Suppose partner bids one of a (five card) major. Normally you need three of the suit to raise.

But expert Marty Bergen has opined that if your suit has four honors, you can bid it as if were one card longer. Mr. Bergen also wrote, "When partner promises a six-card suit, you can support him with a singleton honor."

So if I have KJ (or KT or QJ) of my partner's suit, I'a going to play him for a suit with two more honors: AQxxx, ATxxx, or even QTxxx. In that case, partner and I would have four (possibly five) honors between us. And in the worst case (partner has xxxxx, we'd have two honors). So I'd raise to two with the aforementioned trump holding plus a side king, because I've "borrowed" an extra (small) trump for my bid, based on my interpretation of Bergen.

Is this a reasonable interpretation of Marty Bergen's dictums? Is this a reasonable move to make even if you don't always agree with Marty Bergen?

  • Whichever opponent you have supposedly borrowed this extra trump from is very likely to double you for penalties. If you enjoy going minus 200 and 300 against the opponents part-score be my guest to play this way. BTW - Do you play for money anywhere? I would like to join the game. Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 17:27
  • @PieterGeerkens: "Money." One tenth of a penny a point. Winner takes home about one dollar.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 17:29
  • I don't play for less than one cent a point, and prefer 2 or even 5; too bad that you're stakes won't cover my travel costs. Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 17:31

4 Answers 4


Certainly it's reasonable, whether or not you are a Bergen acolyte. But it ought to be a rare hand where raising with only two trump is more attractive than the alternatives. These situations come up more often in competition. For instance, if the auction started

(1C) 1S (2C)

I would be happy to raise to 2S with something like


I agree with Pieter that if you have fewer trump than partner expects you ought to be near a maximum in high cards. This point was made many years ago by Edgar Kaplan.


There are a myriad problems with this approach when added to a non-Bergen system, particularly if partner is not in on the new agreement.

The missing trump is roughly equivalent to missing over 1.5 points. Thus the bid should not be made with a minimum raise as you suggest, because the missing trump has made it a sub-minimum raise. Thus only with 8-9 HCP should you consider making the bid, and these are exactly the hands where you would like to accept a further action from partner but no longer can due to the missing trump. Bidding this way will in many cases result in you playing a 5-2 major fit instead of 4-4, which traditionally is held to play almost a trick worse on average. In other cases you will be forced to play the 10-trick major suit game instead of a better 9-trick notrump game - remember the missing trump is strengthening either an alternative trump suit or a no-trump stopper, or both.

Bergen specializes in playing a very eccentric style that emphasizes low-point high-fit contracts, especially in the majors. This style of play requires a strong understanding of advanced declarer play concepts by both partners, as well as a very good system agreement to avoid playing inferior contracts. While this approach works well for Bergen, there is a reason that few other top players choose to play the same approach. Either play the whole system, or recognize that Bergen's style is actually not suitable for the game played by you and your partner.

  • I find QJ (and likewise KJ and KT) a problematic holding. When "stranded," QJ could be worth as little as 1.0 to 1.5. In the middle of partner's five card suit it should be worth a whole three, and often more, call it an average of 3.5. To compensate for the 1.5 value of the missing trump, I would need four points in side honors (7.5-1.5= an adjusted 6). Likewise, counting KJ as 4.5, I'd need three points (a king or so) in side honors. Wasn't planning a two-trump raise with 6. (In my questions, I have a tendency to "sneak" in a extra jack or other upgrade somewhere, as a result of my "algos.")
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 18:53
  • @TomAu: The absence of a small accompanying trump is a significant flaw in the trump holding, especially in a weak hand, easing the ability of the opponents to pump declarer in their own long suit and hindering communication between the hands. This flaw rates to be about 1 point, negating any added value from having combining honours. Evaluate QJ alone as 2 to 2.5 points. most definitely not 3 or more. QJ alone is likely to be a better holding in partner's side suit than in trumps. Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 21:15

In general, I prefer not to raise a one-level opening bid without the requisite number of trumps, as one tends to use the law of total tricks to decide how the level to which to compete.

When partner has opened a weak 2 bid or overcalled in a pre-emptive manner, you are in control and raising with fewer trumps but a lower honour is feasible as you know you are filling partner's suit and producing more winners should it be trumps, and that a 4-2 split is not likely to affect partner too much.

Also in game bidding, you will sometimes consider a 5-2 major suit trump fit with honours in partner's suit although you can't guarantee here partner has honours too.

My favourite singleton to hold opposite a pre-empt is the queen. The assumption is that partner has pre-empted with KJ10xxx which could potentially have 3 losers against a 4-2 break but if my singleton is the queen it is probably 1 loser, losing to the ace which you are always going to lose to anyway. Jack is next best (partner has KQ10xxx) and then king (partner has AQxxxx or AQJxxx or AJ10xxx etc.). Having these and quick tricks outside I will certainly be looking for game.

