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Improvers' hands of the week
Board 07 – Wed 12 June 2024

Find the Aces!

Here's a hand with some bidding features which should be pretty familiar. You're sitting West with very pleasant - but aceless - balanced 17-count.

  • After South's pass, you open 1♣, intending to rebid either 1NT or 2NT. * 
  • North now comes in with 2 - a preemptive bid showing a weak hand with six hearts. Exactly the same as a weak 2 opening bid. 
  • Partner now doubles. Yet another example of the negative double, promising enough points to respond and at least 4 spades. Note that she doesn't bid 2♠, which would promise 5+ spades and a few extra points. 
  • South passes again, and it's down to you. What do you bid?

Well, you don't have a spade fit, but you do have a heart stop and enough points to stand 2NT (provided partner really does have enough points to respond, as promised). So that's what you bid: 2NT.

And partner, who presumably is minimum for her bid, passes. North leads the 5 and down goes dummy. Make a plan!
 


 

Seeing through the backs of the cards

Well, you're still aceless, which means the opps have all four of the Aces. And there are a couple of useful inferences you can draw. Any offers?

To start with, you have 7 hearts between you, so South must be void in hearts. So (obviously!) North must have the A. What else has she got? Not quite so obviously, she must have exactly one other of the missing aces. Why? Because if South had all three, she would have opened the bidding. And if North held more than one, she wouldn't have made a weak jump overcall.

So what to do? Win trick one with the 8 (or 9) and set about getting rid of their Aces. Clubs are potentially the most profitable, so start with the ♣10 and continue with clubs until the Ace appears. It does, and North holds it. Which means that South must have the ♠A and the A. 

And the rest of it's plain sailing. You lose tricks to the four Aces, and that's it. 

On the night

On the posh night, two Norths ended up going 2 off in 2 - for a good EW score, because NS are vulnerable. Otherwise, it was EW in 1NT, 2NT or 3NT (!), making 8, 9 or 10 tricks. Top spot went to the frisky pair in 3NT, as that happens to make, notwithstanding the mere 23-point holding.

In AP, most EWs were in 1NT, making plenty of tricks. Which means that North didn't overcall 2. One North went 2 off in 2 and, mysteriously, one West went 3 off in 4.

cj 


* This will depend on whether you play your 1NT rebid as 15-16 (standard Acol) or 15-17, which many players prefer, me and Trev included.

 

Board 15 – Wed 05 June 2024

Getting the odrer rihgt

After 3 passes, your partner opens 1, South passes and it's your bid. What do you say?

Well, first of all you don't pass. Sure you only have 5 points, but 10 of your cards are in majors, you have no liking for diamonds and neither opp made an opening bid, which means that you've surely got at least half the points, and probably more.

So what's it to be? 1 or 1♠? If you're not sure, read on - otherwise skip the next section.

Revision: showing your suits as responder

With more than one suit to show, your response will depend on the length of the suits.

  • With two four-card suits, you bid up the line: so with 4 hearts and 4 spades you'd bid 1. (This makes it very easy for you to find a major fit if there is one: if partner has 4 spades she'll now bid 1♠.)
  • If one of your suits has 5 cards, bid the longer suit first, if you can *.
  • If your two suits are of equal length, bid the higher-ranking suit first. If you subsequently bid your second suit, that will guarantee at least 5 cards in the first suit. And if you bid the second suit again, that shows at least 5 cards in the second suit too.

The rest of the auction

  • On this hand you have two 5-card suits, so you bid the higher-ranking suit first: 1♠.
  • You partner now responds 1NT, showing a balanced hand with 15-17 points. What now?
  • You're weak in points and your hand won't be much use in NT. If your partner really has got a balanced hand, she'll have at least 3 cards in at least one major, so continue to show your shape: bid 2.
  • If partner now goes for spades, that's fine: just pass. But if she bids NT again, you repeat your hearts - 3 - to show her that you have 5 hearts as well ...

... but as it happens, as you'll see if you check out the whole deal, she has 3 nice spades, as well as a maximum 17-count, so with luck will jump to 4♠, which makes comfortably.

On the night

On the posh night, quite a few tables ended up in NT (East has a flat hand, after all), mostly making 9 tricks (although 3NT can go off). The rest made 11 tricks in hearts or spades, though only 3 were in game.

In AP, just one pair was in NT. The rest all bid game in hearts or spades, making 9, 10, 11 or 12 tricks!

For the more adventurous ...

Several of the heart contracts on the posh night were played by East, not West. How come?

The most likely explanation is that EW were playing a handy little convention called Ekren. This is a kind of two-suited weak 2 opening bid:

You open 2: this has nothing to do with diamonds, but shows a weak hand with both majors - at least 4-5 or 5-4.

If you'd like to know more, click on Show Answer  ...

cj 


* On this hand, if you had (say) 4 hearts and 5 clubs, you'd like to bid the clubs first, and then the hearts, but with just 5 points, you're not nearly strong enough to bid 2♣ over 1 - for which you'd need 10+ points. Instead, you have to forget about the clubs and just respond 1.

