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Tollemache Qualifier

The weekend - 18/19 November

Your team competed in the Tollemache but sadly failed to qualify for the final



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Hand of the Day

With no particularly attractive lead, you elect to try the ♣A at trick 1.  Partner plays the ♣3 indicating an odd number in your methods.  How do you continue?

This is not a complicated affair, but is an area where misunderstandings occur.  You must certainly switch to a diamond.  If you instead play a heart say, declarer will have enough entries to establish a tenth trick by means of a ruffing finesse against partner's queen of clubs.  Also, South is not that likely to hold the K after he has opened 3♠.  At the table, West cashed the A, East encouraging, and continued with the Q.  After some thought, East overtook the Queen with the K and returned another diamond for West to ruff!  East played west for a doubleton diamond and thought that instead of leading the Queen, West would have done better to continue with 2.  Then if East takes this for a doubleton and returns the suit, no harm is done.  However, might not East think that West hold 4 diamonds?  If that is the case, East might well reason that West has a singleton club and return a club for West to ruff.

The solution is for West to switch to the Q at trick 2.  When this holds, he continues with Ace and another and the scope for misunderstandings is eliminated.


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HotD-thu : League 4 : 20nov17 : B21

Here's a lead problem from Monday.

You opened a weak two bid on this rather poor hand, because it pays to get in there first, and the seventh heart compensates for the lack of hcp.

Now you have to choose the opening lead ... 


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HotD-wed : League 4 : 20nov17 : B14

There was one hand on Monday with a 50-50 slam (board 24)  but nobody bid that and the only real swing came in a match where one pair missed game.  On this hand however, we had 9/12 tables in a slam and two pairs reached 7♠, and we had double figure swings in every match - the successful small slams were matches by one grand slam making, three games, and two contracts which failed.

The bidding at table 8 started as shown; at this point North knew of a minimal strong NT with South, and that South had two aces and no diamond control.  Since kings in clubs and hearts would make the grand slam easy, North had to continue investigating.  At the table there was a mix-up over the responses to the 5N ask about kings, and this resulted in bidding the grand slam.  Without this accident there would be little to report since there are 12 tricks easily obtained in spades on almost all distributions of the cards.

Playing in 7♠ there are a lot of options, but the logic to combine them all effectively is tractable.  Here's how it goes

  1. There are 6 or 7 trump tricks depending on how many ruffs get made. If the trumps break 2-2 then 7 tricks is easy, and if they trumps are 3-1 then the only way to 7 trump tricks (and this has to be before drawing all the trumps) is two ruffs in South (but this means cashing two hearts and three clubs first) or three ruffs in North (clearly more practical).
  2. There are 5 top tricks outside trumps with the possibility of an extra trick in each of hearts (finesse), diamonds (ruffing out the king), and clubs (a 3-3 break).
  3. There is only one potential top loser - the second round of hearts : but this might be avoided if the hearts from one hand or the other are discarded.  And if not, the finesse can be taken,
  4. The best option is clearly to go for 7 trumps tricks since then we only need to find one extra trick.  That means ruffing three diamonds and to do that, and then draw any remaining trumps, will need 4 entries to the South hand. And we have them.

Now put this together with the lead of the ♠7.  A diamond ruff cannot happen until the ace is unblocked; to preserve the entries to South it must therefore be right to win the ♠K, cash the A and then come to hand in trumps. If the trumps were breaking 2-2 then at this point the grand slam would depend on either the clubs 3-3 (allowing a discard for the heart jack) or a heart finesse, and declarer can test these options in turn.  When the trumps are 3-1, the plan is to take diamond ruffs.  So the play continues with 4 ruffed and a club to the king and then the 6 ruffed.

If the diamond king had appeared at this point then the position is equivlant to the trumps breaking 2-2 and we simply draw the last trumps and test clubs and then hearts.

When the king does not appear, we need to fall back on the heart finesse, as otherwise we lack the entries for the third ruff and then to draw trumps. The making the extra trick from clubs is less likely but also fails to give us the required entry.  Declarer plays a heart to the jack, ruffs the Q, comes back to the A and draws the last trump.  This trump and declarer's remaining trumps take care of the Q and ♣6 from dummy, and it remains to cash two top clubs.

It is quite pretty when the sequence of plays follows quite so logically, and when it delivers a successful contract as well.


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HotD-tue : League 4 : 20nov17 : B1

The swings in last night's league matches started on board one; almost everyone played in spades but the number of tricks varied between 8 and 11.  We'll tell  how Keith Stanley ended up with eleven tricks, but first to the bidding.

The East hand doesn't fit well with a preemptive bid, having 7 hcp outside the trump suit. It doesn't fit well with a weak two bid, having a seventh spade. It is not a bad idea on hands like this to pass to start with, since you expect that even after a pass you will be able to find the right contract.  And indeed that did happen to some; Paul Denning passed and heard partner open a strong 1N and could then transfer into the spade game.

Back to the auction shown. With 3 showing an upper range hand but without a good suit, South had little to go on, and opposite a passed partner needed to go and seek out tricks. This reasoning led to the A lead.  Although the signal from partner was discouraging, there was still a prospect of a heart ruff, as declarer has no obvious path for drawing trumps, so he played a second round of that suit.  Unfortunately the second heart was misread and North played the Q on this, and Keith gobbled this up with the king.  There was now a heart winner in dummy to take care of his losing diamond, and the only danger was any opposition ruffs. So Keith went to draw trumps as quickly as he could, and when the ace dropped the king he was blessed with an overtrick.

The other instance of 4♠+1 had a similar play in the heart suit. The hand was played by West (1N opener and a transfer) and the lead was a heart to the ace and another back to the queen and king. With the same intent to avoid a ruff, Garry Watson also played a spade to the ace.


Another table had the 6 lead. This hit the jackpot as it set up the diamond king, and it was natural for declarer to take a trump finesse now. Two spade losers and the A sealed the fate of the game in that room, for the second 11 imps swing on that board.


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Combine your chances

Against 3NT, West leads the Q.  You win in dummy perforce.  How do you plan the play?

You have 7 tricks and need to develop 2 more from spades and diamonds.  Clearly if the diamonds break 3-2 there are no problems.  If they are 4-1, you need to tackle the suits in the right order to give yourself the best chance of success.  Start by playing a top diamond from dummy.  If an honour falls on your right, unblock the 9.  Now continue with a low diamond to your 8.  If West wins this (from an original holding of HHxx), he sets up a finesse for you to gather 4 diamond tricks, giving you at least 9 tricks in total.  He therefore ducks the diamond and your 8 wins.  Now you have 3 diamond tricks without losing one, so you can turn your attention to spades, making 4 tricks whenever the suit breaks no worse than 4-2.  You will then make 4/5 spades, 2 hearts and 3 diamonds.


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Plan Ahead

West leads the ♣9 against your game, East wins the first trick with the ♣10 and continues with 2 more top clubs.  What is your plan for coming to 10 tricks? 

On this hand you simply need to count your tricks.  You have 4 red winners and can make 6 trump tricks even if either player has 4 trumps in defence.  All you need to do is discard a heart on the third club trick.  You can win the next lead and play off a top spade in hand.  When you discover 4 spades with West, a spade finesse allows you to pick up the suit.  If you mistakenly ruff high in hand at trick 3, you can no longer cope with West holding 4 spades.  


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Play carefully

West leads the ♣K against your slam.  Given that on the bidding, West is likely to have the K, how do you hope to come to 12 tricks?

You can count eight winners and another four if spades prove to be 3-3. You need to consider what might be done if the spades are not 3-3. You have an extra chance if West holds the ace-doubleton in spades. After drawing two rounds of trumps with the king and queen, lead the ♠2 from hand. If West rises with the ace, you have four spade tricks, so West follows small and dummy’s king wins the trick. Now a low spade is played from dummy to your jack and West’s ace.

This leaves West on lead with only clubs and hearts. If he exits with a club, you ruff in dummy and throw a heart from hand. After cashing the ♠Q, you throw a second heart from hand, ruff a spade to establish a spade trick in dummy. Then cross back to dummy with a diamond and discard your  J on dummy’s spade winner.  A heart exit from West at the critical point gives you an even easier ride.


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Decision Point

You chance your arm with the lead of the K against South's spade game.  This turns out very well when partner turns up with  AQ94.  On the third diamond you pitch a heart and partner plays a fourth diamond to kill dummy's jack.  South ruffs with the ♠9.  What is your plan from this point?

You have 3 tricks and if partner holds the ♣K he will surely make it.  The more interesting card is the K.  If declarer holds  AQ, a finesse will give him the contract.  Can you talk him out of this winning line?  One possibility for declarer is to play for a squeeze which would operate if you held K as well as 4 clubs.  You might try nudging him in this direction by discarding J.  This is a good try but there is a better play.  What about underruffing, like a man seeking to postpone the evil day?  When later you discard two hearts, declarer might assume you have left yourself with a singleton King.  This defensive idea is quite easy to remember: when you know that you must guard one suit, pretend that you hold a critical card in another suit.


