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The strongest bid

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could sit down opposite a bridge partner and play any type of bridge system you liked without the need to tell the opponents?  That’s okay until they do the same thing to you and then you realise that you can’t cope because you don’t know whether the bids show strong hands, weak hands, short suits, number of aces etc etc.  Bridge isn’t a secret game – you are entitled to know what your opponents bids mean and when they don’t mean what they say they have to tell you – either by alerting or announcing.

So to help make life easier the EBU has published guidelines on what type of bids are allowed and whether you need to tell your opponents about them.  It is all contained in the Blue Book.

The Blue Book also gives advice on what happens if your partner gives an incorrect explanation and so on.

Alerting and Announcing

As I mentioned above bridge is not a secret game so there are regulations about alerting calls which are not natural.  There are special types of alerts called announcements for some very common situations.

Permitted methods

Over the years people have tried to make more efficient use of their opening bids, so some bids which are not used very often in their natural sense have been modified to show other things. 

One bid which has had many different meanings is the opening 2♣ bid.  Traditional Acol says 23+ points or compensating distribution.  But whatever it is it promises a strong hand.  Now over time people have come to think of ‘strong’ in a different light.  A ‘strong’ hand is not only good in an attacking sense (lots of points and playing strength) but also would be quite good for defending with – what we call a hand of ‘power and quality’.

Suppose you are getting ready to open 1NT with 14 points and your right hand opponent opens 2♣.  Your left hand opponent alerts and says ‘strong’.  What do you think to that?  Not much – so you pass.  The auction goes 2♣ pass 2 pass 4 all pass.  Let’s say 4 quietly goes 3 down.

Only then do you find your partner also has 14 points and 3NT was a lay down!  And the 2C opener has this hand:

♠ x x

A K J x x x x x

 x x

♣ x

How do you feel now?  Robbed, probably.  The conversation might go like this:

‘You can’t open 2♣ on that hand’

‘Yes, I can.  I’ve got 8 tricks – more than enough for an Acol 2 opening’

‘Rubbish – it’s a pre-emptive hand.  I thought you had a strong hand.  Director! ! ! ’

Yes, this hand has a lot of playing strength if hearts are trumps but is worthless otherwise.  What do we call that type of hand – yes, that’s right – a pre-emptive hand.  Certainly not a 2♣ opener – maybe 3 or 4 opening depending on vulnerability.

So the EBU has laid down a minimum type of hand that can be called ‘strong’ and used for an artificial 2 opener.  It may sound complicated jargon but the hand has to conform to the ‘extended rule of 25’! !   Let me explain

Rule of 25: high card points + the length of the 2 longest suits (like the rule of 19 you use for opening one of a suit)

8 clear-cut tricks: does the hand have 8 tricks and the points to open at the one level?

16 high card points: Any hand with 16 or more points qualifies. 

Providing the hand meets at least ONE of these it is okay.

Look at the hand above – It has only 8 HCP.  It has 10 cards in the 2 longest suits – so it fails test 1) (only rule of 20) and 3) (no where near 16 HCP), but what about 8 clear cut tricks.

How many tricks would you make if partner had no hearts – well 6, but maybe 7.  Occasionally 8 but it isn’t clear-cut enough to be sure of 8 tricks.  (An analysis says 6.96 tricks is the most likely).  So it doesn’t pass test 2) either.  This hand CANNOT be opened as a strong 2C.

Now just because a hand meets one of the requirements doesn’t mean that opening 2C is the correct or best bid.

♠ A J 2

 7

 A K 10 9 7 5 4 3 2

♣ none

This fails test 1) and 3) but does pass test 2) (7 diamond tricks plus the S♠) so it is okay, but I would never open it 2♣.  1 maybe or 5.