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Hands of the Week #4
Finessing part 2

This hand was played at Kiama in April 2015. After two passes, South opened 1D and West overcalled 1S. North bid a conservative 1NT being slightly undervalued for a 2NT limit bid. All passed.

With no suit likely to set up of her own, East led the 9S. As North, how do you play for eight tricks? Is it possible to give yourself a chance of 9 tricks?


Unfortunately your spade pips are not good enough to allow you three stops despite holding seven cards in the suit. Your potential tricks are 2 x spades, 2 x hearts, 3 to 4 x diamonds and possibly a club.

You have no chance of making three hearts if you lead them because, even if the K  is in East’s hand, she will cover the J  if you try leading that. You will make 4x diamonds if the K  is on-side and diamonds break 3-3. Win the spade in the dummy and lead a diamond but which one? Since you have another entry to dummy, lead a small diamond towards the 10 , just in case the K  is singleton on-side. Your prudence is rewarded and you make 4 x diamond tricks. When the K  arises and you win the A  you can then set your 2 x heart tricks up by finessing the Q .  West will win the K  and drive your last spade stop out while she still holds a club entry… you make eight tricks and the defence five by way of 3(or 2) x spades, 1 x heart and 1(or 2) x clubs.

Did you think of a way to give yourself a chance for nine tricks?

The 9♠  is obviously a singleton. Duck this lead in dummy, West will duck too and then duck in your hand. It is possible that East may switch to clubs since she has some strength there. West will most likely win with the K♣ . If she now continues spades win in dummy and play the diamonds as before. Once the K  is cleared play on hearts as before. West will win K  and knock your last spade stop out but now you can set a club trick up. East will win but can only give you back the lead and you will win 2 x spades, 2 x hearts, 4 x diamonds and 1 x club.

Finessing part 1

The following hand was Board 22 played on April 15th 2014.

You are South in 3NT and get the 5S lead which you have to win with the QS.

How do you play the hand to make nine tricks?


You have seven tricks off the top and must find two more tricks from the diamond or club suit. Since you are missing all three top diamonds the club suit looks more promising. The question is how to make three tricks in clubs?

Many people consider  QJxx opposite the Axx a finesse situation and it is, up to a point, that is, if you want to win two tricks without losing the lead, you can run the Q♣  if it is not covered. However, if you want to win three tricks this cannot be done without losing the lead because you do not have the critical 10♣  in either hand. If you lead the Q♣  and the K is on-side it should be covered and you will lose the 10♣  if you continue the suit having cashed the J♣ . If the clubs are 3-3 (36% of the time) you will eventually make your third trick. A better line, if you have two entries to dummy is to play the A♣ off which guards against your LHO (left hand opponent) holding the singleton K and then lead towards the Q♣ , J♣ . If LHO has the K♣ , nothing is actually lost, except the lead, but if RHO has the K♣  your J♣  will win if RHO doesn’t play it. You can then return to the dummy and lead your last club towards your Q♣ . This has a better chance of making three tricks in the suit because you win against singleton K in either LHO’s or RHO’s hand and K xxx(xx) in RHO’s hand as well as where the suit breaks 3-3.

In the actual case above when the Q♣  was run, LHO showed out! RHO won the K♣ and continued clubs to set his/her suit up having two entries in diamonds and declarer went down. Adopting the strategy of playing towards the Q♣  J♣  would have guaranteed the contract.

There are many, many other finesse type situations which may be covered in subsequent discussions. Another point for now is if you are LHO opponent in the situation above and you hold the K, but not the 10, when the Q (or J) is run you should actually not cover until the J (or Q) is run, UNLESS you have doubleton K. The reason is that declarer may have QJ9x which is a more legitimate situation to play the Q than the case discussed above. If you cover when the Q is led then you are exposing your partner to a finesse of his/her 10 and declarer may now pick the suit up without loss.

Playing the Odds Part 2

This hand was played on September 4th, 2014?. The relevant cards only are included:

♠ QJxx
♣ Ax

♠ Kx
♣ 9xxx

The bidding at our table went:

South West North East
2D (multi) P 2H (relay less than 15 HCP) Pass
2NT (20-22 HCP) P 3NT All pass

West led K♣ . How do you make your contract?


The chances of both red suits breaking 3-3 allowing you to make 8 tricks in the red suit plus the A♣  are very low (13%). I have mentioned before that if six cards are missing in a suit they will break 3-3 only 36% of the time. Therefore, you will need to play on spades which will counter-intuitively give you a good chance of making the contract.

West’s lead should indicate KQJ and more or KQ10 and more. If West has only four clubs, you can only lose 3 x clubs and the A♠ . If West has 5 x clubs and East the A♠  you can sever communications by ducking the first round of clubs. If West has 5 x clubs and the A♠  you still have the additional chance that East has Jx or 10x in clubs and cannot unblock without allowing the 9♣  to become second stopper. In fact, the only distribution which will beat you is West holding KQJ10x in clubs and the A♠ .

The best line, then, is to win the second round of clubs and play on spades immediately. If you play on hearts or diamonds and they do not both break 3-3, which is probable, the defence will be able to cash at least one extra trick in the red suits and you will go down.

