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Hand of the Day
How do you Play?

West having opened a 15-17 1NT,  leads Q against your 4♠ contract.  How do you plan the play?

West's bidding and opening lead tells you quite a lot.  Most players would lead a top diamond if holding AK, so wou can reasonably assign one of these cards to East.  Since there are only 18 points missing and West has at least 15 of them, it looks as if East holds the K and no other values.  Hence you win the opening lead, ruff a heart to hand and run the ♠9. You can then repeat the finesse to pick up West's trumps.  With a decent lie in the heart and club suit, you will probably make 11 tricks, but 10 tricks are assured with 5 spades, 2 clubs, 2 hearts and a diamond ruff.

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The Clues are There

You lead the A and declarer drops the K.  How do you defend?

The bidding and play to trick 1 marks declarer with a 6115 or 6214 shape.  You expect to make your 2 aces but where is the setting trick to come from?  

Your best hope is that partner hold ♣Kx.  In that case, you can ensure a trick for partner's ♣K by leading the ♠Q at trick 2.  Declarer has no quick entry to dummy for the club finesse.  If he leads a heart, you can hop up with the Ace and lead another spade for partner to overruff dummy.

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Another Defensive Problem

You lead the J against this contract.  Declarer wins with dummy's King and at trick 2 plays a spade to his King (partner contributing the ♠2).  How do you plan the defence?

Clearly you need to determine whether partner holds the K or ♣K.  If you win the first spade you will have to guess.  However, partner has played the ♠2, suggesting an odd number, so it is safe to duck this trick.  On the next spade partner will have the opportunity for a suit preference signal - playing the 7 if he has the K and the 3 if he holds the ♣K.  You defend on that basis.

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The Heart of Good Defending

After a very uncultured auction that featured a Jaboby 2NT raise and a wild leap to slam, you elect to lead the ♠6.  Partner produces the King and declarer the Ace.  South then plays 3 rounds of clubs, ruffing the third, draws 2 rounds of trumps, and ruffs the 4th club.  Then he exits with the ♠T, partner playing the 2 on your Queen.  How do you continue?

It looks like declarer started with ♠AT doubleton, and hence a spade return at this point concedes a ruff and discard.  Does that mean you should play a diamond?  The problem illustrates the need to count which is at the heart of good defence.  South is known to hold 6 hearts and 2 clubs, so has 5 cards in the pointed suits.  If he has a doubleton spade, he will hold 3 diamonds and one discard is not enough - you will still make a diamond trick provided that you exit with a spade at this point.  On this actual hand, declarer has made a clever falsecard in the spade suit to try and fool you into switching to diamonds.  Counting declarers hand is the key to success.

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HotD-thu : County League : 18sep17 : B14

While bidding, and in particular slam bidding, seems to dominate the swings and potential swings in most games, there are still some interesting play problems around. On today's hand you get the ♣2 lead against your 4 game.  You can draw trumps in three rounds if you wish, playing the ace then the queen and then the jack.  What then?

For all your high card points, there are three top losers and you are in danger of losing a club too. You cannot be sure at this time whether there is a club loser - the suit might be breaking 3-2 or either hand could have a singleton. Can you tell?  The fact that West had only one heart gives a strong hint that West has four clubs, and it is best to proceed on that basis.

As often when you have nothing positive to do, the right thing is to get off lead.  So exit with a diamond.  If the defence cash two diamonds and then play spades you are home.  If West leads from the ace you can make the queen and then the king provides a discard for the losing club.  If East leads the suit then either West gives you two tricks or West ducks; in the latter case, if declarer diagnoses the position (and they should) then the answer is to cash the remaining trumps  and this squuezes West down to ♠A ♣Q83 and that hand is then end-played with the spade, to lead a club.

Can the defence do any better? They can get closer but can't quite do it.  When the diamond is led from dummy East can see the problem coming, and did at one table rise with the diamond king to play the ♠J.  If declarer ducks this then East must either win the ace or be subject to an end-played later to lead a club. If declarer covers with the queen, then the defence can succeed by winning the ace and cashing the A before playing a second spade.

It is worth noting that in positions where East rises with the spade ace, declarer needs an entry to dummy to reach the king after the queen has been unblocked. You need to be careful therefore in cashing your three trumps , ending with 9 opposite K5.

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HotD-wed : County League : 18sep17 : B4

It was curious to see that on Monday, out of 12 tables, this hand saw four pairs bid a grand slam, four bid a small slam, and four get no farther than 4 . How could it be so different?

The starting point is West and the opening bid. The hand is nominally outside the range for a weak two bid, but there are three pointers to making the bid. One is the suit quality, which means you are always happy to get that suit led, and your fear of a penalty is low. The second is the 6-4 shape, and the third is being first in hand.  Monday's top scoring team started with 2♠ on this hand and North's 4 bid then closed the auction for a 16-imp gain when the other table bid the grand slam.

The auction shown happened at table 8, and benefited from the fact that the 2 bid was game forcing. This style of bidding ("2/1 game force") can lose out to Acol on some part-score hands, but it pays big dividends on big hands.  Not that this hand is impossible otherwise; the alternative over 2 is a jump to 3♠ which shows diamond support and game values, and after that 4♣ - 4 (waiting)  - 4 (cue) - 4N  will get you to 7 with great confidence.

FORM
HotD-tue : County League : 18sep17 : B2

The Great Shuffler has his/her shuffling boots on last night. There were a lot of big hands and big swings;  one match managed to divide these evenly, and end up with a draw but the Wearmouth & Stanley, Atthey & Hill team clocked up over 100 imps in the plus column.  This was their worst board, losing 9 imps when they played in 4-2 at one table and the other table played in 3+1.  

The 4 game was made at both tables and curiously both Easts failed at trick one and again at trick two - both doing the same.   What happened at both tables was a singleton diamond lead won by the ace, while East played a low card.  Declarer next tried the T which was covered by the queen, king and ace.   What West wanted to know at trick one was where East's entry was, to obtain a ruff - and this need should have been recognised by East.  If recognising it, East would make a suit preference signal at trick one, and West would know that the suit to play is spades and not clubs.  Despite lack of a signal, one West guessed to lead a spade, while the other led a club.   The club lead gave the defence no more chance, but the spade - which went to the king and ace - left East to choose what to do.  In practice East led his singleton club and declarer won to draw trumps and claim.

So what should have happened?   First things is the suit preference at trick one;  suppose that is done and East does get in at trick three and lead a diamond to give partner a ruff.  Will that beat the contract?  In fact it won't, as declarer will play small from both hands while West ruffs, and will later cross to the 6 to cash the second top diamond and throw away the club loser.  Should the contract be beaten?   The answer is yes - East must refrain from covering the ten of hearts at trick two.  Our instincts and mottos like "cover an honour with an honour" might encourage it, but you must also look at what cards you are aiming to promote.  Since South has promised seven hearts, there are no cards to promote.  If South has eight and partner the singleton heart king - the last hing you want to do is cover! Playing small works here by killing the second heart as an entry to dummy, and gives declarer the chance to go wrong by rising with the king (after all you opened the bidding). 

Do we have any stories from those who went off in 4 ?

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Listen to the bidding

West leads the ♣ K against your slam.  You win the lead and play the ♠A, West following suit.  Plan the play

Your combined trumps will take care of the minors so you must avoid 2 heart losers.  Fortunately, the bidding indicates that West started with at most 2 hearts, so the contract is assured.  After the ♠A, play a trump to dummy, ruff a club, A and another club ruff.  Then K, diamond ruff and another club ruff eliminates the minors from the N/S hands.  Now a heart to the Ace and a second heart to the Queen is a sure winning line as either the K is with East or else West will win with a doubleton K and then be forced to concede a ruff and discard, so your remaining heart loser disappears.

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and now for something completely different...

Thanks to Patrick Phair for sending us this hand.  It is a curiosity from last Monday's pairs event.  You play in 5 as East and receive the lead of the ♠6.  Whilst best defence defeats this contract, I will tell you that 5  was successful and that at trick 13, declarer ruffed a diamond in dummy despite originally holding a seven card suit!  Can you see how that might have been possible? 

Declarer won the opening lead with the ♠K over North's ten and led a club to dummy, followed by the Q.  This was ducked all around and a second heart was won by North, who exited with a low spade.  Declarer was quick to seize on this misdefence when he finessed the ♠9.  East was then able to cash 4 more black suit winners so that 5 diamonds in total could be discarded from the table.  A diamond to dummy's Ace was followed by a trump.  South won the Ace but had only clubs left.  The forced club lead allowed declarer to ruff in hand - discarding dummy's last diamond and so trick 13 was made by ruffing a diamond on the table.  Well played!

 

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Spotlight on East

After an old fashioned strong no-trump sequence, West starts with the ♠5 to dummy's Jack.  How do you visualise the defense?

The heart suit in dummy is threatening but by holding up your Ace, you can run declarer out of hearts.  All that remains is to ensure that declarer cannot get to dummy via the spade suit.  At trick 1 you should play the ♠9 rather than the standard book play of 'third hand high'.  Once dummy is eclipsed in this way, declarer will have to muster all of his tricks from his own hand and will fail.

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Count the Tricks

You lead the ♣Q and continue the suit when declarer ducks in dummy.  South ruffs the third round, draws trumps in 2 rounds, and continues with the ♠ 9.  How do you defend?

Were you tempted to switch to a diamond after taking the ♠A?  

You know that declarer started with 2 clubs and 5 hearts.  Hence South holds 6 cards in spades and diamonds.  It doesn't matter how these 6 cards are distributed.  If you rise with the ♠ A and exit with a spade, then you must eventually win a diamond trick to beat the contract. 

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HotD-thu : CBC PAirs League : 13sep17 : B25

There were three slam hands in the CBC Pairs last night, with

  • B12 bid to slam by everyone but there was only one pair bid the grand slam with the 15 top tricks. 
  • B25 bid to the good small slam at only 2 out of 12 tables
  • B28 bid to the excellent 6 at only two tables, plus one table who got to 7 (and cards were lying well and they scored +2140 on the board).

But to the bidding on this board.  There was a very common start to the auction with 1 - P - 1 - 1♠ - 3♠ - P.    At this vulnerability, West cannot afford ot bid more than 1♠, which allowed North to make a splinter bid shorwing heart support and short spades.  What can South do now?

One South saw no available cue bid and signed off in 4. This ended the auction.

Another South invented a cue bid of 4♣ which got a 4 response from partner.  This South reasoned that with such weak hearts North had to have a five card club suit headed by the AK and that slam had to be close.  He asked for aces and then bid the slam.

A third alternative would be for South to temporise over 3♠ with 3N.  This must show slam interest as you are already committed to hearts, and would allow North to take charge.

Another way of looking at this is what you expect from a partner who bid 3♠ simply after a 1-level response.  This must be a good hand - on average about 17 working HCP in the suits outside spades.  If you add this to the 11 HCP you have there, you can work out that on average you are not going to lose any tricks there.  Once you add in the singleton spade as a loser, you expect to be making a small slam.  It is still worth checking for key cards, but the slam becomes easy to bid.

Maybe next time!

It is worth noting how, if West had been non-vulnerable, a jump to 2♠ or 3♠ would have taken all the science away from bidding this slam, and it becomes much more difficult.

