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Opening Strong Hands

♠ AKQJ1095
♥ AK
♦ A62
♣ 5 

This hand is too strong to open at the one level and risk partner passing with fewer than six points. Big hands like this (21 high card points plus 3 length points for the spade suit), were once opened 2♠, but with the advent of weak two-bids (which occur more frequently), things changed. Most people now use one bid only, 2♣, to describe their game force hands. The hand may or may not contain clubs. With the hand above, opener would start with 2♣ and rebid 2♠.


A 2♣ bid is forcing. Unless responder holds a good five+ card suit with at least an ace and a king (a “positive”), they make a waiting response of 2♦. This leaves room for opener to describe their hand.  Positive bids – 2♥, 2♠, 3♣ or 3♦ promise five+ card suits with two of the top three honours. 2NT or 3NT shows 8-10, or 11+ points, without a five-card suit.  With the following hands after partner opens 2♣:

Hand 1                     Hand 2
♠ Q97654                 ♠ AQ10976
♥ 63                          ♥ 6
♦ 7                            ♦ 75
♣ 9863                      ♣ K863

You would respond 2♦ with Hand 1 intending to bid spades later if possible. This is a negative. With Hand 2 you would respond 2♠ to show a good five+ card suit and more than 7 points.  
Once a trump suit has been agreed, normal slam bidding methods – Blackwood and Cue Bids – come into play. Since a raise of partner’s suit is forcing, responder can show support for opener’s suit with a very weak hand by jumping directly to game. This is the principle of “fast arrival”, i.e. in a game force, the faster game is reached, the weaker is responder’s hand. Conversely, the better the hand, the slower the bidding. 

Opening Strong Balanced Hands

20-21 Open 2NT
22-24 Open 2♣ planning to rebid 2NT
25 + Open 2♣ planning to rebid 3NT
Points are all important. Going to 6NT (or 7NT) will depend on the combined high card points because neither hand will have a long suit. Blackwood is not used here; quantitative bids ask whether the strong hand is minimum or maximum. 

Opening Strong Unbalanced Hands

If the 2♣ opener rebids a suit rather than no trumps, it’s still forcing. These hands need to be very strong, either in points or playing strength. It’s not just high cards that determine your opening bid. To open 2♣, you need aces and kings that will take tricks even if you’re defending. Compare these hands, both of which have 3 losers. Hand (1) has 1 heart loser, 1 diamond loser, and 1 club loser. Hand (2) has 1 heart loser and 2 diamond losers.

(1)   ♠ A                                    (2)  ♠ void
       ♥ AK10874                              ♥ KQJ108765       
       ♦ AKJ4                                     ♦ QJ1097
       ♣ K4                                         ♣ void

The first hand has both offensive and defensive potential and should be opened 2♣. With the second hand, you can take ten tricks by yourself if allowed to play in hearts, but you have no sure defensive tricks if the opponents compete in spades or clubs. Don’t open 2♣. Open 1♥ or 4♥ and try to buy the contract at a suitable level. 
A guide for deciding whether or not to open a hand with a game force or one bid is to open 2♣ if your quick tricks are greater than your loser count.
When investigating whether there are enough controls to bid to slam, use Blackwood, and/or Cue Bidding.