Bridge @ Box
12 (+2) hands of Christmas
Welcome
Welcome
If you were at our Christmas session, you will have played these hands.

Here they are again, with commentaries and quizzes to help you get the most out of them.

One hand will be added on 23rd, 24th and each of the 12 days of Christmas, so if the mince pies and paper hats are driving you crackers and you're going through cold turkey without your bridge, you know where to come ...


Hand 14
The bidding

East is the dealer, and passes. It's South to bid.

How do you think the auction will go?

With an unbalanced 13-count, South opens her longest suit, clubs: 1♣.

North has enough points to respond, and bids 1.

South's second suit is heart - she has 4 - so she can support partner's suit. She has ordinary opening points, and so just raises to the 2-level: 2
.

With just 7 points opposite an ordinary opening hand, South doesn't see any prospect of game, and passes.

The play

You're South, you need to make 8 tricks in hearts, and and West leads the ♣J.

How are you going to play the hand?

It looks pretty good. With luck you have 5 trump tricks. You can establish a spade trick (by knocking out the ♠A) and can then ruff your 3rd spade in dummy for an extra trick. That's 7. Plus the ♣AK makes nine.

So what to do? Win the first trick and clear trumps (as it turns out, you're lucky: East and West have two hearts each so you don't lose a trump trick). I would then carry on with clubs, cashing the ♣K and giving West a trick with his ♣10.

Inevitably, the defence will now take a further 3 winners, the
AK and ♠A, and you will win the rest: a comfortable nine tricks in all.

Hand 13
The bidding

North is the dealer, and passes. It's East to bid.

How do you think the auction will go?

East only has 11 points, but according to the Rule of 20 is just strong enough to open. (If your points + the number of cards in your 2 longest suits = at least 20, you can open.) So 1 from East

With 4 of partner's suit and 10 points, West invites game with 3
.

East has a minimum opening bid, as we've seen, so passes.


The play

You're East, you need to make 9 tricks in spades, and and South leads the ♣4.

How are you going to play the hand?

Against decent defence, you'll be lucky to make this.

I can see nine (eventual) tricks: 4 trumps, the club and diamond aces, one heart trick, plus two diamond ruffs in dummy, but ...

... you also have to lose tricks to the A and ♠A and you look to have one diamond loser and probably two club losers as well: that's 5 losers - one too many.

My main strategy would be to get rid of dummy's diamonds asap, in order to take the two diamond ruffs and hope to get 9 tricks before they get 5! So up with the ♣A, lead a diamond and see what happens.

On the day, everyone managed to make 10 tricks, so the defence can't have been that good! For example, if South begins by leading the A, declarer says thank you very much and is able to discard his two club losers on dummy's KQ.

The main lesson being: yes, as declarer you have to make a plan that assumes the best defence, but very often the defenders will make mistakes and hand you the contract on a plate.
Hand 12
The bidding

West is the dealer, and passes. It's North to bid.

How do you think the auction will go?

With just 8 points, North will pass. East also passes.

South has a strong unbalanced hand. She'll start with her longest suit - hearts - but on her second bid plans to show her second suit (diamonds) and her extra strength.
Her first bid, then, is 1.

With only 2 hearts (nice ones though they are!) North can't support partner's suit. But he has enough points to respond, and so shows his own longest suit: 1
.

If partner has enough points to respond (rather than pass), NS should be in game. How can South tell her partner this? The answer is to make a 'jump shift' : instead of bidding 2
(which would show a maximum of about 15 points) she jumps to 3. This is forcing to game: neither player can now pass until game is reached.

A difficult decision for North. He'd like to bid no trumps, but has nothing useful in clubs (a suit partner is going to be short in). Partner has at least 5 hearts, maybe 6, but he only has two. What to do? Well, partner's strong and my two trumps are as good as it comes, so I'll risk 3
and see what happens.

Easy for South now. Game in hearts it is: 4
.

The play

You're South, you've reached game in hearts - and West leads the 8.

You need 10 tricks. How are you going to play the hand?

