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HotD-tue : SpringTeams 4 : 23apr18 : B17

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

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

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

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

Out for the Count

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

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

A Far From Obvious Defence

Partner leads the ♠2 against 4  Plan the defence

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

Plan the Play

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

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

Atone for your Bidding

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

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

HotD-thu : League 10 : 16apr18 : B20

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

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

HotD-wed : League 10 : B6

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

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

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

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

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

 

HotD-tue : League 10 : 16apr18 : B23

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

 

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

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

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

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

Think Endplay

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

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

Play this Slam

West leads the K. Plan the play.

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

How do you defend?

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

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

Be Careful

West leads the A. Plan the play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neat?

Put them to the Test

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

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

Safety First

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

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

20/20 Vision Needed

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

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

HotD-fri : CBC Individual : 3apr18 : B11

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

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

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

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

Listen to the bidding

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

HotD-tue : Crockford's R3 : B25+

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

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

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

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

Protect your Assets

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

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

Defend like a Champion

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

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

An Easy Hand

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

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

Spot the Problem?

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

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

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

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

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

HotD-wed : Spring Teams 3 : B5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do let us know your stories.

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

Think it Through

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

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

Order is Key

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

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

A Popular Contract

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

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

How do you defend?

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

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

HotD-Thurs: League 9 19Mar18: B13

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

HotD-Weds: League 9 : 19Mar18 : B19

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

HotD-Tue : League 9 : 19Mar18 : B3

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


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

Defend this hand

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

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

Amend for your bidding

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

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

Careful Play Needed

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

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

Wake up Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best chance?

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

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

How do you Play?

Plan the play on the 8 lead.

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

Treat it as a true card

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

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

Patrick Phair adds : 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only one pair did not bid any slam.

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

Your best chance

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

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

How's your defense?

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

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

What's your Plan?

West leads the ♠J. Plan the play.

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

Count your tricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Thoughtful Defence

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

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

Maximise your chances

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

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

Patrick Phair adds : 

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

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

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

A Fistful of Finesses?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading a trump at trick one beats the contract. 

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

HotD-wed : League 8 : 19feb18 : B21

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

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

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

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

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

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

HotD-tue : League 8 : 19feb18 : B4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan the Play

West leads the Q. Plan the play.

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

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Combine your chances

West leads the ♠Q. How do you play?

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

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Dilemma

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

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

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Retaining an Option

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A stunning defence

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

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

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The Clues are There

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

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

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A Pointer from the Play

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

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

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Sole Concern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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How's your card reading?

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

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

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A Simple Defence

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

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

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Draw the right inference

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

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

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Plan the Play

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

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

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HotD-thu : League 7 : 29jan18 : B2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HotD-wed : League 7 : 29jan18 : B4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HotD-tue : League 7 : 29jan18 : B6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Counting is key

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

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

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Count the Shape

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

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

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Count the Points

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

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

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Careful with Your Defence

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

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

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How do you play?

Plan the play on the lead of Q

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

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Place the Lead

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

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

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County Pairs Board 19

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

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Manage your Entries

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

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

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When you can't see anything else

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

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

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How do you play this slam?

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

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

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Plan the Play

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

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

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HotD-thu : League 6 : 15jan18 : B6

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

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

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

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

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

 

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HotD-wed : League 6 : 15jan18 : B2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HotD-tue : League 6 : 15jan18 : B1

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

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

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

Sometimes bidding is easier than it looks!

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Shaping Up

West leads the ♠Q, won in dummy.  A low diamond is played at trick 2 and you smoothly duck.  Declarer rises with the K and then exits with the 9, on which partner plays the Queen.  How do you defend?

South must be credited with 7 spades.  He has made a diamond and has 2 Aces in dummy so that is 11 tricks.  The first conclusion therefore is that South must be void in clubs if you are to have any chance.  The second conclusion is that South must hold the Q, else West would have led a heart from KQ.  Now things are beginning to shape up.  If you let partner win the Q, South will doubtless try to bring down the ♣K in 3 rounds, reducing West to Kx and ♣K in front of dummy's A7 and ♣Q, with atrump to come. To defeat the impending squeeze, you must overtake the Q with the Ace and switch to a low heart.  Even if South holds  QTx, you are still giving yourself the best chance (he might play the Queen).

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How good is this game?

West starts with 3 top diamonds.  East follows once, and then pitches 2 clubs.  You ruff in at trick 3.  How do you rate your chances?

It looks like East is now out of clubs so trying for club ruffs in dummy is no good.  You lead a top spade and West follows with the Jack.  On a second top trump, West discards a club.  Now the hand is easy.  Simply play a top club from hand.  If East ruffs if he must lead a heart into your AQ for 2 discards.  If East declines to ruff a club, you exit with a low trump to achieve the same result. 

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A Sure Thing?

You get the lead of the ♠6, East contributing the ♠J.  How do you play? 

The bidding marks the missing Kings with West.  The lead indicates that West has at most 5 spades.  A simple line therefore is to win the ♠Q and cash just enough diamonds to exhaust West of that suit and then exit with a spade.  Having cashed his spade tricks, West will have to lead away from one of his Kings to give you a ninth trick.  Is this contract 100% on the play to trick 1? - No not really- it is just possible that West holds a 6 card spade suit and has led his fifth highest to fool you!  If that is the case, remember to congratulate him on his defence.

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Seize your Chance

West leads the ♠2.  Which card do you play from dummy?

You must appreciate that the correct play from dummy is the Queen, playing West to have led from Kxx.  There is no point in playing low in dummy as even if you find West with ♠Jxx, East will simply play low and allow you to score the ♠10, but denying you an entry to dummy's hearts.

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HotD-thu : Camrose, match 1 : 5jan18 : B11

This hand is not just a hand of the day - it must surely be the hand of the year, and we probably haven't seen the like of it for more than a decade. It arose in the randomly dealt hands in the recent home internationals, played just outside Belfast.

The opening bid isn't much of a problem for you, but it should ring some alarm bells. You are clearly aiming for seven spades, but before you jump there you might want to ask - what could go wrong?

