If you use the five-card major system, you will find that the level of comfort you enjoy when you open a major suit is not there with your minor-suit openings. You will find that you often have to open 1 ♣ or 1 ♦ on a three-card suit, even something as bad as ♣ 432. That might make you nervous, but it is the price you pay for the system you play. At least when you play in a duplicate game, you will know that just about every other player holding your cards will have to make the same bid as you.
When do you open 1 ♣ or 1 ♦ on a three-card suit? Here are some hands that qualify:
You have to open the bidding with your 14 high-card points, but if you open 1 ♥ or 1 ♠, you promise a five-card suit. What choice do you have?
Again, you must open the bidding, and when your hand looks like the one above, you must start with 1 ♦. Fortunately, that particular distribution — four hearts, four spades, three diamonds, and two clubs — is the only time you are forced to open on a three-card diamond suit. With any other shape, a 1 ♦ opener will deliver at least four diamonds.
Remember, too, that most of your opening bids of one of a minor will not look so pitiful. In fact, most of the time you will have a reasonable holding in your minor. It's only when you have four cards in each of the majors — not a bad thing, when you think about it — that you are forced to open the bidding on a weak minor-suit holding.
When you have three cards in each minor and no five-card major, open 1 ♣ unless the disparity between the suits is too great, as with ♦AKQ compared to ♣ 754. If the opponents outbid you and your partner is on lead, which suit do you want her to start with?
Because of the need to open one of a minor on a three-card suit now and then, players tend to want to show a “real” club or diamond suit when they have only five. They can't wait to rebid in their five-card minor to show that it wasn't three low cards. Do not get into this habit.
When you rebid a suit, in almost all cases it should show at least six of that suit. This is important because when the auction heats up, with the opponents bidding their heads off, the difference between five and six in partner's long suit could be critical to your decision to bid on, pass, or even double the opponents.
What do you do when you have four cards in each minor? Some players prefer to start with 1 ♣, allowing them to raise diamonds if partner bids that suit. Others prefer to start with 1 ♦, giving them the flexibility to show the second suit if partner bids a major.
This is something you should discuss with your partner, and you should agree on a style. There is some merit to the argument that a bidding sequence such as 1 ♦ — Pass — 1 ♠ — Pass; 2 ♣ should show an unbalanced hand — that is, a hand with shortness somewhere, or perhaps with two cards in each major and nine cards in the minors. This is another topic for discussion with your partner.
There is one hand type with which you should ignore the rule about opening your longer suit first when you hold a five-card suit and a four-card suit.
If you open 1 ♣ and partner bids 1 ♠, you are not well placed. You do not have enough high-card strength to rebid 2 ♦, which would show 17 or more HCP. If you rebid 1NT, you show a balanced hand, which you do not have. If you rebid 2 ♣, you show a six-card suit, another distortion of your hand, albeit not a terrible one.
It is simpler to open 1 ♦ and, if partner bids 1 ♠, rebid 2 ♣. You won't be ecstatic if partner gives preference to 2 ♦ holding three of each minor, but that's better than strongly implying what you don't have.
Note that if partner's response is 1 ♥, you will happily raise to 2 ♥. There will be more about that in the next chapter.