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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 2016
Hand of the Week - Tuesday 20 December 2016

The above auction was how it was at my table on board 26.  The bidding may have varied slightly but 4 is a sound contract and everybody reached it.  However, at duplicate pairs, it's then the overtricks that count.

On a spade lead which dummy wins with the Ace, there are a number of ways of tackling the hand.  One would be to come to hand with a club and ruff a spade then return to hand again and ruff a second spade.  That gets rid of your spade losers but you are now forced to lead away from dummy's diamonds so you have to lose two diamond tricks and a club to make 10 tricks.

A better line for overtricks is to try to set up dummy's diamonds to discard your losing spades.  With West having bid twice, the Ace of diamonds is surely there. Come to hand with a club and now play a diamond towards dummy.  Sure enough West immediately pops up with the Ace.  He can't really continue with spades due to you holding Qx so he plays another club which you win in hand and play another diamond.  It's a bit risky to finesse so go up with the King and play a third diamond.  When East shows out, you can ruff low and draw three rounds of trumps, ending in dummy.  Luckily the trumps break 3-2 and you now have diamonds set up for discards and 12 tricks come rolling in.

There were mixed fortunes at the table.  Three pairs made 12 tricks, one Declarer made 10 tricks and one went one off.

The safest way to play the hand I think is to ruff two spades in dummy, resulting in 10 tricks but at pairs, you have to try for overtricks which requires a 3-2 trump break and that is a 64% chance.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 13 December 2016

Board 4 produced some peculiar results.  Two pairs reached 6.  One made it and the other went one off.  However, it is difficult to see how it could make against sensible defence as although the trumps broke 3-2, there was a lot of work to do as the Ace of spades was offside and the clubs didn't break.

Depending on the bidding, a heart contract could have been played by North or South but it was always played by North.  East should refrain from leading a diamond and perhaps have started off with the Jack of clubs or a trump which gives the least away.  I suspect the successful Declarer was allowed to make two diamond tricks.

The bidding at my table was extremely brief.  I opened 1♣ with the North hand which I'm sure everyone else would also have done.  Some Easts will then make a 1 overcall as Carolyn did.  From that point onwards a variety of bidding will no doubt have taken place.  With the South cards, all sorts of bids are possible.  South could bid 1, 2NT or 3NT, double for take-out or for penalties depending on style.  Andy did none of these.  He passed.  This is known as a 'trap pass', hoping partner will make a reopening double for take-out.

West passed So it was now back to North.  Looks like a few Norths would now have bid hearts.  However, the best bid and much underused is to 'double', telling partner you have a good hand and the other two suits and take it from there.

Well on this occasion, this worked a treat as South can now turn the take-out double into a penalty double by passing.  Andy therefore bid nothing at all on the South hand but collected a very lucrative plus 1100 by defending 1 doubled.

Andy led a club from the South hand which I won with the Queen, then cashed the Ace and King which East, Carolyn, ruffed and Andy overruffed.  Next came the 7 of spades to the Queen and Ace.  Carolyn then played a second spade which I won with the King and played a third spade which Andy ruffed.  Andy now switched to the Queen and another heart.  I won with the King and played my last spade.  Carolyn discarded the 9 of hearts but Andy ruffed and still had three diamond winners.  The defence was able to take a spade, two clubs, two hearts and five trump tricks.

As you might expect with a hand like this, the bidding must have varied considerably as there was a wide variety of contracts - 6 by North going one off, 2♣ by North making 10 tricks, 6 by North making, 3NT by South making 11 tricks, 1 doubled by East going four off and 4 by North making 12 tricks.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 29 November 2016

Board 4 was another very interesting hand.  North-South can make a slam but only two bid it and nobody made it.

I guess most people wouldn't open the North hand but when Jeremy opened 1♠, with my 21 points, a slam looked a dead cert and after receiving heart support, I launched into Blackwood.  Not surprisingly Jeremy confirmed two Aces so I was now heading for a Grand Slam if Jeremy had the King of spades.  Playing Roman Key Card Blackwood, Jeremy's 6 showed either 0 or 3 Kings.  Looking at my hand, it had to be 0 so I settled for 6.

West (Jean) led a trump and dummy was slightly disappointing with the spades.  J10xxx would have made the contract cast iron though 6 still had good prospects.

I never like to have a choice of plays.  I had two Kings missing so should I play on spades or diamonds?

After drawing trumps I played the Ace of spades then went over to dummy to play a spade towards the Queen.  This line works any time the spades honours are split or one of the honours is a singleton.  However, it was not my lucky day as both King and Jack were offside and I went one off.

The line that does work is perhaps not quite so obvious.  Forget the spades and finesse the Queen of diamonds.  If West covers, play a diamond back to the Jack, then cross to dummy with a club and play the nine of diamonds, discarding a spade.  West wins with the 10 but then you get in again and play another club to dummy and discard the Queen of spades on the eight of diamonds.  If the diamond finesse loses (50-50 chance) you then require the 10 of diamonds to drop any time during the first three rounds.

Both lines of play have a high chance of success and I wonder if the diamond play is the better option.  I suspect it might be and certainly would have worked in this instance...

For the record, there was a variety of results on this hand - 4♠ +1 by North, 5 = by South, 3NT +2 by South, 6 -1 by South, 3NT +3 by South and 6NT -1 by South. 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 22 November 2016

On board 24 I was not surprised to find Jeremy and me to be the only pair to have bid to 6♠.  It is not an unreasonable contract but was bid on minimal values.

Before looking at the play, a quick explanation of the bidding.  North's 4 is a 'splinter' showing a singleton diamond and spade agreement.  South's doubleton heart is not attractive but it is a good hand, though nothing to cue bid without going beyond 4, hence the 4NT.  Not surprisingly North shows one Ace and the two hands together sound quite promising - North has shown up with a singleton diamond and at least four trumps and because South holds AKJ of spades, it is reasonable to expect some other useful values in either clubs or hearts.

West led a small club which was a helpful start but there is a lot of work to do.  There are five trumps to get out, there is a losing club, three diamonds in the South hand to get rid of and the King and Jack of hearts to locate.  This is not the sort of hand that can cope well with a bad trump break so fingers crossed they are divided 3-2.

Clearly you cannot ruff the losing diamonds as well as draw trumps as that is too much to cope with so you need to set up the hearts for some discards.  But how should you play the hearts?  There are a number of options.  You could play a heart and finesse the Queen, you could even run the nine and you would hope for the suit to break 3-3.  One thing's for sure, you are very unlikely not to have a heart loser at all but you certainly can't afford two heart losers.

Personally I don't like having too many options and decisions to make.  I'm not even sure if I chose the best line but I won the club lead, cashed the Ace of trumps, then ran the nine of hearts, losing to the Jack. 

A diamond was returned so I went up with the Ace, drew another round of trumps, then played a small heart from hand and finessed the 10, playing for 'split honours' (75% odds). The alternative would have been to go up with the Ace and ruff the third round, hoping the suit breaks 3-3.  As the cards lay, both lines worked.  After the finesse, I drew the last trump, then cashed the Ace of hearts, felling the King.  I was able to discard a club and two diamonds on dummy's hearts and finally ruff dummy's club in hand and ruff my last diamond in dummy.

Not exactly a cast iron contract but an interesting one to play.  Actually, on the club lead, if you play a heart to the Queen, then play for a 3-3 break, you make all 13 tricks though there is no need to play the hand that riskily.  However, on a non-club lead and the club finesse wrong, you do need to make five heart tricks to secure your contract so the winning line would have had to have been to play a small heart to the Queen and then to rely on a 3-3 heart break.  It's never easy when there are a number of options on how to play the line as some options might be better than others but then also it depends on the lie of the cards.

There was a variety of results on the traveller, all played by South - 3NT making 11 tricks (twice), 3NT just making, 3NT going one off, 4♠ just making (twice) and 6♠ just making.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 15 November 2016

On board 2 it is quite hard to reach 6♣ when South jumps in diamonds.  All Wests captured the auction in clubs, three at the five level and two at the six level.  However, only one pair managed to make 12 tricks.

With South bidding diamonds, North is bound to lead one so there is an immediate loser at trick 1 but how would Declarer go about making the rest of the tricks?  There are several options.  The first is to take the heart finesse.  This is an agonising 50-50 chance and to make matters worse, it can be taken either way.  Another option is to take a 'ruffing finesse in spades, ie play the Ace then the Queen and let it run if South doesn't cover.  This enables two heart discards from hand on the Ace and Jack of spades, providing of course that South holds the King of spades so this is another 50-50 chance.

The best line is to try to ruff down the King of spades - Ruff the diamond continuation at trick 2 then play a trump to dummy's Ace.  Play a small spade from dummy and ruff it, then another trump to dummy.  Now play Ace (discarding a heart from hand) and another spade, ruffing that.  Back to dummy's King of hearts and play a fourth spade.  The King finally comes down and is ruffed in hand.  Having preserved a small trump in hand, play it to dummy's seven to gain access to the master spade in order to discard a second heart loser from hand.  Contract secured with no 50-50 chance finesses and this line works any time the King of spades falls in any of the first four rounds.  I don't know what the percentage chance is but it's pretty high and certainly very much higher than 50-50.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 29 November 2016

Board 16 was quite fascinating as a number of contracts are possible.  The bidding at our table was brief (as above).  I was sitting East and contemplated 4 but with partner opening a 12-14 1NT, there didn't seem a lot of merit so I passed.  Incidentally 4 by East loses three spades, a club and a club ruff so that's two down doubled which is minus 500 and too expensive vulnerable against non-vulnerable.

South (Julia) also decided to pass her partner's 4♣ bid.  I must admit I would have been sorely tempted to bid 4♠ and interestingly enough, this might have got doubled but it actually makes, losing the two red Aces and a trump.  Another good contract is 5 which loses just two red Aces.  But what about a contract in clubs?

In clubs there are two red Aces to lose and potentially two trumps as there is no access to dummy.  However, Jeremy (Crouch) managed to get to dummy as I led the Jack of diamonds.  Jeremy covered with the Queen and Jeremy (Baker) won with the Ace and played back a trump.  Jeremy won in hand and now crossed to dummy with a diamond which gave him access to the Ace and King of spades to discard his two losing hearts.  Jeremy subsequently lost two trumps and made 10 tricks.

With game possible in spades and diamonds and a potential plus 500 if East-West bid to 4, a score of plus 130 from 4♣ might not sound very exciting.  However, it turned out to be a good score for North-South as the other results were as follows:

5♣ doubled by North going two off (twice); 5♣ by North going two off (twice); 4♠ doubled by South making; and 4♠ by South making.  Not surprisingly nobody found their diamond fit.

Pre-empty are a double edged sword.  On this hand The pre-empt makes it difficult for North-South to reach the best spot.  However, transpose the East and South hands and Eas-West can make 4♠ and North-South can make 5♣.  Interesting that South can make 4♠ opposite either the South or West cards.  Even opposite the East cards 4♠ would only go one off due to a four nil trump break.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 15 November 2016

Distributional hands are always the most interesting at Bridge and board 17 was no exception.  This hand is a good example of careful hand evaluation.  Sitting South, you pick up very few points but eight spades and four diamonds.  Whether this is an asset or a liability depends on what your partner bids and also what your opponents bid.  Not surprisingly partner opens 1 so you intend to respond 1♠ and see what happens but with the intention of ending up in spades at some level or other.  However, East makes a 1NT overcall so best to tone things down and bid a quiet non-forcing 2♠ and hope to play there.  If you had a reasonable hand, ie 9+ points, it is often best to double 1NT for penalties.

Partner now bids on with 3 which you should trust to be a good quality suit - Clearly East has some values in hearts over partner so he would not continue over your 2♠ without good reason.

When East passes, it's time to re-evaluate your hand.  Yes it's still only three points in high cards but the spades are chunky and the four small diamonds which were potential losers are now sitting opposite good values then with a singleton club and void in hearts we are not overly worried about those.  Your hand has become very much more powerful on the basis of partner's diamond bid.  Bid 4♠ and have a go!

East doubled and who can blame them, but 11 easy tricks came rolling in.

The contracts on the traveller were 3NT doubled by North going two off for minus 300, 3♠ by South making with two overtricks for plus 200, 4♠ doubled by South making 10 tricks for plus 590 and two pairs were in 4♠ doubled by South making with an overtrick for plus 690.

Hand of the Week no 3 - Tuesday 15 November 2016

Board 24 was an interesting dilemma between allowing the opponents to play in their contract or bidding one more.  Before looking at the hand itself, just a little explanation about the bidding which was not a typical auction!  North's opening was a multi and in this case was a 'weak two' in spades which would normally be a six card suit.  East is pretty good for 3♣ but the opening bid makes it difficult.  South's bid of 3 normally asks partner to pass with a weak two in hearts or convert, hence North's 3♠ bid.  South's 4 is natural and East decided to continue to 5♣.

These competitive auctions are always difficult to judge.  5♣ doubled went just one off, losing a heart and two diamonds.  However, it was a 'phantom' sacrifice as 4 goes down on accurate defence.  West leads the Queen of clubs and then has to find a spade switch.  East must then cash a second spade and a top club there and then as, if he doesn't, as soon as South gets in he can either cash the King of diamonds then go over to dummy by ruffing a club with the 10 of trumps then discard a losing spade on the Ace of diamonds.

Not surprisingly it's hard to know when to stop bidding with these kinds of hands.  On the scoresheet there was 3 just making by South, 4 going one off by South, 5♣ doubled by East going one off (twice) and 4 making by South.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 8 November 2016

I expect the bidding on board 16 generally started with West opening 1.  After that things might have varied as North has a thin 1NT overcall which some may have decided not to do.  I can't see anything better so I did and partner, Jason, sitting South had an interesting hand.  Only two points but great distribution.  Jason bid 2 which is a transfer to spades.  Although Jane sitting East had not bid, Anke sitting West jumped to 4 and fair enough though, being vulnerable, there was a potential risk of a large penalty.

After that North is under pressure to make a decision - Pass, double or bid 4♠?  Apart from knowing partner has five spades, not much else is known though the hand is beginning to sound rather distributional.  With good spades, I opted for 4♠ which was passed out, though had I passed, Jason would certainly have bid 4♠ himself.

Before looking at playing 4♠, it is interesting to note that East-West can actually make 4, losing the Ace of clubs, a diamond and the Queen of trumps so, as is often the case in Bridge, fortune favours the brave.  However, uncannily good defence might just find North leading the Ace and another club, allowing South to ruff with his singleton trump then switch to a diamond.  There is still the Queen of trumps to lose but West can still make it by avoiding a diamond loser.  He draws two rounds of trumps then, providing Declarer unblocked his King of clubs at trick 1 or 2, he plays his last club to dummy's Queen then on the fourth round of clubs, he can discard his losing diamond.

