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How Do I Ask Partner For A Control In The Danger Suit?

Imagine an auction where you can tell you have the values and tricks to belong in a major suit slam. But you have concerns about the opponents cashing the ace and king of a suit (we'll call it the "danger suit") to immediately defeat your slam. How can you learn if partner has a first or second round control in the danger suit? +

Let's look at an example hand from the May 26, 2013 SBBC Sunday Pairs:

A K Q 2
Q 10
A 6 2
A K 5 2
N
W E
S

West North East South
3 Pass Pass
Dbl Pass 4♠ Pass
?

Since East needed even more to jump to 4♠ after a balancing double of 3 compared to a direct seat double, West knows there are plenty of values for slam. The problem is potentially losing the first two heart tricks in a 6♠ slam. No type of Blackwood is going to help, since East will nearly always show zero aces or keycards. And a 5♣ bid is not clearly forcing since partner might assume you have long clubs in a hand too good to bid a balancing 4♣ over 3.

How does West learn if partner has a heart control? By using a bidding treatment that has been around for more than fifty years:

A voluntary raise (possibly a jump raise) to five of the major asks partner for a control in the danger suit.

The danger suit is the suit opponents are most likely to cash the ace and king against a slam. Typically it is one of two possibilities:

1. The one suit not bid by you or partner if the opponents remain silent.
2. The suit bid by the opponents if they do not remain silent.

In our example, West bids 5♠ over partner's 4♠ bid to learn if he has a control in the danger suit (hearts).

Here is how partner tells you if he has any heart control after your raise to 5♠:

1. Pass = no first or second round control
2. 6♠ = second round control (king or singleton)
3. 6 = first round control (ace or void)

So did East have a heart control for West? Here are both hands:

A K Q 2
Q 10
A 6 2
A K 5 2
N
W E
S
10 9 7 5 4 3
7
K Q J 5
10 7

West North East South
3 Pass Pass
Dbl Pass 4♠ Pass
5♠ Pass 6♠ Pass
Pass Pass

With second round heart control, West bid 6♠ which made easily. Bidding the spade slam would have earned you a top, as no pair made it to slam on this hand when it was played.

Here is another example played on May 20, 2013 at the Twin City Bridge Club in Saint Joseph, Michigan:

K J 6 3 2
A J
A 7 2
9 8 3
N
W E
S
A Q 10 7 5 4
9 5
A K Q 10 5
West North East South
  1
1♠ Pass 5♠ Pass
6 Pass 7♠ All pass

After West's 1♠ overcall, East has such huge trick taking potential he wants to play 6♠ if West has second round heart control and 7♠ if West has first round heart control. East jump raised from 1♠ all the way to 5♠ to ask West for a heart control. West showed first round control (shown by the 6 bid) and 13 tricks were made easily.

Both of the following must apply for the voluntary raise to five of a major to ask for a control in a suit:

1. There must be a clear danger suit, typically the suit bid by the opponents or the one suit neither you nor partner have bid (including control showing cuebids).

and

2. It must be a voluntary raise to five of your partnership's major, which can be a jump raise. (A competitive non-jump raise to five of your partnership's suit over a bid by RHO is not asking for a control, e.g., 1-1♠-3-4♠; 5 is competitive only.)

This is an easy treatment to learn, as it has an "alarm clock" effect on partner. "Why is he bidding five of a major when he didn't need to? Oh, right, he wants to know about a control in the danger suit!"

What should a voluntary raise to five of a major mean if there is no single danger suit? A common treatment is to ask partner for good trumps with the five of a major raise. If you held ♠1087432 AK -- ♣AKQ97 and were dealer with the bidding starting 1♠-3♠ (invitational), jumping to 5♠ would ask partner about trump quality.

Topics For Advanced Players

There is a better way to show control in the danger suit:

1. Pass = no first or second round control
2. 5NT = guarded king of the danger suit
3. 6 of your major = singleton second round control
4. Any other bid shows first round control in the danger suit.

There are two important advantages to the responses above:

(a) Knowing partner has the guarded king in the danger suit might allow you to bid a safer or higher scoring 6NT slam.

(b) If partner has first round control of the danger suit, he can simultaneously show an important ace in addition to first round control of the danger suit.

K J 6 3 2
A J
A 7 2
9 8 3
N
W E
S
A Q 10 7 5 4
9 5
A K Q 10 5
West North East South
  1
1♠ Pass 5♠ Pass
6 Pass 7♠ All pass

Note in this previous example deal, instead of bidding 6, West bid 6, showing both the diamond ace and the first round heart control. Since the diamond ace will pitch East's heart loser, East would be practically 100% certain of 7♠ making as long as West didn't overcall on a jack high suit. It would also allow East the option of risking a 7NT bid (only at matchpoints), but the gain would be so tiny compared to the great score that 7♠ will bring that it's best to leave the 7NT bid in the bidding box. Sacrificing about 11 matchpoints in 7♠ to try for 12 matchpoints in 7NT and finding ♣Jxxx behind the clubs resulting in a zero is not smart risk/reward strategy. Plus, West may have a singleton club, significantly reducing the chance that clubs will be worth five tricks.

Here is one last example similar to a hand I saw almost twenty years ago.

North Deals
None Vul
A K J 8 6
K
6 5
A K J 5 4
9 7
J 9 7 2
A 8 3
10 9 3 2
N
W E
S
3 2
Q 10 8 3
Q J 10 9 2
8 7
Q 10 5 4
A 6 5 4
K 7 4
Q 6
West North East South
1♠ Pass 3♠
Pass 4♣ Pass 4
Pass 5♠ Pass 5NT
Pass 6NT Pass Pass
Pass
6NT by South

6♠ by North is doomed on the diamond lead through South's king. But when North jumps to 5♠ to ask about a diamond control (the one suit not yet bid) and South bids 5NT to show the guarded diamond king, North decides there are enough potential tricks for 6NT and ensures the opponents can't lead through the diamond king on opening lead by letting his partner declare 6NT.

Bud Hinckley
budh9534@gmail.com

     
 
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