Join Bridge Winners
The Final Entry
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In a round-robin match in the Open Trials, you have to decide upon the best way to proceed with a big hand after partner's positive response to your strong 1 opener.

None vul, South deals. As North, you hold:

North
K109
A
AK86
AQ983
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
3
3
P
?

1: 16+, artificial

3: 5+ spades, game-forcing

Some of your options available are:

4: Slam try in spades

4NT: RKC for spades

5: Splinter

Your call?

North
K109
A
AK86
AQ983
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
3
3
P
?

Your hand is clearly too strong to just sign off in 4. AQxxx of spades and either the queen of diamonds or the king of clubs produces a very good slam.

Partner didn't open multi in first seat. With neither vul, you can pretty much eliminate the possibility of him having a 6-card spade suit. In fact he probably doesn't have AQJxx of spades, since with that suit and less than an opening bid he might well have opened multi. Therefore, there may be a trump problem in spades.

Another thing to worry about is that you might not belong in spades. If partner has 4 clubs, the 5-4 club fit will almost certainly be as good or better than the 5-3 spade fit. Even a 4-4 diamond fit might be better if partner has good interior diamond spots.

You could just take the bull by the horns and bid RKC. This will at least let you stop in 5 if partner is missing both the ace and the queen of spades. It might also be possible to back into a minor-suit slam in some variations. The problem with bidding RKC is that partner might not hold either of the critical minor-suit cards you want him to have, and if he doesn't have either of these slam isn't going to be very good. Any heart honors he has will be wasted. He may have been stretching a bit for his 3 call, since if he passes it is too easy to get blown out of a spade fit and a good game.

Another possibility is to make a slam try with a 4 cue-bid. This brings partner into the loop, and lets him evaluate his hand in the context of what he has already shown. The problem here is that if partner has, say, king-doubleton of hearts he will think this is a working card. He will have no way to know that the queen of diamonds would be much more valuable. Also, it may be very difficult to get to a minor-suit slam if that is where you belong.

The best way to bring partner into the loop is with a splinter bid of 5. Partner will be able to evaluate very accurately. He will like good trumps, and he will know that the king of clubs and/or the queen of diamonds are working cards while anything in hearts can be thrown out the window. In addition, if partner is accepting he will recognize that you might have only 3-card spade support and that a minor-suit slam could be better. If he has a 5-card minor or a good 4-card minor he will bid it at the 6-level, knowing that with 4 spades you will always go back to 6. With a bad 4-card minor he might try 5NT, pick a slam, giving you a chance to bid a 5-card minor of your own if you have one. This approach is very likely to get partner to do the right thing and arrive at the best contract.

You choose to bid 4NT. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
P
1
3
3
P
4NT
P
5
P
?

4NT: RKC for spades

5: 1 or 4 keycards

5 would ask for the queen of trumps. Partner will sign off in 5 without it. If he has it, he will show any kings he also has.

5NT would asks for specific kings.

6 of a minor would be an offer to play.

Your call?

North
K109
A
AK86
AQ983
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
3
3
P
4NT
P
5
P
?

It might be nice to bid 6 as an offer to play. The problem is that partner might think that it is more than an just an offer. From his point of view you might have a solid club suit and the king of spades, and felt that your best action was to bid RKC in spades and then place the contract in the appropriate number of clubs. You could just be off two aces and be planning on passing 5 if he has zero aces, bidding 6 if he has one ace, and bidding 7 if he has 2 aces. You can't risk trying this.

Is there any reason to ask for the queen of spades with 5? If partner doesn't have it you are still going to have to take your chances in slam. What if partner has the queen of spades and the king of clubs, which he can show? He can't have a penny more or he would have opened the bidding. There might be 13 tricks, but you would need spades to split and possibly clubs to split also. In light of the 3 preempt that isn't a good bet, particularly since it is conceivable that a small slam might not be bid at the other table.

Despite this, it is still correct to ask for the queen of trumps. The plan if partner doesn't have it is to continue with 5NT, pick a slam. This will give partner a chance to bid a 4- or 5-card minor, which will probably be a better contract if you are off the queen of spades.

You bid 5. The bidding concludes:

W
N
E
S
P
P
1
3
3
P
4NT
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

5: Asks for queen of trumps

6: Queen of trumps, no kings

You got to 6, so over you go to try to make it.

West leads the queen of hearts.

North
K109
A
AK86
AQ983
South
AQ852
J87
QJ75
7
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
3
3
P
4NT
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

You win the ace of hearts, East following with the 2. What is your plan?

North
K109
AK86
AQ983
South
AQ852
J8
QJ75
7
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
3
3
P
4NT
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

You have good chances. The club finesse is there, but you probably don't need it. You can ruff a losing heart or two in dummy, and possibly withstand some bad splits.

The problem is entries to your hand. It looks reasonable to use a club ruff and the queen of diamonds for entries to ruff your losing hearts.  This has the additional advantage that East might have king-doubleton of clubs, in which case you will need only one heart ruff.  You can then cash the king of spades. But what is the final entry back to your hand? If you try to get back with the jack of diamonds, East might ruff and put a heart through, promoting West's jack of spades. If you ruff a club back you may find that the spades are 4-1, and you will be out of control and have to lose a trick to the king of clubs as well as the long trump.

