Balanced hands (5-3-3-2, 4-4-3-2 and 4-3-3-3) are easy to bid. With 12-14, you open in a suit and rebid 1NT. With 15-17, you open 1NT. With 18-19, you open a suit and plan to rebid 2NT. With 20-21, you open 2NT. With 22 or more, you open 2. In no case are you promising that all four suits are stopped. Accordingly, South opens this 22-count with 2, planning to rebid 2NT.
What should North respond? This is a question of partnership agreement. There are several methods for responding to a strong 2 opening. I recommend “2 waiting.” With most hands, the responder says “2” to wait and hear what kind of a strong 2 hand the opener has. Are there any exceptions to this 2 waiting response? Yes. If responder has a good hand and a good 5+ card suit, he can bypass the 2 response and bid his suit. By “good hand” we mean at least 8 HCP. By “good suit” we mean at least two honors. Here, North is close between 2 waiting and 3. I’d say his hand is good enough (almost 8 HCP) to respond 3. This is his best chance to show the nature of his hand.
Over the 3 response, South has a great hand. He might just use Blackwood (especially if using RKC) and settle for 6C or 7 depending on what his partner answers. The good part about a club slam is that South will actually be declarer, to protect his heart tenace (since he opened in clubs). At matchpoint scoring, South might head instead towards 6NT.
Let’s say that South drives into 6 (after the start of 2-Pass-3). What should West lead? This isn’t easy. I don’t mind leading away from a king or queen against a small slam (trying to build a trick). If West leads a heart, he will end up regretting it (we can see that it will run to declarer’s Q). Let’s say West leads a passive low diamond.
Is this a good slam? How should declarer plan the play?
It is an excellent slam. If either clubs or hearts behave, declarer has 12 tricks. If both suits behave, he has 13 tricks. The only trouble will come if both the K and K are offside. We can see that trouble lurks.
Declarer wins the diamond lead in hand and has to make a decision that he should make in any suit contract: “Should I draw trump?” If there is no reason not to draw trump, then draw them. Here, I see no reason not to take a club finesse at trick two. Unfortunately, East wins the K and declarer needs the rest.
No matter what East returns, I think declarer will go down. Sooner or later, he is likely to try the heart finesse. Unlucky—that loses and down one it is. A good slam, but bad luck.
Actually, this slam can be made. “Double dummy,” (this means you can see all the cards) declarer has many ways to make 12 tricks. In real life, it is normal to take the heart finesse and fail. In fantasy life, declarer loses the club finesse, but then runs all his winners. He cashes the A, the top spades and runs trump. West has to keep a high heart (to protect against dummy’s 10), so he can’t keep all four of his diamonds. Yes, that 6 is a very important card. Once West throws a diamond, declarer can take his 12th trick with the lowly 4. But, like I said, this is “double-dummy.” For any pairs who reach 6 and take two finesses and fail (losing out to another table which might play an easy 3NT or 5), it is just an unlucky day.
1) With balanced hands, you should always know the plan (with 22+, open 2)
2) Responding methods to 2 are up to the partnership; I recommend 2 waiting
3) With a good hand and a good suit (this North hand barely qualifies), you can answer the 2 opening by bidding your suit
4) A slam that is on 1 of 2 finesses is a good proposition (75%), but sometimes it is just one of those 25% days.