Getting In First: Pre-emptive Opening Bids

Posted 04 September 2009 by Ron

Pre-empts force the opposition into guessing what to do. Their decisions have to be made without any clear knowledge of what is held by their partner. When they have to guess at the contract, they will sometimes make the wrong guess. That is your profit.

A pre-emptive bid is made on the first round of bidding. There is no such concept as a pre-emptive rebid, since if the opponents have not entered the bidding on the first round, there is no need to shut them out. A pre-empt can be made in any position, by opener, by responder or by either defender. Pre-empts are more effective the sooner they are made as that reduces the amount of information the opponents can exchange.Therefore, pre-empt as high as you dare as early as possible. Once you have pre-empted, do not bid again, unless your partner makes a forcing bid.

A pre-emptive bid skips two or more levels of bidding. For example, opening 3 is a pre-empt because it skips over 1 and 2 . Likewise, 1 : 3 is a pre-empt because it skips over 1 and 2 , but, 1 :3 would not be a pre-empt, as it skips over only one level, the 2 bid. The 3 response here is a jump-shift, the most powerful response possible.

The normal pre-empt contains 6-10 HCP and a strong 7+ suit.

A pre-emptive opening may have fewer than 6 points if it contains the right number of playing tricks, but in practice, this is very rare. It may also be a very powerful 6-card suit, but this is rare, too. Do not pre-empt if you have a 4-card or longer major as a second suit.

When you have a hand suitable for a pre-empt, you may open with a bid of 3 or a bid of 4 (and if your suit is a minor, you may even begin with a bid of 5 or 5 ). How can you judge whether you should open with a 3-bid or with a higher bid? The answer depends on the number of playing tricks you hold. The rule of 3 and 2 states:'Count your playing tricks and add 3 tricks if not vulnerable, 2 tricks if vulnerable. Make the opening bid corresponding to this total number of tricks.'In other words:

  • With 6 playing tricks, open 3 if not vulnerables, pass if vulnerable.
  • With 7 playing tricks, open 4 if not vulnerable, open 3 if vulnerable.
  • With 8 playing tricks: Not vulnerable, open 4 if your suit is a major and 5 if your suit is a minor. If vulnerable, open 4 in either case.
  • With 9 playing tricks, open 4 if your suit is a major, 5 if a minor.


(1) Count every card after the third card in a suit as one playing trick.
(2) In the top three cards of each suit, each ace and each king = one trick.
(3) Count each queen as a trick if there is a second honour card in that suit.
(4) Count no trick for a singleton king, singleton queen or queen doubleton. Count only one trick for holding K-Q doubleton.


(1) Assess how many tricks your partner has shown by deducting three if your side is not vulnerable or two if your side is vulnerable.
(2) Add to this your own 'quick tricks': Count the A,K or Q of partner's suit as one trick each. In other suits, count A-K as 2, A-Q as 1 1/2, A as 1, K-Q as 1, and K as 1/2. If you  have support for opener's suit, count an outside singleton as one and an outside void as two.
(3) If the total is less than partner's bid or just enough for the contract, pass.
(4) If the total is more than partner's bid, you should bid on to game(but if partner's bid is already a game, you would pass). If the total is 12 or more, bid on to a slam provided that you are not missing two aces.
(5) Over an opening bid of 3 or 3 , you may try 3NT with a strong balanced hand and at least one stopper in each of the outside suits.
(6) Over other opening pre-empts, prefer to stick with partner's suit unless you have a strong hand and a long, powerful suit of your own. A change of suit in response to a pre-empt is forcing.
(7) Do not rescue partner from a pre-empt. With a weak hand, pass.

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