Bidding Over a Weak NoTrump, February 2013
Norm Cliff of Albuquerque asks, “What is your advice about bidding over opponents’ 10-12 NT? Should one just stick with whatever system (Hello, DON’T, Meckwell, etc.) s/he uses? Be a little (a lot?) more aggressive? Go back to natural, treating it as any other two-level overcall?”
Coopers: The problem with how to bid over the opponent’s weak or super weak notrump opening is that you do not know whose hand it is, yours or theirs. When they open a strong notrump you expect that most of the time it’s their hand, so effective destructive methods are called for and you should come it with weak two bid strength and either a good suit, two suits, or a very long suit. But when they open a weak or super weak notrump, it may well be your side’s hand for a partscore or even game. So you need good constructive methods since you are starting your bidding at the two level.
Doubling a weak notrump needs to be for penalties so that they do not steal from you. We start ours at about 14+ and a good lead. It’s dangerous to drop your standards too low for this when two hands are still to be heard from, since your partner may have fewer points than the enemy responder. With less than a good six points partner should pull this double. We play that pulling to two clubs is a meaningless noise, while bidding any other suit shows at least five cards in it. Sometimes when partner doubles you may prefer to bid game your way if you are very distributional or are vulnerable when they are not. So jumps should be forcing and 2NT should be Lebensohl or Rubensohl, if you play either of these over interference to your own notrump opening. Another thing to discuss with your partner is what bids mean when the enemy plays that the pass of the double is forcing (usually to redouble); it is very sensible to play your full notrump response system, including Stayman and transfers. So you only pass that forcing pass with a hand that wants to defend or a weak hand that would have run out to two of a minor (in which case you bid that minor when the no trump opener redoubles, as he is forced to do).
After a penalty double, subsequent doubles by either you or your partner are for penalties and passes are forcing through 2H (some play it as forcing through 2S or even 2NT). That is to say, you must do something in pass out seat other than pass until the bidding reaches 2H (2S or 2N). Alternatively, and perhaps easier, is to play that subsequent doubles are all takeout, which partner may pass with a hand that wants to take a penalty. This requires prior partnership agreement.
Another important auction to discuss is what double means after they open 1NT, partner passes, and they bid Stayman or they transfer. Over Stayman, the double should just show 13+ high card points and concern that it might be our hand. Doubling the transfer bid usually shows the suit used for the transfer, but is also constructive - a hand that would have wanted to bid over the enemy 1NT.
What sort of hand overcalls a weak notrump? You overcall with at least a decent five card suit and 11+ high card points. Another description is a hand that would have opened or wanted to open the bidding, but that isn’t good enough for a penalty double. You can shade this a bit in the pass out seat with a good enough suit.
So what system should you play over a weak notrump? Since you need a penalty double, Cappelletti, Hello, Meckwell or similar methods are best. You want to be able to show both majors, one major, and as many two suited combinations as you can fit in. It is less memory strain and less accident prone to play the same system over both a weak and a strong notrump.
Many people play different methods over strong and weak notrumps because they prefer not to use a penalty double over a strong notrump. If you do this you must agree on where a weak notrump ends and a strong notrump begins. Is 13-15 weak? Is 14-16 strong? Best is to decide on a number, say 16, and when that number is part of the range, then call it a strong notrump.
In summary, the key to the difference in approach is whose hand it is likely to be. Over a weak notrump it’s more likely to be your side’s hand for a plus score than it is over a strong notrump, so you want to have good constructive bidding methods in order to cope with having less room to figure out where to play.
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