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HotD-wed : Winter Pairs : 11sep17 : B12

Sometimes it is clear what should happen on a given hand, and other times it is not. This is one example where the right answer is still uncertain.  We can simply report the events at four tables, and continue to ponder ....

Table 2 : West thought it most likely that the opposition had the majors and would win the contract.  The vulnerability is ideal for being obstructive, so he came out with a 4♣ opener as the highest practical option.    North was happy to pass, as was East, but South bid 4♠ .  North clearly had a wonderful hand now, with four card support and a void and well placed club honours.   She showed support by bidding 5♣ but South was a minimum and signed off in 5♠.   He was not pressed to make 12 tricks.  It;s not clear whether West might have bid 4N over 4♠ to show diamonds in addition to the previously declared clubs.

Table N : West decided here that the best description of the hand would be to pass and come in later, and the auction started P-P-P-1♠  but by this time he had forgotten the plan and he passed.  North continued with a 4 bid showing shortage and spade support.   South was enthused but opposite a passed partner it was too much to bid the slam; he tried 4 to show interest, and North now cue bid 5♣ .   South signed off with 5♠ and there the matter rested, again 12 tricks.

Table 5 : West here took it easy - opening 1 to get his best suit in first; North made a pushy takeout double, and East, expecting that his side owned the hand, bid 1.   South now jumped in spades and they North-South ended in 4♠ once again making 12 tricks.

Table 7 : here West had a tool for this hand, and was able to open 2N showing at least 5-5 in the minors and less than an opening bid.  North for reasons not yet understood felt compelled to bid 3over which South bid 3♠.   West, we are told, re-evaluated the hand and jumped to 5♣ which North doubled, and when East retreated to 5 South doubled that.   This went down two for +300 to North-South.

In total there were 6 pairs played in 5x going down - the others will have to add their stories below.  And if Allan & Toby want to tell us how they got to 6♠ , we are all ears!

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HotD-tue : WInter Pairs : 11sep17 : B4

Sometimes chances are there on a hand from trick one, and sometimes they are rejected.  But they can come back again ....  as on this hand.

Mike Lewis as West opened 1N (14-16) and opposite him Malcolm Green had a rare tool in his toolbox - a weak takeout to 2 (by bidding 2♣ and passing the forced response).   When 2♣-2 got passed round to South, he competed with 2.    North tried a natural 2N, but the bidding ended with South in 3.    The lead was the spade ten, and declarer won the ace at trick one to try a trump - but the trump queen lost to the ace.

Now knowing that it was safe, West continued with ace and another diamond - to dummy's king. A second round of hearts showed up the bad news, and declarer ducked to let West win.  At this point West tried a club and was fortunate that declarer had both the queen and jack (or this might well have cost a trick).  It now looks like declarer has to lose three hearts, a diamond and a club.  Is it possible to do better?

The answer is yes - South needs to get help from the opposition in terms of an end-play.  This can happen only if West leads away - for a second time - from the club king.  It's not by any means certain, but you must play West for exactly a 3424 distribution.  Cashing the winning spades and following with two hearts leaves West with nothing but clubs to play.

Could West have voided this?  Yes, by not leading a club when in with the second heart.   West at that point could have exited in spades or hearts - and kept the club exit for later.

Could South have made the contract anyway?   Yes also, but this is more tricky.   Declarer needs to be thinking about an end-play possibility much earlier - and to set about eliminating spades and diamonds before touching trumps. So win the spade in hand and play a diamond.  West can exit in diamonds or spades but after three spades and two diamonds are played - playing trumps will end-play West and not just once but twice.   The bidding marks West with every high card except for the diamond jack, so it's not impossible to envisage this position.  Well done if you did.

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Watch the discards

Against your 3NT, West leads a spade and East plays ♠AK9 to the first 3 tricks.  West discards a couple of diamonds.  How do you play?

So East has opened a weak 2♠ with just a 5 card suit (quite common these days).  Still you have a spade trick, 2 hearts, 3 diamonds and 2 clubs so that is 8 - one short of target.  You might get an extra trick if the clubs break 3-3, but if East were to win a club trick, he would defeat you with a club and 4 spades.  On hands that are short of their contract by one trick, a squeeze is often the answer. If West holds length in both hearts and clubs (not unlikely on the bidding) then he will come under pressure late in the play.  For the squeeze to operate, you need to first of all lose 4 tricks, else West will have spare discards available.  Hence you should duck the ♠9 at trick three.  If East continues with a spade, you should duck again, bringing your loser count to 4.  If instead, East switches to another suit, you can win and duck another round of spades to the same effect.  Once you have lost 4 spade tricks, the play of 3 rounds of diamonds will force West to give you the ninth trick.  You do however need to watch the discards so that you will know which suit West has abandoned.  Easiest is just to look out for the club suit.  If you have seen the QJT appear by the time you play out the top clubs, then you will know your ♣9 is a winner.  If the club isn't high, then West must have given up his hearts, so your 9 will win trick 13. 

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Endplayed?

Sitting West, you cash AK, partner following to show an even number.  How do you continue?

You are in fact endplayed at this point as any lead costs a trick, assuming declarer reads the position correctly.  However, try the effect of exiting with the ♠9.  Declarer will surely rise with dummy's queen, and when this holds, he will repeat the finesse, playing East for ♠Kxx.  Now when you win you have a safe heart exit and can sit back and wait to make your K for the setting trick. Leading a low card from honour doubleton looks suicidal on paper.  It is surprising how often it is the means of escape from an embarrassing situation.

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A defensive rarity

You start with the three top cluibs to which everyone follows. How do you continue?

It looks like there are no further tricks to be had outside of the trump suit.  If partner holds the Ace of trumps, there is no problem.  Could partner have any other trump holding that would produce a trick? Yes- partner might hold ♠KT.  Play the thirteenth club and partner can ruff with the ten if declarer discards in dummy.  If dummy ruffs with a spade honour, then partner can discard to the same effect.  It is a defensive rarity that the correct play is to lead into a triple void.

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Today's play problem

How do you play this contract on the lead of a low spde to Jack,King and your Ace?

East's bidding surely pinpoints the missing key cards  Draw trumps in 2 rounds (East is void), the play off the spade queen, discarding a heart from dummy.  Now Ace and another heart will force whoever wins this trick (probably East) to lead a club or give you a ruff and discard.  If West is able to win the heart trick and play a club, then ducking in dummy will similarly endplay East.

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HotD-thu : Winter Teams : : B26

Another "big" hand from Monday was this offering.  You can see that 7 is an easy make, but when you look at the traveller you find there was one pair in a part-score and three pairs played in 3N going down!  We have to ponder why there is such a gap between theory and practice.

The auction shown was a very natural auction by a pair playing a strong 1N opening.  The jump to 4♣ unequivocally sets diamonds as trumps (even though East might have opened on a 4432 shape). After that cue bids identified club control and the ace and king of both hearts and spades.  The question is - who should have taken the plunge and bid the grand slam?   Could West tell from the fact that partner went past 5 that East had perfect cards?   Could East from the 5♠ cue bid know that partner had a void club and such good diamonds?  Answers please on a postcard.

The tables where East opened 1N needed to have some suitable conventions to bid this well.  Playing jumps to the 3-level showing shortage works well, as after 1N-3♣-3-4♣  the opener knows that diamond are trumps and partner has a void club.  Now a cue bid in heart plus the ♠A and AK gives the grand slam.  Without this, the West hand has to start with Stayman in case hearts was a better contract (partner could be 3523 shape, say).  After 1N-2♣-2  you need to know that 3 is natural and forcing.   The part-score may have arisen because of a mis-understanding about this.  After that start it will be possible to settle on diamonds as trumps and probably get to the slam, but bidding the grand is difficult as the club shortage is not exposed.

The one trap to avoid is 1N-2♣-2-3N!

What happened to you?

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HotD-web : Swiss Teams : 4sep17 : B14

Bidding is indeed difficult.  This hand looks to be an excellent candidate for a 7♣ contract (making 78.5% of the time - curiosuly more likely when hearts are 6-2 when they are unknown) but nobody got close to that.

Only one pair - across 18 tables - managed to get to a slam at all (although we can excuse Malcolm & Mike who collected +1100 from 5x-5).  Why was the slam difficult to bid?

One answer might be that the North-South pair were not given an easy ride.  Most tables started P-P-2(weak)  and now North had to decide what to bid.  The practical bid - found at a number of tables was 3N.  The one table to bid a slam had South raise this 3N bid to 4N (quantitative, and partner cannot expect more than 10 hcp from a passed hand).   North had the chance now to bid the almost impregnable 6♣ slam but he went for 6N and it rolled home easily when the clubs broke 2-1.

But in fact, that was rather gentle bidding from East-West. East could well bid 4 over 3N and now 4N would be natural but it loses the slam connotations. (Dangerous if the 2 opener might be five, but that is a good reason for preferring a 1 opener in that case). North might feel it is better to go back to 5♣ over 4N, and this might indeed get a raise to the small slam.   Another way to make it more difficult for North-South would be for West to open 3. North will still bid 3N but it is no longer a jump and South cannot afford to bid on.

As so often, the more you bid (with the one exception noted above) the better off you are.

 

 

FORM
Hotd-tue : NICKO Semi-FInal : 3Sep17 : B5

One Cheltenham team has done well in the EBU's National Inter-Club Knock-Out (NICKO) over many years - reaching the final three times but losing then to Southampton(1995), Manchester (2007) and Cambridge (2012).   This year they cruised through their quarter-final and semi-final matches and their opposition in the final will be determined by a match this coming Friday.  In Sunday's match, Richard Butland found himself at the helm in this 4♠ contract.  The opening bid had shown hearts and a minor, less than an opening bid, and it all looked easy until he won the heart opening lead and played a top spade to find out the bad break.

There are now 3 trump losers looming but it is always wrong to give up.  The next step was clear - if the club finesse works the only losers are those trumps and the contract is secure.  So over to the A and cash the K to throw the losing diamond, and run the ♣Q.   West won that with the king and tried a second diamond ruffed in hand.  Ricahrd now cashed the ♣J and the ♣A and led out the ♣T.   What could West do?  He ruffed with the ♠T and led another diamond, but Richard ruffed that again in hand.  Now holding  ♠K7 ♣9  opposite  ♠98 4, he played his last club.  West was down to ♠QJ4 and could ruff with the jack but then had to lead away from the queen.   Contract made, and I forgot to say - it was doubled too!

The defence could have done better - can you see how?

The success came about because declarer was able to reduce his trumps and end-play West.   This is made much more difficult if West ducks the lead of the ♣Q, smoothly, as if declarer now runs the jack, West can win and play back a third club.  The timing has changed and the end-play does not materialise.  If the ducking of the club queen indicates the position of the king, then declarer can reject the second finesse, instead ruffing a diamond at that point and then playing club ace and another.  

Can West find a smooth duck here?  Possibilities from the initial bidding and the play in diamonds and hearts are that partner is 0652, 0625, 0643 or 0634.   The diamond discard by declarer on the K only makes sense from short diamonds - so  it is a choice of 0652 or 0643.  Whichever it is, declarer has another club and the duck cannot cost.

It's a tricky game.

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How do you defend?

