Castle Morpeth Bridge Club
5th December 2017 - Board 14

         A part-score battle for a change this week.     East has a 4441 opener and starts with a routine 1C.        On the South hand I would double rather than overcall 1D because although it only has eleven points they are all in controls and any major part-score has the potential to outscore a diamond contract.       West is not quite worth a pre-emptive 3C in my opinion and should raise only to 2C and North has a poor suit and not a very good ten points.      Vulnerable I would pass but Non-vul you have to compete with 2D.        East probably bids 3C and South's 3D buys the contract.

           East leads the King or Ace of clubs according to the partnership style and the usual defensive convention when there is a singleton in dummy is to play McKenny.         You play your lowest if you have a top honour (A,K or Q) in the lowest unbid suit - hearts and a high one for the highest unbid suit - spades.       With nothing in either you play your middle one (C7).    East thus switches to DJ and declarer plays Ace and another in case East is trying to con declarer with DQJ.        West wins DK and cashes DQ and should exit with a high spade to SQ because dummy is strong in hearts.       Declarer suspects that East has  HKJ to make up his tally of hcp for the opening bid. and so leads HQ to H KA, returns to dummy with SA and leads a heart to wards H10.      East can win HJ but South can win H10 and ruff a heart for the ninth trick.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) When you lead a top card in your suit and dummy has a singleton/void, you should tell partner where your outside strength (if any) lies -  low for low suit, high for high suit, middle for continuation (if safe).
                                   (2) When Non-vulnerable, you should contest the part-score to the level of your fit at least.
28th November 2017 - Board 9
           Few pairs competed to 5C on today's deal despite the favourable vulnerability.      One of the most important defensive conventions is 2NT (Known as "Unusual") and the Cue-bid (Known as Michaels') to show two-suited hands.     There are different ways of playing them but I recommend (a) 2NT to show the lower two of the three unbid suits, viz. over a major to show 5/5 minors and over a minor to show hearts and the other minor and (b) the cue-bid over a minor to show both majors 5/5 and over a major to show the other major and a minor(5/5).       I do not recommend using these bids to show 5/4 shape.       Vulnerable, you should have at least a decent opening hand with non-vulnerable perhaps a trick less if only 5-5.      But, N/Vul v. Vul  as Andrew Robson puts it "6/5 come alive".
           After a pass by North and 1S from East, South should bid 2S rather than double or a 2H overcall - to show the two-suited nature of the hand.      True SK and DQx may be waste paper but you should bid 2S without these cards.       After West passes, North - with no game interest - should bid 3C as you have support for whichever minor partner has.       A bid of 2NT would be a constructive enquiry as to how strong partner is - you jump a level with a much better hand or show your minor with a minimum.       3C merely says pass or convert to 3D as appropriate.       When East bids 3S and South passes, West raises to game.       North should look at the vulnerability and sacrifice in 5C - South would correct to 5D with a diamond side-suit.     East doubles this but can only take one spade, two hearts and two diamonds for +500 - a poor comparison to the normal +620 for 4S.
            Note that E/W can actually make 5S by ruffing the second club, drawing two rounds of trumps, cashing DAK and exiting with HAKx.      South is forced to play a heart or a club and dummy throws a losing diamond while you ruff in hand. 
Board 13 - 21st November 2017

       A difficult hand for E/W to bid this week.    After a routine pass from North, East opens 1D and South is too weak to bid diamonds.      Over partner's 1H response - with N/S silent throughout - East has enough to force to game opposite a minimum response and jump shifts into 2S, showing in theory 19-20 hcp and 5D and 4S.        West has a good holding in the fourth suit and thinks 3NT might be a viable contract but which suit will provide tricks?          You have no fit for partner's long suit (diamonds) and if partner has a fit for hearts 4H will prove an easier contract.        So you should bid 3H to show six hearts rather than NT or a fourth suit forcing 3C.        If partner bids 3NT over this it is probably the best place to play.         East has no problem in raising to the 4H game.

          North has a difficult lead and probably leads the CK.      West wins and leads a spade ducked to the SK and HAK reveals you have a trump loser.       You discard a club on the DA, ruff a diamond, cash HQ and lead a spade thus winning 2 spades, five trumps, DA and eventually two clubs for +620.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  Only consider 3NT on a misfit if you can envisage setting up nine tricks because of the entry situation
Board 23 - 7th November 2017

Quite a few E/Ws failed to bid the game on today's hand.       South has a marginal opener, vulnerable but the S10 makes the hand just worth an opening 1S and this silences West who has a weak 1NT opener but not strong enough to bid 1NT and not the right shape to make a take-out double.       North might raise to 2S if non-vulnerable but might lead to the dreaded -200 if partner goes on, so I think a pass is in order on the first round with a raise on the second round a possibility if 2S is a sufficient bid.       Many East players would double as an initial bid but I think you are then not strong enough to mention your hearts, so a simple overcall of 2H is best in my opinion.         South has nothing to add - a rebid of 2S should show six spades and a fair hand - and now West should cue-bid 2S.        This is known as an unassuming cue-bid and shows strong support for partner, usually an opening hand with at least three card support for partner's major         East is a near maximum for a simple overcall and so should jump to 4H.

          There is nothing to the play.      Declarer merely knocks out the defence's two top trumps and can lead a spade towards dummy's King in the hope that a foolish defender will duck, South being pretty well marked with SA for the opening bid.
TIP OF THE WEEK:   A cue-bid in response to partner's overcall is a try for game (a) over a major showing 3 card support (b) over a minor showing an opening hand and probably with a four-card major.      
Board 14 - 31st October 2017
           Very few N/S pairs managed +170 or +420 on today's hand.       East opens the obvious 1D and South has a choice of bids (a) 1NT to show 15-17 or 16-18hcp and a diamond stop or (b) a take-out double with support fot the other suits and shortage in opener's suit.       Although it might be difficult to show the extra values I vastly prefer option (b).         If you decide to overcall 1NT, you should agree with your partner what all the bids by West show.        The easiest to remember is that you play the same as over an initial opening 1NT, so in this case 2D would be a transfer showing 5 or more hearts and if you then bid 2NT you are showing 8hcp asking partner whether a minimum or maximum is held and whether you have three card or better heart support.         Sadly both hands are just short of a try for game and the likely contract is 2 or 3 hearts.           If you make a take-out double as East, West can only bid 1H and if East passes a 2H bid by East would show extra values and be a try for game but North is unlikely to oblige by passing and either 2D or 1S are reasonable bids and East's bid of 2H is merely competitive and not showing extra values.
             West probably leads DK and declarer counts five hearts, one or two spades and the minor Aces so the contract is likely to make providing the spades are positioned nicely.       If not, you need to make an extra trump and that comes from ruffing a diamond in the shorter trump hand.        So you win DA and cash a top trump noticing the 4-0 break and play a second diamond.       East tries to promote a heart for partner by playing DJ but declarer ruffs high, plays H10 and HQJ and leads a spade to the King, crosses back to CA and leads another spade and North can take SA and cash a club but declarer has SQ and the last trump for +170 and a very good score.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) A raise of a one-level response(0-8hcp) to two not in competition shows a hand interested in game opposite 7-8hcp.
                                  (2) Agree with your partner what responses you play to a 1NT overcall, e.g. Stayman, red-suit transfers, etc. 
Board 20 - 24th October 2017

Many E/W declarers had trouble with  today's hand.       After a routine sequence 1D - 1H - 2NT - 3S - 3NT,  North probably leads HJ and South plays the King, as usual from a doubleton and declarer should duck and win the second heart.        The  point of the hand is that a club switch from North at any point endangers the contract if the King is with South, so you should try and avoid losing a trick to North until late in the play.         The marginally best play .with A9x opposite K10xx for three tricks is (a) to lead low to the nine, then cash AK  with (b) cashing AK and another, hoping for 3-3 or a doubleton J or Q not far behind.        However, in this case it is necessary to use the avoidance principle and cash SA and lead S6 to the S10.         South wins and cannot profitably attack clubs  and so leads a diamond.         West cashes AK and plays another but the club switch from North is now too late and you have 3 spades, 2 hearts, 3 diamonds and one club so you can now risk the club finesse for an overtrick but still settle for nine tricks when it fails.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Consider whether there is one hand you need to keep off lead and play accordingly.      

Board 23 - 17th October 2017
        A testing hand for N/S this week.     South opens 1C as over the awkward 1H response 1S is available for a rebid.        West's diamond suit is too threadbare for a 1D overcall and should pass and North responds a (forcing for one round) 1H.      East's spades are worth mentioning but the overall hand is poor and I would not criticise a pass but 1S was bid at our table.       South should now pass to show a minimum opener of up to 14hcp and over West's pass North should cue-bid 2S to show 11-12hcp but no spade stop.       After East's pass South has to make a limit bid and being minimum should bid 2NT only despite the potential two tricks in spades for two reasons (a) the hand is nowhere near the possible 14hcp and (b) you have a misfit for partner's suit.
        West leads S6 to the 8KA (the spades intermediates mead that South controls the 4th round of the suit) and South has to decide where to go for tricks.    There are good reasons for playing for split honours in clubs or diamonds and either Ace and another club - which doesn't work in this case - or a low diamond towards the J10x will eventually set up a second diamond winner.       Fortunately for declarer it is not easy for West to switch to hearts and declarer is likely to end up with eight tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1)   When fourth-hand opponent overcalls paas to limit your hand as minimum unless you have 15+hcp or a six-card suit.
                                     (2)   Don't assume that 12hcp is enough for game opposite partner's opener especially if you have a singleton in partner's bid suit.
                                     (3)   When you can't see an obvious way home, try to develop a trick and hope the defence attacks the wrong suit!   
Board 1 - 10th October 2017.

A tricky hand for E/W this week in both the bidding and the play.

After three routine (I hope) no bids, West is just too strong for a weak NT and opens1C rather than 1D as you intend to rebid 1NT over a one of major response. Overa 2C raiseyou merely pass but over 1D you have to choose betweena natural 3D or 1NT - I marginally prefer 1NT to havea lead of a major suit coming up to your holdings but I would not crime a bid of 3D. A response of 1NT to 1C is general=y played as 8-10hcpin a natural system as you can bid one of a suit or 2C with any 6-8hcp.
On the actual hand North will overcall 1S (for the lead) and East bids a natural 2H (9+hcp and at least five hearts, forcing for one round) and whether South merely raises spades or jumps pre-emptively to 3S, West is worth a raise to 4H.
South leads S4(MUD) or S2 according to partnership agreement and there is nothing to be gained from winning SA at trick one and the first two tricks are won by SQ and SA. Declarer should work out that he needs to lead towards dummy's diamonds twice assuming they lie favourably but also there is a 28% chance of the trumps being 4-1 and if you start by drawing trumps you may be forced in the opposition suit, spades. So you start with leading the CQ, covered by King and Ace and now you should play HK and H10 to the HQ noticing the bad break and lead a diamond to the 10 and Jack saving H2 to trump a third round of spades from the defence (best for N/Sbut unlikely to be found). Now you can lead a heart to the 9, cash the Ace and lead a second diamond. In this way you make eleven tricks for a top!
TIP OF THE WEEK.(1) 15hcp is too many for a weak 1NT opener.
(2) 15hcp and three card support for heartsis enough to jump to game after a 2H response.
(3) Trumps break 4-1 a sizeable proportion of the hands and you should consider unblocking the 10 if you have the nine opposite so you can pick up Jxxx inone hand.
Board 1 - 10th October 2017.

        A tricky hand for E/W this week in both the bidding and the play.

        After three routine (I hope) no bids, West is just too strong for a weak NT and opens 1C rather than 1D as you intend to rebid 1NT over a one of major response.        Over a 2C raise you merely pass but over 1D you have to choose between a natural 3D or 1NT - I marginally prefer 1NT to have a lead of a major suit coming up to your holdings but I would not crime a bid of 3D.      A response of 1NT to 1C is general=y played as 8-10hcp in a natural system as you can bid one of a suit or 2C with  any 6-8hcp.
        On the actual hand North will overcall 1S (for the lead) and East bids a natural 2H (9+hcp and at least five hearts, forcing for one round) and whether South merely raises spades or jumps pre-emptively to 3S, West is worth a raise to 4H.
         South leads S4(MUD) or S2 according to partnership agreement and there is nothing to be gained from winning SA at trick one and the first two tricks are won by SQ and SA.      Declarer should work out that he needs to lead towards dummy's diamonds twice assuming they lie favourably but also there is a 28% chance of the trumps being 4-1 and if you start by drawing trumps you may be forced in the opposition suit, spades.       So you start with leading the CQ, covered by King and Ace and now you should play HK and H10 to the HQ noticing the bad break and lead a diamond to the 10 and Jack  saving H2 to trump a third round of spades from the defence (best for N/S but unlikely to be found).    Now you can lead a heart to the 9, cash the Ace and lead a second diamond.     In this way you make eleven tricks for a top!
TIP OF THE WEEK.  (1) 15hcp is too many for a weak 1NT opener.
                                   (2) 15hcp and three card support for hearts is enough to jump to game after a 2H response.
                                   (3)  Trumps break 4-1 a sizeable proportion of the hands and you should consider unblocking the 10 if you have the nine opposite so you can pick up Jxxx in one hand.       
Board 2 - 26th September 2017

        A difficult hand for N/S to bid this week.      After routine passes by East and South and 1D from West, North has a good hand but no diamond holding and too strong for a strong 1NT overcall anyway and so starts with an (informatory) double.       East has no reason to bid and South perforce bids 1S.       West has no convenient bid, not being strong enough to reverse into 2H nor the strength to make a take-out double.         The only bid that is forcing by North now is a cue-bid of 2D and the bid I would make as partner's one spade shows 0 to a poor 9hcp.        A bid of 2C would only show 16+hcp and a bid of 3C would rule out a spade contract..    Over the 2D bid South should jump to 3S with 6+hcp or show a second suit but only bids 2S with the current hand and North should pass this having shown 19+hcp with the cue-bid.

          Although 2S can be defeated on double dummy defence, it is likely to make.       West probably cashes a top heart and switches to C9 and dummy wins CA and should cash SAK and start running clubs.        West ruffs in and cashes a second hear,  DA and a diamond to partner's King but that is the end to the defence and South chalks up +110.
TIP OF THE WEEK: A take-out double followed by a cue-bid shows c19hcp - i.e too strong for the 1NT overcall range - and preferably three card support for partner's major.       It generally denies a stopper in the opened suit as you could then bid 2NT on the second round of bidding.
Board 1 - 19th September 2017

        An interesting hand for N/S to bid this week.      North opens 1C and East at our table bid 1D although an intermediate 2D overcall causes South a real problem and South should pass rather than bid a forcing 2S or a negative double without four hearts.      West also should pass with support but no inkling of any trick taking potential!      North competes with 2S rather than a double although it is close as to what is the best rebid in the long run and South with good support raises straight to game.      If East bids 1D only, South responds 1S and North, hoping South can set up the club suit, raises to game although an intermediate jump to 3S might be enough   - I bid 4S at the table.

         On a diamond lead, South should throw a heart from dummy and win DA, cash SK only and play Ace and another club, won by East who should force dummy with a second diamond, but to no avail as declarer can cash SA, ruff a club and cross back to SQ and run the clubs throwing three red suit losers and claiming an eleventh trick with the thirteenth spade for +450 and a joint top.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) Jump overcalls can make it difficult for opponents to show their assets and either intermediate or weakish jump overcalls are worth playing showing at least a six card suit and strength according to partnership agreement. 
                                   (2) When you have a long side suit be careful to keep your top trump winners in the same hand as the long suit for access to the set  up winners. 
12th September 2017 - Board 15
        A play problem for N/S this week which several pairs found difficult.          South opens 1H and West overcalls 2C.      North is not strong enough to bid a forcing 2S (showing five spades and intermediate values)  and so makes a negative / "Sputnik" double promising 4+cards in the other major(spades).     If East passes, South with a King / one trick better than a minimum opener jumps to 3S and North raises to game because of the extra spade length. 
        West looks no further for a lead than the strong clubs and leads CK and South perforce wins CA.        Declarer now has to decide whether to try and ruff a few clubs in hand or draw trumps and set up the heart suit.       A look at the entry situation - how do you get to dummy to ruff three clubs - indicates that the second plan is better and if trumps are 2-2 and hearts 3-3 or East has HQJ, HQ8, HJ8  you should make an overtrick - by a ruffing finesse against the missing honour in the last two cases.       You start with SAQ and HKA  - leaving the last trump outstanding for now - then ruff a heart with SJ.       When neither major breaks evenly you give up chances of an overtrick and cross to SK and ruff a fourth heart, ruff a club, cash the thirteenth heart and concede the last three tricks.        There are alternative lines but this is the simplest -  but it is imperative to ruff a fourth round of hearts before being forced in clubs 
TIP OF THE WEEK: Plan the whole hand through in your mind before playing a card from dummy and stay one step ahead of the defenders.
29th August 2017 - Board 13

           A few E/W pairs played today's combined 28hcp in a part score and many more went minus.      After North opens a light but routine 1C, West with 12hcp and 4-3 in the majors has a normal informatory [ take-out ] double and South obviously has nothing to contribute.       West has a hand that is going to bid game at least and should thus start with a cue-bid of 2C which shows at least opening strength and normally at leasst one four card major.       With N/S then silent the bidding progresses 2H-2S-3D and West with extra strength and a good holding in clubs should prefer 3NT to 4S as 4S might be defeated by bad distribution whereas it seems probable that nine tricks will be easy as partner is likely to have a chunky heart holding as there can be little strength in the black suits.         At teams scoring if you have hcp to spare you should consider playing in the relatively safe 3NT even if it costs the odd imp.

           There is nothing to the play on the actual hand.         North is likely to lead C6 in the hope that declarer has KJx and partner has at least two clubs and an entry to lead a second round to defeat the contract.         The club lead merely adds to declarer's nine top tricks ( five spades, one heart and three diamonds)

TIP OF THE WEEK:   At teams scoring overtricks are relatively unimportant - chalking up the game or slam bonuses are paramount so you should try and play in 3NT if you think nine tricks will be easy and the suit game depends on even breaks or no adverse ruffs.   

Board 21 - 22nd August 2017

        A small slam hand this week - one of many on the night - and congratulations to the three pairs that bid the good 6D even though the optimum contract is 7D! (but not 6NT which requires a much more favourable club division)

        A similar decision to last week for North - to open 1D or 1S?      I think it is clear cut to open 1D rather than 1S as you feel much more comfortable rebidding 1NT rather than 2NT over a 2D response with a poor club holding (and a good holding in partner's suit which if you raise would definitely then imply five spades).          So 1D it is and East despite the vulnerability should pass and not introduce this moth-eaten heart suit.        South has a better than a five loser hand which together with partner minimum of a seven loser hand should generate a play for slam assuming the right controls (Aces and Kings) are present in the partnership.       The best initial bid is a splinter bid of 3H.        Most players are familiar with a four-level response to an opening in one of a major but th same applies to a treble jump over a minor opening.        North probably should "sign off" with a bid of 3NT because his extra strength is three Jacks, not ideal holdings for a high level contract.       However South is still worth a further effort and bids 4C - not a suit having agreed diamonds as the trump suit by the initial splinter - but a cue bid, normally showing first round control of clubs, in this case clearly the Ace rather than a void.      North cue-bids 4H and South without a spade control cue-bids 4C and North perseveres with 5S forcing to slam but South probably signs off with 6D despite the grand slam invitation since 13 tricks depend on the fit.
        There is nothing to the play. On a heart lead declarer plays DAQ and CAK and ruff a club.      If West were to ruff this you still have a trump left to ruff the clubs good but on the actual distribution thirteen tricks are there by drawing the last trump.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Splinters( Singleton or void in the bid suit plus a raise to game in partner's suit) are worth playing after one of a minor openings.    If partner has a good holding in the splinter suit you can bid 3NT and this is likely to be the best contract. 
Board 14 - 15th August 2017
          A routine 3NT this week which half the field failed to chalk up.       After a pass by East, South has a hand too strong for 1NT and has to open 1D or 1S according to partnership choice.        If you open 1S and partner bids 1NT you should pass and over 2H you are worth a jump to 4H but over 2 of a minor you have to bid 2NT suppressing the fit if partner responds 2D.      For this reason I prefer to open 1D as you can stop in 2NT with a combined 24hcp (15 opposite 9hcp - partner raises 1NT to 2NT.      Also you can find the diamond fit straight away if partner is strong and wants to go slamming.      North should bid 1H despite the weak suit and raises the 1NT rebid to 3NT.
          West leads a spade - the 9 if playing Top-of-Nothing or the 7 if playing standard (MUD, Middle-up-Down) leads.      Declarer lets this run to the Jack and Ace and with seven tricks on top you have to decide whether to play on clubs or hearts.       Clearly the best suit to attack is hearts as you need at least one heart anyway and HA may be with East.       So you cross to SQ and lead H3 to HQ and HA although West may decide to play low smoothly in case declarer has HKQ10.        West normally plays HA and leads a third spade or DQ but South plays a heart to the Queen and another which sets up the thirteenth heart as a ninth trick.      Note that playing on hearts also works if the hearts are 4-2 and the J and 10 are in different hands.
           If West leads DQ to dummy's Ace and continues with DJ when in with HA you should note the fall of West's D97 so you don not have to duck the Jack as the D6 will win the fourth round of the suit if West has five diamonds!
TIP OF THE WEEK:   At NT, try and play on the suit that gives you more than one winning lie.
Board 1 - 8th August 2017
        Only four E/W pairs out of 18 bid the excellent slam on today's deal.        After a pass by North, East has a very good hand but just short of an Acol Two opener - different if you had the majors rather than the minors as ten tricks is a lot easier than eleven for game.        So 1D is the recommended opening bid - hoping to jump to 3C on the next round to show game-values and at least 5-4 shape.       After a routine pass by South, West responds a normal 1S.        Non-vulnerable, North should bid 2H despite the weakness to suggest a lead to partner and also make it difficult for E/W to limit their hands.       If you were vulnerable, the opposition is more likely to double you if partner competes to the three level so you must have a near opener to bid 2H.         East now is deprived of the intended rebid of 3C and although a jump to 4C is reasonable I would double to show a good hand, at least 15 +hcp  - not penalties as you would prefer 2NT with decent hearts.        If partner bids 3NT over the double that is probably the best place to play.       West now should probably jump to 4C to show game values intending to raise 4D by partner to 5D.       East however just bids 4NT RKCB and settles for 6C even though 7C is a likely make,  throwing partner's heart losers on the diamonds and ruffing the heart loser.         
           There is nothing to the play.       On the two of hearts lead you play low but North puts in the eight forcing your Ace.        You draw three rounds of trumps and cash DAKQ8 throwing  HQ and ruff H4 with C7 and claim thirteen tricks.        Note that although 6NT has twelve top tricks a 4-1 diamond break ( 28% of the time )  would have spelt defeat so 6C wind more match points in the long run!.
TIP OF THE WEEK:      (1) A strength-showing double as first rebid is more flexible than a jump in a new suit or a game-forcing cue-bid of the opponents suit.           
                                      (2) You are generally going to get 75% plus for an under-strength (combined 29hcp) small slam so don't essay the grand slam unless you can count thirteen tricks. 
Board 2 - 1st August 2017

             E/W conceded defeat almost universally on today's hand allowing N/S an unwarranted +630.     The bidding generally went  - with E/W silent throughout - 1H-2D-2H-3NT.       East led a MUD C7 (second highest from a poor suit of 3 or more plain cards) to the King and Ace and West played a second club to dummy's Jack.       North, hoping for West to hold DKx, tried a diamond to the Queen, taken by East with the King.         The unthinking defence now is to play a third club setting up your clubs with SA as entry but a much more powerful defence is to play partner for HQ.         West must have length in hearts otherwise North would have investigated playing in hearts.        South might try and duck the first roiund of hearts but West should overtake with HQ and play back the seven, East showing out.       Declarer abandons the HA winner and tries the only chance of a spade to the King but East exits with a spade and West wins SQ and exits with a spade to no avail as West throws dummy in with HA to cash a fourth spade but concede the rest to West's hearts.

TIP OF THE WEEK: When dummy is shapely with the long suits breaking badly, try throwing the lead to dummy after the side-suits have been voided and thus starve declarer of winners in these side-suits.  

Board 10 - 18th July 2017
         A difficult for West to bid this week.        After 2 passes, West thinks the hand is eight playing tricks and thinks "shall I open a Benji 2C?"         However, the EBU has laid down strict requirements for an opening strong 2 Bid .           You must have either (a) A strong hand with 16+hcp or (b) 12+hcp and Eight solid tricks on the second best trump break assuming partner has a void  or (c) "the rule of 25" [ The length of your two longest suits added together with the no of hcp must be >= 25 ].         As the West hand fails all three tests you must either open it 4H or 1H.       Because of the sterile 7222 shape and the bad diamond holding of Qx,  I consider 1H is best and over a 1S response I would jump to 3H -  invitational but not forcing.         East with a minimum response and a void should clearly pass and that becomes the final contract.       The game makes only if the trumps are 3-3 or J10 doubleton and North has the DA and the club finesse is right so it is a game contract well against the odds.
          TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) The TD is likely to rule against you 40%/60% if you open a strong 2 without satisfying (a), (b) or (c) defined above.
                                             (2) When you have less than two cards in partner's long suit bid conservatively - it will pay off handsomely in the long run.                                                  
Board 19 - 11th July 2017

        Most N/S pairs failed to find the correct game on today's deal.        South is too strong for a weak 1NT opener and thus opens 1C, West passes,  North responds 1S and East has no reason to bid.        South rebids 1NT to show 15-16hcp and less than four spades and with E/W silent throughout, what does North bid next?      

        A jump to 3C is usually played as game invitational with 4+ clubs and only four spades, ie exactly 9hcp.      Otherwise, some players play 3S now as game invitational with a six or seven card suit but with South's hand well defined a simpler and  better more frequent use is to play it as a five card suit only, forcing and offering a choice of games 3NT or 4S.        You may think that South should bid 3NT because of the 4333 shape but this is false logic.        Holding five spades means that North has at least one short suit (usually a doubleton) so you need to play in 4S if there is an eight card fit so that you cannot be run through in this suit.
        The contract is easy if the spades are 3-2 and on the DK lead you win and cash spade AQ in case West has Jxxx in which case you can draw four rounds of trumps.        When East has four trumps you now need a bit of good fortune in the side suits.         You lead a heart to the Queen and lead the club 10 playing low when West plays low and continue with the top clubs when they prove to be 3-2.     East discards a heart and a diamond and wins HA, cashes the master trump Jack and forces declarer with DQ but North can ruff with the last trump and cash a heart for eleven tricks,        Note that 3 NT is in trouble on repeated diamond leads even if you duck two rounds.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Only consider playing in 3NT with a 5-3 major fit if you know you have extra values and a probable double stop in your shortest sidesuit.
                                    (2) With a good hand, ie maximum with a good 5 card club suit and good controls(A & K) you don't bid 4S over 3S but a bid of 4C,4D or 4H would show your cheapest Ace as well as 3 card support.     A bid of 3NT shows less than 3 spades. 
4th July 2017 - Board 15
          A hand with some points of interest in both bidding and play and generally solved by most E/W pairs.         After a routine pass by South, West opens 1D - I recommend opening the higher ranking suit with 5-5 distribution.         North, being vulnerable, should pass rather than overcall 1S - as partner is entitled to expect more playing strength than actually held - and East responds 1H.         With N/S silent throughout, West should rebid 2C rather than 3C - always choose the underbid rather than an optimistic overbid when you have a misfit for partner's bid suit.          East is not strong enough to make a 4th suit forcing bid of 2S, which would show at least 11hcp and is just about worth a raise to 3C for two reasons (a) partner might have extra values as in the current hand and (b) N/S appear to have a good fit in spades and you make it difficult for them to find a good part-score if partner has a minimum opener.        West needs no further push and jumps to the minor suit game.
         North should lead the unbid suit and South cashes SA10 and switches to D6.       Declarer with apparently only nine top tricks has to decide which side suit to set up to add up to eleven tricks.      By ruffing two hearts in hand  - if the hearts break 4-3 - you could set up a fifth heart - or you might drop the HQ.         Or you could ruff out the diamond suit if no worse than 4-2.       Or you could cash your top tricks and play on a cross ruff, ruffing the 3rd heart with C6 and all your three remaining diamonds with CAQ10.         I think I would play CAK, noting that South has C8 left, then DAK and ruff D4 with C10, cross to HA, ruff a diamond with CQ and lead C4 to J and West's hand is high.     Note you do not need HK to cash and this eliminates the risk of a heart being overruffed by North.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) As declarer, try and have a plan that runs right through from trick 1 to 13 having considered all the options.
                                  (2) A jump rebid of a new suit at the three level over a one-level response (6+hcp) should show 19+hcp. as it is forcing to game, i.e requiring a combined 25-26hcp.
27th June 2017 - Board 3

        A play problem this week for E/W pairs.         Only one third of the field chalked up their vulnerable game.        After three passes East opens 1C and South despite the favourable vulnerability should not overcall 1H as partner's lead of a top heart from Ax or Kx is likely to cost a trick.          With N/S silent throughout E/W should bid 1S - 2NT (if 17-18hcp) - 3NT(as 8hcp opposite 17-18 means a combined 25-26hcp).

          South leads a "safe" HJ and this tells declarer that the lead is headed by AJ10 or J10.       Declarer cannot afford to duck in both hands as nine tricks are a long way off and thus must hope for two heart tricks by running the lead to HQ and then guessing correctly whether South has led from J109xx or AJ109(x).        Also a possibility is that South has J109x and no outside entry to be able to cash the thirteenth heart.         This inference suggests your plan should be to duck the second round of hearts and hope primarily that North has HAx rather than xx(x).       Note that with HAJ10xx and either CA or DK South would probably overcall 1H so the odds favour playing North for HA.        You can see that the best chance of tricks lies in the black suits because the diamond finesse if right only generates one extra trick so you should play SA - noting the nine from South - and the ten to the Jack and Queen.        This means that when you later play a spade to the King that the seven is then high!       You follow with C3 to the King which holds and then win SK7 (discarding a heart) and lead a further club from dummy.       Meanwhile, South has had to find two discards and probably chooses to throw H6, then H4 to suggest a diamond (higher suit) switch from North.     North wins the CA (best) dropping South's Jack and switches to the D10.        You try the DQ more in hope than expectation, and this loses to DK and South returns D2 to D9.        However you can win DA which, together with CQ9 and the earlier HQ, CK and four spade tricks add up to nine tricks for your game.      Whew!
TIP OF THE WEEK:   (1) With minimal  values only overcall with a good suit that you want partner to lead from say Kx or Ax.
                                    (2) Make assumptions about the lie of the opponents honour cards depending whether they have bid or even passed.
                                    (3) Try to give yourself as many chances as possible to make your contract.
Board 13 - 20th June 2017
         Today's hand is a routine 4S game for East/West that failed at many tables.     North wishes to move on to the next deal but has to endure this one and starts with a pass and East opens 1S.      Most players would overcall 2D as a take-out double followed by 2D over 2C usually shows an above average hand - normally 16+hcp with a decent six card diamond suit.       This presents a small problem for West as a bid of 3NT would deny any spade support and usually show a better diamond stop.       A "Sputnik" or Negative double is best used to promise four cards in the other major and a cue-bid of 3D is best used to show a good raise in spades with at least four card support.       The only bid thus left is a game-forcing 3C and East rebids 3H - partner may be able to bid 3NT if you show a heart holding.      As this sequence shows 5-4 at least in the majors West has no reason not to jump to game with 4S.
         South leads C5 rather than a red suit which is likely to make a declarer's red suit loser disappear and North's C9 forces CA.       You have one discard on dummy's clubs after drawing trumps .       With a practically certain trump loser and the red Aces to lose you have to be careful as you expect South to hold HA and DAQ because of South's 2D overcall.        You need to make something of the hearts - indeed you don't want North to hold HA as a diamond through will kill your chances.        So before testing trumps you need to lead - at trick 2 - a heart to the King which holds and follow with H10 running it to South's Jack.       This is a blow but not fatal as you win CK , play SKA and CQ throwing a diamond, ruff a club back to hand and lead HQ.       The Q9 are "equals" against the Ace that you know South holds.      If South covers the HQ you ruff in dummy setting up the nine in your hand when you ruff with S3.       It does South no good to play low as you throw a diamond from West and ruff H9 with S3  -  North can overruff but all the defence make is one diamond, one heart and one trump.
TIP OF THE WEEK:   If you have an eight card trump suit expecting one loser if trumps are 3-2, delay playing the AK until you are sure the defender with the high trump has no entry to cash it taking two of your trumps with it!  

Board 23 - 13th June 2017
         When you have a choice of bids you should try and anticipate what partner is going to likely bid next and what your preferred final contract will be.    Most E/Ws did not find the best contract on today's hand.       With N/S silent throughout, West should open 1H intending to rebid 3NT over 2 of either minor - not ideal over 2D because you have no club stop but the best you can do!       Opening 1H gives the maximum chance of finding a 4-4 major fit.     Note that 1S-1NT-3H would promise at least five spades and four hearts.        East is strong enough to respond 2C and rebid in spades except if partner rebids 3NT.        For this reason I would respond 1S rather than 2C and also because if partner has a minimum opener with five hearts I want to be declarer in the likely contract of 3NT and thus have the DK protected against a lead of a diamond honour by North if partner is devoid of diamond honours.        Over East's 1S response most players nowadays play 4C or 4D as a splinter showing  at least four spades, 19-20hcp and a singleton or void in the suit bid.        Although West has not got 19-20 hcp - the usual minimum for game opposite a minimum 6 hcp response - the recommended bid is 4S.     Take away a King - loosely speaking one trick - from the West hand and you are still worth an invitational jump to 3S.       East with good controls bids 4NT RKCB to check that partner is not missing two Aces and continues with 5NT to ensure possession of all the five Aces and the trump Queen and signs off with 6S over the 5D reply to suggest a grand slam if West had extra strength e.g  HAKQJx or HAKQxxx.         West has nothing extra and passes 6S.
          There is nothing to the play - declarer draws three rounds of trumps, cashes CA, crosses to the DA and takes the club finesse for an overtrick, settling for the contract when it fails.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Don't necessarily respond in your longest suit if you think this might cramp the auction.
                                 (2) Don't make the same bid that you would have made if you replace a King by a low card - show extra strength if you can. 
                                 (3) Don't ask for Kings if you are missing an Ace - partner is entitled to raise six to seven with extra shape!
Board 10 - 6th June 2017
        A tricky hand for West to bid this week.    After East opens a routine weak 1NT, South is too weak to bid 2S and passes but West has no bid available to show precisely the nature of the hand held.       I like to play 3C or 3D as invitational to 3NT but with a minimum of six cards in the suit with around 10 hcp     If you play 2S as possibly showing clubs and 2NT as showing diamonds you can always show a game-going hand with a five card minor by bidding your side-suit next(forcing).       You can also play an immediate response of 4D as showing 5/5 in the minors and a 5 loser hand.    On today's deal, though, West has a six loser hand but since1NT is invariably an eight loser hand this suggests that a ten-trick contract is the limit.      If you play 2NT as a transfer to diamonds with the opener bidding 3C with longer clubs than diamonds you can find a good minor fit if responder is 5/5 in the minors and less than game invitational.     This West hand is much too good for that action.      The great USA player Bob Hamman always looked for 3NT on hands such as West's because he reckoned that 3NT is the game most likely to make by mis-defence or because the wrong major suit was led.      All of this analysis suggests that on today's West hand you should either punt 3NT or bid 2S if that is your invitational bid without a four card major.      I think although you do not have ideal NT shape the best bid is a conventional 2S - which I play as a range enquiry OR long clubs - the responses being 2NT with bottom end of the 1NT range or 3C with the top end - which responder can pass (or convert 2NT to 3C) with a weak hand with six or more clubs.        East with 13 hcp and a five card minor bids 3C to show top end and West converts to 3NT.
        South generally leads SJ to 3NT (although a heart would prove to be better and declarer crosses to CA to lead DJ - there is no hurry to cash the clubs and if North wins and continues spades eleven tricks can be cashed and ten tricks if North switches to hearts.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Don't just play a 2S response as showing 11hcp - Most players use it as a transfer to a minor.
                                  (2) A 2NT response can be played as a flat 12hcp but I think it is better to be played as showing long diamonds weak/strong or 5/5 minors and weak and 2S as 11hcp and long clubs weak/strong.
Board 22 - 30th May 2017

           A difficult hand for N/S to bid this week.        With East/West routinely passing throughout, South opens 1C and North responds 1S.        Although South may have judged to make a pushy rebid of 3C over a red-suit response, you should underbid when you have a total misfit for partner, so 2C is the recommended rebid.        Generally 7-4 hands should rebid in the long suit rather than the 4 card side-suit but in this instance, as the spades are very weak, North should bid 3H and pass were partner to bid 3NT.      This would make if the clubs are 3-2 with the Queen with East but I would instead recommend a rebid of 4C to give partner a chance to rebid 4H if 5-5 or 6-5 in the majors.       Note that after partner has responded 3H you would jump to 4s with three card support so a bid of 3S would only show two spades.       North having shown strength in the bidding and knowing partner has only a singleton spade at best should probably pass 4C even though 5C actually makes.       Note that if South wants to insist on playing in a game a fourth-suit forcing 4D is available, rather than the descriptive 4C.      However, in general, if you have wild distribution, you should not expect a 3-2 trump break playing in your eight-card fit.

            West leads D3 and declarer wins and ruffs a club, ruffs a spade and cashes the two top trumps before trying the hearts, losing a diamond and a trump only to make eleven tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) When you have a severe misfit bid cautiously and aim for a small plus (or even a small minus) score.
                                   (2) Do not insist on playing in your long suit unless you are happy playing opposite a small singleton. 
23rd May 2017 - Board 18

        An apparently tricky hand for E/W to bid this week as many pairs played the hand in a part-score and a few went minus in the spade game.    East has the choice of opening 1NT or 1S and I would opt for 1S as your hand is predominantly Kings rather than Queens and Jacks.      West bids 2H whether South bids 2C or not and East perforce bids 2S - North has a woeful hand and should not support partner by bidding 3C.      West has an obvious raise to 4S as partner has denied 3 card support by bidding 2S rather than 3H.

          South has a choice of leads SJ, H10 or DA unless you are Zia Mahmood - known for his unorthodox and often brilliant leads, when D4 is an option - not for me though - I hate allowing singleton Kings making if you underlead an Ace!.       (a) On the DA lead, North should play the DQ promising a singleton or QJx(x) - note you should  not play the Queen holding Qx and West continues with D4 to dummy's King.     With a certain trump loser together with the minor suit Aces you must give the losing diamond your priority.       So declarer should now play SK, HKJ and a trump to the Ace in order to discard a diamond on HA, hoping that the hearts are no worse than 4-2.     In practice North has to follow and cannot ruff in with SQ and you discard a club as well, losing just one diamond, club and trump for ten tricks.  (b) On a spade or heart lead you play on similar lines but discard all three diamonds on dummy's hearts and then lead a club to the Queen and Ace and are able to ruff your club loser in dummy as North cannot get the lead in order to cash the third round of trumps.      In this way you end up with 11 tricks - no one achieved this on the night!
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) I think opening 1NT with a five-card major and 12-14 is generally a losing option - match-point wise - unless the suit is Jxxxx or Qxxxx. 
                                    (2) With an eight card major suit fit missing QJxxx, consider cashing AK - hoping the suit splits 3-2 - leaving the master trump outstanding and start running winners.
                                    (3) Try to avoid leading a trump holding the Jack as partner may have the Ace and declarer may then lose a second trump finessing into your Jack!
16th May 2017 - Board 13

        Only two N/S pairs achieved the optimum result on today's hand.       North has a reasonable hand and could open 1C and rebid 1S but 4441 shape hands do not play very well unless you have a major suit fit and I recommend a pass first or second in hand - invariably partner struggles in a thin 3NT as you have no long suit to set up.        South with 4-4 in the majors and 15-18hcp should open 1H intending to rebid in NT if partner does not respond in a major.       Over partner's 1S response, however, with excellent controls (Aces and Kings) you should go straight to game.

         The only question in the play is are you going to get an overtrick or two!       East usually starts with a "safe" HQ and you have to decide how to maximise your assets.      Your long term plan is to either ruff one or two clubs - depending on the location of CK - in dummy or two hearts in hand but if you plan the play through to its conclusion you know you have insufficient entries to the dummy to ruff hearts and get back to draw a third round of trumps assuming a normal 3-2 break.       So you plan to loosely adopt the first plan and you thus win HK and cross to SQ to get some indication of how the trumps lie before you play Ace and another club.        When East plays SJ you know that East undoubtedly has SJ10 doubleton or singleton SJ.       Fortunately, on the second club lead, West rises with CK and has no useful continuation.    If West exits with a club North should play low and ruff C9 in dummy and cash SA to find out the trump situation.       East shows out and throws a heart.        Now South must not take the marked trump finesse yet as it is necessary to take the diamond finesse first otherwise you have no entry to do so.        If West plays a low diamond South cashes HA throwing a diamond and finesses S9, draws the last trump and cashes DA ending up with twelve tricks when DK falls on the DA.       If West covers DQ with DK, declarer should take the slightly risky but odds-on play of finessing D9 in order to return to dummy in order to finesse in trumps.       After drawing trumps the last two tricks are won with DJ and HK.
TIP OF THE WEEK:   (1) Pass 4441 hands with 11hcp only in first or second hand.
                                     (2) Try and work out how to maximise your chances of overtricks by planning how you envisage the whole hand will develop. 
2nd May 2017 - Board 2
        A tricky hand for E/W to bid today.       After two passes, West opens 1H and North at the vulnerability overcalls 1S rather than 2S(weak) and East dredges up a raise to 2H.       South passes and West has a suitable hand to make a try for game and bids 3D - a trial bid asking (a) if East was maximum or minimum for the initial raise and (b) if minimum in strength do you have a helpful honour card in diamonds.       East has the latter but should probably err on the side of caution at pairs and sign off with 3H owing to the sterile 4333 shape.      In situations like these a plus score is likely to be gold dust and even if game is making +170 should score very well.
        North likely leads SK even though this is not best and West should win immediately and try the diamond finesse by leading low to the ten - not the Queen as you want to be in dummy as quick as possible in order to take the trump finesse.       South wins DK and leads a club to the Ace and West ruffs the club continuation, leads a diamond to the nine and a trump to the Queen.     When North drops the H10, declarer should lead a diamond to the Ace and repeat the trump finesse making ten tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) When you know of a 5-3 major suit fit a bid of a new suit - or even the opponents suit - asks for help in the suit.
                                  (2) At pairs if you suspect that a game might be making but is likely to be odds against then making ten tricks is likely to score well and you don't need to risk bidding the game.
25th April 2017 - Board 2

         Most E/W pairs failed to maximise their result on today's board.    East has a choice of opening bids, viz. 1S or 1NT.     I prefer 1S but you decide what suits your partnership!      South also has a choice over 1S - an overcall of 2C or an intermediate jump overcall of 3C.      I prefer 2C as Q10x in the right hand opponent's suit (spades) is not a good holding.      Over 3C West probably stretches to bid a game-forcing 3H which East raises to 4H but over a 2H response, West should pass East's raise to 3H - remember 2H promises 5 hearts so three card support should be shown.      Even if you make ten tricks you should score well but if you go off by bidding too high you are likely to obtain a very poor score.

        North leads CJ and after cashing CAK South switches to D9 which dummy takes with DK to lead H10.     South and West both playing low and you continue trumps by leading H5.       South plays HK perforce and West should now make ten tricks by first cashing DAQ.    If the diamonds are 3-3 you draw the last trump and cash the 13th diamond and the SA.     Otherwise, you ruff D5 with HQ, exit with SAx and ruff any return high with H9 - unnecessarily on the actual hand - and then draw trumps.       In the unlikely event that DQ is ruffed, you have not lost the contract as you still have a trump left in dummy to ruff D5.
TIP OF THE WEEK:   (1) When you know you are making your contract, don't settle for that - overtricks win match points.
18th April 2017 - Board 15

        An interesting hand for N/S to bid and play.     South opens 1C and North responds 1S, E/W remaining silent throughout.      South has to decide between 2C to show a minimum opener 11-14hcp or 2H to show reversing values of 15-17hcp.      With the useful secondary spade fit I think it is right to upgrade the hand and bid 2H.       North is slightly too strong to bid a direct 4H over 2H and temporises with 3D fourth suit forcing and over South's 3S bids 4H suggesting a hand worth a mild slam try which South with a bare minimum passes without further thought.

         West leads D6 and DA wins the first trick and a heart to the Queen exposes the bad trump break.       In these hands you should not panic .      Try and force East to ruff so that the trump parity is restored.         Start by leading SJ which East will probably take and try to cash a diamond.         If you ruff this you are handing trump control to East so you throw a club.       East continues with the CQ but you win with CK, cross to SK, lead a heart to H10 and a third spade.        East can ruff and (a) either lead a trump when you draw trumps and cash CA and S76 or (b) a diamond which you ruff in dummy and then draw trumps.
TIP OF THE WEEK: When trumps are 5-nil try and set up one hand with winners and force the defender to ruff to restore parity with your trumps.        
11th April 2017 - Board 5

         Sorry that there was no hand last week - I was on holiday.

         Most N/S pairs had trouble with today's hand and did not end up with +630 - which seems fairly straightforward to me.      North starts with the obvious 1H, East passes and South bids an obvious 1S which silences West.        North is not strong enough to force to game with 3C as this should show 19+ hcp and five hearts.       If a 1NT rebid shows 15-16 hcp, then the obvious bid now is 2NT showing 17-18 hcp.      3NT would show 19+hcp and possibly only 4 hearts but probably only a singleton spade (otherwise  you might open 2NT rather than 1H).        Some players play a wide-ranging 1NT of 15-17 or 15-18 hcp with a 2C enquiry to distinguish between lower range 15-16 and higher range 17-18 - denoted by a bid of 2NT or a jump rebid - which is a good idea but only if you and your partner both agree to play it!       South with a good 7+hcp raises to 3NT as in this case or bids an inferentially forcing 3H - why would you want to play in a 4-3 fit rather than No trumps - showing 3 hearts precisely and offering a choice of games (3NT, 4H or 4S - opener can show 3 card spade support on the way to 3NT if partner only has four spades).

          East has no lead problem and starts with a 4th best D4 to West's Ace and declarer's 10.       The normal way of defending is to play back a low card from 2 or 4 and a high card from three but you can work out that assuming partner has led from four to an honour declarer has just one card left - the K or Q.       So you return the 2 so as not to "waste" the Jack.       North wins DK perforce and needs to make tricks out of the hearts .       If they are 3-3 great but there are some helpful 4-2 distributions as well.       You should start by cashing HK.     If East plays HJ or HQ restricted choice states that it is twice as likely to be a true card, ie singleton than doubleton QJ, so you cross to CA and finesse H10 so you hope to make four tricks in the red suits, four in clubs and SA for your contract.      Similarly, if East plays H8 or 9 the only hope on 4-2 distributions is to play West for both Q & J and thus again cross to CA to lead a heart to the 10 if West plays low.      This works if East has H98 doubleton as then H107 are "equals" against HQx if West played the Jack on the second round.        In the actual case the Ace drops an honour and the only hope is that West has HQJ.        You concede the fourth round of hearts to East and the defence can only the cash one diamond so when CJ drops, you have ten tricks and a 100% score on the night!
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Bid 3NT if you have a combined 25-26 hcp and no eight card major fit - it will have a play most of the time.
                                   (2) Consider if there is a favorable lie of the cards - apart from the "against the odds" 3-3 break - when you have a 5-2 fit to develop for tricks.
28th March 2017 - Board 13
         Teams scoring means that slam and game bonuses come more into play and the benefits of making close games or slams make the risk of a minus score worth taking.      Also overtricks are generally negligible and the benefits of finding a defence that beats a contract are also worth the risk.
         Today's hand is a slam deal that was surprisingly not made at many tables.    North has a hand too strong for an opening weak 1NT and I would open 1D rather than 1H, the latter being the modern trend which I do not subscribe to.        I think if you open 1H the diamond fit can be lost as you are forced to rebid 2NT over a 2D response as raising the diamonds implies five hearts.       After South bids 1H - also the modern style not to jump shift (with a bid of 2H) - North should bid 3H to show a non-minimum opener with 15-17hcp and four card heart support.        With the values for a slam you could check via RKCB whether there were two aces missing but I think there is a good case for jumping to 6H to avoid pin-pointing a possible damaging opening lead via a double of a 5D response.
        Even at pairs you should not consider playing in 6NT as the 5-4 fit will generally give you more options to set up a extra trick.
        West probably leads SJ, ducked by East.     South tests the trumps, hoping to draw them in three rounds and then claim but changes tack and leads a second spade.       South crosses to CA, ruffs a spade (high) with H10 and draws trumps, throwing the losing third diamond on CQ.
        If West leads D4 this could be a singleton or MUD so you would not risk running it to South's Jack.     So play as above and risk the defender winning SA being able to give partner a ruff!
TIP OF THE DAY: (1) If you have the values for a slam risk losing AK in a suit if you expect to be able to develop twelve tricks most of the time.
                              (2) If you have a strong 4-4 fit contract to play a slam in that suit rather than 6NT even if a minor suit.
                              (3) If you need a ruff for twelve tricks delay drawing trumps and risk an adverse ruff.
21st March 2017 - Board 11

         Four N/S pairs went minus on today's hand when the winning play was not difficult to find.      South has a routine 2C(Acol) or 2D(Benji) opener and rebids 2NT over partner's relay response to show 23-24hcp.     4D by South should now be a slam try based on a six card suit, but with a combined holding of 33-34hcp you should not entertain a slam in a minor suit as if 6NT is making twelve tricks it will outscore the minor making thirteen.        So you should just "punt" 6NT and hope that you can run enough tricks before the defence can take two.

          West probably leads a spade and SJ holds the first trick.        North leads DJ and plays low when East correctly plays low.        Even if West were able to win the DJ with a singleton honour, five diamond tricks are then certain as the only remaining diamond will fall on DA.        East should play low to give South the losing option of playing DA holding DAxx (or even an unlikely singleton DA).          This is known as a safety play which works if all the remaining diamonds are with East ( although not possible if West has all of them!)
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) Work out if a finesse in a key suit guarantees your contract.
                                     (2) Generally with a combined total of 33-34hcp you should bid 6NT direct so you give the defence a blind lead. 
7th March 2017 - Board 12

    I was dummy and watched my partner execute the play perfectly on today's "play" problem for E/W.        West opens 2NT and East has no reason to bid anything other than 3NT even though double dummy you can make six of either minor.       However you do not want to be in ten percent slams and if the cards lie normally, 3NT will outscore five of a minor even making an overtrick.

         North should decide to lead a major because of the bidding and probably prefers to lead the S10 rather than H2 - which may mislead partner as to strength and length.     The reason for leading the ten rather than fourth highest is in case partner has Qx and dummy has Jxx.       South knows from the lead that declarer has SJ and plays SQ on partner's 10 to avoid declarer making a cheap trick with the Jack.        Declarer can win SA at trick one if North is likely to have the club Q but a better plan is to duck at trick one and then play the Jack if spades are continued and then hope the N/S spades are 5-3 and you can duck a club to South to provide at least four tricks in that suit.       In this case South will be exhausted of spades and you can run enough tricks for your contract if the clubs behave.       Should South switch to a low diamond you duck again or win DA if South leads an honour.       So you win the third spade and lead a club to the 9 if North plays low.      When North plays the CJ or CQ, you win CK, cross to HA and lead C10 if South has played the eight, playing low if North shows out or otherwise finesse if North plays low.      On the actual lie of the cards, you are making 5 clubs and four top tricks in the other three suits for +430.
TIP OF THE WEEK:   (1) Generally preferring the 3NT game to Five of a minor is winning policy.
                                    (2) Consider which is the "danger hand" when holding AJx opposite nothing.     If it is the opening leader then you can win the Ace over the K or Q.      If the opening leader's partner, you should duck and play the Jack on a continuation.
28th February 2017 - Board 9

          A competitive hand this week with points of interest for both N/S and E/W.   After North and East have routinely passed, South has to decide whether to open 1C or 1S.     I advocate 1S on hands that are 5-5 (or even 5-6) in the black suits intending to ignore the lesser scoring minor suit for that reason precisely.     If you open 1C the bidding might get too high by the time you have to rebid.     Also if you pass on this second round, having opened 1S, partner will expect you to have a five cards in the suit .     Having opened 1C, if you get to rebid in spades partner will assume you have only four spades and you may not get a chance to rebid the spades (to show 5-5) at a convenient level.     As West I would not make a take-out double with this hand because partner will expect you to only have four hearts and if you double and then bid hearts you should be showing a six-card suit and 15+hcp or possibly a chunky suit and even more hcp.      So I would overcall 2H  and North should show secondary support ( at least ) for partner by bidding 2S.       Similarly East with decent heart support and a singleton should raise to 3H and South with decent distribution will probably essay 3S.       If West passes now East should probably double for penalties but it is more likely that West will also fancy his distribution and have a crack at the heart game.

         Against 4H, when the hcp seem to be split fairly evenly between the two sides,  you should generally lead a trump unless you know of a long side-suit - to cut down on declarer ruffing in the short hand.        On a trump lead,  if the clubs are 4-3 declarer can set up the suit by ruffing two rounds in dummy and conceding one to set up the 5th card, so you expect to be able to make the contract if the trumps break 3-2.       However if the clubs do not break you need a helpful diamond layout ( doubleton KQ or singleton high honour with South) and have to be careful to win the first heart in hand.       Play CA and ruff a club low, a diamond to DA noting the DQ from South, ruff a club high, ruff a spade, draw trumps with HKQ and lead a diamond, covering North's card.       In this way you end up with ten tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  In competition, you only need secondary (three card) support to raise partner's suit.    
21st February - Board 3
         An interesting battle between the defence and declarer in today's 3NT hand.   South has a routine 3NT and North should decide to play in 3NT unless partner has four hearts and thus there is no profit in mentioning the club suit - on a good day West may lead from a four card club holding and give you the contract!
         West generally leads D6 and East plays the D9.       Declarer has to work out how many diamonds to duck to severe the defenders' communications.     The lead tells you that it is likely that West has four - but probably five diamonds as West would have probably led a major suit otherwise.        You can afford to lose two diamonds if you only lose two clubs but if you duck the first two diamonds West will win the third round and switch to spades so then you would need West to hold the CA.     With only seven tricks on top, declarer needs to find two more tricks and only one could come from spades unless the spades are 2-5 with West holding SKx, very unlikely indeed.      So you need to play on clubs and you need to decide how to play the club suit.       Your plan A should initially be duck one round of diamonds, win the second diamond  (ditching a spade) and then hope that East has CA and the Club J and Q are in different hands.       In this way, East will have run out of diamonds when the second club loses or the diamonds are 4-4 and you cannot lose three diamonds.        As it happens this does not work as West plays one of them on the first round of clubs.         You have to then change from plan A to plan B and decide if West has a singleton club honour, CQJ, CQJx(x) or say CAJ doubleton (which would be an excellent defence).         Looking at the alternatives, QJ(x,xx) is the most likely and so you should duck.       West probably continues diamonds  in the hope that partner was the one with four diamonds and not declarer.      However a spade switch holds declarer to nine tricks.       South wins the DA and leads a club intending to finesse C5 if West were to play low, but covers the Jack to set up.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Be flexible if your Plan A does not seem to be possible from the initial play.
14th February 2017 - Board 11
H        Today's deal provided difficulties for many E/W pairs and has points of interest in both the bidding and play.   After a routine pass by South,  West opens the "system bid" for 21-22hcp balanced, normally an opening 2C followed by 2NT in Benji Acol.       North - while it would be dangerous to overcall 3S has a sound 2S overcall and East should pass to suggest no good suit and a good seven hcp.      Most South's would now pass and West bids 2NT to show 21-22hcp including a spade stop.      A (take-out) double would have shown the same hcp but no spade stop.       East should now bid as over an opening 2NT and most players play red suit transfers.        So a bid of 3D shows 5H and West completes the transfer with 3H.      Now despite the unbalanced shape, East should bid 3NT - there is nothing to suggest that a high level contract (4H or 5D) would be superior to 3NT and you want partner to pass 3NT with only two hearts.         Conversely, despite the 4333 distribution, West should take-out 3NT into 4H because East must have at least one doubleton and the defence thus have at least an eight card fit somewhere which they are likely to lead.
         North, if playing standard leads, should lead S10 - in case the Jack is in dummy and partner had a top honour, in which case the top honour is withheld but on the actual hand South puts up the King.       West leads H3 and is rewarded by North playing HA, probably a singleton.        North leads D7 to tell South not to waste the K or Q if held and West wins DA and draws trumps with HKQJ and tries a club to the King.       North wins CA and exits with a club or diamond and the defence comes to one trump and two clubs for -420.
         If South raises 2S to 3S, West has no option than to essay 3NT and East has to let it ride.       After the same S10 lead - to 6KA - West has to pray that North has both HA and CA and that SJx is protected against attack.       West can thus make the same ten tricks for a top score.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Play the same system bids over 2NT, 2C rebidding 2NT and 2D rebidding 2NT.
                                  (2) As declarer when in danger of losing several tricks play as if the cards lie where you want them to be.
Board 10 - 7th February 2017

            No-Trump bidding is generally a matter of arithmetic.    If the combined partnership assets are 25-26hcp then you should contract for 3NT unless you have a 4-4 major suit fit.      Sometimes the defence can set up five tricks before you can set up nine but in the long run following this policy will gain you a greater percenytage of the master points available.

