The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (June 2010)

   9.  They analyze the auction from partnerís point of view.  (Part 6)

Modern bidders have dreamed up a seemingly unlimited number of ways to search for slams. A popular but sometimes problematic strategy is the advance cuebid, which is a control-showing bid thatís made before youíve explicitly agreed on the trump suit. When partner can read your meaning, this type of cuebid can improve slam auctions by allowing you to exchange information at a lower level. When he canít, you may get to practice declaring a 3-2 fit.

The advance cuebid works best in auctions where itís obvious that you have support for partnerís suit. For example, you open 2NT, partner responds 3H (transfer to spades) and you rebid 4C. Partner will know you wouldnít risk going to the 4-level unless you had a big fit. Your 4C bid says, ďI have enough to jump to 4S, but my values are so perfect that Iím showing my club ace on the way, in case you have slam interest, too.Ē Your hand might be  ♠KQ75  106  AKQ6   ♣AK3.

Advance cuebids can also be valuable when a fit is implied, as in auctions where partner shows a long, strong major. After you and partner bid 1H - 1NT (forcing) - 3H, for example, responderís new-suit bid shows an ace and a fitting maximum for a possible heart slam. You would bid 4D with a hand such as  ♠75  K3  AK74  ♣108743. This is such a common usage that an experienced partner would probably take this as a cuebid even without prior discussion.

Most partners will also assume that support is implied in this auction:

    You        Partner        
   1NT         2D  (transfer)
   2H           3C
   3D  

3D shows a diamond control and a fit for partnerís second suit. It also denies support for his major (with 3+ hearts, you would rebid 3H). Your early cuebid for the minor can help partner evaluate slam potential before the auction goes past 3NT.

A thoughtful partner shouldnít have problems with these auctions. In all the situations above, there are few, if any, hands you could hold that would justify a search for another trump suit. Partner can logically conclude that your new-suit bid must be sending a message about support for his suit.   

Youíll want to be more cautious when considering a cuebid that requires a follow-up to uncover its meaning. In these auctions, partner is in the dark for one round, but will be alerted to the true nature of your hand when you make your next bid. Ideally, hereís how it works:

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

Your hand is  ♠843  AQ3  65  ♣K10976. You could have shown some slam interest with a straightforward raise to 4C at your second turn, but the advance cuebid of 3H allows you to start the control bidding a level lower.

At this point in the auction, partner wonít assume youíre looking for slam. Heíll interpret 3H as showing a stopper for game rather than an ace for slam, and heíll rebid 3NT if he has a spade stopper. From his perspective, your hand could be  ♠743  KQ3  652  ♣J632 .

Your 4C bid clarifies that 3H was a control bid for a club slam. It also focuses partnerís attention on the need for a spade control. If he holds  ♠A10  5  AKQ74  ♣AQ854, your auction will convince him to use keycard Blackwood (thereís no point in further cuebidding) and bid the club slam.

So whatís the risk? In the ideal auction, your slam intentions were clear because you freely bid past 3NT. However, change partnerís hand to  ♠5  KJ  AK10943  ♣AQJ8  and heíll get to the 4-level before you can. With no spade stopper, heíll have to bid 4D at his third turn, and youíll have no way to tell him what your 3H bid really meant.

Over 4D, you could try 4H, but partner will read this as a cuebid for diamonds, not clubs. Or you could just bid 5C or 6C and hope you guessed right. As you ponder these poisons, that direct 4C raise will be looking better and better.

   ©  2010   Karen Walker