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Improve Your Bridge Workshops

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

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

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

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

Monday Pairs
Director: Fred Hotchen
Scorer: Fred Hotchen
Monday Pairs
Director: Fred Hotchen
Scorer: Fred Hotchen
Monday Pairs
Director: Fred Hotchen
Scorer: Fred Hotchen
Hands of the Week 2019
Hand of the Week - Tuesday 17 December 2019

The above hand was board 22.  Reaching 3NT is optimistic and, looking at the East-West hands, prospects look pretty grim.  Nevertheless, on a good day, things sometimes improve as the play develops...

John was declaring from the East hand and received a small spade lead from Peter sitting South which went to Paul's Ace and a spade was returned at trick 2.  John let Peter take his Queen and a third round was played which John won in his hand.

He now played Ace King and another heart, Peter winning the third round with his Queen and then he exited with a small club which Paul won with his King.  Paul now switched to a diamond and John had to decide whether or not to finesse.  He correctly decided not to as Paul could have exited with something else and was therefore unlikely to have the King of diamonds.

After winning the Ace of diamonds, John crossed to dummy's Ace of clubs and cashed a winning spade and a winning heart.  Peter followed to both.  John then took the right view in clubs by playing to hHe did the latter so John made his ninth trick with the 10 of clubs after the Jack fell under the Queen.  Neat! 

Two other Easts bid and made 3NT and another made nine tricks but was only in 3NT.  Everyone else went down.  One East went one off in 3NT, another went two off and a third went four off.  On one occasion Declarer was West in 1NT but he went two off in that.  It was a very thin game and not easy to play.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 10 December 2019

The above hand is illustrative of the start of a competitive auction - West opens 1 and North has a classic takeout double, but then what?

A bid of 2♣ by East is a possibility but West is not strong enough to bid 2♠ so should simply rebid 2.  What happens after that would vary between 'pass' and 2NT.  In practice, quite a few partnerships would get too high, especially if West rebids 2♠ which some would.  All sorts of bad contracts might result and many East-West pairs would get too high and go down.

Looking at the East-West cards together reveals a combined 23 points and a misfit so getting to 3NT, which many would, would not be successful and there is plenty of scope for some very effective defences by North-South.

Often in a competitive auction, the two sides battle it out either to capture the auction themselves or otherwise to push the opposition too high so they can't make their contract.  This hand is different.  East-West with no fit are much better off defending than playing so how can they make that come about?

The answer is for East to redouble North's double.  But what does redouble mean?

Some players will be familiar with this and others won't.  Its most effective use is to promise 9+ points, not have a fit with partner's opening bid but to have a hand capable of defending at least two of the other three suits.  In other words the redouble is encouraging partner to defend rather than bid and hopefully to make a penalty double.

Looking at the above hand, there is precious little that East-West can make as the two hands fit so badly.  However, in defence, they have good defensive cards against any contract.  Defending rather than declaring is therefore much more likely to achieve a plus score for East-West.

After the redouble, North-South are in trouble.  If they pass out 1 redoubled, that contract will make despite the bad trump break.  If they bid 1NT or any other suit contract, either East or West can make a penalty double and achieve a handsome plus score.

The much underused 'redouble' card is therefore a very effective weapon.  It puts the boot on the other foot so instead of East-West declaring, it more or less forces North-South to do so and the redouble should show a willingness to make a penalty double.  West would normally only continue to bid on the weakest of hands, suggesting he has an inappropriate hand to defend.  On the above hand, West only has a minimum opening bid, yet the cards he holds are good defensive cards so should North-South bid spades, he could make a penalty double whereas if they bid hearts or clubs, East could make a penalty double.

Therefore low level part-score doubles can be very lucrative on hands like this.  The important thing for East in deciding to redouble is to have shortage in his partner's suit as this means better defence and less playing strength.  This is a hand where many players go wrong and East-West end up with a minus score instead of a plus.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 26 November 2019

The bidding auction shown above was on board 22 with Jeremy and me playing East-West against Stephen and Heather and as I've often said with hands like this, if the board was played a hundred times, there would probably be about the same number of different bidding sequences.

Some people would have pre-empted in spades on the East cards but, holding four hearts as well, some schools say you shouldn't so Jeremy decided to open just 1♠.  South has nothing to say so it's now down to West to find an appropriate response.  Again there are a number of schools of thought on this as you normally jump with 16 points but many players also only do so when they have a strong single suited hand.  This hand does not tick all those boxes but with tolerance for spades, I upgraded the hand and jumped to 3♣.  Had Jeremy opened 1, I would have proceeded with greater caution and just responded 2♣.

Now to North, a really powerful two suiter though it doesn't sound likely that partner will have much.  Nevertheless Stephen's jump to 4 would seem like a good idea as would Jeremy continuing with 4♠.  South still has nothing to say and West would feel rather disappointed with the way it's all turned out but discretion is probably the better part of valor...

However, that is not it as far as North is concerned and you just have to have another go and bid your second suit.  Stephen did and Heather gave preference to hearts.  I couldn't resist bidding on to 5♠, Stephen couldn't resist bidding 6 but Jeremy had had enough by now and couldn't resist doubling so 6 doubled became the final contract and fairly easily went four off for an expensive minus 800.

It would also appear that 6 was a phantom sacrifice as two East-West pairs played in 5♠, one going one off and the other going two off.  Interestingly, playing in spades, whilst there are two diamond and two spade losers, in practice the defenders are more likely to lead a heart in which case 5♠ only goes one off by ruffing a heart then playing three top clubs, discarding two diamonds and a second heart.  Declarer losers one heart and two trumps.

The various contracts and scores were as follows:

6 doubled by North going three off for minus 500; 6 by North (not doubled) going two off for minus 100; 5 doubled by North going four off for minus 800; 6 doubled by North going four off for minus 800; 5♠ by East going two off for minus 200; 5 by North going one off for minus 50; 6♣ doubled by West going three off for minus 800; 6 by North (not doubled) going three off for minus 150 and 5♠ by East going one off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 19 November 2019

Board 2 was quite an intriguing hand.  11 out of 13 times East was Declarer in hearts, 7 times in game.

Looking at the hand layout above, a diamond lead makes 4 a no hoper but in practice, most tables would probably have had a competitive auction so a club lead would have been more likely.  Nevertheless Declarer would have had a lot of work to do and with a four nil trump break and a lack of entries to dummy, it's hard to see how 4 would ever have made,  but it did.  In fact 4 made four times, three times with an overtrick!  On three occasions 4 went one off.  The other four times it was played in 3, twice making nine tricks, once going one off and once going two off.

A reasonably careful defence should manage to make two diamonds, a spade and a club and, depending on how Declarer tackles the play, there is also the chance of a heart winner.

The above bidding was how it was at our table but I'm sure there were many variants.  Against 4 South led a club which North won with the Ace and switched to the Jack of spades at trick 2.  South won and played back a diamond which Declarer won with the Ace.  On drawing a trump, the four nil break was revealed so he ruffed a club then took a heart finesse and drew the outstanding trumps followed by a spade to dummy, discarding all his losers for 11 tricks.

Of course 4 should not have made on a more accurate defence but the interesting thing about the hand was actually that a game in clubs the other way was undefeatable, yet only two pairs bid to 5♣.  On both occasions South was doubled, once it made and once it went one off.  It's all about the location of the Queen of diamonds.  She was sitting in the right place so the only two losers should have been the Ace of diamonds and a spade.

I don't know how the play went but on a non-spade lead, and the lead was likely to have been a heart, Declarer can make 12 tricks.  The opening heart lead is ruffed in hand, draw two rounds of trumps, finesse the diamond and lose to the Ace.  With the diamonds breaking 3-3, a spade can be discarded from dummy so there is no longer a spade loser.  Declarer therefore makes three diamond tricks, one spade and eight club tricks by cross-ruffing hearts and spades.

Amazing to think that most auctions would have appeared to belong to East-West in hearts with North-South sacrificing whereas it was actually completely the other way around and hearts was the sacrifice to a cold game in clubs!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 12 November 2019

The above hand was board 9, very distributional and very hard to bid after intervention.  The above auction was how it was at our table and East's overcall was systemically intermediate.  However, this is the sort of hand that could be played 100 times with about as many different auctions!

With North-South each holding a seven card major opposite a singleton and with East intervening in diamonds, it is never going to be easy to find the right contract.

There is nothing much to choose between playing in hearts or playing in spades but it is a very curious hand as 6♠ is always there whereas there are two different ways of defeating 6.

Likely defence against spades is to lead a top diamond.  Declarer ruffs, plays a spade to dummy's Jack, returns to hand with the King of hearts, draws all West's remaining trumps and plays a club to knock out the Ace.  12 tricks.

In a heart contract, West is on lead with a choice of two leads to prevent Declarer from making 12 tricks.  An opening spade lead would enable East to ruff, then at some point West will make the Ace of clubs.

The more likely lead is a diamond but dummy has to ruff with the singleton King of hearts which means that East's Jack of hearts becomes a winner in addition to the Ace of clubs.

In the event nobody actually bid to a slam in either hearts or spades.  Six Norths played in 4/5♠.  Four made 12 tricks, one made 11 and one made 10.  One South played in 4 and went two off.  Not quite sure what happened here... and one North played in 3♣ making 12 tricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 5 November 2019

The above hand was board 26 and one of the most interesting deals I've seen for a while.

As is so often the case with distributional hands, there would be nothing predictable about the bidding or final contract.

East's ropey seven card spade suit is certainly not calibre enough to open 3♠, especially vulnerable, but at our table East (John Sherringham) couldn't resist its pre-emptive value and opened a multi 2 which in this instance was a 'weak 2 in spades'.

Also vulnerable, South, despite a fair hand, takes a risk overcalling as either East or West have the potential to be strong.  However, if he sits silent and North does have values, East's pre-empt will have had the desired effect.

West has a poor hand and despite having a good heart holding, a bid of 2♠ attempts to muddy the water in the likely event that partner has a weak 2 in spades.

Finally North, having heard his partner make a vulnerable overcall at the 2 level, expects a good hand and has no hesitation in jumping to game.

Back to East who would not normally bid again but with a seventh spade and support from partner, a sacrifice seems like a good idea.

South pulls the trigger and the bidding ends in 4♠ doubled.

All reasonable bids but very pushy and highly competitive.

4 would have been a great contract, making 11 tricks despite the nasty trump break for a score of 650.  Therefore 4♠ doubled can afford to go three off for minus 500 to show a profit.

Sitting West I ended up playing in 4♠ doubled.  When dummy went down, I could see that 4 was an easy make so my aim was to collect at least seven tricks. Tony started off with Ace and King of diamonds.  I ruffed the second round and prospects looked reasonable but Tony and James had different ideas...  

I played the Queen of spades which James won with the King and switched to a club.  Tony won and played back a club which James ruffed.  With nothing to stop James and Tony also making the Ace of hearts and Ace of spades, that was seven tricks and a very good score of plus 800 which was a top for them and a bottom for John and me.  An immaculate defence by James and Tony though unlucky for me to incur a 3-1 break in both spades and clubs, otherwise 4♠ would have been a good sacrifice.

