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Lesson / Assisted Play
Lesson / Assisted Play

Thursday afternoons 1.30–4.00

Lessons (£10 pp) alternate with Assisted Play sessions (£7 pp)

Tutors: Christine MacFarlane, Trevor Purches

1st & 3rd Thursdays Lesson – all other Thursdays Assisted Play

For more information, contact Christine.macf@btinternet.com

Mini-lesson + Assisted Play
Mini-lesson + Assisted Play

Monday evenings 6.45–9.30

Each session starts with a short discussion of one of last week's hands, followed by 14 hands of assisted play.

Tutors: Christine MacFarlane, Chris Jones and Trevor Purches.

Cost: £7 pp, including refreshments

For more information, contact Christine.macf@btinternet.com or chris@boxbridge.co.uk

Past hands of the week
Hand of the week 17 November 2016

Delayed interference + cunning defence

This hand's got a bit of everything, as we discovered during last week's workshop.

You're sitting North and West opens 1. You have a very pleasant balanced 14-count on which you would have opened 1NT - what to do? Well, you haven't got a 5-card suit to overcall, nor are you strong enough to overcall 1NT (15-17). Takeout double, maybe? No - too dangerous! What if partner goes jumping all over the place in spades? So, for the moment, pass. It goes against the grain, but you may get a chance to get into the auction later.

As indeed you do. East bids 1♠ and West rebids his diamonds: 2. Now you can make your takeout double, promising just hearts and clubs. Perfect. East now passes and your partner bids 3♣ (not promising very much - it's a forced bid, after all). Not to be outdone, West persists with 3 (must be a long suit!) and you decide to pass: it looks as if the points are fairly evenly divided and you must have a good chance of defeating 3 - and 4♣ would be a bit optimistic.

The play

What to lead? Hmm. Partner didn't bid hearts after your double, so presumably has no more than 3. If she only has 2, there might be a ruff to be had. As you have the AK it does no harm to have a go (and take a look at dummy while you still have the lead) so you lead the K (I play that leading the King asks partner to give a count of her holding in the suit). Dummy goes down and partner plays the 10 - that looks like the start of a high-low play showing just 2 hearts.

So far so good. Continue with the A. Partner now plays the 9, confirming the doubleton. Time to give partner a ruff. But wait! What do you want her to lead back after the ruff? A spade would be good. So lead the 8 (rather than the 5) asking partner to return the higher-ranking of the other two suits (see Trevor's upcoming signals workshop). Partner ruffs with the 4, cashes the ♠A and leads a second spade to your ♠K.

Wow! That's 5 tricks already and declarer's one off. Presumably that's it, then. But maybe not. Look at your trump holding: 10xx. Supposing partner has a trump honour, even the humble J? Let's lead the last heart and find out.

You lead the 5 and partner trumps dummy's J with the J. Declarer has to overruff with his Q ... and you're now going to make a 6th trick with your 10. Magic! You've just executed a cunning technique called a 'trump promotion'.

Have a look at the complete deal and you'll see that once declarer can get the lead he has 8 tricks: 7 diamonds and the ♣A. Trouble is, he doesn't get the lead until it's too late and he ends up going two off for a very good NS score.

Conclusion

So there you are. By coming in late in the auction you managed to push EW too high, and then you used three separate defensive techniques to take them off: asking partner for a count (leading to a ruff), making a 'suit preference' play (asking for a spade lead back) and then executing a trump promotion to give you a trump trick. And partner, alert as always, came up with the goods every time. Doesn't get much better than that.

Hand of the week 1 September 2016

In plain English

Bidding is a way of talking to your partner which the opposition are sometimes rude enough to interrupt. Here, for example, is a short 'conversation' involving all four players. But what does it mean in plain English? Read on ...


South

PASS

Nothing to say for now.

West

PASS

Me neither.

North

PASS

Nor me.

East

1 

Up to me then. I have at least 4 hearts (and no longer suit) and opening points – anything from 11 to 19 points.

