1NT Openers

1NT Openers and Responses

1NT Openers

Opening 1NT shows a balanced hand with 12-14 points.

We will look at this in more detail below, but first lets see why you would want to open 1NT.

Why Open 1NT?

The first advantage is that you can describe your hand quite specifically for your partner. They will know within a small range both your point count and hand shape. This will mean that they should be in a good position to judge the level of the final contract, although some more inquiry might be necessary.

The second advantage of opening a weak no trump is that it makes life harder for the opposition. If the opponents wish to overcall, then they must do so at the two level which requires a slightly better hand. It also removes the possibility of a take-out double, leaving the opposition with only a penalty double available.

What Counts as Balanced?

So we know the basic definition of a weak no trump opening hand – twelve to fourteen points and a balanced shape. But what does this mean exactly? For a hand to be balanced there are certain features that it must not have.

A balanced hand must not have –

  • A five card major suit (hearts and spades)
  • A singleton (one card) in any suit
  • More than one doubleton (two cards in a suit)

The acceptable shapes for a no trump hand are;

  • 4,3,3,3
  • 3,3,5,2
  • 2,3,4,4

Here each number represents the number of cards in a suit. For example, in the first you may have four spades, and three each of hearts, diamonds and clubs. As long as the pattern holds it doesn’t matter which suits correspond to which numbers, with the exception that you must not have a five card major.

These hands would all open 1NT

Announcing

When you open 1NT your partner should announce the point range to the table. So, when you place your 1NT bidding card on the table partner should say ‘twelve to fourteen’. This is also true when your partner opens 1NT – you should announce the points.

If you are playing online then opposition may ask you for the point range via whatever platform you are using.

Responding to 1NT

If partner opens 1NT then you have several options for a response – 

Priority 1 – If you have a 4 or 5 card major suit then use stayman or transfers as appropriate

Priority 2 – Raise partner in NT if you have the points

Priority 3 – If you cannot show a major or raise NT then pass

Red Suit Transfers

When partner opens 1NT, your first priority should be to look at your holding in the major suits. If you have a five or more card major then your first move should be to execute a transfer, regardless of your point count. What this means is that you instruct partner to bid the suit you have five in.

Remember that when partner opens 1NT they must have at least 2 cards in your suit, or they would not have a balanced hand. So if you have a 5 card suit then you know you have at least 7 between you. You are usually safer playing in a 5-2 misfit than in 1NT with too few points.

The way we transfer is to bid the suit below the major we have.

So if partner opens 1NT and you have a 5 card major then – 

  • 2♦ tells partner to bid 2
  • 2♥ tells partner to bid 2♠

Note that these bids TELL partner their next bid. They must complete the transfer no matter the content of their hand.

If you have fewer than 12 points then you will pass once the transfer is complete.

On this hand North has opened 1NT. South has 7 points and a 5 card heart suit. They should respond 2, telling partner to bid 2. South knows that they cannot have game points and so should just pass 2.

If you have a hand with a good 11 or more points then you will continue bidding after the transfer.

You have already shown partner that you have a 5 card suit by transferring. You should not repeat the suit unless you have a 6 card suit. If you do have a 6 card suit then you should bid your suit at the 3 level if you have 11 or 12 points, and jump to game if you have 13+.

On this hand North has opened 1NT. South has a six card heart suit so the first step is to transfer into hearts. 

Once the transfer is complete South should bid straight to game. They know that they must have at least 25 points and an 8 card fit so no reason to hesitate.

If you only have a 5 card major then your next bid will be in NT, and show your point count. Bidding 2NT shows 11 or 12 points. 3NT show 13+. If you rebid in NT then you leave the choice of final contract to partner. If they have 3 cards in your suit then they can raise to game in the major. If they only have 2 cards in your suit they can pass and play in 3NT.

On this hand North has opened 1NT. South has a six card heart suit so the first step is to transfer into hearts. 

Once the transfer is complete South should bid 3NT. North already knows that South has a 5 card heart suit due to the transfer. Souths only job now then is to show their points. Bidding 3NT will show a hand with 5 hearts and game points.

North can then choose the final contract. With 3 hearts they should choose 4 hearts.