 

Ekren

An opening 2 bid shows a weak hand (5-9 non-vulnerable or 6-10 vulnerable) with at least 4-5 or 5-4 in the majors.

Normally opener's partner will simply bid her better major and that'll be the end of it.

But on this hand, with good 3-card support for both majors and a strong hand, East will want to know more.

Ekren has its own 'tell me more' bid, which is a bit like the Ogust 'tell me more' bid used with normal weak-2 openers. Like Ogust, it takes the form of 2NT. The full range of responses is shown below.

So how does it go?

  • West opens 2 (Ekren)
  • East responds 2NT ('tell me more')
  • West bids 3 (I'm minimum points and am 5-5 in the majors)
  • With good support for either major and Aces in both minors, East bids 4 or 4♠. Easy!

Responses to the 2NT Ekren 'tell me more' enquiry bid

  • 3♣ I'm minimum points and am either 4-5 or 5-4 in the majors. (If you want to know which is my longer major, bid 3 and I'll tell you.)
  • 3 I'm minimum points and am 5-5 in the majors
  • 3 I'm maximum points and have longer hearts
  • 3♠ I'm maximum points and have longer spades
  • 4♣ or 4 I'm maximum points and am 5-5 in the majors and I'm showing you my singleton or void.
  • [3NT I'm maximum points and am 5-5 in the majors and most of my points are in the minor suits!]

If you'd like to know more about Ekren, feel free to ask me or Trevor whenever.

Board 05 Wed 29 May 2024

A better place

Not much of an auction so far. With a very nice 13-count, you overcalled South's opening 1 with 2♣ and now the bidding's trudging slowly upwards in what looks like being a battle of the minors. 

What are you going to bid now? 4♣? Maybe even 5♣? You've got just 4 losers, after all. But hang on a minute. There's something missing. Somewhere, there are lurking 13 spades and 13 hearts. And you've got 4 of one of them. Supposing your partner's got 4 as well? Surely it's worth a look. Why not bid 3♠?

Your partner shouldn't have any trouble understanding what you mean: you're just checking for a major fit - and if there isn't one, she can fall back on the known club fit. Or, if she's got stops in hearts and diamonds, she might even punt 3NT.

As it happens, she does have 4 spades, and thanks to you is able to reach the optimum EW contract for this deal: 4♠. Take a look at the whole deal.

How does it go?

It's looking good. On the face of it, you only lose tricks to the ♠A and the A. Actually, the defence can take 3 tricks (how? *), but they can't take 4♠ off.

Note that although 5♣ makes, it only scores 400, compared with 420 for 4♠ making. Spades is a better place to be.

More on the auction

  • Instead of bidding 2♣ West could make a take-out double instead. And if partner replies hearts, could then overrule that by bidding clubs. Usually, though, that sequence (doubling, then overruling) is reserved for hands that are a bit stronger in points - say 16+. On this hand, though, there's no need for all that: East responds 2♠ (showing 8+ points) and it's a doddle to find 4♠.
  • What about NS? Can they find their heart fit? Well, if West Xs, yes: North can simply respond 1. But over 2♣, no: 2 from North would show a much stronger hand - at least 10 points. 

On the night

On the posh night, just two pairs were in 4♠, making 10 tricks (on a club lead) and 11 tricks. Four tables were in varying levels of clubs, all making 11 tricks. And one NS pair sacrificed too high in 5X, going 2 off for -500.

In AP, two pairs found 4♠, both making, two stopped in 3♣ (bid up!) and one bid and made 5♣.  

cj 


* A club lead is what's needed (easy for South to find, more difficult for North). Then when North gets in with the ♠A she can give her partner a ruff with a second club. 

Board 02 – Wed 22 May 2024

Checking back

At one table on Wednesday the auction had got as far as shown here, and West called me over. She had enough points for game (her partner having promised 15-16 points with her 1NT rebid) and was wondering if there was a way ('something like Stayman?') to find out whether they had a spade fit. Although East won't have as many as four spades, she might well have three - in which case they'd want to be in 4♠ instead of 3NT.

The answer's 'Yes'. There's a handy convention called Checkback Stayman, which you can use in situations like this, where (at least) one major's been mentioned on the way to a 1NT rebid. It allows you to ask opener whether she has three of your major (or, if she's bid a major herself, five of hers). And her next bid will not only answer your question but also tell you whether she's maximum or minimum for her 1NT rebid.

Here's how it works. Let's use this hand as an example:

The question  Just like normal Stayman, you ask the question by bidding 2♣. And just like normal Stayman, the 2♣ has nothing to do with clubs, but everything to do with any major that's been bid.

The answer: On this hand, the question will be about spades (the major that's been bid). So if East's got 3 spades she'll answer Yes and if she's only got 2 she'll answer No.

How to answer Yes  Simply bid the suit. And if you're a maximum, jump. So if East's got 3 spades, she'll reply 2♠ (with a minimum 15 points) or 3♠ (with a maximum 16 points).

How to answer No  With a minimum bid 2 (like normal Stayman). But with a maximum bid 2NT.

