Join Bridge Winners
Gambling at Bridge Part 6 -- Choice of Slams
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Suppose you and I went to the race track. On the first 9 races, webet $5 on each; on the 10th race we bet $50. Which race would we most want to win? The last one, of course, because the stakes were so much higher. Bidding decisions can be similar. Just as the most important bet at the track was the $50 bet, the most important bidding decisions at the bridge table are those that swing the most IMPs.Part-score deals are like $5 bets. Slam hands are larger bets (which is why bidding methods pay so much attention to them). This week and next we delve into choice of small slams--a decision where both the potential win and loss are large.

Consider this deal and (not recommended)auction:

North
QJx
Axx
Qxx
AKxx
South
AKxx
Kxx
Kx
QJxx
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
4NT
P
6NT
P
P
P

We have all been there. The partnership bids to 6NT on a quantitative auction. Sadly, 6NT has only 11 tricks.As we write -100 in our score card, a kibitzer sneers in his loudest stage whisper, "Can you believe it?? They went down in 6NT when 6 was cold!" We needed a way to determine the correct slam to play, a bid that offered a choice of slams.

IMPs at stake for a Choice of Slams

Choice-of-slam decisions are important because so many IMPs are at stake. Exactly how many?

Conditions: NV on NV at IMPs

Possible contracts: 4NT, 6 and 6NT

Outcomes: Clubs makes 12 tricks, NT makes 11 tricks

Enemy Contract Your Contract IMPs earned IMPs swung

6 6 0 IMPs 14

6 6NT -14 IMPs 14

6NT 6 +14 IMPs 14

6NT 6NT 0 IMPs 14

4NT 6 +10 IMPs 20

4NT 6NT -11 IMPs 22

  • IMPs earned shows the IMPs you will write down on your scorecard in the comparison.
  • IMPs swung shows the IMPs your decision won (or lost) when compared to bidding the other slam.

Suppose both pairs bid a failing 6NT. Although you are saved from a loss by your opponent's error, your decisionstill swung 14 IMPs--the IMPs you would have won had you bid 6 instead. Regardless of your opposite number's decision, any time he bids an NV slam, 14 IMPs are up for grabs. When the other pair stop in game, stakes get higher. Pickingthe wrong NV slam loses only -11 when IMPed against a game, but since your alternative was +11 IMPs in the winning slam, a losing choice actually costs 22 IMPs. Vul, the stakes rise to 17 IMPs and 26 IMPs respectively.

Like grand-slam decisions, choice of slam decisions swing more IMPs when the other side stops in game. However, there is one important difference. When a deal will make either 12 or 13 tricks and the enemy stops in game, a small slam is guaranteed to win 11 or 13 IMPs. You don't need to risk going down in 7 because you have a guaranteed large win in a small slam. In a choice of small slams scenario, there is no sure 11 or 13 IMPs available. Instead, any slam contract you bid risks swinging 22 or 26 IMPs against you. That is pressure! You better take special care to pick the contract that wins most often! But how can you know? Let's look at reasons to prefer 6NT to a suit slam and vice versa.


Reasons To Offer a Choice of Slams

Which evaluation factor make one slam contract more attractive than another? One word:trumps. Choice of slam decisionsusually revolve around trump suits and trumping. Reasons to prefer 6NT to 6-of-a-suit:

  • Can not suffer an unlucky ruff
  • Might make 12 tricks despite an unlucky split in the potential trump suit

Reasons to prefer a suit slam to 6NT:

  • Develop an extra trick via a ruff
  • Developing a side suit by ruffing
  • Protect an unstopped or singly-stopped suit with trumps

When you are uncertain that you can run partner's suit, you might develop it by ruffing a round in your hand. A trump suit might provide a useful extra trick via a ruff in the short trump hand, or trumps may control a suit in which the enemy might score tricks in NT; all good reasons to givethought to a trump contract rather than NT.When you will not be relying on ruffing to score tricks/develop suits, 6NT should be a consideration since it will often be safer. Many times, choosing a slam wisely involves nothing more than a little forethought.

