Saturday, November 24, 2007

Making Negative Doubles Positive (Part 2)

When I started on Negative Doubles, I didn’t know there would be a Part 2. I thought all you had to do was “double” and now it becomes partner’s problem. It escaped my ever diminishing mind that half the time I would be the partner. We all remember the good times when we have the suit fit, and put behind us those awkward times when all we have is a misfit.

You are the opening bidder, opponents overcalled and partner made a negative double and it has rolled back around to you for action. It’s a happy day – we have a four+ card fit for one or more of the suits that partner advertised with his negative double. You may simply show support for that suit. The level of your supporting rebid will depend on the strength of your hand. I don’t want to minimize the importance of “hand evaluation,” so here is a guideline subject to adjustment for hand quality.

With 12-15 hcps make a single raise in the indicated suit, with 16-17 hcps make a jump raise and with 18-19 bid game. The only real decision will be on the 15 hcp hand. If it is over balanced with Aces and Kings, has good middle cards or has honors sequentially located in single suits, you might want to upgrade it to a jump raise. I might note that none of these bids are forcing. Also note that you are limiting your hand by the level of your supporting bid, but partner (the negative doubler) is still unlimited, so control of the hand is now with responder.

If you have a hand that is worth more than 19 hcps or that has some exceptional playing strength, but did not fit a 2NT or 2 club opening, you must tell the negative doubler that. The way to announce this “monster” is to cue bid the overcaller’s suit. This bid is a “tell me more bid” and “says nothing, nor asks nothing” about their suit. It is simply a game forcing bid (the only forcing rebid opener can make) and responder should further describe his hand as best he can.

Here are some examples: (a) The bidding is 1c/2s/x. As opener you hold (i) xx, AQxx, Qxx, AQxx. (ii) Axxx, AQxx, x, AKQx. (iii) xx, AKxx, xxx, AKJx. With (i) make a single raise, with (ii) bid game and with (iii) we have a very robust 15 hcps and I upgrade it to a jump raise.

Things have gone food so far, but what if you do not have the suit or suits that responder indicated with his negative double? If you have 6 cards in your bid major, you can rebid the suit. If you have a secondary suit that has not been bid or shown you can bid that. I hate rebidding 5 card suits, but if you have a very solid 5 carder and have no better bid, you may have to rebid it. If you have a stopper in the opponents overcalled suit, you can bid no trump. If you have to go to the 2NT level, you better hope that partner did not shade his strength when he decided to negative double, because you are going to need it. Remember the Rule of 23? If none of these solutions work, tell the best lie. After all, partner has to have something for his negative double, and if he does not, we will hereinafter refer to him as “ex-partner.”

Here are some examples. The bidding has gone 1d/2c/x. This shows both majors in my book and remember, while you could have bid 1 heart over 1 diamond without the overcall with 6 hcps, I recommend that you have 8 hcps in this sequence for your negative double. As opener you hold: (i) Qx, AQx, KQJxx, xxx (ii) Qxx, AQx, AQJxx, Kx (iii) Qxx, Kxx, AQJx, xxx. With (i) I may just bid 2 diamonds and hope that partner has at least 2 of them. The other alternative is bid 2NT, not at all appealing from my side. If partner has any extras and a club stopper, maybe he will bid 2NT over my 2 diamonds. At least the opening lead would come up to him. Two diamonds is my bid. (ii) With 18 hcps and a club stopper, I would jump right to 3NT. (iii) Who opened this hand anyway? A pass would have been nice with only 12 hcps and square hand. I rate to get murdered in 2NT. I am going to bid 2 hearts with only 3 card support and hope for the best in this 7 card fit. Where is Sonny Moyse when I need him?

What is responder saying when he passes an overcall? One of two things: Responder either has a stack in the overcalled suit and can’t double (since it would be negative) or partner does not have the strength or correct shape to take action.

