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Standard American is the standard bidding system for the game of bridge in the United States. This system, or a slight variant, is learned first by most beginners in the USA. Most advanced or expert players in the USA play a variant of 2/1 Game Forcing.
The purpose of bidding is to exchange information with your partner so that you can arrive at an optimal contract, while preventing the opponents from finding their optimal contract.
Most hands are evaluated by high card point method, with adjustments for distribution. Most beginners rigidly follow point count requirements, whereas experts will make adjustments based on their hand and the bidding so far.
Approximate hand strengths
- 0-5 points; A hand in this range will probably not bid at all, unless partner shows a strong hand and forces you to bid.
- 6-9 points; A hand in this range will not initiate bidding, but will probably bid once after partner bids
- 10-11; A hand in this range will normally not initiate the bidding, but will probably invite game after partner bids
- 12-14; A hand in this range is strong enough to open the bidding, but will probably not bid again after that (unless forced). If you hold a hand in this range and partner opens the bidding, you know that you belong in game.
- 15-17; A hand in this range is strong enough to open the bidding, and bid again freely.
- 18-21; A hand in this range will open the bidding. If partner shows any strength at all, this hand will insist on game.
- 22+; This hand will make a stronger opening bid than 1 of a suit, usually 2NT or 2 Clubs.
Also remember that the points listed are approximate. Some players require less to bid, and others require more.
In Standard American, the minimum hand strength for an opening bid is the Rule of 20, which says to add your high card point count (abbreviated HCP) to your 2 longest suit lengths. If this value is 20 or more, you can start bidding with 1 of a suit. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but this is right most of the time. Standard American is a 5 card major system, which means that to start with 1 heart or 1 spade, you need to have 5 card length. (Very rarely, a suit such as AKQx or KQJx will be opened with 1 of a major.)
An opening of 1 club or 1 diamond typically has 4 card or longer length. However, these are default opening bids when a player has the strength for an opening bid but his hand does not fit the requirements for any other bids. Most commonly such a bid denies a 5-card major, and that means that sometimes a minor must be opened with only 3 cards. Most beginners make the mistake of responding as if partner has only 3. Most of the time, after a minor suit opening, partner has 4 or more, so you should bid as if that is true. An opening bid of 1 of a suit is virtually unlimited in strength, to about 20-21 HCP maximum.
An opening bid of 1NT shows 15-17 HCP. (some older books say 16-18) Balanced hands of 12-14 points open 1 of a minor and rebid 1N. The term "balanced hand" means that the player has no singleton or void suit. An opening bid of 2NT shows 20-21 points. Balanced hands of 18-19 points must open 1 of a minor and jump rebid NT. Hands of 22 or more points start with 2 clubs, which is a strong and artificial opening.
An opening bid of 2 diamonds, 2 hearts, or 2 spades shows a good 6 card suit and less than an opening bid. This is called a "weak 2 bid". Most of the hand's high cards should be in the long suit. Having a void or a side 4 card major makes a weak 2 bid less attractive, but still possible.
An opening bid of 3 of a suit or 4 of a suit shows a good long suit with little outside. If the hand has 10 or more HCP, an opening bid of 1 is better than an opening bid of 3 or 4, so that you don't miss games. A bid of 3 typically has 7 card length, and a bid of 4 has 8 card length. Such high bids are considered pre-emptive in that they are primarily used to disrupt the opponents' communication when the likelihood of damage to one's own side can be limited. It is better to count the hand's playing strength. Also, vulnerability matters here. The "Rule of 2, 3, 4" says that at favorable vulnerability (you not vul, opps vul), add 4 tricks to your hand strength, and bid to that level. At equal (both vul, both nonvul), add 3. At unfavorable (you vul, opps not vul), add 2. This is used to decide among and opening bid of 2, 3, or 4 (or 5 in a minor). The partner of a pre-emptive bidder should be cautioned against excessive optimism.
An opening bid of 3NT can be used for a big balanced hand (25-27), but this situation is so rare that many players will use this bid for a long solid minor with exactly 1 trick outside (Gambling 3NT). Even in the latter case this bid is uncommon, and beginners should ignore the possibility of opening 3NT unless they understand how the bid works.
Responses to a 1NT opening
This is the easiest of all the opening bids. Opener has almost exactly defined his hand in one bid: 15-17 high card points and a balanced hand. Opener should not have a 5 card major (but some partnerships allow this). Opener must have at least 2 cards in each suit. Opener probably should not have a 6 card minor (but some partnerships allow this).
After a 1N opening, responder knows almost exactly what to do.
With 0-7 points, responder knows there is no chance of game. He should pass or try to play in his long suit.
With 8-9 points, responder knows there is a chance of game.
With 10 or more points, responder knows there is a game.
With 16 or more points, responder knows there is a chance of a slam. Some weaker unbalanced hands also may have a slam available.
The history of Standard American begins with Culbertson. In 1927, Ely Culbertson invented the Culbertson System, or Approach-Forcing. The Approach Principle says that most opening bids should be one of a suit. Culbertson also invented forcing bids, of which there were originally only three:
- opeing bid of two of a suit
- jump new suit response to opening one of a suit
- cue bid in opponents' suit
These were all forcing to game. Over the next few years, Culbertson suggested that a non-jump new suit response to opening one of a suit should be forcing for one round, then dropped the idea, then took it up again. He later made jump raises of openings of one of a major, and 2NT response to one of a suit, forcing to game
The original Culbertson System used variable no-trumps, roughly equivalent to 13-15 points not vunerable and 16-18 vulnerable. This was later simplified to 16-18 throughout. At this point Standard American was established in basically the form it retained for several decades.
In the early 1950s, Charles H. Goren displaced Culbertson as spokesman for Standard American. His sytem was almost identical in substance. The only significant change was from strong to weak jump overcalls. However, American bridge players of the time found his use of the Anderson distributional point count (3 for a void, 2 for a singleton, 1 for a doubleton) a lot simpler than the detailed distributional adjustments required with pure high-card valuation (honor tricks) as used by Culbertson. The last edition of Culbertson's book (1954) adopted an essentially identical method as an option, but it was too late. It is interesting to note that British players never seemed to be bothered by this.
The system remained largely unchanged until the last edition of Goren's book (1985/6), where he started recommending 5-card majors, the first of a series of changes leading to the system as described above.