Bidding Basics


This is an on-going collection, but as we all know stuff can go out-of-date quickly (e.g. link-rot, ....) or just become an abandoned resource in old corner of the Web. So if something does not look right just drop me a message at

What you see above is a standard SAYC (or Standard American Yellow Card) bidding “cheat sheet” for what many people know in Europe as a version of the 5-card major system.

Below we are going to comment on the basic elements of this “cheat sheet”, gradually building up a clear picture about each “declaration”. There will be other pages dealing with the play of the cards, interventions, defense, ... You might spot some small differences between the “cheat sheet” and what is written below.

Point Count:   Ace = 4 pts.     King = 3 pts.     Queen = 2 pts.     Jack = 1 pt.  

There are 40 total points in the deck, and the addition of the points is known as the high card point (HCP) count. An “average” hand would be expected to hold 10 HCP. Simply put, you need a better than average hand (say 12 HCP) to open the bidding.

There are several ways to refine the way you look at your HCP’s. Statistical analysis of hands show that this system of point counting undervalues Aces and 10’s. There are several ways to “adjust” your HCP, the ones I like are (i) add a HCP if you hold all 4 Aces, (ii) deduct a HCP if you hold no Aces, (ii) add a 1/2 HCP for each 10 in your hand.

You should supplement the HCP with distributional points, either suit length or suit shortness. When playing in a suit I prefer to count ruffing potential, e.g. suit shortness. Initially I add 3 points for a void, 2 for a singleton, and 1 for a doubleton. However once a “fit” has been found I will tend to give 5 points for a void, 3 for a singleton, and keep 1 point for a doubleton. This type of distributional point count works well for “three-suit” hands, but some players prefer to re-evaluate the distributional strength of their hand only when they are going to be dummy and only when they have the necessary trump support (avoiding both partners counting extra distributional points for the same suit). With “two-suit” and “one-suit” hands it is often better just to count playing tricks rather than distributional points.

Some players will also add additional distributional points for long suits. e.g. 1 point for any 6-card major suit and 2 points for any 7-card major suit. For the minor suits you would only add points if in addition the long suit also holds at least two of the top three honours.   

Sometimes it is difficult to evaluate the game or slam potential of a hand, e.g. should you pass or bid game or even a slam? One way is to look at your “controls”, e.g. the Aces and protected Kings you would expect to hold for your particular point count. If you have 5 HCP I would expect you to hold a Ace or King, if not you hand is “weaker” than “average”. And so on, 7-8 HCP expect 2 controls, 10 HCP expect 3 controls, 12-13 HCP you should have 4 controls, 15 HCP expect 5 controls, 17-18 HCP expect 6 controls, and with 20 HCP you should expect to have 7 controls.

Another equally useful approach for these “boarder line” hands is to look at the presence or absence of specific negative features that would or would not reduce the value of you HCP count. These are:

Honour doubletons KQ, KJ, QJ. Qx, Jx unless in partners suit - reduce by 1 HCP.

Honour singletons (exempt the singleton Ace).

Honours in opponents' suit when deciding to support partner's suit (these points could be useless to your partner), and in particular honours in suits shown by you left hand opponent.

There are also specific distributions that enhance you hand and make you consider a more “aggressive” bid, namely:

Two or three honours in long suits, or better still honour sequences in long suits - add 1 HCP.

Honours in partner's suit when deciding to support it.

Honours in own suit when deciding to overcall.

Two or three intermediate cards in a suit (8, 9, 10) especially if headed by honours.

Honours in suits shown by your right hand opponent.

And many players like to open the Spade suit to make overcalling more difficult.

Assessing the “boarder line” hand is also about the defensive strength of you hand. Good defensive values include:

Honours in shortish side suits, e.g. Kxx.

Honours and/or length in opponents suit.

Lack of honours in your own suit.

You might find it better to play a contract rather than defend if you have a abundance of honours and length in own suit, and a lack of defensive values. Again your decision will also be affected by your vulnerability and that of your opponents.

