Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Post-beginner and above

Reverse bids

These pages are about opener’s rebid on a two-suited or semi-two-suited hand - that is, hands with at least 5-4 shape in two suits.

This discussion really belongs in the section on opener’s rebid, and will be repeated (more or less) in that section, but the concepts are so critical to the choice of opening bid that they must be introduced at this point.

The simple rules are that you will open the longer of unequal suits, and the higher-ranking of equal-length suits.

Opener’s initial hope will be to rebid in his second suit.

When opener’s natural rebid can be made at the one-level, or in a lower-ranking suit at the two-level there will be no difficulty.

A jump rebid in a second suit would be game-forcing suggesting nineteen or so points (increasingly top partnerships tend to make such a game-forcing jump rebid in a new suit on any hand of eighteen or more points).

Any lesser rebid fitting the pattern above would show the shape of the hand and would suggest anything from a minimum opener up to about eighteen (or seventeen) points.

7 3

A K 5 2

J 8 7 4 3

K 6

If the hearts and diamonds were reversed we would all be happy to open 1 and rebid 2.

On the present holding the weak reversers might still open 1 and rebid 2.

But the strong reversers would think twice about rebidding that diamond suit and might well pass on their opening bid.

The Traditional approach

The strong reverse

A reverse bid promises additional strength (say 16+ points).

5-3-3-2 hands with a five-card major in the 1NT range will be opened either 1NT or one of the major by partnership agreement.

A rebid of his first suit by opener promises at least a five-card suit, sometimes of mediocre quality.

A Modern Alternative

The non-strong reverse

A reverse does not promise additional strength.

5-3-3-2 hands with a five-card major in the 1NT range will be opened 1NT.

A rebid of his first suit by opener promises a six-card suit, at least in principle.

A Hybrid Approach

The modified strong reverse

A reverse bid promises additional strength, but may be no more than 14+ facing a two-level response.

5-3-3-2 hands with a five-card major in the 1NT range will be opened either 1NT or one of the major by partnership agreement.

A rebid of his first suit by opener will usually promise a six-card suit.

K Q 8 3

T 5

7 4

A K 8 4 2

Twelve points in a 5-4 shape.

Open 1 and rebid 1 over a red suit response.

A K 8 4 2

K Q 8 3

7 4

T 5

Twelve points in a 5-4 shape.

Open 1 and rebid 2 over either 1NT or two of a minor.

A K 8 4 2

K Q J 3

A 4

T 5

Seventeen points in a 5-4 shape.

Open 1 and rebid 2 over either 1NT or two of a minor.

This shows up to eighteen points (or seventeen by partnership agreement).

Partner will only pass with a bare minimum.

Note in the third example above that there will be no need to take any more drastic form of action just because you hold seventeen (or eighteen) points.  Partner should only pass with a minimum six or less (or a really miserable seven) points.

However, when opener’s natural rebid in his second suit can only be made in a higher-ranking suit at the two-level, or at the three-level then there is a further consideration.

Suppose that you hold a thirteen-point opening hand with 5-4 shape.

Suppose further that partner’s initial response was at the one-level, thereby suggesting something like six or more points.

If you now rebid in a higher-ranking suit at the two level then partner would have to go to the three-level even to show ‘mere preference’, and you might well be in a three-level contract on a 5-3 (or even 5-2) fit and a combined nineteen points.

K 4

K Q 8 3

A J 8 4 2

T 5

Thirteen points in a 5-4 shape.

Suppose you open 1 and partner responds 1.

If you were then to rebid 2 partner might have to show preference to diamonds at the three-level on no more than a combined nineteen points.

Defining a reverse bid

Your bid of 2 in the example above is ‘a reverse bid’.

Sometimes you will hear definitions such as ‘opening in a lower-ranking suit and rebidding in a higher-ranking suit constitutes a reverse bid’.

This is an incorrect definition.  The first example above makes this quite clear.

