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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 2017
Hand of the Week - Tuesday 19 December 2017

Although this looks like a rather innocuous no trump part-score, it is with hands like this that whoever makes the most tricks, normally also gets most of the matchpoints.

Looking at all four hands, most Easts would lead a diamond or a heart and providing Declarer moves carefully between the two hands, he should come to eight tricks, four clubs, two spades and one trick in each red suit.  However, no trumps is often a race against time and one Declarer lost out.

A heart was led.  Declarer played low from dummy and the ten won.  The Jack was returned at trick 2 and West allowed dummy to win it with the King.

What Declarer probably should have done now is to finesse a spade but instead she played four rounds of clubs before cashing the Ace of spades then playing the Jack.  I won this with the King but there is no hurry to return partner's heart.  With 10 9 of spades, I played a third spade to dummy's Queen, knowing I would soon get back in with the Ace of diamonds.  

West should of course realise that his partner is not off his rocker by not returning a heart at this stage (or even think he doesn't have one).  Instead he should trust his partner and realise he must have the Ace of diamonds and therefore be comfortable discarding his own diamonds and keep the two heart winners.

After winning the spade in dummy, Declarer has to play a diamond so for West it's up with the Ace, cash the winning spade and finally return partner's heart for two more tricks.

The defence therefore made the opening heart lead, two spades, the Ace of diamonds and two subsequent heart tricks.  That was six tricks in all which may not seem like anything staggering but this took all the matchpints as all other East-West defenders only got five tricks.

Defence is very much a collaborative effort and sometimes, as in this case, just a matter of seizing opportunities.

Tuesday 19 December Duplicate

In our last meeting before Christmas and the end of 2017, this week's hands were quite festive in the sense that they were pretty lively cards though they were also quite challenging to bid and play.  Take board 26 for example, there were thirteen tricks if played in spades, yet only one pair managed to get as far as 6♠.  The full hand is shown above.  Bidding no doubt would have varied considerably as East may open 1NT or 1 depending on view.  Over 1NT South might make a two suited overcall.  West will probably not bid (my 2NT was a transfer to clubs).

One way or another, unless North takes the bull by the horns, the slam will not be reached as once South has shown spades, North's hand is a powerhouse.

Board 25 was a hand which many players misbid.  East held ♠KQ7 A76 AK75 ♣874 opposite West's ♠ A10983 J1042 103 ♣J10.  East would normally open 1 and rebid 1NT after West's 1♠ response.  West can now bid 2 to show 5-4 but partner needs to recognise this as a weak bid.  With a stronger hand West would rebid 3.  Looking at the scoresheet, this is not understood as everyone bar one pair was above the correct contract of 2♠.  One pair was in 4♠ and made it, despite having two club and two heart losers, potentially three!  Several pairs played in 2NT which makes despite losing the first five club tricks.  However, with the hearts breaking 3-3, spades makes nine tricks so is a better score anyway.

For this week's 'Hand of the Week', I've picked out board 10 which looks at the battle between Declarer and the defence in No Trumps.

Well done Jill and Alan who were first with 62.5%.

No Bridge on Tuesday 26 December.  Back to normal from 2 January.  Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 12 December 2017

On board 10 all Wests bar one ended up in 4 one way or another.  The above bidding was James and me but typically with hands like this, the bidding is likely to have varied cosiderably.  On one occasion 4 was doubled and one West allowed North to play in 3♣ which gave East-West a bottom.

Several Wests made 4 but I was not one of them!

If you look at all four hands, you will see there are 10 tricks, losing one diamond and two clubs.  However, if you can't see all four hands, there are some decisions to be made as it looks like the contract is dependent on the Ace of diamonds being onside and therefore not losing two diamond tricks.

I received a club lead to the Ace and a club was returned at trick 2.  At trick 3 Nadia, sitting North, returned a third club, giving me a ruff and discard.  This turned out to be a Greek gift of the highest magnitude!  

First I had to decide where to ruff and then I had to decide what to discard from the other hand.

Seeing I was looking at eight hearts in my hand, there was a possibility that Nadia held seven clubs (though she may well have bid them if she had).  I therefore decided not to ruff in dummy as Carole may overruff and I would then get no discard.

As I held ten trumps between the hands, I was not unduly concerned about the Queen.  However, if the Ace of diamonds was sitting over the King Queen, I would have two diamond losers so discarding a diamond was potentially very helpful.  I therefore discarded a small diamond from dummy and ruffed in hand, then played a diamond to dummy's King Queen so I could ruff one of my losing diamonds.  Seemed like a good plan but look what happened...

The Ace of diamonds was onside after all so losing a third diamond was not now a problem.  However, having discarded a diamond from dummy, I now had to ruff one of my losing diamonds which meant that when there was an unlikely three nil trump break, I was now unable to catch the queen!  

Had I not been presented with a ruff and discard in clubs (or discarded a spade from dummy instead of a diamond, an unlikely play), I would have been able to play a trump towards dummy's king and when North showed out, I would have been able to play a trump back and take the marked finesse.

Looking at North's hand, a spade or diamond switch actually hand the contract to Declarer on a plate so the ruff and discard was a cunning defence indeed...  Double dummy, the winning line on the defence I received would have been to discard a spade from dummy and ruff in hand.  Now with the trumps three nil and the Ace of diamonds onside 4 can be made - A very bizarre line of play in practice but that is Bridge for you!

The results on this board were 4 doubled making, 4 going one off (twice), 4 making ten tricks (twice) and even 4 making with an overtrick.  Then there was one lucky North who was allowed to play in 3♣ just making.

So if you haven't heard of a Greek gift, now you know what it is, an apparently nice little present which then puts egg on your face!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 5 December 2017

The above hand featured in a recent Teams match.  Our bidding was as above, reaching a perfectly reasonable slam via a sensible auction.  2 was a transfer and 3 showed a maximum and super fit.  4♣ showed further interest, 4 was a cue bid, 4 a sign-off, 4♠ another cue bid then on the basis of that 4NT was Roman key card Blackwood and slam was reached.  The other team also bid to 6.  

At both tables East led a trump.  Everyone followed suit and both Declarers continued with a second round of trumps and West showed out, revealing a 3-1 trump break.  One Declarer made 12 tricks and the other only made 11.  

How would you plan the play to give yourself the best chance of success?

Luckily you have plenty of trumps and can afford to draw three rounds.  It then seems as if you will make your contract providing one of the finesses in the minors works.  Unfortunately it is not your lucky day as both are wrong.

However, one Declarer gave himself a small extra chance which paid huge dividends.  After drawing trumps, play off Ace and another spade so you have eliminated spades from both hands.  Then take the club finesse.  It loses to the singleton king but East now has to choose between playing a diamond from his King or giving a ruff and discard in spades, both of which give Declarer a twelfth trick.

Yes I know you could have felled the singleton king of clubs but that is highly against the odds and someone might even have suspected you were peeping!

Hoping for one of two finesses to be right is fine and quite likely to succeed but eliminating the spade suit first gives you that extra little chance.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 28 November 2017

Board 26 is a good example of the chaos created after an opening pre-empt.  Bidding to the right spot often becomes guesswork.

Playing against Jeremy and Julia, Julia opened 4♣ which made it difficult for the opposition.  I doubled and John bid 4♠.  I would have been more comfortable to hear 4 but hoped John had a five card suit.  With the bidding starting so high, it's very difficult to find your best fit and combined strength so it depends how bold you are as you are reliant on some good fortune and it's all liable to be a bit hit and miss!

Looking at the North-South hands together, a contract in hearts or diamonds looks better than a 4-3 fit in spades.  However, looking at all four hands, a 5-3 fit in hearts is destined to go two off due to the lie of the cards whereas the spade suit is much better placed.

Ironically the club pre-empt had pushed us into 4♠ which looks meagre to say the least.  Somehow John managed to make two clubs, two trumps, five diamonds and the Ace of hearts for a very good score.  Getting the right defence was just as hard as the bidding and of course it was fortunate the trumps broke 3-3.  A very awkward hand!

Other contracts on the scoresheet were 6♣ doubled by East going three off for minus 800, 4 by South going two off, 5 doubled by East going two off, 5 doubled by South going three off for minus 800, 4 by North going one off for minus 200 and 3 by South just making.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 21 November 2017

With the South hand (board 5 shown above), most players would open 2NT showing 20-22 points.  Effectively that is what I did but, opening 2 first allowed the opposition to come in with 2.

I suspect many Norths would pass an opening 2NT but I think Jeremy is right to show his spades.  His 3 bid was a transfer to spades.  I'm sure he had no aspirations of playing in game but the South hand looked perfect so I had no hesitation in jumping straight to 4♠.

The play was interesting.

Understandably not wanting to lead away from one of her Kings, Marjorie led her singleton trump.  This was covered by dummy's 10, the King and my Ace, followed by two more rounds of trumps.  

With Marjorie having overcalled in hearts, it seemed likely she held both King and Jack and, if you look at the heart pips, the suit is ideally placed for a 'ruffing finesse'.  At trick 4 I therefore led a small heart towards dummy's 10 expecting Marjorie to go up with the Jack but instead, Sally won it and correctly played back a club which I took with the Ace.

I continued with Ace and Queen of hearts, the Queen covered by the King and ruffed in dummy.  Back to hand with the Ace of diamonds followed by the master 9 of hearts on which I discarded one of dummy's remaining clubs.  It was now just a matter of losing a club and a diamond and ruffing my last club in dummy and dummy's last diamond in hand which amounted to 10 tricks.

The most menacing lead would have been a club, leaving me with a lot of work to do and no easy access to dummy to take the trump finesse but you can see Marjorie's reluctance to lead one into the hand that had shown 20-22 points!  I was also fortunate that Marjorie bid hearts which helped me with the play, otherwise I would not have known where the King of hearts was and my line of play might not have worked.

Looking at the traveller, not many got beyond the two level on this hand.  Five Souths played in 2NT, three just making, one going one off and one going three off.  One South played in 3♠ making with an overtrick and two Souths played in 4♠, one just making and the other going two off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 14 November 2017

In Bridge, sometimes we make a mistake but a lot of the time we take a view and the element of luck often comes from taking the right view.

On board 2 above, if you look at the four hands together, a contract of 5 looks very promising and, sitting East, many would open 1 or would it be 1♠?

Depending on your choice, a very different auction will develop.

John decided to open 1♠, I responded 2 and John had to repeat his spades as he wasn't strong enough to introduce his diamonds at the three level.  I thought about bidding on but it looked like a blind alley so I decided to let him get on with it rather than risk getting too high on a misfit.

For any East opening 1, West would initially respond 1, East would now bid his spades and West would probably support diamonds, not necessarily getting to game. 

If East-West had had a spade fit rather than a diamond fit, opening 1♠ would have worked well.  Not a very nice hand to open on really as the spades are so weak.

Looking at the traveller, it would appear that opening 1 versus 1♠ was probably around 50-50.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages.  If you end up defending, you would prefer a diamond lead to a spade.  On the other hand, if you open 1 as opposed to 1♠ you are more likely to end up defending as it is much easier for the opposition to compete in hearts.

The contracts and scores were as follows:

2♠ by East just making; 5 by East going one off; 2♠ by East making with an overtrick; 3 by East making with an overtrick (happened twice); 4♠ doubled by East going two off; 2♠ by East making with two overtricks; and 3NT by East making with an overtrick.

With Queen Jack of diamonds falling doubleton, in 3NT there are eight tricks but on a club lead there is defintely no ninth unless of course South leads fourth highest round to Ace Jack doubleton.  What devilish cards!!!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 7 November 2017

Distributional hands like board 8 above can play very well or be a complete disaster.

On the face of it, it looks as though North-South have a reasonable play for 4 but the four nil trump break plus a bad break in clubs doesn't help the cause.

The above bidding was myself and John (East-West) against Dick and Mary.  The West hand looks potentially very strong but I started off with just 1 as a distributional hand like this is very unlikely to be passed out.  However, it was passed round to Dick in fourth seat who doubled.

At this point I toyed with the idea of 3♣ but decided to take a flyer and gamble on a fit in one of the minors and at the same time, try to keep the opposition out of one of the majors so I bid 5♣ showing a massive two suited hand.  This could have worked very well but unfortunately John didn't like either of my suits.  Dick doubled and, before I saw dummy, I wasn't too concerned as I thought we might possibly make it or otherwise it might be a good sacrifice against them making something their way.

Mary led a small heart and when dummy went down, it looked like one off doubled though I wasn't too happy to see all those cards in the majors as they would at least have been nuisance value in defence.  Dick went up with his Ace and I ruffed, a reasonable start.

At trick 2 I played the King of clubs to try and get a club ruff in dummy but when Mary produced the 10, things were looking less promising.  She got a couple of club ruffs and I went three off doubled so the cards had betrayed me on this occasion.

Anything can happen with hands like this.  You win some, you lose some.  Clearly the bidding will have varied considerably as the results on the scoresheet were as follows:

Two Wests were in 5 doubled going three off for minus 500; one West also went three off in 5 but wasn't doubled; another West was doubled in 5 but only went one off; one South played in 3 and surprisingly went one off; one West played in a very unambitious 2 but at least they made it and therefore got a very good score; and finally one West played in 5♣ doubled and went five off for minus 1100.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 31 October 2017

6♠ on board 18 was not exactly cast iron but nevertheless a reasonable marginal slam.  Reaching it required a bit of a conversation.  The above bidding was John (East) and me (West) playing against Sally (South) and Wini (North).

