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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
Badger Farm Masterclass
Badger Farm Masterclass - No 1: Secondary Preference

The above hand has all sorts of interesting possibilities in both the bidding and the play.  First we'll have a look at the bidding and then we'll look at various scenarios to the play.


How would you bid the above North-South hands?

If you have a partner you can bid this with, so much the better.  If not, how would you continue with the North hand after the above Acol sequence?

Having completed the bidding, most pairs would reach 3NT or 4.  If you reached 3NT, bad luck, as it's probably not making on West's club lead.  More on that later.

The best contract is 4 and I personally think it's more often better to play in a major suit fit than No Trumps.  Yes No Trumps scores better for the same number of tricks but this is quite often due to a lucky lead, poor defence or favourable lie of the cards.  There's always an element of luck at Bridge.

Back to the hand in question, if you were to reach your 5-3 heart fit, how would you do so?

A bid by North of 3 after South's 1NT rebid is known as 'Secondary Preference'.  It is 100% forcing and merely giving partner a choice of contracts, either 3NT if he started with a four card heart suit or 4 if he started with five.  It's a very useful bid and frequently left out of the auction.  If North had four hearts, he would either have given an immediate limit bid response in hearts or if he had a 'delayed game raise', he would have now jumped to 4.  As the partnership would not wish to play in a 4-3 trump fit, it stands to reason that the 3 bid is therefore forcing.

There is another reason for making this bid on the North hand and that is that he also has a 5 card spade suit and South may be able to give secondary preference to spades by bidding 3♠ if he has a 3-card suit.

So instead of bidding a 'lazy' 3NT over 1NT, a jump to 3 gives a choice of three possible places to play, 4, 4♠ or 3NT.


For those who ended up in 3NT by South, either by opening a Strong No Trump or by North not giving secondary preference in hearts, West is likely to lead a club.  This may be won by East's Queen but then no matter what Declarer does, the defence will persist with clubs though when East returns the 9, West must make sure he covers it with the 10 if South doesn't play the Jack as East has no more clubs if Declarer decides to duck in dummy.  

West's Ace of spades provides a vital entry for his remaining clubs.  However, if West holds up his Ace on the first round of spades, Declarer will be denied access to dummy and end up losing a heart trick as well, taking 3NT two off.

Ironically, if Declarer goes up with dummy's Ace of clubs at trick 1, the club suit is blocked but the defence have two entries, one in each major so 3NT still doesn't make.

Despite all this, in a large enough field there will be pairs who make 3NT either because Declarer didn't receive a club lead or because the defence slipped up later in the play.

A contract of 4 is a whole lot easier.  The success of 4 is more in the hands of Declarer.  There is scope for making up to 12 tricks on a non-club lead to as few as 8 tricks on careless play.

A club lead is not as automatic against 4 as it is against 3NT but still works best.  

Let's say Declarer does receive a club lead.  This blasts a big hole in Declarer's clubs with the potential to lose two clubs, the Ace of spades and a heart which would render the contract one down.  Declarer can therefore duck the first club and win the return or win the first round but he must then immediately play off three rounds of diamonds to discard a club loser in dummy.

That's one club loser taken care of.  However, Declarer must still avoid losing two heart tricks in order to make his contract.  The best way to tackle the hearts is to play for 'split honours' which gives a 75% chance of losing just one trick in the suit.  The problem however is a lack of entries to dummy.

I would play spades towards the King Queen which is one entry and hope to ruff a club but as you can see, East can overruff and 4 is once again defeated.  So good effort but on an initial club lead, the defence should make one club, one spade and two trumps.  Unlucky!

Some Wests might not be keen on leading away from their club holding and lead a diamond instead.  Declarer is now in a safer position as he wins with the Ace, then leads the Jack of spades.  Most Wests will rise with the Ace in case the Jack is a singleton and will probably continue with a second diamond.  Declarer's one entry to dummy enables him to lead the Jack of hearts which East should not cover.  West wins with the Queen and maybe plays a third round of diamonds as it is now too late for a club switch to be effective.  

Depending on how safe Declarer wants to play he can discard a club from dummy and win in hand, play Ace and another trump then use his Ace of clubs to access dummy's winning spades.  Ten tricks, two trump losers and the Ace of spades.

Playing pairs, Declarer might greedily try for an overtrick by ruffing the third round of diamonds with dummy's ten of trumps then lead the four of trumps and finesse.  He then cashes the Ace of trumps felling East's King, plays a club to dummy and runs the spades, discarding his two losing clubs.  Eleven tricks and probably a top but a somewhat risky line of play!

Another scenario is that West starts with a diamond but on winning the Ace of spades, he finds a club switch.  Declarer can now do one of two things.  He can discard a club from his hand on the third round of spades but that relies on the spades breaking 3-3, otherwise play three rounds of diamonds and discard one of dummy's clubs.  This latter line of play still gives rise to the same issues as those from an initial club lead and 4 is likely to fail.  However, playing three rounds of spades works better on this particular layout as Declarer discards a club from hand and is therefore able to overruff a third round of clubs.  The play would proceed as follows...

A spade to dummy, then on the third round of spades Declarer discards a club from hand.  Play the Jack of hearts, losing to West's queen.  If West plays a third round of clubs, East can ruff but Declarer can overruff.  If West plays diamonds, Declarer should win then ruff the third diamond with dummy's 10 of trumps, then play a small heart and finesse, followed by the Ace felling East's King.  He now loses a club, a spade and a trump.  Ten tricks.  Phew!

Ironically the 5-2 fit in spades is the easiest contract to manage but only because the trumps break 3-3.  In practice East is likely to lead the Jack of diamonds which makes the play quite easy for 11 tricks but on a club lead, North has some slightly different problems to when South played in hearts.  He has the same losers of two clubs, a heart and a spade so he has to play three rounds of diamonds and discard a losing club from his hand (the North hand).  However, when he now tackles trumps, West takes his Ace, then plays two rounds of clubs which gives East a trump promotion.  If Declarer ruffs the third club low, East overruffs and if Declarer ruffs high, East's ten of spades is promoted to a winner.

Well, how to summarise all that!  On an initial club lead no game is makeable on correct defence and an unfortunate break in clubs from Declarer's point of view.  However, the contract with the greatest chance of success is the 5-3 fit in hearts where it is quite possible a club won't be led or switched to.

A hand like this would result in a myriad of scores.  Some pairs would not reach game though most would (and should), then there would probably be quite a few in 3NT, mostly going down and some in 4 with a mixture of success and failure.  A North-South score of plus 620 would be good, plus 650 excellent and a score of minus 200 (3NT down 2) would be very poor.  What do you think you would have played in?

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 17: Planning the Play

I watched the above hand being bid and played in a recent teams match.  North-South were playing weak twos but North decided he was too strong for 2♠ (and I agree) so he opened at the one level.  East-West quickly motored to 3NT and South duly led his partner's suit.