There are two things which might go wrong - you might have a bad break and a trump loser, or you might find that they take a ruff at trick one before you get to draw trumps. In practice five of the six players with this problem leapt to 7♠, the other one bidding 5 and then 7♠ over partner's 6♣ bid.  After your leap to slam, the bidding goes P - P - X  with double asking for an unusual lead.  East led a club and the four heart opener ruffed that for down one.  Sad!

After the event, the discussion turned to his to bid the hand better.  Two strands of thinking developed -

a)  if you can persuade partner to bid spades before you then this hand can go down as dummy and the preempt is on lead and a minor suit ruff is now inconceivable.

b)  if partner is very short in spades, then 7 might be easy while in spades you have a trump loser.

Can you make handle either of these options?  A takeout double over 4 is a dangerous choice as partner might pass.  The cue bid over 4 is read by partner as showing spades and a minor, so it might work but here it got a club response.  The final thought is bidding 4N which, because it bypasses spades, shows the minors.  If over this partner preferred diamonds, there would be a very good case for bidding 7 .  When partner bids clubs on today's hand, you could always try a cue bid of 5 and here partner will cue bid 5♠. Just what you want! You raise to 7♠ and partner scratches his/her head.  With any luck they can't find anything to do and they pass.

This is all a bit fanciful, but I bet the players concerned won't bid 7♠ on the first round next time they have this hand!

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HotD-wed : Winter Pairs 5 : 08jan18 : B19

Not everyone was playing a strong 1N opener on Monday, but table 9 was and this is the auction from that table. The 2 bid showed hearts and a minor; overcalling at the 2-level (whether over a suit opened or over 1N) is never appropriate on a 5332 shape, and this pair were using a 2♣ overcall to show the majors and 2 to show a single suited major hand - so this was a two-suiter.

Against 2 South sensibly kicked off with ♠A, since this was the one suit declarer did not hold!  Partner encouraged and three rounds were played, declarer ruffing the third.  From declarer's perspective there were two minor suit aces and the heart king still to lose, so making the contract was well in sight. The play, however, in spades has created a problem.  If declarer plays A and a heart to the jack losing to the king then a fourth spade might set up the T for south.  The same trump promotion happens if declarer plays A and Q losing to opener's king.  What about if South has the heart king?  Now ace and queen will run into a possible trump promotion, but ace and small to the jack works out OK. 

An alternative was to cross to dummy in diamonds and take a heart finesse.  Can one tell where the heart king lies?  The spade honours are known, and the ♣A is placed with North to give a trick for the club king. There are ten points not accounted for, and North has promised 5-7 of them. So the answer is no.  But there was another catch with the heart finesse - using dummy's diamonds to do that means that there is no further guarantee of getting to dummy to play clubs.

With that in mind, declarer duly chose to play A and a heart towards the J. South won the heart king, but all there was now for the defence was the minor suit aces, and East-West scored +110 and rather a poor score for North-South. What can North-South do about this?

As illustrated, there was no more they could do in defence, provided declarer thinks things through.  But what about the bidding?  They did indeed miss the boat there; the 1N opener needs to look carefully at their shape when the opposition have come in, and be ready to make a takeout double with the right sort of holding.  Here a double would have given South an uncomfortable feeling but either 2♠ or 3♣ as a contract would work out fine.

 

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A frisky contract

How do you assess your chances on a trump lead?

You have 12 tricks on top.  The trump lead deprives you of a heart ruff so you will have to look elsewhere for your extra trick.  Whilst the club suit offers the best chances (you will ultimately take a club finesse if nothing exciting has happened), you should give yourself an extra chance (albeit slim). Draw trumps, cross to dummy with a heart and play Ace and another diamond, ruffing.  If a top honour falls you can go back to dummy with a club to lead another diamond.  If either defender started life with  KQx, you have your thirteenth trick.

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A defensive problem

You start with 2 top diamonds, declarer ruffing the second round.  South now draws trumps in 3 rounds and finesses the ♣Q.  Partner wins the ♣K and returns the 5.  How do you defend from here?

This one should be easy.  On the bidding it is very unlikely that East holds the K  You should appreciate that partner is trying to kill dummy's entry to the club suit and you must play your ten of hearts on this trick.  You know that declarer has 2 clubs and a 4 card heart suit.  Even if partner does by some miracle hold the K, then you will still collect 2 hearts tricks to beat the contract.

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What's the Best Chance?

West leads a heart against your game.  What is the best chance in this contract?

You have a heart and a club to lose so it appears that you need to avoid a diamond loser.  The diamond finesse is a 50% chance - better than trying to drop a singleton King.  However, the best chance is to enter dummy with the A and take a spade finesse.  This represents the same 50% chance as the diamond finesse but you have the added bonus that you might drop the K, thus increasing the overall chance of success.

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Plan the Play

West leads a low heart against your slam.  East contributes the 10.  Plan the play.

One line might be to draw trumps and try to get the diamond suit right - but I wouldn't fancy the diamond guess if West follows with small cards.  If trumps are 2-2 then you would have 2 dummy entries to take a double diamond finesse - a 75% shot.  You could also get your entries to dummy by ruffing a heart and later using the ♠Q as a second entry. Either line might fail if diamonds are 4-1 and the defence can manage to get a ruff.  An alternative play is to just cash 2 more hearts, throwing diamonds from dummy, and then play Ace and another diamond.  This line works whenever diamonds are 3-2, and also in many cases when they are 4-1 and you can engineer 2 ruffs in dummy.  This is the best percentage line.

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HotD-thu : Individual : 01jan18 : B6

This hand from Monday presented some non-uncommon questions, of which the first was in the bidding - and it is whether or not you leave 1N in this poistion of if your take it out ....   at the event in question any takeout would be natural and non-forcing.

In a more general context two other issues apply

  • anybody playing a strong NT will have heard partner open 1N and now be transferring into spades, and sometimes you might want to play with the field, and
  • with most modern approaches - with most forms of checkback - you are not able to offer partner a choice between diamonds and spades

So - given here you have the choice, do you pass or do you bid?

