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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Take your time before bidding a tough slam
by Jim Kaplan

If you think there may be a slam to bid but don’t know how to get there, resist the urge to throw up your arms and settle for game or bid the slam on a wing and a prayer. Instead, go slowly to gather as much information as possible.

A good case in point arose at the Northampton Bridge Club on November 25. East was dealing, with both sides vulnerable. You may want to bid this with your favorite partner, one of you viewing only the North hand, the other South:

S K Q 5 3
H A J 10
D J 9 5 2
S A 10 4 2 S J 9 8 7 6
H 9 7 5 H 4 3
D Q 7 D K 8 6 4
C J 9 6 5 C 7 4
S —
H K Q 8 6 2
D A 10 3
C K 10 8 3 2

The bidding proceeded as follows:

East South West North
Pass 1H Pass 1S
Pass 2C Pass 2D•
Pass 3C Pass 3H
Pass 4H Pass 5H
Pass 6H All Pass

• Artificial and game-forcing

Opening lead: spade ace

As soon as South opened 1H, North had an inkling that slam in hearts was possible. There was no hurry, though, so why not show the four-card spade suit? After South bid 2C, North went to 2D — an alertable bid called “fourth suit forcing” that doesn’t necessarily show diamonds but does force to game. When South rebid clubs, North finally showed heart support. Note that North-South had made six bids and were still at the three level.

South might have bid 3S to show a void but chose to bid 4H. It was crunch time for North. How to probe for slam? Bidding 4NT seemed fruitless, because if South showed two aces there might be two quick losers in diamonds. There was no ace to show outside of hearts and clubs, the safest suits. So North bid 5H to show 16-18 support points and ask South to bid a small slam with extra values.

Despite only 12 high-card points, South bid 6H. Once there’s a fit, I recommend counting your losers. Assume that the ace will be played first in a given suit, followed by the king and queen. Consider only the first three tricks in a suit contract, because the fourth one can be ruffed. The average minimum opener has seven losers. South had five: the heart ace, the diamond king-queen and the club ace-queen. Hence, the heart slam.

At a club heavy with Life Masters, five of the nine North-South pairs bid and made 6H. That said, my partner Chuck Jackson, who was sitting South, got a top-board 13 tricks.

Though it looks irresistible, leading the spade ace runs the risk of setting up a suit by your opponents. In this case, it was disastrous. After ruffing the opening lead, Jackson won the king-ace of hearts, cashed the king-queen of spades (discarding diamonds) and the ace-queen of clubs, led a diamond to the ace and ruffed a club. Then he ruffed a diamond, cashed the heart queen and claimed.

Jackson played the hand as deliberately as we bid it.

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