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I have decided to suspend the Tuesday lessons until further notice in slight anticipation of me being gated.

3: Stayman & Transfers 3

“On any level, players should cut back on the methods, conventions and ‘science,’ and concentrate on basic bridge logic and not making mistakes. Many new players clog their brains with so much memorization that they don’t have any brain power left for the beauty of the game.” from the larryco site, see link below.

As you may think we’ve gone a little beyond this, next week will be back to basics with auctions not starting in 1NT.

Overall 1NT Bidding


Open “1NT” with balanced hands in the range 12-14 (shading to a good 11 or a bad 15). Balanced means 4333, 4432 or 5332. Don’t mind a 5-card major—unless the points are concentrated in it. 


We can’t open and show both a balanced 12-14 and a 5CM: if we hold both, which will mislead partner less? The test is, do we mind partner thinking we have 6 and supporting with a small doubleton? If we are comfortable with that, the suit is strong enough to bid and rebid: more next week.

If you remember only one thing: Stayman & transfers say one important thing about the W hand and allow W to force another bid from E.

Except where I have erred, “m” (as in 5cm) means minor and “M” means Major. Where the text says 5-card suit, it often means 5 cards or more.

We have covered the most common sequences after “1NT” openings (as before, E holds the 1NT hand in this narrative: for now, we assume opposition silence). W can immediately estimate roughly where the hand will finish up, his ambition may be: 

  • an escape from 1NT to a safer contract at a low-level
  • a part-score with an invitation toward game
  • game ambitions, maybe needing partners co-operation to decide the strain, maybe not 
  • a slam try going beyond game when slam prospects seem reasonable. 

West’s most frequent bids, all except the first (!) forcing for one round and telling neither partner nor the opposition the level of West’s ambitions, are:

  • “Pass” with any strength with a shape not suitable for a weak take-out or where W expects 1NT to make but 3NT to fail
  • “2C” Stayman, asking for majors, promising little if the next bid is pass, promising a major “promissory Stayman” but not necessarily great strength if W finds another bid
  • “2D” a transfer to H (called red-suit or Jacoby transfers), promising 5+H and of unspecified ambition
  • “2H” a transfer to S (called red-suit or Jacoby transfers), promising 5+S and of unspecified ambition
  • “2S” a transfer to C, promising 5+C and of unspecified ambition (though totally rubbish hands with only 5 C will probably pass and run if doubled)
  • “2NT” a transfer to D, promising 5+D and of unspecified ambition (though totally rubbish hands with only 5 D will probably pass and run if doubled). 

The price of playing 4-suit transfers is that W, with no 4CM, can’t bid “2NT” with a balanced 11 or 12 to invite E to 3NT. With such a hand, W has to choose between “Pass” and “3NT”. The upside is that E is spared the equivalent guess of whether, after an bid by W showing an invitational NT raise, his hand fits W well enough to bid 3NT when he knows nothing about West’s hand except a point count. In fact, all it means is that W, not E, has a blind guess. No-one needs lots of ways, or indeed any ways, to get to 2NT.

The transfer sequence “1NT” “2NT” is by far the hardest to remember! Probably to the point where, even with a semi-regular partner, you want to remind one another before you start a round. But ALL bids are artificial to some extent! When you open “1” of a 4-card-suit, you are usually not seriously suggesting you can single-handed make 7 tricks with this suit as trumps, you are just starting a conversation, trying to describe your hand. ALL bids are artificial.

W can describe hands with a wide range of strengths and shapes just using these 2-level starting points and being sure to have a second bid to continue the hand description. We’ll leave the detail till much later but, for example, after a transfer:

  • a raise shows a sixth card
  • a NT bid shows a balanced hand with a 5-card suit (2NT invitational, 3NT game forcing in either case expecting E to return to the major with 3-card support)
  • a new suit shows 4-cards and is forcing.

Higher first round bids by W are for hands where we want to send partner a different message:

  • 3 minor is a mild slam try in the named suit—not a transfer—but with 3NT as a likely destination. It is hard to visualise a hand where this doesn’t show at least a 6cm and no 4CM because W with a 4CM will transfer to the minor then bid the major and a shorter m has little justification for such unilateral insistence.
  • 3 Major is similarly a mild slam try in the named suit—not a transfer—but now 4M is by far the most likely contract.
  • 3NT to play, obviously. May be based on a good long minor (we saw an example of 6 C to the AK and a side entry) and fewer than a combined 25 points but often will have plenty of HCP but too few to contemplate slam.
  • 4C Gerber (we will cover this control-asking convention later) evidently with slam interest and concern about controls.
  • 4D idle: I don’t know of any easy to remember use for this bid. It could be a slam try in NT where knowing partners aces won’t help. Or it could show a particular number of aces on the way to 4NT or better. It must be forcing! And confusing! I’m open to suggestions on a memorable use for this bid from any reader.
  • 4M to play—shows less defense than the slower transfer sequence.
  • 4NT slam try in NT not Blackwood: bid 6 if you like your hand but with less concern about controls than going through Gerber. I think this bid should promise something about Aces (exactly two maybe) as E will need some assurance about controls but this is muse rather than a recommendation. Again I’m open to suggestions on a memorable qualification for this bid from any reader.

