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Tollemache Team 2018/9

The Team for the Tollemache Qualifier

(17th/18th November 2018)

J Sanis (Capt.)
RJA Butland & G Watson
PJ Denning & R Plackett
P Shields & RM Chamberlain
J Atthey & C Robinson

Reserves:
K Stanley & J Angseesing
D Nettleton & B Youngs

LATEST NEWS/CHANGES

31st Jul 2018 : latest newsletter - July/August 2018 

28 Jul 2018 : dates and formats etc for next year's competitions are now available from the "GCBA Events" tab.

13 Jul 2018 : minutes of two committee meeting published (21jun, 02jul)

2 Jun 2018 : latest newsletter - June 2018; the Privacy Notice has been published;  the County Strategy which will be reviewed this month is there for reading;  the AGM minutes are published.

06 May 2018: the latest newletter is there - May 2018, and older are on the Newsletter TAB on left.  Committee minutes for April 18 meeting now added.

20 Feb 2018 : latests two sets of committee minutes added under GCBA Organisation TAB08 Jul : Facebook logo link added to the top of the screen

01 Apr : the EBU have released a video about card dealing - well worth watching - click here.

 
Hand of the Day
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FORM
HotD-thu : Glos-Avon match : 12aug18 : B25

It is usually the case that obstruction works to the advantage of those making the obstructive bids, but not always. 

The common start to the auction was as shown; West has a good hand and is willing to take a chance in game. He felt that the 4 bid offered partner the choice of contracts.  East  thought that diamonds had been rejected and passed. This happened at three tables in the top section, and the heart contract was doomed.

At the fourth table, North looked at the vulnerability and the fact that his opening was in first seat, and went all out with an opening of 3♠ which South raised to 4♠ . Surely this would make life more difficult for East-West?  Over the inevitable takeout double from West, East bid 5 and there the auction ended.   South found the only opening lead to hold the contract to 11 tricks, with  A and a ruff being the only defensive tricks - but that was little consolation when he saw the results at the other tables.

So will you open 2♠ or 3♠ next time you see this North hand?

HotD-wed : Summer Pairs : 13aug18 : B15

It can be nice to report a slam which every table managed to bid - and we had one here on Monday - but with 36 HCP between you, and with 14 top tricks and another two when the hearts split 3-3, the question is why only two pairs bid the grand slam?

The auction started commonly as shown. The West hand feels strong for 2N as the long clubs are extra tricks and the same 18 HCP on a 3334 hand would also bid 2N and have much less potential. Bidding 3N however seems OTT and likely to go minus at times, unnecessarily. [Would anyone consider a 2N opener on this hand?]

The 2N rebid will of course have surprised East, who can now see that slam is guaranateed and when that happens thoughts should switch to investigasting the grand slam.  Key to the grand slam will be having all the top club honours, and the way to find that out is to agree clubs as trumps and then use a key card ask to check.  The ideal auction would continue 4♣ (setting trumps) - 4 (cue) - 4N (ask) - 5♠ (two and trump Q) - 5N.  The last bid is nominally asking for kings, but it also imparts to partner the information that you have all the key cards.  What could be easier for West now that to spot two extra tricks in clubs and bid 7N?

[It is worth noting that in the CBC event using the same cards, four of the less epxerienced pairs only bid to game - slam bidding remains difficult for us all]

How do you defend?

West's lead of the ♣J is won by the Ace. Declarer leads the ♠Q on which partner plays the five. How do you defend?

On this hand there can be no immediate tricks in hearts or clubs. A passive defence will not beat the contract. South is marked with a singleton diamond and a forcing defence is called for. You must attack diamonds and the card to lead after winning a top spade is the K. Now you can force declarer twice in diamonds and promote your fourth trump.

Listen to the Bidding

East has shown at least 10 cards in spades and a minor and West leads ♠7 against your slam

On the bidding West may well have a trump trick and you are lucky to have escaped a club lead. If it turns out that you do indeed have to lose a trump then you need to get rid of both your clubs before losing the lead. This will only be possible if West has 4 hearts. The way to play this hand is to cash a top heart at trick 2 in case East has a singleton Knave or ten. When East follows small, you can ruff a spade and take 3 top trumps to clarify the position. If West turns up with  Jxxx then you can take a deep finesse in hearts and get rid of your clubs.

Protect against the likely break

You play in 4♠ (yes 6♣ would be better), and West starts with KQ. How do you play?

Ruff the second diamond and play off your AK, discarding dummy's last diamond. Now exit with ♠T. The defence may win but dummy's ♠9 remains to deal with a further diamond lead. Later you can return to hand with a club and draw trumps. Your heart losers will ultimately be discard on the long club suit.

Beware of Greeks

West leads Ace and another heart, throwing a diamond on the third heart as East cashes the KQ. At trick 4 East continues with a fourth round of hearts. What do you make of that?

You could discard your losing diamond from hand and ruff in dummy but should you do that? East is not out to do you any favours and he certainly wouldn't be giving you a ruff and discard if he were looking at the K. It looks like the reason for East's action is that he cannot see any tricks outside of one poosibly in trumps. Hence you should expect the trumps to break 4-1. If you discard a diamond and ruff on the table and West started with 4 trumps and 3 diamonds then he will also discard a diamond. Then after taking the ♠KJ you cant get off the table without suffering an overruff in diamonds. The winning play is to ruff trick 4 in your own hand. Then you will be in a position to draw trumps in four rounds and take a diamond finesse for your contract.

HotD-thu : Summer Teams : 6aug18 : B17

It is quite common to see bidding difficulties created by the opposition bidding, but this example from Monday shows that problems are there even without that obstruction.  This hand was a case where the only contracts were game and a grand slam - with nobody in the small slam. Here's how some of those came about.

A key differentiator between the auction was if and when the North-South hands bid.  In the bidding shown, North was there at the start - pushing the boat out a little, but first in hand is the time to do it.  The 2 bid meant that East had a natural takeout double, to which West applied a conventional trick. The natural 2N bid in response to the double is given up my most tournament players in favour of 2N acting as a puppet to 3♣, allowing a weak suit response to the double.  A useful extension is to make a 4-level bid over 2N into a slam try. So here 4♣ set the trump suit and after cue bids and ace askingWest could bid 5N to tell partner that all the key cards were present and that a grand slam might be possible. East's singleton heart and four trumps enthused him enough to bid the grand slam. Even without the ♠Q appearing the contract was there with three heart ruffs.

The other tables to report saw North pass, allowing East to open 1. One of the Souths was undeterred and bid 3♠ at this point, which removed a lot of bidding space from West. West could have doubled to show both suits, but with this level of quality difference and the possibility of further competition, it was best to show the strong suit. After 4♣, East missed the boat and just raised to game, which finished the auction.  The whole auction was P-1-3-4♣-P-5♣-end and the score of +440 was rather a disappointment. East should have cue bid 4♠ over partner's 5♣ and now a slam might be bid.

The third table saw the auction start with P-1-P which gave West an easy 2♣ bid (game forcing on their methods), which East raised to 3♣.  At this point West contionued with 3  and East naturally, with such good spades, bid 3N - and there matters rested.  Again it was East who missed the boat; opposite possibly a single heart stop 3N was never going to be certain, but more importantly there had been a chance to jump to 3 over 2♣ to show the club support and a short heart.  After that splinter it is hard to imagine the slam being missed.

If there is any conclusion, it is that sometimes opposition bidding can make it easier to bid a slam!

HotD-wed : Summer Teams 5 : 6aug18 : B13

Choosing the right opening lead against a slam is a key moment - what would you lead here from one of Monday's slams?

HotD-tue : Summer Teams 5 : 6aug18 : B12

The better teams often prefer the less exciting boards, and the reason is that on such boards, they can more reliably pick up imps.  This hand from last night is a good example, which started with every North-South pair happily getting to 2♠.

The question is what happened then, and the fact is that the majority of East-Wests let this go, and the defence to beat 2♠ (you have to set up ♣Q as an entry to allow West to play hearts through twice) is too difficult to find - so these defenders all wrote down -110 (or worse). 

For the three top teams last night, defending 2♠ was not the preferred option.  East, having passed originally, is able to make a limited takeout double, and did so, and what this did in each case was push North into bidding 3♠.  The defence to 3♠ was rather easier, and that went one off.

Collecting +5 imps on repeated partscore hands is the way to win matches!

How do you defend?

You lead a spade won by dummy's Ace, At trick 2 declarer plays plays a trump to your Ace, East following with the 2. South ruffs the next spade and draws your trumps, East discarding a spade and a club. Now comes the Q from South. How do you defend?

Looking at all the diamond winners in dummy, you may feel the need to win and play Ace and another club. This play is unnecessary. Declarer has 1 spade and 5 hearts so has 7 cards in the minors. Hence declarer will have 2 clubs left in his hand after cashing the diamonds no matter how many diamonds he holds. The winning defence therefore is to win the Ace of diamonds and exit in diamonds. You hope to make 2 club tricks at the end.

How do you Play?

West leads the ♠T. Plan the play.

If you make 4 trump tricks and 4 black suit winners you will need 2 ruffs in dummy. The danger of trying to ruff 2 clubs is that East may be able to overruff dummy on the fourth round and leave you a trick short. The solution is to win the ♠ A and then ruff one club in dummy.Come back to hand with the ♠K and discard a spade on the fourth club instead of ruffing. Then you can win the likely trump switch and ruff a spade in dummy, just losing a club, a diamond and a trump.

Plan the Play

West leads the K. Plan the play.

There are several ways that you could play this hand, but the one that ensures defeat is to win and ruff a diamond at trick 2. You might then cash 2 top trumps but when you play clubs, West wil ruff and cash 2 diamonds and a spade to beat you. The early ruff damages your prospects in 2 ways, by losing control of the diamond situation and by removing a dummy entry that is needed later. You can retain control by ducking the first trick. Then you can ruff the second diamond and continue with 3 rounds of trumps. An alternative is to win the first trick and duck a trump at trick 2. You will later be able to ruff a diamond, draw trumps and claim 10 tricks. The simplest way to play the hand is to win trick 1, take 2 top tricks and play clubs. If West declines to ruff, you can discard a spade on the fourth club, ruff a spade in hand and a diamond on the table and then make one of your remaining trumps as your tenth trick.

Your Lead

What do you lead against 3NT?

Conditions for deception are ideal on this hand. West knows that his partner has very little in the way of high cards, and the Queen of hearts is likely to be well placed for declarer. In situations like this , you should look no further than the 3 as your opening lead. Declarer will have to decide whether to risk the heart finesses or knock out the ♣A in order to come to 9 tricks. If he blieves you have led from a four card suit, then knocking out the club becomes very attractive.  Had the 5 been led, declarer might well have decided that the heart finesse represented his best chance. 

HotD-thu : Summer Pairs : 30jul18 : B18

This 3N hand from Monday produced a number of different results, and a major cause was the opening lead.  Most tables had an East-West silent auction which allowed North to play the hand in 3N. 

Across the field the leads were a top spade twice, a heart twice, the K once, and a club twice.

Dismissing the outlier first, we can only assume that West opened the bidding in third seat with a lead directing 1 bid, and the result was this fatal lead, after which declarer was able to make 11 tricks (for a joint top) - losing just a heart and a spade en route. Notice how declarer always has three heart tricks as long as West has short hearts with one honour - by running the 9. 

What about the other leads - with each suit chosen twice? 

The auction shown was from table 6 and cannot have been untypical.  The case for a spade lead is that it has a "safe" sequence from which to lead, and it might hit partner's strength. The case for a heart is that dummy showed no interest in the majors and might be weak in hearts.  The case for a club is that it is your strongest suit.

The case against a heart is that a J432 lead can easily give away a trick.  The case against a club is that dummy, with no interest in the majors, might have clubs, and that whichever club you lead has the potential to give declarer an undeserved trick.

When a club or heart gets led, it looks natural for declarer to win and play on spades. When West gets in they will continue partner's suit; in clubs this sets up two tricks for the defence, while in hearts this sets up a trick for declarer.  The results should be 9 tricks on a club lead, and 10 tricks on a heart lead.  Three tables confirmed to this analysis.

On a spade lead it is less clear what declarer will do. The lead strongly suggests that West holds the king, so it seems right to win ♠J, cash ♠A and play a third spade. On that play West can switch to either hearts or diamonds and the result should always be 10 tricks. The winners on Monday did one trick better; one way this could happen is if declarer plays diamonds at trick two and East wins to continue spades. I shall investigate!

What does all this tell us?  The club is the winning lead, although the case for a heart might be better.  The spade lead is quite acceptable, but the key is to know when to continue the suit and when to give up on it.

HotD-wed : Summer Pairs : 30jul18 : B27

The auction shown was that of table 6, where the 1N opener showed 15-17 HCP, and the 3 bid - a slight overbid in an attempt to get the shape across - promised short hearts and either three or four spades. The immediate sacrifice in 4 showed an unwarranted faith in the North-South bidding, as in fact there is no game which they can make.  But this hand is about the play ...

Tony Letts started with a top club - the king to get count from partner and the ♣T (high from odd) marked declarer with a singleton. North looks very much now like a 4153 shape, and the A came next, followed by a diamond to the J and then a third diamond. Declarer ruffed with the 9 which lost to the T, and with the ♠A and K to lose that was down three.  The other declarers in hearts (3x) made six and seven tricks, so they did no better.

We thought at the time declarer could have read the position better; it was very likely that South held the KTx in which case the 9 was a losing play. If instead declarer ruffs with the J South can over ruff with the king, and put partner in (with ♠A) to try again but when the fourth diamond comes through declarer ruffs with the ace and can lead the 9 through the T5 to make 8 tricks. (Actually there is a guess here as to whether North's singleton is the ten or the eight, so there is also a losing option).

But in fact, the defence can do better - always ensuring six defensive tricks (down 3) no matter what declarer does - can you see how?

It won't be so clear what is going to happen, but there is a general principle which we recognise from other situations which applies here - and makes the difference.

The general principle is not to over-ruff with a trump trick you will make anyway, and it comes in most clearly on trump promotions when declarer ruffs from AQJ and you are looking at KT9 behind.

When East ruffs with the J, South should discard rather than over-ruff. 

HotD-tue : Summer Pairs : 30jul18 : B14

This hand from last night offered a number of interesting questions.  First on the bidding, you have (on the bidding shown) taken a preference of giving the opposition no space, to one of hearing what the opposition have to say.  This can sometimes affect your play of the hand, and in this case, if you had taken it easy, the auction might have been  1-1-1♠-2-3-3-4♠ -end.   The gain from a slow auction is the expectation (or perfhaps confirmation,as it was the most likely scenario) that the hearts are divided 3-6 and North has some values but not a lot.

Everyone played in 4♠ on this hand in the GCBA game last night, and the number of tricks made varied enormously - one table made 9, three tables made 9, two tables made 10 trick and two tables made 12 trick.  Here are the questions which come to mind

  1. How did some people make 12 tricks?
  2. What is the best line to make 10 tricks?
  3. What is the best line to adopt at match-point pairs?

As a starting point, we note that there are 11 top tricks.  Given lack of a top club lead, we know South will have some club honour(s) so the chances of  settign up the ♣Q are few.  Given the fact of South bidding, we should expect more high cards with South than with North, so the diamond finesse must count as odds against.

It's now that we wonder whether 3♠ would have been a better choice of final bid - even if the field thought differently.

Some of these quesitons are easier to answer than others - and it is simplest first.

1.     Making 12 tricks clearly needs to involve the diamond suit, and you need 4 diamond tricks. That will necessitate trumping a diamond and that means the only way to get to the long diamonds will be in trumps.  You therefore need the trumps to break 2-2, and the winning line is  A, A, ruff, spade to ♠7, ruff, spade to ♠A and cash the diamonds.  The spades behaving is a 40.7% chance, and the diamonds behaving well enough (3-3 break or doubleton king)  is 51.7% ; these odds might be affected by the bidding, but overall your chance of succeeding in making 12 tricks is about 23%.   

2.     The best line to make 10 tricks is less clear. The line above will make either 12 tricks or 9 tricks, so it represents one option. The simple diamond finesse is another; if we assume that of the three missings kings and the missing ace, that South holds three to North's one, then we would have to rate the finesse as being about a 25% shot.  The alternative to a straight finesse is to win the A and run the spade suit.  This could create problems for South, particularly if they hold both the top clubs. The diamond finesse can always be taken but there is also a chance of an endplay on South.  If we win trick one and cash the spades, we have a 5-card ending but South should see what is happening and they will keep a card to exit to North.  The position works better if you duck the first heart - threatening a heart ruff. If South wins and plays a trump we reach a 4-card ending and this might work better.  We must have some extra chances from this, so the success rate should be above 30%.  A danger arises if the diamond finesse fails, as then we might not get to the A;  this will only happen if the opponents divest themselves of enough diamonds, and that might give you a good hint that the finesse is wrong - in which case you can avoid it. 

3.    At match-points we need to think about both success and failure. We can take the ambituous line to get 12 tricks 23% of the time, or the less ambitious line to get 10 tricks 30% of the time.  Your choice will depend on your outlook on life, and your judgement of what others will do.  It  might also be affected by your estimate of your current score; it is worth noting that the way to get a good score here isn't necessarily to go for the 12 tricks - what you need to do it go for the option not chosen by the others, and to get lucky.  It might also be affected by the fact that the day of the event, Monday, was the first day of WISHFUL THINKING WEEK; so it should be no surprise that the ambitious line was the winner!

How's your Defence?

West leads the ♠J and you win with the Ace. What now?

The bidding tells you that partner can have very little. It looks like you need to find partner with something in diamonds and a diamond switch is therefore called for. You must be careful in your choice of diamond lead. You hold the ten and 8 which immediately surround dummy's nine and therefore you can play as if the nine was in your own hand. Switch to the T and you will be able to take 2 diamond tricks when the layout is as shown. Note that no other diamond is good enough for if you lead a low card, declarer can run it to dummy's nine.

Use the bidding

You play in 4 after East has opened with a 12-14 1NT bid. West leads the ♣6 and East wins the King. East switches to a trump, and your knave loses to West's King, and another trump is returned, East playing the T. How do you play from here?

Think about East's opening bid. There are 18 points missing and you know West has 4-6 points since East opened 1NT. You have already seen 3 points in the West hand  so clearly both minor suit Aces are with East. Whoever has the ♠K cannot hold the J else the point count totals for each defender won't add up. If the ♠K is off-side we will be defeated but if it is right we may need to take 2 spade finesses to pick up East's King, and you only have one entry to dummy. The way to succeed is to enlist the help of the opponents. Play a diamond to dummy's 9. When East wins with the Ace, he will have to either give you a spade finesse or play the ♣A. If the latter you can ruff, enter dummy with a trump and take 4 spade discards on the minor suit winners, needing only one spade finesse after all.

This should be Easy

West leads the K on which East encourages with the ten. What is your plan?

Hopefully the diamond suit will break and that will give you enough tricks. However, if you are unlucky, East might be able to win a diamond trick and play a club through. If West holds the Ace of clubs you may then lose 4 tricks. The solution is simple - discard a diamond on the first heart, leaving West on lead. Now if diamonds are breaking you will be able to set up the suit with a ruff and re-enter dummy with a trump. you have merely exchange a diamond loser for a heart loser but achieved your aim of keeping the danger hand off lead. Clearly East would have done better to play the A at trick one and thwarted your plan.

Play Safely

West leads the ♠4 against your game. Plan the play.

If West has led a fourth highest spade, then this contract is 100%. You need to be careful with entries. Win the first trick with dummy's King and play off Ace and Queen of clubs. Now if the ♣K has not appeared you cross to the Ace of spades and clear the clubs. The defence cannot take more than 3 spades and one club.

HotD-thu : Ross Swiss Teams : 22jul18 : B48

This was the penultimate hand on Sunday and generated a big swing for the winning team as well as a smaller swing at table 21 where this was the auction.

The bidding looks routine with each hand expressing its strength honestly, but it left East with an awkward lead.  In fact it was more than an awkward lead - East was just about end-played at trick one.  With everything potentially dangerous, it was natural to choose the ♠A (and indeed 12 of the 14 defending 4/5 did that).  Partner's play of the ♠Q tells you the bad news about he lead, but it does mean that a spade continuation won't give away another trick. So you play a second spade and declarer wins, and leads a small diamond.  

When you win the king, you have a repeat of the same problem.  Playing a spade gives a ruff and discard, a heart lead round to the queen costs a trick - so does that leave a club as the only choice?  At the table the defender chose ♣9; partner won the ace and returned one but declarer got that right, rising with the king and now making the contract.

Was there any way for the defence to succeed after the opening lead?  The answer is yes, but you'd never find it - it is to play the K next; the result of doing this is that East never gets endplayed.  

You might think declarer's play of the diamonds was curiuous but it was well reasoned. After the opening lead you can be confident that East doesn't have a singleton club, or that would have been a more attractive lead.  With the 2 bid promising 5-5 majors, that means at most one diamond. If that diamond is the jack or ten, then leading small to the JT/queen and king, allows declarer to pick up the diamonds for one loser by finessing on the way back.

The contract at the winner's table wasn't 4  - the winners bid on over that and played in 4♠. The opening lead was the A and, thinking that there was no other source of tricks, North switched at trick two to a club. Decalrer hopped up with the queen and with the heart and spade finesses working, wrapped up 10 tricks.   The defence should have done better; when dumy has a singleton it is best for the third hand to make a suit preferenced signal, and here the 6 might not be a totally clear signal, but with the 32 missing, it is so unlikely to be crying out for a club lead that North will now avoid that switch.

HotD-wed : Ross Swiss Teams : 22jul18 : B24

This hand came up in the next match, and presented a bidding problem for some - what to do at this point, where 3N is very much in your mind, but to bid it without a diamond stop looks foolish, and bidding 3♣ would be a considerable underbid.  Your choice?

One bid we could consider with a hand too good for 3♣ is to bid 3N, as this also (since 1N/2N covers all the balanced hands) shows long clubs and a good hand. It usually has some semblance of a stopper in the unbid suits, which is true only for one of the suits in this case.  But 3N was tried twice, and it succeeded as often as it failed - just depending on the opening lead.  Too risky must be the verdict.

Some other tables got to 3N by East after West made an underbid of 3♣ and East compensated with an overbid of 3N. The catch again was the diamond stopper, and here the outcome was worse as South did not have a decent heart alternative. But in fact the majority of 3♣ bids resulted in partner passing and game being missed.

With direct support for spades rather a distortion, the answer which is left is for the West hand to "invent" a reverse bid, trying 2.  With three card support for spades the danger of partner raising hearts is mitigated by the fact that you can convert any heart call to spades at the same level.  Here the 2 bid might just get preference to clubs, but over that you can bid 3♠ (forcing) and be confident that if 3N is best partner will bid it, and if not it will be easy for partner to choose the best black suit to be trumps.

In fact 4♠ and 5♣ weren't the only choices made above 3N - there were four pairs bid a slam, two in spades and two in clubs.  Both pairs in clubs made the slam (one got a spade lead) but in spades both declarers lost to the trump queen and went one down.

HotD-tue : Ross Swiss Teams : 22jul18 : B20

The Ross-on-Wye event managed jointly by Gloucestershire & Herefordshire continues to thrive, and there were 44 teams on the Sunday.  This hand came up in match three, and was the most powerful hand held over the day. The majority opened a strong two bid on this, but there was good reason also for opening 1, to make sure it was easy to bid the two suits.  This was the auction at the table where the eventual winners were sitting North-South. What can North bid now?

Curiously, the opposition's intervention has actually made it easier rather than more difficult to bid this hand. And that is because - in a cramped auction like this - you need to reserve the 4N bid to show a two suited hand with two unbid suits. So here 4N would promise at least 5-5 in diamonds and hearts. Isn't that handy?  If the opponents had not bid 4♠ you would have had room to bid 4 but unless partner bids hearts now, the suit is going to be lost.   After 4N showing the reds, the decision is for South and whether to settle for game or bid slam is not clear. If you have already shown something with 4♣ you might be inclined to settle for 5 but partner's choice to open a strong two rather than open a suit at the 1-level indicates a pretty enormous hand - and your ace plus singleton spade will often be enough for slam.

At the table, of course, it didn't happen like this. South declined to bid clubs at the first chance, and over 4♠, North bid 5 and was fortunate that partner wasn't sitting there with short diamonds and long hearts.  South's undisclosed features included three trumps, a singleton and an ace - so he was happy to raise to 6.  In this match that turned out to be a flat board as at the other table West passed over 4♣ and South cue bid spades over North's 4, so the slam was bid easily there.

Across the field the slam was bid only 10 times out of 44, and all the successful auctions we know started with a strong two opening.  The one known auction which didn't start that way went P-1-3♠-P-P-4-P-5 -end;  again generously quiet opponents, but no prizes.

Help Partner

You strike gold with your lead of 9 as partner wins the first trick with the Knave and continues with AK. What do you discard on the third diamond?

You may or may not have a heart trick. You know that you definitely have a trump trick if partner continues wuith a fourth round of diamonds. How do you persuade him to concede a ruff and discard? Simple when you think about - wake him up by discarding the A.

An Easy Defence

Partner leads the Q. Declarer holds up the first round and wins the next lead of the J with his King. He now leads a spade to dummy's 7. Plan the defence.

On the bidding, South is pretty well marked with the top hearts and diamonds, and ♣AQ. If he has 5 diamonds, he has 8 tricks and a chance of a ninth in either spades or clubs. If you win the first spade with the Knave, South will try the club finesse, which you know will be successful. If you take the first spade with the King and continue hearts, declarer may well think that he has hit on the right finesse. If he repeats the spade finesse, the defence will have 5 tricks.

Plan the Play

West leads the 4 against your game. You try the King from dummy but this loses to East's Ace. To your relief, he continues with the 8 at trick 2. West wins the J and switches to the 9. You win the diamond Ace and when you continue with the Q, East discards a club. Play from here.

If the spades break you are OK but if West has length in both red suits, he may be short in spades. It should be possible to create an extra trick by endplaying West in hearts, but first you must remove his exit card. Cash the ♠A before running the rest of the diamonds. Then exit with a heart. If West can exit with a spade then the suit will be running, else you you make your ninth trick on West's exit.

Patrick Phair has pointed out that on the hand as given, declarer can establish a heart trick by force. The 6 and 7 of hearts are transposed in the problem.

Be a Tricky Declarer

West leads the 8. How do you rate your chances?

