We'll begin with weak two and three level opening bids. Remember, this indicates that the opener has 6-12 points and a very long suit. Because the opening bid is limiting, partner will not bid again unless forced to, if he values his life. (You'd be surprised at how many partners don't.) Facing an opening weak bid, it's rarely a bad move to pass. Partner has promised length in the proposed trump suit, and passing the bid leaves it below the game level, so a seven-card fit is probably enough. Any power you have opposite a weak opener is just icing on the cake. However, there are two situations where bidding is recommended. One is rather simple. If you have at least three cards in partner's suit and 6-12 points of your own, you can raise your partner's bid one level. (This works better for raising 2 to 3 than 3 to 4... 3 to 4 should be closer to 12 points.) This indicates an extremely good trump fit with some side support, and serves the purpose of further obstructing the opponents' bidding - after all, now you KNOW that they have the majority of the power. They know it too, but are they willing to start bidding at the 3 or 4 level when they may not have the power to make the bid they finally settle on? A raise of partner's suit is a closeout bid, so your partner won't bid again, unless, as I said before, he doesn't value his life. Or maybe he lied the first time around and has more power than he let on, or likes his distribution that much. Either way, you're free to kill him. Start training a new partner in the meantime.
The other situation is if you have a very strong hand (we usually use 16 HCP as a benchmark, but anything 13 and up is worth considering). With enough power, you can take control of the auction and try to find a suitable game contract. If you have all three other suits covered, you can bid 3NT as a closeout - but be careful, because having a void in a no trump contract is very weak, and if you can't get to your partner's hand, you may not be able to take advantage of your own power. If possible, you can also bid 2NT as an invitation to 3NT if partner is in the 10-12 point range. The key to a successful no trump contract will be setting up partner's long suit. Once the opponents run out of it, you can cash the rest of them as long as you've got an entry to partner's hand. No trump games over pre-empts aren't very common, though. A more advisable tactic is to bid your own best suit, preferably something with 5 or more cards. A change of suit response to a pre-empt is forcing for one round, so partner MUST bid again. In most cases, partner will simply bid his own suit again at the next level, but if partner has another four-card suit, he'll bid that.
With that information in mind, it's time to re-evaluate the worth of your hand. Remember that, for opening bid considerations, you can count extra points for very long suits. Once you have a trump fit, though, it's short suits that are the real prizes. As long as your hand has at least three trump, you can count one point for a side suit doubleton, three for a singleton, and five for a void. (Different partnerships use different counts... I usually just approximate anyway.) After all, missing the ace of clubs isn't a problem if you have no clubs and can play a trump to the club lead. (We call that "ruffing".) And if partner has a six-card suit and a four-card suit, he's short in the other suits. Still, bid pessimistically and be prepared to leave partner's response of his original suit alone if you don't think you can make game. An eight-card trump fit where you have two and your partner has six is better than having four each. But your partner will only bid as long as you continue to make forcing bids, and after the first bid you make, that's usually it. The only exception, and this applies to any auction, is if you have two biddable suits in your hand. Bid the better suit first, then bid the weaker one. Your partner will choose, based on your preference and the cards he has, which of your two suits makes the better trump suit, or whether his own suit is better than either, and will bid accordingly. For example, suppose that my partner opens 2H and I have S A-K-x-x H x D K-Q-x-x-x C Q-x-x. I might bid 3D, forcing my partner to bid again. When partner rebids 3H, I can bid 3S to indicate my two strong suits. If partner has clubs stopped as well as hearts, he might bid 3NT, but he's most likely to leave the bid at 3S or bid 4D, if his diamonds are at least as good as his spades. If he's got seven hearts headed by honors (enough that his heart suit can stand alone even if I have none), he can bid 4H. We've got a play for it. Replace that club suit with A-Q-x and I'd bid 3NT, taking a slight gamble that I think is worth the risk. (If we're vulnerable, I might bid 2NT instead and let my partner decide whether to go for game or not. When you're vulnerable, you don't want to take as many risks.)
Now let's consider the opposite, when partner's opening bid is as strong as it gets: the opening strong 2C. The strong 2C, remember, means 22 points and not necessarily a good club suit. It's a conventional bid, which means it's forcing. You have to respond, even if you've got nothing but garbage in your hand. With less than 6 points, there's no need to think - your response is 2D. That's just the conventional negative response, and says nothing about your diamond holding. Partner will name a contract in response, and you'd probably best accept his choice - you've got nothing more to say. If you have 6 or more points, then bid your best suit at the lowest available level - 2H or 2S, 3C or 3D, or 2NT if you've got a balanced hand. Any of those bids is forcing to 3NT, so you and your partner will spend a few rounds bidding suits back and forth to find a trump fit. At this point, the bidding becomes more a matter of interpretation than rules. Don't bid a suit with fewer than four cards, and don't bid a suit more than once unless you have more power in it than you've indicated already unless you have absolutely nothing else to bid and you can't bid no trump. (A "rebiddable" suit generally means that you have five cards.) If your partner bids a suit you can support, raise that suit. This part of the auction needs to be felt out, so you'll probably need to pick it up by bidding in many auctions and taking note of what works and what doesn't. The good news is that the last opening bid we haven't discussed, the one of a suit opener, ends up in the same place, bidding suits back and forth to find a fit. So you'll get plenty of practice at it.
