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Major Suit Openings

Bob Pattinson

The first issue on major suit openings is whether  to play 4 or 5 card majors. Whilst the majority of top international players are devotees of 5 card majors there are a number of world champions playing 4  card majors with huge success. Let us examine the respective advantages and disadvantages of the  two approaches.

5 Card Majors

Advantages:

  • Responder  may raise on  3 card support  knowing there is  a reasonable fit
  • Preference  can be given  later in the auction  with 2 card support knowing  that there is at least a 5-2  fit rather than a 4-3 fit in some  other suit
  • The  rebid  of the  major suit  implies 6+

Disadvantages:

  • Holding  a 4 card  major a minor  suit has to be  opened and this makes  it easier for opponents  to intervene at the one level
  • When  the limit  of the best  contract is two  in a major suit the  weaker hand is declarer
  • When  a minor  suit is opened  it is unclear on  the length of the suit ( could  be just 2 or 3 card suit : whereas  always 4+ if playing 4 card majors)

4 Card Majors

Advantages:

  • Higher  pre-emptive  value than minor  suit openings at the  one level
  • Responder  can raise to  2/3/4 levels with  a 4 card fit immediately  (playing 5 card majors opener  has to start with a minor suit  first, thus leaving lots of space for  intervention by the opponents)
  • 4  card  holdings  occur more  frequently than  5 card ones, hence  major suit openings are  more frequent playing 4 card  majors
  • With  limited  hands in  major suits  the stronger hand   declares the contract
  • When  a minor  suit is opened   the bid guarantees  at least 4 cards in  the suit

Disadvantages:

  • Have  to rebid  the major to  show 5 cards
  • Can  be awkward  when responder  supports with just  3 trumps
  • Sometimes  it is more  difficult to locate  a 5-3 fit in a major  suit, especially in a competitive  auction
  • More  difficult  to gauge the  correct level to  bid to in competitive  auctions

The  following  hands illustrate  the above key points.

Hand One

 
AJ87
KT54
JT6
KJT  
  T9
A987
A43
9754   
 Five Card Majors
1
 :  1

2  :   P
  Four Card Majors
 
1
 : 2

P

The  lead goes  into the stronger  of the two hands playing  4 card majors, which can make  a difference in the tempo, if not  in any specific gain in a suit.


Hand Two

  Q92
J876
85
AJ43
   
86
AKT9
KJT4
KT5
 

JT4

Q42

Q7632 

62

 

S W N E

1 X 2 P

P P

 

AK753

53

A9

Q987

   


Playing  5 card majors  North is comfortable  raising to 2 knowing  that there is a 5-3 fit  at least. There is much less  certainty playing 4 card majors,  but nonetheless the North hand is  worth a raise holding 3 useful trumps  to the Queen, and outside doubleton and  the A. The following frequency distributions  show the advantage of the 8 card fit over the  7 card fit:


8   CARD  FIT
3-2    trump break :   68%
4-1    trump break :   28%
5-0    trump break :     4%

7 CARD FIT 3-3 trump break : 36% 4-2 trump break : 48% 5-1 trump break : 15% 6-0 trump break : 1%

Playing  in a 4-3  trump fit there  is a 64% chance that  one of the opponents holds  at least 4 trumps, whereas in  a 5-3 trump fit the odds of this  happening is halved at 32%.


Exchange  North’s two  of spades for  East’s two of clubs  and North now holds:


Q9    J876 85   AJ432


Playing  5 card majors  this hand is still  worth a raise to 2.  Even though there may be  only a 7 card fit North knows  that partner has the 5th  trump  to deal  with any

4-2  break  (as will  occur if East  holds JT42 of spades).

The  additional  5th  card  is one  of the main  advantages of 5  card  majors.  On  the other

hand,  4 card  majors can  make competitive  bidding easier when  a 4-4 fit is established  at an early stage in the auction,  as shown in hand 3 below.


Hand Three

  AKT97 54 986 K42

Four Card Majors

W N E S

1 1 2 2

P P  P

 83  AKJ6  532 AJ75   654 Q872 AJT QT6  
 

QJ2

T93

KQ74

983

 
Five Card Majors
W N E S
1 1 X 2
P P P 

                                                    

As  the cards  lie both sides  can make 8 tricks  in the majors, and the  vulnerability is critical  as to whether EW should concede  100 for 3 doubled or hope to defeat  2. The poor quality of each of the EW  hands makes it difficult to bid on.

Note  that playing  5 card majors  it is essential  that the negative  double by East guarantees   4 cards in the other major.   Playing 4 card majors the 4-4 fit  in hearts is confirmed earlier in the  bidding.

Having  explored  some of the  differences between  4/5 card major suit  openings, the rest of  this article examines the  role of the forcing  1NT response  when  playing  5 card majors.  Future articles will  cover responses with trump  support when playing either 4  or 5 card majors.

1NT   FORCING   RESPONSE

Many  players  in Ireland  play 5 card  majors with the  2 over 1 game forcing  responses. This means that  over a 1 opening, for example,  a two level response in clubs, diamonds,  or hearts is natural and game forcing, showing   a minimum of 12-13 high card points (depending on partnership  agreement on the minimum strength).

To  cater  for hands  without trump  support in the  range of 6-11 or  6-12 hcp it is necessary  to play 1NT as a bid forcing  for one round. In Ireland most players  bid 2 over 1 with 12 hcp and 1NT response  with 6-11 hcp, so this article will use these  ranges throughout the discussion of this convention.

