Join Bridge Winners
The Worst
(Page of 9)

In a semi-final match in the senior knockouts, you have to find the best way to handle a potential slam hand opposite partner's balanced opening bid.

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

South
AQ96542
AQ32
102
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
?

1: 11-15, 2+ diamonds, if balanced 13-15.

1NT: 13-15 balanced. Will always have 2 or 3 spades, never a singleton.

Available to you consistent with this hand are:

2: Game-forcing checkback. Partner will show, by priority, 4 hearts, 3-card spade support, a 5-card minor. Relatively natural bidding after that.

3: 1-suited slam try in spades. Partner can bid 4 with a bad hand or Q-bid something if he has a decent hand for slam purposes.

Your call?

South
AQ96542
AQ32
102
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
?

You do have what looks like a slam try in spades. Still, the 2 route looks better. You can find out about his spade length, which could be important. It is possible that you belong in hearts instead of spades, although that may be difficult to diagnose. Also, if you bid 3 partner will be thinking that you aren't concerned about the quality of his spade support, while if you bid 2 and then bid spades partner will definitely be looking at his spade holding when making his evaluation.

You bid 2. The bidding continues:

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

2: Game-forcing checkback

2NT: Exactly 2-3-4-4 shape

Natural bidding at this point.

Your call?

South
AQ96542
AQ32
102
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2NT
P
?

You now know for certain that you are playing in spades. Slam is still possible if partner has the right cards, so it can't be right to leap to 4 and end the auction. It is better to bid 3 and see what partner's reaction is. You can always close the auction at whatever number of spades you think is right.

You bid 3. The bidding continues:

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

4: The worst. Partner would have bid 3NT if that is what his hand looked like. Otherwise, partner would have made some kind of Q-bid if he had a decent hand for slam purposes.

If you wish to explore, available to you are:

4NT: RKC for spades

5, 5, 5: These are all asking for a control in the bid suit. If partner has no control in the suit he signs off in 5. If he has a control in the suit but doesn't have a control in a higher suit he bids the suit in which he does not have a control. If he has that suit and all the higher suits controlled, he bids 5NT which is RKC for spades or he bids something higher which is a response to 5NT RKC. He would bid 5NT RKC himself only if he were prepared to bid a grand if the partnership has all the keycards.

5: General slam try. Usually a control-rich but trick-poor type of hand where you might need partner to produce a source of tricks.

Your call?

South
AQ96542
AQ32
102
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
?

Partner has shown a poor hand for spade slam purposes. Still, maybe it is right to probe further.

If you choose to probe, the 5 asking bid is certainly the best approach. For there to be any decent play for slam, you will certainly need partner to have both a club control and a heart control. You would be hoping to catch something like: Kx Kxx Qxxx KQxx. Partner might not think this aceless hand is worth a 4 call even though the king of spades has to be a great card. Still, even opposite that hand slam isn't cold.

How bad might partner's hand be for you? Picture something like xx KJx KQxx KJxx. This is a hand which has the club and heart controls, yet slam is terrible. In fact, 5 could easily be too high. Considering that partner thought he had the worst he almost certainly doesn't have both the ace of clubs and the king of spades, so you are starting with one likely black-suit loser. It looks more likely that if you make a move you will get to a bad slam or get to a treacherous 5 contract than that you will reach a slam you want to be in. The prudent action appears to be to pass.

You choose to try 5, asking for a club control. The bidding concludes:

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

5: Asks for a club control

6: Controls in all the side suits, 1 or 4 keycards

West leads the jack of hearts. Standard leads, UDCA.

North
J7
K65
KQ72
A653
South
AQ96542
AQ32
102
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
6
P
P
P

How do you approach the play?

North
J7
K65
KQ72
A653
South
AQ96542
AQ32
102
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
6
P
P
P

You were fortutnate to have escaped a club lead. It looks pretty clear to win the heart lead in dummy and take a ruffing finesse in diamonds. If the ace of diamonds is onside you will be in pretty good shape. You will be able to dispose of the losing club, so all you will need will be to handle the major suits for 1 loser. If the ace of diamonds is offside you will be able to discard your losing club now and your losing heart on the queen of diamonds, so you will need to pick up the trump suit without loss.

You win the king of hearts. East plays the 7. You lead the king of diamonds.

Suppose East covers with the ace, which of course you ruff. How do you continue?

