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Improve Your Bridge Workshops

I run regular Bridge workshops, mostly at my house in Broughton.  Many of these are for regular groups of four, weekly or fortnightly but I also do ad hoc sessions which are open to anyone on my email list on a first come, first served basis.  I occasionally run a course with six modules for complete beginners which again is normally a group of four.

If anyone is interested in joining in the future, please don't hesitate to contact me.

These Bridge sessions are informal, hands-on and interactive and good for extending your Bridge knowledge to the next level.  No partner required.

Further details from Fred Hotchen, tel 01794 301 185, mobile 07771 854 347 or email

Monday Pairs
Director: Fred Hotchen
Scorer: Fred Hotchen
Monday Pairs
Director: Fred Hotchen
Scorer: Fred Hotchen
Monday Pairs
Director: Fred Hotchen
Scorer: Fred Hotchen
Hands of the Week 2015
Hand of the Week - Tuesday 15 December 2015

On Board 9, playing a 12-14 No Trump, most Norths would open 1NT and South would raise to 3NT.  End of auction.  

East would probably lead a spade which does no harm at all.  Declarer has four spade tricks, three hearts and a club and however many diamonds he makes depends on how he decides to play them.  Declarer could make up to three diamond tricks if the defence do not find a club switch so there is a possibility of making 11 tricks which would yield a very good score.

The bidding at our table was as above and South became Declarer in 3NT.  The bidding was quite informative.  I would normally have led a small club from the West cards but I had visions of South holding AJx so decided to lead the King.  Partner followed with the 2 and Declarer ducked.  I still had visions of AJx so I switched to a spade though as John quite rightly pointed out to me, if Declarer held AJx opposite dummy's 10xx, two tricks are guaranteed so Declarer should not duck the opening lead.  On the basis of that, I should have continued with a small club at trick 2.  

Back to the actuals and Declarer won the spade switch in hand then played a heart, successfully finessing the Jack.  This was followed by a small diamond and Declarer finessed the Jack to my Queen.  I played another spade which Declarer won in dummy.  This was followed by a small diamond.  Partner rose with the Ace and switched to the Jack of Clubs but it was too late.

On anything but a club lead 3NT is safe.  Had I led a small club, the defence would have been much easier as the Jack would have appeared at trick 1 and the defence would have been able to collect five tricks before Declarer managed to make nine.  However, even on the King of Clubs lead and a switch, East could rise with the Ace as soon as a diamond is played from dummy and then switch to the Jack of clubs.  Best play by Declarer is to duck the second round of clubs and providing when he next plays diamonds, he goes up with the King rather than finesse the Jack, he will just about make his nine tricks (four spades, two heart finesses plus the Ace, one diamond and one club).

Basically this hand is a very good example of No Trumps being a race.  If the defence gets off to a head start with clubs and persists, East-West get to their 5 winners before Declarer gets his 9 tricks.  Otherwise, Declarer has enough time to establish some diamond winners to make at least 9 tricks.

This hand was played seven times, five times by North who no doubt did not receive a club lead and twice by South who did get a club lead.  Against John and me, Janet, playing South, made 9 tricks in 3NT.  The other South went two off.  Of the Norths, two made 10 tricks and three made 9, though one pair only reached 2NT.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 8 December 2015

The above hand was board 1 and at my table, Tricia and Marian reached game in hearts very quickly.

Jeremy led the two of clubs by process of elimination as Tricia had bid spades so he didn't want to lead those and it is generally poor practice to underlead an Ace as an opening lead against a suit contract so that ruled out the diamonds.

The club lead was effective as it immediately took out an entry to dummy.

Marian then played a small trump from dummy to her Ace, revealing an annoying 3-0 break.  She might have tried leading the Jack to tempt out the Queen but of course it would be totally wrong to cover in this instance! 

At trick 3 a club was won by the defence and a spade returned which was won by the singleton Ace.  Marian now ruffed a club in dummy but this promoted a trump trick for the defence as when she played the Jack of hearts from dummy, I covered with the Queen.  Marian won with the King but my 9 of trumps was now a master.  She had another club loser and a diamond so 4 went one down.

4 is actually always there if you play back a club at trick 2.  Best defence after winning the club is to play a trump but Declarer cannot be prevented from ruffing his third and fourth clubs in dummy.  The fourth round of clubs is overruffed but that is not a problem as Declarer loses no more than one club, one diamond and one trump.  Easy after the event and Marian's line of play was unlucky as with a more normal 2-1 trump break, 4 would have made.

Contracts on the scoresheet were 4 making 11 tricks, two pairs went one off in 4, two pairs were in 2, both making 10 tricks and one pair was in 4 but only made eight tricks.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 8 December 2015

I was quite intrigued to see that although everyone was in 3NT by South on board 19, three Declarers failed to make it.

Many Souths would open 1NT showing 12-14 points to which North could bid 3NT straightaway or be a bit more cautious and only raise to 2NT though South would in any event press on to 3NT.  Most people would not bother to bid Stayman with the exceptionally poor heart suit.

In defence a fourth highest heart lead is normal.  Despite a combined 26 points, Declarer has a struggle on his hands as although there may be nine tricks, there may be five losers first!  There are a couple of rays of hope, one that the Ace of clubs is with East, otherwise that the Queen of diamonds will drop in two rounds, possible though a slightly forlorn hope.

After winning the opening lead, best thing is probably to play on spades.  At my table, East held up the Ace so after two rounds I played a club from dummy to the King.  That held so things were looking more hopeful.  I then played a third round of spades which East won and returned a second heart.  I won with the Ace and played the 13th spade.  This was followed by a diamond to dummy and another club back to hand.  The Ace went up but I now had my nine tricks in the bag with three spades, two hearts, two diamonds and two clubs.  

In fact I made a third diamond as on the 13th spade, East had discarded her last heart so when she got in with the Ace of clubs she had cut communications with partner and the defence made no heart tricks at all.

With the Ace of clubs lying favourably, nine tricks are always there for the taking.  Nevertheless two pairs went one off and one pair two off in 3NT.  Two other pairs made nine tricks and I was allowed to make 10 due to a misdefence.


Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 1 December 2015

Very strong hands opposite very weak hands are notoriously hard both to bid and to play.  In the hand above, board 16, South had a very nice 20 point hand,  but before he had a chance to start bidding, his opponents had already bid and supported spades.  What should South do?

At our table South bid 3, then when West bid 3♠, South doubled.  I presume this was intended to be penalties but some players would play this as a take-out double.

Personally, over 1♠ - 2♠, I would have doubled on the South cards as if partner has a heart suit, it would be good to hear about it.  If West doesn't barrage with 3♠, North would bid 3 which South should raise to four.  

Although North is unlikely to have many points, in fact he has a complete Yarborough, with a bit of luck he should have a singleton spade as the opponents have both bid them and South holds three, and with the Ace of spades, a singleton club plus very strong holdings in the red suits, game in hearts would seem an excellent prospect.

If West does bid 3♠ over South's double, North would probably pass but South should not give up.  He could either double again or try 3NT.  North should realise his partner has a really strong hand and might think about bidding 4 over either of these bids.  Who knows?

Fact is the bidding for North-South is not that easy.  However, a contract in hearts is excellent and, with the hearts breaking 2-2, makes 12 tricks, losing just one club.

Not surprisingly only one pair reached a contract of 4 and made 12 tricks for a pretty good score of 480.  Everyone else defended a spade contract.  One East-West pair reached 4♠ which was doubled and went two off for a bottom, four East-Wests (including me) were in 3♠ doubled going one off for minus 200.    One East-West pair was allowed to play in 3♠ undoubled and went one off but that was a bottom for North-South as they only gained 100.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 1 December 2015

Another interesting hand from this week was board 5 where everyone ended up in 4♠ except at our table where our opponents tried 6♠, a thin but not unreasonable slam.

The 5♣ bid was showing 0 or 3 Aces (Roman Key Card Blackwood, counting the King of trumps as an 'Ace').  

The double of 5♣ was lead directing so I duly played the Queen as the opening lead.  As it happens the most threatening lead would have been a heart as the club lead actually presents Declarer with no problem which we will see in a moment.

There is no problem in drawing trumps and the next thing to do is to tackle the diamonds in order to discard some losers.  The whereabouts of the queen is unknown and there are three possibilities, first that the Queen is with West and can be finessed, secondly that the Queen falls within three rounds and thirdly that a 'ruffing finesse' is taken if East holds the Queen.

Declarer started off OK by playing off Ace and King of diamonds followed by the Jack.  Obviously if East covers the Jack, that is the end of the defence as it gets trumped, then back over to dummy to play further diamonds for discards.  However, East didn't cover the Jack, Declarer ruffed and ended up going one down as she didn't manage to set up her diamonds.

There is a cast iron solution.  If East doesn't cover the Jack of diamonds, discard the losing club.  If  by any chance this loses to West, they have no further tricks as South's two heart losers can be discarded on dummy's two remaining diamonds.  If East holds the Queen of diamonds, as he did, the Jack of diamonds holds the trick and Declarer just loses one heart trick.

Whilst the club lead might have felt a bit threatening for Declarer, in fact the most threatening lead is a heart as Declarer cannot make the contract if he loses a diamond.

Three Declarers managed to make 12 tricks.  I wonder how they played it as some Easts may have automatically covered the Jack of diamonds with the Queen.  This is definitely a time not to 'cover an honour with an honour' but also not to dither and give the game away!

Results on the traveller were 6♠ going one off, 4♠ making 12 tricks (three times), 4♠ making 11 tricks and 4♠ making just 10 tricks. 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 24 November 2015

I watched the above bidding sequence on board 22 but no doubt it was different at every table.

East has an awkward hand with a very poor heart suit and a singleton King of diamonds.  Some players might even consider opening 1♠ but let's say East opens 1, South has a choice between overcalling 1♠ and making a take-out double.  At another table, South did overcall 1♠, West then bid 1NT, South bid 2♠ and West now bid 3♣ which ended the auction, making nine tricks.

Back to the table I was watching and when East's 3♠ bid was doubled, West converted to 3NT which was also doubled but then taken out by North.

As the cards lie I don't think 3NT can be defeated on any lead as the diamond suit is blocked and East-West can make five club tricks, one diamond, two spades and a heart.  Nevertheless Declarer would have to play very carefully to avoid losing any more than two hearts, a diamond and a club.  Luckily for Declarer South holds the Ace of hearts, only two diamonds, can't hold up the Ace of clubs and North's Jx of hearts also blocks the suit for the defence.

In the bidding clearly North-South had a bit of a misunderstanding as presumably North's jump to 3 was some sort of weak barrage so when South's double of 3NT was removed to 4 I guess it might have been worth South giving up at this point.  

Interestingly enough the key card in this hand is the location of the King of hearts.  This is why 3NT makes by East-West and 5 goes one off by North-South.

This hand was never going to be a likely candidate for a flat board and not surprisingly the results were all over the place - 5 by North going three off, 3♠ doubled by South going two off, 2♠ by South going one off, 3 doubled by East going two off (top for North-South), 1♠ by South making with an overtrick (what a boring auction that must have been!), 3♣ by West making nine tricks, 5 by North going one off, and 3NT by East making with an overtrick (top for East-West). 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 17 November 2015

This was board 19 and, as with many hands, both sides were bidding and a variety of contracts resulted.

The bidding at our table was not unreasonable and ended in 3.  Not surprisingly North led a spade, Declarer drew trumps and had no difficulty in making nine tricks.  Only a heart lead would have defeated 3 as North can get a ruff on the third round but as nobody bid hearts, there was no particular reason to lead one.

As the above bidding shows, it is easy for East-West to miss their heart fit.  However, a couple of pairs did find it and bid to 4 making ten tricks, once by East and once by West.  4 can be defeated by Ace, King of clubs and Ace, King of trumps but clearly the defence did not find a club switch and losers were discarded on the diamonds.

Two Easts played in No Trumps, one in 2NT making eight tricks and the other in 3NT making nine tricks.  If a spade was led by South round to East's Ace Queen, the diamonds breaking 3-3 certainly helps though the communications between the East and West hands is not good.  It might be difficult for Declarer to make a ninth trick before North-South take five though it is always difficult for everyone to find discards on all those diamonds.

Two Souths were allowed to play in 2♠, each making eight tricks for a joint top as all other scores were in the East-West column.  One South played in 1NT and went one down.  I can only assume they were playing a Strong No Trump and therefore opened 1NT so West decided to keep quiet and lead his diamonds.

So in summary the contracts were 1NT by South going one off, 3NT by East making, 4 by East making, 4 by West making, 2♠ by South making (twice), 2NT  by East making and 3 by West making.

On best play and defence, the East-West's limit should have been 3 for +140 with North-South's best effort being 2♠ making for +110.  The par contract is therefore 3♠ doubled by North-South going one off for minus 100.  In practice, however, North is unlikely to support his partner's spades and it is not that easy in practice for East-West to bid their hearts and, if they do, to stay in a part-score.

Disaster Hand of the Week - Tuesday 17 November 2015

Board 4 was a bit of a horror.  East-West have the values to reach a thin game.  Playing against Alun and Eira, the bidding at our table was as above.  The 2 bid is fourth suit forcing and in this case was hoping for a diamond stop to get into No Trumps.  This obviously wasn't possible so John settled for playing in a 5-2 heart fit.

4 is very thin but not unreasonable.  When you are in a marginal game, things need to behave but they certainly didn't on this occasion!

