ESP, or the Rule of Seven

ESP stands for “Expect Seven Points”. It is a great guideline to help you decide what to do, or what to expect from partner, in the face of an opponent’s preemptive 2- or 3-level bid.

Mike Lawrence explains this principle in his article, “Bidding Over Preempts”. You may be able to find this article in pamphlet form or online at Since it is out of print, we summarize it here.

Your LHO opens 2♦, and your partner bids 2♥. RHO passes. Your partner should have a good opening hand (not a minimum) and of course at least five hearts. When he makes this bid, he should expect that you have about seven points, ESP.

Lawrence gives these three hands to consider:

  1. ♠Q8763 ♥62 ♦Q72 ♣T94
  2. ♠873 ♥J43 ♦J3 ♣KQ763
  3. ♠A7543 ♥T94 ♦A7 ♣JT4

Hand 1 has less than the seven points partner expected.

Hand 2 is about what partner expected. Hand 3 has more than partner expected, nine points plus support, so you can add a point for the doubleton to get 10 points.

The Rule of Seven says that you should base your bidding on whether you meet or exceed the expectation that you’ll have seven points.

With #1 you should pass. You’re under expectation. Just hope your partner has extras or the opponents enter the auction.

With #2 you should also pass, but you can expect 2♥ ought to make.

With #3 you should raise to 3♥. If partner is at the top of his bid you have enough for game, and if not you should still be in the “around 23 points” safe zone for the three level.

ESP also works the other way, helping you decide about making an overcall or takeout double.

Suppose your RHO opens 2♥ and you have:

♠KT84 ♥83 ♦AJ8 ♣AQ98

You have a 14 points. If partner has seven you can feel reasonably safe in 2♠, 3♣, or 3♦. You cannot bid 2N without good heart stoppers, and you can’t bid a suit, but you do have the right shape to make a takeout double.

Suppose we change the hand to take away one of the spades and add a diamond. Should you still double? Lawrence says, yes:

“Look at the good things that can happen. Your partner may have a five card Spade suit. He may have four good ones. He may bid Clubs, Diamonds, or Notrump. Perhaps if the opponents compete, your partner can double them.

At the least, your side may be able to push them one trick too high. Look for reasons to bid, not reasons to pass.”