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Shawn Stringer, President
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Jun/JulArticle by Steve RobinsonOct/Nov
ArticlesTrying to Make a Slam Less Trying (Aug/Sep 2008)
You hold Q109xxxxAKJxxx and you're playing with me and we have agreed to play limit raises with no other discussions. It goes by us only 1 - 3 (limit raise) - 4. What would you expect me to have for my 4? If you were playing with your clone, what would you expect your clone to have?

There are three ways to play 4. Shortness, length or shows a diamond control and denies a club control. It would be nice to know which method your partner is using. Since very little has been said about this subject, it’s usually a guess what partner has. What you shouldn’t do is to look at your hand to try to tell what partner has.

I don’t like the third method where you don’t know what KQxx is worth. It’s golden opposite length but worth very little opposite shortness. I think some experts were persuaded looking at the AK of diamonds. What I should have done is to reverse the minors. Have partner bid 4 and have you hold QJ9xQJxxxKQxx. You can make 7 opposite AKxxxAxx-AJxxx but can be held to 4 opposite AKxxxAKxxxxxA. I have always played that unless a bid specifically shows shortness, it shows length. 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 3 shows length in hearts and therefore shortness in clubs. After 1 - 2, 3 shows length. The way you show shortness is an unusual jump. These are general principles and if you come to a specific sequence that hasn’t been discussed, you try to apply the general principle. I can’t understand how partner is going to work out what to do if you can have either length or shortness.

Most experts play 4 as a help suit slam try.


Barry Rigal---4 is diamond help-suit slam try. I would bid 5 over it with this hand.

Mike Becker---Whether playing with you or my clone, partner's bid is more of a need help slam try than a cue bid. He suggests something like AKxxxxAQxxxAx or AKJxxAxQ10xxAx or AKJxxAQ10xxxA with another x in clubs or hearts. I could not have a better hand, so we make at least a small slam with any of the above. Playing with you, Steve, I would bid 6, confident that you would play me for the hand I have or something a little worse, perhaps JxxxxxAKxxxxxx. Playing with my clone, I would bid 5NT, which says, "I'd like to bid seven, but I am not allowed to bid more than six," and guarantees a fit for diamonds. This is what I call, "an impossible NT bid," where a limited hand jumps to 4NT or 5NT to show an incredibly good hand that would like to bid one level higher than permitted.

Henry Bethe---Playing with Edgar Kaplan, (I do not have enough experience with you) I would expect this to be an "interest" bid, focusing my attention on diamonds for slam purposes. He might hold something like AKxxxxAxQxxxA. With my magnificent diamonds I would raise to 6. Playing with me I would expect a diamond control and no club control in a serious slam try. For example: AKxxxxAKQxnoneQxx. Since I have no club control, I would sign off in 4.

John Carruthers---Very interesting problem. Normally, I'd play lowest control bids in a cue-bidding sequence. However, a case can be made for 4 being a second suit, something like AKxxxxAxQ109xx-, a help-suit slam try. Playing this treatment, perhaps 3NT should not be an offer to play but 'rolling' and beginning a cue-bidding sequence. Can't be 'serious' as responder is already limited. Playing lowest controlled suit, you'd have to have something like AKxxxAKxxvoidxxxx, which is hardly descriptive, but with that agreement 4 by responder is clear; 4, in addition to a heart control, would also promise a club control as opener has denied one. Absent all that, I'd expect you to have the first hand and would bid 5, also my most descriptive call - all my stuff in your suits and a suitable hand for slam. If you had the second hand, we'd need to agree on one or the other, probably after going minus in slam!

Ralph Katz---I’d expect you to have Diamonds! My clone would have AKJxxxAxQ10xxx-.

I wonder who would win an argument if one played with one’s clone.

Jill Meyers---It is certainly arguable that it is a second-suit-slam try. With my partners I play that a relay asks for a singleton so if you are not looking for a singleton in partner's hand I would think a second suit, it certainly gives me something to discuss with partners.

Bobby Wolff---Your hand is touching on an important part of high-level bidding. Most of the time, after a trump suit is agreed on (and understood to be by both partners), further bidding is based primarily on what in the modern bridge world is now called control bidding. After all, since all variations of Blackwood are only used (100%) to keep from bidding a small slam with more than one cashable ace (or in KCB the king of trumps) outstanding and, of course, a grand slam with no cashable ace (or in KCB the king of trumps) outstanding, then the only other possible slam bidding device is to show side length in one particular suit so that partner can judge his hand accordingly.