South

1♠ 

I wasn’t strong enough to open, partner, but I have points and a reasonable 5-card spade suit (only 5 – if I’d had 6 I would have opened a weak 2♠)

West

3 

I’ve got 4 hearts with you, partner. I would probably only have raised you to 2, but with that overcall I’ll stretch it a bit.

North

3♠ 

I’m not strong, but I have 4 spades with you and a singleton in their suit. What the hell.

East

4  

I realise that you might be stretching a bit, partner, but I’m a pretty good 6-loser hand here with a singleton in their suit, so I'm hoping we can make game.

South

PASS

Pass. I reckon I’ve bid my hand. Nothing more to say. Up to you, partner.

West

PASS

Good luck, partner.

North

PASS

if we weren’t vulnerable, I’d probably sacrifice in 4♠. But they’d be sure to double it and it could be too expensive.

 


How does it play?

South is always going to make a heart trick and NS will also make a spade trick and the A. But that's it.

EW will make 4 trump tricks, 3 club tricks (after knocking out the A), 2 diamond tricks and a diamond ruff in dummy. 10 tricks and 620 points in the bag.

And if NS sacrifice in 4X? Well, if you can blag 8 tricks for -500 you're doing well. But if you're 3 off that'll cost -800. Not nice.

A couple of further notes on the bidding

Some of these also (handily) came up in last week's HOTW - have a look back to refresh your memory.

  • Just because you can't bid NOW doesn't mean you can't have a go later. North is too weak to open the bidding but has a perfectly good 1♠ overcall over East's opening 1. The suit quality (5 cards + 2 honours = 7) is just good enough for an overcall at the 1 level.
     
  • West's raise to 3♥ is preemptive. With a better hand (a 'real' raise to 3) West would have 'bid their suit' – 2♠ – instead of the rather weaker direct raise to 3. This is (unhelpfully) known as the 'unassuming cue bid'. If you're interested there are a couple of useful HOTWs about it here (27 Jan and 13 April 2016).
     
  • North's raise to 3♠: a useful rule of thumb in a competitive situation like this, particularly when you're the weaker pair, is to bid to the level of your fit: you know South has 5 spades and you have 4. 5 + 4 = 9 so bid to make 9 tricks: 3♠.
     
  • If NS do decide to go on 4♠, it's absolutely imperative for East or West to double for penalties. If you listen back to the start of NS's conversation, they both PASSed. So they haven't got a cat in Hell's chance of making 4♠, have they? The auction isn't just about talking to your partner – you have to eavesdrop on the opposition as well!
Hand of the week 25 August 2016

The 9th trick

We spent most of the last session looking at bidding, so I thought we'd try our luck with a bit of declarer play on one of the hands. (I've added some bidding notes at the end too, to refresh your memory.)

You're North trying to make 3♠. East leads her ♣K, which wins the trick, and continues with a small club to West's Ace, which you ruff. By now you've probably sat and had a quick think about how many tricks you're going to make (of course you have!) and you can see six trump tricks in all (assuming the spades break kindly) plus your two red Aces. Eight tricks. Where's the 9th going to come from? Think before you read on ...

Here's a hint. You've all heard of the man walking the Embankment because he failed to clear the opponents' trumps. Clearing their trumps is essential, to stop them ruffing your winners, and the accepted mantra is: Clear trumps immediately unless you have a good reason to delay it till later. By now you might have spotted just such a good reason on this hand. Have you?

OK. You have only two diamonds in dummy, but you have 4 in your hand. If, at trick 3, you cash your A and then give them a diamond trick, you will be able to ruff a diamond in dummy. And because dummy is the SHORT trump hand, the ruff will generate an extra trump trick: your 9th trick. Let's try it.

Win trick 3 with the A and then lead a small diamond. Say East wins. She realises what you're up to and leads a trump (hoping her partner has the ♠A and can clear dummy's trumps) but no such luck. You win in your hand and lead a third diamond, which you ruff with dummy's last trump. The rest is simple. Back to your hand with a club ruff, clear trumps (now you've achieved your 'good reason' you need to get rid of their trumps pronto!) and cash your A. 3♠ bid and made!

