11. Opening Notrump

If using this chapter as a reference, be sure you’ve read Notation and Nomenclature and review Classifying Your Hand to classify your hand as weak, competitive, invitational, game-going, or slam interest.

When a hand is eligible to open in notrump, we are anxious to do so. As we will see, we will have an entire system devoted to bidding such hands that almost always gets us, if we are not disturbed, to a good contract.

When do you open a hand in notrump? The hand must have:

  • A HCP strength in a specific range:

    • 15-17 to open 1N

    • 20-21 to open 2N

    • With 22-24 we open 2♣ and rebid 2N

    • With 25-27 we open 2♣ and rebid 3N

    • and so on.

  • A shape that is balanced, 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, or 5-3-3-2. Note that that means no voids, no singletons, and at most one doubleton.

What about hands with the right shape but wrong strength? You’ll handle 12-14 point hands with no five-card major by opening a minor and bidding notrump on the second round. For 18-19 point hands you’ll open a suit, and bid 2N on the second round.

Note

You’ll encounter people playing “weak notrumps”, where the range does not include 16, such as (most popularly) 12-14. They open 1N in that range and open a suit then rebid 1N when their hand is a traditional 1N opener. They alert the 1N bid.

As you get more experience, you may find some hands you want to open in notrump despite not being really balanced. These so-called semi-balanced hands have two doubletons.

  • A 5-4-2-2 hand, as long as one of the doubletons is Kx or better.

  • A 6-3-2-2 hand if the long suit is a good minor and both doubletons are Kx or better.

When you open in notrump, you have told your partner your strength within 3 points, and that you have a balanced shape. This means your partner is actually best placed to decide where you are going, because he knows his own hand and a lot about yours, while you know nothing of his yet. For now at least, he’s the Captain.

The responder is going to reply using an extremely well-defined structure, the “system”, which has a high probability of getting you to a good contract. This system is so useful that we try to use it whenever we can:

  1. After we open 1N;

  2. After we make a notrump overcall of the opponent’s opening suit bid;

  3. After we open a strong 2♣ and rebid notrump.

  4. When we open 2N.

The rest of this chapter is devoted to explaining the “system”. You’ll notice it is a very long chapter, because there are a lot of subtleties.

Should you open 1N with a five-card major? Yes. There are a few hands, where the major contains say 9 or 10 of the points, that you might open 1M, but you’ll always struggle to get partner to believe your strength.

About The HCP Range For 1N

When you are more experienced you’ll likely find yourself wanting to upgrade some 14 point hands that contain a good five-card suit and open them 1N. Likewise, you will not open a 17 HCP hand that has such a suit, preferring to open the suit and rebid 2N. When overcalling the opponents, be careful about doing it with 15 HCP hands – you’ll need a five-card or longer suit anyway, and bidding that suit may be preferable.

These decisions involve that more mature hand evaluation sense that I discussed.

How To Choose A Response To 1N

Assume your partner has opened 1N. You, as responder, should:

  • Classify the strength of your hand (weak, competitive, invitational, game forcing, or slam interest). Opposite a 15-17 1N bid, 8 or 9 HCP is invitational, while with 10 HCP you must force to game – you can’t make a bid that opener can pass short of game.

  • See if you have a four-card, five-card, or longer major(s), or not. These cases are each treated differently. We have special rules when 5-4 in the majors.

  • In hands with no majors, note if the hand has a six-card minor. Do not do anything special with a five-card minor.

Generally, a hand whose principal feature is a long minor wants to be in 3N if it is strong enough, unless it is a strong hand that might want to be in a minor slam. This is especially true playing matchpoints.

Responding With No Major Suit Or Long Minor

In responding to your partner’s 1N opener, if you determine that there no major suit or long minor, your actions are determined by your point count alone:

  • With a hand with fewer than 8 HCP, pass.

  • With an invitational hand (8-9 HCP) bid 2N.

  • With a game-going hand (10-15 HCP), bid 3N.

  • With a slam invitational hand (16+-17 HCP) bid 4N.

4N is a quantitative raise. Responder has enough for 6N if the opener is on the top of his bid, a good 16 or 17. If responder is SURE that the partnership has 33 points, this bid is not appropriate.

