Board 26 from the teams session on 1 February was a textbook example of using elimination play to overcome a bad trump break.
1 Transfer to spades
The bidding is routine. At Pairs there might be a temptation for South to try 3NT instead of 4♠ in case the same number of tricks were available in either contract, but at Teams the safer contract is essential.
W leads ♦Q. Plan the play. Hint - can you avoid four losers and guard against a bad trump break?
Please use the form below if you have any comments.
When a contract looks easy, look out for what can go wrong. There is a probable loser in clubs and a possible one in hearts. It would be unlucky if both spade honours were offside (as it happens it is even worse, with KJ9 sitting over AQ10) but as this is a possibility, attention should be directed to avoiding a heart loser. This can be achieved if declarer can force the opponents to open up the hearts. To do this diamonds and clubs should be eliminated before playing on trumps, .
So... Win ♦A, ruff a diamond, return to ♣K, ruff the third diamond and play another club to ♣A. If East followed small, South would exit with the 3rd club, but when JC appears, it is likely that East has only two clubs, so South now plays ♠2 towards dummy. When West shows out, ♠10 should be played from dummy. East wins ♠J and is endplayed. A trump return would be helpful (but unlikely) and a diamond allows a ruff (in hand) and discard (club from dummy), so a heart switch is likely. This enables declarer to play the hearts without loss. East can ruff the third round but is endplayed again to lead a trump up to the AQ tenace or give a ruff and discard. The defence can only come to three spade tricks or a club and two spades.
Click here to play out the hand
Board 17 on Thursday 4th January 2108 was an example of what "might have been". A very difficult hand to sort out in the limited time available at the table.
At our table the bidding was
1 1NT is an alternative - either could be right but the singleton club is perhaps in favour of the double.
2 Directional asking bid.
3 Slightly pushy but it is Teams. 9 tricks may depend on whether or not the clubs come in.
How should North play 3NT on the lead of ♠10 - ducked by West after some thought?
There are two possible lines of play, both of which could be scuppered by communication problems.
a) Set up the clubs.
b) Play to make 3 spades, 4 hearts, a diamond and ♣A.
a) Set up the clubs. There will be 4 club tricks if the suit breaks 3-3 (unlikely on the bidding, as the spades are clearly 5-1) or if East has a singleton honour. The downside is that the hearts will be needed for entries so there may be only two heart tricks. If there are three club tricks and 1 diamond (assuming split honours), three tricks will be needed in spades. The danger is that the defence will take 5 tricks (a spade, two diamonds and two clubs) before the clubs can be established.
b) Play to make 3 spades, 4 hearts, a diamond and ♣A. This looks a better bet, but the timing must be perfect. Win ♠J and unblock both hearts. Lead ♠9 and DUCK when East covers, leaving A8 as a tenace over the K. (If ♠A is taken at this stage there will be only two spade tricks as there will be no entry to the fourth winning spade). Now West can cause a problem by switching to ♣J. This is more likely to be doubleton than singleton so it is safest to duck. West will continue with a spade. After cashing two spades and two hearts a diamond must be led, guessing who to finesse for ♦Q. West wins ♦A and can cash the fifth spade, but then has to lead a diamond to resurrect dummy.
The only time 3NT was bid and made it was played by South (did West not overcall spades?) and was favoured with lead of ♣J (which looks odd since South had presumably opened 1♣). This would have made it obvious to set up 4 club tricks.
A hand of the week submitted by Philip Wraight
Maxim: when a contract appears to be lay-down, look out for hidden problems, but when it appears impossible, go for any chance however unlikely.
This hand illustrates the latter situation. It was played at U3A (Chicago) on Friday 24 November so can be treated as teams tactics rather than pairs.
Playing basic Acol, I opened 1♣ (not 1♠) as South with a view to subsequently buying the contract in NT at the appropriate level. My partner responded 3♣ (not playing inverted minor raises). Now what? At Pairs it would be routine to rebid 3NT. At Teams a club contract looked safer, but should it be game or slam? I could see no sensible way to explore and simply punted 6♣, hoping there was no club loser and that with first round controls in all the other suits it would be possible to develop 12 tricks without losing two.
