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Puppet (5-Card) Stayman

Puppet Stayman is a modified version of Stayman that helps partnerships find a major-fit when their 1NT and 2NT openings could contain a 5-card major.
Puppet Stayman

Puppet Stayman is a modified version of Stayman that helps partnerships find a major-fit when their 1NT and 2NT openings could contain a 5-card major. A 2 response to 1NT asks partner to bid 2 or 2 if they have a 5-card major. If they don’t, they bid 2 as a relay. Some partnerships prefer to use 3 as Stayman and retain the 2 for standard and Garbage Stayman.

Getting Started

The original Stayman Convention is great when you are looking for a 4-4 major fit after opening 1NT (you can read an extensive write-up on Stayman and its variations here), but it is now very popular to open 1NT even with a 5-card major suit.

When you frequently open 1NT with 5-card majors, responder only needs a 3-card major for there to be a possible 8-card fit. The original version of Stayman can’t help with this, but Puppet Stayman can.

Let’s take a look at a quick example before we explore the convention in more detail:

How Many Points Do You Need To Use Puppet Stayman?

Unlike normal Stayman, which you can open with many weaker hands (check out my summary of Garbage Stayman here), Puppet Stayman usually requires invitational values or higher when used in the sequence 1NT – 2.

There is an opportunity to play with it with weaker hands but it applies to far fewer hand distributions – we’ll take a look at it later.

Assuming you are playing invitational or better, the exact values will depend upon the strength of NT you are playing:

Type Points Shown Required for Puppet Stayman (1NT - 2)
Mini / Kamikaze 10-12 points 13 points (or more)
Weak 12-14 points 11 points (or more)
Strong 15-17 points 8 points (or more)
Using Puppet with weaker hands is impossible because the 2 relay and its responses force the partnership to at least the 3-level. Because of this, some partnerships prefer to use 1NT – 3 as Puppet Stayman, leaving the 1NT – 2 bid available for normal Stayman. If you use 3 for Puppet Stayman you need values for game because it is impossible to stop at a lower level:
Type Points Shown Required for Puppet Stayman (1NT - 3)
Mini / Kamikaze 10-12 points 15 points (or more)
Weak 12-14 points 13 points (or more)
Strong 15-17 points 10 points (or more)

We’ll take a look at both types and their responses later in this article.

What Hand Shapes Are Suitable For Puppet Stayman?

There are only two shape requirements for Puppet Stayman. The first is that you need at least one 3-card major (otherwise there’s no point and you’re just giving opposition the opportunity to make lead-directing doubles). The second requirement is that you don’t have a completely flat hand with 4-3-3-3 shape.

The reason for this is that with partner already showing a balanced hand there’s a distinct danger you’ll end up in a suit contract with no ruffing options, which means you get none of the benefits and all of the problems:

Responses and Rebids After 1NT – 2 Puppet Stayman

Once you’ve bid Puppet Stayman, partner has a limited range of responses. They can either bid their 5-card major or, if they don’t have one, bid a relay and wait for further information:

Opener's Response to 2 Meaning
2 Denies five-card major, may have four-card major
2 Five hearts
2 Five spades

Another variant is:

Opener's Response to 2 Meaning
2 Unspecified four-card major
2 Five hearts
2 Five spades
2NT No 5 or 4-card major

Of these two sets of responses, the first version is preferred because the second version gives too much away about your hand. It’s not necessary for the 1NT hand to say whether they have a 4-card major or not for a fit to be found, since the Stayman bidder will show what they hold following a 2 bid anyway – this is just providing opponents with information about the (likely) declarer’s hand unnecessarily. 

Rebids After a 2 Response

Once partner has denied a 5-card major, the partnership get a second opportunity to find a fit when you rebid to show your major-suit holdings.

There are quite a few different sets of responses to the 2 bid, these are probably the best and most complete we’ve seen – although this also makes them a bit more complex.

Please read the notes below the table for more information about a few of these specific bids plus a couple of hands that aren’t covered by them (and how those are shown):

Rebids After 2♦ Meaning
Pass To play
2 Either a four-card spade suit, fewer than four hearts, invitational to game or invitational 2NT with no four-card major.
2 Four-card heart suit, fewer than four spades, invitational to game.
2NT Four hearts and four spades, invitational to game.
3 Long minor (unspecified)
3 Five spades and four hearts, invitational
3 Either five spades and four hearts, forcing to game or four spades and four hearts, forcing to game
3 Five hearts and four spades, forcing to game
3NT To play. No 4-card major suit
4 Six hearts and four spades, forcing to game
4 Six spades and four hearts, forcing to game
Firstly, you should note that in a lot of the rebids you are bidding the opposite major suit to the suit you’re showing as your longest major. This is so that the strong 1NT hand can still be declarer. This is the case in the 2, 2, 3, and 3 bids. The 4 and 4 bids avoid bidding either major when 6-4.

