In the last issue, we looked at the benefits of using the “game before slam” principle to sort out the meanings of three-level bids. This advice suggests that if a bid could be interpreted as either a slam try or an attempt to find the right game, the “looking for game” meaning should take precedence.
This guideline can also apply at higher levels. A simple example:
You LHO Partner
3C DBL Pass 4C
Partner isn’t promising slam-try strength. His cuebid is merely a search for the best game, and he may be stretching. Unless you hold a monster, you should settle for bidding four of your longer major.
With some cuebids, partner already knows what the right game is, but is giving you extra information on the way:
1S 3H 4H
Partner’s cuebid shows a high-card raise to 4S as opposed to a weaker, distributional raise. For the time being, it’s a “game only” bid -- it doesn’t guarantee a heart control and it doesn’t ask for a return cuebid. If the opponents bid on, your knowledge of partner’s strength will clarify which side is sacrificing and may help you make a five-level decision.
The game-before-slam principle can be useful even at the five-level:
You LHO Partner RHO
1D Pass 1H 3S
Pass 4S 5C Pass
A new suit by responder is usually forcing, but when you’ve been preempted, it’s important to avoid being stampeded into a contract you wouldn’t have chosen without the interference. If eleven tricks is the limit of the hand, you need a way to stop there, so the game-before-slam rule should apply here. Partner’s 5C is natural, showing at least 5-5 in his suits, and non-forcing.
A frequent dilemma is how to interpret an ambiguous rebid of four of a major:
Your 4C was a splinter, showing club shortness and diamond support. What’s your rebid with AQJ KQ865 KJ108 5 ?
If you believe this auction
absolutely sets diamonds as trumps, partner’s 4H is a cuebid for a diamond
slam. Your next move would be a 4S cuebid or Blackwood. However, the
game-before-slam guideline suggests that 4H is natural, showing a minimum with
three-card support. How else would partner bid a hand like
K6 1043 AQ962 KJ3 ?
If partner really wants to move toward a diamond slam, he won’t risk a 4H “cuebid”. He knows you’ll be thinking game-before-slam, too, so he’ll find another way to clarify his intentions.
Many pairs solve these four-level
problems with a default agreement based on the game-before-slam idea. Their
when-in-doubt rule is:
A game bid in a major suit previously bid by either partner is an offer to play there.
This agreement can be especially helpful in longer auctions. For example:
After your reverse, partner’s 3D promised support and game strength (at least 8 points). Does that mean you’re in a cuebidding sequence for a diamond slam? A spade slam? Or are you still searching for the right game?
As is often the case when your agreed fit is a minor, other games are still in the picture here, so every bid in this auction should be a natural search for the best game. Your 3S showed three-card support for partner’s major, and his 4H showed three-card support for yours.
The “offer to play there”
agreement tells you partner intends 4H as non-forcing. He probably holds a
minimum with weak spades and good hearts:
A632 KJ8 1082 J63
If your hand is J85 AQ107 AKQJ9 2 , then 4H is the best (and last) making contract. Without the game-before-slam guideline, your auction would probably hurtle to at least the five-level.
In the next issue: Game-before-slam exceptions and conventions
© 2005 Karen Walker