If Declarer doesn't receive this sparkling defence and receives a spade lead, he can make 4 with an overtrick by drawing two rounds of trumps, then playing the King of clubs.  North can win the club when he likes but Declarer can perform the same play and discard a losing diamond on a club, losing just the Ace of clubs and a trump.

If North makes his opening lead the King of diamonds, Declarer cannot make more than 10 tricks.

What about 4♠ though?

Not surprisingly I received a heart lead which Anke won with the King.  At trick 2 Anke switched to the Jack of diamonds which was covered by the Queen and Ace.  Jane played back the 10 of diamonds which I won in hand with the King.  I then played a trump which Anke won with the Ace and now switched to a club which I won with the Ace.  I was now able to draw the last trump and take the rest of the tricks with diamonds and trumps.

As is so often the case, a defensive error allowed this contract to make.  There are actually four losers, the Ace of hearts, the Ace of trumps, the Ace of diamonds and another diamond.  Fine for Anke to switch to the Jack of diamonds and when Jane won with the Ace, it was tempting to play one back in case partner could ruff it.  However, East has a natural diamond winner so the best thing now is to switch to another suit and Declarer cannot avoid losing a second diamond.

The results on the traveller were 3♠ by South making with an overtrick for +170, 3♠ by North going one off for minus 50, 4♠ by South going one off for minus 50, 4 by West making with an overtrick for plus 650 to East-West and 4♠ by North making 10 tricks for +420 to North-South.

What makes this such an interesting hand is that 4 should always make and 4♠ shouldn't, yet 4 has the potential to be misplayed and go down and 4♠ has the potential to be misdefended and make.  No wonder we so rarely get flat boards!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 1 November 2016

On board 16, at our table, everyone was bidding like billio with one side quickly reaching 4 and then the other side bidding 5♣.  There was clearly some distribution around.  All the more surprising therefore to see that every other result on this board was in a part-score so the bidding must have been very much more genteel!

Before we look at the play, the bidding all seemed fair enough to me.  I opened 1♣ on the West hand, Jane overcalled in hearts, Andy's double showed values (and a likely four card spade suit).  Anke then shot to 4 and who could blame her with a void in clubs.  Under pressure and, on the basis of Andy showing a bit of something, I bid on to 5♣ either to play or at least push the opposition one level higher.  Who knows?  Anyway that was the end of the auction.

Against 5♣, if North finds a spade lead and South plays a heart back at trick 2, North-South can cash a heart winner when they get in with the Ace of trumps and 5♣ is one down.  However, in practice, you can hardly blame Jane for leading a heart but this was fatal as the Queen went up from dummy and took the first trick.  

At trick 2 the 10 of clubs was played from dummy.  South, Anke, showed out and I played the Queen which Jane won with the Ace.  Jane switched to the Jack of diamonds so I won in hand, finessed a trump and then drew Jane's last trump.  Anke let go of a diamond so eventually my singleton spade was discarded on dummy's last diamond and 12 tricks were made.

Now let's turn the tables and see how 4 might have fared.  Interestingly enough this contact is also doomed on best defence as if East leads a spade, when Declarer draws trumps, West can go up with the Ace, get partner in with a diamond to give a spade ruff plus another diamond winner and 4 goes one down.

In practice East is much more likely to lead a club.  If Declarer ruffs then leads a trump towards the King, the defence can take nothing more than two red Aces and 4 makes with an overtrick.  Hands like this are often difficult to defend and it's interesting to note that both contracts could fail but in practice, both are likely to make. 

The other results on the score sheet were 4 by East going one off, 4♣ by East, going one off, 3 by North making 11 tricks and 3 by North just making.                                         

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 25 October 2016

If you look at all four hands on board 15 above, you will see that despite East-West having a combined 25 points between them, making any game contract looks a poor prospect.  If they find their 4-4 spade fit, it does not play well as South may lead a singleton club, getting a ruff after partner has cashed the Ace and King.  Declarer will then lose at least the Ace of diamonds and King of hearts, making a maximum of eight tricks.  3NT is not much better due to the poor lie of the cards.

Despite all this, nobody actually bid to game at all.

The bidding at our table was slightly offbeat as I was able to open 1NT on the West hand as John and I play 10-12 in that position rather than the more normal 12-14.  Helen's 2♣ was 'natural' and John's double was not for penalties but just showed 'values'.  Brian then bid 2 and Helen bid 3.  At this stage, Brian and Helen had a likely misfit so John doubled again but this time it was for penalties and was passed out.

John led King and Ace of spades followed by a trump switch to the Queen and Ace.  Helen then played a heart towards the King.  John went up with the Ace and played another trump which I won with the King.  I played back a spade which Helen ruffed in hand.  She now played Ace of clubs and ruffed a club with dummy's last trump.  The King of hearts was played from dummy, Helen discarding a club from hand but she now had to lead another heart and ruff with her last trump.  I was left with a winning trump and one more club trick so the contract was two off.

A more typical auction would have been for South and West to pass and North to open the bidding with 1.  East would double, South would probably pass and West would now either jump to 2♠, bid 1NT or 2NT to show the diamond stop or perhaps even cue bid 2 to find out a bit more about his partner's hand.  With all these options, it's no wonder everyone ended up in different contracts and, despite having game points, no East-West got anywhere near bidding game.

The results on the scoresheet were 2♠ by West just making (this happened twice), one East was in 3♠ going one off, two Norths were in 2 making with an overtrick and one pair was in 3 doubled going two off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 18 October 2016

I'm pretty sure the bidding of this hand, board 9, would have been different at just about every table.  North doesn't have a classic opening pre-empt and could opt for opening 1.  However, against John and me, Helen decided to open 3 which was fair enough.  John passed and now what does South bid?  Brian thought for ages and decided to pass.  It's hard to know what to do for the best as whilst there appear to be quite a lot of losers, you know you have very little defence against anything else.

It was then down to me.  Some might pass on my hand but I couldn't resist showing my hearts.  Helen passed and now John is in a quandry with his hand.  Nothing seems ideal but he opted for 4♣.  Brian now bid 4.  I could have taken the opportunity to pass, support partner's clubs or rebid my hearts.  I really wasn't quite sure what to do but, as I had reasonable support for partner's clubs yet my reason for bidding in the first place was my long hearts, I decided to bid them again.  This was passed round to Brian who, not surprisingly competed with 5 which was then passed round to John who bid 5 which Brian now doubled.

It was not easy, nor obvious, to see whom the hand belonged to.

Helen led the Ace of spades then switched to a low club which Brian won with the Ace.  This worried me as I was expecting Brian to play one back for Helen to ruff.  However, Brian switched to the Ace of diamonds which I ruffed in dummy.  I then played the King of trumps on which Helen played the Jack.  Had Helen got the Queen and Jack of hearts (unlikely), I would have 5 in the bag, otherwise (likely), I would be one off.  I played the King of spades and ruffed a spade to get back to hand, then played my Ace of trumps which revealed the 3-1 trump break and was, as expected, one down doubled, vulnerable.  However, the scoresheet looked good for us as North-South were often in 5 making.

As it turned out, we had sacrificed vulnerable against non-vulnerable which is quite unusual as at this vulnerability, if your opponents can make a game, you cannot afford to go more than one off.

On the scoresheet there were two Wests playing in 5 doubled and going one off for minus 200.  Everyone else was in 5 by North making 11, or once 12, tricks for plus 400 (or 420).

The moral of the story is that, if North pre-empts in diamonds, South should support them.  I think I would have bid 5 on the South hand but even if South had only bid 4, it is quite likely that East-West would not have competed.  A bit of distribution often blows all the rules out of the window and this is yet another example where game can be made both ways.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 11 October 2016

On board 24 East-West had a double fit in the red suits and North-South a double fit in the black suits.

As you can see by looking at all four hands, East-West have only two Aces to lose in diamonds or hearts but which contract they may or may not reach depends on the bidding which on hands like this is always liable to be volatile.  The above bidding was how it was at our table with Jason and me playing East-West against Carole and Nadia but anything goes really.  

North-South can't actually make 5♣ but it's a good sacrifice against game the other way.  If instead North-South manage to reach 4♠, even that should be defeated as there is a loser in every suit (a ruff in clubs).  However, it could come home on a misdefence.

So with all sorts of possibilities, let's see what the results on the scoresheet were in practice...

There was 5 by West making with an overtrick, 5♠ by North going one-off, 5 making 11 tricks, once played by East and once by West and finally one pair played in 4 by East making with an overtrick.  Nobody ended up playing in clubs.  I guess the par contract would have been North-South in 5♠ or 6♣ going two off but not surprisingly, that didn't happen.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 11 October 2016

After West opened 1NT, the bidding at our table proceeded as above.  However, is 2♠ really the best description of the North hand?  I don't think so.  Double is better.  Depending on what defence mechanism East-West play, East may try to rescue in clubs.  Nevertheless, South would compete with 2 which is likely to lead to North-South bidding to game.

If North-South manage to get to 4, it plays very nicely and can make up to 11 tricks, losing a diamond and a club.

The results were very varied... 2 by South making 10 tricks;  1NT by West going 2 off for minus 500, 1NT by West going 5 off for 1400, 2♠ by North going one off and 4 by South making 12 tricks.

No Wests should have been left to fester in 1NT doubled.  With a 5 card club suit, East should rescue, especially at this vulnerability.  It's an awful hand but most of the time it will get you off the hook and North-South will at best probably end up in a heart game.  Bad results are not always down to bad luck!

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 4 October 2016

On board 27, playing against Charles and Sally, the bidding was quite lively with both sides bidding at slam level.

West's hand is almost an Acol 2 opener but most would start off with just 1.  However, as is often the case during the bidding, you should re-evaluate your hand in accordance with subsequent bidding.  In this instance, Charles pre-empted in hearts which Sally then supported and, in between, John bid 3♠.  3♠ is of course a forcing response in this sequence and will be a reasonable quality suit of at least five cards.

By the time I got my second chance to bid, the opposition had already bid to game. However, the bidding so far makes West's hand even more attractive than before and, with good support for partner's spades and a void in hearts, if partner has the Ace of diamonds, a slam in spades looks very likely.  I therefore cue bid 5 which showed a void, a strong hand and support for spades and John therefore had no hesitation in bidding 6♠ over Charles's 6.

Although 6♠ is a good contract, especially on a heart lead, a club lead would have been worrying for Declarer as there is the Queen of trumps to track down and if Declarer gets it wrong, there are then two club losers.  

The spade finesse could have been taken either way.  However, on the opening heart lead from Sally, John ruffed in dummy, then played King of spades and another towards his hand.  The Queen obligingly appeared on the second round of trumps so all was well.  John drew the last trump and ran all the diamonds for 13 tricks.

How about 6 by North?  This would have lost two spades, a club and the Ace of trumps so three down doubled for minus 500, a good sacrifice against 6♠ making with an overtrick for plus 1010.

The actual results on the traveller were 5 by West making 11 tricks for plus 400; 4♠ by East making all 13 tricks for plus 510; 6♠ by East making all 13 tricks for plus 1010; and 4♠ by East making 12 tricks for plus 480.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 27 September 2016

Board 11, above, is really a really tricky hand, both from a bidding and play point of view.  The only game that cannot be defeated is 5.

Playing against Alun and Eira, the bidding was as indicated above and was not exactly exemplary.  I thought about bidding 2NT to show the minors but ended up making a rather naive double as it was very likely that someone would bid spades and we would not be defending 1NT.  Alun's redouble was SOS and not surprisingly Jeremy jumped to 4♠ which woukd have been fine opposite a more normal double of 1NT.

A more typical auction would have been for Eira to open 1 and my hand would probably now bid 2NT to show the minors.  Although it looks like a possible misfit, there is nothing to stop East bidding spades as it's a good suit.  Nevertheless it's hard to know what to do for the best and dilemmas like this were rather a hallmark of this week's hands.

On this hand, everyone else played in diamonds making 11 tricks.  Two pairs were in 5 but one pair only reached 4.  In 4♠ Jeremy received the Ace of diamonds lead so, with the trumps breaking 4-3, he was able to discard his losing hearts on dummy's diamonds.  

An initial heart lead would actually have defeated the contract as after winning the opening lead, Declarer has no immediate entry back to hand to draw trumps.  The best he can do is to play a diamond but South wins, cashes two hearts and eventually North has a natural trump trick.  

As is so often the case, the opening lead is crucial to the defence.  The Ace of diamonds is unlikely to be a good lead as, from the bidding, North is marked with very little so he won't have the King of diamonds and he almost certainly won't be able to get in to give South a diamond ruff either.  Much better to keep the Ace of diamonds as an entry card after knocking out the opponents' Ace.  With partner's meagre values, he might just have the jack of hearts and that was exactly the card required to defeat 4♠.

Reaching 5 is not that easy.  Reaching 4♠ is understandable but not the best contract.  A lead of the King of hearts instead of the Ace of diamonds would have meant a top for North-South instead of a bottom, such is the challenge and fascination of Bridge.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 20 September 2016

Hands like this are always bound to be quite chaotic.  The bidding at our table was as above but, as usual with hands like this, almost anything can happen.  John and I were East-West against Charles and Macushla.  Macushla opened 1 on the South hand.

I was sitting West and my 2 bid showed 5-5 in spades and a minor and could have been either weak or strong.  If you don't play distributional overcalls, it is possible that West would not bid at all.  North jumps to 4 regardless.  East has no hesitation in bidding 4♠ though had West not bid, he may not have bid either.

With the bidding going sky high, it is hard to know whom the hand belongs to.  It sounds like East-West are sacrificing against hearts but in fact the opposite is the case and this is where it all gets so difficult.  Unbeknown to me, after Charles had competed to 5, John was contemplating 6♠ as my hand could have been slightly better.  However, with all this bidding around the table, he settled for 5♠.

In the play, Macushla led a heart which John ruffed.  He drew trumps and was then able to embark on a bit of a cross-ruff, eventually ruffing out the clubs so that his fifth one was a winner.  He managed to get three diamond discards in dummy but couldn't avoid losing one diamond trick so made 5♠ on the nose.  Hearts played the other way should lose two diamonds and two clubs.