Assume the bidding goes 1d/2c/p/p. What are opener’s obligations to reopen the bidding with a double. Remember that you heard it here: Be very careful about doubling back in if you have length in the overcalled suit. The more cards you have in the overcalled suit, the more it looks like the reason partner did not bid is that he’s broke. When opener is short in the overcalled suit, then the possibility that responder made a trap pass looms more likely.

If you have a minimum opening hand double back in at the 1 or 2 level if you have 2 or fewer cards in opponent’s suit. If you are doubling back in at the 3 level with a minimum hand you should have a singleton in opponent’s overcalled suit. Doubling back in with 3 cards in opponent’s suit is dangerous. Even with extra values, pass may be correct. If you want to see an example of a correct reopening double see example (d) (3) in part one of Negative Doubles. In my next blog I will explain Mel Colchamiro’s Rule of 9. When you have that you will know whether to leave the double in or pull it.

Now we finish off with responder’s rebid after his negative double. If opener has made a simple raise in your indicated suit, you can invite to game by a further raise. Alternatively, if opener did not bid your suit, you can venture to 2NT. Both of these actions require about 11 hcps. Responder can also bid a new suit not shown by the original negative double or actually bid one of the suits shown by the negative double. Responder bidding a suit after a negative double almost always shows a 6 card suit that could not be bid on the first response and is to play. Just as we saw with opener’s rebid, none of these rebids by responder are forcing. If responder wants to force to game he must cue bid opponents overcalled suit. Again this doesn’t ask for or tell a stopper, it just says “tell me more.” Responder has now taken charge of the hand. To cue bid after a negative double responder needs 13+ hcps

The requirements for negative doubles that I have laid out in my blog posts are the ones that I think will work the best for most club players. Get on the same page with your partner and when you see an overcall in front of you, before you think about bidding, always consider a negative double first. My guess is that in a normal club session, almost as many negative double are missed as are made.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Making Negative Doubles Positive (Part 1)

I learned all I thought I would ever need to know about bridge in the fraternity house over 50 years ago. The rules were simple. No matter what you held, you opened one club. Another time honored rule was that you doubled whenever you were really ticked off, often over an overcall to intimidate the opponents and get partner’s juices flowing. Doubles were an omnibus bid like 1 club, and were only negative in the sense that if partner did not save you, the opponents would usually make the contract with several overtricks. The redouble was also frequently used, not as SOS, but as a bluffing macho move. The only other thing you needed to know was the phrase “not through the iron duke” which was repeated every time you covered an honor with an honor. In the end we seldom knew who won or lost, and if you did lose, you accused the opponents of using hand signals. Rubbing an eye brow was much in vogue!

This is a long explanation of why 50 years later negative doubles never seem to jump to the front of my brain. It is not uncommon for me to write on subjects that don’t store well in my mind, so here is a basic review of negative doubles—a primer if you will for others who may have experienced something like fraternity/sorority house bridge.

1. Recognition: True negative doubles only occur when partner has opened the bidding at one of a suit and his LHO has made an overcall. So in all bid/direct overcall sequences, you first instinct should be to see if a negative double will work to more fully describe your hand and keep the bidding one level lower.

2. Distribution: Since this is basic, let me make this very simple. In all bid/overcall sequences other than the major/minor or minor/major sequences, your negative double shows 4 cards in all unbid suits. In the major/minor sequences, you negative double shows 4 cards in the unbid major only.

3. High Card Points: Again, trying to demystify, you can make a negative double if you would have bid your suit had there been no overcall. For example, if the bidding is 1c/1h/x, you are showing a 4 card spade suit. Since without the overcall you would have bid 1 spade with a bad 6 hcps, that is all you need to negative double. There is one exception, if the bidding is 1d/2c, look for 8 and not 6 hcps. You will find out why in time!

4. When is a Double Negative? Until you have a reason to change the rule, make negative doubles “ON” through 3 spades. Mark this on your card and make sure you and partner are on the same page. Thus, if opponents make a 4 club or 4 diamond jump overcall, a double is for penalties. Gobble Gobble!

