Of all the common opening bids in bridge, none is more popular than 1NT. The bid is pleasingly specific, showing balanced distribution and typically 15-17 high-card points. It leaves responder with enough information to probe for the right contract.

Responses include passing, raising, transferring or using the Stayman convention. For most players, that’s enough. But what happens when responder has a second bid? My editor Paul Laliberte knows 15 sequences in auctions beginning with 1NT.

Don’t worry: you won’t have to learn all of these special bids here. I’m giving you two or three a week that you can absorb and use.

Sequence #1

North.              South
1NT                 2♣  
2 ♦                   2 ♥ ??

Responder should hold a weak hand (0-7 HCP) with 5-5 in the majors.  Opener will either pass or bid 2 ♠ (suit preference). The auction ends there. A sample hand for South:  

♠ Q x x x x
♥ K x x x x
♦ x x
♣ x  

Don’t even think about a transfer: bidding 2 ♦ or 2 ♥ and requiring dealer to bid the next higher suit. Would you transfer partner to hearts or to spades? A real problem.

Sequence #2

North               South
1NT                 2♣  
2 ♦                   2 ♠ ??

Responder should have invitational values (8-9 HCP) along with five spades and four hearts. With a clear picture of responder’s hand, North can place the contract where it belongs. A sample hand for South:

♠ K Q x x x
♥ A x x x
♦ x x
♣   x x

It would be foolish for South to transfer to spades and then bid 2NT. A 4-4 fit in hearts may be missed.

Sequence #3

 North               South
1NT                  2♣  
2 ♦                    3 ♠ ??

South has made a game-forcing Smolen inquiry showing five hearts and four spades. Opener will now have a choice of games: 3NT or 4 ♥ . The purpose of Smolen is to ensure that partner (generally with the stronger hand) will be declarer in either contract. A sample hand for South:

♠ A x x x
♥ K Q J x x
♦ Q x
♣  Q x

Without Smolen, South will have to bid 3 ♥ instead of 3 ♠ (forcing). And now South will be declarer if 4 ♥ is the optimal contract.