Improving 2/1 Game Force - part 2by Fred
IMPROVING 2/1 GF - THE LONG AWAITED SEQUELIn the last issue I wrote my
first article about bidding, specifically on improving the way that most people
play 2/1 game force. Much to my surprise, I received far more fan mail than
usual for this article. Many people requested a follow-up article. Well readers,
you asked for it! I recommend that you (re-)read the previous article (and make
some coffee) before reading this. I apologize in advance for how technical this
article is. I have tried to keep things as simple as possible. Unfortunately,
the subject is complex.
What is "Last Train to Clarksville"?"Last Train to Clarksville" (LTTC)
is a convention I mentioned in my last article. I claimed that it was necessary
to make the method of cue-bidding that I recommend effective. LTTC is not an
easy convention to understand. It can mean different things depending on exactly
how the auction has gone. There are 2 rules that can at least tell you when a
bid is LTTC.
Before I attempt to tell you how LTTC is
used, I first want to define what I mean by "Blackwood" in this article:
- We have an agreed 8+ card major suit fit at the 3-level and the bidding is
forced to game. We have embarked upon a cue- bidding auction of the type
discussed in the last article. One hand has shown serious slam interest. There
are 2 ways to show serious slam interest. One way is by bidding Serious 3NT.
The other way is by continuing to try for slam despite the fact that partner
has denied serious slam interest by bypassing Serious 3NT.
- The bid by either partner of the step immediately below 4 of our agreed
major (4 if
hearts agreed, 4
if spades agreed) is LTTC.
We play some sort of Roman Keycard Blackwood. This means that the King of the
agreed trump suit counts as a fifth Ace and it is possible to find out about the
trump Queen. By bidding Blackwood, you commit the hand to the six level if only
one of these cards is missing. You cannot use Blackwood and sign off when you
discover that only one of these six cards is missing. Since people seem to do
this all of the time against me, perhaps it is an acceptable practice in some
schools of bidding theory. It is not an acceptable practice in the methods I am
discussing. Hopefully, you will gain some insight into why this is so as you
read my examples.
I will also refer to a convention called Lackwood. As you will see, when you
play LTTC, you can no longer cue-bid in the LTTC suit (Diamonds if Hearts is
agreed, Hearts if Spades is agreed). Lackwood can be used to resolve any
problems of missing controls in the LTTC suit while retaining the possibility of
bidding grand slams.
Lackwood is always a bid of 5 of the agreed major. It is either a bid
immediately after LTTC or as a direct raise of 4 of the agreed major. Bidding
Lackwood always denies control of the LTTC suit. Lackwood is a last resort. It
is a convention you should go out of your way not to use. Most of the time you
can infer the presence or absence of a control in the LTTC suit and simply bid
Blackwood. Here are the responses to Lackwood:
If you play
1430 RKCB feel free to invert the 1st and 2nd steps.
||- I have no control in the LTTC suit|
||- First round control of LTTC suit & 0 or 3 Keycards|
||- First round control of LTTC suit & 1 or 4 Keycards|
||- First round control of LTTC suit & 2 Keycards no Queen|
||- First round control of LTTC suit & 2 Keycards & Queen|
|6 of our major
||- Second round control of LTTC suit|
There is no simple rule for what it means to bid LTTC since it doesn't always
mean the same thing. Assuming that we have agreed a major suit at the 3-level,
there are 16 possible LTTC sequences. In 4 of these sequences, it is necessary
to play that LTTC has a very specific meaning. The first couple of rounds of the
following auctions have been omitted. The first bid in each auction sets the
In Auction 1, 3NT is serious. 4 shows a control in
Diamonds and denies a control in Clubs (see last article). 4 is LTTC. In this example LTTC means:
"Partner, I have forced you to cue-bid and I do not know how good your hand
is. If I was to bid 4 it would be an absolute signoff, a
statement that we have at least 2 Club losers. I have the Club control that you
are lacking, but my hand is flawed in some way so that I cannot bid Blackwood.
Perhaps you have sufficient strength to move towards slam (by bidding Blackwood
or Lackwood depending on the Heart situation).
In Auction 2, 3NT is serious but it
denies a Spade control (else 3). 4 is LTTC (denying a Club control). In
this example LTTC means:
"Partner, you have shown a strong hand with no control in Spades. If I also
had no Spade control, I would bid 4 as an absolute signoff. I cannot bid 4 (showing both Spades and
Clubs controlled) or bid above 4 because I do not have a Club control.
Therefore, I am bidding LTTC. Since my hand is still unlimited, you are expected
to continue (Blackwood or Lackwood depending on the Diamond situation) any time
you have a Club control."
In Auction 3, 3NT is serious and 4 is a cue-bid. 4 is LTTC, denying a
Diamond control. In this example, LTTC means:
"Partner, I have taken control of the auction, but I am lacking a Diamond
control. If you do not have a Diamond control either, please signoff. Otherwise,
please bid Blackwood or Lackwood depending on the Heart situation."
By bidding 4
instead of 4 (LTTC)
the message would be:
"Partner, I have shown extra values, but I am lacking a Diamond control. If
you have a Diamond control please use your judgement as to whether you should
bid PASS or bid Blackwood or Lackwood depending on the Heart situation."
In Auction 4, 4 is a cue-bid denying serious slam interest
(else 3NT). 4 is
LTTC. In this example LTTC means:
"Partner, you have told me that you have a minimum hand, but I am still
interested in slam. However, I am lacking a Diamond control. If you also have no
control of Diamonds, please signoff. Otherwise, please bid Blackwood or Lackwood
depending on the Heart situation."
