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With everyone vulnerable at duplicate, there were three passes to me. I passed in fourth position holding the following: ♠ QJT642 ♡4 ♢K95 ♣ KJ3. We got a bottom because everyone else with our cards bid and made two spades.

Did I make a mistake to pass? While I had a "weak two" bid, I didn't see the merit of taking chances when I could get a zero score with a hand that was average in high card points (10). One consideration is my understanding that opening this hand at the one level is "barely legal" under ACBL rules. Take away a jack, and it would not be.

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    Stop it with the irrational loss aversion. Getting 0 when everyone else your way is +110 is just as bad as getting -500 when everyone else your way is 0. Oct 21, 2023 at 19:22
  • @AlexanderWoo: From what i understand, opening this hand at the one level is "barely legal" under ACBL rules. The minimum requirement under the rule of 19 is high card points plus the length of the two longest suits. 10+6+3 barely qualifies, 9+6+3 does not. Take away one of the jacks, and you'd have to open a weak two. The main point of many of my questions is that they are "right at the edge" of one limit or another, and the question is, if this is barely "in bounds, is it "too close to the edge?" Here is another "edge" question. boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/59428/which
    – Tom Au
    Oct 25, 2023 at 13:32
  • Natural opening bids have to meet rule of 19 under the Basic chart. However, under the Basic+, Open, and Open+ charts, natural opening bids only have to meet the rule of 17. Only games restricted to newer players are under the Basic chart; by default games are played under the Open chart. (To be precise, these are not rules about what you can bid but about what you and your partner are allowed to agree; though repeated usage constitutes implicit agreement.) Many experts consider these rules silly and, if allowed, think they would improve their results by opening lighter in some situations. Oct 25, 2023 at 14:59
  • @AlexanderWoo: One ACBL rule application I consider silly is that you can't open 1 of something with AKQxxxx xx xx xx (although you can do so with AKQxxx xxx xx x (that is a 7-3-2-1 and nine high card points), even though this is clearly a "bid to make" situation. Even so, the presence of ACBL rules impacts my thinking.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 25, 2023 at 15:03
  • I'm ineligible for games played under the Basic chart, so every game I play in allows me to open AKQxxxx xx xx xx. Oct 25, 2023 at 15:07

4 Answers 4

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A general idea in bridge (like many games) is that you should take actions which maximize your expected value. Sometimes fourth seat openings provide a very pure version of that problem. If you pass, you end the auction and score zero. Therefore, you should open when you expect to achieve a positive score.

One rule of thumb designed to evaluate that question is the rule of 15. This instructs you to add your hand's point value to the number of spades in your hand. If the result is at least 15, open the hand. This hand clearly passes that bar. Why is the rule structured this way? If you have 10 or 11 points, the fact that the three other players have passed indicates that (a) the high cards are fairly evenly distributed among the four hands, and (b) the limit of the hand is probably a partscore. When you control the boss suit (spades) you are likely to win a partscore battle. On the other hand, if you have 14 or more points, there's a decent shot your partnership can make a game, so you're willing to open to try to find that game even if you sometimes allow the opponents to win a partscore battle.

As for weak twos, there are no weak openings in fourth seat. What would be the purpose when you can just pass? Instead, you have an intermediate opening, showing something like 10-14 with a six-card suit. This is still preemptive, as it makes it much more difficult for opponents to find a profitable partscore contract, but it is not weak: you expect that the contract will make most of the time.

