The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (July 2010)

   9.  They analyze the auction from partner’s point of view.  (Part 7)

In the previous issue, we looked at some popular uses of the advance cuebid, which is a control-showing bid that’s made before you’ve “officially” agreed on a trump suit. By starting your slam exploration early, this type of cuebid gives you maximum room to find good slams and stay out of bad ones.

Partner will usually understand its triple meaning (support, slam interest and a control) if your fit for his suit is strongly implied -- you’ve opened 1NT, for example, or partner has shown a long, strong suit. The advance cuebid can be so valuable in these situations that it’s tempting to try it in other, less familiar auctions. Here’s one:   

   Partner   RHO    You       LHO
    1D           1H        1NT      2H     
    3C           Pass        ?

What’s your call holding  ♠A7  J765  K3  ♣J10532 ?

One way to show a strong raise, but not necessarily the heart ace, is a 3H cuebid. This can’t be asking for a stopper (you’ve already shown one), so partner should take it as a maximum with good support and few wasted values in hearts.

You can send a stronger message, though, with an advance cuebid of 3S, which shows the big fit plus a key feature. Partner will know that your sudden enthusiasm must be based on support (usually for his second suit), and your spade control may be the information he needs to bid on to game or slam.

The same strategy may have some appeal here: 

   Partner   RHO    You     LHO
    Pass        Pass       1S       3C     
     3H         Pass        ?

Vulnerable at matchpoints, what’s your call holding  ♠AKQ74  KJ107  A4  ♣43 ?

Your passed-hand partner may be stretching, but he certainly struck gold. A 4C bid would confirm support and slam interest, but with no aces of his own to show, partner will have to retreat to 4H with many hands that will make slam. If you make another try (4S or 5D), it will sound to him like you have controls in the two suits you’ve cuebid and are looking for a high honor in the third suit.

Another option is to pinpoint your control with an advance cuebid of 4D. If partner reads this as a slam try for hearts, he’ll be encouraged to cooperate if he has a club control.

That seems perfect, but how certain are you that partner will know what 4D is? Imagine some hands he might hold and his possible concerns. You know his suit is not robust, which may be why he didn’t open a vulnerable preempt. It will also be natural for him to worry about your strength. Third-seat openers are always suspect at matchpoints, and he may be nervous that he’s caught you with a sub-minimum.

Unlike the first example, you haven’t already denied length in the suit you’re cuebidding. Suppose you try 4D and partner holds  ♠3  A86543  654  ♣A62 . You’re convinced this is forcing, but he may find it easy to talk himself into the idea that it’s an escape to your second suit. From his perspective, how else would you bid  ♠KQ654  Void  AQ983  ♣743 ?

You may want to consider your partner’s bidding style. If he’s likely to interpret 4D by applying the guideline “if it could be natural it is”, you won’t want to risk the possibility that he’ll take a pessimistic view and pass. If you’re sure he’ll read 4D as a control for a heart slam – or if he’s the type who always follows the “if it could be forcing, it is” advice – the advance cuebid is safer. Even if partner isn’t sure of its meaning, he’ll bid again and you can clarify by bidding 5H.

A more important issue is whether you should settle for a “safe” slam try. There’s no perfect rebid with your hand, but 5H comes close. It asks a clear question -- do you have a first- or second-round club control? – and relieves partner of any worries about other suits. This could conceivably land you in 6H off two aces, but the alternatives risk missing a laydown slam . . . or declaring a 3-2 fit.

   ©  2010   Karen Walker