Bridge Tips No 10

The Stayman Convention

In a suit contract it is very often possible to make more tricks than with the same hand in a NT contract because of the possibility of ruffing losers in one hand while leaving the trumps in the other hand intact. Add to this the fact that a contract in 4S/H scores better than 3NT and the reason for the importance of finding a major suit trump fit becomes clear. Using purely natural bidding methods it is almost impossible to find a 4-4 major suit fit after a 1NT opening and this conflict led to what was probably the first ever bridge convention known as “Stayman”. The convention involves the bid of 2C in response to an opening bid of 1NT which asks the question “Do you have a four card major?”. Of course, it is implied that responder must himself have a four card major, otherwise why ask? Opener bids 2D if no four card major is held and bids two of the major if one is held, bidding 2H if both are held. With this information, responder should be in a position to choose between a major suit if a fit is found or return to NT otherwise and, knowing the total point count to fairly narrow limits, the level to which he may bid. Note that if this convention is used and no major suit fit is found, the lowest level of NT which may be bid is two. Therefore, responder may not normally use this convention unless he has at least the points needed to justify a contract of 2NT i.e. at least11 points. Apart from its main use in finding 4-4 major fits after a 1NT opening, the convention may be used to make game-tries in a major. Remember that when responder has a five card suit, two of a suit (except 2C) over 1NT is a weak sign-off and will be passed whereas a suit bid at the three level is forcing to game. How, then, do you show a hand with a five card major but only game-try points? The answer is to bid 2C and then, whatever opener bids (other than bidding your five card suit of course) jump to three of the major. Now for some examples. Assume you are responder and partner has opened 1NT:

1. S KT63 2. S KT63 3. S KT63 4. S KT983
  H J983   H QJ5   H AJ5   H QJ5
  D A52   D A52   D A52   D A52
  C 83   C J6   C J6   C J6

1. Pass. You don’t have the strength for 2NT if partner rebids 2D.
2. Bid 2C and if partner rebids 2D or 2H, bid 2NT. If partner rebids 2S, bid 3S to invite game.
3. Bid 2C and if partner rebids 2D or 2H, bid 3NT. If partner rebids 2S, bid 4S.
4. Bid 2C and if partner rebids 2D or 2H, bid 3S to invite game in spades. Partner will either pass or bid 4S. The worst that can happen is that you play 3S in a 5-2 fit.

Although, as explained earlier, game-try points are normally required before Stayman may be used, there are two instances where Stayman may be used on fewer than game-try points. Consider these hands:

1. S KJ642 2. S KT42
  H QT98   H J643
  D 952   D QT875
  C 7   C ~ ~ ~

1. Bid 2C and pass if partner bids 2H or 2S. If partner bids 2D, bid 2S which is the same weak take-out that it would have been if bid directly and partner must pass.
2. Bid 2C and pass whatever partner bids. The worst that can happen is that you play in 2D with a 5-2 fit.

Finally. When allocating a conventional meaning to a bid, there is always a down side which, usually, is the loss of the bid in its natural sense. In this case it is no longer possible to make a weak take-out into clubs at the two level. However, this is considered to be a small price to pay for the benefits of the Stayman convention. To make a weak take-out into clubs, one must bid 2C and then bid 3C whatever partner bids. To boost partner to the three level, one would need at least 6 clubs and very few points to make this worthwhile, otherwise just pass 1NT and hope for the best.