Prospects are not good. You have only one heart stop and although the diamond finesse is sure to be right, it looks as if the moment you knock out the ♠A, a further heart lead will give the defence 4 tricks in the suit. You might try to slip the ♠J past West but he is not likely to let that happen. A better ploy is to rise with the Q at trick 1, just as you would have done if you held Kxx. East does not know how many hearts his partner holds so is very likley to win the A and switch to a club.rather than give you a cheap extra heart trick. Now you can win with the Ace, finesse diamonds and later knock out the spade.

HotD-thu : Summer Teams : 16jul18 : B12

As happens so often, this hand was a good slam which nobody bid.  The key bid in the auction at table 2 was at this point (3♣ natural and forcing, as weaker hands bid 2N instead). There are two bids to consider here, one is 3N to show the double spade stop, and the other is 4♣ which by default will suggest a sixth club. Each option tends to lose the other.

Is the slam good? The answer has to be yes, as it is

  • cold on any 2-2 club break (40% shot, ruffing the fourth diamond in dummy),
  • it is also good odds if there is a singleton ♣Q (18% of the time, now drawing trumps and playing  AK9 losing only to QTxx(x)  with East - so 85% success).
  • finally with a trump loser there is still a chance (42% of the time, it needs diamonds for no loser - for which best odds is a double finesse a 25% shot).

The bottom line is that the slam will make two thirds of the time, without any help from the opposition (and some if often forthcoming).

But for Monday's North-Souths there is, unusually, a happy ending - for if you played 6♣ to best advantage, you would have gone down one!

The auction given above will not have happened often; the key difference is that West - at this vulnerability - should have been in there with an opening bid of at least 2♠ and possibly 3♠.  After that start the auction might well just be a 3N bid by North and a pass by everyone else.

HotD-web : Spring Teams : 16jul18 : B16

This hand from Monday created bidding problems for some, while others got past that hurdle but then stumbled!

The first question is the opening bid from West, which should be 1♠.  That looks straightforward but it created a problem for some Easts - as bidding at the two level would not match partner's expectations if playing 2/1 game forcing.  When East decided to bid 1N over 1♠, the next bid heard was 3♣ and now the heart suit got introduced.  West could have temporised with 3♠ but feared it might be passed and so jumped to 4♠.  That was the final bid and the contract went down two. 

We mustn't say anything about the pair who played in 5 on this hand, but will focus instead on the play in hearts - a denomination with 6 declarers across the 4-level (three), 5-level (two) and 6-level (one).  Two declarers were presented with a club lead and had to lose a club trick, but the other four had a diamond lead.  The 4 contract is always safe but at a higher level it isn't. 

The key is how to play the heart suit. Would you have recognised the importance of a safety play here?  There is always one loser on a 2-1 break and two losers if there is KQ3 behind the ace. The key case is KQ3 in front of the ace. To avoid losing an extra trick in that case, you must cross to the long hearts and lead towards the AT.  

Unfortunately the one player in 6 didn't spot this and went one down in a makeable slam (after a diamond lead).

HotD-tue : Summer Teams : 16jul18 : B10

The results on this hand surprised a little, with 11 tricks in spades and success in 3N suggesting that everyone played the spade suit for no loser.

The way to play the suit for no loser is to start with small to the queen and then cash the ace.  Playing in 4♠ this lets you draw trumps, throw a losing diamond on the fourth club, and clock up 11 tricks with two heart losers.  Playing in 3N this gives you five spades to go with four clubs and a diamond for 10 tricks there, even on a diamond lead.

Question - is that the best odds play in the spade suit?

The answer - as you might expect from the fact of the discussion - is no.

It is better odds to leads the jack from West on the first round, and if it is covered to cash the queen next hoping to drop the ten.  Does it make much difference?  Not a lot - small to the queen works with dodubleton KT or K8/K6/K5 onside, while leading the jack works with KT onside and T8/T6/T5 offside - and there are just as many cases of either.  The difference is that leading the jack first also works in the case of singleton ten offside, as you can later cash the 9 and fiensse through North's 86.

One cannot quarrel with success - but next time when everyone leads the jack, the layout will be like this and we will wish we had never learned the "right" answer!

How do you Play?

West leads the K. Plan the play.

You have 8 top tricks and a heart to be established gives you 9. The tenth trick might be ♣Q. Look carefully at the diamonds. Your suit is trong enough to win 2 tricks by force and you can establish your tenth trick without worrying about the position of ♣K. It is important to play your cards in the right order. Win the A and test the spades by cashing the Ace. If spades are 4-0 you will need the ♣K onside but if both follow to the first trump, then continue with a low diamond pitching a club. Lets say West wins and plays a club, the Queen being covered with the King. You enter dummy with a trump for the next diamond lead, discarding you last club. Later you will discard a heart on the winning diamond. If West had instead switched to a heart, you would win the Queen and this time discard a heart on the next diamond - in other words you take a discard in the suit that West attacks. Note that your first discard must be a club and not a heart, else you are in danger of losing a club trick as well as 2 diamonds and a heart.

How do you defend?

West leads the 9 covered by the Queen and your King. Declarer draws 2 more rounds of trumps (West having a singleton) and leads the ♣J on which West contributes the 2. How do you defend?

You know from the bidding and play to date that South is 5-5 (at least) in the red suits. He probably has a spade else West might have bid again holding a decent 6 card spade suit. Partners ♣2 shows you 3 clubs on normal count methods hence South is 1552. If you take the ♣Q and play spades, South will ruff the second round and set up the clubs with a heart ruff to get dummy. The winning defence is to abandon one of your club tricks by allowing declarer's ♣J to hold. Dummy now has insufficient entries to set up and enjoy the clubs. Now you will always beat the contract provided West can contribute something in the heart suit; and if declarer's heart suit is too strong, he was always set to make his contract no matter what you did.

Give Yourself the Best Chance

East opens with an intermediate 2 bid (10-13 points with a 6 card spade suit). Against your game, West leads ♣K. How do you play?

Your best chance of success lies in persuading the opponents to open up the diamond suit. To this end you should win the ♣A and draw trumps. Now exit with Ace and another spade to remove West's exit cards. The defence can take a club trick but West will then have to lead a diamond or concede a ruff and discard. If West plays a third spade you just ruff and play a club with the same result. Note that exiting with a club after drawing trumps is no good as West can then exit in spades and you will have to play the diamond suit yourself.

Camouflage

West leads the 7 to East's ten. How do you plan the play?

If you make 5 diamond tricks you are home and if the diamond finesse fails you have the spade finesse to fall back on, giving you around a 75% chance of success. Can you improve on this?

Try the effect of winning the first heart with the King. Now cross to dummy with a club and run the T. If it loses, West will probably play either a low heart to partner's presumed Knave, or will play hearts from the top, expecting his partner to unblock. In either case your J will win your ninth trick. 

HotD-thu : Midlands Bowl : 8jul18 : B29

The Midlands Bowl was won on Sunday by one of the two teams from Warwickshire.  Their narrow win could have been extended if they had found the winning line on this hand - see how you get on.

Some thoughts on the bidding first.  The open was 19-20 balanced and the 3♣ bid was asking about five-card majors.  The initial pass over 3♣ denied a club stop, so that the other hand can tell whether 3N is a sensible contract or not. Any other bid would show a stopper.  The redouble now asks North to make the normal response, and this was 3N to show a hand with a five card heart suit.  This style of responses is the latest fad, as it enables the 2N opener to be declarer in all major suit contracts. Details can be found on the internet if you search for "muppet stayman".

In response to the lead-directing double, East leads a club and West wins to switch to ♠3 and your jack loses to the ace; back comes the ♠T overtaken by the queen and ducked by you. You now beat the ♠9 with the king as East plays the ♠6.  What next?

You have made one spade trick and expect to make 5 diamonds and two top hearts.  There are two choices for the ninth trick - it must come from either clubs or hearts.  It is easy to set up a clcub trick by leading the jack, while the K is an entry to dummy, and that was the option chosen, but if you look at all four hands you will see that this simply put West on lead to cash the setting trick in spades.

The alternative, which is of course not guaranteed, is to cash the diamonds first and then play a heart off dummy. When the 9 is with West, you can lose safely to East and get a heart trick back on the return. This would lose out if East had the fourth spade.

Can you tell?  The only hints are in the play of the spade suit. The return of the ♠T then the play of the ♠6 by East looks so much like AT6 and would be such a strange play from AT86, that we have to vote that you can tell whether the long spade is. So your best bet is to cash diamonds and play hearts, covering whatever West plays.

HotD-wed : Midlands Bowl : 8jul18 : B25

The two GCBA teams playing in Sunday's Midlands Bowl ended in the middle of the field.  They did have a few chances, and if the odds-against slam bid and made by the winning team had failed, one of our teams would have shuffled up two places in the ranking.  This hand was one highlight for that GCBA team in the first half.

There are 12 tricks easy available once declarer has lost a diamond trick to South, so it was a susprise to find that only Garry Watson & Patrick Shields managed to bid this slam.  You can make the same tricks in NT but that needs to be played by West or a spade lead could set up two tricks for the defence and beat the slam. (The one team in 6N by East got a heart lead)

The auction would usually start 1 -1♠, although there is an argument for 1 -2♣ as a start where that immediately sets up a game force (and makes bidding over a diamond rebid more comfortable).  East now wants to show extra high cards and good diamonds, but a 3 bid did not seem to do justice to the hand. The high card strength would be a 1N opener or rebid, but the good diamonds make the hand rather stronger than most 17 counts, and that made 2N (nominally showing 18-19) the most appealing option.

The 3♠ bid here might look like a mis-print, but it wasn't - it shows clubs!  The reason it shows clubs is that on this sequence the pair play all continuations as transfers.  This is a recommended option as it allows responder to make both forcing and non-forcing takeouts of 2N. The key bid, however, was the next one - when West raised to 4N. 

The jump to 6 now seems osbvious and there was nothing in the play. It continues to surprise how difficult slam bidding seems to be.

HotD-tue : Midlands Bowl : 8jul18 : B8

This opening bid resulted in three choices on Sunday and only Tricia Gilham in one of the Gloucestershire teams made the winning choice.  What should it be opened?

Six card suits are traditionally opened at the two level, seven cards suits at the three level, and eight card suit suits the four level. 

One pair playing strong weak twos (8-11 usually) chose a 2♠ opener, hoping that was sufficiently constructive.  One other pair opened 2♠.  Both partners passed. 

The clear majority was to open 3♠ on this hand, and five did and their partners all passed.

The one exception was opening 4♠. The rationale is that a 7411 shape is so much better than a 7222 shape, both in costructive potential and the business case for obstructing - it is crying out ot be opened at the 4-level.  The same hand with a small club moved to be a small diamond would clearly open 3♠, and doesn't this hand look to be a trick stronger?

Have a look at the four hands and say where you think the part-score auctions went wrong.

Cater for a Bad Break

West leads the Q. How do you plan the play?

If trumps are 3-2 a diamond ruff will see you home. Can you cater for a 4-1 trump break? 

You will be alright if you can score the low trumps in your hand. To start this process, your first move should be to play 2 rounds of hearts. Suppose East wins the heart and switches to the ♣T. You win, play the ♠Q and a spade to the King. If trumps have broken you can revert to your plan of ruffing a diamond in dummy. If West shows out on the second trump, cash the K and ruff a heart. Now a diamond ruff puts you in dummy to play another heart. If East ruffs, you discard a club and later make 2 trump tricks. If East discards, you ruff with ♠8 and still have the ♠A for your tenth trick.

Plan the Play

West leads the 6 and East plays the ten. Plan the play.

Counting tricks as usual you have 2 spades, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds on top and you can set up a club. Hearts offers the best chance of the 2 extra tricks you need. What is the best way to play the heart suit? It wont matter if hearts are 3-3 but if they are 4-2 then you must not waste the 9. You don't want the defense to switch to clubs at this point so win the first trick with the K and play a heart to the nine. Say this loses to the Queen. Win the diamond return and play off the K. If the Knave falls or hearts are 3-3 you have the extra tricks you need.

Retain Control

West leads 3 top hearts and you ruff the third round. How do you plan the play?

You can easily afford a trump loser but you must be careful to time the hand correctly for if the spades are 4-1, there is a danger that you will lose control of the hand. If you play off the Ace of spades and continue spades, West could hold up the King until the third round and then force dummy with another heart. Hence you would have to abandon trumps and play clubs and West would beat you by ruffing with his low trump. The winning play at trick 4 is to play the ♠Q and if it holds, continue with the ♠T. If West ducks again, you cash the ♠A and play clubs. If West takes his ♠K early then you have a trump in hand to take care of a heart return.

Completely Safe

West leads AK and you ruff the second round. Trumps are drawn in 2 rounds finishing in hand. What now?

The contract is in danger only if you lose a diamond and 2 club tricks. It looks routine to play a club towards dummy at this point, but that is not the correct play. The bidding indicates that East will have one of the key missing high cards but not both. The safe line is to play a diamond towards the Queen. If this loses to East's King, then the Ace of clubs is surely onside. If West has the King of diamonds and plays it, you have 2 club discards available. If he ducks, then you have avoided a diamond loser and are happy to lose 2 club tricks.

HotD-thu : Oxford BC Teams : 4jul18 : B19

This hand from last night's teams event divided the field with half of them making the game and half not. The defenders started off with the 8 to the ace. Declarer played the ♣T and ducked South's queen. Inevitably, out came the ♠2.  The key - and you have started the right way - is to focus first on your side suit (clubs here). So you win the spade switch with the ace and take a club ruff.  Sadly, the ♠4 is over-trumped with the ♠J.  Back comes the Q run to your king.  What do you discard?

You have lost two tricks with the A to come, and you still need to set up the clubs. It doesn't look like the ♠6 is going to be big enough, but the fact is what else can you do - you will have to try ruffing the next club and hope for the best.

What does that tell us about the discard?  It looks like it doesn't matter but it does.  The catch is this - if you discard the fifth club and now ruff a heart to take the club ruff, you will find that the club ruff succeeds. But now if you lead a fourth heart you will allow North a trump promotion, and if you play a diamond, South will win the ace and do the trump promotion for you. Either way is four losers.

There are two ways out of this.  One is to play diamonds immediately after winning the second heart.  Success now relies on the diamond ace holder not having the third trump. The alternative is to discard a diamond on the second heart, take the ruffs and when you play the fourth heart you let the J win, discarding the diamond queen. This seems the easier option.

HotD-wed : Summer Teams : 2jul18 : B29

This slam from Monday was bid by even fewer pairs than bid the slam on board 1, but this slam is nearly rock-solid.  Most tables either started with a strong NT or opened a minor and rebid 1N to show 15-17 hcp. The South hand raised to game and there matters rested.

The exception was a table where North opened 1  to start with and bid 2N over partner's 1♠ response. This slight overbid (or is it?) galvanised South into action and South drove to the slam. 

Do we want to bid the slam - absolutely, as in 6 taking one heart ruff gives five trump tricks to go with four major winners and at least three tricks from AQJ6-T3 in clubs.  From another perspective, we might want to have 33 hcp to make a slam in NT, but we expect to generate an extra trick from a 4-4 fit, so 6 will often make with say 30 hcp between the hands.  And we have that (plus one).

Should we be able to bid the slam?  That's not so clear as if the clubs were AQJ6-93 then we need the club finesse in order to make the slam - and that won't always work.  It is always difficult to tell that a ten is working for you quite so strongly (and more so when partner has the jack). But even without the ♣T the slam is on a finesse, so I'd like to bid it.

Any good ideas on how to bid it - please say!

HotD-tue : Summer Teams 3 : 2jul18 : B1

The first board of the night offered a "take it or leave it" slam which was bid at two tables.  The strong 1N opening from North is very much a minimum hand for that bid, but three good trumps and an AKQ holding are surely valuable cards, and if - as this bidding suggests - partner is short in hearts you wouldn't want to be too discouraging. In practice North tried to sign off and it was optimistic Souths who drove to the slam, and if they hadn't we would have missed this play problem - what's the best apporach after the opposition lead two rounds of hearts?

There are 11 top tricks and primary chances in clubs, and a faint chance in diamonds for the twelfth.  With a free choice the best play in the club suit is to cash the top two, and make whenever the jack falls from a short hand or the suit breaks 3-3, a total of about 54.87%.  After you cash two trumps however, you find you haven't got that luxury - for if the jack drops doubleton you will need to cash the ten and then cross to dummy to before cashing the queen, and you have to do that while there is still one trump out.

On that line, to make the contract you need the hand with the ♣J or ♣Jx to have the singleton trump.  That takes over 10% off your 55% chance of success.  

The alternative to clubs from the top is the straight club finesse - a priori this works 50% of the time (which helps) but when you find that there is a singleton trump with West, the odds increase to 54.55% - rather better than playing from the top.  If it had been East with the singleton trump, the odds on the club finesse would actually have dropped to 45.45%. 

So what happened?  In practice both declarers made 12 tricks, so neither took the club finesse. If you recognise the finesse as the likely best line, it is still worth cashing some spade winners first. In fact, all of the spade winners first. It is only if neither hand discards a club that the finesse remains a favourite. If you see a discard, it's easy to play clubs from the top. In practice - how many Wests are going to resist throwing from 832 when they can see AKQ5 or T97 in dummy? 

Very few - BUT - it is surely the right thing to do. Declarer is marked with six spades and needs two top diamonds to justify the bidding, so the clubs are surely a crucial suit. The difficulty is realising that with this holding in dummy, that declarer has options on how to play the suit.

 

Communications

West leads the K which you win with the Ace to play Ace and another spade. West drops the ♠K on the first round and shows out on the second as East wins and switches to the 8. Go from here.

If West started with 6 hearts, He will win and give his partner a ruff and you will then be reliant on the club finesse (which on the bidding is probably right). If East has a doubleton heart however, you can make this contract regardless of the position of the ♣K. You must play the K on this trick to avoid West inserting the ten and forcing dummy to win with the Queen. In this latter case, if East gets back in with the ♣K a second heart gives the defence 4 tricks, By playing the heart King, you destroy the communications between the defenders.

Backing the Favourite

West starts with 2 top diamonds. Afetr ruffing the second trick how should you continue?

Considering the spade suit in isolation, the normal percentage line is a spade to the King and finesse the ten on the way back. However, you must consider the hand as a whole. Surely East has one high card for his raise - either the K or ♠A. The dangerous situation is when he holds the ♠A, as if the K is onside you will have no problem provided spades are 3-2. If trumps are 4-1 you probably won't make the contract whatever you do. Hence the best play is to cross to dummy with a club and lead a low spade to your Queen and duck on the way back unless the Knave appears. If the Ace is with East, you will win in 70% of the 3-2 breaks (AJ,Ax,Axx). The inferior play of a low spade to the King and later a finesse of the ten wins in only 40% of the 3-2 breaks (AJ or AJx)

Place the Lead

West leads a low spade and East drops the ten under dummy's Ace. When you continue with the spade King, East discards a diamond. What now?

Your potential losers area diamond, a club and 2 hearts and you don't want to allow East the opportunity to win a club and play a heart through. On the reasonable assumption that West holds the A, then your contract is safe. Run the Knave of clubs at trick 3. If West wins and returns a club, you win in dummy, cross to the ♠Q and lead a low diamond. West cannot gain by rising with the Ace, so the King wins in dummy. Then cash 2 more rounds of clubs discarding a diamond and exit with a diamond to endplay West. This line of play is safe even if West is void in clubs, as when he ruffs, he will have to open up a red suit. Note that you cannot afford to lead the ♣A from dummy before running the Knave. If West were able to ruff the Ace, he could exit with Ace and another diamond, and you have no way of returning to dummy to enjoy your discard.

HotD-fri : Eurooean Championship : R33, B16

The recent European Championship was won by Norway ahead of Israel, but you might not have expected that after 10 days and 33 matches, the outcome would depend on a part-score hand on board 16 of the last match, but that is what happened.

The key decision was at the point shown when Norway played Italy; the Norwegian East passed and Italy then bid up to 3N with their combined 24 hcp. After Boye Brogeland found the lead of the ♠J, declarer won and immediately played hearts, but the one card held on his right was the top heart and a spade through put him down three. At the other tables the Italian East responded with 1N to the opening bid, and North-South did bid up to 3 but West persisted with 3♠ and went down two.  That was 8 imps to Norway.

In the other key match the auction started the same way with Israel-Hungary. Here the Hungarihe East passed and Israel bid up to 3N, also down three on a spade lead.  In the otehr room the Israeli East bid 1N like the Italian, and South played the hand in 3 making+2, for a loss of 7 imps to Israel.  

These differences made the difference between Gold and Silver medals. 

Retain your Options

West leads the ♠Q. Plan the play.

You could take 2 diamond finesses. Alternatively, you could knock out the ♣A and hope the hearts are 3-3. The double diamond finesse offers far better odds but of course you can have your cake and eat it on this hand. Win the opponing lead in hand and play 3 rounds of hearts finishing in dummy. If hearts have broken, you can drive out the Ace of clubs. If the heart suit has not been kind you are in the right hand to tackle the diamond suit.

HotD-wed : European Championships : R4, B28

Not every instance of bridge on show at the Europeans was impressive.  This hand was played in the match between England and Ireland, and the auction shown happened at both tables.  The result was 5♣+2 twice for a flat board.  Could we do better?

When we used this hand in a squad practice, both pairs reached slam and when we look across the field at the European, there were 13/32 played successfully in 6♣; five declarers played 7♣ (and four of them succeeded); three declarers played in 6 (and two of them made) while the others all played in game (including one in 3N-1). 

Iceland & Switzerland both missed the slam after West passed on the first round, and South could now bid hearts over East's opener. But the majority went for opening with the West hand - it is minimal values but it is always the case that getting in first is best, so with no rebid problems we recommend opening 1.

How should the hand be bid after that? The start shown is what we would expect playing traditional Acol, but in the match shown with 2♣ game forcing at both tables, the choice of 3♣ was chosen by those who reserve the splinter into 3 for hands with extra values as well as the right shape.  In other matches there were a few cases where South bid hearts, and this (as in our squad game) induced West to be much more forthcoming about the heart shortage, for fear no chance would exist to do that later.  In effect, South pushed West into the slam!

When Croatia,with a silent South, bid 3♣ over 2♣, the East hand continued with 3 which both saved space and highlighted the useful diamond honour.  This is the answer, and it allows West - having limited the hand - to jump to 4 to show shortage. Now the fitting high cards should induce East to bid the slam.  Easy game!

HotD-tue : European Open Teams : R5 : B8

This was one of the swing hands from an early match (against Estonia).  The East-West hands were held by Robson-Forrester and their auction started with a 15-17 NT, with Robson upgrading a 14-count which is just too strong to think of as a weak NT hand.  The RF auction became too difficult to decipher shortly after that, but a natural auction based on the same evaluation is shown here.  Across the 32 tables in play at that point, the hand was played in a small slam 29 times (once a grand, twice a game).  The common leads were diamonds and spades, with occastionally a heart.

Almost half of the declarers went down - can we see what gives them a prpboem?

When England defended, the declarer won the lead and tried a heart to the queen which lost to the ace.  Back came a second heart and declarer rose, to allow him to try for breaks in the black suits.  That failed and the contract was off.  When we played this hand in a squad game, the early play was the same and both our Souths, on winning the heart ace, returned a diamond and declarer could test the black suits before resorting to a (successful) heart finesse.  The defence failed to test declarer.

What should have happened?  Robson's choice was to start with three top clubs.  Once he knew the clubs were not breaking, he had to finesse the heart and duly did to make 6N. Cashing the clubs does set up a second winner for the defence but the odds are against the hand with long clubs also holding the heart ace.  Here it made all the difference.

Card Reading

The ♠T is led to East's Ace and the ♠3 returned, which West ruffs with the 5. West now switches to the ♣J. Play from here.

If the club gets ruffed, you are down, so forget that possibility. But if East is not void in clubs, why did he return his lowest spade? He surely holds the A on the bidding so you should be suspicious of his return of a low spade. The answer must be that he holds the remaining trumps and does not want to expose his trump holding by returning a spade which his partner is unable to ruff. You should therefore win the club Ace and take a deep heart finesse. If East splits his honours you can force an entry in diamonds to repeat the finesse.

Find an Entry

You play the A on the lead of the J from West. East drops the K. You continue with the ♠T from dummy to your King but West shows out. You next play a club to dummy's Queen, which holds. How do you continue?

To have a chance of making you need to find West with the missing high cards in the minors - likely on the bidding. However, you will need to find 2 further entries to hand and you do not have them. If you lead a low spade intending to insert the 8, East can thwart you by playing the Knave, and you will eventually find yourself stranded in dummy. On this hand you can enlist the help of the defenders. If you exit with a heart at this point and East wins, he cannot play a trump without giving you the extra entry you need, whilst a minor suit return or indeed a ruff and discard gives you an easy ride. If East returns a diamond then you must of course duck when West plays an honour.

Careful Now

West leads the Q. Plan the play.

As always, when the contract appears simple, think what might go wrong. If East is void in diamonds and the club finesse fails you might lose 2 diamonds, a ruff and a club. The solution is simple. Duck the opening lead and if East shows out, duck the diamond continuation. That way you can never lose more than 2 diamonds and 1 club. You need to guard against the hand shown. 

HotD-thu : European Teams R7, B15

We used this hand from the Europeans in a county top team practice session this week, and a few interesting points emerged.  At the European, across 32 tables, there were 15 Easts played in 3N, 10 Wests played in 4♠, 6 Easts played in diamonds (two in 3, 2 in 5, 2 in 6) and one pair played in a part-score (3♠, making).

It doesn't look great to be in 5 but, even with only one entry to the West hand, the diamond suit will come in for only two losers 53% of the time,. How that compares with 4♠ isn't clear as only three declarers made the spade game - with the hearts not cashable in time to discard a loser, it could not make without defensive help. 

But 3N was the contract of interest - and how does declarer play on the lead of the 8?  When England led this against the Poles, declarer tried the jack but had to win the king. He tried a diamond towards the nine and when South went up with the jack to crash his partner's king, there was suddenly no defence (declarer got 11 tricks).  Germany did the same against France, but when Helgemo for Monaco and Pownall for Wales had this trick two decision, they played small and they managed to get the contract two down.

Paul Lamford sitting East for Wales found the interersting play of the Q at trick two and this induced South to play the ace, with disastrous results. It seemed a curious choice at the time but if you consider how you would play the diamond suit in 5 - there are two equally good lines, given the fact that there is only one entry to thre West hand.  Two-two breaks dont matter; leading small caters for singleton king or singleton ace with South (you later lead up to the QT), while leading the queen caters for singleton jack in either hand - an even choice. 

