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The Unusual 2NT

The Unusual 2NT is an artificial overcall showing the two lowest unbid suits and significant shape (normally at least 5-5). It is a preemptive bid which is played to disrupt an opponent’s auction and reduce their bidding space.

The benefits of playing the Unusual 2NT are:

  • You can show two suits in one bid
  • You can preempt opponents and take away valuable bidding space
  • You can bid hands that you would otherwise have to fold
  • You give up very little - the natural 2NT overcall showing 20-21 HCP is rare and these strong hands can be shown in other ways

Without the UNT, you would be forced to either fold or pick a suit. In a competitive auction it is easy for bidding space to vanish quickly, and with a weakish hand you may find you are unable to bid your second suit – potentially missing a good fit with partner.

The initial bids are:

Opponent's Bid Overcall Meaning
1 2NT Promises 5+ Hearts and 5+ Diamonds
1 2NT Promises 5+ Hearts and 5+ Clubs
1 2NT Promises 5+ Clubs and 5+ Diamonds
1 2NT Promises 5+ Clubs and 5+ Diamonds

Partner will normally respond by bidding his or her favoured suit (of the two you have shown). If partner has equal length in these suits it is best practice for them to bid the lowest-ranked of the two. This allows them to use the other suit as an escape if doubled for penalties. We’ll take a look at partner’s possible responses in a bit more detail later in the article.

When Should You Use The Unusual 2NT?

There are no points requirements for playing the Unusual 2NT, but that doesn’t mean you should use it every time you have a two-suited hand. The main consideration is whether playing in a potentially doubled 3-level contract will cost more or less than opponents bidding and making a game or slam, but there are several other things to consider:

Vulnerability Considerations

At favourable vulnerability there is considerably less risk associated with bidding the Unusual 2NT and you can be confident that in most scenarios it’s going to be a strong move.

The decision to bid gets more difficult at unfavourable vulnerability since not only are your opponents more likely to double for penalties, but the cost of going down is that much greater. When vulnerable you might want to hold off unless you either have extra length (6-5) or a hand where the few points you do have are distributed usefully (see next paragraph).

Point Distribution In Your Hand

You typically won’t have many points when using this bid (although you can use it with stronger hands too), but it does matter where your points are located. Ideally your points should be in your long suits, where they can help set up tricks, rather than being in your short suit or suits where they will likely be wasted.

This is especially important when you consider that if your partnership wins the auction your hand is probably going to be dummy. Your opponents will be able to see your points in the short suits and defend perfectly against them. If you have points in these suits (especially if vulnerability is not favourable) you may be better off playing in defense, where there is some possibility your isolated honours will win a trick.

Consider the following three hands:

  • 1. xx x KJxxx QT9xx
  • 2. KT K Qxxxx Txxxx
  • 3. QJx void AKxxx xxxxx

Hand 1 is a far stronger choice for bidding since it has two decent suits.

Hand 2 has more HCP but is perhaps better-suited for defense where one of the short suits may get a trick. Additionally, it may also be a consideration that the more points you have, the less likely your opponents have slam-values. If they’re only making game or a part-score your preempt could end up as a bad score.

Hand 3 is another poor choice for UNT since your club suit is too weak – the hand is unbalanced and you may end up with very little control over trumps.

Your Seat

It is worth mentioning that a 2NT jump overcall isn’t always Unusual – sometimes it is natural. If you are sitting in 4th seat and have had not a chance to bid yet, 2NT would normally be natural, showing a strong hand, normally 20-21 HCP. This is only the case if your LHO is dealer.

If LHO is not dealer you will have already had a chance to bid and passed, and clearly a 2NT bid by a passed hand isn’t natural!

Examples

A 2NT in the protective (and 4th) seat which has not yet passed is often used as natural:

LHO Partner RHO You
1 Pass Pass 2NT

But having already passed, it is an Unusual 2NT bid showing both minors:

LHO Partner RHO You
Pass
1 Pass Pass 2NT

It is always UNT when bid in the direct seat:

LHO Partner RHO You
Pass Pass 1 2NT
It is also used after opponents have both bid, in which case it shows the two unbid suits. One should note that there is an overlap with Michael’s Cue Bids here, since a 2 would also show Spaces and the unbid minor. This is something partnership may want to discuss if using both conventions:
LHO Partner RHO You
1 Pass 1 2NT
Additionally, UNT is also normally used up to 2 if opponents have either raised or bid a second suit. In this example, you are showing hearts and diamonds:
LHO Partner RHO You
1 Pass 2 2NT

And in this example, you are showing clubs and diamonds:

LHO Partner RHO You
1 Pass 2 2NT

UNT is normally played when RHO responds with a 1NT bid (but not after a 1NT open):

LHO Partner RHO You
1 Pass 1NT 2NT

Unusual 2NT vs Takeout Double

A takeout double should promise a more balanced shape and more points (12+). Avoid blurring the lines between the two to that partner always has a clear understanding of what your hand does and doesn’t contain. Since the UNT can be bid with hands of a similar HCP to a double, it is the shape that is most important.

Bidding UNT With Strong Hands

You don’t have to be weak to use the Unusual 2NT, you can also use it with stronger hands. Remember that partner’s bid is mandatory and does not promise anything so if you want to push on it needs to be on the strength of your hand. You could do this by cue-bidding or raising to game – this will need some discussion with partner.

