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Responding to one no trump with both majors

Deciding between Stayman and transfers.

I was prompted to write this article after talking to an improver who was having difficulties deciding what to bid with a 5-4 major suited hand after their partner had opened 1NT. It was obvious that they didn't know when to use Stayman and when to transfer to their longer suit and possibly show the shorter. Actually, either could be correct, depending upon the strength of the hand. This article comprehensively spells out how to deal with weak, intermediate or game-going hands with both majors when partner opens a weak 1NT. It does not, however, consider slam bidding.

A weak hand in this context is a hand which you do not want to play in game, whatever the strength of your partner's 1NT bid. An invitational hand is one which you would like to play in game if partner has a suitable hand and a game going hand is one in which you would like to play in a game whatever partner holds. It's just a question of deciding what to play in.

The two majors could be 4-4, 5-4, 5-5, 6-4, 6-5 or even more extreme. You only transfer to at least a 5 card suit. In principle with uneven lengths you transfer to your longer major and then bid your shorter With equal length you transfer to your stronger major and then rebid your weaker. I can't remember ever having 6-6 in the majors when partner opened 1NT though and I've been playing bridge for 65 years. I have had the occasional 6-5 though. We are essentially talking about 4-4, 5-4, 5-5 and 6-4 major suit holdings.

Weak hands

With a weak hand 6-4 in the majors it is generally best to treat it as a single suited hand. Transfer to your 6 card major and pass. You use Stayman, however, to deal with the other weak hands with two majors. You bid 2C and if partner responds with a major you simply pass. If they respond with 2D, denying a 4 card major then you bid 2 of your 5 card major. This is non-forcing and tells partner that you are weak with both majors since with a single major and a weak hand you would transfer to your major and pass without using Stayman.

The sequence 1NT - 2C - 2D - 2S guarantees at least 5 spades and 4 hearts but conventionally, most people agree that 1NT - 2C - 2D - 2H only guarantees 4-4 in the majors since this then allows them to use Stayman on very weak 4-4 hands.

Here are some very weak examples:

S KJ84, H T432, D T843, C 5 Only 4-4 in the majors. Use Stayman and pass any response - even 2D. Partner may have 4 or 5 diamonds and even with 3 you are no worse off than playing in a major. You will be unlucky to find partner with only 2 diamonds.

S KJ84, H T432, D 5, C T843 Similar to the previous hand. Use Stayman but bid 2H over a 2D response. Partner should pass with 3 hearts or bid 3 spades with only 2 hearts since they know you may only have 4 hearts and you may have 5 spades (if you were 5-5 with better hearts than spades).

S KJ874, H T432, D T8, C 54

Only 4 points. 1NT has no chance. Use Stayman and pass a response in either major. You have 5 spades now so bid 2S over a 2D response.

S KT43, H J8742, D T8, C 54

Same again, use Stayman and pass a response in either major. Partner may have 4 spades and if not, your suit length may generate an extra trick or two if you play in hearts even with this poor suit. You bid 2H over 2D of course.

With slightly stronger hands, say 7-9 points, it's relatively safe to play in 1NT but with 4414 hands I would still use Stayman since you are likely to get a better score. With 4432 hands, however, I'm not certain whether it is better to take your chances in 1NT. Personally, I still use Stayman since I believe it generally gains when you find a 4-4 major fit but I play in some 4-3 fits when partner doesn't have a major and 1NT would have scored better!

With 5-4 fit in the majors and a weak hand you should never choose to play in 1NT. Always use Stayman, even with a hand as strong as this:

S A632, H K7642, D Q4, C J6.

It's 10 points but you have isolated honours, your queen and jack are not worth full value in short suits and you have poor intermediates. You probably have no danger in 1NT but you will usually score more playing in a suit contract. Use Stayman and pass if partner responds 2H or 2S. You do not wish to invite partner to bid game (see below).  Bid 2H over a 2D response.

Invitational hands

You also use Stayman with invitational hands. If partner shows a 4 card major you can invite game by bidding 3 of that major. Alternatively, if they respond 2D showing no 4 card major then a bid of 3 of a major shows at least 5 of that major and 4 of the other with invitational values. To make an invitational bid such as this you need a good 10 - 12 total points. (Note that if you use the losing trick count then you should have a 7 loser hand to make an invitational bid since 1NT openers are often 8 loser and at best 7 loser hands.)

