Exploring for notrump

Mel Colchamiro1

When our partnership has discovered an eight-card or longer major suit fit, most of the time the only issue is how high in our major are we going to go—partscore, game or slam. When we have a fit in a minor, however, or there is no clear eight card or longer fit, there is a choice between the minor and notrump. But when game is the target, all experienced players understand the mantra: think 3NT first, think 3NT first and after that, think 3NT first.

   Danger Suits for 3NT

To seriously entertain a contract of 3NT, however, we must be prepared for the suit or suits we most expect the opponents to lead. There. I just said it: the danger suit is the suit we most expect them to lead. (And, yes, there can be more than one danger suit.) To bid notrump, particularly 2NT or 3NT, we should have stoppers in the perceived danger suits.

When Opponents Haven't Bid

When it’s just your side that's bidding, the danger suit is any and all unbid suits: For example:

S. 9 4 H. A Q 7 4 3 D. K J 8 7 C. K 9

Suppose we open 1H. . Partner responds 2C. and we rebid 2D. . If partner then raises to 3D. , bidding 3NT with two low spades would be reckless, because spades is the danger suit—the suit we most expect them to lead. You hold

S. K J 6 H. 10 2 D. A K 3 2 C. Q 8 7 6

If partner opens the bidding with 1C. , it would be a simple matter to respond 3NT (13-15 hcp, no four-card major), but it would be wrong and reckless. The danger suits here are the unbid suits, particularly the majors. Remember, the opponents know that you don't have four hearts or four spades, so they are very likely to lead one of them. Two low hearts is a big risk for notrump, so bid 1D. instead and see how the auction develops. If partner suggets she has a heart stopper, then off we go to notrump land. If she doesn't, then we have to consider 5C. or 5D. .

    When Opponents Have Bid

Suppose our partner opens 1S. and our rho overcalls 2D. . Holding

S. 10 H. A K 6 4 3 D. A Q 8 2 C. 9 7 2

we naturally bid 2H. . Partner rebids 2S. and now what? 3NT, the clubs be damned! The danger suit here is diamonds, the suit we most expect them to lead. We expect a diamond lead, so we can proceed to 3NT. And what of the clubs? Don't worry, be happy.

What happens if we are worried about a danger suit? What do we do? Well, it all depends on how many danger suits there are. If there is only one danger suit and we bid that suit, we are not showing a stopper—such a bid asks partner if she has a stopper. If there are two danger suits, however, and we bid one of them, we are showing a stopper in that suit and are implicitly asking partner to bid notrump if she has a stopper in the other danger suit.

To keep all this straight, I've developed the silly-sounding rhyme

1-NOT, 2-GOT
which means that if there is one danger suit and we bid that suit, we're NOT showing a stopper. But if there are two danger suits and we bid one of them, we're bidding the stopper we've GOT. Examples:
S. 8 5 H. A Q 2 D. A K 9 5 4 3 C. Q 7 4
Opp You Opp Partner
1S 2D Pass 3D
Pass 3S
An example of 1-NOT. There is only one danger suit—spades—so bidding spades means you don’t have a stopper. You’re asking partner for one.

S. K Q 6 H. Q 9 D. A Q 8 7 4 C. 9 8 3

Partner Opp You Opp
1H Pass 2D Pass
3D Pass 3S Pass
An example of 2-GOT. Here there are two danger suits—spades and clubs,

the unbid suits. if we were to bid 3NT here— a big mistake—we would be shocked if they led hearts or diamonds. No, the’re going to lead spades or clubs. So a bid of 3S is showing the stopper you’ve GOT. If partner has the club stopper, she can bid 3NT. If she can’t, I guess we’ll head toward 5 or maybe 4 on a 5-2 fit.

S. A Q 10 3 H. 7 4 D. A K 6 2 C. K 9 8

Opp You Opp Partner
1H dbl Pass 3C
Pass 3H
An example of 1-NOT. there is only one danger suit—hearts. So we bid 3H to ask partner for a stopper. We are not showing a stopper, since if we had a heart stopper and wanted to play in notrump, we would just bid 3NT directly.

S. 8 5 H. A 10 2 D. A K Q 7 6 C. 7 6 5

Partner Opp You Opp
1S Pass 2D Pass
2 Pass 3C

Here, 3NT would be reckless. The clear danger suit is clubs, so it’s a 1-NOT situation. 3C is not showing a stopper. If you had a club stopper and you wanted to play 3NT, you would just bid 3NT. This situation is also part of what’s known as fourth-suit forcing. In any event, for partner to bid 3NT, she needs to have the club stopper.2


1This article first appeared in the ACBL Bulletin, December 2004, and is used here with kind permission of the author and publisher.

2Mel Colchamiro's books and bridge resources are available at his web site www.melbridge.com.