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Hand of the Week

♠ AJ9  -  J1086542 ♣ 1087 


At 'red' vulnerability you hold the hand above, and partner deals and opens 1.    The bidding continues:

Should West pass or run to his seven-card diamond suit?    A difficult decision, and when West at Aldebrough (Board 6, 6 November) decided to pass the double, his partner ended with just five tricks and -1100.   And 4, possibly doubled, would have succeeded easily!    These were the full hands:

In hearts, East could have scored more than five tricks; seven or even eight looks possible.   Declarer initially plays on the side-suits, with the favourable lie of the spades being a bonus (as long as he is not tempted to finesse the knave).   But even -200 would be a poor score compared to +130.   An even better result would follow West's 'retreat' to 3NT.


Assume that North leads ♣K.   Win the third round of clubs (although North may/should switch to a spade - Queen or low - after two rounds: take ♠Q with East's King).   Now play K to South's ace.   A second spade is won by West, and it now appears that with no further entry to West's hand the diamond suit is blocked by the Queen.   But with the ♠Q falling or being played earlier, declarer has the answer: he discards Q on the winning third spade.   Six diamonds can now be cashed, and declarer has 10 tricks if South has omitted to cash the ace of hearts.

At the tables, no-one played in no-trumps, one West was allowed to make 5, and four other (undoubled) heart contracts failed.   (4-3, 3-2 twice, and 3-1).


Board 22 at Stowmarket, 2 November, included three highly distributional hands.   Most of us would not see similar holdings in many a year of play.   (But your correspondent had the boringly flat nine point, 3-3-4-3, North hand).

I'll leave the bidding to readers' judgment, noting that spades is higher ranking than hearts.   South had a superb 10-card club suit, but at one table couldn't stop bidding.  Having correctly called 6♣  over 5♠ , then disastrously punted 7♣ over 6♠.   It was not doubled, but +50 was the only positive score by an EW pair! 

Let's consider how many tricks should EW score in the major suits.

Hearts:  This is easy.    Two aces must be lost: 11 tricks made.

Spades:  The opening club lead is ruffed by declarer, but with only one entry to dummy the rather nice side-suit is unfortunately dead.   One trump trick must be conceded, but how many diamonds?  An unlikely play is to cross to ♠K and lead a diamond to the nine (it doesn't help North to split honours).   Two diamonds are now lost and 10 tricks made.   Equally good is to draw trumps and then play low diamonds, hoping for A-x (or bare ace) in either defender's hand.   A third option is to play K (to ace) and later cash Q, hoping to drop the J or 10, or find the suit 3-3.   That play, unluckily for declarer, results in three diamond losers: 9 tricks made.

These were the contracts and outcomes: 5♠-2, 6♠-2, 6♠x-2, 6♠x-3.   No East-Wests played a contract in the superior suit: hearts.

1 IN 12,500

Holding a 9-card suit is - needless to say - uncommon; approximately one in 2,800 hands.  And the 9-2-2-0 distribution that appeared at Abbeygate Club at the AGM Pairs on October 29 was considerably rarer at about 1 in 12,500.    What should dealer - at 'green' vulnerability - open with this hand?

♠ A10   -   ♦ AKJ1075432   ♣ 86

With nine certain tricks, and probably 10, West might open with his strong bid (2♣ or 2), but the chance of partner having the right cards for a slam (and particularly covering the two potential club losers) is not high.  Such a bid may also allow opponents to find a fit in one of three suits, with a possible -200 save against 5 , or even making 11 tricks in a major suit.    So West opens 5not 4  as some did.   The opponents pass, or risk a massive vulnerable penalty, and this is the dummy that greets West:

♠ A10 ♠ J652
 -  KQ32
 AKJ1075432  96
♣ 86 ♣ A92

Eleven tricks are 'cold', other than suffering a first round ruff, but at Pairs declarer must look for a 12th trick.    After a spade lead it is easy.   Win the ace over the King or Queen, draw trumps, concede a spade trick and cross to ♣A to discard a club on the ♠J.    When A was led - a popular but unwise choice - 13 tricks were laydown.   What about a club lead?    Finding a 12th trick now needs a little luck (and some thought before playing trick two).   Win ♣A, lead K, and ruff if covered.    If not, discard your low club.   Now you need trumps to be 1-1, giving a trump entry to the established HQ for a spade discard.

