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Spanner in the works
Here's a perfectly executed (and perfectly simple) auction to game on a mere 22 combined points. South, just failing to meet the criteria for a 'Rule of 20' opening, passes and her partner opens 1♠. Alert to the possibility of a spade fit, South responds 2♣ and awaits her partner's next bid – which turns out to be 2♦. Perfect. Partner has 5+ spades so we've found our major fit. It only remains to decide how high to go. South only has 10 points (in itself worth a raise to 3♠) but wisely counts her losers just to see if she should upgrade. And with just 7 losers bids on to game, which makes comfortably. In fact, as the cards lie, 12 tricks are possible.
'So what?' I hear you ask. 'A useful point about losers, but not really worth a HOTW article, is it?'
Well, not yet, no. But have a look at the whole deal. East, who happens to be dealer, can and should open a weak 2♥. Now what happens? Does South overcall 3♣ (vulnerable) with her 6-card suit and 10 points? Maybe yes, maybe no. Either way, West will 'bid to the level of the fit' * and raise her partner to 4♥. And now it's North who's in a quandary. Can she risk 4♠? Vulnerable? Not really, whether South overcalled or not. And if South passed, she can't even afford to make a penalty double of 4♥. East-West have royally shoved a spanner in the works – in this case by preventing their opponents from communicating with each other.
What happens in hearts? Well, NS will probably start with 2 spade tricks, then switch to a diamond, knocking out dummy's ♦A. North will win the first trump trick and lead her singleton ♣9. South wins with her ♣A and returns a club for partner to ruff, and North will cash her ♦K as the defence's sixth and last trick. Three off. Not bad going. But not a patch on bidding and making 4♠. Undoubled 4♥-3 will net NS just 150 points. Even doubled it's only worth 500. While 4♠, even without overtricks, will score 620.
Moral: The purpose of preemptive bids is to shove a spanner in the works. Use them!
In Box & Bath
In Box, every NS pair ended up in 4♠: good on them for not missing game – but presumably none of the Easts opened 2♥, which would have earned a top.
In Bath, only 3 of the 9 pairs managed to find 4♠, which suggests that most Easts were in preemptive mood. Apart from one disastrous NS 3NT contract, everyone else was going off in hearts – only two doubled.
* Bidding to the level of your fit: a technique used by the weaker side in a competitive auction. You count the number of trumps you're known to have and bid to that level. So if your partner overcalls 1♥ and you have 4 hearts, you raise to 3♥ (5 + 4 hearts = 9, so bid to make 9 tricks). On this hand, partner's opened a weak two and so is known to hold 6 hearts. West has 4, so raises to 4♥ (6 + 4 = 10 trumps / tricks). Beware of adverse vulnerability, but if you're not vulnerable, go for it!
Yikes – a Yarborough
Oddly enough, when I picked up this hand in Bath, I found myself wondering what I'd do if partner opened 2NT. Yarboroughs are usually worthless in no trumps, but those seven clubs would have to be worth a trick or two if they were trumps. 3♣ would be Stayman, however, and 4♣ would be a strong slam try, so I'd just decided that I'd punt a 'fast-arrival' weak 5♣ when my partner really did open 2NT. Bizarre.
More bizarrely still, North came in with 4♥. What now? Well, my heart void would be quite useful in 5♣, so I bid it anyway ... and everybody passed. I was declarer in game with not a card above a 9.
5♣ went one off for a really good score. Why good? Have a look at the whole deal and you'll see: North can actually make 6♥ – and that's in spite of my partner having half the points in the pack. So getting minus 50 for 5♣ -1 is pretty cheap by comparison.
What happens in hearts?
The amazing thing about this deal is that North, who can see 20 points in his hand and dummy, knows that every missing high-card point must be with West, because of his opening 2NT bid. So she knows that West has the ♥AQ, the ♣AQ, the ♦K and the ♠KQ. All the finessing's going to be dead easy, then!
Say a club is led. Up with the ♣K and ruff West's ♣A. Then over to dummy's ♠A and lead a low diamond, finessing the ♦J, which – of course – wins. Then ruff a diamond and have some fun with the clubs: lead the ♣J and ruff West's ♣Q – and now dummy's ♣10 is a winner.
What next? Ruff another diamond in dummy and cash your ♣10, discarding a diamond. So your only remaining diamond is now the Ace.
Now lead a trump. West can take her ♥A but all the rest of the tricks are North's. A little slam on just 20 points. Marvellous.
I shouldn't have been allowed to get away with my 5♣, should I? Holding an Ace and a King, a singleton diamond and FOUR hearts, South has surely got to raise her partner to 5♥. At this point, West will, correctly but very unfortunately, double for penalties and the result is going to very pretty indeed for North-South. Luckily for me, South passed.
In Box, two tables got away with going off in 5♣, with the rest making 11 or 12 tricks in hearts. But only one of the heart contracts was doubled.
In Bath, only 2 EW pairs were allowed to get away with 5♣, and one of those was doubled. Nearly everyone else was in 5♥X, which scored a very nice 750, including the overtrick. How one NS pair ended up in 2♥ with 4 overtricks is another question altogether!
Sitting North, vulnerable, with just 11 points and no 'rule of 20' opening, I prefer to pass and see what happens rather than open a dodgy 1♥. And plenty does happen – East opens puts down a preemptive 4♠ (showing an 8-card suit) and your partner doubles. West passes and it's back to you.
Before you decide what to bid, what do you make of your partner's double?
Because any suit response from you has to be at the 5 level, some pairs take the double of an opening 4♠ as for penalties rather than takeout. I prefer a 'halfway house': it's for takeout, but has 3 defensive tricks – which gives your partner a choice of passing or going on. So what do you think?
Well, it's all down to vulnerability again, isn't it? Your ♥A and ♣KQ may be worth a couple of defensive tricks in addition to your partner's 3 (remembering that East has only 5 cards that aren't trumps!). So East would be going off no more than 3, for a penalty of 500. Less if she can manage 8 tricks. Whereas if you can make 5♥ you'd get 650, which is much better. But can you? Probably yes. Partner must have a pretty good hand for a vulnerable double and surely has good hearts, so 5♥ is definitely worth a punt.
East will now subside (she's shown her hand with her opening bid and preempters are well advised to leave any further bidding to their partners) but West might well now go on to 5♠ – which you will now double for penalties.
Who can make what?
Take a look at the full deal. NS can take 11 comfortable tricks in hearts (I know, it says 12, but that's pretty fluky), so 5♥ is a great place to be. But with spades as trumps EW can take 8 tricks, all in trumps, so are only going 3 off in 5♠X for -500 – a bargain compared to 650 for 5♥ making.
Note that West can work out for herself that 5♠ is a good bid. First of all, she's got a load of rubbish, so 5♥ is surely making. She also has the ♠A, and partner's odds on to have the ♠K as one of her 8 spades, so she can count 8 tricks in spades. And a glance at the vulnerability will tell her that it's a good sacrifice.
In Box, the competition wasn't quite sharp enough. Two pairs were allowed to play in 4♥ and one was pushed up to 5♥ – all making. But one EW was allowed to get away with 4♠ undoubled, which really shouldn't be happening when NS have a combined 26 points.
Bath were a bit on the flaccid side as well, with only ONE pair playing in 5♠X. No less than 4 EW pairs were allowed to play in spades undoubled, but four NS pairs were at least pushed up to 5♥, again all making. And as for the EW pair who played in 4♠X and made ELEVEN tricks for a magnificent top, I can only assume there was a revoke somewhere!
Red vs green
Let's review the auction so far. Your partner opened a weak 2♥ and over East's takeout double you made a preemptive raise to 3♥, raising 'to the level of your fit' (your partner's 6 hearts + your 3 hearts = 9, so bid to make 9 tricks). West confidently bids the spade game, North and East pass ... and it's all down to you. Do you (a) pass (b) double or (c) bid 5♥?
Well, you're only going to double if you think they're going off in 4♠. How likely is that? You've got a club trick and (probably) one heart trick and with 6-9 points your partner may be worth one more trick, maybe in diamonds ... but that's probably it – so let's say they're making 4♠. Should you pass or sacrifice in 5♥? Think about it before reading on.
How many tricks do you think you'll make in hearts? 10 is very unlikely, as you have a maximum 20 points between you – and given the opposition's bidding, probably fewer. Your 9-card heart holding suggests that you can make 9 tricks. So now it's a question of simple arithmetic: how much do they score for 4♠ making and how much will it cost you to go 2 off in 5♥ doubled? (You will of course be doubled, as your opponents aren't daft and can tell that you're sacrificing.) Which brings us to the title of this article: in this situation, you need to check who's vulnerable and who isn't. And on this hand, you're vulnerable (red) and they're non-vulnerable (green). So they're going to score 400 and something for making 4♠ ... and they're going to score 500 for getting you 2 off in 5♥X. That's 200 for the first trick and 300 for the second.
So you pass. 420/450 is cheaper than 500. Easy peasy.
... change the vulnerability and it's a different story.
So to summarise: decide if they're making or not. If you think they are, make a guess of how many tricks you can make in your suit. Consult the vulnerability to work out which alternative is cheaper, and bid accordingly.