Secondly, note that there is no sequence showing an invitational hand with five hearts and four spades. This would instead be shown by transferring to hearts and then bidding 2.

Thirdly, you’ll notice the 2 and 3 bids are 2-way:

  • After the 2 bid, opener bids 2 with four spades and a minimum, 3 with four spades and 16-17 points, and 2NT or 3NT with a minimum or max respectively and no four-card spade suit. Responder then chooses the correct spade contract or corrects into NT.
  • After the 3 bid, opener bids 4 with four hearts, 3 with three spades, 4 with four spades, or 3NT with no interest in majors (normally 2 spades and 3 hearts). Responder then chooses correct game if 3 was bid.

Let’s take a look at a couple of hand examples:

Notice how in both these examples Puppet Stayman enables the 1NT hand to become declarer even though it is the future dummy that is revealing information about their major-suit holdings.

Rebids After a 2 Response

Thankfully, the rebids after partner shows a 5-card major are considerably less complex. If a fit is found, you’re going to be either inviting or bidding game in that suit, otherwise, you’re heading for NT.

If partner has shown 5-cards in one major you should already know that a 4-4 fit in the other is impossible – it is assumed that you won’t ever open 1NT with 5-4 in the majors – so you won’t need to show your other major even if it has 4 cards.

You also won’t ever be in the situation where your other major has 5 cards, because with 5-2 in the majors you’d have opted for a transfer, not Stayman.

This leaves you with just a few options. Most of the time you will either invite or bid game in NT or hearts depending on whether you’ve found a fit and how strong your hand is:

Rebids After 2 Meaning
Pass To play
2NT Invitational
3 Forcing to game with six-card club suit. Neither promises nor denies major holdings.
3 Forcing to game with six-card diamond suit. Neither promises nor denies major holdings.
3 Invitational
3NT Sign-off
4 Sign-off

The 4 and 4 bids could be used as Splinter bids showing a singleton or void and confirming a heart fit.

Here’s an example hand:

Rebids After a 2 Response

The responses to 2 are similar to those of 2:

Rebids After 2 Meaning
Pass To play
2NT Invitational
3 Forcing to game with six-card club suit. Neither promises nor denies major holdings.
3 Forcing to game with six-card diamond suit. Neither promises nor denies major holdings.
3 Invitational
3NT Sign-off
4 Sign-off

As before, the unused 4-level bids could be used as Splinter bids showing a singleton or void and confirming a fit.

Let’s take a look at a quick example:

A Note on Passing Puppet Stayman

You’ll notice that the three tables above show that you can pass the response to the 2 bid. While this is true, it’s worth pointing out that this is a very poor imitation of Garbage Stayman and can be done with far fewer hands.

The ideal hand for bidding 2 with the intention to pass any response would be 3-3 in the majors and have at least a 5-card diamond suit: 3-3-5-2, 3-3-6-1, or 3-3-7-0.

Why so restrictive? Two reasons:

  • Reason 1: Because partner's 2 response includes hands with 4-card majors, there will be a much higher frequency of hands with just 2 diamonds.
  • Reason 2: We can't afford to ditch Puppet Stayman's 2 rebid in favor of Crawling Stayman, so we've got to have a hand that can pass 2

Here’s an example that illustrates this:

Puppet Stayman’s Hidden Advantage Over Stayman

Most people start playing Puppet because they want to find a 5-3 major fit – and it is good at that. But the extra advantage is that as well as enabling this, Puppet also helps hide opener’s major-suit holding when they have a four-card major.

In this scenario, it is responder that reveals which four-card major they have and opener’s holding remains unknown – only in a few sequences do they give more information.

Responses and Rebids After 1NT – 3 Puppet Stayman

If you want to retain the 2 bid for normal Stayman and Garbage Stayman, you can instead jump to 3 to ask for 5-card Majors. This requires a slightly stronger hand as you need to be prepared to play in game.

Due to the lack of space, the responses are far less complex. This is not a problem because you don’t need to show the 5-4 hands – you’d use the 2 Stayman for any hand with 4-4 in majors or longer. The Puppet Stayman bid will only be used when you have at least one 3-card major suit (4-3, 3-3, 3-2, 3-1, 3-0):

Opener's Response to 3 Meaning
3 Denies five-card major, may have a four-card major
3 Five hearts
3 Five spades
There is also an alternative where 3 shows a four-card major and 3NT denies one, but this is inferior since it gives information away unnecessarily.

