When your partner responds 1 of a major to your 1m opening when should raise on 3 card support? The answer depends on the shape of your hand and where your values are located. Whether you raise, rebid your suit, bid one spade or 1NT you are conveying a very different message to your partner. Slight changes to honor locations will change the message that you want to deliver. Here’s the way Bobby Levin and I think about it:
Raise on 3 or rebid 1NT?
As a general rule we try to not rebid 1NT when we have a side suit with less than 10x. The 10 can become very important positionally in 3NT (the 9 can also, but we try to draw the line at the 10 with some exceptions). So let’s say we pick up ♠Kxx ♥KQx ♦10x ♣Axxxx and open 1♣, over either major we would rebid 1NT. Change the 10x to xx and we would raise to 2M. With ♠Kxx ♥KQxx ♦xx ♣KJxx we would raise to 2♠ after 1♣-1♠, even holding the more balanced 4432 shape. But, once again, change the x to the ten and it’s an easy 1NT.
Rebidding 1NT also helps decelerate the auction. If I pick up ♠Kxx ♥Kxx ♦Qx ♣KJxxx I want to slow down the auction after 1♣-1♥ by rebidding 1NT. Partner is much more likely to make a game try if I raise than if I show 12-14 balanced without 4-card heart support. Remember, when you raise on 3, partner will initially assume 4-card support and will picture hands that can make game opposite minimum values and 4-card support. Avoid leading partner in that direction if you have other ways to go.
Raise on 3 or rebid my minor?
When you rebid 2 of your minor, partner will aggressively raise with a doubleton honor and a decent hand that might have passed 1NT or a raise to 2 of a major. If we open 1♣ with ♠xx ♥AJx ♦Kx ♣Axxxxx and partner bids 1♥ a 2♣ rebid may direct the auction the wrong way as the clubs aren’t a reliable source of tricks; we would try to lead the auction away from 3NT and raise partner’s hearts. If the hand were, instead, ♠xx ♥Axx ♦Qx ♣KQJxxx, now we are targeting 3NT and want to lead partner in that direction so we would rebid the minor. We don’t have a hard and fast rule, as it really comes down to judgment, but as a guideline you can try this: opener can raise to 2M holding 3-6 shape with a hand that’s good for partner’s major and not so good for 3NT. The worst suit that will rebid 2m with 3-card support is approximately AJ9xxx.
Raise on 3, rebid 1♠ or 1NT?
How about over a 1♥ response when holding 4 spades and 3 hearts? This is a common and difficult situation. As a partnership we won’t bid 1♠ unless our hand is good enough to support hearts over partner’s possible 1NT. One of our general principles is that correcting partscores shows extra values. There are exceptions to this, but 1m-1♥; 1♠-1NT; 2♥ is not one of them--that is clearly defined as 4 spades, 3 hearts, a singleton in the other minor and extra values. This means that 4324 12 -14HCP hands will usually be rebid 2♥ or 1NT. Rarely, we will bid 1♠ with concentrated honors in spades and our minor. If your system dictates that, when holding 4 spades, you bid 1♠ rather than 1NT, I would still recommend that you raise partner with 4=3 in the majors when holding minimum opening values.
When you raise semi-frequently on 3 card support you will need methods to discern whether you are in an 8-card fit should you press on to game. These can be complicated or not, it depends on how detailed agreements your partnership wants while balancing the memory strain. However, I consider it essential to be able to bid spades and hearts naturally after 1m-M; 2M, i.e. 1m-1♥; 2♥-2♠ and 1m-1♠; 2♠-3♥. This enables you to arrive in your 4-4 fit instead of your 4-3 or 5-3 fit, respectively. Bids of 3m after both of these auctions are ostensibly natural gametries, they can be converted to slam tries later in the auction. The first message they convey is to not worry about whether you made a 3-card raise but to look at the rest of your hand. After 1m-1M; 2M we play 2NT forcing (but not to game) asking partner to further describe their hand. A simple response structure might be:
Our actual notes are a little more complex:
1m -1♥, 2♥ -2♠ = Natural, guarantees 4(+)-card ♠.
1m -1♥, 2♥ -2N = Forcing, and now:
After 1m-1♠, 2♠-2N sequences are the same, except:
1m -1♠, 2♠ -2N:
1m -1M, 2M -3m = Natural game try (forcing even by PH)
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