Have a look at the whole deal. They're certainly making their 4♠ – indeed, if declarer drops North's singleton ♠K (which she should) EW are making 12 tricks in spades. As predicted, only 9 tricks are available for NS in hearts (as EW can take three aces and can also make a club ruff): East leads a spade to West's Ace, West returns her singleton club and then, when she comes in with her ♥A, she leads a diamond; East wins and leads a club to be ruffed. Lovely.
In Box, two pairs made the spade game, but one lucky NS managed to make 10 tricks instead of 9 in 5♥X for just -200.
In Bath, all the EW pairs but one were all in the spade game, all making. The other pair sacrificed not in 5♥X but in 5♣X, which genuinely goes just 1 off for -200. This happens if North decides not to open a weak 2♥; then East opens 1♠, South overcalls 2♣ ... and North bids 5♣ over West's 4♠.
When you're the overcalling pair, it can be hard to know whether game is on or not. The overcaller can have anything from 8 points upwards, so how can her partner judge how high to go?
The most popular solution is that if you're strong (16+) with a good suit, you start with what looks like a normal take-out double and – ignoring whatever your partner bids – you THEN bid your suit. Your partner then has a much better idea of what to do next.
Have a look at the full deal here. If you simply overcall 1♥, your partner, with a flat 9-count and just three hearts, will raise you to 2♥ and it'll probably go no further.
But what happens if you double? Partner will either show her clubs or maybe (having a diamond stop but no 4-card major) bid 1NT. When you now bid hearts, that changes the picture completely. Your partner now knows you have a good (probably 6-card) heart suit and 16+ points. Suddenly 4♥ looks obvious.
Plan the play
Take a quick count. You're going to lose a diamond trick and possibly two spade tricks as well. That means you mustn't lose a trump trick as well. Fortunately, South has most of the outstanding points so the ♥K is probably finessable. So out to the dummy with a club and ... what do you lead?
The main point is that if the finesse works you will want to take it again. – and possibly even a third time. So you lead a card that enables you to keep the lead in dummy: the ♥10. As it happens here, you have every heart from the ♥6 up to the ♥Q, so any of dummy's hearts will do, provided you drop a low card from your hand.
What happens? The finesse works and you lead another of dummy's hearts, again playing low from hand. North shows out – South started with ♥Kxxx. Never mind. You can still catch the ♥K: lead your last trump from dummy, this time winning in your hand and finally you lead your ♥A, dropping South's ♥K.
As it happens, the spades don't work out well for you and you do lose two tricks in the suit. So you have to play the hearts right for your 10 tricks.
NOTE: It's vital that you keep the lead in dummy for all three finesses here. If you end up in hand and lead a second club to get back to dummy, South, who started with a singleton club will ruff and you're one down!
In Box & Bath
In Box, everyone was in hearts – more than half the tables in game – but only one declarer made 10 tricks. In Bath, lots of EW pairs missed game and a couple went too high, looking for a slam, but several pairs still failed to make 10 tricks. All to do with managing your entries.
The beauty of making an opening preemptive bid is that your job is now done. You've described your hand, and the rest is up to your partner ...
... who is you on this hand. Your partner opened 3♦ and East (after a bit of humming and hawing) has finally bid 3♠. What's the first thing you do? And the next thing you do? And finally, what do you bid?
The first thing you do is check the vulnerability, which tells you that a sacrifice will be CHEAP (because you're not vulnerable) and letting them make game will be EXPENSIVE (because they are vulnerable).
Next, you decide whether they're likely to make game in spades. If partner's a weak hand, then surely they are. Easy, then. Your partner got in East's way, and from all the hesitating going on, it almost worked. Now you have to do the same. West is surely going to bid 4♠ anyway, so give her something to think about: raise your partner to 5♦. (You're going to make 7 diamond tricks and with luck partner can provide one more, for 8 tricks. Doubled, that'll cost you 500, which is at least 120 cheaper than them making game in spades. Cheap at the price!)
If West doubles you for penalties, you're home and dry: if you can go just 3 off, you're showing a profit. But one more question for you:
Supposing West instead raises her partner to 5♠. North and East will pass and it's your bid: do you now go on to 6♦?
Don't even think about it. For one thing, that's going to cost you 800, which is MORE than they can make for game in spades. But there's another, much stronger reason. We just agreed, didn't we, that your partner might have just one trick outside diamonds. OK, that's one trick. The only possibility for a second is your ♦A and you already know that you can't make a trick with that. Don't you? If partner has 7 diamonds for her opening preempt and you have 5, the opposition only have one diamond between them. So they're going to ruff diamonds from trick one. In other words, EW have probably got a small slam in spades. And the only way they're going to bid it is if you force them up by bidding 6♦. So 6♦ is a disaster, whether NS bid on or not.
Have a look at the whole deal and you'll see that EW do indeed have a small slam in spades. Thank goodness, then, that you left them to make their 5♠. But why, you may ask, did we bother with all that preempting? Didn't help in the end, did it? Well, it might have, for three reasons:
1 There will be Easts who, with just 8 points and missing the ♠AKQ, will be put off bidding at all, in which case your 5♦ will certainly silence West.
2 And if East does bid 3♠, there will certainly be Wests who will prefer to double 5♦ for a sure penalty than raise partner to what may well be a dodgy 5♠.
3 And even if they bid and make 5♠, you might well have put them off looking for what turns out to be a stone cold slam in spades OR clubs.
In Bath, 4 pairs reached 5♠ and 4 pairs played in 5♦X. Fine. The other three results were substandard: one EW was allowed to play in 4♠ (S didn't raise to 5♦), one NS played in 5♦ UNdoubled (see below) and one NS went the extra step too far into 6♦X, which duly cost 800.
In Box, we had one pair in 5♠ and three in 5♦. So far, so good. But NONE of the 5♦ contracts was doubled. You got the preempting right, but when you know an opponent is making a sacrifice you HAVE TO DOUBLE IT. Otherwise, they're laughing all the way to the bank.
How high to go?
Sitting North with a tasty 17-count, you're delighted when West opens 1♣. You have the perfect hand for a takeout double: a good opening hand, a singleton in opener's suit, and 4-card support for whichever suit partner happens to bid. East passes and partner bids 1♠. Opener gives up and you have to decide what to bid now.
What does partner's 1♠ bid mean? Presumably she has 4+ spades, but what about her strength? Well, a takeout double requires partner to bid her best suit, however weak she is, so she could have as few as zero points. With 8 or more points, she'd jump to 2♠ to show her strength (and with 10+ to 3♠ and with opening points to 4♠). So you know she has somewhere between 0 and 7 points.
You certainly can't jump to game, but you equally certainly want to explore the situation further. You've got a strong hand, a major fit and just 5 losers. It's a toss-up between raising to 2♠ and jump-raising to 3♠. As it happens, partner has just 5 points, one of which is in a singleton ♥J, so if you raise to 2♠ she's likely to pass, as game seems a bit too far away. If you jump to 3♠, though, her ♠A and ruffing potential in hearts might just push her to game – after all, her points are much nearer 7 than they are to zero.
If you take a look at the whole deal, you'll probably agree with me that game is pushing it a bit. Technically, it's on, but not many Norths are going to make 10 tricks in real life.
No one in Box or Bath bid to game. And just one pair (in Bath) made 10 tricks, the rest making 9 (and just 8 in a couple of cases). So if your instinct as North was to err on the side of caution, it paid off on this hand.
And talking of caution, I'm not sure what possessed some EW pairs to bid on. West has a minimum opening hand, while East doesn't even have enough points to respond, yet in Bath two pairs somehow reached 3♣ and 3♥, both going 3 off. That's -300, vulnerable. Hey, that's what 'vulnerable' means, folks: be cautious or you may get burned. In Box, I'm glad to say one North preferred to double 3♥ to bidding on herself, and netted a very pleasant 500 when it went 2 off – well done!
When to stop?
How far do you go in a competitive auction? Here's a deal where each player has to make that judgment. Let's see how it goes.
South 1NT Yeah, I know. With 6-3-3-2 you should be opening 1♣. But do you really want to have to rebid 2♣ (and possibly 3♣) with such an empty suit? With a poor 6-card minor and the points spread around the other suits, a lot of players prefer to open 1NT. Gets the whole hand over in just one bid.
West PASS Not a difficult decision.
North 2♦ The start of a transfer into hearts.
East 2♠ Just what you need for an overcall at the 2-level after partner's passed: a really good suit and an outside Ace.
South PASS You've already bid your hand and you have no great liking for partner's hearts. With a maximum (which you have) and 3 or 4 hearts (which you don't have) you might have bid 3♥.
West PASS Again, an easy decision, especially with your holding in North's hearts.
North 3♥ Only 7 points but a 6-card heart suit, so you have a known major fit. You have no reason to suppose that their 2♠ is going off and you can expect to make 8 tricks in hearts. You're not vulnerable, so going one off in hearts (even if you're doubled) is still cheaper than giving them 110 for 2♠ making.
