Playing in a Grand National Teams Club Qualifying game, we are in danger (!) of not qualifying when I pick up this hand in third seat, vulnerable:
 S:Q863 H:QJ73 D:AJ C:AK6
Partner passes as dealer and RHO twitches for a second, but passes. We play a 15-17 1NT, so I have no problems on this round. The opponents remain silent (and fail to twitch anymore) and the auction continues:
2C: was Stayman, but since we use 1NT-2NT artificial, partner might have to bid 2C: with an invitational hand and no four-card major, so 2S: shows an invitational hand with four spades and fewer than four hearts.

Three contracts see worthy of consideration now. I can play a partscore in spades, bid game in spades, or bid 3NT. I think stopping in 2NT is probably wrong; 2S: is likely to play about as well.

I have 17 HCP, and on that basis, I should bid a game. Having found a 4-4 spade fit, 4S: seems obvious, but is it right? This hand does not evaluate to 17 points in my book. I have a computer program that evaluates hands by such features as high-card concentration in long suits, losing trick count, and so on. It is adapted from an article by Jeff Rubens in The Bridge World called The Four C's, which stands for Caution! Complex Computer Count. The computer claims this hand is worth 15.10 points, which seems a trifle low to me, but is not too far off base. At matchpoints, I would seriously consider passing, but vulnerable at IMPs, one cannot cut these decisions too fine. I think the conditions make bidding game too lucrative to stop in a partscore.

Which game? With very soft cards (all those queens and jacks) I think 3NT might be much better than 4S:. I can easily see losing four top tricks opposite a nine-count. A heart ruff is quite possible, too. The danger in 3NT is two-fold: partner will never trust me again if I did not at least consider spades, and diamonds might be a weakness. Still, the doubleton diamond is AJ, and vs. Kxx or KQx, no ruff would be available. If I had to decide now, I think I'd bid 3NT rather than 4S:. Can I find out anything helpful?

I think so. I need to find some bid that will let partner identify where his high cards lie, in particular, whether or not he has the D:K. 3C: seems to fit the bill perfectly. If partner bids 3D:, 3NT must be right, while if he bids 3H: or 3S:, the major suit fit rates to be best. If he bids 3S:, I can give further consideration to passing, though I think I shall bid 4S: in that case. Perhaps if they double something I can reconsider.

This partner is not a scientific bidder, and since we have not expressly discussed any continuations after this start, I have to worry that he might not interpret 3C: as a probe for the best game. Worse, he might even pass, thinking that I have 2-4-2-5 distribution. Let's see if that should happen. With 2-4-2-5 and a maximum, I would open 1C: and reverse unless a lot of my strength were in the short suits. In that case, I'd rebid 3NT here. If I had a minimum hand, I'd sign off rather than introducing a dubious suit at the three-level without any known fit. It seems to me that the inference that I must have a maximum to venture to the three-level is sufficiently sound that partner, even if he were to misinterpret my intentions, would not pass 3C:. I might not be able to trust his response, but at least I shall have something on which to decide between 3NT and 4S:. So I bid 3C:, though not without some reservations that I have just made a ``torture bid.''

Woe! Partner goes into a huddle, as I expected he might, but after only about two seconds, shrugs and flips the pass card on the table. Not feeling very good about this contract, I wish he had thought about it a little more. All's well that ends well, however, since partner quickly makes four on a 3-3 club break and some sloppy defense. (They think we are in a silly contract.) At the other table, my hand just bid 4S: and declarer went down when he allowed the defense to break up a heart-club squeeze in the endposition. We won six IMPs on the hand and the match by six. What a way to win a match!

Copyright © 1993 Jeff Goldsmith