2C 19-HCP Opening


Contents

Note:
      = Diamonds or Clubs.
      = Hearts or Spades.



Overview

In the documentation for Weak NT openings, we said

    Virtually every decent bridge player plays Weak-Two (of a suit) opening bids. Opening 2 of a suit with 6-12 HCPs and a 6-card suit accurately describes your hand for partner while taking a lot of bidding space away from your opponents.

    For some reason, the vast majority of people who play Weak Two bids do not play Weak Notrump bids despite the fact that they have the exact same advantages.

The same argument applies to the 19-HCP 2 bid. It takes bidding space away from the opponents while providing a system allowing your side to describe your hands to each other.

In fact, playing 19-HCP 2, even when you do NOT open 2, you are giving partner additional information about your hand -- that you have fewer than 19 HCPs. This is useful information for responder when deciding whether or not to try for game or for slam when you have opened one of a suit.

An unbalanced 2-3 HCP hand will usually be enough for game opposite as little as an unbalanced 19-HCP hand when there is a major suit fit, yet standard Strong 2C normally requires at least 22 HCPs, missing all those games where opener has 19-21 HCPs and responder has 2-3.

Even when game is not available, the 19-HCP 2 lets you search for the best part-score contract, and you usually find it before the opponents can enter the bidding, even when they have almost half the HCPs.

Take a look at the two hands below. Game in Hearts is a good bet, but after a 1 opening, you probably will not find the Heart fit, much less the Heart game, because responder will pass 1.

AKxxxx
AJxxKTxxx
xxxxx
AKxxxx

The hands above are not freaks. When both opener and responder have unbalanced hands (i.e.: distributional points) and a major suit fit, game can normally be made with as few as 21 combined HCPs. So if you have to have 22+ HCPs to open 2, you are missing all those games.

This is so obvious that we have to wonder why people still play "standard" strong 2 openings requiring 22+ HCPs? In fact, a frequent theme in problem hands in bridge magazines is the difficulty of getting to game or slam after not opening a 19-21 HCP hand 2, yet the 19-HCP 2C opening is still ignored.

Another advantage of 19-HCP 2C is the preemptive and intimidating effect on opponents when each side has about half the HCPs. For example, if you open a non-forcing 1C with AK6-AQ-43-AQ8654, bidding might go 1C-P-P-??. RHO is likely to jump in because on average, your side will have less than half the HCPs on this bidding. And what can you bid over, say, 2H by RHO? If you do bid and end up in a shakey contract, the opponents are more likely to double.

With 19-HCP 2C, bidding might go 2C-P-2S*-?? (*4+ Spades, 0-5 HCPs) and even if your HCPs are 19 opposite 0, RHO is unlikely to want to jump in on the 3 level in this situation. And even if 2S is a 4-3 fit with 19 total HCPs between you, the opponents are unlikely to double.

The only potential disadvantage of opening 2C with just 19 HCPs would be getting too high opposite a bust hand. So if a way can be found to avoid that problem, then you are just left with the advantages and no downside. How to do that will be discussed below.


What About Precision?

Okay, not everybody plays strong 2 requiring 22+ HCPs. Some people play strong 1 openings where 1 is artificial and forcing and requires only 16 HCPs.

If the opponents stay out of the auction, 1 is actually superior to even a 19-HCP 2 in the respect that you have more room to describe your hand.

But a 19-HCP 2 has some advantages of its own:

  • Opening 2 is mildly preemptive, especially against opener's RHO after opener's partner has bid. For example, 2-(P)-2 may be bid with as little as 19 HCPs opposite 0 HCPs, but RHO would now have to come in at the 3 level, running the risk that you and your partner have a lot more points. Just because you can open 2 with as little as 19 points doesn't mean that you could never have a lot more points than that.

    In contrast, a strong 1 has no preemptive effect whatsoever. After 1-(P)-1 (neg.), RHO can come in on the one level or with a good 6-card suit, can jam things up by jumping to the 2 level, such as 2. Now it is the strong 1 opener who must make the first bid of his suit on the 3 level with as few as 16 HCPs opposite a possible 0 HCPs.

