An Introduction to Five-Card Majors

This was written for recent graduates of the EBU course who learnt four-card majors and a weak no-trump from the course books. The approach here makes no other changes; no-trump openers and rebids stay the same, as do ranges for raises of minors and majors. There are no extra alerts or announcements to be made.

Divided into the following sections:

  1. Why play five-card majors?
  2. Openings
  3. Responses
  4. Opener's rebids after 1/1 – 1-major
  5. In competition
  6. Future enhancements

Why play five-card majors?

I believe that, once you've played a bit, it's easier. And better.

So why teach four-card majors in the first place?

The whole four-card versus five-card thing is steeped in history and geography. Globally 5CM systems are dominant. But in Britain and Ireland 4CMs hold sway. This is especially true at club-level. Were we to teach 5CMs students would emerge unable to play with most of the club.

At the very beginning it is easier to teach. It stresses the importance of suit-length over high-card concentrations, establishes biddable suits and the importance of a 4-4 fit. In lesson one, telling learners to select their longest suit is simple and works whether they hold 5-4-3-1 or 4-3-3-3. Even that is not snag-free; beginners are caught out with 4=4=3=2 (open 1) and 5=5=1=2 (open 1).

Bidding balanced hands – where a convenient suit is selected as a preparation to no-trumps – and bidding shapely hands – where two suits will be introduced – is quite different. Few beginners realise that opening a four card suit is only done with 15+ HCP, otherwise opener has five in the suit opened (dreaded 4-4-4-1s excepted).

Hold on to that difference; in 5CMs 'preparing to bid no-trumps' is a significant change. Rather than open a four-card major before rebidding no-trumps you will choose the longer minor – and that might be a 3-card suit.

"Where is our major fit": that's the nub of the game and four-card-major openings deal with it head-on. If you deem four-card majors unfit to open the problem has to be addressed later. That will mean compromise or convention. Early on, artificiality is a tough concept and beginners struggle with memory.

Moving to 5CMs won't need new artificially but after a while you may adopt some. Initially, there are no new conventions to learn (or forget). But the responsibility for those all-important 4-4 major fits has shifted from opener to responder. Several topics from the EBU course (for example, doubles of overcalls) which may have withered unused, will now assume greater importance.

Why better?

The most immediate gain is that you no longer have to open a good hand (15+ HCP) with a four card major. This spares your blushes when you open a four-card major and don't know how to proceed:

Major fits emerge sooner.

Eventually you might adopt pre-emptive raises to further exploit the last point. Those new to the game over-focus on trying to make contracts – not trying to get a good score. But without doing much, simpler bidding on frequent major-fit auctions makes defence harder for opponents.

Lastly, if you play other forms of bridge, most notably teams or pairs scored with IMPs, these aspects become increasingly important.

Disclosure of the new system

Your obligations to announce and alert changed slightly in 2013. Read or take a copy of the EBU summary sheet.

Your system is, Weak no-trump, five-card majors, three weak-twos.

Do not alert or announce your one-minor openings.

In fact, Five-card majors, longer minor gives all the information about suit-lengths and the rest (weak-twos and 1NT) you announce anyway.

If opponents ask particularly about 1 or 1 say Could be a 3-card suit, diamonds only three when 4=4=3=2 exactly.

Openings

1NT is still 12-14. And when you have five, six or more of a suit that's a clear opener, length-ties are split higher-rank first (with no exceptions).

But you can't open a four-card major. So what do you do on balanced hands, too strong for 1NT?

Balanced hands

Unable to bid a 4-card major you will have to open a minor – no-one cares so much about those.

  • AKQ9
  • Q87
  • 95
  • AJ94
West
North
East
South
1

You'll have no qualms about starting with 1, a decent 4-card suit. You can bid no-trumps next, just as you would after opening 1 in 4CMs.

  • AKQ9
  • Q87
  • 954
  • AJ9
West
North
East
South
1

What about now? 1 is still correct. You have to open a 3-card minor.

