The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (April 2009)

    8.  They consider partnerís potential problems. (Part 7)

What contract is partner heading for in this auction?

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

You hold  ♠K74   K1064   AQJ94   ♣3

Is he cuebidding for a heart slam? Showing spade honors? Asking you for spade values?

At this point, you canít be certain. All you know is that you must bid again and that partner, who knows more about your hand than you do about his, is in charge of steering you to the final contract.

To give partner the information he needs, consider the reasons he hasnít already made a decision. In auctions where you havenít found a major-suit fit, notrump is always Plan A, so partnerís most common problem is missing stoppers.

Even though hearts were bid and raised, you havenít confirmed a fit because partner's 2H rebid didn't promise four hearts. He had to find a forcing bid with  ♠832  A52  K6  ♣AK974  to start the search for notrump. He counted on you to allow for this hand, which is why you didnít jump to 4H at your third turn.

Your next decision will be easier if you rely on the game-before-slam guideline, which advises that ambiguous three-level bids should be interpreted as searches for game, not slam. For now, treat 3S as a request for a spade stopper and bid 3NT. If partner actually holds four hearts or has slam aspirations, heíll tell you with his next bid.

Partnerís notrump problems can be harder to read in other fourth-suit auctions.

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

You hold   ♠Void   QJ2   K108543   ♣AKJ9

Raising to 4H may seem obvious, as it sounds like partner is 5-5 in the majors. If thatís your choice, partner will do his best to keep a poker face, but heíll know the auction is doomed. Youíll understand his dilemma when you see his hand:

   ♠AK643   765   A9   ♣Q87 .

The only option partner had for finding notrump (and playing it from the right side) was ďfifth-suit forcingĒ Ė a repeat of the fourth suit to ask you for a heart stopper. Your best (and safest) rebid is 3NT. Itís true that this could cause you to miss a superior 4H when partner happens to hold the 5-5 hand, but it wonít catapult you to a ridiculous contract when he doesnít.

An expert treatment is a rebid of the fourth suit is natural if partner has bid notrump and artificial in all other auctions. Another solution is to use responderís jump in the fourth suit to show 5-5 distribution. Either agreement will take the guesswork out of your decision.

     Partner      You     
       1C             1H
       1S              2D

You hold   ♠Q63   AKJ64   K72   ♣A10

The hand you might envision for partner is a perfect  ♠AKJ82  53  Void  ♣KQ9754, which gives you a good play for 7S.

Or would partner bid this way with  ♠AKJ8  53  654  ♣KJ75 ?

A critical consideration is that your 2D didnít promise length or stoppers. Partner had to bid something, and lacking heart support and diamond cards, he may have had to improvise.

The stopperless 4=2=3=4 hand is a real possibility, which leaves you with an uncomfortable guess. A spade raise or another ďcuebidĒ (3D) will prolong partnerís agony and could push you past 3NT. Partner may even pass 3S if you play 2D as invitational or better (new minor forcing) rather than game values (fourth-suit-forcing).

When you fear that the wheels could come off your auction Ė and they surely will if you play for the 5-6 hand and youíre wrong Ė take the path of least resistance. Here, that means invoking the oft-quoted Hammanís Rule: If you have a choice of reasonable bids and one of them is 3NT, then bid it.

That probably wonít get you a top on this deal, but it doesnít rate to be a zero, either. Even if partner has 11 black cards, slam isnít a sure thing, especially with a lead through your diamond king. And if this is one of the times when partner holds the balanced 12-count, youíll be his hero.

   ©  2009   Karen Walker