Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Beginner and above

Levels of play

In English club and tournament play bidding conventions are subject to various regulations laid down by the ebu (English Bridge Union).

At the time of writing this these rules are to be found in ‘The Blue Book’ which can be found in the ‘Laws and Ethics’ section of the ebu website.  On the following pages any reference to these regulations relates to the version valid from 1st August 2015 with some modifications to bring it in line with the revised regulations as from 1st August 2017.

These regulations are graded by level - any club or tournament is likely to limit the permitted bidding methods by defining such a level. The idea is that entry-level competitors should not be faced with the full complexity of international-level conventions, and indeed that at any level the complexity should be limited to a level appropriate to the target group of competitors.

Originally five such levels were defined.

Level one basically defined a ‘simple system’ approach.  Nowadays anyone organising a starter event will probably define their own set of permitted bidding methods - this level is no longer included in ‘The Blue Book’.

Level five permits almost anything and is basically appropriate to international play and tournaments of comparable standing.

Everything in these pages, and almost everything most of us are even likely to consider, will be permitted at level four, and so level five is of no real concern to us.

Levels two, (three) and four are the ones which matter.  These are the levels which are adopted by most clubs and which are used in most tournaments.

Typically tournaments will be set at either level two or level four, and clubs may set their own rules at any one of these three levels.

As the ebu no longer runs tournaments at level three this level is no longer defined in ‘The Blue Book’, but a few clubs continue to use this definition and so I shall refer to it below as if it still exists.

These regulations apply in particular to the strength of opening bids of one of a suit, and to artificial opening bids at any level (be they all weak, all-strong, or weak/strong).  There are also some restrictions on opening bids which show a three-suited hand, on opening bids at the three-level, and on an opening bid of 2NT.

The minimum strength permitted for an opening bid is defined in terms of a number of ‘rules’, in particular, the:-

rule of nineteen’ and the rule of eighteen’ pertaining to opening bids of one of a suit;

and the ‘rule for strong openings’ replacing the earlier ‘rule of twenty five’, for artificial strong opening bids.

Broadly speaking:-

level two

will be the usual level defined for tournaments targeted at less experienced pairs, and for ‘no fear’ events.  It will also be the choice for some clubs, or possibly for some club sessions.

The relevant regulations in the present context relate to the minimum strength required for an opening bid.

Opening bids of one of a suit must satisfy ‘rule of nineteen’ and artificial opening bids at the two-level must satisfy the ‘rule for strong openings’.

Level three

is substantially the same as level two except that the ‘multi 2’ bid is now included.

This includes both the all-weak multi and the weak/strong version, subject to various restrictions.

(Level three is no longer defined in The Blue Book.)

Level four

is now the level most commonly defined for club or tournament play in England.

The minimum requirement for an opening bid is relaxed to ‘rule of eighteen’.

There is a little more flexibility in the versatility of an opening bid, but any strong meaning attached to an artificial opening bid at the two-level must still conform to ‘the rule for strong openings’.

For most of you these considerations won’t matter

But, if your methods include something such as a Benji 2, you should appreciate that it is not sufficient just to have ‘eight playing tricks’ or whatever the partnership agreement might be - you must also ensure that the hand satisfies the rule for strong openings. Illegal bids in this area are not uncommon and should be avoided.

And, if you are considering incorporating any weak/strong multis other than 2 into your system, or giving any meaning other than a strong balanced hand to an opening bid of 2NT, then you should ensure that level four methods are acceptable in the particular context in which you are playing - such methods will not be welcomed in some clubs, nor in some tournaments targeted at partnerships of relatively limited experience.

This page last revised 1st Mar 2020

Context  -  The opening bid.