October 2019 English Bridge
Extra length or strength: Making high-level
contracts needs lots of points, or lots of shape. In
a weak no trump system, opening 1® guarantees
either an unbalanced hand, or 15+ points. Either
way, later in the auction, particularly pre-emptive
auctions, you will be better placed to make a
contract. If it starts 1®-(3™)-Dble, opener is
much more likely to be able to make a contract,
as they cannot have a weak no trump. Holding a
weak no trump, it might start 1NT-(3™), and
then responder, knowing what partner has, is
much better placed to pass if game is not on, or
take some action if it is.
I am dismayed by the number of IMPs I have lost
because teammates at the other table have
opened 1® and then not competed because
partner 'obviously has a weak no trump'. If you
are so worried about partner having a weak no
trump, why not play a weak no trump? It saves on
a later guess.
Avoids distortions: If you are considering
emulating many of the better players in the
country by playing a strong no trump, be aware
that you also need to distort many hand-types
into a strong no trump. For example, I saw a
´54 ™AQ63 tA5 ®AQ962
bid 1®-1´-2® (which I would describe as a brave
bid - brave in the sense Sir Humphrey might have
used in Yes Prime Minister all those years ago).
The player was reluctant to force the bidding up
to the three-level by reversing into 2™, and
couldn't rebid 1NT as this was weak. Their
partner patiently explained that 'playing strong
NT, it has to be opened 1NT'. Note the fact there is
no choice here - it just has to be that way.
You get a hand that looks like a club opener, feels
like a club opener, and indeed smells like a club
opener, and for some reason you are not allowed
to open it a club. Playing a weak no trump makes
it easy. You open 1® as your heart tells you to do,
and bid hearts over a 1t or 1™ response, or rebid
1NT after a 1´ response.
WHAT HANDS OPEN 1NT?
Point count: We open some 11 and 15 counts 1NT,
partly for tactical reasons (as it is such a good
pre-emptive manoeuvre), and partly just because
of the value of the hand (for example, hands with
AK and A we would open, as we consider this to
be a good hand). Non-vulnerable we open more
11 counts, but by no means do we routinely open
11 counts. Third in hand we pass more 12 counts
as we are unlikely to miss game, particularly
vulnerable when we might get doubled. My
partner is more likely to open one of a suit third
in hand on a weak no trump than I am. But all
round, we don't obsess about getting doubled,
and we don't worry overly about point count
(good players on the whole are too keen to
upgrade and downgrade, almost to establish their
What shapes: All 4·3·3·3, 4·4·3·2 shapes open 1NT
if within range, and likewise balanced with a 5-
card minor. With a five card major we open the
suit more often than 1NT, and when we do open
1NT it will depend more on the look of the whole
hand rather than simply the quality of the major
suit. With 5·4·2·2 we virtually never open 1NT
with a five card major unless specifically 4·5·2·2
with a no trump look; we are most likely to open
1NT with 2·2·4·5 or 2·4·5·2 shapes, but rarely
open 1NT with 4·2·2·5 shape (these hands simply
open 1® and rebid 1´). With a balanced hand
and a six card minor we also sometimes open
1NT, but not often.
Opening 1NT with a singleton: Rare to almost
never and, if we did, it would most likely be a
1·4·4·4 or 4·4·4·1 shape with a singleton king. My
memory isn't as good as it used to be, but I don't
remember us opening 1NT with a singleton.
Opening light: The weak no trump is undoubtedly
better when non-vulnerable than it is when
vulnerable. Some good players want to be able to
open a balanced 11-count when vulnerable, and
find that it is easier to do so playing a strong no
trump system where they can open 1®.
For this reason people opted for the old
fashioned variable no trump. It has some
theoretical merit but very little practical merit.
You need two systems, the ability to remember
both, and the nous to open the right one at the
right time. This makes it much, much harder.
Even if you never get it wrong, you will go down
in contracts because of the extra strain it has put
Getting doubled: The first time I played a strong
no trump I went for a huge penalty, so this
argument has never held that much sway with
me. Yes, you will sometimes go for a large penalty.
Cont/. . .p25