You lead your singleton club against 4.  Declarer wins win the Jack in dummy and runs the J.  How do you defend?

You win the Ace of trumps and if you are to have a chance to beat the contract you must put partner in to give you a club ruff.  How you do this depends upon which club partner played at trick 1.  If partner played a low club, you cah the ♠A (denying the King) and lead a diamond to East's presumed Ace to get your ruff.  If partner held the King of spades then he should have played a high club at trick 1.  If this was the case, then you must underlead your ♠A to get partner in.  In the latter case, a club ruff will be your third trick and you will have to hope that either the ♠A stands up (unlikely) or that partner holds a slow diamond trick.

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How do you Play?

You open 1 and West makes a nuisance of himself by bidding 4♠.  All North could do was to raise to 5 and hope for the best.  West leads the ♠K.  How do you play?

You have a spade loser and 1 or 2 clubs to lose depending on the club break.  On the bidding, West is quite likely to be short in Clubs.  You start by winning the ♠A and drawing trumps (West holding a singleton).  Now you should cash the diamonds and top clubs.  No problem if clubs are 3-2.  If West has a singleton Club, you just exit with a spade and West will be forced to give you a ruff and discard, so you will just lose 1 spade and 1 club.

FORM
What's the best line?

West leads the ♠8 to East's ♠A.  At trick 2, East switches to the J.  You try the Queen, but this loses and a heart is returned.  What is the best line now?

If you lose the lead before taking 8 more tricks you will certainly be defeated.  You currently have 3 spades, a heart, a diamond and 2 clubs as top tricks so need 2 more.  Obviously if the diamond finesse works you will be home and dry, but you can give yourself an extra chance by playing clubs first.  Cash the Ace and King of clubs.  If the Queen falls, you can take 2 more club tricks using the spade suit as an entry.  Now you have 9 tricks.  At this point you can lead the Q.  If West has the King, he will probably cover giving you the rest of the tricks, but if he plays small, you must rise with the Ace and take your 9 tricks.

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What Now?

West leads the Q, you win the Ace, as declarer drops the K.  What now?

Did you try to cash A at trick 2?  If so, score -1430.

South could have bid 4NT, but he did not do that.  Players who bid slams without asking for aces usually have voids. South's king of hearts looks like a singleton but it does not have to be.  If South has the KJ of hearts, playing the king would be a good falsecard which, in fact, it turned out to be.

If South has a singleton heart, is there any rush to take the A? - No, the diamond can only run away if South has 7 clubs in a 4117 shape.  That is hardly consistent with the bidding and in any case that hand would give partner 5 trumps so the contract could never make.  The situation you need to cater for is where West has a singleton heart, and the correct defence is to return a heart at trick 2.

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HotD-thu : Wotton BC Pairs : 30aug17 : B20

This hand from last night produced some questions about the bidding and about the play.  Let's look at the auction so far : the 2♣ bid is necessary because of the danger of anything else being passed out, and to open 3N cramps the auction and makes finding any other contract impossible.  North's 2N response generally shows 8+ and balanaced, but here as a passed hand it is limited to 8-11 hcp.  It is an underused bid these days; bidding 2 first and then trying to catch up later when partner expects nothing is often difficult. But what is South to do over 2N?  If partner has 8 hcp then with a balanced 34-count you want to play 6N, but if partner has 11 hcp then with a balanced 37-hcp (neat that you know you are missing no kings!) you want to try 7N.

The answer is a raise of 2N to 5N : this generally asks partner to pick a slam and here - with only no-trumps on offer - it gives the choice of 6N or 7N.   Here partner can happily bid 6N and that is where you want to be.  In fact, EVERY table played this hand in 6N, which is really unusual in the slam context.  What's more curious is that while six tables made the "obvious" 12 tricks, two tables only made 11 tricks.   Can you see on how that might happen with some layouts of the East-West hands?   Click ANSWER to find out.

By the way : on these hands having a mechanism to investigate suit fits is very useful.  If you give North a minimum hand with ♠A32 A4 5432 ♣5432 you have a decent 7 contract available.

We don't know for sure what happened at the table, but here's how it might happen.   Declarer will win the opening lead and the obvious next step is to knock-out the spade ace.  Recognising that what is "good" for declarer (taking the ace here as declarer intends) is often "bad"for the defence, West should look to ducking this twice.  The big pay-off from doing that comes when South has only 9 tricks outside and the taking of the ace allows a squeeze to happen. The principle of seeing the setting trick before taking the previous trick is a good one (a concept that would apply also on Tuesday's hand).  When that happens here, South can of course cash out 12 top tricks, but this game is match-point pairs.  If South can make 13 tricks then they outscore all the other pairs and here it could happen.  All it needs is for West to hold the J, so now declarer finesses the T and suddently the walls fall in.  East wins and the defence cash the spade ace; you have gone down in a cold contract and you need an understanding partner.   Would you call this good play all round?

This story is just speculation.  The truth remains a mystery.

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HotD-web : BH Pairs : 28aug17 : B20 (HAND 200)

This hand from Monday divided the field equally - five big scores to North-South, and five big scores to East-West.  This being a matchpoint pairs event the same scores could have been achieved with half the field making one less over-trick than the others in a part-score - but somehow  when it is a vulnerable game made in both directions it seems more interesting!

The bidding shown came from table two. The first question to ponder is the West opening bid. These days where a 1♣ opener is often prepared (clubs or balanced), and therefore gives little lead directing influence, it has become much more mainstream to open 1♠ when holding 5-5 in the blacks.  The 1♣ opener on this or a 5..6 shape is reserved for cases where you have enough strength to be sure of bidding spades twice later in the auction. This hand doesn't quite qualify for that. 

But whichever suit is opened North will overcall in hearts.  It was a very cheeky bid by East, 1♠ on just 2 hcp, but the spade suit has such importance that every chance to introduce it should be taken.  Here, after South started to show a good hand (with a cue bid) it enabled West to bounce all the way to the 4-level. It was normal now for North to pass, and South with five trumps to bid one more.  Five tables got this far in the bidding, but two subsided in 4 and three subsided in 4♠.

The crucial decision came over 5 - do you defend or bid on?  In practice one bid on, two passed, and two doubled.   The right choice by West isn't clear - two aces and more in defence and perhaps something from partner says that their game is going down, but with a void heart, making 5♠ for a higher score is not out of the question.  Either answer could be right on different days - perhaps the solution is to pass it round to partner and let partner decide. On this occasion partner will pass.

But now to the defence - all four tables defending 5 led the ♣T which was won by the ace.  At exactly one table of the four, West played back a club to give a ruff and then won the A at trick three to give another ruff - collecting +500.   The other three assumed that partner had led from doubleton ten and tried to put East on lead with a spade to get a diamond through.  But this didn't work.  The failing defence is plausible with the auction shown, but if partner produces a ♣T lead out of the blue when West has opened 1♠ then it should be easily identified as a singleton.

A lot can swing on these very close decisions - here in both the bidding and the play.

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HotD-tue : BH Pairs : 28aug17 : B3

There was plenty of variety in the choices on many hands last night; on this hand North-South played in four different denominations and East-West played in the fifth!  The auction shown is that of the Constables, whereby Val ended in 4♠.  

From East's perspective this contract looked to be doomed, but look what happened. West sensibly enough chose a club lead, which has an appealing combination of being passive (not giving away any tricks) and agressive (might catch a ruff).  This went to the jack and queen, after which declarer tried the trump suit. When this behaved badly, it was back to clubs to cash the winners there.  East got in with the club ace, and could cash two trumps but whatever came next South could win in hand.  It still looks like there is a diamond to lose, but Val correctly cashed her winners to see what would happen, and when they are cashed the West hand is squeezed in diamond and hearts.  Decalrer comes down to A87 opposite  K K9  and West has no answer.   Contract makes despite the bad break.

East initially felt relieved not to have been tempted by a double.  But later the thought came - perhaps I could have beaten this contract.  Can you see how?

The answer is not to help declarer squeeze partner.  Cashing the wining spades was a mistake - East needs to use two out of the of the three winners (spade, spade, club) to play hearts.   After winning the club, Val had played ♠A and then ♠K and then ♠2  which was won by the eight.  Looking at ♠JT it seemed natural (perhaps auto-pilot?) to played back the jack so that on winning the club ace you can draw a trump from declarer.   It is not clear whether East could have worked that this is not good enough, but I suspect the spade return from JT was a bit lazy!

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Card Reading

Your 2NT bid showed 12-14 pts.  West leads the ♣4 and you win with the ♣Q to finesse a heart, which wins.  You return to hand with the A, West dropping the J, and continue with a second heart, upon which West discards the ♠10.  What is going on here and how do you play? (E/W are very good players)

You should ask yourself why East did not win the heart and play back a club as that would give the defenders 4 clubs, a heart and a spade trick to set your contract.  The answer must be that East has no more clubs and does not know where partner's presumed entry lies.  Now for West - he has 6 clubs and only 1 heart.  If the J were singleton, West would hold a 5116 shape and would surely have made a 2 suited overcall.  The fact that he didn't marks his shape as 4126.  The Q is therefore going to fall and hence you rise with A to cash another heart and all the diamonds to make an overtrick.  Well done if you found this line - you have to listen to the bidding and consider the defensive play to get this one right.

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Discard carefully

West leads the ♣4 , won by declarer with his ♣A.  He now plays a diamond to dummy's Jack, cashes the A and returns to hand with ♣Q to run off 4 more diamonds.  West discards 2 hearts and a spade.  How do you discard?

You should project the hand to a four card end position in which dummy has the lead  with ♠10 AKJ.  If you are down to ♠A Q83 then declarer plays a spade and you concede the last 3 tricks.  You need to keep your hearts so must discard the ♠A, playing partner for the ♠K.  He can then win trick ten and lead a heart to beat the contract.  Yes you could have cashed the first 2 tricks but why should West lead a spade.  

It is rare to beat a slam by Jettisoning an Ace - rarer still to do it in a suit bid by declarer.   

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Heed the Bidding

You get the lead of ♣T against your 4 contract.  Plan the play.

You have 9 red suit tricks and you can force an additional trick in spades.  What can go wrong?  A problem may arise if the trumps break 4-1.  You will have to ruff the second club lead and draw trumps and this will leave you with only one trump and 2 spades to knock out.  If you lose the first spade to West, another club through your King will sink the contract.  Fortunately, you have taken note of the bidding, which clearly marks East with the ♠A.  Having drawn trumps, play the ♠K from hand.  When East takes the Ace, he cannot attack clubs profitably from his side.  You just lose one club and 2 spades.  The distribution you have to guard against is as shown.

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How do you defend?

Partner leads theK, which declarer wins with the Ace and plays the ♣7.  West contributes the ♣2.  How do you plan the defence?

Consider declarer's hand.  He has at most 4 points in hearts and 1 in clubs - thus he must hold the ♠A to have the values to respond at the 2 level and also a likely 6 card club suit.  It is clear that you must win the Ace of Clubs whilst the club suit is blocked, and attack declarer's spade entry.  Ideally, you would put partner in withe his Q for a spade switch.  However, the defence is not so clear from partners side and if you return a heart, do not be surprised if West ducks to preserve communications with your hand (playing you for 3 hearts and say the ♠ A).  The correct defence is to win the ♣A and continue with the ♠K.  If declarer ducks this trick, another spade cuts the link between the N/S hands. This is guaranteed to beat the contract and must be your number 1 priority.