Rebids After a 3 Response

After partner denies a five-card major, you either bid game or show a 4-card major if you have one (this should only be if you are 4-3 in the majors; if 4-4 you will have bid 2 after 1NT instead. Note that you bid the major you don’t have so that the strong hand can choose the contract and become declarer:

Rebids After 3♦ Meaning
3 Shows four spades
3 Shows four hearts
3NT To play

Here’s an example hand:

Rebids After a 3 or 3 Response

If partner shows a 5-card major suit you simply choose the correct game or initiate slam bidding using your normal methods.

Should You Use 2 or 3 Puppet Over 1NT?

There are two small problems with 1NT – 2 that may cause some players to prefer the other version:

  • Firstly, some sequences (particularly the ones with the two-way bids) give very specific information away about the shape and strength of the 1NT hand which can give your opponents valuable information if they know how to use it. Of course, Puppet reveals damaging information less often than Standard Stayman, so it's still ahead here.
  • Secondly, and much more importantly, I don't like giving up the opportunity to pass or use Crawling Stayman with weaker hands. This is partly a symptom of often playing a Weak NT; I'm less worried about this playing Strong 1NT.

In our opinion, playing both regular Stayman and Puppet Stayman offers the best of both worlds. Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Puppet Stayman After Two No-Trump

Puppet Stayman is often used after 2NT. The responses are similar to the responses and rebids to 1NT – 3, but with a couple of differences. Here are the initial responses:

Opener's Response to 3 Meaning
3 Has an unspecified four-card major
3 Five hearts
3 Five spades
3NT To play, no four or five-card major

You can see that the 3NT bid showing no four or five-card major is in place when used over 2NT, even though we didn’t use this (with good reason) for other forms of Puppet Stayman.

The reason is that over 2NT there is very little space for finding the right fit – as we’ll soon see, you have to go past 3NT if the responder wants to show 4-4 in the majors (you can’t bid 2 over 2NT unfortunately!)

Rebids After a 3 Response

After the 2NT hand shows an unspecified four-card major, you reveal more information about your hand as follows:

Opener's Response to 3♦ Meaning
3 Shows four spades
3 Shows four hearts
3NT To play, no four-card major
4 4-4 in majors, slam interest
4 4-4 in majors, no slam interest

As before, the 3 and 3 bids show the opposite suit. Also, once you’ve shown 4-4 in the majors, you have to end up in a major-suit game, even if the 2NT bidder would prefer to play in NT (because you’ve passed 3NT).

Let’s take a look at a hand example:

Alternative Rebids After a 3 Response

I have seen an alternative version with a workaround to the problem of not being able to stop in 3NT. In this version, the 3 bid is two-way, showing either four spades or no 4-card major (the 3 bid shows hearts).

Partner then replies 3 (to 3) if there’s a spade fit, at which point you correct to 3NT if you don’t actually have the major. This frees up the 3NT bid to promise 4-4 in the majors and allows opener to take their pick from 3NT, 4, and 4.

This enables you to have the option of playing 3NT at the expense of revealing declarer’s 4-card major to defenders even in contracts where there isn’t a fit. I found this variation on Richard Pavlicek’s site, which you can find here.

Rebids After a 3 or 3 Response

If partner shows a 5-card major suit you simply choose the correct game or initiate slam bidding using your normal methods. For slam-bidding, you may wish to discuss with partner which bids.

Other Puppet Stayman Questions Answered

Here are a few other questions I’ve come across:

Is Puppet Stayman On After a 1NT Overcall?

Normally it is on after partner makes a 1NT overcall, however this is one of those things you should discuss with your partner!

Should You Alert Puppet Stayman?

You should check with your bridge governing body but it is likely that the responses to Puppet Stayman are alertable, although in many cases the 2 bid is not (however if you are playing Puppet as 1NT – 3 you’re more likely to need to alert this.

Are There Any Alternatives To Puppet Stayman?

You could extend normal Stayman by using a 3 bid after partner shows their four-card major to ask if it is a 5-card suit. This enables you to ask for 5 without dispensing with Garbage Stayman, although you give up whatever bid you’d normally use 3 for.

I have not tried this – let us know your experiences in the comments if you use something like this.

Puppet Stayman Cheat Sheet

I am currently working on producing downloadable cheat sheets for all the pages on this website. Check back soon and it’ll probably be here!

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