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# The Importance of Shape by Brent Manley

Many expert players devalue hands that are “flat,” and the worst shape possible is the dreaded 4-3-3-3. Unless such a hand is blessed with an abundance of high-card points, the trick-taking potential is seriously reduced. Think about it: no long suit to develop for extra tricks, no shortness that could allow for ruffs. Dull shape such as this should set off warning signals in your head.

Then there are the freaks — hands with extreme distribution, such as seven cards in one suit, six in another and two voids! If you hold such a hand and find that partner has support for one of your suits, you can take lots of tricks.

Most “shapely” hands fall somewhere in between completely flat and the 7-6 freaks. A hand with five cards in each of two suits can be a big trick taker, and you will learn later in this book how to describe such hands when the opponents get the first shot in the bidding. Such hands are more common than you might think.

The bottom line is that you can be more aggressive in the bidding when you have a shapely hand, which brings up the so-called Rule of Twenty, a notion that has gained a lot of support in recent years. Warning: The “rule” also has detractors, for reasons that will become clear.

Basically, the Rule of Twenty is a formula for helping you determine whether to open the bidding on hands that fall short of the 12 or 13 HCP most bidding systems advocate.

Here's how it works: Take the number of cards in your two longest suits, then add the number of high-card points. If the sum is 20 or higher, open the bidding.

Players who use this rule as a substitute for thinking or judgment are doing themselves and their partners a disservice. The Rule of Twenty is a useful guideline, but it should not be followed blindly. Here are a couple of examples to bring home the point.

♠ AJ1076 ♥ AJ987 ♦ 9 ♣ 54

Using the Rule of Twenty, you count the HCP (10) and add the number of cards in hearts and spades, the two long suits, and you come up with 20. This is a perfectly respectable opener, and if your partner has good support for one of your suits, you have the chance to take a lot of tricks.

Now look at the other extreme.

♠ 95432 ♥ 107543 ♦ AQ ♣ A

This is a poor hand for opening the bidding. The negatives are that the two long suits are very weak, and the high-card strength is in short suits. Yet this hand qualifies for the Rule of Twenty: There are 10 HCP and 10 cards in hearts and spades. You are begging for trouble if you open this hand, however. Put the ♣ A in the spade suit and the ♦ AQ in the heart suit, and you're back in business — open 1 ♠.

## Augmentation

Instead of blindly following the Rule of Twenty, some players adjust it to what they call the Rule of Twenty-Two. The parameters for the rule of 20 are still in place, but with an additional requirement: two quick tricks. The new rule, then, is that high-card points and cards in the two long suits must add up to 20, and you can open as long as you have two quick tricks.

For reference, here is your guide to quick tricks:

 Tricks Requisite holding 2 Quick Tricks A-K of the same suit 1½ A-Q of the same suit 1 A or K-Q of the same suit ½ K and any card

The reason you want to include quick tricks in your calculation is that, in today's atmosphere of competitive bidding, if you open on a shapely hand with little or no defense (aces and kings) and your partner doubles the opponents, you will regret having opened when their contracts come rolling home. Two long suits without quick tricks will not help you on defense.

The other part of the equation is that partner will begin to doubt your openers, so even when the opponents step out of line and your side should be doubling, partner won't cooperate because he has seen too many bad opening bids from your side of the table. He is now gun-shy.

It won't hurt your bidding at all if you forget about the Rule of Twenty.

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#### THE EVERYTHING BRIDGE BOOK

By Brent Manley

1. Home
2. Bridge
3. The Language of Bidding
4. The Importance of Shape