There are times a bid of 4N is asking your partner about Aces, but not here. A bid of 4N is also quantitative after 2N or 3N openers, or after the opener rebids 1N after a suit opening, or bids 2N after a strong 2♣ opening.

Classically:

  • With 18-19 HCP, bid 6N. We’re sure we have 33 HCP, so we can’t be off two Aces.

  • With 20-21 HCP, Grand Slam Force with 5N. The opener should reply 6N or 7N.

  • With 22 or more HCP, give your partner a thrill with a bid of 7N.

You can ask for Aces with 4♣ (Gerber) in lieu of the direct slam bids, if you are worried about having fast losers in a suit or an opener that upgraded a 14 HCP hand. It doesn’t hurt to be careful.

The 5N bid as Grand Slam Force is the standard but it has been all but replaced by 5N Pick-A-Slam. Whichever you play it applies to a 5N bid over a quantitative 4N bid.

Responding With A Major Suit Or Long Minor

When your hand does have a major suit or a six-card minor suit, you’ll begin with one of the techniques discussed later in this chapter (Stayman, transfers to majors, or Minor Relay). These all force your partner to reply in a certain way.

After he replies, if you bid 4N when it is your next turn, that’s quantitative, not Ace-asking. If he bid a suit because you made him do it, it doesn’t mean you have agreed on a suit. You may have found a fit but he doesn’t know about it yet.

Important

Whenever 4N is quantitative, 4♣ (Gerber) is Ace-asking.

With no other agreement, responses of 4♦, 4♥, 4♠, 5♣, 5♦ are natural, to play, with at least a six-card suit; but see Texas Transfers as an option for getting to 4♥ or 4♠.

We’ll now start digging into those special cases where responder has a four-card or longer major, or a six-card or longer minor.

Stayman Convention

After a 1N opener, 2♣ is an artificial bid called Stayman, promising a four-card major and asking the opener to say if he does or does not have a four (or five) card major. There are three circumstances in which responder bids 2♣ Stayman:

  1. Responder has an exactly four-card major, your hand is not flat, and it has at least invitational values.

  2. Responder has a less than invitational hand with a stiff or void in clubs, and intends to pass whatever response he gets. Ideally responder has a shape like 4=4=5=0 or 4=4=4=1.

  3. Responder’s hand is 5-4 in the majors, any strength. See Garbage Stayman for when it is weak.

The goal of Stayman is to discover if we have a major fit, and at the same time to decide if we have a game or not. We first answer the question about the fit, and then the question about the game.

If you are 5-4 in the majors you also start with 2♣, Stayman, regardless of strength. See Garbage Stayman.

If you have a five-card major and fewer than four in the other major, we use Major Transfers, regardless of strength.

Note

Stayman 2♣ is artificial but not alerted, because it has become common practice. Responder might have no clubs.

Opener Reveals His Major Holdings

After 1N - 2♣, opener must choose one of three replies: 2♦, 2♥, or 2♠.

  • 2♦ no four-card major.

  • 2♥ 4+ hearts, and maybe 4 spades.

  • 2♠ 4+ spades, but denies 4 hearts, or the spades are longer than your hearts.

If opener has four hearts and four spades, he bids 2♥.

Warning

Opener must bid 2♦, 2♥, or 2♠, never anything else. Never 2N.

Responder Indicates Strength and Fit

After the reply to Stayman, responder continues:

  • With a weak hand short in clubs, he passes.

  • With a less than invitational hand that is 5-4 in the majors he bids the five-card suit, Garbage Stayman.

Otherwise he indicates whether a fit has been found, and whether his hand is invitational, game forcing, or has slam interest:

If a fit has been found, responder tells opener the good news: he raises the major suit to the 3-level to invite game, or to the four level to play. Isn’t this a simple game?

If a fit has been found but responder has too good a hand to bid game, bidding three of the other major (3W) shows a power raise (18+ HCP). It is a game force, of course.

For example: 1N - 2♣ - 2♠ - 3♥!(power raise). Now opener should start control bidding. (Control bidding will be discussed later).

