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Bridge: The UK Acol bidding style

This guide to the Acol style of bidding is meant to reflect what one might expect sitting down with a pickup partner and agreeing to play 'Acol' or 'Benjaminised Acol'.

Unfortunately there is no 'Standard Acol' system and its 4cM Weak 1NT chassis gets much modified. Partnerships may agree light or sound responses to openings bids, but as the openings are more limited than in say SAYC - it is safer to pass a one bid, and 2/1 calls tend to be lighter.

Acol summary

Responding to
one of a Suit


Weak No Trump

Opening 2 level:
- Standard Acol
- Benjamin style


Slam Bidding


Play conventions


Responding to a 1 level opening

  • Bear in mind that partner may be on the light side, but explore for major fit as you would in any system. You should pass on 0-5, and an occasional bad six. Having made a call and heard a simple 2 level rebid you are more likely to pass in Acol than in N American methods
  • Try to express a major at the one level if you can. Remember that opener calls 1H when 4-4 majors. Occasionally with 5 spades, 4 hearts and few values you may have to lie (treat as 4-4) unless strong enough (10+) to bid twice.
  • Direct 1NT denies a bypassed major, and is 8-10 opposite 1C, otherwise 6-9. As in other countries: responder's new suit after bidding 1NT is weak and to play!
  • Passing on up to 6 HCP is safer at Acol, as opener has not called a strong two
  • 2 over 1 is called quite light 9+ or even 8 with a fine suit. 2H always shows five cards Minors can be 4 or even 3 if you can handle the consequences. "Modern" parnerships commonly agree 2/1=10+.
  • 1 any - 2NT is natural (no major again) with good 10 to 12. Try to avoid this call, as you can develop and make it next round
  • 1 any - 3NT is 13-15 balanced. Again better avoided in favour of approach forcing. "Stultifying" - (Terence Reese).
  • 1M - 2M shows about 5-9. Ideally 4 card support, but often called on 3 trumps and a ruffing value. "Support with support". Opener may bid 2NT or 3NT with a good hand and only 4 trumps, and responder should then exercise judgement.
    Trial bids (say 1H - 2H - 3C*) show length 3+ in the strain with at least 2 losers there. Partner is asked for help. He should call game with 2 top honours in the suit or (better) good trumps and an ability to ruff. With a maximum 2 level raise game may still be on, but beware quick losers in the trial suit. Controls elsewhere should then be a consideration. Either partner calling NT in this situation suggests we might have only 7 trumps
  • 1m - 3m is 10-12, always 4 card support. New suit is now a stop - probing 3NT (or advance cue if 3NT later removed)
  • 1M - 3M is 10-12, always 4 card support. New suit now is a cue bid (ace or void by default) suggesting slam
  • 1M - 4C/D are variously played as splinter, cue, 1960's Swiss (sound raise to 4, two aces) or the old-fashioned default of "to play". Opposite pickup I'd assume a splinter, but ideally you should agree this. Splinters in majors and mid auction aren't for pick-up!
  • Strong hands An immediate jump shift (strong jump shift) is traditionally 16+, and you may meet the occasional dinosoar who does this in a shortish suit just to show points. The great majority of Acol players can nowadays be expected to 14+ points and visions of 5 level+, and either an excellent single suit, a fair-good 5 cards and good support for partner.
    Other hands should just bid out their shape naturally. A 3 level new suit, or 4th suit at any stage is forcing. A "responder's reverse" is GF and should always be 5-4. A common route with say 5431 and 3 cards for partner is to bid out your shape, game on the last round. Playing 4 card majors - that clever splinter may not work out too well if the fit is 4-3!
    Be particularly cautious when either partner has made a limit bid. This includes most 1-3NT rebids and simple or 3 level rebids of one's own suit. Some players will now pass returns to previosly bid suits. However in the modern style any move at 3+ level over a limit bid (commonly 2NT) should lead to game, and few good players would pass 3 of a major here. If in doubt use jump, new suit or 4sF for clarity.

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