LHO led ♠K and partner was concerned about the 3♣ bid.
Point for discussion - should one count minor suit losers if a NT contract is still a possiblity? My view is, only on very distributional hands, prepared to pull a NT contract back to the minor. Again it may be different at teams or pairs. At the latter I think a raise to the 2level is better.
Plan the play. (Trumps split 2-1. If West gains the lead they will switch to a red suit).
I won ♠A, ruffed a spade and led a club, inserting 10 when East played ♣9 (in case she had started with KQ9). West won ♣Q and exited with ♦8, covered by Q, K and A. Now what?
I drew the last trump, crossed to dummy with another ruff, and led ♥Q, again covered by K and A. Now a Heart to 9 established a third heart winner on which the losing diamond went away and 12 tricks rolled in. This was extremely fortunate, depending not only on three successful red suit finesses, but also a mistake by East. Did you spot it?
Answer - When there are touching honours in a suit, it is usually right to cover the second honour not the first. If East had ducked ♥Q I could not have made 12 tricks.
This is the first hand we played in the final B division NBL match.
I thought we bid well to get to 6♥ by South. Sally (North) opened 1NT and broke my 2♦ transfer with 2NT (14 points, 4 Hearts and no small doubleton). Looking at just the NS hands the slam is odds on. There is no heart loser if the suit breaks 2-2 or if Q is singleton. Failing this you could fall back on the spade finesse. Can you improve on that line, assuming that you have a heart loser? The lead was ♦6.
In the B division 6♥ was bid 6 times (3 by North, 3 by South) but no-one made it. The other 10 pairs played in 4♥.
In the A division 6♥ was bid 3 times (1 by North, 2 by South) but no-one made it. One pair were in 6NT down 1 and the other 8 played in 4♥.
In the C division 6♥ was bid 3 times (1 by North, 2 by South) but no-one made it. The other 9 played in 4♥.
Can you do better?
(6♥ by North is much more difficult in practice so Sally and Philip did well to play it from the South hand)
Two further questions posed by Mike Rothwell:
How do you play the heart suit to guarantee making at least 4 tricks no matter what the heart distribution?
How do you play the heart suit to give the best chance of making 5 tricks?
I thought I could improve my chances by playing for an elimination - I nearly got it right.
How should it have gone? I was favoured with a ♦6 lead to Q and K. A heart to the K (10 dropping from E) and a heart to A confirmed that I had a heart loser. I should have played ♣K, ♣A and ruffed a club, ♦A and ruff the last club, ♦J discarding a spade. West is thown in with a heart and is is endplayed. Declarer makes the last three tricks whoever has ♠K.
Unfortunately I took my eye off the ball. I am not sure what distribution I was playing for but I completed the elimination by ruffing one club and discarding the other on the third diamond, leaving me with two trumps in both hands. Now when W is thrown in it doesn't matter whether he leads a spade, or gives me a ruff and discard, I still have a spade to lose.
So near and yet so far!
How do you guarantee at least 4 tricks?
You will always succeed if the suit breaks no worse than 3-1. If they break 4-0 you have to start by playing the A.
What is the best line for 5 tricks?
Start by playing the King. If West shows out you can finesse both the 10 and Queen. If West follows suit then next play the Ace. Overall this gives you a 57.0% chance. Unfortunately that line doesn't work on this particular hand.
Those who attended the recent "Teams Tactics" seminar should have benefited when playing this hand from Thursday 7 September.
There is a safety play which is almost the same as an example that we discussed.
1. At teams, how do you play the hearts to give the best chance of 4 tricks?
At match-pointed pairs the tactics are different. So how you would play the suit at pairs.
Assume that you have plenty of entries to both North and South. Just take the heart suit in isolation (you should normally consider the bidding and lead).
2. How do you play the hearts at pairs (i.e. to maximise the number of tricks)?
3. How would you play this hand at pairs if East opens 2♦ showing 8 playing tricks in diamonds and leads ♦A
1. At teams, how do you play the hearts to give the best chance of 4 tricks?
If the suit is breaking 3-2 then there is no problem. So you need to think about what to do if the suit breaks badly.
