Polling You #61, Jacoby Transfer Bids in Contract Bridge

It seems a bit ironic that after opening 1 or 2 Notrump with a strong hand, we are relegated to have our partner control the auction.  However, on reflection it certainly makes sense that since opening Notrump shows a very well defined hand, we need responder’s help to steer the auction to the ideal contract.

And so it goes with the Jacoby transfer bid.  And better yet, the responder both directs the auction and pays partner the compliment using bids to allow the Notrump opener to actually be declarer – how thoughtful.  Better yet, having the strong hand play the contract is a great way to win extra tricks.

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Jacoby Transfer – Opening Notrump

  • Opener bids Notrump (1N, 2N…)
  • Well defined points (as 15-17 HCP) and shape
  • Balanced hand with 2+ cards in every suit
  • Turns over bidding leadership to partner – Responder provides direction (may ask & tell)

General Notrump Bidding Philosophy

  • Find an 8+ card major suit fit
  • Lacking a fit, generally play in Notrump
  • Responder makes conventional “asking” bids
  • Opener provides conventional “answering” rebids
  • Stayman: 1 NT Opener rebid has 3 responses
  • Jacoby Transfer: Opener has mandatory rebid

Benefits: Stronger Hand Plays Contract

  • The opponents cannot see honors
    • Harder to deduce partners honors
    • More difficult to figure finesses
  • Strong hand initially is in fourth seat
    • Lead comes up to strong hand
    • Leader or partner may be finessed

Review – Basics of Stayman Convention

  • With 4 card major and invitational
    or above values, Responder bids 2
    1N – 2
    C; ?
  • Asks opener to disclose major suit holding
  • – Bid 4 card major “up the line” (2H, 2S)
  • – Bid 2D lacking a major suit
  • As Captain, Responder controls auction, perhaps asking Opener more questions as
    invitational 2 Notrump rebid, etc

Differences – Stayman and Jacoby Transfer

  • Stayman – 4 card major seeking 4
  • Stayman – Responder has 7+ points*
  • Jacoby – Responder 5+ card major*
  • Jacoby – May have any/no points

Introduction – Jacoby Transfer Convention

  • With 5+ card major suit, Responder
    bids suit one less than 5+ card major suit
    1N – ?
  • Responder bids
  • 1. With 5+ Hearts, bids 2 Diamonds
    1N – 2
    D; 2H
  • 2. With 5+ Spades, bid 2 Hearts
    1N – 2
    H; 2S
  • Opener is obligated to accept transfer*

Responder Jacoby Rebid Strategy

  • With a 5+ card suit, Responder always begins with a transfer, regardless of points
  • With a 6+ card major, Responder insists on trump suit (known 8+ card major suit fit)
  • With a 5 card major suit:
    • With less than 8 distributional points, Pass rebid
    • With 8-9 distributional points, continue bidding…

Responder – Jacoby Rebids

  • 1N – 2H Rebids
    – ?    Less than 8 points – Pass
    With 8 – 9 distribution points…

                 – If 5 Spades, Invite 2 Notrump

                 – If 6 Spades, Invite 3S

                 With 10-14 distribution points…

                 – If 5 Spades,  Rebid 3 Notrump

                 – If 6 Spades,  Rebid 4S

  • 1N – 2H Rebids with 15+
    S – ?    distributional points
  •               – Explore slam
  •                 – With controls, 4N Ace-asking
  •                 – Without controls, cuebid control
    “up the line” (Aces @ 3 level)

                – Prefer not to bid second suit to
show so-so 2 suiter game hand

Impact of Responder Passing with a 5 card major

  • If Responder passed 1NT with a
    5 card major (opener promises 2+ cards)
  • Balanced 5-3-3-2, deal 100 hands:
    Tricks Available=Percentage Made
    Playing in 1NT      Playing in 2 
    H / S 
  • 2 points   7=  6%, 8=  1%           7=54%, 8=22%
  • 4 points   7=30%, 8=  9%         7=80%, 8=52%
  • 6 points   7=69%, 8=36%         7=94%, 8=79%

Responder Jacoby Transfer Statistics

Deals: 100 hands, Fit: 5+2, 5+3, 5+4

        Tricks Available=Percentage Made

  •    Balanced 5-3-3-2         Unbalanced 5-x-x-x   
  • 2 points   7=54%, 8=22%   7=65%, 8=27%
  • 4 points   7=80%, 8=52%   7=95%, 8=64%
  • 6 points   7=94%, 8=79%   7=99%, 8=89%


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Happy Bridge Trails and Tales,



  1. Steve Klein says:

    You list “Stronger hand plays contract” as the major benefit of the Jacoby transfer. To me, this is just icing. The real power of this bid is that it allows you to deal with both rescue hands (transfer and pass) and invitational or game hands (transfer and bid again). I learned to play before the Jacoby transfer was invented, and each partnership had to decide whether to play 2D/2H/2S over 1NT as rescue or invitational. Whichever path you chose, the other one was closed to you.