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HotD-thu : ChippingC BC Pairs : 23aug17 : B26

This hand from last night presented some interesting dilemmas in the bidding and in the play.  Let's do the bidding first.  Clearly South is rather too good a hand to open with 1 and the next question is how to treat the hand after 2♣-2 ?  If you show the two suits, you have forced yourself to the 3-level and essentially created a game forcing auction as the lowest point at which you will stop is 3 and then only if you have no fit.  It seems better therefore to treat is as strong balanced. It has 22 hcp, but is above average even for that count because it has no jacks and has a decent five card suit; you must however be willing to downgrade a little because KQ-doubleton doesn't usully pull its weight.   If my ranges includes 22-23 then it fits fine; if I had to choose between 21-22 and 23-24 on this hand, I would tend to go for the higher range.  Having got that far, if North is expecting about 22-hcp balanced, what is the best course of action with the long clubs?

This isn't a problem we see every day, so thinking back to the last time might not help.  One tool which can help is the Hand generator (http://playbridge.com/pb_gen_pick1set1.php) on the internet which allows consideration of a random selection of 22-hcp hands opposite this particular North hand.  Using that tool to look at 25 hands, it seems that 44% of the time you'd want to be in 5♣ (or occasionally 5 is just as good), 12% of the time you want to be in 3N, 20% of the time you want to be in 2N, but 24% of the time you want to be called urgently to the telphone (as there is no viable contract achievable).  The North hand just has to guess which of the answers to go for, as you cannot stop in a part-score after this start to the auction.  On today's layout, the best answer is 5♣ but it will struggle with the heart finesse wrong (but it take a spade at trick one and a heart lead then to beat it - and both declarers in 5♣ suffered this fate).

At the table North chose 3N and now it became a defnesive play problem.  All the current wisdom suggests that leading from honours into a strong NT hand will cost you tricks more often than not, and that makes the diamond lead here seem to be a stand-out.  Decalrer will be pleased at this, and should cash the diamonds before trying a top club. West is likely to duck lest declarer has KQ6, and will win the next round. At this point it is vital to switch to spades, but can West tell?  If declarer has played all four diamonds then yes, as partner has had a chance to discard and can surely throw a heart to show no interst there.   If declarer has not cashed the fourth diamond, it is very difficult, but a spade is still indicated as a heart could be so dangerous, giving declarer an entry to the long clubs.

At the table, West found the fourth best lead of a spade and the defence started with six rounds of that suit. If declarer throws four hearts then it is clear for the defence to switch to hearts, and if declarer doesn't then the defence will always get the  K and the ♣ A to put declarer an ignominious down four!  Feels terrible with sucha good hand. 

On the evening there were only two declarers who made their contract, and these contracts were 1 and 2.

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HotD-wed : Summer Teams : 21aug17 : B32

The most innocuous hands can present many choices both in bidding and defence. Here in the bidding North faced the frequent question of whether to play in 3N or in the 5-3 major fit.  On any one hand either option might turn out to be best; statistical analysis in the past has been inconclusive, with neither choice showing a clear advantage over many hands.  Here North's shape being 5422 encourages a suit contract and in practice North chose 4♠.

When East led the ♣5 against this game, he created an unexpected dilemma for declarer. The dilemma was this : if the trumps break badly, then taking a successful club finesse is vital, while if they break evenly taking a losing finesse offers the defence a chance to take a diamond ruff. Which should you go for?  You are comparing (a) a winning club finesse and a 4-1 spade break which combines at about a 15% gain, with (b) a losing club finesse and running into a diamond ruff when the trumps were 3-2.  But what is the percentage on this?   It needs the diamonds not to be 3-3 and for there not to be a blockage preventing the ruff, which mihgt be about 50%.  This gives, for (b), roughly 12%, and then you have to allow something for the defence missing the right play, so perhaps even less.  Clearly you finesse!

Declarer at the table chose the club finesse and ran into a diamond ruff - down one.  Unlucky!  Or do we blame South - after all if South had not bid such a poor heart suit, East would surely have led a heart and now declarer cannot go wrong!   :)

 

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HotD-tue : Summer Teams : 21aug17 : B19

The official scorer should soon confirm that the joint winners of the Summer Teams (it being an individual competition) are Tricia Gilham, Richard Harris & Mark Rogers.  They turned up on five of the six sessions and Mark had three different partners over those sessions.   They came in the top four in all five occasions, albeit equal fourth in one session.  Well done to all.

The team they overtook was led by Garry Watson and it was this board which stopped the members of that team coming first.  This was the problem at table nine.  The 2♣ bid was either a single suited heart hand, or a hand with 4-cards in hearts plus a longer second suit.  With the North collection, you "know" they will bid their heart fit, but you have some values too; you might feel an inclination to obstruct that if you can.

Your options are bidding 2 and then bidding spades later (presumably after they bid hearts), bidding 2 as a (often limited) takeout double (they can double to ind their fit), or bidding 2N as a puppet (partner must bid 3♣) after which you will bid 3.    What do you fancy?

[LATER NEWS: other tables had North facing a similar probleme but over a 2 overcall;  now the choices are double or 2N]

At the table the choice made was 2N, which would often be a pain for East-West but on this occasion, East was able to bid 3 and that is where the bidding ended.  In pass-out seat, North considered 3♠ but since the sequence had precluded even showing diamonds, this was going to be mis-interpreted as a hand with long spades and invitational values.   The 3 contact made for +140 to EW.    When you look at the North-South hands now, you now see that those hands can make a slam in either spades or diamonds as long as West doesn't start with a club at trick one.

The contract in the other room was 4♠+2 for +480 to the other side, and 12 imps to the eventual winners.  [LATER ADDITION]  This came about because over 3 Richard made a brave choice of 3♠;  this was on the basis that partner ought to have a six-card suit and that meant there was a fit somewhere.  This bid was a surprise to North, but was raised to game and that is how they reached 4♠.

In years gone by South would have opened 1♠ on this hand, but current wisdodm is that it is better to open 1N with any 5332 shape, as on this hand you could have an auction 1♠-2-2♠ and find dummy puts down a 0525 nine-count.  Unlucky!    Those tables who did open 1♠ as South on this hand had, of course, and easy time reaching the spade game.

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Make the most of your chances

3NT.  Lead is the ♣J.  What is the best line of play?

You have 7 top tricks and your best chance of developing 2 more is to play on diamonds.  Win the club lead, play a diamond to the Ace and then duck a diamond completely.  This way you can develop 2 more tricks if diamonds are 3-3 or if either defender has Qx or Kx.  If the defenders switch to spades after winning the first diamond you will have to duck twice and hope the defender who wins the second diamond has no further spade to cash.

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Defend like Garozzo

You lead KA and a third spade, declarer ruffing the third round.  Declarer plays of AK and another club, ruffing in dummy, then a diamond to his Ace and a fourth club.  Over to you.

There are no more side suit losers for declarer so the defense have to take 2 trump tricks.  If partner holds the Q, declarer might lose 2 trump tricks, but might easily get the trumps right on the bidding, by playing a heart to the King, and a second trump bringing down the Ace and Queen.  The way to defeat the contract for certain if East has the Q is to ruff the fourth club with the A and play another spade, promoting East's Q (even if it is singleton)

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How safe do you play?

You play in 6♠ as South on the Q lead.

Which line of play gives you the greatest chance of maiking this contract?

If the ♣K is right then you can afford a trump loser.  If it is wrong, you can't, so first find if you have a club loser.  Win the heart in hand and finesse the club.  If it loses then you will have to play the trumps 3-2 with the Queen right.  If the club finesse wins then play the trumps by first cashing the King and then playing towards the A9, inserting the 9 if West plays low.  If West shows out, rise with the Ace and play towards your Jack, losing at most one spade trick.

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How good is this slam?

South plays in 6♠, a pretty good slam.  Question:  How good do you think this slam is on a club lead?

You can discard a diamond from dummy and take a heart finesse. That is 50%.  You can also discard a heart from dummy and lead a diamond to your king. That is also 50%.

Question:  Can you do better?

Win the club lead and draw trumps.  Run off your clubs and discard a diamond from dummy.  You could take the heart finesse now but you have a better plan.  Go to dummy with a spade and lead a diamond from dummy.  If East has the ace you can discard dummy's heart on the king of diamonds and if West has the ace of diamonds you can fall back on the heart finesse.

Essentially, you get to try two finesse for the price of one.  You go down only if both finesses are offside and that is just 25% of the time.

For the record, what are the chances of the heart finesse working?

50%
A little less
A little more
Other

This is a serious question.  Think about it a moment.

If you think about the bidding you will recall that East did not double North's 4H cue bid.  On auctions like this one, East might well double 4H to suggest a lead to West.  If East has a hand such that he does not welcome any other lead, he might elect to double to help West with the opening lead if West is not sure what to do.

I estimate that the heart finesse will work at least 60% of the time.

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HotD-thu : Bermuda Bowl R1 : B4

The 2017 World Championships are taking place in Lyons over this week and next week. The only British representation is the English Ladies Team completing in the Venice Bowl. Their day to day progress is recorded by the EBU and is easily seen on their website at www.ebu.co.uk

This hand comes from the first round match between some of Europe's best, Helness and Helgemo for Monaco, against long standing American champions Meckstroth and Rodwell for the USA.  The Americans are well known for not needing 24 points to make 3N and this hand shows that the style they adopted in their youth still applies and delivers when they are old enough to play in the seniors!

The 1 opener is Precision style, denying 16+ (when they open 1♣) and encompassing a weak NT. After the other three had bid, South was looking at possibly the best hand at the table and started with a redouble.  Given partner had overcalled vulnerable, when the opponents bid game he felt sure they were too high and doubled the game. 

Let's look at those bids. The 1 opener is on a hand of just average strength and just one ace and no kings; we would never consider such a bid, although the lead-directing value might justify the risk in first seat when non-vulnerable against vulnerable.  The 1♠ overcall again we would hardly consider; non-vul we might think of 2♠ but not at red. Good players are quite circumspect about jump overcalls when vulnerable, and will often make a 1-level overcall on such a hand, and that's what Helness was doing here.  The rest of the auction seems inevitable after that start, with opener's 1N bid an attempt to dampen partner's enthusiasm. Is this the same game we play?

But now to the play. Will the contact make?

The double of 3N is usually more than just an expression of strength; it often suggests that cards are lying well for the defence. Here when East has suggested hearts but West has shown no interest there, it looks like South holds the hearts and that led to theT being led.  Declarer made his first good move by covering that with the king. This gave declarer two tricks in hearts when South won the ace. He switched to the ♠T and again declarer had to find the right play, and he did - he ducked in both hands. South switched back to hearts and with the diamonds coming in for five tricks Rodwell had his contract, 3N doubled making on 22 HCP! 

Was it right to double? Actually it was, as the contract can still be beaten after the spade ten wins. How? Only by switching to a small club; this works because North can play the ♣J on winning the spade ace. Would you have found it?

