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Fast Arrival and Picture Jumps--the 3NT Slam Try
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This is my third in a series of articles discussing the Picture Jump and Fast Arrival bidding styles after a 1-of-a-major opening and a 2/1 response.My first two articles showed auctions where Picture Jumps make slam bidding much easier. But can Picture Jumps also introduce trouble into slam auctions?


The Problem

Let's look at an auction and how it differs when using Fast Arrival and Picture Jumps.

North
KQ10xx
xx
AKx
Qxx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
?

Playing Fast Arrival, responder's 3 call has shown extra values because responder would bid 4 on all his minimum GF hands with support. After 3, when opener holds a prime minimum like this one, opener knows the partnership is in the slam zone. Opener has an easy 4 cuebid to announce a control in diamonds and to initiate a slam search. All well and good--the slam machinery is working fine.

Playing Picture Jumps, the situation is different. Because the 4 jump shows a precise type of raise, many minimum GF raises bid 3 instead. Hence 3 has not guaranteed extras.Responder might hold either:

Hand 1

South
Axx
Ax
xx
AKxxxx

or

Hand 2

South
AJx
xx
QJxx
KJ10x

Opener's bidding must cater to the minimum hands which occur most often. Opposite hand 2, significant extra values are required to put the partnership in the slam zone. The actual opening hand is nowhere close to good enough to justify a slam try opposite hand 2. Since a cuebid over 3 sends the message, "partner, slam should be cold if you have a good fitting minimum.", the opener's actual hand is too weak to cue-bid. On the other hand, you hate to bid 4 and preempt responder if it turns out he has hand 1.How to resolve this conflict?


3NT Slam Try
If we give up the ability to play 3NT when holding an 8-card major-suit fit, we can use a 3NT call in this auction as a conventional slam try. 3NT after a forcing major-suit raisebecomes an artificial bid saying, "My hand is too weak to know we are in the slam zone but too strong to sign off in 4."This version of the 3NT slam try convention is called either non-serious 3NT or frivolous 3NT.

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

3NT = A hand strong enough to cooperate with a slam search if partner has extras but only willing to play game opposite a minimum. This hand type is sometimes called a mild slam try.

4// = A control bid announcing the partnership is in the slam zone and inviting responder to cooperate with any good-fitting or primeminimum.

4 = a terrible hand so poor it would sign off over any slam try made by partner. (Some experts prefer to define 4 more precisely. For them, 4 denies control in any suit. In practice, 4 suggests good trumps, since the bidder has no outside ace or king.)

The 3NT slam try was invented by Eric Rodwell and Jeff Meckstroth.The original version was called Serious 3NT. 3NT showed a strong slam try while direct cuebids were mild slam tries. In my opinion, the reverse treatment is better because:

  • When you hold a mild slam try and partner is minimum, non-serious allows the partnership to reach a major suit game without making a cuebid that might help the defense.
  • When you hold a mild slam try, sometimes your only control is in the highest-ranking side suit. This can lead to an awkward follow-up auction. In contrast when you have the serious slam try, you virtually always have multiple controls to cuebid, allowing you to start with a cheap cue-bid. Bidding 3NT with the mild slam try may save bidding room.

Example Hands

North
AQxxxx
x
Axx
Qxx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
?

Bid 3NT.
This is the hand the convention was designed for. A highcard minimum but with good shape and mostly prime cards. Slam could easily be on if responder holds extras.

North
KJxxx
AKx
xx
xxx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
?

Bid 4.
Three small clubs is a bad sign for slam purposes. If partner's clubs are not solid, slam is on a finesse at best, and even that is going to require him to hold a rock.

North
AKxxxx
Axx
Kx
Qx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
?

Bid 4.
This hand will make slam opposite a minimum like: Qxx, x, xxxx, AKJxx. Cuebid your cheapest control to inform partner the partnership is in the slam zone.

North
KJxxxx
KQx
x
Kxx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
?

Bid 3NT.
The fit for clubs and good shape means that slam is possible opposite some good hands even though you lack aces.

North
Kxxxxxx
x
AKx
Jx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
?

Bid 4.
Slam makes opposite a minimum like: Axx, xxx, xx, AKxxx


When Does 3NT Slam Try apply?
Many players are confused about when the 3NT slam try applies. It helps to remember why this convention is needed--it is most useful when the partnership has created a game force and reached 3M, but has not yet clarified for sure whether they have the extra values for slam.

Here is a simplified version of the rules I use.

3NT is a slam try in the major suit when:

  • A game force has already been established
  • An 8-card major-suit fit has been established or opener has made a trump-setting rebid of his own suit (e.g., 1 2 3)
  • The last bid was 3-of-a-major
  • The opponents are silent.
3NT slam try applies in all these auctions:

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

The classic example of a 3NT slam try auction.

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

3NT slam try is on after opener supports responder's major, and also denies a spade card (else responder would cue-bid 3) .

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

3NT slam try is on after both partners raise each other.

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

3NT slam try is on after intervening natural calls because:

  • you have an 8-card major-suit fit
  • you are already in a game-force
  • the last bid was 3

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

3NT slam try is on even if opener rebid a natural 2NT as long as the major is raised. (Not all experts would agree this 3NT is a slam try, but this is consistent with our rules, and it is a reasonable use for 3NT.)

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

Spades have been definitively set as trump by opener's picture jump to 3, so 3NT is not needed in its natural sense. 3NT slam try is on.

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

3NT slam try applies after Jacoby 2NT.

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

Again by our rules 3NT slam try is on (8-card fit, game force, and 3 was the bid). However, the need to distinguish mild from serious try does not exist. Responder has already announced the partnership is in the slam zone with the 3 call. Therefore, after the picture jump, the3NT slam try says that opener wants to cooperate, but prefers not to cuebid for the moment, probably because his outside control is in hearts and he doesn't want to cramp the auction.

Other 3NT Calls

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

3NT is to play. 3NT slam try only applies after an 8-card major suit fit has been established. Responder's 2NT call denied 3-card support. the subsequent 3 call is simply a weak preference and therefore does not setup a 3NT slam try.

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

3NT offers a choice of games. Responder's 3 was a preference, not a raise, so the 3NT slam try does not apply.

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

3NT is natural. 3NT slam try only applies after a 3M call, and hence is never a jump. This jump is natural, suggesting opener is 5-4-2-2 with about 16-17 HCP and a diamond stopper. With a minimum 5-4-2-2, opener would rebid 2NT on most hands (or possibly fake a 3m call with no stopper and concentration in a minor).

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

3 = 3-card limit raise
3NT offers a choice of games. Responder's 3 raise did not create a game force so the 3NT slam try does not apply.

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

3 = limit raise
3NT slam try is not on since a game force is not established and responder is narrowly limited. There is no need to distinguish strong from mild slam tries when responder is limited. 3NT is more useful to ask for shortness, or to show a slam try with no fragment to bid.

Conclusion

3NT slam try is an essential adjunct to the Picture Jump style to resolve when the partnership does or does not hold extra values after a major-suit raise.It is helpful, but not essential when using Fast Arrival jumps.

The convention is most useful when neither partner has yet limited their hand so that neither is sure whether the partnership is in the slam zone.

Remember, this convention applies in constructive auctions where:

  • A game force has already been established
  • An 8-card major-suit fit is established or opener has made a trump-setting suit rebid (e.g., 1 -- 2 -- 3)
  • The last bid was 3-of-a-major
  • The opponents are silent
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