When Does a Notrump Bid Promise a Stopper(s)?

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 07/27/2016
Level: Intermediate

As a general rule, we don't worry about "stoppers" unless the opponents have bid a suit. Otherwise, bidding notrump frequently describes a balanced hand (by the opener) or no better options (by responder). 

Notrump openings and rebids

An opening bid of 1NT or 2NT shows a balanced hand (“standard” would be 15-17 and 20-21 respectively), but neither promises that all suits are stopped.

Opener’s 1NT or jump-to-2NT rebid also show balanced hands (12-14 and 18-19, respectively) but also don’t promise stoppers in all suits. For example:

I would rebid 1NT after 1♠-1♠ with, say

♠ J74  
♥ Q76  
♦ AKQ2  
♣ J72.

I would rebid 2NT after 1♠-1♠ with, say:

♠ A2  
♥ 8764  
♦ AQ2  
♣ AKJ4.

In a 2/1 GF auction, I prefer to allow opener to rebid 2NT with a flat hand, but not everything stopped.

I would rebid 2NT after 1♠-2♠ with, say:

♠ AJ765  
♥ KQ 
♦ Q32 
♣ J76.
I would not rebid 2NT with a small doubleton in an unbid suit, preferring to raise partner with 3 trumps if need be.

1NT response:

A response of 1NT to 1♠ or 1♠ says nothing about stoppers. Responder might have several suits unstopped.

For example, I would respond 1NT to 1♠ with, say: 

♠ K6  
♥ 765  
♦ J75  
♣ K7642.

But, if the opponents overcall, responder’s 1NT shows a stopper(s) in their suit.

For example: 1♠ (1♠) bid 1NT with: 

♠ KJ6  
♥ 652  
♦ QJ6  
♣ Q764.

A response of 1NT to 1♠ or 1♠ (by partnership agreement, possibly “forcing” or “semiforcing”) says nothing about stoppers. Again, if the opponents overcall (such as 1♠ after 1♠), the 1NT response shows a stopper(s) in their suit.

1♠ P 1NT with:

♠ 86  
♥ 62  
♦ QJ86  
♣ AJ764.


1♠ (1♠) 1NT with:

♠ AJ62  
♥ 52  
♦ QJ6  
♣ 10764.

2NT response:

Assuming it isn’t conventional (like Jacoby 2NT), a response of 2NT would tend to show the unbid suits stopped. If there is an overcall, then 2NT definitely shows their suit stopped.

1♠ P 2NT with:

♠ Q106  
♥ K82  
♦ J86  
♣ AJ64.

1♠ (2♠) 2NT with:

♠ KJ6  
♥ Q52  
♦ QJ6  
♣ Q764.

3NT response:

This should show a stopper(s) in all unbid suits (and definitely so after an overcall).

1♠ P 3NT with: 

♠ AJ6  
♥ KQ2  
♦ 986  
♣ KJ64.

1♠ (1♠) 3NT with:

♠ KQ6  
♥ K52  
♦ QJ62  
♣ K82.

If our side has bid two suits, natural bids in notrump tend to show stoppers in the unbid suits (but not guaranteed). If the opponents have bid a suit, then the notrump bidder is assumed to have that suit stopped. If stuck, you might have to bid 3NT naturally with an unbid suit(s) completely unstopped, such as:

1♠ (3♠) 3NT with:

♠ 1076  
♥ K2  
♦ AKQ106  
♣ Q54.

Or, (3♠) 3NT with:

♠ AQ2  
♥ K  
♦ J32  
♣ AKQJ106.

If your side has bid 3 suits, a notrump bid should deliver a stopper in the 4th suit. For example, after 1♠-1♠-2♠, a heart stopper would be expected for a notrump bid.

If the auction gets complicated, assume that the notrump bidder always has the opponent’s suit stopped. If he doesn’t, he shouldn’t bid notrump (sometimes a cuebid, often called a “Western cuebid,” can be used).

Conventional notrump bids (such as Unusual notrump, Jacoby 2NT) obviously say nothing about stoppers (nor anything about notrump shape).

For more, try this quiz.

Updated: February 2023