I know it's obvious, but you can see why you had to ruff your diamond before clearing trumps: if you clear trumps first you won't have any trumps in dummy to ruff with! 

On Wednesday evening ...

... they seem to know all about ruffing in the short suit. All but two of the 14 pairs in spades made 9 tricks (and one, Heaven knows how, made 11).

Interestingly, though, the little chart says you can only make EIGHT tricks in spades. How come? How can the defence stop you? The answer is: by leading a trump at trick 1. That gets rid of one of dummy's two trumps. Then when EW come in with their diamond trick, they simply lead a second trump and you can say goodbye to your diamond ruff. Me? In East's seat I would have led the ♣K too. But maybe dummy's little diamond doubleton would have alerted me to the danger and I might have switched to a trump at trick 2. Who knows?

Notes on the bidding

After North's opening 1♠ bid, East is OK to overcall 2♣ because her suit passes the suit quality test. 5 cards + 3 honours = 8 is good enough for a level-2 overcall.

To show her hearts, South would need 10 points (maybe 9 with such a nice suit): that's the minimum needed to respond with '2 over 1'. Without East's overcall, she would have responded 1NT (the dustbin bid) but the overcall allows her to make a negative double ('I have enough points to respond, partner, and at least 4 of any unbid major – ie hearts in this case')

West, who knows her partner has at least 5 clubs, can now raise her to 3♣ (raising to the level of the fit: 5 + 4 = 9 so bid to make 9 tricks). She's vulnerable, true, but she also has a chunky 10 points, which makes her worth her bid.

North, who has no interest in partner's hearts, a decent 6-card spade suit and a singleton in the opponents' suit, punts 3♠ and the opposition, having followed Ron Klinger's advice to Force them up to the 3-level and leave them there, pass.

It only remains to lead a trump (or switch to a trump at trick 2) and take declarer one off for a magnificent top – as two EW pairs did on Wednesday evening. Well done them!

Hand of the week 04 August 2016

Two for the price of one

The negative double is one of my favourite teaching topics (groan) ... for the dual reason that (a) it comes up a LOT and (b) it's often forgotten. It's available to opener's partner after there's been interference, and it simply means

'Partner, I have enough points to respond (so anything between 6 and 20) at least 4 of any unbid major.'

Very handy if your partner opens 1 and the opposition overcall 1♠ - dammit, I wanted to bid 1 and now I can't. They've pinched my bid. What can I do? Ah, of course: DOUBLE. Tells partner that I have 4 hearts.

Sometimes, as here, you can get twice the value. Partner's opened 1♣, they've overcalled 1 ... and you have JUST the right hand for a negative double, because you have 4 hearts AND 4 spades. A simple double gets across vital information about BOTH majors in a single bid.

How does it go? East raises her partner to 3, but with a now known spade fit and just 6 losers South can confidently bid 3♠, inviting partner to game. North, who has a very ordinary 7-count, isn't interested in game so turns down the invitation, content to make 140 for 9 tricks. And if EW are foolish enough to venture as high as 4 North can double for penalties (and collect 300 for 4♦X two off).

The play

How does it go? Game looks easy, but actually doesn't make on the best defence. West leads her singleton J, losing to South's Q But when West comes in with her A she can put East in with a low diamond. A high club from East ensures a further two tricks (one club trick and one club ruff), giving EW 4 tricks in all.

​​Further info

There's a very useful article about NEGATIVE DOUBLES by Bernard McGee on the Mr Bridge website. To reach it click  HERE :

And if you'd like to know more about COUNTING YOUR LOSERS there's something on my Boxbridge website. Click  HERE  for that.

Hand of the week 28 July 2016

Weak jump overcall

Most of you play an opening 'weak two' in the major suits. 2, for example, shows a 6-card heart suit with 5-9 points (maybe 6-10 vulnerable). It's a great way of taking away opponents' bidding space and generally getting in the way. Not so many are aware that you can make the same bid as an overcall – actually, a jump overcall. On this hand, for instance, North opens 1♣ and East overcalls 2♠ – it's a 'jump' overcall because one spade is also available as an overcall – and it shows, you've guessed it, a 6-card suit and 5-9 points. 