It might be right to ruff only one heart. This will be sufficient if the trumps are 3-2. You can cross to the queen of diamonds, ruff a heart, and play king and a spade. If the spades are 3-2, you have 12 tricks. If they are 4-1, you will have to fall back on the club finesse. One of these will probably come home, but perhaps you can do better.

It may seem unintuitive, but the best line is to use the queen and jack of diamonds for the entries for the heart ruffs. If nobody ruffs in you get your two heart ruffs in dummy, cash the king of spades, ace of clubs, club ruff, and play top spades. A 4-1 spade split will not hurt you, as after cashing the AQ of spades you play on diamonds, and you still have a trump left when West ruffs in.

Suppose somebody ruffs the second round of diamonds? That probably won't matter, as the remaining trumps now figure to split. For example, suppose East ruffs and returns a trump. You win in dummy, ace of clubs, club ruff, heart ruff, club ruff, and draw the remaining trumps. The same is true if West happens to have a singleton diamond, since he will be ruffing with the long trump so you will then be able to afford to ruff two clubs in your hand for the necessary entries. This line fails only if East has a singleton diamond and a singleton spade. This is possible, but considerably less likely than the other losing layouts.

You choose to play ace of clubs and ruff a club. East follows to the first club, but discards a diamond on the second club. You then ruff a heart in dummy, West following. Now what do you do?

North
K10
AK86
Q98
South
AQ85
J
QJ75
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
3
3
P
4NT
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

You are going to have to re-enter your hand twice, and one of these entries must be a diamond in case trumps are 4-1. You might as well lead a diamond to the queen now. Even if East is out of diamonds and ruffs this doesn't hurt you, as he will be ruffing with the long trump and the trumps will now be splitting.

You lead a diamond to your queen, both following. You ruff your last heart in dummy, West discarding a club. When you cash the king of spades, both follow. What is the final entry to your hand?

North
AK8
Q98
South
AQ8
J75
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
3
3
P
4NT
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

It seems right to ruff another club back. This will work when trumps are 3-2, as is most likely the case. Trying to get back with a diamond looks dangerous, as East might ruff and put a heart through you.

There is the danger that West started with 4 trumps and 4-2-1-6 shape. If you ruff a club you will lose control, and West will score his long trump and his king of clubs. If that is the case, you must lead a diamond off dummy and force him, after which you will take the balance.

The danger of East ruffing the diamond off dummy is an illusion. You will have a complete count on the hand. East is known to have started with 7 hearts and 1 club. He has discarded a diamond and followed to a round of diamonds. If he ruffs the diamond off dummy, his shape must be 3-7-2-1. You can confidently ruff high on his heart return, knowing for certain that the remaining trumps are 1-1.

You choose to ruff a club off dummy. Spades are 3-2, and you take all the tricks. The full hand is:

West
J7
Q6
1092
KJ10542
North
K109
A
AK86
AQ983
East
643
K1095432
43
6
South
AQ852
J87
QJ75
7
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
3
3
P
4N
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
A
2
7
1
1
0
A
6
7
2
1
2
0
3
3
2
4
3
3
0
8
6
9
3
1
4
0
6
4
Q
2
3
5
0
J
5
10
4
1
6
0
K
3
5
7
1
7
0
3
5
8
8

The danger of a winning diamond getting ruffed is an illusion which is difficult to overcome. The key is that one trump trick can be lost, provided declarer gets those two heart ruffs in dummy. A potential 4-1 trump split or the risk of a trump promotion is a much greater risk.

Do you agree with South's initial pass?

West
J7
Q6
1092
KJ10542
North
K109
A
AK86
AQ983
East
643
K1095432
43
6
South
AQ852
J87
QJ75
7
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
3
3
P
4N
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
A
2
7
1
1
0
A
6
7
2
1
2
0
3
3
2
4
3
3
0
8
6
9
3
1
4
0
6
4
Q
2
3
5
0
J
5
10
4
1
6
0
K
3
5
7
1
7
0
3
5
8
8

It is a good philosophy that there is no hand which is not strong enough to open a 1-bid but too strong to open a weak 2 (or multi). If the hand type would clearly qualify for a weak 2, you must go one way or the other. Passing is not an option.

The actual South hand isn't quite strong enough to open, since it contains only 10 HCP and a pile of queens and jacks. While opening multi with AQxxx of spades is okay, it is far from ideal. Thus, passing and planning on overcalling later is a reasonable course of action on the South hand.

While most players are willing to splinter liberally at the 4-level, few are willing to do so at the 5-level. I have never understood this philosophy. In fact, for many a jump to 5 on this sequence would be exclusion Blackwood, even though that is far rarer than a splinter. It seems to me that if you can judge that a splinter will get partner to make the right decision, then a 5-level splinter is fine. This hand is a perfect example of my philosophy. On the actual hand South has a clear acceptance, and either 6 or 6 would be reached. But make South's hand AJxxx KJx Jxxx x, and South will know to stop at 5 and that would probably be high enough.

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