Monday 14 April 2008

Stayman v. Keri

Keri is Ron Klinger's system of responses to a 1NT opening, as described in his book "Bid Better, Much Better After Opening 1NT". I played this in my partnership with Mark. But since then I've gone back to ordinary Stayman, and in this post I'll try to explain why.

In Keri a 2C response forces opener to bid 2D. There are then three basic sequences which take care of the hands which would have bid Stayman in standard methods:
  • 1NT : 2C , 2D : 2M shows an invitational hand with 4 or 5 cards in the major.
  • 1NT : 2D , 2H : 2S shows an invitational hand with both majors. (The 2D response in Keri is a transfer to hearts, but differs from a standard transfer in that in can have only 4 hearts if it is invitational with both majors.)
  • 1NT : 2C , 2D : 2NT shows a game-forcing hand.

The first of these sequences is the one we need to focus on, since it is the only really fundamental part of the system. (There are variants of Keri which deal with game-forcing hands differently to the "book" version above.)

The idea is that after 1NT : 2C , 2D : 2M opener will pass with a minimum hand with 3 or 4 cards in the major. Thus a big advantage of Keri is being able to stop in 2M - particularly when this is a 4-4 fit (where a Stayman auction would have reached 3M after 1NT : 2C , 2M : 3M) or a 5-3 fit. There are plenty of examples of this in the book. The disadvantages, on the other hand, are not so clearly spelt out!

The main problem with the 1NT : 2C , 2D : 2M sequence is the ambiguity in responder's major-suit length. It could be either 4 or 5 cards - and having to cater for both is a little uncomfortable. In particular, it makes a difference to the the type of hand on which opener wants to accept the invitation. When responder has only 4 cards in the major he is mainly interested in whether opener is minimum or maximum in high cards. But when responder has a 5-card suit, fit tends to be more important. In an attempt to cater for both types, Keri uses a 3C bid by opener to show a minimum with good fit - but of course when you do this you are losing the chance to play in 2M, which was supposed to be the advantage of playing Keri. And in any case this still doesn't solve the problem that there can be a big difference between 2- and 3-card support when responder has 5-cards, but there isn't when responder has only 4.

Another issue is that you frequently play in a 4-3 fit. Opener passes the 2M bid whenever he is minimum with 3-card support. As Klinger's book points out, this often works quite well. But it does rather depend on the hand. Playing a 4-3 fit looks great when responder has a good suit and opener has a weak side-suit doubleton. It looks rather less clever when responder's suit is bad and/or opener is flat. The difference is highlighted at matchpoints where you are going very much against the field (and if 2M makes the same number of tricks as no-trumps you will score badly). Unfortunately the system forces you to play 2M every time. So you end up with some good results and some bad results. Klinger's book seems to be trying to persuade us that it is a winner on average; this wasn't my impression from playing it.

There is no doubt that when responder has a five-card suit and the invitation is rejected, you are pleased to be able to play in 2M. But here Stayman can be even better than Keri, at least when the suit is spades. Playing Stayman we can use 1NT : 2C , 2red : 2S to show an invitational hand with 5 spades. When this comes up we get all the benefits of Keri but without the ambiguity about spade length. As mentioned above, this helps opener in knowing when to accept the invitation. But, even better, it means that opener can pass with a doubleton. A 5-2 fit does tend to play better than no-trumps, particularly if responder is unbalanced. In Keri you have to bid 2NT over 2S with a doubleton spade, in case responder has only four. But when responder has a 5-card suit you would generally prefer to play 2S in the 5-2 fit rather than 2NT.

This is not available when the suit is hearts. If we play Stayman we have to start with a transfer on an invitational hand with 5 hearts. My preference is that opener should be keen to super-accept with a good heart fit, so when responder has a borderline invitation he should transfer and then pass 2H. This can also work better than Keri on those hands (since we play 2H rather than 2NT opposite a doubleton). On the other hand, a sound, fairly balanced invite with hearts is certainly better bid in Keri.

