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There are two problems with most forms of Stayman: (1) they give away too much information to the opponents, and (2) they assume that the 1NT opener has a normal NT distribution, i.e. no five card major, no six card minor, and not a 5-4-2-2 hand. Using simple Stayman, for instance:
The auction is simple and the contract is correct, but we've unnecessarily informed the opponents that opener has a four card heart suit. Did responder want to know about opener's four hearts? Did opener and responder want to help their opponents defend the eventual 3NT contract by telling them about opener's four hearts? No, of course not, but their system forced opener to give responder information he didn't want and to give their opponents information that they were very much interested in knowing. Perhaps this will have no effect at all on the defense; perhaps it will have a dramatic effect when the opening leader has a natural heart lead but leads diamonds instead; most likely it will have a subtle effect, the defenders will be able to count out declarers hand faster and will make better plays and fewer mistakes toward the end of the hand.
The auction is the same but the contract is incorrect because responder has no way to find out about opener's five card major.
Both of these criticisms apply to systems involving simple Stayman and Jacoby. Two-Way Stayman and even the form of Puppet Stayman where the initial Stayman response denies a five card major but shows whether or not he has a four carder solve the five card major problem but give away even more information to the opponents. Playing Two-Way Stayman, for instance, some pairs might have this silly auction:
Here the opponents know Opener's exact distribution before play has even started! And all Responder really wanted to know was whether his partner had three hearts.
This type of bidding persists for two reasons: first, because many of the bad results it causes are obscured by the fact that everyone plays more-or-less the same system, and second, because bad results that are actually caused by giving away too much information are chalked up to good defense by the opponents.
The following system is a form of Puppet Stayman that emphasizes not giving away information.
Most of this writeup is devoted to auctions beginning 1NT-2C, but since the meaning of those auctions depends on the other options that responder has available, we'll begin by discussing the less frequent auctions first.
The unusual bid in this set of responses is the 2D bid showing both majors. These hands are the weak link in most Puppet Stayman systems. Here are some hands to illustrate the problems:
Responder#1 wants to get out of 1NT before the doubling starts but if, using ordinary Puppet Stayman, he bids 1NT-2C, 2D-2H opener may well bid 2NT or even 3NT. Responder#2 can bid 1NT-2C, 2D-2H but if opener bids 2NT he may have to pass without finding out whether opener has 4 hearts. Responder#3 has the problem that even if he finds out that opener has no 4 card major he still doesn't know whether 3NT is the right contract.
The 2D response actually turns these deficiencies of normal Puppet Stayman into strengths and eliminates the 4-4 in the majors problem hands from the 2C auctions.
With a few rare exceptions, opener replies to 2D by bidding his best major, hearts with equal majors.
After the normal 2HS bid by opener, responder can describe almost any hand containing both majors.
The auctions where opener bids 2S are almost the same:
The fact that opener will bid hearts with equal majors means that a spade bid shows either a 4 card suit or 3-2 in the majors and, in either case, responder doesn't have to worry about missing a 5-3 heart fit if he has 4-5 in the majors. Here are some hands:
If responder shows a 3 suiter by bidding 3C, opener first shows a real 4-card major if he has it or asks for the short suit by bidding 3D. A 3H response shows short clubs and 3S shows short diamonds. This theme of clubs pointing to hearts and diamonds pointing to spades will be used in several places in this writeup.
If responder uses the 3D flat hand slam try, opener bids 3NT to deny holding a 4 card major. Any other bid, is a cue bid with the major opener indicated being set as trump.
These auctions easily and conveniently take care of hands with both majors and they mean that when responder uses Stayman, he has at most one 4+ card major.
An interesting aspect to this system is that one of the most common auctions after a 1NT opener, 1NT-2NT, is rarely used. Although not impossible, it's difficult to even construct a hand where you would want to make a natural, invitational raise without first checking to see if opener had a five card major or some off-shape hand. Consider these candidates:
Even with the ruffless Responder-1 hand, a 5-3 spade fit might be preferable to a NT contract, and Responder-2 may as well check to see if his partner opened some hand with 2-2-4-5 or a six card club suit. The point is that there is no charge in terms of information for checking. Many Jacoby variations use 2NT as a conventional bid but they pay an enormous price for that priviledge in terms of having to use ordinary Stayman -- with all the information it gives away -- to make a simple, natural raise. These Puppet Stayman auctions also use a conventional 2NT and 2C followed by 2NT for a natural raise but here, the auction almost always goes 1NT-2C, 2D-2NT, and only a tiny bit of information is given away.
2NT is a minor suit sign-off or a one-suited slam try. This is in combination with 3CD which are minor suit consolidation game tries. After 2NT, opener bids 3C, more-or-less automatically and responder either passes, bids 3D as a sign-off, or shows his one-suiter slam try.
These "consolidation suit" bids are six card, one-loser suits with little or nothing outside. A fitting honor in opener's hand will produce six playing tricks in 3NT. Without that fitting honor, responder's hand will be useless in 3NT and must be played in three of responder's suit.
