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Garbage Stayman: How to Bid Weak Hands Opposite 1NT

Garbage Stayman

Garbage Stayman is a variation of the Stayman Convention that allows players to find a suit contract when responder has a weak 3-suited hand with a short club suit. Responder bids 2 with this hand with the intention of passing any response.

Let’s take a look at the convention in detail:

Why Use Garbage Stayman?

Garbage Stayman is a handy solution to a common problem: partner opens 1NT and you are sitting there with a ‘garbage’ hand. While 1NT might be down by several tricks, a suit contract may offer a better alternative. With a trump fit and the potential for a ruff or two in dummy, a 2-level suit contract might make, or at least go down by less.

Garbage Stayman also has the advantage that it takes up a little more bidding space from your opponents and helps to discourage interference from the opponent seated to your left. By getting involved with the bidding, you prevent them from using their conventional defense to 1NT and force them to overcall at the 2-level after seeing both their opponents already bid.

Let’s take a look at an example of Garbage Stayman in action:

Although the term ‘garbage’ puts the emphasis on the weakness of the hand, it is the shape that makes it possible. Without the shortness in clubs there is no reason to play in a suit contract (which is why you wouldn’t want to bid Garbage Stayman on a 4-4-3-2). The 2 bid enables South to convert the problematic club suit into an asset.

Opener’s Responses to Garbage Stayman

Opener responds exactly as they would with normal Stayman – which as far as they know, you might be bidding. Their responses are:

Opener's Response to 2 Meaning
2 Denies four-card major suit
2 four hearts, may have four spades
2 Four spades, does not have four hearts

It is best not to use super responses to Stayman (when opener jumps to 3 or 3 with a maximum and great suit) when also using Garbage Stayman. These can be useful bids for constructive bidding when Stayman promises values, but is more likely to give you an extra undertrick opposite a weak hand.

Once opener has replied, the Stayman hand simply passes – it’s only then that partner knows you have a weak hand.

When Should You Use Garbage Stayman?

Garbage Stayman is bid with 0-7 points and a 3-suited hand with a shortage in clubs. Some partnerships only bid the distributions with 4-4 in the majors, while others are willing to go to 4-3. With the extension of Crawling Stayman (see later), Garbage Stayman can also be bid with short diamonds. Garbage Stayman can also be used with any NT range.

Note: A weak hand with a 5-card major is not normally bid in this way, I think it is probably preferable to bid 2 or 2 as a transfer instead.

You’ll notice from the first example hand shown further up the page that South doesn’t mind what bid North makes: 2, 2, and 2 are all preferable to a 1NT contract. This is only true if South sticks to two specific distributions when using Garbage Stayman, 4-4-4-1 and 4-4-5-0.

If South’s majors are 4-3, an 8 card fit is obviously not assured, but it does allow the weak 3-4-5-1 and 4-3-5-1 distributions to find a suit contract and many partnerships agree to play Garbage Stayman with these hands.

Bidding Garbage Stayman with a short diamond suit (e.g. 4-4-1-4) is also possible if the partnership use Crawling Stayman, but without this agreement in place these hands must be passed, since a 2 contract is a potential disaster.

Optional Extension: Crawling Stayman

Crawling Stayman is an extra bid that enables the weak hand to use Garbage Stayman with a short diamond suit, in a similar way to how it is bid with a short club suit. With short diamonds, the 2 and 2 responses to Stayman can be passed as before, but the 2 response can’t be passed. Instead, responder bids 2 which shows a 3-suited hand short in diamonds. Partner then passes or corrects according to the relative strengths of their major holdings.

Here’s an example hand:

The advantage of doing this is that you can find a better (or less worse) partscore with more hands, but you do have to give up a bid to achieve it. The sequence 1NT – 2, 2 – 2 would normally be used to show an invitational hand with 5 hearts and 4 spades (some partnerships would use this to show 5 hearts but promise nothing in spades).

These invitational hands with 5 hearts would need to be bid with a transfer first instead, which would make finding a 5-3 spade fit unlikely.

Garbage Stayman After Partner’s 1NT Overcall

Garbage Stayman can be played after a 1NT overcall by partner just as it would over a normal 1NT. However, since the 1NT overcall normally shows 16-18 points a 7-pointer hand that might normally be passing should be inviting to game instead.

Playing with a 1NT overcall does bring some problems, namely if partner’s conventional response is in their bid suit, because you can’t just escape back to no-trumps. This is less of an issue if opponents bid a major suit, since partner can either bid the other major suit (if he has it) or else bid 2. However, with no major suit and diamonds opened by the opponents poses a bit of a problem:

Garbage Stayman Over 2NT

Garbage Stayman could also be used over 2NT bids, although because of opener’s strength there are far fewer hands where you would consider passing their 3-level response to the Stayman bid.

Competitive Bidding

It is common to use a stolen bid double after RHO opponent bids 2 over your partner’s 1NT opening. If opponent’s bid higher than 2, a cue-bid of their bid suit can show Stayman, but this should not be used with a weak hand since it pushes the bidding up dangerously high.

Things to Discuss With Partner

There are several points to discuss with partner if you are going to use Garbage Stayman:

  • Will you use it with hands with 4-3 in the majors? Or does it always promise 4-4?
  • Are you using Crawling Stayman?
  • If so, do you have another way to show invitational hands with 5 hearts and 4 spades?
  • Are you playing weak Stayman after partner has overcalled, and how will you deal with hands where his conventional response is in the opponent's bid suit?

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