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Recursive Majors over 2NT

This article arises from work I did seven years ago on responses to a strong 2NT in the context of a Strong Club relay system. In our system (Riffle) 2NT as a strong balanced arises solely after at least one negative response to a 1C opening, so in the context slam bidding was not a notable consideration. Thus, I had freedom to improve on Puppet responses essentially unconstrained by the need to test slam options. I first introduced the basic responses into Riffle in December 2009, since when they have undergone minor necessary refinement.

For the last couple of years I have not been too active in bridge so my preferred partner has been playing successfully with other partners but using a fairly natural system. While working on their system, my bridge partner Richard (with whom I developed and played Riffle over many years) decided that my 2NT responses could be extended to manage slam options at least as successfully as alternative response sets, while retaining the inherent advantages.

Those advantages are principally that:

  • All major fits expected from 2NT can always be found -- 44, 53, 35
  • The strong hand always declares such fits whether from the short or long side.
  • Being "recursive" or repeated, the responses are straightforward for both opener (the strong 2NT bidder) and responder.

There is one cost:

  • You can not transfer to a major to play at the three level.

I consider that cost trivial. It is a very small target to play three of a major after a 2NT opening where you might not be better off in 3NT or four of a major, or would be going down in 2NT but not in three of a major. Besides, no-one has doubled yet.

There are clues from the sequence regarding a possible need to go for a minor fit instead of 3NT, and Richard has extended this into slam exploration in majors or minors. In this article, I will deal with the basic response set and invite Richard to add his extensions.


The first step in responses, and in rebids by opener, is to consider whether you have 4+ hearts? If not, do you have 4+ spades? If not, then convey your major fragments. After the initial responses and assuming a fit is not already found, the principle for opener is to bid a major with more cards than promised there, while the principle for responder is to bid a major if holding no more than the minimum promised there. Here are the first responses.

3  4+ hearts, regardless of spade length.

3  4+ spades, denying 4+ hearts so 0-3 .

3  No 4+cs major and 0-2 

3  Exactly 3cs , 0-2 

3NT 33 majors.

If a fit is found immediately then opener can bid game or invite via four of a minor. I will not be outlining possible slam bidding in this article. If not, the bidding proceeds as follows. Opener over 3 uses almost exactly the same bids with the caveat that opener shows greater length whereas responder shows less. Let us assume that over 3 opener lacks 4cs hearts. Opener's options are:

3  4+ spades, denying 4+ hearts so 2-3  (presumably being a balanced hand whereas responder does not need to be).

3  No 4+cs major and precisely 3cs 

3  exactly three spades and two hearts.

3NT 22 majors, so 6cs or 54/45 minors.

Note the symmetry. Opener recursively follows responder's first bids except that by bidding a major opener shows 3cs where responder denies 3cs by the same action. Bypassing a major by opener denies more cards there where responder bypasses to show more cards there.

Let us take it that the bidding has started:

2NT 3


With 4cs spades responder can now bid 4 to transfer to 4. If not, here are responder's further options based on bidding the first suit in which nothing extra is held, and avoiding a suit in which more than the minimum promised is held.

3  All I had were four hearts, not five. Opener may now show five spades with a natural 3.

3  Bypassing 3 promises more hearts because otherwise responder would have bid 3 as in the previous line. However, responder bids major to deny more so logically this 3 shows 25 majors.

3NT Unable to bid deny additional length in hearts or spades, responder must hold three spades and five hearts.


The same recursive principles apply when responder's first bid is 3 or higher. Opener can bid a fit immediately at the four level, or show more than so far shown length in the cheapest such major, noting that opener's 3 over 3 shows 3cs in case responder holds five (same principle as 3 over 3 above) and meanwhile denying 5cs .

After responder denies more than two cards in a particular major then opener can bid 3 over 3 to show five, or settle the contract in 4 over 3 or either major over 3NT. Choosing 43 or 52 fits is a judgement for the bidder, not specific system.

I am happy to answer queries about this, for example about meanings of specific sequences. We have used it successfully for seven years and in the strong club context neither bid nor missed a slam after our 1D negative and 2NT 20-21p rebid (20+ to 22-). Extensions to slam bidding in a natural context where hand strengths are less defined or less limited have been developed by Richard and I hope will be published after this.


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