The Weak 1N Opener

This document describes one approach to playing a weak 1N. Our approach assumes inverted minors and a SAYC or 2/1 system onto which you are adding a 12-14 weak NT. This version selects from the options offered in the book The Weak Notrump by Andy Stark, for the most part. That book is highly recommended.

If you are playing SAYC without inverted minors, learn them first. Note that playing a weak NT changes the minor openings in significant ways, as detailed below.

Dealing with competition is important with a weak NT system because competition is more likely. You are more vulnerable to a penalty double. A way to escape, called a runout,is necessary. Likewise you are less likely to be able to double for penalty effectively when they overcall your 1N opener. See the chapter on Runouts in Defensive Bidding for some choices.

You can use a weak NT system in certain situations only. For example, in first- or second-seat openings only, or only not vulnerable.

A side effect of playing a weak notrump is a big improvement in your skills playing 1N contracts; get strong or die.

Defending the Weak 1N

Defending against the weak 1N opener, standard advice is to not use D.O.N.T. or other systems that lack a penalty double; but this feeling is not universal. Some teachers feel it more important to stick to the same system regardless, to avoid confusion, and some even feel that D.O.N.T. will work just fine as long as you liberalize your criteria for using it a bit, such as considering five cards routinely adequate for long-suit bids.

Stark and others recommend Mohan, explained in Defensive Bidding.

Opening 1N

Open all hands 1N that meet these criteria:

  • 12-14 points
  • Shape is 4333, 4432, or 5332

There are two special cases:

  • Do open almost all hands with three quick tricks, such as 3 Aces or AK in one suit and another Ace. Otherwise,
  • Do not open a 12 point hand with a 4333 shape in first or second seat. If you open it in 3rd or 4th seat, open it 1N. Do not open it in a minor “just to get in there”. Your partner will think your hand is unbalanced as the auction goes on. Yes, sometimes you will be wrong, but many times you will be right. This restriction will allow us to bid some thin games.

For purposes of treating a hand as a strong 1N (15-17), the shape can be 5422 but only if at least one of the doubletons is Kx or Ax or better.

Responses when there is no competition

Using the Strong 1N System

Responding to a weak 1N can be done with the same system you use with a strong 1N. Invitational range is 11-12 (add 3 to normal values). However, with a balanced 12 that is not flat, usually we push to game. Two 12 point hands make 3N more often than a 17-8 split because you have entries in both hands.

Forcing Stayman

An alternative is Forcing Stayman. In the forcing Stayman scheme, 2♦ is a game force, and there are no transfers except Texas transfers.

Responses to 1N depend on the strength of the responder’s hand:

  • Weak hands pass or make drop-dead bids of 2♥, 2♠, or at the 3-level.
  • Holding a five card major, bid 2♥ or 2♠. These are natural and to play.
  • Holding a six-card minor, bid 3♣ or 3♦. These are natural and to play.
  • Holding a seven-card major, bid 3♥ or 3♠. There are natural and to play.
  • All invitational hands with a four-card major respond with 2♣, Stayman. This bid can also be made with a weak hand with a stiff or void in clubs, intending to pass any response. Responses are as with normal Stayman.
  • 2N shows invitational values and no four-card major.
  • With a six card major, and a minimum raise to game, bid a Texas Transfer of 4♦ or 4♥.
  • Most game forcing hands respond with 2♦!(artificial, forcing to game or four of a minor). This is called Forcing Stayman.

After responder bids 2♦, opener’s rebid clarifies his hand type. We agree not to stop short of 3N, four of a minor, or four of a major. We are not forcing to five of a minor.

  • If you have a 4-card major, bid that major. If you have both 4-card majors, bid 2 hearts.
  • If you have a five-card major, bid it. You will rebid it next to show the five-card suit.
  • If you do not have a major, bid a five card minor.
  • If you have neither a four card major or a five card minor, bid 2N. (Note, not 3N, and this 2N can NEVER be passed.) Your shape will be 3244, 2344, 3334, or 3343.

If opener bids a major that the responder holds, the responder can jump to game holding a minimum, or give a raise to show slam interest. Remember, responder is the captain of the hand. Opener should then start cue bidding.

