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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 2018
Hand of the Week - Tuesday 18 December 2018

The above hand was board 10 and although it had the potential to have been passed out, it never was and I guess that West generally opened 1♣, as I did.  This resulted in a bit of a competitive ding-dong and spades normally rules the roost and did so in five instances.  North's 2♠ bid in the above auction was described as weak.

Playing in spades, there are four unavoidable losers, two diamonds, a heart and a club.  However, a couple of East-Wests competed to 4♣ which also looks to have four losers,  two hearts, a spade and a diamond.  Going one off in 4♣ against 3♠ making the other way is a good sacrifice unless it gets doubled in which case one off doubled vulnerable is expensive.

The defence to 4♣ is not particularly difficult but easy to mistime and get wrong.

I received an opening spade lead from North which is quite normal.  South won and played another which was ruffed.  I now played a top club and another to dummy.  Leaving the last trump out, I played a small heart from dummy and finessed the Jack, losing to the Queen. North played another spade which I ruffed in hand.

I now played a diamond to dummy and another heart from dummy.  South rose with the Ace and played a third round.  Everyone followed and I won in hand with the King.  I then drew the last trump and played the 13th heart, throwing dummy's losing diamond, losing just one spade and two hearts.

To defeat 4♣, South needed to attack diamonds at trick 2 instead of continuing with a spade.  The Ace and King of diamonds can then be knocked out before Declarer has the chance to set up his hearts for the diamond discard.

Nevertheless one off in 4♣ was not going to score well for North-South unless they had doubled it.  In the event 4♣ doubled would have made on the above defence but actually 4♣ undoubled, allowing East-West to score plus 130 was a bottom anyway.

Quite a fiddly competitive part-score.  Not easy to judge when to compete and when to stop.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 11 December 2018

Although South has a fine looking hand, the combined high-card strength is only 31 points so, with no fit, it was a marginal slam.  Brian and Helen were one of the two pairs to reach 6NT via the above bidding.  Presumably Helen’s 3♣ response promised some additional values, encouraging Brian to jump to 6NT.

Sitting West I didn't fancy leading a diamond, nor a spade and, Brian had bid hearts I didn't like that either so opted for a small club which went Jack, King, Ace.  With the King of clubs and Queen of diamonds sitting well from Declarer's point of view, 12 tricks rolled in fairly comfortably.

Most pairs played in 3NT except for one pair who played in 4♠ on a 4-3 fit, making 11 tricks for a bottom.  Two pairs however managed to make all 13 tricks and actually, as the cards lie, there are always 13 tricks if played carefully.

Holding the West cards I was feeling squeezed with my two queens and the 10 of clubs and not without reason...

Whatever the opening lead, Declarer can take the diamond finesse and play back the Jack of clubs (which East has to cover).  If Declarer now plays off his five heart winners, West has to find two discards.  He cannot afford to let go of a diamond or a club otherwise Declarer makes an extra trick in either of those suits - By discarding a club, Declarer would make his 9 and by discarding a diamond, Declarer would make an extra diamond trick in dummy.  West is therefore forced to discard two spades, baring his Queen.

Meanwhile Declarer discards a spade, a club and a diamond from dummy.

After the hearts, Declarer can now play a spade to dummy's King, swallowing West's Queen and allowing him to gobble up East's Jack on the way back.  This gives Declarer three spades, five hearts, three diamonds and two clubs.

Three No Trumps making with four overtricks would have been a very respectable score.  Obviously 6NT scored better but had the King of clubs or Queen of diamonds not been right, 3NT would still have scored well but 6NT would have been poor.  Quite an interesting hand...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 27 November 2018

Looking at all four hands on board 14 above, it's no wonder every Declarer got a minus score. 

A heart contract by North-South has lukewarm potential but East-West can easily get a bit of a cross-ruff going and take a fair few tricks.  Diamonds by East-West suffers a bad trump break so is not great either.  Spades was an even bigger disaster. 

In fact nothing much makes anywhere and with the points split 21 to North-South and 19 to East-West one might not expect anyone to get too high.  Wrong!  Nobody was in anything less than the three level and I guess this reflects the distributional lie of the cards coupled with the fact that everyone tends to bid fairly aggressively these days.

The scoresheet was not a pretty sight!  We had West in 3♠ doubled going one off; South in 3 going two off; West in 4♠ going two off; West in 3♠ going two off; West in 4♠ doubled going three off; South in 4 going two off; West in 5♠ doubled going three off; and West in 4♠ going three off.

Interesting that sometimes spades was doubled and other times it wasn't.  No doubt the bidding would have been different at every table.  At our table 4♠ wasn't doubled for fear of retreat to a superior contract such as 5 which could have been a possibility.

As for the right contract, I really have no idea as both sides have pre-emptive type hands and both want to push the other side over the edge... 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 20 November 2018

The above hand was board 2 and before looking at the bidding and final contracts, let's look at the four hands and see what was actually makeable...

The lie of the cards is very much in East-West's favour and because of that they can make 4 - The hearts break 2-2 and the Ace of clubs is right.

For North-South it's a different story.  The King of clubs and King of diamonds are both wrong and the spades break badly so 4♠ would go two off.

The above bidding was at our table and this is one of those deals where there appear to be too many points in the pack.  Interesting to note that the only making game is in hearts but neither East nor West bid them at all.  Indeed the bidding is likely to have been very varied, hence a multitude of contracts which were as follows:

4♠ by South going four off for minus 400; 3 by North just making for plus 110 (the only making contract); 5 by East going one off for minus 50; 5♣ doubled by West going three off for minus 500; 4♠ by South going three off for minus 300 (happened twice); 3NT by South going one off for minus 100; 4♠ by South going four off for minus 400; and 3NT by North going three off for minus 300.

One possibility is for West to make a Michaels Cue bid of 2♠ over 1♠.  This shows hearts and a minor, at least 5-5, and would have very much encouraged East to bid up in hearts.

I guess this hand was never destined to be a flat board...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 13 November 2018

On the above hand (board 22), many Wests would open 1NT and East would do a weak take-out in spades (probably via a transfer) and be allowed to play there.  Nine tricks or thereabouts would not be too tall an order and demonstrating the great pre-emptive strength of the weak No Trump, coupled with a takeout into spades.

With the above bidding however, East-West were clearly playing a strong No Trump and therefore West opened 1♣ allowing North to wade in with a double.  East bid 1♠ but South then jumped to 3 (which does not promise the earth) and the damage was done.

In competitive auctions there are so often contracts up for grabs for both sides and this hand was no exception.  I am sure many Souths would think it was sufficient to just bid 2 but if he does, West is now quite comfortable to compete with 2♠ and if North competes with 3, East will probably bid 3♠ due to his singleton diamond and 5-5 in the majors.

It often pays to be a little bit pushy in a competitive auction and South's jump to 3 was enough to deter West from showing three-card spade support and if West doesn't support, East can't continue and North-South capture the auction.

Nine tricks were quite easy for South playing in 3 and got a good score.

The best score for North-South was North somehow having managed to play in 1NT, making with an overtrick when the defence didn't find their five spades and the Ace of hearts.  Five pairs managed to capture the auction in diamonds though one overshot and went for 500 in 4 doubled.  The other four East-West pairs were allowed to play in 2♠  making 8, 9 or even 10 tricks for a good score.

Clearly there would have been a variety of bidding going on but I expect those who played in spades resulted from West opening 1NT and those who played in diamonds either jumped as I did or West failed to support East's spade bid or maybe East didn't actually bid.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 6 November 2018

On board 10 (shown above) most pairs played in 2♠ and the bidding in the table would have been fairly typical.  However, four pairs played in 3♠ and one reached 4♠ and made it.

With this kind of hand there is always scope for a variety of plays by both Declarer and the defence but the purpose of this article is to work out a defensive strategy.

Against 2♠ played by South, West decided on the Queen of clubs lead which Declarer won with the King and partner contributing the 5.  At trick 1 it is immediately apparent to West that Declarer holds ♣AKx and partner ♣xxx.  East can also tell that Declarer has the Ace and King of clubs.

At trick 2 Declarer played the Ace of trumps so already he has accounted for 11 of his 12-14 points.

Declarer decided now to cash the Ace of Clubs, then played the Queen of hearts at trick 4. 

The hand was now an open book to both East and West.  By counting Declarer's high card points, both East and West were able to work out what each other held in terms of top cards.

Knowing East held the Ace of hearts, King of diamonds and King of trumps, West decided to cover the Queen of hearts with his King.  He then cashed his Jack of clubs to which everyone followed.

Dummy was now left with ♠QJ987 and QJ8.

It might have seemed tempting for West to switch to diamonds but that would have set up a diamond winner in dummy.  West therefore exited with a heart towards partner's known Ace and dummy ruffed.

Declarer next played the Queen of spades from dummy which East took with his King and played another trump which was won in dummy.

Declarer was now forced to lead a diamond away from QJ8 so played the Queen.  West won with the Ace and played back a diamond but partner's K10 was sitting over dummy's J9.

Declarer therefore lost one spade, one heart, one club and three diamonds to go one off in 2♠.

+100 for East-West was a very good score as nearly all the scores were in the North-South column with three pairs making eight tricks, two making nine and two making ten.

The whole of East-West's defence was based on having totted up Declarer's high card points and being able to work out the hand from there.  This may appear difficult but it isn't really, just takes practice, a bit of concentration and a disciplined approach to the way you play your cards in defence.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 30 October 2018

The above bidding on board 18 was fairly aggressive.  South 'broke' the transfer which encouraged North to cue bid.  South joined in and very soon 6♠ was reached.

When West led the King of hearts and dummy went down, the slam didn't look terribly good as there was a heart loser and, even with the diamond finesse right, probably a diamond loser as well.  Not great and those who played along those lines were to be disappointed as the King of diamonds was offside.

However, there was one further possibility to give the contract an extra chance of success.  If the King of clubs were to come down in three rounds, this would enable two hearts to be discarded from dummy and no heart loser.

On winning the opening heart lead, Declarer needs to get straight on with the clubs by ruffing one in dummy.  Return to hand with a trump and ruff a second club in dummy.  Back to hand with another trump and play the Ace of clubs, felling the King and discarding one of dummy's remaining hearts, then play the Queen of clubs and discard dummy's last heart.  You now have just one diamond trick to lose and 6♠ makes.