It's always a good idea to do a quick reccy when dummy comes down and make a plan.  Failure to do so often results in problems further down the line when Declarer suddenly realises he could have done better.  In fact it is often said that the destiny of a contract is determined at trick 1.

Well not in this case as Declarer won the Jack of spades lead with his Queen which was fine.  But at trick 2 he immediately set about cashing five club winners before realising his mistake.  In his haste he had cut himself off from a heart winner in dummy.

After the clubs he played Ace and another heart but South zoomed up with the King and played a second spade.  Declarer won with the Ace but was rapidly running out of steam.  He had eight tricks but there was no chance of a ninth.  He played a diamond but North won and cashed all his spade winners.  One down.

All Declarer needed to do was to plan the play at the beginning.  He had two spade stops so he could allow the defence to get back in.  His ninth trick had to be a heart but he could only get to dummy via the clubs. 

At the other table Declarer got the same lead but at trick 2 he played the Ace of hearts then at trick 3 he played a small heart towards the Queen.  South went up with the King and played a second spade as before but when Declarer won, he now played a small club to dummy and before running the clubs, he cashed the Jack of hearts which provided the ninth trick.

The hasty play cost 12 imps as the other team gained 100 for 3NT going one off and another 600 for 3NT making at the other table.  A costly error, easily made if you don't plan the play.


Badger Farm Masterclass - No 16: Big Squeeze

Looking at the North-South hands, how would you bid it?

If you managed to find your way to 6 then well done.  It's a good contract and looks as if you would make it by drawing trumps and conceding a spade.

In a recent teams match, however, both sides were more ambitious and bid to 7.  This would have been fine if North had held a doubleton spade but when dummy was revealed both Declarers went slightly pale as it looked like a no hoper.

At one table South received a diamond lead so Declarer played the Ace from dummy and had a think about what on earth to do next.  It was highly unlikely that West would have led away from a King against a Grand Slam so Declarer placed the King with East and possibly the Jack with West.

There were some remote chances such as ruffing down the King of diamonds and taking a club finesse which would enable to discard two spades from his hand but for all this to happen seemed a little far fetched. 

At trick 2 Declarer decided to play the Queen of diamonds which was covered by the King which he ruffed.  Still very nervous he played a small spade towards dummy and up popped the Queen.  Was that a singleton or was he splitting his honours with QJ?

Declarer now played a small trump from dummy, both defenders following, then he played a second round of trumps to dummy's Jack but West showed out.  He now played the 10 of diamonds from dummy, East showed out of those.  Declarer ruffed and paused to take stock.

West had a singleton trump and six diamonds.  East had three trumps and a doubleton diamond.  It therefore seemed unlikely that West's Queen of spades was a singleton and much more likely that he held the Jack and probably another one or two little spades.

Declarer had no idea where the Queen of clubs was but the scene was set to put pressure on West.  Declarer drew the last trump to West threw another diamond.  Declarer now had one trump left.  He played it and West was in terrible trouble.  He couldn't discard a diamond as that would promote dummy's last diamond.  He couldn't discard a small spade as his Jack would now be unguarded and he couldn't afford to throw a club either.  Declarer's last trump squeezed West in three suits.

West, in a lot of pain, let go of a small club so Declarer now played the King of clubs and a club to dummy, capturing West's Queen with dummy's Ace.  Declarer now played the Jack of clubs but  this time West had to throw his Jack of diamonds or a small spade.  He couldn't throw the Jack of diamonds as that would make dummy's last diamond a winner.  He therefore discarded a smalll spade but Declarer was now able to play a top spade felling the Jack and the 10 of spades was now the 13th trick.

Not a good Grand Slam but providing Declarer played his cards in the right order, it couldn't be defeated.

At the other table, there was a transfer sequence so 7 was played by North.  East led a club (a trump might have been better) which gave Declarer one free discard so after drawing trumps, Declarer tried the diamond finesse to discard a second spade.  This failed so the Grand Slam went one down.

Bridge can be so excruciatingly difficult at times as when you have multiple possible lines of play, it is so hard to decide which to take.  When you see all four hands the winning line is very straightforward, take the club finesse and ruff down the King of diamonds and you have two discards, one spade gets thrown on a club and the other on the Queen of diamonds but who would want to play like that in a Grand Slam!

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 6: Defence is the hardest part of the game

Defence at the Bridge table can often be very difficult, especially when Declarer is running a long suit and you have to find lots of discards.

Ian Fearon sent me the above hand from a recent online match his team played against a Basingstoke team.

Looking at the East-West hands, in the unlikely event of a four-nil club break, no game is possible.  If this is not the case, 5♣ makes or 3NT with two overtricks.  However, in practice you can see why East was prepared to have a go at 6♣ and who can blame them as, after discovering partner holds the Ace of spades, there are a number of possibilities.  Partner may hold a King or less difficult to find out, he may hold shortage in spades or length in spades, either of which could result in the loss of just one spade trick.

The other real life possibility of course is to run trillions of clubs and put the opposition's discarding methods to the test.

Ian and Clare found themselves defending 6♣ and not surprisingly Ian led a trump as he didn't want to risk giving away a trick in any of the other suits.  Now came the problem as Declarer rattled off seven club winners, leaving Ian and Clare to do a lot of discarding and it's not easy...

Sitting South Ian was concerned about all three side suits.  Sitting North Clare obviously wanted to guard her King of spades but was also anxious to hold on to her hearts in case dummy's hearts became winners.  In their discarding methods Clare was able to show spades and Ian showed interest in diamonds.

In the event both Ian and Clare each let go of two spades on Declarer's clubs so at trick 8 Declarer played a spade to dummy's Ace followed by a heart back to the Ace.  

She now switched to playing Russian roulette by playing her last trump then switching to a spade.  Luckily for Declarer, Clare returned a diamond so Declarer won with the Ace and cashed her final spade which was a winner.  Had Clare played a heart, Declarer would have gone down.

It is very difficult to find lots of discards and maintain concentration when Declarer is running a long suit but here is how it might have worked...

North should show interest in spades as Clare did.  The problem for South is that dummy's red suits are both potentially useful for Declarer so letting go of any red card might be fatal.  As North has not signalled for a red suit, South is safe to assume that Declarer has both red Aces.  However, whilst South cannot know both of Declarer’s Aces are singletons, he has to reason that if he has Ax in either, Declarer is actually home and dry.  It is key therefore for South to signal to partner by discarding a high diamond and high heart which then enables North not to worry about having to hold on to those little hearts.

Of course it is always much easier after the event and in practice this was a particularly difficult defence and I'm sure many partnerships would have let the impossible 6♣ through.  Nevertheless, the key to a successful defence is careful and reliable carding and signalling, and the ability of both defenders to concentrate by keeping track of what has (and hasn't) been played.  No wonder defence is widely agreed to be the most difficult part of the game.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 22: Donít Give Up Hope...