In the actual hand, diamonds break but hearts don’t. West has KQJx in clubs and East 1083 in clubs, so nine tricks are not a problem for declarer as long as he/she plays on spades after winning A♣ . West actually has a problem whether to continue clubs and which club to play if he/she does, when declarer ducks the first round.

This can only be alleviated by East signalling encouragement or discouragement on the K♣  lead but even this may be fraught with difficulty if East holds a doubleton honour. In fact, the whole hand is a lot more harmless than it may appear to declarer at first sight.

Playing the Odds

Wests opening bid is at least 2 clubs

The AH by W was led and following encouragement from E, a small heart continued. What is your best chance of making 10 tricks?


You have one heart and one diamond to lose off-the-top.

The odds to bear in mind on this hand are:

  1. A finesse is normally a 50% chance but these odds will be improved if the opponent being finessed has indicated they have the majority of the outstanding points.
  2. When there are an even number of cards outstanding in a suit, they normally break unevenly and vice versa. If six cards are outstanding as they are in clubs and diamonds here, they will normally break 4:2 or worse (64% of the time). If five cards are outstanding, as they are in spades in this hand, they will break 3:2 most of the time (68%). See for example:

 In terms of winners, providing spades are not split worse than 3:2 in the opponent’s hand (68% of the time), you can count four spades in hand, two heart ruffs in dummy,   providing you take another heart ruff before drawing trumps, AC and two of your top diamonds, which makes nine tricks. One more is needed. It appears that a successful club finesse will provide the tenth trick (greater than 50% chance since West opened), but good defence and a likely 4:2 distribution in the minors may cause you to come unstuck.

You could trump the heart continuation, lead a trump to hand, take the club finesse, throw a diamond on the AC but now you may now have difficulty coming back to hand twice in order  to trump your last heart plus draw trumps. You can’t trump a club to hand before drawing trumps  because you haven’t set your diamonds up yet and if you do that, you will run out of trumps and the opponents may score some hearts….so you need to set your diamond tricks up early….and this approach leads to a higher probability of success, because your diamond suit is the real key to success rather than the club finesse, as long as diamonds break no worse than 4:2 which occurs 84% of the time.

You trump the heart continuation in dummy, lead KD and if this is ducked a diamond to the QD. If both W and E follow, you are now home.  If W now takes the AD and strangely continues diamonds you should trump with the KS (this forsakes the chance of handling a 4:1 trump distribution (28% of the time) because it looks like diamonds may be splitting 4:2 (nearly 50% of the time) and you don’t want East scoring a trick with a ruff when there is a high probability of making 11 tricks. You now play a trump to one of your top spades. Your diamonds are now all good and If you are playing Pairs, you would probably trump another heart in dummy, play AC , trump a club small and draw the remaining trumps to make 11 tricks.

As it happens the distribution of the opponents’ hands was as benign as could possibly be imagined so it is highly likely that many players will make 11 tricks without a second thought!!!!...but if you want to give yourself the best chance as a declarer when there are multiple choices as far as lines of play, keep the odds in mind.

The Best Hand Of My Life

As North and Dealer, vul against not, I picked up this extraordinary hand at Kiama on May 23rd 2014:.


I have never been dealt a 11 to 12 trick hand in my playing career before and I have played off-and-on for 46 years! The question is how to bid the hand to make the maximum score possible.  What are your bidding options? If you open 2C, there are many bidding conventions and, hopefully, you will have agreed to use one of these with your partner.

  1. The oldest of these such as invented by Culbertson include an initial 2D response which does not contain an Ace and holds less than 8HCPs, a 2NT bid which shows 8HCPs or more and does not hold an Ace and suit bids that indicate an Ace in that suit (regardless of HCPs or number of cards in that suit) or 3NT to show 2 x Aces or 2 x unspecified controls.
  2. One fashionable system at the moment is to use 2D as a relay irrespective of HCP opening in order to allow the 2C opener to clarify his hand at the lowest level. This then gives responder a chance to evaluate better the worth of his holding while still at a relatively low level but has the disadvantage of making a second artificial bid that says absolutely nothing. A slight modification to this 2D relay system is to bid 2H or 2S holding a five card suit regardless of HCPs. This 5+ card suit length in a major may assist the 2C opener find the best contract and gives more merit to the automatic 2D relay convention in my opinion.

Let’s assume the two systems mentioned are in play:

  1. After 2C, partner bids 3D showing the A  which shows the A  but no further information.
  2. After 2C, partner relays with 2D and the 2C opener rebids 2H. Responder now bids 2S.

How should the bidding proceed in order to reach a very high probability of bidding the optimum contract (a)  at Match Point Pairs and (b)  at Swiss Teams?


  1. Your partner has told you that he/she has the AD. This gives you your twelfth trick if you can get to it, given you have a void in diamonds. You do not know whether your fourth spade will win a trick. You could bid 3S after which partner will probably take control and ask for Aces or Key Cards  before bidding 6S. However, partner has no real idea just how super strong your hand is and, based on partner believing that a small slam is on, given you have at minimum 5-4 in hearts and spades and an approximately nine playing trick hand, you should raise to 7 but 7 what? Partner must have 8+HCPs to bid like this but only 4 x spades, maybe without the JS. If spades break 4-1 (28% of the time) and partner does not have JS, 7S may go down one. There is also the chance of a heart ruff on the lead.

