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Shawn Stringer, President
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Apr/MayArticle by Steve RobinsonAug/Sep
ArticlesWhen should you use the Unusual NT or Michaels (Jun/Jul 2008)
I asked my expert panel -- What are the minimum hands that you would bid 2NT(unusual) over RHO's one-of-a-major opener? You may give different answers based on type of game and vulnerability. What about Michaels over a one-of-a-minor opener? Do you bid them with all 5-5 hands or just very good and very bad hands?

Half of the experts bid Michaels and the Unusual Notrump on all strength hands. I agree. When you show your 5-5, you don’t have to worry about missing a big fit. If you overcall 1 with AJ10xxAQxxxxxx and it goes all pass, you are apprehensive waiting for dummy. If dummy happens to come down with xKxxxxxxxxxxx you just missed your 4-game. I must admit, however, that I would overcall 1 holdingAQJ10xxxxxxxxx and AQxxxJxxxxxxx, and would overcall 2 holding xxxxxxxxAKQJx. Most of the experts use the ‘when in doubt bid’ rule especially Michaels over one-of-a-minor when you have the safety of stopping at the two-level.

Drew Casen---I promise at least 5-5 whenever I use the Unusual Notrump or Michaels. My standards here don't differ for IMPS vs. Matchpoints. Vulnerability plays a huge part in my standards. If favorable, my partners understand that it could be a defensive save-oriented hand. If unfavorable, it is very sound. Most experts adhere to a theory that such calls can’t be made on medium hands. I don't agree because most of us have developed methods where responder can show interest and often without losing a level. For example, let’s suppose the bidding goes1-2 (hearts and a minor)-(pass)- We play as follows: 2NT - bid your minor and I have values; 3- pass/correct and weak; 3- artificial game try in hearts 3- weak.

After 1 –2 showing 5-5 with hearts and a minor, normal methods are that 2NT asks for the minor and three-of-either-minor is natural. Casen plays that 2NT asks for the minor but shows values. With a weak hand advancer bids 3 which is pass or correct for overcaller’s minor. 3 is an artificial heart game try. Similarly, after 1 - 2, 2NT shows values asking for overcaller’s minor. 3 is pass or correct with a weak hand. 3 is a spade game try. If you have great support for both minors you could bid 4NT asking for overcaller’s minor.

Kit Woolsey---5-5 at least is required, both for Unusual Notrump and Michaels. Other than that, anything goes. I can have any strength, strong, intermediate or weak. Obviously I won't go crazy vulnerable if it looks too risky, but other than that I always show the two-suiter.

When you are 5-5, you have some protection.

Kerri Sanborn---Obviously, vulnerability, state of the match and other psychological factors would enter into any decision on minimum hands for two suited actions. This question requires a lengthy discussion of vulnerability, but my feeling is that an old fashioned rule of two (vulnerable/non vulnerable), three (equal vulnerability) and four (favorable vulnerability) should have some bearing on minimum hands with which to take action. A second criterion should be the texture of the suits. Chunky suits are safer than empty ones. High card strength has little to do with Michaels or Unusual Notrump. Rather length and texture are the determining factor. Supposing a choice of whether to bid over 1, I would bid with (equal vulnerability) xxQJ10xx QJxxxx, but perhaps not with xxxKJxxxAxxxx It is a winning idea to interfere whenever possible to create bidding problems for your opponents. We all bid better when left on our own. That said, an aggressive approach could be very effective. If you and your partner don't mind the occasional "telephone number" against you, this could be a style, which suits you. There is a theory with Michaels, that one should only use it with weak or strong hands, leaving the intermediate hands as overcalls, thus limiting the range. I feel that fits and distributions are the key to taking tricks, so I prefer to bid with any range. Partner can invite or preempt more easily and can judge fits in two suits.

Having 9’s and 10’s could be the deciding factor on whether or not to bid.

Ralph Katz---At favorable they are a little lighter but not insane. xxxQJ10xxKJ98x. At unfavorable it will almost look like a strong two: xxKQ10xxKQJxxx. At matchpoints, it may be a little lighter. Against good players as a passed hand you also should have a decent hand, even at favorable because you will help them many more times than hurt them. I do not like the good/bad treatment, which is one reason is that I rarely have a bad hand.

I played a match against Ralph and four times he had hands with which he could have bid Michaels but didn’t and got good results on all four hands.

