On Sunday, January 28, 2007 BridgeHands was invited to
present an online teaching lesson for over one hundred
Bridge Base Online BIL (BridgeBase Beginner/Intermediate
Lounge) members. The two hour session covered the following
areas which are reprinted here for our BridgeHands
subscribers. By the way, communications in these sessions
are entirely via text messaging and animated card bidding
and play. The following is an extract from our recent BIL
Welcome, Bridge friends. In today’s session we will cover
the following areas:
Notrump shape and strength requirements
Notrump shape and strength evaluation
Notrump responder bids and opener/responder rebids
Some common partnership Notrump agreements and
Opening Notrump is the most descriptive bid in Bridge,
showing exacting shape and strength. We will discuss
strength in greater detail a bit later, but for now let's
assume we open 1 Notrump with 15-17 HCP.
By the way, Bridge teachers and authors love to adjust
and modify hand evaluation techniques. For the most part, we
will use the "Work" High Card Point (HCP)
Please refer to our hand evaluation methods for more details.
Perhaps you have heard of the term "Captaincy".
Essentially, whenever we open in Notrump or rebid Notrump at
some level, we are limiting our hands. Thus, the partner of
the Notrump bidder is the "captain" and should steer the
contract since the partner's hand is not fully defined.
Please refer to our
lesson on captaincy.
So, let's take a look at the Notrump Prerequisites.
Shape - the basics. I'll be using standard Bridge
means four cards in the longest suit, and three cards in
each remaining suit. If we wanted to express the hand as
exactly four Spades and three Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs,
we would show it as
So here are our three balanced hand shapes:
By the way, we normally don't worry about worthless
Which hand shape has the highest probability of
shape, a 21.6 percent chance - making it the most common
hand shape in Bridge.
Here's the link for hand patterns..
is the second most likely, a 15.5% chance while the
shape comes in fifth place, a 10.5 percent chance. Now let’s
take a look at our first hand.
S K Q 3 2
H A K Q 2
D 3 2
C Q 3 2
S J 5 4
H 5 4 3
D A Q 4
C J 10 5 4
North's worthless doubleton usually is fine. Here the
bidding would begin:
1N - 2N;
A close call for opener. North’s cards are working and we
love the Heart
A K Q 2 so with everything working, we rebid
Then there are the semi-balanced hands that don't have a
singleton or void, yet have a more irregular shape than our
three balanced hands. A
shape is a classic semi-balanced hand, still fulfilling the
criteria of a balanced hand when it contains a primary honor
(Ace or King) in the doubleton suits.
S K 2
H A 2
D Q J 9 3
C K Q J 3 2
S Q J 4 3
H K 5 4 3
D K 2
C6 5 4
Our last semi-balanced hand is the
shape. This certainly is a marginally balanced hand!
Incidentally, we can safely assume the 6 card suit is Clubs
or Diamonds; with a 6 card major suit, we would definitely
open in Hearts or Spades. To be considered a balanced hand,
we certainly would want some primary honors in the doubleton
suits since as declarer we will need to establish tricks in
our long suit (ostensibly Notrump).
S K 2
H Q J
D Q J 2
C A Q J 5 4 3
S A Q 5 4 3
H K 3 2
D 5 4 3
C 7 6
North holds a poor 16 High Card Point hand with 2
distribution points – many of us would find it difficult to
open 1 Notrump with this hand, although with an objective
scrutiny we can see the hand is indeed semi-balanced. As
always, before making a bid we should be prepared to make a
descriptive rebid based on various responses from partner
and overcalls from the opponents. Assuming North opened 1
Notrump, the bidding might proceed:
1N - 2H;
2H mandates partner “transfer” to Spades (Jacoby)
2S - 3N;
Now responder gives opener a choice of games
1N – 3S;
Those not playing Jacoby transfers jump to force game
3N – Pass;
Let's pause for a moment and look at hand evaluation.
Incidentally, the following HCP adjustments pertain to the
opening bidder; should the responder hold these card
combinations when partner holds an opening hand, we do not
downgrade our hand.
= initially downgrade one point, it's not worth 7 points
without a third card in the suit.
= again, downgrade one point without a third card.
= full values.
= probably full values.
= downgrade at least one point.
= unlikely to produce any tricks.
With a "Kingleton" (singleton King) in a minor suit, some
frisky advanced players might be tempted to open 2 Notrump
to avoid the classic rebidding problem.
S A Q 10 2
H K J 10 2
D A K J 2
S K 5 4 3
H 4 3
D 5 4 3
C Q J 3 2
By the way, North's hand comes from Augie Boehm's book "Private
Sessions - a Bridge Education" on page 114. On an
upcoming BridgeHands audiocast/podcast, we
will interview Augie and discuss his new book "Three Notrump
And just for the record, opening 1 Notrump with a
singleton technically isn't against the laws - as much as
your opponents (and perhaps your partner) may not like it!
