Recall that the purpose of bidding is to communicate aspects of your hand to your partner and reach a favorable contract.
Among the different types of contracts, games are desirable because of the bonus you receive upon making them. Between the games, the priority goes 4M, 3NT, then 5m.
4M and 3NT require around 25 hcp between the partnership to make, whereas 5m requires around 28. Remember the concept of a golden fit (an 8 card fit) since that is required for a trump contract.
In this article, we will look at what a 1NT opening bid means and the response after that.
What is an opening bid?
An opening bid is the first non-pass bid that is made in an auction. For example, in this sequence as shown in the diagram below, South’s 1NT is the opening bid as both North and East passed. The player who made the opening bid is called the opener.
1NT opening bid
1NT opening bid requires exactly 15-17 hcp and a balanced hand.
A balanced hand is one without a singleton (only 1 card in a suit) or a void (empty in a suit) and no more than 1 doubleton (2 cards in a suit). In other words, only a 4-3-3-3, a 4-4-3-2, or a 5-3-3-2 shape is balanced. An unbalanced hand is one with a singleton or a void.
Questions: can you open 1NT with this hand?
Who is the responder?
The responder is the partner of the opener. The bid the responder makes is the response. For example, in this sequence as shown in the diagram below, North’s 2♣ is the response to South’s 1NT opening bid.
Responses to the 1NT opening bid
Before we proceed, understand that this is a very flawed system used for its simplicity (hence “the 1st encounter”). A more advanced structure is explained here.
Notice that the 1NT opening is very precise: a small range in hcp, and a strict requirement in shape. This means that the responder knows a lot more about the opener’s hand than the opener about the responders. This puts the responder in a position of captaincy; in other words, the responder will usually make the final say about the contract.
1NT promises between 15 to 17 hcp, so we can divide the responder’s hand into 3 ranges based on whether 25 hcp (required to make a game) is possible to reach:
0-7 hcp: no chance for game. No matter how many points the 1NT opener has, game is not possible (17 + 7 = 24)
8-9 hcp: invitational for game. This means that if the opener is the max of their range, you can make game, and if the opener is the min, you cannot make game. (17 + 8 = 25, 15 + 8 = 23).
10+ hcp: game forcing. This means that no matter how many points the 1NT opener has, game is always making. (15 + 10 = 25)
Remember the emphasis on pursuing major games (4♥ or 4♠), so if the responder has any major lengths, it should be the first priority.
With these ranges in mind, we will now look at the different options the responder has.
If the responder has a 5 card major
The opener guarantees at least 2 cards in each suit. Usually, the opener would have 3. Therefore, with a 5 card major, you will most likely have a fit. You will then bid that major at a level depending on your strength:
1NT (/) ?
2♥/♠: 0-7 hcp, no chance for game. Opener should pass after this.
3♥/♠: 8-9 hcp, invitational. The opener can pass, bid 3NT, or bid 4 of a major, depending on whether they accept the invitation.
4♥/♠: 10+ hcp, game forcing. The opener will pass.
If the responder lacks a 5 card major
If the responder does not have a 5 card major, an 8 card major fit is unlikely. The responder should then look for NT. What level of NT depends on the responder’s strength:
Pass: 0-7 hcp, no chance for game. 1NT will then be the contract.
2NT: 8-9 hcp, invitational. The opener can pass or raise to 3NT depending on whether they accept the invitation.
3NT: 10+ hcp, game forcing. The opener will pass.
1NT opening bid requires 15-17 hcp and a balanced hand.
The responder’s hand falls into 3 hcp ranges: 0-7 (no chance for game), 8-9 (invitational), or 10+ (game forcing).
If the responder has a 5+ major, they will bid it at the 2/3/4 level if they have 0-7 / 8-9 / 10+ hcp.
If the responder does not have a 5+ major, they will bid pass/2NT/3NT if they have 0-7 / 8-9 / 10+ hcp.