What will West bid next? Well, with 11 points, she's got enough for game in any event, so if her partner responds Yes, she'll bid 4♠. And if partner says No, she'll bid 3NT. 

As it happens, East does have 3 spades, so with a minimum 15 points responds 2♠, which West raises to 4♠. Take a look at the whole hand.

How does it go?

Making 4♠ is easy: even if the opps find their heart ruff, they can only make 3 tricks, and if they don't start with a heart EW are making overtricks. 

Notice that if EW just stumble into 3NT (ie fail to find their spade fit), they're going 2 off. South leads the Q, North overtakes with her K (You can see why!) and returns her small heart and NS take the first 6 tricks. Well, that's what happened on the posh night, anyway: the only pair in 3NT went 2 off. Everyone else was in 4♠.

Which raises an interesting question: how does the auction go if South interrupts with a weak 2 jump overcall (as most Souths will)? For my answer, see below.

cj 


 

Finding game over a 2 jump overcall

Here we go again with the opposition 'taking your bid away': without the 2 interference West would have bid 1♠. This would suggest that West should use the negative double, that we've seen so much of recently.

This would promise at least 4 spades, maybe 5 with a fairly weak (6-9) point-count.

But here, West can do better than that: she not only has 5 spades but also has 11 points. In other words, she's long and strong enough to bid her spades directly: 2♠.

East now knows that the partnership have (a) a 5-3 spade fit and (b) game-going points ... so will bid 4♠. End of auction.

And finally, I think South should bid 2 - it describes her hand perfectly and just might put EW off finding game.

Board 14 Wed 15 May 2024

Who blinks first?

One of the many popular mantras knocking around bridge tables is the one that says:

The 5 level belongs to the opponents.

In other words, by all means force your opponents to go to the 5 level, but beware of going there yourself, as (a) it's hard to make 11 tricks (b) if you're doubled it can get particularly nasty and (c) you might get a nice penalty by doubling them instead.

Like all mantras, it's useful sometimes and at other times not so useful. On this hand, players on both sides will have it in mind ....

To bid or not to bid?

Sitting South you follow East's pass with a pass of your own, and West opens a weak 2♠.

Your partner doubles, asking you to bid your best suit - and you're just about to bid 3 when East (a passed hand herself, remember) takes out the STOP card and raises her partner to 4♠. What to do?

Well, you've probably got a decent heart fit, and it also looks as if you have more points than they do (a passed hand opposite a weak-2 opening). But with just 7 points do you really want to bid as high as 5? There are pluses, of course:

  • If they have 10 spades (likely - East is surely 'bidding to the level of the fit') then your partner can only have a singleton spade ...
  • ... and you only have a singleton diamond ...
  • ... and if partner also has decent clubs (she doubled for takeout, after all) the clubs could be OK ...
  • ... and (assuming a heart fit) you only have 7 losers ...

But the fact remains that you're pretty light on points. Might it not be safer simply to take 4♠ off? Decision time!

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. Between you, you only have 20 points, but the way the cards lie you can not only make 5 - you can make 6! * 

And if you do bid 5, it's the opps' turn to fret about 'leaving the 5 level to the opponent': do they bid 5♠? Turns out they should, as they can make 9 tricks. So even doubled, it'll cost them 300 - still cheaper than the 450 you'd get for making 5.

So there you are. Not a good hand for the mantra, as both sides do better to grab the 5 level for themselves.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs (09 May), it was pretty evenly split: 3 pairs were in 5 (but only making 11 tricks) and the rest were in 3♠ (making!), 4♠, 4♠X and 5♠ (undoubled!), all making 9 tricks.

In AP, it was far more restrained: one pair reached 4 (making 12!), another was in 1, two were in 2♠ and one went 2 off in 4♠. Bid up!

cj 


* You're dead lucky to make 12 tricks. The clubs happen to be nicely placed so you only lose one club trick, and you don't need to lose a heart at all: a low heart towards your A drops the K, and now you can lead your 10 back towards dummy's Q, finessing West's Jack.

Board 08 – Wed 08 May 2024

Nice defence, partner!

After two passes, you open 1, South overcalls 1♠, partner doubles (the negative double, promising at least 4 hearts *) and North raises to 2♠. You don't really have anything more to say and anyway quite fancy defending against spades, so you pass. Partner leads the 3 - your suit - and North plays low. Over to you.

Wouldn't it be lovely ...

Can you see a delicious possibility that could take this contract off? Take a moment.

It's all to do with getting a club ruff. You can easily denude yourself of clubs. If you can then give partner the lead, she can lead a third club for a ruff. And hearts look just the job - partner's X promised hearts, after all. And if she can take two heart tricks - quite likely, as dummy has no high cards in hearts - the contract's going off.

How does it go?

OK. Pity declarer played low from dummy - that means she must have the J. You'll have to go up with your A - and that means you have to work fast, before declarer has a chance to discard any losers on dummy's KQ.

