When might you respond to partner’s takeout double with only a three-card suit? Seldom, but not never. For instance, LHO opens 1 partner doubles, and RHO passes, leaving you with a decision holding:
J52 J75 982 J853.
Pass is clearly out; the opponents rate to make the contract with over-tricks. 1NT should show a balanced hand with about 7-10 high-card points, usually with a stopper in opener’s suit, particularly if it is a major. That leaves you with a response in a three-card suit, however unappealing. I would choose 1 to give both partner and the opponents room to introduce a major, taking you off the hook.
In addition, partner is less likely to get excited about a diamond response and jump to game. Another reason to avoid 1NT is that it is an easier contract for the opponents to double than a low-level suit bid. Just because your side has all the suits stopped doesn’t mean that notrump will play well – where are the tricks?
What if partner jumps to 3NT with a balanced 19 count opposite your three jacks? It is best to define your 1NT response as semi-constructive. This is especially true when the opening bid is 1 or l . If opener bids 1, responding with a bust in a three-card suit forces you to the two level. In that case, most experts reduce the requirement for 1NT to perhaps 5-6 HCP.
Let’s say you pick up: 92 86 KJ752 QJ82, IMP scoring, your side vulnerable, LHO opens 1, partner doubles, and RHO passes. You elect to show values with a semi-constructive 1NT. The diamond intermediates are too poor for a leave-in, while 2 could be very weak and land you in a dicey 4-3 fit.
LHO passes and partner bids 2. You raise to 3, and partner concludes the auction with 3NT. LHO leads the K and dummy tables:
Some good luck will be needed. You probably need two heart tricks, so assume the A to be with West. In any event, if the A is with East, the A Q are apt to be offside, dooming the contract when East gets the lead and pushes a diamond through your K-J. You duck the opening lead and the Q continuation, East discouraging. West now shifts to a club. What is the likely spade layout?
It seems that West led from K Q J x, consistent with East’s discouraging signal. A ray of hope flashes. If the West hand resembles:
KQJx Axx AQ10xx x (the actual hand), there’s a strip-squeeze in your near future. Win the club in hand and lead a heart. West ducks and dummy wins. Return to your hand with a club and lead a second heart. West does best to fly ace and exit with a heart, temporarily avoiding the endplay. You cash dummy’s club winners, reducing to:
West still has to find a discard. If he throws a spade, North cashes two spade tricks. If West parts with the Q, you exit with dummy’s diamond and endplay him to receive two spade tricks. Either way, you come to two hearts, five clubs and two spades.