  • AKQ9
  • Q87
  • AJ9
  • 954
West
North
East
South
1

Poor clubs and good diamonds – should you switch allegiance?

No. They may only be minors but to retain as much confidence as possible that partner has the suit, the 'shortness doubt' is located in clubs. Avoid opening a 3-card diamond suit.

  • AKQ9
  • Q874
  • 954
  • AJ
West
North
East
South
1

Now there's no option but to open 1. But this is a unique case, 4-4 in the majors, 3 and 2. That pattern only opens 1 with three.

Summary of minor openings

For balanced hands of 15-19 HCP, so too strong to open 1NT, which have no 5-card suit (that's a no-brainer) open a minor:

And 4-4 minors? It's not very important and there are some "angels on the head of a pin" debates. You can make your own mind up. If you find it easy to remember, same length, open 1 otherwise longer minor then you would be doing no harm at all (and quite likely some good by making life simple).

Remember the difference: now your preparatory bids, those you make before you rebid in no-trumps, are going to be 1-minor.

1NT with a five-card major?

Yes, I think so.

Many of the reasons for this remain.

  1. Auctions that start with 1NT are simple and direct; they avoid giving information to opponents that may help with the opening lead and subsequent defence.
  2. You'll find better part-scores especially when opener has hearts and responder spades. 1NT is very attractive with 3=5=3-2 because responder won't rush to rebid spades after 1 – 1; 2 as she'll believe opener has six hearts.
  3. Opponents have no take-out double of 1NT and it's often difficult for them to enter the auction. 'Stealing' with the weak no-trump is one of its attractions and adding to its frequency by mixing it up a little can't hurt.

In addition it is now even less attractive to rebid a mere 5-card suit; after all, partner knew you had five and didn't support before, why should she now? Sure, there will be deals where the major suit turns out better but more where knowing hand-type and limited strength is more important.

Third seat: after Pass, Pass, 1NT may still work but if your side defends, having helped partner with her lead assumes more importance. In third seat bid a decent suit rather than 1NT.

Responses

The frisson of excitement that comes from opening a 3-card suit soon fades. And after that, there's not much to opening bids with 5CMs. There is more difference for responder.

Supporting partner's major

If you have three cards in opener's suit you have a known 8-card major fit. But don't distort your constructive raises.

Don't cheat on trump-length. That is, don't raise 1 to 3 (or 4 or 2NT) with only three trumps.

With minimum hands (6-9) there is little to be gained by bidding 1NT or another suit.

  • KJ976
  • K4
  • 94
  • AJ53
N
W
E
S
  • Q54
  • 1083
  • A10764
  • 86
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
2
All Pass

Were you playing 4CMs supporting is still better than 1NT – but that reflex is hard to fight. Now, in 5CMs, it's clear to raise. Losers? You have 9 (2+3+2+2), exactly what partner will expect.

  • 2
  • AKJ973
  • K4
  • A953
N
W
E
S
  • A10764
  • Q54
  • 1083
  • 86
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
2
Pass
4
All Pass

Responder supports immediately even with five spades. Opener knows of three+ hearts and 9 losers opposite, so with 4½ losers herself, game is an easy call. After 1 – 1; 2 – 2 East will expect only two trumps; picture the Q as the Q – game is nothing special and 3 might be in danger.

With 3-card support and better hands, say 8 losers (usually 10-12 HCP) you shouldn't raise to the 3-level immediately because partner will expect four trumps and might get carried away. Instead bid a suit and subsequently jump-support to 3-major. Many auctions will be similar to those with 4CMs.

  • AJ976
  • 94
  • AJ53
  • K4
N
W
E
S
  • K54
  • A103
  • 96
  • QJ762
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
2
Pass
2
Pass
3
Pass
4
All Pass

East marks time with 2 before supporting spades to the value-level (8 losers, 2+2+2+2). West has enough to bid a close game (6 losers, 2+2+2+1 less one for two aces, no queen and K is a good card in West's suit). You would bid these hands the same playing 4CMs.