All North-Souths played in spades, three in game and five in slam.  All three who were in game made 11 tricks and two of the five in slam went one off so they obviously didn't spot the extra chance in clubs.

It's always worth looking for that extra little chance as even in 4♠, the additional overtrick is very valuable in terms of matchpoints.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 23 October 2018

The bidding on board 13 will no doubt have varied from what is shown above and some East-Wests may even have competed in spades where they can make eight tricks.

The North-South hands fit together well but are only really worthy of game rather than slam as the quality of the hearts is not good enough.  Having said that, looking at all four hands, the hearts broke impeccably for Declarer leaving just the Ace of spades to lose... ...unless East finds a club lead to give his partner a ruff at trick 1 followed by a spade switch at trick 2.

At our table Jeremy Baker, sitting North received a diamond lead and made all 13 tricks.  At table 7 Mac and Bo reached 6 played by South.  Alan led a spade to Jill's Ace and she now found a club switch for Alan to ruff.  Very unlucky for Declarer.

Looking at all four hands, there is one slam that cannot be defeated as the cards lie and that is 6♣ as no ruff is possible but nevertheless its success is due to the fortuitous lie of the hearts.

All North-Souths played in hearts, twice by North and six times by South, making anything between 11 and 13 tricks depending on the defence.  I think it's fair to say that whether you got a good or bad result on this board was rather down to luck.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 16 October 2018

Looking at the East-West hands in isolation (board 2 above), a contract of 6 or even 6NT look very promising indeed.  However, when you look at all four hands, prospects do not look so good and it is far easier to go off than make.

South leads the Queen of clubs against 6 and when the Jack of hearts appears at trick 2, the alarm bells start ringing, a 4-1 trump break.  Things still look manageable as there is the possibility of a spade ruff in hand.  The problem is that South also only has two spades and, if that’s not enough, he is void in diamonds.  The spade finesse is a fallback but that is wrong too.  All in all pretty horrible and in practice Declarer is likely to fail.

The main difficulty with this hand is that the diamonds look a much better proposition than the spades but because South has the 10 of spades, playing on spades happens to work better.

An unlikely line of play at the table but, after winning the Ace of trumps at trick 2, if Declarer now plays a spade to his King at trick 3, then plays a spade at trick 4, he is home and dry.  The 10 appears from South so he goes up with the Ace, draws the outstanding trumps and gives up a spade to the Queen.  His 12 tricks are three spades, four trumps, three diamonds and two clubs.

The scores on the traveller were as follows:

6 by East going one off (happened twice); 4 by East making with two overtricks (happened twice); 4 by West going one off; 6 by East making; 3NT by East making with an overtrick; 7NT by East going one off; 6NT by East going one off; and 5 by East making with an overtrick.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 9 October 2018

Judging by all the different scores on board 21, this was a tough hand to bid and play.  Jeremy and I played this hand against Mac and Bo and the auction proceeded as above.

Mac and Bo reached a sensible contract of 5 but were unlucky to find the bad break in diamonds which meant they had to go one off, losing two trumps and the Ace of spades.

I would imagine that at most tables the bidding would have started with South opening 1NT but clearly after that all sorts of bidding must have taken place.  One North played in 3  and went two off for minus 200; one South was in 2 also going two off; one East played in 3 and made ten tricks; another East played in 3♣ for the same score; one lucky West played in 2♣ doubled and made ten tricks for a score of plus 380; two not so lucky pairs ended in a good contract of 5 but went one off doubled due to the bad lie of the cards.

Looking at all four hands, 3NT looks safe as the cards lie, though in practice neither the declarer play nor the defence would be easy.  

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 25 September 2018

Looking at all four hands on board 13 North-South can make 11 tricks in hearts and East-West can make 11 tricks in spades.  In practice things are rarely that straightforward so if North-South end up defending against spades and don't find a diamond lead, Declarer makes 12 tricks.

North is good for his 4 opening but if South had competed to 5, West would certainly continue to 5♠ and maybe North-South would then compete to 6.  Who knows East-West might carry on and bid 6♠ (and even make it).  With hands like this it is difficult to know when to stop and, as it happens, the par spot is 6 doubled by North going one off for minus 200.

Bearing that in mind, the Badger Farm scoresheet read as follows:

4 doubled by North making with two overtricks for plus 990;

4 doubled by North making with two overtricks for plus 990;

5 doubled by North making for plus 850;

4♠ by West making with two overtricks for plus 680 to East-West;

5 by North just making for plus 650;

5 doubled by North making for plus 850;

and 4♠ by West making with two overtricks for plus 680 to East-West. 

Judging by the first two results, it is not clear whether a double of 4 is penalties or takeout.  Traditionally it was penalties but these days many players play it as a takeout double and showing four spades.  Not easy but something to discuss with partner for another time.

The two East-West pairs who played in 4♠ presumably played 4 doubled as takeout and South did not compete.

And those East-Wests who doubled 5 did so with distributional hands and lack of trumps so maybe should not have been surprised to see Declarer make 11 tricks quite easily...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 18 September 2018

There is no doubt that pre-empts create a bit of chaos.  The theory behind them is to make it difficult for the opposition so they don't reach the right contract.  In the days of more gentle Bridge, a pre-empt might talk the opposition out of bidding a game or even a slam.  In an age of much more competitive bidding, the opposite is often the case and the opposition, not wanting to be outdone, sometimes push themselves too high.

Looking at board 9, after North opens 3, Easts would either let themselves be talked out of bidding or refuse to be talked out of it and compete with 3.  West with a not unreasonable 12 count will want to push on to game.  East-West are therefore liable to reach game on pretty slender values.  However, the bidding is revealing and can help to steer Declarer to the winning line of play.

There are three certain losers, a diamond, a club and the Ace of trumps so Declarer has to be careful (and lucky) not to lose a second trump trick.  Now for placing the cards...

North is likely to have seven diamonds (possibly six) headed by the King Queen and probably little else at that vulnerability.  The Ace of trumps will surely be with South and more than likely the Jack as well.  Declarer therefore needs to run the 10 of trumps to avoid losing two trump tricks.

However, there's even a bit more to planning the play than that.  If South holds AJx of hearts which is quite likely, once he's in with the Ace of trumps, he can play a second diamond and if North plays a third diamond, South makes his Jack by promotion.

Therefore the only winning line of play is to duck the opening diamond lead (though big red face if North opened 3 on an eight-card suit).  Win the second round of diamonds and now when South takes his Ace of trumps, he is cut off from partner and cannot get his diamond ruff.  He has to play a black card so you return to hand with the King of spades and draw the Jack of trumps with your King and Bob's your Uncle! 

Clearly the 3 opening had the desired effect as only one pair reached 4 but they didn't make it.

Other contracts were 3♠ by West going one off, 3NT by South going four off, 3NT by South going three off, 3 by North just making, 3 by East going one off and 3 by East just making.

Obviously a lot of different views in the bidding and not the easiest of hands to play either but an interesting one nevertheless.  Incidentally, 3 by North should have gone one off as there are five losers.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 11 September 2018

The above hand was board 1, an amazingly distributional deal.  The bidding could have been just about anything but was always going to be energetic.  I expect most Easts would have either made a weak jump overcall, as I did, or pre-empted in clubs.  Whichever, South would not have been deterred from bidding 4♠ and with such a strong hand, West would not have wanted to give in too easily.

The limit for North-South is 10 tricks in spades, losing two hearts and a ruff though every pair playing in spades made 11, even 12 tricks.

When East-West were permitted to play in clubs, they could make 12 tricks.

The play of the hand for both sides was relatively easy but the bidding could be tough as the above auction showed and it is not easy to judge whom the hand belongs to.

Three Souths who were allowed to play in 4♠ got the best scores.  They all made 11 tricks but once 4♠ was doubled for a score of 690.

Two Souths competed (sacrificed) to 6♠, once doubled and once not, both going one off.  Obviously not as good as those who played in 4♠ but still better than the opposition playing in clubs.

Three Easts played in 5♣, twice doubled, and all making 12 tricks.

Finally one East played in 6♣ doubled and made it for a score of 1090.

There was no defence to beat 6♣ and the best East-West could do if North-South continued to 6♠ was to cash Ace King of hearts then give partner a ruff but even that would only have yielded a paltry plus 300, the par score. 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 4 September 2018

The above hand was board 12 and North opens 1♠ on a nice looking hand with two very good quality suits plus a void in clubs.

For those of you who are familiar with a Jacoby 2NT, this hand is ideal, promising four card spade support and game forcing.  North makes a strong bid of 3♣ showing 16+ points, South bids 3 which asks for more information and North now bids 3NT to show a singleton or void club.  They are well on the their way...

However, let's assume you are not playing the Jacoby convention or any other type of 'Swiss' convention.  So how would you proceed?

The South hand is far too good for an immediate support of spades so you intend to give a 'delayed game raise' and therefore, for the time being, you just bid 2.  The bidding now proceeds as per the above table.

North jumps in hearts to show a strong hand.  Opposite a 2 level response, the jump in hearts is now game forcing and now South's 3♠ is a stronger bid than 4♠ as it leaves room for further exploration. 

North now bids 4♣, a cue bid showing first round control.  Clearly South realises this is a void and now bids 4 showing first round control in diamonds.

Looking at three small diamonds, that is everything North wants to hear and he now bids 4NT (Roman Key Card Blackwood).  South responds 5♠ showing two (or five) Aces and the Queen of trumps (a very important key card).  North now bids 5NT asking for Kings.  There are various styles of response but the one I play is that 6 shows the King of diamonds or the other two (hearts and clubs).  North can therefore tell this shows the King of diamonds and, with his excellent heart holding, there must now be an excellent play for 7♠.

Every North played in spades and made 13 tricks but clearly the bidding sequences varied considerably as one pair bid to 7♠, six pairs bid to 6♠ and three pairs only bid to 4♠.

