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June 2019 English Bridge

www.ebu.co.uk

'crawling' Stayman. I'll leave it to you to work out if

it is better to play this auction as specifically 4-5 in

the majors, or include 4-4 and maybe 5-4 weak as

well (the answer depends on how much better you

think a 5-2 fit is than a 4-3, whether a 4-3 fit is better

than 1NT, and how often partner might open 1NT

with 2-2 in the majors).

Now back to the odds question. These

distributional questions can be answered precisely

although not simply, but approximations are often

straightforward as long as you don't need to be too

accurate. You asked the question: if responder is 5-4

in the majors, and opener has a weak NT, how likely

is it that opener has four hearts and only two

spades? To answer this, we need to know what a

'weak NT' looks like - not everyone plays the same

style of 1NT opening. Are you very strict and only

allow 4333 or 4432 (in any order) or 5332 with a 5-

card minor? Do you allow a five card major? What

about four hearts with a five-card minor?

If you are 'strict' then, if opener has four hearts,

he has to be (in order ´-™-t-®) 2434, 2443, 3433,

3442, 3424, 4432 or 4423. There are two possible

shapes with 2-4 in the majors and five with 3-4 or 4-

4. That implies that it's about 70/30 that you have an

eight-card spade fit. These are not all equally likely

because partner will tend to be shorter in the suits

you have length in and the odds are also affected by

responder's minor suit distribution. When I worked

this out in a little more detail, if opener has four

hearts opposite 5-4 in the majors, he will be 4-4 in

the majors about 15% of the time, 3-4 about 45%

and 2-4 about 40%. That is, transferring will get you

to a 5-3 or better spade fit about 60% of the time

and miss out on an eight card fit 40% of the time.

The rough 70/30 estimate was not too far out.

At the other extreme, you might follow the

approach of opening 1NT on anything in range that

vaguely looks like a balanced or semi-balanced

hand. Confining ourselves to opening hands with at

least four hearts leaves us with the possibilities

shown in the table:

Even taking into account that big fits are less

likely than small fits, and that more distributional

hands (eg 2425) are less likely, you can see that you

are much better off looking for a heart fit. (I also

know people who would open 1NT with, say,

´ K ™ QJ104 t KJ102 ® QJ103 and I can certainly

see the temptation. That makes transferring to

spades even less attractive.)

Just to make sure that you can't come to any firm

mathematical conclusion, in my opinion you

shouldn't take either 'extreme' approach to your

1NT opening. Hands such as:

2-4/2-5/3-5 in the majors 3-4 majors 4-4 majors

(best in hearts) (neutral) (best in spades)

2434 3433 4432

2443 3442 4423

2452 3424

2425

2533

3532

3523

´ Q 3 ´ K 2

™ Q J 10 6 2 ™ K J 8 7

t K Q 3 t J 4

® K 5 3 ® A 10 5 4 2

´ 4 2 ´ 8 2

™ A Q 10 9 3 ™ A J 10 5

t A 8 5 t 7 4

® K 4 2 ® A Q J 10 5

should definitely be opened with a weak NT, while

1™ or 1® feels much more descriptive on:

Of course, your dividing line between opening

one of a suit and 1NT will not be the same as mine,

so I am delighted to say that your original odds

question is not in fact simple, it's unanswerable!

In my opinion, opposite a weak NT opening it's

definitely worth using Stayman on weak hands to

try and locate a fit, particularly vulnerable. The

stronger the 1NT opening, the more benefit there is

in giving up on some of the weak hands in favour of

improving constructive bidding. In one

partnership, I play a 10-13 1NT opening first nonvulnerable,

and 2® Stayman might be a weak hand

but opposite the strong 1NT opening in all other

positions, we play that Stayman absolutely promises

invitational or better hands. This isn't a common

agreement, but we play a complex set of

continuations that definitely improve our game and

slam bidding at the expense of the odd worse result

on weaker hands. rlou@ebu.co.uk have a question for Frances, please

send it to the editor, lou@ebu.co.uk for

consideration.

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