           The cornerstone of bidding is thus for one partner to limit their hand within 3hcp and the other partner to judge whether to (a) settle for a part-score (b) invite a game if they would like partner to bid it holding the top end of their announced range or (c) bid game if you only need partner to have the minimum of the range announced.     The opener should be 12-14, 15-17, 18-20  or 21+ and the responder will be 6-8, 9-11. 12-14 etc.       Some hands especially if distributional are obviously impossible to categorise but balanced hands are generally routine to bid!       On today's deal, half the field languished in 1NT.      After two passes by East and South, West with 15hcp, admittedly with poorish intermediates, should still be too strong to open a weak 1NT and should open 1D or 1S - according to preference.        I prefer 1D as it keeps the bidding low and in rebidding 1NT over one of a major allows responder to invite game with exactly 9hcp - which you would pass!         North has no bid and East should not bid 1NT - being in the 9-11hcp range - and thus bids 2C.      West bids 2NT showing 15-16hcp and East bids the obvious game.      Note that a 1NT response should show 6-8hcp and the only time that you should bid 1NT is if you have less than two cards in partner's opened suit.

           There is nothing interesting in the declarer play.       North has a difficult lead with clubs being bid by dummy but probably leads the C5 in the hope that South has an honour or two and South plays A and another club to declarer's King.       Playing on spades can wait and you start on the diamonds in the expectation of building two tricks from the combined holding.        North can win DK and clear the clubs but has no entry back to cash the 5th club but with no hope of defeating the contract should play CQ and another to hold declarer to nine tricks when he forces out DA.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) Don't open a weak1NT with 15hcp - partner should pass with only 10hcp.     Generally if you can replace a King with a low card and still open the bidding you should try and show extra values on your rebid.
                                   (2) A 1NT response should also be a 3 hcp range, viz 6-8 (only 9 is shortage in partner's suit)
31st January 2017 - Board 23

        Many E/W pairs had trouble with today's hand.     After a pass by South, West opens a weak 1NT and North with a marginal opener has to decide whether to overcall 2H or not.       It was clear in my mind to pass.      When you have a marginal bid the quality of your suit should be paramount - do you really want partner to lead from Jx or Qx, say?     East makes a transfer bid of 2H and over partner's 2S relay bids 3D.       You should decide with your partner if this is a game-forcing sequence or merely forcing as far as 3S.      If the latter, West, with a minimum 1NT opener, bids 3S and East with a opening hand bids 3NT - in case partner had had only two spades.       West converts this to 4S as the 5-3 fit should produce a better score than 3NT. 

        North has an awkward lead and probably leads DJ as the least likely to cost a trick!        The partnership hands do not fit at all well and with the DK sure to be in the wrong hand, you are in danger of losing a club, a diamond, a heart and two spades, so you need a bit of luck!       Although the diamond lead could have been a singleton, the best chance is to play for both spades and diamonds to be 3-2 and hope that North has both the CA and the HK and thus the defence cannot take a diamond ruff.       So at trick two you play DQ, take the return in dummy and run the SJ.       North exits with a heart and perforce you try the Jack and lead S10 to finesse again - a 75% chance that South has the other trump honour.      Whether South covers or not and there is no reason for South to play the SQ you draw a third round of trumps and run the diamonds, just conceding a club at trick 13, just losing a club, a diamond and one trump.
TIP OIF THE WEEK:   (1) Decide whether a new suit at the three level after a transfer to a major is forcing to game/slam or invitational to game only - forcing for one round only - but which also could be looking for the correct game/slam.
                                    (2) When you are in a precarious contract, work out which high cards you need in which defender's hand  and organise the play accordingly. 
24th January 2017 - Board 3

      It is often difficult to get to the right contract when the opponents open a weak 1NT, as in today's hand.     West's double of South's 1NT generally shows 16+hcp or 15+hcp with a good lead or the expectation of at least seven tricks based on a running suit, e.g.AKQxxxx.     There are two recommended rescue systems by North (a) redouble is a transfer to clubs, 2C/D/H are transfers to 2D/H/S and a pass expects partner to redouble (b) a redouble shows a one-suited hand and forces partner to bid 2C which you pass with clubs or convert to your suit and a bid of a suit shows the lower of two suits and 2C may be 4333.       Although North has five spades the best action is to run to 2C and if 2C is doubled then retreat to 2S!       Even if it is only a 4-2 fit you will probably concede less going off in 50s than doubled in 2S!      When North redoubles any action by East should be to play with a long suit.        So you pass for now and over South's forced 2C,West passes also without a penalty double of 2C and no significant extra values.      Whether North passes or bids 2S, East should now cue bid the opposition's suit showing game values but not having a sufficient holding in the opposition's suit to be able to double for penalties.     West now shows the four card major held and East raises to the 4H game.

        There is nothing to the play, declarer using East's two Aces to take the trump finesse twice, losing just two clubs for +650.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) Decide with your partner how to rescue when your 1NT is doubled.
                                   (2) Cue-bid the opponents suit to set a game-forcing situation showing around 10+hcp.
Board 2 - 17th January 2017

     The winning strategy at team-of-four bridge is slightly different from pairs competitions in that you get full value for the game & slam bonuses. Thus you should be bold in the bidding when you have found a fit.     Also you should not worry about giving the opposition an overtrick or two if there is a fair chance of defeating an opposition contract.     On today's hand, North should also consider playing in the minor suit game rather than 3NT even though at pairs scoring +600 would not be scoring many match points if the "room" was bidding 3NT and making ten tricks for +630!

       Dealer East; N/S Vulnerable.   East has a possible weak two heart bid showing a  six-card heart suit and 5-10hcp but should probably pass as the suit is weak - you do not want partner to lead one from a weak doubleton.      After three passes, North has to decide whether to open 1D or 2C intending to show a strong two in diamonds on the next round.      I think the hand is fractionally short of the strong action and 1D is the best opening.      East either overcalls 1H or passes and South should bid 2D - rather than 1NT - showing 6-8hcp with no four card major and secondary diamond support at least.      West is not strong enough to bid a constructive 1S and raises to 2H to suggest the lead is safe.      With another small heart you might consider trying for 3NT but even though on the actual hand you can run nine tricks I would plump for bidding 5D.
      East probably leads SK  and you see that you are in danger of losing a heart, a spade and a club but there are good chances that you can set up the fourth club to discard your heart loser.     However you must be careful with your entries to dummy.      The best line is to win SA and cash DA and lead DJ overtaking with DQ - noting that West still has a trump - in order to lead a club to the Queen.        This is better than a club to the 10 as there is a microscopic chance that East has the singleton CJ as well as a singleton diamond.    A club to the 10 at trick two unluckily fails because the trumps are 3-1 as West has only two clubs and three trumps.      If the Q loses you would have to hope that  East has Jx of clubs and you can cash the AJ without getting ruffed.    When the Queen wins, however, you can cash the CA and give East the CJ.    East can cash a spade and switch to hearts but you can then cross to dummy with D8 drawing the outstanding seven of trumps and discard a heart on C9, making your game (+600).
TIP OF THE WEEK: Be bold in the bidding at teams when you have found a fit.
6th December 2016 - Board 2
          Dealer East; N/S Vulnerable: After a routine pass by East, South opens 3D, a normal pre-empt.  West has 13 hcp and a flat hand and - given partner's failure to open the bidding - should probably pass as it is likely that no 3 level contract will make.      North with a useful hand but no fit for partner's suit should also pass and hope that partner can scramble nine tricks.       When you have a total misfit it is generally right to stop bidding as soon as possible rather than increase the level and decrease the likelihood of a plus score.
        There is nothing to the play apart from how to play the trump suit.       You just take the spade finesse and throw your last spade loser on CA and ruff a club back to hand to lead up to the HK, hoping West has SK and HA or East has HAQ - you then lead a heart towards the Jack when in dummy with SA.        With a trump suit of AQ98xxx opposite a void you should cash the Ace and follow with the Queen.      It does not matter how you play if the diamonds are 3-3 but this play gains a trick when the 10 or Jack is in a doubleton holding as you can then force out the remaining honour with the trump nine and draw the remaining trump with the eight if the trumps are 4-2.       Incidentally the play would have been slightly different if the clubs and diamonds were interchanged and 3C was opened by South!      Then  the routine play is Ace followed by a small one       This gains when the Q or K are in the doubleton holding as you can then lead the Jack to force out the other high honour and then use the 10 to draw the last trump.
        TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Generally drop the bidding as soon as possible with a misfit for partner's announced long suit.
                                          (2) If you have intermediates consider whether it is best to lead high or low depending on the expected break in the trump suit.
29th November 2016 - Board 9
           A hand this week which has choices in the bidding but no N/S found the optimum contract.      Dealer North; E/W vulnerable.       After two routine passes South opens 1H ( 1D is also possible, but the modern style with 4-4 in the majors and 15+hcp is to open 1H, intending to bid 2NT over 2C, 3S over 1S and pass over 1NT).      West, with 13hcp and four spades, probably makes a take-out double although, being vulnerable, it could lead to -200 and a poor match point score.       With any other 4333 hand without four spades you should definitely pass and at this vulnerability I would pass also, deeming a bid too dangerous!        North without support for partner's hearts would now redouble to show 9+hcp.      I prefer this to also deny four spades although some players would look for a penalty with that type of hand at the one-level - not a very high percentage action despite the favourable vulnerability.         East should rescue to 2C, not being strong enough to bid a constructive 1NT (7-10hcp and a potential heart stop).      South knows from partner's redouble that game is probable and could opt for a cue-bid of 3C asking partner to bid 3NT with a club holding although if you pass partner would love to crack 2C and mentally has the double card out already.
          If West passes 1H, North has just enough to bid a constructive 2C rather than a destructive 1NT and South's 2NT rebid showing 15-16hcp is raised to the 3NT game by North.     There is nothing to the play.     West leads a top club and on seeing dummy's clubs  switches to S8 hoping that partner has J7 or Q7( East plays low if dummy plays low) or QJ but in vain.       Declarer rises with SK and runs D9 to set up the ninth trick ( and a tenth if West does not cash the four winners held at the start) .
TIPOF THE WEEK:      (!) With 9hcp you can make a constructive bid at the two-level rather than 1NT.     Only bid 1NT with 9hcp if you have less than two cards in partner's suit   (2) When vulnerable be careful not to make a double as it is dangerous to play at the two-level with a seven card fit only which generally concedes -200 or more.. 
Board 11 - 22nd November 2016
         A part-score deal for a change.  Dealer South, Love All:
         After two passes, North opens a routine 1D and East overcalls a strong 1NT (15-17 with a diamond stop, usually).   South usually doubles with 9+hcp for penalties so a bid of a new suit should be to play, normally at least a six card suit.      It is dangerous to support on only three cards as you are warned of a diamond holding over partner by the 1NT bid, so I would expect South to pass although the general values plus the probability of a spade ruff is tempting.      I would pass and West has a weak distributional hand.       You should agree with partner what responses you play to a 1NT overcall just as you would over an opening 1NT.       The simplest (and easiest to remember) is to play exactly the same responses.      So 2D/H would be a transfer to H/S with at least a 5 card suit.        On today's hand you would bid 2C Stayman with the intention of passing 2H/S and bidding 2S over a 2D response.
          North has a choice of opening leads (SA or CK) with the intention of having a good look at dummy.        I would lead CK and South encourages, so you cash CK and switch to SAK and another.      Declarer has two discards on DAK and should throw two clubs rather than two hearts and then cashes HA followed by H3.       South must be careful to not waste HK on a small one and plays H8 - Declarer has shown four hearts as well as longer spades by  the use of Stayman.      Declarer can draw North's trumps but ends up losing two hearts for one off.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Confirm with partner your responses to a 1NT overcall and whether it shows 15-17, 16-18 or 15-18hcp + a stop.
                                 (2)  Make sure in defence that you do not "waste" your high cards on small cards.   Save them to take an honour and promote your intermediate cards into tricks. 
8th November 2016 - Board 12

             A simple partscore for a change that most pairs had trouble with. 

                                      Dealer West; N/S Vul.:
                West opens a routine weak 1NT and all pass.      North has an obvious lead of C4 and South should insert C10 when dummy plays C3 and declarer wins CQ and must decide the best suit to develop tricks in.       Obviously, most of the time you go for your longest fit, hearts and there is nothing to be gained by not cashing HA first to see what happens - if either opponent drops HK you abandon the suit and try spades (which sets you up a winner even if the spade finesse is wrong) and then diamond.         On HA, North plays the seven and South the ten.        As mentioned  in earlier columns, the play of one of touching cards means that is two to one against that player holding the other touching card - known as the PRINCIPLE OF RESTRICTED CHOICE, first introduced by the great GB player Terence Reese.       So South's play of H10 indicates that it is likely that neither the H9 or the H10 are also held and so you should lead H2 and duck in dummy, playing South for K10 alone.      The defence can then cash CK and three further clubs, but you are able to cash HQ and lead to H8 in order to take the spade finesse and thus make eight tricks.        It is a moot point whether you should take the spade finesse before playing on hearts because you end up being embarrassed for discards when the defence runs their club suit.       But all is well whichever way you play the hand as long as you play hearts as suggested.        Note that if South had played the 7 and North the 10 you would have hoped that North had had the HK!
TIP OF THE WEEK:  Consider the fall of opponents missing cards if either is part of a sequence of two or more cards!
Board 2 - 1st November 2016

                                                                             Dealer East;  N/S Vul.:

                                   It is recommended that you include two-suited overcalls in your defensive methods after the opponents have opened the bidding.        A bid of the (UNUSUAL) 2NT is usually used to show 5-5 in the lowest two unbid suits and the immediate cue-bid of the an opponent's minor as showing both majors 5-5 and over a major as 5-5 in the unbid major plus a minor.      The latter method is known as a  "Michaels Cue-bid", named after the former USA player Rene Michaels.          It is not recommended that you shade this distribution to 5-4.        If one suit is weak and the other six cards it is normally best to overcall in the six card suit.        Today's West hand is a good 2C cue-bid over South's opening 1C after East has passed as dealer.       North is too weak to raise South's suit and East perforce bids 2H, not being strong enough to invite game with 3 of a major - 2NT would be natural with the minors well held and a fitting card in one of the majors.        South doubles to show a good hand but West probably fancies a shot at the 4H game despite the fact that partner could have nothing because of the sixth heart.
                                   South leads CA and I would make a trick less than the field because I would expect  South to have both diamond and spade Aces and the guarded HK and the spades to be 4-2 and thus would lead HJ at trick 2 covering with HQ allowing South singleton HK to win the trick.        South tries a diamond but DK wins and West leads a trump to H8 drawing the last trump in order to lead a spade to the King when South plays low.        A second spade is won by SQ and North leads a club which is ruffed in dummy,        A spade ruff now sets up the suit but if the spades had been 4-2 you could have ruffed a fourth round with East's last trump.       You concede a diamond, a heart and a spade only so you chalk up the game bonus.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1)  Agree if and how your are playing two-suited overcalls with your regular partner.
                                  (2) Agree that the cue-bid after a weak two opener is also "Michaels"
                                  (3) Consider whether it is best to concede a possibly unnecessary trick in order to force an entry to the weaker hand.
Board 23 - 25th October 2016
                                                  Dealer South; Game All:
         A tricky hand for South to play today.        After two routine passes, North opens 2NT ( or 2C-2D-2NT)  showing 19-20.       East decides to push the boat out and bid 3C.        When this happens you have to revert to natural bidding without transfers or Stayman and thus 3S now shows a five card suit and offers a choice of games if North has a club stop - 3D would give opener space to introduce a four card major.        North has an easy bid of 4S and all pass.
         West leads C8 which annoyingly North cannot cover and which holds, for West to continue with a second club ruffed by South.     A trump to the Queen reveals the bad split and South needs a lot of luck now to get home.       With West having a certain trump trick ( and more trumps than declarer, the latter needs West to hold DA to stop East leading CA and some luck in one of the red suits as declarer needs to get to hand twice to take the marked finesse against the Jack and also to cash the trump Ace.        At trick 3 North leads DQ which West ducks(best) and wins DJ with DA and exits with a heart to HQ.        North has to decide now whether West has four diamonds or four low hearts and cashes HK which fortunately drops HJ, so declarer crosses to H10 and leads S10.         West does best not to cover and declarer crosses to the trump King, cashes HA and leads a diamond.       West can ruff this but South has the trump Ace left for trick 13.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  Don't panic when you get a 5-0 trump break.     Work out if there is a distribution of the opposing cards where you can still succeed.          
Board 9 - 18th October 2016
Board 20 - 11th October 2016
Dealer West; Love All:
                Many N/S pairs bid to the wrong contract on today's hand.       After 3 passes, South opens 2NT if it sbows 19-20hcp (some Benji players play 2C-2D-2NT shows 19-20 and a 2NT opener shows 21-22hcp - Either method is reasonable as long as both you and your partner agree!).        North should make a transfer bid of 3D to show five hearts despite the poor quality of the suit.     The reasoning behind this being preferable to a direct 3NT is that the North hand will have an extra entry by way of a third round ruff - if there is a 5-3 fit - so that North can lead towards the strong hand's honour combinations in the other suits, if and only if the South hand has at least 3 hearts to make an eight card fit.       North continues with 3NT to show only five hearts and South converts to 4H holding 3 card support.       Note that if 3NT and 4H both make "on the nose" then 4H will score better in terms of match points.     If South has less than 3 hearts the final contract will be 3NT and you have at least dissuaded West from finding a heart lead.
               West has a horrible choice of lead and probably opts for HJ as a "safe" lead, which runs to South's Queen.      You should delay taking a second round of trumps as you may wish to ruff a club.       You want to be in dummy to lead towards your club, diamond and spade holdings but unfortunately if you cross to the CA you cannot give the CQ a chance to make a trick.       I would lead DJ to set up a diamond  entry in order to take the spade finesse ( the SQ is a similar play, instead to create an entry to take the diamond finesse! and if either King is with East a low card works just as well!).     East continues partner's defence by exiting with a small trump.        Declarer wins and crosses to DQ to lead SJ, covered by K and Ace, followed by SQ and a spade ruff and a low club from dummy.       If the CK is "right", West can stop you ruffing a club but the CQ is now a trick and you get home with two spades, a spade ruff, HAQ, DQA and a ruff and CQ and Ace.     Any other lead but a trump gives you a trick and the game is easier to make.
TIP OF THE WEEK:   (1) Consider leading a high honour from the strong hand in order to create an extra entry to the weak hand.
                                    (2) After partner transfers to a major and then bids 3NT it is generally best to bid 4 of the major even if 4333 shape as partner has at least one doubleton which is likely to be weak.. 
Board 7 - 27th September 2016
                              Board 7: Dealer South; Game All
         South should open 1C to ensure a club lead if the opposition buy the contract, West should overcall 1S and North has an obvious pass.        East should now bid 2C, known as an unassuming cue-bid which shows a good hand.       Some play it is a good raise to at least 3S and some play it as an opening hand with at least three card spade support.      If partner had overcalled a minor the unassuming cue-bid should be played as an opening hand and inviting partner to mention a side 4-card major or 2 or 3NT with a stop in the suit opened by the opposition.       West has nothing to be ashamed of and should respond 2H which is encouraging but not game-forcing.        East with extra values should now jump to 4H.    Only four E/Ws  managed to bid the good game on the night.      
        North leads C7 and declarer should take the slight risk that South has a seven card suit and play C2 from the dummy.       South wins C10 and has no constructive continuation.      If you win CA at trick one and finesse a heart, North continues a club and a third high club leaves you with a problem of how high to ruff - much better to duck trick one!        South probably leads a spade or a heart on which West plays low.       When North wins HK and switches to a diamond you rise with DA because South must now have both SK and DK to make up an opening bid.     East now leads H10 and when South plays the Jack you draw a third round, cross to CA and run SQ, then SJ and discard two diamonds on the fourth and fifth spade and cross ruff the last two tricks making eleven tricks in all.
TIP OF THE WEEK: When you buy a game contract after an opposition opening bid you can generally place the high cards after a few tricks and play accordingly. 
Board 16 - 20th September 2016

                                  Board 16 -  Dealer West: E/W Vul.

       Many discount a singleton King in No-trumps as being worthless but usually it is a trick half of the time as the opening leader leads low from an suit headed by the Ace!.      Our opposition on today's hand used this principle to good effect and scored a top - in fact there were only a couple of plus scores for N/S.       
       After a pass by West, North opened 1C and with E/W silent throughout,South bid 1D and North had a tricky rebid.      North discounted 3C because the club suit was lacking at the top and rebid 1NT showing 15-16hcp.      South had no reason not to raise this immediately to 3NT.  
       More in hope than expectation East led D3 rather than H2 which forces declarer to guess which finesse to take (spade or club - to avoid going one down) and West discarded a club on the D7 from dummy.      North overtook the diamond and tried a club to the Jack.     West should duck this to try and severe declarer's communications but in this instance he cashed CA, crosses to the DA and leads the CQ.     Note that if North was short of entries the best way to play the clubs would have been to cash the Ace and overtake the Jack with the Queen to be able to force out the King but in this case you try to win six club tricks if East had the Kx.    West switches to a heart and AQ and another set up the hearts but too late as declarer wins the rest of the tricks with SAK, three more clubs and two more diamonds (taking the marked finesse).
TIP OF THE WEEK: If they haven't bid a suit they might not lead it so don't worry about bidding NT with a weak holding if there is no better alternative.
Board 13 - 13th September 2016
                                     Board 13 - Dealer North; Game All:
         With plenty of slams about this week I've chosen the one that only one N/S pair found.
         North opens 1C and after a pass by East South is strong enough to make two bids and thus starts with 1D.    West has a hand much too weak to pre-empt - 3H doubled goes for 1100 which - although cheap against a slam - is poor in terms of match points when the "room" is electing not to bid a slam - and might give declarer a clue how to play the hand by disclosing the distribution of the defenders' hands.      North now has a choice of rebids between 1S, 2S & 2NT.       I think 1S could be passed out with 3NT a good proposition and a game-forcing 2S is an over-statement of values as it shows c. 19-20 hcp with at least 5C and 4S and the misfit for partner's suit (diamonds) is no plus point.       So I would rebid 2NT.      With E/W silent, South continues with a natural 3S and North with less than 4 spades would bid a mandatory 3NT.       Thus 4S is to play with support and any other bid at the four level should be a cue-bid and a suitable hand for a slam from North's point of view, in this instance 4H showing good clubs and spades without CA or DA but with HA.         A RKCB 4NT elicits a 5S response showing 2 of the five Aces including SK plus SQ and South bids a confident 6S.        With 2 Aces without the SQ you would have just signed off with 5S but if the response showed  3Aces then you would still opt for a small slam.
         There is nothing to the play.   North wins the heart lead, draws 3 rounds of trumps and knocks out the CA to set up 12 tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) When partner bids a non-jump bid of 3 of a new major suit it offers a choice of games 3NT without 4 card support and a raise is non-constructive but any other bid at the four level is a cue-bid.                           (2)  When choosing between a underbid and a bid overstating your values the former is best if you misfit, i.e. have a singleton or void in partner's suit. 
Board 22 - 30th August 2016

Board 22 : Dealer East; E/W Vulnerable:

             Stayman can be used on weak hands as well as 11+hcp as long as partner will not get too excited, e.g in the sequence 1NT-2C-2H-2NT, opener is quite at liberty to jump to 4S with a maximum 1NT and 4-4 in the majors.
5-4 in the majors and very few hcp you bid 2C and pass a bid of 2 of either major and convert 2D to your longer suit and partner must pass as you are not promising any values.    You also can bid Stayman on 4-4-5-0 or 4-3-5-1 (short clubs) shape intending to pass even if the response is 2D.       The other weak sequence is using Stayman on today's East hand but bidding 2S over the 2H response to show four spades only and longer diamonds.    If partner responds 2S or 2D you pass, hoping you are in a better spot than 1NT.       If, as opener, you only have two spades,  then you convert to 3D or suggest another denomination (2NT or 3C).  
            With N/S silent the bidding goes  Pass-1NT-2C-2H-2S-Pass.        North probably leads S9 and declarer should plan to lose two diamonds as quickly as possible and then lead a trump to the King to enjoy the two long diamond winners.      South can ruff in but probably should hope to get in with a heart to cash SQ taking two trumps for one and thus restricting declarer's cross-ruffing.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  Discuss weak and strong sequences after 1NT and 2C Stayman.  
Board 11 - 23rd Aug 2016

                       Dealer South; Love All:

            Playing teams the strategy is to bid and make your games and/or slams and try to defeat opposition part-scores without worrying about overtricks.      Several N/S pairs fell short of making the requisite nine tricks on today's deal because they lost sight of this aim.
            South is slightly too strong for a weak 1NT opener and opens 1H, West overcalls 2C and North with 9+hcp makes the natural bid of 2D, forcing for one round, intending to pass a simple rebid of 2H.      South with extras bids 2NT and North with help in clubs and no ruffing value bids a direct 3NT rather than bidding a forcing 3H - offering a choice of games with secondary heart support.     
          West with two potential entries start off with a fourth highest C4, giving declarer two club tricks which adds up to six with the top hearts.      So you need two spades and a diamond to make nine but it is important to set them up without losing the lead again when you will have long clubs to lose.     If West has SK and DA, the solution is simple you need to lead a diamond from South - West cannot rise with DA as your three tricks required will be DKQ and SA - so DK wins.     You can then switch to SQ, not caring whether it wins or loses as you make SA and SJ to add up to nine tricks and you cash out for +600 at least.      This kind of play - making a play where the defender with the key cards has two losing options is known as a "Morton's Fork" named after  John Morton (c. 1420-1500), archbishop of Canterbury, who was tax collector for the English King Henry VII who decreed a neat argument for collecting taxes from everyone "those living in luxury obviously had money to spare and those living frugally must have accumulated savings to be able to afford extra money" - so he couldn't lose out!. 
TIP OF THE WEEK:   When threatened by too many losers explore a play that gains a tempo - in order to create enough winners.
Board 17 - 16th August 2016

                           Dealer North; Vul. Love All.  

          Half of the N/S field unexpectedly managed to record a minus score on today's deal.      North is not quite strong enough to open with a two-bid and opens 1S.      With E/W silent throughout, South has No-trump shape but is too strong for 1NT or a raise to 2S and therefore bids a forcing 2C.      With partner showing 9+hcp, South wants to be in game and jumps to 3H or 4H according to style - some including me play a double jump to 4H as a splinter with four card club support.      South, with nothing constructive to add, makes a negative of 3S, which could have been bid on only two spades and no diamond stop.     North repeats hearts to show 5-5 or better in case partner had 3 hearts and two spades.     Over this, South retreats to 4S and that ends the auction.
          East looks no further than DQ for a lead and North wins S3 to SQ hoping that East has the SA, intending to finesse the 10 on the way back, hoping that trumps behave and the right defenders hold the trump honours.       When East discards C2 - a black card in case declarer is not watching and assumes it is a trump! - declarer should not panic.      West probably takes SA and leads a diamond to the 9,10 and Ace and declarer leads S6.       If North had had the foresight to lead S7 to SQ on the first round South could have run the S6 but otherwise declarer wins the S9 with the 10, crosses to the H10 and leads S5 to S8, cashes SK and runs the heart suit - low to HQ and back to HAKJ until West ruffs with SJ.       North loses CA and SAJ but nothing else, eventually ruffing the diamond exit and cashing all the winning hearts left.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't panic when there is a bad trump split.   Force the defence to ruff in early with their master trump so you have greater length and thus keep control.
Board 16 - 9th August 2016

                               Dealer West ; E/W Vul.:

         Very few pairs played in the 4-4 spade fit on today's hand.    In general if you have a 4-4 fit in a major you should play in that suit rather than 3NT because the scoring system says that the extra trick generated by being able to take a ruff with the fourth card is worth 420 or 620 rather than 400 or 600 for 3NT.
         After 3 passes South should open 1C rather than 1D as this keeps all the suits in the mix, i.e if the sequence starts 1D - 1NT then the club fit would usually be lost.      West is too weak to overcall 1H and also the suit is not worth suggesting partner lead it, so you should pass.     Thus it is North who starts with 1H and South has to find a rebid after East also passes.        Some experts rebid a forcing 1S but I think 1S should be non-forcing and partner can pass with secondary support and a minimum response of 6hcp.       I prefer to show my strength by a rebid in NT with four spades and would devalue this hand down to a 1NT rebid promising 15-16hcp.      Over this North should bid a "responders reverse" forcing 2S initially showing only 9hcp and 4-4 in the majors.      This allows the partnership to stop in 2NT if South has a bare  15hcp and no 4 card major.      South with a maximum for the 1NT rebid should bid 3NT without 3 hearts and a forcing 3H with secondary heart support offering  a choice of games 3NT or 4H if North has five hearts and four spades.       South, with four card support for spades, bids an invitational 3S with 15hcp and jumps to game with a maximum as in this case.
        East has no standout lead and should probably lead D7 rather than dummy's first bid suit or either of North's bid majors.      Declarer does not think this is a singleton as West would have probably bid 1D otherwise so covers with D10, won by West with DQ who exits with a safe H5 which declarer should win with HA in order to lead CQ because otherwise you would be stuck on table.      East should probably duck but most defenders would cover and then a club to the Jack, noting West C10 enables North to start on the trumps.     East probably makes things easy for declarer by rising with SQ and South wins SA and plays SJ.    Declare can now win the diamond exit with DA, cross to S10, cash HQ throwing a diamond, ruff a heart, noting the fall of HJ and claim the remaining tricks with C9,S8 and H10, making a lucky eleven tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Don't bid a lazy 3NTwhen you can explore to find a 4-4 major fit.
                                  (2) Be careful to use your entries to the weaker hand efficiently and don't get stuck in the stronger hand and so have to lead away from your high cards in a suit. 
Board 2 - 2nd August 2016

           A fascinating deal involving a battle between the defenders and declarer which was won almost universally by the defence.    Congratulations to the one declarer who made 3NT.

           Dealer East, Vul N/S:
           After a routine three passes, North should probably not open 2NT or 2C-2D-2NT whichever sequence shows 19-20hcp as you have no five card suit and the SAQ is not a fully working 6hcp as it is an inflexible holding.      Do you open 1C or 1D?       The answer is clearly 1C to try and ensure that you play the contract and have a lead up to the SAQ - you don't want to force partner to bid 1NT over 1D when partner has a club suit and less than 9hcp - give an easy option of a club raise or 1 of a suit response without clubs.       With E/W silent throughout, South responds 1H and North should rebid 2NT - ostensibly 17-18hcp.       South, with albeit a grotty 8hcp, still has enough to go on and bids 3S -  as partner's 2NT rebid does not deny four spades.       This denies five hearts as you would bid a forcing 3H offering a choice of games in that case expecting partner to introduce the spades if holding four!      North signs off with 3NT.
        East will normally lead the unbid suit (D3) without any great hopes but perks up when partner wins DA and continues with D10.       Declarer should cover and East can gain nothing by ducking - if partner has four diamonds you win the first five tricks and declarer has a stop holding any four diamonds.      East continues with D2 to show five diamonds and West, on winning D9, should try and work out what partner's hand could be.      East could just about hold HK but the odds favour a holding of SQ which is no use or CJ singleton as the only high cards possible.     So West should find the passive switch of S8, won by SA, East starting a peter with S6 to indicate four spades.       Declarer should now contemplate options.     The difficulty is entries to dummy.        You could overtake SQ with SK in order to cash SJ but this loses one of your potential top tricks.        If East has CK however you could get to dummy with CQ and as you are struggling for tricks the best plan seems to be to unblock the SQ and lead a club towards dummy's holding.       Correct technique pays dividends in this case if you "waste" C9, retaining the option of a possible fourth club entry to dummy and East disappoints you by playing the Jack which you cover with CQ and West wins CK but has no satisfactory continuation.      If West leads a club, declarer plays C2 from hand, wins in dummy, cashes SKJ and leads a club to hand to claim the remainder.      Note that a heart exit is run to dummy's Jack and the spades cashed as before.       So declarer can prevail.
TIP OF THE WEEK:                                   
(1) Devalue hands with singleton A/K/Q/J or doubletons containing two of these honours or trebletons containing three - as they limit your options as declarer.
(2) As a defender try and work out what cards partner and declarer could hold and defend accordingly using the line " how would I play as declarer with such-and such"!  
Board 16 - 19th July 2016
        Every N/S pair failed to explore the potential of today's hand.
                                Dealer West; E/W Vul.:
        After a pass by West, North opens a routine 1C and some Easts would bid 1S - to suggest a spade lead against a contract by South - although you could not criticise a conservative pass.       If East passes, South should jump to 2H to show a hand a trick better than an opening hand and North should raise with secondary (3-card ) support but on this hand would just rebid 3C.       Over 1S, a jump to 3H cramps the auction somewhat and a forcing 2H is probably enough - only though promising a five card suit and 9+hcp.        West has too many losers to raise to 2S and passes.       North rebids his suit and East has nothing further to say and South has to decide the best continuation.       I think the best bid now is 4S, a cue-bid showing first round spade control and a belated fit for clubs.      A jump when a single bid would be natural and forcing or a jump cue-bin in an opponent's suit should be played as a cue-bid. 3S would be just forcing asking partner to make a descriptive bid so 4S should be utilised as a slam try.       North, with an extra club, is worth a return cue-bid of 5D and South settles for a bid of 6C, even though hearts or no-trumps may score more  - on a lucky finesse - its best to play in the slam that offers the best percentage chance of success.
        There are various lines to make thirteen tricks but I would settle for a safe twelve tricks, winning the spade lead, cashing CAK and, leaving CJ outstanding, cashing HAK and playing a third round, discarding a spade if West ruffs in with CJ or if West produces HQ.      Of course if West discards you ruff and draw the outstanding trump with CQ and run hearts.      Otherwise, you can then win West's continuation in dummy and lead a club to CQ to run hearts discarding your diamond losers.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) In general if you have a responding hand that is a trick better than a normal opener you should suggest a slam if you have a fit in your partner's suit or if opener can support your suit by making a jump-shift bid ( a jump in a new suit suggesting a decent five card suit or 4 card support for partner ).
                                  (2) You can make a jump in a new suit to suggest a fit and first round control of the suit bid if the non-jump bid is forcing. 
Board 17 - 12th July 2016

, A play hand for E/W this week, which many declarersstruggled with.

Dealer North: Love All:
After North passes, East opens 1D or 1H according to style. I prefer 1D as you haveno good rebid if partner responds 2D - a jump to 4D would then suggest 5 hearts andis also beyond 3NT, 2NT with no certain spade stop is not good although you probably wouldjump to 3NT over a 2C responseor a 3C reverse would be a bad lie on many other counts. With N/S silent throughout, the bidding proceeds 1S - 2NT - 3S (forcing and offering a choice of games) - 3NT.
South leads CQ and dummy perforce wins CK, North encouraging with C8. The defence has hit your weak point as you have noother certain entry to dummy to set up the spades given that they wereno worse than 4-2. Until you have another entry, therefore there is no advantage in playing spades early - if they are 3-3 and worth five tricks they will be available near the end of the play just as much as at the beginning. Your plan should be to play on diamonds instead, generally playing AK and another setting up the fourth card in the suit. However,you seem to have only one opportunity to lead towards your heart holding so you should start by playing hearts - leading H10 to tempt a cover from North. In general you should cover the second honour (H9) with length andcoverthe first with a doubleton only but in this case best defence is to play low and give declarer a problem. You should play CQ - don't generally finesse against a Jack on the first round- and best defence is for South to duck - to hope that partner has Jxx and to try and persuade declarer that North hasthe HA. Declarer continues as suggested earlier by playing DA and North contributes DQ to this trick. Now however the spades offer the best choice for extra tricks until, that is, cashing theSQ and SA produce a heart discard from South. So declarer reverts to hearts and H9 from dummy produces J and Ace. Declarer wins CJ exit with CA, cashes hearts anandcan claim eleven tricks by way of 3 spades, 3 hearts, 3 diamonds and two clubs for +460, taking care to cash the remaining winners in the right order.
TIP OF THE WEEK: As declarer you need to try all your options but in the correct order, depending on which hand you are in and the entries available at the time. Be aware of the option to change tack as the situation arises.
Board 24 - 5th July 2016

                Dealer West; Love All:

         It appears most N/S pairs had a blind spot on today's hand as all except one pair failed to make the twelve tricks available and nobody chalked up the slam bonus.
          After three passes South has an awkward hand and has to decide between an opening 2NT on less than ideal shape or a strong two, say 2C rebidding 2S, or opening 1S intending to jump to 3D over a 1NT response.     I favour 2NT because I don't want partner playing the hand and the defence leading a club honour!       After a spade opener you have an awkward guess when partner responds 2D whether to go slamming.      Good pairs play is to try and avoid top or bottom decisions as for it to be a winning strategy you need to be right not 50% of the time but 2 times out of three, bad odds in the long run.        A better strategy is to aim to play in a high scoring contract not necessary a game or slam as long as you can make the maximum number of tricks available.       This only applies to pairs scoring, by the way, as in teams or aggregate you get good value for bidding to the limit!
          I would be happy with the bidding 2NT-3C(Puppet Stayman)-3S(Five spades)-3NT.      West should probably lead his better suit because of the Stayman enquiry suggesting North could have four hearts.      Declarer can count nine top tricks with two more if spades are 3-3 or three more if the diamond suit plays for one loser only.    There are two ways to play this suit (A) to finesse twice losing only to KQ doubleton off-side if you have sufficient entries to the weaker hand or (b) Ace and another,  losing only to KQx in one hand.        You should realise that the CA is the only certain entry to the North hand and so that makes plan (b) favourite.        You can however start by cashing SA in case the singleton SJ appears, in which case you have the option of crossing to S10 to finesse twice in diamonds.        When small cards appear you play DA and continue, forcing out DK, when DQ drops singleton.    Note that playing diamonds in this way means you can try for a 3-3 spade break later - after unblocking HA if low diamonds appear from both hands in case there is DKQx in one hand.       Thus twelve tricks are easy on this hand by way of 3 spades, 3 hearts, four diamonds and two clubs.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) 3NT will generally score well if you make eleven or twelve tricks provided you do not have a combined 32-33hcp.        
                                  (2) When you have a choice of plays in a single suit take care to make sure you have the required entries to develop and cash out this suit.
Board 19 - 28th June 2016
          A few E/W pairs found difficulty with today's hand and I believe it has some instructive points .
                              Dealer South;  E/W Vulnerable
          After a pass from South, West opens 1S, North passes and East bids the obvious 1NT.     The best way to play 1NT is 6-8hcp with generally less than 3 spades unless 4333 or 9-10hcp with  less than two spades.      Otherwise with 9+hcp you can bid a four card suit at the 2 level or 2C in the exceptional case when you are 3-4-3-3 with four hearts as most players play a bid of 2H as showing 5+ cards.      Then a raise to 2NT should show 17-18hcp precisely asking partner to pass with 6-7hcp or with 8-9hcp (a) bid 3NT with less than 3 spades or (b) offer a choice of games by bidding 3S with 3 card support - opener bids 4S with 5 spades or 3NT with only four.       In this case East passes and the final contract should be 2NT.
          South should decide to lead a spade and fourth highest could be best but, knowing that declarer and partner are likely to be short, the lead of the Queen may pin a singleton 10 in declarer's hand and so is preferred.      Declarer should consider that South probably has five spades - expecting dummy to only have four - and is unlikely to hold both red suit Aces as with eleven points and a decent five card major may have opened the bidding with 1S.      So  you should start by ducking the first trick to restrict the defenders' communications.       North should play the S10 - not to show a doubleton but to promise the nine unless the 10 was singleton.       So South can continue with a low spade and dummy's Ace wins.     Note that you should not run the trick to the eight as South would continue with a top spade holding QJ9xxx.       The way to play combinations of this sort is not to try and enter hand and try the club finesse but lay down the Ace and give up a trick to the King and hope you can get to hand with one of the red Queens to cash the rest of the club suit.       As suggested earlier it is quit likely that North will have a red suit Ace.        On a lucky day the clubs are split 3-2 with the King being doubleton or the CK is singleton, but in this case North should appreciate the club position and refrain from playing CK at trick four - after all declarer could have Q10xx(x) only in clubs.       However declarer's care in ducking the first trick means that North has to open up a red suit at trick six when put on play with CK.     Whether North ops to play a heart or D10, the contract depends on a correct guess by declarer - I offer no advice on that score!
TIPS OF THE WEEK:  (1) Pass a 1NT response to 1D/H/S withy 16hcp and bid (only) 2NT on 17-18hcp.
                                     (2) Most expert players play a 1NT response to 1C as showing 8-10hcp and no 4 card major suit bidding 2C or 1D otherwise with 6-7hcp.
                                     (3) For those keen on conventions there is a recommended convention described in Crowhurst's excellent book "Precision bidding in Acol" after a sequence starting 1S-1NT where a bid of 3C enables you to find major suit fits in both hearts and spades.
                                     (4) Consider ducking at trick one to restrict the defender's having the safe exit of partner's suit led.
                                     (5) Consider not playing for a finesse if your entries to the hand with the length are limited.  
Board 4 - 21st June 2016

                     Dealer West; Game All

            A play problem for N/S this week.      West has not quite enough to open 1NT and passes.      North similarly has not enough high cards to open 1H.       East opens 1C and South has good shape but not quite enough hcp to overcall 1S.       So West can respond 1H.      You should never raise  partner's minor if you have a major as the scoring system favours you being in major suit fits rather than minor suit fits - you may be able to support clubs on the next round of  bidding if partner is minimum.      East rebids 1NT to show 15-16hcp and West has an easy raise to 3NT.
              South has a choice of five card suits to lead and usually starts with a spade to the 2,J & Ace.       Declarer naturally starts on the clubs and leads a club to the J and Ace.      North cannot return partner's suit so leads D9 towards dummy weakness and South wins the King and realising the spade situation exits with a second diamond        Declarer crosses to CK getting the bad news of the 4-1 club split, sadly reducing his expected winners from nine to eight and leads a heart to the Queen and a second heart to the J and Ace and North exits with a diamond.        A careful declarer notices the small cards played by the opposition.      The eight and nine of hearts played by South suggest that North has the heart length so declarer cashes SK to confirm the expected layout and exit with Q and another club to end-play North into having to lead a heart from 105 into the HJ6 in dummy, for a well-earned +600.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  Try to build up a picture of the opponents distribution and play accordingly.     If a defender plays an unnaturally high small card it suggests shortage in that suit.
Board 6 - 14th June 2106

Dealer East; E/W Vulnerable

        I was surprised that most E/W pairs played in hearts only making nine tricks on today's deal.    Both East and West did not have clear-cut bids to describe their hands.      Most Easts I guess will open a weak 1NT but I think the hand is too good and I would open 1D intending to rebid 1NT to show ostensibly15-16hcp.      South will overcall1S and West has to decide between 1NT showing 6-8hcp and a spade stopper ( or 9hcp with less than two of partner's suit) and 2H which shows at least five hearts and at least nine hcp.     I think the most important feature of the hand is the heart suit so I would stretch and bid 2H intending to bid 3H on the next round which would then show 9-10hcp and six hearts intending to play there unless partner had extras.      After North passes, East has another difficult bid as 3 1/2 hearts is not a legal bid and thus has to decide whether to bid 3H to show three card support or jump to game with 4H.      Although it is not the case I would look at Kx in the opposition suit bid .over me and choose the former option.      West can hardly raise and the promising game contract is missed.
        Although a club lead is better, North will look no further than S7 and South plays SJ over dummy's 10 in the hope that North has led from SQ87.     West wins and plays a spade to the King and Ace.       Although a club might be best the most testing defence is to lead S9.     The bidding tells declarer that North is ruffing this trick and declarer should duck and ruff in dummy and hasten to ditch two clubs on DAK.      Declarer must be savvy and not play trumps at this point as you should be looking to ruff your master SQ in dummy rather than hope the defenders cannot organise to ruff your SQ if South wins CA after dummy's trumps are exhausted .     So you play a club to South's Ace, ruff the club continuation, ruff SQ with HK and overtake H10 with HJ, eventually drawing trumps after North's forced diamond return.      So ten tricks should have been easy but perfect bridge rarely happens at the table!
TIP OF THE WEEK:    When you have solid trumps missing one honour consider ruffing losers and even winners in dummy!  
Board 10 - 7th June 2016

                A tricky hand for N/S to evaluate - congratulations to half the field who bid the small slam and the two declarers who made the maximum thirteen tricks..

                                                 Dealer East; Game All:-
                     After three passes, North opens 2NT ( or follows the sequence 2C-2D-2NT ) to show 21-22 taking the risk that the singleton King has some value.       With E/W silent throughout, South bids 3S - transfer to hearts - and after partner dutifully responds 3H - settles for 3NT.    This is to play if partner has no heart fit although the optimistic action of going for a slam is possible.       North cue-bids 4D to show 3 card heart support and a good hand and South checks on Aces - N.B. a 5H response to Roman Key-card Blackwood 4NT shows 2 or 5 of the four aces plus HK without the HQ - before settling for 6H.       Although 6NT is a slightly better contract it is not always possible to work that out!
                    West with no safe lead opts for a trump lead and declarer draws three rounds of trumps before deciding on which finesse to take - spades or diamonds.      You have a certain 3 tricks in spades even if the finesse loses and although this is true in diamonds you can only discard two spades on the diamonds if they are not 5-0.       In the latter case you then need the spade finesse anyway whereas if the spade finesse loses you discard your losing diamond on the fourth round SA.       You thus reason to lead SQ at trick four.         West, not unreasonably covers with SK - as the nine controls the fourth round of the suit -although this happens to be wrong in the context of the whole hand.        Declarer then cashes CK, DA,  SJ10, CA and the last two trumps.       West should first discard CQ - declarer could have ruffed a club holding three and a diamond on the last trump     Dummy throws a now useless S8 on the last trump, retaining DKJ as the last two cards.       When West follows with a small card you know that East has DQ because West's other card is S9 so you rise with DA and drop East's doubleton Queen to make thirteen tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1)  Discuss with your partner whether a singleton K or Ace is possible for a 2NT opener.    Most of my partners gamble on it being working and it makes a trick on the lead at least half the time!
                                  (2)  When taking a finesse try and have a Plan B worked out for the case when the finesse loses!
Board 6 - 31st May 2016
                                                    Board 6: Dealer East; E/W Vulnerable:
       A play problem this week which more than half of the E/Ws failed with although several optimistic souls bid and made the game which was not bid by our opponents and I'm sure we would not have bid it either!
         East, being too strong for 1NT, opens 1H.      South should pass as although the hand would open the bidding it lacks Aces and the right shape for a take-out double.       West has to decide whether to stretch and bid 2C showing 9+hcp.       Although the six card suit is worth an extra point the lack of intermediates would sway me - wrongly in this instance - to respond 1NT showing 6-8hcp or 9hcp with a singleton in partner's suit.     This should end the bidding as East needs a "good" 17-18 to bid 2NT or 19 to bid 3NT.
         North should lead a spade either the six or the eight(MUD from a poor suit) whichever partner expects.      The play of the contract hinges on the play of the club suit.      You should win SA at trick one to preserve your SK as a later entry to run the club suit if the defence erroneously fail to continue the spade attack.      When the club six is played from dummy and South plays the eight the definite wrong card is the Jack as this will block the run of the suit if the opponents cards divide 2-2.       Your plan is to play for clubs 2-2 or South to have KQx  and clearly the first option is more likely.      On the actual layout Ace and another wins when you can lead the nine to your Jack to cash the three remaining winners.        If the King is played by South you should also play Ace and another but a good defender will play low from KQ8 or the ten from KQ10.      Most club players will, however, play the Queen from KQx so if the Queen appears you can duck and later play a club from dummy inserting the Jack if the King does not pop up.
TIP OF THE WEEK: When you have a long suit you hope to set up in NT contracts be careful to utilise all your entry possibilities.
Board 12 - 24th May 2016

                        Board 12 - Dealer West; N/S Vulnerable:

          A tricky hand for N/S to bid and play this week.    Congratulations to the 3 declarers who prevailed.      After routine passes by West and North, most Easts will open a sub-standard third hand opener of 1H - for the lead! - and South has  a tricky hand to show.       Being too strong for any spade overcall, you have to start with a take-out double and - after another pass by West - North is not strong enough to jump to 3 of a minor.       Although a response of 2C leaves partner more room to continue, I would bid 2D as that is the suit I would want led against an opposition heart part-score if East were stronger!       Over this, East passes, and South should rebid 2NT as, although 2S would now show a very strong hand, it should show a decent six card suit or very strong 5 card suit, neither of which is present.      North has a near-maximum for the 2D bid and obviously raises to game, but despite the 27hcp there is only seven immediate tricks!
         West leads H9 - you have no reason to suspect a diamond lead is better and no entry either to enjoy the long card(s) eventually set up - much better to lead opener's suit in the hope that the suit will be set up and opener will have a likely side-suit entry.      Declarer ducks the first heart but crucially takes the second heart to preserve the option to exit later to put pressure on East.     Declarer cashes CAK, noting that East follows with the 2 and ten.        In the early 1970s the late great English international Terence Reese expounded the theory of "restricted choice" which states that if a defender follows with one of two touching honours there is a presumption that this "choice" is restricted as either could have been played on the first trick and affords the presumption that  the other touching honour is in the other hand.      It is thus roughly 2:1 that West holds CJ rather than East holds J10x precisely.       After all, the defenders play suggests that East probably has five hearts and thus at least one doubleton somewhere - why not clubs.       Declarer thus continues with a finesse of C9 and cashes CQ.        East should throw S69 because declare will expect East to have DQ in addition to SK to make up an opening bid.        If D25 are thrown then when declarer cashes DA, the winning diamond finesse is exposed when East shows out.      If East had cleverly discarded down to singleton SK to keep DQxx, say, the discard of SJ should alert declarer to this fact and inspire declarer to cash SA before exiting in hearts.       As it is, after winning the heart exit and two more heart tricks, East has to lead away from SK to give declarer a ninth trick.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Look out for combinations with touching honours, eg QJ, J10 etc
                                  (2) Don't automatically duck twice with Axx unless you can take finesses into the safe hand  that only has three cards in the suit.    
Board 18 - 17th May 2016

     Board 18; Dealer East; N/S Vul.:     

             Do you bid by counting losers or hcp?        The best answer is that you should use both methods of valuation - hcp mainly for NT bidding and losers for when you have at least an eight card fit, but, with the proviso that you have enough controls (A=2, K=1) for that losers count.       Hands split themselves into ranges {6-8hcp, 9 losers 1 control}, {9-11, 8, 2}, {12-14,7,3}, {15-17, 6, 4}, {18-20, 5, 5}, {21-23, 4,6}.       If you do not have the control minimum for that range as listed above then you should not bid at the level commensurate with that loser count, e.g. 7 loser opposite 7 loser should contract for game if a major suit fit is held but only if you have 3+ controls in each hand.
            After a pass by East - not a 7 loser hand and not the shape or hcp either - North opens 1H intending to rebid in NT unless partner can raise or respond in spades.        West has an obvious pass and North responds 1S.      With E/W silent for the rest of the auction, South jumps invitationally to 3S showing a six loser hand and c 15-17hcp.       Note that South is short of a 4S bid which according to the guide at the start of the narrative would show 5 controls and only 4 are held.       North has a control to spare and a couple of hcp to spare but has no fifth trump to increase the fit to nine cards and has nine clear losers so should pass.       Many N/S pairs bid the game which should be defeated.
           East leads D8 hoping for a third round ruff.      West should realise that East has a probable doubleton - with 5D and 4S North would likely have bid the game.  With no other entry, West should thus duck the first diamond, encouraging with the nine.         This makes it easy for East to win the first spade and lead D7 to Ace and obtain a third round ruff to hold declarer to nine tricks.       Note that unless you expect early ruffs it is usually better defence to keep control of the trump suit by ducking two rounds as a defender so that you can threaten to clear the trump suit by taking a fourth round.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Declarer often ducks the first or second trick to restrict the defender's communication but the defence can also duck the first trick to increase their communication possibilities
Board 21 - 10th May 2016
                                              Board 21:  Dealer North :  N/S Vul.:
           It seems that many East's were unsure of what to respond to partner's opening 2NT on today's deal.
           North has good shape but inadequate hcp to open the bidding and passes, hoping to get a second chance on the next round of bidding providing it has not escalated too high by then.       West and South have routine passes and West should open 2NT.      5-4-2-2 is not ideal shape but should not debar you from announcing to partner that you have plenty of hcp  and in this case plenty of Aces and Kings as well.        This bid silences North and East should not bid 3C Stayman but 3S which is almost universally - except for a few international partnerships who play it as a minor suit slam try - as game forcing with 5S and 4H inviting opener to select the best game from 3NT or game in one of the majors according to the opener's shape.       If you held 5 hearts and 4 spades the way to bid it is transfer with 3D and follow with 3S over the 3H response.       With a five card major and less than 4 cards in the other major you transfer and rebid 3NT!         West can suggest suitable cards for a slam by cue-bidding 4C.       Responder does not, I believe have quite enough to cooperate with a return cue-bid of 3D and "signs" off with a bid of 4H.      Opener then either passes with hearts support or converts as in this case to 4S which is the end of the bidding.
            Although with spades 2-2 and the diamond finesse working twelve tricks roll in it is not a good contract at pairs
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Agree with your partner how to locate 4-4 & 5-3 major fits after a 2NT opener.
                                  (2) Unless you have plenty of extra hcp the major suit contract will generally outscore 3NT, i.e. score one extra trick.
                                  (3) Play the same sequences over 2C-2D-2NT & 2D-2H-2NT as after 2NT.
Board 15 - 26th April 2016

                        Board 15: Dealer West; N/S Vul.:

       A difficult hand to bid and to defend this week.      After two routine passes, North has a good hand but is halfway between a hand that wants to play in game opposite a minimum response with no fit for either of your suits and a minimum opener - the same hand with a small club instead of the King.        If you open 1C and reverse into 2D you show the right strength but lie about the shape - you should have more clubs than diamonds!         So most players will open 1D and face a difficult rebid over a 1H response.        1NT shows the strength but should have at least one picture in the unbid major - spades ; 3C should show game values opposite a minimum response, viz a "good" 18hcp up to 20ish without the required shape for a 2NT opener,  as partner may have nowhere to go with no fit & no stop in the 4th suit & a minimum response.         Therefore, my preference is for a simple 2C rebid hoping to be able to make a further try for game later if partner does not pass!         South is a couple of hcp short of a 2NT response on the second round and should give false preference to 2D - if you have to play in a seven card fit it is better to play in the one breaking 5-2 rather than 4-3.       Over 2D, North can show 16-17hcp by bidding the 4th suit (2S) and over this South with a maximum for the bidding so far should jump to 3NT showing 1 1/2 spade stops.
       West leads S4 and North should play the 8 from dummy to guarantee a second spade stop and takes the spade Queen with the Ace and finesses DJ, losing to East's King.      East should reason along the lines that if partner had SKJxx declarer would normally duck a couple of rounds before taking the diamond finesse into the "safe " hand if West has led from five spades so probably has a second spade stop.       This makes the switch to HQ eminently reasonable defence and when it holds you continue with HJ and H9 before reverting to spades to defeat the contract by one trick.
TIP OF THE WEEK:    When trying to ascertain partner's holding in the suit led consider how declarer would play for each of the possible options and defend accordingly
Board 23 - 19th April 2016
                          Board 23: Dealer South; Game All:
        A simple part-score this week for N/S which has some points on bidding and play.      After two passes, North opens 1S and after East also passes, South has the values to bid 2D but should realise that the partnership has one misfit in spades and may have one in diamonds as well.        Thus the winning response is 1NT which should show 6-8hcp normally but can show 9hcp if the responder has less than two spades.       With E/W passing throughout, North rebids 2C showing 5-4 or longer in the black suits.      A bid of 2D or 2H at this point should show a six card suit and opener should pass even with a singleton and hope partner can scramble a plus score.       With South's actual hand pass is the best chance of a plus score even if partner only has four clubs.
        With no stand-out lead, East will normally start with DQ - more in hope than expectation.     North wins DA, cashes HA and leads D9 to JK.    Although you can make ten tricks double-dummy  by leading a club to the seven, it makes sense to see how far you can get on a cross-ruff.     However, as you probably cannot ruff 3 hearts, you should try for an overtrick by trying the ruffing finesse in hearts first, discarding a spade if West does not cover HQ.      If West does cover, you ruff, cash SA and ruff a spade, cash HJ, ruff a heart, ruff a spade, and lead D10 to force East to ruff and you must come to one of C1098, for nine tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Respond at the 2 level in a minor with 9hcp if you have a doubleton in partner's major, but with less than two cards, respond 1NT.  
Board 2 - 12th April 2016
                   Dealer East; N/S Vulnerable   
          East has 11 hcp but this would be a woeful opening 1C despite the fact that if you open 1C you can cheaply bid 1S over the expected 1H response.      The hand has only 2 controls (2 Kings and no Aces) and a potentially wasted HQ.      South similarly has a wasted SQ but the 3 tens just make it a viable 1H opener.      West has nothing to contribute and North has to decide between 2H and 3H.    Once again the wasted DQ should sway you in favour of the 2H underbid rather than the 3H overbid.        East should now take the opportunity to double for take-out showing support for the three unbid suits and c. 9-11hcp. but only if non-vul as the opponents are both unlimited.     You should always try and compete for the part-score if non-vul as two down undoubled is usually a better score than the opposition making most part-scores.      After South passes to show nothing extra, West will bid 2S and North will bid 3H.      E/W have now achieved their objective in forcing N/S up a level and should not compete to 3S despite the fit as they haven't got the values to make a 3 level contract - but they have a much better chance of defeating 3H than 2H!
          Eight tricks prove to be the limit for N/S as there is no way for South to avoid losing 2 clubs and one trick in the other 3 suits on the normal lead of C7.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Deduct at least one hcp for singleton honours  or 2 honours in a doubleton or 3 honours in a trebleton holding - their trick taking potential is reduced.
                                  (2) When the hcp are fairly even the side playing at the three-level generally ends up with a minus score.  
Board 10 - 22nd March 2016

                                 Dealer West; E/W Vul.:

              A play problem this week which many E/Ws failed to solve, half the field only ending with nine tricks.      The bidding is  not straightforward either!       West opens a routine 1C and rebids 1NT over partner's 1H response - whether South intervenes with a 1S overcall or not.      This overcall only has merit because you are Non-Vul and showing the five card, albeit weak, suit might pave the way to a cheap sacrifice against a part-score or game.     On the negative side, however, you don't want partner to lead a top spade from a doubleton honour       North then raises defensively to 2S and East has to guess whether to bid 3H to play or 4H hoping for the game bonus.        The sixth heart just shades it in favour of positive action, I think.
              South leads S6 and West wins SA at trick one.      With four possible losers - one spade, one diamond and two clubs you need something favourable and the most useful distribution from declarer's point of view Is for North to hold the CQ.      However, you need to be careful with your entries to dummy and should start with H7 to HK followed by H4 to HQ.       Leaving the last trump outstanding it is time to lead CJ  from dummy.       North should not cover - remember the rule for defenders - cover the second honour not the first - and it does not help the defence for South to withhold CA.      South should switch to DQ to attack DA entry in dummy - if you lead a spade  it is not easy for partner to lead a diamond away from the K10.      All this achieves nothing, however, as West wins DA and leads a club to the nine, finessing against North's marked CQ.        It is now perfectly safe to cash CK as South has shown out in trumps.       When the CQ drops on the King, declarer can access the 13th club in dummy by crossing to HA, drawing the last trump in the process and can throw either the diamond loser or the spade loser ending up with eleven tricks for a well deserved clear top.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't automatically draw all the trumps straightaway if you are short of late entries to dummy.
Board 12 - 29th March 2016

              Board 12; Dealer West; N/S Vul.:    

              Although playing hands is the most fun generally, defence is a critical part of the pairs game.       You have to decide early whether to play an "active" defence where you have to try and set up winners quickly or a "passive" defence where you attempt to not promote any extra winners by cashing winners, thus setting up late tricks for declarer.        Unless the bidding suggests that there are long side-suits in either declarer's hand or dummy, it will pay in the long run to adopt the "passive" approach.         So don't cash Aces or lead from unsupported honours if at all possible as you may lose your late tricks in a suit.

