Thursday, July 15, 2010

Light third-hand openers

I've never found a really good written formula for when and how to open a sub-standard hand in third seat.  I've presented some ideas myself earlier in this blog: Third and Fourth Seat Openers.

A hand came up yesterday evening at the club which suggests a new rule for light third-hand openers: once partner has raised your "suit", never bid a new suit (unless partner forces you to).  This should never be necessary if you start with your best suit.  My partner picked up the following hand: ♠– AJT8 KQ432 ♣T843.  Only the opponents were vulnerable.  After two passes, partner bid 1.  My hand was ♠A976 Q53 J6 ♣K975.  My RHO passed and I contributed 2.  This went around to my RHO who backed in with 2♠.  Considering that I had a flat maximum, and somewhat forgetting that I had passed originally, I doubled.  Partner now felt that 2♠ was a likely make (it was) and decided to retreat to 3, giving me a choice of red suits.  I took this as a good distributional but solid opener, and jumped to the heart game.  My LHO was happy to double this and we went four off for a round zero (even two down would have given us the same matchpoint result).  Double-dummy, we can make 1, 2 or 4♣ (the par result).

So, what lessons if any are to be learned?  I've always believed that a passed hand should not take any questionable actions.  Doubling 2♠ was not automatic so I should not have done it.  But I think partner should have opened the hand, if at all, with 1 (his best suit).  If I bid 1♠ (as I surely would, assuming no intervention), he can then retreat to 2♣.  I would assume a "full" opener of course but the hand really is a full opener (27 Zar points which is an automatic opener in any seat) and, as noted, we can actually make 4♣.

So let me restate my guidelines for light third seat openers (with the new addition):
  • Open only in a good suit of four or more cards, one which you'd like led [no "prepared" bids];
  • Be ready to pass partner's one-level new suit bid [you can't rebid 1NT because you have too few points, by definition];
  • Unless there's a suit you really want led, tend not to open with a very balanced hand, especially vulnerable;
  • Don't bid a new suit of your own unless partner makes a forcing bid (he shouldn't, as a passed hand, unless he has a very good hand and fit for you).
Here are a few hands that I think should open 1 in third seat:
  • ♠A86 KQ93 J6 ♣T975 (probably should pass this if vulnerable);
  • ♠K862 AQT5 6 ♣T975, assuming you can't open this with an artificial 2 (if partner bids a natural 2, you'll just have to suck it up);
  • ♠A86 KQ963 86 ♣T95.
 Here are a few hands that I think should probably be passed in third seat, especially if vulnerable:
  • ♠A86 KQ93 J65 ♣T97;
  • ♠A86 KJ93 Q5 ♣T975;
  • ♠A6 K83 Q65 ♣QT975.
Comments welcome.


  1. Your partners hand - , AJT8, KQ432, T843 does not have a great choose of opening bids in third seat, and I can see merit for both 1D and 1H. I do not think that 1D-1S; 2C is a good auction on this hand. On 1D, 2C rebid auction is a time when opener is more likely to have extras then when opener starts with a major. While some might think this is a first seat opener, I do not, so I do not think it a third seat minor suit opener. Thus, my preference would be to open 1H. (at my table the opponents did open 1D)

    However, I think opener went wrong on the 3D bid later, why not try 2NT. This has to be pick your minor partner. p-p-1H-p; 2H-p-p-2S; x-p-2NT, can't be natural. Maybe partner wont convince you not to go back to hearts, but seems worth a try.

    I do not see a double by north, as you only have 1.5 tricks. No reason to assume you are setting it, nor that 2S is not the normal spot, and if it not, maybe setting undoubled will still be fine.

    Once opener bid 3D you were in trouble as you missed the best spot. But I see no reason to now think partner has extras or even full values. Doesn't it sound like partner is short is spades. Is that the number one time partner will make a lite game try as ruffing chance and can keep them from competing.

    Overall, these shapely hands are hard to bid as your partner, especially if you don't have an understanding of style for third seat openers.


  2. Thanks for all your comments on this hand (some were by email). The consensus seems to be: 1H was the correct opening and indeed the entire auction was good up to and including the double. However, 2NT (suggested both by my partner and commenter above) was probably the "master bid" at this point.

    However, my favorite partner pointed out that, given opener's pass over 2H, the 3D call simply could not show a full, distributional opener good enough to play 4H. 3H down 2 or 3 still wouldn't have been a great score but it most probably wouldn't be doubled.