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8: Preemptive Bidding

Pre-emptive Bidding

In preempting, the main considerations are: shape, strength, shape, position and vulnerability.

Position. Try not to pre-empt your partner! You can’t with a third in hand pre-empt which can be very flexible, maybe a good 6-card suit. Second in hand you are equally likely to pre-empt partner and an opponent so should keep closer to a mainstream pre-empt. First in hand, with two opponents and one partner yet to bid, the odds allow some flexibility.

Shape. Obviously all pre-emptive hands will be shapely and usually have fewer than 10HCP. If your have anything approaching a second suit it must be a minor: expect partner to know you don’t have a side 4CM. 

To evaluate the suitability of hands for pre-emption, think about the offense to defence ratio. (I accept that “attack” seems a more natural term than offense. I’ll stick with offense for 2 reasons: that is the normal term; attack has a technical meaning in play and confusion might arise later.) Factors to consider are HCP, shape (especially number of trumps), concentration of values and type of values (Q or J are great in your trump suit. In defense, even a K in your long suit may not take a trick and lesser honour almost certainly won’t). 

Strength. All rule of 20 hands are too strong to preempt, so are almost all rule of 19 hands and on these you’ll pass with a minor or maybe open 1 with a major. You’ll have fewer than 10 HCP.

Vulnerability. Affects the risk reward ratio. NV against V you can be more frisky, more cautious V against NV.

3 Level Pre-emptive Bids




No defence at all (maybe 5 tricks in S). Good





Maybe defensive tricks (with a similar smattering in partner’s hand). Bad




Not a preempt. Ugly

Partner assumes (unless third in hand preempt): 

  • Too weak to open 1
  • Little defensive strength
  • Nothing more to say (partner is in charge but will count on you for nothing defensively)
  • ≤ 6 tricks NV, ≤ 7 V being fairly optimistic about breaks
  • No secondary major
  • 7-card suit

Losing Trick Count only applies when you and partner have an agreed fit. With a pre-empt, you have something close to a fit all by yourself! So when you judge how many tricks you will make, be optimistic and the LTC is a good start.

♠ KQT7632. View as losing 1S & 2 in each of the other suits.

♥ AKJ8753. Hope for 7 tricks (suit may be 2-2-2, partner may have Q or 3 small).

Rob offered Klinger’s suit quality (SQ) test for overcalls and preempts. Add the number of cards in your suit to the number of honours in that suit, J, T counting only if supported by higher honours. You can bid to at least that level: eg SQ≥9 for a 3-level preempt, SQ≥8 for a 2-level preempt.

Consider opening 4 with an extra trump or a 7-card suit and a hand just– or not quite– meeting rule of 20 with little defence.

A double of 3-minor, if passed for penalties, is just as painful as of 3-Major but less effective as a preempt, so you may need extras to consider it. A takeout double allows an opponent to offer both majors and bidding a suit, not making a TO double, allows an opponent to express a clear preference.



A Q T 9 5 4 2

6 4 


K T 9

K J 

Q 7

K J 7 6 5 3 2

4 3

T 9 5 4

A K J 9 8 3

9 4


Q J 9 7 6 4 3



Q J 4 2


K T 8 7 5 4 2

Q J 3

8 4

A 8

5 4

J 2

A Q J 8 6 4 3

1 Too strong for 3S? The book urges you to prefer: Pass, 1S or 4S.

2 Too defensive to preempt (poor suit, much outside)

3 Too misleading with outside 4CM

4 OK in 3rd

5 Marginal (nicer if these were spades)

6 1C: too strong to preempt except in third. Fourth, pass despite the “opening bid” strength: it fails rule of 15 which is the warning that you will be outbid in a major!

Responses to 3-Bids

Never NT unless your support is so good you hope to run partner’s suit and fear 9 tricks is the limit or you can make 9 tricks in your own hand. Conversely, raise preemptively to the level of fit assuming partner has 7 or competitively over intervention. Level of fit: presume partner has 7 cards (or 8 for a 4-level preeempt): add the number of cards you expect he has to the number of cards you know you have and contract for than number of tricks: you hold 3, with partner's seven raise to 10 tricks (4). 

But if you have short trumps, partner may make fewer than he expected. Add your quick tricks in side suits, but knock off one for partner’s presumed optimism!

Don’t double prematurely if opponents compete. Expect no further bid from partner.

Preemptive 2-Bids

Obviously not in clubs! That’s our strong bid. That leaves “2D”, “2H”, and “2S”.

2D is not highly preemptive, responses are more awkward and the opponents can double for takeout with both majors or overcall to show just one. However we’ll use 2D as weak like 2H and 2S.

Similar to 3 level preempt but with one fewer card in the suit. Still

  • Too weak to open 1
  • Little defensive strength and hence values concentrated in the bid suit
  • Nothing more to say (partner is in charge but will count on you for nothing defensively)
  • ≤ 6 tricks NV, ≤ 7 V being fairly optimistic about breaks
  • No secondary major
  • 6-card suit

Bernard Magee (who writes for Mr Bridge) offers these examples of appropriate suits with Q-J-8-7-6-5 unsuitable. But The Book offers Q J 9 7 6 3 as minimum but acceptable at any vulnerability. Best to decide on one approach with your partner and see how good our results are.



are excellent suits





would just qualify





Q-J 9-7-6-3

Experts disagree!




would not qualify


Most talk of weak 2s being 5-9 points (maybe 6-10 vulnerable). What to do with a hand with 10 points a 6CM and 3-2-2? 19 counting HCP+length of 2 longest suits so too weak for us normally to open “one” but too strong to open “two”. Consider the usual preempting factors, position, concentration, vulnerability and decide which bid will mislead partner less. The “rules” are our slaves not our masters.

