If you are as old as I am (as far as I know none of my readers are) you may remember that old child’s game called “button, button, whose got the button.” In bridge, it is “stopper, stopper, whose got the stopper” also known as Western Cue Bid.
The purpose of the Western Cue Bid is to ask partner if he has a stopper in a suit bid by the opponents. Thus, we find a prime requisite for the Western Cue Bid is that it will only be used in competitive auctions. One more definitional issue before we move on. “What is a stopper?” There is some authority that when originally conceived it was the practice to use Western Cue Bid to find partial stoppers. For example, when opener has Jxx in a suit, a partial stop would be Qx held by partner. I think today it almost universally asks for a full stopper in the suit, meaning Qxx or better, but I always verify that criteria with partner. The objective or goal of the bid is to find a no trump game when no fit is immediately apparent. Thus, any bid of opponent’s suit at a level higher than 3NT means something else, usually showing a control and slam interest.
A Western Q bid auction might look something like this: 1c/1h/2d/p/2h. The 2 heart bid asks partner if he has a heart stopper and indicates a willingness to play a no trump contract. Since no one has bid spades, the heart cue bid also implies a spade stopper. If all is well in paradise, and partner has a stopper, he can bid 3NT with a game going values or bid 2NT with an invitational hand. If the response is 2NT, then opener will need 15+ hcps to continue to game. Notice that in this instance the auction enabled the Western cue bid to be made at the 2 level with a minimum balanced hand since responder showed 10+ with his 2 level free bid. Most of the time 23 hcps will make 2NT.
If the auction goes 1c/1h/2c/2h/3h, this is also a Western Cue bid even though both opponents have bid the suit. The difference is that opener must have the 15+ hcp hand since he is forcing partner to 3NT or a bail out at the 4 level. With Western Cue bid hands, the prelude will usually be that opener and partner have not found a suit fit and for that reason are searching for a no trump contract.
Other Western Cue Bid auctions could be 1c/x/xx/1h/2h or even 1c/p/1d/x/p/1h/2h. No matter what your understandings may be for constructive auctions, in competitive auctions Western Cue Bid is always "asking", never "telling". There is an important reason why it is asking. If partner has the stopper, he will be the no trump declarer and thus the lead will be coming up to the stopper hand. A problem common to most stopper showing bids is that the hand gets played wrong sided and the lead comes through the stopper hand. Not a good thing if the stopper is Kx.
Here is a final cue bid auction, but a frequent one. 1c/1h/2d/p/3c/p/3h. Here we have responder making the Western Cue bid. Either partner can institute the Western cue bid, but the activating partner becomes the “Captain” of the hand and has the responsibility to make sure that the auction doesn’t get out of control. In this case responder may have something like Axx, xx, AQxxx, Kxx and hopes partner has a heart stopper and can bring in the entire 6 card club suit at 3 NT. Western Cue bids are often used when one of the partners has a long running minor suit.
What about stopper showing when opponents open a weak 2 bid. Well this has nothing to do with Western Cue Bids, but the best solution is Lebensohl over Weak 2 Bids. I will write about this very useful treatment in a coming blog.
Is a Western Cue bid alertable? Well, no, since you are not supposed to have to wake up your opponents when you have just bid their suit! In fact, if you do alert, you will probably get a director call. That does not mean that you can’t mark Western Cue Bid on your convention card. I want partner to review our card before each game and putting the treatment on the card will serve as a reminder.
This would not be a blog authored by me if I did not heap a little scorn on useless overcalls, particularly minor suit overcalls with weak hands. I will say again, as I have in the past, that there is a cost to every overcall. Most often it is setting up a negative double or locating honors, suits and distribution, but in the case of a successful Western Cue bid auction, without the overcall, it may be impossible to find the stopper and the no trump game, or worse yet, we may have stumbled into 3NT without a stopper. Thanks guys!