At the table, there were two who chose to pass, and two who chose to bid - which suggests it is quite a close choice.  A similation of 25 suitable East hands opposite this particular West hand shows that on 17 of them you would be better having taken out - and this would be equally true playing teams or match-points, as generally the success of the contract was the issue.  A larger sample might be more definitive, but this is quite strong evidence that taking out is better, and this will guide me for the future.  Of the 17 hands taking out, there were 2 which preferred to play in diamonds (the others in spades) and on those partner might well have opened 1 rather than 1♣.

Defending against 1N, and having heard his only suit bid on his left, South led the 5. When North played the queen, East could not tell who had the king, and didn't want to duck in case South had led from the king. But after the A what was East to do?  He didn't want to finesse spades immediately into North and see a heart return, and couldn't lead diamonds usefully, but a club towards the J7 would gain whenever South had the ♣K so he tried that.  Unfortuately that lost but North continued with K and T,  which was helpful to declarer in clarifying the suit and cutting off South. Declarer, sad to say, had not been watching carefully enough to realise that this sequence of plays means that North has the two missing hearts - would you have noticed?

It was now time to play spades, finessing - so East thought - into the safe hand.  He started with the ♠9 and South played small and it won the trick.  Any gain for South by ducking here was an illusion, as if East lacks the ♠T then running the ♠9 is a no-win line nd East would be playing the jack.  East played a second spade (the ten) and South covered and declarer - still concerned about hearts with South - played the ace.  [Ducking at this point would have resulted in 10 tricks and a complete top]   Declarer now miscounted his tricks and cashed out but when the ♣T dropped he had 8 tricks.

As noted, declarer had the chance of ten tricks and had every reason to get that right.  If South has been more alert and covered the ♠9 the best that declarer can do is 9 tricks and that involves cashing out the clubs early, since the fourth club squeezes South and enables an end-play to get a diamond trick.  If North had kept communications open, by playing the T to the jack and keeping the K as an entry, then declarer would have been held to 8 tricks.   Finally, if declarer had ducked the Q on the first round, North would always be cut off and declarer gets 9 tricks.  [And if you must know - a top spade at trick one from South can hold the declarer to 8 tricks - so you might say the par result was achieved!]

Those who played in 2♠ foud life less complicated and both clocked up an overtrick to score +140 and beat those in 1N.

And they teach this game to children !

 

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CHRISTMAS QUIZ ANSWERS

These are available now for downloading (click on the title bar) - but do look at the problems before you do so.

Each answer is on a fresh page, so if you can't resist knowing the answer to problem number one, you just need to show a little restraint to keep yourself from seeing the answer to number two, etc.

Very many thanks to Garry Watson for generating these problems and providing solutions - they were a tough set, but just what we need over a holiday period.

HotD-wed : County Individual : B28

This is another example of the variations which occur in any bridge game but seem nagnified in an Individual competition.

Every table of which we know started with two passes and the choice was with East ....  what would you do?

There is no doubt that you are going to bid hearts - the question is at what level.   Here are the stories from three tables with different openers ....

East opened 1 : over this South was fortunate in being able to bid 2 showing at least 5-5 with spades and a minor.  Now West showed a little support with 3 (a risk in a 4-cd major system but the fact of the 2-suited overcall seriously increases the odds on partner being distributional also) and North now bid 3♠.  This seems on the cautious side, as you would always bid to the 3-level if partner had overcalled 1♠ and when partner is 5-5 or better, one level higher is usually right.  After 3♠ it went 4 from East, passed round again to North who continued with 4♠.  He was allowed to play there and found no difficulty in making an overtrick, losing only to the A and the ♣K.  East, it seems, had run out of steam!

East opened 4 : over this South was fearless and bid 4♠.  This could have been a disaster but if you don't bid in these circumstances the opposition will steal many contracts from you, and you cannot afford that.  West continued with a well judged 5 and now North should have bid 5♠ but chickened out, and when this came back round to South she doubled.  The contract went one down, which was good for East-West as North-South could have collected +650.

East opened 3 : over this everyone passed; declarer found he had missed an easy game and the contract made for +170 to East-West.   But that was a top!

Your choice sometimes depends on how you think the South player might react; against an aggressive player you will open as high as you dare, but against a cautious player you don't need to take as many risks.

What will you open next time you have a hand like this in third seat, non-vulnerable?

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HotD-tue : Individual : 01jan18 : B27

The County Individual does offer the opportunity for some strange results, a good instance of which is this board where - across the five tables in play - one contract made and at the other tables the hand was played in four different suits by four different declarers, all going down. It wasn't down to unfamiliar partnerships - it was just that there weree a lot of choices to make.

It started simply enough with a 1♠ opener from South but the next hand found three different options - here's how they panned out ...

When West passed : North bid 2♣ and over East's jump in hearts, tried 4♠ , to what looks like the optimal contract on this hand.  West was unable to lead partner's suit, so out came the ♣9 which was ruffed, and followed by the heart ace and a ruff, another club and then a third heart.  South judged well to ruff with the ♠T and when that held there was only the A to lose, but that was 4♠-2.

When West passed at another table : North bid a natural 2♣ and East introduced the heart suit, but just at the two level. The auction crawled forward from that and came to a stop in 3♠ by South, and the single instance of a contract making, when West made an unusual lead of Q lead and East  inevitably overtook this to play hearts. 

When West bid an unusual 2N (this choice has some flaws, particularly if partner has to choose between a doubleton club and doubleton diamond and settles for clubs) : North ignored the fact that West has clubs and bid 3♣, over which East now bid 4.   The East hand would merit bidding game in hearts most times, but when partner has promised length in both minors, and the opposition have promised values, this might be OTT.  It did however have just the right effect, as when passed round to North, out came 5♣ and that was the final contract.  It looks to be a safe place but the heart ruff at trick two beat it by one trick.

When West chose to bid 3 (as a preemptive bid this had the right effect, giving North a problem) many would have bid 4♣  but Tony Hill judged well to produce a negative double, and it went P-P-P.  The lead was a high spade, followed by a trump to the ace.  The A took care of West's second spade, and this was followed by a spade ruff, a club ruff and a spade ruff. Declarer exited in clubs but the defence were careful to cash their tricks in the right order and declerarer was held to 7 tricks.  This didn't look a bad result, until you see the ruffs which beat the spade and club games.