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HotD-thu : Winter Pairs : 13nov17 : B25

Only at three tables did East-West get to play this hand, and they were all successful. The remainder all defended North's spade contract, twice at the 5-level (both doubled) and six times at the 4-level (all but one doubled).  The bidding shown was common, but some Norths started with a 4♠ opener, which makes it even more difficult for East-West to find their fit.

The interesting question is the lead against a spade contract. The tricks North must lose are clear, but three Norths had an easy ride when three Easts led out the ♠A at trick one.  The question is why? 

There were two reasons for East to lead a spade at trick one; the first is to draw trumps, as that might well deprive declarer of some tricks, and the second is to have a look at dummy. This can be very important in auctions which might involve cashing out by the defence, where any other lead might be the wrong lead. Where those defenders went wrong today was in failing to recognise that partner's takeout double on the auction shown, that the danger of south having tricks to cash was much less. Which means that a heart lead us much safer than after an auction of 4♠-P-P-P.  


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HotD-wed : Winter Pairs : 13nov17 : B23

It's not often that a three-suit squeeze falls into your lap, and it was surprising that there were not 11 pairs reporting this from board 23 on Monday.

It is hard to imagine different bidding, but there are rumours of Easts who didn't know that with a strong NT in protective seat, the answer is to double and then bid NT (as a 1N bid shows a weak NT, and a jump to 2N shows about 18-20).  Here it is awkward for West as there might only be a 23-count between the two hands, but with the strong hand on lead and the location of the points signposted, these hands usually play well. So a raise to game is indicated.

Against 3N the defence start with a spade. Declarer is none too happy as there is a diamond to lose and the club ace, before nine tricks are available. But as so often, the answer is just to set about your longest suit. So knock out the diamond and win the spade return to cash the diamonds.  South can easily discard one club and one heart - but on the fifth diamond what can be spared? The answer is nothing, so away goes a spade and now declarer can knock out the club ace. South has been squeezed in three suits.

Surprisingly only two tables played in 3N and made it.


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HotD-tue : Midlands LG v WOSC : 12nov17 : B29

Both the Dawes and Porter teams were winning by a small margin, and the Markham team was losing by a similar margin, when this hand came along, and the Markham team picked up the 52 imps which enabled them to win their match, by just 13 imps.

The first questions are around bidding, which is nearly automatic until the point shown. Automatic that is if your 1N rebid shows 15-17 and your 2 checkback is game forcing (very much the favoured style these days).  The one alternative to consider is a 4♣ splinter after 2.  It's not common to splinter in partner's suit, but it is a very descriptive choice, as partner can then judge whether or not the hands are fitting.  On the bidding as shown, the West hand counts as a 6-loser hand opposite a strong NT which is usually a 6-loser hand too. That means you cannot give up at 4, there has to be another try and here a 4♠ cue shows a feature and passes the decision to East.

It remains a close call as to who, if either, bids the slam. The two GCBA pairs in the Markham both opened a strong NT on this hand and West now transferred into hearts and continued with 4N. This bid is best used as a natural, quantitative raise but everyone took it as asking for key cards and after hearing of two, West settled for 6

When played by West the opening lead was the 8. Declared knocked out the A and South carefully returned a passive diamond. Declared now took the spade finesse and was one off.  Notice how if South had returned a spade after winning theA, West might easily deduce that the spade king is with North, and be forced into the winning line of the club finesse. West might have tried harder, testing the clubs with ace and a couple of ruffs, before resorting to the spade finesse.

There were three instances of 6 by East. Two of them were the uninformative strong NT auctions described above; in both those cases South led a club, and declared wrapped up 12 tricks very easily. The final table had a long cue bidding sequence on the way to 6 and from this Mark Rogers was able to deduce that a spade was best and the spade lead killed 6.

We had two pairs from each team bid the slam, but our two pairs succeeded, and both of theirs failed.

A Change of Plan

West leads the K against your 4 spade contract.  What is your plan?

If trumps are no worse than 3-1, you have a complete elimination play available.  Duck trick 1 and win the heart continuation.  Draw trumps in 3 rounds, ruff dummy's last heart and then play 3 rounds of diamonds.  The defense will then have to open the club suit or give you a ruff and discard.  However, when you play a trump to dummy at trick 3, East shows out, so you need to reconsider now that the trumps are 4-0.

The solution is a partial elimination.  Continue as before, drawing just 3 trumps and ruffing a heart, before playing 3 rounds of diamonds.  You are in luck as East has to win this trick and play a club. You duck this trick to West, who exits with his last trump.  Win this on the table and finesses the ♣10.  

To succeed when trumps are 4-0, you need the club honours split and East to hold the Q.  Note that you have to draw 3 of West's trumps, else he could ruff the third diamond and exit with a trump, leaving you to play the club suit yourself.


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High Aspirations

2NT was Jacoby, 3♣ showed a shortage and 4 was exclusion Blackwood.  How do you plan the play on the lead of 9 (East follows to the first trump)?

Before playing to the first trick, you need to form a plan. You can count nine top tricks and you can add at least two more in clubs as long as the suit breaks reasonably favourably. Also, if trumps are no worse than 3-1, you  can use two diamond ruffs as entries to set up the clubs. All of this makes it imperative to win the first trick in dummy, so play dummy’s J . Once East follows with the 6, you can put your plan into action.

At trick two, cash the A♣  and ruff a club low in hand. After ruffing a diamond with dummy’s 4 , cash the K  and ruff a club with the 10 . Next ruff a diamond with dummy’s Q .

All that remains is to cross back to hand via a low spade to the ace to draw West’s last trump with the ace, discarding dummy’s remaining low spade. A spade to dummy’s king is followed by the K♣ , leaving dummy with the two established clubs to cash. 


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A good slam?

How do you play this slam on a club lead?

The slam is no worse than the diamond finesse, and you may be able to duck a diamond to West in the endgame to ensure a diamond return to your AQ.  If your diamonds were as good as AQ9 you would have a certain endplay, but that is not the case here.  Still, you win the club lead and cash the ♠ K finding a 2-1 break. Now a club ruff, then AK and a heart ruff high is followed by a trump to dummy.  Your plan is to ruff another heart and then  use dummy's last trump as an entry for the diamond finesse.  However, when you play the fourth round of hearts from the table, East shows out. Now all you need to do is discard a diamond.  West will win this trick but then must play a diamond into your AQ or concede a ruff and discard.


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HotD-thu : CBC Pairs League : 8nov17 : B11

This slam hand looks a straightforward bidding exercise, but it presents a number of different issues. In practice, only 6 of the 12 tables ended in 6♠ with 5 others in game and one pair tried 7♠. 

The first question comes over the opening bid; strong balanced hands without any jacks deserve strong consideration of an upgrade, and this hand is one of those. If the hand were to start off with 2♣ it is hand to see North stopping short of a slam.vthe 2N opening shown is a slight underbid.

The next important step comes after North transfers to spades; South has an enormous hand in support and shows that by breaking the transfer into a 4♣ cue bid. From North's perspective, a slam is now looming but isn't certain. In practice, at the table illustrated, North just made an executive decision - he re-transferred with a 4 bid, and then asked for key cards before bidding the slam.  Even if North just makes a try, and that is the minimum choice, the slam will be bid.

The spade small slam is easily made, but the play in the grand slam is worth looking at.  You cannot make 7♠ on this layout of the East-West hands, but 7N can be made and that gives the pointer to the correct line of play in 7♠. Can you see what that line is?


Looking favourably on each suit, you expect the possibility of 5 spades, 2 hearts, 1 diamond, and 4 clubs.  That now comes to 12, so you need a squeeze to get to 13, and that has to be a heart-diamond squeeze. It needs the same hand to have the diamond king and the only heart guard. For the squeeze to work you need to end with the option to cash the diamond queen or two hearts. So you need to have ended the black suits in the North hand. Which means you have to cash the clubs and then the spades. And you need to unblock the diamond ace before you do that.

Amazingly, the one layout which lets 7N make, is actually present!

The need to cash clubs before spades means that if spades are 4-0, you need the hand with the trumps to follow to four rounds of clubs. And that doesn't work in 7♠ which is why that contract goes down.

HotD-wed : Swiss Teams 3 : 6nov17 : B16

There were judgment calls from many players on this deal from Monday and it is not clear if they were all correct.   East-West looks like they have a slam making, and indeed the slam depends on very little apart from a 2-2 heart break, making the odds on the slam succeeding about 41%.  But only one EW pair played the hand, with 3 selling out to a part-score in spades, and 7 selling out to 4♠ (with only two doubling that).