Or use Multicoloured 2D. There are variations but it always means a weak 2 in an unspecified major or a strong balanced hand and, by partnership understanding, maybe an PT hand with a minor or a strong 4441 etc. If playing M2D, an immediate weak 2 is upper range and covers the 10HCP hand we found awkward earlier. The suit quality Magee suggests would not qualify for a weak 2 can be opened 2D. This is fun, but potentially confusing. You may meet it at the stronger clubs.

Response to Weak 2

Mostly, pass. Raise preemptively on TTP: partner has a 6-card suit, bid to the level of the number you hold but maybe one fewer if V especially against NV and opener must pass. I recommend a new suit is NOT forcing and opener must pass (others suggest it is a one-round force). 

The one forcing bid is 2NT. You may meet two patterns of response: “feature” and “Ogust”. I prefer feature which asks partner to meekly rebid his suit if minimum but otherwise to show a feature, values outside his suit. 

Ogust has stepped responses: “3C” shows low HCP hand with weak suit, “3S” shows high HCP hand with good suit. It seems to be hard to remember the order of the other two bids. Points before Quality. “3D” shows low HCP hand with good suit, “3H” shows high HCP hand with poor suit. (Obviously high and low are applied in the context of the weak 2-opener.)

Playing “feature”, any non-minimum rebid is likely to lead to a game but a return to 3 of the original major is only invitational. A non-minimum hand with no feature worth a mention will raise to 3NT.

If you can rely on partner to have some quality in his suit you don’t need much to hope to run it in NT. Kxx?

Practice Hands

South A 8 3; A K T 5; A 4 2; A K 4

North (Dealer) K J 6; Q J 3; K Q T; 9 6 3 2

The Auction will go something like 1NT 6NT. Blackwood can’t be used over NT (and obviously there is no key K with no agreed suit). S may consider the possibility of a H fit (1NT, 2C) despite the lack of ruffing potential but then (2D denial) will make a quantitative raise (22 HCP opposite at least 12 HCP should play for 12 tricks but not 13).

The opening leader has Qxx in each black suit so prefers a safer lead in a red suit: with similarly weak 4D and 3H there is little to choose but the default is the longer suit. With 4 small, the normal lead is the top.

On any lead but a Spade there are 11 sure tricks 2S, 4H, 3D and 2C. The S finesse, if it works, will be a twelfth. The only other chance is a 3-3 break in Clubs so the 13th club becomes a winner. The club break is only 35%, the finesse 50%. The learning point is to plan to do things in the right order: the C break can be tried first: if it works, the S finesse is not needed. Justice is served: the C break works, the S finesses does not. This is a teaching hand! The real learning point is, when you’ve found a good line, look for a better one, in this case an extra chance. The way to play the clubs is to duck a round first, retaining C control even if C break 4-2 (49% chance) which you find on the third round but avoiding the S finesse altogether if they don’t.

West A 9 7 5; A 8 7; T 7; A Q J 2

East K 6; Q 6; K Q 5 4 3; 6 5 4 3

W overcalls 1NT after S opens 1C. With 10 HCP opposite at least 15 and with a trick source in D, E raises strait to 3NT. N leads his partner’s suit and dummy goes down. Hmm, thank you partner.

Plan: 2S, 1H, 1D and 2C (on the lead). For the opening bid, expect the KH to be offside (no more H tricks) and the KC to be onside (one more trick from another finesse). The only place to go is D and again we expect the A to sit over the KQ. Not good. Hope for a 3-3 break then we can establish three diamonds: 2+1+3+3 tricks—piece of cake! So what can go wrong? It looks feasible to establish the diamonds but we must also reach them. Key learning point is managing entries. Lead TD and run it: it loses to the J. Defence, are you awake? The threat is D’s running: try and knock out the entry (KS). But declarer plays A from his own hand and leads another D to the Q if S holds off, play another D. Either way, KS is an entry for the established D suit.

South Q T 9 6 4; A K 5; A 7; 9 7 5 

North J 8; J 8 4; K T 9 3 2; A K 2

N opens 1NT, S transfers to S then jumps to 3NT, offering a choice of game contracts. E leads the QC. 

Plan 2C, 2D, 2H in top tricks—3 more needed from D or S. S offers better prospects as the suit is solid (apart from the lack of A and K) and the general principle is to allow the other side their certain winners. So winners is OK—but what about losers. If the opening lead is from a 5-card suit, how to avoid losing 2S and 3C? Nothing is certain, but if E has 5, W has only 2 and if the S honours are split we can break communications with a hold-up. Don’t win the first trick. Winning the second (perforce) attack Spades E ducks but when W wins he can’t attack clubs and when E wins (later) he can clear clubs but never gets a chance to enjoy them.