North
xxxx
AQ
KQJxxx
A
South
AKxx
Kxxx
Axx
Qx
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4NT
P
5
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

Ugh.12 top tricks in NT, but 6 will fail if you encounter a 4-1 trump break. In retrospect, the danger of weak spades should have been obvious once we discovered that the Qis missing. But how could we know 6NT is better?Suppose the auction was instead:

North
xxxx
AQ
KQJxxx
A
South
AKxx
Kxxx
Axx
Qx
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4NT
P
5
P
5
P
5
P
5NT
P
6
P
6NT
P
P
P

Once responder discovers the K, he can count:

2 spade tricks

3 heart tricks

6 diamond tricks

1 club trick

--------

12 tricks in NT

This is not a difficult hand. Just consider what might go wrong in 6 and count tricks.Once responder knows the Q is absent, the risk in 6 is obvious. Similarly, once he knows that opener holds 3 KC and the K, counting 12 tricks in NT is easy. (Note: 6 is a fine alternative to 6NT but for many players, using RKC precludes playing in an alternative suit.)

Finding Fits After an Invite

Sometimes the key is locating a trump fitafterthe slam invitation.

North
KQx
Kxx
KQxx
Axx
South
AJx
Qx
AJxx
KQxx
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
4NT
P
6NT
P
P
P

Holding a maximum, opener accepts the slam invitation with alacrity. Due to spade duplication, 6NT is a poor contract, needing 3-3 clubs or an unlikely squeeze.6 is a much better slam. This is not surprising; 4-4 fits often make one more trick than NT. But can 6 be bid? Can you find a 4-4 minor suit fit with assurance it represents a better slam than 6NT? Sure. Opener can explore for 4-4 minor suit fits by bidding a suit at the 5-level.

North
KQx
Kxx
KQxx
Axx
South
AJx
Qx
AJxx
KQxx
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
4NT
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

Finding the best slam took nothing more than remembering to offer 6m as an option. Someaggressive players might have simply raised 1NT to 6NT on the responder's hand. Not only is that an overbid (4-3-3-3 shape suggests the deal will need the full 33 HCP to make 6NT) but it would also be a misbid, since it bypasses the only making slam on this deal.

What sort of hands should look for a minor suit fit? Hands rich in controls containing a doubleton and a good 4-card minor are excellent candidates. For example:

South
AJxx
xx
AKx
KJ10x
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
4NT
P
?

With prime cards outside clubs, good texture in clubs, and moderateHCP, 6 could be the only slam that makes. Perhaps the full hand is:

North
KQx
Axx
109x
AQxx
South
AJxx
xx
AKx
KJ10x
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P


Methods

After 1NT--4NT,all bidscater to choice of slam decisions. The most likely alternative slam is six of a minor, since for most players the raise to 4NT has denied a 4-card major in responder's hand. At the 5-level, the partnership can bid 4-card suits up the line. Jumps to the 6-level show 5+ card suits. I use the following structure:

1NT -- 4NT -- 5X
Shows a 4+ card suit and asks partner to raise with 4 or bid a 4-card suit of his own without it. To suggest play in a 4-card suit, I prefer to hold at least two honors, e.g.,AKxx,AQxx,KJxx,QJ10x,AJ10x. Showing a poor suit likeQxxxsuit could get to a trump slam on an inferior combined trump holding. After your 5X call, responder can raise, offer his own 4-card suit or bid 5NT (non-forcing). This allows opener to look for a 4-4 fit with a prime minimum, like: xx, xxx, AKxx, AKJx and subside in 5NT if no fit is found.

1NT -- 4NT -- 6X
Shows a 5-card suit or longer. Once again, I recommend you have at least 2 of the top 4 honors. Ifyour 5-card suit is something likeQxxxx, show it at the 5-level instead. You can always rebid itto show the 5th card to find a fit likeAKx opposite Qxxxx. 6X is NF but can be corrected to an alternative suit, or, more likely, to 6NT.