I don't know what any of the other bidding was at the other tables but looking at the range of contracts on the scoresheet, it must have varied considerably.  Only one other pair played in spades, East playing in 3♠ doubled going two off for minus 500.  In all probability the other Easts didn't open so South would have opened 1 and possibly had an uncontested auction, ending up in 4.

Four Souths played in 4.  Two Declarers made 11 tricks but the other two went two off and three off.  To make 11 tricks the play had to be handled carefully due to the bad trump break but there was plenty of scope to misplay the hand and lose control which no doubt is what happened.

There were three other contracts where this time North was Declarer.  Two Norths played in 5, one making 11 tricks and the other all 13.  The other North was only in 4 and made all 13 tricks.  In fact a Grand Slam in diamonds is laydown on any lead though in practice is very unlikely to be reached.

It is only because of the poor lie of the hearts that 6 cannot be made as there are two unavoidable trump losers.  Playing in diamonds however reveals a very fortuitous lie of the cards that would be hard to unravel even in a good bidding sequence.  The Queen of diamonds dropping in two rounds is not unexpected with a 6-4 trump fit but the ability to discard a small heart on the King of spades makes a diamond contract extremely neat for a nice 13 tricks.  Not sure why one Declarer playing in diamonds lost two tricks.

If everyone had managed to bid even to 6, my 4♠ doubled going for 800 would have been an excellent score but in the real world, not unexpectedly, nobody even bid to 6 and even though we played this hand on the very first round, I was not naive enough to believe that minus 800 was going to be anything better than a complete bottom!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 29 October 2019

The above hand was board 1.  It doesn't look all that exciting and has the potential to be passed out but we Bridge players are very competitive these days and often make the hands much more challenging than they might at first appear.  At our table it certainly turned out to be a comedy of errors!

Looking at all four hands, North-South can easily make 9 tricks in hearts with the favourable lie of the Queen of spades.  For East-West the spades are not favourable so on best defence there is the potential to lose two spades, two hearts and a diamond.  However, if the defence don't attack spades in time, the spade losers go away on one of the minor suits and up to ten tricks are possible.

With a hand like this there is so much scope for variations in the bidding and quite often someone or other ends up in a substandard 3 No Trumps. This hand was no exception as one pair did reach 3NT.  Of course it is destined to fail, losing the first five heart tricks.  But it didn't go off and no doubt a number of pairs opening up the scoresheet would have wondered how on earth 3NT could have been bid and made.  I can enlighten you but first let's take a look at the bidding which resulted in East-West arriving there!

At love all North passed and East decided to open 1NT rather than 1♣ or a pass.  1NT is a good pre-empt whereas 1♣ or pass are not.  A weak No Trump, on 12-14, 11-14 or even 10-12 points, is very popular because of this, especially non-vulnerable, not only due to its pre-emptive value but also because of the frequency with which it occurs.  As a result a myriad of defences have evolved over the years, often promising interest in more than one suit.

Whether or not the opposition intervenes can be a difficult decision as it is a bit of a gamble -  You might not be sure whether opener's partner or your partner have the outstanding values or indeed whether you are better off declaring or defending.  

Looking at the South hand, you have to decide whether or not to bid.  Many wouldn't, some would.  I did!  It was a gamble and was not ideal.  If anyone is familiar with the multi-Landy convention, it is quite effective here as a bid of 2♣ shows 5-4 in the majors.  It is effective as partner bids 2 with an equal number of cards in each major and otherwise normally bids his longer major.  In this case the 5-3 fit in hearts can be found, providing West doesn't intervene.

Tony and I were playing against Ian and Clare and we were playing 'Asptro' where 2♣ shows hearts and another suit and 2 shows spades and another suit.  I pondered too long over Clare's opening 1NT so felt duty bound to bid.  I decided to bid 2 which would normally promise 5 spades and 4 of another suit but knowing that Tony would not bid 2♠ unless he had at least three of them.  As a passed hand, Tony would most likely bid 2 if he had fewer than three spades and I was ready to pass that so there was a bit of a plan there, though definitely a pairs gamble.

Ian with the West hand wasn't having any of that nonsense and bid 2♠ which was conventional, inviting Clare to bid 3♣ if she was maximum.

Tony took the opportunity to double 2♠ which showed some values and a liking for spades.  Clare bid 3♣, believing her bid showed a club suit but Ian now bid 3NT thinking Clare's 3♣ bid was showing 14 points.

And that is how an 'impossible' 3NT was reached on a combined 22 points.  But it turned out not to be so impossible after all...

Because Tony had shown some interest in spades, I opted for a spade lead rather than my natural lead of a heart and was disappointed to see it go round to Clare's Queen.  Not a good start but things got worse!

Clare proceeded to run her five-card club suit which revealed six high-card points in clubs plus the Queen of spades.  Meanwhile Tony discarded the eight of diamonds.  I was struggling.  Having shown up with eight points, Clare could have something like King of hearts and King of diamonds or possibly nothing in diamonds and King and Queen of hearts.  If she had the latter, I needed to hold on to my spades and discard two hearts so that is what I did, taking the view that Tony probably had Ace and King of diamonds.

That proved fatal as Clare now played a diamond which Tony won with his Ace.  He switched to hearts but I only had three left so then had to let Clare back in with the Ace of spades.  Clare now had two more diamond winners for her eighth and ninth tricks and that was how the impossible became the possible!

This is a good illustration of how difficult the defence can be.  Discards and signals help a lot but it is still all too easy to go wrong...

So what did everyone else do on this board?

Five pairs were in a part-score in hearts making nine tricks for +140.  One East played in 3♣ and one West played in 3, both going one off so the defence must have managed to collect their spade winners.  Nevertheless this was better than conceding 140 to a heart part-score.   One East played in 1NT making 7 tricks for a good score, though not as good as Ian and Clare's 3NT making.

The irony of Ian and Clare's 3NT was that if Tony and I had shown hearts, they would not have reached 3NT in the first place but because we didn't bid hearts, they did reach 3NT but I didn't lead one!

At the other extreme, despite nobody’s hand satisfying the ‘rule of 20’, the hand was only passed out on one occasion.  No doubt this was due to the vulnerability so everyone tactically stuck their necks out and I'm sure if it had been game all, the hand would have been passed out quite a few times.

Certainly a much more interesting hand than it first appeared...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 22 October 2019

The bidding on the above hand, board 25, was not by any means normal as almost without exception North opened 1NT and was left to play there going one, two or three off though one Declarer managed to collect his seven tricks.  Theoretically all those scores would have been good as East-West have a combined 26 points and therefore you would expect game to have been missed. 

The power of the weak No Trump is its pre-emptiveness as this hand illustrates only too well as it's not easy for either East or West to counter.

John and I played this hand against Helen and Brian and systemically Helen couldn't open 1NT on the above hand as they were playing a strong No Trump and 5-card majors so Helen opened 1, her better minor, instead.  John and I were therefore given the opportunity to find our way to 3NT but this hand had a sting in its tail with the irony that the diamond opening enabled Brian to find a diamond lead.

Despite his best efforts John was not able to find a ninth trick when the clubs didn't break.

Another irony of this hand is that had West played it, a diamond lead by North would have provided the ninth trick as would have a spade.  A passive heart or club by North would not have helped Declarer but why would North necessarily choose to lead passively?

...and if that wasn't enough, how would West ever become Declarer in 3NT with Qx after North has opened 1?

There was only one other East-West contract which was West playing in 1NT.  I don't know what the bidding was but you would have expected that to be a good score but surprisingly it went one off.

So all in all this pretty innocuous hand was rather bizarre with a weak No Trump from North talking East-West out of a 3NT they couldn't actually make.  Sometimes Bridge just doesn't make a lot of sense!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 15 October 2019: Covering an honour with an honour

Probably the best known defensive strategy at the Bridge table is the opening lead of ‘fourth highest of your longest suit’.  The second is ‘cover an honour with an honour’.  If only Bridge was that simple as those who follow either of these religiously will soon come a cropper...

There are as many times not to cover as there are to do so and each has to be decided on its own merit.  Whether or not to cover depends on the likelihood or possibility of it benefitting your side.  Sometimes this is obvious, other times not and sometimes you just cannot be sure.  Whatever you do, it is helpful to think ahead so that when the time comes, you don’t hesitate and give the game away.  All easier said than done.
The above hand in a recent duplicate Bridge session presented a challenge to the defenders, most of whom succumbed.  A popular contract was 2 and the above bidding was a good way to get there and a good example of Stayman being used on a weak hand.
Looking at all four hands, a spade lead from North is quite effective.  However, after West’s Stayman bid, a club lead might look more promising.  At a number of tables the play proceeded as follows:
A club lead to the 10 and Ace.  Declarer led the King of diamonds, won by North who played a club to partner’s King and returned one to North’s Queen.  North now switched to the 10 of spades which Declarer won with dummy’s Ace.  Next came the Queen of diamonds for Declarer to discard a spade.  Noting the fall of the Jack, Declarer played the 10 od diamonds which South ruffed and Declarer overruffed.
Back in hand Declarer now played the Queen of hearts.  North decided not to cover as holding three hearts, dummy’s Ace and another couldn’t catch him. Declarer continued with a small heart, dummy won with the Ace but this took South’s last trump enabling Declarer to play the 9 and 8 of diamonds to discard his remaining two spade losers.
North made his King of trumps but Declarer made +140, losing one diamond, two clubs and the king of trumps.
One defender was more astute.  Thinking back to the bidding and the initial play, Declarer was marked with four spades, five hearts, a singleton diamond and three clubs.  Dummy had no more entries other than the Ace of trumps and by covering the Queen of hearts with the King and effectively sacrificing it, partner still had one trump left to ruff dummy’s diamond winners.  Declarer therefore didn’t lose a trump trick but lost two spades instead and made +110 instead of +140, a very much better score for the defence.
Tuesday 8 October - 8 tables: 27 boards

Playing in 3NT was definitely the general theme for this week’s hands.  17 of the 27 boards had someone or other playing in 3NT, not always successfully, board 13 being one such example.  One pair made it but generally it went off.

Against 3NT, what would you lead from QJ97, the Queen or the seven?  On board 26 dummy had ♠AQ108 K43 Q863 ♣53 and Declarer held ♠K 865 AK95 ♣KQJ82.  You will see that on the Queen of hearts lead, dummy's King is a dead duck and Declarer would have to lose four heart tricks and the Ace of clubs.

Perhaps the most distributional hand was board 10 which is shown above and not easy to bid.  The above bidding is just a suggestion as it might well have continued with North-South sacrificing in diamonds.  West's distributional values are powerful providing there is some sort of fit with partner which there was in both hearts and spades.  It looks as though East-West could be making game in either but the scoresheet indicates that it wasn't an easy hand to play.  One West went one off in 2♠ and one West went two off doubled in 4 though a couple of Wests made 10 tricks in 3.  If game is makeable for East-West, North-South have a good save in 5 which looks like it could go just one off.  In practice one South went two off doubled in 5 for a bottom, closely followed by one West going one off doubled in 4.  Obviously a more difficult hand than it looked.

