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A general approach to "playing strength" openings

First some general principles: (A defensive trick is A or KQ, AK = 2 defensive tricks, AKQ = 3 defensive tricks, AQ = 1.5 defensive tricks; Kx = .5 defensive tricks.)

An opening preempt, as we have previously agreed, is almost always no more than 1 defensive trick and at most 1.5 defensive tricks. Thus, Axxxxx, Ax, xxxx, x is never a 2S bid because partner can never know that you have 2 Aces and may make a poor decision to sacrifice at 4 or 5 Ss. There is, for us, such a thing as too weak for a 1 bid, not the right structure for a 2 bid.

An opening 1 bid is usually 3 defensive tricks, strongly suggests 2.5 defensive tricks and (almost) absolutely promises 2 defensive tricks. Thus, even if other requirements are met, you cannot open KQxxxxx, -, x, Kxxxx with a 1S bid because you have only 1.5 defensive tricks (at most). A 2C opening absolutely promises 4 defensive tricks (although we may not expect all of these to cash, for example AKQJxxxxxx, A, xx, -) . A 10-12 NT suggest at least 2 defensive tricks and promises 1.5 (KKK and a stray J). With 3 defensive tricks an upgrade is in order (AAA = 13 points).

A 2C opening bid promises 4 defensive tricks although not all of them would always be expected to cash: for example AKQJxxxxxx, A, x, x.

Now, as to losing trick count and our agreements on opening on playing strength:

With a 2 loser hand we always open 2C unless we have some kind of hand that should be better bid on tactical considerations. For example, with -, AKQJxxxxxxx, x, x we would like to get doubled in some high level (5 or 6) H contract and at the same time avoid having the OPPs find their S fit. This note will not discuss the tactics that apply to rarities such as 11 card suits however.

With a 3 loser hand, we need at least 17 HCP to open 2C, otherwise we open a 1 bid and make a GF jump shift (or jump to game) over any response by partner or, for that matter, interference by OPPs. The reasoning behind this is that partner will always respond with 6 HCP and often with 4 (any A) or 5 (including a K) so either partner will bid (6 HCP) or one OPP or the other will overcall or balance with 9 or 10 HCP so we will not often miss our game and many times we won't be sorry if we do.

With a 4-5 loser hand, we open a 1 bid if it is ACBL legal. Generally this means at least "Rule of 19" (HCP + length in 2 longest suits = 19), thus a minimum of 8 HCP and 6-5 or 7 HCP and 6-6, etc. Your 7-6 from a few Saturdays ago does not qualify as an opening 1 bid (4+13 = only 17). Also, if we open on the basis of LTC, we must afterwards slow way down until a fit is confirmed. We can open 4 loser hands with 2C if we hold 20+ HCP. With fewer HCP we aren't afraid of missing game if partner can't come up with a Response to a 1 bid. With 5 loser hands, just open a 1 bid (unless you hold 25+ HCP).

With a 6 loser hand and 2 Defensive Tricks, we can open a 1 bid. For example, Axxxxx, Axxxx, x, x. With KQxxxx, xxx, KQx, x a preemptive opening might be better however since it seems unlikely that both tricks will cash on defense.

With a 7 loser hand, we require 12+ HCP to open a 1 bid (other than 10-12 1 NT). A notable exception is the AK, A 3 defensive trick hand which is usually opened. Here we are bidding "with the room" (meaning most other pairs are doing the same thing).

Third seat after two PASSes is different and now obstruction is a real consideration while defensive tricks and playing strength are not so critical. Our card is marked to indicate the possibility of VERY LIGHT 3rd seat openings.

Vulnerability matters. NV vs. V third seat openers are quite suspect but should be treated by partner as full values until opener's subsequent actions "make no sense." In general, "PASSed hands have no rights" meaning a PASSed hand cannot suddenly spring to life and take over the auction. The most a PASSed hand can ever bid is 2C Drury. Lead direction is important in 3rd seat (and others) too. Opening 1S in 3rd Seat is recommended with AQxxx, -, xxx, QJxxx because you want the S lead and Ss preempts the whole 1 level. xxxxx, -, QJx, AQxxx is not as appealing, although I am not saying that I would never offer a 1 level preempt of 1S in 3rd seat with that holding (especially against a stronger pair -- if you let stronger pairs be to find their best contract they will usually make extra tricks for a bad match point result anyway). Still, an opening 1 bid should never be less than 8 HCP and, of course, we can never open balanced 9 or fewer with 1NT (well, except for Psyches, see next paragraph).

We cannot have agreements about Psyches but in general almost all experts will make some non-system bid if the auction goes P (P) and they in 3rd seat hold virtually no points. Kevin Bathhurst famously did this in the semi-finals of the Grand National Teams in 2017. P (P) 1NT showing 15-17 but holding 987632, 863, 72, K2 or similar. The OPPs, excellent players Sylvia Shi and Beth Palmer, suspected what was going on, especially fourth hand with her 27 HCPs but missed their cold grand slam (bid at the other table) anyway. NV v. NV there but again, NV v V makes all of this kind of gambling more profitable. Note that while you can "grossly misstate your values or shape" you cannot use the "I psyched" defense to justify making a prohibited 1NT opening show 10-12 in 3rd seat holding only 9 HCP. 1 point, 2 points is not a "gross misstatement." So psyches, yes. Shaded openings, no.

As always, challenges, questions and suggestions very welcome.

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