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

1: Stayman & Transfers 1


At pairs frequency not size of results matters: frequent small wins outweigh the odd huge loss “one bad board”.

Competing for part scores is more often profitable than bidding slams though obviously slams are good too!

But don’t strain for close games/slams. That is, only bid on if game is odds on. The occasional partscore when a game was makeable is a small price to pay for avoiding going off more frequently.

To keep the bidding system simple is highly recommended. But the “natural” meaning of bids is itself contrived. Most of you (but not all) play the response of “1S” to “1H” as showing a spade suit and forcing. If, at the next chance, responder bids “2S” it is no longer forcing. But why? We may cover this later. Artificial bids have downsides, they may:

  • allow the opposition more expression
  • need more agreement before partnering
  • offer extra chances for partnership misunderstanding.

But responding to 1NT is a very special case where it proves almost essential not always to call a spade a spade.

Responding to 1NT

From last time, 1 NT shows 12-14 with a shape of 5332, 4432, 4333. (We’ve agreed it may include a weak 5CM and some allow a fair/good 5CM.)

1NT is a limit bid and opener has described the important features of his hand pretty closely. Responder, whose hand is not yet described at all (unless previously passed) is in charge and leads the decision on the target denomination and level: slam, game, partial or escape. It is scarcely possible to do this accurately without some artifice.

In fact, because you will open 1NT even holding a major or two but because hands often play for more tricks in a major fit than in NT, partners need a way to search for such a fit.

Enter the Stayman convention. As Wikipedia says:

“The main reason for seeking a trump fit in a major suit is that a game contract bid and made in a major suit scores better than a game contract bid and made in a minor suit or in notrump. Also, the success rate for a game contract in a major suit with 26 high card points(HCP) is about 80%, whereas a game contract in 3NT with 26 HCP has a success rate of only 60%, or 50% with 25 HCP.[4] The extra control from having a trump suit is often worth an extra trick in such situations.”


Stayman is the first convention that everyone learns. Everywhere in Orpington where I have played all partners and all opposition play it though with a new partner it is best to name it when you agree your system “12-14 NT throughout and Stayman”. 

What is it?

After a “1NT” opening, when responder bids 2C that is the first step in Stayman: use only if you expect hand will play for more in a fit (ruffing value). Responder should only bid when seeking somewhere safer or with hopes of a game. In pairs, especially, we don’t want to be in 2NT! Added risk for no reward. So bid only in hope of improving contract safety or when game (or slam) is a reasonable prospect. 

As always, an artificial bid gives the opposition extra chances, for example to double the 2C bid to guide the lead. And, less convincingly, the negative inference from lack of such a double that a club lead is undesirable. The gains from Stayman hugely outweigh such a risk.

The 2C bid is forcing: partner must respond unless the opposition intervene.

Responses to Stayman, assuming RHO (right hand opponent) stays silent are:

  • 2D, opener has neither major; 
  • 2H opener has 4H and maybe 4S; 
  • 2S has 4S and not 4H 
  • a very few like to play 2NT as showing both 4CM: this is so unusual your partner should discuss it before you start playing—try and discourage them!

When you bid Stayman you promise to tolerate whichever of the 3 bids partner makes or bid on. 

To make the bid, you promise no particular strength! Consider Stayman with a weak hand, short clubs and ideally 4 D. Plan to pass whatever partner bids and hope it will be safer than 1NT!

We will cover continuations after 1NT, 2C, 2D later. Just one point to address now: quite a few play 1NT, 2C, 2 any, 3C as a weak sign off in clubs. If you haven’t discussed it before you start playing, expect most local partners to have this intent if they make the bid and to interpret you as showing the weak pattern if you make it. This sequence of seminars will be accompanied by a checklist of questions for you to ask a new partner! I don't think this is a good use and we will discuss why later.

Life Assuming Stayman

The common structures of response to 1NT, the ones you will meet, are:

  • original—2C is Stayman and 2D, H or S are weak sign-offs
  • transfers—2C is Stayman and 2D and 2H are “red-suit” transfers, also called “Jacoby”, to the suit above. More later.

In the original structure, which some still play, 2-bids other than 2C are a weak sign-off. This is a poor idea in pairs.

2D especially says “partner, hearing you are not strong I wish to tell the opposition I am weak and don’t have the majors”. This will encourage the opponents to compete for at least the partscore!

2H showing weakness similarly increase the risk of competition and allows RHO (who passed over 1NT and who could have the best hand at the table but be unsuitable for a double of 1NT) a second chance.

2S is getting harder to compete over.

In this structure, 2D is essentially an idle bid, one you never want to make! Nature abhors vacuums and idle bids. So I think the original structure is flawed and indeed most do play transfers. We will concentrate on a response structure using transfers.


Transfers improve flexibility (but have the usual downside of giving a hook for astute opponents to compete).

2D shows a hand with at least 5H and any strength: basically it commands the 1NT bidder to bid "2H".

2H shows a hand with at least 5S and any strength: basically it commands the 1NT bidder to bid "2S".

Having the weakest possible holding (a small doubleton) is no excuse for the NT bidder to refuse the transfer.

2S is an idle bid for which we will find a use next week! Meanwhile, attached here is the text from Wikipedia (slightly expurgated for simplicity) on Jacoby transfers. As with continuations after Stayman, we will look at continuations after red-suit transfers later but the principles are below and, I think, explain how the gain in expressiveness outweigh the mental cost.

This link gives a potted biography of Jacoby.

Initial transfer bid

The transfer procedure is quite simple and is described first in response to your partner's 1NT opening bid. Since a 1NT opening bid requires a balanced hand, i.e. no more than one doubleton, it promises to have at least two cards in the desired suit):

  • Holding a 5-card major suit, responder would traditionally bid two, three or four of that suit depending on strength; using transfers, responder will instead bid two of the suit below the major suit
  • Partner (opener) must then bid two of the next suit up (i.e. the major suit in question)
  • Examples:
    • 1NT - 2 (i.e., "I have a 5-card heart suit, please bid my suit") - opener must rebid 2
    • 1NT - 2 (i.e., "I have a 5-card spade suit, please bid my suit.") - opener must rebid 2♠

Subsequent standard bids

After the transfer has been completed by the 1NT opener, subsequent bids by the transfer initiator are:

  • Weak hands
    • Pass, to play a partial game in the transferred suit
  • Invitational hands
    • 2NT, giving the strong partner the option of continuing to game or playing a partial game, in either no trump or the transferred suit
    • three of the transferred suit, promising a six-card suit
  • Game strength hands
    • New suit, showing 5-4 or 5-5 and game forcing
    • 3NT, allowing opener a choice of 3NT or four of the major
    • four in the transferred suit, to play prom