Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A tough Sao Paulo grand slam to bid, unless...

Opener: AK109xx-xxx-AQ-Ax
Responder: Qxx-AQJ10x-x-KQJx

Half of the teams in the Bermuda Bowl found the grand in spades, half a small slam.

The easy opening is 1S.

Responder actually has a problem, IMO. On the one hand, the clear textbook call is 2H, for the obvious reason. However, 2C is really appealing. The suit is real, so there is no lie involved. If Opener happens to rebid 2H, tactics can change to a heart raise, if you want. However, after either a 2H or 2D rebid, the latter seeming likely, Responder can set trumps at 2S, which saves a lot of space for cuebidding. Personally, I really like 2C. Hold that thought for a moment...

Let's assume, however, a normal 2H response. Opener has problem #2. He wants to rebid his spades, especially with three small hearts and no honor. However, support with support seems to prevail. So, 3H it is.

Responder now has hearts set as trumps for cuebidding purposes. So, he cues 3S to show a spade honor. Opener, liking everything about his hand except the three small hearts, probably bids 3NT serious, although blasting 4NT makes sense, but this leads to an inferior small slam, it seems. After 3NT, Responder might sense troubles and take over himself, but how? 4NT still only answers the heart question. 4S, as RKCB but re-focusing spades for answers works, if Responder thinks this through. After a serious 3NT, slam will surely be bid. So, a 4S call, if a grand is there, will yield a response showing three Aces and the spade King. That's 11 easy tricks (five spades, four clubs, two aces), with assuredly a 12th coming from hearts or a diamond ruff. A grand try should result in acceptance if Opener has the heart King (with which he will be surprised to hear the 4S call) or a sixth spade. If Opener bids 7H, a correction to 7S works.

Thus, Responder ultimately needs to ignore the heart suit even after agreeing hearts.

Wow, is that difficult, though.

Back up to the 2C option. I tend to leap at 2C as my option whenever it is plausible, This hand shows another example of why.

I want to hear a 2D or 2H call and then to set trumps at the two-level. Instead, I hear 2S. Now, at least I know about the sixth spade already. As Responder, I set trumps by raising to 3S. Whatever happens, if I make sure that I ask questions, I will be able to count 12 easy tricks (the same four clubs, two Aces, and now six spades) and need only a doubleton diamond for the 13th, or the heart King, or the diamond King, or a finesse/squeeze decision.

So, strange as it seems, I again like the idea of temporarily ignoring five cards in the other major when you have three-card support for the opened major, when 2C as the GF is plausible. It almost always produces a better result in the long run.

Tough hand. The key to an easy auction is to ignore the hearts early on rather than to ignore the hearts later. People sometimes think I am insane for ignoring side five-card majors in these circumstances, but just think about and watch the results of doing this when you have problem auctions with this situation -- three-card support, five of the other major, and GF values. The auction is OFTEN screwy when you respond in the five-card side major, whereas the alternative auction is USUALLY easy and more successful.


Nigel Kearney said...

3 of opener's suit should always be natural after a 2/1.

While there is nothing wrong with 2C on the example hand, responder does need to show where his values lie when holding 3 card support.

I'd respond 2H with Qxx KQ10x Kx Axxx because I want to help partner evaluate.

Kenneth Rexford, Esq. said...


There is normally a different debate in which I take a very strong position. No bouncing back and forth between the majors. IMO, 1S-2H-3H sets hearts as trumps, period. 3S is then a cue, in my thinking.

Here's why I believe this.

First, consider the classic hand. Ax-AKQxx-xxx-xxx. Partner opens 1S, you bid 2H, and partner bids 3H. What now?

If serious 3NT is your answer, reduce the heart quality and add in quacks in the minors.

If you cannot simply cue spades, without establishing fit, you give up the perhaps most important cue to partner -- a cue of his spade suit. You end up with no one able to cue spades. If you can cue spades, via an artificial 3NT, you lose serious or frivolous, as the partnership desires.

What about K-AKxxx-Qxx-Jxx? Simple 4H? Add another couple of minor cards until a signoff is out.

What about KQ-KQxxx-QJxx-QJ?

If you take the position that 3S overrides the heart suit (such that hearts could be a four-card suit as in your example), this is different and might have some benefit when you have spades, at the cost of when you have hearts. So, is this a real benefit?

Take your example of Qxx-KQ10x-Kx-Axxx. If you bid 2H, you know that you will never support spades until the 3S level. But, if that call promises that 2H was an anticipatory pre-cue, then you have gained an ability to "cue" below 3S, in a sense.

So, I suppose this does help in theory in the spade sequences more than usually, at the same cost for heart sequences.

But, even if that theory works, is it still the right approach with this hand? After a 2H response, a raise, and a correction to 3S, you have "cue'd hearts" on route to 3S. You do not, however, have the information regarding the sixth spade. If you take control, you will be able to count out five spades, four clubs, a diamond, a heart, and a diamond ruff, for 12 tricks, but the missing heart King will leave you with no clear direction to bid 7. If partner takes over, he can count six spades, the two red Aces, maybe a single diamond ruff if he somehow learns of your stiff, two clubs if he learns of the KQ in clubs somehow, but he will never see the 13th trick from clubs.

So, on this hand, 2C certainly seems better, as you seem to agree.