The 10 point hand

S K954, H AK852, D 8, C 764

is much stronger than the one above. All your honours are working, they are aces and kings which are good for suit contracts, you have a good spade suit and a singleton. It's a good 10 high card points which could make game if partner is non-minimum. You therefore use Stayman 2C and if partner shows a 4 card major you have found a fit and can re-evaluate your hand to count your short suit distributional points - in this case 2 for your singleton making 12 points in all. If partner bids 2S then, with an 8 card fit, you can make an invitational raise to 3S which partner will raise to 4 on a non-minimum hand. If partner bids 2H then you have a 9 card fit and I would raise direct to game on this hand on the basis of the extra trump that partner doesn't know about. If partner denies a major then you bid your hearts at the 3 level. 1NT - 2C - 2D - 3H says to partner 'I am at least 5-4 in the majors with longer or stronger hearts. I have invitational values only. You may pass this bid.' If partner simply gives preference between your suits like this: 1NT - 2C - 2D - 3H - 3S then you should pass. Partner is showing preference not additional values

You would, of course, also use Stayman when 4-4 in the majors and make an invitational raise to 3 should partner respond in either major. If, however, partner denies a 4 card major then the sequence 1NT - 2C - 2D - 2NT is invitational showing a balanced 11-12 point hand suitable for 3NT if partner is not minimum.

Again, with 6-4 hands is is generally better to transfer into your 6 card major and rebid it as an invitation rather than to use Stayman.

Here are some examples:

S AQT54, H KJ85, D T83, C 3 A good 10 point hand with two tens and a singleton. Bid 2C and if partner shows 4 hearts make an invitational raise to 3H. If they show 4 spades then raise directly to game. If they respond 2D showing no 4 card major then bid an invitational 3S.

S K854, H Q9872, D 8 C KT6   

This is a borderline hand. Only 8 high card points with isolated honours but it does have a singleton. Bid 2C and if partner responds 2H then, with a known 9 card fit make an invitational raise to 3H. If partner responds 2D then make the weak response of 2H. If partner responds 2S then you should pass. With only an 8 card fit this hand isn't quite worth an invitational 3S . Yes, it's a 7 loser hand but with no aces which devalues it somewhat.

S A432, H QJ5432, D 432 With a 6-4 distribution, 7 high card points is probably the least you can have for an invitational hand. It's a 7 loser hand with an ace and a void. It's not a game-going 6-4 hand so treat it as single suited. Transfer to hearts and make an invitational raise to 3H.

S K543, H K742, D QJ8, CJ9 You have both majors and would like to play in one of them for the best score if partner has a 4 card major but you would have to bid 2H over 2D from partner and play in a 4-3 fit in one of the majors since you are not quite good enough to bid an invitational 2NT. It's probably better to pass 1NT.

Game-going 5+ - 4+ hands

You show a game-going hand with at least 5-4 in the majors by transfering to one major then bidding the other. The two transfer and rebid sequences are:

1NT - 2H - 2S - 3H showing 5+ spades, the suit transferred to, and 4+ hearts, the rebid suit. (A transfer to a major, followed by a new suit at the 3 level, is always game forcing whether the new suit is a major or a minor.)

1NT - 2D - 2H - 2S  showing 5+ hearts and 4+ spades N.B. you rebid 2S - not 3S. 1NT - 2D - 2H - 3S is a splinter showing a singleton or void in spades and inviting a heart slam

With a 5-4 distribution you need a good 12+ high card points to force to game opposite a weak no trump opener. With 5-5 this can drop to a good 11+. With a 6 card or longer suit you are guaranteed to have an 8 card fit and 9 high card points could easily produce game since you will have a singleton or a void if you have 4 cards in the other major. With 6-4 it is now worth showing both suits since, with a game forcing hand, you have enough bidding space

Here are some example hands:

S AQT8, H KT743, D 642, C K3 A good 12 points with two tens, 5-4 with hearts longer so game force by transfering to hearts and rebidding spades.

S AQT87, H KT743, D 4, C K3 as above but 5-5 with spades the better suit so game force by transfering to spades and rebidding hearts.

S AJT87, H KT743, D 4 , C K3

only 11 points, but with two tens worth a game force with 5-5.

S AQ874, H K7432, D 4 , C Q3

11 points but poor intermediates and the queen doubleton of clubs is not worth full value. This is just an invitational hand..

