Passion of The Game of Bridge

5 Card Major (Heart/Spade) in 1NT Opening (Weak or Strong)?

One of the top question during establishing a bidding system is whether or not to open 1NT with 5 cards Major (Heart or Spade) 5-3-3-2. So, why or why not we should include 5 card major – balance into 1NT Opening. What’s the pluses and minuses… ? Let’s get started

HCP Structure

Your standard 1 level opening usually incorporates 3 levels of HCP (High Card Point) range that need to be shown to partner in precise manner using re-bid. For example:

  • Level 1: “Normal” Hand: 12-15HCP
  • Level 2: Strong Hand: 16-18HCP
  • Level 3: Very Strong Hand: 19-21HCP

(This 3 levels range are the one determine your opening level into 12-21HCP – with responder can only pass with under 4hcp. Your system might use 12-15/16-17/18-19HCP – making opening range 12-19HCP so responder can pass with 6HCP)

The main consideration of using 5 card Major into the  1NT opening evolves mainly in this bidding range.

1NT without 5 cards Major

In this variant, since 5 cards majors are not in 1NT opening, so whether you use Weak NT or Strong NT, the bidding of 5M-3-3-2, are as follow:

53-3-2, no 5cds M in 1NT 5♠3-3-2, no 5cds M in 1NT
1 1 NT 1 1 NT
2 m : 12-15hcp, 3+cards minor,5-3-3-2 2 m : 12-15hcp, 3+cards minor,5-3-3-2
2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2 2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2
3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2 3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2
1 2 ♣/2♦ 1 2 ♣/2♦
2 : 12-15hcp,5-3-3-2 2 : 12-15hcp,5-3-3-2
2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2 2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2
3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2 3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2
1 1 1 2
1 NT : 12-15hcp,5-3-3-2 2 : 12-15hcp,5-3-3-2
2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2 2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2
3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2 3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2

So, as you can see above, without incorporating 5 card Majors into the 1NT opening, you need to allow the bid of 2m with only 3 cards and rebid 2M with only 5 cards (instead of 6) to show 5-3-3-2 with 12-15hcp.

1NT with 5 cards Major

With 1NT opening can contain 5 cards Major, then practically if partner open 1NT and you have 3 cards or more Major (Heart / Spade) you need to always check whether or not partner have 5 card to not miss 5-3 fit in Major. The “normal”  Stayman sequence will not be able to handle this, you need to adopt what so called Puppet Stayman or Romex Stayman to be able to check whether partner have 5 cards major or 4 card major (You still need to be able to find 4-4 fit, right?).

While this is not really a big deal, either Puppet Stayman or Romex Stayman has more complex structure to be remembered and implemented.

Strong NT

Incorporating 5-3-3-2 (including Major) into Strong 1NT will produce the bidding list as follows:

53-3-2, using Strong 1NT (16-18hcp) 5♠3-3-2, using Strong 1NT (16-18hcp)
1 1 NT 1 1 NT
2 m : 12-15hcp, 3+cards minor,5-3-3-2 2 m : 12-15hcp, 3+cards minor,5-3-3-2
2 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2 2 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2
1 2 ♣/2♦ 1 2 ♣/2♦
2 : 12-15hcp,5-3-3-2 2 : 12-15hcp,5-3-3-2
2 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2 2 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2
1 1 1 2
1 NT : 12-15hcp,5-3-3-2 2 : 12-15hcp,5-3-3-2
2 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2 2 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2

From the bidding above, you can “save” bidding space of 19-21hcp as the strong balance 16-18 is opened with 1NT. But this will make possible confusion with as rebid of 3NT is the usual one for 19-21hcp balance. The other item is that you will still need to bid 2m with 3 cards and rebid 2M with only 5 cards to show the weaker balance 12-15.

Weak NT

If you using weak NT (12-15HCP) and allow 5-3-3-2 majors to be included into the 1NT opening, then the list of the bidding of 5-3-3-2 with different points are:

53-3-2, using weak 1NT (12-15hcp) 5♠3-3-2, using weak 1NT (12-15hcp)
1 1 NT 1 1 NT
2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2 2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2
3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2 3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2
1 2 ♣/2♦ 1 2 ♣/2♦
2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2 2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2
3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2 3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2
1 1 1 2
2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2 2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2
3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2 3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2

As you can see, all the bidding above are consistent and simple. No bidding with 3 cards or rebid with only 5 card.

Conclusion

If you play Strong NT, there is not much advantage to include 5 card Major into the 1NT opening as you still need to bid 2m with 3 card or rebid 2M with 5 card (instead of 6)

Strong NT Without 5 card Major Strong NT That Allow 5 Card Major
Have to rebid 2m or 2M with 5-3-3-2, 12-15hcp Still have to rebid 2C or 2M with 5-3-3-2, 12-15hcp
No need more complex Stayman convention Puppet/Romex Stayman sequence to check 5-3 fit
Open 1M allow more competitive bid when fit Open 1NT will have additional advantages

53-3-2, using weak 1NT (12-15hcp) 5♠3-3-2, using weak 1NT (12-15hcp)
1 1 NT 1 1 NT
2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2 2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2
3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2 3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2
1 2 ♣/2♦ 1 2 ♣/2♦
2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2 2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2
3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2 3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2
1 1 1 2
2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2 2 NT : 16-18hcp,5-3-3-2
3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2 3 NT : 19-21hcp,5-3-3-2

On the other hand, if you use Weak NT sequence, by allowing 5 cards Major into 1NT you will have more simple and consistent bidding.

Weak NT Without 5 card Major Weak NT That Allow 5 Card Major
Have to rebid 2m or 2M with 5-3-3-2, 12-15hcp Rebid is simple and consistent
No need more complex Stayman convention Puppet/Romex Stayman sequence to check 5-3 fit
Open 1M allow more competitive bid when fit Open 1NT will have additional advantages

The third factor on the table will actually favor 5card major into 1NT. This is what I am talking about, compare 2 bidding sequence below:

1NT – (3H) – Pass – (4H) – ??? – the responder probably have many card Spade but with very few points only, if the bidding was:1S – (3H)  then responder probably can preempt to 4S before opponent show their fit. So here, it’s clear than 1M opening will have more superiority. But remember this only happen when there is a fit (you don’t get fit every time, right?), hence the advantage is only partial.

On the other hand, the advantage of 1Nt opening is always there. (Read this article for further info).

Therefore, the conclusion will be:

  1. If you don’t mind a little bit uncertainty about 2m bid (3 card only) and 2M rebid (5 card only), then no need to include 5 cards major into 1NT opening. (Does not matter if it’s weak or strong)
  2. If you want more precision and don’t mind a little bid complex Stayman, use Weak NT with 5 cards major for maximum advantage.  (Not much point to use it on Strong NT)

Does this answer your question satisfactorily ?

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