It's looking good. You have 6 probable trump tricks, plus (at least) 3 diamond tricks and the ♠A. That's 10 tricks, and there are chances for more.

Any dangers? Only if the opposition are able to trump something with one of their horrid little trumps. (Suppose, for example, that West's
8 lead is a singleton?) How to stop them? Easy. Clear their trumps straight away!

So you win the first trick in your hand, lead a small trump and win two rounds of trumps with dummy's
AK. Everyone follows suit, so that's 8 trumps gone: they still have one trump, and you must clear it. But how? The lead's in dummy and dummy has no hearts left. How to get the lead in your hand?

Again, easy. Lead a small spade to your Ace, and immediately lead your
Q. Now they have no trumps left and you can relax. Ten tricks are yours.

As it turns out, the diamonds don't divide 3-3, so you have to concede one diamond trick at the end, together with a club trick and a spade trick, but that's fine: you have 10 tricks and have therefore made your contract.
Hand 11
The bidding

South is the dealer, and passes. It's West's bid.

How do you think the auction will go?

West has a balanced 12-count and should open 1NT.

East is also balanced and has a massive 21 points. That means that between them they have at least 33 points, which ought to be enough for 12 tricks.


So East simply bids 6NT and the auction's over.



The play

You're West, you're in a small slam in no trumps - and North leads the J.

You need 12 tricks. How are you going to play the hand?

Counting your 'top tricks', you come up with 8: 3 each in spades and clubs and 2 in hearts. You need another 4 ...

Can diamonds provide 4 tricks? Yes - you only have to force out the A and you have all the other top diamonds.

Can anything go wrong? Only if you play it badly. When you force out the A, you lose the lead, of course, so you must get that over with before you run out of high cards in any other suit.

So win the first trick and immediately lead the K (and if necessary the Q after that) until they take their trick with the Ace. Then you can win whatever they lead back and bang out all the rest of the tricks in pretty well whatever order you fancy. (You'll need to be a little careful to make sure you are in the right hand to cash your 5th diamond trick, but you've got the hang of that now.)

Your first slam bid and made!
Hand 10
The bidding

East is the dealer, and passes. It's South's bid.

How do you think the auction will go?

South has a balanced 11-count, just one point short of an opening 1NT. Pass.

North has opening points, and should open 1
.

With four spades and 11 points South is just short of a raise to game, and bids 3
, inviting partner to go on if she has a bit extra.

Does North have 'a bit extra'? Yes. A couple of points more than she needed to open, as well as an extra trump. The diamond suit and shortages in hearts and clubs might also be helpful. Accept partner's invitation and raise to 4
.

South has nothing further to say, and passes.


The play

You're North, you've found your contract - game in spades - and East leads a small trump.

Where are your 10 tricks coming from?

 Answer 

Count your winners
: Five trump tricks, two club tricks and a diamond trick. Eight.

Count your losers: Two hearts and possibly a diamond.

The extra two tricks will come from ruffing two diamonds in the dummy. Alternatively, if the opposition take their two heart tricks, I will then have a heart trick myself, and will then only have to ruff one diamond in the dummy.

Dangers? Only that if one opponent has 3 spades, I won't be able to clear trumps completely before starting to ruff diamonds, because I'll run out of trumps in dummy.

The plan: Win the first trick and play on diamonds straight away. (Don't lead another trump, because if they get the lead again with the K, they might lead a third trump ... and you'll only have one trump left in dummy.) Then take your two diamond ruffs, clear trumps and that's that.

So how to play to trick 1? Well, you want to be in dummy (in order to play a small diamond to your Q), so there's no harm in playing the ♠8 from dummy, just in case it wins - and it does!

Now the diamond to your Q - which loses to East's K. Never mind. Now you're all set up.

Back comes another trump, and West discards the 8. Hmm. That means East still has the ♠J.

No problem. Lead the A and then another diamond, ruffing with dummy's ♠3.

Back to your hand with a small club to the ♣K. Lead your last diamond and trump with dummy's ♠A (very dramatic).