  • J2
  • AK973
  • KJ5
  • A93
N
W
E
S
  • AK107
  • Q54
  • Q832
  • 86
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
1NT
Pass
4
All Pass

Responder hasn't got an immediate raise available (3-card support and 7½ losers) so stalls with 1. Opener's rebid is 15-16 and responder decides hearts will play better.

The auction starts the same way with 4CMs except after 1NT responder wouldn't know opener had five hearts. So West would have to rebid a forcing 3, asking opener to choose the game (only 4 hearts? Then 3NT). See why 5CMs are simpler?

Responding to 1 and 1

In principle there are few changes – responder's duty is to bid a major whatever the system. But omissions using 5CMs are more likely to be costly; remember with 5CMs, opener's 1-minor could be her third-best suit.

Again, if you have a hand with a single long (5+) suit, you bid it. If you hold clubs and partner opens 1, you'll need at least 9+ HCP to respond at the two-level – and usually more (see below for warnings about this sequence).

Bidding 'up the line'

At the 1-level, the rule in 4CMs is to bid 'up the line' – lowest suit first – with four-card suits. This is because opener won't have an unbid major and rebid 1NT – with 4 or 4 one of those suits would have been opened. That's not the case with 5CMs. Therefore it behoves responder to bid any four-card major – four hearts before four spades (so 'majors up the line').

  • AJ97
  • K1043
  • J3
  • AQ4
N
W
E
S
  • K542
  • 85
  • A962
  • 975
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
2
All Pass

Even though East has four diamonds 1 is correct. In this sequence opener will often have a strong no-trump (15-16 HCP) but shouldn't overdo it. Better trust in the LTC and raise accordingly.

  • AJ97
  • K1043
  • J3
  • AQ4
N
W
E
S
  • K542
  • 85
  • A9652
  • 97
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
2
All Pass

This is the almost same: just because East has five diamonds doesn't change very much – it's still right to bid the major.

The point of this approach is so opener can rebid 1NT even if space allows a 1-major; this is discussed below.

  • AJ97
  • K1043
  • J3
  • AQ4
N
W
E
S
  • K542
  • Q52
  • AQ652
  • 9
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
1NT
Pass
2
Pass
3
Pass
4
All Pass

When responder has enough strength to bid twice and enough shape to make it worthwhile (that is, 4=2=5=2 might bid 1 and settle for no-trumps if no fit is found) it is finally OK to bid diamonds. Over 1NT responder can follow with a forcing 2.

4-Major / 5-minor

It is no surprise that if 1-major is right even with five diamonds, you are not expected to bid 2 with five of those over 1 when you also have a 4-card major. This is pretty much what the course taught.

  • AJ97
  • K10
  • J1032
  • AQ4
N
W
E
S
  • K542
  • A2
  • 65
  • KJ876
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
2
Pass
4
All Pass

Much better to bid 1 and check out the possibility of a spade fit than to introduce clubs.

  • AJ97
  • K102
  • J103
  • AQ4
N
W
E
S
  • K542
  • A2
  • 65
  • KJ876
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
2
Pass
4
All Pass

And things haven't really changed very much just because West opened 1 and East has support. If it turns out that opener has 'real' clubs then they can be supported later; again, better to check for a spade fit.

Raising opener's minor

In case you've come here directly and missed the emphasis of the two preceding sections, let's be absolutely clear. Raising partner's 1 or opener denies four or more cards in a major.

Curiously a single raise is trickier than a jump-raise. That is because after 1 – 2; opener will pass with a balanced 15-16 HCP. A 3-4 fit won't be much fun and will very likely score poorly in a pairs game.

But as a jump raise shows more values (10-11 HCP), whenever opener has a short minor (and 15+ HCP), she will be bidding 3NT anyway. And no apologies for repetition, neither responder's single- or double-raise will contain a four-card major.

