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Hand Shapes and Opener's Point Ranges

Hand Shapes
Opener's Strength

Hand Shapes

We've almost defined everything that you need to know so that explaining the bidding will be easier. There's just one more (hopefully quick) thing.

The thirteen cards in your hand can be distributed in MANY different ways. You might hold all thirteen clubs, but this is very, very, very rare. You might hold five spades, five hearts and three cards in the minor suits (diamonds and clubs, right?) This is a bit more common. You might hold four cards in two suits, three in another, and two in the remaining one. This is the most common "distribution" of cards.

A void is a suit in which you don't hold ANY cards. A singleton is a suit in which you hold one card. A doubleton is a suit in which you hold two cards and a tripleton three. (More cards than that are called "four-card suits," "five-card suits," etc.)

Suits with few cards are usually good for trump contracts (suit contracts) because usually you can trump when these suits are led. Thus, hands containing voids and singletons (and sometimes doubletons) have the right kind of distribution to play trump contracts. These are called distributional hands. Pretty easy to remember, eh?

Hands where you hold at most one doubleton, no singletons and no voids are sometimes better for no trump contracts because you're not likely to want to trump tricks. [But don't forget that partner's hand might be distributional and partner might want to play in a suit contract. The important thing is what cards and points the partnership holds, not just what you hold.] These kinds of hands are called flat or "balanced" because the numbers of cards in each of the suits is about the same.

If you hold...


...then you have a flat hand. This is a specific 4432 type of hand because you hold "4" spades, "4" hearts, "3" diamonds, and "2" clubs: "4432."

The hand...

is also flat (and has no points: UGH!) This hand is specifically 4324, but, if you can't tell someone where your four-card suits are, it might be referred to as a generic 4432 type of hand too, since you hold two four card suits, a tripleton and a doubleton.

If you hold...


...then this is also a flat hand, but is now a generic 5332 or a specific 5323 hand. (For practice, how many points does it have? RIGHT! 16! If you miscounted, review Lesson 1 on counting points.)

There are some hands which aren't exactly flat, but aren't terribly distributional either. For example:


This is somewhat distributional, since you have a lot of diamonds. But you don't have any singletons or voids. You do have two doubletons, and might be able to trump hearts or spades after you've used all of yours up (following suits or discarding, for example.) This hand is somewhat flat too. You hold two doubletons, so it's not a "perfectly flat hand". A hand like this is often referred to as "semi-balanced".

Thus, sometimes you have to decide how you're going to describe your hand to partner. Maybe you decide you'd like to call the last hand "flat." That will give you a certain choice of bids to make. If you say it's distributional, then you will probably have a different set of bids to choose from. The thing is: what do you want to tell partner about your hand? Decide, and then, if you get the chance, tell her something more on your next bid.

Opener's Strength

Suppose you have dealt the following hand to yourself.


Let's go through what you know about the hand. You hold a flat, 15 point hand. Your longest suit is spades, and all the other suits have equal length. You hold 5 points more than the average 10 points, so you might hold the most points at the table. You have a good hand. You'd like to make a bid and tell partner the good news. Therefore you should open 1NT on this hand according to SAYC (Standard American Yellow Card) which stipulates a count range of 15-17 HCP (high card points) for a 1NT opener.

But what if you dealt yourself...


You have a distributional (also called "unbalanced"), 12 point hand. You don't hold too much more than average. In fact, in HCP, you hold exactly average (10 points.) Do you want to tell partner about your long diamonds, or do you pass and try to say something later? We need to know the point ranges for making the first non-pass bid: an opening bid.

In SAYC there are traditional ranges for opening bids. If you bid or don't bid, you tell partner something about the number of points you have (and maybe about the hand shape too!)

For distributional hands, these ranges are (including length points):

  • 0-12 - Not Enough to Open
  • 13-15 - Minimum Opening Hand
  • 16-18 - Strong Opening Hand
  • 19-21 - Maximum Opening Hand
  • 22+ - Powerful "Game Forcing" Opening Hand

These ranges are important to know. If you open, note that you have anywhere from 13 points upward. Partner only knows (point wise) that you hold at least 13. When the bidding gets back to you, you will make another bid which tells partner what KIND of opening strength you hold: minimum opener, strong opener, maximum opener, "game forcing" opener. If you don't hold enough to open, you'll have other ranges to use when partner opens. These will be discussed in the lessons starting with RESPONDER'S BIDDING.

For flat hands, any distributional points (e.g. points for length in suits) are usually not counted. The ranges for opening are:

  • 0-11 - Not enough to open
  • 12-14 - Not enough for 1NT, but open a suit
  • 15-17 - Open 1NT
  • 18-19 - More than 1NT, less than 2NT, open in a suit
  • 20-21 -Open 2NT
  • 22-24 - More than 2NT (as we'll see: open an artificial 2 bid, preparing to rebid 2N at your next turn)
  • 25-27 - Game forcing (enough for game on your own!) - Either open 3NT or bid 2 and rebid 3NT)
  • 28+ - DUDE!  What dealer did you bribe?  Open 2 and jump to 4NT (asking partner if he wants to go on to 6NT)

Note that the NT bids are very precise. If you bid 1NT, partner knows a LOT about your hand already: we have 15 to 17 points, and no void or singleton. These ranges are also important to know. It will take some time to learn them. But you and your partner will be able to communicate a lot in these bids, so it's important to know them. On the two ranges where it says to open in a suit we'll discuss these in later lessons as they come up.

Still feeling lucky?  Go on to the quiz!




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