Bridge @ Box
Pages viewed in 2018
Hands galore!
Many previous hands of the week can be found on the Improvers' pages.

We have tablet scoring. 

Your teacher is Chris Jones, who came back to bridge in 2003 after a lengthy absence, and hasn't looked back since. Click for more ...
Beyond basic bidding
Hand of the week 24 January 2018

My 'rule of 10'

Here's a common situation (not the one shown!): you've got something like ♠ 9 7 5   Q 4   K J 7 4 3  ♣ A 8 5 and your partner opens 1. You respond 2 and your partner now rebids her hearts: 2. What now? It's tempting to pass, isn't it? Partner might have a miserable 11-count, so maybe it's better to stay as low as possible ... but equally, she might have as many as 15 points (e.g. with 5 hearts and 4 clubs or spades: she's not strong enough to 'reverse' into 2♠ or 3♣ so all she can do for the moment is rebid her hearts). And this is where my 'rule of 10' comes in. If you've got 7 or 8 or even 9 points, you're unlikely to have game on after a simple rebid by partner. But if you've got 10, game might well be on. Here's the rule:

If partner opens 1 of a suit and you hold 10 points (or more), you must keep the auction going until at least 2NT, even if partner makes a simple rebid. 

Sure, partner might be weak, but with your 10 points it should be possible to salvage something at the 3-level, and if she happens to be 'maximum', you'll be in game. In this particular case, with only 2 hearts, you'd bid 2NT (if you had 3 you'd raise to 3, inviting to game). 

It may seem a small thing, but in my experience by far the most common cause of missed games is responder passing opener's rebid, on the assumption that 'Partner must be weak'. The 'Rule of 10' stops that happening.

Board 1

What about our featured hand? How does the 'Rule of 10' come in? Well, after your 1♠ response to partner's opening 1, she bids 2♣. And, as on the last hand, you may find yourself thinking, 'We've got a diamond fit, but we're never going to make 5 diamonds – and anyway partner could be really weak – so best to stay low' and reach for the 2 card. Nothing could be a bigger mistake. 2 is a 'weak preference' and partner will pass it: it's just as final as passing partner's 2 bid in the last hand. Instead, apply the Rule of 10: keep the auction going. Here you can either jump to 3 ('Partner, we have a diamond fit and I have decent points') or bid 2NT ('I have 10/11 points and a heart stop. Do you fancy raising me to 3?'). Either way, you should find your way to 3NT, which makes comfortably, as your partner started with 15 points. Have a look at the full deal.

A couple of comments:

  • You may well object that you don't really have ten points because three of them (the ♣K) are in a singleton which may be worthless. But hang on a second – partner's 2♣ restores your King to its full value. If she got either the ♣A or the ♣Q, it's now worth a trick. And in any case, you've got an 8-loser hand (even counting the ♣K as a loser!) so making a positive bid, rather than a weak preference, is a no-brainer.
  • As you may already know, minor suits are best treated as a last resort. When you have a minor fit, your first thoughts should turn to no trumps, as it's a good deal easier to make 9 tricks in no trumps than 11 in a minor. And if you can make a NT overtrick, it scores more, too. So here, both partners will be looking for heart stops with a view to play in no trumps.

​​In Box & Bath

Very telling, in both locations. 

In Box, 2 out of 5 EW pairs found 3NT, and both made an overtrick for 430. The others languished in a diamond part-score, and ended up with a miserable 150 or 170.

They did better in Bath, as 8 of the 12 tables bid and made 3NT. But the other 4 tables all stopped, astonishingly, in just 2. That's 4 Easts making the unwarranted assumption that partner must be weak and not even considering the possibility of game in NT. Bizarre.

Hand of the week 08 November 2017

The only thing it can mean ...

Sitting North with a ropy 11-count, you may be regretting making a Rule-of-20 opening of 1 ... or not, depending on how awake you're feeling. East made a weak jump overcall of 2 (showing 6-9 points and 6 hearts) and your partner has now bid 3. What's she up to?

An experienced player will know at once, but even if you've not come across it before, a little thought will reveal its meaning. Here are some questions that might spring to mind. What are the answers?

  • Is it a natural bid?
  • How strong is partner?
  • Has she got 4+ spades? (This is of interest because you have 4 spades yourself.)

The answers are, of course, no (it's East that has the hearts!); strong (you don't put partner on the spot like that unless you're strong enough for game); and no (she would have made a negative double if she had spades).

So there's partner, without much in spades or hearts: must have the minors, then. So why isn't she bidding them? Because when your only fit is in a minor, you look for no trumps. And that's the answer. Partner's hoping to play in 3NT, and the reason she's bidding their suit is because she's hoping you've got a stop in it. So here, 3 means 'Please bid 3NT if you have a heart stop, partner. If not, don't worry – just bid something else – I'm strong enough to stand it.' It's the only thing it can mean, really.

And holding Axx, you reluctantly bid 3NT, crossing your fingers that partner really is strong enough for game. Why not have a look for yourself and see if she is?

The play

Sure as eggs is eggs, East leads a heart, the 7, and immediately you have a huge decision to make: what do you play from dummy? Obviously the Q – you can see all four hands! – but even without seeing the other hands you should still choose the Q. What's your reasoning? Have a think, then read on.

'Hmm. Just 24 points. A bit tight. But I've got 4 club tricks and with a bit of luck I can set up my diamonds for four more. Trouble is, to set up the diamonds I have to lose the lead. That's fine provided I still have a heart stop. So who's more likely to hold the K – East, who has made a vulnerable jump overcall missing the AQ10 or West? Surely East has it. So up with the Q and if it wins (which it must if East isn't a complete nutcase) I can lead a diamond towards my K and when they take their A I'll still have the A to stop them running their hearts.'

And it works. The diamonds split 2-2 and you end up with 10 tricks: 2 hearts tricks and 4 each in the minors. You lose just the A and the ♠AK.

​​In Box & Bath

In Box, just two pairs were in 3NT, one making with an overtrick and one going off. The declarer that went off played the 10 at trick one.

In Bath, only three pairs were in it but they all made it. No overtricks, mind – let's say it was good defence.

NOTE  There are two other past HOTW articles which deal with this situation: a cuebid at the 3 level asking for a stop for NT. They're both in the Using Conventions improvers' page. Just scroll back to April 2012 for the first, Cue to the Rescue, and a few articles further down for the second, Right on Cue. The articles are better than their titles!

Hand of the week 09 August 2017

Defence to a weak 2

Here's a tricky one. After two passes, your right-hand opponent opens a weak 2♠. You can't let them get away with that – the weak opening and East's pass means that your partner must have some values, maybe enough for game opposite your nice 16-count – but what to bid?

It would be nice to double for takeout, but that promises hearts and you've only a doubleton – could be embarrassing. The answer is to overcall 2NT. This shows a balanced 16-18 points with a stop in their suit. A stop, huh? Is the ♠Qxx a stop? Actually, with 6 spades on your right and the lead coming from East, it probably is. Let's hope so, anyway, 'cos 2NT is the only bid you've got!

What happens next? Partner bids 3♣ – Stayman for hearts, see below – you reply 3 and partner raises you to 3NT. Now to find out if you've got a spade stop or not. East leads the ♠K and you breathe a sigh of relief: whatever happens now, at least you can stop the spades.

Presumably East is leading from a doubleton ♠Kx – with ♠Kxx she would have led a small spade, and then you'd have been in trouble – and sure enough, the ♠K takes the first trick, then another spade to West's Ace, and you're in with your ♠Q. One trick. What's next? Have a look at the whole deal and plan the rest of your play.

Well, provided you're careful and keep West off lead (she's the danger hand with a fistful of spade winners) you should have your contract: two heart tricks, four diamond tricks (probably) and, eventually, two club tricks. To be absolutely sure of keeping West off lead, you go out to dummy with a diamond and finesse your ♣Q. It loses to East's King, but no matter – East has no more spades to lead – and when the diamonds break 3-2 the contract's yours.

No trump overcalls

Like the negative double, the no trump overcall is often overlooked. Over an opening 1-level bid, a 1NT overcall shows a balanced 15-17 points and at least one stop in the opponents' suit. Over a weak 2 opening, as here, you need a little more: 16-18 points.

In either situation, it's best to play 'systems on' – that is, partner can respond as if you've made an opening NT bid: Stayman and transfers can still be used. And on this hand South rightly checks out a possible heart fit before raising partner to 3NT.

Well worth discussing with your partner and adding to your armoury.

In Box & Bath

In Box, most people got to 3NT, though one went 2 off – must have allowed the danger hand to get the lead. One pair were in 4 (did North double for takeout and South jump to 4?) but somehow the defence let them make it instead of getting it two off!

In Bath, seven out of nine pairs were in 3NT, all making, while the other two languished in hearts, both going off. 

Hand of the week 19 July 2017

Finding a fit

Here's an interesting situation. Sitting North, you open 1, intending to bid 2♣ next, but your partner scuppers that by responding 2. To add to the mix, West comes in with 2♠ and it's time for your rebid. What do you say?

The obvious rebid is 3♣, but it's far from ideal. It's a game-forcing bid ('New suit at the 3 level') but the trouble is, you only have 13 points. Sure, your partner has responded at the 2-level, but you'd still need 16 to be sure of game. And sure, you only have 5 losers, but counting losers is only useful once you've found a fit, and it's far from clear that you'll ever find one – what if, for example, partner has something like ♠ K 8 4 2    J    A Q 8 6 5 2   ♣ 5 3 ? No fit and not enough points to make 3NT.

An attractive alternative is double. At this low level this is for takeout rather than penalties, and tells partner that you have clubs as well as (probably 5) hearts – and that you don't have a stop in spades. With a minimum 9-10 points and a spade stop, then, partner can stop in 2NT if she likes.

Instead, she opts for 3♣. This transforms your hand into a genuine game prospect – now you have a known fit your 5 losers really mean something – and you can confidently raise partner to game in clubs. 

The play

Does it make? Have a look at the whole deal. West will probably lead the A, to have a peek at dummy. She wins that trick, but whatever she does next gives South her contract. All declarer needs to do is discard two losing spades on dummy's AK and EW can only take one more trick – with their ♠A.

Note that 5♣ doesn't make if played by North: After partner's spade bid, East will lead her ♠Q and the defence will take two spade tricks as well as the A for one off. Good thing North resisted the temptation to rebid 3♣, then!

Note also that 3NT doesn't make either. If played by South, only 8 tricks can be made before West gets in to cash all those spades. And 3NT by North goes FOUR off – on the ♠Q lead, West takes the first SIX tricks in spades, followed by the AK. Not nice.

Oh, and finally – South is correct to bid 2 (rather than 2♣) as her response to North's opening bid. With 4-card suits you respond 'up the line', but with longer equal suits you bid the higher-ranking one first, so as to give partner a 'cheap' choice of suits later.

In Box & Bath

In Box, it all went according to plan, with three pairs bidding and making 5♣ by South (and the fourth pair getting 60% each for a joint top because someone misboarded in the previous round).

In Bath, I'm sorry to say, no fewer than 5 pairs ended up in 5♣ by North, two of them doubled, and all going one off. Just two pairs played (and made) the same contract by South, and three pairs didn't get to game at all.

Hand of the week 21 June 2017

Which game?

Here's a tricky hand for EW to bid. Do they go to game? And if so, which one? There's a big decision for both players.

With a balanced 16-count, West opens 1 (open the lower of two 4-card suits ONLY when they're  and ♠, remember), intending to rebid NT, and with 4 hearts, 9 points and 9 losers East raises to 2. So far so straightforward.

What is West to do now? She could pass, of course, but with 16 points game might be on, so it has to be worth a look. She has two choices:

  • a 'trial bid' of 2♠. This means 'I think we might have game on, partner, but I've got a bunch of pretty useless spades. Can you help out?' 
  • her intended rebid of 2NT, showing a balanced 15-16 points. What? After finding a major fit? Well, yes. As we've seen in various other HOTWs, East could have raised partner's hearts with just 3-card support (more positive and certainly more preemptive than a 1NT response). Best not to go to game if you've only got a 7-card fit!

