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Preemptive Openings

How to drive your opponents crazy.


A preemptive opening bid, for the purpose of this article, is limited to the following:

Opening bids at a higher level are certainly possible, but are outside the scope of this article.

Preempting Style

You and your partner have to agree on what style of preempts you will play. This answers the question, “how bad is partner’s hand this time?” Style should relate to temperament: if you or your partner are nervous about getting –1100 on a scoresheet, preempt conservatively. If you both like telling stories about your bad scores, go nuts.

Whatever your chosen style, be prepared to modify it according to position and vulnerability.

How Position Affects Style

  1. First Seat: In first seat, be a little frisky unless your side is vulnerable and the opponents aren’t. In first seat, there is a 2 out of 3 chance that one of your opponents has a good hand, and your preempt will annoy them more than your partner.
  2. Second Seat: Preempts in second seat should be more disciplined, consistent with the vulnerability and the style you and your partner have agreed to. In second seat, the odds are 50–50 that your partner has a good hand, and partners with good hands don’t like preempts.
  3. Third Seat: Go crazy. Be as frisky as you like (consistent with the vulnerability and your partner’s tolerance for bad scores). Your partner has already passed, so he doesn’t have a good hand. The good hand is in fourth seat. However, a word to the wise: if your right hand opponent hesitated before passing, he probably has a hand that was (at least almost) good enough to open.
  4. Fourth Seat: There is no such thing as a preemptive opening in fourth seat. An opening bid of 2 or 2♠ in fourth seat shows a good hand with a good six card suit. This also applies to an opening bid of 2 in fourth seat if you play that 2 is normally a weak opening. There is no such thing as an opening 3 level bid in fourth seat.

How Vulnerability Affects Style

The preferred order for vulnerability is:

Your SideTheir SideComments
Not VulnerableVulnerableExcellent for preempting
Not VulnerableNot VulnerableGood for preempting (your minus scores won’t be too bad)
VulnerableVulnerableFair for preempting (the opponents may stretch to bid a vulnerable game, especially at IMPs)
VulnerableNot VulnerablePoor for preempting (you’d better have the perfect hand)

What You Don’t Want To Hear

Whenever the opponents compete over your preempt, be happy. Their auction will likely contain a substantial amount of guesswork, so there’s a reasonable chance they’ll guess wrong, giving you a good result.

When the opponents do not compete over your preempt, be wary. Here are the three cases where your preemptive opening may (or will) backfire. If your preempt was “frisky” you will get a bad result at either matchpoints or IMPs. However, if your preempt was reasonable, you can expect others to get the same result, so the final outcome may be OK (this is a better bet at matchpoints, where you have numerous other tables to help you, rather than at IMPs where you are relying on only one).

Suppose you have opened 3 in first seat.

Auction 1


This is dangerous, but it may work out OK. East may have gambled passing with no satisfactory bid. At least if the hearts are split badly, they will be on your right.

Auction 2


This is actually worse than the first case. You probably haven’t stolen anything from the opponents, so you have to hope that 3 is the best contract. However, the hand is likely to be a misfit, so you are probably headed for a poor score.

Auction 3


You are about to get a very bad score. The opponents probably don’t have anything, and there is probably a heart stack sitting behind you. I remember facing this sequence in a tournament once. I had a perfectly normal preemptive bid (but in first seat). This was the auction:


West had a good hand, and East had the six missing spades. The result wasn’t pretty. However, the only consolation was that most of the other tables had the same result, so the matchpoint score was OK.

Some Additional Considerations

  1. Internal trump strength is one of the most important considerations in a successful preempt. A suit headed by the Q J 10 9 is much better for preempting that one headed by the A Q 9.
  2. Holding the ace of your suit is a liability when preempting at the three level. That ace could be a big factor on defence.
  3. High cards outside your suit are a liability because of their defensive value. Never preempt with two aces or an ace and two kings. Be wary of preempting with queens and jacks in your short suits.
  4. Possible support for another suit should warn you against preempting. You may belong in partner’s suit. Don’t preempt with four cards in a major suit (preempts with four cards in a minor suit are generally acceptable). This point only applies to preempts in first or second seat. Once partner is a passed hand, it is no longer a concern.
  5. Once you have made a preemptive bid, partner is in charge. Do not bid again.

Weak 2 Openings

A weak 2 opening bid shows a six card suit and a hand that is too weak to open at the one level (refer to the article on the Rule of 20 for more details). For the daring types, a weak 2 opening can be made on a five card suit, but only in third seat (see the article on third seat openings for more details).

