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I asked my expert panel. An opponent opens 1NT that shows 15-17 HCP. What is the minimum you need to bid in direct seat non-vulnerable? In the passout seat? Which convention would you suggest the average player use and which would you suggest they not use?

Point No. 1

Bid with six-card or longer suits. If you are 5-4, you would like to be able to show both suits. You don’t want to bid your five-card suit and find partner with a singleton in that suit and five-card support for your four-card suit. Below are some conventions that show two-suited hands:

DONT (Disturb Opponents’ No-Trump): Double shows a one-suited hand, 2, 2, 2 show that suit and a higher. Could be 5-4 either way or on rare occasions even 4-4.

If you hold a 4441 good hand, you probably want to bid.

Landy: 2 show both majors. Other suits natural. Could be 5-4 or on rare occasions, even 4-4. Advancer bids 2 asking for the five-card major.

Cappelletti: 2 shows a one-suiter, 2 shows both majors and two-of-a-major shows that major and a minor. Could be 5-4 or on rare occasions even 4-4.  

Brozel: Double shows a one-suiter, 2 shows clubs and hearts, 2 shows diamonds and hearts, 2 shows both majors, and 2 shows spades and a minor.

Suction: 2 shows diamonds or the majors, 2 shows hearts or the black suits, etc. Double shows two non-touching suits. The problem is if responder bids 3NT, partner won’t know what type of hand you have.     

Marinesa Letizia: I don’t need a lot. Bidding here is a destructive tool, not constructive. I like DONT because I can bid with just about any two-suiters. I like to bid with 5-5 in two suits, but I can be 5-4 if the lower suit is a five-card suit. I will double to show a one-suited hand with just about any decent six-card suit. Because I bid so lightly initially, I wouldn't be much lighter in passout seat. DONT is what I recommend because it is much safer to get in the bidding when you show two suits. I don't really have any strong feelings about other conventions used here, other than that using double for penalty is wasted, because you almost never really have them in trouble in 1NT. They usually can run to a better spot, and the frequency of being able to set them is quite low.

Point No. 2

When 5431 distribution, you need very few HCP, especially if you can show the two suits where you have 5-4. With 5422, you need more strength.

Point No. 3

If you hold Kxx AxxKJxxAQx and double for penalty, you have to find an opening lead. Opener will play you for the missing cards and will play the hand better. If you pass, opener might play your partner for some of the missing honors.     

Bobby Wolff: Distribution is the key to bidding against your opponent's strong notrump.

I would bid 2 with QJ10xxx K10xxxxx non-vulnerable immediately over the notrump. In the balancing seat one can bid with an even weaker hand: Jxxxxx xQJ10xJx is an easy 2 bid after 1NT – Pass - Pass. Obviously partner will have at least 12 HCP and probably more, and if partner has the king of spades, the ace will be right. If he has the ace of diamonds the finesse will be on side. When I bid 2 I hope partner will raise me immediately to four. If he does I would give two to one odds that we will make it. 

While I have nothing specifically against using conventions against notrump, I see no reason for anything other than a bid asking for the majors and a double by partner shows 15+. Partner takes it out with terrible hands and a five-card suit and even terrible hands with four clubs. Otherwise the opponents will normally have a fielder's choice to sit for 1NT doubled when it is right for them or take it out safely when that is called for.

Karen Allison: With as little as KJT9xxx in a suit, I would be likely to enter the auction with a pre-empt in direct seat. In passout seat, I expect my partner to have values so I would bid with KQTxxx. 

I'd suggest any convention that allows you to get two-suited hands into the auction. Landy is fine, so is Cappelletti, even DONT.

I suggest that newer players to the game avoid Suction or any convention where the implications are unclear to them of bids, failures to bid, advances, etc.

I'd suggest that whatever they play, it not be too complex, and that they thoroughly discuss all likely auctions with their partner.

Eddie Kantar: A decent non-solid six-card suit, hopefully with a singleton, so I don't have too many quick losers. Sort of like a Weak Two. I’ll also bid with a half-way decent 5-5 hand.  

In balancing seat I would defend about the same as above.

I suggest they use double for penalty, 2 for the majors, 2 for the reds, 2 and 2 natural and 2NT for the minors.

I would suggest they not use any bid that does not show the exact suits they have.

Joe Kivel: I have no minimum or maximum. My concept is that over weak NT our bids are constructive; over strong NT our bids are destructive. If I have a good semi-balanced hand and they are vulnerable, I'm less apt to come in at match points -- why try for +110, when we may get +200.