North
J7
65
Q72
A653
South
AQ9652
AQ2
102
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
6
P
P
P

The two lines of play appear to be as follows:

Cross to the ace of clubs, cash the queen of diamonds discarding a club, and take a spade finesse. For the spade suit alone you will lead the jack if you believe it more likely that West has a singleton 10, but you will lead small if you believe it more likely that East has a singleton king. On balance it looks better to lead the jack, since you could still survive when either opponent has a singleton king and a doubleton heart.

Cash the ace of spades first, and then lead out top hearts.

Both lines of play will make when hearts are 3-3, unless spades are 4-0 in which case both lines fail. Therefore, you must examine the variations where hearts don't split 3-3.

Suppose the spades are 2-2. There are 4 possible layouts:

West has the short hearts and Kx of spades. Laying down the ace wins, since West has to ruff a heart with his good trump and you can later ruff the fourth heart with dummy's last trump. Taking the spade finesse fails, as you will then have to lose a heart trick.

West has the short hearts and xx of spades. The spade finesse line wins, but laying down the ace of spades loses since West will be able to ruff the third round of hearts with a small spade.

East has the short hearts and Kx of spades. Both lines succeed.

East has the short hearts and xx of spades. Both lines fail.

So, for the 2-2 splits the plays are equal. What about the 3-1 splits?

Laying down the ace is superior if you spear a stiff king in either hand, since presumably if you took the spade finesse line you were going to lead the jack from dummy. You also have the extra chance that an opponent has a stiff 10 along with a doubleton heart. The finesse line is superior only when West has specifically a stiff 10.

The conclusion is that laying down the ace and then playing hearts is superior to taking a spade finesse.

Since you won't be taking the spade finesse, perhaps it is even better to test the hearts before touching trumps. The advantage of this approach is that if the hearts are 3-3 you can then lead a spade to the jack and survive a 4-0 split if East has the 4 spades. However, this line comes out worse when either opponent has the stiff 10 and a doubleton heart. The calculations feel pretty close, but laying down the ace is probably a tiny bit better.

In fact, East doesn't cover the king of diamonds. You naturally discard a club. West wins the ace, and continues with the 8 to your ace, East playing the 4. How do you continue?

North
J7
6
Q72
A653
South
AQ96542
Q2
10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
6
P
P
P

Obviously you will cross to the ace of clubs, pitch a heart on the queen of diamonds, and take a spade finesse. The only question is how to take the finesse. If West has a singleton 10, you should be leading the jack. If East has a singleton king, you should be leading small from dummy.

West's 8 is an indication that he started with J1098, which makes it more likely that East has spade length. Of course one might be suspicious about West going out of his way to show you that when he could have led the 10, the card he is known to hold, which would tell you nothing. But most likely he either just got careless or is trying to show suit-preference in clubs. You were probably going to lead the jack of spades off dummy whatever he returned, so there is no real reason to change your mind.

You cross to dummy with the ace of clubs, discard a heart on the queen of diamonds, and ride the jack of spades. West wins the king, and gives his partner a heart ruff for down 2. The full hand is:

West
K10
J1098
A965
QJ9
North
J7
K65
KQ72
A653
East
83
74
J10843
K874
South
AQ96542
AQ32
102
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
J
K
7
3
1
1
0
K
8
2
A
0
1
1
8
5
4
A
3
2
1
10
Q
A
4
1
3
1
Q
3
3
5
1
4
1
J
3
2
K
0
4
2
9
6
8
7

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

West
K10
J1098
A965
QJ9
North
J7
K65
KQ72
A653
East
83
74
J10843
K874
South
AQ96542
AQ32
102
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
J
K
7
3
1
1
0
K
8
2
A
0
1
1
8
5
4
A
3
2
1
10
Q
A
4
1
3
1
Q
3
3
5
1
4
1
J
3
2
K
0
4
2
9
6
8
7

West has a remarkable amount of information available. He knows North has a control in every suit, which makes it virtually certain that South has the ace of spades for his aggressive auction. That means that West starts with a trump trick. If South isn't void in diamonds the hand just won't make, so West should assume South is void in diamonds. South presumably doesn't have a club control for his asking bid in clubs. North is known to be exactly 2-3-4-4. The sort of layout West can expect and fear is something like: South: AQJxxxx AQx -- 10xx, North: xx Kxx Kxxx AKxx.

Suppose this is the layout. How will the play go after West's heart lead? Declarer will win in dummy, and take a losing spade finesse. He will win West's return, and run all his trumps and hearts. West will be squeezed in the minors, and there won't be anything West can do about it. This kind of layout is very likely.

