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Reverse Bids in Bridge

Reverse bids in bridge made easy! Reverses are an important part of Standard, Acol and all natural bidding systems. The barrier principle is a simple way to make sense of it all.

Barrier Principle

Imagine that a barrier is created when an opening bid is made. This barrier is simply the 2 level of that opening suit.

barrier principle in bridge

The opening bid was 1♣ so the barrier is 2♣. After a 1 opening bid, the barrier is 2. After a 1 opening bid, the barrier is 2 and so on. After 1♠? 2♠, of course.

What is the point of this? The answer is that we use the barrier principle to describe a certain type of hand, which is called a reverse.

What does a reverse show?

A reverse shows a strong hand with the first bid suit always being longer than the second. A reverse means that partner has to bid to the 3 level in order to return to opener's first suit.

simple auction in bridge

North's 2♣ bid is below the barrier of 2. 2♣ is not a reverse. South could bid 2, returning to opener's suit at the 2 level.

reverse bids in bridge

2 is above the barrier of 2, so 2 is a reverse. It shows a strong hand, 4 hearts and 5 diamonds. Notice that if South wants to go back to North's first suit it will need to be at the 3 level with a bid of 3.

Why can't a reverse be made with two 4 card suits?

In most auctions if a player shows two suits, the hand should be unbalanced. If you're balanced you're either going to open 1NT or bid NT on the second round. If you haven't bid notrumps by the second round you won't be balanced. The first suit will, therefore, always contain at least 5 cards.

Opener's Reverse Bids

opener rebids suit

Can you show the heart suit? No, you can't bid above the barrier. You have to rebid 2 which is not forcing. You can't force partner to bid again, given that she may only have 6 HCP.

opener reverses in bridge

You would like to bid your heart suit wouldn't you. You can this time as you have more than 16 HCP, so you can afford to show both your suits.

Responding to a Reverse

Reverses are forcing! You must bid at least once more.

You can support either of partner's suit. Remember, partner has shown 5 of the first suit. With no fit for partner you can rebid your suit or 2NT.

responding to a reverse

This time you have a known we have an 8-card fit in clubs (Partner must have 5 clubs to reverse). It is good that partner has a strong hand, as we are forced to the 3-level.

responding to a reverse with a strong hand

This time you are stronger and it's up to you to indicate your extra strength. 3NT seems the best option here. You have spades covered.

Practicing Reverse Bidding

Reverse bids come up a lot! We talk about them often in our online bridge games and you'll find plenty of opportunity to practice this important bidding technique.


Maur says:
Very good lesson. Something I have been very weak on
I had a situation the other day where I had 5 clubs and 4 hearts and 12 points. I bid my clubs and there was an intervening bid of 2 diamonds so I thought I could show my hearts without it being a reverse as I didnt have the option of bidding 2 clubs....is this correct.
I've played limits duplicate bridge at local bridge club. Mostly played here on SkyBridge. I've taken some Duplicate Bridge classes at local club. no one seems to have hints or guides to help me become aware of partner bidding past the barrier of their first bid, therefore recognizing they have made a Reverse Bid. For some reason calling it a Reverse Bid is confusing and off-putting. Any hints to help focus my play on this important communication from my partner. (maybe I'm a little gun shy because my partner when playing at local club knew less than I did and didn't realize when he was making this kind of bid. I couldn't trust what his second round of bidding was telling me. It does seem this is an important communication technique to be known and followed. Again, any hints to help recognize a Reverse Bid ( I really hate what's it is called).
That's a portion I'd not considered. It will help make this process more worthy of my consideration and patience.
suzicoo says:
Hi Graeme. I am having trouble following this lesson. I will keep trying, but for now can you tell me whether I am right or wrong. Partner opens with 1 spade opening points 12 -15 I have only 2 spades but 5 hearts and 6-9 points, I go 2 hearts, partner comes back 3 spades should I then go 4 spades. Thanks I will keep reading.
Knysna says:
@graeme Thanks for clarifying this. One question. You say that a reverse bid is a demand, and response MUST bid. However, in saying that, I assume that if your partner prefers your second suit, and is on minimal response points, he may pass at that level and not go to 3 level?
tessybear says:
Thank you @graeme for your explanation of the reverse bid - I totally understand it now and hopefully I can use it when I play, especially on skybridge.
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