Bob Mackinnon

Some Bermuda Bowl Slams

Slam hands can play a large part in determining winners in a team match, and the 2011 Bermuda Bowl proved no exception. In the Semi-Final match between Italy and Netherlands, 2 slam swings in the final segment provided the bulk of the margin of victory for the Dutch. It was not all luck, and the following deal provides us with a fine demonstration of how not to go about looking for slam.

Lauria Versace L V
♠ K872 ♠ QJ943 2NT 3♣
A9 K742 3 4
AK87 93 4♠ Pass
♣ AK2 ♣ Q9

Lauria opened 2NT with 21 HCP and Versace employed Puppet Stayman in search of a 4-card major suit fit. 3 indicated a 4-card major was held and 4♠ sent the message that the suit was spades. 12 tricks were easy. There are 2 criticisms I would make on this approach. First, the hand is too strong to open 2NT, as with 9 controls the hand is worth much more than the 21 HCPs indicated; the hand is worth more like 30 HCPs, well outside the promised range. Second, the weaker hand gets to decide the final contract without transmitting any information that could indicate partner should upgrade.

The Dutch had a better approach even though the opening bid was the same misguided 2NT. Brink responded with a descriptive transfer to spades.

Drijver Brink D B
♠ K872 ♠ QJ943 2NT 3
A9 K742 4♣ 4
AK87 93 4NT 5
♣ AK2 ♣ Q9 6 6♠

Drijver could upgrade on the basis of the known spade fit, and drove to slam. It was somewhat fortuitous that the fit in spades proved to be the critical element, however, it was better sequence than the horrid Puppet sequence provided above. Actually, this hand shows what the Big Club is all about, even without transfer responses.

Bob1 Bob2 B1 B2
♠ K872 ♠ QJ943 1 1♠
A9 K742 2♠ 3♣*
AK87 93 4NT 5
♣ AK2 ♣ Q9 6♠ Pass

1♣ is strong, 1♠ promises 5+ spades and 8+HCP, 2♠ agrees trumps, 3♣ shows one top spade honour, 4NT is RKCB,…. but opener could bid 6♠ straight up to save time.

Of course, even Precision players can miss a good slam if they allow the weak hand too much authority, as in this deal from the Bermuda Bowl Finals.

Lall Grue L G
♠ KT ♠ A763 1♣ 1
K4 QT65 2* 2♠ *
AK6 93 2NT 3♣
♣ AKQJ75 ♣ 863 3 3NT

Justin Lall began with the Big Club and Joe Grue gave the negative response (0-7 HCP). Lall decided to make a descriptive Kokish-like call, 2 showing a big hand. (Here we are guessing.) Grue relayed and Lall revealed a very strong NT hand. Note that he had hidden his especially rich club suit. Grue applied a Stayman 3♣, and signed off in 3NT. It appears that the auction was geared to finding a major suit fit. Lall had forced the auction, so had little to guide him as to the potential in the responder’s hand.

It would have been better for Lall to reveal the nature of his hand with an old-fashioned single-suit slam try jump to 3♣ (4 losers or less, no 4-card major) to force responder to make a descriptive bid with 3 available as a second negative with regard to clubs. Responder has an easy 3♠ bid, and 6♣ will be bid by opener, sooner or later.

Pros and Cons of Opening Light

It is well known that there is a strategic advantage to opening the bidding when the high card content is fairly evenly divided between the pairs, the most likely situation, and when the auction might become competitive. The mathematical theory of information provides another good reason for opening light. The normal pass rate for traditional methods is around 50%. Opening light entails opening hands that traditionally would be passed, the net result being that the pass rate is reduced to around 40%, so, on average more information is being delivered over the full spectrum of possible calls. In effect, for active bidders a pass is better defined and a suit bid is more poorly defined than normal.

Defending against a light opening bid presents problems. The tendency for an opponent who plays a traditional system is to interpret the opening bid in terms of what he would promise if he were to open with that same bid. From his point of view it is the additional uncertainty with regard to the familiar bid that presents a problem. ‘How can you open with that garbage?’ he may ask. Traditional defences may prove inadequate, and there is a danger of being stolen blind. We often see complaints that light opening bids force an opponent to adopt the same strategy. The tendency is to make each deal subject to competition, a condition that favors those who open light. As we have noted in previous blogs, light bidders look very bad on some hands, but overall they hold an advantage.

There is a disadvantage to opening light when responder holds a good hand and the deal is not competitive in nature. The added uncertainty in the definition of the opening bid requires responses that can extract additional information and allow the contract to be played at its proper level. Games mustn’t be missed and slams especially become difficult to reach with confidence. Here is an example from the 2011 world championships where few succeeded in reaching slam and many failed.