Which is better? I have a slight preference for 2NT, mainly because of East's possible 3-card heart holding. There's no danger of missing a good major contract, as you've already told East that you have 4 hearts and she can decide which she prefers.

OK. Now it's East's turn. 

  • Over a 2♠ trial bid from West, she's going to bid 4. Why? Two reasons: first, she's a MAXIMUM for her 2 response and second, she CAN help in spades (she only has a doubleton, so there can be no more than 2 spade losers). 
  • Over 2NT, she has a decision to make. 4 is certainly one option (she has four hearts and rufffing potential in spades, after all), but 'All the same,' she might reason, 'my hand looks pretty no-trumpy. I'm balanced, have no aces, four of my points are jacks and I've got some nice 'intermediates': three 8s and a 10. It might be easier to make 9 tricks in no trumps than 10 tricks in hearts.' So she might plump for 3NT instead.

Have a look at the whole deal. 4, sadly is going off. You only have 2 spade losers, sure, but unfortunately you're also missing the A and the ♣A. 

3NT is going off, too, provided North starts off by leading a spade. He should, really, since it's usually good to lead an unbid major against NT, but fortunately for West, North also has a 5-card club suit headed by the ♣A, which might prove too tempting to ignore. Let's see how it goes ...

  • ... on a spade lead. Small spade from North to South's King. Small spade back to North's Ace (dropping dummy's Jack) and a third spade knocks out West's ♠Q. Now, when South comes back in with his A he can cash his fourth spade and North's ♣A provides the 5th trick for NS. One off. 
  • ... on a club lead. West wins, bangs out her AQ (to avoid getting into a mess with the diamonds later on) and IMMEDIATELY sets about knocking out the defenders' A. And she's home. Sure, the defence can take their ♠AK and ♣K, but that's still only 4 tricks. As well as her first trick in clubs, West will take 4 diamonds, 3 hearts, and either a club or spade for her 9th trick.

In Box & Bath

In Box, one pair bid and made 3NT (yes, a club was led), one went one off in 4 and one West went 2 off in 2♠. Ouch! How did that happen? 

In Bath, the most popular contract was 4, going one off, followed by 2, also making 9 tricks. Just two pairs out of 13 settled for 3NT, both getting a club lead and making 9 tricks for a top.

Hand of the week 07 June 2017


Pre-emptive bids are designed to make life difficult for the opponents, and West's 3♣ after your partner's opening pass certainly puts you on the spot. With a balanced 20-count, you were intending to open 2NT, but that's out of the window now. What are you going to say instead?

Pass is out of the question and you have no long suit of your own to bid, so it boils down to a choice between double (for takeout) and 3NT. Which do you prefer?

Before deciding, let's work out how many points partner is likely to have. On average, West will have around 7 points for her pre-empt, so that leaves 13 points for the other two - say 6-7 points each. So on average you and your partner will have enough points for game. (Sometimes, of course, your partner will have nothing at all, but if you bid every hand expecting the worst you'll never get anywhere!)

The attraction of the double is that you have 4 cards in BOTH majors, so if partner has 4-cards in EITHER major, you're in clover. And if she's got diamonds, you can always bid 3NT over her 3 bid, can't you? The risk is that if partner has, say, 7-8 points and 5 diamonds, she'll jump to 4, taking you beyond 3NT (which would surely have made) and leaving you with only one game possibility - 5 - which is a much less attractive prospect. 

What about 3NT? As well as avoiding the 'diamond jump' problem, it's very likely to make, especially on a club lead. Plus it describes your hand pretty well as a balanced 19+ points. The downside, of course, is that you'll miss a major fit if there is one - and game in a major is usually worth an extra trick over 3NT. 

I reckon it's about 50-50, but have a slight preference for the simplicity and relative safety of 3NT. (Another danger of 4 or 4♠ has just sprung to mind: if West has 7 clubs, either her or your partner has a singleton at most - and if it's East with the singleton, they might start with A♣ followed by a club ruff, and bang goes that extra trick you were hoping for.)

If you look at the whole deal, you'll see that South has a very nice 11 points and a 4-card heart suit. The danger now is not that you'll miss game but that South might be tempted to look for a slam that happens, in this case, not to be there. But either 3NT or 4, both making, would be a satisfactory outcome after West's pre-empt. 

In Box & Bath

In Box, two pairs finished in an excellent 3NT contract, one pair got too excited and went off in 6 - and one North allowed West to get away with going 4 off undoubled in 3♣. Ouch! 

In Bath, roughly equal numbers ended up in 3NT or 4♥ (that's how close to 50-50 North's choice turns out to be), plus three NS pairs went off in 6NT or 6. But nobody passed West's opening 3♣.

PS  Did you notice? East is void in clubs, so against a heart contract West will begin with her A♣ and, noticing partner's discard, will lead another club for a ruff. So much for the heart slam, then!

Hand of the week 31 May 2017

The best bet

Sitting North, your opening bid on this hand is straightforward, but what's your rebid over your partner's 1 response? Nothing quite seems to fit the bill:

  • Your 'correct' rebid is 2♣, but as a passed hand partner will probably pass this. Which seems a shame, because you've got a nice hand, and if partner has anything near an opening bid, some kind of game could be on. You're surely too good for a mere rebid.
  •  3♣, then? Certainly you have a good 6-card suit, but sadly you only have 14 points, and a jump rebid requires 16-18. So no good.
  • A raise in partner's hearts? No good, either - she's only promised four hearts and you only have three.
  • What about 1NT, then? Wrong on two counts - you're one point short and you have two doubletons. 

Oh dear. You have to bid something - so which 'wrong' choice should it be?

The best approach, I think, is to consider what games might be on and to use your bid to maximise your chances of finding it. Game in clubs is a non-starter. As a passed hand, partner simply can't provide all the cover you need in the side suits to make 11 tricks. 3NT is distinct possibility, however, provided partner can stop a runaway flow of tricks in either spades or diamonds. And if your partner has 5 hearts, 4 might also be on.

And the best way to find out about either of those is to rebid the 'doubly wrong' 1NT. It's not so wrong, really, is it? Your lovely club holding must surely be worth an extra point, so you're certainly strong enough. And the shape's pretty good, as well - quite a lot of good players will unhesitantly open 1NT with a 6-card minor, on the grounds that the long minor is more likely to produce a game in NT than in the minor itself. In this case, probably 6 tricks!

The clincher, though, is that it gives partner a chance to tell you if she has five, rather than four, hearts, and if you take a look at the whole deal, you can see that it works a treat. South not only has 11 points (enough for game) but also has 5 hearts. Over North's 1NT rebid, she should now jump to 3: 'I have enough for game, partner, but just in case you have 3 hearts, I should mention that I have 5. Your choice!'

And North's choice is 4.

What happens? Well, once NS get the lead, they have 12 tricks on top. EW are going to lead spades, though, so although 3NT makes (after EW take their 4 spade tricks), in 4 EW can only take the first two spade tricks, so 11 tricks are available for NS. Which makes 4 the best contract to be in.

But what if North does make the 'correct' rebid of 2♣? In my view, South should actually NOT pass it out. With a near opening hand, she should bid 2NT, showing her 10-11 points. Then, having described her hand more fully, she can leave the next step, if any, to her partner. (North will now bid 3, showing a willingness to go to game and THREE of partner's hearts, and South will raise to game.)

In Box & Bath

In Box, three tables (with a little guidance in some cases) reached the best contract of 4. Interesting that the other two subsided in 2♣. 

In Bath, three tables failed to find game (3♣, 3 and 2NT), three found the heart game and two the inferior game of 3NT. Sadly, the two Easts defending 3NT decided to lead from their 5-card diamond suit rather than their 4-card spade suit, so 3NT made an undeserved 12 tricks in each case, for a joint top. 

Hand of the week 05 April 2017

If you know game is on ... 

Here's a hand that superficially looks just like last week's (Opening 1 – below): with 5 spades and a 4-card minor (diamonds), you open 1♠. Partner responds with 2 and you now bid ... what?

The most obvious bid is to raise partner to 3: partner will now know that you have at least 5 spades and 4 diamonds, as on last week's HOTW. But think it through: your partner is a passed hand, so has no more than 10-11 points. If she has 3 spades, she'll now bid 3♠ (as she now knows you have 5 spades), but if she doesn't, she's going to pass 3. And you'll have missed game.

Huh? Missed game? Whaddaya mean?

Think about it. Your partner has just shown 10 points by responding at the 2 level. You have 15 points. 10 + 15 = 25 = game, either in spades or NT. Crucially, you're the one who knows that game is on. Your partner doesn't. As far as she's concerned, you could have a rancid rule-of-20 opening like last week's 1♠ opener. As it says in large letters on the board in the club:

If you know game is on, either bid it or make a forcing bid – don't make a bid that partner can pass.

So although 3 gives useful information about your shape, it doesn't say anything about your strength and it can be passed. And since you need to keep the auction going at all costs, you need to find something better. Bid 2NT. This isn't ideal as far as shape is concerned (it doesn't tell partner about your 5 spades and you have two doubletons), but it is forcing to game (because partner will now know that you have 15+ points). And if she does happen to have 3 spades she can bid them now, so you won't miss a 5-3 spade fit.

Take a look at the whole deal. As it happens, South has only 2 spades, so she raises you to 3NT and you make 10 tricks. Oh so much better than making a part score in diamonds!

In Box & Bath

I feel this one keenly, because when I played this hand in Bath, I raised my partner Trevor to 3 and, quite rightly, taking me to be weakish, he passed. Ouch! We weren't alone – two other pairs stopped in the minor part-score – but 5 pairs found 3NT and a number of other pairs ended up in 4♠, making 11 tricks (South only has 2 spades, but they're both honours). 

In Box, those NS pairs that called me over reached 3NT, but those that didn't made the same mistake as I had made the evening before and got left in 3.

Well, that's what we're all here for – to learn from our mistakes!

Hand of the week 22 March 2017

Fast arrival

It may not look much ... but wait – partner's opened 2♣, the strongest opening bid there is. She's either got 23+ and a balanced hand or 9+ playing tricks in a suit. Which is it? You respond 2 ('Tell me more, partner') and it turns out that partner has a big hand with lots of tricks in diamonds.

What to do?

Well, you could show your hearts, I suppose. And if your partner's got controls in all four suits you might make 3NT. But all in all, your hand looks pretty useless except for those two very handy diamond honours. So diamonds it is, then. Question is, do you bid 4 or 5?

When you're in a game-forcing situation (which an opening 2♣ creates, unless you have absolutely nothing at all), things can get turned a bit upside down and something called the principle of fast arrival comes into play. So with this holding, which is better than nothing but pretty meagre, you raise partner to 5, meaning 'OK, partner you want to be in game. Here you are then. You're in game. But my advice to you is not to go any higher.' You go to game fast to emphasise your weakness.

With a better holding (say 8+ points with an Ace or King), you'd bid 4 instead. That would mean 'OK, partner. I like the diamonds and I think we might have a slam on. Shall we show each other some first-round controls? or maybe try a little Blackwood?' In other words, with a stronger holding, you'd take the slower route, allowing room for an exchange of information via cue-bidding.

Here you want to put your partner off going any further, so you go straight to 5 – fast arrival.

What happens?

You've got two losers – a heart and a club – so you've done well to avoid bidding the slam. Sure, as it happens 6 is on, but only if played by South, which isn't going to happen. And sure, again as it happens, South has all four aces, so can also make 11 tricks in NT for a better score. But North doesn't know that and has no easy way to find out.

In Box & Bath

In Box, most pairs stopped in 5 except for one who bid – and made! – 6 (not sure how). In Bath almost everyone punted the slam, one bidding and making 6 and one bidding and making 6NT (because of the awful lead of a low club from West), but everyone else going one off. No-one found 3NT +2, which is the next best place to be.

Two other examples from the same set of boards

Board 8: After 2♣ - 2 - 2, South, with only two hearts but with 8 points, raises partner to 3 (rather than the weaker, 'fast arrival' raise to 4), but they discover via a couple of cue-bids that they have no control in clubs and so stop in 4 anyway. 10 tricks made.

