Detective Story

by Peter Burrows

One of the advantages of having an absolutely terrible memory is the necessity to commit everything that you want to remember onto some sort of permanent record; so that it never gets lost, or anyway, not permanently. One of the disadvantages is that the said permanent record (most of mine having been made long before the days of PCs, and never converted to the new technology) tends to fall out and hit you on the head, usually when you are desperately hunting for your passport, or in similarly fraught circumstances. But when the editors told me that they were looking for new contributors to this august journal, the "filing system" for once came to my assistance. I said that I was far too lazy to write anything new, but that I would look for my passport, and see whether I could revamp any of the material which would no doubt surface in the process.

So, here is the story of three slams. It happened to me a very long time ago in a random club event not far from Cambridge, and it features three deals, which, taken as a unit, constitute an event which is completely unique in my (fairly extensive) experience of the game. The challenge is to identify the common theme which creates that uniqueness, and the editors may care to award a small prize to the first correct solution to be opened, provided, of course that it is posted in an envelope stamped with an unused Mauritius 2d. blue and accompanied by a suitably inane comment to act as a tie-breaker. Alternatively they may prefer to print the answer upside down at the bottom of the back page.

[Or even here. (ed.)]

Early in the evening, the following came up at game all:-

S A87
H AKQ10xxx
D x
C xx
W        E
S K9xx
H Jxx
D Axxx
C Ax

West, my partner, dealt and opened 2h (Acol), our style at the time being to make use of the bid on practically any 8-trick hand, provided that at least one trick (preferably an Ace) was outside the long suit. With North-South silent, I raised to 3h, and West, deciding that she had little in reserve, bid a quiet 4h. At this stage, I flirted with 6NT in order to protect my sK, but eventually decided that 6h would have better chances, praying that partner`s spades /or the lie of the enemy cards /or the quality of oppo`s opening leads would be such as to avoid the loss of two quick tricks in the suit.

(I`d be content with a slam try (AJM))

In a sense, my bid was over-aggressive, for West has only eleven top tricks, and appears to be dependent on a 3-3 spade break and a non-club lead. But, as often happens in such situations, the defence came to the rescue, without, in this instance, seeming to do anything much wrong. North, with a worthless hand apart from sQ10xx, decided to lead the suit, after which it was a simple matter for declarer to draw trumps and establish an extra spade winner in dummy for the discard of her losing club. +1430 was worth 12 IMPs to us on the Butler scoring, and I gravely assured partner that I would never have bid the slam without the s9!

[Note declarer may still get home on a red suit lead, as the natural play is to draw trumps ending in dummy and lead a spade to the 8 and 10. Declarer wins the return, cashes sA dropping the Jack, and now guesses well. I don`t think "restricted choice" arguments apply here, if North plays the 10 and Q equally often, but against most Norths I would finesse if they play the 10, and go for the drop if they play the queen! So against me, if you hold QJx as South you should drop the J not the Q...(AJM)]

Later on came:

Dealer W
S x
H Q109xxx
C Jxx
E--W Vul
S AQJxxxx
H xx
W        E
S 6543
H --
D Axxxx
C Qxxx
H AKxxx
D xxxx
C xxx

The auction began with another ACOL 2:

West       North       East       South      
2s 3h ?

In my view, East has quite a difficult bid now. 4h would get by this round safely enough, but it is likely to be followed by 5h from South, and then, assuming that West cue-bids 6c, East will be more or less honour-bound to say 6d, but will be uncomfortably aware that his spades, while solid enough in their modest way, may be slightly disappointing to his partner, and that his overall values may be rather less than she will expect. In fact, as you can see, 7s is frigid, but on balance it must be preferable to stop in six with Kx of trumps missing, especially in a relatively weak Butler field. Of course, if South could be relied upon not to bid 5h, then 4h from East would be a stand-out, and pigs might fly. By the time I had worked all this out, oppo and TD were showing signs of impatience, so I bid 6s. As expected, South raised the hearts, and partner`s double closed the auction.

[But after our cue bid of 6d, partner doesn`t have to launch 7s, as surely both 6s and 6h are grand slam tries. Rather than bid 4h, which I play as a general strong raise, I think I`d show the void with 5h. (AJM)]

Woodenly, I led a spade, and for some reason which is not clear to me even now, partner then played three rounds of clubs instead of switching to diamonds, after which I played dA, diamond ruff. So a trick had disappeared in the play, but +1100 was still worth 6 IMPs. Don`t ask me why!

Finally, I was rather amused by this deal:

S A10xxx
H x
D AKxxxx
W        E
S KQxx
H xxxx
D x
C xxxx

West (me this time, positions having been switched for convenience) dealt at love all, and the auction proceeded:

West       North       East       South      
1d P P(a) 1h(b)
2s P 4s(c) P
6s all pass

a) The subsequent explanation was that partner did not want to bid 1h with such a poor suit, but could not bid 1s because to do so would deny holding four hearts!

b) South is presumably still kicking himself!

c) East`s 4s on the second round raises a point of theory which I don`t recall ever having seen mentioned in print. Assuming that West`s 2s is not forcing, there is a case for saying that in this position 3s by East would show modest scattered values, with the actual 4s bid reserved to show good trumps. We did have a firm agreement that in game-forcing situations an un-necessary jump in partner`s suit would show good trumps but limited values in the light of the auction thus far. Once I had decided that this agreement should also apply to this situation by extension, I was not hard pressed to bid the slam.

[I`d be worried partner held sQxxxx, and have used RKCB (AJM)]

Rather more pairs than I would have hoped found this good 20 HCP slam, and so it was worth only 6 IMPs to our side. But that is not the point of the article. By now you have all the information necessary to win the editors` special prize (If we were offering one...eds.) If you need another clue, you might like to know that I originally wrote up these three hands in an article entitled "Simple Slam Bidding", and that it was not until much later that I noticed the common theme which I mentioned earlier.

[My comments may provide a further clue: I couldn`t have written this article! (AJM)]