Alun led the nine of spades which was covered by the 10, Jack and Ace.  It felt like a singleton lead so my initial vibes were that the suits might not be breaking well.  Nevertheless I felt lucky not to have received a diamond lead due to shortage of trumps and hopefully played a heart to the Ace and a heart back to hand.  Really bad news, the hearts were breaking 5-1.

Alun now found a diamond switch and the hand rather fell apart as I was shortened in trumps and could not keep control.  By forcing me to ruff diamonds, Alun quickly had the upper hand in trumps and ended up making a few diamond tricks too so 4 went four down.  Had the King of hearts been in Eira's hand, with a kinder trump break, 4 would have played quite well.

Fortune favoured those pairs who did not bid up on this rather evil hand.  Contracts on the travellers were 4 by West going four down (me), 4♠ by East going two down (another nasty trump break), 2♠ by East going two off, 4♠ doubled by East going two off, 2 by West making nine tricks, 4♠ doubled by East going one off, 3♣ by East making nine tricks and 5♣ by West going two off.

Hands with points for game but no fit in any suit and one suit without any cover at all are difficult to bid.  When this is then supplemented by a bad lie of the cards, they can be a bit of a nightmare as this one proved for me.  Well done Alun for finding the diamond switch and Eira for leading back a diamond rather than giving Alun a spade ruff.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 10 November 2015

Pre-empts are designed to put a spanner in the works and this hand (board 26) is no exception.

The bidding starts off straightforward enough but when North jumps to 3♠, East can pass but West has a bit of a headache.  He knows his side have enough values to be in game but doesn't know where.  4♣ would not be forcing and 5♣ might be the wrong spot.  If partner has a stop in spades, 3NT might be the best contract but how do you get there?  The only way is for West to double and for East-West to have an understanding that this is competitive rather than penalties, otherwise the double potentially gets East-West into a lot of trouble!

Over West's double, East now has to decide what to do.  On the understanding that the double is not penalties, East has quite a few options.  He could bid 3NT on his precarious spade stop, he could consider 4 as his partner may well have four or he might just rebid his clubs.

John and I sat out on this board.  We bid it for fun and I chose 4.  John now has to decide whether to leave this or convert to 5♣.  With a singleton spade, he has a ruffing value in the short hand of hearts so playing in a 4-3 heart fit could work.

With the hearts breaking 3-3, 4 actually plays quite well.  A spade lead by South is likely.  North wins with the Ace and switches to his singleton Jack of clubs.  South wins with the Ace and gives his partner a ruff but there are no more tricks after that so 4 makes for a score of 620.

In 5♣ there are only two losers, the two black Aces, so that would score +600 for East-West.

3NT by East is an interesting contract.  South leads a spade and the singleton Queen is played from dummy.  If North goes up with the Ace, that is the end of the defence as his hand is now cut off.  However, if he allows the Queen to win, Declarer can take at most seven red suit winners before South gets in with the Ace of clubs and then leads a second spade.  North now takes his Ace and the rest of the tricks so 3NT cannot be made.

The results on the travellers were 5♣ making 11 tricks four times for +600 to East-West, 3NT by East making 11 tricks for +660 (clearly the Ace of spades was not held up!!), 4♠ by North going two down for -200 (a top for North-South), 5♠ doubled by North going three down for -800 (a bottom for North-South) and 5♣ doubled by East making 11 tricks for +750 which was the second best result for East-West.

Perhaps not surprisingly, no East-West pairs ended up in 4 though with a score of +620 to East-West, it would have been a good result as it scores better than 5♣.  The 3♠ pre-empt suddenly turns an orderly bidding sequence into a bit of a guessing game which is exactly what it is supposed to do.

Disaster Hand of the Week - Tuesday 10 November 2015

The above hand was board 2 which John and I played against Jeremy and Sheila.  Jeremy opened an offbeat 1NT on the North hand.  This means John decided not to open 1NT on the East hand, which would be surprising seeing we are actually playing a 10-12 1NT in this position, or Jeremy opened out of turn and nobody noticed!

Sheila bid an imaginative 3♣ and Jeremy went back to 3NT.

Normal bidding would have been for East to open 1NT, West to do a weak take-out in spades, possibly via a transfer.  North may compete with 3 but then East-West would almost certainly end up in 3♠ which should go one off.

Against 3NT John led the 7 of hearts.  This was second highest from a suit with no honours though personally I prefer to lead the 8 from that sequence.  Anyway this was covered by the 10, Queen and Ace.

At trick 2 Jeremy played a diamond to the Queen, then the 10 which was taken by the Ace.

John now played the 5 of hearts which Jeremy cunningly covered with dummy's Jack and I won with the King.  I expected John to have the 9 and another one so I played back a heart, expecting him to take two more heart tricks, then whichever black Ace he had would have been the setting trick. 

To my surprise Jeremy won the heart, cashed all his winning diamonds followed by Ace and King of clubs for his nine tricks and a complete top.

Had I been clear about the whereabouts of the nine of hearts (hence my comment about the opening lead), I would have switched to a spade so the defence would have taken five spade tricks, one heart and the Ace of diamonds and 3NT would have been 3 off.  We therefore got a complete bottom instead of a complete top!

Results on the traveller were 3♠  by East going one off (twice), 2♠ by East going one off, 3NT by North making (as above), 2 by West making nine tricks, 2 by West (?!) going one off, 4♠ by West going one off and 2♠ by West just making.  

At first glance this looks like a fairly routine kind of hand but at Badger Farm we certainly know how to liven things up!!!

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 3 November 2015

Against the above auction on board 12 I led a small heart and was disappointed to see dummy's 5 card suit.  Declarer won with the King and ran the Jack at trick 2.  He then ran the Jack of diamonds which also held.  All looked good but it was actually curtains for Declarer as there was no longer any communication between the two hands.

If the Jack of hearts had been covered or the Jack of diamonds taken by the King, all would have been well for Declarer as a number of further tricks in the red suits would have been accessible.

When both his red Jacks held, Declarer played a club to dummy's Ace but neither red suit was set up and with no further access to dummy, 3NT went one down.

At trick 2 Declarer can play the Jack of diamonds.  If this is ducked (correct defence), Declarer now plays his heart and overtakes it with dummy's Ace.  He can now make his contract with four hearts, two diamonds, two clubs and a spade against any defence.

This hand was twice played in 5 by West making 11 tricks, once in 4 by West making 12 tricks, once in 3NT by East making 9 tricks and once in 3NT by East going one down.

Hand of the week no 2 - Tuesday 3 November 2015

Jeremy and I sat out on this hand (board 5) before anyone had played it.  We bid it for fun as indicated above and reached 4♠.  On the East cards I personally would not have bid so South would now have responded 1, West would now not bid either, North would bid 2♣ as his rebid and South might either pass or bid his hearts again.  Either of these bids might then end the auction.

Some Norths might well decide not to open the bidding in which case East would open 1, West would respond 1 and East would rebid 1♠.  Bingo, East-West have now found their spade fit and may or may not bid to game.

With this huge range of possibilities I was surprised to see on the travellers that everyone was in spades played by East, albeit at various different levels.  The results were 4♠ going two off (twice), 3♠ making 9 tricks, 4♠ making 10 tricks and 2♠ making 10 tricks.

The play and defence also have many possibilities.  Let's say East is playing in 4♠ after North opened 1, South will lead his singleton diamond which will be won by Declarer.  At trick 2 Declarer could play another top diamond.  If South ruffs high (with a natural trump winner), Declarer can discard a club from dummy but then South switches to a club, his partner plays a third club enabling South to ruff high again to defeat the contract.  Note that if South doesn't ruff the diamond, Declarer will now make his contract by playing another diamond.  If South ruffs this high, Declarer discards a second club from dummy.  If South doesn't ruff, Declarer ruffs in dummy then plays off Ace and King of hearts, discarding two clubs from his hand before drawing trumps.

At trick 2 Declarer might try instead to ruff a small diamond in dummy with the intention of then cashing Ace and King of hearts to discard two losing clubs from his hand.  South can scupper this plan in exactly the same way.  Once again though, if South doesn't ruff high, Declarer makes his contract.

Another scenario is that North doesn't open the bidding and South may lead the Queen of hearts as he would not really be interested in diamond ruffs with a trump holding of QJx.  On a heart lead Declarer gets two immediate club discards and would easily make his contract.

An unlikely lead from South, though it happens to be the most effective, is a club as the defence take the first three club tricks and a guaranteed spade later on.

Quite a fascinating hand really with many possibilities to the bidding, play and defence.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 27 October 2015

This was board 23 and typically for this evening's hands, getting to the right contract was a bit of a challenge.

I have indicated above how the bidding proceeded at my table.  West's rebid of 4♣ lost some valuable bidding space.  3♣ would have sufficed then East could have introduced diamonds (3 by East is forcing) which West would have supported.

5 is easily the best contract but nobody reached it.  3NT loses the first five spade tricks and 5♣ loses Ace and King of spades and almost certainly a club as running the Jack of clubs from hand is an unlikely play despite North opening the bidding.  In 5 the queen of clubs can be ruffed out so there are only two spade losers.

Not surprisingly this hand produced a wide variety of contracts and results - 3NT by West making for plus 600 (presumably North did not overcall 1♠ and must have led King, Ace, Jack and another with South's Queen blocking the suit on the fourth round); 2 by East making 8 tricks for plus 110; 4 by West making 10 tricks for plus 13; 5♣ by West going one off for minus 100; 3 by East making 9 tricks for plus 140; and 5♣ by West once again going one off for minus 100.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 20 October 2015

The bidding proceeded as above at our table.  West wouldn't normally respond on 4 points but only once was the hand played in 1♣ so either East opened something more than 1♣ or other Wests also responded.

Anyway, as South I was on lead against 3NT.  I thought about leading a spade (4th highest or the King?) but clearly East had a very strong hand and I decided not to and opted for the 3 of diamonds.  A very poor dummy went down and partner, John, won the first trick with the Ace.  He returned a small diamond and Declarer, Helen, took the rest of the tricks.  A spade switch would have defeated the contract but why should North think about switching when he holds such good diamonds himself?

A fourth highest spade lead from me fares no better as Declarer wins the Queen, runs six club tricks followed by another five hearts.

The King of spades lead would have worked better but then you have to decide whether to switch to a heart or a diamond.  A heart from the Queen looks unattractive when you see KJ10xx in dummy so you would have struck gold if you now found a diamond switch.  Partner wins with the Ace and plays back the Jack of spades enabling you to bring in the rest of the spades and 3NT is defeated.  

Note the importance of returning the Jack - If North returns a small spade and Declarer plays the Queen, South would win with the Ace but the spades are now blocked as North would have to win the third round with the Jack and South can't make the 13th spade.  So two ways of defeating 3NT, though neither obvious.

On the score sheets the final contracts were 3NT by East making 12 tricks, 3NT by East making 10 tricks, 2NT by East making 11 tricks and 1♣ by East making 11 tricks.  Just for the record, contracts in hearts and clubs can both be held to nine tricks on best defence but otherwise a game could quite easily slip through in either. 

Defence is not easy.  This hand demonstrates how important the opening lead is for the defence.  There are good and bad leads but even sensible leads can be lucky or unlucky and in some cases the best lead can be impossible to find.  There is often an element of luck and you will never always get it right.  It's very satisfying when you do and quite frustrating when you don't!

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 20 October 2015

On the above hand, board 17, John opened a non-vulnerable pre-empt in clubs, though with only six clubs, I doubt if anyone else did.  With the East hand, Helen bid 3 which Brian raised to 4 on the West cards, a sensible though thin game.

As South I was quite optimistic that my singleton club to a hopeful Ace from partner followed by a ruff and two more Aces would defeat the contract.  However, the club lead was very good for Declarer as Helen played low from dummy, John played the Jack which was taken by the King.  Note the pips in the clubs for later...

Helen then drew three rounds of trumps then played a club to the Ace followed by the 10 for a 'ruffing finesse' of the Queen which sets up dummy's 9.

Next Helen played a spade to the King which was a good bet in view of North's pre-empt.  I did not go up with the Ace as if Declarer has the Queen of spades, playing the Ace on thin air gives a trick away.  However, had I done so, then played the Ace followed by the Jack of diamonds (leading through dummy's Queen and pinning Declarer's 10), Declarer is able to ruff one spade and discard another on the master club but ends up with a spade loser at the end for one down.  Any other play of the diamonds, would have enabled Declarer to throw the last spade loser on the Queen of diamonds.

Not an easy hand to defend but the hand also had to be played carefully as Declarer had to draw all South's trumps to avoid losing Ace King of diamonds, Ace of spades and a club ruff.

All other pairs also played in 4 but went one off.


Hand of the Week - Tuesday 13 October 2015

On the above hand, board 26, East will often open 1NT which South would double and on one occasion this was the final contract and went one down.  I expect the Queen of spades was led and Declarer lost two spades, one heart, one diamond and three clubs.

At our table East opened 1♠ so I made a 1NT overcall, West bid 2♠ and North jumped to 4 which was the final contract.

East led the Ace of spades and it was clear that Declarer must have a singleton so, seeing the spades in dummy, a switch is called for.  A diamond defeats the contract as Declarer cannot discard his diamonds in time and must lose a spade, two diamonds and the Ace of trumps.  However, East switched to a club which presents Declarer with an opportunity to make the contract.  He must play a spade from dummy and throw a diamond, thus losing a second spade to East.  However, when he gets in again, he discards two further diamonds from his hand by playing two more spades.  Only now can he turn his attention to drawing trumps.