With no fit, Responder bids notrump; how many notrump shows responder’s strength:

  • 2N no fit, with an invitational hand.

  • 3N no fit, but enough points for game.

  • Three level bids in a new suit are game forcing and may show interest in a slam.

  • 4N is a quantitative raise denying a fit.

  • 4♣ is plain Gerber, asking opener how many Aces they have.

Note that having checked for a fit, the responder may know the answer but the opener does not know it yet. So, a sequence like 1N - 2♣ - 2♠ - 4N is a quantitative raise, not Ace-asking; and 4♣! is asking for Aces with Gerber and agreeing to the suit.

Opener’s Third Bid

If opener has both majors he first bids 2♥. If responder bids 2N in reply, then there is no heart fit, but opener knows there is a spade fit. Opener should bid spades at the three-level to decline the invitation, and at the four-level to accept it. If responder has bid 3N, opener can switch to 4♠.

Major Transfers

So much for hands with four card majors – but what if you have a five-card major? You may have a fit if opener has three cards in your suit.

Rather than bid our major suit in response to 1N, we bid the suit below it, so that the strong hand then bids the suit first and becomes the declarer if we have a fit in that suit. This is called a transfer, also known as a Jacoby transfer. Opener announces “transfer”. This is worth about three-fourths of a trick on average compared to letting the responder be the declarer. That’s huge!

  • 1N – 2♦ is a transfer to hearts.

    • 2♥ Opener completes (“accepts”) the transfer. Opener might have two cards in the suit, so no fit has been found yet.

    • 3♥ Opener has 4+ hearts and a maximum 1N bid (super-accept)

  • 1N – 2♥ is a transfer to spades.

    • 2♠ completes the transfer.

    • 3♠ Opener has 4+ spades and a maximum 1N bid (super-accept).

Unlike Stayman, responder’s strength is not an issue. A poor hand containing one five-card or longer major, even if it has zero points, must transfer to that suit, since responder’s hand will be worth something with that suit as trumps and little or nothing otherwise.

Note that the weaker your hand is, the more important it is to transfer – to make something out of nothing. Transfer to spades even if your spade holding is ♠65432. Or, not to put too fine a point on it, as Charles Dickens would say, especially if your spade holding is ♠65432.

Warning

Opener must remember that responder has not promised anything yet except five cards in the target suit – not even ONE high-card point.

If you ever find yourself arguing to yourself that your partner probably has some points because he transferred, you’ve fallen in love with your hand again, and you know these affairs end badly.

After a transfer to 2M is accepted, responder bids:

  • Pass with less than invitational values.

  • 2N invitational. Opener can pass, bid 3N, or bid 3M or 4M with 3-card support.

  • 3m a second suit, absolutely game forcing, usually with at least mild slam interest.

  • 3M invitational, 6+ cards in the major. Now we have an 8-card fit for sure. Opener must revalue his hand, but he may then choose to pass.

  • 3N to play, opener can correct to 4M with 3 trumps.

  • 4M to play, 6+ cards in the major.

  • 4♣ Gerber

  • 4N quantitative.

After a super accept, the responder decides on whether to pass or bid game or try for slam. He knows a great deal about opener’s hand.

What about transferring to one major and then bidding the other? That has to be 5-5 or better in the majors since with 5-4 we start with Stayman. We discuss those sequences in the three-level replies section later in this chapter.

Interference

We’ll talk about auctions like 1N (2♠) later. But one thing to know right now is that you cannot transfer on the three level, as in 1N (2♠) 3♦ – not a transfer to hearts.

If opener’s RHO doubles or overcalls Stayman or a transfer bid, responder will take the lead in punishing them since only responder knows how many points he has. Neither Stayman nor a transfer promised any points.

Doubles of artificial bids such as Stayman and transfer bids are always asking for that suit to be led. This is called a lead-directing bid.

To avoid overload for newer learners, I’ve left details for later, but it is part of the Stayman and transfer conventions:

  • When Stayman is Doubled

  • When Our Transfer is Doubled

  • For overcalls opener generally passes. Responder’s double is for penalty.

  • For doubles, opener redoubles for penalty. Otherwise he generally passes. Then responder’s redouble asks for the transfer again.

