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Interesting Bridge hands
Bidding to 6 Clubs (or even 7 Clubs)...

On this recent deal, most pairs failed to reach a lay down slam.  North, with a very strong hand, could open 2♠ or taking a more optimistic view, open 2♣.  Either way South would make a positive response with 3♣.  North would bid 3♠ and South should now show his second suit by bidding 4.  With his partner having bypassed 3NT, North should expect South to hold a good two suited hand and on the basis of that be prepared to play in a slam in clubs.

If you play Roman Key Card Blackwood, North could even check that his partner has the King of trumps before proceeding to 6♣ but holding all the Aces and trusting his partner's strong bidding, he should think they have enough values to bid to slam anyway.  In fact 13 easy tricks are there for the taking as the diamonds all come tumbling down, as do the spades.

The bidding sequence illustrated above is very straightforward, yet only one pair bid to 6♣.  Other contracts were 5♣, making all 13 tricks, two pairs ending up in 4♠ making 11 tricks and two pairs were in 3NT and managed to locate the queen of diamonds to make all 13 tricks.

This hand is a good example of listening to what your partner is bidding rather than just looking at your own hand. If North does not support his partner's clubs, they will not get to the slam.

 

 

A very distributional hand...

The above hand is quite crazy!  Almost anything can happen and I have shown the bidding at my table.  I expect most Norths would have opened 4♥ but anything is possible after that and with such distributional hands it is always very difficult to judge when to bid on or when to stop.

If East-West play in Spades, on the face of it they should lose two diamonds and one heart but that is only if Declarer is permitted to ruff a heart and a diamond with dummy's only two trumps.  Best defence would be for North-South to take their three winners then switch to a trump and they will then come to one more trick later on.

At our table, North doubled 5♠.  It is rarely right to bid on after your partner has doubled but looking at the South cards, you can see why South decided to bid 6.  6 was actually a good contract but very unlucky as it only went down because of an 8-0 club break otherwise it is cast iron for 12 tricks.  After the King of Spades lead, only an immediate club switch defeats the contract.

A contract of 6 by South cannot avoid losing a spade and a trump.

The par contract is therefore 5♠ doubled going two off as 5 makes 11 tricks.  The contracts on the traveller were 6 by North going one down, 5  by North just making, 5♠ doubled by West going two off, 6 doubled by North going one down and 6♦ by South going one down.

Declarer Play in 3 No Trumps and 5 Diamonds

On this deal, all Easts were in game but hardly anyone made it.  Apart from one pair in 5, everyone was in 3NT.  There was a string of plus 50s to North-South as 4 pairs went off in 3NT and one pair went off in 5.

I expect the bidding sequence at most tables would have been as above and South would have led a 4th highest heart.  North puts up the queen and at this stage it is vital to do a quick review of the hand.  There are potentially plenty of tricks but you have a diamond loser if you play on diamonds and a possible losing club finesse.  If the queen of clubs is wrong, a heart is sure to come back and it is also quite likely that South will hold the Ace and 10 of hearts.  Also because South has led from length in hearts, it is more likely that North will have more than his fair share of clubs, including the likelihood of holding the queen.

Unless you do this quick analysis, it is all too tempting to cover the queen of hearts with the king at trick 1.  Unfortunately, anyone who did this was doomed to failure as sure enough, the club finesse fails at trick 2, a heart comes back through your Jx at trick 3 and South now makes four heart tricks and 3NT is one off.

However, look what happens if you duck the queen of hearts.  A heart is returned at trick 2 and declarer now plays the King or Jack which loses to the Ace but when North later gets in with the losing club finesse, he has no further hearts to play and the contract is safe.

5 is also an interesting contract as although it is not the easiest of hands to play, the contract is makeable.  The most likely lead is top of the doubleton club.  This should immediately alert declarer that the queen is offside and the suit is likely to be breaking badly.  The contract is delicate so you have to hope for trumps to behave reasonably, ie a 3-2 break would be nice.  There is also some danger that if North gets in, he will lead a heart through and you don't know how the hearts lie.

The best play by declarer is therefore to win the opening club lead, then play two rounds of trumps.  Now, looking at the club pips, the lead of the 9 filled a very nice gap as you have all the other middle clubs apart from the queen.  You can therefore win a second top club and take a ruffing finesse through North's queen.  South can ruff if he likes but when you get in, you can now start to discard hearts on dummy's two winning clubs and you also have a trump left in dummy to ruff a losing spade.  

Your only losers are a trump and the Ace of hearts.  You are lucky that South held the outstanding trump so your king of hearts was always protected but even if North had held the outstanding trump, you would still have had time to discard two of your hearts before he could get in to lead a heart through.

This had the potential to be a flat board with 9 tricks available in No Trumps and 11 tricks in Diamonds with all East-Wests scoring 400 but of course that never seems to happen in practice and the only positive East-West scores were 3NT just making for 400 and 3NT making with an overtrick for 430.

 

Whose Game?

There was a wide variety of scores on the travellers on the above deal, not surprisingly as a game could be made by both sides.  On the score sheets we had two East-West pairs in 5 making 11 tricks, two East-West pairs were in 4 making 10 tricks, one North-South pair was in 4♠ making 11 tricks and one North-South pair was in 5♠ going two off.  Minus 200 was a second top for that North-South pair but had they been doubled, it would have been a bottom as they would have lost 500.

