Puppet Stayman


Regular Stayman was designed to uncover a 4-4 major fit after a 1NT opening bid, the logic being that it those 4-4 fits usually play better than No Trump.  Regular Stayman makes no provision for finding out if the No Trump bidder has a five-card suit, and for this reason a modified version of the convention was born, known as Puppet Stayman. 


The majority of tournament players use Puppet Stayman opposite 2NT openings, and they use regular Stayman opposite 1NT openings.  This is fine, but if you are someone who has no qualms about opening 1NT with a 5-card major, you may want to add Puppet to your 1NT repertoire, too … but don’t use 2♣ as Puppet (that would mess up some other useful features of regular Stayman), consider playing both versions, namely 2♣ as regular Stayman, 3♣ as Puppet.  In what follows, the examples and commentary are based on a 2NT opening bid, but the logic is much the same for a Puppet auction that starts 1NT 3♣.


How Puppet Works


Opener   Responder


2NT       3♣                

 3                               If Opener has a 5-card major, he just bids it at the 3-level.


2NT       3♣

 3                               If Opener has a 4-card major (one or both), he bids 3.


2NT       3♣

3NT                             If Opener has no 4-card and no 5-card major, he bids 3NT.


Pretty simple so far … if Opener bids 3NT then there is no major fit, if Opener bids 3 or 3♠ then that is our major fit (if, indeed, we have one).  And, if Opener bids 3, then we may have a 4-4 fit.  Here is the method for unearthing that 4-4 fit, and, if it seems a bit convoluted, just bear in mind that it is designed to allow Opener (the strong hand) to be Declarer.


Opener   Responder


2NT       3♣

 3         3                  If Responder has just one 4-card major he bids the one he does not

                                    have … so this sequence shows 4 Spades and denies 4 Hearts …

                                    now Opener either agrees Spades or bids 3NT.

2NT       3♣

 3         4                  If Responder has two 4-card majors, then he bids 4, telling

Opener to pick a major.

2NT       3♣

3          4♣                 This sequence can also be used to tell Opener to pick a major, and

most partnerships play that 4♣ shows slam interest, whereas 4 shows interest only in game.




Partner opens 2NT, what do you do with these hands?


♠ AQ65                       Not much of a hand, but enough for game.  Of course, we will

7643                         bid 3♣, and if Opener bids 3, we’ll bid 4, telling Partner to pick

76                             a major.  Needless to say, if Opener shows a 5-card major, we’ll

♣ 832                          raise to game.


♠ AQ65                       Again, we use Puppet, which will allow us to unearth a 4-4 (or

832                           5-4) Spade fit or a 5-3 Heart fit.


♣ 7643


♠ AQ653                     A problem hand!  We might have a 5-3 Spade fit or a 5-3 Heart

Q74                          fit, and we have no way of looking for both of them.  If we use

76                             Puppet, then the 5-3 Spade fit is lost … if we transfer to Spades

♣ 764                          then the 5-3 Heart fit is lost.  As we cannot have it both ways, it’s best

                                    to go with the odds and transfer to Spades … there’s a much higher

                                    probability that Opener has 3 Spades than there is that he has 5 Hearts.


♠ AQ653                     A similar problem to before, only worse!  Here, we must choose

Q743                        between losing the 4-4 Heart fit and losing the 5-3 Spade fit.  We

76                             suggest that you use Puppet on this one, though the transfer route

♣ 74                            could also work.  However there is a solution to this 5-4 problem …

                                    see notes below on “The Switch”.


♠ Q743                        This 5-4 hand we can handle!  No need for Puppet, just transfer to

AQ653                     Hearts and then bid 3♠.  Nice and simple.


♣ 74


♠ QJ43                        2NT by Partner, 3♣ by you, 3 by Partner.  It might seem obvious

AQJ7                       to bid 4♣ here, but we would bid 4, planning to bid 6 of Opener’s

K3                            major at our next turn.  We would only use 4♣ when we are

♣ T96                          seeking Opener’s opinion … here we don’t care, we are going to

                                    6 anyway.


♠ QJ43                        Here, we are a little weaker, and we do need Opener’s opinion

AJT7                       about slam … we bid 4♣, and if Partner likes his hand he should

K3                            feel free to jump to slam … if he is iffy he might try 4 … if he

♣ T96                          really doesn’t like his hand, he just bids 4 or 4♠.


♠ Q643                        Nice hand!  Playing 20-21 as our 2NT range, we could

KQ42                       conceivably be missing 2 Aces, or we could be cold for 7!  We

KQT9                       want to use Roman Key Card on this hand, so, after 2NT 3♣, 3,

♣ 7                              it would be a mistake to bid 4♣, lest Partner leap to 6 or 6♠.  No,

bid 4, get Opener to establish which major is trumps, and then

bid 4NT.  This take-charge approach allows us to get to the right

spot with ease.


The Switch


We already encountered the problem that occurs when Responder has 5 Spades and 4 Hearts, and fortunately we have a solution for you.  What you must do is simply switch the meanings of the 3 and 3NT responses.  It’s a dangerous convention, handle it with great care if you decide to play it.  Here is “The Switch” in action:


2NT       3♣

3NT                             Using the Switch, 3NT shows 5 Hearts, and Responder can either

pass, or, if he wants to play it in Hearts, 4 is available as a transfer,

allowing the strong hand to declare 4.


2NT       3♣

3                               This now shows no 4-card major, no 5-card major, and usually Responder

                                   will usually now bid some number of No Trump.  But, here we see the

                                   benefit of the Switch … if Responder has 5 Spades and 4 Hearts, he can

                                   now bid 3♠, looking for the 5-3 fit.


Yes, there is a definite benefit to be gained from the Switch, and no real downside.  Well, on second thoughts, there is a rather serious downside … it’s a very easy treatment to forget!  Only play it if you are sure that you and your Partner will not fumble the ball in the heat of battle.  This one is definitely for regular partnerships only.


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