There are a number of ways of getting there but without some cue bidding, it is unlikely you will. 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 28 August 2018

Looking at the above hand which was board 24, 6♠ looks to be a good contract and if you play Strong Acol Twos, North would start with 2♠.  Opposite this South has a good hand and should bid 3♠.  Remember that the negative response is 2NT so anything else is game forcing.  Therefore a bid of 3♠ by South is stronger than 4♠.  

This is known as the 'principle of fast arrival', ie when you are in a game forcing situation, if you get there quickly, it is a shutout and a lesser bid, in this case 3♠, leaves bidding space for further exploration.

Many players nowadays prefer to play Weak Twos.  This is fine, providing you have the necessary mechanisms in place to be able to handle strong hands like this.

There are all sorts of ways of bidding the North-South hands and the bidding depicted in the above table is just one way and following is an explanation of what it all meant.

With the North cards Jeremy opened 2♣ which shows either a game forcing hand or 23+ points of an Acol Two in a major.  The 2 response is in principle negative.  However, with a good hand like this, it is sometimes a good idea to bid 2 as a waiting bid to find out what kind of hand partner has.

The jump to 3♠ confirmed an Acol Two in spades as with a game force in spades Jeremy would have simply rebid 2♠.

The 4♣ bid is potentially slightly ambiguous.  It could be a club suit or it could be a cue bid agreeing spades.  It is quite likely to be the latter.  On this basis Jeremy further described his hand with a cue bid of 4.  

This was definitely music to my ears so I now continued with 4NT (Roman Key Card Blackwood) and, by inference, the 4NT bid implies spade agreement.  The 5 reply shows 1 or 4 Aces (including the King of spades).

Having opened an Acol Two in spades, 5 can hardly be one Ace so South can now promptly bid to 6♠.

The play of the hand presented no difficulties so everyone playing in spades made 12 tricks, losing one trump trick.  Four pairs reached 6♠ and three stayed in game.  One pair bid to 6 which is also a reasonable contract but scores less well than 6♠.

The best result on the board was for one pair playing in 6NT, making all 13 tricks.  6NT is actually a very poor contract as on a club lead and an accurate defence it is very unlikely to make unless Declarer finds an uncanny play of the diamond suit and brings it in for no losers.  I suspect what actually happened is that East must have carelessly let go of a spade whilst Declarer played off some diamonds which then enabled Declarer to bring all the spades in without a single loser.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 21 August 2018

The bidding at our table on board 3 was as depicted above.  Not the best of auctions but 4♠ is a sound contract and one more opimistic pair reached 6♠.  South would have been better to rebid No Trumps to show point count, then North can jump straight to 4 otherwise bid a forcing 3♠ to see what South says.

Several pairs made 12 tricks though several pairs didn't and two pairs reached an inferior 3NT which on a club lead is held to nine tricks.

On a combined 27 points, it is not surprising only one pair ventured beyond game but without a club lead, prospects for 12 tricks are pretty good.  With a fairly benign lie of the cards, the hearts can be set up to discard a club loser from hand.

If you were to reach 6♠ and receive a club lead, it all looks a bit grim but you can nevertheless make your 12 tricks.  Win the club lead and play a spade.  When the singleton King pops up, win the Ace and cash the Queen.  Now play three rounds of hearts, ruffing the third and luckily the opposition hearts break 3-3.  They need to!  Then cross to dummy's Ace of diamonds and play a fourth heart, discarding your losing club from hand.  West ruffs but it is too late.

One South played in 6♠ making, three Norths were in 4♠ plus 2, three Norths were in 4♠ plus one, and two Souths played in 3NT, one making 9 tricks and the other making 11.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 21 August 2018

The above hand was board 7.  There are various contracts up for grabs by both sides and the bidding is liable to vary considerably depending on what view each player takes.  

The above bidding was how it was at our table.  North's sub-standard opening might not be everyone's cup of tea but otherwise East would probably open 1♠ though it is conceivable that the hand could get passed out which it did once.

In competitive auctions, spades are often very powerful.  After 1 - 1♠ - Pass, some Wests might naively not bid in the hope that the opposition might bid on in hearts.  Occasionaly that might happen but what is more likely is that North will compete in a second suit and the opposition will find a fit.  If they do, they will either compete and capture the auction or push you up a level which may prove to be too high.

A pass by West in this instance would almost certainly have been followed by 2 by North and so the auction would have probably continued to 3 or 3♠.  The effect of West bidding 2♠ meant that North felt unable to bid again and South's dislike for hearts put him off bidding anything in fear of encountering a misfit.

Partly depending on whether or not North decided to open the bidding, there must have been many different auctions on this fairly simple hand as final contracts were as follows:

4 by North just making; 2♠ by East just making; 3 by North making ten tricks; 2♠ by East going one off; 2♠ by East making ten tricks; 3 by South making ten tricks; 5 doubled by North going two off; 2♠ by East going one off; and Passed Out.  Thus North-South being allowed to play in diamonds and getting ten tricks was a good score for them.  5 doubled was too high and a bottom for North-South but otherwise East playing in spades was reasonable for them, especially for one pair making ten tricks.

Spades are a good tactical weapon in the bidding.  On this hand, if you bid your spades you normally captured the auction but if you didn't bid them enough, it resulted in the opposition playing in diamonds.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 14 August 2018

The above hand was board 22 and you can't blame North for competing with 3 after East has opened 3 despite a rather paltry hand and, also under pressure, South optimistically raises to 4.

East leads the Ace of diamonds and prospects look grim indeed!  Clearly West has a singleton diamond, your spades are weak, the King of clubs is bound to be offside and there is the additional possibility of the opposition trying for a second diamond ruff and achieving a trump promotion when you have to ruff high in dummy.  Through no real fault of your own, you have landed in a dreadful contract and desperate measures are called for!! 

Occasionally the only option is to con your way out of a bad situation by trying to lure the opposition off the scent.  The first thing to do is to chuck the Queen of diamonds under the Ace at trick 1 to make it look like you're the one with the singleton and hope East will switch and leave your King of diamonds intact on the table.  Of course you are still hoping this won't be a spade switch!  (Note that if you are playing count or encouragement signals, why would West be playing the four of diamonds from a holding of 842?)

East duly switches to a club though even this could be a singleton so the hand is still fraught with danger.  Up with the Ace as you know West must hold the King.  Now play two rounds of trumps ending in dummy as you have to hope the last heart is with West.  Play a top club from dummy and hope West covers (West did) and ruff.  Luckily East followed suit.  Now draw the last trump and that priceless King of diamonds is still there as an entry to dummy to run the clubs for four more discards.  The dreadful 4 has now made with two overtricks!!

Well you need a bit of luck sometimes but you have to make the effort first. 

Despite being such a poor contract 4 by North was played five times and twice went one off, once went two off and once went three off.  Nobody played in diamonds.  One West went three off in 4♠ and the other contract was 3NT by South making with an overtrick.  

Interestingly enough, because East has a singleton spade and West a singleton diamond, I don't think 3NT can be beaten on any lead.  So we have a fit in a major where 4  can't make despite an ordinary break in the trump suit versus a 3NT which cannot be defeated.  What a bizarre hand!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 7 August 2018

As the cards lie (on board 8 above) 13 tricks can be made in diamonds, clubs or spades though clearly the best contract is diamonds as there is no reliance on having to pick up the Queen and Jack of clubs.  This board produced a very bizarre set of results with most East-West pairs ending up in a part-score!  Clearly not an easy hand to bid...

Whether East opens 1♣ or 1♠ is a matter of personal choice and partnership agreement.  The traditional approach is to open 1♣ but the more modern style is to open 1♠.  However, before any of that happens, some Norths may open with a weak 2 in hearts or a multi 2 which might well give East-West a bit of a headache!

The above bidding was at our table and could hardly be described as scientific.  Nevertheless East has a very good hand and did well to bid 4 over 3NT though ironically, had North bid hearts, this might just have encouraged East to push on towards a slam.

The playing of the hand was not difficult as Declarer wins the opening heart lead, draws trumps, then throws losers on the spades.

Whether or not to bid to a slam is a matter of personal choice as East takes a view on how strong his hand is.  He has two good suits and, providing partner has a reasonable diamond suit, prospects look good.  West on the otherhand does not have a good looking hand so is unlikely to get too excited.

One North played in 4 doubled which went three off, a good sacrifice against a slam but not against the opposition's game at equal vulnerability.

I'm not aware of the bidding at other tables but I guess the reason why so many pairs didn't even reach game is that either East didn't make a forcing bid or he did and West failed to recognise it.

A hand like this makes you realise how difficult Bridge can sometimes be and the scores below support that view...

3♠ by East making 12 tricks; 3♣ by East making all 13 tricks; 6 by West making all 13 tricks; 2♠ by East making 12 tricks; 4 doubled by North going three off for minus 500; 3♠ by East making 10 tricks (happened twice); and 4♠ by East just making.

The 4 sacrifice is theoretically a good one as it is three off versus a slam.  However, in practice it was a second bottom and to expect anything better would be playing in cloud cuckoo land!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 31 July 2018

If you look at the distribution of high card points on the above hand, which was board 11, it is pretty even with East-West holding 21 and North-South 19.  However, there is nothing much else that is even about the hands and with the distribution and fits, the number of high card points is very much a secondary consideration.

Looking at all four hands, North-South can make nine tricks in clubs but East-West can make game in either major.

As is normally the case with hands like this, the bidding will no doubt have varied considerably.

I was sitting South and in high card points, the hand is too strong to open 3♣ but three of the points are a singleton king and opening 1♣ felt almost like a waste of time so I opened 3♣ first in hand non-vulnerable.  Sitting North, Jeremy made a very tactical bid of 3NT.  As far as everyone else was concerned this could have been a strong hand but what he was actually doing was strengthening the effect of the pre-empt as with ♣Kxxx he was sure the opposition would otherwise be competing and with 11 clubs between us, we would have very little defence.

Jeremy's tactical 3NT had the desired effect as it ended the auction.  He went one off but that was a good result as most East-Wests had bid to game and otherwise North-South had competed to a higher level in clubs.  Over North's 3NT bid it is not all that easy for East to compete as so much bidding space has been lost.  It might also have been wrong for East to enter the auction as had North had a few more values, 3NT would have made or any contract by East been punished.  

