Please may I take advantage of your agony column to solve an embarrassing personal problem? My partner and I disagree about whether it is ever possible to respond 3NT with less than 13 HCP after partner opens 1NT. Please help as I am at my wit's end. Also, should one have sex on a first date? Confused of Caerphilly.
Dear Confused of Caerphilly,
Please be assured this is a familiar problem and nothing to be ashamed of. It depends on whether or not you expect to make your contract most of the time. Partnership confidence is based on this common assumption. So from that point of view my answer is NO. However things really aren't quite that simple, as you might expect. There may be tight situations in a Teams Match where you might decide it could possibly be a good idea to raise to 3N with as little as 11 HCP, just in case it makes. This action is well below 50% but, if it makes, you might get a winning game swing from the hand. On the other hand if it doesn't make you're going to need an understanding and sophisticated partner who realises what you were attempting and why.
Alternatively, you might hold a weakish hand, 9 - 10, but with a good six card minor (AKJxxx) and precious little else. Now a "psyche" to 3N might pay good dividends if you get lucky and 9 tricks roll in. But again partner will need to understand the perfectly reasonable logic. My advice is: don't try this with new partners. Build confidence with them first and then, maybe later, introduce these more advanced ideas gently in casual conversation.
There is (at least) one other situation when a Bid of 3N is called for when you are obviously under-strength:
After 1N - Pass - ??? Do you try to take out into your 7 card minor at the three level and hope to make it? Do you pass and hope partner makes sneaky overtricks? Or bid 3N on the off-chance of it making? The answer is in the hand. Ask yourself: (1) "where are all the other points and all those major suits?" Answer: on your left. (2) "Are they itching to bid them?" Answer: yes. (3) "How can you make life as difficult as possible for them?" Answer: bid 3NT. You could also try 5D, which would have the same effect, but does not leave open the opportunity for them to guess wrong about which major to be in, and for partner then to promptly double them. Also if you don't steal 3N, you can always rather sheepishly bid 5D later, wait for them to Double you, then pray you make it!
As regards the other problem - what are you doing on Friday?