The above hand appeared in one of those casual games on BBO (Bridge Base Online) where you play with random partners.  There is no partnership undeqqrstanding, the standard of the Bridge is variable and the bidding is crude to put it mildly with a lot of guesswork.  As you can see from the above bidding, it was pretty dreadful.  My partner was from Poland and, apart from stating he played a 15-17 No Trump with Stayman and transfers, we were in a bidding wilderness and I had no idea what 2NT was meant to be.  Assuming it was showing around 11 points, I shot to 4 as I thought it might have a chance.  I'm not sure what partner thought his 2NT was supposed to show, how I might have interpreted it or whether he thought my 4 bid was strong but he decided 6 was the place to play.  It wasn't but the Ace of clubs lead was the first hurdle out of the way as at least we didn't now have two club losers.  However, it was only a minor sigh of relief as a diamond loser still looked unavoidable...

After winning the first trick, West switched to a diamond. I won in dummy and drew trumps.  With no chance of discarding a losing diamond from either hand, the only possibility was some kind of ‘squeeze’, a feint hope but the only chance.  For anyone who has not come across a squeeze before, it is when a player has winners in more than one suit but when another suit is played, he is forced to unguard one of the suits.

All the trumps were drawn in two rounds but I played every single one of them whilst both opponents had to find multiple discards.  I watched and counted very carefully and the one in trouble was West who was guarding spades and diamonds.  He was fine to discard all his clubs but on the sixth trump he was left with ♠QJx and Q10.  If he discarded a spade, I could make three spade tricks and if he discarded a diamond, I no longer had a diamond loser.  Twelve tricks made but still a very poor slam.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 15: A Cow Flew By

'A Cow flew By' is a well known Bridge saying.  It refers to a play which makes no sense, following a small lapse of concentration.  We've all been there as in Bridge it's easy to get distracted and make a silly mistake, whether that is forgetting you have a winner (or a loser), miscounting trumps or a million and one other things.  Let's be honest, Bridge is a game of mistakes and it's almost impossible not to make one at some time or other.

I had the pleasure to kibitz the above hand in a recent teams match.  The Badger Farm side was Steve and Pauline Davis playing East-West and Dick and Mary Killick playing North-South against a team from the Isle of Wight.

At both tables the bidding was broadly similar and both sides ended in 3NT.  At one table nine tricks were made but at the other only eight, resulting in a swing of 450 or 10 imps.  Let's look at the play and defence as it happened at each table.

First, with Dick and Mary sitting North-South, Mary led the 10 of spades.  Dummy played low as of course did Dick as looking at dummy, his challenge was to scupper Declarer's chance of running dummy's clubs.

Declarer won with the Jack and at trick 2 finessed the 10 of clubs.  Dick refused, giving Declarer a real problem getting to dummy so Declarer switched to the Queen of hearts hoping to access dummy subsequently with the Jack.  However, Mary allowed the Queen to hold.

With little hope now of reaching the clubs, Declarer decided to play on diamonds and led the 6 which Dick won with the 8 and continued with a second diamond which Mary was allowed to win with the 10.  At this point Mary played the King of hearts to smother the Jack (and promote her 9 as a winner) but Declarer ducked so she now continued with a third round which Declarer had to win with the Ace.

Declarer laid down the Ace and King of diamonds and the spotlight now fell on the defence.  With the North cards Dick held Kx in both black suits and the 8 of hearts.  Although discarding a club would break his cover, it was pretty obvious from the way Declarer had played that he couldn't get to dummy but really under pressure, it's not so obvious.  Dick parted with the 8 of hearts, a fatal error as Declarer cashed one more diamond, Dick now discarding a small club.  Declarer then played Ace and another spade which Dick won but was forced to give back a club on the thirteenth trick.  Two club discards and keeping the 8 of hearts would have defeated 3NT.

At the other table Pauline was declarer and received the Queen of diamonds as the opening lead which she ducked.  South continued with the 7 which she won with the King.

Pauline also set about the clubs and led the 10 but this time North took his King and returned a diamond which Pauline ducked, South returning a fourth round which she won with the Ace.

Pauline also sought entries to dummy so tempted the opposition with the Jack of spades.  North mistakenly won with his King, hoping that a heart switch would now become the fifth trick and defeat the contract.  Pauline finessed and the King of hearts was the setting trick.

If Pauline had paused to take stock, the heart finesse was an unnecessary risk as she had achieved nine tricks - She had already collected Ace and King of diamonds so could have played the Ace of hearts, the 6 of diamonds (discarding Dummy's second heart) then play Ace of spades, a small spade to dummy's Queen then the rest of dummy's clubs which would have been nine tricks.

An unfortunate result and expensive loss to the Badger Farm side where an initially smart defence by Dick and Mary could have defeated Declarer and a less good defence against Pauline gave her the opportunity to make her 3NT.  

Two cows flew by, when Dick discarded his eight of hearts and Pauline took a heart finesse.  The loss of 10 imps to Badger Farm was expensive as it could so easily have been a gain of 10 imps instead if only those two cows had not flown by...

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 10: Who's Conning Who?

Pre-emptive bidding is designed to be disruptive and this hand from a recent teams match was no exception.

After West opened a weak 3♠, North has a hand of intermediate strength.  Under normal conditions North would open 1 or make an overcall in diamonds if West opens.  However, whether to bid is a marginal decision if it has to be at the 4 level.  Personally I wouldn't but as you can see from the above bidding, North decided to make a takeout double.  East decided to keep quiet.  South had no choice but to bid 4 which East then doubled.

At the other table West also opened 3♠ but North decided not to bid so East raised to 4♠ and that was the end of the bidding.

North-South can defeat 4♠ via three diamonds and a club providing they take their tricks immediately otherwise Declarer gets a discard to East's third heart.  However, North was on lead and a the Ace of clubs didn't look attractive and the Ace of diamonds less so.  A heart was a possibility but he decided to lead a trump and 4♠ now made for +620.

Back to the other table and against 4 doubled West led his singleton club.  Declarer could see three trump losers, a spade, a club and a club ruff as it was obvious this was a singleton.  That would be three down for minus 800, not very good.  Two off would be better so Declarer did his best to encourage a misdefence by dropping the Queen of clubs at trick 1.  At trick 2 Declarer switched to a trump which East won and returned a spade so West did not get his ruff.  The defence ended up with three trump tricks, a spade and a club so 4 doubled was two off for minus 500.

The nett result of the deal was a swing of +120 (+4 IMPs)  though it could have been 4♠ going one off and 4 going three off which would have been a swing of minus 900 (-14 IMPs).