Admittedly the above line requires the cards to behave reasonably.  From the bidding, the spades were fairly likely to break 4-4.  The alternative is to discard two diamonds on the spades then one diamond on a club.  For this to work, the clubs need to break 4-3.

At my table, Declarer (John) took a different line which although sensible was rather unlucky.  On receiving the club switch, he decided to play for split honours in diamonds.  Bearing in mind that East had opened the bidding, he was very unfortunate indeed to find both King and Queen of diamonds offside and therefore went one down.  Easy after the event...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 6 October 2015

The above hand was an interesting example of competitive bidding from the recent Candover Teams event held in Romsey at the end of September.  I was partnering Jeremy Baker who opened 1♣ on the North hand.  East overcalled 1♠, I passed, West bid 2♠ which East raised to game.

Some players would have doubled initially on the East hand in which case South would bid 1, West would bid spades and although East-West would bid to 4♠, 5♣ and 5 are both good sacrifices as they both go only two off against a vulnerable game.  However, East-West didn't actually make their 4♠ as they lost two clubs, a heart and a diamond so I was glad we didn't find a sacrifice.

As the cards lie though 4♠ can make.  The likely defence is to play two rounds of clubs and switch to a heart.  Declarer wins with the Ace, draws trumps and plays another heart, thereby eliminating both clubs and hearts from both hands.  

Best defence is actually to concede a ruff and discard in either clubs or hearts and leave Declarer to play diamonds himself.  He would have to play a diamond to the Ace, then lead the Jack back (an unlikely play).  If North covers, Declarer's 8 becomes a master.

If South wins the heart and decides to switch to the 10 of diamonds, Declarer covers it with the Jack, North plays the Queen and he wins in hand with the King. He can now play a diamond to the Ace and once again he has the master 8 of diamonds in hand.  

If North doesn't open the bidding, East-West are likely to have a free ride to 4♠ and, after losing two clubs and a heart, Declarer's most likely line of play would be to finesse the Jack of diamonds which loses to the Queen for one off.  On the otherhand, if North doesn't open the bidding, South would not lead a club and would quite possibly lead the 10 of diamonds.  No diamond loser now and 4♠ makes.  What a lot of possibilities and eventualities!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 29 September 2015

The above hand occurred in the recent Candover Teams event held in Romsey.  As the cards lie, 7 No Trumps can be made though getting to 6 is good.  The pair against us managed to get to 6 despite stiff opposition bidding.  I was partnering Jeremy Baker and Jeremy opened a dubious multi 2 on the North hand.  Systemically I had to bid 2 despite having a void.  The next hand doubled and much to my surprise Jeremy bid 2♠ as I was really expecting him to have hearts.  East now bid 2NT so, realising the opponents must have a heart fit, I bid 4♠ as an 'advanced sacrifice' but West jumped to 6 anyway and that was the final contract.

The play was just as interesting as the bidding.  Jeremy led his singleton club which was covered by the 8, Jack and Ace.  I'm not sure what distracted Declarer as he didn't plan the play properly.  He played a trump to dummy's Queen, noticing a four nil trump break.  He then played the 9 of clubs and although the finesse was successful, it got ruffed.  Jeremy returned a trump and Declarer drew the outstanding trumps.  He then played the Queen of spades to the Ace and discarded the Jack of diamonds on the King but could not avoid eventually losing the 10 of clubs at the end for one down.

6 is actually very easy to make.  After winning the club lead, Declarer could have played the Queen of spades at trick 2, then played Ace of trumps.  Noting the bad break, he can nevertheless play another trump to the Queen, cash Ace and King of spades, discarding the Jack of diamonds and a club, draw the rest of the trumps and give up a club at the end.

If the hearts hadn't broken four nil, after winning the opening lead and playing the Queen of spades and Ace of trumps, Declarer would now play King of trumps and take the third round in dummy with the Queen.  Then he plays Ace and King of spades, discarding the Jack of diamonds and a small club before playing a club and finessing the 10.  That would have been 13 tricks.

Another way Declarer could successfully have played 6 would have been to win the club, play four rounds of trumps, then overtake the Queen of spades with the King and throw the Jack of diamonds on the Ace of spades.  Declarer now plays the 8 of clubs from dummy intending to finesse it if it is not covered.  Either way he loses just one club trick.


Hand of the Week - Tuesday 22 September 2015

On board 20 I am sure the bidding would have started everywhere with East opening 1.  I responded 1♠ on the West hand though that wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea and some Wests may have responded 1NT or 2♣.

Easts playing in No Trumps were successful but when Wests were playing it, they were not.

When 3NT is played by West, there is no particularly killing lead by North but a spade lead gives nothing away.  The missing top cards are not sitting well from Declarer's point of view.  The KJ of clubs are sitting over AQ and both red suit Kings are offside.  However, the hearts break 3-3 so it's not all bad.

On a spade lead by North, Declarer should win in dummy then at trick 2 play a small heart.  South wins the King, plays back a spade which again is won in dummy.  Declarer now plays another small heart and wins it in hand.  He should then play a diamond and finesse the 10 (playing for split honours, 75% odds).  This loses to the King and South plays the Jack of spades which North overtakes and makes two spade tricks.  However, when Declarer gets in again he plays dummy's three winners, crosses to the Ace of clubs and takes the marked diamond finesse for 9 tricks.  Quite neat on a rather nasty lie of the cards.

At my table John played in 3NT from the East hand after the bidding sequence in the table above.  South led a diamond which was more favourable to Declarer than a spade.  This went to the Jack and Queen.  John now played a heart which South won with the King.  A switch rather than a diamond continuation would have been better for the defence as John now had three diamond tricks in the bag.  He now played a heart to dummy, a spade back to hand and cashed the three remaining hearts.  North and South had to find two discards, South throwing a club and a diamond and North a club and a spade.  A club was now played to dummy's Queen which lost to North's King.  A spade was returned but now John made Ace and another club for 11 tricks, two spades, four hearts, three diamonds and two clubs.

The results were 3NT by East making 9 tricks, 1NT by East making 9 tricks, 3NT by East making 11 tricks, 3NT by West making 5 tricks, 2 by East making 8 tricks and 3NT by West making 8 tricks.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 15 September 2015

Another interesting hand was board 19 which Jeremy and I played against Dick and Mary.  

Dick on the North hand decided to open 1 third in hand rather than 1NT.  East (Jeremy) now overcalled 1NT (showing 15-18 points) and with the West hand I bid 2 which Jeremy and I play as a transfer to hearts.  Jeremy duly bid 2.  My hand is marginal and I could have passed but decided to bid 2NT giving partner the opportunity to pass, bid 3, 3NT or 4.  Jeremy decided to bid 4 with his good heart support and supposedly well-placed King of diamonds.

The opening lead was the Ace of diamonds followed by another diamond which was won by the King.  Trumps were now drawn in two rounds ending in dummy, a club played and finessed, a diamond ruffed in dummy and a second club finessed.  Jeremy now cashed the Ace of clubs which meant that all the minor suit cards were eliminated from both hands.  He now played a spade to dummy's 7.  Dick won with the 10 but was now forced to play away from his Ace Queen of spades or concede a ruff and discard if he played a diamond so 4 made.

Going back to the opening lead and thinking about the bidding for a moment, despite partner having bid diamonds, Declarer was very likely to hold the King for his 1NT overcall so the Ace of diamonds was not such a good lead.  A spade lead would have worked wonders.  Partner would win with the 10, switch to the Queen of diamonds and the defence would take two diamonds and three spades for the first five tricks and 4 would have been 2 off.  Unlucky for Declarer to have such an unfortunate lie of the cards!

I suspect most Norths opened 1NT as the results on the traveller were 1NT by North going two off, 1NT by North going one off, 4 by East making 10 tricks, 4 once by East and once by West both going one off, 2 by West making with an overtrick and 1NT doubled by North going two off.

Hand of the week no 1 - Tuesday 15 September 2015

Board 20 produced some very mixed results which is not surprising as, although North-South have enough points for game, it is not an easy hand to bid.

At our table I opened 1♠ on the West cards as, despite a lack of high card points, it is a good quality suit and you would like partner to lead one if you end up defending.  Also spades always has good pre-emptive value as if the opponents want to bid their suit, they have to do so at the 2 level.

Anyway North-South, with no fit in any suit, eventually settled in 3NT.  Having made the effort to show my spades, partner was unable to lead one!  Jeremy's selection of the 2 of hearts turned out to be a very good lead indeed as it prematurely removed a vital entry to Declarer's hand.  Note also that when dummy plays low, West should not play the Queen but insert the 8 of hearts.

Declarer then played a diamond and successfully finessed the Jack.  He then returned to hand with a club and when West showed out, played the Queen which lost to the King.  East now played a second heart which West won with the Queen with Declarer showing out.

By now the distributional nature of the hand is becoming quite apparent.  West should resist the temptation to lead spades as it is obvious from the bidding and opening lead that Declarer must hold the four missing spades.  A diamond can't be played round to dummy's AQxx so West leads another heart, won in dummy.

Declarer now played a small spade from dummy in a desperate attempt to reach all those winning clubs but West rose with the King and played another heart, again won in dummy.

Another small spade was played from dummy but again West went up with the Ace and Declarer's hand was now isolated.  Note that had Declarer played the Queen from dummy, West should duck.  

West played a spade to the Queen and Declarer was now forced to lead away from dummy's diamonds so ended up losing a heart, a club, two spades and two diamonds.

The communication between Declarer's hand and Dummy was very difficult though at one table 3NT made with an overtrick, no doubt with help from the defence.

Results on the travellers were as follows:

5♣ doubled by North going two off; 3NT by North going one off; 3NT by North going two off; 3♣  by North making ten tricks (twice); 5 by South going four off; 3NT by North making with an overtrick.

Hand of the week - Tuesday 8 September 2015

On the above hand West opened 1NT, East responded with 2♣ (Stayman), West bid 2 and East then settled in 3NT, all perfectly reasonable.

North was on lead from a very ropey hand and more often than not, 4th highest from your longest suit is the chosen lead and in this case that would have meant the 3 of clubs.

As you can see, this would result in three club tricks, four diamonds and three hearts for a total of 10 tricks for Declarer.

However, when you have a very poor hand, your partner is likely to have some values and it is sometimes better to try to find a suit he likes instead.  With West denying a four card major, your doubleton spade means your partner must have at least four.

On this particular occasion the spade lead worked wonders.  Declarer played low from dummy and South won the first trick with the 10 of spades, then switched to a club.  Declarer went up with the Ace, then ran the Jack of diamonds, losing to the singleton Queen.  Another club came back and Declarer finessed the Jack, losing to the Queen.  A spade was now returned through dummy's King and Jack and South was now able to take four more spade tricks and 3 No Trumps was three down.

Although the spade lead was horrible, Declarer missed an extra small chance.  Instead of finessing the Jack of diamonds first time, Declarer could have played a low diamond to the Ace, then returned to hand with the Ace of hearts to take the diamond finesse second time round.  This play would have felled the singleton Queen and 3NT could now have been made with four diamonds, three hearts and two clubs.

The moral of the story is that whilst it is often good to take finesses, you should avoid taking them unless you really need to.

The results on the traveller were 3NT by West making 9 tricks, 5NT by West (not sure why those dizzy heights were reached!) going two down, 3NT by West making 10 tricks and 3NT by West making 6 tricks.

Hand of the week no 1 - Tuesday 1 September 2015

Whether you bid to 4 or 6 depends a bit on the opponents' bidding.  East has a strong 2 opening in hearts but some Norths will open 1♠ first.  My partner John opened a multi 2 so the bidding went as above.

Nevertheless, whatever contract you reach, you should always strive to maximise your score by getting as many tricks as you can.  

Anytime North has shown spades, a spade lead is likely.  It would be nice to be able to draw trumps, eliminate all the spades and diamonds then throw North-South in with a club but there aren't quite enough entries to do this.  If the 7 and 8 of hearts were transposed, you would be able to achieve this and 6 would  be cast iron.

On the actual cards, the best line if play is to get the trumps out then finesse clubs twice.  Playing for split honours under normal circumstances is 75% odds as 3 times out of 4 at least one of the honours will be finessable.  Admittedly if North has opened the bidding, things don't look quite so promising but you've got to try!

At our table, Wini found another way of making 12 tricks by simply playing a club to the Ace which dropped the singleton queen.  That was a tad lucky though Wini was only in 4 so not under too much pressure.

The results on the travellers were as follows:

6 by East making 12 tricks, 5 by East making 11 tricks, 6 doubled by East making 12 tricks, 4 by East making 11 tricks, 6 by East going one off and 4 by East making 12 tricks.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 1 September 2015

Board 20 was a particularly tricky hand with almost everyone going down in a contract.  No doubt there would have been a wide variety of bidding.  I didn't think my hand was strong enough to open 3 vulnerable and I'm glad I didn't.  All the bidding at our table was natural except for the 2♣ bid which was showing support for hearts and defensive values.  Otherwise a 2 bid would have been fine.

The hand is fraught with danger as if North-South play in hearts, East-West can get a cross-ruff going and hold it to only six tricks.  A diamond contract by East-West is hopeless and East-West do not have a fit in anything, nor do they have that many points.  If East-West end up in No Trumps, communications between the hands are poor and North-South can take the first five heart tricks as well as the Ace of diamonds and King of clubs.  In fact it is hard to see East-West managing to make more than four tricks.

