In today's bridge column, opener opened 1NT with (s)A94 (h)AQ97 (d)763 (c) AQJ. Responder had s)KT (h)KJT863 (d)K52 (c)86.

At two different tables, both pairs got to 4H, but in different ways. At Table 1, responder bid directly to 4 hearts, played and made it. At Table 2 responder bid 4 diamonds (transfer), and opener bid 4 hearts, and was set by a diamond lead through responder's K52, and the K of clubs "offside" opener's AQJ.

My understanding is that the reason for transfer bids was to protect the opener when the responder had a weak hand. For instance, a responder might bid "garbage Stayman" with (s)xxx (h)xxxx (d)xxxxx (c) x. That is, zero hcp, and a clear desire to play in anything except clubs (or NT). Likewise, a responder might bid two diamonds (transfer) with "nothing" and an indifferent five card heart suit. Of course, a responder might also bid Stayman or a transfer, with 8-10 points, while needing help to determine the ultimate suit and level of the contract.

But in the above example, the responder had 10 high card points and a six card suit, enough to bid (and play) game on his own. Why use a transfer in such a case?

Do some pairs play that only two level bids are transfers and higher bids are "natural?" Or do most transfer bidders keep the transfer mechanism even at the four (game) level? Put another way, does a transfer at the two level follow one convention and a transfer at the four level follow another convention?

  • 2
    To answer your last question, the two transfers have different names: Jacoby and Texas. There are pairs that play Jacoby but not Texas.
    – Aryabhata
    Jun 30 '14 at 20:54
  • @Aryabhata: That's very good to know.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 30 '14 at 23:46

While the original idea for Jacoby transfers may have been to make the strong hand the declarer (in the 1950s, when Jacoby played with his wife, he bid naturally but she used transfers over partner's 1NT opening so that he would play more hands; this sort of agreement is no longer permitted), that is not their primary benefit.

The primary benefit of transfers is that it gives responder a second chance to make a call. Before transfers, responder to 1NT would bid 2H to play, and had to bid 3H game forcing; this left no room for invitational calls that also showed a major suit. Transfers allw responder to start describing many types of hands with a call at the 2 level, and free up 3-level bids to show other types of hands.

Combining 2-level (Jacoby) and 4-level (Texas) transfers, you can differentiate between the following types of hands:

  • 5+ in a major with no desire to play a game (1NT-2D-2H-Pass).
  • Exactly 5 in a major with invitational values (1NT-2D-2H-2NT).
  • 6+ in a major with invitational values (1NT-2D-2H-3H).
  • A balanced hand with a 5-card major and game forcing values (1NT-2D-2H-3NT; some pairs agree that this promises 5332 shape and others include some 5422 hands).
  • A more shapely hand with a 5-card major and game forcing values (e.g. 1NT-2D-2H-3C shows 5+ hearts and 4+ clubs).
  • A balanced hand with exactly 5 cards in a major and slam-invitational values (1NT-2D-2H-4NT).
  • 6+ in a major with game forcing values but no interest in slam (1NT-4D-4H-Pass)
  • 6+ in a major with slam interest (1NT-2D-2H-4H).
  • 6+ in a major, asking for key cards (1NT-4D-4H-4NT).

These are just the basic agreements with Jacoby and Texas transfers; with some discussion with your partner, you can also ask for key cards after showing a 5-card suit, show shortness (either to avoid 3NT with a gaping hole or to find a 29-hcp slam when the hands fit well), and show other useful hands.

As for the example that you mention, the pair using Texas transfers got unlucky -- making the 1NT opener the declarer gains far more often than not from an opening lead perspective.

  • 1
    Great answer - if the question had been 'How are Texas transfers played?' It seems OP is asking 'How many people play them?' which is probably not answerable. Jun 30 '14 at 23:06
  • @TimLymington: I would consider this as a great answer, even though I technically did not ask the Texas transfer question. (But I did add a line to obliquely refer to it.) I like to wait a day or two before actually accepting this as the best answer.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 30 '14 at 23:46

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