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Balancing Bids: General Principles

Don’t sell out.


For some reason, the concept of “balancing” often seems strange or foreign to newer players. It shouldn’t be, because it’s an easy and effective way to improve your bridge scores, both at matchpoint and team games.

Balancing Positions

The essence of balancing is to bid (even if you haven’t already) when the opponents want to end the auction at a low level. There is a wide variety of balancing positions and opportunities, but the three most common are:

  1. An opening one–level suit bid by your left–hand opponent is passed around to you (Balancing After An Opening Bid). Balancing in this position carries a slight risk.
  2. An simple overcall by your left–hand opponent is passed around to you (Balancing After An Overcall). Balancing in this position carries more risk.
  3. The opponents have opened and raised a suit to the two level, and you are in the passout seat (Balancing After A Single Raise). Balancing in this position carries virtually no risk.

In all balancing situations, you are in the “balancing seat” if your pass will end the auction.

A balancing bid in the second situation given above (after an opponent’s overcall) is often referred to as a “reopening” bid. The two terms are synonymous.

Here are examples of these balancing positions:

Balancing After An Opening Bid

North dealer, neither side vulnerable

North East South West
1 Pass Pass Balancing

Balancing After An Overcall

North dealer, neither side vulnerable

North East South West
1 2♣ Pass Pass

Balancing After A Single Raise

North dealer, neither side vulnerable

North East South West
1 Pass 2 Pass
Pass Balancing

Why Make A Balancing Bid?

You rarely get a good score by passing in any of the three balancing positions shown above.

A balancing bid typically leads to one of three outcomes (one neutral and two good):

  1. The opponents continue bidding, and make the hand anyway. As long as your balancing bid hasn’t pushed them into a game they make but weren’t going to bid, you haven’t lost anything. Also, your balancing bid might help on defence.
  2. Your side bids and makes a partscore hand, rather than letting the opponents make a partscore. At matchpoints, this will often be the difference between an almost top board and an almost bottom. In a team game, it can result in a swing of six IMPs.
  3. The opponents continue bidding, get too high, and go down. This will also give you a good score.

However, there are some dangers in balancing which you should be aware of:

How Do I Balance?

Depending on which of the three balancing situations you are in, you can balance with one of the following bids:

  1. A double.
  2. A rebid of your original suit.
  3. A bid in a new suit.
  4. A notrump overcall.
  5. A simple overcall in a suit.
  6. A jump overcall in a suit.
  7. An overcall showing two suits.

Each article covering a specific balancing position will examine each possible bid, and explain how your partner and you should continue.

Final Warning!

Balancing is fun, but it’s also dangerous. Both you and your partner must remember that you are both treading on thin ice. Keep in mind at all times that you and your partner are not bidding your hands individually; you’re bidding them together. Don’t get carried away!

In most cases, the purpose of balancing is to make the opponents bid again. If they do, stop bidding unless you or your partner have something extremely important to say. In that case, think again anyway. It will probably turn out to be not so important to say it.