Four states of auctions
It can be useful to think of auctions in terms of states. There are two important conditions to consider for every auction, based on our two questions: are we in a game force or not, and
do we have a major-suit fit or not? This leads to four possible states:
State 1 auctions are the most common, since every auction starts in State 1. We have a lot of work to do, with priority on our two questions: Do we have a game? and Do we have a major-suit fit?
State 2 auctions are when we know we have a game, but we don’t yet know which game. Examples are 2/1 auctions and fourth-suit forcing auctions. Our priority is to find the right game;
first we’re looking for a major-suit fit, then for notrump.
State 3 auctions are when we have a fit, but are uncertain about game. Common examples are auctions like 1♠–2♠ or 1♣–1♠–2♠. Our priority is determining whether we have enough for game.
State 4 auctions are the best – we have a fit and are in a game force. Now the focus is on question No. 3: Do we have a slam? Example situations include Jacoby 2NT auctions, splinter
auctions and 2/1 auctions where we set a major (such as 1♠–2♦; 2♠–3♠).
Most conventions only exist within one of these states, and often only within one of the subcategories of one state. For example, new-minor forcing only exists in State 1, and then only in the subcategory of “opener rebids notrump.” Roman key card Blackwood exists only in State 4, when we have a fit and are in a game force.
Thinking about the state of the auction can help identify our goals, sharpen our focus on those goals, and remind us of the appropriate conventions for the situation.
Here are a couple of examples:
The 4♣ and 3♣ bids are very different, and the difference comes from the different states of the two auctions.
Auction 1 is in State 4, since by bidding past 3♠ opener has committed the partnership to game. State 4 is about slam bidding; the only question is whether we’re playing in 4♠ or 6♠. Once we have grounded ourselves in the correct state, we can figure out that 4♣ is a slam try, specifically a control bid.
The second auction is in State 3: We have a spade fit, but have not forced to game. The issue on the table in State 3 is 3♠ or 4♠. So 3♣ is an attempt to get to game when that is the right contract. It’s a game try.