One (untried) lead is a diamond.   I'll leave readers to play that for 12 tricks, which shouldn't be too difficult now.

Seven (of 11) Wests played in 5, once doubled.   Two made 13 tricks after the A lead, but five made only 11, even after three received spade leads.    Shame!    And two bold Wests bid to 6  and received the welcome A lead.   A (perverse) 3NT by East scored a useful +460.     The full hands:



Among the many interesting hands of the Stansfield Handicap Pairs, two proved very favourable to East-West at my table.    Could North-South have reversed those outcomes?

(A question:  With 8-card holdings in both major suits (5-3 and 6-2), and one suit including the A-K-Q and one missing the A-K-Q, could there be much doubt over which one to play in game?)     These were the hands and the (rather lengthy) bidding on Board 13:

Readers will see that game in hearts is hopeless.   With defenders attacking diamonds and spades, declarer will be fortunate to score more than five hearts and two club tricks.     But in the spade game West ruffs the diamond lead, and the contract is made by playing spades twice - losing both times - and finessing the 10 when in dummy with ♣A.   (Perhaps not too difficult after South's double).   Declarer now has one spade remaining - after ruffing three times - and can play heart and club winners.   North takes ♠A, but declarer has the remaining tricks.   And EW score a very healthy +790.    Note that North can lead an opening heart and obtain a heart ruff after partner wins the first spade lead, but now the two remaining top trumps fall together. 

Unsurprisingly, 4♠x was a unique result.    3♠+1(twice), 3-2, and 3NT-1 by South also appeared, but 12 of the 17 contracts were played by South in diamonds at levels from three to six, and with varying degrees of success. 

This was the second hand of interest:  Board 29.

A certain East player could not count accurately, and opened with 2NT (20-22 HCP).    West checked for aces and bid 6NT, but two flat, 'mirror' hands and 32 HCP do not make for a good slam.   South led A and declarer could now count 11 top tricks.  Clearly the slam depended on the heart finesse, and when that succeeded, a fortunate +1430 could be entered.    Eight of the 17 East-Wests bid the slam.   Four were by East, each receiving the A lead and making their contract.    The four Wests all received a spade lead and only one succeeded in making 6NT.    Readers will no doubt see that East's slam can be beaten as long as the diamond is not led.   Can it really be helpful against 6NT?   ♠J looks reasonably safe.     Declarer wins a non-diamond lead and cashes ten winners (including the heart finesse), but as long as the defenders hold on to their diamonds, declarer must fail.    Is that defence so difficult?


With South dealer and East-West vulnerable, West held this very shapely hand (Board 3, Abbeygate, 15 October).

♠ K10987654 KQ4 2 ♣9

South opens 1 and West ……?     Would you be tempted to bid 4♠  or, perhaps noting the unfavourable vulnerability, just 3♠ .    My opponent did the former and, unfortunately for him, could hardly have run into a worse distribution.    North and East passed and I (South) doubled.    These were the full hands:

North led A and declarer ruffed a second diamond, but with no dummy entry to lead either major suit, declarer was in a difficult situation.  

South captured the K and returned a heart, and when North won a third round of hearts she correctly played ♣A followed by ♣Q.  Declarer ruffed to leave this position:

South wins trump leads and declarer has to ruff South's diamond exits.   Declarer could score no more than five trumps and one heart trick, and that cost 1100 points.  

But there were many different scores.    4S*-3 for -800 appeared once, and unbelievably, one West was allowed to play in 3S-2.   A lone 3NT scored nine tricks (12 is possible on the spade lead; overtake ♣K, concede a club and later finesse J), two 5 contracts produced 11 tricks and nine, and (most popular) three Norths made 11 tricks in 5♣.   But two bold NS pairs bid to 6♣: one made the slam for +920 and one was three light.   I'll let readers play 6♣ by North on a spade lead; timing is important.


