Theory and Conventions

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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 rare choice.


Range


20 to 22


This is the traditional choice played by a majority of partnerships.

It is the recommended choice in the early stages, and it may well continue to be your choice even if at some point you decide to modify your system in other ways.

(Other possibilities are discussed briefly below, and again in the section on opening two bids.)


Shape


The basic rule is that the hand should be balanced as for a 1NT opener.

However, it is quite normal to stretch this requirement a little more than you might for the lower opening bid in the interests of showing the strength of the hand.  Common agreements will allow singleton aces or 5-4-2-2 shape.

A K 9 6

A J 7 2

K Q 5

A T

Twenty one points in a balanced hand.

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

A J 9 6

A J 8 7 2

A 6

A K

Twenty one points in a semi-balanced hand.

My choice is to open 1 followed by a strong forcing reverse into spades.

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

Some further thoughts on shape


Whatever your choice of range, I will urge you to put some thought into the shape 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

A 7

K 2

A Q 8 4

A K J 5 3


Many partnerships agree to include most semi-balanced hands (5-4-2-2 shape), particularly when there good holdings in the short suits.

7

A K 8 2

A K 5 3

A K 6 4

A

A K 8 2

A K 7 3

K 6 5 4

7

A K Q

A K Q 3

Q J T 6 3


On this hand 2NT will certainly take you to the right contract most of the time but, as indicated above, the alternative of starting with one of a suit will scarcely ever miss a game contract, and once in a while it will set you on the way to a minor suit slam.


My choice is to open one of the five-card suit, but I am almost certainly in the minority at club level.

I would, though, choose the 2NT route if either of my long suits were of inferior quality.


Much more difficult is the hand containing a singleton.


Personally, I open 2NT with the first of these,

1 with the second (intending to rebid in no trumps over a spade response) and

1 with the third.

Question

Answer

My guideline

Does an opening 2NT always show a balanced hand?

No.  This is a matter for partnership agreement.

Balanced (occasionally semi-balanced).  Might contain a five-card major and/or a singleton ace.


Other agreements are possible.

Certainly I could miss a game on hands two and three above, just as on hand one the opposition might clear the spade ace with their opening lead against 3NT, and then take four or five tricks in spades after winning the club ace. There is of course no such thing as the perfect bid which will work perfectly in every conceivable situation.  You just have to choose what you consider to be the best compromise.

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 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.


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.

Question

Answer

My guideline

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

No.  This is a matter for partnership agreement.

Initially I shall recommend a range of 20-22 points.

Intermediate and above


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.


20 to 22


If your choice is 20 to 22 then hands in the 15 to 19 range can be distinguished by your choice of rebid.

Hands of 23 or more points will travel by way of an artificial forcing bid - usually 2.


With standard rebids there is a problem with the nineteen-point hand in that the 3NT rebid bypasses such conventions as Stayman and transfers which might help to locate a superior contract.


With this thought in mind 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’.

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 forcing 2NT rebid on eighteen or nineteen - and that is the nineteen point problem solved.

You will sometimes 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.

A K T 9 6

A J 7 2

K Q 5

A

Twenty one points in a hand containing a five-card major and a singleton ace.

2NT would be the choice of many - probably a majority.

My choice is 1 followed by a forcing jump rebid in hearts.

Twenty points this time in a 5-4-3-1 hand with a five-card major and a weak singleton.

Some partnerships would still open 2NT.

My choice is 1, as above.

A K T 9 6

A Q 7 2

A K 5

5

Context  -  Opening balanced hands.


Note in the second example above that if partner were to pass on four (or even five) points facing the 1 opener then you would be hard-pressed to come to more than six tricks unless a major suit fit were to come to light - game is most unlikely to be missed.

This page last revised 21st Feb 2018

Responder’s continuations