VBA Bulletin

Latest VBA monthly bulletin:
September edition

ABF Bulletin

Latest ABF bi-monthly bulletin:
August edition

Hand of the week
Hand of the week 4/10

This was an interesting declarer play problem from last Tuesday.  You reach a contract of 4♠, and North leads a low diamond, to South's K and your A.  

Now what?  The normal way to play the trumps is to play the ace and king, hoping that the suit divides 2-2.  Is that what you should do here?

Have a think about that and then click [Show Answer].

When play a suit contract, one of the first things you should ask yourself is: "Should I draw trumps?"

The default answer is "yes" - you want to get rid of the opponents' trumps so they cannot ruff your side-suit winners.  But sometimes you need to delay drawing trumps.  Possible reasons are:
- you need to take some discards first
- you need to set up a side suit first
- you need to ruff cards in dummy first

The last of these reasons applies here.  You have a diamond loser, a possible trump loser, and three club losers in your hand.  But dummy has only 2 clubs: you can trump two of your losing clubs in dummy.  But you need to make sure that you retain two low trumps in dummy, with which to ruff those clubs.  If you take the ace and king of trumps immediately, there is a risk that an opponent may get in and play a third round of the suit.

The correct line is to take just one top trump, and then a low club from both hands, losing your club trick early.

Then whatever the opponents do, play the second top trump in dummy, and go about your business of ruffing clubs, using the hearts in your hand as entries.

If you look at all four hands, you will see that this manouvre was necessary.  If you take the top trumps too early, then North will win a club trick and take his ♠Q, leaving you short a trick.

Hand of the week 30/8

Consider this bidding problem.  After partner's 1 opening bid, you are all set to respond 1♠ when lo and behold, RHO overcalls in that suit.

What do you do now?  Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

You might want to double this impertinence, but alas, a double here is negative, not for penalties.

Rosemary Polya faced this problem and she came up with the winning answer: 3NT.  No one can say you don't have spades stopped! 

If you look at all four hands, you will see that 3NT is easy, and in fact made 11 tricks when North led a diamond.  This was a near top, as much of the field (including your correspondent) went down in 4, losing 4 club tricks.  South's 1♠ overcall demonstrated "creativity" and had backfired in an unusual way.

Were you worried about the lack of a club stopper?  No doubt Rosemary was a little nervous about it, but so much of the time, partner (who has after all opened the bidding) delivers a stopper there.  Here's the tip:

For notrump purposes, don't overly worry about the lack of a stopper in a suit that the opponents have not bid.

Hand of the week 23/8

The play made on this deal was not a spectacular one, but did demonstrate that there's no end to the possibilities in this difficult game.

You are South, defending 4♠.  Partner leads a club.  Declarer takes your ♣10 with ♣A, and plays ♠A and another spade.  Partner follows with a low spade and then the jack, and you top dummy's ♠Q with your ♠K.

What now?  Decide for yourself and then click "Show Answer".

Leone Carberry held the South hand, and made a nice play.  Her partner had overcalled 2, and looking at her hand and the dummy, she could be quite certain that declarer held a void.

She was a little concerned that partner might get in later (presumably with a diamond) and play the A ... that would get trumped, which could not be good for the defence.  She found a neat solution:  she played a heart herself!  Whether declarer discarded or trumped, partner would now know the heart layout.

A nice line of reasoning and a well thought-out and unusual play.

Hand of the week 9/8

I'm looking for some sympathy with this week's hand.  I was East, and this was the situation that faced me.

Very nasty.  Would you come in with 5♣ or would you let the vulnerability dissuade you and just pass?  Decide for yourself, then read on.

The problem was that I didn't know what my RHO, Sylvain Janiszewski, was doing.  If he was bidding 4 with a strong hand, expecting his partner, Marjorie Pertzel, to make it, then it would be foolhardy to come in with 5♣ because that contract could go down thousands.

But he might also have a weakish hand with long hearts, and be bidding 4 as a sacrifice, in which case he was tricking me out of my making game, or even slam.

As I mentally crossed him off my Christmas Card list, I bid 5♣, and the sky fell in.  If you look at all four hands, Sylvain was bidding 4 to make, and he gleefully doubled 5♣: down 800 and the coldest of tops for him and Marjorie, and bottom for me and Ken Joseph.

Meanwhile, what a good bid was Marjorie's 2.  Her hearts were extremely mediocre, but she was at favourable vulnerability (not vul versus vul), and she knew that mixing things up is a winning approach. 

4 makes on normal play, and no other N/S pair reached it.  It was of small consolation that even if I had passed 4, it would still have been an absolute zero for me.


Hand of the week 2/8

This deal presented some interesting problems for all four players at the table.  I will give you East's hand, the weakest of the lot.

Partner opens a weak 2♠ and the next hand doubles for takeout.  Your bid?  Decide for yourself and then click "Show answer".

In this scenario, one should be thinking: "what can the opponents make, and how can I stop them doing so?" 

As to what the oppoonents can make, one would expect that they can make a lot of hearts.  Unfortunately, you can't be more specific than that.

And how to stop them doing so?  Mainly it is by bidding a lot of spades, removing their bidding room.  Did you note the vulnerability?  You are non-vulnerable, the opponents are vulnerable.  This is called "favourable vulnerability", and what that means is that it is favourable for a sacrifice.  If the opponents can make a game, that is 600+ points for them.  If you sacrifice and are doubled, you can afford to go 3 down (-500) and still show a profit against their game.

If the opponents can make a slam, 1400+ points for them, you can afford to go down 5 down (-1100) and show a profit.

On this deal, you should bid at least 3♠ at this point in the auction, and possibly even 4♠.  If you look at all four hands, you will see that N/S can indeed make a slam in hearts, although it requires a successful diamond finesse to do so.  The 12 times it was played last Friday, 11 N/S pairs played in hearts in contracts ranging from 3 to 7.  Well done to Margot Mentiplay - Tricia Cox and Elizabeth Lewis - Marjorie Pertzel to reach 6 and share the N/S top on the board.  In fact the 'par' result (the result that would be reached if all four players could see all four hands) is 6♠ doubled, down 1100. 

And one E/W pair got to play in spades: Bart Verdam (West) and Marion Nielsen (East) played 4♠ doubled down three, -500, for an excellent E/W score.  I'm not sure how that contract was reached, but I'm impressed.

Hand of the week 26/7

Here's a tricky bidding question for you ...

Partner opens 1NT, let's say 15-18 HCP.  What's your plan?  Decide for yourself and then click [Show Answer].

It's hard to say, in fact I refuse to say what I would have done: I still haven't made up my mind.

You could belong in a partscore in clubs, or maybe a game in clubs, if partner's hand fits well.  To play a club partscore (using transfers), bid 2♠, a transfer to a minor, and then pass when partner bids 3♣.  To bid a game in clubs, simply respond 5♣ (or if you would prefer partner to play it, transfer, then raise partner's 3♣ to 5♣).

Then there's notrumps.  That's top-or-bottom stuff.  You could go many down in a notrump contract, but if partner has club cards, and all goes well, there could be many tricks available.  It's risky, but you could pass 1NT, or invite partner to a notrump game with a 2NT bid.

Finally, there's what Sandy Peterson did.  She bid 3NT - such positivity!  If you look at all 4 hands, you will see that partner had a dead minimum, but he did have good clubs, and 3NT could not be defeated.  Indeed, on the normal heart lead, there was at least one overtrick available.  Quite a creative bid for the coldest of tops.


Hand of the week 12/7

Here's a bidding question for you.

What do you bid with this hand, after partner passes and your RHO opens 1?

Nothing fits perfectly: the 5-card spade suit is weak for an overcall; a takeout double is flawed (partner invariably responds in clubs) and it is a bit chicken to pass.

So choose your poison.

I thought Brian Morrow found an excellent compromise bid with this hand: he chose 2, a Michaels Cue-Bid, theoretically showing 5-5 in the majors.

His partner Larry Allender responded in hearts, and there they rested for an excellent score.

When he put his hand down as dummy, his oppoonents asked: "not 5-5 shape: are you allowed to do that?"   Well yes, you are allowed to do anything you like, and it struck me that this little lie was a good one.  Of course, lies don't always have such a happy ending, so it's best not to make a habit of telling them!

Hand of the week 5/7

In this week's deal, you just have to make a single bid.  You are West, and the auction has proceeded as shown:

2♣: big!
2: little (0-7)
3, 3NT: natural

Now partner bids 4♣: what does that mean, and what should you bid?

Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

Some Wests interpreted 4♣ as the Gerber convention, and so responded 4, showing one ace.

If you look at all four hands, you will see that there is no happy ending in this scenario, as East had no choice but to go back to 5, which had no chance on this layout.  East had intended 4♣ as a natural bid, and this was the right idea, because the correct contract is 5♣ on the nice 4-4 fit.  West should simply raise 4♣ to 5♣, confirming that he has club support.

My (strong) advice:  play 4♣ as Gerber in only two explicit auctions:

1NT - 4♣  and

2NT - 4♣ 

Hand of the week 1/7

Please critique this auction ... do you like it?  hate it?  something inbetween?

Decide for yourself, and then click "Show Answer"

First point of critique is that it was successful.  Indeed Michael Ryan (West) and David Woodruff (East) were the only pair to reach this cold 6♠ contract.

Results are important - one could stop the critique right there.  However ...

The 2♣ opening bid was really the key decision.  Only 11 HCP partner!   But Michael didn't want to be stranded in 1♠ and more importantly, if he did open 1♠ would he ever be able to communicate the powerful playing strength of his hand?

I wouldn't have opened 2♣ myself, but I can certainly admire the logic applied.

The rest of the auction was perfect.  North (Inder Khullar) tried to help with a possible opening lead with his 2 overcall; David showed his hearts.  Now Michael leapt to 4♠ to get across that what he primarily had was playing strength with a long self-sufficient spade suit.  And David knew what to do ... applying Blackwood to get to the laydown slam.  Well done!

Hand of the week 7/6

Here's a defensive problem for you.  In the auction, your LHO employed a Michaels Cue Bid to show spades and a minor.  Partner gave you vigorous heart support, but this did not shut out the opponents' spades.

You lead the ♣A (or ♣K, if that's your preference) and it goes ♣3, ♣4, ♣5.  You have agreed to play 'reverse attitude' signals, which means:  Low = Like, High = Hate.  Well, partner's ♣4 is lowish, however the ♣2 is outstanding.  So does he like 'em or not?  Decide your next play, and click [Show Answer].

With a little sweat, you can work out what to do.

The ♣8, ♣6 and ♣2 are all missing.  If declarer has them all, partner started with a singleton, and you should certainly continue with clubs and give partner a ruff.

If partner has them all, or at least two of the remaining three, she should not play a wishy-washy ♣4 (ie from ♣642, ♣842 or ♣8642),  She should play her highest club, because she really hates the suit.  The lesson is: make your signals as loud as possible.  Shout out that there is no future in clubs by playing your highest card from each of those holdings.

If you look at all four hands, you will see that partner was simply liking your lead, playing her lowest card from a doubleton.  You should continue with another high club and give partner a ruff ... the A will be the setting trick.  Well done to Helen Schapper and Anne Rosengren, who found this defence.

Declarer did a clever thing on this deal.  He followed suit at trick one with a high club pip.  By concealing the ♣2, he made South's ♣4 look relatively high and discouraging.  Nice falsecarding!  But no luck against alert opponents.

Hand of the week 31/5

This week you pick up your usual 3-pointer, albeit with a very nice spade suit.

Partner, as partners are wont to do, opens in your short suit:  1.   What do you bid, if anything?  Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

If you had digested, and recalled, a Friday lesson from two weeks ago, you would know what to do.   Please note:  the scenarios from these lessons do happen!

This is the situation where you have a very weak hand with a long suit.  You would like to bid your suit, but are fearful that partner will play you for more strength than you have and carry the bidding too high.

The solution is the weak jump response:  in this auction, a bid of 2♠ to show about 3-5 HCP, and at least 6 spades.  Perfect!

If you look at all four hands, you will see that partner has great strength, but his enthusiasm will be dampened in the light of your weak hand, not to mention the misfit in spades.  So East should pass, and 2♠ is a perfect contract, in fact the only E/W contract that makes.  Despite North's spade holding, there are 8 tricks: 3 side suit winners and 5 winners in spades.

This deal is problematic for N/S as well, and the 2♠ bid may prompt them into an indiscretion.  No one played in 2♠ and 6 of 8 E/W pairs went minus.  A 2♠ weak jump response just about guarantees a plus score for E/W: with that contract either making, or N/S bidding something and going down.

Hand of the week 24/5

This deal from Tuesday night struck me as interesting at several levels.  There are 12 top tricks in a club or notrump contract ... but how to get to a slam?  I imagine the auction started like shown, and then West has a tough rebid problem.

The problem for West is that if you support clubs, you have gone past 3NT, which is the most profitable game contract available.  It's no use getting to 5♣, as one pair did, because you are going to lose out to all the pairs that reach 3NT.  If you as West go past 3NT at this point, you really have to commit to bidding a slam.

I must admit that as West, I would probably have just bid 3NT over 3♣, and missed my slam.  This is what happened at several tables.

The other area of interest is the play.  The hand record says you can make 13 tricks in clubs or notrumps.  What?  I count only 12 tricks: 6 clubs, and 3 pairs of ace-kings.  If you take the diamond finesse for your 13th trick, it loses.   As an exercise, see if you can work out how the computer makes 13 tricks (you can use the "Play it again" feature of the web site to solve the problem, as I did). 

I can give you the name of the play, if nothing else:  it's a Vienna Coup followed by Double Squeeze.


Hand of the week 17/5

This was a humorous hand from Tuesday night's red points.  Here you are as West, in second seat and vulnerable against not. RHO passes.  What's your poison?

I can think of 4 possible bids, all entirely reasonable:

3♠:  you have a decent 7-card suit, and between 6 and 10 points.  What's there to think about? 

2♠:  but the 7-card suit isn't that decent, and you are vulnerable.  How about pulling in a notch and opening 2♠?  That is a completely legitimate tactic.

Pass:  some textbooks say you shouldn't open a pre-empt with 2 aces.  I don't personally hold with that theory, but if you follow it, then perhaps you pass this hand, planning to bid spades later.

1♠:  good distribution, two aces, an easy spade rebid.  Why not live a little and show an opening hand?

I didn't hold this hand, and to be truthful, am not sure what I would have done. 

However, the hand was played 14 times, and no-one made a contract. Those who opened 3♠ fared worst. 3♠ was passed around to South, and two of the Souths (Marjorie Pertzel and Larry Allender) doubled for takeout ... an excellent bid particularly as South had already passed and therefore partner would know they lack opening bid values.  Their partners were of course delighted to pass for penalties, and +1100 was the upshot.

Those who compromised and opened 2♠ fared better, playing in that contract.

And one brilliant West (Ian Speed) passed the hand.  What happened to him is the stuff of dreams: he got to double North in 2♠ for penalties.  Here's a question for you: how did N/S get themselves to 2♠ doubled without doing anything silly?  I think I know the answer, but am too scared to ask them ...

Hand of the week 10/5

A simple question for you today.  You are dealer as East ... do you open the bidding or not?

I would open 1.  Here are some ideas behind this decision.

The Rule of 20.  This is a useful aide for deciding whether to open 10 and 11 pointers at the one-level.  Take the length of your two longest suits and add that to your HCP: if it comes to at least 20, then open the bidding.  Here you have a 5-card suit and a 4-card suit, that's 9; add it to 11 HCP, and it gives you 20. 

Aces are good.  Aces are under-valued by the the 4-3-2-1 point system.  Here you have twice your average quota of aces.  Change the hand to say:  ♠xxxx Q KQxxx ♣KJx and things are very different.  "Aceless" doesn't exactly equal "useless" but it's a starting point.

Comfortable rebid.  This is a factor that is worth thinking about.  If I open and partner makes a typical response, do I have an easy rebid?  On this hand, specifically, you think: what will I bid next if partner responds 1 (which he will clearly do much of the time).  In this case, you have an easy 1♠ rebid, so this hand gets a tick.  But, rearranging things, if instead you held:  ♠Axx A Kxxx ♣xxxxx ... what is your rebid if you open 1♣ and partner responds 1?   There isn't a choice that is remotely comfortable.  I would pass such a hand, despite it passing the Rule of 20 and having 2 aces.

So there you are.  When this hand was played on Tuesday, I suspect that 7 of the 9 players passed, because 7 times, only a partscore contract was reached.  Spade contracts delivered between 9 and 12(!) tricks.

Pam and Grant Scott were only pair to bid and make 4♠ (I suspect via the auction 1 - 1 - 1♠ - 4♠) for a well-deserved top-score.

Hand of the week 3/5

This deal is interesting in both bidding and play.

The East hand is eerily similar to the East hand from the last HotW.  There I recommended a jump to 3 based on the 5-card support.  This deal is a little different in that the opposition have already gotten into the auction and therefore a pre-emptive effect is reduced, however I still think that 3 is probably the right bid. 

West has a clear acceptance of the invitation, and 4 is duly reached, a contract without a shred of a chance.  The reason is the disastrous mirrored distributions of the West and East hands, something you couldn't possibly know in the bidding.  C'est la vie.

North leads the ♣A and ♣K, then switches to a low diamond. 

How should you play it?  Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

There are two inescapable losers in club and two in diamonds.  You are going down.  But let's not go 2 down.  There is also a problem in the spade suit, where you need to fish out the queen.

You can guarantee 9 tricks with the help of an end-play.  Win the A, draw trumps, and then make the key play: a low diamond.

The defenders will win this, and then take another diamond trick, but now they are stuck.  Whoever has the lead has to either lead a spade, which automatically finesses the queen for you, or a minor suit, on which you will ruff in one hand, and discard a spade in the other, thereby also avoiding the loss of a spade trick.

The moral:  when you have a tenuous suit, like spades here, the best outcome is to force the opponents to play it for you.  That's what end-plays are all about.

Meanwhile, well done to Marjorie Pertzel and Rune Dresjvo, who not only screeched to a halt in 3 but found the correct play to make it, for an outright top.

Hand of the week 26/4

Put yourself in East's shoes, and decide what to bid after partner has opened 1 in 4th position.

When you are ready, click [Show Answer].

Diane Rice was one of several players put in this position.  She chose a natural and invitational 3 response.

Everyone passed, and if you look at all 4 hands, you will see that Cheryl Ogilvy's (North) diamond lead put the contract two down (declarer lost two diamonds, two spade and two clubs).

At first glance this didn't look too flash for E/W, and Diane apologised to her partner Elisabeth Neales for her bidding.  Her remarks were relevant: "I know I had a terrible hand, but with 5 hearts I felt I should bid 3."

How right she was.  I was South, and if Diane had simply raised to 2, I was going to come in with 2♠.  As N/S was vulnerable, the actual 3 bid was too high for me.  If I had been able to compete, N/S would have reached a spade contract, making, for a better N/S score than the +100 we actually got.

Two points here:

  1. The fifth heart in East's hand was important.  It meant that one way or another, there was playing strength for E/W.  And more important, it meant that N/S would lose a maximum of one heart in a contract of their own (in fact, it would have been zero hearts).
  2. The vulnerability was even more important.  Pushy bids like 3 work best when non-vulnerable, so that any undertricks you pay out are only in units of 50.  -100 for two down was a good score; but a vulnerable -200 for two down would have been a very poor score.


Hand of the week 19/4

A problem of defence this week. 

You are North and partner has doubled 4♠. You lead the ♣K.  Unfortunately, that is ruffed by declarer, who plays a diamond towards the king. 

You let him win the K, and next he plays a heart and puts up his K,  You win with the A.

What now?  Decide for yourself and then click [Show Answer].

The trick here is to recognize that declarer is embarking on a cross-ruff.  He is planning to ruff clubs in his hand, and red cards in dummy.  He may be able to take a lot of tricks this way.

As a defender, you can limit declarer's ability to cross-ruff by playing trumps yourself.  The correct play at this point is to switch to your singleton spade.  (You might decide to take your A first.)

If you look at all four hands, you will see that just one round of trumps is enough to prevent declarer from taking 10 tricks.  But if you don't play any rounds of trumps yourself, then declarer will actually take all 9 of his trumps!  Add that to the K and you have 10 tricks.  In fact, 3 declarers did make 10 tricks in spades, for excellent E/W scores.

Leone Carberry and Liz Wilby were one pair who found the trump play in time.  Add that to the fact that they doubled 4♠ (essentially based on the fact that they had 24 HCP between them), this generated a near top score for them.

Hand of the week 8/4

Talk about "on-topic"!  What would you bid in this situation?

You have opened 1♣ on your 12 HCP hand.  Next hand makes a takeout double, partner bids 1, and RHO 1.

Your hand is flat and not particularly appealing.  But the diamonds are nice.  One other thought: you have 4 little hearts, and both LHO and RHO have indicated hearts in their own way.  It would not shock you if partner has a singleton heart.

So, do you make a bid?  Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

Friday's lesson was about Support Doubles.  You open, partner responds, and RHO intervenes with a suit bid.

Playing Support Doubles, a double here shows precisely 3-card support for partner's suit.  A direct raise would guarantee 4-card support.

Well, you have 3-card support for diamonds, and whilst your hand is a minimum opener, it is not without its good side,  You should make a support double here.  Take a look at all four hands, and you will see how well this works.

If you meekly pass, then LHO will support to 2 and that will presumably be the end of the auction.  2 will either make 7 or 8 tricks, so your best outcome would be +50.

Now see what happens if you make the support double.   This will result in partner competing to 3, and with careful play, that contract will make.  Alternatively, your opponents are pushed to 3 and that contract has at least 5 losers. 

Hand of the week 1/4

This deal resulted in a great deal of East-West misery (although there was one exception).

The auction shown is what happened at my table: I was South, partnering Liz Wilby, against Julie More (East) and Janice Meldrum (West).

What do you think of that auction? 

It gets a big tick from me.  The key decision was Julie's as East: should that hand be opened 2♣?   I admit I would be sorely tempted, and no doubt many Easts did so.

The inevitable result of a 2♣ opening was that the auction then spiralled out of control, and East-West suffered a big minus score.  There were two -1100s, and -500, -400, -300 and -200 also littered the scoresheet.

