Mike Cappelletti
Mike Cappelletti

 Once upon a time during the olden days of bridge, there came to pass a rule that a cue bid of the opponent’s suit promised first round control of that suit. Charles Goren declared in The Fundamentals of Contract Bridge (1950), “When either partner makes a bid in the opponent’s suit, it indicates the ability to win the first trick of that suit, either with the ace or by trumping.” 

As time passed and bridge evolved, it became clear that on too many hands, especially in preemptive competition, there wasn’t a satisfactory bid available to show a strong hand, which did not have first-round control of the opponent’s suit.

The first step, circa early 50s, was to lessen the stringent first round control requirement of the cue bid to second round control. Thus the cue bid of the opponent’s suit then either promised either the king of the opponent’s suit—or the ace as before—or a singleton in opponent’s suit. 

The final stage in the evolution (some would say deterioration) of the cue bid came about logically. Since a cue bid no longer promised first round control, why must it promise at least second round control? Why not use the cue bid as an all-purpose flexible strength showing bid? In fact, sometimes the cue bid need not even show extra strength. Sometimes, it might simply be used as a catch-all bid of convenience when there is nothing else to bid.

For example, you opened a minor with a minimum hand. One or both opponents have bid spades. Your partner has made a forcing 3 bid. Now it is your bid and you have no heart fit, no spade stopper and no reason to bid four-of-a-minor, which you would have been forced to bid in old-fashioned bridge. In modern bridge, since you have nothing else to bid and since you do not want to by pass 3NT—your partner may have a stopper—you simply cue bid 3. Partner realizes that you probably would have bid 3NT with a spade stopper.

In the following examples you will find a number of instances of the modern flexible amorphous cue bid. In many of these examples, there is simply nothing better to bid. 

A Classic Cue Bid
        K J x x x                              Partner   Opp       You        Opp
        K Q J x                                  1          1         ?
        A J 10 x

Yes—this is certainly a 2 cue bid by everyone’s standards. Anticipating that hearts will be trumps, this hand not only has first round control of spades, it has excellent trump support and strong holdings in each of the side suits.

A Western Cue Bid? Maybe. 
        A Q x                                     Partner     Opp            You        Opp
        A Q J 10 x x x                   1          2         2          P
        x  x                                        2           P            ?

In the above hand, your two-level 2 in competition promised at least 10 points and at least five diamonds. On your next bid, you would like very much to make a forcing 3 bid, but in standard bridge, a 3 rebid would not be forcing. You hand is much too strong to make a non-forcing bid. 

You do not want to raise your partner with a singleton spade, and you certainly do not want to bid no trump without a stopper. You could jump to four diamonds but that would take you beyond 3NT which might be the best, and only makable, game. In the old days of bridge, a 3 cue bid here would promise first round control of clubs. Fortunately, in modern bridge, the 3 cue bid here would merely say, “I have a strong hand partner, please do something helpful.” The cue bidder might have a strong hand and may be looking for a club stopper in order to play in no trump—as is the case in this hand. Playing game in no trump instead of five of a minor is particularly important at match point scoring. 

The modern interpretation of the 3 cue bid here has fully evolved from showing a stopper to looking for a stopper. It is often officially called a Western Cue Bid, defined as looking for a stopper in the opponent’s suit. Of course, if partner dutifully bids 3NT showing a stopper and then the cue bidder bids on, then perhaps it wasn’t a Western Cue Bid after all?

If it was not Western, then what did the cue bid show? Only the bidder knows. 
Delayed Action Cue Bid
       x x                                       
        x x                             Partner     Opp       You        Opp
        K x x                           1            1         P           2
        K Q 10 9 x x              dbl            P            ?            

The above hand at IMPs scoring, Vul vs non Vul opponents, is yet another fascinating solution to a tough problem. You did not have quite enough to bid 2 over the 1 overcall. If it had gone, pass, pass, reopening double by your partner, you would then have a textbook jump to 3, showing a good suit and 8 or 9 points; you are limited to less than 10 points since you did not bid over 1. 

The bad news was that your nasty left hand opponent jacked it up to 2, which took up all your jumping space and changed everything. The good news is that your partner’s free bid double over 2 shows a good hand, usually 16 points or more—but sometimes shaded with good shape.

Since you are forced to bid in this situation, a 3 bid could be very weak. You have an absolute maximum for your pass of 1, and indeed, some very aggressive players might have stretched a 2 bid. A mere 3 bid here would be woefully inadequate, since you might easily make a game with this hand. 

You could jump to 4, but that would get you past 3NT; you would strongly prefer not to play game on the five level. If partner had something like queen-fifth of hearts and three aces (only fourteen points—he should have more), then you will probably make 3NT, but not 5.

