Quick summary

Easy things

  1. Length before strength

Less obvious

  1. 55: highest first, always
  2. 44: lowest first, but
    • heart first if intending to rebid NT

And a warning when changing suit:

  1. Never break your barrier with <16
  2. Always break it with 16+


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Bridge Venue

Example Deal
spade A K 5 4
heart Q J 10 3 2
diamond K 10
club J 2
Example Deal
You: South
Dealer: West
Vuln: all

Opening NT, with an unbalanced hand??
Go to quiz (& full page) of deal # 126014

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#2+<-- click the + for explanation of relevant Bidding Techniques

#3+<-- click the + for ideas on the Opening Lead

«  0015  »

Hand evaluation. Selection of opening suit

How to choose the first suit to bid

Sometimes it's not obvious which suit to bid first. The general guidelines for the opener are:

With equal length suits:

  • always bid down-the-line with 5 or 6-card suits - i.e. the highest denomination first, in the order spadeheartdiamondclub
  • but bid up-the-line with 4-card suits. . .but

With two 4-card suits, its best to keep the bidding at the lowest denomination, to allow your partner the chance to mention a suit at the one level.

The exception to this is when you have a balanced hand 15 HCP+ intending to rebid NT, and one of your two suits is Hearts. You should bid the Hearts first, so that you have the highest chance of finding an 8-card Major match. If you were to open with your minor, you might fail to find your 8-card Heart fit if partner has 5-4 in Spades and Hearts. He'll bid 1spade, you'll bid NT, and that might be the end of it if he has a stopper in his two doubletons. You missed your 8-card Heart fit.

Another problem arises when you have two 5-card black suits, clubspade, and fewer than 16 HCP. For example, suppose you have this hand:

Hand 1
S A K J 7 6  

You have 12 HCP, and nice shape. What do you open with this hand, and what is your rebid after a reply in Diamonds ? Bidding 1club first then 1spade shows 5-4, or conceivably 4-4, both of which are misleading. Bidding spade first shows 5-4 or 5-5, which is correct. But bidding 1spade then 3club shows 16+ HCP, which you don't have.

H 6
D 9 2
C A 9 8 7 6

If you bid the highest ranking first, spade, then any bid in a new suit from partner other than 1NT will force you to break your barrier when you bid your second suit. With only 12 HCP, this could be misleading, even though you can count a couple of points for length. Such a bid give your partner the impression that you have 16+ HCP. On the other hand, with a LTC of 6, you might risk it. If not, you'll have to rebid your Spade suit instead, and not mention your clubs, which might mean that you don't find your fit if your partner doesn't have the strength to keep bidding. Alternatively, you could bid them the other way round, starting with Clubs, but this would leave some doubt in your partner's mind about the length of both of your suits, especially the Major - Spades. That could be a bad thing, since you'd generally rather be in the Major. In the end, it will come down to the relative merits of the two suits.

With the diamonds and clubs the other way around, it's easier - but only if you follow the guidelines and bid the higher ranking 5-card suit before you bid the lower ranking 5-card suit:

Hand 2
S 9 8 5 4 3  

You have 12 HCP, and two 5-card suits, so open with the higher ranking suit, even though it has zero HCP. Remember... length is strength! You want to bid your Major suit first so you can find that 8-card fit when partner not infrequently has 3 Spades.

If the auction goes 1S-2C-2D-3S-4S all is fine. But if you open 1D, then, after the 2C reply, the Spade fit will be missed since by re-bidding 2S you would be promising 16HCP but only 4 Spades - neither of which is true.

H 6
D A K J 6 4
C A 3


Procedure to follow

Look first at your suit distribution, or the "shape" of your hand. The table also shows which suit to bid second time round. For a discussion of the level of the second bid, which will tell your partner how strong you are, see "going through your barrier / reversing".

The rules for the responder are similar, but slightly different.

Showing shape with 5-5, 6-6, 6-5 hands, or 6-4 hands

Most people soon learn how to show their partner a 5-4 shaped hand. (Bid the long suit first, followed by the shorter suit, not forgetting the effect of the barrier). But not everyone learns how to show these other shapes, in some ways much more useful shapes. They therefore deprive their partner of essential information needed to choose the right suit for trumps.

Suit order for responder

There are very slightly different guidelines for the opener and the responder.


You can try the main quiz for this subject through the link at the top left of the page. Meanwhile. . .

A. With 4432 distribution, and the following two 4-card suits which would you bid first ?

  1. clubdiamond
  2. clubheart
  3. clubspade
  4. diamondspade
  5. heartspade

B. With 5521 distribution, and two 5-card suits, which would you bid first ?

  1. clubdiamond
  2. heartspade
15. Opener's bid - which suit ?
Distribution HCP opening bid rebid
5xxx (x<5)   5-card suit (easy !)  
5332   5-card suit (but see 6xxx) repeat, unless 5=m & good 3-card M
54xx (mm/MM)   5-card suit 4 card suit reverse correctly !
54xx (mM/Mm)   5-card suit. (Responder would choose the Major at the one level before minor at the 2-level, even if shorter) reverse correctly !
6xxx (x<5)   6-card suit repeat twice, if chance arises
64xx   6-card suit 4-card, then 6-card again
65xx   6-card suit 4-card, then 4-card again
55xx   higher ranking suit lower, then lower again
66xx   higher ranking suit lower, then lower again & again
44xx unbalanced   lowest ranking suit  
44xx balanced 12-14 1NT  
44xx balanced 15+ heart if poss, or lowest ranking suit NT
(M=Major, m=minor. See"showing shape" for details of bidding 6--6, 6-5, 5-5 and 5-4 hands.
Add to your customised cribsheet

Now try the quiz

Can you put all this into action ? Try the quiz for this subject by clicking on the link at the top left of the page, just below the main menu.
(You can try quizzes for any other subjects too while you're there. Look out for the thin red line).


Quiz answers:


  1. club
  2. heart if you intend to rebid NT, otherwise club
  3. club
  4. diamond
  5. heart


  1. diamond
  2. spade

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