stair step to a higher level page Leeway Over Notrump

(rev. 1-16-2011)(rev. 7-10-2020)

Leeway is an amalgamation of several known conventions, plus one I invented, plus a modified Smolen. When used in combination with each other, they allow us to cogently bid all of the meaningfully different hands one can hold as the partner of a 15-17 NT opener (uncontested auctions).

The summary list is shown here with the details below in outline form. Also try the Sequence Page for a complete list of the bids and what each bidding sequence means.
  1. Jacoby Transfers
  2. Leeway Minor Slam Relay (MSR)
  3. Minor Suit Stayman (MSS)
  4. Stayman
  5. Smolen
  6. Two Pesky Hands
  7. Texas Transfers
  8. Three of a minor invitational
  9. Two-Way Two-No (2W2N)
  10. What's Not Here (revised, Jan 2013)

  1. Jacoby Transfers. Use this with any hand containing a 5-card or longer major as long as the hand does not also contain a 4-card major (one exception: See Smolen). Can be used as either a "drop-dead" bid, a game invite or a slam invite; but see Texas Transfer for the one-suited major "game-only" hand.

    Example 1:  KQ9873  743  32  43. Bid 2 and pass partner's spade call.
    Example 2:  KQJ873  K43  82  KQ. Bid 2. When partner bids 2, you bid 4. Since you didn't choose Texas Transfer in the first place, partner understands by inference that your hand will make slam as long as partner's aces and kings are in the right places.

  2. Leeway Minor Slam Relay (MSR). This tool fills an important gap that exists in standard bidding(1). Use it to describe a hand that is all of the following.
    1. It's single-suited (one six-card or longer suit).
    2. Your single suit is a minor, not a major.
    3. You do not also hold a four-card or longer major. (Those hands proceeds via Stayman or Jacoby Transfer.)
    4. The hand is at least mildly slam oriented.

    MSR's calls are as follows.

    • For Responder:
      • A 3 bid shows clubs; a 3 bid shows diamonds.
    • The 1NTer's second call:
      • Holding a small doubleton in your suit, the 1NTer refuses the transfer with a 3NT call. This must end the auction unless the responding hand is strong enough to demand a slam facing most NT openers.
      • With a better holding in the transferred minor, partner accepts the transfer. After acceptance, most slam methods are available: Kickback and cue bidding particularly recommended.

    Example A:  K9  3 AQJ9632  K43. Bid 3. If partner answers with 3NT, this hand is not so hot for a diamond slam. If he bids 4, you are off to the races.

    Consider that the 1NTer might hold any of the following hands facing Example A above.

    1.  QJ873  K4  K84  AQJ. (Yes, a mangy 5-card major.) He accepts the transfer by bidding 4. Holding no Blackwood No-Nos(2) responder uses Kickback (4) and the auction screeches to a halt in 5 when we discover that two key cards are missing. And a bonus: if the Kickback reply happens to be 4NT, one can pass for the extra score (at matchpoints).
    2.  AQ73  KQJ3  74  A92. With a puny doubleton in diamonds, but excellent slam controls in all other suits, opener can go directly to Kickback on his own with a notrump slam in the crosshairs.
    3.  A7  Q874  K74  AQJ2. No matter where partner's shortness may be, this 1NT opener fits well enough to at least investigate for slam. This hand accepts the transfer and mentally prepares for a cue bidding sequence since the hand does contain a Blackwood No-No [the heart suit, Patricia]. With the actual partner hand, responder's second call is Kickback, and you sail into 6. Others will struggle to diagnose both the heart shortness and the excellent diamond fit.

      One Final Thing. Some ask "What if I have six cards in one minor and four in the other? Isn't there a conflict between this and Minor Suit Stayman?"
      Answer: No. MSR's third qualifier prohibits four in a major, not four in a minor. Consider the two following possibilities, keeping in mind that either minor could face two or three small ones in the 1NTer's hand and that either could face five of them.

      •  K9  3 AQJ632  KQ43.
      •  AK  3 AKJ632  J432.
      • In both cases, the quality of the clubs in the 1NTer's hand will be critical no matter what the final contract, so you might as well give both minor suits a chance (Minor Suit Stayman).

        In addition to all of this, keep in mind that when your longer suit is an auxiliary suit (rather that being trump) and the 1NTer has more than a couple of them with you, the chances of the suit being ruffed on the opening lead increase by leaps and bounds for every additional card. This makes us lean toward making the longer suit trump when we hold so many of them.

  3. Minor Suit Stayman. This convention is well documented elsewhere and is not detailed here. Basically, MSS allows us to explore for minor suit slams in hands where we hold nine or more cards in the minors (a two-suited hand). It also does double duty as the drop dead for diamonds in the following sequences.
    1NT - 2 - 2NT - 3 - pass
    1NT - 2 - 3 - 3 - pass
    1NT - 2 - 3 - pass

  4. Stayman. Most hands containing a four-card major need to begin with Stayman(3). But we also use this route to handle the flat notrump invite. For example, when holding   A83  J98  QJ94  J93. Since the 1NT - 2NT sequence is taken for something else, one must invite the notrump game via Stayman. This hand is revealed when responder's second call is 2NT. One may have to alert the 2 call with "Does not promise a 4-card major."

