Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Context  -  The opening bid.

5-3-3-2 shape

5-3-3-2 hands are, by definition, balanced.

With fifteen to nineteen points there is only one way to bid such a hand.

You will open one of your five-card suit, and if a fit is not immediately forthcoming you will rebid some suitable number of no trumps (see the page fifteen to nineteen).

With sufficient strength for a game contract responder will show three-card support in the continuing auction and a superior 5-3 fit will not be lost.

Twelve to fourteen points

It is only with twelve to fourteen points that you will need to agree your partnership method.

Some partnerships will treat all such hands as balanced, opening 1NT every time - others will treat them as single-suited, always opening one of the five-card suit.  They will have no choice other than to rebid that suit at their next turn.

I will suggest that beginners should focus their attention on the balanced nature of the hand rather than on the presence of a five-card suit and should always open 1NT.

You will probably stick with this approach as you progress to much higher levels but there are alternative options.

Note that this is the method long advocated by Andrew Robson, and which has more recently been adopted as the standard teaching method by the ebu.

Variant methods

The method above is not universal - it would be unfair not to give at least a brief consideration to the alternatives.

First a little history:-

at one time any hand with a good five-card suit was opened with one of that suit, frequently followed by a rebid in that suit.

Five-card minor

It was soon realised that the preferred target contract was more often 3NT than anything in a minor, and so all balanced hands containing a five-card minor were opened 1NT if in the agreed range.

I consider this to have been a significant step in the right direction.

Indeed, it will be relatively rare that an opening bid of one minor followed by a rebid in that suit will be made on anything less than a six-card suit.


My guideline

When do I open 1NT on a balanced 12-14 point hand with a good five-card minor?


Five-card major

In those early days a high imperative was placed on showing a five-card major at the earliest opportunity.  This was a remnant of earlier five-card major systems, and so, if the hand contained a rebiddable five-card major, it would be opened with one of the suit, usually followed by a rebid in the same suit, almost irrespective of any other feature of the hand.

This is the method still played by many in many clubs, and passed down from generation to generation.

However, it has long since been realised that the need for opener to show that five-card suit at the earliest possible opportunity is not nearly as pressing as was once thought.

The priorities have moved towards showing balanced or unbalanced hands and six-card major suits.

The onus of searching for a 5-3 major suit fit has moved to responder.

If the deal is game-going you will frequently get to show your five-card suit in the subsequent auction:-

facing an invitational limit raise you will show your five-card suit on your rebid on the way to 3NT;

facing a Stayman enquiry you should always jump in your five-card major when holding a maximum;

and if partner’s three-card support happens to be in a 4-3-3-3 hand then 3NT will almost always be the best contract (no ruffing potential in the shorter trump suit.

By opening such hands with 1NT you will release those sequences in which you open and rebid in your major to carry some other message, and this is that such a sequence will promise a six-card suit in principle.

On occasion this will open the way for partner to bid a game with no more than two-card support.

There will be occasions on which you have to open and rebid your major on a five-card suit but these will be on unbalanced hands with at least 5-4 shape on which your hand is not strong enough to make a forcing reverse into the second suit.

The principle that the primary purpose of opening and rebidding a suit is to show a six-card suit is excellent even if it does not quite provide a cast-iron guarantee.

There are two particular considerations to take into account as you come to your partnership agreement:-

one is the form of the game (pairs or teams);

the second is the quality of the suit.

Form of scoring

The different bidding strategies relating to different forms of scoring are discussed in some depth on the page ‘pairs, teams, or rubber’.

The most significant difference between these two forms of the game is the relative importance of part-scores and game- (or slam-) contracts.

Teams scoring

Your methods should be tailored towards locating the best contract at game-level or higher.  Sometimes this will lead to part-scores being played in less than the optimum contract, but that is of relatively minor importance.

With this thought in mind my recommendation is that at teams scoring you should open all 5-3-3-2 hands in the 12-14 point range with 1NT (whether or not they contain a five-card major).

As indicated above, the 5-3 fit will still in general be located on game-going hands, and, furthermore, you will have an increased capacity to indicate a six-card suit on those deals when this is important for the right game or slam.

On occasion you will fail to locate the best part-score - too bad.

Pairs scoring

By way of contrast, at pairs scoring each hand is equally important.

If you can make 2 for 110 when everyone else is bidding and making 1NT for 90, you will have a top, and this top carries exactly the same weight as when you were the only pair in the room to bid and make a slam - a top is a top.

You may therefore choose to adopt a method which makes it more likely that you will play in two of a major rather than 1NT.

(Note though that if everyone else in the room were to make 8 tricks in no trumps for 120, your 110 would suddenly becomes a bottom.)

And this method would be to open one of the major on the hand in question.

Which method?

Even bearing these thoughts in mind the best policy is far from clear, and there is no clear cut consensus on the matter.

If you choose always to open such hands with 1NT at pairs scoring you will be in the very best of company.

Alternatively, open one of the five-card major at pairs scoring provided it is a quality suit (perhaps a minimum of two top honours), if you feel that this will help you to win a sufficient number of those part-score contests.

I rather like to open the good five-card major at pairs scoring, but I must admit immediately that this differs from the teaching of the most illustrious authorities.

This page last revised 6th Jan 2020

K Q 5

8 7 5

A K Q 4 2

3 2

5-3-3-2 shape, 14 HCP, a strong five-card minor.

You have a choice between opening 1 then rebidding 2, and opening 1NT on this hand.

1NT is to be preferred to 1 - and don’t worry about the weak clubs and hearts - there will almost always be a weak suit or two in a 12-14 1NT opener.

A K 6 5 2

7 3

J T 4

K Q 3

5-3-3-2 shape and 13 HCP.

I open 1 on this hand when playing at pairs scoring, but 1NT if playing at imps scoring.

Opening 1NT in both forms of the game would be a more than acceptable partnership alternative.

Beginner and above



My guideline

Can I open 1NT on a 12-14 point hand containing a five-card major?

Yes, if it has 5-3-3-2 shape.

It is a matter of partnership agreement whether you open one of the suit or 1NT when holding a good five-card major at pairs scoring.

I am still trying to come by some convincing statistics - it is not impossible that my thoughts on this matter will change at some point.

If your choice is to open one of the major then go to

opening one of a suit

Alternatively return to the page

opening balanced hands