But as we see from the above - and we saw in our practice - it is possible for the defence to go wrong in either case.  The statistics we have, however, are that of the four times declarer led small 50% of defenders played the jack and 50% played small, but of the twice declarer led the queen 100% of defenders erred.   That makes the queen the better play!

HotD-wed : Summer Pairs : 18jun18 : B11

There was only one successful slam bid on Monday and that only made because the opposition failed to cash their two top tricks.  This on the other hand was a good slam (almost 70%) which nobody bid.

The key question is how to handle the North hand after partner opens 2N.  North cannot decide on the final contract alone, but needs to engage partner.  North needs to tell South about shape (being 5-5 majors) and about values (mild slam interest).  With that information South can (and should) get enthusiastic about the slam possibilities.

There are two sequences commonly used to show 5-5 shape on the majors over 2N; the more obvious is to transfer to 3♠ and then bid 4 (not done with 5-4 shape because you wan to be in 3N when a fit is lacking).  The less obvious one is to bid 3♣ first (asking about majors) and if partner denies one - then bidding 4 on the next round.

It could be done either way, but most common practice is to use the 3♣-then-4 route to show no interst beyond game, and 3-3♠-4 to show the slam interest. Here after 4 SOuth would know there were no minor suit losers and with 10-hcp in the majors it doesn't need too much from partner to make slam decent.

A similar apporach can be applied over a 1N opener, with 2♣ then 4 as no interest beyond game, and a transfer sequence (2-2♠-3-any-4) as the slam interest.

HotD-tue : CBC Pairs League : 13jun18 : B19

This was one of the slam hands from last week on which few had a successful auction.  The auction shows is one of those which failed.  What went wrong?

The first bid to question is 4N.  Blackwood, we must remember, is not a tool for bidding good slams - it is a tool for avoiding bad slams (those missing two key cards).  With no ability to count the tricks, the answer does not tell North what the contract should be, so North should not be invoking this (much abused) convention. 

Was that the end of the story - could it have been recovered after 4N-5 ? 

The answer is yes, it could be recovered. South could not bid the grand slam on this sequence, lest a key card was missing. But North could have told South that this was not the case - how?  By bidding 5N.  This bid has two functions of which the first is much more important than the second.  The first is that it confirms there are no missing key cards (the second is asking for kings).  Why that is important is that now South - who can count the tricks (five spades, five diamonds, two aces and partner must have a club control to bid like this) and now bid 7♠.

Does that make it the right sequence - no, because the grand slam is still trivial to make if North lacks the heart ace. 

A sensible sequence might be 1♠ - 2N (game forcing spade raise) - 3 (shortage) - 3♠ (no shortage) - 4♣ (cue) - 4♦ (cue) - 4 (void) - 4♠ (working 12 count, has bid the hand) - 4N (key card ask) - 5♠ (two and trump queen, ignoring heart ace opposite the void) - 5N (king ask++) - 6♣ (club king) - 7♠.   It's quite a long sequence but all logical and it is the way to count 13 tricks before bidding the grand.

Count the Hand

West leads the J, covered by Queen and Ace. At trick 2 East tries to cash the ♣A, but you ruff, and play on hearts. Annoyingly, East ruffs your second heart and plays a diamond to the 8,T,K. Play from here.

To make the contract you need to get a heart ruff in dummy and it looks reasonable to draw the remaining trumps with ♠KA before doing so. However, consider the bidding. West raised diamonds so East opened a four card diamond suit and has turned up with a singleton heart. East's shape is therefore marked as 4144, else he would have opened with 1♣ rather than 1♦. Now the play becomes simpler. Lead a low spade to your 9 (assuming East does't split his honours). Now ruff a heart with the ♠ K, draw trumps and ultimately concede a heart trick.

Card Placing

Before you think about this hand, you should know that yesterday the three England teams playing in the European Championships didn't win any medals but they all were in qualifying places for the World Champiosnhips and will play in those next year as a result of this past ten days' performance.

West leads a low heart to East's King, who switches to a low club. Plan the play.

You can't avoid a second heart loser, so must limit your other losses to one trick. The bidding tells you that East cannot hold the ♠A and K as well as the top hearts, but he could hold one of those cards. A singleton K with West won't help as you need to find the diamonds 3-2. The best line therefore is to win the club in dummy and play a low spade to your 8. You hope that East has something like the hand shown. Later you can draw trumps and take and repeat the diamond finesse to bring home this thin game

A Simple Defence

West starts with AKJ. You discard a club on the third heart as South follows. West now switches to the 5, declarer playing dummy's ten. How do you see the defence developing?

If you consider the bidding then surely South is 6-4 in the minors and has followed to 3 rounds of hearts. Hence the defence does not have a spade trick. If the contract is to be defeated, then the setting tricks must come from the minors. If you duck the diamond at trick 4 then declarer will play to ruff clubs in dummy. You will be in a position to overruff the third club and exit with a trump, leaving declarer with a later club loser. Playing the Q will be fatal as delarer can then ruff a club high and his last club low and all you will make is 3 hearts and a diamond trick.

The Contract is Important

Assume first of all that you open 1♠ fourth in hand and finish in 3♠. West leads K and a second heart to East's Ace. Now a club comes through. How do you play? Do you play differently if the contract were 4♠?

In 3♠, you can afford to lose 2 club tricks if you lose no diamond trick, so start by assuming that the diamond finesse is wrong. If West held ♣A as well as KQ and K, he would probably have opened the bidding - hence you should play him not to have the ♣A and consequently rise with the ♣K at trick 3. If the contract is 4♠, then clearly you can only make if the diamond finesse is working, so assume it is. Now East holds A and K and would probably have opened third in hand if he held the ♣A as well. Hence this time the ♣J is the card to play, hoping to force the Ace.  The level of the contract makes all the difference.

HotD-thu : CBC Pairs League : 13jun18 : B30

The latest run of the CBC Pairs League finished last night with a set of spectacular hands.   

B4 : the majority of the field (8 out of 12) bid a 53% slam needing one loser from  J76432-A85 but the suit lay badly.

B5 : partner opened and you have 4AKQ943♣AKJT64, which bids easily, first diamonds and then six clubs, and partner chooses diamonds.  Nine tables played 6.

B17 : was 16 top tricks in anything but diamonds, but only 6 out of 12 bid the grand slam.

B19 : was 14 top tricks in two suits or in NT but only 3 pairs managed ot bid that one.

B23 : was a slam needing a couple of finesses, but the opening bid from North placed those missing queens, so it rolled home but was bid only once.

B26 : was an excellent 6♠ or 6 for North-South but this was bid only once and went off; but 6 made easily the other way and was bid at 5 of the remaining 11 tables, and doubled each time.

And so we get to the last board of the competition ...  and a lot of the result came down to the opening bid from East.  A number of tables opened 3♣ which allowed everone to bid a suit - and where it went 3 - 3 - 3♠ it was easy to get to the spade game.   Not everyone bid as South, and when South passed it went P - 3 - P - 4♣  and South now doubled to collect +300. 

A few tables opened 5♣ as East after which two tables ended with a double, but one saw it go P - P - 5♠ and South raised to the slam.

Sparks also came when East chose a 4♣ opener; South was not strong enough to overcall and West knew not to bid - so it came down to whether or not North would pass this out.  With the 6520 shape it was too difficult to pass, so North tried 4♠ and South, without any sensible way to investigate the grand slam, happily raised to 6♠.  West took affront at this and doubled.  There were 11 easy tricks on a cross-ruff, but when the smoke cleared North's attempt to make the contract (needing a diamond honour with East or the spades 2-2) resulted in -500, and the league leaders lost 14 imps at each table.

The overall winners were (Div One) Richard Chamberlain & Patrick Shields, (Div Two) John Councer & Mark Rogers, and (DIv Three) Kate & Philip Morgan.

HotD-wed : NICKO round of 16 : 11jun18 : B18

The last remaining Gloucestershire team played in the round-of-16 of the National Inter-Club Knock Out (NICKO) on Monday, going down to Bristol to play in the West of England club against their top team. Our team started off well but had a few accidents in the second half, and they were 10 imps ahead when this final board was placed on the table.

On this second play of the board, the bidding which took place was  P-1-2♣-X-P-2-P-3N-end.  The 2♣ overcall was totally not recommended, and was avoided by our man sitting West. North could have chosen to go for a penalty, and passed it around to partner for a takeout double to convert to penalties.  But, with an eye on the vulnerability, our man preferred to be declarer.  Playing in 3N the lead was a club, and declarer tried J but West won and switched to diamonds and now there were six clear losers and the contract went down two.  Best defence to 2♣-X would have collected +500.

The bidding shown in the diagram happened in the other room, who had played the board earlier in that hour. Robert Colville for W-of-E was declarer and East started with a diamond.  Declarer ducked that but won the diamond continuaiton.  With only two top tricks and seven trumps, he had to develop a side suit and hearts looked best, so he started with a heart from dummy to the ten-jack-ace.  Uncertain as to where the missing 6 was, East continued the suit and declarer ruffed. The position in hearts had been noticed by declarer and he continued with a small heart, ducked in dummy to the now singleton king.  This set up three heart tricks for declarer but he still needed to make 5 trumps tricks to reach a total of ten. 

He succeeded as follows : he won the ♣A and played over to dummy's top spade, ruffed a diamond with a top trump, and continued with two rounds of trumps ending in the South hand. He found that this drew all the trumps and he could now cash the hearts for ten tricks.  That was +620 and 13 imps to West-of-England who had now won the match by 3 imps.

The contract can always be beaten, but the defence to do that is not obvious.  One way is to for East-West to engineer to ruff one of declarer's winning hearts.

 

HotD-tue : Pachabo Cup : 10jun18 : B14

The winners of the County Knock-Out played last weekend in the Pachabo Cup, with the winners of the corresponding competition in other counties.  The team - Keith Stanley with Richard Chamberlain, Diana Nettleton, Patrick Shields & Garry Watson - did reasonably well, coming 5th of the 25 teams competing. 

This was the strongest hand held by any player over the weekend. How would you bid it?   Presumably you open 2♣ because there would be a danger of 1♠-P-P-P.     Partner gives you a positive in hearts, and you now show your first suit with 2♠.  Partner raises - what now?

There is clearly only one card which matters - the ♠K - and there is a resaonable chance partner has it. How do you find out?

Some sort of asking bid is needed here; a few contestants tried 4N to ask and heard from partner that they held one of the five key cards. That might have been the ♠K or the ♣A and they were forced to guess. They mostly guess to bid the grand slam.  

Other pulled out a little used convention from long ago - often called Josephine - whereby a jump to 5N asks about top trumps.  Ideal here and when partner shows one top trump, you know to bid 7♠.

The other parties tried a newer approach, using a 5-level jump, here in clubs, as Exclusion Blackwood - asking about key cards just like 4N but ignoring the ace of the suit being bid.  Here a 1-key-card response promised the ♠K and made bidding the grand slam easy.

In the event, only four out of 24 teams stopped in the small slam, but things weren't rosy for all of the other twenty.  The form of scoring in the event favours playing in NT, as there are 2 VPs available for the point-a-board result on each hand and playing 7N making when the opponents play in 7♠ making is worth an extra victory point to you.  The consequence of this is that four Norths, having heard partner bid 4N and then 7♠, felt sure partner had all the aces (else they could not be confident about the spade king) and converted to 7N.  This was a disaster as the hand on lead could double and lead the club ace.

Regular tournament players carry a lot of tools on their convention cards, and some get used very rarely, but having either Josephine or Exclusion Blackwood available when this hand turns up justifies the memory burden.

How's your Defence?

You start with 2 top clubs against Souths game. When these hold (partner showing an odd number of clubs) how do you continue? 

Surely on the bidding partner can contibute nothing in high cards. Declarer will discard any losers on dummy's spades so you must play to kill the spade suit. At trick 3 play a spade. Declarer will likely win on the table and take a trump finesse. You win and continue spades. Now if declarer started with a doubleton spade, he is cut off from dummy and you will win a trick with the K or perhaps a trump if South tries to cash another spade on the table. 

A Very Good Hand

You hold a very good hand. West leads the ♣T, covered by J and Q. Can you justify your bidding?

You have various lines of approach but the one that offers the best odds is to play for the trumps to break 3-2, in which case a reverese dummy will see you home. Ruff the lead high and cross to dummy twice in trumps ruffing a club high each time. Finally cross back to dummy with a diamond to draw the last trump and claim. 

What's the best line?

West leads a low diamond. You try the ten from dummy which is covered by the Ace and you ruff. A club at trick 2 sees East win with the Ace to push though a low spade. Which spade do you play and why?

Considering the spade suit in isolation, this looks like a guess. Suppose you play low, losing to the ♠A, then you will still need to guess the position of the Q. Hence you need to make the right decision in 2 suits. However, if you play the ♠K and it holds the trick, then your contract is assured. Cross to dummy with a trump and discard a spade on the K. Now ruff a diamond and exit in spades. The opponents must open up hearts or give you a ruff and discard.

Better than a Finesse

West leads the ♣Q. East cashes 2 club tricks and switches to the J. You win and play 3 rounds of spades, West winning the third as the suit breaks 3-2. West now switches to the T. Plan the play.

It is likely that West holds the Q, so that a later heart finesse will see you home. However, you do better to win the A and play off the King of diamonds. Let's say East follows. Now you can be certain that West holds the diamond suit and so if he also holds the Q, he will be squeezed on the run of the spades. When he discards down to one heart in order to keep a diamond guard, you can be sure that the Q will drop on the King whoever held it originally.

HotD-thu : European Open : England-Romania R2,B18

It wasn't until this board in the second match that England scored above ten imps on any board in the first day of the European Open teams which has just started in Ostende.   It's an interesting pair of North-South hands to examine; first glance suggests that you want to bid a slam on this and indeed calculations reveal that there is a 63% chance of the diamond suit providing three tricks, and if that fails then there is the heart finesse to fall back on. When you make an allowance for the spades breaking badly, the success rate of the slam comes to 71% - and in practice the defence often helps a slam along with the opening lead etc - so you do want to bid this slam.

In practice 14/32 tables bid to the slam but there were two cases where East-West played the hand, and that's what we need to investigate.  The key question is what does West do after the bidding starts with P-P, at favourable vulnerability with this mottley 4-count?   All the books will tell you to pass, but the fact is that giving the opposition a free run is not a winning strategy.  When they passed against England, Malinowski & Bahkshi competently bid up to 6♠ and collected +1430.

The answer for at least two pairs was to preempt in clubs.    On the record we have a 3♣ opener for Russia, which North naturally doubled, and then it was all up to South.   With some values but no cler game to shoot for, he decided that a pass was with the odds.   If South was not entirely confident, West was even less confident and he redodubled for rescue.  The result of that was he then played in 4♣-doubled, and that cost him 1400 (and he gained 1 imp).   It didn't work out so well for the Belgian who also started with 3♣ and then had his partner take him seriously and ended in 5♣-doubled losing 2000 points (his team-mates only bid game).

For England, after P-P,  Andy Robson did the right thing - he opened 1♣ and that was enough to make it impossible for the other side to bid the slam.  Very little danger in that opening bid, but there is not doubt it takes the edge of any precision in the North-South bidding, and it was rewarded when the Romanians stopped in game.  And that was 12 imps to England.

HotD-wed : Summer Pairs 1 : 4jun18 : B7

The seat in which you are placed can make a difference to your choice of opening - as whether or not partner and opponents have passed can change your perspective on who "owns" the hand.  What is your choice of opener here - suppose first it had gone P-P to you ...  and then take the actual position where it went P-1 and now you had to bid - what are your choices?

In the first case where they have not opened, you do expect your LHO to have the best hand at the table, but it remains possible that everyone has been dealt 10 hcp.  You don't want to give them an easy ride, but nor do you want to bid high and go minus for no reason.   We are so used to opening a 7-card suit at the 3-level that this seems to be the hand that opens two levels higher.  Does that make it a 5♣ opener? 

And now to the real case - in which case the arguments are slightly different, as RHO has declared they have a better hand that your partner.   However, even if you allocated 14 hcp to RHO, that leaves 16 hcp to divide between partner and LHO and - since partner can't have 12+ of those - partner's average wil be around the 6 hcp mark. 

Does this help us work out how high to bid?   Not fully but it says to expect a little from partner.   Let's look next at the high cards we have - we have two honours in short suits and the ace of our suit.  These are all respectable defensive values, so we must note that it doesn't take much from partner to defeat a game were they to bid one.

The other major factor in these decisions is how we see the bidding develop. Whatever number of clubs we bid we are expecting LHO to make a takeout-ish double.  If we bid at the 3-level or 4-level then we expect RHO to bid over that double, but if we bid at the 5-level we expect RHO will more often leave that double in.  Which do we want?

It is hard to see Good Things coming from bidding 5♣-X-P-P-P.    Could Good Things come from  4♣-X-P-4,  or 4♣-X-P-4♠?  The answer here is more positive, but not quite certain.

In practice nearly everyone bid 5♣, and afterwards they all talked about how they should perhaps only have bid 4♣.  It was unusual to see a traveller with -800 as easily the most common score.  What do you think?

BTW - the European Open Teams Champiosnhips start today in Ostende and there is extensive coverage on BBO - so lots of bridge to watch!

HotD-tue : Summer Pairs 1 : 4jun18 : B3

When you to look at the East-West hands here, your first choice of contract would be either 5♣ or 6♣ - not too difficult to find you might think with 25 hcp and a 9-card fit?  Would it surprise you to know that nobody found either of those contracts, and those in clubs only got there reluctantly?   With a 3-0 fit in a side suit and a single stopper, would you expect the majority to play the hand in 3N?

This was the auction at table 4 last night.  The opening bid weas rather on the heavy side, and most would prefer to start with 1♣, but this choice had one significant advantage - it stopped North from making a 1-level heart overcall.  South however, as a passed hand, felt he could not let 3N pass by silently.  The only rationale, he argued, for coming in with a double here was as takeout of clubs - and at this vulnerability it might pave the way for a good sacrifice. So he doubled and North passed this around to East.  The key deduction from this action - and one that East now needs to pick up - is that the clubs are not breaking well.  

It is this bad club break which stops 3N making - it would have been 10 top tricks on an even break but the break kills the game, and the best declarer can do on a heart lead is to play spades and to guess the winning play of pinning the ten, rather than (probably the better odds play) finessing South for the ten.  None of those in 3N found this play and they all went two down or more.  At the table East did the right thing, escaping to 4♣ and in practice the auction ended there. 

West might have reconsidered at this point - given the extra strength of the hand, but there was the prospect of both king and jack of clubs lying badly, so he passed. If he had bid on, he would have been uniquely placed to find the winning play in clubs - cocmcing to hand with a herat ruff and running the club ten on the first round.

Afterwards South was left to regret his action.  He had doubled a 3N contract he thought was making, only it was in practice going two down. His partner left it in rather than taking out, and a minute later the opposition were playing in a making part-score instead.  :( 

Is this a Guess?

West starts with the A. on which East drops the Jack. A second heart goes to East's 9 and a diamond comes through. Get this decision wrong and you are down - over to you.

The heart position is clear. West must hold AKQx(x) and East JT9(x). You don't know who holds the A but you should reason as follows: In order to make the contract the club finesse has to be right. Remembering the bidding then East would need to hold A to justify his raise and West would probably have competed further over 2♠ if he held A and ♣K as well as his decent heart suit. Hence you should rise with the K.

Nearly Certain

West Leads the ♣K and switches to the K. You win the Ace and cash the ♠A, on which East shows out. Plan the play.

You should still succeed despite the bad trump break by ruffing a diamond in dummy. It won't matter if West ruffs in front of you as it is with a natural trump trick. However, if West can get 2 ruffs you will be defeated. For this reason you should play a club after the ♠A. Ruff the likely heart return then KA and a small diamond for a ruff in dummy will see you home. This is an example of a scissors coup - so named because it cuts the defenders communications and in this case prevents the second ruff. 

A Grand Play

West leads the K. Plan the play.

If hearts break you have 13 tricks so assume they don't. If anyone has 4 or more hearts it will surely be East. If that is the case then you surely have a double squeeze provided you time the play carefully. You must ruff a diamond at trick 2 so that only West is guarding the diamond suit. Then play off all the trumps and 2 top hearts.. If East has kept all his hearts then he must already have relinquished his club guard.At this stage, dummy will have 5 and ♣A74. On the Q, West will have to discard a club to keep a diamond, so your clubs will now be good.

Expert Defence

Partner leads the ♠7 in response to your overcall. Declarer contributing the ♠8 from hand as you win the trick with the ♠T.  How do you see the defence?

It looks like you might make a couple of spade tricks if partner has an expected doubleton. Partner can't have 2 trump tricks so you need partner to hold the ♣A to have any chance. Even then you will need a trump promotion. Continuing spades at tricks 2 and 3 is no good as declarer might ruff high, cross to dummy with a trump and discard a losing club on ♠ Q. You need to switch to a club at trick 2 so that West can win the Ace and play another spade. Now a third spade from you will generate a trump trick for partner if he holds a decent trump doubleton or better. Take a look at all four hands and congratulate yourself if you found a club switch. Unfortunately, at the table, the contract made even after the club switch - West thought that East held a singleton club and tried to give East a ruff - curtains. Who was to blame?

The answer is West. If East had wanted a club ruff at trick 3 he would have won the first spade lead with the Ace. That would have given a clear message that he did not want spades continued. When the first trick is won with ♠T, an expert East is denying a singleton club.

HotD-thu : EBU Online KO : 29may18 : B6

There were only two local teams entered this years on-line EBU Knock Out; one got knocked out in the first round, but the others survived that and have now won four matches to reach the semi-finals.  The quarter-final match was on Tuesday against a Guernsey team and they won by just 6 imps (rather a contrast to the 62 imp margin in the previous match).  The winners collected only one double figure swing, and it was on this hand.

The different choice of contract came down to the opening bid, and when the other table passed as East it proved impossible for that pair to reach game.  The 3N game reached at this table was by no means certain, but after the opening it was difficult to work out that 5 was a safer contract.   West might have doubled on the second round, but when partner bids 3 what else could happen but 3N?

The defence was not testing;  North cashed a top spade and then, scared to give away the ninth trick, switched to a heart.  Declarer could now take a diamond finesse, losing to the king, and when a second heart came back to repeat that, and when that worked, to claim 11 tricks.  Bashing out the spades was not a good enough defence, as then declarer could start diamonds from the top and lose a diamond to South who has no more spades. But if the defence had chosen to give up a spade trick, then it would have been a different story - it gives declarer 8 tricks but there is no route to a ninth.

 

HotD-wed : EBU Stratford Swiss Teams : 28may18 : B48

This defensive problem arose at a number of tables on the last round of Monday's Swiss Teams.   In respsonse to partner's bid, you lead the J and it holds.  What next?

Forgot to say - it went 2-6-5.

The first thing to work out is the distribution of the diamonds.  Partner must surely have a six card suit for bidding then at the 3-level, and declarer must have a stopper.  The ducking at trick one tells you declarer started with A5 and partner started wtih KQT763.

The next thing to work out is what else partner has, and the answer - if the 2♣ bid is to be believed - is not very much - in fact, at most one high card outside.

So do we know what to do next?  We should!  Partner had a choice of three cards to play at trick one, and partner chose the middle one - surely that means a high card in hearts.   Look at the hands now, and you will see how fatal was the frequently found club switch. Even switching to the ♣J won't do - declarer will win and play small now towards the ♣8 to set up the ninth trick. 

Would you have found the play of the 3 (just in case partner had a singleton) at trick two?

HotD-tue : EBU Stratford Swiss Teams : 28may18 : B26

It's not often you get as strong a hand as this - but your plans for a nice orderly auction get disrupted when the third hands openes in front of you.  What do you bid now?

There is of course no perfect answer here, and the two common choices were to bid 5 and to bid 6♠.  The latter was deeemed by those taking it as "practical" but it was surely going to be the final contract for South could only consider raising with a useful ace - so an easy grand slam could be easily missed.

The 5 bid is usually taken to shown both majors (at least 5-5 at this level) and it inevitably got a response of 5 from partner.   The two optimistic Norths then settled for 7 but that proved quite impossible.  The others tried 6♠ and this ended the auction this time.  Was there any chance of bidding the grand when it was right?   Only the faintest chance but if South can trust the 5 bid to indicate the majors, then correcting to 7 when holding five of them is just about possible. 

And what about doubling 4 - might that have helped partner appreciate ♣Qxxxx?   The option was rejected for feat that partner passed the double - a valid choice on a weak balanced hand, perhaps with an honour in diamonds. 

Finally, have a look at the third in hand opener.  Are there other choices?  The answer is yes - at least one joker found a opening of 2N on thsi hand, purporting to be 20-22 balanced!  This somehow incited his opponents to bid 7♠ and that worked well for the defence as it could not be made.  An opening of 3N showing a solid major also appeals. 

Across the 28 tables who played the hand, there were two in 7 (down two), four in 7♠ (down one),  two who defended diamond contracts (5 and 7) and the other twenty played in 6♠.

Play Carefully

West leads the Q. Plan the play.

On the bidding, West is very short in the black suits, so discarding a diamond on the A and trying to limit the spade losers to one probably wont work. You have chances, of course. If West holds a singleton or doubleton ♠K then you you can play trumps until West shows out, discard a spade on a top heart, ruff the small heart and lead a spade towards dummy, ducking if West plays the King. No return could then harm you.

A better line of play is simply to duck the first trick. You can later throw 2 spades on the top hearts and set up the spades using the trumps as entries. This line succeeds when spades are 3-2 and also 4-1 if West doesn't switch to a trump - and he may have no trump to lead. Eventually you will discard a diamond on the long spade and make your contract for the loss of 1 heart and 1 diamond trick.

The Best Odds

West leads the ♠Q. You win and play a heart to your Ace (both following). What is your best percentage play?

This is a very good slam. Either minor suit finesse sees you home and if clubs are 3-3, you can pitch a diamond from dummy. Crossing to the K and finessing a club is around an 84% line. However, you can improve on this by elimination play. At trick 3 lead a spade to dummy's King and ruff a spade high. Now cash the ♣A before crossing to dummy with a high trump for a club lead towards your hand. If the Knave holds then it is back to dummy with the 7 for another club lead.  This line works whenever the club King is singleton or doubleton with West (as well as all of your other chances in the minor suits) and gives a total chance of success of 89%.