25 HCP combined, all suits covered and no major suit fit: surely an invitation to 3NT.    But only one pair at Bury Club on 20 September reached that contract. (* South responds 1 rather than the lowest 4-card suit - diamonds - which makes it easier to locate a possible 4-4 major suit fit.)

The almost inevitable spade is led, and South can see four tricks or five in clubs, two in diamonds and three in hearts after forcing out the ace.    The problem, of course, is in spades.   If there are four, or even more losers there, the contract is dead, but with only three spade losers it will be safe to set up hearts for the one or more tricks needed.    Despite missing the three top spade honours and the ten, declarer is saved by the two important intermediates, ♠8 and ♠9.   He will cover East's ♠10 and the ♠8 will be a 4th round winner (if EW continue the suit).

The declarer in 3NT followed that course and emerged with nine tricks, and a top.    All others, North or South, played in diamonds (at the 2, 3, 4 or even 5-level!) and lost the obvious four tricks.    But that is not quite the end of the story, because the computer insists that no-trump contracts can be held to eight tricks.   Can readers see how?

The answer is that West must lead, not a spade, but a diamond*.    (If after some arcane bidding sequence North is declarer in 3NT, East must first lead the ♠10 to partner's ace.   Not a very likely defence, you may believe, without a peek at the NS hands)!     Declarer wins the diamond lead and - best - unblocks the ♣J before playing a heart, but then meets West's second brilliancy: he ducks.   The hand now has insuperable communication problems and declarer is limited to one heart, two diamonds and five club tricks.   Try it.  

*Note that if EW cash three spades (conceding a spade trick) and then switch to a diamond, declarer needs only one heart trick  which EW cannot prevent (1+1+2+5 tricks in total).


The result of the Felixstowe Swiss Teams was as close as could be imagined.    Entering the final match (of seven), and with 20 VPs at stake, Team 'A' led Team 'B' by eight VPs.   And at least four further teams also had a chance of winning.   [I must here confess a personal interest as a member of Team B].   A and B met in the last round and simple maths showed that B would need to beat A by 14-6 or better to win the event, assuming that no other team managed to overtake both.   (Winning the A v B match would decide a split tie in B's favour)

Playing North-South, the card strength in this match was concentrated in the East-West hands (we played only one contract and that failed on a bad trump split), and I held out little hope of success after failing to obtain a single positive score.    Bur our partners had done rather better with the EW hands and we found that we had won the match 14-6!    Almost any different result on one of the seven boards - an overtrick for example - could have altered the final score, but I think Board 25 can be claimed as the key hand.

My partner opened 1♣, and East bid 2♠ which ended the auction.   Nine tricks were made for +140.    At our other table the bidding was brief but more adventurous, and after North passed, West reached 3NT by this no-nonsense sequence:     pass - 2♠ - pass - 3NT.

The play for 3NT was easy, if not guaranteed successful.    If J falls in three rounds (why finesse?) there are eight red-suit tricks, and the best (only?) hope for a ninth is for ♣A with North.   Importantly, the defenders can take only three spade tricks, and declarer cannot go wrong if a club is led (which it was).    So West made 3NT, giving a vital 10 IMP swing on the hand.   For interest, no other of the 28 EW pairs played in no-trumps, although two Souths did so with dire results.   Unsurprisingly, the popular contracts were diamonds by West and spades by East, with a smattering of club contracts by North and some disastrous heart contracts by North or - surprisingly - South.


This hand from Abbeygate Pairs on 17 September should not have taxed East-West greatly to reach at least the small slam in hearts.    And bidding the Grand needed only a little courage (and/or the right bidding system).

The first thing for Wests to note is that their hand - with good shape and an excellent suit - is too strong for a weak 3 opening.    [But that is what my opponent did.   I then decided - at 'green' vulnerability - to overcall 3♠  with my massive one-point hand.  East looked a little perplexed, and the bidding continued:   - 4 - 4 - 5 - End]

Back to reality, 4 seems a much better opening bid, but some will prefer a simple 1.   After 4, East - with 21 HCP - will check for the ♠A, and finding it at home will bid 6.  After a 1 opening the bidding might continue:  (1) - 3;  4 - 4NT* etc.    For those using Roman KCB, 7 is easier to reach.   West's Blackwood response of 5♠ will show two 'aces' - ♠A and  K - and Q, and with a strong diamond side-suit (hopefully) to take several discards, East can bid 7  with some confidence.

