The late Bernie Chazen had a pet peeve about rebidding 5-card suits. He instructed his students that a simple rebid of your suit guarantees six or more cards, with virtually no exceptions.
Other experts take a more liberal view. They prefer to have at least six when they bid a suit twice, but they allow for rebidding a 5-carder as a least-of-evils choice in some auctions.
No matter which style you adopt, there will be situations where youíll wish you were playing the other. Problem hands abound with both approaches, and itís important to be alert to the possibility that partner may hold one of them.
A common situation is openerís rebid after a 2-over-1 response:
2H or 2NT
For Bernieís students, thereís no confusion about 2H because it promises extra length. The 2NT rebid is the potential problem hand. If partner has to rebid 2NT with ♠742 ♥KJ986 ♦A3 ♣A65, you may need to confirm stoppers if youíre considering a notrump contract.
The dilemma is the opposite for Liberals. They like to have stoppers in unbid suits for 2NT, so they sometimes have to rebid their 5-card suit. Partnerís 2H says either ďI have at least six heartsĒ or ďI have five hearts, but canít bid notrumpĒ. If you need to know which hand it is, you have to construct an auction that allows partner to clarify.
Liberals will, however, sometimes make exceptions when they hold half-stoppers, especially if their long suit is weak. After the auction 1S-2C, it's reasonable to rebid 2NT with ♠K8643 ♥AQ8 ♦Q10 ♣Q75.
The suit-length issue becomes more complicated when partner opens 1D and you respond 2C. With a stopper-poor opener such as ♠AK2 ♥764 ♦KQJ3 ♣654, a Liberal will be stuck with rebidding his 4-card diamond suit. Purists may rebid 2D even with three cards -- ♠7642 ♥AK43 ♦KQJ ♣65 Ė if they play that 2H shows extra values.
The two camps find some common ground after a one-level response. After 1C by partner, 1S by you, does your partner rebid 1NT or 2C holding ♠10 ♥QJ64 ♦AJ9 ♣AQ743 ?
Bernieís followers would choose 1NT. Some Liberals will, too, although they may base their decision on suit quality or even on which suit they opened (rebidding clubs could be five cards, but bidding diamonds twice promises six). Others will rebid 1NT only if the singleton is an honor.
Itís important to know partnerís style. If he usually rebids 1NT with this pattern, you canít insist on playing in your 5-card major. If he prefers 2C, youíll have to be careful about raising.
Competition creates more situations where it ďsounds likeĒ partner has a 6-card suit, but he was just looking for a landing spot:
1S 2D DBL Pass
Holding ♠KJ1075 ♥Q3 ♦654 ♣AK3, even Bernieís disciples have to rebid 2S. Auctions where you make a freebid, cuebid or responsive double can also pressure partner into rebidding a 5-card suit if he lacks stoppers and support for your suits.
The same problem can arise in fourth-suit auctions, even with the opponents silent:
Partner could be 6-4 in the majors, but you canít be sure. Since your 3D may be artificial, partner needs a stopper to bid 3NT. If he holds ♠AKJ97 ♥KJ82 ♦53 ♣92, a 3S rebid rates to do the least harm.
When youíve forced partner to bid in competition or at the three-level, itís impractical to play that a rebid of his suit guarantees extra length. For other auctions, you and partner should discuss how youíll handle the problem hands.
Your choice will depend on your tolerance level for rebidding 5-card suits vs. bidding notrump without stoppers. My preference is to follow Bernieís advice (bidding a suit twice promises six) over one-level responses, but to go with the Liberal strategy in competition and 2-over-1 auctions. Itís usually easier to confirm openerís suit length than to double check for stoppers, and this approach avoids playing notrump from the wrong side. It also follows a when-in-doubt guideline that applies to many other problems: When all possible bids will be misleading, favor the one that conserves the most bidding space.
© 2009 Karen Walker