Now you've only got to get rid of East's ♠J safely, and to do that you need to get back to your hand. So lead ♣A and another club, trumping in your hand, and lead a top spade. That's all the trumps cleared and your contract made.

You've made 5 trump tricks, plus 2 ruffs in the short trump hand, 2 clubs and a diamond: 10 tricks in all.

Hand 9
The bidding

North is the dealer, and has a pleasant hand with both major suits. Applying the 'Rule of 20', she finds that her points (10) plus the length of her two longest suits (5 + 4  = 9) comes to only 19. There are those who would open 1 anyway, on the grounds that the 'Rule of 19' is just as good when you aren't vulnerable, but North is just learning and is a stickler for keeping to the straight and narrow.

How do you think the auction will go?

In view of the above, North will Pass.

With a strong two-suited hand (17 points), South will open 1
.

North, also with 2 suits, shows the longer one first: 1
.

With a weaker hand, South wouldn't be able to show her hearts, but with 17 points she bids 2
♥ - a 'reverse'. This is an excellent bid, which gets across both her shape and strength in one go.

A no-brainer. Partner has at least 16 points, so we're strong enough to be in game. We also have a 4-4 major fit, so that's our suit. Bid 4
.

And a pass from South completes the auction.

The play

So now you're South, playing in 4.

West leads ♣10. Winners? Losers? Plan your play.

 Answer 

Count your winners
: You've got 2 top winners in diamonds, plus 2 in clubs (once the ♣A has gone, which will probably happen at trick 1, given the club lead), and 4 trump tricks. That's 8.

Count your losers: One spade, one club and maybe one diamond. And possibly others if we don't play carefully.

So somehow we need to generate two extra tricks. Two possibilities spring to mind:
  • Get rid of your singleton spade by leading spades, then ruff (= trump) two spades in your hand.
  • 'Set up' your long diamond suit by getting rid of your opponents' diamonds. Will generate 2 - or possibly 3 - extra tricks.

The diamond option seems simpler, so let's try that.

East wins trick 1 with his ♣A and returns his partner's lead. You win the trick in dummy with your ♣Q.

Before tackling the diamonds, you play a couple of rounds of trumps just to check that the outstanding hearts aren't something horrid like 4-1 or 5-0. So a small heart to the King and a small one back to the Ace. No problems. Everyone follows suit.

Now to try the diamonds. We'll try a finesse, hoping that East holds the missing Q. So we lead the J from dummy, and when East plays low, we play low too ... and unfortunately, West has the Q after all and wins the trick. Never mind: dummy's 10 is now worth a trick, and we will still have AKx in our hand for a further three diamond tricks. That's 4 diamond tricks in all - job done.

Just to make things more difficult, the defence now switch to spades. You win the 2nd round by trumping in your hand, and win a trick with dummy's 10. Now to cash the AKx in your hand ... but how to get there?

Fortunately (or, actually, as a result of careful planning) you still have a top trump in your hand, so you lead a trump from dummy to your hand (eliminating the opposition's last heart in passing) and cash all the remaining tricks.

You lose a spade, a club and a diamond, taking 10 tricks in all.

I agree with you. It all seems very complicated just written down like this. If you make up the hand and play it out, it's much, much easier. Honest.

Hand 8
The bidding

West is the dealer, and has opening points.

How do you think the auction will go?

With an unbalanced 12 points, West will open her longest suit: 1♥.

East has only 3 hearts, but also only 7 points. She hasn't got 4 spades, so 1NT it is.


West doesn't fancy this much. The opposition may well have more than half the points, so it's probably better to be in a suit. West therefore offers her partner a choice by bidding her second suit: 2
.

East now knows that her partner has 5 hearts, so is happy to settle for 2♥. (Even with only 2 hearts, this would be the best response: prefer a 7-card major fit to a 7-card minor fit.)

Game is not in prospect: West passes.

The play

So West ends up being declarer in 2.

North leads ♠J. What are your thoughts?