              On today's hand, South opens 1H after three passes and West overcalls 1S and North jumps to 3H invitationally.       East should not dredge up a 3S bid as, apart from being woefully weak, you do not want partner to lead a spade against the expected heart game.       Note that if East had another spade and a singleton instead of one of the doubletons that would be a much better hand as you have a late entry- in trumps - to enjoy discards on the diamond suit after forcing out the oppositions high cards!         South although having no shape has sufficient extra values to attempt the 4H game.

             West is in the spotlight now and has to find a lead.        A spade lead is poor as even if partner can ruff the third round it is likely that the trumps will have been drawn by then.       Similarly a lead of DQ although it works to some extent on today's hand needs partner to have two diamond honours or one top honour and tbe trump Ace as well - very unlikely.         So I would make the "passive" lead of a trump.          Now, provided West does not rush in the Ace on the lead of a club and a spade from South, the defence will come to a spade, a diamond and ywo clubs to defeat the contract.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Try to avoid cashing Aces or leading from dangerous unsupported honours unless you can see declarer can set up side-suits for discards.   

Board 15 - 8th March 2016
                                      Board 15: Dealer South; N/S Vul.:
         A wide variety of contracts is possible on today's hand depending on whether E/W compete on the hand.      After a routine two passes by South and West, North opens 1D and East has to decide whether to overcall a lead-directing 1H or not.         I think you should pass if Vulnerable and bid 1H if Non-Vul.      At our table the uncontested bidding proceeded 1NT from South, 2NT from North and a descriptive 3C from South, showing bottom end for the 1NT bid and a six card club suit , basically to play but North could try 3NT with a fit in clubs.    C Kxx would have been better than Kx as the opponents are likely to have to take the second round if 2-2 but North judged that C Kx would give 3NT a good chance.         After the 1H overcall, South can still bid 1NT and if West raises to 2H the bidding can still proceed in the same way.       But note if West jumps to 3H, N/S are reduced to guesswork.       After partner has overcalled and especially when non-vul it is good tactics to bid at the level of the fit unless you are strong enough to make an un-assuming cue-bid to show a "good " raise - normally an opening hand or thereabouts.   You have at least 5 cards for partner's overcall plus 4 cards in your hand = 9, so bid the 3 level to play for 9 tricks!     
         West will lead a heart against 3NT - because North has shown diamonds - and declarer must be careful to win HK at trick one in order to force out CA by leading CK and continuing the suit when East ducks.     
         Many E/Ws will buy the contract in 3H and generally lose 3 spades and two hearts for one down but many match points.     
TIP OF THE WEEK:    (1) It pays to make lead-directing overcalls non-vul as you can afford to go two down undoubled if partner competes to the three level with support 
                                    (2) Having bid 1NT to show 6-8hcp , if you then bid at the 3 level you are showing a six card or longer suit but expect to play there even if partner turns up with a singleton.
Board 13 - 1st March 2016

         Dealer North; Game All:

         Today's hand is a simple defensive hand for N/S where care is needed to take all the tricks available.         On the night most N/S pairs failed!    North has a near opener.     Some players open 1NT on a 11-14 range whether vulnerable or not.   I think it is a losing policy in the long run and recommend that you restrict it to Non-Vul only if at all.         This is because you can afford to go two off for -100 if the opponents can make 110 or more, but vulnerable -200 is likely to be a near bottom.       Even so the North hand is a "poor 11" with no five card suit or intermediates and also two suits wide open.     So North should pass as should East and South        West thus opens a routine weak 1NT and all pass.
        With KQxx(x) the normal lead is 4th highest but I would lead SK against  1NT because the 9 may be an important card if dummy turns up with say Jx, J10 or 10x or even Ax and partner has length in the suit.       Some players play the lead of a King asks for partner to show their count in the suit but I prefer partner with the Jack or the Ace to encourage and without either to discourage.        The traditional method is a high card to encourage, in this instance the eight but low to encourage is more efficient if you and your partner agree to play in this way.      North continues with S5 and East wins the Ace and returns the seven.        North thus wins the Queen and leads S9 to partner's 10 and the six is cashed.        On this lead North signals for a heart - D8 playing McKenney - and the contract goes one off.        Note that if declarer had not played the Jack on the third round but a low one you would win the nine and then cash the Queen.       Partner with AJxxx should win the Jack rather than the Ace and then lead a low one to partner's Queen and the nine then goes to the Ace.      
TIP OF THE WEEK:    (1) Lead a top honour from a long holding of KQ if you have the 9 or 10 to back it up.
                                     (2) Decide your defensive signalling method - in general and on the lead of a King - some play Ace for Attitude, King for Count. 
Board 17 - 23rd February 2016:

                 Dealer North; Love All

         Although at teams the tactics should be to bid close games and slams - as well as trying to defeat contracts at the cost of giving away overtricks - you should not ignore the basic principle of winning bridge that is to bid up when you have a fit but to bale out as soon as possible when you have a misfit in the hope of a plus score or smaller minus!
         Today's hand is an illustration of the latter situation.      North with a decent heart suit is too strong for a weak two opener yet doesn't have a good opener because of only having the two Jacks outside, one of them probably worthless.        The opening 1H, however, silences East, South  responds 1S and West passes and North has to decide whether to show the diamond side-suit with  a bid of 2D or to rebid 2H.       It is generally right to repeat the six-card suit as a first rebid, hoping to bid your second suit on the next round of bidding.        It may not be possible to complete that scenario but at least you will have given a better picture of your hand.       If the heart suit is threadbare and your diamonds better that should lead you to rebidding 2D.        Now comes the crux of the hand - a bid of 2NT now should show a "good" eleven or twelve hcp and to stretch with only 10hcp is a recipe for disaster.       Pass and hope partner can make 2H with the good outside cards you are providing.
        2H is a good place to be if the hearts break normally or the diamond Queen or spade Ace are with East.        You win  CK lead with CA and tet the trumps with HAK.        Abandoning trumps after the bad break you try a diamond to the ten, losing, ruff the club continuation and lead a diamond to East's Ace.        West switches to SQ to the King and Ace and the defence can cash SJ and lead a top club which is ruffed small by declarer.     West can make two further trumps but that is all and declarer should force East to ruff a third diamond.       Then West's spade exit can be ruffed in hand, the last trump drawn and a winning diamond played for only one off.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Keep responder's rebid of 2NT up to strength; don't make a bad situation worse. 
Board 24 - 16th February 2016:
                               Board 24: Dealer West; Love All:   
           Two weeks ago I recommended that pairs should play a cue-bid of an opponents one-bid to show a two-suited (5-5 or better) hand.   It is advisable to extend this agreement to other situations - eg after an opening weak two-bid, viz. (2H)-3H shows spades and a minor, or after a pre-emptive three bid, viz. (3D)-4D shows both majors or after a suit has been raised, viz. (1D)-Pass-(2D)-3D again shows spades and hearts.
           Today's hand is a similar example.       West opens 1H, North passes and East raises to 2 or 3 hearts (I would bid just 2H!) .      Now a bid of 3 or 4 hearts shows 5-5 in spades and a minor and an intermediate hand at least - as you are a level higher than a normal Michael's cue-bid,      West bids 4H and North bids 4S expecting it to have a chance of making with a fit in both of partner's suits.     You bid 4S rather than 5C ( pass with clubs or bid 5D if diamonds held) because it is a trick less to make and it scores better (420 rather than 400) despite the fact that you only have an assured eight card fit in spades whereas you have a nine card fit in one of the minors.      Neither East nor West can think 5H will be a good save and should pass - in fact three off doubled is too expensive.
           There is nothing to the play with both black suits breaking normally and N/S end up with ten or eleven tricks.    You should ruff the second heart and play SAKQ and then lead a club intending to finesse the Queen if East follows low intending to play East for either the Jack or the King.    If the Queen drops the singleton Jack you cross to DA to finesse C10 but when the Jack appears and the Queen wins you cannot go wrong!
TIP OF THE WEEK: Extend your two-suited overcalls to other situations apart from over an opponent's one-bid.
Board 16 - 9th February 2016

                   Board 16 - Dealer West; E/W Vul.:

        A tricky hand for E/W to bid this week.    West has to decide whether to open 1D or 1H, bidding respectively and overbid - if you don't rebid 2D - and a underbid - if you rebid 2D.      It is close but I think 1D is slightly the better action because the diamonds are so good!       If you open 1D you hope to be able to rebid 2H, then 3H on the next round in order to show your 6-5 shape.       North butts in with 1S non-vul v vul to try and make bidding harder for E/W and East is too strong to bid 3NT because of the 16hcp held as you and partner are in the slam zone if partner has similar strength to you.     I would bid 2C -  intending to settle for 3NT at my next turn if partner shows a minimum opener -in order to ascertain how strong partner is.      South bids 3S for the same reason as North and West bids 4H which should show 5 hearts as you would just make a strength showing double with 15+hcp and 5-4 in the red suits.      East then settles for bidding 6D as partner does not know of your primary support for the opening bid suit.
         North knows West has at most two cards in clubs and spades so should resist the urge to cash SA and lead a MUD C7 (MUD = Middle,Up,Down from three or more small). Declarer should probably go up with CA  - although it is unlikely to be a singleton on lead and cash DKQ and leaving the third trump out play HK, HA and H4 ruffing low when North follows - intending to ruff two hearts in dummy if North showed out on the third round, ruffing spades back to hand.      When the hearts prove to be 3-3 you lead SK throwing CQ - it is a loser anyway - if South does not cover with SA - on the off chance North has overcalled with CK and six spades to the Jack.   North wins SA and can do you no damage and you eventually draw the last trump and cash your set up hearts.
TIP OF THE WEEK:   (1) If you open a lower ranking suit and bid a higher ranking suit you should have reversing values of around 16+hcp or if you are 6-5 and less hcp you have to bid out your shape even if your next bid is at the four level and you should have a five loser hand.
                                   (2) When trying to set up a side-suit you may need to risk an overruff to ensure that you can still make the contract if the side-suit breaks 4-2 but needing the right player to have the shortage.
Board 10 - 2nd February 2016

Most players build two-suited overcalls into their defensive armoury these days.   The best scheme - I believe - is that a cue-bid over an opponents one-bid shows 5-5 in the other major and a minor over one of a major or both majors over one of a minor with a bid of "the unusual" 2NT showing the lowest two unbid suits. 

          Dealer East, Game/All:  After a routine pass by East, South should be loath to open this "bad" 12hcp with only two controls and a probably wasted DQ.     Most Wests, however, would open this seven loser hand with 4 controls and bid 1H although I would pass 1st or 2nd in hand.       North bids 2NT and East has too many losers to dredge out 3H and is not strong enough to double and so should pass.      South could bid 3NT, 3C (weak minor suit preference) or an invitational 4C which would have been my choice.       It is likely that partner has a singleton heart and one heart stop may not be enough with the lead coming through your holding.         North with extra shape bids the 5C game.
          West starts with HK(or HA) and East should make a McKenney signal - the 8 would ask for a spade, the 4 would ask for a diamond and the 6 would ask for a heart continuation.       West should thus lead a diamond but should cash SA first if this card is held so East thus continues with a diamond at trick 3 in the vain hope that West has a singleton diamond -  but to no avail and declarer draws trumps and claims eleven tricks.
          Note that 3NT by North should be defeated.      East leads H6 (Middle-up-down from 3 or more small cards).  If South plays the Jack, West wins and plays a low heart to partners eight and declarer's Q but if South runs the clubs West can keep SK10 and three winning hearts.     Declarer is in the wrong hand to exit with a heart which would force a spade lead from West so probably takes the losing spade finesse for one down.      It does not help declarer to play a low heart at trick one as West wins H10 and plays AK and a fourth round and the ending is similar to that described above. 
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Decide what kind of two-suited overcalls you want to play.     There are more complicated versions((eg Ghestem) which  include a jump to 3C to pin-point the suits but I would not recommend playing this.
                                  (2) Decide what suits are shown over a "short" 1C .   I prefer to treat it as natural so 2NT still shows the red suits.
Board 6 - 26th January 2016
A play hand for N/S today. Dealer East; E/W Vul.:     After East passes, South has to decide what to open with 21hcp, albeit 3 of them in a singleton DK. Although DK is a trick if West leads a diamond from length including DA, I would not open 2NT.     I choose 1H rather than 1C as partner is more likely to pass 1C than 1H holding 5hcp and primary heart support.      If partner responds 1S, you can splinter with 4D showing a good 18hcp+, four card support and a singleton or void diamond.     Over 2D you jump to 3NT and over 2C you can also splinter with 4D intending to play in 5C or 6C.     West is definitely not worth an overcall of 2D, vulnerable, and should pass. and North raises to 2H.     Now a bid of 3NT by South should say I have a good 18hcp+ but only four hearts.      If you have raised exceptionally on only three hearts you should pass but holding 4 hearts or more you convert to 4H.      However to bid 3NT is dangerous on this shape as some partners pass 3NT with 3-4-3-3 shape so I suggest you just bid 4H and hope for the best.
       West naturally leads DQ and East must play the Ace on this to stop declarer winning a singleton King and normally continues a diamond which South ruffs although a spade switch is better, hoping for an eventual spade ruff.     The normal play of the trumps with this combined holding is Ace, then finesse the Jack hoping for trumps 3-2 with West holding the Queen.      However you should not play trumps first as you need to ruff your 3rd and 4th round club losers in dummy and also ruff diamonds in hand as you have nowhere to discard them.      For this reason only you should intend to cash HAK and not take a finesse in trumps as if it loses the defence can play a third round.      Before you touch trumps, therefore, you must prepare your side-suits so that you do not have to lose the lead before starting cross-ruffing.      Once you have embarked on this strategy you don't mind the defence over-ruffing with the only trump outstanding - after you have cashed two top trumps and assuming the trumps have divided 3-2 - as they cannot then stop you making your other trumps separately.      To prepare in this fashion, win SA, cross to HK and take the club finesse.     If it wins you then then play off  HA, CA and ruff two clubs and one diamond before leading spade winners - usually until the defence ruff in with their master trump - while keeping the last trump in hand to cash any remaining spade winner.    On today's hand, West, however, wins CK and returns a spade which you win in hand with S10acrossnd cash HA.    When HQ pops up you change the order of ruffs!      Cross to SQ,  ruff a diamond,  ruff a club, draw the last trump with HJ and win the last two tricks with SAK for a joint top with eleven tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) If you need to ruff twice in one hand delay drawing trumps until you have set up your cross-ruff
                                  (2) Don't finesse in trumps if you need your trumps for ruffing losers.
Board 1 - 19th January 2016

There was a strange set of results on this board with only one E/W pair out of six defeating 3NT and only one pair finding the best contract of 4S with several pairs settling for a part-score of 3C!   

        Dealer North ; Love All:   North opens 1C and East (although no action is ideal) should overcall 1D.     Double is wrong as you have inadequate support if partner bids spades.     It is South that bids 1S and North jump rebids to 2NT to show 17-18hcp and a diamond stopper as West has no reason to bid (and passes).       South has just enough to continue with a forcing 3H showing 5-4 (else the first response would have been a take-out double) and North should now jump to 4S - a bid of 3S in this sequence should only show 2S and suggests responder should give in and settle for a part-score.   

        East has a difficult lead but should play safe with CJ despite it being the suit opened by North as any other lead is likely to help declarer.     North wins CA and leads S8.  Declarer needs split honours in trumps(SK & SQ in different hands, and probably 3-2) and also not losing more than one heart and one diamond.    The defence, however, is stymied as they need to attack (a) the diamond entry to dummy if declarer has to ruff a club to set up the clubs if 4-2 and the 10 does not drop - unnecessary in this case as the CJ10 are doubleton and (b) also play three rounds of trumps to stop declarer possibly ruffing a heart loser in dummy.     On the actual distribution the heart ruff is not necessary as East will not be able to ruff a club winner if two or three rounds of trumps have been played.

        Although usually made, 3NT should go two down on D3 lead as West will eventually get in with SQ and lead a diamond through North's remaining honour to set up 4 diamond tricks for the defence.     It does North no good to duck the first trick as East can then play 3 rounds of diamonds with HA as entry or even duck the second round so West can lead a third round when in with SQ!

TIP OF THE WEEK: A 5-3 or 4-4 major fit is more likely to score better than 3NT so you should generally explore for these fits after partner has rebid in NT.

Board 24 - 12th January 2016
A part-score battle to start off the new year. Dealer West : Love All: After three automatic passes, a few Souths passed the hand out but you have 3 suits that partner might fit and if the opposition have a fit it is likely that you and your partner also have the same fit, albeit they are likely to hold the "boss" or higher ranking fit if they both have spades!    Still with West, North and East likely to hold 9-10 hcp each it is likely that you have the balance of power and they have the wrong shape to contest the part score or  may be too weak to overcall.    So I think the odds favour a bid of 1D, intending to rebid 2C if partner responds 1S, hoping for a reasonable fit in one of the minors.      After North responds 1H, East is not worth 1S as the suit is too poor and South should also pass to not encourage North to make a possible try for game over a 2H  rebid.     West, however, is still there and competes via a take-out double, showing 4-4 in the black suits, and East bids 2S over North's 2D bid.    South bids 3H and that probably ends the auction as 3S is too likely to get doubled for penalties.

             North wins the spade lead and leads a diamond to the Q and Ace and West leads a second spade forcing dummy to ruff. A club to the Queen and Ace and East exits with a third spade.     Declarer now cashes HAK and  sets up a 4th round diamond winner by playing King and another  and as the trumps break 3-2 (Phew!) must make a club, a trump and a diamond or a club and two trumps if the 4th round diamond winner is ruffed, for a total of nine tricks.

TIP OF THE WEEK:  4-4-4-1 hands do not generally develop a lot of tricks so 11 hcp hands should be passed in 1st or 2nd position but in 3rd or 4th hand they are tactically much better openers and you should consider opening them if you can show two of your suits cheaply.    


Board 15 - 22nd December 2015

        A tricky hand for N/S to bid to the optimum contract.     I failed at the table and played in 5D as did most pairs.     As mentioned in several earlier columns when you have a 5-6 hand in the minimum 12-14 range I always open the higher ranking even if this is only a short suit so I can make an economical rebid in the lower suit.     So 1D it is and over the 1S overcall, North bids a natural 3NT,    I removed this to 5C and played in 5D after the minor preference from partner.     Congratulations to the brave couple of pairs who played in 3NT and made a non-obvious ten tricks for a joint top.     

        Against the diamond game West should lead a trump to stop declarer ruffing club losers but no defence troubles South.      After D AKJ(overtaking with DQ) you lead C8 to the 9,10, and Jack. After HJ to the Ace and C2 to CK , South ruffs a heart in hand and leads C4 and West either ducks and the 4 wins or the Ace is ruffed out and South's clubs are then all good.   Swap the C9 and C3 and South has to go down as the trumps are 3-1.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Watch the spots when you have a long side suit that you would like to set up!


A very merry Christmas and new year to all my readers. 

Board 10 - 8th December 2015

Dealer East; Game All: Only 4 pairs chalked up the spade game on today's deal and 5 pairs had a minus score.  After 3 passes, North opens 1C and East bids 1D ( for the lead ) or possibly 2D if playing weak jump overcalls at any vulnerability - not my favourite method!  Some players play a bid by South now shows five and a double shows at least one four card major but I prefer to ignore the opposition's double and bid what I would have bid if East had passed instead of bidding 1D, viz 1S.     West with poor distribution and a poor holding in partner's suit should pass and North raises to 2S.     There is no need to stretch and bid 3S as there is plenty of room for South to make a trial bid over 2S if game is possible.      South makes a natural bid of 2NTto try for a game and North with extra distribution and top cards accepts and should jump to the 4S game.  

        West leads D4 and South wins DA over DQ and should cash SAK before leading a club to the King and Ace - hoping that the clubs were 2-2 and the 1D overcaller had CA - wrong on this occasion!       West can lead a trump or a diamond which North ruffs but cannot prevent declarer from forcing out CQ and making eleven tricks on the fortunate trump position.    It does West no good to duck the second club as the HAK provide entries to run the clubs after drawing a third round of trumps.      Should the opposition be able to draw a third round of trumps you would need a favourable club set up.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Confirm with partner whether 1 of a major after a 1D overcall sows 4 or 5 cards

                                 (2) Draw as many rounds of trumps as you can afford - don't let the opposition ruff from their shorter trump holding!           

Board 2 - 24th November 2015

Dealer East; North/South Vul.     Half the room managed a minus score on this board but if you play to set up the right suit there should be no problems.      After a pass by East, South has not got 12hcp but has two decent five card suits and so should open 1S.       West should make a take-out double to show the strength of the hand unless the partnership agreement is that the double shows four hearts.   North is just about worth a splinter of 4C showing a singleton or void club and a good raise to 4S including four card support.      South might then cue-bid 4D in case North is stronger and North 4H for the same reason, but South with nothing to spare then signs off in 4S.

         The key to the play is to decide which suit to set up by ruffing to make late winners after drawing trumps.   With both red kings missing, the likelihood is they are both with West, the opposition bidder, so you should play to set up the hearts expecting West to have HKxx(x).  West probably will lead CA to have a look at dummy or a trump - a singleton trump is usually a bad lead as it might pick up partner's Qxx, but I expect most players would switch to a trump after looking at dummy and East plays Ace and another although any defence is futile.   South wins in hand and finesses HQ and ruffs a heart(high) before crossing to S9 to draw the last trump and cash HA.    If the hearts were 4-2 you intended to ruff a second round and ruff a club, draw the last trump and cash the remaining hearts before taking the (probably losing) diamond finesse but when the hearts are 3-3 you throw all four diamonds away and make eleven tricks.

TIP OF THE WEEK: When you have a choice of suits to play on for tricks be influenced by the opposition bidding and plan the play through so you don't waste your entries too early..

Board 6 - 17th November 2015

        Dealer East; E/W Vul.: Over 1NT by partner, as well as playing Red suit transfers, i.e 2D for 2H and 2H for 2S, you should have some method of transferring to 3 of a long minor.     I recommend 2S to be played as BOTH a range enquiry AND a transfer to clubs, opener responding 2NT with a minimum  - which responder can convert to 3C - to play - or 3C with a maximum 1NT - which responder can pass with long clubs.  Should you - instead of a long minor - have 11-12 hcp, you obviously pass 2NT or bid 3NT over 3C showing a maximum 1NT.    A good idea is to use 2NT similarly but showing diamonds instead of clubs.     Responses to this bid are 3C with longer clubs than diamonds, otherwise 3D.     With a long diamond hand you convert 3C to 3D - to play - or you can play in your partnership's longest minor should you have a weak hand that is 5-5 in the minors.  

        After East opens a routine 1NT on today's hand, South is too weak to bid 2H and passes, and  West should now aim to play in 3C rather than 1NT by starting with a conventional 2S.  The bidding continues: Double by North (an opening hand with five spades)- 2NT minimum but with a spade stop - you would pass without one-No bid(too weak to bid 3S)-3C(to play).   Note that passing 1NT gives the opposition a chance to find their heart fit if playing Landy or some other two-suited convention.    Many players also play an immediate 3C over 1NT as invitational to 3NT with a six card suit but this West hand is too weak to expect to run nine tricks quickly if the clubs run for six tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Play transfers to minors as well as majors over an opening 1NT.
                                 (2) If the opposition double your 2S bid, showing spades, pass with a minimum 1NTand no spade stop, bid 2NT with a minimum and a spade stop, bid 3C with a maximum 1NT and a spade stop and redouble with a maximum but no spade stop.
Board 21 - 3rd November 2015

         Dealer North; N/S Vul.: After a pass by North, East should open 2NT despite the 5422 shape, and West - in an uncontested auction - starts with a transfer bid of 3H.     East completes the transfer with 3S.      The only time you "break" this transfer is if you have 4 or more spades as even if partner has a near bust, the nine card fit should give you good chances of making game on a hand that partner would pass the 3S bid!       West is too strong now to settle for game by bidding 3NT, but not strong enough to insist on a slam so bids a natural 4C, showing a second suit.      It is a good idea to play both 4S and 4NT as sign-offs in this sequence and a bid of 4D or 4H as agreeing either of the black suits, 4NT then being Ace-asking.      In the latter sequences, responder finally signs off in clubs at the game or slam level, allowing opener to pass or convert to spades if that was where the fit was.            East, without three card spade support or 4 card club support and good stops in both red suits and a minimum 2NT makes the appropriate sign-off bid of 4NT and this should end the auction.

         South leads a relatively safe C5 and declarer can count 9 top tricks with at least one more heart if declarer plays a heart from either hand and good prospects of extra tricks in diamonds and/or spades.       If there were plenty of cross-entries then the best play of the diamond suit in isolation is to finesse the nine and then later finesse the ten.   Similarly an immediate finesse of the 10 of spades would be the best percentage chance to run the spade suit if dummy had enough entries, but impractical on today's layout..      I would thus win CA and play DAK and another - hoping for 3-3 or a doubleton or singleton Q or J (discarding a heart from dummy).      Then I can win the defence's club exit card and lead a heart to HK in order to set up a heart trick to go with four diamonds, four clubs and 3 spades to ensure making eleven tricks.      If the defence do not take their HA you even have a chance of 12 tricks if the spades break after all or if the defender with the long spades has HA as the run of the diamonds will force a spade discard.  

TIP OF THE WEEK:  After a 2NT opener, bids at the four level in a new suit should suggest but not commit to bidding a slam - so you need to decide how to sign off with an unsuitable hand with no suit fit.

Board 1 - 27th October 2015

       An underused bid that I noticed in our bidding armoury is the 1NT Overcall, many pairs preferring to make a take-out double to show strength instead.      

Dealer N: Love All:  After two passes, South opens a third-in-hand (and occasionally shaded) 1H.     West should not consider any bid other than 1NT as a double suggests much better spades.      Two small in a side-suit should be no bar to opening or overcalling 1NT as you can be run through in a single suit and still make your contract and obviously you cannot guarantee hcp everywhere all of the time if you bid 1NT!      What you should agree with your partner is the range for the overcall and also what the responses mean.     The range should be either 15-17hcp, or 16-18hcp or a "good" 15 to 18 hcp.      Take your pick - all ranges are perfectly playable.        As to responses, the easiest scheme to remember is to play exactly the same conventions as you play over a 1NT opener, eg 2C is Stayman, 2D/H are transfers and 2S is the range enquiry used by most pairs these days - or a transfer to clubs, etc.     Note responder may exceptionally transfer into opener's suit, having six or more cards in that suit and wanting to play there, not minding the bad 4-1 trump break!.     Over West's 1NT overcall, East has just enough to raise to the 3NT game - with one hcp less the range enquiry would be employed, asking if partner were maximum or minimum.

       North either leads H5 or, more safely at pairs, SJ, leading to ten or nine tricks respectively without a sweat!

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Consider bidding 1NT instead of double when you fit the hcp range agreed with your partner and have a stop in the suit opened, preferably with at least three cards.

                                  (2) Decide with partner what responses you are using to this bid.

Board 16 - 20th October 2015

Big distributional hands are difficult to bid especially when you don't have an immediate fit but when you do have a fit then you should bid them up to the limit!

        Dealer West; E/W Vul.:  West has an obvious 1S opener and North an obvious pass missing CAKQJ.      East has a good hand but should not bid 3D to express slam interest as the diamond suit is not self-sufficient  plus you have a misfit for partner's spades.    Also it pays to go slowly on 6-4 hands as the secondary fit may not be found if the bidding gets too high too quickly, so 2D is the bid.      South has nothing to contribute and West rebids 2H.     Despite the shape, it is still a minimum opener and you should not jump to 4H.      West cannot insist on a slam at this point and should explore further rather than settle for a safe 4H.    With N/S silent, the bidding should then continue 3C (fourth suit forcing) - 4H to show the extra playing strength and East should then go straight to 6H which must have good chances.          

        North could lead any suit but my choice against the 6H slam would be the trump eight.      Declarer cannot throw all dummy's diamonds away on partner's spades even if the spades played for six tricks - if South had SKx - so you should win H10 and first try the ruffing finesse in clubs, intending to discard D4 if CK is not covered.     When South plays CA, you ruff, cross to DA, discard D10 on CQ and ruff a diamond with HK.   Should North have a singleton diamond you can still set up the suit if both opponents follow to a trump to the HQ.      If North has three trumps you abandon setting up the diamond suit, draw a third round of trumps and play SA followed by the ruffing spade finesse. discarding a diamond if North does not play SK.      When the trumps are 2-2, however, you ruff a diamond, play SA, ruff a spade, ruff the diamond good and ruff a spade to cash the winning two diamonds.     When North follows, you can simply cross to HQ, ruff the diamonds good with HJ and cross to HA to cash your winners for thirteen tricks.      Congratulations to the only pair who made thirteen tricks and bid the small slam.

TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) It generally does not pay to jump the bidding in response to partner's opener to show 16+hcp if you have two suits or a weak 6 card suit.

                                   (2) Don't be deflected from setting up your longest side-suit by superfluous honours (EG SQJ10) in another side-suit.


Board 1 - 13th October 2015

Dealer North; Love All:     Most Wests failed to realise the potential of today's hand when partner opened a weak 2S, after routine passes by North and South.     A conventional 2NT response enquires about the strength of the weak two opener.   There are two reasonable methods in response to this enquiry (A) "Jacoby" after the USA expert, viz 3C = lower end of hcp(5-7), poorish suit, 3D=lower end & good suit, 3H= upper end of hcp(8-10), poorish suit, 3S = upper end & good suit, 3NT = AKQxxx, little outside (B) 3 of suit = minimum, 3 of new suit = feature, e.g. a King, 3NT= AKQxxx, little outside.  The most popular method is (A) and evokes a rebid of 3S.   West should now realise that either partner has SKQJ in which case there is no trump loser or SKQ when there may be a trump loser or not depending on an even break.    If there is a trump loser the slam will still likely make if a key minor King is finessable and the suit can be set up with a ruff.     It is true there are hands when the slam will fail where the trumps do not behave and the opponents do find the right blind lead.     Note, however, that if partner has SKQ10xxx it is (slightly) odds on that you have no trump loser and even better if the Jack is held.     Thus I would just punt 6S over the 3S rebid and expect it to have a reasonable chance.      With clubs breaking normally 3-2 and the trumps splitting, thirteen tricks roll in.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) When you have all the Aces and the KQ of trumps there should be a reasonable play for a small slam if you have side-suit(s) to set up with a ruff. 

                                  (2) Check with partner what responses you play to the 2NT enquiry after a weak two opener.

Board 4 - 29th September 2015

    A slam hand this week which only a few pairs managed to negotiate successfully.

Dealer West; Vul: Love All.
        After a routine pass by West, North has to decide whether to open 2C Benji (rebidding 2C to show 8 or so playing tricks with clubs as trumps) or to open 1C.     I would opt for 1C as I think the club suit is too threadbare - but just requiring CJ extra instead of a low club in order to open with a strong two bid.      Although East has a poor hand I think it pays to overcall 1S to suggest a lead to partner - you expect to be outbid - and also to make it difficult for the opponents to limit their hands because you take up a whole level of bidding by overcalling 1S.      This freedom to bid on poor hands with decent five card suits should only apply at the one-level.       Two level overcalls, especially if vulnerable, should be of a trustworthy quality.       South although expecting to play in 3NT should first make a negative double - usually promising four hearts.       Over this North should cue-bid 2S to create a game-forcing situation.      South with multiple extra values and a double spade stop should then check on Aces with 4NT and settle for 6NT over the 5H response.      Note that it is worth discussing with partner if you have signed up to play Roman Keycard Blackwood which King in this situation counts as the fifth Ace when no suit has been agreed.    I usually play the last suit bid in these circumstances, viz spades, the opposition's suit!      However, you should agree it with your regular partner if this is the case!
        There is nothing to the play of 6NT.     If East withholds the SA at trick one, declarer takes HAKQ, DAK,  HJ and CAKQ and the rest of the clubs to make all thirteen tricks, otherwise has the remaider in top cards.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) If playing Roman Keycard Blackwood discuss the responses if there is no suit agreed                      (2) You should also agree if 4NT is quantitative if it is a raise of NT - in this case you pass 4NT with a minimum or bid on with a maximum, bidding the appropriate slam or responding Aces if you are not sure where to sign off.

Board 24 - 22nd September 2015

        A tricky hand for N/S to bid this week.    Dealer West at Love All:   After 3 passes South opens 2D (Benji Acol) to show the rock-crusher held and over the relay bid of 2H - North not being strong enough to make a positive of 3D showing a decent five card suit but at least 3 controls (A=2,K=1) - then bid a game forcing 3C showing an unbalanced hand wanting to play in at least a game.     Note a rebid of 2NT would have shown all round stops and 23-4 hcp and a jump to 3NT would show even more hcp according to partnership agreement.      Over 3C North bids 3D which at this stage just shows a diamond holding and South bids 3NT leaving it up to partner to pass or explore further.      North with an Ace and a possible heart ruff bids a natural 4C inviting a slam in clubs.     This must be forcing as North would pass 3NT with a weak hand.     South with extra values should ask for Aces with 4NT and when partner owns up to one, which must be the DA, continues with 5NT to confirm that all the Aces and the KQ of clubs are held by the partnership as such inviting a grand slam.   When North responds 6C - no Kings - South however signs off in 6NT being able to guarantee 12 tricks on normal club breaks.      IF feeling optimistic, North might convert this to 7C but I would probably pass expecting a good score for making +990 or +1020.

       The play is fairly easy - you cash CAK and when the Jack drops you can then decide which red suit finesse to take for an overtrick - if you had overbid to 7NT you should cash HAK to see if the HQ was doubleton and if not finesse the DQ for your 13th trick.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't go mad with a rock-crusher - show the type of hand you have via a game forcing 2D and an appropriate rebid and then leave it to partner to suggest a slam or not as the case may be.

Board 5 - 15th September 2015

A tricky hand for N/S to assess in the bidding but general principles in play should have resulted in a good score but hardly anyone achieved it.

       Dealer N; Vul: N/S:  North opens 1D and East has an opening hand but should not make a take-out double because  another spade is necessary.    Some players might overcall 2C but I would not advise it as the suit is not strong enough to suggest partner should lead one from any holding, so I would pass.     South responds 1H and after West passes North rebids 1S - not being strong enough to bid more strongly at this stage.    When South raises to 2S, however, after a pass by East, although it is not game-invitational - as 3S would be - it is not minimum either as opener's 1S bid is not forcing at all (in fact South should pass with a poorish minimum response).     North could thus realise the potential of the long diamond suit and  jump to game and, personally, I would go for it, but anyway making ten tricks in spades should give you a good score even if you settle for a spade part-score.    

        East should lead HA (or HK according to partnership style) and switch to a club - best is CQ as you are playing partner for a club high honour - to set up a trick in the suit (CQ36A).      Although the lead now of CJ will set up C10, declarer's priority should be to set up North's side-suit, diamonds.       General principles should make you consider the entry situation and plan through the entire play.      Your basic plan should be to duck the first diamond so you can access the North hand by leading a second diamond and you should also cater for West trying to win this trick in order to weaken your trump holding by forcing you to ruff a heart.      Thus the best plan is to cross to SQ, cash SA and then lead D9.      If West covers with the 10 you play the Jack otherwise play low - even if West plays the DQ or DK ( as mentioned above - because you can then lead a second diamond from dummy to your Ace in order to ruff a third round if necessary).      East wins the club continuation with CK and leads H2 but North ruffs, cashes DA, ruffs a diamond with S10 and leads C5 to SK to run the set up diamonds for the rest of the tricks.      Although this seems an unlikely way to play the suits the general principles are correct - set up your side-suit, delay drawing trumps if the opposition can weaken your trump control, and duck the first round of a suit if it gives you an extra late entry to the hand you are trying to set up!

TIP OF THE WEEK: If declaring a suit contract, expect to be able to set up your side-suit on normal 3-2 breaks but consider ducking the first round of the suit.

Board 20 - 1st September 2015

  Dealer North; Vul N/S. A few pairs managed a plus score on today's hand - more by luck than judgement I guess.  The only winning auction seems to be 1D-End but some may have tried 3NT and were lucky not to have had C10 or C3 led.    North should open 1D rather than1H ( normal on hands 15+ and 4-4 in the majors) because you don't know what to bid over a 2D response - you will never convince partner you haven't got 5 hearts.     It is not recommended either that you open 2NT (or 2C rebidding 2NT) with a singleton Ace, despite holding 20hcp, unless you have a five card suit to hopefully run en route to nine tricks.

         After North opens 1D, East has not got a good enough suit to bid 2C and South should make the slight underbid of 2D rather than the overbid of 3D.    Although I usually recommend ignoring the five of a minor game in preference to 3NT this seems to me to be a possible exception and I would make the practical bid of 5D which has the merit of not stopping a heart lead from East which would save you a possible guess in the suit ( not that East should consider a heart lead with the current hand).
         The best play in 5D is quite interesting, but ultimately in vain.    You win C10 lead, cash DAKJ and ruff dummy's CQ before playing SA and another, playing the Jack if West plays low.   This wins against singleton SK, or SKx with West ( When West wins a heart lead gives you HK as a trick and a club allows you to discard one of dummy's hearts whilst ruffing in hand with your remaining high trump) and also if West has SKxx as you can now throw a heart on the 13th spade.    If East wins SK, you need to hope that East has either the HA or HQ and you guess correctly to either play the King or Jack.     On today's layout this is a forlorn hope and you go one down but at least you will have plenty of company and should beat the pairs in 3NT going further off!
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Only open 2NT with 19hcp or 20hcp with a singleton Ace if you have a long suit to develop.
                                  (2) When you have a big trump fit try to eliminate your short suits after drawing trumps before losing the lead so that the opponents options are reduced and hopefully do not have a safe continuation.
Board 6 - 25th August 2015

Hands that feature good defence, such as today's example, seem to occur rarely, especially in print!  Most declarers made ten tricks on today's deal because the defence was not active enough.

            Dealer East, E/W Vulnerable.  East opens 1S and South might venture a lightish take-out double.    West should make the normal bid of 1NT otherwise it might be difficult for partner to compete later for the part-score, which if partner has a near-minimum will be in the balance.      Partner cannot bid freely if you might have a bust as the opposition will find it easier to double any further competition after the initial pass.    North  has nothing to contribute, as partner would expect more for a 2H bid than 4hcp and East should complete the auction with a highly encouraging jump rebid of 3S which West passes, only having a near-minimum response.

           South has no trouble in selecting CA as a lead - the USA world champion Bobby Woolf has a favourite saying "When you are dealt an AK you don't have a lead problem"- and when North encourages with C7, South should plan ahead in the defence.    Assuming partner is going to ruff the third club the next card led should be a Lavinthal Signal ( High for a high suit, viz. hearts and Low for a low suit,      Which suit should you ask for?     You expect declarer to have a decent spade suit and be able to draw trumps quickly so you need to ask for a heart rather than the more obvious looking diamond to stop declarer being able to use the master CQ to ditch a loser after drawing trumps.    The heart lead causes declarer to use up the only entry to dummy too early to enjoy a discard on CQ (which partner can ruff early on).    Thus you lead C10 at trick 3 to ensure the HA entry to dummy is attacked before declarer is able to pull all the defence's trumps and the defence eventually come to H10 to hold declarer to nine tricks.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) When you see a promising defence try to work through the later play in your head before playing on.

                                 (2) Remember to keep account of the low cards that have been played on the first three rounds of a suit so that you can work out what low cards remain and thus whether it is partners highest card left or lowest.

Board 2 - 18th August 2015

A difficult hand for declarer this week for which I cannot suggest a certain solution, only pointers in the right direction!

Dealer East; N/S Vul.: East, too strong for a weak 1NT opener should open 1H, intending to rebid cheaply in NT if partner does not respo   nd 1S ( then making a limit bid of 3S). After an obvious pass by South, some Wests might bid 1NT but this is unnecessarily pessimistic as a game contract may be lost when partner then correctly passes with 15-16hcp ( 2NT should really only be bid on a minimum of 17hcp).  So West should bid 2C showing 9+hcp and raise partner's 2NT to 3NT.   I would normally bid 3H (forcing, and offering a choice of games, viz 3NT or 4H if partner has a five card suit) but on this poorish 9hcp I think nine tricks might be easier than 10.    With both East and West minimum for their bidding the game is likely to be a st ruggle.  
            South will lead a diamond, either D7 or D5 according to the partnership style with three small.    This lead tells declarer a few things (1) South is unlikely to hold a five card spade suit (2) South's diamond length is likely to be longer than clubs and thus the club finesse is more likely to be right than wrong (3) Either South has five diamonds or length and thus probablr strength in the major suit(s).
           Looking at the spade suit in isolation, the best play for three tricks is to run the SQ and then the S9 if it loses to the King - if covered you then have three spade tricks by force.    However the entry situation to the West hand is dire and you may have to try a different approach, eg cash Ace and guess wheter to try the 9 or the Q when South plays low as a good defender should!  For these above reasons I would win the first trick with DQ and delay committing myself to playing spades in one way or the other and build a heart trick first.    With KJ10 you must win a trick if you force out the AQ and there is very little to be gained by using dummy's only certain entry (in diamonds) to lead towards the KJ.    You can lose four tricks in the majors (or 3 tricks in the majors and one diamond if they turn out to be 4-4) and still fulfil your contract so at trick two I would lead a heart ( either the King which gains in the HQ is singleton or North has the Ace and not the Queen and plays it! ).     A low heart may go to the 10 and you can play the spades in the recommended fashion.   Despite the limited resources you should end up with nine or ten tricks.  
TIP OF THE WEEK: Try to enlist help from the defence if you have entry problems as declarer whereby you cannot tackle each suit as you would prefer
Board 7 - 11th August 2015

        When you think you are certain to go down in a contract, don't panic as the defence may have problems, too.

Dealer South; Game All: After two passes by South and West, North has a hand that most players would open 2C Benji and rebid 3C showing eight or nine playing tricks in clubs.    South makes the natural positive response of 2H, showing a five card suit and generally at least three controls (A=2, K=1).     South with nothing extra signs off in 3NT over 3C expecting it to be a doddle. 

        However, West leads S5 (and East plays the Jack), the defence thus attacking your weakest suit holding.      Even so, you are still pretty confident counting 6 clubs, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds and 1 spade for eleven tricks.    This tally sinks to eight when the West hand shows out on the second club - but it is not clear to West which suit(s) should be discarded and that is declarer's only hope now.   If the hand with the long spades also stops the third round of both red suits then sufficient spades to beat the contract cannot be retained as well!       West probably decides to discard S74 on dummy's CKQ.   This is not best as discarding S107 is better as then it does not tell declarer how the spades are split between the defender's hand.       Declarer should however just concede a club rather than hope for a miracle happening when HAK and DAK are cashed, ie HQJ or DQ drop doubleton.       It is better to set up a ninth trick in clubs and hope that East has not dealt with five spades, which is likely if West has led from a five card holding.      On the actual hand all the defence can take is three spades and one club to hold declarer to nine tricks.      Half the field failed to make +600 or better.    

       Note that you cannot make the alternative game of 5C on the obvious lead of SQ  because of the three apparent losers of a club, spade and a diamond.    West, despite having control of both red suits, is discarding after dummy and cannot be squeezed as long as East is careful to retain the three diamonds dealt.   This is so that you can beat North's third low diamond when West throws DQ in order to keeps the heart stop intact when dummy throws DJ on the last trump.

TIP OF THE WEEK: When in a seemingly hopeless contract, don't give up - work out what you need the opponents to hold.

Board 14 - 4th August 2015
A fairly routine 3NTto bid but as the bard said "the play's the thing" as you have multiple choices over which suit(s) to develop for tricks.
Dealer East; Love All: With N/S silent throughout, East opens 1H and rebids 3NT over West's 2C response. South has no attractive lead and should settle for the unbid major and lead S5 - in the hope that partner has length and strength there.   No joy however and declarer wins SK and leads CQ intending to run it.   When North covers this,  declarer can count nine tricks already set up and should be thinking of the best way to make overtricks.   A 3-3 club break can be tried for later on but this is unlikely as North would withhold CK in the hope that declarer only had CAx.    So, you should start with a diamond to the 9, hoping that South has K10 or Q10 alone in which case you can run the Jack next hoping to pin the doubleton ten. This was named an intra-finesse by the Brazilan world champion Gabriel Chagas.  If South plays low and the 9 forces the Q or K you can cash the cash and lead low to the 8 to set up a second diamond trick.   When the nine loses to the ten and North exits safely with a spade you should switch suits and try hearts.   It is a little known fact that the best play in this suit for 3 tricks is not to finesse the Jack and if that fails hope for 3-3 but cash the KA and lead towards the Jx if neither the ten or Q have appeared - this is an 85% chance.  When the HQ drops you have three heart tricks in the bag so you can cash DA and when the King falls you ensure eleven tricks by leading a diamond.  Note the DJ8 are equals now and you set up a trick by just conceding a trick to DQ.
TIP OF THE WEEK: When you can see enough tricks for your contract see if you can safely set up other trick(s) as overtricks produce extra matchpoints.
Board 13 - 21st July 2015

The number of hcp required to open the bidding has gone down over the last five years and lots of players open hands I even nowadays pass.      Although it is dubious tactics to routinely open 5431 ten or 11hcp hands because partner ends up in 3NT without a suit to run, third or fourth in hand openers may be tactical and on fewer than 12 hcp that we are taught is the minimum, especially if you have length in the highest ranking suit spades.      However, 1st or 2nd in hand, I generally stick to 12hcp unless 5-5 in two suits or 6 cards in a suit when I would open a ten count provided it had at least one Ace and a King or 3 Kings.     Today's hand is an example of what I regard is a mandatory opener, even though it is Board 13 - unlucky for some.     I believe North should open 1C, East bids 1D and South makes a negative double to show 4-4 in the majors.      West could redouble if this suggests partner should lead his suit against the final contract but I would not raise to 2D as I am vulnerable and have too many losers to possibly tempt partner to compete for the part-score with 3D.       North rebids 2C over the redouble to show a minimum opener with six clubs.      Assuming East passes, South can now make a jump cue-bid of 3D to suggest game values and a singleton or void in diamonds, inviting partner to bid 3NT with a double diamond stop or sign-off in four or five clubs.      Note that as a five card major would have been bid at the one-level ( over the 1D overcall), responder's shape is practically certain to be 4-4-1-4.      Knowing that at least 3 of the losing diamonds held can likely be ruffed in dummy should encourage North to punt 5C, which makes with ease.    Even if CA is cashed and a diamond to the Ace is followed by a second trump declarer can still ruff two diamonds in dummy and throw one on the HJ.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Open hands with a working ten hcp if you hold a six card suit or are 5-5. 
Board 10 - 14th July 2015

 Only two pairs out of 14 managed to make a game on today's deal.      Dealer East; Game All:       After an obvious pass by East, South has not enough hcp to open 1C and is short a club (only 6 instead of the 7 required to pre-empt vulnerable).      So West opens a game-forcing Benji 2D.       North should also pass rather than essay 2H as this is very dangerous, vulnerable, with only a 5 card suit and Easst should bid the negative response of 2H.     Now some brave (or foolhardy) Souths will bid 3C to (a) suggest a club lead to partner and also to disrupt their opponents bidding methods.      West bids an obvious 3NT hoping partner has a little something somewhere that produces a ninth trick.     It is now a gamble for East whether to pass and hope partner has a long suit to run or bid 4S - after all partner must have at least one high picture in spades to bid 3NT.    Transfers are not generally played or recommended after a 3NT rebid.      I would come down in favour of bidding 4S but would not criticise a pass!

           Against 4S, with the CK sure to be in dummy, the best lead is the CA followed by the CQ which North ruffs and leads HK.     Declarer should hope that the diamonds split 4-3 or North has the SKJ and follows to two rounds of diamonds - discarding hearts first and then a club on DJ, not caring who ruffs in with SK as long as you have discarded your last loser on this trick.
           Against a 3NT contract, North should probably lead C2 rather than HK although it is close.     South should work out that this is a singleton and take CA - otherwise the defence will not make any club trick - and abandon clubs, switching to H7.      Declarer should win this with HA, cash 5 diamonds and CK and exit with a heart.    North cannot really try to kid declarer by discarding SJ9 because North would have opened the bidding with CAQJ10xxx and SK rather than initially passing, so discards S9 and H8.     North can then cash all the three remaining winning hearts  but  has to give declarer two tricks in spades by leading away from the King.  
TIP OF THE WEEK: It is worth risking an overcall if you have a decent six card suit (and nothing else of note) but it is too dangerous to do it on a five card suit and a poor hand.
Board 4 - 7th July 2015

   A rare situation in bidding, this week.  My partner & I got it very wrong at the table, so beware misunderstandings in these rare sequences!.     Dealer West; Game All:   After a routine pass by West and 1NT by North, East intervenes with 2D (Aspro - named by the late great Terence Reese as it was designed to give the opposition a headache)   - showing spades and another suit.     South's options are now very limited.     With a game-going hand you cannot bid 3C as partner will assume you are just competing for the part score and pass even with useful cards.      As a double of a conventional bid should generally show the suit, the only forcing bid for South is thus a cue-bid of 3D.     This should deny a reasonable diamond holding but opener should mention a four card heart suit - if held - on the way to 3NT but remove partner's 3NT bid - which would deny four hearts - to 4C without a diamond holding.    So on the hand actually held, North signs off with 3NT and South hopes it is the best contract and passes.    Twelve tricks roll in by taking the marked spade finesse.

         If you are not playing a defence to 1NT like Aspro, Astro or Landy, you should pass the West hand as 2S is too risky because the spade intermediates are not good enough  - if you are offering two suits the outcome is more favourable.
         Anyone who reaches 6C by South is doomed to be unlucky as a spade ruff defeats the contract. 
         If East passes the final contract may be 4S by North on HK lead.     North wins and gets the bad news when West shows out on SJ lead.     North should now play clubs until East ruffs, but all East can do is cash HQ and lead a third heart which North carefully ruffs with SJ and leads a spade to the nine, cahes SAQ and runs the rest of the clubs and DA for eleven tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Decide if you are playing a conventional two suited defence to a 1NT opening but discuss the continuations as well!
                                  (2) A double of the conventional bid should not be for take-out or show values but show the suit and at least a near-opener; A cue-bid then is forcing to game and deny a holding in the suit.
                                  (3) If trumps break 5-Nil it is important to play winners to force the holder of the five trumps to ruff before you have to weaken your holding by ruffing in one hand or the other.

Board 13 - 30th June 2015

 Quite a few E/W pairs found difficulty with this hand.     Dealer North; Game/All:      With N/S silent throughout - South not being strong enough for a vulnerable overcall - East opens 1D and West responds 1S.      East has the values for a 2NT rebid (17-18hcp) but with the black suits being weak, a "reverse" bid of 2H is called for, in this instance.      Note that this shape should not preclude a 1NT or 2NT rebid but your doubletons should preferably be at least Kx.       West raises invitationally to 3H and East adds a fourth because of the extra strength which may be useful. 

         The defence should probably start with two top clubs, forcing dummy to ruff in case declarer needs to make use of the long spades.      As it is diamonds are a far better proposition for extra tricks than spades and you should reason that if the trumps behave you don't mind losing a trump and a club assuming that the diamond honours are split or North has both K & J (a 75% chance)      With that plan in mind you should cash HAK at tricks 3 & 4, probably cash HJ when the Queen falls, cross to SK, and lead a diamond to the 10.     Were it to win, you naturally cross to SA and lead D9 to JQ, cash DA and lead a 4th diamond if DK has not appeared.     After losing to DJ, you ruff the club continuation with your last trump and cross to SA and lead D9 as before, picking up DK from North, making eleven tricks.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (!) Decide what a "reverse" bid shows and whether it is forcing or not.     My preference is that it is game-forcing after a 2-level response but not forcing after a one-level response - and limited to 15-poor18hcp with a jump to 3 being a good 18-20hcp.  


BOARD 17 - 23RD JUNE 2015

  When you get freaky deals there is no perfect way to bid them and you often make a complete mess of them - whether you are an experienced player or beginner.

       Dealer N; Love All:     After two passes, South opens 1H and West has an intermediate jump overcall of 2S, showing 11-15 and six spades - unless playing weak jump overcalls when 1S is better than double given the poor quality of the spade suit.     North could pass, hoping that partner reopens with a double - this could backfire if 1S is passed out as +100 would not compensate you for the then expected heart part-score.     Otherwise 2H is a bit feeble and 3H would normally promise four card support.      Rightly or wrongly I would bid 1NT showing 8-10hcp and a good spade holding, eschewing the heart fit for now.     East should pass with a misfit for partner's spades and South bids an obvious 2C.      West should be warned off rebidding spades to show six because of North's 1NT and North should now support partner with an invitational jump to 3H, holding an eight loser and secondary heart support.      South with a sixth heart and good distribution accepts and bids the 4H game.
       West should lead DA to which East contributes DQ to show a singleton or the top of a sequence to tell partner it is safe to underlead the King on the next round.     Indeed on other occasions you might have DQJ doubleton.      South ruffs the diamond continuation and considers the contract.    There may be one or two losing hearts - most of the time - so if you are losing two hearts you need to avoid a club loser unless the suit is 3-3.     If they are 3-3 it does no harm to ruff one in dummy so the correct plan is to lead a heart to the King and when it wins play on clubs.     When West ruffs your CK with HJ it still does not matter as all the defence can do is cash HA and continue diamonds and you can then take the spade finesse, throw one losing club on SA, ruff a spade, ruff your fourth club and claim.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Sometimes you have to guess what the best bid is from a host of alternatives. When you make the wrong one, try and be philosophical and give your full attention to the next deal.


Board 12 - 16th June 2015

      Dealer West; N/S Vulnerable:  After a routine pass by West, 2NT by North and a pass from East, South should use the rare response of 3S (also used after 2C/D- 2any-2NT) which is normally used to show 5S & 4H, game-forcing, expecting partner to choose the most appropriate game contract.     Only a third of the field found the correct contract of 4H.     Note that the sequence 2NT-3D-3H-3S is used to show 5H & 4S, game-forcing, and 2NT-3H-3S-4H is used to show 5/5 in the majors inviting partner to pass with longer hearts than spades or correct to 4S.      Over 3S, North could suggest, with a cue-bid of 4C, that a suitable fit in one of the majors is held and that South should check on Aces with 4NT if a stronger hand is held.      South, on today's hand, is obviously a bare minimum and so signs off with 4H which North should pass - with a heart fit - or correct to 4S ( if holding a a different hand with a spade fit).     Note the concept that South has to sign off in hearts at the appropriate level (4,5, or 6) which North either passes or corrects to spades.

