Point count is not very accurate with unbalanced hands that have a fit. Tricks and controls, or controls with distribution and lots of trump are the hand types that make slam easily with less than 33 points. For example, if West holds S AJ3  H KQJ1085  D A3 C 54  opposite East’s S KQ10987  H A97  D 654  C 3 there are 13 tricks available (six spades, six hearts, and one diamond) with either major as trump, while the opponents have only one trick, the CA. So a small slam makes even though the partnership has nothing like the required points for slam. This is a typical example of the controls plus tricks slam that you can have with unbalanced hands; there are plenty of tricks in hearts and spades and both minor suits are controlled, one on the first round (ace of diamonds) and the other on the second (singleton club).

The auction should start 1H-1S-3H and then East should say to herself, “My partner has a good six card heart suit and I have the ace - six tricks, if she has the SA I have six spade tricks, if she has the DA as well, or the CA and the DK then the opponents cannot cash two tricks before we take our twelve.”

So how does East make a slam try? She makes a cuebid of 4C. In this type of auction, 4H is a playable game as is, perhaps, 3NT or 4S. You would not go looking for a new suit to play in, thus bidding a new suit shows a control. The bid of a control rather than a real suit is called a cuebid; it usually shows the ace, but sometimes can be the king or shortness with interest in slam.
Next West can cuebid the DA and East will sign off in 4H having made a slam try. West can continue with a cuebid of 4S, which will excite East who will now bid a slam. Note that the cuebid in partner’s suit, spades here, should always be a high card not shortness so that partner knows there are tricks in that suit.

New suits once we have established a fit are usually cuebids. They are always cuebids when you have a major suit and the auction cannot stop below game. If your fit is in a minor, new suits below 3NT are usually tries for NT (I can stop this unbid suit, can you stop the other one?), but new suits above 3NT are cuebids.

To summarize, once the partnership has a suit fit you can make a cuebid to tell partner that you have a hand that might be suitable for slam. Often you need to know that partner has specific controls before bidding a slam, and you can find this out by using cuebids rather than Blackwood. It is also possible to bid 4NT, Blackwood, after you hear partner cuebid the suit that you were looking for a control in.

When to Use Blackwood

A commonly asked question is when should you use Blackwood as opposed to using cuebidding. The answer is that that you shouldn’t use Blackwood without a first or second round control in every suit. Also, you shouldn’t use it if partner’s answer would not help you decide whether or not to bid a slam. If you have a doubleton or a tripleton with no ace or king in it, then you have no way of knowing that the opponents can’t cash the ace and king of that suit. The time to use cuebidding rather than Blackwood is when at least one suit is not controlled. Another way to say this is that Blackwood is not a slam try while a cuebid is. You use Blackwood when you know there are enough tricks for slam as long as the opponents cannot first take two tricks.

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