The Stayman Convention

YMCA Bridge Lecture for BB3 Ch1 (March 28, 2017)

Our chapter for today — Audrey Grant’s Bridge Basics 3 series, Ch. 1 — tells how Responder can ask a notrump opener whether Opener has a 4-card major. The process is the Stayman Convention. Both Opener and Responder have bids that help their team find a 4-4 or 5-3 major fit. Without a major fit, they determine their combined point count and place the contract at the appropriate notrump level. You may download this lesson in one of the two following formats:

  1. Paragraph: AG BB3 Ch1 Para
  2. Outline: AG BB3 Ch1 Note.docx
Stayman

Life: Samuel M. Stayman lived from 1909-1993. In 1945, Bridge World published his article about a 2 relay after a 1NT Opener. Sam Stayman did not invent his eponymous convention, but his article was the first to describe a sequence of bids now known as Stayman.

Convention: Stayman is a very common convention. It is in such wide use that it is non-alertable.

Opener’s 1st Bid

NT: A few bids in bridge are called “limit bids” because these bids place the hands within a narrow range of points and shapes. Most “limit bids” are jump raises by Responder. In addition, all NT openings are limit bids. These NT openings show a balanced hand (no voids, no singletons, max of one doubleton). NT openings have a “limited” 3-point HCP range. Available openings are 1NT in 4th seat=11-14 HCP; 1m, 1NT=12-14 HCP; 1NT=15-17 HCP; 1m, 2NT=18-19 HCP; 2NT=20-21 HCP; 2C, 2NT=22-24 HCP; and 2C, 3NT=25-26 HCP.

Balanced Hand: A NT hand has a flat 5-3-3-2, 4-4-3-2, or 4-3-3-3 distribution. Note that none of the NT hands is 2-suited with more than 8 combined cards. If the NT hand contains a 5cM, that suit must be weak and non-rebiddable (ie, not hold 2 of the top 3 honors or 3 of the top 5 honors).

Not Balanced: Many hands are not NT types: a 6+ card suit; a two-suited hand (5431, 5422); a hand with a void, singleton, or two doubletons. Under normal Convention Cards, a partnership would not open such hands in NT.

Logic of “Not Balanced” Hand: Typically, a 4-4 fit in a 4M contract can take one more trick than the same hand in 3NT, but in 5m cannot take two more tricks. This is because the 4-4 suit will take a maximum of 4 tricks in NT but may take 5 tricks in trumps if either hand has a s/v for a ruff. Players with an 8-card Golden Fit (GF) should prefer declaring in a 4M contract to a 3NT contract, but prefer 3NT to 5m.

Responder’s 1st Bid

Hand Valuation: Responder evaluates their hand based on their HCP. If Responder has a ≥ 4cM with the intention of bidding Stayman or Jacoby Transfers, then Responder can include Dummy Points also. If the partnership finds itself with a misfit or the partnership can’t find 4-suit stoppers for NT, then the added Dummy Points may result in an overbid. The following list shows the point ranges for responses in Stayman, where Responder must be at least a medium hand:

  1. Opening of 1NT: Responder bids their hand as a Min = 0-7 HCP partscore; Med = 8-9 HCP invite to game; Med+ = 10-15 HCP game; Max = 16+ HCP slam. If Opener is in 4th seat, Responder’s Med=11-14 HCP.
  2. Opening of 2NT: Responder bids their hand as a Min = 0-3 HCP; Med = 4-10 HCP; Max = 12+ HCP.
  3. Opening of 3NT: Responder bids their hand as a Min = 0 HCP; Med = 4-8 HCP; Max = 9+ HCP.

Responder’s Objectives When Partner Opens 1NT

HCP 0-7 8-9 10-15 16+
Action Pass Invite Game Slam

Not Stayman: A Responder with a minimum hand and no 5cM will pass. There is no reason to seek a better fit than Opener’s NT with such a flat, weak hand. With more, such as a medium hand and no 4cM, Responder will raise cheaply in NT without going past 3NT game. We studied NT raises in BB1, Ch. 2. With ≥ 5cM, Responder will mention that major even with 0 HCP. We study major-suit transfers in BB3, Ch. 2.