  2. Jerrold Miller says:

    Along with Jacoby transfers, Texas transfers are quite useful. with only a game going hand and 6+ card in a major, it gets you to where you want to go quickly and limits the opponents from interfering at a low level. Also, it allows the sequence 1N-2H-2S-4S to indicate slam interest, as responder would use Texas if only interested in game. I am aware of no downside to incorporating Texas transfers into ones conventions.

  3. BridgeHands says:
    Hello Steve and Jerrold,
    Yes, great point Steve. As Bridge Teachers who also teach Notrump responses to newcomer Bridge students, we can certainly relate to your thoughts. And interestingly, running hundreds of hands through a double dummy simulator actually shows only a few percentage improvement having the stronger hand play! Yet in real life where the computer does not have the advantage of “peeking” into opponents hands (double dummy style), it turns out that for humans playing the stronger hand as declarer certainly has a clear advantage.
    Jerrold, as we will discuss in a future lesson, playing both Jacoby and Texas transfers also has other subtle advantages that allow players to incorporate quantitative slam tries into some of the former Jacoby transfer bids.
    Stay tuned,
  4. Jeff Holst says:

    You state that Opener is obligated to accept the transfer. Are you going to discuss super-accepts in a future lesson?

    With many of my partners, I do not bid 2 of the major with if I have 4 (or more!) of the suit. In a recent tournament, we would have missed game without a super-accept. Opener had bid 1NT with a 5 card major and was transferred into that major! Repsonder was not quite invitational opposite a random 1NT hand, but with a 10 card fit, game was on.

    • Bob Lake says:


      Maybe that’s a good argument for not opening 1NT with a 5-card major? I find that in many cases its just too hard to “catch up” on suit selection. I sometimes bid 1NT with a 5-card major, but follow a disciplined style to results in few such bids. Hardy suggests that a hand should have 3 characteristics before one opens NT with a 5cM. First, the opener should have 3 cards in the other major (in case of a transfer); second, the hand should be “texturish”, not “toppish”; and third, the hand should have tenaces.

      I find few hands that have these 3 characteristics, so I seldom open NT with a 5cM.

      • BridgeHands says:
        Hi Bob,
        Yes, there are a fair number of Bridge teachers that adhere to the “Max Hardy style” and promote it to their advanced students. However, when kibitzing top pros such as Rodwell and Meckstroth, you’ll find many do not follow such a rigid criteria to open 1 Notrump with a 5 card major. Typically the critical element is a lack of honor concentration in the 5 card major suit, which makes a lot of sense and can be validated with Bridge simulation programs – and yes, they do extensive research studies to improve their hand evaluation criteria, bidding style, and methods. Such tools were not available (or used) back in Max Hardy’s era.
        Good luck, Michael
    • BridgeHands says:
      Hi Jeff,
      Yes indeed! In fact, to illustrate the power of “working honors” in responder’s 5 card major suit, in our upcoming lesson we will evaluate this impact when opener makes a super-acceptance bid. While our lesson will stick to the basics of super-acceptance, some play a more sophisticated version of super-acceptance, as:
      1N – 2D; 2N 17 points (“slow shows”), 4-3-3-3, max
      1N – 2D; 3H 15-16 points (“fast denies”), non-max
      1N – 2D; 3C 2 Clubs, max
      1N – 2D; 3D 2 Diamonds, max
      (see Better Bidding With Bergen: Volume 1 – Uncontested Auctions, page 71)
      Warm Regards, Michael
      • richbria says:

        However – a word of caution about “super-accepts”. It is rather discouraging for partner, who transfers with a five card Spade suit headed by the nine, and no other points for the contract to be in a partnership going down in 3 Spades, but making 2 Spades when 1NT does not make!

        • BridgeHands says:
          Hello Rich,
          Well, this certainly would be the worst scenario! Yet in the long run it’s much better to design systems based on the majority of cases. For instance, even when playing in an 8 card trump fit the opponents may set the contract with a 28 percent 4-1 fit or 4 percent 5-0 bad trump split. To help ally your concerns, when the 1 Notrump opener has 17 HCP that leaves 23 HCP, or nearly 8 HCP for each player. So the odds of partner having 0 points is most unlikely.
          To quantify your bleak situation, I ran a simulation generating 100 hands. Bidding 3 Spades the contract makes 9 tricks 24 percent of the time, 8 tricks 60 percent of the time (down 1). And believe it our not, it actually makes 10 tricks 7 percent of the time!
          But more importantly, when opponents have 23 HCP and likely a long 9 card fit (mathematically always an 8 card fit somewhere), it’s probable they will make more tricks in another suit – perhaps even missing a 4 Heart game. Thus, even in a critical International championship representing their country, the world class champions have no concern responder might be bust when making a super acceptance bid.
          Happy Bridging, Michael
      • doriander says:

        hi michael
        you bring the case of suoeracceptance
        1nt 2d; 3d 4 hrts 2d and max
        the problem is you take away from the responder the 3d retransfer bid
        therefore in this case it is better to bid 2nt and not 3d
        another point is the superacceptance with max 3 trumps including 2 of the top three honors

        like akx for example many employ in this case also the 2nt acceptance bid
        third point is the walsh relay
        1nt 2d 2h 2sp 2nt where 2sp cancelled the transfer forcing 2nt and now responder can show different
        minor slam tries