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HOtD-wed : Summer Pairs : 14aug17 : B11

This hand looks straightforward from a North-South perspective and you easily reach 4.   The shock comes when you first play trumps and find they break 5-0.  Can you recover?

All those defending against 4 found a club lead, either the queen or the ♣4 when the game was played by South.  With prospects of only two spades to lose and the diamond ace, it is natural to start with drawing trumps, but curiously which top trump you play first matters.   It all comes down to the need for entries to the North hand when trumps break badly.  Winning the club ace on the lead of the queen at trick one offers you an extra club trick letting you cater for the diamond ace being offside.  But this option gets lost if you play out the 2 at trick two.  You need to play a top trump from North so that you can continue (with either minor) when you find the bad news.  It is hard to foresee that this matters; it looks more like you'd want the North hand entries later for after trumps are drawn, which inclines one towards using the top trumps in South first.  It is therefore had to criticise those who chose wrongly.

You might succeed by not playing trumps at trick two. This is reasonable as setting up the side tricks is set to become a problem if trumps break 4-1.  If you start with a diamond or spade at trick two the defence have to work hard to beat you. At that point, and indeed at trick one, there is only one defence which can beat the game by force.  This defence aims to stop North-South cashing four minor winners.  Can you see it?

The answer is for East-West to play three rounds of spades at the start, and when South ruffs high West can discard a minor (say a diamond). When East duly gets in with the A we get another spade and a high ruff in South gets another (same minor suit) discard from West and now that minor suit will get ruffed.   You cannot expect anyone to find this defence, particularly when North has shown spades.  On the auction (which did happen) 1N-2♣-2-4 the lead of the ♠ A is quite appropriate - but those in that boat chose a club.

Well done to Steve Sasanow, the only declarer to make 10 tricks (after ♣Q to the ace, A and a second club) who scores 14/14 for that.  Commisserations to his opponents.

 

 

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HotD-tue : Summer Pairs : 14aug17 : B1

This was the first problem hand of the night and it is one for which we should be prepared. Looking at the opening bid first, we can see a drop in the standards to which we are accustomed. This opening is probably not recommended but there are always advantages in bidding in first seat (two opponents you can inconvenience) and here you have the boss suit and it is a suit you would be happy to see partner lead. And it has created a problem.

What can West do now?

The way for West to describe their hand at this point is with an"unusual" 4N bid, promising at least 5-5 in two lower suits.  Here East replies with clubs as the lowest acceptable option, but South had just to many spades and could not resist bidding one more.  The 5♣  contract would have been a photo finish; after ruffing the spade lead and having the good fortune to find trumps 2-2, declarer must decide which red suit to play after using the one entry to dummy. Playing a diamond (suggested on the bidding shown as opener is more likely to hold the missing ace) works, but playing a heart (encouraged by the added chance of dropping a singleton diamond king if necessary) fails.

Over South's 5♠ bid West has another choice, but since partner's bid has shown nothing, it is clear to double to show the extra strength, and let partner decide. Here the choice is to defend, and the suit led by East determines whether the contract goes one down, two down, or three down! It's all about how often West gets end-played.  On a heart lead declarer will play 10-K-A, draw trumps, eliminate the hearts and play a club towards the queen. West can win two clubs but then has to lead diamonds or give a ruff and discard. Down one!  Better if East leads a club, as West can cash two clubs and exit in hearts to get two diamond tricks (or with A and another to get a later heart trick). Down two! Best of all is a diamond lead, which allows West to cash two tricks in each minor and exit with the third diamond, and wait for a heart trick. Down three!  A club was chosen at this table, but the other declarers in spades were all South, and the best West could do was lead a top club and that held declarer to nine tricks.

Top score went to the winning pair of the evening, Allan Sanis and Garry Watson who bid up to 6♣ as West. North passed at their table and South opened 2 showing a weak two in a major, over which West bid 3♣.  This could have been the final contract but following a sequence unknown, North chose to make an advanced sacrifice in 5♠ and this goaded East-West into bidding 6♣.  It is surprisingly often correct to lead aces against a slam but this was not the right time, and when it was chosen this was fatal for the defence, and the slam made.

 

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So Simple

West leads the K.  It looks as if you might make 13 tricks on this lead. How do you set about ensuring 12 tricks?

It looka as if you can ruff both losing clubs in dummy, but if you try to take the ♣AK, West ruffs the second club and exits with a trump.  Now you cannot avoid losing a club trick as there is only one trump in dummy to take care of your 2 small clubs.  The solution is very simple.  Just ruff the opening lead and play Ace and a small club.  Now you will always be able to ruff your remaining small club on the table.  12 tricks made.

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A Tricky Slam

Try your hand in this 6 contract.  West leads the ♠J.

It seems natural to test diamonds by cashing the Queen and continuing with a diamond to the Ace, but playing this way diminishes your chance of success. Clearly there will be no problem if the trumps break, but if either defender has 4 trumps, you will need to score your small trumps separately, and that means planning to reduce your trump length from the beginning.  The Q is needed as an entry so you should start with a diamond to the Ace.  Cash the A and return to the Q.  If both opponents follow,, come back to hand with a heart ruff, draw trumps and claim.  If the trumps are 4-1 you are in the correct hand to do something about it.  Look at all four hands to see one of the distributions we are guarding against.  Ruff a heart, play 3 rounds of clubs, discarding a spade from hand, ruff another heart, and return to dummy with the ♠K.  Now your trumps have been reduced to the same length as East's, and the lead of either a heart or the club from table gains you a twelfth trick.  If East doesn't ruff, you score your small trump.  If East does ruff, you discard your spade loser and then sit with K7 of trumps against East's J.

Obviously, success is not guaranteed in this contract.  You need a favourable distribution in the side suits.  However, the key point is to see the possible need for a trump reduction play and retain your entries appropriately.

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Plan the Defence

West leads the 7. How should you plan the defence?

Counting points gives West 3-4 only.  What useful card can West have?  The 7 looks like it's from small cards, so there can be no future in hearts, but maybe partner holds the King or Jack of diamonds and if so... Rise with the A and switch to the Q.  Look at the full hand.  Declarer assumed the East had led from QJ(others) in diamonds and played low on the Queen.  If West held the Ace, covering would be fatal.  On the continuation of a low diamond from East, declarer again played small, hoping West held Ax(x).  The defence can now cash 4 diamond tricks to beat the contract.

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HotD-fri : Summer Teams : 07aug17 : B31

This hand was played in 3N at all tables but two and at the five played by West there was always the J lead.   Two declarers made only 10 tricks - isn't that a poor show when the clubs breaking J4 opposite Q3 gives you five tricks in that suit, to go with six top tricks outside?  What happened?

The answer is that both of these declarers played the hand correctly. After winning the diamond lead, your contract is easy unless the clubs break 4-0, and you can cater for this, no matter where the void lies.  How?

By taking a finesse on the first round, either running the 7 or leading up to the 7.  This does result in losing a club trick on this occasion, but you will reap your reward when that suit breaks badly and half the others have had to lose two club tricks.

Safety plays in action!

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A Straightforward Defence

West leads the ♠5.  You cover dummy's 9 with the ♠J and hold the trick.  What do you do next? 

If the defenders switch to clubs, dummy can make a ruff.  If the defenders draw trumps, declarer will doubtless set up some heart winners.  The solution at trick 2 is to play the T, retaining trump control.  If declarer plays a second trump, you can switch to a club.  On the actual layout, it does declarer no good to duck the club to the Queen, as West can just continue with ♣ K to set up a second club winner.

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HotD-wed : Summer teams : 07aug17 : B26

This hand was a candidate for some very large swings, and it nearly all depends on the choices made by the hand shown.  The debate is still going on as to what is best after the auction starts as shown.  The advantage of bidding Michaels (2 as spades and a minor) is that partner will look at their hand very differently from the time you overcall 1♠, and of course you might get to a club contract you would otherwise miss.  On the other hand, you are not offering partner a choice between equals, and if partner has a doubleton spade you nearly always want to play in that suit.  As well as 1♠ and 2 there are two other bids worth consideration - these being 3♠ and 4♠. The latter would be an easy choice non-vulnerable but it might just get you too high somedays and that costs more when vulnerable.  What do you fancy?

The most common option taken was 1♠ and this allowed East to support hearts (2).  South passed and West would either bid 4 now or make a game try with 3.  The former rather shuts out North but the latter does allow 3♠ and that is what happened at table 8 last night.  East continued with 4and for most people that was the final contract.

One pair got to play in 4♠ (by bidding that over the opening ) and one pair ended in 5 but we don't know if that was voluntary or a good view to sacrifice over 4♠.  We have evidence of at least one instance of North choosing the Michaels cue bid here, where South played in 3♣ which could only happen as a pass-or-correct option over 2.

The fact that both sides can make a vulnerable game on this board stems from the fact that there is a double fit about, partner holding useful honours opposite West's diamond suit and opposite North's club suit.  These are very difficult to diagnose.

BTW : my favourite over 1  is to bid 3♠ .  This might buy the hand and if not, partner might well sacrifice if they bid 4.

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HotD-tue : Summer Teams : 07aug17 : B2

This was the first board with 13 top ticks, and nobody managed to bid the grand slam.  In fact (as always?) a few stopped in game.

The bidding shown is only partly realistic, as there were cases where South made a spade overcall, and there were cases where North made a spade overcall. Both bids have to count as doubtful, and there is a case for passing with each hand.  But it still takes a few useful techniques to get to the top contract.

The first three bids are simply value bids and the 3 call is treated (as in all auctions with a minor suit supported) as a stopper in case 3N is the correct contract.  Since 3♠ would now have something of the same flavour, it is useful to use jumps in this conext (and hence the 4♠ bid) as showing shortage.  When East has shown shortage, West can comfortably check on aces.  The normal responses cover 5♣ through to 5♠, and the higher bids are reserved for hands with a useful void.  Here there is every expectation the void is useful and the 6 response shows an odd number of key cards (surely 3) and a void, and this is what allows West to bid the grand slam.  Over 4N, a response of 5N would have shown an even number of key cards with a void.

If we look at the traveller for the CBC Pairs on the same hands, we find nobody bid the slam, which reminds us that even the 6♣ or 6 bidders do deserve some congratulations.

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How do you defend?

You lead the J.  Declarer wins in hand with the Q, leads a heart to dummy's K, and discards theJ on the A.  How do you defend?

Consider South's shape.  He appears to have only 3 red cards.  Therefore unless he has 7 spades, declarer holds 4 clubs.  So ruff the heart and switch to a club.  Play another club when you win the ♠Q and partner will ruff.  Your ♠A will be your fourth trick.

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A certain slam

You play in 6  on the lead of Q. Assuming the A does not get ruffed your contract is now 100%.  How do you play?

This is a hand which screams for the use of elimination and throw-in technique.

At trick 2, ruff a diamond high, return to dummy with a trump, and ruff another diamond high.  Return to dummy with a trump and lead a spade.  Finesse the 7 if you can and West is endplayed.  If East plays the 8 ,9 or 10, win with the Ace, return to dummy with a trump and lead another spade.  Again finesse the ♠7 if possible but if East plays an intermediate card this time you can afford the Jack as you will then sit with a major tenace in spades (K7) 

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Play deceptively

West leads the J against 4♠.  How do you plan the play? 

