Opening Strong Hands

A question I'm often asked is, "How good does my hand have to be to open 2♣︎?"

The answer is you need to look at a few things; points of course, but quick tricks, loser count, and playing strength all contribute too. 

I’ve noticed that top players open at the one-level a lot these days, rather than 2♣︎. But when they do open 2♣, it shows a very special hand, strong in points (18+) and playing strength too.  You need aces and kings that will take tricks even if you’re defending.

So, here’s an old-fashioned formula which may help you decide.  (Remember no formula is 100% foolproof!)

Open 2♣︎ when your quick tricks are greater than your loser count.  

Here’s how to count quick tricks and losers.

Quick Tricks                          

AK = 2 quick tricks  

AQ = 1½   

A = 1    

KQx = 1   

Kx = ½


AKxxx =1 loser            

Kxxx = 2       

Qx = 2

AQx = 1

xxxx = 3

The way it works is that you don’t count more than three losers in any suit. Count one loser for each ace, king, or queen that’s missing.  Holding only one card in a suit, count one loser.


Compare these hands, both of which have three losers. Hand (1) has one heart, one diamond, and one club loser. Hand (2) has one heart and two diamond losers.

(1)   ♠ A                          

       ♥ AK10874       

       ♦ AKJ4                         

       ♣ K4                                        

(2)  ♠ void

       ♥ KQJ108765      

       ♦ QJ1097

       ♣ void

The first hand has 5 ½ quick tricks (ªA = one, ©AK = two, ¨AK = two, and §Kx  = ½ ) and 22 high card points.

It has both offensive and defensive potential. Because 5 ½ (quick tricks) is greater than 3 (losers), open 2♣, and show hearts later.

The second hand has only one quick trick (©KQ) and only nine high card points. You could take ten tricks by yourself if allowed to play in hearts, but you have no sure defensive tricks if the opponents compete in spades or clubs. Because ½ a quick trick is less than three losers, open 1♥ or 4♥ rather than 2§, and try to buy the contract at a suitable level.