Tip #7 - Bidding With 4,4,4,1 Distributions

Bidding With 4,4,4,1 Distributions

At a recent session West, after a bit of a disaster, commented that they had a 4,4,4,1 distribution and didn’t know what to bid as opener. I observed that I had been taught to open the suit below the singleton (playing opening with 4 card majors). The other three at the table had not heard of this.

Hands with 4,4,4,1 distributions can be difficult to bid and often they do not play very well. Because of this many experts consider that the hands should only be opened with a couple more points than the usual 11 or 12 that is common these days. In particular any honours other than the ace that are held singleton should be discounted. This indicates that such hands should only be opened with a good 13 or 14 points. The difficulty with the hands of this type of distribution is trying to find a fit with partner or difficulty in communicating between hands in no-trump contracts so that the hands may need a couple more combined points than the 25 or 26 usually required for game. If partner happens to respond in one of your suits then your good fortune and a fit is found.

In opening these hands none of the no-trump calls is available as the hands are not even semi balanced. Where the hands are strong, those playing the 2 19 to 21 points bid don’t have the 5 card suit which should be held for this bid. Even where can utilise the 2 bid holding 23+ points there can be difficulty in reaching the right contract at the right level.

Let’s consider the various combinations and how they might be opened.

         A   B    C   D
     1    4    4    4
     4    1    4    4
     4    4    1    4
     4    4    4    1

Considering hands with point range up to 22 points.

For Hand A open 1, the suit below the singleton. (If playing 5 card majors need to open 1). If partner supports s or bids s or s you have found a fit and proceed on that basis. If the response is 1NT then they shouldn’t hold 4s or 4s so must have 4 or more s or s. So bid s at a level depending on the strength of your hand with the hope that partner will bid s if that is their suit.
However If partner, as expected, responds 1
then I recommend the following.
With hands up to about 16 points bid 2
, hoping to find a fit in either s or s. If partner rebids 2 you pass, working on the principle of passing out in a misfit at the lowest level possible.
With hands holding 17 or 18, and possibly a poor 19 points bid 1NT. With a good 19 or 20 points bid 2NT and with 21 or 22 bid 3NT. Note that these point ranges are a little higher than would be the case with a more balanced hand because of the likely communication problems with a hand opposite with lowish points. Consider how many tricks are likely if partner’s points are all in ♠s with holdings such as KQJ86 or AQJ86. Not very pretty opposite your singleton!

For hand B open 1. If partner bids 1 then bid 1 with up to 17 points and 2 with 18+ points. If partner bids then you are in business. If partner bids 1NT then they must have a club suit. In this situation I would bid 2 with 13 or 14 points, pass with 15 to 17 points, bid 3 or 2NT or 3NT depending on strength and position of high cards with18 or more points. Finally if partner bids 2 then assess where to go with the knowledge of minimum 10 points in their hand. With minimum opening probably go 3, with a strong hand bid 2 to see if partner has good stops for NTs.

For Hand C open 1. If partner bids 1 then rebid 1. If partner supports s or rebids 1 you are in business, and can bid s or s to the level represented by the strength of your hand. If the rebid is 1NT use the points guidance as for Hand A to decide on pass, or to bid 2NT or 3NT.
If, horror of horrors, partner rebids 2
, then pass with up to about 19 points. You can try NTs with 20 to 22 points, but do not have any expectations that this will do well! If the rebid is 3 then you can feel more comfortable that there are entries to partner’s hand and NTs may play well.

For Hand D the spade suit is the one below the singleton and this could be opened with a rebid of s or s over a 2 bid. However in this case I would tend to open 1 and then bid s over a 2 bid. Partner can still bid 2 if they had a hand of 10+ points with 5s and 4s. Note that with 6 to 9 points 1S should be bid. In general if partner does not bid ♠s than they do not hold 4 of the suit. If partner rebids 2NT over your 2 then this is game invitation with 11 or 12 points. You can then assess whether to go onto game with 15 or more points. If you have a strong hand an alternative to bidding 2 or 3 is to bid NTs.
If partner responds 1NT, which denies holding 4
s, then pass with up to 16 points, bid 2NT with 17 to 19 points and 3NT with 20 to 22 points
If playing 5 card majors then this distribution can be very difficult. You will need to open with 1
. Responses of 1 or 1 will be music to your ears. However a 1NT response will not be welcome on a minimum opening hand. (Remember you have increased your minimum for this hand to 13 or 14 points!). In this case you are probably best to pass and hope. With stronger hands support NTs in line with the point guidance above.
The real problem arises where your partner responds with 2
and you have a minimum opener. In this case you are too weak to bid NT or to reverse bid in s or s. Whatever you do you have to lie, so best to lie about the length and bid 2. You never know partner might now be able to come up with a 4 card major or be able to bid 2NT or even 3NT.
With stronger hands a rebid over 2
is easier. With 15+ points bid some level of NTs. For stronger hands in the 20 to 22 points area reverse bid in s or s to show the strength and which is forcing to game. In fact you are looking for a possible slam.

Now considering hands of 23+ points where the Acol 2 opening is used. The positive response should be where at least one and a half quick tricks or 8 points are held, in which case the partnership is looking for a slam. The bidding should be able to proceed satisfactorily until a fit is found or NTs can be bid. However on a negative response things are not so rosy. After 2, 2 bids opener will no doubt bid one of their 4 card majors. All is well if responder supports this suit or bids another of openers 4 card suits. However things are not so good if responder now bids openers singleton suit, particularly if it is at the 3 level. All opener can do is bid NTs hoping that partner has a few scattered points.

The above outline is presuming the opponents haven’t entered the bidding. Where they do may be of more help than a hindrance. Interference bidding opens up the possibility of using negative and responsive doubles which allow showing other suits while keeping the bidding at a low level. I will cover doubles in my next tip.

Happy bridging. May all your finesses be successful.