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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
Fred's Bridge Corner
A Grand Hand!

This incredible hand appeared in a recent Southampton League match.  The two teams were Ivor Jones/Harry Tuffill and David Walton/Mike Day  versus Jeremy Baker/Tony Page and Fred Hotchen/Andy Hughes.

The above bidding was with Harry/Ivor playing North-South and Andy/Fred playing East-West.  It started with Ivor opening 1♠ on the South hand, Fred bid 2♠, a Michaels cue bid showing at least 5-5 in hearts and an undisclosed minor and of variable strength - It could have been rather weaker.  Harry then bid 4NT (Blackwood), Andy jumped to 6 which was passed round to Harry who now bid 6♠.  That was passed round to Fred who, sensing Andy was almost certainly void in spades, and with some sort of good fit with his hand, bid 7.  This was not a sacrifice but bid in the expectation that it had a good chance of making.  Passed round to Ivor, he doubled.

The bidding at the other table was completely different.  It started the same with Tony opening 1♠ and David bidding 2♠ but there the similarity ended.  Jeremy with the North hand bid 3, Mike bid 3, Tony jumped to 5, David bid 5 and Jeremy now jumped to 6♠ which ended the auction.

Looking at all four hands, you can see that there is no diffculty in making all 13 tricks in spades, providing it is played by South.  Had the contract been played by North, East could have led a diamond for West to ruff!

Back to 7 doubled which received a spade lead form Ivor.  7 looks like a make played by the East hand.  Played by West, a club lead from North would immediately defeat the contract.  But...

Ivor led the Ace of spades which Andy ruffed in hand.  At trick 2 Andy continued with a small trump and Ivor played low.  Had Andy had the audacity to finesse, the Grand Slam in hearts would have made but he played a top heart and now had to go one off.  

Obviously it is out of the question for Ivor to hesitate with his heart holding as it totally gives the game away.  However, the only defence to truly beat 7 is for Ivor to split his heart honours.  Andy would not now have been able to take a deep finesse and can't catch all of Ivor's trumps as he has to ruff a spade with a third trump.  Meanwhile Ivor still holds Jxx of hearts and has to make a trump trick.

7 doubled going one off for minus 100 and 6♠ making with an overtrick in the other room for plus 1010 was a big swing of plus 910 or 14 imps but for North-South to have bid to the undefeatable Grand Slam in spades would have been a tall order. 

The wild bidding at both tables reflects the tremendous power of hands that fit well together.  Both the North-South and East-West hands had super double fits, including a void in each of the four hands.

Who needs computer dealt hands or goulashes when you can randomly deal a hand like this?  With the potential of being in a Grand Slam in both directions, definitely not the sort of hand you expect to be a flat board!

Quote of the month - These can be applied at the Bridge table...


Anyone intelligent can make things more complex.  It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.  Albert Einstein.


The best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them.  Ernest Hemingway.


One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards.  Oscar Wilde.


The pessimist sees difficulty at every opportunity.  The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.  Winston Churchill.


If you focus on what you left behind, you will never see what lies ahead.


Don't waste a good mistake.  Learn from it.


Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.


Winners never quit and quitters never win.


It's your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude.


The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.  Oscar Wilde.


The goal is not to be better than the other man, but your previous self.  Dalai Lama.


Boris Johnson fires from the hip but normally ends up shooting himself in the foot.  James O'Brien, LBC.  Let's see...

Test Your Declarer Play

Sitting West, after two passes you open 1♠.  After a 2 overcall, partner bids 2♠ which you decide to raise to 4.

North leads a heart and although partner didn't promise a huge amount, dummy is somewhat disappointing.  Nevertheless, if you get the chance you will be able to ruff a heart and a club in dummy and with five spade winners in your own hand plus the King of hearts and two minor suit Aces ten tricks are in sight.

However, South puts a spanner in the works by winning the Ace of hearts and switching to a trump, a good defensive strategy on seeing two short suits in dummy.

Prospects do not now look so good as whilst you can easily ruff a heart in dummy, you have already lost the first trick and are likely to lose two clubs and a diamond as the defence are sure to play another trump as soon as they get in with a club.  How would you plan to make your contract against this rather annoying defence? 


Although prospects of making 4♠ look rather bleak, things are not as bad as they look if you play for normal suit breaks and manage your cards carefully.  You need a 3-2 break in trumps and 3-2 break in diamonds for your plan to come off.  Suits break 3-2 68% of the time so that is quite a reasonable chance of success.

Now for the plan and how to execute it...

The plan is to set up dummy's diamonds to discard your losers though this requires careful execution as dummy doesn't have many entries.

Win the spade switch in hand (preserving the valuable 10 in dummy) then play a diamond and allow North to win.  North plays the 9 of trumps.  Make sure you win it in hand (preserving the 5).  Both defenders follow so spades are revealed to have broken 3-2.

Now play a diamond to the Ace.  Both defenders follow so diamonds are also revealed to have broken 3-2.

Play a third round of diamonds and ruff in hand high.

Now play the 5 of spades to dummy's 10.  This catches the last enemy trump but more importantly it provides access to three winning diamonds on which to discard a losing heart and two losing clubs.  Not only have you made your contract, you have made it with an overtrick.  Any other line of play you won't even make 10 tricks.

Calling the Director

The Tournament Director is there to ensure the Bridge runs smoothly and any issues are resolved in an appropriate manner.  Whenever there is a problem with the bidding or play, including any revoke or inappropriate bid, it is always advisable to call the director for adjudication or resolution.

Occasionally the hands are put back incorrectly, either in the wrong pocket or one hand has 14 cards and another 12 and it is important to get this sorted ASAP.  There was a new one on me last week.  South only had 12 cards as the 4 of clubs had vanished altogether.  It was eventually found under a table on the other side of the room and I can only assume, the hand was played four times before anyone noticed.  Rather bizarre!

Even more bizarre, the very first time I ever directed, at Southampton Bridge Club.  Armed with my rulebook I went to the table to find out why I had been summoned.  An opening lead had been made during the middle of the bidding.  That particular irregularity was not in the book!

A few considerations when playing Duplicate Pairs

The above hand was board 23, from the 23 July duplicate, which Ivor asked me to discuss.  It is not the most memorable of hands and had the potential to have been passed out.  However, it wasn't and a variety of part-scores resulted.

The bidding would have started from one of two hands, West or North.

West's hand does not satisfy the ‘rule of 20’ but the justification for opening 1♠ is that it is both pre-emptive and lead-directing.  If West opens the bidding, North is unlikely to bid and East will probably play in 1NT.

If West doesn't open the bidding, most Norths would open a 12-14 1NT.

1NT was played by East on four occasions so presumably those Wests had all decided to open 1♠.  Three Declarers made 7 tricks and one made 9.

1NT was played by North on two occasions and twice in 2NT.  1NT went one off and 2NT went one off or two off.

Two pairs didn't play in No Trumps.  One South played in 2 which made with an overtrick, presumably after West had opened and North made a takeout double.  One West played in 2♠, presumably opening 1♠ then bidding 2♠ after partner's 1NT response.

A hand like this is fairly insignificant at teams or rubber Bridge but at duplicate pairs every trick matters and the vulnerability is very important.  

As both sides were vulnerable, that's 100 for each undertrick.  Going two down vulernable at pairs is normally a very poor score on a part-score hand such as this.  West going two off in 2♠ was a bottom and North going two off in 2NT was also a bottom.

With all four Norths going off in No Trumps, East making +90 in 1NT was nothing special but an overtrick for +120 would have made a big difference.  One East made two overtricks for +150, a very good score.

Going back to the original bidding, should West have opened 1♠ or passed?  That's a difficult question to answer but if East ended up playing in 1NT with overtricks, the answer is yes but otherwise it would have been better to have left North to open 1NT and go down.  Had West not been vulnerable, an opening bid of 1♠ would probably have happened more often.

There are many tactics in duplicate pairs and a fair amount of luck at times.  At pairs one is generally more inclined to take more risks than at teams or rubber Bridge as long as the occasional disaster is more than offset by good results.  The other thing to remember at pairs is that a score of 60% or more is very good so it is the absence of poor results that achieves this rather than a handful of sparkling scores accompanied by a sprinkling of below average results.  After all, if a hand is being played ten times, it is not reasonable to expect to always have the best score.  Consistently trying to get above average will normally do well with the occasional welcome gift from the opposition or unavoidable poor result when the opposition has excelled or been lucky.

As for the play, North playing in 1NT is likely to receive an opening lead of the Queen of hearts and six tricks looks about the limit for Declarer.

East playing in 1NT is likely to get a diamond lead and end up making seven tricks, two spades, three hearts and two clubs.  John Sherringham managed to make nine tricks as he didn't get a diamond lead or switch.  The opening lead was a heart, then when South got in with the King of spades, he switched to a club.  John therefore made four spades, three hearts and two clubs.

Overtricks are nearly always very important at pairs as providing you are in a 'normal' contract, any additional tricks result in a significantly better score.  Try to avoid a score of minus 200 on a part-score hand.  It is often said that you should adapt your line of play, depending on what contract you expect everyone else to be in but that is very much easier said than done, especially on a hand like this one.

A score of +90 is often not that good either as if the opposition at other tables go one off vulnerable or two off non-vulnerable, +100 scores better.  Conversely a score of +110 can often be quite good as it beats one off vulnerable or two off non-vulnerable.  An overtrick in 1NT, 2♣ or 2 will often result in quite a few more matchpoints.

A fairly innocuous hand like the one shown above is therefore quite tricky to bid and play at pairs with a fair bit of luck on the lie of the cards and the accuracy of the defence.

Double Disaster

In a recent teams match, one auction ended with South playing in 6♣ doubled after the above bidding.  At the other table, after the same opening bid, the auction was completely different.  North competed with 2♠, a Michaels cue bid showing 5-5 in hearts and a minor.  East jumped to 4♠ putting South in a difficult position.  It seemed unlikely that North's minor would be clubs and with the prospect of playing in a 5-2 fit in a red suit, South opted for a penalty double.

So at one table South was in 6♣ doubled whilst at the other table, with clubs not bid at all, West was in 4♠ doubled.

Against 6♣ doubled, West led the 5 of spades which Declarer ruffed in dummy, East contributing the 3 and South the 10.  At trick 2 the Queen of diamonds was led from dummy, East following with the 3 and Declarer the 4.  At trick 3 a club was played to the King.  West won with the Ace. 

Playing count signals West was aware that his partner had an odd number of spades and diamonds, seven spades and three diamonds or five-five in spades and diamonds.  West believed Declarer was trying to set up his diamonds so bravely switched to the King of hearts to knock out the only entry to dummy.  Unfortunately that was fatal as Declarer only had two diamonds and was actually in a no hoper of a contract but miraculously his heart loser had suddenly vanished!  6♣ doubled making got a score of 1540.  

At the other table, against 4♠ doubled, North led the Queen of diamonds which held the trick.  He now made the unfortunate switch to the Ace of hearts and Declarer was now able to lose the Ace of trumps and make the rest of the tricks.  Anything else at trick 2 and Declarer would not have been able to make more than nine tricks.  4♠ doubled scored 790.

The effect of all that was a total loss of 2330 or minus 20 imps whereas a one trick defeat at both tables would have yielded a gain of 400 (200 + 200) or plus 9 imps, a very expensive board by any stretch of the imagination!  Also a very good example of how difficult the defence can be.

Winchester at Torquay

It was very nice for Winchester and Badger Farm Bridge Clubs to join forces over the weekend.  Peter Crouch played with Geoff Oldfield and I partnered Bob McRobert in both the teams and the pairs at the Riviera Congress in Torquay.

Friday was Teams and we were going great guns until the last match which unfortunately we lost but nevertheless ended a very respectable third out of 27 teams.  

The above hand in the final match sealed our fate.

At both tables East opened the bidding, light on points but very distributional.  At our table the bidding proceeded as above.  The 2♠ bid was a Michaels cue bid showing five hearts and a five card minor.  It is often a weak bid, especially at this vulnerability, takes up valuable bidding space and sometimes results in a good sacrifice.  However, on this occasion it backfired badly.

West, with 19 points, quickly landed in 6NT so Bob sitting North was on lead.  On a club lead, Declarer is scuppered immediately but with East having bid clubs,  there would be no reason to lead a club.

It would seem that South's bid was showing hearts and diamonds.  Bob therefore led the 6 of hearts, I played the 10 and Declarer cleverly won with the King so it was not obvious who had the Queen.

Declarer then played the King of spades which Bob won with the Ace.  Bob continued with a second heart but Declarer beat my Jack with his Queen, discarding a second club from dummy, and setting up his 9 of hearts as a winner.

He now played a spade and finessed dummy's nine, played off the rest of dummy's spades, discarding two clubs, a diamond and a heart from hand.  This was followed by a diamond and another successful finesse.  Declarer now cashed the Ace and nine of hearts and a club to dummy's Ace was his twelfth trick.

At the other table Peter and Geoff played in 6♠ by East.  South led the Jack of hearts but with no opposition bidding, there was no reason to assume the spades would break badly and the club finesse also failed so 6♠ went two down.  That was a loss of 1440 and another 200, converting to an expensive minus 17 imps.

In the Pairs the hands and the Bridge players were quite wild at times and we both had mixed fortunes.  In the early stages Bob and I were leading but we were then duffed over rather relentlessly after that as were Peter and Geoff.  In the later rounds Peter and Geoff made a very good recovery and ended up 15th out of 72 pairs.  Bob and I didn't make such a good recovery and finished 32nd.

The Torquay Congress was a good, well run event and very enjoyable.

How would you play this hand?

On the above hand, after three passes West opens 1♠ which his partner raises to 2♠.  West has a good hand and some would bid 4♠ straightaway.  However, a little more prudent would be to make a 'Trial Bid'.  Spades have already been agreed so another suit is asking partner if he has help in that suit.  In this case West would like some help in diamonds so bids 3.  East can now re-evaluate his hand.  Does he have help in diamonds?  How good was his raise to 2♠?  If he has help in diamonds and reasonable values for his raise to 2♠, he can now jump to 4♠, otherwise he can bid just 3♠.  In this case, with KJx of diamonds, the King of clubs and four trumps, East considers his hand is helpful enough to bid 4♠.

North leads the Queen of hearts which is almost certainly top of a sequence such as QJ10.  When dummy is exposed, you are disappointed to see you have four losers, Ace and King of trumps, the Ace of diamonds and a heart.  The Ace and King of trumps and Ace of diamonds are unavoidable losers but what about the heart?  To make your contract you can only lose three tricks so how might you resolve this situation? 

You win the opening lead in hand with the Ace or King and whilst normal play is to get the trumps out as soon as possible, in this case there is something much more pressing...

Surely, as soon as your opponents get in with a top trump, they will play a second heart and when they get in a second time with their other top trump, they will now have a heart winner plus the Ace of diamonds.

What you therefore need to do at trick 2 is to play the Queen of diamonds and let the defenders take their Ace.  They will play back a heart but you now play a diamond to dummy and then a third diamond, discarding a losing heart from your hand.  Now you can get the trumps out and you will lose Ace and King of trumps and the Ace of diamonds but not a heart and you make your contract of 4.

