There is plenty on the Web about constructive bidding over 1NT and this page focuses on 1NT tactical aspects. It mainly reflects my own experience in a 10-12 and 12-14 environment although the principles discussed are universal.
The 1NT complex is a pivotal battle ground at pairs. Optimum strategy will depend on the strength of your own, or opponents opening, and quite critically on both side's vulnerability.
In North America and the Latin parts of Europe 1NT opening is commonly 15-17 or more whereas Northern Europeans prefer 12-14, or even less. Although it doesn't much affect the tactics, I'll start by looking at these three common styles of no trump opening. Assume that all players' points are mid range and see what that expectation from partner means in terms of tricks. We shall look back to this later
Trick expectations playing various ranges
|seven - if you're lucky!
The key to this paradox is that at match points our true objective is not to make the contract, but merely to score better than other pairs playing our way. Assuming lead issue cancel, and each side make the same tricks ... our -50 against those -90's is just fine, thank you.
Of course it's not quite that simple, and stealing opponent's contract nv is just one route to a good result. -150's aren't that common, but is generally a "coup". Bizarrely even a doubled -500 may be a top if the room is getting 600!
Now that I have experience I quite consciously employ my mini no trump as a preempt, and like it particularly to shut out LHO's spade opening. They have to commence their conversation at the two level and so lose bidding accuracy. I even play it at teams, but only when nv versus vulnerable. Then the occasional minus 500 or 800 is balanced by a vulnerable game and my teammates don't get so upset.
We'll come back to style decisions later, but let's carry this line of logic through. We'll find that a non-vulnerable 1NT contract is nearly always a good bet, curiously only losing out when your opponents are vulnerable but chose to open 1NT, and then go down. Whereas your own undoubled nv 1NT gains most if it fails! Here's the score matrix when nobody doubles
|We declare 1NT nov-vul
|We declare 1NT vulnerable
|Opps. declare 1NT nov-vul
|Opps. declare 1NT vulnerable
Now look a the same matrix when 1NT is doubled. I'll highlight the clear "tops" against undoubled contracts by the other side, and leave blank some sillier results as we are still looking for general principles.
|We declare 1NT nov-vul doubled (recall that -500 may still beat -600's)
|We declare 1NT vulnerable doubled
|Opps. declare 1NT nov-vul doubled
|Opps. declare 1NT vulnerable doubled
As might be expected - the counter to opponents stealing your 1NT contract is a simple double, although we saw above that doubling isn't always necessary when they are vulnerable. 1NTx made is always good and opponents may therefore fail to double if things seem close to them.
all this suggests the following strategy at match points bridge
Of course all this applies equally to 1NT rebids. To take these situations in in order
1. Declare 1NT whenever possible when not vulnerable
Technically you can do slightly better if your trick expectation is 7-8 by
allowing vulnerable opponents to declare 1NT and defeating them. But as you cannot
ordain this happy outcome yourself - let's examine your own strategy. As we have
seen you are always OK when not doubled, and you will preempt their major opening.
The main considerations are frequency, and escaping when you get doubled.
2. Make your own 1NT contract when vulnerable
|Well that's not a difficult concept!. A mini NT is now however a bad bet. The expectation opposite an average dummy is only 20.6 points, and of course you might get doubled. In my view the rational choice is between either a weak or a strong range. In the latter case you can expect at least a couple of honours in dumnmy when you rebid 1NT after opening a suit, with the added safeguard that partner may have raised you. FWIW I've personally chosen strong 1NT vulnerable (14-16 suiting my other system parameters best).
3. When opponents are vulnerable - why not simply defend?
All the hands above count the same 13 points but with a good lead and an entry I'd prefer to pass on the first example and take my chance defending. The two hands to the right are in my view better overcalled. The second hand's thin heart suit are better in offence than defence, and the spade hand has a nice side suit. If we adjust one last parameter and make opponents non-vulnerable would personally overcall the first hand at 'green' and might be tempted at unfavourable vulnerability.
4. When opponents open or rebid 1NT nv - take risks!
This is the really fun part. In ACBL-land famous defences are DONT and Cappelletti. Both
are illegal here as regulations require at least one suit specified.
