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Gambling at Bridge part 8 -- Choice of Slams continued
(Page of 4)

My last article emphasized the importance of choosing strain at the 6-level carefully. I pointed out that when 14 to 26 IMPs are at stake, picking the safest slam contract is extremely important. But before you can choose between two possible trump strains, you need to know that a double fit exists.

Let's look at a type of slam auction most of us have experienced at some point in our bridge careers:

North
QJx
Axx
xxx
QJxx
South
AKxxx
x
Axx
AK10x
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

6 was down one, while 6 was cold. How did our auction go wrong? Our problem was an inability to discover a club fit after raising spades. Many players either cannot, or will not, showa secondary fit in partner's help suit. And since some players will make a help suit game try on xxx, can you really blame them? Those pairs are doomed to either fail in a hopeless 6 slam or stop too lowin a 4 game, missing the cold 6 slam when the clubs are like this hand.
Is 6 really a tough slam to bid? What do you think?

FindingSecondary Fits

When an auction becomes competitive, it is sometimes difficult to find more than one fit

North
xxx
KJx
AQxxx
xx
South
x
AQxxx
KJxx
Axx
W
N
E
S
1
4
?
There is no shame in missing 6 when our opponent jammed us with 4. But when the enemy is silent, we can always find our fits, as long as our bidding methods permit it. In particular, don't give up on finding alternate strains after a major suit is bid and raised.If the partnership has approximately slam values, even though you have bid and raised a major, aminor-suit fit may deserve exploration, as it may offer a better place to play than the major-suit fit. Often, secondary fits can easily be found with natural bidding:

North
QJx
Axx
xxx
QJxx
South
AKxxx
x
Axx
AK10x
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
5NT
P
6
P
P
P
The rest of the auction is not as important as the natural 4 raise, which exposes 6 as a possible place to play.

North
AQxxx
x
AQ10x
Axx
South
KJxx
Ax
KJxx
xxx
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
5NT
P
6
P
P
P
If spades are trump, aheart ruffdoes notgenerate an extra trick, since the singleton is in the long spade hand. But if diamonds are trump, a heart ruff allows you to score 5 trumps, 5 spades, and 2 aces. Responder's forcing 3 raise identifies the secondary fit, and allows you to find your way to the betterdiamond slam, where slam is practically cold.

North
AQxxx
x
AQ10x
Kxx
South
KJx
AJx
KJxx
Qxx
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5NT
P
6
P
P
P
After opener's 4 cue bid, responder is ready to place the contract in slam. But given that a diamond fit, or even a club fit, could be better than spades, he bids 5NT (pick a slam) to ask opener to chose the final contract. Opener, with excellent diamond support, prefers diamonds.

The Italian Cuebidding Style and Secondary Fits

A problem that prevents some partnerships from finding second fits is slam try methods that cater to bidding slam when only one strain is reasonable. The widespread adoption of the Italian cue-bidding style, where cue-bids can indicate either first- or second-round controlhas been one such culprit. Now before I begin to criticize this popular and useful cue-bidding method, I want to clarify:Italian cue-bids and RKC work great when only one strain is possible.They are a clear improvement over the oldercue-bidding style where acue-bid promised an ace or a void. The Italian cue-bidding style worksextremely well when a partnershipneeds to confirm the presence of a control in some unstopped suit before using RKC. However, the Italian style doesn't work as well when multiple strains are in play. Consider these hands:

North
AQxxx
x
AQ10x
Qxx
South
KJx
AJx
KJxx
Kxx
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
?

The two keys to finding the excellent 6 slam are locating the secondary diamond fit and understanding responder's shape. If opener understands that responder is 5-1-4-3 exactly, then diamonds is his obvious choice for the correct strain since he can see the possibility of ruffing a couple of hearts for extra tricks. Unfortunately, the Italian cue-bidding style proscribes a 4 call over 3 because 4 would promise a club control, not a club fragment. In contrast, using 4 as a natural, pattern-showing slam try helps opener's judgment.

Perhaps some practitioners of the Italian style believe they can overcome this deficiency and find the correct slam anyway. If you can, I applaud you. However, if you can, I contend it isin spite of, and not because of, your cue-bidding methods. Italian methods were designed for cases where the best strain is already established. When strain is not certain, understanding one player's exact shape is frequently the key to making the correct decision.

My own feeling is that slam tries that show shape and/or location of values are extremely important. A rigid adherence to rules such as these impedesjudgment:

  • cue-bidding promises a control
  • bypassing a suit denies a control

The Italian style has its place, and is a terrific adjunct to RKC, but it is not a universal solution for all slam-bidding problems. When multiple strains are possible, or the location of partner's values are important, shape-showing slam-try methods work better. In an article for another day I will take this topic on more completely. For today, note that Italian style is not always well suited to helping to make choice of slam decisions.

Conclusion

When you wish to try for slam after finding a fit, ask yourself this question: Am I certain I know what strain is best?

  • If only one trump fit is possible, then Italian cue-bidsand RKC Blackwoodare often what you need to bid to slam reliably
  • If multiple trump fits might be possible, natural bidding to locate additional fits, followed by cue-bids and possibly 5NT pick-a-slam will usually be your tools of choice

Many slam-bidding problems become simpler when one player describes his shape or shows the location of his side values as his slam try, rather than simply showing/denying controls in specific suits.

You may have noticed 5NT pick-a-slam in some of my examples. Next time, we will look at the 5NT pick-a-slam convention in much more detail.

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