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The Safer Plus
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In a Round of 32 match in the Open trials for USA2, you have to handle a nice-looking hand opposite partner's strong 1NT opener.

Both vul, East deals. As North, you hold:

North
A10983
J
KJ
AQJ72
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
X
XX
3
?

1NT: 14-16

2: Transfer

RDBL: 3+ spades, prefer not to declare

Double would be penalty oriented.

3NT would be an offer to play.

4-level bids other than 4 would be slam try cue-bids.

4NT would be RKC.

5-level bids other than 5 would be splinters.

Your call?

North
A10983
J
KJ
AQJ72
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
X
XX
3
?

There is plenty of slam potential here. A splinter bid bringing partner into the loop is not a good idea. You have the source of tricks, and you have the necessary controls. It is your job to make the decisions.

An immediate RKC is not unreasonable, but there is no rush to do that. Partner might have a terrible hand for slam, and 5 could be too high. It is better to go slowly with a 4 cue-bid. If partner comes back with 4 he will have the worst, and you can stop safely. If partner shows a sign of life, you can move ahead.

You bid 4. The bidding continues:

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

4 would be last train, saying nothing about hearts.

4NT would be RKC.

5 of a minor would be a cue-bid slam try.

5 would be a splinter.

5 would be a general slam try.

Your call?

North
A10983
J
KJ
AQJ72
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
X
XX
3
4
P
4
P
?

You have found what you needed to know. Partner doesn't have a piece of junk. It is clear to drive to slam with RKC. If partner has 3 keycards or 2 keycards and the queen of trumps, slam will be at worst on a club finesse and may be laydown. You don't need any more opinions from partner.

You bid 4NT. The bidding continues:

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

4NT: RKC

5: 2 keycards with the queen of trumps

5NT would ask for specific kings. It would not guarantee all the keycards. If partner thinks he has what it takes to make a grand he will bid 6NT, not 7, telling you to bid the grand unless off a keycard.

6 of anything would be an offer to play.

Your call?

North
A10983
J
KJ
AQJ72
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
X
XX
3
4
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
?

Naturally you are going to bid a slam. But it doesn't have to be in spades. Even though you have at least an 8-card spade fit, clubs could be a superior strain, since there might be a trump loser in spades which doesn't exist in clubs. Picture partner with KQx of spades and Kxxx of clubs, and it is easy to see how 6 might be the safer plus score.

One way to get to 6 if that is the right strain is simply to bid it. Even though clubs haven't been bid naturally (your 4 call was a cue-bid), 6 would still be an offer to play. If partner has 3 spades and Kxxx of clubs, he will properly choose to play in clubs.

Can you do even better? Perhaps you can. You don't need partner to have length in clubs for 6 to be better than 6. All you need is for partner to have the king of clubs. That will make 6 a fine contract, needing at worst a 4-2 club split if partner has only a doubleton club. Picture partner with something like: KQx xxxx AQxx Kx. 6 will go down if jack-fourth of spades is offside, while 6 merely needs a 4-2 club split. This is not such an unlikely type of hand. Partner wanted the contract played from your side, which is an indicatiion that he doesn't have anything in hearts. Offering partner a choice won't help. Partner will choose 6 with that hand, and even if has KQx of spades and Kxx of clubs he will have no reason to not choose spades. The way to get to 6 on these hands is to bid 5NT, asking for specific kings. If partner has the king of clubs he will bid 6, and there you are. You don't have to worry about partner thinking there might be a grand, since your minor-suit holdings make it clear that partner doesn't have a source of tricks.

You choose to bid 6, ending the auction.

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

A review of the auction shows that partner bid spades first, so over you go to his seat to play it.

West leads the 5.

North
A10983
J
KJ
AQJ72
South
QJ65
A32
A43
K63
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
X
XX
3
4
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

East tops dummy's jack with the king, and you win the ace. How do you proceed?

North
A10983
J
KJ
AQJ72
South
QJ65
A32
A43
K63
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
X
XX
3
4
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

The contract is pretty secure. Only something terrible in the club suit can defeat you.

