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If anyone encounters some difficult hands from a bidding, play or defence point of view, email me at Fred.hotchen@btinternet.com and I will try to provide solutions in this section.

How would you play this hand?

Following the above bidding, West leads the 4, you play the 9 from dummy and East follows with the 7.  How would you plan to make this contract based on the information you have from the bidding and play so far?  You can click on the full deal and the answer.

This is not an easy hand to play but there are some vital clues in the opening lead and bidding.  When dummy goes down, you can see that West has overcalled on a weak suit.  You might assume this would therefore be a six card suit but his 4th highest lead of the 4 and East's play of the 7 confirm the diamonds must be 5-2.  Therefore for West to have overcalled on such a poor suit must mark him with most of the outstanding points and definitely the two black aces.  Also, you don't really expect a bad trump break as West would surely have doubled rather than bid 2♦ if he had had a singleton heart.

There are limited entries to dummy.  Definite losers are the two black aces and potential losers are the queen of clubs and queen of trumps and for both of these, if you are going to finesse, you will need to be in dummy.

The problem with this hand is that there are a few unknowns and quite a number of options on how to tackle the hand.  Best play is probably to win the diamond in hand with the Ace and play a spade towards dummy.  Not surprisingly the Ace shoots up and best defence now is for West to play another diamond which takes out an entry to dummy.  You take the marked finesse and now it is important to tackle the clubs while you still have your last entry to dummy, the king of trumps.  You play the Jack of clubs which is not covered and good news, this is won by the Ace.  Best defence now is for East to return a club which now opens up that suit for a potential winner for them.  You have two club discards, one on the King of spades and another on the king of diamonds.  The problem is that East will ruff the King of diamonds and you still do not know the whereabouts of the queen of trumps.  Playing for a 3-2 trump break, play Ace then King of trumps accepting you will have a trump loser, then play King of spades, discarding a club and then King of diamonds discarding another club.  

As the cards lie, West holds Queen doubleton heart so East ruffs the King of diamonds and you can either overruff and lose a club or just throw the losing club.  Either way you lose the two black Aces and another trick. 

It is very easy to go off in this contract as many declarer's would start drawing trumps, take a losing finesse to the queen, then lose a second club later on and go one down.

Let's say East had held Qxx of hearts, you would still need to play a spade towards the king at trick 2, otherwise you would leave yourself short of entries.  Suppose you were to play two rounds of hearts first ending in hand.  If you now played a spade towards the king, West can return a diamond thereby cutting further communication with dummy.  If you tried to cash king of spades then king of diamonds, East would ruff and you would end up having to play clubs away from your hand and losing two club tricks.  

If you played two rounds of hearts ending in dummy, you could play the jack of clubs but when West wins with the Ace, he can play back a diamond, again cutting any further communication of dummy so you would be unable to reach the king of spades after you had knocked out the Ace and once again end up with two club losers.  

All in all it would seem that declarer is safest by winning the opening diamond in hand, playing a spade towards dummy at trick 2, then not taking a heart finesse, thereby accepting to lose two black Aces and a trump.

A really tricky hand with plenty of scope for declarer error but also for East-West to misdefend.  A contract of 3NT is easier!

Fourth Suit Forcing

How would you bid the North-South hands above?  I'm sure it would start with 1 by North, 2♣ by South and a 2 rebid by North but then what?

With 16 points, South knows they must be in Game somewhere, but where?  They haven't as yet discovered a fit in anything and South can hardly bid No Trumps with a doubleton Queen of spades.

South needs to find out more from his partner.  North may have a 6 card heart suit in which case 4 would be the right contract or he may have something in spades which would make 3NT a good contract.

The way to find out is 'Fourth Suit Forcing', ie bidding the 4th suit is not natural but a forcing bid asking partner for more information.

In this case, North would bid 2NT as he has spades well covered.  If he was stronger, he would bid 3NT.  If he had six hearts he would bid 3 and if he had neither of these things but three card diamond support, he could bid 3 as occasionally 5 might be the right spot.

If you don't use 4th Suit Forcing, many hands are impossible to bid accurately and the final contract becomes a guess and, more often than not, you end up in the wrong contract.

4th Suit Forcing is also very useful for clarifying partner's distribution.  Suppose for instance North opens 1  on a 4-4-4-1 hand (with a singleton spade), you respond 1♠ and partner rebids 2♣.

You would expect partner to hold five hearts and four clubs unless he is 4-4-4-1 in shape.  Find out by bidding 2 (4th Suit Forcing).  If he has five hearts, he can bid 2 and if he is 4-4-4-1, he can raise 2 to 3, showing he has four diamonds, knowing of course that your 2 bid is not promising anything at all in diamonds.

North's hand might be something like ♠ x  AQxx  Kxxx ♣ Axxx opposite South's ♠ QJ9xx  xxx  AQ ♣ KQx and over the 3 bid, South would now sign off in 3NT.

Roman Key Card Blackwood

Many Bridge players use the Blackwood convention to check for Aces and Kings when investigating the possibility of bidding a slam.  I used to but like many others have converted to playing Roman Key Card Blackwood.  The difference is that when a trump suit has been agreed, 4NT asks about Aces plus the King of trumps.

