Captain of the Auction.

By Badderzboy (Steve Kitching)


In bidding there are three phases to the auction,


The description phase

The information gathering phase

The final bid


The Description Phase


While bidding we are conducting a conversation with our partner and effectively trying  to describe our hand in both strength and distribution.


As soon as one of the partners has described his hand to a tight range of points and distribution, then the other partner is responsible for asking more questions and then selecting the final contract i.e. the Captain of the auction! 

The Captain of the auction can be either opener or responder depending on the auction itself.


We all do it but probably don't realise it and the non-captain should allow their partner to decide on the contract and not over-rule! as you have told your partner what you have and he knows what he's got!


The opening bid is always descriptive but may also be the final descriptive bid! 


1C - describes a hand with 3+ clubs and 11-19+ pts

1H - describes a hand with 5+ hearts and 11-19+ pts

2C - describes a strong hand, game-force or 23+ pts

2H - describes a weak hand with 6 hearts and 6-10 pts

1NT - describes a balanced hand with 15-17 pts in SAYC

2NT - describes a balanced hand with 20-22 pts in SAYC


Which of the above are the final descriptive bid and which aren't?


The first three aren't the final descriptive bid as we don't know the shape and point count of partners hand but the last three are – Partner has told us what they have got and so it's up to us to find out what we need to know and set the contract !


Also you shouldn't ask a question until one of the partnership has tightly defined their shape and points!


A good example of this is the auction 1H - 4NT is normally a poor bid because we don't know partner's shape or strength, another bid allows partner to finish describing his hand and then we can get excited!


The information gathering phase (Sayc based)


As soon as the descriptive phase is finished, the final placement of the contract lies in the hand of the Captain!

It’s now up to the Captain to either ask a question or set the contract! So how do we ask a question – we bid again 1- 2(end of description phase by responder this time 3+ hearts 6-9 pts say playing simple raises ), opener is now the captain, what questions can he ask?


The normal questions asked are you minimum/maximum in your range, do you have any Aces!, do you have a stopper in x,

The important thing here is to answer partner’s question and not try to describe other things about your hand!

An example of the opener being the Captain is the simple raise,

1- 2


2 - describes responders hand as 3+ hearts and 6-9 pts so,

·        Pass – sets the contract   

·        3 - Are you minimum or maximum i.e bid 4 with a good weak raise?

·        4 - Sets the contract

·        3♣ - Do you have less than 3 losers in clubs (suit trial bid)

·        4NT – have you any aces (or Keycard ask)?


 It can be a little more complex but not much as most descriptive bids complete after responder’s first bid or opener’s rebid

The sequence shows the descriptive phase completed by opener’s rebid,

1♣ - 1- 2♦-?

 Opener has described his hand as 5+ clubs (as not balanced else he would bid 1NT), 4+ diamonds, no 4 card major and a weak opening hand 11-14!


It’s now up to responder to either ask a question or set the contract! Responder may ask a question – do you have a stopper in hearts and so on or even ace asking!

1♣ - 1- 2NT

Opener has described his hand as balanced and 17-18 pts with 4+ clubs and no 4 card major and so responder again is the captain


As a general rule, once NT is bid the other partner is the captain (unless 3NT is bid as the final contract)

If you think about it every bid after a 1NT opener is asking a question or forcing a bid which will then generate a question!

So after, 1NT

2♣ - Stayman – Have you a four card major? – each subsequent bid is a question from partner

1NT - 2♣ - 2- …    



·        2NT – is a question have you a maximum if so bid 3NT

·        3-I have 5 spades and 4 hearts, do you have 3 spades?  If so bid 4 spades, otherwise bid 3NT

·        4NT is a question are you minimum / maximum  bid 6NT with a maximum or pass and so on …


1NT - 2- 2

            2is a forced bid to 2and then Partner either sets the contract or asks a question!

·        Pass – Sets the contract

·        2NT – I have 5 Hearts and 8ish pts – the question is do you 3 hearts and are you minimum / maximum pls bid either 3♥, 3NT,4or pass.

·        3 - I have 6+ hearts and 8ish pts the question is are you minimum / maximum so pls bid 4or pass.


In the last two bids, although the 1NT opener will set the contract, he is doing so under partner’s instruction.


The final bid!


When the captain has asked the relevant questions, the contract is set by the captain either by offering a choice or by PASS!


1NT - 2♣ - 2- …     

·        2NT sets the contract at either 2NT or 3NT

·        3♠ sets the contract at 3NT or 4♠

·        4NT sets the contract at either 4NT or 6NT


1NT - 2- 2

            2is a forced bid to 2and then Partner either sets the contract or asks a question!

·        Pass – Sets the contract

·        2NT sets the contract at 2NT, 3, 3NT, 4♥ or pass.

·        3 sets the contract at 4or pass.


In conclusion, the benefit of thinking this way actually helps in the bidding as you know when to start asking questions and who should set the contract. I’m sure we’ve all overridden our partner’s final decision to our detriment!


During the next time you play, think who the Captain of the Auction is



Steve said :-  This document was a topic of the very first bridge lecture I ever attended. I found the subject very useful and have seen many fellow BILlies fall foul of theory !  It does help when bidding!


Note:  The System referred to is SAYC   (the hand shape/points do not ,for example, apply in Acol )