Many players use the five-card major system where a 1♥ or 1♠ opening bid shows a five-card suit. The system makes it easy to know when you have a major-suit fit. All responder needs is three-card support for opener’s major to be certain that the partnership holds at least eight cards in the suit. However, responder still has a variety of hand strengths to describe. How responder does this depends on partnership bidding agreements. Let’s look at some bids that are considered “standard.”
Responder can raise opener’s major to the two level with three or more trumps and 6–10 support points (high-cards plus distribution). Some experts disagree, but my advice is to show support for opener’s major immediately with a minimum hand. With bridge players so competitive today, the bidding might be too high for you to safely show the fit later. Also, partner is better placed to compete once a fit is uncovered. Would you raise partner’s 1♠ opening to 2♠ holding:
♠K 9 7 5 2 ♥6 ♦Q 10 9 8 7 ♣7 2?
Your hand does fit the parameters for a raise to 2♠, but most players would raise directly to 4♠. The law of total tricks suggests competing for as many tricks as your side has
trumps in certain situations (for example, bidding with weak hands and competing for partscores). A raise to 4♠ preempts the opponents — and partner might make it!
The raises to two and four discussed so far are standard, but a raise to the three level means different things to different players. The most common choice is to treat responder’s jump raise to 3♥ or 3♠ as an invitational, promising 10–12 points. Keep in mind that some pairs use a raise to three of a major as forcing to game. Make sure you know what your partner thinks a jump raise shows.
Would you raise a 1♥ opening bid to 3♥ with this hand:
♠A 6 3 ♥J 10 5 3 ♦A 6 3 ♣Q 7 4?
♠A 10 6 3 ♥J 5 3 ♦A 6 3 ♣Q 7 4?
Some would raise to 3♥ directly, but many players differentiate between three- and four-card support when showing medium and maximum raises. There is no point in doing this unless you appreciate the difference. Take a look at this deal:
South counts two spade losers and one each in hearts and clubs. Unless trumps split 4–0, declarer will easily handle the club loser. Dummy will still have a heart left to ruff it after trumps are drawn. 4♥ makes.
Now trade North’s ♥10 for West’s ♠10. Can South still make 4♥?
Losers will be the same, but handling the club loser is a problem now. If declarer draws trumps and plays clubs, dummy is out of hearts and cannot ruff the club loser. If declarer plays clubs before drawing all the trumps, East ruffs the third club. 4♥ might make on a different layout, but you have to be pretty lucky to find clubs 3–3 along with a 3–2 heart split.
Notice that we never changed North’s points. All we did was remove one trump card, and a good game turned into a poor prospect.
If you and your partner recognize the power of a ninth trump and wish to differentiate between raises with three and four trumps, you can require responder’s immediate jump raise to the three level to show four-card support. With only three-card support, responder makes some forcing bid first. In our example hand, North could respond 1♠, showing four spades. South rebids 2♣, and North bids to 3♥, a limit raise with only three trumps. South can pass, knowing that game is not a good prospect.