From Australian Bridge April 1971, and October 2008

Raising on three


In the February 1971 Bidding Forum, panelists and readers were asked to consider this question (Problem 2):

Rubber bridge, NS vulnerable

You, South, hold:
QT9 KJ5 AKT942 4

What call do you make?

An underlying assumption of "panel problems" is that the problem setter not only agrees with the previous actions proposed for South, but believes a majority of the panelists will agree also. Nothing makes a panelist irate more than being forced to extricate himself from a position he knows he would not have been in; and no Forum director wants irate panelists. It can be assumed, therefore, that South's rebid of 2 would receive at least some support from the expert panel.

This 2 rebid cannot be considered right or wrong. It comes under the heading of "matters of style". Some people are uncomfortable raising an un-rebid suit with only three trumps. This affliction is apparently as common in Australia as it is in America, because Australian Bridge Standard requires four trumps even for a raise of an opening bid. But other people turn green at the thought of rebidding 2 in February Problem 2 instead of raising on three spades, and luscious ones at that.

The purpose of this article is to present arguments in favour of the style of raising on three trumps. Please bear in mind that I am not trying to prove that it is wrong to bid 2. But I do intend to demonstrate that waiting for four trumps to raise often makes things uncomfortable for the partnership.

Why raise on three?

Reason One: To avoid missing game

Suppose you hold the South hand in February Problem 2. You open 1 and rebid 2 after partner's 1 response. What should North do now with any of the following hands?
(a) KJxxx Axx xx Jxx
(b) KJxxx Txx xx AJx
(c) Jxxxxx Qxx xx AJ
(d) Jxxxxx Ax xx Kxx

Obviously North should pass. He has no reason to bid further, and nothing to bid if he did want to bid again. Do not make believe you would rebid 2 with any of these North hands! If you do, you will deservedly find partner with a more typical 2 rebid such as:
4 KJ5 AKT942 QT9
and 2 won't be a lovely contract -- it is acceptable only in case (d).

In each case, if you rebid 2 with the South hand, you will play there. If you raise to 2, you may or may not get to game, and you may or may not make it, but you would certainly rather be in 4 than 2.

Frequently, you can take strong action if your suit is raised, but not otherwise. A common example is the case of a response to a major-suit one-bid. If you open 1 with
AJxxxx x KQx AJT
and partner responds 1NT, you can do no more than bid 2 ; if partner has a singleton spade your hand is minimal in value. But if partner raises 1 to 2, you can try for game because his known spade length gives your hand added playing strength. That is why I consider it unsound, AB Standard notwithstanding, to respond 1NT to 1 with
Kxx Kxxx xxx Kxx.

Note that these two hands produce an adequate play for 4 even with a king facing a singleton. If you respond 2, you will get there; if you respond 1NT, you won't. (If anyone suggests responding 1NT and then raising a 2 rebid to 3, take him away. Aside from the fact that this is trap bidding of the worst sort, how can responder's hand go from not being worth a raise to two on the first round, to being worth risking the three-level on the second?)

The reasoning in these two situations is the same: unless you have some reason to be ashamed of your hand, you should raise partner whenever possible because this will help him evaluate his hand. He may act differently if he knows there is a fit.

Reason Two: To avoid mistiming the auction

Here is a problem from an elementary text on bidding. You, responder, hold:
KJxxx AQx xx ATx

The bidding has gone:

What call do you make?

Answer (shortened): "3NT is the obvious move... 14 points... no apparent misfit... stoppers in all unbid suits."

Very few people would argue with that answer. A few superscientists would perhaps suggest an investigatory bid of 2 or 3, but these are not natural or obvious moves, and very likely unsound as well because of the severe consequences of a raise from partner. So we put this hand, with its "obvious move" of 3NT, up against the hand on which we in the Bidding Forum have just rebid 2. We find that 3NT is not completely hopeless, merely terrible, while 6, though nothing to send in to the local newspaper, is far from ridiculous and rather more likely to make than 3NT.