The best spot for East-West appears to be a part-score in spades though even this suit breaks badly.

John played in 3♠ and the defence started with three rounds of hearts.  John ruffed the third round (seriously shortening his trump holding), then played Ace and another club which he ruffed in dummy.  He then played the King of diamonds, beaten by the Ace and ruffed in hand.  Then he ruffed a second club in dummy and cashed the Queen of diamonds.  He now had Ace, King and Queen of spades for his nine tricks.  He made all seven trump tricks so a switch to a small trump at trick 3 would have defeated the contract.

Not surprisingly with a hand like this, most contracts failed as the bidding, play and defence are all difficult.  Contracts were 4♣ by East going one down, 3NT by East going four down, 4♠ by East also going four down, 3♠ by East making nine tricks, 4 by West going two down and 3 by South going two down.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 25 August 2015

Most players playing Acol would open 1 on South's 4-4-4-1 hand, always one of the most awkard hand shapes to bid.  North would raise this to 2 with or without a 2♣ intervention by West.  Two pairs stopped there but surely it is worth making a try for game.  A 2♠ rebid by South shows a 4 card suit and is known as a 'trial bid', asking partner either for help in that suit or additional values to make game a good proposition.  If North has a poor hand, he can sign off in 3 but if he can offer help in the spade suit, such as a singleton or Kx for example, he should jump to game.  In this instance North has no help in spades but does have a fair hand for his 2 bid so should expect 4 to be a reasonable contract.

If you look at the North-South hands together, you can see that 4 is indeed a fine contract with two spades and a club the only three likely losers.

A spade lead does actually hold 4 to ten tricks.  However, unsurprisingly West leads the Ace and King of Clubs.  Declarer ruffs the second club and there is now an opportunity to make an overtrick, always important in duplicate pairs.

It's worth playing off the Ace of trumps to check everyone is following suit but before drawing further trumps, if you now cross to dummy's King of diamonds, you can play a third club and trump it in hand.  This is known as a 'dummy reversal' as you are shortening trumps in your own hand before using dummy's trumps to draw those from the opponents.  

You now play off your last trump, the King, then cross to dummy's Queen of diamonds to draw the remaining trumps.  On this hand the trumps broke 3-2 but a 4-1 break would have been equally manageable.  Now you can play dummy's last diamond to your Ace and Jack (discarding one of dummy's spade losers), then take your Ace of spades and give up one spade.  That is 11 tricks in the bag, one spade, four diamonds and six trump tricks from your 4-4 fit.

Results on the travellers were 2 making 11 tricks for +200, 4 just making for +620, 2 making 9 tricks for +140, 4 making 11 tricks for +650 (twice) and 6 going one off for minus 100.  6 is clearly too high and has no chance but a contract of 2 is not very adventurous and must mean that South did not even consider making a game try. 

Hand of the week no 1 - Tuesday 18 August 2015

On board 5 North-South have a fit in spades.  East-West have a good fit in diamonds though I suspect some East-Wests probably didn't get into the auction.  Jan and Margaret did at our table.  The bidding was spirited and we were pushed right up to 5♠.  Nobody actually played in diamonds but I think 5 doubled would have gone 3 off so would have been a very good sacrifice against 4♠ at this vulnerability.

The opening lead at our table was the Ace of diamonds which was ruffed in dummy.  Superficially the hand looks OK with the Ace of clubs and King of hearts to lose but in practice it is much harder than that.  In the North hand there are a number of red suit losers but only three trumps in dummy.  Dummy's clubs look good but with a singleton King opposite, there are not that many entries to untangle the suit and of course there are the opponents' trumps to draw and they might not break evenly so that could be another loser.

At trick 2, John played a club to his King which East won with the Ace.  Another diamond was played, ruffed again in dummy.  Now Ace of hearts was played, followed by the Queen which lost to the King.  West played another diamond which was ruffed by dummy's last trump.  Now a club was played, ruffed in hand by Declarer.  Ace, King and Queen of trumps then drew all outstanding trumps and finally a heart was played to dummy's Jack to access all the remaining club winners and 5♠ was delivered.

Jan questioned whether a trump lead would have been better but I don't think it would, providing Declarer plays his King of clubs at trick 2.  East plays a second trump so now Declarer takes the heart finesse.  This loses and if West plays another trump, Declarer wins and enters dummy, as before, with a heart and discards losers on the established clubs.  If East ducks the King of clubs at trick 2, Declarer can still manage to make his contract though the results on the score sheet are indicative that neither the bidding nor the play of this hand was straightforward.

One North-South pair reach a poor contract of 4 and went three down for a bottom.  Another North-South pair ended in 3 and made it but again, not a great contract or result.  All other pairs were in spades with varying degrees of success.  Two pairs went one down in 4♠, one pair made 10 tricks, two pairs made 11 tricks and one pair somehow managed to make 12 tricks.  No East-Wests were allowed to play in diamonds but I suspect that not many bid them.


Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 18 August 2015

The bidding of board 11 would almost certainly have started with 1 by South and 2♣ by North.  East will then have wanted to show his long spade suit.  Four Easts bought the contract, two in 4♠ and two in 5♠ and on best defence only 7 tricks can be made so this is far too much against a non-vulnerable game.

I was sitting South and with the above bidding sequence, I had already decided that if East bid 5♠, I would continue to 6♣ withough any hesitation.  This would of course have been a much better score than 5♠ doubled even going four off for 800 and if you look at all four hands, you can see that North-South are able to make 13 tricks in clubs.  It is a neat hand to play as you can ruff two spade losers in dummy, draw trumps, then play off Ace and King of hearts and ruff the third one.  After that, cross to dummy's King of diamonds and play off two heart winners, discarding two diamonds from hand.  Your 13 tricks consist of 2 spade ruffs in dummy, 5 club tricks in hand, 4 heart tricks and Ace and King of diamonds.

The scores on the traveller were 4♠ by East going two off (a top for East-West), 5♣ by North making all 13 tricks (twice), 4♠ doubled and 5♠ doubled (twice) by East, all going three off for minus 500, 4♣ by North (twice), once making all 13 tricks but the other time only just making 10 tricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 11 August 2015

West opened a 12-14 1NT 4th in hand and it was passed out.

Sitting North I led a heart.  Some people would play the 10 (or even the 9) but I decided to lead 4th highest.  Dummy now appeared with a good 10 count.  At this point you can calculate that your partner holds precisely 5-7 points.

Declarer played a low heart from dummy, partner played the 2 and Declarer won with the 8.  Not a great start!  At trick 2 Declarer played the King of diamonds which whilst disappointing to the defence, actually reveals a lot of information.  By implication and partner's play of the two of hearts, Declarer has shown up with AJxx of hearts as well as the King of diamonds.  That is eight points.  Therefore partner must hold one of the black suit Aces.

South has the worst hand at the table but nevertheless has a key part to play in the defence.  When he counts dummy's 10 points and adds them to his own, that is 15.  Add Declarer's 12-14 points and that is 27-29, therefore partner has 11-13.  As North didn't open the bidding, he must have precisely 11 points so South knows Declarer has 14.  South should expect his partner to get in at some point and what he needs to do is to make sure he holds on to his clubs.  This is South's only possible source of tricks so when he makes discards, he should throw away small spades and hearts. 

In the meantime, back to the play and all five diamonds were cashed.  Declarer then played the Jack of spades from dummy and finessed it to my King.  Bingo.  All Declarer's 12-14 points are now accounted for as he must have the Ace and Queen of spades.  North wins the spade finesse and immediately switches to King, Queen and another club which then goes through dummy's J8 to partner's A9.  This holds Declarer to eight tricks despite getting off to a poor start with the heart lead.

Apart from a couple of East-West pairs only scoring 110 in a diamond part-score, everyone else was in No Trumps.  One other pair held 1NT to eight tricks but everyone else made more, two pairs managing an incredible 12 tricks!  Two pairs reached 3NT which made, once with an overtrick.

Providing South doesn't discard any of his clubs and North finds the club switch and plays the suit in the right order, East-West cannot make more than eight tricks in No Trumps.  Defence is not easy but there's an awful lot of information available, much of which gets overlooked.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 4 August 2015

As you can see from the East-West hands above, a contract of 5♣ is not difficult to make.  However, bidding it is somewhat harder.  The bidding depicted above was mine and John's and although far from typical, it got us to the right spot.

The 1NT opening shows 10-12 points so I doubt if anyone else opened on the East hand.  My 2♠ is a transfer to clubs.  John broke the transfer by bidding 2NT which promised good support.  My 3 was natural as was John's 3 but had John been covered in spades as well, he would have bid 3NT.  On the basis of that, I jumped to 5♣.

Two pairs played in 5♣, two pairs were in 4♣ and one pair was in 6♣, everyone making 11 tricks.  However, two pairs made 9 tricks in spades the other way, one pair was in 2♠ and the other pair was in 4♠ doubled so clearly quite a variety of bidding.

It is not unreasonable to open 1♠ on the North cards but if North decides not to, it will probably be West who opens fourth in hand and North can now overcall 1♠ over 1♣.  Whether North opens or overcalls, South, despite minimal values, will support spades and East will support West's clubs so there were probably a few part-score battles and the bolder bidders bought the auction.  At our table North could have doubled my 2♠ bid but the fact that East opened the bidding and could support clubs made getting to game that much easier.  

Not an easy hand to bid and how high you get with hands like this is sometimes governed by the momentum of the auction, hence the range of 2♠ by North to 6♣ by West.  I suspect that when North-South were allowed to play in 2♠, North would have opened 1♠, South bid 2♠ and West didn't bid at all.


Hand of the Week - Tuesday 28 July 2015

At all tables other than ours, North-South played in 2 or 3 with various degrees of success.  At our table hearts weren't bid at all.

I expect the bidding always started with 1 by East and then South has to decide what to bid with his 18 points.  At our table South overcalled 1♠, I then bid 2 (though I think 1NT would have been a better bid), North passed and then John with the East cards made a very good bid of 3 which successfully deterred the opponents from bidding 3.  The 3 bid is a barrage bid.  It is not showing extra strength or inviting partner to bid on but just making it more difficult for the opponents to compete.  Had John passed 2, South would certainly have competed with 2 and swung the auction.

South was too strong to make a simple overcall of 1♠ and would have been better to have doubled.  West would then have had a choice of 2, 1♠ or pass and had West elected to pass, North would have been forced to bid 1 and North-South would certainly have ended up playing in a part-score in hearts.

The play in 3 was quite interesting.  South started with the Ace of trumps, then switched to the King of hearts which East (Declarer) won with his singleton Ace.  A second trump was played which South won followed by a second heart which Declarer ruffed.  Declarer now played a spade towards dummy's King and when the Ace didn't go up, he played Queen of clubs from dummy and made all five club tricks, discarding dummy's remaining spades, taking the rest of the tricks, losing only Ace and King of trumps.

If North-South play the hand carefully they can just about make 9 tricks in hearts, losing a spade, the Ace of trumps and two club tricks.

Contracts on the travellers were 3 by East, making 11 tricks, 3 by South (three times) twice making 9 tricks and once going one off and 2 by North making 10 tricks - Not sure how he managed that but well done anyway!

Hand of the week - Tuesday 21 July 2015

With distributional hands like this, almost anything can happen in the bidding.  North-South can make 11 tricks in spades and East-West can make 10 tricks in clubs.  Before looking at the bidding though, let's see how each of these contracts might play in practice.

In a spade contract, depending on whether North or South is Declarer, you might get a club or a diamond lead.  Whichever is the case, North-South will lose the Ace of clubs and Ace of hearts at some point.  The only other possible loser is a second heart if Declarer takes the wrong view.

In a contract of 5♣ by East-West there could be Ace of diamonds followed by a ruff.  However, North is more likely to lead a spade.  There are not enough entries to dummy to lead clubs twice through South so Declarer should lose a trump, a heart and the Ace of diamonds for one down.

With 5♠ making by North-South, the par contract is therefore 6♣ doubled by East-West going two off.

As for the bidding, everyone should have reached the 5 level one way or another.  West is likely to open 1♣.  Some Norths may overcall 1♠ which will catapult South into game.  West should not be talked out of showing his massive two suiter.  However, bidding 5 takes the bidding too high.  A bid of 4NT in this sequence should not be Blackwood but show a two suited hand.  East is happy to bid 5♣ and the quandry is now for North-South to decide whether to bid on or defend.  If North overcalled 1♠ he has done more than enough.  South's club holding does not look well placed and the spades are hardly likely to be of any use in defence so it is tempting to bid to 5♠ though that could be the wrong thing to do.

If North doesn't overcall 1♠, East would respond 1 and now South would overcall 1♠.  West would show his diamonds but North would now probably jump to 4♠.  West should now continue with 5♣ which would express his minor two suiter.  North-South have to decide whether to bid on to 5♠ and I think in this sequence it is more likely that they will as North would consider he has very good support for his partner's spades and little defence to 5♣.

On the travellers there was a mixture of 5♣ undoubled and 5♣ doubled going one or two off and 5♠ making.  This is not a hand to be shy in the bidding.

Hand of the week - Tuesday 14 July 2015

If you look at the above hand, at first glance you might expect it to belong to East-West in a heart contract.  However, in 5 doubled, North-South can take a spade, a trump, three diamonds and a club for four down.

