When I was learning to play bridge, I was told that “just about everyone” follows these two rules for the opening bidder:
1 - With 4-4 or longer in the minors, open 1D and rebid 2C.
2 - Never rebid 1NT with a singleton.
I found this a bit confusing, as these rules were sometimes in direct conflict with three other basic rules for opener:
3 - Always open your longer minor.
4 - Never rebid a five-card minor.
5 - Rebid notrump when you have balanced distribution.
The only way to resolve these contradictions is to treat the rules as guidelines, not commands, and to be flexible in deciding which to follow on any given deal. That requires evaluating your hand, anticipating how the auction will go and planning your rebid.
Balanced 4-4 and 4-5 openers
It’s easy to discount Rule 1 when you hold balanced hands such as:
KJ J72 Q972 AQ106
A8 KQ J843 KJ1052
There’s no point in opening 1D unless you plan to show a two-suiter, and that’s not the message you want to send with either hand. Both are notrump-oriented, so Rules 3, 4 and 5 rate to be more successful. You can easily open 1C and rebid 1NT, with no qualms about “hiding” your diamond suit or longish clubs.
Unbalanced 4-5 openers
Planning the auction is more difficult with hands such as 10 QJ6 AJ72 KQ1054 .
Experienced players have long debated the best way to handle this pattern, and there’s no consensus. One camp follows Rules 1 & 2 – they open the “prepared” 1D and rebid 2C over the expected 1S response. With strong clubs and weak diamonds, they may choose to open and rebid clubs.
Other pairs prefer to follow Rules 3, 4 and 5. They open 1C and rebid an off-shape 1NT over a 1S response.
Whether you open 1C or 1D, your rebid will mislead partner about your distribution, so you have to decide which rule to break. If you open 1C, every rebid tells one lie. If partner responds 1S, you’re a club short for a 2C rebid and a spade short for a 1NT rebid. If he responds 1H, you’re technically one trump short for a 2H raise.
A 1D opener, however, leads to two lies. When you rebid 2C, partner assumes you hold five diamonds and four clubs, so this auction misleads him about a club and a diamond. Holding a minimum with equal length in your suits, partner will take a preference to 2D and you may end up in a 4-2 fit.
Those who follow Rules 3, 4 and 5 have fewer problems with this pattern. They open 1C and if partner responds 1H, they evaluate this as a good dummy for a 4-3 fit, so they raise to 2H. If partner responds 1S, the values look right for a notrump contract.
Your considerations are slightly different with a 1-4-4-4 opener. The same problems arise if partner responds 1S, but with only eight cards in the minors, you’re reluctant to insist on a suit contract.
Your best approach will depend on where your honors are and how suitable your hand is for suit or notrump play. With a solid opener and honor concentration in the minors -- 3 K974 KQ106 AK94 -- open 1D and rebid 2C over a 1S response. Since you could have as many as 16-17 points for this rebid, partner will stretch to keep the auction open and you’ll have better chances of finding a possible game.
With softer values and more high cards in the majors -- Q AJ92 J654 KQ103 -- limit your hand (and slow partner down) by rebidding 1NT over 1S. Opening 1C rather than 1D will keep all contracts in the picture and, if it’s the opponents who bid spades, it gets partner off to the right lead.
No strategy will be right for every hand, but it’s a good idea to discuss your tendencies with partner. If you prefer 1D-then-2C with a 1-3-4-5 opener, partner should think twice about retreating to 2D with a doubleton. If you lean more toward 1C-then-1NT with this pattern, he’d better not insist on rebidding a five-card spade suit.
Copyright © 2006 Karen Walker