Patrick Phair thinks the odds are even better:

'I believe the true probability is over 90%. The contract fails if (a) West has Kxxx in clubs including T or 9 (14.56%) and the diamond finesse fails (44.4%, making 6.47% overall) (b) West has Kxxxx in clubs (5.88%) and the diamond finesse fails (38.9%, giving 2.29%) (c) West has a club void (0.69%) and the last heart (66.7%, giving 0.52%) (d) West has all six clubs (0.69%) and either East has the last heart or West has DK (76.5%, giving 0.46%)'

 

Play for your only Chance

West leads a top heart and East annoyingly ruffs your Ace at trick 1. A diamond switch sees West cashing 2 diamond tricks before exiting with the Q. Take over from here.

Prospects are very poor having already lost 3 tricks. However, you know West has 9 hearts and 2 diamonds. In order to make this contract, you need to find him with 2 specific singletons in the black suits. Ruff the heart and play a low club to dummy's Ace, followed by the ♠Q from dummy. If West holds the ♠J and ♣K you will bring home this contract.

Enlist their Help

West leads the 6 to East's King. How do you play?

The heart lead is annoying as on any other attack you might have been able to dispose of your heart loser. You have plenty of chances in the minor suits but you might lose a heart and a club so need to avoid losing 2 spades. It would be nice if opponents openend up the trump suit, and they might do this if they thought you wanted to ruff a heart in dummy. Winning the Ace and returning a heart might work but West may be reluctant to switch to trumps from a holding that includes the Knave. East however, might see less harm in a trump switch. The best line therefore is to duck at trick 1 and try to lure East into a trump return. This is a small extra chance but will work surprisingly often. Of course, you may still bring home your contract on a heart return from East at trick 2 but you will have to get a bit lucky with your guesses.  

Ducking trick one also means that even if you lose two subsequent trump tricks to East, clubs cannot be attacked - and a favourable diamond break could allow two club discards.

HotD-thu : Squad Practice : 23may18 : B6

This hand from the practice game was first played in the Teltscher (Seniors Camrose) last weekend, and the contract was the same at all tables.  There was more later in the play, but the first quesiton is what do you lead?

In practice the answer was nearly always a diamond, and with a sequence like that, it does look safe.  Looking at if from declarer's perspective however - sitting with AQJ6 in hand, isn't this the most welcome lead?  We had one lead of the 2 and one of a spade. 

On the diamond lead all Norths we know of bar one played the K (and that did affect what happened later).  After winning the opening diamond, declarer tried some hearts and most then played the ♠K.  North was helpful in winning this and playing a second spade which forced declarer into successfully finessing the ♠T.  At this point declarer had 8 top tricks andd needed only the ♣K for the ninth.  There were two choices at this point - they could cross to dummy with the K to lead a club, or they could cash winners outside clubs and put South on lead with the last diamond (or heart) and have South lead away from the ♣A.  Of course, they went for the latter line but when South led at the penultimate trick it was over to North's club ace and last spade.  So 3N went down.

The defence had succeeded despite there being two points (even after the opening lead) where they had made life easier for declarer.  One was in playing the K, and the North who held back the king pushed their declarer into using dummy's heart entry to lead a second diamond - so that the winning option (leading a club then) was not available.  The other aid was in winning the spade ace and returning one - this also saved declarer from using a dummy entry to make a trick out of the ♠T.

The Deep Finesse analysis shows that there is only one suit to lead to beat the contract by force, and there is a strong rationale for finding that suit.  Looking at the strength of the South hand, one has to conclude that if the contract is going down it is North who will be taking 5 tricks.  In order to do that South must attack with North's five card suit - and which is that likely to be?  Surely spades, so the ♠6 is the obvoous lead!

We didn't discuss the play in this contract last night, but in our practice game it was 2/3 making 3N while in the Teltscher the internationals managed 1/5 making the game.  Were there any good stories in there?

HotD-wed : Spring Teams 5 : 21may18 : B33

There were two excellent slams on Monday, one in each direction.  The North-South slam on board 18 was bid at all tables bar one, and it looks like they were on their way to a slam when a wheel came off and they stopped in 5N (making).  The slam on board 33 proved more difficult and only one pair got to the right contract - and their bidding was as shown.

It was all very natural and could have been replicated by any other pair who were playing a strong 1N opener. The only artificial step was the 2 bid which was a game-forcing checkback, which allowed East to show three hearts.  The 3♣ bid followed by 4 told East that West had interests beyond a simple 4 (or it would have been bid on the previous round).  An alternative to 3♣ was just to bid 3♥ (in a game forcing situation).  Looking at an average point count and a poor shape it might not seem exciting but having two aces when partner is thinking of a slam, and having the QJT of their second suit - these make this hand great and well worth continuing. 

After a weak 1N opener people might play 3 as hearts and slam interest, or 2-2-3 as hearts and slam interest and both of these lead to the same position as in the bidding shown - East needs simply to appreciate the value of two aces.  Note that East doesn't bid the slam, simply indicated to partner the suitability.  If  neither of these two sequences is available to you, then you need to bid 2-2-4♣ to show slam interest with a club control.  Again slam should be reached.

I am very sorry to have to report that at the other seven tables who played this hand, six stopped in game and the seventh bid 6N (and they escaped a spade lead which would have defeated them).

 

HotD-tue : Spring Teams 5 : 21may18 : B8

It's not often you hold a hand as strong as this South hand , and even less often that you hear the opposition open a strong 1N (15-17) in front of you.   What can you do but double?  What comes as no surprise is that someone takes out the double.  With so few HCP, clearly West or North would remove if they had any shape, but it turns out that it is the opener who has more shape and now you are faced with this problem.  At the table South chose double and his partner couldn't see any alternative to pass, and the defence duly made 7 tricks for a 300 penalty.

The play was diamond, diamond, club, club, diamond and declarer ruffed.  When the  A was knocked out South continued with diamonds but East could discard spades on the last two rounds of that suit and all was well even if the hearts broek 4-2.  More testing as a defence is three diamonds first, so that the ♣Q is not a winner yet.  If declarer ruffs this the contract will go an extra one down (even with trumps 3-3) - declarer must discard a losing spade or eventually lose trump control.

What is worth considering also is the difficulty some had defending 3N on this hand. After a 1 opening by East, there is little South can do but double and then bid 3N in the hope of a stray high card in partner's hand.  When West knew to lead a heart (all four defenders did) declarer had no option but to start playing diamonds from the top.  Good news emerges when the queen drops and there are now 8 top tricks.  The problem is that the defence have 5 tricks.   

So how did two tables go wrong?  The issue is on the discarding by East.  What happened was that East could easily spare two spades but what goes on the thirteenth diamond?   Clearly if a heart goes, declarer can knock out the ♠A to make the contract, but with ♣T932 sitting in dummy, a club discard looks equally fatal.

The solution comes from West telling partner about their shape.  Here particularly, but so many times, the greatest unknown for the defence is the exact shape of partner's hand, and a system of discards which shows shape will be more informative than one based just on showing or denying high cards.  If West can tell partner (with two discards) that their black suits are 4-4, then East can deduce South's shape and find the winning discard of a club.  Easy game!

 

How could I Tell?

You lead a low club - partner wins the Ace (declarer dropping the Knave) and plays the K followed by the 7 to your Ace. Declarer contributes the 68 on these 2 tricks. How do you continue?

You have 3 tricks and the fourth could come from your ♣K or partner's Q. How can you decide which trick to cash?

The bidding doesn't give you any clues so you have to rely on partner having done the right thing.  If East held 5 diamonds, he would know from your failure to overtake his King that you hold 3 diamonds and hence there could be a maximum of 2 diamond tricks for the defence. In this case, he should have cashed the Q and reverted to clubs.  The fact that he didn't play the diamond Queen means that he holds only four diamonds - thus declarer has a remaining diamond loser and this is the suit you should be leading at trick 4.

Out for the Count

The bidding is not a thing of beauty but never mind. West leads the ♠J. You win and draw trumps in 2 rounds and cash A and ♠K. You ruff a spade (East showing out), and play off the top diamonds, throwing clubs from hand. Whwn you lead the last diamond from dummy, East discards a small club. How do you continue?

You have been wondering how to play the clubs. However, if you have been counting the hand as you should, you have no problems. West has shown up with 6 spades, 2 haerts and 5 diamonds - so is void in clubs. Simply discard a third club on the last diamond and West will win and have to give you a ruff and discard, allowing you to dispose of your last club from hand.

Think before you Act

West starts with Ace and another diamond. How do you plan to make 10 tricks?

You have 9 fairly certain tricks and a tenth might come from clubs if they break 3-2, or spades, or possibly a spade ruff in dummy. If you start on trumps immediately, West may win the second round and lead a spade, knocking out your entry to the clubs. If you play Ace and another spade, the defence could play 2 rounds of trumps and again leave you a trick short. The correct play is to win the K at trick 2 and play the ♠J from the table. The defence can kill your spade ruff by playing trumps, but then there are sufficient entries to use the club suit. If the defence returns a spade, you will get your spade ruff. Provided clubs are no worse than 3-2, you will succeed. Note that it is not safe to ruff the diamond at trick 2 and play a spade towards dummy. East can win and return a trump, ducked. You would have to cash dummy's high cards and reenter hand by ruffing a club, but West could overruff with the Ace and play another heart and you would go down when hearts break 4-1.

Plan the Play

You get the lead of a low heart against 3NT. Plan the play.

You have 6 top tricks and need to develop 3 more in the minors. You can only afford to lose the lead once before the opponents will be able to take their heart tricks. This is quite a deceptive hand in that it is not too easy to see that 9 tricks are always available provided the diamonds do not break 5-0. You should win the first trick with the A aand cash the A/ If an opponent shows out you will have to switch to clubs and hope that suit breaks., but if both opponents follow to the first diamond just play a second round towards the Queen. If either opponent wins this trick with the King, you must make 4 diamond tricks and your contract. If the Q holds and East shows out, you simply switch to clubs as now 2 club tricks will see you home.

HotD-thu : County KO FInal : B

The final of the County Teams Championship took place last night.  The last two teams were led by Keith Stanley (Richard Chamberlain, Diana Nettleton, Patrick Shields, Garry Watson, Alan Wearmouth)  and by Mark Rogers (Tricia Gilham, Richard Harris, Roger Jackson, Peter Waggett).     The Stanley team crept into a small lead and then extended it, losing points only in the last of the six sets of boards.   The biggest swing came from the first board placed on one of the tables.  The auction was as shown ...

The 2 bid shows clubs and spades, and the 3 bid was the first step in showing a good raise to game.  West didn't get the chance to do this as North could see the inevitability of bidding 5 over the East-West 5♣ bid, and chose to bid 5♣ himself, showing the heart support and short clubs.   When the bidding continued with 5-5 it sounded to South like all partner needed was spade control - so picturing North with ♠T974AKJTAJ982  it seemed clear for South to bid the slam.  

Unofrtunately West fell into the same trap, and thought the slam was making, and sacrificed in 7♣ which quickly went down three.  It was not a terrible result as the par contract was 6♣x-3 (it takes an initial spade lead by North to set up a ruff for South to get four tricks), but it was a missed opportunity.  For both sides it hinged around having their high card points in the short suits rather than the long suits.

In the other room the cue bid over 1 showed the majors, so East had to bid a suit (if at all) and the bidding started  1 -1♠ -X(showing hearts)  and so over 5 West sacrificed in 5♠, duly doubled by North.   South however misjudged this and bid on to 6 which was doubled and down one.   The end result was 12 imps to the Stanley team, who went on to win by 49 imps.

HotD-wed : Spring Pairs 4 : 14may18 : B5

The winners of the four session Spring Swiss Pairs were Ian Constable & Lesley Harrison.   They gained considerably on this board from Monday despite the fact that everyone made the same number of tricks on the board.  The key was that they played in NT and not in hearts, and scored just 10 points more than the others, and this was enough to win the board.

The problem of whether to go for no trumps or a known 5-3 major fit is a recurrent puzzle.  There are "quacky" hands which will always lose four tricks to aces and kings, and these are clear candidates for 3N rather than the major game, whether playing IMPs or matchpoints, as a plus score is vital for success. The other reason for avoiding four of the major is when the suit quality is limited and you cannot cope with a bad trump break; in these cases you'd rather be in no-trumps, although for no-trumps to succeed without this suit you usually need extra values outside.  Having extra values will for this reason often make 3N more attractive.

Otherwise, the key (most importantly in matchpoints), is how many tricks the defence can generate.  On this particular hand declarer's tricks are nearly all top tricks, with only one need to give up a trick (the ♠A) en route.  If the spade queen had been in the other hand, it might have been different.  Declarer would have lost the lead twice in spades to set up the tenth trick, and if the defence can set up either two clubs or two diamonds before that happens, then the NT game will be held to 9 tricks while the heart game makes ten.

As this illustrates, it is very difficult to tell which contract will work out best.  Statistical studies over large numbers of hands have similarly landed on the fence, with no conclusive evidence as to which is best, whether playing teams or pairs.  At matchpoints playing NT on these hands is a very respectable gamble, and here it payed off well.

 

HotD-tue : Spring Pairs 4 : 14may18 : B16

Every bridge hand has the potential to create a new problem, both for declarer and for the defence. 

Here the 3N opener shows a long running minor suit and little else.   Partner's lead is the standard offering against such an opening bid - always an ace if held so that dummy can be inspected before playing to trick two.  (Just think how youd feel if partner led a diamond!)   What are you thinking at this point?

There should be two thoughts in your mind at this time.  The first thought to emerge is that "we can beat this contract" - all partner has to do is switch to a spade.   The second thought which should also emerge is - can I persaude partner to switch to a spade at trick two? 

Here, there is some dependency on your and parrtner's confidence that declarer has very little outside the club suit. If the bidding is honest, partner should know that you have both the heart king and the spade ace. (The presence of the two queens isn't so clear)  If you believe that, then there is logic that says that partner should switch to spades at this point - as it cannot harm the defence and it might help. What will happen then?  You will win the spade queen and you will be able to cash ♠A and KQ and the contract is one down.  Is that good enough?

It is hard to tell.  If the bidding is the same at other tables, then some defenders might have led a small heart at trick one (inferior, but it happens) and in that case you will be cashing four or five hearts before playing a spade and that gets more tricks.   But if - as happened at the table - North continued at this point with a second heart, you will win three hearts and be forced to cash the ♠A before giving declarer the rest of the tricks. And now 3N makes!

When there is a danger of a minus score, it is often best to settle for a small plus - but there is a chance here of a large plus.   Suppose you dropped the Q on the first round of the suit.  Partner must surely switch when that happens, as the queen normally denies the king.  When you win the first round of spades you can go back to hearts.   Will that work?  It will work every time partner has the J or if partner has any five hearts (so declarer has doubleton jack).  Is that worthwhile?   One benefit of doing this is you will gain enormous bragging rights - the vulnerable opposition will have bid 3N and you will have taken the first (on this layout) ten tricks, so you have made 3N+1 in your direction, and scored +600 - just what they hoped to score!   

What about the opposition bidding?  The 3N opener at this vulnerability does risk a large minus score, but the preemptive effect of doing it in first seat makes it worthwhile.  Here the biggest downside is the extent of support for the majors, as it precludes finding a 5-3 major fit which might well exist.  But what about East's pass?   This was on the dangerous side - as the contract was surely going down.  In such circumstances it is always worthwile making it easier for the opposition to bid on - as their contract might go down. You might consider therefore bidding 4♣ on the first round, but the danger there is that it might go down two where 3N was only down one, and when your side has more than half the HCP between the two hands, the opposition might not come in.

Don't be fooled

Your lead of J is covered by QKA. At trick 2, declarer lays down the ♠A (partner playing the 3) and continues with a low heart toward dummy. How do you see the defence?

Declarer is painting a picture for you here of someone with a singleton ace of spade, keen to get to dummy for the ♠KQ, presumably to discard some losers.  But partner's ♠3 needs to be examined.  This cannot be high-low from a six card holding - as partner can easily afford a higher spade to make the signal clearer.  You don't know where this is going, but you do know that declarer is encouraging you to rise with the heart ace, and that declarer is lying to you!   So you must do the opposite - and duck, for to rise with the ace can - as here with partner having the jack - cost a trick.

If you duck, then in the end declarer must lose two hearts and two clubs.

We should contratulate declarer on this play - and the covering of the J with the queen.  It could easily have fooled a weaker defender!

Your Lead

What do you lead, and why?

You can be certain from the bidding that declarer has at most one diamond. Your obvious lead is a top diamond because if you fail to cash your diamond trick, it may be disappearing on dummy's spade suit. However, you should use the opportunity to exercise some deception with your lead. Try the effect of starting with the Q. When this holds you continue with a low card in the suit. South is now likely to place East with the top diamonds and may well guess the hearts wrong eventually. Of course you cannot tell how the hand may work out, but when you can fool declarer at no cost to partner, you should do so. In the long run, this must reap benefits.

How do you Play?

West starts with 2 top hearts. How do you play?

You obviously start by ruffing the second heart and drawing trumps. Now the danger is that you might lose 2 clubs and a diamond. It looks tempting to play a club towards dummy at this point but that would be a mistake. If East holds the ♣A, then West surely has the K and you will go down. Instead you must play a diamond towards dummy. If East holds the K then West will have the ♣A and you are safe. If the cards lie as shown, what is West to do? If he rises with the King then dummy will later pitch 2 clubs on the diamonds. If he ducks there is no diamond loser.

Never Give Up

West leads a trump against your slam. You play off the Ace and King, but unfortunately East truns up with QT9 so you have a trump loser. Any ideas on making this contract?

Never give up. Of course you need a defensive error but just simply exit with a trump. East wins but if he tries to cash a club, you ruff and cash your spades, dicsarding all of dummy's diamonds. Your twelfth trick is a diamond ruff on the table.  When you look at all four hands, do you blame East for leading the ♣A rather than the A?

HotD - Thurs: CBC Pairs League B7

Many of the hands in this feature are in the slam zone. Here is a lowly part-score on which to show your card reading skills. You play in 2 after the given bidding and South leads the ♣Q. - plan the play. You have 2 spades and 2 club tricks so 4 trump tricks will bring home the contract and you already have enough information to make success highly probable. North passed his partner's opening bid so will have no more than 4-5 points. Consider what the opening lead tells us. The obvious conclusion is that South has a club sequence headed by the QJ, but you should also consider the negative inferences that arise from this lead. If South had AK he might well have tried a top heart to get a look at dummy. Similarly, South has opened 1♠ and you are missing all the spade intermediates. If South held a decent spade sequence he might well have led a safe spade. The inference you can draw from this is that North is likely to hold an honour in hearts and spades. and can therefore not hold the K. Also it is likely from the lead that South has length in both black suits and hence a diamond shortage. The play is now clear. Lay down the A and continue with a small diamond from hand. This will succeed when South has Kx and also in the actual case when the K falls on the first round as you can later finesse aginst North remaining diamond honour. You just lose one diamond trick and bring home your contract. Several players in last night's event failed in this contract by failing to take the inferences offered by the opening lead and taking an early diamond finesse.

Hotd - Weds: Cheltenham Congress Teams B26

Board 26 of the Swiss teams at the Cheltenham Congress created double figure imp swings in no less than 16 out of 24 matches and moreover the board was not flat in any match . Contracts ranged from 6♣X by West (losing 1400) to 3X by South (losing 1400 the other way). In practice, game is not makable for either side due to bad breaks, although the shape of West's hand would suggest that 4 would be a reasonable contract on the combined 23 count. I suspect that much of the problem was caused by East opening the bidding. If East does indeed open 1♠ then South may make an indisciplined heart overcall.  E/W can now take a sizeable penalty (having first checked the back of the cards!). If South passes with his poor suit then West is bound to drive to game on what turns out to be a mis-fitting minimum. If East passes in first seat then South will open 1♥ and this will silence West. Now it is likely that N/S will end in a highly dubious contract.  Should you open the East hand? - many aggressive players like to open on minimal values but I think a pass is right on this occassion. The hand is sub minimum with half its values in the short suit. Since spades are held you will probably get a chance to get into the auction later if appropriate. If South passes and partner opens, you are well placed to get to the right contract, so I see no need to open this hand. Any stories from those that held these hands?

HotD Tue: Cheltenham Congress Pairs B14

Board 14 of the Congress Swiss Pairs caught my eye. As can be seen from looking at the N/S cards, 6  is laydown and 7 just requires the trumps not to be 4-0. 7♠ also makes on the winning heart finesse.  It is therefore somewhat surprising that only 7 pairs out of the 50 that held these cards managed to bid to any sort of slam (no-one was able to bid the grand). How might the bidding go? If East passes originally then N/S will probably get a free run and the auction would start 1♠ - 2♦. South now has an obvious 4♣ bid (splinter) This shows at most a singleton club, at least 4 diamonds, and asks partner to evaluate his hand in the light of this information. North now has an ideal hand with no wasted values in clubs (he expects just one club loser opposite a presumed singleton) and superb red suit controls. Given South's action, it is hard to imagine a hand worse than ♠ AQJxx  Qxx  Qxxx ♣ x opposite so slam will be at worst on a finesse. In reality, the South hand is likely to be better than this minimum holding making the slam virtually certain. RKCB would confirm possession of the A♠ and a small slam should be reached. The splinter does not totally commit N/S to playing in diamonds - if North had bid 2 on a hand such as ♠ xxx  KQx  KJxxx  ♣ Ax then he can just return to 4♠ - to play.

If East opens the bidding with 1♣, does this make the slam more difficult to bid? Much will depend upon South's initial action. South appears to have the ideal shape for a take-out double, but is this such a good bid? The South hand is most definitely geared towards spades and a 1♠ overcall is a better description of the South hand. If you double to begin with, there will be auctions when if you bid spades later, you will be showing a much stronger hand than you actually hold. After (1♣) 1♠  then North should bid 2 (change of suit forcing) and the bidding can continue as above. In some ways the slam is now more likely to make as if the K♠ is missing, it is likely to be onside. 

How do you defend?

The defence started with 3 rounds of hearts, South ruffing the third. South plays 2 rounds of trumps (all following) and now runs the ♣9 and you win the knave. How do you defend?

A diamond return looks dangerous if South holds the Q. Often when the choice is between conceding a ruff and discard and leading into a tenace, one prefers the ruff and discard. However, on this hand, conceding a ruff and discard proved fatal. South ruffed in hand, discarding a diamond from the table. He then ruffed out your ♣K. Ultimately, 2 diamonds were ruffed on table and one discarded on the ♣T.  You know that declarer has 6 minor suit cards and a club return round to dummy will only allow 2 discards in South (even if declarer started with a singleton club). Thus a club return is safe in that you must eventually come to a diamond trick.

Save the Entry

West cashes 2 top spades and switches to the ♣J. Plan the play.

You have a potential club loser to take care of. The clubs might break 3-3 of if 4-2, the 4 clubs might be in the hand with 3 hearts, in which case you would be able to take out 2 rounds of trumps and ruff the fourth round in dummy. The best line, however is to play for diamonds no worse than 4-2. Win the club in hand and duck a diamond. Win the club return again in hand and play A  and a diamond ruff high. Now 3 rounds of trumps finishing in dummy allows another diamond ruff (if needed). The club Ace is a late entry to the long diamond allowing you to discard your club loser.

A Straightforward Defence

Partner leads 6 against South's game. South puts up dummy's King and you win the Ace. What now?

Dummy's clubs are menacing so you had better take some tricks quickly. If declarer had the J he would have played low from the table at trick 1. The best return is therefore a low diamond to partner's knave so that hopefully he can play a spade through dummy before the club suit is established.

A Sure Thing?

West leads a trump against your 4 contract. On a bad day you might lose a spade and 3 clubs. Can you turn this contract into a sure thing?

The winning line is an elimination play. Win the heart in dummy and ruff a diamond. Another trump to dummy allows you to ruff another diamond. Now exit with a low club. The opponents cannot afford to continue to play anything other than clubs, and they cannot possibly arrange to play four rounds of clubs, finishing in the West hand. Try it and see. Either they give you the ♣K or they concede a ruff and discard.

HotD-thu : Camrose Apr18 4B : B20

This hand from the recent Camrose series had some interesting points in the bidding.  The first bidding decision is actually taken for you here, and the option of 2♣ was the choice of five of the six players faced with the problem.  The sixth opened 1♠, which carries a little risk (of being passed out) but only a little risk.

The second bidding decision was South's.  It was surprising to find that there were two chosen options - pass and 3.  Which is preferred?  Firstly, it is always right to overcall in these situations if you can do so with reasonable safety; it won't always have an effect but if partner can raise you have hit the jackpot and will seriously disrupt the opposition's dialogue.  So we do bid but at what the level?  The fact is that 2 might have an effect if partner can raise, but at all other times it does not hurt the opposition, and it might help them.  The answer has to be 3 (and that was the most common choice).

Over this West should do something to show values. One might be tempted by 3N but the hand is a bit strong for that, and 3N - and even more so the alternative of a natural 4N - might well frustrate partner.  The choice is therefore (unless you have reversed its meaning with that of pass, as some do) that West doubles to show some values.  Two players however chose pass at this point, and when partner bid 4 they were in a quandry;  one bid 4 and there the matter rested, while the other bid 5 and fortunately his partner (having forced to game himself already) felt good enough to bid the slam.

After a double, when East cue bids 4, West can comfortably bid 4 and opposite some values (which, with no kings, is likely to include an ace) East is willing to continue.

The auction where South passed proved straightforward for East-West.  West's iniital response was 2 but then East got to bid spades and hearts, and finally West raised to 5 and East knew to bid the slam (again reasoning that partner wouldn't do this with no ace or king).

In all, four of the six tables in the Home Internationals bid the slam, but two tables missed it.  These two were England and Wales.

,

HotD-web : Spring Pairs 3 : 30apr18 : B21

This hand offered a faimilar dilemma for pairs players - whether in a 4♠ contract to go for 12 tricks with the risk of making 10, or to settle for 11 tricks.  In fact, there seems a reasonable chance of combining the two ...

The bidding shown and the opening lead make it very likely (some might say clear) that South holds the heart ace. So the ruffing heart finesse looks like a good opportunity to set up winners and discard losers. The quickest approach is to cross to dummy with a club, and run the K.  South should of course cover, and West will ruff.  Back to the club king is the plan, but North ruffs the second club and cashes a top diamond.  When the ♠K turns into a trick then declarer is held to ten tricks.

What about the line for a sure 11 tricks?  Declarer can bash out the trumps at trick two, losing to the king if necessary, and the defenders will cash a diamond.  After that - whatever they try, declarer can draw trumps, ruff out the heart ace, and throw three clubs on the top hearts.  This is exchanging the discard of the diamond loser for the discard of an expected (one) club loser which is actually about to turn into two losers.