West's 3 is a 'splinter' bid agreeing spades.  Why is it not hearts I hear you say.  Because a rebid of 2 would have been a 'reverse', a strong hand with diamonds and hearts.

East initially backed off with 3♠ but West now cue bid 4♣ promising first round control in the suit.  East was now happy to bid 4, another cue bid.

West next checked for Aces (and the King of trumps) with Roman Key Card Blackwood, the 5 response showing 1 or 4.  West's 5 bid was then asking if East had the Queen of trumps.  Had he not had, East would have signed off in 5♠, hence the 6 bid.  Finally West settled in 6♠.

John was Declarer, I was dummy and in defence Sally led the Ace of hearts and switched to a diamond.  John won and drew two rounds of trumps.  The plan was now to play on diamonds and ruff them good to achieve a couple of club discards.  However, the 5-1 break soon put a stop to that idea!  Instead John was able to discard one of dummy's losing clubs on his King of hearts and finally have to rely on the dreaded club finesse to make the contract.  Luckily it worked so 6♠ limped home.

Not the greatest slam but initially it had good prospects and plan B was the fallback position of having to rely on a finesse.

I suppose it's not surprising everyone else was in 4♠ by East.  Most made 12 tricks but one made 11 and another only 10.  The Ace of hearts lead made things easier although as the cards lay, a club discard was not necessary as the doubleton king was onside. A club to the Queen followed by the Ace drops the King making Declarer's Jack a winner.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 24 October 2017

On board 18 I would be surprised if East opened anything other than 1 but after that it probably differed.

Some Souths will have bid clubs and fair enough.  I favour 1NT which is what Jason bid.  The heart stop is not brilliant but it's in the right range with a nice club suit to run.

Sitting North I bid 2♣ which was Stayman though not everyone plays Stayman in that situation.  Anyway it got us nowhere so we settled in 3NT with our combined 25 points.

However, whilst on the face of it not an unreasonable contract, on a heart lead it looked tenuous indeed!  Even with the clubs breaking 3-3 there were only eight tricks.  It was obvious the Ace of spades would be with East who would then be able to run a series of heart winners.

There was very little hope of a ninth trick but nevertheless a ninth trick was there.

After winning the King of hearts on the third round (and West showing out), Jason ran his five clubs and then played the Ace of diamonds on which East contributed the Jack.  Time to take stock...

East had shown up with six hearts, three clubs, the Jack of diamonds and presumably from the bidding the Ace of spades.  East had also discarded two spades on the fourth and fifth club.  The Jack of diamonds therefore had to be a singleton. 

Even if East's distribution couldn't be worked out, if an honour drops, it is normally right to finesse next time rather than to play for the drop.  This is known as the 'principle of restricted choice'.  When the Jack fell, Jason therefore finessed the 10 which became the ninth trick and 3NT was delivered for plus 600.

Yes it was lucky to find a singleton diamond honour in the East hand but you need a little luck in Bridge sometimes.  Even so it also required Declarer to be a wee bit brave as losing to Queen Jack doubleton diamond would also mean losing umpteen hearts as well as the Ace of spades.  That's why to a large extent you make your luck in Bridge rather than have it handed to you on a plate. 

3NT making was a top but had it gone one off it would have been a joint bottom.  Other results on the traveller were as follows:

3 by North just making; 2 by East going three off; 2 by East going two off; 3♣ by South going one off; and 3♣ by South just making.

3NT by North-South was hairy but they did have 25 points between them and a heart stop and had North held the Ace of spades instead of the King and Queen, there would have been nine tricks for the taking, even on a heart lead.

Hand of the Week Tuesday 17 October 2017

Board 2 above was an interesting hand for a number of reasons.  Some may open the East hand 1NT but most would opt for 1♠.  After a response of 2 from partner, showing a 5 card suit, some Easts would nevertheless prefer to rebid their spades rather than support partner's hearts.  That's an unfortunate decision as West is likely to give up at this stage, sensing a misfit.

On the otherhand, any Easts who are courageous enough to support partner's hearts are well rewarded as West has little hesitation in bidding to 4.

Unfortunately 4 is doomed to failure on a diamond lead with a loser in every suit as unluckily both red kings are offside.  However, why should North find a diamond lead and in fact North (Mary Killick) made a perfectly reasonable lead of the King of clubs which I won with dummy's Ace.  What next?

At this point some Declarers would attack trumps.  I decided instead to play a spade to my singleton King.  You never know it might be allowed to win.  It didn't and Mary took it with her Ace and made the correct switch to a diamond.  That could have been a crafty play away from the King but I decided it wasn't and went up with the Ace then played off Queen and Jack of spades, discarding my two losing diamonds.  Luckily nobody ruffed.

At long last it was time to play a round of trumps.  I took a losing finesse to Mary's King and she played back a spade which I had to ruff in hand.

The timing of the play is now critical.  Having already lost the Ace of spades and king of trumps, there is a club to lose but still the possibility of losing either another club from hand or a spade from dummy.  If you draw the remaining trumps, you also cut the communications between the hands.  I therefore played a club towards dummy's Jack.  Mary went up with the Queen and played back a trump, revealing a 3-2 break but also noting Dick's 10 which probably meant Mary had the last trump.

Winning in hand, I played a club to the Jack, then finally played a heart back from dummy to draw the last trump but more importantly this was an entry to my hand to make the 13th club.

So 4 had mixed fortunes, two badly placed kings but then a lucky 3-3 break in clubs and luckily not an opening diamond lead.

The results on the traveller were 2♠ by East going one off, 2♠ by East going two off, 4♠ by East making (incredible!), 2♠ by East going one off, 1NT by West making with two overtricks, 3NT by East going two off, 3NT by West making, 2♠ by East making with two overtricks and 4 by West making.

As East you take a view as to what to rebid and the consequences are huge; support hearts and West's hand improves, rebid spades and West downgrades his hand.  Personally I would support partner's hearts as John did mine.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 10 October 2017

Board 21 was very distributional with game on both ways.  East-West can make 4, losing one trick in each side suit (if played very carefully as life is difficult on a club lead) whilst North-South can make 5♠, losing just the two minor suit Aces.  Everyone ended up playing in spades, often at the 5 level, yet four pairs went down.

I assume most Wests would have led a top heart which Declarer ruffed in dummy.  I suspect those who went down may have done so due to a lack of a plan, drawing two rounds of trumps then finding only two trumps there to ruff three heart losers.  Otherwise Declarer may have got rid of the remaining heart on a top club but then lost Ace of clubs and two diamond tricks.

The club suit needed to be much more productive than one discard.  There are at least three but you needed to set about them quickly and watch your entries as all entries to dummy were in trumps.

A reasonable line of play is to play one round of trumps at trick 2 then a club to the King.  At my table East returned a club so I discarded a heart, drew the last trump, discarded my second heart on the Queen of clubs and then ruffed a club, felling the Jack.  Final entry to dummy was by ruffing the Queen of hearts with dummy's last trump, then discarding all three diamonds on dummy's remaining three club winners and as the defence had not cashed their Ace of diamonds, 12 tricks were made.

On the scoresheet three pairs went one off in 5♠, once doubled, three Souths were allowed to play in 4♠, once just making, one making with an overtrick and one going one off and one South was in 5♠ making 12 tricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 26 September 2017

On board 6 I was sitting West with quite a nice 16 points and as the bidding progressed there seemed to be a lot of points in the pack!  Playing against Nadia and Carole, Jason and I tried to get to 3NT but Nadia ploughed on to 4♠.

At this vulnerability 4♠ looked a good sacrifice, going three off doubled against a vulnerable game.  However, despite East-West holding a combined 25 points, 3NT does not look easy.

On a spade lead from North, on the face of it there appear to be eight tricks.  The only way of developing more is in hearts but North has two heart winners and looks to win the race between spades and hearts.  

There is an option to allow the Jack of spades to hold at trick 1 as South can't lead one back but a club switch also looks fairly detrimental.  An interesting line would be to go up with dummy's King of spades.  North can now no longer profitably attack spades as Declarer's Ace and ten is a tenace against North but not many would think to play their spades that way with a lucky capture of South's singleton Jack.  However, it looks like one of the only successful lines of play as this is a very tricky 3NT and for this reason 4♠ was not such a good sacrifice after all.

I was surprised to see the results on the traveller which were as follows:

3♠ by North going two off; 4♠ doubled by North going three off; 2♠ doubled by North going one off; 3♠ by North going two off; 2♠ doubled by North making with an overtrick and 5♣ by West going three off.

Over an opening by West, perhaps North is best advised to pre-empt with 3♠.  It's the ideal vulnerability to put a spanner in the works and actually makes it pretty difficult for East or West to bid again.

Just for the record, on the most passive defence, North would go four off in 4♠.  On a club lead, West allows Declarer to win with the King which means no access to dummy.  If the defence keep playing diamonds, North will ultimately lose three trump tricks, two hearts, a diamond and a club for minus 800 so, game or no game, this score beats everything.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 19 September 2017

Looking at all four hands on board 3 above, there are a number of possible contracts and outcomes.  For instance South might open 1♠ and if North-South capture the auction, they are able to make about nine tricks.

If South decides not to open, West may well open a weak no trump and North is quite likely to lead a club which is very helpful to Declarer in his task.  East-West are also capable of making around eight tricks in diamonds.

At our table the bidding was as above and West ended up playing in 2♣, not a great contract but the auction was sensible enough and maybe a little unfortunate to have been left in it by the opposition.

Against 2♣ North has an interesting defensive hand and many would lead the singleton diamond which might turn out well.  

However, when you hold length in the opponents' trump suit, it is often a good idea to lead a long suit with the intention of playing what is known as a 'forcing game'.  The idea behind this is to shorten Declarer's trumps and make him lose control of the hand.  I opted for a heart lead which had interesting consequences.

When dummy went down, Declarer's prospects did not look great.  Playing with Julia against Ann White and Sally Miller, Sally was Declarer.

The opening lead was won by Julia's Ace and she returned one at trick 2 which I won with the Jack.  I won the third round with the King, Julia discarding a small spade and continued with a fourth heart.  Julia made a key play of ruffing dummy's 10 with her eight of clubs and Sally overruffed with the Jack.

Ruffing with the eight rather than the two is known as an 'upper cut' as it forces a big trump out of Declarer's hand and has the effect of enhancing partner's trump holding.  The defence was bulldozing along the right track...

Sally now took a losing diamond finesse and Julia switched to a low spade.  Sally unluckily misguessed so I won with the Queen and played back a spade to Julia's Ace which felled Sally's King.

Julia now switched to a trump which Sally won with her Ace.  She then played a small diamond towards dummy but I was able to ruff.  Next came the Queen of trumps which Sally won with her King but there were no more tricks after that and 2♣ went five off, making just Ace, King and Jack of trumps.

This was very unlucky but it does demonstrate the lethal power of a good opening lead.  The singleton diamond might not have done enormous damage.  Yes there would have been a ruff or two but this would have been with North's natural trump tricks which would also have enabled Declarer to maintain more control of the hand.  

The 'upper cut' is also a good defensive weapon as the eight of clubs dented a big hole in Declarer's holding and enabled North's 7 of clubs to eventually become a winner.

Just for the record, the other results on this rather awkward hand were 1NT by West making with an overtrick, 2NT by West going three off, 2♠ by South making with an overtrick, 2♠ by South just making, 2♣ by West going one off and 4♠ by South going two off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 12 September 2017

In a way it's not surprising that many pairs didn't reach a slam on board 21 as much depends on North's decision to open strongly.  It is an optimistic Acol Two but on the otherhand it is rich in Ace controls.

Just to explain the above bidding which was Jeremy and myself, Jeremy's initial opening was a multi which could have been weak or strong, hence the response of 2, then the 3 bid confirms the hand to be a Strong opening in diamonds.

South's hand had some very useful cards and, on that basis, I bid 4 which shows slam potential.  3NT would have been a lazy bid and that is where the bidding would otherwise have ended.  The 4 and 4♠ bids were cue bids.

6 required a bold opening bid to get there and, once there, required the Queen of hearts to be with East and the Queen of trumps to drop.  Being a minor suit, the alternative contract was 3NT but this only made up to 10 tricks and two pairs actually went off, once two off.  There was also one pair playing in 3 making 10 tricks and another pair playing in 4 making 11 tricks so clearly a hand that a number of pairs did not find straightforward.

Interestingly enough all those who played in No Trumps were sitting South.  The only weakness in No Trumps is the spade suit but, on a spade lead Declarer should pop up with the Queen, play for the drop in diamonds and 12 tricks come rolling in.  Even the heart finesse was right so I'm rather bemused why 3NT never made more than 10 tricks and actually failed twice...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 5 September 2017

Board 11 produced a variety of results, most of which probably depended on West's choice of opening bid.  Some Wests may have opened 1♣ but it is a very poor suit to have to rebid.  It is not common to open 1NT on a 5-4-2-2 shape but you can see why West might have decided on this.  The other option is to pass on this ropey 12-count which is I think what I would have done.

If West passes, North would open 1 or a Strong No Trump.  If North opens 1,  North-South will end up in a heart part-score, otherwise North will play in 1NT.  If West opens 1♣, North is likely to make a 1NT overcall and play there.

At our table West, Jean, decided to open 1NT which was doubled by North.  The 2 of hearts was an unlucky lead as Jean made her doubleton Queen, set about the clubs and quickly gathered seven tricks for plus 180 and a top.