The first decision was South's first bid. Sometimes it was over a 2 overcall, but sometimes over a takeout double. It looks right to bounce in support, but in a 4-card majors system, and anyway with a 5332 shape, there are serious dangers of losing too many tricks in a doubled high level contract.  There is a case therefore for any of 2♠ or 3♠ or 4♠.  Perhaps this implies that the middle ground is the answer.

Whatever level South bids to, the next decision is West's. West will expect that there is a making part-score for EW, but that could be diamonds or hearts.  The only way to bring both into consideration after 2 is to double - and that is true whether it is at the 2-level, or 3-level, or 4-level.  The last of these will generally have enough values to be confident of beating a 4♠ game (easy enough here with two aces).   But, importantly, it suggest the possibuility of playing the hand - it is a progressive double and not a regressive double.  The values shown must be outside spades. If East had started with a double, it is easy for West to bid hearts - the only awkward case being over 4♠, but even in this case East can double to show values and again East will bid.

As long as West gets involved, it is hard to see East letting matters rest below either 5 or 5.    But what happened in practice?  A number of Wests passed, and when some Wests doubled 4♠, Easts presumed it was a desire to defend and passed that out.  Sad.

The one auction to 5 was 1♠ - X - 3♠ - 4 - 4♠ - 5 - end.

The other auction to the 5-level is reported to be. 1♠-2-3♠-P-4♠-5-P-P-5♠-X-end.


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HotD-tue : Swiss Teams 3 : 6nov17 : B8

This was the strongest of the four hands in the first match on which questions of slam arose. After the bidding shown (or where South bid 3♠ on the second round rather than 3), some Norths raised to game and there matters rested.  The others cue bid 4♣ showing a control there as well as suspport and some slam interest. A new suit at the 4-level is rarely natural (for me only after 1M-1N-3M where you might have a long suit not strong enough to bid at the 2-level).  It just about always agrees the last bid suit as trumps, and where there are options it promises a control there (other times it might just be a good raise, so that 4 say is a limited raise).   After this cue bid, South could happily bid a control in the other major and now North will check for aces before bidding the slam.   Bridge sometimes seems an easy game but only 4 of the 12 pairs playing at County level reached the slam - in which there are 12 top tricks after the ♠A goes.  In the CBC Pairs movement, 0/7 bid the slam.

The other boards with slam interest were more tricky. On Board 4, there is a 10-count (♠T976 Q92 KT72 ♣AJ) hand facing an opener showing 21-22 balanced.   It is natural to test first for a spade fit, but over 3♣ partner bids 3N to deny any four or five card major.  Do you give up?  Everyone did, but a simulation (admitted only only 28 hands) showed that slam was excellent opposite this hand on 43% of the deals, was about even money on 21% of the deals, and was a bad proposition on 36%.   Even with no judgement as to which to bid and which not to bid, that looks like bidding a slam is worthwhile.  With judegment it should be a Good Thing. Although you want to play in diamonds when you have a diamond fit, it was curious that the times you don't have a diamond fit - where partner often has 5+ clubs, were the most likely to give you a slam (50% of those were excellent slams).  What this means is that it is probably worth a raise to 4N on these hands.  On this occasion partner has a 4333-shape and 21-count, so it is clear for partner to refuse.  In practice, everyone (19 tables) stopped in 3N.

The next hand to mention is Board 5, where some did bid a slam (6 of 19) but  only two made it.   A similar bidding principle applies to it, when the auction starts 1♠-2♣-3♠ and you are looking at ♠K64 74 KQ6 ♣AQ763.   To show spade support and extras, you bid a new suit (diamonds here) at the 4-level.  Partner will cooperate with a 4 cue and then it is up to you whether to allow partner off the hook with 4♠, or to continue with a club cue bid.  Slam is actually quite respectable as there are lots of chances, but it is someway short of the 12 top tricks of board 8. Thes best line involves trying to ruff out ♣Kxx after playing two trumps.  Today nothing succeeds unless you guess to finesse West for the ♠Q and even then the club and heart finesses won't work.  Exercise for the reader to find 12 tricks!

Finally the question of slam arose on Board 13, when partner responds to your 1♠ opener with 2 and you are looking at ♠QJ762 5 Q6543 ♣AK.  You want to show diamond support as there could well be a diamond slam on here, but you might want to play in a spade game or 3N.  The answer is a jump to 3 here as a splinter (since 2 is forcing).  Partner could bid 3N over this, or show spade support, or confirm that diamonds are trumps.  In fact, partner bids 3♠ and you now get the chance (very important) to limit your hand by just bidding 4♠.  Partner was never slamming on this hand, but the pair who bid 4 over 2 lost the chance to limit the hand and their slam investigation resulted in 5♠-1).

Play or defend?

You lead the ♠6 to partner's Jack and declarer's Ace,  Declarer then takes the ♠K, East playing the 2 to indicate an even number.  Declarer then plays 3 rounds of trumps ending in dummy and plays a diamond to the 9,Jack and your Queen. What do you do now?

It looks like declarer is 2443.  To exit with a club is useless as declarer will cash 2 clubs and exit with a diamond, leaving you on play.  Whilst giving declarer a ruff and discard is normally bad, giving him 2 ruff and discards can be very effective.  When you win the first diamond, exit with a spade.  Repeat this procedure when you win the second diamond.  This removes declarer's last trump and you are now in the driving seat with a diamond trick and a long spade to cash.  Have a look at all four hands.  Could declarer have done better?

Yes he could - If declarer takes just 2 rounds of trumps and his 2 club tricks before exiting in diamonds, West's defence no longer works.  South takes the force in hand, discarding a club from dummy, and plays another diamond. Now a further spade from West allows South to ruff with his last trump, thus making 6 trumps, 2 spades and 2 clubs for his contract.


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How do you Play?

West leads the ♠T.  Plan the play.

There are 4 top tricks in the black suits and you can probably count on 4 trump tricks in hand, so you need 2 ruffs in dummy.  Win the ♠A and play AK and ruff a club.  Return to hand with the ♠K and play another club.  If West follows, it is dangerous to ruff with the J as this may be overruffed and you might still have another trump to lose.  It is better to discard the losing spade on the fourth club.  Let's say West continues with a trump.  You win in hand and then ruff a spade with J.  You still have a trump and a diamond to lose, but that is all. 


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Keep Control

You get the K lead against your game.  How do you protect yourself against a 4-1 trump break?

It would be asking for trouble to play off the ♠AK.  If trumps are 4-1, you would then have to turn your attention to clubs and if the defender with ♣A has the long trumps, he will gleefully draw your trumps and the defence will have several hearts to cash.  Equally, ruffing a heart at trick 2 is no good as that  weakens your control of the heart situation.  You can afford to lose 2 trumps and a club, so win A and cash just one top trump.  Then knock out the ♣A.  If an opponent takes the first club and forces dummy with a heart, then play a second club before taking the second top trump.  Now a 4-1 break is under control as you just ruff another heart and discard your last heart on a club.  Eventually, your diamond loser goes on the long club and you just lose at most 2 trumps and the ace of clubs.


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Improve your Chances

You receive the lead of 5 against your 3NT contract.  East plays the Jack and you win with the A  The diamond finesse is a 50% shot.  Can you improve on this?

Many declarers would look no further than running the 9 at trick 2.  In fact, this is a vastly inferior line, and will fail on this occassion as alook at all 4 hands will show.  The best line is to cross to dummy's A and trick 2 and then play a club towards hand.  If East takes the ace, the club suit will provide enough tricks for the contract on a 3-2 break.  If the ♣K loses to West, he cannot profitably continue hearts, and you can then knock out the K.  If the ♣K holds, then you revert to playing diamonds and must make 9 tricks.  The total chance of success with this line is 85%, a great improvement on the straight diamond finesse.


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HotD-thu : Malvern Swiss Pairs : 28oct17 : B27

This looks a very boring hand, doesn't it? You are on lead against game by a 2N opener who, in response to partner's Baron 3♣, showed a hand with no suit other than clubs.  Your choice?

You didn't know that the fate of the board depends on your opening lead.  The default might feel like a QJ9 lead but you need to ask what that is going to achieve. To have a chance at any tricks in the suit, you will need partner to have three diamonds, and you'll need the opposing diamonds to be split 2-2. This is asking a lot.

From a different perspective, most of the defensive strength is in partner's hand, so what about leading partner's suit? If the opponents have not missed an 8-card major fit then partner will have at least four cards in each major.  Can we find partner's best suit?  There aren't really any clues. The West concerned reasoned that the 8 was less likely than the♠6 to be mis-information and chose that.

Looking at all the hands now, you can see that this is the winning choice, and it was a logical choice too. Is that virtue being rewarded? Getting this right earns you 108/108 matchpoints, while leading anything else gets you 1/108 matchpoints. 

