Lesson 1 -- The 1NT Opening and Responses

The 1NT opening is the beginning of the lessons for a few reasons. First and foremost, it is a very simple bid, and most of the responses teach important concepts. These concepts will pop up along the way of the lessons. If you've played bridge before, these lessons (especially the first few) will have quite a bit of review.

An Opening 1NT bid shows 16-18 High Card Points and balanced distribution.

What is a High Card Point?

High Card Points (HCP from now on) are based on a very simple formula. You get The amount of points a hand has is a good estimate as to how powerful a hand is.

What is balanced distribution?

Balanced distribution means that you have no voids (any suit you have no cards in) or singletons (any suit you have one card in). An ideal 1NT opening will have 4-3-3-3 distribution (4 cards in one suit, 3 in another), but 4-4-3-2 is fairly common. 5-3-3-2 is an 'iffy' 1NT opening and whether to open 1NT or your suit is mainly a question of hand evaluation that will be dealt with later. 6-3-2-2 and 7-2-2-2 are technically balanced, but are never opened 1NT. (These hands are actually called 'semi-balanced.')

Back to 1NT

So, a 1NT opening bid shows balanced distribution and 16-18HCP. The big question is: What's so important about that. Well, the big boost behind the 1NT opening bid is it is limited . Your partner knows your hand is 17 points (give or take a point), that you have at least 2 of any suit, and probably no more than 4 of any suit. That's a lot of information. So, now that you know when to open 1NT, it's fairly easy to decide what to do when your partner opens 1NT. But first, you need a bit of bidding theory.

The goals of opening and responding.

The goal of rubber bridge bidding is to bid your games and slams that have a good chance of making. After all, most of the money comes from games and slams. In order to help your bidding judgement, the point count system was invented. Assuming that you are reasonably proficient (or rather, that your opponents are at the same level you are), the requirements for a a game and slam have been estimated and tested: Of course, more points don't hurt.

So, now you can start to see the benefits of the 1NT opening. You can count how many points you have, and you know your partner is at 17 HCP (+- 1 pt), so you can instantly tell if you should stop the bidding at a part score, invite to game, force to game, invite to a slam or force to slam.

Signoff Hands

With 0-7 HCP, your goal is to end the bidding as cheaply as possible. If you don't have a good suit, the way to do that is simply pass 1NT.

If you have a 5 card (or longer) suit, you simply bid at the two levels (with the exception of clubs). 2D, 2H and 2S and partner should pass. We'll get to a bid of 2C later, but it isn't a signoff.

A Brief Digression

Yes, partner should pass. Even with all of those points. Why? Because your partner has told you enough so that you can make the decision. Once the 1NT bidder has bid, his partner knows the rough level the hand should play it, so a decision can be made. The only time the 1NT bidder should bid again after a signoff is if that information changes his hand.

For example, if you open 1NT with S AQ43 H KQ7 D AT C KT53, then you have a maximum hand AND good spade support. If partner bid 2s (Signoff) you could be forgiven for bidding 3 spades, asking partner to be aggressive with 6-7 points. But 4S is out of the question. If you bid 3S and partner goes down, it is your fault 100%. Partner said "Let's stop" and you asked if he was sure...

The STAYMAN Convention

A question: Suppose you have 4 hearts and 4 spades, and enough points to want to be in game. However, you aren't sure what game to be in. Partner might have 4 (or sometimes even 5) spades, or 4 (or 5) hearts. Or partner might have not have 4 of either suit. You might want to end up in 3NT, 4H or 4S. How do you bid? That is where the Stayman Convention comes in. After your partners 1NT bid, 2C is stayman, and asks partner to bid a 4-card major if he has one. Stayman also shows at least an invitational hand (8+ points) and at least 4 cards in one of the major suits (hearts and spades). Partner's response is based on his distribution: If you have four of each major suit, then it doesn't really matter which you bid, but bidding spades (then hearts if necessary) is a bit more flexible. Now that you know stayman, we can deal with...

