by Kitty and Steve Cooper, Fort Collins, CO

Sheila Peterson of Denver asks “My partner opened 2NT and I held five hearts, four spades and enough points for game.  I bid 3D as a transfer to hearts and followed with 3S.  Partner suggested that I go through Stayman and bid 3C, then over her 3D response showing no major, bid 3H to show five hearts and four spades. Which is the correct approach?”

Coopers: You can play either way; like many things in bridge this is a matter of partnership. However, if you play Garbage Stayman over 2NT as well as over 1NT then the auction your partner suggested, 2N-3C-3D-3H is reserved for the scramble into a major, as it shows a weak hand with both majors at least 4-4.

There are a number of considerations with hands that have both majors over a 2NT opener. When you have five hearts and four spades you can transfer to hearts and then bid spades but when you are 5-4 the other way you have a problem. You really do not want to transfer to spades and then bid four hearts as that gets you past 3NT, so that sequence is reserved for 5-5 in the majors. The solution is that with five spades and four hearts, you bid Stayman and then bid 3S over the expected 3D. So you cannot use the 3S bid as an extended scramble. Obviously if the 2NT opener bids a major, rather than 3D, you raise.

Another issue is that you really want partner to declare the hand when she has all the points. So many players choose to give up Garbage Stayman over 2NT so that they can use Smolen instead. After Stayman and a 3D response they bid their four card major showing five cards in the other major. This lets the big hand can declare the 5-3, if there is one. This same sequence can be used for a 6-4 but now responder will want to insist on playing in the six card suit if there is no 4-4 fit. So if it goes 2NT-3C-3D-3M-3NT, you could now transfer to your six card major at the four level. Warning do not try this on a new partner without advance discussion! You might find yourself  playing a 4-2 fit at the four level. It may be character building to play a 4-2 (Kitty made 6S in one recently), but on the whole it is best to avoid doing so. So when in doubt just bid your six card suit over that 3NT.

Another fly in the ointment is that many people now play Puppet Stayman over 2NT, which asks if opener has a five card major. That changes everything and is a topic for another article on another day.

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