However I feel these 1/2 suited styles are optimised against strong NT and
prefer the fluidity of Jonathon Cansino's defence against our prevalent UK 12-14 range.
I like a simple and universal 2NT "bid again" opposite all these. The main consideration for partner's advance is opponent's vulnerability. When they are at "green" you may be really quite light. He mustn't punish your courage by raising.
The more both sides are vulnerable, the more likely that you are constructive. You will miss occasional games with this approach, but gain far more often jsut by winkling them out of their comfortable nv 1NT contract.
As in the rest of bridge those major suits are important. Say you are playing natural
defence to their 1NT and overcall a minor. Good opponents a will compete a major, and eventually outbid you.
Your only gain has been to get them out of 1NT - and they may have found a nice major fit.
But if you have major fit - you will win the part score battle and might even reach game.
For this reason most players like a way to show both majors over 1NT. I'd go further and personally always insist on some such convention when playing say pivot teams. If you are timid you may make this a 5-4 shape but I have to say I have generally not come unstuck overcalling to show 4-4 or bettter. When discussing with partner bear the following in mind.
The most common bids used to show both majors are 2 and 2. In the RIPSTRA method both are used, calling "the better minor". I like to play my "both major" overcall as "semi-constructive" at pairs. The other three bids are much more focussed on "getting them out of 1NT" - tending to more constructive as vulnerability (of both sides) increases. However - if you need to bid - you need to bid. Be brave.
4th hand considerations
If all have passed it's simple - only open 1NT if you expect to go plus! That means passing poor 12 counts.
If parner's 1NT woul be mini it's all the easier. However if oponents have got in first with 1NT,
passed round to you there are some inferences to be made.
This first issue to consider is - where are all the points? With enough points to reach 25 opposite partner's maximum most 3rd hands will have made a game try. Assumning a 2 point range for 1NT this means they don't have as much as 23. So assume maximum 22. Add your points and subtract from 40. This is partner's minimum count, unless opps are very devious!
So you are already considering action on hands that you might have passed out last week!
In essence your points don't much matter - partner will have the cards you don't. You just have to follow the principle above - both side's vulnerability matters. The more "nv" that is visible on the board - the more you should take risks. As in all protective decisions you should also count your spades and be careful with shortage. You might merely push opponents into a nice 8 card fit.
The flip side of this coin is that having agreed such a strategy partner must not over-heat with a 12 count merely because you have overcalled. You have already bid his points. Yes - you will miss occasional games, but this is a pairs calculation. He should still consider raising your major with four as the LAW of total trick will protect you. With both sides vulnerable he can safely assume you have value for your bid.
What partner didn't bid ..
Curiously your chosen 2nd hand defence to 1NT will affect your optimum tactics here too.This is due to suit length/frequency considerations.
For example playing Cansino (see above) my partner may already have acted on major or club rich hands, and simulations show typical 4th hands are short in diamonds, mainly because the Cansino 'fix' hand has length in that suit. I therefore keep 2 as both majors ether then "natural"
So consider carefully how own your 1NT defence will affect the 4th hand Common sense suggests you will be short in suits that partner cannot express. My simulations say short by about ¾ card on average.
I've been using 4th hand double to show the Cansino type - ie takeout! I lose the penalty double, but franky this is more useful when I have the lead. I keep this double to "within 2 points of an opening" getting occasional nice +500's when partner has say 13 points. The spade centred Lionel defence allows the same approach and I'm using it now that EBU restractions are relaxed.
5th (passed) hand considerations
|Yes really! Your situation is now conditioned by both partner's inaction,and you own failure to open 4 bids ago. You won't have a weak two for example. In my own methods I never have both majors - as my own partnership would already have have opened this shape as 2 (assumed fit pre-empt). Now for me 2 is best is best played as "natural" (albeit it's not all that common)! Work out what your partnership cannot hold before agreeing your tactics. If you play 5 card weak twos - play 2/ as four card wit ha longer minor. Or maybe 2 as both majors.
2005 changes to doubling in second hand
In UK EBU general regulations had for many years mandated (1NT) second hand's double as penalty!
