Suppose you have: (s) Jx (h)KQxx (d) KJxx (c) Kxx.

That's 13 points, by the usual count. But I can think of at least two things wrong with it.

First, there are no aces, meaning that the hand has fewer "quick tricks" than the usual 13-pointer. Second, the Jack of spades is "stranded," meaning that might not be worth a full point because it can be picked off by the opponents. And, of course, there is no five card suit, meaning that you need 13, not 12 to open.

Do the above negatives detract from your hand? Or must it be opened since you have 13?

  • 1
    Standard American?
    – Joe Golton
    Sep 6, 2012 at 23:31
  • @JoeGolton: I use mainly Standard American. But sometimes "bend" the rules.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 6, 2012 at 23:40
  • 2
    While it doesn't make a huge difference, you having a stranded jack at least means the opponents don't have it. At the very least it means your opponents' hands will be slightly weaker. Sep 7, 2012 at 20:51
  • Hands like this are why Barry Crane played 4-card Majors. Link: bridgewinners.com/article/view/barry-crane-bidding-system Nov 22, 2015 at 22:54

6 Answers 6


Sure the JS is a fairly pointless HCP, but the spade shortness is worth something in a trump game.

It's the kind of hand that should definitely be opened, but only at the 1 level. The point of opening the hand is to let partner know you've got something, at which point you're looking for a 4-4 heart fit.

So in my opinion the hand should be opened, a heart response from partner should be supported, and a 'pass' is the probable response to all non-forcing circumstances. The biggest danger I can see in this hand is falling into the "use NT as an exit if nothing else works" trap instead of following the "when there's no fit, quit" rule.

Advertise what you've got, and let partner decide if there's any game here.

Well, that's how I read the hand at least.


Now to carry on to the more general question, could there possibly be a hand that technically should be opened, but in fact really shouldn't be? Sure there is, but it's important to note that it's all dependent on the situation, and not the hand. The main point of opening a "weak opener" is to let your partner know that you've got the points; it follows that the time to NOT open it is when partner doesn't care.

When does partner not care what you've got? When they don't have a hand good enough to do anything about it. When can you know that's the case? When the situation makes it obvious! For example, when you're in 4th seat and LHO and RHO have both bid. LHO obviously has 13+, RHO has 6+, you've got 13, your partner can't have much to talk about; there just aren't enough points in the deck. When the situation tells you something like that, then you know it's time to sit in the weeds and help the opponents dig themselves into a nice deep hole.

In general, yes, you should open a 13 point hand. Because your partner might really want to know. But there will be situations (not hands, situations!) where you shouldn't bid.

Like all good rules in bridge, you have to know when the rule doesn't apply.


I don't think there is such a thing as a hand that must be opened, of course if you deceive your partner too much they may stop playing with you.

In general I'd open 1nt (assuming weak nt) with this hand even without the J so certainly with. The only occasion I might consider passing is if I'm in the fourth seat and partner has already passed, even this is likely to depend on score/vulnerability at the time.

  • I'm more concerned about telling partner the "figurative" truth, rather than the literal truth. By passing, I'm saying this hand is basically weaker than (s) xx (h) xxx (d) AKJxx (c) Axx, even though the latter has only 12 HCP (but three quick tricks). I play a strong no trump.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 6, 2012 at 18:52

I find this question amusingly old-fashioned.

I don't know any top player who wouldn't regularly open in 1st and 3rd seat

(s)xx (h)KQxx (d)KJxx (c)Kxx

or, looking at your comparison hand, I don't know any top player who wouldn't open in 1st and 3rd seat

(s)xx (h)xxx (d)AKxxx (c)Axx

It's simply way too valuable to get in first with a bid to disrupt the opponent's bidding and help partner figure out what to lead on defense. Letting opponents have lots of uncontested auctions is a losing strategy unless their bidding is bad or your play is so superior to theirs that you have them beat anyway. You can reasonably safely jump in with either hand, and your partner might not be able to.

(Both hands are passes in 4th seat because of the weak spades. 2nd seat depends on vulnerability and maybe a better read on the opponents' abilities.)