So what should you bid? If you bid 3 here, your partner will probably interpret is as Western (see above) and bid 3NT with a spade stopper. If partner bids 4. well at least you have two hearts and some kings for him. If partner bids 4 you will have to bid 5, and search for a new partner. It might even make, especially if partner has a stiff spade. 

In a situation where no bid is perfect, you essentially have to gamble one way or the other. Since this bidding problem was given as vulnerable at IMPs, where there is a large premium for bidding games, the amorphous cue bid is clearly the percentage action. 

Cue Bid — What Else? 
IMPs  Both Vul (Bridge World, March 1977) 

   A x You Opp Partner Opp
   x x  1 P 1 P
   A Q J x x  3 P 3D P
   A K J 9  ?      

Here is another example of why modern bridge evolved so that a cue bid no longer promises first round control, or anything at all of that suit. In the olden days of bridge when it would have been unthinkable to bid 3 with two small hearts, you would probably be forced to bid four or five diamonds with this hand. But 4 is higher than 3NT. You would strongly prefer to have a way to get your partner to bid 3NT rather than play for eleven tricks in a minor. 

Another reason to keep the bidding conveniently low at 3 is if your partner’s hand is still unlimited. Since your 3 bid was ostensibly forcing to game, his 3 preference, which might be a false preference, could even have slam potential. So now over 3, your partner has much more room to complete his bidding than over 4. 

For example, with a heart stopper he will usually bid 3NT. If he bids 3, then you can bid  4, which probably shows a doubleton honor. Over 4, if he has no heart stopper, he can choose between 4 and 5 with some accuracy. 

The good news is that whatever partner does over 3, you are well placed and should have no further problems. The 3 bid is clearly best, whatever it means. 

When One Cue Bid Deserves Another   
IMPs  Vul vs non Vul  (Bridge World, May 1999) 

        A                               Partner  Opp       You        Opp   
        x                                 1         1           P              P
        A Q x x x x               3          P            3            P
        A J  x x x                    ?

What’s going on with partner? What does his 3 cue bid show after he originally passed?

He might have a penalty pass of hearts. Since a double of one heart would be negative, if he had a heart stack, he would check hoping that partner (you) would reopen with a double. But now that you have reopened with a jump, he is showing something good. But what? 

Generally, his hand must fall into one of two categories. Either he has a penalty pass of the one heart overcall, in which case he is virtually unlimited, or he has a hand too weak to bid over 1but which has been reevaluated in light of your bidding. In this latter case, he either has a nice fit with one or both of your suits, or perhaps has some useful values in diamonds or clubs. There probably is some remote chance that he had an awkward hand that had no good bid over 1, and now he is trying to get you to bid 3NT with a heart stopper (Western style). 

How do you find out what he has? 

Answer: One dubious bid deserves another. Try bidding 3. What does it mean? It means you have first round control of spades, as in the old days of bridge. Your main objective here is to see what partner will bid to shed light on his previous actions. 

Another Western Cue Bid   
        x x                                       
        A x x  x                     Partner     Opp       You        Opp
        Q x x                           1            1         dbl           P
        Q x x  x                       3             P            ?            

Your partner has jumped to 3 showing a healthy opening bid and a longish diamond suit. If partner had merely the AK seventh of diamonds and a spade stopper, you might make 3NT. Partner actually has more strength than that, but he might not have a spade stopper. Although you have only eight points, that might well be enough to make a 3NT game if your partner has a spade stopper. How can you find out?

What do you do when you think your side has enough strength to play game in no trump but you do not have a stopper in the opponent’s bid suit? There is a slight variation of the Western Cue Bid theme which has become a standard solution to this kind of problem.

In many game going auctions where you lack a stopper in the opponent’s bid suit, you can make a convenient cue bid and hope that your partner has a stopper and can bid 3NT. In modern bridge, in this type of situation, your cue bid does not show a stopper. Nor does it necessarily show any extra values. All you need is enough strength (points) to make a game possible in light of your partner’s bidding. And partner knows that if you had a stopper, then you might well have bid the 3NT yourself. 

The All Purpose Cue Bid    
When the hand below was presented to an expert panel, a great majority of experts voted for the cue bid which normally shows three card or more trump support. 

IMPs  both Vul (Bridge World, December 2001) 
        A Q x x                                       
        A x x x                     Partner  Opp       You        Opp
        J x                              P             1        1           P
        x x x                          ?           

Although a 2 cue bid here normally shows a limit raise or better in partner’s suit, here diamonds; because you have such an excellent passed hand, you are willing to promote your jack-doubleton of diamonds. Your eleven points are all prime quality points, 2 1/2 honor tricks. Even though you only have two diamonds, as opposed to the usual requisite three or more, partner will definitely not complain about your hand when you put it down as dummy. And if, on a good day, partner happens to bid two-of-a-major, you have a delightful raise to three.