Board 25 presented difficulty for a lot of East-West pairs.  North may well have opened 1 on an eleven count non-vulnerable against vulnerable to which South would have responded 2 or 1NT.  West held ♠AKJ8 J2 A5 ♣KQJ64 opposite ♠10432 A95 10863 ♣103.  With the Queen of spades wrong, playing in spades, East-West have a trick to lose in every suit.  Nevertheless one East managed to play in 4♠ and make it though on a number of occasions East-West didn't even manage to capture the auction, allowing North to play in hearts.  The best bid by West is to make a takeout double and if North-South continue, maybe make a second takeout double, forcing East to bid 3♠.

There were a couple of other part-score battles.  On board 15 North-South may have competed in diamonds but spades rule at Bridge and nearly all Wests made +140 in spades.

Board 22 was also a competitive auction with North-South bidding diamonds and East-West hearts.  When North-South captured the auction in diamonds, they made up to 11 tricks.  When East-West captured the auction in hearts, two pairs made +140 and the rest went one off though this was still better than North playing in diamonds and making a part-score.

For this week's 'Hand of the Week' I've chosen board 16 which shows the effect of a pre-empt (see below).

Welcome first time visitors Bob and Richard.

Well done John and Tony who were first with 62.4% 😀

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 8 October 2019

The above hand was board 16 and looking at the North-South cards, despite a deficit of high card values, 3NT is makeable on any lead and defence.  However, why would you be in it and, after a 3 pre-empt by West, how on earth would you get to it?

One North played in 3♣ so clearly not every West opened 3 although, even vulnerable against non, I would have expected most to have done so.

Over a 3 opening, I would have thought North's options lay between double and pass as 3NT by North is rather optimistic on a 13 count.  If North decides to pass over 3, South may compete in the protective position but the most (and only) attractive bid would be 4♣.

So one way or another, after a 3 opening, it is hard to envisage North or South bidding 3NT which demonstrates the power and effectiveness of a pre-empt.

In the event, five Souths ended up playing in a club part-score, making ten tricks for a score of +130 whilst one pair ended up playing in 5♣ going one off.

One pair managed to play in 3NT making with an overtrick.  That was the best North-South score and I wonder if there was a 3 pre-empt.  I guess probably not.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 1 October 2019

The above hand was board 6 and had East supported partner's diamonds, they could at least have pushed North-South to the 3 level.  However, that was neither here nor there as they redeemed themselves with a sensible defence.

East led a diamond, Declarer played the 10 from dummy which was covered by the Jack and Queen.

In order to discard some spade losers, Declarer set about the clubs.  West won the Ace, cashed the Ace of diamonds and exited with another club.  Declarer then crossed to dummy's Ace of spades and played a third round of clubs, discarding a spade, then a fourth round of clubs which West ruffed with the Queen of hearts, Declarer overruffing with the King.  Declarer now had to lose the Ace of trumps and a spade in addition to the earlier minor suit Aces so 2 made with an overtrick.  That seemed reasonable enough but turned out to be a poor result as five pairs had made 10 tricks.

Looking at all four hands, Declarer cannot make more than 9 tricks without help from the opposition.  I think the play will often have proceeded as follows:

West won East's opening diamond lead with the Ace and didn't find a spade switch.  Declarer now has an additional entry to dummy via the King of diamonds and can play trumps from the table, catching the singleton Queen and knocking out the Ace.   East can still redeem the situation by switching to a spade but otherwise Declarer has the timing to knock out the Ace of clubs first.

Declarers who made 10 tricks didn't receive a spade switch by either West or East so had time to set dummy's clubs up and also reach them via the Ace of spades and Declarer could now discard two spade losers on dummy's Jack and ten of clubs.

One pair overreached themselves and played in 4 but didn't get the correct defence so they made +420 for a top instead of incurring -50 for a bottom - A very expensive misdefence for East-West.  All other Norths played in 2 or 3 and those benefitting from the misdefence scored a good +170 (four pairs) and those who succumbed to a good defence (or maybe less good Declarer play) only scored +140 for a joint bottom (four pairs).

Any extra tricks are often very important at Duplicate Pairs.

Board 8 from Tuesday 8 October

Ivor emailed me about the above hand.  The bidding was how it proceeded with Ivor and Harry versus Kevin and Martin but with North-South having a good club fit and East-West a heart fit, a competitive auction was likely, hence a variety of contracts.

The above auction is typical of one where bidding is made under pressure and therefore the thin game in hearts is not unreasonable.  Good competitive bidding like this forces difficult and knife-edge decisions to be made.

The first two bids are likely to have been similar but then South has a number of choices, pass (no), bid 1♠ (maybe) or support clubs (most likely).  A bid of 2♣ is pretty ineffective so a jump to 3♣ is better.

Now to West.  If South passes, bids 1♠ or 2♣, West really should bid 2.  Despite only five points, it is an excellent five as it includes an Ace, a singleton and a five card heart suit with which partner will almost certainly have a fit.  A pass by West would be very uncompetitive and allow North-South to capture the auction very easily.

If South bids 3♣ as in the above auction, it is that much harder for West to compete and some will fall by the wayside.  Personally I would compete to 3 as did Ivor.  North, Kevin, competed to 4♣ which I'm not sure I would but that had the effect of giving a tough choice to Harry on the East hand and, bearing in mind that West could have been a bit stronger for his 3 bid, I think 4 is a sensible bid.

Not surprisingly there was a different contract at every single table.  We had West playing in 3 for +140, North playing in 1NT for +120, North going one off in 4♣, North playing in 3NT making (!), North going two off doubled in 5♣, North going one off in 5♣ undoubled, North playing in 3♣ making and as above West going one off in 4 which personally I think was a sensible auction all round.

With regard to the play in 4, Ivor received the lead of the 4 of spades which was followed by Jack, Queen and Ace.  The lead therefore looks likely to be a singleton.

Looking at all four hands, the play is very straightforward.  At trick 2, run the eight of hearts and, despite the four nil trump break you will make your game. Declarer will probably not cover (though he probably should) so you play another heart through which he probably will.  You now exit with a club.  If South wins, he can give his partner a spade ruff.  If North wins he will then cash a top heart, leaving Declarer with two trumps and dummy with one.  Declarer can then get to dummy twice, once by ruffing a club and once by ruffing a spade, each time returning to hand with a diamond finesse.

Not seeing all four hands, the play is very difficult.  Suspecting the 4 of spades was a singleton, Ivor was reluctant to finesse a heart at trick 2 for fear of a spade ruff so he played a heart to the Ace.  Very unlucky to get a four nil trump break and Ivor ended up losing a club, two trump tricks and a spade at the end for one off.

With a lack of entries to the South hand, it might have been advisable to take a diamond finesse at trick 2 which is likely to be right (and needs to be).  Declarer should then play a club from dummy.  If East wins, he can give his partner a spade ruff.  North can either return a small trump, putting Declarer on test or continue with a club for Declarer to ruff in hand.  

Declarer should by now be pretty confident that North has King and Queen of trumps as South has already shown up with the Queen of spades and by inference he will almost certainly have the King of clubs as otherwise North may well have led a top club from Ace King of King Queen.

Therefore if North cannily switches to a low trump, Declarer needs to be brave and run it.  If instead he switches to a club, Declarer should ruff and play the eight of hearts, intending to run it.  The four nil trump break now reveals itself.  

If North doesn't cover the eight of hearts, Declarer plays another one, catching one of North's top honours.  He now plays top spades intending to ruff the last one to get back to dummy for a second diamond finesse.  If North overruffs this, he has to play a diamond or concede a ruff and discard in clubs so 4 makes by losing two trumps and a club.

If North does cover the eight of hearts, Declarer wins and switches to spades as before.  If North ruffs, he has to play his last heart but once again, Declarer can ruff his last spade and take the second diamond finesse.

A very interesting but difficult hand to play and unless you take the diamond finesse at trick 2, you are unlikely to make 4.  Thank you Ivor for drawing my attention to this hand which I hadn't noticed as I sat out on that round.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 24 September 2019

The above hand was board 7.  The bidding in the table was how it was at our table and far from normal.  More typically North would have simply competed in diamonds either as a simple or jump overcall.  On one occasion North played in 5 and made 12 tricks which, believe it or not, are always there as the cards lie.  Every other time West played in spades.

All Wests except one ended up in 4♠ normally going up to three off doubled.  No doubt the bidding was more volatile at other tables.  At our table the 1NT overcall had two detrimental effects for North-South.  The first was that it deterred East-West from bidding too high.  The second was that it pinpointed to Declarer where the missing spade honours lay.  Ironically this meant that it was not quite so difficult to make ten tricks in spades.  The play went as follows:

North led a diamond to King and Ace and South returned a diamond which Declarer ruffed.  Because of the 1NT overcall by North, entering dummy to finesse the trumps was completely pointless so Declarer just played the eight of spades which North didn't cover so this held the trick.

There was no need to draw any more trumps so Declarer now played the eight of hearts and when North showed out, the Ace was played from dummy and a small heart returned to Declarer's ten.  North ruffed but could not exit with a diamond as this would have given a ruff and discard.  He therefore cashed the Ace of trumps to remove a trump from dummy and then switched to a club which proved to be very costly indeed.  

If you look at the clubs in the above hand, you will see what I mean.  North's small club was followed by a low club in dummy so South played the 9 and Declarer won with the Queen.  Declarer now cashed the Ace of clubs and ruffed a club in dummy.  This got rid of North's King and Jack and left Declarer with the master 8 over South's 7 and ten tricks were in the bag, Declarer losing Ace of diamonds and Ace Queen of trumps.

For the record the scoresheet results were as follows:

4♠ by West going one off for minus 100; 4♠ by West going two off for minus 200 (happened twice); 4♠ by West going three off for minus 300; 4♠ by West going three off doubled for minus 800; 3♠ by West making with an overtrick for plus 170; and 5 by North making with an overtrick for plus 620.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 17 September 2019

The above hand was board 5 and the rather upbeat bidding by East-West landed them in a rather optimistic 6.

Looking at all four hands, there is one certain loser and that is the Queen of trumps.

South was on lead and if he leads a club, Declarer is fine if he takes the right view.

Playing against Pat and Jane, Tony, declaring from the East seat, received a sensible lead of a trump.  With the Queen of trumps missing plus a couple of club losers, prospects don't initially look great but with careful and well-timed play, Tony managed to secure his 12 tricks.

He won the opening heart lead with dummy's Ace, drew another round of hearts with the King then played off Ace and King of diamonds and ruffed a third diamond in hand.  He then returned to dummy via a spade ruff and started to run the diamonds.  North ruffed with the Queen of hearts and switched to a club.  Tony won with the Ace, cashed the Ace of spades then ruffed a second spade in dummy.  He now ran the remaining diamonds, discarding his remaining club and spade.  He therefore made Ace of spades, Ace of clubs, four diamond tricks and six trumps (Ace, King plus two ruffs in each hand).