Back at my table, I doubled 1 for takeout, Janice passed as West and Liz bid an obedient 2♣ as North.  Now Julie could tell which way the wind was blowing, and so rebid a gentle 2.  Even that contract was too high, but down one gave Julie and Janice an 80% score on the board.  Ken Joseph and Barbara Warrington also were able to screech to a halt in 2.

The top East-West score was interesting.  It occurred when North decided to pass the takeout double of 1.  This is not usually recommended without excellent trumps, although such speculative bids can occasionally work spectacularly.  In this case it didn't, and how delighted must East have been to be doubled in 1!

Hand of the week 25/3

Suppose your partner opens 2 in third seat ... a weak two bid showing about 6-10 HCP and a decent 6-card suit.

The next hand doubles for takeout.  What should you bid?  And why?  Decide for yourself and then click "Show Answer".

I can think of four (count 'em!) Friday lessons that contribute to your bidding decision here.  This hand certainly hits a spot for me.

Lesson 1.  The Law of Total Trumps.  In a competitive auction, bid to the contract that requires the same number of tricks as the total number of trumps between you and your partner.  In this case, your four trumps combined with partner's six equals 10 trumps ... so that would suggest bidding to a 10-trick contract, 4.

Lesson 2.  The effect of vulnerability.  We are vulnerable, the opponents are not.  This is called "unfavourable" vulnerability, and it is particularly unfavourable for making sacrificial bids.  For example if you bid 4 here as a sacrifice (you surely don't expect to make it), then assuming you go down, then you have to go down by only 1 trick, and the opponents have to be able to bid and make a game, for your sacrifice to be profitable.  This assumes that your opponents will double you.  Unfavourable vulnerability sacrifices are rare, and this deal doesn't look to be one of them.

Lesson 3.  Points Schmoints.  Only this week, we walked about counting points, and in particular length and distribution points.  This 4-3-3-3 hand has neither a long suit nor any distribution.  Apart from the nice hearts, it is frankly a pretty awful hand.

Lesson 4.  Responding to Weak Twos.  In the lesson weak twos, I pointed out that a raise to the three level is not invitational but obstructive.  To invite, you need to respond with 2NT.  So a 3 bid here would not invite partner to bid 4 ... it is merely designed to make life a bit more difficult for the opponents.

At my table, Leif Michelsson as West did indeed bid 3 (and might have been the only one to do so).  If you look at all four hands, you will see that this stifled his opponents.  3 was passed out (neither North nor South could bid sensibly make a bid), and went down 1 for an excellent score.  Several E/W pairs got themselves to 4, doubled by South, and they did not enjoy the result.

Hand of the week 15/3

With a lot of recent Friday lessons on transfers and the like, this hand caught my eye.

You are North, and partner opens 1NT, let's say 16-18 HCP.  How should you bid it?  Decide for yourself (consulting handounts if necessary!) then click Show Answer.

Well, you want to play a heart contract, at least game, and possibly slam.  OK, so far?

If you decide it's only worth a game, then there are two ways to reach it.  You can transfer with 2, then bid 4 over partner's forced 2 rebid (partner will be declarer), or you can simply bid 4 yourself (you will be declarer).  Both these approaches are perfectly reasonable.

But the hand has slam potential, what with the 7-card suit and 2 side aces.  If you want to investigate a slam, then you should jump to 3 over 1NT.  This is a natural bid, setting hearts as trumps, and inviting slam.

If you look at all 4 hands, how do you think South should react to such a bid?  His hearts are very nice, but the rest of his hand is not particularly good ... no side aces, and a dangling Qx in spades.  It's hard to say for sure, but I think South should probably reject a slam try, and simply raise 3 to 4.

So my recommended old-fashioned auction would be 1NT - 3 - 4 - Pass.

Slam is not a very good proposition, but on the actual layout it is hard to defeat, particularly if played by North.  At the very worst, declarer can go all-in by finessing against East's Q.

With the board being played 14 times last Friday, there was a wide variety of outcomes.  Four pairs did reach 6, every one of them by South, so a transfer bid was used.  That means that North must have unilaterally bid a slam.  Two made, two went down.  

The moral?  To engage partner in a slam investigation after a 1NT opening bid, one of the best routes is to simply jump in your suit to the 3-level.  That gives partner the option to co-operate or not.

Hand of the week 8/3

I don't normally like to write up freak hands, as they usually involve a lot of guesswork, and not to have good learning points.  But this one I can't resist.

What would you bid with the freakish 7-6 hand in the minors?  Decide for yourself, and then click [Show Answer].

All 14 North-South pairs went plus on this deal from last Friday.  But surprisingly, only one of them won the auction, the other 13 pairs defeating various East-West contracts.

The pair that declared was Jill Bell (holding South's hand here) and Larry Allender.  Their final contract was 5 doubled by North, making for a top score on the board.

How did North get to play it?  Jill Bell bid 2NT over East's 1♠ - the Unusual 2NT, showing at least 5-5 in the minors.  Larry obediently bid diamonds as his preferred minor, and the bidding escalated from there, Jill continuing to compete until she won the auction.

It reminds me of the old joke: "What do you call a solid 8-card suit?"  Answer: "Trumps!".  You might only pick up a 7-6 shape once in your life (I have had one exactly once), but if you do, you really should end up as the declaring side!  Well done to Jill and Larry for doing so.

Hand of the week 1/3

How do you think the auction should proceed here?  N/S will pass throughout.

Construct your perfect auction, and then click [Show Answer]

After two passes, the 10 HCP West hand is hardly an automatic opening bid.  Two Wests, Joy Wauchope and Ronda Cross, did in fact pass, and the deal was passed out.  That was the easiest 75% score they ever earned, as most of the other East-West pairs got themselves into trouble.

Third seat openers can be very light, the better to disrupt fourth seat, so the other 13 Wests did open the bidding, presumably with 1♠.  (It cannot be right to open 1♣, because you won't be able to tell partner that you have a strong 5-card spade suit, which is the main feature of your hand.)  What should happen next?

East should respond 1NT, showing 6-9 HCP.  The East hand is not strong enough for a 2-over-1 2 call. 

Now West reveals the clubs with a 2♣ rebid, and East should pass it.  East clearly prefers clubs to spades, and to try 2 now would be a real shot in the dark.  So the final contract should be 2♣ by West, and with careful play, that contract makes (and is in fact the only making E/W contract to be had).

So kudos to Mary Buchanan and Norma Buntine, who were the only E/W pair to reach that contract, for an 85% score.  (The two best E/W scores occurred when N/S unwisely got into the auction and went down.)

Hand of the week 23/2

Suppose you hold the East hand here and open 1NT (16-18 HCP).  Armed with the recent Friday lessons on transfers, your partner bids 2 showing at least 5 spades.

Should you do as you're told, and bid 2♠, or is there an alternative?

In this situation, Pam Scott bid 3♠.   This is called a 'super-accept' (or 'transfer break' in some parts of the world).   It shows explicitly 4-card support in partner's suit.  There are other somewhat sophisticated things you can do in this situation, but the simple jump to 3♠ was an excellent choice.

Show all 4 hands to see what happened next.

Pam's partner, Diana Jacobs, got a little excited by this development, and bid 4NT, which they'd agreed would be Roman Keycard Blackwood.  Pam bid 5, two key cards but no trump queen.  The lack of the trump queen didn't perturb Diana, because she knew they had a 10-card spade fit, from the super-accept.  With only 3 spades out against them, the odds were strong that they wouldn't lose a trump trick.  So Diana bid 6♠.

The spotlight was now on South, who was on opening lead (note how the transfer bid meant that the stronger hand would be declarer).  She chose 4th highest of her longest and strongest, the 2.  This rode up to Pam's AQx, and she quickly gathered 12 tricks.  (The slam can be made, in theory on any of South's leads, but it's not easy to see how!)

Leading 4th highest of your longest and strongest is not a good idea when leading to a slam.  South would have been better off making a passive lead, in this case a club, which would have given declarer a very hard time indeed.

The top E/W score went however to Liz Wilby and Leone Carberry, who reached 6NT, once again by East.  (6NT is actually a very good contract, in theory.)  South doubled this impertinence, but also led a diamond, resulting in the rare score of 1230 for E/W.

Hand of the week 2/2

Here's a nasty little bidding problem for you.

You open 1♠, and when the bidding returns to you, the opponents are in 4.  What do you do?

Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

In the latest edition of the VBA Newsletter, I wrote an article with the tip:  "When in doubt, bid 4over the opponents' 4".  

Well, you're certainly in doubt here, and Michael Ryan was one who did follow the tip, bidding 4♠.  He was promptly doubled, and probably figured: "uh oh, how am I going to explain my way around this one?"

But, if you look at all four hands, you will find that Peter Newstead put down the best 2-point dummy ever.  Michael wrapped up 4♠ doubled with an overtrick, for the coldest of tops.  You have to feel for the hapless N/S pair, who had 27 HCP between them.  I would have doubled 4♠ as well.  After all, West was clearly guessing when he bid it.

It was a great bid by Michael - of course, it might have turned out differently on another layout, but I'm pleased that my tip came through on this particular deal.

Hand of the week 26/1

You are North, declarer in 4♠ after your RHO has opened 1.

The lead is ♣J, and your RHO takes ♣K and ♣A, then switches to Q.

How do you play it?  Decide for yourself, and then click "Show Answer".

We start by counting our losers: none in spades, maybe 1 in hearts, 1 in diamonds and the 2 we have already lost in clubs = 4.  Clearly we can eliminate the heart loser if we can successfully finesse for the Q.

Next: should we draw trumps?  Yes, absolutely, get the kids off the street. 

Now, who has the Q?  This is the classic "two-way finesse", we can finesse either West or East for that card.  It can often be just a blind guess, but not here.  Do you remember the bidding?  West opened 1, so we can play him for at least 12 HCP.  He has shown up with ♣AK, that's 7, then led the Q, that's 9.  Three more to go.  Now, who has the K?   The likelihood is that the Q is the top of a sequence, which means that East has the K.

If East does have K, then West would have to hold the Q in order to make up his opening bid.  So we should finesse West for that card ... play the K then the J, running it if West follows low.

If you look at all 4 hands, you will see the happy ending: 4♠ bid and made for an excellent score.

Making deductions like this based on the bidding and the play to date is an essential component of good declarer play.

Hand of the week 12/1

Here is a challenging defensive problem for you.  You are East, and are defending North's 4♠ contract.

Your lead is a club.  Declarer wins dummy's ♣A, then draws trumps in three rounds with the ace, king and queen.  Partner follows all the way, and you discard a club.

Now declarer plays A, on which you play the 5 and partner 2.  Next comes the Q from declarer, and you have to decide whether or not to take your king.

Have a think about that, then click "Show Answer".

What's the difference between a 2 and a 3?  Everything.

The one heart that you cannot see is the 3.  Who has it?  If partner has it, then you should take the K now (or lose it forever).  Dummy's hearts are good, but there is unlikely to be an entry.  But if declarer has it, then you must let him win the Q, and take the third round of the suit.  If you win with the king immediately, declarer has a third heart to lead to dummy.

How can you tell?  Well, if partner started with 32 doubleton, and you play standard signalling methods, then he should follow to the first round with the 3, starting a "high-low with a doubleton" count signal.  This is a great example where simple signalling methods can solve a guessing situation.

Well done by Zen Zebrowski, Ken Joseph and Ian Muir, who were the only East players to defeat the 4♠ contract.

Hand of the week 5/1

A simple question this week.  You hold this pleasant hand and are all set to open 1♠, when lo and behold, your RHO opponent opens 1♠ in front of you!

You check the back of your cards to ensure they aren't from a different board.  No it all seems correct.  So what do you do?  What is your plan?

Decide for yourself and then click [Show Answer].

In the words of Elmer Fudd, you should be vewy vewy quiet.

Your bidding plan is to pass throughout this auction.  Your partner passed as dealer, so lacks an opening hand, and your lovely 5-card spade suit is not so lovely now that your RHO has 5 of them.

I find it hard to imagine an auction where I would ever make a bid.

If you look at all 4 hands, you will see that N/S are in heap-big-trouble, and worse for them, they are vulnerable.  There's nowhere for them to go.  Three Easts, Helge Pederson, Maria Robson and Ian Muir applied the Fuddian logic, and got to defend N/S contracts, scoring 200, 300 and 400 for the best 3 E/W scores.  Silence was golden!

Hand of the week 22/12

Here's a bidding problem for you.  Partner opens 1♣, you respond 1, and partner jumps to 3♣.

The jump rebid shows about 16-18 HCP, and a good 6-card club suit.

What now?  Decide for yourself, and then click [Show Answer].

With 8 HCP opposite partner's 16-18 HCP, it is plausible to pass.  You might not have sufficient combined strength for a game contract.

Regarding game contracts, you should rule out 5♣ as a possibility.  The combined values are unsufficient to expect an 11 trick contract to make.

That leaves 3NT as the only viable game.  Partner has clubs, you have hearts, but you need to consider the stopper situation in the other two suits.  You have the diamonds covered, but spades is a concern.  You can probe for 3NT by bidding 3 now, which is a semi-natural bid.  By that I mean that it shows strength in diamonds, but is not seriously suggesting diamonds as a final destination, at least at this stage.  It is primarily a stopper-showing bid, saying to partner: we might have 3NT on, but you need to look after the spades.

If you show all the hands, you will see that partner can look after the spades, and will happily bid 3NT over your 3 probe.  Well done to the three pairs who reached it, sharing the N/S top.

What if partner didn't have a spade stopper?  Then he might bid 3 with some level of heart support (he has to have his 16-18 HCP somewhere!), which you would raise to 4.  Or he simply returns to 4♣, saying "I can't help anywhere", and you would pass.

Hand of the week 8/12

What opening lead would you make to 4♠ with this uninspiring hand?

Even with a 3-point hand, it is within your power to generate a top score for your side.

In a Friday lesson on opening leads, I gave an order of merit for leading to a suit contract.  Fourth on the list (after an AK-suit, a side suit singleton, and a KQ suit) was leading top of a side suit doubleton.

The ♣3 is the best percentage lead on this hand.  Nothing else inspires.  You are hoping that partner has some strength there, and can generate some tricks and/or give you a ruff.  If you look at all 4 hands, you will see that the club is the only lead to defeat 4♠.  Partner wins the first two clubs, noting that you play high-low (indicating a doubleton), then plays a top heart (to indicate where his re-entry is after you ruff the third club), and a third club.  Your ruff is the setting trick.  Simple!

Simple, but often not found.  Indeed only one E/W pair out of 9 managed to defeat 4♠.   That was Maria Robson (West) and Ken Joseph (East).  Well done to them, and a well-deserved top score on the board.

Hand of the week 1/12

I recently gave a seminar at Moonee Valley on declarer play, and this deal could have come straight out of it.

One of the questions I emphasised that declarer should ask himself is "Should I draw trumps?"   That question is apposite here.  You are in 4♠ by South and West leads the 5 to East's king and your ace.

Do you play on trumps now?  Decide for yourself, then click "Show Answer".

In the notes from the seminar, I gave several reasons for delaying the drawing of trumps.  One of them was to first "cash or develop winners on which you can discard losers". 

The diamond suit here is a threat: you might have two further losers in the suit if you play a trump, East wins with the ace, and then fires a diamond back through your remaining Jx. 

You can counter this by first playing 3 rounds of hearts (starting with the high honour from the short hand!), discarding a diamond.  That reduces your diamond losers to one, and now you can play trumps.

If you look at all four hands, you will see that this manouvre was absolutely required, as East did have the trump ace, and West was poised with Q10. 

Congratulations to Col O'Brien and Liz Wilby, who were the only two Souths to make 4♠.

Hand of the week 24/11

Today's hand features a simple but important principle. 

You are East, and have to respond to your partner's 1 opening bid.  What say you?

Decide for yourself and then click "Show Answer".

The correct response is 1♠, despite the pathetic spade holding of 8742.

If you look at all 4 hands, you will see that your side has an 8-card spade fit, and belongs in a spade contract (how high a spade contract is a more tricky question).  You can reliably get to a spade contract only if you are prepared to respond 1♠ as East.  If you do anything else, then partner will not expect you to have spades, and you are likely to wind up in a notrump contract.  3 of the 9 pairs did indeed end up in notrumps, for mostly inferior results.

The principle is: "quantity, not quality".  Or to put it another way "length before strength".  Most bridge bidding involves trying to find a fit of at least 8 cards between you and your partner.  It virtually never matters how strong that fit is.  For example, if you have a spade combination of ♠9876 opposite ♠5432, you probably belong in a spade contract.  It really doesn't matter that you are missing the ace, king, queen, jack and ten.  Sure, you will lose at least 3 spade tricks, but these are tricks you are going to lose in any contract.  But if the outstanding spades divide 3-2, then you will be able to draw trumps (well more accurately, lose trumps!), and once three rounds have been played, you will have trump winners. 

Hand of the week 10/11

Here is a very interesting 3NT contract to play, from the West seat.

North leads ♠5, and South plays ♠Q (ducked), ♠K (ducked) and another spade.  It looks like North has led from 5 spades: ♠Jxxxx.  So he has two more winners to take ... you have to hope he has no entry.

You win the third spade in dummy, and cash ♣AK, hoping to see the queen appear.  No luck: both opponents follow with small clubs, so the queen is outstanding.

What now?  Decide for yourself, and then click [Show Answer].

Well, you only have one quick entry back to West:  Q.  You could use that to knock out the ♣Q (which you hope South has), but even then you will have to pray that South also has the A, otherwise North's good spades will cash.

The correct (and by no means obvious) move is to play a heart yourself right now.  If North has the ace, then you will go down, but you could never have made the contract.   But if South has the ace, then the K will win, and you are off to the races.

If you have a look at all 4 hands, you will see that the K does win.  Now you don't need to play the clubs (and it would be a disaster to play a club now, as North has the queen, with two good spades to cash).  You re-count your tricks and see that you have 1 spade, 1 heart, 4 diamonds and 2 clubs.  Needing only one more trick, you should play Q, cash out all 4 diamonds, and lead second heart up.  The Q will be your 9th trick.

A very tricky deal indeed.  Well done to Ismail Gulec, who was the only West to bring in 3NT.

Hand of the week 6/11

You don't see this auction too often, but when it does come up, it's worth knowing what to do.

You sensibly pass partner's 1♠ opening bid, but then the auction turns nasty.  LHO doubles for takeout, and RHO passes!  Clearly RHO has a fistful of spades, and so has converted the takeout double into penalties.

The question is: is there anything you can do about it?  What do you think?

I recently gave a talk about redoubles, in particular, the Omnibus Redouble (after your RHO doubles your partner's opening bid).  Someone asked me about SOS redoubles, and I skirted the topic.

Now I wish I hadn't, because this hand is a perfect example.  Things are not looking good in 1♠ doubled, are they, with your RHO sitting over your partner with his spades.  Perhaps there's a better (or at least less disastrous) spot elsewhere.

To give yourself the best chance of finding a safe haven, redouble.  This is called the SOS (or 'please rescue me') double.  The logic is this: suppose you are happy in 1♠, thinking to make it.  There's no reason to redouble, because that gives the opponents the chance to change their mind.  Be happy that you are playing 1♠ doubled.

That frees up the redouble for some other meaning, in particular SOS.  It asks partner to bid into some other suit.  There's no guarantee of success, but surely anything is better than watching partner suffer in 1♠  doubled!

If you look at all the hands, you will see that a contract of 2♣ is perfectly satisfactory for N/S, and that is what South will bid if partner makes the SOS redouble.  What wouldn't work so well is North rescuing himself into 2, which would get doubled and murdered.  That's the beauty of the redouble: it allows for a collaborative rescue.

Meanwhile, well done to Bart Verdam and Joy Wauchope, who nailed their opponents in 1♠ doubled for a top board.

Hand of the week 30/10

There is a bidding tactic that is occasionally employed called "walking the dog".

Suppose you have a hand where you think you can make a high contract, typically a game, because of a wonderful suit-fit.  But you fear that if you immediately bid the game you think you can make, the opponents, who have a good fit of their own, will sacrifice against it.

Walking the dog means to bid the hand up, one level at a time ... this can happen if your opponents, with their big fit, are innocently competing for the contract.

You finally arrive at your destination, and your opponents, who saw you apparently willing to finish at a lower level, let you play it there, and maybe even double.  It's a good strategy, but requires nerves of steel.

In today's game, Helen Schapper pulled one of the best dog-walks I have seen.  She was South, and I sitting West was her innocent victim.  Helen kept on bidding just one more in clubs, and I kept bidding one more in diamonds.  When she finally bid 5♣, I thought: "well she only bid 3♣ the first time and they are both passed hands: they must be too high.  DOUBLE!

Gwyneth Anderton had no problem racking up 5♣ for a score of 750 and an outright top.  Well, done Helen!

Hand of the week 20//10

You hold the East hand here and pass in 2nd position.  Partner opens 1♣, you respond 1♠ and partner gives you a raise to 2♠.

What now?  Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

You have 11 HCP, which would suggest that you might have a game if partner is at the top of her range.

However, this is a bad 11-count.  Horribly bad.  Totally bad.  As bad as bad can be.   There is no distribution whatsoever, and you have a series of unconnected lower honours in the side suits.   Nor are there any intermediate cards ... not a 10 or 9 to be seen.

So you should pass 2♠.  At last Friday's session, just two players did pass: Liz Wilby and Pam Boyd.  If you look at all 4 hands, you will see that 2♠ was quite high enough ... indeed on a bad day, you will go down.  This was a good day: finesses worked in hearts and clubs, and trumps broke 3-2.  So 9 tricks were available.  Over half the field got too high.

There was another solution to this problem, which no-one found.  West might have taken the opportunity to pass 1♠.  Normally, this is a forcing bid, but East had passed originally, so West knows that East doesn't have opening values.  Game is not in the picture, so why not simply pass 1♠?

Back to the East hand:  there is a terrific web site, http://www.jeff-goldsmith.org/cgi-bin/knr.cgi?, which allows you to enter a hand, and it will spit out how many points it is actually worth, according to a set of rules made up by the great American player Edgar Kaplan.  If you put this East hand into that hand-evaulator, it spits out 9.7 points.

Hand of the week 13/10

Suppose you are West here. With only your side vulnerable, partner passes as dealer and your RHO opens 1.  What action (if any) would you take?

Decide for yourself and then click [Show Answer].

7 of the 9 players who held this hand passed 1, no doubt thinking: "I quite like the idea of defending against hearts".

