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What’s an Opening Bid?

Over the past few days, I spent some time watching the USBF Team Trials to choose USA-2. As expected, pairs bid aggressively and, in general, played and defended very well. Also, as expected, there were some disasters.

However, what struck me as interesting were the requirements for a 1-level opening bid in a suit. Now I realize that of the pairs in the final, winner-takes-all, most were playing a strong-club system, so systemically they can handle lighter opening bids — but how light is “lighter”?

I just quickly skimmed through the final half of that final: 4 segments of 15 boards each and picked out some hands to illustrate my question. I’d be curious to hear your comments. Am I a wimp because I would not have opened some of these as 1-level openings? Before saying yes, keep in mind that with a couple of partners I play a non-vulnerable 10-12 1NT opening (except in 4th position!).


Board 3, 1st position, favourable vulnerability. South opened 1 on this 10-count. Goren, or his ghost-writer, would have said that doubleton jack was not pulling its weight.



Board 8, 1st position, both not vulnerable. West opened 1 at both tables on this 4-3-3-3 11-count.



Board 16, 1st position, neither vulnerable. West opened 1. You may have noticed that these first 3 openings were 1, which is interesting because in the systems being played, an opening 1 bid is “nebulous” as it often is in strong-club systems. Most of the examples turn out to be 1 openings.



Board 18, 1st position, favourable vulnerability. East opened 1. I notice these are also all in 1st position — maybe you don’t get to open if you are not in 1st position!



Board 19, 1st position, favourable vulnerability. South opened 1. Geoff has an Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, but two 9’s — perhaps that makes it a better than average hand 🙂



Board 22, 1st position, unfavourable vulnerability. East opened 1. Well, at least this is a change from diamonds. It is also an 11-count and not a 10-count as in the previous couple of hands.



Board 28, 3rd position, favourable vulnerability. East opened 1 on this 8-count — it must be all those 10’s and 9’s. Or is that with a 10-count being an opening bid in 1st or 2nd position, 8 is more than enough in 3rd?



Board 29, 1st position, both vulnerable. North opened that quacky, flat, 11-count — what else? — 1.


Here are a couple from the last two segments (there were more than two, but I don’t think I need more to make my point).


Board 8, 1st position, neither vulnerable. Sitting E-W are a pair that are not playing a strong-club system. That enables West to open this semi-balanced 11-count 1.


This is getting repetitive so lets skip a bunch. Here’s a hand that is less than average — it has no 8!


Board 27, 1st position, neither vulnerable. South opened 1. That’s a whole 10 HCP, including a stiff queen.

So, am I a wimp in not considering any of those hands a 1 of a suit opening?


Dave Memphis MOJOMay 18th, 2015 at 05:45

Board 28, 3rd position, favourable vulnerability. East opened 1♠ on this 8-count —

When I do this, my partner doesn’t stop bidding below 3NT.

Judy-Kay WolffMay 19th, 2015 at 01:41

Hi John,

When I first began playing, opening most of the above hands would ‘not be considered bridge.’ However, in today’s world, just about anything goes!!! Since Bobby is a believer of getting into the auction early, we play weak NT (NV only) with 12-14 … or a good 11 holding a healthy looking five bagger. Of course, playing a strong club system affords you much more leeway.

Moreover, I do believe it has been proven time and time again: Bridge is a bidder’s game!”

John G ibsonMay 19th, 2015 at 05:34

Most of the hands meet the rule of 18 and on that basis are worth an opening bid , but on some hands I am puzzled as to what sensible rebids can be made once partner responds. As for the 8 HCP spade opener I would prefer partner to open a weak two in that suit and get the message across straightaway that it is a weak hand.
It seems to me that partnerships renowned for light or extremely light openers must be able to field such bids, in that partners don’t go rushing off into game bids or slam enquiries.

Jeff LehmanMay 20th, 2015 at 09:20

I think there was also a three count opened 1D in third chair (in Kxx of diamonds, if I recall), favorable, a call that attracted some questions about legality in comments on a post about the Trials on Bridge Winners.

I recommend that opponents conclude on a set of defensive bidding agreements over the nebulous 1D opening bid, (not just when the opening is often “fert” (short for fertilizer) when opened in 3rd seat), that is favored by Precision pairs … a set of agreements that differs from agreements over “regular” 1D opening bids. The agreements should try to capitalize on the fact that responder knows nothing about opener’s diamond length or strength, and, in fact, the opening 1D is often a balanced 11-13, a hand too weak for Precision pairs’ 14-16 1NT opening.

JRGMay 20th, 2015 at 10:16

Hi Jeff.

Regarding having a set of agreements over the nebulous 1 opening — I fully agree. The same applies against 10-12 and 12-14 1NT. Most pairs have some sort of agreement over the latter, but seem to have trouble over the former (pairs playing 10-12 always have escape mechanisms but do get caught sometimes).

The difficulty at the club-level is that there aren’t very many serious partnerships, at least not in my neck of the woods, and even some of those don’t bother with defences against situations that rarely come up. However, I was curious about higher-level tournament competition.

I only played a few times in higher levels (Zonals and World Bridge Olympiad). In those competitions, we encountered a lot of strong club systems and other conventions such as Multi 2 (in various forms), opening 2NT unusual for the minors, Muiderberg 2 of Major openings (5-card suit and an undisclosed 4-card or longer minor), etc. Some of these things we played ourselves. When I moved back to Canada (Newfoundland), I discovered, after teaching a partner to play them and playing in a few club games, that we couldn’t play them at the club-level (at least not at the club here — ACBL regulations allow a lot of discretion on the part of club owners, though recent changes to the General Chart make more stuff legal).


slarMay 20th, 2015 at 12:13

My peers in the Washington area are hyper-aggressive. Most pairs open most 11 point hands. I find myself passing out more than most.

FWIW, I don’t hate opening hands 22, 28, and 29.
* On 22, I have good defense and better than average texture.
* On 28 I’m protected somewhat by Drury. If partner bids 2NT (natural) over 1S, I have a decent chance of making it. @Dave Memphis MOJO if we end up in 3NT there is something wrong!
* I wouldn’t bid 29 if it was 4-3-3-3 but with 4-4-3-2 it isn’t so bad. It is only a point off and I can rebid 1NT over 1S. (not the ideal contract but not terrifying either)

Sy PeckinsJuly 6th, 2015 at 10:47

I think that all those players should have listed after other for opening bids – unlimited in a tournament which partner should alert, or should that be open light. This is not how a tournament should be run; it’s crapshoot. I
think a very limited number of conventions shoud be allowed. There are too many conventions allowed at all levels – club level on up. It makes it unpleasant to play today when opponents play a long list of conventions with no names and they should have a sheet which they should be forced to give you before you start to play against them. That would cause a problem because then the round time would become excessive.

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