Opener's rebids after 1/ – 1-major

Few surprises here. If you started with a shapely hand, make your natural rebid: repeat a long (6+) minor, raise partner with four, bid a second suit below 2-minor – or even above (reverse) if you have extra values (16+ HCP). And of course, your usual NT ranges; cheapest = 15-16, jump = 17-18, 3NT = 19.

The only new circumstance arises when, having begun with 1-minor with a balanced hand, responder bids 1 or 1 and opener has to choose between 1NT and bidding a major. Not everyone plays the same way here but I am determinedly in the 'hand-type first' camp. With balanced hands I bid no-trumps as soon as I can. This is addressed in the second and third examples below. The clear plus of this approach is that if the auction starts 1 – 1; 1 responder knows opener has clubs and spades.

Balanced hands

  • AJ9
  • K1072
  • J103
  • AQ4
N
W
E
S
  • K542
  • A2
  • 65
  • KJ876
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
1NT
Pass
3NT
All Pass

West rebids 1NT with 15-16 HCP. You'll say "but we're wide-open in diamonds…". That's true but if diamonds are 4-4 you'll make 3NT (2+2+5) and no other game is attractive.

Note that North hadn't got the wherewithal to overcall 1 so is less likely to hold five. Also you've not bid hearts and, because you've bid a 'nebulous' club, opponents have to consider leading that suit.

  • AJ97
  • K102
  • J103
  • AQ4
N
W
E
S
  • K2
  • A982
  • 65
  • KJ876
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
1NT
Pass
3NT
All Pass

Again West rebids 1NT with 15-16 HCP – but this time, with 4. Should they have rebid 1?

I say no. But some partnerships do different, that is opener rebids 1-major on balanced hands without promising length in the minor they opened. I don't like that at all, being a strong advocate of 'hand-type first'. I can get to a major when it's right but sometimes I must bid around the houses.

  • AJ97
  • K102
  • J103
  • AQ4
N
W
E
S
  • K542
  • AQ82
  • 65
  • J63
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
1NT
Pass
2
Pass
3
Pass
4
All Pass

East is 4-4 in the majors and starts with 1 (up-the-line in the majors). When West rebids 1NT East should still check for a 4-4 spade fit. They can do that via 2. But wait, doesn't that show 5 and 4? No; there's no way of bidding 4-4 majors other than bidding the hearts then spades.

This situation is a blind spot for many club-players – don't let anyone tell you different. You see it also in 1 – 1; 2NT – 3. The omission might be due to 4CM experience; there had opener held a major it would have been opened.

Raising responder's major

One of the early examples had a simple raise and I encouraged you not to bid too much with these hands. Playing 4CMs it was very rare that you had 4-card support for a major in a 15-16 no-trump. In fact it could only happen in one situation, when opener was 4-4 in the majors and responder bid 1 (1 – 1; ??). Now it will happen all the time.

That's not to say that in the 4CM world auctions like 1 – 1; 2 don't happen – it's just that opener won't have a no-trump shape, she'll have five clubs and four spades (or be 4=4=1=4). Of course, with 5CMs the same auction will occur. One of the downsides of 5CMs is that responder won't know if opener has three or five cards in the opened minor. As a major fit has been found, that won't make much difference in the search for strain, but it will affect valuation.

Some balanced 15-16 HCP hands will be worth a jump raise, most not. Trust the LTC but apply it properly – don't forget the aces-versus-queens adjustment and be harsh on short queens.

Should you raise with three trumps and a shortage?

Probably not. It's tricky because partner will so often expect four trumps and 15+ HCP or length in the suit opened. The shortage may be some compensation – and will often be OK at lower levels – but it may disappoint if responder leaps to game.

Some examples.

