Breakin’ the Rules: Defending on the 1-level by Joshua Donn

Joshua Donn

Breakin’ the Rules:  Joshua Donn discusses various situations where an expert might decide to deviate from the  «normal» action and break the rules, for BridgeWinners

“Advanced players know the rules.

Experts know when to break the rules.” – Anonymous

For years, I have heard player after player make some comment like “I had to balance – I couldn’t let them play on the 1-level!” And for years it has made me cringe a little. It’s time to dispel that bit of nonsense. It’s perfectly fine to defend on the 1-level if that’s what your hand tells you to do. It’s not just the chance that the opponents may have missed a game. Often they are simply not in their best strain. And even if they are in a good contract, you may be putting your side at risk by entering the auction on the wrong type of hand. The opponents may have a choice between collecting a penalty, or bidding one more when they are likely to make it anyway.

There are several situations where I see too many players reluctant to defend on the 1-level. There will be some overlap with past topics I have covered, but I will also introduce some new ideas. The sections will be broken down by the type of auction, with shorthand notation as follows: 1X means 1 of any suit. 1X – (P) – 1Y means 1 of any suit followed by a response of 1 of a different suit. X and Y never refer to notrump. With that out of the way, let’s look at some auctions where players often feel obligated to balance.

1X – (1Y) – P – (P)


This is the most common auction that leads to poor reopening actions. While you would like to reopen in case partner has a penalty pass of the overcalled suit, several things may go wrong if you do so with the wrong shape and not enough values to compensate. For example, let’s suppose you hold:

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