Useful Agreement

I am playing in a matchpoint club game. The field is OK, but nothing special. No one is vulnerable, and RHO opens 2S: in front of the biggest hand I'll have this session.
 S:H:AKQ94 D:AJ9 C:AQJ65
My choices are double and 4C:, which we play as clubs and hearts. I really don't want partner passing the double, and I don't see our getting a good grip on the hand if I start with one. Partner will bid 2NT, lebensohl, and now what? 4C:, on the other hand, at least gets my suits into play. Partner won't expect quite this good a hand, so if I decide to start with 4C:, I think I'll have to bid again. If partner bids 4H:, which is far and away most likely, I can bid 4S:. If he retreats to 5H:, I'll have to hope he can make it. He'll know, however, that one or two useful cards should provide a slam. There is a danger that partner may pass 4C:, but we just went over our agreement here; he is not to pass unless he has no cover cards. That gets us too high sometimes, but I feel OK trotting it out with this good a hand. If he passes, 4C: may well be high enough.

I try 4C:, and partner bids 4H: as expected. I planned on bidding 4S: next, so I do. Partner provides a nice surprise: He bids 5C:. That is encouraging; his having the C:K means we don't need much for a slam to be good. We might even have a grand. I'm driving to slam, but just in case there is a grand lurking, I try 5D:. The auction has been intricate so far, and it isn't about to get any easier, because partner comes up with 5NT! Reviewing:

What do I know? 5NT is a choice of slams, so partner must have equal length in hearts and clubs. If he is 2-2, he might not be so bullish about slam, and if he is 4-4, he'd commit to hearts, the higher-scoring strain. So he must be 3-3. If he had the H:J, I think he'd force hearts, so he must have three small hearts and the C:K. And another card. I think he is roughly  S:xxxx H:xxx D:Kxx C:Kxx. He may have the D:Q or a spade piece, and he may have the 10 in one of my suits. Obviously, a small slam is enough right now; if partner has more (maybe the S:A?), he'll bid again, so I should assume we are choosing between 6C: and 6H:. 6H: looks like a pretty good spot; it'll take either 3-2 hearts or the diamond finesse. The preempt means that neither is as likely as normal, but I estimate that 6H: will make about 75% of the time. Partner may have the H:10 or D:10, either of which will add a few percent. Is 6C: better? Yes, I can handle a 4-1 heart break if RHO is 6-1-4-2 by drawing two rounds of trumps and ruffing a heart in dummy. It's hard to estimate how likely that is, but I'll guess in the neighborhood of 5-10%. Some of the time, the D:Q will be onside there, so maybe I'm getting 5% extra. But RHO might misdefend with 6-1-3-3 if I cash one heart, cross to dummy, and lead a heart. If he ruffs, I can pitch one or two diamonds from dummy and ruff the third round. That's maybe 5%, something like that. He might not misdefend, but most club players would. Then again, he has to be dealt that. Will the H:10 help in 6H:? I can try two rounds of hearts, and if they don't break, I can try to play four rounds of clubs to pitch a diamond. No, that won't work---LHO can ruff high and exit with a trump. I'll need him to have four clubs, leaving RHO with two singletons. That seems unlikely, so no, the H:10 will only help me pick up stiff H:J, unless somehow I know that trumps are 4-1, which I don't think I can.

So 6C: is a little more likely to make, but 6H: outscores it. Will anyone else be in slam? I don't see how unless partner has real extras. If 2S: isn't opened, the auction will start 1H:-2H: or 2C:-2D:. If the former, opener will make slam tries, and responder will probably reject them, particularly if he is 4-3-3-3. If the latter, they have no chance to know if slam is any good, and if they play Kokish, they aren't even going to know that they have a real heart fit. Opener won't push, having already opened 2C:, and a key card-less responder isn't going. All in all, I think we have found one of the very few ways to get to slam, so I'm going to bid the more likely one and not worry that I might be outscored if someone bids 6H:. Furthermore, if partner were strong enough that he thinks others will reach slam, maybe he'd pick hearts himself. I'm convinced. I bid 6C:, and all pass. I get the lead of the H:J, and dummy is almost exactly what I expected,

S: Q932
H: 853
D: K76
C: K94
H: AKQ94
D: AJ9
C: AQJ65
Pass6C:All Pass
That opening lead sure looks like four or five of them. I hope it's only four. I play low from dummy, and RHO follows with the H:2. What's the best line? I can try leading hearts towards my hand twice using the C:K and the D:K as entries. Then I can ruff the fourth heart in dummy if RHO doesn't ruff. No, he can just overruff and play a spade, and I won't even have an entry to try the diamond finesse. I think I shall go with the plan I made during the bidding. I cash the trump ace and cross to the king. They each follow, but the C:10 has not appeared. I lead a heart from dummy, hoping that RHO ruffs if he has the remaining trump. After all, he probably has the S:A and might see an obvious beat by ruffing. No, he discards a spade. It seems best to try to cash another heart now, and when I do, it holds. It's clear sailing from here; I ruff a heart, ruff a spade, draw trumps, and try the diamond hook for an overtrick. I'm pleased to see it fail; if anyone reaches 6H:, they are probably going down.

I check the traveler after the game and am pretty surprised to see that not only did one other pair reach 6H: and go down, but another one found 6C: and made it! That's pretty surprising; maybe my reasoning wasn't so good and I just got lucky.

Copyright © 2010 Jeff Goldsmith