The fifth table played 3 doubled going down, but we don't have the story from there (yet).

Did you notice how nobody played in 3N, the only game which was making?

 

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Christmas Quiz 10

Your strong NT is overcalled with a bid showing 9 cards in the majors. West leads the ♠ K and continues the suit when you duck, East showing an odd number. You cash 2 diamonds and West follows. How do you play the club suit and why?

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Christmas Quiz 9

You lead the 5 against 3NT.  East plays the 9 and declarer wins with the King. South leads the A, East playing the 3, and follows with the 5.  How do you play to this trick?

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Christmas Quiz 8

You declare 6♣ after a strong club auction.  West leads the ♠K.  You win and return a spade.  East discards a heart on this trick and West switches to a trump. You win in dummy with the ♣8 and run the Q successfully.  Plan the play from here (trumps are breaking 3-2)

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Christmas Quiz 7

Partner finds the lead of ♣2 against 3NT which goes to the 3,10 and 5.  Your club King is allowed to win the next trick.  What is your next move?

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Christmas Quiz 6

You play in 4 on the lead of the ♣Q.  When you play trumps, they prove to break 3-1.  How do you set about making 10 tricks?

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Christmas Quiz 5

You lead the J against this game, on which East plays the 5 and declarer the Ace.  South plays off AK and a third spade, East discarding 2 low hearts and the ♣5.  How do you plan the defence?

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Christmas Quiz 4

West leads the ♠6 to East's Ace.  East returns the ♠Q. Plan the play.  Trumps are 3-1 with East holding a singleton.

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Christmas Quiz 3

What is the best line of play in 3NT on the ♠J lead?

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Christmas Quiz 2

West starts with K.  You win and lay down the ♠A, both opponents follwing small.  Play from here.

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Christmas Quiz 1

West leads the K.  Clubs break 2-1.  Plan the play.

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THE CHRISTMAS QUIZ
The 'Hand of the Day' feature will continue over the Christmas period in the form of ten puzzles for you to solve.  A different puzzle will appear each day, and for each puzzle that you attempt, you should post your answer using the form that appears alongside that day's puzzle (please mark it with the puzzle number).  Solutions submitted this way will only be visible to the puzzle setters, not to any other quiz entrant.
 
The final puzzle will be published on New Year's day and solutions will be accepted at any time up until midnight on 2nd January 2018.  A solutions sheet will be posted to the website on January 3rd.  It does not matter whether you choose to post your solutions each day, or wait and submit several at a time - either way, please only use the form on each puzzle for your submissions.  It does not matter if you cannot solve all of the problems, just do what you can.  If you do attempt all of the problems, you will end up having posted 10 separate forms.  Please note that each competitor will only be allowed one attempted solution to each problem. 
 
Hopefully the puzzles will help you improve your bridge thinking skills and hence your game.  We will accept donations of unwanted Christmas presents, but whatever comes in, there will at least be a (low value) prize in the form of a pre-owned bridge book for the winner of the quiz.  In the event of multiple entrants achieving the same score, then the winner(s) will be selected at random.  
 
We hope that as many of you as possible will find the time to enter - but in any case that you enjoy the puzzles.
A Sure Thing?

West leads the ♠K against your slam. You win and play the ♣K, East showing out. Can you ensure the contract?

The contract is now a sure thing. Draw three rounds of trumps. Only East can hold diamond length and you can cater for him having all 5 missing diamonds. Play the 10 towards dummy. If West shows out, duck the trick to East. If East wins, you later have a ruffing finesse against him. If he ducks, you can later ruff a diamond and concede just one trick in the suit. Anything less than a 5-0 diamond split makes your task easier. You can also succeed by leading the 2 towards dummy provided you rise with the Ace when West shows out.  A small diamond towards your ten places East in the same dilemma as before.

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HotD-thu : League 5 : 18dec17 : B11

It was curious to see how small differences in judgement can change the result dramatically. 

One table started with the auction shown.  The strong NT got an overcall showing one major, and South settled for 2 as a place to play.  This was passed round to East who, naturally enough, made a takeout double.  Paul Denning at this point recognised that the opposition were about to stop in 2♠ and he didn't want that so he bid 3 .  This did push West into bidding 3♠ but it also allowed North to revalue his hand; the likelihood of short spades with South so enthused him that he bid game, and there the matter rested. The defence started with a top spade, ducked, and when the club switch was not found, declarer had no trouble ruffing a spade and then playing the NT opener for the heart queen, to clock up 10 tricks.

Another table also started with a strong NT and now North overcalled 2♣ showing either single suited hearts or four hearts and another suit. South bid 2 to ask and North now bid 2 . East doubled and at this point the auctions diverged when South passed, thinking that pass and then 3 would describe the strength of this hand well.  But the auction proceeded 2♠ - P -3♠ - P -4♠  - end.  The lead was a top heart then a trump, and declared continued trumps to make the spade game. 

So South's choice over the double meant game in one direction of the other!  The swings in the two matches concerned were 12 imps and 14 imps.

 

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HotD-wed : League 5 : 18dec17 : B19

This is the board from Monday which saw the greatest number of imps change hands, averaging almost 10 imps per match.  Here are some of the stories ...

T8 : South produced an opening bid! The choice was 2 which showed a bottom-end weak two bid in some major.  This presented a serious headache for West, who got by the first round with a value showing double.  North was expecting partner to have spades but would rather play in diamonds, so he chose 2 (pass or correct) since on the next round he could bid a non-forcing 3♦. Over the 2 bid, East now had a real problem.  The East hand is enormous, and East's first thought was about 3N.  A club bid might be passed, and a jump club bid goes past 3N.  What could he do?   Because double would show hearts, he had the option, which he took, to cue bid 3.  There was no chance of this describing the hand, but at least he promised values.  The problem goes back to West, who still doesn't know which suit South holds, but he could bid a natural 3♠.  What can East now do?  With a fixation still on 3N he had no choice but to bid it. West raised to 4N to show some extras, and that got passed out. The spotlight now shifted to South, but the clubs looked more appealing than the diamonds so out came ♣J and declarer said thank you and cashed his winners.  All that happened because of that opening bid!