The various contracts were as follows:

5♣ doubled by South going two off; 4♠ by West making with an overtrick (happened twice); 5♣ doubled by South going one off; 5 by West making; 3♣ by South making with an overtrick; 3NT by North going one off; 5♣ by South going two off (happened twice); 5 by East making with an overtrick; and 4 by East making with an overtrick.

Pre-empts certainly create a concoction of risk and chaos!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 24 July 2018

The above hand was board 1 and a real misfit.

With misfits, if you have enough values for game you normally end up in 3NT but otherwise it is advisable to stop bidding as soon as possible and in the above auction, that is exactly what happened.  A second takeout double from South over 2♠ would have interesting as North would have passed and converted it into a penalty double.

Playing a hand like this is not easy and it's rather more enjoyable defending.

The play started with North leading his singleton diamond, South winning and switching to a trump.  With Declarer having no access to dummy, the hand was difficult to manage and Declarer went two down.  Doubled it would have been a bottom for Declarer but undoubled, 2♠ minus 2 was average.

Other contracts were 2NT by East making with an overtrick; 4 by North going one off; 2♠ minus 2 by West (happened twice) and 4♠ minus 4 by West (also happened twice, probably with the two sides of the partnership relentlessly outbidding each other and getting too high.

The only fit anywhere is North-South’s 5-3 heart fit but with a 4-1 trump break.  Interesting to note that had the North and East hands been transposed, there would have been game on both ways.  One side would have been able to make ten tricks in either major whilst the other side would have been able to make eleven tricks in either minor.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 17 July 2018

With hands like this (board 3), there is a lot of scope for different bidding and play.  South's hand doesn't satisfy the 'rule of 20'.  However, tactically it is non-vulnerable against vulnerable and with two good suits.  In the bidding depicted above, North's 3♣ was fourth suit forcing, not clubs, but with South not sounding terribly strong, he settled for playing in game.

West could have led the Queen of clubs but decided on the 10 of spades instead which turned out to be a more menacing lead.  This was won by dummy's Ace and it was likely West had led from a doubleton or singleton.

Declarer can see a losing spade, club and possibly a diamond.  At trick 2 he played the eight of diamonds and let it run.  West won with the King and played a second spade which Declarer won with dummy's King.

Declarer now played a trump to hand and a trump back to dummy's King, leaving one trump out.  He now played the nine of diamonds and finessed the ten as East was marked with the Jack.  He next cashed the Ace of diamonds, discarding one of dummy's spades, then played the Queen, discarding dummy's last spade.  He was now able to ruff his losing spade, then get back to hand with a club ruff and draw the last trump.

By avoiding a spade loser, Declarer got away with losing just the Ace of clubs and a diamond and +450 earned most of the matchpoints as it obviously beat anyone making 10 tricks in hearts but also anyone make 3NT with an overtrick.

For anyone playing in 3NT there are always nine tricks but no more unless the defence slips up.  The opening lead would depend on the bidding.  If North opens 1♠, East would lead a club and if North opened 1♣, East would probably lead a spade.  If South plays the hand, West would probably lead the Queen of clubs.

Declarer’s winners as a minimum are five hearts, two spades, two diamonds and a club.  Meanwhile the defence could take three clubs and either a spade or a diamond.  If North gets a spade lead, things are much easier as he has time to run the nine of diamonds round to the King and, providing West doesn’t switch to the Queen of clubs, Declarer can make ten tricks, five hearts, three diamonds and two spades.

The scores on board 3 were as follows:

North playing in 3NT just making (happened twice); South playing in 3NT making 10 tricks; South playing in 2 making with three overtricks; North playing in 4 and going one off; South playing in 4 just making (happened twice); South playing in 4 making with an overtrick (happened twice); and 3NT by North going two off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 10 July 2018

Board 24 produced a variety of results though on the face of it, no game is possible by either side.

If North plays in hearts, he should lose a spade, the Ace of diamonds, a diamond ruff and the Queen of trumps.

If West plays in spades, he should lose Ace of clubs and a club ruff, the King of trumps and a heart.

No doubt the bidding varied considerably, looking at the contracts on the scoresheet.  Two pairs played in 4♠ going one off.  One pair played in 3♠ doubled and made it for a score of +530.  Two Norths bid and made 4 but two pushed on to 5, one going three off undoubled and the other went two off but was doubled.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 3 July 2018

Board 8 above produced a wide variety of results, ranging from 1NT by West to 6 by South.

At our table the bidding was as above and South's quirky jump to 4 not surprisingly catapulted North into 6.

West has a very difficult hand to lead from as just about anything is liable to cost a trick.  A spade, a club or a heart certainly do, a small diamond doesn't but West decided on the King of diamonds which was helpful to Declarer.

Declarer won with the Ace and hopefully played off two top trumps as a 2-2 break would have sealed the contract.  Unfortunately it wasn't to be but Declarer still had good chances, or so I thought... 

If Declarer ruffs a club and plays a third trump, West wins and plays back a diamond.  Declarer wins, cashes his last diamond and plays out all his trumps.  I thought West would eventually be squeezed in clubs and spades but actualy he isn't.  On closer investigation you can't do this, nor is it enough to ruff a couple of clubs so that West's King eventually drops and you make two club tricks in dummy as you still have a losing spade to contend with.

The only winning line is to ruff a club at trick 2, play a trump and bravely finesse (!), then ruff another club and draw trumps.  You now make six trumps, three diamonds, Ace and Queen of clubs and the Ace of spades.  I didn't find that winning line of play.  Not sure if England scoring a goal against Colombia at the time had anything to do with it.  Probably not!  Maybe I was a bit weak for my jump to 4 after all.  If I'd held either the Jack of hearts or Jack of spades, that would have made a big difference...

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 26 June 2018

The rather basic bidding on board 20 landed East-West in a thin 3NT on a combined 23 points, albeit with a nice long diamond suit to run.

As the cards lie, there is no defence to beat 3NT.  South might start with a small club to North's Queen and North is likely to play back a club, taking three club tricks and the King of diamonds.

However, at my table I was given a losing option and grasped it!  South decided to lead Ace and King of clubs, effectively blocking the suit as when a third round was played, North won and had to switch.  A heart was returned which put Declarer in a quandry.  If the diamond finesse was right, Declarer had the rest of the tricks in the bag.  I therefore rose with the Ace and played a diamond to dummy's Queen.  However, the finesse wasn't right and North won the King and then cashed the King of hearts for one down.  Oh dear!!!

Two Easts went one off in 3NT and two made it.  Two pairs played in 3 making with an overtrick and one East played in 2 going one off.

Playing in diamonds you have to lose two top clubs and the King of trumps.  2 however should have made easily with at least an overtrick.

Not the easiest of hands to bid and, depending on the defence, there are a number of ways to tackle the hand, hence the variety of outcomes...

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 26 June 2018

Board 17 was this week’s most distributional hand.  East is almost, though not quite, good enough to open an Acol 2 in diamonds so he starts with 1 to which partner responds 1♠.  At my table we had an uncontested auction but just look at North’s distribution. 

Sitting South, what would you understand if partner now bid 2NT?  If you think it’s 20-22 points or something similar you’re in cloud cuckoo land!  How can East have opened, West responded and you have six points if you believe partner holds that sort of hand?

An overcall of 2NT is much better used to show a two suited hand.  Normally this would be showing at least 5-5 in the minors or, if the opposition have bid two suits as here, the other two suits.  This conventional bid is the ‘Unusual No Trump’.  With regard to point count, it can be weak or strong.  It would not normally be with as few points as here but the more distribution, the weaker it can be in terms of points.  A word of caution however.  You need to be mindful of the vulnerability as if you and partner’s hands fit, you could make a contract or a sacrifice but if your hands don’t fit or you get too high, you could be subject to a large penalty.

Back to the hand in question, East-West can make 5.  Even 4♠, despite the bad break, is likely to make in practice unless South manages to find a diamond switch to give North a ruff with his singleton trump!  One pair reached 3NT and made all 13 tricks on a spade lead but without any bidding from North, a heart lead was not obvious.

Looking at the North-South hands, not only would some bidding have prevented the 3NT plus 4 fiasco but, believe it or not, 4 can be made.  Having said that, if the defence starts off with two top spades, Declarer would have to ruff with the King of hearts then finesse against the Queen.  In practice a diamond might be led then 10 tricks are easy providing Declarer plays for the drop in hearts.

If North-South aren’t playing the Unusual No Trump, they are unlikely to compete very far, if at all but if they are playing this Convention, the sky’s the limit and a sacrifice of 5 is cheap against 5 or 4♠.  In 5 East-West have just two heart losers but they cannot make 5♠ as there are two hearts to lose plus a trump.  

The bidding in the above table is just a suggestion of how the bidding might have gone.  I’ve really no idea!

So, what did everyone do on board 17...?

5 doubled by North going one off; 3NT by East making all 13 tricks; 5 by East making 11 tricks (happened twice); 5♠ by West going one off; 6 doubled by North going two off - still a good score against game but nevertheless a phantom as 5♠ and 6 weren’t making; and finally 4♠ by North just making.

A very interesting hand I’m sure you’ll agree.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 19 June 2018

The above bidding would have been fairly typical on board 21 from this week's duplicate.  However, the opening lead can often be crucial in the success or failure of a contract so, before revealing all four hands, what would you select as the opening lead?

The winning card is the Jack of hearts, top of an interior broken sequence.  Fourth highest, the 8 of hearts, causes considerable discomfort and embarrassment when dummy appears with the singleton nine which holds the trick and also gives Declarer that vital additional timing to make the contract.  The Jack of hearts on the otherhand means that Declarer only has one heart stop and as soon as West gets in with the Ace of diamonds, a heart is returned and 3NT goes two off.

Very unlucky for Declarer as 3NT is a sensible contract.  Had the Ace of diamonds been in the East hand, 3NT would have been safe.

