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Standard and Acol Bidding Systems

In the same way certain words can communicate different meanings depending on a person's language, certain bids communicate different meanings depending on a person's bidding system. Your bidding system allows you and your partner to accurately describe your hands during the auction.

The two most common bidding systems are Standard and Acol. You can select either one when you play bridge online at Sky Bridge Club and although there are a few differences, both systems share many of the same concepts. Check our support page to see how to select your bidding system.

Opening the Bidding

The first player to make a bid is called the opener. Opening bids in Standard and Acol have slightly different meanings.

Standard
  • Opening 1 or 1♠ shows 5 cards
  • Opening 1NT shows 15-17 hcp
Acol
  • Opening 1 or 1♠ shows 4 cards
  • Opening 1NT shows 12-14 hcp
Learn how to use the Rule of 20 in bridge to decide whether or not to open the bidding on borderline hands. It's fun!

The Auction Continues

After partner has opened, it would be great if you could simply choose the best contract and start playing the cards, but sometimes you'll need to explore a little.

Change of suit

If the opener starts by bidding 1 of a suit and the responder bids a new suit it shows 6+ points and it's forcing, meaning the opener must bid again.

Why is responding at the 1 level supposed to show 6 or more points? This hand from a recent game is a good example of the logic behind the maths.

Standard and Acol Bidding Systems in Bridge

South has a pretty nice hand but 1 making 3 scores the same as 3 making 3 so there is no advantage in being in anything other than 1. North passed and that's a lucky thing because if he responds with anything South will probably bid on to game going down.

We know that it's worthwhile bidding game with 25 or more points between you and partner. An opening bid at the 1 level normally shows a maximum of about 19 points playing Standard or Acol bridge bidding systems. 20 points hands normally get opened at the 2-level. Not always, but normally.

So if the responder has 5 points and the opener has a maximum of 19 it makes a total of 24 at the most. Not the sort of game you want to be in, if you're aiming for a long term winning strategy. But if responder has 6 points then there still might be a combined 25 points. 19 6 = 25.

Have you ever wondered why an auction like 1 - 2 shows 6-9 and not 5-9 or 7-9 ? That 6 is important. Or a 1NT response showing 6-9? Or a new suit at the 1 level showing 6 or more?

All these bridge point counts that might seem like made up numbers really do have a logic behind them. You have to flexible and sometimes it's worthwhile responding with less than 6. But you need a good reason to mess around with those basic system numbers. For all our talk of natural bidding and following your instinct and being bold and so on, a good understanding of really basic bidding is key to it all.

A jump bid in suit that hasn't been bid before shows a strong hand. It's forcing to game.

Limit Bids in Bridge

If you bid notrumps or a suit that has previously been bid by either then it is not forcing. These are called limit bids and show a specific type of shape, and guarantee a certain number of HCP. Limit bids are an important part of both the Acol and Standard systems.

Jumps to 2NT, for example 1♠ - 2NT, are not forcing! There are different partnership agreements with each of these bids and it's not a question of right or wrong so you may have learned something different. That's fine, but just so you know, the computer at Sky Bridge Club understands a jump to 2NT as a limit bid.

Jumps to 3 of partner's suit, for example 1♠ - 3♠, are not forcing! Again, you may have learned something different and many years ago a jump to 3 of partner's suit was commonly treated as forcing. It's rarely played or taught that way any more and not the way the Sky Bridge Club computer plays.

Examples of responder's limit bids

1 - 1NT = Minimum NT response, 6-9 HCP
1 - 2NT = Invitation to game in NT, 10-12 HCP
1 - 3NT = Jump to game in NT, 13-15 HCP
1 - 2 = Simple Raise, 6-9 HCP
1 - 3 = Jump Raise , 10-12 HCP
1 - 4 = Jump to game , normally lots of trumps but not a strong hand.

Responding 1NT with an unbalanced hand

Responding 1NT with an unbalanced hand

1NT as a response to 1♠ looks a little odd with all those clubs but it’s still the best thing to do. The problem with bidding 2♣ immediately is that it shows 10 points and it’s forcing partner to bid again. That means you will never get to play in 2♣.

If you really want to play in clubs there are two ways you can do so. You could bid 2♣ and then 3♣. But that would show 10 points, as discussed above. Alternatively, you could bid 1NT and then 3♣. Your 1NT bid shows 6-9 points and if you then decide to bid 3♣ later then partner will know you have a weak hand with lots of clubs.

Still, do you really want to play in clubs? Partner has shown spades and hearts and it looks like one of those hands that are going nowhere. Better to play in 2♠, simply putting partner back to his first suit and knowing you're probably going to be in a 5-2 trump fit. At least it’s only at the two level and it is in a high scoring major suit rather than a piddly minor suit.

Sign off bids

After any player has made a limit bid their partner will normally be in a good position to choose the final contract.

Reverse Bids

Reverse bids cause more problems than just about anything else. If you reverse when you shouldn't you're going to wonder why your partner rushes off to game or slam. This is one lesson that's well worthwhile reading.

Reverses in bridge made easy! The barrier principle is a simple way to make sense of this important bidding technique. Learn more here.

Fourth Suit Forcing

There's seldom any need to bid the fourth suit in a constructive auction. If you haven't found a trump fit in the first three bids of the auction then you'll often end up in notrumps. Bidding the fourth suit, therefore, can be used as a forcing exploratory move.

Learn about the fourth suit forcing convention in bridge

Stayman and Transfers

Stayman and transfers are only used if our side opens the bidding and not after any interference from the opposition.

The Stayman convention is used to find a 4-4 major fit after a 1NT or 2NT opening.
A transfer in bridge is made after a notrump opening by bidding the suit below your actual suit.

Which is the best bidding system?

Ask which bridge bidding system is best and you'll get lots of different answers. Acol is the prominent bidding system used in England and has also been played widely in New Zealand for many years. Its name comes from the road where the Acol Bridge Club used to be in West Hampstead, North West London.

Standard American is the most commonly used system in North America.

But it might not make much difference in the long run. It's important to play a bidding style that suits your personality, though, and if you find a like minded partner then you're going to be great together, not matter what bidding system you choose. Style yes, system, nah.

For example, some players like to support partner's suit as much as possible and like partner to support their suits, even if it means sometimes playing in a 4-3 fit. That means if you do bid a four card suit it better be a good one because it just might end up as trumps! Standard or Acol, the same thing applies.

Some players like to jump to game at every available opportunity. Often they get too high and now and then miss a slam but it might be a good strategy because short auctions are harder to defend against. Some players love complicated, well crafted auctions and, if so, go for it!

So, while you and your partner need to be playing the same system, it's just important to be playing the same style.

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