East has a powerful hand and whilst unlucky to have such poor support from West, maybe he should have thrown in the towel when the opposition bid to 4♠.  With Kx of spades and a void in clubs, continuing to 5♥ would have looked more attractive.

But what about a contract of 4♠ by North-South?  Best defence is for East to start with two top hearts.  Declarer ruffs the second heart and switches to the King of diamonds which East wins.  East now has to decide what is best to do.  Another top heart would set up dummy's Jack but force Declarer to ruff again and this is probably the best thing to do as Declarer is now down to three spades.

Meanwhile West would have to have decided on a couple of discards and seeing dummy's long club suit, may have decided to throw away two diamonds.  However, I think he is no better off if he discards two clubs.

If Declarer now cashes the Ace of trumps there is good and bad news.  The singleton King drops but this means that West holds J654.  Declarer can now play a club to dummy, a diamond back to his queen (taking West's last diamond).

if declarer now cashes his Queen of clubs, East shows out and Declarer now has a count of West's  entire hand, a singleton heart and four of each of the other suits.  He can now play a third club to dummy, then a fourth one from dummy, discarding a diamond from hand.

He now plays dummy's Jack of hearts which West has to ruff and Declarer can overruff this.  Whatever West does, he will not make more than one more trump and astonishingly North makes his contract of 4♠. If West discards clubs instead of diamonds, he is no better off as Declarer can ruff diamonds in dummy and ends up with the same three losers.  The key play in both cases is not to finesse the queen of spades.

Nobody actually played in spades though as you can see from the above bidding, Jeremy and I bid to 4♠ but Alun outbid us with 5.  Other pairs were in 4 going two off, 3 going one off and 2 going one off.  What a fascinating hand!


Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 7 July 2015

I would have liked to have had the opportunity to play board 3 but unfortunately it was one of our sit-out boards.  7 or 7♣ are laydown yet nobody got beyond game.  The big problem is that South probably opens 3♠ which really puts a spanner in the works.  Nevertheless with the West hand You could take the bull by the horns and jump straight to 4NT and bid 6♣ when partner shows an Ace.  Alternatively West could start off with a double and when East bids 4, depending on how brave West feels, he could either bid 5 asking partner to bid 6 if he has reasonable trumps or if West feels bold, he could bid 5NT which is a Grand Slam force, asking his partner to bid 7 with two of the top three honours.

Now let's see how East-West might have bid if South hadn't pre-empted in spades though this is rather pie in the sky.

West would open 2♣ with the intention of showing his clubs next time round but when East makes a positive response of 2, West can forget all about bidding his clubs and concentrate on finding out more about hearts.  A bid of 3 can be made to see if East has anything further to say.  East may decide to bid a quiet 4 but all West really needs to know is the quality of East's hearts so should bid 5NT, the Grand Slam Force and East can now bid 7.  As East happens to hold the Queen of clubs, 7NT is also laydown but that is harder to bid.

Two pairs were in 3NT + 4, two pairs were in 4 + 3, one pair was in 5♣ + 2 and two pairs were in 4♣ + 3.  No problem in making 13 tricks but difficult to bid after a 3♠ pre-empt.  Bidding to a Grand Slam after the pre-empt is a very tall order but I would not be talked out of being at the 6 level.  A fascinating hand...

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 7 July 2015

Although board 24 yielded 12 or even 13 fairly easy tricks, the two hands fit together very well but nevertheless are hard to bid.

The bidding I have indicated is imaginery as whilst it will often start off with 1♣, almost anything could happen after that.  East may well overcall 1 or even 2 but otherwise South would respond 1 and North may well rebid 1♠ rather than 2♠.

At our table, none of that happened as North-South were playing a strong No Trump opening showing 15-18 points.  With 15 points South could bid a quantitative 4NT though I am not sure that North would accept the invitation.

North-South hold marginal values for slam in terms of points, with a combined 31 points between them, but the two hands fit like a glove and there are a number of good lines of play.  The spades bring in 3 tricks on careful play, the hearts also yield 3 tricks as the cards lie, the diamonds break badly so only 3 tricks there and there are 5 tricks in clubs.

At our table John made the sound but unfortunate lead of the Queen of hearts so three heart tricks were a safe bet for Declarer.  Declarer can now make 5 club tricks, Ace, King, Queen of diamonds and Ace of spades for 12 tricks.  However, if you didn't get a heart lead, you could wrap up 12 tricks by playing spades carefully.  First you play a spade towards the 8 (finessing against the 10), then go back to dummy and play a spade towards the Jack.  From what looked like a bit of a mediocre suit, you actually have three winners and one loser.

Everyone played this hand in No Trumps but only pair 10 (Carole and Nadia) managed to bid to 6NT.  They made all 13 tricks.  Everyone else was in 3NT, two pairs making all 13 tricks, two making 12, one pair making 11 and one pair only making 9 tricks.

Hand of the week - Tuesday 30 June 2015

There is nothing spectacular about the above hand.  East-West are likely to play in No Trumps and on their combined point count of 24, are unlikely to reach game.  However, the number of tricks Declarer makes largely depends on the accuracy of the defence.

East will normally receive a spade lead which he will win in dummy on the first or second round.  He could then play a diamond to his Ace to try a finesse in hearts or clubs but if it fails, he leaves himself open to attack in both spades and diamonds.

At our table, John received a diamond lead so he found himself in his hand at trick 1 by winning with the Ace but at least he was not exposed in spades.  He played the Jack of hearts which was covered by the King and Ace, then returned to hand with the 10 of hearts in order to take the club finesse.  With both of these finesses successful and both suits breaking 3-3, John was able to make four hearts, four clubs and the other two Aces for a total of 10 tricks.

Covering the Jack of hearts was unfortunate.  If South doesn't cover the Jack, Declarer would probably take a second heart finesse but can't now get back to hand to take the club finesse.  Alternatively Declarer can play the 10 of clubs but if he does, South should cover this otherwise Declarer still retains the lead to take a second heart finesse.

Whether Declarer receives a spade or a diamond lead, if the defence is spot on, he should not make more than 8 tricks.  It is all about judging correctly whether or not to cover an honour with an honour.  Sometimes you should and sometimes you shouldn't.  Judging whether or not to cover the Jack of hearts is not so easy as if partner holds the 10xx of hearts, it would be right to cover the Jack with the King.  However, if Declarer didn't hold the 10 of hearts, he would have been more likely to play on clubs instead.

Ironically, only one pair reached 3NT and went one down.  Apart from one North-South pair playing in 3♠ (going four down), everyone else was in a No Trump part-score played by East.  Two pairs made 10 tricks and the other three pairs made 9 tricks.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 23 June 2015

This was board 17 and, if North doesn't open the bidding, most Easts would open 1NT and the challenge is now for East-West to find the slam in spades.  With the King of diamonds well placed, East-West can make all 13 tricks.  However, not only is it not that easy to bid to 6♠, if North-South manage to find their fit, things are even harder.

At our table, John opened 2 on the North cards.  This bid shows a hand of moderate strength and at least 5-5 in hearts and one of the minor suits.  Lorna on the East cards therefore passed and I jumped to 4 on the South cards.  With the West hand Audrey then bid 4♠ and John bid 5♣ to complete the picture of his hand.  Lorna bid 5♠ and I bid 6 which was passed round to Lorna who doubled.  Two Aces were made for one down.  If Lorna and Audrey had bid to 6♠, John and I would have had to have been brave enough to bid on to 7 as this would have gone two down and therefore still an excellent sacrifice.  Note that on best defence East-West can actually take four tricks, a heart, a club and two diamonds.

Only one pair (Jeremy and Julia) managed to bid 6♠.  Two pairs were in 4♠ making all 13 tricks, one pair was in 5♠ making 12 tricks and one North-South pair (Jill and Sally) were in 5 doubled which made. 

Hand of the week no 2 - Tuesday 23 June 2015

On board 15 I suspect the bidding was more volatile at our table than most others as most North-South pairs were allowed to play in a spade game rather than defend 6!  Looking at the North-South cards, West would lead a heart against 4♠ but then unless he finds an immediate club switch,  North-South would be allowed to make 11 tricks.  Declarer would draw trumps, knock out the Ace of diamonds, then discard a losing club on the 13th diamond.  So in spades by North-South, 10 or 11 tricks are possible.

But what about East-West?  If they manage to get their act together, they have an excellent sacrifice in hearts.  The play and defence is interesting.  An initial diamond lead will hold a heart contract to 10 tricks as when North-South get in with the Ace of clubs they will be able to take two diamond tricks.  However, a diamond lead is not obvious and with any other lead, East-West draw trumps and when a club is played towards the King, the clubs quickly get set up before the Ace of diamonds is knocked out and 12 tricks are there for the taking.

The results on the travellers were two pairs in 4♠ making 10 tricks, one pair in 4♠ making 11 tricks, one pair in 5♠ making 11 tricks, 5 doubled by East going two down for minus 300 (still better than North-South making game in spades) and then 6 by East, not doubled, but making 12 tricks for a score of 980, definitely better than North-South making game in spades!

Hand of the week - Tuesday 16 June 2015

Getting to 3NT is quite straightforward though I personally would open 1 rather than 1♠ otherwise a heart fit might easily be lost.

Anyway East plays in 3NT and at my table received the 2 of hearts lead.  This is one of those hands where it is important to plan the play at trick 1.  Potentially you have 4 spades, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds and a club, that is providing the spades break 3-3 and the King of diamonds is held by South.

However, there is a problem.  To play towards dummy's Queen of diamonds, you would have to get to your hand with the King of hearts and when you then play a diamond towards the Queen, if South pops up with the King you can make the Queen but not the Ace as you can't get back to hand.  If you had another entry to hand, all would be fine but you haven't so the hand cannot therefore be played that way.

Diamonds is the only suit that can deliver a 9th trick but to succeed, you need to play the suit in a completely different way.

The King of hearts is a vital entry so needs to be preserved.  Therefore at trick 1, win the heart lead in dummy, then run the Queen of diamonds.  South wins with the King and probably plays back another heart.  You have to win this in hand with your King.

Now you play a spade to dummy, then a low diamond and finesse the 10.  Success and you can now run the diamonds and make the rest of the tricks.  That's a staggering 12 tricks!

Yes, there was a bit of luck that the diamonds broke 3-2 (64% odds) but if they don't, you have no chance.  Remember the law of split honours.  In this case you are missing King and Jack.  It is 75% odds that there is at least one honour in each opponent's hand so playing the diamonds that way would have been skillful rather than lucky.

Two pairs managed 9 tricks in 3NT and the other three went one down.  Maybe they got a club lead in which case only 9 tricks are possible.  Play your diamonds carefully or 9 tricks are impossible!

Hand of the week no 1 - Tuesday 9 June 2015

This hand (board 6) is full of possibilities in the bidding and play.  Would you open 1 on the East hand?  It's not unreasonable to do so but a bit marginal vulnerable.  If East doesn't open 1, then South will instead.  North-South would then fairly quickly find themselves in 3NT.

If East does open 1, what would you bid on the South hand?  The answer should be 'pass'.  West would also pass and North has an ideal take-out double in the protective position.  East would pass and South would also pass, turning the double into penalties.  

What can West do to improve matters?  Options are to bid 1♠ or to redouble which is SOS, asking partner to bid another suit.  Either of these actions might be moving out of the frying pan and into the fire.  In fact West has no reason to believe he can better the contract and is probably best to pass.

Defending 1 doubled, South's best lead is a small diamond which would be won by partner's King.  Seeing the singleton diamond in dummy, North should now switch to his trump on which East would play the 10 and South the Queen.  South may now cash the Ace to remove the last trump from dummy which also reveals the 5-1 break to Declarer.  South now switches back to another diamond to his partner's Ace.  Two more rounds of diamonds follow, Declarer winning the last one in hand.

Declarer is now forced to lead something from his hand.  He doesn't want to lead away from his trumps or KJ of clubs so plays the King of spades.  South might duck this to prevent Declarer from getting to dummy and win the second round.  

When South shows up with the Ace of spades, it should be obvious to Declarer that, having doubled, North must hold the Ace of Clubs.  He would therefore probably exit with a trump which South would win, then play back another trump, forcing Declarer to lead away from his King Jack of Clubs.  That's a loss of one spade, three trumps, three diamonds and two clubs so 1 doubled goes three down for minus 800.

Strangely enough, nothing of the sort happened at Badger Farm with one pair going two down in 5 played by South and the rest were in 3NT, three times going down when played by North and twice making with two overtricks when played by South.  Intriguing...

With the diamonds breaking badly plus losers in spades and clubs, 5 was a poor proposition so had no chance of making.

When 3NT was played by North, I expect East had not opened 1.  If East led the 8 of hearts, Declarer should play the 9 from dummy.  If he went up with the Queen, that would have scuppered his chances of making the contract.  Two of the Norths went one off in 3NT and one went two off.

I was one of the two Souths who played in 3NT.  Wini had opened 1 but my hopes to defend 1 doubled were dashed when Jeremy bid 1♠ on the North hand so I bid 3NT.  A spade lead is best but Jeremy's 1♠ bid deterred this so Nicky led a heart which went to Wini's King and my Ace.  I next played a diamond to dummy then a small club towards my Queen as Wini was almost certain to hold the King.  She went up with the King and played the Jack of hearts which held.  This was followed by the 10 of hearts which I won with the Queen.

