Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Beginner and above

Game-forcing opening bids

This category is misnamed just ever so slightly in as much as most such bids include a sequence in which the opening bid followed by a relay or negative response and a rebid of 2NT promises twenty three or twenty four points in a balanced hand and is not forcing.

Any other sequence will be forcing to game based on a good hand, and will therefore indicate at least a passing interest in a slam.

Amongst such bids are the traditional Acol 2, and the 2 bid in Bejaminised Acol (or 2 in reverse ‘Benji’).

These bids also feature regularly in either a ‘one strong and three weak’ or a ‘one strong and a multi’ system, although it is possible to vary them just a little (see almost game-forcing).

Context  -  Opening two of a suit in first or second seat - artificial strong twos.

This page last revised 8th Jul 2019

Beginner only

This simplified requirement is frequently passed down from bridge-playing generation to bridge-playing generation in clubs across the country, and there is some point in teaching it as a beginner approach in the first instance, but it is inferior in the grander scheme of things and should be extended (as below) sooner rather than later.

The simplified version derives from the fact that a balanced hand of twenty three or more points is too strong to open 2NT and so a stronger bid is required to cover such hands.

However, it totally undervalues the playing potential of unbalanced hands with a lesser point-count.

There are many unbalanced hands which will have the playing strength to insist on game and on which that game might be missed if you start with a non-forcing opening bid - the requirement needs to be extended beyond the simple point-count above.

Extending the requirement

The simplest extension is that suggested by Sarah Bell (English Bridge - April 2019).

Open any balanced hand of twenty three or more points, and any unbalanced hand of twenty two or more points with your game-forcing opening bid.

This is certainly a step forward, but it still fails to cast the net widely enough (I should acknowledge here that Sarah’s article does indeed cast the net wider).

Better is to extend the requirement to cover other strong hands on which you wish to reach game, even if partner holds a hand on which he would pass if facing a one-level opener (see below).

Continuing auction

More often than not partner will make a ‘negative’, ‘relay’, or ‘non-positive’ response of 2.

With a balanced hand you will rebid 2NT on twenty three or twenty four points (not quite forcing), 3NT with twenty five or twenty six points, and higher levels in two point ranges, unless your system includes other forcing opening bids which cover any of these ranges.

With the unbalanced hand you will rebid in a suit of at least five cards (game-forcing) and follow with a natural third bid showing the shape of the hand (a second four-card suit, or six cards in the first suit) and still forcing if below game-level.

When to extend

I suggested above that we might choose to extend the range of hands which we might open with the game-forcing bid.

The extent to which you extend will depend on other aspects of your system, and should also depend on the hand-type.

I judge such hands in terms of ‘playing tricks’, but you may prefer to assess them in some other way.

Note that ‘playing tricks’ are somewhat subjective, and by no means guarantee that your hand will always make the number of tricks estimated, but as the game is primarily about tricks rather than points this consideration will add greatly to your assessment of the potential of an unbalanced hand.

Single-suited in a major

I like to open strong hands single-suited in a major (at least six cards) worth 9½ playing tricks with my game-forcing bid.

Note that it can be particularly difficult to show the potential of a single-suited hand on your rebid if you start with one of a suit.

You must agree your own definition of strong in this context.  Certainly the hand must conform to ‘the rule for strong openings’.

A simplified version of this requirement would be to insist on a minimum of sixteen points, but you will be hard-pressed to put together such a hand with just sixteen points.  You may well choose to agree a higher threshold - say twenty.

Single-suited in a minor

With anything less than ten playing tricks you will need something from partner to ensure game in the minor suit, and unless you hold stops in two side-suits you will require something from partner to ensure a game in no trumps.

Bearing in mind the desirability of locating a no trump contract, and the bidding space required to this end, it will usually be correct to open hands of up to twenty one points and single-suited in a minor with one of a suit.

Stronger hands are likely to have at least an interest in a minor suit slam and the forcing opening bid has more to commend it with such thoughts in mind.

At least 5-4 shape

Once again, as you need bidding space in which to locate the best fit (or indeed any fit), it will usually be correct to open 5-4 hands of up to twenty one points with one of a suit.

However, you will be able to bypass the problem on some 5-4-2-2 hands of twenty or more points (depending on the details of your system) by opening 2NT.

If your system contains another strong bid (or bids) to cover unbalanced hands of about 8½ or 9 playing tricks

then the system above is fine as it stands.

If your system features just one strong bid (as in my preferred starter method of three weak and one strong)

then you might choose to extend the range of hands covered.

In particular, the hand single-suited in a major and worth 9 playing tricks might quite possibly be passed out with a game available and partner holding just the one trick you need.

It is by no means uncommon to include such hands in your strong game-forcing opening (possibly even 8½ as well) - more often than not they will work but once in a while you will go one too far.

Personally I like to include this hand in a  sequence which can be stopped short of game.  It is not a standard method but well worth considering if you like to include a few twiddly bits (almost game-forcing).

Quick tricks

In traditional Acol there was a further ‘quick trick’ requirement.

The 2 route was used to carry further specific information, and this further information was that the hand should contain five quick tricks in aces and kings (KQ counting as one), thereby setting the scene for any further slam investigation.

With sufficient strength for the game-forcing bid and a hand that satisfied the quick trick requirement you would open with 2.

With a game-going strong hand in diamonds, hearts, or spades but lacking the requisite quick tricks you would open two of the suit and then make a game-forcing jump rebid.

The simplified version

A simplified requirement for such a bid is :-

if you have twenty three or more points you open 2, and if you don’t you don’t.

Beginner and above

Responder’s continuations

A K Q 7 6 3 2



9 5

This hand is worth ten playing tricks.

It does not qualify for the traditional Acol opening bid of 2 with only 4 quick tricks in aces and kings.

Open 2 (strong) and rebid 4.

(You would, however, open this with a game-forcing bid in most other systems.)

A K Q 7 3 2

A 8


9 5

Ten playing tricks and five quick tricks in aces and kings.

Open 2 in traditional Acol and rebid 2 (game-forcing).

This hand also justifies a game-forcing opening bid in any other system that includes one.

The quick trick requirement is rarely encountered in the modern game.

Any game-forcing opening hand which does not have the required quick tricks would have to force to game in some other way, and unless you play a strong and natural forcing opening bid you will find it all but impossible to cover the possible game-going and game-invitational hands in the bidding space available.

To summarise

If your system contains another strong bid (or bids) to cover unbalanced hands of about 8½ or 9 playing tricks

then open with your strong game-forcing bid on:-

any balanced hand of twenty three or more points;

any unbalanced hand of twenty two or more points;

any strong hand single-suited in a major worth 9½ playing tricks;

you might also agree to open any strong hand single-suited in a minor worth 10½ playing tricks (say).

If your system features just one strong bid

then either play your opening bid as above

or modify it ever so slightly to ‘almost game-forcing’.