Part II:

The Basics of Sweep Cue-Bids

Gordon Bower

In Part I you were introduced to the golden rules of cue-bids: 1) A cuebid means you are still uncertain what the final contract will be; 2) each additional step of bidding carries a more specific message; 3) never risk reach an impossible contract by cuebidding too high. In Part II we will formalize what specific message each additional step carries.

First, I need to introduce the concept of a waiting bid. This is simply any number of trump or notrump during a cuebidding auction. You are probably already used to using a retreat to your agreed trump suit to say "I have nothing more to say, this is high enough unless you have extras, partner." Many pairs have never discussed the auction 1S-3S-3NT, so for them 3NT is an idle bid. When a minor suit is agreed, 3NT or 4NT may well be the best final resting plac if slam is out of reach, so many pairs already play these as natural. Right now you are probably accustomed to using 4NT after major suit agreement as Blackwood... I hope to convince you by the end of this article you can do something much better with it, if you are in a cuebidding auction.

Two basic types of cuebids

You may recall I promised in Part I to formalize what I meant in golden rule #2 about each bid upward carrying a more specific message. Here it is: properly used, every step of bidding space either confirms or denies the possession of one more key card. We can distinguish two fundamentally different cuebidding situations: those auctions in which a cheap waiting bid is available, and those in which it is not.

When there is no waiting bid available, each step is a simple cue bid, which promises control of the suit named and denies control of every suit bypassed. For example, if the auction has already gone 1S-3S-4C, your bids now carry the following meanings:

On the other hand, when a waiting bid is available, each step is a sweep cue bid, which promises control of the bid suit AND of every suit between the waiting bid and the bid suit. The waiting bid itself simply denies the ability to make any higher cue bid -- either you lack the necessary control for the next step, or you have decided it is time to sign off. The canonical example of Sweep Cues is opener's rebid after 1S-3S:

If you have already shown or denied the ace of a suit, or if your partner has already shown the ace, you proceed to showing kings. Further, since there are two waiting bids on each level, by going beyond the second waiting bid we show a high honour in trumps -- almost as if 4NT were a "trump cue bid." Suppose the auction begins 1S-3S-4C-4H. Your 4C promised the CA and denied the DA; your partner's 4H promised the HA and denied the DA. You know you have one diamond loser but it's possible that you still have 6S if everything else is solid. Your bids over 4H look like this:

You may have been wondering: what happens if you bypass a side suit AND a waiting bid? Bypassing a side suit normally denies a control and bypassing a waiting bid normally promises one. This is not, in fact, a contradiction. In Ted Brashler's terminology, a minor sweep is a cuebid that bypasses both one waiting bid and one suit below a waiting bid, and therefore denies the suit below the waiting bid, but carries the usual "sweep" promises above it. The canonical example is opener's rebid after 1H-3H:

The only time sweep cue-bids fail to achieve their maximum efficiency of exposing the location of one card per bidding step is when there are two suit below the first available waiting bid. To deny possession of two key cards yet push on to the 5-level would often be suicidal. So, instead, minor sweeps are defined to involve exactly one waiting bid and one suit below the waiting bid -- if you bypass two suits and a waiting bid, or bypass two waiting bids, you are promise every control up to and including the suit you name. Brashler calls these "major sweeps." So, returning to our first example in this chapter, 1S-3S-4C:

Summarizing this chapter:

In Part III we clear up some details: can a king ever be shown before an ace? how do sweep cues interact with Blackwood, the Grand Slam Force, and the natural raise to 5 of an agreed major? What bids signal the start of a cuebidding auction? When can I pass my partner's waiting bid?

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This page last updated 16.12.09
©2006-09 Gordon Bower