Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Forcing 1NT

I have a friend and occasional partner for whom the 1NT response to a major suit opening is unlimited and forcing even by a passed hand.  If asked we say 0-37 hcp.  That usually gets a laugh from the opponents.

But seriously, since the bid is forcing (at least by a non-passed hand for all 2/1 bidders), should it be unlimited?  I don't think so.  While it might at first sight appear arbitrary, I think that 2/1 responses should all be based on at least a healthy interest in seeking a slam while 1NT responses followed by game bids suggest no enthusiasm for slam unless opener has significant extras.  Other 1NT responses are obviously not interested in slam.  At best, they are invitational to game.  At worst they hope to find a safe haven at the two-level.

Let's assume that we have three-card support for partner's 1-of-a-major opening bid (any more and we would not be considering 1NT, and with less we'd still need to find our best strain).  Come what may, we're going to support his suit at our next turn.  If we start with 1NT, a jump to 3M will not be forcing to game (a "three-card limit raise").  If we start with a 2/1 bid, and then support partner's suit at the lowest level, that will be forcing to game with slam aspirations.  Another option is starting with a 2/1 and then jumping to game.  Some people play this simply as the principal of fast arrival (PFA) and others play it as a "picture bid" showing cards primarily in the two suits bid.

So, a forcing 1NT followed by a jump to game shows a hand with three-card support and either:
  • a non-picture-bid hand (if you have the picture bid agreement mentioned above);
  • a hand that is not interested in slam opposite a typical minimum opener (PFA).
Since I don't have the picture bid  agreement with any of my partners, that sequence shows the second type of hand.  Note that you can still have a pretty good hand and not want to initiate a slam try.  For example: ♠K74 AJ87K86 ♣A96 or even ♠K74 AQ87K86 ♣AJ96.  Much beyond that, say, ♠K74 AQ87A86 ♣A96 and I think you'd want to pursue slam yourself if partner didn't beat you to it.  Of course, this will all depend on how bad your partner's opening 1M bids can be.  If partner is a really solid opener, you might initiate a slam try with any of the above hands.  As mentioned above, if your hand is good enough to initiate a slam try, you won't be starting with 1NT.

So, what should you bid with this hand ♠K74 AJ87J86 ♣A96 when partner opens 1♠?  In my opinion, this is an absolutely automatic 1NT followed by 4♠, or even 3NT, (assuming partner makes a minimum rebid).  But not everyone agrees with me.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate the possible responses as follows:
  1. 1NT: 9
  2. 3NT: 7
  3. 2♣: 6
  4. 2: 5
  5. 2: 2
  6. 2NT: 0
The only reason 1NT doesn't get a 10 is that it's possible that our best spot is 6NT with partner as declarer (given our pathetic diamond holding).  But that's unlikely.  I don't like 2 much because, even though we are going to support spades next, we should really have either a five-card suit or better hearts, say AQxx.  2♣ is better in my opinion because, although holding only three cards, we do at least have the suit controlled.  2 might have some merit on the Hideous Hog principle of bidding the suit we don't want led (although partner is likely to be declarer on this hand).  2NT is simply awful because the Jacoby bid should always show four trumps and a hand that would be enthusiastic about slam if partner initiates a slam try.

Thanks to Steve for pointing out that 3NT, for those who play it as a 4x3 hand with 13-15, is almost a perfect bid here.  I generally don't play that so I didn't think of it.  The only fly in this particular ointment is that we do not have diamonds even half stopped.  Sure partner should have something, but on a bad day, partner might have only Qx, they set up their diamonds then get in with the ♠A and cash for down 1.  Not too likely perhaps but possible.  He also feels that 1NT followed by 3NT should show a shapely hand, short in spades, that's actually improved by opener's rebid.  That seems sensible.

So, how did our hand turn out?  On this particular evening we were playing IMP pairs at the club and, as it transpired, we could do no wrong all evening.  Opener's hand (that's to say my hand) was ♠AQ632 KAQT3 ♣J82 and the auction went (opps silent): 1♠ – 2 – 3 – 3♠ – 4 – 4NT – 5♠ – 6♠.  3 (the so-called "high reverse") showed extras, as did 3♠.  4 showed a control in diamonds and slam interest (valuing the K perhaps slightly higher than it truly deserved but expecting a decent five-card suit).  5♠ showed two key-cards with the spade Q.

I received a low heart lead and was able to wrap up 12 tricks without difficulty once the K was discovered to be in its proper place (actually I'm supposed to make all the tricks because the Q is doubleton) but this wasn't matchpoints.  A club lead (rather more obvious on the auction) would have been somewhat more awkward however as I would be required to unblock the T, something I doubt I would have done, not knowing that the 9 was going to fall singleton.

So, I think we were both somewhat guilty of over-bidding resulting in a less-than 50% slam (I need the diamond K onside and the ability to keep finessing from dummy or a non-club lead).  If partner's response had been 1NT I think we'd have been able to rest more safely in game.  As it turned out, we'd still have won, but by a less impressive margin.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Robin,

    I do not agree with 1NT, then 4S on the hand you shows. Or, for that matter, with Fast Arrival calls in general.

    The problem, IMHO, is that Fast Arrival does not provide partner with the specific information he needs. Lets take your example of Kxx, AJxx, Jxx, Axx opposite a 1S opening bid. If partner has AQxxxxx, KQx, x, xx, you are cold for slam. But if responder has chosen that auction on Kxx, Jxx, AJxx, Axx, slam has no play. How can opener know the difference when responder has chosen to use up a lot of bidding room without providing opener the information he needs to know?

    Perhaps if the 1NT-4S auction showed not just a minimum but a totally nonslammish minimum, something like QJx, KJxx, KJx, Qxx, the use of bidding room might make some sense. But, frankly, I do not think the auction of 1S-1NT-2x-4S really has much meaning at all, and might best be reserved for hands with a just-discovered fit for the suit of partner's rebid and that had been planning on rebidding 3S.

    I like the 2H response that was chosen by your partner at the table.

    Some of the folks that play 1NT forcing and unlimited do so because they like to reserve the 2/1 response for a five card suit. I think that makes a lot of responding hands very hard to bid, and so I think I would consent to that treatment only if a 2C response could be either clubs or artificial, balanced. Not sure at what levels of games that would be allowed.