Tonight David Grainger and I played a set game online against Ira Chorush and Venkatrao Koneru. It was a very well played match all around, I thought, and we only ended up ahead because we had way more than our share of the cards.
Here is a grand slam that ties into the theme of a hand I posted a little while ago, of avoiding a weak 4-4 fit:
Many players nowadays would open the South hand, but it's just not something I'm comfortable with -- although I suspect it would have made the auction trivial. As it was, we didn't really have too much difficulty with the hand once David made the exquisitely Canadian decision to open 1C rather than 2C despite holding 23 high card points. I like this approach to bidding, on the theory that if you get by the first round of the auction, you are usually in good shape to have intelligent communication with your partner. Here, 1C is rarely passed out, sometimes it is right to play in 1C when it is passed out, and this hand is difficult to describe without artificial methods if you start with 2C. (If the auction starts 2C-(3H), I have trouble constructing a sequence in our methods that allow us to get to 7C. In any case, it's much harder).
Over David's 4H cuebid, I knew that he either had a big hand with a spade fit, or a big hand with a club suit, so now the question was what to do. I really wanted to bid 5D, but I was worried that that would be natural (as we hadn't discussed it I wasn't going to risk playing in a 3-2 fit). I decided finally that if David had a singleton heart or the Ace as his 4H bid suggested (meaning tricks 1 and 2 weren't going to go hA, heart ruff), my cards were good enough to take a shot at slam. David decided that if I didn't have the dA I was crazy and found a good raise to 7C.
As you can see, 7NT is the best spot, but 7C is quite a happy contract. The key here was to ignore the spade fit, where you are at the mercy of a 3-2 break. Strangely, Ira's preempt probably made it easier for us to avoid spades, because had he passed or bid 1H, the auction would have gone 1C-(1H)-X or 1C-P-1S, making it much more difficult for me to show both my strength and my club support, two things that helped David to choose clubs at the end.
When should you avoid a 4-4 major suit fit? If it is to play in a slam, whenever you have enough tricks but you have a weak trump fit you can consider a different trump suit or notrumps. If it is a choice between 3NT and 4M, you will usually want to have a little extra in HCP to make up for the fact that you aren't making use of ruffing power. As an example, if I picked up
and heard partner open 1NT, I would just bid 3NT and forget about the major suit fit. My suit is weak, I have extra strength (we are in the 27-29 HCP range), and help in the other suits. Not everyone agrees with me on what hands to avoid the major suit fit on, but one thing Kit Woolsey suggests to look for in his classic book, Matchpoints, is to have secondary honours (Queens and Jacks) in your doubleton.
Read this entry for a spectacular example of 3NT being right.