Skip Stayman on a 4333 Hand

Source: Mr. Bridge

It is often right to skip Stayman when you have no ruffing value. For one thing, there is no point in seeking a fit when both hands may be completely flat. Secondly, raising in no-trumps gives less information to the defenders. As partner will have the same four-card major as you roughly one time in three, two thirds of the time Stayman will just help the opponents. Thirdly, even if you have a 4-4 fit, four of a major may yield no more tricks than 3NT. If you can make the same nine tricks in 3NT as in the 4-4 fit, you can make game there but not in 4 or 4. At teams or rubber bridge, when the extra 20 points for making 4 or 4 rather than 3NT is of  little value, this is critical.

The other side of the coin is that, because you are 4-3-3-3 (or 3-4-3-3), there is no guarantee that partner will be too. If he is, for example, 4-3-4-2, playing in the 4-4 spade fit may well be superior because of a lack of cover in clubs. There is one other point against the maxim, though its impact depends on your partnership style.

Hand A                      HandB
 A Q 1098               10 8 5 4 3
 K J 9                        K J 5
 Q J 8                        K J 8
 3 2                            A J

Most Acol players would open Hand A with 1, planning to rebid 2. However, if it is your style to open Hand A with
1NT, partner needs to employ Stayman whenever he has a four-card major, even if he has a completely flat hand. You
would not want to miss a 5-4 fit. Even if it is not your general style to open 1NT with a five-card major, you may find yourself forced to do so. Hand B is an example. Nobody would fancy opening 1, intending to rebid 2 with 10-8-5-4-3. It is best to tell a smaller lie, and open 1NT in the first place. Once in a while, you will miss a good 5-3 fit and, assuming you do not use Stayman with a flat 4-3-3-3 hand, you will miss the odd 5-4 fit. This is one of those things, the result of having an awkward hand to bid.

Assuming you do not usually open 1NT with a five-card major, should you skip Stayman with a 4-3-3-3 or 3-4-3-3
hand? Well, yes, but not always.

HandC                   HandD
 K 1084               Q842
 A94                     A95
 KQ8                     AQ8
 J 6 5                     KJ

Partner opens 1NT (12-14). With C and D, do you respond Stayman 2 or not? On C, the danger in ignoring a possible
4-4 fit and playing in no-trumps is that both you and your partner may have a poor stopper in one of the other suits –
or even no stopper at all. In no-trumps, the defenders might win, say, the first five tricks in clubs, whereas, playing in
spades, you can ruff and keep control. Then again, if partner has .Q-IO-x, you have a stopper for 3NT, but may run into
a deadly ruff to set 4~. Also, as you have just thirteen points, there may be only nine tricks available wherever you play.

My experience, backed up by a friend’s computer simulation, is that it is 50-50 whether a 4-4 fit plays better than 3NT
when one hand has no ruffing value. It is therefore a toss-up on a hand like this which contract is the more likely
to make. In this case, the fact that you clearly don’t want to use Stayman and tell the opponents about the declaring
hand when there is no fit, makes it better to bid 3NT. Moreover, if you use Stayman and find partner with the wrong major, you are adding greatly to the chance that the opening lead will hit your side’s weak spot. An auction of 1NT-2-2 -3NT tells them that you have four spades and that partner has four hearts. They are much more likely to find the best lead after that than after INT-3NT. With Hand D, you definitely jump to 3NT. For one thing, you are reasonably sure that there is no obvious weak suit for the defenders to attack. For another, with weak spades like these, a 4-1 spade break might defeat 4 but not 3NT.

There is another way of looking at this. If there are plenty of points available to make 3NT (as with Hand D opposite a
INT opener), it is likely that all suits are covered and no-trumps will be the best spot to play. Are there hands on which you can tell game in a major is safer than 3NT?

 A KJ 10

Having all your values in two suits is a good indicator. With spades like these and all these points, 4 on a 4-4 fit will
surely make. Just about the only way to go down in game is to play in 3NT and find partner weak in one of the minors. The case for using Stayman would be even clearer if you had a similar hand with about an ace more – a ruff in partner’s
hand could be the twelfth trick.

In summary, unless a slam is in the air, when the chance of a possible extra trick in a 4-4 fit is worth going for, skip
Stayman on a 4-3-3-3 hand.


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