Piganeau Leenhardt P L
♠ AK7 ♠ QJT 1 2
KT852 Q4 3 3NT
QJT4 AK63 Pass
♣ Q ♣ A763

This is a purely natural and descriptive French auction from the 4th round of the Seniors’ Bowl Final. Many would not find fault here, but one must say the bidding has not come to grips with the particular characteristics that make this deal special. The more likely it is that the 1 opening bid may be light, the less likely it would be that responder would contemplate trying for a slam. That is true in general, but when in the Venice Cup competition the Indonesian South, Dewi, opened 1, limited to at most 15 HCP and often light, her partner Murniati was able to bid a strong 2NT (16+HCP) and later jump to 6 . For most pairs 2NT is a heart raise, so Indonesia had the right tools for the occasion.

In the Bermuda Bowl the Dutch bid to 6 and USA2 didn’t. In the Senior Bowl Peter Boyd and Steve Robinson got to the slam using a sophisticated version of 2/1 with relays, and we shall give their auction as it was fully explained on BBO, whereas the Dutch relay auction was not. Either would illustrate my point.

Boyd Robinson B R
♠ AK7 ♠ QJT 1 2♣*
KT852 Q4 2NT* 3*
QJT4 AK63 3* 4♣*
♣ Q ♣ A763 4* 4♠ *
4NT* 5
6 Pass


2♣ game force, balanced or clubs
2NT 4 diamonds and 15+HCP
3 asks for more information, balanced
3 short in clubs
4♣ RKC with diamonds as trumps
4 1 or 4 key cards
4♠ asks for the Q
4NT shows Q and ♠ K
5 natural
6 I have extras in trumps plus the K

We commend the veteran pair for the use of an efficient sequence that is part of a development over several decades. Here are 2 seniors with memories intact. I look for an easier approach that would rely to a greater extent on adaptive partnership cooperation. This is best when the 2 hands are balanced in HCP with neither partner having a clear advantage over the other. Playing Precision I would respond with an artificial 2♣, a common enough agreement these days, and adopt the Indonesian ladies’ approach.

Bob1 Bob2 B1 B2
♠ AK7 ♠ QJT 1 2♣*
KT852 Q4 2 2NT
QJT4 AK63 4NT 6
♣ Q ♣ A763 Pass


2♣ game force, balanced or clubs
2 4 diamonds
2NT balanced, 16+HCP
4NT maximum limited opener
6 excellent support for diamonds

The hands fit better than they might with the sequence of diamond honours in the one hand and the Q conveniently placed in the other, but the choices of bids would indicate to a fair degree that the values held are working under the current circumstances. Responder might have bid 3NT instead of 2NT if there was no interest generated by the diamond bid. A minor suit orientation is announced with the 2NT bid, and opener’s ♣Q appears to be a useful card worthy of full promotion. The presence of the ♠ AK also gives opener assurance that diamonds will have good support opposite. One can see the advantage of a limited opening bid, as the opener can jump to 4NT as a nonforcing limit bid without confusion. Of course, if one cannot do without RKCB, a bid of 4♠ might serve as a substitute, although it might not be clear what trumps are being referenced.

Having an agreement that 2♣ is an artificial game forcing bid does not solve all problems. I must admit that I can’t see the reasoning that led to failure in this all-too-common auction: 1 – 2 ♣*; 2 – 3; 3NT – Pass. In this case a raise of 2 to 3 should not be taken as a descriptive bid, allowing opener to make the final decision, but as a slam try agreeing diamonds as trumps and asking for outside controls. A reply of 3♠ stands out as a means below game to show where values are held. 3NT would appear to show better clubs and worse spades.

Usually in a slam auction it pays to establish trumps early, but in this case responder’s hand is rather modest in controls (5) and flat in distribution. The presence of the AK guarantee that the opening bidder will not show much enthusiasm for a diamond slam and it will be difficult for him to show extra length in diamonds. In fact, he is rather endplayed in the bidding which has got too high. 2NT saves space and is descriptive of shape and soft outside strength. Diamond support may take the form of a delayed 4 bid, leaving 4NT as a resting place in the worst case scenario. With the given deal, a 2/1 opener can complete the picture of his hand by bidding 3♠ , kicking the can down the road. 3NT by opener should be reserved for garbage dumping.


LarryNovember 8th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

That first hand was played 10 times and slam was bid only 3 times. Poland (2C opening) and France (Precision 1C opening) both bid the slam for a push. It appears that the other 7 teams opened the hand 2NT – A SLAM KILLER!

The Venice Cup could have been won by the 2nd place team if they had bid this slam.

Alex AlonNovember 13th, 2011 at 4:26 pm

We use 3Nt to show 5 spades and 4 hearts after 2Nt opening, so after 2NT:3NT:4S the responder has enough to investigate further with 5H or RKCB. Even without strong club system.
Alex Alon

YuanxiNovember 22nd, 2011 at 9:05 am

Alex: you could investigate, but with a bad 8 count it can hardly be right to do so after a 2NT opening just because you have found a fit.
2NT:3NT:4S:P is the logical sequence, because 2NT has understated the controls-rich hand; not because responder failed to investigate.

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