Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Beginner and above

Opening 1NT

At its simplest - if you have a hand in the range of twelve to fourteen points and a balanced shape (4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, or 5-3-3-2) you will open 1NT - if you have anything else then you will open something else.

Various refinements to the above are possible - indeed recommended - but the underlying principle is clear.

The 1NT opening bid gets the hand off your chest in one go.  Any further contribution to the auction on your part will be in response to partner’s action.

Q J 6 2

7 3

A K 5 4

K 7 3

4-4-3-2 shape and 13 HCP.

Open 1NT.

J T 6 2

7 3

A K 5 4

K 7 3

4-4-3-2 shape and 11 HCP.


K Q 6 2

7 3

A K 5 4

A 7 3

4-4-3-2 shape and 16 HCP.

Too strong to open 1NT.

Open 1 (some would prefer 1).

A warning

The 1NT opening bid describes a balanced hand.

Don’t fall into the trap of opening all 12-14 point hands with 1NT.

The hand must be the right shape.  It is a bid which describes shape as much as it describes strength.

If your hand isn’t balanced (or at least semi-balanced - e.g. 5-4-2-2 - see below) then open something else.

Unstopped suits

In the early days of bridge, playing a strong no trump, you were expected to have some kind of honour holding in every suit before opening 1NT.

Such days are long gone.

Many players retain a reluctance to open 1NT with an unstopped suit.  They count amongst their numbers both beginners and experienced players - particularly those who have previously played a strong no trump system.

The unstopped suit should not be something to fear.  On the contrary it is something to expect.  Let’s face it, a hand with exactly three points in each of four suits is not one to set the juices flowing.  You have only to put AK in one suit and it will be inevitable that at least one of the other suits is extremely weak.

The important features of the bid are that it describes the hand-type and the point-range, that it has a preemptive effect, and that it allows the rest of your system to be based on a natural method.

If you happen to have a weakness between the two hands then it is quite possible that your opponents will take the first five or even six tricks in that suit.  Don’t worry - you will still have every hope of taking the rest of the tricks in the other suits.

When two suits are wide open there is the potential for things to turn out badly, but usually this will not be the case.  The priority is to bid your shape.

And if they happen to double then you will once in a while go for a substantial penalty, but this must be offset against those occasions on which you either reach the optimum low-level contract or get in the way of their constructive bidding.  In any case, you will introduce some sort of ‘wriggle’ agreement at a fairly early stage which will usually be sufficient to escape the largest penalties.

Looking ahead slightly you should not be afraid to bid to 1NT or 2NT with a weak suit - even two weak doubletons facing each other will lose just five tricks more often than not.  You should give considerably more thought to the possibility of an unstopped suit when bidding to 3NT, but this thought does not affect your opening bid of 1NT.

It is, though, important that in a constructive ongoing auction both partners should strive to look for a better fit on their way to game.

K J 6 2


A 5 4

Q T 8 7 3

You have fourteen points and something in every suit, but the hand is nothing like the right shape for a 1NT opening bid.

Open 1, intending to rebid 1.

Post-beginner and above



My guideline

Can I open 1NT with a singleton?

Yes, by partnership agreement.

I prefer not to, but if it is a partnership agreement, then partner must announce the possibility each time.


All 4-3-3-3 hands and 4-4-3-2 hands within the agreed range are opened 1NT.

If they are weaker than this then pass, and if they are stronger then bid one of a suit first.

Note that if you start with anything else you will not have an honest rebid available.


My guideline

Can I open 1NT with an unstopped suit?

Yes, or even two unstopped suits if the shape is right.

Responder’s continuations

This page last revised 10th Jun 2020

3 2

8 7 5

K Q 5

A K Q 4 2

5-3-3-2 shape, 14 HCP, a strong five-card minor and two unstopped suits.

1 would not be wrong, but modern practice is to open 1NT.

It will be rare that your opponents can take seven tricks in the majors before you get started.

Context  -  Opening balanced hands.


The 12 to 14 point range specified above is the standard for Acol.  It is almost certainly the range played by a vast majority of club players and it is the range recommended for those learning the game.

There is just a little leeway on 5-3-3-2 shape and semi-balanced hands.

Follow the links to help you decide whether the particular hand in front of you should be treated as balanced or unbalanced.

5-3-3-2 hands

5-4-2-2 hands

6-3-2-2 hands

Hands containing singletons.

Personally I have misgivings about opening hands containing a singleton with 1NT, but you will be in excellent company if you choose, as a partnership agreement, to open 4-4-4-1 hands with a singleton ace (for example) with 1NT.

There is also an eminent school of thought which chooses to treat singleton kings as Kx - not such a terrible idea really - the odds in favour of finding either the Queen or the Ace opposite are quite high (19:14 if partner holds four cards in the suit and 5:6 if he holds just three).

Following this line of thinking you would not hesitate from opening a fourteen point 4-4-4-1 hand containing a singleton King with 1NT.

If you wish to follow such a route then you should study the relevant section of ‘The Blue Book’ on the ebu web-site to check what is permissible.  It will also be necessary for you to announce all 1NT opening bids as, for example, ‘twelve to fourteen, possible singleton ace or king’.

If you do agree to open such hands with 1NT then I would suggest that not only should such hands satisfy some agreed strict criterion regarding the holding in the singleton suit but also that there should be no reasonable alternative way of bidding the hand.

Intermediate and above

However, even within the context of a weak no trump, many good partnerships will either modify the range in detail, or refine their assessment of the hand.  Both of these refinements are recommended as you proceed beyond an improver method.

other ranges

stretching the range

fine-tuning the strength