Main   Lesson 3M by Richard Pavlicek  

Suit Slam Bidding

Many players are deficient in the area of slam bidding, usually because of improper learning and copying the bad habits of others. Some players even believe that all slam tries begin with Blackwood — hardly; it is just one of the available tools.

This lesson explains the proper way to try for a suit slam, and also an improved version of the Blackwood convention known as “key-card” Blackwood.

General Approach

Before soaring into the slam zone your first task is to locate the best trump fit, a combined holding of at least eight cards in a suit. This is done with your normal methods, although you must be careful that each bid you make is forcing — you wouldn’t want partner to pass at a low level.

Once you have agreed on a desirable trump fit, you then must decide how high to bid. The next player to bid should proceed as follows:

Revalue your hand and assess the point-count situation. If the partnership total may reach 33 points (distribution included), a slam is possible.

If slam is out of range, bid game in your suit (or 3 NT if desirable with a minor-suit fit). This is a sign-off attempt.

If slam is possible, bid an unbid or enemy-bid suit beyond 3 NT (or 3 S if hearts is the agreed suit). This is a control-bid and it is forcing.

In casual discussion a control-bid is often called a “cue-bid.” Technically, however, a bid is a cue-bid only if the named suit was shown by an opponent.

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Control-Bids

The control-bid is the cornerstone of accurate suit slam bidding. It is like ringing a bell to announce, “I am interested in slam in our agreed trump suit.” Normal procedure is to bid a suit in which you hold first-round control.

The initial control-bid implies the ace in the suit bid.

What comes next? Let’s cross to the other side of the table. Here is what you should usually do when partner announces slam interest by making a control-bid:

If you have minimum values or don’t like your hand, return to the trump suit at the cheapest level. This discourages partner.

If you have better than minimum values or like your hand, make a control-bid of your own. This encourages partner.

Carefully compare examples 1-3; then compare examples 4-6.

1.
S A K 8 6 5
H 2
D A K 10 9
C 5 4 3
Table S Q J 9 3
H K J 8
D Q 4 2
C A 9 8

1 S
4 D
Pass
Pass
3 S
4 S
Pass

West announces slam interest with 4 D. East has a minimum for his jump raise so he discourages by bidding 4 S.

2.
S A K 8 6 5
H 2
D A K 10 9
C 5 4 3
Table S Q J 9 3
H A K 8
D Q 4 2
C Q 10 9

1 S
4 D
4 S
Pass
Pass
Pass
3 S
4 H
Pass
Pass
Pass

This time East does not have an absolute minimum so he cooperates by showing the H A. West returns to 4 S implying his slam interest is mild and East passes.

3.
S A K 8 6 5
H 2
D A K 10 9
C 5 4 3
Table S Q J 9 3
H A K 8
D Q 4 2
C A 9 8

1 S
4 D
4 S
5 D
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
3 S
4 H
5 C
6 S
Pass
Pass
Pass

Here East has a tiptop maximum so he continues to bid beyond 4 S to reach the laydown slam. Note that 5 D shows second-round control (king or singleton) since first-round control was already shown.

4.
S A Q 8 6 5
H A 8 2
D Q 10 8
C 4 3
Table S 3
H K Q 9 6 5 4
D 4 3
C A K 7 2

1 S
3 H
4 H
Pass
Pass
Pass
2 H
4 C
Pass
Pass
Pass

East indicates slam interest with 4 C. West has a bare minimum opening bid so he discourages by returning to 4 H.

5.
S A K 10 6 5
H A 8 2
D Q J 8
C 4 3
Table S 3
H K Q 9 6 5 4
D 4 3
C A K 7 2

1 S
3 H
4 S
5 H
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
2 H
4 C
5 C
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass

West now has a better hand so he continues with 4 S (a control-bid since hearts are agreed). East shows second-round control in clubs. West signs off in 5 H because he has no diamond control; nor does East.

6.
S A K J 10 5
H A 8 3 2
D 8
C 5 4 3
Table S 3
H K Q 9 6 5 4
D 4 3
C A K 7 2

1 S
3 H
4 S
6 H
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
2 H
4 C
5 C
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass

West’s singleton prevents the opponents from winning two diamonds so he takes the final push to slam.