There are some “quick fixes” to assess the opening value of you hand, e.g. the “rule of 20” where you open if your HCP plus the number of cards in your two longest suits add to 20 or more. Another way is to add the number of cards in your 5+ length and the number of honour cards in the same suit (Ace down to and including the 10). With 7 open at the 1-level, with 8 open at the 2-level, and with 9 open at the 3-level.

A technique which I personally like to use to assess “boarder line” hands (and this can be when deciding to bid, over-bid, to support partner, to pass, ... as well as to bid game or even slams) is the loser count. This is used when you have found a trump fit. The question is often, do you raise, do you go to game, do you stop, do you invite, ....? The idea is to weigh shape and fit rather than just point counts. You look only at the top 3 cards in each suit. You then evaluate losers in each. If you have a void, you have 0 losing tricks. A singleton (other than an Ace) is 1 losing trick. An Ace and King in a doubleton is 0 losing trick, whereas Ax, Kx or KQ is 1 losing trick, and naturally something like Qx, Jx or xx is 2 losing tricks. So clearly with 3 cards such as AQx or KQx you have 1 losing trick. This gives you your losing trick count. If you open you are presumed to have 7 losing tricks, so this helps you decide to open or pass with certain boarder line hands. If you partner also has 7 losing tricks he knowns that 7+7=14, subtract from 18 leaves +4, so you can jump bid to the level 4 or game. If your partner has 8 losers they would jump to the level of 3, e.g. 18-(7+8)=3. and with 9 losers you simply raise to 2, e.g. 18-(7+9)=2. And of course if you only have 5 losers then 18-(7+5)=6, so a slam is certainly possible. Some people count to 18 and others to 24 but the result is the same, e.g. 24-(7+7)=10 total tricks.

Clearly if your partner supports your suit you can then “count” the number of losing tricks, and you can invite or even raise to game as required. 

There are more complex loser counting systems, but I find this one is simple and provides help in deciding about boarder line hands. Some experts think that this count system undervalues Aces and overvalues Qx or singleton Kings.

In situations were you have a fit but are competing with your opponents it is sometime difficult to decide to make an additional bid or pass. A simple rule is that you will make (more or less) the number of tricks corresponding to your combined holdings in trumps. This is particularly useful when you partner has made a weak opening bid or overcall, indicating 6, 7 or even 8 cards in a particular suit. If you have a weak defensive hand you can bid to the level of the combined holdings in your suit. Clearly you need to be careful about the vulnerability at the table.

Suit Rank:  (lowest to highest)  

Minors:   Clubs    Diamonds   

Majors:   Hearts   Spades    


Your options:

First choice: A major (hearts or spades) trump suit if you have at least an 8-card fit (4-4, 5-3, 6-2, etc.). 

Second choice: Notrump if you have balanced strength and no major-suit fit. 

Third choice: A minor (clubs or diamonds) if you have at least an 8-card fit and unbalanced strength.

Contract requirements: You and your partner need (in your two hands) to make these contracts.

Suit part-score (bid of 1, 2 or 3 in any suit) - 18-24 pts. and at least an 8-card trump fit.

Notrump part-score (bid of 1NT or 2NT) - 20-24 pts. and preferably no 8-card major-suit fit.

Major-suit game (4H, 4S) - 25-26+ pts. and at least an 8-card fit. (Game and slam contracts pay a scoring bonus.)

Minor-suit game (5C, 5D) - 28-29+ pts. and at least an 8-card fit.

Notrump game (3NT) - 25-26+ pts. and preferably no 8-card major-suit fit.

Small slam (any bid of 6) - 33+ pts. (ensures at least 3 Aces).

Grand slam (any bid of 7) - 36+ pts. and all four aces.

These contract guidelines apply when you have relatively balanced hands. If you have a strong trump fit, long side suits and/or unusual distribution, you'll need fewer points to make these contracts.

Rules for Opener: (the first player to make a bid other than Pass)

Your first or “opening” bid

You should always open the bidding at the 1-level if you have 13-20 pts.

