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Subject: Bridge Bidding for Gamers #2 -- Responding to 1NT Openings rss

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Brian Bankler
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This is the second in a highly irregular series. The first entry is at Bridge Bidding for Gamers -- Lesson #1 :: Which bids are forcing.

A 1NT opening shows 15-17 HCP and balanced (no singletons or voids). Responder (the partner of the opening bidder) can determine if the hand should be in a part score (< 26 HCP between the two hands), game (26+) or slam (33+ if balanced, but distribution affects that a fair amount).

Sometimes you will be borderline between two categories.

Because responder knows right which category the hand is in (signoff, invitational, game, slam invitational, better) responder is the Captain of the auction.

Responder controls whether the auction is forcing.

If you remember, apart from points, the other question is where to play. "Do we have an 8 card major fit?" If responder doesn't have 4 cards in a major, he assumes there isn't one.

So, assuming you have no 4 card major (and a roughly balanced hand), you can simply count points and bid.

0-8 HCP -- Pass. You have at most 25 HCP.

9-10 HCP -- Bid 2NT. This invites opener. The logic is simple. If you had enough to bid game, you'd bid it. If you didn't have enough, you'd pass. So, this bid must invite opener, and make him the Captain again. Opener is expected to pass with a minimum and go with a maximum.

11-15 HCP -- Bid 3NT. You have enough for game and not enough for slam.

(For the sake of completeness 4NT invites opener to bid slam if he is a maximum, so it shows 16-17 HCP. 6NT shows 18-20ish, 5NT invites opener to bid a grand slam if he is a maximum, or bid 6NT if a minimum. There is also an ace-asking bid of 4 Clubs, called Gerber, which I won't explain. Slam auctions will be covered in a later decade at the current rate of writing.)

What if you do have a four card (or longer major). There are two conventions almost universally played.

The first is Stayman -- Conventionally, responder's 2 Clubs (after 1NT) asks opener to show a four card major. Opener bids 2 Diamonds with none, 2 Hearts to show 4 Hearts (sometimes 5) and 2 Spades to show 4 Spades (sometimes 5). There is some debate over what to do with both majors. Pick a way.

Now, let's suppose you have 4 spades, 3 hearts, 2 diamonds and 4 clubs. And the point ranges above. What do you do with
0-8 HCP?
Spoiler (click to reveal)
You pass. You don't want to be in game. Sure, you could bid Stayman and you'd love to pass 2 spades, but what if partner bids 2 Diamonds? When you don't have a game you pass the first reasonable contract and 1NT is reasonable. There may be better contracts, there may not be.

9-10 HCP?
Spoiler (click to reveal)
You bid Stayman. If partner bids 2 Spades, you bid 3 Spades to confirm a spade fit and invite partner back. If he bids anything else, you bid 2NT, indicating you didn't find a major fit and invite. If partner bid 2 Hearts and has 4 spades as well, he'll know you have them, because you didn't just bid 2NT, you bid Stayman first....

11-15 HCP?
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Bid Stayman, but raise 2 Spades to 4 Spades, and bid 3NT after any other response.

As you can see, Stayman helps find your 4-4 fits. But what if you as responder have a five card suit? In the old days, you'd bid it at the two level (if it isn't clubs) to signoff and at the three level to force to game. Now we use Jacoby Transfers.

After 1NT a bid of 2 Diamonds shows 5+ hearts (and nothing else!) and a bid of 2 Hearts shows 5+ spades (and nothing else). Responder may have 0 HCP, 9, 20. Opener is expected to "accept the transfer" and bid the next suit. (Exception below). Responder then continues.

So, let's suppose you have 5 hearts. What do you do if you have:
0-8 HCP?
Spoiler (click to reveal)
You bid 2 Diamonds and pass opener (after he bids 2 hearts). You have 5 hearts, opener has at least two and possible 3 or 4. Two hearts is a reasonable place to play. So play there. Even if opener only has two hearts, your trumps will let opener lead towards his honors.

9-10 HCP?
Spoiler (click to reveal)
You bid 2 Diamonds, and then bid 2NT after opener bids 2 hearts). Just like in Stayman, you are inviting, but you have promised five hearts along the way. Opener can pass with a minimum (and no fit) or bid 3N with a maximum (and no fit). If opener has 3 (or more) hearts he can bid 4H with a maximum and 3H (with a minimum).
11-14 HCP?
[o]Bid 2 Diamonds and then bid 3N after opener bids 2 hearts. This is just like the 1N-3N auction, but you are showing five hearts. Opener will pass or correct to 4 hearts if he has a fit.


If you have a sixth (or more) card in the major, you just transfer and then "raise yourself" to 3 (if invitational) or 4 (if you have game values). A general rule is that bidding a suit (naturally) a second time shows extra length, and this is one of those times.

Opener's one exception is that if he has a maximum and a fit, so that his hand now evaluates to more than 17 HCP, he jumps in the suit (bidding 3 hearts instead of 2, in the above examples). This is done so that if responder was thinking off passing (say, with 7-8 HCP) he can push the game.

Some questions you may have...

But what about minor suit games? Eh, because those are at the five level, don't worry about them yet. They take 29HCP. Unless you are really distributional, 3NT should be reasonable.

Believe it or not, with just Stayman, Jacoby and "2NT is invitational, 3NT is game" you've covered the vast majority of auctions that start with 1NT. You may wonder what 2 Spades means, and all the three level suit bids. If you want to play really seriously, yes, those bids have a meaning, but they don't come up often and not having them defined isn't a huge problem. Certainly not for a start.

