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Shawn Stringer, President
American Contract Bridge League
Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference
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Dec/JanArticle by Steve RobinsonJun/Jul
ArticlesUnusual NT Holding the Minors (Apr/May 2012)
 I asked my experts the following problem. You hold 322Q5432Q5432. Your RHO opens 1. At equal vulnerability or if you're vulnerable and the opponents are not, you probably wouldn't overcall 2NT showing both minors. You might at favorable vulnerability. What is the minimum addition you would need to bid 2NT when no one is vulnerable, both sides are vulnerable, and at unfavorable vulnerability? Is there a difference playing IMPs or matchpoints?

There is one rule that you should not violate when bidding the Unusual Notrump. You must have at least 5-5 in the minors.

There are many ways to lose the Board when you bid the Unusual Notrump. If you find partner with a weak hand with very little in your suits, you could go for a number if doubled (-300, -500, -800, etc.). If you don’t buy the hand, declarer could have a road map on how to play the hand. Partner could go crazy, bid too high, and go down for more than the value of the opponents’ game, or, not knowing how many defensive tricks you have, partner could sacrifice when you can beat their game.

There is a good tool available to help the opponents get to their best contract. The convention to help the opponents deal with your Unusual Notrump overcall is called Unusual over Unusual. A bid of 3 by responder over a 2NT bid, the lower of the opponent’s two suits, shows hearts with at least ten points. If the opening bid was 1, then 3 by responder over 2NT shows at least three hearts. If the opening bid was 1, then 3 shows at least five hearts. A bid of 3 over 2NT, the higher of the opponent’s two suits, shows spades with at least ten points. If the opening bid was 1, then 3 shows at least three spades. If the opening bid was 1, then 3 shows at least five spades. Three-of-the unbid major by responder over a 2NT bid is natural and shows a hand that would have opened with a weak two bid (a six-card suit and less than ten points, KQJxxx for instance). Three-of-the-opening-bid-major shows less than ten points. If you have at least ten points with a four-card major, or a hand where you want to penalize the 2NT-bidder, you start with a double. You need at least ten points since double promises another bid.

Echoing the dangers of bidding 2NT --

Nick Nickell---The problems with bidding 2NT on these marginal hands are several fold. The first danger is that you could go for a number if doubled. Additionally, if you are outbid, you have given information to the opponents that will help them play the hand. I would need a lot more to bid 2NT. Some more cards in my suits to bid at equal vulnerability. At unfavorable vulnerability, I would almost certainly be 6-5 or very strong. My hand would need to look like eight tricks at that vulnerability. When neither side is vulnerable, a hand such as xxxKQ10 xxQJxxx, would be minimum for me at matchpoints. At IMPs, I would want a little more.

Most experts need more than my example to jump to 2NT even at favorable vulnerability.

Eric Greco---I’d bid 2NT with 322QJ10xxQJxxx at favorable vulnerability, 322KQxxxKJ10xx when neither side is vulnerable, 322KQJxxKQxxx at all vulnerable, and 322KQJxxKQJxx at unfavorable vulnerability. If you are 6-5 you need fewer high card points (6-6 even fewer). I just feel like you should have something for your bid so you go for less numbers, your partner can properly evaluate their hand, and when you are too weak you end up showing them how to make their close slams. It doesn’t tend to matter much whether I am playing IMPs or matchpoints, but I might be ever so slightly lighter at matchpoints, as going for a number is only one board with no teammates.

Alan Sontag---At IMPs I am loathe to squeal my shape with very very bad hands. That said, with only five or six points in my suits, I would want to have a 6-5 hand. At matchpoints add the minor suit jacks, and, at favorable vulnerability, I am a bidder (ugh). When I’m vulnerable, I’d like to have KJ10xxKQ10xx.

Eddie Kantar---Neither side vulnerable, I would need a minimum of seven HCP (at least one ace or one king) with strong intermediates in at least one of the suits, preferably the lower ranking one. Both vulnerable: With good intermediates, at least eight HCP and again at least one ace or one king. Vulnerable against not: Good intermediates in both suits and at least eight HCP. Yes, there is a difference between IMPs and matchpoints. My intermediates would have to be better at IMPs.

Holding QJ1098 instead of QJ432 could make a difference on whether you bid or pass.

Larry Cohen---Not much difference for me in matchpoints or IMPS. I care a lot about suit quality. Vulnerability influences me more than most. I am a bit on the conservative side -- this question all depends on style. If ten is a crazy preempter and one is a solid citizen, I am a four.
My minimum at favorable vulnerability:  322QJ987 QJ875.
My minimum at no one vulnerable:  322KQ972 QJ976.
My minimum both vulnerable:  322 KQ1097 QJ1032.
My minimum at unfavorable vulnerability:  32KQJ98QJ10932.