What about the opponents' bidding? They chose to ignore any 5-3 spade fit, and to only play in spades with a 5-4 fit. At matchpoints, that seems quite reasonable as there will be few times that the 5-3 fit generates an extra trick when you have about 30 hcp between the two hands.  The opponents were just unlucky to have you on lead!


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HotD-wed : League 3 : 30oct17 : B25

This bidding problem arose at a number of tables on Monday night.  The question, which many had not examined sufficiently, was to identify the style in which the bidding should now continue.  Do we consider that hearts are here set for ever as trumps, or could opener ever bid 3 withg a doubleton, and if the 5-3 fit was K7654-T32  are you allowed to escape to 3N?  And what do the various bids mean?

The two key choices are whether to play in hearts or not, and at which level to play. The key to both choices is how well the 1N opener fits with any shortages held by responder, so the best way forward is for responder to show shape.  This can be done by bidding a fragment or by bidding a shortage (rebidding a second 5-card suit here doesn't seem to help opener much).  Bids at the 3-level allow the possibility of playing 3N, but higher bids commit to playing in the major.  Both fragments and shortages have adherents in the tournament community.

If 4♣ in the sequence shown indicated shortage, then over that North would clearly sign-off.   When South hears 4 the expectation should be that some values are wasted and that partner has proably a maximum of 9-10 hcp of useful looking cards.  Unfortunately when you add that to the 15 held by South, there is still scope for a slam to be making easily.

In these situations opener would usually think of the ace opposite the shortage as good news, so actually we are looking at partner having 9-10 out of the (missing) 19 potentially high card points which seem useful from North's perspective.  Allowing for somtimes holding the club ace, that means we have to downgrade the expectations of the North hand's value opposite a club void to be more like 7-8 hcp, which means we are missing 7-8 high card points in the suits held by South.

That will be oen loser and quite probably two, so this makes slam seem less of a good bet, and when you factor in that the reality could be less (a working 5-hcp here) then the danger of bidding beyond 4 is clear. 

But the South hand looks so good !

In the event, 5 pairs went to 5 or higher (where there were three losers) and 5 pairs stopped in exactly 4.


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HotD-tue : League 3 : 30oct17 : B13

This was the best slam hand in the 28 deals of last night's league match. There were two other hands where slam was makeable but none of those contracts was bid (and neither slam was great); plus the 6♠ slam bid on B7 which was made on a fortunate lead, and one pair 6 on B25 only to go down two.

The bidding problem shown comes from a common start when playing a weak NT with four card majors.  At this point you'd like to show club support but also the balanced nature of the hand.  Bidding NT doesn't seem ideal with this spade holding.  What's your poison?

The easiest way out of these problems is, of course, not to start from here.  The way to avoid the issue is not to open 1 (or more generally to avoid opening a 4-card major) when you have a decent alternative. So here either a 1♣ or (if in range) 1N opening would have avoided the issue. 

If you are hooked on 4-card majors you need to put the spare 3N bid to use here. It is a spare bid because 2N (showing extras) is game forcing and that can handle all balanced hands. There are a number of choices but the simplest is to let 3N show a balanced minimum (15-17 since you are game forcing) with four card support for partner's minor. Stronger hands with support can justify 2N and then supporting at the 4-level when partner bids 3N.

On this occasion it is close but the 5-card clubs and the 14-hcp and the 5422 shape justify making a try over 3N and after 4♣-4(cue)-4♠(cue)  the East hand is sufficiently control rich to insist on a slam.

Looking at two hands, 6♣ is an excellent contract with two sure tricks in each side suit, plus five trumps and a ruff of the fourth diamond - at least until the trumps turn out to be 4-0. Carefully cashing either the ace or queen first lets you pick up all 4-0 breaks and when you find the bad break you will need one extra  trick from diamonds. The winning play of the losing finesse of the queen, and then cashing the ace and finally finessing for the ten.  That play in the diamond suit is the a priori best line, but the club break, the lack of a diamond lead from T94, and West's discomfort in discarding on four rounds of trumps - these all point to playing West for the diamond ten.

Three pairs bid to 6♣ on this hand, and two bid to 6N.  The latter is a somewhat inferior contract, but when the clubs break 4-0 is comes down to the same considerations and so it should make.

The Saving Card

West leads the 8 to dummy's 9 and your Ace and declarer's queen.  How do you defend?

Suppose you return the ♠K at trick 2.  It is not difficult to see that you be subjected to a squeeze in the black suits as South is marked with long diamonds and all the outstanding values.  Declarer will win the spade, cash all his trumps, and cross to dummy with the ♣A.  the K will then squeeze you as you have to make a discard from ♠Q, ♣ QJ.  There is a defence to this squeeze and that is to make an early attack on the squeeze card.  If you reyrn a heart at trick 2, South must make a premature discard.  He probably throws a club, but then East retains the top spades in his hand in the endgame and trusts partner to look after the club suit.  On this hand, the saving card is West's ♣8


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Be a Tricky Declarer

You receive a trump lead against 4♥. How do you play?

You have 4 trumps, 2 clubs and a club ruff and 2 diamonds to take.  The tenth trick could come from a diamond finesse (unlikely on the bidding), a 3-3 spade break, or perhaps an endplay on West. The latter option is also not very likely as they defence will have time to unscramble the spade suit unless West has a very specific holding e.g. AK doubleton.  Hence your best play is to try and establish the long spade.  You don't want East coming in twice to play diamonds through your holding and hence you should make the first spade play from dummy.  This play makes it much harder for East to win the tricks the first 2 times spades are played (indeed impossible on the layout shown).  If you make the first spade lead from hand, the defence is very much easier to find as East win win cheaply with the ♠T.  Best play is therefore to win the trump in dummy and lead a spade immediately, just covering East's card.


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A Difficult Defence

You lead the Q and this holds the trick, partner following with the 6 and declarer the 8.  How do you defend?

Presumably partner would play the 7 from a heart holding of A976, so it looks as if you will be able to take another heart trick.  The ♠A is a third trick and if partner leads a diamond when in with the A, the ruff will beat the contract.  How do you go about getting your ruff?

The problem with playing another high heart is that partner will not overtake, losing his entry.  One way to avoid this would be to lead a low heart at trick 2.  This would force partner to win the Ace. However, there is no guarantee that East will return a diamond as a club switch may look very attractive from his point of view.  You might try cashing the ♠A before exiting with a low heart.  This should pinpoint the ♣A with South (if East is awake).  There is a better play than this - at trick 2 switch to a high club.  Then win the ♠A at the earliest opportunity and return a low heart.  East will be forced to win and the diamond switch should now be completely obvious as the only possible setting trick.


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A Tricky Contract

West starts with a top diamond, won by your Ace.  At trick 2 you lead a trump, West rising with the King and East showing out.  At trick 3, West forces you with another diamond.  How do you play from here?

The 4-0 trump break is awkward.  You have 3 certain trump losers but it looks as if you can use the spades to take care of any losing clubs. If you play another trump towards dummy you will be alright if West takes the Ace and say exits with a another diamond.  You can ruff and then play spades.  Although West will ruff in, the Queen of hearts will serve to draw West's last trump whilst at the same time being an entry for the spades.  However, this line is not foolproof.  If West has the foresight to duck the second round of trumps, dummy's late entry to the spade suit has disappeared and you will eventually lose 3 trumps and a club.  The winning play is to play on spades as soon as the 4-0 trump break comes to light.  West will have to ruff at some point and will probably exit with a diamond.  You ruff and now play a trump to the Queen.  Since West has been reduced to 3 trumps, he can no longer prevent you accessing dummy and will be held to just his 3 trump tricks.


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HotD-thu : Squad Practice : 25oct17 : B5

This hand from last night's practice match caused a lot of head scratching.  Every table opened 3 even vulnerable against not. On the plus side the shape is not 7222, the suit quality is ideal for a preempt, and it is first in hand.  So the bid is clearly justified, even before we see the problems created for the other side.

The first problem is for East over the opening bid - what to do with a 5332 shape and 12 HCP. This is a hand which would happily have opened a weak NT and shown a minimum when asked. Despite this, three pairs found a 3♠ bid (and the fourth passed).  This comes with serious dangers of partner having short spades and the third hand being able to make a penalty double.  It is not recommended; even over a 2-level preempt, a double is preferred to an overcall, unless the hand is seriously one-suited or two-suiter.  Over this 3 a double is my preference, as these 12 high card points are all working cards.  The pass is also quite acceptable.

