Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Opening with 4-4 minors

There are certain unbalanced hand types where it is necessary to open 1 on hands with 4-4 in the minors.  I say unbalanced because if your planned rebid is notrump, then there's never any reason to distort the shape of your hand.

An example of such an unbalanced hand is: ♠9 AK73 K762 ♣QJ84.  When partner responds 1♠, as he surely will most days, you need to be able to make a non-reverse and non-notrump rebid.  Therefore you start with 1 and rebid 2♣. 

But suppose the major suits are reversed: ♠AK73 9 K762 ♣QJ84.  Now you can happily open 1♣ and you will have no problems with your rebid whatever partner responds.

What about stronger hands? For example, ♠K AK73 K762 ♣AJ84.  If partner responds 1♠, won't you want to rebid 2NT to show your strength and overall semi-balanced shape?  You might even do this with ♠9 AK73 K762 ♣AKJ4.  To open this hand 1 and follow up with a jump-shift to 3♣ over partner's 1♠ seems to me to be vastly overstating the strength of your minor suits. 

Hands in the middle range (15-17) are slightly trickier but generally have to follow the same rule as the weaker hands.  Assuming you're not tempted to open 1NT with an honor singleton, as so many people are, you will open ♠K AT73 K762 ♣AJ84 with 1 and rebid 2♣ over partner's 1♠ response just as you would with the first hand.  I suppose there might be hands with concentrations of honors where a reverse would be tempting, such as ♠9 AKQ3 8762 ♣AKJ4 where 1♣ followed by 2 wouldn't be such a terrible lie (yes, I know you are supposed to have another club).

So, assuming equal length in the minors here are my "rules":
  • if balanced, open 1♣
  • else if strong (18+), open 1♣
  • else if you have biddable spades, open 1♣
  • else, open 1
BTW, I'm generally advocating a Walsh style here, which maximizes the chances of finding an appropriate fit, but I don't think it is essential.  I'm also assuming that all suit rebids after a 1♣ opening, promise at least four clubs (see Prepared Bids).  While 6 (or 6♣) may seem remote when we first open our hand, there are hands where a minor suit slam is the par contract.  Opening 1♣ gives us the best chance of finding our fit quickly and then being able to investigate strength and controls.

I'm well aware that this is going to be a controversial subject -- I expect comments.  Please keep them relevant, though.  I'm particularly looking for any gaping holes in my proposal.  Is there something obvious that I'm missing?


  1. Circumstances force me to be the first commenter. Last night a hand came up which was: S7 HAT94 QJ65 KQ94 (second to speak, favorable vulnerability). According to my "rules" above, this hand should be opened 1D rather than 1C. However, I should also have pointed out that a weak hand that is not particularly well-distributed should probably pass with this holding. You might try opening 1H if that suit was a little better (the suit sitting under the singleton). But basically, IMHO, this is just not an opening 1st/2nd seat hand. Par on the hand was +120 by partner, 110 (in clubs), or an unreachable +140 by partner in hearts. Partner's hand: SAJ432 HJ75 D92 CAT3. Our auction went 1D - 1S - 2C - 2D. The contract could have been made double-dummy but in practice it went down 1 for a 20% board.

  2. The point of your comment is an excellent one: if the opening bid is marginal and you can anticipate a rebid problem, passing should get strong consideration. That would be my choice on the hand you cited.

    Opening 1D on a four card suit and rebidding 2C is risking receiving a 2D preference (perhaps even a false preference), and so my decision on what to open on these hands is influenced by how much I will detest hearing a 2D preference.

    Not sure I have "rules" on these hands, but I do try to ascertain the expected follow ups and let that consideration influence my opening bid choice. For example, on one hand you cited in the blog, 9, AK73, K762, QJ84, I would open 1H rather than 1D. No good result is assured, whether I choose to rebid 1NT or 2C over a 1S response, but as I am not anxious to hear a 2D preference -- and this hand is too strong to pass -- I would prefer to open 1H.

  3. Two years have passed since writing this blog. My views on this subject have strengthened based on my experience since then. Here's a case in point from a recent robot tournament: K4 Q53 A542 K765, dealer at teams (none vulnerable). Playing a weak notrump this hand can easily be handled obviously. But playing a strong notrump, this hand can spell trouble. As always, we are supposed to open in a minor and rebid 1NT to limit our shape and strength. But which minor? According to my rules, we should open 1C. A 1D opening risks partner having to distort his hand somehow (typically 1NT) when he has about 9 hcp and, say, 3235 shape. It's true that the same thing will happen after 1C playing inverted minors, but then I was never a fan of inverted minors and strong no-trumps together. And inverted minors will mess up a 1345 hand after a diamond opening so those disadvantages cancel out. Shouldn't we try to make life easy for our partners?

    On the hand in question, no fewer than 21 (!) players opened 1D while only 7 opened 1C (there were also a few passes). Par on the hand was 3CX down 1 (-100). So against par, a result of +100 for defeating 4S by two tricks should have been worth 5 imps. Actually those of us who opened 1C lost 1.6 or 2.8 imps depending how good our defense was. Why? Because of all those 1D openers. With a balanced hand, no good diamond fit, four hearts (sitting over the Michaels bidder - yes they all did) and 10hcp, opener's partner took a piece out of the 4S contract for +300 (sometimes only +100 and once -590). In other words our lunatic teammates all went to game over a penalty double of the Michaels bid. If they had simply bid 2S (making) the diamond openers would all have been -110 instead of -100 (no difference at IMPs but a lost board at BAM).

    So, sometimes the "bad" bidders get away with it in bridge. Oh well, that's what makes it interesting!

  4. The biggest hole, perhaps, with the 1C opening is when there's a 1S overcall on your left and a negative double by partner. If you don't have the right hand for 1NT, you can try 2D but of course partner will expect more points since you basically just reversed. I don't think that's a frequent problem but I admit it can happen. My feeling is that it's better to treat those other hands as balanced rather than suggesting more shape and to pay the occasional penalty when there's a 1S overcall.