Source: Andrew Gumperz Blog

1-4-4-4 is among the most awkward shapes when opening the bidding. The standard advice when I first started was to open 1 planning to rebid 2 if responder bid your singleton. This advice works well if opener is strong enough to complete his pattern. The partnership will find a game in any strain, if one exists, or play a reasonable partscore.

1  —  1
2  —  2
2  — ?

Opener’s Hand
 x
 AKxx
 AKxx
 KTxx
Responder’s Hand 1
KJxxx
QTxx
xx
xx
Bid: 3
Responder’s Hand 2
Axxxx
QJxx
xx
xx
Bid: 4
Responder’s Hand 3
 AKxxx
xxx
Qx
Qx
Bid: 3NT
Responder’s Hand 4
 Axxxx
xxx
xxx
Qx
Bid: 2NT
Responder’s Hand 5
AKxx
xx
xxxx
xxx
Bid: 3
In all cases, responder’s call is clear and a reasonable, although not always cold, contract will be reached. However, when opener is not strong enough to bid a third time, the situation is different.
1  —  1
2  —  2
P
Opener’s Hand
 x
 AKxx
 Axxx
 KTxx
Responder’s Hand 1
KJxxx
QTxx
xx
xx
2 is a terrible spot. The partnership belongs in 2.
Responder’s Hand 2
Axxxx
QJxx
xx
xx
2 is a terrible spot. The partnership might even make 4.
Responder’s Hand 3
 AKxxx
xxx
Qx
Qx
2 is a terrible spot. The partnership belongs in NT.
Responder’s Hand 4
 Axxxx
xxx
xxx
Qx
2 is a terrible spot. The partnership belongs in 1NT.
Responder’s Hand 5
AKxx
xx
xxxx
xxx
2 is a reasonable spot.
Holding a minimum opening bid (12-14 HCP) and 1-4-4-4 distribution, I now believe opener’s correct rebid is 1NT. 1NT is a limited rebid. It is usually easier for responder to bid facing a limited rebid, even when that rebid is a slight distortion as in this case, than opposite an unlimited call like a 2 rebid. Further, 1NT is often the best final contract; if responder holds 5-3-3-2 or 4-3-3-3 distribution then the partnership has no 8-card fit. And most importantly if responder holds 4+ Hearts, a 1NT response allows responder to show them even if he is weak.
1     —  1
1NT  —  ?
Opener’s Hand
 x
 AKxx
 Axxx
 KTxx
Responder’s Hand 1
KJxxx
QTxx
xx
xx
2. Opener will raise to 3 which is not ideal, but even 3 is better than 2.
Responder’s Hand 2
Axxxx
QJxx
xx
xx
2. Opener will raise to 3.
Responder’s Hand 3
 AKxxx
xxx
Qx
Qx
2NT. Opener will raise to 3NT.
Responder’s Hand 4
 Axxxx
xxx
xxx
Qx
Pass.
Responder’s Hand 5
AKxx
xx
xxxx
xxx
2 (or 2 if using two-way checkback Stayman planning to pass opener’s response of 2)
Rebidding 1NT with 12-14 and 1-4-4-4 gets the partnership to any game and often improves the partscore. The downside is that responder can no longer be certain opener holds 2+ cards in his first bid suit, but playing TWCB this is rarely a problem as long as responder is cautious about picking a strain with a broken 6-card major. When opener holds exactly 15-16 HCP he has the most awkward choice. He is too strong to open 1 and rebid 1NT, yet he is too weak to open 1, rebid 2 and then bid 2. Opener must choose between three flawed options:
Open 1NT with a singleton spade. This is my choice if my hand includes a singleton spade honor.
Q
KQJx
KQxx

AT9x

Underbid by opening 1 and rebidding 1NT. This is my choice when I hold exactly 15 HCP.

x
 AKxx
 Axxx
KJxx

Overbid by opening 1, rebidding 2 and then 2. This is my choice with a prime 16 HCP.

x
 AKxx
Axxx
AJTx
Conclusion:
When your shape is exactly 1-4-4-4:
  • With 12-14 HCP open 1 and rebid 1NT if your partner responds 1
  • With 17-18 HCP open 1 and rebid 2 planning to bid out your pattern
  • With 15-16 HCP either open 1 and choose between an underbid (1NT), an overbid (2 then 2) or open 1NT with soft values

Don’t forget to follow us @