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Quick summary

33+ HCP for NT slam. Brute strength needed

30 HCP for suit slam, including shape points. Ruffing important

HCP and LTC assessment is not enough. Need to check for controls

Re-evaluate your suits in the light of partner's bids

Try to avoid going straight to 4 of a Major if a slam is on: it's weak

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Bridge Venue

Example Deal
+West
North
S 3
H K 8 5 4
D A K J 10 9 6
C K 5
+East
+South
Example Deal
Dealer: East
Vuln: All


Sorry partner, we should have been in a slam.
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Slam bidding. Spotting the chance

Bidding and making a Slam is exciting, difficult, rewarding and wins you lots of points. Most of us make far more slams that we bid, yet really it should be almost the other way round, because the rewards for success are often greater than the penalties for failure.

For example, a small slam in heart (12 of the 13 tricks, bid 6) will make you 980 in prize money (1430 if you're vulnerable). But you only lose the 420 that you would have won for game if you fail to make the slam by one or two tricks.

Let's look at a small slam (12 tricks, bid 6). A small slam in heart will make you 980 points in prize money - 1430 if you're vulnerable. But if you fail to make the slam by one or two trick, you only lose the 420 that you would have won for game, (and the 50 point penalty for going down one trick).

I know you'll also be thinking about the 420 points you've sacrificed that you would have won for making game if you'd left the bidding at 4heart (620 if vulnerable), but with this kind of prize money for slam, you'd be wise to have a go at a small slam if the chances of success are 50:50 or better. Always making 420 is not as good as making 980 at least half the time. In the long run you'll win out.

Slam in No Trumps. Brute strength required !

You should explore a NT small slam with balanced hands if it's possible that you hold 33 points between you (HCP only). Note that not only is this a higher requirement than for a suit Slam, but also you must not include points for shortages. In NT, you won't be able to trump your weak suits, so you need absolute strength in each suit, which is measured with HCP. You can though give yourself credit for long suits, provided all the suits are thoroughly stopped. A long tail of low cards will often all make, after the big cards have been played, and can make up for a missing King for example.

For bidding No Trump slams, use

  • Quantitative bids: bid 4NT to say: “NT slam is on if you are at the top of your range. Bid 6NT if you are.” 

Slam in a suit

You can explore a suit slam if you recognise you have 30 points between you (inc. shape). It's important to include your points for length and shortages, since this gives you an opportunity to ruff, and make up for any lack of high cards. After all, a hand with all 13 spades will make Grand Slam with only 10 HCP.

Since shape is so important, you can also use the 'Losing Trick Count' method, see below, to evaluate whether slam could be on. LTC takes all three components into account: strength, length and shortage, and can be very useful when there is a trump fit with unusual distribution.

But the 'point count' or 'LTC' calculation is frequently not enough; you will often need to know how many Aces you have, since these are dangerous cards in the hands of the enemy. Kings are also dangerous. Also, you often need to know where your Aces, Kings and shortages are located. For instance, it's not much use having both a void in heart in your hand and the Aceheart in partner's hand. The void is wasted, and would be better off in spade assuming partner doesn't have the Acespade.

Other encouraging indicators to look out for are:

  • if the two hands fit well, for example have no "wasted values"
  • a double fit (8+ cards in both trump suit and a side suit)
  • "primary values" (aces and kings) rather than "secondary" ones (jacks and queens)
  • nice shape (with long suits and voids or singletons).

As a result, there are 5 systems that have been devised to give you this kind of information, depending on the circumstances. The most commonly used is Key-card Blackwood.

  • Blackwood:  4NT. Ask for quantity of key cards (Aces and K-trumps), after suit agreement is obtained.
  • Cue bidding:  “I've got First round control(1) in this suit, where do you have control ?”
  • Grand Slam force: 5NT.  “Please bid 7 if you have AK of trumps”
  • Splinters: “I've got 11+HCP, Major trump suit fit, and a singleton or void in the suit I just bid. ”
  • Jacoby 2NT: "I've got an opening hand and 8-card fit with your Major, but no short suits. Do you have a shortage ?"

Note that there are some situations where it's dangerous to use Blackwood.

Losing Trick Count and slam bids (in suits)

Do we have 30/31 total points (HCP and shape) ? This is not always the most reliable way of recognising that a suit slam might be on the cards. The good thing about LTC is that it takes account of all three factors: strength, length and shortage.

Partner opens 1club , you reply 1heart, partner rebids 4heart. What next ? This is your hand:

Hand 1
S 9  

You have 7 HCP, 11 with distribution. Partner has about 19-20. 30-31 total. Pass?

But since partner has fit and bid 4, he has 5 losers. You have 7 losers. The LTC method suggests bidding to 6.

H K 6 5 4 3 2
D A 9 7 5
C 8 4

Here's how the two hands look together:

Pair 2
S J 6  W     E  S 9  

Looking at everyone's cards it's easy to see with hindsight that Slam is on, depending on the trump split! Use the Losing Trick Count to spot these situations.

H A Q 8 7 H K 6 5 4 3 2
D K 4 D A 9 7 5
C A K 9 3 2 C 8 4

Notice that the partners only have 24HCP. They have 30 including distribution, on the light side for a slam.

Should you go for a Grand Slam ?

We calculated above that you should go for a Small Slam when the chances of success are 50:50 because at that probability the balance of risk and reward is in your favour. So, if the outcome simply depends on a finesse, and the missing card has an equal chance of being with either opponent, go for Small Slam.

With a Grand Slam you should only go for it when the odds are 75% on a favourable outcome. After all, you don't want to throw away your prize momey for the game and the Small Slam.

(1) “First round control” of a suit means an Ace or a void. (In "Blackwood" voids are not taken into account).

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