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Cambridge University Bridge Club

Beginners Lessons 2006

Lesson 2. The basics of Acol1NT opening

Jonathan Cairns,

Last week we learnt Minibridge - a simplified version of Bridge with no auction. We

that a contract is a declaration to take a certain number of tricks

how to use High Card Points (HCP) to pick the contract level.
card-play and how to make tricks.




7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1


Grand Slam
Small Slam


Points required (HCP)

About 37
About 33
About 27 (/)
About 25 (//NT)
Under 25

Contracts: A summary of what we learnt last week

This week, we will start playing Bridge for real! In Bridge, we decide the contract by an
auction. Then we play the contract, as we did last week.
The reason for making each bid is far more important than knowing what bid to make
(which comes with practice), so we will focus on this above all else. We will discuss
guidelines on how to bid, but when making a decision, common sense should always
come first.
From now on, some material that I include in the notes (but will not cover in the lessons)
will be surrounded by dotted lines. I suggest you ignore these optional sections for now,
but if you're feeling confident, give them a read. Most of the optional material will be
concerned with choice of Game between 3NT and 5C/D, and Slam bidding.

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The Auction
Just like any other auction, an auction is a series of bids to
try to buy the contract.

Starting with the dealer and going clockwise, each

player can pass, or bid.1 A bid states which contract
you think you can make (so a bid of 2H says "I
expect to make the contract 2H; i.e. I think I can
make 8 tricks in hearts").

The first bid (i.e. the first non-pass) is called the

opening bid. (That player is said to have opened.)

After somebody has opened, bids must be higher

than all previous bids. Either:






Each bid corresponds to a contract.

o It must be at a higher level

o OR it must be of a higher strain (choice of trump suit). The suits rank in
alphabetical order from lowest to highest: < < < (Clubs <
Diamonds < Hearts < Spades). NT beats all of the suits.

The bidding continues until three passes are made in a row. The final bid then
becomes the contract, and we move into card-play. The person who made the
final bid becomes declarer, unless their partner bid that strain first - in which
case, their partner declares!

If all four players pass without opening, this is called passing out - the bidding ends, the
cards are reshuffled and we deal a new hand.


Example bid:
7 7 7
6 6 6
5 5 5
4 4 4
3 3 3
2 2 2
1 1 1

Example auctions:

4 beats all 1-, 2-, or 3-level bids. It

also beats 4 and 4, but not 4 or








West declares 3NT.








North declares 3 (North bid first!).


You can also "double" an opponent's bid, or "redouble" if an opponent doubles. We will discuss this later.

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Ending the Auction

Once the Auction ends, somebody will have won the contract. That person declares.
Their partner becomes dummy - don't put dummy's cards down yet!
The person on declarer's left makes the opening lead, as before, but without being able to
see dummy. Dummy's cards are placed on the table AFTER the opening lead has been
made. As before, we play through all of the tricks, work out whether Declarer has made
the contract, and calculate the score.
You now know the basic rules of bridge! Give yourself a pat on the back.

The Acol Bidding System

Last week, when playing Minibridge, we were able to look at all of our partnership's 26
cards before deciding the contract. We looked at suit lengths and counted HCP, to pick
the best contract. You no longer have this luxury - now you must try to get to the right
contract with only 13 of these 26 cards visible to you! Can we work out what's in
partner's hand?
Unfortunately, it is considered cheating to lean over the table and ask your partner what
cards they have, communicate in sign-language, or kick under the table in Morse code.2
However, you can communicate with your partner through the bids you make. You'll
need to co-operate with your partner, and try to get to the right contract.
A bidding system is a series of agreements between you and your partner, where bids
are assigned meanings, such as:
telling partner how many HCP you have.
telling partner how many cards you have in a given suit.
asking partner for information about their hand.
telling partner what the final contract should be ("signing off").
In this series of lessons, we will learn about the bidding system Acol with three weak
twos. Different people play different systems - so be sure to discuss your system with a
new partner before playing, to avoid arguments!

Bidding Philosophy
In most sensible bidding systems, the rule of thumb is that you need 12 HCP or more to
open3 - your hand will therefore need to be reasonably above average. Otherwise, pass.
(But what should you open? We will look at this in more detail later!)

Sadly, teams have tried cheating with each of these methods in important international competitions. I
would not suggest that you copy their behaviour! (see

But, as always, there are exceptions to this "rule". You can open with fewer points as long as you have a
long suit to make up for it. This is called pre-empting, and we will discuss it in lesson 5.

