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This is a followup to a previous question.

Neither vulnerable, I opened 2NT after two passes with the following: ♠ AKQ ♡ Q72 ♢AK872 ♣ Q8. This is a "conventional" holding with the a weak spot in clubs.

An answer to the other question showed that partner should have passed with his actual holding, but Stayman was the correct bid if his hand were upgraded by adding at least another jack, giving him something like ♠ J842 ♡JT95 ♢QJ ♣ 732. So let's say this was the case.

My responses to Stayman would be the following: I would bid spades or hearts if I had four of either major. With my actual hand, I would bid three diamonds, showing five of the suit. I would bid 3NT with either a 3-3-4-3 shape (four diamonds), or long clubs.

The problem was that left hand opponent had AKxxxxx of clubs and AK of hearts, and was able to run nine tricks. Give me Q82 of clubs instead of Q8, I would have had third round control of clubs, taken the queen, seven tricks in the "pointed" suits (diamonds split 2-2), and only gone down one, instead of "many." IMHO, partner should have been inclined to play in diamonds since he had four and my bid would indicate five (with a stronger hand, partner could raise to five diamonds).

So after a 2NT bid, should the partners probe for alternatives using Stayman (or other means) and plan an escape suit unless responder is so balanced that 3NT is clearly indicated?

Edit: I just realized that the convention I might want is called "Puppet Stayman". It may or may not work for this hand, but it could help others.

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  • Presumably LHO had long clubs, not long spades as you write. Also, partner has only two diamonds in every hand you've given. How would they break 2-2? And why would partner prefer to play diamonds over no trump with QJ tight?
    – ruds
    Aug 2, 2023 at 20:08
  • It's disingenuous to state that LHO had AKxxxxx [of clubs and presumably not spades] when a simple inspection of the hand makes clear that it was one of AKJT9xx, AKT9xxx, AKJ9xxx, or AKJTxxx. The outstanding middle cards make all of these holdings much stronger than you imply. Aug 3, 2023 at 0:42
  • @ForgetIwaseverhere: IMHO, the salient point of LHO's club holding was the length, not the middle cards. AKJT9 wasn't nearly as threatening as the actual holding, because with two fewer clubs in West, I would hopefully had Q8x for a third round stopper, after which I could take seven pointed suit tricks and go down only one. On the other hand, if you give me Q8, West AK, and specify that West has five more and my partner has three more (at random), West is a favorite to have the Jack and drop partner's three cards, even if they were T97.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 4, 2023 at 2:22

2 Answers 2

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Realistically, the right sequence there is going to put you in 3NT, and you’ll make nearly every time. Yes, you’ll have weird situations where everything is against you as this was; but so many more times you find the right game by bidding correctly.

Will you have perfect stoppers in every suit? No. But you don’t really have room to find out if clubs is covered - you give that up, but in exchange you get a much simpler bidding sequence for a LOT of games.

Don’t be discouraged by a single sequence where you drew the short end of the stick. I suspect in duplicate you’ll find most tables were in 3NT down a bunch.

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When evaluating a bidding agreement, you should consider the following factors:

  • Utility: What do we gain when we use it?
  • Opportunity cost: What do we give up by changing to this agreement?
  • Frequency: how often does it come up?
  • Memory load: How difficult is it to remember?

I think that your proposed Stayman responses give up far more than you gain.

What you gain is sometimes playing 3D instead of 2NT or 3NT. Some of the time that will actually improve your score, and sometimes it won't, so the gain is questionable to start with. When you do end up play 3NT, defenders have more information about the shape of declarer's hand, which will aid their defense. For example, if the clubs had split 4-4 instead of 7-1 against the hand in your question, your 3D response might push LHO to lead a club instead of a heart from xx Kxxx xxx Kxxx.

What you give up is accurate game and slam bidding when partner has some values and both majors. Your responses preclude the use of the Smolen convention, which allows responder to show 5-4 or 4-5 in the majors after opener's 3D response to Stayman. This is a clear loss that must outweigh the dubious gains.

I also think the memory load is a little more than you may give credit for; Stayman is one of the best-known and earliest-learned conventions, and reflex may cause you or your partner to bid 3D without a 5-card suit.

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  • Many other pairs play some form of Puppet Stayman over 2C, allowing them to open 2N with 5332 hands with a 5 card major and still find 5-3 major suit fits. (Note, without being able to open 2N, 5332 hands with 20-21 points and a 5 card major are quite difficult to handle.) Aug 2, 2023 at 21:32
  • Yes, and they forget so often that ACBL's alert procedures prohibit an alert of 3C when it is puppet (which may allow one partner to remind the other, or the 3C bidder to "forget" when partner fails to alert).
    – ruds
    Aug 2, 2023 at 21:39
  • And I would say that they aren't so difficult to handle; you just end up playing 3NT even when you have a 5-3 fit in a major (with the strong hand holding the major). This isn't such a disadvantage, as a suit contract is not as important to find when the strong balanced hand is the one with 5 trumps.
    – ruds
    Aug 2, 2023 at 21:40
  • I am studying a system whereby one can open 2NT with ANY 20-21 high card points--may be unbalanced (and therefore must be alerted). In these kind of systems, you need a rescue sequence to keep you out of of NT when one suit is inadequately protected (here clubs, even though the hand is technically balanced). The main point of the bid is "I have 20-21 high card points. Do you have the 6 or so that we will need to make game in NT or a major assuming a reasonable fit?" Responder will act with a minimum or 5-6, otherwise pass.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 3, 2023 at 1:55
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    @TomAu but why? It's already difficult to place a contract appropriately after a 2NT opening when it's narrowly limited as to strength and shape. What do you hope to gain by opening it up further?
    – ruds
    Aug 3, 2023 at 6:30

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