The responses are 5♣ showing 0 or 3 Aces (including the King of trumps), 5 showing 1 or 4 Aces (including the King of trumps), 5  showing 2 or 5 Aces (including the King of trumps but denies having the Queen of trumps), 5♠ showing 2 Aces (including the King of trumps) plus the Queen of trumps and 5NT showing 5 Aces (including the King of trumps) plus the Queen of trumps.  It's a bit more to remember than ordinary Blackwood but provides some vital additional information when investigating the slam zone.

Blackwood is as much a mechanism to avoid getting into a bad slam as it is for getting into a good one.  The above deal is adapted from a recent duplicate session at Badger Farm where one or two pairs got a bit carried away, bid ordinary Blackwood, found one Ace missing and bid to 6 not realising the trump quality was not up to scratch.  Roman Key Card Blackwood rang the alarm bells and made 5 a more sensible option.

The North hand looked good from the start but when South responded 2, the North hand looked better still.  Game must be certain so a splinter bid of 4 shows heart agreement.  If North had diamonds, he would bid 3 which is a reverse and forcing so 4 should not be natural.  South holding two 5 card suits, both headed by Aces plus a singleton club must think a slam is a distinct possibility, hence checking for Aces.  If North held either the Ace of clubs or King of Hearts instead of King Jack of clubs, 6 would have been a great contract.  North's response to Roman Key Card Blackwood showing 1 or 4 Key cards is a disappointment to South so he now settles in 5 and as you can see, he should lose the Ace of Clubs and a trump trick.  With ordinary Blackwood, you only know partner has one Ace and no idea whether his hearts are headed by the King which of course is crucial and you would have to guess whether or not to bid the slam.

Asking for Kings is also slightly different using Roman Key Card Blackwood as you would already have accounted for the King of Trumps.  In response to 5NT if you bid a suit other than the trump suit, it shows the King of that suit or the other two, otherwise if you bid 6 of the trump suit, it shows either no kings or all three.

Final thing to remember (if you want to!) is that if partner responds 5♣ or 5 to 4NT, the next suit up (not including the trump suit) would be a relay asking if partner has the Queen of trumps.  If he doesn't have it, he would just go back to the trump suit but if he did have it, he would bid another feature.  

I have modified the above North-South cards to illustrate how this would work.  North's hand is now ♠ AKQxxx  Qxxx  x ♣ KJ opposite South's hand of ♠ xx  AKxxx  Axxxx ♣ A.  The bidding would proceed 1♠ - 2 - 4 (splinter bid, agreeing hearts) - 4NT (RKCB) - 5D (1 or 4 Aces) - 5♠ (next suit up, asking about the queen of trumps) 6♣ (a feature but most importantly confirming the Queen of trumps by not having bid 6) and now South can bid 7 in confidence that he is unlikely to lose a trump trick.

Bid up!

The above hand from a recent Badger Farm duplicate produced a variety of results - 2NT by North making 9 tricks, 2 by West going two down, 4♠ by South making 11 tricks, 3♠ by South making 10 tricks (twice) and 2 doubled by West going two down.

The above bidding was at my table.  I'm surprised West bid 2 rather than 2 but clearly several pairs did bid 2 and played there.  Anyway, over 2 North cue bid 3 on his strong hand, interested in a stop for 3NT, a fifth spade or another suit.  With the South cards, I had not shown any strength at all by responding 1♠ to the double.  Not sure how useful my King Queen of hearts might be but having a fifth spade plus a singleton diamond I felt was enough to jump to 4♠ opposite partner's strong bidding.

4♠ is a good contract.  West started with Ace and King of diamonds.  I ruffed the second diamond and started getting the trumps out.  When the queen popped up from West my heart sank as a 4-1 trump break looked a distinct possibility plus no way to avoid losing two red Aces.  However, there was no alternative but to carry on drawing trumps with fingers crossed under the table!  Luckily it wasn't as bleak as I feared when the Jack of spades appeared from West and 11 tricks were now easy.  

Tips on Defence

The above hand looks at defence and shows that even when you don't have the cards, it's not time to fall asleep!

West's opening of 1 is with the intention of rebidding No Trumps.  Despite the 5-4-2-2 shape, the suit qualities are poor so it is better to emphasise a balanced hand than show a hand with hearts and diamonds.

East however likes hearts and with a ten count, good trump support and a singleton diamond, jumps to 3 which West raises to game.

4 is a fine contract and on a good day you would get away with losing just two Aces and on a very good day, even one loser if the opposition failed to take their Ace of Spades before you set up the clubs.

However, on this deal it is not a good day for Declarer as the opponents have the opportunity to defeat the contract.

North leads a club and when dummy goes down, South can tell straightaway that his partner's lead is a singleton.  If he was leading from KQ3, K3 or Q3, he would not lead the 3. 

