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Gambling at Bridge Part 7 -- More Choice of Slams
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My last article began the topic of choosing between small slams. There were three interesting points:

1. Choice-of-slam decisions are big bets. Swings can be as high as 26 IMPS, and there are no "safe bets" (bids that offer very favorable IMP odds). Consequently, these decisions have a big impact on IMP results, even though they occur infrequently.

2. At the slam level, minor-suit contracts are almost as valuable as major-suit and NT contracts. Finding good 8+ card minor-suit contracts is far more important for slam decisions than for game decisions.

3. Choice-of-slam decisions usually revolve around trump tricks. More accurately, they usually revolve around tricks taken with trumps. One strain may be better than another because:

  • It offers a productive ruff that adds a trick
  • The suit contains fewer late-round losers than another
  • It protects a vulnerable side-suit control from the lead (i.e., prevents a lead thru Kx)

When you have more than one possible fit, how do you make the choice? The key is to consider how the hand will play before you place the final contract. Playing the hand in your mind often makes the choice of strain clear. Let's look at some examples.

1. The Productive Ruff

North
QJx
J10x
KJxxx
Ax
South
AKxxx
x
AQxx
xxx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
Ruffing in the hand with short trump will often score an additional trick. In a spade contract, a heart would be ruffed in the long trump hand where it won't add a trick. In a diamond contract the heart ruff occurs in the short trump hand giving you an extra trick and consequently slam is almost gin.

Slam should often be be played in your secondary suit when:

  • you have a double fit, one in your long suit and another in a shorter side suit
  • your pattern is 5-4-3-1/5-4-4-0

Less often, but still possible, a 6-3-3-1 or 6-4-3-0 pattern may produce an extra trick when played in your secondary suit. Finally, when your shape is exactly 5-4-2-2, a slam in a 4-4 fit may take one trick more than your 5-3 or 5-4 fit.

This idea of playing slam in your secondary trump holding has implications for early bidding. When you discover a fit, if the partnership is in the slam zone, the search for fits may not be over. Sometimes a secondary fit in another trump suit will play better when you're in six. For example:

North
Qxx
xxx
xxx
AKxx
South
AKJxx
x
AKx
QJxx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
?

6 is cold, and 6 has no play. We will discuss such auctions more in another article, but for now, note that if your methods don't allow you to find that secondary club fit, you will miss a cold slam to play in a hopeless one.

 

2. Fewer Trump Losers

North
Kxxxx
AKx
xx
A10x
South
Axx
x
AKxx
KQJxx
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
6
P
P
P

A slam in spades will fail if spades divide 4-1, resulting in 2 trump losers. By contrast, 6 is virtually cold. You can simply discard a spade loser on a heart.

When you pick a suit as trump, you can't get rid of unavoidable slow losers in that suit. When that suit is not trumps, you may be able to eliminate a late-round loser either by ruffing or discarding. Here is another variation:

North
xx
xxxx
Axx
AJxx
South
AKJxxx
x
x
KQ10xx
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
6
P
P
P

6 needs a finesse and 3-2 spades. 6 is cold, because spades can be established by ruffing.

 

3. Protecting a Stopper

North
KQJxx
x
xx
AKQxx
South
Axx
AJx
Kxx
J10xx
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

6 played by North can go down on a diamond lead, when the A is wrong. 6 played by South is cold because the opponents can not cash two diamonds. North can anticipate this possibility during the bidding: South cue-bid diamonds below game but hearts above game, so South must have the A and not the A. North, realizing that diamonds could be a problem and holding excellent clubs, offers 6 as a place to play. While South has poor clubs, South should realize North offered 6 for a reason, probably to protect the K. With an extra club and good club texture, South can be confident that 6 by South will be as good or better than 6 by North. 

Conclusion

In these examples, finding the correct strain was straightforward: no special conventions were needed, just good judgment. The key was anticipating the play, and recognizing the danger one strain contains before placing the final contract. So in slam auctions, try to play the hand in your head. Look for the warning signs which include the presence of:

1. A potentially productive ruff in a short trump holding

2. A late-round loser in one fit that might be ruffed or discarded in another fit

3. A vulnerable side-suit stopper that requires protection from the opening lead

Next week we will look at bidding conventions that help probe for the best slam contract.

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