Partner opens NT and you have clubs

Board 2 in the August 13 game raised an interesting bidding question.


Dlr: East
Vul: N-S


The question by email:

Last night on Board #2, South opened 1NT. As North, how do I reach 3-4♣? If 2♣ means Stayman, should I bid 3♣ with only 7HCP?

I had to study this hand a bit, and actually rewrote my response once. I'm assuming that N-S are not playing Jacoby Transfer Bids, which make it easier to sign off in three of a minor suit. Even so, I don't believe a sign off bid is the right answer here, and in this case it doesn't matter if you're playing Jacoby Transfers or not.

So partner opens 1NT, and the opponents don't bid ...

With a really weak hand (4HCP or so) and clubs, your best option is to "pass" and let partner play in 1NT, hoping for good luck. (Transfers give you a way to play 3♣; using Stayman only, it requires some discussion.)

BUT ...

This does not qualify as a "really weak hand." Consider that if partner holds Axx or Kxx in clubs (the actual holding is AQxx, much better), then you're practically guaranteed six tricks in the club suit. If the 1NT opener can come up with three tricks outside of clubs, 3NT is an easy contract.

North's hand is a special case across from a 1NT opening bid: It has a long good minor suit with no strength outside of the minor. It could be magical in 3NT if partner has the right cards, or 3NT could be a disaster.

It's such a special case that standard bidding has a bid just to cover it.

After a 1NT opener (and no interference), a bid of 3♣ or 3 should show exactly this sort of hand: A long, good minor suit with some scattered honor cards, and nothing outside. Opener has to evaluate their hand to decide whether to pass or bid 3NT.

Normally the 1NT opening hand that won't work in 3NT is a hand with two small cards in responder's minor. The long minor in dummy will be useless, because it can't be established and then reached. That's not the case with South's hand here: South's AQxx in clubs pretty much guarantees six running tricks in clubs.

So there must be some other logic that would suggest a "pass" rather than a 3NT bid.

If opener realizes that partner has no strength outside of clubs, they might deduce that their small doubleton in diamonds is a big problem. That would suggest passing 3♣, and you would arrive at the best contract.

As you can see from the results, 1NT is an unlucky place, but not a terrible place. The opponents take seven top tricks in diamonds and a spade. But it's also true that they have their own productive contract in diamonds, which would give them a better score. 1NT down 1 is a nearly 50% result.

On the other hand, 3NT -3 gives the opponents a 300 result, for a minor disaster.

On the actual hand, West should overcall 2, North bids 3♣, East 3, and that should probably be the landing spot.