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Bridge is widely considered to be the queen of card games on both sides of the Atlantic. However, there's one huge difference between the way that (most) Americans and (most) Britons play. In American Standard, an opening 1NT bid signifies a balanced hand of 15-17 points. In (British) ACOL, the same bid signifies 12-14 points balanced.

As someone who learned Bridge in the UK, it seems to me obvious that weak no trump is the better system. A 12-14 point balanced hand comes up WAY more often than a 15-17, so you're getting a lot more use out of the bid. Yes, you will proceed to game from a weak no trump bid a lot less often than from a strong, but that doesn't seem very important. The amount of bidding space that you take away from your opponents by a 1NT bid where they have the balance of the points is a huge bonus, in my opinion.

Could it be that British players just prefer playing aggressive, interferential Bridge? As well as weak no trumps, I also love weak jump overcalls, whose main purpose is to eat up large amounts of the opponents' bidding space, to prevent them easily making games and slams that they have the points for. Do Americans prefer a "fair" game of Bridge, where you bid on the points you have, not to mess the opponents around?

I'm sure that the strong no trump would not have remained central to American Bridge for so long if it wasn't pretty robust and well-thought-through, though. So can any aficionados of it explain to me what's so good about it?

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9 Answers 9

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There are two main advantages I see to the strong 1 NT:

  • When your partner is very weak, the strong 1NT is far more likely to make (and far less likely to be doubled) than the weak 1NT.
  • Though 15-17 is much rarer than 12-14, when it does occur it is very easy to put the contract in the right place with the strong hand as declarer. Hiding the partnership's strength makes defense more difficult.

Against intermediate players, I suspect that the pre-emptive power of the weak 1NT gives it an edge (at least in America, where players have less experience against weak 1NT openers), but stronger players will be able to bid around the 1NT and accurately double for penalty more often.

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at least for majors you are likely to have transfers to get strong hand as declarer with weak 1NT anyway –  jk. Dec 17 '10 at 11:26
    
This is less relevant when the "strong hand" has 12-14 points than when it has 15-17. In a game-going auction, both hands are of roughly equal strength, and so which hand is the declarer is less relevant. –  ruds Dec 17 '10 at 20:46

My teacher told me to learn hard to use weak opening, though it is risky. He said that most world best players use it. And he warned that it is often viewed as sort of "heresy" :)

About British - he said that some of them use the following rule: open weak if non-vulnerable and strong if vulnerable.

I think that strong NT opening is popular because it's not that risky. And I don't think it is purely American thing.

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The risk factor is a good point. Suppose you have 12 points balanced and open 1NT. Your partner has 0 points and passes. Your opponents double! You are definitely going down to the tune of a few hundred points! On the plus side, you've stopped your opponents making game or possibly even slam; but I know so many people who are horrified at the idea of taking penalty points contesting a hand that wasn't "theirs", people who would rather concede the match than go down one or two doubled. Maybe British players just like to live more dangerously! –  thesunneversets Dec 14 '10 at 18:35
    
When I learnt to play (in the UK), the apparently prevailing wisdom was either strong 16-18 throughout, or strong vulnerable and weak 12-14 non-vulnerable. It must have been a club thing, as I switched to weak when I went to uni and never looked back. Years later when I started playing online, I had to re-learn everything so that I could play with US scratch partners as well as UK ones! –  Julia Hayward Mar 3 at 16:05
    
@thesunneversets +1 for the observation that some players have an unnatural aversion to penalties even when it's favourable to accept them... –  Julia Hayward Mar 3 at 16:06

I am no bridge historian, but wouldn't the underlying answer have to do with the underlying "path dependence?" This is a standard: Most people in Britain use weak 1 NT, so people in Britain first learn weak 1 NT. Conversely, most people in the US use strong 1 NT, so most people in USA first learn strong 1 NT.

The main idea of path dependence is that there doesn't have to be some grand "reason" that a standard develops. A standard would only get undermined if it was radically inferior (e.g., people that play one system win way more often, ceteris paribus) . I'd guess that Truscott's book has some story... which gave a kernel of advantage to each system in different countries... which led to a "lock in" of each standard in each country.

It's not like the average player in the US plays often with people from Britain. And there's not this bias at the highest levels of bridge, right?

