The Principle of Bridge Captaincy
Before we begin, let’s regress to a bit of nostalgia. Did you
know the term “Aye-aye” originated with the crew pledging
allegiance and devotion to their captain? It seems the Vikings
were a rough bunch who grabbed prisoners and would vote on
whether or not their captive would be allowed to become a
shipmate - always the best option for the prisoner’s longevity!
Hopefully, the ayes win! If “invited”, the prisoner could then
affirm his oath by pledging to the captain “aye-aye.”
Fortunately, our game of Bridge is more civil. Yet once the
partnership agrees on who is the captain during bidding, it’s
definitely “mutiny on the bounty” when a shipmate tries to take
charge. Okay, let’s get into what this captaincy is all about.
In the beginning there were three types of bids – forcing,
invitational and signoff. As we’ve learned early in our Bridge
career, most bids in a new suit are forcing, sometimes known as
demand bids. Take note that forcing bids do not involve Notrump
calls or bidding a previous suit. Here are a few basic examples:
1C – 1H;
Responder’s strength unlimited (6+ points)
1S – 2C;
Responder’s strength unlimited (10+ points)
1H – 1S;
When opener makes a strong jump shift to the 3C 3 level, the bid
is game-forcing (promising 19+ playing points); after all,
responder’s bid only promises 6 points with a 1 level bid.
1D – 1H;
1S – 2C;
Opener’s 1 level new suit rebid is "almost" forcing, showing up
to 18 points (the opponents are not bidding so it's rare to stop
at the 1 level). When responder wishes to keep the auction
“alive” but not make a draconian bid, bidding the fourth suit is
a convenient way to make a forcing bid. This allows partner the
opportunity to continue the description of the hand.
Invitational bids suggest continued bidding, usually for game,
when partner has extra values not disclosed on a prior bid.
Notice that these bids do use a jump in Notrump or partner’s
1N – 2N;
Our garden variety game invite.
1H – 3H;
Most players prefer to use the jump raise to invite game in
partner’s major suit. Many play a similar treatment in the minor
1D – 2N;
The common treatment for a jump raise from partner’s minor suit
opening to 2 Notrump is invitational. Many years ago folks
played both this bid and the above major suit jump as game
forcing but since responder could simply bid game directly, the
modern treatment is to play these calls as inviting game.
1D – 1H;
Hmm, this time it’s the opener who bid a new suit. When the rank
of the second suit is lower than the first, it is not forcing.
Instead, the second suit shows a two-suited hand (nice
Now let’s consider signoff bids. Generally, a player signs off
1. Bidding partner’s suit at the lowest level
2. Rebidding own suit at the lowest level
3. Bidding Notrump at the lowest level
Let’s checkout some signoff bids. A signoff bid signals that the
partner holds minimum values and does not have an interest in
1H – P;
Opener bids 1 Heart and partner passes, showing less than 6
point – definitely a signoff!
1C – 1N;
Responder bids Notrump, wanting to signoff with 6-10 points.
With 16+ points, opener may invite game with an appropriate
rebid, or directly bid game with 19+ points.
1C – 1S;
Opener rebids original suit, a signoff request with 12-15 points
held by opener. Responder should pass with 6-9 points, invite
game with 10-12 points, or force game with 13+ points.
1D – 1H;
Opener’s Notrump rebid also shows 12-15 points; With a better
hand, opener would have opened with a 1 Notrump bid. The
responder has the same choices here as the prior hand.
1C – 1S;
2C – 2S;
Opener’s 2C rebid is a signoff request, usually with a 6+ card
suit or a 5 card suit with side-suit shortness. Responder
persists bidding 2S, showing a 6+ card suit as well, requesting
1S – 1N;
Responder tried to signoff with 1 Notrump but opener rebids own
suit, also a signoff bid. What’s going on here? Apparently
opener has a decent 6+ card suit and would rather play in
opener’s own suit.
