Which partner was responsible for missing this slam?
♠ AQ763 ♠ 4
♥ AJ ♥ Q52
♦ 52 ♦ AK4
♣ Q1053 ♣ AK9764
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:
It’s a search for game, not slam. When there’s no possibility of a major-suit fit, the first game under consideration is always 3NT.
If it’s the fourth suit (your side has made natural bids in three suits), it asks for a stopper in that suit. (1D-1S / 2C-3C / 3H)
If it’s a third suit (your side has made natural bids in two suits), it shows a stopper in that suit and asks for a stopper in the fourth suit. (1C-1H / 2C-3C / 3D)
If only one “third-suit” bid is available at the 3-level (your auction has bypassed the unbid minor), a bid of the unbid major asks for a stopper in that suit. (1D-1H / 2D-3D / 3S)
If the only suit your side has bid naturally is a minor, the stopper focus is on majors. A new major shows a stopper in that suit and asks for a stopper in the other major (1D-3D / 3S)
In competitive auctions:
If an opponent has overcalled one suit, your stopper search focuses on his suit, not on other unbid suits. A 3-level cuebid of his suit asks for a stopper.
If the opponents have shown two suits, a bid of one of their suits shows a stopper in that suit and asks for a stopper in their other suit.
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