If the defender holds up the Ace of diamonds and takes the second round instead, when you get back in with a heart, you lead a club to dummy's King and then play the Jack of diamonds to discard your losing heart.  You are still fine, just that the defence made it slightly more awkward for you.

Bridge Puzzle - How do you play to make 3NT?

On the above hand, South declares in 3NT and receives a lead of the 7 of hearts.  East plays the King and leads back a heart.  How would you plan the play to ensure you make your nine tricks?

This is not the easiest of hands to play as there are a number of options and dilemmas.  

If the lie of the cards is lucky, the king of diamonds finesse will be right, the spade and club finesses might also be right and the spades might even break 3-3.  If this all happens you could make 11 tricks.  On the other hand, if the king of diamonds is offside you could go off if you are not careful.

So where is the King of diamonds?  On the face of it, it’s 50-50.  However, a couple of considerations slightly sway this card to be with East.  First of all West probably has length in hearts so there is a greater propensity for any other card to be in the East hand.  Secondly, if West had the king of diamonds, he might possibly have had enough values to make an overcall.

On this deal, if you play one of your two top hearts at trick 2, you are doomed as West will duck and when East gets in with the King of diamonds, another heart will come back through your Q9 or J9 with West holding A102 over you.  One down.

From the opening lead West, having led the 7 of hearts (fourth highest), must have the Ace, 10 and the 8.

If you play the nine of hearts at trick 2, you cannot be defeated.  West can do no better than win with his 10 but you still have a heart stop.  If West plays back a heart at trick 3, you are safe when East gets in with the King of diamonds as he won't have any hearts left to play back.  If West doesn't play back a heart at trick 3, you still have a stop in hearts when East gets in with the King of diamonds.

As is often the case in No Trumps, it is a race between the opposition setting up their hearts and you setting up your diamonds.  By not going up with a top heart at trick 2 you disrupt the opposition's communications, maintain control and are able to make your nine tricks before they are able to get their five.

Back to the original dilemma, if you are playing teams or rubber bridge you would be foolhardy to jeopardise the contract for the sake of a possible overtrick.  At Duplicate Pairs, you have a decision to make as overtricks can earn valuable matchpoints.  You therefore have a decision to make but you would probably feel a bit silly if you went one off in a contract that is stone cold for nine tricks...

Six Spades or Seven Spades?

6♠ is a sound contract on the above hand and there are many ways of getting to it.  South should of course not support spades immediately as he is too strong to do that.  He therefore gives a delayed game raise by starting off with 2♣.  There are a number of other conventions South could use to show immediate support for spades such as the Swiss Convention or Jacoby Two No Trumps.  The 4NT was Roman Key Card Blackwood and the response of 5♠ showed 2 or 5 ‘Aces’ plus the Queen of trumps.

The play is likely to begin with the King of clubs and after drawing trumps, Declarer has an easy 12 tricks by cross ruffing his diamond and club losers and eventually conceding a heart.

However, one pair got carried away and reached a Grand Slam going one off.  Playing as above gave Declarer no chance of making 13 tricks though as the cards lay, he could have done so using an alternative line of play.  It required a fortunate lie of the cards but if East held length in diamonds as well as the Queen and Jack of hearts, Declarer could squeeze East in three suits...

Declarer wins the opening club lead, then plays five rounds of trumps.  On the third and fourth trumps East can discard a diamond and a club But on the fifth spade, East is in deep trouble.  If he discards another diamond, Declarer will make an extra diamond trick, if he discards the Queen of clubs, dummy’s Jack is good and if he discards a small heart, he loses his cover and Declarer’s 10 is promoted.  

What Declarer can’t do is to ruff diamonds as it is vital to keep communication with dummy via the Ace of diamonds otherwise the Jack of clubs can’t be accessed.

A contract of 7♠ is not good but it is makeable due to a fortunate lie of the cards providing Declarer tackles the hand in a way that gives him the chance to make it.

In a more normal and sensible contract of 6♠ Declarer would be foolish to play for a squeeze as if it doesn’t work, he wouldn’t even make 12 tricks, let alone 13 but if you find yourself in 7♠, your only chance to make it is by playing to squeeze East.

Test your Defence and Declarer Play - Should 3NT make or go off?

After the above auction, South led the 9 of spades.  Declarer played low from dummy, North won with the Ace and Declarer played the 4.

At trick 2 North returned a spade which Declarer won in hand and West discarded the 2 of clubs.

At trick 3 Declarer played a club to dummy's King.  North won with the Ace and played a third spade which Declarer won.

Declarer then took four clubs, Ace King of hearts, Ace of diamonds in addition to his two spade tricks and 3NT was delivered.  

There were four mistakes in the first three tricks.  Declarer didn't plan the play, East failed to read the lead and West discarded without thinking.

At trick 3, had North held up his Ace of clubs, Declarer would not have been able to get back to dummy to make the rest of his clubs.  Unless Declarer held a singleton club, it would have done no harm for North to have held up his Ace.  South could have helped his partner by showing ‘count’.  At trick 2 South should have discarded the 7 of clubs, followed by the 2 next time clubs were played.  This would have indicated an even number of clubs and North could then have worked out that Declarer held either two or four clubs, rather than one or three.

Now let’s look at Declarer.  To make nine tricks would require four club tricks but with only two clubs in hand, if the defence were to hold up the Ace of clubs, how would Declarer be able to get to dummy?

At trick 1, after North plays the Ace, Declarer should play the King (or Queen), then on a spade return, he should win in hand, thereby preserving the Jack of spades entry to dummy.  Declarer then plays on clubs and the defence can duck as long as they like but Declarer cannot be prevented from reaccessing dummy via the Jack of spades to enjoy the rest of the clubs.  3NT now makes.

Now let's look at the defence.  After North wins the Ace of spades at trick 1, we have seen that providing Declarer unblocks his spades, he cannot be prevented from making 3NT.

But if North reads his partner's lead, the 9 of spades is likely to be a singleton as South's 1NT overcall is almost certainly based on KQx.  Looking at dummy's clubs, it is essential to try to prevent Declarer from accessing them.  North has the King of diamonds over dummy's Queen, there is no harm in hoping that Declarer has only two clubs so holding up the Ace for one round could be catastrophic for Declarer.  The other key card is the Ace of spades sitting over the Jack.

If North holds up the Ace of spades until the Jack is played and holds up his Ace of clubs for one round, Declarer cannot make more than one club trick and therefore cannot make more than 6 or 7 tricks in total.  The defence would collect one club, four spades, one heart and possibly one diamond.

Four Hearts - Make it or break it?

My grandfather used to say the above auction was destined to go one off but that one down was good Bridge.  Not sure about those words of wisdom but on the above hand he would have been wrong on both counts.

In a recent teams match, North-South bid to 4 but should they have made it?

Looking at all four hands 4 is acutally makeable on any lead.  However, not looking at all four hands, a number of leads are possible, and there are a number of unknowns for Declarer who might tackle the play in various different ways.

An opening club lead would have worked well but could also have been very wrong.  West opted for a spade lead.  As Declarer I think I would have won in hand, cashed the Ace of trumps and played another heart towards dummy’s Queen Jack.  By running the opening lead round to hand, you have two chances of making four spade tricks (to discard a losing club from hand), either if the suit happens to break 3-3 but otherwise by playing twice through East's J10xx.

In practice Declarer decided to win the opening lead in dummy and run the Queen of hearts which lost to West’s King.

West played another spade which Declarer won in hand.  Next he played the Ace of trumps, getting the bad news of a 4-1 break.  He then played the seven of hearts, West following with the six and he therefore won with dummy’s eight.

Next Declarer played a small diamond and successfully finessed the ten, he then played a final round of trumps to dummy and led a second diamond towards his KJx.  East rose with the Ace but had unfortunately discarded one of his diamonds on a trump so Declarer made two more diamonds and the Queen of spades for ten tricks, losing a trump, a diamond and a club.

The defence was not easy and it was particularly difficult for East to make discards on the hearts.  He could not part with his spades as that would have set up dummy's spades and he would not have been aware of the club and diamond position early on in the hand.  Therefore not to let go of a small diamond would have been a minor miracle!

Excusing East for some very difficult discarding, West did make a defensive error which enabled Declarer to make his contract - When Declarer played a third trump towards dummy's Q8, West should have played the 10 rather than the 6 as knowing Declarer's last trump was the nine, he would have been one entry short to dummy to play a second diamond through East.  The effect of this would have been that Declarer would have been forced to play a diamond away from his KJx, East would win one, play a club (or a spade, depending on what his discards had been) which Declarer would have won.  Declarer would then have played another diamond, East would have won again and now made a winning spade (or club) as Declarer had no more trumps.  Two off!

Declarer might however have pre-empted this defence at trick 2 by playing the 9 of hearts on dummy's Queen, thereby unblocking the suit, a far sighted play indeed!

All in all a tricky hand to play and especially to defend but if Declarer had won the opening lead in hand and played Ace and another heart, he would not have encountered all these entry problems and made his 4 contract on any defence.

My grandfather was wrong.  The above bidding is not necessarily doomed to failure and one down would not have been good Bridge from Declarer's point of view.

Are you an ethical Bridge player?

Bridge is a difficult game but most Bridge players are honest enough to try and play fairly.  Well at least they mean to...

The problem is there are often decisions to be made and that may involve hesitation in either the bidding and the play.  We don’t mean to cheat but sometimes, mostly unintentionally, we are highly unethical and provide information to partner which we are not entitled to do.

Ethics are important in Bridge but how much we turn a blind eye to misdemeanours at the Bridge table is to some extent a matter of balance and fine judgement.  The EBU has a Code of Conduct and rulebook so that offences can be adjudicated by the Tournament Director but of course social bridge has no such framework and any incriminations are governed more by precedents and etiquette.

Being a gardener, I compare Bridge etiquette to weeds in the garden!  Social bridge at its most basic is like a garden full of bindweed and ground elder.  Players may be allowed to undo their bid and have another go and revokes may even go unnoticed.  Very few rules are observed other than having to follow suit though who cuts the cards and deals always seem to be of vital importance.  The weeds are allowed to dominate in the garden as nobody bothers to take much notice.

At club level, more especially in duplicate Bridge, rules are there to be observed so the bidding process must be adhered to correctly, revokes have to be highlighted to the Tournament Director and so on.  The ethics however are not necessarily strictly observed, hesitations in the bidding occur, questions are asked such as ‘is that a natural call?’, the player concerned holding AKQxx and so on.

Club bridge aims to follow all the rules and ethics but not to the detriment and enjoyment of the Bridge players so certain situations, whilst unethical, are tolerated.  This is the garden with weeds in it but they are sometimes not well controlled and keep coming back.

At County level, a better standard of Bridge and ethics is required but nevertheless there is a wide range of standards and experience and players need to be more in tune with what is acceptable and what is not.  This is the garden with weeds but we strive to keep on top of them and expect to do so.

Bridge at national level means that weeds are not tolerated and we have a reasonable expectation there will be very few and if any appear, they will be dealt with.

And International Bridge is the immaculate green lawn, the expert gardener with not a single weed in sight and should one dare to appear, it is knocked on the head immediately!

The above hand came up in the Hampshire Congress and demonstrates well some ethical issues that would not be a problem at club level but in a higher standard, potentially important unauthorised information was divulged.

At one table South opened 3♠.  As this is a ‘stop’ bid, West should pause for at least ten seconds before bidding.  West doubled fairly quickly, thus giving the impression that he had a good hand rather than having to think about making a marginal double on a much weaker hand.  Turn the Ace of hearts into the two and would West have not been so quick to double and maybe needed a bit longer to think about it?

Looking at the East cards, a mere 9 points including the Ace of spades is not terribly exciting.  Nevertheless he is likely to bid 3NT regardless.

In the event North bid 4♠ and East doubled.  West then took a view and bid 5.

At the other table South opened 2♠, a 'weak two'.  West, after a pause, doubled, North bid 3♠ and East immediately bid an emphatic 3NT without a second’s thought.  Clearly this conveyed a sound stop in spades but more importantly no interest whatsoever in hearts, the other major.  Had East held a three card heart suit, a heart contract would almost certainly have played better than 3NT.  And had East’s hearts and diamonds been transposed, he would certainly have needed to have a think...

On this hand, both hearts and No Trumps are makeable (11 tricks are possible in hearts and 10 in no trumps) and no actual harm was done but I hope this demonstrates how unauthorised information can find its way across the table and affect some key decisions in the bidding.

At Club level the above would not have created a problem and been considered a minor infringement of the ethics.  Even at County level this would probably not have been a major issue.  However, beyond that things would be more problematical for two reasons.  First players are expected to be much more aware of the implications of their actions and perhaps more importantly players in a higher standard of competition are expected to deduce much more from the bidding and inferences of what is not bid as well as what is actually bid.  

In the above example North might have been bidding 4♠ on a much stronger hand rather than a sacrifice as was the case here and in some cases East may well have had a problem in working out which, hence the inference that West's  immediate double of 3♠ suggesting the possibility of a very good rather than mediocre and more distributional hand. 

Likewise in the other auction with the immediate 3NT without any thought suggesting that any possibility of playing in anything else would be a complete waste of time.

Back to the weeds in the garden, nobody really wants them though you can still have a nice garden with a few weeds in it.  But if you’re going for the garden show rosette, you’ve got to take it all a lot more seriously and adopt a zero tolerance policy to your weeds.

Club bridge is a compromise.  Standards must be set and maintained but, at the same time, it should be an enjoyable experience - The more we can keep control of the weeds, the better but if a few are present, it's not the end of the world.

A few tips to keep down the weeds:

1. If you have no intention of bidding, it’s better not to ask about the meaning of specific bids.  It might even help the opposition.  Often better to wait until the end of the auction.

2. During the auction, don’t ask for information about any bidding unless it’s your own turn to bid.

3. At the end of the auction, if your partner is on lead, don’t ask any questions until partner has selected his lead (face down) as asking for information prior to the opening lead may affect it.  The player on lead is of course entitled to ask questions prior to making his lead.

4. In a competitive auction, try to avoid pausing when your partner still has a bid as it may be construed that you are showing additional values which may then have an effect on partner’s next bid.

5.  If an opponent makes a jump (‘stop’) bid, you should try to pause whether or not you intend to bid.  For instance if your right hand opponent opens 3♣, it is easy to pass without thinking with a Yarborough but if you have an opening hand, you may be in a quandary as to whether or what to bid.  Pause for the ten seconds with the Yarborough and try not to pause for ages and then pass with a better hand.

Badger Farm NICKO Match - Playing a ‘Forcing Game’

The above hand was played in a recent NICKO (National Inter-club Knockout) match where the Badger Farm team was Jeremy Baker, Tony Page, Andy Hughes and Fred Hotchen.  It resulted in a large swing and shows the difference the choice of opening lead can make and demonstrates how a ‘forcing game’ works.

The auction at both tables was highly energised and, as often happens, the bidding was pushed to the limit.  At our table East (Fred) decided that North-South had overreached themselves so he doubled 4♠.  His decision was based on his well-placed spades (North had bid them strongly but South hadn’t supported) and his partner (Andy) having shown values in hearts and clubs.  A ‘forcing game’ looked promising.  

A forcing game is a defensive strategy which aims to lead a long suit with the intention of forcing Declarer to ruff, thereby reducing his trump holding and eventually losing control of the hand.