The play for 13 tricks is not completely straightforward: five pairs in hearts made 13 and five made 12 tricks.  Declarer wins the opening lead (10 was universal), draws trumps and plays the top diamonds.  Finding the 4-1 break, he ruffs a diamond and returns to dummy to discard a spade on the established 5th diamond.   (One lead prevents 13 tricks; I'm sure readers can find it).

How many of the twelve East-Wests bid to a slam?  Just three!!  One East was in 6NT+1 (and blessed with a club lead), one West in 6+1 and one (hero) in 7 (made for +2210).


East overbid slightly (!) - but with some justification - on Board 16 of the EBU Sim Pairs played at Stowmarket.    And his luck was in when North failed to find the successful defence.

Partner deals and bids 1, North passes, and East, looking for a good board on the last round of the Pairs, bids 3NT with this hand:

♠K J 3    Q 10 2    9 5    ♣K Q 5 4 2

Unwise?  Possibly, but that wasn't quite the whole story of the bidding.   After West's opening, North hesitated and pondered for some while before passing.  East was now entitled to place most of the defenders' high cards with North, making his hand more valuable.   A low spade was led and this dummy appeared:

♠2   J 3    K Q J 10 4 2    ♣A 9 8 7

After a long pause North played the ace (clearly he also held the Queen) and I - the pushy declarer - realised that my vulnerability was in hearts; the defence could establish a third trick - at least - in the suit before I could set up diamonds.   At trick three North played the A (oh, dear!) but then switched to a club (phew).    Now the defenders could take only four tricks (♠ A, A-K and DA), and making 3NT proved to be an EW top.   (The diamonds broke 5-0 giving declarer's nine a vital role).

One West made 2NT+2 after a diamond lead, one East failed in 3NT, 3♣ by East should have been defeated by a diamond ruff (but wasn't), and 3♠x (unbeatable) by South also succeeded.

North, with 18 HCP, has a difficult decision after West's opening bid.   Double, 1 and pass are all possible, and Brian Senior, the commentator, suggests that 1NT is an option.   East may or may not double that, but South can rescue safely into spades.    Can North be blamed for not continuing hearts against 3NT?    It's easy with a sight of four hands, but East was very likely to have had four hearts and weaker clubs, making the club switch a not unreasonable choice.


These highly distributional hands (Stowmarket, 24th August) produced some strong competitive bidding.    At one table, for example, this was the auction:

                                    1  - 3♣  - 3  - 4 ;  

                                   4  - 5♣  - P - 5;  End

All six Souths ended in 5 with, remarkably, only three being doubled.   (Your correspondent was a lucky escapee).    Could the EW doublers continue their good fortune (4 fails, so that 5 or 5♣  is a phantom sacrifice) by taking the maximum penalty? 

West starts with ♠K - four out of the six did so - which holds the trick, partner signalling positively.    But East has already missed the easiest chance to take the maximum penalty by overtaking the King and playing a trump.   It should, however, be clear to West that a trump lead is needed to prevent a heart ruff in dummy, but he may hesitate to lead from K.   The answer: switch to a low heart at trick two.  Surely partner has the King!   East wins and - of course - leads the necessary trump.   After that start and with careful discarding by the defenders, declarer can now make only one heart and seven diamond tricks, and concedes a 500 penalty. 

Readers may note that the defence described has not only prevented a heart ruff, but also access to dummy's ♣A - an important trick.    A hurried low diamond from West at trick two may appear equally valid, but dummy's mighty seven will win, no doubt to the defenders' surprise, giving the necessary entry.    And what about continuing spades at trick two?    Declarer ruffs and leads a heart.    Will West allow his partner to win the trick?

How many East-Wests held declarer to eight tricks?   None.   Five Souths scored nine and one 10 tricks.