East 3♠ Same argument. You have no reason to think that 3♥ will go off, but you have 7 tricks in your own hand: if partner can come up with just one trick, you're only one off, which is a great sacrifice if 3♥ is making. And on a good day, 3♠ might even make!
South PASS Difficult. Can you make 4♥? Say your partner has absolutely solid hearts. That's 6 tricks plus your two outside aces. Eight. Two more needed. If partner were strong enough to provide them as well, she would surely have bid to game on her own. Could be a level too high ... On the other hand, you have 3 defensive tricks against 3♠ and partner could well provide a couple more. So pass and take the money.
West PASS Yawn. Haven't got much of a dummy for you, partner.
North PASS You've certainly bid your hand to the full and partner wasn't interested. To go on now would be to invite a penalty double.
So how does it go? East turns out to be doubly unlucky: her partner does have a trick (the ♣K) but it's impossible to get over to dummy to cash it. The result is a heart and a spade loser and FOUR losers in diamonds, for 2 off. Which would be fine if 3♥ is making: apparently it can make but it's not easy: everyone who was in hearts in Box and Bath only made 8 tricks.
But it's still the best place to be. In a just world, 3♥ would make without a care in the world, and 3♠ would go just one off.
Half the EW pairs in Box ended up in 3♠, two of them getting a bit of help from the opposition, because they made 8 and 9 (!) tricks.
In Bath, all the pairs bar one bid to game, mostly in spades, and only two got the penalty double they deserved, going 2 off for -300. Ouch! Which just goes to show that in Bath they simply don't know when to stop ...
Assess, then bid
You have this rather rubbishy 8-count and partner opens 3♣. West passes and it's your bid. What do you say?
Hold it! Before you decide, you need to assess the situation. Try answering these questions:
Here are my answers:
OK. You've assessed the situation. What do you bid? Your answer must surely be 5♣. Was it? Well done!
There are two seriously good reasons for bidding 5♣. One is that even if it goes 3 off, it'll be cheaper than letting them make game. Another is that it makes it very difficult indeed for East to bid. EW haven't exchanged any information so far, and you're forcing them to make their first bid at the five level. Difficult. Dangerous.
What if ...
... you just raise to 4♣ or (God forbid!) pass? Have a look at the whole deal - what do you think East will do with that very attractive 18 count?
Easy. She'll double for takeout, hoping that West will bid 4♥. And if West bids spades, East can settle for 5♦ instead. In the event, they'll end up in 4♥, which makes 11 tricks for 650. Thank you very much.
But she can't do that if North's bid 5♣, can she? Most probably she'll double for penalties, or she might try 5♦ (which makes, but only scores 600). If they do go on, NS would have to decide whether or not to sacrifice further in 6♣, which is dangerous but in this particular case pays off, as they only lose 4 tricks with clubs as trumps.
All sorts of results. What stands out in Bath is that only one pair were allowed to play in 4♥: most EWs were forced to declare at the 5-level, some going off. Some NS pairs sacrificed in 6♣X but went off by one too many (they probably finessed for the ♣K instead of playing for the drop, which is a better play when you hold 11 cards in a suit).
What stands out in Box is that only one of the NS pairs in clubs was doubled, and the other two were only in 3♣ and 4♣. With an 18-count, East can't simply allow NS to get away with it: she has to either enter the fray or double for penalties.
Weak jump overcall
Most of you play an opening 'weak two' in the major suits. 2♥, for example, shows a 6-card heart suit with 5-9 points (maybe 6-10 vulnerable). It's a great way of taking away opponents' bidding space and generally getting in the way. Not so many are aware that you can make the same bid as an overcall – actually, a jump overcall. On this hand, for instance, North opens 1♣ and East overcalls 2♠ – it's a 'jump' overcall because one spade is also available as an overcall – and it shows, you've guessed it, a 6-card suit and 5-9 points.
Why do it? Same reason – it gets in the way and takes up the opponents' bidding space. And it works a treat here. South now has to bid 3♥ (instead of just 1♥) and North will now be forced to bid 3NT. What now? South will either leave it or (if she's worried about the spades) convert to 4♥.
So what? you may ask. 3NT makes 9 tricks and 4♥ makes 11. You haven't got in the way at all! Or have you? Take a closer look and you'll see that NS can make a grand slam in clubs – and East's 2♠ overcall may well have prevented their opponents from finding it.
Supposing East doesn't bid. After partner's opening 1♣ South will reply 1♥ (no need to go higher – it's forcing) and North will rebid 2♣. 'Hmm,' thinks South. 'We have a 9-card club fit, and if my partner has an ace or two we could well have a slam on here ...' A simple way of finding out would be to bid 4NT Blackwood, which would allow South to discover that North has TWO aces plus the KING of trumps and also (if we get sophisticated) the QUEEN of trumps as well. No trouble finding a slam with that sort of information ...
... but East's 2♠ bid makes that a whole lot more difficult. It stops NS from agreeing their club fit and, more important, it makes them worry about getting into the right game ... and so the idea of the slam kinda fades away.
Moral: Chat with your partner and agree about what a jump overcall would mean in your system. It will always show a 6-card suit, and most pairs play it as weak, as EW did on this hand. I recommend that you do the same.
In Box and Bath
In Box, most NS pairs found game, either in 3NT, 4♥ or 5♣. The best score was for 11 tricks in hearts.
In Bath, most people were in the same games. Just one pair bid 6♣ (and made 13 tricks). Another pair, ridiculously, bid and made 6♥ – how, only God knows, as West was sitting behind the ♥A with ♥KQ4 and therefore, you would have thought, can't fail to make two trump tricks. That's bridge for you.
It's that negative X again
There goes East poking her oar in again. If she keeps quiet, it's easy for NS to reach 4♠ – South replies 1♥ to North's opening 1♦, North now bids 1♠, South raises to 3♠ and North has no trouble going on to game.
But here, East has overcalled 2♣. What to do? You aren't strong enough to bid hearts at the 2 level, but if you pass or bid 1NT the auction's likely to fizzle out long before game. The answer is, of course, to use the bid everyone always forgets about – the negative double. In a situation like this, where partner has opened a suit and the opposition have overcalled, it means:
Partner, I have enough points to respond, and I'm guaranteeing at least four cards in any unbid major suit.
Just perfect for this situation, isn't it? It actually turns East's overbid into an advantage for NS, because it enables South to show BOTH of her majors at once. So how does it go from here? West may raise her partner to 3♣ – just to get in the way – but now that North knows that you have 4 spades and enough points to respond, she'll have no trouble bidding 3♠ – or even going straight to 4♠.
MORAL: Whenever an opponent's overcall 'pinches your bid', consider whether the negative double might be the answer.
So how does it go? East will probably start by cashing her ♥AK and then switch to a club. You win with dummy's ♣A and cash the ♠A (in case someone happens to have the ♠Q singleton), then you'll come over to dummy's ♦A and take a trump finesse, felling West's ♠Q, and take one more round of trumps to finish the job. Then you cash your ♦KQ, ruff a diamond with dummy's last trump and the rest of the tricks are yours. 11 tricks made.
In Box and Bath
Most pairs in Box reached 4♠ but only one declarer made 11 tricks.
In Bath, strangely, less than half ended up in 4♠, though nearly everyone who did made 11 tricks. One EW sacrificed in 5♣X, which went 3 off for -500 – a bargain compared with -650 for 4♠ +1 made by NS.
Every Wednesday morning I get at least two bidding queries to which the answer is 'Double': either a straight 'take-out' double, offering support for whichever suit partner chooses to bid or the 'negative double' after an overcall of partner's opening bid, showing any unbid major. If your reaction is of the 'Oh yes, for some reason I never think of doubling' variety, then the sooner you add the double to your bidding toolkit the better.
Here, of course, it's the takeout double, showing (at least) OPENING POINTS and support for the other three suits – but, as always, with special emphasis on the majors. Your partner will expect you to have at least 4-4 in the majors, or 4-3 on a really bad day. On this hand it's the only sensible bid. Consider the alternatives. PASS would be a feeble admission of defeat. And 3♠, with that threadbare 5-card suit, would be simply foolhardy.
Now have a look at the other hands. (Aren't you glad you didn't bid those spades?) Assuming for a moment that West passes, what is North to bid? Well, for a a start she should prefer her 4-card MAJOR to her 5-card minor. But should she bid 3♥ or 4♥? Best simply to regard partner's hand as having opened 1♥ (the double marks it as an opening hand with at least 4 hearts). With 11 points and just 7 losers you'd bid 4♥, wouldn't you? So do the same here.
Now it's certainly true that 4♥ can go off. East's singleton spade to the Ace, followed by a spade ruff, then a low club to West's Ace and another spade ruff. Which North can of course prevent by herself ruffing with the ♥K ... but 4♥ is still the place to be and is unlucky not to make.
Which brings me, just before we look at what happened where, to West. I think that after South's double of partner's opening 3♣, West should sacrifice with 5♣. What? With 2 aces? Well, yes. I'd reason as follows:
The opposition have only 3 clubs between them, so we have only ONE club trick (they'll ruff the second). I have ONE other trick (my A♠). My partner made a preemptive opening, so may have ONE trick other than a few useless points in clubs. That makes only THREE tricks, so they're going to make 4♥. Therefore it's best to bid 5♣ NOW, before they can exchange any more information. If we go 2 off doubled, fine. And maybe they'll risk 5♥, which I reckon we can probably take one off.
