Join Bridge Winners
The Safer Slam
(Page of 7)

In the finals of the open trials, you face a delicate slam decision.

E-W vul, East deals. As North, you hold:

North
K8
AK86
Q4
AK862
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
?

2: Natural game force

2: Promises at least 6 spades

Your call?

North
K8
AK86
Q4
AK862
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
?

Slam is in the air. How should you proceed? One possibility is to bid 3. The problem with that is it steers partner in the wrong direction. He will be thinking that you are searching for the best game, and you are looking for a diamond stopper for 3NT. His call will be based on that assumption. He will not know that spades is a playable trump suit, and that you are looking for slam instead of the best game.

It is better to establish trumps immediately with 3. Partner won't know yet that you are slamming. You might be simply letting him know that spades are playable, but maybe there is a better game. All he knows is that you aren't yet prepared to close the auction with 4.

Partner's first duty will be to bid 3NT if he thinks that might be the best contract. This gives you the option of passing if you also choose notrump, Q-bid if you are slamming, or sign off in 4 if you now believe that is the right contract. If partner doesn't bid 3NT, he can Q-bid something if his hand is decent or bid 4 if his hand is terrible, and you can take it from there depending on what your intentions are.

You bid 3. The bidding continues:

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

You do not play any kind of serious/non-serious 3NT. 3NT by partner would be an offer to play. The 4 Q-bid doesn't show the world's fair. It simply says that he has something better than a piece of trash for slam purposes. It will usually show a control, although there may be hands where he would be forced to Q-bid something without a control because he has more than a dead minimum.

4 by you would be last train, showing some slam interest but needing more from partner. 4 would be the end of the auction, since 3 isn't necessarily a slam try. 4NT would be RKC. Higher bids would be asking for a control in the bid suit.

Your call?

North
K8
AK86
Q4
AK862
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
?

This is looking promising. You are certainly worth a slam move at least, maybe a slam drive. Should you bring partner into the picture, or should you take control yourself?

It doesn't take much to make a slam. Picture partner with as little as AQxxxx xx Kxx xx. That isn't even an opening bid, and slam is pretty good. Partner has not only opened the bidding, he has shown that he has a decent hand for slam purposes. You don't need to bring partner into the picture. You are prepared to drive this hand to slam yourself. The question is which route to take.

If you are concerned about being off two cashing diamond tricks you could bid 5, asking partner if he has a diamond control. That doesn't appear to be necessary. Partner did Q-bid 4. While on some hands he might be forced to Q-bid a suit without a control in order to show some interest, this can't be one of those hands. If he doesn't have a diamond control, it is inconceivable that he would have any slam interest considering what you are looking at.

It is better to haul out good old RKC. This will keep you out of slam if you are off two keycards or one keycard and the queen of trumps, which is possible. It also may pave the way towards a grand slam if you have all the keycards.

You bid 4NT. The bidding continues:

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

4NT: RKC

5: 2 keycards, no queen of trumps

5NT by you now would ask for specific kings. It would not promise all the keycards. If partner thinks there is a grand after you ask for kings, instead of bidding the grand he bids 6NT. This tells you to bid the grand unless a keycard is missing.

Your call?

North
K8
AK86
Q4
AK862
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
?

Could 6NT be the safer slam? It could be. Picture partner with something like A10xxxx xx AKx Qx. 6 goes down on a bad trump split. 6NT makes if the spades are 3-2, and will survive a 4-1 spade split if the clubs are 3-3 since there will be 2 spade tricks, 2 heart tricks, 3 diamond tricks, and 5 club tricks.

Can you find out safely? How about asking for specific kings. If partner shows the K, what will you have? Unless he has specifically AK doubleton of diamonds, you will have 5 spade tricks, 2 heart tricks, 3 diamond tricks, and 2 club tricks if the spades behave. If there aren't 5 spade tricks then 6 won't make either, while maybe 6NT has a chance.

Is it possible that 6 is superior when partner has the king of diamonds? It is possible. Partner might hold A10xxxx xxx AK xx. Opposite that hand you may be able to establish a long club trick by ruffing out the clubs, while in 6NT there won't be a twelfth trick. Another possibility is that partner's spade holding is something like A107xxx. If there is QJ9x in front of the spades then 6 might make on a trump coup, while there won't be any trump coup in notrump.

