Sam the Slammer

What does it really take to make a Slam? Some optimists say you should start thinking Slam once you’ve determined that between you and your partner you have a minimum of 29 high-card points. Others say you need at least 30 or even more.

As with everything else in bridge, there’s probably no reliable hard-and-fast rule. Everything is situational. We’ve seen Slams made with 21 points and fail with 33. Of course distribution is hugely important.

The club game my partner Christine and I played at the Vero Beach Bridge Center last Tuesday night (2/16/2016) was a perfect case in point.

We bid and made three Small Slams and we were the only pair that bid and made any Slam at all. (One Slam was attempted against us by Stan and Karen Yellin, but they failed to make it – she was finesse-happy and lost a finesse to the missing King of the trump suit, allowing Christine to give me a ruff. If she’d just drawn one round of trump and then given up the trump King, she’d have made her Slam because by then I would have been out of trump.)

Even more remarkably, apart from the three Slams we bid and made, we also bid three other Slams that we didn’t make. When you live by the sword, you also die by the sword. All of the Slams we made were tops, of course, since no one else bid any Slam, but all of the ones we bid and didn’t make were zeroes for us. Perhaps that we finished overall just below 50% and got only .28 MasterPoints.

On the Slams we didn’t make, one would have been makeable in 6 Diamonds, but I was greedy and tried for the 6 No-Trump Slam for more points and that contract went Down One. And on the one Slam that had no chance of being made we actually had the highest point count – 30 points between us.

On the three Slams we did make, our combined point count was 25, 26 and 28 points respectively, and the 28-point Slam had no singletons or voids so there were no extra distribution points involved.

What does all of that tell you about the point count necessary for bidding a Slam? Nothing. It’s all situational. Sometimes you can try Losing Trick Count (LTC) as a sanity check to see if you’re in the ballpark for a Slam, but that doesn’t always work, either – like on the diagrammed deal when I opened at 4 level.

It was one of the more remarkable Slam hands on which Christine and I had only 25 high-card points and just one singleton, but we reached an unbeatable Slam anyway to the chagrin of our opponents. It’s such a unique hand that it’s worth a Bridge Burglar entry with our West opponent playing the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, and me being her nemesis, Smug Sam, one more time with the South Declarer hand.


south sealer; neither side vulnerable

Q J 8
A K 10
K J 8 6
A 8 5
West East
9 5 4 2 10 7 6 3
A 10 2 Q 9 5 3
K 10 9 3 2 Q J 7 6
9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
7 4

The bidding:

South West North East
4 Pass 4 NT Pass
5 * Pass 6 All Pass

*Blackwood convention response showing one Ace

Opening lead: Ace of Diamonds

How many points do you need to bid a Small Slam? The question had always confounded Flustered Flo. She had been watching her nemesis, Smug Sam, who was a real Slam fiend, for some time, and Sam didn’t seem to go by any rules.

On the diagrammed hand at a recent club game, Flo sat West again against Sam, who was South. Sam opened with a 4 Hearts bid and when Flo asked Sam’s North partner Shy Shem what it meant, she was told that Sam had an eight-card Heart suit.

Flo had nothing to say anyway, so she just passed. Her interest perked up again when Shem made a Slam try and promptly bid the Small Slam in Hearts when Sam said he had one Ace.

Against Slams you lead an Ace if you have it, and sure enough, Flo’s Ace of Diamonds held on the opening trick. After seeing the dummy, Flo saw no future in another Diamond lead, so she continued with a Spade, but Sam took the trick with the Ace, drew trumps once, collected dummy’s Club Ace and Diamond King and claimed his Slam.

“That seemed too easy,” complained Flo. “How many points did you have between the two of you, anyway?”

“Just 25,” said Sam, smug as always. “I had 7 and my partner had 18. But it was a typical points-schmoints hand. I don’t know if I even counted my points. They were pretty much irrelevant.”

“Well, did you do Losing Trick Count at least?” Flo asked.

“I did look at that,” admitted Sam. “I had 6 losing tricks, so I had a solid opening at least. Opening at the 4 level told my partner that I had an eight-card suit.”

“Opening at the 4 level without a single honor?” asked Flo in bewilderment. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“I don’t think I have, either,” said Sam. “But it’s always length before strength. I had to tell my partner I had an eight-card suit.”

“And how did he dare go to Slam knowing you always bid on fumes?” Flo asked.

“My partner made exactly the right calculation,” Sam replied, defending Shy Shem. “He knew I had to have some points for my bid and those points couldn’t be in my Heart trump suit. Of the five cards I had outside my trump suit, my own points would probably cover at least two, so he had to cover only two of my three losers. With his big 18-point hand that was a cinch. Six Hearts was one of the easier bids he ever had to make, even for a shy guy like Shem.”

“Sounds like a lot of hocus pocus and sleight of hand to me,” said Flo. “I’m still stuck on bidding a Slam with 25 points – there ought to be a law against that.”

“Well, there isn’t,” said Sam. “Get over it and take your zero on this board.”

“Just our bad luck to have to play this hand against crazy bidders like you,” moaned Flo.

“But think of all the lessons you learned,” said Sam.

“I’m not sure what the lesson is – just bid Slam with 25 points?” asked Flo. “Often you can’t even make Game on that.”

“The lesson is that every hand is different,” said Sam. “And sometimes you can make a good contract on few points. The trick is communicating to your partner exactly what you have so he or she can re-evaluate your chances on the hand with every bid or non-bid in the auction.”

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