The scores varied hugely on this board.  A couple of Souths played in 4 so I wonder if they had an uncontested auction.  Anyway, these were the scores:

5♣ doubled by East going 6 down for minus 1400; 4 by South making for plus 420; 5♣ doubled by East going 2 down for minus 500; 5♠ by East making 11 tricks for plus 650 (this happened twice); 4 by South going two off for minus 100.

The par contract would have been 6 doubled by South going 3 down for minus 500.  Not surprisingly, nobody was in that! 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 13 September 2016

It's quite a nice feeling when you are sitting East on the above hand (board 3) and count up 21 points.  You start thinking about what you are going to open when you hear South pass and partner open the bidding.  A slam is a certainty!  However, no need to hurry and I always think it's best to wait and hear partner's rebid before getting too carried away.  So 1♣ - 1 - 1♠ says partner is going to be at least 5-4 in clubs and spades with a point count probably around 12-14 or so.  You want to find out more so 2 is fourth suit forcing.  Quite a few people play this sequence as game forcing which I think is a good idea.  Partner now bids 3 so is likely to have a 4-1-3-5 hand shape.

The 3 bid is very useful to hear as if you now bid 4NT and play this as Roman Key Card Blackwood, partner responds 5, showing one Ace or the King of trumps (diamonds).  That is very useful to hear so the 6 level is a dead cert, but what about the possibility of a Grand Slam.  A bid of 5 now is clearly not natural and is asking about the Queen of trumps.  If partner doesn't have it, he bids 6 but, if he does he bids a feature.  In this case Andy bid 6♣ which showed his King of clubs.

Let's summarise what East knows about West's hand - The distirbution is likely to be 4-1-3-5.  West has the Ace of spades, the Queen of diamonds and the King of clubs.  That's nine points.  For his opening bid you can expect at least one of the black queens but you can't be sure which one.  For this reason I bid 7 just in case it was the Queen of spades and Andy's hand was something like ♠ AQxx  x  Qxx ♣ KJxxx.  With a hand as poor as this, 7 would have the best chance.

From a play point of view, looking at all the hands together, you can see that East-West can make 7♣, 7 or 7NT.  Note that if the diamonds don't behave and break 4-1, that scuppers 7 and 7NT though 7♣ is still making so really 7♣ is the safest contract.  However, how does East discover the strength of West's club suit?  The key card that makes 7♣ a better contract than 7 is the Jack of clubs as a 4-1 club break is tolerable because of this.  Quite difficult to find this degree of information in the bidding.

Everybody made all 13 tricks but the final contracts varied - Three pairs were in 6NT, one pair in 6, one pair in 7 and one pair got stuck and only reached 4♣.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 6 September 2016

5♣ does not normally achieve a good result at pairs which is why 3NT is often sought as an alternative.  

On board 26, instead of jumping straight to 5♣, West could have considered 3, fourth suit forcing, and East might well have then bid 3NT which makes 11 tricks or even 12 tricks on a diamond lead.

However, as the cards lie, Clubs played by East makes 12 tricks on any lead.  Not easy to bid though and not necessarily a slam you would want to be in as the spades need to break 3-3 to have any chance of making it.

The above East-West bidding was Jane and Anke.  Sitting South, I led the Ace of diamonds.  I don't normally make an opening lead away from an Ace Queen but when your opponents bid to 5 of a minor without trying for 3NT, it is often a good idea to look for some quick tricks as they probably have weakness in one of the side suits.  If the opponents do happen to have a stopper, then it is likely that 3NT would have scored better for them anyway so normally there is nothing to be lost by making an attacking lead like this.  On this occasion, East held the King of diamonds which would have been a vital stop for 3NT.

On the Ace of diamonds lead, when dummy comes down with a singleton, it is useful for partner's card to show 'suit preference' rather than encouragement in the suit.  In this case a low diamond would signal for a switch to the lower of the non-trump suits, ie hearts.  I duly switched to the Jack of hearts but Declarer (Jane) was able to take the rest of the tricks, first drawing trumps and then by throwing dummy's losing hearts on spades and the King of diamonds.

On the face of it, it looks as though the Ace of diamonds gave a trick away.  However, if I had lead a heart, Declarer would have won in dummy, drawn trumps and then discarded dummy's singleton diamond on a spade so there are still 12 tricks to be taken.  Paradoxically, the Ace of diamonds lead allows the King to make a trick but if you don't lead it, you never get to make it.

Interesting to note that this is one of those hands which has to be played by East rather than West.   Neither 3NT nor 6♣ can be made on a diamond lead if West plays the hand.

Four pairs ended up in 5♣, three making 12 tricks and one making 11.  A wheel fell off for the other pair as they ended up in only 3♠ making 12 tricks.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 30 August 2016

Board 13 was a very interesting hand.  At our table North (Helen) opened 1 and South (Julia) doubled 4.  Personally I would have bid 5 on the South cards which only loses 2 tricks, the Ace of hearts and the Ace of clubs, and scores +600 for North-South.

So how does 4 fare?  At our table South, Julia, started off with the Ace of spades.  Very sensibly she switched to a club as look what happens if she had carried on with a second spade - Declarer loses the first two spade tricks and then possibly loses a diamond but then he gets in, draws trumps and throws away all his remaining losers on the spades.

The club switch before taking a second spade trick enables the defence to take two clubs, two spades and a diamond and 4 doubled is down two for +500 to North-South.  However, that is a good sacrifice against 5.  Strange therefore that John and I got a complete bottom for going two off in 4 doubled!  

The score sheet reveals that not one North-South pair played in 5.  They may have tried to as on three occasions East-West played in 5.  Twice they went two off but they weren't doubled so it was just minus 200 each time (instead of 3 off doubled for minus 800).  The other time 5 was played, also undoubled, East-West made 11 tricks for +650 - South must have cashed Ace and King of spades at trick 1 and 2.

Two other Easts were then allowed to play in 4, again undoubled, and they both made +620 so once again I guess South started off with Ace and King of spades.

I suspect that sometimes North decided not to open the bidding.  If that happened then East-West are bound to capture the bidding, not get doubled and receive a misdefence.

Opening the bidding on a fairly weak hand not only gives your side a better chance of capturing the auction but also helps to steer the defence if you don't.

John and I were destined for a bottom on this board as Julia said that if she hadn't doubled, she would have bid 5 which would also have been a bottom for us.  Sitting West I might have contemplated bidding 5 over 5 and of course at our table, Julia would certainly have then doubled that and taken us for minus 800 which would also have been a bottom.  On some hands you just can't win whatever you do!

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 30 August 2016

Board 4 had game on both ways.  With hands like this, if you want to capture the auction you have to be bold and throw caution to the wind.  It doesn't always work of course but that's the nature of pre-empts which force the bidding to be based on a bit of guesswork rather than accuracy.

With the South hand I would have bid 4♠ and hoped for the best.  With anything less than a 4 opening by West, the opposition are almost certain to get into the auction and a bidding battle is underway.  If South bids 4♠, East should compete to 5.  After that things are less clear cut but as North I might consider bidding 5♠ which is actually the par spot as on best defence (hard to find) this should go one off.

Playing in 4 by West there are two possible losers, the Ace of diamonds and Ace of spades.  However, I received the Ace of diamonds lead from Tricia which naturally Marian encouraged with her King but this meant that I was able to ruff the second diamond, draw trumps and discard my losing spades on dummy's clubs and make 12 tricks.

If South plays in spades, there are potentially three club losers though in practice West is likely to lead a top heart.  This gets ruffed and, after drawing trumps, Declarer can discard one of the clubs on dummy's fifth diamond and make 11 tricks.

The results were three Souths playing in 4♠, two making 11 tricks and one making 10 tricks and three Wests playing in 4, two making 11 tricks and one making 12. 

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 23 August 2016

The above hand was board 27.  I was sitting South and felt I should have bid 4♣ (a splinter) instead of 4 though ironically this might have slightly put partner off, looking at AKQ10x opposite a singleton.

The play in 6 is quite interesting.  John was Declarer and received a club lead from Tricia.  He drew trumps then played a diamond towards the King and with the Ace well placed, was able to discard a losing spade from hand.

Marian wondered if an initial spade lead would have defeated the contract.  Well it looks scary but no for two reasons.  First John could have drawn trumps then discarded all of dummy's losing diamonds on his clubs, losing just one spade at the end.  However, as it happens the Queen of spades was singleton so when Tricia got in with the Ace, she would not have been able to play another spade anyway.  Funny how some hands behave themselves so well whilst others can be a complete nightmare with everything wrong.

6 was a good contract but most pairs only got to 4.  Mind you that was considerably better than being in 2♠ by South which happened twice. 

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 23 August 2016

Board 2 was a typical competitive part-score hand.  The above bidding was as it was at our table but no doubt it varied quite a bit.  It's often hard to judge whether to bid one more or throw the towel in and of course the play and defence make it all very close.

Against 4♣ played by Sally, John led two top diamonds then switched to the Queen of clubs.  Looking at all four hands it's easy to see that you can pick up all the trumps if you finesse on the second round.  Easier said than done and Sally ended up losing a trump and the Ace of spades for one down.

In a contract of 3 by North, East would lead a club and, providing West switches to the 10 of hearts at trick 2, East-West can take two heart tricks and a ruff plus a spade so 3 is also one off.  If East-West don't find this defence, 3 makes.  The last making contract on best defence is therefore 3♣ by West.

The actual scores on the traveller were 3♣ by West making 9 tricks, 2 by North making 9 tricks (happened twice), 3 by North going one off (also happened twice), 4♣ by West going one off and 1NT by West going three off.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 16 August 2016

Board 3 is another one of those hands where you have to bid up if you are going to capture the auction.  East's redouble was not a good bid.  A jump to 4♠ would have been better.  South should still compete to 5 but then either East or West are now in a better position to judge whether or not to bid on in spades.

All pairs bar one played in spades, three at the 5 level, one doubled, and one pair was allowed to play in 4♠.  All made 11 tricks without any difficulty.

5 by South should go one off but is still a good sacrifice against East-West playing in spades.  East led the Ace of spades and switched to a diamond.  However, during the play, East discarded all her diamonds so Declarer made 11 tricks.

The par contract is actually 6 doubled going two down, North-South losing 300 against East-West's 650 in spades.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 16 August 2016

I was a little surprised to see that nearly everyone went down in 4♠ on board 4.

At our table I led the four of clubs which was won in dummy.  Declarer (Nadia) played a small diamond to her seven which I won with the Jack.  It was pretty obvious this was a singleton si rather than open up the hearts, I continued a diamond to partner's King which Nadia ruffed in hand followed by a losing spade finesse.  Partner (Jeremy) played back a diamond.  Nadia ruffed and embarked on a bit of a cross-ruff.  However, this meant that Jeremy ended up making a small trump at the end as well as the King of trumps, Ace of diamonds and King of hearts and 4♠ was defeated.

A better line of play after winning the club lead would have been to play Ace of hearts and a heart towards the Queen.  North will probably go up with the King but, as the hearts break 3-3, a rather vulnerable looking holding, suddenly yields three tricks!  You take a losing trump finesse but that's your only two losers and 11 tricks come rolling in.

Playing on a cross-ruff can work well sometimes but you have to be able to keep control.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 9 August 2016

Two pairs reached 6 and two were in 6NT on board 17.  The above bidding was at my table.  The 5♣ bid was the response to Roman Key Card Blackwood.  For ordinary Blackwood the response would have been 5.

The play in 6NT is interesting.  There are only 9 top tricks.  Possibilities for additional tricks are the Jack of clubs coming down in three rounds or from diamonds or hearts.  If you play on diamonds, you really need the Queen of diamonds finesse to be right and the suit to break 3-3 which is a bit of a tall order.  

Better prospects come from the hearts.  If the hearts break 3-3, all is well.  There is one extra chance however.  If you run the 9 of hearts first, you succeed any time there is QJ53 to your left and also if the hand to your right has Qxxx or Jxxx.  Had dummy held AK109xx, it would have been a different matter and the best way to play the hearts would have been to play off Ace and King which succeeds any time the hearts are 3-3 or one of the defenders has a doubleton honour.

Anyway the hearts did break 3-3 so all was well how ever you played them.  Playing on diamonds would have been OK as it happened - If you play first towards the King, when West drops the Queen you can then finesse against East's 10.  You still only make four diamond tricks but as the Jack of clubs comes down, you have your twelve tricks with four diamonds, four clubs, two hearts and two spades. 

Amazingly enough you can actually make all 13 tricks on a squeeze - Win the opening spade lead in dummy, then play King of diamonds followed by the marked diamond finesse.  Play off two more top diamonds, then four rounds of clubs.  East can discard spades but West needs to keep two otherwise Declarer makes a little spade at the end.  West therefore throws a heart.  East discards spades but when Declarer cashes the King of spades, he is squeezed - He is forced either to discard the 10 of diamonds, making Declarer's 9 a master or to throw a heart, enabling Declarer to cross to dummy's hearts and a small heart becomes the thirteenth trick.  Wow, we do deal some interesting hands at Badger Farm!

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 9 August 2016

Board 22 was a fairly ordinary hand but it's a good example of a hand where many would think about competing but decide not to.

The bidding is likely to begin 1 - 2♣ - 2 and when this is passed round to North, many would pass and that would be the end of the auction.  However, if East-West's bidding has died at the 2 level, South is likely to have some values so coming in with 2♠ may not be that unreasonable and may just push the opponents one level too high.

If North does compete with 2♠, West then has to decide whether to defend or push on to 3.  Let's have a look at the prospects of both.

If East plays in hearts, he may get the King of spades lead with or without any spade bid from North.  The defence should manage to take 3 spade tricks, the King of clubs and probably a couple of hearts.  North should encourage the spade lead, overtake the continuation with the Ace, then cash the Jack otherwise when Declarer gets in, he can play three rounds of diamonds and discard a losing spade from dummy.

In a spade contract, East may lead the Queen of clubs.  Declarer will lose a club and possibly a club ruff, a heart and three top diamonds.  That is 6 tricks.  The difficulty Declarer has is that on a club lead, his King of clubs entry to hand is removed at trick 1 or 2 so when he plays two rounds of trumps, he can't get to his hand to draw a third round.  The solution is to hope for a 3-3 trump break and overtake the second spade with the Ace and play a third round as this is the only way to avoid a club ruff from the defence.