5. Five Card Suits: We have assumed until now that the suits shown by the negative double are 4 cards in length. What do you do if you hold a 5 card suit? You bid the suit rather than make a negative double so partner will know that you hold 5+ cards in the suit. There is one significant exception to this rule. If you hold a 5 card suit, but do not have sufficient points to make a free bid (e.g. 10 points at the 2 level), then you can make a negative double to show the suit even though it is 5 cards in length.

Testing the Basics: (See answers at the end).
(a) The bidding is 1c/1s/? You hold (i) Qx, Kxxx, xxxx, xxx? (ii) Axx, xxxx, Qx Kxxx (iii) QJx, KQxxx, Qxx, xx.
(b) The bidding is 1d/2c/? You hold (i) Kx, Qxxx, Kxxx, xxx (ii) xxxx, xxxx, Kx, KQx (iii) Kxxx, KQxx, AKxx, A.
(c) The bidding is 1s/2h/? You hold (i) xxx, Qx, Axxx, Kxxx (ii) x, QJxx, AQxx, Kxxx (iii) xx, xx, KQxxx, Kxxx.
(d) The bidding is 1h/3d/? You hold (i) KQxx, Jx, xx, Axxxx (ii) Kxxxx, AJX, xx, Axxx (iii) Kxx, Kx, AQxxx, xxxx.

My bidding Choices:
(a) (i) Pass. The Queen of spades is probably dead meat and this may be a 3 hcp hand. (ii) This is a nice negative double despite my 4 small hearts. I also have some defense if opponents get too high. I also like my spade stopper if partner wants to play no trump. (iii) With 5 hearts and 10 hcps I bid 2 hearts. Now if partner has 3 card support we have found an 8 card heart suit. If the hand only had 8 hcps and not 10, I would make a negative double.

(b) (i) I am going to pass without four spades to go with my four hearts. What do I bid if partner bids 2 spades over my negative double? When you figure this out you can change the rule! (ii) The same strength as (i) but with 4-4 in the majors I make a negative double. My minor suit honors make this a very attractive no trump hand as well. (iii) Negative double of course. I have 19 hcps, but the negative double is not limited in hcps. This smells slamish and with my single club may play better in a major suit contract if we have an 8 card fit. There is plenty of time to show my strength after partner further describes his hand.

(c) (i) I have the right holding for a negative double but I also have 3 card support for partner's spades. Support majors with support! I am going to bid 2 spades and forget the negative double. It will be the last chance I have to show my spade support at the 2 level. (ii) I am going to make a negative double to show my 4-4 in the minors. With my 12 hcps and good hearts, the right spot may be 3 NT, but a negative double is a good way to start to describe this hand. (iii) Over 1 spade I would not bid 2 diamonds (not enough for a free bid) so I am not going to negative double. Pass and wait to see what partner does.

(d) (i) Since negative doubles are on through 3 spades, I am going to double to show my nice 4 card spade suit with a negative double. Note that negative doubles are on over jump overcalls as well. Forget about your 5 clubs. (ii) With 5 spades I bid 3 spades, hoping to catch partner with 3 card support. (iii) Pass smoothly. Partner has a diamond shortage and will assume you have made a trap pass and double back in. When he does make another smooth pass and get out your calculator.

Once of my favorite subjects is the pitfalls of "meaningless overcalls." Have you noticed how much easier RHO’s overcall has made it to describe some of these hands? Absolutely essential in many cases. Think about that the next time you consider making a crap overcall! Part 2 of the sequence will deal with bidding action following the negative double. Happy Thanksgiving to all readers.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mel's Rules of 23

Earlier on this Blog I reviewed Mel Colchamiro’s Book, How to Play Like an Expert (Without really being One). One of the ways to be successful in bridge is to have enormous natural talent. Just as we have Savants in every other endeavor, we have them in bridge. Sadly, there are a lot less of those than players who profess to be. The rest of us rely on bridge standards, partnership agreements and following a bunch of rules. One of the rules that Mel’s book hands down to us is the Rule of 23. Actually there are 2 Rules of 23 according to Mel, and he ought to know, it is his book.

