A Useful Convention

Playing in a regional KO match, I'm the dealer with both vulnerable. I pick up a pretty good hand,  S:J H:AKQ1098 D:8752 C:K6, and get to open 1H:. The opponents are silent, and partner bids 2D:. We play 2/1s as game forcing, so we are in the slam zone. I have lots of choices here, but probably the best is to splinter with 3S:. That should allow partner to evaluate his hand and aim us towards 3NT, 5D:, or 6D:. Over my 3S:, partner bids 4D:, and I don't know yet what his plan is; we do not play fast arrival, so 5D: would have been a slam try showing good diamonds, and 4D: is ambiguous. In any case, I have an easy 4H: bid. Partner bids 4S:, and I have a problem.

First off, partner has made a clear slam try. If he just wanted to play game in diamonds, he would have signed off in 5D:. So now that I know he has planned this sequence, I also know that he has no club control; he would have bid 4C: rather than 4D: with one. It's possible that partner has the C:Q, but it's also likely that we need to play the hand from my side to protect the C:Kx. Since a grand slam isn't in the picture (we're off the C:A), I could just bid 6H:; surely that suit is playable. If the hearts run, we have six hearts, five diamonds, and the S:A for 12 tricks. Partner might, however, have a singleton or void heart and a very good hand otherwise, say  S:AKx H:x D:AKQxxxx C:xx. In that case, I'd like him to correct 6H: to 6NT. So I need to pick off the notrump first. The only way I can do that is to bid Blackwood! I don't care how many aces he has; in fact, if he has two key cards and the D:Q, I'm going to have to bid slam knowing we are off two key cards. I hope they are the C:A and D:K.

Let's make a plan. If partner bids 5S:, I'm stuck. That'll give him (I hope) something like  S:AKx H:x D:AQJxxx C:Qxx. Without the lower black honors, he'd probably not make a slam try, so 6D: is probably OK. If partner bids 5H:, I have no choice but to pass; we have a sure diamond loser and a club loser. If partner bids 5D:...he can't. He can have neither one nor four key cards. If partner bids 5C:, which seems likely, then my plan will bear fruit. I'm going to jump to 6H:. If he has a hand suitable for play in hearts, he can pass, and if he doesn't, he can bid 6NT, which will then be played from my side.

As expected, partner responds 5C: to 4NT, showing zero or three key cards in diamonds. I jump to 6H:. Partner thinks about this for a few seconds and passes. The opening lead is a spade and I see  S:A973 H:J3 D:AKQ96 C:102. I draw trumps, and when diamonds break, claim twelve tricks for +1430. At the other table, they play the prosaic 6D:. Luckily for us, the C:A was offside, so we win 17 IMPs on the board. Since we won the match by 14, that's very fortunate. If the C:A had been onside, we would have won only 2 IMPs (hopefully our teammate would have led his C:A) and lost the match by one.

The funny thing about this hand is that I didn't bid Blackwood to stay out of a slam if we had too few aces; I was pretty sure we had plenty. It was just to make sure notrump was played from the right side. I don't recall seeing that before.

Copyright © 2007 Jeff Goldsmith