Matchpoints vs. IMPs? At IMPs, a doubled contract down two not vulnerable for -300 against a partscore or down two or three (depending on vulnerability) for -500 against a non-vulnerable game making 420 is a small loss. At matchpoints, it’s a big loss. At matchpoints, the bad guys make loose doubles even in partscores. At IMPs they need the goods to double you in a partscore.

Kerri Sanborn---At equal and no vulnerability, I would bid 2NT with QJTxx in both minors, perhaps QJ98x in one. My philosophy is that you should anticipate having seven losers, maximum, at equal non-vulnerability, six losers at equal vulnerability and only five losers at unfavorable. This coincides with the old preempting rule of two, three, and four depending on vulnerability. Of course, an unusual notrump bid need not be a preemptive bid.

Of course there’s nothing to stop you from bidding 2NT with a monster. I’d bid 2NT holding x-AKJxxxAKJxxx and drive to slam.

Jeff Rubens---Assuming same shape, the minimum I have at IMPs is:
At favorable vulnerability: KJxxxKJxxx
No one vulnerable: KJ10xxKJ10xx
Both vulnerable: KQ10xxKQ10xx
Unfavorable vulnerability: KQJxxKQJxx
I probably would bid lighter at matchpoints (but tournament situation is a prime input).

Barry Rigal---I would not bid at any vulnerability without stuff in the suits. In other words I'd pass AxxxxKxxxx at favorable vulnerability. So, at favorable vulnerability, holding xxxKJxxxK109xx I might be tempted to act, but I wouldn't be proud of it and would be far more likely to do this facing a passed partner. At unfavorable vulnerability, xxxAJ10xxKQ10xx is a dead minimum (and I'd pass facing a passed partner). At equal vulnerability I might act without the tens in the above hand.

I don’t think any of our panelists would bid 2NT holding AKA6543265432.

Henry Bethe---Basically I restrict 2NT overcalls by the number of tricks I expect to win if partner is 3-2 in the minors with one useful honor and suits break normally. This means internal texture is critical. At favorable vulnerability I have to expect to win six tricks; so QJ10xx in both minors is marginally sufficient, although that hand runs a high risk of being tapped out before the winners in the non-trump suit can be enjoyed. At unfavorable vulnerability I might bid 2NT on KQ10xxA109xx recognizing the high risk of the action. I think one can be more aggressive playing IMPs. At IMPs -200 against a partial or -500/800 against an opposing game is less of a tragedy.

Jill Meyers---2NT to me is "you know it when you see it," but I would not bid 2NT on the hand below at any vulnerability. Vulnerable vs. not vulnerable I would need KQxxxKQxxx with some spots as a minimum; when no one is vulnerable, I would bid with KQxxxKJxxx; at favorable vulnerability KJxxxQJxxx maybe. I am not big on bidding on these hands and giving away the fact that I have the minors because it can tell the opponents how to play the hand.

Marty Bergen---Same for me at either form of scoring, and staying with 5-5:
At favorable vulnerability: xxxQ1098xQ109xx
Neither side vulnerable: xxxQJ10xxQJ10xx
Both sides vulnerable: xxxKQ10xxKQ10xx
Unfavorable vulnerability: xxxKQ109xKQJxx

Mike Lawrence---No one vulnerable: 232KJ985A10543
Both vulnerable: 432AJ543KQ984
Unfavorable vulnerability: 432AQJ87KQ1064
I keep these ranges more or less intact at both matchpoints and at IMPs. Whichever game you are playing, you have a partner, and bidding with much less than shown sets him up for some bad decisions.

Richie Schwartz---I would never ever bid at any vulnerability at any form of bridge with the hand that you gave me. I would need another ace in one suit and jack in the other suit to even consider it (2-1-5-5)

Joel Wooldridge---At matchpoints I'm more likely to be aggressively looking for a sacrifice than at IMPs. At IMPs I want the sacrifice to pay off more often in exchange for the information I'm giving away. So at matchpoints, if you make my clubs or diamonds KQxxx and no one is vulnerable, then I'm doing it. When both sides are vulnerable, I'd need KJxxxKQxxx. At unfavorable vulnerability, I'd need KQxxxAQxxx. At IMPs my vulnerable hands are similar, but my non-vulnerable hands are a bit sounder. With no one vulnerable at IMPs, I need QJxxx KQTxx, both vulnerable I need KJTxxKQTxx, and at unfavorable vulnerability I’d need AQTxxKQTxx.

Frank Stewart---2NT on QxxxxQxxxx wouldn't occur to me at any vulnerability or form of scoring. At equal vulnerability I would want xxxQJ10xxKQ10xx. Vulnerable against not I would want xxKQ10xxKQ10xxx. Not much difference at matchpoints or IMPs; maybe a little sounder at IMPs. I guess I'm a dinosaur.