East duly kicked off with the Ace of clubs and when dummy went down and Declarer ruffed at trick one, the killing defence was underway.

At trick 2 Declarer led a low spade towards dummy’s 10.  East popped up with his Jack and led a second club through dummy’s Queen.  Declarer ruffed again.  He now played another low spade towards dummy which East won with the Ace, Declarer receiving confirmation of the 4-1 trump break.

East continued with a third club but Declarer was now down to just the King and Queen of spades, and ruffing for the third time meant he had one trump fewer than East.  Declarer had lost control.  He cashed his last trump then played a diamond to dummy’s King and finessed successfully on the way back but East ruffed the third round and played a fourth club, enabling his partner to make two club tricks and the Ace of hearts for three off doubled and plus 800.

At the other table (with Jeremy and Tony playing North-South) the bidding was identical except that East did not double 4♠.  He led a small heart.  Declarer (Jeremy) played the 10 from dummy which West won with the Ace then switched to his singleton trump.  West won with the Jack but was now one step behind and Declarer was able to keep control.  With the diamond finesse right, Declarer lost just the Ace and Jack of trumps and the Ace of hearts.

A swing of 1420 (620 plus 800) was worth 16 imps to the Badger Farm team.  Having been down by 27imps at half-time, partly due to an unlucky slam (which we bid and the other team didn’t), we pulled out all the stops in the second half and ended up winning by 36 imps.

Badger Farm NICKO Match - A difficult 3NT to defend and play

The above hand was played in a recent NICKO match.  Both teams ended in 3NT which resulted in a game swing against the Badger Farm team.  The bidding against Andy and me was as above so I led a heart from the East hand.  Declarer overtook the 10 with his Jack and led a small diamond to dummy's King.

At trick 3 Declarer played the Queen of diamonds which I won with the Ace.  Now was time for a crucial reccy...

Andy had a second stopper in diamonds and for his bid of 2 he was certain to hold a top spade or club as he had no points in hearts.  From the bidding it was more likely he had the Ace of spades than the King of clubs but either way it was imperative to remove one of dummy's entries to the diamond suit so I continued with another heart which Declarer won in dummy.

Declarer now played Jack and another diamond which Andy won with his ten.  Now it was time for an even more crucial reccy, should Andy continue with another heart or switch to the King of clubs?  Very hard to judge.  If I held the Ace of hearts (and Declarer therefore QJx) a heart would defeat the contract but if I held the Ace of clubs instead, a heart lead would allow Declarer to make.  Unfortunately Andy guessed wrong and continued with a heart and 3NT made.

Backtracking to trick 4 and a club switch by me at that stage could have been fatal had Andy held the Ace of spades instead of the King of clubs.  Declarer would have had two entries to dummy's diamonds and made a club, three hearts, four diamonds and two spades.

The irony was that either of us needed to switch to a club to defeat 3NT but it could have been wrong.  How could we have overcome this?

There was a way, albeit not terribly obvious.  Andy played his first two diamonds upwards, ie 3 followed by 4 instead of 5 followed by the 3.  This showed preference for clubs rather than spades.  Unfortunately I was too interested in removing dummy's heart entry so I ignored it.  Nevertheless I could have redeemed myself by playing the eight of hearts which Andy might have interpreted that I didn’t want a heart back, enabling him to find the club switch.

At the other table Jeremy and Tony played the hand the other way round so Tony declared from the South hand.  West led a fourth highest spade which Tony won in hand with the 8.  However, when East won the Ace of diamonds, he was able to see the spade and club position so duly switched to a club to partner's King and one was returned to his Ace and Queen.  West later made his 10 of diamonds and 3NT went one off for a loss of 12 imps to our team.

On the spade lead it looks as if you can make 3NT by playing back a spade and finessing the ten at trick 2.  However, if you play a heart back intending to finesse the ten, East can scupper you by going up with the Queen which now means you don’t have enough entries back to hand to make diamond tricks. If East doesn’t find this killing defence, you have that extra vital entry to make four spades, three hearts and two diamonds. 

Ironically a psychic Declarer can always make 3NT on any lead just by playing a diamond towards the King and then playing a low one so the Ace beats thin air but why would they do that?  This hand is illustrative of what a difficult and good game Bridge really is.

How Duplicate Pairs is different from other forms of Bridge

The hand above is a good example of how duplicate pairs is a different game from other forms of Bridge.  Tactics are paramount and East's raise to 2 on such slender values is a good attempt to keep out the opposition in spades.  It didn't work as South was bold enough to have a go.  West also not wishing to be talked out of things bids 2NT with a strong hand and well placed cards.  North also makes a competitive bid of 3♠ which is passed back to West, the strongest hand at the table.

This is where duplicate pairs tactics vary from other forms of Bridge.  Of great importance is the fact that the opposition is vulnerable.  East-West may well have been robbed of their part-score so if North-South only go one off, it is a very poor score for East-West but collecting 200 would be an excellent score.  Being in 3NT or 4 is pretty well out of the question so a tactical penalty double looks a good prospect.

Clearly there is an element of risk here as there is always a chance of South being able to make 3♠ doubled which would be very costly at rubber bridge or teams but at pairs, worst case scenario is that it is just a bottom on the board but with a much greater chance of a top.  In evaluating East-West's defensive prospects, there are several things to consider. 

First of all South, having come in at the two level, is likely to have most of the rest of the high card points and with North also competing, not much can be expected from partner.  However, there are a couple of important considerations.  The first one is that KQx of spades are well placed for two tricks and the Ace and King of clubs are much more likely to stand up than if West held the Ace and King of hearts where the opposition are more likely to have shortage with partner having supported.  The King of diamonds also has a reasonable chance of being well placed or partner maybe bolstering that card with the Queen.

Looking at the actual defence, starting off with Ace and King of clubs yields an unexpected bonus - Partner peters and is able to ruff a third round with his singleton trump.  Now a possible diamond trick and two natural spade winners and 3♠ doubled goes at least one off, if not two off for a hard earned top.

Unfortunately, East took fright and didn't trust partner so East-West quickly found themselves in 4 doubled going two off for a very poor score instead!

There were some surprise results on the scoresheet.  One South was allowed to play in 2♠ doubled and that made for a top.  Two other Souths played in 2♠ making and one made nine tricks.  Three others played in hearts.  One West went one off in 2♥ and two others played in 4, one doubled and also going two off and the other one actually making it!  Finally one East played in 3 and went one off.

A very volatile and competitive hand all round but this at least demonstrates what is known as a 'pairs double'.

Declarer Play - How would you tackle 3 No Trumps?

When North takes a positive view of his ten count,  North-South end up in 3NT slightly light on points.  

West leads the Queen of clubs, East encourages and South, Declarer, ducks.  West continues with a second club to East's King and again South ducks.  East continues with a third club which South wins with the Ace.

As Declarer, how do you plan to get your nine tricks?

There appear to be a number of possibilities.  Any of the suits might break evenly and in diamonds that would mean four tricks, in hearts it would mean three and in spades, the number of tricks depends on where the Queen is.

The problem is that you have already lost two clubs, will possibly lose a third and will definitely lose the Ace of spades.  Your nine potential tricks may be beaten by the opposition first collecting five.  You therefore cannot afford to duck a heart as that may well be the fifth loser.  Playing on diamonds may well get you four diamond tricks but you still do not have your nine.

The success of the hand is all dependent on the location of the Queen of spades.  If it is wrong you can't make 3NT but if it is right, you can.

After winning the Ace of clubs, Declarer must bravely tackle the spades.  The Queen is right so 3NT makes.

In a recent match Declarer did play the nine of spades.  West decided not to cover so a second spade was led to Queen and King.  Declarer didn't count his tricks and now went off course.  He switched to a heart to his King and played one back to dummy and finessed the ten.  East won the Queen but was able to play another spade to partner's Ace and the 13th club took the contract one down.

Declarer Play - How would you tackle 6 Spades by South?

North-South reach an optimistic but by no means unreasonable slam on the above hand.  West leads the King of diamonds.  How would you tackle the play?

Looking at the South hand, there are a lot of losers but in the North hand there are not enough trumps to deal with all of these as well as get the opposition trumps out.

There is only one way to tackle this hand and that is to set up dummy's diamonds. 

The King of diamonds lead is likely to be from King Queen.  Play back a diamond at trick 2.  When both defenders follow suit, you are virtually there.  Win the return and play a top trump and providing both defenders follow, you are home and dry.

When both defenders follow, play a second round of trumps to dummy then play a third diamond which you can afford to ruff high.  Now cross to dummy with a trump and dummy is high apart from your King of hearts.  12 tricks.

If you try to ruff losers in dummy, you probably will end up with no more than ten tricks.

The Magic of Bridge

As Declarer, when you receive the opening lead and dummy is exposed, you will have a view as to whether you have arrived in a sound contract.  If you have, you might consider the possible dangers and look for a safe line of play.  If you have reached a difficult contract, you look for opportunities and hope for a favourable lie of the cards that will enable you to make your contract.

In a recent duplicate Pairs event, South opened a 12-14 no trump fourth in hand on the above deal and that’s probably where he should have played.  However, North took a rosy view so South inevitably ended up in 3NT.

The opening lead was the 3 of spades.  Declarer assessed his prospects.  With 10 points opposite 14 the contract was ‘anti-field’ and it would be unlikely that many others would be in 3NT.  Therefore going off was likely to get a very poor score. 

Seeing the 2 of spades in dummy, the spades looked like an honest suit, therefore three losers.  To make 3NT, the Ace of hearts would need to be with West and the diamond finesse would also need to be right.  This would mean losing three spades and a heart and making four diamonds, three clubs, one heart and one spade.  If all this happened Declarer would get a very good result, probably a top but if it didn’t, he would probably get a bottom.

With little point in holding up the Ace of spades, Declarer confidently won the first trick and played a diamond to dummy’s Ace in an attempt to execute his plan.  East dropped the Queen which was not good news as it was obvious the diamonds were breaking 4-1 so nine tricks now looked out of the question.

Declarer saw one more glimmer of hope.  He abandoned diamonds and switched to a spade, allowing the defence to take their winners.  On the fourth spade Declarer discarded a diamond from dummy and a heart from his hand.

West now played a small club.  Declarer won in dummy, then cashed two more clubs followed by a small heart to the King, West playing the Jack.  West was now marked with the Ace of hearts and three diamonds so Declarer exited with a heart and West was forced to lead a diamond away from his 10.  Declarer now had his  ninth trick and 3NT making was a top.

West slipped up as had he risen with his Ace of hearts and played back the Jack, he would not have been endplayed in diamonds and Declarer would have had no ninth trick.

With sight of all four hands Declarer can always make his nine tricks if he knows to play the King of diamonds, dropping the singleton Queen, a highly unlikely line of play.  He can then finesse against West’s 10 of diamonds, making one spade, one heart, four diamonds and three clubs.

The moral of the story is assess your prospects and make a plan.  If it doesn’t work, don’t give up but look for any alternative opportunities.  With this particular contract, going off was destined to get a very poor result so Declarer had to pull out all the stops to make it.  

All Souths were Declarer in No Trumps.  Six Declarers played in 1NT, one making seven tricks and the rest making eight tricks.  One other Declarer reached 3NT but went one off for a bottom.

Defending 3NT doubled

In a recent teams match, the above hand showed how easy a potentially good result can turn into a disaster.

At one table. North-South were playing 5-card majors. South opened 1♠ which North raised to 2♠.  East competed with 3♣ and South decided on 3♠.  This was passed round to East who now doubled and West bid 4♣.  That was passed out and, with the five nil break, went two off for minus 200.

At the other table the bidding was completely different and proceeded as above.  East's initial 2NT bid was alerted by West and described as an Unusual No Trump (showing the minors).  When East eventually bid 3NT, North doubled and South led the Queen of spades.

Clearly East's 2NT was a strong hand and whilst North would like to have ducked the opening lead round to the King, he thought his partner might then not take him for having the Ace so he played it and returned the 3.

Declarer played the nine which South won with the 10.  South had dozed off and not been watching the spade pips so he was concerned about continuing with another spade and therefore switched to a diamond which unfortunately ruined his partner's holding in that suit.  Dummy played low, North the Jack and Declarer the King.

Declarer now played the Ace of hearts felling the singleton Queen.  Next he played King of Clubs which South won with the Ace.  South played back the Jack of clubs which Declarer won with the Queen but the defence was now doomed.

Declarer ran the 9 of diamonds but North could see that if he won, Declarer would make three more hearts, another three diamonds, plus the King of spades for his nine tricks. He therefore ducked the diamond but it made no difference.  Declarer cashed the King of hearts, then the King of spades, played a third heart to dummy, then played diamonds.  North won his Queen but had to play back a red card to dummy for nine tricks.

If South had been watching the spades at the start, he might have wondered why the 2 had not appeared when North played the Ace and returned the 3.  A continuation in spades by South at trick 3 would have meant that Declarer could not come to more than eight tricks, however he played.

With 4♣ by East-West going two off for minus 200 plus another minus 750 for conceding 3NT doubled making, this was a loss 950 which equated to a loss of 14 IMPs.  Had South continued with a spade at trick 3, the defence would have collected 500 with Declarer losing five spades and the Ace of clubs.  Double dummy Declarer can get away with one off because North is void in clubs and make one spade, four hearts and three diamonds, not likely to be found at the table.  With 3NT doubled two off and 4♣ two off, this would have produced a swing of plus 300 for a gain of 7 IMPs.

As a final point of interest, North-South are close to making 4♠ but cannot quite do it with the spades 3-1 and the King offside.

More haste less speed...

The above hand was from a recent teams match and created a huge swing of 19 IMPs.  At one table the bidding was as above.  North, with a very strong hand, was in complete control and took things slowly.  2♠ was fourth suit forcing, enabling South to complete the description of his hand to show 5-5 in the red suits.

4NT was then Roman Key Card Blackwood.  There can be misunderstandings sometimes as to which suit has been agreed.  Many players play that the most recent suit agreed is the one concerned so in this case the 4NT is for diamonds rather than hearts.  Accordingly South replied 5♠ showing two (or five) key cards plus the Queen of trumps.  Without further ado North lept to 7 reasonably confidentally.

At the other table, North-South were playing 5-card majors and South also opened 1 but North got over excited too quickly and went straight to 4NT followed by 5NT asking for Kings.  With all the Aces and Kings North jumped to 7 but was unlucky to find partner without the Queen of hearts and even more unlucky to find Qxx offside to go one off.

7 making scored 2140 plus a further 100 for 7 going one off was a swing of 2240, 19 IMPs.  Very unlucky but more haste less speed lands you in the right contract and Roman Key Card Blackwood is imperative in reaching the correct Grand Slam.  

Dilemma at the Bridge table

The above hand was board 14 from the 1 May duplicate.  Everyone ended in 3NT though not everyone made it despite the fact there were nine available tricks.

At any table where South did not open 1, West may well have led a heart which gives Declarer plenty of time to make plenty of tricks as the defence will never make a club.  However, on a 1 opening, West is likely to lead the two of clubs.

From Declarer’s point of view this lead is indicative that the clubs will break 4-4 but there are a number of options as to how to tackle the play.