I understand this was forced on the L&E committee by the good ladies of the Surrey,
but I was properly grateful that my opening lead was not specified too! From April
2005 this has been relaxed in line with general World standards. In most games (level 3) "any defence" will
be permitted. At level 2 (quite basic) a double may be non-penalty, but as such must show a specific suit
of 3 cards if "three suited", otherwise a specific 4 card suit.
What should you double on?
Auctions when they run from 1NTx
In pairs competition "Natural" run outs are uncommon and most pairs have something practiced.
Mysteriously a lot fewer have discussed defence to this defence. Here's what I like
Auctions when your 1NT is doubled
Once you find fit - bid up! Here using "Dig-out" (so called as immediate bids show spades too)
1NT (x) 2* (x) *=diamonds and spades
3! .. openers 1NT had concealed 5 spades!
Note we don't count points at all. I particularly savoured a deal in the UK National Masters where we opened a 10-12 mini (doubled), discovered a 5-5 heart fit, and reached 4 (undoubled!) rapidly, with 4 cold the other way!
Then the auction 1NT (x) 2C* (x) playing Gold Cup against the legendary John Colling's team. My 9+ 1NT included six clubs. So I bounced into 5C, which made doubled (could go off)! Of course they still beat us - that's why John was a legend, and I'm not.
Takeout doubles by your side
Yes, I mean this quite seriously! The takeout double is extremely useful after you have opened
1NT. My own preference is that 1st round double is takeout up to 3
level. Note that this includes opener!
1NT (2) double
1NT (3) double
1NT (2) pass pass
1NT pass pass (2)
All these doubles are takeout. While you lose the immediate penalty double and opener is expected to reopen double with any doubledon holding other than perhaps a minimum that he is ashamed of. You should put such an understanding on your card to protect against "3rd hand hestitated before passing" complaints). The penalty type responder then converts. Once I passed the overcall out with three cards. Partner had been "lurking" with five! We'd missed out on a 4-figure penalty, but got a fine board anyway for their 5-0 fit.
I like to similarly harrass and bully opponents after my Cansino 2 takeouts of their 1NT. We apply our general rule "all doubles are takeout up to 3 level unless we have found fit".
Popular N American actions over strong no trump
Playing in Britain we are used to no trump ranges in the 10-15 spectrum. I hope that I have proven that the
strong no trump convention is basically an insurance against penalties, and so suit takeouts become very important.
A further design constraint in defending such a 1NT is that your points maximum is only 25 - you
don't have to worry too much about missing game! The two most popular gadgets in ACBL territory seem to be
Cappelletti, with the latter
preserving a penalty option:
After the puppet bid overcaller either passes or names his suit. Responder can pass Cappelletti 2 holding weak long clubs and there are. These gadgets are now legal under EBU regulation - level 3 "any defence" is OK.
Defending a mini no trump
|In contrast opponents' mini no trump is designed to make you miss games! At pairs this is isn't so important as the common auction will be a part score scramble. You might choose for your defence to focus on this aspect: playing say a Lionel type double (or DONT), and accepting the odd missed game. However at teams you really must retain a strength showing call, which might as well be double for obvious reasons. If you simply drop your threshold for this to 13 - you should never be out of the auction when holding a combined 25 points
The range of auctions after aggressive 1NT's is incredible. Don't get caught out.
As examples I think you should profitably discuss with regular partners ..
1NT pass 2* 2 *=Stayman
... the meanings of pass, double, Stayman bidder's double
1NT pass 2* (double) *=transfer
... the meanings of pass, 2, three level bids
(1NT) double 2
... the meanings of pass, double, two level bid, 2NT, three level bids
(1NT) double pass* *=forcing
... the meanings of pass, double, two level bid, 2NT, three level bids
(1NT) double redouble* *=puppet into a suit
... the meanings of pass, two level bid, 2NT, three level bids
For what it's worth - I like to always complete transfers with three, and break to the 3 level with 4 trumps. So pass shows two. I play takeout doubles when Stayman is overcalled. Having doubled 1NT I use lebensohl 2NT over majors (double is penalty). However over minors (often psyched), redoubles and forcing pass I expect 4th hand to bid with a poor hand, double with 2-3 cards in a suit and 7+, or pass (forcing 7+). But it's up to you ...