So far so good but have a quick think before you play back a club too hastily.  In the knowledge of being able to give his partner a club ruff, how can South communicate to his partner that he has the Ace of Spades?  There are two possible suits for partner to lead back, spades and diamonds.  Therefore if you want partner to play a spade back, return a high club (asking for the higher of the other two suits) and if you want partner to play a diamond (the lower of the other two suits), lead back a small club.  This is a McKenny suit preference signal.  In this case, you would play back the 10 of clubs and hope partner is paying attention!

Partner now ruffs the club, duly plays a spade back to your Ace and you play another club.  Declarer is also out of clubs but as your partner can beat Declarer's hearts, he gets a second ruff and 4 goes one down.

A pat on the back if you got the defence right as anything else allows 4 to make.

As you can see from this hand, so much information is available to the defenders and it makes the hand so much more interesting and challenging.  Make your cards work for you but remember to pay attention as it makes all the difference between knowing what to do instead of just guessing.

Play the Hand Carefully

Most players would arrive at 4♠ on the above hand although 6♠, not easy to get to I know, is a good contract.  Suppose you are sitting South as Declarer and somehow arrive in 6♠ and West finds the best lead of the King of Hearts, how would you go about making 12 tricks?

Normal practice is to get the opponents' trumps out as soon as possible but in this case there is a problem.  As soon as the opponents take the Ace of Trumps, a second heart will be played to defeat the contract.  You therefore need to discard a losing heart before drawing trumps and the only way you can do that is to play on clubs.

At trick 1 you would therefore win the heart lead with the Ace, then play two rounds of clubs (South's Ace and King).  After that, cross to the Ace of Diamonds and play one more club from Dummy, discarding a losing heart from the South hand.

It is always important for Declarer to look at the two hands when dummy is exposed and plan the play. 

Bidding after a One No Trump opening

Most Bridge players in the UK play an opening bid of 1NT as showing a balanced hand with 12-14 points.  Not only is this a very descriptive bid but it occurs frequently and has a good pre-emptive value, being relatively difficult for the opponents to bid against.

After North opens 1NT, it would be a fairly brave East who would venture into the bidding at this stage as South could be strong.  I suspect most Easts would pass so South should now bid 2 (or 2 if you are playing transfers) as a weak take-out.  Clearly Hearts is much better than No Trumps as you can make 8 tricks in hearts but could be held to only 3 tricks in No Trumps.

On a lucky day, the opponents might allow you to play in 2 for a very good score.  However, looking at the East-West cards, they have the balance of the points yet it is not that easy for either of them to bid.  In practice I would recommend the above auction in a transfer sequence but with an ordinary 2 weak take-out bid, I would expect East to 'protect' with a bid of 3 as his partner must be marked with some values.  In 3  East-West can make 10 tricks, losing two clubs and the Ace of trumps. 

Of course, Bridge being Bridge, some East-West pairs will end up in 3NT as maybe West will cue bid 3 then East bid 3NT.  I am not advocating this as a good contract but in this case it is there for the taking.  South would no doubt lead the Queen of Hearts and North would of course (!) play the King on it to unblock the suit.  Providing East holds up the Ace for one round, he is home and dry.

Ruff and Discard 1

A ruff and discard is when a suit is played (normally by the defenders) when neither Declarer nor Dummy holds that suit, thereby allowing one of the hands to ruff and the other hand to discard something.  This is normally a defensive error but good play by Declarer can force this situation to happen as in the above deal.

North-South bid to 4♠ after East pre-empts in diamonds.  East leads the King of diamonds and it is obvious that West must hold a singleton.  The contract looks safe with two hearts and a diamond to lose but when Declarer wins the lead and starts drawing trumps there is bad news, an unexpected trump loser.

However, all is not lost.  Remembering the bidding, East is unlikely to hold anything other than his 7 card diamond suit so play off two rounds of trumps then your top clubs.  West will get in at some point either with a heart or a trump but, as he will have no clubs left, he will be forced to continue playing hearts after making the Ace and King.  As neither the North hand nor the South hand has a heart, West is forced to concede a ruff and discard and a losing diamond can be discarded from the North hand whilst the heart is ruffed in the South hand and the contract is made. 

Ruff and Discard 2

I was unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a very good but unusual defence on the above hand involving two ruff and discards.

North led the King of hearts.  When dummy came down, the contract looked reasonable with hopefully just the Ace of trumps and a couple of hearts to lose.

Opposite his partner's lead South played the 3 of hearts confirming an odd number of cards in that suit.  North continued with the Ace and then the Queen, deliberately allowing me to have a ruff and discard.  I got bad vibes at this stage.  North had sensibly realised that his partner must hold next to nothing so the only hope of defeating the contract was to play his partner to hold Jxx of trumps.

Having ruffed the heart in hand, I played a spade towards dummy's King Queen.  Up went the Ace and North played a fourth heart, giving me a second (useless) ruff and discard and thereby promoting his partner's Jack of spades.  I had a choice of ruffing with a low spade and getting overruffed by the Jack or ruffing with a top spade, thereby promoting the Jack as a winner, the setting trick.  Very neat defence but not nice for Declarer!

This was an exceptional hand as more often than not, giving Declarer a ruff and discard is bad defence but in this case, giving two ruff and discards was the only way to defeat the contract.