Despite the Queen of trumps offside, the cards lay well and there was no lead or defence that could actually beat 6 if Declarer played the hand carefully.  It was therefore interesting to note the other contracts and scores on this board.  One East made 4 with an overtrick, two made ten tricks and one Declarer went off, only making nine tricks.  Three pairs played in 3NT, making 8, 9 or 10 tricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 10 September 2019

The above hand was board 15 and those playing a 12-14 point no trump would probably open 1NT on the South cards.  North, with 19 points, will now consider a slam quite a possibility but not a foregone conclusion.  On a good day, slam is a good prospect; on a bad day, the cards don't lie so well and it goes off.

North at our table, Jeremy decided to proceed with caution so Tony played in 3NT.  What to lead from the West hand?  Not realising North's strength, I tried a spade lead though had they proceeded to 6NT I would not have led a spade.

Tony won the opening lead with the Queen of spades, crossed to dummy's Ace of diamonds, then at trick 3 he took a successful heart finesse.

Tony then played two top clubs and took all his red suit winners, taking the tenth trick in his hand, leaving ♠A4 in dummy and ♠9 and ♣J in his hand.  Sitting West I was squeezed as at trick 10, when Tony was cashing his last red suit winner, I was down to ♠K10 and ♣Q and had a choice of unguarding my spades or sacrificing the Queen of clubs.  I threw the Queen of clubs just in case partner had the Jack but unfortunately he didn't and Tony made all 13 tricks.

Had the opposition reached 6NT, I would not have led a spade.  However, Declarer can still make his slam as the cards lie.

Say I lead a red card, as a black card gives away the twelfth trick, Declarer takes the heart finesse and can now cash eight red winners.  West is in trouble again as he has only five red cards and must therefore discard three black ones.  He cannot afford to discard a club so it has to be three spades, leaving West with ♠K10 doubleton.

If Declarer now reads the position correctly, he can play Ace, King and another club.  West wins his Queen but is now endplayed in spades, having to lead away from his King which goes round to the Queen, then the final trick is won by dummy's Ace.

Much easier on an opening spade lead as, in practice, on a non-spade lead, after successfully taking the heart finesse, you may well cross to dummy and lead a small spade towards the Queen; when that doesn’t work, you could easily find yourself going off in 6NT.

Not surprisingly only three pairs played in 6NT, two making 12 tricks and one Declarer going two off.  I wonder what the opening leads were!

The rest played in a No Trump game.  Two pairs made 10 tricks, one made 11, one made 12 and two made all 13.

A tricky but interesting hand and had the enemy cards been distributed differently, 6NT may have been a no hoper.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 3 September 2019

Most North-South pairs played in 5 on board 23 (shown above).  South is too strong to open 3 so, after a 1 opening, North immediately knows they have game on.

If East enters the bidding at the 2 level vulnerable, he must have quite a strong hand, either in points or in playing strength.  In the above bidding sequence, it was therefore quite acceptable for West to deem his hand suitable for competing to 3♠, despite only having 3 points.  Furthermore, when North jumps to 5, West's hand looks even better.  He has a singleton diamond but also his four card club suit must mean that his partner is short, the King of spades is a good card and, if North-South have a double fit in the minors, chances are that partner's values outside his trump suit will be in hearts.

5♠ doubled proved to be a very lucrative sacrifice against 5 as it only went one off.  One unfortunate East-West pair continued to 6 but went one off, losing the Ace of spades and Ace of hearts.  Interesting that the key hand was West which, on the face of it, looks pretty nondescript but engineering a sacrifice can only be done if West gets involved.  I suspect that on all 6 occasions where South played in 5, West did not get involved in the auction.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 27 August 2019

The above hand was board 16 and the above bidding is not a model auction, just how it happened to proceed at our table.

West has the best hand, virtually an Acol Strong Two opener.  However, it just lacks that magic sparkle and I think 1♠ is more appropriate.

After North's double and South's jump to 4, it doesn't feel right for West to give in.  It would need little from partner to make game and if he has nothing, maybe the opposition just have enough to make game the other way.  For both of these reasons it justifies West bidding on.

Looking at all four hands the surprise factor is actually to see that North-South can make game in hearts whereas East-West go one off in 4♠.  Rather bizarrely therefore the very strong hand turned out to be the sacrificer.

Ironically that could have turned out to be very expensive as, at adverse vulnerability, 4♠ doubled could have gone two down for minus 500.

In 4 by South, West would lead the King of diamonds but his partner showing count with the 8 would deter him from continuing with the Ace.  Actually whether he does so or not, there are only two more tricks to take, the Ace of clubs and the Ace of trumps.

Always difficult in a competitive auction, at our table, over 4♠ North-South pushed on to 5 which went one off doubled for a poor result.

The results on the score sheet were all over the place.  One South was doubled in 4♣ and made it for a score of +510.  One West went two off in 4♠ but was not doubled.  Two Souths bid and made 4.  Two Wests played in 2♠ making with an overtrick.  Two Wests played in 3♠, one just making and the other going one off and finally the auction shown above resulted in South going one off doubled in 5.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 13 August 2019

On board 6 above, a contract of 6♠ is a good one but not cast iron by any means.  The King of spades could have been wrong and there could potentially have been a club or a heart loser.  In the event the King of spades was right and, with the Queen of clubs coming down in three rounds, there was no heart loser or club loser and all 13 tricks could be made on reasonably careful play.

At our table, the above auction was not scientific but it was sensible and sounded promising.  Yet 6♠ was only bid three times and five times East-West only reached game.

There were also a couple of rogue results, 5♣ doubled by North.   Once this went five off for minus 1100.  The other time was even worse, seven off for minus 1700.

I'm assuming South must have made some kind of Unusual No Trump bid and then North-South got carried away because they were non-vulnerable against vulnerable.

It's easy for me to comment after the event but what would have put me off bidding on the South hand was the lack of suit quality and the values being outside of the suits which makes the hand a bit more defensive and therefore a bit less pre-emptive.  Obviously at this favourable vulnerability, North-South can afford to go three off against an East-West game and show a profit but no more than this.  True there is a slam on the other way so North-South can actually afford to go six off doubled.  However, that is providing all pairs reach the slam...

I must admit that when I saw these results on the scoresheet, I was expecting a much more freakish hand than it actually was.  Competing fiercely like this sometimes works very well but sometimes it also serves to propel the opposition into a high level contract they might otherwise have not reached.  Swings and roundabouts but it certainly makes for an interesting game...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 6 August 2019

The above hand was board 4 and there are several game possibilities for East-West, in hearts, spades or no trumps.  The problem is the spades are a 5-2 fit, the hearts a 4-3 fit and in No Trumps, the diamond stop is meagre.

In 4♠ Declarer (East) received a lead of the Jack of diamonds.  Declarer won, started to draw trumps and ended up losing two diamond tricks and two trump tricks to go one down.  South ducked the first round of trumps and won the second.  Declarer now came a cropper when South played another diamond.  North won, cashed a second diamond trick then played another diamond.  Declarer had to ruff high which had the effect of promoting South's 8 of spades. 

It would have worked better to duck the opening lead, then win the continuation and ruff a third diamond in dummy.  Declarer would now have lost one diamond and two trumps instead of two diamonds and two trumps.

The problem in both hearts and spades is the lack of trumps as the hand is delicate and it is easy to lose control.

3NT, with its very tenuous diamond stop, is only makeable because North does not have the Ace of spades and therefore Declarer can hold up the Ace of diamonds until the third round.  However, it is quite possible that North, being vulnerable, would not have bid so if East plays in No Trumps, South may not lead a diamond at all.

So lots of possibilities on a very delicate and thin game hand, despite a combined 27 high card points. 

The traveller showed 3NT played twice, once going two off and the other time making with two overtricks, both times played by East.

4 was played three times, twice just making and once going one off.

Finally two Declarers played in spades, once in 5♠ going one off and once in 4♠ going one off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 20 August 2019

Looking at board 12 above, both 4 and 4♠ are good games.  However, before looking at the play, let's consider how the bidding may have proceeded.

Some would open on the West hand and some would not.  I would as although it doesn't satisfy the 'rule of 20', it's non vulnerable against vulnerable for starters and the heart suit is good enough that you'd like partner to lead it if you end up defending. 

If West does open 1, East-West may well end up playing in hearts as the partnership may discover their heart fit before their spade fit.  However, just a quick explanation of the above bidding.  After the 2 intervention, West's double was conventional, promising precisely three spades which is why East had no hesitation in jumping to 4♠ after North's 3 bid.

Apart from one pair playing in 3♠, all other East-West pairs were in game.  Five Wests played in 4, four times going one off and once making and the two pairs who played in 4♠ made it.

Let's look at 4 first played by West.  Unluckily if the opening lead was a singleton spade, there was no stopping North from getting in with the King of trumps, playing a diamond to his partner who could make the King of spades and give North a spade ruff.  Presumably the Declarer who made 4 got a diamond lead instead so no spade ruff occurred.

Playing in 4♠ was much easier as, in practice, South is very likely to start with a top diamond.  Looking at all four hands, 4♠ is always there but should South find an opening heart lead or switch, Declarer might just take fright that this is a singleton and go up with the Ace.  If he does, when South wins his King of spades, he plays another heart to partner and gets a heart ruff.  One down.  It's so much easier when you can see all four hands!!!

4 was unlucky.  4♠ was fortunate as the winning defence is not so obvious but if it happens, Declarer is likely to go wrong...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 30 July 2019

The above hand was board 19.  4♠ by East or West was the final and sensible contract at a number of tables and, looking at all four hands, it does not look to be a problem.  Best defence is to start with a club, get a ruff and make a heart but that's your lot.  However, in practice there was a lot more to it than that.

Unless North-South are playing two-suited openings such as a 'Lucas Two', East-West may well have had an uncontested auction starting with 1♣ - 1 -1♠ and ending up in 4♠ by East.  South would have had no reason to lead Ace and another club and, providing Declarer handled the hand sensibly, he should have come to 10 tricks.

In the bidding sequence depicted above, North's initial opening promised a weak hand with 5 hearts and at least 4 of a minor.  North's subsequent bid of 3 revealed a rather more shapely hand.

Sometimes the bidding reveals too much information and can prove to be a double-edged sword.

Against 4♠ by West, North lead the 9 of clubs which, from the bidding, is sure to be a singleton.  South duly went up with the Ace and returned a club which North ruffed with the 9 of spades and returned a heart to South's Ace.  That could and should have been it for the defence but when South returned another club, Declarer ruffed with the Ace of trumps which proved to be fatal.

Easy after the event but, from the bidding North was marked with a x xxxxx xxxxxx x shape so there was no need for Declarer to ruff at all.  Despite ruffing, Declarer could have recovered by finessing the 10 of diamonds in dummy as North, not surprisingly, held the Queen and the Jack.

In practice Declarer ruffed a heart in dummy so was a trump short in both hands and South ended up making a spade for the setting trick.  Very frustrating for Declarer on a hand that under normal circumstances would make quite easily but with a bit of distribution and a bad trump break, the hand was somewhat harder to control.