Playing rubber Bridge or Teams, the correct line of play is a no brainer.  Expecting to lose the Ace of hearts, Ace and King of spades and eventually a club, nine tricks are guaranteed by playing on spades and it would be foolish to do anything different as this would jeopardise the contract.

Playing duplicate pairs is different.  Every overtrick matters and you sometimes have to take calculated risks.

There are two unknowns, the whereabouts of the Queen of diamonds which could be finessed either way and how the hearts will break.  If the hearts break 3-3, you will make three hearts, three clubs and three or four diamonds, depending on whether you catch the Queen.  However, if you take this line and the hearts do not break 3-3, you are liable to lose two hearts, two spades and a club to go one off.  

So the dilemma is whether to play safe for nine tricks or to play not so safe for a possible overtrick.

Going for the greedy line, there is one extra chance.  When you discover the hearts are 4-2 and West has shown up with four hearts and four clubs, with only five cards in the other two suits, it is more likely the Queen of diamonds is sitting with East so bravely play a diamond to the King and finesse on the way back.  You now have nine tricks from four diamonds, two hearts and three clubs.

Which line of play you take is your choice but there is certainly no feel good factor in going one off when nine tricks were there for the taking!

Carnage at the Bridge table

One way or another East-West have 12 easy tricks in No Trumps on the above hand from a recent duplicate Pairs event.  However, when North recklessly jumped to 4♣, East-West had the opportunity to gather all the match points.

In 4♣ doubled, if East-West get everything right, they can collect eight tricks for plus 1100.  In practice this is more likely to be 800 as East is likely at some point to play a heart to West’s Ace enabling Declarer to make his King.

At the table, East-West completely messed up their defence.  West led the Ace and King of diamonds, East following with the 5 and the 10 so the diamond position should have been clear to East, despite Declarer dropping the three and the eight.  Next East played the Jack of hearts.  West won with the Ace and played Ace and another trump.  So far so good but East now switched to the 10 of spades.  Declarer played low from dummy and East pondered, eventually playing low, Declarer winning with his King.  

Declarer now played off his King of hearts and all his remaining trumps.  East and West struggled with their discards, East trying to keep spades covered so he threw all his diamonds and West was also not clear on what to keep and on the penultimate trick had to choose between the Queen of diamonds or the Ace of spades.  Seeing the Queen of spades in dummy, he decided to keep the latter.

Both defenders were aghast when Declarer laid down the four of diamonds and made the 13th trick.  4♣ doubled was two off for a score of minus 300, a very poor score when all other East-West pairs had made 480 in hearts or 490 or even 520 in 3NT.  In other words a potential top had instead become a complete bottom!  Who was to blame?

Well West was not best pleased as East could easily have carried on with a third diamond and that would have avoided the disastrous discard at the end.  It would also have avoided West making a wrong decision on whether to go up with the Ace of spades.

In reality West was equally to blame for the bad defence.  Having already collected five tricks, at equal vulnerability another trick, ie taking the Ace of spades, would have ensured a score of at least plus 500 which would have exceeded the score of East-West’s game.  For that reason West should have won the Ace of spades and cashed the Queen of diamonds which would have a) avoided Declarer making a singleton King and b) avoided the quandary at trick 12.

As is so often the case in a bad defence, both members of the partnership were responsible and both could have helped the other not to go wrong.  Meanwhile Declarer gave himself a pat on the back when really he should have had egg on his face!

Watching the Pips

The above hand came up in a recent match.  

Here the contract ended up being 5♣ doubled as per the above bidding but at the other table East didn't compete in clubs so South became Declarer in 4 which made with an overtrick due to the favourable spade position.

In 5♣ doubled the play was interesting.  South led a top heart but it was obvious both East and West had a singleton so a switch was required.  Looking at dummy's diamonds, a diamond switch didn't look attractive so South tried a spade which unfortunately went round to the Queen.

Whilst this was a good start for Declarer, there was work to do...

The four nil trump break presented no surprise but how would the diamonds behave?  Whether they break 2-2 or 3-1 is largely irrelevant.  What is more relevant is that with the limited high card values held by North-South, the Queen was more likely to be held by South who had opened the bidding, especially once North had shown up with the Ace of clubs.

Declarer played off the Ace of diamonds and trumps.  North took the Ace and played back a spade which was won in dummy then Declarer drew North's outstanding trumps, ending in hand.  A diamond was now played towards dummy and the Jack successfully finessed.  The King now dropped the Queen but there was a problem that Declarer had not foreseen.  His remaining diamond was higher than the ones in dummy so he was forced to win the fourth diamond in hand and lose a spade with dummy's winning diamond sitting in splendid isolation!

Declarer had overlooked a very important small card in his hand, the three of diamonds!  On the Ace of diamonds, he needed to play his 6, then after drawing trumps, he could have played either the ten or the eight towards the Jack and then on the King, his remaining high diamond.  Now when the four of diamonds is played, Declarer’s three goes underneath it and finally, still in dummy, the two of diamonds is played and Declarer can discard his losing spade.  5♣ doubled making. Job done and a double game swing!

Delayed Game Raise (1)

Sitting South you open 1 on ♠ Kx  QJxx  Axxx ♣ AKx and your partner jumps to 4.  What would you bid now?

The answer depends to some extent what you have agreed 4 to mean.  If you play 4 as a strong bid, you would probably want to investigate slam possibilities.  However, look at the hand above where you open 1 on a somewhat weaker hand.

What would you bid on the North hand?  2? 3? 4?  If you bid 2 East would certainly bid 2♠, if you bid 3 East would probably still bid spades but if you bid 4, East would have to be quite brave to come in with 4♠. 

Looking at all four hands, you will see that game is actually on both ways.  South loses a spade and two clubs in 4 and East loses a heart and two diamonds in 4♠.  If East enters the auction, a battle will take place and one side or the other is likely to end up at the 5 level and go down.  

Therefore the winning bid by North is most likely to be a pre-emptive 4 based on a hand with good playing strength in hearts and very little defence to anything else.  Going back to the South hand I mentioned above, it is important to understand whether North's bid is based on distribution or high card values.  If North jumps to 4 on the values shown in the above example, South should be mindful not to continue bidding on a stronger hand as this may be too high.

With support for hands and a game going hand in high-card values, North should do what is known as a 'delayed Game raise'.  The second article below shows how this works...

Delayed Game Raise (2)

The North hand (above) is ideal for a 'Delayed Game Raise' which distinguishes it from the type of hand where you would want to jump to 4 pre-emptively. 3 of course is invitational and non-forcing showing around 10-11 points.

In this particular example you do not have another four card suit to bid but that is not a problem as you are in control and will go back to hearts.  The advantage now is that you can gain more information about the nature of partner's hand and in this case South rebids 3NT showing 17-18 points in standard Acol.  Obviously some players play different rebids but nevertheless the principle still stands.

On hearing this rebid, North has now acquired a lot of information - A heart fit and a combined point count of 32-33.  If North bids 4♠, this would be a cue bid agreeing hearts.  South would now bid 4NT (Blackwood or Roman Key Card Blackwood, depending on what is agreed).  A response of 5♣ would show three 'Aces' (if playing RKCB) and South would happily bid 6.

There are many ways of reaching this good slam but not jumping in hearts as North's initial response is most likely to get you there.  Incidentally, the no trump merchants would come a cropper here as in 6NT there are only 11 tricks.  The 12th trick comes from making a 5th heart trick via a ruff.  4-4 major fits often play better than No Trumps.

Back to the 'Delayed Game Raise', this is useful on any game-going hand based on values rather than distribution.  By no means does this result in bidding a slam but it distinguishes between hands with points rather than distribution.  When you and partner hold the lion's share of the points, the opposition are less likely to get into the bidding but when you have more shape and fewer points, they are more likely to want to compete and that is the time you want to try to shut them out of the bidding.

Comedy of Errors

Bridge is a game of mistakes and however hard one strives for perfection, it is impossible to always get everything right.  Nevertheless, those who make the fewest errors will normally come up trumps, so to speak.

The bidding shown against the above deal enables North-South to reach a sound contract of 4♠ which is laydown, losing just two hearts and the Ace of trumps and if hearts are not led, there will even be overtricks.  The 3♠ bid by North is forcing and known as 'secondary preference', giving South a choice between playing in 4♠, if he has five of them, or 3NT.

The first mistake on this hand is that North didn't bid 3♠ but instead raised 2NT to 3NT.

Without a heart stop North-South were destined to go two off, losing the first five heart tricks then the Ace of spades.  However, West decided instead to lead a diamond...

Declarer won in hand and rattled off five club winners.  East discarded a diamond and a spade, Declarer discarded a heart and a spade and West discarded two diamonds and a heart.

After the clubs, Declarer led a diamond from dummy followed by a small spade from hand.  After some hesitation, West played low so Declarer won with dummy's Jack, Declarer's eighth trick.  Dummy's Ace of diamonds would have been the ninth trick but Declarer continued with the Queen of spades which West won with the Ace.

West now switched to the nine of hearts.  The Queen was played from dummy and East won with the King then played one back.  Declarer showed out and, looking at dummy, West saw an opportunity to win a cheap trick with the seven which blocked the suit and meant that he could only win the Ace before having to play the 10 of spades which would now be Declarer's ninth trick.

However, on the Ace of hearts, dummy was left with a small spade and the Ace of diamonds opposite Declarer's King of diamonds and King of spades.  Declarer decided to discard a spade from dummy and the King of spades from his hand so the last trick was won by West's 10 of spades and 3NT finally went one down!

At the other table, North-South managed to reach 4♠ but only because South rebid 2♠ instead of 2NT so North raised to 3♠ and South then bid 4♠.  

A diamond was led.  Declarer won in hand and started to draw trumps.  West won the second round with the Ace and switched to the Ace of hearts and another heart.  East won his King and played back a diamond.  Declarer won but forgot to draw the last trump.  He started to play off his clubs but West ruffed and the cast iron 4♠ went one down.

What a comedy of errors.  All these silly mistakes were easily avoidable if only the players had thought more about what they were doing.

Against 3NT the diamond lead could have been right but the fact that neither opponent had bid hearts and West's hearts were better than the diamonds would have encouraged me to try a heart lead rather than a diamond.

On the opening diamond lead, Declarer would have been better to win with dummy's Ace then the defenders might not have been so sure who had the King, Queen and Jack.  Before running the clubs, Declarer could then have tried to sneak a spade winner and hope the defenders didn't find a heart switch.

As the play went, Declarer did eventually sneak a spade through but failed to take his ninth trick with a diamond.  West found the heart switch but then carelessly blocked the suit. 

Finally Declarer fell from grace on the twelfth trick.  What was the point of keeping his King of diamonds if he had kept the Ace in dummy?

There are many times when it can be hard to get it right but, much more often, a bit more thought and concentration will eliminate a whole raft of unnecessary errors.

No Limits

Acol bidding and just about any Bridge auction includes a number of 'Limit Bids', an opening bid of 1 No Trump being a classic example, normally showing a balanced hand with precisely 12-14 points.  A jump from partner's opening 1 to 3, showing 10-11 points and of course four hearts, is another good example of a limit bid.

A typical bidding sequence will include bids that are forcing, invitational, non-forcing and sign-off and in order to reach the right contract, it is important to recognise and understand what the various bids mean.  I often compare the bidding to a foreign language.  If someone says the wrong word or you don't understand what is being said, there will be a misunderstanding.  The bidding is exactly the same, sometimes with dire consequences!

This reminds me of a hand from my earliest days of playing in a Bridge Club.  My partner was North and I was South.

After partner's opening 1NT, I bid 2, a 'Weak Take-out' (didn't play Transfers in those days). It is probably the most emphatic sign-off of any bid you can make but much abused by less experienced players who either don't recognise it or choose to ignore it.

The logic is that the 1 No Trump opener has made a limit bid and defined his hand therefore his partner is able to make an informed decision on whether Game is certain, possible or out of the question and whether it is better to play in a suit or in No Trumps.  The 1 No Trump opener should respect that decision.

In the above auction, my partner did not do so and made the ill-disciplined bid of 2NT, the last thing I wanted to hear!

Clearly with seven diamonds to the J10, it seemed right to continue to 3 but alas partner felt empowered to continue to 3NT.  This was even more the last thing I wanted to hear!

With two points opposite partner's 12-14, a contract of 3NT, requiring 25+ points, was just ridiculous so I continued to 4, feeling this still had an outside chance, certainly more chance than 3NT but, still not recognising my expressed weakness, partner continued to 5.  Good grief!  I don't think this fledgling partnership continued much longer after that!

Not surprisingly 5 went off but it was just one down and ironically it was not a good score for East-West as they were able to make at least nine tricks their way in hearts or spades and would probably have entered the bidding had we stopped in 2.

Several East-West pairs bid to Game in hearts or spades and lost just three Aces.  However, whichever major they play in, if North-South manage to lead the other major, they can get a ruff and hold the contract to nine tricks.

My partner and I were extremely lucky to come out of this bidding fiasco unblemished but it is surprising how many players ignore their partner's Weak Take-out and continue to bid and normally they wander into an awful lot of trouble.

Remember that if you open 1 No Trump and your partner makes a Weak Take-out, you should respect that and pass.

Day of Judgement

It doesn't matter how many conventions you play, success at the Bridge table is more often rewarded by a bit of concentration coupled with good judgement.

The above deal looks fairly innocuous but is actually a good example of how sensible hand evaluation makes all the difference.

Playing a weak no trump, North opens 1♠ and whilst some Souths would respond 1NT which is fine, there are a couple of good arguments in favour of 2♠.  First of all it is more pre-emptive and the opposition would not now be able to make a 2 level overcall.  Secondly, partner may have opened on a 5 card suit but even if he only has four, South has a ruffing value in diamonds which could be useful.

In 1NT by South, West is likely to lead a diamond and the defence would easily wrap up four tricks. Declarer should nevertheless manage to scramble seven tricks, three spades, two hearts and two clubs.

2♠ looks potentially not to be such a great contract though with a diamond ruff in dummy, there are certainly seven tricks and, depending on the defence, a second diamond ruff in dummy could materialise.

The choice of opening lead can often be important.  In this case there is the possibility of any of the four suits being led.  A trump lead finesses partner, a heart lead immediatley gives Declarer an extra trick, as does the Queen of clubs lead and a diamond lead gives Declarer a head start to getting some ruffs in dummy.  In practice, one way or another 2♠ is unlikely to be defeated.

But what about East-West?  They have reasonable defensive cards but no fit of their own.  In fact no side has any fit anywhere.  From East-West's point of view, it would be nice if only North-South could have bid up a little giving East-West a much better chance to defeat the contract.

One East decided to double in the 'protective' position which resulted in a contract of 3 by West.  Although it was a valiant effort by East to push the opponents to the 3 level, they didn't succomb and West went two off vulnerable for minus 200, the worst result.  

Other scores were North playing in 1NT making with an overtrick (twice), 1NT by South just making, 1♠ by North making with two overtricks, 2♠ by North just making and 1 by North just making.

Some may think East's double rather foolhardy and in this case it was unfortunate.  However, if you transpose East's 7 of spades and South's 7 of diamonds, the hand is an entirely different story.  With a 4-4 fit in spades, North-South would have been in an extremely comfortable contract and South would probably have continued to compete to the three level.

