Some people I know would "pre-empt" three spades with a hand like the following:

(s) AKQxxxx (h) xx (d)xx (c)xx.

My preference, however is to open with a "weak two," (spades) basically treating my seven card suit as if it had six. With some partners, I might open one spade even with only nine hcps, because it has 12 points counting distribution, seven (probable) tricks, and should make game opposite an opening hand that has three tricks.

On another question someone asked me what I would do with KJTxxxx KTxx x x. Again I prefer a weak two in first and second positions, pre-empting only in third. (Take away the side king, and I would pre-empt three spades in the first three positions.) The reason is that my seven hcps (eight counting the two tens) is close enough to the "average" of 10, so that I don't want to take up bidding space that my partner might be able to use.

I would even open a "weak two" with Axxxxxx and nothing else in other suits. That's because the ace (unlike a K or KJ) has real defensive value, and I feel less need to pre-empt.

Are all (or most) of the above viable alternatives to pre-empting? Or should I be pre-empting more than I actually do?

3 Answers 3


I have a friend that preempts at the two level with defense and at the three level without. He doesn't get very good results from that treatment.

In my opinion, AKQxxxx xx xx xx should be opened 3S in any seat and vulnerability. If you were 7321 instead of 7222, you could consider 1S if your partnership opens light. If you're in third seat and RHO opened, you might consider 4S nonvulnerable.

The larger question is a question of philosophy. Preempts can be used primarily destructively (that is, as an attempt to interfere in opponents' auction), or as a mix of a constructive and destructive bid. If you preempt destructively, partner can never raise you to game (either 3NT or 4 of your major) based on power. If 2S could be anything from KJxxxx xxx xx xx to AKQxxxx xx xx xx, what is partner to do with xx Axxx AKQx Axx? If you have the first hand, 4S is dicey and 3NT is hopeless. If you have the second, 6S and 6NT are excellent contracts. Partner just has to raise you to 4S and hope. If a three-level preempt contains both KQ-seventh and out, and 7-low and out, then partner can never raise you to 3NT, and even extending your preempt with a 3-card holding in your suit is a risky proposition.

It comes down to this: If your preempts are primarily destructive, you'll often be making the final decision for your partnership based on 13 cards, while your opponents will be using 26 during the auction. Your partnership will miss some good games and make some bad sacrifices. You'll make bad leads on defense more often and opponents will have more information about your distribution. Against that, opponents will get to the wrong strain or level a little more often than at other tables.

I don't think that's a good tradeoff, and few experts do either.

  • I was taught that "weak two" was anywhere from 6-12 points. KJxxxx xxx xx xx is "six" (counting distribution and with the side king removed) and AKQxxxx xx xx xx is "12," again counting distribution. So unless I was taught wrong, the "usual" remedies ought to apply. In a forced choice, I would open AKQxxxx xx xx xx 1S rather than 3S. It has seven probable tricks, and should make game opposite an opening hand (three probable tricks), even if we end up with only 21-22 hcps between us.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 16:42
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    6-12 is a pretty wide range given that there's little room for exploration. I've more often seen beginners taught 6-10 HCP with 2 of the top 3, with more aggressive preempting coming when the player has more experience and thus more ability to evaluate hands with measures other than HCP.
    – ruds
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 19:44
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    If you say don't open AKQxxxx xx xx xx as "two," I'd go to 1S, not 3S.The reason I quarrel with opening AKQxxxx xx xx xx as "three" and KJxxxx xxx xx xx as "two" is because the former is the stronger hand, and yet I'm using the weaker bid. If you're using 6-10 for "weak two," I'd say that AKQxxxx xx xx xx is much stronger than any balanced "10," and I'd open 1S.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 19:44
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    even AKQxxx and AKQxxxx are fairly different holdings from the perspective of responder. I've cheated down to a two-level preempt holding JT-seventh, but in general a good 7-card suit should never open at the two-level.
    – ruds
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 19:46
  • 1
    No blue or red cards in my box today - so only +1. Great explanation. Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 1:42

(Too long for a comment) A very important rule of thumb in competitive bidding is the Law of Total Tricks. This says that, for most hands,

tricks you make in your contract + tricks they make in their contract = number of trumps your partnership has + number of trumps their partnership has

There is a further simplification, which says that, in most cases, you should bid to take as many tricks as you have trumps between you (unless you are stronger and can make game or slam).

