This paper presents a reformulation of the original Matsuoka–Nakai criterion for overcoming the limitations which make its use in a stress point algorithm problematic. In fact, its graphical representation in the principal stress space is not convex as it comprises more branches, plotting also in negative octants, and it does not increase monotonically as the distance of the stress point from the failure surface rises. The proposed mathematical reformulation plots as a single, convex surface, which entirely lies in the positive octant of the stress space and evaluates to a quantity which monotonically increases as the stress point moves away from the failure surface. It is an exact reproduction, and not an approximated one, of the only significant branch of the original criterion. It is also suitable for shaping in the deviatoric plane the yield and plastic potential surfaces of complex constitutive models. A very efficient numerical algorithm for the implicit integration of the proposed formulation is presented, which enables the evaluation of the stress at the end of each increment by solving a single scalar equation, both for associated and non-associated plasticity. The algorithm can be easily adapted for other smooth surfaces with linear meridian section. Finally, a close expression of the consistent Jacobian matrix is given for achieving quadratic convergence in the external structural newton loop. It is shown that all this results in extremely fast solutions of boundary value problems. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.