4♠ was played six times, four times by East and twice by West.  One East made 11 tricks, two Easts and one West made 10 tricks and one East and one West went one off.

One East ended up in 3NT instead going one off and one West was in 3NT going two off.  I'm not actually sure why 3NT went down as it looks to me as if 9 tricks were quite makeable.

Finally, just to be different, the hand was once played in 3 by North going one off.  This had the potential to be a good score for North-South had all the East-Wests made their game but ended up being exactly average.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 23 July 2019

The bidding shown above for board 26 was how it happened at our table but I expect the auction proceeded differently just about every time.  I know that at one table East opened an Acol strong 2.

Looking at the North-South hands, 7♣ is laydown yet nobody got anywhere near it.

An aggressive pre-empt in diamonds by East doesn't make it easy but over a 4 opening by East, I think I would have bid 4NT on the South hand, showing a strong two-suited hand.  Even so, it is not that easy for North as with Qx of hearts and no certainty about the Ace of hearts and Ace of clubs, whilst clubs looks like the right contract, it's hard to gauge at what level to bid but a jump to 6♣ would be a reasonable compromise.

In any event, the hand was normally played in spades and not once in clubs and, with the spades breaking 4-2, no more than 12 tricks were possible (though two pairs somehow managed to make all thirteen).

The results on the scoresheet demonstrate the effectiveness of the pre-empt and the differences in views and the bidding.

Two Norths played in 4♠ making all 13 tricks despite West holding ♠J10xx; three Norths played in 4♠ making with two overtricks; one East played quietly in 4 going four off; one North played in 7♠ going one off; one South played in 5 going one off; and one North was in 5♠ doubled making with an overtrick.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 16 July 2019

Looking at the East-West hands, 6♣ is laydown.  However, it is difficult to second guess how the auction might have proceeded.

Jeremy and I sat out on this board though Jeremy reckoned that with the North hand he would have opened 2♠, a ‘Lucas Two’, showing five spades, at least four cards in one of the minors and about 5-9 points. Anyway if that happened, some Easts would make a takeout double and others would pass but, one way or another, East-West may expect to reach 3NT.

If North doesn't open and East-West are not playing a Mini No Trump (10-12 points) of even a Weak No Trump with 11-14 points, South may decide to open a weak Two in hearts or a multi Two Diamonds so there are many possibilities before it even gets round to the best hand at the table!

Let's assume that none of that has happened and West is the first to open the bidding after three passes.  Would North now come in with a non-vulnerable 1♠ overcall?  Maybe and if he did, East would double to show values, including four hearts.  East-West may well now end up in 3NT.

If North doesn't overcall, East will respond 1 which does not make West's hand look any more attractive.

Personally, I think that however the auction proceeds, competitive or not, 6♣ is a very tall order as the hands gel very much better than the bidding might suggest.  3NT is the best alternative spot scorewise as ten tricks should be made for a score of +430.

The scores on the traveller were as follows:

4♣ by West making with two overtricks (happened twice); 5♣ by West making with an overtrick for +420 (this was a top); 5♣ by West just making; 3♣ be West making 12 tricks; 3♣ by West making all 13 tricks; 3♣ by West making 10 tricks; 4 doubled by South going two off (would have been a good sacrifice had everyone been in game).

Definitely not an easy hand to bid.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 9 July 2019

When you have a poor hand like West, it always makes it more interesting if the opposition reach game in your long suit and on board 4, that's exactly what happened as the bidding quickly spiralled to game.  On a good day, the terrible trump break would not have happened and a thin game might have made but not today!  A negative double by South rather than a forcing bid of 3♣ might have been better and kept North-South out of game.

Almost by process of elimination East found a good spade lead.  Declarer won with dummy's Ace and played the King of trumps with news of a bad trump break awaiting.  

The five nil trump break was a lot more than nuisance value.  Declarer switched to a club from dummy, West played the Ace and switched to the the Jack of diamonds.  On the third round of diamonds Declarer had to ruff and therefore had one trump fewer than West.  Unable to keep control, Declarer eventually went two off as West got a couple of club ruffs after the Ace and King and a couple of diamond tricks.

Although everybody played in hearts, the contracts and results were all over the place.  First the negatives...

4 by North going two off, 4 by North going one off, 4 by North going three off, 3 by North going one off, and 3 by North going two off.

The positives were three Norths playing in just 2.  One made it and the other two made it with an overtrick.  However, the best result for North-South was on the one occasion when West played in 2 going two off, thereby conceding the dreaded 200, nearly always a very bad score at duplicate pairs.  I can only imagine that North decided not to open his 12 count, therefore East opened and somehow allowed his partner to play in 2.            

Not an easy hand to play by North, even harder by West!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 2 July 2019

The above hand was board 16.  At our table and probably most others, North opened a 3♦ pre-empt and if the opposition didn't bid their slam, it did its job.

East has a very good hand with 21 points.  However, if East overcalls in hearts, a slam is unlikely to be reached.  A takeout double is much better and now it is over to West.

West's hand is not bad though not huge.  The choice is between 3♠ and 4♠.  Having a five card spade suit of reasonable quality, an outside Ace plus three diamonds which means partner is likely to be very short, I opted for 4♠ to show there was a bit of something.  A bid of 3♠ might be made on next to nothing.

Anyway, after a jump to 4♠, East is very likely to proceed to slam whereas I suspect that those Wests who only bid 3♠, ended up playing in game.

Played eight times, three pairs bid and made 6♠.  Three other pairs played in 4♠ making 12 tricks.

On the other two occasions East played in 4, one pair making 12 tricks and the other making 10.  Looking at all four hands, in hearts you are destined to lose a spade and a heart and make 11 tricks.  I suspect that both Souths may have led the Queen of spades and the Declarer who made 12 tricks in hearts, will have won the spade in hand, then later finessed the 10 in dummy, whilst the Declarer who made 10 tricks must somehow have lost a spade, the Queen of hearts and a spade ruff.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 25 June 2019

On board 21 the above rather energised bidding was as it was at our table but, judging by all the different contracts, it must have varied widely.

In terms of high card points, both sides had 20 but competitive bidding is all about distribution and fit, hence game being reached by both sides.

It looks as though 4 by East-West would have four losers, a spade, two diamonds and a club.  However, if North-South try to attack diamonds, there is only one diamond loser for Declarer so in practice Declarer can set up the clubs for a diamond discard, maybe even two, so 4 makes.

But spades rule at Bridge, so a spade game was reached at most tables.

Best defence is for East-West to play a 'forcing game' by leading a heart, but if Declarer draws trumps and takes the correct view in diamonds, 4♠ makes quite comfortably.  All looks easy when you can see all four hands...

The scores on the traveller were as follows:

4♠ by North making with an overtrick;  4 by West just making;  5♠ by North going one off;  4♠ by North just making (happened twice);  5♠ by North going two off;  4 by West going one off;  5♠ doubled by North going one off;  4♠ doubled by North going two off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 18 June 2019

This was board 22 but before looking at the play, let's look at the bidding as the above sequence might not be to everyone's liking.

I held the North cards and after a 1 opening, there are a number of options, a takeout double, a 1NT overcall, a 1♠ overcall or even a 2♠ overcall.  Being non-vulerable against vulnerable, you could overcall 1♠ on considerably less.  Nevertheless I opted for that as I felt the hand was too unbalanced for the bidding to die and I would catch-up later depending on how the bidding had gone.  At least I would have got my best suit off my chest.

However, when the bidding did get back round to me, it wasn't really what I had been expecting and despite the liklihood of partner having next to nothing, I decided to double 3NT, not because I had 16 points but rather that I was hoping to steer partner to make a diamond lead.  This may seem rather bizarre reasoning but if you think about it, how could I have made an ordinary 1♠ overcall, partner remains silent and the opposition bid to 3NT which I then double.  Surely this must be based not only on a good spade holding but more importantly with good diamonds sitting behind the opening bidder...

The jury's out on that one and OK it's easy after the event but looking at all four hands, a diamond lead by South would have given Declarer a nasty surprise.

In the event a spade was led but even that proved to be too difficult for Declarer.  North won with the Queen and switched to the King of diamonds and ended up making two diamonds and three spades.

So could Declarer have made his 3NT?  With no defensive errors and sensible discarding I think the answer is no.  Declarer has eight tricks but no ninth. 

If at trick 2 Declarer ducks the King of diamonds switch, North can exit with a heart or a club (as it happens) to no ill effect, but whatever Declarer plays at trick 2, he can run the clubs but North is not embarrassed as partner holds the key card, the Jack of hearts, and therefore North can afford to discard and unguard his hearts.

Had Declarer held the Jack of hearts, 3NT doubled would have had a different outcome.

Only one other pair reached 3NT.  They didn't make it either but they weren't doubled.  So what were the various contracts and scores?

We had 3♠ by North going four off; 3♠ doubled by North going three off (top score for East-West); 3♠ by North going two off; 3♣ by West making 11 tricks (happened twice); 3NT doubled by East going one off (top score for North-South); 4♠ by North going two off; 4♣ by West just making.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 11 June 2019

7NT on board 18 had thirteen top tricks plus a trick to spare, yet it was missed much more often than it was reached.  It's a shame to miss out on it and a good illustration of the use of Roman Key Card Blackwood.

After East's opening bid, many Wests would jump.  I prefer not to and keeping potential interest in a slam up my sleeve for the time being.

It is often responder who is in control of the bidding as he is the first to discover the combined strength of the two hands.  If you just bid 1♠, you get to hear partner's natural rebid and are then in a better position to decide where you are heading.

When partner makes a jump rebid in his suit, you now know he has a strong hand with a good quality six card suit.

On hearing the 3 rebid, you could bid 3♠ providing you know your partner takes this as a forcing bid (which it is).  However, as partner has shown a good quality diamond suit, I decided to focus on finding out just how strong his suit actually was as, to be fair, with 18 points distributed in the other three suits, it would not be at all surprising to find partner with a very good diamond suit.  

The other problem with rebidding your spades is that you can easily get into a quandry as to whether you are agreeing spades or diamonds as the trump suit and, if spades is selected as the trump suit, how can you actually discover the true quality of partner's diamonds?  

The flip side of this argument, however, is that if partner's diamonds are not solid, and you have a 5-3 spade fit, you might be better off playing in spades and be able to ruff the diamonds good.  Swings and roundabouts...

Back to the diamond theme, I opted for the diamonds as, at best, partner could only have three spades.

I couldn't think of anything better than to investigate partner's top cards and controls and Roman Key Card Blackwood was ideal and, by inference, this would imply diamonds as the agreed suit.

In response to 4NT a bid of 5♣, shows 0 or 3 controls (Aces and the King of trumps).  Clearly this would be three rather than none and no prizes for guessing which three!  But what about the Queen of diamonds, a vital key card?  A further bid in the next suit up is conventional and specifically asks about the Queen of trumps.  If partner doesn't have it, he bids 6.  If he does have it, he either bids another feature otherwise 5NT.

With a better than even chance that the diamonds and/or spades will yield many tricks plus Ace King of clubs and the Ace of hearts, 7NT now looks like a very good prospect and when dummy goes down with the Jack of diamonds too, all your prayers are answered and you can claim the contract at trick 1.

