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Jacoby Transfers

In the last lesson on responding to 1NT, we talked about using Stayman to see if partner had a four card major which matched your four card major suit, so that the partnership would have an eight card major suit fit.

But what if you want to know, "Does the opener have three cards in my five card major suit?" You have to take a slightly different approach for a number of good reasons.

Before actually getting to the way you ask, think for a moment about what's going to happen when the hand is played. Opener is likely to have the hand with the most points for our partnership, since she opened 1NT (or 2NT).

If you are the declarer then all her cards - which probably has the majority of your partnership's high cards - will be put on the table. Everyone will know exactly what cards dummy has. The opening lead will go through her hand (this means that an opponent can play a card after one of dummy's cards has been played). This player will have a pretty good idea of when to play his high cards and when not to play them.

If she is the declarer then your hand - most likely the weaker of the two hands in the partnership - is dummy and is put on the table.The opponents are less likely to know exactly what high cards declarer has and will have to make more guesses. Also, partner will be the last one to play a card to the first trick, so she can decide how to use her high cards to the best advantage.

In addition to finding out if the partnership has eight cards in a major suit between the partnership's hands, you would like opener to be the first one to bid the suit so that opener will be the declarer. With Stayman, this will almost always be the case. How do you accomplish all this? [NOTE: We'll discuss responding to 2NT later, but the ideas will be very similar.]


Suppose partner opens 1NT, and you hold:

♠ AJ873
♣ Q86

You'd like to be in game (15-17 points + your 12 points is enough.) If partner holds three spades, you'd probably like to be in 4♠. If partner holds only two spades, you'd like to be in 3NT. [If partner holds five or more spades, she'll open the hand with 1♠. If she holds only one spade, she won't open 1NT.]

You need to tell partner the following things: "I know that the partnership has enough points for game and that I hold five spades in my hand". From the discussion above, you also want partner to be the first one to bid spades for our side so that she will be the declarer. The way to do this is to make a conventional Jacoby Transfer Bid: 2!

This forces opener to bid 2♠. [There's ONE exception discussed below: the "super-accept" comes into play when partner transfers you to a major suit, and you hold 16 or 17 high card points AND 4 cards in the suggested trump suit - you now bid 3 of that suit (in this case that would be 3♠.)] Opener now knows that you hold five spades, but doesn't know exactly how many points the partnership has. You next tell opener how many points you have by bidding 3NT. If opener has only two spades, she PASSes. If she holds three or four spades, she bids 4♠. Thus (we'll not show our opponent's PASSes for awhile, just remember that they have to PASS for this to work),

You Opener Numbered comments
2(1) 2♠ (2) (1) Jacoby transfer, showing 5 spades
(2) forced bid by opener
3N (3) 4♠ (4) (3) "Partner, we have enough points for game."
(4) "We have eight spades in the partnership's hands."

What if we hold five HEARTS after partner opens 1NT? We use the conventional Jacoby Transfer Bid of 2. Again, opener cannot PASS and must bid 2(or "super accept"). We then tell partner about the points in our hands (game is certain or "we have game if you have a maximum 1NT opener") with our next bid. Let's look at a couple more bidding sequences:
Opener You Numbered comments
1N 2 (1) (1) Jacoby transfer, showing 5 hearts
2 (2) 2NT (3) (2) opener is forced to make this bid
(3) "If you hold 17 (or maybe 16) points for your 1NT bid, then bid game"
3(4) PASS (4) "I have three hearts, but only 15 (or maybe 16) points."

Opener You Numbered comments:
1N 2(1) (1) Jacoby transfer, showing 5 spades
2♠ (2) 2N (3) (2) opener is forced to make this bid
(3) "If you hold 17 (or maybe 16) points for your 1NT bid, then bid game"
3N (4) PASS (4) "I have only two spades, but I have 17 (or maybe 16) points, so I'll bid the NT game."

Jacoby transfers allow you to do one other thing (similar to one of the things you could do with Stayman.) Suppose you hold a weak hand with a five-card major and partner opens 1NT. Also suppose that from your points, game is out of the question (you hold 8 or fewer, which means that the partnership has 23-25 points.) Finally, your hand is distributional enough that you think playing in a suit contract is safer than playing in NT .

You can still transfer (to either spades [using 2] or hearts [using 2]) and then you PASS after opener makes the forced bid! Yes, it's possible that opener holds only two cards in your major suit, leaving the partnership with only seven cards in that suit. However, the requirements indicate that your hand is good for playing in that suit and partner has good high cards. With her as declarer, you have a better chance of making 2♠ or 2(depending on the transfer bid) than opener had of making 1NT.

Thus, if partner opens 1NT and you hold:

♠ K8742
♣ 952

it's likely that your hand will be able to help more with in a spade contract than in a NT contract. So, bid 2. When opener bids 2♠, you then PASS. Opener is the declarer in 2♠.

