Like Problems One and Two, there are two decisions to be made here, an easy one and a difficult one. The easy decision: which suit do we play in? Hearts. The (slightly) tougher decision: how high?
Brian Lawless: 3. A great 7-card suit should be trumps. Gives some chance of staying out of a non-making 4
Peter Robinson: 3. Good problem. Not an uncommon situation, and my scars are reminding me that a long suit of this strength has to be emphasised.
Alan Jones: 3. I know 4-4 major fits are nice, but nothing beats a solid 7-card trump suit.
A.K. Simon: 3. No point in overbidding 4 or splintering. If partner has two Aces or KQ of spades and an Ace he will raise to 4 or try 3NT.
Artur Wasiak: 3. Partner's spades should be useful but there is no need to choose spades as the trumps.
Tim Trahair: 3. Shows long strong Hs and encourages North to bid again. If he has reasonable values game could be on in Hs.
Larry Brose: 3. I hope this is forcing.
No. I understand that different parts of the world have different treatments, but I've never come across 3 as forcing before. Very highly encouraging, yes. My mentor Peter Gill taught me to not pass it if I could find any excuse to bid again.
While we're on the topic:
Emil Battista: 3. 3 if it's forcing - I hope it is. I like 4-4 fits.
It so isn't.
Roger Yandle: 3. I'm not concerned about partner passing - the opps haven't bid so partner has a good hand. This bid will give partner the maximum space to look for slam.
Ah, that explains why Roger's partner, Emil, thought 3 was forcing. Roger always has a good hand when this auction comes up.
Robert Black: 3. We might have four quick losers. If not partner has another chance.
David Caprera: 3. If your bids are spoken, you could bid "Spades?" in a lilting voice so as to inquire as to whether partner's trump are good. Something like AKQx-xx-xxx-Axxx is good for 6 but only 5. On the other hand, Axxx-x-xxxx-Axxx may make 4 but fail by several tricks in 4. The best bid is probably "3 Sparts", but I couldn't find it in the list of choices. If my hearts were a minor, I could rebid 4m. But I confess I play 1-1-4 as natural. I am going to take a chance on spades providing that extra trick.
For the record David, if you ever can't find the bid you need in the list of choices, just choose Other and list your bid in the comments, and it gets added. I've added 3 to the drop down box for you.
Patrice Fincias: 3. Lack of aces. No direct bid for double splinter in minor...what a shame.
No imagination Patrice. Just take a leaf out of David Caprera's book and bid 4.
There were quite a lot of votes for a splinter (the real one, not the one with the king):
H. C. Wilton: 4. 4 won't get us to a slam but the splinter might.
Cynthia Belonogoff: 4. Could be off if partner has wasted values in the minors but difficult to find out.
David Matthews: 4. Do we raise Spades or rebid our good Heart suit. I prefer the raise of partner's suit. Depending on partner's hand slam is not out of the question.
Phil Hocking: 4. Given there has been no bid of a minor I suspect partner will have very few hearts. and my two singletons should be a good opportunity to ruff.
Brad Johnston: 4. If the minors were the other way around this'd be harder. Splintering a stiff king isn't appetising, but if you mate can cue 4 showing the ace or last train 4 then you've got a mad hand.
Ron Lel: 4. Probably not ideal with such weak spades.
Peter Vlas: 4. See no better bid although we need to be careful on the spade quality. But I want to play 4 anyhow and don't want to rule out slams
Cathy Hocking: 4. spade fit with hand revalued to 16 points and 5 looser, can't count singleton king as extra points. Wait and see what partner has. 4 spades is on and maybe slam.
Michael Burt: 4. The bidding so far with EW quiet and NS having a spade fit suggests slam could well be on.
Martyn Rew: 4. There must be a lot of clubs and diamonds out there, but neither Opponent has enough HCP's to mention them. Partner may be short on entries if hearts is trumps
Leigh Matheson: 4. Would prefer to play in hearts. But spades should be fine and this allows partner's input to bid to the right level.
I usually award consolation points to popular minority choices (or ones I sympathise with), but I've declined to do so here because (a) 95% of panellists chose to play in hearts, and (b) 40% of panellists thought the hand was not strong enough to bid game. Also, I tend to trust this guy when he says he is too weak to splinter:
Bridge Baron: 3. Simulation between 3 (for -280.5 on average) and 4 (for -462.0 on average.) Too weak to splinter.
