Continuing the Conversation
Updated: Jan 25
Responding to Partner's Opening of 1 of a suit
A bidding auction in bridge is a conversation between the four players. Even if one pair is silent as the other pair bids, they are listening! So, whatever is 'said' in the auction is information that both pairs will use.
Today, we will look at how to respond to partner's opening bid of 1 of a suit. We have examined how to respond to 1NT; the fact that 1NT limits opener's hand allows us, as responder, to accurately place the contract. But 1 of a suit is not a limit bid; partner could have anywhere from 10-11 points (in 3rd or 4th seat), up to 21 points. How shall we respond?
Let's first make a sharp demarcation between major suit opening bids, and minor suit opening bids. With a major suit opener, partner is showing at least five cards in that suit, and suggesting it as a candidate for a trump suit. With a minor suit opening, however, partner may have a long suit, but it is far from certain. But if partner has 4 spades, 4 hearts, 3 diamonds, and 2 clubs, partner's bid of 1D is hardly suggesting diamonds as a trump suit!
Not only does a major suit opener provide more information (a longish suit), it also is a much more desirable strain to play in. Why? Because the bias in bridge scoring will give us a higher score for making the same number of tricks in a major-suit contract than a minor suit contract. So, let's examine our options to respond to 1H or 1S first.
Responding to 1S
When partner opens 1S, what do we know?
(1) Partner has enough points to open the bidding in the seat that they are in.
(a) If partner is in 1st or 2nd seat, s/he is promising a full opener
(b) If partner is in 3rd or fourth seat, s/he may be opening with as few as 10 points
(2) Partner has 5 or more spades.
Our imperative in such a situation is to support partner's suit with 3 or more spades in our hand and at least 6 points (adjusted for "dummy points", or shortness -- we have found our trump fit, so we can use any shortness in our hand as potential 'extra tricks' via ruffing). Here is where Standard American and the 2-over-1 variant start to diverge, so I will tackle both systems individually.
Supporting a 1S Opener in Standard American
If we can support partner's spades, we assess our strength as the sum of high-card points and dummy points. If that total is:
6-9 points -- We show our weak support by making a 'simple raise' to 2S
10-12 points -- Our extra strength makes game possible if partner has anything but a minimum opener. WE make a jump raise to 3S* (this is an 'invitational bid'; such bids are always limit bids, thus highly desirable)
13+ points -- We know game is in the bag; Jump to 4S (game contract)
*Ideally, you would want to have 4 spades to make this jump-bid. But in SAYC bidding, you really don't have much of a choice.
Notice any problem with this? Yeah, it is those last two bids, jumping to 3S or straight to game. We really don't know what partner has; s/he may have 12 points, or 21 points. S/he may have a balanced shape, or have a highly distributional hand. If partner is opened weak, and we end up in 3S, it sure would be nice to have that extra spade (which is why it is recommended to have 4-card support for the jump-bid) And, if we jump to 4S, we won't find out partner's true strength until the contract has played out -- 4S is mostly a "shut up" bid. It could be a legitimate game-forcing hand, or it could be a weak jump bid with 5 spades! This is one of the 'problems' that led to the development of the 2-over-1 variant of Standard American. Let's look at how we would respond in THAT system.
Supporting a 1S Opener in 2-Over-1
In this system, we show a game-forcing response (13+ points) by bidding any new suit at the 2 level (not including jump shifts! Those are a different beast altogether). If we have support but have less than 13 points (remember, we include dummy points here!), our response would be the "forcing 1NT". Opener cannot pass your 1NT (unlike in Standard American), so you will always get a chance to show your support with your second bid.
Here are the bidding sequences for a partnership that has discovered a spade fit in 2-over-1 when responder has exactly 3-card support. (Note that 'x' denotes any suit other than spades) (note also that we have pleasant opponents who do not compete):
1S -pass - 1NT - pass - 2x - pass - 2S This sequence shows 6-7 points and 3 spades -- a minimum response.
1S - pass - 2S This sequences shows a "constructive raise" of 3 spades and 8-9 points.
1S - pass - 1NT - pass - 3S This jump bid shows 3 spades and 10-12 points.
1S - pass - 2x (any lower-ranking suit)* This "2-over-1" response shows 13+ points in responder's hand*
*In the last case, the 2-over-1 bid established that the partnership will go to a game-level contract, but it did not show support for spades. Responder's next bid would establish the spade support (and would show exactly 3 spades). Note also that 1S-2H is a special case, requiring 5 or more hearts and 13+ points by responder to make this bid.
