Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Post-beginner and above

Reverse bidding

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 following discussion assumes that the hand has the appropriate strength for an opening bid of one of a suit (see opening 5-4 shape).

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

Your initial hope will be to rebid in your second suit.

Defining a reverse bid

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

Definition 1     following an opening bid of one of a suit and a change of suit at the lowest level from responder 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     following an opening bid of one of a suit and a change of suit at the lowest level from responder any rebid by opener which is higher than two of his first suit is a reverse bid.

K Q 8 3

T 5

7 4

A K 8 4 2

Twelve points in a 5-4 shape.

An opening bid of 1 followed by the natural rebid of 1 does not constitute a reverse.

Spades is indeed the higher-ranking suit, but 1 is not higher than 2 and partner can still show preference to clubs at the two-level.

K 4

K Q 8 3

A J 8 4 2

T 5

Suppose you open 1 and partner responds 1.

If you were then to rebid 2 partner would have to bid at the three-level to show preference to diamonds.

Alternatively, a rebid of 2 would be higher than 2 - two of opener’s first suit.

By either definition, 2 would be a reverse bid.

This page last revised 7th Sept 2018

Context  -  The opening bid - at least 5-4 shape.

Sometimes you will hear a third definition along the lines of ‘opening in a lower-ranking suit and rebidding in a higher-ranking suit constitutes a reverse bid’.

This definition is incorrect.

The problems

If partner’s first response was at the one-level and you then make a reverse rebid on a minimum opening hand of, say, eleven points you could potentially find yourself at the three-level on a combined seventeen points and a not very special fit.

Even if partner’s first response was at the two-level you could reach a similar situation with a combined point-count of no more than twenty one.

You may agree to accept these extreme possibilities in the interests of showing the shape of your hand, but you will then encounter a secondary problem.

If you play the reverse as non-forcing, you might miss a game when holding something like eighteen points;

alternatively you might prefer to play it as forcing in which case you could even find yourself at the four-level with less than half the points in the pack.

Time for a partnership agreement

You must, as a partnership, agree on your approach to bidding such hands.

The choices available

The traditional choice, and the most common for experienced partnerships, is

the strong reverse

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

This approach solves the strength problem, but hides 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 weaker hands.

A modern alternative is

the non-strong (or weak, or shape-showing) reverse

This agreement emphasises the shape of the hand rather than the strength.

It is fairly common as a beginner method and also in some clubs, but less so amongst stronger partnerships.

With this priority partner will almost 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 additional strength is required for a reverse bid as in a strong reverse, but this additional strength is set at a lower level whenever partner responds at the two-level thereby suggesting ten or so points.

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;

you will be in the very best of company if you choose to play the ‘strong’ reverse;

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

Follow one or more of the links above, then make your choice.