The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders 

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

In the last issue, we looked at popular updates for 5NT bids. The oldest and most well-known meaning – Grand Slam Force (GSF), asking for two of the top three trump honors -- still applies in some auctions, but the modern trend is to use 5NT for other searches.

These new treatments have created new sources of misunderstandings. A 5NT bid that was once an obvious GSF may now be read as a takeout or cuebid by a partner who’s “up” on current bidding theory. Before you try an undiscussed 5NT, you’ll want to consider the potential problems and your partner’s tendencies.

Do you expect your partner to take a traditional or progressive view in these auctions?

          LHO    Partner    RHO     You

   (1)     4D        4S          Pass       5NT

   (2)     4H        4S          5H         5NT

The most widely used meaning for 5NT is “pick a slam”, which applies if your auction has suggested two or more possible strains. This has become so handy that many players are employing it in other situations. One of the more exotic is (1).

The theory is that after a 4- or 5-level enemy preempt, a bid of 5NT at your first turn – whether partner has bid or not – is needed as a takeout for unbid suits. In (1), you’re showing long clubs and hearts.

Should this be clear to partner? Even though this 5NT sounds like GSF – it’s a jump and there’s only one bid suit – partner can reason that you could have cuebid 5D or used Keycard Blackwood if you had spade support.

The meaning changes, though, if your RHO sacrifices at the 5-level. In (2), a common agreement is that 5NT is a cuebid that confirms spades and shows the heart ace or void.

It’s helpful to be aware of these modern ideas, even if you never have the opportunity (or the courage) to try one on partner. It’s not just the unfamiliar auctions that cause confusion, though. Here’s a 5NT bid that’s more common, but can be just as problematic:

            You       Partner

    (3)     1S         2D
             3D         4NT
             5S         5NT

What’s your call holding   ♠Q10764  AK9  KQ5  ♣62 ?

Partner’s 2D was forcing to game and 4NT was Keycard Blackwood, with you showing two keycards plus the trump queen. You’ve agreed to bid specific kings over the 5NT continuation, so you have an “easy” reply of 6H. Or should you reconsider?

Partner’s 5NT is technically a king-ask, but its main purpose is to inform you that he’s found all the keycards and wants to know about your interest in a grand slam. From his point of view, you could have more than 14 points for your raise, so he’s keeping all options open.

Your first obligation is to evaluate your hand for 7D. If you want to accept the invitation, there’s no need to show a king; you should jump directly to seven. If you’re not sure, you make your king reply, but only if you can do so safely.

A 6H bid here isn’t safe. You have a minimum and your heart king is surely opposite partner’s singleton (he wouldn’t Blackwood without controls in unbid suits). Your best course is to deny the club king and settle for 6D. Partner may hold  ♠A9   5   A109872   ♣AQJ3 .

There’s good bridge logic behind these recommendations, but the “right” bid will depend on how confident you are that partner will think like you do. If you haven’t discussed these auctions, it’s best to follow the advice suggested by the old saw “If it walks like a duck ...”. If your 5NT “sounds like” Grand Slam Force, that’s the answer you’ll get. If it’s the end of long session and you ask for kings, be ready for a tired partner to give the standard reply.

 ©  2011   Karen Walker