So much for the play, both the bidding and the play produced a variety of results.  One North made 3NT with two overtricks, two made 3NT with one overtrick and one North played in 2NT making 10 tricks.  Presumably all these Easts led a small heart.  One North went one off in 2NT, one North went two off in 3NT and one North went four off in 3NT so presumably the Jack of hearts was the opening lead.  Finally one South played in 4♠ in a 4-3 fit and went two off.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 19 June 2018

Pre-empts are meant to create a bit of chaos and make it difficult for the opposition to reach the optimum contract.  Occasionally however it backfires and the opposition are jet propelled into a sound contract they may otherwise not have reached.  Take the above as an example which was board 24.  6♣ is undefeatable.  However, despite the above bidding which is what should have happened, North did not recognise South's 4NT as Blackwood and jumped to 6 which went two off.

6 has a number of chances but, as the cards lie, everything fails.  If Declarer tries to ruff hearts, West can overruff dummy and if Declarer tries to ruff good dummy's clubs, West can again scupper Declarer by ruffing with the Jack (or the seven as it happens), thereby promoting a trump trick for East.

An attempt at 6♣ was not unreasonable as, after the spade pre-empt by West, any outstanding top trumps are likely to sit with East as indeed they did.

Of course looking at West's hand, it is so weak that no doubt a number of players would not have opened, in which case North would have opened 1.  Ironically the club slam is now extremely unlikely to be reached.

In practice, three Norths ended up bidding and making 5, one North was in 3NT just making, one North was in 6 going two off, one South reached 5♣ which made with an overtrick, one North played in 3 and made 10 tricks and one West played in 4♠ doubled and went three off for minus 500 which was a bottom at equal vulnerability.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 5 June 2018

The above hand was board 17 and a Grand Slam can be made in diamonds or No Trumps but ironically not in hearts.  More about that later.

The bidding was Jeremy (North), me (South) playing against James and Kathy (East-West).  It can hardly be described as a scientific auction, yet Jeremy's jump to 6 provided all the information for me to press on to 7.  For his 6 bid, he must have AKxx of hearts, a void in spades, Ace of clubs and a good diamond suit, ie at least KQxxx.

A more scientific auction might have been for Jeremy to rebid 3♠ though this is more likely to be a singleton.  South could then bid 4NT.  Playing Roman Key Card Blackwood, North would bid 5♣ (0 or 3 Aces), 5NT would then ask for Kings and the response of 6♠ would show the King of spades or the other two and no prizes for working out which!  South can now bid 7.

Playing in 7 I received a club lead and had no trouble in collecting 13 easy tricks.  

However, there was a potential fly in the ointment...  Luckily Kathy didn't find a diamond lead as James was void!

I wonder what would have happened had James doubled.  This is known as a 'Lightner Double' so when you double a slam and you are not on lead, you are asking partner to make an unusual lead.  Whether or not Kathy would have led a diamond we will never know but that was the only way to defeat 7.

The other thing we will never know is whether Fred would have smelt a rat and converted to 7NT.  I think he probably would as there are 13 tricks in No Trumps on any lead.

No doubt the bidding varied widely on this hand.  Four pairs reached 6, all making 13 tricks, three pairs played in game, one pair only making 12 tricks and one pair played in 6 making all 13 tricks.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 22 May 2018

This was board 22 and probably the most distributional hand of the evening.  Not surprisingly many different contracts resulted.

With East to open, the first question is what?  Unless you are playing some special two suited openings, most people would open 1♣ or 1♠.  Personally I would opt for 1♣ intending to keep rebidding spades afterwards.  Over 1♣, South is likely to overcall 1 but over a 1♠ opening, South may or may not bid 2.  If he doesn’t, 2 might be West’s response, otherwise maybe 1NT.  If he does,  West might double to show four hearts or pass.

Already the dynamics of the bidding have the potential to branch out all over the place.  Then of course, if South does overcall, North will join in the bidding too and a competitive auction is well underway.  One way or another it’s likely the bidding was different at every table.

At our table, the double of 1 was not penalties (1 is after all a forcing bid) but showing spades and presumably support for partner’s suit as well.

I held the South cards and decided it was unwise to double 3♣ so 3 from Jeremy’s Hand (North) seemed sensible but passed round to Kevin (West) who made a penalty double.

Kevin led his singleton spade and I think that one way or another, with a five nil trump break 3 is destined to go one down.  I wonder what everyone else did...

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

Believe it or not 4 played by North is always there, losing two hearts and a diamond if played carefully but obviously little chance of getting there if West bids hearts!  Not surprisingly, not a flat board!!!

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 22 May 2018

On board 18 West made a cheeky 1 overcall and why not at favourable vulnerability.  For those playing two suited overcalls, it might also have been tempting to intervene.

Over 1 it seems perfectly reasonable for North to jump to 3NT though had North held four spades, it might have been an idea to double first.

Back to South and despite the distribution, bearing in mind partner won’t have four spades in this sequence, it’s a bit risky to remove 3NT - A void in the suit partner has advertised values, does not seem like a good move however tempting it may feel to press on with your black two suiter.

Jeremy declaring from the North hand received a heart lead and lost two heart tricks.  However, as the cards lay, 12 tricks are there as both black suit finesses are right though with West overcalling, you would have been forgiven for expecting at least one of these would be wrong.  Ironically therefore, anyone playing in spades would have had a nice surprise as 12 tricks are there.  As it happens, 12 tricks are also there in No Trumps if you happen to go up with the King at trick 2 though it might have been wrong to do so.

Another irony is that if West decides not to overcall, North would respond 1, South would rebid 1♠ and after fourth suit forcing, North-South would end up in spades, making 12 tricks.

Not surprisingly there was a wide variety of results, not only because of the bidding but the bidding almost certainly affected the defence and, in particular, the opening lead.

Five Norths played in 3NT.  One made nine tricks, one made eleven, two made twelve and one made all thirteen.  One South played in 3NT and went one off.

The three other pairs played in spades, all making twelve tricks. Two were in 4♠ and one was in 6♠ doubled for an unusual score of plus 1660 and, needless to say, a top!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 15 May 2018

Defending can be challenging at times which makes it all the more satisfying when you get it right.  Take the above hand for example, board 2 from last week’s duplicate.  The bidding was interesting and very informative.

East kicked off with the Ace and King of clubs, Declarer ruffing the second round.  Looking at all four hands, there seems to be no good reason why Declarer should go down in 2♠.  However, playing a diamond towards dummy’s Queen at trick 3 was not the best play...

The main reason why so many players struggle in defence is that they can’t visualise the cards they cannot see.  But, all too often, many clues are missed. 

Before deciding whether or not to put up the King of diamonds, let’s see what can be worked out about the hand.  West passed over 1 and 2 and the takeout double.  North was prepared to play in hearts up to the point of 2 being doubled.  That strongly implies partner will have six hearts and Declarer two.  Declarer took 2 out into 2♠ but only once it was doubled so is unlikely therefore to have more than six spades.  Then the fact that Declarer ruffed the second round of clubs means partner has three.  Partner’s shape is therefore xxx xxxxxx x xxx.

The winning defence is to go up with the King of diamonds, play a diamond for partner to ruff, partner can then switch to a heart and a mini cross-ruff is underway.  Declarer loses one club, one diamond and four ruffs.  

In the event East didn,t go up with the King of diamonds, so Declarer won with dummy’s Queen then discarded a heart on the Queen of clubs and managed to recover.

Admittedly 2 doubled would have been a lot more fun for East-West and a good deal more lucrative but defeating 2♠ rather than allowing it to make would also have earned a fair few more match points.

Apart from two Souths reaching a very dubious 3NT, both times going two off, every other pair played in clubs by East with varying degrees of success.  One East was in 3♣ making but everyone else went off - 3♣ going one off, 3♣ going three off, 4♣ going two off, 3♣ doubled going three off and worst of all 5♣ doubled going four off.  Defending clubs is quite fiddly but in practice East should not have been allowed to make more than eight tricks at the most.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 29 May 2018

It doesn’t happen often that both sides of a partnership have a void in the same suit.  It also doesn’t often happen that partner overcalls and you have seven of them!

Sitting West on board 5, when North opened 1♣ and partner pulled out the Stop card, I was sure it was going to be a jump in Spades.  I nearly fell off my chair when it was 2!  Over South’s 2 bid, I thought I’d better quickly jump to 5 before someone introduced spades into the auction.

What is rather bizarre about this hand is that despite East-West being non vulnerable against a vulnerable North-South, 5 is not a sacrifice as there are 11 tricks, losing just a club and a heart.

5 has to go off due to a bad trump break but 5♠ by North-South can be made and it’s only the bad trump break that prevents 6♠ from making.  I suppose the par spot is therefore East-West playing in 6 doubled and going one off.

As would be expected with a hand like this, the bidding will have been all over the place and the final contracts and scores were as follows:

5 doubled by South going two off; 5 making 11 tricks, twice played by West and once by East; 5 doubled by East, making with an overtrick;  4 by South going one off; 7♠ doubled by North going two off; and 6♠ by North going two off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 8 May 2018

The bidding on board 1 at our table started with an opening 2 bid which showed 5-9 points and 5-5 in hearts and a minor.  This jet propelled North into bidding 4 over 2♠  and South continued to 5 over East’s 4♠.  The bidding will no doubt have varied widely.  Some Souths may have opened 1 otherwise it would have been left to West to open the bidding in spades with possibly no intervention from North-South.

In Spades East-West should lose two hearts and the Ace of trumps though a couple of pairs only made nine tricks.  One of those was against Jeremy and Julia who found a club lead, then when in with the Ace of trumps, switched to a heart and got a club ruff.  Very good defence.  Fancy managing to make two trump tricks when you only have two trumps between you!

Providing not too many East-West’s fail in 4♠, North-South can afford to compete to 5 providing they don’t go more than two off if they get doubled.

The only defence to legitimately beat 5 is if West leads the singleton Ace of diamonds, switches to a club and East then plays back a diamond for West to ruff.  It’s not the most obvious defence as West maydecide to start off with a black King.  

If West does not start off with the Ace of diamonds, Declarer has to get the diamonds right by playing a diamond from dummy and not playing the King.  Declarer can make 11 tricks by discarding a diamond on the Ace of spades, ducking a diamond to West’s Ace, drawing trumps, chasing the King of diamonds then crossing to dummy to ruff the diamonds good.

