The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (December 2010)

   9.  They analyze the auction from partner’s point of view.  (Part 12)

Yet another variety of the Tortured Cuebid Auction:

  North      East       South      West       
   1D           1S         DBL        3S*      * (Preemptive)
   Pass        Pass       4S           Pass
   5D          Pass        ?

North:   ♠KQ3   J6   A8754   ♣K42 

South:   ♠10   AKQ4  KJ   ♣QJ10753

South fell in love with his hand and, fearing that partner might pass 4C, decided to force with a space-eating cuebid. There’s no perfect bid with this hand, but almost anything is better than his choice of heading for slam before finding the right game.

A cuebid of the opponent’s suit should always say more than just “I have a good hand”. At low levels, responder’s cuebid usually shows support for opener’s suit or asks for a stopper for notrump. Above 3NT, it’s a control bid if you’ve already confirmed a trump suit, a strong supporting bid if you haven’t.

Partner will interpret an ambiguous cuebid as a fit for his suit, and that’s what happened here. North, assuming 4S was a try for a diamond slam, signed off at 5D, leaving South squirming. If South had stopped to consider how partner would interpret 4S, he would have risked 4C (which should be forcing) or a double, which is the only way to get to 3NT. Double also gives partner the option of passing, which could be the best result if the opponents are vulnerable.

An unnecessary cuebid can backfire even when you know where you’re going: 

  North    East       South       West
   1D         2D*        3D         Pass         *(Michaels – both majors)   
   3H         Pass       3NT        Pass
   4D         Pass       5C          Pass
    ?

North:  ♠2   AK6   AJ1063    ♣KQJ7

South:  ♠Q86   543   K7542    ♣A3

North considered his 3H cuebid as a “free” move toward slam. It might elicit a cuebid from partner, and if not, he could always Blackwood later. South, however, read 3H as a notrump search that showed heart values and asked for a spade stopper, and his 3NT rebid threw a wrench into the grand plan.

North now had to worry about the possibility that partner would take 4NT as a notrump raise instead of keycard Blackwood, so he rebid 4D. That confirmed his slam intentions and talked partner into showing the club ace, but North was still guessing about the trump king. It was an awkward problem that could have been avoided if he had bid a direct 4NT over 3D.

An impulsive cuebid is sometimes an attempt to delay a decision or transfer control to partner.

  North    East       South      West  
                2H          DBL        Pass   
   3S         Pass       4H           Pass
   4S         Pass       4NT         Pass
   5C        Pass        5S            All pass

North:   ♠K9543   Q102   Q    ♣QJ52

South:   ♠AQ82   3   AKJ92    ♣A83

South couldn’t make up his mind about slam chances, so he punted with a cuebid. He was hoping for divine inspiration at his next turn or, better, that he could convince partner to Blackwood.

North rebid 4S, as expected, and now South decided to ask for keycards. He knew he’d made a poor choice, though, when partner didn’t give a prompt reply.

A thoughtful bidder will always try to determine a logical explanation for his partner’s strategy. Here, North reasoned that if South wanted to Blackwood for spades, he surely would have bid 4NT over 3S, especially since he had learned nothing new from the extra round of bidding. His cuebid-then-4NT auction must therefore be describing a different type of hand. North concluded that partner was trying to get him to choose another suit, so he bid a natural 5C. South thought this was a Blackwood response showing zero keycards, so he signed off at 5S and missed a good slam.        

At best, these “mark-time” cuebids needlessly extend your auctions. At worst, partner may read more into them than you intended. Before succumbing to the urge to make one, put yourself in partner’s seat, imagine some hands he might hold and plan how you’ll handle his possible rebids.

   ©  2010   Karen Walker