The King of hearts is almost certainly with East, and to give yourself the best chance you must play the Queen from dummy at trick 1 in order to persuade the defenders that you have a second heart in your hand.  The Queen is covered by King and Ace and you take a losing spade finesse.  Now East is likely to return a heart to his partner's presumed winner, and one of your losing clubs will eventually go away on dummy's fourth diamond.  If you play low from dummy at trick 1, East will certainly switch when in with the ♠K and may well decide that his best chance is to find partner with the Ace of clubs.

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Keep Your Options Open

Your contract is 6 and West leads the ten of spades. Either defender could have the ♠Q, but it is clearly unnecessary to risk everything on a finesse at this point.  You win the Ace.  Trumps are drawn in 3 rounds, East discarding a small club on the third round.  You are in dummy with the Q.  How do you continue?

On top you have 2 spades, 4 hearts, 1 diamond and 2 clubs.  A club ruff makes 10 and the diamonds will provide an eleventh.  The twelfth may come from a favourable diamond break or a successful spade finesse. Naturally you tackle diamonds first for a 3-3 break will render the spade finesse unnecessary.  The normal play is to to lead low to the Queen, but that will not be good enough here.  If the finesse loses, West will play back a spade, forcing you to make the crucial decision early.  Whatever you do, you have lost one of your options.  To give yourself all the chances you must take the diamond finesse the other way round, leading a low card to the Ace and then returning the five towards dummy's Jack.  If West beats air with the King, the spade finesse will not be needed, whereas if East wins the King, he will not be able to attack spades from his side.  Either way, you get to test the diamond position before committing to the spade finesse.  Note that you slightly increase your chances of making 3 diamond tricks by playing the Ace first as this gains whenever there is a singleton King, or when West has Kx.  However, the big gain comes from the fact that you retain the option of the spade finesse as well.

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HotD-thu : CBC pairs : 01aug17 : B9

This was the simplest of auctions and the contract was 1N at 16 tables on Tuesday.  The puzzle is why so many declarers made 6 tricks, and some even made 7 tricks.

It seems natural for East to start off with a top diamond, but when partner plays the nine and you see dummy's holding, you need to show some caution. This is true whatever signalling system the nine represents; it is quite common for a player to have no choice as to what to play (sometimes a singleton, sometimes to avoid burning tricks) and we should only read a message into partner's card if partner had a choice of what to play.  It therefore looks right to switch, and a club is the least dangerous switch.  Declarer ducks this and partner wins with the king, cashes the diamond queen, and plays a spade through.

It is easy to win this and cash two diamonds, but it is now you must avoid going onto autopilot.  Two things you have learned up to now must register - firstly that declarer has only 1 high card point in the minors, and if it was a 12-14 opening, then that means at least 11 points in the majors, and so at least the queen of spades. The second point to note is that declarer played the club ten on the first round.  To do this with any holding other than ♣JT exactly, is to give away a trick, and while you might find a declarer willing to do that, these are rare.  The layout looks to be very much like it is, and when you play the ♣Q you will set up the vital 8th trick for the defence, to get the contract two down.

It's not quite so simple if declarer might open 1N with 11 hcp (which we would advise, non-vulnerable) as partner might just have the ♠KQ862  and you want to be cashing out that suit rather than reverting to clubs.  But the odds must be against that one particular layout in the majors, so playing the ♣Q is still right.  If you had found this you would have outscored all six defenders of 1N in the downstairs movement on Tuesday.

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HotD-wed : CBC Pairs : 01aug17 : B8

This hand from last night brought up a number of interesting points, the first of which is what to bid in the position shown?  [Notice the 2♣ response, necessary on this shape since 2 would promise five]  Clearly slam is in the offing and there is an implication that North has at least six spades as without a second suit (5332 shape) North might have opened 1N rather than 1♠.  But this is still not enough to underwrite the slam as there could be two aces to lose or two top hearts to lose.  The answer is to consult partner and the only way to do that is by bidding 4.  This is a cue bid (usually shortage but without 2♣ being game forcing you cannot insist on that) and over this North happily bids 4, solving one problem.

South might now invoke an ace asking bid (and if not the North will) and when two aces are missing it is normal to bid 6♠.  Playing Roman Key Card, over South's 4N North's correct response is 5♠; this normally promises the spade queen but here the extra length (opposite expected 3-card support) means that the spade queen is not an issue, no North shows it.  It is tempting (and perhaps tempting enough) to bid 6N now since it is matchpoint pairs and there is no extra trick from a ruff;  it would usually only cost if North's heart control was a singleton.  The travellers show that only 3/9 tables downstairs reached the slam (all in spades), while 13/16 tables upstairs bid a slam (4 in no-trumps, one at 7-level)

Against a game-level spade contract it would be normal for East to attack with a heart as clubs are never going to generate tricks, and if partner turns up with the right cards a heart ruff might be a vital trick. Against a slam it is different, as there is a danger of giving away the twelfth trick in attacking hearts, and that is just too dangerous. It seems better to lead a minor against the spade slam and that is what people did, after which declarer could claim 13 tricks.  There was only one case of 6♠ held to twleve tricks.

When South chose to play the hand in NT it was top-or-bottom territory. There is a strong body of wisdom that advises cashing aces against slams and here cashing the A at trick one is a winner as you thereby outscore everyone who made 13 tricks.  Cashing an ace against 6N seems counter-intuitive but only one of the tables playing in 6N was allowed 13 tricks (for a complete top). Well done those ace-cashers. Defending 7N by South the lead was more obvious.

By the way, our man once underled an ace against 7N-doubled and it was the right thing to do!  Can you think when that might happen?

The answer is "at trick two" as he had already defeated the contract at trick one!

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HotD-tue : Crockfords round of 16

The remaining county interest in Crockfords died on Friday last in a match against a Cambridge team, for which both squads travelled to Coventry. This was board three and the first of five double figure swings in the first 16 boards - all of them on the wrong side.

The opening bid from West was light but the hand has too much strength for a weak two, and it is surely an opener in first or third seat (the other table passed in second seat).  After West has bid hearts so many times, it was easy for East to choose that as a trump suit, and East just had to assume that West had a high spade to justify opening the bidding - a reasonable chance to take.

The spotlight is now on North for the opening lead.  With all the other suits bid, it looked like it was crying out for a spade lead, but it was still quite likely that East-West had the ace and queen and this would be futile.  The potential for a bad heart break might have suggested to North to be cautious but with nothing in diamonds and clubs it seems like a trick must be set up to go with a hoped-for ace in partner's hand.  The spade went to the jack, then came A and A and a diamond ruff, and then trumps; when declarer rose with ♠A next, it was all over.  We only worked out later that a club lead would beat the slam - can you see how?

The other table played in 6 by East after West passed and East made a strong opening bid.  This meant that South was on lead and duly started with a spade, which was run to the king.   North tried a heart now in case partner had the heart ace and declarer won that.  The easy way to 12 tricks now looked to be a club ruff, but when South could ruff in on the third round the slam was one down.  There are some interesting issues here : if a diamond ruff was the way to make the contract why didn't North play a diamond at trick two?   If you deduce that North knows a diamond ruff won't work for you, can you still make the contract on a heart return?  And if so, what should North have returned?

Defending 6 : watch the play after a club lead.  Declarer wins and cashes A and wants to come to hand to draw trumps but doesn't want to chance the spade finesse. So it goes A and a ruff and then trumps.  But when South wins he can return a second club and this cuts declarer off from dummy.  Returning a spade after the K isn't good enough as declarer can still draw trumps and enjoy dummy's winners.

Defending 6 : on a heart return declarer has 11 top tricks and can make 12 from a club-spade squeeze by just running the diamonds.  And if North returns a diamond at trick two you are forced into this line.  But if North returns a spade, that suit is cut off and the club ruff won't work and declarer has only 11 tricks.

So we started the match by letting make a slam that could go off, while in the other room team-mates went off in a slam that was being allowed to make.   It didn't get any better  :(    There is always next year!

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Making Assumptions

West leads the 9 to King and Ace, and your ruff.  On the bidding, the ♣A looks likely to be onside, but suppose it is wrong.  Then you have four potential losers - a spade, a diamond and 2 clubs.  So how do you continue? 

One thing is certain.  If West has the ♣A, he cannot also hold ♠K, for he passed his partner's opening bid.  In that case you should play a spade to the Ace at trick 2., to give yourself an additional chance of dropping the King singleton. Looking at it from another angle, if the ♠K is onside, you dont need the finesse as then the ♣A will be right for you.  The distribution you have to guard against is as shown.

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Defending Against No Trumps

West leads the ♠J, the three is played from dummy.  How do you defend?

The first point to note is that South holds the ♠Q.  If he holds both red Aces then he would probably be too strong to respond 1NT and also he would then have at least 9 tricks.  You must therefore base your defense on the assumption that partner has a red Ace and thus an entry.  The next thing to realise is that it will take too long to establish a second spade winner.  Clubs looks like a promising source of tricks - if East wins trick 1 and returns a low club, then 3 further club tricks will be available once partner wins his Ace.  Now consider whether a club return gives declarer a ninth trick.  The answer is no because if declarer already has 8 winners at this point (say 2 spades and 6 diamonds), then he can always develop a ninth without you being able to take 5 defensive tricks (work out the possible holdings).  In practice, South is unlikely to have more than 7 winners at this point - 2 spades and 5 winners in one of the red suits. Hence a club might concede an eighth trick, but not a ninth.

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How do you defend?

Partner leads the K against 4♠.  How do you rate your chances and how do you defend?

You can see 3 tricks in the majors and the ♣K looks promising as declarer looks likely to finesse in clubs.  However, given the bidding, declarer may well eschew the club finesse.  A more promising defence is to overtake the heart and switch to a club.  When you win the ♠A, you can put partner in with a heart for a club ruff. 

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Count the tricks

West leads the 9, which holds the first trick.  As an aside - this partnership plays strong ten and nine leads, whereby the lead of these cards shows either no cards higher than the card led, or 2 cards higher.  Thus you can deduce from the play to trick 1 that partner has KT9.  At trick 2, partner continues with K, won by South's Ace. who then cashes 2 top spades before leading the 2 from the table.  What does declarer hold and how are you going to defeat this contract?

South surely has 6 spades from the bidding and play.  He has taken a heart and will win 2 club tricks with the aid of the finesse.  Hence if declarer holds the A or ♣K, the contract is solid and you must therefore assume that partner holds both of these cards if you are to have any chance.

When the diamond is played from the table, you must rise with the King in order to protect yourself from a possible ruffing finesse in the suit.  If the full hand is as shown and you play low on the diamond, partner wins and gives you your heart trick, but South later ruffs out your K to establish a discard for his losing club.

Counting declarer's tricks is the key to finding the winning defense.

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Manage Your Losers

West leads the K against your game.  When this holds, he switches to a low diamond.  Take over from here.

It look tempting to play low from dummy, but why would West switch to a diamond away from his King?  Instead of playing low at trick two, a strong alternative is to play the Ace and continue with the J at trick three, throwing the Q from hand.

