Polling You #41: Slam Bidding Introduction, Day 1, February 16, 2011

Slam Bidding in Contract Bridge – Introduction

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In Bridge, everyone loves a slam.  Well, at least if the slam was made by you our your partner!  Of course, earning a slam bonus does not come without some risks.  So that’s the basis of the terrific bonuses earned for a 12 trick slam or breathtaking 13 trick grandslam.

Like any contract, making a slam requires accurate hand evaluation, sound partnership agreements, accurate bidding and solid card play.  The best things in life aren’t always easy, that’s the charm of stretching to get the gold.

Slam bidding has three components:
1. Strength – The power of High Card Points is our friend
2. Shape – The more extreme the shape, the fewer HCP are required
3. Controls – Quick tricks matter, especially so when playing in slam

Missing both the Ace and King in a suit can spell TROUBLE!
Aces – first round control
Voids – first round control
King-Queen – second round control
Singleton – second round control
King+ other – second round control (but not guaranteed)

Regarding tricks associated with Duplicate, Chicago (Four Deal) scoring:
1. Less than 11 tricks in a minor, less than 10 in a major, less than 9 in Notrump – partscore bonus = 50
2. 11 tricks in a minor, 10 tricks in a major, 9 tricks in Notrump = 300NV, 500 VUL
3. 12 tricks = 500NV, 750=VUL;  13 tricks = 1000NV, 1500=VUL

Three factors to make slam:
Classic suit contract: Strength, Shape, and Controls – 33+HCP small slam, 37+ grandslam
6 Spades:
A K Q 3 2         J 6 5 4
K Q 2                4 3
A 2                    K 4 3
Q 3 2                A K J 4

Notrump contract: Strength, Controls – 33+HCP small slam, 37+ grandslam
6 Notrump:
Q 3 2                A K J 4
K Q 2                4 3
K 2                    A 4 3
A K Q 3 2        J 6 5 4

Slam “Magic:”
Looong suits, two suited hands, singletons/voids – 26ish+ slam
7 Diamonds:
A 2                     5 4
2                         A 3
A K Q 4 3 2      8 7 6 5
8 4 3 2              A K Q 7 6

Extreme “magic:”
–                                                          –
–                                                         6 5 4 3 2
A Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2         –
2                                                        9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

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Warm Regards,



  1. Two things are essential in good slam bidding :

    1) Knowing exactly how many controls we have on our side. Normally we need 10 controls for a small slam , barring some extreme shape.
    2) Knowing wether partner got Singletons / Voids and where. S/V are magic.

    For these reasons I prefer controls asking relays rather than 4NT for key cards.
    Appropriate tools are also indispensable for the knowledge of S/V.


    • BridgeHands says:
      Hello G.A.,
      Excellent points. Yes, for sure controls are essential as are tools to discover singletons and voids. Some advanced players utilize special tools to SHOW controls as well as ASK partner general controls and/or quantify controls in a specific suit. For instance, the Precision bidding system uses CABs (Control Asking Bid) on a specific suit:
      as well as TABs (Trump Asking Bid) on an agreed upon suit:
      Following the above links, you’ll also see reference so additional control mechanisms. Even playing Standard American and more traditional systems, some partnerships use control-showing responses to openers 2 Club strong opener.
      Of course, more advanced methods require study, partnership agreement, a good memory and a good sense when special methods are “on” or “off.”
      Thanks again for your excellent points,
  2. richbria says:

    I am very surprised that, at present, 83% of respondents consider that, amongst other things, 33+ High Card Points is a critical element for a small slam. That is more correct if we are talking about two balanced hands, but it is not, IMHO, a critical element for bidding slams with unbalanced hands. Shape and controls are much more important then.

    • BridgeHands says:
      Hello Rich,
      Perhaps we should have better worded the possible responses regarding whether or not 33+ HCP is a “critical” element for slam bidding. A better statement would include “… or equivalent distributional points for length and/or shortness.”
      It’s always a challenge to find the best balance between clarity and brevity on our responses. Thank you for pointing this out – special attention to proof the responses is time well spent.
      Regards, Michael
  3. Steve Klein says:

    Here’s an interesting slam hand my partner and I held in a recent knockout match. North:




    As you can see, 6H is cold, 7H is hopeless, but 7D makes against anything but a 5-0 trump split or 3-0 heart break with a first-trick ruff. Does anyone know a bidding method which finds 7D after South opens 1H?

    • BridgeHands says:
      Hello Steve,
      While conventions like New Minor Forcing do have mechanisms to first locate a 4-4 fit over a 5-3 fit for the reason you highlight, lacking advanced control-showing tools (see TAB and CAB links in my reply above), most methods would not be able to locate the critical grandslam cards in your example above. Playing most systems, once North opens 2 Notrump the players methods correctly focus on major suit fits. Playing Precision, North would open 1 Club and after responder bids 1 Heart, the partnership has significantly more bidding steps to accurately describe secondary fits, show controls, etc. However, our BridgeHands instructional methods are not oriented to teach advanced methods not used by mainstream Bridge players.
      More importantly, in a Knockout IMP match we would agree with the Barry Crane “commandment” that players should (generally) not bid grandslam. Certainly when a partnership has 37 distributional points, grandslam should be considered yet with 30 HCP finding a small slam should be “par” for most partnerships. And on your hands, South’s Diamond Jack is a very important card. As we know, the value of a side suit Jack is not a typical holding that control bidding methods can identify. Esoteric advanced methods require significant study, an overhaul of a partnership’s entire system of bidding, and considerable practice to fine tune specific implementation of subtle methods.
      One final thought – had the partnership bid and played in 7 Diamonds as opposed to 6 Hearts with a 6-4 fit, the partnership runs the risk of an immediate ruff if the opponents Heart are 3-0. While the probability of a 3-0 split is only 22 percent, that along with the possibility of a 5-0 Diamond fit (another 2 percent) must be considered:
      Aside from your actual and the small slam versus grandslam discussion, we certainly agree with your assertion that comprehensive Bridge players should always be mindful of the opportunity to play in a 4-4 fit instead of a 5-3 or longer fit. In fact, on the third hand in our video commentary, with no more than a 5-2 side suit fit, we underscore the value to promote a dummy 5 card suit (ruff it out with adequate dummy entries, unblocking trump if necessary).
      Warm Regards,
      • Jeff Holst says:

        Regarding the Barry Crane “commandment”, sometimes rules (or commandments) are meant to be broken. Last fall my partner and I bid to a very iffty 7D contract in the finals of a regional KO. We knew it was iffy, but we were down 27 IMPs at the half and there had been no swingy hands until this one, which was the next to last hand at our table. The cards were righr and we picked up 14 IMPs when 3NT making 7 was played at the other table. My partner thought that the opponents would get to 6 and we desperatly needed a swing.

        On the last hand we picked up 11 IMPs to make the match very close. on the grand slam

        • BridgeHands says:
          Excellent point, Jeff,
          Yes, in fact both sides need to be mindful of how their opponents are likely to bid at the other table in a team game. So if the opponents at the other table are significantly ahead in a match and figure your table might risk a grandslam, then they should also consider that option – ditto with close game bids, etc. That’s all part of the excitement playing a team event. So for the same reason in a Swiss Team format, when opponents inquire about your score, should you disclose your Victory Point standing be aware that disclosing the information may influence their bidding and play tactics.
          Some years back in a KO game, I recall bidding a fair chance at grandslam, focusing too much on the auction and forgetting that I was not playing a Matchpoint game. Fortunately, the grandslam contract came home and was championed as a hero – at least THAT time. Yet ever since, I’ve realized the need to get grounded and consider the numerous “environmental factors” when bidding slam or grandslam.
          Happy Bridge Trails, Michael
  4. Christel says:

    I can’t believe the 87 percentage …. First of all, the question did not specify whether the slam was in a suit or N. Secondly, he controls and quick tricks should not have been asked together. You may have some quick tricks but if you are in N, that won’t help you make that 6 N. And if you are in a suit contract, SHAPE is real important.

    • BridgeHands says:
      Hello Christel,
      Yes, we agree with your assertion and Rich’s feedback above. The 87 percent you cite at the time of your post probably effects more of our pollsters choosing the best among the limited and perhaps ambiguously worded responses than adhering to the statement that all slams have the same criteria. While our video commentary highlighted this differences, unfortunately our somewhat simplistic polling responses troubled some of our respondents.
      Thank you for your feedback,
  5. BridgeHands says:
    Greeting BridgeHands Pollsters,
    It’s great to see all your enthusiasm and interest on our new poll as we move into slam bidding. Bidding and making a slam contract is not only exciting, successfully orchestrated making a slam also demonstrates a degree of confidence, flair and bidding/play proficiency. After the first day of our poll:
    83 percent selected, “All of the Above” which includes:
    33+ HCP
    Controls – Quick Tricks
    Great shape and controls if less than 33 HCP (13 percent)
    As we responded into several comments above, a better worded question and response would specify the nature of the slam such as:
    1. Typical major suit slam (5-3 fit)
    2. Notrump contract
    3. Shapely fit and/or a double fit in a suit slam
    So if you pondered this unspecified criteria in your response, go to the head of the class – you get it !!!
    Happy Bridge Trails,
  6. W A Wolff says:

    Helpful sequences over a 2 C opener. Does not solve all the problems.

    2 ♦ = 0 or 1 Ctrl (K)
    2 ♥ = 2 ctrls (1A or 2 K)
    2 ♠ = 3 ctrls, (1A+1 K)
    2 N = 3 ctrls, (≡ 3K)
    3 ♣ = 4 ctrls (2A, 4K; 1A+2 K)
    3 ♦ = 5 ctrls (2A+1K; 1A+3 K)
    3 ♥ = 6 ctrls (3A; 2 A+2 K)

  7. W A Wolff says:

    Q x x x x
    10 x x x x
    x x x

    A K x
    A K Q
    A K Q
    A x x x

    The two jacks cooperated and dropped. Only
    a few bid the low percentage slam – – including
    us. Biggest hand I ever had.

  8. valmark says:


    • richbria says:

      Unfortunately using 2H as showing some sort of negative response can end up with the weak hand being Declarer when the contract is being played in Hearts – a not-infrequent occurence. As a Defender I enjoy seeing the “big” hand as Dummy. It makes defense rather easier.

      • BridgeHands says:
        Valmark and Rich,
        For better or worse, many prefer to play the “2 Heart Bust” method over the traditional 2 Diamond waiting approach. Like other Bridge conventions, each of these have their own appeal, including the tradeoff between simplicity and amount of information conveyed. For instance, above Warren illustrates a comprehensive control showing response that’s both effective to reveal slam potential based on the number of controls and avoiding a major suit bid by responder with minimal controls. Of course, one might argue that even that approach has the downside that since the responder is making an artificial bid the LHO might double the conventional response for a killing lead direction signal or possible sacrifice bid with favorable vulnerability. So like life, Bridge conventions each have their upsides and downsides.
        Warm Regards, Michael

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