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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. Acol is perfectly playable with a 15-17 1NT and indeed this was the original style vulnerable. At pickup bridge you will be expected to play 12-14 throughout, Stayman and (commonly) red suit transfers.

Acol summary

Responding to
one of a Suit


Weak No Trump

Opening 2 level:
- Standard Acol
- Benjamin style


Slam Bidding


Play conventions


The weak no trump

This is a great strength of Acol. Played as 12-14 it is about 60% more common than the strong no trump convention and really puts partner in charge of the subsequent auction. Open it whenever you can not vulnerable. Vulnerable it is sensible to pass bad 12 counts especially 4443 or if the points are in short suits.

Don't lose sleep about weak doubletons. Five or even 6-card minors are all right. Opening 1NT on 2=5=3=3 with a poor heart suit may make it difficult for LHO to call spades. However with 5 card spades you are usually better opening our boss suit. See my (popular!) page on 1NT philosophy for more generic thoughts on this area

Having said all this, a minority play weak a strong 1NT, usually 15-17. Furthermore, in 1950's Acol it was 'variable' weak nv and strong vulnerable. To be safe - agree "Acol wnt" with your new partner. If he wants some or all opening no trumps strong - just reverse the meanings of your 1NT opening and rebid. Both ranges work, but 'weak' stresses opps more ...

  • 1NT defaults to 12-14 balanced. As ever: revalue for excess 10's and 9's, or honours well grouped. Downvalue KQ stiff or 4333 shape. Trashy 12's are better passed when vulnerable. I bundle in all sorts of 5332, minor 6322 or even 5422 hands, but some partners won't like this.
  • 2C is always Stayman but doesn't promise a 4cM. If responder rebids at the 2 level then he wants to play there but there is an inference that he has 3 spades
  • Default use for 2D/H/S is to play. So always ask whether red suit (or full transfers) are played at pick-up Acol - it's a common online misunderstanding!
  • If you agree "RST" then 2S is undefined. Commonly in UK it is used as range enquiry: "bid 2NT if minimum or show suits". (I think this agreement is vile, but it is commonplace), or transfer into 3C .. with 3D then to play. Best avoided at pickup!
  • 1NT - 2NT is invitational
  • 3 of a suit defaults to GF, with slam implications
  • 3 of a suit after Stayman is played variously. I'd advise you treat it as forcing, but partner might see things differently!
  • 4C direct at pickup might (naughtily) be Gerber for aces
  • 4NT is invitation Pass if minimum or make ace (0/1/2/3) response if maximum "non-forcing Blackwood"
  • If they double 1NT: default xx is for blood and should set up a forcing pass over 4th's escape. Pass, or call a new suit are "to play"
  • If they overcall: default is lebensohl=off, and your double is penalty.
  • Default defence to 1NT is penalty double. Natural overcalls. Don't forget that you may still have game on over a weak 1NT. For this reason (and competitively) I like to agree simple 2C for majors (Landy) at pickup. A 2NT overcall in EBUland should be a strong 2 suiter.

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