Here is the 1st Rule of 23. After the first round of bidding, neither partner will bid 2NT unless he can determine, with reasonable certainty, that the partnership has at least 23 hcps. Actually, I added the words “reasonable certainty.” I know, you are thinking a lawyer always has to use “weasel words” to add maneuvering room. Well, you could look at it that way, but my emphasis was more to prevent inventing the best possible hand that partner could have and then adding that total to your total, getting 22 and saying “close enough.”

Why do we have this rule? Only because it takes 23 points to make 2NT! I know, you are saying, “Wait a minute, I was in 3NT last week with 22 points and made 4.” Believe me, remembering and recalling all of your big success stories is a significant hindrance to long term success. Soon they become a standard in your mind. Your anomalous hand of the decade has not changed the basic math of bridge. Assuming good defense, it still takes 26 points on average to make 3NT and 23 points to make 2NT. If you have fewer than 23 hcps, experience has shown that you are better off playing a contract in a suit at the 2 level, even if you have to play it in a 7 card trump suit. Remember, in a suit contract your little trump will often cash.

If it is your turn to bid and 2NT is an option, you simply count your points and then add to them the minimum hand that partner can have given his bidding. Note that I said minimum, not maximum. So if the bidding has gone 1d/1NT (6-9), you would have to have 17 hcps to now bid 2NT since partner has a minimum of 6. If the bidding went 1c/1h/1NT (12-14), don’t bid 2NT unless you have 11 hcps.

I saw this rule in application in a recent Frank Stewart bidding quiz. You hold KT, xx, AQxxx, KQT3. You open 1 diamond, partner responds 1 spade, you bid 2 clubs, he bids 2NT, what action you take? If you can rely on partner to apply the Rule of 23, you know he would not have bid 2NT unless he could guarantee our combined holding to be a minimum of 23 hcps. Since your bidding has shown no more than 12, he must have at least 11. While your hand only has 14, they are a strong 14 (3 kings, an ace and concentrated honors ) so you should bid 3NT. The good news is so did Frank Stewart, and he didn’t even know the Rule of 23. Unlike some of Mel’s Rules, this is one that can be applied unilaterally with any disciplined partner.

Here is the 2nd Rule of 23. If the game is match points and you are in a competitive auction, if from the bidding you can ascertain with reasonable certainty that you and your partner have a combined 23 hcps, either you play the contract or they play it doubled. Is this risky business, stuff authors write about, but that mortals never apply? Not at all, after all these rules are supposed to make us play like an expert. It would be helpful if you defend like one as well. Will you "take the pipe" on occasion? Of course, and you get all those insidious grins that go along with it, but it is a good long term percentage play. Remember, this is match points and two bottoms and 3 tops still average 60%. Mel’s take on this is quite interesting, he says if opponents make a contract when you and partner hold a combined 23 hcps, you likely were fixed either way, so not much was lost with the double.

How are you going to remember the Rule of 23? For me it’s 23 Skidoo. Adios.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Getting Life and Bridge in Balance

Despite major efforts of the ACBL and the club directors throughout our ACBL domain, the major complaint about our bridge populace is that as a group we are still intimidating, take ourselves and the game too seriously and at times can be downright rude. I know, you have heard it all before and you are all smiles and sweetness. It’s just those other people who can’t take a flaming fix and congratulate the opponents on their success and creativity. Let’s all make a special effort in 2009 to make friends for ourselves and friends for duplicate bridge as well. You will like yourself better and others will like you better as well.

George S. Coffin was a noted bridge expert, writer, publisher and a well respected competitor. In 1970 he wrote “Grace at the Bridge Table” for the MIT Tuesday evening bridge club. I feel whether you are religious or not, the sense of his writing is worth repeating here:

Grace at the Bridge Table

Oh Lord, grant us this session of bridge for our enlightenment and bring forth only the good from the alleged Devil’s Picture Book, the 52 pieces which thou has snatched from Hell and rendered so beneficial.

