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In a semi-final match in the Senior Trials, you face a delicate possible slam hand.

Both vul, West deals. As North, you hold

North
A
KJ63
AK754
Q86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
?

1: Strong, artificial

1: 5+ spades, game-forcing values

If you bid 1, that is an asking bid, asking about controls. Follow-up calls would also be asking bids, first asking about length and high cards in spades and then about controls in the other suits. You could not find out about partner's distribution if you take this route.

Other calls are natural, with natural follow-ups.

Your call?

North
A
KJ63
AK754
Q86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
?

This is not the right hand for the asking bid route. You don't know what trumps are. You need to take a more natural approach.

1NT is possible. However, it makes more sense to simply bid 2. You do have 5 diamonds, and that could be the trump suit.

You bid 2. The bidding continues:

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

2: Natural, 4+ hearts

3 is just a raise. It would definitely show 4-card support, since partner might have only 4 hearts.

3 would be a splinter with heart support, even though partner has in essence bid spades, since with spade support you could simply bid 2 as you are in a game force.

4 would show a terrible hand for slam purposes.

Your call?

North
A
KJ63
AK754
Q86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
?

The splinter is your friend when it comes to slam auctions. This will help partner make a better evaluation than bidding 3. The fact that your singleton is an ace doesn't make a difference. Bidding 3 figures to work better than 3.

You choose to bid 3. The bidding continues:

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

4 shows some slam interest, but not necessarily that strong. Usually will have a club control, but not guaranteed. There is no serious/non serious 3NT. 3NT would have been an offer to play.

Your bids would mean:

4: Last train

4: Signoff

4: RKC

4NT: Asking for spade control

5: Asking for club control

5: General slam try

Your call?

North
A
KJ63
AK754
Q86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
?

You don't have much above a minimum for a 1 opener, but your cards are good. Mostly primes, and good trumps. You are definitely too strong to sign off.

On the other hand, you don't have enough to drive to slam or even go above the 4 safety level on your own. All partner's 4 call says is that he doesn't have a pile of junk.

4 last train is perfect. If partner can't make a move after you have shown some interest, you aren't going to have a slam. You can happily pass if he bids 4.

You bid 4. The bidding continues:

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

4: Last train

5 is partner's only slam try. 4 would be RKC. Other calls would be asking for a control in the suit bid, with 4NT asking for a spade control.

Your call?

North
A
KJ63
AK754
Q86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
?

This is a straight judgment call. You clearly don't have 2 quick losers. Partner has to have something to be willing to go above the 4 safety level. Of the ace of clubs, ace of hearts, and queen of hearts, he has to have at least two of these cards, quite possibly all of them. If he doesn't have a club control he would have bid 5, asking for a control.

Partner might have 5 hearts. If so, the trumps figure to last long enough. What about if he has only 4 hearts? That will mean his hand is a bit stronger. He might have some spade wastage. However, you have the potential to estabish your diamond suit. Give him something like Kxxxx Axxx xx Ax. This is about as bad a hand as he might have, and with that hand his 5 call would be pushing things quite a bit. While you wouldn't want to be in slam opposite that hand, you wouldn't be down yet. Any kind of improvement, such as one of the red queens, and slam would be pretty decent. It looks worth bidding.

You bid 6, ending the auction.

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

Partner bid hearts first, even if artificially, so over you go to make what you bid.

West leads the 5. Standard leads and carding.

North
A
KJ63
AK754
Q86
South
Q10932
AQ97
3
AJ9
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

What do you play from dummy?

North
A
KJ63
AK754
Q86
South
Q10932
AQ97
3
AJ9
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

Playing the queen would be wrong, since if East has the king and West the 10 you would no longer be able to take 3 club ricks. There is no need to be in dummy. It is clear to play small.

You play the 6 of clubs, East plays the 10, and you win the jack. How do you proceed?

North
A
KJ63
AK754
Q8
South
Q10932
AQ97
3
A9
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

There is plenty of potential to take 12 tricks. The king of clubs might be onside. The diamonds could be 4-3, allowing you to establish a long diamond. You might be able to do something with the spade suit. There is the possibility of getting 7 or 8 trump tricks via a crossruff.

You can't be sure, but it looks likely that the king of clubs is onside. Would West have led a club away from the king on this auction? He would expect that South has the ace from South's 4 cue-bid and subsequent action, making the club lead very dangerous. Assuming N-S have only a 4-4 heart fit, probably a necessary assumption if the hand is to be defeated, it doesn't looks like the sort of hand where a club trick has to be established quickly before it gets discarded somewhere. West has to have a safer diamond or trump lead available.

