The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders

   9.  They analyze the auction from partner’s point of view.   (May 2011)

How do you expect partner to interpret your 4NT bid in these auctions?  

           LHO     Partner    RHO       You   

 (1)                    1C            4S           4NT

 (2)     3S           DBL         4S           4NT

 (3)                   1H            Pass          1S
          Pass        2H           Pass          3C
          Pass        3NT         Pass         4NT

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

 (5)     2H          DBL        Pass         4NT

 (6)                                                   1S     
          Pass        3S            Pass         4D   
          Pass        4H           Pass         4NT

Many partnerships stumble in these situations because there are so many possible meanings for 4NT. Depending on the context, 4NT can be a move toward slam or a retreat, a notrump raise or an ace-asking bid, a confirmation of a trump suit or a search for one. 

You might have a strong opinion about what 4NT should mean in each auction, but the critical issue is what partner thinks. If you haven’t discussed these sequences, partner may rely on what he believes is “expert standard” – the agreements that are popular among experienced players. It’s helpful to know how other pairs play these auctions so you can be ready for the different ways partner might read them.

The conventional wisdom is that a non-jump 4NT is best played as takeout in competitive auctions such as the first two above. In (1), 4NT shows long diamonds and hearts. In (2), it sends a “two places to play” message, showing length in two of the three unbid suits.

An experienced partner may read 4NT as takeout in both auctions, but slight variations can change his view. In (1), many experts prefer using 4NT as Blackwood if partner opened a major instead of a minor. In (2), 4NT is more commonly played as keycard Blackwood if partner overcalled a suit instead of making a takeout double. 

You’ll also want to be aware of potential misunderstandings when you intend 4NT as a quantitative raise. Your meaning will usually be obvious if partner opened 1NT or 2NT, even if you bid 4NT after a Stayman or transfer sequence. It’s also clear if you bid 4NT directly over a notrump rebid that shows a specific point range (1C-1S-1NT, or 2C-2D-2NT).

The trickier auctions are those where 4NT is not a jump, as in (3) and (4). The modern view is that  raising 3NT to 4NT is invitational if you haven’t found a trump fit. However, there’s a good argument for defining it as Blackwood, since there are many hands where you’ll want to check for aces after partner’s 3NT rebid. In (3), how else would you bid  ♠KQJ1095   K   Q4   ♣AKJ7 ?

In (4), you’d want 4NT to be ace-asking if you held  ♠AKQJ105   KQJ2   6   ♣K2 .

The biggest fans of the quantitative 4NT may assume this meaning even in auctions where notrump hasn’t been bid. In (5), they would read 4NT as an invitation to 6NT. 

Auction (6) is another situation where opinions differ. This is most valuable as keycard Blackwood, but some players – your partner may be one of them -- believe that once you begin cuebidding, 4NT cannot be Blackwood. Instead, they play it as a request for another cuebid (a treatment called DI, for “declarative-interrogative”). A more exotic use is as a trump cuebid, showing one (but not both) of the top trump honors.

When an undiscussed 4NT comes up at the table, you may have to use what you know about partner’s bidding style to guess how he defines it. Some players will assume that an ambiguous 4NT is always Blackwood. That approach may seem old-fashioned, but in their defense, they seldom bid slams off two aces.

At the other end of the spectrum are scientists who look for reasons to define 4NT as anything but ace-asking. If that’s your partner’s tendency, you probably won’t get a Blackwood response in any of the above auctions. If you want to be in slam, you may have to jump to it rather than risk hearing partner pass what he thinks is an invitational 4NT.

 ©  2011   Karen Walker