The Magic Question
If you pick up a strong hand you should first evaluate how strong it really is and then plan the bidding accordingly. How is this done? Think about that for a minute, it is the key to successful slam (or game) bidding. If you don’t have a mental process that you routinely use, you need one. And if you do have a process, is it the right one? Is it overly complex? Before I tell you my recommendation, let’s look at two examples:
1. You hold AQx, AQx, AKxx, AKx.
2. You hold AKxxxx, void, x, AKxxxx.
Clearly, these are strong hands. The first one is easy; you have been taught how to bid it – open 2♣ and rebid 3NT unless you play a strong club system. The second one is tougher since you don’t have a ready-made solution. You would probably open 1♠ and, with no interference (unlikely), jump shift in clubs. But then what? And, what if there is interference? Why is it advisable to bid the first one the way you have been taught? What should you do with the second one? Which hand is stronger?
There is a magic question which must be asked with all strong hands and is the most likely way to solve these problems. It has little to do with point count, controls or other considerations that you most likely use. It is simply this:
What does partner need to make slam (or game) and, if he has it, will he know it? Once you answer this question, all you need to do is plan the bidding in the most effective way to find out whether or not he has it.
In example 1, this question will lead you to the same approach, even had you not already learned it. He needs about 7 scattered HCP for slam. You don’t really care which specific cards he holds, so if you show him a balanced hand with about 26 HCP, he will know it if he has what you need.
In example 2, if P is 4-2 in the black suits with no card higher than a five then you are odds-on to make slam! (Note that if this is his hand and you hold hand 1 you may be hard-pressed to make even a one-level part score, so hand 2 is stronger by far). Furthermore with hand 2, if you are unlucky and P is 3 – 2 in the black suits you are only slightly less than even money to make slam (you merely need trumps to spit 2 -2 and the other black suit to split 3 – 2). Worse yet, he may be only 3 – 3 in the black suits and slam still has play (you need a 2-2 split in both black suits). With any of these hands, P would certainly not suspect that he is a favorite to have what you need, so exploratory bidding may be useless. Without interference I would bid 1♠ and jump shift in ♣ ’s, planning on bidding 6♣ unless you either have a clear indication from the bidding that P is likely to be at best 2 – 2 in the blacks, or if you have a way to find out which specific Ace P might hold (in which case you can probe for 7). With interference, I would merely bid 6♣ at my second turn. P will bid 7 with both Aces and reasonable support for one of your suits. He might also have the right Ace and not bid 7 or the wrong Ace and bid 7. But in the first case, you can’t find out anyway, and in the second case you will still be OK if the opening leader doesn’t lead a diamond.
With other strong hands, asking the magic question is still your best guide. Merely use whatever sequence in your arsenal is best geared to find out whether or not P has the card (or cards) you need. If you learn to routinely ask this question whenever you pick up a good hand your slam (or game) bidding should improve significantly.