What can West do? The answer is that he should lead the 9! Maybe declarer will be sharp enough to let it ride to the 10 or to insert the 10 if dummy has that card. But this is a big play, and declarer will probably not do it unless he has no other play for the contract. He will not be expecting West to be underleading the QJ, and the 9 might be a singleton. If declarer does go up ace, West can continue clubs when in with his king of spades and break up the squeeze.

It is a rare hand where one has enough information to make a deceptive opening lead against a slam in order to break up a squeeze. But I think West does have this information.

Do you agree with North's bidding?

West
K10
J1098
A965
QJ9
North
J7
K65
KQ72
A653
East
83
74
J10843
K874
South
AQ96542
AQ32
102
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
J
K
7
3
1
1
0
K
8
2
A
0
1
1
8
5
4
A
3
2
1
10
Q
A
4
1
3
1
Q
3
3
5
1
4
1
J
3
2
K
0
4
2
9
6
8
7

All of North's calls except for 4 were basically forced. The question is whether or not he is worth a 4 call.

North's hand is in a tight range. He is known to have 13-15. His shape is exactly known, so he doesn't have to devalue for holding a doubleton trump.

What North should be doing is as follows: He should rate his hand on a scale of 1 to 10 in the context of what he has already shown. If he has a 9 or a 10, he will drive to slam once South shows any slam interest (South's 3 call might have just been giving North a chance to bid 3NT). With a 7 or 8, he will be willing to make a strong slam move. With a 5 or a 6 he will make a move and cooperate, but not go above 4 himself. With a 3 or a 4 he will make one move, but then leave the rest to South. And with a 1 or a 2, which is the worst, he will make no move at all but directly bid 4 as he did.

How does the North hand rate? It is true that North has only 13 HCP, and his range is 13-15. But for a minimum, his hand is pretty good. His only jack is in the trump suit where it might be of value. He does have an ace. His only queen is coupled with a king. This is a decent hand for spade slam purposes considering that North has only 13 HCP. It is definitely not the worst. The worst would look something like: xx KJx KQxx KJxx. That's the kind of hand North should have for a 4 call here. North definitely should have bid 4, and if South bids 4 North is worth a last train 4.

It is noted that slam is probably a small favorite. If the ruffing diamond finesse is onside the slam has 2 chances to make, and if the ace of diamonds is offside the slam can still come home on a favorable spade lie. So N-S wound up doing well in theory, if not in practice. But this is only because South's overbid compensated for North's underbid. South should have quit when North showed the worst with his 4 call. But North shouldn't have shown the worst, since he has much better than that.

At the other table, West chose not to make a slam move upon finding out his partner had 12-13 points, balanced, and a doubleton spade. Thus, there was an adverse 11-IMP swing.

Our concept of above-game Q-bids being asking bids when a major is trumps came about as follows: I had noticed that Fred would rarely make an above game Q-bid. Steve Robinson in his notes said: I love RKC. I hate Q-bids. And Karen McCallum said to me that above game Q-bids don't seem to work well -- it is generally better to either stop or drive to slam. Well, if all my partners didn't like above game Q-bids we shouldn't be using them in the normal fashion. And Karen is right. There is a lot of ambiguity about these bids. Usually they deny some control in another suit. But are they a command to bid slam with that control, a suggestion to bid slam, or just general slam tries? It is far from clear.

Still, it had to be wrong to junk the bids entirely. So I decided to use them as asking bids. This removed all ambiguity, and partner's response was forced. Also, it meant that we didn't have to be overly concerned about our below-game Q-bids showing or denying controls. We could use them more as general slam interest bids, choosing the call which is most informative or most convenient. If control in a suit is the issue, that can be resolved with the asking bids.

The first test came playing with Steve Robinson in the 2003 Senior Bowl. I talked him into playing them, since he didn't have great use for the bids anyway. Midway during the event (which was a full round robin), we had a hand where the bidding started: 1-2;2-3;4-4;? to me. I had far more than I might have had for the previous sequence, but I held QJx of clubs. It seemed like a perfect time for the 5 asking bid. The tray came back instantly with 5, which of course I passed since Steve had denied a control. Naturally the opponents led a club. Steve put down the dummy with 2 small clubs and every other high card, saying "I don't believe this". The opponents cashed the first two clubs, and I claimed the next 17 tricks. And a new convention was born.

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