Garbage Stayman

The term Garbage Stayman is often mistakenly used. A standard part of Stayman is that you can bid 2♣ with a weak hand having a club shortage and three-card or better support in the other suits. You’re willing to pass any reply, including 2♦. Your hand may be garbage, but you’re not bidding Garbage Stayman.

Garbage Stayman refers to bidding weak hands that are 4-4 or better in the majors. The idea is that you can bid Stayman even if you are not willing to pass a 2♦ reply. Playing Garbage Stayman, you now rebid 2♥!(weak, 4-4 in majors) and opener passes or corrects to 2♠.

There is a more complicated version I am not mentioning, so check with partner.

When Responder Is 5-4 In The Majors

If you have five in one major and exactly four in the other, some special bids are available. Here is our scheme to try to find either a 4-4 or 5-3 fit:

  • If your hand is weak, transfer to the five-card suit and pass. This gives your partner no chance to go wrong. But use judgement: with a terrible five-card suit you might try Garbage Stayman.

  • If your hand has five spades and four hearts, invitational or better, bid 2♣ Stayman, and then:

    • If opener shows a major, just raise it. Example: 1N - 2♣ - 2♥ - 3♥ invitational; 1N - 2♣ - 2♥ - 4♥ with a game-forcing hand.

    • If opener answered 2♦, you may still have a 5-3 fit. Bid 2♠ to invite; 3♠ to force to game. See note below.

  • If your hand has four spades and five hearts, invitational or better, a similar scheme does not work. The problem arises after 1N - 2♣ - 2♦, because to bid 2♥ is Garbage Stayman; opener might pass. And you can’t bid 3♥ if you do not have a game-forcing hand; you’re already too high for an invitational hand if partner doesn’t have hearts. So:

    • With an invitational hand 4=5 in the majors, you have to transfer to hearts and then bid 2♠.

    • With a game-forcing hand, use Stayman and if opener bids 2♦, bid 3♥. See note below.

Partners must be on their toes not to pass the game-forcing bids.

The Hand

In The Hand we met these two hands and evaluated them to around 16 and 15 points each:

West           East
♠K862          ♠AQ
♥AKJ95         ♥T632
♦T5            ♦AKQ6
♣KJ            ♣964

East was the dealer, and with 15 HCP and a balanced hand opens 1N. West is 5-4 in the majors so replies 2♣, Stayman. East bids 2♥, her lowest four-card major.

Extra points if you know what West does next: 3♠! which is the power raise for hearts. It agrees that hearts are trump and asks partner to start showing controls. East would then bid 4♦ to show the A♦ but deny the A♣.

With a minimal opening hand West would just have bid 4♥ over 2♥. Note that 1N - 2♣ - 2♥ - 3♥ would agree that hearts are trump but would be just invitational, 8-9 points. That’s why we need the 3♠ bid, agreeing hearts but game forcing at least.

Texas Transfers

Texas Transfers are not standard, but are so common you must be sure you agree on this with your partner. Check the boxes on your convention cards.

If you have a six-card major and a minimum game forcing hand, you can use a Texas Transfer:

  • 1N - 4♦ transfer to hearts (6+, GF)

  • 1N - 4♥ transfer to spades (6+, GF)

Texas Transfers are on over interference. The name Texas for Americans implies “big”: big hats, big toast, big meat, big suit.

You don’t use Texas if:

  • you have an invitational hand; instead you would transfer and then raise to 3M.

  • with mild slam interest; instead transfer and then bid 4M. This sequence shows you must have a six-card suit because you are willing to play 4M even if opener has only two trump. But, you didn’t get to 4M fast with Texas – so the motto, “slow shows” applies; you must have extras. But it is only mild extras; if you have strong slam interest, make a forcing bid such as a 3-level bid of a new suit. That is game forcing, so you’ll get another bid.

Minor Relay

The 2♠!(long minor) response to 1N forces opener to bid 3♣!(forced), which responder can pass or correct to 3♦, to play. This is called a relay.

Opener alerts 2♠, and partner should alert the 3♣ reply because the opener doesn’t necessarily have clubs. Since it is an alert, not an announcement, you do not say “relay to clubs” unless asked.

