M J Bridge
Beginner and above
This page last revised 6th Jul 2019
Opening Strong Hands
At some point shortly after the Bronze age most bridge players played an opening two of any suit as natural and game-
It did not take long before this was seen as wasteful of bidding space.
As we moved towards the Stainless steel age it was realised that one bid was sufficient to show this hand-
This released the other three opening suit bids at the two level to be played as strong, natural, and forcing, usually for one round. These bids promised a rebid by opener, but they were not forcing beyond that point.
Acol players, along with the rest of the world, played natural strong two-
Now that we have entered the Silicon age such methods are almost unknown. The bids work perfectly well -
What is wrong with opening at the one-
Most hands of opening strength or better will be opened with one of a suit or some number of no trumps.
The principle danger in opening one of a suit with a stronger opening hand is that partner might pass when your combined holding is sufficient for game.
It follows that if your hand is good enough to make a game contract facing a hand which partner might pass if you open with one of a suit, then you must either show your strength in some way, or force partner to make some sort of response so that you can show your strength subsequently. With anything less than this an opening bid at the one-
As a general rule, two balanced hands should bid to a game contract with a combined total of twenty five or more points, and stop in a lower contract with less than this.
That is why, if you play an opening 2NT on twenty to twenty two points, partner will find some kind of response to your one of a suit with any hand of six or more points (you might hold nineteen). If you prefer to find a response to one of a suit with five or more points then you can play your 2NT opening bid on some range starting at twenty-
But you will still need a way to show balanced hands of twenty three or more points.
Unbalanced hands with a high combined point-
But there will be other unbalanced hands with fewer points which will also have the potential to make a game based on the number of potential tricks rather than number of points -
I like to assess the potential of such hands in terms of playing tricks.
Hands of 9½ or 10 playing tricks stand every chance of making a game even when partner has absolutely nothing of value.
Hands worth 9 playing tricks require only 1 trick from partner to make a game. This will not always be enough to extract a response to a one of a suit opening.
Hands worth 8½ or 8 playing tricks will frequently make a game, but require at least 1½ tricks from partner and this will be sufficient to guarantee a response to a non-
(Note that the imperative (so often heard in many a club) to open with a strong bid whenever the hand is worth 8 or more playing tricks is a hand-
It will only occasionally be correct to open with a forcing bid on a hand which is single-
Clearly, with a high point count (twenty two say) you will need to do something reasonably dramatic, and with 10½ or 11 playing tricks you will have to ensure that the action doesn’t die a death at an early age, but with anything less it will usually be correct to open one of the minor -
Again you will need to show your strength when holding something like twenty two or more points, but usually it will be best to open one of your five-
Too strong for the one-
The analysis above identified a number of hand-
Some of these hands can be dealt with adequately using simple natural methods if you so choose.
Balanced hands of twenty-
Such a method would work better than you might expect, especially when partner’s hand is also balanced, but at best it would use up an awful lot of bids for something which doesn’t happen very often. Much better to incorporate all such hands into one forcing opening bid.
Hands which are single-
Again, this would work perfectly well most of the time, but you would have considerable difficulty in distinguishing between strong hands and more preemptive holdings based on a long suit. The danger is that you might miss a slam -
Showing the strength and the hand-
The potential to miss a slam is even greater if you use this approach for hands which are single-
A forcing opening bid
Whether or not you choose to follow any of the non-
If I include the hand-
balanced hands of twenty three or more points (or whatever comes after a 2NT opener);
unbalanced hands with a high point count -
strong hands single-
strong hands single-
All of these hand types can be covered with a single-
Such bids are considered further on the page game-
You can also include the strong hand single-
Alternatively, and with just a little jiggling, you can try to distinguish between these holdings and those above in a single strong bid which is almost game-
Playing just this one artificial and forcing strong opening bid releases the other three opening suit-
If the choice is ‘natural weak twos’ then you will be playing ‘three weak and one strong’.
This is my preferred system for both beginner and intermediate play.
If you choose to play any further strong bids then certainly you can include single-
There is a multitude of possible bids, and also numerous ways in which these bids can be combined.
You opened one of a suit
And what about those strong hands which I encouraged you to open with one of a suit but which might in times past have been opened with some sort of strong forcing bid?
These will be the hands which do not quite qualify for any one of your strong bids but which have the potential for game with the merest hint of help from partner.
They are likely to include single-
You may fear the possibility that the bidding might fall short, but there should be no reason for such apprehension.
Provided that you have a repertoire of forcing rebids you will always be able to force the subsequent auction to the required level.
These bids will probably include:-
a reverse rebid when the shape is suitable, forcing for at least one round;
a jump rebid in a new suit forcing to game;
a rebid in a new suit following partner’s first response in a new suit at the two-
Even a non-
And if a further forcing bid is required below game-
I have ignored 4-
If you happen to have a dedicated opening bid or a dedicated opening sequence to show a strong hand with this shape then clearly you will use it. Otherwise you will just have to do the best you can with what you’ve got. Fear not -
Further thoughts on the matter will be found on the page ‘strong three-
|Overcaller's rebid and beyond|
|Responder's rebid and beyond|
|The continuing auction|