Bobby Wolff---When neither side is vulnerable I would do it with 6-5 rather than 5-5, but would also like the two minor suit jacks. If vulnerable I would need two KQJ’s or at least KQ10 to do it, regardless of the opponents’ vulnerability. I, of course, would be slightly looser at matchpoints and especially do it against good opponents to try and reduce their advantage of probably having the best hands, making them the favorites to get above average boards against my partnership.

John Mohan---This is exactly the kind of hand that differentiates IMPs from matchpoints. At matchpoints take your shot with 2NT at favorable and laugh off the -1100 against their partscore, with a "simpatico" partner. If your partner is not on the same page, trade him/her in. At equal vulnerability, add a king. At IMPs, with J10 in each suit I would do it at favorable vulnerability, but would also need a king at equal vulnerability and would not consider it at unfavorable vulnerability.  Probably same goes for matchpoints. By the way, I detest preempting with aces -- they have the unfortunate quality of taking defensive tricks (or two) and invalidate partner's preemptive judgment. Interestingly, the eleventh card in the minors seems to significantly tip the scales at all forms of scoring and vulnerabilities. 

David Berkowitz---Last question first, there is a difference between the two forms of scoring (matchpoints and IMPs). I would tend to be less aggressive at IMPs. Bidding just for the sake of it (with the awful hand provided) is somewhat juvenile. The opposition (with help from your partner), may kill you, or they may benefit greatly in the play.

At favorable vulnerability, I guess QJ10 and QJ9 in my suits would be enough. With neither side vulnerable, KJ10xx and KJ9xx are enough. Vulnerable I would need a good hand, perhaps AQxxx and KJ10xx, less if 6-5, and a little less if 3-0 in the majors (or 0-3). Random use of the unusual notrump may win on occasion, but in my view is a long-term loser.

Danny Gerstman---Of the six minor jacks, tens and nines, I'd need four of them non-vulnerable. Vulnerable, of the four minor aces and kings, I'd need at least two with at least three of those jacks, tens and nines. Remember, partner is an unpassed hand and I could easily be going minus. As for IMPs/matchpoints, there's less of a penalty when you go for 200 at IMPs; on the other hand, partner may bid a game expecting some winners when vulnerable. Again, it is so much easier when you know partner is a passed hand so he wouldn’t be bidding for a make.

When you’re 5-5 or better with a great fit, you can still have a game even opposite a passed hand. Holding AxxxxxxxKQxxx, you can make game opposite 1-2-5-5 with two aces or the AQ of diamonds. If partner happens to have his honors in the minors, he can make life difficult for the opponents.

Billy Pollack---Contrary to the modern style, I like to have "a little something", so: 1) Not vulnerable: xxxQJxxxKQxxx. 2) Vulnerable: xxxAQxxxKQxxx. I’d be a smidgeon friskier at matchpoints with all the usual "state of the event" considerations.

Freddie Hamilton---Non vulnerable K and J. Both vulnerable I’d need K and K+ or J. Unfavorable KJ KJ or J, K + an ace. Perhaps a jack lighter at matchpoints

George Jacobs---No one vulnerable would require QJ9xx of one suit and Q108xx of the other. Still might be reluctant. Both vulnerable, I need KQ10xx of one and QJ10xx of the other. At matchpoints, I am more likely to get doubled so doing it at IMPs is actually safer.

Bobby Lipsitz---Would just need Q6543 of each minor.

Marinesa Letizia---I wouldn't bid at any vulnerability with your example.  Non-vulnerable I would like some texture to the suits. QJxxxQ109xx would be the minimum I need at favorable vulnerability. Vulnerable I would need a little more with decent spots. I'm a little more conservative at IMPs. 

Ralph Katz---Need a lot to get to the minimum. At equal vulnerability xxxKQJxxQJ9xx or add a minor- suit card and take out a queen. At favorable vulnerability xxx QJxxxQJ9xx. At unfavorable vulnerability my 5-5 hands are really good, so I am usually 6-5, something like xxQJ9xxKQ9xxx. At matchpoints I could be a little lighter except vulnerable.

Mel Colchamiro---With xxx QJxxx KQxxx, I’ll bid 2NT if I'm not vulnerable at matchpoints. I'm bidding it at IMPs only at favorable vulnerability. Sometimes it gives the play away, and sometimes you push them around. You pays your money and takes your chances--or you don't.

John Carruthers---Favorable I’d bid 2NT with your example hand. With neither side vulnerable add a king and jack to my suits and 10/9's to both. Both sides vulnerable I’d need KQJxx in both or KQJxx in one and QJ109x in the other. At unfavorable vulnerability I’d need KQJ10x in both; maybe a 9 instead of one of the 10s. I think the jacks, tens and nines in your suits for this bid are very important. I would not make the bid with AK in both suits for example - too much defense.

