The Thinnest of Grand Slams

Literally the next board after my previous post from a regional teams game, I’m in fourth seat, no one vulnerable, with:
♠ AKJ954

AK873
♣ K10

After two passes, my RHO opens 2H. With 18 HCP and a good spade suit, I double, intending to bid spades on my next call. LHO passes, and partner is in a situation where we play a convention called Lebensohl: bidding 2 of a suit is sign-off, bidding 3 of a suit shows a maximum pass hand, and bidding 2N is a relay to 3C to sign off in a suit you couldn’t have bid at the 2 level. There’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the basics. I figure partner is going to relay through 2N to attempt to sign off in a minor suit, but he jumps to 3S! I was so surprised, I alerted it (as I had planned to alert 2N), then had to retract the alert when I recovered my senses.

So, partner has a 5-card spade suit and just barely less than opening strength, and I realize we’ve got an 11 card fit and 28ish HCP, plus I have a void in the opponents’ suit. I can’t stop at game; this is IMPs, and slams provide a huge bonus. If I bid a new suit, it would look natural (as though I had a big hand with that suit). If I raise spades, it will look like a sign-off. A cue bid of the opponents’ suit would certainly show my strength, but would not necessarily tell partner that I like his suit. I have a void, which means that 4N as Blackwood would be an awkward choice. Better would be 5H as Exclusion Blackwood, but we haven’t discussed the convention, it’s unclear to me if it’s on in this situation at all, and partner might think it’s a cue bid in the opponents’ suit and get confused. Not seeing a better choice, I try 4N despite the void.

We play RKC 1430, and partner’s 5C response shows 1 or 4 of the 5 keycards (the 4 Aces and the King of trump). I’ve got 3 of them, so he must have exactly 1 of the missing Aces. and with RHO bidding hearts, I decide partner must have the Ace of clubs. We’ve got all the keycards I care about, so I bid 5D, asking about the Queen of trump and second-round controls in other suits. I don’t actually care about the Queen (we have an 11-card fit to the Ace-King). but I am interested in finding out more. If partner bids 5H (showing the Queen of spades and King of hearts), I get discouraged that too much of his strength is wasted in useless cards, and sign off in 6S. If partner denies having the Queen of trump (by bidding 5S), I get excited that much of his strength is in the minors, and I bid 7S.

Partner actually replies 5N, indicating that he has the Queen of trump and no outside King, but has some extra useful strength in outside Queens. So, here’s what I know about his hand: he’s a maximum pass (probably 9 to 11 HCP), he has 5 spades, he has the Ace of clubs and Queen of spades, he does not have the King of hearts, and he has useful (presumably minor-suit) Queens. I try to imagine his hand. Maybe he’s got diamonds with me:

♠ AKJ954

AK873
♣ K10
               ♠ Q7632
1086
QJ5
♣ A8

We have 13 tricks off the top: 6 spades, 5 diamonds, and 2 clubs. Perhaps he’s got clubs instead of diamonds:

♠ AKJ954

AK873
♣ K10
               ♠ Q7632
108
94
♣ AQJ5

Again, we’ve got all the tricks: 6 spades, 2 diamonds, a diamond ruff, and 4 clubs. If he’s got both Queens, we’re equally good:

♠ AKJ954

AK873
♣ K10
               ♠ Q7632
1098
Q9
♣ AQ5

Now we’ve got 6 spades, 3 diamonds, a diamond ruff, and 3 clubs. That’s probably too much to hope for. What if we don’t have a diamond fit or a long club suit?

♠ AKJ954

AK873
♣ K10
               ♠ Q7632
1098
J4
♣ AQ5

This time we’ve got 6 spades, 2 diamonds, 2 diamond ruffs, and 3 clubs. What if we have a diamond fit but no diamond Queen, and our club strength overlaps? To justify the 5N bid without a protected Queen, partner must have some really good Jacks.