This loser-on-loser play gives you a real chance of establishing a long card in diamonds without letting East gain the lead. West wins the J with the A and shifts to a spade. You win on the table, ruff a diamond high, Cross back to dummy with a trump to ruff another diamond high.  You still have the trump entries to dummy to ruff the diamonds good and get back to cash the long one, discarding a club.

If the diamonds had broken 5-1, you would have had to hope that the ♣A was onside. 

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Counting in Defense

West leads the 3 (4th highest style) to your Q and declarer's K.  The ten of hearts is now run.  How do you defend?

South can have no more than 4 hearts since he preferred to play in no-trumps.  He is also marked with 4 diamonds from partner's lead.  You can draw the infernce that South also holds 4 clubs, else why would partner not lead from a 5 card suit.  The picture is becoming clear.  South has 1444 shape and his singleton spade must be an honour to make up his quota of points.  It follows that you can defeat the contract by taking your K, then laying down the ♠A, continuing with the ♠4 to partners honour card, and scoring 2 further spade tricks on the return.

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Consider the whole hand

North leads the 2 to the J, Ace and ruff.  When you lead a club, North follows small and South wins the Ace to switch to a small spade.  How do you play?

The spade suit in isolation is a guess, but if you play low and North wins the Ace, he can return a spade and you will still need to find the Q.  If however you rise with the ♠K and that wins, you can enter dummy with a trump, throw a spade on the K, ruff a diamond and then exit in spades to force the defenders to open up the hearts for you.  Hence the ♠ K is a better play.

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Take all your chances

You play in 6 and West starts with a small trump lead.  How do you combine all your chances?

The ♠A might be onside, or the club suit might break.  You might think that there could also be a squeeze if West holds the ♠A and 4 clubs, but for the squeeze to operate, you would first need to lose a trick, else West will always have a spare discard, and you cannot give up a trick without the defense cahing a second winner - so that line's no good.

You do have one additional chance - the QJ might fall in 3 rounds, thus setting up the 10.

The correct line is draw trumps, cash AK, cross to dummy with a club and ruff a diamond.  If the QJ have fallen, that's 12 tricks, if not then test the clubs before finally playing a spade towrds your King.

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Get the timing right

West leads a fouth highest ♠6 against your contract of 3NT.  You allow East to win the first trick with ♠Q.  East returns the ♠8 to your ten and West's Jack, and West contines with ♠9 to knock out your Ace (East following suit).  How do you continue?

There will be no problem if the diamond finesse is right, so it looks natural to run the 9 at trick 4.  Suppose this loses to the King and East plays a heart.  You now have the choice of the heart finesse or playing the clubs to be 3-3.  Those with knowledge of the odds would know that the finesse is 50% against a 3-3 break at 36%, so the finesse it is.  Bad luck! West has the K and cashes his 2 winning spades.

You should not have put yourself in this position.  The best line is to take AK clubs after winning the ♠A.  If both opponents follow it is safe the play a third round winning with the Queen.  Now you know whether or not the clubs are breaking and hence whether or not to take the heart finesse when East plays this suit.  Success is not guaranteed, but you have maximised your chances.  

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Keep sharp

You lead the K against 5.  South wins the Ace, draws trumps in 3 rounds, then plays 4 rounds of Clubs (he started with AKxx).  Now comes a heart and you win with the Knave (partner following with a small heart).  What now?

You have of course been counting the hand.  South has shown up with 4 diamonds, 4 clubs and 2 hearts.  He therefore has 3 spades.  Declarer has won 9 tricks and will make his contract if he can win 2 spade tricks.  If your partner holds the Jack of Spades you will always beat the contract, so assume declarer has that card.  A low spade will gift declarer the tricks he needs.  The Ace achieves the same thing.  However, if you exit with the ♠Q at trick 11, declarer can win the King, but then will have to play towards his ♠J.  If partner holds good intermediate spades, that will be good enough for the defence to win 2 spade tricks.

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A Merry Defense

You choose to lead a club against 4♠ and strike gold when partner wins the first 2 tricks with the King and Ace.  At trick 2, you discard your heart and at trick 3 partner obliges by leading the 8 for you to ruff.  How do you continue? 

You can see that the spade suit is blocked.  Therefore declarer will need a side entry in order to draw trumps.  You must attack that entry by leading the K.  Declarer can win the Ace, cash 2 high trumps, but is then stuck on the table and has to conced you a second ruff.  If declarer had the singleton A, then there would have been no defense.  This type of defensive communication severing play is termed a 'Merrimac Coup'. Well done if you found the switch.

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HotD Thurs: Summer Teams 17/01/17 B19

Board 19 from Monday is a good slam for N/S.  What are the chances?  As the cards lie, there are 12 tricks (13 if they don't take the heart at trick 1), but let's assume that the cards are lying less well for declarer e.g. spade finesse wrong and suits not breaking.

If you play in diamonds, you will need a 3-2 trump break (68%) and the clubs must not be 4-0 (9.5%) else you may suffer a first or second round ruff, so the contract is around 58%.  Playing in No-trumps by South to protect the K, the odds improve by 5% as there can be no ruff and you can pick up 4 clubs with West by playing the King first.  The best contract is 6♣, as this allows you to set up the diamonds if they are 4-1.  Lets assume clubs break 3-1 and the spade finesse is losing.  If played by South, there will be no problem on a minor suit lead - win, draw 3 rounds of trumps and unblock the diamonds.  Now give up a heart.  There are now 2 entries to dummy to set up the diamonds and get back to cash them.  You make 5 diamonds, 5 clubs in hand (including a diamond ruff), the top spade and a heart ruff in dummy.  On A lead and a spade switch, you will need the clubs 2-2 if the diamonds are 4-1 to have the entries to make 12 tricks.  Only an original spade through the AQ is awkward.  You will not finesse as the diamonds might be breaking and this is much better odds than the spade finesse.  Now you will go down when the diamonds are 4-1 as you lack the quick dummy entries required. If you can manage to play 6♣ from the North hand, your chances are improved as the defence can only attack spades by leading a heart to South's King and West's Ace and then a spade switch.  This won't happen very often as East will surely lead a spade as often as a heart, and on a heart to the King and Ace, West will surely be tempted to try and cash a second heart rather than find a spade switch.  If West does lead a second heart, the enforced ruff reduces the North hand to 3 trumps so if the diamonds dont break, declarer will need the trumps 2-2 or can fall back on the spade finesse.  The advantage is that declarer will know the trump and diamond positions before having to take such a finesse. The chances of success in 6♣ by North are well over 80%.

Did everyone find the top spot on Monday? - not quite!  8 tables played in 3NT, 1 pair was in 5♣  and only 1 pair bid to the inferior 6contract (although as the cards lay they gained 9 imps by bidding to a making slam).   

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HotD-wed: Summer Teams : 17jul17 : B13

This hand produced a significant swing in the match between the two teams which had been leading the series so far.

The auction shown led to a contract which needed some luck, as well as some good play.  After a diamond lead, declared should start on clubs immediately as the top spades are needed as entries to ruff out that suit.  The key play comes when East wins the club ace and plays the heart queen.  Diana Nettleton, sitting North, paused to consider the implications. While the contract initially looked like it depended on the heart ace being onside, surely here was a strong suggestion it was not (if held by East it looks like East had an opening bid but had passed on the first round).

So the indicated play is to duck, and to duck the next round too. When that sets up the king and the trumps break 2-2, the contract is straightforward. So 4♠ made happily.

At the other table the contract was 3♠ this time by South (North, very reasonably, had doubled the 1 overcalled).  Again the first trick was a diamond and then came the ♣K to the ♣A and East switched to a heart. But this time, with the sight of four hearts in dummy, East did so with a sense partner might be short in the suit. So out came 3 and declared had a new worry. If the ace was onside, then ducking this trick might get a heart returned to the ace and a third round ruff, so she went up with the king, losing to the ace. Back came the ten to the jack, and then the queen, and then the nine. This generated a trick for the ♠Q and the part-score was now down one.

Tricky game this!

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HotD-tue: Summer Teams : 17jul17 : B4

Some of the hands from last night's game seemed straightforward, but this hand was not in that category.

The bidding started as shown at one table, while others started with 1N-3♠ (one level lower but still a problem). Clearly the East hand has slam potential but it could be a massive misfit, it could be right to play in hearts, or it could be right to play in clubs. How can you decide?

One useful bid, applying most clearly after 4♠ (should it apply over 3♠?), is the use of 4N as two places to play. This could be like an unusual 2NT with 5-5 or more in the unbid suits, or it could be one decent suit plus three card support for partner. 

Here 4N should elicit 5♣ since West prefers clubs to hearts, and now East can try for the grand. Whether or not West would oblige (with clubs and high cards clearly better than they might be) is not clear.  What is clear is that nobody found the club fit, the most common contract being 6 and this happening most often as a punt from East after partner's 1N opening promised two hearts.

Any better ideas for how to bid this, and on what is best over 3♠, would be welcome.

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Do finesses ever work?

West starts with J.  You are faced with a potential loser in each minor and possibly 2 heart losers if the King sits over the Queen. How confident are you of making this contract?

The key play is to not cover the jack of hearts, making it impossible for the defenders to continue the suit, at least not immediately.  So play low from dummy and win with the ace in his hand. If the club finesse is onside, 4S will be cold.  If it is offside, the club suit will be good for a discard.  But first, you must draw trumps.  It takes three rounds to do this, East having the three.

Now lead the ♣ J.  In practice this runs to the King.

Is South going down now?

Not yet.  Since you still have the queen of hearts in dummy, the defence cannot cash 2 heart tricks at this point.

East returns a diamond after taking his king of clubs.  Now you must not finesse as if it loses, West is in to fire a heart through dummy.  Instead, rise with A, cash the clbs to dispose of a heart loser, and then concede a trick to the K.  This way you make the contract even with all 3 Kings wrong.

 

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A frisky game

West opens a weak 2 in hearts, raised by East.  South probably doesn't have a 3♠ bid but felt that he needed to be in the auction.  The final contract is pretty poor, but can you bring it home?  West starts with a low heart to East's Ace, and a heart return to the King.  West now switches to the ♣3, East playing the King.  Take it on from here.

West has 3, probably 4 points in hearts, and from the club play it looks like he holds the ♣Q.  Since you need West to hold K, East will probably have the queen of spades since West would otherwise be too strong for a weak 2 the way that most people play this bid.  You need to set up the diamonds.  After winning the club at trick three, finesse the queen of diamonds, which wins.  Now play the ace of diamonds and ruff a diamond.  These are three-three.  You have been lucky so far, but you are not home yet.  Consider the distribution.  West holds 6 hearts, 3 diamonds, and length in clubs by the looks of things - hence short spades. If East holds ♠Qxx you can't draw trumps finishing in dummy.  However, there is a solution.  Lead to the king of spades and then play diamonds.  East has the Qx of spades remaining and can ruff or not as he wishes. If he does ruff, South overruffs, draws trump, and goes to dummy with the nine of spades.  Ten very lucky tricks.

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An Easy Grand?

In response to his partner's double of 2♦, West leads the Q against your slam.  You win the Ace, and cash the ♠J to draw the outstanding trump. Play from here.

If you discard one of your low diamonds on the A, you will go down, as you can see by examining the full deal:

To make the grand slam, you must discard the ♣10 on the A. Now when you play on clubs and find that the suit splits 4-0 with all of them on your left, you can cash the top clubs, enter dummy with a trump, ruff the last club good, get back to dummy with another trump and - finally - discard your losing diamond. Well played!