The opposition have only 3 clubs between them, so we have only ONE club trick (they'll ruff the second). I have ONE other trick (my A♠). My partner made a preemptive opening, so may have ONE trick other than a few useless points in clubs. That makes only THREE tricks, so they're going to make 4♥. Therefore it's best to bid 5♣ NOW, before they can exchange any more information. If we go 2 off doubled, fine. And maybe they'll risk 5♥, which I reckon we can probably take one off.
Very interesting. NO-ONE in Box played in hearts, though a couple went off in spades (yuk) and one pair reached 4♦. So maybe someone doubled. In Bath, by contrast, 5 pairs played in hearts, three in diamonds and only 2 in spades, meaning that LOTS of Souths doubled. A small handful of Wests agreed with me about sacrificing in 5♣. Sadly. most of the people in hearts went off, but that was the luck of this particular draw. On another night, they would have had well-deserved tops.
5 + 5 = 10
Here's a nice competitive situation. Over North's opening 1♣, your partner has overcalled 1♥. South then makes a negative double (the one I go on about all the time), showing enough points to respond and exactly 4 spades.
And now it's up to you. You clearly want to support partner's hearts – but will you bid 2♥, 3♥ or 4♥?
Enter the Law of Total Tricks (Google it if you really want to), which has quite a lot of mumbo-jumbo associated with it, but one very useful rule of thumb:
Which means: count the number of trumps that you and your partner hold between you and bid to make that number of tricks. So here, your partner is known to have 5 hearts (at least) and you also have 5. 5 + 5 = 10, so bid to make 10 tricks. Bid 4♥. Straight away.
A word of explanation: you're not necessarily expected to MAKE 4♥. You're getting in the way. Taking bidding space away from your opponents. And linking how high you go to your total trump holding is a way of making sure you don't go too many tricks off.
Now take a look at the complete deal, and see the havoc you've just wrought.
North knows that she and her partner have a 4-4 spade fit ... but only has an ordinary opening hand. Can she risk bidding 4♠ when South may only have 6 points? Not really. So she passes. So does your partner. And now it's poor old South's turn. South doesn't even know that they have a spade fit, so can only double 4♥ for penalties. (Yes, she could try 5♣, but how likely is that to make?)
The result? 4♥X goes 2 off for -300. As you can see, NS can make an easy game in spades for a much better score – but thanks to your 4♥ bid they never get there.
A couple of final points
You're the dealer on this hand. What, if anything, do you open?
Well. with only 8 points, you're weak. With a 7-card suit, you'd open 3♠, but you haven't got 7 spades – you've got 8. And with a weak hand and an 8-card suit, you should open 4♠ .
Vulnerability comes into it, of course. You're vulnerable here, but so are they and you have a very good suit and probably have 8 tricks in your own hand. So in the worst case, you're two off doubled for minus 500.
How does it pan out? Depends who's got what:
Can't lose really. Have a look at the whole deal, and you'll see that the opposition have game in hearts. Their problem is that you've taken all their bidding space away and it's sheer guesswork whether they should simply double you or punt something at the 5 level. Actually, they can't make 11 tricks so if they bid on you're in profit. And if they double you, they only get 500, as the ♠Q drops.
Or things could get really stratospheric for you, as they did at our table. My partner led ♥A, then (seeing the singleton in dummy) led ♣A followed by the ♣K – disaster! Can you see what happened next?
That's right. North ruffed in hand, ruffed a heart in dummy, then ruffed another club and used dummy's last trump to ruff another heart. It remained only to clear trumps and claim +750 for 4♠ doubled making! Well done, Kath.
Note: Vulnerable against non-vulnerable, I'd probably only open 3♠, because they're only going to make 400 for game, and that makes -500 too expensive. So keep an eye on the greens and reds ...
The Box results were largely bizarre: both declarers in 4♠ made their contracts and one East somehow managed to make 5♥. Bath, on the other hand, was littered with EW pairs who had gone too high in diamonds or hearts and gone one or more off. Which just goes to show how effective an opening 4-bid can be.
How to wriggle
Here's a situation that happens pretty often, and every partnership needs an agreed method of dealing with it. Partner opens 1NT and your right-hand opponent doubles. Whereas the double of an opening SUIT bid is for take-out, doubling an opening 1NT bid is for PENALTIES, and requires a point-count of 16+. Your partner has already described her hand – you know she has a balanced 12-14 points – so it's up to YOU to decide the next move.
In essence, it's pretty simple. If you have 8+ points (or even a decent 7), you and your partner have half the points between you, so you're quite happy to play in 1NT doubled, and you calmly pass.
But if you're weak – as here, with only a 4-count – you know that 1NT doubled is not going to play well. You're going to go off for a nasty penalty and you need to do something about it. You need to WRIGGLE.
Wriggling essentially consists of 'running' from 1NT into a suit contract at the 2-level, which is likely to be less expensive. Here's what I play. It's not complicated and usually does the trick:
Let's just look at that again from opener's point of view. You've opened 1NT and your LHO doubles. If partner then ...
So what happens here? West has 4 hearts and 4 spades, so bids 2♥. North passes and East, who has 4 spades, is happy to sign off in 2♠. Wriggle successfully accomplished!
The interesting thing is what happens next. In practice, few doublers can resist making a bid – after all, they've got a nice hand and want to be in something! No doubt here South will bid 3♣, which North, with a wretched 4-count and not being sure exactly how strong his partner is, will probably pass. Which is a quite wonderful result for EW, because on this hand NS can make 3NT.
Let's look at some scores. No-one's vulnerable, so it looks like this:
The lesson is clear: if your 1NTX is going off, WRIGGLE!
In Box, most EWs were either in spades (after a quick introduction to wriggling!) or defending against 3♣, which surprisingly went off a couple of times. No NS pair reached 3NT. Bath had its fair share of 3♣ contracts, but several NS pairs succeeded in reaching 3NT. Most of the rest were 'wriggled' spade contracts by EW. Just one EW pair played in 1NTX, and they were FOUR off for minus 800 – the worst EW result in the room.
Again, the lesson is clear – WRIGGLE!
Here's a perfect example of the negative double that I bang on about every week. You're South, your partner has opened 1♣ and East overcalls 1♠. But for the overcall, you would have responded 1♥, but now you can't. With only 7 points, you aren't strong enough to bid 2♥ either. Enter the negative double, which means:
Partner, I have enough points to respond to your opening bid (so anything from 6 upwards) and I have at least 4 of any as yet unbid major.
Spades have already been bid in this auction, so the double simply means: I've got 6+ points and at least 4 hearts, partner. A pretty good description of your hand!
What happens next? North, who has a very pleasant 4-4-4-1 holding with four hearts, 17 points and just 5 losers, goes straight to game: 4♥. A simple negative double and you've found your spot. Have a look at the whole deal and you'll see that it makes comfortably. You lose just one spade and one diamond trick.
A negative double by North?
Just for fun, let's replay the auction with East bidding differently. Some of you play Ghestem, which is a way of showing TWO five card suits with one bid. Here, East's bidding 2♣ over North's 1♣ would show a hand with at least 5 diamonds and 5 spades – much more informative, and what's more it silences South, who now no longer has a bid. West bids 3♦ to show her (marked!) preference for diamonds ... and now it's North's turn to double. This basically says 'Come on, partner, bid something!' but with the opposition showing both spades and diamonds, there's a clear inference that North has hearts herself . And again, NS will have found their major fit.
This time, however, EW have been able to find their own fit, and may well decide that sacrificing in 5♦X is worth a punt. As indeed it is, as it only goes 2 off for -300, compared with -450 if NS are allowed to play in 4♥.
So a hand with all sorts of possibilities. But if you take just one thing from it, take the negative double. It comes up time and time again, and may well be the answer when you're saying to yourself 'That b......'s just pinched my bid!'
In Box, most pairs found the heart fit, but two pairs decided to sacrifice in diamonds and were duly rewarded. In Bath nearly everyone found the heart game – two bravely overbidding the diamond sacrifice to bid and make 5♥.
Everyone knows that with a weak hand and a 7-card suit, you can make a preemptive opening bid at the 3-level. Similarly, with an 8-card suit you can open 4, and on the rare occasions you have a 9-card suit, you can open 5. Although you could open 1♦ on this hand, an opening 5♦ would ensure the opponents don't find game in a major suit ... but no matter - it isn't your opening bid. In fact, you're 4th in the bidding order, so you wait and see what happens.
As it happens, EW are bidding and your partner isn't. That doesn't necessarily mean your partner is weak - she may just not have a convenient bid. But from where you're sitting, EW could easily end up in game in hearts - and possibly spades (given that your partner didn't overcall 1♠ over East's 1♣ and so probably doesn't have 5 spades). You've got a great suit, with a void in East's clubs and a conveniently placed ♥K (given West's heart bid), so it's a no-brainer to bang down the STOP card and bid 5♦ - that'll shut 'em up!
