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All Your Options
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In the semi-finals of the open trials, you must find the best approach on a possible slam hand.

Both vul, East deals. As North, you hold:

North
32
AK3
QJ2
AQ864
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
?

1NT: 14-16

Available to you are:

2: Puppet Stayman, asking for a 5-card major. If you do this, you will not be able to subsequently show your 5-card club suit.

2: Size ask. Partner will bid 2NT with a minimum, 3 with a non-minimum. After either of these calls, if you bid 4 that will show a 5-card club suit, 5-3-3-2, slam interest.

2NT: Transfer to clubs, which must be accepted. After that, 4 is a balanced slam try. Other calls below 4 would show some shortness, calls above 4 would be RKC or exclusion.

Your choice?

North
32
AK3
QJ2
AQ864
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
?

There is enough slam potential if partner is on the top of his bid or if he fits clubs well that you can't afford to just settle for game without some kind of probe. It looks clear to start with the 2 size ask. Knowing whether partner is minimum or non-minimum has to be helpful. Furthermore, if you choose to continue towards slam after partner's response then 4 gives partner a perfect description of your hand type.

You bid 2. The auction continues:

W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
?

3: Non-minimum

Your call?

North
32
AK3
QJ2
AQ864
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
?

If partner had shown a minimum it would probably be correct to check out at 3NT. There could still be a slam if partner has a perfect hand such as Axx QJxx Kx KJxx, but the odds are against finding that perfect hand, while making a move could get you too high.

Opposite a non-minimum it has to be right to make a move. If partner doesn't fit the clubs, 4NT should be safe, and if he likes his hand for clubs, then there will probably be a decent slam.

You bid 4. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
?

4: A Q-bid, saying he likes his hand for clubs. Other calls would have been:

4: RKC for clubs
4: Q-bid for clubs
4NT: Signoff
5: Signoff

Other than 5 or 6 which would both be signoffs, you have available:

4NT: Last train
5, 5, or 5: Q-bids, grand slam interest
5NT: Pick a slam

Your choice?

North
32
AK3
QJ2
AQ864
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
?

Partner doesn't have a complete maximum with a good fit for clubs. If he did, he would have taken control himself with RKC.

On the other hand, partner appears to fit clubs okay or possibly he has some source of tricks on the side. He could have showed he was minimal in context of what he has shown by bidding 4NT or 5, but he instead chose to make a move. He wasn't required to Q-bid 4 if he didn't like his hand.

Let's see what a perfect minimum for partner would look like. How about AKx Qxx Kxx Kxxx. Slam is cold, and with that sort of hand partner wouldn't be able to take control with RKC. That example is sufficient to indicate that you are too strong to sign off. You must either drive to slam or make a last train call of 4NT.

Would partner bid slam on that hand if you made a last train call? Not clear. That is some indication that maybe you are supposed to drive to slam yourself. Let's look at some other not-so-perfect hands partner might hold which he would have bid 3 and then 4 on. AQx Jx A10xx KJxx. Slam is on one of 2 finesses. Even if he doesn't have that nice 10 of diamonds, slam is still on a finesse. Would partner go if you bid 4NT? Not clear. From his point of view both of his jacks are probably worthless, which they are.

How bad might slam be? AJxx Qx AKx Jxxx. You would need to pick up the club suit. Not percentage, but you have been in worse. If his hand is any worse than that, he probably wouldn't have bid 4.

It is close, and you couldn't be faulted for bidding 4NT. But that may put partner under too much pressure. Slam figures to be anything from laydown to a small underdog. It is probably right to drive to slam yourself.

Given that you are driving to slam, it must be better to bid 5NT pick-a-slam than to commit to 6. You have already shown a 5-card club suit, and partner can take that into consideration when he picks the slam. If he has 3-card club support, he won't have much reason to bid anything but 6. But if he has only 2 clubs other than KJ doubleton he will know to look elsewhere. Since he knows you don't have a side 4-card suit he will bid a suit only if he has 5 of them. If he bids 6 or 6, that will probably be best. Otherwise, 6NT will be as good as anything.

You bid 5NT. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5NT
P
6
P
?

Your call?

North
32
AK3
QJ2
AQ864
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5NT
P
6
P
?

