Source: BBO

1 Introduction

Effective slam invitations depend on the ability to envision that a pair of hands can take 12 tricks and the ability to judge when high cards will contribute to taking tricks. Partnerships that bid slams well have an eerie sense for what the other holds. They are imaginative and bold, yet careful and cautious when they need to be. This article will teach you how good slam bidders choose boldness or caution.

2 Slam Evaluation Principles

Principle 1: A slam is like any other contract. Like any other contract, you need assets (shape and high cards) to make a slam. If you don’t have the assets, you won’t make your slam. The top priority in slam bidding is ensuring you have the assets to justify a slam contract.

Principle 2: A slam is unlike any other contract. Slams have two special requirements that other contracts don’t have. A slam is never good with two fast losers in one suit. A slam is rarely good when the partnership is missing two key cards (or one and the trump queen). The second priority in slam bidding is avoiding bad slams that suffer one of these deficiencies.

Why are deficiency checks lower priorities than confirming assets? First, sequences like RKC end at the 5th level if they don’t reach a slam. You don’t want to get to the 5th level without enough assets to take 11 tricks. Second, slam tries give information to the defense as well as partner. Don’t give information to the defenders, if you can avoid it, when the partnership only has the assets for game. And lastly, these sequences often require one player to cooperate blindly. For example, when you bid RKC you will get information only about partner’s key cards, not about the filling high cards he does – or does not – hold. For that reason, RKC should only be used when confident he holds the fillers or other assets you will need.

This lesson will focus on identifying when:

  • The partnership has the assets to potentially make slam
  • You hold working cards that will contribute to taking tricks in a slam

3 Imagining the Cards Needed to Make Slam

Before you can envision that two hands together can make a slam, you must be able to imagine a hand your partner might hold that will make slam a good contract. How do you do that quickly at the table?

1. Assume partner has no wasted cards opposite your shortness. Opposite your singletons, imagine an ace but no KQ or J; opposite your doubletons, imagine an AK but no Q or J.

2. Assume partner has any missing “fillers” in your long suits. For example, if your trumps are AJxxx, assume he holds KQx. If your side suit is QTxx, assume he holds KJx.

3. Do not leave any suit uncontrolled, but allow the partnership to be missing one ace.

4. Check for conflicts with the auction. For example, did partner bid NT after you showed your singleton? Then assumption 1 will not be valid and he will hold wastage in that suit.

3.1 Examples

Your hand

Which high cards are needed for slam?

AKxxxx, x, x, QJTxx Q, AK and either A or A
AQxxx, x, KJx, AJxx K, AQ and KQ
KQxx, xx, AKxx, xxx A, AK, QJ and KQJ
KJxxx, – , AQxxxx, xx AQ, K and A
AQx, AJxx, KQx, QJx K, KQ, A and K

The above examples have no auction to show the process in its simplest form. In the real world, an auction will guide you. The auction may help you identify that certain high cards are unnecessary because partner will have shortness allowing you to ruff long suit losers, or it may clarify that partner will hold wasted values opposite your shortness. Most importantly, the auction may describe partner’s high card range, so you can estimate whether realistically he could hold the cards you need for slam.

Consider this auction:

Your hand

Which high cards are needed for slam? Could partner hold them?

x, x,AKxxxx, QJTxx A, A, Q, and K: 13 HCP. On the plus side, partner has 7 cards in the minor suits, so he fits one or both minors. On the minus side, partner’s 3NT call indicates he has both majors well stopped so he has some wasted cards in the majors. Slam is possible.
AJx, x,KJxxx, AQxx KQ, A, Q, and KJ: 15 HCP. Partner has some additional values in hearts and he holds at most 15 HCP so slam is unlikely.
A, Qx,AKQxx, JTxxx K, and AKQ: 12 HCP. Some of partner’s 12 – 15 HCP are wasted in spades therefore he isn’t likely to hold all of the AKQ. Slam is probably on a club finesse at best.