 Answer 

Count your winners
: Only 1 to start with: the ♠A! Potentially, though, another 4 in hearts (once the A is forced out) and another 3 in clubs (again, once the ♣A is forced out). Possibly a trick in diamonds too, depending on who's got the A.

Count your losers: One each in spades, hearts and clubs, and either one or two in diamonds.

Should be OK, as we only need 8 tricks for our contract. The plan is to win the first trick and lead hearts (starting with a small one to the K) until the A is knocked out. Then clear any remaining trumps and force out ♣A by leading clubs.

And it all works according to plan, as you'll see if you click on the 'Show all hands' button. Unfortunately, you don't get to make a diamond trick, but 8 tricks is all you need.

 Postscript 

There is, as it happens, a way of getting this contract off if North chooses a different opening lead. Try this (though no-one's suggesting you should actually find this defence!):
  • North leads ♣8 (top card of a doubleton). South thinks 'Hmm, looks like a doubleton', so doesn't take the first trick with his ♣A. Instead he plays an 'encouraging' ♣5 and West takes the trick.
  • West now starts on trumps. North wins with the A, and leads his second club. This time South wins with the ♣A and leads a 3rd club back ... which his partner ruffs! Wonderful.
That's 3 tricks for the defence so far. Eventually, there'll be three more - two diamond tricks and a spade trick - for one down. Trumping one of declarer's club winners before she has had a chance to clear trumps is the trick that makes the difference.
Hand 7
The bidding

South is dealer on this hand, and passes.

How do you think the auction will go?

West has only 8 points, so will also start off with a Pass.

East has a balanced hand, but 1 point too many to open 1NT.
She opens 1♥, intending to rebid no trumps on her next bid.

West would like to show her diamonds, but doesn't have enough points to bid them at the 2 level. With only 3 hearts, she chooses the 'dustbin' response: 1NT.

It doesn't take East long to calculate that even if West is a maximum 9 points for her 1NT response, they only have a combined 24 points - not enough for game. So why go higher? East passes.

The play

You're East, and about to try to make 1 no trump. North leads the ♠9.

Where are your tricks going to come from? Make a plan.

 Answer 

How did we get into this? Whatever possessed me to devise a hand like this?
Never mind. Here goes ... Suggest you make up the hands from a pack of cards.


Well, you clearly have a spade trick coming (maybe 2) and two clubs.
Once the A is knocked out, you will have at least 2 heart tricks.
But diamonds will probably be the main source of tricks: you have 8 of them. You don't know how to handle a suit like this yet, but if you're interested, the answer's in the box below.

 When you've got an 8-card suit missing the KQ, you hope that they're 'split' i.e. that the defenders have one big honour each. So with this hand you hope the diamonds are divided something like this ('x' = any old little card):

Kx
AJ1053                       982
Qxx

What you do in this case is:
  • lead a small one from East (towards your AJ10) and if South plays low (which she probably will) you play the Jack, North winning with his King.
  • Then, when you next come in, you do the same again - lead small from East, inserting the 10, and hoping that South has the Queen.
  • Finally, you can lead your Ace, dropping South's Queen ... and you can now reel off a couple more diamond tricks for four tricks altogether.

So your overall plan, once you get the lead, is to lead a diamond from dummy as described above, then do it again as soon as you get a chance.

Unfortunately, the spade lead is a good one, and you're going to have a bit of a rough ride.

Trick 1: You play low from dummy, South plays the ♠5 and you win the trick with your ♠Q.
Trick 2: Over to dummy with the ♣A, in order to ...
Trick 3: ... lead a small diamond, inserting the J, and North duly wins with his Q.
Trick 4 is where it gets a bit nasty. North now leads ♠8 and South is sitting there with the ♠AJxx over your ♠K10, so whatever you play, beats it ...
Tricks 5-7: ... and reels off a further 3 spade tricks. You carefully avoid discarding any diamonds from your hand, as you hope that each one will eventually be worth a trick!
Trick 8: South now exits with ♣2, and you beat North's Queen with your King.
Trick 9: Now to try the diamonds again. Let's hope it works, as the opposition have won 5 tricks already! So heart in mouth, and lead a diamond. South's K appears (phew!) so you win with the Ace and are relieved when North also plays a diamond.
Tricks 10-12: The opposition only have one diamond left, and your 10 is the top one, so starting with that you reel off 3 diamond tricks, finally making your 7th trick.
Trick 13: You have a heart left, and the betting is that North has kept the A. So you have only just scraped home!