I must confess that I did not make my 11 tricks in either of those ways.  I received a trump lead which I won in dummy, cashed  the Ace of spades, discarding a diamond from hand, then played a diamond towards my King which was won by the Ace.  I now had to lose another diamond and a club to go one down in 5.  However, after drawing trumps, I lost a diamond to East who instead of cashing the Ace of clubs, gave me a ruff and discard in spades so I was able to ruff in hand and pitch dummy’s singleton club.  It was now just a matter of crossing to dummy, ruffing out the last diamond, then discarding all my losing clubs on dummy’s winning diamonds, a bit lucky.

Four West’s played in spades, one made 4♠, two went one off in 4♠ and one went one off in 5♠.  One North went two off in 5 and four Souths played in 5, once doubled going one off.  The others weren’t doubled and made 9, 10 or 11 tricks.

What a strange hand.  It seems like East-West own it yet the only makeable game is 4.  Both 4♠ and 5 can go off although in practice there is plenty of scope for a misdefence.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 1 May 2018

Hands like board 22 above, are impossible to predict as the bidding is liable to be different just about every time it’s played!  The above bidding was at our table, John and I sitting North-South against Sally and Marjorie.  Judging when to come in, with what and how high, is anyone’s guess but as long as North-South get together in hearts and East-West in spades, a bidding bloodbath should soon take place.

If North-South end up in hearts, best defence will find three tricks, two Aces and a diamond ruff.  In practice there may be a spade lead and a diamond ruff now goes out of the window.

If East-West win the auction and play in spades, they will probably get a heart lead and lose the first trick.  However, after that, providing Declarer plays the hand carefully, there are no further tricks for the defence.  Declarer must immediately set about establishing the clubs, each time returning to dummy with a trump.  This is known as a ‘dummy reversal’ as Declarer uses the hand with the long trumps (West) to ruff and captures the enemy trumps in the ‘short hand’ (East).

Against us Declarer mistimed the hand by not attacking clubs in time and as a result went two off in 6♠.

Needless to say there was a mixed bag of results which were as follows:

5♠ by West going two off; 6♠ by West making all 13 tricks (obviously didn’t get a heart lead!); 6♠ by West going two off; 5 by South making 11 tricks; 4♠  by West making 12 tricks (happened twice); 5♠ by West going one off; 5♠ by West  asking 12 tricks; and 6♠ doubled by West going two off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 24 April 2018

The above deal was board 10 which demonstrates the pre-emptive strength of the weak no trump.  West bidding Stayman may not be everyone’s cup of tea but even without it, I think North-South would struggle to reach game.

5♣ can’t be made as there are two Aces and the King of hearts to lose.  However, 3NT can’t be defeated on any lead and is likely to make with an overtrick.

The most popular result on this hand was 3♣ by North making with an overtrick though one pair, playing in 2♣, actually managed to make 11 tricks.  One South played in 2 on a 4-3 fit, making with two overtricks.  The top North-South score was 3NT making with an overtrick.  The second best North-South score was when East opened 1♣ and was left to play there, going four off vulnerable.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 17 April 2018

The above hand was board 6.  John and I sat this one out but the above auction looks reasonable.  At favourable vulnerability South can push the boat out a bit by jumping to 3♠ and making it more difficult for the opposition.  The East-West hands do not appear to fit and it is hard for East to realise the value of his singleton King of clubs and also hard for West to get too carried away in clubs, despite having eight of them.  That is why it is almost impossible to bid the only making slam of 6♣ which nobody did.

In a club contract the most menacing lead is a spade but Declarer only has to win with the Ace, cross to the King of clubs, back to the King of diamonds, draw one more round of trumps, then cross back to dummy via a heart in order to discard the other spade on a top diamond.  They make their Queen of trumps and job done.  

Quite easy to play but not to bid.  Most pairs played in 5♣ though two Declarers only made 11 tricks.  The other two pairs played in 4 which made with an overtrick and was the best score for East-West though not the easiest of hands to play with a 5-1 trump break.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 10 April 2018

On the above hand, board 10, the high card points are divided 20-20 but that's hardly relevant as it's the distribution that would have resulted in some energised bidding auctions.

The bidding shown above happened to be at our table but will no doubt have varied considerably and many Easts will have bid diamonds rather than spades.

Looking at the North-South cards, there are three clubs to lose plus the Ace of spades so 4 goes one off.

For East-West, playing in 5, the club finesse is right so no loser there but you have to lose the Ace of trumps and, depending on how you tackle the spades, you would lose one or two tricks.

Playing in 4♠ could have been disastrous as the spades might have broken badly and the defence might have also found a diamond ruff.  In practice nothing terrible happened and it was all quite benign.  South led a heart which got ruffed and Declarer managed to lose just one trump and the Ace of diamonds for 11 tricks.

Clearly the bidding varied massively as contracts were all over the place.  Two Norths played in 4 going one off, once doubled; three Wests played in 5 making, twice doubled; one North bid to 5 doubled and went two off; one East played in 4♠ making 11 tricks; and one table had a much more genteel auction with North playing in 3 making nine tricks for a top.

I was glad I wasn't one of the Declarers in 5 as I think I would have gone down.  Assuming North doesn't lead the King of spades as the opening lead, I would have lost the Ace of trumps and taken two spade finesses (75% odds) and in this case I would have been unlucky to find them both offside.

Playing in 4♠ was a different ballgame altogether.  After ruffing the Ace of hearts lead, I took a losing spade finesse to North's King and a club was returned to dummy's Jack.  Desperately short of trumps, it is easy to lose control of the hand or for the defenders to find a diamond ruff.

 I expected the Queen of trumps to be with South but, reliant on a 3-2 trump split, I cashed the Ace of trumps.  Providing both defenders followed, it would just be a matter of knocking out the Ace of diamonds and they could take their Queen of trumps when they liked.  As luck would have it, the Queen of trumps dropped under the Ace so I was now able to draw the last trump and knock out the Ace of diamonds for an overtrick.  Not the safest of contracts but it all worked out OK in the end!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 3 April 2018

On board 23 above, a competitive battle is likely to have taken place between North-South bidding hearts and East-West competing in clubs.  The bidding shown above was at our table against Janet and Verna but I expect the auction will have varied widely as is often the case on distributional hands.

Looking at all four hands if South declares in hearts, the best West can do is to lead a spade which enables the defence to win two spade tricks plus a spade ruff but that's it as Declarer can enter dummy via the King of diamonds in order to take the trump finesse.

If East-West play in clubs, North leads a heart and East's King is once again a dead duck but after taking two hearts and two diamonds, Declarer draws trumps and takes the spade finesse to go just one off.

At equal vulnerability this means that 5♣ doubled is the par contract going two off for minus 500.  So let's see how 5♣ doubled by West would have fared at Badger Farm...

One South played in 3 doubled and made it for plus 730 and a top; one South played in 3 just making; one West played in 4♣ going one off; one South played in 4 going one off; two Wests reached 5♣ going two off but they weren't doubled; and one South played in 3 making ten tricks. the par contract of 5♣ doubled going two off for minus 500 would have been a second bottom.  I must admit that at our table, had the opposition bid to 4 I would have thought about bidding 5♣.  Luckily they didn't as 4♣ minus 1 was a good result.  Hands like this are notoriously difficult to judge.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 27 March 2018

On board 8 above all North-Souths played in hearts.  One pair was in 3 and everyone else was in 4, always by North except on one occasion.  Three pairs made their contract but four went off, including me.

The above bidding was a fairly standard way to reach game.  I was sitting North with Jason South, Julia East and Jeremy West.

When Jason bid 4 and it was passed round to Julia, I sensed some vibes as if I had nearly got doubled and then when Julia, after some thought, opened with the unsupported Ace of diamonds, I definitely smelt a rat!

I won the diamond continuation with the King.  In different circumstances I may well have played Ace of clubs and ruffed one but I was suspicious about the hearts so led the Jack and let it run.  Jeremy then showed out so my hunch was right.  Unfortunately this was all too much of a distraction as I became so obsessed with not losing a heart that I completely carved up the rest of the hand!!

If you look at all four hands, you can afford to lose a trump and the two Aces and all you need to do is to ruff two clubs in dummy.  The problem at pairs is always trying to maximise opportunities.  Where is the King of clubs?  Where is the Queen of trumps?  On a benign lie of the cards you might get away with just losing two Aces.  On this lie of the cards, the winning line was as follows...

At trick 3 cash the Ace of clubs then ruff a club in dummy.  Play back a small trump to hand, then ruff a second club with dummy's Ace.  Now play a spade to the Queen and you will at some point lose a trump trick to the Queen.

My line of play was a disaster.  After successfully finessing the Jack of trumps at trick 3, I continued with another heart to dummy's eight then took a losing club finesse.  Julia played back another club which I won in hand with the Ace.  I played a third trump to dummy's Ace then played a small spade to my Queen which Julia won with the Ace.  Julia then exited with the 10 of spades which I won with dummy's King.

I now played dummy's 9 of diamonds.  Jeremy covered with his Jack but, already doomed, I now completely lost the plot and discarded the 2 of clubs so Jeremy cashed his Jack of spades, thereby giving Julia a trump promotion and I went two off, an ugly scene indeed!

If only I hadn't noticed the vibes and tried to be 'clever', I probably would have tackled the hand in a sensible manner and ruffed some clubs instead of worrying about the Queen of trumps and possible overtricks.  I think I got my just desserts and a joint bottom as one pair was doubled in 4 and went one off.

As a final point on this hand, East should not be tempted to double 4 as the hand then becomes an open book.  Declarer would know East has four trumps and the King of clubs.  Knowing the club finesse is wrong helps to steer Declarer to the winning line of play, ruffing two clubs and giving up two Aces and a trump.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 20 March 2018

The above hand was one of the deals in the Hampshire Congress Green Point Pairs event held on Saturday 10 March.  It demonstrates why the defence is often regarded as the hardest part of the game and how it is all too easy to focus on your own hand rather than thinking about the whereabouts of the cards you can’t see.

The bidding wasn’t the best but North-South nevertheless ended in 3NT which was the right spot.

East led the three of spades on which Declarer decided to play the Jack from dummy, beaten by the Queen and King.  Declarer then played Ace of clubs, a diamond to dummy and then took a club finesse which lost to East’s Jack.  East returned a heart and Declarer then cashed two top hearts and three more top diamonds.

