Opening Notrump

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
    • 25-27 to open 3N
  • 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.

You notice that you could have a hand 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 with no five-card major, you’ll open a minor, and jump in notrump on the second round. And for stronger hands, you’ll start with 2♣, the strong opening.

Conversely, there are hands that have the right number of points but with the points scattered among all the suits. 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 or higher in no-trump.

The rest of this chapter is devoted to explaining the “system”.

How To Choose A Response To 1N

There is a lot of “system” to learn, but the rewards are great. Assume your partner has opened 1N – we’ll modify things a bit later for those other three cases.

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). These are each treated differently. We also 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 try to show 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 is nothing of interest in your hand, meaning no major suit or long minor, your actions are determined by your point count alone:

  • With a hand less 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. Subtracting from 33, we see that this means responder has 16 or 17. If responder is SURE that the partnership has 33 points, this bid is not appropriate. The only responses to this bid are pass or 6N.

    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.

  • With 18-19 HCP, bid 6N.

  • 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.

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.

Principal: 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, asking the opener to say if he does or does not have a four (or five) card major. There are two circumstances in which you can bid 2♣:

  1. You have a four card major, your hand is not flat, and it has at least invitational values.
  2. You have a weak hand with a stiff or void in clubs, and intend to pass whatever response you get. Ideally you have a shape like 4=4=5=0 or 4=4=4=1.

If you have a four card major and a longer minor, and you are at least invitational, use Stayman.

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.

Note

2♣ is not alerted, because it has become common practice.

  1. Opener Reveals His Major Holdings

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

    • 2♦ no four-card major.
    • 2♥ 4+ hearts, and maybe 4 spades.
    • 2♠ 4+ spades, but denies 4 hearts.

Warning

Opener must bid 2♦, 2♥, or 2♠, never anything else. Note that if opener has four hearts and four spades, he bids 2♥. 2N is not a choice!

  1. Responder Indicates Strength and Fit

    If responder has bid Stayman with that weak hand short in clubs, he passes. Otherwise he indicates whether a fit has been found, and whether his hand is invitational only, or actually 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 the four level to play. Isn’t this a simple game?

    If a fit has not been found, either because the opener has no major or he has shown the “wrong” major, a fit is not yet totally ruled out; opener might have both majors or responder might be 5-4. Now the dance gets a little complicated, but you won’t get confused if you focus on what you know for sure so far. Let’s ignore the 5-4 responder case for a moment; we’ll get back to it later. Responder bids no-trump to show no fit; how many notrump shows responder’s strength:

    • 2N no fit, with an invitational hand.
    • 3N no fit, but enough points for game.

    With a strong hand interested in slam, you may use Stayman to check for a major fit and then go back to the one of the quantitative raises discussed above or other bids.

    Note that having checked for a fit, you have not agreed to a suit yet. So, a sequence like 1N - 2♣ - 2♠ - 4N is still a quantitative raise; and 4♣ instead is still asking for Aces with Gerber and agreeing to the suit.

  2. 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 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 will 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 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, 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, your 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, 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.

Note

Bidding 4N after a major transfer is perilous with unknown partners. The standard says 4N is quantitative. Less experienced players sometimes think it is Ace-asking by mistake. It isn’t’; no agreement on a suit has occurred.

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.

When the 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 must take advantage to tell responder if he has three or more of responder’s suit.

In my experience 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. 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 the 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 pd. Partner can double to show points.
  • X: penalty oriented, a great Z suit.
  • Completing the transfer shows a maximum with four-card support.

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

Interference before transfers

We’ll talk about auctions like 1N (2♠) later. But one thing to know right now is that you don’t just transfer on the three level, as in 1N (2♠) 3♦ – not a transfer to hearts. I know, you have a friend that plays it that way. Get a new friend.

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. You should add these to your repertoire as soon as you are comfortable with transfers and Stayman. The goal is to find either a 4-4 fit or a 5-3 fit.

If you find you have both a 5-3 fit and a 4-4 fit, you want the 4-4 fit to be trump. You can often use the 5-3 side suit to discard a loser. If you run into a 4-1 trump split, it is often effective just to draw three rounds and then play the 5-3 suit until the opponent trumps in.