  • Opening 2 has more of an intimidating effect, since you are known to have at least 19 HCPs and may have much more. In contrast, a strong 1 (Precision), which is made with as few as 16 HCPs, is not as intimidating as 2 because on average, the 1 opener will have a lot fewer points than the 2 opener. So while, at first glance, the Precision bidder has more bidding room, in actual practice the opponents are more likely to enter the bidding and use up more bidding room.

It should also be noted that the primary reason for opening 2 with as few as 19 HCP is to avoid missing games when responder has fewer than 6 HCPs and must pass.

But in Precision, if responder has enough to make game opposite 16 HCPs, he is going to have enough HCPs (6+) to bid without being forced into doing so. Thus with Precision, you will not get to many of the close games than you would with the 19-HCP 2.

So it appears that the strong 1's only advantage is giving you more bidding room, but that this advantage is negated to a large degree by the increased ease with which the opponents can safely jam up the bidding. Meanwhile, the 19-point 2's advantages include the preemptive effect, the intimidation effect, and the ability to find close game which other systems cannot.


Surviving A Bust Hand

The only potential disadvantage of opening 2 with just 19 HCPs would be getting too high opposite a bust hand. For this reason, it is important to find a fit at as low a level as possible when the 2 bidder has a minimum (19-20) and responder has a very poor hand (<6 HCPs).

In the 19-HCP 2 system, when responder is weak and has an unbalanced hand, instead of making artificial negative bids, he bids his best suit immediately. The artificial bid is used to show a GOOD hand, since there will be plenty of time later to find a fit. This is simple logic.

A "good" hand is one with 6+ HCPs, and responder makes an artificial bid of 2. With <6 HCPs and a balanced hand, responder also bids 2, intending to pass any non-jump bid by opener. Otherwise, with a bad, unbalanced hand, responder bids his best suit.

Compare the bidding with these two hands when the 19-HCP 2 opening is used versus not used:

: AKxxxx
: AJxxxxxx
: xxxxx
: AKxxxx
19-HCP 2Standard 2
2 - 21 - P
P

Obviously, 2 is a much better contract than 1.


Requirements

An unbalanced hand with 19+ HCPs or 16+ HCPs with 8+ Tricks
- or -
A balanced hand with 25+ HCPs

Responses
2 36+ HCPs, 7+ suit, slam interest
46+ HCPs, 7+ suit, slam interest
2 6+ HCPs or <6 with a flat hand
24+, <6 HCPs, If 4-card major, no 6+ card minor.
2N 2-suited in the minors, <6 HCPs.
Opener usually has an unbalanced hand, so 2NT can be used artificially.
3 <6 HCPs; usually 6+
(With eg: 3-3-5-2, bid 2 then pass even 3)
(With eg: 3-4-5-1, bid 2 then pass any new suit bid)


Rebids By Opener

2 2 6+ HCPs or <6 and a flat hand.
Note that if <6 and flat, responder will pass any non-jump rebid by opener, so opener must jump to force to game with a very strong hand.

If responder bids again over a non-jump rebid by opener, then he obviously has 6+HCPs. An exception to the <6 flat-hand 2 is that with 4 Hearts in a flat hand, responder should bid 2 since opener does not have to jump a level to bid his own suit, and with Hearts, he can still raise or pass responder's Hearts.

In contrast, if responder bids 2 and opener's suit is Hearts, opener would have to bid 3. Instead, responder bids 2 with 4=3=3=3, then he can pass when opener bids 2 and a level of bidding has been saved.

2 shows 4+. If responder bids 2N over 2, it shows a minor 2-suiter. If opener picks a minor and responder then bids the other minor, it shows 4 in the picked minor and 6+ in responder's bid minor.

Responder with a good hand and good (4+) support can

  • Splinter to show a singleton or void,
  • bid a new suit and then jump in opener's suit to show
    • concentrated values in the suit bid,
    • good support for partner's suit,
    • no singleton or void,
    • no Aces or Kings in the unbid suits, or
  • bid a new suit, then raise opener's suit then cue bid other Aces or Kings (if possible).

A 2N response is always artificial, no matter who bids it. It usually shows the minors and less than 3 card support for partner's major. (e.g.: 2-2, 2-2N)

2N minor 2-suiter.
3 5+ cards - No equal or better major
3 Solid suit, within trick of game.
Responderís rebids:
  • New Suit = Feature
  • 3NT = less than 2 of opener's suit.
  • Pass with <2 HCPs, no singleton/void
    or no trump
  • Raise = less than 6 HCP, balanced
  • 4N = RKCB [Openerís suit]
4+x Solid suit (x), Game/slam in hand.
3N 25-27 HC, balanced hand
4N 28-29 HC, balanced hand


2 - 2/2N/3

In this section, responder is showing an unbalanced hand and <6 HCPs by not having bid 2 first, so the goal is to find a fit as cheaply as possible. A minor suit game is normally out of reach if opener is at a minimum, but with a fit, a major suit game is still possible even if opener has a minimum and responder has a couple of HCPs in an unbalanced hand.

In Hand Evaluation, Mike Lawrence has partner opening: 1-P-P-1, D-P. What would you bid with KJ875 853 T63 82?

Lawrence says to jump to 3 because opener may have a hand like AKT2 3 AJT2 AKJ.

Is 3 the bid you were thinking of? (Be honest, now.) Partner could have <5 HCP with <3 spades and you are bidding on the 3 level?

With the 19-Point 2C opening, the bidding could go:
2-P-2-P, 3-P- and 4 or Pass.

When responder shows <6 HCPs and 4+ Spades in an unbalanced hand, opener can afford to raise with 4 Spades in an unbalanced hand. Responder goes on to game with 4 HCPs, 1 distribution point, and one more Spade than required.

2 2 Shows <6 HCPs and 4+ Hearts.
44+ Hearts, 22+ HCPs
34+ Hearts, 19-21 HCPs
Pexactly 3 Hearts, 19-21 HCPs, no good 6-card suit
2<3 H's, 4+ S's; or 3 H's and very good S's
2Nartificial; <2 Hearts; <4 Spades; no other bid
3exactly 2 Hearts, 5+ minor; responder corrects to Hearts with 5 Hearts and shortness in opener's suit or with any 6+ Hearts
3self-sufficient Spade suit, 24+ HCPs
4NRKCB for Hearts
--------------------------
2 2 Shows <6 HCPs and 4+ Spades.
44+ Spades, 22+ HCPs
34+ Spades, 19-21 HCPs
Pexactly 3 Spades, 19-21 HCPs, no good 6-card suit
2Nartificial; <2 Spades; no other bid available
3exactly 2 Spades, 5+ Hearts
3exactly 2 Spades, 5+ minor
4NRKCB for Spades
--------------------------
22N Artificial. Usually 5-5 or more in the minors, but could be 6-4. Normally no 4-card major.
333 by opener = better minor.
3 by responder = 6+, 4
--------------------------
22N
344 rebid = 4, 6+C
--------------------------
22N
4...24+ HCPs, good 6+ H/S.
4N<2 of the major (responder's hand may take NO tricks if his minor isn't trumps)
Probably has longer Diamonds since with longer or same Clubs, he could have bid 5 and let opener correct.
--------------------------
2 3 Shows <6 HCPs and 5+ Clubs.
4 ... Shows 24+ HCPs, 6+ good Hearts.
4 Shows <2 Hearts, 4 Spades, 6+ Clubs (With only 5 Clubs and 4 Spades, would have bid Spades first.)
5 Shows <2 Hearts (probably void), <4 Spades
--------------------------
2 3
4 ... Shows 24+ HCPs, 6+ good Spades.
4N At least 4-6+ in Hearts and the minor since he didn't start with 2N to show the minors.
Probably void in Spades since he didn't just pass.


2  -  3/4   -  Jump by responder.
-----------------

2 - 3/47+ suit, 6+ HCPs, slam interest.
New suitControl or feature
3NLess than 2 of responder's major
Game raiseMinimum, 2+ support
4NRKCB for responder's suit


Responses In Competition

"2x" means any 2-level overcall.
Each response is made only if the one above it cannot be made.

Opn.LHOResp.
2 (2x) P 5+ HCPs or an Ace or King
Dbl25-27 HCPs, balanced
24+ Hearts or Spades
35+ Diamonds or Clubs
3xcue bid = 3-Suiter,
short in overcaller's suit
2Nany 2-suiter
---------------------------------------------
2(2x)3xcue bid = 3-suiter
short in overcaller's suit
---------------------------------------------
2(2)2fair 5+ card suit
24+S, <3, no better minor suit
2N<3, <4
3exactly 3, a 5+ minor suit that is better than Spades
---------------------------------------------
2(2x)2fair 5+ card suit
2N<3
3exactly 3, 5+ Hearts, no better minor suit
3exactly 3, 5+
---------------------------------------------
2(2x)DblNone of the above bids can be made.
P25-27 HCPs, balanced
24+ Hearts or Spades
2Nany 2-suiter
---------------------------------------------
2(2x)36-card suit


Bidding Strong Balanced Hands

25-27 HCPs -- As seen above: 2-2x, 3N

23-24 HCPs -- Open 2N.

20-22 HCPs --

    There are a couple of ways to show this.

    1. Use a 2 opening bid to show a balanced 20-22 HCPs, instead of to show a Weak-2 in Diamonds. Alternatively, some people use 2 to show a Weak-2 in either major -or- a strong balanced hand. Assuming responder bids 2 (nominally, pass or correct), opener's rebidding 2N shows the big balanced hand.

    2. Open 1 and jump to 3N over any response which does not spark some kind of suit-game interest in you.

    A more complex way involves opening 1 forcing with 13+ HCPs. Responder bids a 5+ card major, if any; otherwise, he bids 1. A 1N rebid shows 15-17, while a 2N rebid shows 20-22 and a 3N rebid shows 25-27 with 4-card majors. (Note: 2 followed by 3N shows 25-27 without majors). This method is used with a Weak Notrump, where an opening 1N shows 12-14 HCPs balanced.


Problem Hands

Below are problem hands from various publications.

AKQJ94-A74-Qx-A9

    From Dec. 2003 Bridge World, page 46, problem D. Two experts jumped straight to 4 because "1 is too risky; partner will pass with too many game-making hands". Still, 10 other experts did open 1 and risked a pass-out.

    The "winning" answer (11 of 32 experts) was 2 with a rebid of 2NT over an expected 2 response because "this hand is not strong enough" for a 2 rebid and is too strong to open 2N to start with.

    Yet does anyone really believe that the 2N rebid paints an accurate picture of this hand? The director says: "Unless partner has four Spades and uses Stayman, we will never get to Spades after a 2N rebid."

    With the 19-HPCs 2 convention, all of these problems go away. You can open 2 to show 19+ HCPs, then rebid Spades.


KJT6-void-54-QJT8654
   opposite
Q5-AQT97-AKJ93-A

    From Dec. 2003 Bridge World, page 32, problem 5. The problem is getting to the best contract - 5 - which both pairs got to after opening 1. So the problem here is can we get to it using the 19-Pt. 2.

    Bidding should go:

      2-2 (2 is artificial: shows 6+ HCPs)
      2-3
      3-3 (shows 4-6+ distribution)
      3N-4
      4-5

    After the 3 bid, the rest of the bidding is judgment, not system, but it is certainly reasonable.


764-4-8643-KJ973
   opposite
A-AK9875-AK5-AQT

    Problem 8 from the last source. Everyone opens 2 with this hand. The problem is to see if we can get to 6 playing the 19-HCP 2 convention.

    Bidding should go:

      2-2N (2N shows the minors and <6 HCPs)
      4-4N (4 shows 24+ HCPs, 6+H;
              4N shows 0-1 Hearts, <4)
      5-6 (6 is a guess, but a reasonable one)

T83-K653-984-Q72
   opposite
Q7542-7-AKQ-AKJ6

    From March 2004 Bridge World, page 22, problem 7, "Challenge the Champs". One team bid
    1-1N, 3-3, 3-P
    and the other bid
    1-1N, 2-2, 3-3, P.
    The winning contract was 2, which neither team found.

    With the 19-HCPs 2 convention, the bidding goes 2 (19 HCPs, unbalanced) - 2 (less than 6 HCP, balanced, planning on passing any non-jump bid), 2 - Pass.


QT7-AKQ765-A8-A5
1-1, ??
    From May 2004 ACBL Bulletin, page PB-3:
      This is a tough hand to describe... Handling big hands can be quite challenging in standard methods.

    The bids 3, 4, 2N, and 3N all have drawbacks, according to the column. Two people lied and bid 3 to force to game.

    Using 19-HCP 2, the bidding will go 2-2, 2-2, and now you have an easy rebid of 3 because you are already in a game force. Partner can raise you, rebid Spades, or make some other bid, but no problems should remain in the bidding.


AJ7-T-AK6-AKJ987
1-1, ??
    From the BidBase program's deal generator (#11181). Having not opened this 20-HCP hand 2 (playing SAYC), what do you do now? Neither 3 nor a lying 2 are forcing. On the rec.games.bridge newsgroup, the 2 bid was recommended, but was called "unattractive and maybe tragic".

    In 19-HCP 2, the bidding simply goes 2-2, 3 and you have accurately described your suit and strength, and partner's response puts you in a game force, so bidding proceeds easily and naturally.

    In fact, the following very similar hand subsequently turned up in the May 2002 issue of Bridge World, page 52:

    AK6-AQ-43-AQ8654 After the bidding goes 1C-P-1S-P, the author says:

      Playing standard, there is no, well, ... "standard" rebid available. It's always a choice among the tainted reverse, the heavy and off-shape 2NT, the extra-heavy jump rebid, or the trump-short jump raise. All lies, and we have to grit our teeth and choose the best one.

AQTxx-AKxx-void-AQxx
1-P-P-2
3-P-4-P
6
-- making 7
    Mike Lawrence shows this hand in his book Balancing to illustrate one of the pitfalls of balancing - the opening bidder and his partner get a second chance to find a better contract, or even to a game, or even in this case to a slam which they otherwise would not have bid.

    If opener's RHO had just passed, you would be playing 1, missing at least game in Hearts.

    Playing the 19-HCP 2, the bidding would have gone 2-2, 3-4. Probably not getting to slam (which, after all, made only because opener's RHO held all the kings), but not having the risk of being in 1 passed out, either. Good enough for a top in most duplicate games.


K83-AKQ84-KT65-A
AQ65-JT73-Q8-532

    Bridge World, Dec. 2002, page 31, Deal 2: Both teams ended up in 4 instead of 6 because they opened 1 and could never catch up. Even looking at both hands, the editor had trouble bidding to slam after opening on the 1 level.

    With 19-HCP 2, the bidding should go 2-2, 2-2, 3-4,  ...
    Responder's bid of 2 forces at least to game. Then his 2 bid followed by the later raise of Hearts shows a concentration of values in Spades. The jump-raise to 4 shows good trump support and no other Aces or Kings in his unbid suits. The failure to Splinter or bid out shape indicates no singleton or voids.

    After 4, opener continues with a bid of 5, asking for lower honors in Diamonds (since responder has already denied higher honors), such as QJ, QT, or third round control such as he has: Qx. Responder bids 5 and opener can now bid 6

    Below is another example of this bidding:


AK7632-A5-KJ7-A8
QT85-76-AQ543-72

    ACBL Bridge Bulletin, July 2005, page 63. The author uses a Drury gimmick to get to 7 while his opponents only got to 4.

