The advantage of a 4-4 trump fit is that you can ruff in either hand, and use the other one as the master hand. But if one or both partners have little ruffing value, then might that advantage be minimal?

Neither vulnerable, South dealt and bid 1NT. West passed, and you, North, hold:

(s) AJ4 (h) KJ32 (d) J63 (c) 953.

The columnist wrote that: "North could have judged to bid 3NT with his flat hand instead of using Stayman; South probably would have made nine tricks." I concur.

But North bid 2 clubs, South 2 spades North 3NT and South bid 4 hearts, inferring that North had four hearts.

North knows that his hand has a 4-3-3-3 shape, and can infer that South's hand is likely 4-4-3-2 or 4-3-3-3, with 5-3-3-2 being the other main possibility. Does it make sense under the circumstances for North to avoid Stayman since the likely ruffing gains are minimal? Or should South have left North in 3NT inferring that North had 3-4 in the majors, and 3-3, or possibly 2-4/or 4-2 in the minors?

  • 1
    Yes, this is appropriate evaluation. @hunter gives a reasonable explanation of why. Oct 25, 2015 at 23:02
  • Assuming you are playing 15-17 NT, this is a difficult question, any action could be right. That said, the typical suggestion to bid 3NT on 4-3-3-3 hands is when you have slightly more than what is needed for the 3NT game. Something like 27-28 points. With a max 27 points, it is possible 4H is better. (Not saying it is, though).
    – Aryabhata
    Oct 26, 2015 at 23:31
  • @Aryabhata: I'd feel the other way. With 25-27, I'm hoping that my holding is good for nine at 3NT. It's with 28 or more that I'd try a ten trick trump contract on "brute force," without hoping for ruffing help.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 27, 2015 at 0:52
  • @TomAu - form of scoring is important here. At matchpoints, the extra 10 points for a NT contract when you make the same number of tricks is valuable. With combined 27-29, it's likely that you make 10 tricks at either contract. Even at IMPs or rubber scoring, with extra strength, there may be a squeeze in NT that is not available at the suit contract in the case where trumps break badly. With 25-26 points, the probability that opponents could break a suit at NT, or that you need and can get two ruffs at a suit contract, is a little bigger. Oct 27, 2015 at 2:00
  • 1
    I have been taught that with a 4333 you never ever Stayman!
    – Tvde1
    Apr 16, 2019 at 16:13

2 Answers 2


Two separate questions:

  1. Should N have bid 3NT straight off the bat? In my opinion, yes, at any form of scoring, for the reasons you mentioned, and also to conceal information about N and S's shape from West (think about how much easier the lead is after a Stayman auction than after 1NT - 3NT).

  2. Given that N initiated a Stayman sequence, should S have developed a sufficient picture of N's hand to figure out that 3NT was the best spot anyway? No. From the auction, as far as S knows, N could have any number of spades between 0 and 3. (Experienced partnerships will probably have a way to show spade shortness here, by way of showing long minors, but doing this on middling hands that are likely to wind up in 3NT anyway is again a mistake, giving too much information to West.) Even if S could know that N has 3 spades, he still knows that N chose to initiate a Stayman sequence and should respect N's opinion that N's hand has ruffing values. (S has no information about shape that N doesn't have.)


When you hold a hand like this you should not think, WHAT game you should play, it's better to discover SHOULD you play a game or not!

Theory gives us some clues: if your partner whispers you that he has 4 hearts - you can count losers in your hand - a bit less than 10 losers (counting by Klinger). That means, that 4hearts will never (never!!!) be reasonable.

So - plan your bidding. I suggest to bid 2clubs and...

  • (2di) - 2 or 3 nt (as you feel in this moment), personally I prefer 2nt.
  • (2he) - pass !!!
  • (2sp) - 2nt

As you can see, in my plan it does not matter if my partner bids hearts or spades with 4-4 in majors. But if he bids 2spades with 44maj(and i know it), i'd better pass 2 spades.

4333 is the worst shape and jumping to 3nt is a gambling - you'll need some good cards, nice lead and some good distribution.

May be you feel lucky today?

  • 1
    I'd argue that the preponderance of low spots is just as debilitating for this hand as the flat distribution - seven cards 6-spot and below is very unfortunate. Look how much better this hand plays in either denomination if it gets the S9 and D10 in place of a couple of exes. Oct 27, 2015 at 21:53

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