Basic Bidding 8, Preempting and Weak Twos

By Kitty and Steve Cooper


One of the most effective strategies in competitive bidding is the preempt. When you have a long strong suit and not many points you can start the bidding at the three level with a seven card suit and at the four level with an eight card suit. This makes life very difficult for the opponents since they have lost the space needed in the bidding to find their own correct contract, and much of the time doubling you will not be profitable enough.

Using the two level for preempting as well makes it even harder on the opponents. This is known as the weak two bid. It only gives up your own bidding space on those very strong (22+) one suited hands that you almost never hold. The bid of two clubs can be used for all your hands of 22+ (except 21‑22 balanced which are opened 2NT) and that will be discussed in our next article.

The perfect preempt has a long good suit and at most one outside high card. A hand such as: ª764 ©KQJ10962 ¨9 §J4  or such as:  ªAJ109764 ©4 ¨K82 §54 fits this definition well.    

But if we only preempted with the perfect hand, we would not be giving the opponents much trouble. So let’s consider what other hands we can preempt on. First of all, partner needs to understand that our non‑vulnerable preempt is not so much a descriptive bid as an attempt to get in the opponents’ way.

Second of all, our suit does not need to be all that good if we are not vulnerable. The advantage of length outweighs the need for a good suit. With reasonable breaks, a long suit does not have to be very strong to take tricks and thus avoid a big penalty. Remember we want to preempt as often as possible, particularly when we are the dealer and non-vulnerable.

How about this hand: ªQ1076432 ©J10 ¨K98 §2   or this one: ª76 ©J1098752 ¨2 §653?   Neither of these has a good enough suit for a classic preempt, but both could be very effectively preempted not vulnerable, especially if the enemy is vulnerable.

Another important factor in considering whether to preempt with a non-classic hand for that action is your position at the table.  The times to be the most aggressive with your preempts are when you are in first or third chairs and no one else has bid. If you are in second seat your partner is as likely to have a good hand as the remaining opponent, so you want to have a more classic preempt. That way he is not the one left guessing.

When your right hand opponent (RHO) has opened the bidding, the time to preempt aggressively is with either shortness or length (four or more) in his suit. Having three cards in the enemy suit should be a warning to be more conservative. When you have three cards in opener’s suit and get left to play in your preempt, it is frequently not pretty. Left hand opponent (LHO) is not likely to have three or more cards in his partner’s suit since he did not raise, so your partner often has length in that suit. So what happens is that LHO leads his singleton or doubleton in opener’s suit and RHO takes the first two or three tricks and then gives his partner a ruff or an uppercut. Thus you start out by losing at least three tricks. In contrast, when you have four or more cards in their suit, your partner is likely to be just as short as your LHO. So in that case, as long as dummy has a few good trumps you will start out with only one or two losers.

When both opponents have bid, they have already exchanged enough information to be in a better position to double you. This is the wrong time for an aggressive preempt. Another factor to consider is whether they have exchanged very useful information or not. If the auction has begun one of a minor - pass - one of a major, they have not. Either one could be weak or strong and unless opener has four card support, the major fit situation is not known. Compare that to one of a major - pass - two of a major, where they know their fit and approximate strength.

 Having a good suit is always the best protection against the opponents being able to double you, so whenever the decision is close on whether or not to preempt, let that be the deciding factor.

The Weak Two Bid

 How is the weak two bid different from higher level preempts? Well for one thing your partner has more room to explore when it is your side’s hand, so you can have less perfect preemptive hand as long as you have a six card suit. These bids promise a six card suit and about 5-10 points (sounder players use 6-11, and more aggressive players use 3-9, note it must be no more than a seven point range). These are the re-evaluated points from the first article in this series, not high card points. Many players feel that any hand with a decent six card suit that is not quite strong enough to open at the one level should be opened with a weak two bid. Some modernists will open a weak two with a very good five card suit non-vulnerable.

If you are vulnerable then the suit must be good; a reasonable rule of thumb is two of the top three or three of the top five honors (thus KJ10xxx or AQxxxx but not KJxxxx). If the decision on whether to open a weak two‑bid is close, do it with a singleton and not without one. Another plus factor is having good internal texture, so Q109876 is a much better suit than Q76543. With the first suit you would have a maximum of three losers no matter how badly the suit splits.

Responder Is Captain After Partner Preempts

What happens next? Well, now your partner is captain. One of the golden rules of preempting is that you never bid again unless partner bids 2NT to ask about your hand. All further decisions on competing and saving belong to your partner. You have told your story.

Partner should not expect to make a game opposite a preempt unless he has at least 16 plus support points. Note that partner should almost always raise the level immediately with a trump fit to increase your opponents’ discomfort. Your level of safety is to contract for the number of tricks that is equal to your side’s number of trumps. So with hands of less than 16 points, raise partner's weak two to the three level with three trumps and to the four level with four or more trumps (raise 2¨ to 5¨ with five or more diamonds). Similarly, raise a three level preempt to four with three or more trumps. Your side has enough trumps to either make your contract or to have a good sacrifice against the opponent's contract. When you think the opponents might have a slam, you can take all their room away by raising to five when you have extra trump length and some distribution. If you are red versus white be more careful ‑ you need a side singleton or extra strength to raise to four and a side doubleton to raise to three. The time you do not need to raise with the requisite number of trump is when you are willing to defend whatever they bid. Passing and then raising partner is a losing strategy because it lets them exchange information and makes it easier for them to double you when that is right. However, sometimes you might hope to buy it at the lower level and thus not bid initially on a marginal hand where you do not expect to go plus when you raise.

Responding to a Weak Two with 16+ Points

A way to think about your game prospects when partner preempts is to look at how many winners and losers you would have opposite his best and worst hands. If most hands would have four losers or fewer than ten tricks do not look for game. Just raise appropriately with a fit.

If you have a balanced or fitting hand with 16+ points in support and are not sure whether to bid game or not you can bid 2NT to ask the weak two bid opener how good he is. These are the standard responses (note that there are many fancier responding methods such as Ogust):

  1. The weak two‑bidder repeats his suit with a bad eight points or less and you now pass unless the reason you asked was to choose the best game contract.

  2. With a good 8‑10, these are the weak two bidder’s options:

    a. He bids another suit that has an A, K, or QJx (a stopper for NT known as a “feature”).

      Responder then decides whether to play four of the weak two suit (often safest) or 3NT.

    b. The weak two bidder bids 3NT with a solid suit, AKQJxx.

    c. With neither of the above but with a good 8+, he bids game in his suit over 2NT.

If you have a long suit of your own and think game is possible, bid your suit; this is forcing for one round and partner will use common sense to respond, raising whenever possible and raising to game when he likes it.

This article is adapted from Kitty’s “The Art of Preempting” lecture handout which is available as a free download with problems to do with their answers at


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