T5 : South passed and it was West who opened 1♠ and now North overcalled 2 which pushed East into bidding 3♣. It could all be natural now, 3 - 3♠ - 4 - 4♠ - end.  This is quite a sensible contract, but the trumps are lying badly.  North started off with a club which cuts declarer off from dummy, and forced him into cashing three rounds of clubs immediately (ditching diamonds).  The third of these got ruffed with North's ♠K.  Now came A ruffed by declarer who could have generated 10 tricks by pushing out the top hearts, but he lost his way and went one off.

T5 : here South opened 2♠ showing a weak two bid (!) and West, treating the hand as too good for a simple overcall, doubled. East bid a (non-forcing!) 3♣ and now West showed his hearts. East felt unable to bid 3N but he had extra strength, so he jumped to 5♣.  West didn't fancy clubs, so he leapt to 6N and this got passed out. The spotlight now fell on North, who just led his partner's suit, but the spade king was just what West wanted to see. So slam was bid and made, but only at this table.

Any more stories?

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HotD-tue : League 5 : 18dec17 : B16

The leading teams in Division One last night continued their winning ways, but this hand - the ppenultimate one at table 8 - could have turned that result around. The bidding was as shown, to an over-ambitious 4 game. South should really have settled for a raise to 3.

East led a low spade (playing third and fifth in partner's suit) and this ran to the king. West tried the K and then played a second spade to the queen.  From North's perspective, the failure of West to continue diamonds suggested that East held a diamond honour, and East's 9 (on their advertised carding) suggested an odd number of diamonds.  Since a 4-1 heart break means a sure loser there, the assumption has to be that the heart suit is breaking and the queen can be captured. 

So making 4 all comes down to how to play the club suit. If West has 3 diamonds and East has 5, then West will be a 5233 or 5332 shape and presumably too strong for a weak 1N opener.  With 17 hcp missing and a diamond honour with East, that would mean the club king is offside. In that case the contract cannot make.

So let's suppose West has 5 diamonds. In that case the West shape is 5251 or 5350; can the contract be made?  Clearly the clubs can be played for no loser in either case.  If we assume that West would have tried harder to put East on lead with a diamond if holding a void club, we are down to choices of playing West for either

♠ K9742  Q8  KQ874 ♣ K

or

♠ K9742  Q8  AK874 ♣ 4

or some variants of these.  You might have to consider entry problems too if finessing East  for any high cards.  Both options listed give East a pass over the 1♠ opener.  Can we improve on a guess?

 

The only key which might help is the location of the diamond ace.  Look what happens if you cross to the heart ace and lead a second diamond.  If/when West plays small, North's jack will force the ace. You now know where the club king and the heart queen are (from East's earlier pass of 1♠), so you can drop both of them to make your game. Easy?

The downside of doing this is that if West rises and lead a third diamond, you have to ruff that in dummy and you no longer have the entries you need to pick up ♣Kxxx   onside.  The winning play is for West to play the queen, and create for you some doubt about who holds the ace. 

At the table declarer took the losing club finesse, and lost 6 imps instead of gaining 7.  

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How do you defend?

Your partner leads the 4. Declarer wins the first trick with the K and plays a club to dummy's 8. How do you see the defence unfolding?

You plan to return partners suit. It looks like East has led from Qxxx. If you win the first club with the Knave, South will have no option but to enter dummy with a spade and take a winning heart finesse for his contract. If you win with the King, declarer might decide that he should play on clubs for his contract rather than risk a heart finesse. If he does play this way, you will defeat him with 3 clubs and 2 diamonds. 

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How do you Play?

Against your 4NT contract. West leads the ♣9. You win and finesse the J, but this loses to the Q and East returns the ♠J. Play from here.

This hand hinges on the heart suit. If you needed 3 tricks from hearts, your next play should be a heart to the King. On this hand however, you only need 2 tricks in hearts to fulfill your contract and the correct play is to now run the 8. If this loses to the 9, you can later set up 2 more heart winners. If you make the mistake of playing a heart to the King, you will be limited to one heart trick if the cards are as shown.

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Defend like a Champion

West begins with King, Ace and another diamond. You ruff with your lone trump, and South follows, having begun with Q98. What do you play now?

From your point of view, you don't want declarer to discard a losing heart on the fourth diamond. Whilst you don't know how the spades lie, the best defence at this point is to return the ♠K. This denies declarer an entry to dummy. At the table, declarer won the ♠A and played another spade, but West ruffed. 2 rounds of hearts followed by a third spade promoted an extra trump trick for the defence, giving them a penalty of 1400.

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Counting is key

North shows touching faith in your bidding and blasts a grand slam.  West leads the ♠3.  How do you plan the play?

The contract hinges on how you play the diamonds.  You might expect East to be short in the suit as he has pre-empted in a different suit, but this is not certain.  Win the spade lead and play 1 top diamond: lets say they both follow but no Queen appears.  Now you should cash your heart and club winners in dummy and watch what East plays.  You can infer from the lead of a low spade that East has 7 spades and West 3.  When you play off your winners, you count how many clubs and hearts East held.  If he totals 3 cards in these suits, he figures to hold 3 diamonds and ultimately you will finesse the J.  If East shows 4 cards, you play to drop the diamond, and with more than 4 cards in hearts and clubs, you resign yourself to failure.  Counting is the key.

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Sixes and Sevens

Todays hand offers opportunities to shine in both bidding and play. Once South opens 2NT, North is obviously slamming. One possible route to a grand slam would be for North to start with a transfer to spades and then jump to 5♣. A jump to a new suit in this situation is artificial - if you just had a big hand with spades and clubs then you would have continued with a natural and forcing 4♣ bid.  5♣ in this sequence is exclusion Blackwood and asks for key cards but with the proviso that partner will ignore any key cards in clubs.  South will hence show 3 key cards which North knows to be the ♠AK and the A. North can now bid 7♠. The first question is how you would play this hand on a trump lead, both opponents following to the first spade?

