The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   

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

What do you believe is the “standard” meaning of your 5H bid in this auction?

     Partner     You
   1S             2H   
       3H            5H

The voluntary raise to five of a major is a topic that’s frequently skipped in partnership discussions. It doesn’t come up often, and when it does, there are standard agreements that can be applied. Before you try one at the table, though, you’ll want to be sure your partner is familiar with these meanings and, because they vary depending on the situation, that he’s interpreting the auction the same way you are. 

The most “obvious” use – and the one partner will consider first -- is as a request for control of a specific suit. This meaning takes precedence if the opponents have bid (it asks partner to bid slam if he can win the first or second lead of their suit) or if you and partner have bid three suits (it asks for control of the unbid suit).

Your intent won’t always be so clear in other situations. In the auction above, there are two unbid suits, so partner will assume that your 5H is asking a different question. The two possibilities are “Do you have good trumps?” or “Do you have extra strength and controls?”

Determining which question to answer will require a careful read of the auction. In general, partner will interpret your raise as asking for strong trumps if:

The auction above matches those conditions, so a thoughtful partner should work out that you have slam interest with good controls, but weak trumps. Your hand might be
     ♠Void   Q9754   AKQ7   ♣AJ102

Keycard Blackwood is pointless, and even if you play Exclusion Blackwood (“Voidwood”), you can’t use it when your void is in partner’s suit. Another alternative is a 4C or 4D cuebid, but that rates to be futile, too. You’ll be showing all the controls and partner will be retreating, and it will be difficult to focus his attention on trumps.

Once partner has figured out what you need, he then has to decide what qualifies as “good trumps”.  The typical holding for your 5H inquiry is a queen-high or king-high suit that needs fillers above and below. To accept your slam invitation, partner should have a high honor plus the jack, or a high honor with extra length. He’ll bid 6H with KJ3, but pass with K83. Keep his likely answers in mind when you’re deciding what holding you should have to ask the good-trumps question.

You’ll find plenty of exceptions to the general guidelines about when 5H or 5S is the trump ask. Here’s one:

     Partner     You
   1S             2H   
        4S             5S

This isn’t a jump, you aren’t the original bidder and you haven’t previously shown support, but partner should still take 5S as a question about trumps. He can logically conclude that if you needed a control in an unbid suit, you could have searched by cuebidding 5C or 5D. If you had good controls and adequate spade support, you would have used Keycard Blackwood. Therefore, you must have plenty of high cards, but worries about trumps.

Partner will always consider the auction when he evaluates his trumps. He’s already shown a long, strong suit, so he won’t bid on unless it has the power to play opposite a singleton or void. He’ll carry on to slam with  ♠AKQJ976, but pass with ♠KJ1097652.

 ©  2011   Karen Walker