The 3HS response shows at most 1 card in the suit you bid and at most 2 cards in the other major. If opener is heavily stacked in the majors he bids 3NT, else the partnership goes fishing for minor suit contracts.
How opener should decide whether to bid 3NT or try a minor is not always clear. With double stoppers in the majors 3NT is obvious. With a single stopper consisting of secondary honors (e.g. QJT) it may also be better to bid 3NT since those cards will be worthless in 5CD. Here opener's spade stopper is the ace and he has a minor suit to bid.
Having discussed the other options responder has after a 1NT opener, what sort of hand does he have to bid 2C? First, he's invitational or better. All the sign-off auctions use other sequences: 1NT-2HS for the majors, 1NT-2NT for the minors, 1NT-2D for both majors, and for both minors...well, ok, so there's no signoff bid showing both minors. Second, because of the 1NT-2D auctions, he has at most one 4+ cd major and he won't show it unless responder specifically asks about it. Third, he doesn't have either a very strong one-suiter or a consoldidation suit one suiter since other auctions handle those hands. So his most usual hand is relatively flat with a 3 to 5 card major that's a good candidate for the final contract. He may also turn up with a hand containing 3-1, 4-1 or 5-1 in the majors where he's worried about playing 3NT -- this extends the idea presented in the 1NT-3HS auctions. Auctions other than these are slam going.
Here are the initial Stayman responses:
Notice that the 2D response says nothing about opener's 4 card majors. It doesn't say that he has one and it doesn't say that he doesn't have one.
Notice that 2C doesn't show a 4 card major. It can be a check for 5 card majors, the beginning of a minor suit slam investigation, a check on major suit stoppers, or a 5+ card major, notice that there are no immediate bids to show them. Here are some possible 2C bids:
Responder#1 is looking for a 5-3 spade fit, if opener responds 2D he will bid 3NT. Responder#2 is interested in minor suit slams, if opener bids 2D he will bid 3D (Both Minors). Responder#3 is interested in a 5-3 heart suit fit but he is also worried about the spade suit for 3NT, if opener bids 2D he will bid 3S. Responder#4 wants to determine opener's spade length, he will bid 2H after opener's expected 2D.
When responder asks about a major, opener shows his support for it and whether he is minimum or maximum by step responses:
The first two steps must show minimum hands with less than 4 card support since we might want to pass the hand out at 2NT. The hands with 4 card support are shown at the highest level since we know we will play in the major. Raise-to-3 (of the real suit) and the other major are used instead of steps to make sure that the NTer plays the hands.
Examples. Here are opener's continuations after responder asks about spades.
When responder asks about hearts the first two steps are compressed into one in order to stay below the 2NT level.
How the auction continues depends on whether opener showed a minimum or maximum and whether he showed 4 card support for responder's suit. First, 4-card support for responder's suit sets the suit. Any further new suit bids are cue bids looking for slam. Second, if opener shows a maximum the partnership is forced to game. Responder's 2C was invitational, so the equation is Invitational + Maximum = Game.
Three special auctions exist:
What can these auctions mean?
Responder first asked about one major and then bid the other. It can't be a cue bid since opener denied 4 card support, and it can't be a suit since responder would have bid 2D with 4-4 in the majors. This bid shows shortness, i.e. 4+ cards in the indicated major and 1- in the other.
Notice that we can now show 2-1, 3-1, or 4-1 in the majors. 2-1 is shown by the direct 3HS bid in the short suit, 3-1 is shown by first asking for a 5-cd major and then jumping to 3HS in the short suit, and 4-1 is shown by auctions like the above.
After opener shows 4-cd support for responder, what should a 3NT bid mean? If opener has shown a minimum hand by raising responder's real suit it's natural and gives opener a choice of games, but if opener shows a maximum raise by bidding the other major there is a more important use for the bid, making opener the declarer.
After a maximum raise responder uses 3NT to transfer opener back to 4 of the agreed suit. The result of this is that Opener can become declarer on all 4-4 major suit fits, and, if opener shows a maximum with 4-cd support, responder also has the option to decide to make himself declarer.
Following is the worst sequence in this system:
Opener has shown 2 or 3 hearts with a minimum hand, if opener has 5 hearts and an invitational hand he won't know whether to pass or bid 3H. That's the one insoluable problem in the system, but if responder has a game forcing hand he can continue with an artificial 3D to create a game force and ask for opener's exact length.
If responder bids 3D in this auction, opener will respond 3H = 2 and 3S = 3. If opener shows 3 hearts the suit is assumed to be "set" in hearts and any new suits should be taken as cue bids. If he shows 2 hearts, the suit is not set and new suits are natural. In the auctions where responder has spades, opener's length is already known and the 3D bid becomes a game forcing, slam invitational spade raise. i.e.
...is a game forcing, slam invitational spade raise. Opener should cue bid.
