Methods After Opener's 1NT Rebid:
Delayed Stayman and the 2NT Relay
Consider the following 4 uncontested auctions:
Let's begin by summarizing what we know about opener's hand:
- Opener does not have 4-card support for responder's major suit. This is one of the few rules in bridge that has absolutely no exceptions, in my book.
- Opener has a balanced hand. He might have 3, 4, or 5 cards in his minor suit. He is very unlikely to have six. Rarely, opener will have 5-4-3-1 distribution with a singleton in responder's suit, and be unable to rebid in his 4-card suit and unwilling to rebid a bad 5-card suit.
- Specific negative inferences: In auctions 1 and 3, opener denies possession of 4 spades by failing to rebid 1. In auctions 3 and 4, he is unlikely to have a semibalanced pattern like 2254; if he feels his hand is not notrump-oriented he can easily rebid 2.
- Consider your partnership style:
- With 4-4 in the minors, do you always open 1, or do you sometimes open 1 if you are planning to rebid 1NT? (I sometimes open 1.)
- With 4 diamonds and 5 clubs, do you ever open 1? (I don't.)
- Do you ever raise immediately with only 3-card support for responder's major? (I don't, except on 5-4-3-1 hands with the singleton in an unbid suit.)
- What is your opening bid style? (If you follow the style described in my article "How light should you open the bidding?," your range for the 1NT rebid is 11-14HCP, and almost all of the 11-point hands will include a 3-card major.)
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 1 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: 2 as a Stayman-like inquiry.
The solution, Part I:
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 2 rebid by responder promises at least invitational values, and asks opener to describe his strength and his major-suit distribution as follows:
After 1-1-1NT-2 or 1-1-1NT-2:
- 2: Minimum, denies 3 hearts
- 2: Minimum, promises 3 hearts
- 2: Maximum, promises 3 hearts
- 2NT: Maximum, denies 3 hearts
After 1-1-1NT-2 or 1-1-1NT-2:
- 2: Minimum, denies 3 spades, no information about hearts
- 2: Maximum, promises 4 hearts, no information about spades
- 2: Minimum, promises 3 spades, no information about hearts
- 2NT: Maximum, denies 4 hearts, denies 3 spades
- 3: Maximum, denies 4 hearts, promises 3 spades
Put into words, for ease of memorization:
- 2 or 2 of responder's suit is always minimum ( = non-forcing.)
- 2NT or a new suit is always maximum ( = game-forcing.)
- Diamonds or notrump denies a major, a suit bid shows a major.
- If not sure which of two bids to make, choose the cheaper one.
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:
- A weak hand rebids 2 of the major, signoff. Opener will always pass.
- An invitational hand starts with 2. If opener shows support for your suit, either pass 2M (opener has refused game by showing a minimum), or bid 4. Do not raise to 3M. If opener shows a weak hand without support, bid 2M to show your length; opener will pass. If opener shows a strong hand, bid game, usually 4M, but perhaps 3NT.
- A hand with game values and a 7-card suit, or near-solid 6-card suit can just jump to 4M. (If your style is to never rebid 1NT with a singleton in responder's suit you can do this with any 6-card suit.)
- With slam interest, or with game values and a poor suit, rebid 3M, promising six cards. Opener will cuebid at the 4-level if he can cooperate in slam exploration, bid 4M if he can't stand the idea of slam, or perhaps bid 3NT if he thinks that might be a better contract than 4M.
Responder has a 5-card major:
If responder is weak, his only choices are to pass 1NT, bid 2 (which may be on 4-5, 5-5 or 5-4 shape - an unavoidable ambiguity), or bid 2 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 2, Delayed Stayman. His bids at the 3rd round depend on what opener shows:
- If opener shows 3-card support, trumps are set. Pass and 4M are to play; a new suit below 3M after opener shows a minimum is a game try, using the same methods as your partnership uses after a 1 opening and 2 response; any other bid, including 3M, is a slam try. Your partnership can choose whether a jump to 4m at responder's 3rd bid is a cue or a splinter. I use it as a cue.