The bidding at all tables will probably have started 1 by East with West raising to 3♥.  After that a lot depends on whether North was brave enough to enter the auction.  At one table North doubled, East bid 4 and South then bid 4♠.  Personally I would have competed to 5 on East's cards as the hand is very distributional with good playing strength but little defence.

I expect the pairs who played in 4 didn't have any opposition bidding and those who ended up at the 5 level did.  There is no real right or wrong with these kinds of hands but fortune tends to favour the brave!

North-South can make 11 tricks in spades.  Providing the hand is played carefully, with the club finesse right, there are only two diamonds to lose.  In a heart contract East-West should lose the Ace of diamonds and two club tricks but a couple of pairs managed to sneak an 11th trick which is just as well as they were in 5♥.

With 11 tricks in spades makeable by North-South I suppose the par contract is therefore 6 doubled by East-West going two off and giving North South +300.  With hands like this it is almost impossible to judge what to bid and when to stop.  If North doesn't enter the auction, the hand is tame.  If he does, things are liable to get quite wild!

 

 

Playing the hand in 4 Spades or 3 No Trumps

When the above hand was played, it resulted in a wide variety of results - 2 going 2 off by South, 3NT making 11 tricks by West, 3NT going one off by East, 2♠ by West making 11 tricks and finally 4♠ going one off by West (twice).

4♠ is not an unreasonable contract but unluckily went off on a club lead. North led Ace, King and another club.  South ruffed and West overruffed.  Now he played Ace and another diamond to ruff in dummy but then tried to return to hand with a heart finesse.  North won and played a trump.  There was now no way declarer could avoid losing a diamond at some point to go one off.

With the benefit of hindsight, if declarer had played a heart to the Ace, he can now ruff a second diamond with dummy's Ace of spades, return to hand by ruffing a club, drawing trumps and eventually losing the queen of hearts at the end.

A vital additional spade in dummy would of course have solved all the problems as three rounds of trumps would have ended in dummy with the remaining clubs accessible for three discards but good quality 5-2 fits do work well sometimes.

At anoth♠ er table, East-West reached 3NT via the above auction.  North's double conveyed vital information and encouraged South to lead a low heart.  Declarer finessed the Queen which was probably wrong due to North's double and he ended up not being able to set up his clubs before going one down.  Only a heart or an unlikely spade lead jeopardises the contract, otherwise declarer has time to knock out the AK of clubs before losing his Ace of spades entry.  Had declarer gone up with the Ace of hearts, then played a club, he can now set up his clubs before losing control of the hearts.  Admittedly if South had started with J9xx of hearts, the contract would have failed anyway.  Easy after the event...

The safest contract is almost certainly 3NT played by the West hand as a probable heart lead gives away an extra trick and more importantly the time to set up the club suit.  The only lead to defeat 3NT by West is a spade.  Second best is leading the Queen of diamonds followed by the Jack when next in but providing Declarer ducks one of those, he is safe.  A heart lead by North gives Declarer an immediate 9 tricks without even having to bother with the clubs.

One pair managed to make 3NT with two overtricks played by the West hand.  

Defending 3 No Trumps

On this hand everyone played in diamonds by North (anything between 2 and 5), except at one table where the bidding ended up in 3NT.  North-South did have 25 points between them so when North opens 1, being in Game should have been a dead cert.  I expect most East's would have overcalled in hearts but most Souths would then probably have just supported partner's diamonds at some level.  As you can see from the bidding table, you could just change the suit and bid 2♣.  North now rebids 2 and after another heart bid, you can cue bid 3H to see whether 3NT or 5 is best.

5 is a lofty contract.  There are two Aces to lose, a bad trump break and a losing spade finesse so 10 tricks would be the maximum.

3NT is not unreasonable but, having said that, on best defence, it doesn't make either.  However, at the table, 3NT did make...  

The Queen of Hearts was led and won by dummy's Ace.  Then a small diamond was played from dummy and won by the King followed by a club towards dummy at which point East rose with the Ace and played the Jack of Hearts.  This was ducked (key play) and the third round of hearts won by declarer's King.  That was the end of the defence as when West got in with the Ace of diamonds, he had no heart to lead back to his partner so declarer made two hearts, four diamonds, two clubs and the Ace of spades for 9 tricks and the contract.

There was a clue for the defence in the bidding.  The bidding often gets overlooked during the defence and a couple of defensive errors then allowed this contract through.  First of all, I wonder how many West's would immediately note that their partner must be void in diamonds as soon as dummy goes down.  North had after all bid diamonds twice and must therefore have all five missing ones.  As West's diamond intermediaries are not strong enough, at trick 2 he should have risen with the Ace and immediately returned a heart to partner.  That defeats the contract as this preserves East's vital entry to get in later to run the hearts.

However, East also had a chance to defeat the contract by not going up with the Ace of Clubs.  Declarer would then have been back in dummy and had no option but to continue with diamonds so West would have had a second chance to rise with the Ace and play a heart back.

Of course, the irony of the hand is that despite holding values for game, North South cannot actually make a game.  No wonder flat boards are so rare!