One nice thing about Keri is the continuations after a transfer: because 2NT is not needed as invitational, it can be used to improve the game-forcing sequences instead. However, this is not really an advantage of Keri since it can also be easily incorporated into a Stayman-based system. Playing Stayman-then-2S as an invite frees up 1NT : 2H , 2S : 2NT just like in Keri; and if we are playing Stayman we don't need to use 1NT : 2D , 2H : 2S for 4-4 majors like Keri does, so there is plenty of room here as well.

There are more problems if you play the "book" version of Keri. One that particularly bothers me is that while Stayman is notorious for giving away information to the opponents unnecessarily (when opener shows or denies a major that responder is not interested in), Keri is, if anything, even worse in this respect. After 1NT : 2C , 2D : 2NT opener reveals whether or not he has a doubleton, even though this information may not be needed by responder. A similar thing happens after 1NT : 2C , 2D : 2M if opener has enough to accept the invite. Against opponents who are good enough to make use of the information this is a very bad idea.

Finally, you do need to think carefully about how you will cope with interference, and the book is a little short on detail here. I remember once, after bidding 2C and hearing a 2S overcall, not being sure whether 3D would now be weak or invitational. (It may not even be possible to distinguish.) In the Junior Camrose this year a player responded 2D to 1NT on an invitational hand with 5 spades and 4 hearts, and then heard a 2S overcall! This should have gone for a four-digit penalty, but instead they had a misunderstanding and ended up in a silly contract. A transfer which only guarantees 4 cards does tend to cause problems in competition even if you are well-prepared. More generally, you'd better be sure you know how much of the artificiality applies in a competitive auction. This significantly increases the amount of work involved.

My conclusion is that while Keri is a decent alternative to Stayman, it certainly isn't "Much Better" as the title of the book claims. Perhaps the best thing about the system is that if you and your partner both know the book, you can agree "Keri" and immediately have a complex, rather effective system ready to go, without needing to develop it for yourself. But, in my opinion, if you had a book which was based on Stayman that could be even more effective.


Anonymous said...

Now that is really where I beg to differ, David. We analysed our results playing Keri and compared them, (roughly of course), to what would have happened in stayman auctions. We figure we were well ahead. However we play mainly Imps and at pretty high levels; if you play MPs your mileage may well differ.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I take it you just transfer with weak 54xx hands if you play stayman-then-2S as any invite with 5 spades? I'll mention that idea to partner...

DavidC said...

Yep that's right.

Martin Carpenter said...

Doesn't passing 4/5 card invites with 4 card support also runs a real risk of missing games when responder has a 5 card suit and distribution?

For me the place that Keri(ish) things make most sense is auctions like 1C - 1H - 1NT etc. Very easy to use there.

My pet idea is 2C = 4+ spades (GI if 4) and 2D/H for the hands with 4+H (2H =GI, 5H or Bal). 2S+ for the minor suit style hands.
Potentially canaped retransfers after 2C/D.

Over 2C then 2D = 2 spades, 2H/S = 3 spades min/max, 2NT = 4 spades.

Conceptually it seems rather nice (esp with 4 Major, 5+ minor) but I've not yet really given a proper testing.
(due to hardly playing :))

Anonymous said...

Hang on - if you are playing non-promissory Stayman then 1NT-2C-2H-2S could still be on a four-card suit.

MickyB said...

I think there's one other hand-type where Stayman fairs much better than Keri, and that's a responding hand with both majors of roughly invitational strength.

With, say, Axxxx KTxx xxx x or QTxxx Axxxx xx x opposite a strong NT, you really need to be able to bid Stayman, planning to go for game opposite a 4cM and play a part-score otherwise. I was messing around with something like Martin suggests but the inability to handle this hand-type led to me giving up.

Yes, there are conflict issues between 2C then 2S as 5S INV and non-prom Stayman. I know which I'd rather have - inviting through Stayman when you are not looking for a fit gives away *so* much information (not just opener's shape but also indicating passive vs active leads, lead-directing dbls/overcalls) that I'm happy to give up on it - either bid 3NT or pass.

Martin Carpenter said...

Yes invitational hands with both majors are a little tricky for my kind of set up. (also for Keri)

In fact 5+S,=4H is downright tough - you can start with 2C and find the degree of S fit at least but could lose a big H fit.
With 55+ you can show the H later when you don't find a fit.

