The following hand was dealt recently in the Common Game; but only a very small number of partnerships bid and made a slam (1 grand; 2 small slams).

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As you can see from the last 2 lines, the computer predicts that 4 different slam contacts are make-able. Would you please let me know if you can see the best way of bidding to reach a slam contract.

4 Answers 4


Playing 2-over-1 with a few conventions (including the serious 3nt), my auction would be something like

  • 1d
  • 1s
  • 2c (this is a bit conservative but I think the right call)
  • 2h (artificial game force)
  • 2s (showing three cards in spades)
  • 3s (setting trumps, showing a hand that is not bad for slam. A hand with poor controls would bid 4s, ending the auction)
  • 3 nt (conventional. Serious 3 nt shows a strong slam try. This hand is a maximum for the actions taken so far and has good controls)
  • 4h (showing first or second round control in hearts, denying the same in clubs or diamonds)
  • 4 nt (asking for key cards)
  • 5d (3 or 0 - ak in spades and a in h)
  • 5 nt (confirms all 5 key cards and sq, asks for kings)
  • 6s (no side king. With 7 spades, I would have bid 7 spades, as I have two tricks partner didn't know about, which must be enough to make grand reasonable)

Now north has a couple of options. They can count 6 tricks outside of spades, with a possibility of two more in diamonds. This makes me think that we should be in spades, not no trump. That virtually guarantees a fourth diamond. To make grand, we'll need six trump tricks. It doesn't seem too difficult to get there, so an aggressive north can bid 7s.

  • Ha ha! This is the first auction I came up with, before deciding that 2C was an egregious underbid. Perhaps not quite so egregious, though certainly too conservative, upon reflection, for my taste. I don't think it's reasonable, on any auction I can imagine, for grand slam to be bid unless North somehow locates the Diamond J. P.S. I think I am finally finished editing my answer. Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 17:10
  • On a trump lead there are entry problems in the grand slam that are readily apparent to both North and South in terms of getting a Heart ruff for the thirteenth trick. That requires not only that Spades break 3-2 but that other bad breaks don't occur. I believe the Grand should not be bid in those circumstances without finding the Diamond Jack. Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 4:01
  • Specifically, after: Spade lead won with the Q; cash Heart K; Spade back to hand; and ruff Heart in dummy: how does declarer draw the last outstanding trump without a Diamond J entry (which is the 13th trick even without a Heart ruff)? Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 4:04
  • 1
    That is exactly why Barry Crane's rules were very simple: "(1) Never bid the grand. (2) Never place cards in my hand." Reasoning such as "Partner might have this jack." or "Partner might have that extra spade*." is losing bridge, and always has been. If you can't see a path to making it against the very barest minimum partner might have, then don't bid it. Just making the extra trick, on its own, is almost always sufficient for a decent, or better, score. Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 15:45
  • 2
    I think that's a fine way to play.
    – ruds
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 22:09

Let's talk capabilities first. In general, Grand Slam should not be bid unless one can identify all 13 tricks expected to be made.

If North is making the final 6/7 decision in Spades after a Blackwood auction then only 12 tricks can be counted unless the Diamond J is somehow located: 5 Spades; 3 high Diamonds; fifth diamond after one ruff; and A,A,K in Clubs and Hearts.

If South is making the final decision small slam is likewise the maximum. It is hard to conceive any auction enabling South to count tricks instead of relying on controls and an overall strength assessment of 32-43 combined points.

Now for a possible auction playing Two-Over-One-Game-Force, (assuming no interference from the weak and unshapely E-W hands):

  • N: 1 Diamond
  • S: 1 Spade:
    6+ points, 4+ Spades.
  • N: 3 Spades:
    Game invitational in Spades showing 18-19 points, and either 4 Spades or 3 to a top honour (ie A/K/Q) with a side singleton.
  • S: 4 Hearts*:
    Slam invitational showing a (either first or second) high card control in Hearts and denying such in both minors.
  • N: 4 Spades:
    Nothing extra.
  • S: 4NT:
    Roman Keycard Blackwood (1430) as South can see the 8/9 card fit in Spades and 32-34 points in the two hands.
  • N: 5 Spades:
    Two plus the Spade Q.
  • S: 6 Spades:
    As discussed above, there's no way for South on this auction to identify the tricks needed for Grand.

* This cuebid sytle is one well worth discussing with partner:

  • First cuebid by each partner must be a high-card control, either A or K, and denies such in any suit skipped over.

  • Subsequent cuebids by each partner can be either a high-card or a distributional control, but again denying such in every suit skipped over.

  • First and second round controls are treated equally.

  • The goal is to more quickly identify, or eliminate possibility of, any suit with two fast losers. This expedites small slam investigation at the possible expense of grand slam investigation. Many partnerships find this trade-off worthwhile.

