Know The Whole Convention

In Bidding Notes, I introduce a large number of conventions, but first I mention that learning too many conventions too soon is a bad idea. Here, I’d like emphasize that you should not agree to play just part of a convention, or say that you do play it when there are parts of it you’re not sure about. What follows are some examples.

Secret Annex To The Minor Relay

The Minor Relay goes like this: Over 1N, bid 2♠! to show a SIX card or longer minor and a hand not good enough for game. Opener must reply 3♣!, and you then either pass or bid 3♦, which partner must pass. This is one of the first conventions you learned after Stayman and Jacoby transfers. But did you really learn it?


2♠! is alerted; you don’t say transfer. A transfer is a bid that promises a definite suit, while a relay promises SOME suit, or even just asks a question.

You probably have some agreement about how to show such a suit with an invitational hand. With a game-going hand you have to do something stronger, such as bidding 3N or doing Stayman and then 3 of your minor. Agreements about these things vary. The standard is that just bidding 3 of the minor is invitational, but Stayman first makes it game forcing.

But what about a really good hand, like this one:

♠2 ♥KQ ♦T84 ♣AQJT742

When partner opens 1N, a club slam is a real possibility. We have probably six or seven tricks in clubs alone, and partner must have at least 12 points in the other 3 suits. However, we are nowhere near the 33 HCP we’d want for 6N. If there is a slam here, 6♣ is the place to be.

You should not go beyond 3N unless you think a slam is a good possibility. 5♣ will probably score badly. Here 6♣ clearly is possible.

So what do you do over 1N? These bids won’t do:

  • 3♣? Nope, that is invitational and can be passed.
  • 4♣? Nope, that’s Gerber.
  • 5♣? Nope, that’s to play.
  • 4N? Nope, that’s quantitative.

What we need is to know the rest of the convention. After the relay, and opener bids 3♣!(forced):

  • 3♥! is a slam try in clubs.
  • 3♠! is a slam try in diamonds.

Surprising but logical! If you really had 5 hearts or spades, you would have transferred to them first; and if you had 4 of them you would have used Stayman first. So these bids must be artificial, and we correspond the lower one (hearts) to the lower minor (clubs) and the higher one (spades) to diamonds.

Opener can bid 3N or 4♣ or 6♣, or show a suit for example. 4♣ would express interest in the slam but concern about Aces; responder should cue-bid. Then we can stop at 5♣ if missing one we need. For example, with ♠AKJ5 ♥A986 ♦87 ♣K96, we could find out if responder had A♦.

Asking For The Queen

You’ve learned Roman Keycard Blackwood. You ask partner for Aces, and partner replies with one of the minor suits, showing either zero or three keycards, or one or four keycards. You may find that you have a slam if partner has the trump Queen. Or perhaps you’re even looking for a Grand Slam in that case. Unfortunately, only a holding of two keycards gives partner the chance to affirm or deny the trump Queen.

Did you learn the whole convention? Such as how to answer with a useful void, or how to ask for the Queen?

Here’s a deal from a club game where I had a chance to use the Queen Ask. I held:

♠AKJ83 ♥KQ ♦A ♣AKQ63

26 HCP! I started 2♣ of course. My partner bid 2♦ waiting, and I rebid 2♠, and my partner raised me to 3♠. Partner probably has extras or he would have just bid 4♠. Do we have slam? Or maybe we have a Grand? Maybe we can find out about the Heart Ace and the trump Queen.

First step: I cue bid 4♣ to show the Ace of Clubs. I know partner won’t be able to cue-bid the Ace of Diamonds but maybe he shows the Ace of Hearts.

4♥ hits the table! We have an 8 card fit so the Queen of Spades is a big concern.

Here’s an odd twist: you can ask for keycards EVEN THOUGH YOU ALREADY KNOW THE ANSWER! Doing this is useful when you plan to ask for Kings, too.

We’re playing 1430 so my 4N gets the expected 5♣, which I already know is the heart Ace.