The more suits I can show, the better the system. I like Cappelletti or any other treatment that allows you to show two-suited hands as well as single-suited hands.

Point No. 4

Against strong notrump, you just want to compete for the partscore. Unless you have a great fit, you’re unlikely to have a game.    

Steve Bloom: I am a bit old-fashioned, but I like to keep my game prospects alive, even over a strong notrump. If your side buys the contract, the cards are marked, and the hand usually plays very well. So, when I overcall 2, say, I want partner to bid 4, or even 3NT. Thus, a reasonable minimum overcall might be AQJxxx xxxxxxx. With that as my philosophy, majors are more important than minor suits.

This is true of partscore competition as well. Thus, I dislike conventions like DONT. In expert hands, the convention seems to work out, but it makes finding your major suit fit hard, and makes the opponent's life very easy. An average player should never use DONT or similar conventions in the direct seat. Meckstroth and Rodwell have their partners play Double = both majors or one minor; 2 = clubs and a major; 2 = diamonds and a major, and 2 , 2 = natural. Any use is fine by me.

The balancing seat is an entirely different story. There are no nevers in bridge, but it is never right to pass out 1NT with a singleton or void. Thus, xxxxxx xxxxxxx is a possible balance! DONT in the balancing seat is fine, even in the hands of novices.

Moderator’s comment:

You can only balance with xxxxxx xxxxxxx if partner can take a joke.

Dave Berkowitz: As always, suit quality is key. KQ109xx of a suit and out is fine. Q109xxx and a king (or ace) outside is not.

On terms of conventions we like to say less is more. You and your partner must play the same system. Whichever it is is of less import than knowing all of your follow-ups.

For newcomers, I like Landy; for a little more advanced player I suggest DON’T; both of these conventions can be played in all positions.

Doug Doub: Lacking extreme distribution, the minimum needed to act is probably something like a good four count, e.g., KJTxxx xxxT9xx. I would not do anything much different in the passout seat. I recall balancing with a natural 2 with JT9xxxx and out, and then bid 3 when the opponents competed, making nine tricks, but that is exceptional.

I like Landy. Bidding 2 for the majors allows a 2 bid by responder to get to the longer fit when the 2 bidder is 5-4 in the majors and responder has equal length. I think that is a large bonus, and so much prefer bidding 2 for the major versus 2 or 2 as is frequently played.

I also like Woolsey, i.e., double shows a hand with a four-card major and a longer minor. Between Woolsey and Landy, you can compete at the two-level with every two-suiter except the minors, which is the least important pair.

It is probably superior to play 2 to show a one-suited hand in the majors, so that two-of-a-major shows five of the major plus four+ of a minor, but it's not that big a deal.

I suppose that DONT would be my second choice of methods over 1NT, but it's not a close call in my opinion, though none of the popular methods are really bad at all.

I strongly suggest that no one use "Becker," i.e., 2 for the minors and 2 for the majors.

Marty Bergen: xx Q109xxxJ10xxx is definitely enough here. With 5-5, I am super-aggressive. With 5-4 I am aggressive but sensible.

In passout seat? xxxxx xxxxxxxx is 10000% clearcut.

I would even bid with 5242.

Use DONT. Do not use anything hard to remember.

Kerry Sanborn: I would bid on a hand with a six-card suit, biddable at the two-level on as little as JTxxxx KxxKxxx. With a five-card suit, I would need a little better with a 5-4 pattern; e.g., KJTxx KxxQxxxx. The fewer high cards and the fewer trumps, the better the texture should be in your primary suit. Holding a 5-5 pattern, I would bid with Kxxxx xKxxxxxx.

In passout seat, I suggest a method that provides for a penalty double conversion by second

seat--in other words, a convention that does not play double as artificial. I could live with a double showing any specific suit or two suits, though, so partner can pass with cards and a lead or cards and a misfit.

Ron Smith: I don't think you need a minimum number of high card points non-vulnerable, especially if partner can take a joke. If you have a good suit, bid it. If you have a long spade suit, bid it. I recommend any system that lets you show your long suit. Making a two-suited hand not obvious is probably OK.

Conclusion:

Distribution is the key. Pass with balanced hands. When you have distribution you should make an effort to get in. Bid when you have a singleton or void or you have a long suit. When you have a singleton or void, you hope the opponents have strength in that suit and their AKQ will only take one trick. The best conventions are ones that show two suits especially the majors.

Don Berman, Web Master.