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Gargoyle Chronicles - Event 3, Match 8, Board 5
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Board 5
Our side vulnerable

Partner opens 1, I respond 1, and partner bids 3.

Since we play Acol two-bids, this can be about half a trick lighter than a standard 3. Still, it's highly unlikely we are off two fast heart tricks. It's probably less than 10%, so I'm not going to worry about it. I'm more worried that we belong in a grand.

My first thought is to bid Blackwood and bid 7NT if partner shows three key cards. All we need is to run two of our three suits. Diamonds should run if partner has the jack or seven of them and might run even if he doesn't. I would estimate the chance that diamonds run at about 75%. That may seem low. Indeed, partner will try to avoid 3 with a textureless suit like AKxxxx. But sometimes he has no choice. The fact the we play weak notrumps helps somewhat. Since our 1NT rebid is strong, partner might bid it with, say, a 1-3-6-3 pattern and a sub-par diamond suit. But if he has a club singleton instead of a spade singleton and too many high cards for a minimum rebid, what else can he do but bid 3?

If diamonds run, then I need partner to have one of the missing black-suit honors. The chance of that happening is good, too. But it's not certain. Partner might have AK or AQ and no black honor.

I would be willing to bid a grand opposite three key cards if I needed just diamonds to come home or for partner to have a black-suit honor. But I need both of those things. And gambling on a parlay is usually not a good idea. I could bid Blackwood, then, if partner shows three keycards, follow with 5NT to find out if partner has the K. But Jack doesn't show specific kings over 5NT, so that won't work.

I can't bid a grand with any confidence, so I'll turn my attention to finding the right small slam. It's not hard to envision hands where we belong in 6NT rather than 6. Imagine, for example, we have all the high cards except the A and the K. It's harder to construct hands where 6 is better. I don't particularly want to play 6NT from my side, however. If I bid 3, perhaps partner will bid 3NT. Then I can raise it to six. Unfortunately, this won't work if partner has three spades or Qx. In either case, he will raise spades.

What if I bid 3? Partner is even less apt to bid 3NT now, since 3 suggests club weakness. Over 3, partner will have no qualms about bidding 3NT without a club stopper, since my failure to bid 3 suggests I'm not worried about clubs.

I bid 3, and partner bids 4. At least I can rule out a grand now. Partner would cue-bid with the Q and A, AK in the red suits. So where do I stand? 6 still looks better than 6. Even if it doesn't matter which side we play it from, a heart lead could easily kill the only dummy entry. The clearest way to suggest playing in diamonds is to jump to 6 now. Since I bothered to rebid spades, partner will know I have doubts that diamonds is the right strain.

I bid 6, everyone passes, and RHO leads the 2.

6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Making seven. So it was important to play this from the right side, but we couldn't know what the right side was without looking at the opponents' hands.

I sympathize with the opening lead. If West's objective was to establish a trick and hope his partner has a spade or diamond entry with which to cash it, then the club was correct. A second-round club trick is more likely to hold up than a second-round heart trick.

Was I wrong in my assessment that partner was 90% to have a heart control? Maybe 90% was high. But I still think the chance of being off two heart tricks was too slim to worry about, especially since I had other problems to solve. Besides, as we see, sometimes you make slam even if you are off two cashing tricks provided you don't pinpoint the lead. In addition, I think partner's 3 bid was a bit thin. I won't go so far as to say that he overbid, but I don't think I would choose it myself.

A few weeks ago, I posted my hand as abidding problem, giving the auction up to 3. By far the most popular action over 3 was 4. I don't see how that bid solves any of the problems this hand presents. The second-most popular choice was 4. I"m not sure what that bid accomplishes either. 3, 3, and 4NT are the only bids that make any sense to me and the only bids I even considered. Yet, combined, they received only 14% of the vote. I think most of the respondents were thinking about the wrong things. They were asking "How can I describe my hand?" rather than "How can I find out what I need to know?" Which question is appropriate depends on the hand. But this hand surely falls into the latter category.

One person suggested an initial response of 2 rather than 1. I did briefly consider that. I know there is school of thought that you should respond 2 with equal length in the black suits when your hand is in the slam range. It's easier to get a force established after a two-over-one, and the auction frequently times out better. I agree with that approach when you are 4-4 in the black suits, but I'm not so sure about it when you are 5-5. In my experience, the auction doesn't always go as planned, and sometimes it becomes awkward to show the fifth spade.

Still, I thought it was worth a try, so I rebid the hand to see what would happen after a 2 response. Partner still bids 3. (Now I fully agree with his choice. The K is a bigger card on this auction.) Already we are better placed. 3 promises better diamonds after a 2/1 than after a 1/1, since opener doesn't need to jump just to show extra high cards. So my stiff queen should now be adequate to solidify his suit. Over 3, I bid 3, and partner bids 4. Partner wouldn't suggest a 4-3 spade fit unless he didn't have a heart stopper, so I can practically call his hand. I bid 5, just in case partner has a singleton heart. Partner passes, and we are +650. How about that? Here I was worried about losing the fifth spade. Ironically, concealing the fifth spade and discovering that partner was willing to play a 4-3 fit was the key to the auction.

Our opponents also reached 6, but they were down one. Whether they had a more descriptive auction or whether my teammate guessed better on opening lead I can't say.

Table 1: +1390
Table 2: +100

Result on Board 5: +16 IMPs
Total: +31 IMPs

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