Stayman

If partner has opened 1NT and you only have a four card major in your hand then you can use Stayman. Stayman is a way of asking partner whether or not they also have a four card major. It doesnt matter whether you have 4 hearts or 4 spades, your use of Stayman will be the same.

The way we use Stayman is to bid 2♣ in response to 1NT. 2♣ here does not say anything about the length of your club suit, it is a conventional bid asking for majors. It also does not say anything about the quality of your suit, only that you have four cards in it.

Stayman should only be used if you have enough points for interest in game i.e. 11+.

North opens 1NT. South has more than 11 points and a four card heart suit. The perfect opportunity to bid 2♣, Stayman.

If you are the hand that opened 1NT then you need to answer partners enquiry. If you have a four card major, bid it naturally – 2♠ or 2. If you do not have a four card major then bid 2. This is an artificial bid, it says nothing about diamonds, just that you dont have a 4 card major.

If you bid Stayman and partner agrees your suit then you need to show your points by raising in the suit. A 3 level bid shows 11 or 12 points. A 4 level bid shows 13+.

North opens 1NT. South bids Stayman.

North has a 4 card heart suit and so should respond 2 hearts.

South then knows that they have a heart fit and enough points for game and so will bid 4 hearts.

If you bid Stayman and partner does not agree your suit then you need to show your points by bidding again in NT. 2NT shows 11 or 12 points. 3NT shows 13+.

North opens 1NT. South bids Stayman.

North has no 4 card major and so bids 2 diamonds negatively. South now knows that they have no major fit and so should bid 3NT as they have enough points for game.

Why Do We Transfer?

The reason we use these conventions is to ease the bidding process. Remember that 1NT also has pre-emptive value. It forces opps to bid at the 2 level. The downside of this is that it also forces partner to bid at the 2 level. Without conventions to deal with this life can get tricky!

Imagine partner opens 1NT and you have five spades. Without using transfers you would have to show this by bidding 2 spades. This then leaves the opener in a pickle. They have no idea how many points you have in your hand. With no support they may be able to bid 2NT, but what if they also have spades? If they show this by bidding 3 spades then they may have already gone too high if you have a very weak hand. If they pass then you are going to be left to play in 2 even if you are strong. Maybe you would bid 3 spades as a first response? This is likely to be too high if partner is minimum with 2 spades!

By using transfers these over 1NT the control stays with RESPONDER. Remember that opener has described their hand quite specifically when they open 1NT. Better that the decision making is left to responder, who has the best idea what is going on. 

Some people have the idea that transfers are used to stop the strong hand from going down on the table. This is not right. When you open 1NT partner may have fewer points than you, but they might mave more! Transfers are just to allow you to bid accurately after partner opens 1NT.

Raising No Trumps

If partner opens 1NT and you have no major to investigate then you should raise in NT if you have sufficient points. 

  • 2NT shows 11 or 12
  • 3NT shows 13+
  • 6NT shows 21+

If you bid 2NT then this is invitational to game. If partner has 12 or a bad 13 they will pass. If they have a good 13 or 14 they will bid 3NT. (See below for a guide on good and bad hands!)

Passing (and Minors)

If partner opens 1NT and you have fewer than 11 points and no 5 card major then you should just pass.

If you have a long minor suit, do not worry about showing it. It is often useful to have a long minor suit opposite a balanced hand in a NT contract. It gives you a chance of establishing tricks with a long suit.

Since it only takes 9 tricks to make a NT contract, but 11 to make a minor contract, it is better to be in NT if you can.

North opens 1NT. 

South has no major to investigate and fewer than 11 points. Even with a very long diamond suit it is better to pass and hope that partner can establish some tricks in the diamonds using club and heart entries.

What makes a good or bad NT hand?

There will be times when your point count is not enough to guide your bidding and you will have to decide whether your hand is good or bad for its range.

The most common situation where this will arise is when you open 1NT and partner bids 2NT invitationally. If you have 13 points you need to decide if it is a good or a bad 13.

So what exactly makes a NT hand good or bad?

A good NT hand will have-

-sequences of honours 

-10s and 9s 

-a long minor suit

A bad NT hand will have-

-points scattered (or all in aces)

-a very balanced shape

-no middling cards

North opens 1NT. 

South has no major to investigate and so should bid 2NT to show 11 or 12 points.

North has a flat (bad) 13 so will pass and play in 2NT.