        • BridgeHands says:
          Hello Doriander,
          Yes, with creative agreements, novel super-acceptance methods can be helpful like your suggested auction:
          1N – 2D;
          3D!.. to show opener with a maximum hand, 4 trump AND certain characteristics in the LOWER-RANKING suit (controls, etc).
          To your super-acceptance point with less than 4 implied trump (3 trump including 2 of the top 3 honors), instead I value the benefits of shape – disclosing a 9 card fit over 2 of top 3 honors in the transfer suit. If my partner has a slammish hand, our trump quality will be discovered using 1430 or RKC. OTOH, with the almighty 9 (or even 10) card trump suit and a side suit doubleton, making a hard to discover slam may offer a real advantage over flatter hands (5-3 trump fit and 1N opener with a more balanced hand).
          1N – 2D;
          2H – 2S… I tend to go by the more classic treatment (Bill Root’s “Conventions” book) where the sequence is NOT forcing with a shapely 4=5=x=x hand and few points (opener typically passes to 2S or corrects to 3H). However, if you find it preferable to use this sequence as a FORCING slam try, go for it.
          Cheers, Michael
    • BridgeHands says:
      Hi Jeff,
      Yes, we covered quite a few hands in lesson #62 that coincidentally involved responder hand evaluation after opener super-accepts. Using actual data using a Bridge simulator, we quantify the results to offer insights you won’t find in the Bridge books…
      Enjoy, Michael
  5. Bob Lake says:

    Maybe that’s a good argument for not opening 1NT with a 5-card major? I find that in many cases its just too hard to “catch up” on suit selection. I sometimes bid 1NT with a 5-card major, but follow a disciplined style to results in few such bids. Hardy suggests that a hand should have 5 characteristics before one opens NT with 6cM. First, the opener should have 3 cards in the other major (in case of a transfer); second, the hand should be should be “texturish”, not “toppish” and third, the hand should have tenaces.

    I find few hands that have these 3 characteristics, so I seldom open NT with a 5cM.


  6. BridgeHands says:
    Hello Pollsters,
    Okay, our initial results are in from our bidding poll on Jacoby Transfers.
    10 percent: Opponents cannot see opener’s honors (1NT opener’s hand is hidden)
    1 percent: It is harder for defenders to deduce partner’s honors
    1 percent: It is more difficult for defenders to figures finesses
    2 percent: The defender’s opening lead may finesse self or partner
    86 percent: All of the above
    No doubt, it’s certainly an advantage to have the honors in our 1 Notrump opener hand hidden from the opponents. And most of our voters agree the other items are also beneficial enough to warrant voting “all of the above.” And if that’s not enough, as Steve commented above, another benefit of Jacoby transfers is the ability to easily distinguish from signoff, invitation and game forcing hand (with a fit or not).
    Happy Trails,
  7. aurora1920 says:

    As a purely social player, transfers to me is the dividing line between sociable and serious bridge–I don’t want to go there, advantages notwithstanding. One thing leads to another, and next thing you know (in my bridge world) nobody wants to play with you!

    I love 2club bid for a strong hand — but I don’t want to get into weak 2 bid other than that. Inconsistent I know.l

    But then this is my first comment–may be my last!–and inappropriate here?

    • BridgeHands says:
      Hi Aurora,
      Well, every Bridge player is more on a journey rather than at the destination. For many, that’s the alure of the game, enjoying the hunt and lifetime opportunity to learn new aspects of our exciting game.
      Yes, for a fair number the status quo is fine and dandy. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with that – after all, shuffling 52 pieces of pastboard (in the good old days) is supposed to be a game, right? Some play for enjoyment, some for learning, some for the competitive aspects, others for social aspects, and more for a host of other reasons.
      So yes, for some Jacoby Transfers is considered “serious Bridge.” For instance tomorrow I’ll be playing with some social friends where no one plays the Stayman convention, let alone Jacoby Transfers. But does that mean they aren’t good players? No. In fact, they are successful high-level businessmen that play the cards very well. Would they score better if they learned a few new conventions? Sure, but within their ecosystem everyone plays the same Rubber Bridge style – strong 2 bids, Blackwood Ace ask, PERIOD. So we all enjoy a fun game and focus on hand evaluation and the play of the cards. Accordingly, if you’ve been going through these lessons including Part 2 and 3, I hope you’ll appreciate the focus is on hand evaluation more than simply learning a bunch of bids that seldom come up. Hopfully everyone will find various aspects of our lessons useful. At least that’s our mantra…
      Warm Regards, Michael

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