So it looks as though 2 can be defeated but 2♠ can just about make.  The actual scores on the travellers were as follows:

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

I suppose that if 2♠ can make, the par spot is 3 by East going one off so the moral of the story on this hand is for North to be brave and compete as he can gain plus 110 by playing in 2♠ instead of conceding 110 by defending 2 or collecting 100 by defeating 3.  Interesting that North-South are most likely to make a part-score yet they are the least likely to be in a contract.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 2 August 2016

Board 12 was quite an incredible deal.  The above bidding was how it was at our table.  However, I doubt the bidding was the same at any two tables.  At her table Dorothy opened 5♣ on the West hand and that was the end of the bidding.

The fact is that East-West can make 5♣ and North-South can make 4 so with hands like this it is best to pre-empt so you have the greatest chance of buying the contract, giving the opponents no real chance of getting their act together.

I was asked whether West should open a gambling 3NT but really the suit should be solid and I think 5♣ is much harder to bid against.

As you can see from the bidding at my table, North-South were allowed to discover their heart fit and consequently West was pushed to 6♣ which was unmakeable.

Not surprisingly this board produced a chaotic set of results - 5♠ doubled by South going 3 off for minus 800; 5♣ by West making 11 tricks; 3♠ by South going one off; 5 doubled by South going one off; 5 doubled by South going two off; 6♣ by West going two off; and 5♣ doubled by West making.

Interesting that 5 didn't make.  West would lead Ace and King of clubs, the second club being ruffed in hand.  Now Declarer plays a diamond to dummy which East wins with the Ace.  Best defence has to be for East to switch to a trump otherwise Declarer can make a diamond, the Ace of spades plus nine heart tricks on a cross-ruff.

On a trump switch by East at trick 4, Declarer can't quite set up the diamonds due to the 4-2 break and would end up with a spade loser at the end.

Board 8 was also an interesting hand...

This is another one of those hands where the bidding is likely to vary a lot from one table to another.  Five times East-West bought the contract in hearts and only twice did North-South play it in spades.  Ironically nobody made more than nine tricks in hearts but 4♠ was there for North-South.

I was sitting North with the poorest hand.  However, when my partner bid spades twice on his own and East-West had bid and supported hearts, I took an optimistic view - The fact that you have three hearts means partner will be short, you have three trumps opposite what must be a 6 card suit, you have a doubleton club which is a good feature and the King of diamonds which is also a good feature.

Despite all that I was impressed to watch Jason bring in 12 tricks!!  It was an interesting hand to play.  Jason received a heart lead and continuation which he ruffed in hand.  He then played the Queen of diamonds which was ducked followed by another diamond to dummy's King which was also ducked (not the best defence but these things happen).  Jason then played a club from dummy which he successfully finessed followed by the Ace and a ruff.  Another diamond was led from dummy which Jason ruffed in hand.  He then cashed two top spades, taking out all the enemy trumps and ruffed a club in dummy.  The diamonds were now set up for a discard of his last losing club.

The results on the traveller were 4 by East going one off (three times); 3 by East just making; 4 by East going two off; 3♠ by South making 10 tricks; and 4♠ by South making 12 tricks.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 26 July 2016

Board 2 was typical of this week's awkward hands.  Everyone reached a perfectly reasonable 3NT.  At our table the above auction would be typical for those who play a 12-14 No Trump.  However, it was played three times by North and three times by South.

If played by North and East leads a heart, it is not too difficult to make 3NT as there are four heart tricks, three clubs, a spade and either a diamond or a second spade trick.  However, if 3NT is played by South and West leads a diamond, the contract is doomed with the potential to go two off.

I received the 10 of diamonds lead and was allowed to win it in hand with my Jack.  Not such good news as I was now wide open in diamonds.  Not knowing whether the diamonds were breaking 5-3, 4-4 or what, the opponents also had the Ace of spades to get in with.  The only real hope seemed to be for the hearts and clubs to break evenly, then I could get my nine tricks.

I played off two top clubs but when the 8 and 10 appeared from East, the vibes weren't great.  The third round then confirmed the 4-2 break.  It therefore didn't look quite so promising for the hearts to break 3-3 and surprise, surprise, they didn't break either - I played a heart to dummy's Queen, West playing the nine, continuing with the 10, covered by Jack and King with West showing out.  I then played a spade towards dummy's King Queen.  East won and switched to a small diamond.  West won the diamond but then switched to a spade.  I won in dummy and was now able to take the marked heart finesse against East, making nine tricks - four hearts, one spade, one diamond and three clubs.

There are two ways for East-West to get their defence right.  Either East wins the first round of diamonds with the Ace and then West must duck the diamond return and wait for East to get in and play a third round.  

The other way is, as happened, for East to duck the first round of diamonds and let Declarer win but when he gets in with the Ace of spades, he needs to play Ace and another diamond to unblock the suit.

3NT by South made once (on a misdefence) but otherwise went one-off the other two times.  3NT played by North made every time, twice on the nose and once with two overtricks. 

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 26 July 2016

On board 20 North-South could easily end up in Game as if North decides to jump to 3♠, South is likely to bid 4♠.  However, looking at all four hands, there appear to be four unavoidable losers, two clubs, a diamond and a trump...

I received the Ace of diamond lead followed by a switch to the 9 of clubs which rather looked like a doubleton.  East won with the Queen and obviously could not play one back so switched back to a diamond.  I won in hand with the King and discarded a club from dummy.  Next I played the 10 of spades which was ducked and followed by a second spade to West's Queen and dummy's Ace.

I now played a heart to my King and a heart back, successfully finessing dummy's Jack.  I then cashed the Ace, revealing a nice 3-3 break.  The key play now is not to play the 13th heart but to cash dummy's Ace of clubs which removes West's second club.  After that you cash the 13th heart, throwing a club from hand.  Best defence is for West not to ruff.

Dummy's last three cards are ♠98 and ♣6.  Declarer holds ♠54 and ♣5.  West holds ♠K 64.

Play a trump which West wins but he is now forced to concede a ruff and discard so there is no second club loser.

Nobody actually bid to 4♠ and if West had either led a club instead of the Ace of diamonds or covered the first round of trumps, there would have been no play for the contract anyway.  Three Souths played in 2♠, one making 8 tricks, one 9 and one 10.  One South played in 3♠ and went one off and one South ended up in 3NT going two off, no doubt on a diamond lead.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 19 July 2016

Board 1 was not an easy hand to bid.  West has a strong hand but not quite the calibre of a Strong Two opening.  The bidding was as above at our table and as soon as East was able to give albeit mild support for spades, I think that justified a bash at game.

Looking at the other hands though, some Norths would have opened a Weak Two in hearts (or even a multi) and that makes it pretty hard for East-West to get their act together.  Against Marian and Tricia, South opened a cheeky 1♣ third in hand.  It obviously had the desired effect as Marian ended up in 2♠.  No wonder we never get a flat board!

In a spade contract the singleton diamond lead allows Declarer to make 11 tricks.  The opening trick was 2, Jack, King and Ace of diamonds.  I played off Ace and King of clubs and ruffed one, then played a spade from dummy.  South went up with the Ace and gave partner a diamond ruff but that was it. 

On the King of hearts lead, Declarer has two natural spade losers but will almost certainly end up losing the King of diamonds too at some point as there are few entries to dummy and it is more pressing to get the trumps out than to play on diamonds.

Nevertheless 4♠ is a cast iron contract if only you can get to it.  The other results were two pairs in 2♠ and one pair in 3♠, all making 10 tricks and one pair ended up playing in 3♦ making 11 tricks.  Not that easy...

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 12 July 2016

Board 2 above was a sound 4♠ contract.  However, nobody bid and made it.  The bidding is fairly straightforward.  North's 4♣ was a cue bid but otherwise a jump to 4♠ by North would have been fine after partner opened and rebid spades.

Playing against Jane and Anke, I received the Ace of clubs lead followed by a heart switch.  Winning in hand, I did a quick recky and providing the trumps broke 3-2 and the hearts were no worse than 4-2, I had 11 easy tricks by playing off Ace and King of trumps, followed by my second heart, a trump to dummy's Queen and then discard my three losing clubs on dummy's three hearts.

However, when Jane showed out on the second round of trumps, I had egg on my face and ended up losing two trump tricks as the defenders forced me to ruff a club with dummy's Queen of spades, thereby promoting a second trump trick in Anke's hand.

Much better would have been to win the heart at trick 2 and play the 10 of diamonds. On best defence, it is still tricky - If East ducks the first round of diamonds and wins the second, then plays a second round of hearts, communications between Declarer and Dummy are quite difficult.  

Nevertheless if Declarer plays carefully he is still just about OK.  He plays three rounds of trumps, ending in dummy then plays two top diamonds, discarding two losing clubs then plays a top heart, throwing away his last club.  The defence will make two Aces and a trump.  This line works because the defender with the last trump also has four diamonds.  If Declarer plays one top diamond then a heart, he goes off as West ruffs and Declarer still has a losing club with no access to dummy.

Instead of greedily trying for 11 tricks, I would have been much better to play more carefully and settle for 10.  This is always the problem with pairs Bridge as there is the incentive to try for extra tricks.  Ironically the two pairs who stopped in 3♠ got the best result, one making 9 tricks and the other 10.  Everyone else went off in 4♠.  Two pairs went two off and one went three off thus proving this was not an easy hand to play.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 5 July 2016

With hands like board 15 above, it's often difficult to judge how hard to push and how high to bid.  With East-West being non-vulnerable against vulnerable, they are ideally placed for a sacrifice, providing of course their opponents can make a game.

If East-West play in 5, it is quite easy to see there are just three losers, three Aces.  

If North-South are allowed to play in 4♠, in all probability East will lead a top heart which gets ruffed, then Declarer would draw trumps and play a club from the table.  Unofortunately for Declarer, the clubs are not well placed.  When East wins the first club finesse, he needs to find a diamond switch to defeat the contract.  If Declarer goes up with the Ace, East-West can take two diamond tricks when they get in with the next club.  If Declarer doesn't go up with the Ace, West wins the Queen, plays back a diamond through Declarer's Jack and East will make a second diamond trick.

Against best defence 4♠ can't make so the par contract is 4♠ by North going one off and therefore 5 is a phantom sacrifice.  However, in practice some North-Souths may bid on to 5♠ and it is not inconceivable that some East-Wests may even bid to 6.

Needless to say there was quite a range of results on the scoresheet - 4♠ by North making 10 tricks, 5 doubled by East going one off (three times), 5♠ doubled by North making 11 tricks, and 5♠ doubled by North going two off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 28 June 2016

For anyone reaching the lofty heights of 6 or 6NT on board 13, this was an interesting hand to play.  There are 11 easy tricks but where is the twelfth?

First though, a quick explanation of the bidding how it was at our table - John opened a 12-14 1NT.  With 18 points I felt a bit adventurous.  I could have bid 4NT which we play as 'quantitative' but, without a diamond fit, I thought 6NT might not be a good prospect.  

I therefore decided to bid 2NT which we play as a 'transfer' showing diamonds.  John's 3♣ bid shows support for diamonds so that was enough to springboard me to higher places.  My 4NT checked for Aces and the King of trumps (Roman Key Card Blackwood).  John's 5♣ showed 0 or 3.  It was hard to imagine 0 when John had supported diamonds so it had to be Ace of spades and Ace King of diamonds.  On the basis of that I opted for 6.

A heart was led and notwithstanding a nasty trump break, there were two options for a twelfth trick, making an extra club or making an extra spade.  My inclination was to go for a 3-3 spade break or hope that during the play, one of the defenders would discard a spade.

After winning the opening lead, I played three rounds of trumps, East discarding a small heart on the third round.  I then played a top heart and East discarded a club, thus revealing only four red cards.  I played a third top heart and East discarded a second club.  Change of plan - East held 9 black cards and therefore West held only 5.  A 3-3 spade break was now very unlikely so the only other option was to try clubs.

Had the South hand held three clubs instead of two, the best option would have been to play clubs twice from dummy and play for 'split honours', ie the Jack and the King in different hands or King Jack in the East hand.  It is thus 75% odds that East will hold at least one top club honour.  However, with only one club finesse available, you have a choice between leading the Queen from dummy towards the Ace or leading a small club towards dummy's Queen.  I decided to lead a club towards dummy.  West popped up with the King so all was well and I was able to discard a losing spade on the Queen of clubs.  However, if West bravely plays a low club, Declarer may well opt for finessing the 10 of clubs instead...

The interesting thing about this hand is that whilst there is the possibility of an extra trick in either spades or clubs, you only get one bite at the cherry as if you give up a spade to try and make the 13th spade, you cannot then afford to let the opposition win a club trick.  Similarly if you give up a club trick, you cannot now afford to lose a spade trick.  You therefore have a choice between two lines of play but can only opt for one or the other.  Luckily for me, I chose the correct one so 6 made.

Two pairs played in 6NT by North.  If East led the Queen of spades, the only option for Declarer would have been to play on clubs and it had to be a small club towards the Queen.  One Declarer made his 6NT but the other one went one off.  Other contracts were 3NT by North, making 11 tricks and 5 by South, also making 11 tricks.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 21 June 2016

The above hand was board 21 and before looking at the play, let's first consider the bidding.  At my table, Audrey sitting South pre-empted with 3 and I doubled for take-out.  John jumped to 4♠ which really made me think a slam might be there so I asked for Aces using Roman Key Card Blackwood.  John replied 5 showing one Ace or the King of trumps.  My 5 bid then enquired about the Queen of trumps.  Had John not had it, he would have signed off in 5♠ but, as he did, he showed another feature, hence 6 so 6♠ became the final contract.

On a normal 3-2 trump break, there would have been absolutely no problem but with the 4-1 break, Declarer is scuppered against any sensible defence.

Audrey opened with the Ace of hearts which was ruffed in dummy.  John then led the King of spades which Clare ducked.  He now played the Jack of spades which Clare ducked again.  Had Clare won the second spade and played the King of hearts, John would have been able to ruff with dummy's last trump, but would still have had to have lost a trump to Clare or the Queen of diamonds to Audrey.

When Clare ducked the second trump, John played off three rounds of clubs, pitching his Queen of hearts but that was still no good as he could not draw trumps and get back to dummy's clubs.  He could not continue drawing trumps as dummy's last remaining trump would have been beaten by the Ace and then the King of hearts cashed.

Even if Clare had won the first round of trumps, providing she continues hearts, dummy is forced to ruff again and the same situation applies, either Clare makes her 10 of spades or Audrey makes her Queen of diamonds.  A very nice slam that fell flat on its face! 

For the record, two pairs went one down in 4♠, two pairs played in 5♣ making and one pair went one down in 6♠.  Ironically, had John and I not reached 6♠, making 11 tricks in spades would have been a top!