      On a club lead - either the Jack from West or the King from East, declarer should consider whether to take the Ace or to duck!     As the plan in 4H is to cash HAK to see if the Q drops doubleton, the correct technique is to duck the first trick.     As mentioned in previous columns, if you anticipate the opposition to hold a master trump after drawing a couple of rounds you should then make them ruff one of your set-up winners rather than be able to win a side-suit trick and then draw two trumps for one by cashing the master trump.     Hence the play of ducking the first trick is correct, followed by HAK, SAQ, club ruff, then SK throwing a diamond.      Unfortunately, West ruffs in with HQ and cashes a diamond, allowing you to cross-ruff the remainder for ten tricks.     If the spades were 3-3 or one hand had two spades and 2 trumps you would be able to throw your two losing diamonds on SK and the set up 4th(if 3-3) or 5th spade(if 4-2) after ruffing the suit good.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Decide exactly what a response of 3S to 2NT shows.

                                 (2) Note that you could play 2NT-3S-3NT-4H as a slam invitation with 5-5 majors and 2NT-3H-3S-4H as a weaker 5-5 hand

                                 (3)  Look out for the situations where you should not allow the defence to draw two of your trumps for one of theirs.   Either delay drawing all the trumps straightaway or duck the first trick.  

Board 2 - 9th June 2015

A seemingly simple hand for E/W declarers this week that actually proved difficult since only five partnerships clocked up +450 in 4H or 5H ( when pushed by N/S bidding 4S).

        Dealer East; N/S Vulnerable:      East generally opened a weak two in hearts and South passed.      West makes the 2NT Enquiry and a stubborn North interjects 3S despite the vulnerability as -500 is likely to score very poorly but you generally get away with a bid like this and you definitely would like a spade lead.         Playing Jacoby responses to a 2NT enquiry ( 3C=min, poor suit, 3D=min, good suit, 3H= max, poor suit, 3S=max, good suit) it is a good idea to play a double of the overcalled suit as this response, viz a double of 3S should conventionally show max hcp and a good suit but otherwise pass with a minimum and bid with a maximum if it seems a good idea!      South probably should raise the ante and bid 4S with some useful cards and West probably bids 5H more in hope than certainty that it will make as SK appears to be waste paper.

        South leads S7 - no need to lead MUD as partner will expect 3 card support - and North wins and switches to the obvious suit (diamonds) with D6.      Declarer assesses the 5H contract and judges that if the HK or CK are finessable there ought to be eleven tricks available but care should be taken to plan the whole play through.   You seem to be able to ruff your losing spade in dummy and throw your third round diamond loser on CJ so you don't need to set up the clubs by ruffing the suit good - in this case you probably would need to save DA in dummy to enjoy the discards but as it is you win DA at trick 2 and run HJ.     South wins HK and inconveniently leads DQ removing your second entry to hand - remember you now need the CK with South and you need to finesse it twice unless South has CKx.        So you must now risk a club to the CJ before drawing the outstanding trumps.      When it wins you cross to HA, noticing the trumps are 2-2.        If they were 3-1 you have to draw a third round and hope the clubs are 3-2 so you can discard your losing spade and diamond on winning clubs.      Instead, on the actual hand you can finesse in clubs, discard a diamond on CA and ruff a club back to hand in order to ruff a spade on the table.      If the defence force you to ruff a spade at trick 3 you can cross back by drawing all the trumps, finessing CJ, and use the carefully preserved DK as entry to repeat the club finesse.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Decide how you cope with intervention after a weak two and 2NT enquiry.

                                  (2) Befor commencing declarer play, work out how you anticipate the whole of the play to go so you can "time" the hand in the most efficient fashion.    


Board 3 - 2nd June 2015

       Only a third of the N/S field on today's hand managed  +450 so there were apparent difficulties in the bidding and the play.  South usually opened 1H ( although I prefer 1NT, because of the lack of controls, viz. A's &K's, and the preponderance of Q's & J's).      Although the suit lacks intermediates, at the table, I still rated the West hand an intermediate jump to 2S, showing 11-15 and six spades - N.B. if stronger you start with a double and bid your suit as cheaply as possible, in the expectation that partner is very weak!      Now, a cue bid of 3S should show slam interest but this sequence is rarely discussed with partners although 1H-(1S)-3S is an obvious splinter bid showing a good raise to 4H with a singleton or void spade.      East should bid 4S expecting it to be cheap despite the vulnerability.       South passes to show a weak hand and North signs off in 5H, E/W mindful of the adverse vulnerability should not compete further.

        West leads SK, ruffed in dummy.      In situations like this playing HAK may clear the trumps if 2-2 but you should ask yourself what happens if there is a master trump out after two rounds and what the defence can do.      Although if the diamonds played for five tricks you could prevail, the better plan in the long run on these types of hand is to delay drawing trumps until you have set  up your side-suit winners, in this case clubs.    If you lead a top club from dummy at trick two, you cannot lose the contract.      At the table, declarer tried a club to the Queen after two rounds of trumps and I was able to win, draw dummy's last trump and we could then cash two spades.      Note the difference if you haven't touched trumps.     West cannot hurt you in any way - in he exits with a club, you win with CQ, ruff a spade, play HKA and throw your last spade on CJ.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (!) Decide if you play the cue-bid  of 3S in the above sequence as a splinter, you can make a natural  bid at the 3level (forcing to game) without heart support or make a sputnik double with around 9hcp and no fit, expecting to play in a part-score unless partner is strong.

                                  (2) When there is possibly a third round trump winner for the defence, delay playing trumps until you have set up your side-suit winners.


Board 9 - 26th May 2015

        Some interesting points, I think, on today's hand in both bidding and play.

        Dealer North; E/W Vulnerable.      After a routine pass by N and 1S from East, South has a decent hand but no ideal bid - 2C, 1NT or Pass?        As I've commented before, minor suit contracts don't score very well at pairs scoring so I would prefer pass to a 2C overcall.      Also, it pays at pairs to get busy when non-vul versus vul ,  so I actually chose 1NT - which as I have indicated is not a perfect description of your assets - you would prefer more strength in the opposition suit.     West should now bid 2D which shows a longish suit, usually 6 cards, and about 6-9 hcp and is not forcing, denying 3 cards in partner's major.     Remember if you have a secondary fit for partner's major you should not suggest playing in the minor instead as the scoring system favours the major suits.     In this situation, after a strength-showing 1NT overcall by the opposition, if you have the normal hcp for a 2D response you should double, penalty-oriented, to show you expect to have the balance of strength.        East, while having a sound 3S jump rebid over a normal 2D response, should now sign off with 2S as the misfit for partner's diamonds should indicate caution..

        South, with no good lead, probably starts by cashing 2 top hearts.     East should automatically play HQJ on these first two tricks, firstly, to try and imply shortage to inhibit the defence trying for a ruff on the third round of the suit and, secondly, to create a possible entry to dummy after trumps are gone, minimising the effect of the irritating diamond blockage.       East then wins the diamond continuation in hand, with DQ, and then bashes out SAK hoping for a fortunate layout in the black suits.       South can win SQ but cannot profitably attack clubs and needs to cash CA to avoid all of declarer's losers going away on the diamonds.    

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Don't overbid when you have a misfit for partner's suit.

                                  (2) After a strong 1NT overcall bids are semi-constructive but not forcing and imply a misfit for partner's opened suit.

                                  (3) A double of the 1NT overcall is best used for penalties, not for take-out . Note you need to alert this if you play it for take-out as all doubles of 1NT are assumed to be for penalties.


Board 18 - 19th May 2015

When you have a misfit for partner you should bail out in the bidding as soon as possible.     True, if partner has the right cards, you might make a game but, in the long run, you are jeopardising a plus score by bidding on, and plus scores are the secret of winning pairs play.      On today's hand, East has a good hand and is expecting to finish in a game contract but should start with a quiet 1S.      South has a few points but no suit and therefore a pass is automatic and West makes the 'dustbin' bid of 1NT.      This can be any shape with usually 6-8 hcp  or 9 hcp with a singleton in partner's suit and no higher ranking four card suit.     North has too many losers to mention the club suit held and should also pass.     West's good hand has now become average because of the likely misfit for spades and should bid a quiet 2D.     Over this, despite the diamond fit, the winning bid from West  is now 2H showing a six or seven card suit .      Note at teams scoring you should pass 2D playing for a safer plus.       At pairs scoring, you take a calculated risk because nine tricks in hearts scores better than 10 tricks in diamonds.      You are hoping for East to have a doubleton heart but the suit might split 3-3 if partner only has one!     Now, although 3C, one off, is a good score for North, it is an even wilder gamble, and anyway East - with extra values and a singleton trump honour - should probably bid 3H.    

       North, with no attractive lead, is likely to start off with H10 to stop a possible ruff in dummy were East to be 5422 shape.      When dummy plays HJ, South should duck, to make it more awkward for declarer to draw trumps.      As declarer, when you have a combined seven trumps only it usually pays to set up your side suit first before touching trumps, so the best play - although you can make ten tricks double-dummy - is to concede two diamonds before you have to reduce your trump length in hand.       Although it seems the wrong idea, I would start with DK from dummy at trick 2 and lead another from dummy when the defence puts you back on table with a black suit lead.      You eventually get back to hand by ruffing your club winner in order to force out before the trump Ace, ruff another black suit lead and draw trumps before cashing two winning diamonds.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Try to stay as low as possible on hands without an apparent eight card fit.

                                  (2) If you have a minor suit fit don't rule out playing in a long major.

                                  (3) If in defence you have Axxx of trumps it is rarely right to win the first round of the suit and usually right to duck the first two rounds.     

Board 11 - 12th May 2015

        I was amazed at how many pairs made 3NT with overtricks on today's hand as it looks tricky to make even 9 tricks, West going off at our table.    It looks right to me to get East to be declarer as both your major suit holdings are short.     With N.S silent throughout, I would bid - playing with myself - West: 1S - not a good hand as the suit is poor but you can rebid 2D over 2C and 3H over 2H. East  2C (obvious) West 2D (obvious) East: 2H - fourth suit forcing - better than punting 3NT as if partner has no heart stop you want to play in a partscore - probably 4C West: 2NT - wishing you haven't opened the hand - but partner should pass this with 12hcp only East: 3NT.

         North should lead SJ to K and A.     If South leads S4, declarer does not need to duck this as if North has the rest of the spades the 8 stops the fifth round of the suit although if the spades were 4-3 it might be right to duck.       I would win and test the clubs by cashing CA, crossing to DK to lead K and another club to set up 4 more winners, so I would come to ten tricks by way of 1S,1H,2D and 6C.

          The right defence at trick 2 is thus not a spade but HJ attacking dummy's second entry before declarer can unblock the club suit.    This should hold declarer to eight tricks.     If declarer covers with HQ, to K and A, crosses to CA, and leads a diamond towards the K10x,  North must play DJ to stop declarer finessing D10.    Even if West continues with CK and another, discarding DA to set up a entry with D10 for the clubs, the defence will have at least five tricks before declarer can get at his nine set-up tricks.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't woodenly return partner's suit if you can attack declarer's entries to a long suit.     

Board 10 - 28th April 2015

          Dealer East; Game All: After a pass by East, South has a routine 1NT and West has a poorish hand but a spade suit that deserves a mention.  However, bidding 2S, vulnerable when North is as yet unlimited is very dangerous and would concede 500 if doubled and that is only cheap if the room bids and makes a game.      On the actual night only 3 pairs bid a game so my recommendation of a pass as the correct bid would have worked!        North should make a transfer bid of 2D and over the relay of 2H should bid a natural, invitational, 2NT.      South has a near maximum with 13hcp plus a ten in a working combination so should jump to 4H.

          West has no safe lead and would normally lead S10 as the lesser of evils ( unless you and your partner have agreed to lead the 9 from this combination).      The reason for leading the 10 rather than fourth highest is because partner may have Qx(x) and dummy Jxx as here so the defence does not give declarer a chance of a second spade trick by leading towards the Jack if the first trick has gone QA.      East takes the SA and plays another and West plays a third round as the Jack is now the boss card in spades.       Although West knows that declarer will overruff, at least declarer cannot then draw trumps and then discard a loser on this card.      Declarer now draws trumps in two rounds and leads C9 and runs it to CQ.         West exits with DQ which declarer should win with DK and finesse CJ.      When that holds, you can cash CA, throwing dummy's losing diamond and the rest of the trumps makes ten tricks.

TIP OF THE WEEK:   (1) Holding a six card major you should be very sound if vulnerable to overcall 1NT in second position

Board 21 - 21st April 2015

           Dealer North; N/S Vul.: North will open 1NT- as I did - although with trepidation, as an Aceless 12 count is likely to go for a bundle if partner is very weak.     However, it is pairs scoring and you win match points by making bidding awkward for your opponents.      On today's hand very few pairs bid the obvious game.       East has not got the hcp to double - usually 15+ hcp ( assuming a reasonable suit to lead ) and either overcalls 2S natural or a conventional bid - such as ASTRO - where a 2D bid shows spades and another suit.      Over a natural bid of 2S I think a bid of 3H should be constructive, ie showing 11+hcp but not forcing so you should not bid that here.        I recommend that you just take the bull by the horns and bid a direct 3NT.       Over an ASTRO or equivalent bid a 2NT response is not usually played as natural but instead asking partner to show which  side-suit  is held.        In this case you should thus bid 2NT in case the side-suit is hearts intending to raise to game if it is or otherwise bid 3NT.

            There is nothing much to the play of the hand.      North has an unenviable lead problem and probably leads a club intermediate honour.    West wins, tests the diamonds with DKA to ensure they are breaking 3-2 and when they do plays SAK9 which sets up overtricks if the spades are 3-3 or if either defender has a doubleton QJ, J10 or Q10.


TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) When you have good values, take the pressure off partner and punt the most likely game rather than making a bid that can  be passed.

                                 (2)  Confirm with your partner if you are playing a two-suited defence to a weak 1NT opener and how you respond, eg to 2D (showing S & another), 2S is weak to play, 3S is invitational, 2NT enquires, and 2H is to play if your suit is hearts - over 2H 2S shows 5S and a minor suit and then 3C is pass with clubs otherwise convert to 3D.

Board 2 - 14th April 2015

         Dealer East; N/S Vul.   A small slam this week missed by all the N/S pairs - the optimistic ones must have been sitting E/W!       After a pass from East , South, with 23hcp, opens  a 2D Benji game-force and North should bid the relay of 2H when West passes.      With E/W silent, North/South could bid 3C or 2NT but 3C describes the hand better as you need very little opposite to make a slam if you have a fit in one of the minors as you have 10 of the twelve "Controls" that are in the pack.       North should bid 3S and over South's sign off of 3NT should admit to club support via a natural b id of 4C and after cue-bids of 4D and 4S, South could punt the 6C small slam.

         West should probably attack with a heart lead hoping partner has HA or K and that DK is the setting trick but South only needs a 2-2 trump break or CQ singleton - just over 50%, winning HA, drawing trumps in 3 rounds, cashing SA and cashing DA and conceding one, therafter ruffing a third diamond and throwing a heart and the fourth diamond on SKQ.

TIP OF THE WEEK:  When partner has shown game in his own hand if you have potentially two tricks don't let partner be disappointed in 3NT when you have a primary fit ( four cards ) for his suit.

Board 11 - 31st March 2015

To get better at this game you have to make good decisions when you have a choice of actions and you have to gain and learn from experience as to when to not follow the usual actions, as per today's hand.

      Dealer South; Love All:      After two passes, North has 19hcp and the normal bid playing Benji Acol is 2NT (or 2C rebidding 2NT) whichever bid you and your partner play as 19-20hcp.       However, this bid should be a "good" 19 or 20hcp as partner is likely to take action with 4hcp.      On this hand you have no five card suit, no 10s in honour combinations and unsupported Queens are not a good asset.        I would open 1D rather than 1S as you do not know what to bid over a 2D or 1NT response if you open 1S.       After East passes South bids 2D which shows no 4 card major as it is important at pairs to play in the higher scoring major if you have a fit in both a minor and a major.     West might bid 2H - for the lead, as the opposition are likely to win the auction, but partner might expect more playing strength, so I expect most players to pass.       North now knows that the defenders have eight or more hearts between them and this observation should rule out a rebid of 3NT - the bid you would naturally make if partner had responded 1H!       The way forward should be to bid 2S showing a spade holding but denying a heart holding as you have not bid 2H!       This bid shows the values for at least 2NT and responder should bid 2NT with 6-7hcp and a suitable 3 card heart holding and 3NT with 8-9hcp and a suitable heart holding.       When South cannot oblige - and bids 3D - North should pass and play for a plus score in the diamond part-score.

       There is not much to the play - East will lead HJ and when West cashes HAK, declarer knows that East has the spade Ace ( otherwise West would probably have opened the bidding or certainly have bid 2H ), and so after drawing trumps, North will lead a spade to the King and run the 10 on the way back hoping for Ax or Axx with East.

       TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't necessarily open 1NT or 2NT because you have the required hcp if otherwise the hand is featureless. 

N.B. Next week's hand will be late on the web-site as I am away for all of Easter week.     

Board 22 - 24th March 2015

A bidding problem hand for E/W this week in which less than half the field made a game score.      Dealer East; E/W Vul.:      After two passes, West has a routine 1C opener which should silence North - not being strong enough for a 1NT overcall- and East responds 1D.      South might be tempted to overcall 1NT, the "Unusual No-Trump" showing the lowest two unbid suits, in this case both majors.     This manoeuvre  is, however, not recommended as it is extremely unlikely - because of South's poor hand - that N/S will declare the final contract and then it might cause partner to make a disastrous spade lead. After South passes, West should jump to 3D to show c 15-17hcp and 4 card diamond support, not forcing but highly encouraging.        Over this East should realise than making nine tricks in no-trumps would be easier than making eleven in diamonds and bids 3S showing a spade stop, inviting West to bid 3NT with a suitable heart holding.      Therefore 3NT becomes the final contract.           

      North has no obvious lead and normally would lead H6 (MUD from a bad suit of 3 or four small) or H8 (Top of Nothing) as per the partnership agreement. Although the correct declarer and defensive play is not entirely clear, I think that South should play H10 at trick one to stop declarer ducking the King and after winning HQ, West should lead a club to the CQ and take the diamond finesse, the best play for six diamond tricks.        Then the declarer will refuse the spade finesse to ensure making the 3NT game and settle for nine tricks only even though overtricks were possible.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) A jump to 2NT over an opening bid or response at the one-level normally shows the other two suits 5-5, approaching an opener vulnerable or weaker non-vul.    However if you have passed as dealer, a 1NT bid shows the same distribution (and a weaker hand).     
                                  (2) With a huge minor fit, do not rule out playing in 3NT.  
Board 10 - 17th March 2015

Dealer East; Love All: Pairs playing Benji Acol will not open 1S on the East hand but either open 2NT or 2C rebidding 2NT(note not 2S), whichever  version shows 19-20 balanced or semi-balanced.      West should bid a transfer bid of 3D and over the relay of 3H should bid 3NT despite the good suit which suggests opener should remove to 4H with three card support, even if 4-3-3-3 as responder has a doubleton and possibly a singleton somewhere in the hand.      Note that a 3-3 break in hearts is against the odds and if the suit is 3-3 there will be ready tricks in NT and if not there may be alternative suits to develop for extra tricks.      

       South should not lead a fourth highest club because dummy might have say CJxx and declarer CA8, in which case you present declarer with a second trick in the suit as partner has to play CQ to stop declarer winning a trick cheaply.      The traditional lead from this combination is C10, although some play the C9 promises no higher honour or the 10 plus A,K or Q, which is a useful idea as you know not to waste say the king from Kx if partner leads the Jack as you then know that declarer has AQ.     North contributes the CQ on the lead as the Jack is now marked with declarer.     At teams scoring you might consider ducking two rounds in the hope that South did not have the DA but at pairs you win CA and hope that South has DA and your CJ is not exposed to a lead from North or that North has CKQ when you have two stops by force.      Rather than develop extra undertricks if the opponents cards lie badly you should not test the majors hoping for the unlikely 3-3 breaks but start by playing diamonds until the Ace is taken.      As East has shown 19-20hcp and you and dummy have 18 between you North can have at most HJ to go with the CQ already shown! so you know that declarer has ten top tricks and South should give declarer no help.       If declarer had, exceptionally, HA singleton, it would have been cashed before leading diamonds so a heart lead is safe provided partner withholds the HJ. So South should win the third diamond and lead a heart although it does not really matter if South wins an earlier diamond and (safely) exits with a diamond.       Declarer runs three hearts and the thirteenth diamond and can make eleven tricks by discarding down to CJ SAKQ9 and then cashing SAK and exiting with CJ to South's CK, forcing a spade lead from SJ7 into East's SQ9.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Do not rule out 3NT when holding a five card major only when partner opens 2NT, or rebids 2NT, even if you have a second suit.             

Board 5 - Tuesday 3rd March 2015

Dealer North; N/S vulnerable: Only a third of the E/Ws on this hand chalked up +420 for the 4H game.       The bidding has some points of interest.      With N/S silent throughout, East starts with 1C and West responds 1H.      Note that there is no point bidding 1D as you have found a minor suit fit in clubs and intend to raise or jump support them on the next round.       A major suit fit scores better and requires one trick less so you hope partner has a fit in your suit. When partner raises to 2H, this may be only 3 card support, so a new suit would be a trial bid with 5+ hearts.     So, the only thing you can do is make a natural try for game with a 3C raise but partner with decent shape and a non-minimum opener jumps to the 4H game.

       North leads a spade, the S8(MUD) or S9(top of a sequence) according to partnership agreement, and declarer should plan how to make the best of the combined assets.       With apparently only two immediate losers and say one in the wash the contract looks easy but you still have to plan carefully how to succeed.       As mentioned in earlier columns a 4-1 break is a significant 28% of the time and if clubs or trumps break badly you may be in trouble.     Presumably some declarers did not realise that to make the most of your trumps you need to ruff twice in one hand - either spades or diamonds - whilst maintaining your trump length in the other hand in order to keep control and have as many trumps left as the opponent who has the trump length.     If the defence then force you into cross-ruffing the hand then so be it!       With immediate cross entries in short supply you must delay drawing trumps and accept you may incur a club ruff by the opposition, but this will not be fatal as you them regain trump control.       One ruff is OK but two is not, so you should guard against this by conceding your diamond loser first so that if the defence can then play CA and a club ruff, they cannot then lead a diamond to partner's A or K and obtain a second ruff.      This is a simple example of what is known as a "scissors coup", a term invented by the late Terence Reese because it "snips at the defenders communications".      If the defenders play a second diamond you ruff and lead a club to CJ.      If North ducks you ruff a second diamond, throw a club on SK, ruff a spade, ruff a diamond with HK, ruff a spade and cash HAK for ten tricks.       If North wins CJ with CA and leads a spade you cash CQ, ruff a diamond and proceed in similar fashion as above.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) If you are 4-4 in trumps, don't necessarily draw 3 rounds of trumps if you can gain a trick by ruffing twice in one hand or the other.                                       (2) Consider how the later play will go before you play to the early tricks when declarer. 
Board 3 - Tuesday 24th February 2015

Dealer South; Vul.: E/W: South and West have obvious passes but North may be tempted to bid owing to the favourable vulnerability and being third in hand - when you don't promise a rebid because you know partner has not got the values to open the bidding!      My advice, however, is to pass, in this instance, because bidding bad suits when you have the combined minority of hcp is in the long run a very bad idea.   Partner usually has an honour doubleton and the lead is likely to cost your side a trick if not the contract!      Some North players would open a weak two with impunity, but I wouldn't!      East has a high hcp but three of them may be wasted in the HK being singleton.      I would open 1C rather than 1D or 1S because as here it helps partner to have all the bidding space at the one level to describe any assets held.    If partner responds 1H I would bid 2NT to show 17-18hcp but over 1D you have a problem - choose between 1S, 2S and 3D.      I would bid 1S only and hope to get another chance to show my strength later but agree it is a risk but so is getting too high.       With N/S silent throughout, West responds 2C  which should show less than 4 cards in both major suits.       East should now continue with 2D.       This shows the values for a 2NT rebid, viz 17-18hcp but not all the 3 remaining suits stopped (otherwise you would have bid 2NT straightaway) and also that 2D is the cheapest suit that you do have stopped.      Without a diamond stop, you would bid 2H if that suit was stopped, and so on.      When West bids 2H over 2D to show a stop, East can bid 3NT if feeling optimistic or 2NT (preferred) to give partner the chance to retreat to 3C if holding a minimum response of 5-6hcp.      West, however, can count 24-25 combined plus a couple of tens which may be useful, so essays 3NT.

        Although a lead from J432 is hardly to be recommended, nothing else appeals as any better, so S2 it is!       Declarer tries S10 to K and Ace and tries to formulate a plan.      The obvious suit to attack is clubs which will yield three tricks by forcing out CA.   Note you should start with the CK, not a small one,  although it scarcely matters, but if the Ace is taken straight away you then have 3 entries to dummy by overtaking the 10 and 9 of clubs with the J & Q and leading C3 to the C8.      South should hold off to deny dummy three entries - the bidding showed that North has either one club or none because of the 1C opening bid, so you cannot promote any club in partner's hand.      When South wins CA, North discards H9, a McKenney signal for the higher of the two remaining suits, viz Spades, so South continues with a spade to the nine and Queen.      There is no need for East to duck this as the spades are known to be 4-3, South having led the lowest, S2, thus denying a fifth spade.      The suit may also often be blocked, as in this case, with South unable to overtake S7 with SJ as this sets up declarer's S6!       Declarer then cashes the blocking HK and leads C9 over to CJ in order to lead a diamond to D10, intending to finesse the DQ the next time in dummy if South were to win DJ.     In this way 3 diamond tricks are available 75% of the time if either the DJ or DK are with North.      As both of these honours are with North, declarer can make eleven tricks by crossing back to CJ, cashing HA (throwing a spade) and finessing DQ, cashing DA and the fourth round of diamonds.      No-one it seems managed to play the hand in this way, but note the thought processes involved for the future.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Don't bid bad suits when to don't expect to win the auction.
                                  (2) Plan your entries to the weaker hand carefully.
Board 18 - 17th February 2015

As mentioned last week bidding marginal slams at pairs is not to be recommended as good strategy for winning more masterpoints but at teams you get full value in terms of IMPs for bidding to the limit. On today's hand the winners and all but three teams failed miserably to bid the rock-solid slam, our auction being a lazy 1H-1S-2C-3NT!

Dealer East; N/S Vul.:    With N/S silent throughout, East has a routine 1H opener.       As West, I think you should respond 1S rather than 2D to allow partner more room to rebid and also because the likely game contract of 4S scores more than 5D and requires one less trick!      East has a easy rebid of 2C as you should not rebid 1NT - to show the15+hcp - with a singleton in an unbid suit.       Note I think a weak doubleton is no reason not to limit your hand with a 1NT rebid.      I think a rebid of 2S - instead of 2C - has its merits but a jump rebid to 3S is awful and risks a minus score when responder has only four spades and a minimum response.      Over 2C, West should bids 2D the fourth-suit , not promising or denying diamonds but forcing showing 11+hcp and asking partner to describe any assets held.      Note this bid is only forcing as far as 2NT and opener should bid the 3NT game with more than a poor 13 hcp and a reasonable holding in the fourth suit.      Note that you should have an opening hand for responder's fourth suit forcing bid if at the 3 level eg 1S-2D-2H-3C* as the bid is then forcing to game.        Over West's 2D, opener should jump to 3S which obviously shows 3 card support, shortage in the fourth suit by inference (either 5431,6430 or 5-5-3-0 shape) and West is delighted, launching into 4NT Roman-key-card Blackwood intending to bid 6 if there are not two aces missing.       East bids 5C showing 0-3 key cards of the 5 (4 Aces and SK) which must be 3 Aces as partner can't have 3 Kings and no Aces as you have DK yourself .       You can now hopefully count 13 tricks - five spades,six diamonds and two Aces and thus jump to 7S which only needs a 3-2 spade break (or 4-1 if partner holds SJ) and the diamonds to come in.      You bid 7S rather than 7NT because if partner has a diamond void, you will be able to ruff once to set up the suit if 5-2.   On the actual hand you can win the club lead, cash SAJ and then test the diamonds from the top - when both opponents follow to two rounds, you draw trumps and claim the rest.   If they are 5-1 and the last trump is with the 5 diamonds you will be able to ruff the suit good, play HA, ruff a heart (high if trumps are 3-2, low if 4-1), draw trumps and cash the sixth set-up diamond.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) At teams, the game and slam bonuses tip the balance in favour of being optimistic.     
                                  (2) Always consider if you can allow for a bad break in your side-suit and delay drawing trumps.
Board 10 - 10th February 2015

Dealer East; Game All.   +680 would have been a top on today's board which just proves that at pairs you don't have to bid marginal slams that are not being bid all round the room just on power alone.     After East passes, South has a flat hand in the range for a Benji 2C opener, rebidding 2NT showing 21-22hcp.     Some would open 2D because of the exceptional controls , viz 9 with K=1 & A=2, but because of the lack of a 5 card suit and the spade honours being in a short suit - its a better hand if honours are in a long suit so that it can be developed - I think the former treatment is right.      West is too weak to mention clubs vulnerable at the 3 level, so E/W are silent throughout.      North is not quite strong enough to make a positive response of 2S, so relays with 2D over 2C.     Most North's these days use a 3S bid to show 5+S & 4H, forcing to game.     Note that with 5+H & 4S you can transfer with 3D and bid 3S over the relay to offer partner a similar choice of games between either major or 3NT.    South should cue bid 4C, the cheapest first round control to suggest a slam because of having a good fit for one of the majors if North had a better shape and at teams it is arguable that North should accept the slam try, but at pairs, the "play is the thing" and North should sign off in 4H, which South would convert to 4S with a fit for spades and not hearts.

       Both defenders will probably lead a club.     After C8 lead, won by South's Ace, declarer should firstly plan to set up the spades expecting them to be 4-2 at worst!      I think on these types of hands you start by drawing 2 rounds of trumps and then see where ruffing the long suit gets you.    Note that if you are over-ruffed at any stage you get the trick "back" by being able to make your other 3 trumps separately.      Playing this trump fit in isolation you would play HA, then HK, then finesse the H10 if West had shown out on the previous trick , but where you need ruffs in both hands the situation is different.       I would start with HAQ and the cash SAK.      When West does not ruff your second top spade you surmise that East has the other trump and you are not going to be able to set up a 5th spade as a winner, so you have to change tack.       You can now ruff a club, cash SQ throwing a loser,  ruff a spade, ruff a club high, intending to cross to DA, draw the last trump with H10, throwing a loser from dummy and lead to DK for your twelveth trick.      However, East is squeezed in three suits when dummy ruffs with the HK, having to discard from SJ, H9 & DQJ3.    If SJ is thrown, declarer's last four tricks are DA, H10(discarding a diamond), DK & S6.    If D3 is thrown, declarer's last four tricks are DA, H10(discarding a spade), DK & D10.      So I believe East has to underruff to avoid declarer making thirteen tricks!
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1)  Discuss what 3S means when partner has opened 2NT or rebid 2NT after 2C or 2D Benji.
                                 (2)  After 2NT-3S-4C/D shows the cheapest minor Ace held and a good fit for one of the majors.
                                 (3) Remember that high card points in short suits are not as useful & manoeverable as high cards in long suits.
Board 20 - Tuesday 3rd February 2015

I agree with my partner (North) 's slightly unconventional action on this week's featured deal, but a few pairs managed to get overboard - one successfully making 4S - but the others going one light!

Dealer West; Game All: West opens 1C and North has a choice of actions: Pass, 1S, 2S (if playing weak jump overcalls) or 3S(standard 7 card suit pre-empt).     Of these, I think the superior action is pass.    It is unlikely that you will want the suit led if the opposition outbid you - and it is long odds they will as West has already shown around 12hcp and you only have five!      1S would suggest a better hand in high cards, and in the long run the pre-empts of 2S and 3S stand to lose around 800 a significant number of times if partner puts down the "usual" singleton as support!.   At our table, East bid 1NT, I passed and West rebid 2C.     At this point, North bid 2S which seems strange as he did not bid on the first round, but with both East and West limited by their actions, South must have good values and usually without a five-card suit and therefore unlikely to have a singleton spade.     Over this I tried for game with an unassuming cue-bid of 3C (a bid of the opposition suit in competitive auctions asks you to bid game if you are maximum for your last bid) but naturally with the dearth of high cards held partner signed off in 3S.    This should lose two clubs and two trumps, thus making exactly for +140.
        If East had responded 1D, I would have made a natural (strong) 1NT overcall and partner would have transferred via 2H to 2S and then passed because of the apparent wasted values in the minors as bid by the opposition.      Note that you should discuss with your partner whether this bid (2H) is a transfer or to play.      However, the simplest and easiest method to remember is to play exactly the same over a 1NT overcall as over a 1NT opener, so, usually Stayman and transfers, etc.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) If partner has had a chance to overcall at the one-level, a subsequent bid at the 2-level is a long straggly suit and you should not assume it is a strong bid!
                                  (2) Unless you have passed originally, a bid of 1NT when the opposition have bid 2 suits is best used in my opinion to show a stop in each suit and around 16-18hcp.  
                                   (3) Discusswithh your partner if 2C is now Stayman or 2D/H are transfers, etc.
Board 10 - 27th January 2015

At pairs, every trick is important, which is why it was a surprise to me that only 2 pairs made the routine eleven tricks on today's deal.    It is a similar theme to last week's deal where you shouldn't get side-tracked by extra values that are not needed - in this case in diamonds.

Dealer East;Game All: With E/W silent throughout, South opens 1S and North has a raise to "2 1/2".        Most top players, nowadays, play a response of 2NT as a good raise to 3S with an immediate 3S bid being a distributional raise, not good enough in high cards to use the 2NT bid.     The theory behind this is that the immediate 2NT is "wasted" as a natural bid as you can simply respond at the 2 level and follow with 2NT on the next round of bidding to show around 11hcp.     So 3S it is - even though it is not a great hand in context - having only one control (DK) and 2 Queens and 2 Jacks (not very good assets!).    South might consider trying for a slam opposite a 2NT bid but over 3S correctly signs off in 4S.
        After H5 lead from West ( or D10 , both being perfectly reasonable ) declarer should observe that there are only two immediate club losers and possibly one trump if the SK is with West and therefore should not seek to take a discard on DK - as it is totally unnecessary.     You just need to draw trumps and force out CAK to set up the CQJ as two tricks.      To this end you put up the HQ at trick 1 (or trick 2 after a diamond lead) and run SQ.     East should duck the first two top spades and cover the third in a vain attempt to restrict declarer's entries to dummy, but after drawing four rounds of trumps, declarer merely leads to C10 (and CA), wins the heart return and leads C9 to force out the other top honour, then claiming the rest with HA, CQJ and the last trump.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Consider distinguishing a good raise to 3 from a distributional raise but using 2NT as a good raise.    I recommend this treatment in all four suits but some just use it in the majors.                      (2) If you see a simple line, don't be distracted by "surplus" honours.
Board 15 - Tuesday 20th January 2015

A tricky hand for N/S to bid and apparently to play as no declarer managed to take the eleven tricks available in clubs.

Dealer South; N/S Vul.: South has a good hand but not enough for a strong two-bid, so starts with 1C. E/W is worth a 1S overcall, just, and North has to decide between an off-centre 1NT, 2C or 3C. 1NT would be worthy of consideration if the S6 was the S10, i.e. potentially a double stop, but I would rule out this bid for this reason alone.    With two hcp in hearts potentially wasted because of the singleton, I would not crime a bid of 2C, but with the SK apparently well-positioned, I would stretch, even at this vulnerability, and jump to 3C, pre-emptively.     This should silence East who might have stretched to bid 2D ( for the lead ), but should not venture 3D, as partner would expect more in the way of defensive tricks.     South should then try and show the strength held by a bid of 3H, but North should sign off in 4C, which South can then raise to game with some optimism.
     West is likely to lead D5, trying for a third round ruff, and South should win straightaway and lead a spade to make sure the SK is a trick.    Although the heart finesse might be right, the heart honours are an illusion as declarer should be going for a cross-ruff because of all the trump honours held.    If West continues with a diamond to partner's Queen, followed by a low one, declarer ruffs high, cashes SK, HA, ruffs a heart with C4, ruffs a spade with C7, ruffs a heart with C8, ruffs a spade (high trumps only, now) and then ruffs a heart with CQ making eleven tricks with the top trumps in hand.
      Note that declarer can make eleven tricks even on a club lead by playing East for DKQxxx or KQ10x(x).    After winning CQ you lead DJ, intending to run it if not covered, so East has to cover.    You then draw the remaining trumps with CA and concede a diamond.     Dummy can ruff  two of your heart losers and you play a ruffing finesse in diamonds to dispose of the fourth losing heart.   If East fails to cover D9 you discard the heart loser otherwise it goes on the set up D8 after ruffing out the DK.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't be fooled into taking a (losing) finesse rather than cross-ruffing if you have excellent trumps.
Board 2 - 13th January 2015

A Happy New Year to both of my regular readers and to all the others who dip into this slot on occasions.      Today's hand has interest for N/S in both bidding and play, I think.

Dealer East; N/S Vul.: After East passes, South has a routine 1H opener, and North a routine 2C response after a pass by West.      With E/W silent throughout, South has a rebid problem, whether to bid 2S ( a reverse showing 15+hcp and at least 5/4 in H/S) or 3H or 2H.       Personally, I think 2H is enough despite the good loser count because of the misfit for partner's clubs and the lack of intermediates in the heart suit.      Over this North has a close decision whether to bid 2NT or 3NT - I would again choose the "sound" 2NT bid because of the misfit for hearts and South should close matters with a jump to 4H.      There is no point in bidding 3S as North would have continued with 2S instead of 2NT if four spades (and therefore longer clubs were held).

        West has a choice of leads S10 or D7(MUD, from a bad suit).      If South had bid spades, the D7 is the preferred option and East should play low on the DJ from dummy as there is nothing to be gained by "wasting" your DK.      Although it is irrelevant on this hand, you give declarer a chance of 3 diamond tricks - declarer can finesse partner's D10 if necessary.        Declarer wins SK(or DJ) in dummy and leads H9 to HQ.       If this had won, you would naturally continue with H2, hoping that East had started with HAx, but if the hearts are 3-3 another round will crash the remaining heart honours together.       On the actual hand you merely lose 3 trump tricks to chalk up +620.

         Some pairs were in 4S by South on the D7 lead.    You win with DJ and lead H9 to HQ and Ace and West belatedly leads a trump.      South should win with SK and SAJ in hand yields ten tricks.   Note that you must not play for a heart ruff early as this enables West to discard a club and thus able to overruff the second round of clubs!

 TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) It pays to underbid rather than overbid if you misfit partner's first bid suit.

                                   (2) When planning a cross-ruff, take care to not take ruffs that enable defenders to make a discard that threatens an overruff. 

Christmas 2014

Not one from Castle Morpeth, but one from 77 years ago, played in 1937, aged 15 years, by the ex-English International Tony Priday who died last October, aged 92 years.     I saw him play ( with Claude Rodrigue ) at the only Camrose ( Home nations international ) match held in Newcastle, at the Station Hotel in the early seventies.


West led the King of clubs and East overtook with CA, hoping to switch to hearts but Priday ruffed with D6 and played D7 to DA, discovering the bad news in trumps.       Now came Priday's masterplay - CJ discarding a spade ( although SAK first, then the CJ would have been better ).     Now SAK and a ruff, followed by losing DJ to DQ, and then winning the heart switch with HA in order to lead the carefully preserved D2 over to D4 to enable him to ditch HQ7 on the S95.  

          And if East had not overtaken the club at trick one, he said he would have thrown S2 and played the same way!

          A merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to both of my regular readers!


Board 15 - 9th December 2014

        Only half the field made the normal 3NT on today's deal, which was not difficult to bid or make but I think illustrates some important points of play.

        Dealer South; N/S Vulnerable: South opens 1C, West wishes the hand was over quickly and North responds 1S, following the usual practice of bidding the higher ranking suit if 5-5 ( but N.B. the lower if you are 4-4 only).       East has not got a great 2H overcall with two "windy"(i.e. unsupported by any other honour) queens but should probably with 12hcp get in the bidding in case partner has a good fit for hearts and some distribution.        South should bid 2NT only - the 2NT in this position should be equivalent to 17-18 as partner has not shown more than 6hcp with the simple 1S response.      Note that with 15-16 only you should double to show the balance of the hcp.       West has an obvious pass and North should bid a forcing 3D to express doubt that 3NT is the right game but South with better hearts than North might expect, bids the 3NT game.

        West leads H10 and East should duck the HA to hold declarer to 2 heart tricks and not give up three!        Declarer has to decide how to develop tricks and to decide when to unblock the SK and which suit to play on.        Normally it would be right to develop your best combined holding, viz diamonds but a closer look at your assets tells you that diamonds is the suit that has the cross-entries - you need DA to be able to cash SA and you need DK as entries to the club/heart winners when the Aces have been dislodged.       So it is right to lead CK at trick 2, your plan being to concede two tricks to the CA & CJ  to set up the nine or the 95 on a normal 4-3 break (or hope the CJ falls doubleton).        East wins CA and exits with the lowest spade hopefully telling partner to continue the suit when in with CJ.       Declarer wins this with SA, rejecting the possibility of the finesse which would risk the contract on a different spade distribution and then lead the last heart to set up a ninth trick.      The defence can then cash only one spade to go with two clubs and HA to hold declarer to nine tricks although a few declarers were given ten for a joint top.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) With both majors respond to partner's one of a minor with 1H with 4-4 but 1S with 5-5 (otherwise bid your 5 card suit with 5/4).

                                  (2) Consider the entry situation before deciding whether to play on your longest fit to set up additional tricks.

Board 19 - 2nd December 2014
       A difficult hand to play this week, either in 3NT or 4H.     Dealer South; E/W Vul:
       South opens a Benji 2NT or 2C-2D-2NT whichever sequence your partnership decides as showing 19-20hcp.    Now a 3D transfer, followed by 3NT over the 3H relay gives South a problem whether to play in 4H with no ruffing value in the South hand or 4H in the known 5-3 fit.    I would recommend generally bidding 4H as entries to the North hand will be few and far between and you may need late trump entries to the North hand to be able to lead towards the stronger dummy.
       West has a horrible lead problem and will probably settle on HJ as the least likely lead to cost a trick.    Declarer wins, finesses SQ, and should then leads a heart to the seven (unless East plays the nine) and cashes HA (or forces out HQ with H7).     South wins the diamond switch with DA, crosses to SA (drawing the last trump with H10 unless only the master Queen is outstanding) and crosses to the CA intending to take the marked ruffing finesse in spades - West is known to have the SK as the earlier finesse held.       
       When the SK pops up, you ruff, cross to CK and ditch a diamond on S10, eventually losing just one trump, one diamond and CJ when the club Q does not fall doubleton.
       If the bidding had gone 1S-1NT-3NT, East will likely lead H5 to the KJ2.     There is no reason not to suppose that the lead is 4th highest and this should lead you to take the right view in hearts - spade finesse, heart to the seven, and now you abandon hearts and force out the SK to set up your ninth trick (SA,CK,SJ etc).
TIP OF THE WEEK: When one hand is very strong and the other hand is weakfish you usually gain by playing in the weak hand's major rather than 3NT. 
Board 22 - 25th November 2014

A routine hand this week with some interest in the play. 

Dealer East; E/W Vulnerable.     It pays in the long run to keep 1st and 2nd openers up to strength so East should pass this good eleven count and, after a pass by South, West opens 1H.      North, even at favourable vulnerability should not overcall 1S as the suit is so poor and partner would be misled - you really don't have to bid at every opportunity! - especially at teams scoring.       East thus bids 1S and the bidding usually proceeds  1NT-3NT.  
       With partner having a similar strength to yours, North should reason that it would seem the best idea to lead DJ in the hope that partner has a long suit rather than lead a wooden fourth highest spade.       On this hand you strike gold because declarer whilst aiming to play on hearts for his extra tricks is now short of entries to his hand when DA is won, and the contract is now in danger.      North holding DKJ10(xx) is a remoter chance than Jx or a sequence headed by the Jack so you should play low from dummy and win DA, rather than duck.       Because of this attack on your entries, however, you should lead an immediate spade to the nine rather than K and another, risking South having SQ singleton.       When this wins - note that if it loses you can overtake the K to cash your spades or use SK as re-entry to your hand to cash hearts if CA is still in dummy.        The best way to attack this heart combination is to start with a heart to the nine, which gives you an extra chance of an extra trick if South has HJ10x(x).     On this occasion North wins with the 10 but you still have the chance that South has HK when you lead your second heart from dummy.          North leads a second diamond and you duck in dummy and South wins perforce with D9.     When South exits with a spade you have to overtake and hope the hearts oblige and as they do so you end up with ten tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) With AQ9xx opposite xx, consider whether the best plan is to finesse the nine first and later finesse the Queen if the King has not appeared. 
                                   (2) When you may be short of entries to cash winning long cards ( in another suit ) try to keep the entry situation fluid to both hands if possible. 
Board 14 - 18th November 2014

An interesting hand, I think, where the auction will be vastly different at several tables.

Dealer East; Love All:  East opens routinely with 1H and this should silence South who is not quite strong enough to overcall 1NT.       West and North might then pass and East should be held to 4 tricks, the three Aces and one club ruff only, provided North switches to a trump to stop East making a second low trump.      As West, however, I think you should bid 1NT which is the dustbin bid of bridge and is not necessarily balanced - you just deny the ability to bid at the 2 level in a minor or raise partner's major and show less than 4 spades (otherwise you could respond 1S, even with a longer minor).     If you get another bid, i.e. if 1NT is not passed out, you can then bid your suit (diamonds), now showing at least six and < 9hcp (otherwise you could bid 2D over 1H, and rebid them if necessary to show no interest in going higher unless partner has a better than minimum opener).     North then is not strong enough to bid 2S and East will then rebid 2D to West's amazement.     West can then invite game with 4D and East has just enough to accept with 5D.

        On the normal CK lead, East wins CA and rapidly cashes HA, throwing a losing spade and leads a second heart throwing dummy's last spade - you can then ruff spades in dummy rather than risk being overruffed in trying to ruff hearts.      North can lead a trump to stop you completely cross-ruffing the hand, ruffing one heart low and two hearts high.      However, West can win the trump cheaply and ruff three clubs and three spades, draw the last trump and cash the promoted C10 - the clubs having broken 4-3 - for twelve tricks and +420, which no-one managed on the night.

TIP OF THE WEEK: When you have a misfit for partner's opening 1 of a major and <10hcp but hold a six card minor, the best chance of playing in that minor is to start with 1NT and hope you get a another chance to bid it! 

Board 8 - 4th November 2014

An exciting competitive deal this week.        Dealer West; Love All:     West and North pass, East opens 1C.       South has a hand with good distribution but generally the wrong suits to be able to make a conventional two-suited overcall.       With this type of hand you don't expect the bidding to die at the one level so the best plan is to overcall one of your suits and bid the other on the next round of bidding if partner has not raised your first suit.       It is, however, losing policy to overcall 1D and hope to then bid spades twice to then show 6-5 shape as the level may be considerably higher when you have to make your second bid!       The opponents usually mess things up for you by competing to a higher level than you would like to bid at.       For this reason, I recommend you start with 1S rather than 1D - its much more important not to suppress a five-card major than a six card minor.       West is well worth a constructive bid of 2H showing 9+ hcp and 5+ hearts.       North should jump to 3S ( some good players would bid 4S ) pre-emptively despite the possibly useless CK under the bid because of the massive spade support and then East bids 4H, South 4S, and after 2 passes East bids 5H.       South with little defence should sacrifice with 5S - which might even make on a good day - and West with two Aces and a partner who has opened the bidding doubles, for penalties, not expecting 6H to make, although a careful declarer can prevail in this contract.

         Against 5S doubled, the best lead is open to debate but I would probably start with CA and HA and then switch to the singleton diamond  and the diamond ruff leads to +300 for an above average score. 

         A few pairs were careless and went off in 5H.     Usually North will lead SQ which East should ruff, lead a trump to H9, ruff another spade, DA, ruff a diamond, ruff a spade, cross to CA, draw trumps and concede a club to CK with West only then having the thirteenth trump and winning clubs, making twelve tricks.  If the trumps are 4-nil then you need South to have the CK.

If South is on lead and leads C2 it is important to rise with CA at trick one as you cannot afford to lose a club ruff with a singleton trump and you probably then draw trumps in 3 rounds and only make eleven tricks.        On a diamond lead ( D7 from N or DK from S ) you can play a similar dummy reversal - ruffing several times in the long trump hand and then drawing trumps later with the shorter trump holding, as follows:-  Win DA, ruff a diamond high, cross to H8, ruff a diamond high, ruff a spade, ruff a third diamond high and play CA and another club to South's King, ruff spade return, draw last trump and cash winning clubs, making twelve tricks.        

TIP OF THE WEEK: Generally with two suiters, bid a fair five card major before a six card minor and prefer to make a simple overcall to double or any other action.   

Board 16 - 28th October 2014

An interesting and tricky deal for N/S - and in fact no pair on the night found the best contract and the vast majority went minus.     Dealer West; E/W Vul.:  West has a bare minimum but with useful cards should open 1D, hoping to get the chance to rebid 1S and thereafter leave any further bidding to partner.     North also has an opener and should overcall 1H despite the lack of solidity in the suit.      East has an obvious pass and South now should bid 2D - known as an unassuming cue-bid - showing 3 card heart support and game interest.      Over this, North has a tricky bid as a rebid of 2H would show a weak overcall.      Although you have 12 hcp, the Qx in the opponents suit would usually be a worthless holding ,so, at the table I bid only 3H, thinking that it would show lukewarm game interest.        On reflection, a bid of 3C would have been a better idea - showing a feature in clubs and constructive.       Over this, I think South should now bid 3NT to play despite the known 5-3 heart fit, as the diamond holding is much better to be led up to than led through, particularly as in hearts the Ace must be played as the opening lead could be a singleton.

         Against 3NT, West has no stand-out lead and probable tries the D6 to North's DQ.       South then leads a heart to the Jack - there are too many entry problems to guard against a singleton HQ with West - and now leads DJ to set up a third diamond winner.       This switching tack from setting up the hearts is absolutely necessary as the route to nine tricks depends on using HK as the entry to cash this diamond winner.       If West passively continues diamonds you have to delay - again - playing on hearts until you set up two club winners running for home (nine tricks) if the second club is ducked.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) After an unassuming cue-bid a new suit shows a feature in that suit and a non-minimum overcall as the cue-bid promises a fit for any overcalled major suit.

                                  (2) Over an overcalled minor, the unassuming cue-bid again shows game interest but not necessarily a fit and asks partner to bid any unbid four-card major or NT with a stop in the opponents suit.

                                  (3) Remember when setting up tricks in  3NT you need to be able to get at them so you often may have to delay playing on your primary suit fit.     

Board 10 - 21st October 2014

An interesting hand - well I think so anyway! - concerning both bidding and defence this week.

Dealer East; Game All.    Even if your system enables you to open weak two-suiters, the East hand is not worth a bid - having a very poor major and a (normally) useless singleton King, and you should always pass.     Many South's will open 1C but I would pass, rather than having to rebid the anaemic club suit over a 1S response, even though the singleton SQ may then have some value.     West also has a (normally) useless singleton CQ but should open 1S despite the hand's overall shortcomings as you have an easy rebid of 2H after a simple response and you definitely want a spade led.     North's diamond suit is too threadbare to consider a vulnerable overcall and it just remains for East  to decide how many spades to respond.    My vote is for 3S although a few on the night obviously bid a two way 4S hoping either that it would make or alternatively the opposition could score better in 4H or 5D.

         If South cannot resist opening 1C, the bidding should continue 1S overcall, Double ( Negative or Sputnik) and a pre-emptive raise to 3S should then end the auction.    Note that an unassuming cue-bid 2C instead of 3S would show a stronger hand with spade support (3 or more cards), so West should not be tempted to bid 4S.

         Any defender that does not lead a trump will find declarer probably making ten tricks as declarer can ruff hearts low in dummy and one club low and the rest high after SQ drops on SA - declarer should take one round of trumps only after preparing for the cross-ruff by losing two diamonds and one heart.   The defence should really anticipate this cross ruff and - say on a H6 lead - should lead SQ at trick 2.     Declarer then leads CQ to K and A, and leads D10 and South should cover with DK and lead another to the nine and Jack but a further spade from North now holds declarer to nine tricks.

TIP OF THE WEEK (1) Consider the quality of your suit when opening marginal hands. Only open the bidding if you want partner to lead from, say Kx or Ax or Qx.

                                 (2) When the opposition are expected to have a nine card fit, and the side-suits seem to be breaking unevenly, a trump is the recommended lead unless you are giving up a likely trump trick.  

Board 23 - 14th October 2014

Grand slams are rarely bid at Pairs but once in a while a hand crops up which urges you to aim for the summit!     On today's deal you would have achieved a top for bidding the small slam in clubs.

Dealer South; Game All:   South opens a routine 1C and West is not strong enough even for a weak jump overcall in spades and should pass.    North without a primary fit for clubs or a good enough suit should start with 1H, East passes and South should not consider anything other than a minimum rebid of 2C because of the misfit for partner's heart suit.    North now needs further information about partner's hand before deciding to play in hearts, clubs or no-trumps.    The best way to do this is bid 2S, because it is a responder's reverse - this means opener needs to go up to the next level to give simple preference back to the first suit bid by responder -  and therefore a forcing bid.    There is little danger in partner raising spades as opener has by-passed the chance of rebidding 1S in bidding 2C.     Opener is now required to make the best description of all assets held.     Either (a) 3NT to show the top end of the minimum opener already shown - plus a stop in the 4th suit or (b) a rebid of 3C to show six clubs, if you do not think the diamond holding is up to scratch, is acceptable.      I would probably opt for 3NT.      Over this bid, unless you play it differently with partner 4NT is not now Ace-asking as all raises of NT to 4NT without any suit fit having been agreed are a quantitative slam try, i.e either pass with a poor hand in context or punt 6NT if you think your hand is suitable.      So you must now show secondary support for clubs by bidding 4C.     This must be forcing - why would you take out a game contract into a part-score at a higher level?      With a bad hand South could sign off in 4H with a doubleton heart or 5C otherwise, but on the actual hand held is happy to bid 4S to show where the outside strength lies and North can then check on Aces with 4NT RKCB.      The 5S response now shows the CAKQ and North thinks that the slam should be a good bet assuming the heart suit can be set up for discards and bids the reasonable 7C.
        West probably leads DJ as the safest looking lead and declarer has two good lines, either 
(a) Win DA, spade to King, ruff a diamond, cross to CQ, ruff a diamond, SA, ruff a spade, draw trumps and cash HAK, discarding your fourth diamond.
(b) Win DA, HA, ruff a heart, cash CAK, ruff a diamond, ruff a heart, draw the last trump with CQ and cross to SA to discard DQ5 on HK8.
         I prefer line (b).
TIP OF THE WEEK:  When you have a good long major suit of your own that has no solidity, consider playing in partner's minor at the slam level if you think you have enough entries to set it up, draw trumps and then get back to cash the low card winners.
Board 14 - 30th September 2014

      Dealer East; Love All:        A wide range of auctions are possible on today's hand.     Personally, I would pass the East hand as it is not quite an opener according to my valuation ( being a 7 1/2 loser only ) and then it is South who opens 1S.     West has the other major and despite the void should make a take-out double and North is not strong enough to take action.      East should consider passing for penalties but it is very hard to extract a big penalty at the one level and I think East should choose between 2NT and 3NT.      I would have a bash at 3NT with the East hand, holding the maximum that partner could expect in hcp.( 11 plus a ten ).    

      South will normally lead S3 and East then just knocks out CA to set up 3 club winners to go with five diamonds and one heart and one spade for +430.     The contract is more difficult if East opens 1S and the bidding then proceeds 1S-2D-2S-3NT when North will lead H4 to South's Q.    The rule of eleven dictates that if North has left fourth best there are 11-4 = 7 cards in the East, South and West hands (combined) that can beat the H4 lead and you observe that E/W hold six of them (4 in hand and two in dummy).     This places North with HKJ94 and possibly the 2 and 3 as well.     If you take HA the H10 is a second stop if and only if South cannot get the lead but if North has both the missing Aces an overcall of 2H would have been likely.     This reasoning should lead you to hope that South has both the missing Aces and so you should duck the heart lead and continuation ( in case the hearts are 4-3 after all ) to exhaust South of hearts when he gains the lead with CA.    In this way you make three clubs, one heart and five diamonds for +400.   

      TIP OF THE WEEK:(1) Use the rule of eleven to place the opposing cards in the suit led.

                                       (2) If your opponents are non-vul it is very difficult to get a good score by allowing your opponents to play doubled at the one-level.   If the opponents are vulnerable, however, one off doubled on a part-score deal is usually a near top, and you may do better and beat your game score if your opponents go more off. 

Board 1 - 23rd September 2014

        As previously observed, hands of 10-14hcp with a five card major and a six card minor should invariably be opened with one of the major, rather than one of your longest suit.     You intend to rebid 2 of your minor given the chance but if partner inconveniently responds in a higher ranking suit than your minor you must rebid 2 of your major rather than 3 of your minor as this should promise at least 15hcp, in this case known as a "high-level reverse".    In the long run, it pays to suppress a six card minor rather than a five card major because the scoring system favours the major suits. 

        Dealer North; Love All.    I decided that today's North  hand was an exception to the above rule.      I intended to bid out my shape by opening 1D and would have bid hearts twice to show the 6-5 shape.      If the bidding had proceeded, say, 1D-1S-2H-3NT, I would have bid 4H.      With East-West silent, after 1D-1S-2H, my partner bid an intelligent 3C fourth-suit forcing rather than the lazy 3NT bid .     The 3C then allowed the partnership to explore whether a spade or a heart contract might be better than 3NT.     I of course rebid 3H to show 6-5 in the reds.       Now, with only one possible black suit loser and knowing that my hcp should be concentrated in the red suits, partner could visualise a slam.      4NT RKCB elicited a 5S reply and partner then knew that a grand slam was not possible and signed off in six hearts.