Um, yes - but is that a sacrifice or are you hoping to make the contract? The answer is that you don't know yet. If partner has values, you might make it. But if partner has nothing, EW have probably got game on. Either way, 5♦ is a good place to be.
So what happens? East probably leads the ♣A (click on 'Show all hands'), and you see that dummy is NOT particularly weak - EW DON'T therefore have a game, so you need to make your contract!
But it's not particularly difficult. You clear trumps in one round (keeping dummy's ♦Q as a vital entry) and lead a small spade. Lovely. If East plays her ♠A you can later discard two small hearts on dummy's ♠KQ, and if she doesn't, you win in dummy and lead the ♥J - or even a small heart - towards your ♥K, losing at most 2 heart tricks. 11 tricks bid and made.
What you shouldn't do ...
... is to end up stuck in your hand (e.g. by unnecessarily taking two rounds of trumps). Without an entry to dummy, you're helpless. Having taken her ♠A, East will now lead her ♣K, forcing you to ruff in hand, and now you've had it. Eventually you'll have to lead away from your ♥K, allowing West to make her ♥AQ, and you'll be one off - as presumably happened at one table in Bath and two in Box.
What about my hearts?
Just as an illustration of how silly today's hands were, here's a situation where East never gets to bid a really good major suit: ♥AKQ754.
After the opening joust in the minors, North has to think. She has good support for partner's clubs, but that must wait in case NS have a major fit. She can choose between a negative double (showing both majors) or simply bidding 1♥. I think the latter is slightly better, as South can always bid spades herself if she has four.
But what is East to do now? Hearts don't look so good, and there's a ready-made diamond fit. Part of me wants to raise straight to 5♦ – which is actually the best bid, as it happens – but let's be cautious and just raise partner to 3♦ (we have a known 9-card fit, so bid 'to the level of the fit').
South can now only pass. Ditto West. But North, with a 7-loser hand and good club support, can now compete with 4♣.
And then it's just a game of chicken until one side backs off. But amazingly, as it turns out, NS can make GAME in clubs, with just EIGHTEEN combined points (losing just one heart and one spade), while EW can make 10 tricks in diamonds. Hearts are a misfit, with just 8 tricks available to EW in spite of the super suit.
So it turns out that the par contract is 5♦X going just 1 off for -200. On an 18-22 point split, no-one's ever going to bid that far, though. Are they?
In Bath and Box
Well, one EW pair in Box reached 5♦ (presumably as a sacrifice over 5♣) and two EW pairs in Bath did the same (though they were DOUBLED, and rightly so). So the message from this hand? Don't ignore a major suit, but if there's an obvious major misfit, go for the known minor fit instead.
Or simply shake your head and hope for a more sensible distribution next time.
A helping hand
How likely are you to look for a slam on this hand, after partner's raise to 3♠? You've only got 5 losers, but with partner showing 8 losers herself, that still only adds up to 11 tricks. Most Norths will, I reckon settle for game: 4♠.
But what if West comes in with 4♣ over your partner's spade raise? Does that change things? I think it does. His partner has passed, yet he's prepared to bid at the 4-level – vulnerable! – all on his own. That suggests a long – and very good – club suit. Which in turn suggests that your partner's points are in suits other than clubs.
Put it another way: if the opponents have 15 points or so, 9 or 10 of them look likely to be in clubs - wasted points, because you have a club void. So all your partner's points are working – in suits where you need help.
So rather than signing off in 4♠, it does no harm if you try 4♦ en route, showing partner your ♦A and a slam interest. And when partner now comes back with 4♥ – almost certainly showing the ♥A – things look pretty promising.
What now? I'd probably just punt the slam. But it might be a good idea to go via RKC Blackwood, which allows you to check whether or not partner has the trump Queen (she has).
Have a look at the whole deal and you'll see that the slam is cold (with just a combined 23-count!). All you have to do is clear trumps, get rid of their ♦K (their only trick) and you can chuck your losing heart on one of your four diamond tricks. Easy – no excuses for not making 12 tricks!
But bidding it is another matter. In Bath, just 3 pairs bid the slam. I wonder whether those were the ones who got a helping hand from West?
As it is, this is an ideal opportunity for a negative double. In this situation, where one of the two suits bid is a major, a double simply means that you have enough points to respond and at least 4 of the other major (that is, either 4 or 5-but-not-strong-enough-to-bid-them-at-the-two-level).
Your partner turns out to have at least 4 hearts with you, and bids 2♥, and now North passes. What's your bid?
Simply count your losers: you have a 7-loser hand, and since your partner opened the bidding, you should go straight to game: 4♥.
What? With only 6 points? Sure. But OK, if you're in doubt, think about it a bit more:
So it's a no-brainer, really. Take a deep breath and reach for the 4♥ card.
Dummy goes down
North leads the ♣K and you lay down dummy.
If you click on Show All Hands, you'll see that I've cheated a little. Your partner (West) has a very nice 6-loser hand himself, and so should really respond to your double with 3♥ rather than just 2♥. I just wanted to get across the idea that even if partner had a weaker, more ordinary hand, you should still jump to game.
That being so, you really ought to be able to harvest an overtrick on this one.
How is it done? Move over to the West seat, take a moment to plan your play, then read on.
The simplest solution is to set up a cross-ruff. The rules of cross-ruffing are pretty simple. First, you don't clear trumps, as you need to retain the maximum number of trumps yourself to ruff with. And second, before you start cross-ruffing, you cash all your side-suit winners (because if you leave it till later, the opposition might start ruffing your tricks).
So. Win the first trick with the ♣A, cash your ♠AK (discarding one of those horrid little diamond losers from dummy).
Then lead a spade and ruff it in dummy ....
... lead back a club and ruff it in hand ...
... lead back another spade and ruff it in dummy ...
And carry on like that until you have 11 tricks. (It's well worth getting a pack of cards and playing it out – or if you have Jack, email me and I'll attach you the hand.)
And in Bath?
They didn't cover themselves with glory, I'm afraid. Even with 6 losers opposite 7 losers and a 9-card trump fit, only 3 of the 9 EWs bid to game. The rest subsided in 3♥ or even 2♥. Most declarers managed 11 tricks, though, and the poorest result was 10 tricks – which just goes to show how useful it can be to count your losers: it can guide you to an 11-trick game contract with just 22 points ...
PS: Losing Trick Count
If you're not familiar with the LTC, you'll find my version on the Nuts & Bolts page (see menu, left). It's well worth knowing!
The great plus of the Losing Trick Count is that it takes account of shape, and on this hand shape is everything.
How do you reply to partner's opening 1♦? You have just 9 points and no aces – but you have plentiful support for partner's suit and a void in what is surely the opposition's best suit (partner is unlikely to have more than 3 hearts, so they've probably got a 10-card fit!).
Let's count losers and see what we get. We have just two losers in each of our three suits – 6 in all. Add that to partner's 7 losers and we get 13. The Losing Trick Count suggests, then, that we can make (24 – 13 =) 11 tricks.
Goodness. Are you brave enough to bid 5♦ – vulnerable against non-vulnerable? You should, because East is marked to have points and if you make a tentative response like 3♦ – or even 4♦ – East will double for take-out or maybe punt hearts himself, and they'll find their fit. For all you know they can make a slam: after all, you have no aces yourself, and East or West could easily be void in diamonds. But if you go straight to 5♦, you're making it really difficult for them.
Have a look at the hands. East does indeed have points, but his double of 5♦ is for penalties – and 5♦ makes, thanks to partner's singleton club, netting you a handsome +750!
But look what happens if you don't jump straight there: East doubles for take-out and as sure as eggs is eggs West will show her 6-card heart suit, and that will be that. They'll either make game themselves in 4♥ or, if you persevere into 5♦ (as you should), they'll sacrifice in 5♥, going just 1 off.
So be bold. Each side holds just 20 points, but because of their shape game is on both ways. The key for NS is to go straight there before EW have time to catch their breath.
Postscript Sadly, this hand wasn't played in Bath, as it was one of our two low-tech shuffled-and-dealt hands. Here in Box, it was 50% in 4♥ and 50% in 5♦. Well done those who cracked on to game in diamonds – EW shouldn't be allowed to get away with 4♥.
Keep them out!
Sitting North, what do you open on this hand?
You're just a bit short of a Rule of 20 opening (points + the no of cards in your 2 longest suits >= 20). But you have 6 spades, so a weak 2 seems like a good idea: 2♠.
East passes, so what should South now bid? You have ample support for partner's spades, some lovely club tricks and not one but two singletons, so surely there's a good chance of game. Also, your partner wouldn't have opened a weak 2 if she had 4 of the other major – so the opposition have at least 9 hearts between them. They don't know that yet, though, so go straight there: 4♠.
West duly passes, and you play – and make – in 4♠, for a handsome 620.
Which is an excellent result for you, because (as you'll see from the diagram) EW can make 10 tricks in either hearts or diamonds. If they can only start talking to each other, they will realise that, and will sacrifice in either 5♥ or 5♦. Either of these goes just one off, so even if you double it you'll only get 200 – not a patch on 620.
