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What do you open?

You hold:


What do you open?

Apparently this hand appears in the Seattle Times today. The author of that article suggests opening 1♣ and rebidding ♠ twice. This post is a counterpoint opinion.

There was a time when the mainstream recommendation was to open 1♣ on this hand, but that time has long past? Why? In a nutshell — 2/1.

Consider the following auction in Standard American:

Opener Responder
   1♠       —        2♢   

If 2♢ is 10+ and forcing 1 round, then 3♣ commits to game. I would argue that the example hand is strong enough to do so, but let's weaken it a touch to be more in line with the modern game:


11 HCP, but 3 distributional points (1 doubleton, 1 singleton). This also meets the "Rule of 20" where we add the length of our 2 longest suits plus our HCP and open if it is 20 or more - this is 21. In any event, this is certainly an opening bid by modern standards.

In SA, the 1♠—2♢ auction becomes problematic; we hardly want to GF this hand opposite a random 10 count, especially with some of that rating to be wasted in the diamond suit. This issue disappears when 2♢ is a GF already; now we can bid 3♣ freely based purely on our distribution without worrying about promising extra HCP strength. Indeed, that is one of the strengths of 2/1 as compared with SA.

There are other issues with opening 1♣ on hands like this as well. The plan of 1♣, then 1♠, then 2♠ is all well and good when the opponents stay out of your way, but far too often that is no longer the case! Suppose you open 1♣ and the next hand bids 4♡, which goes pass pass back to you. Perhaps you might bid 4♠, but are you comfortable doing so? Would it stun anyone if you were then doubled and go for a large number?

There's also the issue of using our best tools. Over a 1♠ opener we have: Jacoby 2NT, splinters, Forcing NT, and so on. Over 1♣ we have...crickets. If the auction goes 1♣—3NT, do you now whip out 4♠? Is partner going to know that's meant as a sign off bid rather than a slam try?

There was a time when it was normal enough to open 1♣ on this hand, but with the exception of a few hold outs to a bygone era this hand will be opened 1♠ by any expert.

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Tom is an ACBL Grand Life Master, Bridge Teacher and Professional Player.
His hobbies outside of bridge include tabletop games and computers.