Two intrepid Wests, Heather Howes and Ken Joseph, boldly overcalled 2♣.

I much prefer the overcall to the pass, for two reasons.  First, it's unlikely that we are going to get to defend against hearts.  Probably, LHO will respond, and the opponents will find a fit in spades or diamonds, something that is not so attractive to our side.

And second, an overcall of 2♣ may find a fit for our side, and more importantly, make it difficult for the opponents to find their fit.  True, I'm not so keen on being vulnerable in this situation, but it's a bidder's game.  You do have to be prepared to stick your neck out (at least a little bit) in duplicate bridge.

If you look at all four hands, you will see that I was wrong about the first point.  The 7 times West passed, that was the end of the auction.  But there was no happy ending for E/W:  1 made either 7 or 8 tricks at these tables.

And the two players who overcalled?  Well, their partners supported them to 3♣, and they were subsequently able to genuinely enjoy defending 3, when South quite reasonably repeated her suit.  They deservedly got the the top two E/W scores on the board.

Hand of the week 29/9

Here's a pretty little hand that demonstrates not one but two of the principles given at recent Friday lessons.

You are South and pick up your typical hand.  Partner has surprisingly overcalled in hearts, of which you have 6.  RHO bids 1♠.

What should you bid now, and what is your general bidding plan?

Decide for yourself, and then click Show Answer.

Back in August, I ran a lesson on the Law of Total Trumps which says:  "in a competitive auction, bid to the level of the total number of trumps that your partnership holds".

Your partner's 1 overcall promises 5 hearts, you have 6 hearts for a total of 11.  You should therefore be prepared to compete to the 5-level (11 trick contract) if necessary.

I would start by bidding 4, removing as much room as possible from the opponents.  If they then compete to 4♠ you should be prepared to bid on to 5.  This is a bit scary, as you are vulnerable, but the Law is the Law.

If you show all the hands, you will see that the opponents will indeed bid 4♠, which is an easy contract to make.  5 is two down, a worthwhile sacrifice.    4 of the 8 N/S pairs did indeed go on to 5  - well done.

This brings us to the second lesson, which was given earlier in September.  When South goes on to 5, either West or East (both, really) should double it.   Both the E/W players know they have the majority of the points - they should not allow 5 to play undoubled.   2 down in 5 doubled would have yielded a decent score; 2 down undoubled was a poor score.   Unfortunately, 5 was allowed to play undoubled 3 times (at the 4th table where 5 was bid, E/W competed on to 5♠ - a legitimate view). 


Hand of the week 22/9

You've been pushed to a contract of 5 in a competitive auction.

South leads ♠A and then switches to the 10.  North plays low, you win with the Q and play the A.  South alas shows out, so North has a heart trick.

You will need to get the rest apart from that - how do you play it?  Decide for yourself and then click [Show Answer].

Your only possible loser is in clubs.  There are two ways to deal with it:

  1. You could cross to the A and take a club finesse, hoping North has the club king.  Or
  2. You could finesse the Q, hoping South has the diamond king.  If the finesse works, you can discard your losing club on the A.

Option 1 is simple enough ... you will make or go down 1, depending on who has the ♣K.

Option 2 is more dangerous.  If the diamond finesse fails, you will go down 2, because the A is stranded in dummy, and you will have to lose a club trick as well.

Nevertheless, Jo Crockford went ahead and took the apparently dangerous diamond finesse.  If you look at all the hands, you will see that this is the winning decision.  How did she know to do that?

She thought back to the bidding.  South had overcalled 1♠ and after North had given a single raise to 2♠, had gone on to 4♠.  North's hand is weaker than South's, and North has already shown up with the K.  The odds favoured South having both minor suit kings, in order to justify both the overcall and the bid of 4♠.

Well worked out.  Also making 11 tricks were Michael Ryan and Marcia Giles.


Hand of the week 15/9

Never has a Friday lesson been more swiftly acted upon than this.  Board 19 was the first board played at Table 10 last Friday.

Would you double 6♠ here?  You do have 5 trumps to the jack, but nothing else.

The Friday lesson was about penalty doubles (as distinct from takeout doubles) and made the point:  "We don't make enough penalty doubles."

Helen Schapper, sitting North, was apparently listening, because she doubled 6♠.  Of course there was no guarantee that the contract would go down:  she almost surely had one trick in spades, but you need two tricks to defeat a slam.  Nevertheless, this double was very well judged on a risk-to-reward analysis.  Sure, occasionally the contract might make, but the bottom you score may be quite similar to the score you would have got if you had not doubled.

In fact, 6♠ was a fine contract, needing nothing more than spades dividing 3-2.  But the 5-0 break destroyed it: a well-dserved top score for Helen.

One other point:  E/W play Roman Key Card Blackwood, which was what the 4NT bid was.  West wasn't sure how to respond to it: she had 3 key cards and the trump (spade) queen.  The answer is that you can't show it all at once.  You show your 3 key cards with a 5♣ response, and then if partner wants to find out about the trump queen, she bids the next step: 5.  That is the 'queen ask'.  Now you would jump to 6♠, to say you do indeed have the trump queen.

West's heart void was a complicating factor.  Her actual jump to 6♠ was a good compromise bid, and was unlucky not to be rewarded with success.

Hand of the week 8/9

A simple question this week.  After two passes, do you open a pre-empt with this hand?

I was asked about this hand from last Friday's game.  The question was:  "I have read that you shouldn't pre-empt with a void ... is that right?"

Well, yes and no.  Yes, in that there are text books that advise against pre-empting with a void.

And no, in that I think that's bad advice.  The theory is that the void provides a level of playing strength that partner can't anticipate.  But there's a bigger picture involved.  Pre-empts are powerful bidding tools, and in real life, it's a bad idea to find too many reasons to avoid pre-empting.  Imperfection is the name of the game: better to sow the seeds of chaos than to make precise bids constrained by a set of "rules".

In this instance, a pre-emptive opening bid of 3♠ is mandatory, particularly in third seat.  Partner and RHO have passed ... the odds are that your LHO has strength, and is not going to be pleased to hear 3♠ on his right.  And if you look at all the hands, so it is: I wouldn't like to be in South's shoes having to cope with a 3♠ opening bid.  I'd much prefer to hear a pass, and I can open 1 in peace.

I don't know how many people opened 3♠ or what the effect might have been on this particular deal.  But I do know that it is winning strategy to make pre-emptive bids whenever you can.

Hand of the week 1/9

Do you or don't you?  Here you are South in fourth seat, and by the time the auction gets to you, it is at the level of 4.

Do you consider bidding 4♠?  And ifyou do consider it, do you actually bid it?

Decide for yourself and then click [Show Answer].

Here's my personal answer.  I would definitely consider bidding 4♠.  But I rather doubt I would actually do it.

The vulnerability is highly relevant here.  You are not vulnerable, they are vulnerable.  Suppose they are making 4  (which you rather expect they are) ... that's a score of -620 or so for you.  If you can come to 7 tricks in spades, then 4♠ doubled goes down only -500.  It could be a very good sacrifice.

Two things could go wrong.  You could go down 4 tricks or more, for a score of at least -800.  Or maybe 4 is not making, so you are converting a plus score into a minus score. 

It's a close decision that was faced 6 times, and on just one occasion did South bid 4♠.  The intrepid bidder was Grant Scott, and if you click "Show all hands" you will see how right he was!  4 is an easy make, declarer losing just one spade, one diamond and one club.  Meanwhile 4♠ is only one down (partner has a very suitable hand for you!), and indeed the defence needs to be careful to attack diamonds, otherwise it will actually make.

At Grant's table, the opponents actually pushed on to 5, going down, not that it made any difference.  He had secured a top score as soon as he bid 4♠.  Fortune favours the brave!


Hand of the week 25/8

Last Friday's lesson was on the Law of Total Trumps.  The idea of the Law is that, in a competitive auction, you estimate the total number of trumps between you and your partner and compete to that level but no further. 

So with an 8-card fit, you compete to the 2 level (8 trick contract), with a 9-card fit, you compete to the 3 level, and so on.

On this deal, Helen Schapper (West) and Stephanie McQueen (East) used the Law to get a good result.  The opponents have competed to 3 after Stephanie and Helen had found their spade fit.  How should they react to that?


Both East and West knew of only an 8-card fit in spades.  So they wisely did not compete to 3♠ , instead letting the opponents go down in 3 .

And right they were ... at 7 of 9 tables, E/W played in a spade contract, and at 6 of those 7 tables, 8 tricks in spades was the limit.  So Stephanie and Helen were able to get a plus score (3 went two down) instead of a minus. 

It was as simple as that.  In the Friday lesson, I gave a similar hand, also with one of the players holding a singleton in the opponents' suit.  Everyone at the lesson wanted to proceed on to the 3-level, even though they only had an 8-card it.  I argued strongly against this, noting that having a singleton in the opponents' suit is a two-edged sword.  Sure it means you can trump their suit; however it also means that partner might have length and strength in that suit, indicating that it would be better to defend.  Nowhere is that principle more strongly indicated than on this deal, where partner had AQJx.

One N/S pair competed to 3♣ (I imagine that South overcalled 1♠ with 2♣).  The same principle applied.  This time East had the shortage and West had the length in clubs.  And again the right decision for E/W is to defend with their 8-card spade fit.  That's exactly what Dan Taggert and Henry Gesko did, and they were rewarded with the E/W top when 3♣ went four down on the terrible breaks.


Hand of the week 18/8

Sometimes there's simply no justice.

What would you bid with that South hand, after everyone has named a suit?

When I pick up hands like South's, my immediate thought is: "3NT":.  A long solid minor suit like that is just perfect for 3NT, a contract that is so often vastly superior to a minor suit game contract at the 5-level.  There are two reasons for this: 9 tricks are easier than 11 tricks, and the prospect of valuable overtricks in a 3NT contract.

So on this deal, and after this auction, I would have no hesitation in firmly bidding 3NT.  I appear to have 8 tricks (7 diamonds and a club), and if partner cannot provide one more, then off with her head. 

If you look at all 4 hands, you will see that the North hand is entirely suitable for 3NT, with it's spade stopper and a bit of help in clubs.  The opponents will be hardpressed to avoid presenting me with my 9th trick on opening lead, whether it be a heart lead (West's suit) or a club lead (East's suit). 

Alas, the diamonds divide 5-0, putting a wrecking ball through the lovely 3NT contract.  My sincere commiserations to Hilary Brear and Helen de Vanny, the only N/S pair to reach 3NT, which duly went 2 down for a poor N/S score.

Hand of the week 4/8

Today's Hand-of-the-week features both bidding and play.

First, what should West's response to East's 1 opening be?  Decide for yourself and then click [Show Answer].

We covered this question at a recent Friday lesson:

With two 5-card suits, always start by bidding the higher one.

So you should respond 1♠.  When you subsequently bid hearts, your partner will know that you started with at least 5 spades, because if you had 4 in both hearts and spades, you would have started with 1, bidding 4-card suits up the line.  This crucial principle of bidding will help you get to your best fit.  In this case, when West bids spades then hearts, East will know that his side has at least an 8-card spade fit, and will get the partnership to their correct contract in spades.

And how should West play 4♠ after the defence starts with two rounds of hearts?

West should trump the second club and then start drawing trumps, with the queen and then ace.  When the 4-1 spade break comes to light, you must abandon the trumps for the moment, and clear out the QJ from dummy, before playing a third round of trumps to your king.  There is a winning trump outstanding, and you just leave it there and play your good hearts.  South will eventually take his good trump, but you will have the rest, making 11 tricks.

Four of the eight E/W pairs got themselves to 4♠, ensuring an above-average score.  And well done to Annette Ruegg and Ed Koken, who made 11 tricks to share the E/W top.


Hand of the week 28/7

How do you think this hand should be bid, after North opens 1♠ and South responds 2♣?   In particular, what should be North's rebid?

Some weeks ago, I gave a Friday talk (due to popular demand smiley) on Splinter Bids.  These are unusual jump bids that show support for the suit partner has just bid, and shortage in the suit of the jump.  Splinter bids are wonderful bidding tools, but they do take some getting used to.

North's hand is perfect for a splinter raise in clubs.  It evaluates to 17 total points in support of clubs: the void, combined with 4-card club support, is an immensely valuable asset.  So North jumps to 3: a splinter bid showing club support, extra values and a shortage (singleton or void) in hearts.

Now look at South's hand: it is pretty strong, with 18 total points of its own.  South can see that he will be able to ruff his two little hearts, and with all the other assets, slam must be a good bet.  I would suggest some form of Blackwood at this point, to check we are not missing a couple of aces, then a bid of 6♣.  6♣ is an excellent contract, needing only to negotiate the minor suit queens.  Indeed on a good day (and this is a good day) you can make 7♣.

Just one pair, Irena and Peter Pysk, got to 6♣ for a well deserved top.  I don't know if they got there on the wings of a splinter, but you can see that it would ease the way.

Hand of the week 21/7

What would you do as North when your RHO, in third seat, opens 4?

Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

Surely, RHO is not going to make 4.  You have a probable heart trick, a couple of aces, and other values as well.  And RHO has pre-empted opposite a passed hand. 

Since you have no interest in a contract for your own side, you want to play 4 doubled.  And you can.  A useful agreement to have with your partner is: "all doubles of game contracts or higher are for penalties".  So you can double 4 here with no risk of partner misunderstanding it for a takeout double. 

Click [Show all hands] to see the full layout.

You should lead the K (top of a sequence).  Since dummy is entryless, it should not be too difficult to take the 5 tricks that are owing you, for a score of +300.

Two of the club's more experienced players, Larry Allender and Glenda Edge, found the penalty double and shared the N/S top on the board.  Most of the rest had to make do with +50 or +100.

There was one curious result: 2 by West making, for an E/W top.  That belonged to Jo Crockford.  I imagine she decided to open 1 rather than pre-empt.  There are several ways this might work, and there are several ways this might not work.  Here it worked a treat: I imagine North overcalled 1NT, and then Jo competed to 2.  Voila!

Hand of the week 14/7

An early one this week, as I will be in Fremantle.

Put yourself in David Stubbings' place, with his miserable 0-pointer.  And somehow finds himself in 4♠, vulnerable.  Has partner gone mad?

Click [Show All Hands] to see that partner, newly graduated master Joy Stubbings, has not gone mad at all.  A cool 24 points in support of spades.  She was well aware that she had forced partner to bid, and he could have nothing.  As indeed he did.  David then made the contract, with an overtrick to boot, for the coldest of top scores.

Hand of the week 7/7

Against your 4♠ contract, West leads a low heart.  After winning with the queen, it looks right to draw the trumps. 

What's the right way to play that trump suit?  Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

You could play for East to have the ♠A by leading low from dummy, and putting up the king if East plays low.  That is roughly a 50-50 chance to hold your spade losers to 2. 

But there is a better play available, due to the fact that you have 10, 9 and 8 of spades as well.  It is to lead the ♠10 from dummy, and should East play low, you play low as well.  Even if this loses to the queen or jack, you can return to dummy later and play another spade, intending to put in the 8 should East play low again.  That way you hold your spade losers to 2 if East has either the jack or the queen of spades.  It's not hard to see that this is better odds than simply hoping that East has the ace. 

If you look at all four hands, you will see that leading the ♠10 from dummy, intending to run it should East play low, is the only way of picking up the spades.  This was a fairly tricky hand, with issues beyond just the spade suit.  7 pairs played in 3NT, with varying degrees of success, and only two in 4♠, one making, one going down.

Meanwhile, no-one got to 4♠ by South, which means that no-one had the auction that I have given here.  That will be the subject of the next Friday lesson.

Hand of the week 30/6

Let's watch Glenda Edge and Zen Zebrowski in action.

West opens 1 and partner overcalls 1NT, showing about 16-18 HCP, balanced distribution, with cover in hearts.  What should South do?

Decide your strategy then click Show Answer.

With a weak and distributional hand, you want to play in a suit, in this case clubs, at the lowest possible level.

However, you cannot get to 2♣, because a 2♣ bid, just like a 2♣ response to a 1NT opening, would be the Stayman convention, asking partner to bid a 4-card major.

This is a deal where you want to be playing transfers ... South bids 2♠, which is a transfer bid to an undisclosed minor.  North obediently bids 3♣ and South either passes this (with clubs) or converts to 3 (with diamonds) which partner will pass.

Zen and Glenda do indeed play transfers, and smartly arrived in 3♣ by North, which made an effortless overtrick for a top board.  Looking at all 4 hands. you will see that E/W need to get into spades, and at next Friday's lesson, we'll see how that might have been achieved.

Transfers are great, but they also should come with a Government Health Warning, because a misunderstanding can seriously damage your score.  Zen and Glenda won on Tuesday, but if you take a look at their result on board 1 (and hypothesise how it came about), you will see that transfers can come unstuck if the two partners are not on a wavelength.

Hand of the week 23/6

Put yourself in South's seat, and decide what you would bid in this auction.  Partner has opened 2♠ showing about 6-10 HCP and a decent 6-card suit.  Because she is vulnerable, she would not do this on the lower scale of this range (it pays to be conservative when making a vulnerable pre-empt).

RHO overcalls 3 and you have to decide whether to bid 3♠ on your bare two-ace hand.  Do you or don't you?

I picked this deal as Hand of the Week because it was on-topic from my recent seminar at Moonee Valley Bridge Club on pre-empting strategy.

South should expect that partner has the makings of 6 tricks in her hand, according to the Rule of 2-and-3.  This rule says that when deciding whether, and how high, to pre-empt, choose a bid that's within two tricks of your contract when vulnerable, and within three tricks of your contract when not-vulnerbale

If partner has about 6 tricks, then you have two tricks to add, giving an expectation of 8 tricks, or down one in 3♠, a score of -100.  You would expect your opponents to make 3 for a score of -140 to you.  So if the maths all stands up, you make a profit by bidding 3♠, even though it's going to go down.

This sort of calculation doesn't always work (to say the least!), but over the long run, it does work.  If you look at all 4 hands, you will see that the probabilities do stand up in this case.

I was watching as Norma Buntine did indeed raise her partner Mary Buchanan to 3♠.  No one had anything further to say (correctly by E/W: 4 is not going to make their way), and 3♠ did indeed take 8 tricks for a good score for N/S, with most other tables playing an E/W heart partscore.

Hand of the week 16/6

Here you are as South.  Would you take any action with this hand, after West has overcalled your partner's 1NT opening bid with 2♠?

You should!  With 7 points, you hold the majority of the points, and you have the perfect distribution for a takeout double.  You will be happy whatever suit partner bids.

If you look at all four hands you will find that, alas, the takeout double does not necessarily work well, although in theory it should.  In theory, N/S can make either 3 or 3, whilst 2♠ is only one down.  Well done to Cliff and Karin Strahan for getting to 3, making, a top for them.

One intrepid North passed the takeout double, converting it to penalties, a decision for which I have a lot of admiration.  Down one for +100 would have been an excellent score, but unfortunately, the defence slipped, and the contract made: -670 was not an excellent score.

Irene and Peter Pysk were the only pair that got to what I think was the correct contract, 3 by North.  I'm assuming that South did make a takeout double, and North duly bid 3.  But 3 was a very tricky contract, and ended up down 1 when declarer did not divine the winning layout.  So virtue in the bidding had to be its own reward, this time.

Hand of the week 9/6

Supppose you are declarer in 4♠ and the opening lead is the ♣10, won by South's king.  How do you play it?

The defence can take 3 top tricks (2 clubs and 1 heart) but then you will have the rest.  You want to make it as difficult as possible for them to take those tricks, because if they fail to do so immediately, they won't get them.

You should follow with the ♣J at trick 1.  This is a tactic called: "playing the card you are known to hold".

Think about it ... both North and South know you have the jack.  From South's perspective, partner would not lead the 10 when he also holds the jack.  And from North's perspective, partner would not have played the king if he held KJ sitting over the queen.

The play of the jack gives South a legitimate guess at trick 2.  Did North start with ♣1098 or ♣109 (or even singleton ♣10)?   If North did start with ♣1098, it would be disastrous to continue with a top club now - declarer would ruff it and take the rest.  So South is likely to switch to hearts, and declarer can ruff the second round to snaffle an overtrick in 4♠, the losing club being discarded on diamonds.

But if declarer simply follows to trick 1 with the ♣8, then it's easy for South to cash a second round of clubs, because he knows it will hold up.  Then the defence can take the three tricks legitimately owing to them.

Often, playing an unnecessarily high card by declarer at trick 1 doesn't fool anyone - it's a well known strategy.  But occasionally, like here, it is essential.

Hand of the week 2/6

Here you are as dealer, vulnerable against not.  What's your bid?

Well, your options are to pass (?), or open with a spade bid, at anything from 1♠ up to 4♠.

I recommend that you open with a pre-emptive spade bid, which will have the dual effect of describing your hand to partner and also potentially making life difficult for the opponents.

How many you should open depends on two factors: the number of cards in your suit, and the number of losers in your hand.  With a 6-card suit, you usually open at the 2-level, a weak two.  With a 7-or-longer-card suit, you have the option of deciding to open at a higher level.

Whether you do so is determined by the number of losers in your hand.  The rule of 2-and-3 says that if vulnerable, you should open at a level of 2 more than your number of winners (which is 13 minus your number of losers).  If not-vulnerable, you open at a level of 3 more than your number of winners.  The idea is that you are prepared to go down, but you must be more cautious when vulnerable, as the vulnerable penalties are greater.

Let's try it here.  How many losers in this hand?  Two in spades (the ace and queen are missing), none in hearts, one in diamonds (the ace) and two in clubs.  That's 5 losers, so 8 winners.  Since you are vulnerable, you add 2 to get 10, and open 4♠  (the 10-trick contract).

To see how this works in practice, look at all 4 hands.  First North: he has a nice heart suit, but because of your manly preempt, he would have to bid 5 now: too high for comfort.  So North passes.  And East:  he has 3 tricks for you: the two aces provide 2 tricks, and the KQ combination another.  He adds his 3 tricks to the 8 you have promised and gets to 11 ... enough for game, but not enough for slam.  So East passes also.

So 4♠ is the final contract, and it indeed makes 11 tricks (unless you peak and finesse South's ♠Q).

There's a lot of good theory in this hand.  It is right on-topic for my next Moonee Valley seminar on pre-emptive strategy, which will be held on Thursday June 18).