I now cashed the Queen of clubs, then played a diamond to dummy.  I then cashed the Ace of clubs from dummy and Wini had to find a discard.  She threw a heart and I discarded a spade.  I then played a spade to my Ace and played the 9 of hearts which took Wini's 8.  I then made my 7 of hearts and Wini discarded a diamond which enabled me to make Queen and another diamond for 11 tricks.

Admittedly there were a couple of defensive errors with the discarding but nevertheless, 3NT should make via a spade, three hearts, three diamonds and two clubs.  If East hadn't opened the bidding, the play of the hand is somewhat harder as Declarer cannot place the King of Clubs.

As a final point, it is interesting to note that although this hand belongs to North-South, only two out of six North-South pairs managed to get a positive score.

Hand of the week no 2 - Tuesday 9 June 2015

Most Wests would open 1 but after that, the auction is likely to vary.  At our table, the bidding was as indicated above and we ended in 4♠.  6♠ is a good contract but quite hard to reach as the way the hands gel together is not easy to describe in the bidding.  Four pairs reached 4♠, one making 11 tricks, two making 12 and one making all 13.  Another pair only got to 3♠, making 12 tricks and one pair was in 1NT, also making 12 tricks. 

A heart lead is likely but it doesn't make any difference as 13 tricks can be made on any lead.  You draw trumps in two rounds, then the suit to attack is clubs.  Play Ace, then another to the King followed by a third one which you ruff in dummy.  With the Clubs breaking 3-3, you have now set them up for two heart discards.  You return to hand with a diamond, then discard the two losing hearts on the two clubs.  Dummy is now left with the King of diamonds and trumps.

Hand of the week - Tuesday 2 June 2015

This is another one of those hands where anything can happen in the bidding.  The bidding at our table (depicted above) was not typical.  The opening bid of 3 is technically wrong for two reasons.  First it is not normally advisable to pre-empt when you also have a 4 card major and secondly, this hand was too strong and 1 would have been much better.

Anyway, the bidding was passed round to East who could do no better than bid 3.  South now bid 4 which again is unusual as when you pre-empt, you don't normally do it again.  The good thing about pre-empting however is that it forces the opponents into some guesswork.  West cannot be sure how strong East is for his 3 bid and with reasonable values, a good club suit, singleton diamond and three of partner's hearts, 4 seems quite acceptable.  North decided otherwise and doubled.

A contract of 4 is not unreasonable.  However, with the King of spades finesse wrong, a bad break in trumps and the singleton club lead, 4 was doomed to failure and went one off.  Nevertheless it turned out to be a second top as most people were making a diamond contract on the North-South cards.

A more typical auction would have started with South opening 1.  Non-vulnerable West may overcall 2♣ and some Norths might double this or bid 2NT.  If West doesn't overcall, North would bid 2♣ and East could then double to show the other two suits, overcall in hearts or make a rather timid pass.  South would rebid diamonds.  If East has bid hearts, West would probably compete in hearts.

With so many possibilities it is difficult to say what happens beyond that but looking at all four hands, neither side can quite make game on best defence though 3NT by North is likely to make and 5 is just about possible if Declarer immediately plays on spades (to try and get ruffs in dummy) and East-West do not switch to a trump.  On reasonable defence 5 is likely to lose a heart and two spade tricks.

Needless to say, the results on the travellers were all over the place.  The best score for East-West was 5 doubled by South going two off for 500.  East played in 3 going three off for minus 150.  East played in 3♠ going two off for minus 100.  North played in 2NT making 9 tricks for 150.  South played in 4 making 10 tricks for 130 (the most normal result).  East played in 4 doubled going one down for minus 100 (the par result).  Finally one South was in 5 and managed to make it for plus 600 which was the best result for North-South though they should have gone one off for a second bottom.

Playing in 5, if East bid hearts, West will probably lead one.  Declarer should run this round to the Jack so East wins with the Queen.  Best defence is to switch to a trump but in practice many Easts may switch to their singleton club.  Dummy wins with the Ace and should now play a small spade.  Again, on best defence East should go up with the Ace and play a trump but if he plays low, South wins with his King and plays another spade.  If West wins he will probably play the King of clubs but a trump switch is best so, if that happens, the diamond should be won in dummy.  

The King of hearts should now be played (a ruffing finesse) which would be covered by the Ace and ruffed in hand.  Declarer now plays a spade and ruffs with dummy's last trump then plays the 10 of hearts, discarding his last spade.  Now back to hand via a club ruff, draw trumps and claim the rest of the tricks.  Fiddly but possible if East-West don't get the defence quite right.

A contract of 3NT by North is easier.  If East leads a heart, that lets the contract through immediately as Declarer makes the King of hearts, seven diamonds and the Ace of clubs for 9 tricks.  On a spade lead, Declarer is unlikely to put up the King of spades at trick 1 so West would win and probably switch to a heart.  East would win and again, on best defence should now continue with anything but a heart otherwise he gives away the 9th trick.

The most threatening switch is a club as Declarer would feel very exposed, worrying that when East-West get in with the Ace of spades, they will make two more clubs and another heart.  However, as the cards lie, West's clubs are isolated so Declarer's only way to make 3NT is to win the Ace of clubs and play a spade towards dummy's King while he still has the diamond entry to dummy.

In practice, the defence is reasonably likely to slip up and allow 3NT to make without too much difficulty.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 26 May 2015

If you hold the North cards and hear your right hand opponent open 1, what should you bid?  The answer is 'Pass' but many players get themselves into trouble with a hand like this, thinking they must bid something.  The bidding at my table went 1 by West, 2 by North which North intended to be natural but South took as a forcing cue bid.  South now bid 2♠  which was passed out.  Being a 4-2 fit, not surprisingly 2♠ didn't make.

Interestingly enough, two Norths played in hearts.  One North was in 5 going one off and another North was in 3 going one off.  There was then a contract of 2♠ by South going one off.  The only plus score for North-South was when they allowed West to play in 1 which went two off vulnerable for a top.

If you look at all four hands, you can see that most Wests would open 1 on the 4-4-4-1 hand.  If North keeps quiet, East cannot respond on his poor hand.  South has a choice of bids.  He could bid 2♣, he could double for take-out and he could pass.  Personally I would double in this protective position, holding four of the other major as well as the 5 card club suit and if partner does bid 2, just grin and bear it.  However, something far better than any of those options now happens as North can pass, turning your take-out double into penalties. 

North-South hold values close to game but it is not quite there as in clubs you have to lose the Ace of spades plus Ace and King of diamonds.  In hearts you would have to lose a heart in addition to a spade and two diamonds.  In 3NT you don't have a diamond stop so that is no good either.

Having established that no game is on, collecting 500 defending 1 doubled is a very good score as well as being very enjoyable for the defenders though not for Declarer!  This is why when you hold the opponents' suit, it is much better to keep quiet and lie in wait.

Not that it should all end in 1 doubled as East should now come to the rescue.  He could either redouble which is 'SOS', asking his partner to bid another suit, or just try 2 and hope for the best.  Either of these would certainly get East-West out of trouble.  

With his partner having shown values with his double, North would probably want to compete and if he now bid 2, this would be natural.

2 or 3♣ are fine contracts for North-South but East-West can also probably make 3.  The bidding definitely requires trust and partnership understanding.  The sequence I have illustrated above is just one of endless possibilities.  If East takes out the 1♠ doubled to 1NT, West should know East has clubs and diamonds, hence the 2 bid.  Over the 1♠ bid by East, South might have decided to bid 2♣ instead of double in which case North-South may end up playing in a part-score in clubs.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 19 May 2015

Not everyone bid to game on board 16 though with a good 9 count and two tens opposite 16 points, North-South should have reached 3NT.  A possible bidding sequence could have been as above with South taking the opportunity to give secondary (three card) support in spades, in case North held a 5 card suit.  South's 3♠ bid would be accepting the game invitation and asking North to choose between 4♠ and 3NT.  The bidding at my table actually went 1♣ - 1♠ - 1NT - 3NT which was fair enough as Jane sitting North counted her two tens as an extra value.

Andy led the Queen of diamonds which I'm sure all Wests would also have done.  This was won by Anke in hand with her King and then a spade was played to the Jack which held. (The Queen would have been better as if it holds, you are in the right hand to lead another one towards dummy's Jack.)  A club to the Ace came back and another spade finesse taken which now lost to the King.

If the spade finesse is right, 3NT is easy.  Looking at all four hands, there are always 9 tricks as you would get the hearts right and know to finesse the 10 of clubs.  However, in practice neither of these plays are likely.

The weak point is the heart suit and when I now switched to a small heart, Anke was quite right not to go up with the Queen for two reasons.  First, some Easts would have switched to a top heart with Ace and King (and probably did) but most importantly, with the 10 of hearts in dummy, playing low from hand gives a 50-50 chance for the Jack of hearts whereas going up with the Queen gives just a 25% chance of success, ie that both Ace and King are with East.

Unluckily for Anke this was one of those 25% occasions so Andy won with the Jack and returned a heart for one down.  All other pairs somehow managed to make 9 or 10 tricks.  Scores were 3NT making 9 tricks (twice), 3NT going one down, 1NT making two overtricks and 1NT making three overtricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 12 May 2015

Misfit hands normally produce a variety of results and board 19 was no exception.  No doubt there was a wide variety of bidding ending up with a wide variety of different contracts.

At our table I opened 1♠ on the South hand which I expect most people would.  West went into a bit of a quandry but correctly decided to pass.  North responded 1NT and now it was East's turn to deliberate on what to bid.  Unless you have two suited overcalls in your armoury, it is probably best to bid 2 first, then show diamonds later if you get the opportunity.  Verna did bid 2 on the East cards which was passed round to John who doubled.  This is not a penalty double but competitive, showing the two unbid suits and probably tolerance for partner's opening bid.

With the South cards, despite a minimum opening, I had reasonable defensive cards and decided to pas,s, turning the take-out double into a penalty double.

It was at this point that it started to go wrong for East-West.  West bid 2♠ which came round to me and I doubled.  This was passed round to East who bid 3 which was passed round to North who doubled.  This was then passed round to West who bid 3NT which again was doubled and became the final contract after a rather lengthy auction.

A few points with regard to the bidding.  The long pause by West followed by a pass over the 1♠ opening rather gives the game away and players should be mindful of that.  

After North doubles 2 for take-out, South would probably be better advised to bid 3♣ rather than pass as, having first limited his hand with a 1NT response, North is likely to be quite distributional to now be interested in competing.

The 2♠ bid by West is unusual as it is the opponents' first bid suit.  Nevertheless in this sequence I think it is right to interpret 2♠ as natural rather than a cue bid.

Not surprisingly South doubled 2♠ and also not surprisingly Verna with the East hand now bid her second six card suit.  West should give preference to hearts rather than pass but when 3 was doubled, a bid of 3 by West is definitely better than 3NT.  In this bidding sequence East is likely to be at least 6-5 in hearts and diamonds.

Hands like these are notoriously difficult to bid.  The East hand can be very powerful if partner's hand fits but otherwise, the sooner the bidding stops the better. 

The play was just as difficult as the bidding.  Against 3NT John led the King of diamonds which was ducked.  He then switched to a club which I won with the Ace.  I played a club back which Eva won with her Queen.  Eva then tried the King of hearts but when this was ducked, there was no more communication between her and dummy.  The hand rather fell apart and she could only manage to make 5 tricks.

The scores on the traveller were 3 by North going 3 off for a score of minus 150, 4 by East making with an overtrick for plus 650, 4 doubled by East making 10 tricks for plus 790, a rather tame 2♠ by South going 2 off with a six nil trump break for minus 100 and 3NT doubled by West going 4 off for minus 1100. 

A contract of 4 is very interesting from both a play and defence point of view.  South is likely to lead his singleton diamond which is won by East.  East's only play for the contract is not to start ruffing diamonds but to play his King of clubs.  If South takes this, when Declarer gets back in, he can ruff a diamond and discard three more on the Ace of spades and Queen and Jack of clubs.  Best defence is to allow the singleton King of Clubs to make.  This is known as a 'Greek Gift'.  Declarer will now play a diamond but South must ruff with the Five of hearts to force out the King.  Declarer can now discard a diamond on the Ace of spades but, because the Ace of Clubs is still out, there are no discards on the clubs.

Declarer will now ruff a black card and play another diamond.  South should ruff and take out the last trump from dummy and declarer will have two more diamonds to lose and go one off.  North-South make two trump tricks and two diamond tricks,  Sacrificing the Ace of clubs is well worth it!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 5 May 2015

Sitting North, I couldn't believe my eyes when I picked up 13 black cards on board 15.  Not many points but amazing playing strength though how on earth do you bid it?!  No doubt the bidding varied tremendously from one table to another.  

At my table 1 was opened by Carolyn to my right and I decided to just bid 1♠ to start with and see what happened.  With this distribution it would be very unlikely that I would not get another chance to bid.  Angie with the East cards bid 2♣ and I was very pleasantly surprised when Sheila supported my spades as this really strengthened my hand.

Carolyn rebid 3 and I now contemplated jumping to 5♠, inviting Sheila to bid to 6♠ with good spade support (ie two of the top three honours).  However, with Angie having bid clubs, I thought better of it and decided to settle for 4♠.  Angie competed to 5 and not surprisingly Sheila doubled on the South cards.

