The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (May 2010)

   9.  They analyze the auction from partner’s point of view.  (Part 5)

Which partner was responsible for missing this slam?

    ♠ AQ763             ♠ 4  
    AJ                   Q52
    52                    AK4 
    ♣ Q1053             ♣ AK9764

     West            East
     1S                 2C
     3C                 3D
     3NT               Pass

And who had the better argument in the post-mortem?

West: "We had a laydown slam. Why did you pass 3NT?"

East: "Why did you bid 3NT? You didn’t answer my 3D cuebid, so I thought we were off two aces."

West: "I thought your 3D was showing a diamond stopper and looking for a heart stopper for 3NT."

East: "But we’d already agreed on clubs, so it has to be a control cuebid for a club slam."

West: "So what would you bid if all you wanted to do was find a heart stopper?"

The 3-level can be dangerous territory on deals where you don’t have a major-suit fit. This pair experienced one of the most common pitfalls, which is a misunderstanding about the meaning of a new suit. Is it natural or artificial? A search for notrump or a try for slam? Stopper showing or stopper asking?

Auctions where you’ve bid and raised a major are relatively easy because new-suit bids are tries for four of the major. Game decisions are more difficult when your only fit is a minor – or when you haven’t yet found a fit – because you have more contracts to consider. Choosing the right one may require careful communication about stoppers, and if one of you has slam aspirations, the search can become even more complicated.

It’s impossible to discuss every situation, but you can sort out the meanings of many ambiguous bids by applying these “expert standard” guidelines. In auctions where you’ve ruled out the majors and neither of you has made a natural notrump bid, here’s what partner will assume – for now – when you bid a new suit at the three-level:

In competitive auctions: 

Absent other agreements, partner will base his rebid on the premise that you have game values with a stopper problem for notrump. In some of these situations, it’s possible that you’re looking for slam, but you can’t expect partner to cooperate until you clarify your intentions. He’ll interpret your bids by relying on the principle that the 3-level is for game tries, the 4-level is for slam tries.

That’s the idea that eluded East in the auction at the beginning of this article. He meant 3D as a control cuebid for 6C, but he forgot that his partner’s focus would be on stoppers for game rather than aces for slam. To show slam interest, East has to be willing to bid past 3NT. When he does (4C is the clearest advance), West will be alerted to the “real” meaning of the 3D bid. He’ll bid 4H to show his control and East will have the information he needs to bid on to the slam.

   ©  2010   Karen Walker