I think your question has uncovered a high-level truth. It might read, similar to after a Jacoby jump raise to a one-of-a-major opening and then a jump response to four-of-an-unbid suit by opener to show a side five-card suit. Perhaps this new innovation could read: "When the known stronger hand begins his (and the partnerships) first cue bid at the four-level or higher it becomes a side suit, not a control bid, and partner then evaluates his holding in that suit, rather than his own side controls and/or his trump holding to determine slam interest". If so in this hand, he has an easy raise to five or six diamonds to show a great holding in that suit and enlighten partner to where his side values lie. Incorporate it, patent it and call it Robinson, but I really like it. Obviously I have slipped behind the times in the development of expert slam bidding updates. Thanks for reminding me that it is alive and well.

Bart Bramley---The first cue bid should be length, to help partner evaluate. You need helpers in your suit(s) and side aces. The value of side kings is uncertain. Side queens are marginal at best. In the given auction you might have AKxxxAxQ10xxAx, which makes 6 (on 3-2 diamonds) but not 6. I would raise to 5 and let you drive it in yourself if you have that hand. In my style the one thing you will NOT have is a void (or a singleton), so my AK must be golden cards.

“American style” cue bidding is quite different from “European style”. They tend to cue bid up-the-line indiscriminately, both shortness and length, and both first and second round controls. That style can be effective in pinpointing a missing control early enough to stop in game. If partner skips a control, you don’t cooperate unless you have that control, regardless of how good your hand looks. Our style is better for overall evaluation and for uncovering secondary fits, as in your example.

Kit Woolsey---I would expect you (or my clone) to have a hand where secondary diamond values in my hand should be upgraded. A typical hand might be: AKJxxAQ10xxKQx. If partner has such a hand, on a scale of one to ten my hand is a ten. Thus, I would drive to a slam via RKC. At the end I would bid 6 instead of 6 since a potential 4-4 diamond fit might be better depending upon partner's shape and cards in hearts and clubs. He should be well placed to make that determination. The 4 call definitely does not show a singleton or a void.

Fred Stewart---AKJxxxKxQ10xxA or some such thing, perhaps a 5-5 with a similar hand. Clearly you want me to focus on my diamonds, otherwise you would have bid 4 ... looking for a cuebid, or an eventual last train. On the hand you've given me I have a clear slam drive.

Nick Nickell---Most of the time that you can logically bid a slam after a one bid and a limit raise is when opener is has distributional value and the hands fit well. In order to explore the quality of the fit, opener needs ways to show two basic hand types. One is a two-suiter (5-4, 5-5, 6-4, 6-5, etc) where you want partner to look at the quality of the fit in the two suits. The other is a one suited hand with shortness somewhere to get partner to focus on the fit in both of the other suits. We use a one step relay to show the shortness and bid immediately to show the second suit. (This can be reversed). So, playing with Richard Freeman, my partner would be showing diamonds as his second suit. Obviously, I have a huge hand if this is what he has, and I would bid so as to insure getting to slam and try to explore a grand. 7 needs 3-2 trumps opposite AKxxxxAxQxxxA, and he could have a better hand. If he showed a one-suiter with shortness in diamonds, I would treat my hand as poor and bid only 4. By the way, this bidding method does not deal with what to do with a balanced hand that might make slam opposite a limit-raise. Cue bidding with such hands is not such a great way to proceed and these hands will be less frequent than the distributional ones. We would show such a hand by bidding five-of-the-major.

I would assume that you had a side suit, without an agreement. Based on that, you should drive to slam. However, since I am not certain, a wiggle could be to bid 5 and then pass 5 and bid 6 over 5.

Eddie Kantar---No discussion? My feeling is that to try for a slam after a limit-raise you need a singleton or 5-5. Without discussion, I would assume 5-5 and raise to 5 (a safety bid). I should raise to 6. My clone would have a singleton diamond (on frequency) and I would return to 4.

Billy Eisenberg---A two-suiter.

Robert Lipsitz---I would suspect a Zia psych such as AKxxxxAxxAQJx. However, if partner were an honest citizen he would have AKJxxAxQ10xxxA.