  • AJ9
  • K1072
  • J103
  • AQ4
N
W
E
S
  • 7542
  • AQ92
  • 65
  • J87
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
2
All Pass

For all its 15 HCP West has a pretty poor collection. The LTC rates it 7½ losers (2+2+3+1 less half for two aces, one queen). That's a below-average opening bid.

  • AQ10
  • J1072
  • 93
  • AKQ4
N
W
E
S
  • 7542
  • AQ92
  • 65
  • J87
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
3
All Pass

But this West hand is much better, and not just by a solitary HCP. 6 losers (1+3+2+0 plus an unaccounted-for jack-ten of trumps) it is full-value for a raise to 3. Indeed, game is far from hopeless (two of three finesses and no bad breaks) but East is some way short of proceeding.

  • K102
  • 2
  • J932
  • AKQ94
N
W
E
S
  • A9832
  • Q54
  • 65
  • J87
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
2
All Pass

This is the acceptable face of the 3-card raise; shortage, not a dead minimum, source of tricks. LTC = 6 losers but that's a little cheat, West doesn't know the partnership has an 8-card fit. I've given East a 5-card suit so all should be OK.

Unbalanced hands

As you've seen balanced hands either bid no-trumps or raise partner. Of course, unbalanced hands raise partner too but when they can't they bid another suit. There is not much to this – or, more precisely, nothing very different from 4CM days.

  • K1032
  • 2
  • J92
  • AKQ94
N
W
E
S
  • A9
  • QJ54
  • 8763
  • J85
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
1
Pass
1NT
All Pass

This is simple but something is going on: West is not balanced with four spades. Had she been, the rebid would have been 1NT. So "clubs then spades" shows (usually) 5+ and (shorter) but 4+. The 'usually' is fingers-crossed against a dreaded 4-4-4-1.

Should East rebid 2 or 1NT? From the comments above, clubs is a fit. And where security of plus-score is important (money or IMPs) 2 is quite sensible. But as matchpoints, 1NT scores more and is always tempting.

In competition

One of the downsides of 5CMs is that you open 1 and 1 much more often. That only invites the opponents to overcall; they exploit lack of definition of the minor-suit opening as well as the additional opportunity.

If 1 shows four then a 1 overcall has less to gain; the opening side already has their major in the picture. That doesn't much influence overcaller's decision (everyone likes to bid and uncertainties over strength and length remain) but it does mean the opening side won't be too inconvenienced. Compare to 1 [could be 3] (1) ??; now it's responder's job to ensure the major fit isn't missed.

Second hand makes a simple overcall of 1/

You are going to be doubling more. None of this is new, indeed playing 4CMs you would respond the same in the almost all cases, but it is much more frequent when your minor-opening can hide a major suit.

  • AJ9
  • K1072
  • J103
  • AQ4
N
W
E
S
  • 75
  • AQ92
  • 65
  • J8762
West
North
East
South
1
1
X
Pass
2
All Pass

West might be tempted to raise clubs and, to be fair, in a competitive auction, even minor fits merit greater attention. But double is best, catering to the 4-4 heart fit.

Double of 1 says "I would have bid 1 but I lack the strength and length to bid 2" (2 over 1 needs about 9+ HCP and 5+ hearts). West rebids as if she had heard "1". That means 'raising' to the 3-level with a 6-loser hand.

  • K1072
  • AJ9
  • J103
  • AQ4
N
W
E
S
  • AQ92
  • 75
  • 65
  • J8762
West
North
East
South
1
1
X
Pass
2
All Pass

And this is exactly the same hands with the major suits swapped.

But wait a mo', East can bid 1 over 1!

But you shouldn't. Double of 1 shows exactly 4 – no more, no less. If you have five or more then you would bid 1. Here you've actually gained something from the overcall, an extra call (double) which you should put to good effect.

