Monday, January 1, 2007


One common source of problems in notrump auctions is a lack of empathy for an unbalanced responder. It took me a while to articulate a manner of viewing the world in this situation.

When you open 1NT (or 2NT, or 3NT if balanced...), partner expects a "balanced" hand within a very tight HCP range. What does that mean?

First, it means some degree of balance as to the pips. In other words, at least two cards in every suit. (Probably.) Note that this does not mean 4-3-3-3 pattern, or even close. Any suit could have five cards, or two. Six in a minor is even plausible. But, some balance of pips is expected.

What is far from assured, especially in modern thinking, is a "balance" of honors.

Consider two hands. AQ-xxxx-KQxx-Axx. xx-AQxx-Axxx-KQx.

You would probably open each 1NT (15-17). Each has identical pip pattern (2-4-4-3). However, neither is "balanced" as to honor cards. Only a hand like Ax-Axxx-Axxx-Axx or Kx-KJxx-KJxx-KJx is "balanced" as to honor cards.

When analyzing strengths of hands, keep in mind that there is a difference between honor holdings in a suit. Ax is much better than Kx in a side suit. KQx in an "interior suit" is great, but the same holding is lousy opposite a stiff. This translates into analysis for a 1NT opening, a call that is purportedly well-defined as to range. Far from it. I figure that a 1NT opening, if 15-17, might provide as many as six honor cover cards (AK opposite doubleton, KQ/KQ in two key suits). However, it might also cover much less.

If, for example, Responder has 5-5 in the majors, 5-5-2-1 pattern, Opener might have AKx-xxx-QJxx-KQJx, a 16-count with only two covers.

So, the touted "tight range" of the 1NT opening provides perhaps somewhere between 2 and 6 cover cards? Remember this when assessing whether to super-accept, cue, bid Serious 3NT, and the like, and when considering whether this "fine tuning" of such a "precise bid" is as necessary as I have suggested.

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