- If opener shows a maximum without 3-card support (2NT), we are forced to game, and responder's major is not going to be trump. Any game bid is to play. 3 of a new suit is natural and game-forcing, usually 5-5.
- If responder shows a minimum without 3-card support, any non-jump bid is natural and invitational, but not forcing, while a jump is natural and forcing. Any game bid is to play. This is slightly imperfect: showing a strong major-minor two-suiter requires a jump to 4 or 4, going past 3NT. A responder without slam interest may have to gamble on 3NT rather than exploring for 5 of a minor after opener's 2.
- After 1m-1-1NT-2-2, we are forced to game, but do not yet know if we have a fit. Responder's 2 asks, "do you also have 3 spades, along with your 4 hearts?"; after 2, opener says no with 2NT (and the above section about 2NT applies), or yes by doing anything else. If responder bids 3 of a suit over 2 without bidding 2 first, he sets hearts as trump and is looking for slam.
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 1 or 1. They can play a simple schedule of rebids for responder after 1m-1M-1NT: 2NT, 3, and 3 are all natural and invitational. Or perhaps they play 2-followed-by-3 as natural and invitational and an immediate jump to 3 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:
- A balanced invitational hand always bids 2, even without a 5-card major. Responder bids 2NT to play if opener shows a minimum, 3NT to play if opener shows a maximum, regardless of what major-suit distribution opener shows.
- 2 is natural and weak; opener may take a preference to 2M but should usually pass.
- 3 is natural and weak; opener must pass.
- 3 is natural and game-forcing; opener may bid 3NT or 5, or cooperate with a possible slam try in diamonds by cuebidding.
- 2NT is artificial, covering the other three hand types -- invitational with clubs, game-forcing with clubs, or invitational with diamonds. After responder's 2NT rebid, opener bids as follows:
- 3: refusing an invitation in clubs. Responder bids 3 with diamonds (opener then chooses 3, 3NT, or 5 as final contract), 3NT or 5 to play with a game-going hand, or anything else to insist on looking for slam in clubs despite opener's lack of enthusiasm.
- 3: accepting an invitation in clubs, but refusing an invitation in diamonds. Responder passes with diamonds, bids 3NT or 5 to play, or bids a new suit to explore for slam in clubs.
- Higher bids: accepting an invitation in either suit. 3 and 3 show cooperation in case responder is seeking slam in clubs, 3NT denies interest in a slam in clubs.
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 2, 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 3 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 3 after 2NT is simpler (just 3=none, 3=hearts, 3=spades, almost like regular Stayman). Many players either keep 3 and 3 as natural over 1m-1M-2NT, or use 3 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 1-1-1NT: 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 2 the same as it is after 1m-1-1NT:
- 2: minimum, 2 spades
- 2: hearts good enough to play a 5-2 fit (something like AQJ9x or better)
- 2: minimum, 3 spades
- 2NT: maximum, 2 spades
- 3: maximum, 3 spades
You might prefer to use 2 and 2 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 2 bid in this auction, unless you allow 1 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):
- 2: minimum, no major
- 2: minimum, 4 hearts
- 2: minimum, 4 spades
- 2NT: minimum, both majors
- 3: maximum, both majors
- 3: maximum, no major
- 3: maximum, 4 hearts
- 3: maximum, 4 spades
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 2 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:
- 2: Delayed Stayman; any invitational hand, and any hand with a 5-card major, except one suitable for 2NT.
- 2: Natural and weak.
- 2 (after 1m-1-1NT): 5 spades, 4 or 5 hearts, weak.
- 2M: 6 cards, weak.
- 2 (after 1m-1-1NT): idle; in standard it shows game-forcing 4-5 shape; but perhaps it's more useful to use it to show a special hand type like 5 spades and 6 hearts.