One danger is that if you take the spade finesse and it loses, East might have 5 clubs and give his partner a club ruff. Not likely, but it could happen. That is the only way you can go down after taking the spade finesse. If you play ace and a spade, you will never go down when East has the king of spades.

The only thing which can go wrong if you play ace and a spade is again a 5-0 club split, as otherwise you have 12 top tricks. In addition, West would have to have all the spades, as otherwise you will be able to draw trumps and ruff the fifth club in your hand.

If West does have a club void and Kxxx of spades, you will go down if you play a spade to the ace. It might seem that you could recover with a successful diamond finesse, but that is not the case. If West has 4 spades you will always be drawing his trumps first, since you will be cold if the clubs aren't 5-0. and then you will be testing clubs rather than taking a diamond finesse. When you test the clubs and find they are 5-0, you will have only one entry to your hand. You can use that to take the diamond finesse, but you will not be able to get back to your hand to enjoy the third diamond trick.

The conclusion is that you will only go down when East has 5 clubs. Given that to be the case, is it more likely that West has 4 spades or that East holds the king of spades?

The hearts appear to be 6-3, since if West had 4 hearts and a club void he might have bid more than 3. That takes care of 11 of East's cards, not leaving him much in spades and diamonds. The math might be complex, but given that East has 5 clubs it appears that the 4-0 spade split is more likely than East holding the king of spades. As a tiebreaker, you have a better chance to make an overtrick by taking the finesse. Naturally this shouldn't be a consideration when the contract could be at stake and one play is definitely better than the other for making the contract, but when the two plays really are too close to call you might as well take the play which maximizes the chances of an overtrick.

You take the spade finesse. It loses. Nothing terrible happens, and the contract makes. The full hand is:

West
72
Q85
Q109872
85
North
A10983
J
KJ
AQJ72
East
K4
K109764
65
1094
South
QJ65
A32
A43
K63
W
N
E
S
 
P
1N
P
2
X
XX
3
4
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
J
K
A
3
1
0
Q
2
3
K
2
1
1
2

Do you agree with the E-W bidding?

West
72
Q85
Q109872
85
North
A10983
J
KJ
AQJ72
East
K4
K109764
65
1094
South
QJ65
A32
A43
K63
W
N
E
S
 
P
1N
P
2
X
XX
3
4
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
J
K
A
3
1
0
Q
2
3
K
2
1
1
2

East is definitely correct to make a lead-directing double of 2. The chances of it getting redoubled and making are slim. The gain from getting a heart lead he might not have otherwise gotten easily compensates for the rare cost.

West's 3 call is a little rich. He has no shape, and his partner might have only 5 hearts. West will not be happy if the opponents stop off to double. West will not be happy if his 3 call causes his partner to take a save against 4. If the 3 call might disrupt the enemy bidding significantly that would be an upside, but that isn't the case. South's redouble establishes the spade fit. North knows the approximate combined strength of the two hands. The 3 call takes away North's invitational bid if that is what he has, but that isn't very important.

How was South's auction?

West
72
Q85
Q109872
85
North
A10983
J
KJ
AQJ72
East
K4
K109764
65
1094
South
QJ65
A32
A43
K63
W
N
E
S
 
P
1N
P
2
X
XX
3
4
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
J
K
A
3
1
0
Q
2
3
K
2
1
1
2

South's 1NT opening is marginal. He does have 14 HCP, but he has no spots at all and is 4-3-3-3. Still, he does have two aces, and aces are undervalued in the Goren point count. For that reason, South's hand is barely worth a 1NT opening. If South had the same hand (14 HCP, no spots, 4-3-3-3) with only one ace, he should downgrade and open 1.

As the auction progressed, South's hand grew a lot. He has good trump support, his king is opposite North's first cue-bid, and his aces are important for slam purposes. He is easily worth the 4 cue-bid, and might be worth another move if North comes back with 4 last train.

When you are considering making a final conclusive call, stop, look, and think. Might there be a superior alternative contract? If so, is there some way to determine that the alternative contract is superior? If North had done this and taken full advantage of the tools at hand, he would have done better than committing to 6.

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