The King of hearts lead would have worked well, providing North now switches to a spade at trick 2.  The defence are able to amass four hearts, three spades and the Ace of clubs and 1NT is now two off for minus 500 and a bottom.

If North leads the King of hearts, South should play the Jack which denies the Queen.  Nevertheless it is not obvious for North to continue with the Ace or find a spade switch.

Apart from unnecessarily losing a heart, this hand is a race between the two black Aces.  The defenders need to knock out Declarer's Ace of spades before Declarer knocks out the defenders' Ace of clubs.

 On the scoresheet, one North played in 1NT and made eight tricks.  Another North played in 2NT and went one down.

One North played in 1 and made ten tricks and three Souths played in 2, two making nine tricks and one making ten so it was certainly better in hearts than No Trumps for North-South.

One West played in 2♣ just making and finally there was the 1NT doubled by West.  Not easy to find the right defence...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 29 August 2017

On board 27 (above) most Souths played in anything between 2♠ and 4♠, making either 9 or 10 tricks.  Needless to say, the bidding varied and on one occasion East played in 4♣ doubled.

Sitting South I played in 3♠ after the auction outlined above which seems perfectly reasonable and in fact, looking at the hands, there is a loser in every suit.

West led a heart which East won with the King.  East switched to a trump which West won and now played a diamond.  East won with the Ace and that was the end of the defence.  East played another heart which I won, drew trumps and discarded a losing club on a diamond and four losers were now three.

West's heart lead is fine but a club would have been equally good.  The important thing for the defence is to take their winners before Declarer gets his discards and in this case, they need to work at establishing their two Kings before their two Aces are knocked out.  This is often where the defence goes wrong as they snatch their quick winners, ie the two Aces, and do not end up making their 'slow' winners, ie the two Kings.

After the heart lead, it would have worked better if East had switched to the King of Clubs rather than a trump.  However, all was not lost as West could also have switched to a club rather than a diamond at trick 3 and the defence would still have bagged their four winners.  So there were a number of missed opportunities by both East and West.

Looking at the score sheet, two Souths played in 4♠ making for a joint top.  Going one off would have been a joint bottom.

Two Souths played in 3♠, making 10 tricks and three Souths played in 2♠, one making 10 tricks and the other two making 9 tricks.

The par spot was actually 3♠ just making for plus 140 but in the event, this score achieved a poor result.

Finally, just for a bit of variety, one East played in 4♣ doubled going one off.  This was a bottom for North-South but 4♣ could have gone two off which would then have been a very good result for North-South.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 22 August 2017

On Board 10, above, North-South have a fit in spades and East-West have a fit in diamonds, albeit with a very bad trump break.

It is easy with a hand like this for the bidding to spiral out of control and I felt compelled to complete the description of my hand by bidding clubs at the 4 level despite only having 10 points - With the opposition bidding and supporting diamonds, I was sure we had to have a fit in at least one of the other three suits.

Looking at the scoresheet, clearly the bidding varied tremendously as only one other pair ended up in 4♠ and they didn't make it.  It's not the easiest of hands to play or defend and at our table it proceeded as follows:

West (Pauline) led her Ace of diamonds.  When dummy came down, prospects didn't look brilliant.  Even if the trumps behaved, I had one loser there, I had to lose the Ace of hearts and I had a lot of clubs to ruff but only two trumps in dummy.

I ruffed the opening lead and thought I would at least use dummy's two trumps to ruff clubs so played a club to the Ace, ruffed a second diamond, ruffed a club and ruffed a third diamond.  I then played a third club intending to ruff with dummy's last trump but Pauline ruffed with the Jack of trumps, cashed the Ace of hearts and exited with a trump.  I then drew all the outstanding trumps and was able to make the rest of the hearts, 11 tricks in total, so what appeared to be a potentially rather tricky hand all came good in the end.

Cashing the Ace of hearts might have appeared tempting but it might have been better not to.  Declarer was fast running out of trumps and if West had kept the Ace of hearts for later, another diamond could then have been played, leaving Declarer a trick short.

From Declarer's point of view, it might have been better to play a heart towards dummy at trick 2.  West can switch to the Jack of trumps to reduce the number of ruffs and on best defence I think Declarer is still going to be one off in 4♠.  Not easy in practice to find the right line in either the play or the defence. 

The results on the traveller were 4♠ by South going one off, 3 by West going two off, 3 by West going one off, 3♠ by South making 11 tricks, 4♠ by South making 11 tricks, 2♠ by South making 10 tricks and 3♠ by North making 10 tricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 15 August 2017

Board 11 was an unusual distribution.

On the West hand I thought about opening but decided not to, due to a lack of Aces and fearing a possible misfit.  Roland therefore pre-empted in hearts on the North hand, then after Jason's double and Janet's raise to 4, it was back to me so, under pressure, I bid 4♠.  We made a bit of a recovery and ended up in 6.  7♣ or 7 (and even 7♠) are laydown but it's not always easy with the opposition competing.

Had I opened 1♣, we would have had a very good chance of ending up in 7♣ via a Grand Slam force.  The same applies, had I elected to bid 5♣ instead of 4♠  as Jason has the ideal hand to bid 5NT (Josephine or Grand Slam Force), asking about the top three honours and, with two of them, I would have bid 7♣.

Although this convention doesn't come up very often, it's extremely useful to deal with a hand like this where you have no losers outside the trump suit.

Jeremy told me that at his table West opened the bidding with 1♣, he competed with 4 on the North hand and East then jumped to 6 which ended the auction.  With the East hand, I would have bid 5NT and ended up in 7♣. 

As it was, three pairs ended up in 6 making all 13 tricks, one pair played in 6♠ on a 4-3 fit, also making all 13 tricks and one North was allowed to play in 6 doubled, going three off for minus 800 which was a top for them. 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 8 August 2017

A more typical auction on the above hand (board 18) would have been for North to open 1♣, South to respond 1♠, North to rebid 2NT and South to raise to Game.  3NT makes with the greatest of ease.

John and I played this hand against Charles and Macushla.  John's 2♣ overcall is a 'Michaels cue-bid' which shows 5-5 in the majors.  It can be stronger than this but John had originally passed.  

I would not particularly advocate this kind of intervention at Rubber Bridge or Teams but, at Pairs, it is all a matter of trying to get a better score and, at this vulnerability, it was an ideal opportunity for East-West to sacrifice against North-South's Game.  4 doubled by West went three off for minus 500 against a vulnerable Game in No Trumps where North-South could collect plus 600 or 630.  

Of course for East-West it is imperative not to go four down as minus 800 against North-South's Game would have been a very bad score.

Had North-South actually bid 3NT, I am not sure I would have bid 4 on the West hand but in light of the actual auction, I felt a bid of 4 would muddy the water and possibly push the opposition to the wrong spot...  Had North rebid 2NT (or even 3NT) over 2 instead of passing, this would probably have put a stop to the sacrifice.

At all other tables North declared in 3NT making nine or ten tricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 1 August 2017

The above hand was board 5.  North and East have rather dull hands.  Not so South and West.  

Sometimes with hands like this you find that game is on both ways.  With this particular hand, game is not there either way.

If North-South play in diamonds, they have three Aces to lose.  If East-West play in 4♠ the contract has excellent prospects but unfortunately the contract is doomed by an unusual lie of the cards.

In 4♠, playing against Jane and Anke, Jane led a diamond, won by Anke who continued with another diamond which I ruffed.

Not having had a heart switch, I hoped to restrict trumps to one loser and then discard a losing heart on dummy's clubs.

One possible line is to play a heart to dummy's Ace then play a spade towards the Queen.  Fine if it works but, if it doesn't, you immediately have a heart loser you were hoping to avoid.  Another possibility is to play the Jack of clubs and overtake with dummy's Queen, then to take the trump finesse.  The problem with this is there is a possibility of someone ruffing a club otherwise switching to a heart with no further access to dummy's clubs.

I decided to cash the Ace of trumps at trick 3 and see what happened.  Nothing much did other than the 10 appear from North.  With the possibility of the spades breaking 2-2, I played another spade.  Bad news, the trumps were 3-1 and I had two trump losers, although at least I had not played a heart to dummy to take any unsuccessful finesses.

Jane won a spade and correctly switched to a heart.  The only remaining chance was to hope Jane had three clubs so I could then play off Ace and King of clubs, overtake the Jack with dummy's Queen then discard my heart loser on dummy's fourth club.

However, the clubs broke 4-1 and the final glimmer of hope was gone and I felt a bit unlucky to go one off.

On the scoresheet there were three Wests going one off in 4♠, two Souths went one off in 5, doubled on one occasion, one South played in 4 and went one off and one West was in 4♠ and made it - Jeremy and Julia did not get a heart switch from the defence.

If the defence lead or switch to a club, that would have been helpful to Declarer.  Maybe South switched to a club at trick 2.  Failing that, if when North gets in with a trump and doesn't switch to a heart, Declarer can now play off three top clubs, cross to dummy via  the Ace of hearts, then discard a losing heart on dummy's Queen of clubs.  

Legitimately there is no way of making 4♠ without a misdefence which would require South to find a heart switch at trick 2.  On the actual defence I received, had I known about the trump position (which of course I didn't) I could have abandoned trumps, played off three top clubs, then entered dummy via the Ace of hearts to discard my heart loser on dummy's Queen of clubs.  Easy after the event!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 25 July 2017

Looking at all four hands on board 12 above, 4♠ looks quite easy but actually it wasn't.

East led the King of diamonds which Declarer won with the Ace then at trick 2 played a trump and finessed the 10, losing to the Queen.

West now played the Jack of diamonds which East overtook with the Queen and switched to the Queen of clubs.  West won with the Ace and switched to a heart which Declarer won in hand.

What Declarer now tried to do was to engineer a diamond ruff in his hand but the 4-1 trump break proved too much.  He played a club and ruffed it in dummy, then played a diamond and ruffed it in hand.  He now cashed the Ace of spades and got the bad news.

Communication with dummy was very difficult and Declarer ended up losing a diamond, a club and two spades as he was unable to reaccess dummy to draw the rest of the trumps and West was in the meantime able to get a ruff.

The winning line as the cards lie is to play three rounds of hearts and embark on a cross ruff of diamonds and clubs.  However, was relying on a 3-3 heart break worse odds than hoping not to get a 4-1 trump break?  Playing this hand is not as easy as it might first appear, often the way when faced with a number of options on how to tackle the hand.

There were mixed results on the traveller - 3♠ by North just making; 4♠ by North just making (twice); 2NT by North going one off; 2NT by North making with an overtrick; 3NT by North going one off; 4♠ by North going one off.

Tuesday 25 July - Board 7

The above bidding on board 7 was Jeremy and me against Christina and Clare.  The bidding is not scientific but it is collaborative.

South's hand is tricky to open in Acol as no opening is ideal.  I decided that although opening at the one level was potentially a bit risky with 21 points, with a singleton spade it was unlikely to get passed out.  Christina duly overcalled 1♠ on the West hand and Jeremy bid 1NT. 

At this point South could make a lazy bid of 3NT and that would end the proceedings but I thought the hand was much too good for that so jumped to 3♣.  Jeremy's 3♠ bid was a cue bid so presumably showing the Ace and expressing interest in one of my minors.  A little stuck for anything else to say I bid 3NT but when Jeremy now supported clubs, I had no hesitation in proceeding to slam and 6♣ was a nice contract.  There are also 12 tricks in 6NT but had the diamonds broken 4-2 instead of 5-1, there would have been 13 tricks in clubs.

Scores on the traveller were 3NT making 12 tricks (twice), 3NT making 11 tricks, 5♣  making 13 tricks, 5♣ making 12 tricks 6♣ making 13 tricks and 5 going one off.

Tuesday 25 July - Board 24

On board 24 13 tricks were laydown but 6 seemed enough of a challenge as only one pair reached it.

The important thing on this hand is for South to take over as there is no way he can convey a hand like this to his partner so it's a matter of South gently coaxing partner to see if he has any interest in his suits.

There are a number of ways to reach this good slam but it requires North to support hearts first.  In the above sequence the 2♠ bid would be natural and forcing and promising longer hearts than spades.  The 4NT is Roman Key Card Blackwood and the response shows 0 or 3 Aces (obviously 3, including the King of hearts as one of the 'Aces').

Interesting that four pairs played in 4 and I suspect the bidding may have started as above but over North's 1NT, South probably bid 4 which is a sign-off.  One pair bid to 3NT which I think is quite extraordinary with a 7-3 fit in one major and a 5-3 fit in the other!  Even more extraordinary was one pair lurking in 2♠ .  I suspect the bidding probably started as above but North did not take the 2♠ bid as forcing.  How disappointing for South to have to play in 2♠.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 18 July 2017

Distributional hands like board 1 above always make for some lively Bridge.  The above auction was how it proceeded at our table but there are likely to have been some massive variations.  For a start some Souths may have decided to open 2♣ in which case they could have had a free ride.  The North-South bidding might have gone 2♣ - 2 - 3♣ - 3♠ - 4♠.

In the actual auction depicted in the table above, South might have tried 5♠ instead of 6♣.  That would certainly have struck a chord with North!

East-West can make 10 tricks in hearts or diamonds, losing the Ace of clubs, a club ruff and the Ace of spades.

Despite South's wonderful looking hand, there are only 10 tricks in clubs, losing two diamonds and a club.  However, in spades, there is no club loser so 11 tricks can be made.