Partner needs to be able to know this information as early in the auction as possible in order to jump to the maximum safe level as soon as possible. Sometimes you need to do this not as a sacrifice, but to keep opponents from finding their sacrifice. For example, when partner opens 1H, you bid to 4H immediately with x Qxxxx Axxx xxx in part because it makes when partner has xxx AKxxx Kx Axx, and getting there quickly keeps them from finding 4S for down 1 (or 2 if you find the diamond ruff).

Hence bidding a weak 2 with a 7 card suit is usually a bad idea. This doesn't mean there are no exceptions. For example, QTxxxxx QJx Qx x should probably be opened 2S except when favorable, since your red suit holdings and weak trumps suggest the Law is likely to be wrong.

Also, the rule of 2, 3, and 4 suggests opening at the 4 level on AKQxxxx xx xx xx, except when unfavorable. In practice, I'd open 4S with such a hand only at favorable, and 4H either favorable or in 1st or 3rd seat (but not 2nd). If it's a minor, I hope I'm playing the version of Gambling 3N that happens to fit my hand.

  • 2
    I'd want to be xxx-xx-x in the side suits before opening at the 4 level - it creates a significantly increased possibility that partner can generate an extra trick on offense, without significantly affecting opponent's chances of making their contract. Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 4:30
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    @PieterGeerkens: You mean xxx-xx-x "or better" in the side suits, right? Because you'd be happy with xxx-xxx-0 or xxxx-x-x?
    – Tom Au
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 17:38
  • @TomAu: Of course. Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 22:42

There are two important points: 1. What does your partner expects, when you open 2/3/4 spades?

If my partner opens weak two, i expect a hand almost enough to open 1sp. i explain to all my students:

  • open with reasonable suit
  • think: "what if your partner has other major?". Do you like to miss it? KQJ9xx, xxxx, Kx, x - it's ok to open 2sp, KQxxxx, Jxxx, Kx, x - pass
  • what are you trying to preempt?
  • never open weak two with 7 or less losers - it's easy to miss a game.

Opening 3 level is different. Your partner does not count HCP, losers, etc. He(she) counts your tricks. That's it. So you must agree trick range according to vulnerability and seat. Second seat should be a bit stronger than 1st. 3rd seat is free for gambling.

  1. If you open 2sp with AKQxxxx, you underbid, hugely. So probably you would like to bid your preempt one more time, and this is a very bad style.

for example what would you bid:

    1. 2sp (3he) pass - (pass)
    1. 2sp (3he) 3sp - (4he)
    1. 2sp (4he) 4sp - (5he)

in any case you must guess

    1. may be partner has 2(or even 3) tricks with 2spades(and he cannot bid according to TNT) or, may be, opponent to your left has maximum hand and RHO misguessed...
    1. if you think that partner should bid 3sp with 2sp and 2-3 tricks - you should not bid 4sp here. But, agree, looks strange to pass.
    1. what now? Looks like you should pass, but you pass with bad feeling.

So, summary of my answer:

vulnerable all seats - I open 3 sp.

love all - 2nd seat - 3sp, 1st,3rd seat i guess. 1 spade is main choice, 4sp is possible if i see some tells from opponents.

none against vul - 1sp or 4sp any seat

  • Yes, vulnerability is an important factor, more, perhaps, than I suspected.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 22:23
  • What does " cannot bid according to TNT" mean? I don't recognize the acronym. Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 22:54
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    TNT= Total Number of Tricks, our trumps+ their trumps = our tricks+ their tricks( simple version) Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 0:38
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    @MikhailKrasnoselskiy: In English we usually refer to it as Law of Total Tricks, the title of Cohen's book. Thank you for the explanation. Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 5:59
  • Sorry, LTT is better Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 14:09

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