This hand was complete bedlam.  When North made a takeout double, South could well have been bidding 4 to make as North could have had a much stronger hand.  In the event 4 turned out to be a sacrifice and, in theory at least, this was a phantom sacrifice as 4♠ has four losers.

At the table playing in 4♠ in an uncontested auction, the opening lead from North was crucial.  It had to be a diamond or a club but in practice a heart or a spade were more likely and could have been right.

As to whether North should have competed, that is a matter of opinion.  As it happens East had a strong hand but he would just as easily have bid 4♠ on a weak hand, something like KJx Axx x xxxxxx, where 4♠ would have been a sacrifice against a North-South game.  And it is by no means inconceivable that East-West end up in 4♠, North-South have game on yet neither North nor South even makes a bid.

Pre-empts certainly put a lot of pressure on the bidding but as this hand demonstrates, there is also plenty of scope for going wrong in the defence even when you are not in the right contract.


Badger Farm Masterclass - No 8: The Importance of Suit Quality

The above hand played in a recent online match looks normal for 3NT by East-West.  However, as you can see from the above bidding, that is not what happened.

South decided to compete with 2 with a large egg landing on his face.  A bit unlucky maybe but two things would have deterred me from bidding, first that partner had not bid and the East-West hands were as yet unlimited.  More important though was that whilst being an opening hand, the diamonds were not of good quality, there was no shape and high card values were scattered.

Some Wests would have been able to double 2 for penalties but this partnership had an agreement that a double showed three card spade support, hence the pass.  East's double in the protective position was for takeout, West's second pass was to turn the double to penalties, North's 3♣ was an attempted rescue and East's final double was for penalties.

East started with a heart.  West won and switched to a spade.  A second heart came back and West now cashed a third heart followed by the Queen of clubs.  East later cashed three club winners and 3♣ doubled was four off for minus 800.

At the other table the bidding started the same but South didn't intervene so West rebid 2 and East confidentally jumped to 3NT. 

South had to decide on an opening lead.  Some people would go for the unbid suit but this is often well covered by Declarer.  The main consideration was that South held almost all the outstanding high card points and could not therefore expect much from partner.  His spades looked well placed but other cards didn't.  He decided on a standard fourth highest diamond in the hope partner might just have a useful card in the suit.  No such luck as partner discarded a club on the first round after Declarer popped up with the Queen from dummy.  Prospects did not look good for the defence though at least Declarer had not let the diamond run round to his 10.

At trick 2 Declarer played a spade and finessed the Queen.  South won with the King and did a quick reccy.  The diamond position was known, Declarer clearly had AQxx in spades, nothing in hearts and therefore quite a bit in clubs.  What Declarer didn't know was where some of the enemy cards were so South switched to the 9 of hearts which might look to Declarer like top of a doubleton.  Eventually he played the 10 from dummy which held so things should have become clearer.  

Declarer now cashed the Queen of clubs from dummy but with only the Ace of spades as an immediate entry back to his hand, he decided to play a diamond to his ten and South's Jack.  That proved to be a fatal error as South played his partner for the ten of spades and switched to the Jack.  Declarer ducked but he was now cut off from his hand.

South now played Ace and another diamond and eventually Declarer had to play away from the Ace and Queen of hearts, losing a fifth trick to South's king of hearts.  Declarer's last four discards were Ace King Jack of clubs and the Ace of spades which had all become inaccessible.

Looking at all four hands, 3NT on the diamond lead could actually have been made with three overtricks but, not knowing where the missing cards were, Declarer had a number of views to take.  South knew the cards were well placed but knowing that Declarer didn't, he did his best to create some difficulty which resulted in Declarer cutting himself off from dummy.  This was the only hope for the defence to defeat the contract and another minus 50 to add to the minus 800 on what could have been a fairly routine kind of hand.

The above hand demonstrated two things, the potential risk of overcalling on a poor quality suit at the two level when partner has passed, and a bit of defensive psychology, not to give up hope even if all looks good for Declarer.  He may not have worked out where the missing cards are so put him under pressure and give him the opportunity to go wrong.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No. 18: Six Hearts: Easy or not so easy?

I watched the above hand in a recent teams match and it has a tale to tell...

I don't really agree with the bidding as I believe West should have opened his longer suit first.  However, East-West ended in the right spot although looking at the two hands together, a Grand Slam was quite on the cards.

North decide to lead the Queen of spades, dummy went down and Declarer looked at his prospects.  The contract looked sound and the main fly in the ointment appeared to be a bad trump break.  With five trumps missing, they break 3-2 68% of the time, 4-1 28% of the time and 5-0 4% of the time.  An unlikely five nil break would be curtains but with a 4-1 break and a trump loser, the hand can still be managed with the hope that the other suits behave.

Declarer covered the opening lead with the King, South played the Ace and he ruffed.  He then set about the trumps and after two rounds, a 3-2 break was confirmed, it all looked easy and Declarer was expecting to make all 13 tricks. He cashed the Queen of clubs to unblock the suit, then after drawing the last trump, he started to cash his club winners but on the second round, a 5-1 break in clubs was revealed and all of a sudden the contract looked in danger.  He played for a 3-3 diamond break but with the clubs breaking as they did, it was unlikely and not surprisingly they broke 4-2 and Declarer went down in his slam.

Unlucky but nevertheless careless.  At Pairs we try not only to reach the best contract, but also to get as many tricks as we can and play with sensible odds.  At teams however making an overtrick in a slam is irrelevant and all focus must be made on safeguarding the contract.

It was easy to get mesmorised by the likelihood of running winners in clubs or diamonds but there was a safer line.

The key card was the nine of spades which virtually guaranteed the twelfth trick.  After drawing two rounds of trumps, cashing a top trump from hand then playing small to dummy's Queen (as Declarer did), Declarer should play the 10 of spades and discard a club.  West wins but there is now no defence to beat the contract.  Declarer gets back in, draws the last trump and can count 12 tricks.

To add insult to injury, a messy auction at the other table did not locate the heart fit and East ended up bidding 6NT, not a great contract.  However, South led a diamond which seemed not unreasonable from the bidding but that provided the twelfth trick so 6NT made whilst 6 went one off for the loss of minus 14 imps.

Bridge Masterclass no. 14 - Planning the Play in a Slam

The above hand came up in a recent teams match.  It's by no means the easiest of hands to bid but a final contract of 6♠ is emminently reasonable and without a club lead, twelve tricks look more than likely.  Unfortunately, the most threatening lead is a club which puts Declarer under a lot of pressure.

It is always advisable to do a quick recky before diving into the play so after a lead of the seven of clubs, dummy appears on the table and you need to look at your prospects and plan how you might best make your contract before playing a single card.

The club lead has certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons as you are in danger of losing the King of clubs and the Ace of hearts.  Basically there are three lines of play that may or may not succeed.