Let's look first at what happens after 3-3♠-P.  Clearly the West hand will proceed, and be thinking that there are three denominations in the running.  There is little option but to introduce the first of these with 4♣ and this creates a dilemma for East. It can hardly be right to invent a heart suit or to rebid this spade suit, so the choice is between 4 as a waiting bid (not extra values as you are already game forcing, and too useful as a mark-time bid to insist on a control) and a raise to 5♣. The appeal of the latter is that it might dampen partner's spirits, but in practice of the three who overcalled with 3♠ and who all heard 4♣, only one raised to 5♣ and their partner gave them one more.  Full marks there. Two Easts, amazingly, rebid 4♠; one heard his partner pass and fortunately there were only three trump losers, so that game made. The other West continued by torturing partner with a 5 cue bid.  From East's point of view this was slamming in either clubs or spades, and he cue bid 5 only to hear partner raise this to 6.  He did not feel able to bid these spades for a third time, and the pass of 6 actually earned +980 on the board for a top score. 

To be fair, it is very difficult to handle a 2-suiter like West's after partner has overcalled even at a lower level.  If the 3♠ overcall did indeed have the sort of suit one should have to come in at this level, then you would expect 97 doubleton and a void to be adequate support.

And that difficulty is still there after 3-P-P and after 3-X-P.  In the former case, one useful tool is to defend over a minor suit preempt with the 4-level bids having the same pattern as your defence to a 1N opening (on the theory that both want the best way of finding major suit fits). Here for some 4♥ would now show hearts and a minor (clubs here) and game going values.  Partner would cue bid 4♠ (never right to argue with partner's two suiter) and on confidently to the heart slam.  After a double the responder can just assume that both hearts and clubs are good enough for slam, and the only issue would be stopping at the 6-level (and finding the grand were the spades headed by the AK).  The one table which saw 3-P-P  found a double over which partner of course bid 4♠.  It continued P-5♣-P-5 and all pass.  This just shows that being able to handle two suiters over a preempt matters.

The other interpretation of all this discussion is that "preempts work".



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HotD-wed : County KO : 23oct27 : B26

This was the other slam in the first round hands for the County KO and like yesterday's hand, there was only one pair bid to the seven level, and again that was the level you wanted reach.

Only two auctions are known and they both started 1 - 1  and have been censored.  So how should it be bid?

With 5-5 in two suits it is always right to bid the higher suit first, so here it must start 1-1♠.  South might be tempted to show the club suit, but it's wrong to hide the spade support, and the hand doesn't deserve another bid, so it is now or never.  Over the 2♠ bid, the default action for natural bidders is 3 and over this it seems honest for South to bid 3N. The club values are not good news for North, but there is a hint - almost a guarantee in a weak NT system - of a singleton heart.  North should now institute cue bidding and then a 4N ask, possibly also checking on the ♣K, before bidding the grand slam.

The alternative approach after 1 -1♠-2♠ is to bid 2N as an asking bid, over which 3♣ by South would show a 3154 shape. How North now continues is undiscussed territory for all of us, but one hopes that a path to 7♠ can be found.

The grand slam looks excellent, with 11 top tricks and two heart ruffs to make 13. But declarer needs to be careful, and curiously it is the lead of a singleton (very unusual against a grand slam) which creates the problem. After a club lead, declarer needs to start by ruffing two hearts, intending then to cash the ♣KQ, but when the heart king falls the clubs are not needed and declarer can just draw trumps instead. Playing a second club too early lets East ruff and the grand slam is now down.

How the one pair bid the grand slam has still to be discovered. Does anyone know?


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HotD-tue : County KO : 23oct17 : B4

There was one exceptionally tough match in last night's first round draw for the County Knockout, when Angseesing was pitched against Waggett.  There were plenty of swings ending 66-79 in favour of the team of Peter Waggett with Roger Jackson, and Richard Harris playing with Mark Rogers.  The winners gained enormously from swings on two slam hands, of which this was one.

The bidding shown was the winner team's auction to the good grand slam which no other team reached.  We cannot offer much to recommend about it after the third bid. 

More interesting is whether or not the grand slam (everyone bid to some slam) should have been bid with confidence rather than on a whim. Most people started with a 2N opener, with an excellent 21-count (upgraded mentally to a 22-count).  Clearly South will show spades, but then comes the key question, whether to show diamonds next or not. 

If South shows the diamond suit through a 2N-3-3♠-4 sequence, what does North do? A favoured approach is always to sign off in either 4♠ or 5 with a minimum, and to use the other three bids as slam interest, with 4 for slam interest in spades (else no there is no way to stop in 4♠), and 5♣ for slam interest in diamonds, leaving 4N for slam interest but no fit.  Here that would be fine for South, who is now intent on playing in spades.  How you get to the grand slam now remains uncertain, as none of us have ever discussed what happens after 4N!

More promising is for South to ignore the diamonds and treat the hand as a spade single suiter.  This gives up a good grand slam opposite ♠ATA64KQJ8♣ AT5, and that is somewhat short of a 2N opener.  But it also avoids finding a diamond contact opposite ♠ATAKQJ764♣AKT5.   You cannot just blast a slam in case they are cashing two top hearts, so your best bet is either transfer at the 3-level or the 4-level and then bid 5♣ showing shortage there.  After a 5 cue, you need to sign off in 5♠  but partner continues with a heart control.  Continuing with 5N (ace asking since 4N was missed)  gets a response showing all the keycards and North can now see that the grand slam is good. 

Easy game this.

How do you Play?

West leads the 8 on which East plays the King.  You win and cash 2 top clubs but on the second club East discards a heart.  What is your plan?

Despite having a certain trump loser, there are various chances to avoid a diamond loser - the suit might break or you might be able to engineer an end-play.  Given that East probably holds seven hearts, a 3-3 diamond break must be against the odds.  The best line is to take a third top club, 2 top diamonds and then your major suit winners before exiting with a trump.  By this time West will only have spades and diamonds left.  A spade to dummy's Ace gives you a diamond discard whilst a diamond will be fatal if East started with honour doubleton in the suit.


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Play Carefully

You get a heart lead to the King and your Ace.  How do you play from here?

You almost certainly have 2 club losers so you must avoid losing 2 trump tricks.  The bidding almost certainly places the ♠K with East and you must not take a first round spade finesse.  Laying down the  ♠A will save you when the layout is as shown.


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Another Defensive Problem

Your lead of the ♠K is ducked in dummy, partner playing the 2 and South the 7.  What now?

Did you think that declarer had Kx and continue at trick 2 with a safe spade? 

Consider East's card - the 2 would show an odd number in standard methods and on the bidding this is probably 5.  Secondly, if South did have a doubleton spade and a diamond loser, then leading the A will be sufficient to beat the contract.  Declarer has made a standard deceptive play at trick 1.  He plans to throw a diamond on the ♠A and then set the diamond suit up with a ruff.  Don't be fooled - You should lead the A at trick 2 and continue the suit when partner encourages. 


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A Tough Defence

You lead the 2 to the 3,9 and declarer's A.  South leads a heart to the Queen and a second heart.  Partner plays high-low, indicating possession of a third trump.  How do you play from here?

It looks like you have a diamond trick.  Partner played the 9 at trick 1 so declarer must have the 8.  Your 2 Aces mean that another trick must be found and that can only come from a club ruff.  You need to hope that partner has a doubleton club and play this suit after winning the A  Dummy will win and declarer will hopefully have no quick way off the table to draw the trumps.  If he plays a diamond, you will win and play Ace and another club, giving partner a ruff.  By the way, you did remember to lead the ♣Q on the first round didn't you?  If not, declarer can run the club to the nine in his hand, and draw the remaining trumps.   


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HotD-thu : League 2 : 16oct17 : B25

It was surprising to see so few defenders collect their tricks on this board from Monday. The auction seems almost inevitable, although an immediate leap to 4 by South would have given the defence less information. There were four tables did not play in 4; one was when South on the second turn bid only 3, one when North played 3N, and the other two were 5 contracts, bid presumably over the opponent's 4♠.  Bidding 3♠ is actually par on this deal (not quite true!), but given that so many made the heart game, sacrificing in 4♠ might have been a good safety move, and when the opponents bid on it shows a fine profit.

Against 4♠ it is normal for West to lead a spade, and if the bidding is as shown then East will win and know that a switch is needed. The question is whether to play partner for a top heart, in which case leading a club might get you a heart ruff, or to go after diamonds, where you need partner to have KQx in the suit. And there might be some combinations that work too.

The downside of leading the club is that partner needs to turn up with the heart ace and declarer must not have a singleton club, which is a lot to ask. Partner having a slow heart trick and something in diamonds is much more appealing, so the diamond switch seems better odds.  After a switch to the low diamond you expect the defence to cash three rounds of the suit. What comes next? The only chance is a fourth diamond, and that works wonders - promoting the heart jack as the fifth defensive trick. 

Why did no table manage that?


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HotD-wed: League 2: 16oct17 : B18

The par contract was reached very few times on this hand from Monday, and the puzzle is why?

