While it's not unusual for the readers to come up with nine different options (or 11 in this case) it's virtually impossible for the 19-member expert panel to do so. Obviously, many of the options had only one vote each, and we'll start with those:
Eric Kokish: 4 (cue). Then 5 over 5, so partner will not mis-value the KQ. I would have strongly preferred 4 over 2NT, a self-splinter for hearts.
Just one comment from the readers for 4: Women's Butler winner Deana Wilson, intending it as Blackwood. Welcome to our forum Deana, and full points for playing an intelligent system -- even though it's not a part of this column's methods. Similarly:
Patrick Huang: 6. If you allow me to bid 4 as a key-card ask for hearts, that will be my choice.
Ron Landgraff: 6. Any doubleton heart honor probably makes slam playable. Even 10x. High cards are all working.
Bob Jones: 4NT (invitational). 4 would end the auction and 5 would overstate the strength of my hearts. I think this is my only sound invitational bid (at least I hope it's sound).
This one had a lot more support from the readers, but, once again, as Blackwood. A couple of exceptions:
Jack Lai: 4NT. Invite.
Ron Landgraff: 4NT. One slam try.
Michael Ware: 5NT. I think this comes down to partnership / individual style. To me North's 3NT shows a heart singleton. That makes 6 unlikely. Partner should be 3136 else would have bids spades or reversed into diamonds. That makes 6 seem quite good actually. 4 by me here is a cue agreeing hearts so I'll just bid 6. Actually 5NT pick a slam can't be wrong as with six clubs partner will always bid 6, and 5NT caters for partner having two hearts - even though he shouldn't.
There are several people here commenting that North might have a singleton heart. Despite the fact that some of them are world class players, I just don't understand how you can play like that. 1-1-1NT is one thing, but there are so many other options over 1, especially with 18 points.
Our final solo bid was a reader favourite:
Eddie Kantar: Pass. Apparently partner has long, strong, clubs with a likely stiff heart.
Michael Burt: Pass. I've bid my hand - trust partner.
Duncan Roe: Pass. If I could bid my normal 4 Gerber here then I would, but it's not in AB standard so I won't. I think we're in the right strain; hearts might be 4-1 or 5-0 against us.
Alan Jones: Pass. It seems that partner has 19-20 hcp and a singleton heart. My suit will prevent a disaster, and the lead will come up to my partner.
Phil Hocking: Pass. Partner has at best two hearts and showing an invitational hand. Opening 1 is not showing any particular features unless it is a longer club suit. No interest in adding the need to get 10 tricks over 9.
Ian McCance: Pass. Partner knows I have long hearts but chooses NT. OK with me
Cathy Hocking: Pass. Partner obviously would prefer to play in NT. Hopefully with my long heart suit NT will be the better outcome.
Martyn Rew: Pass. Partner pretty well knows what I have, and 3NT is still his preference.
Martin Poon: Pass. the broken hearts look like a burden rather than a source of tricks. 3NT would be the only safe contract.
David Matthews: Pass. Trust your partner and don't bid your hand twice.
Damo Nair: Pass. What else? I don't see a fit any where.
David Ellis: Pass. you may have slam but it would be hard to find.
Moving up the popularity ladder, the lack of a clear ace-ask led to this choice:
Frank Stewart: 5. I might have bid 6 over 2NT. Surely North would have cuebid over 3 with Axx-Kx-AJxx-AKxx, but even though his heart support may be shaky, to stop at 4 now would be timid; he can have many hands where six is good. Even if he has AQx-Jx-KJxx-AKJx, the opening lead may not be a diamond.
Sartaj Hans: 5. Meaning nothing more special than bid six if you like your hand.
Robert Black: 5. Has partner bid 2NT with a Heart shortage, or have I underbid with our combined 29 plus points? Assuming a no and a yes he should consider going to six with the K.
Fraser Rew: 5. I changed my mind a few times on this one. But we want to invite slam, while saying that this hand is about hearts. Any time he has Kx we'll be in good shape for a slam, with J10 it shouldn't be worse than a finesse and he should pass on the wrong hands, and with a singleton or small doubleton he should pass.
John R. Mayne: 5. I'm out of good ways to bid keycard - 5 seems like a good way to play 5, and 4NT is 100% quantitative. So I'll make the dullard's try. 4 is just not enough when Axx Kx Axx AKxxx makes a grand excellent.
That would be a pretty uninspired 3NT rebid from partner; on a similar hand in the ANC I opened 2NT and then drove to a grand slam myself (page 8 of the current magazine).
Rao Zvorovski: 5. Slam is still very much in the picture. The problem is finding a bid that shows slam interest and extra heart length, and 5 seems to be the least of evils.
Julian Foster: 5. Sounds like partner is 3-2 in the majors. Feels too good for 4 but 6 could be off two aces so this is intended as a general invite.
