In Their Own Words

A New Notrump Convention

by Samuel M. Stayman

The use of the opening one notrump bid to show definite minimum and maximum limits of strength is quite general in the most widely used bidding systems and among the large majority of experts. Incidentally, the strength required, nowadays, doesn’t differ much among systems. Whether they are based on honor count, point count or count by ear, opening notrumps are pretty much the same.

Using the limit notrump, the responder is often faced with a problem. If a response of two of a suit is forcing for one round, it is impossible to reach a partscore contract of two of a suit. When the responder has one or two four-card major suits, it is impossible for him to describe his hand. If the major (or majors) were bid, it is unlikely that the opening bidder would allow for 4-4-3-2 distribution in the responder’s hand. More important, if the responder bids spades and then hearts and the notrump bidder does not know whether four-card for five-card suits are being shown, the game reached may be inferior.

So, when the responder has one five-card major and the minimum values for a raise, the standard action is to raise to two notrump. The possibilities of a major-suit game are by-passed.

In consideration of these faults of standard bidding practice, several new conventions have been tried in recent years. The writer has experimented with new ideas along this line, finally accepting one.

Originally suggested by George Rapee, this convention has been played by several partnerships for over a year. It seems to have worked out very well. Playing with Rapee, Edward Hymes, Howard Schenken and Waldemar van Zedtwitz in rubber games and tournaments, the writer has found it superior to the usual methods of handling responses to one notrump.

The convention:

  1. In response to an opening bid of one notrump in any position, two clubs is artificial and is forcing for one round. Partner is requested, in rebidding, to show a major suit, Q-x-x-x or better.
  2. Rebids (after the two-club response) by the opening bidder:
    • Two hearts or two spades shows possession of the major suit, but implies no added strength.
    • Two diamonds is artificial. It denies possession of a major suit, Qxxx or better. It also shows that the general strength of the hand is minimum within the range employed for one-notrump opening bids.
    • Two notrump, like two diamonds, denies holding a biddable major suit. However, it shows that the general strength of the hand is at or near the maximum of the range for the opening one notrump.
  3. Logical consequences of the two-club convention:
    1. When the first response to partner’s notrump bid is two of any suit except clubs, it is a signoff. It will be passed almost all the time. It shows insufficient strength to raise the notrump contract. With the limit of strength shown by the one-notrump bid, it denies prospects of game. In effect, it simply chooses a contract of two in a suit, in preference to one notrump, for a partscore.
    2. All other responses are natural. Raises to two or three notrump can be made. Jump responses in a suit have their usual meaning.
    3. The inference is clearly present that the failure to respond two clubs, when this convention is being played by the partnership, denies interest in exploring what the conventions could have shown; except
    4. The two-club response, like the opening notrump bid itself, is strictly limited in strength. It denies slam possibilities (through failure to make a natural jump response in a suit). Therefore, after first responding two clubs, the responder may bid very strongly without fear that the notrump bidder will carry the bidding too high.

Let us look at a few examples of the use of the convention. In all the following cases, the bidding has proceeded:

1NT Pass ?

South holds:
♠AJxx   KQxx  xxx   ♣xx

South bids two clubs. If North rebids two hearts or two spades (showing no added strength), South will immediately bid game in that suit.

If North bids two diamonds South will rebid three notrump. (If South should rebid only two notrump, North might well pass. North has already told South that he has a minimum one notrump. If South doesn’t have the values to bid game, why should North take charge and bid again on the same cards? He may, if he has an added jack or so; but the reason for the two-club bid in this case was to probe the possibilities of play in a major suit. There never was a question about reaching game. Therefore, South must bid it.)
♠Axxx  KJxx  xxx  ♣xx

As in the previous case, South bids two clubs. However, South will now raise a two-heart or two-spade rebid only to three of that suit. If North has an absolute minimum, the opportunity is given him to drop the bidding below game.

Is North rebids two diamonds, South now bids only two notrump.

If North rebids two notrump, South goes on to three notrump. Since North has a maximum one notrump, South should go on to game.
♠xx  KQxxx  Qx  ♣xx

South bids two clubs. If North bids two spades or two notrump, South now bids three hearts, giving North a choice between three notrump and four hearts. This tells North that South holds a five-card suit; South would not offer a four-card suit at this point, since it is almost sure that North does not hold four hearts.