Invitational Hands

If you have an invitational hand (8-9 HCPs), then you have two bids available. If you have 8-9 HCP with no 4 card major suit, then you just bid 2NT, if you do have a major suit, you bid stayman. If partner bids your major, then raise to the 3 level, otherwise you can bid 2NT. If you have a 5 card major and an invitational hand *and* you can bid your major at the two level after partner's response, then you can bid it. For example, 1NT-2C-2D-2S shows a 5 card spade suit and 8-9 HCP. Opener should either pass (weak hand with 3 spades), bid 2NT (weak hand w/o 3 spades), 3NT (strong hand w/o three spades) or 4S (strong hand w/3 spades). 3S would show uncertainty...probably 17 points and no real opinions.

How do I tell how many of a suit is enough.

By now your head may be spinning with 4 of a suit, 5 of a suit and 3 of a suit being enough to bid. It's much easier if you simply remember this rule: You want to have at least 8 trump between you and your partner if at all possible. Now things should fall into place. If partner bids stayman, he's promising at least one 4 card major, so you can bid a major you have 4 of. If he bids a suit after stayman, he's showing 5, so you only need 3.

Strong Hands

Well, if you have enough points for game and no four card major, you can just bid 3NT. If you have a 4 card major, you can bid Stayman (2C) and then bid 3NT if partner doesn't have your major and 4 of the major if he does.

If you have a long suit, then just bid 3 of that suit. That is game forcing (and could lead to slam if partner agrees on your suit and you have extra points).

If you have a huge hand, then the Quantitative Slam Try (QST) can help.

If you have a 4 card major, you can bid stayman first and then jump in NT. For example:1NT-2C-2S-4NT shows 14-15 HCP with and HEARTS (you needed to have at least 1 four card major to bid 2C and your major isn't spades).

In reality, very few people bid 5NT, 6NT or 7NT. There is a convention that is used to make sure that you have enough aces to be at a slam, this is called the GERBER convention.


Gerber is used after NT auctions to check on aces. 4C is GERBER and partner responds: If, after the response, the GERBER bidder bids 5C, he is asking for kings. The same system is used, except 5D shows 0 kings and 6C shows 4.

Warnings about Gerber

Only use Gerber when you only need to know the number of aces, not where they are. If, after you use Gerber, you can bid 4NT to end the auction (this is NOT the QST). Also, only bid 5C when you have all four aces.

A Quick Note

Be careful when using the 4NT bid with someone who is playing the BLACKWOOD convention. Make sure you've discussed which auctions are BLACKWOOD and which are QST. (Blackwood will be discussed later. It is basically GERBER, except it is used when a trump suit has been selected, and 4NT is the asking bid, not 4C.)

Back to a weak hand with clubs

Well, you can't sign off in 2C after 1NT...2C is STAYMAN. And 3C shows a good hand. Well, what you must do is have an exception. Stayman bids where you bid 3C (after whatever opener bids) show 0-7 HCP and 6 clubs. With only 5 clubs it's best to just play it in 1NT rather than go to the three level.

Game Forcing Weak Hands

One last tidbit. There are some hands that have enough tricks to hope to make game, but not may points. For example, hands with 5-7 HCP and 6 or more spades or hearts. In that case, you don't want to signoff, you won't want to encourage partner with a slam, you just want to be in game. So bid 4H or 4S with those hands.

General Principles of bidding.

You'll notice that after 1NT, 4S shows a much weaker hand than 3S. Jumping higher doesn't necessarily show a better hand. 4S is a game bid, and the other general principle is Game Bids end the auction. Remember, getting to game is the goal of rubber bridge. My bridge teacher used to say that "3NT ends all auctions" While there are no rules that always apply in Bridge, Game bids end the auction is a pretty good rule to follow.

Summary of this lesson

High Card Points are counted as follows:

Point Ranges to Remember:

A 1NT Opening bid shows 16-18HCP and balanced distribution


Click here for a Quiz on what you've learned.

Final Note

Some players (typically tournament players) have changed the 1NT point range to 15-17 HCP. If you want to do this, then you just have to change all of the responding point ranges up a point. (The easy way to remember this is to remember 26 for a game, etc and that will tell you when to add and subtract a point).

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