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Inviting to 3NT w/o a Four-Card Major by Using Stayman: A Current Problem and a Proposed Solution

UPDATE: Given my ignorance as a new player (see below), I have now learned, thanks to some helpful feedback, that the common solution to the “problem“ I point out is for responder to bid 2 over a 2 Stayman response by the 1NT opener if responder holds four spades but to bid 2NT if she does not have a four-card major at all.  In other words, the meanings of 2 and 2NT are reversed from what I propose in this post.  I still, however, think this raises an interesting question, which is whether it is better to play the contract from the stronger side or, alternatively, better to leave open the option of playing at the two level in ’s.  I never really thought that Stayman was designed (primarily, at least) to help partnerships reach 2-level major suit contracts, but others may have different views on this.  Anyhow, original post is below.


Hi all. So I am admittedly a fairly new player of Bridge; I only learned the rules in January or February of this year and don’t have very many masterpoints. At all.

So I realize I am probably putting myself out there for criticism in writing this post, but here goes.

So suppose my partner opens (or overcalls) a strong 15-17 (15-18 if overcalled) 1NT and I as responder hold 8 or 9 points and no four-card major. Under SAYC or 2/1 systems, I have a couple of choices, depending on what my partner and I have agreed to.

1. I can respond 2NT, saying “Partner, I have an invitational hand but no four-card major,” at which point partner passes if he holds the minimum or raises to 3NT if he holds the maximum.

2. Some partnerships, however, prefer to reserve an immediate 2NT response as a way for responder to ask for a transfer to ’s.  So instead, they agree to have responder go through the Stayman Convention but to then bid 2NT regardless of whether they hear a 2, 2, or 2response. At this point, opener can raise to 3NT if his hand is at the top of the 15-17 range or pass if it is at the bottom. Easy enough, right?

Of course, if we use the first method, it means we need to find a different way for responder to request a transfer to ’s

As I understand it, there are two popular alternatives for a transfer for pairs that use 2NT to show 8-9 points and no four-card major.

1. Use 2 as a “minor transfer” whereby opener is asked to bid 3 and responder, if his minor is actually ’s, simply corrects to that suit.

2. Use 3 as a means by which to transfer to ’s.

Of course, each of these solutions has its problem, however minor (no pun intended!) such shortcomings may be. Namely, with the first transfer mechanism, it means that the stronger hand is going to be the dummy while the weaker hand will be declaring—aren’t transfers supposed to avoid this?! With the second method of transferring to ’s, that aforementioned problem is avoided, but (and perhaps less problematically), it “eats up” a 3 response that could be used for other purposes, such as showing a strong hand with length in the suit, a singleton or void in the suit, asking to do puppet Stayman, etc.

What makes the second way of showing an invitational hand (that is, going through Stayman but then bidding 2NT regardless of the response that opener gives) so appealing, then, is that it:

a) Keeps intact true transfer bids in all four suits whereby the weaker hand will always be the dummy


b) Allows for a 3 response that isn’t a transfer bid

And indeed, for these reasons I have always liked the second method (going through Stayman and then rebidding 2NT regardless).

But then I realized a problem with *this* method, too! What happens in the far-from-rare (although probably not modal, either) case in which the 1NT opener is 4-4 in the majors?

As most (if not all) of you reading this know, the norm is for opener to bid 2.  Then, if the responder holding 8-9 points and four cards in the suit bids 2NT, the opener either corrects to 3 (if he holds the minimum) or 4 (if he is above the minimum). This is because opener reasonably assumes that if responder is using Stayman but doesn’t have four cards in the suit, he must therefore have four cards in the suit. But if responder doesn’t have four cards in *either* major, now we’re in a spade contract with less than an eight-card fit!

Now, as I learned after my original post (this part of my post is an edit), the way many pairs get around this issue is that they have an arrangement where a 2 response by partner to a 2 Stayman response by the 1NT opener is the 1NT opener’s partner indicating that she holds four spades and invitational values, while a 2NT response by partner indicates that she does not have four cards in either major.

The one drawback to this, quite clearly, however, is that if the partnership ends up playing in spades, the weaker hand is declarer while the stronger hand will end up face down on the table for the defenders to see.

So for those still reading (yes, I know this was a LONG wind-up to introducing my idea), it seems to me that modern bridge lacks a system for inviting to 3NT without a four-card major that can simultaneously accommodate all of the following conditions:

1. Allows for four-way transfers whereby all four of said transfers guarantee that the weaker hand is the dummy

2. Allows for four-way transfers whereby 3 is not used as a transfer bid

3. Avoids the possibility of ending up with a wrong-sided contract in which the stronger hand is dummy.

If I am incorrect and there is in fact a system that can do all three of these things at the same time, then please correct me. But I searched quite a bit on the internet and have been unable to find one.

So here is my idea for one. 

First, one uses an immediate 2 response to 1NT as requesting a transfer to ’s and ’s only, NOT to ’s or maybe ’s.

Second, one uses an immediate 2NT response to 1NT as requesting a transfer to ’s, NOT as a way to show an invitational hand with no four-card major.

Third, if responder does indeed hold a hand with 8-9 points and no four-card major, they bid 2, asking partner whether he has a four-card major.

In the event of a 2 or 2 response, the “problem” is already solved. You simply bid 2NT and partner will assume that you hold four cards in the suit, which opener’s 2 or 2 bid has explicitly denied, so partner chooses between passing 2NT or raising to 3NT, which is exactly what you were looking for partner to decide between.

Of course, as I mentioned before, it is the 2 response to Stayman where things can get dicey. So how about this?

Upon hearing a 2 response, the responder who holds 8-9 points and no four-card major bids as follows:

2 denies actually having a four-card major. With this bid, you’re saying “Partner, I don’t actually have a four-card major, but I hold invitational values.”

At this point, opener bids 2NT if he is at the bottom of the 15-17 range or 3NT if he is at the top of the range (with 16, he must exercise his best judgment, as is always the case).

Alternatively, bidding 2NT upon hearing a 2 response says “Partner, I actually have four spades and 8-9 points, so please respond accordingly.”

In such an instance, opener can:

Pass if he is minimum and does not have a four card suit

Raise to 3NT if he holds the maximum but does not have a four card suit

Bid 3 if he holds four spades and is minimum

Bid 4 if he holds four spades and is maximum

I am curious what people think of this idea.

So in sum, what I am suggesting as possibility—just throwing out there for discussion—is that perhaps partnerships in this situation would be better off reversing the meanings of the 2 and 2NT responses to a 2 Stayman response when the partner of the 1NT opener holds a balanced hand with no four-card major and that has 8-9 HCP.  

And once again, I fully realize I am putting myself out there a lot by posting an idea like this, but I hope that people who disagree with the idea or think I am missing the mark can at least be respectful. I am not sure whether or not this idea is a good one but it seemed to me like this forum would be a good place to share my thoughts.

Lastly, if someone has already come up with this, I am very sorry. I certainly wasn’t meaning to steal someone else’s idea. I couldn’t find it anywhere but if someone can point me to a convention like this, then please do :).

Thank you in advance for your feedback.

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