Board 4: After (a slightly risky because partner might pass!) 1 - 1♠ - STOP 3 (jump shift - unconditionally forcing to game), West, with only 2 hearts but too weak to punt 3NT, does a 'fast arrival' raise to 4. Again, just 10 tricks. 

Hand of the week 08 March 2017

Pass or punt?

Here's a typically awkward deal from this week's collection. What do you bid opposite partner's opening 3♠?

(a) pass     (b) 3NT    (c) 4    (d) 4♠ 

With such a nice hand, it seems a pity to pass if there's a better place to be. What are the alternatives?

Could 3NT make? Very unlikely. Partner's got a maximum of 9 points. If she's got decent spades, she won't have any big honours elsewhere, so you will never be able to get to them. And if not, who knows what she's got? Sure, she could have the K, K and the ♠QJxxxxxx, but the odds are she hasn't. 

If partner has a couple of hearts, then 4 might make. But the same problem arises: if partner's tricks are in spades, how are you ever going to get to them in dummy? Worth a punt if you're feeling lucky, but pretty risky: you might be digging yourself into an even deeper hole, this time at the 4 level.

That leaves 4♠. You'd have to hope that partner's spades are good and that she's short in diamonds. On a good day, it might make.

I think I'd pass. If I were feeling frisky, then on the basis that the preempter's hand is likely to be useless in anything other than spades, I'd prefer 4♠ to 4. But I'd avoid 3NT like the plague.

What happens?

Have a look at the whole deal. As it happens, East does have a couple of hearts, and because this is accompanied by a singleton club (so you can get a club ruff) you can make 4. 4♠ would be a good place to be were it not for the ghastly 5-1 spade split, but you can still make 9 tricks! 3NT isn't great, though: there are 5 heart tricks, 2 clubs and a diamond, and if NS can discover clubs early enough you're going 2 off. 

In Box & Bath

In Box, most Wests followed my advice and passed, mostly making 3♠. One went off in 3NT and one bid and made 4 - well done! In Bath, half the pairs played in 3♠, one pair went off in 3NT and the others bid and made 4. With hands like this, it's always a bit of a punt, and 4 happened to be the winning punt on this one. 

Hand of the week 01 February 2017

Take the money

You open 1♠ and partner responds 2 – 100% forcing, right? Usually, yes – the forcing change of suit is a cornerstone of Acol bidding. But in this case no. Can you see why?

The answer is because your partner is a passed hand. She could have opened the bidding, and she chose not to.

Why should that make a difference? Well, normally a change of suit shows at least a 4-card suit and at least X number of points – partner has not yet limited her hand and could have up to 20 points – or even more. So passing it would be certifiably daft. But if partner started by passing, she HAS limited her hand – she can't have more than 11 points. So when North responds 2 on this deal, you already know all there is to know about her hand: she has at least 4 diamonds and 10-11 points (or maybe 9 with a decent 5-card suit).

And here that suits you nicely. You opened 4th in hand using the Rule of 15 (see HOTW 13 May 2013 in the Basic Bidding section of the Improvers' Pages). You have just 10 points, your partner has about the same and has just bid your second suit, diamonds. Reckon you have a good chance of making 2 and absolutely no prospect of making game. So why look further? PASS and take the money.

And here's another example ...

... from the same session. This time Board 2:

Dlr: East
Vul: N/S
 8 6
 A 9 7 4
 Q 10 7 4 3
 K Q
 10 7 4 2
 K J
 J 5
 A J 9 7 2


 A 9 5 3
 Q 8 2
 K 2
 8 5 4 3
10   9
 K Q J
 10 6 5 3
 A 9 8 6
 10 6

 After 3 passes, North opens 1 (this time on the Rule of 20) and South responds 1. What now from North? You could raise to 2 – but why bother? You have just 11 points and your partner can't have more than 11 either. No prospect of game, so no point in going any further. Make it easy on yourself – PASS and take the money.


This kind of situation doesn't arise that often. It only happens when the opposition is silent, partner is a passed hand and her response happens to be in your second suit. Normally, if you want your partner to play with you again, you should have a rebid ready!

But there's a wider point: it's all too easy to forget that partner has opened with a pass. Especially if you've got a strong hand and are tempted to go looking for a slam. You should note all of partner's calls, including the PASSes. Especially the opening ones.

Hand of the week 31 August 2016

Off the wall?

Sometimes you get a bid that seems completely off the wall, that defies all the normal conventions of the civilised auction. As happened at our table on Tuesday evening with this hand.

You're West. Your partner opens 1 and you respond 1♠, looking forward to ending up either in a major fit or maybe in 3NT ... when partner puts down the STOP card and bids ... 5♣. What do you make of that? 

Actually, South asked him just that. 'What does your partner's 5♣ mean?' 'I've no idea,' he replied. He thought for a bit longer, then bid ... Well – what would you bid?

Well, there's only one thing it can mean, really, isn't there? East isn't interested in West's spades nor, it seems, in hearts. So much for the much desired major fit. Nor does he seem interested in no trumps. Obviously, then, he has both minors. He's insisting on you choosing between clubs and diamonds. And in order to do that, he must surely be at least 6-5. The suits must be quite good as well, mustn't they? After all, all you've done is shown at least 6 points and 4 spades, yet your partner is confident enough to jump straight to the 5 level.

So what do you bid? At our table, West's thoughts probably went like this: 'My partner has a maximum of 2 cards in the major suits. No major suit losers, then, 'cos I've got all the top hearts and spades. Plus he's surely got SIX diamonds, which gives us a TEN-card fit, and I can ruff any club losers. Gotta be worth 6.' Which is what he bid. Rightly so, as you'll see if you click on 'Show all hands'. NS can take a trick with the K, but the rest belong to EW. 

The play? Simple. Say South leads the ♠Q. You win the trick, discarding a heart from hand and cash your A – no point in finessing when you're missing the K and J, so just bang out your Ace and hope the King drops. It doesn't. Never mind. Cash your non-trump winners and start cross-ruffing. Eventually South gets fed up and trumps something with his K, but you can ruff whatever he leads and carry on till you have 12 tricks.

In Bath & Box

No one in Box bid the slam, which is just as well because only one pair made 12 tricks, the others all making 11. Don't ask me how! In Bath, just 4 pairs bid 6 but everyone made 12 tricks except for the two pairs who were in distinctly inferior no-trump contracts.

Two things ...

... come out of this hand. One, if partner makes what seems to be an insane bid, don't just shake your head pityingly and pass. Take the trouble to wonder what it might mean. And two, when the only missing trump is a master (like the K here) don't bother to clear it. Why waste two of your trumps just to remove a trump that's going to take a trick anyway? Just get on with things and make them use it to trump in.

Hand of the week 10 August 2016

Delayed raise

We're all familiar with the delayed raise. Say your partner opens 1 and you hold something like ♠A954 K96 10754 ♣K9. With just 3 hearts you don't raise partner, but instead bid 1♠. If partner now bids, say, 2♣ you (jump) raise to 3 and she knows that you have exactly 3 hearts – just ONE card short of an immediate raise.

Here the situation is a little different, but the same principle applies.

  • With an unbalanced 12-count you open 1♠.
  • Partner responds 2. 2 over 1♠ is the only time in Acol that a change of suit shows 5 cards. Partner is saying 'I don't have 4 spades, partner, but I do have at least 10 points and five hearts.'
  • With 3 hearts you'd raise her to 3 but you only have 2, so you can't. You'd love to show your diamonds now, but you can't do that either because you aren't strong enough (3 would show 16+ points and would be a game force. Nah. Not with that miserable 12-count). So you simply rebid your spades.'Partner, I have an ordinary opening bid and 5+ spades – and I don't have 3 hearts.'
  • Your partner now bids 3. She's now flexing her muscles and so must have a game-going hand, as 3 is game-forcing.

So what to do? Clearly partner has no love for spades. You'd like to play in 3NT, but you have no idea if she has a club stop and no way of finding out. You do, of course, have a diamond fit ... but to make a diamond game requires 11 tricks and unless partner is very strong that's unlikely – and if you bid 4 you've taken the auction beyond 3NT. Help!

There is, of course, another option that offers a chance of game. Suppose partner has not five but six hearts? Just in case she does, it's worth telling her about your own heart holding: bid 3. You've already denied having three hearts, if you remember, so a (delayed) bid of 3 now means that you have two. which is exactly what your partner's been waiting to hear, as she does indeed have 6 hearts (as you'll see if you click to see the whole deal) and you end up in the best contract: 4 – the only game contract you can make.

'Ah yes, but what if she's only got 5 hearts? What happens then?' Well, in that case she can punt 3NT or even pass – a 7-card fit often plays OK, and at 140 3 bid and made is worth more than 4, which only scores 130.

Point to remember: If you don't support your partner straight away but do so on your next bid, it shows that you were just ONE card short of an immediate raise. 

​​In Box and Bath

In Box, the contracts were 3NT, 2NT, 4 (this one due to poor advice from me. Sorry, Peggy & Phyllis), all going off, and 3 and 4♥X both making 10 tricks. 

In Bath, just 4 of the 11 pairs found 4, a couple stopped in 3 and the rest were going off in 3NT or ended up in diamonds. 

Hand of the week 06 April 2016

Long suits galore

Couldn't resist this extraordinary hand from the 'night of the long suits' at Bath that we played the next morning @ Box. After North's pass, your partner opens 4♠ (a pre-emptive bid showing EIGHT spades in an otherwise not strong hand). Your vulnerable right-hand opponent now bids 5♣ and it's your bid. Do you pass? show your hearts? support your partner's spades (5♠? 6♠?)? Decide before you read on.

We can dispose of the first two quite easily. You're much too good to pass. And there's little point in preferring your heart suit (very nice though it is) when you have a known ELEVEN-card fit in spades.

So we support spades. To decide how high we should go, let's try to imagine how the play might go ...

Take South, first of all. To bid at the 5 level, vulnerable, after her partner's pass will require one hell of a club suit. Presumably your partner has good spade honours and you've got great high cards in the red suits, so South must surely have very long, solid clubs. And as far as you're concerned, she's welcome to hold all 10 points in clubs because you have a club void and can ruff them to bits. 

Now look at how the hand might play. With only two spades missing, it's very unlikely that the opposition hold both the ♠A and the ♠K, and they may hold neither, so let's say they get one spade trick. Will they get anything else? Probably not, because once you've cleared trumps you're going to bang out hundreds of hearts. The only danger is if they start with a diamond, knocking out your A, then come in with a trump and grab a second diamond trick. But that's unlikely to happen because South is surely going to lead her A♣?

Or, if you want a simpler way to look at it: your partner is worth at least 7 tricks in spades and you have another 5. And 7 + 5 = 12!

So. Don't wimp out with 5♠ – go for the slam. Bid 6♠. 

The play

Click to see the full deal. Yes, that's NINE clubs in the South hand! In Bath most players led the A♣ (though a couple led their singleton 10, hoping for a ruff) and the result was 13 tricks for EW. Or 12 if declarer decides to finesse the ♠Q instead of trying for the drop.

In Box and Bath

A clear difference here. Everyone in Box stopped in 5♠ (which ain't bad, actually), except one naughty EW pair who allowed South to play in 5♣. In Bath, by contrast, 7 out of 12 EW pairs played in 6♠. Of the others, one pair played in 6, two stopped in 5 and two NS pairs sacrificed in 6♣X and 7♣X – both cheaper than an EW slam.

The lesson's clear – when you've got a void in the opponents' suit, trump support and a good source of outside tricks, go for it!

Hand of the week 16th March 2016

A good wriggle

The double of a 1NT opening shows a hand of 15+ points and is for PENALTIES. What to do, then, if you're opener's partner? Well, you'll either be happy or unhappy:

smiley If you've got 8 points or more (or a decent 7) you and your partner will have half the points between you, so you're quite happy to play in 1NTX. If you make it you'll get a great score, and even if you don't you're unlikely to be more than 1 off.

sadWith a weaker hand, there's a danger that partner will go more than 1 off, so 1NTis not a good place to be. You need to escape, to wriggle out of trouble. As on this hand, where West has just 4 points.