But what if I want to play in diamonds? Transfers cost me the ability to bid 2 diamonds to play. Yes, but the ability to finely differentiate invitational hands with 4 card major (versus 5) is worth more in the long run. Pass 1NT and if the opponents compete, you can bid 2 Diamonds and (since you passed) your meaning is clear. Since responder is the captain (unless he passes the decision back) it is amazingly convenient to have a bid where opener must respond, which keeps the auction alive for responder to then state his true intentions.

(Similarly, Stayman is more valuable than bidding clubs naturally).

Stayman and Jacoby bids are forcing, right? Yes, as per the basic rule, you can't pass if there may be a game, and while Responder knows if there isn't a game, opener doesn't (until responder passes). If partner bids stayman, you must answer. If partner transfers, you must take the transfer. (In fact, at some point partner may bid stayman with 4 spades, 4 hearts, 4-5 diamonds, and no points, planning to pass whatever you bid. Wherever you land is likely better than 1NT.... after 1NT openings, responder is captain....)

How do 2NT openings work?
After 2NT openings 3 Clubs is still Stayman and 3 Diamonds and 3 Hearts are Jacoby Transfers, just at a higher level. Since opener promises 20-21 HCP, you can't really invite game, you either have to pass (or transfer and pass) or bid game. But opener's point range is so narrow that if you are an absolute borderline you just bid game and hope.

Stayman? Jacoby? Many bridge conventions are named after the inventor (or popularizer). In these cases, Sam Stayman and Oswald Jacoby.

That's enough for today.

Responding to a 1NT opening is one of the easiest and well defined auctions you can have, because opener has such a narrow range of HCP and shapes. Things get trickier after suit openings...
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Ben Bateson
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Bid 3NT regardless of your hand and blame partner if (s)he doesn't make it. A strong 1NT is practically a forcing transfer to 3NT.
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chris lake
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Obviously, this is only an uncontested auction.

If opponents bid, either before or after the 1NT bid by your partner, there are many more wrinkles.
This is one of the reasons bridge has so much depth, the permutations of what happened, what you have and what to do are seemingly endless, and this is all before you even play a card.

Also assuming a 15-17HCP NT, while extensively popular, this is by no means the only way to play NT.

Bridge can often be a rabbit hole, in that the more you learn, the more there is to learn. There are multiple branching paths off of almost any topic, and therein lies the beauty of the game.
 
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Brian Bankler
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saltis wrote:
Obviously, this is only an uncontested auction.

True. I should have mentioned that.


saltis wrote:

Also assuming a 15-17HCP NT, while extensively popular, this is by no means the only way to play NT.

True again, but If you play a different point range, just adjust the invitational/game forcing/drop dead points appropriately. (If you play a weak NT you could play 2-way stayman, but transfers are also reasonable opposite a weak NT. I would say transfers are better, but it is open to debate).
 
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Eric Brosius
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To me, one of the strengths of Brian's series is this:

Often people say "Bridge bidding is just a bunch of facts you need to learn". But it's not just a bunch of facts; there's a reason it is the way it is. That doesn't mean there aren't some places where it's a close call between one approach and another, but the bidding rules are not just arbitrary. And this series explains things in a way that makes it clear that they aren't arbitrary.

For me it's a lot easier to learn things this way than by memorizing arbitrary facts.
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Rahul Chandra
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Eric Brosius wrote:
Often people say "Bridge bidding is just a bunch of facts you need to learn". But it's not just a bunch of facts; there's a reason it is the way it is. That doesn't mean there aren't some places where it's a close call between one approach and another, but the bidding rules are not just arbitrary. And this series explains things in a way that makes it clear that they aren't arbitrary.

For me it's a lot easier to learn things this way than by memorizing arbitrary facts.


Yes, I often tell my mother or others that I'm helping that there are more bridge auctions than stars in the sky, so they can't memorize them but must understand the logic.

On the topic of 1NT and transfers: how would you interpret 1N-2H; 2S-5N in 2/1? Had that one come up somewhat recently.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
I take it as requesting opener to choose between 6N and 6S, as responder has five spades only. Analogous with other NT bids, but pushes to the next level since bidding 5 doesn't help. Similarly 1N-2H; 2S-6N would be choice of grands.
 
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Brian Bankler
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rchandra wrote:

On the topic of 1NT and transfers: how would you interpret 1N-2H; 2S-5N in 2/1? Had that one come up somewhat recently.

Well, compare 1N-2N; to 1N-2H;2S-2N. The first is invitational. The second is also invitational, but showing 5 Spades (via the transfer). Similarly, by my definition 5N is a Grand Slam Try, small slam force (and shows up roughly once in a never). So, by bridge logic, 1N-2H;2S-5N is a grand slam try/ small slam force showing 5 spades.

Your auction (in the spoiler) of 1N-2H;2S-6N is weird. By my agreement, 6N (as in 1N-6N) is to play, not an offer of a grand. If I wanted to choose between 6N and 6S (or hearts) I would transfer and then make a forcing bid to see if partner supported my suit, then bid either a slam in my suit (if supported) or 6N. But if you play 1N-5N is "pick a slam, small slam only" and 1N-6N is "pick a grand" then transferring before bidding it would work as you say.

1N-4N (or 5N or 6N) are almost always balanced, because with a 5 card suit I typically really want to know partner's support before bidding a slam. Particularly if I'm 5-4-2-2 since its entirely possible that the best slam is in my 4 card suit, so I can rough out my suit to set it up). It's much more common to hear Stayman (and not Jacoby) before the quantitative NT jumps.

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