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Puppet in Puppet (Muppet) By Bill Jacobs

Source: VBA Bulletin April 2009


Partner bids a strong 2NT, and you have a moderate hand with 5 spades and 4 hearts. This shape has always been a bugbear: it seems impossible to construct a method that allows a choice between 3NT, 4 and 4.

If you transfer to spades, then you cannot then show the hearts without bypassing 3NT. But if you use Stayman, you cannot easily locate a 5-3 spade fit.

Some players “solve” this dilemma by defining the auction 2NT-3NT as showing 5/4 in spades/hearts. This is a bit like getting rid of nuclear waste by firing it into space: it is a method which entails an obvious risk. And even if you remember it, the simple 2NT-3NT auction is replaced by 2NT-3-response-3NT, which unnecessarily reveals data about the 2NTer to the defence.

If you play Puppet Stayman, the problem can be resolved with a small modification. The responses after 2NT-3 become:

  • 3: some 4-card major
  • 3: no 4 or 5 card major
  • 3: 5 spades
  • 3NT: 5 hearts (partner can bid 4 to transfer back into 4).

So essentially, the 3 and 3NT responses to Puppet Stayman are switched.

If opener responds 3, the case of interest if responder has the dreaded 5-4 hand, responder’s followups are:

3: puppet to 3NT (a puppet within Puppet)

3NT: shows 5 spades, 4 hearts: opener can choose the contract

This gadget has plenty going for it: it gets the strong hand to declare in all the common scenarios; moreover it is less prone to being forgotten than the radioactive 2NT-3NT=5/4 method.

March 2010

Back in the April ’09 bulletin, I described Muppet Stayman – a variation on Puppet Stayman, and Noelle Kebby then wrote to me as follows: We found your Puppet in Puppet in an old newsletter and decided to use it in a congress last weekend – partner showed 22-23, and I held:  AK654  10973  K6  73

I used the convention and partner bid 3 – I bid 3NT and she bid 4 so we were able to bid the slam but we realised later that 3NT can’t be right with a slamgoing hand as she can pass with three hearts and two spades – unlikely but not impossible. What do you suggest with this particular hand?

What an excellent question!

The solution, I believe, is to have firm principles on what various notrump bids mean in a notrump auction where no suit has yet been shown. My recommendation is:

4NT: quantitative

5NT: pick a slam, partner

So after the auction 2NT-3-3, …

3NT: 5 spades, 4 hearts, game values

4NT: 5 spades, 4 hearts, slam invitational

5NT: 5 spades, 4 hearts, pick a slam

Similarly, after the secondary puppet 2NT-3-3-3-3NT, …

4NT: invitational, I was checking for majors

5NT: pick a slam – I was checking for majors, but perhaps you have a long minor


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