 Postscript 

A more experienced player will refuse to win Trick 1, hoping to prevent that deadly second spade lead through the ♠K10 towards the ♠AJxx, but if South has her wits about her, it won't help. North will lead a 2nd spade, and South will allow your Queen to win the trick. Later, North will lead a 3rd spade and the opposition will get their spade tricks anyway.

Hand 6
The bidding

Remember that bidding tenet we mentioned earlier - prefer a major to no trumps, but prefer no trumps to a minor? It'll help you get to grips with the auction of this hand.

East is the dealer, and has a nice unbalanced opening hand with both minor suits.

How do you think the auction will go?

East has a nice unbalanced hand with both minor suits. Diamonds is her longest suit, so she opens 1.

West has 16 points, and her partner has opened. They're going to be in game - but which one? For the moment, let's exchange some basic information: bid your major suit before supporting partner's minor: 1
.

East doesn't like hearts much, and with normal opening points now bids her 2nd suit: 2
.

OK. Partner has at least 9 cards in diamonds and clubs. We have a 9-card diamond fit, but if partner has something in spades we can probably make game in no trumps. Trouble is, if I now bid even 3
, partner could pass it, and that would be disastrous. Better safe than sorry. Never mind the no trumps: I'm going straight for 5.

Note for improvers: There is, of course, a safe way of testing for no trumps - fourth suit forcing. In fact, this is just the kind of dilemma that FSF helps to solve. West bids spades, East rebids her diamonds ('Sorry, can't help you with spades, partner'), and now West knows to go for game in diamonds.

The play

You're East, and you're declaring in 5 diamonds. South leads the ♠2 (the unbid suit) and dummy goes down.

How many winners do you have? How many losers? Any problems?

 Answer 

Count your winners
: You have 5 trump tricks, plus 3 each in hearts and clubs.

Count your losers: Just 2, both in spades.

So no problem at all. The defence will probably take the first two tricks with their ♠AK, and then won't make any more. You will win the next trick (by trumping if it's a spade), clear trumps and reel off your six tricks in hearts and clubs.

 Postscript 

As it happens, you can, after all, make nine tricks in no trumps. But this is only because North and South have 4 spades each. If one of them has 5, you will lose the first 5 tricks and 3NT will go down. It would have been a rotten contract to be in. 5 is the place to be on this hand.

Hand 5
The bidding

North is the dealer, and has opening points. How does the auction go?

North has a balanced 5-3-3-2 shape, but as her 5-card suit is a major, she'll open 1 spade.

South has 8 points and good support for partner's spades. The correct Acol response is 2
♠ (though if you use the 'losing trick count' - which we haven't covered properly yet - you might up that to 3♠.)

North will pass 2
, and should also pass 3, as she doesn't really anything extra to offer.

The play

OK. You're North, and let's say you settled for the easier contract of two spades. Nonetheless, as we saw in the Postscript to the last hand, you'll still want to win as many tricks as possible, so you can do better than all those other North-Souths out there.

East leads the J and dummy goes down.

What are your thoughts? How many tricks do you think you might make? What's your plan?

As usual, have a quick think before you press the Answer button ...

 Answer 

Highly recommended: Before going on, click on the 'Show all hands' button, get a pack of cards and deal out the four hands face up on a table.

Count your winners
: You have 5 spade tricks, plus at least one heart trick, and at least one diamond trick. That's 7. Where's the 8th?

One answer is that you can eventually ruff a heart in dummy (the hand with fewer trumps), giving you a 6th trump trick.
Another possibility is that East may have K, in which case you can catch it between your Q and A for an extra trick in hearts.
And a third possibility is a second trick in diamonds - which is the main learning point of this hand.