Why do it? Same reason – it gets in the way and takes up the opponents' bidding space. And it works a treat here. South now has to bid 3 (instead of just 1) and North will now be forced to bid 3NT. What now? South will either leave it or (if she's worried about the spades) convert to 4.

So what? you may ask. 3NT makes 9 tricks and 4 makes 11. You haven't got in the way at all! Or have you? Take a closer look and you'll see that NS can make a grand slam in clubs – and East's 2♠ overcall may well have prevented their opponents from finding it. 

Supposing East doesn't bid. After partner's opening 1♣ South will reply 1 (no need to go higher – it's forcing) and North will rebid 2♣. 'Hmm,' thinks South. 'We have a 9-card club fit, and if my partner has an ace or two we could well have a slam on here ...' A simple way of finding out would be to bid 4NT Blackwood, which would allow South to discover that North has TWO aces plus the KING of trumps and also (if we get sophisticated) the QUEEN of trumps as well. No trouble finding a slam with that sort of information ...

... but East's 2♠ bid makes that a whole lot more difficult. It stops NS from agreeing their club fit and, more important, it makes them worry about getting into the right game ... and so the idea of the slam kinda fades away.

Moral: Chat with your partner and agree about what a jump overcall would mean in your system. It will always show a 6-card suit, and most pairs play it as weak, as EW did on this hand. I recommend that you do the same.

​​In Bath P & L and Bath 'proper'

In Bath P & L two pairs played in 3NT (one sadly going one off). The other pair stopped in 3♣ making all 13 tricks – well, at least they found the right suit!

In Bath 'proper', most people were in 3NT or 4. Just one pair bid 6♣ (and made 13 tricks). Another pair, ridiculously, bid and made 6 – how, only God knows, as West was sitting behind the A with KQ4 and therefore, you would have thought, can't fail to make two trump tricks. That's bridge for you.

Hand of the week 16th June 2016

Jump shift

What do you do when partner opens and you've got a strong hand and a suit of your own? Normally, it's best simply to bid it and see what happens next. Partner has to bid again and her rebid will usually give you enough information to know what to do next.

Sometimes – not very often, mind – you should JUMP in your suit, and here North has one of those rare hands. Her 3 response (a 'jump shift' into another suit) means 'I've got one hell of a heart suit here, partner, and at least enough points for game. I'm interested in looking for a slam.'

So far so good. What happens next?

South: 4  South has nice spades, but also good support for partner's (at least) 6-card heart suit. So raises to game. 

North: 5♣  North reckons that if partner has the A, a heart slam is on. So she makes a cue-bid. (A what? Well, they've agreed game in hearts. So bidding any other suit now shows the Ace.) So 5♣ means 'I have the ♣A.' You're hoping that South will bid 5, showing the A ...

South: 5  ... and she does!

North: 6  So North bids the slam.

Note   Why doesn't North bid 4NT (Blackwood) instead of cue-bidding? Then South will show both missing Aces, and you might then get to the GRAND slam? True. BUT supposing South only shows ONE ace? Is it the A or the A? No way of telling. And it's the Ace of DIAMONDS that North is interested in – if the opposition have AK the slam will go off! Cue-bidding, on the other hand, allows her to ask specifically about the A. Sure, there are ways of getting to the Grand Slam, but hey, the jump shift and cue-bids are quite enough for one short article!
 

Can you make 13 tricks?

OK. You're North. East leads a trump against your 6 contract. You can see 7 heart tricks, 2 club tricks and have two more Aces: that's 11 tricks. You can actually make all 13. How are you going to do it? Where are the other two tricks coming from? When you've made a plan, click on 'Show Answer', below.

