Brush up your basic bidding – Reverses

Whoever invented the bridge term "reverse" has a lot to answer for. It's such an unhelpful, un-descriptive name that it makes a relatively simple concept sound complicated, and the eyes of most novices and quite a lot of more experienced players glaze over at the mention of the word! However, reverses are an extremely valuable tool for describing your hand to your partner, so it's well worth making the effort to understand what they are and what they mean.

When you open one of a suit in Standard English Acol, all it promises is between 12* and 19 points, and at least 4 cards in the suit.

If your partner responds in a different suit at the one level, and has not previously passed, all you know is that he has at least 6 HCP. His upper limit is unspecified – he could have 20 points or more – so it's essential for you to rebid, and your rebid should give your partner as much information as possible about your strength and shape.

A change of suit on the first round of bidding is forcing for one round.

This means that there is no need for responder to jump shift even if he is very strong. Jump shifts are often counter-productive, as they take up a lot of bidding space and make it more difficult for opener to describe his hand with his rebid.

Showing strength:

When you open one of a suit you create an artificial barrier at 2 of that suit. If you are weak (12 to a poor 16) your rebid must NOT cross this barrier, but if you are strong (a good 16 to 19) it MUST cross the barrier.

e.g. 1 - 1; 2 shows a weak opening hand, with at least 5 hearts and 4 diamonds, because 2 is below the 2 barrier. Responder could put opener back to his first suit, hearts, at the SAME level.
However, 1 - 1; 2 shows a strong hand, because 2 is above the 2 barrier, and if responder wants to go back to opener's first suit, diamonds, he will have to go UP a level to 3. It shows 16 -19 points with at least 5 diamonds and 4 hearts, and is called a REVERSE. It also promises that the diamonds are longer than the hearts, because if they were equal length you would have opened 1 not 1.

N.B. 1 – 1; 1 is NOT a reverse even though spades is a higher-ranking suit than diamonds, because 1 is below the 2 barrier.

A reverse is a non-jump rebid in a new suit which is above a simple rebid of that bidder's first suit at the lowest possible level.

Examples of reverses:

1 - 1; 22 is a new suit above 2
1 - 2; 33 is a new suit above 2
1 - 2; 22 is a new suit above 2

N.B. 1 - 1; 2 is NOT a reverse even though 2 is above 2. Here, spades is not a new suit, because partner has already bid it, and as you are now supporting partner's suit, the barrier moves to two of his suit.

1 - 1; 2 shows a weak (12 - 15 HCP or 7 losers) opening hand with at least 4 hearts and 4 spades. A stronger hand with 4 spades would jump support the spades.

Reverses are forcing

If your partner opens the bidding, you respond in a new suit and he reverses, you know he has between 16 and 19 points, so you may have enough for game even if you are a minimum (6 HCP), and you must reply.

A simple reverse, e.g. 1 – 1; 2 is forcing for one round.

A "high reverse", e.g. 1 – 2; 3 is forcing to game, because it's a new suit at the 3-level. Opener has at least 16 HCP, and you have shown 9+ with your 2 response, so he knows you have at least 25 between you – enough for game.

A new suit at the 3-level in an uncontested auction is forcing to game.

Responder's Reverse

It isn't only opener who can show strength with a reverse.

1 – 1; 2 – 2; is a responder's reverse. His rebid of 2 is a new suit above a simple rebid of his first suit, hearts. Opener has already limited his hand to 12 – 15 points with his weak 2 rebid, so responder needs at least 11 HCP to make it safe to reverse.

The reverse promises that responder's hearts are longer than his spades, or he would have bid 1 on the first round.

Telling a White Lie

Very occasionally, when you have an exceptionally unbalanced hand, it may be a good idea to bend the rules!

Suppose you have:


And your partner has:


Your longest suit is diamonds, so you would normally open 1, but what can you do when partner responds 1NT or 2? You are not strong enough to reverse into 2, so your only possible rebid is 2. Partner is not strong enough to bid on, so you never discover the spade fit.

However, if you tell a white lie and open 1 even though your diamonds are longer, you can rebid 2 over 2, so partner knows that you have at least 5 spades and can put you back to spades.

* Rule of Twenty

BEWARE! If you are a strong responder, don't forget that your partner might have opened light, using the Rule of Twenty:

If the sum of your high card points and the total number of cards in your two longest suits comes to 20 or more, it may be worth opening the bidding.

This is particularly true if opener's longest suit is a major. Opening 1 has pre-emptive value, because it prevents the opponents bidding 1, 1 or 1. For example:


Only has 10 HCP, but it's worth a 1 opener.

Brush up your…

By Celia Jeal

Celia has been a very active and committed bridge teacher in Suffolk for many years. She is a registered EBU Partner-Teacher and has developed a strong following in her West Suffolk base. Currently she runs classes and tutored play at Abbeygate Club. These articles were written for and first published in Table Talk.

If you are interested in learning or improving your game, contact (01284 728350).