Clearly there is no problem if the diamonds break. If trumps are 2-2 then you can cope with a 4-1 diamond break by ruffing a diamond in South.  If trumps are 3-1 (they are), then you may get away with cashing 2 trumps and then playing diamonds. If the player with the third trump also has 4 diamonds, then you can still ruff that suit good.  However, there is an additional chance in your grand slam - can you see what that is?

If one player holds Kx then you can ruff a heart in dummy, setting up 2 hearts and a club winner for diamond discards. Well played if you spotted this line.

However, your bidding is not up to reaching the grand slam and you play in 6♠. How do you play on the lead of a heart if trumps are 3-1? 

6♠ is 100% once there is no trump loser - it is just a matter of counting your sure tricks. You have 6 spades, 3 diamonds, 1 heart and 1 club on top and you always have an extra trick in hearts irrespective of who has the K.  Just draw 3 rounds of trumps and lead the Q, throwing a diamond from dummy.  This gives you 12 tricks no matter how the opposing cards lie. The diamond suit is an illusion on this hand as you don't need to generate any extra tricks in the suit. Somehow this is not easy to see at the table.

If you look at the full deal, you will see that the diamonds break 5-0 on this hand, so 7♠ looks doomed as the King of hearts does not drop doubleton. However, this hand shows the fascination of the game in that the grand slam can still be made on the above layout. Can you see how?

Win the trump lead and test the heart suit  to see if the King falls. When it doesn't, you just run all the trumps.  East comes under pressure in 3 suits. He cannot discard 2 diamonds without immediately conceding defeat so say he bares the ♣K. You cross back to hand with the A and play off 2 clubs to squeeze East again.  

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HotD-wed : Winter Pairs 4 : 11dec17 : B23

This hand was possibly the wildest hand of Monday night. The auction shown was all natural and replicated at a number of tables.  At this point it is clear to West that partner will be short in spades (although a void isn't certain), and that you have two playable suits.  The danger of bidding 5♣ is that partner will stick it even if very short in clubs (eg a 1651 shape), and the danger with 5 is the trumpsuit is not sufficiently robust.  The records suggest that two Wests chose one way, and two chose the other.

When West bid 5,  the North-South pairs both bid on and one played 5♠-1 while the other heard a continuation of 6 and got to double that for down two (should be down one).

When West bid 5♣, it was clear for North to double and there the auction ended, for a score of +200 to North-South.  This was cheaper than the spade game many people made (it takes a heart lead overtaken and two diamond ruffs to beat 4♠), but does not compare well with the option of making a vulnerable 5.

One other option over 4♠ would be 4N, provided this is interpreted as (my preference) two places to play and here it would be clubs and diamond, or clubs and hearts.  East on this hand easily selects diamonds, but West corrects to 5 to show this hand shape.

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HotD-tue : Winter Pairs 4 : 11dec17 : B22

It was surprising to see that this hand was played in spades at all tables last night, but that some made 8 tricks, some 9, some 10 and even one made 11 tricks.  The computer analysis says that there is 9 tricks there for the taking - so what should we have expected?

Bidding first.  Missing three aces and needing at least a club finesse means that game is odds against, and at matchpointpairs you really want every game to be 50% or better.  Looking at the bidding shown, it cannot be criticised until we come to the leap to 4♠.   Choosing 3 at this point would have been more descriptive, and could prove very useful if partner was a 5341 shape.  Today partner would have stopped in 3♠ since the news of heart values was bad news.

The opening lead against North's spades varied : every suit except trumps was led (after bidding which suggests a ruffing value in dummy that would be best removed!).  The four tables with the T lead presumably did not have the bidding shown, for with a long suit trial bid from North a diamond would be deemed too helpful to declarer.  Witha diamodnlead, declarer would naturally try hearts, but there is then no way to avoid a diamond ruff which beats the game.

At other tables, after leading A which held, East could see no attractive continuation and played a second heart.  Declarer liked that, and quickly tried K and Q, throwing clubs.  Since there were only two discards the losers which might go were a club or a diamond;  the instinct is to ditch clubs but in fact the ♣ A is onside 50% of the time, while the fourth diamond is a winner only 36% of the time - so it should have been a diamond which was discarded.  After East ruffed the third heart, it was a club to the ace, and declarer was left with a diamond and a spade still to lose.  Down two was not a good result.

After a less attacking club lead, West needs to switch to a spade at trick two to stop declarer making ten tricks.  Any other continuation allows declarer to both take a club ruff and reach the A to discard the losing diamond.  Both clucb leads resulted in 9 tricks, so well done that defence.

 

 

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Prize-winner

You start with the ♠6 against 3NT. Partner plays the 2 and declarer the 5.  On a diamond from dummy, East plays the 3 and South the Queen.  What now?

It is clear that South holds ♠AQx and it is going to be impossible to beat the contract unless you can shut out dummy's diamonds.  The way to do this is to play the Q, a little known blocking play.  If the Queen is covered by the King, partner must play his part and duck.  To lead a low heart instead of the Queen is not so effective.  South will let it ride round to his 10 and will subsequently enter dummy by finessing the J  

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How do you Play?

West leads the ♣10.  Plan the play.

Count your tricks as always.  The club lead means you have 5 spades, 2 clubs and 2 diamonds so you are on trick short.  The extra trick might come from a successful diamond finesse, or the cards might lie in such a way that you make a heart trick.  However, a little thought will show that you will always make a heart trick if the opponents lead the suit rather you you having to broach it yourself.  You should therefore draw trumps and cash your clubs before playing 3 rounds of diamonds, refusing the finesse.  Whoever wins this trick will have to open the hearts or give you a ruff and discard.

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Make the Right Assumption

West starts with the K.  Plan the play.

This is an example of a second degree assumption.  If you are to have any chance of making the contract, the A must be with West.  If this is the case he cannot hold the ♠A - else he would have had enough to open the bidding.  Since you can only lead trumps once from dummy, you should win the heart and lead a spade, playing the King if East plays low.  You hope the full layout is akin to that shown. 

