NoTrump Bidding problem hands
  to No Trump Bidding Book
  last updated 23rd Oc t2008
  If you prefer you can view the pdf file or download the Word Doc file for printing.
  This document gives a number of problem hands involving No Trump bidding. The hands would doubtless have been included in the No Trump bidding book had they occurred before the publication of the book.

This first deal comes from news-sheet No. 200 and is an example of direct ambiguous splinters.


4 out of seven tables landed in an inferior 3NT on this deal (6 makes and 3NT should go one down): -

Dealer: K75     Table A            
West KJ     West   North   East   South  
Love all AK1094     -   1NT (1) pass   2 (2)
    942     pass   2   pass   3NT (3)
1062 J83 all pass            
965 10742                
75 Q6 Expert Table          
AJ853 KQ76 West   North   East   South  
    AQ94     -   1NT (1) pass   3 (2)
    AQ83     pass   3 (4) pass   3 (5)
    J832     pass   4 (6) pass   4 (7)
    10     pass   5 (8) pass   6  
            all pass            
Table A (1) What would you open with this North hand? With this great suit I think that an upgrade to a strong 1NT is best.

Without the mechanism to splinter over 1NT (see expert table) South reasonably tried Stayman.


And with no major suit fit he really has no choice but to punt 3NT.

"Expert" (2)

Our experts have read ‘The definitive guide to Strong No Trump openings,

.Table   Stayman and Transfers ' – referred to as ‘the NoTrump bidding book'
    on the web site, and know all about ambiguous splinters over 1NT. 3 here is an ambiguous splinter (either , , or shortage).

Which shortage?

  (5) shortage
  (6) 's are trumps, slam interest. Although just 14 ‘points' this hand has become enormous opposite support and shortage

Roman Key card Blackwood for 's. Our experts play Kickback.


2 keycards plus the Q. With extra length North says that he has the Q. This is the magic of playing Kickback – even the highest response (2 keycards + key queen) does not go above 5 of the agreed suit.


And what happened? One pair did reach 6 making but 4 pairs found themselves in 3NT.

  The bottom lines: -
- Check out ambiguous splinters over partner's 1NT opening.
- Play something other than 4NT as (RKC)Blackwood when a minor suit is agreed. My personal preference is Kickback (the suit above trumps); it is described on the web site and in the No Trump bidding book. Another option is to play 4-of-the-minor as Blackwood but obviously that would not work here as North does not know if South has slam interest or not.
This deal comes from News-sheet 146 and is an example of finding a good 4-4 fit using SARS, despite the fact that a 5-4 fit has already been located.

This hand caused considerable debate on Monday. 4 is straightforward and everybody easily found it with a 5-4 fit. But as I keep on saying – the 4-4 fit is golden. This deal is, in fact, typical. There is a 4-4 fit and a 5-4 fit. And the good 4-4 fit is superior, making one more trick!


But the real point is – how do you find the 4-4 fit when you have already found the 5-4 fit? Nobody managed this on Monday; and, indeed, I think it is virtually impossible unless you have a fairly sophisticated bidding system after 1NT.


Tables A or B are absolutely typical of 99% of the Bridge playing world: -

Dealer: A765     Table A            
North AJ97     West   North   East   South  
Both vul A2     -   1NT   pass   2 (1)
    A76     pass   2 (2) pass   4 (3)
983 104 all pass            
854 6                
KQJ7 108654 Table B          
Q84 KJ1032 West   North   East   South  
    KQJ2     -   1NT   pass   2 (1)
    KQ1032     pass   3 (4) pass   4 (5)
    93     all pass            
            "Expert" Table          
West North
  East   South  
            -   1NT   pass   2 (1)
            pass   2   pass   3 (6)
            pass   3 (7) pass   4  
            all pass            
Table A (1) What would you bid with this South hand? The ‘Expert' opinion these days is to bid Stayman with all 5-4 (or 4-5) hands in the majors.

And North responds 2 with both majors of course.


And I'm sure that most people would simply raise to game (having found a 5-4 major suit fit).

Table B (1) Now some people (especially Europeans) prefer to transfer when 5-4 in the majors, so let's see how that works here.

I guess it depends upon how you play your super-accepts (I assume that everybody will super-accept with 4 trumps and a superb maximum?). Anyway, let's suppose that North super-accepts with 3.

  (5) Then South has nothing more to say other than 4.
"Expert" (1) As I said above, most experts bid 2 when 5-4.
.Table (6) But this is where we sort the men from the boys. South knows that there is a
    5-4 fit. But he is also an expert and with these excellent 's he also knows that if there is also a 4-4 fit then 4 will be a better contract. So what does he do? Why, he asks North what his shape is, of course. 3 here is SARS (Shape Asking Relays after Stayman). It's all in the No Trump bidding book.

And it could not be simpler, 3 here says that North also has 4 's.


And what happened? Anybody who had read (and digested) the NoTrump bidding book would have scored a complete top for making 4 +2. At our club everybody played in the inferior 4 which should only make 11 tricks. Don't ask me how to bid to 6 ; obviously simply locating the 4-4 fit is good enough for an excellent score.

