Mike’s Bridge Lesson


Much has been written and said about the rule of 20 for deciding whether to open the bidding. It is one of many “rules” floating around in the bridge world.

The rule of 20 is one that, by and large, should be ignored.

No one asked me, but I have an opinion about the so-called rule of 20. After seeing many articles defending it, even praising it, I am moved to argue against it. Someone has to. I have seen many bad bridge bids made and then defended as being examples of this rule. In my lectures, a common moment of contention comes when someone gets a lousy result and proudly defends the bid because it followed the rule of 20.

It pains me to define the rule of 20 because it comes with too many warts to make it a legitimate tool, but here it is: If the number of cards in your two long suits and your high-card points add up to 20, you should open the bidding. Here is an example of the rule of 20 at work. You are the dealer with no one vulnerable. It is a simple situation without extraneous variables at work.

♠Q 8 7 5 4   K 4   K   ♣ Q 9 7 6 4

This hand has 10 high-card points and the two long suits, spades and clubs, add up to 10. By the guideline of the rule, you should open.

I am appalled.

If you open this hand 1♠, I would ask what auction you would like to hear. If your partner doubles an enemy contract, where are your tricks? If your opponents double you, what are your chances?

Here are some hands on which the rule of 20 might be invoked in deciding on whether to open. Every one of the hands has exactly “20” points. Remember that you are in first seat with no one vulnerable. What is your call?

1.♠Q 7   A 6 5 4 2   7   ♣ A 10 6 5 3

See Mike's Advice

Pass. Yes, you have “20” points but you have flaws, too, as almost all rule of 20 hands have. The flaw here is that your ♠Q is a marginal card, and even though you have 5–5 shape, the bidding rates to be difficult much of the time. Say you open 1, the only bid worth considering. Partner responds with 2, a game-forcing bid in many systems. I won’t spell out the details, but your hand is not going to fetch a game facing many of partner’s 2 bids. Say partner bids 1♠ and you rebid 2♣. Partner may bid 2NT, a common enough bid, and you will either rot there or run to 3♣. This may survive, but something much worse is lurking. Do you want your partner to go back to 3? My first thought about the rule of 20 is that you will be bidding too high on many hands that lack stuffing.

2.♠A Q 7 6 4   4   4 3   ♣ A 8 7 6 4

See Mike's Advice

This hand has all quality points but again, your shape will cause you problems. You might survive, though, and opening 1♠ will get some thoughtful nods from many, but not all, players.

3.♠8   K 8   K 8 7 6 5   ♣ K J 9 4 2
See Mike's Advice

If you open 1, you may or may not get to show your clubs later. Say you bid 1 and partner bids 1♠. If RHO bids 2, are you going to trot out your club suit? That is a silly choice that deserves a disaster. If you pass originally, which is sane enough, you may be able to make a takeout double or perhaps use the unusual notrump, which will show this hand.

4.♠A 10 9 7 5   A Q 9 5 3   4   ♣ 5 3
See Mike's Advice

Finally, a hand that is worth opening. You have both majors and you have good points. Further, you have nice spot cards in your long suits. If you do not find a fit, you won’t like the result, but the good things that can happen outweigh the bad things. Open 1♠ with this hand.

5.♠7   A Q J 7 6 5   K 7 6 4   ♣ 9 4
See Mike's Advice

1 is a reasonable opener. The reason you can bid with this 10 HCP is that you can envision your continuations. You can rebid hearts on most auctions, and on some you may be able to bid them three times. Further, if your partner doubles something, you have chances of producing a couple of tricks. Do not overlook your defensive values.