When to play 3NT instead of 4M? – by Milan Macura

Almost 1,100 players joined the last tournaments in 2019 during the Christmas holidays: 500 in MPs and 592 in IMPs. Thank you for being with us and having fun together at the exclusive tournaments. Wish you all the best in the New Year!

MPs results

IMPs results

When to play 3NT instead of 4M?


MPs results

There was again only one player who scored over 80%, the lucky one this time was Thomas (BE) with 82.22%.

Second place with 76.94% goes to Andrew (RU) and bronze goes to England thanks to Dominic with 75.27%.

Steven (BE) was the best among my friends with 73.48%, followed by Luc and Thomas from France. I finished fourth with 64.41%.

IMPs results

The IMP tournament was very special this time, the best strategy was to pass and stay low or let the opponents win the contract.

I did very poorly and for the first time finished with a negative score (-16 IMPs). The best player was LionHearth3NT (BR) with +39 IMPs followed by Guy (FR) with +35 IMPs. Nicolas (FR) and rm25282 (GB) shared the third place with +31 IMPs.

A lot of traditional leaders from my friends’ list shared the same destiny as me and finished with a minus score. Only the Swedes scored over 20 IMPs, Marcin with +25 IMPs and Mikael with +24 IMPs. Third place goes to Czech Republic and Norway thanks to Nulda and Geir Olav with +16 IMPs.

When to play 3NT instead of 4M?

The topic comes from the MP tournament. It appears more often in MP because of the extra 10 points for NT contracts. And that is one of the main reasons why to play NT with a Major fit. The other reason is that you can win only 9 tricks so you can get the bonus for making a game only in NT.

Here are the indicators of when to play 3NT instead of 4♥/♠:

  • Both hands are balanced and we have stoppers in all suits.
  • Our combined strength is close to 30 HCP.
  • We are lacking primary values – kings and aces. That means we will lose 4 top tricks – it cannot happen when we have more than 27 HCP.
  • We have bad trumps and we can score 9 tricks using other suits if trumps split badly. Often when we have a 4-4 fit and a minor 5-card suit.
  • We have length in opponents’ suits and there is risk of ruff. Combinations like QJxx or KQx are likely to be ruffed if partner has length as well. In NT these combinations produce two stoppers.
  • We are balanced and we have a good suit with outside quick tricks. AKQxx and outside aces produce quick tricks in both contracts, but you might not have enough tricks in trumps.
  • We have a solid suit and no stoppers in the other suits – it will be better if partner declares in order to protect his values, mainly unsupported kings.

But even if you meet all the criteria, 4M can still be better. Sometimes you cannot predict the bad trump split or that you don’t have enough stoppers and quick tricks in NT. Anyway, good judgement of the above indicators will increase your scores significantly.

Let’s have a look at two examples from the MP tournament.

Which contract do you prefer with this hand?

When you see a solid major suit, you think that it will be trumps. Take a break and think twice before you make a decision. A solid 7-card suit produces 7 tricks in both contracts. But in NT you need only 2 tricks from partner whereas in a 4♥ contract you need partner to cover 3 losers.

The goal in these boards is to make partner the declarer. If you don’t have transfer openings, the only way is to play in NT. The best thing to do is to let partner decide and if he chooses NT, you should be ok with that. Here is how I bid this hand:

East led the ♦7. What is your plan?

10 tricks are easy to make. You have 7 hearts, the ♣A and after the lead 2 diamond tricks. All these tricks can be made in 4♥ and you have an extra chance to score a spade trick for 11 tricks. Therefore, you must try for 11 tricks in 3NT too.

On this board, West won the diamond Ace and returned a diamond. I chose to discard the ♦Q and take the second trick with ♦K. That can create an illusion for the defenders that they can cash the diamonds.

I crossed to South with a heart and played the ♣Q. West covered with the ♣K and 12 tricks were home. If West does not cover the ♣Q, you can duck in North and it is very likely that East will continue in diamonds so you will still make 11 tricks and a great score. Only 12 players made 3NT+3, the majority played in 4♥.

In the next hand, you are facing a similar decision.  3NT or 4♥?

Your partner opened 1♦ and you responded 1♥. North rebid 1NT and you can ask for 3 cards in hearts or you can jump to 3NT directly. The indicator that 3NT can be better is that the heart suit is bad and your combined strength is around 30 HCP.

After the ♣ lead, it seems that you have the same number of tricks in NT and in ♥. But communication can be a problem. Where to win the first trick?

Obviously, the highest potential for extra tricks is the heart suit. You don’t need to make more tricks in NT, the same amount is good enough. The only chance for losing one heart trick is a 3-2 split and the KQ doubleton.

I won with the ♣A and played a small heart. West played the ♥10 and I decided to duck, hoping that West wins the trick and cannot play the spades through. To my surprise, East overtook with the ♥Q and returned another club.

I made a conclusion that hearts can split bad and that the ♥Q is singleton. If that is the case, you have to cross to South and play a small heart towards ♥A8. I tried the spade finesse to maximize the number of tricks.

Unfortunately, the ♠K was in West and I had to duck the spade return to make 9 tricks. That was not enough for a good score because hearts split 3-2. If I had continued establishing hearts, I would have made 10 tricks for 88%. Here is the full deal:

4♥ can still be better. Can you make 11 tricks if West leads the ♥10 and East switches to a spade when he wins the ♥Q?

Here are the most played contracts and the solution to the riddle trick by trick:

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