  • Have you not heard of the "trap pass." I was taught to "pass" with an opening valued hand containing, say KJxx in RHO's opening suit, and to "trap pass" 13 points as opener with "broken" values such as KQxx, KJxx,and Kxx, because one opponent may have AJxxx or AQxxx in those suits, and I want to find out which one before I bid. I would open with s)xx (h)xxx (d)AKxxx (c)Axx because the aces are really worth 4.5 (per my answer) and the hand is worth 12 hcps, not 11, In my other example, I would pass with (s) J6 but open with (s) JT because the latter represents a "sequence".
    – Tom Au
    Sep 14, 2017 at 16:50
  • 1
    Yes it would be good to know if LHO has one of your suits, but not at the price of having to enter the auction one level higher. Sep 14, 2017 at 17:05
  • 2
    Just for your education, Tom, you should try playing against one of those bidding systems designed around being able to open hands like (s)xx (h)AQxx (d)xx (c)QTxxx. (Moscito is one example.) Unless you learn an appropriate artificial defensive system to counter it, you'll find that you collect a few juicy penalties but lose far more in missed games and slams. (In fact, such systems are banned from competitive play in the North America because the ACBL thinks players should not be forced to learn to play against them.) Sep 15, 2017 at 23:08
  • These systems (e.g Moscito) allow opening with as little as 9-10 points (your example hand has 8.5, allowing 0.5 for the T), relative to your statistical average of 10. I was taught to open with an above average hand; 13 hcps with four of a suit, 12 hcps with with vie, 11 hcps with six (or 5-5-2-1 distribution), 10 hcps with 7 (or a good 5 with good distribution). Is the modern theory that the "first bid" is so valuable that it is worth opening with an inferior hand such as s)xx (h)AQxx (d)xx (c)QTxxx.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 16, 2017 at 15:36
  • 1
    @TomAu: The jury is still out. All I can say is that I wouldn't want to play against Moscito without a special system for distinguishing between weaker and stronger overcalls. But what you were taught is generally considered close to a point too heavy these days even for Standard American. I suspect you first learned at a time when people still said 26 points were necessary to bid game; simulations have firmly concluded that 25 is enough. Sep 16, 2017 at 17:10

Assuming Standard American (5 card Majors), I'd open this with 1 diamond. If partner responds 1H you can raise to 2H to show how weak you are. With partner bidding 2D you can pass.

What's tough is when partner bids 1S. I personally would rebid 1NT because it best communicates the hand. It denies Spade support, communicates the point count, and truthfully expresses a stopper in every suit but spades. And it does not deny having a 4 card heart suit.

To your general point, yes there are 13 point hands that are better off passed. Two kinds:

1) 3-3-3-4 distribution. This is the worst possible shape for a hand - not just for trump contracts but also for no trump contracts, especially if the 4 card suit is weak.

2) 4-4-3-2 distribution where both 4 card suits are minor and the points are scattered around, with no solid suit anywhere (Note: if you swap the clubs and heart suits in your example, that would fit this template and I would pass).

I do this not because some book says so, but because I've gotten into trouble bidding such hands far too often. Both of these types of hands are better for defense then offense.

In the event your partner has 13+ there's no risk of being passed out of a game - and if you're partner has 12 or fewer than you'll more often then not find that the zero score you get after the hands are passed out is better than the down 1 or 2 you would have otherwise achieved.

  • 1
    Might be worth noting that, while 2D is passable in Standard American, it's fairly common to show 2d as the stronger bid (inverted minors) - so if you're playing with me, with my usual conventions, and pass 2d, expect some complaining afterwards!
    – Joe
    Jan 21, 2021 at 20:33

Many players adjust the original high-card point count from Milton Work's 4-3-2-1 system. I, for example, discount singleton kings and doubleton queens and jacks. I also add points for long suits, one point for each card beyond 4. I also discount unsupported honors known to be under an opponent's suit, and thus likely to be finnessable. (That would not apply at an opening when nothing is know of an opponent's holding). I also tend to somewhat discount a flat hand, and an aceless hand.

So given the example hand (s) Jx (h)KQxx (d) KJxx (c) Kxx. I would rate this as a bad 12, discounting the Jx totslly, and noting the flatness and acelessness (if I found a fit with partner, i would add for the spade shortness, but only once I had a fit.) I would probably open this with 1D if not vulnerable, and might or might not when vulnerable, in 1st or 2nd set. (I would always open this in 3rd, and I would never open this in 4th seat.)

However, given a hand such as:

(s) Qx (h)KJxx (d) KJxx (c) Kxx.

I would be much less inclined to open. There are really only 11 working points here, and it is flat and aceless. There is no concentrated strength. This looks like a good supporting hand or a defensive hand, so passing and seeing what develops might pay off, especially vulnerable against not.


Most 12 point hands should be opened (one of a suit). The main exception is 12 hcps with a 4-3-3-3 distribution. Such a flat distribution reduces the value of the hand by one point to 11. Other exceptions would be where there are "quacks" (queens and jacks) "stranded" in a doubleton or singleton (also kings in the latter case), that are not pulling their full weight. Barring this, a hand as weak as KJxx KJxx KJx xx can be opened.

In the case of a 13 point hand, I would need either stranded honors or the flat 4-3-3-3 distribution plus another negative not to open. A hand like this might be QJx QJx KJxx QJx. Here, the second negative is that you have no aces and only one king. Even though the point count is nominally "13," it's more like 11 to 11.5 after the two above negatives. And even then, I would open one of a minor if the KJxx were in spades, because you have the "boss" suit under the rule of 15 (an adjusted 11-11.5 points plus 4 spades).

Make one or more of the x's a T, and I would open with 13 points and the 4-3-3-3 hand above. In your example hand, I would open with a 4-4-3-2 distribution and 13 point count. Reduce value of the Jack of Spades to 0, making the hand worth 12 points, and it would still be worth opening with a 4-4-3-2. Although you have no aces, you have three kings (more than your "fair share" of "two aces and kings"). Also, the Q and the second jack are well placed behind your kings.

You must log in to answer this question.

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