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Responding with 5-5 shape

Partner opens one club and you hold:

J 9 8 5 2
A Q J 4 3
10 8

Do you respond one heart or one spade? The standard advice with 5-5 distributions is to repond in the higher ranking suit and hope to bid the lower ranking suit later. But there are two problems on this hand:

  • You are really only worth one bid with an eight-count (particularly if partner shows a mis-fit by bidding 2 clubs). Bidding one heart leaves space for partner to bid one spade and allows you to play in either major (but you will need a nine-card fit to play in spades).
  • The heart suit is much stronger than the spades and it is perverse to not mention your best suit.

I chose to respond one heart - this was not a success when partner responded two clubs holding:

K 7 3
K 7 6 3
A Q 10 7 6

Two clubs was three down (-300) with the cards lying very badly, our team-mates were defending 1NT (making) - there was plenty of discussion whether I should have responded one spade!



  • edited 12:57AM
    This is a great question.  I think weak responding hands with both majors present a genuine problem in a weak NT system.  5-5 hands are one problem; even worse are hands with 5 moderate spades and 4 decent hearts.  You have to throw a dart when you respond and you will guess wrong some of the time.

    Was there any way, short of guessing the right suit to respond with, to avoid the disaster that happened?  Well, as the Irishman said, I wouldn't start from here.   Think about the original 1C bid.  The opening hand hand (let's call this the South hand) has a moderate 12hcp. If you open this you must expect your partner inevitably to respond 1H.  Note that if if partner doesn't respond 1H, then the opps have almost certainly got a heart fit and will probably find it.  Over a 1H response South will then have to rebid 2C as happened with you as the hand is too weak to reverse.  So I think this hand has many of the attributes of a weak 4-1-4-4 hand and it might have been better off passing in the first place,  Had the hand ended up being thrown away at least you would have saved 300pts.

    Note that this comment only applies if you are playing a weak NT.  Playing a strong NT (1NT opening bid promises 15-17hcp) South can easily afford to start with 1C.  The difference is that South can now make a 1NT rebid over a 1H  response by North, limiting the hand to 12-14 hcp.   This may have been what happened at the other table.  And if North responds a spade, then South can raise weakly to 2S.

    So basically the South hand is a terrible hand for the weak NT system.

    There is another cure - more system. If you are a system freak and you are playing in an environment where advanced conventions are allowed there is a gadget out there that allows you to show both majors at once over partner's minor suit opening without promising a lot of points.  It's called Reverse Flannery.  I'll leave you to look it up on the web by yourself.

    Ned Paul
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