One of the oldest axioms of leads is 4th from your longest and strongest against NT.

This is just the beginning, of course, you need to assess partners distribution, entries are important as with any play of the hand, and then there are some exceptions to this guideline.

After partner has lead his ‘4th from his longest and strongest’ you need to figure out how many, and possibly which one(s) of the outstanding cards declarer has…. Use the rule of 11



Subtract the number of partners lead from 11. That number is the number of outstanding cards which are higher than partner’s lead in the other 3 hands.  Therefore, if you see 3 in dummy and have 3 in your hand and the partner’s lead was a 5, then declarer has no cards in his hand that will beat partner’s lead.  Act accordingly and cover whatever declarer plays from dummy with your cheapest winner, if necessary.  IF your partner’s lead holds, play low and let her lead again and also remember 3rd hand high is not always ‘your highest’.



This best known and oldest maxim has withstood the test of time [it was introduced by Edmund Hoyle in 1742]

There are 5 exceptions;

1)      If partner has bid a suit, you must lead that suit

2)      Lead the unbid suit, or unbid major

3)      Lead the top of touching honors if you have a sequence, e.g. QJ10XX

4)      Lead the top of nothing, especially an unbid major hoping to find your partner with several in that suit. Lead your highest card, e.g. with 985 or 9xx lead the 9.

5)      Take your tricks and run.  If you can set the contract with the first 5 or more tricks – do so!



Lead through strength (on your left) and towards weakness (on your right).

Return partner’s lead even if she led ‘top of nothing’ if it makes your suit better.

Lead partner’s bid suit… top of nothing, low from 3 to an honor, top of sequence.

Lead 4th best from your best unbid suit.

Keep parity with the dummy.

Signal your attitude when following to partner’s lead.


Rule of Twenty - Rule of 20

This guideline or method, named the Rule of Twenty, is a method in determining whether a holding containing fewer than the standard 12 plus high card points is, despite this fact, worthy of an opening bid. The development of this concept is attributed to Mr. Marty Bergen.

This determination is decided when the number of high card points are added to the number of cards in the two longest suits. If the total equals twenty or more, then the player should decide to open.

Conversely, if the total sum does not equal twenty, then the recommendation according to the Rule of 20 is that the holding should not be opened.

Note: Some definitions of this Rule of 20 include the provision that the holding, which meet the above criteria, must also include two Quick Tricks, or two Playing Tricks. Mr. Ron Klinger of Australia has augmented the Rule of 20 by also counting Quick Tricks, or Playing Tricks. The opening requirements are determined when the sum of the number of high card points and the number of cards in the two longest suits and the number of Quick Tricks was more than 21.

If the total equals less than twenty-one, then the player should not open. The other requirement is that the working cards or values should be located in the two longest suits.

Note: According to Mr. Marty Bergen, the application of the Rule of 20 should be employed in either First or Second Seat in deciding whether or not to open even a borderline hand. The Rule of 20 is not relevant in Third or Fourth Seat.

Also, Mr. Marty Bergen strongly suggests that most hands worth opening in first or second seat have at least 2 Quick Tricks. However, in the words of Mr. Marty Bergen, no hard and fast rule is possible. Some hands with 1 to 1.5 Quick Tricks should be opened. He also admonishes the bridge player to consider the fact that no suit can have more than a total of 2 Quick Tricks according to his evaluation method. Please review the following for his evaluation method:



Quick Tricks



2 quick tricks



1.5 quick tricks



1 quick trick



1 quick trick



.5 quick trick


The following two examples should clarify this concept.

An example of a holding, which should be opened:






This hand contains 10 high card points. The total number of the cards in both of the longest suits equal ten. Adding the two numbers together, the sum of 10 for the two longest suits and 10 for the number of points, the sum equals 20. The second, very important requirement that the working cards or values should be located in the two longest suits is also fulfilled. Therefore, the player can / may / could / should open this hand in any seat since the holding qualifies under the Rule of Twenty.


An example of a holding, which should not be opened:





This hand also contains 10 high card points. The total number of the cards in both of the longest suits equal ten. Adding the 2 numbers together, 10 for the total of the sum of the two longest suits and 10 for the number of points, the sum equals 20. However, considering that the holding contains no Aces and no Kings, and since the working cards or working values are not located mainly in the two longest suits, the second requirement is not fulfilled, and this hand does not qualify as an opening.


The Difference

Mr. Marty Bergen, in his publication To Open, or Not to Open, provides suggestions and guidelines for the application of the Rule of 20 and also advice for the bridge player, such as:


The state of vulnerability should not become an issue.


Always remember that there are logical exceptions to even the best of bridge rules.


Every bridge player must learn to upgrade attractive hands and downgrade ugly one.


Not all 20's are created equal.


When considering whether to or not to open the bidding, be aware of the presence or absence of intermediate cards.


The high card points are not limited to only the two longest suits

 In his publication To Open, or Not to Open, Mr. Marty Bergen provides a summarized layout of Upgrades and Downgrades, which the bridge student should review and study in order to understand the logic of the concept behind The Rule of 20. This summary is copyrighted by the author.


Hand Shapes and Opener's Point Ranges

 Hand Shapes

We've almost defined everything that you need to know so that explaining the bidding will be easier. There's just one more (hopefully quick) thing.

The thirteen cards in your hand can be distributed in MANY different ways. You might hold all thirteen clubs, but this is very, very, very rare. You might hold five spades, five hearts and three cards in the minor suits (diamonds and clubs, right?) This is a bit more common. You might hold four cards in two suits, three in another, and two in the remaining one. This is the most common "distribution" of cards.

