There is a tried and tested bridge adage: “Bid your own hand not both yours and your partner’s.” The basic idea is that you should generally not try to determine the outcome of the bidding but rather make bids which describe your hand as accurately as possible so that your partner can evaluate the combined partnership assets and bid accordingly.

Consider the following situation:  Your partner opens the bidding with 1 (11-19 points, 5 or more spades) and your right-hand opponent passes. You hold   K 10 7 6  © 10  ¨ A K 10 7  § K 7 6 2. What do you bid?  You clearly have a game in spades even if partner has a minimum opening bid, so do you bid 4 directly? Well, no. Your hand is simply too strong. You are one trick better than a 4 bid which is limited to 10-11 points and could even be made with as little as 6 points in most modern bidding systems if you have 5 spades.  Directly bidding 4 paints an incorrect picture of your hand and will usually “shut out” partner from exploring further even though a slam is a distinct possibility on your hand.

Another option, therefore, is for you to take control of the hand by bidding 4NT, Blackwood, asking for Aces. If partner shows 2 Aces, you bid 6.  But if the bridge gods are having one of their unkind days, partner turns up with  A Q J 3 2 © A 5 2 ¨Q J  § 10 7 3. The §Q lead is covered by dummy’s §K which, of course, loses to the §A. The opponents cash a second club trick to defeat the un-makeable slam. Worse still, partner with   A Q J 3 2 © K Q 2  ¨ Q J  § 10 7 3, shows only one Ace. You sign off the bidding with 5 but even this is too much.  The opponents take 3 tricks off the top - the same two club tricks and the third with ©A.

In the absence of any special tools you have to take the bidding more slowly, starting off with 2 over partner’s 1 opening bid and then, by subsequently bidding clubs, attempt to describe your hand.  Do not despair, however, there is a tool which is up to the task:  You may have noticed that your opponents often list “Splinter Bids” on their bidding convention cards.

Following partner’s opening bid, a triple jump in an outside suit, in the given hand a bid of 4©, is termed a “splinter” and shows a singleton in that suit, 4 cards in each of the other 3 suits, including your partner’s suit, of course,  and 13-16 points.  In addition, the splinter denies an honor card in the suit with the singleton.  A splinter in hearts accurately describes your hand and allows partner to evaluate his.

In the actual board from which the hand in question was taken, my partner held a somewhat unimpressive looking  A Q 5 3 2 © 6 5 2  ¨ Q 4  § A Q 3 but, with no wasted values in the heart suit in either hand, she knew we had a minimum of 27 points out of 30 in spades, diamonds and clubs. She bid 4NT - in our case Roman Key-card Blackwood (RKCB) - and when I showed her an Ace and the K, she confidently bid the small slam in spades.  As predictable, she lost the first trick to a top heart but thereafter had little difficulty bringing home the slam.  She ruffed one of her hearts in dummy and discarded the other on dummy’s high diamond.  The full hand and bidding, with my partner as dealer in the South seat:





 K 10 7 4



© 10



¨ A K 10 9


 J 8

§ K 7 6 2

 9 4

© A Q 9 8 4


© K J 7 3

¨ 3 2


¨ J 8 7 6 5

§ 10 8 5 4  A Q 5 3 2 § J 9


© 6 5 2



¨ Q 4


  § A Q 3  










  4 NT








Please note that the key to partner’s evaluating the slam possibilities was the absence of wasted heart values in her hand.  Contrast this with either of the hands that I gave in the paragraph where I discussed the ill-advised option of bidding 4NT directly over partner’s opener. In either of those hands, replacing the heart honors in partner’s hand with the § A would have led to a makeable slam – the club looser could be discarded on dummy’s long diamonds.

The subject of splinter bids cannot be fully covered in a single article but I would like to encourage readers and their partners to research the subject a little deeper on the internet and add this very useful tool to their bidding armory.

Happy splintering! 

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Alan Caplan

Alan Caplan was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was an active member of Bnei Zion and, subsequently, Habonim following the merger of the two movements. The year after high school ...

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