The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders (April 2007)

6. They make the bids partner wants to hear. (Part 4)

Vulnerable at IMPs, you have this auction:

  Partner  You
    1D         1S
    2C         2D
    3C          ?

What's your call holding   AJ742  743  J8  K94 ?

Partner is doing more than just showing distribution. His 3C rebid is a game try, showing at least 5-5 and extra values. He's asking two simple questions: Clubs or diamonds? Partscore or game?

When this problem was posed in a bidding forum, the majority of the panel evaluated this hand as worth a game bid. Only half, though, chose to inform partner with a straightforward 5C. Other panelists tried 3H (explained as "notrump stopper search"), 3S ("advance cuebid for 6C") and 4C ("re-gametry").

Problems with game tries

Most game-try bids are easy to recognize and, in theory, easy to respond to because they ask fairly specific questions. Some auctions -- such as 1NT-2NT -- require you to do nothing more challenging than recount your high-card points. Others focus on stoppers for notrump, or ask you to evaluate your trump or side-suit holdings.

When you make a game try, you're asking partner to make a decision about the final contract. Confusion can set in, though, if partner equivocates or, worse, answers a question you didn't ask.

If you were opener in the auction above, how happy would you be with a waffling 4C from partner? Would you have interpreted 3H or 3S as accepting your game invitation, or would you have thought partner had major-suit length he couldn't show earlier?

Slam try or game search?

The simplest game tries come after you've already agreed on notrump or a major and want to determine if you have enough strength for game. More difficult are situations where you need to ask partner's opinion about exactly which game to bid.

These auctions usually occur when the only fit you've found is a minor and you're looking for notrump. The game try may be a direct suggestion, as in the auction 1D-2D-2NT. Opener isn't asking about stoppers or other suits, so responder has only three choices: Pass, 3D or 3NT.

Other auctions involve more delicate tries.

You hold  54  A102  42  KJ873 .  Partner opens 1C and your RHO overcalls 2C (Michaels, 5-5 in the majors). You raise to 3C and partner rebids 3S.
    If partner is cuebidding for slam, you'd cooperate with a 4H cuebid. If he's just looking for game, is he showing a spade stopper? Asking for one?
These "expert standard" guidelines will help you sort out this and similar auctions:

With the hand above, bid 3NT. You're at the three-level, so for now, treat 3S as a search for game, not slam. Since the opponents have shown two suits, partner is bidding the one where he has a stopper, and he wants you to bid 3NT if you have the other stopper. If partner is interested in 6C, he'll clarify by bidding past 3NT.

You hold  AQ6  K10932  J654 .  Partner opens 1D, you raise to 3D (limit raise) and partner rebids 3H.
    Bid 3NT. The stopper-showing principle can apply even if the opponents haven't bid. When you have a minor-suit fit, the two critical (potentially unstopped) suits are majors, so partner has heart cards but no spade stopper. A 3S bid by you at this point would communicate doubt about your stopper.

You hold  A765  J82  K10642  and the auction goes:

 Partner    You
   1D        1H
   2D        3D
   3S          ?

You've both limited your strength, so it's clear partner isn't looking for slam. He's asking two questions: Can we play 3NT? If not, can we play 5D?

Your answer to the notrump question is difficult because even though there are two unbid suits, there wasn't room below 3NT for partner to show one stopper and ask about the other. When in doubt, the critical suit is the major, so assume 3S asks for a spade stopper. With an ace, a king and a singleton, your hand is worth a game acceptance, so give partner the full answer by jumping to 5D.

  2007 Karen Walker