by Kitty and Steve Cooper, Fort Collins, CO

Jim LaForce of Greeley, Colorado asks “In Larry Cohen’s column in the April 2011 ACBL Bulletin, North opens one club with a 1444 distribution, this strikes me as odd since we standard bidders would open one diamond. Is this a new style in expert bridge?”

Coopers: Just when you thought you knew what to open they change the rules on you! Yes, sadly it is a well-known style among experts to open one club when four-four in the minors. The gain is that partner can respond 1D with only three diamonds and a weakish hand that does not want to bid 1NT and wrong-side a notrump contract. This style completely contradicts what you are taught when you first start to play, namely to open the higher ranking four card minor.

As with most choices of opening bids at bridge, the key is what you plan to rebid. Suppose you have a 2344 distribution with three small hearts. When you open 1D and partner bids 1S you have an easy rebid of 2C. Whereas if you open 1C and partner bids 1S you must rebid 1NT with no heart stopper. Many modern experts prefer to show the balanced nature of the hand and do not worry about stoppers so they go ahead and open 1C. They may get too high when their LHO bids 1H and partner makes a negative double, however. Now they bid 2D and partner may have to bid 3C to take a preference.

We recommend that you only open 1C with four-four in the minors in the following two cases.
1. When you plan to rebid one notrump no matter what partner bids.
2. When you have a very strong 1444 hand and plan to reverse into hearts.

Let’s look at the first case. In order to open 1C with your four-four you have to be happy to rebid 1NT over whatever one-level call partner comes up with. If you have a poor holding in one major, like a small doubleton, then you want to open one diamond so that you can rebid two clubs if partner bids the other major or makes a negative double.   

Now for the second case.  When you have specifically a 1444 shape with a singleton spade you normally open 1D planning to rebid 2C over partner’s 1S or 1NT response. This may lose a four-four heart fit however. So whenever you are strong enough to reverse, typically 17+ points, you plan to rebid 2H instead even though that promises five or more cards in the opened minor and four in the major. However the club suit is always suspect in modern bridge. So when you have specifically a 4441 shape with a singleton spade and 17+points you can open 1C, planning to reverse into hearts. When you open 1D and reverse into hearts, partner knows you have five or more diamonds; but when you open 1C and reverse into hearts, partner knows you might have only four clubs.

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