At the table, everyone made thirteen tricks but not everyone bid to slam.  Final contracts at Badger Farm were as follows:

7♠ by West; 7NT by West twice and once by East; 6♠ by West; 3NT by West (twice); 5♠ by West; and 4♠ by West.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 4 June 2019

On the above hand North decided to apply the brakes and play in 5♠.  A more foolhardy North might have pushed on to 6♠ which is not without its chances. 

Without a heart lead, prospects for 6♠ are promising and with either the King of diamonds or King of spades sitting right, there is a very good chance of making 6♠.  However, the Ace of hearts is the only quick entry to dummy to take either finesse and if it fails, there would be a heart loser.  

Let's say North gets a club lead.  There are a number of ways of tackling the play.  North could cash the Ace of trumps then play a heart to the Ace and discard hearts on dummy's clubs and rely on a diamond finesse.  Alternatively North might be better to play a heart to dummy's Ace, discard hearts and rely on either the spade or diamond finesse being right.

A heart lead is much more menacing as it takes out dummy's only immediate entry before Declarer has had the chance to untangle the clubs for a heart discard.  6♠ is now very much less promising and requires West to hold singleton or doubleton King of trumps.  Declarer would win the heart lead, play the seven of trumps and run it, then play a small spade to capture the hoped-for doubleton King, cash the Ace of clubs, return to dummy via the Jack of trumps, play off three top clubs and discard three diamonds.

Back to the reality of North playing in 5♠... 

5♠ looks sound, bearing in mind that if you voluntarily bid to 5 of a major and then go one off, it is always quite a calamity as you could have just played in 4.

Having seen several lines of play if you were in 6♠, how would you tackle the above hand in order to make sure you didn't disastrously go one off after the opening lead was the King of hearts?


On the heart lead, there are potentially three losers, a heart, the King of diamonds and the King of spades.  The worst case scenario is that the two Kings are offside and if that is the case what can you do to avoid three losers?

If the King of spades is wrong, you can't really avoid losing it.  You also can't avoid a heart loser as if you unblock the Ace of clubs, you can't reach dummy to discard hearts before the defence gets in.  However, you can avoid losing a diamond.

The best line is therefore to cash the Ace of clubs at trick 2 then the Ace of trumps.  If the King of spades doesn't drop, play a small spade to dummy's 7, guaranteeing that the 7 or Jack of trumps are an entry to dummy, enabling all Declarer's diamonds to be discarded on dummy's clubs.

The moral of this hand is to see what contract you are playing in and adapt the play accordingly.  If you are in a difficult contract, look for an opportunistic lie of the cards that gives you the greatest chance of success.  On the other hand, if you are in a relatively easy contract, play safe and don't take unnecessary risks such as finnesses you might be able to avoid having to take.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 28 May 2019

The above hand was board 5.  The auction was as it happened at our table but the hand was played ten times and there were probably ten different auctions.  It's not so much what is right or wrong but more what view you take though the more distributional the hand is, the more likely the auction is to going to be very competitive.  There are often contracts on both ways and the difficulty is judging how far to push and at which point to stop.  

In the above auction, after East's double, West's aggressive jump to 4 is an attempt to make it difficult for North-South to get their act together by cutting out a lot of bidding space.  As it happens South's spades are good enough to keep competing even without North's support.  Over 5♠ East made the decision to bid once more rather than defend and South at that point gave in with a penalty double as he felt 6♠ was too high.  With a void in hearts he may have bid one more time.

Looking at all four hands, if North-South are allowed to play in spades, they can make 11 tricks, losing two red Aces.  If East-West play in hearts, the defence can take four tricks, a spade lead, Ace and King of clubs plus a club ruff.  The vulnerability was key however with North-South vulnerable and East-West not so East-West can afford to go three down doubled and show a net profit against North-South making a vulnerable game.

In the event three pairs were allowed to play in 4♠ and made ten tricks, presumably losing a third trick to the King of spades.

On one occasion lucky East-West were allowed to play in 4 and even luckier, allowed to make it.  One South made an overtrick in 4♠ which made it a much better score than just getting ten tricks.

One West played in 4 and another in 5, each going just one off, a poor score for North-South.

We then had one South doubled in 5♠ and made it for a score of plus 850 for North-South.  Another South bid on to 6♠ doubled but that went one off for minus 200, a poor score for North-South.

Finally 6 doubled by West went two off and scored minus 300 which although not as good a those who were allowed to play in 4, nevertheless this was a good sacrifice against 5♠ making vulnerable.

Very hard to judge, not only what to bid, but how high to bid and when to stop and of course the luck element of how hard your opposition push and how high they decide to bid also comes into play.  One possibility could have been for South to jump straight to 4♠ over East’s double. That might just have deterred West from competing and ultimately finding the sacrifice at this favourable vulnerability...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 21 May 2019

Looking at the above deal, board 22, I would not have been surprised to see it passed out a few times but that didn't happen once.  Actually part-scores can be made both ways.  East-West can make around nine tricks, possibly ten, in a minor but that didn't happen either and North-South can make eight tricks in hearts.  

Most often the hand was played in a heart part-score with North Declarer so I assume North might a few times have opened 1 in fourth seat.

As we play a 10-12 No Trump I opened 1NT in second seat and Jeremy and I had the auction depicted above so I became Declarer in 2 from the South seat.

West made the slightly unusual lead of the Ace of clubs, followed by the Queen and then switched to a small spade.  I played the nine from dummy which held the trick.

The contract seemed fairly benign and I thought about how best to tackle the trumps and decided to play Ace and another but on the first round of trumps, West showed out which made the hand a bit more interesting.

I stopped drawing trumps for the time being as wanted to be able to ruff a club and a spade in dummy if the spades didn't break 3-3.

I led a spade to my Ace and ruffed a club in dummy, East's King falling.  Now I played a heart from dummy to my Queen, East playing the 10.  Next I ruffed a spade in dummy.  East overruffed and cashed the King of trumps but with only diamonds left, East played a diamond which ran round to dummy's Queen so there was no longer a diamond loser.  

2 therefore made nine tricks, losing two clubs and two trumps and a score of plus 140 was good for North-South.

Contracts and scores were as follows:

1NT by East making eight tricks; 3 by North just making; 3 by North going two off (happened twice); 2 by South making with an overtrick; 3 by North just making; 2♠ by South going two off; and 2 by North just making.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 14 May 2019

The above hand was board 8.  The bidding shown was at our table but would no doubt have varied due to different systems and views. 

The normal style on East's 4-4-4-1 hand is to open 1 and no doubt South overcalled in spades but was it at the one level or two level?  Then what would West bid?  Over 1♠ West might only bid 2 and then again, depending on what South and West have bid impacts on North who is likely to want to support partner's spades and so it goes on.

Clearly East has the strongest hand at the table but that does not necessarily mean East-West should be in game and if North-South bid to game in spades, it is as a sacrifice.

East-West have a combined 23 in high card points and whether they make game or not really depends on the location of the three missing kings, in particular the two red ones.  If one of the red kings is right, that is good enough for 4 to make.

Looking at the hand from North-South's point of view, the King of spades is not a loser but the King of hearts is.  In 4♠ Declarer should lose two hearts, a diamond and a club.  If the Ace of hearts had been with West (unlikely), 4♠ would have made.

Nevertheless one South played in 4♠ and somehow made it.  Two other Souths played in 3♠ just making which were also good results.  Two Souths went one off in 4♠ (not quite so good) and one South went two off in 4♠.  All the rest played in hearts.  At one table the auction ended with East playing in 2 making 10 tricks.  The other four times 4 was the contract, three times just making and once going one off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 7 May 2019

Although the diamond suit on board 6 (above) was rather paltry, some Easts will have pre-empted despite being vulnerable.  One East was lucky enough to play there and made 9 tricks for a top.  Unless South manages to get a club ruff, East can actually make 10 tricks.

Everyone else played in spades the other way and once in hearts.  Eight Declarers made 10 tricks and one Declarer only made 9.

The one Declarer who played in 4 and made 10 tricks could have lost the Ace of diamond and three trump tricks.  East would have had to have started with his singleton spade, then when he got in with a trump, he could then have switched to a diamond to West's Ace.  West could then have given his partner a spade ruff with one more trump trick to come after that.

There was an equally canny defence to 4♠ by South.  Say West leads the Ace of diamonds.  Seeing dummy has a singleton diamond, if East plays the Jack this is not encouragement but a suit preference signal, asking for a heart switch.  West duly obliges and switches to the 7 of hearts.  If East-West are playing standard leads, including MUD, East can tell that the 7 of hearts is top of a doubleton.  He therefore cashes two hearts and gives his partner a ruff so 4♠ is also one down.

Evidentally, very little of this happened anywhere as the scores were as follows:

4♠ by South making 10 tricks (happened 5 times); 5♠ by South going one off (happened twice); 4 by North making 10 tricks; 4♠ by South going one off; and 3 by East just making.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 30 April 2019

The above hand was board 14.  The bidding was how it was at our table but no doubt there were many different sequences.

I'm not sure why East opened 1 rather than 1 but it may have been part of their system.  The fact is they found their double fit whereas North-South didn't find their's.  It's each side having a double fit, East-West in the red suits and North-South in the blacks, that give them the playing strength (and lack of defence).

Nothing can stop East-West from making ten tricks in hearts and for North-South, with the club finesse right, they can also make ten tricks in spades.

It's always hard to judge when to apply the brakes in a competitive auction but 4♠ is the last making contract and therefore the par score is 5 (or 5) doubled by East-West going one off for minus 100.  

However, looking at the North-South hands, there doesn't seem any particular reason to bid on over 4.  It's all to do with the whereabouts of the King of clubs in relation to the Ace.  If he was sitting behind the Ace then 4♠ would not be making and that would therefore be the par spot and East-West bidding on to 5 (or 5) would be a phantom sacrifice.  All a bit of a lottery...

The actual scores ended up being as follows:

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

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 23 April 2019

Both sides bidding to game.  Too many points in the pack.  Who does this hand belong to?  This was board 24 on which a variety of contracts resulted.

Sometimes how the bidding ends up is influenced by the opposition and in the above auction, East made an aggressive bid of 3 which made South stretch a bit and then resulted in West bidding 4 and North 4♠.  The auction could have been much tamer.

There is nothing wrong with East bidding aggressively nor South not wanting to be talked out of anything but for West and North it is hard to judge who owns the hand.  It could be that both can make game or neither can or any combination of the two.

In the event, hearts by East-West was not a great success and 7 or 8 tricks was the limit.

Spades by South had more potential but not a lot.  On the face of it, there appears to be a loser in every suit and two in clubs.

I was in 4♠ and did wonder if we were a bit high!  I got the Ace of hearts lead followed by a switch to the King of clubs.  Not great as I had a big hole in my trumps  and no idea where the Queen of diamonds was...

There was a strategy which also required a bit of luck, often the case when you've bid a bit too high.

I won the club, played a trump to the Ace and cashed the King of hearts to discard a losing club.  I then ruffed a heart of eliminate that suit from both hands.