Right. Here we go:

  • First cash your clubs. First the ♣K and then the ♣A. Why? Well, you'd normally lead 'top of a sequence' (the ♣A and then the ♣K). Doing things 'the wrong way round' is reserved for exactly this situation: it shows a doubleton AK and tells partner you'd like a ruff. Doesn't come up very often but very handy when it does.
  • Now to get partner the lead. Cross your fingers and lead the 6: South plays low and partner wins with the Jack. Marvellous - that means she must have the A too!
  • Knowing that you have no more clubs (and that declarer therefore still has the ♣Q, partner leads one for you to ruff ...
  • ... and you now lead your Q, covered by South's K and won by partner's A. That's the first six tricks! But you're not finished yet ...
  • ... because partner now leads a 3rd heart for your second ruff. Two down.

OK. They get the rest, as you'll see if you look at the whole deal. But you've just made 7 tricks in spades with only 18 points and five little spades between you. 

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs (02 May), most tables were in 2♠ or 3♠. Most made 7 tricks, though one was allowed to make 8 (!) and only one EW pair kept the declarer to just 6 tricks.

In AP, contracts ranged from 1♠ right up to 4♠. Again, just one declarer was kept to 6 tricks, two made 7, and the other two made 8 and 9 tricks.

What to take from this hand

It's really all about spotting an opportunity (the club ruff via partner's hearts) and executing it in the right order (make yourself void in clubs, get the lead into partner's hand ...). Just as declarer can profit by pausing at trick one, checking out the dummy and making a plan, so can defenders.

And, as always in defence, it's about communication between the two defenders: as we've seen before, it takes two to tango. 

cj 


* See last week's HOTW. In other words: 'But for the interference I would have bid 1.'

Board 11 – Wed 01 May 2024

Reading the cards

Here's a hand that revisits a couple of useful (and by now familiar!) areas of bidding and play ...

The auction

Sitting West, you open 1, North overcalls 2♣, which your partner doubles. What's she telling you?

This is the oh-so-useful negative double. It tells you that she has enough points to respond (so 6 and upwards) and at least 4 cards in any unbid major: in this case spades. * 

Which means that you have a spade fit. So how many should you bid? With 17 points, you certainly have enough for an invitational 3♠ but count your losers: with just 5 losers, and a very handy singleton in North's suit, why risk your partner passing? Raise straight to 4♠.

Time to think

North leads the ♣Q and the dummy goes down. Time to take stock.  All you have to go on are the auction and the lead. What do they tell you about the opps' hands? Think about clubs, spades and points.

Well, from the auction, North has at least 5 clubs and at least 8 points. If she leads the ♣Q, she hasn't got the ♣K - and I've got the ♣A! So to make her suit biddable, she must surely have 6 clubs, rather than 5?

This would suggest that South has more 'vacant places' for the other suits, including spades. So maybe play South to have the ♠Q?

On the other hand, where are North's points? If she doesn't have the ♣K, she must have points elsewhere - the K looks very likely, doesn't it? And maybe the ♠Q too, then? Hmm.

How does it go?

You win trick 1 with dummy's ♣A. You could take your club ruff now, but there's no hurry. Better to clear a few trumps first. Let's stick with our first idea, that South has the ♠Q ...

You lead dummy's ♠K (in case North has the singleton ♠Q) and then run the ♠J, which wins: South does have the ♠Q. Finally, you drop South's ♠Q under your ♠A.

Lovely. Time to try the hearts. If North does have the K (which she surely must) you want to lead a low heart towards dummy's Q, but first cash the A ... and North drops the K - it's a singleton! OK. Well, instead of losing a trick to the K, you'll now have to lose a trick to South's J, but it amounts to the same thing. The heart trick is your only loser. You've just made 12 tricks. Take a look at the whole deal.

Reading the cards

You started by using partner's negative double to find your spade fit and the losing trick count to insist on bidding game.

You then used North's overcall to make two inferences:

  • North is long in clubs, so South is more likely to be long in spades. Finesse in the appropriate direction.
  • To give North enough points for her overcall, she must hold the K. Play accordingly.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs (25 April), three EW pairs were in spades (one only in 3♠) and four were in hearts; just two made 12 tricks. One North went 4 off in 4♣X for -800 - ouch!

In AP, three EW pairs were in spades (one only in 3♠), one was in 4 and one was in 4. Just one pair made 12 tricks.

cj 


* Put another way, she's saying 'But for the interference I would have bid 1♠.'

Board 13 – Wed 24 April 2024

Find the gentleman

After partner's 1♠ response to your opening 1, you would have liked to rebid 2NT, just in case partner has 5 spades, but what if partner passes and you miss game? With 19 points, it's safer just to plump for 3NT ...

North leads the ♣3, down goes dummy and you find you have a spade fit after all. Never mind. The odds are you're going to make your 9 tricks. What are your thoughts?

My first thought is 'If that ♣3 is the 4th highest, then North probably has the ♣K. If that's true then I have 9 tricks. If not I could be in trouble, as I wouldn't like South to be able to lead a diamond.'

OK. Assuming North does have the ♣K, how do you make your nine tricks?

The play

Well, if that's the case, you can afford to let the lead run round to your ♣Q (in any case, you will need dummy's ♣AJ as an entry to your last 2 spade tricks). So ...

