CBA Ask the Experts: Volume 1, Number 2
Karen Barrett of Rowayton writes: I am interested to know how the experts feel about Forcing NT vs. Semi Forcing NT in response to partner’s opening a major in first or second seat.
John Stiefel breaks down the question:
1. What is a semi-forcing NT?
2. What are the advantages of the semi-forcing NT over the forcing NT?
3. What are the disadvantages of the semi-forcing NT compared to the forcing NT?
4. What do I recommend?
What is a semi-forcing NT?
A semi-forcing NT is a 1NT response to a 1 of a major opening (assumed to be playing 5-card majors) that partner is expected to pass with any 5-3-3-2 hand that would not accept a game-invitational rebid of 2NT or 3 of opener’s major (3-card limit raise).
Note – all 1NT responses by a passed hand are semi-forcing, so the only time the distinction between forcing and semi-forcing NT applies is when the 1NT responder is an unpassed hand.
What are the advantages of the semi-forcing NT?
Often 1NT will be the best contract; e.g. KQxxx, Axx, Kxx, xx across x, Kxxx, Axx, Qxxxx.
What are the disadvantages of the semi-forcing NT?
Sometimes 1NT will not be the best contract; e.g. KQxxx, Axx, Kxx, xx across xx, KQJxxx, QJ10x,x. Here a heart contract is far superior to a 1NT contract and will be reached if partner rebids his 3-card diamond suit. (Game in hearts is the best contract and might be reached via 1S – 1NT – 2D – 2H – 3H – 4H.)
Also, 1NT is often not the best contract when responder has a 3-card limit raise.
Moderator: rest of John Stiefel’s comment to be continued below at the end of other panel discussion.
Jeff Goldman, similarly, and including the third option, non-forcing:
Traditionally, the non-forcing NT over one of a major was a hand without 3 or more card support, in the range of 6-9 points. Over 1H, it would also deny 4+ spades.
Moving ahead, the forcing NT (frequently used in conjunction with two over one forcing to game) is limited to a hand of less than game going values. Here, however, responder can have a limit raise with 3 card support. The opener might have to bid a short minor in response to the forcing no trump response. This is especially vague if it goes 1H-1NT, as opener could be 4=5=2=2[i] without reversing values, so would have to bid a 2 card club suit. More often than not, responder would preference to 2M over 2 of a minor, as 2m could be a pretty good hand (not enough to jump shift). Some people play a gadget called Gazzilli to show the really good hands here, but that’s not the discussion today.
Still evolving, the semi-forcing 1NT allows for the opener to pass with 5-3-3-2 distribution and a minimum opener. Note, the best hand responder can have is a 3 card limit raise, so when one passes, they are willing to play 1NT rather than 3M.
The forcing NT (and semi forcing) is more commonly used after 1st and 2nd seat openers, as many pairs play the Drury convention to show the 3 card limit raise and a two over one bid is lighter by a passed hand than by an unpassed one.
With most of my partners, I play semi-forcing NT. At matchpoints, making the same number of tricks in notrump will result in a better score (less critical at IMPs). By playing semi-forcing, responding to 1NT is more natural; bidding 2m usually shows a 4 card suit so it’s easier to get to the best strain.
Brett Adler points out the some of the advantages and disadvantages of forcing versus semi-forcing 1NT and casts his vote for the latter:
I play forcing NT with most partners, semi-forcing with one, and each has benefits as well as disadvantages. The disadvantage of the forcing NT is that you can’t stop the auction in 1NT which might be the limit of the hand. The disadvantage of the semi-forcing NT is that with an invitational hand and 3 card support for opener’s major, responder plans to bid 1NT then jump to the three level in support of partner’s major, but that is hard to do if partner opened with an 11-12 count and 1NT is the end of the auction. You then play 1NT and watch the opponents cash their long suit(s) whilst you wistfully look at the 8 card major suit fit you have between the two hands.
The modern style is to be more aggressive in the bidding, so my vote goes to semi-forcing. For the occasional times we miss our major fit I’ll make that up by keeping the auction low and not punishing partner (or them not punishing me) for an aggressive opening bid.
Steve Becker normally plays it non-forcing, in a context where a two over one bid is not game forcing:
I don't and never have played two over one forcing to game, or 1NT forcing. I have never seen the need for it and get by just fine with 1NT showing 6-10 points, allowing opener to pass with a balanced minimum. Strictly as an observer, though, of those who play 1NT 100% forcing, I have always thought that they would be better off playing it as semi-forcing. I am glad to see that at long last, many players have come around to this way of thinking.
Rich DeMartino makes the case for playing 1NT forcing in the context of a two over one game forcing system:
First: the concept of playing 1NT forcing when we do not play two over one forcing to game by an unpassed hand is foreign to me. Maybe years ago some players treated 1NT forcing but did not play two over one forcing to game but I don't know anyone who plays that way now.
Second: Bridge World Standard 2017, the latest version, says the following: A 1NT response is semi-forcing (limited to at most game-invitational strength; opener may pass with 5-3-3-2 or 4=5=2=2 and a hand deemed no stronger than 12 HCP). This method must have merit because it is the choice of the experts who participate in the Bridge World Standard polls. Certainly not having to rebid 2C with AQxx AKxxx xx xx after 1H-1NT is a plus but this hand rarely occurs.
Despite the Bridge World Standard poll, I choose to play 1NT forcing with all my regular partners because there are at least two significant advantages in doing that.
Hand 1: AQ654 A63 Q32 65 opposite K87 K96 KJ876 98, we end up playing the far superior contract of 3S (after 1S-1N-2D-3S) instead of playing 1NT.
Hand 2: AK654 A53 Q4 953 opposite: 87 J84 KJ9876 J2, we end up playing the much better contract of 2D (after 1S-1N 2C-2D) instead of playing 1NT.
John Stiefel gets the last word with his reply to “What do I recommend?”
I think it’s very close which is better – the forcing NT or the semi-forcing NT. If one were clearly better, expert opinion would have gravitated toward it by now. So I always let my partner decide which of the two he wants to play.
[i] Ask the Experts uses “=” to indicate a specific order to a hand pattern, so 4=5=2=2 indicates specifically 4 spades, 5 hearts and 2 cards in each minor.