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The Stayman Convention

The Stayman convention is an artificial bid used to locate a 4-4 fit in a major suit after partner has opened 1NT. A 2 response to 1NT asks partner to bid a four card major suit if they have one, or 2 if they don’t. Some variations require game-invitational values to bid Stayman, while others have no point requirement.

Of course, it can get a little more complicated than that. Let’s take a look:

Getting Started With Stayman

Stayman is an extremely common convention that is used to help you and partner find the right contract after 1NT. It is normally used in conjunction with transfers to maximize the chances that you can find a major-suit fit after a 1NT opening.

Learning and using Stayman has several advantages:

  • Better Results: Finding and playing a 4-4 fit in a major suit at game level will often yield a superior result to 3NT
  • Strong Hand Declares: Both Stayman and Jacoby Transfers allow the strong hand to declare the contract (at least in a Strong NT system - less so in a Weak NT system).
  • Precise: Playing natural responses to 1NT is too vague - how do you show whether you have 4 or 5 cards? Stayman and Jacoby Transfers solve this problem.
  • Efficient: You give up very little - you only sacrifice the ability to play in 2 after partner opens 1NT. For this small price, you get a hugely useful tool.
  • Frequently Played: You'll get more opportunities to use Stayman than almost any other convention. Most partnerships use it and it normally comes up multiple times per session.
  • Great For Beginners: This is a great first convention because it is easy to learn and solves some very common problems.

Simple Stayman promises a game-invitational hand and a four-card major suit. If you are a beginner it is recommended you start with this version.

Many partnerships play variations that require fewer points, or even have sequences where the person bidding it does not have a four-card major. Variations include Puppet Stayman, Crawling Stayman, and Non-Promissory Stayman.

In many of these scenarios, the convention is used anytime the responder can benefit from knowing if partner has a four-card major suit. Because this includes situations where responder has less than a game-invitational hand, there are more responses. We’ll look at these later in the article.

Here’s an example of Simple Stayman in action:

Stayman and Jacoby Transfers

Stayman is usually used in conjunction with Jacoby Transfers over 1NT. In Jacoby, a 2 bid over 1nt is a transfer to 2, and a 2 bid is a transfer to 2.

These transfers work well with Stayman because it means that the responder will rarely have a 5-card major when they bid Stayman – if this were the case, they would have transferred instead of bidding 2. The exception is that Stayman may still be the right call with a two-suited hand of invitational strength or greater.

Because these two conventions work so well together is is rare to see one without the other. If you are learning Stayman for the first time as a beginner, you should learn transfers next.

How Many Points For Stayman?

Stayman is highly useful and it is almost always the correct bid if you have a game-invitational hand and at least one 4-card major (with a few exceptions – see the next section). In this scenario, the point requirement will depend upon what strength NT you are using:

Type Points Shown Required for Stayman
Mini / Kamikaze 10-12 points 13 points (or more)
Weak 12-14 points 11 points (or more)
Strong 15-17 points 8 points (or more)

These points values are for simple Stayman. Other variants may require fewer points.

The One Scenario Where You Should Avoid Stayman 

Stayman is so useful that you should use it whenever you can – with one exception.

The strength of Stayman is that it helps to find a 4-4 fit that will deliver more tricks and a better score than a NT contract – but that’s only true if you can take advantage of your trump suit.

When your partnership holds two flat hands with no ruffing potential, the contract will play out much like NT except you have to make an extra trick to make game. In this scenario, Stayman makes your job harder. Not only do you have to make another trick, but there’s also a small possibility that your contract will backfire by giving your opponents the opportunity to take a ruff before you’ve cleared trumps.

For this reason, many players avoid using stayman on a 4-3-3-3 hand. Take a look at the example below to see how this can go wrong:

Opener’s Responses to Stayman

Opener has a very simple job once you have bid Stayman, they simple confirm or deny they have a four card major suit. In the event that they have both suits it is normal to bid 2 first (in the original incarnation of Stayman, 2 was used to show both majors):

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

Super-Responses to Stayman

Some people also play additional “super responses” to Stayman, where a bid at the 3-level shows a maximum with a good suit:

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

Here’s an example hand of that in action:

These 3-level responses can work well if your Stayman bid always shows game-invitational values, but could get you into trouble if you bid with weaker, non-invitational hands. Bidding a four-card suit at the 3-level when you haven’t found a fit and may have less than 20 combined points isn’t a great idea!

Responder’s Rebids

In the variant of Stayman where responder shows at least a game-invitational hand, they will never fold after opener bids. Because partner has limited their hand with their NT bid, it is responder’s job to decide whether to invite game or bid it immediately. There are a couple of ways to do this depending on their response.

These tables show the common rebids, some of which are not necessary if you are just learning Stayman. Beginners should ignore the minor-suit bids and Gerber and focus on the NT and major-suit bids. Ignore these bids if you are playing in a pick-up partnership and have not discussed them.

These rebids do change if you are using Stayman with weaker hands. We’ll take a look at that later.

Rebidding After a 2 Response

Partner has bid 2, denying a four-card major. You must either invite to game, bid game, or show additional values:
Rebids After 2♦ Meaning
2 Shows a two-suited hand with five hearts and four spades. Invitational, not forcing. See note 1 below.
2 Shows a two-suited hand with five spades and four hearts. Invitational, not forcing. See note 1 below.
2NT Invitational
3 Forcing to game with six-card club suit. Does not promise a major suit. See note 2 below.
3 Forcing to game with six-card diamond suit. Does not promise a major suit. See note 2 below.
3 Shows a two-suited hand with five hearts and four spades. Forcing to game. See note 3 below
3 Shows a two-suited hand with five spades and four hearts. Forcing to game. See note 3 below
3NT Signoff.
4 Gerber, asking for aces
4 Shows a two-suited hand with six hearts and four spades. Signoff.
4 Shows a two-suited hand with six spades and four hearts. Signoff.
4NT Quantitative, inviting to 6NT.

Rebidding After a 2 Response

Partner has bid 2 showing a four-card heart suit and a possible four-card spade suit. You must either invite to game, bid game, or show additional values:
Rebids After 2 Meaning
2 Shows a two-suited hand with five spades and four hearts. Invitational, not forcing. See note 1 below.
2NT Invitational
3 Forcing to game with six-card club suit. Does not promise a major suit. See note 2 below.
3 Forcing to game with six-card diamond suit. Does not promise a major suit. See note 2 below.
3 Shows four hearts. Invitational.
3 Shows a two-suited hand with five spades and four hearts. Forcing to game. See note 3 below.
3NT Signoff. Promises four spades and fewer than four hearts. Opener can pass or correct to 4 if there is a fit.
4 Signoff. Shows four hearts and a game-forcing hand.
4NT Quantitative, inviting to 6NT, denies four hearts.

Rebidding After a 2 Response

Partner has bid 2 showing a four-card spade suit and denying a four-card heart suit. You must either invite to game, bid game, or show additional values:
Rebids After 2 Meaning
2NT Invitational
3 Forcing to game with six-card club suit. Does not promise a major suit. See note 2 below.
3 Forcing to game with six-card diamond suit. Does not promise a major suit. See note 2 below.
3 Shows a two-suited hand with five hearts and four spades. Forcing to game. See note 3 below.
3 Shows four spades. Invitational.
3NT Signoff. Promises four hearts and fewer than four spades.
4 Signoff. Shows four spades and a game-forcing hand
4NT Quantitative, inviting to 6NT, denies four hearts.

Notes

  • 1. Some partnerships prefer playing the 2 and 2 to show five in that suit but to promise nothing about the other major. Crawling Stayman is another option, showing a 5-card suit, 0-7 points, and asking partner to pass (see later).
  • 2. Stayman can be used this way to make a strong bid with a minor. This frees up the 1NT - 3 and 1NT - 3 sequences to be used as sign-off bids (or you can use transfers for these weak sign-off hands). Some partnerships play this with a strong 5-card minor as well.
  • 3. Some partnerships prefer playing the 3 and 3 to show five in that suit but to promise nothing about the other major. Smolen is also an option after the 2, in which case the 3 shows spades and the 3 bid shows hearts.

Example Hands

Let’s take a look at a few example hands:

Other Sequences Where The Stayman Convention Is Used

There are a few other situations you can use Stayman:

Stayman After 2NT

It is standard to play Stayman after a 2NT opening in a similar way to playing over 1NT. Assuming the 2NT opening shows 20-22 points, you require just 4 points to bid Stayman.

For example:

Stayman After Partner’s 1NT Overcall

Stayman is normally on after a 1NT overcall. Since this overcall shows 16-18 points, responder needs just 7 points to invite to game.Here’s an example hand:

Stayman After Interference

This is an area that will need discussion with partner. The main item you will need to discuss is what a double will show after opponents have interfered.

One of the most common treatments is the stolen-bid double after RHO bids 2. This basically says “They took my bid!” and from there you can continue as you would have before.

Like this:

If RHO bids higher than 2 it is tough to show Stayman. In terms of doubling, your partnership have a choice between straight penalty and a negative double showing some value, which partner could then choose to pass for penalties. Some partnerships do use the Stolen Bid Double for higher bids (e.g. doubling a 2 overcall shows a transfer to ) but this is not widespread.

 In terms of showing Stayman in these auctions, one possible way to do it is with a cue-bid of their overcall. For example the sequence, 1NT – (2) – 3 could be used to ask for a 4-card major suit. However, this can only be done with game-forcing values, since opener must bid 3NT to deny a major suit. This method is used as part of Lebensohl.

Stayman and Smolen

The Smolen convention is a modification to Stayman used after a 2 reply by opener. It is used when the responder has 5-4 in the majors and ‘swaps’ the standard 3-level responses.