Not surprisingly some very different contracts resulted.  One South ended up in 6♣ doubled going three off, one West was allowed to play in 4 making.  Another South played in 5♣ doubled going one off.  One East was doubled in 4 and made it with an overtrick and finally one North played in 4♠ making with an overtrick.  

As 5♠ makes, the par contract is 6 or 6 by East-West doubled and going two off for plus 300 to North-South, yet only one North-South pair scored a positive result at all.  It is also interesting to note that this hand was played by North, South, East and West.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 18 July 2017

Not many reached the optimum contract of 4♠ on board 2 above.

After South's rebid of 2♣, North could have bid 2 (fourth suit forcing).  South can now bid 2♠ which completes the description of the hand, showing a 3-1-5-4 shape enabling North-South to play in a 5-3 spade fit instead of No Trumps with Jxxx opposite a singleton.

As luck would have it, the enemy hearts are 4-4 and the spades break 4-1, both of which favour No Trumps as opposed to 4♠.  However, that still doesn't make 3NT the right contract.  

Nine tricks are there in No Trumps but 4♠ also makes and scores better and if you exchange one of East's small spades with one of West's small hearts, 3NT is a complete disaster while 4♠ makes with overtricks.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 11 July 2017

Distributional hands, like board 11 above, are not only tricky to bid but can also be quite challenging to play and can all too easily get out of control.

Against 4 West led the Ace of clubs which Declarer ruffed.  This was followed by Ace and another diamond which was ruffed in dummy.  A heart was then played to the Ace at which point Declarer made the unfortunate play of a second trump.  

All would have been well had the trumps broken 2-2 but it wasn't that kind of hand.  East won and played a third round of trumps, leaving Declarer with just one more and dummy with none.  East played another club which Declarer ruffed but the hand was now out of control.

Declarer played another diamond but West won with the King and played two more clubs which could no longer be ruffed.  Declarer's master diamonds were isolated and the defence ended up also making a spade trick at the end so 4 went three off.

Declarer's only error was to play a second round of trumps.  After winning the Ace of trumps you need to ruff another diamond in dummy.  They are now set up and all Declarer needs to do is to play another trump from dummy and the defence cannot make more than two trump tricks.

The results on the scoresheet were three Wests playing in 5♣, one going one off and the other two going three off; one South was in 4 doubled making while the other was not doubled but went three off and one South played in a very quiet 3 just making.

Just for the record, if East-West played in clubs, they should lose Ace and King of spades, Ace of hearts, Ace of diamonds and a diamond ruff, that's eight tricks so 5♣ should have been doubled and gone three off, not a good sacrifice at equal vulnerability. 

Hand of the week no 2 - Tuesday 11 July 2017

Pre-empts are not there to make life easy for the opposition and this hand was no exception.  On board 7 it is very awkward for West as it could be right to bid and could be right to pass.  In this instance West bravely tried 4 but when North muddied the water with 4♠, East now had to make a decision.  Double might have been better but the singleton trump does not look attractive and there is some expectation that partner has a good six card heart suit.  Hence the power of the pre-empt as it results in a lot of guesswork.

So West was now in 5 with a 5-2 fit and combined 25 points.  

North led the Jack of spades which South won with the King and then promptly switched to a trump.  Declarer finessed and another trump came back.  Declarer drew the last two trumps then played off all dummy's clubs, discarding two losing spades from hand but, now stuck in dummy, a diamond had to be conceded for one off.

As often seems to happen, Declarer dived into the hand too quickly and paid no regard to the bidding or play at trick 1.

South had opened 3♠ and North led the Jack.  Therefore it is 100% certain that South has the Ace and King of spades and of course not much scope for anything else.

Instead of hurriedly discarding two losing spades on the clubs, the diamond finesse should have been taken first.  It was bound to be right and 5 would now have made.

Interestingly enough South's trump lead was not the killing defence.  Had South switched to his singleton diamond, Declarer is doomed as whatever he does, North will get in at some point with the King of trumps and is able to return a diamond for South to ruff and defeat the contract.

This board produced very mixed results - 4 by West just making; 4♣ by East just making; 3♠ by South going one off (happened twice), 5 by West going one off and 2 by West making nine tricks. 

The easiest contract is 5♣ but how do you manage to get to that with the opponents having bid sky high in spades?  

For the record, against best defence 4♠ doubled would have gone three off for 800 but it is often hard to double without anything in the trump suit so it creates the necessary chaos for relatively little risk.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 4 July 2017

On board 13 only three pairs bid to game, once to 4 and twice to 3NT.  The above bidding was how it proceeded at our table which to me looks fairly normal.

John played 3NT against Kevin and Martin and received a diamond lead which he won in hand.  At trick 2 John set about the hearts and successfully finessed the Jack.  He then played off Ace and King and the hearts broke very kindly.

Whilst at this point it is tempting to run all six hearts, there are awkward discards to be made and with all suits still under control, John switched to the Queen of clubs from dummy which was covered by the King and Ace.

John next played a top diamond, covered by King and Ace.  Having established an additional trick in each minor, John now ran the rest of the hearts, losing two spades at the end so he made six hearts, three diamonds and two clubs.  Had the club finesse failed, John still had control of the spades, hence not immediately running all the hearts.

Admittedly, the hearts and both minor suit Kings were favourably placed but nevertheless the two hands had a combined point count of 25 and I was surprised to see so many part-scores and two games going off.  The results on the scoresheet were as follows:

3 by South, once just making, twice making 10 tricks and once making 11 tricks; 2 by South just making; 4 by South going one off; 3NT by North going one off; and 3NT by North making 11 tricks.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 4 July 2017

The above hand was board 6.  The bidding was John and me (North-South) against Sally and Marjorie (East-West).

In a more normal kind of deal, one side or the other would hope to have enough values to bid to Game.  On this one, however, all four players were busily bidding at game level, quite an unusual auction.  North's 4NT was an 'Unusual No Trump' showing the minors.  It would be impossible to construct a hand where it would be Blackwood with East having opened the bidding and West having jumped to 3NT over partner's spade overcall.

Looking at the East-West cards you can see that East can easily make 4 even if the defence manages to find a spade ruff.  North-South have a good sacrifice in 5 if they manage to get into the auction as that would only go two off and even if doubled, that would only be a loss of 300 points against a vulnerable game.

The above auction was only allowed to happen due to East's decision to open 1.  An opening bid of 4 would have been much more likely to capture the auction.  Certainly South would not have dreamt of overcalling spades although an enterprising North might still have bid 4NT showing a minor two-suiter.

Contracts on the scoresheet were 4 by East making 12 tricks, 6 by East going three off, 3NT by West making 11 tricks (twice), 4 by East making 11 tricks (twice), 4 by East going two off, and 5 by South going two off.  There must have been a huge variety of bidding!

Tuesday 27 June Duplicate

The hands this week were volatile and I thought pretty difficult to handle.  There were a number of misfits, otherwise bad breaks and cards often appeared to be in unexpected places!

Board 4 was horrible with North holding ♠Kx AQ10xxx AQx ♣AK opposite partner's ♠J10xxx x ♣9xxxxxx.  5♣ would not have been an unreasonable contract had the trumps not broken four nil!  Someone somehow managed to make 3NT.  Must have had some help from the enemy!

There were a couple of noteworthy competitive boards.  Board 18 was completely flat with every South making 10 tricks in 4, slightly surprising as East-West could have sacrificed and would have gone just one off in 4♠ for a very good score.  On board 23 all East-Wests were in game.  All except one pair were in hearts making 10, 11 or 12 tricks but one tried 3NT which went one off.  This was because North-South took the first five club tricks!  Over 4, 5♣ is a good sacrifice and would probably go one or two off though only Charles and Dorothy bid to 5♣ pushing Jeremy and me to 5 with just two clubs to lose.

Board 25 was frustrating for some East-Wests.  Despite having 28 points between them, no Game is possible on a spade lead as this defeats both 3NT and 5♣ (see hand above).  In 5♣ if a spade is not led, a spade can be discarded from the East hand on one of West's diamonds.  In 3NT, if a spade is not led, there are tricks galore but on a spade lead (the King of course), 3NT has no chance.  Nevertheless two pairs made 3NT, once with an overtrick and two pairs made 11 tricks in clubs.

One of the toughest hands, as far as I was concerned at least, was board 11 which I've chosen as this week's 'Hand of the Week' (see below).  Board 24 was also full of pitfalls and is also featured below.

Nice to welcome two new members, Peter and Paul, and also first time visitors to Badger Farm, Neil and Barbara.

Fred and Jeremy were first with 64.9%.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 27 June 2017

The above hand was board 11.  The bidding was how it proceeded at our table and Jeremy and I were the only ones to bid to a slam.  Everyone else was in game.  

To be honest it was not a great slam and either Roman Key Card Blackwood or a jump to 5 instead of 6 would have avoided this.  A jump to 5 would have invited slam if hearts were good enough quality.  They weren't.  RKCB would have revealed that an 'Ace' (in this case the King of trumps) and the Queen of trumps were missing so again averted a poor slam.  Some might also think that a jump to 3♣ was too pushy and a rebid of 2♣ would have been enough.

The problem with the hand is that the hearts are not robust enough.  However, a lucky play would have been to cash the Ace of trumps felling the singleton Queen.  6 is now there but this is an unlikely line.  I led the 10 of hearts from dummy and ran it, playing either for KQx onside or Kxx or Qxx onside and hoping East would not cover the 10.  

The 9 of hearts is a key card.  109 opposite AJxxxx or 10x opposite AJ9xxx would have made the slam a much better proposition.  Nevertheless the 4-1 break and a singleton honour offside would still have been too much to cope with in practice.

Looking at all four hands, with the club finesse right and the spades breaking 3-3, a very poor contract of 6♠ is also makeable with a variety of plays.

In the event three pairs ended in 3NT, two making it with an overtrick, one pair ended in 4♠ making 12 tricks and two pairs played in 4 just making.  Our 6 going one off was therefore a bottom but 5 making 11 tricks would have been a very good result.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 27 June 2017

Looking at the bidding of the above hand (board 24), it all feels very surreal.  This was the bidding by Fred and Jeremy versus Dorothy and Charles.

West's opening 1NT was a 10-12 mini,  East's 2♣ was Stayman with the intention of playing in spades or diamonds and the rest of the bidding progressed from there.  Perhaps East could have doubled 3 to help the defence.

Against 3NT (played by Dorothy) West led the 2 of clubs.

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate what clues, often missed, can be gained from the bidding and play and how this helps to drive an effective defence.

It is quite unbelievable how much information could be picked up by East about Declarer's hand, all at trick 1.  West's 2 of clubs, being 4th highest, suggests that Declarer must have five clubs.  With a singleton heart in hand and three in dummy, Declarer must also hold five hearts.  Partner would not have opened 1NT with a singleton diamond so Declarer is marked with a singleton diamond and therefore precisely two spades.

East therefore has a complete count of the distribution.  What about the points?  Well it is likely that if South bid to 3NT, the likely split of points between South and West is likely to be 16 to 10.  The whereabouts of the actual cards is not as yet apparent.

The opening lead went to the King and Ace.  At trick 2 Declarer played a small heart, covered by West's 10 which was allowed to win.

West now switched to a spade which was won by Declarer's Queen.  Declarer next cashed the Ace of spades followed by another heart, covered by West's Jack and dummy's Ace, East discarding a small club.  Two top spades were then won in dummy followed by a third heart to the Queen and King, East discarding the Queen of diamonds.

The Queen of diamonds discard is a key play but it is crucial to understand its meaning.  It denies the King and promises the Jack but would not be played without good reason.  Knowing the distribution of the cards, West knows that Declarer has either singleton King or singleton Ace and really wants to encourage partner to play a diamond.  West did but alas he led a small one so Declarer won the singleton King, cashed the Queen of clubs and a winning heart was the 9th trick, West having to jettison the Ace of diamonds to avoid Declarer making an overtrick!

If only West had cashed the Ace of diamonds, the King of diamonds would have fallen and East would now have made the Jack and 10 of diamonds and 3NT would have gone off.

By no means was this an easy hand to defend (nor indeed to play) but it does demonstrate a wealth of information that can be gathered to help with the defence.  It was easier for East to work things out than for West but West might have been asking himself why Declarer had avoided playing diamonds and for an effective defence it is important for the defenders to collaborate.  In this case, West was reliant on East for some helpful signals.  East gave them but West either ignored or didn't understand them.

A double of North's 3 bid would have provided useful guidance but South would probably not now have bid 3NT.  All other pairs played in hearts with mixed fortunes.  Two made 10 tricks (one in 3 and one in 4), one pair was in 3 making 9 tricks, one pair was in 3 going two off and two others were in 4, one going two off and the other going three off.  A bit of a rollercoaster of a hand!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 20 June 2017

Board 21 was another amazingly distributional deal.  The bidding above is how it was at Jeremy and Julia's table playing against Alun and Eira but it is likely to have varied massively!

There's no real right or wrong with hands like this, just to bid to the limit and make life difficult for the opposition.  Some would not have opened on the North hand and some may not have intervened on the East hand though I expect most would have jumped to 4 on the South hand, then whether West bids anything at all is dependent on the previous auction.

East-West have a reasonable sacrifice in diamonds if they are allowed to play there but the main damage is done by making a disruptive pre-empt.

Ironically, despite missing two Aces, North-South can make a Grand Slam in both clubs and hearts. 