Here's the link which provides Bridge Directors
guidance on this questionable practice. Nonetheless, we do
not recommend mortals open 1 Notrump with a singleton King,
and never with a singleton in a major suit.
Incidentally, BridgeHands is a big advocate of the term
of Anticipation." If our hand is strong, others
should be weak and vice-versa. If we have a long suit,
partner is usually short in our suit. If we have a very long
suit, at least one other player will have a long suit or a
two-suited hand. This isn't meant to be a pessimistic
attitude, rather a more realistic expectation based on
our initial facts at hand. So while most Bridge teachers
would shun opening 1N with a singleton, it's not surprising
that partner will have length in our short suit.
How about opening 1 Notrump with a 5 card major and 15-17
points? Since this is such a controversial topic, apparently
no one method is infinitely superior. Certainly an argument
can be made that when opener has a 5 card Heart suit,
responder bids 1S, opener is stuck for a rebid since
rebidding 1 Notrump shows values beneath 1 Notrump opening
values. Rebidding 2 Notrump also distorts our hand, showing
18-19 points. Had we initially opened with 1 Notrump, our
rebid would not have been an issue, however we might miss a
5-3 Heart fit. Sigh, life is not always perfect. Does the
same problem occur when we hold a 5 card Spade suit? Not
really, since opener's rebid is not a problem; should
responder bid 1 Notrump or 2 of a suit, our 1 Spade opener
has comfortable rebids.
So some will bid 1N with a 5 card Heart suit, provided
the suit is not heavy in honors - as always, opener should
evaluate for a balanced hand, even if it requires an honor
assessment in each suit.
Speaking of honor assessment, how should we evaluate
these suit holdings?
S K 3 2
H A J 10 3 2
D A 2
C K J 2
S A 6 5 4
H Q 4
D K 10 5 4 3
C 4 3
Primary honors, Aces and Kings, often generate more
tricks than secondary honors (Queens and Jacks). Suits
headed by Queen and less take more time to promote and
develop extra tricks while opponents (who have the benefit
of the opening lead) have the first opportunity to establish
long suit - perhaps with primary honors. If the declarer is
in a notrump contract, the opponents might "win the race."
Here North’s 16 HCP plus 1 distribution point (5 card
working Heart suit with 3 honors) evaluates to 17 points.
South’s hand evaluates to 9 HCP plus one distribution point
for the working 5 card Diamond suit; the primary honor King
may help establish the suit when Notrump opener holds an Ace
1N – 2C;
Stayman, asking for 4 Spades
2D – 3N;
Notice that if North initially opened 1 Heart, South
would bid 1 Spade and North would be stuck for a rebid:
1H – 1S;
Too weak, South will Pass assuming North is 12-14 HCP
Too strong, South will assume 18-19 HCP by North
Too weak and no 6 card suit
Too weak and only 3 card Spade support
Now let's take a look at working/non-working honors and
the ability to generate tricks through finesses.
K x All
honors are working well
A Q 10 x x
K J 10
A x x
A Q x x
Honors working together in long suits
K Q x x
K x x
Hardly anything working
J x x x x
K J x
A K x
Everything seems to be wrong, nothing is working here
K x x x x
Q x x x
Incidentally, it's nice to have "body cards" -
intermediates like 10s and 9s.
S K Q 3
H K 9 4
D A 5 4
C A 7 5 2
S J 9 5
H J 10 7
D J 10
C K J 10 8 2
North opens 1N and South responds 2N with 5 Clubs
(working) and "pushers" (intermediates). With a middle of
the road 16, North upgrades and accepts game with primary
honors (Aces and Kings)
Of course, honor sequences are always lovely holding:
K Q J x
K Q 10 x
K J 10 x
Q J 10 x
Q J 9 x
Q 10 9 x
And what about length? Is a 5 card suit always worth an
extra length point?
While there isn't a simple answer when playing a Notrump
contract, if the suit is indeed promotable, consider adding
an extra point. Here are a few examples:
A K x x x
= a great holding to run the suit, especially if responder
holds the Queen.
A Q J x x, A Q 10 x x, or A J 10 x x
= also very nice holding (repeated finesse opportunity).
K J x x x
= okay, especially if responder holds the Ace or Queen.
A x x x x
= not likely to promote unless partner holds 2 honors.
Q x x x x
= probably no chance to promote the suit, initially forget
Another question, what about an honor rich suit as
A K Q J
? It's good for four tricks, but no chance to promote extra
tricks. It's a shame to have so many points locked in one
suit without a chance to develop extra tricks. Even worse,
the likelihood that opponents will run their long
honor-bound suit is more troublesome.
In our next issue, we will continue our discussion of