Your 2C Bidding Structure

Part 1 -- IS this a 2C opening?

Back in our game's early years, the experts of the day emphasized "sound values" in bidding. Opening notrumps were 16-18 points, jump shifts were 19+, and preempts always followed the rule of two and three. Every bid seemed to promise "two bull elephants backed up in the garage" (as one of our local rubber-bridge players used to say).

Today's players like to bid higher and more often than Culbertson, Goren and the other bridge pioneers. As a result, modern bidding has embraced lower minimums for many standard bids and conventions.

One of the bids that has undergone this reverse inflation is the strong two-bid. It doesn't "cost" nearly as much to make one today as it did forty (or even twenty) years ago, when it virtually guaranteed game. Back then, Goren recommended a minimum of 25 high-card points with a good 5-card major, 23 points with a 6-carder, and 21 points with a 7-carder. In a minor suit, two points more were required.

Today, most players have switched to a strong-and-artificial 2C, and they open it with somewhat less than Goren recommended. Some even stretch the limits to include any hand with 8 to 9 playing tricks.

I still remember a long-ago club game where one player opened a strong 2C with 5 AQJ10987542 6 8. In the mayhem that ensued (his opponents had missed a slam), he defended his bid with some creative arithmetic: adding in distribution and 2 points for each card after the fourth in his suit, he counted 25 playing points. He was also quick to quote all the old rules-"I have 9 playing tricks, I don't have two quick losers in any suit, I want to force to game ..."

If you use a playing-tricks-only definition like this one, your 2C openers may encompass weak, distributional freaks like the hand above. However, it's a marked deviation from what most players consider a "standard" 2C opener-and what experts recommend.

Put your hand to the test

So what type of hand should you have for a strong 2C?

With a balanced hand, your decision is easy because you can rely on high-card points. If your range for an opening 2NT is 20-22, you need 23 points to open 2C and rebid 2NT.

Unbalanced hands involve more difficult decisions because you have to evaluate your hand in terms of both trick-taking power and defensive strength. In making decisions about whether or not to open 2C with a distributional hand, many good players "test" their hand with some combination of the guidelines below:

Although high-card points aren't the main factor in evaluating an unbalanced hand, it is important to remember that strong is still the operative word in the convention's name. A strong 2C should not be used to describe a preempt-type hand. In practice, your hand will seldom meet many of the guidelines unless it has at least 16-18 honor points.

The Quick Tricks vs. Losers Rule

Your hand doesn't necessarily have to pass all five of the tests to make a 2C opening a good choice. You'll always have borderline decisions where you'll have to use your judgment. But if you're looking for a "tie-breaker" to help you choose an opening bid for a strong, unbalanced hand, one of the most useful guidelines is the loser count (#3 above).

Using this evaluation method, you open 2C only with hands that contain more quick tricks than losers. To count your quick tricks, use the standard formula (each ace or KQ combination is 1 quick trick; an AK is 2; an unsupported king is ½; and an AQ is 1 ½).

Note that quick tricks are not the same as playing tricks. A hand with a solid 9-card suit and no other honors will have nine playing tricks, but only two quick tricks (the AK) and four outside losers.

To determine your hand's total losers, count one for each missing ace, king or queen in each suit of 3 cards or more (up to a maximum of three in any suit). In shorter suits, count only missing aces (for singletons) or aces and kings (for doubletons). Voids, singleton aces, AK doubletons and suits headed by AKQ have no losers. Ax and Kx are each one loser; any lower doubleton (including Qx) counts as two.

There are a few distinctions you'll want to make with this formula. Technically, suits of Axx, Kxx and Qxx (or longer) each have two losers, but these obviously aren't comparable holdings. For this reason, you should count a queen-high suit as three losers unless it also contains the jack or it's a long suit that's likely to be trumps.

Another exception is a holding of AJ10(x). Even though you're missing the king and queen, this suit is usually counted as only one loser because of the 75% chance of a successful double finesse (this assumes, of course, that you'll be able to lead the suit from partner's hand).

Try your evaluation skills

What's your opening bid with the following hands?