Your main plan, then, once you get the lead is (as usual) to clear the opponents' trumps, then lead the Q from your hand. But meanwhile, you have to decide what to do about this opening lead of J. Do you cover it with your Q or not?

Well, from what you've learned about opening leads, you already know where the A and 10 are, don't you?

No? Well, I reckon you do if you think about it! You know it's bad play to 'lead away from an Ace' against a suit contract, so West must have the A. And East's lead is likely to be 'top of sequence', so East probably started with something likeJ109.

So what happens if you play your Q from dummy? West beats it with his Ace, fires back another diamond, on which you play your King, and eventually, the defence will take a third diamond trick with East's 10. Two diamond tricks lost.

OK. What happens if you don't play your Q? The answer is that West will probably play his Ace anyway, leaving you with two diamond tricks with your KQ. No contest.

So how does it go?

You play low at trick one, West takes his A and leads back a diamond, which you take with either the King or Queen.

Then you clear trumps, ending in your hand, and lead Q. You're in luck, as East covers it with K, and you win the trick with your Ace, leaving your J the top heart.

What next? Back to your hand with a heart, and lead a third heart, trumping it in dummy.

Now all you have to do is take your last diamond trick, and concede 2 club tricks to the defence, giving you 10 tricks.

 Postscript 

So we made enough tricks for game. Should we have bid it, then?

I don't think so. You only have 21 points between you, and you also had a couple of bits of luck: the diamond lead worked out very well for you, and you were also lucky in finding East with the K.

So no recriminations about the auction. Instead, congratulations are in order for brilliant declarer play!


Hand 4
The bidding

West is the dealer on this hand. How does the auction go?

With only 6 points, West will pass.

East has a strong hand with a good 6-card heart suit. She'll open
1, intending to jump rebid her hearts next time.

With 6 points, West will want to respond, and bids his cheapest 4-card suit: 1
♠.

East now jump rebids hearts, as planned: 3
♥.

And West, who has the minimum for his bids so far, passes.

The play

You're East, in three hearts. South leads the A and dummy goes down. When you see it, you're slightly disappointed not to be in game, because provided you can avoid losing a trick to the trump Queen, you're going to make 10 tricks.

Can you see where they're coming from? Count your winners.

And while you're at it, count your losers too. If they add up to 4, see if you can find a way of reducing that to three!

Make a plan, and press for the Answer when you're ready ...

 Answer 

Count your winners: (Assuming you're not losing a trick to the Q), you have 6 trump tricks and two spade tricks off the top. In addition, once you've knocked out the ♣A, you will have 2 more club tricks in dummy. That's 10 altogether.

Count your losers: (Again, assuming you're not losing a heart trick), you have two losers in diamonds, and one (the Ace) in clubs. In addition, if the opposition can knock out your ♠AK, you'll be left with a loser in spades too. That's four.

Can you see how you can get rid of one of them? Yes, that's right. Once you've knocked out the ♣A, you can play two more rounds of clubs from dummy and throw away the third spade in your hand on dummy's last club winner. Now if a third spade is led, you'll be able to trump it.

So the plan is: clear trumps as soon as you get the lead, then force out the ♣A, and take your 10 tricks.

So what happens? South takes the first trick, then takes the 2nd trick with his K. Your Queen falls under that and he carries on with his J, which you trump in your hand.

You have the lead. Time to tackle the trumps. When you're more experienced, you'll know that the way to tackle a trump suit like this lacking the Queen is first to lead your A in case the Queen is singleton and then ... but you don't need to know the next bit just now, because as it happens North does have the singleton Q and it falls under your Ace.

Lovely. It only remains to lead 3 more rounds of hearts (because South started with 4 hearts) and then lead your ♣K, hoping to force out the ♣A. If they don't play their ♣A, just keep leading clubs until they do, and throw a spade from your hand on the third round. Ten tricks.