Some experts don’t make frivolous 2NT overcalls.

Kit Woolsey---Hard to say. I'm not so sure I would ever bid 2NT on this sort of nothing hand, since the loss that results from telling the opponents about the distribution of the hand may be more than what is gained by the act of preemption. Whatever the vulnerability, I would like to think there was a reasonable chance of us making something.

Margie Gwozdzinsky---Victor Mitchell taught us to not make two-suited overcalls. If I ever do, it's with a hand that's exceptional- 6/5 - with a good hope of winning the bid regardless of vulnerability, as too much information is given to declarer otherwise. All top pairs have methods to deal with the two-suited interference.

Zeke Jabbour---Modern bidding methods are sometimes too revealing. The defense can often glean the distribution from the auction alone. Conventions like Flannery, Michaels, Unusual Notrump and many others squeal. The road to hell is paved with good conventions. So I will not enter the auction promiscuously with any random 5-5 unless there's a reasonable chance that our side will play the hand. Two Queen-empty five-baggers won't cut it. Barry Crane used to always say "beware of the three-level."

No one vulnerable: I would want more texture--some tens and nines; we've got to survive the three-level perhaps with no eight-card fit. So maybe I’d have xx x QJ1085KQ986. Or I might settle for QxxQ10975KQ1076 and the random queen in spades (or hearts) might be useful if there is a guess on the hand if played by the opponents.

Vulnerable: As long as there is blood on the table, I want partner to feel secure that I have strong values in my suits, say 9310AKJ103 AJ1084. At unfavorable vulnerability I might be even stronger. Vulnerability matters but only a little. At IMPs prudence should prevail. But even if they are only minor suits, they give a bonus if you make a game.

Larry Mori---Vulnerable I would have a decent opening hand with 13+ HCP if 5-5, but less if suits are even longer. I would think that xxxQJ10xxxKQJ9x is okay. When no one is vulnerable, I tend to follow the same standard, although a tad weaker (12 HCP) with the 5-5. At favorable vulnerability one is allowed to stretch, particularly when 6-5 but the given hand seems to be stretching it. KJ9xxQJxxx is okay for the 5-5. I think my standards are okay for both, but matchpoints allow some stretching when needing some action for your scorecard. In IMPs some of that happens with the number of boards decreasing, but it is not right when your partners might have scored great scores by reasonable actions. Do not squelch your teammates’ good card unless yours was hopeless.

Steve Bloom---My views here are very weird, and far from mainstream. Basically, I hate bidding 2NT, for these reasons:
(1) It is an awful preempt. The next hand can bid 3, 3, or either major, can pass and bid, or can double and bid. So many options mean that bids are very well defined. Compare this to the auction 1 - 3 overcall. Now their options are very limited. This cramps their bidding, while 2NT helps their bidding.
(2) If you don't buy the contract, you have given declarer a read on the hand. Mediocre declarers play hands brilliantly after a 2NT overcall.
(3) If suit quality can vary greatly, it is very hard for partner to judge the fit. A singleton in one minor and Qxxx in the other is great opposite Jxxxx and KJ10xxx, but not the other way around.

So, personally, I only bid 2NT on very constructive hands with two good suits. My aim is to get our side to the right game when I use 2NT. If game is very remote, then 2NT is never chosen. Hands like xxJxxxx KJ10xxx are ideal 3 calls, or even 4 at favorable. I have been known to overcall 3 on a hand like x xxKJ10xxQxxxx. So, to answer your questions –
(1) Vulnerability is not relevant. 2NT is constructive, and constructive bidding is useful at any vulnerability.
(2) IMPs and matchpoints? No difference. Indeed, weak 2NT overcalls give away so many tricks in the play that they are killers in matchpoints.

Chuck Berger---Non-vulnerable I’d need kings in both minors and better texture. I like to think it’s my hand. Both sides vulnerable I’d have: xxxAQJ10xKQJ10x. At unfavorable vulnerability xKxAKJ10xKQJ10x. Less high standards for matchpoints.

Sometimes you’re dealt enough to bid 2NT and then bid again over four-of-their-major. Over four-of-their-major, double shows a 5-5 hand with lots of defense, 5 shows a hand where your clubs are equal to or longer than your diamonds, and 4NT shows a hand where your diamonds are longer than your clubs. Since you don’t need to tell the same story twice, you wouldn’t bid 4NT or 5 without at least 11 cards in the minors.

There are advantages and disadvantages of bidding the Unusual 2NT. This is a bidder’s game, but one should not be frivolous. Spot cards make a difference. With QJ432QJ432, most experts would not bid. However, make the suits QJ1098QJ1098, and it would be a different story.
Don Berman, Web Master.