064: The 2NT response to an opening bid

thMy partner is out of town at the moment and messaged me asking for a quick explanation of what it means if you open 1 of a suit and partner responds 2NT.  “There’s no quick explanation for that one!” I said.  In fact it’s one of the bidding sequences with the most meanings, depending on what system you play and how advanced you care to get with it.  For his benefit and yours, I’ll try to lay out as many meanings as I can — organized from the one that beginners should learn to the ones that experts play.

In Standard American Yellow Card, the system that most North Americans learn first, there is an easy answer.  After any opening bid at the 1 level by partner, a response of 2NT shows 13-15 and is forcing to game.  As an instructive website tells us, “very few players play that” and I agree.  I suspect that beginning players frequently forget that it’s forcing to game and I bet a lot of partners get passed in 2NT, making 4 or 5.  So let’s cross that off the list, shall we?  If you have 13-15 against partner’s 1-level opener, just bid game or keep making forcing bids until you get to game.  1X – 3NT is not a terrible idea if you have 13-15 and flat distribution; the opponents won’t quite know what to lead and a lot of other pairs will be playing in 3NT (after first having gone daisy picking looking for an impossible slam and pinpointing the best defence to opponents).

That’s the basic, basic level.  Here’s how many Standard American players play this bid, and it’s the one I play with my current partner, a studious and smart player with a year’s experience.  People refer to it as “2NT limit” because it is NOT forcing to game and can be passed. This is also the level where conventions start to get complicated, because there are actually two meanings depending on the opening.

  • After an opening bid of 1C or 1D, a jump to 2NT shows 10-12 HCP, flat distribution, NO FOUR-CARD MAJOR.  So if partner opens 1D and you have S Axx H Axx D xxx C Kxxx, that’s perfect for a 2NT response.
  • After an opening bid of 1H or 1S, a jump to 2NT shows 10-12 approximately the same holding.  However, this bid comes up very rarely for me, because you pretty much have to have two-card support for partner’s major (or else you’d simply raise his major) and that usually gives you a five-card biddable suit somewhere else.  In fact you pretty much have to have precisely 4-4-3-2 distribution for this and usually one of the four card suits is NOT the other major — because then you could bid it.  So if partner opens 1S, I would bid 2NT with S Qx H Kxx D KQxx C Jxxx but not many other hands.  And yes, you can try 2D as a response with that hand, although many players firmly insist that you must have a five-card suit to respond at the two level.

I think that people recognized this difficulty and so they wanted to take a little-used bid (1 major opener/2NT response) and change it into something with a more common meaning; that’s where Jacoby 2NT comes in.  I would say that a lot of intermediate players play Jacoby 2NT, and I think it probably should be the most common North American interpretation of this sequence.  Here’s how it works:

P556When partner opens 1 of a major, your jump to 2NT is Jacoby 2NT and shows trump support with 13+ HCP.  It is forcing to game and suggests a slam, depending on how many more points than 13 responder has. “Trump” support is a minimum of three cards but certainly can be four or more, and frequently is.

This is a bit beyond the scope of this piece but I’ll give you the further responses, so you can go over this with your partner and see if you’d want to play Jacoby 2NT or not.  Essentially once the game force (2NT) is established, opener tries to show shortage at the 3 level — singletons or voids — to see how useful the trump fit will be.  If opener doesn’t have a shortage to show, she’ll make a response that shows her point range.  Let’s say that opener opened 1H and responder bid 2NT, which shows a trump fit in hearts and 13+ HCP. Here’s a table for opener’s rebids:

  • (1H/2NT) / 3C — shows a singleton or void in clubs.
  • (1H/2NT) / 3D — shows a singleton or void in diamonds.
  • (1H/2NT) / 3S — shows a singleton or void in spades.
  • (1H/2NT) / 3H — shows no voids or singletons, but 16+ HCP.
  • (1H/2NT) / 4H — shows no voids or singletons, but 13-15 HCP.

Note how the higher point count is shown at a lower level — that’s because it leaves you more room to investigate slam. The sequence 1H/2NT/4H shows a minimum and should be passed unless the 2NT bidder has at least 18 HCP or thereabouts.  Note also that if the opening bid is 1S, 3H shows a singleton or void in hearts, 3S shows no shortness but 16+ HCP, and 4S shows no shortness and 13-15 HCP.

