Dan Romm

Modifying Puppet Stayman

At MP’s, I find that playing 3NT is slightly better than playing in the 2NT opener’s major with a 5-3 fit provided that the major is concealed. For one thing, you have to make one more trick in the major. For another, it is surprising how often the opening lead is the concealed major, in which case they are stacked against you and you will do much better in 3NT. Finally, if opener has no losers in responder’s short suit then the ruffing value is negated. If your experience concurs with mine, I propose the following version of Puppet Stayman:

  1. It guarantees at least one four card major.
  2. If opener has a four or five card major, he bids 3 over 3  and the auction proceeds as in regular Puppet.
  3. Without a four or five card major, opener bids:
    1. 3  with a minimum,
    2. 3  with a maximum and a three card spade suit,
    3. 3NT with a maximum and a doubleton spade.
    4. Responder continues as follows:
      1. After 2NT – 3 – 3 or 3 or 3NT, or after 2NT – 3 – 3 – 3 of a major – 3NT:
        1. 4 is a slam try with clubs and a major (note, after 2NT – 3 – 3 this could be clubs with five spades).
        2. 4 is a transfer to hearts.
        3. 4 is a transfer to spades (with one exception, see iii).
        4. 4 is a slam try with diamonds and a major (note, after 2NT – 3 – 3 this could be diamonds with five ♠’s
      2. 2NT – 3 – 3 – 3 shows five spades and four hearts (this is not checkback with only a four card spade suit since responder has already guaranteed four spades).
      3. 2NT – 3 – 3 – 3 – 3NT – 4 is a weak 4-4 in the majors with a short minor. I also advocate this treatment playing regular Puppet.


Let’s explore the features of this approach.


  1. It allows responder to play in spades whenever he has five spades and four hearts and opener has three spades and fewer than four hearts. This won’t be possible in regular Puppet if opener bids 3NT over 3, but in modified Puppet responder merely bids 3 over 3 or transfers to 4 if opener bids 3.
  2. Knowing whether opener has a minimum or maximum has obvious advantages.
  3. Opener’s five card major, if he has one, remains concealed.
  4. The advantage of auction iii with a weak hand is that it gives responder a chance to pass if opener bids 3 over 3. With a better hand, as in regular Puppet responder would merely bid 4 over 3 to show 4-4 in the majors. Note – if opener doesn’t have spades then responder will be declarer rather than opener, but the lead is likely to be responder’s short suit so this disadvantage is minimized.


kenrexfordDecember 7th, 2011 at 5:05 am

In think you have an interesting idea, but I would change the focus to strain, myself.

I mean, I’m not all that opposed to using 3C as a means of dealing with problems other than the 5-3 fit, under the theory that the 5-3 fit is not that wonderful of a target. But, I’m not sure that the minimum-maximum distinction is as useful as perhaps some different treatment.

Perhaps 3D as promising at least one 4+ major makes sense, but then use 3H, 3S, or 3NT as flags for minors? Like Minor-Suit Puppet?

An example might be:

3H = 4+clubs (Responder can bid 3S with 5S/4H)

3S = 4+ diamonds, not four clubs, three spades

3NT = 4+ diamonds, not four clubs, two spades

That seems more useful to me.

Dan RommDecember 7th, 2011 at 9:24 am

Hi Ken. Thanks for the comment. Your idea is certainly as good as mine, it ‘s just a matter of personal preference how the 3H, 3S, and 3NT bids should be played. As you correctly surmised, my main reason for the article is to suggest a different treatment than searching for the 5-3 fit.

kenrexfordDecember 9th, 2011 at 8:50 pm

For what it’s worth, another somewhat stranger idea might be to bid 3D as “Puppet.” If you will, follow my thinking.

Over 3D, Opener bids:

3S = spades (3NT or higher then says interested in hearts instead)
3NT = hearts
3H = neither (allowing Responder to bid 3S with 5S/5H)

In other words, you crunch 3C into 3D. You then seemingly lose the transfer. But, you bid that through 3C. I’m not sure where to go with this next, but your ideas got me to thinking about how one could crunch the Stayman sequences into 3D with an idea from Muppet Stayman, thereby allowing 3C for hearts or something else.

Dan RommDecember 10th, 2011 at 1:48 am

The choice of how to modify Puppet largely depends upon the other conventions you use over 2NT openers. The treatment I propose dovetails nicely with my system, in which I play a version of 4-way transfers to handle minor suits. Use whichever approach best plugs any holes in your system.

kenrexfordDecember 10th, 2011 at 2:19 am

Interesting. I was just thinking along those lines at dinner.

FWIW, I thought about this structure:

3D = at least one four-card major. Opener bids 3NT with hearts, 3S with spades, 3D with none (allowing 3S for 5S/4H), maybe 4C with both (re-transfers).

3C = one or both majors. Opener bids 3H with heart preference. If Responder has five spades, he bids 3NT. With hearts (one-suited or both majors 5-5), he can bids 3S, 4C, or 4D as slam moves, 4H also as something. Opener instead bids 3D with spade preference. Responder can transfer 3H to set spades, 3NT with hearts, 3S with something else. That handles either major or 5-5 majors well. Opener might also be able to super-accept both majors.

3H or 3S then are open. Could be slammish flags (3H for clubs, 3S for diamonds) or any number of other holdings/meanings.

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