The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders  (September 2006)

5.  They are not slaves to their systems.  (Part 7)

Everyone’s bidding system includes unwritten rules about the meanings of common calls. These include principles we learned as beginners, plus other guidelines that are so widely accepted they rarely require discussion.

Many of these guidelines center on what constitutes an acceptable notrump opening bid. Years ago, it was considered risky – even foolish -- to open 1NT or 2NT with an unstopped suit or a five-card major. The more modern view is that a notrump opening offers so many advantages that it pays to loosen your definition of the hands that qualify.

These changes in the “conventional wisdom” about notrump openings have made it a topic that warrants partnership discussion. Here are some problem hands for 15-17 notrump openers and solutions you may want to adopt:

KQ5  AJ742   AQ6   93

Open 1NT.  Some experts advocate opening 1NT with virtually any 5-3-3-2 hand in your range. Others prefer the major unless the hand is otherwise “perfect” for notrump. It can be argued that this one isn’t because of the unstopped club suit, but that’s a minor flaw when you consider your rebid problems after opening 1H. 

This hand isn’t strong enough to raise a 1NT response, and you have no way to describe it if partner responds 1S. Over a forcing 1NT, you can rebid 2D, but if partner takes a preference to 2H, you have a poor suit for playing a 5-2 fit.

KQ6   A9   1085   AKJ107

1C, planning to rebid 2NT. This hand is so much better than a typical 1NT opener that it deserves an upgrade. The strong five-card suit and outside quick tricks will make this 17-point hand play like 18 or 19, so plan to bid it that way.

K94   AQ7   KQJ106   A10

2NT.  Sticklers for point-count would open 1D and rebid 2NT. For the same reasons as above, though, this is more powerful than most hands of 18-19 points, so call it 20 and bid accordingly.

AQ   K10  A962  QJ863

1NT. The alternative is opening 1C and rebidding 2D over partner’s major-suit response. Your hand is dead minimum (some would say sub-minimum) for this action, but the main problem is that it steers partner away from notrump, which is your most likely game. When you reverse, partner sees a 5-4 pattern with values concentrated in your suits, usually with a singleton outside. That’s not the message you want to send when your short suits are 2-2 and contain more than half your points.

AQ   A1082   KJ1094   K7

1D. This is the appropriate strength and suit quality for a reverse, but it’s still a notrump hand, and it’s more powerful than most 1NT openers. If partner responds 1S, rebid 2NT to show your strength and balanced pattern in one bid. This still allows you to find a heart fit, and it avoids the vagaries of the 2H reverse, which can lead to a more difficult auction.

A106  KQ  Q5   KQ8543

1NT. This is in the range for opening 1C and rebidding 3C, but your suit is weaker than partner will expect. The jump rebid also suggests outside shortness, which makes it difficult for partner to bid notrump unless he has stoppers in all other suits.

Note that the doubleton queen is not necessarily a liability. If partner holds the ace or king, it may be important for your hand to declare, so you’ll want to bid notrump before partner does.

A95   A643   KQ1054   K

1NT. “Never open 1NT with a singleton.” We’ve all heard it a million times, but there are still some hands that scream for you to break that rule. This is one of them. The hand’s overall strength and honor location are wrong for a reverse rebid, which means you’ll have an impossible problem if you open 1D and partner responds 1Sor 1NT.

If you’re still worried about the singleton, consider that partner is unlikely to insist on a club contract, and your king may serve as a stopper even if dummy has no club honors. All these advantages make 1NT such an attractive – even obvious -- opening bid that you shouldn’t even have to invoke the old “I had a diamond in with my clubs” excuse afterwards.

Next:  More flexible approaches for notrump rebids

©  2006  Karen Walker