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 21 June 2016

Board 6 was an interesting example of hand re-evaluation.  When West opens 1♠, East doesn't like it so it is a good idea to put the brakes on with 1NT rather than respond 2 only to hear partner rebid spades one level higher!  However, when West rebids 2 after East's 1NT response, East's hand suddenly looks a lot better.  Clearly John thought so as he now shot straight to 4.  Personally I think I might have been a little more timid and only raised to 3 and I guess that's where we would have played.

Anyway we found oursevles in 4 which is not an unreasonable contract if the cards behave and they did - The opening lead was a club to South's Ace and South played one back which I won in hand with the King.  Now a trump to dummy's Ace and another one revealed a friendly 2-2 break in trumps - Always nice to see the opponents' top trumps crashing on top of each other!  North won and played the Queen of clubs which I ruffed in hand.

Everything looked fairly promising now.  I played the King of diamonds which was ducked then another diamond towards dummy which was also ducked.  A diamond loser had gone away.  With two diamonds left in dummy and one trump left in hand, an opportunity had rather bizarrely arisen for a spade finesse which I had not intended.  When this succeeded, I could now discard one of dummy's diamonds on the Ace of spades and ruff dummy's other diamond with my last trump, with dummy's last two trumps taking the last two tricks.  11 tricks in the bag though in reality there should have been three losers, a trump and the two minor suit Aces.

Final contracts on this board were 4 by West making 11 tricks, 3 by East just making, 2NT by West just making, 1NT by East just making and 4 by East going one down.


Hand of the Week no 3 - Tuesday 21 June 2016

How might you have reached a Grand Slam in hearts on board 8?  This may not be the easiest contract to reach and requires some careful bidding and partnership understanding.

Admittedly it helps if West makes a light opener on his 10 count though this is quite a nice hand with two good suits and a singleton.

East is right to take it slowly in my opinion rather than to jump as he then gets a better picture of partner's hand.

West rebids 1♠ and now East can further investigate with 2 (fourth suit forcing which personally I play as game forcing).  West can give 'secondary preference', ie 3 card support, to hearts which completes the description of his 5-4-3-1 distribution.  Once East finds out that West holds two Aces, a Grand Slam in hearts must now be cast iron notwithstanding a calamitous break in one of the suits.

In the play, a diamond can be ruffed in the West hand before drawing trumps and a spade discarded on the fifth club.  Curiously 7♣ can't be made as although West can still ruff a diamond in his hand, he cannot discard all his spades on dummy's hearts so ends up having to rely on a spade finesse which fails. 

At the table nobody reached 7.  One pair was in 6 making all 13 tricks, two pairs were in 4 and two were in 3NT and they all made 12 tricks.  All four Declarer's presumably took a losing spade finesse - In No Trumps you have to but in hearts, as I indicated above, you don't.  Very interesting hand...

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 14 June 2016

The above bidding on board 24 was as it was at my table as I opened 1NT showing 10-12 points on the West hand.  More normal bidding would be for East to open 1♣, West to respond 1, East to jump to 3 and West raise to 4.

There are a number of leads that could be made from North's hand but the best one is the Jack of diamonds.  Declarer's best bet is to go up with the Ace and play a trump but South takes one of the honours with his Ace, cashes the King of diamonds then switches to a spade.

Whether Declarer continues drawing trumps or plays on clubs, South will get in again at some point by winning one of his trumps and take a spade for the setting trick.

Playing against Connie and Christina, Christina decided to lead her singleton trump.  I played low from dummy, Connie correctly played the nine and I won with the Jack.  I played another trump at trick 2, revealing the 4-1 break.  Connie won with her Ace and switched to her singleton club.  This was won in dummy and another club played back to hand.  Connie didn't ruff so I played a third club which she did ruff.

Connie now switched to a spade so I went up with the Ace, drew the last trump and discarded a diamond and a spade loser on dummy's clubs, making 10 tricks.

The trump lead actually lost the defence valuable timing as whilst they made two trump tricks, they could only make a diamond or a spade, not both.

As is so often the case, a lot rides on the opening lead.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 14 June 2016

It's amazing what information can be deduced at the table.  When East's Jack of hearts lead is won by Declarer's Ace, West can work out that his partner has not got the Queen.  However, if Declarer only held AQ, he would hardly have won with the Ace, therefore he must hold AKQ.

At trick 2 Declarer played the Ace of spades, then let one run to West's Jack, presumably playing for a 3-3 break in the suit which is not an unreasonable thing to do.

Declarer's 1NT rebid showed 15-16 points and  AKQ and ♠ A accounts for 13 of them.  Therefore partner definitely holds the Ace of diamonds and Declarer will have either the Queen of diamonds or Queen of clubs.  If Declarer has the Queen of clubs, he can easily get back to his hand.  However, if he doesn't have it, he can't get back.  

After winning the spade at trick 3, best defence is simply to play back a spade.  Declarer cannot get back to his hand to make any more of his hearts and 3NT will go one down.

What Declarer should have done at trick 2 is to play a low spade from both hands.  West wins but there is nothing the defence can do as Declarer has entries in both hands to enjoy four spades, three top hearts, the King or Queen of diamonds and two top clubs.  That is 10 tricks instead of only 8.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 7 June 2016

Board 21 was a good example of using a bit of Bridge psychology.  North opened 4♠.  South has a good hand but probably better to err on the side of caution.  However, when West rather cunningly butted in with 5♣, South had no hesitation in pressing on to 5♠.

The Ace of clubs was led followed by another which Declarer ruffed.  Declarer has two obvious losers, a club and a diamond but there is a possible heart loser too which, being at the 5 level, Declarer cannot afford.

On the face of it Declarer has the option of taking a heart finesse.  However, finesses should be avoided if there is a better alternative.  Well there is another chance - the diamonds could break 3-3 in which case a losing heart could be discarded on a diamond.

At trick 3 Declarer played the 10 of diamonds which ran round to the Jack.  West played back a trump (best defence), won by dummy's Queen.  Continuing with his plan, Declarer then played a small diamond from the table.  West popped up with the King which Declarer ruffed and East contributed the 9.

Another round of trumps was played, then a heart to dummy's King.  Declarer now led the 8 of diamonds from dummy and West followed with the 4.  Crunch time!

Declarer was playing for diamonds to be 3-3.  However, think for a moment.  Why did West rise with the King of diamonds earlier?  He must surely have the Ace, otherwise he would not have done that.

As well as noting this play by West, you have to have observed the diamond pips - On the first round of diamonds the 10 and Jack were played and on the second round of diamonds, East contributed the 9, thus promoting dummy's 8 of diamonds.   With all this information Declarer could have discarded a heart on the 8 of diamonds and 5 would then have been made.  Much better than taking the losing heart finesse!

Although every North played in spades on this board, there was a variety of results - 4♠ making 11 tricks (3 times), 5♠ going one off, 4♠ just making, 4♠ doubled making with an overtrick and 3♠ making 10 tricks.  I wonder if those who made 11 tricks in spades did it as above or did the opponents give a trick away in defence?

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 31 May 2016

On board 7 North-South had a combined 28 high cards points.  However, with a 5-1 heart fit I am surprised to see that nearly all pairs ended up in a heart contract.  West's distributional hand may have put a bit of a spanner in the works but with East holding such a poor hand, North-South should have had a reasonably easy ride in the bidding.

Jeremy and I sat out on this hand but the above bidding is how we would have proceeded, assuming West only overcalled 1♠.  I guess the reason why many did not reach the right game is because they didn't have a cue bid in their armoury.

As soon as South opens the bidding, North knows they have game on.  South's rebid of 3♣ does not feel ideal but what else can he say?  After South's 3♣ rebid, North is interested in game in hearts if they have a fit, No Trumps if South has a good stop in spades and last resort is to play in 5♣.  North needs more information from partner and the only way he can get that is to make a forcing bid.  The only forcing bid he can make is to bid the opponents' suit, ie 3♠.  South is now happy to bid 3NT.

South has no trouble in making 3NT but in 4 the 5-1 fit is severely punished by a 6-1 trump break!

Looking at the results on the traveller, one North was in 4 going two off, one South was in 5NT making with an overtrick, one North was in 5 going two off, two Norths played in 3, one going two off and the other three off and finally one South played in 3NT making 11 tricks.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 24 May 2016

The above hand was board 4.  Personally I think it would have been better for North to open 1 and then rebid No Trumps and for South to now take over and proceed to slam.

Anyway, against 6NT I led the 10 of spades from the West hand.  Declarer's prospects are quite good.  There are five spade tricks, then Ace King of hearts, Ace King of diamonds and Ace King of clubs which is 11 tricks.  There are no extra tricks to be had in clubs.  In diamonds you could finesse the Jack of diamonds which is a 50-50 chance.  In hearts you are home and dry with a 3-3 heart break or if West has the Queen and Jack.

The best play is probably to run five spade tricks and maybe get a few clues, then lead a heart from hand intending to duck it and see if the suit breaks 3-3.  If it doesn't, you can fall back on the diamond finesse.

The play at our table did start with five spade winners.  Declarer then switched to the Ace of hearts followed by the 10 which I covered with the Jack, taken by dummy's King.  If Declarer now returns to hand and plays another heart towards dummy's nine, the contract is safe as the cards lie, despite the 4-2 break.

The safest contract, 6♠, is not without its problems.  West may lead his singleton club and Declarer could play neatly as follows:

Win with the King in hand, then at trick 2 play a diamond to dummy's King, followed by the Ace, discarding a heart from hand.  Then play a heart to the Ace and one back to dummy. Now ruff a heart in hand which reveals the 4-2 heart break.  Next play a spade to dummy's Ace and ruff another heart.  Now draw three more rounds of trumps.  The 12th and final trick is dummy's Ace of clubs.

Results on this board were 4♠ by South making with an overtrick, 4 by North making with an overtrick, 6NT making, 6NT going one off and 3NT making 12 tricks. 

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 24 May 2016

The bidding on board 23 was not the best and more often than not, North would have opened 1NT which would have been passed out.  Nevertheless the defence was interesting.

Sitting East, John led the Queen of clubs which was won in hand with the King.  At trick 2 a club was played back and won by dummy's Ace.  This was followed by two successful diamond finesses, then the Ace of diamonds drew the last two trumps.

Declarer now exited with a club which John won with the Jack.  if you are watching the club pips, you will note that Declarer's 6 of clubs is now a master.  On the club, with the West cards, I was left with ♠ QJ102 and  AJ72.  What would you discard?

I discarded the Queen of spades.  This shows the Jack but denies the King and on the basis of that, John now switched to the Queen of hearts thereby trapping dummy's King which was sitting under my Ace.  Declarer ducked but John continued with a second heart.  Declarer put up the King from dummy but that was taken by the Ace and then I cashed the Jack and then the three.  Declarer ruffed but now had to lead a spade away from the King.  I won with the 10, played another spade to the King and Ace and when a third spade was played, Declarer discarded the master club instead of ruffing.  That meant two off vulnerable in two diamonds which was expensive as three Norths had gone just one off in 1NT and one East had played in 1NT and made 8 tricks for a score of plus 120.  Minus 200 is nearly always a poor result at pairs.

In 1NT by North the cards do not lie very well so not surprisingly nobody made it.  1NT played by West fares better as on a diamond lead, West wins with the King, takes the spade finesse and can make three spade tricks.  The heart finesse is also right so Declarer can also make another four heart tricks.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 17 May 2016

It can often be difficult to get to game when the opponents have opened the bidding and board 21 above is no exception.

Despite having only 10 points, North is nevertheless likely to open 1.  Some Easts would then be happy to make a non-vulnerable overcall in clubs.  South would pass but then West, with 18 points would expect to be in game somewhere, but where?  At our table West bid a non-forcing 2♠.  East was not interested so they eventually settled in 4♣ which was fortuitous as the defence starts off with Ace, King of hearts and a ruff.

East-West actually have 27 points between them so they should really have played in a game contract.  Opposite East's overcall, West should at least have jumped to 3♠ which is forcing and maybe then East would have bid 3NT which is the only making game.

As we have seen 5♣ cannot be made due to the heart ruff but 3NT, despite a precarious heart stop, is always there.  Should a heart be led, North-South cannot take more than Ace and King of hearts before Declarer rattles off six club tricks and a minimum of Ace King of spades, the Ace of diamonds and Queen of hearts.  However, with both the spade and diamond finesses right, 11 tricks are there in No Trumps.

There was quite a mish mash of results on the traveller - 3 by North going one off, 3♣ by East making 10 tricks, 5♣ by East going one off (twice), 3♠ by West going two off, and 4♣ by East just making.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 10 May 2016

If you look at the above hand (board 22), with spades as trumps, North-South should quite comfortably make 10 or 11 tricks.  If you count up North-South's combined points, it comes to 22 which is not normally enough for Game but the distribution and fit more than makes up for this.

The bidding at our table was not very inspired and therefore died out at the 2 level.  Most people would open 1 on the West hand but North has to decide what to do.  Unless you play any fancy mechanisms, an initial 1♠ overcall might be the best thing to do.  However, hands like these become very powerful if partner has any kind of fit.  Not all Souths would pass but whether they do or not, North should jump in clubs if he gets another go to show his two-suited hand.  With three of partner's spades, two red Aces and a singleton club, South has very good support and Game in spades should be reached.

Three pairs reached 4♠, making 10, 11 and 12 tricks respectively, two pairs were in 3♠, both making 10 tricks and two pairs were in 2♠, one making 10 tricks and the other making 11.

With distributional hands, it's generally better to be a bit on the bold side and if partner is able to support one of your suits, your hand becomes even stronger.


Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 10 May 2016

Board 12 is one of those infuriating hands where a partnership holds ample points but there is no game to be made.  In 3NT there are four hearts and the Ace of spades to lose and in 5♣ or 5 you have to lose two hearts and a spade.

However, as is often the case, it's all down to the opening lead.  A non-heart lead against 5♣ or 5 allows both of these contracts to make with an overtrick.  And look what happens if North doesn't lead a heart against 3NT.  He may opt for a spade and Declarer can then make the first 11 tricks.

Looking at the scoresheet, two Wests went one-off in 3NT, one West made 12 trick and one East played in 3NT and made 11 tricks.  Everyone else played in a part-score in diamonds.  Two Easts were in 2, one making 10 tricks and one 11, and two Easts played in 3, one making 10 tricks and the other going one-off.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 3 May 2016

The above bidding on board 11 was how it proceeded at my table, though the bidding would have varied widely, proven by the variety of contracts on the scoresheet.