Obviously, I picked this example with tender loving care. But there are zillions of hands on which responder would rebid 3NT where 4 would be a better contract.

Yet what can South do? He can hardly take out to spades at this late stage -- North has not promised any better spades than he did when he bid them originally. And if South does play guessing games, how does he ever get to 3NT and stay there? Does the 2 rebid forever obliterate 3NT as a possible final contract?

The place to play guessing games -- if they must be played at all -- is at the two-level. If you get to the wrong game, it is likely to be expensive; if you get to 2 on a 4-3 fit when you should be in 2 on a 6-2 fit, it is not likely to cause you to apply for welfare. By raising spades immediately, you investigate the spade fit before the bidding is launched into outer space by responder's rebid. The diamond rebid not only makes it awkward for opener to support spades (if responder rebids 2NT or 3, opener is supposed to pass with a minimum -- but dare he pass with concealed three-card spade support?) it also makes it impossible for 2 to be the final contract even though it is perhaps two to one there is at least an eight-card spade fit.

[Before you look at an odds table and write a letter to the Editor about this statement, remember that responder would not bid 1 if he held four spades and four or more hearts.]

Is it logical to exclude automatically a two-level contract in what figures to be the partnership's best suit?

You can see for yourself how badly the auction is mistimed. Suppose responder bids 2 over 2. Opener is compelled to raise (responder might hold, for example, six spades to the ace king with a side card), and thus reach the three-level with a minimum opening bid and no forward-going bid by his partner.

Is that good bidding?

Reason Three: To get to the best suit

As we have seen, the immediate raise to 2 has advantages when responder has a strong or strongish hand: it can help simplify his choice of games or help him decide whether to try for game. But even when responder is weak the immediate raise may be beneficial because 2 will often be the correct contract. If we take the four hands discussed previously and make them slightly weaker, both in high cards and in fit, we will get something like this:
(a) KJxxx Qxx x Jxxx
(b) KJxxx Txx x QJxx
(c) Jxxxxx Qxx x QJx
(d) Jxxxxx Qx x Kxxx

These are weak hands and partner will not try for game even if raised. I don't think there is any question that in each case 2 is a superior contract to 2.

Reason Four: To gain negative inferences.

If a direct raise shows four trumps, partner can usually relax when you make it; he knows the (probably) correct strain and need only find the right level. But partner is often equally comfortable when, using three-card raises, you fail to raise. He now does not need to worry about making some artificial bid to give you a chance to show three-card support because he knows you don't have it. Consider this situation:

Responder holds:
QT9xx x AQJx KJx

If responder has to worry that opener may have a hand like
KJx AKxxxx Kx xx
(where 4 is more desirable than 3NT) he has to bid three of a minor and take the risk of getting beyond 3NT if opener raises. If opener has denied three card spade support, responder can just bid 3NT; almost certainly the right move if no eight-card spade fit is possible.

Further, immediate three-card raises allow a later preference on a doubleton, thus enabling responder to find two-card support to match his six-card suit and, even more important, giving opener a convenient rebid in some otherwise horrible situations.

Opener holds:
Kx AQ A9xxxx xxx

The diamonds are not so strong that we want to bid them three times, 2NT is eccentric and 3 surrealistic. The obvious move is 2, and this is much more comfortable if partner will not expect three card support.


When does it lose to raise on three? For one thing, you get to many 4-3 trump contracts on weak trump suits at the two-level. Many people become flustered when playing this type of trump fit and may achieve a worse result than the contract is worth. If your partner feels the need for a security blanket -- such as the big six-card diamond suit in the example hand -- then you should not raise regularly on three. Instead, buy partner a good book on card play.

