Limited losers

Today’s hand comes from the final round of the 2008 South West Pacific Teams Championship, held in Canberra each year. It was a wild hand with some auctions to match.

Dealer South, NS vul.

          NORTH
          843
          AQ76
          J4
          QJ94
WEST                EAST
 2                  965
 T98542             KJ
 3                  9865
 A8752              KT63
          SOUTH
          
 AKQJT7
          
 3
          
 AKQT72
          
 —

How good a hand is South’s?

If you answered “19 HCP”, look again – and more closely.

A better description is that South has a one loser hand. Those near-solid spades should all be winners (unless an opponent has six of them), and there is probably no loser in diamonds: either North will have some diamonds in which case the opponents have none and the suit should run, or North will have a singleton or void in diamonds and be able to ruff to help establish the suit.

Some South players opened the hand 6S. Even that failed to silence one West, Ted Chadwick, who bid 6NT! This is a variation of the Unusual Notrump (previously described in this column). However whereas the Unusual 2NT overcall over say a 1S opening would show the minors, here 6NT showed any two suits. East bid 7C which was doubled and went down 1100 points, much less than North-South would have made for slam.

While a 6S opening shows a recognition of the power of the South hand, it fails to leave space to investigate the grand slam. Some experts had fancy methods that made it easy to bid 7S, but let’s say you have none of those at your disposal.

In that case, South could open a Benjamin 2D or Strong 2C (according to your system) to force to game. North answers 2NT, the balanced positive. South bids 3S, raised by North to 4S.

Once trumps have been agreed and we are committed at least to game (as here), the bid of a new suit is a “control bid” or “cue bid” showing ace or void in the bid suit. Accordingly, South can now bid 5C (or 5D), and North will bid 5H to show the ace of hearts. South will then bid 7S.

There are many possible variations to get to slam but 4NT Blackwood is not the solution, because it only announces how many aces are held, not which ones. South is void in clubs so does not need the ace there, whereas the heart ace was gold.

Some West’s took advantage of the vulnerability to use up bidding space, thereby making it harder for North-South to find their optimum spot:

WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
                2C
3H   6NT   Pass 7NT
Dble  All pass

Over South’s 2C opening, Julie Atkinson made a weak jump overcall with the West cards. North figured 6NT looked like a good spot, and bid it. South upped the ante, bidding to the “disastrous” 7NT, which got doubled. However East failed to find the club lead, so 7NT was made, for plus 2490 and a big pick-up!

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