The best line is to cash the A first. This works unless West-East have:
Overall that is an 89.6% chance of at least 4 tricks.
This is how it was played at our table, making 11 tricks in total. Sadly North-South weren't in 4♥. It is difficult to reach after East opened 2♣ (8 playing tricks in an unspecified suit, or 23+ points balanced).
2. How do you play the hearts at pairs (i.e. to maximise the number of tricks)?
The best line at pairs is to lead the Q.
If the finesse works then play East for the 10.
If the finesse fails then play the A when you regain the lead.
This guarantees making at least 3 tricks. It gives you a 87.6% chance of making at least 4 tricks and a 10.2% chance of making 5 tricks.
On average you expect to make 3.98 tricks.
3. How do you play the hands at pairs?
Since East has opened the bidding (either 1♦ or showing 8 playing tricks in diamonds) then there is a strong case for making the safety play, even at pairs. Do you agree?
This is a hand submitted by Philip Wraight from Thursday 31 August.
1 Not strong enough to reverse to 2♦. Only 3 trumps but they may be useful for ruffing hearts.
2 Only 11 points but 6 losers now that spades are agreed and partner opened the bidding. You also hope (wrongly) that ♣Q is a useful card.
Plan the play in 4♠ if
a) The lead is 7♦
b) West cashes ♥A (after East overcalled hearts during the auction) and switches to 7♣
c) W leads 7♣ (if you play small from dummy, E will win ♣K and switch to ♠6)
a) There is a heart loser, a possible club loser and probably at least one trump loser. On a good day East will have Kx or Kxx. On a bad day West will have KJx and you will have two trump losers. One of the reasons for not drawing trumps immediately (usually the right thing to do) is to play first to discard potential losers. Assuming West does not have ♦K (likely on this lead) you can discard a potential club loser on a good diamond by winning ♦A and leading ♦Q (discarding a club if East does not cover). When East plays ♦K you ruff, cross to dummy with ♣A and discard ♣Q on ♦J. Now there is a second reason not to draw trumps. One of your heart losers will go away on the ♦10 but you need to ruff two others in dummy. So now play a heart. ♥K loses to ♥A but West cannot play trumps without helping you. You can now ruff two hearts in dummy (ruffing clubs as entries back to hand. You will eventually discover a bad trump break but all you will lose is ♥A and two trumps. Two out of three declarers receiving a diamond lead, failed to make 10 tricks, although one of these had stopped in part score.
b) (i) The lead of ♥A should have made it easier for declarer, but two out of three failed to make the spade game, one by two tricks. Win ♣A, cash ♦A and take the ruffing finesse in diamonds. Ruff ♦K and cross to dummy with a heart ruff and discard a club on ♦J as in a), ruff a club in hand and ruff another heart in dummy (W plays ♥Q on this trick). These cards remain:
♣ J 6 4
♠ A Q 9 7
The contract is now safe as you can lose two trumps at most, but can you see how you might make all the remaining tricks but one? Hint: West has shown up with three hearts. East made a very light overcall so probably has only one spade. At the start you and dummy had 5 diamonds and 7clubs between you. What is West's probable shape and how can you take advantage of it?
Answer b)(ii). It looks as if West started with a 3-3-4-3 shape and now has KJx - x x remaining. Declarer can now execute a "trump coup" by cashing ♦10D, discarding ♥H! and ruffing a club (reducing his trumps to 3, the same as West). Now South can exit with a trump (Q is better than 9, in case East's singleton was the J) and West is endplayed into leading from ♠J4 up to declarer's ♦A. 11 tricks made, losing only ♥A and a trump.
Finally c) How can S make 10 tricks in spades on an initial club lead? This is very difficult even looking at all four hands, and almost impossible at the table, when South has to make crucial early decisions before he knows there are two probable trump losers. South must duck the club lead and win the trump switch with ♠A. (On a heart switch West can be endplayed as described above). Now ♦A and the ruffing finesse, trumping ♦K as before. ♣Q is overtaken by ♣A and three hearts are discarded on ♦QJ and ♣J. ♥K is discarded on a club. West ruffs in, but too late to cash ♥A and the only tricks for the defence are ♣K and two trumps.