Hand of the week 26/5

Consider the second half of the E/W auction here.  West makes a negative double of the 1♠ overcall, suggesting that she would have responded 1 had she had the chance.  East happily bids 2, and now South repeats the spade suit.

How should the bidding progress from there?

There are some players that have a speech impediment: they cannot bring themselves to say "Pass".  Such is the case here. It's not easy for E/W to pass out 2♠, but they should: West has described her hand already with the negative double and should leave further action to partner.  And when 2♠ rides around to East, she is happy to try to defeat it.

And defeat it she does.  Poor Brian Morrow as South was the only one to get to play that contract, as his opponents Julie Poyntz and Heather Howes passed it out.  Down one was a second bottom for him.  Practically everyone else played in higher heart contracts as E/W and none of them made.  In fact not a single contract was made on this board. 

Passing out 2♠ here when you have an 8-card heart fit requires great discipline.  It is a lesson in the "Law of Total Trumps" the concept that in competitive auctions, you should only bid as high as the total number of cards in your suit.  E/W have an 8-card heart fit and therefore should only compete to the 2-level (the 8-trick contract).

Hand of the week 19/5

Here's a deal that has points of interest for both the bidding and the play.

Let's start with the bidding.  North opens a 16-18 HCP 1NT, South bids Stayman, and then invitationally raises North's 2♠ bid to 3♠.   Should North accept or reject the game try?

And what should East lead to the eventual spade contract?

Decide for yourself, and then click "Show Answer".

North is bang in the middle of his 16 - 18 HCP range.  How to resolve this was a topic covered at my recent seminar on Hand Evaluation. 

In this case, the 4-3-3-3 shape is a very negative feature.  There are no side suits that can be developed, and no ruffing value.  North's hand is therefore essentially a minimum, and she should pass 3♠.   Only one North, Raie O'Brien, did so ... well done!  Unfortunately for Raie, in this case virtue had to be its own reward, because of defensive problems at so many other tables.

So what should East lead?  Against a blind notrump contract, a diamond would be easy; however this is a suit contract, and leading a diamond away from the queen, and up to a strong notrumper is extremely dangerous.  In this case, it's a disaster: declarer gets a free diamond trick, draws trumps and discards a losing heart on a diamond.  With trumps being 3-2 and the A onside, the poor game makes.

Against suit contracts, you are often looking for safe opening leads: a sequence of honours is particularly attractive.  On this deal I would lead Q  (second choice ♠J) ... a constructive and safe choice, giving nothing away.

There is one last hurdle for the defence.  After Q lead, West should not clatter up with A.  He knows from the bidding that partner's lead is from 2 or 3 hearts: declarer has the guarded king.  If West goes up with A, partner's J will drop under the king.  If West plays low on the first heart, then with careful defence thereafter, the defence will take two heart tricks and two club tricks.

Hand of the week 12/5

This deal presents two important truisms in duplicate bridge.

The first is reflected in West's rebid, after partner responds in hearts, and South overcalls in spades.  West should support the hearts, even with those magnificent diamonds.  Major suit fits are the name of the game. West has found a 4-4 heart fit, at least,  As for how high to bid the hearts, West has 12 HCP plus 5 distribution points for the void = 17 total points.  So a jump raise to 3 seems appropriate, which was the bid made by Julie Poyntz against me.

The second is shown by North's reaction to partner's overcall in spades.  The overcall shows at least 5 spades, so North should support partner's spades, even at the 3-level and with just three lousy spades.  They who own the boss suit (spades) own the deal.  In this case, even though E/W have the high-card strength to make 4, N/S have the boss suit and can take a successful sacrifice in 4♠.

For N/S, three pairs found their spade fit and bid on to 4♠:  Marie Warncken - Annette Ruegg,  Bart Verdam - Ken Joseph and Glenda Edge - Zen Zebrowski, and they shared the N/S top.

For E/W, the top went to visitors Juanita Monahan and Cheryle McBride, who got to 4 and were allowed to play it there, making an overtrick to boot!

Hand of the week 5/5

What would you bid, if anything, as North when your RHO opens 1♣?

This deal caused quite a bit of havoc for the E/W pairs.

As North, you might have noticed that partner has passed as dealer, something that is often overlooked.  This has two implications:

1) the opponents have at least the values for a game, and maybe a slam

2) if you make a bid here, your partner won't carry you out on a stretcher, because he doesn't have opening bid values

I like Graham Francis's choice of 3: although he was vulnerable, he knew this would discomfit his opponents.

And so it turned out: Liz Wilby as East could hardly take a bid over 3: sure she had club support, but partner might have only three.  And a negative double was fraught, because partner might get over-excited in spades.  After this start, it wasn't viable for E/W to get to their laydown slam, and they eventually settled in 5♣.

This turned out to be an average, because a couple of E/W pairs didn't even reach game: I can see how that can happen after the preempt.  And in the battle of the eventual winners, Marie Warncken and Annette Ruegg came out on top of Jo Crockford and Peter Karol when they were doubled in 4.  The 500 point penalty was less than the value of E/W's game.

Three pairs reached the slam - well done!  They were Cheryl Ogilvy - Rosemary Polya,  Rune Drevsjo - Richard Fitzherbert and Mary Adams - Pam Richardson.

And a final twist:  South led the A out of turn against Pam!  That was the right lead but alas from the wrong defender.  As declarer you have 5 options after a lead out of turn: you can be easily get befuddled by the plethora of possibilities.  But Pam made no mistake:  she returned the lead to North and prohibited a diamond play.  Her diamond loser was discarded on the hearts and she made an overtrick for a top.

Hand of the week 28/4

Today we wrestle with this difficult hand.  4-4-4-1 shape is the most difficult to describe in the bidding, because it doesn't neatly fall into either the 'balanced' or 'unbalanced' category.  It's not balanced because of the singleton, but it's also not really unbalanced, because there is no 5-card suit.

So what do you open, and rebid?  And after partner repeats his spades, what then?

Decide for yourself, then click 'Show Answer'.

You should open either 1♣ or 1 : I don't have a strong preference on which, although in this case your clubs are much stronger than your diamonds, so perhaps 1♣ is indicated.

It then gets stickier with your rebid.  A 1NT rebid is right on strength, but should include at least two spades.

Opening 1 then rebidding 2♣ avoids promising two spades, but now you are promising 5 diamonds (by opening a suit then rebidding a lower suit), which you emphatically do not have.

Opening 1♣ then rebidding say 2 constitutes a reverse bid, which shows more strength than you actually have.  Perhaps this is the smallest lie of them all.

I hate 4-4-4-1 shapes!

Whatever auction you choose, you should pass partner's 2♠ rebid.  Partner usually has 6 spades for this auction, and if he doesn't, he should have 5 very good spades.  In the face of a misfit, it is sound policy to stop bidding as soon as you possibly can.  And as it turns out, 2♠ by East is your last making contract.

So well done to Maria and Robert Robson, who got to 2♠ and made it, the only E/W pair to go plus on the deal.

Hand of the week 21/4

Sit yourself North and decide how you will defend 3♠: you can assume that East has a good 7-card spade suit, and 6 - 10 HCP. 

Partner leads a club and you win the ace, as declarer drops the jack.  It rather looks like that jack might be a singleton.  So what now?

Defending against pre-emptive opening bids, passed out, usually involves grabbing as many side-suit tricks as quickly as you can.  In this case, with the clubs threatening, you need to hunt out all your red suit tricks.  The trumps can look after themselves.

So you should next play A, and take a look at partner's signal, which shows attitude towards the hearts.  Playing standard methods, a high heart would be encouraging, a low heart discouraging.  Using the more modern "upside-down" signals, the reverse would be the case.

Partner plays J, saying "I like hearts".  So now you play another heart.  If you look at all four hands, you will see that partner can now cash A, your side winning the first 4 defensive tricks.  There is an inevitable spade loser for declarer, so 3♠ goes down by a trick.  

Simple?  Not necessarily: in fact, four E/W pairs were allowed to make 3♠.  There are several ways for N/S to go wrong on defence.

Two N/S pairs, Julie Poyntz - Heather Howes and Marie Warncken - Annette Ruegg, made no mistake and defeated the contract for excellent scores.

But the Gold Medal on this deal goes to Glenise and Graham Francis ... they defeated 3♠ by two tricks!   Glenise found the wonderful opening lead of a diamond.  Declarer, Krys Casey, won K and played a low club from table, but Graham made no mistake.  He hopped up with ♣A, and the defenders then took their four red suit winners and eventual trump trick.  Bravo!

What do you think of Glenise's diamond opening lead?  I doubt I would have found it, but on reflection it makes a lot of sense.  It is often right to lead from your strongest side suit against these preemptive openings, as part of the strategy, mentioned above, of developing side suit tricks ASAP.

Hand of the week 3/12

I'm glad I didn't hold this North hand last night.

What would you do when your partner opens 1♠?

Nothing fits.  The "book" answer is to pass, showing 0-5 points.  That's probably what I would do: I'm hoping that my left-hand opponent will make a bid, then I will later be able to show my long clubs without misleading partner into thinking I have points.

If you click [Show all hands] you will see that my pass doesn't work out very well.  1♠ will be the final contract, and it is not the contract of our dreams.

Looking down the scoresheet, I see that not a single player with those cards did in fact pass partner's opening bid.  The alternatives are to respond 2♣, which is telling a big lie as it promises 10 HCP, or 1NT, showing 6-9 HCP.  I prefer 1NT: I'm hoping (expecting) another bid from partner, and now I can show my clubs.

If you do get into the bidding, the REAL key to the hand is to insist on a club contract.  2 N/S pairs got to 3NT, and that contract is hopeless, because there is no entry to the long clubs.  But the other 5 pairs did superbly, bidding to 5♣, an excellent contract that makes.  The North players Roll of Honour for getting to 5♣ is: Liz Wilby, Larry Allender, Raie O'Brien, Marie Warncken and Grant Scott.

Hand of the week 14/4

Sit yourself West and decide what you would bid when partner opens 1♠.

The 1NT response to a 1-suit opening is the most anti-intuitive bid in bridge.  It shows 6 - 9 HCP, no support for partner, and no 4-card suit that could have been bid at the 1-level.

The consequence of these rules is that 1NT is often bid on a highly distributional hand, just like this West hand.  A void in spades!  Hardly the makings of a notrump contract, but rules are rules.  Responding in a suit here (eg 2 or 2♣) would promise 10+ HCP which West simply doesn't have. 

Then when partner persists with 2♠, West must grit the teeth and pass.  If you look at all 4 hands, you will see that partner has plenty of spades and 2♠ is the perfect contract.

However if you bend the rules and respond at the 2-level, East would be justified in jumping to 3♠, a forcing bid, and you will get too high.

Well done to Elizabeth Neales - Dianne Rice and Pam & Grant Scott, who correctly ground to a halt in 2♠, sharing a top score on the board.

Hand of the week 7/4

The Friday lesson topics do come up in real life.  Suppose you hold this nice North hand, and the auction proceeds as displayed.

Partner's 3NT indicates that she thinks your side has enough for game, even if you have a minimum opening bid.  So South will probably have something in the range of 13 to 16 HCP.

You don't have a minimum opening bid: you have 18 powerful HCP.  So what do you bid now, if anything?

If partner has 13 to 16 HCP, then that gives you a combined total of 31 to 34 HCP.  Usually, you need about 33 HCP to make a slam where you don't have any fit, so slam prospects depend on whether partner is minimum or maximum for her 3NT bid.

The way to find out is to raise 3NT to 4NT ... a natural 'quantitative' invitation to slam.  In the lesson, I suggested that after any natural notrump bid, if the next bid is 4NT, then that is not asking for aces but a natural invitation to slam.  This happens most commonly after a 1NT (or 2NT) opening bid, but can also occur in other auction, like this one.

If you look at all the hands, you will see that South had just 13 HCP, so would reject the invitation.  Slam is a poor contract: with an ace to lose, you need to bring in the spade suit for 5 tricks, and this happens less than 30% of the time.  As luck would have it, this was one of those times, and 6NT can be made.  Nevertheless, well done to Hilary Brear and Gwyneth Anderton, who were the only pair to reach what I think is the correct contract of 4NT.

Hand of the week 31/3

It was P.G. Wodehouse's character Psmith, who made the following statement:  "Never confuse the unusual with the impossible".  That advice certainly applies to bridge.

On this deal, you find yourself defending 3♠ after a competitive auction.  You lead a diamond, and partner takes the queen, but then his ace is ruffed.  Declarer now plays a low spade from hand, and you ...?

It would be unusual for declarer to be lacking the ♠Q, given his bidding and rebidding of the spades.  But it would not be impossible.

There's no particular reason to go up with a spade honour here, as there's nothing particular that you want to do.  You should play low and lo and behold, partner wins his singleton queen.  If you instead clatter up with a spade winner, there is a spectacular crash of honours, and 3♠ will then make on careful declarer play, as it did at two tables.

The result at table 5, where Raie and Col O'Brien were N/S against Leone Carberry and Lou Empson, was impressive.  Raie and Col did really well to compete to 3♠ and then Leone and Lou did really well to not crash their honours and so defeat this contract.  The matchpoints were rightfully shared between the two pairs.

Hand of the week 24/3

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a seminar on Advanced Hand Evaluation which was attended by quite a few Northern members.  The seminar presented a number of criteria for evaluating the strength of one's hand, over and above high card points and distribution points.

This hand is a good example of some of these criteria.  What do you think this hand is worth, in response to partner's 1♠  opening?

On the surface, there are 12 HCP and 1 distribution point = 13, which should be enough for game.


  • the single honours in the three side suits (king, queen, queen) are not working together: if for example one of those queens was in the same suit as the king, it would be a much stronger combination
  • side suit queens are not necessarily useful cards
  • Qx  represents a duplicated value:  the point for the doubleton and the queen both provide 3rd round control in the suit.  This is not worth a full 3 total points

This is a poor hand, in context, and is worth only an invitational raise to game.

If you look at all four hands, you will see that 4♠ is a very poor contract, and North would reject any game invitation.  Indeed on the lie of the cards, 8 tricks is technically the limit.  The South players who forced this hand to game were showing a touching faith in their partner's prowess as declarer.

At my table, Heather Howes as West sensibly opened 1.  My partner Bob Leighton overcalled 1♠.  I thought so little of the South hand that I simply raised to 2♠ (remembering that a 1♠ bid might be made on as few as 8 HCP).  There we rested, with Heather and Julie Poyntz defending accurately to hold us to 8 tricks.

Hand of the week 17/3

This deal presents several challenges for the E/W defence, and is worth examining in some detail.

Almost everyone played in spades by North, making either 9 or 10 tricks.  How do you think the defence should proceed?

Decide for yourself, and then click [Show Answer].

West has bid hearts, but irrespective of this, East should lead his singleton Q.   Singleton side suit leads are usually the best choice against suit contracts, because they so often lead to ruffs.

West wins A, and when declarer plays the 4, he knows that partner has either led from singleton queen, or doubleton queen-jack. The singleton is a lively possibility, so West should return a heart.

Which heart?  This is a situation covered by one of our Friday lessons on signals.  In this scenario, West can show a suit-preference:  a high heart return would suggest a liking for a 'high' suit, and a low heart prefers a 'low' suit.  Trumps are not a suit of relevance in this signalling, so the two suits in play are diamonds and clubs.  A high heart return indicates a diamond preference; a low heart indicates a club preference.

In this case, West has the queen of both minors, so doesn't really have a preference either way.  So he should return the middle card of his remaining hearts, in this case the 6 to indicate no preference.

East trumps the heart, and with only minor cards remaining, will have to lead a club or a diamond, with partner's suit preference signal not providing any clue.

There is an old adage: "aces are meant to beat kings, kings are meant to beat queens".  The idea is that you should avoid taking aces willy-nilly, preferring to wait until those aces can top opponents' kings.  This applies here.  There doesn't seem to be any hurry to take that A - it can keep, specifically until it can chop off the head of declarer's K.  East should calmly return the ♣J, letting declarer do all the work.  In the fullness of time, declarer will lose two diamond tricks for 9 tricks, rather than 10.

Well done to Ed Koken - Barbara Smith and Kevin Bradley - Helen Schapper, who defended the spade contracts accurately to share the top result on the deal.

Hand of the week 10/3

How do you think North and South should bid these hands?  South opens 1♣ and the opponents don't bid. 

Take it from there and then click "Show Answer".

I was asked about this hand at supper by Hilary Brear (North) and Helen de Vanny (South), because they were discomfited by their unusual auction.

Hilary only had 5 HCP, but she didn't want to pass 1♣ with only a single club, so she responded 1♠.

Helen then bid 2: this is a reverse (a topic we covered in a Friday lesson), because it is a rebid of a new suit that takes the partnership above the level of 2 of opener's first suit (2♣ in this case).

Reverses show significant extra strength (at least 16 HCP) and are 100% forcing bids.

Nevertheless, Hilary decided to pass and 2 became the final contract.  No wonder they were discomfited.

But I think this was a fine auction.  This is a case where Two Wrongs Make a Right.  As North, Hilary's 'book' bid was to pass 1♣, as she didn't have sufficient high-card strength to respond.  But having bid, she showed excellent judgment to counteract the first overbid by making a second underbid (the pass of 2).  The way to look at this is to think, when partner reverses with 2:  'well, 2 is probably a better contract for our side than 1♣, so I have improved the situation'.

Justice was served when Helen made an overtrick in 2 for a 70% score on the board.

Hand of the week 3/3

Try this opening lead problem ...

One my first Friday afternoon lessons was about opening leads to suit contracts.  Part of its (somewhat controversial) advice was to avoid leading away from disconnected honours or internal sequences. 

In this case, the diamonds (KJxx) represents disconnected honours and hearts (KJ10xx) is an internal sequence.  I would stay well clear of those suits, contrary to mainstream thinking.

The singleton trump is also a bad idea: it could seriously damage partner's spade holding, and in the case of some partners, it might eventually seriously damage your health.

That leads clubs ... a nothing suit but one in which you will not hurt yourself.  I recommend the ♣3 lead.

Looking at all four hands ... I filled in as North for this deal, playing with Peter Karol, whilst waiting for his partner Jo Crockford to arrive.  I like Peter's bid of 4♠: he figured that his high cards would go well with my trumps.  Everyone else played in notrumps on this deal, usually without much success.  The problem with a notrump contract is that North's spades are going to wither on the vine.

Anyway, as soon as the auction finished, I asked Peter to come around to the North seat and play the hand, as I had the bridgemates to set up.  So I don't know what exactly happened, but he did bring 4♠ home.  I imagine he got a heart lead (East's strongest suit) giving him a cheap trick with the Q.   That would have been just the assist needed, and with some judicious finessing, Peter made the contract, despite the bad trump break.

Score one for "leading from nothing".

Hand of the week 24/2

Put yourself in the North seat here.  You open 1♣, partner responds 1 and you rebid 2♣.  (A rebid of 2 would constitute a reverse, discussed at a recent Friday lesson.  Reverses promise more in the way of HCP than this hand.)

Now partner bids 3NT.  Well, notrumps was not what you were thinking of when you picked up this hand!  Should you pass 3NT or remove it?  Decide for yourself, and then click [Show Answer].

Glenda Edge passed 3NT!  I think this was a brilliant choice.  She'd described her weird hand as best she could, and partner had made a definitive bid with 3NT.  She hoped her club suit would be good for lots of tricks.

If you look at all 4 hands you will see that 3NT is easy: you have 7 club tricks and 2 aces.  Zen Zebrowski took his 9 tricks for an excellent score.  (It would have been even better if not for the unfortunate fact that the ace and king of spades was only good for one trick!)

Of course there are other possibilities on this deal.  6 of either minor has reasonable chances, although on this layout, only 6♣ is a make.  6 will suffer from a club ruff.  Raie and Col O'Brien earned an outright N/S top by simply bidding to 5♣  and making a precious overtrick. 

Meanwhile, E/W has some options, lying mainly with their 11 card spade fit.   Several E/W pairs got their spades into the action, and indeed Kerri Jones and Victor Hansom got the top E/W score for playing in 5♠.  In fact the "par" score on the deal (the contract you would play if all four players can see the full deal) is 6♠ doubled going two down, bid as a sacrifice against 6♣.

Hand of the week 17/2

Put yourself in the South seat, defending 4♠.   Partner leads the K; declarer wins with the ace, and plays the J from dummy.

Do you cover this with the king?   Have a think about that. and click "Show Answer".

A useful rule-of-thumb is to "cover an honour with an honour".  This has the benefit of potentially promoting a lower card in your partner's hand.  For example, suppose partner has 10xxx.  If you cover the jack with the king, declarer can win the ace and the queen, but then partner's 10 is good: declarer is limited to 2 tricks.  But if you play low on the jack, it will win, and declarer repeats the finesse, taking 3 tricks in hearts.

There's a counter argument though.  Suppose declarer started with AQ109.  Now if you cover the heart jack, declarer wins four heart tricks. Alternatively if you duck, declarer can repeat the finnese, but lacks another heart in dummy to take the finesse the third time.  So he will be restricted to three heart tricks.

So which is it to be? 

Sometimes you have to look at the whole hand to determine your strategy.  In this case, giving away three heart tricks would be bad news, because on the third heart declarer can discard dummy's losing diamond.  But conceding four heart tricks is harmless, because a second discard from dummy is of no use (it would just be a little club, which would be eventually a winner anyway).

So you should cover the heart jack with the king.  If you look at all four hands, you will see that this makes the difference between 11 tricks and 12, and that results in a substantial difference in your matchpoint score - half a top in fact.

Hand of the week 10/2

I was asked by a player last night about the "Law of Total Trumps".  This will be the subject of a future Friday lesson. 

The Law of Total Trumps says this:  if you find that you have an "n"-card fit in a competitive auction, you should compete to the level of "n" in your fit.  For example, if you have an 8-card fit, compete to the 2-level (8-trick contract); if you have a 9-card fit, compete to the 3-level (9-trick contract), and so on.

The idea is that the bigger your fit, the higher you should compete.  Even if you don't have the necessary strength to make your contract, it will still on balance be a good sacrifice against what your opponents can make.  If you have a very big fit, then the opponents in their contract will be able to ruff your suit quickly, making a lot of tricks themselves.

The Law of Total Trumps was put to the test on this explosive deal.  South opens 2♠, showing a 6-card suit.  North has 5 spades, so an 11-card fit, and the Law says, compete to the 5-level (11-trick contract).

