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Major Suit Raises

When opener starts with 1♠ or 1♥, they promise five+ cards in that suit and enough points to open. Their hand may be single-suited, two-suited, balanced, or turn out to have a fit for responder.  You’ll know more after the first round of bidding. 13+ high card points are recommended for opening and this should include length points. Shortages (doubletons, singletons and voids) certainly improve a hand, but only when a fit has been found. So don’t add extra for the shortages in the beginning. Wait until you unearth that fit.  

As responder, with a fit, raising partner’s major is a priority because:

  • 4♠ & 4♥ are excellent game contracts, often safer than 3NT or 5♦ or 5♣ games. 
  • Showing support (1♥/♠ p 2♥/♠) gets the partnership off to a good level in the auction.

Points are not the only thing to consider when deciding which raise to make. A hand can improve or get worse during the bidding, depending on how well it fits with partner, and what, if anything, the opponents are bidding. Raises are mainly constructive, but can be made to obstruct the opponents’ bidding too.  

Some features that improve a hand
(1) Aces and kings rather than queens and jacks.
(2) High cards concentrated in long suits
(3) 10’s and 9’s to fill the suits
(4) Extra trumps
(5) Shortages in side suits 

After taking all this into account, responder then makes the appropriate raise. Their choices are:

  • Single Raise: (1♥ p 2♥) (6 -9). Opener needs extra strength or distribution to be interested in anything other than a partscore.
  • Limit  (Invitational) Raise: (1♥ p 3♥) (10 -12). Opener needs very little extra to be in game.
  • Forcing Raise: (1♥ p 2NT) (13+ points). The partnership is headed for at least game, and slam is a possibility. (Jacoby 2NT is recommended here.)
  • Preemptive Raise: (1♥ p 4♥). Weak hands with good trump support (0-6 pts and five trumps) fall into this category. Responder’s raise (1♥ p 4♥) is designed to make it more difficult for the opponents to enter the auction.

Some things to consider later
The position you sit in at the table, and the vulnerability, might affect your opening bid. In first and second position you need 13+points to open. Use the Guideline of 20: add your high card points to the length of your two longest suits, and if the total is 20 or more, open.
In third position (p p to you), it’s ok to open a little lighter (10+) than in first or second positions, especially if you have a good suit.
In fourth position, you need to weigh up whether it’s worth opening at all, or perhaps better to pass the hand in. The Guideline of 15 helps here. Add your high card points and a point for each spade you hold, and if the total is 15+, open the hand.
The Drury Convention is useful to discover whether partner has a full opening bid in third or fourth seat, or has opened light. The last thing you want to do is jump to game when you can only make a partscore. As responder, after you’ve passed and partner opens one of a major, bid 2♣ or 2♦ to show 10-11 points and three (2♣) or four (2♦) card support for opener’s major. The 2♣/♦ bid is artificial and opener rebids the trump suit with a weak hand, or jumps to game or bids something else with a normal opener. (p p 1♥ p 2♣ p 2♥ would show a weak third position opener.)

With four+ trumps and around 9+ points, consider Splinter Raises, i.e. jump to the four level in a new suit,  to show a good raise in opener’s suit and a singleton or void in the suit bid, 1♥ p 4♦ would show a heart fit and a singleton or void diamond.