If this did prove to be a serious issue you could use one of 2D or 2H to show 2S and 4+H. It's probably more important to show range with 3 card support though.
(indeed it basically doesn't work if you don't)

Sadly after 1NT - 2C - 2D you need 2H as a wk/GF retransfer with 5+S (2S = GI).

With 44 or 4S, 5+H you just have to start with an initial GI 2H response. Effectively just like Keri I think.

As long as you don't pass 2H too much this should work OK.

Other 55+ hands do quite nicely of course - you show the main major, catch the degree of fit and bid from there.

There's also a weakness with 5332 types, although that could maybe be worked around somehow.

Steven said...

I don't use Keri but use the system which I think Klinger currently recommends and explains in his recent book "5 Card Major Stayman".

With partners that don't play it I find standard methods more difficult. I use is with 15-17 NT and 17-20 NT (Klinger's Power System).

pattayabridge said...

I know nothing about Keri and like to play 'Garbage' Stayman, which I believe is the most commonly used form of Stayman. So the statement "Playing Stayman we can use 1NT : 2C , 2red : 2S to show an invitational hand with 5 spades" is not true using Garbage Stayman as 1NT - 2c - 2d - 2s shows a weak hand with 5 spades and 4 hearts. Incidentally, the sequence 1NT - 2d - 2h - 2s is undefined by many partnerships and some use it to show an invitational 5-card spade suit not good enough to transfer and then invite.

Unknown said...

I’m a little late with the blog but feel compelled to add my comments. I use KERI with 2 of my most regular partners and have nothing but praise for the system. Our positives far outweigh the negatives and unlike a previous poster I do primarily play MP’s.

Of course there will be times when you are against the field and get a rock bottom as are the times when we’ve received an outright top. But overall we’re definitely well in the ‘positives’.

I tend to find it works best with a weak NT (esp good with the Mini-NT) as it rights the contract more often.
It’s particularly good at finding the right strain when holding game values, whether that be 4M in 5-2 fits or 3NT when holding 4-4 major fits (when it is right to do so).
The ability of weak T/O into diamonds at the 2 level shouldn’t be under estimated.
The difficult hand shapes (for instance, differentiating between 5431 and 55xx shapes without going past 3NT as well as 4441 hands) become easy. Indeed the number of ‘good’ slams that we’ve found on minimum values have greatly improved and in turn for us have made the game more fun.
The ability to RKCB below game level is terrific.
Quantitive sequences can be done below 3NT.
The ability to show partner 5M332 shapes with a good/bad trump suit with game values.
And I could go on..

It’s quite possible that the system builders out there could write a book with some good blanket rules for the "Stayman system", but until there is one that addresses as much as Klingers book does – I, for one, will stick with “Bid better, much better over 1NT”

Nick Warren said...

Um - a very late comment... P and I are looking at using Keri - or a variant thereof. It looks to us that , at MP, we will be about the same - maybe a little better - but not much - at IMPs we should be distinctly better off. This is in the context of a 14-16(17) NT - opposite a weak NT - hmm - well I imagine it is better against a stronger range personally.

One downside to using it straight out of the book is that he doesn't seem to have given enough thought to one or two sequences - in particular what you do with GF 5D+4M. It can be fixed - indeed I sorta fixed it - then found I was reinventing the wheel - see Keri-Garrod for anyone interested.

Anonymous said...

One thing that Keri does not seems to take into account is what to do if you open 1nt with "offshape" hands, which i belive many do.
If you open 1nt with:
-a sixcard minor
-Some 5-4-2-2 hands
-some 5-4-3-1 hands

You cannot show your hand after the bidding starts

A solution for this might be to bid something else than 2di as opener over 2cl
(ex: 2h=5-4 minor with 5 clubs, 2s=5-4 minor with 5 diamonds, and 3 minor= 6 cards.)

Unknown said...

Opening 1NT with off suit shapes is something I tend not do when using the KERI syatem, unless of course I'm prepared to respond my 6322 shape as a 5332 etc. It works for me to keep my NT openings/rebids 'pure' and leaving suit openings followed by a suit response for off shapes, sure 2-4-5-2 with the values in the short suits might have be better off opened 1NT, but as in life you can't have everything.