We received this question from Frank Fine of Albuquerque, New Mexico, “How does ‘Last Train’ work? How do you differentiate it from a control cue bid?”


Coopers: According to Wikipedia this convention was invented by Jeff Meckstroth and he named it after the Monkees song “Last Train to Clarksville.” The original concept was that the bid of the suit just below game in the agreed trump suit could be used to show a slam suitable hand rather than be a true cuebid. For example, after the auction 1H - 4C (splinter) or 1H-3H-4C the bid of 4D is the only bid below game. If you play Last Train then 4D in that auction says “I have a good hand for slam but it’s not good enough to go past 4H.” Thus it is not a real cuebid of a control. Obviously this is a dangerous way to play when the Last Train suit is the suit in which you need partner to have a control! But it has the advantage of denying many other controls in some auctions as well as suggesting a suitable hand without going past game. For example, 1S-4C-4H denies a diamond control and says nothing about hearts but shows a hand suitable for slam opposite club  shortness.

Another type of auction where Last Train is useful is when partner has just set trump - for example, 1S-2C-3S or 1H-1S-3H. We prefer to play that the lowest cuebid is dubious rather than the suit one below our trump suit is Last Train in these situations. This gives partner more room for bidding and also leaves room for you to recue the dubious cuebid suit later to say that it is real.

Many players have extended this Last Train concept and use it when trying for a grand. So after bidding Blackwood and asking for kings the bid of the suit one under six of your trump suit says “Look again, I really think we should bid seven.”

In summary, Last Train is a fake cuebid of the suit one below your trump suit to show a suitable hand with nothing to cuebid below game. It can be very useful but is also dangerous. Best to discuss it with your partner before you add it to your arsenal. You might start out by using it only after splinters and at the six level and then, if you like it, extend it to more auctions.
Please keep your questions coming. Anything you find puzzling is worth sending to D17editors@contractbridgeforum.com - if it wasn’t clear to you then others are likely to find it interesting as well.

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