The Minor Relay is not for five-card minors, and not for invitational or better hands or hands that have a four-card major. Minor relays are to be used only in the case of 6 card suits, and usually only with weak hands. A six-card suit is very powerful opposite a 1N opener, so weak means not close to invitational.

Note

It is incorrect to call 2♠ a “minor suit transfer”. Technically, a transfer is a bid asking partner to bid a suit that you hold for certain; a relay is asking partner to bid a certain suit (usually but not always the next strain up) but that suit isn’t necessarily the suit you have; you are going to reveal that later.

Minor Slam Tries

A Minor Relay can be used as the start of a slam try in a minor. You must have a belief that a minor slam is likely, because otherwise 3N is your goal.

  • 1N - 2♠! - 3♣! – 3♥! slam try in clubs.

  • 1N - 2♠! - 3♣! – 3♠! slam try in diamonds.

You would never be bidding a major after a Minor Relay, because you would have used Stayman or a transfer to that major in the first place. These bids are clearly artificial. The lower bid (hearts) corresponds to a slam try in the lower minor (clubs), and the higher bid (spades) to the higher minor (diamonds).

Three-Level Suit Responses

The standard is that 3-level bids over 1N are natural, showing 6+ cards in the suit, with invitational values. However, there are about as many schemes for the bids from 3♣ to 3♠ as there are bridge players. In Advanced One Notrump Structure I will give you a complete scheme for the bids from 2♠ to 3♠ that replaces the Minor Relay and these three-level natural bids with something more useful.

Between 1N and 2N

If you have 18-19 or more points, do not open 1N, even if your partner is a passed hand. It isn’t going to take much to get you to game, so you don’t want to lie about your strength by limiting it to 17 HCP. A seventeen with a great five card suit should also be treated this way.

  • With a balanced 18-19 points, open a suit and then rebid 2N. This does not deny any major that has been skipped over. For example,

    • 1♦ – 1♥ – 2N shows 18-19 balanced but does not deny holding four spades. The convention New Minor Forcing helps sort out whether the 1♥ bidder here has four or five hearts. It is worth learning.

    • Opening one of a suit and then overcalling 1N when partner passes shows 18-19 points and a stopper. (Double shows the same strength without a stopper.) After the 1N bid, the bids that follow are natural, not the “systems on” bids. In effect, the 1N rebid shows that you didn’t open 1N because your hand is too good.

For example, suppose opener has an 18 point balanced hand with the Ace of Spades, and responder has a 5 point hand with diamonds such as ♠98 ♥J42 ♦KJT93 ♣974

The bidding begins:

1♣ (1♠) P  (P)
1N ( P) 2♦

Systems are off. The bid of 2♦ would be to play, not a transfer to hearts.

Smolen

Smolen is an optional convention, but quite common for advanced intermediates. When partner opens 1N and we have a hand that is 5 - 4 in the majors, game forcing, we begin with Stayman. If opener replies 2♦, denying a four-card major, we now bid the four-card suit, at the three level; this is a puppet that lets the opener declare the 5-3 fit if he has 3 of the long suit.

Summary Charts

These charts are for the standard 15-17 HCP 1N opener. System On means that transfers and the minor relay are on. NMF means they are not, use New Minor Forcing.

Balanced Openings

HCP

Opening Bid

System On?

12-14

1x then 1N

NMF

15-17

1N

Yes

18-19

1m then 2N

NMF

20-21

2N

Yes

22-24

2♣ then 2N

Yes

25-27

2♣ then 3N

Yes

28-30

2♣ then 4N

Yes

Summary of Notrump Raises

The point ranges given here are for a 15-17 1N bid. Over a weak 1N or a 2N opener, make the corresponding adjustment. All these responses deny a four card major and show a balanced hand.

  • 1N - 2N invitational, 8-9 points

  • 1N - 3N to play, 10-15 points

  • 1N - 4♣ Gerber, asking for aces.

  • 1N - 4N quantitative; this shows a balanced hand with a good 16-17 points. Opener bids 6N with a good 16 or 17. Note that 33 points is sometimes not enough for 6N, without a source of tricks.

