M J Bridge

Theory and Conventions



Basic four-card Promissory Stayman

The primary purpose of the Stayman convention is to locate a 4-4 major-suit fit.  Such a fit is likely to play better than a no trump contract and will usually score an extra trick.

In its simplest form a bid of 2 by responder asks opener to bid a four-card major if he has one, and to bid 2 otherwise.

(Note that in this present version of the convention responder will always hold four cards in at least one major - that is the meaning of the word ‘promissory’ in the heading.  There are variations which are ‘non-promissory’ but we shall not encounter these until we come to consider intermediate and beyond.)

K Q 2

Q J 7 3

Q 8 3 2

Q 8

Partner opened 1NT.

You hold twelve points in a balanced hand.

Bid 2 - Stayman.  If partner responds 2 you will raise invitationally to 3.

If partner bids 2 or 2 you will bid 2NT- invitational promising eleven or twelve points and a four-card major.

K Q 2

K Q 7 3

Q 8 3 2

Q 8

Partner opened 1NT.

You hold fourteen points in a balanced hand.

Bid 2 - Stayman.  If partner responds 2 you will raise to 4.

If partner bids 2 or 2 you will bid 3NT.

The convention works just as well when you hold a four-card major and invitational values in a balanced hand.

It is frequently, and incorrectly, taught that you must hold at least eleven points before making a Stayman bid.

Although I have described this guidance as incorrect it contains a very large grain of truth.

As in so many bidding situations, responder should give some thought to the likely continuations.

Indeed, he should have a rebid prepared for each and every likely response from partner before he sets out on the Stayman route.

If his plan is to follow one of the ‘garbage Stayman’ sequences below then his hand will be weak - all he is doing is finding a route to the best weak take-out at the two-level.

If, on the other hand, his planned rebids include 2NT as a possibility (when facing the ‘wrong’ response) then he should hold at least eleven points.  Eleven points are the basic requirement for a direct raise of 1NT to 2NT.  They are still the basic requirement when you take a slow route there.

With a balanced hand of less than eleven points and unsuitable for garbage Stayman you will have to pass, even when holding four cards in one or both of the majors.  There might be a better part-score in two of a major, but that is just too bad - you cannot risk inviting partner to look for a game, which is what your rebid of 2NT over a 2 response would be doing.

In the following two specific situations the Stayman convention can be put to good use on weak hands.

(For our present purposes, a weak hand is anything from 0 to 10 points.)

Garbage Stayman

I shall use the term ‘Garbage Stayman’ to cover both of the situations below.

Some authorities will use it to describe a particular one of the two options, but their methods will not differ significantly.

Both majors

With both majors but less than invitational values your priority is to stop at a low level in your better major-suit fit.

The method described here is that usually taught to learners and improvers and is probably that played by a majority of club players.

In this method you should hold 5-4 shape in the major suits.

(Note that a variation allows you to follow this route with 4-4 in the majors but you will not usually encounter this at an improver’s level)

Start with Stayman.

You will pass if partner responds in a major,

and you will bid your five-card major if partner responds 2.

Partner should always pass this sequence, and the partnership will always finish in a two-level contract on at least a 5-2 or 4-4 fit.

9 8

Q J 7 3

Q 8 5 2

K 3 2

Partner opened 1NT.

It is tempting to bid 2, hoping to find a 4-4 fit in hearts, but you have nowhere to go if partner replies 2 or 2.


J 8 7 5 2

Q 8 6 3

9 6

J 3

Partner opened 1NT.

You hold four points and 5-4 shape in the majors.

Bid 2 - Stayman.  If partner responds 2 or 2 you will pass in at least a 4-4 fit.

If partner bids 2 you will bid 2, to play in at least a 5-2 fit.

4-4-4-1 and similar hands with short clubs and at least four diamonds

In this rare but extremely useful scenario your intention is to pass any response from partner including the artificial 2 response.  You must have sufficient shape to be able to stand a response in any suit, bearing in mind that partner’s 2 response might be made on as few as two diamonds (3-3-2-5 shape).

J 8 5 2

Q 9 7

Q 8 4 3 2


Partner opened 1NT.

Weak - short clubs - five HCP.

Bid 2 - Stayman.  You will pass any response including 2.

The worst that can happen is a 4-3 heart fit or a 5-2 diamond fit.

This sequence is ideally suited to hands with 4-4-5-0, 4-3-5-1 or 3-4-5-1 shapes, but might also be used on 4-4-4-1 shape - some will stretch to a particularly weak 4-3-4-2 or even 3-3-4-3 shape.  There is a small risk that you will find yourselves in a contract of 2 on a 4-2 fit, but the possible gains will in general outweigh the risk involved.

Note that this stratagem only works with short clubs - there are no equivalent sequences for when the shortage is in one of the other three suits.

Invitational with a five-card major

The Stayman convention also solves another of the difficulties which arose when playing beginning methods.

With those methods we had no way of showing invitational values and a five-card major.

A bid at the two-level was a weak take-out and a bid at the three-level was game-forcing.

The solution on a balanced hand is to start with a transfer bid and follow with 2NT.

With a five-card major and eleven or twelve points in an unbalanced hand you bid a Stayman 2 initially, intending to raise invitationally to the three-level if partner bids (one of) your major(s), and to jump invitationally to the three-level in your five-card suit if partner fails to locate a major suit fit.

Q J 8 5 2

A 8 3

Q 7 6

K 9

Partner opened 1NT.

Balanced hand- twelve HCP - five spades.

Bid 2 (transfer) and follow with 2NT.

Not recommended

Opener’s first bid

Opener’s rebid

Weak take-out in clubs

In the early days of Stayman there was some concern that a weak take-out in clubs had been lost.

The solution was to make a Stayman bid of 2, and follow it with a rebid of 3.

8 4

5 3

7 5

K J T 9 8 4 3

Partner opened 1NT.

Bid 2♣  if this is your agreed partnership style, and then rebid 3, whatever partner’s response.

This is a weak take-out and should end the auction.

Putting aside, for the moment, that it needs a fairly extreme hand such as that above before a weak take-out at the three-level is recommended, this sequence can now be consigned to the scrapbook of history.

The method is perfectly workable in itself, but the same result is achieved just as easily using a transfer sequence.  The transfer sequence will place the declarer play in the stronger hand, and there are other possible uses for the Stayman sequence above.

The methods on this page are recommended at an improver’s level.

As you move into and beyond an intermediate stage then variations on the method will become part of more advanced features.

This page last revised 15th Oct 2019

Post-beginner and above

Context  -  Partner opened 1NT - RHO passed - improvers’ methods.

Q J 8 5 2

A Q 7 3

Q 8 6


Partner opened 1NT.

Eleven HCP and five spades in an unbalanced hand.

Bid 2, intending to raise 2 to 3, 2 to 3, or jump to 3 over 2 - all invitationally.