 Postscript 

Hang on a minute - if we're only in 3, why are we trying to make 10 tricks when we only need 9?

Good question. It's all to do with playing duplicate bridge. Say there are 10 tables. One or two of the 10 pairs that get to play this hand may bid to 4, but most will (rightly) stop in 3, just as you did. The reason you want to get as many tricks as you can is that you're competing with each of those other nine pairs. If they get 10 tricks and you only get 9, they'll score more than you for that hand. So go for all the tricks you can, even if you don't 'need' them for your contract.


Hand 3
The bidding

It isn't often that the pair with fewer points ends up 'winning' the auction, but here's an example.

South opens the bidding. How does the auction go?

South has 13 points and a balanced hand (there's a 5-card suit but it's a minor) so will open 1 no trump.

North has a problem. With only 4 points herself, she knows that the partnership has only 16-18 points - not enough to make 7 tricks in no trumps. Hearts are likely to provide a better chance. So the plan is to transfer partner into hearts and then pass. Bid 2.

South recognises partner's 2
♦ bid as a transfer, so obediently bids 2♥.

North passes.

The play

You're South, and you're in 2. West leads a small spade and dummy goes down.

You're unlikely to make the contract, but the task is to give the opposition the smallest possible score by taking as many tricks as you can. Let's count ...

After forcing out the trump Ace, you probably have four trump tricks. You will also get tricks for A and ♣A, and may make a spade trick if you're lucky. That's seven.

Any chances for an 8th trick? Well, maybe you can trump dummy's third club in your hand, but that's a long shot (as you probably won't be able to get to dummy to lead it!).

Anyway, time to plan your play. There's no right 'answer', but see if your thoughts are the same as mine ...

 Answer 

The first three tricks are out of your control. East wins trick 1 with the ♠A, and returns a spade to West's King. West then leads a third spade and you win it in dummy with your ♠Q.

That's one trick under your belt. What to do now?

The normal line would be to clear the opponents' trumps, then take your two aces and settle for one down, but it probably won't do any harm to try for the extra club trick. I think that rather than lead trumps straight away, I might lead ♣A and then another club, so I've got rid of all the clubs in my hand. Then who knows? Maybe a defender will lead a club for me to trump. If not, I'll lead a small trump from my hand, hoping to win with the Queen, and then the lead will be in dummy. Now I can lead my last club and trump it in my hand. If it works, I'll have made 110 for 2, which is a ridiculously good score when the opponents hold 23 points.

On the other hand, that could all go horribly wrong if the defenders start trumping things themselves. Maybe I'll just clear trumps and settle for minus 50 ...

Why not try it both ways and see what happens?

Hand 2
The bidding

Here's an auction that will help you to remember the basic bidding tenet that we prefer a major to no trumps and no trumps to a minor.

So here goes. East is the dealer. What's your auction?

 East has a balanced 16 points. She opens her longest suit 1♠, intending to rebid no trumps (unless partner supports her spades, of course).

As she has only 3 spades, West can't (yet) support partner's spades, but with 11 points he's easily strong enough to show his own suit at the 2 level: 2♦.

East now knows that they have enough points for game, but doesn't jump straight to 3NT, just in case partner has 3 spades. (Prefer to be in a major than no trumps.) Instead she bids 2NT. Her partner will not pass 2NT, as it shows at least 15 points, which together with his 10+ is enough for game.

West can raise to 3NT, but rightly decides to give 'delayed support' for partner's spades just in case she has five: 3
shows exactly 3 spades, as with 4 he would have supported East's spades straight away.

And East does have 5. Thanks for the information, partner. With an 8-card major fit, she signs off in 4
.

The play

As the cards lie, East-West can make 3NT (though it will go off on a club lead if you give South one of North's clubs - try it!) but 4♠ is worth more tricks, so that's where you want to be.

You're East, you're in 4♠ and South leads the ♣K. How do you plan the play?

 Answer 

Never mind. Let's count the possible tricks. We have to lose a trick to the ♠A, so we will then make four trump tricks. We have AK, so that's two more, and the ♣A: 7 tricks. And then (with luck) there are five more tricks in diamonds. Goodness, that's 12. Perhaps we should have bid it ...?