If opener shows 4 cards in responder's suit the auctions are straightforward, new suits are slam-going cue bids and 4NT is RKCB. But after the reponses that show 2 or 3 cards there are more options and things are less clear. Following are two tables showing what responder's bids mean after opener's 2 or 3 card responses. First after responder asked about spades with a 2H bid.
|After 2S,2NT||After 3CD|
|3C||Puppet for minors||-|
|3D||Sets the suit in spades||Natural. GF|
|3H||Singleton Heart||Singleton Heart|
|3S||To play||Set suit slam try|
|Games||To play||To play|
Next after a 2S bid asking about hearts.
|After 2NT||After 3CD|
|3C||Puppet for minors||-|
|3D||GF. Asks numberof hearts||Natural. GF|
|3H||To play||Set suit slam try|
|3S||Singleton spade||Singleton spade|
|Games||To play||To play|
Here are some sample hands.
Opener shows 2 or 3 card support and a minimum so responder asks with 3D and learns that he has 3.
Auctions where responder uses 2C, opener denies a 5 card major, and responder later follows with 3C are Minor Suit Puppet Stayman. These auctions:
Minor suit puppet stayman works in almost exactly the same way as the major suit version, the initial ask is for 5 card minors.
As with major suit Puppet Stayman, responder may continue by asking for length in a specific minor. He does this by using hearts to ask about clubs and spades to ask about diamonds.
The responses to the length asks start with 2 and go up. There are no complications as exist with 2NT in the major suit puppet. Examples
The 3D bid after 1NT-2C; 2D shows both minors in much the same way as a 1NT-2D shows both majors. If responder first asks about a major, 3D has other uses but isn't needed to show both minors anyway since with a major plus both minors, e.g. Axxx x QJxx Kxxx, responder would ask about spades and then bid 3H to show 4-1 in the majors. Showing both minors is also slightly different than 1NT-2D in that weak hands are not a possibility. All of these auctions are game forcing and show some slam interest
Again the trick of using heart and spade bids to point to clubs and diamonds is used. There is no need for opener to show less than a 4-cd minor as there is in the "both majors" auctions because we are forced to game.
The 2D response to 2C is the most usual by a wide margin, but sometimes opener does turn up with a 5-card major, a 6-card minor, or 5-4 in the minors.
After a 2HS bid, opener is known to have 5332 distribution. Since many of the auctions that would be used after a 2D response are directed toward finding 4-4 fits, they no longer apply. These responses use transfers at the 3-level, including into opener's 5 card major, to look for 5-3 fits and to make invitational or slam try raises of opener's suit.
If responder transfers to opener's suit he may just be making an invitational raise, and opener must bid the full value of his hand. If he simply accepts the transfer he may be passed in three of the major. With a maximum he should bypass 3 of his suit and cue bid.
If opener's suit is spades and responder transfers to hearts, there is still the possibility of playing in 3H and opener should not accept the transfer with 3 card support or a maximum.
Finally, if responder transfers to clubs, opener should bid 3NT with a doubleton and only accept with 3-card support. Transfers to diamonds or to spades when opener's suit is hearts are forcing and should always be accepted.
If opener had bid 3S over responder's 3H that would have become the final contract.
Responder knows opener has a minimum with 2 card support.
Opener has three ways to show a minor 5-4 hand after responder's 2C. The direct 2NT bid shows a minimum with either 5-4 or 4-5 in the minors and 3HS shows a maximum and indicates which is the long minor.
Responder must then take over and place the final contract, the only forcing bids be has below game -- whether over 2NT or 3HS -- are 4CD which set the suit and are slam tries.
If opener shows a 6-card minor the auctions are natural and forcing, including a raise to 4 of opener's suit.
After a 2C response the key factor is that the auction is invitational or better. This means that a forcing pass situation exists and the main idea in the auctions is to try to punish the opponents first and bid constructively later. If the interference was a double we try to play 2C redoubled.
If the interference was an overcall we try to double for penalties.
If the auction gets back to responder and he decides to continue the constructive auction how should he proceed? The rule is simple: if the auction is below the 2H level we ignore the interference. At higher levels all bids by responder are natural and forcing and there are no conventional responses. A cue bid by responder asks for a stopper.
If the opponents interfere with the 1NT-2D auctions, opener bids a major only with a 4+ card suit and otherwise passes or redoubles. Don't forget that responder can have a very bad hand for his 2D bid, if he pulls a redouble to 2H he may have a 4-4 yarbourough.
After a 2NT opening or any auction that begins 2C-Artificial Bid, 2NT, the initial bids are the same except for the fact that the three-of-a-suit bids are missing.
As you can see, the 1NT-3HS bids showing a singleton are gone, the 1NT-3CD bids showing consolidation suits are gone, and the 2NT relay to 3C for signoffs is gone.
2NT-3D works exactly like 1NT-2D with the exception of one auction defined as invitational over 1NT that is game forcing over 2NT,
The 3S bid is forcing, not invitational.
After the "bread and butter" auction of 2NT-3C, 3D-3HS there is a big difference in the responses, opener only goes beyond 3NT with 4 card support and then he bids as though responding to a Roman Key Card Blackwood request. Here are the responses after a 3H bid.
After a 3S spade bid by responder there are two differences: 3NT includes both 2 and 3 card support, and the RKCB bids stop at 4H
Opener shows 4 card support with 0 or 3 controls and responder signs off.