 

 There are two alternative possibilities:

1   RUFF TWO DIAMONDS IN DUMMY

  • Win the trump trick in your hand and lead a diamond to dummy's Ace. Now dummy's out of diamonds but still has TWO trumps.
  • Go back to your hand with a club (to the QUEEN – you will want to do it again in a minute).
  • Lead a diamond and ruff it with the 5
  • Now go back to your hand again with a club to the Ace.
  • lead your last diamond and ruff it with the J (even if East or West is now out of diamonds, they can't overruff the J!)
  • Now lead your ♠A and ruff a spade (with a HIGH trump, just in case) and bang out all your trumps from the top. 13 tricks.
     

2   SET UP DUMMY'S LONG SPADES

  • Win the trump trick in your hand. You are now going to get rid of all the opposition's spades. So ...
  • ... lead a spade to dummy's Ace.
  • Lead a small spade and ruff it HIGH. Both players follow suit. Only the ♠K left out there now!
  • Lead a small trump to dummy's J (that's all the defenders' trumps gone)
  • Ruff another spade in your hand. The ♠K falls.
  • Now dummy's remaining spades are all good, so go over to dummy with the A or the ♣K and lead a couple of spades, throwing your two losing diamonds. Again, 13 tricks.
     

What happened in Devizes?

Nearly all the 17 tables reached a small slam and just ONE pair found the Grand slam in hearts. All the ones in hearts made 13 tricks. Those in spades (why did they bother?) made just 12, and those in NT also made 12. So 6 +1 was a good score, beaten only by 7 =.

Hand of the week 2nd June 2016

Ruffing finesse

Here's a fun technique that you can sometimes use in a suit contract. West has led a small club against your 4 contract and East's ♣J forces you to win with the Ace. What next?

Well, those spades in dummy will be a handy source of tricks once you've got rid of their ♠K (and cleared their trumps). Normally, you'd lead a small spade from your hand towards the ♠AQ, hoping that West has the ♠K and intending to finesse, but you can't do that here because you haven't got any small spades to lead!

Instead, you can turn it on its head and hope that East holds the ♠K instead. Here's how it works:

  • First you have to get over to dummy. Let's do that with a trump to dummy's A.
  • Now lead your ♠A, and throw one of those nasty little club losers from your hand.
  • Now here comes the finesse. You're hoping that East holds the ♠K, remember. You lead the ♠Q. If East plays low, you cross your fingers and throw your last club. And if she plays the ♠K you ruff it!

Let's say she plays low. As you can see if you Show all hands, East does indeed hold the ♠K, so your ♠Q wins the trick. The finesse has worked! So do it again – lead the ♠J. This time the ♠K appears, so you ruff. Now all you need to do is to clear trumps and bang out all the rest of those lovely spades. Whether or not you lose a trump trick will depend on how you decide to play the suit, but if you do lose a trick to East's Q it'll be the only one. Either 12 or 13 tricks are yours.

How do I get back to dummy to cash all those spades, you ask? Easy. Even if it took you 3 rounds to clear the opponents' trumps, you still have one left in dummy. Lead your A, then ruff a diamond and you're taking spade tricks to your heart's content.

Summary

This is a technique that takes a certain amount of thought, but it's not rocket science. In a normal finesse, you hold a higher card (here it would be the ♠A) to kill the target card if it appears. In a ruffing finesse, you use a trump instead. The hard bit is to spot the possibility in the first place. 

In Bath and Devizes

In Bath, everyone was in 4, but you had trouble taking the tricks: no one took more than 10. So this is a useful technique to add to your declarer's toolkit.

In Devizes, most of the 15 pairs were in 4 but a couple of declarers reached 6. Most of them know their ruffing finesses and made 12 or 13 tricks. The 5 declarers that didn't included one of those who bid the slam. Wouldn't you know it?

Hand of the week 19th May 2016

Go with the odds

Bridge is a game of probabilities, both in the bidding and the play. Go for what will work most of the time and in the long run you'll do better. In the short term, of course, you might not, but that's life.

What do you think will be a reasonable contract with this nice 10-count opposite partner's opening 2NT showing 20-22 points? Whenever there are 30-ish combined points knocking around, you should start to sniff around for a slam ... 

