1 Of A Suit Opening: Opener’s Second Bid

So far we have seen how to choose an opening bid and how responder chooses a bid in response. We’ve also followed the bidding for 1 NT and 2 NT openings to the final choice of contract. These bids have been straightforward with no ambiguity about what should be bid by who and when. Opener’s rebids and responder’s rebids after a 1 of a Suit opening are, shall we say, a completely different kettle of fish. To understand these – to really understand them we need to step back and see in general terms what’s going on. We’ll approach this as follows.

First, we’ll look at what’s happening “under the hood” when a player makes a bid. Then we explore the importance of some of the implicit rules of bidding – when a bid or a rebid can be made, and why the distinction between balanced and unbalanced hands is crucial. We then introduce the idea of the planned rebid. Finally we’ll be able to take the birds eye view which the title of this page promises.

What’s going on when a bid is made?

So let’s pause and make sure we understand what’s happening with NT openings and responses. Then we can apply this to opening bids of 1 of a Suit. Let’s see what’s going on “under the covers” for a bidding sequence such as:

1NT – Pass – 3♠︎ – Pass – 3NT – Pass – Pass

  • Opener bids 1NT. Responder understands that this really means: “I have 15-17 HCP and a balanced hand. I am inviting you to make a bid.”
  • Responder bids 3♠︎. Opener understands that this really means: “I have 10+ TP and so game seems certain. I also have 5+ ♠︎ so I think game in a major is highly likely. I am forcing you to bid either 4♠︎ if you have 3 cards and to bid 3NT otherwise.”
  • Opener bids 3NT. Responder understands that this means: “Unfortunately we don’t have a Golden Fit and so I have placed us into the contract that you requested. I’m now signing off.”
  • Responder bids Pass.

So what’s really happening here is that opener and responder are passing each other messages about the strength and shape of their hands; and they make bids which either invite or force bids by their partners until such time as they are ready to sign off. All of this is keeping in mind that:

  • The ultimate goal is to bid and make game, if that should be possible:
    • Preferably in a Golden Fit in a major suit, but otherwise in NT.
    • As a poor alternative a Golden Fit in a minor suit.
  • To play in as low and as safe a contract as possible once they discover that game isn’t possible.

Applying this to 1 of a Suit opening bids

If only the responses and rebids after a 1 of a Suit opening bid were so straightforward! Alas, they are far more complicated and it won’t always be obvious what bid should be chosen. Indeed, there are occasions when you will need to make the “least worst” bid.

Moreover, there is danger of losing the wood for the trees and becoming so overwhelmed by the detail that you can’t see what’s really going on. So it’s crucial to develop a “birds eye view” of what’s going on. Underlying everything are two factors: the requirements for bidding (and rebidding) a new suit and the distinction between balanced and unbalanced hands.

Bidding (and re-bidding) a new suit

With the sole exception of the opening bid – when opener needs 5 cards to open a major but needs only 3 cards to open a minor – whenever a player bids a new suit they are promising at least 4 cards in that suit.

In addition, whenever a player rebids a suit (i.e. bids a suit for the second time without their partner having bid that suit) they are promising at least 6 cards in that suit.

For example, assume the bidding proceeds as follows:

1♣︎ – Pass – 1♠︎ – Pass – 2♣︎

  • North opens 1♣︎ and promises at least 3 cards.
  • South bids ♠︎ and promises at least 4 cards.
  • North rebids 2♣︎ and now promises at least 6 cards.

This is to be distinguished from raising a suit, which only promises a Golden Fit. For example:

1♦︎ – Pass – 1♥︎ – Pass – 3♥︎ – Pass – 4♥︎

  • North opens 1♦︎ and promises at least 3 cards.
  • South bids 1♥︎ and promises at least 4 cards.
  • North raises to 3♥︎ – this promises a Golden Fit.
  • Finally South raises to 4♥︎ – this doesn’t promise any further cards but (as we shall see) it promises a stronger hand.

Balanced and unbalanced hands

There are a few key properties of balanced and unbalanced hands which we need to draw attention to.

A balanced hand promises at least two cards in every suit and usually offers three. This is important for two reasons:

  • If a player rebids a suit they are also telling you that they do not have a balanced hand.
  • If a player tells you they have a balanced hand then you are assured of a Golden Fit if you have 6 cards, and it’s highly likely there is a Golden fit if you have 5 cards.

A unbalanced hand either has a 6 card suit or it has at least two 4 card suits. If a player has an unbalanced hand then:

  • They are able to offer a choice of two suits to their partner, or
  • They can rebid a suit and tell their partner that they hold 6 cards.

The planned rebid

When opener makes an opening bid of 1 of a Suit they have in mind one or more “planned rebids”. These are the bids that they will consider if, by the time they bid again, the partnership hasn’t found a Golden Fit.

An opener with a balanced hand will always plan a rebid in No Trumps.

An opener with an unbalanced hand will either plan to rebid a 6 card suit or to bid a second 4 card suit.

Of course the opener may not get to make a planned rebid. Responder may pass. The opponents may interfere. Responder may support opener the opener’s bid or they may bid a suit which opener can themselves support: in other words, the partnership may have identified a Golden Fit. But it’s what opener will bid in the absence of such factors.

The bird’s eye view which we promised

Let’s look again at the tables of opening bids but now putting in the planned rebids. We will colour-code them so that if the planned rebid is in black it uniquely identifies both a hand shape (balanced or unbalanced) and a hand strength (e.g. 16-18 TP); any other colour indicates that there is a different kind of hand which could make the same bid.

High Card PointsOpening BidPlanned Rebid
20-21 HCP2NT
18-19 HCPOpen as if an
unbalanced hand
Jump bid in NT
15-17 HCP1NT
13-14 HCPOpen as if an
unbalanced hand
Bid a new suit higher than responder’s suit
Bid a new suit lower than the opening suit
Bid NT at the cheapest level
Balanced Hand Opening Bids And Planned Rebids
Total PointsOpening BidPlanned Rebid
19-21 TP1 of a SuitRebid a 6 card suit jumping two levels
Jump bid a new suit higher than responder’s suit
Jump bid a new suit lower than the opening suit
Bid a new suit higher than the opening suit
16-18 TP1 of a SuitRebid a 6 card suit jumping one level
Bid a new suit higher than responder’s suit
Bid a new suit lower than the opening suit
Bid a new suit higher than the opening suit
13-15 TP1 of a SuitRebid a 6 card suit at the cheapest level
Bid a new suit higher than responder’s suit
Bid a new suit lower than the opening suit
Bid NT at the cheapest level
0-12 TPPass
Unbalanced Hand Opening Bids And Planned Rebids

Let’s ignore the details of the planned rebids for the moment and look at the bigger picture:

  • Stronger hands bid higher than weaker hands.
  • Bids in black identify a 3 point wide range and a hand shape.
  • Bids in blue identify a 6 point wide range and a hand shape.
  • Bids in green identify a 3 point wide range but not a hand shape.
  • Bids in red, the least specific, identify a 6 point wide range but not a hand shape.

By the time opener has made their second bid:

  • About 50% of the time the partnership will be on their way to finding a NT contract or a contract in a Golden Fit – the processes for which are simple, clear and relatively unambiguous.
  • About 40% of the time responder will have a very clear idea about the shape and / or strength of opener’s hand.
  • About 10% of the time responder will face a more complex situation where they don’t know the shape or precise strength of opener’s hand.