North-South, in spades, can make ten tricks, having to lose a club, a diamond and a heart.  East-West in diamonds, shouldn't be allowed to make more than seven trumps and the Ace of clubs.  At equal vulnerability a sacrifice in 5 is therefore expensive.  However, the contracts and results were all over the place.  One North played in 5♠ and made it with an overtrick.  Meanwhile another North played in 4♠ and went one off.  Then one East went three down in 5 though North-South failed to pull the trigger on it!  The next East was doubled in 5 but somehow managed to get away with two down so that was a good sacrifice against 4♠.  The next result was North in 5♠ doubled but he was allowed to make it for a top.  Another East then played in 5 but was not doubled and only went two off.  The next pair was in 5♠ by North going one down and finally the last pair were in the par contract which was 4♠ just making.

It does look tempting on the East cards to carry on to 5 and this is where a bit of luck comes in as in these hectic auctions, it is often hard to judge what's what and on a good day North-South will be bounced to 5♠ which should be defeated. 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 26 April 2016

If you look at all four hands from the above deal, you can see that North-South, in a spade contract, have one diamond and two club losers.  East-West, in a heart contract, have one spade and two diamonds to lose.

With both sides able to make 10 tricks in their respective suits, the bidding battle is crucial.  The difficulty is being able to capture the auction and not get pushed too high, often easier said than done.

In the above hand, the bidding will probably start with 1♠ followed by a take-out double.  The subsequent auction is likely to vary.  The South hand is distributional with great support for partner's spades and most Souths would bid 3♠ or 4♠.  However, there is something perhaps even more important than that, the void in hearts.  With East having made a take-out double, East-West will almost certainly have a heart fit.  A bid of 3♠ makes it quite difficult for West to compete but 4♠ makes it much harder.

Nevertheless West should not be put off and over 4♠ should bid 5.  This now puts pressure on North-South who may compete to 5♠.  Neither 5 nor 5♠ is makeable but with a hectic auction, it is very hard to judge when to stop.  5 is a good sacrifice over 4♠ but 5♠ over 5 is what is known as a 'phantom' as it is sacrificing over a contract that wasn't going to make.

With a hand like this, there is a certain amount of luck as the final contract, to a large extent, is decided by the momentum of the auction and how hard the opponents have pushed.  There would probably be contracts of 4 by East-West making, 4♠ by North-South making, 5 and 5♠ both going one off, sometimes doubled, and occasionally there might even be contracts at the 6 level or even in a part-score.  One thing is for sure, a hand like this will never result in a flat board! 

Best strategy on competitive hands like this is to be bold and bid up to give your side the best chance of capturing the auction but always be mindful of the vulnerability.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 19 April 2016

Board 6 was most often played in 1NT by West but it was also played in hearts, spades and clubs.  Looking at all four hands played in No Trumps by West, there is the potential to lose quite a few tricks as East-West only have Ace King of hearts and Ace King of diamonds as top tricks.  The heart and spade finesses are both wrong and the queen of clubs is exposed.  Doesn't look good.

I received the 7 of spades lead (the Queen is better) which I covered with dummy's 8 and South's Ace.  Sitting South Alan made a good switch to the Jack of clubs.  It is important not to cover otherwise the defence takes the next five club tricks.  Not covering the Jack blocks the suit as a second club was played to North's Ace.

With the North cards, Fay now played the Queen of spades, taken by dummy's King.  I then led the Jack of hearts which lost to the Queen and Fay sensibly did not continue with spades as this sets up a trick in dummy.  Instead she played a small diamond which went to the Jack and King.

I now had three heart winners but was struggling for my seventh trick.  I could not play a spade from the table nor a club from hand as I would have immediately gone down.  The correct play is to cash the Ace of diamonds in dummy, then take three heart winners, ending in hand.

Now exit with the 10 of diamonds.  North wins and cashes the Jack of spades but then has to concede a spade to dummy at the end.  All very close and quite fiddly.

I am not sure how the play and defence proceeded at other tables but the club switch at trick 2 was good though, providing Declarer ducks, he is in with a chance.

Three Wests were in 1NT just making, one East played in 1 and made an overtrick, one West played in 2 but went one off, one West played in 2♠ also going one off and one South captured the auction in 2♣ and went one off. 

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 12 April 2016

4-4-4-1 hands can be very awkward to bid and, sitting South on board 2, I couldn't think of anything better to open than 1.  

The above auction was against Jane and Anke who were sitting East-West and, looking at a hand with 20 points, I was not really expecting to hear the opponents bid to game.  However, distribution often more than makes up for lack of points and 4 can be made if played carefully.

All sorts of bidding is possible with this hand.  If South decides to open 1♠ it is possible that East-West don't compete at all.  It is also possible that if West overcalls in spades, this deters East from bidding due to his void in partner's suit.

Meanwhile North-South's only chance of game is 5♦ or 5♣ Which are both fine contracts without bad trump breaks.  When Jane doubled 5 I was reasonably sure she had the King of diamonds so, after the initial heart lead and continuation, I crossed to dummy with a club and finessed the diamond.  Anke won with the King and switched to a spade which Jane ruffed and I was one down.

My initial thoughts had been to cash the Ace of diamonds, then cross to dummy and lead a diamond towards my hand.  This would have been a better line and also surprisingly dropping the singleton King offside.  On best defence 5 would probably still fail as the 4-1 break is hard to handle.  Double dummy, you can play a club from dummy and finesse the 9 and lose just one heart and eventually one spade trick.  On the otherhand an opening spade lead always defeats 5 as East ruffs, returns a heart and gets a second spade ruff.

If East-West manage to capture the auction in hearts, I suppose South is likely to lead the Ace of spades.  This gets ruffed by Declarer who should play a heart to dummy followed by  a second spade, ruff in hand then another trump to dummy.  Now Declarer ruffs a third spade in hand with his last trump and exits with a club or diamond.

North-South can take a club and a diamond before both of these suits get ruffed in dummy.  Now play a fourth spade from dummy which South wins but dummy now has one remaining trump and two established master spades.  Declarer makes his contract with two spades and eight trump tricks.  However, if South decides not to choose a spade as his opening lead, Declarer can't now make 4...

After all those scenarios, the actual results on the traveller were as follows:

4♣ by South going one off; 5 by South going two off; 4 doubled by West, making with an overtrick; 2 by East making nine tricks; 4 by South going two off; and 5 doubled by South going one off.


Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 5 April 2016

Distribution often more than makes up for lack of points.  The above hand, board 16, certainly proves that - The high card points are distributed 23 to North-South and 17 to East-West, yet both can make a game.  North-South can make 10 tricks in hearts whilst East-West can make 10 tricks in spades but, as is often the case in Bridge, spades wins the bidding battle. 

Clearly the bidding will have varied tremendously.  The above auction was John and me against Tricia and Marian.  Marian held the East hand which, although not many points, has distributional strength and  became even more powerful when Tricia supported spades.  John doubled as he believed he held quick tricks in unbid suits but it wasn't to be - No defence could stop Marian from collecting her 10 tricks and +790 was a top for Marian and Tricia.

Looking at the hand the other way round, if North-South are allowed to play in hearts, they would be hard pushed not to lose a spade, a club and a diamond though it is possible to get away without losing a diamond at all, especially if East leads his singleton.

The results on the traveller were 4♠ by East making 10 tricks (three times), 4♠ doubled by East making 10 tricks. 5 by North going one off, 5 doubled by North going two off and 5  by North making 11 tricks.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 5 April 2016

Board 18 is a tricky hand for North-South to bid after East opens 1♠.  South is best to pass and lie in wait.  West passes and it is now for North to 'protect'.  

Some would play a bid of 2NT here as showing the minors.  Some may double for take-out which might make things interesting.  John and I play 2NT here as showing 19-21 points so John decided just to bid 2 for the time being.

Marian rebid her spades so, with the South hand, I doubled.  2♠ would have gone two down but as East-West were not vulnerable and we were, that is a cheap sacrifice if we can make a game.

When John took this out to 3♣ it was obvious he didn't have any spades so rather than bid 3NT, I felt my hand would play very well in clubs and jumped to 5♣.

Looking at all four hands you can see that 5♣ plays very well, losing just the Ace of diamonds as the Jack of hearts can be discarded on a top diamond.  3NT on the otherhand cannot make on a spade lead, as East will eventually get in with the Ace of diamonds and make lots of spade tricks.  All Declarer can do is to make one spade, two hearts and five clubs before East gets in.

This is not the easiest of hands to bid as the scores on the traveller reflect...

4♣ by North making 12 tricks; 3♣ by North making 12 tricks; 2♠ doubled by East going one off; 3♣ by North making 11 tricks; 3♠ by East going three off; 3♠ doubled by East going three off; and 5♣ by North making 11 tricks.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 29 March 2016

Board 20 was a fascinating hand.  It's full of paradoxes.  3NT by East-West cannot be defeated, though North-South have a very good sacrifice in 4 which only goes one off.  Yet if North-South bid hearts, surely East-West will bid to 5 which makes on anything other than a spade lead.  But why would South lead a spade?

Everything on this hand revolves around the bidding.  Unless East-West were playing a Strong No Trump, I would expect all Wests to have started off with 1♣.  What would you then bid on the North hand?  I expect most people either doubled for take-out or passed then East would bid diamonds.   If North doubles, South is fully justfied to compete in hearts, with a competitive auction now underway.

At my table, John and I were playing North-South against Marian and Tricia and the auction was as above.  Sitting North, John decided to bid 1♠ rather than to double.  A 1♠ overcall does of course normally promise a 5-card suit but in this case, John's 1♠ bid was tactical as he felt it was more appropriate to make a lead-directing bid.  

The consequence of this was quite amazing.  John's 1♠ overcall did nothing to enhance my hand so hearts were not mentioned at all, despite the 6-4 fit!  Had we competed in hearts, I would certainly have led a heart and 5 would have made.  However, I duly led a spade in response to John's spade overcall and we took the first three tricks with Ace, King and a ruff.  Very unlucky for Declarer.

At their table, Jeremy and James doubled 5 but as they had competed in hearts, James led a heart which Declarer ruffed, drew trumps and then lost just the Ace and King of spades.

The results on the traveller were as follows:

2NT by East making with three overtricks; 5 doubled by East making; 5 by East going one off (twice); 4 doubled by North going one off; 5 by East making with an overtrick and 3NT by West just making.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 29 March 2016

Jeremy Crouch highlighted board 2 to me as an interesting hand.  On the face of it, it looks fairly ordinary.  However, at Bridge we can nearly always liven things up.

The bidding sequence depicted above was at Jeremy's table where Marian opened 1♣.  Some Wests would pass and some would make a non-vulnerable 1 overcall.  Jeremy elected to bid 2 which he and Julia play as a 'weak jump overcall'.  

Over a 1 overcall, North has a choice of four bids - pass, double (showing values), 2 (natural) or 1NT (not ideal on that heart holding).  Over 2, North has to be that much braver to bid and most would elect to pass with maybe a few doubling to show values.

Over a 1 overcall a double tends to imply four spades so that is not ideal on North's hand.  2 feels a bit high on these scattered values so it's probably a choice between 1NT with a rather inadequate heart stop or pass.

If North bids anything, South should easily find his way to 3NT.  If North doesn't bid, South would double and North-South would hopefully still find their way to 3NT.

Over Jeremy's 2 overcall it was harder for North-South to get to 3NT.  They settled in 3♣ and had to lose one diamond, one heart and three trump tricks.

Interestingly enough the other six times North-South ended up in No Trumps, three times played by North and three times by South.  Four pairs reached game and two pairs ended up in 2NT.  Only one pair actually made more than eight tricks, yet nine tricks are there for the taking if played carefully.  Let's see how...

Anytime West made a heart overcall, a heart would probably have been led by East or West.  This would have been won by the Ace.  Now play a diamond to the Queen, noting West's play of the eight.  This suggests a potential shortage, especially if West made a heart overcall and East showed up with the Ace of diamonds.

East returns a heart which West should duck in case East can get in again to lead another heart.  The Queen wins and now the Jack of diamonds should be played.  West shows out, revealing the 4-1 diamond break and a marked finesse of East's 10.

Declarer is now home and dry with three spade tricks, two hearts, three diamonds and the Ace of clubs.  I suspect the shortfall was often not making three diamond tricks though Declarers who didn't receive a heart lead would have had to play a small heart towards the Queen and hope the King was with West.

Final contracts were 3NT by South going 2 off, 2NT by North making two overtricks; 3NT by North going one off; 2NT by South just making; 3NT by North going two off; 3♣ by South going one off and 3NT by South going two off.

The moral of the story is not to allow yourself to be talked out of 3NT by a weak non-vulnerable overcall when you have a combined 26 points between you and when playing No Trumps, play carefully, see where your tricks need to come from and watch the pips.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 22 March 2016

The above bidding is how the auction might have proceeded.  Who knows?  At the table I was watching, South didn't come into the bidding but East-West still didn't get to game.

With two good five card suits I think South should intervene and personally I prefer 2NT to a double due to the concentration of values in the two suits.  Another reason for bidding 2NT is that it is very pre-emptive and West may decide not to rebid his spades and, if he doesn't, East-West may miss the boat.  I think that, under pressure, West should be brave and bid and, on the basis of that, East can raise to 4♠.

On a likely heart lead and with the Queen of spades lying favourably, there is the potential for winning all 13 tricks.  The same applies if East plays in clubs.

There is no sacrifice for North-South in 5 as this goes 3 off for minus 800.

Scores on the traveller 3♠ by West making 10 tricks for +170; 3♠ by West making 12 tricks for +230; 4♠ by West making 12 tricks for +680; 5♣ by East making 13 tricks for +640; 4♠ by West going one off for minus 100; and 4♠ by West just making for +620.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 22 March 2016

This was board 23.  Not by any means the easiest of hands to bid and some Souths might even open 1♠ which makes it even harder to reach 6♣.

The above bidding is a possible sequence and no doubt there were many different auctions.  Some pushy Wests might even intervene with a 1 overcall and in fact about 9 tricks can be made by East-West with hearts as trumps.

In my suggested bidding above, the 2 bid is fourth suit forcing which I play as game forcing in this sequence.  This allows South to rebid his spades to show 5-5 and North to now support clubs without any risk of it being passed out.  South now cue bids his heart void and when North cue bids the Ace of diamonds, South might feel it's worth trying for a slam in clubs.

6♣ is a good slam but I'm not surprised nobody got there.  In fact three Norths tried 3NT which failed immediately on a heart lead.