Warning

If your hand is sub-invitational you can’t use Stayman unless you are willing to pass whatever bid opener makes (2♦/♥/♠). With a shape such as 5=4=2=2 you’ll use a transfer to your five-card suit and then pass. (But see Garbage Stayman below for an alternative).

If your hand is 5-4 in the majors, bid 2♣ Stayman, and then:

  • If opener shows a major, just raise it. Example: 1N - 2♣ - 2♥ - 3♥ invitational; 1N - 2♣ - 2♥ - 4♥ with an opening hand.
  • If opener answered 2♦, you may still have a 5-3 fit. Bid your five card suit at the 2-level to invite; at the 3-level to force game. (That’s the standard, but Garbage Stayman, described below, is more common).
  • If the opener has replied 2♠ and you have five hearts and four spades, you can bid 3♥ as game forcing instead of raising to four spades, to show some slam interest and your shape. Note that spades is going to be trump.
  • If the opener has replied 2♥ likewise 3♠ is game forcing, showing five spades and four hearts, and some slam interest. Note you’re going to play with hearts as trump.
  • That leaves 2♠ over 2♥ as an “impossible” bid – so it is a strong slam try. This leaves room for the opener to raise spades if the spade fit is the one he prefers. (Impossible because with a merely invitational hand 5=4, responder would just bid 3♥ to invite; and with a game-forcing hand, can bid 3♠ to show his shape and force to game.

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 four-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 an agreement about bidding weak hands that are 5-4 or 5-5 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, 5-4 in majors) and opener passes or corrects to 2♠. You gain the ability to bid 2♣ with bad hands more often; you lose the ability to use Stayman to show an invitational hand with four spades and five hearts.

The sequence that changes is:

1N - 2♣ - 2♦ - 2♥!(weak hand 5-4 / 5-5 in majors)

Texas Transfers

Texas Transfers are not standard, but are very common. You must be sure you agree on this with your partner. Check the box 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 transfers.

You don’t use Texas if:

  • you have an invitational hand; instead you would transfer and then raise to 3M.
  • you have 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. If you make a 3-level bid of a new suit after a transfer it is game forcing, so that is sometimes an alternative.

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.

Note

Many people call 2♠ a “minor suit transfer”, but that is incorrect. 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.

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. Minor relays are to be used only in the case of 6 card suits, and usually only with weak hands. A long suit is very powerful opposite a 1N opener, so weak means really weak, not sort-of weak.

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 a transfer to that major in the first place. Therefore, 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 show 6+ cards in the suit, with invitational values.

However, many people play other schemes, such as:

  • 3-level bids are for showing two-suited hands.

    • 1N – 3♣! 5-5 minors, invitational
    • 1N - 3♦! 5-5 minors, game forcing
    • 1N - 3♥! 5-5 majors, invitational
    • 1N - 3♠! 5-5 majors, game forcing
  • 1N - 3♣ or 3♦ are invitational six-card suits, but 1N - 3♥! or 3♠! show a stiff or void in the bid suit, 5-4 or better in the minors, and slam interest.

  • 3♣! is game-forcing Puppet Stayman, an advanced version of Stayman.

Why have so many choices developed here? It is because there are other ways to show a six-carded suit with some values.

  • There is no real need for 3♥ or 3♠ to be invitational showing six cards; you can show that hand by transferring and then bidding 3 or 4 of the major.
  • You can distinguish a game-going six card major from one with slam interest by playing Texas transfers, in which case the transfer-and-then-bid-game sequence shows slam interest.

Playing standard, if you have 5-5 in the majors, do this:

  • 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♥.

Be advised, a casual intermediate partner may not know these sequences.

Bidding Six-Card Minors

It is worth repeating: when your partner opens 1N and you have a five-card minor suit, just ignore it in deciding your initial response. A minor suit is only mentioned if it is at least six cards. A six-card suit opposite a 1N opener is usually quite powerful, so do not be too quick to call your hand weak; a lot depends on the texture of the suit.

We have the Minor Relay if our hand is weak. If our hand is invitational, what we do depends on what choice we made about the 3-level suit responses. If we have an invitational one-suited 3m bid, there is no problem. If we do not, we can use Stayman, even without a four-card major:

1N - 2♣ - 2x - 3♣!/♦! (may not have a four-card major)

If for some reason you don’t play Minor Relay, you can use this sequence for the weak hands. That’s the standard, actually, but it is so unusual in practice that I had to look it up.

