Balancing Over One-Bids

A balancing bid is made in the pass-out seat after an opponent has opened the bidding (1 of a suit on your left, Pass, Pass, to you). In these situations, it's often a good idea to stretch to keep the auction alive. To decide whether or not you should balance after a one-bid is passed around to you, keep these general guidelines in mind:

The BEST time to balance is when:
  1. You're short in the opponent's suit.
  2. You have length and high-card strength in the other three suits.
  3. You have a good 5-card or longer suit.
  4. You're not vulnerable (if you can't make your bid, the penalty will be lower, and may be even less than the score you would have lost if you had defended the one-bid).
The WORST time to balance is when:
  1. You have a very weak hand (fewer than 8 pts.) and/or a weak suit.
  2. You have length in OPENER'S suit. The more cards you have in the opponents' suit, the less chance there is that you and partner will have a fit. It's often best to pass and let opener play in what may be a bad contract.
  3. You're vulnerable. If you can't make your bid, the penalty may be expensive, so be conservative.

How strong is partner's hand?

One reason for balancing is to protect partner when he has good values, but did not have a descriptive bid available in the direct seat. In some of these cases, he may have had a "trap pass"-a strong hand that could not call because of length in opener's suit. To get a general idea of partner's points and distribution when the opponents pass out a one-bid, you can usually assume that:

Now look for other clues to determine how likely it is that partner's hand falls in the "average" ranges above. If you have a marginal balancing hand, use these guidelines to make your decision:

Balancing after a Suit Opening Bid (1C/1D/1H/1S - Pass - Pass - ?)

When you balance over a one-bid, you are, in effect, bidding some of partner's values for him. This means you can "shade down" many of your bids. As a guideline, most of your balancing bids promise about one King fewer than you would need to make the same bid in the direct seat.

Balancing Over an Opening Notrump (1NT - Pass - Pass - ?)

A SUIT BID in the passout seat can be whatever you and partner agree -- a natural one-suited hand, a conventional bid showing two suits, etc. Don't worry too much about HCP requirements. It's much more important to have a good suit(s) and playing strength when you balance.

Check the vulnerability. Since it's guaranteed that LHO has some length and defense against your suit -- and his partner knows this -- you'll be doubled more often, so be sure you have extra strength if you're vulnerable. If you're not vulnerable and the opponents are, be more aggressive-you can balance with almost any hand that has a long, decent suit.

A DOUBLE in the passout seat can have different meanings at different vulnerabilities.

Responder's Bids (after partner balances over a one-bid)

Remember that partner may have stretched to keep the auction open for you, so don't hang him. In general, most of your responses promise about one Queen more than you would have if partner had taken action in the direct seat.

If partner balances with a suit (showing 8-13 pts.):
Don't get too excited. Partner usually has less than opening-bid strength, so you should usually pass if you have a weak hand without a fit. The meanings of your other bids are:
If partner doubles (showing 10+ pts.):
Remember that partner can be relatively light in high-card points, so don't hang him. With most hands, respond at the cheapest level possible (don't jump, even with 10-11 pts.). If partner has a full opening bid, he'll usually bid again.
If partner balances with 1NT (showing 11-15 pts.):


The auction goes 1H by your LHO (left-hand-opponent) - Pass - Pass to you. What is your bid with:

Q3  KQ4  AJ87   QJ92 ?
1NT. This is about the strongest hand you should have for a balancing 1NT.
984  QJ6  AQ1032   K10 ?
1NT. A 2D bid is also a possibility, but with your balanced shape and heart stopper, 1NT is a better description.
K5  64  J102   AJ10854 ?
2C. Don't be afraid to balance light if you have a good suit, especially if you're relatively short in your opponent's suit.
QJ93  A874   K1032 ?
Double. You have minimum points, but you have right distribution.
AQJ103  754  6   AQJ3 ?
Double. This hand is too strong for a simple 1S balance, which can show as few as 8 pts.. You plan to rebid 2S over partner's response, showing a "good" overcall.
1043  AQ7  AKJ1084 ?
3C. This hand is too strong for a simple 2C balance. Jump to show your strong suit and invite game.
QJ84  Q7654  AQ7 ?
Pass. Your long suit is very weak and you have length in opener's suit. Also, they may have a better contract in spades, and they may find it if you reopen the bidding for them.
53  J973  KQ1032  Q9 ?
Pass. You have a good suit, but you're very weak. Partner's failure to bid suggests that opener has a powerhouse, or that the opponents have a better fit somewhere.

Copyright   Karen Walker