The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   

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

In the past two issues, we’ve discussed the guidelines partner uses to interpret your raise to 5H or 5S. In constructive auctions, a jump or free raise to five of a major sends one of three messages:

   (1)  I have the strength and trumps for slam, but I need control of a critical suit.

   (2)  I have the strength and controls, but I need strong trumps. 

   (3)  I have the trump quality, but I need extra strength or controls. 

(1) takes top priority. It’s relatively easy to recognize because it applies only after the opponents have bid a suit or you and partner have bid three suits.

In other auctions, partner will know you intend either (2) or (3), but the conditions that suggest one over the other are very similar. His first inclination may be that it’s the “good trumps” question (2). There are many situations where a 5-level raise is the best way to focus on trump quality, although modern Blackwood variations (keycard and “voidwood”) have made this usage less necessary.

The quantitative raise (3) is a standard tool in notrump auctions. If you Stayman or transfer and then raise opener’s reply to the 5-level, it sets trump and invites slam (1NT - 2C; 2S - 5S, for example). Modern gadgets, however, have made this a rare auction (some pairs use a jump to 4D or a 3-level bid of the other major to show this hand).

The more valuable use of (3) is in suit auctions, where it’s a request for outside controls rather than overall strength. In general, partner will read your 5-level raise as asking this question if:

Here are two auctions that should draw partner’s attention to the unbid suits:

       Partner     You
         1S           1NT  (forcing)
         3H           5H

5H can’t be a request for strong trumps, since that implies you have good controls in unbid suits. It has to say, “I have great trumps and a maximum, but no outside aces.” It’s a hand that’s too good for a raise to 4H, but not suitable for Blackwood. You might hold  ♠Q    KQ1063   QJ74  ♣J102 .

     LHO    Partner    RHO     You
                    1S            3H         4H
      Pass       4S           Pass        5S

By cuebidding first, then raising to 5S, you’ve confirmed that 4H was more than just a good high-card raise. Partner will know you have a heart control (you would have bid an immediate 5S to ask him for one). If all you needed was good trumps, you could have used Keycard Blackwood. If you were looking for an ace or king in just one unbid suit, you could have continued with a cuebid of the other.

That logic should lead partner to the conclusion that you lack minor-suit controls. He’ll envision a hand with the heart ace or void, great trumps and good fillers, but nothing else to cuebid:
    ♠AK942    A54   Q6   ♣QJ10

When in doubt, partner may be able to divine your intent just by looking at his hand. With good outside controls, he’ll know you must have strong trumps but worries about the unbid suits. With a good trump holding, he’ll presume you have the controls and need his trump honors. With neither, he won’t have a problem passing.

To be successful with these raises, you have to trust partner’s reasoning skills and be alert to the possible pitfalls. The vagaries of high-level auctions can make it easy to assume that your 5-level raise “must” be asking about whatever you happen to need. Before you try one, be sure you’re focusing on how partner will analyze the auction, without being swayed by your own cards and what you want your bid to mean.

 ©  2011   Karen Walker