With a 1-4-4-4 shape, East's protective double is much more attractive and East-West would now have been playing in a 4-4 diamond fit and with one less spade loser.  A contract of 3 by West would now probably have made and certainly would not have gone more than one down - Minus 100 against a part-score by North-South, would have been a good result for East-West.

4-3 fits can play well but often don't but 4-4 fits, as in this case, normally do play well as it is so much easier for Declarer to maintain control of the hand.  In my opinion, East's double was too much of a gamble as the hand was too flat and lacked top cards but had it been more shapely, that would have made all the difference. 

Greedy or unlucky?

On the above hand North's horrible 2 overcall encouraged East-West to bid to 5♣ instead of 3NT.

In 3NT there are nine top tricks but would you risk taking the heart finesse into the hand that had made the overcall for the possibility of an overtrick?  I doubt it.

5♣ is also a sound contract with some prospects of an overtrick, always an important consideration in duplicate pairs.

Against 5♣ North led a small diamond which went to the King and Ace.

Declarer's plan was to try to achieve a diamond discard on the spades if they broke 3-3 or even 4-2.  At tricks 2 and 3 he drew two rounds of trumps, revealing a 3-1 trump break.  He then played three rounds of spades but when he ruffed the third round, North showed out.

At this point Declarer took stock but then went off the rails.  North was now marked with only red cards and as South had shown up with the King of diamonds, Jack of clubs and Queen and Jack of spades, Declarer was convinced that North must have the King of hearts to justify his overcall.  He therefore played his Jack of diamonds to goad North into leading away from the King of hearts.  However North continued with another diamond, conceding a ruff and discard.  Declarer ruffed in hand and discarded a small heart from dummy.

Still convinced of the whereabouts of the King of hearts, Declarer played off the Ace then the Jack.  When North didn't cover, he took a 'ruffing finesse' but to Declarer's dismay, South won with the King!  South continued with the Queen of spades but Declarer now got well and truly tangled up.  He ruffed in hand with his last trump, cashed a winning heart but could not get back to dummy to draw South's last trump so he went one down.

Playing teams or rubber Bridge, it is not worth jeopardising a contract for the sake of an overtrick.  In duplicate pairs however, every trick counts towards getting a good result so Declarer is sometimes in a quandry as to what to do for the best.  He has to consider how likely a particular line of play is to succeed.

So was Declarer greedy or unlucky?  Well he was certainly unlucky to find South with the King of hearts but he did look foolish as he should have made the contract regardless.  At the end, when South plays the Queen of spades, Declarer of course has to ruff but the fifth spade in dummy is now a master so at trick 11, Declarer should have ruffed his winning heart in dummy, then cash the Ace of trumps and dummy is good.  

To add insult to injury, if Declarer had just taken the ordinary heart finesse, he would have caught the King (and the nine) and ended up making all 13 tricks!

As for North's 2 overcall, it had the effect of causing Declarer to misplay the hand but on another occasion such bidding might well not turn out so fortunate.  

Ironically on the very next hand the same North made another overcall, this time on a much better hand but his partner didn't trust him to have the values he had so they played in 3♣ instead of a laydown 3NT.  Poetic justice!

A Slam with a twist...

The above hand occurred in a recent teams match.  North led the Queen of clubs and when dummy went down, it all looked quite promising with 11 easy tricks (three hearts, two clubs, three diamonds and three spades) and good prospects for a twelfth, potentially in any of the suits but most likely in diamonds or spades.  However, despite all the high cards, communications between the two hands was tricky.

I decided to win trick one in hand and when I played low from dummy, South discarded a spade which set a few alarm bells ringing!  

Assuming you decided to win the opening lead in hand, you already have entry problems, just the King of hearts and a spade, and the only easy entry to dummy is the Ace of clubs.  If you can resist the temptation of looking at all four hands, how would you plan to make your 12 tricks?  Maybe you would even have won the opening lead in dummy...


At trick 2 I decided to finesse the Queen of hearts.  The problem however is if you play the King, then the 10 and it loses to the Queen, South can switch to a spade and your hand is now cut off from dummy with the diamonds still blocked.

I therefore played the 10 of hearts, keeping my King as an entry back to my hand.  The 10 of hearts was covered by the Queen and Ace so I am now in dummy.  So far so good.

I now unblocked the diamonds as the best chance of a twelfth trick is for the Jack to fall in the first three rounds.  At this stage it would have been nice if I could have ducked a spade for another chance of 12 tricks.  However, the problem is that the defence could play back a club and that would be my last time in dummy with no access to the Jack of hearts.  I therefore played a heart to my King and cashed the King of diamonds.  The Jack did not appear but both defenders followed suit.

Next attempt was to play for a squeeze on North.  He had already shown up with five clubs, three diamonds and two hearts.  He seemed keen to cover my 10 of hearts (definitely the right thing to do) so I hoped he had four hearts (in which case he would have a singleton spade).  North would then be squeezed between hearts and clubs when I played off Ace, King, Queen of spades.  Unfortunately when North followed to a second round of spades, that plan went out of the window and I was doomed, ending up losing a diamond and a heart for one-off.

There was a winning line...

Everything was fine up to the play of the King of diamonds but now instead of cashing three top spades, a club towards the Ace squeezes South in three suits.  He cannot part with the Jack of diamonds, discarding a heart sets up the fourth heart in dummy and if he lets go of a second spade, all my spades are good.  

There is no escape.  If South discards a second spade, AKQxx opposite a singleton yields five tricks without a loser!  If South discards a heart, he becomes squeezed a second time between a spade and his Jack of diamonds.  Quite incredibly there are now 13 tricks!!

If he throws his Jack of diamonds, at least he holds the contract to 12 tricks as he will now either make a heart or a spade.

If the cards had been as per the line I had played for with North holding four hearts, South would not now have been squeezed on the Ace of clubs and this second line of play would have failed.  However I think this second line is more likely to succeed.

A third line of play that is maybe even better is to play a spade from dummy after unblocking the diamonds instead of playing a heart to the King.  If you next cash AKQ of spades and see North show out on the third round, you can now lose a spade to South who has no clubs to mess up your communication with dummy.  He therefore has to return a red card which you win in hand but you can now make a small spade for your twelfth trick.  The advantage of this line of play is that had North shown up with a singleton rather than doubleton spade, you could have switched to the squeeze play that I tried to do.

The other team also made 11 tricks but they were only in 3NT so we lost 11 IMPs on the board.  Had I made 6NT, we would have gained 11 IMPs so this was very expensive! 


What would you open on the East hand?  I expect the answers are a mixture between 3, 4 and 5.  Personally I would opt for 5, the reason being I don't think 3 or 4 are pre-emptive enough.  With eight diamonds and a four-card club suit, your playing strength is too good to just open a normal pre-empt at the three level.

If you reveal all four hands, you will see that over 3 or even 4, South will make the effort to compete in hearts and once he does so, North will push on if West bids.

Not unusually with hands like this it is hard to judge who owns the hand and who is sacrificing.  North-South have a double fit in the majors and East-West have a double fit in the minors.  Ironically it is East-West who can make the most tricks if they are allowed to capture the auction.  In diamonds or clubs East-West can always make 12 tricks.

If North-South were to play in spades they have two losers, one in each minor.  However, if they were to play in a more likely heart contract, potentially East-West could take 5 tricks by ruffing three spades plus a trick in each minor.

It is unlikely that East-West would bid to the six level unless pushed but being allowed to play in 5 would be highly unlikely if East only opened 3 or 4.

The aim of a pre-empt is to buy the contract as you have no defence to other contracts.  In this case, however, pre-empting at the correct level keeps the opposition out of the bidding and finding a cheap sacrifice.

Bridge is like Sudoku...

If you play Sudoku, you know you have to work out where all the missing numbers are.  It can be a bit similar when you are defending at Bridge...

Playing West you lead your 4th highest heart, Declarer plays low from dummy, partner plays the Jack and Declarer wins with the Ace.

Apart from your cards and those in dummy, you have also seen the Ace and Jack of hearts appear at trick 1.  There are three missing hearts, the King, the 9 and the 7.

Question 1 - Who holds the King of hearts and why?

Question 2 - Who holds the 9 of hearts and why?

Question 3 - Who holds the 7 of hearts and why?



Question 1 - South must hold the King of hearts as if East had held it, he would surely have played it rather than the Jack.

Question 2 - South must hold the 9 of hearts as if East had held it, he would have played the 9 instead of the Jack as the 10 is in dummy.

Question 3 - East must hold the 7 of hearts as you have accounted for three of South's hearts and he can't have a fourth one as he would not have replied 2 to North's Stayman enquiry.

How does all this help to improve our defence?  Well, if you have worked out the location of the missing cards, when you regain the lead, you know not to continue with another heart and have to wait for your partner to get in again to lead one through Declarer.

On this hand, Declarer played a spade at trick 2 which West was forced to win with the Ace.  West now switched to a club.  East won with the Ace and returned a heart through Declarer's King and nine.  West won, played a third round of hearts and eventually regained the lead with the King of diamonds.

If West plays another heart at trick 3, Declarer makes 3NT.  If West instead switches to a club, Declarer cannot make more than eight tricks.

To bid or not to bid...

Most players would open 1 on the North hand but what happens after that largely depends on South.  With only four points, some Souths would pass.  However, a more positive view is that South holds four of partner's suit plus a singleton spade and bidding rather than passing may deter the opposition who in all probability will have a fit in spades.

Many Wests will jump to 3♠ and if South has not bid, North, despite holding 19 points, will find it very difficult to bid again.  If South does bid 2,  North will certainly bid 4.  The question now is whether East decides to pass or bid 4♠.

You will see from the above hand that if North plays in 4, he has nothing to lose apart from three Aces but should East-West decide to 'sacrifice' in 4♠, potentially there are three diamonds to lose, two clubs and possibly the King of trumps.  In practice, however, things could turn out very different...

Playing in 4♠ doubled, West received the King of hearts lead so won in dummy and discarded a losing diamond from hand.  A promising start.  Declarer then set about eliminating the heart suit and drawing trumps, hoping to find the King onside.  At trick 2 a heart was ruffed then a small spade led from hand, successfully finessing dummy's 8.  Even more promising!  A third heart was ruffed, followed by another low spade to dummy's Ace.  Dummy's last heart was then ruffed.

Declarer now exited with a low diamond and North foolishly rose with the Queen, cashed the Ace and played a third round which Declarer ruffed in hand.  Declarer and dummy were now left with only black cards.  

At this point Declarer led a low club from hand towards dummy's Jack.  North went up with the Queen but in order not to concede a ruff and discard, he returned a low club.  Declarer played the Jack from dummy and made the rest of the tricks, losing just two diamonds and a club to make 4♠ doubled.

The unfortunate heart lead is perhaps understandable but North's mistake was going up with the Queen of diamonds.  He needed to hope his partner held the King of diamonds and South would then have been able to play back a club which would have avoided North being end played.

The best North-South could have done on this hand was to take three diamonds and a club or two diamonds and two clubs so 4♠ going one down is a good sacrifice against 4 making.  However, if South remains silent, North-South would not even have reached 4 in the first place and East-West would probably have been allowed to play in 3♠ making.  Always best to try to support partner if you possibly can even if it means pushing the boat out a bit.

Signals in Defence

Looking at all four hands (board 9 from 15 March duplicate) you will see that the final contract of 5 has three losers which illustrates how it is often difficult to get to the right spot after a competitive auction.

East opened light on a distributional hand.  South is too strong to make an overcall or jump in diamonds, hence the initial double.  West's 2NT showed a good raise to 3♠.  North's 3 bid was highly competitive which had the effect of prompting South to jump to 5.

Not surprisingly West led the Ace of spades but then what?  East is likely to have an Ace but is it the Ace of clubs or Ace of hearts?  If it is the Ace of clubs, East can play a heart back to defeat the contract.  A switch to the King of hearts at trick 2 would be fatal to the defence.  However, if East holds the Ace of hearts, not switching to the King of hearts would be fatal to the defence.

West needs to know what to do. and this is where signals are key to a good defence.

Normally on the Ace of spades lead, if East plays a high card, that would be encouraging a continuation.  However, when dummy has a singleton, encouraging a continuation would be pointless.  Instead, in this situation, a high spade should be showing something in hearts and a low spade should be showing something in clubs.  In this instance East would follow with a high spade, West can now switch to the King of hearts followed by another heart and 5 is defeated immediately.

At the table, all pairs who played in diamonds made 11 tricks though ironically the side with game on was actually East-West as, with the spade finesse right, 4♠ makes 10 tricks.  Not surprisingly all pairs who played in 4♠ were doubled and scored +790.

How would you bid this hand?

Looking at the above hand (board 20 from the 16 February duplicate), you will see that North-South can make 10 tricks in hearts, 11 if West doesn't lead a club.  North-South have a combined 24 points and the spade finesse secures 4 should you reach it.

However, this is one of those hands where there are endless possibilities with the bidding.  Some pushy Norths might open 1 and, if they do, they will almost certainly reach 4.

If North doesn't open, East will open either 1♣ or 1NT.  If East opens 1♣ some Souths might double, others would pass.  If South passes, West will also pass and North would probably bid 1.  South can now bid 2♣ asking for more information and North would then have the opportunity to bid his hearts.  I don't think game would be reached though.

If South doubles, North would jump to 2.  This rather embarrasses South which is why I would rather not double over 1♣ but instead I think it is better to pass and wait for North to 'protect'.

If East decides to open 1NT, whether South or North get into the auction depends to some extent what defence they play to an opening 1NT.  Some Souths might have a bid to show the majors.  If South doesn't bid, some Norths might play 2 as 'natural' and sometimes both North and South would pass and defend 1NT.

Should East end up playing in 1NT, South is likely to lead one of his majors.  East wins the opening lead, cashes five club tricks and 1NT goes one-off.

The defence to 2♣ has the potential to be much more severe.  South may lead a couple of top hearts, then switch to a diamond.  North cashes three diamond tricks, then switches to the Jack of spades.  North-South take two spade winners but then South can continue with a third spade which North ruffs, making a total of eight tricks before East makes the last five trump tricks.

If North plays in diamonds, he can make 10 tricks for a score of 130 but if North-South manage to find their heart fit, there is no real reason to bid to game and a score of 170 or 200 should be a good result.

As for the actual results on the travellers...

We had 2NT by South making 9 tricks; 1NT by East making 7 tricks; 3 by South going one off; 4 by North making 10 tricks; 1NT by East going one off; and 1♣ by East going two off.

There is no particular right or wrong with this hand but one thing is for sure, if East opens 1NT, not only is it quite difficult for North-South to get into the auction, if East is allowed to play in 1NT, going one-off should be quite a good result for East-West.

How would you play this hand?

This was board 25 from last week.  Against a fine contract of 4, North led the King of Clubs, presumably from King Queen, on which South played the 10 (a singleton?) and Declarer won with the Ace.  It looks like you could get away with two losers, the Queen of Clubs and the Ace of trumps but of course you do not know at this stage how the suits will break.  South's 10 of clubs is potentially helpful as, because Declarer holds the Jack and dummy the nine, there is no longer a need to ruff a losing club.  However, if South has a singleton, that would mean North held seven clubs to the King Queen and, being non-vulnerable, a little surprising not to have pre-empted.  The 10 of clubs is possibly therefore from a doubleton.  On the basis of this, how would you continue to play this hand?