You may want to do this on a hand such as x AKQxx KQJxx Kx

The bidding might then go as follows:

LHO Partner RHO You
1 2NT
Pass 3 Pass 4

The Downside of Using UNT

This bid is a great way to communicate a very specific hand-type to your partner. Unfortunately, it also communicates the same to your opponents! If you lose the auction, an experienced opponent will find the information you’ve given them extremely helpful – perhaps enough to enable them to get a better result than they would if you have passed.

There is little you can do to avoid this, accept potentially to not use it if you believe you will certainly lose the auction and opponents won’t be put off by the preempt. This does mean that it is also a more effective bid against weaker opponents who will be less able to take advantage of the information you’ve given them.

How Should Partner Respond?

Partner’s job is to show preference for one of the two suits shown by bidding one of them at the three level (or higher). Normally they would respond with whichever of these two suits they have the most length in, and if the two suits are equal it is preferable to bid the lower ranked of the two. This allows an escape into the higher suit if doubled for penalties. This is particularly important when they have 2-2 in the suits shown since one of the opponents is that much more likely to have four trumps – an escape route gives another option.

Partner also has several other options:

  • Jump-raise to preempt with 4+ cards in one of your suits
  • Cue bid opponent's suit with a strong hand
  • Bid 4th suit naturally to play showing long, strong suit (6+ with at least two honours)
Consider the following bidding sequence. RHO opens 1 and you bid 2NT showing 5-5 clubs and diamonds. LHO passes and it is partner’s turn to bid:
LHO Partner RHO You
1 2NT
Pass ?

Responder then has the following options:

Response Meaning of Response Notes
3 Preference for clubs (may have equal length holding) You can pass, raise (non-forcing) or cue-bid (forcing)
3 Preference for diamonds You can pass, raise (non-forcing) or cue-bid (forcing)
3 Cue-bid of opponents suit showing interest in game or slam Reply with your lowest suit () if weaker (0-10 points) or your higher suit () if stronger (11+ points)
3 The unbid suit is natural and non-forcing. It shows a very good suit of at least six cards in length (i.e. better than the suits you have shown) You can pass, raise (non-forcing) or cue-bid (forcing)
4, 4 Non-forcing preemptive bid showing 4+ cards in the suit shown You can pass, raise (non-forcing) or cue-bid (forcing)

Should Responder Sacrifice?

With four or more cards in one of the shown suits, responder has the option to jump-raise to use more of opponents bidding space. Normal considerations occur – at unfavourable vulnerability this is a higher risk and he or she must be more reasonably certain opponents have something on. Regarding the hand, the most important factor is shape and how this will fit in with partner’s hand – a very weak hand with great shape is the ideal opportunity to jump.

Bidding Sequences You Should Discuss With Partner

There are several bidding sequences related to the UNT that you should discuss to avoid confusion:

Using Other NT Overcalls as UNT

We already brushed on this when we considered (1) – pass – (2) – 2NT, which although it is normally played as UNT is not a jump-bid like some of the other classic examples we examined. This can be expanded to consider other sequences.For example, this sequence shows diamonds and hearts:
LHO Partner RHO You
1 Pass 3 3NT

And this one can be used to show both minors:

LHO Partner RHO You
1 Pass 4 4NT

Using UNT Over 2-Level Openings

Partnership should consider if UNT is ever applicable when used over a two-level opening:

LHO Partner RHO You
2 Pass Pass 2NT
I believe it is generally accepted practice that 2NT is not UNT when played over a preemptive 2-level opening, but can be played as UNT over a strong 2-level opening, just as a strong 2 or 2.

Using Unusual 2NT Over a 1NT Opening

In most cases you will have a pre-agreed defense to 1NT that will include a 2NT bid. I have not seen a 2NT bid over 1NT to be specifically Unusual yet, although some defenses to 1NT do use it to show the minors in a similar way.

Using Unusual 2NT Over Artificial Openings

Miscommunications can easily occur when bidding 2NT over an artificial bid at the 1-level that may or may not promise the suit bid. There’s also a big difference between:
  • Bidding UNT over better minor
  • Bidding UNT over a bid that promises nothing in the suit bid (could be a void)

In either case you should agree with partner in advance what the 2NT bid means. For example, over an artificial 1 does it show clubs and diamonds? Or diamonds and hearts? Whichever way you choose it is entirely possible you will have an occasional bad board where you are bidding a suit opponents are strong in – this is just a risk you take.

Defending Against Unusual 2NT – Unusual vs Unusual

The main defense against Unusual is the ‘Unusual vs Unusual’ convention. It uses doubles and 3-level responses to convey information to partner about whether you have values for a raise (both limit bids and competitive) or shape in the 4th unbid suit.

Since this convention is quite uncomplicated I may cover it in a separate article later once I have spent more time understanding it.

Related Conventions

The UNT is associated with these other conventions:

Michaels Cuebids

The Unusual 2NT is normally played alongside Michaels Cuebids, another convention that allows you to show two-suited hands. In Michaels, a cue-bid of a minor suit shows both majors, and a cue-bid of a major suit shows the other major and an unspecified minor. Like the UNT, these bids show 5-5 or better shape.

Unusual vs Unusual

See the above section on defending against UNT.

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