Conventions: “The Smolen”

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The starting point is that with 5-4 in the majors and game forcing values, the responder to 1NT goes…

Paul Lavings
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by Paul Lavings Bridge Books & Supplies

The Smolen Convention was invented by US expert Mike Smolen (1940-1992). It is an accepted part of nearly every expert’s system, and was adopted as the consensus choice in Bridge World Standard 2001, with 80% approving.

The starting point is that with 5-4 in the majors and game forcing values, the responder to 1NT goes via Stayman.
If opener replies 2, no major, then responder jumps in the four card major:

1NT 2 K 9 8 7 5
A Q 7 5
Q 2
6 5
2 3  

The 3 here is Smolen, showing fi ve spades and four hearts. Now if the partnership has a 5-3 spade fi t and finishes in 4 the strong hand will be declarer.

A secondary advantage is that the following sequences are not required as forcing and are invitational:

1NT 2*    1NT 2*
2 2   2 3
         

This covers those inbetween 8 or 9 HCP hands which previously you would have to treat as either weak, 0-7 HCP, or Game Forcing, 10+ HCP. Now you don’t have to choose between underbidding or overbidding.

You might also be 6-4 in the majors:

1NT   2
2   3
3NT   4 = 6 spades, 4 hearts, slam interest
    4 = 6 spades, 4 hearts, no slam interest

Smolen can also be used with 5-5 in the majors:

1NT    2
2   4 = 5-5 majors, slam interest
    4 = 5-5 majors, no slam interest
     

You can also play Simple Stayman and Smolen after a 2NT opening (instead of Puppet Stayman) or overcall
or 2 : 2, 2NT to good effect.

The arrival of Smolen has caused many other areas of 1NT to be reviewed. Expert practice after a minor suit
transfer is now quite different:

1NT   2* transfer to clubs
2NT= non super-accept    
3 = super-accept    
     

The super-accept is now the opposite, the next step is the negative, and bidding the suit is the super-accept. This way the strong hand plays the contract if the final contract is fi ve of a minor, or slam in a minor. No longer does responder transfer to a minor and then bid a major with fi ve+ -minor and four-major. Now if you transfer to a minor and then bid another suit, the second suit is a shortage:

1NT   2* clubs
2NT**   3*** **non super-accept ***singleton or void heart, slam interest
     

This is expert standard practice nowadays – but there would be a sizable community who still play it as natural. Probably 90% of partnerships are yet to upgrade. Opener is now able to judge their holding in responder’s shortage and make a sensibly informed decision. With a four-card major and a longer minor responder now goes via Stayman:

1NT    2
2   3/3 Responder has (presumably) a four-card major and the minor
     

Suit bid at the three level

1NT    2
2   3/3 Responder has (presumably) four spades and the minor suit
     

Bid at the three-level, probably 5+ but responder could have only four of the minor:

KQ65
72
A43
KQJ4

as well as:

KQ65
72
A4
KQJ65

How about jumps when the response to Stayman is a major:

1NT   2
2   3 = Unspecified splinter
    4 = Quantitative heart raise, gives the room for partner to bid 4 to say:
     “maybe”, I am not minimum   or 4 = Key Card, agreeing hearts

Smolen offers greater accuracy, and should be up there on your system card.

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