You can open a hand of 11-12 pts., if you have a long suit, distributional strength and/or good quick tricks. Counting losing tricks helps you decide about “boarder line” hands. Some players will open if they have 2 1/2 quick tricks and a good suit. Sometimes it might be better to pass if the likely response of your partner will make your next bid awkward, e.g. your partner bids your singleton and you have no place to go. Some hands are better described by not opening and waiting to make an overcall later in the bidding. Sometimes it is safer to open a vulnerable 1-bid than to make an overcall later in the bidding, e.g. you  can compete better for a partial score and also pass if needed. If you have an easy rebid you should always try to open.

Many plays will open “weak” in the 3rd position (10-11 pts.) if they have a good suit or if they can pass on any reply of their partner. In the 4th position it is better to only open if “strong” (13-14 pts.).

The meaning of your opening bid is:

1NT = exactly 15-17 pts. and balanced distribution (4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, or 5-3-3-2 with a 5-card minor). Distribution points are not counted. Some players will open 1NT with a good 14 pts.

1H or 1S = 13-21 pts. and at least 5 cards in your suit.

1C or 1D = 13-21 pts. and at least 3 cards in your suit (and no 5-card major in hand). A 1C or 1D opening is often called a "better minor", it tells partner you have opening points, but you do not have the requirements for 1H, 1S or 1NT. Choose your longer minor, not your stronger minor. If you have two 3-card minors, always open 1C to keep the bidding low. Some players use a 1D for at least 4 cards, but this means that they might be forced to open 1C with only 2 cards. The best idea is to only open 1D with at least 4 diamond cards, except when you have 4 spades, 4 hearts, 3 diamonds and only 2 clubs, then you also open 1D. The better minor is the best approach since a 1D opening with only 3-cards will happen only 4% of the time. You have a 43% chance of having 4 cards in diamonds, a 34% chance of having a 5-card suit, and a 19% chance of having 6 or more diamonds. Remember opining 1C with only 3 club cards will happen only 16% of the time. You have a 38% chance of having 3 club cards, a 29% chance of having a 5-card club suit, and a 17% chance of having 6 or more clubs. With 5-4 or 5-5 in minors most players will try to open 1D and rebid 2C, even when the clubs maybe 5-cards and diamonds are 4-cards. A hand with 5 clubs and 4 diamonds and just an opening point count is a difficult hand to bid. After opening a minor try if at all possible to get into 1NT, showing 12-15 pts. Remember if you bid 1C then rebid 2D, you are showing 4-5 clubs, 4 diamonds, and 16+ pts. 

2NT = exactly 20-22 pts. and balanced distribution (same as for 1NT but some players will open 2NT even with a 5 card major).

2D, 2H, 2S = a weak hand (5-11 pts.) with a good 6-card suit. No more than one Ace or King outside your suit. Many players will open very weak when not vulnerable, and if vulnerable you can expect a stronger suit and more playing strength. 

2C = strong, artificial and forcing (21+ pts.) normally unbalanced with a good 5-card suit (6-card minor), quick controls in other suits. You may use this bid with fewer points if you have a long and strong suit and you have at least 8 playing tricks in a major and 9 playing tricks in a minor (or you have only 4 losing tricks).

3 of a suit = a weak hand (5-9 pts.) with a long, strong suit (7 or more cards with at least 2 of the top 3 honours, or 3 of the top 5 honours). Some players will bid 4 of a major with 8 or more cards and solid honours, a so-called “shut-out”, but be careful of vulnerability. A preempt also show poor defensive values, e.g. no Aces or Kings in side suits and no 4-card majors. A preempt usually means you have a max. of 1 1/2 defensive tricks, and you should assume one of the opponents will have a singleton in your suit. You are not expected to bid again unless specifically asked to by your partner, e.g. bidding a new suit, cue-bidding opponents suit, or asking for aces. 

3NT = 25+ pts.

If you have two 5-card suits, open the higher-ranking suit, then rebid the lower-ranking suit. If you have opening hand and  5 clubs and 5 diamonds, open 1D and bid clubs at your next turn, allowing partner to choose between your two suits without raising the level of the bidding.