You will not get very far if you don’t trust your partner. If 4 promises the ace or king, then partner is psyching, however most experts don’t have that specific understanding.

Billy Pollack---My answer is the same to both: I expect controls up the line on the four-level (ace or king, not shortness) after a limit raise, with the next higher suit of the limit- raise asking for shortness. So I couldn't hold AKJx opposite partner's 4-bid. 4 would deny club control and request a heart cuebid, only with club control: AKxxxxAQxxAxx.

If you’re bidding controls up the line and 4 denies a club control, then 4 should promise a club control and say nothing about hearts. If you knew you were off a club control you would signoff no matter how strong your hand was.

Fred Hamilton---I would not cue bid a short suit as my initial slam try as partner is going to like a card there so my clone has AKJxxAKQxxxxx or better. Actually I think that is what you should have, so I will give you 6. I expect we are off a club control but if you have both club and heart control you might be able to bid seven.

Frank Stewart--- I believe the practice among almost all experts is to avoid initial cue bids with void suits and singletons. It would help to know my partner's style, but I would treat 4as a bluff. I would expect you to hold a hand with two or three low diamonds, and you'd be trying to discourage a diamond lead against an eventual slam. That is probably what I would have since no other interpretation makes sense.

If the opponents have bid a suit, then a cue bid in that suit could easily be shortness.

Eric Greco---Without the agreement that 3NT should be for something (I like a one-suited type slam try). Then I would imagine that new suits should be as natural as possible. Cue bidding shortness just makes it impossible for partner to determine what is going on unless that is your agreement. I would expect something like AKxxxAKQxxxxx. Maybe even AKxxxxAxxQxxA. Presumable most experts without discussion would assume something like this but that is my opinion.

Adam Wildavsky---I don't think we're on the same wavelength. 4 is either natural or a high-card cue bid. If it's natural you must hold something like AKxxxAxQT9xxA. That's unlikely but possible. My limit raises occasionally are made with three trumps and a singleton, so it's important to be able to play slam in another suit.

Mike Passell---This is a tricky question. Playing 3NT as non-serious or serious slam try comes into play as it would force a 4 cue bid out of partner--- If playing those methods I would play 4 as a second suit otherwise it would deny a club control. Partner could have AKxxxxAKQxvoidxxx or AKxxxAxQxxxxA. The first hand is a make five hand, the second is a make seven hand

Mike Lawrence--- My feeling is that my partner can have a stiff or can have a diamond suit by agreement. Since I do not care which treatment is in effect I can only hope that my partner and I have discussed this situation. I will have agreed to partner’s opinion. It is very useful to have had this conversation. If we have not had this discussion, I vote for a stiff, which is my guess, which is what I think many players would have. Sorry for the waffle. PS. I seem to remember that you prefer it to be a natural ‘cue bid’ showing a weak second suit. If so, what was your definition of this suit? AKxxxxAQxxxK2 a possible hand?

I don’t think I have ever discussed this situation in print before.

Joe Kivel---Looking at my diamond holding, partner on this hand is showing a second suit, quite possibly five cards long. Without seeing my hand, I would take it either as a second suit or as the Ace of Diamonds. It would NOT be a void, because partner is allowed to cue bid the king of diamonds. So on this hand I would bid 6. That should show the AK of diamonds.

David Bird---On such an auction, I would assume that 4 showed a first- or second-round control of diamonds and denied any such control in clubs. Mind you, it seems clear from my hand that partner is likely to have a different understanding. When the bidding starts 1 - 2 - 4, the only hand type that can consider a slam opposite a single raise is a massive two-suiter. So, I would then assume that 4 showed the other half of the two-suiter.

Jeff Rubens--- In the Bridge World's lexicon, that 4 -bid is perhaps a control-bid; it is not a cue-bid, which is a bid in a suit that the opponents have bid or shown. The Bridge World avoids that terminology, as, e.g., 1 -- 2 , as usually treated, is also "a limit raise" with the usual meaning of the words. For 3 , we use "game-invitational raise."

Here I would need to guess. A lot of players use control-bidding where I would be showing a second suit. I would expect my clone to have Diamonds. I'd bid six diamonds--maximum values, all in spades and diamonds, four diamonds. I'm not sure how I'd show five diamonds without special discussion, maybe five notrump.


