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Splinter Bids

A splinter bid in bridge shows trump support, a singleton or void in the suit bid and is invitational to slam. It's made by making a jump shift and normally a double jump shift in a new suit.

The player who makes the bid should have all of the following:

Slam bidding with splinter bids

Have you wondered how to bid the right 25-26 high card point suit slams, maybe with even less points between your two hands? The answer lies with splinter bids. Although a version of a splinter bid, called a "mini - splinter" can help you decide whether bidding game is a good idea, primarily splinters are used in the slam zone.

In the following two hands, 4 is a splinter showing four card trump support, enough high card points to be at the game level and a singleton diamond.

Splinter Bids in Bridge

4 is a double jump in new suit. North opened the bidding so South knows there are enough points for game.

Splinter Bids in Bridge

The point count is very different because this time South is the opener. North might only have 6 high card points for the 1♠ bid.

A single jump splinter

In the above two examples, the splinter is a double jump because a single jump in each case has a different meaning. In each case, 3 could show a diamond suit. However, where a non-jump bid shows the suit, then a single jump is a splinter.

Splinter Bids in Bridge

In the first sequence, North's 2♠ is natural and a reverse (strong) bid.

Splinter Bids in Bridge

Thus, in the second sequence, 3♠ is a splinter bid agreeing diamonds.

Splinter Bids in Bridge

We learn to count 3 extra points for a singleton (and 5 for a void) once we have found a trump fit. Thus, if partner opens 1 or 1♠, you can splinter with as few as 10 high card points as that is enough to bid to game at the 4 level. It is best to have at least 10 hcp even with a void.

Subsequent Bidding

What happens after a splinter bid depends on whether the partner is interested in slam. If they are not, they bid game, a sign-off.

Splinter Bids in Bridge

5 is a sign off although where a minor suit has been agreed, the partner should always consider bidding 3NT where they have a good holding (2+ likely tricks) in the suit in which their partner has a singleton.

If the partner is interested in slam, one of three things can happen:

Good and bad holdings after partner splinters

The player with the singleton makes the splinter bid. It is normally their partner who has to perform a hand evaluation exercise.

Good holdings in the suit in which partner splinters
Ax, Axx or Axxx or even xxx in the suit of partner’s singleton. You can ruff the small cards in partner’s hand and all your honour cards are in other suits which will fit with your partner.

Bad holdings in the suit in which partner splinters
Kxx or Qxx KJxx or KQxx or even AKxx in this suit

Remember the honours face a singleton (maybe but less likely a void). In the first four cases above, the honours you hold may well be wasted, the equivalent of small cards. You are much better off with small cards in this suit and these honours elsewhere.

AKxx is a bad holding because of the king. You may not have a suitable discard to play on the king. It is potentially a wasted honour. We will see this holding with an example shortly.

Slam Bidding after a splinter.

Splinter Bids in Bridge

South’s diamond holding is perfect. South checks for key cards and 5♠ shows 2 key cards and the Q. With just one key card missing, the excellent 26 point slam is bid. Without a splinter bid available, North would start with 2♣ and bidding slam would be hard. However, imagine this different South hand:

Splinter Bids in Bridge

South has one more high card point than the first hand above but the diamond holding is terrible opposite a singleton. Therefore, South should sign off in game. Note, to make 12 tricks, declarer needs both the heart and club finesses to work, basically no more than a 25% contract. Yet, North’s response to key card would have been the same as in the first example above.

Splinter Bids in Bridge

North has only a 9 count but has a good diamond (and heart) holding. They know their partner has enough to force to game, a strong hand. So, North uses Blackwood and likes the response.

Try these hands.

Splinter Bids in Bridge

North knows the K is opposite a singleton and will allow a discard but as above, the discard may not be of much use as South will be fairly long in the other suits. 12 tricks are possible but at best requires a favourable heart break and trumps to break 3-2. North should sign off in 4♠.

Interference

Splinters can be used even if the opposition overcall and even occasionally when our side overcalls:

Splinter Bids in Bridge

3♠ is still a splinter and maybe just the news North wants to hear in looking for slam.

Splinter Bids in Bridge

4 is a splinter. Note that even though North is likely to have at least 5 spades for their overcall, the hand which splinters is advised to have at least 4 trumps to make the splinter. The same applies where one is opening 5 card majors and the partner splinters. Partner will usually hope for 4 card support and may run into ruffing difficulty with only three.

Gerber or Splinter?

If you are using splinters, then these jump bids cannot have any other use. This includes a jump to 4♣ which cannot be Gerber.

No splinters in notrumps

No splinters without a trump fit. Unless you have a trump fit, splinters do not apply.

The Danger of Splintering

A splinter bid is an excellent weapon in constructive bidding but it requires one’s partner to recognise the bid. If they do not, the result can be disastrous:

Splinter Bids in Bridge

South will find they have a 3-1 or 4-1 heart fit. North will learn their lesson the hard way! Note if South did have a hand with lots of hearts, they should bid 2 first and then 4.

All players have to suffer the above bad experience of forgetting, or partner forgetting a splinter bid but ultimately, splinters will prove extremely useful and improve your slam bidding.