That wasn't what you wanted to hear. Partner has 5 spades, but you don't know how good they are. His distribution is almost certainly 5-3-3-2 in that order, since with 3 clubs and a red doubleton he would have picked 6. You must convert to 6NT, so you will have the opportunity to use whichever black suit behaves.

You bid 6NT, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5NT
P
6
P
6NT
P
P
P

Over you go to partner's seat to play it.

West leads the 4.

North
32
AK3
QJ2
AQ864
South
AQJ54
J95
A84
K3
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5NT
P
6
P
6NT
P
P
P

Do you win or duck? If you win, what do you do next?

North
32
AK3
QJ2
AQ864
South
AQJ54
J95
A84
K3
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5NT
P
6
P
6NT
P
P
P

It can't be right to duck this. West probably isn't leading away from the Q, and one extra heart trick might not be enough anyway. If you duck and lose the trick, you will be in very bad shape. Your hope is to get 9 tricks out of the black suits. This will require a bit of luck, but not too much.

It looks right to go after spades. You want to take two finesses if the spade finesse is onside, and you are going to try to take some spade tricks anyway.

Which spade honor should you play from your hand? You don't want West ducking his king of spades if he has it, since that would force you to spend a vital hand entry in order to repeat the finesse. Since your hand is concealed, it is probably right to play the Q. From West's point of view you could have just!AQxxx of spades, in which case ducking the king would be a disaster.

You win the A, and lead a spade from dummy. Much to your surprise, East plays the K. How do you continue from here?

North
32
K3
QJ2
AQ864
South
AQJ54
J9
A84
K3
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5NT
P
6
P
6NT
P
P
P

There can't be any gain to ducking the K. You have adequate entries to your hand to take 4 spade tricks if you win the ace and the spades are 4-2. If the king is singleton, you definitely don't want to give up a spade trick, since you might be making with 5 clubs, 3 spades, 2 diamonds, and 2 hearts even when the king of diamonds is offside.

After winning the A, you might as well cash the Q and see if the spades are 5-1. Your proper course of action could be dictated by the spade split.

You cash the Q. Both opponents follow. Now what?

North
K3
QJ2
AQ864
South
J54
J9
A84
K3
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5NT
P
6
P
6NT
P
P
P

So far, so good. It must be right to cash the J. If the spades are unexpectedly 3-3, you are definitely home with 5 spade tricks, 3 club tricks, 2 diamond tricks, and 2 heart tricks. If the spades are 4-2, your best bet will be to lead the fourth round of spades to set up the long spade. You will then make if the clubs are 3-3, taking 4 spades, 5 clubs, 1 diamond, and 2 hearts. You will also have the outside chance of the Q dropping doubleton and the diamond finesse being onside if the clubs don't split 3-3. At any rate, the clubs can wait until after the long spade is established.

You lead the J. West follows. What do you discard from dummy?

North
K3
QJ2
AQ864
South
J54
J9
A84
K3
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5NT
P
6
P
6NT
P
P
P

Your plan if the spades are 4-2 will be to discard a heart and a diamond on the spades. Then win the likely heart return, and test the clubs. If the clubs are 3-3, you have the rest. If not, you need the miracles in the red suits.

Suppose the spades are, in fact, 3-3. Then you can set up a second diamond trick for your twelfth trick even if the clubs are 5-1. You will prefer to test the clubs first, since you can just set up a long club trick if the clubs are 4-2 and will have the rest of the tricks if the clubs are 3-3. But to be able to get that second diamond trick for sure, you need to keep the small diamond in dummy. Therefore, you are best off discarding a heart.

You choose to discard a diamond. East surprisingly follows to the third round of spades. What do you do now?

North
K3
QJ
AQ864
South
54
J9
A84
K3
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5NT
P
6
P
6NT
P
P
P

Clearly you can't afford to run your spades. You wouldn't be able to discard comfortably from the dummy.

If the clubs are 3-3 you can take the rest of the tricks. If they are 4-2, you can set up the long club for your twelfth trick. However, if you go after clubs and they are 5-1 you could be in trouble. A losing diamond finesse, and you won't get to cash the second diamond trick. You might have a squeeze in some variations, but it is possible to go down.

The safe play for 12 tricks is to lead a low diamond. They can try to tangle you up by winning the king and leading a club, but you can survive. You win the ace of clubs, unblock the diamonds, cross to the king of clubs, cash your spades and the ace of diamonds, and cross back to the king of hearts to get your good club, taking 5 spades, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds, and 3 clubs. This wouldn't be a very good play at matchpoints, but at IMPs it is the play to guarantee the slam.