Alun and Eira were the only ones to bid to Slam so their 6♣ plus one was a top.  Two other pairs bid to 4 and made all thirteen tricks and one pair reached 5♣ making 11 tricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 13 June 2017

On board 5 Janet opened 3♣ on the North hand.  Whilst not exactly a textbook opening, it does demonstrate the difficulty a pre-empt places on the opposition bidding.

On the East hand John bid 3NT which ideally would be slightly stronger but if you don't bid, you could be talked out of something.

Verna passed on the South cards and I could also have passed though it looked like we might well have something better on.  I therefore bid 4♣ to find out more.  John bid 4 which was not particularly of interest.  At this already high level, I doubt many partnerships have discussed how to handle such a hand.  I didn't really want to bid 4♠ as that would be a sign-off and I felt there was a good chance of a slam so I jumped to 5♠ despite the quality of the suit being somewhat lacking.  I was glad John took my bid as forcing and he now bid 6 as he didn't feel his spade support was adequate.  With my holding in diamonds, I was happy to pass.

We therefore landed ourselves in a not unreasonable slam after a difficult and testing auction.

Verna led a club and, despite a 4-1 trump break, the Jack of spades falling singleton enabled the spades to be established and 12 tricks rolled in.

Ironically had Verna found the opening lead of Ace and another spade, 6 would have been doomed.  Even more ironic is that 6♠ cannot be defeated as there is no ruff available.  However, that is not to say 6♠ is a better slam than 6.  If you look at the East-West cards on their own, in 6♠ there is a concern about losing both Ace and Jack of spades whereas in 6 you would not have this worry about the spades as you would be able to ruff down the Jack.  No wonder the slam zone is such a tricky area!

I'm not sure whether all Norths would have opened 3♣ but there was a variety of contracts on the traveller...

4♠ by West making 12 tricks (four times); 3NT by East making 10 tricks; 3NT by East making 12 tricks; 5 by East making 12 tricks and 6 by East making 12 tricks. 

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 6 June 2017

Looking at the above hand (board 7), you reach an optimistic 4♠ and looking at the North-South hands in isolation, there is the potential to lose two diamonds, a heart and two clubs.

Looking at all four hands, however, you can see the Ace of clubs is sitting well so that's one less loser but on an initial diamond lead, you would lose two diamonds, a heart and the Ace of clubs and 4♠ would go one off.

A diamond lead from the West hand would not be everyone's choice and against me a trump was led.  Looking at the two hands together, I could see the five potential losers so the plan has to be to find a possibility of reducing these losers to just three.  Often in Bridge you need a bit of luck but if you don't identify what you need to do, you are unlikely to achieve your goal.

It is clear from the outset that unless East holds the Ace of clubs, you will lose two club tricks so you need to hope for that.  Having been fortunate enough not to receive a diamond lead, there is also a glimmer of hope if the hearts break 3-3 so that is what you must play for while you still hold control of the diamond suit.

The opening trump lead was won in dummy and a small heart played at trick 2 and run round to West.  A second trump was played, then a third won in hand with the King.  I now played the King of hearts followed by another to dummy's Ace.  Good news the suit had broken evenly.  From dummy, with fingers crossed, a played a club to my King which held.  Now the 13th heart in my hand enabled a discard from dummy and that was the 10th trick.

This hand was not difficult to play but just a matter of identifying what needed to be done, then implementing the plan.

Ironically 3NT cannot be defeated as the enemy diamonds break 4-4 and the Ace of clubs is also well placed.  Yet despite this fortunate lie of the cards, two Declarers played in 3NT and only one of them made it.  In spades, one South went one off in 4♠ (maybe they got a diamond lead), two Norths were in 2♠ making nine tricks, and one South was in 4♠ making.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 6 June 2017

Looking at the above hand (board 2), it is likely that the bidding was different at every table.  It's that sort of hand.  John's 3♣ was an intermediate strength jump overcall, based on a good quality suit.  With Kx of clubs I decided to give 3NT a try but when Janet  bid 4 on the West hand, it was difficult to know what to do.  I thought about bidding 5♣ but that seemed a bit high, I even contemplated passing but decided to double as I felt we had been talked out of our 3NT.

4 doubled went just one off.  Other results on the traveller were 3 by East going four off, 4 by West making, 5 by East going two off, 3 by East going two off and 3♣ by North going three off.

I wondered how 3NT by South would have fared...

As usual, much depends on the opening lead.  On the face of it  Declarer will lose Ace King Queen of hearts and the Ace of spades.  However, in practice all sorts of things might happen.  If West had led a surprise diamond, would I have gone up with the Ace from dummy and felled the singleton King?  Probably not though on a diamond lead, the defenders' hearts are awkwardly blocked and have the potential to crash.

If West leads the Queen of hearts then switches to a diamond, if Declarer doesn't go up with the Ace, there are five immediate losers.  The Queen of hearts lead followed by a spade switch would also defeat 3NT.  

In fact 3NT is not likely to make without a misdefence and was a bit rash on my part.  Had I passed John's 3♣, I'm sure Janet would have bid 3 and I could have competed to 4♣ which should go two off.  In diamonds, one way or another, Declarer should be held to nine tricks.

If North finds an opening club lead and continuation, this would hold Declarer to nine tricks.  On an initial spade lead Declarer can go up with the Ace, then cash two top hearts, discarding a losing club.  However, when North gets in with the Ace of trumps, he can play another spade and get a spade ruff so that is also nine tricks for Declarer.

If Declarer doesn't go up with the Ace of spades at trick 1, South wins and switches to King and another club so, with the Ace of trumps, that is also nine tricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 30 May 2017

John and I sat out on board 24 so the above bidding is just a suggestion of how it might have been.  There are all sorts of possibilities.

West has only nine points in high cards but the hand is shapely and even if you are playing weak twos, personally I would nevertheless err on opening at the one level.

On the North hand some pairs would double for takeout or overcall 1♠ on a four card suit.  I think it is better to pass for the time being and see what develops.

Some Easts would prefer to respond 1NT or 2 rather than bid that paltry spade suit and then what South decides to do with his 5-5 in the minors is dependent on style and the previous bidding but an 'Unusual No Trump' (as per the above bidding) can be useful on this hand.

The limit for East-West in a heart contract is eight tricks but what are the possibilities for North-South?

If North-South play in 5♣, if the defence lead hearts and persist with them, Declarer's trump holding is seriously weakened.  He will almost certainly end up losing a couple of trumps and the King of diamonds and could even lose control of the hand.

If West does open 2 then North-South might somehow manage to play in a 4-3 spade fit.  Ironically this looks a little easier as the 'short hand' of trumps is ruffing the hearts.  Nevertheless it is also quite easy for Declarer to lose control but it is just as easy for the defence to get things wrong and allow Declarer to bring the contract home.  The play is likely to start with a heart lead.  Declarer ruffs in dummy and takes the club finesse but what should East do, win and play a club for West to ruff, win and continue with the heart attack or duck?

If East returns a club for West to ruff, Declarer will end up making four trump tricks plus the initial heart ruff, four clubs and the Ace of diamonds for 10 tricks.  A continuation in hearts is menacing but because the 10 of spades falls doubleton, Declarer could ruff the second heart with the Queen of spades, then cash the Ace of trumps, cross to hand with the Ace of diamonds (even take the diamond finesse first), then draw all the outstanding trumps and finally make four club tricks.

The hardest defence to find is probably to duck the club but this would have the effect of badly cutting Declarer's communications with dummy and the contract would now be unmanageable.

At the table, one West played in 2 and made it with an overtrick, one North played in 3♣ and made 11 tricks, one North played in 3♠ and made 12 tricks, and one West played in 4 doubled and went three off.  All in all a very tricky hand with endless possibilities to the bidding, play and defence.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 23 May 2017

Board 14 was an interesting yet awkward hand.

East opens the bidding with 1 and some Souths would make a 2♣ overcall as did Nadia at our table.  Sitting West I contemplated 3 but decided on 2 and when John rebid his hearts I cue bid 3♣, fishing for 3NT.  Not surprisingly John bid hearts for the third time and at this stage I could have bid four but decided I should rebid my very good diamonds again just in case diamonds was the best option.  By the way a bid of 4 in this sequence should be forcing.  With a diamond void John had no hesitation in going back to hearts and 4 became the final contract.

4 is technically the right contract but quickly goes off via Ace King of clubs, a ruff and the Ace of spades.  If South bids clubs, 3NT is hard to find.  It also goes off but the defence to beat it is not as straightforward.  It has to involve a spade lead or switch before Declarer gets in so that the defence can gather Ace King of clubs and three spade tricks.  If this doesn't happen, Declarer is home and dry.  In fact if South kicks off with a fourth highest club, Declarer takes all 13 tricks!

The bidding is likely to have varied considerably, hence the variety of contracts.  Three Easts played in 4, two went one off and one went two off.  One East was in 5 going two off, one East played in 3 just making and finally one East was in 3NT making all 13 tricks.  Must have got a small club lead!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 16 May 2017

If you look at the North-South hands on board 13 above, you can see that despite having enough points for game, North-South have no fit in any suit nor a spade stop.

Hands like this are notoriously difficult to bid.  The above bidding was how it was at my table and, with Jeremy playing North, me South, Kevin East and Martin West, requires some explanation.

Jeremy opened 1♣ as I assume most people did, I responded 1 and Martin overcalled 1♠, all fairly normal.  Jeremy's double of 1♠ however was non-standard as we play this to show three-card support of partner's suit which can be very useful in a competitive auction.

My next bid of 2NT would not be everyone's cup of tea but I was trying to show my 11 points and a spade stop, albeit very weedy and I knew we only had a 4-3 heart fit.

Jeremy's next bid, 3, was interesting as he knows I am very unlikely to have five hearts and therefore emphasises his dislike of No Trumps.  3 is forcing in that sequence and asking me to make a final choice of contracts, 3NT, 4 or even the possibility of playing in clubs.

On the basis of this, with my very meagre spade holding, I was now happy to settle in a 4-3 heart fit, knowing Jeremy would be very short in spades.  4 therefore became the final contract, a thin but not unreasonable game.

Martin was on lead and decided on the singleton four of clubs which I won in dummy with the Ace.

At trick 2 I played a spade from dummy.  Kevin shot up with the Ace and returned a club which Martin ruffed.  Martin now returned a diamond which I won in hand so I could ruff a spade in dummy.

So far so good but I could not expect to ruff another losing spade for the likelihood that Kevin would overruff dummy.  With one of the enemy trumps out of the way, I proceeded to draw trumps.  I played the King from dummy and noted the nine from the West hand.  Fingers crossed the Queen would come down on the next round of trumps and sure enough she did.

I now drew Kevin's last trump then played the Queen of diamonds and a diamond to the Ace.  Everyone followed so I now had dummy's King of clubs and the thirteenth diamond to park my last two losing spades plus one remaining trump for the last trick so 4 made with an overtrick.

Yes the enemy cards were fairly benign but 4 was the only making game and not easy to reach.

There was a wide variety of results, 2NT by South going one off, 2NT by South going two off, 2 by South making 10 tricks, 4 by South making 11 tricks, 3 by South making 9 tricks, 3NT by South going two off and 2 by North going one off.

Nobody played in spades by East-West but there would have been many losers!

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 9 May 2017

The above hand was board 3 and I've picked it for its flamboyance as much as anything else.

Jason and I didn't have the pleasure of picking up these East-West cards as we were sitting out this round but the above bidding was how it was at Marian and Tricia's table though no doubt everyone would have bid it differently.

It looks right to start off with 1 by West and if North-South are playing weak jump overcalls, North's hand is ideal; if not, some Norths might overcall 1♠ but otherwise it's a free ride for East-West to bid as they please.

Certainly over a 2♠ weak jump overcall there is absolutely no need for East to jump to 4 as this is really a shut-out bid which would be more appropriate if the hand had neither of the two black aces.  3 would have been 100% forcing and left some room for further exploration.  West would have bid 4♣ but then East is powerful enough just to plough on to a slam.

As the cards lie East-West can make 13 tricks in hearts as the Queen of hearts is doubleton or in diamonds as the diamonds break 3-3.

On the traveller, four pairs reached 6 and three pairs only got as far as 4.  I'm quite sure if the hand was played often enough, some pairs would even have ventured as far as 7 and been lucky.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 9 May 2017

Board 17 mainly resulted in minus scores for North-South.  Personally I would have opted for 2NT rather than 2 on the South hand.

Jason intervened with 3♣ on the East hand so, with Q974, I was willing him to lead one though ironically with South continuing to 3NT, he talked himself out of it and decided on a heart lead.

This could have been disastrous as it gave Declarer an immediate entry to hand with the Jack in order to take a diamond finesse at trick 2 and wrap up the first ten tricks.  However, Declarer went up with dummy's Ace and led a small diamond from the table so Jason won with his King and switched to his singleton spade.

I won with the Queen and at long last I was able to play clubs.  Declarer won with dummy's Ace, was able to make five diamond tricks and another heart but there were no more tricks after that and she went one off.

Had South opened 2NT instead of 2, West would have been on lead and possibly led a spade though I'm not sure that's a good idea when right-hand opponent has shown 20-22 points.  A heart might well be a better option and indeed it would have been as it certainly gives nothing away and Declarer has no access to dummy to take a diamond finesse.

So this hand is swings and roundabouts or perhaps more of a rollercoaster as 3NT, depending on the opening lead, had the potential to make with an overtrick, otherwise doomed to going off.

The scoresheet showed that South declared on every occasion except against us when North played the hand.  3NT was played four times.  Three times it went one off and once it went four off.  Two pairs played in 5, both going one off and the only plus score was 3 by South which made with an overtrick.