Postscript. If you held
what action would you have taken when your RHO opened 1♣?
This is a hand sumbitted by Philip Wraight from Tuesday 11 July supervised play. What should North bid after South has opened 1NT, and why?
What should North have been thinking? With a good 7-card heart suit, first round controls in both minors and knowing the combined HCPs are 28-30, game in hearts is a certainty and slam a possibility. The latter is unlikely unless partner has ♥K, and either ♠A or ♠KQ, when it becomes odds on, because the defence cannot cash two early tricks.
A transfer followed by 4NT should show 5 hearts and 19-20 points, inviting slam in hearts or NT if partner is maximum - not relevent here. Asking about aces and kings also does not get the job done.
I think the best approach is an immediate 3♥ bid, showing a good 6+ card heart suit and slam possibilities. With a couple of little hearts South should sign off in 3NT, and North will convert to 4♥. With ♥K and ♠A, South should cuebid 3♠, which is all the encouragement North needs to bid 6♥. (If playing Roman Keycard Blackwood or "5 ace" Blackwood, North could double check that S holds ♠A and ♥K). The suggested elegant bidding sequence is 1N 3♥ 3♠ 6♥
Now plan the play, after East leads ♣K
♠ J 5
♥ A Q 10 8 4 3 2
♦ A J
♣ A 10
♠ A Q 6
♥ K 5
♦ K 9 4 3
♣ 9 8 6 2
Answer. There are 11 top tricks and the 12th can be established in spades. After drawing trumps, there is no alternative to taking the spade finesse. You play the J (if it is not covered, and holds you have 13 tricks) which E covers and you win with A.
(Comment - it is not in general a good idea to bid a slam depending on a finesse, but in this case only club lead creates a problem, which would have been unlikely if K and Q had been in different hands)
Points to note:
1.When slamming, only ask for aces if you can see 12 tricks as long as 2 aces are not missing. It is generally wrong to do so with a small doubleton in a side suit, unless partner has made a cue bid.
2 Transfers are extremely useful in deciding between Game/part score and Trump/ N T but are in general not useful at slam level.
3 Think before making your first bid - once you have made a transfer on this hand you cannot recover.
It is difficult to see but you can make all 13 tricks. As so often is the case with a long suit, try the effect of playing them all.
This is hand 8 from the Murray League final as reported by Philip Wraight playing with Sally. Tim Harrison and Brian Smith were their team-mates.
The Bidding went:
I thought I was too strong for a Lucas 2♠ but did not like to open "rule of 20" 1♠ as I could not stand a red suit response. I mentally upgraded my intermediates and opened 1NT. Sally bid Stayman and raised to 3♠ over my 2♠ response. I found I had 7 losers so went on to 4♠ in spite of my 11 points. East lead ♥J and I won the second round. How do you plan the play (East has 3 spades)? Hint: You have lost ♥A and when you play the two top trumps you discover there is a trump loser, so you have to play to avoid two club losers. The clubs, missing A and Q are a so called "broken suit" which you would prefer the opponents to open up. If you play the suit yourself, you have to guess who has ♣A and ♣Q and cannot succeed if East has both cards.
Best is to play for an elimination and endplay. So play 3 rounds of diamonds and ruff a heart. This eliminates the red suits. Now play a spade. East wins but has to open up the clubs or give a ruff and discard. The latter is a better defence (found by Tim at the other table), which would have left me guessing whether West had ♣A or ♣Q, but East cashed ♣A and gave up.
(Note that you can hover your mouse over each of the hands above to see details of points etc.)
This is a teams of 4 hand from Thursday 2nd March played by John Toothill and Jim Lawson.
The opening bid of 1♠ shows an admirable devotion to the adage "6-5, come alive".
John and Jim were the only pair to reach 5♣.