Responder now can show a five-card or longer major by bidding it. He can bid 2N!(tell me more),if available, to ask partner for more information. In the following auctions, responder’s second bid shows a five-card major:

1N 2♦!
2♥ 2♠!

1N 2♦!
2♠ 3♥

1N 2♦!
2N 3♥

1N 2♦!
3♣ 3♠

Note particularly that 1N 2♦! 2♥ 2♠ shows five spades. With only four, bid 2N! (tell me more). This gives opener room to bid 3♠ next to show 4 hearts and 4 spades, or to bid 3♥ to show five hearts.

Slam Auctions

If responder bids 2♦!(forcing) and then 4N, it is a quantitative raise.

If a suit is agreed to after 2♦, then 4N becomes RKC. For example:

1N 2♦!(forcing)
2♥ 2♠!(five spades)
3♠ 4N(RKC)

If responder makes a Texas Transfer and then bids 4N it is RKC:

1N 4♦!(transfer)
4♥ 4N (keycard)

Other slam auctions can use splinters. Note that in this auction, hearts are agreed to and responder is showing a splinter in spades:

1N 2♦!(forcing)
2♥ 3♠!(agrees hearts, 0-1 spades)

And in this one:

1N 2♦!(forcing)
2♠ 2♥!(five hearts)
3♥! 4♣ (splinter in clubs)


1N 2♦!(forcing)
2♥ 4♦ (agrees hearts, splinter in diamonds)

Of course, responder should not splinter without slam interest.

Opening a minor

With a hand that would normally open a strong 1N, you open a minor and then rebid notrump. We tend not to open iffy minors so as not to let the opponents glide into the auction with their major. Therefore a 1♣ or 1♦ opening bid is either 15 points or more, balanced, OR it is a sound unbalanced opening. Equal short minors(3-3 or 4-4) are normally opened 1♣. Black 5-5’s are opened 1♠.

The main idea is that opener will rebid notrump to show the strong balanced hand; rebidding something else shows the unbalanced opener. Because opener might be so strong, the responder tries hard to bid, rather than insisting on a solid six.

The minor raises are inverted, so that the single raise shows 10 points and four cards in the suit, while the double raise is preemptive. Since opener either has a real minor suit OR has 15 HCP, the inverted minor bids are safer than normal and you can make the strong 2m raise with only 4 cards.

Responder does not bypass 1♦ for a four card major unless he intends to pass a 1N rebid by opener. Therefore, a 1♦ response to a 1♣ opener indicates either an invitational hand or a hand lacking a four-card major.

Sometimes a hand that is 4=5 in the minors is especially awkward to rebid, so depending on suit quality, it is acceptable to open these 1♦ if minimum, or in first or second seat to consider passing a 12 point hand.

Responses to one of a minor

Here are the responses to a 1♣ or 1♦ opener.

  • 1♣ - 1♦ is a normal 6+ bid. Responder will either have a hand capable of a bid over 1N or no four card major.
  • 1♣/1♦ - 1M, shows 4+ cards in M. If the hand is good enough to bid over 1N, it will not have a longer diamond suit.
  • 1♣/1♦ – 1N shows 6-10 HCP, balanced, denies diamonds, hearts, and spades. With a good 9 or 10 and a decent club suit, consider bidding a 3=3=3=4 as 2♣ rather than 1N.
  • 1♣/1♦ – 2N shows 11-12 HCP, balanced, no four card major. Again, prefer a suit bid if you have one.
  • 1♣/1♦ – 3N shows 13-15 HCP, balanced, no four card major.

Note that we try to avoid notrump responses, especially 1N, so that opener can show the big balanced hand on his second bid.

  • The raise to the two-level shows 4+ cards, 10+ HCP, and no four-card major. Four cards are allowed here because opener either has a real suit or is strong.
  • The raise to the three level is preemptive, showing 5+ cards and 5 points or less, ideally – but since bidding 1N is to be avoided with a weak 1N, you can stretch this as far as 7 points.
  • Jump shifts are a partnership agreement, weak or strong.

