Competing Against No Trump Opens


Have you ever wondered why there are so many conventions for competing when an opponent opens a strong 1NT? Here is a short list: Brozel, Pinpoint Astro, Ripstra, DONT, Hello, Landy, Lionel, and Cappelletti. Currently DONT is favored by experts playing 2/1, Cappelletti by SAYC club players, Landy in Europe and Lionel in Australia-New Zealand. The proliferation of conventions in this one area is a sign that no one of them is entirely satisfactory.

   If we look more deeply into the matter of competing against strong no trump opens we discover that there is a fundamental difference between what we would like to be able to do (and avoid doing) in the direct seat (LHO opens 1NT) vs what we would like to be able to do in the balancing seat (RHO has passed opener’s 1NT). The various conventions are all compromises because they are applied in both seats indiscriminately. In effect we have a choice of various “all purpose” tools, none being totally satisfactory, when what we really want are two different tools, each specialised for its particular seat.

   In the direct seat we want to be able, with a biddable suit and keeping an eye on the vulnerability, to be able to make overcalls at the two-level as often as possible in order to disrupt our opponents' Stayman and transfer sequences. Because single-suited hands occur about three times as often as two-suiters,1 the most effective defense in the direct seat will, therefore, allow for immediate natural overcalls in diamonds, hearts and spades. In addition to this interference, we'd like to be able to compete for a part-score whenever we do get a two-suiter with some values.

   Now, come around to the balancing seat. Here, there is no hurry at all in getting in a two-level overcall to interrupt opponents' communications since they have abandoned the auction at 1NT. With the responder (your RHO) passing, the balance of power must be about equal, so we certainly do want to be able to compete in this auction any time we have a couple of distribution points (two doubletons or a singleton), regardless of how many high card points we have.2

   In fact, the fewer points we have, the more partner, sitting behind the NT opener must have. What we need here in the balancing seat, then, is a treatment that allows an exploration at the lowest possible bidding level of all the possible two-suited hands, plus any long suit we or partner might possess.

   These very different requirements for the direct and balancing seat suggest that two entirely different instruments are needed for the two seats. Fortunately, DONT, one of the most versatile and effective conventions for competing against strong 1NT openings, lends itself to a small but significant adaptation that optimises it for both seats. By reversing or inverting some of the usual DONT calls it's possible to improve DONT significantly for the direct seat.3 This partially inverted DONT—called iDONT—makes the more frequent single-suited hands available to be called in the direct seat. Regular DONT is then retained exclusively for the balancing seat where there is more leisure time to explore the two-suiters.

   The table below depicts what the overcaller's first bids in both standard DONT and inverted iDONT request or show. The pink background highlights the two overcalls that differ between the two variants.

Balancing Seat
Direct Seat
Double --->2C relay      --->2C relay  
2CC + a higher suit C + a higher suit
2D D + a major D
2H both majors H
2SS (weak)S

   Notice that iDONT is only partially inverted. Double, 2C and 2S retain the same meaning in both variants. However, the overcalls of 2D and 2H are inverted in iDONT to show the more common single-suited natural overcalls. The iDONT overcaller shows a two-suiter at her rebid which follows the dbl-->2C relay sequence, the place where in regular DONT single-suited overcalls are shown.

   For the advancer's bids, which are the same in both regular DONT and iDONT, see any convention guide or visit the bridgeguys site.

   This modification of DONT has the advantage of being able to optimise the methods used to defend against a strong 1NT opening in the two different seats, whilst retaining the same basic versatile DONT structure. With two separate but closely related methods we make pretty sure  our opponents can't get away with 1NT anytime we have the shape and values to compete and regardless in which seat we find ourselves.4

©Jock Millenson 05 Nov 05
revised 13 Nov 06


¹See Kleinman, D. (2004) The No Trump Zone, Masterpoint Press.

²This is Mel Colchamiro's "Balancing Rule of 2." See Claim with Colchamiro, ACBL Bulletin, April 2005.

3For the mathematical details of the statistical effectiveness of iDONT and DONT against 1NT openings, as well as the complete schedule of their bids and rebids please visit the article iDONT on this site.

4The treatment described here is directed against strong (15-17) 1NT opens. Against weak (12-14) 1NT openings, substitute no-frills Landy for iDONT in the direct seat as Landy offers a penalty double plus natural overcalls in hearts, diamonds and spades along with two-suited minors and majors.