Can we combine the options and make 12 tricks when the spade finesse is onside?  Clearly if the spade finesse loses we will have two losers - the key is to combine the spade finesse with setting up the hearts.  How about this line?   Win the diamond, cross to the ♣ K and run the ♠T.  Carefully dropping the ♠8 underneath that retains a spade entry to dummy, and if the finesse wins you can switch to ruff out the heart ace, or play for a doubleton spade king by leading again to the ace and then back to dummy with the third spade.  When you take the spade fiensse early and it loses, they do cash their diamond trick - but that is the end of the party; you can use the spade entry to dummy to ruff out the heatr ace and the club entry to cash the hearts, and you have obtained your expected 11 tricks.

Notice too the opening lead by North.  The table where the lead was the ♣7 put rather less pressure on declarer - he could win and try a spade finesse, but still have (a spade entry and) time to to set up the hearts.

HotD-tue : Spring Pairs 3 : 30apr18 : B11

This board was the only hand on which anybody bid a slam during last night's game, and it was only bid at two tables.  The double of 3 both made East concerned about 3N as a contract, and make it more likely that partner's values were outside diamonds, and therefore suitable for a slam.  Having said that, the void in spades suggested by the bidding was not good news.

Both declarers in 6♣ got a trump lead - a shrewd move by North.  Without a trump lead, declarer can lose to the diamond ace, cash five top winners and then cross-ruff for seven more tricks.  On a trump lead, and expecting a trump continuation after the A, declarer would be a trick short on a cross-ruff.  It is key therefore to set up a long card in either hearts or spades.   An extra trick in spades mostly needs the spades 4-3 (a 62% shot) while an extra trick on hearts needs the hearts to break either 3-3 or 4-2 (an 84% shot) - clearly better.

But care has to be taken with entries.  If you play diamonds early and they play a second trump, you can take one heart ruff but then need to ruff something back to hand to take the second heart ruff.  After that ruff, coming off dummy is a problem as you are now running out of trumps.  The answer, as shown by Bryony Youngs when she was declarer, is to take a heart ruff immediately.  When the diamond is played and a second trump comes, you can win that in hand and take your second heart ruff.  The top spades take care of the losing diamonds, and you are left with two top trumps in hand, one to ruff your way back from dummy and the other to draw the last trump.

[It is in fact possible to make the slam if you play a diamond at trick two, but this involves setting up a major suit squeeze on South and would not work if the hearts broke 3-3.  Exercise for the reader to work out why you cannot discard two diamonds on the top spades]

Set a Trap

West leads the ♣J. How will you defend this hand?

Declarer looks to have a 5143 shape from the bidding and even if it is 5242, any heart loser will disappear on the clubs as declatrer is marked with ♣Q on the lead. It looks like declarer has at most a possible trump loser (assume partner has ♠Jx). Well, desperate situations call for imaginative plays. Whether declarer wins the first spade in dummy or in hand, on the first trump lead you must play the ♠Q. Declarer will reason that spades are likely to be 4-1 and he will next play a low spade towards the ten as a safety play. Partner will win the knave and give you a club ruff!

What's the best line?

West kicks off with K. What is the best line in this contract?

You probably have a spade loser and the diamonds may not sit well (or you might misguess the suit). If you get a favourable break in spades, you will be able to discard a diamond from dummy, so you might well play a spade to the 9 to keep West off lead. As the cards lie, this will work but you can improve on this chance if you play correctly. Win the lead and use 2 trump entries to ruff hearts. Now Ace of spades and a spade to the 9 will not only win when spades are 3-3 but also when East has a doubleton spade honour as he will be endplayed. If it turns out that East has 4 spades and can exit safely with a spade, then you will need a correct guess in diamonds (doomed to fail on this occassion)

Take Care

West leads the Q. Plan the play.

The lead of dummy's bid suit will certainly be from length in this auction. The textbooks teach you to attack the entry to the danger hand first - the club finesse can wait until either East has no more hearts or else the suit has broken 4-3 and is no danger. So did you enter dummy with a spade to take the diamond finesse? Unfortunately, the finesse loses and West continues with a spade. Now when you take the club finesse, East is in to cash his spade winners. The principle of playing diamonds before clubs is a good one but you must not squander a spade control to take the diamond finesse - simply win the heart at trick 1 and play a low diamond from hand. It doesn't matter who takes the trick or what is returned. A later club finesse gives you 2 spades, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds and 3 clubs for your contract.

Plan the Defence

West leads the ♠7 against South's 3 contract. How do you plan the defence?

You need to take spade and diamond tricks to beat this contract. If you win the ♠A and return the T, then you might be successful. However, if partner holds something like  AQx then you will need to lead through declarer twice and where is your second entry?. The answer lies in the rule of eleven. Partner's lead of the ♠7 tells you that South does not hold any spades higher than that card and hence you can safely play ♠Q at trick 1. Now a diamond through will allow West to reach your hand again with the ♠A for another diamond lead. You hope the layout is something like that shown.

HotD-thu : Squad Practice : 25apr18 : B18

The County team squad have a practice match once most months, and there were 5 slam hands in the 18 boards played last night.  This was the last of those and only two tables reached the best contract - one with a decent auction and the other with a guess.  But can it be done scientifically and with full confidence? 

Think first about what should happen after the bidding shown (there was a strong consensus that this was the right start).   At this point slam is clearly the direction for West, and it is hard to imagine a hand for partner which does not give reasonable play for a slam.  (Without two out of ♠K, K and A then East will barely have an opening bid, let alone a jump to 4♣)  The key question from West's perspective therefore is how to count up to 13 tricks in order to make bidding the grand slam safe.

One option - chosen by some - was to bid 4N, asking for key cards. The first hurdle was overcome when East showed the two missing aces, but how can West continue?  One West tried 5N (asking for kings) and after a 6♠ response had no choice but to bid the grand slam.  All was well today but if East had held  ♠K5432AJ52A43♣K   then the grand would be a very poor contract (needing an even spade break, only a 35% shot).   A more sophisticated approach after a 5 response to the asking bid would be 5♠ to ask about spades;  if West has a response available showing the king and queen (have you?), then you can tell the grand slam is good and bid it.     But a sophisticated East would have thwarted that plan by treating the fifth heart (and the known 10-card fit) like a hand with the heart queen, and would have bid 4N-5♠ rather than 4N-5.     We conclude that 4N was not the ideal choice over 4♣.

The other choice is to cue bid and see what happens.  At one table West started this way with a 4♠ cue; East could not sensibly ask for key cards as if partner showed two, it would not be clear whether one of these was the club ace (making a grand slam silly) or not.  So East continued on the pattern with a 5♣ cue bid.  West was now able to continue the description with 5 and at this point East knows that the only two unknowns which matter are the KQ.   One relatively old (and today, little used) convention is the 5N bid asking partner how good their trumps are.  It's use here should elicit a 7-level response (actually a 6N bid is better) which shows two of the top three honours, this time in hearts.  After that East can have an expectation of five top trumps and three ruffs* (8 tricks), three top spades (11) and probably two top diamonds to give 11 tricks.  So an ideal auction should finish with 5N-7.  

[East could almost bid 5N one round earlier but for fear of West holding ♠AKQ742T982♣AQ  which comes with somewhat worse odds]

**  This depends on West having three clubs, which is by no means certain and is not true on this hand.  Two ruffs and setting up the fith spade will compensate, and then West has only two clubs, the fifth spade becomes a much better prospect.

 

HotD-wed : Spring Teams : 23apr18 : B26

There are a number of patterns to play which we think of as "text-book" plays because they appear in bridge books and seem to be too perfectly created to be real.  This board was randomly generated (admittedly by a computer) but it was a nice example of a text book play.

After a diamond lead declarer could rush for a club finesse to allow a diamond discard but even if the club queen is onside that needs all the relevant suits to be cashable, and so is not without risk.  If we accept that there is a diamond loser, the question is how to avoid losing two hearts and a spade in addition to that.  Losing one heart is inevitable, and losing one spade is very likely, so the focus is on the fourth round of hearts.  The best solution is to be able to ruff that in dummy.  The danger is that the opposition win the third heart, ruff the fourth with a higher trump than dummy has, and you still lose a spade.  If instead you draw two rounds of opposition trumps first, then they might win the third heart and draw the last trump and deny you the vital ruff.

Is there an answer?  Yes - and the key is when you lose the inevtiable heart loser.  The pattern is to cash one top trump and then duck a heart in both hands.  You can win the return and only now draw a second trump.  That leaves one trump out (all going well) and you can now cash the A and the K and ruff the fourth heart.

In this particular instance, with the long hearts in the same hand as the short spade, you will also make the contract on a variety of other sequences of play, so the results merchants are unlikely to appreciate your play, but it is nice to play correctly.

 

 

HotD-tue : SpringTeams 4 : 23apr18 : B17

Last night's players will not have been impressed by the slam potential of the hands, but when we look over the travellers we find that slams were bid on 7 different hands.   On most of these hands this was just way too ambitious, but one was a reasonable slam (board 5, although the sole declarer in 6 and most declarers in 5 went down) and this one was an excellent slam.  It was however bid at only one table.

The East-West pair here had the advantage of playing that over an opening suit bid, a new suit at the 2-level is game forcing (called "2 over 1 GF").  The important consequence on this hand is that West can bid 2♠ on the second round to confitm the trump suit at a low level.  Over this East continued by bidding out shape, and at this point in the bidding West can tell that partner's shape is 5341.   Looking at holding 15 HCP in partner's three suits, the fit looks ideal for bidding a slam. 

From this point it took just a few cue bids and a check on the number of key card held to bid the slam.  South started off the defence with the ♣A and a second club, ruffed.  There was the prospect of setting up the club suit now to take care of the diamond losers, but declarer spotted that a 4-1 spade break would make that very awkward.  The alternative of two diamond ruffs was much safer, so the play proceeded with one round of trumps, two top diamonds and a ruff, then over to J for the last ruff and finally to the A to draw trumps.

If I had any advice for aspriring pairs, it would be to adopt 2-over-1 game forcing.

Out for the Count

You play in 4♠ after East has opened 1 (showing 5). West leads the ♣8 and East plays off AK and a third club, West ruffing. West exits with a heart. Plan the play.

You may think you are on a guess in the trump suit, but you can take yourself off such a guess. East is known to have 9 cards in hearts and clubs. If West had a doubleton heart he would probably have led that suit in preference to a club. Lay down a top spade and play a diamond to the Ace and a diamond from the table. If East shows out, then play East for 3 spades. Ruff the third heart and finesse in trumps. If East follows to the second diamond, then the King of spades will drop the Queen. 

A Far From Obvious Defence

Partner leads the ♠2 against 4  Plan the defence

It is clear that partner can have very little. When things look desperate, play partner for the minimum he can hold that will beat the contract. It looks as if trumps offers the best chance of defensive tricks. Try the effect of playing AK and another spade to the first 3 tricks (a discard is of no use to South). Declarer wins trick 3 in dummy and on this layout has no option but to play a trump to his ten. Partner can win and play a fourth spade and a ruff with the K promotes another trump trick for partner if he started with Q9X. You need good vision to spot defensive plays like this - they are far from obvious.

Plan the Play

Bidding 4♠ is a gross overbid on a working 4 count, but that is what happened. The defence led a singleton heart and East plays 3 rounds of the suit. You ruff the third round with the ♠T and it holds the trick. What now?

You have been lucky so far and you will need that luck to continue. Suppose you play off the top trumps and discover that ♠QJ falls. Now the club finesse is pretty sure on the bidding but East will cover the first club lead from dummy and you will then be limited to 2 tricks in the suit and will have to rely on a favourable diamond position so that you limit your losses to 2 hearts and a diamond. You can improve on this considerably by ducking a diamond at trick 4 (before drawing trumps). You can then win any return, cash 2 top trumps in dummy and play clubs. In the endgame you can then cash the top diamonds before drawing the last trump. If diamonds are 3-3, draw the trump and claim. If West has 4 diamonds, you can ruff the fourth round of the suit and again claim your contract. If you fail to duck the diamond at trick 4, you might recover by taking 2 trumps, 2 clubs and ultimately play Ace and a low diamond. You are OK if diamonds are 3-3 and also if East has Queen doubleton and has failed to unblock his queen as he wont have a trump to lead at the critical stage.

Atone for your Bidding

The bidding sequence is straight out of the chamber of horrors, but mercifully West does not find a club lead, preferring the ♠J.  Can you atone for your partner's bidding by bringing home the slam?

This contract has very poor odds but there is a line of play that will work when diamonds and hearts both break and West holds the 8. Win the spade lead and cross to the A. Pitch 2 diamonds on the spades and ruff a diamond high. Now a low heart for a finesse of the 7 allows another diamond ruff high. A trump to dummy's 9 now brings the slam home! Don't forget to apologise to your opponents.

HotD-thu : League 10 : 16apr18 : B20

The six person squad led by Mike Lewis won their last league match on Monday rather decisively and put themselves firmly at the top of County League Division Two.  They had three double figure swings in their favour - one of which was board 23 reported on Tuesday (when their opponents stopped in 3N and they bid 6N), another was when the opponents bid the slam on B25 and failed to make it, ands the third was this ...

Look at the defensive problem - after you cash two top clubs and you know that declarer has none left - do you switch?

HotD-wed : League 10 : B6

This little hand from Monday was played in 1N at 13 tables out of 18 in play, and succeeded in making at nine of these.  But for some it wasn't so easy to make the contract.

At the table on show North was declarer and East got to lead a five card suit.  It is worth pondering after West's pass, that if either East or West is likely to have a five card major to lead it is East, and for that reason you might prefer that South played the hand!  Declarer won the heart cheaply, and set about clubs with a club to the queen and king.  Back came a heart and declarer tried the ♣J.  West ducked this.  When declarer now tried a spade East won and cashed the hearts.  A diamond came through the ace next and the defence had 7 tricks while declarer had but two in each major and one in each minor.

If we backtrack a little we can see what declarer needed to do to make the contract. With two tricks in each major and the A, the key was for declarer to get two club tricks.  If West on the second round had beaten the ♣J with the ace, declarer would have been left with ♣T7 over the ♣92 and would have the required two tricks on winning the diamond switch. How can North stop this ducking play?  The answer is the second round of clubs being a club to the queen; this will happen if North had starts clubs with the jack on the first round.  Could this have been diagnosed?  Not if fulfl detail, but  on general pricniples, given either hand might have turned up with the singleton ♣8 or ♣9,  starting the club suit with the jack might thave kept options more open at the start (but woudl lose to singleton honour with East). 

Three Souths are reported as having a heart lead and surviving;  you would think a heart through the ace queen at trick one would be better for the defence.  In fact it isn't - or at least it isn't when East wins the king on the first round.  East returns the suit but this means that West has no more hearts to play and the suit is never set up. On a heart lead from West, to have any chance East needs to duck the first trick and let declarer win it. After that we are in the same position as described, but declarer is likely to have won the trick in the South hand, and so will start by leading clubs towards the JT73 and that works beautifully because of the position of the ace and king.

It just goes to show how many little, different, influences play into any hand and how easily they can change the result.

 

HotD-tue : League 10 : 16apr18 : B23

There were three slam hands in the one set of boards played in the three competitions last night.   Board 5 was an excellent small slam, on which you can make 13 tricks, but not one out of the 19 tables managed to bid it.  Board 25 was a potential slam in the other direction and was played at different tables in 6♣, 6, 6♠ and 6N(twice) - and only the table in the four-four diamond fit managed to bring home the contract. Different from both of those was this hand, on which the majority bid the slam. The auction started as shown at most tables and this is where choices diverged - your preference?

 

There is a natural inclination to bid 3♣ on this hand but the fact of the matter is that you are just a little bit strong, as you could easily be making that bid with a certain 6 tricks and a chance of 7, where here you have 8 top tricks. The answer for many is that this is the sort of hand that a 3N rebid shows.  With a 1N rebid as 15-17 and 2N as 18-poor20, the 3N rebid isn't needed for anything else, and it describes rather well a willingness to take a chance on making 3N.

What can North do over that?  Clearly slam is in the offing but it is very hard to count the tricks, and there is also the queston of how does one check for missing aces - when a 4N bid here sounds like a quantitative raise?   Most pairs settled for a pragmatic 6N at this point, but when they saw dummy and what looked like 13 tricks (2 spades, 3 hearts, a diamond and 7 clubs) they were rather annoyed with themselves.  When the clubs turned out to break 5-0 (a mere 4% chance), they found that they were in the top scoring contract!  The alternative over 3N would be to nominally support clubs with a 4♣ bid, and then be able to use 4N as ace asking on the way to 6N or 7N.  Counting the thirteenth trick remains difficult.

Curiously the underbid of 3♣ turns out to be more convenient in a way, as it allows North to bid a forcing 3 and check whether that might indeed be the right demonination in which to play.  In practice this just gets 3N from partner and the same dilemma as that experienced after a more immediate 3N rebid.

We must express commisseratioons to the one pair (across 18 tables) who did manage to bid the 96% grand slam, only to find that it was unmakeable and they have to lose 17 imps on the board when they would normally have gained 13 imps.  They did however still go on to win their match comfortably - so well done to Tricia Gilham & Ricahrd Harris.   Their auction, for the record, was 1♣ -1 -3♣ -4N(key card ask) - 5(3 key cards) - 5 (asking about trump queen) - 7♣ (got it and extras) - 7N.

Think Endplay

West starts with the ♠K.  On a bad day, you might lose 2 clubs, a diamond and a trump. So is there a sure way to make your contract?

There is no problem if you don't lose a trump trick and it looks tempting to play West for short hearts on the basis that he has long spades. This might suggest playing a heart to the Ace. However, you should realise that if East holds the guarded Q, you can make the contract via an endplay on East. You should therefore start with the K in order to pick up Qxx with West. Say West shows out. Now a heart to the Ace allows you to ruff a spade. Follow this with 3 rounds of diamonds. If East wins he has to open the club suit. If West wins he can play a club through but you play the King. Let' say this holds. Now you throw East in with a heart and you must make an extra trick.

Play this Slam

West leads the K. Plan the play.

Take the A and cash the spades, pitching diamonds. Now ruff a diamond and give up a club. Later you can ruff your losing diamonds high in dummy. If you play a round of trumps before the club, the defence can arrange to play a second trump and this will leave you a trick short.

How do you defend?

You choose to lead the 5. Declarer plays 2 rounds of trumps ending in dummy (East having a singleton) and runs the ♣Q to your King. What now?

Do you try for 3 diamond tricks by leading a low diamond to partner's possible King, or do you switch to a spade, hoping that partners hold the Ace and good enough diamonds for you to take at least 2 more tricks? The answer is obvious. If declarer held the ♠A, he would not be playing on clubs - therefore partner holds that card. Switch to a spade and partner can win and play a diamond through.

Be Careful

West leads the A. Plan the play.

You ruff the opening lead in dummy. There will be no problem if the trumps break 3-2 but otherwise you might lose a trump and multiple diamonds. You can safeguard against this by cashing the ♠A at trick 2 and continuing with a spade to your ten. If it holds you will make 12 tricks. If it loses, West cannot take more than one diamond trick so you will make your contract.

HotD-thu : CBC Pairs League : 11apr18 : B29

This hand from last night was the best of the slam hands (B21 being the other contender for a margin above 50%) but it wasn't bid very often.  In fact nobody played in the expected 6♠ contract and we had three pairs played in 6N, ostensibly to protect the tenaces in the South hand - but in the case where North has bid 4N en route that plan backfired, and one North ended playing in 6N.

The vast majority played in game in spades, where after the bidding starts 1♠-2♥-3♠ (or even 4♠), you would have expected South holding K-AQ-AQ to make very positive slam tries and North with the extreme shape to cooperate fully. 

Would we expect the spade slam to make?  Superficially we do need an even spade break (a 68% chance) after which either the heart ace onside, a club finesse, a diamond break or a squeeze, will see the twelfth trick emerge.  The odds seeems decently above 50%, so the slam is worth bidding.   At different tables all four suits were led against spade games.  On a diamond or spade lead against 6♠ declarer is able to test all the stated options, first drawing trumps and then trying a heart to the king, and after that fails testing the diamonds before resorting to a club fiensse.  Sad to say these all fail.  Sometimes declarer will do best just to run all the trumps, and if they do that here, East must recognise the great importance of a suit headed by the nine, and never throw a diamond.  On a club lead declarer loses the chances in that suit to preserve chances in the two other plain suits.  This drops the odds on success.

What about the 6N contract to which some Souths converted?  One South playing in 6N got a club lead round to the AQ, and we have to presume this West won't ever lead away from a king against 6N in the future.  The other 6N declarer sitting South got a diamond lead.  In this case East has an easier time recognising the importance of holding onto the diamonds, and declarer cannot try a heart to the king as when it loses the contract is down without a second chance. The play will inevitably be a case of cashing the diamonds and spades ending with North holding a small card in each hearts, diamonds and clubs, while South has ♥K♣AQ.   What will West hold at this point?   There is no good answer - and if South reads West's distribution correctly then either a heart to the ace will produce an end-play in clubs, or a club to the ace will drop the king.  The fact that West did not lead either hearts or clubs but chose instead a short suit gives a pointer in the direction of playing West for both critical cards - so perhaps 6N is the place to be.

HotD-wed : Spring Pairs 2 : 9apr18 : B17

There were a couple of exceptions, but seven of the nine tables played this hand in hearts on Monday.  A number of players managed to trade tricks during the hand, and the first came from the opening lead.  The opening bid shown was unappealing to many because of the poor lead directing quality of the bid, and that did sway one of the Norths into opening a weak 1N (to play there, for a reasonable result).  No East-West pair managed to find the spade fit, most often because on auctions like that shown South showed spades first.

When partner did open 1, the first trade was when some Souths started off with the top diamond, which set up a trick for the king.  Curiously against a heart contract, every other suit was also led.  The lead of a club was perfect and the choice of a heart by two did no damage, but the fourth choice - the ♠J - was a gift to declarer but wasn't recognised; rising with the ace would have brough in the spade suit for no losers.

After the opening lead it was up to declarer to draw trumps and in due course play the spade suit. Even without the suggestion that South has spades, the percentage play in the spade suit is to run the nine at trick one;  when the nine loses to the king, declarer can finesse twice now to pick up the jack and ten.  The declarers who played a spade to the queen first, and lost to the king, traded back a trick to the defence.

The optimum defence gets six tricks for the defence but the only instance of that score was not that defence. The optimum requires a small spade lead by South (the only option NOT found) which allows North to win the A, put partner in to get a spade ruff, and still have time to set up a club trick before the  J becomes available for a discard.

 

 

Not everyone played the spade suit to best advantage, despite there being a strong hint as to what to do. 

HotD-tue : Spring Pairs 2 : 9apr18 : B8

This contract was the outcome of very natural bidding and it was surprising that this was the contract at only three of the nine tables.  The defence started naturally with two top hearts and now North played a third round of the suit.  How should West proceed?

In practice declarer tried to ruff high but South overruffed.  After winning the spade return, it was time to draw trumps (in two rounds).  When declarer now played the clubs from the top that was five losers and the contract was one off. 

There were two chances to improve on this. The first at trick three; with a ruff being almost certain to get an over-ruff, what about throwing a club loser away instead?  Now when trumps get drawn there will be a trump left in the East hand with which to ruff a club, and that delivers an extra trick (an over-trick if the clubs break evenly). 

The second chance was in the play of the clubs suit.  Suppose first that we have gone wrong by ruffing the third heart.  After winning the ♠A and drawing trumps, if we look at the bidding, there is an enormous likelihood that North's shape is 3623 and South's is 4234.  If that is the case, then we need to think about North's clubs and which doubletons North might have.  After a first club gets the ♣6 from North the possibilities of interest are Q6, J6 and T6.   If we play the ♣9 from dummy on the six, we cater for them all. The nine will lose but the king next will drop North's second club, and we can finesse South for the remaining high club on the next round.  That way we get three club tricks by force.

Neat?

Put them to the Test

West leads the J. You try the Queen but East covers. Play from here.

You have a club to lose and there are three obvious red suit losers. Clearly you need to do something with the club suit. You need split club honours (or both with East) to succeed. If you lead the ♣Q from hand, East can win and the defence will switch to hearts - curtains. The potential winning line is to cross to dummy with a trump and lead a club from the table. If East plays low, your Queen will lose to West's Ace, but now you have a ruffing finesse against East, which will allow you to dispose of a heart loser. Could East have found the play of rising with the ♣K on the first club lead? I doubt it would be found at the table but the defense to 4♠ is easy if you start clubs from hand. Always put defenders to the test if you can.

Safety First

West leads the ♠Q against your slam. Play the play.

You have 11 top tricks and a successful finesse in herts or clubs will see you home. One of 2 finesses is 75% but you can raise this to 100% if you spot the safety play in clubs. This combination of cards offers a guarantee of 3 tricks. Play a club to the Ace and a club back towards hand. If East follow, you just cover their card and if East shows out, you rise with the King and play one back to the Jack - either way 3 tricks are assured.

20/20 Vision Needed

You lead the ♠Q. Declarer wins in hand with the ♠K plays a heart to the King and and a heart back to his Ace (East following), and leads the ♣4.  What hope is there of beating this contract and how do you give yourself the best chance of doing it?

Defensive prospects look bleak. Even if partner holds the A , that is only 3 tricks and if partner does hold the A, he cannot have anything else since he passed our opening bid.  The only hope is to take 2 diamond tricks and that means that the first diamond lead must come from East (declarer misguessing). You need good vision to see a possible solution. When the ♣4 is led, play low. If South finesses the 9, partner can win with the ♣T and push back a low diamond.  Declarer will place a top club with East on this defence and hence will place the A with West.  When the full hand is as shown, do you blame declarer for his line of play when you smoothly duck the club lead?

HotD-fri : CBC Individual : 3apr18 : B11

This hand from Tuesday presented a small lead problem, and it was interesting to see that exactly one alternative worked and that there is good logic for choosing that.  Over the 1N opener it generally pays to bid for three reasons - you might have a decent contract to make, they might have to find a non-obvious contract and you can distupt their bidding, or perhaps just they are too comfortable on 1N and anything else is better for you.   Over your 2 overcall it is slightly surprising when opener comes back in with a 2♠ bid, but you actually know more about his/her hand now than if it had been a 1♠ opener and 2♠ rebid.  All suits are candidates for being led.  Your choice?