The idea of wriggling is to find your way to a suit fit that you can play at the 2-level. Here's the wriggle that I use, and would use on this hand if I were sitting West. It's pretty simple and easy to remember:

  • If you have a 5-card (or better) suit, REDOUBLE. Partner (East) must now bid 2♣. And you now either pass (if your 5-card suit is clubs) or sign off in your suit. 
  • If you have two 4-card suits, BID THE LOWER OF THE TWO. If East's happy with it, she'll pass. Otherwise, she'll bid the next suit up, hoping to find a fit with your higher suit.

Here the wriggle works like a dream. You have 4 diamonds and 4 spades, so you bid the lower suit: 2. And East, who also holds 4 diamonds, is delighted to pass. You've wriggled out of an awful 1NTcontract into a 2 contract that will only go one off.

What now? You don't care, really. If they double 2 you'll pay just 100 – and if they pass it, a mere 50! But in practice, the opposition usually can't resist coming in. They've got more points than you, after all. South will probably now bid 3♣ or 2NT. Which is fine by you – your aim was simply to wriggle out of 1NTX and you've succeeded.

Er ...

... but what if I'm a flat 4-3-3-3 hand? How do I wriggle then? Well, technically, you can't, but if you're feeling brave you can PRETEND you have a suitable shape and wriggle on regardless. As we noted above, if the opposition sense that you're wriggling, they'll probably come in anyway and rescue you.

Happy wriggling!

Hand of the week 2nd March 2016

Make do with a minor

As you know, the first priority of the auction is to find a major fit. Failing that, try for no trumps. And as a last resort, make do with a minor. This principle underlies the deceptively simple-looking auction shown, which is well worth looking at in detail.

West: 1    Start with the higher of two 5-card suits.

East: 1♠     With enough points to respond, show your 4-card major. Partner could also have 4 spades.

West 3     A 'jump shift'. This is the strongest bid you can make after open 1 of a suit and is a game force. You've only got 17 points so it's a mite optimistic, but you've got a great shape and you're surely worth a game of some kind.

East 5     This is the key bid, and is where the prioritising comes in:

  • First, do we have a major fit? Can't be sure. Partner is guaranteeing 5 hearts now, but you only have 2.
  • What about NT then? No – you have no club stop. Partner may have one, but you can't be sure.
  • OK. Last resort. Let's go for our minor fit, diamonds. But how many? Well, this is one of those topsy-turvy situations where you go higher the weaker you are. Your partner's made a game force, so one way or another you're going to end up in game. You're weak – a minimum – so just bid the game yourself: 'OK, partner. You want to be in game. Here you are then. Please stop now!' If you were stronger, you'd bid 4 instead: 'I like diamonds, partner, and I wonder if there's a slam on. Perhaps you'd like to try a cue-bid or Blackwood or something?'

 The play 

Things go well. Let's say North starts with the A and another club. You ruff and decide to try trumps. Hoping that the K is with South, you go out to dummy (with the K, your only entry) and lead Q. The finesse works, so do it again and the K falls.

That's trumps cleared, and now you can get on with developing more tricks. The hearts don't break kindly, but there's a bonus: the ♠Q falls on the 2nd round of spades, making dummy's ♠J a winner. The rest is easy. Start cross-ruffing. You can ruff two losing hearts in dummy, and chuck away the third on that lovely little ♠J.

That's 12 tricks on a combined 23-count. Marvellous. But it's not a slam you want to be in!

 In Box and Bath 

Lots of people in diamonds in Box, but only one pair got to game. Two declarers managed 12 tricks, the rest getting just 10 or 11. 

Much the same in Bath, where only 2 pairs reached 5. They played it better, though, as 6 pairs made 12 tricks, and the rest made do with 11.

Hand of the week 24 February 2016

Pick a minor

Here's a tricky one. West has opened 4♠, which would normally show an 8-card suit with not a lot else. A pre-empt, in other words. And your partner has doubled for takeout. What do you bid?

What's your partner got? Well, obviously a pretty strong hand if she's expecting you to come in at the 5-level VULNERABLE. And equally clearly, she's got hearts, the other major – 4 or more likely 5 of them, but probably not 6, or she would have bid them herself. Hearts aren't the answer, then. So there seem to be two choices:

  • Stick a pin somewhere and try to guess which is your partner's better minor.
  • Leave the double in and hope that your partner's strong enough to get a decent penalty score.

I don't like the PASS option, for several reasons. One is you've probably got a game on somewhere, and if so you'll have to get 4♠X FOUR off to make a profit (because you're vulnerable and they're not). Another is that you have absolutely NOTHING to offer in defence and they may well MAKE the doubled contract. And third, in a minor suit, your hand – weak as it is – may actually be quite useful.

So which minor to choose? Not much in it, really. Here's a third option:

  • Bid 4NT.

No, it ain't Blackwood – you haven't agreed a suit! Nor is it natural. If West's got solid spades, NT isn't a likely option. It means 'Sorry, partner. Can't help you in the other major, but I have both minors. Pick the one you like best.'

Partner will now bid 5, which (unless West chooses to sacrifice in 5♠X) makes comfortably, as you'll see if you look at the whole deal. (You'll also see that 4♠X also makes – declarer just keeps leading clubs and eventually gets a club ruff in dummy. Plus 7 trump tricks and 2 hearts. Yuk!)

 No Trumps and the minors 

If the 4NT bid seems odd to you, bear in mind that in a competitive auction NT is often used to show the minors. It's called the 'unusual no trump'. Here are a couple of other situations:

  • Ghestem. If the opposition open 1 of a suit, a 2NT overcall shows at least 5-5 in the two lowest of the other three suits.
  • If the opposition open 1NT, a 2NT overcall means 'I've got both the minors partner. Pick one.'

 In Box and Bath 

Just one pair bid and made 5 in Box, but it was doubled so a nice profit there! One EW pair sacrificed in 5♠X going just 2 off for -300 – a great sacrifice, much cheaper than -600 for 5 making by NS.

In Bath, NO-ONE played in 5 but there were lots of EW pairs either making 4♠X or going off in 5♠X. One solitary NS pair bid and made 5♣, though – obviously just punted by South rather than chosen by North via 4NT.

Hand of the week 09 December 2015

Partnership agreement

What do you bid with this hand in response to partner's opening weak 2? You'd prefer to play in 3♣ rather than 2, because you know you have only 7 hearts between you, whereas you have at least 7 clubs and very probably more. But if you bid 3♣ will partner understand what you're trying to say?

It all comes down to partnership agreement. Many pairs play a change of suit in response to partner's opening weak 2 as forcing – exploring for a game or slam. Others prefer it to mean what it says: 'OK. I know you have 6 (hearts), partner, but I'd really prefer to play in my own suit.' This is certainly the simplest way to play it, and it works well here, as you'll see if you check out the whole deal. Partner only has one club, but it's the Queen, and you end up making 3♣ comfortably, whereas 2 goes one off.

So what if your partnership agreement is that 3♣ would be forcing? Well, you just have to pass and do the best you can in hearts.

Which would I recommend as a partnership agreement? Probably that 3 is 'to play'. This fits well with the principle that once you've preempted you've bid your hand and have nothing more to say. And if partner does happen to have a strong hand, she can always use Ogust to explore the possibilities. (Ogust is a conventional 2NT response that asks opener to say more about the quality of her hand – there's a Hand of the Week out there somewhere that describes it).

In Box and Bath

In Box, almost everyone was in 3♣ – two went one off, but shouldn't have done. In Bath, they obviously play 3♣ as a forcing bid, because most pairs played in 2, mostly going one off. The pairs in clubs did better, except for one that was in 5♣ doubled – oops!

Write it down!

The odds are that before this hand cropped up you had never discussed with your partner what a change of suit over an opening weak 2 would mean. Why would you? Until it happens, that is, and you really need to know! So make a partnership agreement and write it down so you'll know for next time.

There are lots of other areas where partnership agreements are needed – some more often than others. One seriously important one is what kind of jump overcalls you play (e.g. they open 1 and your partner overcalls 2♠). All agree that it shows a 6-card suit, but is it WEAK (6-9 points), INTERMEDIATE (opening points, say 11-15) or STRONG? You have to know, preferably before it comes up at the table. Most pairs play it as weak these days, but it's up to you!

Hand of the week 29th July 2015

A second chance

Here's an interesting situation. It's your opening bid, sitting East, and you could open a weak 2 ... but the suit is really dreadful and you're vulnerable against non-vulnerable. So for the moment, pass - you may well get a second chance to show your hearts later (for example if partner opens 1 of a minor or if South opens and partner doubles for takeout).

Neither of those happens, as you can see. Instead South bids 1♠ and everyone passes. Over to you - do you show your hearts or not? You don't want to get doubled into some dreadful penalty, but at the same time you don't want to get done out of a makeable contract either.

The key, of course, is whether your partner has a decent hand. South could have anything between 11 and 19 points, so let's put him in the middle with around 15. His partner has passed, in spite of being non-vulnerable, so probably has fewer than 5 points - 2 or 3, even. And that leaves EW with 20+ points. Which means that your partner has probably got an opening hand. Why didn't she bid, then? Well, her hand is clearly unsuitable for either an overcall (doesn't have a decent 5-card suit) or a takeout double (doesn't have 4 of the other major, hearts) and she's hoping that you can rescue her with a bid of your own. ...

So here's your second chance: bid 2. Never mind the 'suit quality test' in this position – if you pass the auction's over, so you must rescue it.

Have a look at the other hands. What happens next? South probably doubles your 2 (C'mon, partner – bid something!), and West will raise you to 3, which is the perfect contract: +140 to you.

NS, of course, have to be careful not to compete too high in diamonds. If they get to 3 (or, heaven forbid, 4), they deserve to get doubled and will go down at least 2 for -300. The double will come from your partner, who will reason 'My partner East is a passed hand, but is good enough to make a free bid of 2. I've got a 14-count myself, so I don't see them making 9 tricks in diamonds, let alone 10.'

In Box and Bath

In Box, half the pairs ended up in hearts (though they weren't pushed up to 3 by NS), and in Bath just 3 pairs found 3. Plenty of NS pairs were in overambitious contracts, but for some reason only two got doubled (netting EW 300 for 3X-2 and an unassailable 500 for 3NTX-3).

So two lessons. If too many people are passing, your partner probably has values. And if your opponents get too high, double 'em!

Hand of the week 29th April 2015

Dazzled by diamonds

This hand is yet another case of 3NT being the best contract in spite of a huge minor holding by East. Difficult to find, though, because East will probably go off searching for a slam in diamonds - unmakeable, of course, because there are 3 losers off the top in the black suits.

How to find 3NT? Well, if East opens a restrained 1 and West stretches to find a 2 response, East can now restrict herself to a jump rebid in diamonds, 3, which has the advantage of being below 3NT. 'But West might pass!' I hear you cry. No, she can't – after West's 2-level response, 3 must be forcing to game. So now it all depends on West. If she now says 3 in an attempt to find NT, East (with a spade stop) can bid 3NT. But if West instead raises to 4, then game in diamonds it is.

So the interesting question is: what happens if the contract is 5? Answer: it depends on whether NS take their 3 tricks off the top. If they do, East is one off. But if they don't (e.g. if they lead ♠A and another spade), East is going to make 12 tricks. How?

Very easily, because both of declarer's clubs can be discarded on dummy's AQ. How does it work? First declarer cashes her K. Then she has to get over to dummy. How? By leading a small trump. As it happens, both the 10 and the 8 are winners, so these can be used to clear the defenders' trumps before going on to cash the AQ and discarding the losing clubs. So there's no risk of an opponent trumping one of your heart winners. You end up with a spade trick, three heart tricks and a whopping 8 further tricks in diamonds.

But that only works against a poor defence. How much better to be in 3NT with an overtrick (which in any case scores more than 5 +1).