  • As I understand it, your big fear opposite a "one" (as opposed to 2 or 3 bid), is that your partner's five cards are xxxxx. Because QJ is quite useful opposite KTxxx, ATxxx, or AKxxx, and to a lesser extent, Txxxx. On the other hand, if you have xxx opposite xxxxx, you're "up the creek" anyway, even if you have eight. It's hard for me to think of holdings opposite which xxx works better than QJ.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 1:44
  • IF I have 3 small opposite 5 small, if the suit breaks 3-2 I have 3 losers whether they are trumps or not and at NT I have less chance to set up the long cards in the suit than I do if they are trumps. And yes, my fear is that partner does not promise a good quality suit, just length, unlike a pre-empt where it normally promises good cards in the suit too.
    – CashCow
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 8:23
  • 1
    However that is not my only concern. It lies to partner. When partner has pre-empted the decisions are all mine. When partner opened with 1 it's still a joint decision.
    – CashCow
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 8:24
  • I don't consider this "lying." When raised, I am hoping (in this instance), to see xxx "or better." By my calculations, QJ is "better" than xxx. Likewise, I consider KQJx "better" than xxxxx, and would not be unhappy to see partner open with it, even playing (adjusted) "five card majors."
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 19:18
  • KQJx opposite xxx, normal 4-2 break and having to use those beautiful trumps possibly for ruffing... I'd rather not. AKxx maybe, at least then I can ruff twice with small trumps and guarantee to also make ace/king, and possibly can draw 2 rounds too so only the long hand can ruff with what are winners anyway
    – CashCow
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 10:59

On the whole, something like QJ is not quite as good as xxx, opposite xxxxx, even though there are some situations where it is better. More to the point, KQ is better than xxx because its sheer strength compensates for its lack of length. And KJ is an intermediate case because it is like a KQ if the opposing A is "onside" a finesse, and like a QJ if it is offside. A QJ may be regarded by some as an "adequate" substitute for xxx, but only in a "pinch." And it does have the potential to cause some partnership misunderstanding.

The disadvantage of the two high honors is that it gives a sixth card to the opponents, and possible distributions of 3-3, 4-2, 5-1, and even 6-0. An opposing 3-3 is no worse for you than a 3-2, but the 3-3 appears only 36% of the time compared to almost 68% for the 3-2 (you have eight small cards, the opponents have five). A 4-2 distribution is no worse than a 4-1, but your opponents get this 48% of the time, versus only 28%. So we have to look at the 20% "overage" for 4-2.

If your xxxxx in hand is actually T9xxx, then you're better off with the QJ because of the resulting sequence. They will fall to the AK, but your T9 will pick up the remaining opposing low cards and your fifth card will give you a third "long" trick. (T8 or 98 will also work of the opposing singleton is the missing intermediate card.) If my low cards are 65432, I'd rather have 987 opposite than QJ, because of the larger number of times that the opponents' 4-2 will give them four tricks in the suit than 4-1. Similar arguments hold for 5-1 versus 5-0.

My answer is the QJ. Declarer is likely to have Kxxxx, Axxxx, or even Txxxx, in which case, the QJ will be more valuable as "filler" than the extra low trump would be. It would even be helpful opposite AKxxx or AKTxxx.

With KQ opposite xxxxx, you're actually better off than with xxx. The KQ is a sure trick, and you will take a two "long tricks" (total of three) if your opponents have 3-3. If they have 4-2 with six cards you will take only two tricks, but you're no worse off than with and opposing 3-2 and no honors opposite.

  • Count me amongst those who would rather see xxx than QJ. Partner will assign a value to the fifth trump in his hand which you are lying to him about, and it will affect adversely both play of the hand and correct determination of denomination. Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 18:52
  • @PieterGeerkens: Fair point. To your earlier comment, [Bergen's style requires]..."a very good system agreement to avoid playing inferior contracts." That's the point of my "mapping algorithms," to determine when Bergen's (or some other expert's) method can be used. I'm afraid to use such algorithms when they are NOT corroroborated by an expert.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 19:39
  • Also: the eighth trump is extremely important, contributing a total value close to 2 points, and is often decisive in determining whether to play in a suit or notrump contract. When you start the process of lying to partner about the number of trumps jointly held you upset many other calculations occurring in the hand. Bergen can handle the situation because of both the strong system agreements with his partner and his great table presence. Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 20:14
  • Those of us who are mere mortals tread in this area at our own peril, especially when attempting to cherry-pick portions of his system to play without a thorough understanding of how the entire system works to right the imbalances introduced. Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 20:15
  • @PieterGeerkens: I haven't (yet) done this in bridge, but in "real life," I once "mapped out" someone else's system, then took it far beyond its original boundaries.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 22:06

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