AK5 6 KQ987654 8
Open 1D. You could count this as 9 playing tricks (7 diamonds and 2 spades), but you should have at least 9 ½ when your long suit is a minor. And even 9 tricks is optimistic-if partner doesn't have a fit, you could easily have 2 (even 3) diamond losers. Since you have only 3 quick tricks and 4 losers, it's better to open with a 1-bid and hope to describe your playing strength later in the auction.
AKQ10975 Void AQJ10 52
Open 2C. You have dead-minimum honor strength, but this hand qualifies on all other counts -- 10 playing tricks, 3 ½ quick tricks vs. 3 losers, and you expect to make 4S opposite a 4-point hand (in this case, a Yarborough will be sufficient). The losing doubleton is a liability, but that alone shouldn't talk you out of opening 2C if the rest of the hand is "right".
AKJ K AQ6 KJ8643
Open 1C (some would even try 2NT). Although you have plenty of points and defensive tricks for a strong opening, how high do you really want to be if partner can't scrape up a response to 1C? Your suit is so weak that you can't count playing tricks, and you have more losers (5) than quick tricks (4). It's true that if partner holds the "right" two queens (hearts and clubs), you might make 3NT, but it's seldom wise to base your decision on the chance that partner has specific cards for you.
A A105 AK98764 A3
Open 2C. Many would choose a 1D opening, mainly because your suit is a minor and the hand counts to only 9 playing tricks (6 diamonds and 3 aces). However, you have more quick tricks than losers, and holding all four aces is a big plus. The deciding factor here is your possible rebid problems. If you start with 1D and partner responds 1S, you could risk the minor distortion of a 2H reverse. But what if partner instead responds 1H? The only 100% forcing bids you'll have available (4NT notwithstanding) are jump shifts to 2S or 3C, both of which are major distortions of your distribution.

Your 2C Bidding Structure

Part 2 -- Special Problem Hands

The 1992 Fall NABCs in Orlando got off to a rousing start when this hand was dealt in the first session of the Open Pairs:

Void 6 AKQJ98754 832

In first seat, with both sides vulnerable, what's your call?

The recommended opening with this type of hand is 5D, or perhaps a gambling 3NT for those who play that convention. Several creative souls, however, came up with more imaginative calls, including a strong 2C.

Is this a psych?

The result at many of these tables was a director call when the opponents questioned the legality of the 2C opening (this hand generated five committees after the session, all at tables where the auction began with 2C). ACBL laws forbid psyching an opening of a strong, artificial bid -- including a strong 2C and a Precision 1C -- so the question before the committees was: Is this a psychic 2C opening?

The answer depends in part on the bidder's intent. If a committee believes the opener chose 2C to intentionally deceive his opponents, they would probably rule it an illegal psych and adjust the score. But if opener could convince the committee that he honestly evaluated this hand as a legitimate strong 2-bid, the score might stand. In practice, a committee would probably give a novice the benefit of the doubt, but would expect an experienced player to know better.

Problem #1: Preempt-type hands

If you and your partner consider any 9-trick hand to be worth a 2C opening, then this hand might qualify as "legal". Whether or not it's a wise choice is another issue. This hand type -- lots of playing tricks, but little defense -- is one of several that create special problems when opened with a strong two-bid.

Opening 2C with a hand that most players would open with a 1-bid (or even a preempt) runs several risks. The more immediate one is deceiving partner. On the hand above, partner will average about 10 high-card points, and if he has a few quick tricks, you won't be able to stop him below slam. And if your next 2C opener is a 25-pointer, you'll have a hard time convincing partner that his scattering of kings and queens will make a slam this time.

If your 2C opening doesn't promise some minimum defensive strength, you'll also have some awkward problems when the opponents compete. Responder won't be able to take strong action until opener clarifies his hand type, and neither partner will be able to make a forcing pass or a penalty double with any certainty.

A third, and perhaps more serious, problem is that your non-standard opening may illegally mislead your opponents. So even if you get a good result, it may be overturned or you may incur a penalty for improper system announcement. To be sure your opponents are informed about your style, you should special-alert, or even pre-alert, this type of 2C opening (although there's no guarantee that this will appease all committees).

Problem #2: Two-suited hands

Two-suited hands, especially those with both minors, are some of the most difficult to bid with the 2C convention (and one of the reasons forcing-club systems were developed). Because 2C uses up so much bidding space, expert players will stand on their heads to avoid opening 2C with a minor two-suiter.