All but one pair at Abbeygate Club on 13 August reached a respectable 25 HCP, 3NT on this board, but only three made their contract.    North declared 3NT seven times and South twice.   With EW silent, the bidding could be as simple as  1NT - 2NT -3NT - End.    Should 3NT succeed?    East has an obvious, and worrying, lead for declarer - a top diamond - but when the suit proves to divide 4-3, if declarer plans carefully there is a reasonable chance of success.

The A is held up until the third round, West following all the way.   Phew!   Clearly declarer must develop three tricks in hearts or clubs, but should quickly realise that there is really no choice.    Even if four club tricks materialised, the defence would almost certainly be able to score their 3rd diamond trick plus a club trick and the A.   So hearts it must be, with declarer hoping to score in total four spades, three hearts  and two minor aces.    Is that possible?    In a perfect world probably not; the hearts are not quite good enough.   But if a defender makes a small error....

South, dummy, wins the third round of diamonds, and leads 10.   Naturally, West, with the J well protected does not cover, and East ducks the first round.   The 9 is taken by the ace (9-4-6-A) and East cashes his diamond trick.    But declarer has the rest; four spades, two hearts and the club ace to add to his existing heart trick and diamond trick.  Have readers seen the small defensive error?  If West covers the first or second heart lead, his mighty seven is promoted into a winning trick.

What happened at the tables?  The two Souths in 3NT received a low heart lead. One played the king with dire consequences; the other, ducking in dummy, ended with 11 tricks.  One North in 3NT received the bizarre lead of 3 and scored 11 tricks.   All the others, after the lead of K, failed in their contract, except one (modesty forbids....) who scored nine tricks.  And one North took nine tricks in 3♠.

16,000 to 1 AGAINST!

I wonder how many of us have been dealt an entirely two-suited 7-6 hand.  (For probability fiends the chance of 7-6 or 6-7 for two specified suits is approximately 1 in 100,000, and for any two suits it is 1 in 16,000).  But at Bury St Edmunds bridge club on August 2, Souths picked up this collection on Board 1.  It is shapely, but not well-endowed with high cards. What should the top contracts be...after partner deals and opens 2NT (20-22).  The answer is 7 or 7!   But how many reached even a small slam?  The answer to that is just one pair.

I wouldn't presume to give a 'correct' bidding sequence, and reaching a grand slam is probably a wild gamble, but what about this:  2NT - 3*- 3 - 5- 6  - End. North will, of course, be worried about the club position, but is it a reasonable guess after that bidding that partner is void or singleton in clubs?  And West may even put in a risky spade bid to disrupt North-South's bidding.

One pair bid to 6, three stayed in 4 and one mysteriously did not get beyond in 3. And one more result: West was allowed to play in 4♠ and found that it wasn't as risky as he had expected. He made the doubled contract for +590!


I Don't Believe It....(Or perhaps I do)


You make a conventional bid, such as Stayman or a Transfer, and wait for Partner to recognise it and bid appropriately…

Only for Partner to Pass. Aaaagh!

Which is precisely what happened at Abbeygate on Monday, on Board 19. But was Partner being dumb – or smart?


South opened 1NT and after West and North passed, East bid 2♣  (Landy, a useful and popular defence against an opponent's 1NT opening.)    2♣  shows at least 4-4 in the major suits and asks partner to bid a 4-card (or longer) major.   If he has neither major he replies 2 .

After a big ‘think’, East passed…and the look on West’s face would have done Victor Meldrew proud. “I don’t believe it!”

A distraught Declarer had two good major suits, as promised, but was left to play in clubs holding a singleton five...

However, partner's clubs were quite good!  And South was (almost) end-played at trick one.  A trump lead would have been safest, but South chose a low heart which did declarer no harm.    The tightest defence still holds declarer to eight tricks.   South wins the first trump lead, exits safely with his other trump, and when North wins ♣Q he pushes through a high diamond.   Declarer has four clubs, two hearts and a spade trick, and is able to score an additional spade or a diamond trick.   In practice nine tricks were made for +110 and an equal second on the board.


