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?


13 Answers 13


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?

  • 7
    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! Commented Dec 15, 2010 at 18:21
  • 5
    Escapes? Redouble, staring them right in the eye. See who cracks first. Commented Dec 21, 2010 at 21:52

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.

  • at least for majors you are likely to have transfers to get strong hand as declarer with weak 1NT anyway
    – jk.
    Commented Dec 17, 2010 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
    Commented Dec 17, 2010 at 20:46
  • A very very strong advantage of strong NTs is in competition when you don't open 1NT; you open 1m with a minimum hand (balanced or not), 4th seat bids/X, you get to pass. There's this huge gap between minimums that pass, and NT rebids that show 18+ that you don't have to worry about - because they would have opened 1NT. Weak NTs put that gap between 11 and 15 instead; which can be uncomfortable in competition (there are compensations, says this weak NT player!)
    – Mycroft
    Commented May 13 at 17:23
  • @Mycroft That's a good point! In one partnership, we play a weak NT and good-bad 2NT. After opening one of a minor and getting 2-level competition, almost any hand that's not 15-17 balanced is forced to bid 2NT (showing a desire to compete with distribution but not extra strength) so that partner doesn't make a penalty double counting on you to hold the strong NT hand. This is... inconvenient at times.
    – ruds
    Commented May 14 at 19:29

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


i played a strong NT for years & subsequently switched to a 10-14 weak NT & have been moderately pleased but with 1 proviso. A suitable run out sequence must be available when a double is passed to opener. I suggest Eric Luft's "How I Became a Life Master Playing the Weak NT" for a good ROS. that said, i still have reservations as the very common interference makes conventional responses difficult & often impossible. a 2nd issue is when the would be responder lacks the points or distribution to venture to the 2 level. I suspect that this is more of a condemnation of 5 card Majors than a weak or strong NT. since I'm already a Precision advocate, I'm contemplating a return to 4 card majors with a non conventional 1NT with 54+ minors 5.8433%. this fits well with an alerted, GCC legal, 0-9 HCP, 54+ minors 2NT which I've used for years. the 2 level is for single suited hands defined as a suit 3+ longer than all others. this is not a weak 2 or ACOL intermediate 2. thus the 1D opener covers all other hand types 16.6% thus denying a 4 card Major, 54+ minors, single suited hand & 15 or 16+ HCP. keng


I've played high and low--high is for the risk averse and kind of boring to play. When my opponents open strong NT, I interfere with the Multi-Landy when I can to messes with their transfers and Stayman conventions--most pairs don't have a defense for Multi-Landy, feel they have to get to Game but are left with limited bidding space and very annoyed.

Personally, I like 12-14 NT when not vul and 14 NT when vul.

In practice over 6 years, this has worked out really well.
This pre-empt forces our opponents to bid up and then they often end up too high if they are weak. If they are strong, they usually get to Game regardless.

Exit transfers take care of doubles, and most of the times we've had to resort to them, opponents either decided to bid or we ended up in a 7-cd suit at the 2-level for a 'good' sacrifice.

You can't make this work to your ultimate advantage though, if you don't use conventions: 4-way Transfers, Stayman, Exit Transfers. And learn Multi-Landy to defend against strong NT players.


Coming in late. Used to play K-S and loved it, except never found a way to beat a very slight hesitation from LHO after 1NT is opened. When bidding is passed around, his partner can balance or double with crap because of the hesitation. Yes, it's cheating, but there's no defense to it. Hesitation isn't long enough to call the director. This happened to us so often and was so aggravating that we switched to 2/1. I wrote to the ACBL and suggested you should be able to say, "I'm going to open a weak NT, please wait." They didn't answer.


Keith's answer is almost certainly the reason for the difference between North American and British styles of 1NT opening. Add to that the fact that the authors from the respective countries (e.g. Terence Reese and Rhoda Lederer in the UK) taught different systems and you have a self-reinforcing system.

Regarding the advantages and disadvantages: with a weak NT (and four card majors, as in Acol) an opening one bid in the minors is always at least a four card suit. Finding a 4-4 major fit is no harder than after a strong NT opening - e.g. with Stayman. Acol actively recommends Stayman with a weak hand and tolerance for diamonds, hearts and spades, for example. (Just pass opener's response). And knowing partner has four card support for your minor is good for both competitive bidding and discovering minor suit slams.

If you are doubled, you get an escape mechanism, e.g. exit transfers. If not, one down is better than letting the opponents play.

The problem is when you go two or more down and the opponents have only a part score. I would like to see some analysis to see how often this occurs. It definitely exists, because you see it in competitions, but my subjective experience is that the pre-emptive benefits of the weak 1NT outweigh the occasions when it goes for a large penalty. Especially in pairs.

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