I am always sorry for players who shy away from playing notrump – not just because the rewards are greater for tricks in notrump, but also because I am a normal, lazy bridge player.
When I can tell virtually the whole story of my hand with one bid, I’m delighted. And that’s what an opening notrump bid does. Partner knows within very narrow limits what my hand is like. There are two other benefits: Partner has to make all the decisions and I almost always get to be declarer. What’s not to like?
The same can be said when I open in a suit and my first rebid is in notrump. I’ve defined and limited my hand and partner has to make all subsequent decisions. He may ask me a question with a raise or a bid like new-minor forcing, but my answers are based on quantity of points or cards in a particular suit. I don’t have to make any decisions. Like I said – a normal, lazy bridge player’s dream.
Partner knows I usually have no more than one doubleton and that I don’t have a singleton. While ACBL regulations do not permit an agreement that we open 1NT with a singleton, it’s not the Laws that keep me honest, but rather the desire to cooperate as a partnership. Sure, I might have two doubletons on rare occasions, but they wouldn’t both be in the majors – again, so partner can reasonably visualize what’s in my hand. Would I open 1NT with a singleton? I guess I can’t say never, but I am in my sixth decade of playing bridge, and it hasn’t happened yet.
When I do decide to push the envelope, I remember the advice given by one of my favorite partners: Don’t vary from what partner expects in two ways on the same hand. So, if I had two doubletons, I’d have stoppers in all four suits. If I held:
♠6 2 ♥K Q 7 ♦A 8 ♣A K 9 6 4 2,
I’d just open 1♣. I have two doubletons and one of them is unstopped. Too much variation from what partner expects. And if I held:
♠A Q ♥K 6 ♦A 8 4 ♣K 9 7 5 4 2,
I’d still open 1♣. While I have all suits stopped, now I have doubletons in both majors. But I’d be sighing; 1NT does look like the best bid. So what if I gave in to temptation and opened 1NT? Would the bridge police come? Of course not. But that would be the moment partner held
♠K J 9 5 4 ♥A 8 7 3 2 ♦Q 6 ♣8
Now, knowing that I don’t open NT with doubletons in both majors, partner would get us to game in one of the majors, and the bridge fates would give us a disastrous trump break.
It’s when I have an unbalanced hand that I have to make sure partner has heard my whole story. Say you open 1♠ with
♠K J 9 5 4 ♥6 ♦A 8 7 3 2 ♣A 8.
Naturally, partner bid 2♥. Are you tempted to bid 2NT with your stoppers in the other suits?
Don’t be. You liked this hand because it has two five-card suits. Tell partner your whole story. Bid 3♦. If you rebid 2NT, partner has the right to assume that you have at least two hearts, but your 3♦ bid informs partner that you have an unbalanced hand and certainly makes no promises of heart length.
What if partner had responded 1NT to your 1♠ opening? In this case you haven’t told your whole story because you have another suit. If you’re not playing two-over-one, partner has no more than two spades. There’s a chance you have a much better fit in diamonds. Tell partner what you have.
There are two more reasons for bidding. Maybe you have more than five spades. Now you would bid 2♠ with:
♠K J 9 8 5 4 ♥6 ♦A 8 7 ♣A 8 6,
or 3♠ with:
♠A K J 9 8 7 ♥6 ♦A 8 7 ♣A 8 6.
The other reason for bidding again is that you have extra points. You’ve opened 1♠ with:
♠A K J 9 5 ♥A 7 ♦A 8 6 ♣K 9 2.
That’s a hand that’s too strong to open 1NT and not quite strong enough to open 2NT. After partner’s 1NT response, you put him in 3NT to deliver your message.
Responder can also have problems making sure he has told his whole story, but it’s usually easier to make good decisions when he’s already heard from partner. That’s why some call this position “advancer” rather than “responder”; advancer is the one who decides whether and where to go on.