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Suppose your partner opens. Let's assume that the opponents pass throughout (this will be
the case for the next few lessons).4
Now that partner has opened, you can make a response to the opening bid. Opener may
then make another bid. Bidding goes back and forth until the right contract is reached, at
which point you stop bidding and pass.
Three bidding concepts are key, and we will keep coming back to them again and again:
GAME-FORCING (GF): In some sequences, you may discover that game is on.
In this case, you can often make a game-forcing bid - this means that
neither of you can pass until reaching a game contract.
INVITING: If you think game may be on, provided partner is strong enough,
then you can invite game by making an invitational bid. Partner bids
game (with a strong hand) or passes (with a weak hand).
SIGN-OFF IN A PART SCORE: If your partnership is too weak for game, then
sign off in the lowest possible part score - that is, make a bid that
partner must pass.

Game-forcing auctions
When you are in a game-forcing auction, the priorities should be, in order:
1. Play in Game in a major suit (4/4) with an 8 card fit.
2. Play Game in NT (3NT).
3. Play Game in a minor suit (5/5). You need 11 tricks to make 5/5, rather than
9 tricks to make 3NT, so 3NT is usually much easier!
Today we will highlight this process by discussing just one of the 35 possible opening
bids: 1 Notrump (1NT).

Opening 1NT
In Acol, a 1NT opening tells partner that your hand:
is balanced. A balanced hand is one with no voids (0-card suits) or singletons
(1-card suits), and with at most one doubleton (2-card suits). The lengths of
your suits must therefore be 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2 or 5-3-3-2.
has 12 to 14 HCP5
Any bid that defines your hand as precisely as this is known as a limit bid. Any player
making a limit bid should remain passive for the rest of the auction (i.e. partner is put in
control, he/she makes the decisions or asks questions and the limit bidder only responds
to those questions). Your partner knows far more information about your hand than you
do about theirs (they could have anything!) so is better placed to make the judgement.

If you practise bidding, away from the lessons, I suggest that for now you treat overcalling (bidding after
the other side has bid) in the same way as opening and pass if your opening bid is not available. Well
cover competitive bidding in week six the priorities of the auction become different!
This is known as a "weak NT". Some people play 1NT showing 15 to 17 HCP, known as "strong NT".

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Responding to 1NT
To recap, a bid after your partner has opened the auction is called a response. After
partner opens 1NT, you should re-evaluate you hand based on the knowledge you now
have. Remember a contract is decided on the combined strengths of two hands, so what
you thought was worthless might now be extremely valuable. Start by assessing your
point count:
0 10 HCP. You have a maximum combined strength of 24 HCP, which is not enough
for Game. You need to stop in the best partscore. You have 2 options:

Pass with any hand lacking a 5 card suit. You probably don't have a good
trump suit between you.

Bid a 5 card (or longer) suit at the 2 level - e.g. with 5 spades, bid 2S. You
probably have an 8-card fit, and certainly no worse than a 7-card fit (opener
cannot be void or singleton in your suit). Trump control is very useful when
combined HCP are poor. This is a sign-off bid - Opener MUST pass and
accept your judgement that this is the best partscore. (Dont be afraid to do
this with 0 HCP and a weak 5 card suit. It will usually play better than 1NT
on those occasions.)

13 18 HCP. Your combined strength is definitely enough for game (25 HCP) but not
enough for Slam (< 33 HCP), so you must bid game, or force opener to bid game. Your
options are:

Bid 3NT on any hand lacking a 5 card or longer suit. It will probably be
the best game. This is a sign-off bid - opener should pass it.

Bid 4H or 4S with a 6 card or longer suit. You are guaranteed an 8 card fit
and this is likely to be the best game. This is also sign-off - opener should

Bid 3H or 3S with a 5 card suit an 8 card fit is not guaranteed. This is a

game-forcing bid. Opener is forced to bid game, but is left to decide whether
3NT or 4H/S is likely to be best. Opener should:
o bid 3NT with only 2 cards in your suit
o 4H/S with a good 3 card suit or longer suit (judgement is required with
3 small cards, but bidding 4H/S is usually right)

Bid 5C or 5D with a 6 card or longer suit, IF you think this will play
better than 3NT (e.g., if you hold a couple of unstopped short suits).
Remembering that you need to make 11 tricks for a minor suit Game. You
will need to use your judgement!

Bid 3C or 3D with a 5 card suit, IF you think 5C or 5D will play better

than 3NT will play badly. (Game forcing.) This bid is rare, and probably
indicative of a two-suited hand e.g. 4-0-5-5.
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11 12 HCP. You have enough for game if opener is maximum (14 HCP), but not if
minimum (12 HCP). You need more information from partner.

