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In bridge, over a 1 NT opening, a responder might bid 2D with five hearts asking the opener to "transfer" to 2H, or bid 2H with five spades, asking for a transfer to 2S. The idea is to try to find an eight card fit, assuming that the NT bidder has three in the major.

But suppose the 1NT bidder has only two of the designated suit. Does s/he have to accept the transfer, or can one bid 2NT in this situation.

Assuming the opener accepts the transfer, is the responder (e.g. 2D bidder) supposed to go to 2NT to give the opener a choice of a NT or suit contract?

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Can you qualify which bidding system(s) your question is about? I answered for Standard American with strong 1NT openings below as that's the only system I know. I don't even know if Jacobi Transfers are used with other systems but if they are, and you want to know how they work in other systems, you'll get better answers if you mention that in the question. – Joe Golton Jun 11 '12 at 19:07
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Well, the proper followup is what you have agreed upon.

The 'normal' responses to a transfer allow you to bid the major at the 2 level (usual completion of the transfer) or bid the major at the 3 level, which shows a maximum hand and 4 cards in the major in question (called super-accept).

Assuming your agreement is the above, bidding 2NT with doubleton in the major, instead of completing the transfer is just silly.

  • You partner could have 6 cards in the major and a bust hand and might have been planning to pass the 2H bid from you. With a 6-2 fit, 2H will play very well as compared to 1NT. Even with a decent 5 card suit and nothing else, 2H will likely play better than 1NT. 2NT might just be too high. This is because the trumps serve as stoppers in other suits, and also provide entries into dummy.

  • With partner having an invitational/game forcing hand and exactly 5 card major, you will always be able to reach 2NT or 3NT when you need to. With an invitational hand and exactly 5 cards in the major, partner will rebid 2NT, which you can then pass (or go on to 3NT if you have a maximum hand). With a game forcing hand and 5 hearts, partner will bid 3N.

  • You are denying partner the chance to bid 2S after transferring to hearts which can show some hand types (some people play it as 5-5 in majors etc).

  • Bidding 2NT is a unilateral bid. Remember that your partner is the captain. You have narrowed down your hand with your 1NT bid.

So violating the transfer to bid 2NT to show doubleton is pointless with no real gain (you will always get to deny support later), and has only downsides.

Also, from a system point of view, having 2NT show a doubleton is inefficient, as later followups will clarify that situation. You are just wasting space and getting to a bad contract/wrong siding it for no reason.

That said, some people do have followups other than 2 or 3 of the major, but those typically show 4 card support and some other feature (like doubleton/values in the suit bid).

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Your last point is really important I think, with 1nt you have already told your partner pretty much everything you can, they are in the driving seat even though you may still end up as declarer – jk. Jun 13 '12 at 9:44
@jk.: Yeah, it is a common problem with newer players. Another common problem is the thinking that if you have a misfit you must play in NT (which might be the real reason the original question has cropped up). – Aryabhata Jun 13 '12 at 13:43
Let's re-emphasize the most fundamental rule of bidding: the proper follow-up is what you have agreed upon with your partner. – Forget I was ever here Nov 23 '13 at 18:21

In Standard American with strong 1NT openings (typically 15-17 or 16-18 points), the 1 NT bidder must accept the transfer, even with only 2 in the suit. Root and Pavlicek's book Modern Bidding Conventions (Standard American) is very clear about that.

This will not always lead to an optimal result, but like many other conventions, the first 2 bids of the Jacoby Transfer are just the start of a longer communication sequence and departing from the sequence this early in the bidding would waste much of the benefit.

Also - despite the 5-2 fit, this is usually a good place for the contract to land when a weak responder is not even assured of taking a single trick (without ruffing). The contract with the 5-2 fit gives you a ruff or two from the dummy and an opportunity to attempt finesses that require a lead from dummy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is one of the major benefits of the Jacoby Transfer, as a 1 NT contract with zero support from dummy often leads to going down 2-3 tricks, whereas the 2H or 2S contract with 5 in dummy and 2 in declarer can often be made.

