The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (July 2009)

    8.  They consider partner’s potential problems. (Part 10)

What type of hand do you expect partner to hold in this auction?

    Partner    You     
      1H           1NT
      3C           4C
      4H

Your answer depends on whether you believe you’ve clearly established clubs as trumps. If so, partner’s 4H is a control cuebid for a club slam. If you think the trump suit may still be in question, then 4H should be natural, showing extra length.

If you aren’t certain, consider first that partner had several ways to explore for 6C. He could cuebid an unbid suit or use keycard Blackwood. Or, since your 4C raise suggested fair values, he might just jump to 6C with some hands.

Partner had fewer options for describing the type of hand that would make a natural 4H rebid, which is an unbalanced pattern of around 18-20 points. A typical hand is  ♠Q54  AKJ973  A  ♣KQ8 . 

This is a problem hand for standard systems because there’s no rebid that shows the high-card strength and the sixth heart. A jump to 4H comes closest, but that risks missing a slam, and hearts may not even be the best trump suit.

Partner needs three bids to accurately describe this hand, so he has to improvise. A popular solution is the “bogus jump-shift” – a jump to three of a minor to pinpoint the strength, then a rebid of his suit to show extra length. When you hear this sequence from partner, you should be ready to change your mind about his interest in your previously “agreed” suit.

If you hold  ♠KJ3  Q4  1086  ♣A9753 , you’ll want to show interest in a heart slam. With less, you can pass 4H.

There are many variations on this auction, and it’s impossible to discuss all of them. The best way to sort them out is to establish broad guidelines that will govern unfamiliar situations. One that’s helpful here is the simple “If it could be natural, it is.”

This is based on the game-before-slam principle, which advises that if a bid could have more than one meaning, it should be treated as a search for game rather than a cuebid for slam. Would you rely on that default in this auction?

  Partner     You     
     1D           1S
     2H           4H
     4S

You hold  ♠J9752   10954   Q   ♣A106

Your jump to 4H showed four hearts and minimum values for game (you would raise to 3H with a stronger hand). In most auctions where you’ve already confirmed a major-suit fit, there’s no need to look for other trump suits, so you might assume that 4S is a cuebid for a heart slam.

However, if you consider partner’s possible problem hands, you’ll realize that he may have intended 4S as the final contract. How else would he bid  ♠AK6   KQJ  K107543  ♣3 ?

This is the right strength for an invitational jump, but the wrong suit quality for 3D and the wrong length for a jump to 3S. A strategy that keeps all possible contracts in the picture is the “bogus reverse” into the 3-card heart suit, which actually has little risk. If you raise hearts, partner will know you must be 5-4 in the majors and he can correct to spades. 

That may be what partner is doing here. It presents you with a difficult guess, especially if you follow the advice of another when-in-doubt guideline:

    “If it could be forcing, it is.” 

Does “could be forcing” take priority over “could be natural” – or should both apply here? You can resolve this and similar conflicts by adopting another default agreement:

    “A game bid in a major suit that was previously bid naturally by either partner is an offer to play there.”

This guideline applies any time you’re uncertain about the meaning of a 4H or 4S bid. If partner wants to make a slam try, he has to choose something other than a “cuebid” of a major that was bid earlier. That may be awkward in some auctions, but the purpose of a default is to give undiscussed bids a practical interpretation, not necessarily a perfect one. In the long run, these fallback meanings will solve more problems than they create.

   ©  2009   Karen Walker