The new 3-level bids show four cards in the major bid, plus five in the other major. Here are the new replies:

Response to 2♦ Meaning
3 Four hearts, five spades, forcing to game
3 Four spades, five hearts, forcing to game
The advantage of this over the regular response is that the opening 1NT hand will end up declarer in the event that a fit is found in a major suit. This convention isn’t limited to 5-4 in the majors, and can also be bid with 6-4, but this is less effective as the 1NT hand is less likely to end up as declarer – better to show this shape with by transferring first over 1NT.The 1NT hand replies to show their length in the long suit shown. Here are the replies after 3:
Response to Smolen 3 Meaning
3NT 2 (or fewer) spades
4 3 spades
And similiar for the replies to 3:
Response to Smolen 3 Meaning
3NT 2 (or fewer) hearts
4 3 hearts

Puppet Stayman

Stayman is great for finding a 4-4 fit in the majors, but what happens when you open 1NT with a 5-card major?Puppet Stayman aims to solve this problem. Instead of asking for a 4-card major, the 2 bid asks for a 5-card major (so you only need a 3-card major suit to bid it).If partner has a 5-card major, great! If not, they bid 2 as a relay. You then give more information about your hand. The basic responses after the 2 relay are:
Response to 2♦ Meaning
2 Either a four-card spade suit, fewer than four hearts, invitational to game or invitational 2NT with no 4-card major.
2 Four-card heart suit, fewer than four spades, invitational to game.
2NT Four hearts and four spades, invitational to game
3 Five spades and four hearts, invitational
3 Either five spades and four hearts, forcing to game or four spades and four hearts, forcing to game
3 Five hearts and four spades, forcing to game
3NT To play. No 4-card major suit
The downside to Puppet Stayman, apart from its complexity (check out our full guide, linked in the info box below, for a more detailed overview), is that some of the sequences give a lot of information away. You also can’t use Crawling Stayman.Instead, some players choose to play a 1NT – 3 sequence as Puppet, and keep the normal 1NT – 2 sequence for a simpler version of Stayman.

Extended Stayman

The Extended Stayman convention offers an alternative way to find a major suit fit after opener denies a 4-card major by bidding 2.It works like this: responder bids 3 in response to 2. This shows a hand that is 5-4 or 5-5 in the majors with values for game and asks responder to show a 3-card major suit.Opener’s responses are:
Opener's Response to 3♦ Meaning
3 Three hearts, two spades
3 Three spades, two hearts
3NT No 3-card major
4 3-3 in majors

Responder chooses the contract once they have heard from opener about their 3-card major (or lack of). Generally, this method is not as good as Smolen (detailed above).

Garbage Stayman and Crawling Stayman

There are several ways to play Stayman with a weak hand and they can all be very useful and there are a couple of benefits for using Stayman this way:

  • Better Contracts: If you don't have game (or worse, are going down in any contracts) then finding a 4-4 fit is probably going to result in a better contract and score than leaving it in 1NT.
  • Preemptive: It takes up valuable bidding space from opponents if the strong hand hasn't had an opportunity to bid yet.

There are a couple of conventions that can be used here: Garbage Stayman and Crawling Stayman. Sometimes all three are lumped together and called Junk Stayman or Non-forcing Stayman – I’ve seen a few different terms bandied about.

The basic ideas are:

Garbage Stayman

Garbage Stayman involves bidding Stayman with a very weak hand, 0-7 points (or 0-10 vs weak NT), intending to pass. This is done with a short club suit – 4-4-4-1, 4-4-5-0,  3-4-5-1, or 4-3-5-1.

The only downside to this is the possibility of the occasional 4-2 fit in diamonds if opener is 3-3-2-5 and you are sitting with 4-4-4-1. Crawling Stayman solves this problem.

Crawling Stayman

Some partnerships take Garbage Stayman one step further by widening the range with which they’ll use this by including more distributions which are 4-4 in the majors.When this is the case passing 2 is often undesirable, and so with 4-4, responder bids 2 over 2, and then opener corrects to 2 if they have a two-card heart suit. This ensures at least a 4-3 fit is found.However, to achieve this it does require the sacrificing the constructive 2 and 2 bids over 2.

Things to Discuss With Partner

As we’ve seen above, responder has quite a few rebids when playing Stayman. However, many players don’t play these. Many pick-up partners, will, after asking for a four-card major, always just pass, invite, or bid game, and it’s often best not to assume they know or play anything more.

Otherwise it’s easy, particularly with a new partner, to put them in a spot of bother when you bid something unexpected. Worse case scenario? They pass a bid you mean as forcing, or they think a bid you’re making is a slam-try when it isn’t!

It is important to discuss the following:

  • Which rebids are you using?
  • Are you using Garbage and/or Crawling Stayman?
  • Do the 2, 2, 3, and 3 rebids show 5-4, or just a five-card suit in the bid major?
  • Is Stayman on over 1NT overcalls and 2NT?
  • What is your strategy when opponents interfere?

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1 thought on “The Stayman Convention”

  1. Thanks, I’m want to play bridge on BBO with a remote partner. It’s not a good idea without knowing Stayman. Having your article written down so I can review it will be a great help to refresh my memory.

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