  5. Smolen (modified). This Stayman add-on contributes an important feature for tournament players: In addition to giving the 4-card major a chance, one can also reveal an additional longer major while still making the 1NTer be the declarer (like a transfer). However, the common version of Smolen contains a serious flaw: There is no passable invitational sequence with the 5-4 and 6-4 hand patterns. With this modified version, there is. (BTW the original Smolen is covered in excellent detail elsewhere and is not repeated here.) Try BridgeGuys.

    The changes:
    1. The drop dead bid. We accomplish this via Jacoby transfer in one bid.
    2. Leap to 3 or 3. These bids are unused.
    3. Simple (non-jump) bid in the other major (forcing). Rather than leaping to 3 or 3 bid just 2 in the shorter major.
      Opener rebids 2NT having a doubleton in the other major and a minimum NT;
      Opener rebids 3NT having a doubleton in the other major and a maximum NT;
      Opener rebids 3 of the other major with three pieces and a minimum;
      and yes, 4 of the other major with three pieces and a better NT hand.

      Even if the 1NTer turns down the transfer the first time, the responder can repeat the transfer to insist when holding six or seven of them. As in the following sequence:

      Opener Responder
      1N 2
      3NT*2 4*3
      *1: Please bid spades (5+ of them)
      *2: Max NT, but doubleton spades
      *3: Pretty please bid spades (6+ of them)
      *4: Oh, all right [grumble, grumble]

  6. Two Pesky Hands. There are two other hands that bug bridge players the world over: Your hand pattern is five-five in the majors and your hand value is either invitational or game forcing. How do you handle both of these without disturbing your other systemic bells and whistles? Here is my solution.

    1. Invitational. Transfer, then rebid the hearts. 1N - 2 - 2 - 3. Opener will pass holding a minimum and three hearts. This is the only combination in the entire Leeway structure where the notrumper will not be the declarer. If he calls 3 spades, preferring that suit, that ends the auction. And he is of course free to accept your invitation and go directly to game in either major.

      IMPORTANT: If your style allows you to be two-two in the majors and still open 1NT, not to worry - the hand will play better in a suit contract despite the 7-card fit. Just don't pull this on partner when you are staring at two bad doubletons. Such as:

      You:  83     92     AQJ9  AKJ93.
      Me:  Q9763  AQ854  65  2.

      On this combination, it's far more important to use bids that reveal the misfit so that you don't go beyond the two level; so let the hand proceed via suit calls. It will also help keep peace in the family if you avoid giving your unsuspecting partner the impression that either of his majors will do as a mighty fine resting spot.

    2. Game Force. Start with Stayman. If partner has no four-card major, leap to 4 diamonds.
      1N - 2 - 2 - 4. For most players, this is an unused sequence.

      Me:  KJ     AQ     A632  J9873.
      You:  Q9763  KJ543  95  A.

      This time, despite the two doubletons and the seven-card fit, the notrumper's extra firepower in the majors renders the major-suit contract clearly better. Imagine how very much better it will be when the notrumper is more balanced.

  7. Texas Transfer. We use this gateway for two hand types; both types start with a 4-level transfer bid:
    4 when holding six or more hearts,
    4 when holding six or more spades.
    Also, the hand must not contain four cards in the other major; for that hand, try Section V - Smolen.

    1. Type One is this:  3  KJ9876  QJ43  Q93. It contains a six-card or longer major, no 4-card major, sufficient strength for game, and no designs on slam (a "game and only game hand").

    2. Type Two is this:  void  AQJ9764  KJ3  K93. This hand is a slam goer of the first magnitude and needs little more help than to know how many slam controls partner owns outside the spade suit. Enter "Exclusion Blackwood."

      After the 1NTer's forced 4 call, a new suit bid shows a void and requires the 1NTer to reveal in step order how many key cards he owns outside the void suit (0,1,2,3). And yes, 4NT is one of the allowed steps.

  8. Three of a minor invitational. This tool handles one specific hand that can be described no other way:  3  876  AQJ943  1093.
    No, it is not a 7-point hand; it's a five-trick hand that is just four tricks shy of game, 3NT, when the hand facing it has the one missing diamond honor and three other tricks (not a great challenge to put on the 1NT opener).
    So, over 1NT, bid 3 with this collection. Stated as rule: You need a six- or seven-card minor suit containing three of the suit's four face cards. The 1NTer can bravely bid 3NT when he holds the missing honor and nothing disastrous in the other suits. He must pass when he does not hold the one missing honor.

