You've Responded with a 5-Card Major--What Next?

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 03/28/2016
Level: Intermediate

While opening a major, or overcalling a major, promises a 5-card suit, responding in a major rarely requires five-cards in the suit. If you respond 2 to 1, you are guaranteeing at least 5 hearts.

That is the only major-suit response (other than jumps) that guarantees at least 5 cards. (For a review of this subject, click here.)

Responses on the 1-level guarantee only 4. When your response to partner's opening bid is 1 or 1, you are showing 4+ cards.

What if you actually have 5 or more? How do you convey that information?

It depends on opener's rebid. Let's take a look:

OpenerResponDer
1 any 1 or 1
SUIT REBID ??

If the opener's second bid is a suit (either repeating his own suit or bidding a new suit), responder should not repeat his major with only 5. He needs 6 or more cards to repeat his suit. The reason is that partner is showing lots of cards in the other suits, which makes the likelihood of 3-card support much lower. In each auction below, responder should have 6 (or more) of his suit:

OpenerResponDer
1 1
2 2

Responder shows 6 or more hearts (not forcing/weakish).

OpenerResponDer
1 1
2 3

Responder shows 6 or more spades (invitational).

I know what you are thinking. What if responder has 5 of his major and opener happens to have 3? Too bad. Bidding isn't perfect. Sometimes opener will actually raise with 3. For example, I would raise 1 to 2 if partner responded 1 after I had opened 1 with:

KJ2
3
J765
AKJ54.

What if opener's rebid is 1NT or 2NT? For example:

OpenerResponDer
1 any 1 or 1
1NT or 2NT ??

This slightly changes things. Now, opener has at least a doubleton in every suit (a notrump rebid shows a balanced hand). If responder repeats a 5-card major, it will land him in no worse than a 5-2 fit. Not perfect, but contrast this to rebidding a 5-card major in the auctions above. In those situations, it could lead to a 5-1 or even 5-0 fit.

Does this mean that should responder repeat his major with only 5 cards after hearing a notrump rebid? As much as I like to give Yes/No (100%) answers, I can't do it here. I firmly espouse always showing a 5-card major when partner has opened 1NT. When the rebid is 1NT, I tend to rebid the 5-card major (hoping for an 8-card fit, but relying on at worst a 7-card fit). But, not always.

One circumstance that could affect my decision is my partner's style. Some partners occasionally rebid 1NT with a singleton in my suit. I don't advocate that style, but others do. If I fear a 5-1 fit, repeating my major (unless it is a very good 5-card suit) is scary. Also, if I have scattered values and a so-so 5-card suit, I might decide that notrump will play better.

The above paragraph is referring to hands where the responder knows there is no game. For example, you have:

54
KJ765
A43
876.

Partner opened a minor, you bid your major and partner rebid 1NT. There are only 2 possible contracts (1NT or 2). You either pass or correct to 2 (100% signoff).

What if you have more strength? For example:

A4
K10965
A43
876.

Now, when partner rebids 1NT, you have many possible contracts in mind (partscore or game in hearts, partscore or game in notrump). This is where "New Minor Forcing" (a popular convention) can be used.

Use/learn this convention only if you and your partner are prepared to study and memorize. Note that this convention should only be used if the responder has a decent (at least game interest) hand. With less than game interest, he either passes the notrump rebid or corrects to his major. Keep in mind that New Minor Forcing is a convention for the RESPONDER. Opener's 1NT rebid doesn't say anything about the number of cards in the major (it could be 2 or 3).

What if responder has 6 or more of his major? That suit is always rebiddable and there is really no need for new-minor forcing (responder knows there are at least 8 trumps). With enough for game, responder can jump to 4-of-his-major. Also note that New Minor Forcing is used only when the rebid is in notrump.

p.s. I mentioned jump responses in the introduction to this article, but my advice is that you don't play those. It's easy ground for confusion. Just respond on the 1-level and figure it out unless you have a practiced partnership willing to study whether jump-shifts by responder are strong or weak.

You can purchase Larry's webinar on New Minor Forcing here

Updated: November 2022