New Minor Forcing
You have a sound foundation based on opening bids of five-card majors. You know that you respond with 6 high-card points, and when partner opens one of a minor and you have four cards in each major, you bid 1 ♥. When partner opens one of a major, you raise when you have support.
You have most of the bidding rules down pat, and it's easy when your hand falls on either end of the strength spectrum after partner opens the bidding. With just enough to respond to partner's opener, you plan to make one bid and pass unless opener shows extra strength with his next bid. When you and partner both have opening hands, you will get to game.
It's the responding hands that fall in the middle range that can cause problems without what some players refer to as “gadgets.”
One of the most useful of those bidding tools is called New Minor Forcing. That sounds fancy and complicated, but it is really very simple.
Before you learn about how it works, it's important to know why it's needed.
Say you have the following hand:
Your partner opens 1 ♦. You bid 1 ♠. So far, so good. Now partner rebids 1NT, showing 12–14 high-card points and a balanced hand. You have 11 HCP, so you know you should be in game if partner has 14, so clearly an invitational bid is in order. So, what is your next move?
First, consider the meanings of the bids you might make, discounting a bid of either of your minors: 2 ♠ shows a six-card or longer suit and a weak hand. 2 ♥ correctly describes your distribution in the majors but does not come close to describing the invitational strength of your hand. 2NT is correct from the standpoint of high-card points, but that singleton club is worrisome.
Furthermore, partner will pass holding:
If that is partner's hand, the opponents could take the first five or six club tricks, and if even they take only five club tricks, unless spades divide 3–3 (against the odds), partner will have to depend on the diamond finesse. He could easily go down in 2NT, but do you see the possibilities in hearts? 4 ♥ requires only a normal split in hearts for game to make. The losers are one club, one heart and one diamond (if the finesse doesn't work). With a working diamond finesse, you could take 11 tricks in a heart contract.
So, why can't you bid 3 ♠ to invite game in that suit? Well, that shows a six-card suit, which you don't have. What about 3 ♥? That would show at least 5–5 in the majors with enough strength for game.
So what is the answer?
It's called New Minor Forcing (often written as NMF), and this is how it works in basic form:
When opener starts with one of a minor and rebids 1NT over responder's bid of one of a major, responder's bid of the other minor is artificial and almost always indicates that responder has five of his major and enough high-card strength to invite game.
Some sample auctions:
In both cases, responder has chosen the unbid or “new” minor for his second call. This bid indicates at least 11 high-card points, although you also use the convention with enough strength for game (responder is simply trying to find the best denomination for the final contract).
So, what are opener's responsibilities when his partner employs NMF? There are two separate scenarios, depending on which major responder bid (the minor that was opened is of less importance). Here is the bidding:
2 ♦ denies three hearts or four spades (see note below) and usually shows extra length in diamonds.
2 ♥ shows three-card heart support but a minimum opener — 12 to a poor 13.
2 ♠ a minimum with four spades and fewer than three hearts. Note that because 1NT in the given auction normally denies four spades, this is a matter for partnership agreement.
2NT shows a minimum with a doubleton heart and fewer than four spades.
3 ♣ shows a hand with clubs and diamonds, without three hearts.
3 ♥ shows a maximum opener with three-card heart support.
3NT shows a maximum without three hearts or four spades.
Opener's rebids are slightly different when responder started with 1 ♠.
Reminder: NMF also applies when opener started with 1 ♣ and responder bids 2 ♦ over 1NT. Here are opener's responses in the given auction:
2 ♥ shows a minimum with four hearts, usually without three spades.
2 ♠ shows a minimum with three spades. This bid does not deny four hearts.
2NT shows a minimum without three spades or four hearts.
3 ♣ shows a hand with diamonds and clubs, without three spades.
3 ♦ shows a maximum with extra length in diamonds without three spades.
3 ♥ shows a maximum with four hearts but without three spades.
3 ♠ shows a maximum with three spades.
3NT shows a maximum without three spades or four hearts.
There are many different variations on the use of NMF. For example, some partnerships agree that in the given auction, a 2 ♦ response to the NMF bid of 2 ♣ shows three-card heart support and four spades.
One of the benefits of using NMF comes from what opener knows about responder's hand when the convention is not used. For example, opener may have three-card support for responder's major, but if responder invites game by bidding 2NT, opener knows that responder almost certainly has no more than four of his major, so opener will not show three-card support even if he has it. After all, if responder held five of the major, he would have started the invitational process with NMF.
Also, when you employ NMF, you show at least invitational values, but you could have more. With enough to force game, you can agree with partner that if you use NMF and rebid your major suit, that shows at least six of them with enough strength to force game and with at least mild slam interest. Otherwise, you would simply blast into game over the 1NT rebid, right?
Here's another benefit to using NMF. Supposed you hold this hand:
Partner opens 1 ♦. You respond 1 ♠ (you are nowhere near strong enough to consider bidding your six-card club suit). If partner raises your 1 ♠ bid, you are perfectly happy. But what if opener rebids 1NT? You know your best contract almost surely is in clubs (partner has at least two of them for his 1NT rebid) and your hand definitely does not look like a good dummy for a no-trump contract.
So what can you do? Well, because you play 2 ♣ as a forcing, artificial bid with invitational values, that option is not available. You can, however, bid 3 ♣ as a signoff. This shows exactly what you have: four spades, at least six clubs, and no interest in game. Yes, it sounds strong, so partnership discussion ahead of time is necessary — and you might screw it up the first time or two that you use it. This device is very valuable in turning a poor 1NT contract into a making suit contract.
It works the same when partner opens 1 ♣ and you have four of a major, at least six diamonds, and a hand with no game interest opposite a 1NT rebid.