Well, that's exactly what Graham Francis did: his partner Glenise went 2 down in 5♠ doubled for an absolute top on the board, because his opponents could make a vast number of tricks in their heart fit. 

But beware!  At another table, an extremely unfortunate accident occurred.  N/S did bid up to the 5-level, dutifully obeying the Law of Total Trumps.  But E/W, Marian Uren and Marcia Giles, bid on to 6!   Can you blame South, holding 2 aces, including AQx, from doubling that contract?  I would have doubled.  But the contract makes, thumbing its nose at the Law.

Hand of the week 3/2

Let's try an opening lead problem.  What's your choice with the West cards, against 4?

The second Friday lesson, back in October, was on the subject of opening leads to suit contracts.  If you attended, do you recall the essential message?

It was to avoid leading from suits that contain single or disconnected multiple honours.  Two prime examples are in this hand: the spades and the diamonds.   If you choose one of these suits, you are banking on partner providing one of the remaining honours: the ace or the queen.  If he lacks one of them, it's going to work out very badly.  I dislike a spade or diamond lead.

That leaves clubs and hearts.  The singleton trump lead is dangerous: if partner should have something like Qxx, a trump lead will probably exterminate it.

A club is the way to go: the 10 (top of a doubleton).  This passive lead likely gives nothing away, which is one of the primary objectives of opening leads to suit contracts.

If you look at all four hands, you will find that the club lead works just fine.  So does a trump, and as it happens, a spade finds partner with the ace.  But the diamond lead will give away the contract, because dummy's Q will score for free.

E/W winners were Marie Joyce and Gwyneth Anderton.  Gwyneth was on lead to 4: they beat the contract (I'm hoping with a club lead!).  Should she have led a diamond, her equal top would have converted to an equal bottom, costing them victory.

Hand of the week 27/1

How do you think this pair of hands should be bid?    West starts things off.  Decide for yourself, and then click [Show Answer]

West opens 1♠.  Despite the good 7-card suit, this hand is too strong for an opening pre-emptive bid (2♠, 3♠ or 4♠).

East responds 2♣.  This shows 10 or more points and 4 or more clubs.

So far, so good.  West's rebid is not quite so easy to decide.  First, with 7 magnificent spades and 4 average diamonds, it would be a mistake to introduce the diamonds now.  West should rebid in spades.   But how high?   The fact is that this hand is not as good as it looks.  There are 13 HCP, but three of them are wrapped up in that singleton king of hearts. Singleton kings are degraded values.  Despite the strong spades, this is a minimum opening bid: West should simply rebid 2♠.

Now comes another key decision.  East has a minimum for his 2-over-1 response, and no fit for spades.  It is tempting to try to seek greener pastures, perhaps with a bid of 2NT, but this is unlikely to lead to anything good.  East should quit while the quitting is good.  Partner probably won't have 4 hearts (he would have bid 2 over 2♣).  Certainly the spade fit is poor, but partner should have a 6-card or longer suit for this rebid, so at least you will have 7 trumps between you.  An important bidding principle is: in the face of a misfit, stop bidding as soon as humanly possible!

Heather (West) and Trevor (East) Howes had the recommended auction, and made a comfortable overtrick in 2♠.  Well done, as every other E-W pair ended up overboard in higher spade contracts (all but one of them going down).

Hand of the week 13/1

Your partner's 1NT opening bid shows 16-18 HCP.  You have a very good hand: a slam might be possible here.  How do you go about it?

Transfer responses to 1NT are played by practically everyone these days.  This hand is a timely reminder that it's not always right to use them.   If you make a transfer here, 2 transferring to 2♠, what are you going to do after partner obediently accepts your transfer?  There's no easy way of showing partner that you're interested in slam.

Instead, try another more basic approach.  Jump to 3♠ directly over 1NT.  A 3-level response to 1NT is a simple natural bid, showing a 6-card suit, enough for game, and interest in slam.  So simple!  The advantage of making the 1NT opener declarer doesn't really apply when responder is strong.  And this is the way to consult partner about slam possibilities.

If you look at South's hand, you will see that he has really excellent cards for spades, and should co-operate enthusiastically in a slam hunt.  If I were South, I would launch into ace-asking after hearing my partner's 3♠ bid.

Simple jumps to the 3-level are particularly useful in a minor.  It is the way to show interest in a minor suit slam, whilst still retaining the possibility of 3NT should partner's hand be unsuitable.

Well done to Cheryl Ogilvy - Marion Nielsen and Joy & David Stubbings who were the only two pairs to reach slam.

There was one point of interest in the play.  Suppose North plays in spades and leads a low club off the dummy.  If West doesn't jump up with the ace, the singleton queen will win and all 13 tricks are taken.  Sitting West when this play is made, you should think: "Why is declarer leading low from the king?  He must have the queen."   So it's sometimes right to grab the ace while the grabbing is good!


Hand of the week 6/1

This deal from Friday saw an unusual phenomenon.

First, put yourself in the East seat, having to speak after your partner has make a takeout double of 1?   What's your choice?

It's important to remember than when responding to a takeout double, partner is forcing you to bid, even if you have a chronically weak hand.  Even with 0 points, you have to bid.

If you simply respond 2♣ here, your long suit, partner cannot count on your having any points at all.  With this fine hand, you should jump to 3♣ in response to the takeout double, to show some decent values.

Responses to takeout doubles should be along the following lines:
- 0-7 HCP: bid your longest suit at the minimum level
- 8-11 HCP: make a jump bid in your longest suit
- 12+ HCP: make a cue-bid: i.e. bid the opponent's opened suit

Take a look at all four hands.  The unusual phenomenon is that E/W has a slam available, a grand slam in fact, even though N/S have opened the bidding at the one level.  That is rare!

I am not entirely surprised that not a single pair reached slam.  It's not easy to bid a slam when your opponent has opened.  However, if East did jump to 3♣, it would at least clue West in to the possibilities.  West holds ♣Kxx in clubs, so the hand seems to fit very well.  (It would be a different matter if partner had jump responded in West's void suit.)   Moreover, West's AQx is sitting over the opening bidder.  It's hard for me to say, knowing all 4 hands, but I would have at least thought about simply bidding 6♠ after partner's 3♣ response. 

Hand of the week 23/12

The exotic science of squeezes is an extraordinarily unimportant part of the game of bridge.  Despite this, connoisseurs of the subject take particular delight in their operation, which can occasionally be highly delicate and complex.

However, many squeezes are simple beasts: declarer cashes all his high cards and discovers to his surprise that the 3 of diamonds (or whatever) is a winner at the end.  Squeezes can even sometimes operate without declarer's knowledge.

Take this deal.  It doesn't matter whether you are in spades or notrumps, in game, small slam or grand slam - and there were all combinations of these played.   You have 12 tricks (5 spades, 4 hearts, 1 diamond, 2 clubs), and if you take them all in the correct order, 12 turns into 13.   The squeeze operates if one opponent has the king and queen of diamonds, and sole control of the club suit (i.e. has the queen and the jack, or 5+ cards in clubs).

Correct technique can help.  You should cash A early.   Now take all your major suit winners coming down to a 3-card ending.  West has J and ♣K2.   East has ♣A107.   If the J is not high. play ♣K then over to the ♣A.  Magically you discover that dummy's third club is a winner.   North has been squeezed.  (The squeeze would operate identically if the North and South hands are switched).

There was a wide variety of outcomes on the board.   Pam & Grant Scott and Liz Wilby - Simon Smith shared a top board by getting to slam ... well bid.  Marcia Giles and Marian Uren missed the slam, but Marcia was the only player to snaffle 13 tricks, and this gave her a 70% score on the board, helping them on the way to their E/W win.

Hand of the week 16/12

Today's problem is an irritating dilemma that comes up once in a while.  Partner opens 1♣,  and you have a weak hand with short clubs.  The question is:  should you make a disciplined pass, leaving partner to struggle in what could be a horrendous 3-1 fit, or do you respond 1♠ on your 4 points, and risk getting too high?

What's your poison?

5 of the 6 Wests who faced this problem decided to respond 1♠.   Except in one instance there was no happy ending.  Partner now made a bid you didn't want to hear ... 2NT.  4 of the 5 Wests then helplessly rebid their spades, and partner put them in 4♠, going two down.

The other West, Hilary Brear, decided she'd had enough of this nightmare, and passed 2NT.  That worked spectacularly well, when partner Helen de Vanny easily made this contract, with an overtrick to boot, the spades being worth 6 tricks.  A top score for Helen and Hilary.

The final West, Canadian visitor Kevin Bradley, decided to pass 1♣!   That was not a contract of one's dreams, but it was good for 6 tricks, outscoring the pairs that reached 4♠.  A strange way to earn an excellent score.

Believe it or not, there is a way to solve this problem.  Some pairs play a responding method that includes weak jump responses.   A response of 2 of a major, over partner's 1 of a minor opening, is weak, showing about 3-5 HCP and a 6-card suit.   The method is specifically designed to cope with this sort of problem, allowing responder to show the suit, but deny strength.  On this deal, East needs to understand that there's probably not enough for game, and pass 2♠. 

You might think this is a strange way to play, but weak jump responses are used by a lot of top-class partnerships.  It is an approach worthy of consideration.

Hand of the week 9/12

This board provided an unusual problem for at least one West player last night.  Partner's 4NT bid is asking for aces, but then RHO comes in with a bid of 5♣.

The question is, how should you respond to an ace-ask when the next player intervenes?  What would you do with your favourite partner?

West, who was actually playing Roman Keycard Blackwood, bid 5, hoping that partner would read this as showing 2 key-cards.  Unfortunately, East was unsure of the arrangement and passed, and the slam went down the gurgler.  Kudos to Raie (North) and Col (South) O'Brien, for successfully disrupting their opponents' auction.

The solution is a rare convention called DOPI.   This is an acronym for "Double Zero Pass One".   It is a scheme of responses when the opponents bid over your Blackwood, as follows:

Double:  0 aces
Pass:  1 ace
Next step: 2 aces
and so on

This keeps the auction as low as possible (remember that depending on the suits involved, the intervention could well be higher than 5 of your agreed suit), allowing your side to optionally double the opponents rather than bidding on.  On this hand West would have bid 5, showing 2 key-cards, and East could bid the fine slam.

DOPI is a rare convention (for me it has come up twice in my entire career), but invaluable should the situation arise.

Hand of the week 2/12

You are South, defending a contract of 4.  Partner leads the ♣6, declarer calls low from dummy, and you?

Have a think about that, and then click [Show Answer].

The idea here is to work out partner's holding in clubs, using all the inferences of standard lead methods.

Partner should not have the ♣A: we don't lead low from ace suits against suit contracts.

Partner should not have an honour sequence, like QJ6 or J106:  we lead the top card of such sequences.

If you put those two factoids together, plus the knowledge that we lead our 4th highest card if we are leading from length, then there is only a sincle setup in which partner could have a club honour: if he led the 6 from precisely Q106 of clubs.  And frankly, that is a mighty strange suit combination to lead from!

The conclusion one draws from these inferences is that partner has led a club from shortage:  he has either the singleton 6 of clubs, or doubleton 64.   In that case, there is nothing to gain and everything to lose by putting up the ♣K at trick 1 ... it will be swallowed up by declarer's ♣AQJ10.   If we play low instead, our king remains at large and declarer will need to do more work to counter its value.

If you show all 4 hands, you will see that withholding your club king at trick 1 will eventually result in it taking a trick.  Declarer can draw trumps and discard his spade loser on the diamonds.  But he will eventually have to lose a trick to your club king.  But if you play the king at trick 1, declarer will easily take all 13 tricks, as all his clubs are now good, except for the 4, which can be eventually ruffed in dummy.

The difference between -680 and -710 was considerable.  -680 earned you 70% on the board; -710 was worth just 30%.  There was a real reward for stopping to think about what partner's club holding must be! 

Hand of the week 25/11

2♣ openings seemed to be the order of the day last night.  That's appropriate, since my upcoming seminar at Moonee Valley Bridge Club on Thursday 4/12, "Bidding Ginormous Hands", deals precisely with this topic.

West's hand is truly ginormous, 25 HCP.  And partner's response is a real surprise: 2 shows 8+ HCP and a 5-card heart suit!

Now what?

It's time to wheel out Blackwood: 4NT asking for aces ... or you might play the fancier Roman Keycard Blackwood, in which case hearts is the designated trump suit (the last suit shown).

Whichever, partner shows you one ace, and if you now ask for kings with a bid of 5NT, partner shows one king.

What next?  

Well, partner has the ♣A and K ... you have all the aces and kings.  And even if partner lacks the Q, you have a 10-card fit in hearts, so would expect to have no losers there.

The only possible loser is in the diamond suit, and how likely is that?   Even if partner has some matching distribution like 3-5-3-2, then you can finesse South for the Q as a last resort.  So I think the percentage bid is 7.

Finally, if you are a conservative type and are not prepared to try for a grand slam without an absolute certainty of making it, you should bid 6NT.  The extra 10 points available in notrumps may be valuable, as Liz Wilby and Simon Smith discovered when they reached that contract.  A top score for missing a laydown grand slam!

Hand of the week 11/11

Here's a problem in the play for you, solved brilliantly at the table last Friday.

You are East, playing 4, which has been doubled by South.  The lead is the ♠8, clearly a singleton after North's opening 1♠ bid.   So you go up with the ♠A and finesse in hearts.  South wins the K, and now the defence plays two rounds of diamonds, you ruffing the second round.  You play a second trump (South following with the one remaining trump).  Now what?

Consider that, and then click [Show Answer]. 

You apparently have two more spade losers, which would mean 1 down: you can discard one of your spades on a club, but that doesn't help.

Hilary Brear faced this problem (I was the foolish doubler sitting South), and she solved it in 5 seconds flat.    She took the top 3 clubs, discarding a spade, as North showed out on the third round.  Then came a 4th club, and Hilary discarded another spade!   I won with the ♣J, but was staring at only minor cards remaining.  I led one, Hilary ruffed in dummy, whilst discarding her final spade from her hand.  Beautifully played.


Hand of the week 4/11

Here's a double-barrelled bidding problem. 

After East opens 1,  how high should West raise the hearts, and what should be North's reaction to that raise?  Have a think about that and then click [Show Answer].

First West.  The Law of Total Trumps is a valuable guide to bidding.  It advises that your side's combined length in your fit can be a more important indicator of how high you bid than your side's HCP.  It tells you to bid to the level of your trump fit: with an 8 card fit, you bid to the two-level (8-trick contract), with a 9-card fit you bid to the three-level (9-trick contract), and so on. 

If you have sufficient HCP, you are likely to make the resulting contract.  If you have insufficient points, then you will go down, BUT if you've bid to a high level based on your long combined length, then it is likely that your opponents can make a contract in their fit, and so your contract turns into a worthwhile sacrifice.

On this deal, the Law of Total Trumps tells West to bid 4.  East has 5 hearts (at least): you have a guaranteed 10-card fit.  So bid to the 10-trick contract, and damn the torpedoes.

Now North.  Nice hand, plenty of points, short in hearts, at least 3 cards in each other suit.  In other words, the perfect hand for a takeout double of a heart bid ... a topic we have been covering recently in the Friday lessons.  If you hear a 2 raise on your right, you should certainly make a takeout double.  After a 3 raise, it's a possible takeout double, although it is risky, as you are committing to quite a high level, and vulnerable to boot.  But if it goes 4 on your right, you really have to pass: it would be foolhardy to enter the auction at this stratospheric level.

Now look at all 4 hands.  4  goes 2 down at least (it can go 3 down if the defenders find a club ruff).  Vulnerable, a score of 200 for N/S.  Not bad, but then again, look what N/S can make.  5♠!  A takeout double from North will result in South getting very active with his 6-card spade suit. 

The learning points?  The Law of Total Trumps: bid ASAP to the level of your trump fit in competitive (or potentially competitive) auctions.  And the takeout-double: a really essential tool of bodding.

Handof the week 28/10

At the supper break I was approached by a mock-disgruntled player, who said: "where do I go to lodge a complaint?"   "Right here," I replied.  "It was board 6," she continued.  "How can you let such a board occur?"

"Board 6?  I've already played that one," I said.  "What happened?"

The player had opened 1, the correct Standard American opening with 4-4-3-2 shape, and had been left to play in that ridiculous contract, with 3 little trumps opposite a singleton.

I tried to be sympathetic, but it was difficult, because exactly the same thing had happened to me.  In fact, there were three of us, out of 8, who had to struggle in a 1 contract, and unsurprisingly, we got the three worst results on the board.  Nevertheless, as East, you should do your best in the play, because there are still matchpoints to be earned.  What is the best way to play a contract where you have three small trumps opposite a small singleton?

You should draw trumps!!  After the first round, you will be drawing two of their trumps for just one of yours, which must be a good idea.  I played a trump at every opportunity, and this put a bit of pressure on the defence, who have to do everything right in order to get me down 3.  I eventually escaped for down 2 - a triumph!   A very small triumph

As for the auction, it was possible for West to scrape up a response of 1 , hoping to improve matters.  Whenever I try something like that, partner simply rebids 2  and all I've done is made a bad situation worse.  Passing 1  is the system bid - but those who used their judgment by not passing did well on the board. 

Finally, good work by the three North players -  Helen Schapper, Larry Allender and Glenda Edge - who, when 1 was passed around to them, left East to stew in that contract.  That was very well judged.

Hand of the week 14/10

This week's hand comes from the Friday session, for a change.   You are sitting South and hear (well see, actually) partner open 3, which shows 6-10 HCP and a good 7-card suit.  Since your side is vulnerable versus not vulnerable, you can expect partner's hand to be on the high side of this range.

What do you bid?  Have a think about that and click "Show Answer".

Maria Robson was one of several who faced this decision.  She gave the problem plenty of thought and passed!   I just wish she wouldn't find these good bids against me.

It is oh-so-tempting to seek out a better contract than 3, bidding a forcing 3♠  or perhaps 3NT.  But is this likely to work?   The odds are that partner is short in spades (in which case you will probably be facing a 4 rebid - oh joy!), and as for 3NT, where on earth are you going to find 9 tricks from?

If you show all 4 hands you will see that miraculously partner does have 3-card spade support - that's a once-in-a-blue-moon situation, I would think.  But the hand analysis states that even so, and every suit dividing in friendly fashion, you still cannot make 4♠.  Meanwhile, 3 was the perfect spot: Helen Schapper took her 9 tricks for a 2nd top on the board.

The moral is: if partner opens with a preempt, and you have a medium strength hand but no support, it is usually correct to pass.

Hand of the week 7/10

This week's deal is about your thinking process.  You are East and South opens 1♠.   I can't predict how the auction will proceed from there, but you will bid your clubs, and the opponents will bid up to 4♠, your partner having nothing to contribute.  What are you thinking?

The first thing to do in these competitive auctions is to check the vulnerability.  We are at "favourable", i.e. we are non-vulnerable, but the opponents are.  This means that if N/S can make 4♠, we might have a paying sacrifice in 5♣.

Let's do the maths.  4♠ making is worth at least 620 to the vulnerable opponents.  As we are non-vulnerable, if we can make at least 8 tricks in 5♣, even if doubled, that will be a score of at most 500 to the opponents.  Well, we have 8 tricks in our own hand: 7 clubs and A.  This means that we should be bidding 5♣, if we think the opponents can make 4.

Do we think the opponents can make 4♠?   Well, one needs to listen to the auction: if it has been bid confidently (for example:  1♠ - 2 - (3♣) - 3♠ - 4♠), then one would suspect 4♠ is making, and so we should bid 5♣.  But there are other auctions N/S might conduct which would be much more tentative, and make us think we can maybe defeat 4♠.  There is no point going down in 5♣ if we could have defeated 4♠ all along: that would be a phantom sacrifice.

So it doesn't altogether surprise me that there was a mix of sacrifices and non-sacrifices on this deal.  If you look at all 4 hands, you will see that the sacrifice worked beautifully for 2 of the 3 E/W pairs who took it.  Against one of them, however, N/S carried on to 5♠ so the sacrifice was to no avail.

The key point of this hand is to do the maths.  When not-vulnerable against vulnerable, we can afford to go 3 down as a sacrifice against their game.  At equal vulnerability (all vul or no-one vul), we can afford to go 2 down as a sacrifice against their game.  (So on this deal, it would have paid to bid 5♣ at equal vul).  And at unfavourable vulnerability (we are, they aren't), sacrifices are much more rare, because you have to limit your losses to down 1.

Hand of the week 30/9

Here you are as North, defending 4 .

Partner leads ♣2, and declarer calls for a small club from dummy. 

What do you do, and why?

Defence is all about counting.  Here you can see 9 clubs between you and dummy.  There are 4 outstanding, and partner has led the ♣2.  This means partner won't have a doubleton club, because she would have led the higher one.

So partner has a singleton club, or three of them, or maybe all four of the outstanding clubs.

If it's a singleton, then you play ♣A, and give partner a club ruff (leading back your lowest club to signal that your point of re-entry is in the lowest other suit, in this case diamonds).

If partner's club is 3 small, you should also play ♣A, as declarer has the singleton king.

And if partner has 3 to the king in clubs, playing the ♣A will win the trick, then playing back a club will require declarer to ruff.  (If declarer does have a singleton, he might be able to discard on your club return - a loser on loser play, but this is not likely to do much good.)

So if you go through the machinations of working out all the possibilities, you will come to the conclusion that you should play the ace at trick 1, and return a club.

Showing all 4 hands, this proves to be the winning move, with the defence taking the first 4 tricks via ♣A, club ruff, A, club ruff.

Well done to Larry Allender, Graham Francis and Jo Crockford, the three Norths who found the winning defence.

Hand of the week 23/9

You're North and partner opens 1♣.  You take things slowly and respond 1 with your powerful hand.  Now partner bids 1♠ .

What next?

I am after your thinking here.   Your best bid is unclear, but the direction of your thinking should be towards a contract of 3NT.  Partner has clubs and spades, you have hearts and good diamonds.  You have a few choices: you could for example bid 2.  But I personally would do more than think about 3NT - I would bid it.    It's those extra 10 points (over and above an equivalent major suit game) that makes it so attractive when playing for matchpoints.

If you look at all 4 hands, and imagine a spade lead, how would you go about playing 3NT.

