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The Stayman Convention

When your partner opens the bidding in notrump (1NT or 2NT), you know a lot about her hand already. It's relatively balanced (has no more than one doubleton). The number of points opener has is pretty well defined too. Essentially, you know the most about both hands together, so you need to start making the decisions as to where to play the hand and how high you want to go in the bidding.

Suppose partner opens 1NT (15-17 points and a flat hand.) If you hold 8 HCP, game is unlikely since both hands of the partnership hold a total of 23-25 points. Thus, the partnership shouldn't be interested in game. You know this. Partner does not.

How about what strain to play the hand in? If you hold six hearts and 8 hcp, you'd like to play the hand in a heart part-score. Again, you know that the partnership holds eight hearts between them. Partner does not know this.

The key point is what you know, and you are also aware at this point that there are other things you'd like to know about partner's hand. You are the captain of the hand because you know so much more than partner.

However, you need to ask a few questions of partner. What about this hand after partner opens 1NT?


You hold 11 points. Partner holds 15-17, so the total is 26-28 points: you'd like to be in game since the partnership hold enough points. But what strain? If partner holds four cards in either major suit, you'd like to be in that game. If partner doesn't hold four cards in either one, you'd prefer to be in 3NT. (Yes, your singleton club isn't the best for a notrump contract, but if partner doesn't hold four cards in either major, he will probably hold cards in clubs.) How do you find out?

Or what about this hand after partner opens 1NT?


You hold 11 points again, so you want to be in a game. If partner holds three spades, you'd like to play the game in spades. If partner does not, you'll settle for notrump. How do you find out?

In SA-YC, there are a series of conventional responses that ask the 1NT opener to make specific replies depending on what she holds in her hand. We'll look at these over the next four lessons.

The Stayman Response to NT Openers

A famous bridge player, Sam Stayman, came up with a convention that helps a partnership learn if it has a 4-4 major suit fit after one partner opens 1NT or 2NT.

A 2♣ bid by responder after a 1NT opener by partner (or a 3♣ bid by responder after a 2NT opener by partner) says nothing about clubs. It is an entirely artificial bid asking opener, "Do you have a four card major suit?" Opener is NOT allowed to pass this bid. Opener MUST make some kind of response, and it will always be either 2, 2, or 2♠. Each of these three responses answers the question in a different way.

If opener does not have four cards in either suit, then she makes a rebid of 2, which tells partner: "Sorry, I don't hold four cards in either major suit."

If opener has four hearts, she rebids 2: "Partner, I hold four hearts. I MIGHT also hold four spades, but I can't tell you about both suits at the same time."

If opener has four spades but NOT four hearts, she bids 2♠.

These are the only rebids that opener should make after a Stayman inquiry by responder. Responder now knows more about opener's hand, and can now decide where and how high to play the hand. Thus, with the hand below after partner opens 1NT...


...responder should bid 2♣. Let's consider what might happen in the auction:
Opener Responder
1NT 2♣
2 3NT

Responder knows there are enough points for game, and responder knows that the partnership doesn't hold eight cards in either one of the major suits. Therefore, 3NT is the best place to play the hand. With the same hand, how about:

Opener Responder
1NT 2♣
2♠ 4♠

Again, responder knows there are enough points for game, and knows that each hand has four spades in it (totaling eight: also called a "4-4 fit"). Thus, you want to play the hand in game in spades. Finally, with the same hand, how about:

Opener Responder
1NT 2♣
2 4

This is just like the previous one. Pretty easy, eh? Let's try a new hand to see what can happen:
♣ J64

If partner opens 1NT you can still use Stayman to see if we hold eight cards in hearts. You'd respond 2♣. If partner rebids 2 (no four card major suit), you'll bid 3NT. If partner rebids 2♠ (four cards in spades, but not four cards in hearts,) you'll bid 3NT again. If partner rebids 2, you'll bid 4since you know you have eight major suit cards in the two hands.

But what if the spade and heart suits were switched?