Back in hand I played a club to dummy.  West won and played a third club which I ruffed in hand so that suit was now also eliminated from both hands.

I now played a second round of trumps hoping the King and Queen would fall together.  They did which was not altogether surprising as had the suit divided 3-1 it is likely that the opposition might just have either doubled or bid on to 5.

With the spades breaking 2-2 it was job done as West now had to play a diamond or concede a ruff and discard so there was no need to guess the whereabouts of the Queen of diamonds.  A doubtful contract was there for the taking after the Ace of hearts lead.  An opening lead of the King of clubs would have been a different story...

The various contracts were as follows:

4♠ by North going one off; 3 by East going two off; 1 by West making with an overtrick; 4♠ making by South; 3♠ by North making with an overtrick; 5 doubled by East going four off; 3♠ by North just making.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 9 April 2019

The above hand was board 7 and the bidding against us was as above so South became Declarer in 3NT.  However, the bidding could just have easily seen South open 1, North respond 1NT and South jump to 3NT.

With South Declarer the Jack of spades looks a good bet as the opening lead.  With North Declarer, East may have easily led a small diamond which does the defence no good at all.

Interesting that of the three occasions 3NT went off, twice it was played by North and once by South.  Also interesting to note that, as the cards lie, Declarer can always make 3NT on any lead.

Sitting West I led the Jack of spades but Marian took a strong line and knocked out my Ace and King of hearts before I had managed to knock out her spade stoppers.  Playing in No Trumps is so much a question of timing.  I had three top spades to knock out and whilst my opening lead gave us a head start, Marian only had two top hearts to knock out so she beat me on timing, making nine tricks from three spades, two hearts, three diamonds and a club.

Any Declarer who didn't take this line was liable to go off as if say East had got in with a club, before West's two hearts had been knocked out, East would have been able to shoot back a spade and Declarer would now have lost on timing, losing Ace of clubs, Ace King of hearts and two spade tricks.

Those pairs who went two off may have come a cropper playing on diamonds.

The traveller ended up looking as follows:

Four Souths playing in 3NT and just making 9 tricks; one South playing in 2NT just making; two Souths and one North bidding to 3NT but going two off; and finally one South played in 3 and went one off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 26 March 2019

A competitive bidding auction can easily spiral upwards as distributional values and fit become more significant than high-card points.  Board 8 shown above is such an example with both sides holding 20 high-card points between them.

As is often the case with such hands, contracts are makeable by both sides and here East-West can make a part-score in diamonds and North-South can, as the cards lie, make a game in spades.  Who gets to what is a combination of bidding methods and nerve.

In the above auction, East decided to open 1 with eleven points.  It's a ropey hand and ropey suit but third in hand arguably a good tactical opening.

South has two good majors with a concentration of values in them but which to bid?  Why not both?  For those who play it, a Michaels cue bid can be very useful as a bid of 2 here shows both majors (at least 5-5), though this is also a tactical bid and could be made on weaker values.  The advantage here is that South can not only show two suits in one bid, but also convey to partner that he has a distributional hand.

After 2, West supported his partner by bidding 3 but North competed with 3♠, not promising the earth but nevertheless a 'free' bid as he could have passed.  On the basis of that, South with a fair hand continued to 4♠ realising that even if partner had as little as just ♠Axxx, game had a reasonable chance of making.

With North holding the Ace of diamonds, the Jack of spades dropping and the hearts breaking 3-3, there are no major difficulties in making 4♠.  However, East decided on the Ace of clubs for his opening lead which meant Declarer could now make 11 tricks.

Without the Michaels cue-bid, North-South are unlikely to reach game as the distributional nature of South's hand is unlikely to be realised.

Contracts on the scoresheet were as follows:

2♠ by North making nine tricks; 3 by East making nine tricks (happened twice); 3♠ by South going two off; 4♠ by South going two off; 3♠ by South going one off; 4♠ by South going one off; 4♠ by North just making; 4♠ by North making with an overtrick.

Interesting that several pairs failed to even make 3♠.  The only way to make more is to ruff out the hearts and, as the hearts broke 3-3, Declarer was able to make four heart tricks and discard all his remaining losers.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 16 April 2019

In a recent match the auction was identical at both tables except for the final bid, where at one table West made a penalty double of 3NT.  This double is for penalties but has a specific meaning.  More on that later.

At the table where 3NT was not doubled, East made his natural lead of a small club but on this occasion the opening lead was unfortunate as it went round to Declarer's KJx.

Declarer played a small spade to the Ace then took a losing spade finesse but noting that West had contributed the 9 and the 8.

East continued with another club which Declarer won in hand with the King.

Declarer next played a small diamond towards dummy's Queen which lost to West's Ace.  West continued with his last club which Declarer won in dummy.  Had he now played on spades, Declarer would have encountered problems getting between the hands so he played a diamond to his King, pleased to see East's 10 appear.

Declarer therefore played another diamond which East won.  East cashed the thirteenth club but that was the end of the defence as Declarer took the rest of the tricks, having lost one spade, two diamonds and a club.

East scolded his partner for not switching to the Queen of hearts after winning the Ace of diamonds.  Had West done so, East would have covered the Queen with his King and Declarer would have been scuppered.  

If Declarer wins the heart with dummy's Ace, East will later regain the lead and play another heart.  If Declarer ducks the heart, East then switches back to clubs and sets up the thirteenth club when he gets back in with a diamond.

Not an easy hand to play or defend.

At the other table the play and defence were completely different as a result of West's double which was actually a lead directing bid.

The reason for West's double was that the opposition had just crept to game so from the bidding, they were unlikely to have more than 25 points.  West's holding in hearts, sitting behind South was likely to be matched by East having a reasonable holding in spades, sitting behind North as neither North nor South had supported each other's suit.  The intention of the double is to steer the defence in the right direction so the double coming out of the blue here requests partner to lead dummy's suit.

West duly led the King of hearts so the defence was off to a good start.  Declarer ducked so West continued with a second heart which Declarer once again ducked.  West won but didn't continue as this would set up a fifth heart in dummy.  Instead he switched to the 9 of spades but unfortunately partner had a rather worse holding in the suit than he had hoped.  Declarer played the 10 which East covered with the Queen and dummy won with the Ace.  

Declarer now played a small club towards his Jack which lost to East's Queen.

Realising the potentially precarious position of the spades, East now switched to the Jack of diamonds which was covered by the Queen and Ace and West played one back.

Declarer won with the King of diamonds, cashed two top clubs, two winning spades and the Ace of hearts but there were no more tricks after that and Declarer went two off doubled.  He made three spade tricks, one heart, one diamond and two clubs.

This was a loss of 500 and with 3NT making for plus 600 at the other table that was a total loss of 1100 or 15 imps, all as a result of West’s double which enabled East to find the heart lead.

Ironically, looking at all four hands, 3NT can actually be made on any lead but that wouldn’t be Bridge.  The challenge is to work it all out and even the best players can’t always manage that!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 19 March 2019

The above hand was board 10 and the bidding was how it proceeded at our table.  With a competitive bidding sequence, both sides bid to game but of course spades rule at Bridge!

East-West have four losers if they play in hearts but for North-South playing in spades, there are just two red Aces to lose though also a club if one is initially led.

What would probably have most affected the bidding must have been North's choice of bid though some Wests may have decided to open a slightly cockeyed 1NT or not open at all as it's a pretty meagre opening hand.  Depending on North's bid it is possible that East didn't enter the auction and it is just as possible that South didn't take part either as despite reasonable values, he may not have felt like supporting partner on a doubleton spade.

Whatever the various auctions were, the final outcome varied massively.  The board was played nine times and on eight occasions North became Declarer.  Final contracts were as follows:

5 doubled by North going two off for minus 500 - Bizarre and a well earned bottom!  Four Norths played in 4♠, two making with an overtrick, one making on the nose and one Declarer going two off.  Two Norths played in 3♠, both making 11 tricks and one North played in 2♠, also making 11 tricks.  Finally one East became Declarer in 5 doubled but went two off which would have been a reasonable score if more North-South pairs had bid to game.

The above auction looked fairly reasonable and normal but clearly it wasn't all that typical!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 12 March 2019

The above hand was board 15 and the bidding was how it was at our table, ending with West playing in 3.  However, there was the potential for all sorts of bidding to have taken place.

Looking at all four hands, the limit for North-South is 3♠ where nine tricks can be made by playing a diamond to the Ace and a heart towards the King, then getting a heart ruff before drawing trumps.  Anything other than this would result in fewer than nine tricks.

For East-West there is the potential for North-South to misdefend and several did!  On best defence North-South can collect four tricks, a spade, the King of trumps, the Ace of diamonds and a club ruff.

With the board played nine times, North managed to declare once in 3♠ doubled making which, needless to say, was a bottom for East-West.

West once played in 2NT and went two off but, more dramatically one West was doubled in 1NT and went three off for minus 500.

All other pairs played in hearts - 4 by East going one off, 3 by West just making, 4 by East making ten tricks, 4 doubled by East making ten tricks, 4 by East making with an overtrick and 3 by West making with an overtrick.

Those East-Wests who bid too high, ie 4, got good results due to bad defence by North-South otherwise they would have received very poor scores.  

In the event the par contract was 4 doubled by East-West going one off for minus 100 as North-South can make plus 140 in 3♠.  In practice nobody did this which proves a point, it's often not easy to stop at the right spot and also it's not easy to get the defence and declarer play right.  

Wouldn't it be boring if everyone did the same thing though that very rarely happens!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 5 March 2019

In a recent teams match, both teams bid to 6♠.  There are a number of ways to get there and the above auction was just one way.  

Playing transfers, North-South were playing 3♠ as game-forcing with slam interest.  North’s 4 was therefore agreeing spades and an encouraging cue bid which was everything South wanted to hear.  4NT was Roman Key Card Blackwood and the response of 5♠ showed two or five ‘key cards’ plus the Queen of spades, ie the Ace of diamonds and King of spades.  Without the Queen of spades the response would have been 5.

From the bidding it sounded like an excellent contract had been reached but as dummy went down, it didn’t look quite so promising as there were potentially two club losers if the King of clubs was offside.

At the other table Declarer was North and received the nine of clubs lead from East.  Prospects looked bleak.  Declarer tried the Queen which lost to the King and a club was returned.  Declarer won and hopefully played for diamonds to break 4-3 so the other club loser could be discarded on the fifth diamond.  However, diamonds broke badly so a second club had to be lost.  One down.

Played the other way round, West led the Jack of hearts against South’s 6♠.  Declarer had similar thoughts about the whereabouts of the King of clubs but a little more time to do something about it.  Initial thoughts were also to ruff the diamonds good and if necessary rely on the club finesse.  However that was a last resort and providing West had more diamonds than East, there was a foolproof way of making the contract.

Winning the opening heart lead in hand, Declarer played a diamond to the Ace and ruffed one, noting an unusually bad break when East showed out on the second round.

Declarer returned to dummy with a trump and ruffed another diamond followed by another trump to dummy then a third diamond ruff.

