Valuing Hands in No Trumps
Even in no trumps, other factors apart from high card points come into play. We all count high cards points first, but there's some judgement required in situations like this: You open 1NT (15 - 17) and partner bids 2NT (an invitational raise). Partner is asking you to bid 3NT (game) if you have maximum points, or if you "like" your hand. So with all 17 points, go to 3NT, and with 15 points pass 2NT. But what if you have the middle of the range, 16 points? Should you go to game or settle in a partscore?
Now you need to decide whether you "like" your 16 points or not. Here's a guide: Look first at your shape. For opening 1NT, you will usually hold one of three balanced shapes. (4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2 or 5-3-3-2), so if you have 16 points and the flattest possible shape (4333), don't accept the invitation.
With 4432 or 5332 consider other factors:
- with aces and kings rather than queens and jacks, accept the invitation
- with high cards in your long suits, accept the invitation
- with 10's and 9's thoughout the hand, accept the invitation
- with honours working together, accept the invitation
For example, the hand below on the left, has 16 points, a 4432 distribution, and lots of 10's and 9's, you should accept the invitation. The other hand, on the right, has 16 high card points, a 4432 distribution, but most of the honour cards are in your short suits, you should decline the invitation.
♠ A T ♠ K Q
♥ K 8 6 ♥ A K J
♦ A J T 9 ♦ 8 7 5 4
♣ K J T 7 ♣ Q 5 4 2
Balanced hands occur more than any other shape. A "balanced" hand shouldn't contain any suit longer than five cards, or have more than one doubleton. You don’t need high cards in every suit to call a hand "balanced". The hand below is still balanced, although you'd prefer better hearts.
♠ K J T 6
♥ 8 6
♦ A K J T
♣ K 7 4
Add extra for your long suit too, so a 5332 shape is one length point better than 4432 or 4333. Open 1NT on a hand with 14 high card points and a (good) five-card suit.
What's good about opening 1NT?
- It's not so easy for the opponents to overcall after you start the bidding at1NT, but they can easily come in with 1♥ or 1♠ if you open 1♣ or 1♦. Over 1NT, they have to bid at the two level, and so they need to be stronger.
- 1NT openings are very precise, and responder is usually accurate with later bidding. If you assume opener has 16 points, you're within one point of being correct. (15 - 17).
- If the stronger hand is declarer, it's harder for the defenders to get their act together. 1NT with modern responses allows the stronger hand to declare as often as possible. It doesn't matter when the responder is strong too, but it makes a difference when the weak hand is NOT declarer in their long suit.
After you’ve opened 1NT, responder will decide how high and where to play the hand. For this reason, opener is often called the “describer” and responder the “decider”. If responder’s hand is also balanced, stay in no trumps. If not, bid your long suit, and try to make that suit trumps. After all, partner will have at least two cards in that suit.
Balanced Responses to 1NT
0 – 7 points, pass
8 – 9 points, raise to 2NT, invitational, (1NT p 2NT)
10+ points, raise to 3NT (1NT p 3NT)
0 – 7 points; bid 2 of your long suit (1NT p 2♦/♥/♠) or transfer
8 – 9 points; if playing transfers, show your five+ card suit and bid no trumps (with five), or bid the suit again (with six). (You need transfers to handle this responding range properly.
10+ points, jump to game in your long suit with six+ cards, or to 3 of your suit with five (1NT p 4 ♥/♠ or 1NT p 3 ♥/♠)
Hands to play
After you have played the hand, watch the walkthrough video. Click on the little box icon in the menu to change the video to full screen.
Practise the hand from this lesson's main video here.
Describing Balanced Openings in Standard
12-14 Open 1 of a suit & rebid 1NT (1♣ p 1♥ p 1NT)
15-17 Open 1NT
18-19 Open 1 of a suit & jump to 2NT (1♣ p 1♥ p 2NT)
20-21 Open 2NT
22-24 Open 2♣ (Game Force) and rebid 2NT
25 + Open 2♣ (Game Force) and rebid 3NT
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Test your knowledge
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