Source: Harold Schogger

WHAT is so special about opening a hand which is 5-5 in clubs and spades?

Holding any-other 5-5 combination it is customary to begin with the higher-ranking suit with a view to bidding one’s second suit twice, if space permits. Aye, there’s the rub!

Every bridge player knows how difficult it can be to describe fully one’s assets and while, occasionally, one has to suffer the consequences with some 5-5 combinations when one is weak and forced to conceal the lower-ranking suit, the age-old rule of opening 1 club with the black suits serves to avoid this fate.

Many moons ago, when bridge became part of my national curriculum, this issue was never contentious and, indeed, has become a tradition which has stood the test of time — until now! These days, some modern theorists advise differently and while I agree that on the odd occasion the pre-emptive quality of opening one spade with both black suits will be a successful gambit I aim to explain convincingly why I’m still a creature of habit.

If bridge can be described as an exciting game, then there is definitely a thrill to picking up the spade suit! In owning a suit with which you can outbid your opponents (and partner!) at every level, one has to respect this magical quality. Hence, while nominating the club suit at my first turn allows my opponents plenty of room to overcall, no-one can stop me bidding my spade suit later — and I’ll take my chances if the level is a trifle high when I do so! Am I being totally reckless? I think not, but to prove it I need to go back to basics and illustrate my theory with some examples.

You pick up: Spade Suit4 heart SuitAQ654 diamond Suit43 Club SuitKQJ76 and sensibly open 1heart Suit. So long as partner responds 1Spade Suit or I NT, you will be able to introduce your club suit economically on the next round.

Of course, this only indicates a 5-4 distribution and unless partner has a good hand you may not get a chance to confirm your actual shape. Ideally, the auction will progress something like 1heart Suit— 1Spade Suit— 2Club Suit — 2diamond Suit (fourth suit forcing) — 3Club Suit — 3NT.

Imagine, now, an initial response of 2diamond Suit and this time you are forced to rebid 2heart Suit(as you need 16 HCP to effect a reverse) and your beautiful club suit is temporarily, if not forever, buried. Such is bridge life: you will be frequently unable to complete the precise picture of such hands unless either you have 16 or more HCP, or partner is blessed with invitational (or better) values. Not withstanding, remember too that when you do have the luxury of expressing your 5-5 pattern, you will be doing so at the three level.

Turning our attention back to the black-suited debate and, again, with no opposition bidding, how does one describe: Spade SuitAQ654 heart Suit4 diamond Suit43 Club SuitKQ176, if you start by opening 1Spade Suit?

Should partner respond in either red suit, your rebid has to be 2Spade Suit which, mercifully, in this example, is a suit of reasonable quality. Try opening 1Club Suit and you are prepared for anything and everything!

Admittedly opponents are not always obliging but given a free run your auction will often allow you to show your five-card spade suit at the two level: 1Club Suit — 1heart Suit — 1Spade Suit— and if partner rebids 1NT, 2Club Suit, 2diamond Suit (fourth suit forcing) or 2heart Suit, you can bid your spades again at an economically sound level without promising extra values! Strengthen the previous examples to house 16 or more 1HCP, and whereas you may now be able to show your second suit by way of a high-level reverse, you are, as yet, unable to confirm any more than a 5-4 distribution.

See what happens when you start by opening 1Club Suit with the following hand:

Spade SuitAQ654 heart Suit4 diamond SuitA3 Club SuitKQJ76. The auction proceeds: 1Club Suit — 1heart Suit — 1Spade Suit — anything — 3Spade Suit, and whilst still below the level of 3NT you have bared all!

I mentioned earlier the possible preemptive benefit of selecting an original spade opening, but qualified that with suggesting a refusal to be intimidated and kept out of the auction if I were to stick to my antediluvian methods and open 1Club Suit. Well. now it’s my turn to advocate modern trends and ask you to consider the notion of re-entering a competitive auction either via a ‘double’ or by bidding the spades later. First of all, it’s time to wake up the opposition and get some competitive action!

Again, you hold Spade SuitAQ654 heart Suit4 diamond SuitA3 Club SuitKQJ76 and I know that if I were to make the ‘mistake’ of opening 1Spade Suitwith this collection I would feel very uncomfortable about the prospect of defending against a red-suit contract (either red-suit, doubled or un-doubled) if I had concealed my rather useful second suit during the bidding. Surely the beauty of this hand lies in discovering a fit and I have potentially end-played partner in the auction if it remains unmentioned.
Call me old-fashioned and, even, dare-devil but if I elect to open 1Club Suit, I do not propose to remain silent even if someone steals my bidding box!

1Club Suit— ( 1heart Suit) — 2 diamond Suit —(2heart Suit) —? Do you have any agreement with your partner about the meaning of double or bidding 2Spade Suit in this position? Fortunately I do, and that means I can safely describe the illustrated example hand with a rebid of 2Spade Suit, reserving a take-out double for doing battle with just a four-card spade suit.