Invite opener to bid game by bidding 2NT. Opener will:

o Pass with 12 13 HCP. Game values are unlikely so decline the
invite and settle for the Partscore.
o Sign-off in 3NT with 14 HCP and any 4-3-3-3 or 4-4-3-2 shape or 53-3-2 with a 5 card minor.
o Bid a 5 card major suit at the 3 level with 14 HCP6. This is game
forcing and accepts the invite to game but asks responder to choose
between 3NT and Game in that suit (4H/S). Responder signs-off in
3NT with fewer than 3 cards, or the suit game with 3 or more cards.

In the rare cases where responder holds more than 18 HCP, Slam becomes possible. Full
details of Slam bidding do not fit here, but in general for responders hands without
long suits:
19 20 HCP. Bid 4NT invites opener to bid 6NT if maximum (14 HCP so
guaranteeing a combined 33 HCP) or pass if minimum.
21 22 HCP. Sign-off in 6NT guaranteed 33 HCP for Small Slam, but not the
37 HCP for Grand Slam.
23 24 HCP. Bid 5NT. This is a forcing opener to bid 6NT if minimum and inviting
him/her to bid 7NT if maximum (giving combined 37 HCP).
25 28 HCP. Sign-off in 7NT. 37 HCP are guaranteed.
With slam forcing hands and 5 card suits, you can also use the forcing 3 C/D/H/S bids
and then raise whatever Game opener chooses to Slam.
And just to finish Passing your partners forcing bids or bidding over his/her
signoff bids is one of the biggest sins at the Bridge table. Don't do it!

Declarer play in Bridge

After dummy is faced, you will not have had a chance to inspect his/her cards when
deciding the contract, so take some time to consider how you will approach the play.
We'll discuss this more in later weeks, but as was described in the Strategy section last
week: Start by counting quick tricks. How many extra tricks do you need to make?
Which suits are they coming from? Think about getting extra tricks from long suits or
from finessing (e.g. lead from a hand opposite AQ, if the K appears, take it with the A,

Many people will not open 1NT with a good 5 card major, so this bid is not needed.

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otherwise play the Q). In a suit contract, think about whether to start by drawing trumps.
(this is often the right thing to do!)
You can learn a lot about declarer play from looking back over a hand after you
have played it! Good players love to chat about the previous hand, and try to work out
what they should or shouldn't have done.

Practice hands
You now have the opportunity to play through some practice hands. I have rigged these
hands to make sure that the correct opening bid is always 1NT. You will receive a board
that contains pre-dealt hands. Take the cards out of the board. Do not mix the cards up,
and do not shuffle the hands together! Play the hand, making sure to keep the hands
separate as we did last week. When you have finished a hand, place them back into the
board as you received them, so they can be played again. Then, collect the next board.

Key Points from Lesson 2

The example of opening 1NT was used to illustrate the decision processes used when
bidding and about active and passive roles in an auction. It is these thought processes
that are the important lessons to take away since we will be using them when discussing
other bids next week. Whilst you will still not be able to bid the majority of hands that are
dealt at the Bridge table with any great accuracy, you will at least be able to think what
bids could be made (what if youre not balanced, or if youre balanced with more than
14 HCP). If you play any hands between now and next week, I suggest that you play
Minibridge initially and, at the end of the hand, think about how you could have bid it if
playing Bridge. The most important concepts to remember are:

Opening the auction on 12 or more HCP

1NT opening as a limit bid and consequences for who controls the auction
Assessment of combined strength of a partnerships hands
Sign-off bids
Invitational bids
Game Forcing bids

written by Rob Richardson, 2004; updated by Jonathan Cairns, 2011

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Bidding Summary
This will now be included at the end of every set of notes and will describe most bidding
sequences you can have so far. Bids in (brackets) are to be used with judgement as there
may be better bids with some hands. Bids not listed are not used in the system so far.
Some abbreviations that appear are (which will be added to each week): cs = card suit,
F = forcing, G = Game, bal = balanced, M = major, m = minor, sup = card support,
Sl = slam.


Opener rebid

1NT 12-14, bal

Pass 0-10, no 5-card suit

2C/D/H/S 0-10, 5+cards
2NT 11-12, invites Game

Pass 12-13
3NT 14, no 5-card Major
3H/S 14, 5cs, Forces Game

3C/D/H/S 13-18, 5-cards,


Responder rebid
3N no 3 sup or 3 low cards
4H/S 3+ sup

3NT no 3 sup
4H/S 3+ sup
(5C/D 3+ good sup)
3NT 13-18, no 5-card suit
4H/S 13-18, 6+ card suit
(5C/D 13-18, 6+cards)
4NT 19-20 invites Slam
Pass 12-13
6NT 14
Higher bids in NT: Rare, but 6/7 to play, 5NT Forcing to 6NT, invite to 7NT

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