The key to most opening leads is having a plan in mind - some likely combination where the choice will work out favourably.   Here the case for leading a spade it to cut back on ruffs in dummy (not very likely) or to avoid giving away a trick with the ace lead.  The case for a heart is to find partner with short hearts and deliver a ruff; it could give away a trick to the king but that depends on where the king lies.  A diamond lead might work if you were to find partner with the king and be able to take a ruff.  Finally a club might be a be less commital as even when declarer has the king you might be able to set up some tricks there (and get to them). 

We fiurst rule out the spade lead - it feels too dangerous as partner might have a four card holding that you carve by leading one and it fails the test of having a good upside.  Leading from any ace has the danger that declarer has the king, but if anything on this bidding you might rate declarer less like to bid 2♠ when they hold the K underneath the bidder, while the other kings would not discourage.   This small bias plus the chance of finding partner short in hearts (no support) makes it clear that this is the suit to lead.

And if you lead one, and continue by ruffing out dummy's king, you will be able to collect 6 tricks in defence - and score much better than the -140 and -170 many pairs wrote down!

Listen to the bidding

West has opened a weak 2 bid and leads the Q against your slam. You win and play on diamonds. East takes his Ace and plays a second heart. How do you rate your chances?

Once East turns up with the A, the odds are heavily in favour of West holding the ♠K. This is bad news in that the spade finesse will likely fail but good news in that it looks like West has sole control of both major suits. In this case he can be squeezed. Simply cash your clubs and diamonds finishing in dummy. At this point dummy will hold a spade and the 9 and declarer ♠ AQ. West will either have to throw a winning heart or come down to a singleton spade. Either way, the last 2 tricks are yours.

HotD-wed : CBC Individual++ : 3apr18 : B26

This hand from last night (played in both pairs sections as well as in the Individual) proved problematic for many.  The auction shown is one of the five instances where pairs bid to the slam missing two aces, and were duly punished. It is difficult to put on the brakes after the first three bids. The contract you want to be in is 4 - can you do that?  After the start shown it might happen if West bids 4 but the hand is quite good for that.   Or is it?  Assuming you are missing the ♠A, partner will need all of AKQ and ♣AKQ to make slam good.  If you cannot stomach 4, then a 4 cue and passing 4 is an option. An alternative for East on the second round might have been a leap to 3 to show club support and a shortage there, but it wasn't clear whether that meaning would be understood in an Individual competition with an unfamiliar partner.

But the other contract people ended up in is more interersting - that is 3N.  On a diamond lead you have seven top tricks and which ever major you play, the opposition will knock out the second diamond stop and you only have eight tricks.  Can you do anything?

 

The answer is yes, and it's the same approach as works on a lot of 3N hands.  Simply cash your long suit.  When you do this you find that the opposition are in real trouble. Whichever hand does not throw a diamond has to give you and extra trick in whichever major they discard.   Neat!

HotD-tue : Crockford's R3 : B25+

Last week a local team played its third round Crockford's match against the strong Mossop / Hackett combination and came out on top.  If they had made one trick less on board 32 it would have swung the match, and this was the hand.

The bidding shown was the bidding in the critical room;  it started similarly in the other room although in that case there was some ambiguity over the meaning of the double of 1♠ and East-West focussed on their club fit instead.  This let South show hearts on the second round of the bidding and our pair ended in 4 which went one off after the two minor suit aces were quickly cashed.

It was the aggressive double of 2♠ (perhaps driven by the fact that his side was behind) which made the difference. Notice how West doubled to show spades, a practice much more necessary in the days when third hand often psyched after a takeout double, and this allowed East to "support" spades on the next round.  South started against 2♠ doubled with a trump but he should have known that his partner would have none. Declarer was able to contain his losses to three trumps and two outside tricks and making +670 was a useful 11 imps.  Going down one in this contract would have netted -7 imps, and the result of the match would have changed!

Well done to Richard Chamberlain & Patrick Shields, Paul Denning & Richard Plackett. 

Protect your Assets

West leads the ♠Q against your 2NT contract. Plan the play.

You must protect your spade holding on this hand. Win the ♠K at trick 1 and play a heart to your Queen. If it loses, West cannot profitably continue with spades. If the Q holds, you will then knock out the A and come to an easy 8 tricks.

Defend like a Champion

You lead the AK and South ruffs the second round, crosses to the ♠J and plays a diamond to his J. Any ideas on the defence?

You have 4 tricks on defence but since partner has the Q, he cannot hold the ♣K. He might however, hold the ♣T. Declarer doesn't yet know the position of the outstanding high cards and you can capitalise on this by mentally doanting your ♣A to partner. Switch to the ♣J when you win the Q. This will run to declarer's King. When you later win the A, play a second club.  If the cards lie as shown, can you blame South for ducking the club round to his 9? Now you have 2 clubs, 2 diamonds and a heart to beat the contract.

An Easy Hand

West's lead of the J runs to your Queen. How do you play?

You can develop a spade, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds and 4 clubs for your contract. The danger is that West will develop his diamonds before you have time to get at your 9 tricks. If you cross to a club and take a heart finesse, you will go down. West is marked with all the missing high cards so all you need to do is play a spade towards dummy at trick 2. If West wins, you have 2 spade tricks and wont need the heart finesse. If West ducks, the ♠K will score and now you can develop your heart winners.

Spot the Problem?

West starts off with AK against your game. How do you see the play developing?

There is a danger on this hand that the trumps are breaking 4-1. Suppose you ruff t trick 2 and cash 2 top trumps (West following only once). Now you can't draw all the trumps and unblock the hearts as you have no way back to hand. West must have 6 hearts for his overcall and you just have to hope that he doesn't have a 7 card suit. The winning line is to take one top heart in dummy whilst you still have the third spade on the table with which to return to hand. As you draw the last trump, you discard the remaining top heart from the table, freeing up the heart winners in your own hand.

HotD-thu : Spring Teams 3 : 26mar18 : B19

Sometimes the traveller on a given hand leaves one quite puzzled, and that is true for this hand from Monday.   This is a truly excellent slam, and it was bid by the majority (6/10) of tables on Monday, but at the same time it was missed by a serious number of pairs.  That itself is not so curious, as slam bidding is always difficult, but what is strange is that all those in game were recorded as playing in 5♠ with an overtrick.  The question is how one gets to the 5♠ level and then stops.  I know that at table 9 the reason this happened was because of a wrong response to the key card ask of 4N, which meant they thought they were missing two aces.    But could that have also happened at another three tables?    Stories please!

You might also be curious to note that board 20 is also an excellent slam, and it was bid at only two tables.  Aagain not so unusual except for the fact that one of those tables didn't just bid to the excellent 6, they bid on to the impossible-to-make (under ANY layout of the cards) 7N slam - but duly brought it home.

HotD-wed : Spring Teams 3 : B5

Sometimes the little hands involve more thinking and work than the big hands.   On this hand it is very easy to get too high and even the bidding shown has led to an uncomfortable contract, while it is just a part-score with 24 hcp between the two hands. Against 2N, South led a middle club and the club queen won trick one.  From declarer's perspective there are two sure tricks in each of clubs, diamonds and hearts, and a very strong likelihood of exactly one trick in spades.  Where will the eighth trick come from?

The two prime candidates are an extra in hearts or an extra in diamonds,.  The former offers a 50% shot for running the heart jack, while the latter is a 35% chance for finding a 3-3 break.  It seems natural to go for the heart finesse, but this loses.   Can declarer recover?   Curiously yet - and logic gets you there.   South should have received an encouraging signal from partner at trick one, and know that it is safe now to continue clubs (ie declarer didn't start with AJx) and declarer should duck this and win the next club. 

The T is an eight trick waiting to be reached, and aiming to reach this is better than ducking a diamond, as ducking the diamond will create a sixth winner for the defence (assuming two club losers to go with one heart and the two top spades).  So declarer's next move is to cash the top hearts and try a spade to the ten.  If either spade honour is with South this will generate an entry, but the ten loses to the king and back comes a diamond.  This suggests the clubs are breaking 5-3 and that fact - plus the danger of a sixth defensive trick even if the clubs break evenly - leads declarer to win this with the ace.  

Back to spades now and the ♠J, but when South plays small (ie doesn't cash out six tricks), it looks like North has the ace and so overtaking with the queen is pointless.  North lets the ♠J win, but declarer continues with a third spade and North is now in trouble.  The last three cards for North are 8Q8  while declarer is down to K96.  Leading a heart gives an eighth trick, a small diamond gets king and another, and a top diamond gets ducked.  

So declarer always gets eight tricks but only after a lot of work.  It's curious to notice that of the declarers in NT, there was one made 11 tricks, two made 10 tricks and three made 9 tricks.  Does this offer a hint as to how difficult it is to defend accurately or was there a better line?

An alternative to banking on the heart finesse was to try two top hearts and then go for diamonds if the queen doesn't fall.  This does get a better than 50% chance of generating the extra trick, but it also creates a sixth defensive trick too often. Choosing this line today will get four heart tricks and gives declarer time to duck a diamond to get three there also.  This could account for making nine tricks, and the lack of entries to the long clubs will allow a tenth. 

HotD-tue : Spring Teams 3 : 26mar18 : B3

This monster hand proved impossible for many to handle last night.  The first decision was in fact South's and there were some who opened 1♠ and some who opened 2♠.   The choice depends on your style of weak two bids, and where you see the primary role as obstructive when in first seat and non-vulnerable against vulnerable opponents ("at green"), then a hand with such a good suit and two aces is just too strong.  There are actually two alternatives to opening 2♠ - one of which we often forget; the difficulty with opening 1♠ is that partner reads more into the bid than the hand contains, but there is always the possibility of PASS.  We need to ask ourselves in this context whether we would expect to get to the right contract if partner happened to open the bidding - and clearly we would, and in that case we are barely disadvantaged by passing.

When South opened 2♠ at table 1 North tried a forcing 2N bid, and heard from South that the hand was a maximum with a good suit.  This in fact, did not help North at all in determining the right contract.   When he now bid 4 that was read as a cue bid in support of spades, and it was only by then bidding 5 that he was able to set the contract.  In this case South was right - when partner bids 2N over your weak two bid, the only options are playing in the suit opened or in NT.  If North wants ever to play in a different suit, they need to bid it and not bid 2N!  The 5 contract went down one.

When South opened 1♠ at table 8 North started by bidding his suits and we heard 1♠ - 2 - 2♠ - 3  and now South gave preference with 3.  At this point North settled (unambitiously) for 6 but that proved too high when the first round of diamonds was 7-6-Q-4,  and there were still two diamonds to lose. 

Three tables managed to stop in 4 .   I wonder if any of those were cases when South passed and West opened 2, warning North of the problems in that suit and making 4 the obvious contract? 

Do let us know your stories.

Richard Harris adds : Boring, really, I opened 2S partner bid 4H. Certainly very good for 2S but keep it simple.

Think it Through

The opponents are playing a strong no-trump. The 1NT rebid shows 11-14 in their methods. Partner leads the ♠J. Declarer wins with the Ace and finesses the J (partner producing the 9). Over to you.

When defending, you should count delarer's tricks. It looks like declarer is destined to make at least 5 diamonds, 2 hearts (you know the finesse is working) and 2 spades after the lead (even if partner holds the ♠K).  Hence there can be no point in returning a spade. If declarer holds the ♣K you have no chance but declarer might have a hand with all his values outside of the club suit. When you win the A, continue with ♣ AQ6 and hope partner's clubs are good enough.

Order is Key

You lead the ♣K on which partner plays the 7 and declarer the 3. How do you continue?

If you assume that partner has started a peter with a doubleton club, then you look to have 2 clubs, a club ruff (or overruff) and hopefully a heart trick. The problem with playing off 3 rounds of clubs is that declarer will discard the 3 on the third round of clubs and you will not come to a heart trick.  The solution is to ensure you take your tricks in the right order. Switch to a heart at trick 2. Partner can win and return a club. Now you have 3 tricks and a further club promotes your side a trump trick.

A Popular Contract

3NT is the most popular contract. How do you play on the lead of the ♣2 when dummy wins the first trick?

You appear to have plenty of tricks and ample stoppers in the black suits but if you play on diamonds, the defense may hold up a couple of rounds and then they may be able to deny you an entry to dummy. If the cards lie badly, you will be restricted to only 2 winners in each suit. The correct play is to lead hearts first.  The defense can hold up their Ace until the third round but that wont help them as you have a guaranteed diamond entry to the table. This way you must make 3 heart winners and 2 each in the other suits.

How do you defend?

You lead a top club, on which partner plays the Jack and declarer the 7. Given that declarer probably holds a singleton club, how do you see the defense collecting 3 more tricks?

Partner can't hold much, but a couple of well placed Jacks might be enough. Try the effect of switching to a low spade at trick 2. Let's say partner produces the Queen and declarer wins the King. Then when at some future point, declarer plays on diamonds, you jettison the Queen under declarer's King. If partner can gain an entry with the Jack of diamonds, then a spade return will be enough to beat the contract when the cards lie as shown.

HotD-Thurs: League 9 19Mar18: B13

This is another hand where most matches resulted in a double figure IMP swing. The poular contract was 3NT by South. What should you lead as West? In the past, leading fourth highest of your longest and strongest was the norm, so players would look no further than a low heart. This is not a success on this hand as it gives declarer his ninth trick. Nowadays, the thinking is to avoid conceding tricks on the opening lead, and a heart from such a holding is very likely to do that. At my table, West led his second highest diamond. Now declarer has only eight tricks and will eventually lose a spade to East. A heart through declarer will defeat the contract. However, declarer could see that his contract was safe if West held the ♠A, and if East was dealt this card, he could be put to the test. Winning trick 1 with A, declarer played a low spade from dummy, East played low (wouldn't you?) and declarer had his nine tricks. It is very difficult to go in with the ♠A, but if the bidding has indicated a decent club suit with South, East may reason that declarer is known to have K from partners lead, and a spade trick may be all he needs. Bearing in mind that West may well have a decent heart holding from which he did not lead, then perhaps the indications are there. In the event, all five tables that played in NT scored at least 9 tricks

HotD-Weds: League 9 : 19Mar18 : B19

This was an interesting play hand from Monday's league game. Quite a few pairs reached major suit games as North after club intervention from East. Suppose first that you play in 4♥. East starts with top clubs and you ruff the second round. Now you might play for one of the major suit Kings with West, and it looks as if playing diamonds is right to give you a ruffing entry to South for a finesse in your chosen major. At trick 3 you lead K which East takes and plays another club, forcing you to ruff again. Now you cannot really afford to ruff a diamond and take the heart finesse for it it loses, a heart return will lock you in hand with no way to take the spade finesse and you finish with 4 losers. Also a winning heart finesse may still leave you with a heart loser if West holds KTx. Hence you are best to abandon the idea of ruffing a diamond and just play A and another. You score the game when the K is singleton or when as here the spade finesses works. Indeed, you could have played trumps in this fashion earlier, without bothering with the diamonds. Everyone in 4 duly brought home their contract. Some tables played in 4♠ and this contract invariably failed, even though both majors break and the trump finesse is working! What went wrong? I guess East started in similar vein with 2 clubs and North ruffed. Now knock out the A and take a second club ruff. Trumps are getting thin on the ground, and if you ruff a diamond and take the spade finesse, you eventually lose a heart to East who has minor suit winners to cash - you have lost trump control. The key to the hand is simply to play hearts early, just like the play in 4 . You need to set up your heart suit whilst you still have trump control. When East wins the heart, he can force you to ruff again but now you can knock out the diamond, ruff a diamond on table, take the spade finesse and claim 10 tricks.

HotD-Tue : League 9 : 19Mar18 : B3

Board 3 from last night led to large swings in several matches. I imagine that at most tables the bidding arrived at East after 3 passes. The East hand is very powerful - 22 HCP but with 4 aces and a good 6 card suit. A useful rule of thumb is to add a point when holding 4 aces, so this hand should be treated as a good 23 count and opened accordingly. After a 2C-2D start a 2NT rebid looks normal and most pairs would play transfers after this start so 3D-3H would be the obvious continuation. Now the spotlight falls on West. Partner has not broken the transfer so probably doesn't have prime support. However, the West hand is shapely and shapely hands can produce many tricks if there is a good fit. Here West can continue with a bid of 4D to show a second suit. Remember that West is a passed hand so East will never be playing West for huge values. Over 4D, East would bid 4H with a definite preference, support diamonds with a fit, or bid 4NT to deny interest in the red suits. On the actual hand, a bid of 6D looks obvious and the good slam is reached. Four pairs duly bid to the top spot but 2 pairs got to 6NT and 5 pairs stayed in game (generally in NT). The best score for N/S occurred when they were allowed to play in 4Sx which went for only 300 (well done for competing). How was the auction at 


Roger Schofield adds : We reached 6D via a Lucas 2H, 2NT enquiry, 3D, 6D

Defend this hand

Partner's lead of ♣J is ruffed by declarer who runs the Q to your King at trick 2. How do you defend?

You have to project at least two high honours in partner's hand to defeat the contract. If partner has  ♠AQx, a spade shift will do the trick. If partner has the ♠Qxx along with the A, a diamond shift is necessary before the spades can be established for diamond discards in dummy. If partner wins the ace and returns a diamond your side will come to two diamonds, a spade and a heart. The second scenario is a bit more likely, so a low diamond shift is called for.

Amend for your bidding

Your decision to pass 3NT with a known spade fit was dangerous. What if West started with a strong five-card club suit? Consistency is important in bridge and we achieve that by reducing the number of guesses we make. Bidding the major-suit game every time you have an eight-card fit achieves the former by reducing the latter. In any case, what is your plan for nine tricks after West starts with the ♣K?

The ♣A is your entry to the spades, so you must preserve it. Duck the opening lead and make sure you unblock a high club from hand. If West switches you will have an easy ride by playing spades from the top and then entering dummy with a club. West however, continues with a second top club at trick 2. Again, you duck in dummy and unblock again. Now West cannot damage you as you have a tenace position in clubs. You play spades from the top and will make a minimum of 3 spades and 2 in each of the other suits.

Careful Play Needed

North makes a support double to show 3 hearts. South initially signs off in 2 but later revalues his hand and pushes on to game. West starts with 3 top spades. Plan the play.

You have lots of tricks on this hand but are in danger of losing trump control if the hearts break 4-2 as is most likely. Your first move should be to discard a diamond on the third round of spades and win the diamond switch with the Ace in dummy. Now you can't afford to play off 3 top clubs before drawing trumps else you will suffer a ruff and if you draw the trumps and they are 4-2, then you will have no way back to hand to enjoy the clubs. The solution is to cash just 2 high clubs before playing trumps. On the 4th round of trumps, you discard dummy's last club, clearing the way to cash 3 more club winners in your hand.

Wake up Call

Partner leads the ♠5 to your ten and declarers King. At trick 2 declarer leads the K and partner discards the ♠J. How do you defend?

The discard of an honour card indicates possession of the lower equal(s) but no higher honuor. In other words, declarer started with the ♠AKQ.  Given the strength of declarer's diamonds and the strength of dummy's hearts, it looks like a club shift is in order, but which club?

Because you need four club tricks, you should shift to the queen hoping partner has AJ10x. If you shift to a low club, declarer with a Kxx can duck the trick around forcing partner to win and there go the four club tricks. In desperate cash out situations when leading through declarer, small cards in dummy, the lead of a low card promises the king or ace. With a lower honour, the honour should be led,

HotD-thu : CBC Pairs League : 14mar18 : B1

'The first board in last night;s Pairs League provided a neat option in the play.  

On the bidding first, East bid sensibly to the limit here with the 4 preempt being justified by the 74 shape.  Some who bid 5 by themselves were allowed out cheap, losing 300 where they should ahve lost 800, but that does not justify the bid!

Against 4♠ East started with a top diamond. There are occasions where this lead would have caused a headache for West, given the fad for leading the king from both AK and KQ holdings - should West ruff or not?  Here the clear lack of any entry to partner for a second ruff means it is clearly best to duck.  Declarer wins the ace, and draws trumps and can count 9 top tricks.  But where will the tenth come from?

There are a number of options here which go wrong.  If declarer plays a club to the king, West will win the ace and play back a club easily.  If declarer plays a heart to the queen then West will win the king and play back the hearts jack.  Again no tenth trick.

Paul Denning found a better answer here; after drawing trumps he played a heart to the 8. West was endplayed and had to give the tenth trick whichever suit he returned.  Neat!

HotD-wed : Spring Pairs 1 : 12mar18 : B23

After the slam hands, this was the big swing hand from Monday, with games made in both directions.  The key decision was that of North after the bidding shown.  The expectation must be high that East-West will find their heart fit, which makes it much better for North to bid 4♠ now rather than wait until later.   When North did raise, one East doubled and there the matter rested.   This was not a good choice by West, who should have recognised that the double was oriented to takeout - as a defender's strength will more often be outside rather than inside the suit the opponents bid. It was not all over yet, but after the lead of the A it was too late. All declarer needs to do is trump two hearts in the dummy and then lose the top spades and one diamond when the finesse fails.  One declarer in 4♠ managed this but the other made a careless ruff of a club with the ♠4 and was over-ruffed with the ♠5 and had to go one down.  To beat the spade game by force, West needs to lead trumps.

When North passed the opening bid, it was clear for East to bid - and the choice was between 3N and a takeout double. The shape made the latter more natural but it was possible that 3N was the right contract and if so it would be best played by East.  Whichever path was chosen, East-West will soon be in 4 and North must bid 4♠ now to give the other side a problem. With an eleven card fit the likely choice is to bid 5 and four tables ended up in that contract;  two tables ended in 6 but why that might happen remains a mystery. Against 5 the normal spade lead results in one down.  The two pairs defending 4 had a more difficult task - and failed.  They needed to start with a club ruff to beat it, but didn't find that.

HotD-Tue : Spring Pairs 1 : 12mar18 : B18

The first session of the Spring Swiss Pairs saw 20 pairs compete and over the first three matches the leaders were Ian Constable & Lesley Harrison.    There were three slam hands which the field found difficult to bid, of which this was one.   Five pairs were sitting in the "right" direction for these slams - one with 12 tricks decently over 60% and the other two with 13+ tricks on top.  Of those five pairs, two bid all three slams, two bid two slams and one pair bid just one slam. But if you were sitting the other way, you still had a role to play.

How easy it is to bid these slams (B12, B18, B21) depends seriously on how much bidding the opponents do.  Few East-Wests entered the auction on B12 but the one instance of which we know resulted in North-South reaching the worst of the contracts which were reached (4).  On B21, there was often a heart bid by East and support by West but these bids took away little bidding space from North-South.  The illustrated hand however brought out more effective interference.

The opener by East wasn't found at every table but it should be;  at that vulnerability, and with a spade suit, every opportunity to bid should be taken - and if this hand doesn't fit the range of your weak two opening, you need to adjust the range or you will be losing points by not getting into the action when you should. What should South do after a 2♠ opener?  The hand is an opening bid but it is in the range for a weak 1N opener and it only one card away from a weak 1N shape.  It is therefore a very minimal hand on which to bid.  Of the tables we know, two players overcalled 3; while honest and somewhat descriptive this bid is considered by some to be a gross overbid - coming in at the 3-level vulnerable on a weak-NT equivalent, and committing to a single suit.  A takeout double is preferred. 

But the key question is what happened after 3.   There were two extreme results obtained at the two tables who bid 3; at one table North bid 3♠ and then passed partner's 4 rebid.  It is hard to say why.  At the other table North wheeled out an ace asking bid and heard of three aces and bid 7N.  Quite different evaluations - making it difficult to say whether or not 3 worked on the day!  A third table after the same start bid the hand 2♠-3-P-6-end.

Do we know of any other auctions?  We know now of one table which passed as East on the first round and North-Souyth had a smooth auction to 6N which scored very well.   Finally there was a table which started the auction with 3♠-X-4♠ ;  what should North now do?    He settled for 6♣ and wrapped up 13 tricks.

The best chance?

Against your slam, West leads the J. What is your best chance?

It looks tempting to play dummy's Q at trick 1, succeeding when West has led from KJT. However, leading a heart from such a holding is very dangerous and is therefore unlikely. If the diamond finesse works, you will be OK, but you can give yourself a slight extra chance by drawing trumps and eliminating the clubs. Now a heart exit will gain whenever East has King doubleton heart as he will have to lead a diamond or give you a ruff and discard. 

How do you Play?

Plan the play on the 8 lead.

One option for a tenth trick is the club finesse, but on the bidding this is hardly likely to be successful. The bidding and lead indicates that East holds the top hearts, in which case you can succeed by keeping West off lead. Cover the 8 with the 9, Say East wins and switches to a diamond. Rise with the Ace and play a trump to dummy. Now lead the J and discard your remaining diamond. Ruff the diamond return high in hand, cross to dummy with a trump and ruff a heart high. Now another trump to dummy allows you to lead dummy's last heart, discarding a club and endplaying East into leading a club or conceding a ruff and discard. Note that by carful management of your trumps, you can generate the 3 trump entries to dummy that you need.

Treat it as a true card

West leads a low club. You win in dummy and play a heart. East produces the King. If you choose to treat this card as a singleton, how do you continue?

If the K is a singleton, you will need to produce a trump endplay on West to make your slam and to do this, you will need to play for a favourable lie of the cards. Cash the top clubs, discarding spades, and unblock the Q. Now a spade ruff to dummy will allow you to cash the top diamonds, pitching spades from hands. A diamond ruff puts you in hand to play a trump towards the 8. West has to win this trick an return a trump into your tenace.  You make your contract when the layout is as shown.

Patrick Phair adds : 

"Treat it as a true card". This hand requires declarer to guess West's shape, and provided West has only three clubs there is a chance of success. The recommended line also works against 3-4-3-3, since when East follows to the third (master) diamond from the table declarer knows to ruff it and ruff another spade before running H8. Declarer can in theory also succeed against 4-4-2-3 provided East has SK (declarer can ruff two spades in dummy but not three). In this event East will play SK on the second round -- but if East does this on the actual hand and declarer believes it he will go down.
How do you Play?

West leads out KQJ to the first 3 tricks. East overtakes trick 3 and switches to the ♣9. Plan the play. 

The bidding marks West with both missing Kings and if he holds 4 cards in hearts, then this hand will play itself. Win the ♣A and play a spade to the Queen and a spade back (lets say West shows out on the second trump). Now take the heart finesse and return in trumps to cash 2 more spade winners. West is squeezed on the last spade. If he lets go the ♣K your clubs are good and if he lets go a heart, a further finesse brings in 4 tricks in the suit.