If North rebids two hearts, South bids four hearts.

If North rebids two diamonds, South bids two hearts (again, logically, this will show a five-card suit), and game will be reached in hearts or notrump depending on North’s action.
♠Kxxxx  Qxxxx  x  ♣xx

South bids two clubs. If North rebids a major, South can go to game.

If North bids two notrump, South will bid three spades and then four hearts (unless North raises to four spades).

If North rebids two diamonds, South will bid two spades; then only three hearts over two notrump. North could pass three hearts in this sequence with a minimum hand and strength largely in the minors. South, conversely, can pass three spades if North belatedly gives only a preference by bidding three spades over three hearts, very exact information as to the holdings having been exchanged.
♠KJxxx  AJxxx  x  ♣xx

South bids three spades, not two clubs. South knows he will go to game in spades or hearts irrespective of the strength or distribution of the notrump hand. Note, therefore, that showing a 5-5 two-suiter denies this strength when initiated by a two-club response as in the previous example.
♠Jxx  xx  KQxxx  ♣10xx

South bids two clubs. The purpose here is simply to find the strength of the notrump. If North rebids two diamonds, South may pass, but may risk a two-notrump bid.

Here is a hand from the recent Vanderbilt Cup Tournament which displays the convention:

North (Stayman)
♠ A 10 4
K Q J 7 4
10 6 2
♣ 5 3
♠ J 5 3 2
9 8 7
♣ A J 10 9 2
♠ 8 7 6
6 5 3 2
A 5 4
♣ Q 7 6
South (Schenken)
♠ K 9 8
A 10 8
K Q J 3
♣ K 8 4
East South West North
Pass 1NT Pass 2♣
Pass 2 Pass 2
Pass 3 Pass 3NT
Pass 4 All Pass
  1. 2 – The conventional bid. In this case, North expects to get to some game. Initiating this sequence will give a choice between notrump and hearts.
  2. 2 – Conventionally denies a biddable four-card major suit, shows the hand is a minimum one-notrump bid. (Four Aces count 10 ½. This is the bottom.)
  3. 2 – The heart suit must be of five cards, or else it would not be offered when South has denied having four hearts.
  4. 3 – This raise can not be misread. South has shown he doesn’t have four hearts and that he has a minimum notrump.
  5. 3NT – North could have no more even distribution and still have a five-card suit; and he has already shown his five-card suit. He bids three notrump to show that his distribution is proper for notrump play, in spite of the five-card suit. With 5-4-3-1 or 5-4-2-2, North would bid four hearts at this point.
  6. 4 – Reading all of North’s bids together, South realizes that North has 5-3-3-2 distribution. South also knows that North cannot have a very strong hand, because the strength of the two-club response is limited. Assuming that North has 5-3-3-2 distribution and somewhere between 2 and 2 ½ tricks, why did North try to get into a major suit instead of raising the notrump bid earlier? Probably because North has his strength concentrated in two suits – say, with a good heart suit and one outside ace. If this ace is in diamonds, of course, three notrump can probably be run off;but if the ace is in one of the black suits (which is twice as likely), there will be only one stopper in the other black suit and three notrump will probably go down. Even if North has the ace of diamonds, there will still be a good play for four hearts.

This extra-fine bid won its just reward. Four hearts was made easily. Three notrump would have been beaten with any opening.

Reprinted from The Bridge World, June 1945.

About Sam Stayman and George Rapee

Sam Stayman (1909-1993) of Palm Beach FL was a leading bridge administrator, an innovator, an author and a successful business man. Stayman’s name became a household word in bridge circles following the publication of the above article. He was LM #48 and is a member of the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame. Stayman was a Diamond LM with more than 8,000 points at the time of his death. He was the ACBL Honorary Member of the Year in 1969. Stayman won all of the major National Titles a number of times.

George Rapee (1915-1999) of New York City was an attorney and real estate investor. Rapee was LM #44 and is a member of the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame. He won three world championships and 25 North American titles to be noted as one of the most successful and talented players of all time.

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