In "Standard American," I must open a major with 65432 while refraining from opening a major with AKQJ.

IMHO, there are five card majors that are too weak to be opened and there four card majors that are too strong NOT to be opened.

I've created a system where "An extra trump is worth a king," and the minimum opening standard is Qxxxx. Thus, xxxxxx "maps" into Kxxxx, and qualifies. xxxxx < Qxxxx and doesn't qualify. KQxx "maps" into Qxxxx and qualifies, but not KJxx, which "maps" into Jxxxx.

I'm not sure Standard American is right for me. Are there any established systems (other than Standard American) that operate along principles similar to mine?

  • 1
    I don't understand this question. It is similar to: Do I kill a kitten with a gun or a knife? The answer is: don't! You have a system, stick to it. There are no judgement calls involved when deciding you have 5+ cards in the major... If you don't like the system, start playing 4 card majors. Of course, your question is quite valid when talking about overcalling...
    – Aryabhata
    Jun 6, 2011 at 17:20
  • I've taken the liberty of editing your question to focus it on what I think the essential question is. If you disagree, you can roll it back. Your solution to the problem as you see it should go into your answer.
    – Pat Ludwig
    Jun 7, 2011 at 20:22
  • @Tom: Please take this as friendly advice: You are not (yet) a good enough bridge player to invent new bidding systems. You will get into systemic trouble regularly, in ways that will prevent you from effectively improving. Please, if you are serious about improving your game, choose an established and well published system and play it. I like 4-card majors, don't get me wrong. But you will need to play a system that is in common use by the better players at your club in order to improve at a decent pace. Apr 27, 2013 at 17:39
  • @Tom: Backgammon and novel writing are solitary pursuits; bridge is a partnership/team game, and bidding is the most pronounced partnership activity of the game. You cannot become significantly better at bridge bidding in isolation from your partner. Apr 27, 2013 at 17:56
  • @PieterGeerkens: You have a point. I need to find/hire the "right" partner to use "my" system. And FWIW it's worth, I am one of the "better players at my club." That's not much, "big fish in a little pond, etc." and maybe that's why I've hit my ceiling. But I'm at least asking these questions, and the others aren't.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 27, 2013 at 17:57

3 Answers 3


When you open a five card major, you're not promising anything about the strength of your suit, you are simply telling your partner that you have five cards in that suit.

Remember that you do not win tricks only on strength, you win them on length as well. Even if you open a raggedy five card suit, and end up playing in it after getting you're partner's support, you will win extra tricks because no one else will have trumps after you draw them. On the other hand, if you wind up in a 4-3 fit because partner raised your four card open, things can be difficult if one of your opponents also has 4 or more trump.

Also remember that just because you can't open AKQJ of a major doesn't mean you can never mention that suit. Open a minor, and rebid your major. That tells your partner that you have four of the major, and if he also has four then you've found your fit.

This can be hard to swallow, so I recommend building some example hands. Give yourself five lousy trump and an opening hand, give your partner three random trump and enough to raise you to game, and see how the hand plays out with random opponent hands. Likewise, give yourself AKQJ of a major, your partner the same three random trump and game values, and get a feel for which hands are easier and which hands are harder to play.

  • 1
    It seems like that's a bit circuitous and would miss some 6-2 fits, but I have a feeling we could go on like this forever. Bottom line is, as long as your partner and you have the understanding of this system, try it out and see how it works in practice. From the wording of your original question, it sounded as if you were unwilling to open xxxxx and would open AKQJ while playing five card majors, which would probably earn you a few dirty looks from the other side of the table. Jun 5, 2011 at 23:04
  • 4
    Fair warning: if you are going to play in any ACBL (or similarly sponsored) events, confusing your opponents by hiding the true meanings of bids is not allowed. If your partner could expect you to open with a four card major, then your opponents need to know that as well. Make sure your convention card is filled out properly. Jun 6, 2011 at 13:22
  • 3
    @Tom: Again, you are looking at the suit in isolation. The fact you have so much strength in trumps would imply you have lesser strength in the side suits. For instance, if responder held Axx, xxx, Axxx, Axx he will bid game (say you opened 1H). And across Kx, xxxxx, Kx, KQxx this is a much better 4H (even with 11 points in your hand), than across xxx, AKQJ, xx, Kxxx. Of course one hand does not mean anything and what we are discussing is just opinions without any backing data (and that is really hard to obtain, as there are too many factors).
    – Aryabhata
    Jun 6, 2011 at 19:05
  • 1
    @Tom: In the first example, replace a small club with the jack of clubs. Even without the J of clubs, the first hand has much better chances of making 4H than the second. So I don't really see your point. As to discussing merits of your system, I am afraid that is too broad a question and not suitable for this forum.
    – Aryabhata
    Jun 6, 2011 at 19:22
  • 2
    Folks, please take this discussion to our chat room. Thanks!
    – Pat Ludwig
    Jun 6, 2011 at 19:46

Acol and standard Goren are two well-known systems that use 4 card majors.

A main reason for the popularity of five card majors at the present time is the popularity of IMP contests. Five card majors is superior for slam bidding, which is emphasized in IMPS, while four cad majors is superior at matchpoints. However the team games are the most prestigious events, so almost everyone practices their team system at matchpoints.

Barry Crane was a strong advocate of 4 card majors, and used it very successfully in both team and pairs events for 30 years.

I have occasionally encountered hybrid systems that play 1H promising 5, but 1S only promising 4. Not recommended for casual partnerships, but retains the pre-emptive value of a 1S opening. Some partnerships play this unofficially in 3rd seat, hoping to not get into too much trouble because the hand is less likely to be a slam possibility.

P.S. By unofficialy above I don't mean undisclosed; I mean not completely discussed.

  • My "standard" is what I call a "four and a half" card major. Meaning "something extra" (like 5 HCP), if you open with four. xxxxx isn't even "four and a half," especially using my "23" standard (trump suit strength is sum of cards and HCP). xxxxx is only 5 (cards) out of 23 or less than one-FOURTH. KQxx is 9 (five for HCP, four for trumps). Qxxxx is 7 (5+2) and "barely" qualifies. Using "mapping algorithms."
    – Tom Au
    Apr 27, 2013 at 17:42

Systems built around a weak no trump may fit your ideas. 1NT is "catchall" bid for balanced hands with opening values, that is 12-14 high card points. It has the advantage of shutting out opposing one level bids that hands with comparable strength might make.

One needs five of a suit to open it with 12-13. So hands of this strength and four card suits that are unsuitable for 1NT (e.g. a 4-4-4-1 distribution) are passed. One can, however, bid four card suits with 14 or more points, because the extra points compensate for the shortness of the suit.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .