Methods After Opener's 1NT Rebid:
Delayed Stayman and the 2NT Relay

Gordon Bower

Consider the following 4 uncontested auctions:

  1. 1C-1H-1NT
  2. 1C-1S-1NT
  3. 1D-1H-1NT
  4. 1D-1S-1NT

Let's begin by summarizing what we know about opener's hand:

As you can see, opener's hand type is constrained within fairly narrow limits: his hand pattern is normally 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, or 5-3-3-2. He is constrained most tightly in Auction 3, and most loosely in Auction 2. (On Auction 3, opener is never semibalanced; on Auction 1 he may be 2-2-4-5, on Auction 4 he may be 2-4-5-2, and on Auction 3 he may be 2-2-4-5 or 2-4-2-5.)

Responder, on the other hand, may have any of a wide variety of distributions, which require different handling. Generally responder is the captain of the auction, either setting the contract, asking opener a specific question about his hand, or asking opener to choose between two or three final contracts.

Defining the problem:
What does responder want to be able to do?

Let's break this down based on the type of hand responder has:

Responder has a 6-card major, which he will insist on as trump. He may want to sign off, make a game invitation, bid game, or explore for slam. Ideally, he would like to be able to use more intelligent game tries than just "are you minimum or maximum?" and would like to be able to set trump and begin slam exploration well below game level with plenty of room to cue-bid.

Responder has a 5-card major: Now responder needs to do two, possibly three, things. First, he needs to know if a 5-3 fit exists. Then, as before, he needs to be able to sign off, invite game, insist on game, or explore for slam. Finally, he may have a second playable suit if opener doesn't have 3-card support for his major, or he may prefer a 4-4 heart fit to a 5-3 spade fit.

Responder has a balanced hand: The easiest case. Just as over a 1NT opening, he may want to pass, invite game, raise to game, invite slam, or bid slam. Doing so just based on point count is adequate when opener and responder are both balanced. If either hand is semibalanced, the ability to determine how well the hands fit becomes more important.

Responder has support for opener's minor: Responder may want to return to opener's first suit after failing to find a 4-4 major fit, with either a weak, invitational, or strong hand. Especially at matchpoints, deciding whether to play in the minor or in notrump is an important issue. The 1NT rebid does not promise stoppers in every suit, so playing in 3NT instead of opener's suit may not be safe if responder's hand is not NT-oriented.

Responder has the other minor: If you don't play MAFIA, this happens only when responder is 5-5, or when responder has a 4-card major, a long club suit, and a weak hand over a 1D opening. Playing MAFIA, 5-4, 5-5, 4-5, and 4-6 distributions, weak, invitational, or strong, are all possible. Ideally, responder would be able to distinguish all these possibilities.

Needless to say, no bidding system is able to cater to all of responder's possible hand types. But we would like to be able to bid as well as we can. The problem is much the same as over a 1NT opening: responder wants to show more hand types than he can by just assigning one to each response. The solution is much the same too: 2C as a Stayman-like inquiry.

The solution, Part I:
Delayed Stayman

The two most common problems responder faces are wanting to know if a major-suit fit exists, and if opener is minimum or maximum. There are many variations of this convention in the literature. Here is the version I think works best:

A 2C rebid by responder promises at least invitational values, and asks opener to describe his strength and his major-suit distribution as follows:

After 1C-1H-1NT-2C or 1D-1H-1NT-2C:

After 1C-1S-1NT-2C or 1D-1S-1NT-2C:

Put into words, for ease of memorization:

Exactly what "minimum" and "maximum" mean depends on your partnership style. For me, these usually equate to 11-12 and 13-14. For others, they maybe 12 or bad 13, and good 13 or 14. In a borderline case, having honours in responder's major, where they are most useful to him, is a deciding factor.

Why do I recommend this particular set of responses? Most other published methods suffer one of two flaws. Either they fail to convey information about both strength and distribution, or they waste too much bidding space, e.g. by jumping to 3M to show a strong hand with 3-card support. Responder needs that bidding space on the third round to sort out all those hand types listed in the previous section! Remember, in a Delayed Stayman auction, responder is the captain at this point, and opener is just answering questions, just like in a classic Stayman auction.

Further bidding when responder has a major

Now let's see how Delayed Stayman fits into responder's methods for describing all those different hand types we listed above.

Responder has a 6-card major:

Responder has a 5-card major:

If responder is weak, his only choices are to pass 1NT, bid 2D (which may be on 4-5, 5-5 or 5-4 shape - an unavoidable ambiguity), or bid 2H to show a weak hand with 5 spades and 4 or 5 hearts. Opener either passes or takes a preference to responder's first suit.

If responder is invitational or better his second bid will always be 2C, Delayed Stayman. His bids at the 3rd round depend on what opener shows:

The Solution, Part II:
Responder has a longer minor

A pair playing Traditional or Walsh responses (see Should you join the MAFIA? for a description of these) has no need of special bids to show a strong hand with a long minor and a 4-card major: they dont bid these hands by responding 1H or 1S. They can play a simple schedule of rebids for responder after 1m-1M-1NT: 2NT, 3C, and 3D are all natural and invitational. Or perhaps they play 2C-followed-by-3C as natural and invitational and an immediate jump to 3C as weak.

Playing MAFIA responses, we need to handle nine hand types: weak, invitational, or strong hands that are balanced, with long clubs, or with long diamonds. Here is how we do it:

In my experience, the 2NT relay is invaluable in getting to good 22- to 24-HCP 3NT contracts when the partnership is able to diagnose a running 6-card minor. I do not recommend using 2NT when holding only 5 cards in a previously unbid minor (unless looking for slam in clubs.) Instead, holding an invitational-strength 5-4-3-1 hand, I start with 2C, then decide based on opener's answer whether to bid this hand like a balanced invitational hand, an invitational 5-5 hand, or to drop the bidding in a 4-3 major fit.

That's my complete system over 1m-1M-1NT in a nutshell. For your convenience, I've included a complete table of responder's 2nd and 3rd round rebids below, for those who prefer to see a list of the auctions, instead of a list of hand types as I used in the text.

Extensions of Delayed Stayman to other auctions

You can use 3C after 1m-1M-2NT in much the same way. There isn't much need to distinguish minimum and maximum hands though (2NT shows a narrow range of 18-19, instead of the wide range of 1NT), so 3C after 2NT is simpler (just 3D=none, 3H=hearts, 3S=spades, almost like regular Stayman). Many players either keep 3C and 3D as natural over 1m-1M-2NT, or use 3C for some other gadget like the Wolff Signoff instead, so don't automatically assume your partner plays it at the 3-level just because he has agreed to use it at the 2-level.

After 1H-1S-1NT: Responder may want to ask opener for 3-card spade support in this auction too. I use this set of responses, which keeps the meanings of every bid except 2H the same as it is after 1m-1S-1NT:

You might prefer to use 2H and 2S to show the minimum and maximum hands with 3-card spade support instead of leaving a special bid for a good 5-card heart suit.


You may not need an artifical 2C bid in this auction, unless you allow 1D on hands containing a 4-card major and allow a 1NT rebid on hands containing a 4-card major. Many Walsh players do allow this, however. For ease of memory, you might use Ron Klinger's "Extended Stayman" rebids (originally intended for use over wide-ranging 1NT openings):

Alternative schemes, harder to remember but less wasteful of bidding spades, can also be devised, but it seems like a lot of work to remember a special set of bids for this relatively rare auction.


I was first exposed to the 2NT relay in Greg Matula's 1994 book The Polish Club, one of the best-written system books to appear in decades. Several authors describe responses to 2C to show both distribution and strength, but again it was Matula's method that stands out to me as most efficient and easiest to remember. My detailed notes on the continuations (and in particular the explicit agreement that opener showing a maximum establishes a game force) arose from long discussions and play-testing with Michael Schmahl in summer and fall 1999.

Complete list of responses after 1m-1M-1NT:

Walsh style players commonly use the jumps to 3D and 3M as invitational, and 2C-followed-by-3D-or-3M as game-forcing. You may switch these meanings if you wish without altering the rest of the system, but I find the logical structure more coherent the way I presented it above.

Table of continuations after Delayed Stayman

After 1m-1H-1NT-2C:

Back to Bridge Articles
Back to TaigaBridge main page
This page last updated 16.12.09
©2002,2003,2009 Gordon Bower