        There was nothing much to the play but, after a club lead to the QA and CJ returned to CK, good technique suggests that you should cash HA, DA and play a heart to the Jack.   When the trumps are 3-2 you lead a diamond to the King and when both opponents follow, you ruff a diamond with HK, ruff a spade back to hand, draw the last trump with HQ and run your red suit winners.     If the trumps were 4-1, you would cash HK, and rely on the diamond finesse and 3-2 break, drawing the last trump after winning the second diamond in hand.     The reason for the odd-looking play of DA is merely to save an undertrick if West has four diamonds - if East ruffs the second diamond led from the table, you don't waste your DK and it will make a trick later!

TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) If you decide to overbid with a two-suiter make sure that all your hcp are within your two suits.  You are likely to be forced early on and need to have trump control which means your suits have to be relatively solid.

                                  (2) Think through the order of play before committing yourself to one line or another.

Board 10 - 16th September 2014

One of the best conventions that has been invented in the last decade is 5 card Major Stayman ( also known as Puppet Stayman).which finds your major suit fit after an opening 2NT.     It can also be used after all 2C/D - 2 relay - 2NT sequences.      It enables you to open 2NT with a four or five card major to show the point count but not miss a 5-3 or 4-4 fit unless partner is too weak to bid over 2NT.    There are variations of course, but I recommend one of the simplest forms - which is what I play with all my partners.    The responses to the 3C enquiry are 3H or 3S with a five card major, 3NT with less than 4 hearts and less than 4 spades, and 3D(alerted) with at least one four card major.     Then partner with four spades only bids 3H (alerted) and with four hearts only bids 3S(alerted) to enable the strong hand to play the contract and have the lead coming up to strength rather than through it!  I suggest also that with both 4 card majors you bid 4D to again allow the strong hand to be declarer.

         Dealer East; Game All: With E/W passing throughout, N/S under this scheme bid 2NT-3C-3D-4D-4H, South preferring the stronger 4 card major as trumps so that you can draw trumps quicker and minimise the risk of opposing ruffs.
         West leads DJ which is won by DA and South cashes HAQ to confirm a 3-2 break.    Note that this is the usual way to play the  hearts in case West has HJxxx      However, If West were to play H9 on the first trump then you would switch tack and play a heart to the King next as East might then have J654 which you could still pick up for no loser as the finesse against the Jack is then marked by West showing out on the HK.    When trumps behave, you draw a third round with HK and lead a diamond to the King and lead a club to the Queen, and one back to the 10 and Ace, setting up a discard for dummy's fourth spade in case the spades are not 3-2.  In this way, you make twelve tricks by way of 3 spades, 3 rounds of trumps, 2 top diamonds, 2 clubs and a diamond ruff and a spade ruff.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Decide with your partner if you play Puppet Stayman ( and its extensions to enable the strong hand to be declarer).
                                  (2) When you have the top trumps, decide how to play to allow for a 4-1 break, which after all is a significant 28% of the time.
Board 9 - 2nd September 2014

Dealer North; E/W Vul.  A few odd and unexplained results on this board which seems routine to me!.     North has not quite got the values for an opening bid and should pass - If you open 1C thinking you have an easy rebid of 1S you invariably find partner bidding a hopeless 2 or 3NT with no fit in either of your suits.    East then has an obvious 1H opener.   South has a bad hand and a bad suit and should also pass and West makes the natural response of 2C to show 9+hcp and a club suit.    This is much better than the 1NT response at our table as you have secondary support for partner and a ruffing value; 1NT should be a negative bid not a positive one.     This bid then dissuades North from competing and East with 16hcp should bid 2NT to show the extra values compared to a normal opener, despite the short stop only in the unbid major which the defence often attack.      Fortunately partner now bids a forcing 3H to show 3 card heart support and offer a choice of games to opener and East is very happy to retreat from NT into the 4H game.

       South will lead the C5 singleton but that is the end to the defence as North has no entry for a possible second club ruff (from South's point of view).     East's two small diamonds however can then disappear on dummy's clubs when the hearts lie well for declarer.    East has no option but to win the spade switch with SK and finesse HQ hoping that North has HKx and therefore a third round of trumps can be won by HJ to be used as entry back to dummy's winning clubs.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Avoid opening weak hands with 10hcp 1st or 2nd in hand - when partner is unlimited - unless you have a seven loser hand with at least 3 controls and either a six card suit or 2 5 card suits.
                               (2) When the defence starts well - from their point of view - don't give up.   Ask yourself if there is any reasonable lie of the cards when you will prevail.
Board 14 - 26th August 2014

        A difficult hand to judge in the bidding as well as to defend or play as declarer.     Only two tables made the likely 4H game which optimum defence beats by one trick!

        Dealer East; Love All:      East opens 1D which silences South and West responds 1H.     North has nothing to say and East rebids 1NT.       If the rebid is limited to 15-16 then 3H is forcing with only 5H's - offering a choice of games ( 3NT or 4H) - so playing simple system  I would take the bull by the horns and bid 4H.with the West hand.     North leads DQ and the best defence by South is to play low and expect partner to switch to a club - normally the C3 to show an honour.       Although this gives declarer a chance to ditch the second diamond loser on a third top spade, the defence should then make two clubs a diamond and a trump for one off.       I think, though, that most of us would - expecting the diamond Queen to be a singleton - overtake with DK, Cash DA and lead a low one, hoping to promote partner's 10xx(x) into a trick or two.     However, if partner has 10xxx then this will be a natural trump trick anyway and you need a further trick to beat the contract which can only come from clubs!         Look what should happen on the third diamond - declarer has nothing to gain by ruffing high nor low and should throw a club.       This is because you must lose at least one club anyway as only one can be discarded on dummy's spades.       Throwing a club is called a loser-on-loser play which can gain dramatically as in this case.        North ruffs in and leads a club but declarer can win CA, draw trumps and cash SKQA throwing the last club and make ten tricks.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) If you think you have defence to a major game try and work out where the four defensive tricks are coming from rather than do the obvious.

                        (2) If you are bound to lose a side-suit loser consider whether it is best to discard it rather than risk an overruff or ( if ruffing high ) setting up a lower honour.

Board 14 - 19th August 2014

Dealer East; Love All: A tricky 3NT for E/W this week and I'm glad I was North!     East opens a weak 1NT and South has a hand where you would like to be playing the astro convention to show a two suited overcall.       If not, as at our table you elect to pass because the spade suit is so poor, and the bidding proceeds 2C(Stayman) - 2D(no majors)-2NT-3NT.      All routes should lead to 3NT and South's standard lead is the DJ.       Some play you lead D10 from this combination, so that if you lead the Jack, partner will then know that you don't have a higher card and consequently does not "waste" the King from Kx in the hope that you have AJ10.     This has its merits but may be too complicated for some players.        Declarer is not thrilled by the sight of DJ as if North has DA you will probably go off unless the clubs are 3-3 which is against the odds.       So it is probably right to be hopeful and assume that the lead is from AJ10 and play DQ at trick one.      If you duck, you cut your diamond tricks down to one if the defence abandon attacking the suit.      The best play now is a heart to HJ.     If South can win then probably the CA is with North or South would have bid over East's 1NT.     There is no point South ducking as declarer then plays on clubs and eventually makes 2 clubs,2 diamonds, 2 hearts and 3 spades to make the game.      If South wins and clears the diamonds, declarer can test the clubs and then play HA8 to set up D5 in dummy as the ninth trick.

TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) Decide if you want to lead the 10 from AJ10  or KJ10 so that the lead of the Jack denies the A or K and the 9 from A109,K109 or Q109 so that that lead of the 10 denies the A.K or Q.         

                                     (2) Try and place the opponents cards and if in an unpromising contract work on the theory that one particular high card may be with the "right" defender.

Board 6 - 12th August 2014

A hand for the defence this week as 13 E/Ws failed to crack the routine 3NT by North.     So what went wrong with all the E/Ws?       North opens 2NT or 2C/2D/2NT whichever method you use to show a balanced 20hcp hand.      South utilises Stayman in some form or another to ascertain that North has no 4 card major and raises to 3NT, against which East leads S4 to West's Jack and North's King.     Although it should not fool East into thinking that West might have SQ, North has nothing to lose by winning with the King rather than the Queen as with KJ, West would naturally play the King first rather than the Jack as partner might have the Ace and you would not want declarer to win a trick with Qxx.     To maximise chances to make 3NT ( against competent defence that, admittedly, was not found at most tables ) declarer should cross to CJ and lead D2 to the DJ, intending to overtake CQ with CK to then lead D10.  This sequence of plays guards against and guaratees four tricks if West holds singleton DK.      However, East wins DK - perhaps after ducking the first diamond (as it cannot cost) and then should lead a heart in the hope that partner can win and lead a second spade through declarer's holding, rather than trying to cash spades.     This would only work if declarer has SKQ doubleton - which is impossible if you have worked out that North cannot hold 5 clubs or diamonds  - and just presents declarer with the contract.       Declarer should realise that West must have HK - otherwise East would have exited passively in clubs - and should rise with the HA in the vain hope that West's HK was singleton.       Declarer should then cash out for eight tricks and to settle for one down.       With the spades 5-3 this saves a trick as you would then lose four spades and two red kings for two off!

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) It is generally best for declarer to play the highest of touching honours to leave some doubt to the opening leader as to the location - declarer or partner - of the card immediately below declarer's card. 
                                    (2) Don't assume partner might have a good holding in your led suit - it rarely happens!    
                                    (3) Remember what distributions declarer has denied in the bidding and try and picture the shape held to help you plan the defence.
Board 17 - 5th August 2014

Dealer North; Love All: The vast majority of E/Ws went off in the 4S game on today's hand.     After a pass by North, East should open 1S.   I think opening 1NT is very wrong on this kind of 12-14hcp.     You have plenty of Aces and Kings which are good for suit contracts and some solidity given by S1098.    Spades are what you want led and, being the boss suit ( highest ranking), it should be introduced as soon as possible.        South passes, West bids 2H, showing at least 5 cards, and East without 3 card heart support rebids 2S to show less than 15hcp.    West has more than enough to invite game with 3S and East is at the top end of 12-14 and so raises to game.

          Against 4S South leads CK and North encourages with the Jack, promising either a singleton or the CJ10.     East should win straightaway, as there is no need to duck to try and exhaust one defender of the suit, and cash SK, lead S10 to SA hoping for a 3-2 break and, leaving SQ outstanding, play HQKA ditching a club.    On a good day you may be able to ditch both clubs before a defender can ruff in with SQ, but in this case, North ruffs the third heart and cashes a club.    But the defence can now only take DK with DA, the D4 being ruffed in dummy so ten tricks should have been notched up everywhere!      Although not necessary in this case, note the technique of keeping a low trump in hand to lead to dummy's seven.     This is necessary if SQJ drop doubleton as you can then ruff a third heart (high) to set up the suit if 4-2 and then cross to S7  drawing the outstanding trump and then take a discard on the fifth good heart.

TIP OF THE WEEK: If you need trumps 3-2 to make the contract it is often right to cash AK and leave the opposition's boss trump outstanding if you can run a suit discarding immediate losers.

Board 8 - 22nd July 2014
Dealer West; Love All: A few N/S pairs were reticent to bid game on today's hand, but when you've got the 25+points usually necessary it pays in the long run to just punt the most likely game.     West opens a weak 1NT - I don't like opening 1NT on a bare 12hcp vulnerable with two suits wide open, but here you are non-vulnerable, so even if you go two down for -100 you will probably outscore your opponents who can usually make +110.    North with 15hcp and a good lead - CA to have a look at dummy before deciding whether to switch to a diamond - makes a penalty double - not alerted as all doubles of 1NT are assumed to be for penalties.    East cannot stand this and must rescue.    Although some people play a pass as forcing partner to redouble, I would recommend instead either (a) Redouble shows a five card or longer suit and requests partner to bid 2C which you pass or correct to your suit. A bid instead shows the lower of two suits which may be only 4-4 (b) Redouble is transfer to clubs and 2C/D/H are transfers to 2D/H/S. If you take out 2C to 2H you don't then have clubs after all but hearts and spades.     If the opposition conveniently double the 2C, then 2D shows the red suits and redouble shows diamonds and spades otherwise 2D shows diamonds and a major.     I play (a) with most partners and would thus bid 2H, but you can opt for what you like - preferably the same scheme as partner is playing!      Over 2H, as South, I would just take the bull by the horns and bid 3NT - partner should know that your stop in hearts is shortish as you would double for penalties with length and will usually expect to be able to run nine tricks quickly.
       West should lead SA rather than HK.    The great USA player Bob Hamman was famous for saying if you have an AK in your hand, you haven't got a lead problem!      The reason for this is that you expect to hold the lead and can then probably decide from looking at dummy's assets how the defence should proceed.     East should reason that declarer has Jxxx for the bid of 3NT as partner would not lead SA without AK and that if declarer's holding is as good as J8xx then the suit is stopped anyway.     Thus, the card that East should play is S10 rather than a wishy-washy S6 which might confuse partner.     West thus continues with S5 to SQ, and a further spade from East allows West to make two tricks with A8 over J7.        Declarer is held to nine tricks only rather than the ten top tricks (when CJ falls) on a heart lead.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Discuss with partner your escape measures from 1NT doubled.     
Board 5 15th July 2014
An awkward hand for E/W to bid this week.    Dealer N; N/S Vulnerable.     North passes and East opens 1D which silences South, so West responds 1H.        It is important in the pairs game to explore for major suit fits and it pays in the long run to play in an eight card major fit rather than 3NT.       This is because generally you have the control as declarer to test all of your options and also the fact that, say, +620 is better than +600.    If North passes then the bidding should continue 2NT-3H ( Yes despite the poor suit - you still want to find the 5-3 fit)-4H.   N.B. with such poor shape it is better to sign off in 4H rather than make a cue-bid of 4D to show interest in a slam if partner is strong.    However, North is likely to intervene with 2C or possibly 3C.    All East can do now is double to show a better than minimum hand, not being strong enough to force to game with a cue-bid of the opponents suit, viz 3C.      As partner would have reversed with a bid of 2S there should not be a 4-4 spade fit, so it is a toss-up whether to make the underbid of 2H or the overbid of 3H showing at least 5 hearts.     East has good hearts and a little extra and so may invite with 3H which West raises to game holding a better hand than already shown.
         North will start with CK and East swiftly cashes HAK and DAK, throwing a club loser, and follows with SQ covered by SK&SA. Now  S4 to SJ, S7 to S10 and S5 ruffed with H6.    Note the technique of leaving the master trump outstanding - if one of your spade winners is ruffed you still have a small trump in dummy to ruff your fourth round loser.    In this way you make eleven tricks for a clear top on the night!
TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't be afraid to bid or rebid weak suits if the rest of your hand is strong.     However it is better not to overcall weak suits as partner tends to make a disastrous lead from a doubleton honour.

Board 2 8th July 2014
Dealer East; N/S Vul.:  More than half of the E/W pairs - not surprisingly -  found this hand difficult.   East opens 1D, South has no reason to bid, West responds 1H and North is much too weak to venture 2C, vulnerable, and should pass.      East has an above minimum opener but cannot rebid 1NT because of the singleton in an unbid suit (clubs).     A jump rebid in this sequence is known as a jump shift, and should contain game values opposite a minimum 6+ response, so traditionally should contain at least 19hcp.      You thus, perforce, bid only 1S.      West then is just short of a natural 3S bid, but with a fair bit more than the 6 hcp promised so far, raises to 2S in case partner has this type of hand. East is happy to bid the 4S game.
  •            South has an easy lead of CAK which declarer ruffs and tests the trumps by playing SAK.        If the trumps had broken 3-2, you could then just draw a third round and duck a diamond in both hands, hoping that this suit also breaks 3-2, setting up the fourth and fifth diamond as winners.      You play on diamonds rather than hearts as it is more likely that the diamonds break normally than the hearts are 3-3 or South has Kx.     The reason for ducking the first round is that you need the DA as a late entry to hand to run the rest of the suit.     Also, there is no way to dispose of the third round diamond loser anyway.      However, when trumps are 4-1 , North having discarded a club on SK, you are in danger of losing trump control, despite having all the top four trumps.     When North wins the D10 and, say, continues with a diamond  -  a heart would give declarer a free second heart trick - you win DK and lead HJ to set up your tenth trick if the defence has not forced you with a third club.     North may, annoyingly, persist by leading a third round of clubs - this is often bad play - giving declarer the chance to ruff in one hand and discard a loser in the other - but in this case it may promote partner's four small trumps into a possible trick.      However, declarer should ruff the club with SQ in hand and cross to DK to draw trumps with SJ8, and run the diamonds, and take the heart finesse at trick 12 for an overtrick if and only if all 13 clubs have been played to tricks 1-11.  You should not finesse the HJ if North could have a club and the singleton HK.     
  • TIP OF THE WEEK:  Don't give up when there is a bad trump break - there may be a way home! 

Board 3 - 1st July 2014
An interesting deal for bidding , declarer play and defence this week.
Dealer South; E/W Vulnerable.     South has a good hand but nowhere near a Benji 2C opener and opens 1H.    West hopes Board 4 will appear on the table sooner rather than later and passes and North although fearful of the outcome has to bid 1NT - without the strength to bid a minor at the two level.     East at our table bid 2S, which should have resulted in a massive penalty but I suppose I would risk it too!     My partner bid 3NT,  not really knowing if there were any defensive tricks in the 1NT bid, which could even have a void spade.      This is a grey area for even an experienced partnership - double might be interpreted as just extra strength, and mainly for take-out.
      When East leads a spade - then 10 is the usual lead in case the Jack is in dummy and partner has Qx or Kx, South should probably win the SK rather than finesse, in case East has bid on six spades to the 10 and West has SQ singleton.     Now a heart to the 10, which East may well duck, then a diamond to the King, followed by the HK, throwing a club.     East should appreciate that declarer has entry problems to the North hand, and should not make it easy by taking Aces on the first round.    If you take your 3 Aces straightaway declarer has plenty of tricks, viz 3 spades(by finessing SJ), four hearts, 4 diamonds and maybe a club.     So East's aim should be to try and take a fourth trick, which can only come in spades, as a count of the hcp shows that West cannot have a single picture if North has the expected 6-7hcp for the 1NT bid.     Note that declarer needs to play the DK and not the DJ from dummy, as otherwise East can duck DK and stop North from forcing an entry back to hand.      If the DK is out of the way, North can then later force an entry to hand by leading a low diamond to the 10, intending to overtake DJ with DQ later if the 10 forces the Ace.   Best defence at trick 4 is therefore for East to take the HA and now lead a low diamond! - otherwise declarer can lead a club to set up a tenth trick while holding a certain diamond entry with Q or 10 (When in hand with this diamond entry, you could then have cashed the CK and finesse in spades if necessary to make ten tricks!).     After the low diamond switch, however, North can only win D10, finesse in spades and cash dummy's heart winners, but East can throw CJ and S4 and eventually win CA & DA and lead a third spade to set up S5 to hold declarer to nine tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Discuss whether 1x-(no)-1NT-(2y)-Double is pure penalties, or for take-out - note partner has fewer than four cards in the suit if unable to respond in this suit rather than bid 1NT.
                                (2) Ducking in defence is a useful idea - to give declarer entry problems.      

Board 9 24th June 2014
Dealer N; E/W Vul.  North opens a routine weak 2H and East has a nice shape but not sufficient strength to take action, vulnerable, and should pass. South makes a 2NT enquiry and normally North bids 3S to say "I have a good suit (two of the top 3 honours easily qualifies for that statement) and am in the the top half of the 5-10hcp range".    South can then count on six hearts and two Ace-Kings and a number of hands will produce twelve tricks because North must have 2-4hcp outside the trump suit.     If these are a minor suit queen or North has xxx in spades you must have excellent chances of making the slam and should now bid 6H without further ado. Congratulations to the one pair who foresaw the potential of their two hands.     Note that if East had overcalled 2S, 2NT should still be the normal enquiry and not invitational to 3NT as it is long odds that a heart contract will still be best even facing a singleton as you generally need entries to the weaker hand to take full advantage of your combined high cards.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1)When you have a ten card fit you don't need 32hcp to make a slam viable (2) 2H-2S-2NT is still the Enquiry about the strength of the weak two opener.
Board 24 - 17th June 2014

If you are keen to improve your declarer play you should realize that there are situations where you need to play your high cards in a certain order, or unblock higher honours to allow the free running of a suit.    A simple example is when you have Axx opposite KQ10xx where it may be necessary to play the King followed by the Ace to pick up Jxxx in the hand under the KQ10xx - a not insignificant 11% extra chance.    If you cash the Ace first, and the last hand shows out when you lead the King, you may not have a convenient entry back to hand to take the marked finesse against the Jack.    

       Dealer West; Love All: The bidding at our table was No-No-1S-No-2NT-No 3NT.  I led D4, and declarer put up the DQ, partner contributing the Jack to promise the 10, so that I could continue with DK if on lead later.     Now, when SAK was cashed, and South discarded on the second round, it was clear that North had SJ5 left.    Although declarer can recover from the blocking S10 by overtaking the CQ with CK to lead S10, cross back to CA to run the spades and then cross to DA to cash CJ, there would have been a real problem if the CJ had not been held.     The solution is really simple. Throw S109 on SAK, and you can then lead S7 to S8 to finesse against SJ. You can see from this example that when you have a sequence of 7 8 9 10 it does not matter if you play the higher ones first, and it may assist in running the suit.  Incidentally, most tournament players these days play a 2NT response as showing a strong raise in the major - mostly to the 3 level in the UK, but game forcing in the USA - to facilitate more accuracy in game & slam bidding - with the jump raise to 3 of the major as distributional and weaker in high cards. This means you have to respond 2C with the West hand, as 2H is best played as showing 5 hearts. If partner raises in clubs you just convert back to the major at the level your hand warrants.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Generally, if in defence you unexpectedly play an honour, you either have a singleton,  or a sequence of cards below the honour played, as with the DJ10 here.

                               (2) As declarer, look out for situations where you have to unblock your highest card in one hand to allow the smooth running of a suit in the opposite hand.   

Board 23 - 10th June 2014

A situation not usually discussed at all this week - Doubles after a Weak 1NT  by the opposition.      Dealer South; Game All.   After two passes North opens 1NT and East doubles, showing normally 15+hcp (and a suit worth leading) or even more hcp or otherwise seven or more solid tricks.   You only alert this double if you exceptionally play this double as take-out - all doubles of 1NT are assumed to be penalty-oriented as are doubles of conventional bids with all doubles of natural suit bids being assumed to be for take-out so you only alert them if you think partner is making a penalty double. South is too weak to stand 1NT doubled so usually redoubles for partner to bid 2C if the next hand passes.    A bid of say 2D by West now can be played as weak saying to partner that you don't think you can beat a 2-level opposition contract .     However, you need yourself and partner to be on the same wavelength - does a bid promise values or not?     I would pass as West and when partner doubles the forced 2C rebid by opener I would take my chances and pass and hope for a decent plus score.     Note that East's double does not need to be alerted as the 2C bid was artificial and not showing clubs.     Although East is the minimum 15-16hcp for the original double, with three Aces and two trump tricks likely, it does not take much from partner to obtain the magical +200 or +500 on a part-score deal, so a double is right.     Again, you need to discuss with partner whether doubles are always for penalties.     That is the traditional style - all doubles are for penalty - by both East and West.     If the opponents run from 1NT partner is expected to have a few values.   With an awkward lead East is likely to start with HA to have a look at dummy.     When dummy turns up with a singleton the general style of defence is to play a low card if you want a switch to the lower of the two suits apart from trumps and a high one if you want a switch to the higher ranking suit - with a middle card saying no preference or continue with the same suit.     So West plays H3 and South plays DAJ.     Declarer should withhold the DQ as covering allows the defence to take 3 diamon tricks and hope West has a doubleton.   The best switch is now a low spade which should set up 2 spade tricks for the defence and +500 or +800.    If E/W manage to find their heart fit they have to play very carefully to make nine or ten tricks.   When South plays H10 you should be fore-warned as the odds of South holding Q10 or J10 alone are very small and 4-1 breaks are a significant 28%.  You thus need to ensure that you don't lose the lead at the time when the defence might have 2 trump winners to cash and thus draw all your remaining trumps.  So the plan is to make sure you lose your immediate losers in the side-suits before cashing top top trumps, i.e. lead a club from dummy early on.

TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) Only double 1NT with a minimum 15hcp if you have a fair suit to lead

                                    (2) Decide after partner has doubled 1NT which bids show values or weakness  (and a long suit) and what a jump bid means (Invitational or Forcing?)

Board 23 - 3rd June 2014

A routine hand to bid but a bit awkward to play this week.   Dealer South; Game All.

South opens 1NT and West should pass rather than overcall a natural 2D as the diamond suit lacks any solidity.      North has game values but should start with a 2D transfer bid rather than Stayman so that both majors can be shown.      After South completes the transfer with 2H, North bids 2S forcing for one round and South bids 3S to show a minimum 1NT.      True it is in the middle of the 12-14 range but you should be wary of the lack of any Aces and also the DKQJ are not pulling their full weight - being in a short suit, i.e. KQJx(x) is a much better holding than KQJ alone.   I tend to mentally deduct a hcp for holdings such as KQ, KJ, AK etc.     If North had had 11 hcp only then pass would be prudent but confidently raises to 4S with this hand. East will lead D10 as the safest option and West plays Ace and another hoping East is short, but declarer plays a third round, throwing a club, crosses to HA and leads the remaining club, trying the Jack when East plays the C8, forcing the Ace and West exits with a heart to North's King.     Now is the time to play trumps.    After the diamond lead you place West with a holding of 5 diamonds, so East is favourite to hold the longer trumps.      Your plan initially should be to cash two top spades and cross ruff, allowing the defence to overruff when they like. But when the SJ appears on the first round, it looks as though East might have four trumps. If so, you are right to risk ruffing a heart first, hoping that if West overruffs it is not fatal.     When West throws a club you know you are OK, so you ruff a club and lead another heart knowing that you cannot be overruffed.      East ruffs this but you can overruff and still make SAK.     East makes a trump in the end but you still garner ten tricks.  Note that if West did overcall 2D, you need to have an agreement with partner to replace 2C Stayman.    A simple way is to use the Cue-bid of 3D as a game force with at least one four card major, and the partnership should bid them upwards until a fit is found, and if not try 3NT and hope one of the partnership has a stop.     There are other complicated ways, e.g. Lebensohl, but even the experts often have bidding misunderstandings because of all the ramifications!   

TIP OF THE WEEK : (1) With 5H and 4S and 11+hcp start with a 2D transfer bid. 

                                     (2) Discuss with partner how you cope with a natural 2 level overcall.

Board 17 - 27th May 2014

A difficult hand for N/S to bid this week.  Dealer North; Love All.     North has a routine 1C opener, East has an obvious take-out double, South responds 1H and West passes.     North has to decide whether to rebid in clubs or show the moth-eaten spade suit.     Because rebidding 2C can be on a very weak opener I prefer 1S as it is the more constructive bid and you have a good hand even though it is in the minimum 12-14hcp range.    At least partner now has some idea of your shape even though you would prefer better spades.     You have the losers and controls and the six card suit required to bid 3C but I think it is a bad idea in the long run to suggest you have 15-17 hcp. Opposite this hand, partner will need Aces and Kings to make nine tricks, but will in fact have a shot at 3NT on a good 8-9hcp and all round stops.       East passes, and South, without any holding in the fourth suit and not strong enough to bid 2D - fourth suit forcing for one round - should now just bid a quiet 2C rather than the overbid of 3C, as it is evident partner is short in hearts.     North, however, can now make a natural game try of 3C and South with a very suitable maximum can now bid 3D to ask for a diamond stop and North bids 3NT hoping and trusting partner to have the right hand.

East will cash a couple of top spades and switch to a heart, which will in practice stop North making an overtrick.    Double dummy, i.e. being able to look at all four hands, declarer can lead SJ to set up S8 before running the clubs but otherwise you settle for the six clubs and 3 heart tricks for +400 for N/S.

TIP OF THE WEEK: When bidding, try and give a good picture of your hand and hope partner can then make an intelligent decision. 

Board 9 - 20th May 2014

Dealer N; E/W Vul.:  I thought we were on to a good board when our opponents stopped in a part-score in spades with a massive heart fit but we only managed thirty-odd percent as many East-West's went minus - probably in a slam doomed by the bad trump break!  

        As dealer, North does not know whether to open 1C or pre-empt.      Because of the suitability for playing in hearts if partner has four or more, I opened 1C.   East makes a take-out double, not because he can support any suit bid by partner but because the hand is too strong to overcall 1S.      South is too weak to bid 1S and passes.       West jumps to 2H invitationally showing about 11hcp and at least four hearts and North bids 3C competetively.      If East bids a new suit now it does not show heart support but a strong hand with a six card or robust five card suit, so East, with support for hearts and interest in a slam, cue bids 4C, showing first round control ( Ace or a Void ).      West, having overbid slightly on the first round - with 8 1/2 losers instead of the expected 8 losers and probable duplication in clubs - A discard on the Ace will be from a long suit which might be a winner anyway - should sign off with 4H.      East with moderate trump support only should respect this but probably makes a further try for a slam by bidding 5H which West will pass as if all partner needed was HK then 4NT was available - 5Ace RKCB - to partner.

        North starts off with CK and declarer should ruff this in dummy in order to lead a trump.       The news of the bad trump break is immediate as South discards S3.     Best defence now is for North to take HA and lead a diamond, locking declarer in dummy.      Because of the lack of entries to the West hand you  must lose two trumps.       In this situation it is usually best to allow the defender to ruff straight away and you then keep control of the trumps.      So just play 3 top diamonds.       North ruffs in and plays CQ but West wins CA, draws trumps and plays SQKA - discarding the third losing club and claims.

TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Double then bidding a new suit shows a good hand of 16+hcp and usually a six card       (2) When you know one defender has length in trumps and is bound to make an unexpected trump trick it is usually best to try and make the defender take the trick early so you retain overall control.


Board 10 - 13th May 2014

Only half the field bid the rock-solid slam on today's offering.      Perhaps this was because West did not realize the full potential in playing strength of the hand.   Dealer East ; Game All.          East probably opens a weak 1NT although some would upgrade the hand and open 1C - expecting to rebid 1NT showing 15hcp minimum ( 14 + 2 tens and a five card suit to set up = 15!).      Either treatment is perfectly reasonable but as Jacks not supported by a higher honour don't figure to pull their weight, I would opt for opening 1NT.      South will probably bid 3D only as, being vulnerable, 4D is more likely to be doubled for penalties in the long run - although not by this West hand!    The sequence 1NT-pass-4NT is usually quantitative.     This means you pass with a minimum and bid 6NT with a maximum.       However, in this sequence, you should play 4NT as straight Blackwood, since after an opposition overcall most players play 3 of a suit as competetive, and game bids to play.      So your only forcing bid is 4D - which should be used to show two four-card majors and game values and hoping partner can make a sensible bid, even bidding a 3 card major.      Over the 5H response to 4NT, I would just punt 6S, as it is unlikely that 6H will make when 6S doesn't.     The S10 makes the suit much better than KQJxxx as you only have one trump loser if the trumps are 4-2 ( which is the most likely distribution of the opposing trumps ).    With two five card majors and the same playing strength you could bid 6D to suggest partner picks a major (longest or best with equal length) - but only if you have discussed the situation with your partner beforehand!  Don't try obscure bids that you hope partner will understand at the table - often they think differently from you and their reasoning is just as plausible!

              Incidentally, if I were dealer, I would open 2D rather than 2C with the West hand, to make sure our partnership reached game, hopefully bidding spades and heart twice to show the hand shape.     Anyone who opens 1S deserves to play there !     You need very little from partner; HJ or Hxxx will probably be enough to make 4S, so you need to make a strong opening. 

TIP OF THE WEEK : (1) 4NT should be for Aces if opponents compete over your 1NT opening, but quantitative if they pass. 

                                 (2) Discuss what a cue-bid of the opponents minor bid shows if at the four or six level, in this and similar sequences.

Board 16 - 22nd April 2014

Apologies as this is my last column for a fortnight as I am on holiday - hooray!

Dealer West; E/W Vulnerable:  West has a routine 1NT and North has a routine pass.       East has a decent spade suit and would ordinarily start with a transfer bid.      However, the hand is not strong enough to then mention the heart side-suit, which would be forcing.      Although the hearts are weak, it pays in the long run to play in the 4-4 fit, if there is one, rather than the 5-2 - or even a 5-3 fit for that matter - because you still have trump length in one hand if you are forced to ruff one of your opponent's winners.

          So, instead of a transfer bid, you should start with a Stayman 2C, intending to bid 2S - to play - over a 2D reply.       If partner were to bid 2S you have a clear-cut decision to raise to 3S, invitational.      The optimists bid 4S.      I prefer to bid 3S and let partner decide whether game is a good prospect.      Normally, with only ten hcp you should pass partner's response, but today's hand could be an exception.      East has only seven losers and has 3 controls (A=2, K=1) and a singleton.        West, on this hand, responds 2H and the pessimists would pass, but I would join the optimists and venture 3H ( showing a seven loser hand ) and trust partner to make a good decision whether to bid game or not.       On this occasion partner is right in the middle and has a decision to make.       With seven losers also West has a case for bidding the game but when in doubt in suit contracts you should be swayed by your controls ( Aces and Kings ), and in this respect West is significantly lacking with only two.       Thus West should reject the invitation and pass.       If you work on the hcp ranges 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17, 18-20, 21-24 as requiring respectively 1,2,3,4,5,6,controls as a minimum, I believe your judgment of these situations will improve.      

        Unfortunately, on this occasion, 3H is played from the wrong side and should be defeated - so the pessimists win today's battle.       Against 3H North should lead C6, hoping for a 3rd round ruff and when partner turns up with CK after the Ace and a quick entry in the trump Ace, this strategy is successful.       Declarer thus loses a ruff and a trick in each suit for one off - game,set and match to the pessimists.

TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) With less than 11hcp and 5-4 in the majors bid 2C Stayman rather than a transfer bid of 2H or 2S.  

                                (2) Decide with partner what to do with stronger hands that are 5-4 in the majors.       If 1NT-2H-2S-3H is a game forcing 5-4 then 1NT-2C-2D-3H/S should be invitational, either 6-4 or 5-4 with a strongish five card suit (otherwise you bid 2NT). 

Board 1 - 15th April 2014

         Although the hands at first glance look uninteresting, there is plenty of scope for aggressive bidding here.       Note that, with no-one vulnerable, two off undoubled is usually a good score!

         Dealer North; Love/All:     After a pass by North, East has a nice hand with 7 losers and all the hcp are "working", being in the two long suits.      My experience, however, says that opening 1H on 10hcp and only a 5-4 shape leads to too many minus scores.       Partner, with 12-13hcp and shortage in hearts will bid 3NT and have no chance of success.       So, I would recommend passing on the first round hoping to get into the bidding on the next round, when partner will not get too excited given your initial pass.   

         South has a routine weak1NT and West - despite holding both majors - is just short of taking action even if playing some sort of two-suited overcalling convention like Astro or Landy.     Many Norths would now pass, but you can use simple Stayman on this hand.     If partner bids 2S or 2D you are happy to pass, and over 2H you bid 2S, now showing a weak hand with 4 spades and longer diamonds.      Opener passes with 3 or 4 spades, but with only a doubleton spade converts to 3D [or 2NT with good hearts, or 3C with long clubs and a doubleton diamond].   With only 3 spades you take your chance that the seven card fit will play reasonably.     Note also that you can use Stayman on weak hands with a singleton/void club and at least 3 cards in both majors, intending to pass whatever partner rebids.       As East, over 2C, I would now risk 2H, and South will bid 2S.       Both bids could backfire but it pays to be aggressive over 1NT if non-vulnerable.     West has a decent heart raise with good cards (Aces rather than lower honours) in the side-suits and should put pressure on North by jumping to game.       As you have a fit you expect the opposition to have a fit, so you expect North will bid 3S over a 3H bid. This will leave you with a nasty decision on the next round; whether now to pass, double 3S or bid 4H. It looks as though 3S will make or go only one off, giving you at most +100 if you double.     By bidding 4H, you hope that either 4H makes, or that 3S makes, or that the opposition make a phantom sacrifice in 4S, which you can confidently double.    North will probably decide to defend, although E/W on the actual hand have a reasonable play for 4H.

          Against 4H, South will lead SK and declarer should win the SA then cash HAQ, intending to cross to DA to lead a club if trumps are 2-2.    When the trumps are 3-1, you instead leads a heart to HK in order to draw the last trump and be in dummy to lead a club.      If clubs are 3-3 and you mis-guess the layout you could lose 3 club tricks, but if favourable - with North holding the AQx or Q10x - you might only lose the Ace!      All in all you have to decide whether to lead a club to CJ or one to C9.       It is very close but I would start with a club to C9.      This unfortunately loses to C10 and South leads another top spade, ruffed by East who crosses to DA to lead another club, putting in the Jack, playing for the 1NT opener to have the CA.      Even if South ducks this, it is not hard for East to exit with a club, setting up the 13th club for declarer's ninth trick.    An eventual diamond ruff with dummy's last trump is declarer's tenth trick.

TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) If 1NT-2C-2H-2NT shows c.11hcp and 4 spades, then 1NT-2C-2H-2S is weaker with 4 spades precisely and longer diamonds.    With 5 spades you would be starting with a 2H transfer bid! 

                                 (2) Use Stayman also on weak hands with a small singleton or void in clubs and no 5 card major - just passing the response and hoping for some good luck!

                                 (3) It is reasonable to overcall over 1NT Non-Vul. on ten hcp if and only if the hcp are all working - e.g. no Qx suits.

Board 4 - 1st April 2014

  Most E/Ws had trouble with this board, both in the bidding and the play.       Dealer West; Game All:     West had a very strong hand but is not quite worth a Benji 2C opener and opens 1D.      North has length in both majors but not worth a 1S overcall as that would grossly mislead partner as to the playing strength and so passes.      East has an opener as well but is content to bid 1H for the time being.      If South now bids 2NT , this would show 5-5 in the unbid (black) suits.     However, South is very minimal for the bid as 2NT forces partner to give preference at the 3 level - so I would just overcall 1S.       If non-vul, I would have chanced 2NT, and here this would lead to partner sacrificing in 4S over 4H.      Thus, at this vulnerability it is unsound to bid on tram tickets!         Over 1S, or 2NT for that matter, West should jump to 4S, showing a massive hand with slam interest.      Most modern players play this as a splinter - showing 4 card heart support and a singleton or void in the enemy suit - usually a void as you are forcing partner to 5H to sign off, holding a 6hcp minimum response! .      West, with wasted values in spades but otherwise a good hand has no trouble bidding the small slam.      Indeed the grand slam is a fair proposition but fails owing to the adverse 4-1 trump break.       Note that If the opposition had shown a two-suiter in the bidding then a 4-1 trump break is much more likely. 

               Partly due to the singleton trump - hoping that partner has 4 cards - South starts with SA to weaken dummy's trumps.        Declarer has to ruff this, and must be careful to cash HQ before leading a second round to HK, getting the bad news.      It is often right to leave a high trump in dummy as a late entry to the suit providing discards,(D). But here you know a second spade will be led, so you need to retain a small trump in dummy after two rounds of trumps to be able to ruff a spade if necessary, as you cannot afford to ruff with HQ!     ( Note also that although, double dummy, the safety play is to duck the second heart in both hands to guard against the 4-1 break, you cannot afford that here as you don't know that the DJ is falling in 3 rounds.) Having won HK you now must play diamonds (hoping that they are not 4-0) until North ruffs, as you have a small trump left in dummy to take care of a spade continuation.      If North exits with a fourth trump you can win HA and cross to CA to ditch your 2 spade and club losers on the 3 remaining diamonds left in dummy.       North can delay ruffing the boss diamonds by throwing two clubs and so threatening a ruff if you cross to CK to draw the last trump, but you can counter this by throwing two spades first - not your losing club - on the fourth and fifth round of diamonds (as North ruffs in on the fifth round).      You can then ruff the spade exit with your remaining small trump, draw the last trump, and then cross to CA to discard your club loser on the sixth diamond.

              TIP OF THE WEEK:   (1) A jump to 2NT is usually played as The Unusual 2NT, i.e. not the usual 20hcp or so.      Most players play this as the lowest two unbid suits - so it is the OTHER two suits if in 4th hand after each opponent has bid a different suit and partner has passed.

                                                (2) As well as in response to an opening did, you can play a double jump in a new suit as a splinter after partner has responded  in a new suit after you have opened the bidding.      This shows 4 card support for partner's suit and c.18-20 hcp over a one level response.

Board 7 - 25th March 2014

Surprisingly, only a third of the room bid and made what I thought was a fairly routine 3NT on today's hand.      Dealer South; Love All:     After South's pass, West opens 1H, intending to rebid 2D to show a minimum opener with 5-4 in the red suits.      North is not quite strong enough for an intermediate 2S overcall ( and for that matter, is not suitable for a weak jump overcall if that is the system you are playing. Although the hand is quite strong in playing strength, the spade suit is too poor to suggest a lead), and so overcalls 1S.       East has 3 spade tricks, and could wait to see if partner reopens with a double in the hope of leaving this in for penalties. But defending at the one level rarely produces a good score - even if partner can reopen with a double.       A better hand for trying for a large penalty is if you have five or six of the opponents suit with lower honours,e.g. Q108xx with trick(s) outside ( Aces or Kings).       So, I would make the "value" bid of 2NT, game invitational with c. 11-12hcp and a good holding in the enemy suit.      True, you are ashamed of your diamond holding, but realistically you know that because of your spade holding, partner will never be able to envisage a NT contract with nothing in spades.     In addition, your heart support is not good enough to think that 4H is a likely contract.        West, with a sound minimum opening with 13hcp and two tens, has no trouble raising to 3NT.   
              South, hoping that partner would have better spades than actually held, leads S10 and declarer has a difficult choice whether to play on hearts or diamonds - if either produces three tricks you don't need the clubs to be 3-3.       Diamonds produces 3 tricks if South has the finessable DQ and hearts does if the outstanding hearts are 3-3 or if H9 drops doubleton.       I would play on hearts as if the hearts don't oblige South may have DAQ.       In this way you may well end up with ten tricks as South is under pressure to find discards on the major suit tricks.
              TIP OF THE WEEK:  Keep 2NT as a natural bid of 11-12hcp after partner has opened one of a suit and the opposition have made a natural overcall.


Board 1 - 18th March 2014

You might win an occasional battle but you never win the war.     In the long run it pays to keep a simple two level response in a new suit over partner's one of a suit opener up to strength - at least nine hcp.    In this way a rebid of 2NT is then usually 15hcp, and therefore forcing to game, with a combined count of 24-25hcp usually giving a decent play for game.     1NT should show 6-8hcp, and generally you should avoid bidding it with 9hcp unless you have a drastic misfit for partners suit, i.e. singleton or void.       With 15hcp, or a flat 16hcp, opener knows there cannot be enough combined strength to make a game, so should pass 1NT. With 17-18hcp there could be, and opener should now make an  invitational raise to 2NT .
Dealer North; Love All:  After a normal pass and a 1S opener by East, South should not be tempted to bid despite having a weak 1NT opener, because a take-out double must show longer hearts if in the minimum range (12-14or15hcp).      A lot of players insist on at least 4 hearts for a double of 1S, and that is eminently reasonable, although I would only insist on at least 3 cards in any unbid major.     Pass is South's only option - hoping that partner can take some action, being limited by the original pass.     West has nice 6-5 shape but a truly horrible 7hcp, with no Aces or Kings and a void in partner's suit.     Pass might be the best option, but 1NT is the bid most people would make.      True, you don't like the idea of being left there, but the chances of improving the contract (from 1S) are high.       After North passes, East also has only one option, viz 2S.      If partner had bid 2H showing 5 hearts and 9+hcp East would be too good for 3H and should either jump to 3S - forcing after a 2 level response - or jump to game bidding 4H.     1NT is a warning to partner saying I haven't got 3S and a ruffing value - otherwise I would bid 2S or a new suit - and I may not even have a doubleton in support, as here.      It is not the time to stretch and jump invitationally to 3S!      Over 2S, West should take the long term view and pass - expecting to incur a small minus score.     If you bid 3C and partner has similar support to you, you might even get doubled and incur a big penalty.     The reason for passing is that you expect the opposition to have their share of Aces and Kings and any three level contract is thus likely to be doomed.     A better hand for bidding 3C is something like S Void, H xxxxx, D xx, C KQJ10xx where the club suit is good for lots of tricks if clubs are trumps but likely worthless if spades are trumps.     Only If partner had bid 2D over 1NT would 3C be a worthwhile proposition .because partner has not now shown a six card suit and it is more likely that your best fit is in clubs if partne ris only 5/4.     If partner had rebid 2H then you are worth an invitational raise but after a 2C rebid you might raise to 3C to inhibit your opponents from finding their diamond fit!  
                With the spades lying well, East should scramble 7 tricks for -50 unless South , who has a difficult lead problem, decides to lead C2 when declarer will make eight tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  When you have a misfit for partner, don't try and rescue.   You are liable to run from a bad contract into a likely equally bad contract a level higher - it usually goes an extra trick down and may even get doubled.


Board 9 - 4th March 2014

Dealer North;  E/W Vul.:  After North passes and East opens a weak 1NT, South has to decide whether to compete, holding  both minors.   A double would be 15+ ( preferably more if you do not have a good suit to lead ). Any hand with the requirements for a 2NT opener would double first then bid 2NT, so 2NT is usually played as a two suited hand.       The old fashioned style was to play 2NT over 1NT as either both minors and weakish, or strong with any two suits, and that is what I still recommend - as long as partner realizes that if you bid again it is strong and forcing to game. ( Partner, unless strong, will bid the longer or , with equal length, the better minor, which you will pass with this hand.)      On the current hand 2NT is reasonable only because of the vulnerability - if you were vulnerable, however, you should have better solidity in your suits, eg  KJ10xx in both suits.      Over the 3C or 3D response to 2NT if the next hand passes, a bid of 3 of a major should be forcing and should be raised with two cards otherwise bid 3NT with a stop in the other major or 4C or 4D with six cards.    3 NT is to play suggesting a double stop in both majors and a better than minimum opening hand.      A jump to four of a minor is invitational to game in that minor.

         The 2NT bid then leaves West with an awkward bid unless you are playing a major suit defence to the Unusual 2NT overcall.      One method is to play 3C as showing 5H & 4S with 3D showing 5S & 4H.      Any other hand with values (11+hcp)  you double, with 3H/S as merely competetive and to play - partner is expected to pass even with a good fit.     If you double and then double the opponents minor that is then for penalties.      Otherwise a new suit should be regarded as forcing to game     So on West's actual hand I suggest that you bid 3C showing 5H & 4S and over North's 4C, East will bid 4H.      North will probably decide not to sacrifice in 5C, as a likely diamond ruff may defeat the contract, but on this hand it happens to be right to bid 5C.
         Against 4H, South will probably lead a club, and East wins and forces out the Ace of trumps.    North will switch to the singleton diamond and East must be careful to win DA and draw trumps in 3 rounds before exiting with DQ to set up DJ ( in order to dispose of the fourth round spade loser) and (after ruffing the club return)  lead to SJ  to set up SQ as entry to enjoy DJ.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) Decide with partner what 2NT over 1NT shows.
                                     (2) Decide how to proceed if the opposition bid 2NT over your 1NT.        
Board 13 - 25th February 2014

 Dealer North; Game/All:     Only 2 pairs bid the small slam on today's hand.     NT bidding is generally about arithmetic!     With no five card suits in the combined hands a total hcp count of 33 is right to have a decent play for a small slam, and 26 for a game.      If you have an eight card fit splitting 5-3, 31-32 are usually enough for a small slam and 24-25 are usually enough for game.     If the suit splits 6-2 and is solid, 23 hcp is usually enough on normal breaks!       With E/W passing throughout, North will generally open 1D, South responds 2C, North rebids 2NT and South 4NT.     Any raise of NT to the four level should be played as quantitative, i.e. invitational but not forcing, unless you have agreed a trump suit either by partner raising your suit or by inference ( e.g. 1NT - 2C(Stayman) - 2H - 4NT would be Ace-asking agreeing hearts as trumps).   North has a fit for partner's clubs and a non-minimum - this would be 15hcp in this sequence - and a five card suit as well, so jumps directly to 6NT.
         East has a horrible lead problem and anything could be right or drastically wrong.     I would be tempted to lead a nondescript C5 through the suit bid by dummy, but take your pick - anything but HQ, which is much too dangerous.     If the opposition's HA & HK are in different hands, or both in dummy, you expose yourself to a finesse against your HJ.     At pairs, East might lead SA and declarer should then just play DA and try the finesse of DJ, accepting one down if the DQ fails to oblige.     In this case you would obtain a few match points equaling the other pairs who failed in the slam rather than a bottom for two down if you cash your winners first giving the opposition  a late winner to cash if they can win DQ.     At teams scoring, however, you should not worry about going two down because the slam bonus is worth so much more.      A different play is recommended if you can improve your prospects, albeit marginally, from the 50/50 play recommended at pairs.     You should cash all your spade winners (discarding a diamond) and heart winners before running all the clubs and DA.      This puts pressure on the defenders who may have to keep a heart honour or think they may have to keep a fourth spade as well as a diamond stop. You watch to see if both HQ&HJ have been played, so promoting the H10 to a trick, and East has not shown out of hearts, then you take your best chance of the diamond finesse.   If South had discarded on the second heart, you know East has a winning heart left and thus DQ must be with West when East plays a low diamond at trick 11.    Your only chance then is that it was a doubleton  and you should rise with DK.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Agree with partner to play raises of NT to the four level as Quantitative
                               (2) Discuss with partner if 4C is then Ace-asking - and agree your responses and what bid is for Kings.i.e. whether 4NT is then a sign-off.


Board 7 - 18th February 2014

 Dealer South; Game All: More than half the N/S pairs failed to reach the optimum 3NT on this deal. After two passes North, being too strong to open a weak 1NT has to decide which of the four card suits to open - 1D or 1H. The modern style is to open the major mainly to ensure the suit does not get "lost" if the opposition pre-empt and also because the major suit is more important as it scores more. However, I usually open the minor if I foresee that a particular response from partner would make the subsequent bidding awkward. If you open a major and raise partner's minor you are showing at least five of the major and partner might disastrously opt to revert to the major at the five level. Also, if you rebid in NT you might miss a slam in the minor, not being able to show your good support. Here, I would not open 1H because a 2D response gives me rebid problems. Over 1D by North, East might stretch and bid an intermediate 2H overcall to show the six card suit and reasonable playing strength but should really only overcall 1H. South should make a negative double to show - at this level - merely the values for a one level response with four spades precisely. A bid of 1S is best played to show at least five spades. West raises partner to 2H - not being strong enough to make an unassuming cue-bid of 2D which would show a near-opening hand with at least 3 card heart support - or to raise to 3H which would be a distributional raise similar to West's actual hand but with four card support for hearts. After West's bid North has to decide whether to bid 2NT showing 17-18hcp and a good heart holding or stretch to 3NT because the H10 is a valuable extra. 3NT works best on this hand because partner may not consider 7hcp is enough to bid the game or might consider playing in diamonds at a high level or might only settle for a part-score and bid only 3D instead. South should realize, however, that the heart strength opposite does not work well in a 5D contract. Also a bid of 3NT would stop East bidding 3H and West then saving in 4H doubled ( probably costing only 500 against the vulnerable game of 600 or 630).

East will lead H5 against 3NT and although North wins deceptively with HJ, nobody should be fooled as to who holds H10. North should realize that East is not the "danger hand", i.e. East is unlikely to continue the heart attack but West would, and should thus not allow West the lead early if at all possible. Of course the best play looking at all four hands is Ace and another diamond which results in +630. However, if the position of the DK and SA were reversed, West would win the DK and lead a second heart lead enabling East to play HAQ and H9 setting up two more heart tricks with SA as entry - Note the highest heart led back to indicate the highest suit wanted). This holds declarer to nine tricks with four diamonds, 2 hearts and 3 clubs after East shows out on a club to CK proving the finesse of CJ cannot fail. So the best plan is not to set up 3 spade tricks by leading SK but cross to CK and lead DQ, originally intending to finesse. The 4-0 diamond break complicates the play as East holds up the DK which gives you entry problems to dummy. So when West shows out you play DA and a second diamond. East should duck this to prevent you making four diamond tricks but you are now in dummy to take the marked club finesse, lead another diamond which East will also duck and you can then switch suits and set up a spade, getting your ninth trick when the defence leads a heart.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) A 1S response to one of a minor after a 1H overcall should show 5 cards with a negative double shows precisely 4 spades.
(2) Discuss with partner the meaning of a redouble of a negative double.
Board 2 - 11th February 2014
A few bidding problems this week but as last week there are no definitive "right" bids on these awkward hands!.
Dealer East; N/S Vul. East at least has nothing to think about and passes. South has ten hcp and a six card major. Generally this equates to an opening one bid but that would be horrible here. A good rule is that you have to have 3 controls (A=2, K=1) for an opening at the one level. Bridge correspondents in the newspapers are evenly divided whether you should open a weak two with 6-4 in the majors, or even a three level preempt with 7-4 in the majors, so you should check with your partner what is expected. I would open 2S on this kind of suit because it is the main feature of my hand, and if we end up defending I definitely want a spade lead. If my spades were Axxxxxx instead I would pass as dealer. Over 2S West has the values and spade holding for a strong 2NT overcall (usually 16-18hcp) but although I might bid 1NT over 1S I would not bid 2NT here. Double is definitely out as you are in a hopeless position if partner bids 4H. The choice is between a top-heavy overcall of 3C which should show a six card suit, and a pass. I would go quietly and pass, given the poor quality of the clubs, hoping that partner has enough to put 2S two off for +200 against a probable part score in one of the minors - if you miss a game that is just one of those things. I think in the long run a pass would work best but I may be wrong! With only a five card heart suit and the same strength North should pass, but with this hand 3H is reasonable as long as partner can pass with an unsuitable hand. South is however overjoyed to bring his heart support to light and bids 4H with some confidence.
With nothing to go on I think most defenders would lead D3 - although partner on this hand would prefer C3. West wins DQ and switches to a safe H3. North should realize that he cannot ruff a club and 3 diamonds now in dummy now, so has to decide whether to play on clubs hoping the King is with East, or, alternatively, to force out the SA to set up a discard on SQ. It is obvious that playing on spades is better because it is a heads you win tails you win situation. You can lose one top spade throwing one club but you can throw your second losing club on the other and use dummy's trumps to ruff diamonds instead of the third club. So you win H10 with HJ, and lead SK, intending to throw C2 if West plays low and then C4 on SQ after winning the club switch and ruffing a diamond. You can then ruff a spade high and draw the last trump with HQ. You can then keep cross-ruffing spades and diamonds until SJ appears, setting up S10 to discard your fourth diamond. In this way you make eleven tricks if East has the SA or twelve if West obliges with SA.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Discuss with partner whether a weak 2 in a major denies 6-4 shape.
(2 Discuss what a simple response in a new suit over partner's weak two means. I suggest constructive ( i.e. game invitational and not a weak long suit ) but not forcing and showing a suit of at least six cards.
Board 6 - 4th February 2014

Dealer East; E/W Vulnerable. What a wild board - I can't imagine how many different sequences and contracts there were here! If I were playing each hand the bidding would go 1S - 5C - Double - Pass - Pass - Pass, but I doubt if that actually happened at many tables. I also wonder whether that should be how the hands are bid anyway! Nobody can quarrel with East's 1S opener but what should happen when the bidding comes back at the 5 level?. With the South hand, I would preempt all the way to 5C at this vulnerability but many would not. Over 5C, West might stretch and bid 5S but it is an undisciplined bid, vulnerable with no Aces and I think the decision is between pass and double - as I said my vote is for double. Poor old North has a decent heart preempt but should not consider removing partner's 5C bid into 5H with such a suit full of holes. East might consider bidding 5S as partner is obviously not doubling on club tricks, but there is no guarantee of a couple of spades opposite and so should also make a disciplined pass of partner's double.

In 5C, you should, unluckily, lose the first six tricks after the SK lead. East should overtake with SA in case the lead was a singleton and cash the SQJ. Now , holding the HK ensures that diamond losers cannot be discarded on dummy's hearts, so the S10 is led. South does best to throw a diamond on this, and again when East continues with the S8 at trick 5, but must lose a club trick when S3 is led when the C9 is overruffed with the CJ. Note that this is better odds for declarer than ruffing high with CQ and hoping for CJ10 doubleton as East might have J10x(x) or J10 alone. Also you would then be an extra one off if West has J10xx as if you ruff high West makes the J and 10 instead of just overruffing the nine with the 10.
The defense against 5S by East is interesting. After South wins CA, North should ruff partner's CK continuation and cash HA and follow with the H3 for South to ruff. The low heart suggests that a low suit - clubs - be continued and so denies a quick entry with DA and also shows another trump is held ( to ruff the club if West does not ruff high with SK. If CK is allowed to win by North, East can ruff a third top club with SK and play 6 rounds of spades which squeezes North in hearts and diamonds. At trick 9 North has to discard either HA or the fourth round diamond winner and so the contract of 5S makes for +650.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Be thankful that hands like this are a rarity - your bidding guesses are as good as mine!
Board 1 - 28th January 2014

Dealer N; Love All:    A tricky hand to bid and neither of the N/S pairs bid it well in the match involving my team.     I hope you did better!

