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Four-Four in Majors After Partner Opens 1NT (15-17)- Aug/Sep 2003


I asked the following question to the panel of experts.  Partner opens 1NT(15-17).  You're playing 2 followed by 2 shows both majors and is weak, which is called Garbage Stayman.  After 1NT -- 2 -- 2 -- 2, opener passes with three hearts and corrects to 2 with three spades and two hearts.   I assume that with 4=4=4=1 or 4=4=5=0 you'd bid 2 and pass 2.  What hands containing exactly 4=4 in the majors and 3=2 in the minors with zero to seven HCPs would you pass 1NT?   What hands would you bid 2 gambling on finding a 4=4 major-suit fit but willing to play a 4=3 fit? 

I thought that some experts might bid Stayman on all 4=4 hands.  What I found is that experts use judgment.  The variables are: number of HCPs, where the honors are and vulnerability.   A minor variable is type of game.  They are more likely to bid with lower end of the zero-to-seven range, honors in the major suits, and when vulnerable.   Experts who frequently open 1NT with five-card majors are more likely to bid.   They are more likely to pass with upper end of the zero-to-seven range, honors in the minor suits, and when not vulnerable.

Kit Woolsey:”---I would bid on all 4=4=4=1 or 5=4=4=0 hands.  I would bid on hands in the zero-to-three range.  With 4=4=3=2 hands in the four-to-seven range, it would depend upon the texture of my suits.  The more I had in the majors, the more I would tend to bid.  The more I had in the minors, the more I would tend to pass.”

Bid with weak hands.  With good hands 1NT is more likely to make.

Allan Falk:”---With more mundane distributions, 4=4=(3=2) and 4=4=1=4, if I have a Yarborough or nearly so, I would always remove from 1NT; such a hand will almost always take one trick and usually two or more in a suit contract and zero tricks in notrump.  So the question is what to do with four to seven HCPs; if my points are in the majors, I would go venturing; if not, I would pass 1NT.  So I bid 2 with KxxxQxxxxxxxx, QxxxQxxxxxJxx or QJxxJxxxxxJxx.  I pass 1NT with xxxxQxxxxxKxx.  I bid 2 with KQxxxxxxxxxxx and hope we don't end in 2 in a 4=3. 

Just a note:  using "Garbage Stayman" you don't have to be 4=4 in the majors; you can be 3=4=1=5, as well as 3=4=5=1 and 4=3=5=1.  With these distributions and a weak hand, you can pass a response of 2 or 2 with alacrity since you have at least a seven-card fit.  When you have five diamonds, you can pass a 2 response.  When you have short diamonds and five clubs, you can pass 2 or 2 and over a 2 response, you can bid 2.   Opener thinks you have 4=4 in the majors and with three spades and two hearts he will bid 2; now you correct to 3, where you must have an eight-card fit or more.  Also with these distributions you will be right more often than not to avoid playing in 1NT if you are weak, irrespective of your honor dispersion but with bad majors you might choose to play 1NT if you have five to seven HCPs.  You need two more tricks in clubs or diamonds to improve your matchpoint score; at IMPs I would remove more often because I will go plus slightly more often by doing so, and I'm not concerned about the size of the plus very much.”

Bobby Wolff:”---I would pass 1NT with Jxxx9xxxQJxKx, Jxxx9xxxQJ10xx or Kxxxxxxx10xxJx.  I would bid 2 with KJx10xxxQxxxxx, xxxxxxxxxxxxx or QJxxKJxxxxxxx.” 

Pass with honors in the minors, bid with honors in the majors.

Steve Bloom:”---Having played some form of Puppet Stayman for years, I don't have much experience on these auctions, and so, I can't answer with any feeling.  My instincts are to bid 2 on particularly weak hands, i.e., zero to five HCPs, figuring our best chance of a plus score is to find a 4=4 fit.  With a better hand, I would let partner struggle in 1NT.”

Mel Colchamiro:”---In general, the stronger the hand, six to seven HCPs, and the weaker the majors the more I'd pass 1NT.  Would pass 1NT for sure with xxxxxxxxKxQJx.  I'd go for Stayman with a four-card major that had an honor or a hand that was very weak zero to four HCPs.  With five to seven HCPs and a four-card major that was xxxx, I'd pass.  With a five to seven HCPs and a four-card major with an honor I'd go for Stayman.  All presumes, of course that I had at most one club.  If I had two clubs and 4=4=3 in any combo of the other suits I'd still bid 2 with zero to a bad four HCPs.“

Pass with five to seven HCPs.

Russ Ekeblad:”---This issue of when you move forward over 1NT and when you do not, has always been challenging.  One must always weigh risk vs. reward.  I have found that

vulnerability is a significant factor in making a decision.  When not vulnerable, passing 1NT with "borderline/awkward" shapes  (4=4=2=3) is best.  Even if the normal expectancy in 1NT is down two or more, who cares when not vulnerable.  When vulnerable, the equation changes.   Accepting -200 or -300 is less palatable.  Bidding has two upsides: 1) you might find a more playable strain, and 2) you give the opponents another round to balance thereby rescuing you!  So I would always bid if the normal expectancy in 1NT would be down two or more.  With 4=4 in majors, even 4=4=2=3 or 4=4=1=4, I would start with 2 and bid 2 after 2.  In certain cases, I would even transfer to a four-card major i.e. K10xxxxxxxxxxx.  This hand is ugly for 1NT, and in 2 even if a 4=2 fit, the opponents will not be able to double unless, spades are 6=1.  In addition, it is very possible to enjoy two heart ruffs before trumps are drawn.  In 1NT, the third and fourth spades will never take tricks opposite a doubleton spade.”

Kerry Sanborn:”---Would pass 1NT with soft hand containing minor suit honors.  Would try 2 with 4=3=4=2 shape, planning to pass 2, 2 or 2.  Obviously seven cards in the majors and five diamonds would qualify even more so.”

John Hurd:”---I would pass 1NT with xxxxxxxxKTxAx, xxxxxxxxQJQJx, or xxxxxxxxQxQxx.  I would bid 2 with xxxxxxxxxxxKx or JTxxAxxxxxxxx.  I would be more likely to bid with hands with honors in the majors.   With slow tricks in short suits I would tend to pass, however if my partnership frequently opens 1NT with five-card majors I would be more inclined to bid.”

Zeke Jabbour---Any hand with shortness, I try Stayman.  Without shortness, five points, giving our side at least half the deck, is the cusp.  With a good five, I will pass and hope it's right.  With a five I don't like or any less will bid 2 and hope it's right.  Remember, it will sometimes be right even in the absence of a 4=4 fit.”

Barry Rigal:”---With all my values in the majors.  With HxxxHxxx/any, I'll bid 2 and correct 2 to 2.  With 4=4=1=4 or 4=4=0=5 shape wherever my honors are if both majors have an honor at their head, I'll try 2.  With seven I might raise a major by the way in those shapes. 

Dave Berkowitz:”---I would bid with a zero count.  I would not bid with some minor honors especially minor minor honors.  QxxxJxxxQxJxx would surely pass.”

Henry Bethe:”---I would pass when my honor cards are in the minors, e.g. xxxxxxxxQJxQx.  But I almost always bid.  I bid when I have some strength in the majors, e,g, QJxxQxxxxxxxx.  But I almost always bid with 4=4. To some extent this is because we open balanced hands with five-card majors 1NT -- and because we do not open 2=2 in the majors with 1NT.   I also bid with 4=3 in the majors and five diamonds.   With 4=4=4=1 I bid 2 over 2 since my partners seem to find playing 4=2 fits unpleasant.”

Larry Cohen:”---I've always passed with 4=4 and weak hands except for the obvious shapes with zero or one club.  I've been observing over the years, however, average players bidding Stayman with 4=4 in the majors and any hand even QxxxJxxxxxxxx or the like and getting amazingly good results.  In fact, I think I once heard that opener is 60% to have a four-card major -- which can probably be verified with a simulation.  That simulation would depend a bit on what your parameters for 1NT are.  Anyway, if opener bids two-of-a-major 60% of the time, and on the other 40% we can scramble into a 4=3 fit unless opener is 5=4 in the minors, I might have to come to the average player camp and ALWAYS bid Stayman with 4=4.” 

Joel Wooldridge:”---Form of scoring is important here.  Playing matchpoints, I'd try for a

4=4 major suit fit anytime I had a small doubleton in either minor.  If I had anything from 0 to 4 HCPs, I'd surely bid Stayman regardless of scoring.  Only if I have 5 to 7 HCPs without a worthless doubleton would I pass at matchpoints.  If I have 5 to 7 HCPs with a worthless doubleton, I'd pass at IMPs only.”

Ralph Katz:”---It will be very hard give exact limits card for card.  I will pass when I think we have a good chance to make 1NT.  I will run when it doesn't look like 1NT is best, and I think you need to have some texture in the majors.  I would pass with JxxxQxxxxxxxx  but would bid Stayman with Q10xxJ98xxxxxx .”

Grant Baze:”---With six or seven HCPs I would always pass 1NT on the theory that partner will make 1NT most of the time.  With zero to two HCPs I would always bid before the ax fell.  With three to five HCPs the determinant would be the suit quality of the majors.  With xxxxxxxx I would pass; with J109xQ10xx I would bid.  At matchpoints, the single determinant with all hands of three or more high cards would be the suit quality of the majors.”

Barry Rigal:”---With all my values in the majors HxxxHxxx/any I'll bid 2 and correct 2 to 2.  With 4=4=1=4 or 4=4=0=5 shape wherever my honors are if both majors have an honor at their head, I'll try 2.  With seven I might raise a major by the way in those shapes!”

Marty Bergen:”---I’d pass one notrump with many balanced hands.  I’d bid 2 with   zero or one club or both majors that have great body such as J109xQ109xxxxxx   or 3=4=1=5 such as J10xQJ9xxJ109xx where I will correct to 3 after 1NT - 2-2-2-2.   With 4=4=4=1 or 4=4=5=0 I’d bid 2 and pass 2

The following experts are very unlikely to use Garbage Stayman. 

Matt Granovetter:”I'm sorry to say that I have never had any success with this

Garbage Stayman.  Whenever I played it, the notrump bidder held 2=2 in the majors, 5=4 in the minors, or we landed in a poor 4=3 fit when 1NT had an easy seven tricks. Therefore, I play 2 followed by 2 as invitational with five hearts and four spades.” 

David Bird:”---Even on 4=4=4=1 the odds are not that special.  Opener might be 3=3=2=5 and you would be one level higher in a 4=2 fit.  I would not bid Stayman on a weak hand with any shape other than 4=4=5=0.”

Lynn Deas:”---I would never bid 2 with 4=4 in the majors unless I have a singleton.”

Bart Bramley:”---I usually pass 1NT, more so than most people.  Yes, with 4=4=4=1 and especially 4=4=5=0 I would bid 2, but my partners always seem to have 3=3=2=5.  With other shapes I would normally pass with three HCPs or more.  We have enough high cards to make seven tricks most of the time, even with less than half the deck, because 1NT is very difficult to defend.  A bird (NT) in hand is better than two (majors) in the bush!  Only with 4=4=1=4 or 4=4=0=5 would I be tempted to remove, and even then I would pass if my singleton were an honor.  Matchpoints might also tempt me, where the difference between 90 and 110 matters more.   With zero to two HCPs I might bail, but I am loathe to volunteer to try for eight tricks when we probably have no makeable contract and we might just be going down an extra trick.   If we always open 1NT with a five-card major and the right strength, then I would be more tempted to bid 2, because a nine-card fit is almost certainly preferable to 1NT.  However, in my own style I strain to open in my major, even with 15-17 HCPs, so I have less to gain.   You might be getting the impression that I am not a fan of Garbage Stayman, and you're right.  I would gladly dump it in favor of a method that assigns a constructive meaning to the sequence 1NT-2-2-2, but most of my partners think otherwise.  Note that if you ditch Garbage Stayman, then you will always have at least invitational values when you bid 2, a big edge if fourth hand enters the auction.”

I asked Clyde Kruskal to run 1000 hands where responder has 4=4 in the majors.  These are his results.  He assumes that opener is not 2=2 in the majors.  If opener can never have a five-card major or a six-card minor, then there is a 57.3% chance that opener will have a four-card major.  If opener can never have a five-card major but can have a six-card minor, then there is a 54.1% chance that opener will have a four-card major.  If opener can have a five-card major and a six-card minor, then there is a 62.1% chance that opener will have a four-card major.   If opener can have a five-card major but can’t have a six-card minor, then there is a 64.7% chance that opener will have a four-card major.  If opener can have a five-card major, a six-card minor and could be 2=2 in the majors, then there is 57.6% of opener having a four-card major.  Since bridge is a percentage game, it makes sense to me to always bid Stayman when 4=4 in the majors.  If you always bid Stayman, there is one less thing to think about.  Also, you don’t have to worry about bidding Stayman on hand one, finding opener with 3=3=2=5 distribution and passing 1NT on hand two and finding opener with 4=4 in the majors.