What about when you have 4 (or more) spades to support partner's opener? Well, here we throw in one of the most useful conventions available -- Bergen Raises -- and couple that with the now-standard Jacoby 2NT. Bergen Raises are based on the Law of Total Tricks, which says that a partnership should be able to compete to the level equal to the number of trump in their combined hands, and the Principle of Fast Arrival, which say get to the level you can play at as fast as possible. Thus, when your partner opens 1S and you have 4 of them, you should never pass -- Bid something, and bid it at the 3 level! Bergen Raises have several variations, but the Bergen raises that I prefer are as follows:
1S - 3S This is a 'Bergen Raise' that shows 4 card support (exactly), and a very weak hand (0-5 points), It is entirely pre-emptive!
1S - 3D This is another Bergen Raise (of the "flip-flop" flavor) that shows 4-card support for spades and 6-9 points. This one is slightly pre-emptive.
1S - 3C This is the final of the Bergen Raises, showing an invitational hand with 4 spades and 10-12 points.
1S - 2NT This is the Jacoby 2NT raise, showing 4+ spades and 13+ points (including dummy points).
With 5-card support and a weakish hand, the Law of Total Tricks says jump to 4S. Don't be shy! You will either make the contract, or hopefully go down a few tricks (just enough to ensure your penalty will be less than the opponents are likely to make should they bid unimpeded).
Now, sit back and review this... using 2-over-1 and Bergen Raises, we have a specific bid that shows both our strength and precisely how many spades we hold. THIS is the real power of 2-over-1!
Responding to 1S When You Have 2 or Fewer Spades
When we cannot support partner's spade opening, what do we do? Well, in Standard American, our options are (opponents bids not shown; assume they politely pass):
1S - 1NT This shows 6-9 points and no spade support; it is the ONLY bid we can make with a weak hand and less than 3 spades.
1S - 2C Aha! Now we are finally showing something! Here we show at least 10 points, no spade support, and we are suggesting clubs as our best option for trumps. This bid is guaranteeing 5 or more clubs; if a 4-card club suit was our best option, we would be 4432 (with 2 spades), or 4441 (with one spade), and would probably bid 2NT or 3NT instead. The problem? Partner doesn't know how strong we are yet. All we are promising is 10 points, but we could have much more.
1S- 2D Like the 2C bid, the 2D bid shows 10+ points and 5 diamonds. If we had only 4 diamonds and that was our 'best' option for trump, we would be 4432 or 4441 with spades being our shortest suit. 2NT, 3NT, or even 2H (with 4 hearts) would be a better bid.
1S - 2H We are showing 10+ points and 4 or more hearts. Even with only 4 hearts, it is worth exploring a 4-4 fit if partner happens to be 5-4 in the majors.
1S - 2NT This is a limit bid, inviting opener to a game in NT. It shows 11-12 points and 2 spades (occasionally it might be only 1 spade with 4441 shape).
1S - 3NT This shows 13+ points and a balanced hand without spade support.
In 2-over-1, our bids are similar, with the exception that any new suit bid at the 2 level show game-forcing strength (13+ points):
1S - 1NT The "forcing 1NT" requires partner to bid again; we are showing 6-12 points. We can either bid our best suit after hearing opener's rebid, raise partner's second suit with 10-12 points and 5-card support, or pass his/her bid with support and a weak hand. Partner knows we have at most 12 points, so we are unlikely to bid too high.
1S - 2x Here, 'x' can be any suit other than spades, but not no-trump. This is showing a game-forcing hand of 13+ points. We can continue the conversation until we find the correct game to bid.
1S - 3H This is a "jump shift". In my partnership, it is showing 6+ hearts and a weak hand. It is similar to opening a weak-2 bid. Remember that the other "jump shifts" are Bergen Raises, showing 4-card spade support!
What About Responding to 1H?
The bids are pretty much the same if you have support for hearts. Just swap "hearts" for "spades" in the above paragraphs and you got it! The one exception is when you cannot support partner's hearts, and you want to suggest spades as a trump suit. The 1H - 1S bid sequence introduces a LOT of ambiguity into the bidding, since the 1S response is completely unlimited! The only good news is that it is a forcing bid (new suit by responder is ALWAYS forcing for one round!), so both of you will get at least one more bid to hopefully find the right contract.
I will end this post here; we will deal with responding to partner's minor suit opening in another post. I hope this clarifies some things for you, and makes you intrigued about using 2-over-1. The accuracy of the responses in 2-over-1 combined with Bergen raises is astonishing.