  • win trick 1 with your ♣Q.
  • Cash your ♠AKQ (to unblock the spades)
  • lead a small club to the Jack ...
  • and cash your remaining 2 spades. That's 7 tricks.
  • Now cash your A in hand and for your 9th trick ...
  • ... cash your ♣A, leaving you in dummy. That's 9 tricks. Job done. Now ...
  • ... lead a small diamond towards your King  - you never know!

So there you are. Nine tricks and possibly a tenth if South has the A and they decide to lead a diamond by trick 13.

How did you do? Provided North has the ♣K, it's straightforward: you just need to play the cards in the right order. Even if South does have the ♣K, you're OK provided she has the A as well. 

Take a look at the whole deal. Yes, North has the ♣K, and South has the A, so 9 tricks are guaranteed, and a 10th if you're lucky. Note that if you hadn't opened 1, North would probably have led a small heart instead, which makes it a bit harder. 

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs (18 April), 4 tables were in 3NT and another 4 were in 4♠. All made either 9 or 10 tricks (9, sadly, not being enough for 4♠). One unfortunate EW pair decided to sacrifice in 4: they went 5 off for -1400. 

In AP, two pairs were in 3NT, both making, and the others were in 4♠ and 3♠, making 10, 11 and 12 tricks!

cj 

 

Board 01 – Wed 17 April 2024

You pays your money ...

Assuming the opps aren't bidding, how do you see this auction going?

You have a 6-card major and just 8 points, but conventional wisdom has it that you shouldn't open a weak 2 if you also hold four of the other major - the theory being that if partner also has 4 of the other major you're never going to find the fit. Some play it that way, while others open the weak 2 regardless. Let's look at both ...

If North opens a weak 2 ...

Switch to South's seat. How do you respond? Well, with 2 hearts (that's enough for a fit!) and 16 points, you might be strong enough for game. Or not. Depends on how good partner's opening bid is. This is an ideal situation for the Ogust convention *

You bid 2NT (alerted by partner) and she responds 3 (alerted by you), which means she's at the top end of the 5-9 point range but does not have 2 of the top three trump honours. Do you raise to game or not? Probably yes.

Oh - hang on a minute: it looks as if East has come in with a 3♣ overcall. That's Ogust out of the window, then. So what to bid? Well, it's just a punt, isn't it ... but if you think about it, East's 3♣ bid has actually made your hand stronger. East is odds on to hold the ♣A, so your ♣K is now worth a trick and you're surely not going to lose more than one club trick. So again, go ahead and punt 4.

If North passes ...

What happens if North, mindful that she has four spades, decides to pass? 

Sitting South, you'll open 1♠, intending to rebid NT on your next bid. But no need: with 4-card support in spades and just 7 losers, North will raise you straight to 4♠. Except that ...

... that pesky East has opened the bidding herself with 1♣. What happens now?

You overcall 1NT, showing a balanced 15-18 points with a stop in clubs. North will now either bid Stayman, leading to 4♠ or transfer to hearts and bid game.

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. Game is easily made in either major, especially since East does have the ♣A and also a very handy singleton Q.

Two good, makable game contracts, which you can find whatever your system preferences and whether or not the opps poke their oar in. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs (11 April), four pairs were in 4, two were in 3 and two preferred 3NT. All made at least 10 tricks. No one was in spades.

In AP, three pairs found 4 and two were in 3. Again, all made at least 10 tricks and no one was in spades.

cj 


* Ogust is a pretty easy convention to get used to. Your partner bids 2NT, and your responses tell her about your point count and your suit quality, as follows:

3♣ poor points and a poor suit.
3 also poor points but a good suit ('good' in this context means that it has 2 of the top 3 honours, so AK, AQ or KQ)

The next two responses are similar but with good points (say 8 or 9):

3 good points but a poor suit.
3♠ good points and a good suit.

And the final possibility is for the hand with all three top honours (and nothing else!):
3NT, promising AKQxxx

 

Board 05 Wed 10 April 2024

Major possibilities

It doesn't look as if you'll be looking for game on this hand. Adding your points to your partner's 12-14, you have at least half the points, but no more than 22. The question is, which part-score do you want to end up in?

As always, you're hoping for a major fit, and if you just had a balanced hand with 5 spades, it would be simple: transfer partner to spades and leave her in 2♠. But this hand offers another major possibility: partner might have 4 hearts. In which case, 2 would be a better place to play. How to find out?

Well, the normal route to finding a 4-4 major fit is Stayman, but as we've all been taught, Stayman requires 11+ points, just in case you don't find a fit: in that case, you're usually going to end up in 2NT, so you'll need 23+ between you to make it. No good here, then, as you've only got 8 points.

'Weak' Stayman

Ah - but note the 'usually' above. This hand's one of the exceptions. There's no danger of ending up in 2NT: if partner turns out not to have 4 hearts, you can simply run to 2♠ because you have 5 spades.

How does it go? You bid 2♣ (Stayman) and if partner bids 2 or 2♠ you pass. And if partner responds 2, denying a 4-card major, you sign off in 2♠. End of auction.