Grant Baze---The type of game does not matter very much, although we are all a little crazier at matchpoints. The major determinant is vulnerability and personal philosophy. Al Roth felt that you should not use the Unusual Notrump if there was no realistic chance of buying the hand, as you will give too much information to the declarer if you defend. I think that ignores the possibility of a part-score swing, the possibility of discovering a good save, and the chance that you might discover the correct lead, but his view should be respected, which suggests you should not bid the Unusual Notrump just because you are 5-5 at favorable. Nevertheless, at favorable I would bid 2NT with QJ10xx in both minors, but not without both tens. The years suggest to me that the possibility of a good save is greater than the possibility of a disaster at the three-level. At equal vulnerability I would need KQJxx in both minors, or KQJxx and QJ10xxx. Vulnerable against non-vulnerable is always serious. AKJxx, AKxxx would be a minimum for me to act at my first opportunity. At this vulnerability I agree with Roth; I am not looking to thread a needle at the three or four-level, and I am not interested in creating an immediate disaster. The arguments for the Unusual Notrump versus the arguments for Michaels are very much the same, with one very important difference. The Unusual Notrump forces you to the three-level, which is very dangerous. Michaels only forces you to the two-level, which is much safer. Therefore I think the requirements for Michaels are considerably looser than the requirements for an Unusual Notrump. Non-vulnerable against vulnerable or neither vulnerable I would bid Michaels with QJ10xx in both majors. Both vulnerable I would need a little more; KQJxx and QJ10xx in both majors would be my minimum. Vulnerable against non-vulnerable, again, serious business; I would need KQJxx in both majors to Michaels at unfavorable vulnerability. Or course these are minimums; there is no maximum. With AKQJxx in both majors I would Michaels; I would not start with double as it may go all pass, and if there is a subsequent auction it will be ill defined. The important point, I suppose, is that it is safer to Michaels than to bid the Unusual Notrump, because there is a very important extra level of safety with Michaels. I do not subscribe to the good/bad theory of Michaels; if it is our hand I expect to get it right, and if it is not our hand the chance of disaster is greatly reduced.

If you held x-QJ10xxxQJ10xxx, you are very likely to be outbid but you can still push the opponents to the five-level.

If the auction goes one-of-a-major - 2NT (by you) - four-of-a-major and you want to bid again, double with good defensive values. Bid 4NT if your diamonds are longer than your clubs. Bid 5 if your clubs are longer or you have equal length minors.

Bart Bramley---Matchpoints, favorable: xxxQJxxxKJxxx or xxJ10xxxQJxxxx IMPs, unfavorable: xxxKQ10xxAKxxx or xxKJxxxAJxxxx

I will vary somewhat based on the caliber of the opposition, getting looser against weaker opponents and tighter against stronger opponents. In close cases I will be more aggressive with a void and less aggressive with honors in the short suits. My range is continuous in all cases, starting with whatever my minimum is up to hands that will drive to slam. I use Michaels the same way, but there my minimums are even lower since I own the majors and have a better chance of competing successfully. If I consider a two-suited bid too dangerous I will sometimes pick my stronger suit and bid it; this may miss a fit in the other suit, but is generally safer and less revealing to an opposing declarer. However, I strain to use my two-suited bid if possible. I believe that the advantage of showing ten cards to partner outweighs the disadvantage of showing them to the opponents.

I also lean toward the two-suited action when I am 5-5-3-0 with a void in RHO’s suit and enough strength for a takeout double. If I am strong enough I can follow with a bid in the three-card suit to complete a very accurate description. Even if not strong enough for the follow-up I think it is much more important to show two five-baggers than to cater to playing in the three-bagger.

Jeff Rubens---This depends on agreement. Bridge World Standard uses "weak or strong" in theory (but Master Solvers' Club panelists sometimes apply the show-shape-and-worry-later theory). What constitutes each category or subcategory is also a matter of agreement.

The following experts bid Michaels and the Unusual Notrump only on very strong hands and weak hands. They have somewhere between nine and not a game force. If you overcall in one of your suits and the opponents buy the hand, they will have less information. If partner raises your first suit, your second suit, which is unbid, might surprise the opponents. The problem is when partner has support for your second suit.

Henry Bethe---With 5-5 my minimum 2NT bids have three working high cards with some useful texture in the suits: e.g. xxxKQ10xxQJ9xx; they could have four working cards, but a soft four working cards such as KQxxx in both minors. With a sound four, such as AKxxx KQJxx I would bid both suits, and with a soft five also. With a really good five working cards, or better, I would again bid 2NT, then bid again. At favorable vulnerability I would act with two working cards and really good internal texture: KJ10xx, A109xx. Michaels, about a half trick lighter, but over 1 like the unusual NT, over 1 Q109xx and KJ10xx would be enough. I subscribe to the very good/bad theory of two-suiters.

