What's Going on?

Playing in the last round of a regional barometer pairs final, we are in 6th place with a shot at first. Paul Soloway (the possessor of more masterpoints than anyone, living or dead) is on my right; he is playing with a client. The first board out, I pick up as dealer, vul against not:
 S:A H:A4 D:AK983 C:K8542
I open 1D:, the client jumps to 2H:, and this is passed back to me. What shall I do? We play negative doubles, so the normal action for me, being short in their suit, is to double. I think that is wrong for two reasons. Firstly, if partner has a heart stack, where are the spades? Probably in Soloway's hand. I doubt that partner has a stack in both majors; he'd've bid spades before taking a chance on passing; for all he knows, we might have a spade slam. Partner is, however, marked with some length in hearts because Soloway, white on red, did not raise. I'd guess that hearts are something like 6-3-2-2 or 6-4-1-2 around the table. We can still have a game so I must bid, and I think it is clearly best to bid 3C:. That could be made on a weaker hand, but partner knows that I might still be strong and just have the wrong shape (heart length, perhaps) for a takeout double. I bid 3C:, and the auction proceeds strangely. LHO passes, and partner bids 3H:, which Soloway doubles. The bidding has gone:
What is going on? Partner's cue-bid shows a strong hand, presumably with a fit for one of the minors. What is this double? It must be for the lead, but he cannot have something like King doubleton or even singleton King because he would have bid 3H: the previous time. Soloway would not be chicken to raise his partner for a lead white against red, so what does he have? Only one solution makes sense: he must be void in hearts with lots of bad spades and a bad hand. He's expecting us to get to a minor suit slam and go down on a heart ruff. He's not bidding spades, which he knows that his partner fits, since both of us have denied spades, so he must have a second trick somewhere in the minor suits, probably QJ10x in one of the minors.

What is partner's hand? He must have something like 3-5-1-4 shape or possibly 3-5-4-1, though I suspect a club fit since he'd be less likely to go for penalties with a hidden fit for my suit. With 3-5-4-1 and, say, H:KJxxx, I'd expect him to bid notrumps rather than pass. Could Soloway have diamonds wedged and a heart ruff? Yes, he could, but I think he'd pave the way for a spade sacrifice if he only had one minor. That's it! He must have a trick or prospective trick in each minor so that his ruff will not be their only trick. That means LHO has spades, too, so spades are probably 4-5. LHO must be something like 4-6-2-1 or 4-6-3-0. I think clubs are splitting very badly, either 4-1 or 4-0. I know hearts are zip-splitting.

Where will the field be? Probably split between 3NT, minor suit slams, and spade saves. Minor suit slams are going down. What about 6NT? I am not getting a spade lead, which is bound to doom 6NT, but will that be good enough? I shall possibly get three heart tricks, one or two spades, five of one minor and two of the other. If all that works, I shall make 12 tricks. I'm not sure whether 6NT will make or not, but I suspect that everyone else will get a spade lead or know that they are getting one, so they will not bid 6NT. Do they have a save if it does make? Spades are blocked, so we cannot draw two rounds of trumps early. If partner has a singleton diamond, we can take one spade, two diamonds, and maybe a club against spades. We might get another spade. 7S: might or might not be a good save against 6NT. Will anyone in the field be there? I don't know, but I am sure some will be in 6S: doubled. That might be a good save against our game.

If I bid 3NT, I beat all the people in a minor suit slam going down. I beat many of the saves, and I get the maximum if 6NT is going down. If 6NT makes, our opponents will not save against it, and that would be the maximum. I would not be willing to bet on 6NT with a spade lead, so I don't think many in the field will bid 6NT, either. The more I think about it, the worse I feel about 6NT. If a heart lead lets me make six, I think I'll win the board even if I'm in three. That does it. I bid 3NT, which ends the auction.

Partner held:

 S:3 H:K9762 D:Q742 C:A76
Soloway had 7-0-2-4 shape, so all slams were going down. We have four defensive tricks against spades, so we beat even those who got six spades doubled three tricks for an excellent score on the board.
Copyright © 1992 Jeff Goldsmith