Quick summary

To raise in NT, you should have stoppers in 3 suits, especially if vulnerable

Beware any weak 2-card suits

11-12 points, NT game could be on, so invite

13+ points, NT game is on, so bid it

Better players use Stayman both with a 4-card Major and often for transferring to a minor. Makes the 2spade bid unambiguous.

(For some players, 2spade can mean either "transfer to a minor" or "11HCP balanced". For players using both meanings, after hearing 2spade, opener should bid


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Example Deal

«  0033  »

Reply to weak 1NT: 11+ balanced

OK, so NT game could be on.  Tell your partner!

Here's all you really need to know, in a simple table:



message to partner (beginners)



"I'm balanced too. We might have 25.  You decide"



"I'm balanced too. Definitely got 25.  Go for it !"

You could easily work out the table from first principles:  recall that opener promised 12 points and a balanced hand, and, remember, you need 25 for game with stoppers in all suits.  So, with a balanced hand, if you have 13+ …put it into game.  If you have 11-12, invite opener to decide, since he could have up to 14 points. If he does have the maximum of 14, he'll put it into game.

A tricky little problem
C asked a very good question:  After a reply of a 2NT "invitation" (promising 11-12 points), what if opener has 13 HCP, not 14? Opener knows there are 24 to 25 HCP combined. Should opener convert to game? 24 is too light really in No Trumps, but what if we have 25?

Well, first of all, there could be some extra hidden strength. So that opener could put it into game if he has a long minor (5+), because a long minor can be very powerful, especially opposite 3-4 cards. It's worth an extra point. You can apply the same principle to evaluating the Responder's hand too[1].

But there's . . .

Another way round the tricky little problem
The problem above arises because the opener does not know if responder has 11 HCP or 12 HCP. If he knew, then the problem could be solved. For this reason, some people split the reply to 1NT into two parts

  • with exactly 11 HCP, bid 2spade
  • with exactly 11 HCP, bid 2NT

Now opener can decide more accurately whether to raise to game or not. The table above now becomes:



message to partner (beginners)



"I'm balanced too. Raise to game if you have 14"



"I'm balanced too. Raise to game if you have 13"



"I'm balanced too. Definitely got 25.  Go for it !"


investigate slam

For beginners, there is a very small disadvantage to this bid: for beginners, you lose the ability to reply 2spade when you are weak. For intermediate players who use transfer bids there is no such problem, though you might need to modify how you transfer into a minor suit. Read on. . ..

There are two ways round this that you should discuss and agree with your partner: (First one is powerful. Second one is not so great, we think.)

The First solution is to use Stayman (2club), when replying to 1NT, not only when having one or two 4-card Majors, but also when wishing to transfer to a minor, either weak or strong. By doing this, the 2spade reply to 1NT is not needed for minor transfers (which some people still prefer), but can be used instead for telling your 1NT opening partner that you have a balanced hand with precisely 11 HCP. (This is both easier to remember, comes up quite a lot, and has some better outcomes).

Second solution. Here, the system has been further refined to include the use of the 2spade bid as a means of transferring into a minor suit. Thus, after a weak 1NT:

  • 2spade. "I may have 11 HCP balanced", or "I may have a long minor suit"
  • 2NT "I may have 12 HCP", or "I may have a long minor suit"

After this 2spade, the opener rebids either:

  • 2NT. With a weak hand (12 HCP). Partner then chooses between passing, or bidding a minor suit.
  • 3club. With a strong hand (14 HCP). Partner then chooses between 3NT, passing, or bidding diamonds.

This is NOT the best solution, in our humble opinion, due to complexity (and the fact the Stayman will solve the problem anyway).

Balanced hands

With balanced hands, you are better off if both of you have stoppers in at least 3 suits.  In almost all cases that's sufficient.

However, there does remains the outside chance (and problem) that even though you have 25 points between you, you might both not have any stoppers at all in the same one suit.  It's the risk you take (about 5% or so) with this particular route to 3NT, for the benefit of being able to bid to game, and make it more than 50% of the time. 

To cheer you up a bit, think about the opposition perspective. The enemy might have 8 or more cards in your weak suit, but they have no real chance to bid them because you shut them out. Most of all, think about the prize money. It's considerable.


One precaution you can take especially when vulnerable is to be more cautious if you have any weak 2-card suits. If you were both to have doubletons in the same suits, and they were both weak ones, you'd be quite likely to lose 5 tricks immediately, even 6!

Be more cautious if you have more than one suit without stoppers.

If you are more conservative, then change the requirement to 26 HCP and you should certainly win more often than not.

Another option for vulnerable players to consider is to avoid opening 1NT if your 12HCP is not a good 12HCP.

Or even simply to agree with your partner to open strong NT when vulnerable. A few people play like this, but you would certainly need to agree it beforehand and remain vigilant throughout the contest: any forgetfulness is likely to lead to some "missed opportunities", or even stressed relationships. . ..

Are your suits covered? Indicate exact strength.

33. Replying to weak 1NT. You have a balanced hand, stoppers in 3 suits, with >11 HCP
HCP points team situation better players beginners
11 23-25 HCP combined bid 2spade. Partner raises with 14. (But bid Stayman with any 4-card Majors, unless it's 4333 which give no ruffing power) 2NT. Partner will raise to 3NT if he has max 14. Beware a weak 2-card suit.
12 24-26 HCP combined bid 2NT. Partner raises with 13. (But bid Stayman with any 4-card Majors, unless it's 4333 which give no ruffing power)
13-18 25+ assured bid 3NT, a "Game" bid. (But bid Stayman with any 4-card Majors, unless it's 4333 which give no ruffing power) 3NT. Beware a weak 2-card suit.
19+ 33+ is possible bid 4NT, inviting partner to raise to 6 (small slam) if he has max 14.
23+ 37+ is possible bid 5NT, inviting partner to raise to 7 (grand slam) if he has max 14.
21-22 33-36 is certain bid 6NT, telling partner 6 is certain, 7 is impossible.
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[1]A note about long minor suits: Have you noticed how helpful it can be to establish a long suit when playing no trumps ? Well, when calculating your points, you as responder can add a point for every card over 4 in a long minor. For example: a 2335 distribution can be very useful. Add one point.  A 2236 distribution is strictly not balanced, but provided you still have stoppers in 3 suits, especially the 2 short ones, you can add 2 points.  (If you have a long Major suit, perhaps you should be playing in a Major!). Note that singletons are often terrible in NT (e.g. 1336), because you end up not being able to lead to your partner's cards in that suit.


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