Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Extending the Michaels cue-bid

Let's say the auction starts with 1 by LHO and your partner bids 3. What?? You would understand 2 as a Michaels cue-bid. Well, logically partner's bid is "Super-Michaels." But what exactly does it show? According to one online reference, this bid shows a strong two-suited hand. But is that really necessary? Many people play mini-maxi Michaels which says that if you make an unforced bid after the Michaels cuebid, you are showing a maxi. Maybe a two-suiter in the 15-18 point range. Presumably with more than that you might double first and then try to show both suits. So, to some extent the strong 5-5 hands are covered.

But what about 6-5 (or more) hands? I once had the good fortune to play with a young Australian at an NABC whose name unfortunately I have forgotten. He was one of the best players I've ever partnered. Most hands ended with a claim at about trick six regardless of whether we were on offense or defense. In a Swiss, we had played six of the seven boards and were working on the last when the director came over and said we were playing the wrong opponents. We had to play the entire round again. No problem. We finished in plenty of time!

But I digress. He taught me the importance of the sixth card in a 6-5 or better hand. Never use Michaels with 6-5(+), he said. Partner will never be able to judge what to do because of that sixth card. I've always taken that to heart. But how do you handle such hands? It isn't easy.

One possibility that leaps to mind is a jump cue-bid. Suppose you have the following hand: ♠AKT85 J QJT983 ♣J and your right-hand opponent opens 1 (all are vulnerable). You've got the magic 6-5 "come alive" hand. But what should you bid? At my table, Bob McCaw held this hand and overcalled 2. The auction continued 2 pass 4. Undaunted, Bob bid 4♠. This was the final contract (it makes 5). Our side could try a sacrifice in 5HX for -500 but their side could always bid on. For that, Bob earned 5.5 out of 7 matchpoints. While it's impossible to argue with success, Bob's bidding was certainly aggressive by any standard. Not everyone will have the stomach for that kind of sequence vulnerable.

So, how about defining the jump to 3 as this sort of hand? Especially where it may be necessary to "reverse" your suits to show their lengths properly as Bob did. As with Michaels, a notrump (3NT) call by partner would ask "which is your minor?" Or, if you feel that you just have to be able to bid 3NT naturally, you could probably make a pretty good stab in the dark to guess which is partner's unknown six-card suit. In this auction, the 3 call would force the bidding to either 3♠ or 4. That's one level lower than with what actually happened at our table. Presumably, if you had a really good hand, say ♠AKJT5 8 AQJT83 ♣9 (a four-loser hand), you would be justified in raising whichever suit partner chose.

What would you be giving up if you adopted this convention? Have you ever even discussed with your partner what this bid might mean? Admittedly, it wouldn't be coming up frequently but it would certainly get your attention if it did come up.


  1. Isn't it standard (I am not discussing how *good* this agreement is, though) to play this as a Western cue (running suit, asking partner for a stopper)?

  2. It certainly sounds like another possible interpretation and maybe a good one. But I certainly don't think that would be considered standard - at least not in the Eastern states ;)
    According to Larry Cohen ( a Western cue is never a jump, although I think I've seen non-immediate jump cues intended as Western.

  3. Might be a Canadian thing, a descendent from Colonial Acol. "JQ/M=Stop?,Nat/m" has been on my card for close to four decades now with anybody I play with even occasionally.

  4. Its completely standard that 1M-3M is a strong hand, with a solid 7+ card minor that lacks a stopper in M. Ax x Kxx AKQJxxx for instance would bid 3H over 1H.