hearts (since he didn’t raise).

1 Club – 1 Heart; 1NT — Opener denies four spades (since he skipped it), and denies four hearts (since he didn’t raise). It would not be surprising if opener has 5 clubs, but 4 is also reasonable. (If opener only had three clubs, he would have either opened 1 Diamond (because he had four diamonds) or had four cards in a major).

1 Spade – 1NT; — Opener shows 5 spades, responder denies having three. May responder have a long suit? Yes … he didn’t skip over any suit. (Remember, suits are in alphabetical order — Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts and Spades).

1 Heart – 1NT; — Opener shows 5 hearts, responder denies having three hearts, and since he skipped spades, denies four spades.

1 Diamond – 1 Spade; 2 Spades — Opener shows 4 (or more) diamonds, responder shows 4 (or more) spades, and opener shows exactly four spades. Why exactly? Well, if he had 5 he’d have opened 1 Spade (playing “Five card majors.”) [Technically opener may have 6 diamonds and 5 spades, and followed the rule to bid his longest suit first, but that’s pretty rare].

1 Diamond – 1 Heart; 2 Clubs — Opener shows 4 diamonds (or more), responder shows 4+ hearts. Opener denies 4 hearts or 4 spades, but shows 4 clubs.

1 Diamond – 1 Heart; 2 Clubs – 2 Hearts; — Responder shows a 5th heart (since opener already denied 4).

One more general principle, then we can discuss Standard American…


Written by taogaming

March 2, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Bridge

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3 Responses

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  1. The simplest guideline I have seen for bidding is the concept of hand description. On the way to determining the highest possible level you can play, the critical questions are always: “Have I fully described my hand?” and “Has partner fully described her hand?”. If either answer is no, keep bidding. When both answers are yes, place the contract.

    (Eddie Kantar uses this approach in his “Bridge for Dummies” which I think is one of the better intro books out there.)

    I think if you have to start listing example auctions, especially at low levels, the reader will quickly get lost in the details. (I admit that this is biased towards the way I learn, and some people actually benefit from such lists. But if you’re trying to keep things short, I think you have to focus on basic principles.)

    I would also start with a list of “Stuff You Have to Know”, just to get it out of the way. This can easily be reproduced on a cheat sheet until it’s memorized. (For newbies, there’s a lot of it, but most of it is used so often that it becomes second nature pretty quickly.) This includes: suit rank, high card points, points for game/slam, (rough) points for bids.


    March 5, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    • I think a “Stuff you have to know” sheet is good, although it’s specific to the bidding system. I used one. I’m going to cover a (roughly) equivalent idea in part 3 of “hand description.”


      March 5, 2010 at 5:19 pm

  2. […] a comment » The last general principle (which Alexsim alluded to) is what I’d call refinement, but it has lots of names. (Michael Lawrence calls it “The […]

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