In Bath and Box

Most players were dazzled by the diamond suit and went for diamonds, mostly going one off. But in Bath, 3 pairs managed to restrain themselves and stopped in 3NT, all making an unassailable 10 tricks or more.

Hand of the week 8th April 2015

Right on cue

What do you bid here, sitting East? Your partner has opened 1NT and with a very pleasant balanced 14-count you're waiting for North's pass so that you can raise her to 3NT ... when North pops up with 2. Dammit. If he'd said 2 instead, no problem: you have heart stops galore and can just go ahead with 3NT. But spades are another matter entirely ...

The thing is to keep your aim in focus. Passing is out of the question. If you bid 3, partner will think you're just competing and will pass. You have game-going points, so you'd still like to be in 3NT - but what about those spades?

The answer is a cuebid - bid their suit: 3. How does that help? Well, put yourself in partner's place. Can't be natural, can it? After North's overcall, you surely don't want to be in spades. Maybe you're showing a spade stop, then? Hardly - if you had a spade stop you'd simply bid 3NT, wouldn't you? So it must be asking partner whether she's got a spade stop: 'If you have a spade stop, partner, please bid 3NT. Otherwise, I'm strong enough to cope with any other bid you'd lke to make. But for heaven's sake, don't pass!'

And your partner, who sadly doesn't have a spade stop either, runs to 4. What now? Well, it's up to you. You can pass it or risk a raise to 5. I'd probably pass. But as you'll see if you look at the whole deal, 5 happens to make.

A couple more points about the auction:

  • We didn't discuss DOUBLE as a possible bid over 2♠. Certainly 2♠ isn't going to make, is it (EW have at least 26 points between them), but is it going to go off enough to make a double worthwhile? If it goes 2 off, that's worth 300 to you - not as much as you making game. But if NS had been vulnerable, that's another matter. Double and take the 500 penalty.
  • Take a look at North's hand. Apart from the spades, it's pretty miserable stuff. But defending against a NT contract, it's worth six tricks. Rather tempting just to PASS instead of bidding 2♠ and see what happens, isn't it? And in this case, EW will sail straight into 3NT and go two off. Lovely. (Don't be tempted to double the 3NT, mind, as then EW might run to clubs or diamonds and make game that way.)

In Bath

Three pairs ended up in the unmakeable 3NT contract. All duly went 2 off, with North taking the first 6 tricks in spades. Most of the others ran to a diamond contract, but only one bid to game. One of those occasions when the minor is a better option than NT.

Hand of the week 11th February 2015

Time for a trial bid

Suppose you open 1 of a major and partner raises you to 2. Sometimes you just shrug your shoulders and pass, but on occasion you'll find yourself thinking 'Pity. If it weren't for my four (or three) little diamonds, I'd try for game. I  wonder what partner's diamonds are like. If she can help game might be on.'

Which is what trial bids are all about. A bid of 3 at this point would mean 'I'm interested in trying for game, partner, but I'm worried about my diamond suit. If you can help (that is, if you have HIGH diamonds or you're SHORT in diamonds) or if you're a MAXIMUM, please bid game. If not, sign off in 3.'

This hand's a good example, though here the key suit is clubs rather than diamonds. North has just 6 losers (often a sign that the hand might be worth a game try), nice diamonds and a lovely singleton ♠A. But what if the opposition can reel off the first three tricks in clubs? How to find out? Easy – bid 3♣, asking partner for help.

OK. Put yourself in the South seat. Do you sign off in 3 or go to game? Well, you have a high club – the King – and with a doubleton you're also short in clubs. Nice. To cap it all, you have 9 points, so you're a maximum for your raise to 2. It's a no-brainer: bid 4.

And although you only have a combined 23 points, things look good. As it happens, the opposition cards are well placed, too (click and have a look). The A is with East (so you have just one club loser) and West holds both K and J (so you can DEEP FINESSE for NO diamond losers at all) and you end up with 12 tricks.

Not bad for a hand on which you might have passed 2

In Bath and Box

Not enough of the Bath NS pairs got to game – just 6 out of 9 – so some of them need to brush up their trial bids – unlike Box, where 5 out of 6 (with a bit of help) found 4. On the other hand, the Bath players are clearly better at deep finessing, as nearly everybody made 12 tricks. In Box, by contrast, the only pair to make 12 was the one that didn't bid to game. Can't have it all! 

Featured hand,14 January 2015

3NT ... or look for 6 ?

We all know that with a fit in a minor suit it's usually best to look for no trumps, because it's likely to score more – unless, of course, the minor suit can provide a slam. It can be difficult to spot, and South does well to catch a whiff of a club slam on this deal. Let's see how it might go ...

When North opens 1 South knows immediately that game is on (because she has 15 points), but things aren't very clear yet. She responds 2 and awaits further information.

North, also holding 15 points, now also knows that game is on (because South's 2 promises at least 10 points). Encouraged by this, he decides he's strong enough to show his 2nd suit at the 3 level: 3♣.

Crunch time for South! With her very pleasant ♠KQJ providing two stops in the unbid suit she's confident that 3NT will play well, and most players will now bid just that. But hang on a minute ... We have a club fit, partner's shown extra strength (by bidding a new suit at the 3 level), and I have 15 points and just 5 losers. Something better might be on ... I'm going to bid 4♣.

Now it's North's turn to stop and think. Failing a heart fit, both players would be looking for NT, so North was expecting his partner either to bid 3NT herself (with a spade stop) or to bid 3♠ (4th suit forcing, asking for a spade stop). But instead of that, South has gone beyond 3NT, and that can only mean one thing: she's thinking of a club slam. What to do next?

What North doesn't want to do is bid 4NT Blackwood. Why? Because you're in clubs – most of the responses take you beyond 5♣ anyway! Another good reason is that he has a small doubleton. If South is missing an Ace, then the opposition might well have ♠AK, so Blackwood doesn't really help. Instead, he should show his cheapest-to-bid control via a cue-bid: 4. Then his partner can decide what to do.

Back to South, who can show her (singleton) control in hearts: 4.

North now signs off in 5♣ – which denies a stop in spades, because otherwise he would have bid 4♠ ... and South (who now knows there's a spade loser – so no grand slam!) has to decide whether to go on or not. Well, partner has a strong hand (after all, he didn't just feebly raise to 5♣, but responded positively to South's slam try), so it's worth the punt: fingers crossed and 6♣ it is. (Actually, there's one really strong reason to bid the slam – answer at the end.)

The play

East will probably lead a spade. How does it look? You certainly have all the key-cards except for the ♠A, but can you make 12 tricks?

Well, yes. After they take their ♠A, you'll have 5 trump tricks, 2 spade tricks and two each in diamonds and hearts ... and all you have to do for your 12th trick is ruff a heart in the short trump hand for an extra club trick.

In Box and Bath

Most of the 11 pairs in Bath duly stopped in 3NT. Just 2 pairs found 6♣ and they both made it for a whopping shared top. Much to their credit, one pair also bid it in Box, but sadly went one down. 

Which brings us to the reason to bid the slam rather than stopping in 5♣. Clue: It has everything to do with scoring ...


South was very tempted to stop in a safe 30-point 3NT, which is bound to make at least one overtrick. And (as we saw in Bath and Box) most pairs will do just that.

So 5♣ – even if it makes an overtrick – will earn you a miserable bottom (because the 3NT pairs will get 430 or 460 and you'll only get 420 at most). 

So you must bid the slam and hope that it makes – at least then you have a chance of a top score!

Featured hand: Wed 17 September 2014

Daft duplicate

There can be something a bit daft about duplicate pairs.

On this hand, which provides a nice illustration of RKC Blackwood in action, it isn't difficult for NS to reach a slam.

With North's hand, I prefer to open 1♠ (I don't think it's quite good enough for the alternative Acol strong 2♣ opening). South will reply 2♣, showing at least 10 points and North can now jump rebid his spades with 3♠, promising 16-18 points and a good 6-card suit. Both players can add the 10+ to the 16+, so there's no danger of either passing before game is reached.

But South is better than 10+. With a nice 14-count including ♠Qxx, he's interested in exploring the possibilities of a slam. Essentially, he wants to know about the ♠AK, A and ♣A, and the easiest way to do that is to go straight for Blackwood: 4NT. Partner's reply indicates that she either has 1 or 4 of those keycards – and as she's promising 16+ points, that has to mean 4. The slam is on, so South should now bid 6♠ ... yes?

The answer (and this is the daft bit) is 'Not necessarily'. As you know, 12 tricks in spades are worth 180 points (plus any game or slam bonuses), but 12 tricks in no trumps are worth 190 (the extra 10 points are because the 7th trick in NT is worth 40 rather than 30). So at pairs, if you think you're going to score as many tricks in 6NT as in 6♠, you should go for 6NT: it's worth 10 points more and will therefore beat any pairs that end up in 6♠.

Is that the case here? As South, you know you have 6 tricks in spades (actually, you have 7, but you don't know that yet) plus 2 tricks each in diamonds and clubs (more if partner holds either Queen) and a trick in hearts. Crucially, if you bid 6NT, you'll be declarer and what's the most likely opening lead? Probably hearts, the unbid suit, which would conveniently provide you with your 12th trick. So 6NT it is.

Don't get me wrong: it's a creditable achievement to get to 6♠ with just 30 points between you, and if you did, well done! It's just that 6NT happens to be better.

What happened in Box and Bath?

In Box, everyone was in spades and half the pairs found the slam.

In Bath, where they're a bit more familiar with the daftness of pairs, more pairs were in 6NT than 6♠. One cheeky South even bid 7NT, which makes if the opposition are kind enough to lead a heart – but they didn't, so it went 1 off.

Test yourself: how to make 13 tricks in spades?

Even though 6NT is a great contract, it happens that NS can make 13 tricks in spades against any defence. Take a look at all four hands and see if you can spot how it's done (there's a simple method and a more complicated one). Answer below.


The simple method is simply to ruff North's 3rd diamond in the short trump hand. That gives NS 7 trump tricks, one heart, two each in diamonds and clubs – and the ruff is the 13th trick.

The alternative is possible because West happens to have Kxx. After clearing trumps, all declarer has to do is ruff two hearts. Then West's K falls under South's A, and the Q becomes NS's 13th trick.

Featured hand: 27 August 2014


Even a non-superstitious South will feel a little aggrieved at the outcome of this week's Board 13...

You have a fabulous 19-count with a good suit and a couple of 10s to boot, so when North opens 1♠ (your partner having passed) you double, intending to bid your diamonds later to show partner you're strong (doubling first and THEN bidding your suit shows extra strength – 16+ at least).

West, however, has other ideas and makes what looks like a pre-emptive double raise to 3♠. Disappointingly, your partner passes again and East now bids 4♠ ...

Yikes! What do do now? It doesn't look as if you're going to make 5, but surely they're not going to make 4♠ either – after all, you're holding nearly half the points in the pack! All you can do is punish them for their cheek – you double their 4♠ , lead your A and down goes dummy ...

Time to click on Show all hands and have a look. South can take the first two tricks in diamonds and will later make her K, but that's it. East is going to make 5 trump tricks, a couple of hearts, the ♣A and ruff a couple of red cards in dummy for 10 tricks. Doubled contract safely made for +790 points.

Hard luck? You bet – but all credit to EW for ignoring their very average point-count and going with their more optimistic loser-count instead. Sure, West only has 7 points, but she also has just 8 losers so raises straight to 3♠. And sure East has only 14 points, but she also has just 6 losers, and opposite 8 losers that means going on to game. And it pays off. 

All South can do is shake her head and hope for better luck on board 14.

What happened in Bath?

Of the nine EW pairs who reached 4♠, no fewer than six were doubled – all making. One (somehow!) even got an overtrick. Three further EW pairs feebly subsided in 3♠ for a poor score.

Just one South was in a diamond contract: 4 (again doubled) two off for -500. Which, in view of the 620 or 790 earned by most other EW pairs was a great result, giving that particular NS pair 75% on the board. 

Featured hand: 20 August 2014

It's not the holy grail, but it's the next best thing ...

Partner opens a weak (12-14) no trump and it comes round to you. What do you bid with this tasty 17-count?

