by Kitty and Steve Cooper, Fort Collins, CO

Margaret Devere of Denver, Colorado asks “Would you explain Garbage Stayman please? My partner and I recently had a poor result when we played in our 4-3 spade fit instead of our 5-2 heart fit after using this treatment.”

Coopers: Many players prefer to handle weak hands with both majors by bidding Stayman and then either passing partner’s major suit bid or bidding 2H to ask partner to pick a major. This is known as Garbage Stayman or Crawling Stayman. With long diamonds responder sometimes even passes 2D. Using this convention changes how you handle an invitational hand with five hearts and four spades - now you must transfer to hearts and then bid 2S since bidding Stayman and then 2H is not invitational.

One problem is that a weak hand with four small in one major and a decent five card major will often play better in a 5-2 than in a weak 4-3. For example, when you hold S 6543 H JT987 D 5 C 876 it is probably only right to play in spades when partner has four of them. For example, if partner has something like Q87 K3 A632 AK98 which major do you prefer to play in? Another problem is that many players have trouble playing a 4-3 (known as a Moysian fit, after Sonny Moyse, a long ago Bridge World editor who advocated them). There was a great series in the Bridge World back in the 1970s about playing in those fits; typically you either cross-ruff or draw two rounds of trump and then start playing winners.

When your five card major is rich in intermediate spots and your four card major is weak consider just transferring to the five card major and giving up on finding the 4-4 fit, unless you have a partner who loves to play the Moysian, as Steve does.

Another problem is the propensity of players to open 1NT with two cards in each major and either 5-4 in the minors or a six card minor. What does opener do then when responder bids Stayman and then the "garbage" 2H over the 2D response? He bids 2NT with the 5-4 and lets responder now bid his longer minor or pass. With a six card minor opener may bid it and hope for the best or pass and hope that 2H is not a 4-2 fit.

The late great Barry Crane was a firm believer in always bidding Stayman with 4-4 in the majors no matter what the hand strength. We have had good luck with this approach ourselves. If you play this way, it is best not to open 1NT with a six card minor and no three card major.

We also play extended Garbage Stayman, which we think was invented by Geir Helgemo. This treatment lets responder bid 2S after opener’s 2D to show either a weak hand with four spades and longer clubs (if responder has four spades, a longer diamond suit, and a weak hand he would have passed 2D) or a game invitational hand with five spades and four hearts. Over the 2S bid opener passes or bids 2N if he would reject when responder has the invitational 5=4 and bids 3C if he would accept. Over opener’s 3C, responder passes if he has the weak hand or bids 3H or 3S to look for the best game and confirm holding the 5=4 invitational hand.

Another part of extended Garbage Stayman applies when opener bids 2H in response to Stayman. Responder’s 2S shows exactly four spades (responder would raise 2H to 3H if he had the invitational 5=4); 2S may be bid with an invitational hand or with a weak hand containing four spades and a longer minor and opener bids as above - he passes or bids 2N to reject, bids 3C to accept without four spades, and bids 3S to accept with four spades. Over opener’s 3C acceptance, a weak responder passes or corrects to 3D.

Garbage Stayman lets you escape from a bad 1NT on many more hands. Weak hands are best played in a trump fit, even a Moysian fit.

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