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. Once you get more experience playing NT, you will not fear it so much.

Playing a NT hand reminds me of  “priming the pump.” In order to get water out of a well, first you must put some water in. If you fail to do that, you might 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. I count immediate winners (cards that will take a trick without having to lose control to the opponents). Do I have enough immediate winners to make the contract? If not, how many more do I need? Long suits can be my best friend. I also try to watch for touching sequences. For example, if you have the 5, 4, 3 and 2 in your hand and the 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6, in dummy’s, you could take the opponent’s Ace, King, Queen and Jack in two rounds and then the three lowest cards are now all winners! If my only winner is an Ace, it may be best to “duck” it (let the opponent take the trick) a few times. Sometimes his partner is now void in that long suit and cannot lead back to the one who made the opening lead.

It’s good to have strategies, but also remind yourself that they don’t always work. If you do your best, most of the time you will come out ahead.

Pay close attention to the opponent’s opening lead. Build your other suits before you lose all your stoppers in that suit, unless you are sure you have all the winners in that suit. If they get back in, they will likely continue to lead that suit.

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. A few guidelines should help you become a successful and confident NT player! Experience, of course, is one of the best teachers! Good luck!

(The first two lessons have been revised in 2016 to make them less complicated.)

Lesson 1: This first example occurs often. You open 1NT and everyone passes. Don’t panic! Remind yourself that you can lose 6 tricks and still make the contract!

Lesson 1 – Playing a NT Contract

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 higher score and you can reach game easier. As a gentle reminder: Game in No Trump = 3NT 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 3NT contract whereas in 5 Clubs or 5 Diamonds, only 2 tricks can be lost. Experienced players will opt for 3NT, if at all possible, before settling on 5 Clubs or 5 Diamonds.

Lesson 2 – Playing a NT Contract

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

Lesson 3 – Playing in NT

The lessons below are in the process of being revised. Coming soon!

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 the opponent’s 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.

Be aware that 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 so my recommendation is to focus on that first.

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. I find it better to know that, when my partner opens 1NT, s/he does not have a 5-card major. Others believe that they would rather know that partner has 15-17 points, even with a 5-card major and a doubleton. Some say the point count is more important; I say the 5-card major is. Bridge players can be very opinionated so you will have to make up your own mind on this one. It will help if you and your partner agree on which strategy you will use.

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. (Just joking, of course!)

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