It isn't totally clear. But all things considered, it appears that 6NT will be the safer slam if partner has the K. Thus, it looks right to ask for specific kings with 5NT, planning on bidding 6NT if he has the K but playing in 6 if he doesn't.

You choose to bid 6, ending the auction.

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

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

West leads the 3 (3rd and 5th leads)

North
K8
AK86
Q4
AK862
South
AJ10975
Q5
A963
Q
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

How do you plan the play?

North
K8
AK86
Q4
AK862
South
AJ10975
Q5
A963
Q
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

Obviously you have to win the Q at trick 1. It would be nice to be able to conceal that card, but you need to have the hearts unblocked since the clubs are blocked.

You have available 5 spade tricks, 3 club tricks, 3 heart tricks, and 1 diamond trick, but you might not be able to take them. If the opponents continue hearts when they get in with the queen of spades that will cut you off from dummy, and if they can then ruff the third round of clubs or hearts you will be a trick short.

One obvious approach is to simply bang out king and ace of spades. If the spades are 3-2 you are home, as you can cash the queen of clubs, knock out the queen of spades, and claim. However, if an opponent has Qxxx of spades you will need him to follow to 3 rounds of both hearts and clubs. You will be forced to cash the Q and play a spade. It will be obvious to the defenders what is going on, and they will have no difficulty returning a heart.

Another possibility is to take a spade finesse. If the finesse wins you are cold even if an opponent has Qxxx of spades, as you can arrange to win the first three rounds of spades while unblocking the Q and then knock out his Q. If the finesse loses you will still make if the defender with the long spade has to follow to three rounds of both hearts and clubs. You will also make if the defense fails to find the heart continuation.

If you decide to finesse through East, you will be forced to unblock the Q. If you don't and the finesse loses, the heart continuation will hold you to 2 club tricks. When the defense sees that Qit will be easy for them to continue hearts, as they will be able to count your 12 tricks if they do anything else.

If you finesse through West, you have better chances. If the finesse loses, it won't be obvious to East to continue hearts. From his point of view it might be right to lead a diamond (whether he has the king or not) to force you into an instant decision on where to get your twelfth trick. He doesn't know you already have your twelfth trick, since he hasn't seen your queen of clubs. If East does return a diamond, you are home. You win ace of diamonds, spade to king, club to queen, draw trumps, and claim. If East finds the heart continuation, you win, unblock the clubs, cross back to the king of spades, and hope that dummy's winners survive.

Looking at the spade suit itself, the chances of success are clearly better by banging down king-ace of spades. The chances of a 3-2 split plus an opponent having a stiff queen are well over the 50% chance of the finesse. However, if the spades are 4-1 that increases the probability of the player with Qxxx of spades having a doubleton heart or club. When the spades are 3-2, the player with 3 spades is more likely to have to follow to 3 rounds of hearts and clubs. This by itself probably doesn't compensate for the greater probability of success simply playing for the 3-2 spade split. However, when you add in the real possibility that East won't find the heart continuation if you lose the first-round spade finesse to him, it looks like the finesse is the superior play.

You choose to bang out top spades. The queen falls doubleton, so you make all the tricks. The full hand is:

West
Q3
J73
K8752
J94
North
K8
AK86
Q4
AK862
East
642
10942
J10
10753
South
AJ10975
Q5
A963
Q
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
6
9
Q
3
1
0
5
3
K
2
1
2
0
8
4
A
Q
3
3
0
3

Do you agree with West's choice of opening lead?

West
Q3
J73
K8752
J94
North
K8
AK86
Q4
AK862
East
642
10942
J10
10753
South
AJ10975
Q5
A963
Q
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
6
9
Q
3
1
0
5
3
K
2
1
2
0
8
4
A
Q
3
3
0
3

West can assume he will score his Q. If he doesn't get that, it is unlikely that the contract can be defeated. The question is whether or not to go aggressively for the second defensive trick.