Let us have a look rapidly at your second bid options (assuming your partner has “responded” and your opponents have passed):

Pass = you are minimum (max. 15 pts.), you do not have a 5-card suit worth rebidding, your partner initially passed and only bid when “forced” to by your bid or that of your opponents, you are not unhappy with your partners suit and you can see no future in an alternative contract.

A new suit at the 1-level = at least 4 cards in the suit (13+ pts.)

Simple rebid of your suit = minimum opener (max. 14 pts.) might suggest extra length (usually a 6+ cards), but you may have no option but to re-bid your 5-card suit. It is a good idea to think about your rebid before opening and avoid opening “light” if you might end up having to rebid a poor 5-card suit. Try to avoid re-bidding a 5-card minor suit, and prefer 1NT rebid if at all possible.

Single raise in partner's suit = 4 cards in the suit partner responded and a minimum opener (max 14-15 pts).

Notrump = a balanced minimum opener (12-14 pts.) WITHOUT 4 cards in partner's suit and without a new 4-card suit you could bid at the 1-level. To show a stronger balanced hand, you would have opened 1NT (15-17 pts.).

Bid at the 2-level a new lower ranking suit than your first suit = at least 4 cards in the suit (showing at least 15 pts.)

Bid at the 2-level a new higher ranking suit than your first suit = at least 4 cards in the suit (showing at least ......)

Jump-rebid your suit = shows a strong opening hand with a long suit (.....)

Jump-raise in partner's suit = shows a strong hand with a fit for partner (.....)

2NT = to show a very strong balanced hand (19 pts.), open a suit bid and then jump in Notrump.

Raise to game in partner's suit = excellent distributional hand (19 pts.) and good support for responders suit (you should have only 5 losing tricks).

Raise to game in your own suit = excellent distributional hand (19 pts.), your opening suit is long and solid, and you have values in responders suit (you should have only 5 losing tricks).

Rules for Responder (after your partner opens the bidding):

Respond to partner's opening bid if you have 6 pts. or more. 

If partner opens 1H or 1S and you have 3-card support, always raise to confirm the 8-card trump fit.

If partner opens 1C or 1D and you have a 4+-card major, always respond 1 of your major. If you have two 4-card majors, respond the cheaper major to keep the bidding low

If you have fewer than 10 pts., DON'T go to the 2-level unless you're raising partner's suit (to confirm a trump fit) or rebidding your own extra-long suit. With some unbalanced hands, you'll have to respond 1NT to keep the bidding low.

Your first response (basic options):

Pass = less than 6 pts., and/or more than 9 losing tricks. You can pass even an opening 1C. 

1 of a new suit = at least 4 cards in your suit and at least 6 pts. (e.g. the usual 1H over 1C, but can also be 1S over 1H but you are also saying to your partner that you do not have 3-cards in hearts). This also means no more than 9 losing tricks.

2 of a new minor (non-jump) = a 5+-card suit and at least 10-11 pts. (e.g. 2D over 1S).

2 of a new major (non-jump) = a 5+-card suit and at least 10-11 pts. (e.g. 2H over an opening 1S).

Single raise of opener's major = at least 3 cards in opener's suit and 6-10 pts.

Single raise of opener's minor = At least 4-5 cards in opener's suit, 6-10 pts. and no 4-card major suit.

1 Notrump = a weak hand (6-10 pts.) with no support for opener and no 4-card major. If you have 4-card hearts and 6-10 pts., and your partner opens 1S, you bid 1NT.

Jump-raise in partners suit = to show a good hand with support (11-12 pts.) and usually with 8 losing tricks (invitational to bid game with a better than minimum hand).

Jump-shift in a new suit = a very strong hand (17-19 pts.) and a long, strong suit, clearly interested in a slam.

Jump to 2NT = to show a stronger balanced hand (11-12 pts.) and usually with 8 losing tricks (invitational to bid 3NT with a better than minimum hand).

Jump to 3NT = to show a stronger balanced hand (13 min. pts.) and more importantly only 7 losing tricks.

Jump to game in partners suit = to show a good hand with support (13 min. pts.) and more importantly only 7 losing tricks.

What do you do if your opponents intervene? We will deal with this separately, but as a general rule if you can make your normal or “natural” response, bid it.