My Recommendations For 1N - 3x

  • With a weak hand and a six card minor, use a Minor Relay (1N - 2♠!(relay to 3♣ pass or correct)).

  • With an invitational hand in a minor, use 1N - 3m. See Three-Level Suit Responses.

  • With a game-going hand with a minor, use Stayman followed by 3m.

  • With slam interest in a minor, a tricky part of Minor Relay is using 1N - 2♠! followed by 3♥!(clubs, slam interest) or 3♠!(diamonds, slam interest).

    Your basic decision is whether to go past 3N; once you do, you’re going to really hope you can bid the slam because 5m is usually a bad outcome if 3N is making. So this technique has the virtue of letting opener call it off with 3N or 5m depending on his hand; or he can cue-bid or ask for Aces.

  • Use 3♥ as 5-5 in the majors, invitational

  • Use 3♠ as 5-5 in the majors, game-forcing

  • Once you know Puppet Stayman, use 1N - 3♣! as Puppet when you have at least 3 cards in each major and a game-going hand. Resort to Stayman and then 3♣ to invite in clubs.

Balanced Openings Above 1N

If you have 18 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.

Between 1N and 2N

  • With a balanced 18-19 points, no good five-card major, open a minor 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 rebidding 1N when partner passes shows 18-19 points. After the 1N bid, the bids that follow are natural, not the “systems on” bids.

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.

Opening 2N

  • A 2N opener shows a balanced hand with 20-21 points. It may contain a five card major. A reply of 3♣ is Stayman, 3♦! / 3♥! are transfers, and 3♠ is a Minor Relay (unless you agree on something else).
  • With 22-24 points, a balanced 2♣ opener rebids 2N; respond to that 2N bid exactly as if the opener had opened 2N except that he has 1-3 more points. So, for example, 2♣ - 2♦(waiting bid) - 2N - 3♦ is a transfer to hearts.

With game-going values and a four card or longer major, responder bids 3♣, Stayman. Responses are analogous to regular Stayman. This insures finding a fit a with four card major, if he has one. Other bids at the 3-level or 4-level are transfers except 4♣, which is Gerber. 4N is quantitative, asking opener to bid 6N if at the top of his bid.

Consider learning Puppet Stayman to find fits to opener’s five-card majors.

Opening 3N and Higher

The standard meaning of a 3N opener is a 25-27 point hand, but this bid is redundant, because we can open 2♣ first and then bid 3N. Therefore it is better to use a 3N opening for something else. For one idea, see Gambling 3N Opening.

Stayman and transfers would be on if 3N is the strong, balanced opener.

Summary Charts

These charts are for the standard 15-17 HCP 1N opener.

Balanced Openings
HCP Bid Systems On
15-17 1N Yes
18-19 1m then 2N NMF
20-21 2N Yes
22-24 2C then 2N Yes
25-27 2C then 3N Yes
28-30 2C then 4N Yes

Note

Using the 2♣ opener first, 3N and 4N can be used for other things. In the absence of an agreement, though, 3N is 25-27 and 4N is 28-30.

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 often 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+

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. A “+ invite” or “+game” means to make the appropriate invitational bid depending on opener’s rebid.

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.

T means transfer to the long(er) major M.

R is Minor Relay.

Standard 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♣ first
5-card major T + pass T + 2N T + 3N T + ?
5-4 majors M=5 carder* T + pass 2♣ then 2M or raise 2♣ then 3M or game 2♣ - 2♦ - 2♠
4441 or 4450 2♣ + pass 2♣ + invite 2♣ + game 2♣ + ?
6-card major T + pass T + 3M T + 4M T + ?
w/Texas T + pass T + 3M Texas T + 4M
6-4 majors T + pass T + 3M T + 4M T + ?
6+ minor R 3m 2♣ then 3m R + 3♥ / 3♠

(*) This line changes if 2♥ is Garbage Stayman

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.

Systems On, Stolen Bids

The standard treatment is that all bids are natural.

The more popular system is called “stolen bids”.

  • 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).

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 the DONT X 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.

There is also a school of thought that says to play your runout even if the double is conventional; if responder’s hand is not strong, the other opponent’s may be. This is especially tenable with the more elaborate runout schemes.

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

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