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True Tales from the Bridge Table

To Slam or Not to Slam 

Chris Evert was coached by her Dad. Earl Woods coached Tiger for years. Sports teams from Little League to the Boston Red Sox have a coach. So why not Bridge?

My current coach is Neil Silverman, a member of the US team which won the Senior Swiss Team event in World competition. I’ve been playing with Neil on a weekly basis for several months and always enjoy our games.

Recently, playing a Pairs game at the Fort Lauderdale Bridge Club, Neil, in first seat, opened 1NT (15-17). This was my hand:

                                                          ♠AJ10942      ♥K96      ♦---      ♣J932

I had three options:      Transfer at the 2 level and then bid game in spades

                                     Transfer at the 4 level and Pass

                                     Transfer at the 4 level and then ask for Aces

I decided that Slam was only possible if Partner super-accepted so my best bid was 2♥!, transfer to spades. 

To my delight, Neil bid 3♠ showing 4 trumps and a maximum. Now I trotted out a fabulous tool, which does not come up very often – Exclusion Blackwood. I jumped to 5♦ which asks Partner how many keycards he holds, ignoring the diamond suit. Neil showed me 2 keycards plus the ♠Q. Now I knew he held ♠KQxx and ♣A. Since that amounted to just 9 of his 17 points, I was hopeful that his cards would cover my losers, so I bid 6♠.

                                                               Neil           Me

                                                               1NT          2♥!

                                                               3♠             5♦!

                                                               6♣             6♠ 

Right Hand Opponent led and I tabled the dummy. I saw Neil imperceptibly shake his head in sorrow. He was encouraging me to become a bidding monster but I had bid too high on this hand. Nevertheless, he worked his magic, pulling trump, playing his ♠K under Dummy’s ♠Ace to preserve entries, pitching losers, ruffing losers, then giving up a trick at a crucial moment and – voila – making six.

Here is the full deal, rotated for ease.





                                                      ♠8                              ♠65

                                                      ♥KQ11043 .               ♥J85

                                                      ♦J942                         ♦Q10876

                                                      ♣K75                          ♣Q108





W led the ♥ king and Declarer won the Ace, drew trumps in 2 rounds, played A, K of diamonds, pitching hearts from dummy, and ruffed a heart. He returned to the closed hand via the ♠4 to the ♠7, forcing the opponents into yet another discard.

Then the miracle began. Neil led a low club towards Dummy. West, thrilled to win a trick grabbed the King and fell into the trap. He played a heart, giving Declarer a ruff and a sluff, ruffing in dummy and pitching the ♣ 6, winning his ♣ Ace and claiming. There is no true path to making six on this deal but we were lucky because the opponents had to find numerous discards not knowing where the club and diamond spots were. 

In the aftermath, Neil suggested a better auction:

                                                       1NT               2♥!

                                                       3♠                  4♦! Cue bid

                                                       4♠                             No interest in Slam

                                                                             5♥ I have a control

                                                       5♠                             Put the brakes on - pleeease

                                                                             P        I hear you

Half an hour later, Neil again opened 1NT. Here is my hand:

                                                      ♠K753      ♥K      ♦74    ♣AKJ742

Once again, I had a 6-card suit, this time clubs. I also had a 4-card major so I knew my job. Start with Stayman. Neil responded 2♥. Of all the fancy-schmancy stuff we had discussed, we had never talked about this distribution, but I had enough for game, and maybe a club slam, so I bid 3♣. I play this as a Slam try in clubs with a 4-card major (spades in this case) on the side.

Neil now bid 3♦ and I was unsure if this said he liked or disliked clubs, so I played it safe and bid 3NT. When I tabled the dummy, that little shake of the head told me I had seriously underbid, and then I remembered. After I bid 3♣, any bid by partner, other than 3NT, confirms clubs as trumps and is a cuebid on the way to game in clubs and probably slam. This hand makes 6N or 7♣. I had my chance but failed to live up to expectations. But before I cry, I remind myself that this is how one learns, making mistakes and never forgetting them.

Here is the full deal:





                                                        ♠J1094                          ♠862

                                                        ♥754                             ♥QJ32

                                                        ♦KQ6                            ♦J10932

                                                        ♣1083                          ♣6





This is the auction we should have had:

                                                           Neil                       Me

                                                           1NT                       2♣

                                                           2♥                         3♣

                                                           3♦                         4♣           Keycard for clubs

                                                           4♥                                       3 key cards

                                                                                        4♠           Do you have the club Q?

                                                           6♣                                      Yes, but no Kings

                                                                                         P            That’s high enough for me.

PS – I recommend playing with a coach, whether it’s tennis, golf or bridge.      

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