On dummy’s diamonds Declarer discarded a spade and West discarded his two black twos.  Declarer then played a club to his King then exited with the Jack of hearts which West won with the Queen, East discarding the nine of spades.  

The two card ending was as follows:

Declarer held ♠10 ♣9; East held ♠ A ♣Q; Dummy held ♠7 7; West held ♠6 10.

West continued with the 10 of hearts, Declarer discarded the 10 of spades and East went into a huddle.  Eventually he let go of the Ace of spades so Dummy won the last trick with the 7 of spades for a very valuable overtrick and a good score.  Holding 3NT to nine tricks would have earned most of the matchpoints for East-West as there are actually a number of ways North-South could have achieved ten tricks.

East apologised to his partner for losing track.  West’s two black two discards indicated three clubs and four spades.  However West was equally at fault.  If he had been paying more attention rather than just looking at his own winners, he could have prevented his partner from making a mistake.  Surely if Declarer had held either the Ace of spades or Queen of clubs, he would have cashed them rather than play the Jack of hearts.  West should therefore not have taken his ten of hearts but played his spade, allowing his partner to win the last two tricks.  The blame verdict - Six of one and half a dozen of the other!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 13 March 2018

On the above hand, board 17, 6♠ makes on very slender values in terms of high card points, a combined 24.  However, in terms of distribution, it is a terrific fit with each hand having a singleton in a minor and good quality suits in both majors.

North opens a fairly ordinary 1 but when South responds 1♠, North's hand improves massively.  West could have overcalled 2 over 1♠ but nevertheless a jump to 4♣ by North is a 'splinter' bid, showing a singleton.  Double or no double by East, South's hand has also grown in strength on hearing partner has a good fit in spades and a singleton club.

North's 5 response to Roman Key Card Blackwood showed two or five 'Aces' and denied the Queen of spades.  On the basis of that South was able to jump confidently to 6♠.

Momentarily West may have hoped to defeat the contract with Ace King of diamonds but the play was straightforward with an easy 12 tricks.

Without North's splinter, 6♠ is very unlikely to be reached.  I suspect quite a few Norths just raised their partners to game and, with no real reason for South to carry on, that was the end of the auction.  For anyone playing weak jump overcalls, a jump to 3 by West would have put a spanner in the works for North-South and probably have put paid to them reaching the slam.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 6 March 2018

On board 23 the high card points are divided 20-20 between the two sides but the more distributional the hand, the less is the relevance of the high card points.  North-South have fits in hearts and clubs while East-West have a spade fit, albeit with a bad break.

Looking first at the North-South hands, playing in hearts there are 11 tricks, losing just two diamonds.  Playing in clubs you have the same losers but on a non-diamond lead, with the way the cards lie, you might be able to engineer all 13 tricks by ruffing two spades in dummy, drawing trumps and discarding two diamonds and the two remaining spades on dummy's hearts.

East-West, playing in spades, would lose two hearts and a club but there is also an unavoidable diamond loser and, in practice, maybe two.  However, at equal vulnerability two off doubled in 4♠ is good value against 4 making the other way.

So much for the play of the cards.  What is more relevant is the bidding.  Left to their own devices would North-South really manage to bid to game?  I'm not convinced they would.  In reality most Wests are likely to overcall in spades, 1♠ or 2♠?  If you play weak jump overcalls, a 2♠ bid by West is highly pre-emptive.  Dick did it against John and me and it was enough to keep John out of the bidding.  When Mary then jumped to 4♠ on the East cards, that was enough to shut everybody out.  We couldn't even manage a penalty double let alone bid hearts which was our rightful game!  I couldn't know to double 4♠ as John hadn't bid and obviously he couldn't double as he didn't have any trumps.  John considered bidding 5 which would have worked well in this instance but only because I had no wasted values in spades.

All in all this was a pretty tricky hand to evaluate in a competitive bidding sequence.  No doubt the bidding will have varied tremendously as is always the case with distributional hands like this and is reflected by the following results on the scoresheet...

3  by North making 11 tricks (happened twice) for plus 200; 3 by North making 12 tricks for plus 230; 3♣ by South making 11 tricks for plus 150; 4♣ by South going one off for minus 100; 4♠ by West going two off for minus 200; 2♠ by West making 10 tricks for plus 170 and finally 3♠ doubled by South making 10 tricks for plus 930.

So no North-South pair played in a game in hearts (or clubs) when plus 650 could have been achieved, the highest North-South score being plus 230.  Just shows how difficult the bidding can be sometimes.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 27 February 2018

Looking at all four hands above, it is easy to see how Declarer can make nine tricks as the diamonds break 3-3.  However, without seeing this, the line of play is not quite so clear cut.

After the above sensible auction, despite the 1♣ opening, it didn't seem unreasonable for North to kick off with the King of clubs.  This was won by dummy's Ace and South following low to show an odd number.

If the diamonds all come tumbling down, Declarer has four diamonds, a club, two spades and two hearts for nine tricks.  But what if they don't, where is the ninth trick?  The other possibility is for the spades to break 3-3 instead with an added chance of the Queen dropping under the Ace or King.

At trick 2 Declarer not unreasonably played a spade to his Ace and then took a heart finesse.  This lost and back came a club, Declarer playing the 9 and North the 10.  Remembering the bidding (Declarer could only have a doubleton AK of spades), North switched to a small spade to South's 9 and Declarer's King.

3NT is still there on behaviour of the diamonds but at this point Declarer played a diamond to dummy's Ace and took a losing option of playing a third round of spades.  This would have worked had North held the Queen but South won and was able to ping another club through Declarer's J4 with North sitting over this with Q6 and 3NT went one off.

On the face of it, with a combined 29 points and all the Aces, 3NT would appear to look easy with an expectation of overtricks but in the event it was a bit of a struggle.  One West did manage to make 11 tricks but I expect the defence would have helped with that...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 20 February 2018

With hands like board 10 above, it's difficult to judge which side the hand belongs to.  The bidding at our table was as above but is likely to have varied widely.  The 2NT bid by West is the Unusual No Trump, showing at least 5-5 in the minors.

In 5 East-West have to lose a spade and two clubs, a bit unlucky as not only is the Ace offside but the suit breaks 3-1; otherwise 5 makes easily.

On the otherhand, looking at the North-South cards, because their clubs are a singleton opposite the Ace, it enables them to make game in either major.  If North-South end up in 4, they lose just the Ace of hearts and a diamond.  4♠ fares marginally worse as there is the possibility of East-West finding their heart ruff, thereby holding 4♠ to ten tricks.

Theoretically therefore 5 doubled going one off by East-West is a very good sacrifice.  However, there will no doubt have been a wide variety of different bidding as the contracts on the scoresheet indicate...

2 by South making 12 tricks for plus 230; 5 doubled by East going one off for minus 200; 5♣ doubled by West going one off for minus 200; 5 by East going one off for minus 100 (happened twice); 4♠ by North just making for plus 620; 4♠ by North making 11 tricks for plus 650; and 4 by South making 11 tricks for plus 650.

Interesting to note that the par contract is actually 6♣ doubled going two off for minus 500 as North-South cannot be prevented from making 11 tricks in hearts.  In 6  if South leads his singleton club, partner wins the Ace, returns a club, South can then switch to a spade and receive a second club ruff.  That is on best defence but in practice nobody found that defence.  In fact, not surprisingly, nobody played in clubs at all, nor did anyone venture beyond 5.  

Nevertheless a very competitive hand which must have produced some highly energised bidding.  Just about anything can happen with hands like this though nothing much did when pair 1 played in 2 against pair 16!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 6 February 2018

The above hand was board 24 and it's not hard to see how North-South reached 3NT after West's intervention, despite being slightly short on high card points. 

On the King of spades lead and switch to the 10 of diamonds, North can just about make it home though not an easy hand to play.  Win with dummy's Ace, then play a spade, overtaking in hand if necessary though West is likely to rise with the Queen.

The safest exit for West is a club which is won in dummy.  On the face of it Declarer can make four diamonds, two clubs and two hearts if the heart finesse is right.  However, that is not nine tricks!  To make nine tricks, he needs to make a spade trick too but there is still another top spade to knock out first.

Declarer can actually make two spade tricks once he's knocked out the Ace but has to sacrifice a diamond trick in doing so.  The play therefore proceeds as follows after winning the Queen of clubs.

Play a diamond to the Jack then a spade to knock out the Ace.  West will probably play back another club which is won with dummy's Ace.  Now play the Queen of diamonds and overtake it with the King, cash the two established spade winners, then with fingers crossed under the table, take the heart finesse.

The most menacing lead from East would actually have been the Jack or ten of clubs.  However, providing Declarer ducks the opening lead and wins the continuation with dummy's Queen, he can make nine tricks as, after East wins his King of spades to play a third club, he has no more entries and West has no more clubs.

The spade overcall had the effect of propelling North-South into game.  Without intervention, North would have responded one spade, South would probably have rebid 2NT and played there, possibly receiving a spade lead from West.

The scores on the traveller were as follows:

2 by South going two off, 2NT by South just making (happened twice), 2NT by South making with two overtricks, 2 by South just making, 1 by South making with two overtricks, 2 by South going one off and 3NT by North going one off.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 30 January 2018

Board 12 above was full of ironies.  North-South can make 4♠ vulnerable so the par contract is 5♣ doubled by West going three off non vulnerable.  However, this happened once and achieved a poor result.

Looking at the West hand I suspect most players either opened 1♣ or 3♣.  The hand is far too strong to open 3♣ but is ideal for a gambling 3NT.  This is part of the Acol system but it seems a lot of players are not familiar with it.  Classically it shows a long solid minor (at least AKQJxxx) with no more than a Queen outside the suit.  Not only is the bid highly pre-emptive, it also enables partner to make a very informed decision on where to play.  If he holds stoppers in the other suits he can pass, a bid of 4♣ is to play or for partner to convert if his suit is diamonds and 4 is conventional, asking partner to bid a singleton or void.  A response of 4NT shows no singleton or void, 4 and 4♠ are singletons and here's the tricky bit, if you bid 5♣ or 5, that is your suit and your singleton is in the other minor.

