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Choosing 6NT or 6 or a Major after Notrump Openings

If partner opens 1NT and you hold a semi-balanced hand with a five-card major, you transfer to the major and either pass, bid 2NT, or bid 3NT with a weak, invitational, or game forcing hand, respectively. Assume you are holding a semi-balanced hand with five spades with a 5-3-3-2 shape.

1NT - 2 - 2♠ - Pass ("partner, my hand is weak with at least five spades)
1NT - 2 - 2♠ - 2NT ("partner, choose 2NT, 3♠, 3NT, or 4♠")
1NT - 2 - 2♠ - 3NT ("partner, choose 3NT or 4♠")

But what if you hold a stronger hand with the same shape worth inviting or forcing to slam?

You can use a similar method, but bid 4NT as an invitation to slam and bid 5NT to force to slam, asking opener to choose to play in spades or notrump.

1NT - 2 - 2♠ - 4NT ("partner, choose 4NT, 5♠, 6♠, or 6NT")
1NT - 2 - 2♠ - 5NT ("partner, choose 6♠ or 6NT")

If you want to ask partner about aces or keycards, you can use 4♣ Gerber to ask for aces or (if you play Texas transfers) you can transfer to your major at the four-level and then bid 4NT as a keycard asking bid.

If the opening bid is 2NT, the bidding is similar. Transfer to your major, then jump to 4NT with a semi-balanced slam invitation and jump to 5NT with a semi-balanced hand worth forcing to slam.

Let's look at a hand where you can use this tool, played in the qualifying sessions of the 2013 North American Open Pairs in St. Louis. Partner opens 2NT (20-21) and you hold ♠ A10743 KQ9 109 ♣ A63. With a solid 13 HCP, clearly you have enough to force to a small slam. Although a grand slam is possible, it isn't likely you'd be able to bid a grand slam with any confidence. So it makes sense to give opener the choice between 6♠ and 6NT.

South Deals
Both Vul
A 10 7 4 3
K Q 9
10 9
A 6 3
Q 8 2
7 6 5 2
4
J 10 9 7 2
N
W E
S
J 9
10 8 4 3
7 6 5 3 2
K 5
K 6 5
A J
A K Q J 8
Q 8 4
West North East South
      2NT
Pass 3 Pass 3♠
Pass 5NT Pass 6♠
All pass
6♠ by South
Lead: ♣J

The opening bidder holding four spades would choose 6♠ and with a doubleton spade would choose 6NT. With three spades, opener would often bid 6♠ but has the option to bid 6NT. Remember at matchpoints, the ten extra points make a big difference if both 6♠ and 6NT are making contracts.

Holding three spades, you as opener should consider 6NT if one or more of the following applies:

1. You hold 4-3-3-3 type shape, and therefore have no ruffing value.
2. Your doubleton is strong, especially if it contains queens or jacks.
3. You have a long and strong suit as a source of tricks.
4. Your three potential trumps are weak.

In the auction shown above, opener chose to play 6♠ and regretted it when the club jack was led. Declarer won the ace, cashed two high trumps, and tried to run diamonds to pitch dummy's club losers. But West ruffed in early and led a club to his partner's king to set the contract. Note that on the same club lead against 6NT, declarer would play low from dummy and after East won his king, declarer would immediately claim the last 12 tricks.

When this hand was played, 29 out of 37 times 6NT was made with an eight-card spade fit available.

Two other ways to bid these hands are a direct jump to 6NT and using Stayman so 6♠ will be played only if opener has four spades, otherwise play 6NT.

The three possible auctions:

1. Transfer to spades and jump to 5NT, giving opener a choice.
2. Jump directly to 6NT.
3. Use Stayman and only play 6♠ if opener has four spades, otherwise 6NT.

In my opinion, due to opener's diamond suit, his strong doubleton (AJ), and also not holding any of the spade queen, jack, or ten, he should bid 6NT if given a choice with the first option listed above.

One last important point. Note West's lead of the club jack which set up his partner's king. He did not lead his singleton diamond holding ♠Q82 of trumps. With holdings like Qxx or Jxxx in trump, if you have a good alternative you should avoid leading the singleton unless partner bid the suit. On this hand, leading the singleton diamond lets declarer make his 6♠ contract.

ADVANCED PLAYER SECTION

At the table, after the deadly club lead against 6♠, West eventually ruffed in with the high trump and led another club to his partner's king to set the contract.

But was it obvious to lead another club? What if the deal looked like this one below?

North Deals
None Vul
A 10 7 4 3
K Q 9
10 9
A 6 3
Q 8 2
7 6 5 2
4
J 10 9 7 2
N
W E
S
J 9
A 8 4 3
7 6 5 3 2
8 4
K 6 5
J 10
A K Q J 8
K Q 5
6♠ by South
Lead: ♣J

If the defense was playing standard signals, East's ♣4 played on the opening lead looks like a discouraging signal. West knows the ♣4 might have been forced from doubleton ♣K4 and that East would also play the ♣4 as a discouraging signal from ♣84 if holding the A.

After West ruffs a diamond with his ♠Q, how does he make the crucial choice whether East holds the ♣K or the A?

The only way East can help his partner is to try signalling West with his five little diamonds. Holding the ♣K, East plays all low diamonds. Holding the A, East plays high diamonds and plays the 7 as early as possible as a suit preference signal. That is the only way East can help West make his crucial decision.

(If East held two small spades, he could have played his spades high-low as a suit preference signal showing the A, but with ♠J9 playing the ♠J first gives declarer the entire spade suit.)

Bud Hinckley
budh9534@gmail.com

 

     
 
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