Hands with a 5 card major and a five card minor but minimum opening hcp should invariably be opened with the major suit because the scoring system favours the major suits as opposed to the minors.     If you have to suppress a side-suit to show a minimum rebid it is thus better to give up on the minor and hope to get another chance to show it later in the auction.    On the other hand at teams it is important in the long run to be in the making games - even the lower scoring ones - at the cost of a few imps.     With 5-5 in the black suits I always open 1S unless the spades are, say, Jxxxx and the clubs strong.      Over 1S, East should pass, as these diamonds are not worth mentioning , despite the overall good shape.     South responds 2D and West should also pass - a double would show a minimum opener with at least 4-4 in the other two suits, or if not both suits then even more hcp - neither of which applies with this hand.     North should now rebid 2S, not being strong enough to make a "high reverse" of 3C, which shows 15+hcp.      South now forces to game with a bid of 3C which shows a club stop rather than necessarily a suit, and expresses doubt over whether sufficient combined strength in hearts is held to make 3NT a viable contract.     Over this North can make a negative bid of 3D or 3S with nothing in hearts, or bid 3NT with a good heart stop, or jump to 4S with a good six card suit that is playable opposite a singleton.     Although 3NT does make on this hand with 5 club tricks (with the finesse right), 3 diamonds and 1 heart, making nine tricks, I recommend bidding 4C which would show 5 clubs and suggests playing in the probable 5-2 spade fit or the likely 5-3 club fit.     A bid of 3H - the fourth suit in this sequence - would conventionally ask for a holding of Jxx or Qxx of hearts - i.e. half of a stop - in order to bid 3NT, implying that you expect to able to run nine tricks on a heart lead.    Why only 1/2 stop?     This is because with a full stop in hearts and clubs responder should be bidding 3NT instead of bidding 3C.    Over 4C, South has an easy call of 5C, not expecting to make six - although with no losing club six is laydown on the actual distribution.
       West will lead HK and North wins HA and hastily cashes 2 top diamonds to shed the H9.   Then CQ covered by K and A exposes the bad trump break.     A low spade to East's Ace and a heart to the 8 and Q ruffed with C2 is followed by a spade ruff, HJ (throwing a spade) and DQ.   West ruffs  this but the spades are set up anyway so North can overruff cheaply, draw the last two trumps and cash winning spades.
TIPS OF THE WEEK: (1) Open 1S with 5-5 in clubs and spades and rebid 2S over 2 of a red suit if less than 15hcp.
                                 (2) At teams don't exclude the 5 of a minor game if you think 3NT is risky. 
                                 (3) A bid of the fourth suit when you have denied a stop by your bidding so far shows Qx or Jx and asks partner to bid 3NT with a combined stop, i.e. holding Qxx or Jxx.    
Board 5 - 21st January 2014

Dealer N; N/S Vul.   A tricky play hand for N/S but the bidding should be routine.    North opens 1H and East should pass rather than introduce a pathetic spade suit.    You do not want them led from say, Kx , if the opponents buy the contract.      South responds 1S , West has nothing to say and North rebids 2D.      ( This shows 5-4 shape in my book - with 4441s and a singleton club I prefer to pass as dealer unless I have 13+ hcp.      In this case I decide to open 1D intending to rebid 2D over 2C, unless I can rebid 2NT which shows 15+hcp..      This is not ideal but at least now partner knows you are 5-4 in the reds in you open 1H and rebid 2'D).      This thus leaves South with an easy bid of 4H to conclude the auction, knowing there is an eight card fit in hearts.      

                              East leads D10 hoping for a ruff, and declarer takes stock.      Holding the D98 , declarer can tell that the lead is from shortage (singleton or doubleton) and thus West's presumed DJ is not falling in 3 rounds. So at some stage after drawing trumps you need to finesse against it, leading low to the nine.      You must try also to keep West off lead in case East has the CA.     So you have to hope that the trumps are 3-2 with the K or Q with West, singleton or doubleton.      This is because you have only two entries to the South hand  to accomplish all of these plays; and you have also to decide which entry to use first.       If you rise with the DK  and finesse the heart and East leads a spade you will not be able now to finesse the diamond, as if East has led a singleton  it will get ruffed.        Hence the right play is to win DQ at trick one and cross to SK, cash SA (throwing a losing club) and when SQ favorably appears you forget spades and must lead a low heart to the 9 and King.      East should cash CA now as if a spade is led, South plays S2 and West can ruff with HQ but North can win, cash H10, cross to HJ and throw CKx on SJ10 and finesse D9 for an extra overtrick.       If West plays CA and another you win CK, cash HA and when the HQ drops, cross to HJ to cash winning spades, throwing diamonds.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Try to organize the order in which you use your entries to the weaker hand to cover all eventualities - i.e consider what the defence can do to embarrass you!
Board 13 - 17th December 2013
A merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all of my readers. Dealer North; Game/All. I was surprised to see almost half the room in NT on this board instead of the more obvious 4S game. If you have a 5-3 fit in a major, then there is generally an extra trick generated if you can ruff in the short trump hand. You thus score +620 instead of +600, and get a better match point score. I guess some players have opened 1NT with the North hand which I think is wrong. True, the spade suit lacks solidity, but the usual reason to eschew the 5 card major is that you are uncomfortable rebidding the suit after a 2-level response, i.e. a suit of Jxxxxx or Txxxx or even Qxxxxx where x is,say, below a nine. Here, I would always open 1S, and the uncontested auction should then proceed 2H-2S-3S-4S. Note that 3S is a more descriptive game invite than 2NT, which would suggest fewer than three spades.
Although a couple of players made eleven or twelve tricks, it looks as though ten tricks should be the norm. East should lead the D10, which is the lead least likely to be disastrous, and North should win DK, cash SKQ, then CAK, and ruff a club. Now North should cross to HA, draw the last trump, cash the last two trumps for good measure and then lead a heart, hoping West has to win HK and concede an overtrick to dummy's DQ. On this distribution, however, East wins HQ and pushes a diamond through dummy to hold declarer to ten tricks, but ten tricks will score above average compared to those in 2NT or 3NT.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't miss out on your 5-3 major fits by opening 1NT unless you are a demon player of the cards - I try not to!.
Board 24 - 3rd December 2013
Dealer West; Love/All. When opponents pre-empt after you open the bidding all thoughts about exploring for the best contract go out of the window, and the only advice I can give is try and guess correctly what is the best action to take! I suggest that you always play a double of 4S or above as penalties, and a double of 4H as optional with at least a good 3 card spade holding. On today's deal North opens 1C and East inconveniently bids 3D. A double should be negative showing a good 9+ hcp ,i.e. more than it normally shows at the one level - because you will have to declare your contract at the 3 level at least - and you should have length in both majors. Unfortunately South has not got an ideal hand. Some will opt for 3NT, but most players will double, hoping for the best! I think North should then bid 3NT - true the diamond holding is a short stop, but remember if the diamonds are 7222 ducking just one round will mean the pre-emptor's partner cannot then lead the suit. Now you can safely lose the lead to that hand knowing you will not lose an avalanche of tricks in the pre-empted suit. On this hand, It is much better for North to declare 3NT than South, as now East has no good lead. If East leads a diamond declarer can make 3 diamond tricks! Played by South, West leads D2, which does not cost the defence a trick. After DK and a club to Q and A, then a further diamond, declarer cannot play clubs for 3 tricks by running the nine in case East had CAJ or A10. 3NT will make any number of tricks from 9 to 12 depending on the lead and club and spade guesses and who is declarer. Note that if South were to take out 3NT to 4H it would show 5-5 in the majors, and North should correct to 4S if holding longer spades than hearts.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Decide when a double of a high level pre-empt is penalties, optional, or take-out.
(2) Always consider playing in 3NT after a pre-empt, as the opponents' distribution is easy to read.
Board 2 - 26th November 2013
There were a few unexpected scores on this board. Dealer East; N/S Vulnerable. After a pass by East, South is too strong for a weak 1NT and perforce opens 1C, which silences West. North responds 1S. N.B. respond the lower with 4-4, and the higher with 5-5. With 5-5 you expect to bid both five card suits. With four card suits partner's rebid will be the higher suit if he has 4 of them, or if his hand is stronger and he rebids in NT, you can show your other 4-card suit at this point. Here, South rebids 1NT, usually showing 15-16hcp. North now generally jumps to 3H, showing game values with 5S & 4H at this stage. With good honours in both partner's suits and an outside Ace, South should not make the lazy bid of 4S or 3NT as some people did but bid 4D, a cue-bid showing either 4 card support for hearts or good 3 card spade support and also showing the DA and denying the CA. North, knowing that South is limited, can jump to 6H with confidence that it is the right level and South converts to 6S, the known eight card fit.
A bid of the fourth suit at the 4 level is never "fourth suit forcing". It is normally a cue-bid of first round control, unless you decide otherwise in agreement with your partner. ( It is unlikely that there is a fit in the fourth suit when partner has shown length in two other suits, and what is partner supposed to do with a three card fit anyway?) A bid of a new (third) suit at the 4 level ( e.g. 1S-2C-3S-4D or 4H as possibly on Board 1! ) can be played either as natural or as a cue-bid - you should discuss with partner what it shows. Both methods have their merits - I usually play this as a natural slam try, 5-5 if a lower ranking suit, or 5-4 or 6-4 if a higher ranking suit - with a sign off of 4NT.
In 6S, you ruff the CA, draw trumps in 3 rounds, and cash five rounds of hearts. Now cash the DK and try the Jack finesse for an overtrick, settling for twelve tricks when wrong. Note that 6H unluckily fails on CQ lead due to the bad trump break as you are now down to four trumps and East has five.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Discuss with partner what four level bids in a previously unbid suit show.
Board 6 - 19th November 2013

Mainly bidding problems with this week's hand. Dealer E; E/W Vul.  East passes as dealer and South has to open 1D, being too strong for a weak 1NT. Vulnerable, West has a marginal 1S overcall. I would bid 1S, because you want a spade lead from partner if North buys the contract. North has good support for diamonds and few losers(7) but not the requisite Aces and Kings (3,A-2,K=1) associated with an opening hand. Although you have good support for partner, the scoring system is biased against minor suits and you should explore for a 4-4 heart fit by making a negative double first. Game in 4H as opposed to 5D requires a trick less and scores 420 against 400, so
you should generally eschew a nine or ten trick fit in a minor in favour of an eight card fit in a major. East would jump to 3S pre-emtively if non-vulnerable. However, 2S is enough vulnerable, as the opposition are more likely to double 3S for penalties. They would be hoping for one off at least and the magic +200, which will beat any normal part-score. If East held a top spade honour, then, rather than bidding 2S, a good idea is to play a redouble of the
opponents' negative double as saying lead your suit, partner, as I have a top honour ( A,K or Q). So, an immediate raise shows support without a top honour, as here, and partner is warned not to lead away from a sequence, eg AQ10 or KJx if the opponents declare a high contract. South will now bid 2NT although the hand is a little bare regarding tricks to be won! North now jumps to 4D, usually highly invitational to 5D and South, with a plethora of Aces - ideal for a suit contract accepts the invitation and bids the diamond game. On the C10 lead you win CQ and lead a trump intending to finesse D10 but with diamonds favourably 2-2 and the Kx of clubs in the right place to give you 3 club tricks all you lose is two trumps to chalk up +400.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Try and rule out a 4-4 major suit fit before committing to a minor suit game (2) agree a use with partner for what a redouble of a negative double shows.

Board 1 - 5th November 2013
Bidding problems this week. Dealer North; Love/All. 4-4-4-1 hands with a singleton club are awkward to bid as if you only have seven card fits the hand does not usually play very well so I would pass this hand for several reasons. Firstly the stiff King is not worth 3hcp - a good rule of thumb is to deduct a point for each singleton or two honours in a doubleton (eg KQ) or three in a trebleton (e.g.KQJ). Secondly, if you open 1S or 1H and rebid in a lower ranking suit partner expects you to be 5-4 at least. If the CK were the SK I would open 1D intending to rebid 2D over 2C - you have to tell a lie on this hand so I prefer this lie - partner will expect longer diamonds. After two passes South is too strong for 1NT so opens 1H and West passes. The traditional use for a jump bid after an initial pass - when you cannot have the extra strength that a jump usually shows - is to confirm 4 card support for opener plus 4 cards in the suit bid. So you bid 3D rather than 2S - because the suit is better, the King at the top being more useful than the Queen. South has extra points but sterile shape so just signs off in 4H.
The play is uninteresting - the defence can only take the black Aces for -450.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) I suggest that a 4-4-4-1 hand that cannot open 1C with 12 hcp should be passed first or second in hand as it is easier to find the best fit as responder to partner's opening bid. With more hcp open 1D!   (2) A jump shift (viz a jump in a new suit) after an initial pass as dealer guarantees four card support for opener.
Board 22 - 29th October 2013

 An exciting deal in which most E/Ws managed to come out on top with +650 although I guess many had an easy ride to 4H+1 rather than be pushed to 5H or 5S! East has the hcp (9) and the length of suit(6 cards) for a weak two opener but because of the 6-5 shape allied to a six card major should upgrade the hand and open 1H. South passes and West has a normal 1S response and now the fireworks should start. North's hand does not fit with any pattern of bidding - being much too good for a weak pre-empt of 4D, slightly too good for an intermediate jump overcall and not strong enough in hcp to double and then bid your suit (usually six cards) at the cheapest level. I would bid 5D and hope the opposition do the wrong thing, viz doubling when it is a cheap save or bidding on when there are 3 losers. When 5D is passed round to West, 5H, double and pass are all reasonable bids but I think most players would essay 5H, more in hope than expectation of it making. This will probably end the auction although South should bid 6D which will be cheap if 5H is making - it only costs 500.

The play is straightforward after the DA lead is ruffed, HK cashed and two club conceded. This play may be necessary if the clubs break badly as you don't need to set them up , just ruff two in dummy and throw the fifth on SQ.
TIP OF THE WEEK: When you have a seven card or longer suit pre-empt as high as you think you can afford. Remember the times when you force the opposition to go too high or stay too low when you concede (occasionally) a large penalty!.
Board 18 - 22nd October 2013

Dealer East; N/S Vul.:  After East passes, South opens 1S and West has a marginal 2C overcall.      I think most players would bid 2C although they would prefer the suit quality to be better!      North bids 2S and East probably makes a nuisance bid of 3C - not expecting partner to get carried away and bid 4C!        South is worth one try for game, so should not bid 3S, as that would not be at all invitational, just competitive.       After a raise of your major suit opening to the two level, a bid of a new suit is a "trial bid", asking whether partner is maximum or minimum for the single raise.     Some people play "short-suit" trial bids showing a singleton or void - these are alertable.     However long-suit trial bids do not need to be alerted as they are the norm, typically showing a weak suit of 3 or more cards.     A simple scheme of responses is that you sign off with 3 losers in the trial suit, jump to game with one loser or with a maximum (7-9hcp) and two losers.   On today's hand you do not want to bid 3H as a trial bid because you do not really need partner to have help in that suit.     If the bidding had gone 1S-Pass-2S-Pass a bid of 3C is more useful on South's hand than 3H, as partner is better able to judge whether to bid the game.      In this actual sequence, it is a good idea to play a double of 3C as a trial bid in clubs, as it is unlikely that you would want to double 3C for penalties once the suit has been supported and you have found a fit in spades.      Although  North has a "wasted" King of clubs the expectation of giving partner two club ruffs should be sufficient reason to jump to 4S.
         Declarer makes ten or eleven tricks depending on West's opening lead.      A trump is the best lead for the defence and the doubleton heart is the worst - picking up East's Queen for declarer.     When you win the spade lead cheaply you have to decide whether to play a club straight away to ensure two ruffs in dummy or a diamond to take advantage of the DA being with West - quite likely in view of West's overcall.   West can win and lead a further trump, and another when in with CA, but you can throw a club on DK and take the heart finesse for an overtrick.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) After one of a major is singly raised, a bid of a new suit is a "trial" bid with generally at least 3 cards, and wanting help in that suit.
                               (2) If the opposition have overcalled during this sequence a bid of their suit at the three level should also be a "trial" bid not a "cue-bid force"
                               (3) If the opposition have overcalled and raised during this sequence there is a strong argument for playing a double as a "trial" bid or game-try.              

Board 4 - 15th October 2013

A hand featuring defender's play for a change.    Dealer West; Game All:    West wishes the "MOVE  PLEASE" call be made quickly and passes.      North has a routine 1S opener, intending, even though you have an 'extra' sixth spade, to rebid 2S only after any simple response at the two level ( showing 9+hcp ).     You don't have enough extra strength as well to justify a jump rebid, but you would raise an invitational limit raise of 3S to 4S!.        East has a strong hand with a good suit which is usually shown by a take-out double and bidding your suit at the lowest possible level thereafter.        However, partner will really expect you to have a six card suit if you do that, as well as 16+hcp, and I would not like to bid 3H if the bidding progresses - Dbl-2S-Pass-Pass-? so I would merely overcall 2H.       South should then double for take-out. This shows about 8hcp without three spades, or a stronger hand with or without 3 spades depending on how South bids later. North's rebid of 2S should end the auction.       If East does double instead of overcalling, South should make the more descriptive bid of 2C, rather than redouble ( both bids show 9+hcp )  and North's 2S again 

ends the bidding.
          East has an easy lead of HK and should be able to reason that North must have both red Aces in order to justify an opening bid.      North wins HA and leads a spade to the Ace and one back finessing the ten when West plays S25. East wins SK, cashes HQ and continues with a "safe" HJ which North ruffs and draws West's last trump with SQ. East throws H2 (or DJ).       North now should lead CQ to try and get East to play CA.        Why should East duck this?         East should consider that if it were singleton then most declarers, competent or otherwise, would lead a singleton CQ at trick two before using the only certain entry to dummy, viz SA!.         On the CQ, West, although asleep by this time in the hand, should help partner by playing C7 to suggest a doubleton.      Then, when North continues with C8 or C9, East knows that declarer has C9 or C8 left as partner would have played the C5 from C875 or C975 on the first club lead.       So it is correct  to duck CA again.       If declarer plays a third club now East can exit with a heart and eventually come to DK to hold declarer to nine tricks.        However, a resourceful declarer would not play a third club but would play off the last two trumps because East must retain CA and DKJ as the last three cards and declarer can then exit with a club and force East to lead away from DK to give dummy a trick with DQ. Double Dummy, a club lead and continuation holds declarer to nine tricks but is more likely to concede an unnecessary overtrick as opposed to the standard HK lead - you can then give partner a club ruff when in with SK.
           TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) Try and visualise declarer's likely hand and decide in what way he would play the critical suit with different holdings.
                                           (2) Petering to show a even number of cards helps partner in suit contracts as well as No-trumps to decide whether to duck or not.
Board 13 - 1st October 2013

I always am exceptionally careful on every Board 13 I play. Am I being silly? Dealer North:Game/All: I never know whether to open the North hand or not - eleven hcp is borderline but you have a suit worth partner knowing about and good intermediates. It is always worth 1H 3rd or 4th in hand, but I would pass 1st or 2nd in hand because it has more than 7 losers. But I guess many players would open the hand 1H. If North and East pass, South has an obvious 1D opener and West bids 1S unless playing an unusual variation of Michaels, showing a 5-5 two-suited hand. Over 1S, North can now bid 2H showing at least 5 hearts and 9+hcp ( for a normal 2-over-1 response ) which is forcing for one round. East is not pleased with partner's 1S bid and thus passes, and South should jump to 4H because although the hand is only in the minimum range (10-14) the club void and known 5-4 fit means the playing strength is exceptional. Congratulations to all the E/W who managed to find their club fit, but I am not suggesting it is possible. West is not worth two bids vulnerable as there is no solidity in the suits.

East will lead the S10 and although it looks like a doubleton you should remember it is board 13! As you have J98 of spades you know it is not from a sequence so it will be a short suit and there is nothing to be gained by not winning with the Ace and drawing trumps in two rounds. Note that if West wins the SQ at trick one, there will be a diamond switch to the Ace and a ruff. East will lead the DJ when giving West the ruff, ( highest diamond - suggesting a high suit continuation - spades ). South will play the Queen, ruffed, and West will return a spade for East to ruff, which will defeat the contract. After winning SA and HAQ you lead a diamond hoping for East to hold either the Ace or J10 doubleton, or the diamonds 3-3, so that you can set up a diamond winner to ditch the third club - you only have two trumps left to ruff North's club losers.
TIP OF THE WEEK: When you suspect partner is ruffing, lead the highest of the suit you can afford if you want partner to lead a high suit to the next trick, or lead your lowest if you want partner to next lead a low suit.
Board 10 - 24th September 2013

A few bidding problems for N & E/W this week. Dealer East; Game All. East has a fairly strong hand with 16hcp and a decent six card suit but is not quite strong enough for a Benji 2C and so opens 1H. South wishes the hand would end quickly and has a clear pass and West should respond 1NT. This is preferable to showing fair support for hearts (Hxx) because of the lack of a ruffing value. North would like to bid but should not, because a take-out double would show either 1) a stronger hand with a long suit (usually six cards) that can be shown if partner responds in your short suit - in this case spades - or 2) an opening hand with H shortage and four or a good three spades. Some players prefer to insist on four spades for a take-out double of hearts, and this idea has some merit, but I would not insist on this. I prefer a minimum of three cards in any unbid major. So I would pass the North hand, and East should invite game with a jump rebid of 3H. I now think that the best bid by West is 3NT, although you could get egg on your face if the defence can cash 5 diamond tricks with 4H making easily. Here you have lower honours (Queens, Jacks and Tens. In the long run these are better for No-trumps; whereas if you had a plethora of Controls (Aces and Kings), that would suggest you going for the major suit game instead of 3NT.

On the actual hand, North can cash both his AKs and definitely should - rather than relying on partner to turn up with HQ(singleton would do!). The 1NT bidder could have passed the 3H rebid so ought to be near the top of of 6-8 (or a poor 9hcp) and therefore must have the SK to justify bidding 3NT and probably all the remaing honours as well. If North starts with three rounds of diamonds then declarer will make one or two overtricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Although you should generally play 5-3 or 6-3 major fits in the major suit game (a) Play hands with lots of lower honours in 3NT unless you have a short suit and (b) if you have plenty of strength to spare, e.g. a combined 28hcp, you may get a better score playing in 3NT if you are missing Aces and the defence can get a ruff or if there is a 5-0 or 4-1 trump break.
Board 14 - 17th September 2013

Most E/Ws managed to go minus on today's hand - albeit in a tricky 4S game .     Dealer East; Love/All.      East opens a routine weak 1NT and South is just short of an overcall and should pass despite the six card suit.      Note that if 2H is bid it helps declarer to place the heart King when E/W buy the contract.       West bids 2C Stayman and raises the response of 2S to game.     (Check with your partner what a bid of 3D shows if opener responds 2D or 2H - I play it as game-invitational with around 10-11hcp and six diamonds and a four card major, but some people play the blanket rule that a new suit at the 3-level is forcing!  Here, I would not bid 3D whatever the partnership agreement;  I would sign off in 3NT with the West hand over 2D or 2H despite the singleton, as this is the most likely game to have a chance of making!

        Against 4S South has a horrible lead problem.      A lead from your minor honours in clubs, diamonds or hearts is likely to give away a trick and a trump lead might well damage your partner's expected 4 card holding.        At the table I led S2, hoping to cut down on declarer's ruffing potential although a singleton trump lead should be avoided if there is a sound alternative.        Your thinking as declarer should start : I have four trumps, one heart and two clubs plus a possible trick in either red suit.      Can I ruff two clubs in dummy?  No, because I cannot get back to hand enough times to ruff two clubs and then draw trumps - so I should try and make something of the diamonds.      Win the lead with SQ and lead a diamond to the nine and Queen - you are playing for the heart Q and J to be in different hands, and if South were to pop up with DA then even better!      North will switch to H3 which is either from length to the Jack, or a singleton, or doubleton 32, as no-one would switch to a heart holding the HK and seeing the HQ in the dummy.     On the grounds of frequency, then, you should assume it is not a doubleton the and rise with HA.        Then lead a second diamond, intending to put in the ten or covering the Jack hoping that North has DAQx or DAQxx.      North wins the DA and will probably lead a club at this point.      Now because you know South has DJ or J8 left, you are safe to lead a diamond and ruff low (or overruff North), cash CK (throwing a heart) and play SKAJ (or small to AJ if North ruffs in) to draw trumps ending in dummy to cash the DK and the 13th diamond for ten tricks.       If South had played the DJ on the second  D lead, North would have four diamonds, and you would have to ruff a diamond high, cash CK(throwing a heart), cross to dummy with a trump and hope you could use dummy's remaining SAJ9 to draw trumps.        Note that North may have withheld S10 at trick one because partner has led a known singleton - the bidding having shown a 4:4 fit - and thus there is no point in covering the S8.    
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Don't draw trumps immediately if you may need to make more than one ruff or if you need the top trumps as entries - even if this means risking an adverse ruff by your opponents
                                    (2) Decide how you and your partner are playing 2C (Stayman) followed by 3 of a minor.
Board 4 - 3rd September 2013

 Most E/W pairs found themselves too high on this board.

Dealer West ; Game/All: West has a routine 1H opener and North is just short of a minimum take-out double and should pass. East now has to decide what the hand is worth. With ten hcp and four-card support you are normally worth a double raise ( or 2NT if you play this as a high-card raise to 3H ) but this hand is an exception to the general rule. The jump raise to 3H should contain no more than eight losers and this hand has nine - one spade, two diamonds, 3 hearts & 3 clubs. So I recommend a bid of 2H only! Two reasons why the hand is so poor are
(a) the shape is an absolutely flat 4/3/3/3 and thus has no ruffing values, and (b) the hand has two Jacks and Jacks are over-valued at one hcp on the Milton Work Count of 4/3/2/1 for each A/K/Q/J - otherwise known as hcp! As West is in the minimum opening range of 10-14hcp this may be the end of the auction. However North might now venture into the auction with a take-out double. This is known as "balancing" , the theory of which is that if the opposition subside in a part-score without making a try for game it is likely that the combined N/S's and E/W's strengths are roughly equal, so it pays to compete for the part-score. You hope to push your opponents to an extra level which may be too high and result in a plus score or you go off for a smaller penalty than the contract which they can make. Sometimes you even strike gold and find a lucky fit as in this N/S hand, viz 3D which South will bid if East passes. This contract happens to be a make as the cards lie although both East and West are likely to believe that 3H will be a good spot with their "extra values or shape". In actual fact it is held to eight tricks, routinely losing one spade, two clubs and a club ruff together with the Ace of trumps.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Underbid slightly if you have the "sterile" 4/3/3/3 distribution even though you have four trumps.
(2) Consider "balancing" if the opposition have found a fit and have not tried for game, especially if you have the perfect 4/4/41 shape for a take-out double or if non-vulnerable.
Board 11 - 27th August 2013

Not too taxing a hand this week! Dealer South; Love/All: After South passes, West has a good suit (clubs) and good shape (6-5) but probably a wasted three hcp (singleton HK). With less than 15hcp you should generally open the higher ranking even if this is much the weaker suit - as here - because it is only a good hand if partner has a fit for one of your suits. Also you need to bid your second suit twice to show at least 5-5 shape so that partner can realise that you have a five-three fit. If you start with clubs and then bid diamonds twice you are at a very high level if opponents intervene and may be shut out of showing the hand's potential. After West's opening 1D and North's 1S overcall, East should double ( showing 4 hearts - Note that 2H would show 5 and be forcing for one round so usually having around 10-11hcp). East knows there is a diamond fit, but if West has four hearts the heart game will outscore the diamond game and will be easier to make, as you only require ten tricks instead of eleven. South will usually raise partner's spades, either 2S or 3S (preemptively). Both of these bids are limited because with a good supporting hand you could make an unassuming cue-bid of 2D. A redouble can be played as either showing a top honour in spades i.e. lead-directing, or just general values - I prefer the lead-directing option. I think 3S is the right bid even though you don't expect it to necessarily make, as it denies the opposition bidding space to locate their best contract, and it will probably be a profitable sacrifice if it is doubled and goes one or two off. West cannot be shut out by South's bidding and has to bid clubs at the cheapest level possible. However this bid now shows 5-5 because you would either pass or double - the double showing extra values - with 5-4 shape. North has not got the shape to bid again and East should jump to the 5D game because the two Aces in partner's short suits and excellent diamond support are worth their weight in gold!

There is nothing to the play of the hand and it is easy to make twelve tricks by forcing out the diamond Ace, drawing trumps and running the C8 and repeating the finesse when it holds.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Open 6-5 hands with the higher-ranking suit even if the lower-ranking is stronger unless you have "reversing values" of a working 15+hcp, i.e. discount singleton Kings or Queens ).
(2) A redouble of a negative( or sputnik ) double should not just show support as you can raise partner's suit or make an unassuming cue-bid. Discuss with partner what you want it to show.
Board 18 - 20th August 2013

My partner and I came a cropper on this hand and went for -500 in 4S doubled, missing the 5-4 heart fit! Dealer East; N/S Vul. After a pass by East, South has no option other than to open 1NT if it shows 12-14. I try and not open 1NT with two suits wide open as you can usually afford to be run through in one suit and still make 1NT, but not if two suits are weak! West should bid an intermediate jump overcall of 3D. Although North has not got opening hcp the hand has sufficient shape to justify wanting to play in a major suit game assuming the breaks are reasonable. As a double by North would usually be for penalties or a bid of 3S would be game invitational only (subject to partnership agreement), North should cue-bid 4D - saying bid your best major even if only 3 cards. You would prefer to be in 4S if opener is 3-3 or 2-2 in the majors but you can't have it all ways - at least you are in a 5-3 fit with a possible spade ruff if partner has 3H & 2S. And as in this case partner might be 4H & 2S which makes a difference of two tricks and a swing of 1120!

After a diamond lead ruffed, at pairs - at teams you probably duck a spade in both hands as you are quite happy to lose two spades and a club - you cross to HA in order to lead a spade towards the King in the hope that West can contribute the SA. The King loses to East's Ace and a second diamond is ruffed by North. A low spade lets East win SJ as West shows out for West to lead a third diamond. The spade break is unfortunate and should result in the defence prevailing as now you cannot set up the spades because of the entry situation to the North hand. Even if you throw a club on the third round of diamonds the defence can lead a 4th round forcing you to lose control. Double dummy you can make 4H by leaving trumps alone - which threatens making the Ace of clubs and all nine trumps on a cross-ruff - Note that the third round of spades can be ruffed with S4 and West cannot overruff - or setting up the spades using the K10 of hearts as entries to the North hand to set up the spades if the defence leads trumps, ruffing spades with the HAQ.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Use the cue bid of four of a minor after 1NT has been overcalled in a minor to shiow 5-5 in the majors. (2) Decide with your partner whether 3 of a major is forcing , game invitational or just to play if 1NT is overcalled at the 3-level.
Board 17 - 13th August 2013
A challenge no E/W succeeded in this week - how to bid a grand slam! However, at pairs, you should not really bid grand slams unless they are really solid for 13 tricks as an overtrick in the small slam will generally give you a well above average score anyway! Today's deal - requiring a 3-2 heart split - is at the minimum end at around 68%.
Dealer North; Love All. With N/S silent throughout, East opens 1H and West without support for hearts should just bid 1S. Although you might jump rebid to 3H over a 2C or 2D response to emphasise the six card suit - note this would be an overbid as the jump normally shows at least 15hcp - you should rebid 2C or 2H only, because of the misfit for partner's spades. Many would bid 2H to emphasise the long suit but I think 2C is slighty more constructive, intending to bid hearts again on the next round of bidding if you get the chance. West trots out the fourth suit, 2D, forcing for one round at the 2-level (but showing game values if at the 3-level in the hope that partner will support spades or bid 3NT but instead East jumps to 3H - obviously showing 6-4 shape at least. Now 4NT ( Roman Key Card Blackwood) elicits a 5S response showing 2 Key cards (DA & HK) plus HQ. Then 5NT asks about the 3 other Kings and a response of 5D generally shows one King and West can count 13 tricks - 4 spades, 6 hearts, 2 Aces and one of the minor suit kings - and thus chances 7NT. Partner may have the trump Jack to make the contract 96% but otherwise it is 68%.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Don't bid 5NT for Kings unless you have - combined with partner - all the Aces plus the Queen of trumps. It is a grand slam try so partner is quite entitled to raise six to seven with a solid suit outside . If you know an Ace is missing punt the slam or sign off - don't mess around trying to justify bidding six!
(2) Don't bid fourth suit forcing at the 3 level without game values.
Board 23 - 6th August 2013

A difficult hand for N/S to bid this week.     Dealer S; Game/All.    South has a marginal opener but good controls so I would open 1H intending to pass 1NT, raise 1S to 2S or rebid 2H over a minor.      West wants to bid 1S for a lead but the playing strength of the hand is poor and with 9 losers should pass as you don't want partner to compete vigorously with four card support!      North has an obvious bid of 2D and East has a desire to bid 2S but probably, since vulnerable, should think better of it, as the suit is very threadbare, so should pass.      Over the mandatory 2H rebid North bids 3C ( forcing ) and South bids 3NT without too much confidence.       North should realise that this is unlikely to be a good contract and should bid 4C describing at least 5/5 in the minors.      South can bid 4H with a 6 card suit, or bid 4D if weak and unsuitable, but here has enough support for clubs to raise to game.

          5C is not a comfortable contract but has good chances.    On the expected SQ lead South wins SA and leads a low club to keep the defence from playing 3 rounds of trumps - which they would do if you play A and another.     You need to ruff a diamond to set them up hoping that they break 3:2.    On the low club lead West plays the 10 so you play the Q losing to the King.      Although this is bad news - you were hoping West has the CK - West would have played a low trump with J10x and the King with K10 so it is probable that West's holding is J10 alone.    You thus ruff the spade continuation, cash DAK and lead another ruffing in dummy (overruffing if East plays C8) and give up HA to set up the North hand with a trump and red suit winners.       If West has the club King you still have a decision to make as to how to set up the diamonds and probably will have to hope that the hand with three trumps has 3 diamonds if West exits with a trump.  

TIP OF THE WEEK: Try and describe your hand if 5-5 by rebidding your second suit and let partner decide the final contract.     

Board 1 - 16 July 2013
I think there are some interesting points in today's hand.  Dealer N; L/A:
  1. North and East have not quite got enough values to open the bidding and should pass.    South should then open 1H even though the suit is very poor.    This is because if partner bids 1NT over your 1S opener you are not strong enough to bid again and would "lose" any 4-4 heart fit.    Also if you rebid 2H partner will assume you have 5 spades and bid accordingly.     West has ten points but should not overcall 2D as the lack of Aces and Kings suggests that it will play badly in say a 5D sacrifice - which East is likely to bid and would prove costly,doubled, at -500.    North now has a close decision whether to bid 3H or 4H - I think 3H is enough but many would leap to 4H.    Over 3H, South has an obvious 4H bid or over 4H an obvious pass.     

  2. West probably leads DQ and South wins DA and cashes HAK happily drawing trumps and exits with a diamond to East's King and South wins the S10 switch with SA.    Declarer should reason that if the spades are 3:2 there are only 3 losers - one spade, one diamond and one club as the fourth round of spades will be a winner and the third club can be ruffed in dummy.      So the only danger to the game contract is if the spades are 4:1.   You first duck a club, win the club return, cash SA getting the bad news as East discards.    You now have only one hope - that East has to win the third round of clubs.    So lead C7.   When West discards, you throw a spade from dummy - and East has to lead another club or a diamond which you can ruff in hand and throw your last losing spade from North.    You can now win the remainder of the tricks with North's trumps.
  3. TIP OF THE WEEK: When you have to rely on normal breaks to make a contract try and prepare a Plan B if a suit breaks badly. 

Board 5 - 9 July 2013
 Dealer N; N/S Vul: Only two E/Ws made twelve tricks on today's deal.  With N/S passing throughout, East starts the ball rolling with 2C and rebids 3NT over partner's 2D relay.    This should, playing Benji, show  25-26hcp - with 2D rebidding 3NT showing 27-28hcp and rebids of 4NT showing 29-30 and 30-31!     I have seen one such hand, at Cramlington on a friday this year!.     West raises to 4NT quantitatively - it is not ace asking as no suits have been bid naturally - and East with a minimum for the bidding so far and no long suit passes.     Note that it is a good idea over a 3NT rebid to play 4C as the Baron convention - asking partner to bid 4 card suits upwards until you find a fit for slam purposes - with 4NT showing you only have clubs. 
South should lead CJ rather than a fourth highest diamond as this is less likely to give a trick away, and East wins CQ and takes stock.    With ten tricks on top and chances of the diamonds or clubs being 3-3 you fancy your chances of overtricks and should start by cashing two top clubs and two top diamonds in case the J10s are doubleton.     All that appears is the D10.     You should make the 3-3 break your last option, and a sensible declarer will now lead the S8, a trick likely to be lost anyway and preparatory to playing for one defender to be squeezed.     This is known as rectifying the count.    If one of the minors breaks 3-3 you have  eleven top tricks and thus all the remaining tricks except two, so to play a simple squeeze you must lose a trick first.     North will win SJ and continue with SK which East wins perforce with SA.    Then East cashes DQ which doesn't work - South still has the DJ left - and then CAK which does work.     Now the thirteenth club squeezes North in spades and hearts if North has 5S & 4H or SKQJ & 4H.    If North throws SQ on this trick you cash S10 and HKAQ, and if North throws a heart you win HKAQ8 for twelve tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) Discuss with your partner what range of hcp 2C & 2D rebidding 3/4NT show.  (2) When you don't have enough top tricks for your contract try rectifying the count; ie lose one or more tricks such that you can make all the tricks except one. Then cash your winners, and force the opponents to discard a potential winner.   (3) Discuss what 4C means after 2C/D-2D/H-3NT-4C(See above).

Board 2 - 23rd July 2013

A part-score deal this week -  nip and tuck to see if the defence or declarer prevails.

Dealer East ; N/S Vul.: After 3 passes North opens 1S and East should probably make a take-out double - showing a near-opener (after an initial pass), and support for all the other suits.      South bids 1NT, West passes and North bids an invitational 2NT showing 17-18hcp.     South is middle of the range for 1NT but should pass because of the complete misfit for partner's spades.
West starts off with D2 to partner's J,A and a third diamond.     West wins DK and cashes the thirteenth diamond with N,E,S throwing H3,S7(McKenney for a heart) and C4.   West exits with H6 and declarer has to make the crucial decision whether to duck ( and rectify the count, as last week ) or take the heart with HK in hand in order to take a spade finesse, or win in dummy to take a club finesse.     I think it best to hope eventually for the spade finesse right - likely in view of East's spade discard - but try the CQ first.     Every once in a while West turns up with C109 doubleton. So win the heart trick in dummy.  East covers CQ with CK, South wins the CA, and West plays C2.     So the clubs are no good for your eighth trick.      You thus lead S10.     West should not cover with SQ, as North can then give up a trick to the nine, making four spade tricks with SAKJ6.       However, declarer can now win HK,CJ,SA ( West showing out ) and end-play West with S8.       This is because declarer knows that West has only spades left, because East has discarded on SA, having already thrown one, so West must have the remaining three spades, not having discarded any!        West can win S9 but has to lead a spade into SKJ.   
       The blockage in the club suit and the lack of entries otherwise to the South hand makes the first option - of a squeeze in hearts and clubs against West -  a no-go option. 
       If you win the heart lead in hand to take a spade finesse, the defence will come out on top if East does not cover the CQ.       This would cause declarer to be in the wrong hand to make the spade end-play if a second club is led to the Ace or if CA is not cashed any end-play will fail because West can exit with a safe club.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Don't overbid when you have a singleton in partner's suit - you have fewer options as declarer when you come to play the hand.
                                    (2) As declarer you should try and visualise each defender's distribution and use it to your advantage
                                    (3) Try to anticipate what declarer is trying to do - and as a defender make it as difficult as possible!.
Board 18 - 2nd July 2013
Dealer East; N/S Vul.: Very few Norths ( only 3 ) realised the potential playing strength of their hand on today's deal. After three passes, North should open 1D and East should overcall 1H to get partner to lead the suit - rather than make a light take-out double - obviously less than an opening hand in this position because you have passed as dealer, but partner will expect about 10-11hcp. South has 9+ hcp and should bid 2C - being too strong for a 1NT bid which is normally 6-8 hcp ( occasionally 9 with a singleton in partner's suit ). West might jump to 3H to try and make things awkward for N/S although the bid should probably be only 2H if vulnerable, because you have a lot of losers - nine in fact! Over 3H, North should jump all the way to 5C because it should be possible to set up long diamonds for discards after drawing trumps, and also ruff any losing hearts. Although 5H doubled happens to be a good save at -500 against the vulnerable game it is difficult for either East or West to appreciate that it would not go for too many, i.e. four off for -800. Also bidding 5H may push the opponents into gambling on the small slam making, turning a score of -620 into -1370!
On the normal H7 lead, declarer should ruff and lead C2. You want to test the trumps as quickly as possible so the HA ( for a spade discard ) can wait until later. East has to win CA and will play safe by leading HQ, ruffed in dummy. Declarer now draws the two remaining trumps with CKQ and plays DAK expecting the diamonds to be 3-2 and thus be able to be set them up with one ruff. When the DQ falls this is not necessary, and all declarer's possible losers are discarded straight away, yielding an overtrick for +620. If one player had four diamonds including the Queen, you would need West to have the SK so that you can finesse SQ in order to get to dummy twice - first to ruff a fourth round of diamonds, and then get back to dummy to enjoy the set up 5th diamond for a spade discard.
TIP OF THE WEEK: When you have a long side-suit and plenty of entries with, normally, at least a nine card fit, you can make games on much fewer than the usual 26hcp.
Board 19 - 25th June 2013

I was surprised to see many pairs only making nine tricks on today's hand. Dealer South ; E/W Vulnerable: South is almost worth a 1NT opener but without a five card suit should pass. West has an obvious pass and North is almost worth a light third in hand opener but I would pass, as I don't particularly want a club lead and I may be able to double later to show the other two suits if the opposition bid hearts and diamonds. So East opens 1H, South passes as partner would expect better spades for a take-out double, and West should respond 2H rather than 1NT. The reason for this is that if minimum partner will have five hearts and the major suit contract will generally score better than 1NT. A possible exception is if your trumps are three small as you don't want to suggest partner leads the suit against an opposition contract if they out bid you. Partner should allow for a raise on three trumps only by bidding 2NT on 17-18, or 3NT on 19+, holding only four trumps. On this deal, with N/S now passing throughout, East although minimum in hcp has enough shape to suggest a possible game and makes a trial bid of 3D - the suit where most help is required. West, although holding a few good features, does not have enough help in diamonds - being middle of the road rather than maximum - and so probably signs off with 3H, and the auction ends.

On the obvious DQ lead (showing DJ) and continuation (D10 to suggest a club if North has only DAx), West plays low both times and North leads a club which, however, declarer ruffs, crosses to HJ and finesses SQ, cashes SA and ruffs a spade with H3, ruffs a club and ruffs the fourth spade with HQ before ruffing another club, drawing trumps and cashing DK.
TIP OF THE WEEK: You should generally single raise partner's suit with 6-8hcp rather than bid 1NT if you have a ruffing value and are unable to bid a higher ranking suit at the one level.
Board 8 - 18th June 2013

A difficult hand for E/W to play this week and a difficult hand for N/S to defend but N/S should prevail!. Dealer West; Love/All: West has a hand of 18hcp including a KQ doubleton which is not a good holding for the likely contract of 3NT as you intend to rebid 2NT if partner has no support! However, the main decision is whether you open 1C or 1S - both options have their merits. 1S stops the opponents overcalling at the one-level and also scores more than 1C if it is passed out and the contract makes. 1C gives partner more room to explore for the best contract. The modern style is to open 1S and I do so with some partners although personally I prefer 1C. Over 1S North passes and East is not quite good enough for 3S so bids 2S and over South's pass West bids 2NT in case partner has raised with only 3S and a ruffing value. Over this, with a maximum 2S raise, East jumps to 4S.