Me, I've been banging on about it for so long that the answer's automatic: 3NT.

Why? It's all to do with scoring. By and large, if you have a fit in a suit, you're likely to score an extra trick in the suit contract over a NT contract. So that makes 10 tricks in 4 or 4♠ more attractive than 9 tricks in 3NT (because 120 is more than 100). 

By the same token, then, making 11 tricks in 5♣ or 5 should be more attractive than making just 10 tricks in 3NT ... but it isn't, because the minor suits are only worth 20 per trick (so you only get 100 for your 11 tricks in the minor, against 130 for just 10 tricks in NT). No contest.

Which leads us to our golden rule for auctions (the one I keep banging on about):

The holy grail of the auction is a fit in a major suit: always make this your first priority.

The next best thing is to be in no trumps.

If that's no good, you'll have to make do with a contract in a minor suit.

The minor suit is the last resort. So on the current hand:

  • The holy grail of a major fit looks unlikely.
  • Any likely problem with no trumps? With around 30 points between you, I don't think so. So no trumps it is.
  • As a trump suit, the diamonds don't get a look-in. As a suit in no trumps, however, they're magic – worth 6 tricks (valuable, no-trumpy tricks, that is, not cheapo minor-suit-contract tricks).

Hang on a minute ...

I've talked myself into trouble here. There is a situation where you do want to explore the minor suit. And that's where the minor-suit contract gives you a chance of making a slam (because slams are worth A LOT more than anything else).

Is that the case here? Well, maybe. It's a close-run thing. But if you tot up the points you'll find that the opposition have 9-11 points between them – quite enough to hold, for example, the ♠AK, enough to scupper your slam. So I think most players will be content with 3NT.

(If you did want to have a go, the bid would be 3 : this means 'Partner, I have a strong hand with 6 diamonds and am wondering about a slam. What do you think?' And if I held the ♠A instead of the ♠Q, I'd certainly be trying that.)

So is the diamond slam on, then?

As it happens, it is (have a look at the whole deal), but only because South holds the A: give it to North and you're limited to 11 tricks. But for the same reason, the more valuable 6NT is on, too. (Exactly the same 12 tricks: 6 diamonds, 3 spades, 2 clubs and 1 heart). But neither slam is a good one to be in, and on a heart lead you're likely to end up making only 11 tricks in NT.

What happened in Bath?

Almost everyone was in 3NT, most making 11 tricks. The exceptions were one pair in 1 (what?) making 11 tricks and an equally bizarre 4♠ (with a 6-card trump fit!) which also made 11 tricks. One other pair ended up in 5NT (evidently having explored for a slam but eventually deciding against it).

Featured hand: 18 December 2013

Take a rounded view ...

... You certainly have a rounded hand. It's your bid in the auction shown – do you bid or pass?

With just 5 points, you're clearly entitled to pass. You're unlikely to reach game, you have more losers than you can count and you don't particularly dislike partner's diamonds ...

BUT take a closer look. For a start, both opponents passed initially, so EW are likely to have at least half the points, probably more – you're only one point light of a positive response, after all. More persuasively, diamonds is a minor suit and not likely to net you many points – you might well score a lot more in No Trumps, for which your hand, with two 10s and a nice 'textured' feel to a couple of your suits, would be well suited. Thirdly, you have a 4-card major which you'd like to show partner. And fourthly, there's always the possibility (albeit a fairly remote one) that partner has a strong hand that is somehow unsuitable for either 2NT or 2♣ and is waiting to hear what you say before bidding the most suitable game ...

So what to do? Pass or bid 1♠? It's often a good exercise to imagine what partner's response might be and where that would leave you. Say you respond 1♠:

  • If partner rebids 1NT (showing 15-16) or 2NT (showing 17-18) you'll pass, and it'll  probably make (remembering that 8 tricks in NT earns you 120 and even 9 tricks in diamonds is only worth 110).
  • If she rebids diamonds, you pass.
  • If she rebids 2♣ (showing 5 diamonds and 4 clubs) you can sign off in 2.
  • If she rebids 2 (a reverse, showing 16+ points) you can bid 2NT. (After a reverse 2NT doesn't show 10+ points, as you've been forced to bid. With 10 points you'd jump straight to 3NT.)
  • And if she supports your spades, you simply pass.

All seems fairly safe, doesn't it? So bid 1♠. As it happens on this deal, partner has a 15-count and 4 spades with you, so will either raise to 2♠ or 3♠, which you will unhesitatingly pass. And as you can see if you check out the whole deal, you can make 9 tricks in spades or diamonds. And with 3♠= (or 2♠+1) worth 140 and 1+2 worth just 110, aintcha glad you didn't pass 1?

Happy Christmas.

Hand of the week 14th August 2013

Bending the truth


Here's a very unglamorous hand, with some tricky decisions for both North and South. But the unglamorous ones score just as much as the sexy slam hands, so it's just as important to end up in the right spot ...


So, given a silent EW, how should the bidding go?


North is going to open 1 – the standard opening with this particular 4-4-4-1 holding. 


With just 5 points, South is technically too weak to respond, but she really doesn't want to risk her partner being left in 1 when she only has a singleton, and besides, the 6-card spade suit is surely worth a mention – so 1 it is.


The spade bid makes things easier for North. For a start, his singleton K now looks more useful and worth its 3 points, and with partner bidding spades, the joint holding looks more balanced. So it's time to bend the truth again: the best rebid for North is, despite the shape, 1NT, showing a balanced 15-16 points. (The alternative is to bid 2, which is unattractive. It takes the auction beyond 1NT and an inattentive South might assume that North must therefore have 5 diamonds ...)


With less than a minimum 6 points, South is not thrilled at the prospect of 1NT, and should retreat back to 2: 'I'm pretty weak here, partner, and I have 6 spades. Can we stop now please?'


Which takes us to the really crucial bid of the auction. With a spade singleton, North is not particularly thrilled either, but the hand is clearly a misfit and bidding on can only make things worse. North must, however unwillingly, PASS.


And ...?
... it all works out beautifully, because 2 makes and is the place to be (1NT goes one off).
In Bath, people ended up all over the place. Several pairs ended up in 2NT or even 3NT, while others somehow found their way to 4 – all going off. Just 5 pairs stopped in 2, and two of those went 1 off, so if you'd bid and made 2 on this hand at Bath, you would have earned an unglamorous but valuable top.
Hand of the week 6th February 2013

Clawing up to game

How do you find your way to game with this holding? It's a tricky ride but well worth the effort, as there are useful inferences to be had on both sides.

West 1: A pleasant 15-point, 5-loser hand.


East 1♠: Much more important to show your 4-card major than the diamond fit. Whatever you do, don't bid 3 – this not only ignores your spades but is also an underbid that partner may pass. You have a very pleasant 12-count with a known fit and unless partner is minimum should end up in game, so make sure you make a response that partner can't pass: 1 is perfect!


West 2: You'll recognise this as a reverse (it's higher than 2, the 2-level of your opening suit) and so needs extra strength. Here you have that extra strength (a good, 5-loser hand with all your points in your long suits) and 2 not only says more about your shape but also tells partner that you are stronger than you might be. Again, perfect. *


East 3♣: East can't yet be sure what the best contract is. 3NT is the most attractive spot (as you know, it's generally easier to make 9 tricks in NT than 11 tricks in a minor), or partner may have 6 diamonds and 5 hearts, in which case 4 looks good. How to find out? The answer is to bid the fourth suit: 3 is an artificial bid ('4th suit forcing') which has nothing to do with clubs. Instead it asks partner to 'describe your hand further, please'. This bid also requires extra strength, and so is a good way of getting across the fact that you also have a strong hand. **



West 4: Right. Now we've both shown that we're stronger than we might be, so one way or another there's no stopping below game. What can I tell partner? I don't have a club stop, so 3NT is no good. I don't have 5 hearts, so that's no good either. And I haven't got 3 of her spade suit. So all I can do is rebid my diamonds.




East 5: See how well it works? You've looked for no trumps and discovered that you don't have cover in clubs. Nor do you have a major fit. So the only option left is game in diamonds. Are you strong enough for that? Well, yes you are. Your partner has a good hand and so do you, you have an excellent at-least-10-card trump fit and, crucially, in your partner's weakest suit (clubs) you have a singleton – only one trick for the opposition in clubs, then! So go for it! ***









*   So what would you do with a weaker hand – say, with a small heart instead of the Queen, giving you just 13 points? Then you wouldn't be strong enough to reverse, and so would simply have to rebid 2, concealing your heart suit: a pity, but if partner has 4 hearts, she'll probably show them on her next bid, so all is not lost. Note that the purpose of a reverse is not only to show shape but also to tell partner you're strong – so don't reverse if you're not!

**   Same message here for East. Bidding the 4th suit requires extra strength (say 9+ points rather than 6-8), so with a weaker holding East would only have been able to show a preference for diamonds over hearts: 3. FSF is not only a request for more information – it's also telling partner you're stronger: so if you're not, don't use it!


***   In fact, the best contract here (made possible by singletons in spades and clubs) is not 5 but 6, and a skilled pair may find this via a series of cue-bids later in the auction. But that's icing on the cake: just getting to the minor-suit game is excellent – see below.



In Bath just 6 of the 13 pairs reached 5, 5 others stopping in 3and no-one finding the slam. So just getting to game is pretty good. 

Sadly, the best result went to the two Wests who bid a distinctly unwise 3NT, which goes screaming off if ♣A is played in the first trick. Luckily for EW, the ♣A is with North, who leads a low club, allowing East's singleton King to take the first trick. There's no justice!


Hand of the week 9th January 2013


Remember the Rule of 20? If your points plus the number of cards in your two longest suits add up to 20 or more, you're OK to open the bidding. If not, don't.
Well, surely you can shade that a bit, can't you? North's count only adds up to 19 (11 points + 5 spades + 3 in the second suit), but it's a nice suit and it's nearly enough ... so let's open 1♠ anyway and see what happens.
Well, what happens is pretty horrible, as you'll see if you click on 'Show all hands'. East, who has a massive 19-count including AKQxxx, doubles. (No, she doesn't bid her diamonds – yet. With 16 or more points, it's usual to double first and then bid your suit, to show partner your strength.) 
South, with a 2-count, passes and wonders hopefully if EW might end up in hearts ...
... but no such luck. West, who has little except for ♠KJ9854 – that's six of the opponents' suit – decides to convert the take-out double into penalties by passing. 
North, with nowhere to run, can only pass, and that ends the auction.
The play isn't pleasant to watch, as EW use their 27 combined point-count to tear NS apart, taking the doubled contract at least 3 off.
Well, that's OK, isn't it? Stopped EW getting game, anyway ... except that NS are vulnerable and EW aren't. So instead of getting 400 for 3NT, EW are getting a whopping 800 for 1♠X vulnerable 3 off. Ouch!
Post mortem 
So what went wrong? The Rule of 20 is one indication that North should have passed instead of opening. But there are others. The first is that North has 8 losers, and you should really have just 7 to open 1 of a suit. And the second is the vulnerability, which in this case is the worst possible combination: vulnerable against non-vulnerable.
Swap the vulnerability around and it's a different story: now EW are getting 600 for 3NT, and going 3 off in 1X only costs 500. Now it's worth it.
So the moral is: sure, you can cut corners sometimes, but do it when the vulnerability is favourable. 
And just because you want to open, doesn't mean you should: your silence can pay dividends too. When this hand was played in Bath and North didn't open 1, several tables ended up in 4 by East-West. Now the boot's on the other foot, and it's North who has the unexpected long spade holding and NS end up with a PLUS score with only 13 points between them.
Silence can be golden!
Hand of the week 8 August
Which lie?
We're always being told not to 'lie to partner', but there are times when truth is hard to come by. Take board 9 from last Wednesday morning. Sitting North you open 1 and partner responds 1, the opposition remaining silent. What's your rebid?

With only 3 of partner's suit - however nice they are! - you can't (yet) support her hearts, because you'd be telling her you have at least 4. Which would be a lie. So ...