There are two correct versions of the definition. Choose whichever you find more intuitive - they amount to exactly the same thing.

Definition 1     any rebid in a new suit by opener which would require responder to go to the three-level just to show ‘mere preference’ is a reverse bid.

Definition 2     any rebid by opener which is higher than two of his first suit is a reverse bid.

In this last example your bid of 3 would be a ‘high reverse’ - i.e. at the three-level.

At least you are likely to have a combined twenty three or so points with partner’s two-level response, but you have still hit the heights very quickly on a hand which is not particularly special.

Note that in all the examples above your first bid suit always contains at least five cards.  This is an important aspect of your hand shape and is invaluable information for partner.  Never start a reversing sequence on just a four-card suit.

When your reverse rebid was made at the two-level then your second suit will always be shorter than your first (otherwise you would have bid the higher-ranking first).

As can be seen in the last example above, when your reversing rebid is at the three-level the suits might be of equal length.

Time for a partnership agreement

Some partnerships will make these reverse bids on both weak and strong opening hands.

They risk going too high with only a modicum of points, but at least they will have given an accurate picture of the shape of opener’s hand.

Other partnerships will choose to make some other rebid on a weak hand - typically a rebid of their opening suit.  It avoids the danger of going to high but fails to give responder a true picture of the hand.

Apart from the fact that their rebid of their first suit might suggest a six-card holding, they will have a particular problem if the quality of the first suit really does not amount to ‘rebiddable’.

Such considerations may well affect the choice of opening bid, or even in some cases whether or not to open.

The choices available

The traditional choice was the strong reverse.

With this agreement opener should hold additional strength, say sixteen points, before making such a bid.  

Such an approach solved the strength problem, but it hid the structure of those hands which were not strong enough to qualify for a reverse bid, frequently necessitating a rebid of a five-card suit - possibly a weak five-card suit - on a number of weaker hands.

A modern alternative is the non-strong (or weak) reverse.

This agreement emphasises the shape rather than the strength.

With this priority partner will always bid his second suit in the sequences above.  At least he will have given a truthful description of his shape, at the risk of having taken the bidding a level too far.  It will also greatly increase the probability that a rebid in his first suit promises a six-card holding.  Indeed, if the partnership also agrees to open all 5-3-3-2 shapes with 1NT or a no trump sequence then this will always be the case.

A third possibility is something of a hybrid - the modified strong reverse in which some additional strength is required for a reverse bid, but this additional strength can be set at a lower level whenever partner responds at the two-level thereby suggesting ten or so points.

How forcing?

In choosing your partnership agreement it is also vital that you should agree just how forcing your reverse and high-reverse rebids should be.

The choices are ‘game-forcing’, ‘one-round force’, and ‘all-but forcing’.

This is considered in the further discussions on the following pages.

On the next three pages (links below)I shall look at the application of each of these approaches in turn.

Making your choice

You must agree one of these approaches with your partner.

There is much to be said for agreeing to play ‘the non-strong reverse’ with its emphasis on showing the shape of opener’s hand and without too many complications as a beginning or early-stage  improving partnership.

I believe it would be fair to say that a substantial majority of experienced and expert partnerships play the ‘strong’ reverse.

The traditional (strong reverse) method is also probably that most commonly agreed in club and social bridge circles (although it will not always be applied correctly).

But if you are starting off afresh with a regular partner then there is much to be said for the relatively rare variation on the strong reverse which I call the ‘hybrid strong reverse’.

The three approaches are summarised below, and are then applied to a number of examples over the course of the next few pages.

Suppose you open 1 and partner responds 2.

If you were then to rebid 3 this would be a reverse bid.

It is higher than 2 (two of your first suit) and it clearly commits the partnership to the three-level.

K 4

K Q 8 5 3


A J 8 4 2

This page last revised 30th May 2018

Context  -  The opening bid - unbalanced hands.