The more you play the more you will see of the world of conventions. There will be some you don't recognize, some you don't like, but many you do. The language of bidding is intricate. Nuances abound. Sometimes you will gain information from what is not bid, just as Sherlock Holmes solved a case from the failure of a dog to bark in the night. Study the conventions so you are prepared for what comes along.
The Unusual No-trump
You have learned so far that no-trump bids show strength and a balanced pattern. There are times when the language of bidding will turn that concept on its head. To wit: the unusual no-trump. It's called unusual because the normal meaning of a no-trump bid is so different from what you have when you bid “unusually.”
When an opponent opens the bidding and you chime in with a bid of 2NT, you are sending your partner a special message. Depending on the opening, you are telling your partner that you have a distributional two-suited hand with the two lowest unbid suits.
If the opening bid is one of a major, 2NT shows at least 5–5 in the minors and about 6–10 HCP.
If the opening bid is 1 ♣, 2NT shows diamonds and hearts, 6–10 HCP.
If the opening bid is 1 ♦, 2NT shows clubs and hearts, 6–10 HCP.
This is another descriptive bid, meant to help your side find a good fit while taking up bidding space from the opponents. If you are a passed hand, you don't need to go to the two level to express your distribution.
This shows the minor suits, at least 5-5. This is logical because you can't have 15–17 HCP. You are a passed hand.
The unusual 2NT is like the Michaels cuebid except that your partner will always have to bid at the three level, so be careful not to use this convention with two lousy suits. It's best if your high-card strength is in your long suits. Be especially careful when you are vulnerable. Those penalty points mount up.
Defenses to 1NT
When an opponent opens 1NT, his side has a tremendous advantage. The partner of the 1NT opener knows right away how many HCP the partnership holds — within 3 HCP, anyway — and that the opener has at least two cards in each suit. This can be extremely helpful knowledge if the bidding heats up. What can you do to turn a bit of the advantage to your side?
When an opponent opens 1NT, you will frequently have a shortage of weapons. There's a very good chance the opposition will have more than half the HCP in the deck, sometimes substantially more.
Your best chance for fighting against that strength is to rely on a big trump fit. If you have a great fit with your partner in some suit and shortness in one or both hands, you can fight against their strength very effectively.
So how do you find out about a potential trump fit with your partner?
There are an endless number of conventions designed to combat the advantage gained by the other side when they open 1NT. Most of them revolve around methods to show single suits of at least six cards — and two-suited hands.
One of the most popular conventions for combating the 1NT opener is called D.O.N.T., for D isturb O pponents' N o-T rump. It was devised by Marty Bergen, a ten-time national champion and a very creative bidder. Although retired from the tournament scene, he is a prolific author and a busy teacher in Florida.
The appeal of D.O.N.T. for many players is its simplicity and the opportunities it gives you to get into the auction. Don't be afraid to bid just because your right-hand opponent opened 1NT. If you have “shape” — a couple of long suits and some shortness — you and a partner can still compete.
Here's how D.O.N.T. works:
Double = a hand with a six-card or longer suit, usually not spades
2 ♣ = clubs and a higher-ranking suit
2 ♦ = diamonds and a major
2 ♥ = hearts and spades
2 ♠ = at least six spades
If your partner doubles to show one suit, your duty is to find out what that suit is. The way to do that is to bid 2 ♣. That doesn't mean you like clubs. It's just the cheapest bid at your disposal. If your partner's long suit is clubs, she will pass. Otherwise, she will bid her long suit and you will usually pass. When one of the opponents opens 1NT, you won't be making game very often, so just take it easy. Even if you like your partner's suit, just be happy that you found a fit. Simply say “pass.”
If your partner makes a bid showing two suits, and you have at least three cards in the suit that your partner bids, pass. If you have two or fewer cards, simply bid the next suit up to tell your partner to try again. If your partner bids 2 ♣ and you have a poor holding in that suit, bid 2 ♦. That doesn't say you have lots of diamonds, it just says that you probably like your partner's other suit better than clubs. If your partner's other suit is diamonds, she will pass. If not, she'll bid her other suit.
If your partner bids 2 ♦ and you don't like that suit, bid 2 ♥. If your partner's second suit is hearts, she will pass. If not, she will bid 2 ♠.
Here are some hands to test your savvy at D.O.N.T.
This is perfect for a bid of 2 ♦, showing diamonds and a major.
Don't bother. You have only nine cards in your two suits, neither of which is worth mentioning.
There will be times when you have really outstanding “shape” — such as six of one suit and five of another. If you're lucky enough to find yourself in that situation, you will need fewer high-card points than you would if you were bidding with only nine cards in your two long suits. As a famous tournament player once said, “With six-five, come alive!” That means just one thing — bid!