S AT8742, H KQT7, D 4, C 43

only 9 high card points but only 6 losers. You have a known 8 card fit. Counting 3 points for shortages shows that the hand is worth a game force. Transfer to spades and rebid hearts. You show your hearts because playing in a 4-4 heart fit may allow you set up the spades as a source of tricks. Also, if partner has a doubleton spade, you may have fewer spade losers playing in hearts .

The  second game forcing sequence 1NT - 2D - 2H - 2S listed earlier allows extra bidding space. At this point opener knows that responder has at least 5 cards in hearts, 4 in spades and that they will continue bidding until game is reached. If opener knows that there is an 8 card major suit fit then they should bid game in that major. If, however, there is no certain 8 card fit then opener need not rush to bid 3NT but can bid 2NT to give responder chance to further describe their hand. Rebidding hearts then shows 6-4 and rebidding spades shows 5-5 which may now locate an 8 card fit. Bidding 3NT shows 5-4. Bidding a minor shows a 5-4 distibution with 3 or 4 cards in the bid minor and a singleton or void in the unbid minor and a non-minimum hand. This may find a minor suit game or slam.

If you find remembering such sequences difficult try think of it like a conversation. 1NT 'I have 12-14 points and a balanced hand.' 1NT - 2D  'Please bid 2H, I have at least 5.' 1NT - 2D - 2H 'As requested partner.' 1NT - 2D - 2H - 2S 'I have at least 5 hearts and 4 spades. I'm strong enough for game. Keep bidding.'

1NT - 2D - 2H - 2S  - 2NT 'I don't have 3 hearts or 4 spades. Have you got anything else to tell me?'

At this point responer could say

3H  'I have 6 hearts' - opener should have 2 and can now bid 4H 3S  '1 have 5 spades' - if opener has 3 they can now bid 4S otherwise 3NT 3C  'I have 5 hearts, 4 spades and 3 or 4 clubs with a non-minimum hand'

3D  'I have 5 hearts, 4 spades and 3 or 4 diamonds with a non-minimum hand'

3N 'I have 5 hearts, 4 spades and am 2-2 in the minors or minimum'.

Game-going 4-4 hands

You should not transfer with 4-4 in the majors since the suit that you transfer to must be at least 5 cards long. You should first determine whether the opener has a 4 card major by using Stayman. If they have, then with a good 12+ high card points you can raise direct to game in the appropriate major. If not, then with 4432 hands you simply bid 3NT unless you are interested in a slam. More distributional hands can be tricky but 3NT is usually the most practical bid unless you are interested in a slam. Here are some examples:

S KQ63, H AKT2, D T82, C 54 12 high card points but the honours support each other and you have a couple of tens. This good 12 points is about the minimum balanced hand that I would raise a major to game or bid 3NT on.

S QT92, H AK73, D K873, C 5 This 6 loser 12 point hand is clearly worth raising a major to game if partner shows a 4 card major but what if partner replies 2D to your Stayman enquiry? Bidding 3D would suggest a game going hand with a 4 card major and a 5 card diamond suit. With a bare 12 points you could bid 2NT but personally I would bid 3NT since three 4 card suits have a good chance of producing an extra length trick.

S QT92, H AK73, D K8753, C

It is difficult to know what to do with hands such as this if partner cannot show a major. You are not guaranteed an 8 card fit since partner could have a doubleton diamond.  With only 12 points it's a long way to 5 diamonds. At pairs I would favour hiding my shape and bidding 3NT but at teams I would probably bid a game forcing 3 diamonds. I would be happier with a point or two more but passing 2D with a 5 loser hand is unthinkable.


Transfering to a major and then bidding a new suit is game forcing showing at least 5 cards in your first suit. If 5-4 then you need 12 working high card points. If 5-5 then 11 or more. With 6-4 you are guaranteed an 8 card fit and as few as 9 high card points can be sufficient for game. Show both suits.

If unable to force to game then you should treat 6-4 hands as single suited and transfer to your 6 card major. To invite partner to bid game if non-minimum you rebid your 6 card major. This requires a good 7 high card points or more and a 7 loser hand.

If unable to force to game, but not content to play in 1 NT, then with all hands with at least two 4 card majors you bid Stayman 2C. If partner shows a 4 card major you can pass, invite game by raising to 3 of the major or bid game in the major. If partner cannot show a 4 card major then with a weak hand you bid your 5+ card major or 2H if you are 4-4 and pass partner's response. With an invitational hand bid 3 of your longer or better major or 2NT.

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