Contracts on the traveller were as follows:

Two Souths played in 5♣ making with an overtrick; one North played in 5, also making with an overtrick; one North played in 3NT going one off and two Norths played in 3NT going two off.


Hand of the Week - Tuesday 15 March 2016

The above hand was board 20 and before we look at the play, let's look at the bidding.  John and I were playing North-South against Christina and Connie and the bidding at our table was as above though no doubt it varied considerably around the room.

Some Wests might have opened 4♠ but probably most chose to open 3♠.  As is often the case with pre-empts, this makes it difficult to intervene.  A double (for take-out) of 3♠ by North is sensible but had West opened 4♠, North would have been in more of a quandry as to whether to bid or pass.  After East's pass, South has to respond to partner's double.  3NT is one option but despite only four hearts headed by the nine, 4 is a better choice as partner is likely to have hearts, though nothing is certain in this kind of auction.

My 4 bid was passed round to Connie who made an imaginative bid of 4♠.  This really set the cat amongst the pigeons as nobody can be sure who the hand belongs to.  Is 4 making?  Is 4♠ making or a sacrifice?  Can North-South make 5?  Perhaps both sides can make game, then again perhaps neither side can!  It's very difficult to judge.

With the South hand, influenced by my poor heart suit and two good defensive cards, I decided to double though I wasn't at all confident I was doing the right thing.  I wasn't and 4♠ doubled made on the club finesse, Christina losing two top hearts and the Ace of trumps, her third club being discarded on the Ace of diamonds.

What about 5?  Well, if hearts is played by North, best defence would be Ace and another diamond which West ruffs, returns a club to East's Ace Queen followed by another diamond ruff.  This would have been three off for minus 800.  However, in practice a spade would almost certainly be led.  Declarer wins, draws trumps and must lose a diamond, two clubs and a spade so this would be two off for minus 500 which is a good save against 4♠ making vulnerable.

Despite what I have said about the fate of 5 doubled, only one pair ended there but they somehow managed to make it for a score of plus 850.  I can only assume that East must have played off both his Aces so Declarer then managed to discard a losing spade on a diamond.  Not the best defence!

On the travellers, 4♠ was doubled four times so East-West received a score of plus 790.  One unlucky West was not doubled so only received plus 620.

The most bizarre result on this board was East ending up in 5 doubled going six off for minus 1700.  I have no idea how the bidding must have gone here but that certainly wasn't the best spot!    

Interesting that East-West's undefeatable game was on a combined 18 high card points and two of those points, the Queen of hearts, were waste paper.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 8 March 2016

The above hand appeared at the February teams event in Romsey.  It was one of the wildest deals I have seen for a long time and the bidding was equally wild.

West decided to open 1 rather than 4 so my partner, John Sherringham, was able to get into the auction with a weak jump overcall in diamonds.  East now bid a rather offbeat 3NT and, sitting South, I had to think quickly and decided not to join in the bidding.  West then bid 4 but when East took it out into 5♣, it was obvious East-West had a misfit so I doubled.  The rest of the auction was a mission of self-destruction and I almost ran out of double cards!

John led the Jack of spades which Declarer won with the Ace but he was in trouble.  He played a small diamond towards dummy but John went up with the Ace and switched to a trump.  Declarer couldn't get to dummy and lost three more spade tricks so went off for minus 800.

Note that Declarer could have done one trick better by playing Ace of spades and ruffing a spade in dummy.  However, I think Declarer was hoping for a misdefence as if John hadn't gone up with the Ace of diamonds, 6 would have made - Declarer wins the diamond in dummy, takes a ruffing finesse by playing the King of clubs, then plays Ace of spades and ruffs a spade in dummy and discards one more spade on a top club, losing just one spade trick at the end.

At the other table, the bidding had started with West opening 4 which was passed round to South who bid 4♠.  This was doubled and went two off for minus 300, losing a spade, a heart, a diamond and two clubs.

Had East played in 3NT, South would probably lead the King of spades but there would have been eight heart tricks plus the Ace of spades.

Had East played in 5♣, if South leads the 10 of diamonds, North wins with the Ace and if he switches to a heart, Declarer is scuppered.  He cannot play a second heart as South can ruff.  He therefore has to lose another diamond and the Ace of trumps for one down.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 1 March 2016

Playing in a recent teams event in Romsey, John (Sherringham) opened 2 on the above hand.  This is known as a 'Lucas Two' and shows at least 5-5 in hearts and a minor and less than an opening hand, ie in the range of about 5-9 points.  John's hand was about as weak as it could be and certainly he would not have opened this vulnerable.

East bid 2NT which was said to show 16-18 points so I now had to think what, if anything, to bid with my 16 points.  With the intervention, I had no real aspirations to be in game.  Part of the Lucas continuation is to bid 2NT to find out which minor partner holds but this bid had been taken away from me so I bid 3♣ which asks partner to pass if he has clubs or correct if his second suit is diamonds.

When West now competed with 3, it was obvious to me this could only be on very minimal values.  His partner however may have expected a bit more as he bid 3NT.  Had my partner held diamonds, he would have doubled 3 so on the basis of that it was a given that clubs was his second suit.  I therefore doubled 3NT in the expectation that a club lead would get us off to a flying start.  West removed to 4.  Clearly he was very weak so I doubled that instead.

Interestingly enough if East had played in No Trumps without the diamond or club position being clarified, I quite probably would have guessed to lead a diamond from Kxx rather than a club from AQxx and that would not have been good.  A club lead against East's No Trumps holds the contract to five tricks.  A diamond lead on the other hand allows Declarer to set up the suit.  He plays back a diamond at trick 2 which South wins with the King.  He may find a club switch but he has already lost valuable timing and Declarer will make a minimum of five diamonds and a club.

Anyway, I digress.  Against a contract of 4 doubled, John led the Jack of hearts which was covered by dummy's Queen and my Ace.  I returned a heart at trick 2.  Declarer then played Ace and another trump.  I won with the King and played back my last trump.  Declarer won in hand and played a club towards the King which I won with the Ace.  I continued with the Queen of clubs which Declarer ruffed.  He now played a spade to dummy's Queen and my Ace.  Another club forced Declarer to ruff again.  He played another spade from hand which John won with the 10.  A heart now took out Declarer's last trump so John won the Ace of spades and made another club trick and 4 went 3 off for minus 500.

Declarer could have done one trick better if he had played on spades but was presumably hoping North held the Ace of clubs.

At the other table, North didn't open the bidding so East opened 1.  My hand doubled, West passed and North bid 2♣.  East doubled, South bid 3♣, West competed with 3 and North bid 4♣ which became the final contract.

East led the King of hearts and 4♣ by North made with an overtrick.

The Lucas Two can be quite powerful as not only is it pre-emptive, it often enables partner to evaluate the hand quickly but makes intervention from the opponents tricky though in this case, East-West bid themselves into trouble. 

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 23 February 2016

The above hand was played in hearts every time, three times by North and three times by South so clearly South did not always open the bidding.  The West hand was very distributional and at our table, Marjorie elected to overcall 1♠ over my 1.  John bid 4 which is a 'splinter' showing a singleton diamond and agreeing hearts.  Needless to say I showed no further interest and signed off in 4.

The opening lead was the King of Clubs.  As Declarer I could see the club lead was a killer as I had three losing clubs and the Ace of diamonds.  However, at trick 2 Carolyn overtook Marjorie's Queen with her Ace and played back a third club.  Unluckily for them and much to my relief, Marjorie did not hold the only outstanding trump so I won the third round of clubs, drew one round of trumps and lost the Ace of diamonds for my contract.

On the face of it, it looks like the defence gave a trick away but actually overtaking the Ace and trying for a ruff was the right thing to do.  If Carolyn hadn't taken the second round of clubs with her Ace, she never would have made it as when Marjorie later gets in with the Ace of diamonds, she cannot play another club so dummy's Jack of clubs would have got discarded on a diamond.

Making 4♥ looked like a good result but the traveller revealed two previous results, both 5 by North making 11 tricks - Presumably they had received a spade lead and when in with the Ace of diamonds, they must have continued with another spade and not found the club switch so Declarer was able to discard two losing clubs from dummy on the King and Jack of diamonds.

It is intriguing that despite having four losers in 4, there is no defence to beat the contract!  Even more intriguing is that despite all North-South pairs playing in hearts, East-West can actually make 4♠ the other way, losing just two diamonds and the Ace of trumps.  What a quirky hand!

Results on the traveller were 5 doubled by South going one off; 5 by South going one off; 4 by South just making; 5 by North making 11 tricks (twice) and 6 by North going two off. 

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 23 February 2016

On board 10 above, most pairs reached 3NT, twice by East and four times by West.  It is hard to play but also easy to misdefend.  First a quick note on the bidding.

A response of 2 to 1♠ should show a five card suit.  2 would have been better and may well have avoided the diamond lead.  East then had to choose between a rebid of 2♠ and 2NT.  Game is reached either way but this is what decided whether it was played by East or West.

Against John and me, Sally and Jill reached 3NT by West and John led a diamond which I won with the King.  As Sally had bid hearts, I switched to a club which created some communication problems between Declarer and dummy.

John won with the Ace then played back another club.  Sally won in hand and played a spade towards dummy's King, John playing low.  Sally continued with the queen which John won with the Ace and played a third club taken in dummy by the King.  Sally next played four rounds of hearts and then a small diamond.  John inserted the 8, taken by dummy's Ace but now held Q10 over Sally's J9 and 3NT was one off, losing three diamonds and two Aces.

What Declarer needs to do is to win the club return in hand and play a spade towards dummy, as Sally did, but then play four rounds of hearts, followed by another spade towards dummy.  The Ace of spades now beats thin air and the Queen of spades is the ninth trick, Declarer making two spades, four hearts, one diamond and two clubs.

If East plays in 3NT, South would lead a heart or a club.  Neither of these leads should defeat the contract as Declarer can take the same nine tricks by playing twice towards the King Queen of spades.

Three pairs went one off in 3NT and two pairs made 3NT, one with an overtrick.  One pair went one off in 4♠, presumably losing two spades, a diamond and a club.

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 16 February 2016

Sitting West on board 1, I was hoping to open 1NT.  However, the opposition were in 4♠ by the time it got round to me!

John found a good lead of the Jack of clubs which held the first trick.  He continued with the 2 which was covered by King and Ace.  Many players would now continue with the Queen but if you think for a second, that is not likely to be a good idea.  If partner had held J102, he should really play Jack, then 10.  He could have led from J2 but that is fairly unlikely in view of North's opening 3♠ bid.  In other words the third round of clubs will in all probability get ruffed by Declarer.

Looking at dummy, you are staring at a diamond suit that is ripe for discards.  Hoping partner has the Ace of diamonds, it is essential to switch to the King of hearts so that when he gets in with the Ace of diamonds, he can play another heart to you to defeat the contract.  If you don't knock out the Ace of hearts, you will not make a heart trick.

If you look at all four hands, you can see the effect of the Jack of clubs lead and a club continuation followed by a heart switch.  Every North bar one was allowed to make 4♠.  One North actually made 12 tricks so presumably didn't get a club lead (or switch) and managed to lose just the Ace of diamonds.

One pair reached 3NT which can be defeated on a heart or diamond lead though this also has the potential to be misdefended.  If North plays in 3NT, a club lead from West gives the 9th trick.  It has to be an unlikely diamond lead, won by East's Ace and an immediate switch to the Jack of clubs through Declarer's King.  Not so easy to find that defence.  The North-South pair in 3NT did go one down.  I wonder if this is what happened.  The more likely defence to beat 3NT is from a heart lead.  Although the hearts are likely to get blocked, the defence should nevertheless manage to make three hearts and two Aces after Declarer has made the Ace of hearts and seven spade tricks.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 16 February 2016

This was board 11 and with competitive hands like this, the final outcome is often dependent not only on your own bidding but what the opposition have bid too.  What you bid is often based on judgement rather than right or wrong.

After South opened 1, some Wests would double and then bid spades.  15 high card points is quite a lot to make a simple one level suit overcall.  However, because the spade suit is weak, I prefer to bid it first, then double later (if appropriate).

North bid 1NT and South rebid diamonds.  With reasonable holdings in the other two suits, I now doubled.

Looking at the East hand, it is weak and doesn't like spades so unless West manages to compete with a double, East will not bid.  The double by West second time round is still for take-out so with both of the other two suits, East is now much more interested in joining in.  In fact 3 was a fine contract, managing to lose just three tricks on a misdefence but 9 tricks are always there.

On the traveller this was the only plus score for East-West as one West sent three off in 2♠, hardly surprising on a 5-1 fit, and all other contracts were diamonds by South who made 9 or 10 tricks.

As you can see by looking at all four hands, 3 by East-West is a good spot as not only does it make, it pushes North-South into 4 if they dare... 

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 9 February 2016

Board 8 was quite an extraordinary hand.  West (Jeremy Crouch) opened 4 which was passed round to me sitting South.  Not sure what I was supposed to do with that hand but not wanting to be accused of being a wimp, I took a flyer and bid 4♠.

Jeremy led the King of hearts and I was pleased with dummy.  I won with the Ace, ran the Jack of spades at trick 2, then the 10 at trick 3, Julia ducking both times.  Next I played a heart which Jeremy won and switched to the Ace of diamonds followed by a small diamond.  I played low from dummy and ruffed Julia's 10.  Then I drew the last trump on which Jeremy discarded a small diamond.

Time for a quick think...  With Jeremy having opened 4, he must have seven of them, plus he had already shown up with two spades and three diamonds so he could not have more than one club.  I therefore played a club towards dummy in case he had a singleton honour.  In fact he was void so I played the 10 from dummy to avoid losing two club tricks.  Julia won with the Jack but there was no defence as I could play another club to dummy's King and play one back through Julia towards my Ace nine.

Ten tricks were made, losing a heart, a diamond and a club.  Perhaps not surprisingly nobody else was in spades as everyone was in hearts by West, making 8 or 9 tricks.  One West was in 3 and three others were in 4.  However, the only way to defeat 4 is for North to find a diamond lead, then as soon as trumps are played, rise with the Ace and play another diamond which South can ruff before cashing two spades.  I would be surprised if that defence happened every time and if it didn't, all Declarer would have had to have done was to finnesse the diamond through North after drawing trumps.

Back to the 4♠ contract, Jeremy pointed out to me that it could have been defeated... If West underleads the Ace of diamonds at trick 1, East wins with the King, returns a club which West ruffs and switches to the King of hearts.  The defence will eventually make a club trick and can then cash a heart winner.  Not an easy defence to find!!