Please show us we came here not to inflate our vanity by winning but to train and salve the soul in humility and good fellowship.

May we learn from Thee, in life as in bridge, the habit and power of constructive thought, the growth of reason, the development of imagination and self control in all things that we do; also how to befriend our enemies by communication and cooperation.

Please teach us, Oh Lord, that bridge is a relaxing hobby and only a game to play for fun. Let us play now as if this were the last session on earth, yet plan as if we are going to play forever.

Blessed are the losers, for they shall inherit all the bridge games on earth. Amen

Let’s all take the sense of George’s thoughts and make bridge a better place than we found it. Tomorrow is not to early to start. Practice makes perfect.

Bidding Control Cards (Part 2)

In Rule 5 of my last blog post, “Cue Bids and Control Bids (Part 1), I made the statement that the partner in charge of the hand initiates the control bidding process. I also said that the initiating bid may or may not show a control. Actually, most of the time it does show a control (ace or void), but the point is that it really doesn’t matter since the initiating partner is interrogating the responding partner about his controls and also has the ultimate responsibility of evaluating slam probabilities and setting the contract. The reason for the initiating partner to initiate with a control is to avoid stepping responder’s control and forcing him to show it one level higher. The ultimate object is to make it as convenient as possible for responder to show any controls he has at the lowest possible level. A few examples will best illustrate the process.

Strong Playing Hands with Voids:
As noted in part 1, discovering the viability of slams where one of the hands has a void is a prime use of control bidding. Assume I hold AKxxxxx, KQJ, KQx, void. After the 1s/3s sequence, I am interested in slam even though I have only have 18 hcps. As responder you hold QJxx, xxxx, Ax, QJx. I assume that you must have at least one Ace to make a limit raise, but I need to know if the Ace is in diamonds or hearts (and bid 6 spades) or in clubs (and settle for 4 spades). I am in control and I want to ask you to show your controls. As long as my next bid is not in spades and is more than 3NT, your only duty is to tell your story. My initiating bid in this case is 4 clubs! I am making an efficient forcing bid to make it easy for you to show any of your first round controls. With none you would bid 4 spades.

You respond 4 diamonds showing the Ace of diamonds and, since we bid controls “up the line”, your bid denies holding the Ace of clubs. I now start to bid 6 spades, but wait, you could also have the Ace of hearts and then I want to be in 7. I can now bid 4 hearts, asking you to show any higher ranking control cards that you might hold. The 4 heart bid does not say anything about my heart controls, it simply minimizes the level of the bidding and asks you to continue. In this case you bid 4 spades denying the ace of hearts so I now bid 6 spades.

Strong Playing Hands with Worthless Doubleton:
In a second example I hold AKxxx, AK, KQJx, xx. I want to be in slam if you have the Ace of clubs, but in 4 spades if you do not hold that card. You hold QJxx, QJxx, xxx, Axx. No matter how many points we have, if opponents have two tricks off the top, we want to stay at the 5 level. I initiate the cue bid process with a convenient bid of 4 hearts. If you bid 4 spades I know you are aceless. Actually, you bid 5 clubs showing first round control in clubs, and I now want to play this hand in at least 6 spades. You could also hold the Ace of diamonds or the King of clubs, or both (a really good day). Since we bid controls up the line and first round controls first, your bid of 5 clubs did not deny holding either of those cards. How would you continue the bidding to make a further investigation? See my suggestion at the end of this post.

Low Level Exploration:
In my last example I hold AKxxx, x, KQxx, Axx. The bidding is the same 1s/3s. An optimist (we will call him Howard!) will see partner holding (a) Qxxx, Qxxx. Axx, Kx. Slam is just there for the taking. A pessimist will realize that partner may well hold hand (b) Jxxx, AQx, Jxx, Qxx. The pessimist bids 4 spades and considers it may be a better than average board if some other pairs get too ambitious, make a key card 4NT probe and potentially get set at 5 spades.

