Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Beginner and above

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

Opening 5-4-2-2 shape

5-4-2-2 hands are by definition semi-balanced (no void or singleton, no more than two doubletons) - they are also on occasion referred to as semi-two-suited.

Your usual action will be to bid the hand as unbalanced with the emphasis on the 5-4 part of the holding, starting with one of the five-card suit and then rebidding in the four-card suit. (See showing 5-4 shape.)

Showing the hand as balanced

But once in a while the opening bid of one of a suit will be less than ideal.

Sometimes this will arise purely in relation to suit quality.

If the vast majority of your points lie in the short suits you may well decide that showing the hand as balanced provides a better description of the holding.

This page last revised 13th Mar 2020

Such hands within the twelve to fourteen point range will frequently be better served by an opening bid of 1NT, particularly if they contain strength in the short suits.

J 2

A Q 6 5

K 9 8 4 2

Q 4

If you open 1 and partner responds in a black suit then you will have no choice other than to rebid 2 over a response in either black suit -

not a particularly enticing option.

7 2

A J 6 5

A K J T 5

4 3

If you open 1 and partner responds in a black suit then you will have no choice other than to rebid 2.

Not ideal on a five-card suit, but the suit quality makes it the best option.

K 2

A T 6 5

Q 9 8 4 2

A 4

1NT is a far better description of this holding than an opening 1 followed by a rebid of 2.

The other situation in which this is likely to occur is when a rebid in the four-card suit might require a ‘reverse’ bid, but the hand lacks the necessary strength for such an action.

This situation assumes that you have, as recommended, agreed to play ‘strong’ reverses.

In such circumstances, when facing a change of suit response from partner you may find yourself with no choice other than to rebid your five-card suit.  This is in itself somewhat less than highly desirable, and becomes particularly so if that suit is of feeble quality.


8 7 6 5 2

7 6 5 4


OK - so something of an extreme example - some would prefer to open 1NT rather than 1 on this hand.

My choice remains 1 - if partner holds three hearts in an unbalanced hand then hearts is still likely to be the best strain.

K 2


K 9 5 3

K 8 7 4 2

Fifteen points in a 5-4-2-2 shape.

Your points are spread between the four suits, and your five-card suit is of abysmal quality - some would downgrade this hand to fourteen points and open 1NT.

Alternatively open 1 and rebid 1NT facing a major suit response.

6 2

K J 6 5

A 9 8 6 2

K 4

A ‘rule of twenty’ hand but with no good rebid facing a black suit response.

Some would choose to open 1 with a rebid of 2.

Personally, I pass.

J 2

K J 6 5

A 9 8 6 2

Q 4

And this one I would pass every time - three of those eleven points are potentially worthless.

Indeed, with a miserable five-card suit and little in the short suits this may well be the time to pass on eleven or twelve and possibly even thirteen points.

The idea is readily extended to hands of fifteen points.

With sixteen or more points your usual action will be to bid out the shape naturally, with a reverse if necessary, although exceptionally the suit qualities might lead you to show a balanced holding on you rebid.


8 7 6 5 2

A 6 5 4


Assuming that you value this hand at its full eighteen points, there is much to be said for opening 1 and rebidding 2NT.

K Q 6 5

K 5

Q J 6 4 2

K 3

5-4-2-2 shape and 14 HCP.  This is a semi-balanced hand, but it is not strong enough to show the shape with an opening bid of 1 followed by a ‘strong reverse’ rebid of 2 over a response of 2, and a rebid of 2 would suggest better diamonds and less in the short suits.  Furthermore, the prospect of playing a no trump contract is much more attractive with the lead coming up to this hand.  Treat it as balanced and open 1NT.

If your choice is to open one of a suit then go to

opening one of a suit

If your choice is to bid the hand as if balanced then go to

opening balanced hands

7 6 5 4

8 7 6 5 2



The thought of opening 1 and having to rebid 2 over a minor suit response on this holding does not appeal.

I open 1NT, but note that it will be extremely rare that you prefer the no trump bid when holding a five-card major in a 5-4 shape.