By Prof Tony Campbell

OUR bridge improvers sessions have begun on Zoom again.

We are dealing at present with opening two bids, playing Benjy Acol. Here is an interesting hand where a modification of Stayman is necessary to find the right game contract.

The Auction

East has twenty points and a balanced hand, so he opens two clubs in this version of Benjy Acol. West replies with two diamonds, asking whether he has the no trump hand or one with eight tricks in a suit. Since East has the former, he then bids two no trumps. West has a four-card spade suit, so the expected response from him would be three clubs, Stayman, asking if the opener has a four-card major. If it is spades, then East bids three spades, and West will follow with four.

If East has no four-card major, he bids three diamonds. However, what if East has five hearts, as here? If he bids three hearts in response to normal Stayman, West does not know if this is showing four or five cards in the suit. So, West has to bid three no trumps. However, there is a good wheeze out of this dilemma. It is called ‘puppet Stayman’. In this case, the three-club bid after two no trumps by the opener asks him to bid his five-card suit if he has it, bid three diamonds if he has a four-card major, and three no trumps if he has neither. Here, East/West end up in the best contract of four hearts, because East was able to show his five-card heart suit. Three no trumps goes off on a club lead.

The play

What should South lead? A typical lead in many contracts would be his fourth highest spade. But, on the bidding, West is likely to have four spades, and a lead away from a queen when declarer is known to have a good nineteen or twenty points is fraught with danger. So, a safe lead would be the eight of clubs, a Middle-Up-Down (MUD) lead, telling partner I have three cards in the suit and no honour. Declarer played small from dummy, North his queen, East winning the trick with his ace.

Declarer can see he has a losing diamond and two losing clubs in his hand, and a heart if the finesse is wrong. But since South looks like he started with three clubs, there is the possibility of a club ruff in dummy. So correctly, rather than drawing trumps straight away, East played the two of clubs towards dummy’s jack, the trick being won by North’s king.

Seeing that declarer was aiming to ruff a club, North returned a small heart, which East won with his ace. Declarer then ruffed his third club in dummy and returned dummy’s last trump to his king. For once East refused the heart finesse, arguing that North would not have led a heart at trick three if he had the queen. East then played the queen of diamonds, which was won by North’s ace. North then led the eight of spades, another MUD lead, which East won with his ace.

He then won the next two tricks with the jack and ten of diamonds, followed by the king of spades, conceding the queen of hearts to South, winning the remaining tricks with his trumps, making ten tricks for his contract – two spades, four hearts, two diamonds, one club and a club ruff in dummy. Well bid and well played for a top. This is an interesting hand. Those who end up in three no trumps because they do not play puppet Stayman, go two off on a club lead, losing four clubs, the ace of diamonds and the queen of hearts.

What have we learnt?

1. Puppet Stayman, after the opening bidder has shown a strong two no trumps, is vital if you are to find either a 5/3 of 4/4 fit in one of the majors. The word ‘puppet’ to me is a little bizarre here, asking partner to make the cheapest bid to describe his hand. A better term is 5 card Stayman. But ‘puppet’ has sunk into bridge jargon over the past forty-five years. The convention was originally invented by Neil Silverman and developed in the 1970s by Kit Woolsey and Steve Robinson, all American players. As well as finding a 5/3 fit in a major, 5-card puppet Stayman has the advantage that, if there is a 4/4 fit, the person with the strong hand plays the contract, so the lead comes up to him.

2. Always ask yourself as declarer whether you should set up a ruff before drawing trumps.

Penarth club news

Peter Sampson’s ladder competition has restarted. So why not join it. It is aimed at members of the four local clubs: Penarth, Sully, Barry and Dinas Powys. There are several new pairs, including myself.

The current positions are; in first place Peter Millar and Mick Green, in second place Kate Dyer and Mick Green, in third place Mick Green & Peter Sampson and in fourth place Everard Kerslake and Sam Fellows. Well done Mick Green and all. We are hoping to get some club events going this year on BCL, BBO or RealBridge. Our weekly zoom bridge classes continue, triggered by an email from a regular Penarth Times reader. Let me know if you would like to join us.

Further information

If you have any views, hands, and information you would like to share, please email me, My articles are online at www.penarthtimes/bridge. Keep well. Keep safe. Bon chance. Virtual table up! I wish you a year free from Covid, and plenty of bridge online!