Weak Twos Defined
To start off with, there are only three suits you can use for your weak two-bids: spades, hearts, and diamonds. You still need a way of showing those monster hands when they come up, and that's with a bid of 2 ♣. More on that later.
For now, consider that there are basically two ways to play weak two-bids, defined as disciplined and undisciplined.
Weak two-bids are almost always made on six-card suits and have a limited number of HCP. You and your partner can agree on a range, but it's usually something like 5–10 or 6–11 and never an opening bid. In fact, that's one of the beauties of the weak two-bid: It's very descriptive.
In the undisciplined style, which is not recommended, any six-card suit with the requisite number of HCP is suitable for a weak two-bid. This approach is of questionable value because it puts too much pressure on the partnership. There will be times when your partner opens a weak two-bid and you have a pretty good hand yourself. You may be interested in game but concerned about the trump suit. If your partner could have as much as AKQ in the suit or as little as six to the jack and nothing else, you will never know what to do. Bridge is hard enough without having to guess in these situations.
A Matter of Style
So let's go with the disciplined approach. One way of defining it is to say that you should have two of the top three honors in your suit if you open 2 ♦, 2 ♥, or 2 ♠. That might be a little restrictive, but if you and partner are comfortable with it, then it's right for you.
Another way of playing disciplined weak two-bids is to say that the opener will always have at least 5 HCP in the suit. That means that your suit will always be headed by no worse than the KQ or AJ. This will help your partner evaluate the prospects, particularly if she is looking at one of the honors in your suit herself. For example, if you open 2 ♠ and your partner holds the ace in the suit, she will know you have at least the KQ in spades. She will easily be able to envision taking six tricks with your suit. This could be very important in helping her determine what to do next.
Inside and Outside
In general, the five-points-in-the-suit requirement will also help you with the rest of the hand as well. Remember that you should have no more than one ace or king outside your long suit — that is, in other suits. This is because your partner, with a really good fit in your long suit, might decide to “sacrifice” against the opponents' game contract. You remember the description of sacrifice from an earlier chapter: You are deliberately overbidding in hopes that the penalty your side suffers will be less than if you let the opponents play their game contract unimpeded.
If you “sacrifice” by deliberately overbidding because you think the penalty will be less than letting the opponents play their game contract, then find out that they couldn't make their contract after all, you have just perpetrated a “phantom sacrifice.” You got a big minus score for nothing.
If partner opens a weak two-bid and has an ace and a king on the side, in addition to the good suit she promises according to your agreements, you might deliberately bid too high and then find out that the opponents' contract wasn't going to make after all because of all the stuff your partner had “outside” her suit.
So here are the parameters for your weak two-bids:
Restriction on HCP: usually 5–10 or 6–11
At least 5 HCP in the long suit
No more than one defensive trick (ace or king) outside the long suit
Responding to Weak Twos
The weak two-bid can be a powerful weapon for you in your eternal quest to be an active bidder. The best way to decide what to do when your partner opens a weak two-bid — and here's where the disciplined style becomes so valuable — is to count tricks. Say this is your hand:
Your partner opens 2 ♥, which you play as 5–10 HCP. What's your plan? Does your intuition tell you to bid more hearts? If so, you are showing promise as a bridge player and a tough opponent.
What? You say your partner might have only 5 HCP? What about all that stuff in the earlier chapters about having to have 25 or 26 HCP to bid a game? There are exceptions, especially when you and partner have lots of trumps and shortness in one or both hands.
What does your partner have in the heart suit? At least the KQ, so you know this suit is going to be worth six tricks for you. Your diamond holding will produce at least one trick, and partner is likely to be short in diamonds because you have six of them. You have only one spade, so the opponents can't take any more than one because your trumps will be there to ruff spades. If your partner has something like three low spades, you can ruff two of them in dummy. That's two tricks right there, plus at least one trick in diamonds and the sure trick of the ♣ A.
So, let's take stock here: There are six heart tricks in your partner's hand and a good chance for two spade ruffs in dummy (you can pull trumps and still probably have two left). That's eight. There is one trick in diamonds and one trick in clubs — and that's if your partner has only KQ in hearts and nothing else in her hand. She could actually have the ♠ A or the ♣ K.
This whole thing is looking really good for a straight shot to 4 ♥.
When you and your partner agree to bid a certain way it is absolutely essential to refrain from violating those agreements. Your partner will appreciate you and cherish you if you always “have your bids.” He will also try to emulate you and always “have his bids.”
Asking for Help
You won't always have a great hand or so many trumps between your hand and your partner's. You should still count tricks, however, no matter what you decide to do. Say your partner opens 2 ♠ and this is what you're looking at:
If you and your partner are playing your weak two-bids in the disciplined style, you know you have at least eight tricks — six in spades, plus your two minor-suit aces. You're progressing well as a bridge analyst, so you remember that 3NT takes only nine tricks. That rates to be easier than trying for ten tricks in spades, and you've figured that out already.
You're too sharp to overlook that potential critical weakness in hearts, so you're starting to think game is out of the question. Maybe you should just pass. Is there anything you can do?
You bet, and here's something new for you to put in your arsenal of weapons at the bridge table. When your partner opens a weak two-bid and the next hand passes, you can use 2NT to find out more about your partner's hand. In this sense, 2NT is not a “natural” bid — it's not meant to be the final resting place for your side. It is also “forcing,” meaning your partner may not pass under penalty of severe damage to partnership harmony.
So what does 2NT mean? It says, “Do you have an ace or king over there outside of your long suit? If so, bid it.”
Remember, your partner isn't required to have more than 5 HCP in her long suit, but she could easily have an ace or king in another suit to go with it.
So when your partner opens 2 ♠ and you hold a hand like this, what do you do? Bid 2NT, hoping your partner will show her side values — known in bridge lingo as a “feature” — in hearts. If so, you will bid 3NT, which has excellent chances of making and will actually be foolproof if your partner's “feature” in hearts is the ace. You will take six spade tricks and three aces.
When you open a weak two-bid, there is only one bid short of game that your partner can pass and that's a single raise of her suit. For example, if your partner opens 2 ♥ and you bid 2 ♠, she must bid again, raising spades if possible or rebidding her hearts without spade support. If you bid 3 ♥, however, you're just trying to get in the opponents' way. Your partner can and should pass that bid.
If your partner shows a feature in clubs or diamonds — the king in either case, since you have the ace in both suits — it's probably best just to bid 3 ♠. In the language of bridge this is a “sign-off” — telling your partner that you don't want to go any higher. You asked a question and got an answer you didn't like.
So what does your partner bid with no feature at all? She goes back to the original suit, in this case spades. If you bid 2NT and your partner bids 3 ♠, she is saying she has no ace or king outside her long suit. That makes your next decision easy — you just pass and hope you didn't get the partnership too high.
If you want to know more after your partner opens a weak two-bid, you can bid 2NT, asking your partner if she has a “feature” — an ace or king outside of her long suit. In this setting 2NT becomes an “artificial” bid and cannot be passed. The opener bids the suit with the feature or returns to the long suit, indicating no feature in the hand. Some partnerships agree that the opener won't show a feature if the hand is a minimum.