The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (March 2010)

  9.  They analyze the auction from partner’s point of view.  (Part 3)

Partner opens 1C and your right-hand-opponent overcalls 2NT, showing diamonds and hearts. What’s your call holding  ♠A105  AK43  ♣KQJ103?

The flashy choice is 4H, a splinter showing club support, heart shortness and slam interest. That seems to be a perfect description of your hand, but that bid will be successful only if it induces partner to provide you with helpful information about his hand.

Construct some possible hands for partner and you’ll see how rarely he’ll be able or willing to cooperate with your slam try. You know he won’t like the quality of his trumps, and if he has a balanced hand with low heart honors -- ♠KJ63  KQ8  76  ♣A952 -- he’ll be further discouraged by his red suits. Even if he owns the one ace he could cuebid, he won’t bid 5H with a dead minimum such as  ♠KQJ  AJ72  J6  ♣9842. With the vast majority of hands, partner will be forced to retreat to 5C over your 4H cuebid, and you’ll be left wondering if he has any aces.

This is a situation where you need to decide right away whether to adopt an asking or a telling strategy. Telling bids – natural suit and notrump bids, raises, cuebids -- describe your values and involve partner in choosing the final contract. Asking bids – Stayman, game tries, Blackwood -- extract specific information from partner so you can make the decision.

Your choice depends on your assessment of which partner can make best use of knowledge about the other’s hand. In general, the more you have to show – and the less you expect partner to hold – the better it will be to go with an asking bid, especially when competition crowds your auction. Here, your hand is so loaded that even the “perfect” telling bid is unlikely to convince partner that he has enough to head for slam.

Slam should have a play if partner has an ace, so try the asking bid of 4NT. If you’ve agreed that the auction 1C-Pass-4NT is “aces-only” Blackwood, partner will probably interpret it that way over interference, too. That works when you hold the trump king, but change your hand to  ♠A105  AK43  ♣AQ1093, and you’ll want to establish clubs as trumps so you can ask about keycards. If you play the unusual vs. unusual convention, you can cuebid first (3D or 3H, whichever you play as support), then bid 4NT.

Note that the immediate 4NT will also help you find 7C when partner has a stronger hand. If he shows two keycards, you can bid 5NT to guarantee all the keycards and invite a grand slam. Holding  ♠KQ94  A73  3  ♣A9742, he’ll evaluate the fifth club, singleton diamond and spade queen as extra assets and bid 7C.

Keep these principles in mind when you’re the recipient of a high-level telling bid. Suppose you open 1H and partner bids 4D, a splinter raise showing diamond shortness. What’s your call holding 
   ♠Void  Q96543  A82   ♣AKQ4 ?

Since Blackwood is pointless, your first thought might be to try a control cuebid of 4S or 5C. Before you do, you’ll want to consider the inferences partner will draw from your cuebid and the options he’ll have for his rebid.

When partner offers this type of telling bid (the splinter), he’s usually hoping you can take control. If you reply with a telling bid of your own (a cuebid), he’ll assume there’s a reason you couldn’t be more decisive. To him, a 4S cuebid will suggest you’re looking for a club control, so his rebid will always be 5H.

You could persist with another cuebid, but will any continuation convince partner to bid 7H with  ♠QJ109  AKJ8  3  ♣J1053 ? From his perspective, if all you needed were the AK, your first rebid surely would have been 4NT (keycard Blackwood) or 5NT (grand slam force).

That’s the “lightbulb moment” – the payoff for thinking through all your rebid options and partner’s possible follow-ups. Although this exercise won’t always uncover a perfect solution, it does on this deal: an immediate 5NT, asking partner to bid 7H with two of the top three trump honors.

   ©  2010   Karen Walker