So let's talk about the most common opening bids. If your partner opens one of a suit, then you can assess your hand into one of three categories: 0-5 HCP, 6-12, or 13+. If you've got less than 6 points, you should probably pass. You can fudge a little bit if partner opened a minor suit, particularly if the opponents are vulnerable and/or you're not. With 6-12 points, you should bid. If your partner's suit is a major and you have at least three of that suit, raise your partner's bid one level. To raise partner's minor suit opener, you need at least five (because partner may only have three), and NO four-card major. Otherwise, if you have a four-card suit you can bid at the one level, bid it. Prefer hearts over spades and spades over diamonds. (You're shooting for a major suit contract if possible, remember, so if your partner bids a minor suit, you're looking for him to have four cards in a major suit. That's why you bid a major instead of diamonds if possible. If you have both majors, bid hearts first to allow your partner to bid spades if he has them.) If you can't bid a four-card suit at the one level and you can't raise your partner's suit, then your bid depends on your point count and distribution. If you have at least ten points, you can bid a four-card suit at the two level. With 6-9 points and no one-level bid, or the unusual distribution of four cards in partner's minor suit and three of everything else, bid 1NT. (1NT is a strong opening bid, but a weak response bid. It promises 6-9 points and no four-card suit that could be bid at the one level.) With 13 or more points, you have an opening hand of your own. If you recall from the discussion of the no trump opener, you can jump shift to indicate 13+ points. Bid your four-card suit at one level higher than the minimum required - so if your partner opened 1D and you want to jump shift in hearts, bid 2H. If your partner opened 1H and you need to jump shift into diamonds, that's 3D. If you've got a balanced hand, or coverage of all suits but your partner's, you can jump shift to 2NT. Any jump shift bid is forcing to 3NT, because it shows that your combined hands have at least 26 points. So, to summarize:
When partner opens 1 of a suit:
With 0-5 points, pass.
With 6-9 points, raise partner's suit with an eight-card fit, or bid a four-card suit at the one level, or bid 1NT if neither of the other conditions applies.
With 10-12 points, bid a 4-card suit at the lowest possible level.
With 13 or more points, jump shift to a four-card suit or 2NT.
There are a few bids I didn't describe there, but most of them are unusual. A jump raise is common, but there are two schools of thought as to what it means. Some people use a jump raise as a limiting bid, indicating good support for partner's suit (probably a 9-card fit) but less than 13 points. It's halfway between invitation and closeout. If partner's strong, he can raise to game, but if not, he'll leave it at 3. The other possibility, which is the one I use, is that the jump raise indicates 13 or more points as well as an 8 or 9-card fit in partner's suit. So it's like a jump shift to the same suit. Make sure you and your partner agree on which meaning you want to use before you start bidding. The jump shift is always unambiguous. Other possible bids are leaps right to game, usually used for majors, although 3NT is possible. That's a definite closeout indicating that your hand has distributional power in partner's suit and little else of value. For example, if my partner opens 1S and I have S A-x-x-x-x H K-Q-x D x C x-x, I'd jump right to 4S. If partner bids 1H and I have S A-K-x-x H x D K-x-x-x C K-x-x-x, I might jump right to 3NT, although 2NT is probably the better bid there.
If you're lucky enough to have a fit in partner's suit, the first bids will be 1X and 2X. Partner may pass that if he's weak, but you'll usually hear either an invitational 3X (raise to 4 if you're closer to 12 points than 6, pass otherwise) or a jump straight to 4X (that's invitational in a minor, but a game closeout in a major). If partner bids a different suit, then he's just describing his hand to you, and he wants you to describe yours. Bid the lowest possible suit (skipping the fewest bids) for which you have either four cards or an ace, or no cards at all. Bidding a suit based purely on having a stopper (ace or void) is called cue-bidding, and it's a signal to partner that he doesn't have to worry about that suit. It's possible to cue-bid your way up to a slam rather than using Blackwood to determine how many aces you have... it's much better to know which aces they are. But even most cue-bidding sequences end at game, and when one partner or the other bids the trump suit again, that's usually a closeout bid, saying that partner doesn't think you have enough for slam. Pay attention to suits your partner skips over when cue-bidding... make sure you have those suits covered yourself. Also, be receptive to a no trump contract - many hands with 8-card minor suit fits are more profitably played in no trump.
If you don't have a fit, you'll bid four-card suits back and forth until one of you supports a suit that the other has bid or you end in no trump. The golden rule here is that ANY BID OF A NEW SUIT IS FORCING! NEVER, EVER, EVER pass a bid of a new suit. Even if all you can do is bid your own suit again, keep the bidding open for one more round. Here's a common pattern: Opener bids suit A. Responder bids suit B. Opener bids suit C. Responder bids B again. Opener bids the better of A and C based on his own holding. Responder now chooses between A and C, or B, as the best trump suit, and bids his preference, passing or raising if the current bid is the right suit. You need to be conscious of both number and suit when bidding this way... determine your HCP total as well as the trump fit, so you know whether to raise to game or leave a partscore.
Whew! That's pretty complex stuff. Those auctions, you'll need to learn by doing. The good news is that that's pretty much all I have to say about unopposed bidding. I won't confuse you at this point with conventions that we don't use, although there are a few you can use as variations of what I've taught you if you prefer them. I find that this system works pretty well in general. In our next lesson, we'll let the opponents speak and discuss what happens when they bid and how it will affect your auction. We'll also learn what happens when you're the one trying to cut in on your opponents' bidding. Bridge is a game that pits partners against partners, and we'll learn all about it next time!
I'm sure there will be questions this time. Ask away... I'm willing to give examples if you need them. After one more lesson, we should be ready to hit the cards in a virtual Bridge game, if we can schedule 2 or 3 people in with me, but I'll deal the cards for now and give you exercises if you want to practice.