Continuations after “1NT” “2C”

1NT by E shows 12-14 and balanced, 2C by W enquires about Majors but says nothing about strength and little about shape. W might have any weak hand prepared to pass whatever E responds. W must not bid “2C” if any E bid would be embarrassing. Specifically, W must not try Stayman with a weak hand and a small doubleton in either M: if W has only 2, there are 11 in this suit for the other 3 hands so E is likely to have 4 and bid them as requested: with only 2, W cannot pass: a weak hand must not risk getting to this position. Labouring the point, with a weak hand and 5 of one major but 2 of the other, transfer to your 5CM.

After “1NT” “2C”, E bids “2D” with no 4CM, “2H” with 4H (and maybe 4S), “2S” with 4S and NOT 4H. E must not bid higher. Remember W, if weak, must only bid Stayman when able to tolerate everything E might say, certain that E will not bid above 2S. 

E Bids “2D”

Earlier, we looked at one weak shapely escape sequence—short clubs, at least 4 D tolerance (3+) for both majors where, after “1NT” “2C”, W passes whatever E bids. 

In another weak sequence, after “1NT” “2C” “2D” W may sign off in 2M. This shows a 5-card suit (we are not looking for a misfit and partner has no 4CM) but with a 5CM and ambitions, we would have transferred. So it shows a weak hand which has 5+ in the named M and 3+ in the other M, hoping to have found at least a 4-3 fit with partner declaring but now prepared to settle for what might be a 5-2. Tolerance for the other M is no longer relevant. E must pass. Just like the weak transfer, but with an extra chance. You don’t need to play this! First, it’s something more for you to remember: second, partner might forget (you can better expect partner to remember a transfer): third, you have to have agreed it—partners not following this course might mistake this sequence after Stayman as constructive. 

And what about “1NT” “2C” “2D” “3C”? It has a 4CM (promised by the 2C bid and second bid) but now retreats to C which must be at least 5-cards long. This is non-forcing but a little stronger than a weak sign-off via the transfer to 3C. The suit is not of the quality where 3NT seems a reasonable stab but that doesn’t prevent partner—with a C fit good enough to hope a weak suit will run and stops in the other suits—trying anyway.

After “1NT” “2C” “2D”, W may bid 2NT to show an invitational hand with an unspecified 4-card major. This is like the old-fashioned immediate invitational raise of “1NT” but with E knowing a little more to inform his guess. Similarly, W may bid “3NT” settling for game in NT having failed to find a fit for game in M.

E bids “2M”

Any further bid by W after a 2M response is invitational and guarantees the other M. If W rebids 2NT, E is in a better position to judge the final contract, knowing of West’s 4CM.

Continuations after “1NT” “2D” or “1NT” “2H”

E normally just does what he is told and bids the next suit up. E is allowed to bump the transfer by bidding “3H” over 3D or “3S” over 3H with a fit. Even if W had the weak hand, this makes it hard for the opposition to compete. More about this in future seminars.

W may pass. We saw a hand where W transferred to S with only one point judging his weak hand with a 6-card suit likely to take a couple of tricks in S where in NT it would be entirely useless. W shows no strength at all by making a transfer bid.

W may raise to “3M”, showing a sixth card in his suit and enough strength to invite game but not enough to insist. E may accept the invitation or not, depending on his hand.

W may bid “2NT” to show the points for 2NT and has already shown a specified 5-card major. A simple preference by E to “3H” shows 3-card support in a minimum hand.

W may bid “3NT” to show enough strength for a game giving E a choice of 3NT or game in the 5-card major.

W may bid “4M” with appropriate values and shape.

W may bid a new suit, showing a biddable (4+) suit and game-forcing values.

Continuations after “1NT” “2S” or “1NT” “2NT”

E normally just bids the transfer suit. He can also bid the intermediate suit to show support of Qxx or better. W develops the hand in a manner similar to auction starting with a major suit transfer but now the likeliest game contract is 3NT. More on this (much) later. Meanwhile this link must surely be definitive (read only when sober: it is subtle to the point of narcolepsy).

Other Topics We Touched On

Bidding a suit may mean:

  • I suggest this suit for trumps: eg the S bid in the sequence “1NT” “3S”.
  • I am making a statement about some other suit explicitly identified by the bid: eg H identified by the D bid in the sequence “1NT” “2D” (transfer to H)
  • asking, saying nothing about any particular suit: eg C in the sequence “1NT” “2C” (Stayman)
  • showing a feature in the suit: eg shortage or an Ace or King.

The context should make it clear which meaning applies. The first few times may lead to misunderstandings! Persevere. This will become clearer later: it came up in chatter rather than being a theme of the seminar.

Sometimes one bid can be weak or strong, partner assumes the weaker range until the subsequent auction proves otherwise. This also will become clearer later: it came up in chatter rather than being a theme of the seminar.

We worked through the 1NT quiz hands from Dormer & Klinger (for ISDN, see “Useful Links” on the web site).