In first or second seat, do not open with a weak 2 bid if you have a void (unless you and your partner have agreed that “frisky” preemptive openings are ok).

As mentioned above, you should normally never open a weak 2 in a major if you hold four cards in the other major. With a weak 2 opening it’s acceptable if the quality of your suit is high (AKQxxx or AKJxxx), and you have no honour cards in the other four card major. As previously discussed, it’s also acceptable when partner is a passed hand.

How weak can your hand be? Anywhere from 5 to 10 high card points, depending on vulnerability and your partner’s tolerance for occasional bad scores.

Remember that in standard bidding, a 2♣ opening is not weak; it shows a strong hand (refer to the article on bidding strong hands for more details). Also, more experienced players often use a 2 opening to show some sort of specialized hand. If your opponents alert a 2 opening, always ask what it means.

Here are some examples of weak 2 openings:

Example 1

♠ A K J 10 8 7
9 8 7
4 3
♣ 9 7
This is a perfect weak 2♠ opening under any circumstances. You have a good six card spade suit, but no outside values.

Example 2

♠ A K 10 8 7 3
J 8 7
4 3
♣ 9 7
This is almost as good, except that the jack of hearts may be a wasted value.

Example 3

♠ K Q 10 8 7 3
9 6 4
4 3
♣ 9 7
Consider opening with a weak 2♠ bid unless your side is vulnerable and the opponents aren’t.

Example 4

♠ A Q 10 8 7 3
9 6 4
A 3
♣ 9 7
This hand isn’t quite strong enough to open 1♠ (refer to the Rule of 20 article for details), but it’s not a good idea to make a preemptive opening with two aces. In first or second seat, pass and wait. Opening 2♠ in third seat would be acceptable (partner, being a passed hand, will not respond except to raise in competition). In fourth seat, open 1♠ (see the Rule of 15 article for details).

Example 5

♠ Q 10 8 7 3 2
9 6 4
8 3
♣ 9 7
This hand is too weak to open 2♠. Pass.

Opening 3 Bids

Any opening bid in 3 of a suit shows a seven card suit and a hand that is too weak to open at the one level (refer to the article on the Rule of 20 for more details). For the daring types, a 3♣ opening can be made on a six card suit (since there is no “weak 2 opening” for the club suit). Some players apply the same philosophy to a 3 opening, and will make that bid on a six card suit (typically these players use a 2 opening as a conventional bid).

The same point count considerations apply to an opening 3 bid as a weak 2 opening.

A subtle point about opening 3 level bids is that you should take greater risks with a minor suit than with a major. If you have a long minor suit, chances are the opponents will have at least one major suit. If you don’t preempt, they will usually find their suit easily and know how high to bid their hands. Preempting will make their auction much more difficult, since they have to start at the 3 level rather than the 1 level.

The same consideration doesn’t apply to preempts in major suits. With a borderline preempt in hearts or spades (especially spades), you should often pass and wait (especially in first or second seat). You can usually bid your long suit on the next round, generally at a safe level.

Here are some examples of 3 level preemptive openings:

Example 6

♠ K Q J 10 8 7 3
9 8 7
♣ 9 7
This is a perfect preemptive opening of 3♠. You have a good suit with no high cards in any side suits. Also, it’s possible that the opponents have a heart fit. Your preemptive opening will make bidding 4 their way a total guess.

Example 7

♠ K Q J 10 8 7 3 2
Q 8 7
♣ 9 7
This is almost as good, except for your three hearts to the queen. Consider position before preempting (if partner is a passed hand, go for it).

Example 8

♠ K Q 10 9 8 7 3
9 6
4 3
♣ 9 7
A 3 level opening preempt with a hand this weak is risky, especially vulnerable. Also, you have the worst possible side suit distribution (three doubletons). Consider passing this hand in first or second seat, but preempt in third seat if the vulnerability is right and you have an understanding partner.

Example 9

♠ 7
9 6
8 7 6
♣ K Q J 8 7 4 3
Open 3♣ with this hand. The opponents probably have a major suit fit, so try and make life difficult for them.

Example 10

♠ 7
9 6
8 7 6 4
♣ K Q J 8 7 4
A 3♣ opening bid could work well with this hand, even though you only have six clubs. Again, the opponents probably have a major suit fit, so don’t make it easy for them.