- 2NT (after 1-1M-1NT): invitational or better with 4+ (usually 5) clubs, or invitational with 6 diamonds.
- 2NT (after 1-1M-1NT): invitational with 6 clubs; GF with 5+ clubs; or invitational with 4+ (usually 5) diamonds.
- 3: To play.
- 3: Natural and game-forcing. 5+ (usually 6) after a 1 opening; 4+ (usually 5) after 1 opening.
- 3 (after 1m-1-1NT): 5 spades, 5 hearts, game-forcing, as in Standard. No need for this specific hand type to go via 2.
- 3M: 6 cards, game-forcing, possible slam interest.
- All game bids: to play.
- 4: Gerber.
- 3 (over 1m-1-1NT), 4: idle. Some people use these as "splinters", showing 1-6-3-3 and 3-6-1-3 shape respectively with slam interest.
Walsh style players commonly use the jumps to 3 and 3M as invitational, and 2-followed-by-3-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
- 2: Minimum, denies 3 hearts
- 2: To play, usually 6 hearts
- 2: undefined. (Natural partnerships will probably use this for 4-5H invitational hands to offer opener a choice of contracts rather than signing off in 2NT. Scientists might use it to show a stronger 5H-5m than than 3m.)
- 2NT: To play, usually balanced, 4 or 5 hearts.
- 3 of opener's minor: invitational, 4+ cards.
- Opener normally passes; rarely, bids on toward 3NT or 5m unless for responder's major but good for play in his own suit.
- 3 of other minor: invitational, 5-5 or 5-6.
- Opener may pass, raise to game, bid 3NT, or show stoppers to explore for 3NT.
- 3: undefined. In other Delayed Stayman sequences, this would be game-forcing, slam interest, in hearts. Over 2 these hands have all had their invitations refused. Perhaps this shows a very strong 5-card heart suit willing to play the 5-2 fit instead of 3NT?
- 3: undefined.
- 3NT: To play. Very common since opener has denied interest in hearts and discouraged slam aspiration. Unlike 2NT, responder almost always has 5 hearts.
- 4 of opener's minor: good fit, forcing to game, demands cuebids.
- 4 of other minor: forcing to game, extreme distribution, usually 5-6.
- 4: To play. Rare after 2.
- 2: Minimum, shows 3 hearts.
- 2: Help-suit game try looking for 4. (Or whatever other type of game try your partnership prefers.)
- 2NT: To play, usually balanced invitational hand with only 4 hearts.
- 3, 3: Game tries looking for 4.
- 3: Establishes a game force, demands cuebids.
- 3, 4, 4: Slam exploration tools - cuebids, splinters, or long-suit slam tries, depending on partnership agreement. I advise giving this auction the same meaning as 1-2-4 has in your system.
- 3NT: Without discussion, to play. Optionally, you may use this to explore for slam in hearts, especially if you use 1-2-3NT artificially in your system.
- 4: To play.
- 2: Maximum, shows 3 hearts, game-forcing.
- 3NT and 4 are to play. Any other bid is exploration for slam. Exact meanings are open to partnership discussion. I recommend cue-bids at 3-level, long-suit slam tries or splinters at 4-level.
- 2NT: Maximum, denies 3 hearts, game-forcing.
- 3 of opener's minor: offers choice of games, suggests unsuitability for notrump.
- 3NT or 5m is to play; new suit bids show stoppers.
- 3 of other minor: 5-5, offers choice of games, suggests unsuitability for notrump.
- 3NT or 5m is to play; new suit bids (ostensibly) show stoppers; 4m shows enthusiasm for responder's 2nd suit and invites slam exploration.
- 3 and 3: undefined.
- 3NT: to play.
- 4 of opener's minor: slam interest, demands cuebids.
- 4 of other minor: undefined. Choose whether you think showing an extreme two suiter or having Gerber available is more important.
- 4: To play. Rare.
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This page last updated 16.12.09
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