Next, 4 and 4 received three votes each. 4 was intended as naturalish, with Zia and Mike Lawrence considering 6 as a possible contract. Andrew Robson chose 4 in order to give partner room to bid an encouraging 4 below game. The readers (I'm detecting a pattern here) intended it as Blackwood (or Gerber, or Minorwood). Again, a few exceptions:
Nigel Kearney: 4. Not sure of partner's style but he should have chosen 4 if balanced with a small doubleton heart so I envisage one of two types: either Axx x KQx AKJxxx or AJx Kx KQx Axxxx. I've given him a highly unsuitable diamond holding and we still want to be in slam in either hearts or clubs. Bidding 4 should find out which.
Peter Robinson: 4. Just worth a try. Since partner likely has a small doubleton in hearts, slam needs some specific top cards or great clubs.
Nigel Guthrie: 4. Partner advertises a balanced 18-19 HCP, so you are worth another effort. You hope that partner treats 4 as a cue-bid or some kind of last train
Alex Kemeny: 4. Maybe we can make 6 or 6. Over 4 I will bid 4. Over 4 I will use RKCB.
There it is: for all the people who couldn't decide whether 4 or 4NT was Blackwood, Alex has just demonstrated the simple approach to ace-asking.
4 followed by 4NT would be equally effective in that respect (but ruling out 6 as a contract). This received three expert votes (Matthew Thomson, Paul Lavings and Larry Cohen), as well as:
Brad Johnston: 4. I heard bidding 4m is a good way to get points in these bidding forums - maybe that's only in America. It sure sounds like a good 4 bid, but in my second set of answers I'll probably lambaste anyone going above 3NT.
The 2nd set of answers never came, but no one has a problem with you going past 3NT.
And finally, the "winning" answer: 4. As always, I don't like giving the top score to the signoff when two-thirds of the panel chose to look for slam (in eight different ways) but in this case I'm willing to let it slide because the bid does contain some slam connotations. And also because even if slam is better than 50%, I don't expect it to be much better.
Peter Vlas: 4. I should have a good hand, otherwise I would have bid 4 immediately. 4 looks a bit too much.
Tony Treloar: 4. If 3 is some sort of immediate slam try then I think 4 might be the limit. Partner rates to have xx in hearts which means slam will rely on card placement.
Neil Ewart: 4. Partner should have 2 hearts for 2nt so bidding 3 then 4 must show I had some slam hopes
Brian Lawless: 4. Partner should recognise that I have a good hand in this sequence.
Dan Baker: 4. This (instead of jumping to 4 directly after 2NT) should show at least mild slam interest. Hearts will probably play better if partner doesn't have the king, and if he does with good controls elsewhere he won't pass this.
Dean Pokorny: 4. Since I didn't bid 4 over 2NT, this sequence already shows a strong slam-try, probably with 7 hearts. Why did partner rebid 3NT? Maybe he jumped to 2NT with 3145. Who knows. Time to be careful, the bidding isn't necessarily over with 4.
Roger Yandle: 4. Yuck. Pard could have a hand where slam is near hopeless (AQJ xx AKJ KJxxx) or cold (AQx JT Axx AKxxx) but I'm not sure with AB std how you'd find out from here.
I'd expect 5 to get you to the right spot opposite those two hands.
Emil Battista: 4. Is this a real problem? Must be otherwise it would not be here. So partner has a singleton Heart - or may be even a void but 4 must have a better chance than 3NT. This agricultural bidding may mean we exchange a plus for a minus.
Emil, notice that your regular partner Roger's two example hands both contained a doubleton heart.
Artur Wasiak: 4. Not the best bid but avoiding disaster. 4 is dangerous without clear agreement (although with diamonds we would probably bid 3 earlier so 4 now shouldn't be natural). What about 4 in the previous turn - it would be splinter with clubs or hearts agreed?
Ig Nieuwenhuis: 4. Partner is promising 18-19 with (very) short hearts and not four spades. AB-standard does not seem to contain checkback-options. As 2 immediately would be weak, 3 should be forcing. Would 4 now be an autosplinter for hearts? I'll trust partner that he has (really) short hearts and opt for the probably most playable contract.
4 would surely have been a splinter on the previous round (so not on this round) and Andrew Robson and Eric Kokish say we should have done that. Similarly:
Kees Schaafsma: 4. For all I know North could be 4-1-4-4. I should have bid 4 (auto-splinter) on the previous round.
That would be a 1 opening of course, and with any other singleton heart shape partner would simply make a reverse. If partner does have four spades, I think it has to be 4-2-3-4. But Ig is right, I should have provided an agreement (via footnote) to clarify the spade position.
Unfortunately we don't have the full deal, but the question still raises a lot of important issues for partnership discussion.