To summarize what we have so far, if opener bids 1NT, responder's bids are:
  • 2♣ is Stayman ("do you have a four-card major?")
  • 2 is Jacoby Transfer to Hearts
  • 2 is Jacoby Transfer to Spades

What if you'd like to tell partner you have five cards in one major and you'd like to ask partner if she has four cards in the other one? That is, you hold:
♠ QJT87
♣ 8

You can ask this by bidding Stayman 2♣ first. Opener will think you have a four card major and will bid one if she has one to bid. If she bids 2 (denying a four card major), you can then bid 3♠. Why 3♠? Well, you need to tell partner two things: "I have five spades but also four hearts, and we have enough points for game." You could have bid 2♠ over the 2 rebid, so you have to hold extra points to jump to 3♠. Opener now knows enough to place the contract. Opener will bid 3NT if she holds only two spades and three hearts (no 2response to the Stayman inquiry). Opener will bid 4♠ if she holds three spades.

If the suits are switched (that is, you hold):

♠ K763
♣ 8

you first bid 2♣. If opener bids a four card major, you will raise that suit to game. If opener bids 2, you will then bid 3. Opener will then know enough to place the contract.

[Note that in the latter two hands when you bid 3 of the major suit, you are the first one for your side to do so. You'll be the declarer if the major suit becomes the contract even though we'd prefer partner to be declarer. Nothing in bridge is perfect. Some people use elaborate conventional bids to keep partner as the declarer, but these conventions are hard to learn and remember and they are not part of Standard American-Yellow Card.]

Finally, suppose you hold five cards in BOTH major suits:
♠ QJT86
♣ 87

The way to tell partner about this is to transfer and then bid the other suit after the forced rebid. The order in which you bid them tells opener how many points you have. If you transfer to hearts first (using 2), opener rebids 2, and you then bid 2♠, you tell partner that you have five hearts, five spades, and invitational values. If you transfer to spades first (using 2), opener rebids 2♠, and you then bid 3, you tell partner that you have five hearts, five spades, and game values or more. Thus, with the hand above, if partner opens 1NT, you would respond 2. Opener would bid the forced 2♠, and you would then bid 3. Opener will then place the contract in the correct major suit. [If you have more than game values and were interested in slam, you can make another bid then.]

What if you hold six cards in a major suit? Well, you're certain that the partnership holds an eight card major suit (opener has to hold at least two in every suit.) If you have enough points for game, you can transfer to your six-card suit, then after the forced rebid, bid four of that suit.

Opener You
1NT 2(transfer)
2♠ (forced) 4♠ ("I have six spades and game values.")

If you hold enough points to invite game, then you can raise to 3:

Opener You
1N 2 (transfer)
2(forced) 3("I have six hearts and invitational values.")
[opener will then decide on game or partscore in hearts]

If you hold six cards in a major suit and are interested in a slam contract, you can jump immediately to 3 of the major. This tells partner you have an interest in slam.

There is one more thing, which will happen from time to time. If you transfer to a major and opener bids 3 of that major rather than the "forced 2 of that major," opener is telling you the following three things:
  1. I have a maximum NT opener (17 or a good 16),
  2. I have four cards in your five card major, and
  3. I have a doubleton in a side suit (which might allow the NT opener to ruff some of your cards if needed.)

This is called a "super-accept" of the transfer. Opener must have all three requirements to make this bid, so you have an even better picture of her hand and can bid game if you think there's a good chance of making it.

If partner opens 2NT, then the transfer suits are 3 and 3. They say the same things as after the 1NT opener (they show either a five-card heart suit or a five-card spade suit, respectively). You can then follow up similarly:

Opener You
2 NT 3 (transfer)
3(forced) then: PASS ("not enough for game") OR
3N ("enough points for game, please bid 4if you hold three hearts") OR
3♠ ("five spades, five hearts and game invitational values") OR
4("six hearts and game values")


Suppose you hold a long minor suit and only a few points:

Hand 1   Hand 2
♠ Q2 or ♠ 7
8   74
J986432   964
♣ 953   ♣ KJT8643

and partner opens 1NT. With hand 1, you'd like to tell partner, "I have lots of diamonds and only a few points. When I bid 2, please PASS."

However, you can't do that. If you bid 2, partner will think it's a transfer to hearts and will do his duty and bid 2. If you jump to 3after opener's 1NT, you say you have an invitational hand (we'll talk about this in the next lesson). So, HOW do you tell partner about a hand like this? PASS? Well, you don't want partner to be playing 1NT when your hand could take so many more tricks at diamonds.

With hand 2, you have a similar problem, but this time it's with the club suit.

The "solution" is to make a conventional transfer bid: 2♠. This tells opener that you have only a few points and a long minor suit (but doesn't tell him which suit it is.) Opener is FORCED to bid 3♣: he MAY NOT PASS your 2♠ bid.

If you hold a long club suit, you can then PASS. If you hold a long diamond suit, you then bid 3. Opener is expected to PASS if you bid 3 after the 2♠ transfer.

If partner opens 2NT and you hold a weak hand with a long minor suit, it's best to either PASS and hope for the best, or to be daring and bid five of that minor suit even though you are weak. PASS is safest in most cases since partner only needs to take 8 tricks (rather than needing 11 tricks for 5 of a minor suit.) If you think your hand is worth the risk, give it a try!


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