Your partner doubles
The auctions where RHO starts a run-out or makes a forcing pass are pretty complex and depend as much on opponents
methods as yours. Too complex for this page, but I'll consider (1NT) double (natural pass) ...
Vulnerability and scoring method matter now, and with 9+ you must always consider 3NT etc vul/nv at pairs. At IMPs +500 v our game won't upset team mates too much. Do bear in mind that a trick occasionally goes astray when defending -- whereas knowledge of that opening bid is often worth a trick to declarer. So it isn't always a matter of partitioning thirteen
Bad hands? Personally I just sit it without much shape. Running invites a double back, and sometimes partner has a nice suit to lead out .. ... ....
Bad hands and shape? For the reasons above I tend to sit the double with 5332 and only pull with 6. But it's a guess. Definitely worth checking routinely what RHO's bale-out options were to get a feel of what distributions are not possible. Surprising how much you can infer in these brief auctions.
7-baggers sometimes get a 3x bid from me. Partners usually manage to read that as length but few points, and wanting to play only in that strain.
Does this work out at the table?
Correspondent "tcyk" on rec.games bridge took the complete OKbridge.com records for the years 1999-2001
(representing 20,509,662 play records over 311,168 boards - phew)! Averaging all hands opened as 1NT
he found these were associated (in ways not analysed) to generally positive scores. The effect of
opening one of a suit was much less. Here's the average IMP gain seen at teams scoring:
What do we make of these figures? Be careful. You must bear in mind that this was deepest ACBL-land, with about 90% of pairs playing (and used to) a strong no trump. Openings outside a 12-18 points range were rare, and some 90% were in the 15-17 range. Were the rare 8's 9's and 20's psychs, or misclicks? Here the IMP results
There is no allowance for vulnerability, nor information as to quality of player. And it's entirely possible that pairs employing the few mini no trumps were more skilled, or that their good results reflect muddled defence. Nevertheless it seems evident that opening 1NT is generally a good thing.
I'd go further, and say that there's no obvious downside to the lower ranges, and it pays to open 1NT whenever you reasonably can. The relative frequencies of strong: weak: mini are about 1: 2: 2¾. It's up to you!
The scope of this page is about one and two level bidding. There is a lot to be said about the decision to go for game, and amongst experts the fashion is to punt 3NT rather than invite with 2NT when you know that at least 24 HCP are held. They argue that the extra precision is balanced by warning the opp on lead that the game is tight - allowing him to go passive and make you work for those tricks. Of course with an obvious honour combination or 5 card major he won't have that problem - but it seems to work.
This page isn't about hand evaluation. Milton Work's seminal allowances of 4321 was based on actual trick taking calculations in all possible layouts at no trumps. That's why the Work count keeps failing you when there are trumps about. "4321" undervalues aces, but is amazingly useful and has stood the test of time. But don't be its slave (unless you live in ACBLland).
There are twelve counts ... and there are twelve counts. Subtract for that AQ bare, and add value for 4432 shape or a long suit. A 4333 shape is paticularly sterile, and may be painfully so if you use the methods above (which assume you often end in a suit). One nice online essay is Robert Frick's half point adjustment page, particularly clear on utility of queens, jacks and tens. Thomas Andrew's pages on hand evaluation are more mathematical - based on millions of double dummy simulations. He shaves 0.2 points off king and queen - boosting tens to 0.4HCP. He doesn't look at nines at all.
I think the issue is to read such articles and develop your own judgement as to which way to nudge the particular balanced hand facing you at the table. You've got it right when you pass your first "horrid 13 count" (downgraded viciously to a mere 11½) for a top! Good luck
This is all very much what I like to play, together with the logic behind my choices.
If you want more variations then David Stevenson claims to have a complete set of 1NT defences on his site as well as a large number of escapes from 1NT doubled listed on his site. Certainly more than you'd ever need. I can also recommend Tony Melucci's site for further philosophy on preempting 1NT.
www.chrisryall.net/bridge/1nt-complex.htm © Chris Ryall 1987-2008