The little-used convention of “Garbage Stayman” came up the other night at the table — in discussion after the hand, unfortunately, since my partner had never heard of it before the auction started. I don’t find that unusual or blame-worthy in the slightest; I don’t think I’ve seen the potential to use it more than once or twice a decade, and it’s such a tiny convention I don’t think it’s regularly taught. In a room of 299er players, I’d be surprised if 10 percent had ever used it or even heard of it. But when it’s useful, it’s really useful.
I opened 1NT (15-17) and my partner’s hand was approximately: S Jxxx H xxxx D Qxxxx C Void. She passed, quite sensibly with 3 HCP, and I struggled for a while before going down 1. My clubs were Jxx and the opponents managed to cash six or seven of them, as I remember.
It was only after the hand was finished that we realized it would have been perfect for Garbage Stayman. The “garbage” refers to the contents of my partner’s hand, that ugly three-pointer. But the key point is her void in clubs.
After my 1NT, Garbage Stayman suggests that she should have bid 2C and passed any response — probably much to everyone’s surprise. But if you think about it, the hand plays better in 2D, 2H or 2S than in 1NT — there’s a nice ruffing value in clubs. You are guaranteed a 4-4 fit in whatever suit the 1NT opener gets dropped in, unless the 1NT opener has precisely 3-3-3-4 distribution and ends up playing 2D. Even then, you’ll probably do better in 2D than 1NT for the most part. (Okay, I admit, sometimes people open 1NT with a 5-card minor. I’ve done it myself. Well, as I say, one silly contract is much like another, and going down in 1NT or going down in 2D will likely be approximately equal in the matchpoint rankings.)
It certainly goes against the grain to respond with fewer than 8 HCP, and it’s certainly unusual to plan on passing your partner in what is ordinarily a forcing bid. So I’m not surprised that my partner didn’t think of doing this herself at the table, although I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d come up with it, clever bidder that she is. Like I said, this doesn’t come up more than once or twice a decade, but she’ll have it in her bag of tricks for next time. You should too.