I picked up this marvelous hand at the club this week:
This hand has one loser: the king of spades. (Technically, the hand may have 1.5 losers since the queen isn't supported.) Unless the hand is a massive misfit, with responder holding few if any cards in the majors, I'd like to play this hand in a slam in one of the majors, and be able to ask partner if she has the spade king. So how should I approach it?
One way would be to open 1 Spade, then rebid 6 Hearts. Partner should take a preference, and with the spade king, at least consider bidding seven. Another way is to bid open Spade, then jump shift to 3 Hearts, then, if partner takes a preference to spades, you have an ideal bid available - 5 Diamonds, which is exclusion Blackwood with spades agreed. If she shows one keycard, it has to be the king of spades so you can bid 7 Spades comfortably. However, there is one big problem with that approach: it may get passed out in 1 Spade! You have 19 HCP, so there is no assurance that anyone at the table will be able to bid.
I decided not to risk being passed out in 1 Spade, so I opened 2 Clubs. Jenn, my partner, bid 3 Diamonds, which made things awkward by taking up a level of bidding. Her bid showed a good suit with at least 2 of the top 3 honors. While this bid is often useful, here it didn't help at all. I bid 3 Spades, and she raised to 4 Spades. Now I couldn't bid 5 Diamonds, since this wouldn't be exclusion Blackwood (it isn't a jump). So I did the next best thing - I bid 4NT, RKC for spades. I decided that if she showed one keycard, it would most likely be in diamonds since she already showed a hand with high diamonds. (I considered bidding 5NT, which would be the grand slam force; however, we had not discussed how to distinguish between no high honor and one. If we had, then 6 Clubs would deny a high honor and higher bids would show one.) She actually showed no keycards, so I bid the obvious 6 Spades. The king of clubs was led, and I looked at:
How should I play it? This was a matchpoint game. Should that influence my play? If it were IMPs, would I play it differently? Consider the play at each form of scoring.
Since Jenn had no hearts, I had to ruff at least one to establish them. If I ruff only one, I could lose a heart trick if the suit split 5-2. But if I ruff 2 hearts, I could lose one or even 2 spade tricks.
Since it was matchpoints, I took my best shot at making seven, since it seemed as if most of the field would bid this slam. I ruffed a heart and ran the jack of spades. I was planning to continue with the ten if the jack held. This makes 7 whenever RHO has Kx or Kxx and hearts are 4-3. Another line would be that if the jack holds, ruff a minor card, ruff another heart, ruff another minor card and cash the spade ace. This makes 7 when RHO has Kx of spades and hearts split 4-3 or 5-2. but loses a spade trick when RHO has Kxx of spades.
LHO actually won the king of spades, and could have set me if he continued with a second spade, because hearts were in fact 5-2. However, he didn't find this play, as he had no way of knowing I had this distribution. So the slam made.
It isn't easy to see which line of play is best at IMPs. The odds that the line of play I chose would result in a set are roughly 15% (50% spade king offside X about 30% of a 5-2 heart split.) If I were to ruff a heart, ruff a minor, ruff a second heart then run the jack of spades, I would lose if LHO has the king (but not Kxx) and also enough hearts so he can then play one for RHO to ruff. If I were to instead ruff a second heart then play the jack of spades to the ace and then a second spade, I would lose to K9x of spades in either hand. The latter seems intuitively too likely to occur so that line seems wrong. I don't have a good idea whether the odds favor ruffing 2 hearts and running the jack, or ruffing only one and running the jack. Perhaps a reader can comment.