Billy Pollack---There are lots of variables here, depending on IMPs vs. pairs, the vulnerability, the opponents, and how "hungry" we are; slightly less when showing the majors, since it's at the two-level. Ignoring the last three factors for now, vulnerable at IMPs: xxxKT9xxAJ9xx is really pushing it, but non-vulnerable much looser: xxxQTxxxQJxxx. To make this workable, we limit Michaels to "the minimum for the vulnerability" or a lot more.

You can appreciate the following methods when the following happens. You hold six clubs and have the auction goes 1 - 2 (Michaels) - 4. You pass and find out that partner’s minor was clubs.

Eddie Kantar---I play that 1-2 shows spades and clubs and 1-2NT shows spades and diamonds ditto with 1 -2 and 1-2NT. In any case I do it with 5-5 hands that are not quite opening bids or on 5-5 hands that are so good that I plan to bid again after a minimum response. I do the same over a minor suit. Cue bid with weak and strong hands, bid both suits with the ‘tweeners.

Marinesa Letizia---For Unusual 2NT and Michaels I use pretty much the same parameters. Must be at least 5-5 with a good or bad hand, intermediate hands I overcall. It is always vulnerability dependent. Favorable 5-5 anything goes. Red against white good suits. IMPs I'd be much more conservative non-favorable. Not as constrained at matchpoints.

Marty Bergen---Non-vulnerable minimum -- xxxQJ10xxQJ10xx. Vulnerable minimum xxxKJ109xKJ10xx. Michaels two-of-a-minor lower minimum. Avoid these conventions with medium hands if possible.

John Carruthers---Unusual Notrump and Michaels - same basic requirements - 5+-5+ in the two suits is minimum. The level at which partner must bid is taken into consideration, thus a hand which bids 1-2NT has better quality requirements than 1-2. But, these are the basics.
1. Favorable: virtually any 5-5 or longer: 10xxxx, 9xxxx
2. Equal white: some decent intermediates: QJ10xx, J109xx
3. Equal red: decent suit quality and good intermediates: KQ109x, QJ10xx
4. Unfavorable: good suit quality and good intermediates: KQJ10x, QJ109x
I prefer good/bad, but not strongly, and will play the 'any 5/5' method if partner wishes. For good/bad, I use the guideline for the middle hands that I must be willing to make two bids if LHO raises two levels. I'm more likely to make a two-suited bid where it is less likely that I'll get a second chance at a low level. So, holding xxAK10xxxAK109x I might bid 2NT over 1 anyway, even though it qualifies for two bids. The guideline should be: how happy will I be if partner bids five-of-one-of-my-suits over a four-of-a-major bid on his right?

Richard Freeman---I like to have a defensive trick unless I have extreme distribution. I'm a weak or very strong believer.

Nick Nickell---I use Unusual Notrump much less than Michaels, for several reasons. First, to make game in a minor requires eleven tricks and in a major, only ten. Therefore, the pot odds are different. When you bid either 2NT or Michaels you are providing information that is likely to help the declarer play the hand when you end up defending. When you hold the minors, you are more likely to get outbid than when you hold majors. All that having been said, I would usually be at least 6-5 to bid unusual 2NT. Perhaps at favorable with suits having good interior solidity, I might be only 5-5.

With Michaels you are more likely to buy the hand, and when you can make ten or more tricks, there is a big advantage to buying the contract. Therefore, 5-5 is fine for distribution and suit quality not quite as important. When they "have you", you are a trick lower with Michaels, another reason to be less aggressive with 2NT. I do like to play that Michaels should be bid with either good or bad hands. With intermediate hands, you should overcall and try to bid the other suit later. Sometimes you get shut out or lose the benefit of preemption by starting with the overcall; however, partner will have a better idea of the strength of your hand with this approach and can make better cooperative decisions.

Larry Cohen---This question would require several pages to answer properly. In general, I like two-suited bids to be bad/weak hands or very strong hands where I intend to bid again. Still, I find more and more, especially opposite a passed partner, that I am making two-suited bids even with medium hands. I’m risking missing a game--since I don't intend to bid again and partner should play me for the weak hand when responding. Certainly the vulnerability plays a huge role. The more adverse the colors, the better my hand/suits have to be.