Actually 5 could have been made.  Say West leads a club, win in hand and ruff one in dummy.  Then play a trump and finesse.  Draw the last trump and play the King of spades.  West switches to a heart, Declarer wins and plays a second spade which West wins with the Queen.  Back comes a second heart but Declarer wins, plays a diamond to dummy then discards a losing heart on the Jack of spades. 

If West chooses an opening Heart lead, this ends up promoting a third heart trick for Declarer.  Say he leads the 7, Declarer covers with the 9, East with the 10 and Declarer with the Ace.  Later when West gets in with a spade, if he plays another heart, Declarer covers from dummy, East plays the Queen and Declarer wins with the King.  Dummy's third heart is now a winner!

There is no defence to beat 5 if Declarer plays it correctly and there is no winning line to playing 3NT if the defence play correctly.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 2 May 2017

The high card points on board 8 are divided 20-20 yet East-West have game on in hearts and North-South have a valid sacrifice in diamonds.

The key for East-West is being able to judge that the hands fit well.  

I opened 1 on the West hand, John responded 1♠ and Janet overcalled in diamonds.  A popular rebid of 2 is fine on the six card suit but we play double in this position as promising three-card support of partner's suit (rather than penalties) which can be very useful.  John was therefore happy to settle in 2♠.

Janet rebid her diamonds but I would have bid 3 anyway which should now, by implication, promise a six card suit.  Despite only being 12 points, the good support for partner's spades, the sixth heart, the well-placed King of diamonds and singleton club are all quality features so it's worth making an extra move.  The East hand, despite being only eight points, has two useful Aces, a singleton diamond and knows of a double fit in the majors so John decided to raise to 4.

Roland led a diamond which Janet won but when she switched to the Queen of spades, that was a little worrying as it was obviously a singleton.

I won with dummy's Ace and led a small trump, hoping Janet had the Ace.  Unfortunately she didn't so Roland won the Ace and promptly returned a spade for Janet to ruff.  That was however the end of the defence so despite the shortage of points, 4 was actually an easy contract to make but perhaps not so easy to bid.

Nevertheless four pairs bid 4 and two pairs stayed in 3.  Everyone made 10 tricks except one West who somehow went two off in 4.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 2 May 2017

Board 20 was interesting from a play and defence point of view.  In the bidding Ann, sitting South, didn't get the chance to bid her hearts but against 4♠ by West, Dorothy led one anyway.

After winning the first two heart tricks with the Ace and King, quite a few would continue with a third round so that partner could ruff the Queen and prevent Declarer from discarding a club in dummy.  However, this line of defence actually falls into Declarer's lap as he overruffs in dummy, draws trumps capturing the King and can now play for two finesses in diamonds (playing for 'split honours').  

Declarer duly plays a diamond to dummy's nine and when this loses to the King, he's home and dry.  The Ace of clubs is still intact when the first diamond finesse loses, so Declarer is eventually able to discard a losing club from hand on dummy's fourth diamond.

Unfortunately for me, Ann didn't play a third round of hearts but instead switched to a club.  This now left me completely exposed when I took a diamond finesse and the defence was able to take a club winner for the setting trick.

As the cards lay, I could have done better.  The winning line was to cash the Ace of spades, felling the singleton King (lucky!) then draw Dorothy's last trump after which I could have now cashed the Queen of hearts to discard a club from dummy.  After that all I had to do was to take the two diamond finesses.  The difficulty for me was that, not only was capturing the singleton king of trumps somewhat against the odds, I could not be sure that Dorothy's initial heart lead was from a doubleton as it could have been something like 10983 for instance.

All Wests played in spades, four in 4♠, one making and three going one off, then one pair was in 2♠ and another in 3♠, both making ten tricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 25 April 2017

To play in 4 with a 4-3 fit and combined 23 points doesn't sound like the right thing to do!  However, sometimes you get pressurised into it as happened on board 6 above.

Pre-empts are there to make life difficult and in this case, Jeremy jumped to 3, over my 1 opening, which Julia described as weak.  This was passed back round to me so I made a take-out double on what could have been an even stronger hand than it actually was.  John sitting North therefore had to decide what was best to do and with a fair hand and some useful cards, opted for 4 rather than 3, discounting a 4♣ bid on a rather poor suit.

On another occasion I would no doubt have had a five card heart suit or even a few more points but that is the value of a pre-emptive bid.  It throws everything into chaos and turns accurate bidding into guesswork.  Left to our own devices I'm sure we would have subsided in a part-score maybe in clubs or No Trumps but no doubt other Wests would also have intervened, even with just 2 which would have been enough to warn North-South away from No Trumps.

Anyway 4 by South it was for me and Jeremy played off Ace and King of diamonds at tricks 1 and 2.  He then switched to the Jack of clubs which was quite likely to be a singleton.  Time for a quick review of the hand...

Having already lost two diamond tricks, there is a spade loser, how are the clubs lying and how will the trumps behave, bearing in mind about half of West's cards are diamonds?  It all looks a bit dodgy...

I won Jeremy's club switch in dummy with the King, Julia played the 3 and I played the 10 from my hand, you'll see why later.

At trick 4 I played a small heart from dummy to my Ace and another one back to the Queen, noting Jeremy's 10.  Expecting a 4-2 trump break rather than 3-3, I ran the 8 which to my surprise and disappointment Jeremy won with the Jack.

With no more trumps in dummy, Jeremy was able to continue with his diamond attack, forcing me to ruff with my last trump.

I was now absolutely convinced Jeremy's Jack of clubs must have been a singleton so I played a spade to dummy to be able to lead clubs through Julia.  I played the eight of clubs from dummy.  Julia correctly didn't cover so I overtook it with my nine, cashed the Ace of clubs, felling Julia's Queen and now had my precious little 2 of clubs to get back to dummy, enabling me to discard a losing spade on dummy's last club.

Of course if I had been psychic I would not have lost a trump and could have made an overtrick but I'm only human and was quite happy to have bid and made a game on a 4-3 fit and combined 23 points.

Looking at the traveller for board 6, two pairs reached 4 and made it, one pair was in 2 and another in 3and two pairs played in No Trumps, one in 2NT and the other in 3NT, both times played by South.  They both made 9 tricks so East-West didn't take their first six diamond tricks.  Looks like West must have played off two top diamonds and East failed to unblock the Queen.  Oh dear!!

Incidentally, although nobody played in a 5-4 club fit, providing you take the right view in both hearts (playing for them to break 3-3) and clubs (playing towards the King, then finessing on the way back), 11 tricks can be made, losing just the first two diamonds.  A losing spade can be discarded on the 13th heart.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 18 April 2017

Board 3 was very distributional and as usual with those sorts of hands, contracts can be made both ways though the bidding is likely to be volatile.

At our table I opened a multi 2 on the South hand and East-West didn't enter the auction.  More normal would have been for North to open the bidding with 1 and now East has to decide what to bid.  If East bids clubs, the spade fit is likely to be lost but if East doubles 1 West may well bid spades.  Meanwhile however, South is likely to bid sky high in hearts which may well have the effect of shutting West out.

It is interesting to note from the traveller that the final contract was 4 by North or South every time except for once when they were in 5.  Not once was it played in spades by East-West which is the only legitimately making game.

In hearts the defence can take four black tricks and hold the contract to nine tricks.  Two pairs managed to make 10 tricks on a diamond lead, enabling a spade loser to be discarded.

If East-West can manage to win the auction in spades, on the face of it they have three diamond losers.  However, the suit is blocked and South cannot get in to make his King so the only way to make three tricks would be for North to play the Ace, then the Queen and South to overtake the Queen with the King and give partner a ruff. Otherwise two losing diamonds in the West hand can be discarded on the clubs in the East hand.

Clearly East-West struggled to get it together in spades and I suspect the only time they did is when North ended up in 5 doubled going two off.  Theoretically North-South losing 300 should have been a good sacrifice against East-West making +650 in spades but in practice all the other North-Souths were allowed to play in 4, three going one off and the other two making so 5 doubled minus two was in fact a bottom.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 18 April 2017

Looking at all four hands on board 22, East-West can make game in spades or hearts.  4♠ is better as the heart suit can be set up for discards.  In fact, with a benign lie of the cards, if the defence doesn't lead a diamond at trick one, Declarer can make all 13 tricks!  

Seems straightforward enough, yet looking at the scoresheet, getting there was not so easy.  One pair reached 4♠ and made all 13 tricks, another pair played in 4 making 11 tricks.  The rest were disasters!  One East played in 3NT and went one-off, presumably losing the first five diamond tricks.  Another pair played in 2NT, making an overtrick but not at all the right place to be.  Two pairs played in 3 one making 10 tricks and the other 11 tricks.

I'm assuming most Easts would open a 12-14 No Trump on the East hand.  If you don't play transfers, West can use Stayman to find out if you have a 4-4 spade fit and otherwise play in hearts where you know you have at least a 6-2 fit.  The West hand has no Aces but good playing strength and is definitely game-going.  Personally I would have a bash at game in spades or hearts regardless but, even if you are a little more cautious and just invite game, East is sure to accept with his maximum.

If you do play transfers, you could bid 2 on the West hand, then bid 2♠ after partner's 2.  This should also easily get you to 4♠.  Alternatively, you could opt to use Stayman as above.

I must admit I was surprised to see how many pairs did not reach the right contract and not really sure what the problem was.

Hand of the Week no 3 - Tuesday 18 April 2017

Board 23 brought about several poor results for East-West.  North will often open a 12-14 No Trump and East has to decide what to do.  Do you have any mechanism to show both majors?  If you play something like Asptro, a bid of 2 would show spades and another suit.  Without three card spade support, West bids 2 and East might bid 3 although it is by no means a foregone conclusion that West will raise to game.

4 is a great contract but not at all easy to bid which I guess demonstrates the excellent pre-emptive value of opening 1NT.  If you look at all four hands, you can see that 4 plays very nicely and 12 tricks are possible on any lead.  Let's say West is Declarer in 4.  The most likely lead from North is the Queen of clubs which gives a trick away.  Any lead is potentially beneficial to Declarer but a diamond does the least damage so let's lead a diamond.  Declarer discards a club from dummy and wins with the Ace.  He then plays the Jack of hearts, covered by King and Ace.  Now return to dummy with the Ace of clubs and lead another trump through North and finesse.  The only loser is the Ace of spades.

Slight digression but, one way or another, 4 is not easy to reach.  Against Jeremy and me, Wini jumped to 3♠ after Jeremy's 1NT and played there.  Hearts were never mentioned.  

As East has 15 points, the best course of action is possibly to double 1NT.  South is likely to try to escape to 2 which hopefully East-West can manage to double for penalties as it probably goes three off for at least 800 and a very good score.

Back to reality and two pairs somehow managed to get to 4 (both played by West), making 11 tricks and one pair reached 4♠ (also played by West), making 11 tricks too.  One East played in 2♠ making 10 tricks, another East played in 3♠ making 11 tricks and one East played in 2 making 11 tricks.  Nobody defended a North-South contract which would have got the best result.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 11 April 2017

For my first hand of the evening (board 1) I was dealt the North cards and opened 1.  I rebid No Trumps but when Jason gave secondary preference, I was a little concerned that spades had not been bid so opted to play in a 4-3 heart fit and hope for the best.

Alun led a small diamond which, when dummy went down, I assumed was a singleton.  I was even more surprised when Eira ruffed and wondered what on earth I was in for as I could see this all going badly wrong!  Despite the surprise I nevertheless unblocked my king of diamonds to ensure a later entry to dummy.  

I was expecting a club switch and wondering what I would do but Eira played a spade which I won in dummy.

From dummy I played the 10 of hearts and let it run.  A bit of good news, it held, so I played another heart and Eira popped up with the Queen so I drew the remaining trumps.

I now played a diamond towards dummy and Alun correctly ducked otherwise I would have made all the remaining diamonds for a fair few discards.  Now in dummy, it was my one and only opportunity to take a hopeful club finesse so ran the 9.  Another sigh of relief so, still in dummy, I played the Queen and out came the King which I won with the Ace.  All I had to lose now was the Ace of diamonds and a spade and 4 was in the bag.

Looking at the North-South hands together I was very pleased I had opted for the 4-3 heart fit as 3NT would have been crucified on a spade lead.  At that point I heard Eira say she had a six card spade suit which meant Alun only had three and would possibly not have found a spade lead against 3NT by North!

There was a very mixed bag of results, probably because other Norths were also bothered by their poor spade holding.  Contracts were 4♣ by North, making 10 tricks, 2NT by North making 12 tricks (so no spade lead here), 3NT by North making 11 tricks (so no spade lead here either), 3♠ by West going one off, 4  by North making 10 tricks and 4♠ by West, doubled, going two off.

Clearly some Wests got into the bidding with their spades which would either have had the effect of buying the contract or inhibiting North-South from getting into No Trumps as a spade lead would now have been certain.

The best contract is 4 by North as it is the only game that cannot be defeated.  Interesting and unusual.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 11 April 2017

Sitting North on board 17, I opened 1NT on a very innocuous looking hand and the bidding then went ballistic!  Playing against James and Kathy, Jason's 3 cue bid was 'Staymanic' and denied a stop in diamonds and the rest of the auction was natural, quickly spiralling up to 5♠.

On a heart lead, it wasn't terribly difficult to make all 13 tricks.  North-South can also play in hearts but must lose a diamond trick at some point so the maximum in hearts is 12 tricks.

