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!