M J Bridge

Theory and Conventions




Game-going - 5-4 in the majors

This convention has been around for a long time.

At one time it was probably the most common method at a high level for dealing with game-going hands which are 5-4 in the majors - it may still be.

The defining feature of Smolen is that a Stayman 2 bid followed by a jump to three of a major if a fit is not immediately forthcoming is game-forcing with four cards in the bid major and five cards in the other major.

A Q 8 6

K Q 8 7 3

T 2

K 5

Partner opened 1NT.

You have 4-5 in the majors together with game-going values.

Playing Smolen start with a Stayman 2 enquiry.

If partner responds 2 you will rebid 3 - game-forcing and promising five hearts.

Intermediate and above

Opener’s first bid

Partner opened 1NT.

You are 5-4 in the majors with invitational values.

Bid 2, intending to follow a 2 response with 2 promising five spades and another unspecified four-card suit in a hand with invitational values.

A Q T 8 6

K Q 8 3

T 2

9 5

Opener’s rebid

Context  -  Partner opened 1NT - RHO passed - intermediate and beyond - underlying methods.

This page last revised 14th Nov 2019

Weak two-suited in the majors

It is strongly recommended that you should extend your two-suited garbage Stayman method to cater for hands which are 4-4 in the majors.

This will add flexibility to your treatment of such hands, and will also free up the sequence 1NT, 2, 2x, 2 for some other use (invitational 5-4 in the majors - below).

Invitational 5-4 in the majors

You will need to agree a way of showing invitational hands which are 5-4 in the majors.

A common solution is to take on board two otherwise redundant sequences.

1NT, 2, 2x, 2    invitational with five spades and another four-card suit;

1NT, 2, 2, 2    invitational with five hearts and another four-card suit.

Five-card major and four-card minor

In a weak hand you will be able to do no better than transfer into the major and then pass.

The invitational hands are catered for by the same sequences as for invitational 5-4 in the majors (above).

With the game-going hand the basic method will be to transfer into the five-card major and then rebid in the four-card minor - natural and forcing.

Two-tier transfers into the minors

An early addition to the method should be two-tier transfers into the minors.

To go along with this you will have to play non-promissory Stayman (or some other similar device) to show the invitational raise.

Note that if you were previously playing simple four-suit transfers this will release the immediate response of 3 for some other purpose.

Single-suited in a major

Also recommended is that you should add Texas transfers or South African Texas transfers to your repertoire.

This will allow even greater definition between the various hand-types (particularly hands with at least a slam interest) whilst releasing the immediate responses at the three-level for other uses.

For a way of distinguishing between the various sequences to four of a major see single-suited in a major.

5-5 in the majors

See the page 5-5 in the majors.

Five minor and four major

This hand-type is discussed on its own page.

Single-suited in a minor

See the page single-suited in a minor.

Isn’t that enough?

If you choose just to adopt the suggestions above and add in some simple interpretation for immediate responses at the three-level - perhaps natural slam-tries - then you will have an excellent system which will more than hold its own at club level and beyond.

But if your choice is to add greater precision as you show various hand-types, and to use as many redundant bids and sequences as possible, then there is considerable leeway in how you choose to extend your system.

How complicated you wish to make your system - how serious a partnership you are - and the form of the game which you most commonly play (pairs or teams) - will all have a bearing on your choices.

The hand-types which you might choose to consider are discussed under ‘describing the hand’, and various possible allocations will be found under ‘available bids’.

In particular you may well choose to consider:-

alternative uses for immediate responses at the three-level;

and extended Stayman sequences - particularly 1NT, 2, 2x, 3.

What follows is just one set of choices.

It tends towards the maximum complication end of the spectrum.

Feel free to agree a simpler, or just a different, set of methods.

Immediate responses at the three-level

There are numerous possibilities (see three-level bids).

On the example page which follows I have allocated all of the three three-level bids to show hands which are two-suited or semi-two-suited in the minors although I must admit a certain fondness for playing 3 as 5-card Puppet Stayman.

The sequences 1NT, 2, 2, 3and 1NT, 2, 2, 3

I have chosen to use these sequences to show game-going hands with a four-card major and a five-card minor.

A good alternative is to use the first of these sequences as minor suit Stayman.

Agreeing partner’s major

A useful device is to follow a Stayman enquiry and a major suit response with a bid at the three-level in the other major to agree partner’s suit and express a slam interest.

Anything else

If you have adopted all of the suggestions above then the sequence

1NT, 2, 2, 3

will have become available for any purpose you choose.

Make any additions or changes you like - it’s totally up to you - but hopefully you get the idea.


I have little choice but to commend this convention to you, as it is a widely (and may well be the most widely) used method at a high level.

However, my understanding is that Smolen appeared on the scene before transfer responses to 1NT became commonplace.

I cannot believe that had the order been reversed then the hand with five hearts and four spades would not have been introduced with a 2 enquiry followed by a 3 transfer to show five hearts and four spades.

This is a more efficient use of bidding space.  The only downside is that it removes ‘Stayman in doubt’, but in return it releases the sequence 1NT, 2, 2, 3 for some other purpose.

If you want to follow up this idea then try either the little known ‘Quest transfers’, or my hybrid between the two ‘Modified Smolen/Quest’.

Alternatively, it seems to me that a method based around ‘improvers’ methods’ offers as much opportunity for elaboration.

On the next page you will find a table which incorporates all of the choices made above.