East-West can sacrifice in either of the minors.  In clubs they must lose three tricks, a spade, a heart and a diamond but in diamonds they could lose a fourth trick as South can ruff a club.  In fact if North-South get their defence spot on, they could make five tricks against a diamond contract - South leads a spade to the Ace and gets a club ruff, South now underleads his Ace of hearts to North's King and gets a second club ruff then North cannot be prevented from making his Ace of trumps!

So whether a sacrifice is profitable by East-West depends on how high North-South end up.  The results on the traveller were as follows:

4 by North making 11 tricks; 3♠ by North making 10 tricks; 4♠ by South making all 13 tricks; 3♠ by North making just 9 tricks; 5♠ by North making all 13 tricks and 4♣ by West just making.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 4 April 2017

As is so often the case in Bridge, the opening bid is fairly uniform, then the bidding heads off in all sorts of directions.

I was sitting South after East (Sally Miller) opened 1♣ on board 10.  I overcalled 1NT (showing 15-18 points and a club stop).  Not ideal but I didn't want to make a take-out double with a doubleton spade.  2♣ from partner (John) was Stayman and his raise to 3 was invitational.  I pressed on to 4 as the vibes felt good, hoping to find John short in clubs opposite my poor holding and therefore to have values elsewhere.

Charles duly led a club and Sally won the first two rounds then, looking at dummy, switched to the 9 of spades.  Time to take stock.  There's a bit of work to do but barring a five nil trump break and a successful location of the Queen of diamonds, the contract is sound.  I played a low spade from hand and Charles won with the Queen, leaving Jx in dummy.  Charles now exited with a trump to which everyone followed (phew!).

Time to take stock again.  Sally's 9 of spades looks like 'top of nothing'.  Charles's reluctance to continue spades also strongly implied he must have the King of spades.  Sally opened the bidding and was therefore almost certain to have the Queen of diamonds.

The hand is now an open book really - Win the heart in hand, ruff a club in dummy (Charles discarded a diamond), then play a small diamond to the nine.  Now ruff your last club with the Ace of trumps (to unblock the suit) then return to hand with dummy's last trump and draw all the remaining trumps.  The last three tricks are the Ace of spades and Ace King of diamonds.  The four one trump break presented no problem.

Other Declarers made only 9 tricks in hearts (either in 2 plus 1 or 4 minus 1) and two Souths played in No Trumps, once in 1NT, making 8 tricks and the other time in 3NT which went three off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 28 March 2017

It's intriguing how sometimes the strongest hand at the table doesn't bid.  I was sitting South on board 20 and when West opened and East responded at the two level, I could not expect much to be in partner's hand so I kept quiet.  Then when East gave preference to West's spades, I wondered if we might be able to compete in hearts but the bidding had got too high to take the risk.  I therefore found myself in the frustrating position of not having been able to bid anything despite my 17 points!

Against 2♠ by West, Jeremy led the 6 of hearts.  Marjorie played the Ace from dummy, I played the 5 and she played the 7 from hand.  This indicated that Jeremy must have led from a doubleton as from J10x he would have led the Jack or from Jxx or 10xx he would have led the lowest card.  (Playing low from dummy might have been better as South cannot continue attacking hearts without giving a trick away).

Marjorie now played the diamond from dummy and successfully finessed her Queen.  She then cashed the Ace and ruffed a diamond in dummy.

Next Marjorie played a small club from dummy and ruffed it in hand followed by another diamond, ruffed in dummy and overruffed be me with the Jack.

At this point I cashed King and Queen of hearts (Jeremy discarding a club) followed by the nine which was ruffed by Marjorie and overruffed by Jeremy.

Jeremy returned a club to the King and Ace which Marjorie ruffed.

This led to an interesting three card ending.  Marjorie (West) held ♠K9 9, Jeremy (North) held ♠AQ2, dummy (Carolyn, East) held ♣963 and I (South) held ♠3 ♣QJ.  Marjorie led the nine of diamonds, Jeremy ruffed with the 2 of trumps, dummy discarded and I overruffed with the 3 of trumps.  Yes it is unusual to overruff partner but it saved him from being endplayed from his Ace Queen of trumps and we were now able to take the last three tricks to take 2♠ two off.

It is not surprising with a hand like this that the bidding would have varied considerably, hence quite a range of contracts.  The cards lie reasonably benignly if North-South find themselves playing in No Trumps but there is a bit of a shortage of entries to the North hand to keep playing clubs through East.

The contracts were as follows:

2♠ by West just making; 2NT by North just making; 2♠ by West going two off; 2 by South going three off; and 3NT by East going four off.

The most sensible contract by East-West is 2♠ though its success depends a bit on how the defence goes.  If North-South do manage to get into the auction, a part-score in No Trumps is the most likely successful outcome though again it depends on how the play goes.  An initial diamond lead is probably the most damaging to Declarer.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 21 March 2017

Looking at the North-South cards from board 11 above, you can see that all 13 tricks can be made in either hearts or clubs.  However, it's not the easiest of hands to bid and you have to be able to ascertain from the bidding that it fits like a glove as the combined number of high card points is only 29.

Jeremy and I bid as above.  The 3♠ is a cue bid or 'splinter' agreeing hearts as 2♠ would have been spades and forcing, a 'responder's reverse'.  4♣ is also showing a control, as is 4.  4NT is Roman Key Card Blackwood and the response of 5♠ shows two (or five) Aces plus the Queen of trumps.

It's a fine slam though with nothing much to spare but now let's look at the East-West hands.  In the above auction it was assumed they remained silent but suppose East decides to wade in with 2♠.  South would either pass or bid 3♣ but West would now compete in spades.  In fact East-West can make eight tricks with spades as trumps so a reasonable sacrifice.  More importantly though, if East-West compete in spades, North-South will lose valuable bidding space and are unlikely to have the means of reaching their slam.

Not surprisingly, only three pairs reached a slam but nobody sacrificed in spades so maybe not many East-Wests intervened.  Three pairs played in 4, two making 12 tricks and one making 13.  Ironically, one pair reached 6 but went one off.  Then there were two pairs in 6♣, one just making and the other with an overtrick.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 21 March 2017

The above bidding for board 12 is just one of many possibilities.  West might open 1 instead of 3 or even pass.  If West opens 3 and East only raises to 4, this would give South an opportunity to bid 5 showing partner his void and this might enable North-South to reach 7♣ should they get pushed.

Even North's double of 6 is debateable.  North might instead decide to try 6♠ but that would be bold considering he is potentially looking at two diamond losers.

Really there are endless possibilities, depending on what the opponents bid and your own judgement and nerve.  East-West would go five off in 6 doubled for minus 1100 but that is cheap against a vulnerable 6♣ + 1 or 7♣ by North-South.

Not surprisingly there were diverse results on scoresheet - 6♠ by North making with an overtrick; two Norths played in 4♠ and made 12 tricks; one North played in 4♠ and made 13 tricks;  one North only got as far as 3♠ and made 12 tricks and one North played in 5♣ doubled and made two overtricks for a score of 1150.  Nobody played in diamonds by East-West. 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 14 March 2017

Have you heard of an 'upper cut'?  If not, read on...

This was board number 1 and, depending on style and no trump range, some Souths would open 1NT and probably be left to play there.

At our table, South opened 1 which is also perfectly reasonable and followed with a rebid of 2 and was left to play in that.

Sitting West, I was on lead so, as I'm sure most people would, I played off three top clubs, partner petering to show his doubleton and discarding the 9 of hearts on the third round of clubs.

On the basis of this, some Wests would now duly switch to a heart but pause a moment for a quick think.  You have 12 points, dummy only 7 and Declarer's 1 followed by 2 is not all that inspiring, probably no more than 14 points.  Therefore partner must have something in the region of 7 to 9 points, none of which are in clubs.  Quite a lot of information here one way or another.

You have a rather unexciting trump holding, 10xx, dummy has two little ones, Declarer has 5, possibly 6, and therefore partner has 2 or 3.  The prospect of a trump trick doesn't look great as any honour partner may have is finessable.  Declarer's trumps might be AKQJx but it's more likely that partner has an honour.

Back to the play so what do you do after playing off three rounds of clubs?  You might think about switching to a heart or a spade but in defence it often helps to use a bit of imagination.  How about playing another round of clubs so partner can ruff dummy's 10 instead of it later providing Declarer with a discard?  You therefore play a club which you know partner can ruff and Declarer overruff.  However, partner should not ruff with any old trump but with a high one, in this case the Queen.  This is known as an 'uppercut' as he is enticing Declarer to overruff with a top trump which has the effect of promoting your innocuous looking 10 of diamonds into a winner!  Without this play, the defence have no trump tricks.

Declarer overruffed the Queen with the King and then played off Ace and Jack of diamonds.  He then played another diamond which I won with my 10.  Now it was time for the heart switch.  This was won by partner's King.  He then returned a heart to Declarer's Jack, my Queen and dummy's Ace.  A spade was played which partner won with the Ace.  He then played a third round of hearts, enabling me to make another trick with a ten!

Much as it's tempting to overruff the club, Declarer could have done a little better by discarding a losing heart instead.  He would now have been able to draw all the trumps with his Ace, King and Jack.

2 going two down was a good score for the defenders.  2 also went two off at two other tables, possibly on a similar defence, one Declarer managed to go just one off whilst two other pairs played in 1 making.  The other two pairs played in 1NT.  Both made it but one of the times it was doubled.  

All the above contracts were played by North or South but at one table it was completely different.  Jeremy Crouch played in 1NT from the West seat and made nine tricks.  I don't know what the bidding was but North's opening lead was a spade.  South won with the Queen and returned the 10 at trick 2.  

Jeremy pointed out a good defensive tip for South.  At trick 2 South should play the King of diamonds.  This provides vital information to partner so that when North regains the lead, he can play a diamond through dummy's Qx.

If South now finds a heart switch to North's Ace, North can return a diamond, enabling South to wrap up the rest of the diamonds and the potential to defeat 1NT with a spade, five diamonds and a heart.  More likely is that South would play back a spade at trick 3.  This enables Declarer to take three spade tricks and cash Ace, King and Queen of clubs but providing, North whips up with the Ace of hearts at first opportunity and switches to a diamond, 1NT is destined to go one off.  Clearly none of this happened against Jeremy and I suspect the defence made very few diamond tricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 7 March 2017

Board 24 was pretty representative of this week's rather fiddly cards.  The East-West pairs, despite holding a combined 26 points, often struggled to reach a game contract and in fact no game is cast iron.  The choices would be between clubs, spades and no trumps.

In clubs there is a heart loser, a diamond loser and probably something else somewhere as, despite a 3-2 trump break, with the Queen both doubleton and onside, it is nevertheless only a 4-4 trump fit and there are a number of losers to cater for.  Having said that, as the cards lie, with the king of diamonds out of the way, there are four diamond tricks.

In spades there are the same two losers plus a trump loser and if the defence keeps attacking hearts, Declarer might lose control.

At our table we played in 3NT after the above auction.  North led the 7 of hearts.

As you can see, looking at all four hands, there are four heart losers and the King of diamonds at least.  However, in practice, unless the defenders are watching the heart pips very closely, it is easy for the suit to get blocked which is in fact what happened.  The first trick consisted of the 7, Jack, Queen and Ace.  After winning the losing diamond finesse at trick 2, South returned the 3 of hearts, North won with the seven, thereby unblocking the suit.  The way to defeat the contract is for North to win with his 10, cash the King and for South to overtake the 8 with his 9 then make the 2.  North needed to notice that nobody had played the 2 of hearts on the second round.  Makes all the difference!

Interestingly enough, five pairs played in 3NT, three going off and another two pairs played in clubs.  Results on the traveller were 4♣ by West just making, 3NT by East going one off, 3NT by West just making (twice), 3NT by East going one off, 3NT by West going two off or three off and 5♣ by West going three off.  Quite a mixed bag of bidding, play and defence!


Hand of the Week - Tuesday 28 February 2017

How would you bid the East-West hands?  The bidding is never easy when the two opposite hands both have long suits but don't appear to fit.

6♣ or 6 can be made but not many reached slam level in a recent teams event.

As usual the bidding is likely to vary widely and even for the opening bid, some Wests started with just 1♣ and never caught up after that, only reaching game.

John and I bid as above.  It started OK as the 2♠ response is game forcing but, after 4♣ from John, I wasn't sure what to bid.  I didn't want to bid 4 for two reasons.  First the suit was very poor and secondly I was afraid it might be passed out when I was certain we had a slam on somewhere, hence the 4 bid.  In principle this could have been natural or a cue bid but at least it was forcing as we were not yet at game level.

South doubled and John could have bid 4 at this stage but decided to leave it to me to make the next move.  Once again, I wasn't sure what to bid as I didn't want to bid 4 for the same reasons as above, nor did I want to bid spades a third time.  I decided to redouble which in itself is ambiguous and I was concerned partner might think I was happy to play there.  These things can occasionally happen in unusual auctions!  Anyway John now sprung to life again and bid 4 which is a good description of his hand.  Having bid clubs twice up to the 4 level then eventually hearts, I thought he would be something like 7-4 in clubs and hearts and clearly had no interest at all in spades.

Still a bit concerned about my poor heart quality, I nevertheless opted for a jump to 6 and hoped for the best.

All was OK as, although the King of hearts was offside, it was the only loser as the losing diamond could be parked on the Ace of spades.