David Berkowitz---We used to play these bids showed very good hands or very bad hands, but we have not had good luck with this and now bid two-suiters on many hands. Vulnerable I would need for Michaels at the two-level KQxxx in both majors, but with good intermediates a little less will do. Non-vulnerable, anything goes, Q10xxx, QJxxx is fine. Suit quality is an issue, with KQJxx, and Jxxxx, I would tend to overcall my good suit.

Frank Stewart---In my days as a player, I was extremely disciplined in using bids to show two-suiters. To bid 2NT over 1 at equal or favorable vulnerability, I wanted a hand with playing tricks but limited defense such as xxxKQJxxQJ10xx. I didn't vary much according to the form of scoring. At unfavorable vulnerability, I wanted the same type of hand but more shape. I tried to avoid Unusual Notrump bids with a wide range of hands. I treated Michaels the same way. With a hand with defensive values such as AKxxxAQxxxxxx, I would overcall 1. I suppose I might have used Michaels in preference to a double with an extremely strong two-suiter, but I can't remember such an occasion.

Eric Greco---Points do not factor in for a Michaels cue bid but I would factor in the vulnerability and would certainly need a better point count or a more shapely hand so they don’t get me for a number or partner bid too much. In Unusual Notrump I would be careful with the medium hands because I don't want to bid it with a hand that I don’t know what to do over partners three-of-a-minor response (i.e. a 5-5 13-15 count). Like Michaels I don’t want to bid it with hands that will go for huge numbers based on the vulnerability.

Barry Rigal---Even at favorable vulnerability I'd like a minimum of four out of the top eight cards in my two suits. In other words, I'd like to see: as a minimum, KJxxxQJxxxxxx for Michaels. Same reasoning for the Unusual Notrump. There is no hand with the two suits meeting requirements that I would not make a Michaels or Unusual Notrump. But if the suits are weaker I might overcall at the one-level instead. AQxxxKxxxxAxx. I might bid spades then hearts.

Larry Mori---This bid is based on vulnerability. Favorable, I am more active because the objective is mainly sacrificial. I will have reasonable suits if 5-5 and be more liberal with longer lengths. Unfavorable, this will be a constructive bid so if 5-5 I will have an opening hand and somewhat less is acceptable with longer lengths. With equal vulnerability, the hands will be near opener to an opener. Michaels will be an opener unfavorable. I do not bid Michaels with the 9-12 type hands in most situations unless I have extra length. If the spades are longer and better, I would start with that with those middle hands. They can be good or bad with favorable hands. I will not bid them with bad hands in any other vulnerability. I do not go to the higher negative possibility in either situation, as it is still a mathematical game. I value preemption but not at the probable cost of going for more than the value of their game.

Wolff bids Michaels with four spades and five hearts. It’s important that your partners and the opponents know about this unusual understanding. Notice that only Wolff suggests bidding Michaels with fewer then five cards in each major.

Bobby Wolff--- Factors in descending order:
1. Vulnerability: Non-vulnerable xxK10xxxAJxxxx would qualify, both vulnerable AxxKQ10xxQJ9xx would qualify, only us vulnerable AxKJxxx KQxxxx would make it.
2. If unequal length minors it is very important that clubs are longer.
3. At IMP's and in need of a swing I would take liberties since the idea is to make a bid they will not make at the other table.
4. With AAKxxxxxxxxxx I would bid 2NT non-vulnerable.

I would bid Michaels with AQxxKQ10xxxxxx non-vulnerable, but would need a fifth spade vulnerable. Since the level is one down from the unusual notrump I think it OK to do it with a four-card spade suit, but not with a four-card heart suit, exception being KQJx, AKJx, and four little in RHO's minor: Summary: I believe it right to be more liberal with Michaels at the two level in order to get both majors in immediately.

With KQJ9xxKQ10xxxx I would merely overcall 1; however with AKJxxxKQ10xvoidKxx I would Michaels cue bid and then bid spades next regardless whether partner has first bid hearts. Again if I were trailing in the match I would tend to bid more Michaels in order to do something different which often produces a different result.

If partner has equal minors he is going to prefer clubs, which is the reason why the clubs should be longer if possible.

Have at least five cards in each suit that you promise. When in doubt bid. Have an understanding about what you do with the middle of the road two-suiters. Once you’ve shown your two suits, don’t bid again unless you have extras. Remember partner knows that you are 5-5. If you never go for a number, you don’t use these conventions enough.
Don Berman, Web Master.