1NT -- 4NT -- 5NT
Says "I have no suit I want to suggest of my own, but I am leaving room in case you want to suggest one." You might bid it when your 4-card suits are weak so you need a really good holding from partner to play in that suit. For example: AKJ, AQ, Jxxx, Qxxx. Over 5NT, responder can show a chunky 4-card suit to offer an alternative strain.

Similar methods apply after any quantitative raise to 4NT.

1NT -- 2 -- 2 -- 4NT
Responder has shown a 4-card major and a quantitative invitation. A 4-4 or 5-4 fit in a minor is quite likely.

1NT -- 2 -- 2 -- 4NT
Responder has shown 5 spades and 3-3-2 distribution in the other suits. A 5-3 or even 6-3 fit in another suit is still possible.

1NT -- 2 -- 2 -- 3 -- 3NT -- 4NT
Responder has shown 5-spades, 4-clubs and probably 2-2 in the unbid suits. If opener has a club fit, 6 will often be the best slam. 5 should offer clubs as a strain, probably with a moderate 4-card fit. 6 should show an excellent 4-card or a 5-card fit. And of course if opener wants to look for an unlikely 5-3 fit in another suit, he is welcome to bid that suit at the 5-level.

Alternative methods

Some players show aces in response to a quantitative 4NT to avoid bidding a slam off two aces. This may be better than having no agreement but not by much. Tools to find fits are far more valuable than checking for aces because we are unlikely to be off two aces and bidding the best slam is so important.

Protecting A Stopper

There is one reason forchoosinga slam that does not involve trumps: protecting a stopper. Consider this deal:

North
Jxx
Kx
AKQJxx
Kx
South
AKQxxx
xxx
x
Axx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
?

Bid 6NT. 6NT by North is cold. 6 by South needs the A onside. Choosing the right contract is simple. Regardless of which aces opener holds, 6NT will have 12 tricks. If partner holds the A, you will win the opening lead and drive out the spade ace for 12 tricks, and if he holds the spade ace, then both pointed suits are running. 6 is more uncertain. Not only could it suffer an unlucky ruff, but if partner holds the black aces, 6 from partner's side could go down with a heart lead through your king.

It is equally possible to conceive of deals where 6NT is vulnerable to a lead through a stopper, but six of a suit provides safety. Choosing well is simply a matter of counting tricks and asking if an opening lead could hurt the contract declared by you, or by partner.

Conclusion

When choosing between 6NT and a suit slam, take extra time to consider how the hands will play. Your choice will swing from 14 to 26 IMPs, so choose wisely. It pays notto make a lazy jump to 6NT without first asking if somesuit slam might play better. Similarly, it pays not to lazily place the slam in your 8-card fit until you first ask if 12 tricks in NT could be safer. Some specific points to remember in slam auctions:

1. If you can count 12 tricks in NT, 6NT will be safer because there is no danger of failing on an unlucky ruff or extreme trump split.

2. If you need to protect an honor holding from a lead, you may need to declare the hand. Sometimes it is right to correct from a trump suit to NT or vice versa for that purpose.

3. Trump fits provide extra ways to score tricks. Don't rule out playing in a trump suit simply because partner has made a quantitative invitation to slam. You can continue to explore for a trump fit before settling in slam in auctions like:

  • 1NT -- 4NT
  • 1NT -- 2 -- 2 -- 4NT
  • 1NT -- 2 -- 2 -- 4NT
  • 1NT -- 2 -- 2 -- 3 -- 3NT -- 4NT

4. Minor suit trump fits, which are an afterthought in game bidding, are extremely important in slam auctions. Don't forget to look for them!

This week focused on choosing between 6NT and a suit slam. Next time, I will talk about the thought process behind choosing between two trump slams.

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