The bidding shown was a common start.  After partner has passed West's ambitions are limited, and it seems right to make a preemptive bid.  But after the opponents volunteer 5 you need to decide on whether or not to defend.  You don't have much defensive strength, but partner may be sitting there with a juicy diamond holding.  Which way do you jump?

The key is that partner must get involved, and there is only one way to do that which still allows your partnership to defend, and that is with a double.

In common with the theme that where at all feasible, any double shows extras and a desire to bid on (progressive rather than penalty) this double by a hand which has already declared weakness is an ACTION DOUBLE, giving the message that you want to bid again but you are letting partner make the final decision. Here it would allow partner to sacrifice in a very cheap 5♠. You give up the ability to set a trap for the opposition by making a deceptive bid, and then doubling for penalties, but that is a small price to pay.

It is curious to note that had you overcalled 1♠ you would have known what to do as then partner's 4♠ bid would tell you more about their hand, while the raise of 2♠ covers a wide variety of hands. Other winners on this hand were the Easts who opened 1♠ in first seat. With a good lead and this vulnerability, opening in first seat is the right thing to do. After the 1♠ opener, West had no problem bidding 5♠.

HotD-tue : NICKO Final : 14oct17 : B7

The just concluded run of the EBU's Inter-Club Knock-Out started in September 2016 with 222 teams from bridge clubs all across the country, including 7 teams from Cheltenham Bridge Club.  For the fourth time, one of the Cheltenham teams has reached the final, and the final was played on Saturday last - against a team from Tunbridge Wells BC.   For the fourth time, Cheltenham came second in the final.  The Cheltenham team was Richard Butland & Paul Denning, Richard Chamberlain & Patrick Shields.    Patrick & Paul have been in all four teams which reached the final, and the two Richards were in the team on the last three occasions.

Here was an early hand where they outplayed us to make game.  After the uninformative bidding shown (1N was 15-17 balanced), West led the 8 ...  over to you ....

It is not impossible to make 9 tricks without the diamond suit - all it needs is the club queen onside.  Can you do better?   The answer is yes - the diamonds offer a better option for 5 tricks, an 81% chance of 5 tricks by leading out the ace first and then towards the queen.  So Espen Erichson rose with the heart ace and played diamonds, knocking out the king.   The defence continued with a heart to the K and a club through to the queen and back to the ace, but at this point the defence had only four tricks and declarer had the rest.

As well as making your plan for diamonds you must be also be watching for traps.  What was noticed by Espen but missed by our man, was that running the heart at trick one could see the opposition win and switch to clubs.  And indeed that is that happened.  After one heart and a club switch, the defenders had three club tricks to go with the two red suit kings - and that was 3N-1.

The Tunbridge Wells teams had three hurdles to overcome - first the heart lead by their West when no other lead creates a problem, second rising with the heart ace by their South to avoid the club switch, and finally the switch to clubs after winning the K by their East.  Well done, Tunbridge Wells.



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How do you defend?

West leads the ten of clubs against 4 . You win the first 2 tricks with the Queen and Ace, declarer contributing the 4 and J, whilst partner plays the 9 to the second trick.  How do you continue?

Presumably south has a doubleton club and partners 9 is a suit preference signal for spades.  Did you switch to a spade at trick 3?

If you return a spade, declarer wins the Ace, plays the A and ruffs a diamond, returning to dummy 3 times in trumps to set up and cash the long diamond for a spade discard.  Although partner has shown values in spades, your strong diamond holding prevents declarer from using dummy's diamond suit provided you attack the entries to the table.  A trump return at trick 3 takes away a dummy entry before the diamonds are brought into play and declarer will eventually have to lose his spade tricks.  Partner was right to show his spade valus with the ♣9 but signals from partner should be viewed as information, not commands.  On this hand, your diamond holding is good enough to prevent discards; with a diamond suit of say 3 small, a spade switch would be essential to cash any tricks that might be going.


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Test the Defence

You play in 4♠. West leads the  AK and another heart to your Queen, East following throughout.  Do you see any chance of making this contract and how do you continue?

You look to have a club loser in addition to the Ace of trumps.  However, if you could force a club lead from the player that wins the ♠A, your chances would greatly improve.  What is the best way to do this?  Try the effect of crossing to dummy to lead the ♠J.  If East has ♠Ax he may well duck, perhaps playing his partner for a singleton King or Queen of spades.  If he ducks, you can cash the other diamond before exiting with a trump.  This will force the defence to give you a ruff and discard or open up the clubs.  On the actual layout, East has a singleton spade so has to take the Ace on the first round.  Does this spell certain defeat?  At the table, the contract still made.  East was beset with the notion from declarers play that partner held a key holding in spades - Qx say.  When in with the ♠A, East played a fourth round of hearts to promote partners presumed ♠Q and the ensuing ruff and discard handed the contract to declarer.  South did well to play as he did; the defence could hardly go wrong if he had started the spades from hand.  A mark of a good player is that he constantly sows seeds of doubt in defenders minds.


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Play this Slam

West starts out with ♠AK against your slam.  How do you set about making 12 tricks?

Sound technique is to ruff the second spade high, cross to hand with a trump and ruff the remaining spade high - on this trick East plays the ♠Q.  Now draw the remaining trumps (they break 2-2). Then cash AK and ruff a heart - both follow but the Queen does not drop.  By this time you can place West with ♠AKJxxx and probably only 3 hearts as else he would have a 64 shape in the majors and 10 points and would most likely have opened 1 spade rather than 2.  So now you can cash the remaining trumps, discarding the ♣J from dummy. At this point, West will have a spade and 2 clubs, whilst East will have a heart and 2 clubs.  All you have to do is play off the 2 top clubs and claim.


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Simple Stuff

West leads the ♣2 against your game.  You play low from dummy and East contributes the ten.  How do you play?

You have 7 top tricks and various chances to develop 2 more.  It's not much use playing for hearts to break 3-3 as that will only generate one extra trick  and will probably generate 4 losers in hearts and clubs putting you under pressure.  A simple line is to win the club and take an immediate spade finesse.  If it loses, you will need to play the diamonds for 4 tricks by finessing the Jack and hoping for the suit to break.  However, if the spade finesse wins, you only need 3 tricks from diamonds so you should play this suit in the optimal way by cashing the King first, then the Ace and then back towards the Jack.  You are well rewarded on this hand as a look at all four hands will show.


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HotD-thu : CBC Pairs League : 10oct17 : B8

We saw the strongest responding hand for some time last night, when the 24-count shown heard partner open a weak NT, of the 11-14 range.  There is no doubt that you want to bid a slam, but the question is whether to bid a small slam or a grand slam, and in no-trumps or in a suit?

The conventional wisdom is that you need 37 hcp (actually I might lower this) to make 7N and that is probably true as long as the points missing do not include a king.  It is very hard, on balanced hands, to make 12 tricks in just three suits to go with the ace in the fourth.  Here there are only two kings missing and it would be nice to check on these before bidding 7N.   It's also worth considering a suit contract, as that often generates an extra trick.  The same consideration - missing a king is bad news - applies to a suit contract, and if you are missing just a few jacks or a queen and a jack, the extra trick from the 4-4 fit might not matter.

The key when you don't know what to do is to consult partner.  You might start with 2♣ asking for majors, or 2♠ (for some) starting a Baron sequence (bidding suits up the line).  Again it comes back to the missing kings - you could find a suit fit and then invoke ace and king asking, but if you don't find a fit, any NT bid will be natural and you lose the chance.  This is curiously a position where Gerber 4♣ becomes useful - just like it was useful on one hand about 8 years ago!   You can check for aces and then for kings and when a king is missing, it seems that 6N is the prudent choice.

How well does that work?  Look at the hands and the answer ....


Simulation of 103 openers opposite this particular 24-count showed that

  • 60% of the openers were 11-counts, and 30% were 12-counts;  only 10% were upper range.
  • A third of the time you want to be in 6N, one third in 7N, and one third the grand is 50%.
  • Asking range (via 5N) got you to the preferred level 80% of the time (guessing is 50%), even if it gave the wrong answer on this hand.
  • A suit fit was relevant only 30% of the time it was present, and it offered a full extra trick one quarter of that time (and made a 50% grand slam into 95% the remainder).
  • The range is as good an indicator of whether to stop in 6N as is the absence of a king.

As you can see there is one king missing (and a jack) but there are 13 top tricks - so much for science!

The results were surprisingly varied.  Two pairs hit a disaster when consulting partner after the 1N opener, by raising to 5N.  It is pretty standard that this is a choice of slams - either 6N or 7N because no suit has been mentioned.  Sad to say, two players didn't pick upon this and passed 5N to score an embarassing +520.  And these were in the first and second divisions, while everyone in the third division did bid the slam.