Thus, when either player limits their playing strength by making
the cheapest Notrump or suit rebid, it’s up to partner to place
the contract. As we have seen above, the partner has the
1. With minimum values, pass or rebid own suit with extra
2. With extra values yet not enough to promise game, make an
invitational rebid. Invitational rebids include jump rebidding
at the 3 level in either your suit or partners, rebidding 2
Notrump*, or temporizing by making a bid in a new suit.
3. With game-going values (25+ points for partnership), bid
game. Here’s a situation where a cliché works well – “the one
who knows, goes!”
* A jump rebid of 2 Notrump by opener is almost game forcing,
showing a hand stronger than a 1 Notrump opener.
1D – 1S;
* However a jump rebid by responder is merely invitational,
showing less than a full opener.
1D – 1H;
1S – 2N
Now let’s turn our attention to the “dark side” where a player
ignores the principle of captaincy, perhaps confusing a few
basic tenants. For instance, partner’s signoff bid is a request,
not a mandate. When you have extra strength as captain, you can
still make invitational or forcing rebids. In essence,
invitational bids are a “shared captaincy,” asking partner to
pass with minimum values, or make a forward-going bid with extra
values. A classic example is:
1N – 2N;
While the 1 Notrump opener promises a nice hand, Notrump opening
bids typically limit the hand to a 3 point range (15-17 points
or 16-18 points, depending on partnership agreements). So
responder’s call shows invitational values, asking partner to
rebid 3 Notrump with values near the top end of partner’s range.
Unfortunately, some players either forget or refuse to
relinquish captaincy. At best, such an action does not instill
partnership confidence or trust. Hopefully neither you nor your
partner are guilty of these mutinous bids (opponent bids are in
1H – (P) – 1N - (2S);
– (P) – 3C – (P);
- (3S) – 4H !
After partner opened 1 Heart, responder gave up captaincy
bidding 1 Notrump signoff denying Heart support and showing a
minimum hand (6-9 points for responder). However, when the
opponents entered the auction finding a Spade fit, the responder
ignored the captaincy principle by making a 4 Heart bid.
Certainly the 3 Club bid was reasonable, wanting to compete in
responder’s long suit but the 4 Heart bid was completely
unwarranted. In another situation, a weak argument might be made
about taking a sacrifice with favorable vulnerability, but not
here. Quite possibly the opponents have pushed too high by
bidding 3 Spades, particularly since the opener-responder
probably have half the points in the deck and a suit misfit.
Secondly, responder is under no obligation to “save” the
contract when partner still has another opportunity to bid; see
bids” for details explaining extra strength requirements to
make an option call in the direct seat (when partner still has
an opportunity to bid). Perhaps the opener will bid 4 Clubs or,
better yet, Double the opponents for penalty. Thus, responder’s
4 Heart bid at best shows a misunderstanding of captaincy. Let’s
look a few variations involving the often maligned preempt:
3C – 3N;
When a player makes a preempt bid, they are limiting their hand.
Obviously, they are relinquishing captaincy for partner to place
the contract or guide the ship/bidding in the best direction
based on their hand. So on the first hand, why did the opener
pull responder out of a 3 Notrump contract? The opener has fully
defined their hand – knowing this, responder is at least captain
(if not admiral)! When opener ignores responder’s sound bid and
unknown values, partnership trust suffers – to say nothing about
the quality of the final contract. Note from Ms. Manners: when
your opponents make such unsound bids, try not to smile. Here’s
3C – (P) – P - (3S);
4C ! – (4S) – P – (P);
5C ! – (X)
Have you seen this one before? Hopefully it was the opponents
bidding - you and your partner should refuse to pick up such bad
habits. Again, opener has relinquished captaincy, trusting
partner to steer the contract. Yet apparently opener fell in
love with their hand, pressing onward to 4 Clubs and even 5
Clubs as if captain! This is a real no-no; save such heavy
handed tactics for solo games.
In summary, remember that a player surrenders captaincy by
rebidding either their own or partner’s suit at the lowest
level, or bidding Notrump at the lowest level. After that, it’s
up to partner to guide the ship to a safe harbor and final
contract (excepting shared captaincy).