Unquestionably, a majority of players think it is bad per se to arrive at a 4-3 trump contract. I myself think they are a lot of fun. Certainly little harm can come to them at the two-level and many people overlook that a direct raise does not commit the partnership to that suit. This brings us to the second disadvantage of immediate three card raises. You have to be a fairly knowledgeable bidder to use them effectively, because it is essential to know how to extricate yourself from an unsuitable four-three fit at higher levels. If your partner is the type who, upon being raised, will simply add his points and announce the total, you can't afford to raise indiscriminately on three trumps. It does not require much subtlety to deal with the problem, but it helps to know the ropes in advance. If responder has a game-invitational hand with only four cards in the raised major, he must not simply rebid three of that suit. Rather, he must bid either 2NT with a relatively balanced hand and stoppers in the side suits, or three of opener's original suit (non-forcing).

After such a game invitation opener goes back to the major only with four-card support (bidding three with a minimum or four with a maximum). If opener has an unbalanced hand (such as 6-3 in the suits he has bid) and a minimum, he can make a further descriptive bid over 2NT.

These hands were used as the basis of a contest in The Bridge World a few years ago:
A53 Q42
Q962 AK3
Q63 KJT752
A85 7

The problem was to guess how the Editors had bid the hand, with West dealer, and the correct answer was:

Look at the problem opener will face if he does not raise hearts at once. Suppose the bidding goes:

What now? East is under strength for 3NT, and he has a club worry combined with a diamond suit that won't run off the top. If he rebids 3 he will be safe, but then he has never shown his three-card heart support, and West may easily have five hearts.

Suppose East bids 3. If West has a four card heart suit, the partnership will probably be forced into 3NT willy-nilly (East does not know West will be able to avoid rebidding 3NT). If West has five hearts, everything will be all right, but it would have been equally all right after an immediate raise.

Now look at the actual auction. East gave his partner all the options. If West had held five hearts, a heart contract would have been reached once East raised; if West had only four hearts and not so many key cards he would have passed 3 -- best contract again; and if West had a diamond honor and one and a half stops in each black suit, he could have had a bash at 3NT.

It may sound facetious to say that the disadvantages of raising directly on three are that you may not play the dummy well or that your later bidding may not be subtle. But it isn't meant that way. And it does not mean that three-trump raises is a method for better players. Three-trump raises stands on its own because often the player who bid the suit will have five, and then you will gain by knowing early on you have an eight-card fit.

Four-four trump fits take care of themselves -- once the suit is bid there is no way to miss them; five-three trump fits need more careful attention.


In conclusion, don't be afraid to raise on three trumps. Don't live in fear that this will be the time partner has responded on four small and he will hate you forever. Remember that he may have five (or more), he may have four strong ones (often just as good), you can retreat elsewhere if he bids again, and that 4-3 trump contracts are at least as hard to defend as they are to declare.

Of course, you should not always raise with three trumps. I recommend raising 1 to 2 with
Kxx Kxxx xxx Kxx
Qxx Qxx Qxx Qxxx
because you have a true response. But if you decide to keep the bidding open on a doubtful hand such as
xxx Qxx Qxx Qxxx
you should respond 1NT to avoid giving partner any sign of encouragement.

Similarly, if you open 1 with
Kxx Kxx QTx AJ9x
you should, of course, rebid 1NT after a major-suit response.

But I suggest you raise even when you have a strong suit you are tempted to rebid. It is beyond the pale (stylistically) to me, not to raise a 1 response to 2 with
QT9 KJ5 AKT942 4

Those aren't just any three spades, they are the queen, ten, nine. Change the spades to Qxx and I still consider the raise automatic. Many people draw the line at three to an honor, and would not raise with
xxx AQx AKT9xx x
but I think you should. And only far- out bidders would raise with a completely diamond-oriented hand such as
xxx AQx KQJTxx x
and I don't recommend that you raise with this hand (although I would).

With a seven-card suit, however, you should try to make it trumps at a low-level. So with
QT9 Kx AKxxxxx x
you should rebid 2, even though the spades are more than adequate for a raise. Some players do not respond with poor four-card suits, and they have even more reason to raise on three; even if they reach a four-three contract, it will not be too bad. My personal philosophy is to respond on four small and raise on three small and the Devil take the Hindmost.