I expect most Declarers would now begin to draw trumps by playing towards the King.  Best defence is to duck though North's play of the eight might set the alarm bells ringing for Declarer.  If Declarer continues with a second trump, South should duck again, Declarer now noting a 4-1 trump break.  If Declarer continues with a third trump, South should win it with the Ace, return a club then partner plays another club which South can ruff.  Eventually, if North holds on to his diamonds, he will come to a diamond trick and 4 is one off.  Pretty unlucky!

Note that if South doesn't hold up the Ace of trumps twice, there will be no possibility of a club ruff as dummy would still have a trump to ruff a club and Declarer would then be able to return to hand and draw South's outstanding trumps.

One Declarer tried something a bit different.  After playing a trump at trick 2, he cashed the Ace of spades then played the Jack which was covered by the Queen and ruffed in hand. He then played a diamond to the King followed by the 10 of spades which (correctly) was not covered and ruffed in hand but unfortunately for Declarer, North showed out.

Declarer then played another trump to dummy which South won with the Ace and played back a club.  North won with the Queen and played another club.  Declarer discarded a spade from dummy but South, instead of ruffing, discarded the Jack of diamonds.  This was fatal for Declarer - He drew a third round of trumps, but then when a diamond was played, South was able to ruff and make the Queen of spades for one down.

If you know where all the cards are, in particular the King and Queen of spades, I think you can make the contract.  You can either duck the opening lead or let the 10 of spades run at trick 6.  However, in practice, with this distribution and against accurate defence, making 4 is not so easy.

Andy Hughes has pointed out to me that if Declarer returns a club at trick 2, he cannot be defeated by the defence as he can ruff the other club in dummy, losing just a club, the Ace of trumps and a diamond.

Board 5 - Defending 3 No Trumps

I was lucky on board 5.  When partner opened 3♣ I would have been quite happy to pass on the West hand but then there was an intervening 3♠ bid from South.  A pass now is quite weedy and I thought 4♣ was rather boring so I tried a cheeky 3NT as a bit of a gamble!

A spade was led and I was relieved to see the Ace of hearts in dummy.  South won with the Ace and returned the Queen but that was the end of the defence.  To defeat 3NT South has to switch to a heart to knock out dummy's Ace, then there is no entry to dummy's clubs.  This may not be obvious but it is certainly worth a try.

3NT made with two overtricks.  Other contracts were 4♣ by East making 10 tricks (this happened twice), 5♣ by East going one off, 3 by West just making, 4 by West going three off, 4♣ by East going one off and 4♣ by East making two overtricks.

Nobody played in spades though South can make 3♠ unless East-West find their diamond ruff.


Board 5 - Playing in 3 No Trumps

All Easts became Declarer in 3NT on board 5 on what was probably a similar auction to the bidding indicated above.  

As South, do you lead the 10 of spades or 4th highest?  On a low spade lead, Declarer plays low from dummy and if East goes up with the King, Declarer has three spade tricks in the bag.  The 10 of spades lead is better though Declarer can still make three tricks if he plays his spades correctly. 

Declarer immediately sets about the diamonds, knocking out the Ace.  He then wins the return, crosses to dummy and runs the rest of the diamonds.  He should throw his hearts (apart from the Ace of course) and keep his clubs.

Although 3NT is a safe contract, Duplicate Pairs is not just a matter of bidding to the right contract and making it.  If everyone is in the same contract, the best score goes to the pair managing to make the most number of tricks.  On this board, two Declarers made 11 tricks (losing just two Aces) and the rest made 10.  I suspect all those who made 10 tricks took an unnecessary losing heart finesse.


Board 8 - Making 6 Spades

When you count up 21 points as I did on the East hand, you don't normally expect partner to open the bidding but on this occasion partner did!

The reason for the dilly dallying in the bidding was that I wanted to find out about Aces and the Queen of spades, hoping to play in 7♠.  The 3 bid was fourth suit forcing and the 5♠ bid showed two Aces and the Queen of trumps.

It was almost disappointing to have to settle for 6♠ but one pair presumably did not ask for Aces and ended up in 7♠ going off on the Ace of diamonds lead.  However, three pairs also went off in 6♠.

After the Ace of diamonds lead, the contract looks as safe as houses with tricks galore but this is exactly the time to play very carefully and look for any possible danger and typical for last night's hands, there was a jinx with a four nil trump break.  

Losing a trump trick is the only way to go off so Declarer should consider this as it would be such a shame to go down in such a beautiful contract!  The missing spades are J1073.  If by some misfortune these are all held by North, it is impossible to pick them all up but if South holds all four missing spades, it is a different matter. 

Jeremy won the second trick in dummy then played the King of spades (key play) and when North showed out, he took two marked finesses through South whose trumps were now nothing more than nuisance value. 


How would you play this slam?

The above hand occurred in a recent match.  First an explanation of the bidding.  The 1♠, 2 and 3 are natural.  The jump to 3 over a 2 level response must by definition be game forcing and therefore South's bid of 3♠ is stronger than 4♠ as it leaves room for cue bidding whereas a jump to 4♠ is a shutout.  This is known as the 'principle of fast arrival' - If you are in a game forcing situation and go straight there, you have no further interest.

As you can see, South has plenty in hand, hence the bid of 3♠ rather than 4♠.  North's 4♣ was a cue bid, East's double announced a club feature, South's 4 was also a cue bid.  4 and 5 were also cue bids.  The 5 bid shows second round control.  By inference North knows South must have the Ace of clubs for continuing to cue bid at the 5 level.  The 6 bid is a Grand Slam try as North doesn't know whether the 5 cue bid is the King of hearts or a singleton.  If South has the King of hearts, 7♠ might well be on the cards.

Against a final contract of 6♠ East made the best lead of a trump.  By looking at all four hands, see if you can make 6♠ against best defence.

There are quite a few things to think about.  We know the whereabouts of the King of clubs but where are the King of diamonds and King of hearts and will the trumps break evenly?

Had the opponents not led a trump, there would have been the opportunity to ruff a number of hearts in dummy.  The club finesse is completely pointless but a 'ruffing finesse' in diamonds is a possibility, ie hoping the King is with West.  However, there is a better way.

Win the opening lead with dummy's Ace of spades, then play the Jack of hearts.  Best defence is for West not to cover and Declarer should let it run, happy to lose the King if necessary.  Now play a club to your Ace, cash the Ace of hearts discarding dummy's other club.  Then ruff a club in dummy and play the Ace of diamonds throwing your last club from hand.  Now draw trumps and concede a heart to the King for your 12 tricks.

A difficult hand to bid and play

Playing in a recent teams match, I opened 1♠ on the East hand and when South doubled, North had a bit of a problem.  He bid 2 which his partner raised to 4 and that was the end of the auction.

At the other table the East hand opened 1♣ so when South doubled, North bid 1♠, South then jumped to 2NT, North bid 3♠ , South bid 3NT and North removed again to 4♠.  Two very different contracts therefore resulted.

Against 4 I led the King of clubs which was taken by the Ace in dummy.  Declarer has some difficulty getting to hand and tried the Ace of hearts at trick 2, presumably intending to ruff the third round.  A good time to false card, I played the 10.

Declarer then played the Ace of trumps, felling my Jack and continued with a small diamond to the 10 and King.  This would have given Declarer an entry to his hand had I held a singleton Jack.  Anyway on winning that trick I played the 9 of hearts which after some thought Declarer won with the King.  He now played the King of spades from dummy which I won with the Ace.

I continued with a small spade, won in hand by Declarer who then played a club towards dummy's Jack.  I went up with the Queen of clubs and played the Queen of spades which promoted John's nine of diamonds.  Dummy ruffed and John overruffed for the setting trick.

At the other table, 3NT would probably have received a club lead and with East holding King Jack doubleton diamond, this enables a vital entry to dummy to take a heart finesse so Declarer would make four diamonds, two clubs and three heart tricks.  However, Andy and Jeremy reached 4♠ which was doubled.  Playing North, Jeremy received the King of clubs lead which he won in dummy.  This is also a precarious contract but as the cards lie, it makes if played carefully.  Jeremy played the King of spades which East won and switched to the King of diamonds.  He now played a club to the 10 and Queen and East returned the Jack of diamonds won by dummy's Queen.  Jeremy now played a club which he trumped in hand.

From the double, East is likely to have four spades headed by AQ.  The key play now is to play the Jack of spades from hand, hoping to pin the 10 in the West hand which is exactly what happens.  East can win the trick but that is it as Declarer can now play Ace, King and another heart which he ruffs in hand then draws East's last two trumps with his eight and nine of spades.  Neat.

Disaster Hand of the Week - Tuesday 27 October 2015


Board 5 was possibly the most interesting hand of the week but for me it was a bit of a disaster.  Playing against Jill and Sally, I could have opened 1♣ on the North hand but decided not to.  Sheila therefore opened 1.  I hesitated between responding 1 and 2♣ and made the dubious decision of 1.  This made things difficult for Sheila who didn't now want to rebid No Trumps with her poor spades.  She therefore supported hearts and I bid 3NT.

Ironically if South ends up Declarer in 3NT, a spade lead immediately defeats the contract.  However, Jill was on lead with the East hand and had she led a spade, I would have made many tricks, 10 at least, and if West discards diamonds, even more.  Clearly the heart bidding deterred Jill from a heart lead so she very sensibly led a club.

As Declarer I was surprised (relieved) not to have received a spade lead and prospects looked very good.  I won the club lead in dummy and could count a minimum of nine tricks, five clubs, three diamonds and the Ace of hearts.  The danger hand is West as a spade through my King could spell defeat.  I therefore took out a bit of insurance and played a diamond from dummy at trick 2 and finessed the nine of diamonds into the 'safe' hand.  Not surprisingly this lost but the idea was to insure against a 4-2 diamond break to make an overtrick.

Jill played back another club and when Sally followed, confirming that Jill had led from a 3 card suit, I guessed she must have hearts and hadn't wanted to lead one.  On winning this I played another diamond to the Ace and was disappointed to see the diamonds were breaking 5-1 so I now cashed all my club winners.

If I now played a heart to the Ace and took the King and Queen of diamonds, that would be my nine tricks in the bag but, pairs being pairs, I foolishly got greedy for overtricks.  I did not know the whereabouts of the King of hearts or the Ace of spades and providing the Ace of spades was right, all would be fine for overtricks.  It was also clear by this stage that many more hearts were in Jill's hand than in Sally's so I decided the finesse of the Queen of hearts was a reasonable bet for an overtrick.

Second disappointment as Sally won with the King, switched to a spade through my King which I had previously been playing to avoid, and Jill took another spade, put me back in dummy with a heart and I lost a diamond at the end for one down!

To rub salt into the wound, I felt quite stupid to have lost a diamond to the singleton Jack and a heart to the singleton King!!  Playing rubber or teams Bridge I would indeed have gone up with the Ace of hearts, dropped the singleton King offside and made an overtrick.  Serves me right for being greedy!

There was a wide variety of results on the travellers, 5♣ by North making 11 tricks for plus 600, 3NT by North making 12 tricks for plus 690, 3NT by South going one off for minus 100, 3NT by North (me) also going one off for minus 100, 3 by South making 9 tricks for plus 110 and 4 by South making 10 tricks for plus 620.

Play Problem - How would you play 7 Spades?

You pick up the South cards and open 2♣.  Unusually you do not hear a 2 response from partner and when he actually supports your spades, it all sounds too good to be true.  You soon find out you have all the Aces and Kings and reach an excellent Grand Slam in spades.  All very exciting and when West leads the Jack of diamonds, partner puts down dummy and things look extremely promising.  There appear to be around 15 tricks!!!

You win the opening lead in hand and play a trump to dummy's Ace and another one back to hand.  Shock horror, West discards a club on the second spade revealing a 4-1 trump break.  What seemed like a piece of cake now appears to be an impossible contract but can you see any way of making it?

Had you finessed the spade on the second round, 7♠ would have been a doddle but someone might just have suspected you of peeping!!  Having played off two rounds of trumps, you have no more trumps in dummy so you cannot lead any more through East.  It therefore looks like you must have a trump loser.  However, there is a way...

Play the King of hearts and overtake with dummy's Ace, then ruff a heart in hand.  Back to dummy with a club and finesse the 10!!  Play back another heart and ruff in hand.  Now play off your two top diamonds and then the Queen of clubs to dummy's King.  

At this stage dummy now holds Q4 and 7, East holds ♠J6 and ♣7 and you hold ♠Q10 and ♣A.  West's cards are immaterial.

You play the Queen of hearts from dummy.  If East discards his club, you discard the Ace of clubs which leaves your Q10 of trumps over his J6.  If East ruffs, you overruff, draw his last trump and take the last trick with the Ace of clubs.

This unusual line of play is known as a 'Grand Coup'.  This requires reducing your trump holding by ruffing twice so you have the same number of trumps as defender.  The club finesse was necessary as it provided that vital extra entry to dummy to perform the Grand Coup.

Play Problem - How can you defeat 7 Spades?

Well done if you managed to make 7♠ on the above hand.  However, even more cunning is the defence to beat the contract.  Can you see how East-West could have defeated 7♠ despite Declarer's valiant attempt?

Believe it or not, the most uninspiring looking hand, West, plays the key role in defeating 7♠ so next time you hold a couple of jacks and a singleton trump, it might just be worth not taking a quick nap!

When West notices Declarer's face drop on the second round of trumps, then sees the King of hearts overtaken by the Ace and a small heart played back and ruffed, the alarm bells start ringing that Declarer is up to something!  When Declarer now plays a small club towards dummy's ♣K10, if West rises with his Jack, Declarer is no longer able to finesse the 10. He is robbed of a vital entry to dummy to perform his Grand Coup and must go one down.


Test your Play and Defence - Question 1

You reach an excellent contract of 6♣.  North leads the Queen of spades.  What is your best possible chance of making the contract?

Test your Play and Defence - Question 2

As West you play in 3NT and receive a small heart lead.  South plays the Queen which you win with the King.  Without being greedy for any overtricks, what is your best line of play to 100% guarantee making your contract?

Test your Play and Defence - Question 3

After the above bidding sequence your partner, West, leads the Jack of spades.  As East, what would you play and what would you envisage your partner's spade holding to be?

Test your Play and Defence - Question 4

After East opens 1NT (12-14 points), you end up leading the three of hearts against 3NT after the above bidding sequence.  Declarer plays low from dummy, partner plays the 10 and East wins with the Queen.  Declarer then plays Ace, King and another spade and then from dummy he plays a small diamond to his Queen which you win with the Ace.  What would you play next and why?

Test your Play and Defence - Question 5

East-West bid to 6NT and North leads a small club.  As East how would you play this hand to guarantee your 12 tricks?

How easy it is to misdefend...

I often say that Bridge is a game of mistakes and the winners are normally those who make the fewest.  The above hand is a good example of how easy it is to go wrong.

On the above hand North opened the bidding with 1 and after some thought East jumped to 4.  South doubled which ended the auction.

South led the Jack of diamonds which North won with the Ace and returned the 3 which Declarer won with the King.  Declarer then played the King of hearts which South won with the Ace and switched to the Queen of clubs.  This was taken by the Ace, North played the 3 and Declarer the 9.