Anyone who plays with me will know that it is a cardinal sin to bid on after partner has made a penalty double but there are very occasional exceptions and I felt this was one of them so I bid 5♠ which immediately got doubled.

If you look at the full hand above, you will see that 5♠ loses either two spades and a club or one spade and two clubs.  5 on the other hand has to lose a minimum of two trumps and the Ace of Clubs so bidding over the double was actually wrong.  However, change the South cards slightly and both 5♠ and 5 would be making so it's a very difficult decision.

Needless to say there was a wide variety of results...

2♠ by North, making 10 tricks for +170

4♠ doubled by North, making 9 tricks for -200

5♠ doubled by North, making 11 tricks for +850

4♠ by North, making 10 tricks for +620 (twice)

and 4 doubled by West, making 10 tricks for -590 


Hand of the Week - Tuesday 28 April 2015

Jeremy Baker sent me board 22 as this week's Hand of the Week.  He only sent me the North-South cards so I have had to improvise a bit though, judging from the bidding, I expect the East-West cards would have been approximately as above.

At Jeremy's table, Dorothy opened 1♠ and John's 3 bid was a weak jump overcall.  The rest of the bidding was as above.  

As is often the case in competitive auctions, it is hard to judge when to stop.  Jeremy's 3NT makes on a heart lead and only goes off if East-West find a club lead then take their Ace of spades before North-South get in, otherwise North-South can run seven diamonds plus the Ace and King of hearts.  5 has no real chance of making but with North holding four of partner's diamonds, I guess it is difficult to judge how much defence North-South have against 4.  Always easy after the event!  

The only making contract was 3 by West (losing two hearts and two spades) as every other contract by either East-West or North-South went down. 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 21 April 2015

The bidding could have been almost anything on this hand.  North's best opening is 1♣ but some may have opened 3♣ or decided not to open at all and come in later.  If North opens 1♣ , East has a perfect hand for a take-out double.  South could support clubs straightaway but otherwise he could bid 1 for the time being.  Opposite partner's double West could jump in hearts to make the bidding more difficult for North-South.  North should now show his spades, East support hearts and South support clubs but where does it all end up?

One way or another all pairs bid to 5♣ and made 12 tricks except at my table where our opponents, Brian and Helen, pushed on to 5 which was doubled.

5 by East-West is a very good sacrifice as it only goes two off.  The North-South hands fit like a glove but although 6♣ is laydown, it is very difficult to get to and nobody did.

I think with all the bidding going on at our table, clearly the hand was very distributional and I could have considered bidding 6♣ instead of doubling.  I wasn't confident enough so decided to take the penalty instead but +300 in 5 doubled instead of +620 in 5♣ (or indeed +1370 in 6♣) was a bottom.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 14 April 2015


With 25 points between them and a double fit in hearts and diamonds, you might expect North-South to bid to 4.  However, depending on the way the bidding and play goes, not only might it be hard to bid to 4 but, with the lie of the cards, it probably won't make anyway.

If East opens an unconventional 3♣, it is very awkward for South who has to decide whether or not to bid as the heart suit is quite poor to come in at the 3 level.  Under pressure I would bid 3 which North would raise to 4.  Needless to say West would lead a club and 4 would fail, losing two clubs and two trumps.

Without a pre-empt from East, South would now open 1♥ and North would respond 1♠.  East may now bid 2♣ which although pretty weak for a 2 level vulnerable overcall, it is a good lead directing bid.  South would bid 2,  West may bid 3♣ but North should bid 3 rather than 3 as South's bidding shows at least 5-4 in hearts and diamonds.  South now has to decide whether or not to bid 4.  Whether or not he does so may be influenced by the amount of opposition bidding.

Left to their own devices with no opposition bidding, North-South would probably bid as indicated above. 

Regardless of whether East bid clubs, I would lead a club from the West hand and 4 would go off but let's say West doesn't lead a club.  On very careful play, despite the bad lie of the hearts, South's best effort is toplay three rounds of spades, discarding a club, then play a diamond to hand followed by a small heart towards the Jack.  Providing declarer plays another small heart towards the Jack, on the face of it East-West will only make two heart tricks and one club.  However, Declarer has a lack of entries to his hand to play twice towards dummy's trump and then eventually draw West's last trump so despite having reasonable values for game, this is one of those frustrating hands where no game is likely to make.  If either North or South had held the 10 of hearts that would have made all the difference!

At the tables, only one pair reached 4 and not surprisingly went one down.  Only one other pair played in hearts at all.  They were in 2 just making.  Other pairs played in 5 going two off, 3 going one off and 2 making with an overtrick.  Clearly a wide variety of bidding and play took place.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 7 April 2015

Looking at the North-South cards for Board 24, the only legitimately making game is 3 No Trumps as 5♣ or indeed 5 go off on a spade to the Ace, a spade ruff and the Ace of hearts, providing they are taken immediately.  However, in practice if West opens 3♠ it is virtually impossible for North-South to reach 3NT.

Not surprisingly this hand produced a variety of results for North-South.  There was 5♣ going one off, 5 doubled going two off, 4♣ making 11 tricks and 5NT making 12 tricks.

The 3♠ opening really did make the bidding difficult.  At our table the bidding was as above.  The double by North hopes to find a fit in a red suit but having to accept the risk that partner will bid clubs.  I held the South cards and despite wondering if we might have 6♣ on, there was no way I could investigate it.  4♣ is not forcing and to commit to a slam would just be a gamble so I settled on 5♣ knowing that everyone else would probably have a similar problem.

North could pass 5♣ but easier said than done so John bid 5 hoping to find a fit in one of the other two suits.  I would have left it but when East doubled, it didn't seem like a good idea.  It also didn't now seem a good idea to bid 6♣ as with the double of 5, 6♣ felt too high so I cue bid 5♠ asking partner to bid 5NT if he had a spade stop and 5NT became the final contract. 

Looking at all four hands, this rather chaotic hand is very much on a knife-edge.  Any defence other than a lead of the Queen of spades followed by a heart switch allows 12 tricks to be made.  The Queen of spades was led to the Ace and John dropped his King underneath.  He might as well try and this bluff did indeed do the trick as the 10 of spades came back and the rest of the tricks were taken.

As a final point of interest on this hand, to hold No Trumps to ten tricks East has to lead the singleton Queen of spades and West find the heart switch, whereas against 5♣ West is on lead and in order to defeat the contract East-West must manage to get a spade, a spade ruff and make a heart trick.  This would involve West leading Ace and another spade and East cashing the Ace of hearts despite his Ace and Queen sitting over dummy's King.  Alternatively if West were to lead the Jack of hearts as the opening lead, East must switch to the Queen of spades rather than trying to cash a second top heart.

In the poorer contract of 5 the Queen of spades lead by East followed by the Jack of hearts by West would actually be very troublesome for Declarer as although the second heart can be ruffed in the South hand, there is no way back to the North hand to draw trumps.

A very difficult hand to bid and defend which really shows the value of a pre-empt in all its glory.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 31 March 2015

I think the bidding and play on the above hand (board 7) was rather different at our table from everywhere else.  The most normal contract is 4♠ by East with not too much trouble making 11 tricks.  This happened three times and at another table the East-West pair only reached 3♠ also making 11 tricks.

I'm not sure how many Souths opened the bidding with 1.  Personally I would but Sheila didn't so Jeremy opened 1 on the West hand.  I passed and Julia responded 1♠.  Sheila now came in with 2.  Jeremy doubled which in their system shows 3 card spade support.  I bid 3,  Julia bid 3♠ and Sheila bid 4 which Julia decided to double.

Jeremy led the Queen of diamonds which Julia ruffed.  Julia returned a club, won by Jeremy who played another diamond for Julia to ruff.  Julia now played another club which Sheila ruffed in hand.  Sheila then cashed the Ace of trumps, felling Julia's King.  This was followed by Ace and King of diamonds, discarding a spade from dummy.  Sheila now played a spade to the Ace, then cross-ruffed the rest of the hand for 10 tricks.

East ruffing diamonds was very helpful as they were natural trump tricks.  On an initial spade lead, 4 cannot make and is difficult to play.  Declarer would lose a spade, a club and a heart for sure but there is a lack of entries to dummy to play hearts plus diamonds through the East hand.  In practice 4 could easily go more than one down as Declarer cannot draw trumps as well as ruff losing diamonds.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 24 March 2015

Bridge in Las Vegas can get very lively indeed.  Look at the extraordinary hand above where East opened the bidding with 2♣ on his incredible 32 points.

After a brief pause, South jumped to 4NT (showing a minor two suiter), West then bid 5, North bid 6♣ and East bid 6.  This was passed round to North who bid 7♣.  Although 7 is laydown, you can hardly blame East for doubling.

West led a heart and if you look at the full deal, you might be quite stunned to see that 7♣ is also undefeatable!

The heart was ruffed in hand, a diamond ruffed in dummy, a club played to the 10, another diamond ruffed, another club back to the queen and a third diamond ruffed.  A heart was now played from dummy, ruffed in hand, then the Ace of clubs was cashed to take out East's last trump.  The diamonds were now established for 13 tricks and 7♣ doubled made by North-South on a combined 6 points!!

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 17 March 2015

Not surprisingly with this hand (which was board 1) the bidding sequences will have varied considerably.  The final contracts were 3♠ + 1 by West, 4 = by North, 4♠ = by West, 2♠ + 2 by West, 4♠ - 2 by West, 3♠ + 1 by West and 4 = by North.  I expect the different contracts are partly attributable to whether or not South opened the bidding as if South passes, East-West would probably have had a free ride.

Playwise, game could make or go off either way.

If North-South play in hearts, there are two diamond losers and a spade loser.  The club finesse is right and declarer has to take the right view to drop the queen of trumps.  Normally with nine trumps it is right to play for the drop but, depending on the bidding, declarer might take a view and finesse to the doubleton queen.  

A top spade is likely to be the opening lead and if West continues with another spade instead of switching to the Queen of diamonds, there is a possibility that declarer will draw trumps in two rounds, take the club finesse and discard all dummy's diamonds on the clubs to wrap up 12 tricks.  

The other extreme is for West to find the diamond switch at trick 2 and declarer to misplay the trumps and go one off.  In practice, both pairs who were allowed to play in hearts made exactly 10 tricks for a joint top.

The rest played in spades, three in a part-score and two in game.  There are actually four top losers, two clubs and two hearts but not always so easy at the table.  

At our table I led the Queen of clubs which was covered by the King and Ace.  Sheila then cashed the Jack.  We can now take two heart tricks to defeat the contract but Sheila led a third top club hoping I would be able to overruff declarer.  In actual fact, with Sheila holding the Jack of spades, I am not likely to have a spade holding where this line of defence works unless I had something like the singleton King.  Anyway, declarer then took an unnecessary risk by ruffing with the 10 of spades and then drew two rounds of trumps with the Ace and King.  She then played a diamond to the 10 which held but now had no entry back to her hand to finesse them again and ended up going two down by losing two hearts, two clubs and the King of diamonds.  Had she not cut herself off from her hand, she would have been able to capture the King of diamonds and discard one of her losing hearts on dummy's last diamond and make the contract.  Swings and roundabouts!


Hand of the Week no 2 from Tuesday 17 March 2015

Imagine you are sitting North.  You are all ready to open 1 when West does so before you.  So you pass and then hear East jump to 3 and West raise this to 4.  This all sounds too good to be true!  Yet at the table, on board 19, all East-Wests not surprisingly reached 4 (doubled on one occasion) except for one pair in 3NT.  What was surprising was that four out of six pairs playing in 4 actually made it.  What a disappointment for North!

This hand is very interesting from a defence point of view.  It should be obvious to North from the outset that partner can have very little.  East-West obviously have a 4-4 heart fit and therefore it is almost certain that West will have opened 1 with the intention of rebidding No Trumps.  East will have about 11 points and West probably around 15-17 or so.  Partner can therefore not have any more than 3 points as a maximum.

This quick analysis is important in trying to judge the best opening lead.  As it happens the best lead is a diamond away from the King but to be honest, this is very risky bearing in mind how little partner is expected to have.  If you look at all four hands, you can see that a small spade lead would have allowed declarer to make four spade tricks.  A club lead seems sensible enough though even that enables declarer to wrap up four club tricks.

I would say that it is probably inadvisable to double the freely bid 4 as this immediately alerts declarer to a nasty trump break.  At our table declarer played a heart towards the Jack before getting the bad news and then played Ace, King, Queen and another spade.  On the fourth spade it might look tempting to ruff, then play Ace, King and another heart to clear the trumps but declarer now has the clubs set up for a diamond discard from hand.

The correct defence is not to ruff the fourth spade.  Knowing partner must hold the 10 of spades, you can discard a diamond and allow declarer to ruff that spade in dummy.  Declarer cannot continue to play hearts from dummy and if he plays a diamond, you will soon get in and make your King plus at least three trump tricks.  The only option therefore is to play a club from dummy which you can ruff.

At this stage you will have been able to count declarer's hand for King, Queen of spades, the Queen of hearts, Ace of clubs and certainly the Ace of diamonds.  Your only chance now would be to hope partner has the Queen of diamonds so it is important to switch to a diamond.  If you don't do this, declarer will eventually be able to discard a diamond on dummy's long club.  

4 is therefore not quite as easy to defeat than you might originally have expected.  What an interesting hand!


