In third position, after two passes, with equal or favorable vulnerability, I might open 'one spade "light" with something like the following: AKJxx xxx xxx xx (8 hcps, all in spades, and no side honors). Or with AKJx kxxx xxx xx, a four card suit with 11 hpcs. Such a bid prevents fourth seat from opening a suit at the one level, and works somewhat like a weak two bid (one level lower, one card shorter in the bid suit).

On the other hand, I would not make such a bid with xx xxx xxx AKJxx where my suit were clubs, because it has no preemptive value.

Whether you have the above, or different, standards for opening third position light, would you open the same way or differently if your suit were clubs rather than spades.

2 Answers 2

  1. There's no right answer. There are answers that are more or less wrong, (including answers that are "the regulations won't allow this", which means it's very wrong), but the only correct answer is "what partner will expect".

  2. Having said that, a lot boils down to "why am I opening light in third seat?" For me, the answer is:

    • preempt the opponents
    • get in a lead-director
    • put in the first shot at "win the partscore battle".

    So this is the first lens through which we look at a hand. ♠AKJxx and out ranks high on the last two items and reasonably on the first one (which you mentioned). ♣AKJxx and out is a good lead-director (but in a 5 card Major system, 1 minor openings aren't the lead director in general that 1 Major openings are), but is less likely to win the partscore fight, and as you mentioned is not at all preemptive.

    ♠AKJx and out to me is similar. You're less comfortable if you do win the partscore battle here, but the lead-director and the "take away the 1 level" sway it for me. I actually like your AKJx Kxxx xxx xx less for this, as I still am not sure I want to "win" the auction in 3♠; I'm less likely to be shutting out the opponent's heart fit; and they have a king less. But see later about what else I might do...

  3. The next thing to think about is "does the system support or hurt me if I open light with this hand?"

    • Drury was invented because they needed a way to survive Murray's third-seat 1♠ openings (which, shh, didn't always have even 4 spades!)
    • But if you play Bergen Raises by passed hand, you really don't feel good opening a 4-bagger, because now the LoTT that Bergen is designed around is against you rather than for you.
    • Precision non-1♣ openers are limited to 15, so they tend to open light even in first seat. So partner is likely not to have a good 10 since she passed. Points, schmoints, but 10 + 15 < 26, so it's not a worry that partner is going to hang me if I open light (even in a 2+ 1⋄ bid. This is very common, where legal, with expert Precision pairs. VERY light, sometimes).
    • Conversely, playing K/S style weak NT, 1 minor openings are sound, and partner will frequently assume a strong NT hand when responding or competing. So it's even more dangerous to open light in a minor when it's "9 rather than strong NT or equivalent if fit found" than "9 rather than decent 11". But 1 Major doesn't have that problem.

    This is the same as "what partner will expect" in my #1, just systemic rather than stylistic.

  4. What can partner do to hurt me? AKJx x xxxx xxxx or x AKJx xxxx xxxx - eek. AKJxx xxx xxx xx? It's not as good a playing hand, but at least there's no massive misfit issues. What about 3-of-a-"fit" preemptive raise? Is that going to hurt?

  5. Are there other bids I can stretch a little that won't get me in trouble? Okay, I might not open ♣AKJxx with a preempt, because it would have to be at the 3 level (but xxx x xxxx AKJxx white on red after pass-pass? I'd certainly think about it!), but sure and I would bid 2⋄ with AKJxx and out, even if, in first and second seat, I promise 6.

    AKJx Kxxx xxx xx: If I open, and partner bids a 4-card major, I'm happy to pass (although I might raise; now I do have a 12-count!) If partner bids 1NT, it's no worse than a first seat 1m-1NT which could have Jx in clubs to make the 12. Yeah, even if I wouldn't open that in first seat (which I would, both majors!) I'm opening 1⋄ in third seat and passing anything partner bids. It's not lead-directing, or (really) preemptive, but there is a good chance it's a partscore fight, and it's a good chance we win it in a major.

    Side note - Playing that K/S weak NT system, for exactly the same reason, but more preemptively, I would at least seriously consider bidding 1NT (12-14). Probably automatic NV, and at least at matchpoints with everyone vulnerable (even though -200 is the MP death score. They have to find it, and my rescue system is good, and they have to know they don't have 600!)

But the final line is always the same - if partner doesn't want you to do that, don't. If you've agreed not to do it with this hand, don't. Whether it's right or wrong on this hand, it will not be right enough to compensate for the lack of partnership confidence. Similarly, if it's wrong on this hand, take 100% of the blame for it, even if "partner should have been able to figure it out because..." Again, winning that fight will not compensate for what happens the next several times partner "figures it out".

  • 1
    I do not play Bergen raises by passed hand, only by a responder to an opener (first or second seat). A third seat "first bid" is not an "opener" in my view, because first seat passed (and gave up some rights). Likewise, I would always open a "weak two" with at least six in first or second seat, but reserve the right to open with a good five in third seat, counting on a passed hand not to "Bergen" raise.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 23:44
  • 3
    A third seat opener is still an opener - you can still make 7. You can still make 6 without having a 2C opener. Dealer almost always can't force to game on their own opposite a minimum - that's the only "right" they've given up. Thinking of third seat as "not really an opener" will make it easier to miss the games you should be in, and also will be worried every hand to compete to the 3 level that partner "first bid" again, and lose there. Sure, you can take liberties, but you have to own them, right or wrong. If partner starts catering to your liberties, you lose in the long run.
    – Mycroft
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 17:09
  • 1
    @Mycroft: Well said. I'd only add, in particular, that having a very different system in 3rd seat than in 1st and 2nd is a lot of extra memory effort that might be more profitably spent on further mastering one's 1st and 2nd seat system. Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 22:56
  • 1
    A very nice summary! With a decent minor suit, the 3rd hand can take a few liberties when pre-empting, but with a major (particularly with the boss suit) you bid it at the one level. Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 7:22

I keep the system very simple:

1 Have a clear reason to open, and some suit quality to support it. (The closest approximation would be an Overcall - but made before opener has bid!)

2 Don’t open at the 1 level with a singleton - partner invariably responds in that and you have nowhere to go but too high! With a singleton its the 2 (or 3) level or nothing.

3 Make sure partner knows they should only bid a new suit at the 2 level with 5 cards (so you don't tumble into a difficult 4-2 fit).

It can be as simple as that! Although, there are some subtle nuances to consider for completeness: The Passed Partner ought to pass with a minimal responding hand, should be more cautious to jump-raise or level-of-fit raise, and may bid 1NT on more than 9 points (eg. with 4 clubs and 10-11 points). Opener's rebid should promise 14+ (even a suit preference bid) - Pass with less and with more than 14 remember responder’s 1NT may be 7-11, so try to give the opportunity to reveal extra (such as raising your suit preference). Finally, Opener may also open 2NT and 2C bids a bit lighter than normal, so responder doesnt cautiously pass opposite a good 19 point opener.

It is worth remembering safe 3rd and 4th seat openings are a partnership agreement to be discussed rather than unilateral actions, and they still retain the accuracy of your bidding system. The Suit will only make a difference to whether or not you have a clear reason to open - eg. 1C would not be premptive whereas 1S or 2D could be.

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