Is this all new? No. You've just forgotten; it's bridge and nothing to do with 4/5CMs

  • AJ9
  • K1072
  • J103
  • AQ4
N
W
E
S
  • 75
  • AQ92
  • 65
  • J8762
West
North
East
South
1
1
1
Pass
2
All Pass

But over a lowly 1 overcall it is right to bid your 4-card suits. Why? Now double is reserved for East holding both majors. It is a small gain but being able to show both suits immediately protects East-West against South's pre-emptive diamond raise.

This is a rare exception to "don't enter a contested auction with only a 4-card suit". Possibly the only one.

Second hand makes a simple overcall of 1/

Now you are in much better shape because you can more readily support partner's major. In fact, if you were thinking of making a simple raise, you will just do that anyway (see earlier comments about not bidding other suits with 3-card support).

Just like responder's increased use of double when opener's 1-minor is overcalled, the cue-bid – bidding their suit – gets more of an airing in 5CMs. I suggest you use it to distinguish between three- and four-card raises. This makes quite a difference: with 3-card support, responder needs more in high cards as there are fewer trumps to take-tricks. When opener knows the degree of fit (and what high-cards can expected opposite) she will make much better judgements in critical 'bid on or not' situations.

  • KJ976
  • K4
  • 94
  • AJ53
N
W
E
S
  • Q54
  • 1083
  • A10764
  • 86
West
North
East
South
1
2
2
All Pass

This is the first example in 3.1. North's 2 overcall changes nothing. In fact this would be awkward if East chose to pass. These simple hands are important at all forms of bridge but most of all at matchpointed pairs where picking up +50 (or even +100) is a poor result with +110 (or +140) available. East should bid 2 over 2 and 2 (!) as well.

  • KJ976
  • K4
  • 94
  • AJ53
N
W
E
S
  • Q54
  • 1083
  • AQ864
  • K6
West
North
East
South
1
2
3*
Pass
3
All Pass

3 shows at least a high-card raise to 3 with just three trumps. If North had passed, East would respond 2 and later support spades to the 3-level. As before, avoid bidding another suit with a known fit. Why?

3 implies more strength as, initially, it sounds fitless and therefore must be supported by high-cards

Opponents may pre-empt and the fit () in which we are most likely to out bid them is only known to one partner

The cue-bid solves the problem. Like the doubles of the previous section, these aren't the preserve of 5CMs. But because fits come to light earlier, they are more common. However, if you just bid 3 on the East cards that's not the worst thing in the world. Though – to me – it sounds like 4+ spades, it's a better call than 3.

  • KJ976
  • K4
  • 94
  • AJ53
N
W
E
S
  • Q54
  • 1083
  • AQ864
  • K6
West
North
East
South
1
2
3*
Pass
4
All Pass

I favour the cue-bid again. True, you can bid 2 –as you were would had North passed – but against active opponents this could go wrong. "Support with support", that's my motto.

Higher interventions

These throw the differences between opening a major and a minor into stronger relief: after a minor opening it's awkward and you may be in difficulty, over a major you're much better placed.

Many of the considerations in dealing with simple overcalls apply here – but more so. Be wary of bidding new suits, double to show values and 4-other-major (but you may not always have it), support partner's major. In that regard be prepared to be pushed up one level with 4-card support or a half-level with three trumps (that is, 8½ losers).

Cue bids: opposite a minor these look to 3NT and say, "have you got a stop in their suit", opposite a major (so now forcing to game), they show stronger raises than bidding to the same level directly.

Any hand that offers play for game opposite a strong no-trump (15+ HCP) should take action – most often via a takeout double. However, when you have length in their suit don't stretch: if partner is short she will protect (again, with a takeout double) and if she isn't, you don't want to declare.

  • KQ94
  • 104
  • AK2
  • A1053
N
W
E
S
  • A754
  • 82
  • J10764
  • KQ
West
North
East
South
1
2
X
3
4
All Pass

East's double is a typical minimum and has the four spades West will expect. When it comes to West, South's 3 means that 3 won't be enough; some 2 rebids will stretch to 3 so with a maximum and great cards (1+2+1+2 less ½ on LTC) the jump to game is in order. If West only bids 3 East should pass.

