Slam Hand Evaluation

In the past few weeks, I’ve come across several hands where good hand evaluation was crucial in getting to the right slam.  I’d like to share a few of those hands and that hand evaluation thinking process with you here.

1.        You hold:


One of the biggest mistakes bridge players make is to look at a hand like this and say, “Oh, this is a 15 count.”  Yes, there are 15 HCP there, but this is far from a 15 count.  Let’s talk about problems or things to not be excited about in this hand.  Even if partner has a complete yarborough (no points but admittedly some hearts), this hand has a decent shot at game.  I’d expect to lose the club, two diamonds, and maybe a heart, and that’s giving partner absolutely nothing.  This is a beautiful hand.

But in reality, partner opens a natural and preemptive 2D.  !!  It’s time to revisit those problems I was contemplating before I knew anything about partner’s hand.

a.        The one club loser – probably still a loser.  Partner would need exactly the Ace, and that’s asking a lot.

b.      The two diamond losers – should both be taken care of by the 11-card fit!  Even if partner is missing the K, we’ll be on a guess at worst.

c.       The one possible heart loser – should also be taken care of by partner’s preempt.  If partner has only one or two hearts, we can cover those.  If she has four (unlikely), we have a 10-card heart fit and the top two.  We run into a small problem if she has three small hearts (Qxx doesn’t worry us but Jxx might), but that does still give us a 9-card heart fit and the AK to help us out any time the opponents are 2-2.  

So it looks like we have just one loser, on almost any hand partner with which can bid 2D.  At bid one, we should be planning to stop NO LOWER than 6D. 

2.        You hold:


Again, it is dangerous and bad bridge to think of this as a 10-count.  You basically have game in your own hand – expecting to lose two spades and one heart even opposite nothing - you don't even need partner to provide a fit.  So you expect to make 4H, but this is not a hand to open 4H!  Opening 4M is a preempt.  Partner will not bid beyond that even with very good hands, and you have so much that the right cards out of partner pushes this hand into the slam range very easily.  (Give partner Kxxxx of spades and nothing else and you’re odds-on for 6M.)

So let’s open this 1H (planning to reverse into 2S on shape, not HCP) and see what we get.   Happily, today what we get is a 2/1 GF bid of 2C.  We continue to bid naturally with 2S (no longer a reverse, but that’s ok) and now we get the very surprising 3H!  Remember that not only is this genuine heart support (partner has no idea we have more than a 5 card heart suit) but it’s also showing some extra values, as we are in a situation where fast arrival applies.

Now we should be thinking about slam.  We’d really like to find out about partner’s Aces and whether or not they are useful.  Keycard (or Blackwood) won’t help us yet because we don’t really care about the minor suit Aces.  In cases like this and in cases where we can explore for slam below the level of game, we should use control-showing cuebids.  We start with 3S, therefore, and hear 4D (showing the diamond Ace, denying the club Ace) from partner.  Now we’re back in a bit of a problem, but we can think ourselves through it:

-          We can find out about the heart Ace with Keycard, but we don’t really know what’s going on with all our small spades. 

-          If partner has one or two small spades, we’re ok, but if she has three small (and not the heart Ace), we could be in trouble. 

-          She probably doesn’t have four spades, as that might have been a more tempting raise than her three-card heart support.

-          If she does have three small spades, we still have a shot at pitching our losing spades on her good minor suit cards – she did show extras with 3H, remember?

So, it feels to me like we should ask Keycard and if she shows us the heart Ace by showing two Keycards, go ahead and play 6H.  Today she indeed does have the missing heart AND a singleton spade, so 7H rolls home but we’re happy to be in 6.

3.        You hold:


You open 1S, planning to rebid 3D to jump shift and game force over partner’s expected 1N, but she surprises you and bids 2N – Jacoby!  (Showing 4c+ spade support and 12+ points)  Wow.  Time to reconsider where we thought this hand might be going.  It now feels very much like we should be in a small slam, and if partner can fill in the holes in our hand with just the right cards, it’s possible there’s a grand slam here – once again, we look at our losers and what we would need from partner:

-          The King of spades

-          The Ace of hearts

-          The Ace of clubs and something else to do with the little club.

-          If any two of those conditions are satisfied, we need to be in 6 and if all three are satisfied, we should seriously consider 7.

That’s not so much to ask, and thanks to Jacoby 2N, we’ve got lots of room to explore.  We start by bidding 3H to show our short heart and see how partner takes that.  She bids 4C, showing us that Ace and encouraging the efforts toward slam.  We show the diamond Ace with 4D and she shows us the heart Ace with 4H – two of our conditions are now met!  Checking on the third (the King of spades) is easy with Keycard, so we bid that and get the rewarding answer of 5D (3 KC).

It now sounds like the best contract for us is at the 7-level.  We’re expecting to get at least five spades, one heart, four diamonds, and two clubs for a guaranteed 12 tricks and many possibilities for a 13th which may or may not come from ruffing.  But we should stop and think one more time – 7S is definitely the least plan now, but what about 7N?  None of those 12 tricks we counted already needed any ruffs, so what if there were one more available to us?  We are playing pairs, so that tiny little 10 extra points (7S vul = 2210, 7N vul = 2220) could make a big difference.  Let’s look again – where could we find one more trick?

There are two other cards partner could have – the King of hearts or the Queen of clubs - that would get us up to 13 with no ruffing.  The Queen we can’t really ask about, but the King of hearts we can.  Over 5D, we ask for Kings with 5N.  If partner can bid 6H showing that specific King, we’re on for 7N.  If she can’t, we’ll “settle” for 7S.  Today she responds 6S (denying any other Kings) and we play 7S.

Partner’s hand was:


And so 7S is not a problem.  (It turns out that 7N works on the heart finesse, but we don’t want to bid grand slams like that!)

All of these hands were showcases for careful evaluation – some we suspected were huge hands because of our own shape much more than points and some were good hands that then partner talked us into liking even better.  But the important parts are that we let our evaluation be fluid, placed a high value on shape and fit, looked optimistically and realistically for partner’s useful cards, and included all the information we got from partner to get us to these slams.  (And just for fun, notice that hand #1 is on a combined 21 HCP, #2 is on 23 HCP, and #3 is on 33 HCP – the only one that would fall in the “slam” range if we didn’t value shape and fit so highly!)