The first line is to play the Ace of clubs, followed by three rounds of diamonds, discarding your singleton heart on the third top diamond.  Then play the King of hearts, intending to take a ruffing finesse, ie if the Ace is not played, discard a club loser.  If you lose to the Ace you will now also lose a club but if East has the Ace of hearts and plays it, you ruff, return to dummy and discard a club on the Queen of hearts.  Return to hand with a red card, hoping not to get overruffed (otherwise ruff high and hope the trumps break 3-2), then draw the outstanding trumps and concede a club trick.  Contract makes if the Ace of hearts is with East and you take the right view in trumps.

The second and third options depend on the whereabouts of the King of clubs.  If you play East for the King of Clubs, you should win with dummy's Ace, play the King of spades, come to hand with a diamond, draw the outstanding trumps then play a diamond back to dummy.  On the third round of diamonds, discard your singleton heart then play a small club towards your Qx.  You will lose just one club trick providing East has the King.

The third option is if you think West has led away from the King which a good player might well do, bearing in mind that a club lead is the only lead that gives Declarer a problem.  Basically, having weighed out options 1 and 2, you need to consider the risks and decide whether to put all your eggs in one basket and play low from dummy in the hope that West has underled the King.

Which of the above options would you have chosen or would you have followed a different line of play?  See below as to whether you would have made or gone down in your slam...

With three (or maybe more) lines of play, what worked on the day?

In the event East held the Ace of hearts and 10xxx of spades, West had led away from the King of clubs, diamonds broke 4-3 and hearts 3-3.

Therefore if you opted for line 1, you would have succeeded providing you didn't ruff high when you came back to hand.  

If you opted for line 2, playing East for the King of clubs, bad luck but this could easily have been the winning line of play.

Finally if you opted for line 3, playing West for the King of clubs, you would have had to have been brave enough to put all your eggs in one basket at trick 1 and play low from dummy.  The only justification for taking this line of play is that you and partner had not cue bid and had bid the other three suits which would probably have encouraged West to try a club away from the King.

Under pressue of time I ended up taking option 3 so made my 6♠ but I'm not convinced that option 2 might not have been the best line though unfortunately unlucky on this occasion.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 5: Hold Up

A hold-up play, which can be done by Declarer or a defender, is a conscious decision not to win a trick when you could have done so.  There are a number of reasons for doing or not doing this and many mistakes are made when a player ducks a trick when he shouldn't have or vice versa.

In a recent match, both sides played in 3NT.  Once it was played by North after the above bidding sequence.  The other time it was played by South after North had started with 1 with South eventually bidding No Trumps.

When it was played by North, East led the Jack of spades which looked like it might have more potential than a heart.  Declarer won in hand with his King and at trick 2 he switched to the Ace of diamonds then ducked one round to West.  Seeing the Ace of spades in dummy and knowing his partner didn't have the Queen, a spade return was futile so West switched to a small club.

Declarer won with dummy's Ace and played a small heart towards his Queen.  If the defence didn't take their Ace on this trick, Declarer would now have established nine tricks, a club, a heart, four diamonds and three spades.  However, East didn't hold up and took the Queen with his Ace, returned a club to his partner and 3NT was one down.

At the other table, South was Declarer and also got a spade lead from West after the bidding had gone 1 - 1♠ - 2♠ - 2NT - 3NT.

The opening lead was won in dummy (the North hand), then Declarer played a small diamond at trick 2 which was won by West who now switched to a club.  East played the Queen but Declarer ducked. East continued with a second round of clubs and again Declarer ducked so West won with the Jack.

Realising he had no entry for his 13th club, West switched back to a spade.  Declarer won and ran four diamond tricks.  He then played a small heart.  East rose with the Ace and returned a club but Declarer now had the rest of the tricks, making 3NT exactly.

So what was the difference?  It was all about holding up the Ace of clubs.  By holding up his Ace twice, the second Declarer blocked the suit so the defence could only take two club tricks instead of three.

The most menacing lead would have been a club but there was no particular reason why either East or West would have led one.  The opening lead is often crucial as it enables the defenders to gain a vital tempo.  However, in this case the club switch was no less effective except that in both scenarios Declarer could counter by holding up his Ace twice.

On an opening club lead, prospects for Declarer would have looked quite grim.  Not only does Declarer have to duck twice to sever the defenders' communications, he would have to hope that a) West didn't have the Ace of hearts and b) West had only two diamonds.  The winning line then is to play off Ace and King of diamonds, then duck the third round which has to be won by East who also has the Ace of hearts.

The cards lay favourably for Declarer despite a club lead or switch.  The first Declarer played either for a misdefence or the clubs to be blocked and went down when neither of these things happened.  The second Declarer played for a favourable lie of the cards so 3NT was delivered legitimately.  This was definitely a good time to hold up, not just once but twice.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 21 - Defence: A Combination of Skill and Luck

There is no doubt that there are good opening leads and bad ones but nothing is foolproof at Bridge and a choice of opening lead may work on a good day but another time it won't and might even be responsible for conceding the contract.  The above deal proved to have an interesting variety of results depending not only on the opening lead but the continuation of the defence.  Thanks to Ian Fearon for sending me this hand.

The above auction was just one of many bidding sequences as some Easts would have opened 1 or 1NT and West would also have responded in a variety of ways with final contracts of 1NT, 2NT, 3NT or a club part-score, all with various degrees of success.

Against Ian and Clare East opened a strong No Trump so there was no reason not to lead a small heart which Ian did.  Declarer lost a club but the diamond finesse worked with ten tricks made from four clubs, four diamonds and two hearts and a score of minus 180 for Ian and Clare.

The heart lead was lucky from Declarer's point of view as if the King of hearts had been in the North hand, there would have been rather more losers.  However, not all Declarers made ten tricks as some were too scared to take the diamond finesse and ended up with eight tricks.

Any East-Wests playing No Trumps from the West hand were not so fortunate as the Jack of hearts lead from North meant that No Trumps played very badly with Declarer making only six tricks, losing four hearts, a club and two spades.

Several Souths for some reason tried an imaginative spade lead.  On one occasion, against 3NT, North won and switched to the Jack of hearts but when Declarer played low, South failed to go up with the King so 3NT made with an overtrick.

At another table South also led a low spade against 3NT which North won and also returned the Jack of hearts.  This time South won and played back a heart.  On dummy's Queen, North played low and blocked the suit, but with the King of spades as an entry card there was a reprieve this time and South was able to cash his fifth heart and 3NT went three off, a very poor score for East-West. 

So what can we conclude from the above?  Looking at all four hands 3NT is unmakeable and goes three off.  However, at the table we can't see all four hands so the theory and practice are quite different.  The bog standard heart lead (which I would have made every time) was unsuccessful on this occasion but if partner had held the Queen of hearts instead of say the Ace of spades, it would have been a very different story.  