Consider a hand like Q AQ AKJ53 KQJ74. Your first instinct may be to open 2C, since you have 22 points and your quick tricks (4 ½) do outnumber your losers (4). An optimist might even count this as 9 ½ tricks, but the deciding factor here is your rebid problems. To show both your suits after a 2C opener, you'll have to go the 4-level, which may be too high. The best way to safely and accurately describe this hand is to open 1D, then jump-shift into clubs.

Even 5-4 and 6-4 minor-suited hands can cause problems. If you open 2C with AQ A AJ109 AQ10873 and follow with 3C, what do you do over partner's 3H, 3S or 3NT rebid? You could be missing an excellent diamond fit, but you don't have room to show your second suit or to get a good idea of partner's strength. Better to open this hand 1C, pray for a response, then reverse into diamonds.

Your strategy should be different, however, when you have a major two-suiter. Any of the hands above would be a good 2C opener if even one of the 5+-card suits were a major. Since your first rebid with these hands will usually be at the 2-level, you should have room to show both your suits after a 2C opening.

Problem #3: Minor one-suiters

You'll also want to make distinctions between majors and minors when you hold a strong one-suiter. For example, Void KQJ10865 AK82 KQ, has 4 quick tricks, only 3 losers, and counts to 9 playing tricks -- all adequate for a 2C opening with a major.

Switch the diamonds and hearts, though (to Void AK82 KQJ10865 KQ ), and you'll fare better with a 1D opening. One reason is that when you open 2C and show a minor suit, partner will count on you to have at least 9 ½ tricks. Another important consideration is that a 2C opener makes it very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to find a 4-4 major-suit fit, which is a real danger on this hand. If partner has 4 hearts, a 1D opening may be the only way you'll get him to bid the suit.

Problem #4: Three-suited hands

The real bane of the 2C bidder's existence is the strong 4-4-4-1 pattern. Players solve this problem in a number of ways, one of which is to open 2NT. This works best when your singleton is an honor and it's in a minor suit. With a hand like
KQ93 AQJ4 AQ105 K, 2NT is fairly safe -- partner isn't likely to be bidding a club game, and your singleton king does offer a feeble stopper for notrump. Add a queen to this hand, and you would open 2C and rebid 2NT.

However, change the hand to 3 AK109 AQJ4 AK75, and an opening 2NT is more of a distortion. Since your singleton is a major, there's too great a chance that partner will have 6-card length and insist on game (or slam) there. Also, with all your honors outside the singleton, your hand becomes more suitable for a trump contract. Opening 2NT opening with this type of playing strength could cause you to miss a good slam.

The most common way to deal with three-suited hands of up to 22 points is to start with a 1-bid. With the hand above, if partner can't respond to your 1C or 1D opening, you probably haven't missed anything. Even if you have, you may still find it; the opponents, who rate to hold a fair number of spades, may overcall or balance.

Your real dilemma comes when you hold far too much strength to risk a 1-bid. With 3 AKJ8 AK86 AKQ4, most players open 2C, then rebid 2H (or maybe 2NT, if the singleton is a minor). These auctions often require good guessing and skill in playing 4-3 fits, but thankfully, we see these 4-4-4-1 powerhouses only rarely.

There are some handy conventions to make this type of hand easier to bid. One is Roman 2D, which shows a 4-4-4-1 with 17-24 points; opener's rebids then identify his singleton. Another interesting approach is to play a jump rebid by the 2C opener shows this pattern with a singleton in the next higher suit (with the above hand, the auction 2C-2D-3H would show the singleton spade).

Your 2C Bidding Structure

Part 3 -- Choosing Your Responses to 2C

Think about the last time you filled out a convention card with a new partner. You might have gotten into long, involved conversations about once-in-a-lifetime conventions, but when you came to the part of the card for 2C opening bids, the discussion may have been over in two seconds. Typically, one person will say "2D-semiauto" (or some other shortened version of an agreement) and you're done with it.

Even serious partnerships often devote little time to this aspect of their systems. But since 2C openers seem to come up about once a session, it pays to know your options and to have some clear agreements about these auctions with your partner.

One important area for discussion is responder's conventional responses and rebids. The once-common 2D negative response (which showed 0-7 points) is used by few players today. Modern bidding has given us lots of new choices, each with advantages and disadvantages.

When designing your system, it's often helpful to find out which conventions and treatments are popular among good players. Some interesting answers came from a survey of players who read the Usenet newsgroup on the Internet computer network. This group isn't representative of bridge players as a whole (their average age is 37), but most are fairly experienced players who have studied bidding theory. Those who answered the survey ranged from intermediate-level players to world champions.

