The Stayman Convention


The Stayman Convention

When partner opens 1NT, they announce they have a balanced hand with 15-17 points. If your responding hand is also balanced, it's usuallly better to play in no trumps, because there's no real reason to have a trump suit. But you could have a 4-4 major fit with two balanced hands, and now playing in the major does become attractive, so you need a way to find this out. The Stayman Convention is the answer. You take the natural meaning of 2♣ away, and use it artificially, to ask partner "did you open 1NT with a four-card major in your hand?"  

Why might a hand with a 4-4 major (♥ or ♠) fit, play better with that suit as trumps after partner has opened 1NT? A trump suit often provides extra tricks by trumping in both hands, and allows you to maintain control if you have a shortage somewhere (doubleton, singleton, void). Stayman will help you discover such fits. These days, 1NT may well be opened with a five-card major, and to check this, you need to use five-card major Stayman.

Stayman is the bid of 2♣ after partner's 1NT opening, or 3♣ after 2NT, (or even 2♣ p 2♦ p 2NT p 3♣ - the 3♣ bid is Stayman). This is asking partner if their hand has one or both four-card majors. The bid of 2♣ is artificial, asking opener to show a four-card major. Without one, opener bids 2♦. With one or both majors, the 1NT bidder shows their major, starting with the lower one first, hearts.

 Partner opens 1NT and you are responder with this hand. 11 high card points, so game is possible, as partner has 15,16, or 17. But which game?
  ♠ KJ94                        
  ♥ K985
  ♦ 83
  ♣ A74

Bid 2♣, Stayman.
If opener rebids 2♥, responder raises to 4♥.
If opener rebids 2♠, responder raises to 4♠.
If opener rebids 2♦, (no four-card major), responder bids 3NT.

NB: To use Stayman usually shows 8+ points, and is unlimited. It could be any point count, including a hand planning to bid to slam. Responder is in control.

Mostly if responder bothers to use Stayman, their hand will contain at least one four-card major, but it can also be used by a balanced invitational hand to try for game, and also sometimes with a very weak unbalanced hand to stop the bidding. If you are playing four-suit transfers (see later lessons this month), and are using them for minors as well, you do not have a natural 2NT available. So, 1NT p 2♣ p 2♦ p 2NT shows 8-9 balanced points, and may not contain a four-card major at all. 

Garbage Stayman is the only time the convention may be used with a very weak hand, and is a way to play in 2♦ or 2♥ or 2♠.  

  ♠ 1094                        
  ♥ J985
  ♦ J10983
  ♣ 4

On this hand, a suit contract would be preferable to playing in no trumps, so bid 2♣ and pass whatever partner replies. If it's 2♦ you will have a possible fit, if 2♥, a definite eight-card fit, and if 2♠ you will have a seven-card fit.  Languishing in 1NT by passing, thinking you do not have enough points to call anything, is wrong. The secret to 2♣ working here is that the hand is short in clubs (one or fewer). 

If our 1NT is an overcall e.g. 1♦ (1NT) p 2♣ is still Stayman, and this is called "System ON".

If they interfere with our 1NT sequence, with 2♣, i.e. the bid we were about to make, then use Double to mean Stayman (they took our bid), and if they double our 1NT opening, play that 2♣ is Stayman (i.e. System ON). 

The Stayman Convention has been around since the very beginning of bridge, and is played universally. 

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