As you can see, a club lead would have defeated the contract, but West would always lead a diamond after his partner doubled 2 . Would a double of 7♠  by East have canceled the earlier double (indicating high cards in diamonds) and asked for a different lead?

A situation eerily like this came up in the 2009 Bermuda Bowl in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where at both tables a bid was doubled for a lead and the final contract, a slam, was doubled again. At both tables, the doubler simply wanted to increase the penalty that was coming from the opening lead he thought he was going to get. At both tables, however, opening leader thought the second double canceled the first. Both doubled slams were made for an unusual flat board.

 

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A defensive problem

South's 1NT rebid showed 12-14 points under their system.  You lead the ♣5 to partners J and declarer's King.  At trick 2, declarer plays a heart to dummy, and then runs Q  On these 2 tricks, partner plays the 2 and 2 (standard count).  How do you defend?

If partner's count signals are to be believed he has an odd number of cards in both hearts and diamonds. Given the bidding he should have five hearts and three diamonds. If this is true, declarer has 9 tricks ready to run outside of spades:  four diamonds, three hearts and two clubs.

When declarer has enough tricks in three suits to make his contract, shift to the fourth suit. Just do it!  Shift to a low spade hoping partner has the king and will return a spade and not a club. How will partner know which black suit to return? The rule is this:  if partner leads one suit and then shifts to a LOW card in another suit, he wants the second suit returned. If partner shifts to a HIGH card in the second suit, he wants the first suit returned.

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HotD-thu : Stroud BC Pairs : 12jul17 : B16

The boards at Stroud last night were hand dealt, a less common occurrence these days, but they had plenty of shape and interest.

Here the 1 opener was standard, and East now had the chance to rob North-South of bidding space and duly did so.

South supported partner with a 5 bid, but this bypassed the best contract. What was missing from South's armoury was a takeout double at the 4-level.  Even over a 4♠ overcall a double needs to be primarily takeout, given the level of preemption which happens in competitive bridge today.

Against 5 East has a lead problem; with a lead from either king possibly giving away a trick, she chose the ♠Q.  This saved declarer a guess but when dummy went down with KJT of the suit it felt like the queen had always been doomed.  Declarer had no problems with the major suits now, but had two potential losers in each minor.

Since the lead had all the hallmarks of a singleton, the first concern was drawing trumps. After cashing the ♥A to eliminate that suit, North played a diamond to the ace, thinking of putting East on lead with a second diamond and getting a club back into the AQ5. When East showed out that plan was shelved, but the idea of an endplay was still valid. So the next play was a second and a third spade, followed by a low club from dummy. When West played low, declarer ducked and now East was endplayed. The heart return was ruffed while the ♣Q was discarded, and a small trump towards the ten kept the trump losers to two and the contract was one off.

It felt bad at the time, having mis-guessed the diamonds, but even after a diamond to the ten at trick two, there are still two diamond losers.  More of concern was what happened to 4 when that was the contract. A diamond lead allowed declarer to play the jack forcing the ace. The next trick was the heart ace and when the defence didn't find the spade switch now, declarer could throw a spade on the K and use the two heart entries to lead clubs up to the KJx to make the heart game.

Anyway, I'd rather be in the spade game.

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HotD-wed : Summer Pairs : 10jul17 : B13

This was the big hand from Monday's Pairs game. The two pairs who shared an equal top had similar misunderstandings to avoid their intended 6 contract.

The auction shown started with a game forcing 2 which meant that North had the luxury of bidding 3 to set trumps, leaving lots of space for investigating just how high to go.

Switching to the alternatives if not playing 2/1 GF, your only choices are a jump cue bid in either clubs or diamonds. The catch with either of those is that partner will look favourably in honours in the other, while you know such honours are wasted. Another option was 5 as Exclusion Blackwood (asking for key cards but ignoring the diamond ace) but the problem is that with a no-ace response you still might want to be in slam, and if partner has the heart ace, how do you investigate the grand slam?

A good agreement after game forcing starts like the one shown is for the next bid to show shortage and 3N is used to deny one. This lets responder in this case distinguish between a diamond singleton and the diamond ace, so that a partner with KJx can assess sensibly. This was not available to our pair today. 

There was however some light at the end of the tunnel when South bid 4.  North concluded from partner's failure to cue bid either clubs or spades, that South lacked the kings there, and cue bidding diamonds without the ace in such a poor hand did not make sense. So partner had the A and now a 4N ace ask would get an understandable response. The 5 bid showed the heart ace and thus a means of discarding the club jack.  The grand slam was still a possibility, if partner had a singleton spade, so North continued with 5♠ intending this as an ask about control in the suit. This approach was new to South, who shrugged his shoulders and showed his spade support with 6♠ .

The other pair to reach 6♠ started the auction 1♠ -2 -3♠  after which, despite North's later attempt to offer hearts as a contract with a bid partner did not understand, led them to finish in 6♠.

Playing in spades, it is important to lead that suit from the South hand, and to cover West's card, rather than rise with the ace, to avoid losing to a 3-0 trump break. Here the appearance of the king gives you thirteen tricks.

 

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HotD-tue : Summer Pairs : 10jul17 : B11

Playing match point Pairs here, when you get the J lead and RHO overtakes with the queen, how do you proceed?

The instinct in these situations is to duck this, in an attempt to stop later development of the heart suit, and that is what happened at the table. But here it cost declarer.

In Pairs you need to think through every individual hand. Here there are ten sure tricks once the club ace is knocked out and another to develop in spades. What's more is that when you do take the spade finesse, you can only lose that trick to what seems to be the safe hand. 

The right play is to win trick one, give up the club ace, win the return and take the spade finesse. Here you will take the rest of the tricks after that.

Only one declarer managed 11tricks last night!

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Hotd - Mon - Inter Counties League Final

Gloucestershire fielded 2 teams in yesterdays finals for winners of the regional county leagues.  The Markham team finished equal first in their section - very well done.  The Dawes team fared less well.  The following hand was very expensive.

Partner opens a pre-emptive 3 and seconds later opponents are in a slam.  You lead the ♣K and partner plays the ♣3, showing an even number of clubs under your methods.  In view of East's pre-empt, this seems like an obvious doubleton and it looks like the contract is going 2 off with AK and a club ruff.  However, it is possible that East holds 4 clubs, in which case, playing off the second top club will establish the Queen in dummy.  You have to consider the consequences of say switching to a diamond at trick 2. If we assume that declarer has 3 clubs, will he be able to discard his losers on a diamond switch?  Declarer will have one or perhaps 2 diamonds, probably 6 hearts for his overcall, and we are assuming 3 clubs. Hence declarer has either 2 or 3 spades.  If declarer has 3 spades then he has at most one discard and cannot get rid of both losing clubs.  If he holds only 2 spades (KQ doubleton say), then he will have 2 discards for the clubs, but on this shape he will also have a losing diamond.  Of course, if declarer has 7 hearts and KQ doubleton spade, then he would have enough tricks, but how likely is that specific holding?

At the table, both Gloucestershire defenders tried to cash a second club - contract made.  At the other 2 tables, Gloucestershire players had stopped in game.  This resulted in a loss of 13 imps instead of a gain of 13 imps - a 26 imp swing.  Bad enough you might think, but in this competition, each E/W pair score up with each N/S pair so the swing on the board was multiplied by 4.  Swinging 104 imps away on one board is not the way to win these events! 

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Diamond Tricks

West starts with the J against your slam.  How do you play?

After drawing trumps in three rounds, the trick is to get to dummy to discard any losers on the K and Q. If diamonds are 3-2, playing South's top three diamonds would ensure you could reach dummy with the 9. However, suppose the full deal is as shown:

The straightforward play in diamonds will see West take two tricks. As it turns out, when diamonds are 4-1, the best play is to cash the A and then make a surprising play - the J! On the above layout, when West wins the Q, he is endplayed. A diamond will give you an entry to dummy, and so will a club or heart shift. No matter what West does, you will take 12 tricks. Of course, West may try to avoid the endplay by withholding his Q. However, this will be to no avail. You will play the K and another diamond to leave West on play with only hearts and clubs left, either of which will give you your 12th trick. If both defenders follow to the second round of diamonds you could then reach dummy with the 9 on the fourth round.

You might ask yourself, "What would happen if East turned up with four diamonds headed by the queen and 10?" Obviously, East would take the Q and return a club, and you would succeed only if East began with the ♣K.

If diamonds turned out to 5-0, and trumps were 2-2, you would lead the J next if it was West who had the diamond length. In all other cases of a 5-0 break, you would continue with the ♣A and another club, playing with the odds that the hand with the void has the ♣ K. When that is the case, that defender must give you and entry to dummy with either a heart or a club.

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Its pairs

The game is matchpoints, and after using Roman Key-card Blackwood, which included a 5  inquiry that revealed that North held the ♠Q but not the K, you opted for the best matchpoint spot of 6NT.

West leads the ♣Q, which you take with the ace. As you have 12 tricks no matter who holds the K, what is your plan to make a golden overtrick?

 

An overtrick is only possible if East began with the K. If diamonds are 3-2 with the king onside, using the Q and 10 spades as entries for finesses will produce 13 tricks. The problem comes when East began with four or five diamonds to the king. In that case, you will need three entries to dummy for finesses in diamonds. Suppose the full deal is as shown:

The best play at trick two is to lead the jack of spades and, once West follows, overtake it with the queen. When the cards lie as in the diagram, you can finesse the Q, return to dummy with a spade to the 8 and finesse the J. A spade to the 10 will allow a third diamond finesse and give you your precious overtrick.

If both defenders follow to the first spade, you will fall back on the ♠9 falling singleton or doubleton to give you the needed entry to dummy for the extra diamond finesse in case East turns up with four or five diamonds headed by the king. Otherwise, you will have to be content with only making 12 tricks.

 

 

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Who is to blame?

[oops , should have released this twelve hours ago]

Opening lead: ♠8  

This is what happened and you must decide which defender, if either, blew the defense.  Dummy played low at trick one and East took the first trick with the king and shifted to the J at trick two to West's ace. As there was only one diamond remaining, West thought East had a singleton and returned the suit allowing declarer to discard a spade. In fact, he now made an overtrick. He drew two rounds of trumps and ruffed a club in dummy.  However if declarer had a doubleton diamond and a singleton spade, then a diamond return at trick three would be the only defense.  

The hand can be defeated if West returns a spade trick three allowing East to win the trick and play a third spade promoting a trump trick for the defense, the setting trick. Anybody do anything clearly wrong? 

Yes, West blew the defense. But how should West know that partner has a doubleton diamond and not a singleton? Notice that East has to return a diamond before playing two more rounds of spades lest South discard a diamond on the third spade. Well, the answer may scare you, but here it is. 

If East had a singleton diamond originally, he should win the first spade with the ACE purposely fooling his partner and then return the diamond. Now West won't worry about partner having the ♠K and will return a diamond which East will ruff. If on the other hand, East wins the first spade with the KING and returns a diamond, West can reason that East cannot have a singleton diamond or else he would have won the first trick with the ACE!  

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