WHEN partner opens the bidding and you are looking at 17HCP, it is natural to consider the possibility of a slam. Yet slam will usually depend on finding a satisfactory trump suit, and when partner’s rebid suggests that the hand is a misfit it will be necessary to tread carefully.

West East
1 2
2 3
3 4
4NT 5
5NT 6

When East opens 1, West can see immediately that slam may be possible if fit can be found in one of his suits. Modern theory suggests that it is wrong to jump shift on two-suiters unless one of the suits is support for partner. The logic is simply that the jump wastes space which may be required to explore properly what is the best trump suit.

So the 1 response, higher of two touching suits, is normal, as is East’s 2 rebid. Now West would like to be able to show his second suit, but that is not possible. A 2 bid is now fourth-suit-forcing, while a jump to 3 should agree partner’s last bid suit, in this case clubs.

Not to worry, fourth suit may well get the information for which West is looking, so that is what he bids. A vexed question is how far a fourth-suit bid should be forcing. Some play it as forcing to game, while others permit the fourth-suit bidder to pass any minimum iesponse if he so wishes.

My compromise is to play that any response above 2NT should be considered to be forcing. That permits fourth suit to be used on invitational range hands which cannot bid No Trump – if partner’s response is 2NT, consistent with a minimum, I can pass. Likewise if he gives only simple preference to my first suit at the two level – say  the East hand with a low card instead of one of the aces bids 2 instead of 3 – then that is passable.

This style avoids East having to jump to 4 on his actual hand, merely to force to game. 3 is enough.

Things are not looking so good now from West’s point of view. He started out with high hopes but the signs are that the hands are a misfit. Still, East is limited only by his failure to jump to 3 at his second turn, so he could still be quite strong. The obvious call for West is 3.

Again, this is played differently by different partnerships. For some, the repeat of the fourth suit says that you wish you had never heard of fourth-suit-forcing and are now confirming that you really do have a two-suiter. For others 3 is a kind of repeat fourth-suit bid, asking for yet more information and still saying nothing about the heart holding. I happen to believe that the latter style is the more useful, but on this hand it doesn’t matter very much as it is now time for East to admit to some spade support.

It may seem brave to jump to 4 with only queen doubleton, but consider that East has already denied three-card spade support by his failure to bid the suit at either his second or third turn. Now a 3 bid might be consistent with a small doubleton. The jump to 4sounds like a doubleton honour and a reasonable hand. From initial optimism, through depression, suddenly West can feel optimistic once more his partner appears to hold something like a 2-1-5-5 shape, probably a spade honour and hopefully some extra values. There are various ways forward from here but the simple approach is to use Roman Key Card Blackwood. The 5 response is music to West’s ears, showing as it does two of the five key cards plus the queen of trumps.

West can pretty well underwrite the small slam now but it costs him nothing to check to see if seven is a good bet. 5NT says that all the key cards are present and invites partner to bid seven it he so wishes failing which he shows his kings (this incidentally, is standard – it is just that many people are not aware of it. If, for example, East had a solid suit as a source of tricks. he could bid the grand confident that there should be thirteen tricks available).

Many expert partnerships these days play that the responder to 5NT should show specific kings rather than the number held. Playing that way, 6 shows the K and denies holding the K. That happens to be just what West wanted to hear. Had East held the K and not the K, thirteen tricks might have been difficult, even though there would be no top loser.

Now, however, 7 is a reasonable shot. It is not quite cold, but a non-trump lead allows two hearts to be ruffed in dummy, while a non-club lead leaves a late entry to dummy after an attempt to ruff out the diamonds. As even the finest of players cannot lead two suits at once, there is always going to be excellent play for the grand slam.

If the response to 5NT had been 6, showing the K, a sophisticated system would permit West to bid 6 to ASK for the K, East signing-off in six without that card, bidding seven with it.

Finally, if under your system you could merely show the number of kings in response to 5NT, West would be guessing when partner shows one king. As many pairs may have difficulty in reaching even 6, I would suggest that discretion should be the better part of valour. If you cannot be sure that seven will be a good spot, settle for the six.