Reverse Bid

The origin of this concept, almost universal in the game of bridge, seems to been lost in the annals of the history of the game. The concept of the reverse bid was not known before the year of 1934, but then a pioneer or pioneers of the game began to employ the bid to show not only strength but also distributional length. However, the rebid of the original opener was always in a higher-ranking suit.

First Publication

The concept was perhaps first described in the publication by the group of bridge players known as The Four Horsemen, namely David Burstine (photograph above), Howard Schenken, Michael T. Gottlieb, and Oswald Jacoby, titled The Four Aces System of Contract Bridge, with an introduction by Harold S. Vanderbilt.

The concept was originally referred to as a Skip Level Bid, which allowed the responder the choice also of making a preference bid if there were no game values possible owing to the distribution and the strength of the combined holdings.

Mr. Ely Culbertson, shortly after the publication by The Four Horsemen of their bidding system, included this concept in his own system and provided the designation of reverse. The explanation of Mr. Ely Culbertson was that the rebid of the original player was in reverse order in a higher-ranking suit and showed not only a certain pattern, but also a certain minimum strength.

This explanation seemed to fit well with his borrowing, in quotation marks, of the concept known as the Principle of Anticipation, which Mr. Ely Culbertson renamed the Principle of Preparedness, which allowed the opener to open a distribution of 4-5 in two suits by bidding the shorter higher-ranking suit first provided the shorter suit held sufficient winning tricks. However, his Principle of Preparedness shows only normal values for an opening bid, whereas the reverse bid shows additional values according to his definition.

The concept was not promoted for some unknown reason. The perhaps first publication, which increased its attention and popularity in the bridge community is attributed to Mr. Eugenio Chiaradia of Italy in the year 1963. Is was only seven years later in 1970 that the translation in English occurred with the assistance of Mr. Monroe Ingberman.

Definition of a Reverse Bid

A reverse bid is an unforced rebid at the level of two or more in a higher ranking suit than that suit bid originally. A reverse bid shows a 5-card suit in the first bid lower-ranking suit and at least a 4-card suit in the second high-ranking suit bid.
The high card point range is generally between 15/16 and 19 high card points.
Note: Some bridge partnerships distinguish between a reverse bid showing a point range between 15-17 points, and a jump reverse bid showing a point range between 18-19 points.
Note: The bridge player should be reminded that there are only six possible reverse bids, which are listed below.

  • 1 club: There are only three possible suits, in which the bidder can reverse, which are Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades. If the responder bids the suit, in which partner plans to rebid, then the partner should first and foremost support the suit of partner.
  • 1 diamond: There are only two possible suits, in which the bidder can reverse, which are Hearts, and Spades.
  • 1 heart: There is only one possible suit, in which the bidder can reverse, which is Spades.
  • 1 spade: A reverse bid is not possible.

Forcing For One Round

The reasoning behind the distribution is that the opener must have enough overall playing strength to commit his partner to the three level. For this reason, the reverse bid is not only forcing for one round on the responder, but it also promises a rebid unless the responder has shown weakness explicitly and naturally at his next turn.

The generally accepted definition of a No Trump distribution is:

1. No void.
2. No singleton.
3. No more than one doubleton.

What are your options if the strength of the holding is that of a No Trump opening, but your distribution is off? How does the bridge player communicate to partner the extent of his strength? With many hands the bridge player can employ the reverse bid to show both strength and distribution. The reverse bid is standard in the Standard America approach and also in the Two Over One System after a first response of 1 No Trump.

  • Opener: The opener has No Trump strength. However, the opener does not have No Trump distribution. The opener has a 5-card suit lower than the 4-card suit. The opener decides to do a reverse bid.
  • Responder: The responder holds a 4-card Major suit and bids up the line.
    Opener: The opener knows partner has 6 plus points. The responder has bid 1 Heart, showing a 4-card Heart suit. If the opener has support for the suit of the responder, then the first obligation is for the opener to show support. Since no fit is present, then the opener can show a minimum of points and a certain 4-5 distribution. The opener makes a reverse bid to communicate this information.
  • Responder: Partner realizes the strength and distribution of opener.
  • Partner sets the contract at: 3 No Trump.

A Reverse Bid is by no means Game Forcing

A reverse bid informs partner only about strength and distribution. As you can see, the possible reverse bids by the opener are as follows. The learning bridge player may be surprised to discover that there are only nine possible bidding sequences, in which a reverse bid can occur.

It must be noted that all reverse bids, either by the opener or by the responder (per partnership agreement), indeed show strong game possibilities, because the combined strength is at least 23 high card points. However, the reverse bid is not game-forcing. A reverse bid is a semi-limited bid and the partner can set the contract according to his own strength and distribution.

A Reverse Bid can be Performed also by the Responder

However, the disadvantage is that there must be a solid partnership understanding since a reverse bid by the responder can also be understood by many partnerships as Fourth Suit Forcing in certain bidding sequences. The values of the responder are agreed to signify the identical range of high card points, without distribution, as that of a reverse bid made by the opener.

As mentioned above, the reverse bid by the responder is, by its nature, ambiguously connected with another conventional bidding method, which should be reviewed once again. It is important that both partners come to a partnership agreement as to the meaning of their rebid of the responder.

Fourth Suit Forcing – A convention in which the bid of the only unbid suit by the responder is forcing for one round and promises a minimum of 10-11 high card points if made at the two level or higher.

It is therefore important to have a partnership agreement as to the meaning of the bid of the fourth suit, especially by the responder. Does the rebid of the responder signify a reverse bid or is the rebid of the responder a fourth suit forcing for one round? This question must be answered before deciding to play.