Good Garbage

To find the best contract after a One No-Trump opening bid, most duplicate bridge players play transfers with five-card Heart or Spade holdings to keep the big hand hidden from the opponents. They also use the 2 Clubs Stayman convention bid to ask for a four-card major and possibly find a 4-4 fit in either Hearts or Spades.

But fewer people play the so-called “Garbage Stayman” convention, in which the responder to the One No-Trump opener also bids 2 Clubs, but then plans to pass whatever rebid the opener makes. The garbage Stayman bidder has few points (hence the name “garbage”) but it just so happens that he or she can support either Spades or Hearts.

And just in case the No-Trump opener bids 2 Diamonds denying a four-card major, he can also pass that bid. If the No-Trump opener has no four-card major, he or she is extremely likely to have at least four Diamonds and if the responder has at least three, he then will pass 2 Diamonds as well.

A responder hand with five high-card points or less and a 4-4-4-1 distribution is ideal for garbage Stayman, although the bid can also be made with a 5-4-3-1 distribution, in any combination of Spades, Hearts and Diamonds.

Using garbage Stayman gave my partner Christine and me a tie for a top board in the club game at the Vero Beach Bridge Center, our home club, on 3-28-2018, when we had some tough luck. We played 13 boards at better than par against only 10 below-par boards and four pars, but we ended up under 50% and got no points. (We had done much better the previous day with 56%, good enough for third place, first in the B stratification in our section, for a haul of .84 MasterPoints.)

Despite the overall sub-par performance on 3-28, we had tops or ties for tops on four boards, including the tie for top on the garbage Stayman board, when we were allowed to play the board in 2 Hearts and made two overtricks for a plus-170 score. No one did any better and the par on the board was plus-100 for the other side, since they had 3 Clubs and we were supposed to sacrifice in 3 Hearts, getting doubled and going Down One.

Obviously we benefitted from defensive errors in both bidding and playing, but the garbage Stayman bid had the additional advantage of keeping the opponents in the dark as to whether the responder had a real Stayman bid or not. Since responder was much more likely to have a real Stayman bid, it had the net effect of intimidating our opponents and keeping them out of the auction.

The hand is a textbook case for garbage Stayman and as such deserves a Bridge Burglar blog entry. Our West opponent who was the victim of our intimidating bidding and then failed to find the best defense will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, in this episode of the adventures of the Bridge Burglar.

For coming up with the creative garbage Stayman bid, Christine who played the North hand that became dummy will assume the role of Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam. I’ll be the South Declarer as Sam’s partner, Shy Shem. Flo plays with her usual East partner, Loyal Larry.

South Dealer; neither side vulnerable

K J 7 2
J 9 6 5 3
8 5 3
West East
9 4 3 Q 10 6
A 10 7 2
A Q   J 10 4 9 2
  J 10 4 K Q 8 6 5 2
A 8 5
K Q 8 4
K 7 6
A 7 3

The Bidding:

South West North East
(Shy Shem) (Flustered Flo) (Smug Sam) (Loyal Larry)
1 NT Pass 2 Double
2 All Pass

Opening lead: Jack of Clubs

Garbage Stayman is an under-utilized bid. Opposite a One No-Trump opener, many players will just pass with 7 points or less and no decent five-card suit. There’s no Game to be had anyway, and One No probably has as good a chance of making than any suit contract at the two level.

That’s not necessarily so, as shown by the diagrammed hand from a recent club game played at Flustered Flo’s home club in which a No-Trump contract will fail badly for North-South because of the defenders’ long Club suit and side entries.

Flo sat West and she had hoped to be able to open a Diamond, but when her right-hand opponent, Shy Shem, opened One No-Trump from the South seat, Flo didn’t have a bid, so she had to pass.

Shem’s North partner, Flo’s nemesis Smug Sam, bid 2 Clubs, using the Stayman convention to look for a four-card major fit. Flo’s East partner, Loyal Larry, used the opportunity to double the artificial 2 Clubs bid asking for a Club lead if Flo turned out to be the leader, and when Shem bid 2 Hearts, everyone passed.

Flo dutifully led the Jack of Clubs, which went around to Shem’s Ace. He immediately led the Heart King to force out Flo’s Ace and Flo didn’t see much future in leading another Club, which would get ruffed in the dummy. Of course she would have liked to get her partner on lead to lead a Diamond to her, but it didn’t look like her partner was ever going to get the lead, so she gave up and led the Ace of diamonds followed by the Queen of Diamonds to Shem’s King.

Shem drew out the last trumps from his opponents’ hands and took the losing finesse on the Queen of Spades, but now Larry didn’t have another Diamond to lead, so he had to give the lead back to Shem, who ran the Spades, sloughing his Diamond loser on the 13th Spade and making his contract with two overtricks for a plus-170 score. All he had lost was the two red Aces and the Queen of Spades.

“Well, at least they didn’t bid the Game,” Flo said to her partner Larry. “Maybe it’ll be a good board for us.”

“I hardly think so, Flo,” said Sam, smug as always. “You can actually hold me to 2 Hearts. You should never lead Diamonds. You have to wait until I break the suit. But besides, it’s actually your hand. You guys can make 3 Clubs and then we have to sacrifice in 3 Hearts and if you double us, you guys get 100 points instead of giving us the points.” The plus-170 was indeed a tie for top for Shem and Sam, and thus a tie for bottom for Flo and Larry.

“But I couldn’t bid after your partner’s No-Trump opening,” Flo said defensively.

“Your partner doubled Clubs indicating a Club suit and you have three Clubs with an honor for him and a full opening hand,” said Sam. “You’ve got to take a shot at 3 Clubs.”

“But you made a Stayman bid,” Flo protested again. “Don’t you need at least 7 or so points for that? That would give you guys at least 22 and make it your hand. Come to think of it, you had only 5 points. How did you dare bid? You just had a bunch of garbage.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment because that’s exactly the point,” said Sam. “It was a garbage Stayman bid, to pass whatever two bid my partner made.”

“But you had five Hearts,” said Flo. “Why didn’t you just transfer to Hearts?”

“I wasn’t exactly proud of my five-card suit to the Jack, and I wasn’t sure I wanted my partner to play the contract in 2 Hearts if he had just two little Hearts, which was a possibility” said Sam. “The whole point is that the garbage 2 Stayman bid is safer because it covers all eventualities. I can pass whatever he says.”

“But if I’m on defense how do I know whether your bid is real Stayman or garbage Stayman?” Flo asked. “I may need to know that so I can decide whether to bid or not.”

“That’s the beauty of the bid,” said Sam. “You don’t know. And it doesn’t do any good to ask my partner. He doesn’t know, either, at least until I pass his next bid.”

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