Playing the Hand in a No Trump Contract

No Trump contracts seem to be one of the most difficult contracts for beginners. A trump suit contract tends to give players more confidence — the assurance that you may be able to trump in and regain control. When my beginner group and I first started playing, we used to joke about this. If we opened 1NT and our partner passed, we would moan and groan! Not only that, but we would avoid bidding No Trump if we could and, instead, try to force our partners to bid it. When three suits had been bid without finding a fit in a suit and one of us had the 4th suit covered, we knew we were obligated to our partner to bid NT. It was our duty! However, we would do everything to avoid it. Instead, we would sneakily bid the 4th suit* forcing our partner to bid NT which meant our partner would have to play the hand. Then we would all laugh, gleefully! But there should be no need to fear a NT contract.

*a bid of a 4th suit has a different meaning for experienced players.

Playing a NT hand reminds me of  “priming the pump.” That may not mean much to city folk today, but having once lived on a farm, I know there were times when we had to bring a can of water down to the pump and pour it down the pipe before we could coax any water out. If we failed to do that, we would not get any water at all. This is similar to a NT contract. You must give something away first in order to achieve success later. Don’t immediately play all your high cards! It’s like an investment. Give up some of your losers at the beginning in order to “promote” your underlings in that suit. Then you can take control and reap the benefits afterward. 

Some strategy can be helpful in building confidence. For example, when I am Declarer in a NT contract, as soon as I see the Dummy hand laid out, I immediately look for certain things. Long suits can be my best ally. I also try to watch for touching sequences. For example, having only one honor card, plus the 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6, though they appear small in stature, can take some tricks once the other big guys are gone, especially if the other honors split in my favor. Sometimes, if I “duck” an Ace twice, all my other cards become winners.

Here are some lessons on bidding and playing NT contracts. No one can give you a practice sample of every hand you will ever play, nor can you memorize exactly what you will do every time. Each game is so different. But you can learn some strategies and techniques that can be applied in other situations. This will help you become a successful and confident NT player! Good luck!

Lesson 1: This first example occurs often. You open 1 NT and everyone passes. Don’t let panic set in! Remember, you can lose 6 tricks and still make the contract!

Playing a NT Hand – Lesson 1

Lesson 2:  You and your partner have a fit in a minor suit, but you would much rather be in No Trump, provided you have stoppers in every suit. You will get a better score and you can reach game easier. As a gentle reminder: Game in No Trump = 3 NT and requires 9 tricks. Game in a minor = 5 Level of the suit and requires taking 11 tricks. Put another way, you can lose 4 tricks and still make a 3 NT contract whereas in 5 Clubs or 5 Diamonds, only 2 tricks can be lost. Experienced players will opt for 3 NT, if at all possible, before settling on 5 Clubs or 5 Diamonds.

Playing a NT Hand – Lesson 2

Lesson 3:  Here is another lesson to help you bid and play the hand in NT:

Playing a NT Hand – Lesson 3

Lesson 4:  The next one is difficult because there are gaps in all the suits. This particular hand requires concentration and strategy, but you will feel proud when you can master it.

Playing a NT Hand – Lesson 4

The next lesson shows how to bid a Slam contract when both you and your partner have enough points and a balanced hand.

Playing a NT Hand – Lesson 5

To sum up, when faced with a No Trump contract, pay attention to the following:
1) Count your immediate winners — if enough to make the contract, take them; if not, “promote” your lower-ranking cards in a suit before losing your stoppers in the other suits.
2) Long suits, 7-8 cards or more. Run the suit and “squeeze” the opponents – and try to pay attention to which suits they discard. They will try to keep at least one card in a suit to protect a King and two cards in a suit to protect a Queen. Eventually, they may not be able to protect everything. It may give you one more trick at the end.
3) Finesses. Do I need to be in the Dummy’s hand or my own hand to start the finesse? If I give the opponent a trick, perhaps he will lead that suit for me.
4) The lead card. That’s their best suit, remember. If you can, keep a stopper because they will try to run it again. If you have just the Ace stopper, you may wish to “duck” it until the 2nd or 3rd round.

And what if you don’t make the contract? Don’t feel bad. NT contracts are often the most difficult to make and much depends on where the cards lie. Going down 1 trick is not that uncommon.

Here are some tips for beginners that not everyone agrees with. You can choose to do whatever you wish, of course. Some experts recommend that you should open 1NT whenever you have a balanced hand (no singleton and no more than 1 doubleton), even with  a 5-card major, so your partner knows your point count. I’m not sure why they feel that is so important when there are many opening bids that do not give a concise point count and we accept that. I have found that it’s safer to bid the 5-card major first. It keeps the bidding lower and helps to find an 8-card fit in a major. Trump suit contracts with an 8-card fit are generally easier for beginners to play than NT.

Here is an example to show the difference: If you open 1NT with a 5-card major and your partner has 7 points and 3 cards in your major, he will pass, because he does not know you have a 5-card major. He needs 8+ pts or a 5-card major himself, to respond to a 1NT opening bid. However, if you open 1 Heart or 1 Spade and your partner has 3 cards in your major and 6+ points, he will bid to support your suit. Another bonus is that your partner can also count Dummy points! He cannot count Dummy points if you open 1NT. On your opening bid, you can tell your partner only one of these two things: you have 15-17 pts or you have a 5-card major. You cannot do both. Some say the point count is more important; I say the 5-card major is. We can agree to disagree. It’s a trade-off. I suppose you could always try kicking your partner under the table to get both messages across! LOL. Beginners can always change their bidding and adopt other strategies later if they wish.

Also, if you open 1 of a suit, your partner has an opportunity to bid 1NT and then you don’t have to play the hand. (haha)

As you gain more experience, you will find more ways to assess your hand than point count alone. Scattered high cards can be detrimental in a NT contract. You may hear the phrase: “aces and spaces,” for example. A hand with four aces gives you 16 pts, but with some hands of 15-17 pts, it’s better to open in 1 of a minor and use 1NT as your re-bid.