Step 1: count your tricks:  6 clubs probably, 3 spades, 1 diamond: you are up to 10 aleady, so should be planning for an extra overtrick or two.  A winning diamond finesse would provide you with that, but the best move, after winning your ♠K, is to play K.  Even though hearts is not the suit that is going to get you lots of tricks, it will develop at least one more trick, once you have knocked out the A.    That gets you your 11th trick, and you can even try for a 12th later, probably, via the diamond finesse.

Well done to the 4 N/S pairs who reached 3NT, for an excellent score.  And a gold star to Grant Scott, who was the only declarer to take 11 tricks.

Hand of the week 16/9

Take a look at the East hand here.  After a couple of passes, your RHO opens 1.  What do you do?

Click "Show answer" when you have decided.

One way to look at this problem is to notice that you are vulnerable, and don't have a very good hand.  You could pass with a clear conscience.

Another way to look at this hand is that it has fine distribution, with spades.  Spades is a very special suit, for the obvious reason that for the opponents to outbid it, they have to raise the level.  One should never need much excuse for bidding spades.

So I think it's best to bid here: either with a Michaels cue-bid of 2  (showing spades and an unidentified minor), or simply bidding 1♠ .  I don't recommend an overcall of 2, despite it being your longest suit, because that makes it too easy to miss out on a spade fit.

If you show all the hands, you will see how important it is for E/W to get together in spades.  Once you show 5 spades, partner should not let go until the 4-level: this is the Law of Total Trumps: bidding to the level of your combined fit: a 10-card fit indicates a 10-card contract.

The opponents can make 5, but they might be reluctant to bid to the 5-level.

Good work by Kerri Jones - Victor Hansom, and Brian Morrow - Larry Allender, who were two E/W pairs to find the spade fit, getting the two best E/W scores on the deal.

Hand of the week 9/9

This deal proved instructive in the bidding in the play.

First the bidding.  This is how I think it should go.  After East opens with a light 1 , South should overcall 1NT, showing 16-18 HCP, balanced and a diamond stopper.

Let's assume you have agreed to play transfers over 1NT, as most players at the club do.  Transfers should also apply when 1NT has been overcalled.   So North transfers to 2♠  and then bids 2NT: this shows a 5-card spade suit and invitational values.

South has 17 HCP, right in the middle of the 16-18 range.  Should he accept or refuse the invitation?  I think accept, because that Q, sitting over the opening 1, is as good as the king.  It should be promoted in value.  So with maximum values but only 2 spades, South accepts by bidding 3NT.

Now the play.  West leads ♣7 and East puts up ♣K.  You should play low, executing a hold-up play.  East now plays ♣9.  What do you do?  Have a think about that and then click "Show Answer".

East is marked on the bidding with both ♠A and K.  West won't have any entries.  If clubs divide 4-3, you should hold-up again, so that East will definitely be exhausted of clubs when he gets in with ♠A.  If clubs divide 5-2, you can take this trick, knock out East's ♠K, and take it from there. 

As it turns out this is the winning play.  East has no more clubs to play when in with ♠A, and what's more the run of the spades squeezes East into mashed potato.  East cannot hold on to both red suits, and if you pick the position, you will make 11 tricks.

Pam & Grant Scott and Marie-Claire Staub & Helen Schapper were the only two pairs to get to the excellent 3NT.  So it is just that they ran 1st and 2nd on the night.  And Marie-Claire found the winning declarer play to snaffle 11 tricks and a complete top on the board.


Hand of the week 2/9

The book "Bridge at the Enigma Club" is one of the most fascinating bridge books ever written.   Along with all the interesting technical material, there is quite some whimsy.  An example is the following strange fact:

6  always makes

This concept has no basis in reason but seems to hold true so often.  Last night Kerri Jones and Victor Hansom used the rule to good advantage on two consecutive deals: 16 and 17.  Their unfortunate oppnents were Karin and Cliff Strahan. 

6  on board 17 required a bit of racing luck, in particular the club finesse.  But since 6  always makes, that was a shoo-in to work.

On board 16, no such good fortune was required: 6 is an absolutely splendid contract, and Kerri and Victor, along with Marie Warncken and Annette Ruegg, were the only pairs to bid it.  Most others languished in 3NT, making lots.  The deal looks like a misfit, West with hearts anad clubs, East with spades and diamonds, but there was a diamond fit there, and well done to the two pairs to work this out and get to slam.


Hand of the week 26/8

There were slams a-plenty in last night's session ... here was one of the more subtle ones.

Partner's 3NT rebid should show around 18-19 HCP, and a balanced distribution, although of course he is promising 5 spades.

What should you do?

You have 13 HCP.  If partner has 18-19 HCP, then gives you a total of 31-32 HCP, which is not quite enough for a slam with balanced hands.

However, and this is my "point", your 13 points are "pure" ... all aces and kings.  In the 4-3-2-1 point count scale, experience says that aces and kings are just a little bit undervalued, and queens and jacks are just a little bit overvalued.  When you hold a hand like North's here, it is really worth more than 13 HCP.  I think this hand is too strong to pass, or quietly to convert to 4♠ .

I don't know what you should bid ... perhaps a quantitative 4NT fits the bill.  If you look at all 4 hands, you will see that partner is also full of aces and kings: his 18 HCP are perfect.  And East-West?  Well they have 3 queens and 3 jacks between them, and they are all essentially worthless.

So this 31 HCP combo, with no singletons or voids to be found, is a laydown 6♠  (you can trump a heart in dummy for your twelfth trick), and an excellent 6NT (which needs diamonds to break 3-2 to set up the twelfth trick there).

Congratulations to Liz Wilby and Simon Smith, who got to 6♠ , and visitor Freda Almond and Larry Allender, who snared a complete top by bidding to 6NT.

Hand of the week 19/8

Here's another deal that would be suitable to cover at my upcoming slam seminar at Moonee Valley (Thursday 21/8, 1:30 - last chance!).  Let's look at it from East's perspective.

With 19 HCP you are too strong to open 1NT, so start with 1♣ .  Your basic plan is to jump in notrumps after partner's response, to show around 19 HCP.  Sure enough, partner bids 1♠  and you jump to 2NT.  You cannot worry about the lack of a diamond stopper: you just have to show the general nature of your hand.

With 19 opposite at least 6 HCP, both you and your partner should be aware that you are committed to at least game.  So partner's 3♠  is forcing, showing length in spades, and could be bid on quite a strong hand.  What do you bid?

You have magnificent support for spades.  Bidding 4♠  now is a possibility, but it doesn't really do justice to your hand, which along with the spade support includes a lot of top tricks.

The best bid is 4♣ : a cue-bid that agrees spades as trumps and shows control (at least the ace or the king) in clubs.  Even though 4♣ repeats the suit that you opened, it cannot logically be a natural bid.  If you had 5 clubs say, and no spade support, you would rebid 3NT.  It would not make sense to go past this contract. 

If you show all 4 hands, you will see that partner is only too happy to co-operate in a slam hunt.  He can return with a 4 cue bid, which solves the last remaining problem for you ... the danger of being off the ace and king of diamonds.  You should not be able to proceed to slam, do not pass GO but do collect a whole heap of matchpoints!

Two pairs shared the top by getting to superb 6♠ : Marie Claire Staub - Helen Schapper and Hilary Brear - Cheryl Ogilvy.  Great work!

Hand of the week 12/8

The East players this session would have got a shock on this deal.  Picking up a 23 point hand is unusual enough, but for partner to then open the bidding!

How should they respond?  A simple response of 1♠  is best: this shows 6+ points.  The "+" here is apposite ... East has 17 more points than promised, but the point is that you will get to hear partner's rebid.

Partner rebids 2♣ .  Now what?

I am giving a seminar on Slam Bidding at Moonee Valley Bridge Club on Thursday 21/8, starting at 1:30 pm.  This deal is an excellent example.

There might be a grand slam available here.  Partner's 12-14 points gives you a total of 35-37 HCP ... not necessarily enough for a grand slam, which the textbooks say requires 37 points between you.

But if you visualise what partner might hold, then there probably is a grand slam.  Give partner king-to-five clubs and the spade ace, and you have 5 club tricks, 5 spade tricks, AK and A: that adds up to 13.  Visualisation is an important tool for slam bidding.

To find out whether partner has these cards, some form of ace-asking can be used.  4NT as simple Blackwood will establish that partner has ♠A.  And he is almost certain to have ♣K for his 2♣  rebid.  Or better, Roman Key Card Blackwood (with clubs as trumps as the last bid suit) will also find out definitively about the ♣K.

Zen Zebrowski was the only player to get this deal fully right ... he bid 4NT as simple Blackwood and then 7NT.  Top score.

Mary Adams gets the silver medal ... she bid 4NT as Roman Key Card Blackwood, got a two-keycard response and bid 7♣ .  That was a second-top, although she was the first to point out that she could have bid 7NT with confidence.

Hand of the week 5/8

One of the great joys of bridge is making partnership agreements about system and conventions.  In my 40+ years in the game, I have observed phases where there was a great deal of invention and variation in Victorian bridge.  A wide variety of systems were used: Acol, Standard, Precision and some off-the-wall methods as well.

Nowadays, the state (and the world to be fair) is in something of a rut, with Standard American being the overwhelmingly popular approach to bidding.

At Northern, things are no different ... as far as I know, only Jo Crockford and Peter Karol buck the trend: they play an Acol/Standard hybrid, using a weak 1NT opening (12-14 points) when non-vulnerable.  I am quite sure this is an excellent approach in theory and practice, but it can occasionally require nerves of steel.

Partner opens 1NT, 12-14 HCP, and you have East's pile of garbage: it's a worry.  What should you do?

The fact that both opponents have passed is comforting.  Peter Karol made a splendid choice: he muddied the waters by bidding 2, a transfer to 2♠, and passed partner there.

Looking at all the hands, you will see how well this worked.  Partner had a maximum with 4 spades ... well that's what partners are for!   Whilst Brian Morrow and I could have theoretically defeated this contract, the defence was very difficult and not being able to see all four hands was a big drawback.   Embarrassingly for us, Jo wrapped up 2♠ opposite that 4-point dummy for an equal top.  (Pam and Grant Scott also managed to end up in 2♠  making.)

Hand of the week 22/7

Most players would agree that defence is the most challenging part of the game.  On this deal, the defence was put to the test.  As East, how do you play after partner leads ♠ 10?

As a defender, it's important to keep the bidding in mind: you can deduce a lot about declarer's shape and points.

On this deal, for example, declarer's 2♠ bid tells you partner has led a singleton spade, so you can give him a ruff. 

What then?  Looking at your singleton A, you see that you can get some diamond ruffs of your own.  So you should case that ace, before returning a spade for partner to ruff.  This should clue partner in to play a diamond next for you to ruff.  You can add icing on the cake by returning your highest spade, the 7, as a suit preference signal for the highest remaining suit (diamonds over clubs).

When partner gives you a diamond ruff, you can play another spade, the 6, hoping that partner can ruff higher than dummy.  That part works, although declarer should discard dummy's last diamond, then ruff partner's next diamond with the J, to stop the carnage.

Nevertheless, best defence will give the defence the first 5 tricks for two down.  Two East pairs, Victor Hansom & Kerri Jones and Hilary Brear & Cheryl Ogilvy,  found the winning defence for a shared top on the board.

Hand of the week 15/7

What would/did you bid as North, after partner opened 1♠?

The Law of Total Trumps (a simplification of the Law of Total Tricks) says that it's often best to bid to the level equal to the total number of trumps in your combined hands (in a competitive or potentially competitive auction).

For example, with an 8 card trump fit, compete to the 2-level (an 8 trick contract); with a 9 card trump fit, compete to the 3-level, and so on.

On this deal, partner is showing at least 5 spades, so the Law would suggest a bid of 4♠, with your known 10 card trump fit.

It seems that 4 of the 6 North's did so, mainly to their regret.  This auction isn't yet competitive, and that North hand, despite its 5 trumps, is nothing to write home about.  The rest of the pattern is balanced, so if partner has minimum values, it's unlikely to deliver a game.  I think an invitational raise to 3♠ is sufficient.

If you display all the hands, you will see that 9 tricks should be the limit, with declarer losing 3 diamonds and a heart.

One South, Col O'Brien, bid and made 4♠ for an outright top.  How did he do it?  I cannot be certain, but I imagine that West, with a difficult opening lead, tried a club.  If Col then put in the 8, this forces East's jack.  A later finesse of a ♣10 will work, and the ♣A then provides a discard for a losing diamond.

Hand of the week 8.7

Suppose you are playing 4 by North.  East leads a club, and you win with the ace.  What now?

This deal represents a common theme when declaring suit contracts.  It is that sometimes you need to delay drawing trumps in order to set up a side suit.

On this deal, you want to set up your side suit of spades.  But if you play two top trumps first, you will discover that you run out of entries to your (North) hand to both establish and run the spades.

The correct line is to play a spade at trick 2.  The opponents can win a spade and play a club, forcing you to ruff.  But if you now ruff a spade (the suit divides delightfully 3-3), all your spades are good.  Now is the time to play two top trumps, and then you can play your winning spades.  The opponents are welcome to ruff in with their master trump whenever they like, but you still have a trump in your hand to deal with any further club plays.

Surprisingly, only two pairs got to the nice 4 contract: everyone else languished in a notrump contract.  And Graham Francis played the deal correctly to make his contract for a complete top.

Hand of the week 1/7

What do you bid on this auction: partner passes and your RHO opens 1?  (To save you fingers, that's an 8-card spade suit).

Here's a recipe for deciding on whether, and how high, to preempt the bidding when you have a long suit (at least 6 cards) in a weakish hand. 

1.  Count your winners (or if you like, count your losers, then subtract from 13).

2.  If you are vulnerable, make a bid which is two tricks more than the number of winners.

3.  If you are non-vulnerable, make a bid which is three tricks more than the number of winners.

This is the rule of two-and-three, and it's one of the more reliable ones around.

Let's apply it to this hand.  With 8 spades missing AKQ, you must assume that you might lose to ace, king and queen, so that's 5 winners.  And your ♣K counts as a winner (although of course that's not a guarantee).  So you have 6 winners in your hand.  (If you conversely count losers, there are 3 in spades, 1 in hearts, 2 in diamonds and 1 in clubs = 7 losers, subtracting from 13 gives you 6 winners).

You are not vulnerable, so 3 tricks more than a 6-trick contract is a 9-trick contract.

You should bid 3♠.

Click [Show all hands] to see how 3♠ works.

A 3♠ bid gives South, who has 11 HCP and 4-card heart support for partner, little option other than to bid 4.  And that contract has no chance at all.  It matters little that 3♠ doesn't make: the point is that the bid forces the opponents into a difficult, and often losing, decision.

On the night, only Althea Bernet and Kerri Jones as E/W achieved the result of defeating N/S's 4, which I consider to be the optimal E/W result on the deal.  Well done to them.

Hand of the week 24/6

Suppose you are North, with this minor suit monster.  With everyone vulnerable, your RHO opens 1.  Whatever bid you choose, your LHO will support hearts, partner passes and RHO bids 4.

What now?

There are a couple of possibilities over 1.  You could make a simple overcall of 2♣, or you could make an Unusual Nortrump call of 2NT, showing both minors (in this case, LHO raises to 3 and RHO bids 4).

I can see pros and cons for both choices, but whichever you choose, I think you should keep bidding over 4.  For example if you bid 2NT in the first place, you can now call 5♣, showing a hand that's not willing to give up, with extra length in clubs.

Click "Show all hands" to see the full layout.

Your poor partner will not warm to your bidding, but it is the winning move.  4 is a making contract, and you can actually make 5♣ by crossing to dummy's Q, and playing a club.  West's ♣A will beat thin air, and you only lose two tricks.

Congratulations to Dianne Rice and Victor Hansom, who both found that 5♣ contract to record excellent scores on the board, with most of the field bidding and making 4 E/W.

Hand of the week 17/6

The Red point duplicate started off with a bang on board 1. 

Sometimes I'm asked: "how should I have bid this hand?"  When it comes to wild distributional deals like this one, there is no right answer.  Modern bidding theory relates to deals and distributions that are relatively normal, not this one.  When it comes to 8-3-2-0 distributions (and both West and South had this), you make your own arrangements, and good luck to you.  North's 7-4-1-1 was pretty wild too, but poor old East was left out of the fun.

The results reflect this.  For example, Heather and Trevor Howes played 5♣ as West ... who can blame them for bidding it?  The wild opposing distribution wrecks this contract: North gets a spade ruff,  and 3 rounds of hearts stand up.  Down 3, doubled, would be -500 for a complete bottom, BUT, North-South didn't double them!  So instead of a bottom, the Howes got a second top for their -150.

On the flip side, Helen Schapper and Jan Merkel-Stol bid to 6 as North-South: an excellent contract which is likely to make at 80% of the time.  But not tonight: the trumps broke 4-0, and their likely top turned into a complete bottom.

Hand of the week 10/6

How do you think North and South should handle this deal?   North opens 1♣ and a pesky East interjects 3♠.  What now?

This is undoubtedly a tough situation.  South with 9 HCP has been well and truly pre-empted, and probably has to pass.

What about North?  That's a good hand, and it seems wrong to sell out to 3♠.  I recommend a double, which is in principle for takeout, although at this level, it is often converted into penalties by South.  North has basically the right attributes for a takeout double: short in spades, and with some level of support for every other suit.  It is by no means a risk-free bid (West, for example, could be waiting to apply the axe), but it seems a bit timid to sell out to 3♠.

This leaves South with a choice of winning actions.  South can indeed pass for penalties, as happened at Brian Morrow and Larry Allender's table.  The contract went two down for 300 to N/S: a second-top score on the board.

The top score went to Jo Crockford and Peter Karol, who found 3NT: a contract that made easily, in fact with overtricks.

Excellent judgment by these two N/S pairs ... and they both achieved huge scores on the night, of over 66%. 

Hand of the week 3/6

Sitting North, you are facing this auction.  What do you bid after partner opens 1 and rebids 2♣?

The most profitable contract in bridge is 3NT.  It is the game contract that requires you to take the fewest tricks (9), and what's more, a making notrump contract scores 10 precious points more than the equivalent major suit contract taking the same number of tricks.

This hand is a case in point.  You have a 5-3 heart fit, at least (partner's opening bid showed 5 hearts), but your flat distribution suggests that you may well be taking the same number of tricks in notrumps as you can get in hearts.

Larry Allender was the only North player to find the 3NT bid here.  He could not be stopped from taking 10 tricks - East was pretty much stymied on opening lead: either a spade or a diamond delivers a free trick to declarer - and this was an absolute top score for him.  Most of the field was in 4, and it made only once.

So don't forget that 3NT contract!  (And particularly so when you hold 4-3-3-3 distribution)

Hand of the week 27/5

This deal had lots of points of interest, for all players at the table.   How do you think the bidding should go?

After North passes, East has a choice of whether to open 1♣ or 1.  I'll admit that I'm never sure what to do in these situations.  Normally you open the longer suit, clubs in this case, but that might make it difficult to bid diamonds later (diamonds being a higher suit than clubs).  If you open in diamonds, however, you can bid clubs later, and partner can choose between the minors without raising the level.  (This is why with two five card suits, always bid the higher one first).

So on the whole, and given that the diamond suit is stronger than the longer club suit, I like the opening bid of 1.  I'm guessing that only one player, Simon Smith, did so, because he and Liz Wilby were the only pair to reach the excellent contract of 6, which made easily, despite the foul split in clubs.  Practically every other E/W pair fetched up in 3NT after a 1♣ opening, the fit in diamonds not easily coming to light.

Meanwhile, whatever East opens, South should take the opportunity to stick in a spade bid: a weak jump overcall of 2♠ would be my recommendation.  If N/S were not vulnerable, then you might jump to 3♠.  Not only will this disrupt the E/W auction, it will also help partner on the opening lead.  If West declares 3NT, which happened at most tables, North will know to lead a spade, keeping away from losing leads in hearts or clubs.

One pair, Rune Drevsjo and Mark Mudge, playing in their farewell appearance, did get to 6NT, and were favoured by the club lead ... 6NT making, for a top score.  Actually, 6NT is a fine contract, which makes easily on any kind division in clubs.

Hand of the week 20/5

How do you think East and West should bid this deal?

First East.  East should double 1♣ for takeout.  This shows about opening points, short in clubs and at least 3-card support for the other three suits.  This is a better choice than a 1 overcall, because it gets the major suits into play.

Then West.  With just 2 HCP, you might want to pass, but you do have good distribution, and partner has shown you support for the majors.  Spades is the "boss" suit, and when you have a spade fit, you have a good chance of successfully outbidding the opponents.   West should take the opportunity to bid 1♠.

After this start, E/W will be able to control the auction.  N/S can make 4, but E/W have a paying sacrifice in 4♠.  This contract could take a lot of tricks, depending on the defence.

4 of the 9 E/W pairs managed to compete in spades, and they got the 4 best E/W scores, in each case preventing N/S from playing in 4.  They were: Maria Robson & Hilary Brear,  Sue Bridges & Robert White, Rosemary Polya & Cheryl Ogilvy and Glenda Edge & Zen Zebrowski.

Hand of the week 13/5

What would you do as East, after your partner opens 1♠ in fourth seat?

Whilst your hand has only 5 HCP, there is excellent distribution in support of spades.   It is tailor-made for a pre-emptive raise to 4♠.

Click [Show All Hands] to see the full layout.

It is highly unusual that your opponents, who have passed 3 times so far, should have a successful sacrifice in 5♣ but that is the case here.    If you bid only 2♠, then South might venture 3♣, which is what happened at at least one table, and now N/S will sacrifice successfully against your game.

Incidentally, if you are playing 4♠ on a, say, black suit lead, the correct line is to play on the heart suit, forgetting all your lovely diamonds.  You will lose two heart tricks, and a top club, but dummy's hearts will be eastablished and you make 10 tricks.    Elisabeth Neales, Kerri Jones and Victor Hansom all played correctly to bring home their contract.  Victor even made 11 tricks!  I imagine that North innocently led a diamond to the king and ace.  Then declarer has 5 diamond tricks, on which he can discard all the losing clubs in dummy.

Hand of the week 6/5

What do you open this West hand, as dealer?

I think that 5 of the 6 players who had this hand opened 1

Good idea?  Well West has 21 HCP, and balanced distribution.  A hand with 5-3-3-2 where the 5-card suit is a minor is classed as balanced. 

21 HCP balanced hands should be opened 2NT.  Rune Drevsjo was one West who did so.

Click [Show all hands] to see how he fared.

