My partner opened 1C or 1D.
Does he really have a suit?

When is a prepared minor opening right?

The vast majority of the time, 1C and 1D openings show hands with a real club or diamond suit. Normally we open with one of our longest suit (or 1NT with the appropriate strength and distribution). The only time a problem occurs is when our longest suit is a 4-card major, and we have the wrong strength to open 1NT.

That means there are only four possible problem distributions:

  1. 4-3-3-3, such as SKQ87 H987 DAQ8 CQT4
  2. 3-4-3-3, such as SJ85 HAQJ6 DKJ2 CAK9
  3. 4-4-2-3, such as SA964 HJT65 DK4 CKQ4
  4. 4-4-3-2, such as SQ985 HKQJ4 DQJ3 CK8

In Standard American, hands 1, 2, and 3 are opened 1C, and hand 4 is opened 1D. (Always open 1C with 3-3 in the minors.) This style is often called "convenient minor." Some partnerships agree instead to open "better minor" and open hand 1 with 1D. Others agree to play a "short club" open all four of these hands with 1C.

Outside of North America, bidding a 3-card suit is commonly called a prepared minor opening, because this bid is made in preparation for a easy rebid:

Now, let's go across to the other side of the table, and see whether we need to worry about partner having his suit or not:

Auctions where partner promises a real suit:

If partner rebids his suit, he normally has at least six cards. 1C-1D-2C and 1D-1H-2D absolutely promise six cards. 1C-1S-2C could be a strong 5-card suit. If opener has a minimum 3-1-4-5 or 3-4-1-5, he has to choose between raising spades with three or rebidding clubs with five.

If partner bids a second suit at the 2-level, his first suit is always real, and almost always 5+ cards long. 1D-1H-2C almost guarantees five diamonds and four clubs. 1D-1S-2C might be a 1-4-4-4 hand.

Opener's reverse shows extra strength, and promises his first suit is longer than his second. 1C-1S-2H shows 4 hearts and at least 5 clubs. Why? Suppose opener has only four of each... if he is 3-4-2-4 or 2-4-3-4, he has a balanced hand and should be bidding notrump. if he is 1-4-4-4, 1D is a better opening bid than 1C. 1C-1H-2D promises 5 clubs and 4 diamonds: he would raise hearts or bid spades with a 4-card major, and again, 2-3-4-4 or 3-2-4-4 hands would bid 1NT (and might open 1D).

If opener bids one minor and raises the other, he really has both of them. His raise promises 4-card support, and with you'd never open a 3-card minor if you had 4 of the other. If the bidding goes 1D-2C-3C, opener has at least four of each. After 1C-1D-2D, opener likely has 5 clubs and 4 diamonds: a balanced hand might have bid notrump.

Auctions where you don't care if opener has his suit:

If opener raises responder's major, you'll be playing in responder's major suit. After 1C-1S-2S, opener may or may not have a club suit, but it doesn't matter, since the final contract will never be in clubs. (A 3C bid by responder now would ask opener to choose between partscore and game in spades according to how good his clubs are -- it's not an offer play in clubs.)

If opener rebids NT and responder has a balanced hand, you'll be playing in NT. If responder has SKJ86 HAQ6 DK832 CJ8 and the auction goes 1C-1S-1NT-3NT, opener might be 3-4-3-3 or 2-3-3-5, but you'd want to be in 3NT either way.

What if you really don't know?

You should still usually assume opener has a real suit unless he tells you otherwise. For instance, suppose you hold SKQ965 HK73 D2 CJ752. Partner opens 1C, you respond 1S, partner rebids 1NT. Your next bid should be 2C whether opener has a real club suit or not. Opener will choose between clubs and spades - and if he opened a 3-card club suit, he has to have at least three spades, and will now bid 2S.

The one "dangerous" auction, 1C-2C / 1D-2D, is rare. Responder will only raise opener to two if he doesn't have a 4-card major and he has an unbalanced hand and isn't willing to bid 1NT -- this means reponder almost always has 5-card support for this raise.

In summary, if opener

then he might have opened a 3-card minor suit and you should avoid putting him back in his suit again without 5-card support. Any other time, assume opener has a real suit of at least 4 and often 5 cards.
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