Four of the remaining 10 pairs bid the grand slam.  Some chose 7N without consulting partner, and might not have made that choice if they knew they had only 36 hcp and were missing a king - but it's the result that matters!  Anyone who consulted partner, would have got a negative response from such an unappealing 12-count, and stopped in the small slam.


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HotD-wed : Winter Pairs : 9oct17 : B19

This hand looks like a very easy slam to bid, but it eluded most pairs on Monday night. A lot was generally read into North's response to the opening bid.  Where North bid 1♠ it was followed by clubs from South and now North became mesmerised by the two stops in the fourth suit, and quickly bid 3N.  In practice this contract made even though there were five top spades to be cashed. 

But better contracts were available.  After 1 - 1♠ one South rebid 4 and his partner just charged ahead (via 4N asking about keycards) into 6 and they got the top score on the board. One pair started really well, when North preferred to bid the stronger club suit first. This style is to be encouraged, as long as the hand has game forcing values. The initial 2-level bid, especially if game forcing, gets partner thinking game and slam rather than part-score and it often works out well.  Here it sh asould have hit the jackpot as South can now bid 3♠ to show a good hand with club support and short spades.  Bidding the slam is easy then, although this pair had a slight mix-up and ended (disastrously) in 6N. 

One other pair bid to 6♣ - perhaps they'll tell us how ....

HotD-tue : Winter Pairs : 9oct17 : B11

The East hand on this board was the wildest distribution seen on Monday.  After South's pre-empt, North might well have raised to game, as hearing either 3N or a spade bid from East would not be good news.  The pass gave East a much improved chance to describe the hand, here with a 4 bid promising a major-minor two suiter.    Over this West could easily bid 4♠ but now East had to ask - was this enough?

In practice East chose to bid 5 next, clearly a slam try and agreeing spades.  A bid of 5♣ might have been more informative, but it was likely that partner knew which was the second suit, and it was better not to introduce any doubt as to the denomination in which to play.  At this point things went wrong and the pair ended up in 6♠.  

You might think it was all over then but propsects were improved when North led a heart.  Now dummy's diamond was discarded and declarer was given an entry to hand.  The best play in the spade suit, with no informaiton about distribution, is to cash the ace and king.   Here, when South is known to have seven hearts to North's three, the odds change and - given no opportunity to cash a top spade first - the best odds are a first round finesse of the jack.   Sad to say, declarer was aware of this and took the finesse and when it lost the contract could no longer be made.

Could the defence have avoided that heart lead?  One option would be for South to double the 5 (or even the 4) bid by East.  Since partner was by default leading a heart, this is not a lead directing bid but an anti-lead-directing bid - suggesting to partner that they might be disappionted in this suit and there is an alternative which might work better.   While this might get the diamond lead you want - look what happens if North, as they might, finds a club lead.  Decalrer has no choice but to play the spades from the top, find an entry to hand with the ♠T, and dispose of the diamond on the A.  The slam now makes!

How do you Play?

West leads the J against 4♠.  You cover and ruff East's Ace.  How do you continue?

You need an entry to dummy to make the K.  You could try leading a heart to the Jack which gives you a 50% chance. However, it is better to play the hearts no worse than 4-3. Lead the Q at trick 2. If the opponents take this, the heart Jack is an entry for the King of diamonds. If the Q is ducked, play the Ace and ruff a heart. You can now discard a heart on the K and try the club finesse for an overtrick.


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An Elusive Defence

You lead a top heart against 3♠.  Partner signals a doubleton.  How do you defend from here?

Declarer is surely at leat 5-5 in his suits.  You  look to have 2 hearts and a diamond trick.  You wont be beating this contract if declarer is 6-5 or has a void club, so assume he has a 5251 shape.  Now if partner holds the ♣A and ♠9 you can prevail.  Switch to a club at trick 2.  Partner will win the Ace and return a heart.  Now a third heart allows partner to promote you a trump winner to go with your eventual diamond trick.  Everyone has met this kind of situation many times, yet somehow the right defence is seldom found.


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How do you Play?

You arrive in 6♠ and West leads the Q.  How do you play?

There are no ruffs to be had in dummy so it looks like you will need the club finesse.  However, you can improve on this.  If trumps break then a dummy reversal sees you home.  Take the A and ruff aheart at trick 2.  Now ♠T and a spade to the Jack reveals the trump break.  If they are 4-1 then you will be back on the club finesse but if they are 3-2, then ruff a heart with ♠Q and play a diamond to the Queen to ruff another heart with the Ace of spades.  Now cross to the ♣A and draw the last trump, discarding a club.  Your remaining diamond winners bring your total to 12.


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Careful With Your Entries

You play in 4 on the lead of the ♠2.  You try the Queen but that loses and the J is returned to the Queen, King, and Ace.  What now?

You have been unlucky so far and you need some favourable lies from now on.  You hope to make 6 trumps, 2 clubs and the 2 Aces.  The normal method of tackling the heart suit would be to run the Jack and then take another finesse if the Jack has not been covered.  However, you won't make the contract if you play like that as you will then lack the entries to lead clubs twice towards dummy. Best play is a heart to your Ten, followed by a club.  West will duck and you win the Queen.  Now you can play the J from the table, overtaking with the Queen.  Now the Ace of trumps draws the King and another club to dummy establishes your tenth trick with the ♠A as an entry to dummy.


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HotD-thu : CBC Championship Pairs : 03oct17 : B2

All 11 tables played this hand in 3N, and whether it was easy or not came down to the opening lead.  Declarer has one top trick in hearts, and four in diamonds, and two in clubs.  When a spade was led by the spade bidder round to the king the total is eight and declarer should try clubs next - but when they were found to be 4-1 offside, there was only two club tricks.  The fall back is to play hearts - so come to a top diamond and play a heart to the ten and when that holds, you now have nine tricks.

But only six declarers got a spade lead - the record shows one defender led a club, one led a heart, and three led diamonds. The problem is much the same with any of these leads - you test the suits and find you have two hearts, four diamonds, and two clubs.  So you need to manufacture a trick out of spades.  Can you do that?


The answer is yes, but it needs an endplay to do it. On the natural play of two clubs and then a heart finesse before cashing the diamonds - you can work out that West was 4-1 in the minors and has bid spades, and so it likely to have a 5341 shape. That means West is open to an endplay.  If you play a spade at this point,West can win it but will simply play a second heart to avoid the endplay.  The answer is to cash the A before playing spades, and now West can win the spade and cash the K but then has only spades left and has to lead one round to declarer's king.   Notice that declarer didn't (and cannot afford to) play the king on the first round of spades - in fact playing small from both hands is good enough as long as you lead from the North hand and cover East's card. If East held any of ♠Q6/♠Q7/♠J6/♠J7 it would have been important to lead the ♠ 8 for the first round duck.  However if West had the AQJ76 then East could cover the eight with the nine and you are doomed. The most likely holding is one of ♠Q6/♠Q7/♠J6/♠J7, so go for that and be pleased that playing with the odds brings the contract home.


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HotD-wed : Winter Swiss teams : 02oct17 : B25

This hand proved troublesome to a number of teams on Monday. It represents an unsound slam, as with a spade loser you need to find the club king onside and the diamond king onside (usually) and that's only a 25% shot before you factor in not losing two spades.

After the opening bid the responding hand will always be thinking about slam possibilities, but the opening bid shows limited values and that means slam is uncertain. The answer is for responder to consult opener. After the sequence above reaches 3♠ the West hand can show interest in two ways. Bidding a natural, invitational 4N as shown is one (ace asking would cue bid then bid 4N), and cue bidding and then stopping in 4♠ is the other.  But the fact is that four pairs could not stop before the 6-level.

But now to the play. The three potential losers are in clubs, diamonds and spades and you can only afford one.  There are two ways to tackle the spade suit; if you cannot afford a loser you must find doubleton QJ or North with a singleton honour - and starting with the king on the first round is best. If on the other hand you can afford one but not two losers in spades, the best play is different.  

How do you tell what to do?  The answer is to test the minor suits first.  If you try them both and find both finesses working, the best play in the spade suit is to start with small to the ten. This allows you to pick up all 3-2 breaks and all 4-1 breaks except for singleton honour with South.

None of those in slam found the winning line. One declined the club finesse at trick one, convinced that nobody would lead away from the king.  Another started the spades by leading the ace.  It is very important that if you bid 23% slams, that you do succeed on the 23% of occasions when the cards are lying just right!


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HotD-tue : Swiss Teams 2 : 2oct17 : B28

There was a variety of results on this board, even though everyone played in spades. There were 6 tables in 4♠, 5 tables in 3♠, and just one stopped in 2♠.  The results were all 9 or 10 tricks with most of those in game making it when it can or should go down one.