The luck element from East-West's point of view was which way they happened to play their No Trump contract and if it was East declaring, if South decided on a spade lead, North had to refrain from returning the suit and instead switch to the Jack of hearts then South had to play to prevent Declarer making two tricks in the suit by going up with his King and playing back another heart.

Just the sort of hand where every result on the scoresheet is liable to be different, either a different contract or a different number of tricks made, all from a combination of good play and good fortune.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No. 19: Another Safety Play

In a teams match, after a Weak 2♠ opening from East, North soon found himself in 3NT which looks a very reasonable contract.

The bidding was the same at both tables but one Declarer made it but the other went down.

Both Easts led the Queen of spades and both Declarers won in hand and tackled clubs.  One Declarer played King of clubs then another one to the table and noted the 4-1 break.  West won the fourth round of clubs and if he wasn't thinking, he would lead back his partner's suit and Declarer would collect his nine tricks.  However, West was thinking.  The Queen of spades lead denied the King, therefore Declarer had it and a spade return would give Declarer his contract via two top spades, five clubs and two red Aces.  West therefore switched to the King of hearts and Declarer was a trick short.

Good defence but Declarer was careless.  If the clubs had broken 3-2 he would have been fine but once the King of clubs had been played, Declarer had no entry back to his hand.  The winning line to guarantee the contract (save for a five nil club break) is to play a small club at trick 2 and allow the opposition to win it.  There is now no defence to beat the contract as Declarer can still get back to his King of spades and can always get to dummy's clubs via one of the red Aces.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 4: Mistakes at the Bridge Table

The above hand was one of the deals in the first online Hampshire Pairs event on Sunday 10 May.

In the bidding North upgraded his hand due to the quality of the diamond suit.  In terms of high card points 3NT would seem a sensible spot to play.  However, looking at the combined hands, the heart cover is poor, the opposition have too many diamonds for Declarer to run the suit and the quality of the clubs is weak.

East led the four of hearts.  Prospects did not look good and a lucky lie of the cards is required.  The hearts need to break 4-4 and the clubs have to behave very well otherwise 3NT has no chance.

Before looking at the hand in more detail, as dummy I watched the play proceed as follows...

The defence played three rounds of hearts, Declarer winning the third round in dummy.  It looked as if the hearts were going to break 4-4 but if East had 5, it would be OK providing he didn't get in with a club.

At trick 4 Declarer played a small club from dummy.  West shot up with the Ace, East playing the 10.  West continued with another heart which East won and that was the end of the heart suit.  The defence had now collected three heart tricks and the Ace of clubs.  

East now switched to a small spade.  Declarer played the Jack from dummy which held but in his own hand, Declarer had already discarded a spade and a diamond on the hearts.

Declarer now played a spade to his Ace and cashed three top diamonds.  He was stuck in his hand so, with fingers crossed under the table, he laid down the King of clubs hoping to fell the Queen.  She didn't fall!

Declarer played another club which West won and cashed a winning diamond so 3NT was two off.

Now for the errors...

First of all the defence.  East’s heart lead certainly turned out to be best lead after South had bid spades but the temptation for West to go up with the Ace of clubs at trick 4 was a mistake.  Look at the clubs from the defenders' point of view.  If Declarer had the 10 of clubs in his hand, he would probably have started with the Jack from dummy.  West should have at least considered that partner may have the 10 of clubs.  The effect of going up with the Ace was to hand Declarer the contract on a plate... if only Declarer had been paying attention!

Declarer should have been asking himself why West had played the Ace of clubs and East the 10.  Surely West was sitting with AQx.

After West winning the Ace of clubs, playing a heart and East returning a spade, Declarer should have gone up with dummy's King of spades.  The Jack of spades finesse was not required.  Declarer should now have played the Jack of clubs from dummy and finessed it.  Having lost three hearts and the Ace of clubs, Declarer now makes four clubs, two spades, three top diamonds and the Ace of hearts and 3NT is landed.

Well played but badly defended.  Had West not gone up with the Ace of clubs, Declarer can't avoid the defence from taking two clubs and three heart tricks for one down.

Basically Declarer had to pin his hopes on a 4-4 heart break and Ax of clubs onside and the dicey 3NT makes.

Ironically the one game that could not be defeated was 5♣, Declarer losing just two club tricks on very careful play as two hearts from the South hand can be discarded on top diamonds.

As sometimes happens at the Bridge table, the defence got away with their mistake but Declarer didn’t.  As the cards lie 3NT should always go one off but instead Declarer went two off when he was given a chance to make it.  Despite this both pairs went on to win in their respective directions and just goes to show how easy it is to get things wrong at the Bridge table.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 20: The Slam Zone

For a lot of players Slams are what Bridge is all about.  They occur relatively infrequently, they are exciting and challenging to bid and play, and bring big bonuses when they make.  But they also turn up the adrenaline and can be quite nerve-racking as a lot is at stake.

There is not much margin for error and on a good day you may bid a poor slam that happens to make or on a not-so-good day you land yourself in a good slam only to find there is a bad lie of the cards and you can't make it.  12 imps can easily be won or lost depending on whether it is a good or bad day and whether the opposition team has also bid the slam.  And on a very bad day, both sides might bid a slam but a different lead defeats one side but not the other.

Personally I'm not a great fan of slams and I believe that winning at Bridge is more about bidding good games, being competitive in the part-score zone and good card play.  Of course you should always strive to bid the good slams but many match points can be lost by overshooting to bad slams or missing the obvious slams.

Ian and Clare Fearon recently played the above hand in a teams match and both sides reached 6 for a flat board though there are in fact 17 tricks with many ways of collecting all the tricks as long as you draw two rounds of trumps first!

There is also a myriad of possible bidding sequences and whilst we can all see there is a laydown Grand Slam, getting there is much more difficult.  The hand fits like a glove and the missing Ace of diamonds is superfluous as the void is what is key.  The solid trumps are important and the spades are nice but of great importance are the clubs.  If South had three small clubs and the clubs and spades didn't break kindly, 12 tricks would be the limit and this is not something that is easy to ascertain in the bidding.

The above bidding was at Ian and Clare's table with the 2NT response being the Jacoby Convention which is game forcing (at least) and promising four of partner's major.  Jacoby is a good convention but there are many continuations after the initial response depending on partnership agreement.  Opener distinguishes between a strong or weak opening hand and whether he has shape.  

With most of my partners I play 3♣ as a strong hand with other 3 level bids showing shortage and second suit bids at the 4 level as showing length and quality suits so with the North hand I would have jumped to 4♣.  South might have continued with a 4♠ cue bid.  At this point North might make a 5 cue bid but I think that at this stage North has probably gathered as much relevant information as he can realistically expect and could now check for trump quality with a bid of 5NT.