In the first two auctions, LTTC is a statement that a control exists in a
particular suit. In the last two auctions, LTTC is a question that asks for a
control in a particular suit. In all of these auctions, LTTC is completely
artificial, saying nothing about the suit mentioned.
There are 12 more possible LTTC auctions where the meaning of LTTC is not
clear. Here are some examples:
4 is a cue-bid denying serious slam
interest and denying a club control. What does 4 mean? It must show extra values and a club
control. Without either of these, you would signoff in 4. There are 3 possible further
interpretations (of which only one can be used):
- A cue-bid of a Heart control, but in a hand with not quite enough strength
to bid Blackwood. The message is that the other hand should use their
judgement as to whether or not to bid Blackwood.
- A denial of a Heart control. The message is that the other hand must bid
Blackwood with a Heart control and bid 4 otherwise.
- Neither showing nor denying a Heart control. The message here is that the
4 bidder is still
interested in slam, but needs help somewhere. Their partner can choose to bid
Blackwood with a Heart control or Lackwood without one.
4 clearly denies spade and club controls
as well as serious slam interest. This time there are only 2 possible
interpretations (of which only one can be used):
I prefer to play interpretation 3) in Auction 5 and
interpretation 2) in Auction 6. These interpretations cause there to be a little
bit of murkiness in an otherwise highly structured cue-bidding style. In my
experience, however, the partner of the LTTC bidder can almost always figure out
when to advance. Therefore, I am going to propose the following interpretation
of LTTC for auctions other than auctions 1-4.
- A cue-bid of a Diamond control. Bidding 4 instead would deny a Diamond control.
- Neither showing nor denying a Diamond control but showing a good hand
given what has been denied (a good minimum with no control in spades or clubs
- chances are you would have a Diamond control). This interpretation implies
that you could sometimes bid 4 with a really bad hand and a Diamond
control. With a really good hand with controls in Spades and Clubs, the 3 bidder can still
choose to bid either Blackwood or Lackwood (depending on the Diamond
Bidding LTTC means that you are still interested in slam, but do not have
sufficient values or controls to bid Blackwood. You would like to involve your
If your hand is suitable for Blackwood, but you lack a control in the LTTC
suit, bid LTTC, not Lackwood. Hopefully, partner will take over and bid
Blackwood. If partner signs off you can still judge to use Lackwood if you want.
Bidding 4 of the agreed major instead of LTTC is an absolute signoff when:
Bidding 4 of the agreed major instead of LTTC shows a lesser
hand than bidding LTTC but does not preclude slam when:
- Partner has shown a missing control.
- Partner has denied serious slam interest and you have not yet limited your
- You have made a serious slam try and there are no suits (besides the LTTC
suit) with unresolved control problems.
- Your partner has made a serious slam try and there are no suits (besides
the LTTC suit) with unresolved control problems.
Here is a summary of the structure I have described:
When an 8+ card major suit fit is agreed at the three level and the bidding
is forced to game (as in 2/1 auctions):
There are a few other
aspects of these methods that you should know about:
- Cue-bidding starts one step above 3 of the agreed major. Cue- bidding is
done "up-the-line". Bypassing a step denies something.
- A cue-bid in an unbid suit shows any first or second round control (Ace,
King, singleton, or void).
- A cue-bid in the first suit you have bid shows two of the top three
honours. A cue-bid in a suit your partner has bid shows one of the top three
- 4NT is always some form of Roman Keycard Blackwood. RKCB is forcing to
slam if only one Keycard or the trump Queen is absent.
- 3NT shows "serious slam interest". A better description is that it assumes
the captaincy, forcing partner to cue-bid. By bidding serious 3NT you force
yourself to show your (unlimited) partner any controls he has denied (possibly
via LTTC see auction 1 above).
- Bypassing 3NT to cue-bid denies "serious slam interest". A better
description is such a bid relinquishes captaincy. That is you will respect
your partner's sign-off, but respond appropriately to his slam try having
already got the minimum nature of your hand off your chest.
- Bidding the last step below 4 of our major (4 for Hearts, 4 for Spades) is Last Train to
Clarksville. Bidding LTTC versus bidding 4 of our major can carry different
messages. LTTC means either:
- I have a specific control that you denied.
- Please tell me if you have a specific control.
- I want you to use your judgement.
- Some combination of 1, 2, and 3.
2) and 3) have
serious disaster potential. Always remember WE NEVER CUE-BID AT THE FIVE LEVEL.
- Play 1430 RKCB instead of 0314. I will not explain why in this article.
- If Hearts is the agreed suit, play that a bid of 4 is a "transfer to Blackwood". This is an
especially useful bid if you want to bid RKCB but fear a response of 5 (2 with the Queen)
will get you too high. Having your partner bid Blackwood will solve the
problem. You should also bid 4 instead of 4NT if your own RKCB response
would be 5 and you
lack the trump Queen (you can figure out why).
- Whenever a major suit is agreed, a bid of five of any other suit is
"Exclusion RKCB". This means that you have a void in the bid suit and you want
to know how many Keycards your partner has, not counting the ace of your void.
Before you make this sort of bid, make sure none of the possible responses
will get you too high if you are off two keycards.
If you and your partner feel that you thoroughly understand this article and
my last one, you are probably ready to try these methods. I suggest that you
practice bidding with computer generated hands (I sell them) before you actually
try playing the structure I have described.
The rules are not clear in this area, but I think it is best not to alert
serious 3NT, LTTC, or your cue-bids. Instead inform the opponents as to what
your auction meant before the opening lead is made.
To part 3 of this