This isn't really the simulation we needed, but fortunately I already did my own before posing the problem. I was surprised to discover that 4 wasn't actually far behind 4; you'd be unlucky to be punished for bidding 4.
Tony Treloar: 4. Showing the spade support by splintering I think distorts the hand.
Alex Kemeny: 4. Seven card side suits do not work, so I will not raise spades or splinter. If partner has a good hand, they can bid again. If partner has solid spades and a minor suit ace then yes, we may miss a slam.
Julian Foster: 4. Don't want to lock into spades with a splinter when partner's spades will have to be very good to avoid a loser. If partner has the aces we will need to make slam, he may well move over 4 anyway.
Dean Pokorny: 4. Choosing the proper trump suit is more important than unilaterally exploring a thin slam. Besides, if we belong to slam, partner will surely continue over 4.
Damo Nair: 4. I need 2 aces & some spade cards for a slam. If North has those he can move over 4. I don't need to do any fancy footwork here.
Charles Scholl: 4. Wouldn't want to bid 3, in case partner passes with Axxxx xx xxx Qxx. Wouldn't want to bid 4, in case partner looks for slam, expecting more than one keycard from my side. Slam is still possible if partner has good controls.
Alexander Shchennikov: 4. I hope this hand has the 34% that we need to play vul game. We need only aces and/or good spade combination (or help opponents with first lead), but we have no tools to explore this. Choose hearts because of threat of trumps reduction with killing hearts in spade contract.
The hand absolutely does have the 34% we need to play game. The main reason there were so many expert votes for 3 was not so much that they were worried about making 4 -- rather, they were worried about partner bidding 6:
Frank Stewart: 3. Hearts should be trumps. I am afraid to make any stronger bid on the principle that it is wrong to overbid your high cards. If I jumped to 4, partner would surely bid six with AQxx-xx-Jxx-AKxx.
This is the same principle that stops us from opening 2 with a ten playing trick hand such as AKQxxxxxxx-x-x-x: partner will never let you stop in game. However, Peter Smith argued that partner would probably still look for slam over 3 with Frank's example hand, so it's not worth taking the (small) risk of partner passing 3.
George Hashimoto: 4. Issue 1: I should have a stronger hand, but I want to be in game. Issue 2: Whilst this hand has a source of tricks with spades as trumps, it may actually play better in hearts.
John R. Mayne: 4. Oh, no - partner is void with AQ64-void-J943-J9542! Hearts still might play better even then. The blast has ways not to work, but partner will usually only move when it's right.
Dan Baker: 4. Ironically, the fewer hearts partner has, the more important it is to play in them rather than spades - partner may not be able to get here if my hand gets tapped early in spades.
There was another good example of this in the SWPT in January (click here) where you need to play 7 in the long suit opposite a void. On that deal the alternative club fit was perfectly solid, but entries to the heart suit were still a problem -- as it turned out, all contracts made, but a 4-1 club break would still have jeopardised 7.
Nigel Kearney: 4. This looks like the right strain and is about right on strength. Partner may over-value the K and under-value secondary spade honours but you can't have everything. Playing 4 on a 4-4 could be awkward.
Jack Lai: 4. Although there is a 4-4 Spade fit, it's still better to play in 7-x Heart fit to avoid being forced off.
Henri de Jong: 4. I like my trump suit and in spades may not be able to bring in the hearts. Surely this hand should play in hearts.
Wayne Somerville: 4. A spade raise is tempting, but I think this hand will play better if the opponents can't see it.
Ian McCance: 4. Rushing it a bit, but nervous of interference
We'll end with a handful of people who were not happy with our opening bid, given that we always intended to play in hearts anyway:
Rainer Herrmann: 4. What I should have bid one round earlier. Now partner might expect a stronger hand. Spades are not in the picture.
Kees Schaafsma: 4. Hearts play better than spades opposite shortness in hearts. Also other table may have opened 4, which in my opinion is better than opening 1.
David Appleton: 4. Inconsistent with 1, I know, but other calls are greater distortions.
Postscript on the awards for this hand: I've decided to upgrade 4 so that it scores the same as 4, but the scores won't take effect until after the April forum is published. Thanks to Simon Andrew for providing this problem at the 2015 NOT(!) -- sorry it took so long to print it.
Thanks for joining us again this month. Our next issue will be out very soon, as this issue was again quite late, so don't delay getting your answers in. The April questions are already online, here.