What happens

Take a look at the whole deal. With no 4-card major, partner responds 2, you bid the spades yourself and you end up playing in 2♠, making 9 tricks. Perfect.

Sure, in this particular case, you end up in the same place as if you'd simply transferred partner to spades in the first place, but on another day she'll turn out to have 4 hearts, making it all worthwhile.

Note that with this kind of hand, there's no minimum points requirement to go the Stayman route: with 5-4 in the majors, go ahead even if you have zero points!

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs (04 April), nearly everyone was in spades, making 8 or 9 tricks. Only one bid game.

In AP, everyone was in spades, but somehow * 3 found their way to an unmakeable game (though one did, somehow, make it!). 

More on weak Stayman

For a useful couple of HOTWs, which also show how your diamond suit can play a part in weak Stayman, go here. The articles are near the bottom of the list: Using Stayman as a weak takeout and Stayman to the rescue.

cj 


* The bidding probably gets too high because West opens 1♣ instead of 1NT and East gets excited because of her '6-loser hand'? Who knows? It's worth noting that with a balanced 12-14 point hand, West's best opening bid is 1NT, not 1♣.

Board 11 – Wed 03 April 2024

A ruff guess

No cunningly constructed puzzle with a 'right answer' - just an everyday situation requiring declarer's attention ...

Sitting West, you didn't let South's weak 2 opening deter you from what would have been your own opening weak 2 bid, and now find yourself in 4♠. How does it look?

Pretty good. Provided the trumps and diamonds behave themselves, you're only losing two heart tricks - after clearing trumps, you'll be able to ditch your losing club on the 4th diamond trick.

As always, the opps have other ideas. North leads the A, followed by the 2 to South's King, and South now leads a 3rd heart. What are you thoughts?

Playing to trick 3

Well, you're going to get ruffed, aren't you? South started with 6 hearts, so North - like you - has none left. Which leaves you with a decision to make.

Can you get in North's way by making a ruff yourself? How? Ruffing low is no good. How about ruffing with the ♠10? Or even with the ♠A? Or is it safer just to let North have her ruff and instead discard a small club? *

There's no right answer. It depends on how the trumps are split.

  • If they're 2-2, you'll want to ruff with your Ace: you can then clear trumps with the ♠KQ and, with luck, take the rest of the tricks. But if they're 3-1 or 4-0 (which is more likely) you could be making trouble for yourself later.
  • In which case it might be safer to ruff with the ♠10, hoping that South has the ♠J. Again, not too likely to succeed: as South has long hearts, North is the one likely to be long in spades and therefore to have the ♠J. But it's certainly worth a try.
  • Or (as we saw below *) you could simply let them have their ruff and dump that small club.

I prefer to try a play that gives me at least a chance of 11 tricks, so I'd go for one of the ruffing options, probably going up with the ♠10 ...

What happens?

Take a look at the whole deal. Trumps turn out to be 2-2 after all, making the high ruff with the ♠A the winning play, but that doesn't make the other choices 'wrong' - it's easy to construct NS hands that give a different result.

The main thing is to be aware of the problem, make a sensible decision ... and cross your fingers!

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs (28 March), seven EW pairs were in spades (though not all were in game). Just one made 11 tricks, and all the others 10.

In AP, everyone was in spades, but again not all were in game. No-one made 11 tricks: two made 10, one made 12 (on a club lead - declarer can just clear trumps and bang out the diamonds for 12 tricks); and the other two made just 8 and 9 tricks.

cj 


* If your small club is a certain loser, this is a good play: you're going to get ruffed anyway, so why not dump a card which would otherwise be a loser later on in the hand? It's called a 'loser on loser' play.

Board 09 – Wed 27 March 2024

Beware!

Sitting South, you're in 4♠, after an auction featuring a heart overcall by East. West dutifully leads the 2 - her partner's suit - and it's time to plan the play. A doddle, you might think - after knocking out their ♠AK, you have 5 trump tricks, plus the A, AK and ♣AK - 10 tricks. Looking good. As always, though, you need to be on the lookout for danger, and on this hand there's a huge one staring you in the face. Can you spot it? If yes, jump to the next bit. If no, check out the clues below.

Two clues  (1) After winning the first trick you no longer have the A. (2) The opps hold the ♠AK 

The danger ...

... is that you might sleepwalk into clearing trumps. If you lead a trump at trick two, the odds are that the defenders will cash their ♠A and ♠K - thus denuding dummy of both its trumps - and will then cash two heart tricks for one off.

The solution ...

... is quite simple. Instead of leading a trump at trick 2 - which, as we've seen, is potentially disastrous - you go out to dummy via the ♣A and cash the AK, discarding the two heart losers from your hand. Heart losers? What heart losers?

Now you can safely clear trumps - you will only lose the ♠AK and a club.

The 'golden rule' of declarer play

We've come across this in a number of past HOTWs. It states:

Declarer should clear trumps at the first opportunity unless there's a good reason not to.

Here there's an excellent reason - the disposal of heart losers - after which, of course, you must get back to the important business of clearing trumps asap.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs (21 March), every declarer was in 4♠ and every declarer got a heart lead: most made 10 tricks, three made 11 and just one went off.