A void is a suit in which you don't hold ANY cards. A singleton is a suit in which you hold one card. A doubleton is a suit in which you hold two cards and a tripleton three. (More cards than that are called "four-card suits," "five-card suits," etc.)

Suits with few cards are usually good for trump contracts (suit contracts) because usually you can trump when these suits are led. Thus, hands containing voids and singletons (and sometimes doubletons) have the right kind of distribution to play trump contracts. These are called distributional hands. Pretty easy to remember, eh?

Hands where you hold at most one doubleton, no singletons and no voids are sometimes better for no trump contracts because you're not likely to want to trump tricks. [But don't forget that partner's hand might be distributional and partner might want to play in a suit contract. The important thing is what cards and points the partnership holds, not just what you hold.] These kinds of hands are called flat or "balanced" because the numbers of cards in each of the suits is about the same.

If you hold...





...then you have a flat hand. This is a specific 4432 type of hand because you hold "4" spades, "4" hearts, "3" diamonds, and "2" clubs: "4432."

The hand...






is also flat (and has no points: UGH!) This hand is specifically 4324, but, if you can't tell someone where your four-card suits are, it might be referred to as a generic 4432 type of hand too, since you hold two four card suits, a tripleton and a doubleton.

If you hold...






...then this is also a flat hand, but is now a generic 5332 or a specific 5323 hand. (For practice, how many points does it have? RIGHT! 16! If you miscounted, review Lesson 1 on counting points.)

There are some hands which aren't exactly flat, but aren't terribly distributional either. For example:






This is somewhat distributional, since you have a lot of diamonds. But you don't have any singletons or voids. You do have two doubletons, and might be able to trump hearts or spades after you've used all of yours up (following suits or discarding, for example.) This hand is somewhat flat too. You hold two doubletons, so it's not a "perfectly flat hand".  A hand like this is often referred to as "semi-balanced".

Thus, sometimes you have to decide how you're going to describe your hand to partner. Maybe you decide you'd like to call the last hand "flat." That will give you a certain choice of bids to make. If you say it's distributional, then you will probably have a different set of bids to choose from. The thing is: what do you want to tell partner about your hand? Decide, and then, if you get the chance, tell her something more on your next bid.

Opener's Strength

Suppose you have dealt the following hand to yourself.






Let's go through what you know about the hand. You hold a flat, 15 point hand. Your longest suit is spades, and all the other suits have equal length. You hold 5 points more than the average 10 points, so you might hold the most points at the table. You have a good hand. You'd like to make a bid and tell partner the good news. Therefore you should open 1NT on this hand according to SAYC (Standard American Yellow Card) which stipulates a count range of 15-17 HCP (high card points) for a 1NT opener.

But what if you dealt yourself...






You have a distributional (also called "unbalanced"), 12 point hand. You don't hold too much more than average. In fact, in HCP, you hold exactly average (10 points.) Do you want to tell partner about your long diamonds, or do you pass and try to say something later? We need to know the point ranges for making the first non-pass bid: an opening bid.

In SAYC there are traditional ranges for opening bids. If you bid or don't bid, you tell partner something about the number of points you have (and maybe about the hand shape too!)

For distributional hands, these ranges are (including length points):

These ranges are important to know. If you open, note that you have anywhere from 13 points upward. Partner only knows (point wise) that you hold at least 13. When the bidding gets back to you, you will make another bid which tells partner what KIND of opening strength you hold: minimum opener, strong opener, maximum opener, "game forcing" opener. If you don't hold enough to open, you'll have other ranges to use when partner opens. These will be discussed in the lessons starting with RESPONDER'S BIDDING.

For flat hands, any distributional points (e.g. points for length in suits) are usually not counted. The ranges for opening are:

Note that the NT bids are very precise. If you bid 1NT, partner knows a LOT about your hand already: we have 15 to 17 points, and no void or singleton. These ranges are also important to know. It will take some time to learn them. But you and your partner will be able to communicate a lot in these bids, so it's important to know them. On the two ranges where it says to open in a suit we'll discuss these in later lessons as they come up.


1430 Roman Keycard Blackwood

The 1430 Roman Keycard Blackwood is a variation of the Roman Keycard Blackwood with only one slight difference. The slight variations of significance given to the individual responses among the Blackwood, Roman Blackwood, Roman Keycard Blackwood, and the Roman Keycard Blackwood 1430 conventions signify only that a partnership must memorize, practice and apply the individual interpretations of the various bids. All of these variations are geared towards reaching a slam, knowing in advance the location of certain Key Cards.

Note: It is of the utmost importance for the partnership to have agreed first in the bidding process upon the trump suit before initiating Roman Key Card Blackwood 1430. If the trump suit has not been established the last bid suit is to be used as though that suit would be trump, i.e., the King of the last bid suit is the 5th key card.

All variations begin with the bid of 4 No Trump. In the 1430 convention, there are five Key Cards, all four Aces and the King of Trump, the suit having been already established.  

The responses to the 1430 convention are as follows, remembering that there are five Key Cards, not four as in the regular Blackwood convention. These five Key Cards are the four Aces and the King of Trump.

Using the 1430 convention, the responses to 4 No Trump are as follows.



Shows 1 or 4 Key Cards (14)


Shows 0 or 3 Key Cards (30)


Shows 2 or 5 Key Cards without the Queen of Trump


Shows 2 or 5 Key Cards with the Queen of Trump