A bid of 7H seems safe enough (since AKQ to seven in a suit is normally self-established without the bonus of holding the J) but could go down if the opponent on lead has five spades  (very unlikely). What about 7NT?

 If partner has 8HCPs without the JS or 10H and has the minimum 8HCPs he/she could hold the following hands which could cause a problem for you in a NT Grand Slam if a diamond is not led.

AKJ, ♣x's  or  AK, ♣ J

It seems to me your best option is to bid 7H at Teams and 7NT at Pairs since that tiny extra 10 points in the score between 2210 and 2220 could make the difference between a top board at Pairs but is not worth taking the risk for at Teams scoring.

(Note for the intuitives among you: Some of you who wilt under all this analysis would probably bid 7H immediately  over the 3D initial response!! This gives no information away about the possible spade loser and its amazing how the defenders will get into difficulties with discards under the onslaught of seven top hearts being played out followed by three top spades.)

  1. After responder bids 2♠ , which shows 4 x spades, opener should ask for Aces or Key cards and responder will advise they hold the A . If you now ask for Kings, partner will advise 1 x King which will be the K  or K♣  if you are using Key Card asking.

Opener must now make the contract. You could be in trouble again if you bid 7NT and…… partner holds A  and K  and….. does not hold either the J♠  or 10  and ….you don’t get a helpful lead like a diamond but you have an extra positive hint here. Partner chose to bid 2♠  freely which seems unlikely on 4 rags. Bid 7NT or less preferably 7H at Pairs or Teams to avoid any chances of a ruff on the lead and the high probability that partner holds either the K♣  or the J♠  to allow you access to the dummy to enjoy that A .

Incidentally, after all this mental work which takes up time and some people object to, here is your partner’s hand. For the purists, 7NT is absolutely infrangible and should always be bid at Pairs despite the intuitives taking the fast track route to 7H.

♠ J752  103  A85  ♣ KQ72

15 tricks or more available if you could play them all out. What more could one ask of a partner?

Keeping Count

This was Board 9 played on May 5th, 2014. With E-W vulnerable you are dealer as North and after you open 1C your LHO, East, bids 2D(weak) which your partner doubles for take-out. West passes and you bid 2S which is passed out. East leads the A  and continues with another diamond when West drops the Q . You ruff West’s K .

What appears to be the best line of play to make maximum tricks?


If you count up your HCPs you will realise that you only have 18HCPs out of 40. If East’s bid was a weak jump then West must have a strong hand and yet West didn’t bid. Why? You know that West had only two diamonds. You have all the top hearts making a NT bid difficult. West must have good values and probably length in both spades and clubs. 

You only have one entry to dummy so decide to use that to lead towards the K♣  rather than your remaining KQ9 in spades. East is known to have seven diamonds but you don’t mind if he/she has at least two hearts. You play K  and Q  and a heart towards the A . If East trumps you are not too worried because any lead must now help you but East follows. You now know East has 10 cards in the red suits leaving him/her with three black cards. You play a club from dummy, West ducks and the K♣  wins. Now you exit with a club, East winning with the Q♣ . You now know that East holds 1x spade, 3 x hearts, 7 x diamonds and 2 x clubs and that East holds 4 x spades, 3 x hearts, 2 x diamonds and 4 x clubs.

Whatever East exits with you are now in a good position with the top diamond and the 13th heart in the dummy and K98 in spades sitting over West. You end up with nine tricks.                         

How do you maximise your chance of twelve tricks

This was Board 7 played on April 15th, 2014. With all vulnerable you are dealer as South and your partner opens the bidding 2D (multi-two). You relay with 2H and partners informs that he/she holds a 20-22HCP flat hand. You ask for Aces and find partner has them all whereupon you bid 6C.

You get a trump lead. How do you play to give yourself the best chance of making twelve tricks?

You have ten tricks off the top and are likely to make at least one more in diamonds. If the diamond finesse works and the opponents’ diamonds are split 3:2 (68% of the time) then you will not have to take the heart finesse. If the diamond finesse doesn’t work (50% chance) you have the heart finesse to fall back on (another 50% chance giving you a 75% chance of one of the finesses working). Therefore, you have a good chance of making twelve tricks by simply taking both these finesses.

However, is there something else about this hand that you need to consider? Yes, there is. If you clear the club suit before taking the diamond finesse (by playing the K  off to guard against the singleton Q  and then a small diamond to the J ) then if RHO has the Q  but only doubleton the finesse will lose but RHO will be forced to lead a heart or a spade giving you your twelfth trick.

In the play RHO had all the missing honours and declarer cleared trumps but took the heart finesse before the diamond finesse and RHO was able to exit safely with another heart. Unfortunately, the diamond finesse didn’t work either. Declarer, rightly, did not play for the drop which was a low probability option, and went down in a high probability slam.