In AP, 4 out of 5 declarers were in 4♠, all got a heart lead and all made their contracts. Well done!

cj 

Board 07 – Wed 20 March 2024

Choose your weapons

Here's a hand that offers a couple of useful reminders about competitive bidding. After a couple of passes, you open 1 - and all of a sudden no-one's passing any more!

What do you make of the auction so far? Take it a bid at a time:

  • The 1♠ overcall. East's probably in the 9-15 point range, with a spade suit with a 'suit quality' of 7+ *.
  • What about partner's X? It looks like a negative double **, except that both majors have already been bid, so this time it's promising at least 4 cards in both minors. An efficient way for partner to show enough points to respond and both of her suits in just one bid. Note that she won't have more than 10 points, because she's a passed hand.
  • 4♠ by West. This looks very much like the Law of Total Tricks *** in action. It suggests that West (also a passed hand) has 5 spades (5 + 5 = 10, so bid to make 10 tricks) and is trying to pre-empt you out of a good contract.

So what to do? Your partner might have a couple of hearts, but what you know is that you have (at least) a 9-card fit in diamonds. The question is: are you strong enough to bid it? Or do you want to X their 4♠ for penalties? 

Well, it's not usually easy to make 11 tricks, but you have a 4-loser hand which is rich in controls. Even if partner's got two tiny hearts, there's a good chance that they'll be your only losers: partner's promised both minors, after all. So go for it: bid 5. Doubling 4♠ is very unlikely to get a better score - they may even make it!

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. It's much as you thought. East has an adequate (just!) overcall, your partner has both minors, with two very handy minor Kings, West is weak with 5 spades ... and you're on course to make 12 tricks in diamonds. As it happens, you can make as many tricks in hearts (unless East happens to lead a diamond), but you don't know about your heart fit, and a bird in the hand etc.

Would you have done better to X their 4♠ sacrifice? No - they only go 2 off for -500 - that's less than the 620 you get for making 5+1.

What happened on the day?

In the original Wilts Championship Pairs (07 March), just 3 of the 8 tables played in 5. Two tables stopped in 4 (maybe East decided against the spade overcall?), two were in 3 and 4 ... and one was allowed to get away with 4♠-2 for a mere -200.

In AP, two pairs made 5+1, one 4+1 ... and one EW pair bid and made 4♠ - someone didn't cash their winners!

And finally ...

This was a typical competitive skirmish using a variety of useful weapons: the overcaller's suit quality test, the negative double, the preemptive raise, the losing trick count ... Useful not only because they work but because they come up all the time - in our next session, for example.

cj


* Remember the suit quality test? You add the number of cards in your suit to the number of honours it has (including the 10). A suit quality of 7 is sufficient for a 1-level overcall, but for a 2-level overcall 8+ is safer.

** This is a responder's takeout double, and comes up all the time. You open a suit, the next player overcalls. X from your partner says that she has enough points to respond (anything from 5-6 up to 20-odd) and has at least 4 cards in any unbid major.

*** If you're the weaker pair in a competitive auction, bid to the level of your fit, ie bid to make the same number of tricks as the number of trumps you hold between you. See the HOTW for 31 Jan 2024 below: A handy rule of thumb

Board 02 – Wed 13 March 2024

Blurred edges

When the opposition overcall an opening bid, things change for the responder. Here's an example. Sitting East, you originally passed, and North has overcalled your partner's opening 1 with 2 ... and you're now the responder.

Suppose North hadn't overcalled. What would your response have been? It's borderline, isn't it? You have good support for partner's hearts, but with just 9 points and 9 losers, the textbooks would suggest a raise to just 2. On the other hand, you're right at the top of the range with a very handy AK and three of your supposed 'losers' are in hearts - unlikely! - so if you're feeling frisky you could stretch to an invitational 3.

Now back to reality: North has overcalled, and that changes things. For a start, all direct raises of partner's suit are now weak: 2 could now be as few as 4-5 points with maybe just 3 hearts. 3 would promise 4 hearts but will certainly be less than 10 points. And 4 would promise a good shape with plenty of hearts but not much in the way of points at all. Both of these jump raises are pre-emptive.

What to do, then, if you have a good raise of partner's suit - say 4+ hearts and 10+ points? This has cropped up frequently in AP, and the answer is the horribly-named 'unassuming cue bid': you bid the opponent's suit - in this case 3. This says to partner 'If they hadn't intervened I would have raised you to at least 3' - and has the side benefit of preventing South from raising her partner to 3 herself.

The rest of the auction

Well, to start with, you're much too good to bid a measly 2 now. But whether you say 3 or 3 depends on whether you have your frisky cap on. If you would have raised to 2 without the overcall, you now preempt with 3 instead. And if you would have stretched to an invitational 3 without the interference, you will now bid 3 to show a 'good raise' inviting partner to game. Does it matter? 