Whatever you play, there is quite a lot of information to unravel - Having all the top trumps, that the missing Ace is diamonds rather than spades or, looking at it from South's point of view, that the void is in diamonds rather than spades.  If that is not enough, South would want to know that partner holds Ace and King of clubs and North would not know the club position in South's hand.  One way or another it is not possible for both North and South to know everything about one another's hand so what is important is that one of the partnership investigates and the other collaborates.  The laydown Grand Slam is therefore rather harder to reach than you might think.  

One criticism I would make of the above bidding sequence is that it was not collaborative.  North has a strong hand in distribution and South has 19 high-card points but you can't both take control of the bidding so after the Jacoby 2NT, there was no hurry to dash to 4NT and it would have been better for North to continue describing their hand as the South hand did not need to be as strong as it was.  It is very important, particularly when bidding slams, that one player is in control and the other cooperates by providing further information or answering questions.  As Jacoby is game forcing there was no need to hurry.

The best way I can think of reaching a Grand Slam is as follows:

After 1 and Jacoby, North bids 4♣ and when South cue bids 4♠ (slam going by inference and therefore a very good hand), North bids 5NT (Grand Slam Force) and South, with two of the top three honours, jumps to 7.  Even with this sequence the club position is not certain but partner is likely to have values to give 7 more than a sporting chance.

In conclusion, I would say that whilst it may be frustrating to end in 6 and to see at trick 1 that 13 tricks are laydown, this is not at all an easy hand to bid.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 3: Dilemma for Declarer

South plays in 3NT (I'll explain the bidding later) and receives a lead of the 3 of hearts from West.  East plays the King.  Before reading on, how do you think you would tackle this hand?

The opening lead could have been a lot worse, ie a spade.  The danger is a spade switch if the opponents get in.

On a good day the Clubs will break 3-2 and the Queen will be onside.  If that is the case, you would be able to collect ten tricks (five club tricks, three diamonds and two hearts) before the opponents regain the lead.

Having taken the first round of hearts with the Ace, like it or not, the best odds is to take the club finesse.  If you played the King first, the singleton Queen was dropping but this meant you still had a club loser in the other hand and, as it happens, if a spade switch is found, the suit is blocked.

This was the first hand of a match and I was South, partnering Jeremy Baker.  As we play a 10-12 No Trump first and second non vulnerable, I had to open 1♣ on a 3-card suit.  Jeremy's bid of 2♣ is Game Forcing and my rebid of 2 showed a hand that would have opened a 12-14 No Trump.  3♣ from Jeremy was natural and I now signed off in 3NT.

On the opening heart lead, I was reasonably optimistic that either I would not lose a club or, if I did so early, the opponents would return a heart and not find a spade switch.  I therefore won the heart lead as above, then played a small club and finessed the Jack which lost to the Queen.

My prayers were answered as back came a heart so I went up with the Queen and continued with the King of clubs.  Oh dear, East showed out which now meant a second club loser.  Having lost my heart stop and having no spade stop, I could do no better than cash two top clubs and three top diamonds before the opponents regained the lead and took the rest of the tricks.  Two off and rather unlucky I feel!

So what happened at the other table...?

Well the bidding was more straightforward.  South opened 1NT and North jumped to 3NT so same contract but the similarity ended there.

Take a look at the West hand.  With nobody bidding clubs, there is no reason for West not to lead one.  Obviously with the previous bidding there was as Clubs had been bid and supported.  

West duly kicked off with the 10 of clubs, top of a sequence.  Over to Declarer again...

Hands off the Jack!!  He can wait till later.  Yes West could have the Queen but it's more likely that East has it and it could be singleton.

Declarer played a low club from dummy and sure enough the Queen popped up, clearly a singleton and West must have led from 1098x.

If you look at the clubs carefully, you will see that after winning the King in hand, Declarer was able to play a second club through West's 98x, come back to hand and repeat the process and pick up the suit for no loser.

Declarer now had five club tricks, three diamonds and the Ace of hearts.  However, on the clubs and diamonds, East-West misdefended and discarded too many hearts so Declarer ended up making three hearts so 11 tricks altogether.

So two off was minus 100 and 3NT + 2 was minus a further 460.  A total loss of minus 560 or 11 IMPs.  Not a good start but we recovered and ended up winning the match 17-3.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 11: Bidding Slams and the Importance of Fit

The above hand was one of the hands from the Chope Salver, the Dorset County Pairs event held in early September.

Looking at the North-South hands, 6 is a very good contract yet North-South's combined high card point count is only 25 and very few pairs got beyond game.  Those who did had to be able to find the excellent fit of the two hands to make up for the lack of high card values.

Splinter bids are one such mechanism and after an opening 1 from South, some Norths jumped to 4 which showed a singleton or void diamond, heart agreement and enough values for game opposite a minimum opening.  Such a bid gives a hint of interest in possibly exploring beyond game level and the shortage in diamond improves South's hand no end.

Many players use the Jacoby Convention where an immediate jump to 2NT opposite a major suit one level opening shows a fit with game values.

Beyond that there are many variants to the continuation of Jacoby, depending on partnership agreement.  Most of my regular partners play 3♣ as 16+ points, all other 3 level bids are singletons (and less than 16 points) with 3NT showing a singleton club.  A bid of 3 shows a reasonable hand but no singleton and a jump to 4 is a sign-off.

In the above sequence, Andy's 3NT showed a singleton club.  It all looked promising so I checked for key cards with 4NT and the response of 5♠ showing two key cards plus the Queen of trumps was everything I needed to hear.  The hand fitted like a glove.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 2: The Slam Zone

Bidding to a slam is guaranteed to get the adrenaline going.  The prospect of delivering the slam is every bit as exciting as we await the opening lead and the appearance of dummy.

But sometimes it leads to disappointment when you realise you're not going to make it or even worse, when you thought you would but things go wrong.  Worse still is the realisation that you could have made it but you didn't.

Making 12 or 13 tricks gives very much less scope for manoeuvre in the play than a lower level contract but nevertheless whether it's technique or nerves, slams are always a tense time!

Look at the above hand.  You bid to 6 by North and East leads of the Queen of Clubs which West wins with the Ace.  West continues with another club which you ruff.  

Prospects look very promising but you need to get the trumps out.  You play a small heart towards dummy but on the second round of trumps West shows out and you discover a 4-1 trump break.  Over to you...  

Click on 'Show Answer' to see if you would have made it...

This is a good slam and would have been easy to make had the trumps broken 3-2.  However the trumps have broken 4-1 and you suddenly find there is a blockage as you can't draw trumps and get to dummy's spades.

An easy slam is now in jeopardy and requires some careful play.  This is where it is helpful to be aware of the odds.  You have six spades missing.  The odds on the spades breaking 3-3 are 36% and on them breaking 4-2 are 48%.  However, with the trumps breaking badly it is even more likely the spades will break 4-2 rather than 3-3 and if anyone is likely to be short in spades, it will be East who has shown up with more trumps than his partner.