When asked what general structure they used for responses to a strong 2C in their favorite partnership, they offered the following answers (with the percentage of "votes" for each):

Here's a quick look at the three most popular responding structures:

2D waiting (or "semi-automatic")

With this widely used approach, responder almost always bids 2D to give the 2C opener maximum room to describe his hand. Exceptions are rare; responder bids his own suit only when it's very strong and he has otherwise positive values. Most partnerships also include a way for responder to show an ultra-weak, "second-negative" hand later -- usually by bidding the cheaper minor (some also use cheapest suit or 2NT).

The advantages of 2D waiting are that it's simple and it saves bidding space. The drawback is that responder has fewer opportunities to describe his strength and suit length, and may find it difficult to catch up later in the auction.

Control-showing responses

This approach is popular because it allows responder to show his most important cards (aces and kings) immediately, all in one bid. Counting each king as one control and each ace as two, responder makes one of the following step responses:

There are many variations, including one that incorporates point-count into the first two steps -- both 2D and 2H show 0 or 1 control, but 2D limits the hand to 0-4 points and 2H promises 5+ (or some players use 0-5 and 6+ point ranges). 2S becomes the 2-control response and the other steps are modified accordingly.

The disadvantages of control responses are that responder loses the ability to make a natural call at his first turn and may use up extra bidding space, which can make the later auction somewhat tricky. But since the higher steps show slam-oriented responding hands, most partnerships don't worry too much about losing an early level of bidding.

A few players define the steps by just point-count, but this has little value because it makes no distinction between jacks and aces. The 2C opener seldom has any need for knowing his partner's total points; information on aces and kings is much more helpful.

2D semi-positive; 2H double negative

This is similar to 2D waiting, with the exception that responder uses an immediate 2H response to show a "double-negative" hand (fewer than 2 queens). A response of 2D, then, is semi-positive, promising at least two queens or a king.

This offers several advantages. Responder's 2H gives opener immediate information about game prospects and makes it easier for you to stop in a part score when it's right. Since the 2D response shows forcing-to-game values, both partners can keep the auction low. Also, there's no need for a second-negative response later, so all of responder's rebids are natural.

Since 2H isn't available as a natural call, 2NT is used to show a positive response with hearts (5+ cards to 2 of the top 3 honors). A better alternative to this is "reverse transfers", where 2S shows a heart positive, and 2NT shows a spade positive. This makes the strong hand declarer if responder's suit becomes trumps.

Defining your other responses

If you've decided to use control-showing responses, responder has few other choices for his first bid. Those who have adopted other systems need to discuss the meanings of all the other possible bids responder might make.

For those who play 2D as waiting, negative or semi-positive, here are the standard meanings (and some popular variations) for responder's other bids:

Note that few players use the old "game-in-hand" requirement anymore, so an opening 2C isn't 100% forcing to game. You should, however, agree that unless the 2C opener rebids 2NT, the auction is forced to at least 3 of a major.

Your 2C Bidding Structure

Part 4 -- Defining Opener's Rebids

You open 2C (strong and artificial) and partner responds 2D (waiting or semi-positive). What do you rebid with each of the following hands?

1 - AKJ73 8 AKQ AQ73
2 - AQ10875 AQ5 A AQJ
3 - AQJ10976 6 AK AK4
4 - AKQ109832 Void AQ5 A8
5 - AKQJ954 2 AQJ10 7

The standard way to start the description all five hands is to open 2C, then rebid 2S. But with such wide differences in trump quality, playing tricks and defensive strength among these hands, a 2S rebid doesn't begin to give partner a good picture. You'll usually need at least one or two more bids to clarify which hand type you hold.

The problem comes if you and your partner haven't assigned clear meanings to the 2C opener's later rebids. With Hands #2 through #5, for example, you'll have enough room to rebid spades two or three times. But since these are really four different hand types, do you have four different ways to show them?

To solve this problem, many players have added a few simple agreements that allow the 2C opener to more accurately describe hands like these with his first and second rebids. They take advantage of jumps to the three and four levels to distinguish between solid and non-solid suits and maximum and minimum playing strength.