John played safely to make his contract. This gave them an excellent score of 12 IMPs when their team mates made 2♥ as North-South.
In fact, at one table, North-South were allowed to make 4♥, although it should go off on any lead from East.
The eagle-eyed will have noticed that East-West can actually make 6♣ as the cards lie, even on a heart lead.
This is a hand played at Burton as reported by Geoff Harrison playing with Joan Thomas.
North led ♦J. West discarded a club from dummy, won ♦A in hand, cleared the trumps, yielded one club.
Heart and Club winners and cross-ruffing secured the rest.
As East, I reasoned that with West’s overcall, game in spades was a certainty but that the void in my Diamonds, length in Clubs and the ♥A, the absence of points in West’s Spade suit meant points in Hearts and elsewhere. Thus that if she had one ace, then a small slam was on.
And so it proved. If there are no aces in West’s hand then 5♠ was a safe close out.
Nobody else found the slam, most were in game and made the same 12 tricks. Three pairs were slightly less successful!
On this occasion the bidding has yielded a good result, but some points worth stressing:
1. How does East know that West doesn't have 2 small clubs. That would lead to 6♠ going down.
2. West's 1♠ overcall is not recommended. If North ends up as declarer, do you really want East to lead a spade?
3. North should double rather than bid 2♦. That way you will find a 4-4 heart fit.
4. If West passes rather than bidding 1♠, North bids 1♥, then East can bid 2NT to show at least 5-5 in the other two suits. West jumps to ♠4. East can then cue bid diamonds (denying a club control) and West can bid 6♠ with confidence.
Here's a fascinating hand from the SBU Peebles Autumn Congress, as reported by Babs Matthews.
It is Teams and North/South are vulnerable.
The bidding at our table went
At another table it went
At yet another it went
Which of the above auctions do you think you and your favourite partner would have followed?
Can you see the most improbable game that can be made by North/South? Click "Show Answer" and then see if you can make that game.
3NT makes (very fortuitously) as does 3♠ by South.
This was hand 7 played at Grange on Tuesday 16 August and reported by Jill Rushton. It is fairly routine but does illustrate an important principle of defence.
The contract was 1NT by East.
The lead was ♦4 at every table, which is obviously from a 4-card suit.
The contract was allowed to make at 4 tables (once with 1 overtrick and once with 2 overtricks), but it should be defeated.
North played A and declarer the 10. What should North return?
The normal card to return is the higher of your remain doubleton (i.e. the middle of the original 3 cards).
That is a very good principle which allows partner to judge what to do next.
But there is also a more important principle, which is to think about the specific situation.
Here the sight of the ♦8 in dummy should make North realise that the ♦9 is a crucial card.
So North played the ♦4, which is (almost) the only return to defeat the contract.
(The only other card to defeat the contract is ♠Q, which is hardly obvious!)
If you look at all 4 hands you will see that South can win the second trick and continue with ♦7 to North's ♦9 .
So North/South will eventually win 4 diamonds, 2 spades and 1 club.
The other principle worth mentioning is that of whether to return partner's suit or not.
Here a club return is tempting, but the sight of J x in dummy is offputting as it might help declarer.
So on this hand it looks most sensible to return partner's suit, and it is clearly not going to be totally wrong.
So the principle is to return partner's suit unless it is clearly wrong or you have a good reason of your own for switching (e.g. a good suit or to avoid endplaying partner).
This hand illustrates the problem of responding in a competitive auction.
Sitting East I had a problem after Tim, sitting West, had opened 1♥ and North overcalled 2♣. I had 5 spades but I didn't have the 10+ points necessary to bid the one round forcing 2♠ . Instead I made a negative double which only promised at least 4 spades. South now bids 3♣ and West has a real dilemma of how to show his strength and keep the options open for game in hearts, spades or NT. West's 3♥ bid ended the auction missing the spade game.
Philip's answer to West's dilemma was a second negative double (technically known as a "responsive double"). This cannot be for penalties (with any suitable hand for a penalty double West would bid 3N). It must show extra values, 5 hearts (East does not know you have more than 4), 3 spades (with 4 West bids 4♠) and denies two club stops so not suitable for 3N. East would have bid 3♠ to show his fifth spade and deny three hearts allowing the correct contract to be reached.