The winning line is therefore to abandon trumps and play off Ace and King of spades.  Then play two more rounds of trumps.  On the fourth trump, discard dummy's Queen of spades and you have now unblocked the spade suit and landed your Slam.  If you tried to play three rounds of spades East would have ruffed the third round.  Unlucky but not such a good line of play and it's goodbye to the Slam.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 12: A bit of Bridge Psychology

The above hand was played in a recent teams match.  Both Declarers played in 3NT, one made it and the other didn't.

There are several ways of reaching 3NT.  Just by way of explanation the jump to 3NT showed 15-16 points and 4-4 in the two bid suits.

The opening lead at both tables was a fourth highest club.  Both Declarers ducked twice and won the third round, East playing King, then 9 then 3 so it rather looked like West had started with a five-card club suit.

From Declarer's point of view there are eight top tricks, five diamonds, two spades and a club but the ninth trick can only come from the hearts.  One Declarer played a number of diamonds, then played a heart towards dummy's King.  East won with the Ace, played a second heart and West took his remaining clubs.  Two off.

The other Declarer played four rounds of diamonds, ending in hand then he also played a heart but inserted dummy's 10.  East won with the Ace.  Job done.  West could not get in again and Declarer made his contract.

The simple psychology is thus.  If West holds the Ace of hearts, 3NT is doomed as he is sure to rise with it and cash his remaining two clubs to defeat the contract.  Therefore he doesn't have it so don't go up with the King and instead play East for the Ace and West for the Queen.  Finesse the 10 and there is now no defence to beat the contract.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 7: The Destructive Power of the Pre-empt

In a recent online teams match, some very volatile bidding ended up with South playing in 5♠ at one table and 6♣ at the other.

At the first table North had opened a substandard 1, East pre-empted with 3, South bid 4♣, West jumped to 5 and South bid 5♠ and played there, making 12 tricks.

At the second table East opened 3 and North-South found their way to 6♣ after a competitive auction.

Looking just at the North-South hands, a slam in either black suit is excellent.  However, looking at all four hands you will see that gremlins were at the table as East was void in spades and against 6♣ West led the Ace of hearts on which East jettisoned the King, clearly a suit preference signal asking for a spade switch.  One down.  Good defence but very unlucky for Declarer as this resulted in a big minus swing instead of a big plus which cost the match.

Some of you will have heard of a 'Lightner Double'.  This is a special double of a slam which specifically asks partner for an unusual lead, ie one he would not normally have made.  West would have had to have worked out that this meant a spade lead, then East would have got two spade ruffs by playing a heart back to West and 6♣ doubled would have gone two off!

However Bridge hands like this are fraught with danger.  If West had tried a diamond lead 6♣ doubled would have made with an overtrick and another possibility might have been for North-South to realise the danger of playing in 6♣ doubled and find their way to 6♠ which cannot be defeated on any lead.  What an incredibly dangerous hand and bad luck to the team who went off in 6♣ as it was a good contract to reach.

Incidentally East can make 6 unless South underleads his clubs and North returns a diamond!

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 13: Double Trouble

The above hand appeared in a recent online teams match and a slight deviation in the bidding proved to be very costly.

At both tables the bidding started with 1 from South.  Both partnerships were playing 'inverted' minor suit raises so a jump to 3 of a minor was weaker than a raise to 2, ie pre-emptive.

At one table the bidding proceeded as above and 4 doubled by West was the final contract.

At the other table, after the same takeout double by East, South redoubled to show a strong hand, West bid 3 but North bid 4 and East continued with 4. Despite South's strong hand, he assumed partner had bid 4 because he had five of them and therefore with more limited defence and better playing strength he continued to 5 which East doubled.  

Although not a bad contract, Declarer could not cope with the 3-1 trump break and had to go one off for minus 200.  Not in itself such a disaster except that 4 would have gone off...

...and it did.  At the other table North led his singleton spade to South's King, South continued with his Ace then returned his bottom spade (asking for a club return) which North ruffed and duly returned a club to South's Queen.  South cashed his Ace of clubs and Ace of diamonds before running another spade for North to ruff.  North now returned a third club which South ruffed with his Queen of trumps.  Declarer took the rest of the tricks but he was already five off for minus 1400.

Total loss of 1600 or 17 IMPs.

Competitive auctions can get very frenzied and sometimes it is not clear who is sacrificing or indeed whether one should be.  With the above hand, two errors resulted in the disaster.  The North-South that ended in 5 doubled were goaded into it by North's 4 bid which implied some additional distributional values which he didn't have.  Both Easts bid to 4 which was unlucky to go so many off but nevertheless West's bid of 3 was a response to a takeout double and didn't promise anything much.

Badger Farm Masterclass - No 9: Ride your luck

In a recent online teams match, both sides ended up in 4.  It's easy to see how they did though it wasn't the best of contracts but with some slightly different cards, the bidding would no doubt have been the same and prospects would have been much better.  These things happen a lot in the imperfect world of Bridge.

How would you plan to make 4 on a trump lead from South?


On a trump lead Declarer is not under any immediate threat of defeat.  The first thing to hope and assume is that the Ace of spades is not sitting over the King otherwise you have no chance.  Apart from the Ace of spades, other possible losers are Ace King of clubs and a diamond.

There are a number of possibilities.  If South holds both Queen and Jack of diamonds, a losing club could be discarded on a diamond, 25% odds.  There is a possibility of one defender holding Queen Jack doubleton but this is even less likely.  Another possibility is a 3-3 break in clubs which would enable a losing diamond to be discarded from hand.  Although this is only 36%, there are additional possibilities of a singleton or doubleton top honour or the ten or successfully finessing against the ten.

I would therefore draw trumps and run the nine of clubs.  Although this loses to the 10, the clubs break 3-3 so a losing diamond can be discarded after the clubs have been ruffed out.  Contract made.

The trump lead was a 'passive lead' which sometimes works well but not on this occasion as Declarer gained an important tempo by having time to knock out the clubs before losing control of the diamond suit.

The most effective lead was the Jack of diamonds which was more of an 'active lead'.  The effect of this is that the diamond lead gains a tempo for the defence, providing they get it right.  After drawing trumps, Declarer plays a club but, providing the defence play a second diamond, they have then set themselves up with a diamond trick as soon as they get in again.  It is therefore important for South to win the first club and play a diamond, otherwise North will not be able to get in to make a diamond trick.  Contract defeated.

The hand resulted in a flat board as the team that led the Jack of diamonds, got their defence right so Declarer had to go down.  The Declarer who received a trump lead, drew trumps then played a diamond to dummy before switching to a club so the vital tempo was lost and the defence were able to make two clubs, a diamond and the Ace of spades.