Bridge Burglar’s Guide to Bridge Bidding Conventions

There are literally thousands of bridge bidding conventions around that attempt to get to a more perfect communication between partners about the nature of their hands. If you only knew every card your partner had in his/her hand, you might be able to come to a better fit for a contract (although you still wouldn’t know how the missing cards are distributed among your opponents).

These bridge bidding conventions are frequently named after the people who invented them. They most often use artificial bids. For example, a 2 Clubs bid most often does NOT mean that the player using this bid has a good Club suit and wants to play a contract with Clubs as trump.

All players entering tournaments sponsored by the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) or the American Bridge Association (ABA) must have a “convention card” filled out. The partners’ convention cards must be exactly the same. Bridge enthusiasts who regularly play with several different partners often have different convention cards for each partner, depending on personal preferences and familiarity with the conventions. These convention cards must be available at the table for inspection and consultation by the opponents. The opponents must know exactly what the bids mean, just like your partner. No secret codes are allowed in bridge. Unusual bidding conventions must be “alerted,” which means that if you make an unusual bid, your partner must say “alert” or pull the blue “Alert” card out of the bidding box. The first opponent to bid may then (or at the end of the auction – their choice) ask the player alerting his//her partner’s bid what it means. Do not volunteer any information after making an alert until an opponent asks.

As noted previously, there are literally thousands of different bridge bidding conventions using some form of artificial bids. However, the Bridge Burglar strongly believes that becoming good at bridge is not a matter of learning the greatest possible number of artificial bidding conventions. The Bridge Burglar himself plays as few conventions as possible and tries to keep most bids natural – and common-sense. Even if you decide NOT to use a certain bidding convention, it is still important to know about it when an opponent uses it; you just don’t want to be flummoxed by it.

The Bridge Burglar recommends that people start out playing as close as possible to the Standard American bidding system, simply because it is most used at tournaments. The bidding rules of Standard American can be downloaded off the ACBL website, and many bridge clubs have pre-printed yellow “Standard American” convention cards available, which make it possible for partners who don’t know each other and have never played together to form an instant partnership and know what the other’s bids mean; they simply both agree to play Standard American – whatever’s on the yellow card.

Once bridge enthusiasts have gained some experience in duplicate tournaments, and they have a good, reliable and regular partner, they may want to add one or two new wrinkles per year to their bidding repertoire.

The following list of special bridge bidding conventions is by no means complete. But it does include some of the more choices for adding finishing touches to a basic bidding repertoire. They range from some things that are pretty standard (and do not have to be alerted in tournaments) to the more exotic. Even the Bridge Burglar, who likes to keep things pretty basic, has found some exotic touches he likes.

Entire books have been written about these various bidding conventions — can you imagine a whole book on Jacoby transfers? — but we will briefly mention and summarize some of the more common conventions found in modern tournament play, starting with conventions used on offense to determine the right bid.

Offensive bridge bidding conventions

Defensive bridge bidding conventions

Special conventions do not only exist to aid offensive players in finding the right contract for them. Many conventions have been invented for defensive players as well, to either put up more strenuous interference and thus make it harder for the more powerful opposition to find its fit, or to steal the bid away.

Here are some of the defensive/interference conventions that may be encountered at duplicate tournaments among expert players.

You should be familiar with them for possible use by you and your partner, but you should also know what the conventions mean in case your opponents use them against you.

Shifting from defense to offense

You may start out an auction with the presumption that you will be on defense, but during the course of the auction you may discover, to your pleasant surprise, that you and your partner actually do have the power and now you need to shift from defense to offense.

If you or your partner opens with a weak 2 bid, you will have between 5 and 11 high-card points, and if the remaining points are equally distributed, your opponents will have the majority of the high-card points and it should be their hand. That’s why you open with a weak 2, to steal the bid away from your opponents, or at least take bidding room away from them to make it more difficult for them to find their fit.

Some useful conventions (again, there may be more – no representation is made that this is an all-inclusive list) for shifting from an expected defensive role to an offensive role: