A Balancing bid is one made in the pass-out position, such as:
    1 - P - P - 2
    1 - P - 1N - P
     P - 2
    1 - P - 1 - P
    1N - P - P - Dbl
In addition, you can pre-balance when your RHO has made a sign-off bid, such as 1-P-1N-P-2.

How many points do you need to Balance?

Mike Lawrence says, in his book Balancing (page 33), that when the bidding has gone something like 1D-P-2D-P-P, you can be sure that their side has 20-23 HCPs and your side as 17-20. That's a fact, says Mike. When you have 5 points, partner has at least 12. When you have 12, partner has at least 5.

This would seem to indicate that after such bidding by the opponents, it doesn't matter what your HCPs are because whatever you and your partner have individually, your total combined points will always be within a certain range. and in fact, many of Lawrence's balancing hands have relatively few HCPs.

But on page 37, Lawrence says of a 10-HCP hand: This hand has minimal but acceptable shape and values to qualify for a double. (after bidding of 1S-P-2S-P-P).

If 10 HCPs are the minimum needed to double, then what has happened to the concept that it doesn't matter how many HCPs you have just in your hand? If your side's range of HCPs is 17-20, then if you have 10, partner will have 7 to 10. If you have 7, then partner will have 10-13. But your side will always have 17-20, so why does Lawrence go back to worrying about how many HCPs are in one particular hand?

Maybe it has something to do with what Lawrence said back on page 33, where he explains that an advantage of your personally having more of the HCPs is that you can tell if your side may have the upper range of points available. Since he has already said that any increase in your HCPs can be presumed to indicate fewer HCPs in partner's hand, we don't see (nor does he explain) how you can tell that partner does not have fewer HCPs, but that instead, your side is at the top of the range.

A more germane point made by Lawrence is that you can tell whether the points you have are working or wasted. If you have only 5 HCPs, you may expect that partner has at least 12, but as Lawrence rightfully points out, you don't know how good his points are. So if you have to push the bidding to the 3 level (for example, by doubling after 1S-P-2S-P-P as opposed to pushing only to the 2 level after 1C-P-2C-P-P), it's nice to have more HCPs so that you are in position to evaluate them before pushing.

Balancing Double

A balancing double differs from a take-out double in direct overcall position. It may be made with fewer points when you have no 5-card suit with which to compete.

In Mike Lawrence's book, Balancing, page 3, Lawrence says that 975 KT65 A542 J2 "is marginal but okay" for a double after 1-P-P. Discounting the J in LHO's suit, this is just a 7-HCP hand. Other weaknesses include only 3-card, no face card support for one of the majors and 2 of opener's suit, but if these problems don't concern ML, who are we to argue?

A balancing double followed by a rebid of notrump shows specific ranges of points not covered by direct balancing notrump bids. (See below.)

Otherwise, a double almost always shows shortness in opener's suit and support for the other suits. Responder to the double can leave the double in with a stack in opener's suit.

Partner's failure to overcall (especially over 1 or even 1) and your having length in opener's suit indicates that partner was too weak too overcall. RHO may be sandbagging, or opener may have a big hand, so passing is indicated.

Balancing Double By Doubler:

When playing Negative Doubles, opener's partner ("responder") cannot double for penalties after his RHO's overcall because that would be showing the unbid suits rather than for penalty. So responder may have a lot of the overcaller's trumps but be unable to double for penalty.

Consequently, after opener's LHO overcalls and the next two players Pass, opener should try to balance with a Double with 2.5+ defensive tricks and shortness in overcaller's suit, in case responder has a stack in that suit and wants to leave a double in for penalty.

For example, in his Aces On Bridge newspaper column, Bobby Wolff shows the hand AJ83-AQT732-6-85 and says to Double rather than bid 2H, but that if you make the heart ace the king, you no longer have the required defensive values and should bid 2H.

Offshape Doubles:

Just as in direct Takeout Doubles, the Balancing Double can be made with a strong (17+ HCPs) offshape hand (not having support for all unbid suits) with the intention of bidding a new suit over partner's response. However, it is not often done.

The risk of doing this with a really strong hand is that partner may pass for penalties when you may have an easy game or even slam. So with a slam-interest hand, it is better to cue bid first, then bid your suit. With game possible and slam unlikely, just bid the game.

Consequently, about the only time you will want to double then bid a new suit over partner's response is when you have a strong (17+ HCP) hand with a poor minor suit, such as A2 AQ3 A2 K98765 after 1-P-P. Notice that with your 3 quick tricks, you have good defense if partner passes your double for penalties.

Presumably, with a strong hand and a poor major suit, such as A2 K98765 A2 AQ3 after 1-P-P, you could just bid 4, although ML doesn't mention this type of holding in Balancing.

Balancing NT

In 4th seat after 1x-P-P, Notrump bids have different ranges than they do in opening or overcalling position.

Below are the ranges suggested in Bidding Dictionary by Alan Truscott:

  • 1N = 10-14 HCPs
  • Dbl then 1N = 15-17
  • 2N = 18-20
  • Dbl then 2N = 21+

In Balancing, Mike Lawrence argues for different ranges over 1-of-a-minor than over 1. In both cases, he says the minimum should be a good 11 HCPs (but then shows a couple of 12-HCP hands which he also calls minimums). But over 1, he suggests a maximum of 14 HCPs while over 1, a max of "about 16" HCPs. (Read his book for a discussion of why.)

We like ML's plan. By extension, over a minor, a double then 1N should show 15-17 as with Truscott, but over a major, it would show 17-18; a direct balance of 2N would show 19-20, and double then 2N shows 21+, just as over a minor.

How good a stopper do you need?

ML shows this hand for balancing 2N after 1-P-P -- Q87 A2 AKJT7 AJ7. Ugh! Qxx is an ugly stopper. But we have agreed to "be like Mike", so we have gone with requiring only a half-stopper ("hstop" in the HCP fields) for 2N. (ML says: 2N, unlike 1N, does guarantee a stopper, so he must consider this a full stopper.)

We did not extend this idea to 3N, since after 2N, partner still has a chance to steer the game into a suit contract, but not as likely over 3N. In fact, we had been thinking that even 1 full stop will not be enough in 3N unless you can run 9 tricks off the top.

3N - Running Minor:

Since 3N is not needed for a strong balanced hand, it can be used for other purposes.

A balancing 3N most often shows 18+ and a long, running suit, normally a minor, plus stoppers in opener's suit. Partnership agreement may require stoppers in all suits, or a "gambling notrump" bid may be allowed with the long running minor and without stoppers in all suits. Also, partnership agreement may allow the 3N bid with the long suit being a major, as well as the minors.

2N - Unusual NT:

When a major has been bid and raised by the opponents, 2N in pass-out position is unusual for the minors.

While Unusual Notrump normally shows 5-5 in the lower 2 unbid suits, in balancing position, you can have as few as 4 in each suit, particularly if you have length in the opponents' suit, since that would make it more likely that your partner has shortness in their suit and thus some length in at least one of your suits.

An interesting nuance of this bid is when you have xxx-x-AQJxx-JTxx and the bidding goes 1S-P-2S-P-P, you should balance with 3D rather than 2N. If the minors were reversed (xxx-x-JTxx-AQJxx), you should bid 2N rather than 3C.

With 2-2 in the majors (xx-xx-AQJxx-JTxx), you should bid 2N for the minors rather than 3D.

For an explanation of the above, see page 40 of Mike Lawrence's Balancing book. Also, Lawrence says that the above hands should only be reopened in matchpoints, but that with xxx-x-JTxx-AQJxx, he would reopen with 2N even in IMPs.

Cue Bidding

Since Michaels is most often used preemptively with a weak hand, it is not used in the balancing position by most people. (Modify the database if you wish to use it as Michaels.)

A more common usage is to show a game-force hand with slam interest and shortness in opener's suit without running the risk of doubling first and having partner pass for penalties when you could have made slam.

