When should you use Stayman?
This discussion leads off with an opening lead question. What does the question have to do with responding to Stayman? Watch.
Your right-hand opponent opens 1NT (15–17) and your LHO raises to 3NT. You hold:
♠ Q 8 7 6 3 ♥K 7 3 ♦6 5 3 ♣10 7.
What is your opening lead?
The world leads spades. You have a suit you can hope to set up and you have a possible entry in the ♥K. If you answered with anything other than a spade, you started reading this article from the end, not the beginning. Now a different auction.
What is your opening lead now?
On the first auction, a spade lead was automatic. On the second auction, you know a lot more. What things do you know now that you did not know before?
- You know that opener has four hearts.
- You know that responder has four spades. Why would he ask for a major when he does not have one? A clever player might think it cute to bid 2♣ when not holding a major but there are some serious dangers to doing that. On this auction, you can be pretty sure dummy has a four-card major which, in this case, can only be spades.
- Opener does not have four spades. If he did, he would be in 4♠ instead of 3NT.
- Your partner did not double 2♣ for the lead. You have only five HCP, so it is possible that your partner has some points, and if he had good clubs too, he might have doubled 2♣.
Do you see why the question of asking for a major is so far-reaching? A real hand:
♠K 9 5 43 ♥J 8 2 ♦K Q ♣Q 9 6
This is your hand, and your partner opens 1NT. I suggest that with balanced shape, you should just raise to 3NT. You may miss a spade fit, but you are 4–3–3–3, so finding a spade fit may not be useful. There are many cases in which notrump is superior to playing in a 4–4 major suit fit, and the tipoff is usually responder’s balanced hand.
If, on this hand, you do bid 2♣, your partner bids hearts and you go on to 3NT. The opening leader has the hand I showed you earlier and now, having been warned that dummy has four spades, he may choose another lead. The full deal:
Declarer goes into this hand with two spade winners, two heart winners eventually, three diamonds, and a club. Declarer often ends up with nine tricks on a deal like this, frequently because of a bad lead. If West leads a spade, South has three spade winners. If West leads a heart, that most likely also gives up a trick. The ♣10 lead gives South a trick. Only a diamond is safe.
I am not saying that a diamond is always right, but there are inferences that suggest diamonds are a consideration.
The point of this discussion is simple. When you have a balanced hand with notrump values, raise your partner to 2NT or 3NT according to what you have. Do not bid Stayman unless you have a reason to think a major is better than notrump. Any time you bid Stayman, the opponents will learn a lot, and that may be all they need to defend better than they would if they did not have the information you gave away via Stayman.
This deal can be filed away under the heading “something to think about.”