Strong Hands


This topic arose because we earlier considered weak two-bids; if we adopt them, how do we handle strong hands that would have opened a natural 2, 2 or 2?

Those who play strong-twos still retain an artificial 2 opener (that is, it doesn't necessarily show clubs). That is used for balanced hands better than a 2NT opening and game-forces. With weak-twos we lose only openings that show 'medium strong' hands with primary diamonds, hearts or spades, the artificial 2 opener is still there.

Making choices about bidding methods is always about weighing up advantages and disadvantages. There is a real gap between "enough for 2" and "one-level is fine"; when medium-strong hands arise users of weak-twos are awkwardly placed – fortunately in frequency terms, natural strong-twos are rare birds.

Mind the gap

Let's say you are lucky enough to pick up a good hand, these are your options:

Go high and force to game
Open 2 and 'see it through' with a suit rebid
Go high-low
Open 2 but rebid 2NT (showing 23-24 HCP) with a hand stronger than a 2NT opener but still allowing partner to pass below game.
Go low-high with 2NT
Even if you are a point or two light, with long minor and no singleton or void (6-3-2-2), 2NT (20-22 HCP) is strong contender
Go low
Open at the one-level and catch up with a jump rebid or another force
Game Force23-24 Bal20-22 BalOne-Level
  • AK8754
  • AKQ7
  • ---
  • K107
  • AK5
  • A5
  • AJ
  • KQJ752
  • K9
  • AJ5
  • AJ10862
  • AQ
  • AKJ2
  • A5
  • AQJ109
  • J6
2 …then 22 …then 2NT2NT (you're done)1 …then 2
19 HCP (23.85)
Because this hand has the majors there is too much risk of missing a game. After the likely 2 negative rebid 2 which creates a game-force. (Notice how unwelcome a 3-minor response to 2 would be.)
22 HCP (23.25)
The long suit increases the trick-taking capability and upgrading this into the 23-24 bracket is sound.
19 HCP (20.15)
This is much the same – worth an upgrade to the 20-22 HCP treatment.
20 HCP (22.45)
The more complicated the hand, the easier it will be to describe by starting low. Over a likely 1 response, force to game with 2.

Revision of the 2 Opening

2 is an artificial opening showing either:

  1. Balanced 23-24 HCP
  2. Any hand that wants the partnership to play in game no matter what responder holds

Type (A) is the 'weakling' – relatively speaking – and if the auction goes 2 – 2; 2NT responder can pass. This sequence is the only one that is not forcing to game. Any other bidding and responder has to keep going until game is reached.

Holding poor cards is no excuse for passing a forcing bid

There is no simple point-count requirement. Remember, if you open 2 and do not rebid 2NT, then both partners must keep bidding until game is reached. The alternative is to open at the one-level and chance being passed out. It is worth taking some risk that you get too high if you have a good hand. Consider this for a litmus test:

If a well-placed queen and doubleton support for your main suit will give you play for game, then open 2.

Responding to 2

An opening 2 says "Don't pass!" it does not begin a conversation in the same way as opening one-bids do. Opener has some great news – don't get in the way by bidding useless suits.

Far better to give opener as much room as possible than say nothing special. So whether you can make a bid other than the negative/waiting 2 – known as a positive – depends on the rank of your suit. 2 is cheap, but the diamond suit (3) is expensive and it is almost always better to respond 2 as a waiting move.

Unless you have a good suit, respond 2 to 2

Consequently there is a sliding scale of requirements; the higher you have to bid, the better hand and better suit you must have. That means that a hand with a main suit of hearts or spades could be a positive but the same hand with clubs or diamonds would be a 2 response.

2Negative Non-positive: usually weak, not suitable for any of the alternatives.
2Positive: hearts, at least five good, say KQxxx and a queen elsewhere.
2Positive: spades, at least five decent, say KJxxx and an ace and king in the hand.
2NTPositive: balanced about 8-10, an ace or two kings in the hand, cover in most suits, no major (you won't be able to use Stayman). Be wary about this response: it's so much better if opener gets to (a) declare and (b) describe their hand, that you'd almost always better off avoiding it.
3Positive: clubs, at least six decent, say KJxxxx and an ace and king in the hand.
3Positive: diamonds, at least six good, say KQxxxx and an ace and king in the hand.