These situations are not easy; East could have a less suitable hand, say with a club more and a spade fewer, what then of 4 on a 4-3 fit? It may be the best spot. Whatever, doubling almost always yields better results than bidding poor suits.

  • KQ4
  • AJ8762
  • 9
  • Q53
N
W
E
S
  • J10832
  • Q54
  • K64
  • K6
West
North
East
South
1
3
3
Pass
Pass/4
All Pass

Holding 3-card heart support, even with five spades East shouldn't suggest the suit (via a double). East has 3+2+2+1 plus ½ = 8½ losers slightly better than a raise from 1 to 2 (9 losers). But this is an unattractive hand for action at the 3-level and, without that third heart (replace with another diamond), one couldn't argue with pass (though risk/reward will change at different vulnerabilities).

Likewise West's decision as to whether to bid game after partner's support, which, remember, may be only on a hand worth '2½'. The opponents don't do this for your benefit…

  • AQ976
  • Q4
  • 94
  • AJ53
N
W
E
S
  • KJ54
  • AJ83
  • 64
  • KQ9
West
North
East
South
1
3
4*
Pass
4
All Pass

East's 4 simply says "I am bidding 4 to make, if they bid again, we double them or bid on".

As here, the cue-bid doesn't promise a control (ace, king, singleton or void) but it may help the partnership look for a slam. By contrast had East simply raised directly to 4, West with a so-so hand (as here) she wouldn't necessarily double 5.

Does the cue-bid promise four trumps? Probably not. As ever, East shouldn't search for another fit when she knows of one already. Showing strength via the cue-bid will usually be more important than trump-length. The alternative (with say 3=4=2=4) would be double; it could get murky if South raises diamonds.

4 should be alerted. After the opening bid, if any of the next three calls is an artificial suit bid it should be alerted regardless of level (you will be the only person at the table who knows this).

  • ---
  • AK1092
  • KQ96
  • 9532
N
W
E
S
  • 6
  • 754
  • A7
  • KQJ10876
West
North
East
South
1
2
3*
4
Pass
Pass
5
All Pass

This deal arose in a club game. East's 3 might strike some as taking the major-fit principle a bit far and 3 is hardly a blunder. However, it's easy to imagine West with long hearts and short clubs when 3 might lead to confusion (for example West doubling 4 or bidding 3NT when South passes).

But East shouldn't give up. 3 limits the East hand so 5 shows lots of clubs with heart tolerance. East has relatively few losers – if a secure trump suit can be found.

Here West has an amazing hand for clubs and only the fear that 6 might undo partner's good work prevents him from raising to slam.

Fourth hand makes an overcall

We opened 1-minor

After fourth-hand's one-level overcall opener makes her normal rebid if she can; that means raising partner, rebidding length or bidding no-trump with a stopper in the opponents suit.

With a balanced hand but without a stopper, opener doubles. That shows at least strong no-trump values (15+) with no stopper (or perhaps the ace which is an ineffective guard).

When fourth-hand bids at the two-level (or, commonly, raises second-hand's suit) opener can be exposed with a strong no-trump. Bidding 2NT shows values commensurate with that level (17-18 HCP) and again, double is best reserved for a "2NT bid without a stop", with the same 17+ values.

What do you do if you have a 'mere' balanced 15-16 HCP? Well you had better pass and hope the cavalry, in the form of partner's takeout double, keeps your side alive. Remember, when opponents have a fit, double is never penalties, even though here you'll have a good hand – just that you won't have a trump-stack. If you've got one of those, keep quiet. If partner has values and shortness she'll double and you can pass and collect a score.