First to the bidding shown. The third in hand 2 opener is stronger than usual but was chosen as a 2 rebid was likely on this hand and starting at the 2-level can make life difficult for the opponents. Here it goaded South into stretching with 3 showing spades and a minor.  North had been expecting a bit more and also stretched to game, but it turned out that every high card was playing a useful part and the game was viable. Opening 1 would have made it easier for North-South to stop in a part-score.

Over to East for the opening lead. Given partner would have little, East had to look to a ruff ruff to gain a trick, so out came the J.  West won trick one with the ace and now needed to stop and think.  After the top diamond and a ruff, there were still two tricks to find, and this meant East having either two aces or one ace and the KQ.   Two of these three need East to hold the spade ace, and from that thought Mark Rogers spotted a third more attractive alternative, needing just the spade ace with East.

He switched to his singleton heart. Now when partner won the ♠A there would be a heart ruff, and after that could come the diamond ruff. Really neat, and he beat the game by doing this. The other table took the diamond ruff at trick two, after which the only successful defence would be to lead away from the long hearts (so as to give partner a heart ruff after winning the♠A) but this was not found.

The key to getting this hand right is to be thinking in terms of all the tricks you need to beat the contract, and not just thinking one trick at a time.

Test your Play

How do you play on the lead of K?

The best chance on this hand is to assume that trumps are breaking 3-2 (or perhaps that someone has a singleton King). Ruff the opening lead and lay down the ♠A. Then just play on clubs. You hope to restrict the defense to just 3 trump tricks. The hands as shown are one of very many combinations that allow the contract to make.


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A Difficult Defence

3NT is gambling style, showing a solid minor with little outside strength.  You lead the ♣A and partner drops the 4 and declarer the 7.  How do you continue?

The problem with playing a second top club is that you may be establishing the ten in dummy as the ninth trick.  If you play a low club at trick 2, declarer may score a trick with the ♣Q.  Since partner must be credited with the K, it cannot cost to play a heart at trick 2.  In case declare holds the 9, you must switch to the T.  Full marks if you got this one right, as this is not easy.


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Down In Your Own Hand

As West, You lead the Ace of Clubs.  Hopeful of having 2 Aces and 2 trump tricks, you next cash the Ace of Diamonds.  What now?

Were you tempted to switch to a heart?  If you do, declarer wins the Ace and plays a trump to his King, exposing the trump position.  He uses his 2 entries to hand (a heart ruff and the K) to finesse against your trumps and makes his contract.  The winning defence is to play a diamond at trick 3.  This removes one of South's entries prematurely and he can no longer make the contract.


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A Common Problem

West leads the ♠Q against your 3NT contract.  Plan the play.

If West holds ♠QJTxx and A, then your contract is in danger if you duck at trick 1.  On the second round of spades East will unblock the ♠K and this sets up the spade suit for the defence.  You cannot prevent West getting in with his A and cashing enough tricks to defeat you.  If you plan to play the ♠A at trick 1, East cannot afford to unblock the King on the first trick as dummy's 9 then becomes a second stop. When East plays small, it is therefore best to play the Ace of spades at trick 1. However, you should be aware that this might not always work against very good defenders.  If West held KQJTx of spades and no entry, it would be a good play to lead the Queen at trick 1 to induce declarer to play the Ace immediately as above.  Then when South eventually plays diamonds, partner could win and would have a spade to return to allow West to cash his winners. Bridge can be a tough game.


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HotD-thu : Mens/Ladies Pairs : 25sep17 : B17

Two pairs reported how they had squandered their chance of first place in the Mens' Pairs though a lunacy on just one hand.   For some pairs it took lunacies on more than one hand!  This was one hand in question ...

The bidding shown wasn't the same at all tables but the issue was how to play the 4♠ contract.  First about getting there - there were five tables out of ten did not reach 4♠ (and of the five which did only 2 made).   The preemptive 3 by West was not a stretch by any means, and some bid 4 directly over the opening bid.  But in either case, South must take fuirther action and over a double North will always bid 4♠.   What is less clear is whether an 11-card heart fit will bid on, but here with such a quacky hand, East was in no doubt that it would be too expensive.

The opening lead against 4♠ was a small heart, but the six was high enough for East to know that partner had the KJ7 in the suit.  South won the first trick and continued with a spade to the ace and a second spade. From this play - surely a heart ruff at trick two would be better - East can deduce that partner has seven clubs, and declarer the singleton ace.  East ducked the second spade and the queen won the trick. Declarer turned his attention now to clubs and played out three rounds of the suit.  It was superfically attractive to East to wait to ruff the fourth round of club, cutting declarer off from dummy, but there is a trap.  If you duck the ♣T, as one player did, declarer just plays another spade off dummy and has four spades, the heart ace and five clubs to win.  It is therefore imperative to ruff the third club and accept that declarer will get to the fifth one.

After ruffing and cashing the spade king, East can see that it will all come down to the defense making or not making two diamonds.  It is a toss-up between forcing an immediate guess from declarer, and playing on but concealing your heart honours in the hope that declarer plays you for the diamond ace.  The latter doesn't really work, as a low heart lead at trick one virtually denies a KQ or QJ holding, and so East surely has the Q to go with the ♠K and  ♣Q - and now the A is inconsistent with a first round pass.  There is also the signal which West made on the second spade - was that a strong signal for diamonds?  All in all, declarer should get this right, and run the J in due course for the tenth trick.

At the table whose bidding was illustrated, East went wrong by not forcing an immedate guess, but South missed the inferences about the 11-count and played a diamond to the king.


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HotD-wed : Men's/Women's Pairs : 25sep17 : B6/7

These two hands were remarkably similar; both featured a borderline 2♠ opener first in hand, vulnerable, when the opponents can make a slam.  And with the dealer rotating, it balanced out with a slam in each direction!

In both cases the opener has a six card spade suit and only 5 HCP but also a 4-card side suit; the advantage of being first in hand makes a clear case for opening the bidding.  Again curiously, the next hand has values and a six card heart suit. In the case shown the hand is just too strong for a simple overcall and needs to start with a double.  But the spotlight now shines on the third hand, which (again in both cases) held four card spade support and a weak hand. All reports known have West passing at this point, with the vulnerability causing the player there to shy away from preempting further.  Not doing this allowed the fourth hand an easy cue bid and the road to slam was opened.

But in practice it still proved difficult. Only half the field on board 6 bid the slam (and slightly under half on B7).  But bidding the slam on this hand didn't finish the interest. You can see that except for the (unachievable) option of 6 by North, both 6♣ and 6 can be defeated by a ruff.  The difficulty is finding the ruff. At the four tables which played in 6 only one table found that ruff, and that was when East produced a Lightner double asking for an unusual lead.  It is tricky to decide when such a double is worthwhile; here it would beat the suit slam but if North-South are awake, they should run to 6NT and that is unbeatable!

[Later addition: two tables have now emerged where West raised to 4♠ and in both those cases the slam was missed.]

Board 7 had no voids, and the slam there is unbeatable. But there was a trap and one declarer went down by not drawing trumps early enough.

HotD-tue : Men's/Women's Pairs : 25sep17 : B5

There were a few instances last night of little used but but useful techniques.  Here it was Morton's Fork.

Good judgement was shown all round in the bidding, with East-West stealing all the bidding space that was needed for a sensible slam auction. The 5 contract was never in doubt, but the game is matchpoints, so the overtricks all matter. There seems to be a "sure" diamond loser and the spade finesse to take, but many declarers did better than that. Here's how...

After winning the club lead in dummy, declarer led a diamond towards hand. East could not jump up with the diamond ace, or the club king, diamond king and the fifth diamond would take care of declarer's losing spades. After the Q won, declared was able to play heart ace and a heart to the jack, after which the club king took care of the 6.  Now declarer was able to take the spade finesse for a possible 13 tricks. 



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How do you Play?

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

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


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The Clues are There

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

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

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


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Another Defensive Problem

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

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


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The Heart of Good Defending

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

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


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HotD-thu : County League : 18sep17 : B14

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

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

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

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

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


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HotD-wed : County League : 18sep17 : B4

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

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

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

HotD-tue : County League : 18sep17 : B2

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

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

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

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

Listen to the bidding

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

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


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and now for something completely different...

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

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


Spotlight on East

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

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


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Count the Tricks

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe next time!

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


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HotD-wed : Winter Pairs : 11sep17 : B12

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

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

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

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

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

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


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HotD-tue : WInter Pairs : 11sep17 : B4

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Watch the discards

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

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


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

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


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A defensive rarity

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

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


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Today's play problem

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

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


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HotD-thu : Winter Teams : : B26

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

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

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

The one trap to avoid is 1N-2♣-2-3N!

What happened to you?


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HotD-web : Swiss Teams : 4sep17 : B14

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

It's a tricky game.


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How do you defend?

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

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


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How do you Play?

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

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

What's the best line?

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

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


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What Now?

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

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

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

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


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