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HotD-thu : Swiss Teams : 4dec17 : B9

This was a curious hand from Monday; it wasn't the only time that both sides played the hand in hearts (B19 had North in 3 and West in 2, both doubled and going down) but it seems a bid more strange when we have two North-South pairs playing in hearts, while in the other direction we get one pair playing in a heart partscore, one in a heart game, and a third in a heart slam.

Here's how some of that happened.  The cases of North playing hearts both arose on the same sequence - the one illustrated.  Was this reasonable?  It's hard to deny's North's viewpoint that the opponents are comfortable in 2, and the North hand isn't suitable for a takeout double.  Bidding 2 must therefore be a reaonable option. South, on hearing 2 will be sure that isn't the ideal spot, but might be scared of digging a bigger hole, and the fact is that the opponents haven't doubled yet.  The problem is that North could have a few more HCP at this point, and either 2N or 3♣ could be a vialble contract.  But it's hard to criticise passing, and in fact losing -100 or -150 as they did is only a tiny bit below the Butler datum for the hand (-90) so there can be no complaint.

At another table, South decided to bid 2♣ over the opening 1; it's a little stretch but it does take away 1-level major suit bids from West and this is often useful.  It backfired here as it forced West into a takeout double (suggesting both majors) and that meant it was easy for East to bid 3 showing extras and hearts.  This was the final contract and initially there was a regret at not bidding game, but when it turned out that only a helpful club lead lets game make, it felt that justice had been served.

Another table it started 1 - P - 1♠ - P - 2 - P - 2.  This last bid is treated as a one round force by most players these days, and that makes it rather an overbid here.  It would not have been so bad had partner made a measured raise, but the East hand - thinking that it was so much better than a 2 rebid might be - immediately jumped to 6 and the opposition passed that out.  Definitely a partnership in harmony, when they both overbid by quite as much!

What should have happened?  Limited hands with 5♠ 4 are known to be a bidding problem when partner opens and rebids a minor.  The worse case is a 5=4=4=0  shape opposite a 0=4=4=5  shape where the bidding goes 1♣ - 1♠ - 2♣ - P  and you play in a 5-0 trump fit with two eight card fits on the side. In recognition of this it is now common (particularly in the US) to play that a 2 responjse to either 1♣ or 1 openings is a limited hand with five spades and four or five hearts.  It goes by the name of "reverse Flannery" in some circles, and is part of the Bridge World Standard (you can find this on the internet) which has recently been revised following an extensive poll of experts and readers.

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HotD-wed : Swiss teams : 4dec17 : B10

All pairs sitting East-West were left frustrated on Monday when they finished this hand - even the pair who did actually gain 13 imps. Thie bidding shown was a common start to the auction.  The question is what should the next two bids be?

The dilemma faced by East is not an uncommon one - the problem being that East doesn't know whether West is seeking out the right game (in which spade support is what matters) or fishing for a slam (in which case club support is what matters).  The most sophisticated bidders have a tool to deal with this problem - in these circumstances they bid 4-of-the-other-minor who show support for both suits.  Then it is up to opener to signoff if game was all that was wanted, and to cue bid if slam was the intention.

Without that tool (and here the 4 bid still leaves an awkwardness) all Easts we know of chose to bid 3♠.  At this point - given there are 12 tricks on top - it must be right for West to tell partner that some slam consideration is due, and that is done by bidding either 4♣ or 4 over the preference for spades. East has an ENORMOUS hand now - brilliant controls and lots of points in partner's suits - and having heard partner make the smallest of slam moves opposite a hand which could have been so much less suitable (even though the worst opener could have bid 4♠ on the previous round), East cannot now stop short of slam. If you are always bidding slam you should allow for partner trying for a grand slam, but with a 5-3 spade fit in sight (West knows that East didn't break the transfer request) West can see that the limit is a small slam.  Yet only one pair managed to get this far!

[The 4♣ and 4 bids here have been discussed in a previous column, and using them to bid out shape is often of greater value that use as a cue bid; here 4♣ could show the 5-5 shape, or 4 could show shortage but common to both is that a slam is on the horizon, and either option will enthuse East]

The winning contract however is 7♣ and it seems we are nowhere near that on the above sequence. As an alternative East might have bid 4♣ over partner's 3♣ and this would be followed by West cue bidding 4, hearing 4, and now possibly checking on aces.  All key cards and the trump queen are shown by 5♠ and West might well envisage the possibility of partner having the ♠K (ie perfect cards).  A try with 5N could be considered worthwhile, as even if partner bids the grand with the wrong king, the slam should be no worse than 50%, but this isn't satisfactory.

One table started 1(!) - 1♠ - 1N(12-14) - 3♣  which promised 5-5 shape (else the bidding goes through checkback) and game forcing values.  Here supporting clubs is easier since it is a known 9-card fit, and ending in 5♣ is not a worrying option.  Cue bids of 4 and 4 should follow.  From the reasoning above, East should drive to the slam. 

Is it possible to bid the grand slam in clubs?   Once we get to the 4 cue in the above sequences West might take control but a smart West might also recognise the dilemma of not knowing the right level after 4N-5♠ and for that reason prefer to continue the cue bids with 4♠.  East now, in driving forward, should check on aces and after a 5 response from West, East has room for a 5♠ cue bid (or an asking bid would have the same effect) allowing West to bid the grand.  The bottom line is that it is rarely impossible to bid to the right contract, but sometimes a few good views need to be taken en route.

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HotD-tue : Swiss Teams : 4dec17 : B4

This was a fascinating hand at some tables last night, but a very boring hand when West got to play in 3N as there were ten top tricks there. You have the same tricks in diamonds and the problem is, playing in 5, to conjure up an eleventh.

The leads found in practice were a small spade (twice) and a small diamond (six times) but both were equally passive and left declarer in charge.  The spade loser is inevitable and it comes down to how to avoid two heart losers (and make two tricks from heart plays).  The answer has to involve some form of elimination and then end-play. Declarer cannot waste too many dummy entries, but if clubs are played in time, two rounds can be ruffed and declarer ends with trumps in each hand and ♠J4J83  opposite ♠A6A72.   The start has to be the spade ace if that didn't go at trick one, and then another spade.