Also, some partnerships reverse the meaning of North's 3 NT (to convey "just joking partner - I've lost interest." In that case North would call 4 Clubs instead to show continued interest, and the auction would continue as before.

Here's an auction that finds 7 Spades without being ridiculously aggressive:

  • N: 1 Diamond
  • S: 1 Spade
  • N: 3 Diamonds:**
    Game invitational showing 16-19 with five or more good Diamonds.
  • S: 3 Hearts:
    Game forcing as showing 10+ vs 16+.
  • N: 3 Spades
  • S: 4 Diamonds:***
    I have a face card for you, but no A/K in Clubs.
  • N: 4 NT:
    RKC-1430 with Spades agreed.
  • S: 5 Diamonds:
    Zero or three.
  • N: 5 Hearts:
    Do you have the Spade Q also?.
  • S: 5 NT:
    Yes I do.
  • N: & Spades:
    I can count 13 tricks: 5 Spades, 5 Diamonds, and A/A/K in the round suits.

** It is unclear to me that the North hand here is quite the right holding for a rebid of 3 Diamonds instead of 2 Clubs, most particularly because it both hides the Spade fit and should promise a good six card suit; but it certainly would work on this hand (with the right partnership agreements).

*** One must have good understanding with Partner when making a call such as this to ensure Partner doesn't mis-read it - in particular:
- when it shows a control;
- when it shows a high honor (ie A/K/Q); and
- when it shows a face card (ie A/K/Q/J).

One possible agreement is to use them when Partner has, respectively:
- opened or simply bid;
- opened and rebid; or
- opened and jump rebid
the suit.

Hand Evaluation

The South hand evaluates as about 14 points at the deal, and possibly upgrades to about 15 if North rebids Diamonds strongly:

  • A/K/A in the majors for 11;
  • J/J in the short minors for 1; and
  • Both doubletons (Goren style) or one doubleton and Spade length (more modern) for 2;

The North hand evaluates to about 18-19 points as follows:

  • Spade Q, Diamond AKQ, CLub A for 15;
  • Heart K for 2; and
  • Heart Singleton and Diamond length for 2-3

Call it either a good 18 or a weak 19.

With a total combined strength of 32 at the deal, rising to 33-34 on the bidding and both an easily identified fit in Spades and a strong side suit in Diamonds, finding small slam at least should not be difficult.

In a strong club game or better I would expect at least half the field to find a small slam in either Spades or Notrump. With two good five card suits in 8 and 7 card fits respectively, plus all the aces and keycards in both suits and no interference, there seems no excuse to miss the slam unless one has poor partnership understandings. Even a dedicated Goren partnership with just 1430 RKC should find at least small slam in Spades or Notrump on either the same auction as (1) above or:

1D 1S; 3D 3H*; 3S 4D; 4NT 5D; 5H 5NT; 6S/NT Pass

where [*] creates a game force.

Evan an egregious first rebid by North of 2 Clubs should still find a small slam after a 2 Heart (Fourth-Suit-Forcing (and artificial) rebid by South.

The auctions described above and in the answer by ruds all hinge on the first rebid by North, and its correct interpretation by South. There are three possibilities:

  • 2 Clubs:
    Non-forcing, non-invitational, and hides the spade fit: a problem. Partner can pass 2 Clubs with better Clubs than Diamonds and a bare minimum of points, say 5-7. A hand such as KJTxx xx xx Jxxx will find it difficult to avoid passing 2 Clubs despite being almost cold for a 4 Spade contract.
  • 3 Diamonds: Non-forcing and invitational, but still hides the Spade fit. It works on this deal because South has extras, and in particular the Diamond J. However again partner can pass with a preference and a bare minimum, say on KJTxx xxx xxxx x.
  • 3 Spades: Yes, this will be taken as showing 4 Spades; but three to a high honour, a working singleton, and full values elsewhere is quite acceptable. With a balanced hand and a bit extra Partner can (and should) accept the invitation with 3NT rather than 4NT when holding a 4-card Spade suit.

    All choices for East are a lie in some regard: but which call involves the smallest or least error-prone lie? To not make this call puts a lot of pressure on Partner to rebid a five card Spade suit - which is a bad habit to be avoided not encouraged. Hence this is my choice of call for the hand.