It is also interesting to note that if you transpose the North and East hands, North-South can still make 4♠ whilst East-West would lose two spades and two diamonds in 4♥ so this hand really was anybody's game.

Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 9 February 2016

All pairs except one reached 6♣ or 6NT on board 21 and they all went down when the defenders took their Ace and King of spades.

Fact is that when you discover you have a big club fit and 32 points between you, it's quite hard to stay out of a slam.  The above bidding is just a suggestion of how 6♣ might have been avoided but with hands like this, depending on system and partnership understanding, players will bid in various different ways.  For instance, you would have to be sure that the jump to 3♣ is taken by partner as forcing.  Certainly taking 3NT out into 4♣ should be forcing and show slam interest but again you would probably not want to bid this if you thought partner might pass.  

Without a few such refinements, the bidding is likely to proceed very quickly.  Without any opportunity to cue bid and discover two top spade losers, there is no way of knowing not to bid a slam so you might as well just bid it with your eyes closed and fingers crossed under the table, hoping it's your lucky day!

Against Jeremy and me, the bidding went 1♣ - 1 - 1NT - 6♣.  Although unscientific, this could have worked out very well as it gave no real information away and it is by no means a foregone conclusion that there will be a spade lead.

I was on lead with the South hand and decided to lead the Ace of spades and, on partner's encouragement, continue with a second one.  I was not at all sure this was the right thing to do but it turned out lucky as if you don't find a spade lead, a spade loser is discarded on a diamond and 6♣ is there for the taking.

There are some schools of thought that leading an Ace against a slam is not a good thing to do but clearly nobody belonged to that school as all defenders managed to take their two tricks.

The best 'legitimate' score is 3NT with overtricks as that scores better than 5♣ but not surprisingly, nobody ended up in that.

Slams can be notoriously hard to bid and there can be an element of luck, depending on the bidding, opening lead and lie of the cards.  It is probably more common to miss a slam than to bid one that isn't there but this hand is particularly ironic as East-West have the values for a slam.  With careful cue bidding they can avoid being in it but on the otherhand, if they just take a punt, and don't pinpoint their weakness, 6♣ will make if the defenders do not find a spade lead.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 2 February 2016

On board 17, the above bidding was not typical as John opened a 10-12 1NT on the North hand which I suspect everyone else will have passed. A more normal auction would have started with South opening 1, West overcalling 2♣  then North possibly bidding 2NT or 3 which might have ended the auction.

Against 3NT, with West's double of Stayman, East is likely to lead the 9 of clubs.  The best attack however is hearts though providing Declarer holds up the Ace until the third round, there is nothing the defence can do to defeat it.  There are four diamonds, three spades, the Ace of hearts and a club to take, the losers being two hearts and two minor suit Aces.

If South plays in diamonds, the number of tricks the defence makes depends on whether they find a heart lead or switch.  If they do, East-West can make two hearts and the two minor suit Aces.  If they don't, Declarer can make 10 tricks by discarding one of dummy's hearts on the King of spades.

If West plays in clubs, on top notch defence he could lose three spade tricks, the Ace of hearts, a spade overruff and two further club winners (that's 7 tricks).  In practice Declarer is more likely to lose 6 tricks which is 2 down if he gets to 3♣.

On the score sheet there were four pairs in diamonds, two making 9 tricks and two making 10 and one West got too high and went 3 off doubled in 4♣. 

Hand of the Week no 1 - Tuesday 26 January 2016

Other than the opening bid, the bidding on the above hand is likely to have been different at just about every table as when you have distribution, point count is much less relevant.

The bidding at our table was as above.  I was sitting West and opted to overcall 1♠.  16 points felt a bit on the high side for an ordinary overcall, albeit vulnerable, but neither double nor 1NT seemed ideal either.  Had I been sitting North I would certainly not have passed.  It's only 7 points in high card values but with this tremendous distribution, you need to get in there quickly so I would have bid 2 intending to bid diamonds next time if appropriate.  Despite having only two Jacks, East is right to support partner's spades as this makes it harder for the opponents to get their act together.

As North did not respond, South couldn't easily bid again.  Instead, the West hand, hoping partner has a little more for his 2♠ bid might be interested in going on.  With the lack of bidding from the opponents, I expected my partner to have a bit more for his 2♠ so I bid 3♣ which shows a good hand and asks partner for more information.  North now rather belatedly piped up with 3 and when East bid 3♠ to show no interest, this was passed round to North who now bid 4.  This was passed round to me so believing my King of diamonds would be well placed, I thought 4♠ might have a chance.

West led a singleton club against 4♠ which I won in hand, then played the Ace of spades which revealed a three nil trump break.  I played a second club which South won, followed by Ace and King of hearts.  I was a little surprised at this, seeing North had bid hearts twice but it was now obvious my King of diamonds was not as well placed as I had hoped.  Sure enough a diamond switch went through my King into North's Ace Queen so 4♠ was two off vulnerable for minus 200.

However, the flip side of all that was a very good lie of the cards if North-South were playing in hearts.  North's spade void meant no loser there, there were no trump losers, and at most one club and one diamond loser.  Actually, as the cards lie, you can make 12 tricks in hearts, though nobody did - A spade lead is likely which you ruff in hand.  If you now play a club to the King and Ace, when you get in again, you can draw trumps in two rounds, then all the clubs come tumbling down and you can discard all your losing diamonds for 12 tricks.  You don't even need to rely on the diamond finesse!

Results on the traveller were 4 plus 1 by South for +450, 4♣ doubled plus 2 by North for +790, 3 plus 3 by North for +230, 4♠ minus 2 for +200, 5♣ just making by South for +400 and 5 minus 1 by North for +50 to East-West.

The moral of the story is if you have distribution, points go out of the window and you must try to compete if you possibly can.  North came in too late which allowed East-West to get their act together instead of North-South.


Hand of the Week no 2 - Tuesday 26 January 2016

A couple of pairs reached 3NT on the above hand (board 10) which is not a great contract.  If the diamonds had not been 4-4 and the club finesse right, 3NT would have had no chance but even with those suits lying favourably, 3NT still fails on reasonable defence.

4 is a good contract but the 4-1 break in hearts makes Declarer's task much more challenging.  At my table Declarer misplayed and I then misdefended so 4 made.

Playing against Jill and Sally, I led a small diamond which John won with the Ace and Sally won the return with her King.  She then played Ace and Queen of trumps from hand, revealing the unfortunate trump break.  Good idea to abandon trumps at this stage and Sally switched to the Jack of clubs which was covered (correctly) by the King and Ace.  Now for some options.  Sally could have discarded a diamond on the Queen of clubs which would have been the best thing to do at this stage.  However, she played a small spade to her King.  The Jack would have been better as it unblocks the suit.

Anyway I won with the Ace and played a spade which John ruffed but Sally was then able to draw trumps and set up her clubs to discard losing spades.  Much better would have been to play the Queen of diamonds.  Declarer is forced to ruff in dummy but is now short of entries for the clubs as only the King of trumps remains on the table whilst East still has Jack and ten.  If Declarer plays the King of hearts, there is no entry back to dummy's clubs and if Declarer doesn't play the King of trumps, East will eventually ruff the Jack of spades and play back a trump to dummy's King.  Declarer can cash the Queen of clubs but East still has the 10 so the suit is not set up.  Declarer will have to lose a spade at the end and go one off. 

To make the contract, Declarer must discard a losing diamond on the Queen of clubs at trick 6, then play the Jack of spades.  Providing Declarer plays carefully, no defence can now beat the contract and Declarer can only lose two Aces and a trump.  Fascinating hand.


Disaster of the Week - Tuesday 26 January 2016

Board 8 is a good example of the consequence of a poor opening lead and how Declarer can take advantage of it.

First a few comments about the bidding...

A take-out double by North over West's opening 1 is not advisable when you hold length in the suit.  North would have been better to pass otherwise to make a dubious 1NT overcall.  Without the double  East would have bid 2 so a jump to 3 is pre-emptive.  Nevertheless West felt strong enough to bid on to game.

4 would actually have been a sound contract had there not been an unlucky trump break.  

Looking at the North hand, North should be reasonably confident of a trick in each suit and the King of clubs lead is by far the best choice.  However, North decided on the Ace of diamonds, continuing with another diamond.  Declarer played the 10 from dummy, South covered with the Jack which was won by the King.  If South was paying attention, he had a count of the diamonds and would not have covered the 10, so the poor opening lead was exacerbated by another defensive error. 

Declarer started drawing trumps, revealing a nasty break so switched to the Queen of spades which North won with the Ace.  North now switched to the King of clubs but it was too late and Declarer showed no mercy and took full advantage of the misdefence.

Declarer won the club in hand, played another top trump, then one to dummy's Ace, leaving North with one master trump.  Now in dummy, Declarer played a diamond, discarding his last club.  North ruffed and played the Queen of clubs but Declarer ruffed in hand, ruffed a spade with dummy's last trump then discarded his remaining spade losers on dummy's diamonds, leaving a winning trump for the last trick.  

Declarer therefore lost a spade, a diamond and a trump but managed to avoid a club loser.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 19 January 2016

Board 11 was a competitive auction.  Hands like these are notoriously hard to judge as you are never quite sure whether to defend or bid once more.

The bidding at my table was as above but no doubt it varied considerably as there were many different final contracts on the traveller.  John and I were playing against Roland and Janet and, sitting South, I had to decide what to do after Janet's 4♠.  Could we make 5 our way and, if not, would 5 be a good sacrifice against 4♠?  Did we have enough defence to beat 4♠ and, if so, should I double it?

All very difficult to evaluate...  In defence, my spades may be nothing more than nuisance value and the hearts are not likely to make many tricks.  On the otherhand, in 5 my trump holding looks good, the King of diamonds and singleton club should be useful and with any luck partner might be void in spades, singleton at most.  I therefore decided to bid 5.  Who knows, this might push the opposition to bidding 5♠!

Well it didn't and in 5 we had three losers, Ace of clubs, Ace of trumps and a spade.  One off was a fairly poor result as 4♠ has four losers, a heart, a diamond and two clubs so 4♠ was a good sacrifice against 4 and 5 is what is known in the trade as a 'phantom'!

Both sides have very marginal hands and some minor changes would mean North-South could make 5 and East-West 4♠ Which makes it difficult to judge when to stop.

The results on the traveller were 4♠ doubled by East going one off (this happened twice), 4♠ by East going two off (this also happened twice), 3♠ by East making 10 tricks, 4♠ by East making 10 tricks (a top for East-West), 3 by North making with an overtrick (a top for North-South) and 5 by North going one off.

The par contract is 4♠ doubled by East going one down.

Hand of the Week - Tuesday 12 January 2016

On the above hand, board 10, after West opened and rebid hearts, East took an optimistic view and landed West in a rather precarious 4.  North could have made a take-out double over 1 but decided not to.

Looking at all four hands, you can see there are two spade and two club losers and that is even with the Ace of clubs sitting favourably.  A spade lead defeats the contract.  However, the King of Diamonds is a much more attractive and safer lead.

Declarer won and played three rounds of trumps, ending in dummy.  A club was now played towards the king and South put up the Ace.  This is where the defence becomes more difficult.  South led back a diamond but Declarer ruffed, then played King and another club.  North won with the Queen and switched to a small spade but it was far too late.  Dummy's Ace won the trick and Declarer's two other spade losers were discarded on dummy's last two clubs and 4 was made with an overtrick!

South missed an opportunity.  When in with the Ace of clubs, instead of playing a diamond back, South needs to switch to a spade so that when partner gets in with a second club, the defence can take a spade for the setting trick.

Switching to a spade rather than returning partner's suit may not seem the obvious thing to do but South could make a few calculated guesses - Holding only two clubs, there is every chance partner may  also hold a club winner and holding six diamonds, it is hardly surprising Declarer only had a singleton.  The bidding sequence marks the opposition with a deficit of points for their game so a spade switch to knock out the Ace (and access to the clubs) is essential.

Conceding 4 with an overtrick was a bottom for North-South.  Defeating 4 would have been a top as the other results were 2 + 1 by West, 2 + 3 by West, 4 just making by West, 3 +1 by West and 4 by South going one-off (twice), a good sacrifice against 3 providing it is not doubled.  The par result on this board would have been a part-score in hearts by West making nine tricks for +140.


Hand of the Week - Tuesday 5 January 2016

There was evidently a wide variety of bidding on board 14 as only two pairs reached 4 which is a thinnish but not unreasonable contract.

Looking at the North-South hands in isolation, there are potentially two spade losers, maybe a trump loser, probably only one diamond and possibly one club.

I was one of the Declarers in 4 after the above auction and on a spade lead, prospects at least looked a little more rosy as there was now only one spade loser.  The Queen of spades was led, taken by the Ace and a spade returned which I won in hand with the King, West playing the ten.

The most promising line looked to play diamonds from dummy so at trick 2 I played a small trump from hand.  I was intending to play the Ace from dummy but when West played the nine, I had a rethink.  This was likely to be a singleton or Q9.  Hoping for the latter, I decided to finesse the ten which lost to East's Queen.  East played back a small trump which I won in hand with the six, West showing out, revealing the 4-1 trump break.

There was quite a lot of work to do!  I now played a club to dummy's King followed by the 10 of diamonds which I ran round to West's King.  West played back a diamond which went to East's Queen and my Ace.

At this stage Declarer cannot afford to draw the two outstanding trumps as there are otherwise a number of losers with no trumps left to ruff them.  Noting that dummy's Ace and eight opposite your King and Jack are the four top trumps, the thing to do next is to embark on a cross-ruff.  

First play a third round of diamonds, discarding a club from dummy on your Jack, then play your Ace of clubs. Now ruff a club in dummy, a spade in hand, a diamond in dummy and finally the last spade in hand.  Poor East had to underruff the last two tricks and 4 was made, losing the Ace of spades, Queen of trumps and King of diamonds.  Declarer makes one spade, two diamonds, two clubs and five heart tricks.

From a defender's point of view 4 is not easy to defend either.  Dick made the best lead of the Queen of spades as any other suit is helpful to Declarer.   When East (Mary) got in with the Queen of trumps, she continued with another trump.  A spade continuation would have got ruffed, setting up dummy's nine for a discard, a diamond switch would have helped Declarer and a club switch would have done no real damage providing Declarer plays low from hand.

Results on the traveller were as follows: 1 by South just making, 1NT by North just making, 1NT by South making nine tricks, 4 by North making, 2 by North making ten tricks, 2 by South making nine tricks and 4 by North going one off.