Two club contracts, 3♣ -1 and 4♣ -2, were played by West with the damaging diamond opening lead through East's hand.  Heart contracts by East were the most popular strain, but only one was successful. (2 made, 2-1 twice and 3-1).  3♠-2 and 2♠-2 by East were quirky contracts, but another oddity - 2 by East - scraped home.   Finally, one North-South pair wouldn't give up and suffered a bottom for it; 2NT-3 by North.


With a weak hand, but holding a 7-card heart suit at 'green' vulnerability, East - and partner, who had a more than decent spade suit - were able to interfere substantially with North-South's quest to find either of their rightful (!) game contracts.    Abbeygate Club, 23 July, Board 5.

North passes, East opens with 3 , and South with 19 HCP has three choices.    The real gambler - and no-trump addict - will bid 3NT.    The more sober player will overcall 4♣ (5♣  is at least as much of a gamble as 3NT), but the best/correct bid is 'double'.   If North bids 3♠ , now is the time to introduce 3NT.   Over a minor suit reply, especially diamonds, South has a difficult choice between passing and raising to game.  

But in practice West will surely intervene with 3♠ , North and East will pass, and South can do no more than bid 4♣ .   And that is likely to be the final contract, except that it happened at only two of the ten tables.   One South reached - and made - 5♣ , one West was in 4♠  (undoubled!) -3, and four Easts played in hearts (4*-2, 4*-3, 3 -2 and 3* made).    There is little excuse for East bidding hearts a second time.  But what about the most interesting contract?   In 3NT, one South scored nine tricks and one scored ten.   This was the surprising bidding at my table (my partner was South):

P 2! X P!
2♠ (a) P 3N(b) End
(a) little choice        (b) 2NT would be over cautious





A top spade was led and declarer's position seemed hopeless.   But, remarkably, the defenders could not cash the six spade tricks that seemed their due.  Whether West continued with a high or low spade makes no difference; the suit is blocked thanks to dummy's massive holding!    West cashed three spades and switched to a heart, and with the favourable lie of the clubs declarer had no trouble in making 10 tricks (1+2+1+6).

5 is an interesting contract.   If West starts with a top spade, switches to a heart and East plays the king, declarer might even make 12 tricks.   (A, ♣ A-K, cash J, club to knave, Q, diamond to J, A etc).  But the play in 5♣  would be much harder if West continued with a second spade.  Declarer would have to ruff, cash the top clubs, cross to J and finesse a diamond, not a heart.   When the K then falls under the ace, declarer has a re-entry to dummy with Q and can finesse in hearts.   That's a rather double-dummyish play.

Readers may note that in practice South's best bid is the immediate 3NT over 3.   West is unlikely to interfere (expensively) in spades, and can hardly risk a double.   But supposing that he does double.   Has South the courage to stand firm?


East had a difficult, early decision to make as defender on this hand - Board 14 of the Suffolk Seniors Pairs. Dealer, East, neither pair vulnerable.

QJ3  J6  K87 ♣ AJ1064

East opened with a modest 1 but the bidding quickly rocketed

East led a low diamond to North's 4♠, and saw this dummy:

A was played, and a spade led on which partner, West, discarded.   So eight spades with declarer.  Declarer won, and led a low club, and it was decision time for East - ace or low?   Supposing that declarer's club was singleton.    Surely East must play the ace and try to cash a diamond trick.   But he should consider further.    Playing the ace probably sets up one or even two discards in dummy; playing low sets up none.   And with no discards, where are declarer's likely diamond and/or heart loser(s) going?   They cannot run away!    A further deduction: surely declarer does not possess the K, otherwise why not tackle that suit rather than clubs.   Thus a losing heart finesse is in prospect.   So of course (!) East plays a low club.   

Dummy wins, declarer returns to hand with a diamond ruff, cashes a second top spade and finesses Q to West's King.  Declarer ruffs West's diamond exit and now comes a cruel blow to the defence.   A heart to the ace fells East's knave, and declarer holds the key card of the hand - the  10.    Despite an accurate defence, NS have 11 tricks.   The full hands:

All ten Norths played in 4♠ ; seven made the vital overtrick. Finally, a not too difficult puzzle for readers.   North can be held to 10 tricks.   How?