    Here is the bidding using 19-HCP 2:
    2 - 2
    2 - 3
    4 - 5
    7

    Notice that this is the same principle as the previous set of hands: bidding Diamonds and then jumping in partner's Spades shows a concentration of values in Diamonds, good trump support, no singletons or voids, no Aces or Kings in the unbid suits.


AQ8-QT-AK-AQJ764
KT92-7-9853-KT83
    Bridge World's Challenge The Champs: Granovetter and Zia bombed out with a 3N contract: 2-2, 2N-3, 3-3N where 2N=balanced and 3 was Stayman.

    Kokish and Nagy bid: 2-2, 2N-3, 3N-4, 6 where 2 showed two A-K points (A=2, K=1), 3 was a puppet to 3N, and 4 showed exactly 4=1=4=4 distribution. 6 was the ideal contract.

    Our bidding would go:

      2  2 --- 6+ HCPs or <6 and balanced.
      3  4 --- Splinter
      6

    Responder has a problem of whether to show his 4-card major or bid his excellent minor suit support. Had responder bid his Spades, the bidding might have gone like this:

      2  2
      3  3
      4  4
      4  5
    and now responder has bid out his shape of 4=1=4=4, and the fact that he mentioned a major with only 4 cards implies he has the King (since he lacks the A-Q), so opener can safely bid 6. However, the bidding may not always work out so neatly, so it may be better to support opener right away, especially with such a weak major suit.

    Note that the experts treated this hand as balanced and bid NT, despite the heart weakness and the risk of missing a slam in Clubs, Logically, it seems that once responder goes positive, 3NT is seldom going to be the best spot -- that you must try for the Club slam, and if slam is on, you may still get to NT if that turns out to be best. If responder has a bust, you have even less reason to want to be in NT.

    The 19-HCP 2C normally denies a balanced hand, and a 2N bid would be artificial, so we avoid the above problem. However, if Hearts were AQ and Diamonds were KT, you might want to open this as a NT hand instead of opening 2C.


QJ764 T AKQ AK54
Bidding: 1-P-P-2, ??
    From Bobby Wolff's Aces newspaper column in November 2005. Wolff says to pass: Even thinking of bidding is really a stretch. If you double, that would be for takeout (and who is to say that you can beat two clubs anyway?) while bidding 2S on such a ratty suit would not be advisable.

    If you cannot beat 2, you are not likely to get a very good score at matchpoints when your side has more than half the points.

    Although this is not world's best 19-HCP hand, it is 19, so we open it 2. Worst case scenario is that partner has Hearts and less than 6 HCPs, so he will bid 2 over which we bid 2.

    We would raise if we had 4+ Hearts, and pass if we had 3, so partner knows immediately that we have <3 Hearts. If he has 6+ Hearts, he can rebid them. If he is 2-suited, he can bid his other suit. We will pass either of these bids. If he has 3 Spades, he will pass. If he has 4+ Spades, he will raise.

    Whatever responder bids, it is unlikely that our RHO will jump into the bidding with his Club suit on the 3 level when we have shown a very strong hand.


AJ KT92 QT AKQT2
Bidding:
1-P-1-1
2-P-3-P
??
    This hand was on rec.games.bridge. The first question was whether to stretch to open 2N or to just bid 1C. Almost all voted for 1C. The second question was what to bid next in the sequence above. There was no easy answer. (The 2 bid was artificial - could be short. The 3D bid was a game force.)

    In 19-HCP 2C, the bidding goes:
    2 - 2 (waiting)
    3 - 3
    3 - ??

    You've shown your 4H, 5C shape and 19+ HCP strength, so now responder can bid out his shape or ask for aces or whatever his hand dictates.

    A common theme with opening 19+ HCP hands on the 1 level is the problem of trying to get your real strength and shape across later. That usually ends up using more bidding space than opening 2 to start with.