Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Opening Balanced Hands

4-3-3-3 and 4-4-3-2 hands are balanced.

As a starting point, they will be opened (and rebid) as shown in the table below.

5-3-3-2 hands are also balanced and you may well agree to open all such hands as balanced, but many partnerships will agree to treat certain of these hands as single-suited.

opening 5-3-3-2 shape

5-4-2-2 hands are semi-balanced and will usually be opened with one of the five-card suit, but just once in a while it might be better to treat a hand of this type as balanced.

opening 5-4-2-2 shape

Point count is an excellent way of assessing the potential of a balanced hand, and even better for assessing the combined potential of two balanced hand (note that it is not nearly so effective in determining the potential of unbalanced hands).

Simply look at the picture cards in your hand, count four for an ace, three for a king, two for a queen, one for a jack, and add up the total.

Your first thought when opening on a balanced hand will be to play a contract in no trumps.

There are exceptions to this generalisation:-

there are certainly unbalanced hands which will score best in no trumps;

and some balanced hands will play better in a suit contract when placed alongside partner’s holding,

but these thought should not affect your opening bid and your planned rebid (if any).  Your aim is to describe the balanced shape and the point-count of your hand in two bids (just one if you are in the range of either a 1NT or a 2NT opener) - any move towards a suit contract will be directed by responder.

Note that the presence or absence of good stops in all four suits is not a consideration at this point.  Your opening bid will be determined by strength and shape.  Other considerations might come into play in the subsequent auction.

The table below assumes the standard ranges for opening bids of 1NT and 2NT.  For other possibilities follow the link ‘other ranges’.

Beginner and above

less than 12 points


12 to 14 points

Open 1NT

15 to 19 points

Open one of a suit, and rebid in no trumps

20 to 22 points

Open 2NT

23 or more points

Open with a strong artificial bid such as 2  and rebid in no trumps

A few general thoughts

Evaluating the hand

Two hands with the same point-count might differ considerably in their trick-taking potential.

With this thought in mind you should choose to take other factors into account and to adjust your point-count, if appropriate, by one, or very occasionally two, points.

This matter is discussed further on the page ‘fine-tuning the strength’.

The bids indicated in the table above are those that should be made based on the adjusted point-count following any revaluation which you might have chosen to make.


The traditional point count allocation given above is far from perfect (who decided that an ace is worth exactly the same as a king and a jack?) but it is still as good a rule of thumb as any.  It has the advantages not only that all your partners are already familiar with it, but also that the laws of bidding laid down by national associations are frequently couched in terms of these points.  So nothing new there.


The specific ranges shown in the table are not set in stone.  They are the standard choices and they are the ones which you will encounter most frequently.  As you proceed you may as a partnership wish to modify them so as to fit in with some other aspect of your system, but if you are starting out those above are more than adequate and will serve you well to a high level.

Note that the strength of hands in the fifteen to nineteen point range will be defined further by opener’s rebid.

A brief discussion of other possible ranges is to be found on the page ‘other ranges’.

Position at the table and vulnerability

Some advanced partnerships vary the point-count associated with the various bids (particularly 1NT) according to the vulnerability and the position at the table (e.g. 1st or 2nd seat).  Even when playing the same range for an opening 1NT in all seats, considerations of vulnerability and position at the table might affect your strategy.  In particular there may well be circumstances in which you will decline to open a twelve-point hand.  Follow this link for a consideration of such matters.

Showing your point count

A common error among beginners is to make a bid in no trumps with the primary purpose of showing a point count.  Most commonly this will involve a rebid in no trumps by opener to show a hand of fifteen to nineteen points on a hand which is not balanced.

Your priority should be to show your shape first - not your points.  On an unbalanced hand you must do so in a way which does not limit the possible range of your hand to below the actual value.

Thus with 5-4 shape and sixteen to eighteen points you should almost always open one of your five-card suit, and provided that the auction permits it, rebid in your four-card suit at the lowest level.  Partner does not know that you are that strong, but he will pass only with a minimum six or a really miserable seven points and a clear preference.

Frequently you will finish in the same 3NT contract which may well be the best, but on another day you will miss a superior contract in a suit, and possibly even a slam.

(An exception to this principle is linked above in respect of some 5-4-2-2 hands, but they are the exception.)

A similar error is even more frequently committed by responder as he rushes too quickly to 2NT to show his ten to twelve points.  He should first show his hand with a simple natural and forcing change of suit - it will be rare in the extreme that he does not get a subsequent opportunity to show his strength.

The table above relates to balanced hands, and also to any other hands which you have chosen to show as balanced.

All other hands should be bid in a way which initially emphasises their shape.

Acol, and the rest of the world

Most of the rest of the world (but not all) plays a strong rather than a weak no trump.  This includes most of the world’s top experts.

I believe that this has more to do with national traditions than to any inherent advantages in the method.

The method advocated above assumes that you are playing a weak no trump.

This is part of the ‘Acol’ system which has been the standard in the UK for many years and it will be the assumed method throughout this site.

However, it would be remiss of me not to point out that even in the UK there are many other methods and variations in common use.

The original Acol system recommended a variable no trump - strong when vulnerable and weak when not. This certainly removed some nasty -200 scores from the scorecard, but in so doing it lost much of the preemptive value of the bid; it introduced the possibility of problems with minor suit openings; and in any case the big losses are less frequent now that most serious partnerships play some form of ‘wriggle’.  It is not unknown to come across this system today but it is a minority voice.

What has appeared on the scene instead is a range of alternative variable no trumps.  These will frequently include different ranges in different seats, and are quite likely to incorporate a mini no trump (say 10 - 12) in certain seats and at certain vulnerabilities with the primary purpose of making life difficult for the opponents.

I have no experience of playing such methods, but you must be prepared to meet them.

Occasionally you will come across a wider-ranging 1NT opening bid - say twelve to fifteen points.

If so it will probably be linked to an artificial response such as 2 asking for more information about your hand.

For the moment my advice, as ever in such situations, is to stick with your relatively straightforward method but to interfere with such bids by your opponents as quickly as you can and as far as you dare whilst they still have very little idea what they hold.

Another popular choice is to play a wide-ranging 1NT rebid together with a similar asking bid.  This method allows you to open any hand in the 12-16 range (say) with one-of-a-suit.  In this way you can bid some hands in the 12-14 range more descriptively, knowing that you have a rebid of 1NT available.  I will look at a number of conventions and methods related to opener’s rebid of 1NT in a later section.

Personally, I think that there is a lot to be said for playing a simple twelve to fourteen on all balanced hands at all vulnerabilities, but with just a little reticence on twelve-point hands when vulnerable.

Whichever approach you choose you will win some and you will lose some.

Post-beginner and above

This page last revised 24th Jun 2019

Context  -  The opening bid.