The  Forcing  1NT is  employed  on 3 types  of responding  hands:

      1. NO  FIT
      2. PARTIAL  FIT (2 CARD)
      3. BALANCED  3 CARD FIT

When  partner  responds with  a Forcing 1NT opener  attempts to describe the  shape and strength of the  opening major knowing that responder


1.    NO  FIT

When  responder  has a singleton  or void in the opening  major the forcing 1NT provides  an opportunity to seek better  spot.

WEST K4 AJ865 32 A432 EAST 765 7 KJ987 QJT5  
1  :  1NT
2 : P
 
The  forcing  1NT allows  for the discovery  of the excellent club contract.

When  the opener  has 5332 shape  it is necessary to  rebid the lower 3 card  minor:

WEST 97 KQJ75 A32 K32
EAST 32 8 K9854 A9875  
 
1 : 1NT
2 : P
 
East  realises  that partner  holds at least  3 clubs and so passes in comfort, knowing a 5-3 fit has been reached.

2.    PARTIAL   FIT (2 CARD)

Responder  holding just  2 cards in the  opening major suit,  with a hand in the 6-11  range, may employ the forcing 1NT to explore whether or not a  superior contract is available, with  the option of returning to a 5-2 major  suit fit if nothing better emerges from the  auction.


WEST
AQJ65
QT86
K7
65
EAST
87
J543
86
AK987
 
1 : 1NT
2 : P  
 
East  plans to return to the 5-2 spade fit if there is no  better fit available, such as a 5-3 club fit. When West shows at least a 5-4 shape in the majors, East is content to pass.

                                                                                

WEST
54
AQT75
KJ7
K76
EAST
J98
64
Q432
A983

1 : 1NT
2 : 2
P
 
West rebids the lower 3 card minor and East  returns to hearts as there is a definite 5-2 fit in that spot.

                      

3.    BALANCED  3 CARD FIT

When  responder  has a flat  4333 distribution  with 3 cards in the  opening major it is best  to bid 1NT first, confining immediate raises in trumps to hands  containing the ruffing value of at least  an outside doubleton. Once opener rebids at the two level responder returns to two of the  major with 6-9 hcp and jumps to three of the major  with 10-11 hcp.


WEST
KQJ65
32
AQ5
JT8     
EAST
T32
K76
987
A765
 
1 : 1NT
2 : 2
P

East’s 4333 shape is not  conducive to an immediate raise to 2S, as the hand lacks any ruffing value. By employing the forcing 1NT first West will realise the limitations of partner’s hand.

WEST
54
AJT86
KQ65
A3  
EAST
876
Q75
A9
KQ876

1 : 1NT
2D :  3
4 : P
 
East is maximum for the forcing 1NT, so jumps  to 3H to show the 3 card trump support and 10-11.

OPENER’S  REBIDS AFTER  A FORCING 1NT  RESPONSE


  • 2M  = 2  level rebid  of the opening  major shows 6 trumps  and 12-14
  • 3M  = jump  rebid of  the opening  major shows 6  trumps and 15-19
  • 4M  = double  jump to game  shows a 7 card  suit (or self sufficient  6 card suit)
  • 2S over  1H opening  = 4+ spades  with longer hearts  and 16+: forcing for  one round
  • Jump  shift to  a new suit  = 4+ suit, 17+  and game forcing
  • 2NT  = 18-19  balanced

For  those  already  playing the  forcing 1NT, one  useful addition to  your bidding armoury  is employing transfers  by responder if opener raises  the 1NT response to 2NT. The advantage  of this is that responder with  a weak hand can stop the auction below game  and allow the strong hand to play the contract.  Thus the lead goes into any tenaces in the stronger  hand, and defenders see the weaker hand in dummy. The  following examples show how these transfers work in practice:                   

WEST
AKJT4
Q98
K9
AJ9
EAST (1)
2  
JT9765
QT8
T32
EAST (2)
76
AJT87
QT8
T32

West  opens 1  and both East  hands respond 1NT,  and when this is raised  to 2NT, employ the 3 transfer, West bidding 3.

Now  the bidding  diverges. The  first East is pleased  to be able to stop in  3 (in fact was hoping opener  would rebid a minor suit at the  two level so that 2 could be the  final contract). The second East can see  there are sufficient values for game, so offers  opener a choice of the final destination by bidding  3NT.

SUMMARY  

In  this  first article  in a series on  major suit openings  and responses, the respective  advantages and disadvantages of opening 4 card majors or 5 card  majors were outlined. The author plays  both types but leaves it to the reader  to decide which one best suits your own bidding  style.

For  those  playing  5 card majors  it is strongly recommended  that the forcing 1NT is used  in order to handle a variety of  hand types when responder lacks trump  support or high card points to make a  direct trump raise or a two level game forcing  bid in a new suit. The various hands where the forcing  1NT can be used were outlined, as well as the range of rebids  available to the opener. Next time trump raising sequences will be  explored.

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TipsToEnjoyBridge

www.cbai.ie

http://bridgeonlineworldcup.com/

http://http://www.southmunsterbridgescene.com/

www.bridgecongress.com


www.diarmuidreddanbridge.com


http://www.munsterbridgeacademy.com

www.fob.ie

www.bridgeireland.com


http://www.greatbridgelinks.com/

www.nibu.co.uk

 
Ċ
Limerick Congress,
28 Mar 2018, 07:19