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  • I believe the use of intermediate in the final paragraph is incorrect. That adjective should still remain as describing the 15-17 point range, just as in other positions. The 10-14 point range you give for that is the range of a minimum opening in the other three positions, and so is again appropriate here. Oct 21, 2023 at 5:49
  • If one follows the rule of 15, I should open even with a point less (take away my Jack of Clubs), because I have six spades. Would you agree?
    – Tom Au
    Oct 21, 2023 at 10:27
  • @ForgetIwaseverhere: If you agreed to play intermediate jump overcalls (which is nowadays a rare but not nonexistent treatment), I would expect them to be in the range of 13-15, not 15-17. Oct 21, 2023 at 19:20
  • @AlexanderWoo: Agreed; I'm talking openings rather than overcalls. Openings: Minimum is up to 14 Pts; intermediate is 15-17 or 18; and strong is above that. Overcalls, as you note, are Minimum range is up to 12; intermediate 13-15; and strong above that. These adjectival descriptions go back many decades, and are roughly a king wide for a very good reason. Mixing up the adjective use "because it's fourth seat" just sows confusion. Oct 21, 2023 at 22:51
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Firstly, “barely legal” is legal. So you are not prevented from bidding by the tournament rules.

Whether you should bid is always a judgement call. ACBL rules do not serve the same purpose as a bidding system and are no substitute for it. Being worried about being exactly on the defined limit is like being worried about competing in an over-18 competition on your 18th birthday.

So, what is our judgement? You have 10 high card points (HCP). On average, given the (lack of) bidding, you expect the remaining 30 points to be evenly divided amongst the remaining three players. Which is a long-winded way of saying partner probably also has about 10 HCP. They don’t have a 6 card suit, or they would have opened, so you would be unlucky not to find two spades in partner’s hand (5-4-3-1 is the most likely way this could happen). And your suit is not only pretty standalone, it is spades, so you can outbid the opponents.

All things considered, the odds are that you will make a positive score by bidding, as opposed to zero by not. At teams the difference is not so tragic (unless you miss a freak game), but at match points it is more serious. A bottom is a bottom, whether by 10 points or 500.

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As regards being "barely legal", the current (May 2023) ACBL Basic Chart, it's most restrictive, specifies:

Allowed Bidding Agreements

Opening Bids

:
9. Any Natural opening bid in a suit at the 2-level showing at least 4 HCP and with a Range not greater than 7 HCP. :

This 11 HCP hand passes any Weak Two opening range legal under this chart (and, by extension, all other charts as they are pure extensions of this one).

There has never been, at any level of competition or at any past time, an intent to create a miniscule range that lies between the Weak Two range and the Opening Bid range. The bottom end of the allowed range is deliberately set to ensure this.

This hand is clearly in the range that, according to circumstance, some partnerships might open one of a suit, others might open two of a suit; and some might pass. All of these actions are legal - not "barely legal" - as long as partnership understandings are clearly outlined on one's convention card and in response to opposition inquiries.

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Count your tricks, not your points. You can reasonably expect to make a one (spade) contract under the circumstances.

First, you have a solid six card suit headed by QJT, which guarantees one "top" trick. You can also expect to make three "long" tricks with the suit as trump. The two side kings are worth half a trick apiece; count them as one trick bringing the total to five.

With everyone passing, partner will have between 8 to 11 points (someone would probably have opened with 12). That represents about three tricks, within a range of two to four. You're quite safe at the one level, and if an opponent sticks in an overcall, you can compete at least to two. Moreover, your suit is spades, so the opponent's can't outbid you at the one level, and probably not at the two level.

It's true that a non-descript ten points might be worth only three tricks with a flat 4-3-3-3 distribution, and partner's presumed three would bring the total only to six. In this case, you have five tricks in hand, not three, and are in a position to bid (and make) a low level contract.

Relative to its point count, your hand's only weakness is that it has no aces, but otherwise it is highly upgradeable. Give your partner the two minor suit aces (eight points), and your two hands are worth eight and a half tricks (versus five in your own hand). A contribution of QJ of diamonds and Q of clubs (five high card points) by partner also improves you hand by nearly four tricks, leaving a fifth trick for a king or ace. Give partner 11 points in the form of A of hearts, king of spades or hearts and two minor suit queens, and game is not out of the question.

Take away the jack of spades, and I would not open. It's "only" one point, but a critical "connector" in a critical suit. On the other hand, take away the Jack of clubs or downgrade one of the minor suit kings to a queen (also leaving nine points), and I would open one spade unless this was an event where this was not "legal."

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