Not Jacoby Transfers: Responder with minor-suit length/strength generally does not mention the minor when they have better options in NT or a major. If Responder’s clubs are highly distributional, Responder can start with 2♣ Stayman and then rebid 3♣. A direct bid of 3♣ would be a Jacoby Transfer to 3. If diamonds are highly distributional, Responder can start with 3 as that bid is outside the 2, 2♥, 2♠, 3♣ bids for Jacoby Transfers.

Stayman Concepts: The Responder to a NT opening is the Captain. The Responder determines the appropriate contract (eg, part score, game, slam). If game is appropriate, the partnership seeks a GF in a major suit. Game (eg, 3NT or 4M) is certain if Responder holds a medium+ or maximum hand while just invitational with a medium. Responder must have at least one 4cM and at least a medium PVP1 to start Stayman. The reason that Responder needs some strength is that the partnership will rise 5 rungs on the bidding ladder by the time they determine they do not have a fit. Responder must provide the points for the partnership to bid safely from their start at 1NT to their earliest possible determination of a misfit at 2NT.

Stayman Bids: Opener bids NT. Responder with a 4cM in other than a 4-3-3-3 hand has only one available bid besides pass. This single bid is Stayman, which is the cheapest ♣ (eg, 2♣ after 1NT, 3 after 2NT, or 4 after 3NT). Responder’s ♣ bid is conventional, saying nothing about their ♣ holdings.

Opener’s 2nd Bid

Opener Must Answer Stayman: Opener shows a 4cM. Otherwise, Opener bids cheaply to deny a 4cM. Opener has only 3 available bids (, ♥, ♠ at their cheapest levels). Opener’s negative bid is conventional, saying nothing about their ♦ holdings.

Responder’s Decisions: Responder learns a lot from Opener’s three options, but generally not enough to answer both how high and which suit. To answer both questions, Responder needs additional information about fit and points:

  • Does Opener confirm a 4c fit? If yes, Responder knows the suit but perhaps not the level. If no, on their 3rd bid, Opener may tell about a GF in ♠.
  • Might Opener have a 3c fit if Responder has a 5cM? Responder must ask.
  • Does the partnership have the points for a partscore or game? If Opener’s minimum points plus Responder’s actual points are sufficient for game, then Responder can bid game with a GF. If Opener’s maximum points plus Responder’s actual points are sufficient for game, then Responder can invite with a GF. If game is not possible, then Responder sets the contract in the best partscore.
Responder’s 2nd Bid after 1NT Opening

Combined Points: A 1NT opener always has 3 ranges (minimum=15 HCP, medium=16 HCP, and maximum=17 HCP). Responder can estimate the partnership’s combined points within a similar 3-point range. Responder’s 2nd bid is determined by how many points Responder holds. Some teachers place Responder’s points in three ranges (minimum, medium, or maximum) but AG expands this to five ranges (minimum, invitational medium, game medium, game maximum, and slam maximum). These are the Responder’s ranges:

  1. Responder is a Min 0-7 HCP: Responder does not have the HCP for any natural bid. Responder may have bid Garbage Stayman on their 1st bid, but must pass now.
  2. Responder is an Invitational Med 8-9 HCP
    1. Cheap NT: If Opener bids 2 or the “wrong” major, Responder invites game by bidding the cheapest NT (eg, 2NT if opening were 1NT). Opener can pass or bid game (3NT or 4M). Responder promises game is possible if Opener is a Max. Opener who replied 2 negative should pass 2NT with a Min, raise to 3NT with a Max. Opener who bid the wrong 2M should pass with a Min, bid 3♠ with ♠ support if initial reply was a 2♥ Min, raise to 3NT with a Max, or jump to 4♠ with ♠ support if initial reply was a 2♥ Max.
    2. Cheap Suit: If Opener bids the “right” major, Responder invites game by raising Opener’s 2M to the cheapest level (eg, 3M). Opener places the contract (eg, pass, 3NT, or 4M).
    3. 5-4 in Majors: Remember that a Stayman bidder must have a 4c major. If Responder later bids a 5cM, then they started 5-4 in the majors. If Opener bids 2♦ negative, Responder bids 2M in their 5cM, non-forcing. Opener may pass or continue (eg, bids 2NT, 3♥, or 3♠). Opener’s 2NT would show Hx or xx in Responder’s suit and stoppers in the other 3 suits, Responder places the best contract (eg, 3NT, 4♥, or 4♠). If Opener bids 3♥ or 3♠ to show xxx in Responder’s suit and stoppers in the other 3 suits, Responder raises to 4M.
  3. Responder is a Game Med+ 10-15 HCP
    1. Jump in Suit: Responder’s jump directly to 4M game is a signoff. Opener will pass.
    2. Jump in NT: Responder’s jump to 3NT is Pick-a-Game. Opener either bid a negative or the “wrong” major. Responder should not jump in NT with a singleton (ie, a Responder should prefer to show their long suit with 3m or 3M). Opener picks between 3NT and 4M. Responder passes. Opener who soared with 4 by bidding 2♥ should raise to 4♠.
    3. 5-4 in Majors: If Opener bids 2 negative, Responder jumps to 3M in the 5cM, forcing. Opener will raise to game (eg, 3NT w/ no fit, 4M with a 5-3 fit, or either contract with a 5-2 fit).
  4. Responder is a Game Max 16-17 HCP: Slam is possible. See BB3, Ch. 4.
  5. Responder is a Slam Max 18+ HCP: Slam is likely. See BB3, Ch. 4.
Examples of Responder’s 2nd Bid after a 1NT Opening
  • 2♠ shift: Opener bid the “wrong” major but Responder has a 5cM and 8-9 points.
  • 2NT+: Opener bid 2 or the “wrong” major. Responder has 8-9 points for 2NT or 10-15 points for 3NT. Responder has no interest in slam. Opener can pass, bid a second 4cM at the 3-level, or bid game (3NT or 4M).
  • 3♣ shift: Opener responded to Stayman but Responder has great clubs and wants to show them.
  • 3M jump: Opener bid 2 but Responder has a 5cM and 10-15 points.
  • 3M raise: Opener bid the “right” major but Responder is a medium. Opener will pass with a minimum, bid game with a maximum.
  • 3m/3M shift: Opener bid the “right” major, Responder has 16+ points, and Responder is going slowly to test for slam.
  • 4M jump: Opener bid the “right” major and Responder is strong (10-14 HCP).

Responder’s 2nd Bid When Partner Opens 1NT

Opener’s 2nd Bid

2M (Yes, a 4cM)

2♦ (No, no 4cM)

Responder’s HCP 8-9 10+ 8-9 10+
Responder’s 2nd Bid 3M 4M 2M, 2NT 3M, 3NT
Competitive Bidding (aka Interference)

Situation: Assume either (a) partner bids 1NT/2NT and RHO overcalls, or (b) LHO bids, Partner overcalls 1NT/2NT, and RHO passes. Under these situations, Stayman can be On or Off:

  1. ON after X: Stayman is “on” if Opponents double. Responder bids 2♣ to start Stayman.
  2. ON after 2: Stayman is “on” if Opponents overcall with 2♣. Responder bids X to start Stayman.
  3. ON after 2♦/♥/♠: Stayman is “on” if Opponents overcall above 2♣.
    1. Interference before Stayman: Responder cuebids to start Stayman. A cuebid requires game-going points (10+). Responder should have a stopper or shortness in Opponent’s suit. Partner will bid 3NT or 4M. (nb: Responder’s cuebid is constructive, while Responder’s X would be for penalty.)
    2. Interference after Stayman: Responder has already started Stayman. Opener bids normally (2♥ or 2♠) if possible. Otherwise, Opener passes, which relays the bidding back to the Responder. The Responder chooses between continuing, passing, or doubling.
  4. OFF: Stayman may be “off” if Opponents bid higher than Responder can reasonably cuebid. At this elevated level, either partner may pass, X, or set the contract independently of the other.
Resources
  1. ACBL: At their website, click on “Learn,” “How to Play,” “New to Duplicate,” “Commonly Used Conventions,” “Stayman.” That might be hard to navigate. You can also Google “ACBL convention card for Stayman.”
  2. Best e Bridge: Log on, then choose Bidding, Stayman. There are 64 hands to bid. Some are the same deal, but you will alternate between being Opener and Responder. Hands 1, 2, 3, … are basic concepts. Hands 64, 63, 62, … are advanced.
  3. BridgeGuys.com: Click on Glossary. Click on “Stayman.”
  4. Ferguson, Fred: BeginnerBridge.blogspot.com (2008). Index is on right side of page. Scroll till you see Bidding Tools, then click on “Stayman Convention.”
  5. Grant, Audrey: Ch. 5, Diamond Series: Play of the Hand (2006), pp.170-175
  6. Tucker, Patty: Bridge is for Kids (2015), pp. 81-86.
Tests of Comprehension
  1. Stayman 1st Bids: For a test on Opener’s and Responder’s 1st bids, go to Quiz 1 (p. 40). Try a, d, e, h, i, k, l.
  2. Stayman 2nd Bids: For a test on Opener’s and Responder’s 2nd bids, go to Quiz 2 (p. 42). Try a, d, g, j.
  3. Stayman 3rd Bids & Misfits: For a test on Opener’s and Responder’s 3rd bids, go to Quiz 3 (p. 44). Try c, e, I.

 _ _ _ _ _ _

1PVP: Partnership Valuation Points = HCP + Length Points (for Declarer) + Dummy Points (for Responder). Declarer’s PVP = their HCP + their Length Points. Responder’s PVP = their HCP + their Dummy Points. All points discussed in this paper are PVP unless they are specially identified as HCP only.

 Hands to Play, from BB3, Popular Conventions (230 p.)

Note that we have studied NT, major-suit, and minor-suit bidding, so please bid. However, if you reach a different contract than AG, please play her contract and opening lead. Consider playing the hands as “double dummy” so that everyone at the table can see the offense and defense unfold. If you finish the four hands early, please use the remaining time for dealt hands.

Deck Hands Declarer Dealer Bid Lead Hints
BB3 P. 46, #1 N N 4♥ 4♣ A
BB3 P. 48, #2 W E 3NT Q B
BB3 P. 50, #3 S S 4♠ J♥ C
BB3 P. 52, #4 E W 2NT T♠ D
Hints
  • A: N=16 HCP, no length. S=11 HCP, one Dummy point. North (N) opens 1NT. South (S) bids Stayman. N has 4c♥ support. S has the points and fit for 4♥ game. East leads the 4th best from a 5c unbid suit. Trumps are likely to break 3-2. Declarer has 9 tricks, can get the last by either driving out the A♦ or ruffing a ♠ or ♣. Making game (+420).
  • B: W=16 HCP, no length. E=10 HCP, one Dummy point. West (W) opens 1NT. South (E) is a passed hand but bids Stayman. W denies a 4cM. E has the points and fit for 3NT game. N leads top of sequence from a 5c unbid suit. W has 7 QT but can make 9 with a successful finesse. Making game (+420).
  • C: S=17 HCP, no length. N=8 HCP, one Dummy point. S opens 1NT. N bids Stayman. S has 4c♠ support. N has 9 PVP, so invites game. S is a max, so accepts. W leads top of a broken sequence from a 4c suit (not best, almost guaranteed to fail). Trumps are likely to break 3-2. Declarer has 6 tricks, can get 3 more by driving out the A♠ and the last by a ♥ or ♦ ruff. Making game (+620).
  • D: E=15 HCP, 1 length point. W=9 HCP, one Dummy point. E opens 1NT. W bids Stayman. E denies a 4cM. W shifts to 2NT, showing the same points as for Stayman, denying a 5cM, and denying anything extra such as high intermediaries. E also has dreadful cards, so passes. S leads a broken sequence from a 5c suit (excellent). Declarer has 7 tricks, can get 2 more if ♣ break evenly (unlikely), which they don’t. Making partscore (+120).
Student Notes: (nb: The latest version of AG BB3 Ch1 may be downloaded at BetterBridge.blog.)

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