After a 1m – 2m inverted raise, a rebid of 2N shows the strong 15-17 notrump hand and is game forcing. Otherwise, start bidding stoppers up the line.

Opener’s rebid

Opener can pass a 1N or 2N response or any preemptive bid, but otherwise must bid again. 1♦ - 1N - 2♣ or 1♦ – 1N - 2♦ is not forcing; a reverse is forcing for one round.

After 1m – 1M, raise the major with 4 cards, or with 3 cards and an outside stiff or void; details below. Otherwise,

  • With 15 or more HCP and a balanced hand, opener will rebid some level of notrump.
    • 1N shows 15 - 17 balanced.
    • A jump to 2N shows 18 - 19 balanced.
    • A 2N bid over a two-level bid by partner is 15 or more and is game forcing.
    • 3N shows a long solid minor with an opening hand, akin to a gambling 3N opener.
  • Opener can reverse with a good 17. Rebidding the other minor is ‘reverse-like’: either 1♣ then 2♦ or 1♣ then 2♦ is treated as a reverse.
  • Jumping to 3m shows 17 or more, unbalanced, with no available reverse, so a long suit.
  • 1m – 1x - 3N is a long solid minor with an opening hand, similar to a gambling 3N.
  • 1♦ then 3♣ is a minimal opener usually 5-5 in the minors. Except for that,
  • Jump shifts by opener show a strong 19 or more unbalanced hand.
  • When nothing else applies rebid the minor.


  • As usual, if there is an overcall by LHO and it is passed around to the opener, opener should consider reopening with a double if short in their suit.
  • If RHO balances or raises his partner’s overcall, Lebensohl or whatever you are using over overcalls, applies.
  • Otherwise, if responder has bid but an intended 1N rebid is not possible due to competition, 2N shows the strong NT hand and a stopper. With a strong NT hand and no stopper, opener doubles.
  • After 1m - 1N, we know responder has 6 - 9 and less than four cards in any bypassed suit. With a hand less than 16 HCP,
    • Sign off with a pass, or 2m
    • 1♦ – 1N - 2♣ shows a minimal opener, 5 - 4 in the minors, letting responder choose a minor.
  • The auction 1♣ – 1♦ is standard except you can’t rebid 1N lacking the 15-17 balanced hand. You can raise diamonds with 4. When stuck rebid your minor.

Raising A Major

After 1m – 1M, if you have 4 cards in M or 3 with an outside stiff or void, revalue the hand. Since your hand was either strong and balanced, or unbalanced, the hand is unlikely to be worth less than 14 support points.

  • With 14 - 17 support points rebid 2M.
  • With 18 - 19 support points rebid 3M.
  • With 20 or more support points rebid 4M.

After the Strong 1N Rebid

The structure after the 1N rebid is almost exactly the same as with the 1N opener. Note that the assumption here is that opener could not raise partner’s suit. First we’ll discuss the auction where responder bids a major and opener shows the strong 1N hand. We’ll discuss the auction 1♣ – 1♦ – 1N later.

After 1♣ - 1M - 1N

If responder has less than 8 points, he may pass, rebid his major to play, or bid a new suit at the 3 level, to play.

If responder has 8 or 9 points, he usually wants to know more about the opener’s hand. If the responder does not have five of his major, and has no interest in the other major, with an invitational balanced hand he can just raise to 2N. Otherwise, he should begin with 2♣!, invitational checkback Stayman. Stronger hands will begin with 2♦!(game forcing) if using Forcing Stayman.

A special exception is to rebid a major at the 3 level: this is an invitational hand with a six card major that is a good suit. With a lesser suit, use 2 Clubs first and then rebid the major.

1m - 1M - 1N!(15 - 17 balanced) 2♣! is Invitational Checkback Stayman. It should be alerted as, “asking for further hand description, invitational.” Opener with a minimum hand (that is, declining the invitation) replies:

  • 2♦!: No three card support for partner’s suit, no four cards in other major.
  • 2♥ / 2♠: Bidding responder’s major shows three, bidding the other major shows four. When holding both 3 of his suit, and 4 of the other major, raise responder’s major.

