By Prof Tony Campbell

ONE of the first things you have to learn at bridge is what to do when it is your turn to open the bidding. Here are four hands where you were the dealer, and so have to start the auction off. What would you bid?

Bidding principles

There are certain principles that may help you decide what to open the bidding with. First, after you have picked up your hand, always count how many cards you have before looking at them. Check you have 13 cards. It is frustrating after a great coup to discover three tricks from the end you have 4 cards left when one of your opponent only has 2! Deal void! Next, count how many points you have (4 for an ace, 3 for a king, 2 for a queen and 1 for a jack). Typically you need at least 11 points upwards to open the bidding. In all the hands shown you have enough. A key principle is to think not only what to bid at the start, but what you would bid after your partner has responded to your opening bid.

Hand 1

You have 14 points and five spades. So opening 1 spade is a good start. If your partner passes he has less than 6 points. He will respond with 1NT then if he has 6-8 or maybe a poor 9 points. In this case you cannot have the magical 25 points for 3NT so you pass when it is your turn to bid again. If he bids 2 spades this will be weak, so again you pass. However if he has four spades and 10 points or more he will jump to three spades. You may well then decide to bid four spades – game. If he responds to your opening bid of one spade with 2 hearts, 2 diamonds or 2 clubs he must have at least a good 8 points or more. So you rebid 2 spades to show you have five spades. Your partner can now decide whether there might be a game in 3NT or 4 spades if he has 11 points or more.

Hand 2

Here you have 13 points and an evenly distributed hand. In bridge jargon we call this a flat hand. So the best opening bid is 1NT. If your partner has 11 points or more he will bid on looking for a 4/4 spade fit, a heart fit if he has 5 hearts, or 3NT if he has 12 points or more.

Hand 3

This is a strong hand - 16 points with 5 hearts and 4 spades. You open 1 heart. If your partner responds with 2 clubs or 2 diamonds you can bid 2 spades. This is known in bridge jargon as a reverse bid and shows a strong hand, probably with five hearts and four spades. So your partner knows that game is likely to be on and bids 3or 4 hearts if he has 3 hearts, or if not 3NT if he has 10 points or more with honours in both clubs and diamonds.

Hand 4

Hands with a singleton in one suit and four cards in the other three can be difficult to bid. Here you have 16 points, a strong hand, so you can certainly open the bidding. But which of the three four card suits should you choose? The classic rule is to open the suit below the singleton. So here you should open one heart. If as expected your partner responds with 1 spade you bid 1NT showing you have 15-16 points. Partner will be looking for game in 3NT if he has a good nine or ten points, or more. You need to make 9 tricks in 3NT. In fact your partner in this hand had Spades AK65 Hearts 107 Diamonds J86 Clubs K98 – 11 points. So after the 1NT response from the opening bidder his partner knew that they must have at least 26 points between them. So he bid 3NT. This makes easily. Declarer makes 3 spades (A,K,Q), two hearts (A,K), at least two diamonds (K and Q, and three if they are distributed 3/3 in the opposition hands), and two clubs, making at least 9 in total = 3NT. The defence will make the ace of diamonds, the ace and jack of clubs, and possibly a diamond, just four tricks.

What have we learnt?

There are a number of useful principles in these hands for beginners and improvers. First, first count your points. Secondly, before you open the bidding think what you will bid next if your partner is able to respond to your opening bid. Thirdly, use your bids to give your partner the maximum information in point count and length of suit you hold, so that he can see from his hand whether game has a good chance, 25+ points in 3NT, or 4H or 4S if you have 3 or 4 cards in your partners major suit. Remember bridge, like all card games, is a percentage game. Lady luck can often play a part for you or against you. There is only one card game of pure skill – Snap! And there will always be exceptions to every rule. That is why bridge player love their post-mortems at the end of a hand. If only you had bid that partner…! It’s all great fun. Find a beginners class online and have a go.

Further information

Good luck with your online bridge. Bridge Club Live (BCL) is the best but seems to be closed at the moment for new registrations. But Bridge Online Base (BBO) is good and is still open. You can register and play with a chosen partner or take potluck with a random one. A number of members of both Penarth and Sully Bridge Clubs are already registered. There are several good books available for beginners and improvers. As a student the bridge guru for me was Terrance Reese. Today Paul Mendelson is a good writer, as well as Andrew Robson who has teaching classes online. Griffin Books can obtain any book for you. Contact them online.

It would be marvellous if you can keep copies of these articles as I build up your knowledge. And please let me know if they are useful. Don't forget you can always find these articles online at www.penarthtimes/bridge. Email me if you have anything you would like me to discuss, and keep an eye open for more information on our club web site - email me at Keep well. Keep safe. Bon chance. Table up.