Declarer returned to dummy’s King of hearts, thereby eliminating hearts from both hands and played dummy’s last diamond.  The key play was now not to ruff but to discard a small club from hand.  West won but had the choice of conceding a ruff and discard in either red suit, enabling the Queen of clubs to be jettisoned from hand.  The other equally painful option was for West to lead a club round to Declarer’s Ace Queen.

Declarer therefore managed to find a way of avoiding the unlucky club finesse, resulting in a well earned slam swing.  

However, before commiserating with the Declarer who apparently played the hand the wrong way round, he actually could have made his 6♠ too as the cards lay.

If at trick one, on East’s club lead, Declarer had played low from dummy instead of the Queen, he would have been able to draw trumps, play off his two top hearts, then run all dummy’s spades, eventually squeezing West between either unguarding his King of clubs or King of diamonds.  Declarer would then have made his twelfth trick from the Queen of clubs or nine of diamonds.  Even if West switches to a diamond at trick two, there is still no escape from being squeezed.  Declarer wins with the Ace, plays seven rounds of trumps followed by the Ace of hearts which squeezes West in the minors.

Note that if you go up with the Ace of clubs at trick one, you are unable to carry out the squeeze.  However, if East had led from a singleton club and the diamonds had broken 4-3, you would have had egg on your face and to be honest that would probably have been the line of play I would have tried.

Never give up hope.  There’s often an extra chance somewhere!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 2 April 2019

The above hand was board 2 and was rather curious as the strongest hand at the table, West with 19 high card points, probably didn't realise that East-West were sacrificing against North-South's game.  It does prove that distribution and fit reigns supreme over high card points.

It is also interesting to note that the two strongest hands, West and South, did relatively little bidding in the above auction.  It was the two weak hands, North and East, that grasped the nettle, North jumping to 4 on six points and East bidding 4♠ on three points.  It is tempting for West to at least have a think about bidding higher but it all sounded pretty distributional.

In practice, East-West playing in spades cannot avoid losing Ace King of clubs, the Ace of hearts and eventually a diamond.  North-South on the otherhand, due to their distributional values and abundance of hearts, only have two losers, one spade and one diamond and everything else can be cross-ruffed.

These hands are notoriously hard to judge in a competitive auction and in this instance East failing to make 4♠ was a very good result.  North might have considered pressing on to 5 but who knows who is talking whom out of what?

Needless to say, nobody would have been terribly sure and hence the only time North-South did bid to 5, they were doubled and made it for plus 850.  However, that was not a top as one South was doubled in 4 and with a vulnerable overtrick that gave them a score of plus 990.  Even that wasn't the best score as at another table South was doubled in 3 which made with two vulnerable overtricks and a score of plus 1130!

Two other pairs played in 4 undoubled, one making ten tricks and the other eleven for rather fewer matchpoints.  The rest of the time East-West captured the auction with two East-Wests going two off in 4♠ and one going two off in 5.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 26 February 2019

Cue bidding can often be vital in slam bidding.  For instance if you and your partner have slam-going hands, you would worry about a small doubleton in a side suit unless you knew partner had a control such as the Ace or King or a singleton or void.

In a recent teams match the above hand resulted in a large swing.  One team bid as above and reached 7 while the other team didn’t cue bid and when they found they had an Ace missing, they didn’t know which one so they settled for 6.  

The interesting thing about this hand was that the cue bidding enabled the partnership to discover what they hadn’t got.  Following is a quick explanation of the bidding.

When North opens 1♣, South with 22 points gets very excited as a slam somewhere is certain.  Resist the temptation to jump as the final contract could be in absolutely anything.  Just make a 1 response which of course is 100% forcing so you can find out more about North’s hand when you hear his rebid.

Good news when partner bids 2.  You expect a weakish opening hand with four card heart support, possibly three.

Looking at your own hand, you have two Aces missing.  If partner has the other two, absolutely no problem in having a go at 7.  However, if partner only has one Ace, you might expect it to be the Ace of clubs but if by chance it happens to be the Ace of hearts, it’s a dream come true!  But how do you find out?

What you need to do prior to Blackwood is to goad partner into giving you some vital information so after partner has agreed hearts, make a cue bid of 3♠  to entice partner into cue bidding the Ace of clubs if he has it.  If he has it, he is duty bound to bid 4♣.  It takes up no bidding space and therefore shows no extra values.  It is not a reaffirmation of North’s club suit as hearts have been agreed.

On the above hand North doesn’t have the Ace of clubs so, with nothing to cue bid, he reverts to 4.  Ironically this lack of a cue bid from North is music to South’s ears who now bids 4NT to ask for Aces.  When North shows one Ace, it must be the Ace of trumps.  Job done and South can now jump to 7 with an Ace missing.  The other point is that because North doesn’t have the Ace of clubs, he will have compensating values elsewhere.  Key cards such as the Queen of diamonds or Jack of spades are a virtual certainty but even without them, North is likely to have no more than four cards in spades and diamonds so 7 would otherwise be makeable with some cross ruffing.

Interesting to see how useful cue bidding can be as a means of finding out something partner doesn’t have as opposed to finding out something he does have.  In this instance South was the one who was in total control of the bidding and therefore the decision-maker.  He knew what was required and it was up to him to bid in such a way as to get the necessary information out of his partner.  After North’s opening bid, his other bids were all providing information.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 19 February 2019

Pre-empts don't always work the way you want them to.  On board 25 above, at our table North decided to open 3♣, tactically a good idea non-vulnerable against vulnerable.  However the effect of the 3♣ opening deterred South from competing in spades so East-West were allowed to play in 4 when 4♠ doubled would have gone two off at the most.

On the otherhand 4 by East-West makes no problem but it is better played by West than East as the King of clubs is protected on the opening lead if West plays the hand.  Of course it is not always possible to do the optimum thing at Bridge and there is no reason for East not to compete with 3 on the above auction and South will find a club lead after partner's 3♣ opening.

So, depending on the bidding, opening lead and whether East or West plays the hand, 4 makes 11 or 12 tricks as the diamond finesse is right.

For North-South a sacrifice in 4♠ is very profitable as it only goes two off doubled as the club finesse is right.

East-West are therefore better to press on to 5 and make a vulnerable game but then 5♠ doubled is even profitable against that as it goes 3 off doubled for minus 500 instead of East-West making plus 650 or 680.  5♠ doubled going three off is therefore the par contract, in theory at least!  So what were the actual results on board 25?

One West played in 4 plus 2 and another in 5 plus 1 for the best score of plus 680.  Two other pairs made 11 tricks for plus 650.  Then there were the sacrifices in spades.  One South played in 5♠ doubled going three off but none of the others were doubled, one pair going three off in 5♠, two pairs going two off in 4♠ and one South got away with playing in a very quiet 3♠ but they also went two off for minus 100.

Quite a mixture from what must have been a wide variety of different bidding...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 5 February 2019

The above hand was board 17.  A club lead and ruff holds 5 by East-West to 11 tricks but otherwise all the cards are well placed and 12 tricks can be made.

However, getting to it proved very difficult and at 9 out of 13 tables North-South played in spades.

Looking at the above bidding I kicked myself for not jumping to 4♠ over the 1 overcall as I probably would have been allowed to play there.  It is not normally a good idea to pre-empt after partner has opened but there are exceptions...  I therefore found myself playing in 5♠ instead but luckily I was able to set up dummy's clubs for a discard of two of my hearts so going one down was at least on a par with all the pairs who had gone one off in 4♠.

For the four East-West pairs who played in diamonds, ironically three were in 5 doubled and all made it with an overtrick for a joint top whilst the other East-West pair bid to 6 doubled and went two off.  However, that wasn't a bottom as one North-South pair in 4♠ made it which was a bottom for East-West.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 29 January 2019

Both the bidding and the play were tricky on board 9 above.  On more benign distributions a spade game by West or club game by North would be fine but not on this deal.

If West plays in spades, a trump lead by North is a killer but on an inaccurate defence West may make his King of hearts as well as get a diamond ruff in dummy.

If North plays in clubs, with the bad trump and diamond breaks and the King of hearts offside, it is not good either.

The main problem though is the auction as, apart from East, there would be a battle as both sides think the hand belongs to them and with some aggressive bidding, it is not easy to judge.

Needless to say all sorts of contracts resulted, no doubt after a wide variety of auctions.  The two extremes were West doubled in 4♠ One West went two off doubled in 4♠, one making it for plus 790 and one going two off for minus 500. Three Norths went off in clubs, one was two off in 6♣, another was two off in 5♣ and the third was one off in 5♣.  One North was one off in a less sound 5 and one South went one off in 3NT so obviously West did not bid very aggressively there.

Although 4♠ should go off, it is not surprising to see North-South bid on in clubs and even 6♣ could have worked on a good day though the red suits were lacklustre.  It's harder to judge when the opposition takes away your bidding space though the 4♠ pre-empt had been made at adverse vulnerability.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 8 January 2019

Game was makeable in spades or clubs on the above hand (board 4) though the latter was more robust as the better quality clubs could cope much more easily with a bad break than if spades were trumps.

In the event this hand turned out to be relatively benign and up to twelve tricks were often made in clubs though, perhaps not surprisingly, nobody actually played in spades.

With some hands there are definite rights and wrongs but how far you got in the bidding was mostly down to personal view.

One pair got no further than 1 by West which seems a little pessimistic though it didn't actually make despite a kind 4-4 trump break!  One pair ended up in 2♣ which I can understand and several Wests played in 4♣. 

The opposition were bidding too.  One North played in 3 going one off and one South took it a stage further and played in 3NT but that went three off.

The bidding in the table above was what John and I managed to do and ending in 5♣ worked out very well.  After 1 - 1♠ - 2♣, the bidding could easily have petered out.  However, John took a more positive view of his hand and thought it was worth 3♣ even if this just served to deter the opposition from protecting.

Looking back at the West hand, the 3♣ bid is quite encouraging and has made it feel better.  I therefore bid 3 (fourth suit forcing).  John now repeated his spades.

The 3♠ bid is interesting for several reasons.  I suspected John had a six card suit but he doesn't have to have.  He hadn't bid 3NT so it felt as if my singleton wasn't sitting opposite too many wasted values.  Also, there appeared to be no interest whatsoever in my hearts so again, if John was short in hearts, that was not opposite any wasted values.  I toyed with the idea of bidding 4♠ but was uncomfortable with the prospect of having to ruff diamonds with the Ace and King of spades.

I therefore concluded that clubs was the right suit and it felt like there was a good play for game so I now jumped to 5♣.

Far from being scientific, this was a very intuitive auction and was well rewarded with a relatively straightforward 12 tricks after the lead of the Ace of diamonds.  As the cards lay, had the Ace of diamonds not been led, all thirteen tricks could have been made by drawing trumps, setting up the spades and ruffing a couple of hearts.

The contracts were 4♣ plus 2 by West (twice); 1 minus 1 by West; 4♣ plus 1 by West; 3 minus 1 by North; 3NT minus 3 by South; 2♣ plus 4 by West; and 5♣ plus 1 by West.