  • 1N - 6N to play, 18-19

  • 1N - 5N asks for 6N or 7N, 20-21.

  • 1N - 7N to play 22+

If you agree with partner to upgrade good 14 HCP hands to open 1N, then the wise thing to do is asking for Aces on the way to slam.

Summary of Responses to 1N

The columns are the responder’s strength; the rows are his hand shape. In the cells, two bids separated by a plus sign mean, first bid is the reply to 1N, second bid is your next bid.

Slam bids often depend on exactly what you are playing such as Texas Transfers, etc. So we just show the first bid and then a question mark.

Responses to 1N Opener

Shape / Strength

Weak 0-7

Invitational 8-9

Game 10-15

Slam? 16+

Balanced

Pass

2N

3N

4->7N

4-card major

Pass

2♣ + invite

2♣ + game

2♣ + varies

5-card major

T + pass

T + 2N

T + 3N

T + varies

S 5♠ - 4♥

2♥ Garbage

2♠

3♠ gf

S 4♠ - 5♥

T ♥ + Pass

T ♥ + 2♠

T♥ + 3♠

4441 or 4450

2♣ + pass

2♣ + invite

2♣ + game

2♣ + varies

6+ M no Texas

T + pass

T + 3M

T + 4M

T + varies

6+ M w/ Texas

T + pass

T + 3M

Texas T

T + 4M

6+ minor

2♠ R

3m

2♠ R + 3N

2♠ R then 3M

Notes:

  • “+ something” means what you bid next, depending on opener’s rebid.

  • S 5-4 Majors start with Stayman. Table shows responder bid after 2♦ reply.

  • T means transfer to the major M.

  • R is Minor Relay and its slam try followup.

Dealing With Interference Over 1N

The no-trump structure is highly evolved and generally gets you to the right place – so much so, that your opponents will be anxious to get in your way so that you can’t use it. Ron Klinger lamented, “Nobody leaves anyone alone any more.” In a later section we’ll learn some of these evil schemes; meantime, here are the basics of how to deal with interference after you’ve opened 1N.

The treatments for interference with major transfers and Stayman are a standard part of those conventions. Note that in either case responder has promised absolutely no points, so generally responder controls the action.

When 1N is overcalled:

  • Double is for penalty except a double of 2♣ is Stayman.

  • A cue-bid of diamonds, hearts, or spades is Stayman.

  • Bids at the 2-level are less than invitational, natural, to play.

  • Bids at the 3-level are game-forcing, natural.

  • Bidding 2NT is natural, invitational and promises a stopper in their suit.

  • Bidding 3NT is natural, and promises a stopper in their suit.

Note

Many intermediates play stolen bids, instead. See below. The defense played by advanced players is Lebensohl, a somewhat difficult convention.

We’ll talk later about defending against interfering bids that are artificial and show two suits, one of them possibly unknown, in General Defense To Two-Suited Bids.

When a major transfer is doubled or overcalled

A double of an artificial bid is lead-directing. So, opener’s RHO may double to show that he wants a lead of the (artificial) suit that responder just bid. Opener can take advantage to tell responder if he has three or more of responder’s suit. A decided minority of intermediates know the correct bids here.

Let T be the suit of the transfer bid, and let M be the target suit of the transfer. For example, in 1N - 2♦(transfer), T is diamonds, M is hearts.

After 1N - 2T (X):

  • Pass: Opener has 2 cards in M. M is not agreed trump. Subsequently, if the next player passes, a XX by responder transfers again to M.

  • 2M: Agrees M as trump, shows 3+ cards in M.

  • 3M: Agrees M as trump, shows 4+ cards in M, and a maximum opener.

  • XX: Opener has the transfer suit, willing to play in 2T redoubled. Opener should have a positively scary holding in T.

An overcall of a transfer leaves the opener in a bit of a bind because the act of transferring in itself only shows a five card suit; responder could have zero points. So, opener only bids with a great holding in the overcalled suit, or holding a maximum.

Thus after 1N - 2T (2Z):

  • Pass: waiting to hear from partner. Responder can double to show points.