... so what about 6NT here? You're usually reckoned to need a combined 33 points for a slam in no trumps, so even if partner is a maximum 22 points (which is itself against the odds) you haven't got quite enough. On the other hand, you have 5 spades – so what if you have a spade fit? You don't always need as many points for a slam in a suit because of the power of your trump suit. Here's a plan, then:

  • Transfer your partner into spades and then bid 3NT. Partner will now know that you have 5 spades.
  • If she's got just 2 spades, she'll pass 3NT and that'll be that. No slam.
  • But if she has 3 or more spades, she'll now bid 4♠ – and you can explore for a possible spade slam.

So you bid 3 (a transfer to spades), partner obediently bids 3♠, you bid 3NT ... and partner passes. 

Let's have a look at the full deal (click on Show all hands). You certainly have lots of tricks: 3 in clubs, 3 in diamonds, 2 in spades and ... how many in hearts? Well, as it happens, provided you play the hearts sensibly (lead low from the South hand and finesse) you're only going to lose one heart trick, so that's four tricks in hearts making a total of 12 in all. Dammit! I knew I should have punted the slam! 

Well, no, actually. Sure, it makes this time. But most of the time it won't. You're very lucky only to lose one heart trick when you're missing the KJ10. That same South who's preening himself because he punted the slam on this hand will be the one mumbling 'Sorry, partner' the next four times he rashly punts 6NT on a combined 31 points. Going with the odds is a good habit to get into.

In Bath and Devizes

In Bath, all three NS pairs wisely stopped in 3NT, and that was just as well because no one actually made the 12 tricks that were available. (There's a lesson there, which we might have a look at next week.)

In the Mixed Pairs in Devizes, 8 of the 14 NS pairs stopped in 3NT while 4 punted the NT slam. The other two were in 4 and 6. But 8 pairs made 12 tricks and one somehow made all 13. Don't ask me how!

Hand of the week 8 September 2016

Killing defence

We're concentrating on defence with this hand, but the auction illustrates several really useful features that keep popping up every week, so do hang around for the bidding notes at the end. 

OK. You're North, and you're reviewing the bidding in your head. East opened 1 and your partner overcalled 2♣ (needs a decent suit for that) and West doubled – aha, that's the negative double showing 4 of any unbid major, so in this case SPADES. You've raised your partner's clubs and now East bids 3♠: must have 4 spades, then. And they've ended up in 4♠. 

Your partner leads the ♣8 and you go up with your ♣A ... on which declarer (East) throws the ♣Q. Hmm. Is that ♣Q really a singleton or is East being deceitful? Over to you – decision time!

Well, it depends on whether partner started with five or six clubs. A lot of players wouldn't be comfortable overcalling on just a five-card suit missing the AQ, so you decide that the ♣Q probably is a singleton. No point in leading a club back, then. So what to lead? Pointless leading a trump. A heart, then? Well, East opened hearts and her partner has shown up with the K in dummy, so that's not very attractive either. A diamond, then? That's all that's left. So you lead your 2, Partner wins with her A and leads the 6 back, which declarer wins. 

Now declarer has the lead, she's going to clear trumps, like all good declarers do. She leads a spade to dummy's ♠Q and you win with your ♠A. What to lead now? Decision time again!

Same reasons apply to spades, hearts and clubs, and a diamond now looks a very attractive lead indeed. Why? Well, there's only been one round of trumps, so partner still has one. And that A6 could well have been a doubleton. So maybe partner can ruff a 3rd diamond. No harm in trying, is there? You lead your last diamond and ... partner ruffs! Yey! You've got the contract one down!

Have a look at all four hands, and you'll see that a diamond switch at trick 2, followed by another diamond at trick 5 is the only defence that beats 4♠. If you continue wtih a second club at trick 2, declarer ruffs, starts to clear trumps, then comes in again with a second diamond, completes the trump clearance and then has tricks galore in diamonds and hearts. You never get your diamond ruff.

So well done if you found the killing defence on Thursday afternoon. If you did, you're on your own, because no-one on Wednesday evening kept declarer to only 9 tricks in spades.