No, of course not: we have to force out the ♠A, and then of course they'll immediately cash a club trick. But we should take the rest.

What to do? Win the opening club trick and start leading trumps. We want to knock out the Ace and then clear any trumps that are left. Then we'll cash our AK, and play off all our diamond winners from the top.

As it happens, South has 4 trumps, but it doesn't matter as you have enough top trumps to clear them away. 11 tricks made.

 Postscript   Actually, South can actually keep you to just 10 tricks. Can you see how?

Answer: She refuses to take her trump Ace until the third round of trumps. Why the third? Because dummy will now be out of trumps, and she can cash two club tricks rather than just one. Clever stuff!

Hand 1
The bidding

North is the dealer, and will open the bidding. How do you think the auction should go? The recommended auction, plus an explanation, is in the box below - when you're ready, highlight all or some of it to check your answers.


North has a balanced hand with 14 points, so will open 1NT.

South has enough points to respond 2NT (inviting partner to go to game if she has a maximum), but on the way will want to show her 5-card spade suit in case they have an 8-card spade fit. So she'll bid 2, a transfer to spades.

North now bids 2♠, as instructed by partner, and waits for more information.

South completes her response by bidding 2NT. The message: 'Partner, I have 11-12 points and a 5-card spade suit.'

Now in possession of all relevant information, North can decide on a final contract. She has a maximum, so with at least 25 points between them, they're going to be in game, but as they only have 7 spades between them bids 3NT, which completes the auction.



The play

You're North, the declarer. East leads the 4, and South lays down her hand as dummy. Before you play a card, stop and have a quick think, along these lines:

  • How many tricks have I got off the top?
  • How many more do I need?
  • How can I develop those extra tricks?
You won't know yet exactly what's going to happen, of course, but you can make a vague plan. For the moment, it's enough to decide how you're going to play to the first trick and what you want to do once you get the lead.

When you're ready, press the Answer button.



 Answer 

You've only got four tricks off the top - the ♠AKQ and the A - and somehow you need to increase that to nine. Yikes!

But once you calm down, you'll realise that there are plenty more tricks out there:

  • For a start, you like the heart lead. With any luck, West will put up the Queen and you'll be well on your way to 2 heart tricks - maybe more, if the opponents keep leading them.
  • In diamonds you have all the top cards except for the King. Once that's gone, you'll have a total of 3 diamond tricks
  • You have one certain trick in clubs, once you've used either your King or Queen to force out their Ace. And if they lead clubs themselves, you'll make two (try it and see, remembering that 2nd player plays low!)
  • The opponents only have 6 spades between them. If they're divided 3-3, they'll all fall under your ♠AKQ, and your two remaining spades will take a trick each. But that's only an 'if'!
So what does all that add up to? Two hearts, three diamonds, one club and three spades. That's nine, and there are chances for more. Lovely. It only remains to decide what to do first, which brings us to the golden rule of playing no trumps:

Don't just bang out your winners.
Instead set about developing the extra tricks you need immediately.

Or put another way:
Lose the tricks you have to lose as soon as you can.
Then and only then do you cash your winners.

Back to Trick 1: you play low on the 2, and as it happens West (3rd player plays high) puts in the Queen and you win with your King. One trick already. (Notice that the only high heart they have now is the Ace, and you still have the Jack and the Ten, so your 2nd heart trick will appear in the fullness of time.)

So what to lead now? Well, we've decided not to bang out our spade winners, and we've also noted that it's better for us if they lead clubs, so we'll leave them for now just in case they decide to. The obvious choice is diamonds. Once the King's out we have 3 diamond tricks, and we're well on our way ...

 Postscript   Obviously, there are lots of ways it can continue. They'll probably carry on with hearts. If they do, I'd then attack clubs to develop my 9th certain trick, and end up cashing lots of lovely winners, ending up with the spades. But feel free to try it some other way and see what happens.