  • X: penalty oriented, a great Z suit.

  • Completing the transfer shows a maximum with four-card support.

Note the theme again: 4N is quantitative any time we have not affirmatively agreed on a suit.

The responder is still Captain, and we’re waiting to hear his opinion.

When Stayman is doubled or overcalled

When Stayman is doubled, opener will answer only if he has a club stopper. Otherwise he passes it around to the responder, who can redouble to ask for Stayman again, or pass for penalty.

When Stayman is overcalled, opener should usually pass and let responder decide to double for penalty or not. I say this on general principles, I’ve never seen it discussed.

Stolen Bids

A system for dealing with overcalls of our 1N opener, popular with intermediates, is called “stolen bids”. I think it is correct to mention it here, even though I don’t like it, as so many of your intermediate partners will think it is standard.

  • 1N (2a) X! means the same as if responder had bid the overcalled suit, up to 2♠. In other words, a double means, “He stole my bid!”. In particular a double of (2♣) is Stayman.

  • Any bid above the overcall has an unchanged meaning. However, bidding NT promises a stopper in the overcalled suit. Example: 1N (2♦) 2♥!(transfer to spades).

  • The three level bids don’t have their special meanings; if a jump, it is a weak bid in the suit, such as 1N - (2♦) - 3♥(preemptive, hearts).

Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is really better than playing everything natural. You’re giving up the chance of a penalty double. Also, when the opponents know this is what you play, as they will at your club, or if they look at your card, they can get away with murder interfering with you, knowing you can’t double them.

The right answer is some form of the Lebensohl convention, which is quite advanced. You’re lucky to find a partner who knows it. People who say they know it and don’t really are legion at the advanced-intermediate level.

Run For Your Life

You also need a system, called a “runout”, when your 1N opener gets doubled for penalty. You’ve played 1N with a yarborough dummy before? You don’t want to go there. Here’s the simplest way out.

After 1N (X) or 1N (Pass) Pass (X) Pass (Pass), responder has the following choices:

  • Pass if you are willing to play 1N doubled (typically a balanced hand with at least competitive values).

  • XX is a relay to clubs, pass or correct. If responder is weak, we’ll be better off in any suit fit. If opener has just two clubs he could bid diamonds instead; assuming he did not open with two doubletons, he has at least three of each of the other suits.

If their double does not show strength, but rather is something like a double for a single-suited hand, responder with a strong hand may pass and wait for the suit to be shown, or just bid normally. Generally delayed action, when you could have taken immediate action, shows strength.

If responder initially passes, and the opponents bid a suit or suits, responder’s double is penalty-oriented.

For a wide variety of runout schemes see Advanced Runouts.

Unusual 2N interference

1N (2N) is a very effective bid showing 5-5 in the minors. Against it, use the General Defense to Two-Suited Bids.

As the defender, you do not bid (1N) - 2N to show you have a notrump opener too – you double for penalty. That’s why 2N is free to have a special meaning.

Three-Level Interference

  • 1N (3a) 3N to play, suit stopped

  • 1N (3a) 4M to play

  • 1N (3a) X takeout double or penalty, partnership agreement.

  • 1N (3a) 3y is game forcing

What Partner May Want

Partners may come with their own ideas. Here are some that you could agree to play in good conscience:

  • 1N - 3♣ and 3♦ as showing 5-5 in the minors (invitational and game-forcing respectively).

  • 1N - 3♥ and 3♠ showing 5-5 in the majors, similarly. See note below.

  • 1N - 3♣ as a game forcing bid asking if you have a five-card major. There are two forms of this, Five Card Stayman, preferred, and Puppet Stayman, a convention normally played over 2N. Actually, Five Card Stayman is what you want to play.

  • Stolen Bids. This is ok, but a dead end. Learn Lebensohl eventually.

  • Alternate Advanced Runouts.

Note that you don’t really need special bids for 5-5 in the majors:

  • With a sub-invitational hand, transfer to your best suit and then pass.

  • With an invitational hand, transfer to hearts and then bid 2♠.

  • With a game-forcing hand transfer to spades and then bid 4♥.

  • With slam interest, transfer to spades and then bid 3♥.