Now I ask for the Queen: I bid up one step, 5♦ here. (You can’t ask for the Queen if the next step up is trump, such as after a 5♦ response when Hearts are trump.) That says, partner, do you have the trump Queen? And your partner answers as follows:

  • 5 trump — no Queen, sorry. You can pass or bid 6, depending on the situation, but never 7.
  • 6 of a suit below trump: yes, and I also have this King, which is my lowest King below 6 trump.
  • 6 trump — yes, Queen, but no additional kings below trump.

A funny case: your partner can say “yes” even though the real answer is “no” if he is positive you have a ten card fit between you, such as when you open and he had five card support. Chances are pretty good of a drop or a marked finesse.

I this case, partner bid 6♠, yes I have it, and I bid 7♠ with some confidence. Only two of the club’s 10 pairs that day bid 7♠. The other successful bidder confirmed, “Yes, the Queen Ask. Wasn’t that great?”.

Handling Interference After a Major Transfer

I was watching an expert game and saw this auction:

1N - (P) - 2♦(transfer) - (X)
2♥ - (P) - 4N

Is that 4N bid Ace-asking, or is it quantitative, asking for 6N if opener is at a maximum?

First we should clarify that without the double, 4N is 100% quantitative. No suit has been agreed upon. The opener might have only two hearts.

What does the double mean, anyway? It is called a “lead-directing” double. The person in fourth seat wants a diamond lead, assuming the 1N bidder ends up as declarer.

You’ll also see a double of 2♣ Stayman asking for a club lead, or the double of an artifical reply to an Ace-asking bid. These are part of a general rule.


A double of any artificial bid is lead-directing.

What should the opener do after the double? Here are the choices:

  • Pass with only two hearts.
  • Accept with 2♥ the transfer with three or more hearts.
  • Redouble with a penalty holding in diamonds (five good ones, because responder might not have any points or any diamonds). This is rare.

Hence, in the expert auction I saw, 4N was Ace-asking with Hearts as trump. By completing the transfer, opener has confirmed holding 3 or more hearts, and hearts is agreed as trump. The lead-directing double helped the defense communicate, but it also game the offense more ways to communicate.

You might wonder what happens if the double is passed back to the responder:

1N - (P) - 2♦ - (X)
Pass - Pass - ?

There are these choices:

  • Responder redoubles asking opener to complete the transfer anyway, if he has either a six card suit or a weak hand.
  • Responder can bid the transfer suit again to show game values, exactly five hearts, and asking for a bid of 3N if opener has a diamond stopper.
  • Any other bid is natural, describing hand shape, and not a weak hand.

Stayman Has Several Parts

Here is a quiz: You open 1N, and partner bids 2♣. What do you know about his hand?

Here is one possible answer: invitational or better, has a four-card major, but not a five-card major.

The buzzer goes off! Wrong!

Uh, ok, that no five-card major part isn’t right. If partner is 5-4 in the majors and weak, yes, he would transfer; but if he is invitational or better, he will do Stayman first.

OK, let’s change our answer: invitational or better, has a four-card major.

Darn, there goes that buzzer again. Wrong!

Partner might have this hand: ♠8732 ♥8732 ♦9873 ♣2

Whatever answer you make, partner plans to pass. Stayman promises nothing about points. If partner bids a second time, then yes, he’s invitational or better.

Let’s try again: partner has a four-card major.

The buzzer isn’t quite so loud this time, but yes, there is a case where even this is wrong. Suppose your partner has a game-forcing but not slam-going hand dominated by a six- or seven-card diamond suit, but no four-card major. Using standard methods, 3♦ is invitational, and partner cannot stand the idea that you might pass.

A solution is to do Stayman and then bid 3♦. That’s game forcing. A bid of 3♣ can be used in the same way for clubs.

This awkward case is one of the reasons people use Four Way Transfers instead of the Minor Relay. Another way out is just to blast out 3N and hope you don’t have an open major. They should always try to lead a major after a 1N - 3N auction, so having some help in the majors is important, even if not full stoppers.