By Kitty and Steve Cooper

When partner opens 1NT his hand is very well defined: 15-17 points and a balanced hand. Point count works well when both hands are balanced, while loser count is not useful here. It takes 25 points in the combined hands to make a game in notrump or a major (although top players only need 24 while beginners might need 26). So when partner opens 1NT you add your points to his minimum of 15; if that makes 25 then game must be bid. Otherwise add your points to his maximum of 17 to see if that makes 25, in which case game is possible. Be sure to use the reevaluated points from the first article in this series - - as republished on the District 17 website. The following table shows responder’s possibilities:

Points Game Prospects Action
0-7 none pass or sign off
8-9 maybe invite
10+ yes bid game

The next question to ask yourself is whether there might be a major suit fit to play in. If you have a four card or longer major there might be an eight card fit. Notrump will score better than the major only when you take the exact same number of tricks, but having a trump suit is usually worth at least one extra trick. A long time ago Kitty did a computer run of balanced hands opposite 1NT openers in order to analyze how many points are needed in order to take the same number of tricks in notrump as in the major. The answer was at least 29.  So with a balanced 14 or more you might just bid 3NT and not worry about the major. Another time to just bid 3NT is with a 4-3-3-3 pattern since your hand will supply no ruffs for that extra trick in a major.

When you have a five card or longer major you transfer to it by bidding the suit one under the one you have, so 2D shows hearts and 2H shows spades. With seven or fewer points you now pass; weak hands play better in a suit contract even if it’s a 5-2 fit. With an invitational hand, 8-9 points, you bid 2NT after the transfer with a five card suit or three of your major with six or more of them. With a game forcing hand, 10+ points, you jump to 3NT with a five card suit after the transfer or jump to four of your suit with six or more of your suit since you know that there is an eight card or better fit. For more about these Jacoby transfers plus some practice problems try this article at Kitty’s bridge teaching site - - the answers are in a separate section.

What if you have only a four card major? How do you find the 4-4 fit? You use the Stayman convention to find it, which is a bid of 2C over 1NT. This bid says nothing about clubs, it just asks partner if he has a four card major. If partner has no four card major he bids 2D otherwise he bids his major. If he has four cards in each major he bids 2H.

If opener bids the major that you have four of in response to Stayman you have found your eight card fit. So bid four of the major with 10+ points or invite by bidding three of the major with the 8-9 point hand. What if partner does not bid the major that you have? With a game forcing hand you bid game - 3NT, while with the 8-9 point hand you bid 2NT to invite game.

When responder bids Stayman he promises a four card major. Thus if the auction begins 1NT-2C-2H-3NT opener can bid 4S next when he has four of them since he knows there is an eight card spade fit. The auction 1NT-2C-2H-2NT also promises four spades, so opener can bid 3S or 4S when he has four himself, depending on whether or not he accepts the game invitation.
One more wrinkle to using Stayman is handling hands with five cards in one major and four in the other when partner opens 1NT. If partner bids a major over Stayman you raise to the appropriate level, but when he bids 2D you next bid two of your five card major to show five of them and four of the other major and a game invitation. If you have a game force with this hand you jump to three of your five card major. Advanced players use a convention called Smolen where you jump in the four card major instead, so that the notrump bidder will be declarer if he has a fit for five card major and thus bids it.

When you have the 0-7 point hand you cannot use Stayman unless you can pass whatever partner bids (the 4450 shape or even a desparate 4441 with club shortness). The only exception to this is if you play garbage Stayman, which was discussed in last month’s Consult the Coopers for the more advanced players.

To summarize, when partner opens 1NT count your reevaluated points and decide whether game is possible. Then decide whether you want to look for a major suit fit. Use Stayman or Jacoby transfers to explore for a major suit fit. Else bid 2NT or 3NT, depending on your hand strength.

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