Bidding notes

East's 1: With a 4-4-4-1 distribution, you bid the middle of three 'touching' suits. If you don't have three touching suits, as here, you bid the suit below the singleton.

South's 2♣: With 9 points and a 'suit quality' of 9 (6 clubs + 3 honours = 9), South is good enough for a 2♣ overcall. Gets in the way and indicates a possible lead for partner.

West's DOUBLE: Our old friend the 'negative double', showing enough points to respond and at least 4 of any unbid major. Here, the only unbid major is spades, so West's bid shows 4+ spades and 6+ points.

North's 3♣: With a couple of aces and 4 of your partner's suit (she has at least 5, remember) you're well worth an intrusive raise to three of partner's suit.

East's 3♠: Partner's double essentially means 'If that b***** South hadn't overcalled I would have responded 1♠.' So treat her double as a 1♠ response. You've got 16 points and only 6 losers, and that's a good raise to 3♠.

West's 4♠: With only 1 point above the minimum 6 points, West is on the cusp. Her K (in partner's first-bid suit) makes it just worth a raise to game, but a pass wouldn't be wrong.


So, given that 4♠ goes off, was West wrong to bid on to game? No! It's far from easy for NS to find the killing defence, and with just one loser in each of three suits EW can consider themselves very unlucky not to make 10 tricks. Which is one of the things that make bridge such a fun game ...

Hand of the week 05 May 2016

What to lead against 1NT?

Choosing an opening lead isn't an exact science. There are some very useful general principles (if your partner has bid during the auction, for example, it's often a good idea to lead her suit) but in the end there's usually an element of luck involved. Sometimes, the opening lead doesn't make the slightest difference to the outcome. But then sometimes it does ...

After this very uninformative auction, general principles are all you've got to go on. In no trumps, you're trying to get your suit 'set up' before declarer can set up his, and the general principles look a bit like this:

  • With a suit headed by an honour sequence (eg KQJ or QJ10) lead the top card of the sequence.
  • Without a solid sequence, lead the fourth highest of your longest and strongest suit.
  • Prefer a major to a minor. If the opposition had length in a major they wouldn't be bidding no trumps.
  • If you haven't got a promising suit of your own, try to find partner's.

What to lead on this hand, then? Principle 1, unfortunately, doesn't apply. Principle 2 would suggest the ♣6, hoping to find partner with the ♣Q – or, even better, the ♣A. You might even take the first 5 tricks. Principles 3 & 4, on the other hand, would suggest the 10: hearts is a major, and your shortage leaves more hearts available to be in partner's hand. 

Made your choice? Let's have a look at the whole deal (click Show all hands). 

Hmm. Declarer can see six sure tricks: 4 in spades plus ♣A and A. Where's the 7th going to come from? Well, if you led the ♣6, you've just given it to him. He plays low from dummy and whatever happens he now has 2 club tricks because his ♣Q is now worth a trick. Contract made. 

What about the 10? If you led that, you've certainly found partner's suit. If declarer doesn't play his A you continue with your 2 and your partner's hearts are now set up. You have no more hearts to lead her, but she has an entry of her own (the K) so eventually you should come to 7 tricks: 4 in hearts and 3 in diamonds. 

Were there any warning signs that might have stopped you leading the ♣6? Well, with a 'broken' suit like KJ9xx, there's always the chance that you're giving away a trick to the ♣Q – you'd much prefer partner to be leading clubs towards your KJ than to lead away from the KJ yourself. So that might have tipped the choice towards the 10 instead. But hey, on another day partner may turn up with ♣Axx and your ♣6 will be the killer lead ...

In Bath and Devizes

In Bath, everyone led a club against 1NT, but only one led the ♣6, the 4th highest. If you'd like to know why 4th highest is best, ask me next time, or Google the 'Rule of 11'. A couple of the defences were a bit generous, allowing North to make overtricks.

Of the 12 Easts leading against 1NT in Devizes, 11 led 6♣ (they know their Rule of 11 in Wiltshire!) and just one led the 10. Didn't make any difference, mind. They all made the contract, though declarers only made an overtrick after a club lead.