Well, you'd like to rebid 3
, showing 16-18 points and a good 6-card suit. But that would be two lies: you only have 15 points and the suit isn't particularly good, either. So that's out.

Your official rebid, of course, is 2
: you have a rebiddable suit and 11-15 points. Trouble with that is that you have a really attractive top-of-the-range-for-the-bid 15 points and just 5 losers. Partner might well pass 2 thinking you don't have much ... and you might end up missing game. So the 'true' bid is actually a bit of a lie as well!

And then there's 1NT, showing 15-16 points and a balanced hand. This is kinda dishonest as well, as you have two doubletons and are therefore not 'balanced'. But it gets your strength across perfectly and diamonds are, after all, a minor suit.

So which lie is it to be? I'd bid 1NT every time.

  • 2/3 is dangerous:partner might have just 4 little hearts and there might be a ghastly heart split against you. If she has a reasonable hand, you have every chance of finding a 5-3 heart fit later. No need for that particular lie at all.
  • 3 is dangerous: partner will expect you to be stronger, and might stretch too far.
  • 2 is dangerous, too, for the opposite reason: she might not stretch far enough.
  • There are dangers in NT as well, of course. But the 1NT rebid isn't guaranteeing stops in spades and clubs, just showing a balanced 15-16 points. And if partner has 5 hearts and a decent hand, there are ways of finding the heart fit (but that's another story).

As it happens, partner has a strong, balanced hand and you should end up in 3NT whatever your rebid - unless, of course, you immediately supported partner's hearts. As it happens, you do very well in 4, because the opponents' 6 hearts are (luckily) divided 3-3 and you can make 10 or 11 tricks. But most of the time they won't be, and 3NT will be the best contract.

So that's it. If you have to tell a lie, try to choose the best one!
Featured hand: Wed 25 June 2014

Bidding the void

Almost every EW pair in Bath and Box got to 4♠ on this deal and were surprised to find themselves making 12 or 13 tricks with just 26 points between them. How to bid the slam? Only 2 pairs managed it in Bath (one, sadly, playing against me and my partner!). So how might it be done?

The bidding at most tables will probably have started as shown:

East starts off with a (pretty minimal) 1, and South has a perfectly reasonable vulnerable 2♣ overcall.

This actually works to West's advantage, as she has both the length and the strength to bid 2♠, thus efficiently showing a strong hand with a good spade suit in a single bid.

North is pretty weak, but with a singleton and 4 of partner's clubs will probably punt 3♣ ('bidding to the level of the fit, partner').

Which brings us back to East ...

... who, with a minimum opening hand, could be forgiven for signing off in 4♠ (she will surely not stop at 3♠ after partner's strong bid).

But wait a moment: East has one momentous asset – a void in the opponents' suit. And not only that, she has enough trumps for two – even three – ruffs. It will do no harm to alert partner to the fact: bid 4♣.

After a fleeting moment wondering whether her partner has gone bonkers, West considers what this bid might mean. Both North and South have clubs and West has 3 clubs herself, so there's no question of East having clubs too. This is surely a cue bid showing a club control and agreeing spades as trumps. The message is 'I could have just bid game in spades, partner, but I thought I'd tell you that their clubs aren't a problem.'

And what a difference that makes. West bids 4NT (RKC Blackwood) and discovers that partner has two keycards – enough for her to bid the small slam. 

How does the play go?

North will probably lead a club (partner's suit), which declarer will ruff in dummy. Back to hand with the K and ruff another club, then clear trumps (ending in dummy) and chuck away declarer's two losing hearts on the AQ and you've made 12 tricks. With a little more jiggery-pokery you can actually make all 13 (as many declarers did), but the main thing is to bid and make the small slam.

So how can you make all those tricks with just 26 points? Easy if one of you is void in clubs – that's 10 points you no longer need for your contract. The crucial thing is to tell partner about your void – in this case by bidding it. It seems crazy at first, but there's actually nothing else that 4♣ could mean – you just have to trust partner to work it out!

Featured hand: 19 March 2014

Weak 2? Not this time

As dealer, it's tempting to open a weak 2♠ on this holding, even vulnerable – but you shouldn't. Why not? You've got the requisite 6-9 points and a 6-card major but ... you also have 4 of the other major. And if partner also has 4+ hearts, it'll be very hard to discover your fit. So pass and await developments.

There's no danger of you 'missing the boat'. As you've only got 6 points, someone's bound to open the bidding and if it's the opposition, you can overcall.

On this deal, your caution pays off, as partner does indeed have 4+ hearts. So when she opens 1, what's your response? Have a think, then triple click below.

Well, your points are minimal, but your losers add up to just 7 ... so if you're feeling frisky, go straight to game in hearts. It pays if you do, because game is indeed on.

But what if South instead opens 1NT (which happens to be an alternative to 1​)? Again, decide, then triple click.

You should bid 2♣, Stayman, in case partner has 4 hearts. If she doesn't, you can simply sign off in spades. As it happens, partner does have the hearts, but this time it's more difficult to punt game. You could optimistically raise to 3 hearts, and your partner will now probably bid game herself.

So – two routes to the best contract. Have a look at the whole deal, and you'll see that you only lose 3 tricks with hearts as trumps: one spade, one club and one diamond.

The main message then: don't open a weak 2 with 4 of the other major. Pass and see what happens.

But before we leave it, this hand can yield a couple of other worthwhile insights.

Why not spades?

As it happens, you also have a fit in spades, and 4♠ is just as good a contract as 4.

But (as you may already know) a 4-4 fit is preferable to a 5-3 or 6-2 fit, as it's likely to yield more tricks. For a start, with 4-4 trumps, ruffing in either hand is worth an extra trick (whereas with 5-3 or 6-2 only ruffing in the short trump hand generates the extra trick), and for another, once trumps are cleared the 'uneven' fit can be use to discard losers in the other hand. 

Doesn't make any difference on this hand, as it happens, but on another occasion it might – so try for the 'equal' trump fit if you have a choice.

What about EW?

Just as NS have a double major fit, so EW have a double fit in the minors. And 5♣ is an excellent sacrifice, as it goes just 2 off for -500 (if doubled) – cheaper than the -620 for 4 or 4♠ by NS. But how to find it?

Over 1, West can simply overcall 2♣ and EW can take it from there.

If South opens 1NT, however, Acol has another option which is well worth knowing: an overcall of 2NT is conventional, and shows both minor suits. Not only does this interfere with North's plans to use Stayman, but it also opens the door for the 5♣ sacrifice, as East has 5 clubs.

So, all the ingredients for an interesting tussle at the table: a 20-point game vs a 20-point sacrifice at the 5-level.

And in Bath?

Just 3 out of 13 pairs found 4. Most of the others stopped in 3 or 3♠. Fair enough. It's hard to find game with just 20 points between you!

Featured hand: 5 March 2014


It's frustrating when the opponents' opening bid 'takes your bid away', but the best course is usually simply to pass smoothly and await further developments. Here both North and South are itching to get into the bidding and can't – but their patience is rewarded in due course.

East's opening 1NT scuppers South, who can only pass and wait.

West, however, clearly has a weak hand with one of the minors, and so bids 2♠ (the start of a transfer to a minor).

Now it's North's turn to feel frustrated: he suspects that NS have a heart fit, but his suit is far too weak to mention. So he too passes.

East duly bids 3♣ (as instructed), South passing again, and West converts this to 3. Pass, pass ...

... Hooray! At last! South is now (finally!) in the perfect place to make a take-out double. She has good opening points, a singleton in diamond and four each in the other three suits. Perfect!

Pass from West and North now gets the opportunity to show his hearts after all: 3.

Actually, NS can make 4, but it's difficult to find. Either North or South has to stick the head above the parapet and at least they've got themselves into a contract.

So is 170 (3 +1) a good score? I think it is. 'Double-dummy' analysis suggests that 1NT goes 2 off, but in practice it either made or went just 1 off in Bath (for -100). 3 goes just one off, too – again for just 100 (sure, 200 if it's doubled for penalties, but it's a brave NS who'll take that risk).

So yes, 170 isn't as good as 620, but it's a whole lot better than 100: in Bath it would have earned you 60%.

But the main point is that patience is often rewarded: just because you haven't got a bid now doesn't mean that you won't be able to put your oar in later in the auction.

Nasty but nice

Sometimes you get a hand that simply doesn't fit the system. What on earth do you open with this delicious 22-point hand? There's no 'right' or 'wrong' answer – anything you can think of has a downside. Below are the three front runners. What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Have a think, then triple-click for my own thoughts.







 It gets the point-count right, but you simply don't have a no-trump shape. It could all go horribly wrong. The opposition could trash you with a (likely!) heart lead – or, just as bad, your partner might insist on a heart contract under the mistaken impression that you must have at least a doubleton! Yuk.



 This is much better - it gets across your strength, and after partner's 2 relay, you can bid 2 and see what happens then. On the other hand, a 2opener guarantees 8 playing-tricks in a suit, and with such a ropy spade suit you can't actually guarantee that.


 As far as shape is concerned, this is the most honest bid. Trouble is, you have too many points for an opening 1-level bid. If partner has only 3-4 points and passes, you're going to miss an almost certain game.


So what to do? It's a toss-up between 2♣ and 1♠, and in this case either works well.

If you go the 2♣-2-2♠- route, partner will know you have at least 5 spades and you'll find the spade game.

If you open 1♠, partner will either support your spades straight away, in which case you'll reach game comfortably, or will respond 1NT. You will then jump-shift into 3♣, showing the lower of your other two suits. The jump-shift is the strongest Acol rebid, and is unconditionally forcing to game on both players. In this case, it also tells partner that you started with 5 spades, so again, the spade game will be reached.

Slam ...?

With a three-loser hand, it must be tempting to go on a try a slam, and as you can see (click Show all hands) it looks promising, especially since the trump Q drops under declarer's ♠AK, leaving dummy's ♠J to clear the last trump.

It all depends on South's opening lead. The best lead by far is a club. Why? Well, consider the alternatives:


  • Leading a trump would be silly, because East might well be finessing in your direction and you might make your ♠Q. (And in this case, up goes dummy's ♠J, and declarer can now ruff a club in dummy for her 12th trick.)
  • Leading the A also gives East a trick (ruff, then the K is good) – and committing the cardinal sin of leading away from the A against a suit contract has the same effect: a trick for the K, again gifting declarer her 12th trick.
  • And a diamond ('Don't lead away from an unsupported honour against a suit contract') gives declarer 4 diamond tricks instead of 3.

So – a club it is. And now it's hard to see where the 12 tricks are coming from. Sure, declarer can drop the ♠Q in two rounds of trumps, but now she can't ruff a club in dummy, which is her only hope of a 12th trick. Why? Because she needs dummy's only remaining trump – the ♠J – to beat North's ♠10. Put the cards out and try it yourself.


At Box, everyone was in just 4, and everyone made their contract. One pair made 12 tricks, and I'm willing to bet the opening lead was the A.

In Bath, 4
♠ was the norm, and there were also two pairs in 6♠ and one in 7♠! Of the 5 pairs that made more than 11 tricks, 4 had either a heart or diamond opening lead. How the other made 12 tricks on a club lead I'm not sure. And yes, the pair in 7♠ did make 13 tricks: they got a heart lead, too, but how they got trick 13 we'll probably never know how.






Bending the rules

We all know that when you're learning something you first learn the rules and and apply them slavishly. Later, when you've thoroughly mastered them - and only then - you can start breaking them. Actually, bridge works out pretty well if you do follow the rules, providing your partner is sensitive to the full range of values shown by your bidding. Trouble is, if you make a properly restrained reply, partner may write you off as 'weak' and you can all too often miss game.

Take this hand as an example. You have a pleasant 6-3-3-2 hand, with 15 points and (once you've found a fit) 6 losers, and open 1
. Partner responds 1 and the opponents are silent. What do you bid now? Think about it before you read on.

The first bid that comes to mind is 3, which has the advantage of showing your 6-card suit and 6 losers. The trouble is, you have only 15 points and you should really have 16 for a jump rebid, plus the quality of your diamonds isn't really quite good enough. But still ...