HotD-thu : CBC Mens/Womens Pairs : 6mar18 : B9

This interesting hand from Tuesday's game highlighted the differences between playing matchpoint pairs and playing teams. The bidding and the opening lead will be the same in both cases; although it is not likely to win, declarer has to try the J at trick one in case the opening leader has the king and the queen.  The downside of doing this is that it lets the defenders clarify the heart position to a certain extent.  It's not, however, all plain sailing for the defence.  After winning the K at trick one, the standard return from the North hand is the 5 - which will be either lowest of three remaining or North's only heart. South cannot tell which it is at this points, but East can. 

Declarer has 7 top tricks and extra possibilities in spades (2 tricks), diamonds (3 tricks) and clubs (1 trick).  There is nothing to say where the missing honours are, and playing matchpoints declarer cannot afford to lose tricks others might make, so it is inevitable that the diamond finesse is taken.  When South wins it is not all over;  if South continues with Q and another, we find that North wins the fourth round and has no hearts left to play.  Declarer wins the black suit return and cashes the remaining tricks to make the contract.

Could the defence have done better?  The answer is yes - it is up to North to spot at trick two the danger of a blockage in the heart suit.  The return at trick two needs to be the T or the 8, and indeed this was found at a few tables.  The false-card return deceives partner initially but with five hearts South is never worried.as the suit is still cashing. When South plays a lower heart at trick two (having led fourth best) North knows it is safe to unblock again on the next round,

Could declarer have done better?  For that we have to look at the teams game and forget about the overtricks.  If the focus is on making the contract, then declarer would do best to try the other options before taking the diamond finesse.  The right order is to try first the top spades in case the queen falls, and when that fails to cash the clubs.  When the fourth round turns out to be a winner, that too gets cashed, and look at what happens to South!   There is no safe discard; the only winning chance for South is to discard a diamond, and to do that smoothly.  If declarer now finesses in diamonds the contract will go down two.  At the crucial point South might have been tempted to throw the ♠Q, playing partner for the ♠J, but declarer's play in spades makes no sense without the jack, so that can be avoided.

Well done to Allan Sanis who smoothly bared the K against Max Davies-Smith to beat the 3N contract (only one down as the ♠AK had not been cashed), and went on to win the Mens Pairs with Keith Sharp.

Richard Harris adds : South overcalled 2, so on the  lead I played the J with more confidence - lost to the K and (I think) 5 returned. The K must be wrong now and ♠Q too. Played on Clubs and both defenders discarded ♠ so easy to make 10 tricks, fortunately!

 

HotD-wed : CBC Mens/Ladies Pairs : 6mar18 : B1

The first board in these strongly supported events illustrated well the importance of competing.  There were two crucial decisions which affected the result.

The opening bid of a weak 2 might not be the choice of the purist, but a four card major on the side is no longer a killer for a weak two bid, and with a suit of this quality few would hesitate.  The opening comes as somewhat of a surprise to South; clearly a raise is in order, but might a slam be making?  The key here is for South to count the missing key cards - and there are four of these missing and even if partner has as many as three, slam might still be no better than a finesse.  Clearly there are dangers in the five level, so any investgiation leading to that level is too much.  The hand deserves just a raise to game.

Spotlight now on West. The hand is an ideal shape for a takeout double of hearts - but do you do this at the four level just as you would over a 1 opener?  The answer is that you must - or you will constantly lose out to the world today which is bidding more than ever before.  Here a takeout double will get partner to bid 5 - which makes 11 tricks when the spade finesse works.  In practice, it is likely to lead to the opponents continuing to 5, but that's fine too - as you have three tricks to take against it.

I note that in the Mens Pairs 6/11 pairs were allowed to play in 4, but in the Womens' Pairs 10/12 were allowed to play in 4.   Does this tell us anything?

HotD-tue : Spring Teams 2 : 5mar18 : B7

On Monday this hand was the most spectacular hand of the thirty three in use.  Everyone would open the West hand with 1♣; it looks normal for North to pass now, opposite a passed partner, but it seems that at least two adventurous souls managed a 1 overcall.  Neither path stops East shouing spades, but where there was an overcall South could now bounce to 3.   None of this deflects West from bidding 3♠ and it's up to East now to decide how high to drive.

Only one pair managed to proceed to the grand slam from this point. This East was willing to trust partner to have a club control and leapt to 5 as an ace ask excluding hearts, and over the 2-key-card response bid the grand slam.  The heart ace took the place of the missing ♣K to allow the grand to make.

The other successful auction had no opposition and started 1♣ - 1♠  - 2♠  - 3 - 4♣, the last bid confirming four spades and a club control.  Now came a diamond cue, a heart cue, and a 4N asking bid which discovered three key cards opposite.  Again 7♠ looked the obvious contract.  Fortunately the spades did break 2-1 and not 3-0.

Only one pair did not bid any slam.

Patrick Phair adds : The heart ace meant that partner could claim as soon as spades were 2-1. But with the king instead the grand will still come in if the diamonds are 4-3.

Your best chance

West starts with the ♠2 against your game. East wins the first trick with the ♠K and returns a spde to the 9 and ten. You duck and West continues with a third spade, knocking out your Ace as East follows. What is your best play from here?

Unless the A is singleton, they are sure to duck the first round of the suit. Hence you need to try and give the opponents a guess in diamonds. Suppose you start by leading the Queen of diamonds and overtake with the King. Lets say West follows with the 5. Now you lead the J from dummy and East has a problem if he started with say A43. He will not know whether partners 5 was low from 567 or high from 52. If he decides on the latter then he may duck to deny you 4 diamond tricks.  Once you have stolen 2 diamond tricks, you can cash out.

How's your defense?

Declarer ruffs the opening lead of ♠A and leads a club on which partner shows out, discarding a spade. What do you play when you win the ♣A?

If partner has a diamond trick it can't run away. It looks safe to return a spade but if you do then you will regret it. Declarer will cash all his minor suit winners, coming down to ♠JA9 in dummy. West will hold ♠KKJ and will have to discard before dummy. He is squeezed out of his major suit trick. You need to return a heart when you win the ♣A to kill dummy's entry. The squeeze can no longer operate.

What's your Plan?

West leads the ♠J. Plan the play.

The first thing to sort out is your play to trick 1. If West has led from ♠KJ, the finesse will still be there later. If East has the ♠K, then you have an avoidance play. Put up the ♠A on the opening lead and come to hand with a diamond to lead the ♣J. You intend to let this run and don't mind losing to the Queen with East. If West covers with the ♣Q then you win and return to hand with a heart to lead a second club. The critical point has now been reached. It is essential to just cover whatever card West plays, so if West produces the ♣4 on the second round, you must play the 7.  That way you guaranteee 4 club tricks without giving West a chance to gain the lead a play another spade through dummy. In total, you will make a minimum of 4 clubs, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds and a spade.

Count your tricks

West leads the ♣J, ducked all round. The ♣T follows, East playing the 5 on dummy's 6 and you ruff. Play from here.

If spades break badly, the force has left you poorly placed. However, the contract is secure if trumps break 3-2 provided you are careful. You have 4 diamonds, 2 hearts and 3 spade tricks in hand and your tenth trick can come from a ruff in dummy. At trick 3, duck a trump. Suppose West wins and plays another club through your King. You ruff, play off the Ace of trumps (leaving one outstanding) and then cash 4 rounds of diamonds throwing 2 hearts from dummy. Then you can ruff a heart in dummy for your tenth trick.  The defenders can only make a club and 2 trumps

HotD-thu : Spring Teams 1 : 26feb18 : B19

Sometimes the strangest hands turn out to be the easiest bidding exercises.  The North hand here - with its 0166 shape - is not an everyday occurrence, but when the opposition have opened 1N there is a single, simple bid which described the hand quite well - an unusual 2N.  With conventional defences to a 1N opener catering for all the major suit related hands, this bid is free and most commonly used as "both minors, or a game forcing 2-suiter".  Responder gives preference between the minors and if the strong hand it held, then it bids again over that (suits up the line). In practice, South simply bid 3♣ and there matters rested.

The North hand proved to be more of a bidding problem when East-West were playing a strong 1N opener, and now West opened the bidding with 1♣.  The North hand here - withonly one card in the majors - should primarily be concerned about the opponents getting together in a major suit fit, and needs to be taking steps to avoid that happening.  The most effective choice would be (risky) 3 which would have ended the auction.  When at the table North chose 1, East was able to double to show both majors and now West bid 1♠, raised by East to 3♠ and there the auction ended.

Neither of the auctions so far described reached the cold game available for North-South. It was however reached on three occasions - do tell if you know how that happened!  [Actually one story has emerged, wherein West opened 1♠ and North made a takeout double - but the tale has been deemed as too horrible for publication]

In practice the 1♣ opener did cause a problem here, but it is worth noting that with a lot more people opening 1♣ on all balanced hands outside the 1N range (which means it might only have two clubs), it is becoming common to ignore that suit and treat a 2♣ overcall as showing clubs, and a 2N overcall as showing the minors.  Here it would have been just what was wanted over a 1♣ opener.

Hotd-wed : Spring Teams 1 : 26feb18 : B15

This deal produced a surprising variety of levels for the final contract - with two tables in a part-score, two in game and four in a slam.  A number of tables faced this problem on the first round - what do you bid as North?

Three answers to this question have been reported.  There were some who bid 3♣, which, if this is agreed as showing a constructive hand (most people play it as pre-emptive), is indeed a reasonable option. [Did this end in game?]

The two part-scores both arose after North doubled the opening bid.  The Norths had looked at the strength of the hand and declined the simple overcall.  This was mis-guided; the rational for doubling rather than overcalling is similar to the criterion for opening 2♣ rather than one of a suit;  you choose the double if you see a positive danger of the overcall being passed out and you are embarassed by missing game.  With just a few extra HCP and with this shape, and with it being easy for someone to bid either red suit, the likelihood of a 2♣ overcall being passed out with game making is really quite remote and the issues if partner leaps in hearts over a double are very real.  In practice after the doube, one table proceeded P-2♠-P-3♣-end  and the other saw  P-2-P-3♣-end.   In neither case should South have passed 3♣, so they might have survived the double - but that does not excuse it!

And finally to the 2♣ overcall - will this work out well?  Take a look at the South hand now.  Many will actually have opened the bidding with this, but for those who didn't this must surely represent a maximum pass.  With four card support for partner and a singleton, there is just one bid leaping out at us - a 3♠ splinter being a perfect description.  It doesn't take much thought now from North to realise that 6♣ is the place to be.  The only concern is a possible club loser but you are expecting 10 cards between the two hands, and South is very likely to have an honour in the suit. 

Well done to the four pairs who bid the slam and clocked up +1370.

HotD-tue : Spring Teams 1 : 26feb19 : B13

The first session of the Spring Teams took place last night.  There were 11 teams, with the top four collecting points (8 for the winner) towards the 5-session series.  The winning team was Tony Letts & Roger Schofield, playing with Brian Goalby & Keith Sharp.   Their biggest gain was when their opposition faced this problem on board 13.  The 2 opening showed a weak two in a major or a strong (20-22) balanced hand.  The East hand is a very decent 14-count with a five card suit - do you come in or do you pass?

In practice the choice made was to overcall 2. This ended the auction and dummy went down with a 5152 shape, and East was left playing in the opener's suit!  This went down one while the other table bid and made 4♠ after North had opened an unambiguous 2 (so the team gained 13 imps).  It was just about impossible for West to recover after partner's overcall, as in this position most partnerships agreed that bidding the other major (expected to be opener's suit) is a cue bid sugesting support for partner - which is clearly not the case here.

This needs to be clocked up as a gain for the North-South system. It created a trap into which East fell.  There are times when the ambiguity works against the Mutli-2 opener, but most people believe that the gains generally balance the losses.  

Could East have avoided this trap?  The answer is yes; the key is to consider what you would have done over a 2 opening or a 2♠ opening on your right,  The answer is both cases is that you would pass - and that argues that you should reists the temptation offered here.

A Thoughtful Defence

Your partner leads the ♣6 to dummy's King, your Ace and declarer's ♣7. How do you defend?

Partner has clearly led a singleton and it is tempting to give him his ruff. However, if you do that, where will you find 2 more tricks? Partner would surely have led a top diamond if he held AK, and a vulnerable preempt marks the ♠A with South.  Your best chance is to find partner with the A. Switch to the Q at trick 2. If South covers, partner can win and put you in with the J. Now you can give him his club ruff. If declarer doesn't cover your diamond, then give partner his club ruff and he can then cash his A for the stting trick.

Maximise your chances

Against your game, West starts with two top spades. You ruff the second round. How do you continue?

If the heart finesse works then you will have 11 tricks. You can improve on your chances by not playing trumps immediately. If East holds the Ace of clubs, eliminating spades and diamonds will force a heart return or a ruff and discard when he wins the trump Ace. Hence you should cash a diamond and then ruff a diamond in dummy and a spade in hand. Now play off your last diamond before exiting with a trump. If your luck is in, East will win and is endplayed - otherwise you will need the heart finesse.

Patrick Phair adds : 

no need to ruff anything -- just discard dummy's spade on the second diamond, then cash the third diamond and exit.
Sublety Required

You lead the ♠K on which East plays the ♠3 and declarer the ♠4.  Partner would unblock on your King lead so you may safely assume that declarer hold ♠AJ4. What do you do next?

You need to put partner in for a spade lead through declarer. If partner holds the K then declarer will have the ♣A and plenty of tricks. If partner holds the ♣A then declarer will eventually take a heart finesse and again the contract will make.  A sublte defence is required. Switch to the 7 at trick 2 and you will probably find that declarer will rise with the Ace and knock out the Ace of clubs. Your spades will then get established with the K as an entry to cash them.

A Fistful of Finesses?

West leads the J, and you can see finesse positions in 3 suits. It may be possible to avoid the heart finesse by coming to hand with a trump and finessing the club for a heart discard and eventually establishing a long club for another discard. Howevr, the heart finesse might be right and several other chances remain, so you finesse the Queen at trick 1. East wins the King and returns a heart, attacking dummy's entries. Play from here.

In dummy with A, you must immediately play on clubs. ♣A, ruff a club high, ruff a heart, ruff a club high. If clubs have broken, you have one more shot before resorting to the spade finesse. Lead the T to the Queen in dummy. If the 7 drops, you can ruff another club high and re-enter dummy with the 6 to then throw a spade on the established club. 

HotD-thu : European Winter Teams : 21feb18 : B58

Every second year a week long European Open Teams is held in Monaco, and this year the competition finishes over the next few days. The leading team in the qualifying round - and now in the last four - was the team of Zia & Meckstroth, Brogleand & Lindqvist. This was the last swing board in their quarterfinal, and the swing was vital to allow Zia's team to progress. 

You can see from the bidding that Boye Brogeland had his rose tinted glasses on for this hand; playing 2-over-1 game forcing, his partner's 3 bid was unlimited, so making a slam try was expected. It looks like 4♣ was intended as a non-serious (serious slam values would bid 3♠) cue showing short clubs, and the 4 return cue bid was now more positive than the hand justified. 

The lead against the slam was a club to the ace, and declarer ruffed a club before playing a diamond towards the king-queen.  West rose with the ace (as good as ducking) and played back a second diamond.  Declarer tried the other top diamond now, ruffed with the 8 and overruffed, and the proceeded to take the rest of the tricks on a complete cross-ruff.  

The 13 imps from this swing (4+1 in the other room) was vital in the team's 11 imp win.  Can you see the opening lead which would have beaten the slam?

The action continues today with the semi-finals and the final is on Friday.  You can see the results and bulletins at http://www.wintergames.bridgemonaco.com  and you can watch the closing play on BBO (www.bridgebase.com).

Leading a trump at trick one beats the contract. 

A trump after the diamond ace isn't good enough as declarer can now settle for only one spade ruff but set up the long club en route to drawing trumps and will get a second diamond also on this defence.

HotD-wed : League 8 : 19feb18 : B21

This hand from Monday produced only a few swings but contained some instructive points.

The first decision was what North should lead. With both minors bid by the opposition, it has to be a major and the Q was the preferred choice.  More interedstingly, there were some tables where the bidding was 2N-3N and with that bidding also - since responder has shown no interest in the majors and presumably therefore holds the minors - the same lead stands out. 

From declarer's perspective there are lots of hight cards, and once the spade ace is gone a clear eight top tricks and chances in either minor for a ninth. There is a danger of the opposition cashing hearts, but with a two way club finesse on offer, there should be a chance of finessing into the safe hand when the time comes. 

The one position to avoid is needing to play spades after the hearts have been set up (as you have no control over who will win the trick), so playing spades must come early. The decision on the club finesse can come later. The key is knowing who has the long hearts and here it is vital for declarer to encrouage the opposition to disclose, and to watch carefully. On the lead of the queen, ducked in dummy, South needs to encourage (or North won;t know whether or not it is safe to continue the suit when on lead) and that should locate the ten for declarer.  The best choice for declarer is to duck at this point and watch the continuation.  When North now plays the jack, the length is surely with South,.  If North had the length (either 4 or 5), the continuation would have been a small one.

Having won the king of hearts at trick two, declarer should play on spades, and if declarer is keen to knock out the spade ace, South probably does best to refuse to take it! Ducking twice creates a dilemma for declarer for whom the danger suit switches from hearts to spades. Again reading the opposition shape is vital.  If South had won the spade ace earlier (likely) and played a third heart, declarer needs to avoid losing a trick to the long heart hand.  On this particular layout you would want to win the heart ace and run the club jack.  This loses but you have 9 tricks at this point. 

Curiously if you misjudge the heart position and take the finesse the "wrong" way - it works and you are rewarded with more tricks than you would otherwise get.  Funny game this!

HotD-tue : League 8 : 19feb18 : B4

This hand from last night produced a big variety of scores - at least one table played in every denomination!  The bidding shown was at table 5 and seems inevitable; but, amazingly, there was no other table in the same contract. The contract looks sensible, but it became more tricky when North led the Q at trick one it was ruffed by South, who returned the K.  You win this with the ace, and the next step is to draw trumps; when you play the ace of clubs and over to the king, South shows out.   You draw the North's last trump with the jack, and lead a spade.  South plays small - what's your choice as West?

Let's count our tricks first. There are five trumps in the West hand and one ruff in East, plus the two top hearts and the diamond ace - a total of nine.  You need two more tricks (from spades).

The key to the answer here is counting out the opponents' shape.  North has shown up with 8 hearts and 3 clubs and a diamond, and so has at most one spade.  Alternatively, South has only one card in the rounded suits, and has at most 6 diamonds - and so must have at least 6 spades.  You only have one trump left with which to ruff a spade in dummy, and you need to make two tricks with spades in order to achieve your game.

If North has the singleton ace of spades your ♠7 or ♠J will force the ace, setting up the king but how can you get a second spade trick?  The answer is that you cannot make another trick without South winning the queen - and then the contract is down.

If North has a singleton queen of spades - what can you do?  Clearly the spade king is the winner here, dropping the queen and allowing you to set up a trick from the JT as your eleventh trick.

If North has no spades or a small spade - you can win with the ♠T , but what then? It seems very much like you will still lose two tricks to South - but look what happens when you exit with a top spade.  South wins and has the choice of leading from the other top spade or leading from the diamond queen.  Either option gives declarer the necessary 11th trick. 

When you add all this together, you are going to make the contract is all cases but one, and the play which covers all but one of the layouts is to rise with the spade king. Very well done by Tony Letts to find this and make his game.

Plan the Play

West leads the Q. Plan the play.

It is lazy to rely on hearts to produce the twelfth trick. If spades are 4-3 then the suit can be establisjed for a discard. The play should go as follows: win the diamond and play ♠A. Cross with a trump to ruff a spade. Next ruff the K and a further spade ruff high. If spades have broken 4-3 then draw trumps and you can throw 2 hearts on the good spades in dummy, conceding just one heart trick. Of course, if the spade suit does not ruff good, you will fall back on playing hearts and hoping for a favourable position in that suit.

FORM

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Combine your chances

West leads the ♠Q. How do you play?

If you draw trumps and take a diamond finesse, East will win and return a club and you don't know whether to play for the diamonds to break or for the club finesse to be right. A better line is to start the diamonds by leading the 6 from dummy.  East cannot rise with the King without conceding the contract, and you now have time to test the diamond position before committing to the club finesse. If the trumps are 2-1 you can do even better by plaing on elimination lines. Ruff aspade high at trick 2, cross to a trump and ruff another spade high. A further trump to dummy allows the last spade to be ruffed. Then play a diamond to the Ace and continue with the 6 towards your queen.  On this line you win whenever diamonds are 3-3, when either defender has singleton or doubleton K, and when the club finesse is right.

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Dilemma

Partner leads the ♣T against 4♠, declarer playing the Knave from dummy.  Do you win or duck? If you win this trick, what do play at trick 2?

Should you play partner for a singleton club, or should you duck, playing partner to have a doubleton club and a quick spade entry? Often these dimemmas are a complete guess, but here there is a logical answer. Suppose partner has a doubleton club. In this case, declarer will not be able to discard a diamond from dummy and in due course you will make 2 Aces, a diamond and a spade trick (or possibly 2 diamonds and no spades). If partner has a singleton club, it is imperative to give him a ruff.  You don't know partner has a singleton, but you do know that winning the Ace and returning a club is most unlikely to cost the contract.

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Retaining an Option

West leads the ♣9 against your slam. Plan the play.

The lead marks East with the ♣A, which means it is highly likley that West holds A and K.  Suppose the first trick goes ♣9KA ruff.  After drawing trumps you can catch West on the horns of a dilemma by leading the 9.  If West beats air with the Ace, you will have 3 discards to dispose of your losing diamonds. If West ducks, the King wins in dummy, and your second heart is ditched on the top club. The flaw in the above analysis is that East can duck your ♣K at trick 1, forcing you to make your discard prematurely.  The way to counter this is to play low from dummy at trick 1. Later you put the heart through West and only then set up your club trick for a discard.  

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HotD-thu : CBC Pairs League : 14feb18 : B3

There were a few points worth discussion on both the bidding and the play on this hand from the opening session of the Spring run of the popular Pairs League.

In the bidding it is important that the opener shows a good fit when partner transfers into spades, and 4 does that and highlights the lack of a club control at the same time. It remains a preference that the strong hand is declarer and this is best accomplished by a re-transfer.  If the East hand had a heart cue bid to make, the answer is to bid 4♠ if you would be willing to pass that if partner bid it over a cue, and to bid on after 4-4♠ to show a cue that wasn't willing to stop.

In the play the first question is the opening lead.  Into a very strong hand, the key is not to give away any tricks, and the majority found a spade lead. The three who led a club or a heart all ended with 4♠ making.  After a trump lead and a second round, declarer can see the potential for two losers in diamonds and two losers in clubs. The first step therefore must be to try the heart finesse, aiming to throw a loser on the third round.  When this fails North again has a key choice to make.  A heart lead leaves all the work for declarer to do.  A diamond lead turns out much the same, although it is not without dangers.  A club lead however puts declarer to an immediate test.  Since declarer could have on a guess for the club queen (holding say AJ2) nobody ever leads away from the queen in this position, so declarer should place South with the queen and rise with the king, making the contract.

So best if North finds a red suit return. After that the best declarer can do is to guess the clubs. There bid nothing useful as a clue.  Of the Wests playing in 4♠ on a trump lead just over half made 10 tricks.

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HotD-wed : Winter Pairs 5 : 12feb18 : B12

The travellers posted on the internet after each of our bridge games regularly produce surprises.  Look at this board - where no East is recorded as playing the hand in spades. Whether playing a strong 1N opener or a weak 1N opener, it is surely right to open the West hand with 1♣ and North will pass.  It has long been an accepted principle that you bid the higher of two 5-card suits first (to make it easier to bid the other later).  Yet it seems that most Easts decided to ignore that and preferred to bid the stronger heart suit, before the higher ranking spade suit.

The difficulty with that approach is evident in one stand-out result on the traveller - the case where South played the hand in 2.  How could that happen - that East-West miss a 9-card spade fit?   Let's look at what happens if East bids 1 and South (perhaps not everyone's choice) overcalls 2    For West to bid spades at this point is a serious overbid and will get the partnership too high too often.  Once West passes it round to East - what can East do?  To double will encourage partner to bid too much in clubs, and to bid either hearts or spades now will seriously distort the description of the hand.  So both East & West pass - and score -90 instead of +450.

Unfortunately most times that people bend the "rules" and bid the lower suit first, the opposition do not interfere and they manage not to get into trouble.  This hand illustrates why you must bid the higher suit first, but I fear that only one pair will have noticed and learned!

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HotD-tue : Winter Pairs 5 : 12feb18 : B10

There were four hands last night wih excellent slams to be bid, but of the 24 opportunities (each board played 6 times) only 8 opportunities were taken up.  Across those hands, only one pair had no chance to bid any slams (unlucky for Anne & Peter) but every other pair had at least one chance and the highest success rate goes to Ian & Val Constable bidding two out of three. Bidding a slam last night scored you either 100% or 90% or 70% on the board - never a bad result.  Pairs 3 and 10 were unlucky that two slams were bid against them.

Everyone who had the opportunity failed on at least one of the candidate slams.  This is not all criminal, as sometimes the bidding of the opposition can work against you, as illustrated by the hand shown.  After the bidding starts with either 1♣ or 1N from East and South shows the majors, it is impossible for West to do other than jump to a game in a minor before the North-South players can get together.  Indeed the par result comes from North-South sacrificing over whatever minor suit game or slam is bid.  It coul dbe that the one pair who bid the slam did so over a 5 or 5♠ bid by the opposition.

There was one quite anomalous result - and it is one to learn from. East opened 1♣ which was the system opening on weak NT openers as well as club hands, and over that South bid 2♣  not realising that against such an opener the partnership played 2♣ as natural (usually 2 is used fo rthe majors inthese cases).  West bid 2 and East faced a dilemma.  With the clubs sitting over, nothing looked appealing and he guessed a pass.  When this was passed out, partner was not pleased!   It is not clear who was at fault here, as when the 1♣ opener might be a weak NT, the West hand in these cirumstances needs to be able to make a non-forcing bid at the 2-level in order to compete the part-score.  If indeed 2 is non-forcing, then West needed to bid 3 to ensure that partner bid again.  Whether South should have protected after 2 - P - P is a question to ponder, but clearly here passing was a winning action.

A stunning defence

You lead the 7, won in dummy with the King. At trick 2 declarer runs dummy's ♠8 to partners 7 and your Queen. What now?

Partner can't hold much but he could have a singleton ten of hearts and it looks from his ♠7 that he has 3 spades. If so try the effect of switching to the K.  When you win the next trick with the ♠A and continue with J, partner can ruff dummy's Queen and this sets up your 9 as the setting trick.