Notice all the positive suit-responses require at least a five-card suit.

Later in the 2 auction

Opener's rebids

After a 2 response opener's no-trumps bids are simple steps:

With a shapely hand opener bids suits naturally; with two of equal length (5-5), begin with higher-ranking (as you would at the one-level). All opener's suits will be at least five cards, with a longest suits of four-card suits, rebid in no-trumps.

Second negative: responder rebids 2NT

Don't forget! When you have a really horrible hand, you bid 2 over 2 and get a second chance over 2 or 2 to say you hate your hand even more.

After a first response of 2, responder's 2NT follow-up shows 0-3 HCP.

It should deny a king and deny 4-card support which is worth a king. Remember queens and (especially) jacks are not likely to be of use. Even kings might not pull their weight – partner may be void! But you have to draw a line somewhere and a king is a king…

More Stayman and transfers

Stayman and transfers are in force after 2 – 2; 2NT. As no suit has been bid – both 2 and 2 were artificial – so it is as if opener began with a 23-24 HCP 2NT.

Fast arrival

Because once opener bids a suit the partnership must play in game, all bids below game are forcing. So what is the difference between raising 2 to 3 or 4?

Once a game-forcing situation is established, jumping directly to game is weak

That is the Principle of Fast Arrival. The idea is that agreeing a trump-fit at a lower level allows a slam try.

Slam tries

In the talk I showed auctions like this;

None Vul, Dealer North

  • AKQJ2
  • ---
  • AQ764
  • KQ8
  • 1053
  • 9654
  • K10
  • A1064

What can 4 mean? Remember, the purpose of constructive bidding is to find level and strain. 4 can't be looking for a trump suit, EW have already found one. 4 says, "I don't know how high to bid in spades". Given that the cheapest level in spades is 4, this bid suggests bidding higher.

West's 4 is a slam try. The most useful way of playing this is to help responder to value his meagre assets. East should look favourably on high-cards in diamonds and less favourably on those outside. Aces are almost always useful of course.

Because the K is such a good card – even the 10 might be useful, or the doubleton (for a later ruff) – I suggested East should bid "where his (other) high card was" and call 5. This might help West reach the excellent grand slam in spades. But even if East raised to 5 the partnership would surely reach 6.

Slam tries do what the name implies, they try for slam. Unlike 4NT asking for aces, where one partner takes control, a slam-try is the opening of an exchange. It doesn't insist on a slam, it invites an opinion and a re-evaluation.

If you don't open 2

If you decide to open at the one-level and partner doesn't pass, you have to find a way to keep the auction going. These are three common forcing manoeuvres:


Opener's jump-shift rebid
Example: 1 – 1; 3. This is forcing to game. Because an ordinary 2 is available, there is no need to bid 3 unless opener wants to force.
Opener's reverse
Example: 1 – 1; 2. This is forcing for one round. A reverse is a new suit above two-opener's-original-suit. Because opener cannot introduce hearts at a lower level, this call has to do double-duty. But opener needs extra values as there is, as yet, no fit. That means tricks must come laregly from HCPs; responder hasn't promised any, opener has to supply them… Reverses deliver a minimum of 16 HCP and responder mustn't pass.
Opener's jump rebid after a two-level response
Example: 1 – 2; 3. This is forcing to game. Because 2 promises 9+ HCP and the jump promises 16+ HCP, both partner know of a combined 25 HCP (or more).

Strong bids that are not forcing

Opener's jump in no-trumps
Example: 1 – 1; 2NT. This shows 17-18 HCPs but responder can pass.
Opener's jump rebid after a one-level response
Example: 1 – 1; 3. This shows 16+ HCP and a good six-card suit but responder can pass.
Opener's jump support
Example: 1 – 1; 3. This shows a six-loser hand but responder can pass with nine losers or more.