Oh all right then. Technically, I should be bidding 2
, shouldn't I? The trouble with that, as was suggested above, is that partner may now write me off and pass. She shouldn't write you off, of course, because you might be as strong  as ... well, as you actually are, here. But it happens.

A third, rather attractive, possibility is to rebid 1NT. Technically this is also a no-no, as you have a 6-card suit and two doubletons. But
hey, diamonds is a minor suit and could be very useful in no trumps, and the bid has the advantage of conveying your strength accurately to your partner.

So which is it to be? An overbid? A technically correct bid that nonetheless 'feels' like an underbid? Or a bid that misrepresents my shape?

My vote goes to 1NT as an easy favourite. Why? Well, mainly for the reasons given above: that it shows my strength accurately, and that my diamond suit is probably more use in NT than as trumps. There's another reason, too, which relates to my holding in the other suits. Can you see it? Again, think about it a moment before reading on.

I have a rather nice 10 points spread among clubs, hearts and spades, but in two of those suits my holding is Kx and Kxx. If we're in no trumps and either of those suits is chosen as the opening lead (a 2:1 chance!), I'd much rather the lead was coming round the table towards my King than through my King, as it would be if I were dummy. If I'm 4th to play, the King is a stopper. If I'm 2nd to play, it isn't. So by bidding NT before my partner does, I can take care of that problem before it arises. (Besides, I'm better at declarer play than she is!)

Before we go on to see what happens, let me emphasise that there's nothing wrong with a 2 rebid - indeed, that's the bid you should be making - but the advantages of bidding 1NT instead are so great compared with the downside of having two doubletons that I think you'd have every justification for bending the rules here.

  The outcome  

As it happens, South is never going to pass. (Click to have a look at her hand.) With a balanced 13-count and stops in the other three suits, you're always going to end up in 3NT.

But if partner happens to have
xxx instead of ♣Axx and the opponents lead a small club, you'll be glad you're declarer and not your partner.

As things are, you're more likely to get a heart lead. Up with the Queen, trapping West's King, out to dummy with a black Ace and finesse the diamonds ... and you'll be pulling in a very lucky (and unbiddable) 12 or even 13 tricks.


So what happened at Bath? Evidently, most Norths didn't mind bending the rules, as most pairs ended up in 3NT with North as declarer, making 12 or 13 tricks. In two cases, South was declarer in 3NT, making just 10 and 11 tricks.

And there just has to be one result that proves me wrong: at one table South was declarer in 6NT, and ended up making an overtrick. That's good luck for you.

Play & Learn Wed 12 May 2010: board 7
65432: what a suit!

One thing I've never liked about Benji Acol is the 19/20-point opening 2NT bid. Actually, it's not an essential ingredient of Benji at all (read what Andrew Kambites has to say in the current issue of English Bridge), but a lot of Benji players have it on their convention cards. What you should do with a balanced 19-point hand is exactly what Andrew Robson recommends in his excellent column in today's Times: open with 1 of a suit and then bid 3NT on your next call. If your partner passes, you aren't missing game anyway, so you won't miss anything. That leaves you free to use 2NT for 20-22 points, which is a bit more robust.

Take today's board 7. You have a pretty horrible balanced 19-point hand (top heavy in heart honours but with three rotten little spades), and open 2NT. What is partner to do with 5 points and a laughable 6-high five-card heart suit? Normally one would transfer to the 5-card major and then bid 3NT, giving partner the choice of no-trumps or game in the major - but are you strong enough? No - with just 5 points you can't risk it, so you pass. And 3NT is indeed very nasty: on a spade lead, EW take the first 5 tricks, and it's only because both minor suit finesses happen to be working (a 25% chance) that you don't go off in 2NT. Yuk.

Now rewind and instead open 1. Though vulnerable and otherwise weak, West has a nice spade suit and will probably insert 1♠. Which presents North with an opportunity to show her hearts.

How? By bidding a negative double. After a sequence like this (1 - 1♠) involving one of the majors, partner's double means: "I have enough strength to respond to your opening bid, and I have at least 4 of the other major." So here it means that you either have exactly 4 hearts or more than 4 hearts but are too weak to bid at the 2 level.

So now what happens? Well, with 4 spades, East is going to make things as difficult as possible for you by raising his partner to 3♠. What now?

Not much choice now, is there? Clearly you aren't going to get far in no trumps: the opposition appear to have at least 9 spades, leaving your partner with at most a singleton. But with game-going points between you, you aren't going to let them get away with 3♠, are you? So you bid 4. Sure, partner might have only 4 hearts, but her singleton spade makes it more likely that she has a 5th heart, and you know you have only one spade loser, so go for it.

How does it go? West will probably start with a spade. When you get in, you'll lead trumps, discovering the nasty 4-1 split, but after 3 rounds of trumps you stop, leaving East with his master trump - the J - and play on the minors. East will have to trump in eventually, but then has to give you back the lead, giving you 11 tricks in all.

Game bid and made with an overtrick. As compared with 2NT making or 3NT going one off.


So what happened at Bath BC?

Well, to start with, two East-West pairs were left in 3♠, one going one off - cheap at the price - and the other making it doubled for +730!

Three pairs reached the awful 3NT, two going one off (as above) and one, bizarrely, making an overtrick - why on earth did West not lead a spade?

Four pairs, South apparently being unwilling to show such a poor heart suit, subsided into 3 or 4, again making 11 tricks for a poor part-score.

And the remaining 4 pairs hit the jackpot with 4, which just goes to show how handy negative doubles can be, enabling North to show her threadbare heart suit without even bidding it!

Play & Learn Wed 31 March 2010
Having a punt

It was a morning of long diamond suits - at least 5 in a mere 14 boards - and few of those hands were easy to bid.

Board 6 was no exception. You're sitting North, in fourth position, with a solid 7-card diamond suit, the singleton ♣A and not much else. East opens 1♣, your partner passes, so does West and it's down to you.

Well, obviously you can bid diamonds - probably, to show your strength, you'd double and then bid diamonds afterwards. But what you'd really like to do is get into no trumps. You have 8 tricks off the top, and you don't need that much in partner's hand to provide a ninth. So what to do?

Stop and have a think. East could have quite a decent hand, but West has fewer than 6 points. You've only got 14, so your partner should have a few points at least. Trouble is, you're wide open in both majors.

Supposing you double and partner bids spades and you then bid 3NT. The opposition are likely to lead hearts. Similarly, if partner bids hearts - then they're going to lead spades. Yuk.

My preferred answer is to have a punt: just sling down the STOP card, bid 3NT and hope for the best. The auction has given precisely nothing away, and even if you are wide open in one of the majors, the opening leader may not find it. He may even lead a club, in which case you're certainly no more than one off.

In the event (as you can see if you click to show all hands), South's dummy provides ♠Q9xxx in spades and AQxx in hearts, and 3NT is cold whatever the opening lead.

So what happened at Bath BC? Well, there was a whole slew of declarers in diamonds, mostly in 5 going one off. Just two Norths got into 3NT, making 10 tricks for an excellent score.


3NT +1 wasn't an absolute top, however, as one North-South pair reached 4♠ and made 11 tricks. How did that come about? Most probably, South came in over 1♣ with a 1♠ overcall. North would correctly read that for a 5-card suit and, with an 8-card spade fit, punt 4♠.

Technically speaking, South's spade suit is too ragged for an overcall, but NS aren't vulnerable, EW are, and if North's allowed to make a punt, why shouldn't South have a go too? Personally, I would have passed and awaited developments, but in this case the overcall pays handsome dividends.

So there you are. A choice of two punts, either coming good on this occasion. Another time it might earn you a bottom, but that's bridge for you.


Play & Learn Wed 3 March 2010
Tricky to bid

Loads of weird distributions in today's Bath batch, including a 9-card spade suit opposite 8 clubs. But most of the queries were about board 10, which was a pretty tricky hand to bid.

East is going to open 1♣. West, with 15 points, knows that game is on, but there's no hurry: 1 will do for now - giving East a chance to show his 4 spades with 1♠. West (ignoring the squirmings of South, who's sitting there with ♠KQ1043) will probably now try a fourth-suit-forcing bid of 2, just in case East has 5 spades, which would give them a major fit. East may now bid 2NT (showing his heart stop), but may not fancy NT with his diamond void, so may instead simply rebid his clubs: 3♣. At which point West will bid 3NT. So the auction has been:

 West  East
 - 1♣
1 1♠
2 3♣

At more than one table, however, South overcalled East's opening bid with 1♠. And why not, with a good 5-card suit with 3 honours? This actually makes the auction easier for East-West, as West will now double (showing at least 4 hearts and possibly diamonds as well). East doesn't fancy either, so rebids 3♣, and West now bids 3NT. Alternatively, West may decide to punt 3NT immediately over 1♠, to ensure the opening lead comes towards her K, rather than through it.



The play

Not an ideal contract in many ways, as you have only 7 top tricks, and are pretty threadbare in diamonds. Things turn out just fine, however, as once you get in you unblock your K♣, go over to dummy with A, and find that the clubs are very kindly splitting 3-3 (which will happen just 36% of the time), giving you 9 tricks.

At my table, we got the spade overcall and North (quite rightly) decided to lead her singleton spade - partner's suit - rather than lead away from her AQ10, which does indeed give a trick away.

So what happened at the table? Two pairs ended up in 3NT, making 11 tricks, while the other two were in 4, both going off. At Bath BC the previous evening, most pairs also landed in 3NT, making 10 or 11 tricks - but the few that found themselves in 4 did make their contracts.




Play & Learn Wed 4 November 09: Board 2

This hand is an interesting example of the 'losing trick count' in action. This is calculated as follows:

A suit can have up to three losers, depending on its AKQ holding and its length. (A two-card suit can only have up to two losers, a singleton only one, and a void none!)
So these suits each have 3 losers: 876; J643; 97542
These suits have 2 losers: AJ2; K753; 75
These have only 1: AQ54; KQ8; A6; 9; K
And these have none: AKQ43; AK; A

The reckoning is that you can open 1 of a suit if you have just 7 losers; and you're in a major game if you have just 14 losers between you (and a fit, of course!). So with 9 losers you can raise partner to 2; with 8 losers you can raise to 3 - and with 7 losers, raise to game (even if you don't have many points). Not a hard and fast rule, but certainly a useful guide.

So on this board, how many losers does each player have? Double-click on each red area to check if you're right.

East:  Five       South: Seven     West: Seven     North: Seven

All of which helps us to make sense of the auction:

East opens 1, and although vulnerable and light in points, with just 7 losers South is happy to overcall 1♠.

West has just six points, but with zillions of hearts and just 7 losers, a raise to game is a no-brainer, whether South has bid or not: 4 it is.

Enter North, who also has a mega-fit for partner's suit and seven losers: 4♠.

Now East has a difficult choice. Does she double 4♠? Bid 5? Bid 4NT, asking partner for Aces, in case a slam is on? With just 5 losers, East may well try this, but they'll end up in 5 just the same, as West has no Aces. Certainly 5 is on, as East has one trump more than advertised, and two fewer losers. Then there's always a chance that North, with his two Aces, may be foolish enough to double - as indeed I did at my table, giving away a disastrous 650 instead of 450 undoubled.

There have been whole books written about this (though this may be the first you've heard of it) but one small but useful feature of the LTT is the idea that in a competitive auction you should bid 'to the level of your fit'. That is, if you have nine 'trumps' between you, bid to the 3 level, if you have 10, bid to the four level, etc.

Here, the Law suggests that NS should bid as far as 4♠ (having 10 spades between them), and that EW should bid as far as 5 (having 11 hearts).

And so, rather magically, it turns out. 5 is wonderful for EW, earning them 450 points.
From the NS point of view, 4♠ would also have been wonderful, going just 1 off for -100 (or -200 if doubled). But 5♠ would be a step too far. This is sure to be doubled and goes two off for a penalty of 500 - worse than letting EW get their heart contract.

Ah, I hear you ask, but without seeing partner's hand, how do we know how many trumps we  have between us? Good question!