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Grand National Slams
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Well, Grand National practice slams anyway. Last weekend, the District 13 GNT open team (Drew Becker - Jeff Schuett; Oren Kriegel - Ron Smith; Steve McConnell - Larry Robbins) had a practice session, getting ready for the main event in Toronto. We got Frank Pancoe and Joe Stokes as a fourth pair and played four short matches in various combinations. It was an exciting set of boards, with lots of interesting slam decisions. Here are the first half of them.

With neither side vulnerable, you hold:

South
Q10x
AKQxx
K10xx
x
W
N
E
S
1
3
3
P
4
P
?

Partner opens 1, and East bids 3. You bid 3, which partner raises to four. As The Clash sing, "Should I stay or should I go?"

Partner could have a hand that makes slam good, such as:

North
Ax
Jxx
Axxxxx
xx

(not much of an opening bid) or maybe:

North
Kx
Jxxx
AJ9x
Axx

but there are plenty of hands that yield poor slams or risk going down at the five-level. Partner had a cheap cuebid available, so passing seemed like the percentage action to me, but my counterpart was more bullish. At the table, partner held:

North
AK9x
Jxx
Jxxx
AJ

The lack of diamond spots made slam quite poor. The Q was onside, but East held Q8x, and both declarers took 10 tricks.

 

Later in that same match:

North
KQJ9
10x
KQ108
Axx
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
?

Your 2NT was a game-forcing spade raise, and partner first showed a minimum and then revealed club shortness. 3NT by you now would be a serious slam-try, and a cuebid would be non-serious. Do you prefer 3NT or 4? And whichever you choose, how do you continue?

Ron chose the conservative route of 4 then 4 over 4. The other table had a similar start to the auction, but after South cuebid, North drove to slam. This was the full layout:

North
KQJ9
10x
KQ108
Axx
South
Axxxx
AQxx
xxx
K
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

Slam is basically a tossup. It's down if the opponents can take a diamond ruff or if the heart finesse loses, although there is the extra chance of a heart opening lead away from the king.

This is the sort of deal where lots of IMPs are at stake. We happened to be on the right side of this one: West held KJxx and didn't lead one.

Next case:

North
Axx
Qx
AQxx
K9xx
South
Qxx
AKxxx
J9xx
A
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
?

North opens 1NT and South transfers to hearts then bids his diamonds. How would you bid these hands, and where do you want to play?

Against me, Frank and Joe continued 3 - 4 - 5 - 5 - pass.

6 looks like a reasonable place to play. On a non-spade lead, declarer can take a diamond finesse. If it loses, declarer likely needs to find hearts 3-3. If the finesse wins, and diamonds split 3-2, declarer will be fine as long as hearts split no worse than 4-2, plus there might be no diamond loser. On a spade lead, declarer will likely finesse. He's not necessarily down if East wins the K at trick one, and rising with the A requires a winning diamond finesse in addition to being able to dispose of dummy's spade losers before the defense can ruff in to cash the K.

It's just as well that Frank and Joe stayed out of slam here. Their club cuebids talked Ron out of leading one from QJ10x, opting instead for a spade from 109x. While declarer in 6 could have survived a spade lead on the actual layout (the K was onside and hearts were 3-3), I suspect he would have gone down.

At the other table, Drew and Jeff did reach 6, making against the Q lead.

Ron and I notched a system win here:

North
AKQxx
AJx
x
K10xx
South