Hand of the Week - Tuesday 10 March 2015

This week's hand is all about the bidding rather than the play but before looking at the bidding, if you look at the East-West cards you will see that you have enough values for game.  3NT cannot make as you have no diamond stop and would lose the first five tricks.  5♣ and 4 both yield 11 tricks due to the hearts breaking 3-3.  Surprisingly enough, despite only being a 4-3 fit, 4 is a better contract as if the hearts were to break 4-2, 4 still makes whilst 5♣ goes one off.

At the tables, two East-West pairs ended in 3NT going one down, one pair was in 3♣ making 11 tricks and one pair was in 4 making 11 tricks.

Playing in a 4-3 fit is not normally a good idea but as you can see from the hand above, playing in 3NT is to be avoided due to the diamonds.

Jeremy and I bid as in the table above.  On the West hand some players might open 1NT but I felt it was better to open 1♣ due to the concentration of values in the suit and also as lead directing in case we ended up defending. 

North passed though personally, non-vulnerable against vulnerable, I would at least think about overcalling 1 as it helps with the defence.  Of course it is a double-edged sword as this might put East-West off bidding No Trumps.  However, a worse scenario is that they do and your partner doesn't find a diamond lead!

Anyway, on the East cards Jeremy knew immediately we had values for game and responded 1.  I could have rebid 2♣ but with a shortage in diamonds, I supported partner's hearts.  In principle 2 shows 4 card support but it's not 100% guaranteed.

Mindful of what I've just said, Jeremy bid 2♠.  He was not realistically expecting me to have four spades as I almost certainly would have bid them unless I held four hearts.  The 2♠ bid must be forcing as why else would he take the liberty of introducing a new suit when we had already bid and supported hearts? 

On the West cards, I obviously didn't support spades, couldn't bid No Trumps and didn't want to support hearts again without holding four so I bid 3♣ to re-emphasise my good club suit.

Jeremy now bid 3, fourth suit forcing, which is clearly at this stage looking for a diamond stop for 3NT.  As I didn't have one, my only option was to return to 3 and let him decide where to go next.

Decision time for East.  It is quite apparent that West has no diamond stop and, because of the 3♣ bid over 2♠,  West can only have three card heart support otherwise he would have bid hearts again.  East's clubs don't look very attractive for a lofty 5♣ contract so reluctantly but very sensibly Jeremy, with a good quality heart suit, opted for a 4-3 heart fit and bid 4.

Not an easy hand to bid but 4 is a sound contract which makes even if the hearts break 4-2.  An unusually long bidding sequence but it shows the importance of carefully exchanging information to reach the right contract.  Interestingly enough, East's first three bids were all forcing.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 3 March 2015

With a 20 point hand, you would not generally expect anyone to open the bidding in front of you.  Sitting with the North cards I was about to open 1 (and hoping it wouldn't get passed out) when West opened 1♠ in front of me.  If anything, this made it easier for me as I could now make a takeout double with the intention of rebidding No Trumps to show 19-21 points and a good stop in spades.  However, when Sheila responded 2 on the South cards, that made my hand look better still. 

With a singleton club I was half expecting someone to bid clubs but Carolyn on the West cards now bid 3 which got me thinking again as I held very good cards in both of her suits.  'Double' definitely crossed my mind but with all my points, it was pretty obvious that West must be very distributional and also therefore likely to be very short in hearts.  

I opted to bid 4 which also ended up being the contract at all but one table.  No doubt a number of different bidding sequences took place and one West played in 4♠ doubled but it only went two down for 500.  That North-South pair got a bottom as three other North-Souths collected 620 in 4 and Sheila managed to make 12 tricks for 680, despite having a club and trump loser!

I am really not sure how the defence to 4♠ would have gone or indeed the declarer play but I am a bit surprised it didn't go more than two off and, had it done so, that North-South pair would have received a top instead of a bottom.  Personally I would have led hearts to shorten declarer's trumps rather than lead a singleton club but if you do this, it is not obvious to see how declarer would then tackle the hand as the only way to dummy is via a club and if declarer manages to pin the singleton Jack of spades, he is off to a very good start.  North is of course almost certain to hold Ace and King of spades from the bidding.

With regard to the play of 4 by South, a spade was led and a cross-ruff embarked upon.  At some stage East ruffed a spade which was overruffed by South and East did not therefore make a trump trick.  East needed to ruff with the 10 or Jack of trumps to hold declarer to 11 tricks.

I suspect all the Souths who made 10 tricks, wasted too many hearts drawing trumps and ended up with a club, heart and another loser elsewhere.  With correct declarer play and defence 4 should yield 11 tricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 24 February 2015

The distributional nature of board 27 is always going to result in a wide variety of contracts, especially as in this case with game on in both directions.

The bidding at my table was as displayed above with West opening 1, followed by a 1 overcall by North.  1♠ by East only shows four in principle although some players guarantee five in this situation as they can otherwise double (negative double) to show four spades.  South supports partner's hearts of course and then West should support his partner's spades with a good three card suit and a ruffing value in hearts.  Despite having a weak opening hand, it is important to support partner in a competitive bidding situation, especially if it is spades as it is easier to buy the contract due to its higher ranking.  If West doesn't support spades, they have immediately lost the competitive auction.

Over 2♠ I didn't hesitate to bid 3.  My hand had a number of encouraging features, the King of diamonds looking well placed, having three spades must imply partner will be short in them, the Ace King of Clubs is a strong holding and it sounds like we have a lot of hearts between us.  It is nearly always the case with hands like this that the more everyone is bidding, the more distributional the hand is so it is not unreasonable to hope for South to hold four hearts and a singleton spade.

East now bid 3♠ and South bid 4 which was passed out.  Personally I would not have given in with the East hand and bid 4♠ - With distributional hands like this, once partner has supported your suit it is often right to keep going and bid one more as you are likely to have playing strength but little defence.

The results on the traveller were 4♠ by East making 10 tricks (three times), one pair was in 3♠ making 11 tricks, one pair was in 4♠ doubled going one down.  Then one pair was in 4 by North making 10 tricks and another North was in 2 making 10 tricks so the bidding really didn't take off here!

The play of both games is interesting.  With North playing in hearts, on the face of it you would lose three Aces.  However, if East is brave enough to underlead his Ace of spades (not normally a good idea), West can win with the King, switch to Ace and another diamond to give his parter a ruff.  The Ace of trumps is the fourth trick.  Easy after the event and not surprisingly, this didn't happen!

In a spade contract by East-West, worst case scenario there are three club losers and a spade.  A heart lead is likely and although with nine spades, it is normally right to play for the drop of the Queen, depending on how the bidding went, some declarers may have taken a view to finesse.  It is interesting to see that the one time 4♠ was doubled, it actually went down which is ironic as the double should, if anything, have made it easier!  Also ironically, the East who played in only 3♠ somehow managed to make 11 tricks.  I'm not quite sure how but can only guess that South popped up with the Queen of clubs which crashed under North's Ace or King.

An interesting hand with a lot of possibilities in both the bidding and the play.

Hand of the week - Tuesday 17 February 2015

I have chosen board 19 to look at this week.  There is nothing spectacular about it and indeed it had the potential to have been passed out.  No tables did pass it out and interestingly it was played in all four suits by all four players and always made.  We had 2♠ by South making 8 tricks and 110, 2 by North making 9 tricks and 110, 2 by West making 8 tricks and 110 and 3♣ by East making 9 tricks and 110.

Before we look at the bidding, let's look at the play of each of those contracts.  In 2♠ by South you would probably get away with three spade losers and two clubs.  However, the defence could be quite interesting if West leads Queen and another club.  On the third round of clubs, South could ruff with the 7 of spades and West is probably better to discard a diamond rather than overruff which would make things awkward for declarer.  Anyway, at the table, South managed to make the contract.

In 2♦ by North, in practice East is likely to lead a top club.  If he leads AK and another club, it is better to discard a heart from dummy rather than ruff, otherwise you will lose two clubs, a ruff, Ace of spades and a heart.  If you don't ruff the third club, you won't lose a trump trick and make 9 tricks. 

2 by West is not a great contract and, on best defence, you should lose three trump tricks, two diamonds and the King of spades.  The safest lead by North would be a small club.  When South gets in with a trump, he may well lead a small diamond so North-South take a couple of diamond tricks.  When South gets in with a second trump, it is important to switch to a spade.  West will probably finesse and lose to the King otherwise North will get in with the Jack of trumps and cash the King.  If this doesn't happen, declarer can throw his losing spades on dummy's clubs.  At the table West did make 2 so something obviously went wrong in the defence.

Finally 3♣ played by the East hand should lose two hearts, two diamonds and a spade, providing the defenders play their cards in the right order.  If South decides to start off with a top heart, he needs to make sure he has switched to a spade before he plays another top heart and while his partner can still get in with his diamonds.  This didn't happen at the table and the spade switch came too late and East was able to set up the hearts in dummy to discard a losing spade and therefore made 9 tricks.

Plenty to the play and defence in these various contracts but, as is often the case with competitive hands like this, the bidding is knife-edge as to who buys the contract.

The bidding in the table above was the actual bidding at our table.  Personally, on the South cards, after 1 by partner and 2♣ by East, I would double* (showing values, not for penalties) rather than support diamonds on a three card suit.  This would have the effect of deterring West from bidding and you would almost certainly then be allowed to play in either 2 or 3 which really is the rightful contract.

Following South's 2 bid, I doubled.  This is known as a 'competitive double'.  As an already passed hand, it is inconceivable that I would be doubling for penalties a suit at the 2 level that the opponents have bid and supported.  It shows 'values' and specifically would offer support with the other two suits and have tolerance for partner's overcall.  You can see that the West hand offers all that criteria.  North passed and John, sitting East with his 6 card suit, rebid his clubs which was passed out.  North-South were now in an awkward position as South only had 3 of partner's suit so didn't dare bid them again and North had a weak opening hand and would probably have been expecting four card diamond support from his partner but fewer points.

The competitive double can be a very useful tool in capturing the auction.  The alternatives would have been for West to bid 2 or pass.  The problem with bidding 2 is that partner would be expecting a better suit and if West decides to pass, East will not bid again and North-South will play in a comfortable part-score in diamonds.

Suggested bidding sequence would be something like 1 from North, 2♣ by East, double by South (showing values, not for penalties), pass by West, 2 rebid by North, pass by East, pass by South, then double by West (which would also be competitive rather than penalties), pass by North, 3♣ by East, then 3 by South (who now knows his partner has at least a 5 card suit) and this would be passed out.

An innocuous looking hand but a huge variety of options in the bidding and play!

*I would recommend bidding 2♠ rather than double if the suit was a better quality 5-card suit

Hand of the week - Tuesday 10 February 2015

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

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

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

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



Hand of the Week - Tuesday 3 February 2015

Board 17 was a crazy hand so I've picked it as this week's hand of the week.  The bidding at my table was as above.  I expect most Norths will have opened 4♥ but anything is possible after that and with such distributional hands it is always very difficult to judge when to bid on or when to stop.

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

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

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

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

Hand of the week - Tuesday 27 January 2015

There were many interesting hands this week.  I've picked out Board 1 where all Easts were in game but hardly anyone made it.  Apart from one pair in 5, everyone was in 3NT.  There was a string of plus 50s to North-South as 4 pairs went off in 3NT and one pair went off in 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hand of the Week - Tuesday 20 January 2015

There were many interesting hands this week with a wide variety of scores on the travellers.  The hand above was Board 2 where a game could be made by both sides.  On the score sheets we had two East-West pairs in 5 making 11 tricks, two East-West pairs were in 4 making 10 tricks, one North-South pair was in 4♠ making 11 tricks and one North-South pair was in 5♠ going two off.  Minus 200 was a second top for that North-South pair but had they been doubled, it would have been a bottom as they would have lost 500.

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

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

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

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



Hand of the Week - Tuesday 13 January 2015

I've picked out board 4 as an interesting hand from this week.  As usual there was a wide variety of results, 2 going 2 off by South, 3NT making 11 tricks by West, 3NT going one off by East, 2♠ by West making 11 tricks and finally 4♠ going one off by West (twice).

Jeremy (Crouch) and Julia were one of the pairs to reach 4♠ which is not an unreasonable contract but unluckily went off on a club lead. Helen and Brian were defending and Helen led Ace, King and another club.  Brian ruffed and Jeremy overruffed.  Now he played Ace and another diamond to ruff in dummy but then tried to return to hand with a heart finesse.  Helen won and played a trump.  There was now no way Jeremy could avoid losing a diamond at some point to go one off.

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

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

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

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

Pair 9 (Sally and Jill) managed to make 3NT with two overtricks played by the West hand.  

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 6 January 2015

This is the first of a new section, featuring a hand from the week's duplicate with a point of interest in the bidding and play. 

I have picked board 20 which everyone played in diamonds by North (anything between 2 and 5), except at my table where the bidding ended up in 3NT.  We did have 25 points between us so sitting South, being in Game was a dead cert when John opened 1  as North.  I expect most East's would have overcalled in hearts but most Souths will probably have just supported partner's diamonds at some level.  As you can see from the bidding table, I just changed the suit and bid 2♣.  North now rebid 2 and after another heart bid, I cue bid 3H to see whether 3NT or 5 was best.

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

3NT is not unreasonable but, having said that, on best defence, it doesn't make either.  However, as I watched from the dummy hand, 3NT did make...  

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

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

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

Of course, the irony of the hand is that despite holding values for game, North South cannot actually make a game.  No wonder we never have a flat board!