Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Context  -  The opening bid.

5-3-3-2 shape

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

As a starting point I will suggest that you should treat all such hands as balanced.

(See below for a possible modification of this style.)

opening balanced hands

Twelve to fourteen points

It is only with twelve to fourteen points that you might choose to agree a different partnership method.

Some partnerships will treat these hands as balanced, opening 1NT on all such hands in the 12 -14 range - others will treat all such hands 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 shall search for the best option in the following, but there is no clear cut consensus on the matter.

First a little history:-

at one time any hand with a good five-card suit was opened with one of that suit, usually 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 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.

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 almost always get to show your five-card suit in the subsequent auction following either

an invitational limit raise

or a

Stayman enquiry

(even when playing four-card Stayman).

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.

There will be occasions on which you have to open and rebid your major on a five-card suit.  In general 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, but the principle that the primary purpose of such a sequence is to show a six-card suit is excellent, and will sometimes open the way for partner to bid a game with no more than two-card support.

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.

Pairs or teams

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

At teams the game- or slam-bonus is all important.  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 this 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.

Pairs scoring

The downside to this policy is that you will, not infrequently, find yourself languishing in 1NT when you have a marginally more lucrative part-score available in a 5-3 or even 5-4 major suit fit.

This will not score well at pairs.

So, at pairs, with a good five-card major my choice is to open the major and then rebid it.

My guideline for ‘good’ in this context is ‘two of the top three honours’.

This page last revised 10th May 2019

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.

Suit quality

This leaves me with the hand in the 12-14 point range with a poor five-card major.

Playing at teams I have no problem in opening this hand with 1NT every time.

At pairs my inclination is to open such a hand with 1NT, thereby ensuring that when I open and rebid the suit it will have either length or some degree of quality.  I will miss some major suit part-scores as indicated above, but in return I will have offered a good lead in defence should the opponents steal the contract.

It would not be unreasonable to take the alternative view and open all 5-3-3-2 hands containing a five-card major with one of the major at pairs scoring, rebidding an abysmal suit if necessary.



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.

I prefer to open 5-3-3-2 hands in the range with 1NT at teams, but with one of the major at pairs whenever it contains two of the top three honours.

J 7 6 5 2

7 3

A K 4

K Q 3

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

I open 1NT at at either teams or pairs, but it would not be unreasonable to agree to open 1 on such hands at pairs.

And so, to summarize:-

I treat all 5-3-3-2 hands of fifteen to nineteen points as balanced opening one of a suit and rebidding in no trumps;

I treat all 5-3-3-2 hands with a five card minor as balanced;

at teams scoring

I treat all 5-3-3-2 hands as balanced, opening 1NT with 12 - 14 points;

at pairs scoring

I open 5-3-3-2 hands with a good quality five-card major in the 12-14 point range with one of the major and rebid in the major;

and I open 5-3-3-2 hands with a poor-quality five-card major in the 12-14 point range with 1NT.

But I must stress that these are personal choices as agreed with my partner.

There is no clear consensus of expert agreement that I know of on the matter.

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

opening one of a suit

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

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