Mark Mudge found the skinny raise to 3NT, and with a little racing luck, that contract made for an outright top.  All 5 players who opened 1 ended, unsurprisingly, in diamond contracts, ranging from 1 to 5.  None of them scored as well as 3NT. 

Lesson of the day is this:  if you have a balanced hand (any 4333 or 4432 distribution, or 5332 with a 5-card minor) and the right HCP for a notrump opening, then open in notrump.   Don't worry about where your points are, or having  unstopped suits, Just Do It.

Hand of the week 29/4

Suppose you are North, defending a contract of 4♠ doubled.   You lead the ace and king of hearts, and everyone follows, declarer playing the queen on the second round.

What do you do next?

There are no more hearts to be won, but it looks like this contract should go down by at least one trick, as you have two more aces.  Could anything go wrong?

Well yes, the danger is that declarer is void in a minor.  If that is the case, then the setting trick would have to come from either partner's diamond king, or via giving partner a ruff in a minor. 

Partner won't be short in clubs, but he could be short in diamonds.  You should play the diamond ace at trick 3, and continue with another diamond.  (The club ace can wait - any losers declarer has in clubs aren't going anywhere.)

Click [Show all hands] to see the full layout.

Only playing on diamonds will defeat the contract, as partner can ruff the second round.  This is an interesting defensive problem, where pure logic can be brought to bear to find the right play. 

Of the four times a spade contract was played, Olinda da Silva was the only North player to find the winning defence.  Well done!

Hand of the week 22/4

You are East and partner (as usual) makes just the bid you don't want to hear.  A pre-emptive opening bid of 3♣.  What do you bid?

Most Easts in this difficult position hummed and hawed and bid 3NT.  In theory, this is a bad bid - how are you going to make 3NT?  You are not going to be able to use partner's clubs - you don't have the entries to partner's hand - and your other three suits are not strong enough to develop 9 tricks on their own. 

So when I gave this problem to my wife, and she hummed and hawed and bid 3NT, I tut-tutted at her.   She gave as good as she got and said: "well they don't always defend 3NT correctly".   How right she was.  If you look at the full hand, you will find that 3NT should not make, but of the 4 times it was played, it made on 3 occasions.   Indeed, the defence was not at all easy.

Kudos (but very few matchpoints) to Zen Zebrowski, who made the disciplined pass to 3♣.  And kudos also to Leone Carberry and Liz Wilby, who were the only pair to defeat 3NT. 

Hand of the week 15/4

Here is an interesting problem in declarer play.  Suppose you are North playing 6  (three pairs did very well to reach this fine contract:  Maria and Robert Robson, Liz Wilby and Simon Smith and Robyn Hewson and Del Macneil), and the opening lead is ♣K.

How should you play it?

A very useful principle when playing a trump contract where you have a long strong suit on the side is this:  develop the side suit as a priority.

Take this deal for example:  if you draw the trumps (East has three of them), then now there are no entries to the dummy (South) for the spades.  You will need to get a very lucky lie in the spade suit to bring in 12 or 13 tricks.

Instead, win the club and play the ace and king of spades.  If everyone follows low, trump a spade (with the A if necessary).  Now K and a heart to dummy's J.   If the spade queen is still outstanding, you can ruff another spade with a high trump, and draw the final outstanding trump with a heart to dummy's 10.  All the spades are now good, and you can discard your losing diamonds on them.

If you display all the hands, you will find that the spade queen drops on the second round.  Now you can draw all the trumps and make 13 tricks.

Hand of the week 8/4

Today you are South.  After partner passes and RHO opens 1, what do you do, if anything?

Bidding is extremely dangerous.  You are vulnerable and they are not vulnerable, so a club overcall could get severely punished. 

But not bidding is also dangerous.  At one table, South passed, no doubt the technically correct bid, and E/W had the auction to themselves.  Elizabeth Neales (West) responded 2NT, probably showing diamond support, and eventually declared in 3NT after Diane Rice rebid her diamonds.  Click "Show all hands" to see how this fared.

E/W were missing the entire club suit, but poor North had no inkling of this.  She led a spade (a heart would work no better) and declarer quickly wrapped up 9 tricks (6 diamonds, 2 hearts, 1 spade) for an equal top.

Now suppose South had risked a 2♣ overcall.  Then E/W could not possibly end up in NT without a club stopper, and of course they would have gone down had they done so.  The best they can do is 10 tricks in a diamond part-score.

Overcalling specifically 1 opening bid with 2♣ is a good bidding tactic.  It has the effect of making it difficult for opponents to find a fit in a major suit.   The German star, Sabine Auken, describes it in her book as her "favourite bid".  And it would have worked well on this deal, risky or not.

Hand of the week 1/4

The question today is all about thought processes, not bidding.

Sitting South, you open your fine hand 1.  Partner responds 2, showing at least 10 HCP and a suit of diamonds.  As East, who's looking interested, gets ready to make a bid, what are you thinking?

Decide for yourself, and then read on.

I would be thinking: "whatever happens, we are going to be the declaring side on this hand"

Partner showing diamonds means that this hand represents a fitting deal for your side.  Your club void rockets in value - you can count 5 points for the void - and suddenly your hand is worth 19 total-points, and partner has shown 10 HCP.   There is at least a game here, and possibly a slam.

If instead partner had responded 2♣, it would be a quite different matter.  Partner showing strength in my void is not so encouraging, and one would want to tread very carefully in the bidding.

The great Russian-American, Ely Culbertson, called this "plastic valuation" - essentially flexibly modifying your opinion of the hand as the auction proceeds.

Click "Show all hands" to see all the hands.

Indeed, East is about to get busy, but N/S can make a slam in either hearts or diamonds.  Even if you don't reach slam (and no-one did), you do need to win the auction.

Four E/W pairs bid up to 5♣.  Three of the opposing N/S pairs let them play that contract, and whether doubled or not, this resulted in the three poorest N/S scores.

One N/S pair, Jo Crockford and Peter Karol, correctly pushed on to 5, where they were doubled.  Making with an overtrick was a second top for them (the top score went to Hilary Brear and Olinda da Silva who were doubled in 4!)


Hand of the week 25/3

Preemptive opening bids can play havoc with the other 3 players, and there was no better example than board 29.

After North deals and opens 3♠, what should East do with his nice 17-point hand (apart from swear under his breath?)


Four Easts doubled for takeout.  Click [Show all hands] to see how they fared.

The Wests could do nothing more than bid 4, and three of the Souths took a deep breath to deal with that contract.  The first 3 results on the traveller were 4 doubled by West, down 1100.  That drew my eye.

Rosemary Polya as East instead made my choice: an overcall of 3NT.   You have to do something, and your flat hand and two spade stoppers suggest a contract of 3NT.  3NT (doubled by Glenda Edge) was hardly a triumph, down 2 for -500, but it at least gave Rosemary and Cheryl Ogilvy an average score on the board.  And against preempts, just surviving can be a triumph.

3♠ was a well-judged opening bid.  Everyone was vulnerable, so it was a little risky, but the payoff, at least for those that scored 1100, was significant.  Several Norths opened 2♠, which was also reasonable if a little conservative: in each case E/W were able to stay a bit lower and avoid playing in a doubled contract.


Hand of the week 11/3

After partner opens 1♠, what is your bidding plan on this magnificent South hand?


Point 1:  that heart suit is so strong, it can play for no losers opposite anything in partner's hand, even a void!  So hearts should be trumps.

Point 2:  the overall strength of the hand indicates that we probably have a slam ... after all partner has opened the bidding.

I think I would wheel out Old Trusty: a 4NT response, Blackwood.  When partner shows 1 ace (this means that we are not missing 2 aces), I bid 6.

Only one pair, Liz Wilby playing with Glenda Edge who has just moved to Melbourne, reached this contract.    Click "Show All Hands" to see the full layout.

With a certain diamond loser, this slam seems to depend on finding the spade king onside, which it isn't.  However Glenda played it beautifully to make the contract for a top score.

West quite reasonably led A and followed up with a second diamond.  Glenda won this with the king and drew trumps.  Now she played a spade to the ace, discarded her second spade on Q, and played ♠Q, a successful ruffing finesse against East's king.  When East put the king up, Glenda trumped, went back to ♣K and discarded her losing club on the now good ♠J.  Impressive!

Hand of the week 4/3

Try this opening lead problem - it was faced by 3 players.

What's your poison?

There is a theory that you should try to make attacking leads against slams: quickly taking or developing tricks before declarer can take discards.

The most attacking lead on this deal is the A.  A safer or more passive choice would be to lead a black jack.  I'd be rather nervous about leading the A here, for fear that it would set up declarer's K, when I am sitting over that king with my ace-queen.

Nevertheless, Olinda da Silva did choose the A, and right she was, as you will see if you show the full deal.

Two other Souths went with a more passive choice, as I admit I probably would: declarer was able to discard one of dummy's diamonds on a spade, and therefore wrapped up the slam.

So I suppose the moral of this story is: when on lead to a slam with an ace, you should always strongly consider leading it.

Hand of the week 25/2

How do you think the auction should go on this deal?


At the table where Larry Allender - Brian Morrow (N/S) met Jo Crockford - Peter Karol (E/W) there was quite an "interesting" auction. 

The deal was passed out!  At every other table, the hand was opened by someone, with varying results: in fact 5 N/S plusses, and 2 E/W plusses.

You might think only a lunatic could find such an auction interesting, but to me, it involved 3 "do I pass or do I open?" decisions that were all of interest in their own way.

West, Jo Crockford, had 11 points, some distribution, but one of those points was not worh its high-card value: the singleton J. 

East, Peter Karol, was in 3rd seat, a common position in which to open light.  But with totally flat distribution and being vulnerable, I think it was a sound decision to pass.

South, Brian Morrow was in the pass-out seat.  In these situations, where there have been 3 passes to you, a common strategy for deciding whether to open is to calculate your "Pearson count".  This is the number of high-card-points plus the number of spades.  If the total is 15 or more, open the bidding, otherwise pass the hand out.  The idea is that when the points are evenly distributed around the table, the side that owns the spade suit, the highest suit, is the one most likely to be able to go plus.  To outbid the spade side, the other side has to go a level higher, and is therefore more likely to go down.

Brian's Pearson count was 11+2 = 13, and so he passed the hand out.  Unfortunately, on this deal, virtue had to be its own reward, because this resulted in a score well below average for N/S.  I prefer to think of it as good judgment by Jo and Peter, not to open either of their marginal hands.

Well, it was a bit interesting!

Hand of the week 18/2

This deal struck me as having many points of interest, in the bidding, opening lead and play.  All four players can make a contribution.

The bidding shown is my idea of how it should go.  At favourable vulnerability, North opens 3.  East is annoyed at this, but what can he do but make a takeout double? 

Now South should extend the preemptive tactics by bidding an obstructive 4.  This rides round to East who is in a similar position to before, and must make anothertakeout double.   West is forced to reveal the heart "suit", and in my opinion, East should now dispense with science and take a shot at 6: this contract will have a good play opposite any West hand that has at least 4 hearts.

The three E/W pairs who reached 6 were the three place-getters in their direction: Jo Crockford - Peter Karol, Mark Mudge - Rune Drevsjo and Marie-Claire Staub - Victor Hansom.  Well done to them!

Now the focus is on North's opening lead.  Next month, I am giving a seminar on opening leads at Waverley Bridge Club, and this hand is an excellent example of what I will be discussing.  Should North lead the singleton club, or the nice diamond sequence?  In most situations, one should look no further that a side-suit singleton when on lead to a suit contract. 

On this deal, a diamond lead will ride around to West's ace, and declarer can now safely finesse North for the heart queen: the correct play of the suit.  As it happens, this results in an overtrick.  But on a club lead, won by the jack, it is much too dangerous to finesse the heart.  If the finesse loses, then a club return will sink the contract.  Declarer should instead bang out the ace and king of hearts, securing the contract, but failing to make the overtrick.

Two of the three slam bidders made an overtrick: presumably North led the diamond queen.  But I believe that Trevor Howes, sitting North, did lead his singleton club, as at his table, only 12 tricks were scored.  This had the effect of getting the Howes an average score on a deal where their opponents had reached a difficult slam. 

Hand of the week 11/2

They say that confession is good for the soul, so ...

Take a look at your modest hand.  You decided to pass partner's opening bid of 1, and the bidding comes back to you on the second round.

What do you do now?  Decide and then click [Show Answer].

I held this hand and competed to 3, which ended the auction.

Click [Show all hands] to see the full layout.

As my partner Rune Drevsjo was wrapping up a slam in this partscore contract, I began to realise what a dreadful bid I had made.

Passing 1 was a highly doubtful choice, but I can live with that.  However my 3 bid should win the award for the Caspar T. Milquetoaste wimp bid of the night.  There were so many reasons for me to bid 4:

  • Partner has come back into the auction, despite my original pass: he must have a good hand
  • My 4 trumps, diamond ace and club shortage are golden
  • Most important of all: I have 4 little spades, and the opponents have bid and raised spades.  They will have at least 8 spades between them, giving partner at most a singleton spade.  Our two hands are going to fit like a glove.

All in all, our embarrassing score of +230 scored more matchpoints than it deserved.  Sorry pard!

Hand of the week 4/2

You hold that nice East hand, as partner bids 3♣ (a weak jump overcall) over LHO's 1♠ opening.

What do you bid?


Can we make 3NT?  5♣?  Or what about a diamond contract?

The problem with 3NT is that your singleton ♣A represents a blockage.  Even if the club suit is running (eg, partner has ♣KQJxxx), partner will also need an entry to her hand, and this might be a bit too much to ask for, for a weak jump overcall.  As for a high club contract: you can provide 2 or 3 tricks for partner, and it's also a bit too much to ask that partner provides the other 8 or 9.  And the diamond suit is much too moth-eaten to introduce.

You should pass 3♣.  Three players did: Althea Bernet, Hilary Brear and Pam Scott.   Click [Show all hands] to see how they did.

As you can see, 3♣ is the limit of the hand, and the three pairs involved all got excellent scores.  The Scotts got an outright top when their opponents took a shot at playing 3♣ doubled.  (Probably South re-opened with a takeout double, and North passed for penalties: very reasonable but unfortunate.)

Hand of the week 28/1

Put yourself in the North seat, and decide what you would bid on this auction ...

In duplicate bridge, small things count for a lot, because you get one matchpoint for every pair you do better than, no matter what the margin.

So for example, a score of 3NT making 10 tricks (+430) wins against a score of 5♣ making 11 tricks (+400).  This means that 3NT is a far more desirable contract, usually, than 5 of a minor.  Not only does 5 of a minor need 11 tricks to make, compared to 9 in 3NT, but an overtrick in 3NT will be invaluable.  It even beats out 5 of a minor making 6, which scores only 420.

This deal is a case in point.  Rather than rebid the excellent club suit, I reckon North should try 3NT, as she holds a heart stopper.  This is a bit of a "death or glory" bid, because 3NT could go horribly wrong if you cannot bring in the club suit, but bridge can be a bit like that: it often favours the risk-takers.

Click [Show All Hands] to see the full deal.

This time, it's glory.  With the club suit running, you will make at least an overtrick in 3NT.  Meanwhile, 5♣ can make only 400 or 420.

Newcomer Helen Schapper, playing with Hilary Brear, was the only pair to reach the fine 3NT contract,  which got them a deserved top score on the board.

Hand of the week 7/1

Aggressive bidding has led you to a thin 3NT contract.  Plan the play after West leads ♣Q.

New member Barbara Smith (North) playing with Eleanor Underwood (South) got a deserved top board in 3NT.

Counting your tricks, you see you have 2 clubs, 2 spades and 1 heart on top.  The remaining 4 tricks will have to come from diamonds (where you can develop 3 winners) and you must also hope that the spade queen is onside and can be finessed.

You will have to lose 2 diamond tricks in order to establish the suit, and there is quite some danger that the defenders will have time to establish their club suit.  The bidding makes it very likely that West has a 6 card suit, so you can potentially nullify the clubs by ducking the first round of clubs.  If the diamond honours are split between East and West, then when East gets her entry, she will have no club to play, having an original doubleton in clubs.  This is a holdup play when you have two stoppers in the suit ... a position that is not infrequent.

Give yourself a gold star if you found the play of letting the opponents win trick 1.  Click "Show all hands" to see the full layout.

As you can see, the holdup play wasn't actually necessary, as West is forced to win the first diamond trick, and that's her only entry.  But the holdup would have been essential had the diamonds divided 2-2.  Eleanor made no mistake in the play, finessing for the spade queen late in the play: the only pair to bid and make 3NT.

Hand of the week 17/12

What would you bid as North after RHO opens 1♠?

This auction would have occurred all 7 times the hand was played.  Most Norths probably bid 4, which would be my choice.  Whilst you cannot underwrite a game contract, it would be a little timid not to try for it.  The fact that you are vulnerable does make you a little nervous, but it's a bidder's game.

Click "Show all hands" to see the full layout.

Partner comes through with the bits and pieces needed to make 4, in fact with overtricks.  A couple of pairs did miss game, when North took the cautious view.  Four pairs reached game.

And then there was Table 1, where sat Maria and Robert Robson.  Be very careful when you reach their table: Robert in particular is rather fond of doubling his opponents, and it often works.

I don't know how the Robsons reached the fine slam contract of 6, but hats off to them for it.  West, insulted that his opening bid had been so summarily dealt with, doubled, perhaps trying to give Robert a taste of his own medicine.  But it made no difference: Robert finessed the opening bidder for the club queen, and duly made 6doubled, losing just a spade trick, for the coldest of top scores.

Hand of the week 10/12

Recently I gave a series of seminars at Waverley Bridge Club on Splinter Bids.  Splinters are jump bids that show support for partner's suit and shortage (singleton or void) in the suit bid.  Several members from Northern attended the seminars and have since been focusing on splinter bid opportunities.

This deal represents are really challenging bidding problem which may or may not be solved with splinter bids.  It is not easy to bid a slam (let alone a grand slam!) missing two aces - however here, both missing aces are not a problem due to the two voids.  If South opens 1♠, North could feasibly make a splinter bid of 3.  South's holding of KJx is not great opposite a singleton, however there is enough strength to go straight to game.  This might embolden  North to bid further to slam. 

I was approached after the game and asked whether a splinter bid should be used.  Whilst the answer is Yes, I'm not convinced that I would get to a slam here, even playing with my favourite partner.  It was a difficult hand: the dealing computer was clearly in a bad mood at the time.

Two pairs reached the slam.  Glenise and Graham Francis, who are not backward in bidding forward, scored a top by getting to 6♠.  Marie Warncken and Annette Ruegg reached 6♣: perhaps South, quite reasonably, opened 1♣.  That's great work by both those pairs. 

Hand of the week 26/11

What is your bidding plan with that Western monster, after partner passes and RHO opens 1♠?


I've been enjoying watching the strategy of Larry Allender and Brian Morrow, who after a series of mediocre evenings (and in their opinion, not enough high-card-points) sitting N/S have decided to switch to E/W.   In my opinion, this is akin to suddenly changing your Tattslotto numbers: very dangerous stuff.

Their tactic worked splendidly though on this deal.  Click "Show all hands" to see the entire deal.   Brian and Larry were the only pair to reach 3NT, despite the excellent heart fit, and they got a near top for making 12 tricks: outscoring the 12 tricks you can make in hearts by 10 precious points.  I don't know how they did it - perhaps West bid 3NT directly over 1♠? - but kudos to them.

I'm not sure how I would have bid the West cards, but the issue never arose: I held the North hand, a much more typical hand for me.  (Perhaps there IS something in this "sit E/W" thing!)

Hand of the week 19/11

Getting to a slam after the opponents have opened the bidding at the 1 level is one of the harder assignments in the game.

Hilary Brear and Bart Verdam were the only pair to achieve it on this deal last night.  What should South bid after RHO has opened the bidding with 1♠ in third seat?

Decide for yourself then click [Show Answer].

No one would argue with an overcall of 2♣, but the hand is very strong, and it's better to show the strength with a 2-step auction.

First make a takeout double, then at your next turn, bid clubs.  This shows a hand that is too strong to make a simple overcall.

Looking at the full deal, North would bid hearts initially in response to the takeout double, but then when South shows clubs, the North cards are huge, considering the support, good side suit and spade void.

Despite vigorous opposition bidding, Hilary Brear recognised the power of the North cards and bid the club slam, which Bart Verdam had no difficulty in making with an overtrick.  Well done!

Hand of the week 12/11

I got into a philosophical discussion about bidding last night at the table.  At matchpoint scoring (which is the basis of most duplicate bridge) it is very important to protect a plus score, particularly in competitive auctions.  What this means is that you should strive to go positive on the board, even a small positive: this usually reaps a reasonable number of matchpoints.

Take board 20 for example.  Suppose your RHO opens 2, a weak two, you decide to make a takeout double, and partner responds 2.  What should you do now?

It's a very nice 17 point hand, but remember, you forced partner to bid: she could have as few as 0 points.  Partner's range is about 0 - 9 HCP.  I think I'd pass 2, or at the very most, raise to 3.

If you click, "Show all hands", you will see that even though partner has 8 points, 8 more than she promised, her heart suit is emaciated, and in fact the hand record tells us that you cannot even make 2 on the deal.

No one stayed that low, and a number of pairs reached 3, or even 4, going down, down, down.

The best N/S results were achieved by those pairs that allowed their opposition to play a diamond partscore (3 or 4), which of course went down, down, down.  They got their plus score and a bundle of matchpoints.  I don't know what the auctions might have been, but kudos to those North players who didn't get too excited by their hand and were content to defend a diamond contract.

Hand of the week 5/11

It is a truism of duplicate bridge that sometimes it is best to go down.  This deal from the Cup Day duplicate is a case in point.

E/W can make 4 and at all tables but one, that's what they did, with scores of 620 or better.  But at the last table, Glenise and Graham Francis were N/S: they are not known to hold back in the bidding, and here they bid 4, two down but a top score for them. 

They were not to know the layout: on a good day, 4 would make, losing only to 3 aces.  This was a bad day, but the bad breaks of course meant that 4 was making, so their contract turned into a good sacrifice.

It would not have helped E/W to double 4: two down doubled for 500 gets them the same zero matchpoints as two down undoubled for 200.  If North had declared 4, E/W can beat the contract 3 tricks, but of course South was declarer.