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Implied Trump Fit

Generally, a control-bid can be made only after a suit is raised, but there are several logical exceptions to this:

If a player has shown a balanced hand and later bids an unbid suit beyond 3 NT, this is a control-bid implying a fit in partner’s last bid suit.

7.
S A Q 8 5 4 3
H K 8 3
D A 6
C Q 6
Table S K 6 2
H A Q 4 2
D K Q J
C 8 3 2

1 S
3 S
5 D
Pass
Pass
Pass
2 NT
4 H
5 S
Pass
Pass

East’s 4 H could not be a natural bid to play; it shows the H A and implies a “good raise to 4 S.” The slam probe fizzles when neither player has club control.

8.
S Q 6
H K 10 9 8 5 3 2
D A K 3
C 10
Table S A K 4
H Q J
D 9 8 7 2
C A J 7 4

1 H
3 H
4 D
6 H
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
2 NT
4 C
4 S
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass

East’s 4 C bid agrees hearts by inference, then two more control-bids lead to the excellent slam.

A cue-bid in the enemy suit beyond 3 NT shows the ace, singleton or void and implies a fit in partner’s last bid suit.

9.
S A K 9 7 4
H K 8 2
D A J 9 4
C 2
Table S J 8 2
H A 10
D Q 8 6 5 3
C K 9 3

1 S
4 C
Pass
Pass
2 D
4 S
3 C

West’s 4 C cue-bid is a “strong diamond raise” with club control. East, discouraged by the C K, signs off in 4 S.

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Key-Card Blackwood

The best of the many ace-asking conventions is “key-card” Blackwood. The basic concept is to count the king of trumps — always an important card — just like an ace. Thus there are five key cards, and your partnership needs at least four of them to warrant bidding a slam.

Got any key cards?

No, just 13 regular ones.

The following rules determine which suit is the key suit:

If one suit is raised, that suit is the key suit.

If two suits are raised, the higher suit is the key suit.

If no suit is raised, the last suit bid by your side is the key suit.

There are several variations used to respond to key-card Blackwood. I present the method I feel is best and that which I use with my favorite partners. It is easy to learn.

Key CardsResponse
0 or 35 C
1 or 45 D
2 or 55 H

Each response has two possibilities. Presumably asker can tell which based on the previous bidding and his own hand.

10.
S 6
H A J 8 7 3
D K Q J 10 3
C K Q
Table S A Q 5 4
H Q 5 4 2
D A 9
C J 6 2

1 H
4 NT
Pass
Pass
Pass
3 H
5 H
Pass
Pass

East shows 2 or 5 key cards (clearly 2) so West signs off. Standard bidders may bid this poor slam (only 26 percent).

11.
S A Q 10 9 3
H Q
D K Q 4 2
C K J 5
Table S K 7 6 2
H 5 4
D A J 8 7 3
C A 8

1 S
3 D
4 NT
6 S
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
2 D
4 S
5 C
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass

The key suit is spades (higher of two agreed suits). East shows 0 or 3 key cards (surely 3) and West comfortably bids six.

Here is how I show a void:

Key CardsResponse
1 plus a void5 S
2 plus a void5 NT
3 plus a void6 of void*

*or 6 of trump suit if void is higher ranking

12.
S A K Q 10 8 2
H K 4 2
D K J 10
C 3
Table S J 9 7 3
H
D A Q 7 3
C 9 8 7 5 4

1 S
4 NT
6 S
2 H
Pass
Pass
3 S
5 S
Pass
4 H
Pass

East shows 1 key card plus a void (surely in hearts from the enemy bidding).

13.
S A 4
H
D K J 10 8 4 3
C A 9 8 7 2
Table S K 8
H K J 8 7
D A Q 9 5 2
C K 3

1 D
2 C
4 C
6 D
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
1 H
3 D
4 NT
7 D
Pass
Pass
Pass

West shows 3 key cards plus a void in a major (West cannot bid 6 H because it is beyond 6 D). East can see no losers.

Asking For Kings

If the 4 NT bidder can account for all five key cards and he is interested in a grand slam, he may rebid 5 NT. This asks for kings, but the key-suit king is not counted. Experts also have ways to ask about the key-suit queen, but that is beyond the scope of this lesson.

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© 2012 Richard Pavlicek