Quick summary

What is balanced ?

Definition of balanced

  1. no voids or singletons
  2. max one doubleton

If no suit dominates, you can play in NT

Less good for NT:

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Balanced or unbalanced hand ?

This is probably the first thing to assess about your hand.

That's because with balanced hands you can play in No Trumps. When you play in NT, you need fewer tricks to get to game and win the 300 or 500 point game bonus. Bidding only 3 is enough, compared with 4 for a Major, or 5 for a minor.

A simple definition of balanced distribution

Crudely, "balanced" hand means that no suit or pair of suits dominates your hand.
Specifically:  (1) no singletons or voids, (2) maximum of one doubleton.

The mathematicians will quickly see that this eliminated hands with more than one 5-card suit, and also eliminates hands with a 54xx shape.

This definition only refers to shape, and makes no reference to the stength of each suit.

Choosing no trumps

When your hand has balanced shape, the idea is that you should tell your partner this by opening No Trumps (NT) at the appropriate level, see "Opening bid, Balanced Hand". When your hand is unbalanced, especially when containing singletons or voids, it's wise to avoid suggesting NT:

  • you might find you are unable to lead up to master cards in the other hand
  • if you are short in a suit, the enemy is probably long; so they'll have great fun winning lots of tricks with this long suit, knowing that you have no trumps to stop them.

Frankly, it's very dangerous to be in No Trumps if you hold a singleton, and often suicidal if you hold a void. I'm still sometimes tempted to take the risk though, and usually get into deep water!

With length though, it's different. Most players allow 5-card or even 6-card minor suits (clubdiamond), because a long minor suit can be very useful in NT. What about 5-card Majors? These days, better players with 5-card Majors are generally preferring to open by describing their hand as balanced (assuming the shape is 5332 or course!).

So, my advice. With 12-14 HCP's and a 5332 hand:

  • with a 5-card minor always open 1NT, provided you satisfy the other conditions, of course.
  • if a 5-card Major is full of rubbish, certainly open 1NT.
  • with a 5-card Major (heartspade), open 1NT...
  • .... unless your Major is strong enough to rebid, in which case you might have another alternative to a 1NT opening. (E.g. with spadeAKJ108, you should be forgiven for opening and rebidding spade, even though your partner might be expecting a 6-card suit after the spade rebid. If your partner has 10+ points he can bid a suit at the 2-level, and you know that you have some good combined HCP strength between you. If your partner is weaker than 10 HCP, he'll bid 1NT anyway).
    .

One other thing: having "stoppers" in at least 3 suits is helpful for strong openings in NT, but don't treat this as a guide for 1NT openings. Take the following opening hand:

Hand 1
S K Q 10 3  

If you open with a Major, how will you rebid after a 2C response from partner?

H A K 8 6
D 6 4 3
C 4 3

Rebidding the other Major would promise a 5-4 shape. Rebidding NT would promise 15-16 HCP. Each of these would mislead your partner, so it's better to describe you hand as balanced (which it is), and open 1NT.

 

Now try the quiz

Can you put all this into action ? Try the quiz for this subject by clicking on the link at the top left of the page, just below the main menu.
(You can try quizzes for any other subjects too while you're there. Look out for the thin red line).

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