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What about with 0 in the suit? I feel like the "two of the designated suit", even though asked in the OP, is a bit of a red herring to getting a clear answer to this question: should you ALWAYS carry out a Jacoby transfer, even if it appears capable of landing you in an appalling contract? – thesunneversets Jun 11 '12 at 16:56
@thesunneversets In Standard American bidding with strong 1NT openers, 1NT promises fairly even distribution. Having one 2 card suit is fine, but it is considered unusual and stretching (if not downright wrong) to start with 1NT if you have a singleton or two doubletons. I personally do stretch this way on rare occasions but I would never open 1NT with a void and I can't recall ever doing it with a singleton. I see that I did not qualify my answer with "standard american" so I'll do that now. I don't know how the 1NT bid and Jacobi transfer works in other systems. – Joe Golton Jun 11 '12 at 18:55
Sorry, Joe, you're absolutely right, I wasn't thinking straight - after my initial 1NT bid I obviously do have at least 2 hearts... or else I've only myself to blame! – thesunneversets Jun 12 '12 at 11:46
The system, won't let me edit because it's not long enough, but it is spelled "Jacoby." – ShawnD Jun 13 '12 at 23:25
@ShawnD Thanks - I corrected it. – Joe Golton Jun 13 '12 at 23:56

Today with 20 pts, I opened 2NT with a singleton ace of hearts. My partner bid 2 diamonds, I said "transfer" and choose to bid 3 NT. The computer printout, showed we could have made 4clubs, 5 spades, and 5 NT. Didn't play to 5, but did make 4. I was the only player in that contract and the high board. My partner upon laying her hand down, only had 4 hearts, not five, and only 6 points.

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This doesn't seem to answer the question. – tsuma534 Apr 14 at 7:00
@tsuma534:That's good enough for me. This was one person's "experience." Admittedly, it's an unusual bidding convention but it worked for them. – Tom Au Apr 15 at 15:45

OK. But the other day I had 21 points and bid two-no. Partner had ZERO points with 5 hearts, bid two diamonds. I had 2 hearts, both little; I could have made three-no just with my own hand. But when I answered 3 hearts (forced, I'll admit, by the whole table saying "You HAVE to accept the transfer" when I tried 3 no-trump) I went down in flames. Is consider this a reasonable exception.

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Welcome to the site. I strongly agree with you (although many will disagree). You probably had Kx or Qx opposite five hearts, and 18-19 points concentrated in the other three suits, probably seven tricks there, two (out of five) in hearts. With less than three cards in the suit, I LIKE playing NT opposite 5 small. (With Kx opposite xxxxx, you have only 10 trump points out of a possible 23 (10 hcp plus 13 trumps). And it was improper for the "table" to make you retract your 3NT bid. Once made, it should have been allowed to play. – Tom Au Nov 23 '13 at 16:45
What were the hands? – Aryabhata Nov 24 '13 at 5:48
To follow-up on @Aryabhata's comment: 5332 hand with zero points should not be transferring over 2NT. To transfer over a 2NT opening responder should have either a 6-card suit; an unbalanced hand that truly cannot stand NT; or at least game-invitational values – Forget I was ever here Nov 24 '13 at 16:30
I can't imagine a hand that should open 2NT and can make 3NT in hand. AKQ xx AKJT9 Axx has some play (the diamond queen might drop doubleton) but it's anti-percentage, and there's some argument for stronger action with that hand. @TomAu, you're right that a bid made should hold, but there are very few hands that will make 9 tricks across from a worthless dummy in no trump, but not in dummy's 5-card suit, even in a 5-2 fit. – ruds Nov 27 '13 at 5:32
The main value of a transfer is not that it hides the strong hand; that's just a bonus. The main value is that, opposite a narrowly described hand, it gives the responder a chance to place the contract or ask for a specific piece of information in order to place the contract (e.g. 1NT-2D-2H-3NT: partner, do you want to play in 3NT or 4H opposite a 5332 hand?). That value is erased if partner unilaterally bids past the transfer. The reason super-accepts are used is that finding out about good 4-card support often improves the value of responder's hand, and this is judged an acceptable risk. – ruds Nov 27 '13 at 5:38

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