In this article, we explore opening bids of 1 and 1. The focus will be on which minor to open. This might sound simple, but there are lots of issues.
First, let's review the obvious. With balanced hands lacking a 5-card major (4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, 5-3-3-2), we will always open 1 or 1 (unless, of course, the hand falls into an opening range for 1NT or 2NT). So, presuming 1NT is 15-17 and 2NT is 20-21, our opening of 1 or 1 when balanced will mean we have either 12-14 or 18-19.
We'll start the discussion by examining a holding of 3-3 in the minors. Of course, this means you are 4-3 in the majors (with 5 spades or hearts, you'd open in the major). In "Standard," with 3-3 you "always" open 1. Is there an exception? Yes--with AKQ and 432, I would open 1. What about AK10 and Q43? While 1 could work better (especially if partner is on lead), I'd open 1. Other than when holding really lopsided honor differences, I prefer 1 on 3-3. That way, partner knows I have four diamonds if I open 1.
What's this, you ask? Does 1 guarantee 4+ cards? Just about. There is only one exception: 4=4=3=2. (The equal signs signify not just any 4-4-3-2 shape – but exactly in that order; 4 spades, 4 hearts, 3 diamonds and 2 clubs). So, a 1 opening is a 3-card suit only if you happen to have exactly two four-card majors and a doubleton club. When you open 1, you'll hold this exact shape only about 3% of the time. Accordingly, you should really assume that a 1 opening contains 4+ diamonds.
How many clubs should you assume for a 1 opener? While it can be made with only 3, the odds may surprise you:
Expected club length for a 1 opener (using "Standard American" guidelines)
3-cards : 17%
4-cards : 26%
5-cards : 38%
6-cards : 15%
7 cards : 4%
So, a 1 opener is almost always 4, and you can see that a 1 opener is also likely to be at least a 4-card suit.
Are there any other ways to handle these minor-suit openings? Yes, but I would stick to the method discussed above. A few players aren't happy with the fact that 1 could (3% of the time) be a 3-card suit. Accordingly, they won't open 1 when 4=4=3=2. With that pattern they open 1 and their partner announces "could be short." This strikes me as a shortsighted method: in order to raise the probability of 4 diamonds from near-certain (97%) to absolutely certain (100%), the proponents of this method must now cope with the possibility that a one-club opener may contain only a 2-card suit. Even worse, they have to make that annoying announcement and confuse most other players. It's not worth the hassle.
This is easy. You will "never" open in a 3-card minor instead of a 4-card minor. If you want to attempt brilliancy and open with a suit of AKQ tripleton instead of 5432, be my guest.
4-4 or 5-4
What about 4-4 in the minors? There are three differing schools of thought, but no right answer. Some experts espouse opening 1 (to leave the most room). Others advocate 1 (to be able to bid clubs next without reversing), while still others open the stronger (most honors) minor with 4-4. I have no recommendation on this—other than it isn't very important.
With 5 diamonds and 4 clubs it's easy—open 1. What about the opposite? What should you open this hand:
8 7 4
A J 10 5
A K 8 7 6
There is no "right" answer. Many experts open 1 and then have to figure out how to cope with a 1 response by partner. They either rebid 1NT (with a singleton—ugh!) or repeat the 5-card club suit (also ugh!). They certainly can't rebid 2, which would be a reverse, promising extra values (even more ugh!). I prefer to avoid the potential rebid problem by opening 1. When partner (you know how disappointing partners are) answers 1, I am ready. I rebid 2. It's true that I have lied by bidding my longer suit second. However, I have shown both minors and am willing to live with the fact that partner won't know which is the 5-card suit and which is the 4. I've managed to show both minors and have avoided rebidding notrump with a singleton. Neither approach is perfect—choose your poison. Of course, if you have 5 clubs with 4 diamonds and are strong enough to reverse, then you can start with 1 without worries.
With 5-5 in the minors, always open 1. Even with extras, don't ever open 1, intending to reverse into diamonds. Bid diamonds, then clubs, then clubs again if you get the chance. With 5 clubs and 5 spades, some people open 1 and then bid spades twice. These days, most players open 1 with that shape. With a 6-card minor and a 5-card major you have a tough decision. If the major is spades, I recommend opening in the minor and then trying to bid spades twice. If the major is hearts it is tougher--since you may have to reverse after a 1 response. So, unless you have extras, with five hearts and a 6-card minor, it is probably better to start with 1.
With balanced hands containing fewer than 15 HCP, you are always opening one of a minor (unless, of course, you have a five-card major). If you have 14 HCP and a 5-card minor, feel free to upgrade to a 1NT opening. I'd often count the fifth card in a (decent) suit as an extra point, and would open this "14"-count with 1NT:
K 10 5
9 8 5
A Q J 8 4
1-of-a-minor vs. 2
One last note: If close between 1-of-a-minor or 2, open 1 of the minor. It is much easier to show hands such as:
A Q J 2
K Q J 10 9 3
by opening 1 instead of 2. If you open 2, when partner bids 2, waiting, you must rebid 3. Now, it is hard to ever show your hand. Instead, I'd risk 1. Assuming it doesn't go all pass, I'll get to reverse into hearts and have a good auction at a much lower level.
Focus on the main issue of 3-3 in the minors and understand why a few pairs use "the short club." Be prepared for the remainder of the auction and choose your opening bid carefully. In the next article we will explore the rest of the auction after starting with one-of-a-minor.
Larry' Audio Tour of the Convention Card
For descriptions of most conventions mentioned in this article, see the ACBL page on Commonly Used Conventions.