Major-oriented Bidding

Pat Harrington

To help uncover our major suit fits, the popular five-card major bidding system suggests opening 1 or 1♠ only when holding a five-card
or longer suit. Without a long major, opener starts with his longer minor. Sometimes that means opening in a three-card suit. I often hear my students say that a minor-suit opening bid asks responder for a major. A minor-suit opening bid actually asks responder to start describing his hand. Many times, responder will bid a major, but his failure to do so does not always deny a major. Let’s look at some examples of standard bids where you are responder after partner dealt and opened 1♣ (second hand passes).

1. ♠K Q 9 7   Q 7 6 3    J 10 4   ♣7 2.

This is the type of hand my students are thinking about, and they are correct to show a major. With two four-card majors, bid up the line, mentioning your cheaper four-card major first. Bid 1.

When you are looking for a fit, bid your total strength and your distribution. You do not specify where your strength lies. Bidding up the line is the most orderly way to uncover
a major-suit fit. With four hearts, opener will raise hearts, but he also has room to show four spades on the one level if he can’t raise your heart suit.

Some students get confused by the five-card major terminology and think that a 1 response shows five cards. The five-card major requirement applies only to the opening bid. After that, it’s perfectly safe to show a four-card major on the one level.

2. ♠K Q 9 7   A Q 7 6    K 10 4   ♣7 2.

You know that you have at least a game, but there is no rush to show your strength. Bid 1, going up the line. The guideline that a new suit by responder is forcing is the cornerstone of our bidding system. Without it, we would have a difficult time exchanging information while keeping the bidding low enough to make sure we find our best place to play.

With this hand, you are not sure if you want to play in hearts, spades or notrump. You aren’t even sure of how high you belong. By your next bid, you should know if there is a major-suit fit and whether opener has the strong hand you would need for slam.

3. ♠K Q 9 7 4   Q 7 6 3    10 4   ♣7 2.

Another bidding guideline tells you to bid your longest suit first (strength permitting). Don’t bid up the line here. Bid 1♠. With your minimum hand (6–10 high-card points), it could
be tricky to find a heart fit when opener is also minimum. You might not be able to afford to rebid 2. That would be a new suit bid on the two level and responder needs more than a minimum hand to do that unless opener rebids 1NT. You occasionally will miss a major-suit fit, but it’s best to bid spades first here.

4. ♠7 4 3   Q 8 6 3    K J 6 4   ♣7 2.

What about bidding up the line when one of your four-card suits is a minor? We cannot know that opener is looking for a major. Opener might have a difficult rebid if you skip over diamonds, perhaps a hand such as:

♠8 5   K 2    Q 10 9 3   ♣A K 5 4 3

What will a 1♣ opener rebid after your 1 response? A 2 rebid is a reverse and shows a stronger opening hand. It’s never right to misrepresent your strength. That leaves opener with a choice of rebidding 2♣, which tends to show a six-card suit, or rebidding 1NT, which shows a balanced hand. A 1 response makes it easy to find the diamond fit and reach your best partscore.

Another benefit of the 1 response is that opener — the stronger hand — will become declarer when you do have a heart fit. A lead up to the stronger hand sometimes provides an extra trick. However, there is one big drawback to responding 1 with hand No. 4. Because you are weak, the opponents are more likely to want to bid. If the player on your left overcalls 1♠, how are you ever going to locate a heart fit? This can be a real problem with the modern, aggressive bidding style. Many of today’s players bypass diamonds with a weak hand to respond in a major. It’s a matter of partnership bidding style. What’s yours?

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