  The bottom lines: -
- Locating the 4-4 fit is what all bidding systems are all about.
- The 4-4 fit is sacred; it is a cow to India , it is Bin Ladin to a terrorist, it is …
- It is better than a 5-3 fit, and a good 4-4 fit is usually better than a 5-4 fit!
- It may not be important at IMPs, but at pairs scoring being in 4 will earn a bundle of matchpoints on this deal.
- The SARS convention is fully described in the NoTrump bidding book.
- If you do indeed look at the No Trump bidding book, you will discover that there is a
  section totally devoted to how to find the superior 4-4 fit even though a 5-4 fit has already been uncovered; and this actual ‘expert' sequence is given, so it's not something I made up after the event!
Deal No3 comes from News-sheet 205 and is an example of finding good game with minimal values using Stayman super-accepts.
Dealer: K954     Table A            
East Q1042     West   North   East   South  
N-S vul 5     -   pass   pass   1NT  
    J1083     pass   2 (1) pass   2  
A86 107 pass pass (2)        
J97 A863                
KJ1073 Q9642 Table B          
94 K7 West   North   East   South  
    QJ32     -   pass   pass   1NT  
    K5     pass   2 (1) pass   2  
    A8     pass 3 (2) pass   4  
    AQ652     all pass            
            "Expert" Table          
West North
  East   South  
            -   pass   pass   1NT  
            pass   2 (1) pass   3 (2)
            pass   3 (3) pass   3 (4)
            pass   4 (5) all pass    

(1) is “Garbage Stayman” and North would pass a 2 response.

But North has a difficult choice at (2) here at Tables A and B. Should he pass (correct if South has QJ32 K53 A8 KQ65) or try for game? The problem is that North has no idea that South is maximum with a superb fit. Is there a scientific way to bid this hand?


3 shows a maximum with a good 5 card suit and a 4 card major.

(3) which major?
(4) 's
(5) fine.

And what happened? At the club ½ the field stopped in 2 and ½ bid game. Everybody made 11 tricks.

  The Bottom Lines.

Assuming that your singleton is usefully opposite a 1NT opener is a sheer gamble. More advanced pairs should use more advanced methods – see Stayman Super-accepts in the NT bidding book.

Deal No4 comes from News-sheet 251 and is an example of finding good minor suit slam using SARS
KQ7 You have this hand and partner opens 1NT, what do you do?
A953 The hand comes from the book '52 Great Bridge Tips' by David Bird.
K3 David says to bid 6NT and not to look for a 4-4 fit as you have
AQJ6 enough for 12 tricks and there may be a trump loser if you play in 's.
    That is very true - but what about possibly playing in 7??
In the book David gives an example for partner's hand where there is a 4-4 fit but 6 fails and 6NT makes because there is a trump loser only if you play in 's. I give an equally likely 1NT opener below and demonstrate why you should look for the GOOD 4-4 fit - you get an extra trick!
North South North   South  
KQ7 A106 -   1NT  
A953 K7 2 (1) 2 (2)
K3 AQ72 3 (3) 3NT (4)
AQJ6 K532 4 (5) 4 (6)
        7   pass  

In principle this is Stayman, but it could be a raise to 2NT (with or without a 4-card

  major) or it could simply be the start of a SARS sequence to ascertain opener's shape.
(2) Denying a 4-card Major

SARS – asking about partner's shape.

(4) 4-4 in the minors

RKCB and setting 's as the trump suit. North has uncovered the 4-4 fit and also

  knows that partner has 4 's – so only 5 cards in the major suits and thus no loser there (assuming partner has the K); the hand is surely making 13 t rick s if there is no keycard missing.
(6) 3 keycards
A more pessimistic option at (5) would be 4 - showing a quantitative raise with a 4-4 fit. South would assume that North is looking for a small slam and should bid 6 with these top cards and a great hand for 's (get an extra trick with a ruff) and North would then bid 7. (He would convert 5 to 6 or 6NT if pairs scoring).

I've met this sort of thing before in bidding books and magazines – bidding 3NT or 6NT when there is no good 4-4 major suit fit but totally ignoring a possible minor suit fit for slam.

An alternative for the SARS sequence 1NT - 2 - 2 - 3
In the No Trump bidding book we define the responses as follows: -
3     a 5-card minor
  3   which?
    3 5 's
    3NT 5 's
3     4 's, so 3334
3     4 's, so 3343
3NT     both minors, so 2344 or 3244
Now I think that this is the best treatment, but Sean Burgess plays it differently. His recommended treatment is as follows, let's call it Irish SARS: -
3     4 or 5 's
3     2344
3     3244
3NT     4 or 5 's
Which is best? With my recommended treatment you establish if partner's minor suit is 4 or 5 cards but you don't know the major suit distribution when opener is 4-4 in the minors.
With Sean's treatment you know the two and 3 card majors when partner is 4-4 in the minors but if he has just one minor then you don't know if it's a 4 or 5 card suit.
Which piece of information is more important? In my opinion knowing that partner has 5 cards in the majors (3-2 or 2-3) is usually good enough (especially as you don't know the high cards in either suit) and I really want to know if partner has a 5 card minor.
Note that either treatment would have reached the 7 slam in deal 4.
There is an excellent example of Stayman Super-sccepts in news-sheet 302. Nobody bid game when 4 was cold (actually making +1).
There are five examples of direct ambiguous splinters in the document "Examples of bidding with shortage opposite a 1NT opener".