1-Level Suit Bid

In Bidding Dictionary, Alan Truscott shows a range for balancing with a non-jump suit bid on the 1 level as "about" 8-15 HCPs. Lawrence says that it is okay to balance with a "goodish" 5-card suit (e.g.: KJ875) and an outside Queen (presumably not in LHO's suit), which is only 6 HCPs. ML calls this a "matchpoint minimum" which you should pass at IMPs.

BidBase goes with Mike Lawrence's recommendations.

On the one level, you can balance with a 4-card suit. The weaker the hand, the better the suit should be. The stronger the hand, the weaker the suit can be.

2-Level Non-Jump Suit Bid

A 2-level balance promises a better hand (10 good HCPs) and a decent 5-card suit or any 6-bagger or longer. If opener's bid is 1 passed to you and you have a good 5+ card minor, ML says it's okay to bid your minor because the odds are that partner has Hearts under control but couldn't bid them on the 2 level.

In contrast, ML says that if LHO opens a 1 and you have 82 Q3 AJ985 KJT7, rates "the danger of reopening to be four or five times as great as on the hand just discussed", because there are now two majors wide open, and your partner is unlikely to have both of them under control. In fact, partner's failure to overcall either 1 or 1 does not bode well. Most likely is that opener has a barn-burner which he was just shy of being able to open 2. With a stronger hand, however, you should bid 2.

On the other hand, if LHO opens 1 of a major and you have 3+ cards in that major (especially with an honor), then it is safer to bid your minor suit.

With a 2-suiter, open the stronger suit with a weak hand, such as AKT7 42 73 Q8763 against 1. Bid the longer suit with a good hand. This would be a hand strong enough to double with if you had support for the third suit. Example: Q8742 AQT7 A8 32.

When both suits are weak, bid the 4-card suit if you can bid it at the one level, such as Q842 3 AK5 76542 over 1.

2-Level Jump Suit Bid

There is nothing to gain by preempting in balancing position, and since a balancing suit bid can be made with as few as 6 HCPs, we use the jump suit bid to show a better hand and suit -- a decent 6-card suit and a good 14 HCPs or more, or a slightly weaker hand with a longer/stronger suit.

Mike Lawrence gives the hand QJT8754 A2 3 A97 as one with which he would bid 2 after 1-P-P, saying: The extra Spade makes up for a couple of [missing] points. Note that this hand has 7 Spades to the Queen and only 11 HCPs, plus 3 distribution points. (Balancing, page 17, #2 hand.)

However, on the next page, ML shows a very similar hand, KJ3 QJT8642 AT 5 and says he would only bid 3 after 1-P-P. The same suit quality and length, and the same number of HCPs. He even has both sides vulnerable in each case. ML says: This is actually on the light side. But the suit is good and the values, all sound.

This illustrates the difficulties in trying to translate bridge literature on bidding, even by the very best writers in the business, into a database structure. In this case, since ML refers to these hands as being on the "light side", we have decided to go with the 2-level bid in the database.

3-Level Jump Suit Bid

1-P-P-3 is not a typical preempt. It is a hand with which you hope to make your bid assuming that partner has any 10 or so HCPs. If partner has more than this, he should raise to game.

For the double-jump, you should have in the range of 9-13 HCPs and a good 6+ card suit.

When you double-jump to the 3 level with a minor, it should be a very good with the idea of making 3N by running the suit if partner can raise you to game. You do not expect to bid 5 of the minor.

When you double-jump in the major, you can have a relatively poor quality 7-card suit with good outside values, such as KJ4 QJT8642 AT 5 after an opening 1. Here, if partner bids 3N, you intend to pull it to 4.

After Both Opponents Have Bid

The most points your side can have after a sequence like

The Down Side Of Balancing

Lawrence points out that it is possible for 4th to make a balancing bid which allows opener to make another bid showing great strength and the opponents end up making game when 1 was being passed out in a 3-3 fit.

This happens to everyone now and then, and the only way to keep it from happening is to quit balancing. Do that and you lose many hands by selling out to an opening bid. It's better to balance and lose the rare deal where it gets the opponent's into a better contract.

Get The Book!

This file does not scratch the surface when it comes to balancing. Get Lawrence's book, Balancing, if you really want to learn the nuances from a pro.