This was Declarer's one and only time in dummy and if he plays a spade towards his AQJ, he is home and dry as Kx were onside.  However, he played a diamond which was ruffed and overruffed.

At this point South had a think about what to play next.  The safest thing to do would have been to play a trump but because North had played his lowest card on South's Queen of clubs which wasn't encouraging, South believed he must have a couple of top honours in spades and made a fatal spade switch and Declarer took the rest of the tricks, making 4 doubled.

There was a misunderstanding in the defensive signals.  North's low diamond at trick 2 showed interest in a club switch but his 3 of clubs on South's Queen was now showing distribution (an odd number of clubs).  Personally in these circumstances I would have been less subtle and played a higher club to make sure partner continued clubs but technically, he was correct.  Defence is the hardest part of the game.  It is easy to go wrong and you sometimes need to help your partner to stop them going wrong.

Interestingly enough 4 was not often bid.  Results on the travellers were 4♣ by North, making 10 tricks, 2 by East making 10 tricks, 4♣ by North going one off, 3♠ by West making 9 tricks, 5♣ by South going two off, 4 doubled by East going one off (right defence, wrong declarer play) and 4 doubled by East making (wrong defence).  

Board 7

Board 7 was a bit of a nightmare hand.  Neither North-South nor East-West have any communication between the hands so making any contract is always going to be difficult and reliant on a misdefence.

I was sitting North and pleased to pick up a hand with 20 points.  I debated whether to open 1 or 2NT and decided on 2NT which was passed out.  2NT passed out is often a poor prospect but not normally as bad as this one!  I received the Queen of spades lead so won in hand with the King.  I could see things were going to be quite difficult and decided to play the Ace of hearts to see if a top heart might fall.  No such luck when East showed out but small consolation that a heart contract wouldn't have been very happy either!  Not surprisingly I abandoned hearts now and had a go at Ace and Queen of diamonds.  This was won by East's King followed by spade after spade after spade.  They seemed to go on forever!!  I ended up with a couple of tricks at the end for 3 off which rather amazingly was an average score.  

If East plays in spades and North had bid hearts, I suppose South would have led a heart which goes to King, Ace and ruff.  Declarer's only way to dummy is by leading away from his diamonds and eventually ruffing one in dummy.  He can now discard a losing club on the Queen of hearts then play dummy's last spade and finesse against the King.  The defenders would only be able to take two diamonds and a club.  No doubt the Declarer play and defence varied quite considerably.

The results on the travellers were as follows:

5 by North going 4 off for minus 1100; 3♠ by East making 10 tricks for 170 (twice); 3♠ doubled by East making 9 tricks for 730; 4♠ doubled by East going 2 off for minus 500; 2NT by North going 2 off for minus 200; 2NT by North going 3 off for minus 300 and 4♠ doubled by East making 10 tricks for plus 790.


How would you bid this hand?

After East opens 1NT, many Wests would bid their hearts.  However, why not try Stayman first in case you have a 4-4 spade fit?  If you find out you have, your hand is stronger than ever. 

This was board 2 from the previous week's duplicate and when John responded 2♠, I bid 4♣.  This is not natural and most players would agree it shows a singleton or void club.  John then cue bid his Ace of diamonds which is just what you want to hear looking at the West cards.  With a solid 6 card heart suit and complete control of diamonds and clubs, all you need to do is to check the quality of your 4-4 spade fit.  A jump to 5♠ asks partner to bid to 6♠ with reasonable quality trumps.

6♠ is a very good contract and didn't even require having the Ace of clubs.  If East had held the Ace of spades instead of the Ace of clubs, 7♠ is good.

6 is also a fine contract but without discovering a fit in spades and the Ace of diamonds, you are not likely to get beyond game.

Smith Peters

Have you heard of Smith Peters?  This is a signalling mechanism used in defence which was invented by my great partner Geoff Smith, renowned in his day as being the best card player in the South of England.  The way Smith Peters works is that if your partner made the opening lead, you 'peter' on Declarer's first lead if you liked your partner's lead.  If you were on lead, a 'peter' indicates to partner that you don't want the suit led back.

On the above hand, following a fairly routine bidding sequence, North led a 4th highest club against 3NT.  Dummy's singleton King won, South playing the  7 which potentially could look quite encouraging.  Declarer then played the Queen of spades which was finessed to North's King, South playing the 2.  

Under normal circumstances, North would probably have continued with another club.  However, South's 2 of spades did not show any interest in the opening lead.  Looking at a good 6 card diamond suit in dummy, the other clue was that Declarer had not tackled diamonds so North decided to lead a diamond through dummy.  Playing a spade back would actually have been safer as North's diamond switch gave Declarer a chance to run it round to his 10.  

At this point, Declarer counted up three probable spade tricks, two hearts, two clubs and the Ace of Diamonds and played the Queen of diamonds for a possible 9th trick.  This was a fatal error as, when this lost to the King, it also squashed the 10 and enhanced North's diamond holding.  South now played a club back which went to the Jack and Queen.  North then played the Jack of diamonds won by dummy's Ace and when he eventually got in with the Ace of hearts, he cashed the 9 of diamonds to take 3NT one down.  

A neat defence as a club continuation by North at trick 3 would have allowed 3NT to make.  Smith Peters helped North not to continue with clubs.  Had South held the Jack of Clubs, he would have played the 5 of spades (start of a peter) to encourage North to continue with clubs.


Have you heard of a 'squeeze'?  It enables you to make an extra trick and maybe achieve what would otherwise have been an impossible contract.  An interesting example happened this week on board 12.

4 by East-West is a sound contract, yet only two pairs got to it.  The other two pairs were in 3 and 1.  However, due to a bad trump break there is a loser in every suit on best defence.  Best defence doesn't happen very often and many players would unwittingly discard a small club from the North hand which is actually a vital trick opposite partner's holding of QJ doubleton.

The opening lead against 4 was a diamond.  This was won by the Ace and another diamond returned which was won by Declarer.

Taking stock at this point, there are two Aces to lose plus an unavoidable club though providing the trumps behave, there should be no more losers.  A trump to the King and one back to the Ace revealed the bad news.  Note that South should of course play a low heart and not split his heart honours, otherwise Declarer would be able to return to dummy and play another heart through and end up with no heart loser.

A spade was now played towards dummy's King Queen and North put up the Ace and switched to a small club to the Jack and Ace.

With four apparent losers, there was nevertheless a small glimmer of hope for a squeeze in spades and clubs.  Another two hearts were played with South winning the second one.  At this point South played the Jack of diamonds.  Remaining cards by West, North and East were as follows:

West: ♠8 9 ♣K74

North: ♠1097 ♣108

East: ♠KQ6 ♣65

When Declarer (West) ruffed the Jack of diamonds, North was squeezed by being forced to unguard one of his suits.  If he throws a spade, dummy makes all three spades and if he throws a club Declarer makes all three of his clubs.

Both North and South had the opportunity to defeat the contract and break the squeeze before it happened.  If North had played another spade after taking his Ace or South had played another spade instead of the Jack of diamonds, Declarer would not have been able to maintain communication with dummy's spades to perform the squeeze and gone one down. 

How would you play this hand?

North leads the 5 of spades against your 3NT contract.  How would you plan the play to 100% guarantee making your contract?

Did you go up with the Ace of spades at trick 1?  If not, the contract is doomed as you will have lost your vital entry to run the club suit.

Assuming you did go up with the Ace of spades and played the Queen of clubs at trick 2, did you finesse it?  If you did and North correctly ducks, you are also going off as the only way to get to the clubs is via a spade and you still have the King of clubs to knock out, then no more entries to hand.

At trick 2 you need to overtake the Queen of clubs with the Ace, then continue to run the clubs from the top.  North can take his King when he likes but you still have a top spade to get in and continue to run the clubs.  You make 5 clubs, 2 spades and the two red Aces.

With hands like this, it is well worth having a quick think when dummy appears otherwise you could find yourself going down as soon as you play the very first card!

If you are defending and Declarer does slip up, you need to make sure you don't let him off the hook.  You may not think the South hand is of much interest but if Declarer doesn't play correctly and you end up getting in with one of your red suit Kings, you need to make sure you have unblocked your Jack of spades at trick 1 or 2 as your partner has no entry to run his spades.  As North's 5 of spades lead was 4th highest, he guarantees having an honour and you can easily work out at trick 1 that this must be the 10.

Test Your Declarer Play

Sometimes you have enough points for game but prospects are nevertheless poor.  This deal is such an example.  Despite a combined point count of 26 and a 4-4 fit in hearts, the hearts lack intermediaries.  Some players would undoubtedly end up in 3 No Trumps rather than 4 but that is even worse!

Before looking at the full deal, have a think about how you would tackle this hand on the Queen of diamonds lead by West.

In 4 there are three unavoidable losers, two trumps and a club.  Therefore, to have any chance of making the contract, the opponents' trumps need to break 3-2.  However, your trumps are vital for ruffing purposes and good defenders will immediately play trumps as soon as they get the opportunity to do so.

After winning the diamond lead in dummy with the Ace, you should play a trump and duck it to the opponents.  Whatever suit they play back, you should now draw a second round of trumps with the Ace.  This leaves you with two trumps in each hand and one outstanding trump winner with the defenders.  All you need to do now is to ruff two diamonds with dummy's last two trumps.  You will then lose one more trump at some point and a club as well as the previous trump loser and make 10 tricks.

Sounds quite straightforward but if you do not duck a trump at trick 2, you will not make the contract.  

In 3NT you would also receive the Queen of diamonds lead and cannot make more than 8 tricks.

Bidding - Secondary Preference

I am always surprised how often players bid to poor 3 No Trump contracts.  Sometimes they are lucky and due to a favourable lead or misdefence, they make a number of overtricks for a very good score.  On other occasions it can be a bit of a disaster.

How would you bid the above North-South hand?  Playing Acol, after North's 1NT rebid showing 15-16 points, many Souths would jump straight to 3NT.  This may well be the right contract but with three of partner's hearts and a five card spade suit it is surely worth investigating a major suit fit.

A jump to 3 by South would be forcing and asking partner to choose between playing in hearts and No Trumps.  This is called 'Secondary Preference' and shows three card support as with four card support, South would have supported hearts in the first place.

With only a four card suit, North is not interested in playing in hearts.  However he does have three spades so he can now give 'Secondary Preference' by bidding 3♠.  This bid is also forcing and this time North is asking South to choose between spades and No Trumps.  With a five card suit, South bids 4♠.

Looking at the full deal, 3NT by North would receive a club lead and be defeated whereas 4♠ is fine for 10 tricks.  On a lucky day, you would not get a club lead and make 3NT with overtricks but you could also be lucky in 4♠ and make an overtrick if East-West do not lead or switch to a club as one of South's  clubs could be discarded on North's 13th heart.

Secondary Preference enables 5-3 major suit fits to be found which normally play better than No Trumps so are well worth investigating.  

Making a Slam with a 2-2 trump fit

Sometimes a misunderstanding happens during the bidding and you get to the wrong contract.  North-South got into a muddle with their cue-bidding on the above deal.  South panicked and they ended up in 6♣ on a 2-2 fit.

Realistically the most likely contracts are 6 or 6NT.  As the spades break 3-3, there are 13 easy tricks in No Trumps but despite a 4-4 heart fit, there is an unavoidable trump loser if you play in hearts.

However, against 6♣ the Jack of spades was the opening lead which South won in hand.  With the opponents holding nine trumps, it would be easy to give up hope at this stage but you might as well try to make this rather bizarre contract.  You might like to have a think about how you would tackle this hand before revealing the full hand and the answer.  


When you are in a poor contract, you have to hope the cards are lying favourably and play the hand accordingly.  In this case you would need the suits to all break evenly and the Jack of Clubs to your right...

...Cash the three top spades, discarding a heart from dummy on the third spade.  Then play Ace and King of hearts.  Next cash the three high diamonds in dummy, discarding a heart from the South hand.  Now cross-ruff diamonds and spades, using up the high trumps separately with East-West both helplessly under-ruffing.  The opponents get one trick at the end and you have made your slam on a 2-2 trump fit!

Signalling in defence

The above hand was board 7 from the 24 February duplicate.  All Easts became declarer in 4, probably with a similar sequence to the above.  Although the contract is not unreasonable, any lead by South is quite capable of defeating the contract, yet four out of seven Easts were allowed to make it. 

Personally I would lead a small spade or diamond but let's say South leads the Ace of clubs.  Dummy goes down and partner plays the 9 of clubs.  How would you continue?  Click for the answer and to see the full hand.

The 9 of clubs from partner would normally be encouraging in that suit but surely not in this case when you are looking at KQJ10 in dummy!  This is an opportunity to do a signal to partner.  A high club would ask for a switch to the higher of the other two suits and a low club would be asking for a switch to the lower of the other two suits.  As South will now never get in again, it is important he finds the spade switch otherwise declarer will be able to throw two of his spade losers on the clubs.  In defence you can make three Aces and the Queen of spades providing you make sure you take them before declarer gets the chance to throw spades on the clubs.  Seems straightforward enough but it's amazing how often contracts like this are allowed to make.

Learning Area

If anyone encounters some difficult hands from a bidding, play or defence point of view, email me at and I will try to provide solutions in this section.

6 - Roman Key Card Blackwood

Many Bridge players use the Blackwood convention to check for Aces and Kings when investigating the possibility of bidding a slam.  I used to but like many others have converted to playing Roman Key Card Blackwood.  The difference is that when a trump suit has been agreed, 4NT asks about Aces plus the King of trumps.

The responses are 5♣ showing 0 or 3 Aces (including the King of trumps), 5 showing 1 or 4 Aces (including the King of trumps), 5  showing 2 or 5 Aces (including the King of trumps but denies having the Queen of trumps), 5♠ showing 2 Aces (including the King of trumps) plus the Queen of trumps and 5NT showing 5 Aces (including the King of trumps) plus the Queen of trumps.  It's a bit more to remember than ordinary Blackwood but provides some vital additional information when investigating the slam zone.

Blackwood is as much a mechanism to avoid getting into a bad slam as it is for getting into a good one.  The above deal is adapted from a recent duplicate session at Badger Farm where one or two pairs got a bit carried away, bid ordinary Blackwood, found one Ace missing and bid to 6 not realising the trump quality was not up to scratch.  Roman Key Card Blackwood rang the alarm bells and made 5 a more sensible option.

The North hand looked good from the start but when South responded 2, the North hand looked better still.  Game must be certain so a splinter bid of 4 shows heart agreement.  If North had diamonds, he would bid 3 which is a reverse and forcing so 4 should not be natural.  South holding two 5 card suits, both headed by Aces plus a singleton club must think a slam is a distinct possibility, hence checking for Aces.  If North held either the Ace of clubs or King of Hearts instead of King Jack of clubs, 6 would have been a great contract.  North's response to Roman Key Card Blackwood showing 1 or 4 Key cards is a disappointment to South so he now settles in 5 and as you can see, he should lose the Ace of Clubs and a trump trick.  With ordinary Blackwood, you only know partner has one Ace and no idea whether his hearts are headed by the King which of course is crucial and you would have to guess whether or not to bid the slam.