Setting up a long spade by ruffing looks awkward. Also, it probably won't help. If the club finesse is onside, the fifth spade can be taken care of by the king of diamonds.

Setting up the diamonds looks more promising. If you get a 4-3 split two small ruffs will set up the long diamond. The entries should be okay. Basic plan would be ace of diamonds, diamond ruff, spade to ace, diamond ruff with queen, and then ace of hearts and heart to the board. With a 4-3 diamond split, this will make if the hearts are 3-2 or if the king of clubs is onside.

Is it better to cash AK of diamonds first before ruffing a diamond? It might be. You will find out quickly if the diamonds are 4-3. If the diamonds are 5-2, at least you will have scored the AK of diamonds so you might be able to go into crossruff mode. You can ruff the third round of diamonds with the 9 of hearts, so even if West has a doubleton diamond he might not be able to overruff.

How bad is it if West overruffs the third round of diamonds? You can easily survive. Say West returns a trump. If the club finesse is on and the clubs are 4-3, you can take your two club tricks and crossruff, taking 6 heart tricks, 3 club tricks, 2 diamond tricks, and 1 spade trick.

Note that you can't afford to take even one round of trumps. If you do, West's trump return will leave you a trick short.

You choose to first cash the ace of hearts. West plays the 2, and East the 8. What next?

North
A
KJ6
AK754
Q8
South
Q10932
Q97
3
A9
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

Setting up the diamonds is still the right idea. Cashing the ace of hearts didn't change that. Clearly drawing a second round of trumps is wrong.

You lead a diamond to dummy's ace. West plays the 2, East the 8. Now what?

North
A
KJ6
K754
Q8
South
Q10932
Q97
A9
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

You can no longer afford to cash the king of diamonds and ruff a diamond. If you got overruffed, a trump return would defeat the contract. You have to ruff a diamond without cashing the king.

You ruff a diamond, East playing the 9 and West the 6. You cross back to the ace of spades, West playing the 4 and East the 6. You lead another small diamond, East playing the 10. How high do you ruff?

North
KJ6
K75
Q8
South
Q1093
Q7
A9
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

You can't risk being overruffed, since a trump return would leave you a trick short. Even if the diamonds are 5-2, you can survive if the trumps are 3-2 and the king of clubs is onside. Ruffing small can never gain, since you will always lose a trump trick if the trumps are 4-1.

You ruff with the queen of hearts. West follows. You lead a trump to dummy, both following. You draw the last trump, and take the club finesse. It works, and you take all the tricks. The full hand is:

West
K854
542
Q62
543
North
A
KJ63
AK754
Q86
East
J76
108
J1098
K1072
South
Q10932
AQ97
3
AJ9
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
6
10
J
3
1
0
A
2
3
8
3
2
0
3
2
A
8
1
3
0
4
9
9
6
3
4
0
3
4
A
6
1
5
0
5
10
Q
Q
3
6
0
7
4
K
10
1
7
0
J
2
2
5
1
8
0
8
7
9
9

Do you agree with South's auction?

West
K854
542
Q62
543
North
A
KJ63
AK754
Q86
East
J76
108
J1098
K1072
South
Q10932
AQ97
3
AJ9
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
6
10
J
3
1
0
A
2
3
8
3
2
0
3
2
A
8
1
3
0
4
9
9
6
3
4
0
3
4
A
6
1
5
0
5
10
Q
Q
3
6
0
7
4
K
10
1
7
0
J
2
2
5
1
8
0
8
7
9
9

South's first two bids are automatic within the methods. Since South holds considerably more than he might have for this sequence, the 4 call is clear.

Once North shows interest, South is clearly worth more than a signoff. In the methods, the only sensible choices are to drive to slam via RKC (assuming not off two key cards) or to invite with 5. South doesn't appear to be quite strong enough to drive to slam. The problem is that South has potential second round losers in both black suits, and these figure to make slam an underdog if North is not willing to accept the invite. If North had made the more descriptive splinter, South would have been able to drive to slam on his own.

At the other table, North opened 1 and rebid 2NT. The heart fit was found, but South judged to merely make a slam try rather than drive to slam, and the good slam was missed.

The decision of exactly how many rounds of trumps to draw and exactly which side high cards should be cashed first is a common and difficult problem on hands such as this which involve some kind of ruffing and setting up a side suit or cross-ruffing. There is no automatic answer. Each hand has to be examined on its own merits to determine the best solution.

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