  • If 2C is an egregious underbid, then surely 3C must be in the picture, and rated above the distorting 3D call. It seems likely that the pair that got to a grand slam started with 3C. I'd also put 2NT in the mix as a bad call that rates above 3D.
    – ruds
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 14:22
  • @ruds: Okay: North rebids 3C; and South preferences to 3D agreeing Diamonds as Trump. This doesn't help North at all because he can see the top three Diamond honours in hand but needs to use RKC in Spades, and can never agree Spades as trump now below the five level. South's Spades are at least a card short for either a 3S or a 4S rebid, refusing to preference in the lihgt of North's revealed strong two-suiter. Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 18:12
  • @ruds: 2 NT is better, but still suffers from being passable. At least South will respond 3C (Check-back Stayman) in this instance, creating a game force and allowing Spades to be agreed with a 3S call by North. Then the auction continues as in the third bullet above. Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 18:23

With my long-suffering partner we would get to 6S easily enough. A grand would be a not unreasonable gamble at best, and might be bid if we need a swing. But you see, a 41 spade split more or less dooms all grands. And if the fifth diamond and a heart ruff are needed to get to 13 tricks, a club lead will knock of the dearly needed late entry. We don't have the tools to diagnose the importance of DJ. Obviously that would be taken into account in those cases, where a swing is needed, but normally you only bid a grand when you can count 13 tricks.

Our bidding (approximate, I will actually show this hand to my partner if there are points of interest)

  • N:1D (=usually five for we open most balanced hands either 1C or an appropriate number of NT), S:1S.
  • N:1NT (a Gazzilli variant for showing various hand types), S:2C = a non-minimum hand (8+HCP).
  • N:2S (=17+points with exactly 3 card support, 2H would also show 3 card support but a slightly weaker hand, 2D would show 45 in the reds, deny 3 card support, and limit the hand to less than reverse range). Together with South's 2C this creates a game force. S:3S (=sets spades as trumps, so promises at least five, invites cue bidding, so slam positive as opposed to a fast arrival 4S).
  • N:4C, S: 4H (lowest controls).
  • At this point North should fire Ole Black. The HK just got better (unlikely that partner's 4H is showing a stiff), and there is the chunky diamond suit. N: 4NT, S: 5C, 0/3 out of five, now obviously three, making North sit up.

Three keycards in the South hand is great news. Still, entries for heart ruffs may be difficult to arrange. A diamond jack or king of clubs could do. A probe for a grand is justified, and my partner would probably do one. If my glass has been half empty all evening I might simply close shop at 6S, and apologize if a grand is cold. As others pointed out, longer spades in partner's hand improve the odds for the grand immensely. Then again, a heart ruff may not be needed. I guess a generic king ask/grand invitation is best, so

  • N: 5NT, S: 6S (no kings to tell about, nothing extra, that diamond jack is of uncertain value even though you like it).

Just for fun, in the Precision version I play with one partner:

1C (16+ hcp) - 1H (5+ spades, gf (rarely 0-1 spades 3 suited))
1S (spade support) - 2H (exactly 5 spades, 2 of top 3 honors)
2S (asks) - 3H (5 controls (A=2, K=1))
4D (asks about diamonds) - 4H (no diamond control)
5D (asks about diamond length) - 5H (two, I think - we've never used this ask in several thousand hands)
6S (you can't bet on the J or the 3-3 split in diamonds)

Also for fun, in KK Relay:

1C (16+ hcp) - 1H (9+ hcp, 4+ spades, at least one 5+ card suit which might not be spades)
1S (asks) - 1N (spades and hearts)
2C (asks) - 3C (exactly 5 spades, 4 hearts, 2 diamonds, 2 clubs, or rarely 7411)
3D (asks) - 4D (5 controls (A=2, K=1), confirms 5422 distribution)
4H (asks) - 4S (both or none of AK spades (longest suit first) - N knows it can't be none)
4N (asks) - 5D (one of AK of hearts, no Q of spades - N is presumed to know about club/diamond AK from control count)
5H (asks) - 5S (no Q of hearts)
5N (asks) - 6C (no Q of diamonds (higher ranking suit first in ties))
6D (asks) - 6H (no Q of clubs)
6S (asks) - 6N (no J of spades)
P (we've run out of room to ask about the other jacks; note the J of spades would've been sufficient to make 7S a good contract since, presuming a 3-2 split, it makes it possible to get back to South's hand and draw trump after ruffing a heart (or even ruff the heart high))

Maybe the 6D ask is too optimistic, since it means you might not be able to stop in 6S and 6N is riskier than 6S if partner has nothing, in which case the 5N ask is pointless (since North knows the answer they'll get). (Also, 6N makes the known hand declarer, so defenders will defend double dummy.)

(Also - note that all of South's bids starting with 5D are encrypted! As far as the agreements are concerned, it's possible that South has 4 or fewer controls in spades and hearts combined, in which case 5D shows one of AK of hearts and neither or both AK of diamonds, and 5S denies Q of spades, 6C denies Q of hearts, and so on. Of course both North and South knows which is the case, and it would take a very aware and daft North (or South, behind screens or online with self-alerts) to explain this ambiguity to the opponents!)

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