Hand of the week 29/10

Suppose you are East, defending 4.  (You cleverly passed North's 1NT, hoping they would play in notrumps, but to no avail.)  You lead two top clubs, everyone following, and decide to play A, everyone following.

That's 3 tricks, one to go.  What now?

This is a deal where defensive signalling comes into play.

If partner played high then low in clubs, then that would suggest an even number of cards.  (Some people reverse the meaning of this, the so called "upside-down" signals).  So you know partner has no more clubs, and declarer has one more club: the question is, could partner overtrump the dummy if you play a third round of clubs?

When you played A, then partner might give you an attitude signal.  A high card encourages the diamonds (suggesting partner likes diamonds): in this case, partner played the 2.  (Once again, some players reverse this meaning).

So you should play a third club now, and wonder of wonders, partner will be able to overruff dummy.  Two E/W pairs Annette Rose - Janet Hill and Hilary Brear - Marie-Claire Staub, found the killing defence on this deal to share the E/W top on this board.

P.S. Even if you don't play these signals, partner cannot have the K.  Do you see why?

Hand of the week 22/10

The round that contained boards 4, 5 and 6 was quite the most amazing I have seen in a long time.   E/W can make slam on each of the boards, on a limited number of points, aided by a strategically placed void. 

On board 4 here, I can predict the start of the auction.  West opens 1 and North has a good hand for an "unusual" 2NT overcall, showing both minors.  The bidding will then escalate from there, East and South having astonishing support for their partner's suit.  Where it stops, nobody knows.

Sometimes, great bidding is not rewarded.  Two E/W pairs Althea Bernet & Kerri Jones and Marcia Giles & Marian Uren managed to get to the winning 6 contract.

Their N/S opponents, respectively Jo Crockford & Peter Karol and Brian Morrow & Larry Allender then accurately sacrificed in 7 which goes down more than the E/W game but less than the E/W slam.  Their reward was a second bottom and bottom score for doing the right thing.  There's no justice, but full marks to the two E/W pairs for getting to slam.

Marcia and Marian then poured salt on Brian and Larry's wounds by being the only pair to reach and make slam on board 6.  It's not surprising they won their direction handily!

Hand of the Week 15/10

Suppose you are West on this deal and are playing 4.  North has an awkward opening lead problem, and let's say he leads a trump, the 10.  How should West go about playing the hand? 

Counting your tricks, there are 5 hearts, 3 spades (the queen, then the ace and king) and the diamond ace: that's 9.  Where to go for the 10th?  The simplest would be to trump a club in dummy, but the defence's trump lead might make that impossible, if they keep playing trumps when you play on clubs.

The alternative is to set up dummy's spades, but entries are a problem.  Suppose you win the heart lead in your hand, take the spade queen and play a club.  When the defence lead a second trump, another entry to dummy materialises, if you are watching closely.  You can win the 2nd trump with Q, noticing that the 8 is now good.  Trump a spade with a high heart, and draw the last round of trumps winning dummy's 8.  Now all of dummy's spades will win.

The 6 times this board was played, everyone was in hearts and 3 players made 10 tricks - well done.  Top score on the board went to Pam and Grant Scott, who got to 4 and made it.

Hand of the week 8/10

How do you respond to your partner's opening bid of 2  (6-10 HCP, decent 6-card suit) with that East hand?

Click "Show Answer" when you have decided.

Sometimes the hardest bid to make is "pass".  This deal is an example.  East hates partner's 2 opening bid, sitting there with a void in hearts and some other decent suits.  But if you start bidding your suits (for example a forcing 2 response), it is quite likely that you will be moving from the frying pan into the fire.

It's possible that you will get to a better fit by bidding, but not particularly likely.  For example, on many occasions, partner is simply going to repeat her hearts and all you have achieved is to go up a level.

It's not easy to make a disciplined pass with that East hand, but it is the correct choice.  Three East-West pairs found it:  Marcia Giles & Marian Uren, Marie Warncken & Annette Ruegg, and Sue Bridges & Robert White, and they all achieved excellent scores on the board.

Hand of the week 1/10

This board is a great test of bidding, and I was impressed with some of the results obtained by the various N/S pairs.

The North hand is strong enough to open 1 and rebid 2 over the 1 response.  This is a reverse bid showing extra strength.  A reverse bid is one where, if partner wants to go back to your first suit, it has to be at the 3-level.  It shows at least 16 HCP. 

If the North hand were weaker (for example, replace K with a small diamond), it would be better to open 1 planning to rebid 2: this is not a reverse bid, as partner can go back to your first suit (hearts) at the 2-level.

Even after this start to the auction, it's not easy for South to navigate to the best contract: 6, however 2  N/S pairs did reach that contract:  Glenise and Graham Francis, and Robyn Hewson and Brian Morrow.  Very well done indeed - and they shared the N/S top on this board.

No-one fell into the trap of bidding 6, which I might have done with that magnificent spade suit.  That contract goes down when West leads A and gives partner a diamond ruff. 

Hand of the week 24/9

This deal was very interesting from the defence point of view.  At all but one table, West played 3NT.  Presumably the various Norths led their 4th best club.  What should happen in the play, do you think?

Declarer wins the first or second club, and with the club suit exposed, tries to win as many quick tricks as he can.  If diamonds are no worse than 3-2, and hearts are 3-3, then there are 9 tricks: 4 diamonds, 4 hearts and 1 club.

As we can see, hearts do not divide 3-3, but there is a twist in the tail.  If declarer takes 4 diamond tricks, what is North to discard on the last diamond?  She cannot play a heart, as that will mean declarer can take all the hearts.  And if she discards a club, that is the setting trick, and declarer could switch plans and play on spades.

The only safe discard is the singleton spade.  Then if declarer plays on hearts, he will be limited to 8 tricks.  And if declarer plays a spade, South can win with the ace, whilst North discards a now-useless heart.

A very tricky hand indeed.  The various declarers took between 8 and 12(!) tricks in notrumps.  Liz Wilby and Julie Hall were the only N/S defenders who managed to defeat 3NT - well done to them, and they won their direction on the night.

But the unluckiest pair were E/W Marie Warncken and Annette Ruegg. They managed to get to 4, a superb contract on a 4-3 fit that would make 90% of the time.  But the 5-1 spade break wrecked that contract.  There's no justice!

Hand of the Week 17/9

Suppose you are in 3NT as West, and North leads 10.  How would you plan the play?

Once you have decided, click "Show All Hands".


The first 4 times this hand was played, 3NT made 9, 10, 11 and 12 tricks - quite a spread!  I'm not surprised, as it's a tricky one. 

When you win the first trick with the spade ace, you must note that entries to your hand are in short supply.  The correct play is to play out clubs from the top.  Ace, then king, then jack.  North will win Q, and unless she can find the miraculous switch to diamonds, you will take the rest.  The A will be the entry to hand for the clubs, and the K will be the entry to dummy for the spades.  You will take 5 clubs, 5 spades and 2 hearts. 

Leading clubs from the top also gives you the chance of winning 6 clubs tricks, should the queen drop doubleton.

There are several traps to avoid.  Playing a low club from your hand towards the 10 is not a bad play, but if the 10 is allowed to win, you are short of entries back to your hand.  You will have to play on diamonds, conceding all possibility of multiple overtricks.

Crossing to dummy at trick 2 in hearts, in order to finesse in clubs, is also wrong, because now you are short of entries to dummy! 

Hand of the week 10/9

Imagine you are South on this deal.  West deals and opens 1, partner overcalls in spades, and E/W eventually bid 5 - would you consider doubling this contract?

I certainly would.  I would put an X on the bidding pad so hard that it imprints down to the bottom of the pad.  This shows how much I know ... the winning lead to defeat 5 is a trump, but North on lead has difficulty finding one.  In fact North is endplayed on lead: all three suits give away a trick, and the contract will make on careful play, losing just two trump tricks.

Hilary Brear and Marie-Claire Staub were the East-West pair who made 5 doubled (+550) in this way.  This was not quite a top for them.  At another table, Sue Bridges bid 4 (presumably in an auction where she had shown a long strong suit), and Robert White made the excellent and disciplined decision to let her play it there, even when doubled by North.  4 made quite comfortably for a top score of +590.

Hand of the week 3/9

With everyone vulnerable, what do you bid as North after RHO opens 1?

On the worst of all possible days, you may take as few as 8 tricks in spades: losing a spade, heart, diamond and two clubs.  However Graham Francis, fresh from 6 weeks in the Sunshine State, made what I think is the percentage bid by blasting to 4.

Click "Show All Hands" to see how he fared.

Partner Glenise didn't have much, but what she had was gold.  The two black queens filled in the holes nicely and 4 could not be beaten.

One can only sympathise with East who doubled Graham, holding two aces opposite partner's opening bid.   Furthermore Graham snaffled an overtrick to score up +990, top score, and a very nice way to finish the evening (it was the Francis's last hand for the night).

Hand of the week 27/8

On this deal, you open 1NT, and partner responds 2, a transfer bid showing hearts.

What do you bid?  (Click Show Answer to continue)

You have a maximum hand in points, and also 4-card heart support.  This hand is tailor-made for a "super-accept", a bid higher than simply accepting the transfer with a 2 bid.  Super-accepts invariably show 4-card support for partner's major.

Holding this hand, Liz Wilby tried a "super-super-accept" ... she bid 4!   That might have been too much of a good thing, but it worked like a treat.

(Click Show All Hands)

The super-accept was enough for South, Julie Hall, to take over, and use Blackwood to reach 6.  This is an excellent contract, requiring just one successful finesse in a black suit.  And the card gods played their role, so the 75% slam made for an outright top for Liz and Julie.

3 other tables played played in 4 making 6.  And at the 5th table, Cliff Strahan took an interesting view with the South cards ... he ignored his hearts and simply raised to 3NT.  This is quite a good bid playing matchpoints, and was rewarded when Karin made 12 tricks, beating out all the 4 contracts for a 2nd top.

Hand of the week 20/8

This exciting board saw a wide variety of results, with all 4 players having a role to play.

When I was dealt that beautiful West hand, I was displeased to hear Victor Hansom on my right open 2.  What would you bid over that?

I couldn't think of anything clever other than to overcall 3NT, a contract I was likely to make unless the opponents could run off the club suit.  12 tricks got me slightly above average, because a few pairs languished in 5 of a minor, often a bad resting place when compared to 3NT. 

I don't know how many E/W pairs had to contend with that weak two opening.  Former members Pam Richardson and Mary Adams did wonderfully well to reach 6NT for a top score.  6NT is definitely where I want to be on that hand! 

North has to be very careful when defending notrumps on this deal.  Assuming an original heart lead, he must cling on to his spades, throwing away all his clubs apart from the king.  Fortunately, partner's Q holds that suit.  One pair made 13 tricks in notrumps, but perhaps there was no heart bid from South, and North led a disastrous spade.  That's another advantage to the 2 opening: it helps partner with the opening lead.

One E/W got all the way to 7NT ... a contract that has some chance.  Mary and Robert Robson made no mistake against that, taking declarer down one for an E/W top.

Hand of the week 13/8

Board 16 featured an interesting suit combination.  Take a look at the club suit here:  how it should be played (without consideration of the actual layout!)?

The answer is: "it depends". Suppose you are in 5, and there is no opposition bidding to clue you in to the layout. If a heart is led, you should win with the ace, and cash the A. If both opponents follow low, you now take all your spades, discarding heart losers. If three rounds of spades stand up, then you are home - even if the 4th spade is ruffed with the club king, you will have your 11 tricks, losing just 1 club and 1 diamond.

But what if you are in 6. Now you really need to avoid losing any club trick. The correct play is to win the heart ace, and play the J, planning to finesse. Not low towards the queen! This way, you can pick up North's clubs if she started with all 3 clubs. If the jack is covered with the king and ace (South showing out), you can use the spade queen as an entry to finesse North's club 10.

This is a neat hand. Newcomers Maria and Robert Robson got an E/W top when they reached 5, got doubled, and made no mistake in the play, picking up an overtrick. Well done indeed.

Hand of the week 6/8

Suppose you are South, defending 4 doubled.  You lead K, and partner follows with the 3, declarer the 6.  What now?

Click "Show All Hands" to see the full deal.

On this hand, defensive signals can play an important role.  Who has that missing 9?  If partner would have played the 9 from 93 (high low to show a doubleton), then that 3 must be a singleton and perhaps you should play a LOW club next, allowing partner to ruff it.  That way, your A remains intact, and declarer cannot establish the club suit without losing another club trick.  If partner ruffs and plays back a trump, you can clear the trumps from dummy, leaving declarer in deep trouble.

Not surprisingly, there was a wide range of results on this deal, ranging from +800 NS to +790 EW.  Marian Uren and Marcia Giles made 4 doubled for the E/W top, and Robyn Hewson and Larry Allender defeated it three tricks, doubled, for the N/S top. 

Hand of the week 23/7

Karin and Cliff Strahan won the N/S direction tonight with a massive 65.7% score.  Among their many tops was this board.

Karin pulled out all stops in the bidding: 4 was a Gerber ace-ask, and when Cliff revealed two aces, Karin took a shot at the slam. 

On the lead of the singleton heart, the slam is very tricky to make, but Cliff made no mistake.  You have to draw trumps (you can't play a club for example before trumps are drawn, otherwise West will give East a heart ruff).  When trumps are 3-1, there are only 11 tricks in view (5 trumps, 2 hearts, 2 clubs, 1 diamond and one ruff in dummy).

The solution is to set up dummy's diamonds.  Win the diamond ace and trump a diamond. Play over to dummy's spade queen and trump another diamond.  With the king falling,  the diamond suit is established.  You can draw the trumps and play the club king: West has no counter.

Cliff was the only player to take 12 tricks, and the only one in slam.  Here's the funny thing: even if they had stayed in game, the 12 tricks taken would have given them a top score on the board.  On this deal, the play was more important than the bidding!

Hand of the week 16/7

This explosive deal saw a wide variety of results the 6 times it was played.

First of all, what would you bid, if anything, on those East cards, after RHO opens 1?

Marcia Giles made the winning decision to overcall 1, despite the skimpy points and moderate suit.  The hand had nice distribution and she was not vulnerable, so I think this was a very good decision.

Click "Show all hands" to see why.

Despite East-West's combined 17 HCP, they own the deal, with 11 or even 12 tricks available in either black suit.  Meanwhile, a diamond ruff can hold North-South to 10 tricks. 

Marcia and Marian Uren were the only pair to declare the E/W hands, in 4, and this was a top board for them.

Everyone else played in hearts.  Some went to the 5-level (either pushed there, or on a slam hunt) where a diamond ruff could defeat them.   Bart Verdam and Helge Pedersen were one such N/S.  They were doubled in 5, but the opponents neglected to take the diamond ruff, so the contract made for the N/S top.

Hand of the week 9/7

Small children please look away.

N/S on this deal bid with great optimism which sadly was not warranted this time.  North's 2NT was "unusual" showing the minors: something of an overbid when vulnerable.  Then South took a shot at 3NT with his major-suit stoppers. 

Rosemary Polya (West) and Cheryl Ogilvy (East) were having none of this, and racked up the first 11 tricks in defence.  The result was a rare postcode score - that of Sydney.

The beauty of matchpoint duplicate bridge is that this is just one bad board, and an equally good score might be achieved on the next board simply by making an overtrick.  If N/S had this result playing rubber bridge, it might have been followed by a difficult conversation with their bank manager.

Hand of the week 2/7

One of the favourites for the Roger Bond Trophy, Jo Crockford and Peter Karol, demonstrated why the bookies have them at short odds with a very nice auction to this excellent 6, the only pair to reach slam on this deal.

After the transfer response to 1NT, Peter unleashed one of the partnership's patented gadgets: Roman Key Card Gerber.  4 is like Roman Key Card Blackwood, but with a bid of 4 rather than 4NT.  Jo showed 0 or 3 keycards (the K is a key-card), and then Peter asked for kings before settling in the laydown 6 contract.

There was no problem in the play when North quite reasonably led a spade up to the KJxx. 

On a neutral lead (eg a diamond), declarer should play carefully.  There are 11 top tricks and a 12th trick can be obtained by ruffing the fourth round of clubs.  Declarer should play 3 rounds of clubs before drawing trumps.  If clubs divide 4-2, the 4th club can be ruffed in the short trump hand (high if necessary), and only then are trumps drawn.

On the actual layout, none of this care is needed, because trumps are 2-2 and clubs are 3-3.

Hand of the week 25/6

This deal had points of interest in all aspects of the game: bidding, defence and play.  I was East, partnering Zenon Zebrowski, Liz Wilby sat North and Julie Hall South.

After my takeout double of 1, Julie made the "man's" bid (sorry about that) of 3, honouring the 4-card support.  Liz of course had no problem going on to game.

After winning a top club, what should I do next?   A count signal from West might help, but we hadn't discussed signals.  Whatever the signalling, it is unlikely to be correct to continue with another top club, because even if it wins, it sets up dummy's queen.   A heart shift is much safer, and it might develop a heart trick for the defence before declarer can establish dummy's Q. 

Liz won the heart, drew trumps, and unerringly finessed my hand for the Q: making 11 tricks.  She had not forgotten the bidding:  I had made a takeout double of 1, and so was very likely to have diamond length and the diamond queen.    Well played indeed.

Liz needed to do this, because in the N/S direction Liz and Julie won by the skinniest of margins, half a matchpoint, from Robyn Hewson and Larry Allender.

Hand of the week 18/6

As director, I occasionally have to fill in whilst we wait for latecomers.  That was the case last night, when I played one board before the latecomer arrived, at which time I moved to another table to play the whole session with a player who needed a partner. 

The result was that there was a board I played twice, and it just so happened to be quite an interesting one: board 13, unlucky for some.

The auction given is the one I think should happen.  In responding to 1, West lacks the 10 HCP required to make the 2-over-1 bid of 2.  West should respond 1NT, showing 6-9 points (and no major suit), and not in any way promising a balanced hand.   My partner Victor Hansom did correctly bid 1NT. Opposite 6-9 points, I knew there were not enough combined points for game and therefore passed.

In the play, the spotlight falls on South.  At some point, declarer is going to play a club, and South can see the singleton K in dummy.  The key is to NOT chop off its head with the A, but allow the king to win.  Now declarer, with only one entry back to the West hand, cannot establish and run the club suit, and will win at most 8 tricks, maybe less.  I imagine Peter Karol, South at table 8, did allow the club king to hold, as his declarer was held to 6 tricks in notrumps, for a top score for N/S.

Hand of the week 4/6

When searching for candidates for "Hand of the Week", I scan the travellers to check for interesting scores.  So when I saw an entry of 960 to E/W, a score I didn't even know existed, it was clearly time to check out the deal. 

At this stage, the auction is shrouded in mystery, but I imagine that South opened with a light 1, West (Karin Strahan) and North passed, and East (Cliff Strahan) got active with his strong hand.  What would you bid in the East chair, after 1 is passed around to you?

I think I would start with a takeout double, planning to bid some number of spades later.  This auction depicts a strong high card hand with a long suit.  An alternative is to immediately bid some number of spades, presumably 3 or 4 - not really a preemptive bid given that the opponents have passed out 1.

Whatever Cliff decided, it worked like a charm, because when a bid of 3 came around to North, he reasonably decided that it wasn't going to make (he had Q973 and partner had opened the bidding).  Voila - a score of 960 and the coldest of tops to the Strahans.

Hand of the week 28/5

On this board, E/W have a powerful set of hands and the question is how high to bid them, and in what denomination.

After West opens 1, East can certainly visualize a likely slam but how best to investigate is by no means clear. The effective auction shown here was by Grant Scott (West) and Pam Scott (East).

6 of the 7 pairs who held these hands did get to a slam, but only the Scotts and Larry Allender and Zenon Zebrowski made the winning decision to bid it in notrumps. Assuming the same number of tricks are taken, notrumps will score 10 more points than the major, which can make quite a difference to your matchpoint score. East's very balanced shape does suggest finishing in notrumps. East won't be able to ruff anything in a spade contract, so it is quite likely that notrumps and spades will indeed score the same number of tricks.

Larry and Zenon managed to snaffle an outright top on the board by taking 13 tricks.

Hand of the week 21/5

What would you do on this East hand (board 19 from the duplicate on 21st May) after three passes to you?

Decide for yourself and then click "Show answer".

It is tempting to pass the hand out, rather than opening Pandora's Box and allowing the opponents to bid to a major suit partscore.  Zareena Polya did in fact pass the hand out, and this earned her a 70% score on the board.

Sister-in-law Rosemary Polya decided not to pass the hand out, and found what I think was the best bid: a weak two opening of 2.  Whilst the hand is technically too strong for a weak two (which shows about 6-10 points), in fourth position it's a different kettle of fish.  Here you want to stop your opponents from easily competing for the partscore, and a bid of 2 is the best way to do that.

Click "Show All Hands" to see the effect this opening bid had.

Neither Julie Hall (South) or Bill Jacobs (North) were able to comfortably make a bid, and 2 became the final contract.  The defence could do no better than take 5 tricks.  This scored 85% for Rosemary and Cheryl Ogilvy.  If Rosemary had opened 1, then South could make a takeout double, and N/S would find their way to the making 2contract (a contract reached by Pam and Grant Scott for an excellent score).

Top score for E/W on the board went to Larry Allender and Col O'Brien who were one trick too high in 3 but made 11 tricks when the defence slipped. 

Top for N/S were Heather and Trevor Howes, who defended 5 (E/W got a little excited!) and made no mistake in the defence.

Hand of the week 14/5

On this deal from the Tuesday Red Point duplicate on 14/5, Rune Drevsjo sat West and Mark Mudge East.  They were the only pair to bid the excellent slam.

After 1 was overcalled with 1, Mark bid what he knew he could make: 3NT.  3NT is often the best game contract at matchpoints, because the odd tricks score more.  For example, in comparing 3NT to 4 on this deal, both will make the same number of tricks, but notrumps gets you 10 more points, which can make a big difference.

Anyway, back to the auction.  When Rune revealed his big two suiter via 4 and Mark raised to 5, Rune speculated a little and bid the slam.  He was right to do so: just like 3NT outscores 4 of a major,  5 of a minor is sometimes the worst of all options at matchpoints.  If Rune had passed 5, it would have been a near-bottom for him.

6 made easily for a cold top on the board.  They needed this score to tie for first place, E/W.  Well bid!