If opener has a maximum (accepting the invitation), he can bid 2N or at the 3 level:

  • 2N: Opener has no support, does not have the other major, but has a maximum hand.
  • 3m: Opener has 5+ in the minor, with a maximum hand.
  • 3M: Opener has a maximum hand and at least 3 of partner’s major.
  • 3W: Bidding the other major at the three level shows a maximum and 4 of that major, but denies 3 of the responder’s major. Responder will pick from 4W, 3N, or even 4M.

On responder’s second bid, he can rebid his major to show an invitational hand with six cards.

After 1♣ - 1♦ - 1N

Responder should bypass 1♦ to show a four card major only if he intends to pass a 1N rebid. Hence the 1♦ bid shows responder has no four-card major or has 8 points. Now:

  • 1♣ – 1♦ – 1N – 2♣! is invitational checkback Stayman.
  • 1♣ – 1♦ – 1N – 2♦! is game forcing checkback Stayman.
  • 1♣ – 1♦ – 1N – 3♣ 8 HCP, probably 3 clubs and 4+ diamonds.

Note that with no major, and 4 clubs, responder would have made a strong or a weak club raise. With a major and invitational-plus values, responder would bid 2♣ here. With a major and weak values, responder would have bid the major rather than 1♦. Therefore, this must be a 8 or more HCP club raise with not enough clubs to have made the strong 2♣ response. Hence responder probably has 3 clubs.

After We Make A 1N Overcall

We use the same system after we overcall 1N as we do with a strong 1N rebid. The only difference is neither party has shown a suit. Use 2♣! for invitational hands, and 2♦! for game-forcing hands, or just 2N to invite with no major suit.

When the 1N overcall is in balancing seat, the range is 11-14. Since the hand in second seat can be up to 16 HCP but had been unable to find a bid, we proceed normally. However, remember to “give back the King” in computing ranges.

Competitive Bidding After A Weak 1N Opener

In this section we discuss our method of dealing with interference after we have opened a weak 1N.

Over A Double

When 1N is doubled, we play a runout chosen from the chapter Runouts in Defensive Bidding.

Over An Overcall

The choices here are to use stolen bids, Lebensohl, or Rubensohl. If the overcall is 2♣, natural or artificial, then double is Stayman, and otherwise we ignore their bid for the moment unless it shows two definite suits. In that case see “Two-suited Overcalls”, below.

If the opponents bid is a transfer, such as 1N (2♥) to show spades,

  • Double shows 10+ points and is forcing through 2♥.
  • If you pass first and then double after opponents have come to rest, that is penalty.
  • New suits at the two level are to play. New suits at the three level are game forcing.
  • A bid of the suit they are trying to transfer to is Stayman, game forcing.

Over Two-Suited Overcalls

  • Reminder: if the bid is clubs, systems are on.

  • A double shows 10 or more points and the ability to double at least one of their suits. It is forcing through 2♥.

  • Pass and then double shows 8-10, a takeout-oriented competitive double. Stark gives this example:

    1N (2♦!majors) P(you) (2♥)
    P (P) ?

holding ♠K93 95 ♦AJ84 ♣QT98, is a good place for a competitive double. However, with slightly less values, it is ok to pass and defend, especially if vulnerable. As usual with takeout doubles, shape is crucial to the decision.

The Opponents Overcall At The Three Level

A double is for takeout. Three level suit bids are forcing.

RHO Overcalls After Two Passes

Generally opener must pass after a bid by RHO. Responder is captain here. He may have zero HCP, he may have 10.

Any suit bid by responder is to play, and shows at least five cards. A double is for takeout; opener should bid his best suit. Any subsequent double by us is penalty.

The Opponents Double Stayman

If 2♣ is doubled, normal responses to Stayman are available. Pass shows 4 Clubs and suggests leaving the penalty in. Redouble shows five clubs and suggests leaving the penalty in. In turn, the responder can repeat the Stayman with 3♣, or bid 2♥ or 2♠ to play showing a five-card suit.

If 2♦ (forcing) is doubled, the same scheme can be used, but the emphasis should be on seeing if we can play 2♦ redoubled.