Feel free to add comments or questions about this Hand of the Week.
This deal illustrates the difficulty of bidding minor suit slams and was too difficult for Tuesday players, none of whom got beyond game, although all but one made 13 tricks.
At two tables I was watching the bidding went 1♣ - 3♣! - 5♣. East is, of course, much too strong for a limit bid but West could still have risked 4NT as it is unlikely partner has only one ace.
I have thought of six ways to get to 7♣, most of which also lead to 7NT.
This is the simplest bidding:
1 Respsonder's jump shift showing 16+ points, good diamonds and (after subsequent club support) a slam try in opener's suit
2 Three aces in Blackwood or Keycard Blackwood. With Roman Keycard Blackwood, the response to 4NT is 5♣.
Playing inverted minors and Roman Keycard Blackwood (neither available on Tuesdays) the bidding is nice and simple:
1 Agreeing clubs and forcing
2 If 5NT asks for specific kings, the 6♦ response enables West to count 13 tricks and bid 7NT. (Note that if East denies the ♦K then West can count 13 tricks in 7♣)
Feel free to add comments or questions about this Hand of the Week.
At our table there was the above unopposed auction to 3NT (no checkback by East). Our team mates bid better to 4♥ which is destined to go one off - they were the only pair in the room to bid and make the heart game.
On lead, Sally ruled out both majors. As the auction suggested a safe rather than attacking lead she settled on ♣J rather than ♦3. Any other lead makes it relatively easy for West to make the contract. I felt I could not spare any card but the 6. In spite of this "discouraging" signal, when West, not unreasonably, ducked she continued with ♣9 after overcoming her surprise at still being on lead. A low card again from dummy and I played the ♣10 in tempo, mainly because I was worried that West would duck again if I played ♣8 and Sally would be endplayed. However it had the additional advantage that when West won the ♣A he assumed Sally had ♣8. He not unreasonably played a heart to the ♥K, and discovered the bad break. He could still have recovered with a spade to the ♠10 but not totally unreasonably played ♠K which Sally took with the ♠A. It was not clear to Sally to return a spade now but she did well to avoid a diamond lead and played a safe heart. Declarer could now see the way to 8 tricks - a spade, four hearts (losing one) two diamonds (losing one) and a club. Assuming North had ♣8 the 9th trick could be safely established in clubs so declarer played ♣7. When Sally showed out, I had two club tricks and a diamond return led to one down.
Only one pair bid to the correct grand slam on board 22 from Thursday 17 March.
One pair got to the wrong grand slam (7♠) but made it on an unfortunate (i.e. poor) lead.
The bidding shown is one route to the top contract of 7♥
Looking at the North hand it is tempting to assume that you will be playing in spades.
But remember that a 4-4 usually plays better, since the long suit can be used for discards or (as here) for setting up a suit for no losers. So it is usually correct to show 2 suits rather than just 1 - don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
It is rarely correct to use Blackwood when you have a void. North used it to find out if South had the ♣A (to be able to discard the losing diamond). If the answer was “no, I don’t have any aces” then North would have asked for specific kings. If South shows ♣K then North would sign off in 6♥. If South shows ♦K (or both kings) then North bids 7♥
Note that 7♥ is a very good contract. Trumps and spades need to break no worse than 4-1
In fact you can make 7♥ on some 5-0 breaks. If East holds the following hand, you still make 7♥
♥ 10 6 4 3 2
♦ 10 6 4 3
♣ K 9 8
We use 5NT to ask for specific kings. Remember that there are only 3 kings to worry about, since the king of trumps is one of the 5 key cards. With one king, you bid that suit. With two kings, you bid the suit where you don’t have a king.
When North/South bid to the much poorer contract of 7♠, East made the unfortunate lead of a trump. Whilst it is usually safe against a grand slam, you should worry when it is a singleton, as it can easily pick up an important card. Here, any other lead is likely to defeat the slam.