So why didn't they find it? Because you kept them out! Let's say North opens just 1♠. East will surely overcall with 2♦, and then West, knowing her partner has values, will feel emboldened to show her hearts or raise partner's diamonds. Similarly, if South just raises to 3♠ instead of 4♠, West may well feel brave enough to show her hearts, and again EW will be able to escape with just -200.
But as it went, for East (11 points) to come in with 3♦ vulnerable would be daft, and for 8-pointed West to come in out of the blue with 5♥ would be even dafter. You bid high and preemptively, without hanging around, and stopped them in their tracks for a great score.
And in Bath?
Not a heart or diamond contract in sight. Everyone was in spades. Just one EW pair had presumably made the sacrifice, because NS had gone on to 5♠, which went 1 off doubled, for an absolute top for EW. Well done them – but I wonder if NS had themselves to blame for bidding too tentatively instead of going straight for game, thus allowing EW to enter the auction.
What do you bid on this hand after two passes?
Technically, you have a pre-emptive 3♠ opening – a 7-card suit and 6–9 points. It's a bit ropy, mind you: 5 of your 7 points are the singleton ♥K and the doubleton ♦Q, and the quality of your spade suit's pretty poor, too ... So what to do?
Before we decide, let's consider why we pre-empt at all. The idea is to make it difficult for the opposition to find their best contract by getting in the way. So, again, what to do? Well ...
So it's a no-brainer: bid 3♠.
Does it work? Have a look at the full deal.
Poor North. She has a lovely 18-count, but what can she bid? 3NT looks a bit dodgy. Double's not attractive, as partner will expect her to hold at least 4 hearts. And the diamonds are far from being a solid suit. But whatever she does, it's too late. Holding ♠AJ8 and a singleton, East will bid 4♠ over any call that North makes (other than pass!), and if necessary, e.g. if NS get into 5♦, even 5♠. Which North will, of course, double.
The result? EW can make 8 tricks in spades, so 4♠X goes 2 off for -300 and 5♠X goes 3 off for -500. Neither of which are as expensive as the -600 it will cost if NS are allowed to make 5♦.
It was around 50-50, with some NS pairs making 4♥ or 5♦, and in the rest EW were in 4♠ or 5♠ doubled – and in 2 cases were left in 3♠ undoubled for a very good result. All because of a pre-emptive opening bid.
HEALTH WARNING: Always check vulnerability before embarking on this kind of thing – and take especial care if YOU are vulnerable and they aren't: in that case, they're only making 400+ for game, and you will lose 500 for being just TWO off doubled. Yuk.
Here's a great hand on which the first two bidders should really pass - but didn't!
With just 4 points, South is too weak even to preempt, but as she's non-vulnerable against vulnerable she decides to put a spoke in the EW wheels with an opening 3♥.
Over to West, who with an awkward 4-4-4-1 holding and just 11 points, was intending to pass ... But South's 3♥ changes all that. Suddenly, 4-4-4-1 becomes transformed into the PERFECT holding for a take-out double: this, plus the decent spade holding, makes this otherwise nondescript 11-count worth bidding, even vulnerable and even at the 3-level: double.
Now it's North's turn. With a wretched 6-count, North can see at once that EW can make game (even if partner has a 'proper' preempt with 5-9 points) and maybe more ... So with a couple of hearts to supplement partner's seven, it's worth making things a bit more tricky for EW by bidding 4♥.
Which brings us to East, who has a magnificent 19-count as well as four spades. After partner's takeout double (which should show opening points) the question is not 'Can we make a slam?' but 'Should we be in 6♠ or 7♠?' The way to find out, of course, is via Blackwood, which can tell East first whether partner has the ♠A and then, crucially, whether she has the ♠Q too. But NS have kinda made that more difficult ...
Question: If East were now to bid 4NT, would that convey the meaning 'This is Blackwood agreeing spades, partner'?
Answer: I think it would, as West is guaranteeing 4 spades by her double. It's the default 'fit of preference' for both players.
So that's what I'd do: I'd find that partner has the missing keycard (the ♠A) and then I'd ask about the ♠Q, and finding that it's not there I'd sign off in 6♠.
But if you can't be sure that partner would understand 4NT, the only alternative is simply to punt 6♠ and hope that you can't make 13 tricks! (You can't, as you're missing 5 trumps including the ♠J and the ♠Q.)
So there you are. Does the NS preempting spree pay off? Hard to say – in Bath, certainly (and surprisingly), only four out of 13 EWs ended up in the rock-solid slam. We did rather better in Box, with 2 out of 3 tables reaching 6♠.
No one in either place, though, found the best spot for EW, which is (apparently!) 7♣. Can't win 'em all.
So - a useful addition to your convention card. To find out more, google 'protective position bridge' - if you don't include the 'bridge' you get lots of stuff about flight emergencies.
From where you're sitting, 4♠ looks pretty likely to make. They've obviously got a good fit in spades (as your singleton would suggest); they've gone straight to game, so they're either strong or very distributional; your partner has said nothing; and they're going to be very short of your best suit, so you'll probably make just one club trick at best. 4♠ – or even 5♠ – looks to be on.
So think about the sacrifice. If your partner has absolutely NOTHING, how many tricks are you going to make with clubs as trumps? I make it 9. That means you'll be no worse than 2 off in 5♣X (oh yes, they're going to double you!) – and if your partner has something, maybe only 1 off.
And the rest is simple, provided you know your game and penalty scores. If you don't, this is a good opportunity to learn them – I've listed them at the end – but for the moment you need to know that 4♠ vulnerable will gain NS 620, whereas going 2 off vulnerable in 5♣X will only cost you 500. Sacrificing in 5♣ is clearly the right thing to do.
Of course, they may decide not to double you but to bid 5♠ instead, and now you'll need to do your sums all over again, but that takes us into murkier waters – if you bid further you're in danger of pushing them into a slam which might even make! – so we'll leave it there.
Have a look at the hands. It turns out that they're certainly making game in spades (in fact, a rather freaky 6♠ is on) and your sacrifice is spot on, as you can make not 9 but 10 tricks: just one off for a cost of 200 points.
Score/Penalty for …
… making game
… going 1 off doubled
… going 2 off doubled
… going 3 off doubled
… going more off doubled
extra 300 per trick
Handling the hearts
If you were declarer, you'd handle this suit by playing off the ♥AK first, then leading low to the ♥Q so the lead's in the right place to cash all the other heart winners. And that's exactly how it goes in defence too.
If it's East's opening lead: lead the A, then the K then the 5 and you've got 6 heart tricks.
If it's West's opening bid: You could lead the 7 (4th highest) but it's best to lead 'top of the sequency bit of a broken sequence'): the 10 from Q109. And East, mindful of the danger of blocking the suit, must go up with the A (or K) then the K (or A) and finally, again, the 5 ... and again you have 6 heart tricks.
So lessons for both sides:
NS: don't get into impossible contracts and
EW: bid up! And if NS do get into an impossible contract, don't let them make it!
And that was that. North leads a spade and down goes dummy.
A forgotten bid
What do you bid on this hand when your right-hand opponent has pinched your bid and opened 1♥?
You haven't got an 'overcalling' suit, and in any case with 16 points you're too strong to make just an overcall. But double's no good either, is it? Not only can you not really support spades, but you don't have 4 cards in ANY of the other three suits ...
The answer's obvious once it's pointed out, but this situation doesn't arise that often, so many players simply forget what to do. And that is: make a 1NT overcall.
What does it mean? Well, it's stronger than the ordinary opening 1NT by 3 points (it has to be, as your opponents have already shown strength by opening the bidding) so has the range 15-17 points. It also shows a balanced hand AND at least one (preferably two) stops in the opponents' suit.
Which, I think you'll agree, describes East's hand perfectly. And if you click on Show all hands, you'll see that everyone will probably now pass. If South starts bidding her spades, North will expect her to be quite a lot stronger than she is, and West, with 6 points and long minors (so with a combined 21-23 points), is quite happy to stay in 1NT.
What to lead? How to play it?
What is poor South to lead? What happens if she leads a spade? Well, the contract will go off, but only if her partner drops his ♠K under dummy's singleton ♠A. How on earth can he tell? Well ... 'I have 16 points, and so does East. And there are 6 on the table. That leaves just TWO points for my partner (who presumably has a lot of spades, because I have just 2, dummy has just 1 and East didn't bid them over 1♥). So the ONLY entry my partner can possible have is the ♠Q. Therefore I must dump my ♠K, so that when I get the lead I can lead back a small spade ...' Not easy, though.
If South instead leads a heart (her partner's suit), East is home at a romp. She wins the trick and immediately sets up the diamonds, leading the ♦A and then the ♦J and then carrying on with diamonds until North's ♦K is forced out. The ♠A provides a handy entry to the remaining diamond tricks in dummy. What she MUSTN'T do is waste that precious entry (and precious stop in spades!) going over to dummy to take a diamond finesse. Set up the diamond tricks NOW, at trick 2, and let them have their ♦K.
At Bath BC, they hadn't forgotten their 1NT overcalls, because almost every table was in 1NT by East. It only went off once ... and that was on a spade lead.
