Playing a no trump hand in bridge can be exhilarating or horrifying, depending upon how well the partnership communicates during bidding. Three steps separate the wonderful from the woeful in no trump hands: counting points, evaluating the hand and describing it. This exchange of information allows the partnership to end up with the correct bid.
In bridge, the face cards have specific points: aces are four points; kings, three; queens, two; and jacks, one. These valuations are called high card points, or HCP. According to the American Contract Bridge League, a one no trump (1NT) bid means the dealer has 15 to 17 high card points, while a two no trump (2NT) bid means the dealer has 20 to 21 high card points. Partnerships must agree on the meaning of a 3NT opening bid.
When a card has been played by each of the players, those four cards are called a trick. The first six tricks a partnership wins are called a book. Bidding conveys how many tricks the partnership thinks it can make above book. The partnership gets a positive score for taking all the tricks it says it can make and a negative score for not doing so. To bid 3NT, or game, the partnership needs a total of 26 points; for a small slam, or 6NT, 33 points; a grand slam, 7NT, 37 HCP.
Describe the Hand
When the opener makes a no trump bid, the responder--the opener's partner--knows the opener has a flat hand, meaning there is no void, a suit with no cards in it, and at best one doubleton, a suit with only two cards. The responder's bids describe his point count, the range of high card points in his hand, and his shape, or how many cards he has in the different suits. According to Audrey Grant in "Bidding," "The opener is the describer and tries to paint a clear picture of the hand. Responder, the captain, uses the information to steer the partnership to the best contract."
Response With Flat Hand
When the responder's hand is flat, having a no trump shape, he bids based upon the number of high card points in his hand:
Fewer than 8 points: Pass 8 to 9 points: 2NT 10 to 15 points: 3NT 16 to 17: 4NT; this bid asks the opener to bid 6NT if her hand has 17 points 18 to 19: 6NT 20 to 21: 5NT; this bid says the partnership has enough high card points to bid 6NT and asks the opener to bid 7NT if she has 17 points
If these responses seem confusing, remember that in no trump bidding, math is everything. Dorothy Truscott in "Bid Better, Play Better" says, "Do not memorize these responses. Simply add your points to partner's known 15-17 and use your head."
Response With Distributional Hand
The responder's hand is called distributional when it does not fit the no trump description. For instance, the responder may have five cards in hearts or spades, the major suits, or he may have one or two four-card major suits. The responder wants to describe his hand and his point count. Most rubber bridge players bid naturally, bidding their longer suit at the appropriate level. Duplicate players often use conventions to describe their hands. A convention is a bid that has a different meaning from its face value. The Stayman convention and Jacoby transfers are the two most common no trump response conventions.
The Gerber convention is used when the partnership thinks it may be able to bid a slam. Bidding four clubs asks the partner for the number of aces in her hand. The responses to Gerber are: four diamonds, either all four aces or no aces; four hearts, one ace; four spades, two aces; and 4NT, three aces. Bidding five clubs asks about the number of kings, with the same suit responses.