North should lead DK which you should duck in the hope the defence switches to clubs. South, holding D9, should play the D6 to encourage a continuation and West wins DQ with DA. As Clive Owen pointed out in his recent seminar on declarer play you should take care in playing major games on 4:4 fits to allow for a 4:1 break if you can, as this occurs more frequently (viz. 28%) than you might expect. One way of playing a trump suit of Axxx opposite xxxx is to duck the first trick in both hands and then cash the Ace later. In this case you know if the trumps are breaking badly and may be able to recover as you are on lead to be able to cross-ruff whereas if you play Ace and another the defence may be able to draw all your trumps straight away. However, in this case you have S10, and if the trumps are 4-1 the singleton is more likely to be the K,Q or J than the 9 or 5 (three chances to two). Thus you should cash SA and when SJ appears you must allow for it to be a singleton.
If this is the case you need to guess that South has CQ (reasonable as North would have 10hcp so South is more likely to hold the other three(SJ&CQ)) and also hope for a mis-defence from North. Since you cannot ruff a diamond in the East hand and also have S10 left to draw the 4th round of trumps you should cash HK, overtake HQ with HA and cash HJ, discarding a diamond from the West hand, then finesse CJ to lead a spade towards S10. If the trumps are breaking after all you have not lost anything. To defeat the contract, North must win SQ and give a ruff and discard! Declarer can ruff and lead another spade but North can win SQ and lead a fourth diamond to force East to ruff and thus set up S9 to defeat the contract. Any other defence allows S10 to draw the last opposing trump and the contract makes.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Consider if you can cope with a 4:1 trump break (2) When a defender has four trumps try to force declarer to ruff in both hands so that your small trump can win the day.
Board 2 - 11th June 2013
Tricky bidding for E/W on today's hand: Dealer East; N/S Vul. East has a (very) light opener of 1D, but my advice is to keep first and second hand openers up to scratch, as partners tend to inconveniently bid 2NT or 3NT without a fit for your long suit and you go several off! So South opens with a routine 1S. West is just too strong to make an intermediate jump overcall and doubles first, initially intending to bid clubs on the next round at the cheapest level to show a strong hand with usually at least six clubs. North has an obvious pass and East has a choice of bids 2D, 3D and 1NT. As the spade stop is not very good, and as you have nine points more than you might have had, an invitational jump to 3D seems the best bid. West now has an awkward choice whether to bid 4C (non-forcing but strong) or not. Possibly the best bid is 3S asking for a spade stop for 3NT and over this East owns up to a stop and ends the auction with 3NT.
South might find the best lead on this auction of a low spade but probably bashes out four rounds of the suit, dummy throwing 2 clubs. Declarer obviously plays on diamonds as even if the club Queen drops in two rounds the suit will not be running for more than 3 tricks. Although the usual way to play this diamond combination is low to the King and finesse the J on the way back, the South hand has a fifth spade to cash, so you should not risk losing a trick to South. The best way to play the diamond suit here is to lead the Jack first, at trick 5, and run it if not covered. If North wins DQ, your game is safe unless all the five outstanding diamonds are in one hand - very unlikely! This technique is known as finessing into the "safe" hand - you do not mind losing a trick to one opponent but do mind losing the trick to the "danger" opponent. If DJ wins, you cross to DK and back to HK to run 4 diamonds and HA and CAK making ten tricks for +430.
TIP OF THE WEEK: 3NT is generally easier to make than 5 of a minor when you have a long minor suit, an d ten tricks in no-trumps scores better than 12 in a minor.
Board 3 - 4th June 2013
Dealer S; E/W Vul.: Only 5 pairs managed to make 4H on this deal. South has a nice hand but not an opener in my system. West almost has a weak 2S bid but never overbid at unfavourable vulnerability. North should prefer 1D to 1NT as the short suits are not well held - intending to rebid 2D unless partner bids 1NT ( then pass ) or 1H as in this hand ( when you can raise the hearts ).. East has an opener but should not double as you have the wrong shape for a take-out double - partner invariably bids spades with only a four card suit. South responds 1H and North has to decide between 2H and 3H. Although the hand has good shape I recommend saving a jump to 3H for the hands with 15-17 hcp so I would only bid 2H as partner now has the room to make a trial bid in a new suit or a general try with 3H. On this South hand a trial bid of 2S is the way forward - the suit where you need help. With a good holding e.g. KQx or say a doubleton and not a minimum raise you accept partner's invitation and jump to game; otherwise with a not very appealing hand you sign off in three of the major. With North's actual hand, with a maximum for the bidding so far and a useful spade holding, it is a clear-cut jump to the 4H game.
West will usually lead S10 and North should win SA and lead C10 intending to run it if East plays low. Normally you cover an honour with an honour. However as there are only two clubs in dummy there is nothing East can gain by covering. If South were to have CAQJ9 you are giving four tricks away but by ducking you only give three!. So the ten holds, quickly followed by a club to the Jack and CA ditching S4 from dummy. After a spade ruff and HQ covered by K and A, South leads a heart to the Jack and gets the bad news of the 4-1 trump break. South should not panic, however, but hope that East has at least 3 diamonds. DAK and a ruff leaves South on lead to ruff C3 with H8 for an overtrick! East is left with two boss trumps to take tricks 12 and 13. Congratulations to the only pair who made +450 on the deal.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) When you have immediate loser(s) in a side-suit you should delay drawing trumps if you can see a way of discarding them first.
(2) A bid of a side-suit after a major has been raised to the two level is normally a long suit trial bid, showing a suit of say Kxx(x) or xxx(x) where you have losers and need help.
Board 4 - 28th May 2013
Dealer West; Game/All: Half the field managed a minus score on these E/W cards. West has an obvious 1S opener and neither N nor S has enough strength or length to compete so E/W have an uncontested auction. East bids 2D and over West's 2S rebid forces with a new suit at the 3 level, viz. 3C. Although West has a stop in the fourth suit it is a short suit and West should prefer 3S to 3NT. The reason a short stop is not suitable for NT is that you cannot hold up the Ace for two rounds to exhaust one of the defenders of the suit and thus spoil their inter-communication in the suit. With a better hand and suit West might have jumped to the spade game but as the suit and general values are very minimum, 3S is enough. With a good spade holding facing a six card suit East bids the spade game,
North has no stand-out lead and probably most defenders would lead a MUD H7 lead to try and tell partner not to expect a top honour in that suit. Declarer thus knows South has the HK and plays low from dummy but South's HJ forces you to win the Ace. With a certain loser in diamonds and hearts declarer has no hope unless North has CA and the trumps need to be 3-2 (you don't have an entry to the West hand to play 4 top trumps) and so should play accordingly. Your initial plan is for the DKQ to be split between N & S (or North to have both). With the only entries to the West hand being trumps you should delay drawing trumps. You expect the DJ to lose to the South hand who would then cash HK and exit with a safe trump. You then would win this in dummy with SJ and overtake SK with SA to draw the last trump with SQ and try another diamond finesse. This would hopefully win and you could then throw your third club on DA. If the diamonds were not then good you could ruff one back to hand and lead towards the CK for your tenth trick. When, however, North covers the DJ with DQ you should change your plan. As North may be covering with a singleton or doubleton you should win DA and draw trumps to stop North maybe ruffing a diamond winner. After SK and SJ to SQ, declarer draws the last trump with SA and leads D5 to D7, forcing out DK and setting up diamond winners to discard West's losing club(s) using CK as an eventual entry.
TIP OF THE WEEK: When, as declarer, things look bleak - don't give up - work out what you need and play accordingly.
Board 4 - 21st May 2013
Dealer West: Game/All : I was surprised that nobody bid the slam on this hand. West will usually pass unless you are playing 3 weak twos rather than Benji. In this case, a 2D opener creates problems for N/S when East raises pre-emptively over North's take-out double ( intending to rebid 4S to show a strong hand ) and the slam will be missed. North has a hand not quite good enough for a game-forcing Benji 2D - although you could argue that you are quite happy to bid 4S in the hope that partner has a useful HQ or doubleton heart. However a Benji 2C opener with a jump rebid of 3S should show this type of hand with a self-sufficient spade suit and nine solid tricks. South can suggest but not commit to a slam by cue-bidding 4C and North can similarly suggest a slam by cue-bidding 4H and South should then take the bull by the horns and bid 6S because of the diamond control and hopefully a couple of ruffs - not in this case however as North only has one diamond to ruff!
The play of the contract depends on the lead. If East leads DQ you should abandon ideas of setting up the clubs as your entry to dummy with the third trump is removed too early. So you ruff and draw trumps and play HAK and another setting up the HJ for a club discard with CA as entry. With the HQ dropping doubleton you make a lucky thirteen tricks. On a trump lead you can play the contract the same way but on a club lead you have various ways to play the slam. Although you know East should have CQ you should not duck intending to finesse later as West might have a singleton club and would ruff the club continuation. After winning CA, rather than staking the contract on the heart finesse, I would hope that the trumps were 2:1 and thus draw trumps in two rounds and then lead a second club to set up CJ to discard my third heart, ruffing North's diamond as entry to dummy. Note that if the trumps are 3-0 you leave the last trump outstanding, cash HA (in case the HQ is singleton), ruff a diamond and finesse HJ as your best bet.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Decide what opening a Benji 2C and jump rebidding 3 of a major means.
Board 15 - 14th May 2013
A tricky hand to bid and play this week but I cannot state the best bidding or best play as the variations in bidding and defence are much too complicated and the following are my personal views only!
Dealer S; N/S Vulnerable.   South has an obvious pass and West has a borderline opener with good 3-0-5-5 shape and a lot of players like to open this type of hand hoping to steal the part-score from their opponents.      I believe, however, that it is best to keep first or second- hand minor suit openings up to strength as otherwise you tend to end up in 3NT on minimal values and with no fit in either suit.      Also the hand has 3 Jacks which are over-rated as 1 hcp each.        If the 5-5 suits were majors then the most likely game contract is not 3NT but 4 of a major which does not require as many hcp to be a good contract so I would open 1S without any qualms.      I would open 1D on this West hand if it were preceeded  by two passes, i.e. 3rd-in-hand.      The North hand is totally unsuitable for a 3-level pre-empt at any vulnerability and is not worth a weak two-bid either as you don't want partner to lead the suit holding Kx.     In the old days I used to open the East hand with 2S, strong and forcing for one round and rebid 3H and hope partner made an intelligent decision.      This was frowned on by the experienced players of the day.     Nowadays the usual treatment is to open 1S hoping that 1S is not passed out and jump to 3H on the next round.  (Opening a Benji 2C makes it difficult to show both suits.)     
       After East opens 1S and South passes West should respond 2C rather than 2D to give partner an easy rebid of 3C with 5S and 4C or 2 of a red suit otherwise with 5-4.      If you have a 5-4 fit in either minor there may be a possible slam in the hand.     After partner's jump to 3H, however,  you should be wary of thinking about a slam, even though you now have a spade fit (since partner has now shown at least 5 spades).    The hand will not play well just because you can ruff your partner's heart losers.      If you had 5 trumps this would be true but you cannot both draw trumps and ruff hearts if you only have three trumps, so here, a void in partner's second suit  is not an asset!     So you sign off with a jump to 4S.     Many play a bid of 3S in this sequence as more encouraging than a bid of 4S, i.e. it welcomes a cue-bid from partner as the first step in the search for a slam.     This is known as the fast-arrival principle which says you only want to play in game.
       South should not lead the singleton heart as it is likely to help develop declarer's second suit and should thus lead D4.      East would like to ruff two hearts in dummy but has not got the entries to do so unless the trumps are 3-2.      Seeing as both dummy and yourself have a singleton and a void you should try and allow for trumps 4-1.     Your first decision to make as declarer is whether the lead is a singleton.   With no opposition bidding I would assume it was from length and the rule of eleven suggests that North has one card higher than the four ( 11 - 4 = 7 and you can see the AJ9876 in your two hands ) which is likely to be the K or Q and not the 10 because the lead from KQxx would be the King.   Of course the lead might not be 4th highest, but you have to lose a diamond anyway, so duck the lead to North's DQ.     North, on seeing dummy , switches to S7 so you rise with SA, ruff a low heart and lead SJ from dummy.      If South wins SQ all South can take is CA as East can eventually ruff a club and draw trumps and cash 3 top hearts.    If the hearts were to break 4-3 the H9 is now a winner but on the actual lie of the cards you finesse D9 (if North held the DQ10 the 10 would have been played at trick 1) and cash DA for ten tricks.     If South ducks SJ you must carefully exit with CK - to make sure North cannot win the club 10 or Q and give South a heart ruff - and the play then takes the same route as above.  
TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't overbid your values with a void in partners's second suit  unless you have plenty of trumps to both draw trumps and ruff all partner's losers in that suit.
Board 24 - 23rd April 2013
Many players nowadays play SPLINTER BIDS. These are a double jump in a new suit to show four card support for opener's suit plus a good raise to game and a singleton or void in the suit bid. The purpose of the bid is that in one fell swoop you suggest a possible slam if partner has a little bit extra but also warn partner off a slam if the extra values are wasted, eg KQx or KJx, in your short suit. With a minimum opener partner signs off by bidding game in the agreed suit, but otherwise the usual continuation is to cue-bid first round controls and if you rebid the splintered suit you are then showing a void. Most players are familiar with the sequence one of a major - four of a minor to show this type of hand. Less familiar are the sequences 1S-4H, 1H-3S and 1C/D-3H/S. I recommend you play all of these as splinters. Note that if partner bids 3NT over your 3H/S bid you know you can trust partner to have a double stop in your drastically short suit and you need not be worried about playing in 3NT. On today's hand West has a hand full of expectation of a high contract but should not open 2C Benji because partner will not expect a hand with such a low hcp and also it may be difficult then to find a heart fit if partner has only four hearts and shortage in clubs. So West starts with 1C, expecting with such distribution that it is unlikely that 1C will be passed out! After a normal 1S overcall from North, East makes a jump cue-bid of 3S which should be the normal splinter bid to show club support and a singleton or void spade. If you were instead to bid 2D partner will never believe you have such good club support or if you were to bid 3D intending to support clubs at a higher level later partner will expect more in hcp, say 15+. Over 3S , if partner were to bid 3NT, you wouldn't with this particular hand leave this to play, because of your wild distribution - you either bid 5C which would be a sign-off saying you have nothing extra (but you don't think 3NT would be a good contract) or with this hand 4C which is more forward going as you have shown game values already with the splinter bid so you are inviting partner to cue-bid or ask for aces with 4NT. With this West hand, over 3S, I think you should cue-bid 4H. This will be more useful to your partner, who is known to be missing both HA and HK and so would sign off in 5C if you start by cue-bidding the void with 4D. East then cue-bids 5D to deny first round control of spades and West settles for 6C.
North will cash a top spade and probably switch to hearts but declarer has no problems and after drawing trumps does not even need to set up the diamonds as the two losing hearts go away on DAK and an eventual spade ruff gives you twelve tricks and an easy slam.
TIP OF THE WEEK (1) Play splinters - its fun to bid a suit you haven't got! N.B. you should have a good raise to game, i.e. with the usual minimum controls ( A+K or 3K ) necessary for an opening bid, not just good shape and seven losers!
(2) Play a jump-cue-bid as a splinter if the opposition overcall - this is usually the same bid as if the opposition had not bid.
(3) Discuss with partner whether you want to play splinters in other situations,e.g. after an initial response,e.g. 1C-1H-3S, or a simple rebid,e.g. 1S-2C-2H-4D. or in response to an opening weak-two bid,e.g. 2H-4C/4D/3S.
Board 6 - 16th April 2013
Dealer E; E/W Vulnerable: A few close decisions in the bidding this week after the obvious pass by East. South could open 2C Benji and rebid 2NT if the bid shows 19-20 hcp , but here I would only open 1H, as the SKQ is not a full 5 working hcp - KQx(x) is a much better holding. West has a marginal 1S overcall but because the suit quality is poor - you really need AJTxx without extra strength to justify a vulnerable 1S overcall - you should pass. North has a decent six card suit but not the strength to respond 2C, viz 9+hcp, so has to choose between 1NT and 2H. 2H is a much better bid as you want partner to lead hearts if the opponents outbid you,
With only a four card suit and a "good" 19hcp you would rebid 3NT, to allow for the possibility of partner raising with only 3 card support. [ Likewise with a 2NT rebid showing 17-18 hcp ]. To make a trial bid also, you should have 5 trumps, but in this case South has just enough to justify a jump to the game of 4H.
It is surprising that only 2 pairs out of 18 made an overtrick in 4H. I expect most Wests would lead C5 as no other lead stands out. However It is generally a bad idea to lead a singleton when you have a likely trump trick anyway - but it does no harm in this case. Because North has so few entries to set up the clubs you should give up that idea and aim to ruff a diamond instead! In case the clubs are 4-1 the first trick should thus be won with the CA in order to play a diamond to the DQ followed by HAK and a second diamond finesse. You do not want North's club entry ruffed which will happen if you win the first club in the South hand. South then ruffs D2 with H9 and exits with a spade and all the defence can make is the boss HQ and SA.
As it happens, the alternative line of trying to set up the clubs, with HK as a late entry, works on this hand as the hand with a singleton has three trumps and then HAK clears trumps leaving the H9 as a sure fire extra entry to dummy. Note that West should not ruff the second club after South wins CK and leads another, as it would be ruffing one of North's losing clubs with a certain trump winner! After West discards a diamond declarer knows of the bad club split, so reverts to the alternative plan as above, i.e. taking two diamond finesses and ruffing the third round with H9.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Subtract 1 hcp for singleton honours or 2 honours in a doubleton or 3 honours in a trebleton - e.g KQJ is only 5 working hcp.
(2) When considering alternative lines of play work out how you are going to manage your entries if dummy has very few!
Board 17 - 2nd April 2013
Dealer North; Love/All: North has a strong distributional hand just short of a 2C Benji opener so opens 1H, East has nothing to contribute and South responds 1S as you should always respond with the major first with equal length in your suits - N.B. 1S with 5-5 in the majors. West has no shape and insufficient hcp to bid so North has to find the best rebid - 2S shows the right hcp (10-14) but is much too feeble. I would not quarrel with 4S but I think 3S is the least misleading bid showing nominally 15-17hcp with four card support. Now South probably has enough to shoot a small slam if partner has 2 of the three outstanding Aces and not two losing hearts. It costs nothing to cue-bid 4C and North should bid 4H to show the HA and also deny the DA. Now 4NT by South RKCB gets a response of 5C showing 0 or 3 of the five key-cards. 5NT now by S should show that the partnership holds all of the five Aces and the Queen of trumps and North should then bid 7S with a source of tricks i.e. with solid hearts. However as neither N nor S can oblige on this occasion, you should settle for a jump to 6S. Few pairs bid this slam but perhaps some were unlucky that West found the only lead to give declarer problems.
West has no obvious or attractive lead and any suit could be right or wrong.
I think most would choose DQ.  The only lead to cause declarer a problem is a small heart. Declarer may think this is a singleton and go up with the HA hoping that trumps are 2-2 and then being able to lose a heart. Sadly this is not the case!  On DQ lead, declarer wins DA, cashes SAK finding there is a trump loser, ruffs a diamond back to hand and takes the heart finesse, ruffs another diamond and repeats the heart finesse and plays winning hearts until West ruffs then claims the balance.
TIP OF THE WEEK: When you know you have at least a nine card fit and plenty of outside controls bid a few more slams - some may fail but more will come in and improve your match point scores.
Board 6 - 26th March 2013
A competitive deal this week. Dealer East; E/W Vul: East passes and South opens 1C and West overcalls 1H. I recommend that, in this sequence, a double by North should be used to show precisely four spades with a bid of 1S showing 5+ cards in the suit. This enables North/South to be sure that they can compete knowing the full extent of their fit , especially if the opposition inconveniently bounces the level to 3H or 4H. On today's hand for example, after 1S by North, East should jump to 3H. As an unassuming cue bid of 2C by East would show a good raise to 3H in this sequence, the immediate raise to 3H is pre-emptive showing four card support with a ruffing value and something useful outside. South is good enough to support with 3S ( and might possibly jump to 4S, but the hand might play awkwardly if the defence force dummy to ruff early ) but after a pass by West, North with an extra trump and a singleton in the opponents' suit diagnoses a good fit and raises to 4S.
If East cashes the HA that is the end of the defence, but if the singleton trump is led West wins the Q and switches to the C10 and when in with SA leads the H5 to make sure partner wins and should follow with a second club which is ruffed by West.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) It is much better to keep the sequence 1 of a minor - 1H - Double to just show four spades rather than just a few hcp and any distribution. It helps in competitive situations. (2) Don't always lead the Ace of partner's suit if there is an alternative.
Board 2 - 19th March 2013
Board 2 : Dealer E; N/S Vul: East opens 1D rather than 1NT. It is generally better to open the 5 card suit on 2/2/4/5 shape unless both doubletons are very strong and hence your five card suit is weakish. South has no sound bid and West responds 1H raised to 2H by East. As this bid is wide-ranging , i.e. 10 hcp with a six card suit, up to 14hcp, West should make a try for game with 3C and pass if partner denies any extra playing strength by a bid of 3H. With a medium range hand but with good tops ( Aces and Kings ) East should jump to 4H.
On the usual CK lead West should win, play DAK and ruff a diamond with HK, play H6 to H9, ruff a diamond with HQ and play H7 to HAJ10, cash the set up 5th diamond, which with the CA makes ten tricks. Note that as you need the diamonds no worse than 4-2 you should not play any rounds of trumps as a 4-1 trump split will then defeat you. This is because you cannot then get back to dummy with a trump to draw all the outstanding trumps and cash the winning 5th diamond. [ Also if North finds a spade lead and the defence plays 3 rounds you must not ruff the 3rd round in dummy but throw a club which you are bound to always lose anyway! Then if the defence play a 4th round of spades you can cash DAK and cross-ruff clubs and diamonds to make ten tricks ].
TIP OF THE WEEK: The times that you make game in a major on less than the usual hcp for game (25hcp) are usually when you both have your share of Aces and Kings as well as a ruffing value in each hand.
Board 19 - 19th March 2013
Board 19: Dealer S; E/W Vul: I think South should pass as dealer hoping to enter the bidding later with a bid showing the two-suited nature of the hand. West has a normal Acol light opener of 1D and North has an obvious pass. East is strong enough to show both suits held and so starts with the longer by bidding 2C. South can now double or bid 2NT to show both major suits as it cannot now be a strong NT hand after an initial opening pass. I prefer 2NT to show 5-5 or better and double to show more hcp and maybe 5/4. West can now either pass to show a minimum opener with usually 5+ diamonds or bid 3D to show a fair six card suit according to how optimistic you feel. I would risk 3D, but it is not a crime to pass. In either case East probably thinks the hand is worth a shot at 3NT despite the misfit with partner's suit. There is now no point in mentioning the spades as South has shown five cards in this suit.
South should lead H9 to tell partner that by inference the spades are a better suit. Partner can then decide to switch to spades if dummy looks strong in hearts and weak in spades. East should win HJ and set up a couple of spade winners before tacking either minor as South may otherwise be able to set up heart winners with a top spade as entry. So S7 to the 10 if South ducks and when South wins a spade and leads another heart you set up your second spade winner by leading SQ. South probably exits with a 3rd heart to give nothing away and now it is time for a minor to be led. By this time you know diamonds are break badly because of South's major suit length, and you should play on clubs. With CK and SAK and both majors South would probably have opened 1S rather than pass so you lead a club and finesse the eight as South could have CJx. North however wins CJ but has no major suit cards left - 3 rounds of spades and hearts having been already played - and so has to lead into one of your tenaces in the minors. In fact North has to exit with CK to avoid E/W making ten tricks - this inconveniently blocks the run of the clubs but you can counter by ducking to set up 3 club tricks by then taking the Ace plus the 10x!
TIP OF THE WEEK: When the opposition have told you in the bidding that suits are breaking badly, make sure you play on the suit that attacks the entries in the hand with the long side-suit which the defence were hoping to set up.
Board 11 - 5th March 2013
Dealer South; Love/All: After South passes West opens a weak 1NT and North has an obvious pass. East has an in-between hand. Many players think that a "good" ten points , i.e. if it includes a five card suit and a couple of tens, is enough to make a try for game. My experience is that it is not. With 10 hcp only I believe the best bid in the long run is "no bid" unless you are 5/4 in the majors when you should trot out Stayman. If, however, you had another point , i.e. with eleven hcp, you would be worth a try for game facing 12-14 hcp and with this shape ( 5H & 4S ) you should transfer into hearts and bid 2S - forcing for one round. With no fit, i.e. less than 3 hearts and not 4 spades opener should then bid 2NT with a minimum 1NT and 3NT with a maximum. With a fit you bid 3H or 3S with a minimum or jump to 4H or 4S with a maximum. On the given East hand you should sign off in 2H if opener bids 2D, or make an invitational raise if opener bids one of your majors. ( If you had another heart instead of one of the minor suit cards, i.e. were 6-4 in the majors you would be worth an invitational bid. In this instance you should bid 2C Stayman and follow with a jump to 3H over 2D, 4H over 2H and 3H  over 2S! )
The hand plays itself in 2H ( by East ) after the C2 lead and presumed continuation by North with first the HJ being run to South's Queen and then dummy re-entered with DK or SK for a lead of H10 which may be allowed to win. If covered, you win the Ace over the King and lead H8 to the H9 allowing you then to draw North's last trump with H7. Either way you only lose two hearts and the Ace of both minors making 9 tricks for +140 due to the favourable spade position giving you four tricks.
On a good day you might even find North with HKQxx and South with H9x and only lose one trump, but on a bad day South will have KQ9x. On Friday 13th South has KQ doubleton and you finesse twice to lose to both, and still concede a trick to North's 9.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Generally pass a weak 12-14 1NT opener with 10 hcp however "good" unless you are 5/4 in the majors. If the opposition have a running suit you often struggle to make seven tricks and if you make 9 or 10 it is generally well above average anyway.
Board 16 - 26th February 2013
The cornerstone of defensive bidding these days is the two-suited overcall conventions. Many play different and some more complex agreements including an artificial 3C jump overcall but I recommend the simplest forms (a) The Unusual 2NT jump overcall, showing the lowest two unbid suits, developed by USA player Alvin Roth as early as 1948 and (b) The Michaels's Cue Bid invented by the USA player Michael Michaels about 1950 showing both majors over one of a minor and the other major and one of the minors over a one of a major opener .
Dealer West; E/W Vul.: Over 1D, North with a huge hand should not double as partner might bid 4S but bid 2NT to show the hand type, intending obviously to bid again. If partner bids the cheapest minor a bid of three of the major would then be a game try with six but with this hand you intend to bid 4H. Partner should prefer to show three card support rather than a longer minor as firstly if it makes 3H scores 140 rather than the minor ( only 130 for ten tricks ) and also if there is a chance of game ten tricks are generally easier than eleven! On this hand East passes and South bids 3H without much enthusiasm and West tries to get partner interested with a bid of 4D. North is worth a Roman Key-card 4NT but signs off in 5H over the 5C (0 or 3 of 5 Key cards) reply. There is nothing to the play and West always makes 2 Aces.
The minimum requirements for the bid are roughly an opening hand vulnerable but a trick less if non-vulnerable and preferably your hcp should be concentrated in your two suits. The hand is better if your suits are robust as you need to be able to draw trumps quickly and set up your side suit as well.
Note that over an alerted 1C I think it it is best to play 2NT as showing hearts and the other minor unless the 1C is 16+ as in Precision when it should show both minors.
Having announced your extreme distribution you should leave partner to evaluate the fit and not bid again even in competition without substantial added values to what you have promised already. Partner knows to upgrade pictures in your suits where it is obvious which ones they are. Partner knows that values in the other two suits will not be as useful unless they are just Aces!
Without 3 card support for partner's sole major a bid of the minor if known is weak and should not be raised even if you have six cards in it without a rock-crusher! If partner's minor is not known a bid of 3C asks you to pass or correct to 3D if that were your suit. A bid of 2NT after a Michaels's Cue Bid asks you to bid your minor and should be played as constructive i.e. game interest possibly in the minor - the cue-bidder should make a natural jump with a big hand. The cue-bid after a 2NT Unusual overcall should be a game try with a fit for partner's major if a major/minor shown or asking for help in the opponents suit for no-trump purposes if both minors shown.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Discuss Two-suited Overcalls with partner but be sure you agree how to continue the auction.
Board 3 - 19th February 2013
Dealer South; E/W Vul.: I was surprised to see only 3 pairs bid a slam on this board on which 13 tricks are easy in either of the black suits.
South has nothing to contribute, West has a routine 1S opener and North is too weak to overcall 2H. East has a great hand if partner has five spades or club support but I would not start with a game-force of 3C as I want to know what partner's rebid is - this will then define the strength opposite. (I prefer to only bid 3C and then support spades if I have genuine four card support, or a self-sufficient suit of my own which I can then rebid to set the suit the partnership is playing in.) In an uncontested auction, West now rebids 2H to guarantee 5/4 - in my system anyway - over which East bids 3D, fourth suit forcing, to elicit more information. West obviously cannot bid 3NT, or 3H - which would show 5/5 - so has to choose between 3S or 4C. 3S gives partner the chance to bid 3NT if the reason for bidding 3D was just to see if you are 5-5 in the majors. However 4C is useful in the fact that it conveys you have at least 3 card club support - which together with the 5/4 in the majors you have already shown means you have a singleton or void diamond. As mentioned last week, a jump to 5S now asks partner to raise to slam with better spades than shown already. In this case, West has an easy bid of 6S. No doubt an expert partnership would be able to bid the grand slam but I don't count myself in that category!
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Don't go leaping about on a strong hand but go slowly and find forcing bid(s) to give partner the chance to show any assets.
(2) Make a jump bid in a new suit to suggest a possible slam if you intend to then support the suit opened, leaving the final decision about whether to go for a slam to partner.
Board 6 -12th February 2013
Dealer East ; E/W Vul.:  A hand with some interesting bidding decisions, I think!      East has a routine pass and South an obvious 1C opener.       West has a hand almost worth an intermediate 2D jump overcall but because of the lack of suit quality and the fact that honours in short suits are not  working as hard as regards trick-taking potential you should content yourself with 1D unless playing weak jump overcalls.        North could double to show length in both unbid suits, i.e. both majors but I prefer to bid 1H because of the five card suit.       East bids 2D which denies the values to make an unassuming cue-bid of 2C, i.e. a near opener ( having passed as dealer ).        If partner had doubled it is clear for South to "support" spades with a bid of 2S but over partner's 1H I play both 2S or a strength-showing double as 15+hcp, i.e. a trick better than a minimum opener.       South could bid 3C to show a goodish  six card suit and 10-14hcp  but I would bid 2H, supporting partner on only three as this is usually the most helpful bid to partner who can always put you back to clubs with only four hearts.        Note that with any other minimum hand with only five clubs and no support for partner you should pass - partner will take you for five cards and compete for the part-score with a suitable hand and three card support for clubs        If West does not bid 3D North can make a trial bid of 2S which South raises to 3S offering a choice of games.        Then, knowing of 4 card support opposite, North bids the game in spades not hearts as a 4-4 fit is generally better than a 5-3 fit in the other major.        However West should make things more difficult for N/S by bidding 3D despite being vulnerable.      Now a double can be played as either penalty or for take-out.       Obviously a double for penalties here is only right if you cannot make a major game. You will  only recoup 200 if West carefully ruffs the third club with DK and plays North for AJx(x)D.          If your agreement is that a double is for take-out you should reach 4S ( although the lack of spade top honours will be a disappointment ) otherwise you will probably have a bash at 4H.
           Against 4H by North , East probably leads the D5 which you should ruff on the table and cash HKJ and then lead a spade.    East will continue diamonds and you win DA, draw the last trump with HA, cash CAK throwing DJ  and lead another spade.        You are then perfectly placed to ruff a further diamond and  lead a third round of spades  setting up a fourth round winner in spades to go with your last trump.
           Against 4S , the diamond lead is ruffed by South and  a trump is led immediately.        When you  have a weak 4-4 fit it is usually essential to play two rounds of trumps quickly and then play off your winners until the defence ruffs with a master trump.      Of course the defence may be able to organise drawing a third round so you may have to take two early ruffs ( by the same hand ).       In this case you can throw your second diamond loser on a top club so this isn't necessary for today's hand.      Despite the lack of trump quality you can make 4S in this way, just losing 3 trumps, playing hearts until the defence ruff in with their third trump winner ( after of course conceding two trump tricks as soon as possible).
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) Think about playing doubles as for take-out usually showing 4 cards in an unbid major.
                                     (2) Decide whether 3 level doubles should be for penalties or take-out.
                                     (3) Don't be afraid of playing in weak  4-4 fits but make sure that you stop your opponents defeating your contracts by a cross-ruff.   
Board 13 - 5th February 2013

Dealer North; Game All:   The raise from four of a major to five is usually played as a specific slam try by most partnerships.     I play if the bidding is uncontested you are asking partner for better trumps than shown already - you are saying that your holding is thread bare say Kxxx or Axxx and you want partner to have say AQxx or KQxx or Axxxxx.      If the opposition have overcalled in a suit then you want partner to bid a small slam without two losers in the suit.       On today's hand North opens 1S and East probably overcalls 2D and South makes a forcing bid of 3C.   West passes and North has a problem he is good enough for game but cannot bid 3NT without a stop in diamonds.  In these circumstances you are forced to cue-bid the opponents suit and hope partner can help you to bid the correct contract. South jumps to game in spades - knowing that partner will expect secondary support only as an initial bid of 4S would have shown primary support (4+ cards).    Now North with a goodish suit, a heart control and a good holding in partner's suit (clubs) raises to five spades as a slam try.    South with a singleton club raises to six. There is nothing to the play - if East does not cash the DA North makes an overtrick.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Discuss what a  raise to the five level of partner's major means.

Board 11 - 29th January 2013
  • Teams bridge is about bidding and making games and slams and about defeating contracts.      This means that as declarer you should not risk going down because of unfortunate distributions of the opposing cards in the search of overtricks, even if they are very likely according normal splits or if the opposition's bidding have suggested where the missing honours lie.        If you see a way to guarantee your contract go for it!         When defending do not worry too much about giving away any unnecessary overtrick(s) if you see a reasonable  (if futile) attempt to break an opponent's contract if partner has a particular card.       In particular, as declarer, you should should eschew a risky contact of 3NT if 5 of a minor is the more likely contract to end up with a plus score, even though  it scores less than 3NT+1 or 4 of a major just making as in today's hand.
  • I  would recommend an opening bid of 1C reasoning that you can rebid 1S and then 2S on the next round to show your shape.      However I often find that my partner and/or my opponents cause havoc with this idea and won't let me bid my hand cheaply.       I thus prefer to open 1S and rebid 2S if I cannot rebid 2C over partner's 1NT, reasoning that it is more important to show a five card major than suggest I have reversing strength (15-17hcp) by forcing my partner to give preference at the 3 level.       After a 1S opening and a pass by West North should bid the lower 4 card suit (2C) to give the opener a chance to make an easy rebid at the 2 level on a minimum hand.      On this actual hand the choice of rebid is close between 3C and 4C.      I would choose 3C as occasionally partner is 3-4-3-3 shape with only 3 clubs (as 2H would promise a 5 card suit) or partner may be strong and might go slamming thinking you had more hcp than your 11.      Over 3C North could jump to 4H, a cue bid showing interest in a club slam and denying the diamond Ace - if this card was held a jump to 4D would be possible.      [ Note that in this situation with a minor agreed a jump to the four level is a  cue-bid but a bid at the 3 level is forcing and merely showing a stopper for no-trump purposes hoping partner can bid 3NT or show a further stop en route to 3NT, or a sign off in the minor.]     Then 5C by S would be a sign-off denying the SA but instead S bids 4S to show the SA and not two losing diamonds and a decent hand for slam purposes .        Note that 4S should be a cue-bid and not a sign off after N has initiated a cue-bidding sequence.         Incidentally most people still play 4NT as Blackwood during cue-bidding sequences.        After 4S by S , N bids 5C only, because partner may not have both the CA and DA.      South gives up also and passes because partner would be using Blackwood if happy to bid a slam if the partnership had the requisite number of Aces.
  •  On the normal lead of DJ South has a variety of ways to play the hand but if the spades are 4-3 there is no problem whatever the plan.     If they are 5-2 you can hope that either West is short - when you can overruff - or that East can only overruff with a singleton trump and so cannot stop you cross-ruffing the whole hand by returning a trump.     Failing that you need a second heart trick with HK dropping under the Ace or with East, thus promoting your HQ.       So ruff the diamond lead, ruff a spade low, ruff a diamond and ruff another spade low.      If you get away with this and the spades break 4-3 you should now play on a high cross ruff.       Even though the spades are breaking and in theory you could draw trumps with the fifth spade being a winner anyway, the clubs may be 4-0 so you should cash HA and ruff  diamonds and spades alternately - even though the fifth spade is a winner you ruff it with a top trump and make a safe eleven tricks, not worrying about a possible overtrick if the HK were usefully placed.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  At teams try and bid and play in the safest way possible ignoring possible plays for overtricks  that endanger the contract if suits break badly!
Board 24 - 15th January 2013
A few thoughts on bidding theory this week relating to big two-suiters especially a six card minor allied to a five card major. As mentioned in earlier columns if you are in the 10-14 hcp range I think you should generally open the five card major and rebid the six card minor if and only if you can make a two level rebid. A rebid of a minor at the 3 level even if a non-jump should show 15+ hcp. It is more important when you have to rebid the suit you have opened not to suppress a five card major rather than a six card minor as the scoring system favours the major suit - e.g. 3C+1 scores 130 but 2S+1 scores 140. With 15-18 hcp you can afford to reverse - i.e. allow partner to give preference at the 3-level - because you have the extra values. Your general plan is to open one of the minor and then bid your major on the next two rounds of bidding as economically as possible to show the 6-5 shape. Partner can then decide how high to go knowing what sort of strength to expect. With 18+ and this shape you almost certainly can open with a Benji 2C or 2D bid. Also if the big two-suiter contains a reasonable six card major it is probably prudent to open with a two-bid anyway if you have less hcp but 8 playing tricks!
On this week's West hand most bridge players - of whatever rank - would open 1D. despite being able to count eight playing tricks in diamonds. If you open 2C Benji you will not be able to show your shape below game level - so you should start with 1D only as you cannot afford to "lose" a decent five card major in the bidding! North is not quite strong enough to take action and should pass. East is not strong enough to bid 2C and follow with 3H so, for similar reasons to those mentioned earlier, should respond 1H. South has an obvious pass and West has to decide whether to force to game with 2S or merely bid 1S. I would choose 1S for several reasons. Firstly the hand is not as powerful as it seems because of the lack of Aces and the fact that seven of the hcp are in singletons. Hands usually play better when your honours are concentrated in your two longest suits. Also you have not found a fit yet and if your trump holding is tenuous with only a combined seven trumps you often lose control and are unable to utilise your side-suit winners. I think it is the winning strategy in the long run to proceed slowly until you have found a fit and having shown your distribution leave it up to your partner to decide how the cards opposite fit with yours - pictures in your suits are like gold dust! Of course if partner bids 2S over your 1S you go direct to game. However on the actual hand East bids 1NT over your 1S rebid so you know there are wasted values in clubs and probably hearts as well so there will be no DA or SQ to help you. Therefore, over 1NT, 2D or 2H you just bid out your shape with 2S and leave the final destination to partner who should pass!
The contract is fascinating to play on the normal C8 lead. West wins and leads DK for a ruffing finesse ruffing out North's DA and - after cashing CK throwing HK - leads a trump. As North has led what looks like top of nothing he probably has something in hearts to go with DA and couldn't take any action over 1D so is more likely to hold SQ than SA. Also if the spades are 5-1 singleton Q is of some use to you but singleton Ace is not. These considerations should lead you to play SK at trick four and follow with a second spade which produces the Ace from South who then should play CQ to force West to ruff. West should then play top diamonds and allow North to make both trumps but otherwise can claim the rest of the tricks, losing just 3 trump tricks for +170. No-one on the night however managed this and +140 was a deserved joint top for bidding cautiously.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Consider how to bid 6-5 hands and don't overvalue them - most of the time partner also is 6-5 - in the other two suits!
Board 16 - 18th December 2012
An interesting , for me anyway, part-score deal again this week. Dealer WestE/W Vul. West has a routine weak 1NT and North a routine pass. East nowshould bid 2C Stayman, expecting to pass partner's response, whether two of amajor or the conventional 2D. This is hoping that you improve the contractfrom 1NT and that partner does not have the dreaded 3-3-2-5 distribution. ( Ifso, you just have to shrug off a bad result ). Pairs is a game of odds, andthey are significantly in favour of using Stayman here to find a fit in one ofthe majors, or failing that, in diamonds! South has a normal 3C pre-emptif first to bid but has a difficult decision whether to take action now.There are 3 choices (a) Pass, intending to bid 3C at the next turn if theStayman response is passed by the Stayman bidder (b) Bid 3C - you have theplaying strength but partner will expect more hcp for this bid as you haven'thad a chance to bid yet! (c) Double, which is not for take-out but shows thesuit after a conventional bid, so here at least five clubs and a reasonablesuit, and usually around 10+hcp. On this hand, the only bid thatinconveniences West is 3C because, otherwise, West just bids 2H which partnerraises to 3H if either North or South bid 3C. Then if North bids 3C andEast 3H, South should sacrifice in 4C, anticipating that 3H will make exactlynine tricks and that four clubs is making 9 or 10 tricks.
However if South bids 3C , West has to be quite frisky to bid 3Has if partner is weaker - and he may have nothing - minus 200 will be a very badscore indeed. However, I think most of us would not give in to 3C and takean optimistic view of the West hand. At least you have 3 spades if partnerhas an eleven count with four spades and two hearts.
Against the normal 3H contract, after the automatic lead of theCQ, West wins with CA and leads HK. South can win and lead D10 but North isstymied - if DA is won and a diamond ruff follows the defence can only make onemore trick ( in spades ) for four tricks only - if North ducks East wins DQ anddraws trumps in 2 rounds and finesses S10 and can only lose a further twodiamonds. So +140 for E/W should be the normal result.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Bid Stayman on weak 4-4-4-1 hands ( unless perhaps ifyou have a singleton club high honour ).
(2) Discuss what to expect from animmediate 3C bid by partner after the opposition bid Stayman.
Board 4 - 4th December 2012
I will be talking mainly about defending this week for a change! Dealer West ; Game/All. West is slightly too strong for a weak 1NT so starts with 1D. North could bid the Unusual 2NT which usually shows 5-5 or better in the lowest two unbid suits, in this case clubs and hearts but I would only overcall 1H as the hand is not strong enough to commit to a three level contract and you should have a better holding in the suits, e.g. say AKT9x as well as KJ9xx. Over the 1H overcall East bids 1S which should be 6+hcp and 5 spades, forcing for one round, as a negative double usually promises 6+hcpo and only four spades. South jumps to 3H pre-emptively and West with extra hcp but no ruffing value is only worth a bid of 3S. North should pass and hope that E/W guess incorrectly, i.e. bid on when 4S is going off or pass when game is on. East with a diamond fit obviously thinks that 4S will have a good chance and bids on but the result is in the balance!
With a probable trump trick, South should not lead the singleton club as it is unlikely that two ruffs are available - this would happen if partner had the Ace of clubs ( or the singleton Ace of spades) plus another Ace - a most unlikely scenario. When you have four cards in the opponents' suit you have two types of defence available - you play for ruff(s) or you try what is known as a forcing defence. viz to lead your strongest suit and hope declarer has to ruff twice in the long trump hand. Then if the trump suit is 5-3 you have one more trump than declarer so in theory any small card will be enough to win a trick. So, in this case, South should lead H4 to the J and A, ruffed by declarer. East thinks the contract is making if the trumps are 3-2 so leads a trump to the Ace and one back to the King. If the trumps behave the best play in diamonds might be to take two finesses, playing for the diamond K and J to be in different hands or both in the South hand. However, when declarer finds that there is a trump loser there is no way the contract can be made and must play carefully to avoid going down more than one trick! North must have at least one of the minor suit Kings to justify a 1H overcall and, as soon as one of them scores , the lead of a heart will cause declarer to lose control in trumps - if East ruffs the heart, South will have a further trump left together with numerous hearts to cash. As declarer's plan is to keep North off lead for as long as possible, East first assumes that South has the DK and not the DJ and leads to the DA intending to finesse the DT on the way back ( if the DJ does not appear). Note that declarer must not draw a third round of trumps with SQ as South would then be able to clear all the trumps with SJ and cash the HK after making the DK. After winning DK, South exits with a club or a spade, but North must eventually get in with CK to lead a second heart. On this East must discard a club so as to keep control of the hand. South wins HA, and can then draw declarer's last trump, but the HJ in dummy is now a winner and so declarer can cash the rest of the tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't lead a side-suit singleton when you have a natural trump trick like JTxx or QJx unless you can envisage getting two ruffs.
Board 18 - 27th November 2012
  Dealer E; N/S Vul.: Teams is about bidding games and making them. East opens 1S and South has a hand with plenty of playing strength but not many hcp. Although the King of spades seems well placed it seems a bit premature to jump to game in hearts as you need quite a lot of help to make ten tricks You could double and then bid hearts at the cheapest level to show a hand too good for an intermediate jump overcall , usually about 16+ and a six card suit. However, I think an immediate jump overcall of 3H fits the bill more than any other action. Partner will expect a decent six card suit for this and around 11-15 hcp. West with a miserable collection just wants to get on to the next hand. North has a good spade stop but the weakness in diamonds should prompt a raise to game in hearts rather than 3NT.
West leads the D10 and South thinks we have missed a slam here if the hearts are 2:2 but is quickly disillusioned after ruffing the second top diamond and cashing the trump Ace. Continuing with K and another trump and ruffing East's D9 declarer plays CAK and another club, ruffing in hand. With the clubs 3:3 there is no further problem as declarer can discard a losing third spade on the established fourth round of clubs, and makes the game losing just two trumps and a diamond.
On this hand you have several chances as declarer to make your tenth trick - (1) the straightforward finesse of SJ which you expect to fail so you look for a better chance (2) East may have SQ singleton or doubleton, again unlikely. (3) Clubs 3:3 which is against the odds. (4) East has length in clubs and spades when you can play out all your trumps ( after losing to QJ of course ). The end position after you have played out your last trump has the last 3 cards in dummy as SAJ and C9 with declarer having SK86. Then if East still has a club to beat the nine, neither East ( because only S Qx remains ) nor West ( because the 1S bid by East means that West, less than 3 spades as 4+4+3=11 ) can keep a spade making the S8 a winner after SA and SJ to SK at trick 12.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Try to combine your chances of promoting tricks when you do not have enough top tricks to fulfil your contract. Many chances are better than staking it all on one particular chance!
Board 12 - 20th November 2012
With so many small slams about I've chosen a part-score to be different. On the night, most pairs on this hand avoided playing in NT - the optimum strain - preferring to play in a suit!
Dealer West ; N/S Vul: After two routine passes, East has a borderline opener which I would incidentally pass if I were first or second in hand. I believe that opening - especially with one of a minor - with eleven hcp and no extreme distribution , e.g. a six card suit or say two five card suits, is a bad idea unless the hcp are concentrated in your long suit. It otherwise tends to lead to partner overbidding to a game ( usually in 3NT ) going minus because you misfit with partner's opened suit. Third in hand though you need tactically to get in the bidding to fight for the possible part score. So I would open 1D with the West hand even though the suit is hardly rebiddable. However you have to rebid 2D over a 1S response but note you can pass 1H or 2C because partner has denied a strong hand by passing as dealer. South has a routine strong 1NT overcall, normally 15-18 or so with at least one diamond stopper. This is a much better bid than a take-out double - primarily because you have not got 3 cards in all unbid major(s). West, with no ruffing value and only secondary diamond support, should not bid 2D but pass as the hand has far too many losers.
The easiest to remember scheme of responding to partner's 1NT overcall is to play the same system as over your opening 1NT but with 3 less hcp as the overcall is 3hcp stronger! So 2C is Stayman and 2D/H are transfers and 2S is the same conventional bid according to your usual methods, typically 8 hcp instead of 11 hcp with no 4 card major or as a transfer to a minor. If partner had bid 1NT over a major suit opener, although it looks strange, you may want to transfer to play in this major as the opener may only have four and you might have five or six and the 1NT overcaller should have three. With the opener being 1D though 2C is Stayman and this does not apply. North, with 8hcp, should start with a transfer bid of 2H and then bid an invitational 2NT over the forced 2S rebid. South with a minimum should pass but congratulations to the one optimistic pair who bid 3NT and made it with an overtrick.
In 2NT on the DJ lead you cannot play to set up a heart trick after losing to H AKQ as your second diamond stop is quickly removed and the defence can take a further 3 diamonds for one off, so with seven tricks ( 2 diamonds, 2 clubs and 3 top spades ) you need a further trick from the black suits. Win DQ straight away as there is no point ducking the first round because East is bound to have a couple of heart entries to plod along with setting up diamond tricks for the defence. Unblock SKQ and try a club to the Jack. If the finesse wins that is your eighth trick, if it loses you need either the clubs or the spades to be 3-3 to give you extra tricks(s). When the CJ holds, you cash the SA and exit with a fourth round. If the defence carry on with diamonds you end up with ten tricks with the clubs breaking 3-3 otherwise they can take a spade and three hearts to hold you to nine tricks. Although you make enough tricks for game it is against the odds as the CQ figures to be with the opener ( East ) most of the time and you won't have the timing to set up your ninth trick.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Prefer 1NT to a take-out double if you have the correct hcp and your stopper is not a short suit, e.g. Ax or Kx.
(2) Make sure you and your partner agree what responses to a 1NT overcall are - it is not often written on your convention card!

Board 3 - 6th November 2012
A bidding and a play problem this week.    Dealer S; E/W Vul :   Usually after 3 passes, East opens 1H and South is not strong enough to make a take-out double even after an initial pass - when limited by passing as opener you can double on slightly less than an opening bid to compete for the part score.          Partner shouldn't  then leap about with a distributional hand as you are known to be weak.       Note that, although most people wouldn't, I would open the 11 hcp North hand with 1NT if non-vulnerable although I prefer to have a five card suit, but you have to agree a range of 11-14 with partner who is otherwise expecting 12-14hcp.        West bids 1S and North has the wrong shape to contest for the part-score, and passes.       With the SK now possibly worth something ( being in partner's suit ) it is probably best to bid a semi-constructive 2D rather than 2H which is normally weaker but maybe with only five hearts.         If  partner bids 2H now - which may be only on a doubleton - a bid of 3H would now show six hearts and be a game try.     However you should  pass on this hand as you are not strong enough to try for game.       On this actual hand partner might jump to 3H - an invitational limit bid with 3 hearts precisely - because of good secondary heart support, a good picture in opener's side-suit plus an Ace outside.         East naturally - with an extra trump - accepts the invitation and raises to the heart game. 
              South leads CQ and East is quite pleased to see the dummy thinking that ten tricks will be easy with a third round diamond ruff limiting the defence to one club, one spade and one trump.       So you duck the first club, win CA and lead a trump to the Queen intending to then play 3 rounds of diamonds, ruffing the third round low ( unless the H10 has fallen singleton, when you can afford to ruff high with the HK ).         As you have to lose to the trump Ace it is good technique to duck the first club.        You have to lose one eventually and by ducking you restrict the defence's coming and goings - you don't want to be over-ruffed on the third diamond and then N can lead a low club  to partner's CJ to obtain a further diamond ruff - thus going two instead of one down.       However when South shows out on the first trump, you have to abandon the idea of a diamond ruff because you need all of dummy's trumps to stop North's H10 becoming a trick.          With no one over-calling spades and the clubs seemingly breaking evenly it seems reasonable to place South with long diamonds as North has long hearts.         So the odds favour the DJ being with South and you need to play accordingly.         A heart to the K and A is followed by CK ruffed, a diamond to the ten and a heart for a finesse against N's ten and the last trump is drawn, cross to DQ and lead a spade.       If North plays low you make an overtrick, otherwise you make your last trump and DAK.        Congratulations to the four pairs who bid and made this contract - it was not easy!
TIP OF THE WEEK:     You can invite game in a major when partner has shown five cards with only 9-10 rather than the usual 11 hcp if the hcp are in the right place, i.e. side-suit Aces or AKQs in partner's suits.
Board 6 - 30th October 2012
Dealer E ; E/W Vul: A part-score battle this week as a change from all the thin games and slams of previous weeks! East has an obvious 1D opener not having eight playing tricks or the hcp to open with a two-bid. Many Souths would make a take-out double on this hand but I think it is slightly sub-standard and I would pass. West has an obvious 1H response and North overcalls 1S - mainly in order to get a spade lead from partner if East buys the contract. East has a hand too good for 2D but short of the requirements for a jump rebid of 3D - normally 15-17hcp and a decent six card diamond suit. I think it is wrong to bid 2C , your second suit, with this club suit because your diamonds are so much better and longer so I would stretch and rebid 3D. If East had only bid 2D South perhaps could bid an unassuming cue-bid of 3D which should show an opening hand and at least three card spade support. This enables North to raise to game with an opening hand or good looking hand with say six spades. Over 3D you bid just 3S and partner has to guess how strong you are! On the actual hand North has no game interest, and passes. ( West also passes, with secondary trump support but nothing worthwhile apart from that, so nothing more to say.) Note that if East or West bid 4D, South should double for penalties. Although S has no trump trick - generally advisable if doubling part-scores for penalties, the holding of 3 Aces or Kings allied to expecting partner to provide one or two tricks in defence because of the 1S overcall should be enough to defeat the contract by 1 or 2 tricks!. This is necessary in case East were to manage nine tricks (+100 to N/S) which would score less than 3S making (+140).
3S can be defeated but only by East underleading DAKQ in order to put partner in to lead a heart for a ruff - but no West is going to do this! So in practice N makes nine tricks by winning the club switch after DAK, and leading out the KQ of spades, and assuming East has taken the Ace, winning the club continuation, drawing 3 rounds of trumps and ruffing a club before leading a heart to the King. If East has ducked two rounds of trumps, you then play a heart towards HK and if East foolishly ruffs declarer can make an overtrick, throwing a heart on the established C9. On the actual hand, with the hearts 5-0 you now know that West has HQJ so it is easy to finesse the 10 if West plays low. If East had followed with a low card on the first round, declarer should still intend to finesse on the second round of hearts as the bidding has told you that the hearts are 4-1 because West bid 1H.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Try and make the most descriptive bid on your hand - consider all the alternatives and then decide which one will help partner the most.
Board 17 - 23rd October 2012
Dealer N ; L/A. A difficult hand to assess in the bidding and also the play of the hand needs correct timing. After 3 passes, West opens 1C and this silences North who would have liked to have overcalled 2C but now this bid would now be conventional, normally showing 5-5 in the majors ( A Michael's Cue Bid ) . East now has a choice of bids - whether to bid 1S to show where the strength is or to show the moth-eaten diamond suit. Most players would bid 1D but I would not disagree with 1S. After South passes over 1D, West has an easy rebid of 1H. Now most people play a fourth suit bid of 1S as forcing and natural, with a jump in the fourth suit ( to 2S ) being 11+hcp without four spades, inviting partner to bid 3NT with an above average opener and a decent spade holding,or 2NT with a minimum opener and a decent spade holding. It is a good idea to distinguish between the two situations otherwise you are in the dark about a possible 4-4 spade fit. Over 1S, with a good hand for the bidding so far, full of Aces and Kings and a singleton, West jumps to 3S to invite game. East has a close decision but probably succumbs to temptation and bids 4S.
South should not lead HJ ( hoping for a heart ruff ) because the S J98x are a probable trump trick anyway - so opts to lead C10. East wins on the table with CA and should realise that if he draws 3 rounds of trumps and they break 3-2 there are only 10 tricks if the hearts break 3-3 - and they break 4-2 most of the time. East should thus play to ruff twice in one hand before attempting to draw trumps. So you should start by losing a diamond to set up diamond ruffs before touching trumps. As North has no reason to rise with DK, South wins D8 and leads another club in response to partner's signal of the C8 at trick one. It is normal when you are playing a cross-ruff to cash your side-suit winners first so that the defenders cannot discard while you are ruffing so as to eventually ruff one of your winners. In this case you should cash your expected two heart tricks early on in the play - you do not want the defenders to be able to ruff your third top heart and exit in trumps leaving you a trick short! Even if you are not playing a complete cross-ruff you need to check your entry situation, i.e. work out how you are going to cross back to one hand to enable you to ruff in the other hand. On this hand first ruff a diamond, then cash HAQ, ruff another diamond, ruff a club with S10 and then lead a third heart so you can make an overtrick if the hearts are 3-3. Even if South now ruffs and leads a trump you can win with SQ, ruff a diamond with SK and make your SA for ten tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK : Discuss with your partner how to play the fourth suit forcing sequence : 1C-1D-1H-1S or 2S.
Board 1 - 16th October 2012
Dealer N; L/A.     I thought this hand had points of interest in both the bidding and play.      Several pairs failed to bid the spade game despite holding plenty of points and two registered a minus score.    After routine passes by N and E, South opens 1S and West thinks briefly about over-calling 2H but rejects the idea as partner will expect more strength than this!      A 1H over-call would have been fair enough over one of a minor but you should be better than this to over-call 2Hover 1S.     North has just enough to respond at the 2-level, i.e.9+hcp, and bids 2C.        Incidentally with the same 9hcp but only a singleton spade you should prefer 1NT as you don't want partner to rebid 2S if 5/3/3/2 shape.       East does not over-call 2D for the same reasons as West not over-calling 2H.      The modern style of rebid for South now to bid 2NT which should be treated as game -forcing after a two level response.       This gives you a chance to explore for a major suit fit or a fit in the other minor for slam purposes if North were stronger.      On the actual hand North has no interest in anything other than spades and thus shows 3 spades with a bid of 3S.     This asks partner to bid 3NT with only 4S but 4S as here with five.
                            Although this is optional refinement -don't bother if you want to keep it simple - my  regular partners and I play a 3C enquiry now to discover the 2NT bidders strength - 3D would be 15 to a poor 17 with any other bid ( 3H=4H,3S=5S,3NT=4S) being a good17+ hcp.       N.B. There are many 20+ hands you cannot open 2C/2NTbecause of the shape of the hand.       
                            If you do not like the idea of 15+opposite 9+ as being game-forcing and prefer partner to pass 2NT with a bare 9 hcp you must jump to 3D promising 5 spades plus combined game-values over which partner should bid 4S - 3S is passable.        However I prefer this bid to promise a much better hand than this.
                            West has an obvious lead of D5.      When East plays D7 on D3 South suspects straight away  that the lead is a singleton as West would lead DQ from QJxx (against a suit contract).       In times like this you must not panic and see if there is any other redeeming features in the hand.    Unless East has HKJ and SA there is a good chance you will only lose one ruff and you may be able to set up the fifth club for an extra diamond discard if the clubs are 4-3.      As you have no chance if West has S10xxx with dummy only holding S9 there is no point in crossing to CK to lead a spade in case East has SA alone.     So after winning DA and you should first play SJ which East wins and leads D10 for West to ruff out your DK.      Note when leading a card for partner to ruff a defender should lead a high card if you want partner to lead a high ranking suit back (after ruffing) and a low card if you want partner to lead a low ranking suit back.      If partner had led the DQ back you might play partner for HA but here it is clearly right to lead C4 instead of a heart.     North wins CA and leads a low club which declarer ruffs, cashes SK and is pleased to see West following which means that trumps have been drawn.     It is time to play a heart towards the Q10.      If West were to play low your only hope would be to play HQ as it is no good if West has only got HJ and East HK since East can cash a diamond if the heart loses.       On the actual hand East will play HK and lead another club but you win CA throwing a diamond, cash HQ , ruff a club,discard a diamond on HA and ruff a diamond on the table for ten tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK :  Play 2NT over a 2-level response as game forcing.   This gives you a better chance to explore for the optimum contract.
Board 3 - 2nd October 2012
Dealer South; E/W Vulnerable. The time to be aggressive is when you have plenty of distribution and your high cards are contained in your long suits as in the East hand here. This advice comes with a health warning however since as you have good shape it is likely your opponents also have some shape and therefore your trump suit needs careful handing in case of a worse than normal split. With flat hands you need 25-26 hcp to have a good chance of making a game but with distribution you can get by on a lot less if the hcp are in the right place! After 3 passes East has a hand with good assets in distribution but on the other hand a poor holding (Qx) in one suit plus only a weak five card major. As pontificated in several of my earlier columns, I think the better action is to open 1S rather than 1D. If you open 1D and rebid 1S over 1H partner will often expect it will be only a four card suit and pass as with this West hand. ( A jump rebid of 2S over partner's 1H response to 1D should show game values opposite a minimum response of 6+ hcp and therefore 19+hcp so that is not an option in this case.) Over the opening 1S, when South passes, West should bid 2C as a bid of 2H promises 5 hearts because it takes up so much bidding space. The bid of 2C - which can exceptionally be 3 cards only with a 3-4-3-3 shape - gives partner the chance to mention a four card heart suit and a fit would normally be easily found. In this case East bids 2D and West has a choice of the slight overbid of 3S promising 3 card support and an invitational to game hand or an underbid of 2S. At teams scoring where the bonus for a game counts more 3S should be the bid. However, at pairs, I would settle for 2S hoping partner would make an intelligent decision whether to go on or not, hopefully then not jeopardising an expected plus score. With the East hand I think 3D now is the right action. This should show a better than minimum opener with only five spades and 5 or possibly six diamonds. Responder may pass, sign off in 3S or jump to game. With a ruffing value in partner's second suit, a good picture in trumps and an AK outside, obviously the latter option is chosen and the thin game reached.
On repeated club leads you are in danger of running out of trumps so you should eschew the normal play of this trump suit of crossing to dummy, leading to the K and, if beaten by the Ace, leading for a finesse of the 10. You can afford to lose two trumps and a diamond, so the plan is to ruff the opening lead and lead S2 to SQ ( not the 10 ), taken by the Ace and ruff a second club. Then cross to HK - the HQ may be needed later as an entry back for the diamonds so should not be cashed first - and finesse DQ. This loses to DK - and you note that the D10 does not appear - and a third club return forces your penultimate trump. When you cash SK the J does not drop so you need the diamonds to break 3-2 so you can discard your remaining club loser in dummy on DJ. ( This means that if the opponent with the SJ ruffs in and leads another club, you can ruff this in dummy.) You can then continue with diamonds throwing HK and win the rest of the tricks with S10, HQ and a diamond.
TIP OF THE WEEK: The sequence 1S-2C-2D-2S-3D is a natural try for game but should be passed with an average hand with 3D and 2S. Otherwise you can sign off with 3S but you should jump to game if your ( minimum) 9 hcp are all "working".
Board 1 - 25th September 2012
Dealer N: Love All.   North has an automatic pass and so should East - A flattish eleven hcp with the points concentrated in a short suit is not worth an opener at any time as your points are not working hard enough!    South has a routine weak 1NT opener and West is not worth an overcall because the long suit of spades is weak and only five cards long.     Now North should bid because 1NT is unlikely to make as your opponents have the balance of the hcp.    True, your suit is also weak but it is much better as a trump suit  when you can ruff short suits than one you are trying to set up in No trumps when you have to knock out all the opponents' top honours.     You should use Stayman rather than a transfer for two reasons (1) You may buy the contract at the two level where a transfer to a minor would be at the three level (2) You may strike a lucky 4:4 major fit and majors generally score more than diamonds.     If partner bids your 3 card major at least you are offering possible club ruff(s) with your little spades.      It is very unlikely that partner is 3-3-2-5 so generally you will be in a reasonable fit when you pass the "no majors" response of 2D. 
         The play of the hand is uninteresting as north should try and draw the opposing trumps as soon as possible by knocking out the DAK and then losing to the HA to set up heart tricks to cash, generally ending up with eight tricks for a plus score as opposed to a negative score of -100 or -150 from 1NT going off on a spade lead.  
TIP OF THE WEEK: Use Stayman intending to pass the 2D/H/S response if you are weak and 4-4-4-1 or 4-3 in the majors with a singleton club.
Board 9 - 18th September 2012
A difficult hand to bid this week.     Dealer N; E/W Vulnerable.      Some might open a weak 1NT with the North hand but I think the hand has potential for a slam in one of the minors if partner has a big hand so I would open 1D.      East has a hand type that is not covered in most bidding methods - A Michaels Cue bid usually shows both majors and 2NT usually shows both minors.      A double followed by a bid in a new suit usually shows a six card suit and 16+hcp but bidding this way could mean not finding a spade fit if all pass thereafter.      It also risks partner bidding a large number of  hearts which you don't want either.      I would content myself with a 1S overcall,  hoping to get another chance to bid clubs if partner passes but the opposition bid on.       The reason I would bid spades rather than clubs is that partner will be more willing to bid spades at probably a lower level and also partner can possibly envisage a ten tricks game much more easier than an eleven trick game.       South might scrape up a sputnik double usually promising 6+hcp and four hearts or 6-8 points with five or more hearts - N.B. with 9+ and five hearts you would normally bid 2H rather than double.   However as the hearts are anaemic I would probably pass and hope partner can reopen with a take-out double.      East has a close decision whether to bid 2S or pass.     Most would bid 2S but I would pass as I don't want partner to lead a spade if North buys the contact in say 3C or 3D.      North fortunately for E/W is likely to compete with 2C which silences  East but not West who bids 2S over South's sign-off of 2D ( or possibly 2H ).      After North passes, East makes a further game try of 3C and West with a singleton plus an Ace jumps to 4S.
          After DK lead and continuation ruffed by East , HQ is led to HA and a club led off the dummy.    If North ducks CJ wins, a club is ruffed low and S10 is led and 3 rounds of trumps are drawn, a trick conceded to CA and eleven tricks are made.     If North wins CA and leads a diamond this promotes a spade trick for partner's 9 and declarer is held to ten tricks.     In this cases declarer ruffs with spade Q, ruffs a club with S10, finesses SS, cashed SA and if the S9 is still outstanding plays clubs until one is ruffed with the outstanding trump.       Of course if N has SK9 alone you draw South's last trump with S8 and claim.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  Decide if you wish to play a convention to cover all two suited overcalls.   There are various choices, e.g. Ghestem which includes a 3C conventional bid or the cue-bid showing the other minor and either major.    I prefer the cue-bid to show 5-5 in Spades and another, in this instance S/H or S/C [ Then 2S is to play, 2H shows prefers Hearts to Spades over which 2S shows S/C and responder can remove to 3C with a singleton spade }     
Board 9 - 4th September 2012
Dealer N; E/W Vul.     A competitive part-score deal this week involving hand evaluation.     North has a good hand with hopes of a major suit game but is not good enough for a Benji 2C despite qualifying for the "rule of 25" ( ten cards in longest 2 suits plus 15 hcp ).   This is because 3 of the points are overvalued Jacks and also because you have nowhere near eight playing tricks.      So North opens 1S and East despite holding a six card suit should pass as the suit is not worth mentioning in such a weak hand.     South is close to a defensive raise to 2S whether playing 5 card majors or not but I would pass as I don't want to encourage partner to lead spades with such poor support.     West has the requirements for an intermediate jump overcall of 3H ( 11-15hcp & a decent six card suit ) but the suit quality is not good - not playable opposite a small singleton - and you have two poor doubletons.      Note you should be sounder (i.e more playing tricks) when vulnerable as two down on a part score deal won't win you many match points!     So I would settle for a simple overcall of 2H.   I would probably bid 3H if non-vul or vul with say Sx HKQ109xx DAKxx Cxx but it is debatable.      North then has to decide whether to compete for the part-score by bidding 2S - to show a decent hand and six card suit - or pass as the hand has good defence against 2H.      I would opt for the latter but I am not sure of the best action.      Anyway South has a good hand in context and bids 2S , expecting North to usually have at least five spades and hoping to push the opponents to a 3 level contract.      Hopefully this would provide a greater expectation of a plus score - and plus scores wins pairs events!       West should leave any further action to East as East knows better how good their combined fit is and can bid in the sure knowledge that West will know that it would be a competitive bid only and may be bid to go off less than the opponents' likely plus score.    With no fit and a poor hand East has no reason for bidding and 2S becomes the final contract making nine tricks after the normal lead of H9 singleton and SAJ crashing the King and Queen of trumps together.     E/W can cash two diamonds and a heart but declarer can either ruff the heart loser in dummy or cash CA, lead S2 to S3 and throw 2 hearts on CKQ if you were careful to ruff the third diamond continuation high.
TIP OF THE WEEK : Consider your options carefully before making a competitive bid.
Board 19 - Tuesday 28th August 2012
Dealer South; E/W Vul.:   The most exciting hand this week belonged to West.   After a routine pass by South , West has to evaluate an eight card suit.     Normally it is right to pre-empt to the limit with this length but West's hand is clearly too strong to settle for only a game.  Partner may have a moderate hand with three key cards and a slam is possible even though East would have to pass an opening 4S.   West clearly thinks has a good chance of making 4S facing very little.   Thus you should not open 1S either but a conventional 2C.   The hand just qualifies under the 'rule of 25', viz 15hcp + 8 cards in longest suit + 2 cards in second longest suit = 25, the minimum for the bid.       After a 2C opening ( usually described as 19-20 or a similar range balanced or eight playing tricks but you must state the minimum hcp that your partnership has agreed or as per the 'rule of 25' if you can have less than 16hcp.     With N/S having no reason to bid the auction East , with a decent five card suit and slam interest facing 19-20 , bids 3C and West bids 3S.      West does not have to jump to show a long suit as partner is going to game at least after the positive response to 2C.       As East is now only interested in Aces and the quality of West's spade suit ( which must already be at least a five card suit ) , 4NT Roman Key Card Blackwood is bid and West responds 5C showing 0-3 Key cards of the five ( 4 Aces plus KS ).      In the unlikely event that West responds 5S ( 2 Key cards + SQ ) you have enough hcp to guarantee that the DKQ and an Ace ( or SK) cannot be missing so you confidently bid 6NT, for the extra ten points!             
After the 5C response, although you are pretty sure that partner has the SQ to justify a 2C opener , it costs nothing to bid the next step , viz 5D , to ask for the Queen of trumps.     The usual  way of playing this convention is that 5S denies the SQ and 5H/5NT or 6C show the SQ plus the cheapest King ( H/D or C respectively ).     With no outside King, West jumps to 6S.      Now as East can count five spade tricks, three hearts, one diamond and four clubs so has an easy 7NT bid - you know the tricks are there so why risk one of them getting ruffed!        
(1) Agree how you play 4NT RKCB if you use the convention.    Note a 5NT continuation asks about kings and normally confirms the trump Queen is held by the partnership.
(2) Agree the  requirements in hcp for strong two openings with partner and remember to draw your opponents' attention to it if different from the minimum 16+ hcp rule.     Although you are allowed to bid it on a minimum opener of, say, 12 hcp if you have eight 'clear-cut' tricks or 'according to the rule of 25' in both cases you must inform your opponents about this agreement as they would otherwise expect a 16+ hcp minimum.
Board 15 - 21st August 2012
Dealer S ; N/S Vul.:  Many E/W pairs went off on this board, presumably playing in the spade game.   South usually passes and West has the requirements for a Benji 2C , rebidding 2NT to show a semi-balanced 19-20 hcp.  However personally I would open 1D despite the poor suit as I do not consider West's hand good enough for the bid.   It has no picture cards in the long suit and the reverse in a short suit, viz HAQ alone.    In this situation the hcp are not "working" well.   After North passes, East should respond 1H with 4-4 in the majors whatever the quality of the two suits as this maximises the chance of finding a 4-4 major fit.   Partner can raise hearts or easily bid 1S after a 1H bid  but if you bid 1S then 2H would show 5-4 and 15+hcp.    South would like to bid 2D to give partner a lead but the chances of partner having a misfit are much likelier when 1D has been opened by the opposition.   Many players play 2D anyway as conventionally showing 5-4 in the other two suits but that is up to you and your partner - Note an unusual 2NT would be 5-5 or a double would suggest the other suits also.   West must show strength now and it is better to "jump shift" to 2S rather than rebid in NT.   East , holding four card support and some useful cards including a singleton, should now sign off with 4S.       
Against 4S, North should start with a trump as with four small spades the most useful thing to do is to draw two trumps for one every time you get on lead!        West wins with S10 and thinks that the best  hope is to play on semi-cross ruff lines as there is no worthwhile side-suit to set up.   The best way forward is to play the CA and another , for two reasons.   Firstly you can then ruff clubs high to re-enter hand to ruff diamonds in dummy.   Secondly , as trumps may be 4-1 it is probably North that has the four as most people ( usually for good reasons ) don't like leading a singleton trump and you would prefer the defence not to lead a second trump so if South may be out of trumps if the CK is over the Q - If not the CQ is a trick!   On this occasion, North wins CK and leads a second trump and South shows out.   Now you should appreciate that if North has the HK there will be a third trump led and you will not be making your game.   So cross to DA, discard HQ on CQ, lead to HA and ruff a diamond, ruff a heart, ruff a diamond and SA makes ten tricks.
(1) Undervalue hands where you have honours concentrated in singletons or doubletons.    These make the hands less manoeuvrable and more difficult to play.
(2) When trumps not not break consider your play carefully and do not worry too much about possible overtricks.    Concentrate on making your contract.
14th August 2011 - Board 8
Dealer West:: Love/All  :  A part score hand for a change this week.       West has a routine weak 1NT and North is much too weak to compete.       Some East's would bid 2C Stayman on this hand showing 11+ hcp but I think it is losing policy to raise the level at pairs on 10hcp even with a couple of tens!        So I would pass as East.   South is happy to compete with 2H.   Then, after two passes, East has a decision whether to make a penalty double of 2H or not as you have the balance of the hcp.    However, doubles on this type of hand often lead to -470 so I would recommend a bid of 2S instead.    Why 2S?       Surely partner will think you have a five card suit?    Well, he shouldn't!   As you have not transferred to 2S already ( on the previous round of the auction ) this should only show four spades and 9-10hcp and you expect partner to decide what the best part score is.   With only two spades partner must remove to 2NT ( with decent hearts ) or otherwise bid the best minor suit.   South should now know that the opposition have the balance of the hcp  and should pass and so should West despite having a maximum and also be pleased with developments as you are probably in a higher scoring part-score than 1NT.
            East should  be careful in the play of 2S as after HAK , South leads H8 ( the highest heart ) to suggest to partner that the correct continuation after ruffing is a diamond  ( the highest ranking suit ) rather than a club.       East should refuse the finesse and  rise with DA and cash two rounds of trumps with SAK.       This is in case South leads a further heart , ruffed with the SQ by North, which leaves declarer with a guess as to how to play the remaining trumps for no losers.       Although declarer should probably run S10 and play for split honours in trumps this could be wrong if South has a singleton J and would definitely lose another trump if South had had SJ9.        You should not risk the obviously losing diamond finesse!
TIP OF THE WEEK:     After a fourth seat overcall of 1NT, a bid of a major suit at the two level only shows a four card suit.
Board 4 - 7th August 2012
Dealer West; Game/All: I was surprised to see that more than half the field scored minus as N/S on this deal, and many were in 3NT making, with a woefully thin heart stop. After 3 passes South, with 19-20 balanced, usually opens 2C Benji and I think North should bid the relay bid of 2D rather than 2S, which should suggest a possible slam if partner has a 3 card fit in spades. On this North hand , facing 19-20 , you only want to offer a choice of games between 4S and 3NT and it is much better for the lead to come up to partner's strong hand. After the 2NT rebid North makes the transfer bid of 3H and bids 3NT over the 3S reply. South with a doubleton and 3 spades obviously bids on. Having a good fit and good controls ( Aces and Kings ) South suggests a possible slam with a 4C cue-bid in case partner were stronger and more shapely. North , however, with a minimum facing 19-20 rapidly signs off with 4S and all pass.
West has a choice of leads C8 or DJ. On the club lead you should win CK and finesse in trumps in case the SK is with East, intending to finesse the C10 later if SQJ hold, and discarding a diamond on the fourth winning club after cashing SA. On the actual hand, as the trump finesse loses, you win the diamond exit and draw all the opposing trumps ( in four rounds). Then you finesse C10 as you place West with CJ after East's C8 opening lead and discard a diamond on fourth round of clubs. Then ruff a diamond back to hand and eventually lead towards the HK for an overtrick if the HA were with East. but losing a trump and two hearts only as it is with West.
I would prefer DJ for my opening lead and the play is then a little more interesting. You win DA , and cross to CK to try the trump finesse which loses. West will continue diamonds and should lead D3 in case partner only has DQx when you win DK over DQ , draw trumps, cash three rounds of clubs in case CJ falls. When it doesn't fall, you exit with a diamond to West's 10 and you must then come to a heart trick for your tenth trick. If West were to hold four clubs to the Jack you ruff the fourth club with your last trump before exiting with a diamond as before forcing a heart return.
When West wins SK he may hope than East has DQxx and try leading DJ attempting to create a diamond entry for his partner to get in and be able to lead a heart for the AQ. However South can counter this by ducking ( hoping that it is not J10 doubleton - in this case West can obtain a diamond ruff if East has HA but this would be an very unfortunate lie of the cards ). It is better to play for the diamonds 3-3 or East having HA. Thus you can discard a heart on the D7 after drawing trumps - running the D9 if East does not produce the Queen on the third round as East is marked with the DQ after the lead of DJ. On the actual hand the DQ pops up and you are able to discard a heart from North to avoid two heart losers, losing only one trump, one diamond and one heart.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Use transfers to get the stronger hand to play game contracts so as to protect vulnerable holdings ( e.g. Kx ) from immediate attack.
Board 31 - Teams 24th July 2012
At teams you should concentrate on bidding games and slams and in defence trying to set the contract whether it is a part-score or higher.      Whereas at pairs overtricks are important - both as declarer and in defence ( i.e. not allowing declarer extra tricks) you should ignore the fact that you may be gifting tricks if you can see a way of beating contracts if partner has the right cards. 
Dealer South: N/S Vul.:  On today's hand a few pairs let 3NT through when it should fail.     South should pass as dealer and West also has a routine pass.      North has two four card suits and is too strong for a weak 1NT opener.       The modern style is to open the major suit - 1S - although opinion is divided as to whether 1D is better.     East overcalls 2NT, the unusual 2NT showing both minors (5-5 or better) .      Now a bid of 3C or 3D has no natural use.      Without any partnership agreement either should show game values and deny a stop in the bid suit so here, not quite strong enough to force to game, South would normally double to show values (about 10+hcp) as usually 3H would be game-forcing, depending on partnership agreement.     North with a better than minimum opener  will probably take the losing option of having a crack at the vulnerable game - 3NT - rather than take a small penalty from 3C doubled.        Another approach over the Unusual 2NT is to play 3S as a poor raise, 3D as a good raise to 3S and 3C as showing four or five of the other major and 10+hcp .      Then 3D would deny four card support for the other major but shows 3 cards, but on this hand the auction would proceed 3C-3NT.
East leads D4 and South should play low to ensure a second diamond trick when West plays the Queen.     North wins a leads a small spade to East's Ace.      East cashes DK - noticing that partner follows with D8 so that now the 97 are what is known as equals against declarer's 10.     If partner had played a lower diamond declarer would have had a tenace with 108 over 97 but with the 8 dropping East can continue with the 9 to set up two diamond tricks when declarer wins the 10 which can be cashed when the first club is led by declarer, thus defeating the contract.
           If North were to open 1D rather than 1S, the bidding  continues:  2C (overcall), 2H(forcing for one round),2NT,3NT can and should make on a club lead risking going several down - legitimate teams tactics! - by winning club lead in dummy, finessing HJ, cashing HK and leading S4. East can win and play A and another club, but South can win and play A and another heart, win DA,SJ and cash the fifth heart and overtake S10 to cash a fourth spade for ten tricks.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) Vary your bidding and defence when playing teams as opposed to pairs. (2) Discuss with your partner a defence to the Unusual 2NT overcall.
Board 17 - 17th July 2012
Dealer N; Love/All :  Enough of the usual slams and games - this week we have a competitive part score deal!       After two passes South has a good hand just short of an Acol 2 opener so opens 1H.      West also has a good hand and most people would double for take-out as they hold four of the other major.      The drawback with this is that if partner responds 2D you are forced to rebid 2NT which should show a hand too good to overcall 1NT.      Hence you would  then be showing 18-20 hcp and partner may have no points at all, just length in diamonds.     So I would overcall 1NT rather than doubling for take-out, which at least shows the correct strength, i.e. 15-17, and at least one heart stopper.       It is true that you are risking partner jumping to 3NT with about 10 hcp and no diamond stop but this will be a very rare occurrence - usually partner will turn up with a stop or explore for a spade fit if four spades are held.      Also if partner is weakish and passes 1NT it usually does not matter if you are run through in one suit as long as your opponents do not have another long suit as well!       After a 1NT overcall by partner you should decide whether to play the same system as you play over a 1NT opener , e.g. Stayman and Transfers or weak take-outs and the cue-bid as stayman with game-invitational values - in this case 2H would promise four spades and 8+hcp.          I suggest you play the former system so, on this hand, after a pass by North, East should bid 2H to request partner to bid 2S.      East is woefully weak but it must be better to allow East to be able to take a trick by a heart ruff rather than have partner leading away from strength all the time playing in 1NT.       South is not finished despite the weakness shown by N's pass and bids 3D but West bids 3S with confidence - at least until the dummy is exposed.
In fact ,3S makes easily despite the 3-1 trump break.      North should lead D10 but West ruffs the second top diamond and cashes SAK, CAK and then ruffs a club and leads a heart towards the HK.      South cannot lead a trump and thus declarer can cross ruff ending up with nine tricks - North overruffing East when a diamond is ruffed with S10.
 (1) Don't worry about having a balanced or semi-balance hand to overcall a 15-17 hcp 1NT      (but its better to pass if you have a side-suit singleton and only the minimum 15hcp  ).
 (2) Agree with your partner what your responses are when partner overcalls 1NT. 
(3) It is losing policy to overbid when you have a singleton in partner's suit, i.e. double and bid 2NT if partner bids your singleton. 
Board 1 - 10th July 2012
Dealer N; L/A: A very tricky hand this week to bid and to play! With E/W silent throughout North opens 1D , South responds 1H and N rebids 1S. South has game values but suspects a misfit. With a six card major you should only consider 3NT in these circumstances if you expect to be able to set up one of the partnership suits quickly. As your suit is ropey and your support for partner's suit - diamonds - is not good either, I think the most intelligent bid now is 3H which is not forcing but highly invitational to game. Trotting out a fourth-suit forcing bid of 2C is unlikely to improve your knowledge of the combined assets and if you bid 2C and partner - not being proud of the club holding held bids a not very helpful 2D - then a jump to 3H should be forcing! North with nothing extra should pass but we all have been in worse games that happen to make. Note with a club less and another heart you should raise to 4H. On the actual hand with the diamond finesse right you are likely to make ten tricks but you would have scored well above average for +170.
West will usually lead C2. South has a variety of ways to play the hand. You should definitely win the club with CA to cater for West having a singleton club. When East wins say SA and leads a club you can then play a low club from each hand as West ruffs in - then ruffing a loser and not CA or CK. After CA and HA , you should lead S10 to pretend you are finessing in spades to induce East to err by playing low - East should however realise that C2 is a likely singleton because of the 5 clubs held and rise with SA and give partner a ruff.
Best defence against 3H/4H is in fact for West to lead a spade at trick one and try and weaken South's trump control by leading spades at every opportunity and forcing S to ruff. However, declarer will still make ten tricks; - SA, spade ruff, HA,CA,HK10, spade ruff, H8 ( drawing last trump ), CQK and DQA.
An alternative way of playing the contract is to hope the diamonds are Kxx/xxx in which case declarer can throw the SQ on the fourth round as the defence ruffs in. With diamonds not breaking, this line also ends up with ten tricks however as declarer can also discard SQ on the third round of diamonds when E ruffs in with H9. Declarer should not overruff as this would promote an extra trump trick for West. If East discards you can still throw SQ and West cannot put East in in order to provide a club ruff.
TIP OF THE WEEK: When you have marginal game values ( 12 opposite 12 or 13 ) but a complete misfit (1) You are normally better off ( at pairs scoring ) taking a plus score by staying in a part score (2) Only bid 3NT if you have a strong combined suit in hand or in dummy.
Board 10 - 3rd July 2012
Board 10. Dealer East; Game/All. A competetive hand this week. East opens 1D and South opens 1S. West has a very poor 6 count with poor shape but probably scapes up a sputnik double, usually promising at leat four hearts. North usually bids 3S but there is a better bid available. All the top players nowadays play "fit-jumps", an idea I first encountered playing against one of the top british players - John Holland - then playing with the late and sadly missed Michelle Brunner. This idea is that a jump in a new suit after a natural overcall by partner shows that suit and a raise of partner's overcalled suit to the level bid. A bid of 3C on this hand thus shows primary support for partner's overcall (a raise to 3S) and also shows where your values lie so partner is better placed to evaluate whether to double and defend or declare the contract. Over 3C East will not resist bidding 3H but South now knowing that partner is short in hearts can settle for 4S. With three rounds of trumps drawing trumps, four club tricks available, two diamond ruffs and one heart ruff means game is easy.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Discuss "fit-jumps" with your partner but only bid it on suits headed by a Ace or King and preferably a good suit of four + cards.
Board 16 - 26th June 2012
Dealer West; E/W Vul. A fairly routine hand this week. West passes and most North open a weak 2H. East has an opening hand but is still too weak to bid as you are forcing partner to bid at a high level. South has sufficient heart support - facing a six card suit opposite - and playing strength to go direct to game. With the scoring system favouring major suit games you should not consider playing in 5D but bid 4H.
East holding 2 trump tricks should attack and lead SK even though you often set up dummy's Jack! North would have liked to have started trumps before the SA entry to dummy was knocked out but the opposition sometimes do not give you an easy ride! Unless the hearts are 2/2 you cannot afford to lose a spade as well as the CA. If the trumps are 3-1 then the opposition can draw all your trumps and cash two spades if you play Ace and another. So you should plan to discard spades on diamonds before drawing trumps. What you must guard against is the hand with short diamonds also having a singleton trump and you must hope that the diamonds are no worse than 4-2. So cash HA first and then play DAKQ throwing your two remaining spades. When both opponents follow you play a fourth diamond throwing your small club, not caring if the two remaining hearts are in different hands as you can ruff the spade exit and force out the CA, only losing a club and two hearts.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't play trumps too early if you have side-suit loser(s) to dispose of first.
Board 9 - 19th June 2012
Dealer N; E/W Vul:   A tricky hand to bid and play this week. Very few N/Ss made a plus score let alone bid the right game!  After 2 passes, I would open 1C as South but some would open 1H intending to bid 3S over a 1S response, 2NT over 2D, and 2C over 1NT ( partner usually has 4C for this bid ). I prefer to open 1C and rebid 1NT over a diamond response ,  usually showing 15-16hcp.