  • 976
  • K4
  • AK94
  • AQ53
N
W
E
S
  • Q87
  • 107532
  • Q64
  • K8
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1
1
X
Pass
1NT
All Pass

West was planning to rebid 1NT but South's overcall introduces a danger suit. Without a spade stop West cannot bid no-trumps and doubles to say she "has a NT rebid without a spade stop".

East does have a stop of sorts and converts to 1NT. Knowing of at least 15 HCP opposite, with more high cards herself, she would bid higher. 2NT would show enough to raise a 15-16 HCP 1NT to 2NT, about 9-10 HCP.

  • AJ
  • 106
  • AK108
  • AQ1086
N
W
E
S
  • K98654
  • 3
  • Q97
  • 952
West
North
East
South
Pass
Pass
Pass
1
Pass
1
2
X
3
4
All Pass

No doubt West would rebid 2 over her partner's 1 (perhaps 2NT had West responded 1) but once South bids hearts, double showing enough for 2NT (balanced 17-18 HCP) without a heart stop describes the hand nicely. By contrast, a 3 rebid would imply a much more distributional hand, say 5 and 6.

When North supports hearts it looks as if all East's cards are working and 4 is a good shot. The EW combined 23 HCP or so in three suits figure to take ten tricks.

We opened 1-major

Security level

Here you shouldn't have too many problems. In competition be guided by the number of trumps you and your partner hold and the security level. Remember you've already shown a five card suit, so unless you have extra length, don't exceed the security level.

Again, the responsibility for competition falls to responder: if she has four trumps (so knows of a combined nine) she can 'take the push' to the three level. Alternatively three trumps and shortage in their suit will do.

Because opening bids are more descriptive again responder has more to do. That could be the defining aspect of switching from four-card to five-card majors.

  • AQ1086
  • K4
  • QJ94
  • J3
N
W
E
S
  • J732
  • 632
  • K64
  • A874
West
North
East
South
1
X
2
3
Pass
Pass
3
All Pass

East-West would like to declare a peaceful 2 but that's no longer possible. A lot depends on the scoring (rubber bridge, matchpoint, etc.) and the respective vulnerabilities. But at club bridge, at most colours, East should press on to 3 despite her flat shape.

And if North-South bid any more? They should be doubled; East has 8 HCP, partner has opened the bidding and North didn't think 4 was making a moment ago. West should view all progressions to 3 as reluctant – not an encouragement to bid on.

  • AKQ85
  • 106
  • AK108
  • 85
N
W
E
S
  • 4
  • Q843
  • 732
  • KQ952
West
North
East
South
1
Pass
1NT
2
All Pass

West would have rebid 2 but is no-way suitable for 3 (at least 5-5). From the previous section, double would show enough for 2NT without a heart stop. That's OK – indeed, it scores big if East passes the double for penalties. There is also comfort in that 1 showed five, it means that some 5-2 fits can play 2.

But the simple lesson of hands like this is that opener shouldn't stretch; responder is still there and if she passes, it will be a good thing.

Future enhancements

You can adopt these one-at-a-time – just ask!

1NT rebid is 15-17 HCP
This is really independent of 5CMs but you get more of these auctions because you've dodged those that begin awkwardly with 1-major – 1NT. That means jumping to 2NT can be 18-19 HCP and you have more space and definition for slam investigation. It also frees 1-minor – 1-major; 3NT for something other than a balanced 19-count.
Check-back after 1NT rebid
This is a bit like Stayman after a 1NT opening. Responder uses it to check on major fits and make invitations. It's independent of the above but not wholly unrelated; if a 1NT rebid could be 17 HCP then you will want to make more game-invitations.
There are several options on the market with varying demands on memory and concessions (contracts you can no longer reach, like 2 and or 2).
Bergen raises
This is a scheme of raises after 1-major, using 1-major – 3-minor as well as 1-major – 2NT (which is usually as you currently play it, game-forcing with 4-card support).
These allow you to pre-empt opponents with an immediate 3-level raise. Some variants cater for 3-card raises, avoiding having to bid another suit before supporting partner.