Howard will see that he can pursue slam and get vital information without going past the opportunity to stop at 4 spades. He bids 4 clubs asking for controls. If partner holds hand (a), he bids 4 diamonds (the Ace of Diamonds). Howard now knows that 11 tricks are not a risk so he bids 4 hearts to see what else partner might have. After all he showed 10-12 points and we have discovered only 4. When he hears 5 clubs, this both shows the King of clubs and denies the Ace of hearts. He now bids 6 spades for a high board.

Let’s assume partner actually held hand (b). Our bid of 4 clubs is going to roust out a bid of 4 hearts from partner showing the Ace of hearts but denying the Ace of diamonds. Since this is the suit in which we hold a singleton, we sense that there may be a duplication of values and that partner’s points may not working points. In reality we can see it is not a high percentage slam, and we would do well to simply bid 4 spades and get out. The point to be made is that he got out at 4 spades and not 5 spades.

Avoiding Gerber Confusion when No Trump is Bid.
My convention cards have always stated that if the first or last bid is no trump, then 4 clubs is Gerber. I am not sure where I got this "pearl of wisdom", but it recently caused me to contract for 12 tricks when on a good day the hands could only make 10. Part of the confusion was ignoring my own card and bidding 4 clubs asking partner for controls. Although no trump was not the opening bid, the bid last preceding my 4 club bid was 3NT. According to our card, partner correctly took my 4 club bid as Gerber, and responded accordingly. The rest was not pretty! I have since consulted the wisdom of my old college pal, Eddie Kantar. The rule according to God is that 4 clubs is only Gerber if partner’s first bid is 1NT or 2NT. Your card probably already says this, and mine does now.

As a parting shot, what if partner asks you to show your controls and then you hear him bid 4NT after your initial response. Believe me, we not playing this sucker in NT, that is an ace or key card asking bid. The two treatments are not mutually exclusive. Partner is entitled to “change horses.” Show your Aces or Key cards as the case may be.

I strongly urge you to start using control bids in your slam bidding a supplement to, and not a substitute for Blackwood or key card asking bids. Just follow the simple rules I gave you in Part 1 and don’t over complicate the process. If you get all tangled up in your underwear, bail out and try again on the next opportunity.

Bidding Continuation on Hand 2. I bid now bid 5 diamonds, a continuing inquiry. In the example hand, since you have no move controls you bid 5 spades. If your hand also contained the Ace of diamonds, but not the King of clubs, you would next bid 6 diamonds instead of 5 spades. If you held the King of clubs, but not the Ace of diamonds, you bid 6 clubs to show 2nd round control of clubs. With both those additional cards (Ace of diamonds and King of clubs) you just bid 7 spades. If that contract isn’t right, tear up your partner’s ACBL card. If he is a life master, I would recommend a tin snips!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Cue Bids and Control Bids (Part 1)

Are you ever confused about that all inclusive bridge term called a “cue-bid?” In modern usage a cue bid no longer shows a full out game forcing powerhouse as it once did, and often says nothing about first or second round control. Some of the old uses prevail such as the Michaels Cue Bids showing a 2 suiter, and Western Cue Bids asking for a control in the pursuit of a three no trump contract. Those are nice accessories to round out a partnership agreement, but they are not essential to success at the game.

In bridge today, a cue bid most often is used by responder to show trump support for an opening bid where opponents have intervened with an overcall. By bidding overcaller’s suit you are telling partner that you have support for his opening bid and limit raise values or better. So 1s/2c/3c! shows 3 or 4 card support for spades and 10+ hcps. The cue bid is also used to show support for an overcall that your partner may have made. So, 1c/1s/p/2c! shows 3 or 4 card support for spades and limit raise plus values. Note the "plus," it is really an unlimited bid. In most partnerships, 99% of the time when you hear a cue bid, it will have this meaning. Use it whenever you can, it sends an unmistakable message to partner and will help you avoid missing makeable games.

