Which Suit To Bid

When choosing a suit to bid, these are [almost] the rules. More about the [almost] below.

First, make sure you do not have 15-17 points (or 20-21) and a balanced hand (shape 4333, 4432, or 5322). In that case bid no-trump. With 18-19 balanced, open a suit (using the rules below) then jump in notrump. E.g., 1♦ - 1♠ - 2N.

While you can evaluate hand strength using any of the methods outlined in Bidding Notes, you should subtract a point for a 4333 shape, and subtract a point for no Aces when considering a marginal notrump opener.

If you have one suit longer than the others, and it is five or more cards long, bid it.

If you have two suits of the same length and that length is five or more, bid the highest ranking one. For example, 5 spades and 5 hearts, bid the spades.

With no five-card suit, see below.

Opening With No Five-Card Suit

Without a five-card suit or the right hand for opening notrump:

  • When you are exactly 4=4=3=2 (spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs) then open a diamond.
  • When you are exactly 4=4=2=3 or (43)=3=3, open a club.
  • With a 4441 hand, open a diamond, or if that’s the singleton, a club.

There are two possible exceptions, which is why I said “almost”:

  • When you have four diamonds and five clubs and not enough to reverse, I recommend opening a diamond unless your clubs are great and you would be willing to rebid 2♣. See Lying About Your Shape for further discussion.
  • You can plan ahead to break these rules if strong enough to reverse, but I recommend you not do this yet. There is a section in my “Bidding Notes” explaining reverses. You play reverses. Again, do not submit to partners who say, “I don’t do reverses yet.” There is no point in learning everything incorrectly.

Opening 1♣ with a 4=4=3=2 distribution is called the “short club”. Do not use this agreement; it is mathematically unsound. The argument for a short club is that 1♦ openings then promise four diamonds, but they do 95% of the time anyway. When partner opens 1♦, assume four.

Why Opening Marginal Hands Can Be Marginal

Modern theory and practice has led to weaker and weaker openings. Charles Goren is probably spinning in his grave. He wanted 13 HCP and two quick-tricks! But the down side is that bidding yourself makes it easier for your opponents to bid.

If you open a sketchy 1♦, for example, the next player can overcall 1♥ or 1♠ with a mere 8 HCP. He would have needed 12 HCP otherwise to bid. You may have enabled your opponents to find their major fit.

If your suit is spades, they’d still need a near-opener to bid at the 2-level, so you aren’t giving them so much.

Therefore, the lower-ranking your suit is, the less anxious you should be to open it. While I’m all for sub-par one-level openings in 3rd and 4th seat, it has to be a major.