Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Beginner and above

Opening a strong 2NT

Note that this page assumes that you have made the usual choice of playing an opening bid of 2NT as strong and natural.

There is a weak alternative which will be found under ‘opening unbalanced hands’ but it is a minority choice.


The traditional agreement is that the bid shows a balanced hand of twenty to twenty two points.

There are all sorts of modern variations around this theme but as far as the strength is concerned twenty to twenty two remains the most common choice in club play, and should be the default agreement at almost any level.  Other possibilities are discussed below.

A K 9 6

A J 7 2

K Q 5


Twenty one points in a balanced hand.

This is typical hand for an opening bid of 2NT.

Note that in both the examples above if partner were to pass on four (or even five) points facing your opening one of a suit then you would be hard-pressed to come to more than six tricks unless a fit were to come to light - game is most unlikely to be missed.

Even 6-3-2-2 shape with a six-card minor, will on occasion be best described with this opening bid.


A 6

A J 9 6

A J 8 7 2

Twenty one points in a semi-balanced hand.

You could open 1 and then reverse into diamonds.

My choice is to open 2NT.

A J 9 6

A J 8 7 2

A 6


Twenty one points in a semi-balanced hand.

Many would agree to open 2NT to show the strength, particularly with so much of the strength concentrated in the short suits.

My choice is to open 1 followed by a strong forcing reverse into spades as I search for a major suit fit.

Some further thoughts on shape

It is quite normal to stretch the shape requirement a little more than you might for an opening bid of 1NT in the interests of showing the strength of the hand.

Certainly we should include all balanced hands.

This includes hands with a decent five-card major suit, otherwise you will have considerable difficulty in conveying a holding such as this to your partner.

A 7

A K 8 5 2

A K 3

K 6 4

Some semi-balanced hands (5-4-2-2 shape) are best treated as balanced, but you may choose to come to a more detailed partnership agreement as to what is acceptable.

For a start you should have good holdings in the short suits.

Even then I will usually prefer the natural route when holding anything like a decent five-card major, opening one of the major and making a forcing rebid in my second suit.


A K 8 2

A K 5 3

A K 6 4


A K 8 2

A K 7 3

K 6 5 4

Personally, I open 2NT with the first of these, and 1 with the second (intending to rebid in no trumps over a spade response).

I have clearly accepted the possibility of a singleton ace in the first example above.

Some extend this agreement to a singleton king or even any singleton.

Many experts would argue against my suggestion on the second hand on the grounds that I am bidding it as a balanced hand when it is clearly not balanced.  Instead they would bid it as three-suited, either opening 1 or 1 and rebidding 3, or opening 1 and reversing into hearts over a 1 response.

My counter-argument is that these alternatives suggest 5-4 shape when it is clearly not 5-4.

I particularly distrust those sequences which imply a five-card major.

So agree whichever of these approaches suits you - you will be in good company whatever your choice.



My guideline

Does an opening 2NT always show a balanced hand?

No.  This is a matter for partnership agreement.

Balanced or semi-balanced - might contain a singleton ace.

Post-beginner and above

Further options on strength

There is a theoretical problem with a twenty to twenty two point 2NT in that the three-point range is too wide, with no bidding space available below game level for further investigation.

Certainly responder will usually have a stab at game with five or more points and a combined minimum of at least twenty five points (although twenty points opposite five does not play well - think communication, entries, and leading away from the strong hand). Equally, responder will pass, or find a weak escape at the three-level, with no more than two points and a combined maximum of twenty four.  But with three or four points responder has little other than instinct and gut feeling to guide him.

A further problem is that with nineteen points, playing the older standard method of no trump rebids, opener will start with one of a suit and then jump directly to 3NT on his rebid, not infrequently missing a superior suit contract in the process.  The modern approach of rebidding 2NT with eighteen or nineteen points is strongly recommended.

To counter these problems various alternative ranges have been proposed.

There are many styles to choose from when it comes to choosing an alternative range for your 2NT opener.

19 or 20, 20 or 21, and 21 or 22, are all possible, each of which will be encountered not infrequently.



My guideline

Does an opening 2NT always show 20-22 points?

No.  This is a matter for partnership agreement.

20-22 points is recommended at a beginner or improver stage.

Whichever option you choose, you will have to ensure that it is consistent with other aspects of your system.

This applies particularly to your methods on those hands on which you open one of a suit and rebid in no trumps, and equally to your whole system of opening bids at the two-level.

Many club partnerships adopt a range of

19 or 20

Usually this range will be used by those partnerships who have incorporated two artificial routes to 2NT into their system, as is the ‘Benji Acol’ system.

The two-point range takes a lot of pressure off responder, and certainly the nineteen-point problem has been solved.

However, it is rare to find this range played by an expert pair.  Broadly speaking they are reluctant to start with 2NT or an artificial 2NT sequence when holding less than half the points in the pack.

There are alternative ways of dealing with the nineteen point hand which will be found under ‘opener’s rebid’.

Context  -  Opening balanced hands.

This page last revised 28th Apr 2019

Responder’s continuations

With a six-card major in a 6-3-2-2 hand it will usually be correct to open one of the major.

It really comes down to whether or not you can show the main features and strength of your hand with your rebid.

If necessary you will force to game with a made-up rebid in a lower-ranking suit.


A 6

A J 6

A J 9 8 7 2

Twenty one points in a 6-3-2-2 hand.

You could open 1, but what next?

Some would open 2, but just 8 tricks is barely strong enough in most systems.

My choice is to open 2NT.

4-4-4-1 shape

Much more difficult is the hand containing a singleton.


A J 9 8 7 2

A J 6

A 6

Twenty one points in a 6-3-2-2 hand.

I open 1.

In most continuations I will follow with a game-forcing jump to 3.

Only with the specific 3-6 shape (three spades and six hearts) will this leave you with some reservations.

A K 6

A J 9 8 7 2


A 6

Twenty one points in a 3-6-2-2 hand.

I still open 1 and rebid 3, although the rebid in a two-card suit is not totally appealing.

There are those who would open 2NT.

Intermediate and above

If at some point you wish to try something other than 20-22 then I would suggest that you try one of the following - the choices of many experts:-

20 or 21

This range retains all the advantages of a two-point range, and requires only one artificial route to show balanced hands of twenty two or more points.

It is usually coupled with one of a suit followed by 1NT showing a range of fifteen to seventeen (three-point range but still with space to enquire further), and a 2NT rebid on eighteen or nineteen - and that is the nineteen point problem solved.

You will occasionally find yourself in game on eighteen facing six, but you can be all but certain that when there is a game contract available you will locate the best one.

21 or 22

Hands of nineteen or twenty points can then be taken by way of a forcing 2NT rebid.  There will be more on these methods both in the section on opening two-bids and in opener’s rebid.

You will, though, have to adopt a method for distinguishing between the various strengths of hands in the fifteen to eighteen point range.  

The usual solution is to play the 1NT rebid as wide-ranging on fifteen to eighteen points and to combine it with an artificial asking bid by responder.

This last (21 or 22) is my preferred method for partnerships wishing to proceed beyond an intermediate level, but if you feel happy enough with a good old traditional 20-22 then by all means stick with it - it is a method still used by many an expert pair.