Slam Fiends

I guess you might call my partner Christine and I real Slam fiends. Once we smell the possibility of a Slam, we usually bid it. Sometimes we go down, but many times we get Slams that no other pairs find – that’s always an incredible adrenaline high.

A case in point was last Thursday’s Cinco de Mayo game at the Wickham Park Senior Center in Melbourne, next door to our Vero Beach home. It was the second week in a row we won the Melbourne Thursday night game, this time with a 66% score which was good enough for 2.19 MasterPoints since it was a special “Grassroots” event sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL).

We bid and made no fewer than three Small Slams and all of them were absolute tops (only one of them was made due to a defensive error). Even more incredibly, we missed bidding two other Small Slams, but they were even dicier, on 28 and 23 (!) combined high-card points respectively – and fortunately for us, none of the other pairs found them, either.

Overall, we had a great game, beating at least three solid “A” pairs along the way (we’re barely Bs ourselves) and 13 of the 27 boards we played resulted in absolute tops or ties for tops for us – that’s almost half the boards we played resulting in top scores.

What we’re most proud of was a 6 Hearts Slam that we bid extremely carefully, when Christine, who played the hand as South, opened with a big 2 Clubs bid, but was very careful, as she should have been, to let me be the “Captain of the Enterprise” and steer us to the best Slam contract.

The “captaincy” principle often applies in these situations, with the big hand having to let the weaker hand be the captain of the ship and determine the final contract. That’s because if the hand is bid correctly, the weaker hand knows pretty much exactly what the stronger hand has (unlike the stronger hand who has little or no idea what the weaker hand has) and is therefore in a better position to place the final contract.

Most other pairs wound up in the wrong contract of 6 No-Trump when the strong hand didn’t let the weak hand be the captain, and one other pair didn’t bid Slam at all. Since no one else found our 6 Hearts Slam, the hand seems worthy of a Bridge Burglar blog entry.

My column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, will be one of the players who winds up going down in 6 NT, and she’ll be miffed at finding out that her nemesis, Smug Sam (played by Christine this time), reached the makeable 6 Hearts Slam. I’ll play the role of Shy Shem as Sam’s North partner, although this time I’m not so much shy as bent on very carefully and slowly describing my hand.

West Dealer; both sides vulnerable

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

The bidding:

West North East South
Pass Pass Pass 2
Pass 2 * Pass 2 NT
Pass 3 ** Pass 3
Pass 3 NT Pass 4 NT
Pass 5 *** Pass 5 NT
Pass 5 **** Pass 6 NT
All pass

*”waiting” bid
**Stayman convention bid promising 4-card major
***Blackwood convention response indicating 0 Aces
****Blackwood convention response indicating 2 Kings

Opening lead: 8 of Clubs

With big hands, when the possibility of Game or Slam is in the air, clear communication becomes essential; the big hand often has to defer to the weaker hand and let that partner be the “captain” to determine a final contract.

Flustered Flo forgot about that little detail when she picked up the huge South Hand at a recent club game. She was steering toward a 6 No-Trump Slam from the beginning, and when she and her partner were seemingly unable to agree on a four-card major, she asked for Aces (she knew her North partner Loyal Larry had zero because she had them all) and Kings. When he said he had two Kings, Flo felt safe bidding 6 No-Trump with all the Aces and three out of the four Kings between them.

She seemed to get a friendly lead with the 8 of Clubs, which went around to her Ace, but when the Clubs broke 4-1, Flo’s supposedly “safe” contract was doomed. All she had was 10 tricks – 3 Hearts after conceding a trick to West’s Queen (she couldn’t risk conceding a Club trick first to East because of a damaging Spade lead), then 4 Clubs after conceding a Club trick to East’s Jack, 2 Diamonds and a Spade. She couldn’t even try any finesses – tough to finesse when your partner has a void. Down Two for minus-200 on one of the best hands Flo had ever held – bummer!

“Don’t worry, partner,” said Larry, always loyal to Flo. “You’ll have company,. Everyone will be there.”

Larry’s intention may have been noble, but he was wrong. Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, had also sat South, and he and his partner, Shy Shem, got a top on the board by bidding – and making – Slam in 6 Hearts.

“How did you find the Heart Slam?” she asked him at the end. “Kind of difficult, wasn’t it?”

“Not really,” said Sam, smug as always, “I just let my partner be captain and take us to the right place.”

“So how did you bid it?” Flo asked.

“We play a step response to my strong 2 Clubs opening, so my partner said 2 Spades, indicating 7-9 high-card points,” Sam explained. Then I knew we were in Slam territory. But my partner had to determine where. We had to go slow, not fast, and use all available bidding room. I bid 2 No-Trump to tell him about my shape, and he used Stayman to try and find a 4-4 fit in a major. When I bid 3 Spades to tell him about my higher four-card major first and he replied 4 Clubs, that was very telling to me.”

“How so?” asked Flo.

“He told me about five different things all at the same time,” said Sam. “I now knew his four-card major was in Hearts; I knew he also had five Clubs; I knew he could not support my Spades; I knew he bypassed 3 No-Trump so he didn’t want to play in No-Trump, and, since he bypassed 3 NT, he had Slam interest, too. But he didn’t know yet that I had both four-card majors, so I next bid 4 Hearts, which made it easy for him to go to 6 Hearts. He knew that his void in Spades would give his hand extra ruffing values.”

“But neither one of you ever asked for Aces, Kings or key cards?” Flo objected.

“Not necessary,” said Sam. “That’s such a crutch for beginners. And with the presence of voids and singletons, it’s such an inexact science, anyway.”

“I used Blackwood and I guess it didn’t serve me well,” said Flo. “So I should ditch the convention?”

“It may be useful in some cases,” said Sam. “But you’d do much better listening to your partner and let him be the captain instead of insisting on playing it your way just because you have the bid hand.”

“Aye, aye, captain!” said Flo.

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