In view of the fact that in making an opening bid, the player is venturing into unknown territory, it is wise for the player to proceed cautiously, to feel his way; and thus, protected by a network of approach suit-bids of one, the player acts with care until he learns something about the distribution of honor strength held by both his partner and his adversaries.

The Approach Principle

The Approach Principle, as applied to contract, may be stated as follows: Whenever a hand contains a biddable suit, even a shaded four-card Minor, that suit and not No Trump should usually first be bid.

The notrump complex, which suggests that the opening bid on a hand should be No Trump even when the hand contains a biddable suit, is a disease especially prevalent among advanced players. The logical place for No Trump bidding is after information has been exchanged as to suit lengths and distribution. No Trump bids in the early stages crowd the bidding too much and eliminate many valuable suit-bids, while the bid of a suit always leaves the alternative of No Trump without increasing the contract. The use of the Approach Principle does not decrease, but, as a matter of fact, increases the number of safe No Trump contracts undertaken.

Mr. Ely Culbertson’s dislike of indiscriminate No Trump bids stemmed from experience. Too many of his contemporaries carried over from Auction Bridge the phobia, where if the opponents suit held three honors in a suit they might outscore the declarer who made only two-odd or three-odd. Thus they tended to bid 1 No Trump with almost any hand lacking a suit headed by three honors. Hampered by lack of a Stayman convention to 4-4 fit after the No Trump opening, far too often the wrong contract was reached.

The is explained in the publication by Mr. Ely Culbertson printed in the year 1936 and in many reprints. The following picture of the front cover is also a link to the pages in the book, on which Mr. Ely Culbertson explains in written word the Approach Principle.


Quoted Example

In support of the approach idea, Mr. Ely Culbertson quoted the following hands, and the suggested bidding was:

West   East
1   2
3 NT   4

A few years later, most good players – including Culbertsonites – would open with 1 Club, and arrive at the same contract. But in citing this example, Mr. Ely Culbertson was shooting at the flaw of opening a No Trump with more than the desirable strength, as well as the danger of missing the Spade fit.

In the beginning, Mr. Ely Culbertson recommended No Trump on a range of three honor tricks not vulnerable to four-plus honor tricks vulnerable. His zeal for approach principles caused him to limit the bid to 4-3-3-3 distribution with an occasional exception for 4-4-3-2, including a strong doubleton – not less than Qx.

Thus, analysis of the 1937 prototype World Championship reveals that the Culbertson team did not use a single opening bid of 1 No Trump. As methods of responding to 1 No Trump were improved so as to discover suit fits after the No Trump opening, Mr. Ely Culbertson gradually relaxed his restrictions against opening No Trump on hands of the wrong distribution in order to use the bid on more hands of the right high-card strength.

Thus, by the year 1949, 4-4-3-2 and 5-3-3-2 distributions, but not five-card Majors, were officially included in the No Trump family and no longer regarded as exceptions. But while the distributional range was spread, the high-card range was narrowed, standardized at three and one-half to four-plus honor tricks which were later interpreted – by Mr. Ely Culbertson as well as by others – as 16-18 high card points, with even 6-3-2-2 distributions admitted to the No Trump family on hands of proper high-card strength and strong doubletons.

In spite of these changes, over a span of more than thirty years the Culbertson Approach Principle remained, with but little alterations, a basic principle of bidding. A few more hands containing biddable suits were opened with 1 No Trump; the standards for biddable suits in the responder’s hand were shaded down. But it remained standard practice to avoid indiscriminate No trump openings, and especially to avoid responses of 1 No Trump to partner’s suit bid if a response could be given at the one-level in another suit.

The No Trump response may result in a suit fit being missed, and may lead to the weak hand becoming the declarer at No Trump. Many experts play that a response of 1 No Trump to 1 Diamond, for example, absolutely denies holding a four-card Major suit. Others, however, would not choose to respond in a worthless four-card suit. Source: OEB-3E



If you wish to include this feature, or any other feature, of the game of bridge in your partnership agreement, then please make certain that the concept is understood by both partners. Be aware whether or not the feature is alertable or not and whether an announcement should or must be made. Check with the governing body and/or the bridge district and/or the bridge unit prior to the game to establish the guidelines applied. Please include the particular feature on your convention card in order that your opponents are also aware of this feature during the bidding process, since this information must be made known to them according to the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge. We do not always include the procedure regarding Alerts and/or Announcements, since these regulations are changed and revised during time by the governing body. It is our intention only to present the information as concisely and as accurately as possible.


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