You choose to go after clubs. The are 4-2, so you set up the long club and have 12 tricks. The full hand is:

West
1087
Q104
97653
J7
North
32
AK3
QJ2
AQ864
East
K96
8762
K10
10952
South
AQJ54
J95
A84
K3
W
N
E
S
 
P
1N
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5N
P
6
P
6N
P
P
P
D
6NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
A
2
5
1
1
0
2
K
A
7
3
2
0
Q
8
3
6
3
3
0
J
10
2
9
3
4
0
K
7
4
2
3
5
0
3
J
A
5
1
6
0
Q
7

What do you think of East's play of the K at trick 2?

West
1087
Q104
97653
J7
North
32
AK3
QJ2
AQ864
East
K96
8762
K10
10952
South
AQJ54
J95
A84
K3
W
N
E
S
 
P
1N
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5N
P
6
P
6N
P
P
P
D
6NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
A
2
5
1
1
0
2
K
A
7
3
2
0
Q
8
3
6
3
3
0
J
10
2
9
3
4
0
K
7
4
2
3
5
0
3
J
A
5
1
6
0
Q
7

East knows that declarer has 5 pretty good spades, and that the spade suit is coming in. If declarer has AQJxx, there is nothing East can do. However, if declarer has AJ10xx, playing the king may present declarer with a problem. He will have to win the ace, cross to his hand (which might not be convenient), and lead another spade to the jack. West will duck from his original Qxx, of course, and now declarer has a real problem. On the actual lie of the cards a third round of spades works well, but if the spades are 4-2 a third round of spades is instant defeat. If declarer has another available option he may choose that option instead.

The key to the possible success of East's play is that he owns the 9. If East had no spade spots then playing the king wouldn't work even if West had Qxx. If West ducks the second spade, declarer will safely be able to continue spades.

On the actual deal, playing the king of spades just made declarer's life easier. However, declarer would almost certainly have made the hand anyway. The natural play appears to be king of clubs, club to hand, another spade finesse, ace of spades.

Do you agree with South's bidding?

West
1087
Q104
97653
J7
North
32
AK3
QJ2
AQ864
East
K96
8762
K10
10952
South
AQJ54
J95
A84
K3
W
N
E
S
 
P
1N
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5N
P
6
P
6N
P
P
P
D
6NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
A
2
5
1
1
0
2
K
A
7
3
2
0
Q
8
3
6
3
3
0
J
10
2
9
3
4
0
K
7
4
2
3
5
0
3
J
A
5
1
6
0
Q
7

South would prefer not to open 1NT with this strong spade suit and relative weakness in the other suits. If North passes, a superior spade partial could easily be missed. However, the alternatives are very uncomfortable. If South opens 1 and North responds with a semi-forcing 1NT, what then? South is too strong to pass, but 2 doesn't exactly describe this hand type. South could consider opening a strong 1, but that could simply get the partnership overboard if North has a minimal positive response. If the South hand were a point stronger, 1 would probably be better. If the hand were a point weaker, 1 would probably be best. But with this exact strength 1NT looks best, even with the good potential for play in spades.

South's 3 call is clear. He clearly has a non-minimum. We play that South's only possible calls opposite the size ask are 2NT and 3, since we use the 2 response for sequences other than a size-ask, and responder needs the 3-level to show these other hand types.

Opposite North's 4 balanced slam try, South has a problem. He knows the hand could well belong in spades, but 4 is just a Q-bid rather than a place to play. Still, despite having only 15 HCP and having already shown a non-minimum and despite having only a doubleton club, South's hand is still pretty good. The spades may be a source of tricks, and at least South has a club honor. South knows that if North is driving to slam and North isn't sure he wants to play in clubs that North will bid 5NT pick a slam, and now South can try to play 6.

The 6 call is obvious, of course. And if North had held 3 spades, 6 would have been reached and would probably be the right contract.

The 5NT pick-a-slam tool is perhaps the most valuable tool of today's experts for slam bidding. The importance of finding the right strain to play slam can't be over-emphasized. There may be as much as 26 IMPs at stake if slam isn't reached at the other table, so it is really important to get it right.

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