The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (April 2011)

   9.  They analyze the auction from partner’s point of view.  (Part 16) 

Does your partnership have an agreement about all the possible follow-ups in this auction? 

   You       Partner        
1H          1S
    2NT        3D
    3NT        4D

What’s your call holding  ♠A4   AJ742   Q75    ♣AK6 ?

One way to show your diamond fit and slam interest would be to make a control cuebid. The standard way to do this is to bid your cheapest ace (4H), but complications can arise when the cuebid suit is a major you’ve bid naturally. Many pairs have the agreement that when in doubt, a game bid in a major suit previously bid by either partner is an offer to play there.

If you cuebid 4H, partner may think you’re suggesting a final contract, showing poor holdings in his suits, but strong hearts. For example, ♠43   AKQ109   J52   ♣AKJ.

A 4S advance will also sound natural and passable. It’s the bid you might make with a good  doubleton – a hand such as  ♠KJ  AKJ52  543  ♣KQJ. The third possibility – 5C – is a clearer move toward 6D, but it uses up a lot of space and, like 4H and 4S, it won’t talk partner into bidding the slam. With no outside aces to cuebid, he’ll have to retreat to 5D and you’ve learned nothing.

When you hold this much strength, it will usually be easier to ask partner what he holds rather than try to show him what you have. The perfect asking bid here is keycard Blackwood. If partner shows the ace-king of diamonds, you can continue with 5NT to invite a grand slam.

Before you try this, though, you’ll want to consider how obvious it will be to partner that 4NT is ace-asking. Is it possible that he’ll think 4NT is to play, as in this similar auction?

    You         Partner        
    2NT         3D   (transfer to hearts)
    3H           4D

In this sequence, your 4NT is commonly played as a notrump retreat. It tells partner you don’t have a heart fit and aren’t interested in 6D, but that you have good stoppers in the unbid suits. If partner applies this principle to the first auction above, he may pass 4NT.

Your hand is so perfect for slam that you shouldn’t be willing to take that risk. If you have any doubts about how partner will interpret 4NT, your safest course is to jump directly to 6D.

In practice, the best bid may depend on what you know about your partner’s experience, personality and approach to the game. Experts and “system geeks” are more likely to assume that an ambiguous 4NT bid is anything but Blackwood. Less experienced players and those who prefer simpler bidding systems will lean more toward the ace-asking meaning.

What do you believe is the “correct” meaning for your 4NT bids the auctions below?  And more important, how do you expect your favorite partner to interpret them?  

 (1)   LHO    Partner      RHO      You      
                        1C           4S         4NT

 (2)      3S        4H           4S          4NT

 (3)                                 2D         DBL  
         Pass       3NT        Pass        4NT

 (4)    2H         DBL       Pass        4NT

 (5)     Partner       You      
            1H              1S
            2H              3D
           3NT           4NT

More about these and other 4NT dilemmas in the next issue.

 ©  2011   Karen Walker