Back to the hand in question and at our table East decided to pass which although wrong, would have had interesting consequences had it been passed out as North may have led a diamond...  As it was South, Alan Hickson, bravely bid 4♠ and hit the jackpot as there are ten easy tricks and, as only one other pair had bid to 4♠, it was a joint top.  East could have thought about sacrificing in 5♣ for a slightly better score.

The scoresheet highlights that very few Wests opened 3NT as four final contracts were below this level.  Apart from two Souths playing in 4♠, one East played in 5♣ doubled going three off (unlucky not to achieve a better result for this), one South overshot and was in 5♠ going one off, presumably after East-West bid 5♣, then the other three results were South playing in 3♠ making ten tricks for plus 170.  Presumably West opened 3♣ and South bid 3♠ which ended the auction.

Over an opening 3♣ South does not have to be that brave to bid 3♠ but bidding 4♠ over an opening 3NT requires rather more courage.  Ironically this paid huge dividends as North had just the right cards but not necessarily enough to raise 3♠ to 4♠.

If the South and East hands were transposed, East's response to partner's opening 3NT would be 4 asking for a singleton or void.  West would bid 4NT (no singleton or void).  East would now sign off in 5♣, expecting partner to convert to 5 if that was his suit.  Had West held a singleton diamond, he would have bid 5♣ and East would now have been able to bid 6♣ knowing the only loser was a diamond.

In many cases if partner opens 3NT it will be obvious which minor suit he holds but obviously if you hold a small doubleton in each minor, you cannot tell.

The gambling 3NT doesn't occur all that often but, when it does, it can be mighty useful and makes for some interesting Bridge!

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 30 January 2018

Board 14 above was an interesting distributional hand.  Most Easts would have opened 1 but the choice of intervention by South depends on style.  At our table the jump to 3 was described as weak.  Nevertheless there is not too much difficulty in East-West reaching the best contract of 4♠ nor is there too much difficulty making it.  The traveller however rather contradicts both of these statements!

I received a diamond lead so I won in dummy with the Ace.  With the weak pre-emptive overcall, I was not necessarily expecting an easy ride.  For instance I was not expecting the trumps to break evenly and North was likely to have both black kings.  I set about trying to set up my club suit so played Ace and another club.  South won with the King and of course played another diamond which I ruffed and was overruffed.  North now switched to a heart which I won in dummy and now drew trumps and made the rest of the tricks.

Although 4♠ plus 1 was a good result, as the cards lay, twelve tricks could have been made by playing a trump at trick 2 and finessing.  Draw the remaining trumps then play a club to the Ace and one back to hand.  The defence can only take the King of clubs and 12 tricks are made by Declarer.

There were some strange results on this board...

3♠ by West going one off; 4♠ by West just making; 4♠ by West making with an overtrick (happened twice); 4 by South going two off; 4 by East going three off; and 4♠ by West going one off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 23 January 2018

On board 5 if North elects to open 3♠ there is no reason for anyone else to bid anything.  It is quite chancy for East to double, South has a fair hand opposite a vulnerable pre-empt so may choose between passing and bidding 4♠ and, uness East doubles, West has nothing to say.  Yet if you look at all four hands, the hand definitely belongs to East-West who can make eleven tricks in hearts whilst North-South can only make eight.

At our table Jane sitting North opened 3♠ which Anke sitting South raised to 4♠.  The contract went two off but there was no reason for either East or West  to double and no obvious reason to have competed.  This really shows the power of the pre-empt as North opening 3♠ leaves East in a bit of a quandry.  As the cards lay, East-West missed a game but on another distribution, East could have walked right into trouble by competing.  There is no right or wrong here.  You take a view and take the consequences.

Just to prove a point, the final contracts were as follows:

4♠ by North going two off; 5 by West going one off; 3♠ by North going one off (twice); 4 by West making with an overtrick; 5♣ by East just making; and 4♠ by North going two off (twice).

Had East doubled 3♠, West would have competed to 4 after which South may have competed to 4♠ and West may well have then competed to 5.  However, just as easily, North's opening 3♠ might have been passed out.

One final thought, swap North’s King of clubs for South’s Queen of hearts and move the Queen of diamonds from West to East and it’s a completely different story.  4♠ now makes and 4 goes off.  Ironically East would now have been more likely to compete and South would certainly have bid 4♠, leaving East-West to find the sacrifice.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 16 January 2018

Every trick matters at Bridge, especially when it's 1NT doubled as was often the case on board 4.  West will often have opened 1NT, North will often have doubled, East is reasonably happy and South has not much choice but to grin and bear it!  Any Souths who took the double out ended up with a minus score as North-South have no fit in anything.

If you look at all four hands, you will see that North-South can take three clubs, three spades and the Ace of diamonds before Declarer makes his seven tricks.  However, what was intriguing was that this rarely happened and Declarer often made 1NT, even with overtricks.

Best defence starts off with North leading the King of Clubs.  At our table Declarer won and played four rounds of hearts.  This gave South an opportunity to show an interest in spades by discarding the 10 of hearts then a lower one, a suit preference signal.  Then when North got in with the Ace of diamonds, the King of spades was cashed before the remaining clubs so that North and South both knew they had the spades.  It was then easy to defeat the contract before Declarer got back in to make a number of diamond tricks.

Declarer's best chance of scuppering the defence is not to cash four heart winners but as soon as he wins the Ace of clubs, to play a diamond.  When North wins, he cannot be sure whether South holds values in spades or hearts and may well go wrong.  If Declarer plays on hearts before diamonds, it is much easier for the defence to get it right.

The scores on the traveller were as follows:

1NT doubled by West making with an overtrick; 1NT by West just making; 2 by South going two off; 2♠ by North going one off; 2♣ by North going one off; 1NT doubled by West just making; 1NT by North going one off; 1NT doubled by West going one off; 1NT doubled by West just making; and 3 by East going two off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 9 January 2018

As is often the case with distributional hands, an excellent contract of 6 would have been reached in a variety of ways.  This was board 22.

Jason and I play an opening 2 bid as showing a hand with 5-5 in hearts and a minor and around 5-9 points.  With my amazing two suitor in the minors, it was just a matter of finding out which one Jason had, then bingo!

However, as with a lot of hands I’ve come across recently, there was a jinx in the form of a 5-1 break in clubs.  After an opening spade lead, Declarer had to set about clubs immediately otherwise there weren’t enough entries to set the suit up.  So after ruffing the opening spade lead, a small club is played and ruffed in hand, followed by a diamond to dummy, another club ruff, another diamond to dummy and another club ruff.  Having got the trumps out, Declarer can now get back to dummy by ruffing a spade.  Once Declarer has ruffed three rounds of clubs, he can now play Ace and King and the rest of the clubs come tumbling down.

Because of the bad break in clubs, any delay in ruffing out the clubs results in failure as Declarer lacks enough entries to dummy.

Incidentally 4♠ makes the other way but of course with that distribution in the minors, West would never allow such a contract would he?  Well one West allowed North to play in 3♠, never mind 4!

The scores on the traveller were as follows...

6♠ doubled by North Going two off; 3♠ by North just making; 6 by East just making; 6 by East going one off (twice), 4♠ by North, once making and once going one off, and 5 by East, making with an overtrick.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 2 January 2018

The above hand was board 2.  Every Declarer made 13 easy tricks in hearts, yet only two pairs reached 6 and one pair didn't even get to game.

The above bidding was at our table.  After the 1 opening and 1♠ overcall I think North is too strong just to jump to 4 which is effectively a sign-off and South has no reason whatsoever to continue.

How about North bidding 3♠ instead?  Whether this shows first round control or a splinter depends on partnership agreement but it is nevertheless encouraging and promises heart agreement.  The main effect is that South's hand is enhanced as four losing spades no longer look so troublesome and South can now respond by cue bidding the Ace of diamonds.  Not only has this all additional information been exchanged cheaply, below the level of 4, both North and South have expressed additional values with an interest in possibly going beyond game.  Without this collaborative effort, there is no reason for either North or South to venture beyond 4.

The key is for North to set the ball rolling and, on the basis of that, for South to co-operate then North can use Blackwood (or further cue bidding) and reach a very good slam.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 2 January 2018

Seems extraordinary but it doesn't matter how long you've been playing, there will always be bidding sequences that appear never to have come up before. This is where the doubts, uncertainties and misunderstandings happen most often as we charter unfamiliar territory.

Looking at board 14, shown above, it's a real misfit all round so, not surprisingly there were a myriad of different contracts and, also not surprisingly, they all went off.  It was that sort of hand and luckily only two ventured past the two level.

The above bidding sequence was John and me against Marian and Tricia.  John opened 1 and rebid 2♣ which Marian doubled.  What does that double mean?  Is it takeout or penalties?

Strange to have made a takeout double after the opposition had bid three suits when there was no initial takeout double of the opening bid but also strange to be doubling 2♣ for penalties on a hand that was not strong enough to make an overcall in the first place.  I am sure a lot of players would have been perplexed by this bid.  After all, West's 1 was as yet unlimited and could have been the first move on a stronger hand.

Tricia made the sensible bid of 2NT.  She did after all have diamonds well guarded!

Nevertheless the rather bizarre distribution made communications between the hands very difficult and 2NT went one off.  Ironically, a contract of 2♣ doubled would have been expensive for East-West...

This is just the sort of hand where every table does something different.  North, South, East and West all declared in something but nobody actually made anything!  The contracts were as follows:

2NT by East going four off, 2 by West going four off, 2♣ by East going one off, 2 by North going one off, 2NT by North going one off, 1NT by East going two off, 3 by North going one off and 3♣ by South going one off.

Although we had a competitive auction at our table, looking at all four hands I can see a couple of sensible scenarios, both of which would have been uncontested auctions.  The first one is where East decides to open 1 and may well end up playing in 2♣.  The second scenario is that East doesn't open so North opens 1 fourth in hand and ends up playing in 2.  With the bad trump breaks in both clubs and diamonds, neither contract is a happy one and it is actually hard to see anyone reaching a makeable contract at all.

I think this hand reflects quite well the fiesty nature of this week's hands...