The bidding and the play makes you quite certain that North had two hearts and South has five. When the win the second spade and play hearts you have two options. If North has doubleton honour then ace and another end-plays that hand.  If North has a small doubleton, then when South is on lead they will be stuck. But which is it?

There are 10 ways North could have doubleton honour, and 10 ways they  might have doubleton small.  Problem not yet  solved. We have to look to the bidding for clues. We need to ask whether North would have overcalled 1♠ with a 6-count and 5224 shape.  The answer, at this vulnerability, is probably not.  So when West gets the chance, it should be ace and another heart.  North wins and gives you a ruff and discard.  You ruff in either hand,  and discard a heart from the other.  You deserve your +600 for doing that.

 

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Spot the Danger

West cashes the A and switches to the ♣K.  Plan the play.

With West marked with all the missing high cards, the danger is that spades break badly.  You should therefore win the ♣A and play a spade towards dummy.  When the Jack holds, return with a diamond to play another low spade towards dummy's Queen.  All that West can do is win one spade, one heart and one club trick.

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How do you defend?

You lead the ♠K and this holds trick 1.  How do you plan the defence?

It is difficult to see declarer succeeding unless he has a solid club suit.  Since you know that as the cards lie, he cannot overtake in clubs, you must attack South's only possible entry - the A.

At trick 2 switch to the K and if this is ducked, continue with another heart.

If instead you play a second spade at trick 2, declarer wins, cashes dummy's clubs and returns to hand with the A to take his remaining club tricks.  In the endgame you will have to concede the ninth trick.

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Careful Play Needed

After West has opened with 1♠, he leads the ♠5 against 3NT.  Plan the play.

On this hand it is all too easy to allow the first trick to run round to your hand and to win cheaply with the ♠10.  This is careless play.  If your ♠10 is forced out at trick 1, when you knock out the ♣A, West will win and play ♠ AJ.  This sets up another spade trick for when he wins the A.  On the reasonabkle assumption that West hold all the missing Aces, you must play the ♠Q from dummy at trick 1.  Now West cannot attack spades again without conceding 3 tricks in the suit, bringing your total winners to 9.

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How do you Play?

West leads the ♠4 to East's ♠10.  Plan the play.

If South held ♠Kxx, it would be easy to see the need to duck.  There are 2 diamond honours to knock out and this can be done safely if they are divided or if East holds both.  By ducking the first spade, declarer ensures that East will not have a spade to return when he gets in with his diamond honour.  A little thought will show that with West marked with the ♠K, the ♠QJ are effectively the same as holding the King - hence you should duck at trick 1.  If you win trick 1 and play a diamond, East can win and return his spade and West will clear the suit with a diamond entry to enjoy the established spades.  If you duck trick 1, East will return a spade, but you have 2 spade stops and now East is out of spades when he wins his diamond trick.

[If West held both diamond honours, there must have been a good chance of the hand opening the bidding]

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HotD-thu : Mixed Pairs : 27nov17 : B25

Yesterday's assertion that there was only one good slam on Monday was false.  This hand was an excellent slam, and was bid by three pairs.  It seems very hard to bid it with any certainty. Here are some stories -

Table 1: North here opened a strong (15-17) 1N and partner responded with a five card major ask. This struck gold with a 2 response. Since there is no value in investigating spades after partner has shown five hearts, 2♠ is available here (at the 2-level!) as a slam try in hearts. This got 3♣ from opener, 3 from responder and now 4 .  It is reported that the bidding continued 5 - 6 .  Whatever it meant, it was successful.

Table 2: North here opened a more standard 1 and heard partner bid 2♣. This left North with a difficult rebid, and this North chose 4♣.  This gets the extra strength across but it goes above 3N which could be a disaster. South now saved the day with a leap to 6.  This is hard to justify with only an ace more than promised already, but it was successful and hearts did score better than clubs.

Table 7: North opened 1 but this time South responded 2 (a better suit but still an unusual choice).  North had extras to show and bid 3♣ over which South tried 3♠ (fourth suit forcing).  This got doubled by West, and passed back to South who now owned up to the club support with a 4♣.  North now bid 4 and South asked for keycards and bid 6.  Who can argue with success? There will be times when 6♣ is much safer, but today hearts works just as well and scores better!

Table 9: here the bidding started with a very reasonable 1 - 2♣ - 3♣  after which South bid the inevitable 3N. This wrapped up 13 tricks, which at least beat the heart games. 

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HotD-wed : Mixed Pairs : 27nov17 : B23

This was the one excellent slam from Monday, and it was bid at only two tables.

At table 4 Laura Pollo started with 1♣ to which Ashok replied 1 .  Over the 2♣ continuation it went  2♠(worried about hearts) - 3N(heart stop and maximum) - 4♣ (support)  and then into the slam.  Doesn't it look easy?  

The other table at which it was bid was where the Angseesings (the other trophy winners, collecting the Flitch) were sitting.  Their bidding started 1♣ - 2N  where the 2N showed 16+ in a balanced hand. It proceed 3♣ - 3 - 4♣  with the last bid indicating slam ambitions since it had gone past 3N.  And thence to slam.  Doesn't it look easy?

My mistake on the hand was opening 1N over which partner decided that game was enough.  The hand screams no-trumps, but 14-hcp and a good six card suit is just too strong. The right answer was to open 1♣ and to rebid 1N, after which the other hand will drive to slam.  [LATER:  simulation shows that opposite a weak NT the 18-count will find partner to be a minimum 76% of the time (fewer than average points are there to go around), and of the rest you want to stop out of slam more often than not. This confirms that this South hand is too good for 1N]

Notice how 6♣, the only slam bid in practice, is much safer than 6N.  At matchpoints you might be tempted by the latter but as we see from this example, the repeated failure of players to bid slams means that the safest slam is the right answer, as it is nearly always a good score.

How did others get to stop in game with two such good hands?

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