By Bob Klein.
My team did pretty well in the Santa Clara Swiss Teams; we finished sixth. I played with Dave Neuman, and our teammates were Steve Goldstein and Zane Gary Brown. Here is a hand that enabled us to win one of the matches.
Dave dealt and opened 2NT. I held
I bid 3C, Puppet Stayman. Dave replied 3NT, denying a 4-card or 5-card major. What now?
The hand is too strong to pass, since opposite 20-21 HCP it will often produce slam. Here is a case where you and your partner need firm agreements. What would 4C mean here? 4NT?
What I really wanted to do was to make a quantitative slam try. This was deep into the back pages of our notes, but I recalled that 4C here would be natural, showing a hand with a 4-card major and longer clubs, and that 4NT was straight Blackwood. So unfortunately I didn't have that available. We had spent a long time discussing the trade-offs in this situation, and had decided to forego the invitational raise to make it possible to investigate slam with a natural 4C bid. However, I didn't think that this club suit would qualify for a 4C bid, but I wanted to move the ball forward. So I bid 4NT. If Dave thought that this was quantitative and chose to pass, that would be OK. If he bid 5H showing 2 aces, I could bid 5S to get him to sign off in 5NT. He actually bid 5C, showing all four aces. What now?
I had to be willing to play in slam if he had all four aces. But the hand might play better in a suit. So I decided to bid 6C, which I hoped he would interpret as either pass or correct to 6NT depending on his club holding. He passed, so we played it there. LHO led a low heart, and I looked at:
Since we were playing in clubs, I was happy to notice that we had all of the high spots. This turned out to be significant.
I let the lead run to my jack. I thought that this would be easy for 12 tricks. I had 8 winners outside of clubs, so if the club finesse won I could just draw trump and ruff a diamond for 13 tricks. If it lost, I could ruff 2 diamonds in my hand ( I couldn't be overruffed) and still get 12 tricks.
So I played the club queen. Bad news: the finesse won but RHO showed out! Now a simple hand became complicated. I now had to somehow neutralize LHO's long club, either by a cross-ruff or by getting him to ruff once, thereby reducing him to 4 trumps, then pulling his trumps and taking my winners. This could get dicey as I needed to preserve a late entry to my hand and hope that LHO didn't get 2 ruffs in the process. I decided to start by playing the king of diamonds, a diamond to the ace, unblock the ace of hearts, then ruff a diamond in hand. (Perhaps it would have been better to cash all of my spades first, but I didn't. I welcome comments on this.) LHO, an expert, evidently seeing an opportunity to score his club king and upset an impending crossruff, overruffed and played back a club. Bingo! Now I could draw the rest of his trumps and claim. That was 12 IMPS for the home team and victory was ours, since at the other table they didn't get to slam. We were pleased when Steve said "great result!" when I announced +1370 in the score comparison.
I will never know what would have happened if LHO had discarded rather than overruff. The play would have taken a lot longer and gotten very tricky. I never found out what his whole hand was, but he must have had too many spades to make a useful discard so he tried the most straighforward approach which happened to fail as the cards lay.
Postscript: I discussed this auction with an old friend and partner, Dave Ruderman, who provided me with the solution to this bidding problem. Over 3NT, a jump to 5 Clubs asks for aces, so 4NT can be used as natural invitation.