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The Clues are There

West leads the Ace of hearts. East encourages and wins the next 2 tricks with the King and Queen of hearts. At trick 4 he surprises you by contuing with another heart.  How do you plan the play?

You might be tempted to ruff in dummy, discarding your diamond loser from hand, but you should regard East's actions with suspicion. He is not out to do you any favours for sure.  He would not be giving you a ruff and discard if he was looking at the K in his hand. The danger of discarding a diamond is that West might do the same, and if spades break 4-1, with West holding 3 diamonds, you will be stuck in dummy with no way to reach hand to draw the remaining trumps without suffering a diamond overruff. The winning line is to ruff the fourth heart in hand, draw trumps and later take the diamond finesse. It will not help West to overruff you at trick 4.

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A Pointer from the Play

West leads the 4 which runs to your Knave.  How should you continue?

If hearts are 4-4 you can safely knock out the ♠A.  However, if hearts are 5-3 you will now go down when the diamond suit was breaking. You can't tell how the hearts lie and you cannot combine the chances.  The best line is to play diamonds in the following fashion. Start by leading the Queen from hand and watch the small cards.  Not knowing the location of the diamond Ace, the defenders will be anxious to give honest information at this stage. If the 2 appears on the first round, I would be inclined to play the suit for 3-3 and later overtake the J with the King.

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Sole Concern

Partner leads Ace and another club against 5♦. Your King wins the second trick as South follows.  How do you defend?

At this point your sole concern is to preserve your possible trump trick.  If say you return a neutral heart, declarer may win and lay down a top diamond. When the ten falls he may enter dummy with a spade and view to run the 9 and pick up your holding.  You can prevent this by returning a spade at trick 3.  There is an interesting corollary of this play.  Suppose you held xxx in diamonds and partner has Jx.  A spade return at trick 3 might induce an astute declarer into thinking that you hold Jxxx in trumps and be tempted into a first round finesse holding AKQTx

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HotD-thu : Swiss Teams 5 : 05feb18 : B19

This hand was most commonly played in 4♠ making, but there were many defenders who felt they should have done better (and it was surprising that so many found the spade fit).

The first question is what South should open; if you have a weak 2 option this hand seems ideal, and if you haven't then the weakness in the majors, and the quality of the diamonds, makes this an easy 3 opener at this vulnerability.   Surely over such an opening West will pass and East will find a take-out double.  Over that, West needs to consider how the penalty will fare against the potential score for a vulnerable 3N, and one might expect the latter to dominate. You need, however, to factor in the fact that while the diamond contract will surely go down, you wan't always make 3N.   If partner is good enough to make 3N easy, then there must be a chance too of collecting +800 (keeping the opener to five trump tricks r four trumps and one outside trick).

Only two pairs defended diamond contracts, and they both lost out to 4♠ making at the other table.

Defending 4♠ there were leads of a small heart from South three times, and a less obvious lead of the A from North twice.   After cashing the ace, West continued at table 3 with a heart ruff for partner, but that was ruffing a loser. Declarer won the return of the ♣T and had an easy time - drawing trumps, losing one club and ruffing the fourth heart.   With a trump back after the ruff, declarer has a lot more to do. Given the need to draw trumps, declarer can ruff the fourth heart but not the fourth club.   

After a heart lead from South at table 13, North won the Q and A, and thought it safest to cash the  A before giving partner the ruff to beat the contract.  When the  A was ruffed the defensive ruff disappeared.  There are now 9 tricks in sight (club finesse and give up a diamond) but somehow declarer managed 10.  

How others made their 10 tricks would be interesting to hear.

Curiously the two tables where East-West's game went down were both in the same match, as were the two tables where East-West played in a part-score.  So both of htose matches had a flat board.

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HotD-wed : Swiss Teams 5 : 05feb18 : B16

The opening bid on this hand divided the population on Monday (and half the field ended in a part-score, half in game).  The hand is formally in the range for a Weak Two opening (decent 6 card suit, 9 HCP) but at the same time it is a seriously constructive hand (7 losers) and has more potential than many opening bids.  

Opening at the one level is possible, the danger being that partner takes you seriously, and pushes to game on a misfitting 12-count. 

Opening at the two level faces the danger that partner, with a suitable hand, discounts any chance of game.

Is there an alternative?  There is - and it was found at some tables - the alternative being to pass. Coming into the auction later on a hand like this can give you a better chance of honestly reflecting what sort of hand you have.  In practice pass led to partner opening the bidding, and then volunteering some spade support in competition while the opposition bid hearts.  Isn't it easy to bid game now?  That's how it went ...

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HotD-tue : Swiss Teams 5 : 05feb18 : B8

It was no suprise to see all but two tables play this hand in clubs, when North holds such a long and strong suit.  The par contract is in fact 5♠ doubled down two, so well done to team 8 who at least got to play the hand in spades.  It was curious to see that there were three pairs who stopped in 4♣ and two who bid 6♣.  You would have expected those who stopped out of game to regret their decision, and in a way they did, but two cases of 4♣ making an overtrick were in the same matches as 6♣ going down one, so those two teams actually gained 5 imps for stopping in 4♣ on the board!

The opening bid with the North hand deserves some discussion. Three choices are known to have been taken (did anyone open 5♣ as the fourth?).  Of the known openers the highest was 3N, which shows a solid running minor and little else. Usually it has a 7-card suit and usually it does not have a king outside, but one can see how keeping the opponents out of the majors was appealing to North. It would have had more appeal first in hand, but has less after one of the opponents has passed.  The downside of preempting partner emerged when partner took it out to 4♣ (pass or correct) and that ended the auction; that is how two Souths got to play the hand with eight trumps lying in dummy, but in a part-score.

The lowest opening was of course 1♣ and that is recommended on this hand, You have more HCP that your RHO and you just don't know whether to play in clubs, or to allow partner to play in 3N.  Partner in 3N is of course more comfortable that you playing in 3N, as any major suit tenaces will be protected.  The auction should start 1♣ - P 1 and at that point West is entitled to enter the auction.  For most people 1N here, by a passed hand, promises 5-5 in the unbid suits and this looks to be a perfect decsription.  Exactly how the auction will continue is far from clear but there should be a strong bid from North and another from South, and it is hard to imagine other than a 5♣ contract at the end.

The final opening bid of which we have news is 2♣.   There are two reasons why it is wrong to open with 2♣ on hands like this.  The first is that if you do this but also open 2♣ on a 4315 hand with 23 hcp, then partner is going to have enormous difficulty working out what to do later in the auction. The correct rationale for opening at the two level - given hands nearly always bid more clumsily with less space - is that you are scared that your 1-level opening will be passed out and you miss a good game.  That is never going to happen on this hand.  But there is a second reason this is wrong - and that is because the use of 2♣ or 2 to show multiple hand types is restricted, because this is a conventional opening.  The restriction is that if the hand might be based on any of the four suits, then the hand must contain 16+ HCP or 5+ controls (A=2, K=1).  This hand fails on both counts, and the rules are that when you are found to be using an unlicensed convention your best possible result is -3 imps.  It is nice when the regulations actually push you in the direction of good bidding!

 

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How's your card reading?

West leads the 8. You duck trick 1 and win the second heart, West discarding a diamond.  You lead the K and West takes his Ace and returns the J, which you duck.  Your Q wins the next trick, East following. You then lead a club to dummy and cash the ♠A.  East follows to both these tricks but discards a heart when you play a club to your Ace.  What now?

Have you counted the hand? East shape is known to be 2731.  The spade finesse is likely to be right but this does not give you the contract as you only have 3 spades, 1 heart, 1 diamond and 3 club tricks.  The only chance is to drop a doubleton ♠Q.  Hence cash a top spade, then a spade to the ten and a club to dummy to make the fourth spade trick.

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A Simple Defence

West leads the 6. Declarer ducks in dummy and you win the Queen.  Now what?

There is not much future in returning partner's suit as it is unlikely that West will have the 2 entries required to establish and cash his tricks. On the bidding, there is a good chance that declarer will hold only a doubleton spade and you should switch to Ace and another spade. Provided West has a quick entry, this will give the defence 5 tricks.  Declarer would have done better to have won the first diamond, but you won't be successful at this game if you don't take advantage of opponents mistakes

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Draw the right inference

West leads the T and you see that prospects are not that great. At trick 1, East produces the Q and you win with the King.  Both opponents follow on your spade to the Ace, and on the second round of trumps, East produces the ten.  Over to you.

The normal percentage play is to finesse, but there is something a little odd about the early play.  Why did West lead a diamond from a ten high suit if holding the AK.  The most likley explanation is that West is missing the K and hence must hold the ♠Q else East would not have passed his partner's opening bid. The correct play is therefore to rise with the ♠K in the hope of dropping a doubleton Queen.

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Plan the Play

Wst leads the ♣J.  You win the Ace and play a spade to the King and Ace, win the club return with the King and cash the ♠Q, on which West discards a club.  How do you continue?

East passed originally and has shown up with ♠A and ♣Q.  If East has the A then he won't also hold the K, and the contract will succeed easily.  However, If East has the K then West will hold the A and the contract is in danger.  If this is the layout, then you can make if East holds the Q without the T - giving East a flat 11 points on which he may not have opened. The correct play at this point is to lead the 5 from hand.  West cannot profitably rise with the Ace and so you finesse the 9. If that draws the Queen, the opponents cannot attack hearts before you set up a diamond for a heart discard.

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HotD-thu : League 7 : 29jan18 : B2

This hand produced a double figure swing in every match but one on Monday, and in that match it was flat in a slam which might have gone down.

The first quesiton on the hand is how should West respond to a 1♠ opening from partner.  Clearly you are going to raise to the spade game, and you will at least splinter on the way - but with two aces and a void, are you too strong to splinter?  The reason for asking is that the splinter bid leaves partner in control, so will this hand match expectations?  If you would bid the same way with a small heart rather than a void, then the answer is probably no. If you can distinguish between voids and singletons in your raises to game, then you will be able to match expectations.  If you are too strong to splinter, you need to start with 2N to show good support (or some other force).

Whatever you choose, North will not resist showing hearts, and indeed some Norths (and this might be over-doing it) introduced the heart suit at the five level.  East, with a minimum opener, will attempt to sign off, and that should be the end of it, but in six cases it was not, and - sometimes over a raise to 5 by South - West jumped to the slam.

Declarer in a slam is looking at a loser in each minor, and just enough trumps in dummy to ruff the losing hearts. The only answer is to set up a winner in one minor to take care of the loser in the other. The best line in a slam on a heart lead is to ruff, and lead a small diamond away from the ace. Even though the ten loses to the king and the queen is now dropping - the slam is in trouble if South wins the K and plays a club.  The reson is that declarer cannot combine taking three heart ruffs with drawing trumps before cashing the J.   But there is an answer - declarer needs to win the ♣A, take one heart ruff while drawing trumps, and then run the trumps to squeeze South in the minors.  It takes a minor suit lead at trick one from South - ignoring partner's suit - to beat the slam.

Well done to the three who bid and made it.  I trust those who bid and and failed did their best.

In the other direction, two pairs got to play in 5 doubled, and, despite three losers, both of them made their contract.  In each case their +850 combined with a team-mates' +450 for a 15 imp swing.

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HotD-wed : League 7 : 29jan18 : B4

This was a curious hand from Monday; by contrast to yesterday's hand, everyone played in the same demonination on this hand (clubs) and at only (?) three different levels - partscore, game and slam !

But the first question is what you say over the opposition's weak 2♠ opening?

It is clear with this sort of shape you are not going to let the opposition play in game in spades, but you don't know which suit you want - you need to get partner involved. 

There is a very easy way to do that - and we can see evidence of it being used at three (only three?) tables.  These were the times when North bid 4N over 2♠ it show the minors, and South now picked clubs.  Of course the five pairs who stopped in 4♣ cannot have bid this way.  When partner bids 5♣ over your 4N, you don't have a good sense of how many tricks you will make, but you need two covers cards from the three gaps you have (A,A,♣Q) and that is too much to ask of partner.  So pass seems prudent.

Even then your trials are not over.  The winning lead against a strong two suiter is often a trump, as the declarer may need to ruff out the non-trump suit to make their tricks.  That is the case here and three tables found the club lead that makes declarer stop and think.  On a club lead, it looks right to knock out the A next, but then they play a second club. You cash the other top diamond and see the 9 drop from the hand which opened 2♠.  You are now in the fortunate (or is it unfortunate?) position of having a choice of plays.  You can ruff the third diamond and hope the suit breaks 3-3, or you can take a ruffing finesse against the jack, through the hand which - on the basis of vacant spaces and the spade distribution - is more likely to hold both the missing cards.

Sad to say the ruffing finesse is the losing option and your game goes one off if you choose that.  It is most surprising that there was only one declarer who ended in that position.  My partners are often unlucky.

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HotD-tue : League 7 : 29jan18 : B6

It is not often you come across a hand where the North-South pair have chosen to play in all five denominations, and at all levels from 2 through 6, but here we have one!

There were two violations of Burns' Law ("thou shalt have more trumps than the opposition") took place and it is hard to believe they were deliberate. The lowest contract of any pair was 2♣ which we can only assume was an accident with checkback or fourth suit forcing; we currently lack the details to help you avoid this one in the future!  There are three unavoidable trump losers, and declarer made 10 tricks.

The other violation of Burns' Law was a 4♠ contract, and for this one the best guess is that South had opened 1♠ and a later 4♠ cue bid was interpreted as an option to play, and that "option" was accepted. The trump quality here was rather better than in clubs and there was little difficulty achieving 11 tricks.

Of the remainder there was only one denomination with only one supporter - this was the 6 contract reached by team 5.  Their bidding started with a strong NT over which North showed his suits, and after 1N - 2  - 2  - 3  - 3N,  he raised to 4N showing slam interrst and no fiurther shape to show.  This was min-interpreted as asking for aces, and the 5 response was mis-interpreted as showing delayed diamond support.  The 6  contract was playable but the winning line was odds against (run the J on the first round).

More common that these three suits was the choice of playing in hearts, and there was one team in each of 4, 5 and 6.  They all made 11 tricks.  The pair stopping in 4 got there after South de-valued the opening hand and trerated it (being aceless and with KQ-doubleton) as a weak NT. After North had shown his suits, South felt uncomfortable bidding 3N with such good hearts and the possibility of finding a singleton club opposite, and chose to show heart support.  With a club to lose, the heart slam just depended on playing either spades or diamonds for four tricks.  This was achieveable in either suit but in practice the losing option is more attractive.

And finally we get to the six teams who played in 3N at four different levels.  The 3N choice does seem rather pessimistic and the 6N choice by three teams seems a little ambitious with a combined 31-count and no fit.  (One of these was after the same mix-up which led to 6). It was however the most consistently successful contract, making on all three occasions,  Two are recorded as having a diamond lead away from the queen, which does indeed make the contract straightforward. Why someone would lead from a queen against 6N when there were two other suits without queens, is a mystery.

Two pairs showed evidence of triying for slam, but stopping out, as the sample bidding shown with the hand illustrates. It is impossible to argue with this evaluaiton and stopping in 4N is indeed going to be the best place the greatest part of the time, as even with all finesses going wrong there are always 10 tricks. 

What is amazing is that there was only one pair played in 4N.

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Counting is key

On a low club lead, East wins the knave and continues with the Ace, West discarding the ♠3.  The ♣K follows and your 5 is overruffed with the 9. West now returns the ♠T. You win and draw the remaining trumps with the king and ace (West held  QT9 originally).  How do you continue?  

You have already lost 3 tricks, so need the diamond finesse. The diamond pips are such that you can avoid a loser in the suit even if the suit breaks 4-1. If you lead the Q at this point, this will be covered and you will not know what to do after returning to hand with a spade. East might be 2227 or 3217 shape. In order to reveal the distribution you must cash the ♠A before playing the Q. Now you return to hand with a spade ruff and see how many spades East started with, allowing you to take a deep finesse on the next round if you know that East started with a singleton. West cannot split his 98 as you still have a trump entry back to hand.

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Count the Shape

West leads the 10 against your game. You draw 2 more rounds of trumps in hand (West started with 3), and then finesse the ♣Q successfully.  The ♣A is followed by a club ruff (West following with the ♣K.  What now?

You may have been tempted at this point into playing off 3 rounds of diamonds and hoping that West has to win and give you the ♠K.  However, this would be poor play as West is known to hold 3 hearts, 3 clubs, and surely 5+ spades for his vulnerable overcall.  The winning line depends upon assuming that West holds the Ace of spades (a pretty good bet) - simply cash the  AK and exit with the ♠K.  Now you will either lose 3 spade tricks or 2 spades and a diamond trick (depending on who wins the second round of spades) but then either opponent must conced you a ruff and discard for your contract. 

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Count the Points

West leads the ♣K and you win with the Ace.  Both opponents follow when you csh the ♠A and West plays the queen on your next trump, as East discards a club.  How should you continue?

You have a club loser and a probable diamond loser, so need to avoid losing 2 hearts. It looks tempting to throw West in with a club at this point, but he may be able to safely with a diamond, and you may later lose a diamond and 2 hearts. Provided diamonds are 3-2, you can make sure of the contract by taking the diamond finesse at this point. West is marked with 7 points in the black suits and passed originally.  If he has the K then he can't hold the A. If the Q holds, continue with the A and if the King has not dropped, exit with a club.  West will then have to open up the hearts or concede a ruff and discard. 

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Careful with Your Defence

You start with the King of Diamonds and partner plays the 9 (highly encouraging in your style).  Assuming partner has the A, how do you see the defense developing?

At the table, this contract slipped away from the defenders.  West followed with the 2 at the second trick, which East won with the Ace. East now underlead his A, but South guessed correctly to rise with the King, cashed the Ace of trumps, and then discarded his second heart on the clubs. Who was at fault?  West rather than East - knows he has a trump trick and hence should continue at trick 2 with the Q.  When this holds, a heart switch forces East to take his Ace and the contract is beaten. (Note that a heart at trick 2 might be a mistake:South might hold  AKT, instead of the ♣K, and now a diamond will go away from dummy on the third round of hearts. This is quite a common situation. When you hold a trick that partner does not know about, aim to prevent him making a dangerous play. 

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How do you play?

Plan the play on the lead of Q

With so many trumps on the table, you may think it unnecessary to give up a diamond trick, and there are certainly many chances on this hand. The heart finesse could be right, the Ace of diamonds might come down in three rounds, and it might be possible to establish a spade trick in one way or another. However, you can make a virtual certainty of the contract by discarding a heart from dummy on the opening lead. East wins and returns a heart and you rise with the Ace, draw trumps and discard another heart on the K, losing just a diamond and a spade.

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Place the Lead

West leads the ♠3 to Dummy's Ace and Easts ten. You continue with the King os spades and East discards the 2. What now?

Your potential losers are 2 hearts, 1 diamond and 1 club. It would be unwise to put the contract at risk by finessing the club to East. Your contrcat is safe on the reasonable assumption that West holds the A. Just run the ♣J at trick 3. Suppose West wins and returns a club. Win the Ace in dummy, return to hand with ♠Q and lead a nlow diamond towards dummy. West cannot afford to win the Ace, so must duck. When the King wins the trick, you cash 2 more clubs, throwing a diamond from dummy. Now exit with a diamond and West must open up the hearts or concede a ruff and discard.

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County Pairs Board 19

Board 19 from Monday's pairs has some points of interest. The bidding will probably start P-P and North has a decision to make. The North hand would be too strong for a preempt in first or second position, but once partner has passed, anything goes. 4 has considerable merit but I guess most people would opt for 3♥.  East is minimum for a bid of 3NT but no other option is particularly appealing. A double might work when partner holds spades but does not work very well otherwise and in any case will 4♠ be that great a contract with this flat hand and suits probably not breaking.  2 tables played in clubs going down whilst 2 Easts played in 3NT making. At my table, South decided that it would be too difficult to set up and cash partner's hearts, and opted to lead a diamond.  This made it easy to establish 9 tricks.  At the other table where 3NT was played successfully, a heart was led and one can only assume that the defense managed to get their wires crossed subsequently - South not finding the spade switch when in with the ♣K.  On a heart lead declarer should play the Queen from dummy as this forces North to win the first trick. North wins and returns a heart.  Here North has a chance to give a suit preference signal - the J to show spade values and the T with a diamond card. When declarer plays clubs, South can gain more information by ducking the first two rounds of the suit and winning the third. This allows North the opportunity for 2 discards.  By discarding 2 diamonds, North is making it very clear that his only possible entry is in spades and a defensive mishap is avoided. 

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Manage your Entries

West leads the ♣J against 3NT.  Where do you see 9 tricks coming from?

A quick count of tricks show that you will need 3 spade tricks to fullfil your contract. Unfortunately, the club lead has knocked out one of dummy's entries, and if spades are 4-2, you lack the entries to dummy to set up and cash the spades unless you play carefully. Suppose you play a top spade at trick 2.  The defence can duck this trick, win the next spade, return a club, and unless spades are 3-3, you will be limited to 2 tricks in the suit.  The winning line is to simply duck a spade completely at trick 2. Now you can win any return and force out the ♠A, with the heart entry remaining in dummy. Now provided spades are not worse than 4-2, you have 3spades, 3 clubs, 2 hearts and a diamond.

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When you can't see anything else

On your lead of the ♣K, East plays the 4 and south the 9.  Since the ♣3 is missing, you know another club is cashing so you play the ♣A, 6 from pertner, 10 from declarer.  What now?

It looks as if East is concealing the ♣3 - probably because he does not want to encourage a switch.  It looks as if there cannot be any tricks for the defence outside of the trump suit.  When there is only one thing to play for, you must go for it and play partner for ♠ Tx.  Continue with a third club at trick 3.  When declarer leads a spade towards dummy, rise with the Ace and play a fourth round of clubs to promote a second trump trick for your side.

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How do you play this slam?

West leads the ♣10 against your slam.  This looks like a singleton so how do you set about making your contract?

If clubs were 3-2, the slam would be laydown, but the lead looks like a singleton so you will need to conjure up an endplay to make this contract. Win the lead and ruff a heart.  You can use 2 trump entries to dummy  to ruff 2 more hearts.  Now provided the trumps were not 3-0, you can play 3 rounds of spades, ruffing in dummy, and then exit from the table with a low club.  East can win the trick, but then has to lead a club or give you a ruff and discard.  

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Plan the Play

West starts with a top heart against your game.  Plan the play.

Given that West is a strong favourite to hold the ♠A, this contract is 100%.  Ruff the opening lead, Play a trump to hand and ruff another heart.  A second trump to hand allows you to play a spade to the King and a second spade.  Even if West has ♠AJx, all he can do is cash a second spade and then either play a club round to your hand, or concede a ruff and discard enabling you to get rid of your losing club.

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HotD-thu : League 6 : 15jan18 : B6

This hand was played by all teams in 3N and almost all of them by South. The leads varied and two successes came from diamond leads by West, which we can only begin to justify if rather than bidding 1North sensibly treated hearts as more important and bid 1 en route to 3N.  Of the remainder, there were four heart leads and six spade leads.  In either case the key issue is how declarer plays the club suit.

One choice seen was to start with small to the queen which lost to the king, and after that the defence had two chances to play spades before declarer could set up a ninth trick.  Not a winning choice.

Keith Stanley started by winning in South and cashing ♣A before crossing to the North hand before leading a second club.  With a choice of playing West for either KJ or JT doubleton, restricted choice tells you to go for the former, and Keith duly did this to pull in five club tricks and his contract.

The final option is to start clubs by leading small to the nine. This gains when the jack-ten are sitting under the ace-queen, and still keeps the finesse of the king as an option. When the nine loses to the jack, you win the return and try a second club.  You cannot afford two club losers, so you need clubs to break 3-2, and if East follows small you are back to choosing whether West started with KJ or JT, and should get that right.  It is more difficult if East plays the ten on the second round; here there are three Jx doubletons to consider against one KJ doubleton, so finessing the queen is indicated but fails. 

The bottom line is that 3N expects to go down, but it would be very easy for East to miss the vital play and now 3N makes!

 

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HotD-wed : League 6 : 15jan18 : B2

This was the problem faced at a number of tables on Monday; would you take out partner's double, as requested, or pass for penalties?

Here's the case for passing : your side clearly has the majority of the high card points, and they are at three level.  You also have four trumps, and you are expecting a club lead which can hardly do any harm to the defence. What could be easier?

Let's look at the case of bidding : if we disregard our diamonds, then we have a minimum hand (11 HCP) and no fit for the majors partner is suggesting.  The only valid option seems to be 3N, but we have a lot of tricks to find outside clubs.  Not terribly convincing.

It is no surprise that the majority chose to pass, but should the -670 they wrote down a few minutes later be a surprise? 

What we haven't examined yet is the case against passing partner's double : the two major factors we need to ponder are the knowledge which South has of the vulnerability, and what our defensive tricks will be.  Being vulnerable against not, South should be thinking of making say seven tricks when they bid 3 as any fewer would be embarrassing even if not doubled.  If dummy produces just two tricks, say from the major suit kings, then this 3 contract might make.  From the defensive perspective, we'll surely have at least one club and at least one diamond, but will we have more? 

This thinking led a few Easts to bid 3N as the least bad option. Success or failure was then in the hands of South.  When a low diamond was chosen, that was declarer's ninth trick (after playing out the ♠ST) and a score of +400 to East-West.  

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HotD-tue : League 6 : 15jan18 : B1

The first board last night was an uncommon shape, but was amazingly amenable to a very accurate description.  You might wonder first how often a 7600 shape comes up.  The answer is one hand in 17970, which means that in Cheltenham Bridge Club, playing 200+ deals every week, we should see perhaps three of these in an average year.  They won't all be as strong as this hand, and it might be that you are not in the seat which holds this hand (and nobody gets to all sessions).

When you open up this hand as North, there is only one thing you want to know - if partner has the club king I want to be in a grand slam, and if not then I want to try playing 6 (not 100% guaranteed but a decent chance).  Despite the strength of the hand, the best approach on hand like this is to start by bidding your longest suit.  Opening 1 and bidding 6♣ on the next round gets you to the right level, but will partner know what to do?

You would not bid like this without 12 tricks, and so you must have only one loser.  If that loser was an ace then you would have opened 4N to ask partner for specific aces.  So partner will know that the major suit aces are of no value, but if looking at the club king, partner will know that this is the loser held by North, and will produce a raise to the grand slam. If the loser was elsewhere, then North would have taken another route to slam, as you could never jump to 6♣ with only five of them.

Sometimes bidding is easier than it looks!

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