M J Bridge

Theory and Conventions



Five-card Stayman

When playing that all balanced hands in the 12 to 14 point range (including those with a decent five-card major) are opened with a bid of 1NT, there is a considerable danger that you will find yourself in a no trump contract when there is a significantly superior major suit contract available based on a 5-3 fit.

The obvious solution is to modify your use of Stayman so that the 2 bid requests opener to respond in a five-card major if he has one. You probably already do something similar when facing a 2NT opener, but note that there is an alternative approach which is to be found at the foot of the page.

Without a five-card major opener will either relay with 2, or will choose between 2 and 2NT according to the partnership agreement.

K Q 2

9 5

Q J 4

K T 7 4

Partner opened 1NT.

Bid 2, if playing five-card Stayman.

Partner might hold a five-card spade suit and weak hearts.

Partner opened 1NT.

Bid 2.

If opener fails to show a five-card major you will then initiate a search for a four-card major.

Q 9 8 2

K T 7 4

A K 7 5


A 8 6 2

K T 9 4

8 6 4


Partner opened 1NT.

If you permit Stayman on weak hands then bid 2, as you seek an escape into either major.

Alternatively you will have to pass.

A 8 6 2

K T 9 7 4

8 6 4


Partner opened 1NT.

If you permit Stayman on weak hands then bid 2, as you seek an escape into either major.

Alternatively you can do no better than transfer into hearts and then pass.

2 does not promise invitational values

If your choice is to play a version of five-card Stayman which does not promise invitational values then opener must always rebid 2 when lacking a five-card major.

With this method you will be able to retain your ‘garbage Stayman’ sequences.

The sequence 1NT, 2, 2, 2 can still be used to show a weak hand which is 4-4 in the majors (or 5-4 by partnership agreement) as when playing four-card Stayman, but you should be particularly careful with those rare hands on which you intend to pass any response. Playing five-card Stayman you should ideally hold five or more diamonds if intending to pass the sequence 1NT, 2, 2.

With the possibility that partner holds as many as four cards in each major the probability that partner has made the 2 response with no more than a doubleton in the suit has increased significantly.

Opener’s first bid

Opener’s rebid

Clearly this modification of the convention will impact on other aspects of your bidding.

Your immediate concern will lie in locating any possible 4-4 major suit fit, but there are other considerations, one of which I have already hinted at above.  It is to do with opener’s rebid, but your choice of method in this respect will in turn affect your initial choice of bid as responder.

I mentioned above that some partnerships will always rebid 2 when lacking a five-card major, but others might allow a choice between 2 and 2NT.

If your choice is to permit a 2NT rebid by opener then responder pretty much has to have invitational values (eleven or twelve points) before initiating a Stayman enquiry, and the garbage Stayman sequences will be lost.

The following analysis is accordingly divided into those methods which promise invitational values and those methods which permit weaker responding hands.

2 promises invitational values or better

The obvious method is to play this much as over an opening bid of 2NT.

In this case a 2 response will promise at least one four-card major.  Continuations might be either ‘natural’ or ‘puppet’.

Without a four-card major opener can rebid 2NT with a minimum or 3NT with a maximum.

Alternatively, some pairs prefer always to relay with 2 in the absence of a five-card major thereby allowing a number of extended sequences to be allocated for specific purposes.

A third alternative which appeals to me is for opener’s rebids to be defined by ‘The Laving’s extension’.  More on that when we come to opener’s rebids.

Each of these methods works well enough, but in each case responder will lose his weak ‘garbage Stayman’ sequences.

This may well be a worthwhile sacrifice when playing at teams scoring, but it is a heavy price if playing at pairs when the optimum part-score can be all-important.

Q 9 8 2

K T 7 4

8 6 7 5


Partner opened 1NT.

Playing four-card Stayman I would not hesitate to bid 2 on this hand, intending to pass any response.  You might choose to do the same when playing five-card Stayman but there is a greatly increased probability that you will finish in a 4-2 diamond fit.

K 9 3

J 6

K 9 6 5 4 3

6 4

Partner opened 1NT.

Bid 2, intending to pass any response - the worst that can happen is a 6-2 diamond fit or a 5-2 heart fit.

Note that this hand would not qualify for such a sequence playing four-card Stayman.

A word of warning

When you hold a game-going hand with one or more four-card majors there are straightforward continuations which allow you to locate the 4-4 fit following a negative response to five-card Stayman.

There is though something of a difficulty when it comes to showing an unbalanced invitational hand with one or more four-card majors, and also unbalanced hands with a five-card major, particularly those which are of either invitational or game-going strength and 5-4 in the majors.

Playing intermediate methods you showed an invitational hand 5-4 in the majors by starting with 2 (Stayman) and then jumping to three of your five-card suit if a fit was not located immediately.

When you adopt a version of five-card Stayman this method will no longer locate the 4-4 fit with opener’s first rebid.

This is a significant loss.

Certainly the sequence 1NT, 2, 2, 3 might be used as before to show a five-card spade suit and invitational values, but does it either promise or deny four hearts?

There are still ways of showing such hands.  In general they involve taking on board a further convention - probably a version of either Smolen or Quest.

These conventions are usually used to show the game-going hands, but two artificial sequences are released to show the invitational hands.

My suggestion is that when you adopt a five-card version of Stayman you should also adopt one of the more advanced methods of showing hands which are 5-4 in the majors and of invitational strength or better.

The five-card version has clear advantages in locating the optimum game contract on certain hand-types, particularly if playing at teams scoring.

To set against this, it becomes more difficult to locate the best part-score based on a 4-4 fit and a weak hand, and other aspects of your system will need to become more complicated.

For most of us, playing mainly at pairs, ordinary non-promissory four-card Stayman will prove more than sufficient.

But for serious partnerships, and particularly at imps scoring, five-card Stayman and everything that goes with it may be the way to go.

5-3-3-2 and four-card Stayman

It is worth pointing out that if you sometimes (or always) open 5-3-3-2 hands containing a five-card major with 1NT you will not necessarily miss those 5-3 fits just because you have chosen to retain a version of four-card Stayman.

Certainly on game-going hands there are two easy sequences which will locate the fit most of the time.

When partner responds 2 to your 1NT opener then if holding thirteen or fourteen points and a five-card major you should make a jump response,

and if partner makes some kind of limit raise to 2NT (which does not involve bidding 2 on the way) and opener is good enough to accept the invitation then he should again bid his five-card major on the way to 3NT to offer partner a choice.

These continuations are discussed further under opener’s rebid.

This page last revised 26th Mar 2018

Intermediate and above

Context  -  Partner opened 1NT - RHO passed - Stayman variations.

K Q 9 4 3

J 6

K 9 6

A 8 4

If your partnership style is to open 1NT on this hand, then respond to partner’s 2 (four-card Stayman) with 3.

If his bid was based on a weak hand then you will have put up a rapid barrage on at least an eight-card fit.

Otherwise he should hold at least invitational values, and the worst that can happen is a 3 contract on twenty four points and a 5-2 fit.  Usually it will be better than that.