So there you are. The East and West worriers amongst you were right in thinking that you may not have a heart stop: you didn't. But as the defence didn't find the right opening lead, it didn't matter.
And 5♦? It goes off, as the defence can (and will) take the ♠A and ♥AK off the top. (Even if it made, it would still earn 60 less than 3NT +2 and so would be a wretched result in pairs.)
And in Bath?
Some interesting results. Only 4 pairs were in NT, and they all made at least 11 tricks (so no heart lead there either!). One pair was in 6NT, which made courtesy of South's kindly lead of ♠A (making West's ♠KQx holding worth two tricks.) Others were floundering around in ♦5 or 5♣, which variously made or didn't. The most interesting was a 4♠X sacrifice by NS, which only went 1 off for -100. Well done them!
Postscript for Benji players
Some of you play an opening 2NT with 19-20 points, and so would have opened 2NT in the East seat. I can't see South overcalling that, so it's over to West, who must again ignore the lure of the long diamonds, hope partner has the ♦A and confidently raise to 3NT.
West opens 1♦.
Sure, the spades are better and spades are a major suit BUT the diamonds are longer. Bid them first.
Yes, she has a few points and the requisite 5-card suit, but the suit quality is simply not good enough. Yuk. Pass.
East also passes. Wouldn't you?
South uses the X card: double.
With a balanced 16-count and diamond stops, South could overcall 1NT (showing 15-17), but with both majors it's better to double, hoping to find a major fit. If partner bids clubs you can always bid NT then.
West now bids 1♠.
Why not? He has a good hand and showing his second suit at the 1 level risks little.
North says 2♥.
With a pretty certain heart fit, 8 losers and the ♦K (West's suit) a lot of players would jump to 3♥ here, but North is a cautious player, and reasons that making a 'free' bid of 2♥ shows a bit of extra strength anyway. (It's a free bid because West bid 1♠, so North could pass if she wanted to without ending the auction.)
After East's pass, South raises to 3♥ ...
Hmm. Partner made a free bid, so probably has a bit extra – but how much? Well, I've got a nice 6-loser hand, so I'm going to invite game.
... and North raises to game: 4♥.
Oh all right then. I almost bid 3♥ last time, and I've got just 8 losers, after all.
So North is in 4♥ and it's East's lead.
And whether it makes or not depends entirely on the opening lead.
Which of partner's two suits will East lead?
If he leads a spade, the contract's going off. The defence take the ♠AQ, plus West's other two aces.
But if he leads a diamond (which she probably will, as his partner bid diamonds first) it's making. North can win with the ♦K and play 2 further rounds of diamonds, discarding one of her two losing spades and ensuring 10 tricks.
Actually, he doesn't even need to do that, as poor old East never gets the lead again: it's always West winning the tricks, and so declarer makes 3 diamonds, 3 clubs and 4 hearts.
As far as East is concerned, it's a spade at trick 1 or not at all!
So what happened at the table? One pair bid game, the other two stopping in 2♥ and 3♥ (which are also reasonable contracts, given the risks!). Only one pair made 10 tricks – and that had to be the pair that bid 2♥, of course!
And in Bath?
Nearly every pair were in hearts, though only half of them risked game. But every single pair made 10 tricks. Why? Because no-one found the killing spade lead: the opening leads were all diamonds.
Fit? What fit?
Here's a fun hand from last Wednesday morning. After East's pass, your partner opens a weak 2♠. West doubles for takeout ... and it's up to you to make the next bid.
What can you deduce about your holding and theirs?
For a start, you have a 9-card spade fit. And they have a certain heart fit. (How do you know? Because your partner would not open a weak 2 if he has 4 cards in the other major. So his max. 3 hearts added to your two leaves them with at least an 8-card heart fit.)
Hmm. Are they going to make game in hearts, then? Well, they probably are. Your long diamonds and your spade fit means that EW will be probably be short in both of those suits, so not many defensive tricks for you there, then. Plus partner is weak ... So what to do? One more consideration:
Who's vulnerable? Answer: they are and you aren't. That means that they're going to get 600+ for game in hearts, and even taking you as many as THREE off in 4♠ doubled will only get them 500. So out with the stop card and bid 4♠, confidently expecting to get doubled and go at least two off!
Click on Show all cards to see what happens. It's a brave East that will now risk bidding 5♥ with an 8-count, in spite of her chunky ♥KQxx holding. And when West then doubles again, this time it's for penalties. So the net result of your 4♠ bid is that East-West will probably never find their heart fit – even though they can make 11 tricks in hearts.
Rewind a moment and imagine what happens if you bid your diamonds (why bother, when you have a major fit?) or raise your partner to a feeble 3♠. East will now be thinking 'Hmm. I've got a nice heart suit here, and they might even make 3♠, so I'm going to punt 4♥.' You've allowed them to communicate: they've found their heart fit, and now West will have no problem bidding 5♥ herself if necessary.
The moral, then: take all the inferences you can find, check the vulnerability and then bid as high as you dare. The best way of stopping them bidding to game is to prevent them finding their fit.
Postscript: don't forget to double!
If you're sitting West, you'll have realised that you've probably been cheated out of a contract of some kind by NS. But that's no reason to collapse in a heap and let them get away with it. Look at your hand. You have two outside aces, plus the ♠AQ sitting BEHIND declarer, who surely has the spade King. That's four pretty certain tricks, even if your partner has NOTHING. So whatever you do, don't forget to double: 100's better than 50, 300's better than 100 – and 500's better than 150!
Here's a strange hand to end the year on. Imagine your partner opens 1NT. How do you respond with the hand shown? Well, you only have 9 points, but with your partner guaranteeing at least 2 clubs (she won't open 1NT with a singleton), you look to have 8 tricks in clubs once you get the lead. I would bid 3NT and hope that partner gets a friendly lead. Most of the time you'll get a comfortable 9, 10 or even 11 tricks.
So why not try for 5♣? Well for one thing, you need 11 tricks, which may or may not be forthcoming. And for another, tricks in no trumps are worth more than tricks in a minor suit. Of which more below.
But this is all slightly by the way, as North does NOT open 1NT. She holds a balanced 15-count with a small doubleton club, and opens 1♥, intending to rebid NT on her next turn. East comes in with 2♦, and it's your bid. Now the situation's rather more difficult, as you don't know if partner has got East's diamonds stopped, so 3NT would be much more of a punt. Instead, bid 3C, and let partner decide. North duly bids 3NT, and the auction is over.
Does it make? Click on 'Show all hands' and check.
East duly leads his ♦J, and North collects a comfortable 11 tricks: one diamond trick, the ♠AK and 8 delicious clubs.
Just to recap: even though 5♣ happens to make, 3NT is better. Your 11 tricks in clubs, @ 20 points each for each one after the 6th, are worth 100 points. The equivalent 5 tricks in no trumps, however, are worth 40 + a further 30 x 4 = 160 points. Even if you're restricted to just 10 tricks by brilliant defence, in no trumps you're still getting 130 for your trouble, which is still better than 5♣.
Everyone ended up with East in either 2♦ or 3♦ on this hand - but with 24 points between them North-South shouldn't really be allowing them to get away with that. A competitive auction is called for.
The dealer, West, passes, and North, who's just a point short of an opening 1NT, passes as well. East has only 10 points, but on the Rule of 20 scores 21 (points + no of cards in the longest two suits) and so is easily strong enough to open 1♦.
What would you bid in the South seat? There's only one answer: with opening points, a shortage in opener's suit and 4-card support for the other three suits, South's hand is a classic take-out double. This requires partner to bid his best suit (even if he has no points!), and with 8 or more points he should jump.
What happens then? West was planning to respond 1♠, and still does so (why not?), and now it's up to North. Well, if South's double is up to scratch, North-South have an 8-card fit in hearts, and may even have game. No matter that the heart suit is weak - South has advertised opening strength and a 4-card heart suit, and is likely to have honours in hearts. Add to that your 11 points (plus a nice spade holding sitting behind West, who bid spades) and you're easily strong enough to bid 2♥.
And you might be lucky enough to get away with it. Sitting East, I think I would bid 3♦, but with only 10 points a lot of Easts will pass. But let's say East does bid 3♦. With 6 losers South may go to 3♥, but he only has minimum points for the double, so may pass. As will West. In which case, North may be tempted to go to 3♥ himself.
So one way or another, then, NS are likely to push the bidding to 3♥, and if EW are foolish enough to press on in diamonds, they're going off.
So if North's in 3♥, East has the lead and will probably choose her singleton ♠6.
Look at just the North and South hand for a moment, as if you're declarer. Looks quite good, doesn't it? On the spade lead, you have 3 spade tricks, and if the trump split is friendly, 4 trumps tricks, plus a ruff (in either diamonds or spades), giving you 8. And although you're unlikely to make your K♦ with East holding the diamonds, you could get lucky with the club suit and pinch a 9th somehow. And even if you don't, going one off is better than letting them make 3♦.
Unfortunately, it doesn't turn out quite like that. There's a poor 4-1 trump split, and the club honours are badly placed for you. Even so, if you get your diamond ruff in quickly, you should make 3 spade tricks and four heart tricks (5 if you manage to ruff a spade as well), so it's still not a bad result for you.