♠ AKJ954

AK873
♣ K10
               ♠ Q7632
109
J1096
♣ AQ

If the Queen of diamonds drops doubleton (a 58% chance), we’ve got 6 spades, 5 diamonds, and 2 clubs. or perhaps we don’t have quite as good a diamond fit:

♠ AKJ954

AK873
♣ K10
               ♠ Q7632
1096
J109
♣ AQ

By cashing the Ace and then running the Jack, I can pick up the diamond suit about 53% of the time, and we’ll go down if the Queen is offside and not a singleton. However, with a hand like that I’d expect partner to bid 6S (showing the Queen of trump, no outside Kings, and no extra strength) instead of 5N. Perhaps partner’s Queen is protected after all:

♠ AKJ954

AK873
♣ K10
               ♠ Q7632
109
J65
♣ AQ6

Okay, this time partner has his bid and we only have 12 tricks unless the Queen of diamonds drops doubleton (about a 1 in 3 chance). but at this point, the opponents have an 11-card heart fit, and I’d kinda expect them to have competed more.

Seeing a lot of ways to take all the tricks and only a couple ways to fail, I jump to 7S, and everyone passes. My RHO leads the King of hearts, and I proudly table my hand. I expect partner to plan the play, then lay down his own hand and claim. but he spends an awfully long time planning, and I get nervous. I suddenly realize my mistake: partner has the wrong Ace! He’s got the Ace of hearts, and my LHO has the Ace of clubs (I know my RHO doesn’t have it because he would have lead it against a grand slam). We’re not dead yet, but I’ve been on the wrong track.

Eventually, partner has me ruff the opening lead with the Ace. He draws 2 rounds of trump (my LHO had both missing spades), hems and haws a while longer, then plays a diamond to his Queen and another back to my Ace-King. The suit breaks well, and he claims: he’ll discard 2 clubs on the remaining diamonds, and cross-ruff the rest. Here’s the full deal:

♠ Q7632
A108
Q65
♣ J8
♠ 108
653
942
♣ AQ765
♠ –
KQJ9742
J10
♣ 9432
♠ AKJ954

AK873
♣ K10

This hand highlights the danger of bidding Blackwood with a void: there is an inherent ambiguity if you’re missing one Ace. I think it was reasonable to assume the Ace of hearts was more likely to be held by the person bidding hearts, but it clearly wasn’t a sure thing.

My LHO is in a tricky spot: he knows that if he can get a club lead, he can set the contract 2 tricks (he knows my partner doesn’t have any outside Kings, so either I have the King of clubs and it can be finessed, or his partner has it). However, if he doubles the contract, it looks like a Lightner double, asking for an unusual lead that the doubler can ruff (usually dummy’s best suit, but since I hadn’t bid a natural suit, it would be my first-bid suit, diamonds). If LHO doesn’t double, it looks like he’s expecting the standard heart lead. RHO might infer from the bidding that I’m expecting a heart lead and am willing to bid 7S anyway, so he should lead something surprising (and from his partner’s lack of Lightner double, it’s not diamonds). but that’s post-hoc rationalization: as far as my RHO knows, the bidding indicates that we have all the keycards, and a heart lead is just as good as a club. Perhaps his partner is the one with the heart void and is hoping for the standard lead.

At the other table, east opened 3H (indicating a weak hand with a 7-card suit), south doubled (intending to bid spades later, showing 17+ HCP and a good 5-card suit), and west raised to 4H (showing another weak hand with a 10-card heart fit). North passed, and south, uncertain of north’s strength in such competitive bidding, stopped in 4S. Play proceeded similarly, but 4S making 7 only scores +510, while 7S scores +1510. We gained 14 IMPs. If RHO had found the club lead, we would have scored –100 and lost 12 IMPs. Our teammates’ preemptive bidding worked well: by depriving the strong hands of bidding space, they kept the opponents from being able to investigate slam.

This was the second-to-last hand of the day. On the third-to-last hand, we bid and made a small slam with 23 HCP. On the second-to-last, we bid and made a grand slam with 27 HCP. On the last hand, my partner opened 1S, my RHO passed, I passed, and my LHO quipped that he’d better pass, too, before he pushes us into slam.

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