This cue bid does it all. It tells your partner that you have 10 or 11 points—you cannot have more since you are a passed hand. It also shows that you have support for both unbid suits and you even have some support for your partner’s suit. This is a bid that has practically no down side. 

The Do Something Cue Bid
 Match Points  Vul vs non-Vul (Bridge World, December 2001) 
       9 8 x x                                                         
       —                     Partner   Opp       You        Opp
       K J 10 9               1NT       P          2        3
       A x x x x                P          P           ?

A great majority of the expert panel chose the 4 cue bid on this hand.

Although you only have eight high card points, in view of the fact that the three heart bidder probably has most of the heart high cards, your partner’s strong no trump probably contains mostly working or useful cards for you. If your partner has something like
     Axx  Jxx AQxx  KQx (16 hcp)
he might make twelve tricks in diamonds by ruffing two hearts.

Even though you might make a slam if partner has the right hand for you, you should not even think about bidding a slam with such a minimum point count. You should be perfectly content to get to a comfortable game. Since you have some shape, it is quite possible that other suits are splitting badly. 

The bottom line here is that the best reason for making any bid is that it will allow partner to get to a good contract. If you bid 4 on this hand, partner will have to bid his best suit. And lo and behold, that will probably be your best contract. This is clearly one of the hands where your point count is secondary to your distribution. 

The Least of Evils Cue Bid
IMPs  None Vul (Bridge World, April 2000) 
       A x                                                         
       A Q x x                   Partner     Opp       You        Opp
       Q x x                       1             3         3          P
       A K x x                     ?
When this hand was presented to an expert bidding panel, the vast majority chose the 4 cue bid, notwithstanding that the hand lacks first or second round control of diamonds. 

The real problem here is that all other bids describe the hand worse. Three no trump will probably make, but your hand is too strong to sign off in game. If your partner has six good spades and a short diamond you should have good play for a slam. If you bid 4. partner should play you for hearts and clubs, and might even pass.

This hand is a prime example of the amorphous cue bid, in that it exemplifies how the cue bid has deteriorated (in the eyes of some of the older Culbertson era players) from first round control to second round control to no control at all. In modern bridge we now acknowledge the concept of the all-purpose cue bid, for truly, that is what it has become. 

Cue Bid Showing Specifically Two Suits
Matchpoints,  None Vul (Washington Bridge League Bulletin, November 2003) 
       A K 10 x x   
       A K                          Opp         You          Partner        Opp       
       A K x x x                  3           ?

You have a huge hand which you can not adequately describe to partner. If you double, partner will probably bid spades and then nothing you do will show your two long suits and shortness in spades. If you follow up your double with a new suit, partner will play you for a one-suiter and will pass or revert to spades hoping you have tolerance. Thus, you should not start with a double. 

Although most of the hands in this section have demonstrated the flexibility, if not outright ambiguous nature of the modern cue bid, there is at least one situation in modern bridge where the meaning of the cue bid does not vary. 

Most experts play that an immediate cue bid over a preempt, especially if the cue bid is higher than 3NT, shows a two-suited hand. Normally the auctions, 3 4 or 3 4 show five-five or bertter in the majors—hence the cue bidder’s partner usually bids his better major. But if over responder’s major suit bid, the cue bidder now bids the other minor, then that shows the remaining two suits and responder should pass or correct. 

Make Most Descriptive Bid 
Matchpoints  Both Vul (ACBL Bulletin, June 2002)  

   A Q 9 8 x x You Opp Partner Opp
   – – – 1 2 Dbl P
   A J x x ?      
   A x x        

  When this hand was presented to an expert panel, twice as many experts voted for the 3 cue bid as the 3 bid, which was my choice. Although the cue bid does show a good hand, I think that the cue bid is very inappropriate here. It only works out if partner then bids one of your suits (spades or diamonds) which is unlikely. If partner makes the the rather likely 3 bid over 3, you must bid 3, which will probably lead to playing 3NT or 4. 

If partner has good diamond support, for example, xx  QJxxx  KQxxx  x, you might be cold for 6 and yet find yourself going down in 4!  I see no theoretical flaws in a 3 bid. If the hand is a great misfit and partner passes 3, it is probably your best contract—you only have 15 points. 

If partner bids 3, certainly a likely possibility, your 3 rebid describes your hand accurately. If partner raises 3 to 4 or 5, there is much to be said for shooting out 6. Note that partner’s raise to 4 bypasses 3NT, which he would be unlikely to do with more values in hearts than diamonds—he might bid 3 to stay under 3NT. 

It seems the jump to 3 is a do-everything bid and describes your hand very well. I would avoid making the ambiguous amorphous cue bid in this situation. 

Quite simply, the general rule is that you make the most descriptive cue bid when you are looking for no trump or you have no better descriptive bid. Here 3 is a vastly superior bid both when partner is strong or with a weak misfit.