West's club holding is nervous. It is an indication that the clubs are splitting for declarer. This argues for the aggressive diamond lead. Declarer figures to have the ace on the auction, but East might have the queen. Also, dummy might have the queen, East the jack, and declarer the 10, and declarer may misguess which honor to play West for. On the downside, the diamond lead may simply be declarer's twelfth trick, and the clubs might not be running.

The heart lead is relatively safe. East could have the K. If not, the heart lead may clip an important entry from dummy which may prevent declarer from setting up the clubs. It is a close call, but on balance it is better to lead a heart.

If West does choose to lead a heart, he does better to lead the jack rather than a small heart. South doesn't figure to have 4 hearts since he rebid 2 rather than 2, but North might have 4 hearts. If that is the case, it is important to lead the jack in order to protect partner's holding. On the actual layout give declarer the Q9 doubleton of hearts and it is apparent why the jack should be led. Another possibility is A10xx in dummy and K9 doubleton in declarer's hand. Leading the jack will almost never cost a trick compared to leading a small heart, particularly since dummy is likely to have the ace of hearts on the bidding.

This type of heart position comes up often, but is not known by many players. If you are leading from Jxx or 10xx (or maybe Qxx) and declarer can't have a 4-card holding in the suit but dummy might, it is usually better to lead the honor in order to protect partner's potential 4-card holding in the suit.

Was South's bidding accurate?

West
Q3
J73
K8752
J94
North
K8
AK86
Q4
AK862
East
642
10942
J10
10753
South
AJ10975
Q5
A963
Q
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
6
9
Q
3
1
0
5
3
K
2
1
2
0
8
4
A
Q
3
3
0
3

It looks on target. It is certainly better to rebid the strong 6-card spade suit instead of the flimsy 4-card diamond suit, particularly since the rebid shows 6 spades. After North's 3 raise, South is definitely worth a 4 Q-bid in case North has slam ambitions.

The concept of the king ask guaranteeing all the keycards goes back to the early days of Blackwood. The idea is to allow the partner of the asker to bid a grand if he has a sufficient source of tricks. The assumption is that the keycard bidder wouldn't be asking about kings unless he is interested in a grand, hence has all the keycards. This is sensible. However, it is possible to to have your cake and eat it too. Responder pretends that the keycard bidder has all the keycards when he asks about kings. However, instead of bidding the grand, responder instead bids 6NT (or 6 of something higher than the trump suit). This sends the message that he thinks we have a grand, but gives the keycard bidder a chance to get out at 6NT if a keycard is missing. Thus, the keycard bidder can use the king ask to look for a potentially safer slam, usually 6NT, when a keycard is missing, without fear that his partner will bid a grand. Of course if the keycard bidder does have all the keycards, he will bid the grand when his partner bids 6NT. This is a virtually "everything to gain and nothing to lose" treatment, and will often result in a safer slam as might have been the case here if South had held the king of diamonds. Yet, for some reason few players are willing to break away from the old dogma and use this treatment.

Why do we not use serious/not-serious 3NT? Because we don't believe we need it. Opener can make a Q-bid if his hand is decent, sign off at 4 of the major with trash, and responder can follow through appropriately. Just because we have an 8-card major-suit fit doesn't mean we don't belong in 3NT. Nine tricks are often easier than ten. When both partner's choose 3NT with the knowledge of the 8-card major-suit fit, 3NT will usually be the better game. It is true that serious/non-serious 3NT is less important when playing a strong club system since opener's hand starts out being limited, but even playing Standard I prefer for 3NT to always be an offer to play.

Having opener's rebid of his major show a 6-card suit is valuable. This hand is a good example. What should responder do if the 2 rebid might be a 5-bagger? He could bid 2NT, but opener might not be able to conveniently show that he has 6 spades. He could bid 3, but opener will be focusing on a diamond stopper rather than his sixth spade. The auction will go a lot smoother if responder can set the trump suit immediately rather than having to go through hoops to determine whether or not opener has a sixth spade.

So, what is opener supposed to rebid when he has only a 5-card major? I think it is fine to just rebid naturally. Since the partnership is already in a game force, there is no real need for a reverse or a 3 of a minor call to show extras. This is particularly true in a forcing club system when opener never has extras to begin with, but it works in a Standard system also. When responder is thirsting for distributional information, it just doesn't make sense for opener's default call to convey the information which responder already knows.

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