    The running suit makes all the difference between a game bonus and a drop dead bid. For example, the 1NT bidder can hold any of these hands.
    1.  QJ9  KJ94  K8  KQ72. No help in three suits informs opener that 3NT is a rather high risk contract. He may choose to bid it anyway, but at least he knows.
    2.  QJ9  AK54  K6  A762. Partner can almost claim 3NT (or 4) before the auction ends.
    3.  J64  KQJ4  K6  AK62. You may be the only partner in the room who gets the disaster alert for spades. Others who hold this maximum will be unable to hit the breaks in time.

  9. Two-Way Two-No (2W2N). The 1NT - 2NT sequence is our gateway for two very different kinds of hands. For both types, the 1NTer is required to say "Three Clubs" (no exceptions unless your RHO preempts).

    Then the fun begins.
    1. Type 1 is the well known drop dead in clubs where you hold  432  75  86  J87543.
    2. Type 2 is a lesser known problem hand: the 4-4-4-1 slammish hand (4). Let's say   KJ32  AQ75  8  K943. This hand has four important attributes, and the 1NTer needs to know all of them:
      1. It's slammish if the 1NTer holds little if any diamond duplication;
      2. There are three suits eligible to become our slam trumps, not just two;
      3. He must hold at least four cards (not 3) to have a suit fit;
      4. And unlike the other multi-suited bids in the other sections of this document, you hold just four cards in these suits; in other words, no five-carder.

        The significance of the four-carder versus the five-carder cannot be overstated. A nine-card fit (rather than eight) increases the playing value of a hand by about a trick and a half. Using 2W2N with this hand allows you, by inference, to inform partner about a five card auxiliary suit when you use one of the other Leeway conventions: for example, starting with Stayman and following up with a diamond bid.

        When responder does not pass the opener's mandatory 3 call, he reveals this strong three-suiter by bidding his singleton (3NT reveals the club singleton, so listen carefully).

        The 1NTer has two choices on his next call:
        1) Settle for 3NT when holding duplication in partner's singleton; or
        2) bid 4 of a suit in which he has four (can be five) pieces opposite one of the 2W2N-bidder's suits and little or no duplication opposite parter's shortness.
        And don't get cute about it, a simple suit agreement at this point paves the way (This gadget is fancy enough already). After announcing suit agreement, your partnership is off to the races again with cue bidding or Kickback.

  10. What's Not Here. (revised, Jan 2013)

    1. Puppet Stayman.
      Many players try to fold Puppet Stayman into the 1NT mix, where responder employs a bid, commonly 3, that asks the 1NTer whether he holds a 5-card major.

      Example: If the 1NTer can hold a hand like this:
       KQJ85   J5   AJ6   KJ3

      Opposite a responder who holds:
       A92   K2   K32   Q9754.

      or a responder who holds:
       972   62   K32   A9754.

      In both cases, the major suit combination is much better. The reason for first one is obvious. The reason for the second is that with 7 HCP, responder will pass 1NT, but will raise a partner who has opened with 1. The latter case should result in a reasonable game. 1NT likely fares much worse.

      Conclusion: To decide between opening 1NT and one of a major, do the latter on a high-quality suit; do the former holding a mangy major.

      A really mangy major is obvious:  Q9754; and equally obvious is a really strong one such as the Puppet example above. The key then is to decide where to draw the line. This decision is, in turn, decided by what second bid the opener might make.
      • With a strong suit, open the major and jump next time if the sequence calls for it, such as: 1 - 1 - 3 ...
      • With a mangy 5-card major, choose the 1NT opener.
      • A suit containing three face cards is "strong"; anything less is "mangy."

    2. Flat Hand Stayman.

      In Flat Hand Stayman, the 1NTer's partner announces a 4-3-3-3 hand pattern with game values via a 3 or 3 call. Long story short: I studied this convention via computer and found that it's a break even: you neither gain nor lose with it. In some cases, you get a worse result because you gave the defense too much information. In other cases, you end up in the same spot with no difference in the outcome, and so on. There were five common outcomes.

      With nothing to gain, it was easy to discard this convention.

    In conclusion, using the Leeway amalgamation, one is very hard pressed to suggest any combination of cards that is difficult to bid optimally over partner's standard 15-17 one notrump opening.


    1. One word about another popular method: Four-Suit Transfers (4ST). For the MSR examples here, 4ST will probably work equally well. Unfortunately, 4ST's leap to three clubs precludes us from showing the one-suited game-invitational hand (See Section VIII). Also, 4ST disables us from revealing the 2W2N hand shown in Section IX.

    2. A Blackwood No-No is either a void, or any non-trump suit where the defenders can take two off the top. One must use another method such as Exclusion or cue bidding when holding a Blackwood No-No.

    3. The big exception being the 4-4-4-1 slammish hand covered in Section IX.

    4. Advanced Bridge Bidding for the 21st Century. Max Hardy. P 98. ISBN 1-58776-125-6.

Last updated: July 26, 2014 14:40