Non-jump suit bid (2C-2D-2H / 2S / 3C / 3D)

This starts the description of a "standard" 2C opener (Hand #1 above). If opener's first rebid is a major, it shows either a 5-card suit or a longer, non-solid suit. If it's a minor, it strongly implies a 6-card or longer suit (which may or may not be solid).

Note that even though opener needs only a 5-card suit for this auction, it tends to imply a one-suited or distributional hand. For more balanced hands, even those with a 5-card major, you may want to choose a notrump rebid instead. With a hand like AJ1052 AQJ AQ KQ10, opening 2C and rebidding 2S wouldn't be incorrect. Many players, however, would rebid 2NT to emphasize the balanced strength, take advantage of the good tenaces, and limit their point count.

To show extra length (Hand #2), opener rebids his suit at his next turn. This auction -- 2C-2D / 2S-3C / 3S-shows a 6-card or longer suit, but does not insist that it be trumps. The final contract is still open to negotiation and may be in notrump or partner's suit.

For hands with more powerful (but not solid) suits and playing strength (Hand #3), opener starts with the low-level rebid, then jumps to game at his third turn. This auction -- 2C-2D / 2S-3D / 4S-sets trumps, but tells partner your suit has a loser. Any further bid by responder (even in a suit he's shown earlier in the auction) is a cuebid for slam in opener's suit.

Jump to 3 of a major (2C-2D-3H/3S)

One good agreement for opener's jump is to use it for a powerhouse with long, solid trumps and good controls (Hand #4). It sets trumps and promises a suit that should play for no losers opposite a singleton -- at least AKQJxx or AKQxxxx (or AKJxxxxx if you have the courage). This agreement can also extend to minors, but because a jump to 4C or 4D uses up so much bidding room (and takes you past 3NT), you should have an exceptional hand to use it.

After opener's jump, responder cuebids his cheapest ace or king. Without one, he raises to 4 of opener's suit with a potential ruffing value (at least a doubleton trump and an outside doubleton). With no controls and no ruffing value, responder rebids 3NT. This will never be the final contract (opener will always go back to his suit), but it warns partner that your hand isn't suitable for any higher contracts.

You can see how well this works with Hand #4 above. After 2C-2D-3S, if responder answers with 3NT, 4H or 4S, you'll know he has neither of the kings you need and you can stop safely in game. If he instead bids 4D (showing the diamond king but not the club king), you'll bid 6S. And if he bids 4C over your jump, you can look for the grand slam -- you'll follow with a 4H cuebid and if partner can now bid 5D to show a second king, you can bid your almost-laydown 7S.

Other uses for opener's jump (2C-2D-3H/3S/4C/4D)

Another interesting treatment is to use opener's jump to show a 4-4-4-1 hand. To identify his singleton, opener jumps into the suit directly below it -- 2C-2D-3S shows a singleton club, 2C-2D-4D shows a singleton heart.

Other players are successful in using jumps to pinpoint two-suited hands. The method you and your partner choose depends on your personal preference. The key is to decide on some useful meaning for opener's jump and not leave it as an idle bid.

Jump to game in a major (2C-2D-4H/4S)

Opener's immediate jump to game shows a minimum with 9-10 playing tricks and long, solid trumps. It tells partner your 2C opening was based more on playing strength than high-card points and warns him against bidding on unless he has excellent controls.

As with the jump to 3 of the major, there's no looking for new trump suits after this auction. Any further bid by responder is a cuebid for slam in opener's suit. Responder should pass with just kings and queens, but bid on with a hand that could potentially contribute two tricks. After 2C-2D-4S, you should pass with 763 KJ4 K9 QJ1093. However, a hand like 3 1086543 K9 A1053 is worth a 5C cuebid.

Handling interference

With more and more opponents willing to overcall after 2C opening, it's also important to discuss how you'll handle competition. There are a number of different approaches you can use after an opponent makes a direct overcall of your opening 2C. One simple set of agreements for responder's bids is:

Most frequently, responder will pass the overcall and let opener describe his hand. After the auction:

   You     LHO    Partner   RHO  
   2C      2H      Pass     Pass   

the meanings of opener's rebids can be:

If the overcall instead comes on opener's right, as in:

    You     LHO    Partner   RHO   
     2C     Pass     2D     2S    

you can use the same agreements as above for opener's new suit, cuebid and 2NT bids. A direct double, however, should be penalty, since opener can make a forcing pass to show a fairly balanced hand.

Copyright © 1996 -- Karen Walker