There was a time that bids showing either 1st or 2nd round control cards in pursuit of a slam were also called cue bids. In an effort to reduce confusion, these control showing bids are now called “control bids” and not cue bids. A nod of thanks to Bridge World magazine for the clarification. Control bids are not just for experts, they should be used in partnerships at all levels of expertise and in their basic form require only a few rules of the road.

You might ask “Why do I need to complicate my life with learning control bids?” "I just advanced from Blackwood to showing Key Cards (1430 or 0314) and now I can count partner’s controls including the King of Trump! " Just being able to get a count partner’s controls has a fatal weakness in some slam going hands. It is on the occasion when you must know which control partner has that things come apart.

Suppose you have a distributional hand with 4 Losing Trick Count (“LTC”) strength, one of the main features being a void, but you are missing two aces. While some good players open these 4 LTC hands with a 2 club forcing bid, let’s leave that discussion to another time. Assume the bidding goes 1s/p/3s (limit raise) and you now bid 4NT (Blackwood) asking partner for aces. He shows one of the two missing aces! Which ace is it? There is no way to tell, and now all you have done is force the bidding one level higher, and you still have to guess whether the hand will make a slam. In this sequence, the slam is 50/50, and in matchpoints it is a long term loser to be bidding 50% probability slams (unless you want 50% games).

Alternatively, in a second hand you have another 4 LTC hand with 2 aces and a worthless doubleton in clubs. The bidding is the same as shown in the first example. Over 3 spades you now bid 4NT and partner shows 1 Ace. Does partner have first round control in your doubleton, or are you going to lose 2 tricks off the opening lead? In both of these examples, if you do not use control showing bids, you are better off bidding 4 spades and putting an end to the guess work.

There are occasions where you may want to use control bids merely to conserve bidding space. If in a spade bidding sequence you bid 4 clubs as a control asking bid, and the diamond or heart ace are essential to going forward, if partner is aceless and bids 4 spades (a sign off), you can pass one level lower than Blackwood would permit. This facilitates more speculation with out attendant risk.

Control bids are easy if you just apply some simple rules and do not overcomplicate the process. These rules seek to make sure (i) that you realize when partner is asking you to show controls and (ii) that when you respond, partner will know not only what first round controls you have, but even more importantly, what first round controls you do not have.

Rule 1. A bid can never be a request to show control cards unless the partnership has agreed on a trump suit. Thus 1s/3s is trump agreement. If you play Bergen Raises, so also is 1s/3c. Likewise, 1c/1s/3s is agreement. Either partner can initiate the control asking process, but usually it is better to have the partner with the bigger hand in control.

Rule 2: A request to show controls will always be a bid in a suit that has not been bid.

Rule 3
. Any bid under 3NT is not request for you to bid controls. Thus 1s/2s/3c is not a request for controls. It might show a suit, a stopper or be a game try, but you are not being asked to show controls.

Rule 4. We always show all of our 1st round controls (Aces or voids) first and we show them “up the line.” Bidding controls up the line helps partner know when you are showing a 2nd round control. For example, if partner over 3 spades bids 4 clubs, and you bid 4 hearts, you have shown the Ace of hearts, but have denied the Ace of diamonds. If partner now bids 5 clubs, you can safely bid 5 diamonds showing 2nd round diamond control, since you have already denied 1st round control. Alternatively, if partner had bid 4 spades, he is not interested in your King of diamonds, so pass.

Rule 5. The partner initiating the cue bid process is in control. The initiating bid may or may not show a control and you, as responder, do not have a need to know what it shows as long as you know partner wants to hear about your controls.. As long as you are not in control of the hand, all you need to do is respond to partner until he stops the control bidding process by returning to the agreed suit.

In our second installment we will demonstrate by specific hand examples how bidding controls can work in practice. Since the rules that we have discussed will apply, you may find it convenient to make a hard copy of this post so you can refer to it. Just select what you want with your cursor and print in your normal manner. Be sure when you get to the print command page you designate “selection” so you don’t get a lot you don’t want. This is worthwhile, it is something to discuss with your partner and then put into practice. If you get confused, just bid the agreed suit and sign off and consider it a learning experience.