If partner opens 1NT, we bid 2♣ Stayman. If partner rebids 2, you'll bid 3NT. If partner bids 2♠, we'll bid 4♠. But what if partner bids 2? Certainly, your partnership doesn't hold eight cards in hearts, but you might still hold eight cards in spades. How do you find out? By bidding 3NT!

Let's think about this for a moment. When you respond 2♣, you're asking partner to bid a four card major suit, and if she holds both, she'll bid 2first. If you then bid 3NT, what does opener know about your hand?

Well, since you bid game, the partnership must hold enough points to be in game. Also, since you didn't bid 4, you don't hold four cards in hearts. Therefore, Opener knows you hold four spades in your hand. If opener has both four hearts and four spades in her hand, she'll know that you need to be in game and that the partnership has eight spades between the two hands. It's now HER job to bid 4♠.

Let's review this hand:

Opener Responder
♠KQ63 ♠J875
AQ2 KT94
♣T6 ♣Q53

Opener Responder
1NT 2♣

Opener is saying "I have a hand with flat distribution and 15-17 HCP."
Responder is saying "Do you have a four card major suit?"

2 3NT

Opener is saying "Yes, I have a four card heart suit (and maybe four spades)."
Responder is saying "Partner, we have enough points for game, but not eight hearts."

4♠ Pass

Opener is saying "I also have four spades, so together we must have eight spades."
Responder is saying "Good luck partner!"

Note that if you respond 2♣, you need to hold at LEAST one four card major suit. How do you know how high to go? Suppose you hold 10 HCP and a four card heart suit. You can still respond 2♣. If opener rebids 2 you know there is a chance at game but you aren't sure of it. If you then bid 3, opener will know to bid game if she holds 16 or 17 HCP, but to pass with only 15 HCP. You've invited game with your 3bid if opener holds a maximum 1NT bid. If opener rebids 2♠ (no four card heart suit), then you can still invite game by bidding 2NT.

There's one other special time you can bid Stayman, even though you might think you probably shouldn't. When you hold a singleton club, four cards in the other suits and very few points, you should bid 2♣ in response to partner's 1NT opening bid.

For example, if you hold the following hand and partner opens 1NT:


Your first thought might be YUCK! Under the circumstances, a perfectly appropriate assessment. You have zero points, so the partnership holds 15-17 HCP, all of them in partner's hand. You do not want to be in game. In fact, you might be thinking the bidding is too high already.

Do you think any of your cards will take a trick in a notrump contract? There's only a slight possibility that either the ♠9 or the T or the 8 might take one trick. So, your hand will be almost useless in a notrump contract (if you pass and your left-hand opponent passes, then partner is stuck as declarer in a miserable 1NT contract).

What if you bid Stayman? If opener rebids 2, 2, or 2♠, you PASS! Why would you want to do this? Well, if your side is declaring a trump contract, then your hand might be able to trump some clubs. Your hand has a better chance of helping partner take tricks! If partner holds a four card major suit (or even both), you have eight cards in that suit, and a good trump fit. Your hand is more useful in those contracts now. You're almost sure to take a trick by trumping a club. If partner makes the discouraging 2 bid, you still pass. Partner will very likely hold at least three diamonds, so you'll have seven diamonds between the two hands. Your hand might still be able to trump a club, so you're still more helpful than in a 1NT contract.

Ok, ok... if partner was 3-3-2-5 for her 1NT bid, then you're in trouble. Nothing's perfect. Your 2♣ response was an effort to get into a better contract than 1NT. Yes, it's a bit of a gamble, but it usually pays off.

If opener opens 2NT, then 3♣ is the Stayman response. Since opener holds 20-22 points, you don't have to hold that many points for game to be possible (as few as four!). Opener will make similar rebids after a 3♣ inquiry. 3 will show no four card major suit, 3will show four hearts (and maybe four spades), and 3♠ will show four spades (but deny four hearts). You can then make the same judgements you did after opener bid 1NT. You just have to remember that partner holds more points.

Whoa, where you going so fast? 

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