As well as a reminder of the take-out double and the necessity to bid on with a 4-card major suit - even if it's 8xxx! - there's a further lesson to take from this hand: you have to know the rudiments of scoring. If you always rely on using the back of the bidding card as a crib, you won't know how far to bid.
9 tricks in diamonds are worth 60 + (part score bonus) 50 = 110 to EW.
NS aren't vulnerable, so going 1 off will cost just 50, and 2 off just 100. Either is good value compared to -110.
But what if East-West double? Well, for one thing they're unlikely to with just 16 points between them. And for another, even if they do, you have to be pretty unlucky to go more than 1 off in 3♥, and (as you know) 1 off doubled non-vulnerable is only 100: still cheaper than -110.
And if it turns out to be one of those days when the Gods are against you and you go 2 off doubled in a perfectly reasonable contract, then you have to just smile and get on with it, happy in the knowledge that you did the right thing and that 80% of the time it'll come off.
(In Bath, by the way, quite a few EW pairs were also allowed to get away with 3♦, but 5 EW pairs were pushed too high, into 4♦ and even 5♦. Some of them were doubled, and all went off, giving NS a deserved reward for bidding on in hearts.)
The auction on this deal will be of some interest to fans of the Losing Trick Count (see Nuts & bolts on the menu), though the main point that arose at the table was on the play.
OK. First the Losing Trick Count. Assuming each side has a fit (actually, both sides have a double fit, don't they?) what's the combined loser count? Have a go before reading on!
North has 8 losers and South has 7. Total 15. Subtract that from 24 and you have 9 tricks.
West has 9 losers and East has 6. Again, total 15. Again 9 tricks.
But as NS's major outranks EW's you'd expect NS to win the auction.
Which is exactly what happens.
After North's pass, East opens 1♥ and South, disregarding the dismal quality of his spade suit because he has strength elsewhere, overcalls 1♠.
At this point, a really brave West will punt 3♥, hoping to silence North, but vulnerable and with a wretched 9-loser hand, she decides that 2♥ is enough.
With a decent 8-loser hand and 3-card spade support, North is happy to support with 2♠.
East now 'cashes in' the 6-loser-ness of her hand (she could have opened with 7 losers, so she's better than she might have been) and bids 3♥.
And South, similarly 'cashing in' (as he could have overcalled with 8 losers and in fact has only 7), ends the auction on 3♠.
Both sides have competed to their LTC maximum. Non-vulnerable, EW might have sacrificed in 4♥. Why? Because as things stand, they're going to score -140 if NS make their 3♠ contract. 3♥X - 1 only costs 100, so it's cheaper. But if you're vulnerable, 3♥X - 1 costs 200, which is horrible. So EW pass and hope to get 3♠ off.
West leads a small heart, naturally enough, which suits Declarer very nicely, especially when East wins with his Ace and returns a heart. Declarer (who should have sat and planned the hand at trick one but didn't bother!) can now stop and take stock.
You're Declarer. You're hoping that the spades will split 3-2. If they do, what's the plan?
Well, you've lost a heart, and you have two clubs and a spade to lose. And that's that.
BUT, being an avid Times reader and everyone having followed to your ♠A and ♠K, you decide to obey Andrew Robson's 'Rule of 1'. This states that if there's only 1 trump left outstanding and it's a winner, you don't bother to clear it unless you have a very good reason. It's going to take a trick anyway, so why should you waste two of your own trumps getting rid of it. Much better that the opponent uses it to trump something without taking any of your valuable trumps along with it.
So after winning your heart trick and taking two rounds of trumps, you simply start taking diamond tricks, allowing East (who has the missing ♠Q) to trump in whenever he likes.
That's the lesson for Declarer: don't waste your trumps drawing an opponent's trump that's going to win a trick anyway.
But there's a lesson for East (the player with the trump) as well. Let's take it trick by trick ...
Let's say Declarer takes the first diamond trick in dummy, then returns to his hand with a second. East has to follow both times.
OK. Declarer now leads a 3rd diamond, a high one, from hand. If East ruffs in now, the defence can take their two club tricks, restricting NS to 9 tricks. But he decides to wait. OK. Fine. No problem.
Now Declarer leads his last diamond from hand, playing high from dummy. Again, East has to decide whether to ruff or not. If he ruffs, the defence can still take their two club tricks. And this time he must ruff, because if he doesn't ...
The lead is in dummy, which contains the last diamond. Declarer now has no diamonds left in his hand. He leads the dummy's last diamond, and whether East ruffs or not, throws away a little club from his hand. Now he has only one club in his hand – and all the others are trumps. East has left it so late to ruff that Declarer has been able to throw away a certain loser, on a trick that he was going to lose anyway. It's a classic 'loser on loser' play, and South is now going to get a top for netting 10 tricks when he was only entitled to 9.
As I read this, I'm the first to admit that it's all a bit wordy. If you don't quite get it, do grab a pack of cards and play it out. Try ruffing the 3rd or 4th round of diamonds and leading a club. Then try leaving it till the 5th round. And it should all become clear!
As always, what happened at Bath? 6 pairs ended up in 3♠ (one doubled!) and all made, 9 tricks netting a pretty good 63%. Two, however, made the elusive overtrick (no doubt because the defence failed to ruff in early enough), and scored an even more pleasant 82%. Of the rest, some were in hearts, making either 8 or 10 tricks, and two Easts ended up playing in 1NT, one going off, but both for pretty good scores.
There were several interesting candidates in this week's hands, including a dramatic slam or two, but one in particular caught my eye, as it bore a strong resemblance to something we covered only last week in the Level 1 class.
The lesson was on take-out doubles. One situation that arose (you can find it on page 103 of the Beginning Bridge coursebook) was what to do if your partner doubles an opening bid of (say) 1♦, and you have a decent point-count and 4 cards in both majors. How do you choose between them? You don't want to choose hearts only to find that partner has 3 hearts but 4 spades. Nor do you want to err the other way round. The answer is to ask your partner, and the way to do this is to bid the opponent's suit - in this case, 2♦. This can hardly be a natural bid (if your diamonds were really that good, you'd pass your partner's double and play for penalties!), and so is handily available for other purposes. In this case it means "You've asked me to bid my best suit, partner, and actually I've got quite a nice hand. Trouble is, I have 4 cards in both majors, and I don't know which one you prefer. Can you help me out, please?" Partner will then express a preference and you can go on from there.
This is exactly what NS need to find their contract on board 14.
East is dealer and opens 1♦.
South, holding two good 4-card majors and three clubs, would like to double for take-out but is about a King short of opening points - and so passes for the time being.
West eyes her four diamonds and is tempted to raise in partner's suit but with just two jacks decides to pass instead.
What should North do? Well, he could just punt 2♣, but the hand's a bit too good for that - and what if partner should have 4 spades? North decides to double for take-out. There's a slight risk of ending up in a 7-card fit in hearts, but North can always escape to clubs if he doesn't fancy it, and the attraction of finding a spade fit is too great to resist. So out comes the X.
East, with only 6 losers and a 6-card diamond suit, decides to have another go: 2♦.
South is now seriously interested. She has 10 well-placed points, and game in a major is a distinct possibility. But which one? The answer, as we found above, is to let partner decide. She bids 3♦. Her partner is flummoxed, but only for a moment, as he quickly remembers his lesson on take-out doubles all those months ago. His partner has both majors and a decent hand (she's not going to stick her neck out at the 3 level with a collection of tram tickets). Perfect. With a singleton in the opponent's suit and (surely) 5 club tricks once trumps are cleared, we must be in game: 4♠ it is.
Here's the complete auction:
And if North only ventures 3♠, South will no doubt ensure that game is reached by bidding it herself.
Not much to it, really. East will no doubt start with the ♦A and then, not entirely believing North when he drops the ♦Q, will continue with ♦K, which North will ruff.
It remains only to force out the trump Ace, win the next trick, clear the remaining trumps and cash all those lovely top clubs and hearts, for 11 tricks in total.
Pretty obvious, huh? You're betting that everyone at Bath BC ended up in 4♠? Not a bit of it. The hand was played 9 times in all.
Our very first Play & Learn hand raises tricky bidding decisions for all four players.
North opens 1♠, East passes and South (probably) raises to 2♠. West, with her very nice heart holding and spade void, has no problem bidding 3♥. North probably passes at this point, hoping that EW will stop short of game.
The spotlight now falls on East, who is already reaching for his second Pass card ... But hang on a moment. Your partner has bid at the three level all on her own, after your initial pass, and you have three cards in her suit including an honour, plus a KQ she knows nothing about. Surely that merits a raise to game - 4♥ it is.
So will either South or North be brave enough to sacrifice in 4♠? They're surely worth 8 tricks in spades, and even if they're doubled (for a 300 penalty) that's still cheaper than 420 for 4♥ making. I think that South should bid 4♠, and if she doesn't, then North should!
Which makes life very hard for poor old West. Should she pass? double? or bid 5♥? Personally, I'd bid 5♥, but what do I know?
Have a look at the four hands and decide what you think happens