Five or Four

Playing in the fourth quarter of a tight Spingold match, I pick up a pretty good hand.
 S:A H:AK1076 D:104 C:AJ752
In third seat, I open 1H:. Partner bids Drury.

Can we have a slam? Sure, give him H:Qxxx and the D:AK and either two clubs or three to the 109, or any four, and we are big favorites. A grand is even possible, but he'd have to have perfect cards, and I'm not willing to try for it. On the other hand, I don't have to. We play a useful convention. If I bid 2D: and he bids 2H:, 4C: by me is a 5-5 slam try. He should then know if he has useful cards. I think I'll sign off over a Last Train 4D:, but if he moves past game, slam should be good.

With other partners, I can bid 3C: directly to show length and interest in slam, but we are a new partnership and haven't discussed that sequence. I am a little leery of trying it, but I know we have discussed the other sequence, because I read it in our notes this morning.

So I try 2D: and jump to 4C:. Partner bids Blackwood, finds we are off an ace and the trump queen, and subsides in 5H:. Oh, well. Still, 11 tricks should be easy.

Or maybe not. Partner post-alerts 4C: and explains it as a splinter. Whoops. Double whoops—that means the hand that got him excited is the worst possible hand for me. I hope he has four small clubs. I correct his explanation for the opponents, and he insists that he's right and that I'm nuts. I don't see how this is going to help, so I let it drop, but later I show him page 2 of our system notes where this sequence is covered.

The opening lead is a small diamond, and dummy is as bad as I feared, or maybe even worse.

S: KJ42
H: J98
D: KQ4
C: 983
S: A
H: AK1076
D: 104
C: AJ752
Yep, worse. Only one entry and nothing in clubs. I suppose I should be thankful for the club spots. If I can get to dummy twice and the C:10 and a high honor is onside, I can pick up the club suit for one loser. I need to avoid losing a trump, though.

I put up the D:K, which, of course, loses to the D:A, and a small spade comes back. Looks like my bidding helped them more than it helped us.

How can I manage 11 tricks? I absolutely need two dummy entries, so I guess the only chance I have is to find the H:Q doubleton. If that happens and clubs behave, I have 11 tricks. A thought occurs to me—if that's really the layout and the H:Q is doubleton offside, I shall make 5H: and declarer at the other table might well go down in 4H:! Clearly his best chance is for clubs 3-2 and no heart loser, so he'll use his entry for a trump finesse.

I see nothing better, so I cash two high hearts. Hot dog! The H:Q comes tumbling down on my left. Visions of gaining 13 IMPs are swirling in my head. I cross to the H:J, run the C:9 and pray. Unsuccessfully. LHO wins the C:10 and continues with the C:K. I concede down one.

Maybe it's not so bad after all. At the other table, maybe declarer will still go down in game. It was not to be. My teammate, on a far less revealing auction, led the C:K. They had a signalling mishap, and when he continued with a second club, declarer slammed down the top trumps to avoid a possible club ruff. He was gratified with an overtrick. I guess the 13 IMPs were there after all, just not in the direction I had imagined.

Copyright © 2009 Jeff Goldsmith