Balancing 1NT

Mel Colchamiro1

Suppose you hold

S. Q 7 5 3 H. 9 D. A 10 5 C. J 8 6 4 2

and the bidding has gone 1NT—Pass—Pass— ?  Should you balance? With only 7 points? Mel's Rule of 2 says an emphatic yes! Here's why:

   What We Know

We know the opener has 15-17 high card points, but we also know that the responder has 0-8 hcp. We could summarize this by saying that the opener on average has 16 hcp and the responder on average has 4 hcp. So whenver the bidding comes around to you after 1NT—Pass—Pass— ?, you know their side has 20 hcp (on average) and your side has 20 hcp (on average). So your side has as much a right to the contract as they do!

Let’s go back to our example hand. With 7 points we know our partner has (on average) 13.

Also, she probably has a balanced hand since she didn’t bid herself. So whenever we are faced with a balancing decision after a 1NT opening bid, high card points are essentially irrelevant. The controlling factor is our distribution.

   Mel’s Balancing Rule of 2

You should balance whenever you have at least two shortness points, which I define as either a void, a singleton or two doubletons—no matter what your high card point strength is. Remember, the fewer points you have, the more partner has because your side will have 20 hcp (on average). If you have 5, partner will have 15, if you have 9, she will have 11, if you have 13, she will have 7.

To return to our example hand, we know partner has 13 hcp and our finesses will win because partner's (13) points lie over the notrump opener. However, if we have

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

we should pass with this balanced hand. Our finesses figure to lose since partner will have only 7 points on average. It’s funny, but the fewer of our side’s 20 theoretical points we have, the more eager we should be to balance—providing we have 2 shortness points. But even if we have the bulk of our side’s 20 theoretical points, we should balance if we have at least 2 shortness points.

   What Mechanism to Use
in the Balancing Seat
I get the best results by using DONT in the balancing seat. DONT works fine in the direct position, but it’s a particularly big winner in the balancing seat, when used in conjunction with Mel’s Balancing Rule of 2. Using the DONT convention, any suit bid shows that suit plus a higher suit. Spades shows spades only, and a double shows a single suited hand.

   Does Vulnerability Matter?

Not too much. Just because your side is vulnerable, doesn’t mean it can’t still have a good place to play. You will lose once in a while by balancing vulnerable and going down one (minus 100) versus plus 90 their way, but only once in a while. Sure, a vulnerable balance will get doubled and go down 500 or 800, but only once in a while. The majority of the time, following Mel’s Balancing Rule of 2 is a big winner. Remember Mel’s adage: “There are lots of ways to die at duplicate.” You can "die" by being too bold, you can "die" by being too cautious. Luck usually favors the bold.2


1This article is excerpted from the original October 2004 "Claim with Colchamiro" column (ACBL Bulletin), 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