Asking for Kings is also slightly different using Roman Key Card Blackwood as you would already have accounted for the King of Trumps.  In response to 5NT if you bid a suit other than the trump suit, it shows the King of that suit or the other two, otherwise if you bid 6 of the trump suit, it shows either no kings or all three.

Final thing to remember (if you want to!) is that if partner responds 5♣ or 5 to 4NT, the next suit up (not including the trump suit) would be a relay asking if partner has the Queen of trumps.  If he doesn't have it, he would just go back to the trump suit but if he did have it, he would bid another feature.  

I have modified the above North-South cards to illustrate how this would work.  North's hand is now ♠ AKQxxx  Qxxx  x ♣ KJ opposite South's hand of ♠ xx  AKxxx  Axxxx ♣ A.  The bidding would proceed 1♠ - 2 - 4 (splinter bid, agreeing hearts) - 4NT (RKCB) - 5D (1 or 4 Aces) - 5♠ (next suit up, asking about the queen of trumps) 6♣ (a feature but most importantly confirming the Queen of trumps by not having bid 6) and now South can bid 7 in confidence that he is unlikely to lose a trump trick.

How would you play this hand?

Following the above bidding, West leads the 4, you play the 9 from dummy and East follows with the 7.  How would you plan to make this contract based on the information you have from the bidding and play so far?  You can click on the full deal and the answer.

This is not an easy hand to play but there are some vital clues in the opening lead and bidding.  When dummy goes down, you can see that West has overcalled on a weak suit.  You might assume this would therefore be a six card suit but his 4th highest lead of the 4 and East's play of the 7 confirm the diamonds must be 5-2.  Therefore for West to have overcalled on such a poor suit must mark him with most of the outstanding points and definitely the two black aces.  Also, you don't really expect a bad trump break as West would surely have doubled rather than bid 2♦ if he had had a singleton heart.

There are limited entries to dummy.  Definite losers are the two black aces and potential losers are the queen of clubs and queen of trumps and for both of these, if you are going to finesse, you will need to be in dummy.

The problem with this hand is that there are a few unknowns and quite a number of options on how to tackle the hand.  Best play is probably to win the diamond in hand with the Ace and play a spade towards dummy.  Not surprisingly the Ace shoots up and best defence now is for West to play another diamond which takes out an entry to dummy.  You take the marked finesse and now it is important to tackle the clubs while you still have your last entry to dummy, the king of trumps.  You play the Jack of clubs which is not covered and good news, this is won by the Ace.  Best defence now is for East to return a club which now opens up that suit for a potential winner for them.  You have two club discards, one on the King of spades and another on the king of diamonds.  The problem is that East will ruff the King of diamonds and you still do not know the whereabouts of the queen of trumps.  Playing for a 3-2 trump break, play Ace then King of trumps accepting you will have a trump loser, then play King of spades, discarding a club and then King of diamonds discarding another club.  

As the cards lie, West holds Queen doubleton heart so East ruffs the King of diamonds and you can either overruff and lose a club or just throw the losing club.  Either way you lose the two black Aces and another trick. 

It is very easy to go off in this contract as many declarer's would start drawing trumps, take a losing finesse to the queen, then lose a second club later on and go one down.

Let's say East had held Qxx of hearts, you would still need to play a spade towards the king at trick 2, otherwise you would leave yourself short of entries.  Suppose you were to play two rounds of hearts first ending in hand.  If you now played a spade towards the king, West can return a diamond thereby cutting further communication with dummy.  If you tried to cash king of spades then king of diamonds, East would ruff and you would end up having to play clubs away from your hand and losing two club tricks.  

If you played two rounds of hearts ending in dummy, you could play the jack of clubs but when West wins with the Ace, he can play back a diamond, again cutting any further communication of dummy so you would be unable to reach the king of spades after you had knocked out the Ace and once again end up with two club losers.  

All in all it would seem that declarer is safest by winning the opening diamond in hand, playing a spade towards dummy at trick 2, then not taking a heart finesse, thereby accepting to lose two black Aces and a trump.

A really tricky hand with plenty of scope for declarer error but also for East-West to misdefend.  A contract of 3NT is easier!

Tuesday 17 February duplicate - Board 8: Defending 1NT

On board 8 all Wests opened 1NT which is passed out.  I expect most Norths led the Jack of Clubs and when dummy comes down with a 10 count, your expectations should be that East-West ought to be making around 8 tricks.  You would not realistically expect to defeat 1NT but you would expect a good score if you managed to hold the contract to 7 tricks.

At our table West won the trick in hand with the Ace and played a spade to dummy's Jack which held the trick.  He then played the Queen of diamonds which was covered by South's King and West's Ace.  From North's point of view, the hand is pretty well an open book as West has revealed by inference the King and Queen of spades and shown up with two minor suit Aces.  This is a total of 13 points so West can't have much else and this means that for sure South holds the Queen of hearts and Queen of clubs.

After the Ace of diamonds, West decided to play another diamond to the Jack and then another one which South won with the 10.  It would be all too easy for a half asleep South to now play a spade to dummy's weakness but South came back with the Queen of Clubs, unblocking the suit and knocking out the King.  

Declarer now played a spade back to the King and my Ace.  I cashed two club winners then switched to a low heart.  It is difficult for Declarer to go up with dummy's King as if the Ace is wrong, he will then lose Queen and Jack too.  Declarer therefore played the 10 from dummy which was won by South's Jack then another heart was played back to my Ace.  This amounted to six tricks to North South so although West made his contract, he got no matchpoints as all the other West's managed to get 8 tricks.

Defence is often said to be the hardest part of the game.  There is an amazing amount of information from the bidding, from cards played by declarer, partner's leads and signals and even inferences from what has not been played.  The above hand gives a bit of a flavour of a few clues that are available but often get missed.

Tuesday 17 February duplicate - Board 13: A misfit hand

Board 13 was a horrible example of a misfit.  When North opens 1♠, South's distirbutional hand is not enhanced.  Despite the 6-5 shape, South has a distinct lack of points and personally I would bid 1NT.  With the West hand I would not come into the bidding as the diamonds are poor quality (two Wests did and both went off in 3).  North would rebid 2 and South is now even more alerted to a misfit and is best advised to give preference by bidding 2♠ as North is unlikely to have much in hearts or clubs and at least you can ruff a diamond in the short hand.  At the table, 2♠ made 9 tricks.  Another pair subsided in 2NT after bidding all four suits but that went one down for a bottom.

Nothing is ideal with a hand like this.  I would recommend the bidding in the above table.  Best advice is to stay as low as possible and hope the opponents come in as you are better off defending.

Bid up!

The above hand (Board 2 from Tuesday 10 February duplicate) produced a variety of results - 2NT by North making 9 tricks, 2 by West going two down, 4♠ by South making 11 tricks, 3♠ by South making 10 tricks (twice) and 2 doubled by West going two down.

The above bidding was at our table.  I'm surprised West bid 2 rather than 2 but clearly several pairs did bid 2 and played there.  Anyway, over 2 Jeremy cue bid 3 on his strong hand, interested in a stop for 3NT, a fifth spade or another suit.  With the South cards, I had not shown any strength at all by responding 1♠ to the double.  Not sure how useful my King Queen of hearts might be but having a fifth spade plus a singleton diamond I felt was enough to jump to 4♠ opposite partner's strong bidding.

4♠ is a good contract.  West started with Ace and King of diamonds.  I ruffed the second diamond and started getting the trumps out.  When the queen popped up from West my heart sank as a 4-1 trump break looked a distinct possibility plus no way to avoid losing two red Aces.  However, there was no alternative but to carry on drawing trumps with fingers crossed under the table!  Luckily it wasn't as bleak as I feared when the Jack of spades appeared from West and 11 tricks were now easy.  

Fourth Suit Forcing

How would you bid the North-South hands above?  I'm sure it would start with 1 by North, 2♣ by South and a 2 rebid by North but then what?

With 16 points, South knows they must be in Game somewhere, but where?  They haven't as yet discovered a fit in anything and South can hardly bid No Trumps with a doubleton Queen of spades.

South needs to find out more from his partner.  North may have a 6 card heart suit in which case 4 would be the right contract or he may have something in spades which would make 3NT a good contract.

The way to find out is 'Fourth Suit Forcing', ie bidding the 4th suit is not natural but a forcing bid asking partner for more information.

In this case, North would bid 2NT as he has spades well covered.  If he was stronger, he would bid 3NT.  If he had six hearts he would bid 3 and if he had neither of these things but three card diamond support, he could bid 3 as occasionally 5 might be the right spot.

If you don't use 4th Suit Forcing, many hands are impossible to bid accurately and the final contract becomes a guess and, more often than not, you end up in the wrong contract.

4th Suit Forcing is also very useful for clarifying partner's distribution.  Suppose for instance North opens 1  on a 4-4-4-1 hand (with a singleton spade), you respond 1♠ and partner rebids 2♣.

You would expect partner to hold five hearts and four clubs unless he is 4-4-4-1 in shape.  Find out by bidding 2 (4th Suit Forcing).  If he has five hearts, he can bid 2 and if he is 4-4-4-1, he can raise 2 to 3, showing he has four diamonds, knowing of course that your 2 bid is not promising anything at all in diamonds.

North's hand might be something like ♠ x  AQxx  Kxxx ♣ Axxx opposite South's ♠ QJ9xx  xxx  AQ ♣ KQx and over the 3 bid, South would now sign off in 3NT.

1 - Tips on Defence

The above hand looks at defence and shows that even when you don't have the cards, it's not time to fall asleep!

West's opening of 1 is with the intention of rebidding No Trumps.  Despite the 5-4-2-2 shape, the suit qualities are poor so it is better to emphasise a balanced hand than show a hand with hearts and diamonds.

East however likes hearts and with a ten count, good trump support and a singleton diamond, jumps to 3 which West raises to game.

4 is a fine contract and on a good day you would get away with losing just two Aces and on a very good day, even one loser if the opposition failed to take their Ace of Spades before you set up the clubs.

However, on this deal it is not a good day for Declarer as the opponents have the opportunity to defeat the contract.

North leads a club and when dummy goes down, South can tell straightaway that his partner's lead is a singleton.  If he was leading from KQ3, K3 or Q3, he would not lead the 3. 

So far so good but have a quick think before you play back a club too hastily.  In the knowledge of being able to give his partner a club ruff, how can South communicate to his partner that he has the Ace of Spades?  There are two possible suits for partner to lead back, spades and diamonds.  Therefore if you want partner to play a spade back, return a high club (asking for the higher of the other two suits) and if you want partner to play a diamond (the lower of the other two suits), lead back a small club.  This is a McKenny suit preference signal.  In this case, you would play back the 10 of clubs and hope partner is paying attention!

Partner now ruffs the club, duly plays a spade back to your Ace and you play another club.  Declarer is also out of clubs but as your partner can beat Declarer's hearts, he gets a second ruff and 4 goes one down.

A pat on the back if you got the defence right as anything else allows 4 to make.

As you can see from this hand, so much information is available to the defenders and it makes the hand so much more interesting and challenging.  Make your cards work for you but remember to pay attention as it makes all the difference between knowing what to do instead of just guessing.

2 - Play the Hand Carefully

Most players would arrive at 4♠ on the above hand although 6♠, not easy to get to I know, is a good contract.  Suppose you are sitting South as Declarer and somehow arrive in 6♠ and West finds the best lead of the King of Hearts, how would you go about making 12 tricks?

Normal practice is to get the opponents' trumps out as soon as possible but in this case there is a problem.  As soon as the opponents take the Ace of Trumps, a second heart will be played to defeat the contract.  You therefore need to discard a losing heart before drawing trumps and the only way you can do that is to play on clubs.

At trick 1 you would therefore win the heart lead with the Ace, then play two rounds of clubs (South's Ace and King).  After that, cross to the Ace of Diamonds and play one more club from Dummy, discarding a losing heart from the South hand.

It is always important for Declarer to look at the two hands when dummy is exposed and plan the play. 

3 - Bidding after a One No Trump opening

Most Bridge players in the UK play an opening bid of 1NT as showing a balanced hand with 12-14 points.  Not only is this a very descriptive bid but it occurs frequently and has a good pre-emptive value, being relatively difficult for the opponents to bid against.

After North opens 1NT, it would be a fairly brave East who would venture into the bidding at this stage as South could be strong.  I suspect most Easts would pass so South should now bid 2 (or 2 if you are playing transfers) as a weak take-out.  Clearly Hearts is much better than No Trumps as you can make 8 tricks in hearts but could be held to only 3 tricks in No Trumps.

On a lucky day, the opponents might allow you to play in 2 for a very good score.  However, looking at the East-West cards, they have the balance of the points yet it is not that easy for either of them to bid.  In practice I would recommend the above auction in a transfer sequence but with an ordinary 2 weak take-out bid, I would expect East to 'protect' with a bid of 3 as his partner must be marked with some values.  In 3  East-West can make 10 tricks, losing two clubs and the Ace of trumps. 

Of course, Bridge being Bridge, some East-West pairs will end up in 3NT as maybe West will cue bid 3 then East bid 3NT.  I am not advocating this as a good contract but in this case it is there for the taking.  South would no doubt lead the Queen of Hearts and North would of course (!) play the King on it to unblock the suit.  Providing East holds up the Ace for one round, he is home and dry.

4 - Ruff and Discard

A ruff and discard is when a suit is played (normally by the defenders) when neither Declarer nor Dummy holds that suit, thereby allowing one of the hands to ruff and the other hand to discard something.  This is normally a defensive error but good play by Declarer can force this situation to happen as in the above deal.

North-South bid to 4♠ after East pre-empts in diamonds.  East leads the King of diamonds and it is obvious that West must hold a singleton.  The contract looks safe with two hearts and a diamond to lose but when Declarer wins the lead and starts drawing trumps there is bad news, an unexpected trump loser.

However, all is not lost.  Remembering the bidding, East is unlikely to hold anything other than his 7 card diamond suit so play off two rounds of trumps then your top clubs.  West will get in at some point either with a heart or a trump but, as he will have no clubs left, he will be forced to continue playing hearts after making the Ace and King.  As neither the North hand nor the South hand has a heart, West is forced to concede a ruff and discard and a losing diamond can be discarded from the North hand whilst the heart is ruffed in the South hand and the contract is made. 

5 - Ruff and Discard 2

I was unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a very good but unusual defence on the above hand involving two ruff and discards.

North led the King of hearts.  When dummy came down, the contract looked reasonable with hopefully just the Ace of trumps and a couple of hearts to lose.

Opposite his partner's lead South played the 3 of hearts confirming an odd number of cards in that suit.  North continued with the Ace and then the Queen, deliberately allowing me to have a ruff and discard.  I got bad vibes at this stage.  North had sensibly realised that his partner must hold next to nothing so the only hope of defeating the contract was to play his partner to hold Jxx of trumps.

Having ruffed the heart in hand, I played a spade towards dummy's King Queen.  Up went the Ace and North played a fourth heart, giving me a second (useless) ruff and discard and thereby promoting his partner's Jack of spades.  I had a choice of ruffing with a low spade and getting overruffed by the Jack or ruffing with a top spade, thereby promoting the Jack as a winner, the setting trick.  Very neat defence but not nice for Declarer!

This was an exceptional hand as more often than not, giving Declarer a ruff and discard is bad defence but in this case, giving two ruff and discards was the only way to defeat the contract.