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I did a quick Google and found this: "One problem of the weak notrump, however is that 4-4 major-suit fits are frequently missed, when playing in a major is much better than playing in notrumps. Also, because the weak notrump is subject to penalty doubles by the opposition, an escape system such as Meckwell Escapes or Touching Escapes, is a necessary adjunct." So it's certainly not the case that the weak 1NT is a convention without any downsides. Fortune favours the brave, though, I still say! –  thesunneversets Dec 15 '10 at 18:21
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@keith - It's awesome that you said ceteris paribus. –  Firefeather Dec 17 '10 at 3:25
    
as with the escapes, its worth bearing in mind that weak/strong nt is not the only common difference between different sides of the pond, you really need to consider the other bids in the system as well –  jk. Dec 17 '10 at 11:37
    
@Firefeather I'm a graduate student... What can I say? I guess I've been brainwashed. –  Keith Dec 17 '10 at 15:24
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Escapes? Redouble, staring them right in the eye. See who cracks first. –  Brian Hooper Dec 21 '10 at 21:52

When I play on the difficult evenings at my local club (North-east of England), many of the players use a "mini" no-trump, opening 1NT on 10-12 (not vulnerable) and 12-14 (vulnerable). Try as I might this is rather a difficult system to overcome.

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Wow, that takes the weak no trump interferential philosophy to even greater extremes... I can't help but approve! –  thesunneversets Dec 29 '10 at 3:42

I have played both.

One thing I find about a weak NT is when the LHO overcalls it, it can be hard for the 3rd player to compete to find a fit. The system I play makes it easier to find a fit when you don't open 1NT.

Although finding a fit after a strong NT has been intervened might be just as hard, you will be able to play in 2NT more frequently when there is no fit, and you're certainly unlikely to get doubled there.

Catching the opps for a penalty when they intervene over a weak 1NT at the wrong moment sounds great and sometimes it may be but as with using penalty doubles of overcalls in the regular situation, it loses you a bid you can use to compete to find a fit of your own.

As for getting doubled in 1NT, not as frequent as you think but at MP vulnerable you certainly risk -200 when the opps are only making a part-score or were only ever going to bid to one, and even -100 going down 1 may be bad as 1NT making for the opps is only +90.

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Referring to the comment on going down. Look at the scoring. If 1NT is opened weak, there is no slam for the opposition, so game is the best they can get (generally speaking of course). So lets say they could get 3NT themselves with an overtrick - 630. Compare this to 1NT vulnerable down 3 -800. OK down 3 non-vulnerable is 'only' 500 so maybe this could be a sacrifice, but only if game could have been made on a maximum of 40-12+28 points. If opener and partner has 13 and 5, then opposition will have only 22 - no game and a double of 1NT down 2 is far better (300) than a part score.

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This is kind of worst-case-scenario stuff for the 1NT bidders, of course. And do American Standard bidders really pass on 12-14 points balanced? I would have thought they bid at the 1-level too - just at a lower level that gives the opponents more bidding space to get in on the action effectively, if they do have the balance of the points. –  thesunneversets Apr 4 '11 at 2:53
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@thesunneversets: I don't always play American Standard, but I never pass on a 14 point hand, balanced or not. As Goren himself said, "if your hand is worth 14 or more points, it MUST be opened." If I don't have a 5-card major or biddable 4-card, I'll usually open a short club instead of a weak(er) 1 NT. –  Andy May 19 '11 at 15:16

It's much easier to have all suits stopped (or nearly so) for 1NT with 15-17 points than with 12-14.

With the latter, I bid 1 club, then 1 NT when partner responds. (If partner can't respond, I'd rather be in 1 club than 1 NT if for no other reason than it gives the opponents a better chance to take me out.) In this sequence, I probably have a weak suit, and hope partner bids "one over one" in it.

A "weak" 1NT works fine if it succeeds, but not when you hear "double." (And it would not be for takeout). The chances are much less with a "strong" 15-17. Unless partner has less than 3-5 points, you're almost guaranteed 20 or more, and no double.

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I play both weak and strong NT. The American Strong NT evolved from Culbertson who initially played a weaker version and the average players were being set a lot, even doubled. thus, the strength was increased to 16-18 for the masses. Culbertson's initial 1NT was a balanced hand containing 2 1/2 honor tricks when not vulnerable and 3 honor tricks when vulnerable.

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Welcome to the site. An upvote to get you going. –  Tom Au Oct 27 '12 at 20:40

The world has changed a lot, even in bridge. The real strength of the weak not trump is when you do not open 1NT! It makes bidding much more precise, no need to open 4crd major (which acolytes may prefer), 1m is always strong, either in hcp or distribution. This and much more was writen as early as 1958, by (sic!) Americans (Edgar Kaplan and Alfred Sheinwold) in "How to play winning bridge". Of course using the WNT changes your complete bidding struchture. Even more foolish to have the strength of 1NT depend upon vulnerability as in original Acol. You have to learn two different bidding systems. Better to use your brain capacity to improve your card play. IMHO Kaplan Sheinwold Updated (published 1978) is still the best compromise between natural an conventional bidding systems for ordinary people.

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