1H-2D-2NT should be game-forcing as 9 opposite 15-16 should give a play for game most of the time. However, you can stay in 2NT with 15 opposite 9 after the sequence 1C-1D-1NT-2NT (invitational on exactly 9hcp). If partner responds in either major I would jump to 3 of that major, game invitational, bid 2C over 1NT,or  pass a 2C response. Over a 3C response you are just about worth a game-try of 3H showing your cheapest suit stopped for NT purposes.     
Note as partner has had the chance to bid 1H there is no point in showing a 4 card major at this stage of the auction and the bid should be used to show a heart stop instead ( although you may be 6-5 intending to bid the major again at the four level ). You hope that partner can bid 3NT or otherwise bid 3S (asking) with a diamond stop but not a spade stop, which you can provide - you have denied a diamond stop by bidding 3H rather than 3D! If partner bids 4C you should pass as this bid denies a diamond stop and shows minimum  values as well.   
 On the actual hand , West should  intervene over 1C with a take-out double - rather than a 1D overcall. North should raise partner's clubs rather than bid 1D.   How high ? Some would bid 4C or 5C but you should discuss with partner whether bids are weaker or not after the opponent's intervention. I prefer to keep the bids up to ( playing ) strength so I would bid 3C mainly for the reason that 3NT is the game that requires fewest tricks whereas 4C means the only game possible is 5C. After the game try of 3H as described above, North, because of  extra distribution in the hand,  jumps to 5C,  which ends the auction.   
Most  Wests will lead DK giving declarer an easy ride - spade to J and Ace, discard a heart and a diamond on the set up S KQ and cross ruff, not minding if there is an overruff with CK as that is only the second trick lost. On HQ lead you need the CK with East but you should win HA and try a sneaky SJ in the hope that West lazily plays low - if so you can then play SQ and ruff out the Ace, play DA , D ruff and SK , ditching your heart loser and play as detailed above. When West takes SA and HJ and leads DK you need precise timing to prevail. Win DA, C3 to C7 finessing against East's required King, SKQ and ruff a spade, club to 10,  ruff a heart,  diamond ruff,  heart ruff and ten a diamond from table enables you to make CAJ over East's K5. 

TIP OF THE WEEK: Decide with your partner what values you should have for jump raises after a take-out double by your opponents.
Board 10 - 12th June 2012
Dealer East: Game/All: Most N/S pairs on this deal did not realise the potential of their joint assets and ended in only a game. With East/West passing throughout, South has an obvious 1S opener and North an easy 2C response. South is too strong to bid 2S or 3C and should choose between 3S or 4C. I would bid 3S as the scoring system vastly favours major-suit contracts with game in a major outscoring the minor game. North, without a doubleton spade, has an easy 3NT bid but South now shows primary (4 card) club support with a bid of 4C - this is also a mild try for a slam in clubs. With no slam interest North would sign off in 4S or 5C ( with less than 2 spades ). However, with some values to spare for what is necessary for a 3NT bid, North should accept the try , either with a cue-bid of 4H - usually showing HA (or a void) and denying first round control of diamonds ( Ace or Void ) or bidding 4NT RKCB (Roman Key-Card Blackwood). Personally, I think 4NT is right as you think there will be a good play for 6C if partner has two of the three remaining aces. Over the 5C ( 0 or 3 Aces ) response you can envisage being able to set up partner's spade suit so you could bid 5D to conventionally ask if partner has the trump Queen but you really need an extra King from partner to make the grand slam a good bet so you should probably settle for 6C. An optimistic North would bid 5NT and hope the trumps are good enough if partner shows a King but passing the 6C response showing no king. There is likely to be a reasonable play for 7C providing the black suits split normally or if partner has the CJ which would mean you are unlikely to be over-ruffed. On the actual hand two rounds draw all the opposition trumps which means you are able to ruff 3 spades and can thus afford one hand to hold SKxxx. If it requires 3 rounds to draw trumps you hope either (a) the SK will be ruffed out after 3 rounds of spades or the diamond length is with the spade length so that defender has to throw a diamond to keep the SK or (b) the spade finesse is right and the spades are no worse than 4-2. If the CA draws the CJ singleton from East you should play to ruff out the spades by 3 ruffs ( if necessary ) but you could play to draw one round of trumps and hope you are not overruffed on the third or fourth round of spades if the CJ is with West! I think this is how I would have played the hand myself!
TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't bid grand slams at pairs as you are usually getting a very good score by making an overtrick in a small slam. However, when you have a good fit (preferable nine cards) you are usually able to set up (by ruffing) a six card side-suit so bid marginal small slams.

Board 17 - 29th May 2012
This week, as there are so many difficult hands to find the winning contract, I've decided to pick an easier hand than normal!
Dealer N; L/All: North, with a good hand and suit but without 8 playing tricks, has an easy 1D opener and East has an obvious pass. Many Souths would now bid 2D, supposedly pre-emptively, but I think a pass stands out a mile. With no ruffing value and unlikely to have a quick entry to, say, take a possible trump finesse it is a truly horrible collection. I would pass for these reasons even if the suit was a major and partner had opened it. Granted that the level has been raised so the opposition have to compete at a higher level, but partner may be strong and is misled by your playing potential, expecting 2 useful cards or an Ace opposite. Also if you pass you give West the choice of bid or pass but if you bid you give both East and West the choice and also have given them the information that their losers in the suit will be covered by their partner's shortage. West bids 1H and North should rebid 1NT, which should not be the usual 15-16 but 17+ as partner is <6hcp. In this case you may have the balance of the hcp some of the time. This may become the final contract and is likely to scramble home after the HJ lead. North wins the Ace and plays the SK. If West ducks, North then switches to diamonds, playing AQ and now has 7 tricks when East takes the King. If West takes SA and switches to clubs the contract goes off but correct defence is never easy to find. Of course the safest contract is 2D and perhaps South should take out 1NT into 2D.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't raise partner's suit with less than 6 hcp unless you have a shortage in a side-suit and no 4 card major as a side-suit - majors score better than minors!
Board 23 - 22nd May 2012
Dealer S; Game/All:   Many N/S pairs achieved a negative score on this board.    South has a routine 1H opener and West usually overcalls 2C.    North should now double, for take-out.    I play a negative or Sputnik double should promise four spades and I recommend this as it subsequent bidding much easier.     South bids 2S and North cue-bids 3C to show game values.     North should not assume South has four spades as South might bid 2S when holding a poor 5 card heart suit and a fair 3 card holding in spades with logically a ruffing value in a short minor suit.     Over 3C, South jumps to the obvious game of 4S.     On this hand a club lead defeats 4S played by North but played by South the contract is solid - you just need to knock out the DA to set up a club discard on DJ, losing just one spade, one heart and one diamond, setting up the hearts with one ruff so you can dispose of your two losing clubs.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Discuss whether a Sputnik double just shows values and is vague about distribution or whether it promises four cards in the unbid major(s).     N.B. The name given to the convention arises as at the time of its invention in America by Alvin Roth and Tobias Stone, "Sputnik" Russian space satellites were orbiting the earth.
Board 23 - 15th May 2012
Dealer S; Game/All. I was intrigued on this hand to see that many E/W pairs had made 4H, many with an overtrick. South passes and West normally opens a borderline 1H although with just a Q and a J outside his acknowledged good suit this is usually a bad idea! If the 3 hcp outside the heart honours were a King this would be a much more promising hand so a pass is recommended first or second in hand. North should also pass, as a 1S overcall to make sure of a spade lead ( but normally a fair five card suit ) is dangerous as you are vulnerable and have too many losers. East responds 2C and West rebids 2H and East jumps to the heart game. If West opts to pass as dealer then East opens 1C and rebids 2H over the 1H response. West makes a long-suit ( 3+ cards ) trial bid and East - with no honour in diamonds to help partner and with the lower end of a minimum 12-14 hcp opener with nothing extra - signs off in 3H.
Noth has an obvious lead of SA. I prefer to signal encouragement ( normally a high card ) rather than distribution on partner's leads. In this instance South would play the 3. When North continues with the King, South should play the Jack to indicate a switch to the higher of the remaining suits - diamonds rather than clubs - as it is an unnecessary high card. With a doubleton J3, you would have played the Jack at trick one in the expectation that partner would lead a third round for a ruff. This method of carding was invented by an American Hy Lavinthal nearly eighty years ago in 1933 and is still useful nowadays.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Playing an unnecessary high card suggests a switch to a high-ranking suit. But as an aside note that the Queen would signify either a singleton or the next high card below, i.e. the Jack is held. Similarly the King would suggest the Q as well or a singleton K
Board 8 - 24th April 2012
Dealer W; L/A: There was a varied set of results on this board with a few 420s, 140s and plenty of minus scores for N/S. Sometimes you have to guess well and be lucky rather than skilful!
After a normal three passes most will open with a Benji 2C, rebidding 2NT over the 2D relay showing 19-20 hcp ( unless you open 2NT with this range ). N will then usually opt to pass but those brave souls who opt to search for a major fit will strike lucky this time. I admit I would pass. The really unlucky players open 1C and play there!
Against 2NT, West's best suit is obviously hearts. So, a fourth highest H2 is led. It is generally right not to start with a top honour if you have no certain outside entries. Partner can then put you in with a top heart later in order to cash the 13th heart if the hearts are 4333 and declarer has a stop. On the actual hand, East wins HQ and should realise that declarer probably has HJ as partner would probably lead HA from AKJx. So instead of woodenly returning partner's suit, E switches to a low club. The secret in defence is to tell partner by the size of your low card whether you have a holding in the suit, low for yes, high for no, medium for not sure that a club continuation is right! South knows that East has CQ or CA and has to guess which. If you guess right and play E for the Ace and then SQ you get lucky and end up with nine tricks; a club, 4 diamonds and 4 spades by taking the finesse, (remembering to cash the SA first before crossing to dummy to finesse, in case W has a singleton SQ) .
It is more likely however that you will play a low club to avoid a complete disaster if the club is wrong, ending with only eight tricks.
Against 4S, W usually leads HAK and another when partner encourages by petering with the 4 and 3 and S ruffs the third round. After cashing SA and in this case being pleased that a singleton Q has not dropped as then you would lose control, you cross to DJ and finesse in trumps, cash your last winning trump and DAK and exit with a club, ruffing the next club in dummy to cash DQ and H10!
If E opens a wafer-thin 1C third in hand, S will double intending to bid 3NT over a 1NT response (7-10) or 1NT over 1D or 1H showing 19-20 hcp, i.e. a hand too strong for a 1NT overcall ( which is normally a good 15-18hcp ). Over a 1S response you have to decide whether to make a game invitation with 3S, or bid just 2S which must also show a strong hand as N could have a zero count. I guess most would bid 3S although 2S is probably right as N then has the room to make a trial bid in a side-suit with a useful holding. Over 3S, N would raise to game
because the singleton club is a good asset and 3 hcp is better than none!
On a club lead the play should take a different course from that detailed above. East will win CA and likely switch to a trump - although a heart works better - but declarer should not be put off the trump finesse and S10 holds. S then ruffs a low club, repeats the trump finesse, and ruffs another low club, crosses to DK to draw the last trump and cashes DAQJ, ending up with a fortunate eleven tricks.
Finally on a "safe" D7 ( MUD from four small ) diamond lead declarer should not use the only diamond dummy entry to try the trump finesse but should lead a club hoping the A is with E, intending to ruff two clubs as before, and use club ruffs as entries to take the trump finesse.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Try guessing a bit better! However if you are in a delicate, overbid contract make sure to use your limited entries in the weaker hand well!
Board 13 - 17th April 2012
Dealer N; Game/All: A routine hand this week but I've included it as half the N/S field went off, presumably as they were in the wrong contract (3NT) rather than four of a major on a 4/4 fit. North has a normal weak 1NT opener and E/W have no reason to bid throughout. South responds 2C, Stayman, and North bids 2H with 4/4 in the majors. South jumps to 3NT to show game values and North should bid the most likely game to succeed, ie 4S - despite the weak suit - because responder has promised a four card major - in this case spades. Incidentally some players prefer to not bid Stayman with 12-14hcp and 3/4-3-3 shape but I do not agree with this as the most likely shape for opener is two 4 card suits and a doubleton. In this likely instance you have a combined holding in a side-suit of only 5 cards which the opposition will probably lead and usually hit your weak spot straight away!
This is known as "Promissory Stayman" which means that if you bid 2C and do not pass the immediate response you are promissing at least one four card major. If playing what is known as "Non-Promissory Stayman" you bid 2C then 2S (forcing for one round) over 2H. I recommend the former as it is more flexible. You can then use stayman on weak unbalanced hands such as C Jxxx D QJxxx H Void S Kxxx or say Cxx DJxxxxx Hxx Sxxxx. You intend to pass a 2D response with long (5+) diamonds or bid 2S over a 2H response - this must only show four spades as you start with a 2H transfer over the 1NT opener with five spades. Opener now knows that responder has an unbalanced hand with 4 spades and long diamonds and can then usually judge what is the most likely contract to be successful. You might bid 3C with 4 clubs to offer a choice of minor suit part score or 2NT with exceptionally good hearts. A suit contract though will generally lead to a better score than would 1NT on these types of hands on the likely heart lead. With a doubleton spade you should not leave 2S to play but remove to 2NT,3C or 3D. With 3 spades it is usually best to pass and play in a 4/3 fit rather than play a level higher with only a 5/3 fit. Bid 3D if you have four diamonds, i.e with a nine card fit.
With the 4:1 trump break but the club finesse right you should just lose two diamonds and one trump in 4S.
Note that when you cash SAK and find the bad trump division you must hope for the clubs to produce 3 tricks as you cannot ruff two hearts in hand without developing a further trump loser. So you must be careful to take the club finesse after two rounds of trumps as you can then settle for one off if the CQ is wrong - if you draw 3 rounds West can take your remaining trumps off you and you will be unable to ruff the third heart or fourth club as necessary. When it wins you can now cash SQ and ruff a fourth club if the clubs do not break 3:3.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Consider the implications of playing "Promissory Stayman".
Board 5 - 3rd April 2012
Dealer N; N/S Vul. After North passes, East has a tricky decision how to show the worth of the hand. Many would bid 4S and some would open 1S but what you must not do is open a Benji 2C or strong 2S even if non-forcing as it is an illegal bid. It does not qualify under "the ebu extended rule of 25" in which if you have fewer than 16hcp you must add the length of your two longest suits to your hcp and if < 25 you cannot open a strong two level bid. In this case 7+3+12=22. Opinion is divided whether 1S or 4S is best. Many good players insist that a four-level pre-empt should deny an Ace in any side suit so that if partner has a strong hand with two aces missing it is easy not to go slamming and jeopardise a plus score. If your suit were hearts instead and the vulnerability were unfavourable there is a greater argument for pre-empting as the opposition are more likely to find a cheap save in 4S in that event. I do not go along with the former reasoning; I would be happy to open 4S with QJ to 8S say, and an outside ace. I think you should open this hand 1S as it has too much slam potential to open 4S. South now has a decision to make between 3C ( if playing intermediate jump overcalls ) or a take-out double. I would double because of the four card major but could quite easily get egg on my face if partner passed for penalties with a good five-card spade holding. West should show his suit with 2D and North might scrape up a 2H bid in case partner were stronger. I would now bid 4S to show the hand type, but you should agree with partner that this does not show secondary support for diamonds, i.e. your hand has not been improved by a fit. South, despite his apparent good shape, looks at the vulnerability and decides to quit the auction.
In the play I was suprised to see so few making eleven tricks, as the bidding suggests South has the HA and thus there is no reason to take a losing diamond finesse. You merely play CA and another and when South shows out on SA ruff your third club with SQ before drawing trumps.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Discuss with your partner how to bid hands with a good seven card major, in particular whether a 4H/S pre-empt denies a side-suit Ace and also after initially opening 1H/S, on what hands you jump to 3H/S ( inferentially forcing to game after a 2-level response ) or 4H/S.
Board 20 - 27th March 2012
Dealer W; Game/All: An exciting board this week with game on in both directions. West has a standard weak two in hearts and North has a marginal overcall of 3D. You would like the suit to be stronger but you do have six so at pairs you take the view nothing ventured, nothing gained. At other forms of scoring it may be best to pass as if the diamonds split badly the bid could cost 1100! East is worth a raise to game and South with little defence and since three hearts are held, reasons partner must be very short in hearts, and five diamonds should be a good spot with four hearts as a likely make.    West should not bid again as East knows more about the partnership combined assets, having shown limited strength and long hearts. North passes and East reasons similarly that with not much defence to five diamonds knowing that there is only one heart trick at most it is reasonable to sacrifice in 5H. No one can double this with confidence so it is probably passed out and drifts one off unless the defence gets its wires crossed. North starts with CA and South should play C4 to discourage so that North switches to a low diamond to DK for South to continue clubs. Note that if S plays C9 North might think that S had a doubleton 94 and try and give partner a ruff and then declarer's diamond losers would disappear on dummy's spade suit!
TIP OF THE WEEK: If you can see the best defence don't give partner a chance to go wrong, try and indicate what is needed.
Board 6 - 20th March 2012
Dealer East; E/W Vulnerable: I think this is a awkward hand to bid for E/W with both having tricky decisions at each turn. Many would open the East hand but I would not as if partner bids 3NT with his second bid you are left guessing whether this is the best contract. True an opening 1D fulfills most criteria for an opening bid apart from the hcp. I would pass, however, hoping to bid an unusual 2NT later ( if the opposition open a major ) to show both minors - albeit one is much stronger than the other. If partner opens one of a major I can bid 2D showing 9+ and rebid 3D to show a six card suit and not much else. Some would open 3D rather than 1D to emphasise where your strength and length lies but this bid normally shows a seven card suit at least and can be disastrous when partner has a strong hand like West's with both majors - there is no hope of playing in 3NT then! 3D would be my choice third in hand after partner has denied opening values. After passes by East and South, West opens 1S, North perforce passes and East bids 2D. Over this West could bid 2H - which East will only pass with a singleton spade and 3 hearts - but thinks that the partnership should be in game with 17 opposite 9+ so probably jumps to 3H rather than a forcing 2NT which would not show this kind of shape. East has an easy 3NT bid which West should not disturb by bidding 4H as there is no likelehood of partner having secondary support for either of the major suits and also as there is strong help in the fourth suit ( which is the suit most likely to be led! ). The only way to hold declarer to ten tricks is to develop a heart trick by the unlikely lead of a heart, owing to the fortunate lie of the clubs. On a diamond lead, you should probably cash DAK and finesse the club which wins - you would prefer it to lose so you have access to dummy's clubs - and then lead a spade to 10, cross back to the CA and force out SA with HA as entry for the remaining spades.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Don't take out 3NT just because you are 5/5 in two suits, 3NT allows you the choice to develop the best combined suit of the partnership - whereas you can't get away with trump losers if you play in the wrong suit!.
Board 7 - 13 March 2012
Dealer South ; G/A:     Most pairs got this right on the night but not against me - hooray!     A sequence of 1S-2H-4H did not earn many match points for my opponents after a club lead and continuation.       The first decision for South is whether to open 1S, 3S or 4S.     I think the hand is too strong to open 3S but does not have enough trick-taking potential for an opening 4S , so I favour 1S.     If partner responds 1NT I just rebid an invitational 3S.    However after any two level response the best rebid is 4S.      3S should be forcing (after partner promises 9+hcp)  and descriptive ( 15+hcp and six spades ) so that partner is better able to judge to push to a slam if a better hand is held.     North has only one bid available , viz 2C, as 2H should show five hearts with 9+hcp.    The idea is that if partner raises clubs this implies five spades so you are safe to put partner back to spades at the same level.    This should generally be passed unless the opener has extra strength as responder could have jumped to 4S with a suitable hand knowing of a double fit in clubs and spades.    There is nothing to the play with just two black Aces and the HK to lose.   
TIP OF THE WEEK:  A response of 2H to 1S promises a five card suit and you can raise to 3H with a minimum hand and three hearts only - jumping to game in 4H with 15+ hcp.
N.B. There is an expert commentary on all this week's hands on the internet ( ecats ) web-site.
Board 3 - 6th March 2012
A competetive hand this week.   After two passes North opens 1NT(12-14) and East just has enough to double.    South usually bids 2H,transfer to spades, depending on your partnership agreement, and Westwants to bid but has no suitable bid.    A double would show goodhearts, normally a five card suit because partner is not promising anysupport having made a penalty double.     A bid of 3 clubs should show abetter suit, for the same reason, and be slightly weaker, say 6-8hcp,as it is to play facing partner's minimum double.       So maybe thebest thing to do is to make a "take-out" by cue-bidding 2S, i.e.completing the opposition's transfer - partner obviously knows you donot want to play there when the opposition have announced a five cardholding.    This shows 4 cards in the other major, and you have supportfor clubs but hope that if partner bids 3D then your AQ will besufficient support.    North doubles to show at least 3 cards inspades and East bids 3H being minimum for the original double.    Westraises to 4H although not expecting the game to be a laydown!  On theS10 lead to the Ace and another, East leads HK to force out the HA, andwins the trump continuation and plays CA and a club to Q and K, andcrosses to HJ to draw the last trump and ruff the clubs good ( as theyare 3-3 ).  
If the South hand had re-doubled to show a one suitedhand of 5+ cards - which is a reasonable system ( partner now bids 2Cand you pass with clubs or bid your suit, in this case 2S ) - a doubleof 2S by West would be penalties and logically a 2NT bid shouldtherefore be for take-out, showing 4 hearts and at least 8-9 hcp.similar to the Take-out" cue-bid above. 
TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) If youcue-bid the opponents' suit after a conventional bid or transfer itis equivalent to a take-out double of their suit. 
                             (2)Its important to decide with partner if doubles are for take-out orpenalty oriented when partner opens 1NT and RHO overcalls or if partnerdoubles 1NT and the opposition make a weak take-out.    Both methodsare reasonable but if penalty then 2NT should deny the suit or iftake-out then 2NT shows stop(s) in the suit.    Its preferable if bothpartners are on the same wavelength otherwise disasters will happen!
Board 24 - 6th March 2012
With E/W silent throughout, N opens 1D and rebids 1NT over partner's 1H response to show 15-16hcp and < 4 hearts.    A rebid of 2C does not show the strength of the hand and the singleton in partner's suit should not discourage you from giving the hand full value.    Over 1NT most players nowadays play a jump to 3H as forcing with 5 hearts initially offering a choice of games (3NT or 4H) rather than the old fashioned six hearts, constructive but not forcing.     Thus a jump bid of a new suit at the 3 level is natural and a mild slam try.      As mentioned last week you should endeavor to suggest a slam when you have plenty of controls and a singleton even if your combined hcp are not in the 33ish region.      So a bid of 3C is recommended and North is happy to accept the slam suggestion, say with a cue-bid of 4D, according to partnership ageement.    Note a bid of 3D or 3S would not be forward going but suggesting that the holding in the fourth suit (spades) may not be sufficient for 3NT.     Over 4D South signs off in 6C. 
One point to the play - in fits like this with no immediate side-suit losers it is usually a mistake to finesse in trumps as if it loses the defence may be able to play a third round reducing your cross-ruffing potential.     You should generally play for a 3-2 break and cash AK.    If the Q drops you can either draw a third round or try and score two ruffs in one hand or he other.  If not you allow an overruff at some stage but make all your other trumps seperately!
Board 13 - 28th February 2012
Board 13; Dealer N; Game/All; At pairs you should not bid slams unless they are odds on - generally to give a good play you need a combined 33 hcp where flat hands are concerned. With a decent eight card fit you need 31-2 but with a nine or ten card fit with singletons and plenty of Aces and Kings you can get by on considerably less.
This week's deal is an example of this. With E/W silent throughout, North opens 1S and South expects a game contract at least but only bids 2C as partner would expect more hcp and a better suit for a jump-shift response of 3C. North has the choice of emphasising the spade suit or usually bidding 2H which sounds more encouraging than 2S. Now South has a problem - 4S is to play and North should not disturb this and a jump to 4D would usually agree the last bid suit, hearts, as trumps. As South has good support - North should have 5 spades for this sequence and a singleton and good controls ( Aces and Kings) the only bid left is a fourth suit forcing 3D. If North were to bid 3NT then when South now bids 4S this obviously shows a hand too good to bid 4S on the previous round and so is a mild slam try.
However, as partner must have somewhere to go in bidding 3D , I suggest it implies that a doubleton spade must be held ( or is happy to rebid 5C with a self-sufficient suit ) so I would jump to 4S to show 6-4 shape. Now 4NT ( Roman Key Card Blackwood ) yields a 5S reponse showing HA,SKQ so South raises to 6S. As the cards lie, thirteen tricks are available on a non-spade lead and as the contract is unlikely to be bid at many tables you can afford a safety play - Win club lead,HA,H ruff low,DK,H ruff with SA, C ruff, H ruff with S10, club ruff, draw trumps - this guards against a third round heart overruff with SJ and a trump continuation leaving you a trick short.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Try and describe your hand fully ( both in distribution and strength ) so partner may make an intelligent decision about the final level of the contract.
Board 13 - 21st February 2012
Dealer N; Game/All:    I was surprised to see no-one had bid and made a slam on this board despite having a combined 32hcp and two decent five card suits!    Of course if North plays a slam a spade lead kills it so you need to anticipate this situation in the bidding ( as suggested in last week's hand ).     North opens 1D and E/W pass throughout.    South responds 1H rather than a forcing to game 2H as it is usual to go slowly when you have side-suits to maximize the chance of finding a fit.    I would bid 2H on a decent five card suit if I then (a) having 4 cards in partner's suit show support or (b) rebid 3NT having then suggested a possible slam if the opener has a bit extra or a good secondary fit.      A third use of 2H is if you have a self-sufficient six card suit of your own which you intend rebidding to set the suit where the partnership will play.     North has a tough rebid - 2NT gets the strength shown ( 17-18hcp ) but would imply a better spade holding, i.e. a stop.     As you have a useful honour in partners' suit I would bid 3C which is gameforcing facing a minimum six count opposite. 
       Now  South envisages a slam in clubs but realises that with at least nine cards shown in two suits, partner may have nothing in spades.    It costs nothing at this stage to bid 3S fourth-suit forcing over which partner signs off in 4H.    4NT Roman Key Card Blackwood then discovers ( via the 5H response ) that one of the five aces ( including the HK ) is missing ( probably the SA ) so you should ensure that South is declarer and should decide between bidding 6NT or 6H.    I would opt for 6H as you may need to ruff a diamond to set up the suit for spade discards but on the actual hand both contracts make with ease.
       TIP OF THE WEEK:  (1) When you know you are in the slam zone consider how to manoeuvre the bidding to get the right hand playing as declarer (2) Discuss with your partner what sequences you use a "jump-shift" response for.
Board 5 - 14th February 2012
Dealer N; N/S Vul.     A bidding test for N/S this week.    North has an obvious 1S opener and East/West will also pass throughout.    South bids 2H which should promise a five card suit as opener can raise with 3 card support ( 3H with < 15hcp and 4H with 15+ according to partnership style ).    If South had had four hearts and 3-4-3-3 shape, the modern style is to bid 2C and if partner raises clubs, because it must then show five spades, you are safe to  support partner at the appropriate level for your strength ( 3S or 4S ).      Without heart support, North bids 2S, being not good enough ( despite the extra shape ) to make a jump rebid of 3S which shows a six loser hand with six spades and usually 15-17hcp.    Incidentally a bid of 3D over 2H, known as a "high-level reverse" would also promise the same kind of strength.      South now has a difficult bid and may decide , because of his misfit in partner's suit and lack of aces to only bid 2NT.     However most will continue with a ( usually ) forcing to game bid of 3C and North has a decision.    3NT would obviously show stop(s) in diamonds and 3D hence would deny an adequate diamond holding for 3NT.    As you have a doubleton heart you could bid 3H but you should realise that  these trump honours cannot both be used to ruff partner's club losers and draw opponents trumps in the majority of cases.      3D would be more of a waiting bid hoping partner is best disposed to decide where to play so I would bid 3S to show and emphasise the six card suit, hoping partner can bid 4S with a doubleton.    Over 3S, South should realise that unless partner has seven spades a normal 4-2 trump break allied to the lack of Aces in the South hand should mean that there a four likely losers in a 4S contract and should bid 3NT.    On the actual hand , 4S requires careful play, but makes due to the fortunate 3-3 spade break. 
       Against 3NT, East probably leads D4 and South should go up with DK and lead a club to set up the ninth trick without any worries as the diamonds are 4-3 on the lead as you can see North holds both lower diamonds.   You must not play on spades hoping they are 3-3 as this could develop 5 losers before you make your overtricks!
       Against 4S, East is unlikely to find the testing diamond lead and will probably lead a trump which North has to win and plays AK and another and has to hope East has DA to make the game as there is no trump left to stop the defence cashing diamond winners.     It does no good to play three rounds of hearts and discard your singleton club as you are still left with diamond losers even if no one ruffs the third heart which would ensure that you have two trump losers  instead of the hoped for one.   On a diamond lead you should win the DK at trick two (as the Ace is on-side) and its a toss-up whether (a) you should set up a club winner before playing trumps as South can then ruff if they lead a diamond.    Then discard one of your diamond losers on the CK and one on the HAKQ if 3-3, ruff a club and lead a third trump hoping for 3-3  or (b) you play 3 rounds of trumps hoping the defence cannot cash two more diamonds if the diamond QJ are in different hands.     I prefer (b) but on the actual hand both plans work!      
       TIP OF THE WEEK: Try and visualise how the play will go when deciding whether to play in your suit rather than partner's.
Board 2 - 7th February 2012
Dealer E; N/S Vul. I think East should pass as dealer, despite having a seven loser hand, for several reasons. (a) opening 1H and rebidding 2D suggest five hearts and you only have four (b) the general strength is not enough to help your partner make a no-trump contract if there is no heart fit (c) 4441 is an overrated shape unless you have most of the hcp available, because you have no long suit to develop and entries may be awkward to ruff twice in one hand before drawing the necessary 3 rounds of trumps. South opens 1H and West should bid 4C , just enough to create severe bidding problems for N/S. West is suggesting a cheap sacrifice if East judges that there is little defence to the expected enemy vulnerable game. West should have, though, enough playing strength to expect to go down only three tricks, i.e 500, which is cheaper at this vulnerability than say 620 for 4H. North passes - a double at this level is generally played as a penalty double and East passes also, expecting 4C to have a good chance. In fact, on this actual hand, 4C makes.
South now has a problem, to compete or not? Being vulnerable, the rewards are greater if a game makes, but the potential penalty if you are doubled and find an unsuitable hand with partner is horrendous! I think it pays to be cautious in this scenario because the quality of your main suit is poor. Also, you know the clubs are breaking badly, so why shouldn't all the other suits break badly! However quite a few intrepid bidders would opt for a double, North would bid 4S and East usually passes, not quite having enough confidence to double, despite having potentially a good lead ( singleton club ). You may care to try making 4S against best defence as a double-dummy problem but at the table it would normally drift one or two off. However, with diamonds unlikely to be 3-3 and trumps possibly 4-1, you need East to hold HA to have any chance, and you need to get to the North hand to lead towards the HK and/or ruff a club. It is also necessary if West has an outside entry (say SA or DK to ensure it is played early before trumps are extracted from S as West has two club winners to cash. So it may be reasonable to place West with DK because this generates another entry to the North hand (which is bereft of entries). Therefore, after winning the probable singleton club lead with CA, you start by leading a low diamond from dummy. West has to win DK and is likely to switch to a trump and East plays Ace and another. North now wins DQ and leads HJ - if you ruff a club now you end up being stuck in dummy and unable to make HK. East wins HA (otherwise S wins HK, and N's H3 disappears on the fourth diamond and hearts and clubs are cross-ruffed). East exits with another trump, North draws the last trump, plays a further 3 rounds of diamonds discarding a club and exits with the H9, end-playing East to give up two heart tricks, S holding K6 over Q5!
TIPS OF THE WEEK: (a) Pre-empt to the hilt with an eight card suit and otherwise a weak hand, to make bidding difficult for your opponents, especially if they are vulnerable and you are not!
(b) When opponents pre-empt, expect your trump suit to break badly!
Board 5 - 31st January 2012
Board 5: Dealer N; N/S Vul. Surprisingly only four pairs out of 17 bid and made a slam on todays's deal. Three made 6NT and one 6D and one went off , presumably in 7NT. As pointed out last week I abhor the Modern Acol sequence which would be 1S-2D-3NT-6NT as , say, on a different partners's hand it may mean that 3NT is played from the wrong side - with a lead through a fragile heart holding and also the eschewing of 4 card diamond support may lead to a good diamond slam being missed! ( You can make a suit slam on fewer than the 33 hcp needed for 6NT when you know of a good 4-4 card fit. ) It might gain more match points when 6NT makes but I prefer the much more secure slam of 6D perhaps by the sequence 1D-3NT-4C(cue-bid)-4H(cue-bid)-6D. 3NT here shows a flattish raise with a good 12 to a bad 15hcp, at least four diamonds and no 4 card major. I suggest you discuss with your partner how to play a direct 2NT and 3NT after a pass or double by the opposition over one of a suit opened by partner. I play 2NT as a good 10 - a bad 12hcp (with 4-card suit support). These enable you to distinguish between distributional raises to 3 and 4 that have plenty of shape but fewer than 10hcp.
Incidentally, 6D scores well in (our) club environment but you really need to be in 6NT ( or even 7D if you are doing badly ) in a big EBU competition to do well. On the actual hand, 6NT is much better than 50% because you make if the SJ is singleton or doubleton or CQJ is doubleton (in either hand) or if the spades are 3-3 or if the hand with long spades also has the CQJx(x) or at least five clubs.
In 7D you first cash DAK. If the trumps are 3/2 you draw the last trump, cash top hearts and ruff one, then cash CAK prior to leading the squeeze card - the last trump - watching all the time for the CQJ8 to be discarded. If QJ have shown up you discard the S10 and N has the rest of the tricks. Otherwise you discard the C10. If after East's discard the C7 is not a boss you hope that the person with long spades is also the only defender that can stop the clubs in which case the spades will have to be unguarded. If the spades are 3-3 all along it does not matter - you have given yourself extra chances by playing the suits in the right order.
You can play the similar squeeze in 6NT after ducking a heart first (still retaining a top honour in the suit) to "rectify the count". This is the situation where you have 11 top tricks and you deliberately lose an early trick in order to give your opponents fewer "safe"discards later on in the play.
TIP OF THE WEEK: (1) Discuss structured raises after 1 of a suit is passed or doubled by the opposition. You can play them after intervention also but I suggest that it is better for 2NT/3NT to be natural.
(2) When you have about 30-31 hcp and a strong 4-4 fit you should try for a slam in the suit provided you do not have two immediate losers.
Board 7 - 24th January 2012
  I think this board has several interesting points in both the bidding and the play.    South has a hand good enough to make a no-trump rebid and the modern style playing four card majors and another 4 card suit is to open 1H.   However I would open 1D as I don't have a good rebid over 2D by partner as 2NT suppresses the support for partner and also has a very weak club holding and a jump to 4D would promise five hearts .    1NT is the rebid over 1S whether 1D or 1H is opened despite the lack of a club holding.   Here, after West passes and North bids 1H, East usually bids 2C and South jumps to 3H to invite a game.    North has plenty to spare  and raises to 4H.     Note if East pre-emptively bids 3C, the hand not quite being worth an intermediate jump overcall,  a double by South should be a game-try in hearts and 3H merely competetive with four card heart support.    Despite there being plenty of hcp the contract is not iron-clad and probably needs trumps 3/2 to have any chance.    Although you only expect to have 3 losers - a club, heart and a spade you can only count nine tricks as you don't have the entries to ruff two diamonds in hand before drawing trumps.    Either you need a red suit finesse or the spades 3/3.     In fact most declarers went off on the obvious lead of the CK from East.     There are two reasonable lines of play (1) Win the second club and play HA and another, expecting East to have values including the HK to make a sound overcall.    East wins HK and plays CJ which you have to ruff high, draw the last trump and then duck a spade in both hands.    East wins and can play another club to force your last trump but if the spades are not 3/3 you can take the diamond finesse for your contract.    If East plays a diamond you should play the AK and ruff one as if East has Qxx a ruff will do just as well as the straightforward finesse!    (2)  Win CA and DA and run HQ [if not covered] hoping that East has points in spades and diamonds to make up the overcall.   Now you can play to ruff both your diamond losers not caring if one is overruffed.      However, this loses to HK, but you should now throw a [losing] spade on the third club rather than risk an overruff.     Giving a ruff and discard does not help the defence so any other continuation is won by South who draws trumps, ruffs the third round of spades and ruffs a diamond to enjoy the thirteenth spade, the diamond Queen not having been ruffed out.    I prefer the second line as it very occasionally produces an overtrick when the trumps are Kxx with East and 10,9 with West, but I agree the HK is more likely to be with East.
TIP OF THE WEEK:  Consider what your rebids are likely to be on every simple response before opening the bidding.
Board 12 - 17th January 2012
Dealer West; N/S Vul. West opens 1C and North has a decent 7 card suit. The normal action is to pre-empt on a seven card suit to make it difficult for your opponents to find a fit but there are always exceptions. In this case you don't want to shut out a spade contract by your side so the bid is 1D. ( Incidentally I do not subscribe to the view that an opening 3 level pre-empt denies a four card major but that is up to your partnership style). East passes and South thinks there is a game on if partner has a four card fit for one of the majors or if North has an opening hand. Unless you play 1S as forcing for one round - I don't ( I play it as a five card suit constructive but not forcing ) - you should start with a cue-bid of 2C. This should show an opening hand and asks the overcaller to describe their hand, eg by bidding game in notrumps with a good club holding and an opening hand or rebid 2D with a weak overcall or show a four card major if one held. Whether West doubles or bids 3C to show a good suit - I think 3C is best as double should show an above average opener - North bids 3S and South raises to game. The play is straightforward if the spades are 2-2 or if West has the S10 singleton. West leads CAK, and when East peters, leads a third round which North must ruff with SQ. South wins SA and leads a diamond which West must take and lead a heart to give the defence any chance. North rmust ruff high again again with S9 and ( as East has more spades left than dummy ) must play diamonds from the top until East ruffs - West assumed to have singleton 10. South overruffs and crosses to SK ( drawing the last trump ) and is able to discard any remaining losing hearts on good diamonds.
TIP OF THE WEEK : It is usually best to make a pre-emptive overcall on weak hands only - not on medium to strong hands that may contain a major fit.
Board 1 - 10th January 2012
Dealer N; Love All; Teams: Playing Michael's Cue-bids the East hand bids 2H over an opening 1H showing 5/5 in spades and a minor and there is no reason not to extend the use of the convention over a weak two-bid by the opposition. Here North usually opens 2H and East should bid 3H being too good in playing potential to simply overcall 2S and not good enough to double and then bid 3S or jump overcall ( both actions should have a six card suit ). South suspects that there is no defence against 4S and so should not make it easier for West to bid the game by bidding 4H and so should pass. West is too good for 3S and not quite good enough for 4S but as the scoring is teams which favours you bidding thin games you should jump to 4S. There are no problems in the play as after a singleton diamond is led you simply draw trumps in three rounds.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Agree to play a 3 level cue-bid of an opening weak 2D,2H or 2S as a Michaels's Cue-bid. Note that 3S over 2S should be a trick stronger as you force partner to bid at the four level.
Board 2 - 3rd January 2012

A happy new year to both of my readers and welcome to any new NEBA members tuning in for the first time through Neil Aistons's promptings - the column is intended for keen improvers so I try and discuss hands that are slightly out of the ordinary - remember though I just give my opinion and it does not matter if you agree with me as long as you and your partners are on the same wavelength! Board 2 Dealer East; N/S Vul. East passes and South has a reasonable weak 1NT 11-14 opener non-vul but I think you should pass vulnerable because of the sterile 4333 shape. Assuming South passes, West may opt to open 1H third in hand to suggest a heart lead and to make it more difficult for E/W to assess their combined strength. The downside of this action is that if partner raises the opposition may be in a better position to evaluate their fit - in this instance after North overcalls 1S and East raises South knows that North can ruff one or two of his heart losers and his hand is worth a game try. If East raises to 2H then an unassuming cue-bid of 3H fits the bill here for South whereas if East raises preemtively to 3H then a double should be a game-try not penalties and North is happy to jump to game. If West passes third in hand the bidding should go ( uncontested ) 1S-2D-3D-4S. 4S rather than 3S because with a weakish hand with 5S and 4D North would normally pass ( because you know that partner has not the values to open the bidding ). Hence 3D shows a decent 12-14hcp. After a heart lead and continuation, a trump to K and one back to JA, East continues hearts and N ruffs. North must be careful not to draw the last trump at this point but try the club finesse ( twice if necessary ) as you need to keep a trump in dummy to take care of a fourth heart lead, cross to DK, draw the last trump and cash your minor suit winners.

TIP OF THE WEEK: When the opposition raise hearts to the 3 level and you are bidding spades a double should be a game-try in spades not penalties.

Board 7 - 3rd January 2012

Board 7: South dealer; G/A. After South passes and West has an obvious 1H opener. Or is it! I rarely open one of a suit without 3 controls (A=2,K=1) so I would open 1NT and the ( uncontested sequence ) should go 2H(transfer)-2S-3C(suit)-3S-4D(cue-bid)-4S(sign-off)-Pass(reluctantly). Most of the room played in 3NT so you didn't have to bid the making slam to get a good score! On a diamond lead to DA, cash HA, cross to CK to ditch two diamonds on HKQ, ruff a diamond, cash CA, ruff a club, ruff a diamond, ruff a club and lead SQ to South's K and win last two tricks with A9. If North has SK you have to guess where the 10 is to make twelve tricks.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Discuss with your partner whether a 3 level bid after a transfer to a major is forcing for one round and therefore a try for game or forcing to game in which case it is a try for a slam! More about this topic in a future column.