Rule of 17

By Larry CohenLarry Cohen

Courtesy of

Earlier we debunked the Rule of 7. What about the Rule of 17?

When partner opens 2 or 2, add your HCP to your number of trumps (partner’s suit). If the total is less than 17, there is no game. If the total is 17 or more, you can explore game. (If it is really high, you might just bid game or slam.)

For example:  K 2  Q 5 4  A Q J 8 7  K 3 2.
Partner opens 2. You have 15 HCP + 2 spades = 17. You should look for game.*

Another example:    K Q 9 8  A Q 9 8  K J 4 2.
Partner opens 2. You have 15 HCP + 1 spade = 16. You should pass 2.

Do I like this rule? Not really. It is a crude guideline which might have appeal for new players. But, as usual, I prefer thinking and judgment. What is partner’s preempting style? Was he vulnerable?   Was he in second seat?   Consider this hand:

K Q 2  A Q J 8 7 5  6 5 4.
Partner opens 2. You have 12 HCP + 3 spades = 15. The “Rule of 17” says no game.
Nonsense. If partner opened a vulnerable 2  (especially in second position), I would just bid 4. It would be laydown opposite as little as: 
A J 10 8 6 5  K 2  8 6 2  7 3
and that is surely a dead minimum for second seat unfavorable. It would have play opposite as little as:
A J 10 8 7 3  10 4 2  6 2  8 2
(a hand I wouldn’t even open vulnerable).

On the other hand, here is a ‘17’ (really 17+1 = 18) where I wouldn’t look for game:
K Q 4 2  K Q 8 7  A Q J 4.
If partner dealt at favorable vulnerability and opened 2, I would pass and hope for the best. (I’d really like to make a takeout double, but they don’t allow that.) My partner’s white on red 2 is likely to look like:
K J 8 7 6 2  8 5  6 2  K 8 2. If you put the two hands together, you’ll be hoping you can make 2  (and don’t even think about notrump).

I haven’t even mentioned IMPS versus Matchpoints. When vulnerable at IMPs, you try harder to bid games. Form of scoring, position, vulnerability and partner’s style all are factors.

Summary: The  Rule of 17  is a guideline – -no more. I don’t recommend that experienced players use it.

*The way to look for game is to respond 2NT. This asks partner not only for a  Feature, but if he is minimum or maximum. He should show a feature only with a maximum. If he is minimum, he should repeat his suit (and you will usually give up on game). If he is ‘medium’ he must decide which way to go.