Fred Gitelman
Fred Gitelman
In 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.
  1. 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.
  2. The bid by either partner of the step immediately below 4 of our agreed major (4if hearts agreed, 4if spades agreed) 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 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:
PASS – I have no control in the LTTC suit
1st step – First round control of LTTC suit & 0 or 3 Keycards
2nd step – First round control of LTTC suit & 1 or 4 Keycards
3rd step – First round control of LTTC suit & 2 Keycards no Queen
4th step – First round control of LTTC suit & 2 Keycards & Queen
6 of our major – Second round control of LTTC suit
If you play 1430 RKCB feel free to invert the 1st and 2nd steps. 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 trump suit. AUCTION 1:
3 3NT
4 4 (LTTC)
In Auction 1, 3NT is serious. 4shows 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 4it 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). AUCTION 2:
3 3NT
4 (LTTC)
In Auction 2, 3NT is serious but it denies a Spade control (else 3). 4is 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 4as an absolute signoff. I cannot bid 4(showing both Spades and Clubs controlled) or bid above 4because 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.”