It can be a bit tough to remember to “bid your SHORTNESS” after the 2NT response … it doesn’t come naturally.  But experience tells us that once you have a trump fit, that’s the most useful information to convey.

As usual, there is one further wrinkle you have to take into account.  All of the above sequences are based on the premise that the 1(major) opener is the first of the partnership to speak.  But what happens if one partner passes, her partner bids 1(major), and then the bidder who originally passed bids 2NT?  Well, if she had 13 HCP she would have opened the bidding in the first place, so that’s not possible.  Most pairs play that it means about the same thing as the Standard American 2NT Limit version: 10-12 HCP (therefore, a maximum pass) and no support for partner’s major.

The Jacoby 2NT convention is quite complicated, but when you have the right kind of hand patterns, it can be a great way to reach (a) a game without giving away much information, and (b) a slam that the rest of the field might not reach.

220px-Bridge_bidding_sequenceThere’s one further conventional meaning for 1X/2NT and that’s from the Acol system played primarily in the UK: Baron 2NT.  However, an important note — Acol is based on 4-card majors and a 12-14 1NT opener.  That means that a lot of Acol sequences are quite different than Standard American sequences and there’s a different structure of logic underlying many sequences.  So even if Baron 2NT sounds good to you, be warned, it may not be best for you if you’re playing Standard American.

If partner opens 1 of a suit and you have 15+ HCP in a hand with no 5-card suit, you can bid 2NT Baron. This is forcing to game and suggesting slam, and asks partner to bid her cheapest 4-card suit upwards, but IGNORING the suit in which she opened. For instance, after 1C / 2NT, a bid of 3H ignores clubs, denies four diamond cards, and promises four heart cards, and says nothing about the spade holding. Both partners just keep bidding 4-card suits up the line until a fit is found, if there is one. If there’s no fit, 3NT usually ends the auction.

I have to say, I never found Baron 2NT all that useful even when I played a version of Acol … where the idea of Baron becomes really useful is directly over a 2NT opening, where 3C is Baron (actually a kind of modified Stayman that asks for ANY four-card suit).   So I never bothered to learn Baron 2NT all that well and I may have the fine detail wrong; if there’s a difference of opinion, take your partner’s or your teacher’s word for it and ignore me.

Precision (or Blue) Club has a bunch of different meanings for responder’s jump to 2NT — it depends on the opening bid. That’s because Precision is based on 1C being the strong opening bid, like 2C is in Standard American — it guarantees 16+ HCP and says nothing about clubs.  So 1C / 2NT means one thing, and 1D / 2NT means something else, and 1H or 1S / 2NT has yet another meaning.  I’ve never been 100% clear what those sequences are, for the most part — I usually just ask for a complete explanation at the end of the bidding. (That’s because I’ve noticed that some Precision players are playing such a byzantine system that often they forget the meaning of their own bids, and I don’t want to give them a chance to remind each other.) If you’re thinking of playing Precision, more power to you and be prepared for a lot of memorization, but teaching you that one isolated sequence in Precision is way, way beyond the scope of this article; it would be an article all its own.

Oeffen26Which one do I recommend?  I think technically Jacoby 2NT is the best for Standard American bidders and even quite a few Acol bidders. But if you haven’t reached a comfort level with artificial bidding where you show a singleton by bidding its suit — stick with 2NT Limit, where 2NT shows “10-12 flat, no 4-card major” and is not forcing to game. In fact it’s a limit bid, much like 1H/3H or 1S/3S — it says, “Partner, if you have any extras, go to game; otherwise just pass.”

As far as alerts are concerned: check with your director, but my understanding is that none of these common 2NT bids require alerts.  The responses to Jacoby 2NT do require alerts. However, you should be very careful to indicate on your convention cards the point range for the bid — that is information to which your opponents are entitled and they’ll be damaged if it’s not there, or if, even worse, it’s different on your card and your partner’s. About 3/4 of the way down the boxes on the right-hand side of the convention card, “Major Opening” and “Minor Opening”, you’ll see: “2NT: Forcing (tick box) Inv. (tick box) ___ to ____” in both boxes. 2NT SAYC is forcing 13-15, 2NT Limit is Inv. 10-12, 2NT Jacoby is forcing 13+, and 2NT Baron is forcing 15+.  Just before you start your next session, check both your cards to make sure the correct values are there!