6♣ is actually a safer contract than 6 as it is not reliant on a reasonable behaviour of the heart suit but both slams are not easy to reach and 6NT would have been fatal on a diamond lead.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 21 February 2017

Typical opening leads against No Trumps are fourth highest of your longest suit, top of a sequence, and with no honours, top of nothing, second highest or MUD (Middle Up Down), depending on partnership agreement.  However, there are times when something a little more imaginative is required.

On board 18 East-West bid as above and Jeremy was on lead with the North cards.  Standard play would be to lead a fourth highest spade but wait a minute...

West (Sally Winterbourne) opened a 12-14 No Trump and following a Stayman sequence West showed four spades and, by inference, when East (Marjorie) went back to 2NT she showed four hearts and, with 23 points between them, they then settled in 2NT. 

All fine but, on the basis of that bidding, Jeremy decided against a spade lead and instead tried a heart a) because partner was marked with four hearts and b) because his own holding of ten nine doubleton was a good holding from which to launch an attack through dummy.

It worked a treat as Declarer played the Jack from dummy which I won with the Queen.  Similar situation on the other side of the table - As South I can tell that partner will have a five card spade suit so I switched to the Jack of spades.  Sally finessed the Queen which lost to the King.  Jeremy then returned the nine of hearts at trick 3 which was covered by the King and Ace.  I continued with my smallest heart which Sally won in hand with the eight but meant my 6 of hearts was now a master.

Discarding is also important in defence and Jeremy discarded the four of diamonds on the third round of hearts.  Sally next played the three of diamonds towards dummy, Jeremy following with the eight.  Having played his diamonds upwards, he shows an odd number (ie three in this case) so I was able to duck the first round of diamonds and take the second.

I cashed my master heart then switched back to my last spade.  Sally rose with the Ace and played a small club towards dummy's Jack but Jeremy went up with the King and was now able to cash three more spade winners and hold 2NT to just four tricks.  In defence we therefore made three hearts, four spades, one diamond and one club.

An opening spade lead would have been a different story altogether and got the defence off on the wrong foot.  Indeed one East-West pair reached 3NT and made it!

The results on the traveller were 3 by East going two off, 3NT by East just making, 2 by East going one off, 2NT by West going four off, 2NT by West making with an overtrick and 2 by East making with an overtrick.

It is often a good idea to take the bidding carefully into account when making your opening lead as the correct choice can sometimes make a huge difference as this hand demonstrates.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 14 February 2017

Board 23 was par for the course this week.  North-South have the requisite 25 high card points to be in the game zone but there are two lots of Ace King to be taken in defence which precludes anything beyond 3 No Trumps.  Looking at all four hands, 3NT is always there because the Jack of hearts comes down but if West bids clubs at any point, surely neither North nor South would be foolhardy enough to bid No Trumps.  Thus, in practice, the only making game is virtually impossible to reach!

As usual, the bidding could take all sorts of permutations but, one way or another, most Wests will compete.  Some Wests might even open 1♣ but otherwise, as at my table, a 2♣ overcall is enough to put the spanner in the works.  Having opened 1, North tones down his rebid after West bids 2♣.  Otherwise his rebid may have been 2NT.

The variety of contracts reflects the problems with the bidding.  One North reached 5 and went two off, presumably losing Ace King of spades and Ace King of clubs.

One North reached 3 just making.  One South played in 2NT and made two overtricks.  Two Norths ended up in 2, making nine tricks and two Souths attempted 3NT but both went three off!  I can only assume a club was led and Declarer went up with the Queen in dummy and got his just desserts.  Playing a low club in dummy guarantees a club trick and then, with a friendly lie of the hearts, Declarer had the potential to wrap up five hearts, four diamonds and a club if the defence hadn't immediately taken their four winners in clubs and spades.

As sometimes happens in Bridge, it can be very difficult to reach the optimum contract and this hand seemed fairly representative of the awkwardness of this week's hands.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 7 February 2017

On the face of it, board 9 looks like a fairly ordinary hand.  Yet, sitting West with 14 points and hearing the bidding proceed 1, double, 2, it felt like there were too many points in the pack!

With partner doubling for take-out, holding the West cards you would expect to have enough values for game but the problem is you do not have four spades, nor do you have a stop in either hearts or diamonds.  Not knowing where we were going I therefore cue-bid 2 to get more information from partner.  Playing opposite Jason against Nadia and Carole, Nadia continued by bidding 3 which was passed round to me.  I now bid 4♣ which I intended to be forcing but was not all that surprised when it was passed out.

Looking at all four hands, you might notice that East-West can make 3NT from five clubs, Ace King of spades and the two red Aces.  However, getting to it with opposition bidding is not at all easy.

Playing in 4♣ was actually quite interesting.  Nadia led the 10 of diamonds.  Knowing it would fail, I nevertheless finessed the Queen which lost to the King.  Hoping this was a singleton, Carole returned a diamond so my nine won the trick.  

I now proceeded to draw trumps but Nadia showed out so I crossed to dummy's Ace of hearts and cashed the Ace of diamonds, discarding a losing spade.

The problem I now have is that although I needed to ruff a heart, I knew that Carole would be able to overruff.  I therefore led the Jack of clubs from dummy which was covered by the Queen.  It was wrong to cover in this instance as I was now able to ruff a heart with dummy's 10 of clubs and then draw all the outstanding trumps, losing just one heart at the end.  If South doesn't play the Queen of clubs, I cannot ruff a losing heart without encountering an overruff so I would have ended up with a heart loser.

Legitimately 5♣ should therefore fail, losing a diamond, a heart and a trump trick or a second heart which means that 3NT is the only makeable game for East-West.

Believe it or not, West being in 4♣ and making 11 tricks was a top.  Other contracts were 3♠ by West going three off for mnus 300, 3 by North just making for plus 140 (happened twice), 3♠ by North going two off for minus 100, 3♣ by West just making for plus 110 and 4 doubled by North going one off for minus 100.

The bidding was clearly quite competitive everywhere, hence no East-West being able to find their best spot, despite holding 26 high card points between them with stops in all the suits.  A surprisingly difficult hand, particularly from a bidding point of view.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 31 January 2017

It's not surprising that everybody reached 3NT on board 2 as North-South have no suit fit but a combined 26 high-card points.

South was Declarer a couple of times but otherwise it was North.  As usual the bidding would have varied though generally South is likely to have started things off with 1♠.

At our table, playing against Alun and Eira, John led the 7 of clubs from the East hand.  This is not the worst lead in the world from Declarer's point of view and if you look at all four hands, you can see that the key to success is locating the 10 of spades.  If you do, there are four spade tricks, three clubs, two diamonds and a heart but No Trumps is often all about who manages to get their tricks first.

John's club lead went to my Queen and Alun's Ace.  Alun next tackled the spades by playing the Queen from his hand which John won with the Ace.  Looking at dummy and remembering my (dubious) double, John switched to the 9 of hearts.  Alun played low from dummy so I won with the Queen.  As we play 'second highest' from a poor suit without an honour, it was clear to me that John was leading from a doubleton heart and therefore Alun held 10xxx.  I therefore switched back to a small club which Alun won with the King.

The next trick was the critical one.  Alun played a spade towards dummy.  He now had to decide whether to play high from dummy or to finesse against the 10.  My double would imply spade shortage favouring the finesse, versus the possibility that the 10 of spades might fall at any time during the first three rounds of spades.  Decisions decisions...  Personally I would have taken the finesse as John had already shown up with the Ace of spades and my double was therefore done on a 10 count and must be on some shape so little liklihood of holding anything much in spades.

Anyway there was now a second spade loser but more importantly, when John got in again with his 10 of spades, he was able to have a third attack at the clubs and eventually I would get in with the Ace of hearts and finally make a club trick.  Two spades, two hearts and a club was one down.

This kind of hand really demonstrates the knife-edge of a No Trump contract where an extra entry by the defence can be enough to gain a tempo and defeat the contract.  For any Declarer who picked up the 10 of spades or any defence that didn't persist in a club attack, 3NT was likely to be safe.  Three pairs made 3NT with an overtrick, two made it on the nose and three pairs went off. 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 24 January 2017

Having reached a very reasonable 4♠, you receive the Queen of clubs lead from West.  How would you tackle the hand?

The club lead is good for the defence and it looks as though you will lose a club, a heart and a trump but you need to make sure it is only one trump loser and not two.

There is no reason not to crack on with drawing trumps so you lead the Ace.  However, if you continue with the King, it's curtains and you will go down when the trumps break four-one.

To ensure against either defender holding four trumps, the second round of trumps has to be low to the Jack.  If West holds four trumps, you are fine but in this actual lie of the cards, East holds the four outstanding trumps so beats your Jack with his Queen and then returns a club back to his partner.

You rise with the Ace and play a diamond to dummy, followed by a small spade through East, taking the marked finesse with your 9 of spades and then draw East's last trump.  Next you play your King of diamonds followed by another diamond to dummy and on dummy's last diamond you can discard a losing club.  You make your 4♠ by losing a club, a heart and a trump.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 17 January 2017

Having reached the excellent contract of 7, West leads the King of clubs and on a reasonably benign lie of the cards, you would make it with the greatest of ease.  However, if you look at all four hands, you will probably find you have gone off due to the five-nil diamond break and four-nil trump break.  Nevertheless, looking at all four hands, you can actually make 7.  Can you see how?

If you either discard a spade or ruff in dummy, you will go down as you cannot draw West's trumps without incurring a diamond ruff.  You therefore need to discard a diamond from dummy and win the opening club lead in hand.

Then play a trump to dummy, cash the Ace of spades and ruff a spade.  

Play a second trump to dummy and ruff dummy's last spade.  Now play your last trump to dummy and cash dummy's last two trumps, drawing West's remaining trumps and discard the Ace and King of diamonds from hand.  You can now run all dummy's diamonds and make your contract.

Tuesday 10 January Duplicate

There were some tricky hands to bid and play this week and East-West had the lion's share of the good cards.

There were a couple of slams though each one was only bid twice.  On board 4 two East-West pairs managed to reach 6♣ and on board 2 all 13 tricks could be made in hearts, though only two North-South pairs managed to bid even to 6.  The bidding was quite unusual at our table as every player bid spades!  I opened 1 on the South hand, Marian jumped to 2♠, Jeremy bid 3♠, Tricia bid 4♠ and I bid 5♠!  Marian then passed and Jeremy bid 6 which was the final contract.  Interestingly enough however, at non-vulnerable against vulnerable, East-West have a good sacrifice in 6♠ as this only goes three off... providing of course North-South don't bid to 7 which makes!  The hand is shown above.

For this week's 'Hand of the Week' I have picked board 16 which was mostly played in 3NT (see below).

Well done Marian and Tricia who were first with 60.1%.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 10 January 2017

After East-West had bid to 3NT on board 16, South with a not unreasonable hand, could not expect partner to have very much.

The bidding often provides some vital information to assist the opening lead.  With 11 points and with East having advertised 20-22, it is probably not a good idea to lead away from any of those Kings.  A fourth highest heart therefore looks the most likely to find some help from partner and not give anything away to Declarer.

Declarer played low from dummy and partner went up with the Queen which was beaten by the Ace.

Declarer now played Ace and Jack of diamonds.  It's important to duck the Jack of diamonds as clearly Declarer is trying to set up diamond tricks in dummy and access dummy via the Ace of clubs.

Sitting North, Jeremy 'petered' in diamonds and as we play 'Smith Peters', this does not signal a doubleton diamond but a liking for my opening lead.

Still in hand, Declarer played a club to the Jack and Ace then played a spade and finessed the Queen which lost to the King.  

I now played the Jack of hearts which Declarer won with the King but when I got in with the King of clubs, I continued with hearts.  Jeremy overtook and made the rest of his hearts.  To add insult to injury, we made another spade at the end and 3NT went two off.

No doubt there were various leads and anything other than a heart is helpful to Declarer.  Two other pairs went one off in 3NT but two others made it, one with an overtrick.  There was also one pair making 10 tricks in 4♠ in a 5-2 spade fit, though on good defence I think this should have gone one off too.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 3 January 2017

The high card points on board 4 were distributed 23 to East-West and 17 to North-South.  Other things being equal, you might not expect anyone to be in game, yet on this hand both sides bid to game and the hand actually belonged to the side with the fewest high-card points.  

As is so often the case, distribution reigns supreme over high cards and the value of pre-empting on the South hand is the resulting chaos where nobody is really sure what to do for the best.

As usual the bidding is likely to have varied considerably.  West will open 1 and, after North's pass, East will either respond 1 or 2♣.  South now has to decide what to bid or whether to bid at all.  It's not a good hand but with spades as the suit, it makes a pre-empt even more effective.  After 3♠, a lot of bidding space has gone and West has to decide whether to repeat diamonds, pass or support partner's hearts.  Anything could be right (or wrong).

A heart contract would have been disastrous and the hand played better in diamonds.  However, from the bidding, it would not appear that East-West were the sacrificers.  They were though as 5 doubled was beaten by the loss of three hearts and a spade for minus 500.  Bad result for East-West?  Not necessarily as North-South can make 4♠, losing just two clubs and a diamond, providing Declarer takes the right view in trumps and plays for the drop rather than the finnesse.

In practice, the bidding did not always gather such momentum so the 5 sacrifice was not a good result as only one North-South pair played in 4♠.  The results on the traveller were 4 by West going one off (happened twice), 3♠ by South making plus two, 4♠ by South making and 5 doubled by West going two off.