Slam Bidding

Slam bidding, especially in the minors, is really hard. This chapter arms you for battle.

Italian Control Bidding

In the Italian style, a control bid shows a first- or second-round control. A second-round control can be shown without a first-control having been shown in that suit. These rules are applied to interpret the bids:

  • A control bid is a slam try after trump agreement in a major. It promises first- or second-round control. (Again, over minors or in 2/1 these bids also possible but agreement is needed.)
  • A control bid is a non-jump bid in a game-forcing auction. Thus 1♠ - 2♠ - 3♦ is not a control bid because we are not yet in a game forcing auction. But 1♦ - 1♥ - 3♥ - 3♠! is a control bid because bidding on is game forcing and we have suit agreement.
  • A control bid that skips a suit(s) denies a control in that suit. So 1♦ - 1♥ - 3♥ - 4♣ shows a club control and denies a spade control.
  • As long as slam is possible, always show a control bid below the game level. Likewise, don’t control bid if partner has a limited hand and slam is not possible.
  • A control bid in a 5+ card side suit promises the Ace or King. For example, 1♠ - 2N! - 4♦ - 4♥ (control) - 5♦ shows the Ace or King of diamonds. Opener’s suit must be a good suit or he would have bid his shortness, so being able to show possession of the Ace or King is important.
  • Once you show a short suit, control-bid that suit only with a void, not a singleton Ace. An example would be a Jacoby 2N auction, with opener rebidding a stiff or void, such as 1♠ - 2N! - 3♦! (stiff or void) - 4♣ (control) - 4♦; this shows opener has a void in diamonds.
  • A control bid at the five level promises first round control, because 4N is no longer available.

Bergen gives this example of a five-level control bid:

  West   East

♠JT752  ♠AK643
♥AK982  ♥Q64
♦A4     ♦87
♣2      ♣AJT

The bidding is:

1♠ – 2N!
4♥ – 5♣ (not 4N here)
5♦ – 7♠

The 4♥ bid shows a five-card suit with two of the top three honors. Therefore East knows West has the AK in hearts. East makes the control-bid in clubs to give West a chance to show the Ace of diamonds; for West to immediately bid 4N would be wrong because of the worthless doubleton in diamonds. After knowing all suits are stopped, and foreseeing setting up the hearts for a diamond discard, East can see the tricks for the 26 HCP grand slam. We don’t promise this will happen to you, but it shows the power of the method.

Note that quite often preliminary control bids below the level of game allow us to bid 4N where we otherwise could not, or to avoid getting to the five level when we don’t belong here.

Bergen’s Better Slam Bidding and its workbook has excellent examples.

Five Notrump Pick-a-slam

When we have not agreed on a suit but you determine that the partnership has the points to be in slam, a jump bid of 5N is a great alternative to just shooting out 6N. It is much, much easier to make 12 tricks in a suit, even a seven-card fit, than it is in no-trump.

In response, partner can suggest a suit to play in or bid 6N.

Bergen’s Better Slam Bidding and its workbook has excellent examples.


An optional convention to use with inverted minors is “Minorwood”, a jump to four of the minor after a two of a minor response. This becomes Roman Keycard Blackwood for the minor. For example,

  • 1♣ – 2♣!– 4♣!(asks for keycards)
  • 1♣ – 2♣! - 2♥ – 4♣!(asks for keycards)

but not in a non-jump sequence such as 1♣ – 2♣! - 2♥ – 3♦ – 4♣ in which the players simply discover they lack a spade stopper and decide to play in clubs.

Using clubs for illustration, and 1430 RKC, the responses are:

  • 4♦ – 1 or 4 keycards
  • 4♥ – 0 or 3 keycards
  • 4♠ – 2 keycards, no trump queen
  • 4N – 2 keycards, with trump queen

After a response of 14 or 30, a bid of the next higher suit asks for the trump queen.

After any response, the bid of the suit one higher than trumps (5♦ in this case) asks for Kings.

For diamonds as trumps, the responses are all one higher.

Important: a rebid of 4N is to play:

1♣ - 2♣!(10+, 5+ clubs)
4♣!(keycards) - 4♥ (0 or 3)
4N to play

The usual principle of RKC is used here too – if an ambiguous (03 or 14) response was made holding the higher number of keycards, responder would now bid the slam if the asker signs off. Presumably the asker was willing to take yes for an answer.

Three Spades Kickback

When hearts are trump, a problem arises with using 4N as RKC: sometimes there is insufficient room for a queen ask, or “two and the queen” will be too high. To solve this problem, a bid of 3♠ after an agreement on hearts is RKC. All responses are just one lower than normal. Kickback is off if either partner has bid spades naturally or bid Jacoby 2N; in the latter case the responses to J2NT take precedence.

These are kickback:

  • 1♣ - 1♥ - 3♥ - 3♠!(Kickback)
  • 1♥ - 2N! - 3♦!(shortness) - 3♠!(Kickback)

but not:

  • 1♠ - 2♥ - 3♥ - 3♠(natural)
  • 1♥ - 2N! - 3♠!(shortness)

Full Kickback

After a suit agreement, a bid of one over the trump suit at the four level is RKC. For example, 1♦ - 2♦ - 4♥!(RKC for diamonds) or 1♣ - 1♥ - 2♥ - 4♠!(RKC for hearts).

4N is used over spades.

You can extend the agreement to cover more kinds of auctions, and cases of implicit agreement on the suit, but it can get complicated. For one full treatment see “Kickback: Slam Bidding at Bridge” by Robert Munger, Master Point Press.