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.

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