Kerri Sanborn---I would expect that my holding in your cue bid suit should be powerful. Without any discussion, I would not expect any shortness, unless it was a jump. It would seem that this hand would be worth a jump to 6showing two top honors.

David Berkowitz---I would expect that 4 was a help suit slam try, AKxxxxAQxxxAx, or better and I would be trying for 7 via 5. I would play 3NT asks shortness, but these days people play 1 - 3NT is a 10-12 splinter which would leave 1 - 3 - 3NT available to ask for a feature like my diamonds.

The following experts bid controls up the line. There is a big difference between a singleton and Axxx.

Larry Cohen---Such bids would be controls -- not second suits. Given my diamond holding, 4 would be a void or singleton. It would also deny a club control. Given that there is slam interest, then opener has something like: AKJxxxAKxxx-xx. Partner needs a club control, for starters.

Carol Simon---This is an interesting problem given my massive diamond holding. When partner cue bids, he normally has a control in the suit in the form of an Ace or King but could be shortness. Probably fishing for a return cue bid in the next ranking suit. Since I cannot comply, I will leave my values on the shelf and not venture to the five-level.

Eric Kokish---Maybe this was a commercial for short-suit slam tries. One could use 3NT by opener to suggest slam interest with 6322 or 5422, which is quite rare opposite a limit-raise.

Eddie Wold---Finally an easy problem for me to answer. My partner would have a slam try with no club control a typical hand would be AKJxxxAKJxxQx. Since I have no club control, I would not cooperate. This is a style of cue bidding that I like to play.

So you would bid 4 with AKxxxAQxxAxxx and partner would know what to do with QJxxKxxxxxxKQ and QJxxKxxKQxxxx

Drew Casen---This is by far the easiest problem you have ever asked. 4 is slam try cue bid and DENIES a club control. Responder may not sign off with a club control. I expect something like AKxxxxAKQxxxx. If I was playing with my clone (or my regular partners), I would use 3NT as a demand cue bid and hope to hear partner cue bid clubs. That would give us a little more space to sort things out on the four-level.

Marty Bergen---Based on my AK, opener has shortness. I play and teach: After a limit raise, "forget about slam unless you have a short suit. Therefore, I play that all control bids here are zero or one card in that suit.

If both partners are on the same wavelength I have no problem playing the first cue bid as shortness. What I don’t like is playing that it shows a control, which could be shortness or could be length.

Jill Meyers---I would expect it to be a cue bid without a club stopper but it doesn't make sense looking at my hand.

Dan Morse---Without discussion partner has a void or singleton in diamonds.

Grant Baze---I would expect a diamond control and no club control, A hand such as AKxxxAKxxx xx. Since I have no club control, I would sign off in 4.

Marinesa Latizia---I would take it as a cue bid, looking for club control. AKxxxAKxxvoidQJxx.

The following interpretation is not acceptable. How is partner supposed to evaluate KQxx if you could have the Ace or shortness? If partner has QJxx, that is good opposite length but worthless opposite shortness.

Karen Allison---Ace, king or shortage. With my older partnerships, I preferred to use only first round control bidding but that is apparently too old-fashioned these days so I have moved to second round acceptable.

Larry Robbins---No diamonds, no first round club control, probably big two-suiter or could be 5-4-4.

Mark Lair---Diamond shortness with you and my clone, more likely a void than a stiff.

Zeke Jabbour---I would expect that to be a slam try showing some kind of control and since my mother didn't raise no dummies, I would know that it was not the ace. A void does not enhance my holding. I would not expect it to be a second suit or some kind of help-suit slam-try because my clone would know I'm not smart enough to figure that out without discussion. Since we never agreed to play exclusion, he may be preparing to bid Blackwood by taking diamonds out of play. Say he held AKxxxxKQJxvoidKQJ or something similar. Or AxxxxxxKQJxxvoidA --a grand slam could be on if we take diamonds out of the picture. Meanwhile, if my diamonds were hearts, I would bid them.

The problem is that if you had the AK of clubs, you would expect your partner or clone to have the ace of diamonds.

A cue bid in an opponent’s suit can be shortness. In other auctions it’s important for partner to know how his hand fits with yours. Help suit slam tries, such as 4 in this problem, gives partner the ability to judge the fit. The majority of the experts as well as this author agree with this understanding.

Don Berman, Web Master.