Well, it might. Partner has just 13 points, but an excellent shape with only 5 losers. If you make the stronger 3 response, she'll certainly go to game. But over the weaker 3 ...? With just 5 losers I'd certainly bid game myself, but some Wests might think 'Hmm, partner's made a weak pre-emptive bid, and I have only 13 points ... I think I'd better pass.'

Blurred edges like this come up all the time in bridge, but on this hand (provided at least one of the EW partnership isn't in 'timid mode') they should reach what is an excellent 4 contract.

The play

North leads the A. Sitting West as declarer, what's your plan?

You have a club loser, a spade loser and maybe a heart loser. The key thing is that once you've knocked out their ♣A you will be able to discard a couple of spade losers from dummy on your clubs and then ruff a spade - thus avoiding the spade loser.

So ruff the A and start on trumps: South shows out on the second round, leaving North with the Q, so don't waste two of your own trumps on getting rid of it. Just switch to clubs and if they don't play their ♣A continue them. Eventually, North will have to use her Q to ruff something, and you're going to end up with 11 tricks, losing tricks to only the ♣A and the Q. Not bad for just 22 points! Take a look at the whole deal.

Question  what happens if North decides to lead her singleton club instead of the A? Sure, South can win with her ♣A and give her partner a club ruff, but that's still all they get: North now has only 2 hearts left, so her Q drops under your AK.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs (07 March), 5 tables bid and made 4 (three were in timid mode and stopped in a part score), while just one NS pair found the excellent 5X-1 sacrifice (it's hard to find, as they're vulnerable and you're not). Most Wests made 11 tricks in hearts.

In AP, two pairs found the heart game while two stopped in a part-score. They made 8,10,11 and 11 tricks.

cj

Board 10 – Wed 06 March 2024

Both sides of the coin

Weak 2 openings are a great way of disrupting the opponents' bidding, but they have a downside: if the opps end up as declarers, they already know a lot about your - and therefore your partner's - hand.

This deal's a good example of both sides of the coin. You're sitting East.

The pros ...

South's opening 2♠ bid really puts your partner on the spot. Does she

  • pass? She's surely too strong for that.
  • bid 3? Tricky if you're short of hearts.
  • X for takeout? Hmm. What if you bid diamonds?

As you can see, your only fit is in clubs, and 3NT is the place to be, but South's preempt can make it hard to find. *

Not this time: after partner's X you immediately spot the best place to be: your partner is surely promising hearts and must be reasonably strong to force you up to the 3-level vulnerable. You've got the spades covered and with 10 points have enough to jump straight to 3NT.

Well done: you've landed in the right contract. Now all you have to do is make it.

... and the cons 

As you expected (and hoped?) you get a spade lead: the ♠10. North wins with the ♠A and fires back the ♠5. What are your thoughts? What will you do when you get the lead?

Well, South's 2♠ has made it easy for you. You know that she has exactly 6 spades, so North is now out of spades so can no longer lead a spade through you towards his partner's holding. So what should you play on the ♠5?

Fast-forward ** a moment: obviously you're now going to attack hearts. Once the Ace is forced out, you have at least 2 heart tricks, enough to make your contract secure, even if North wins a club. So ...

... why not win with your ♠K? If North has the A, she can't lead a spade (and whatever else she leads does you a favour). And if South has it, sure - she can cash her Q♠ but that's probably going to be their last trick.

So what happens? Take a look at the whole deal. North has the A. You can now cash two hearts (sadly the hearts don't break 3-3), two diamonds, five clubs (you can't go wrong as South has singleton ♣Q), which along with your K♠ comes to 10 tricks. Ultimately, you'll have to lose a heart to North or a diamond to South - unless they misdefend, of course!

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs (29 Feb), South's 2♠ caused mayhem: two pairs got stuck in 3, two ended up in 5♣ going one off ***, and just 4 pairs found 3NT, making 10 or 11 tricks.

In AP, three pairs found 3NT, but they all went off - hence this HOTW! One did well to bid and make 5♣ and one stopped in 3♣.

The moral? Take the trouble to count the opponents' holding and (as always in NT) set up the extra tricks you need asap, while you're still safe in the other suits.

cj


* If South passes, finding 3NT is a doddle: 1 - 1♠ - 2♣ - 2NT - 3NT. OR 1 - 1♠ - 2♣ - 3♣ - 3 (4th suit - have you got a diamond stop, p?) - 3NT (yes!)

** See last week's HOTW, below.

*** North leads the ♠A, then (noting from West's X that she has hearts), punts A and another heart for partner to ruff with her ♣Q.

Board 06 Wed 28 February 2024

► Fast forward  ►

Looking at the auction, you're probably not going to be taking this contract off, but you don't want to be giving them any free gifts either. Against North's 3NT contract you lead the ♠Q *. North wins with the ♠A and leads the Q ...

Do you cover with the K or do you play low? Your answer will make the difference between a good and a bad score, so take your time. Here are some questions that might help:

  • How many hearts does North have? How many does your partner have?
  • What will happen if you don't play your K?
  • What will happen if you do play your K?
  • Which card is this all about? Who has it?

OK. The answers:

  • Two. If she had three hearts, she would have gone for the major fit - 4. That means that your partner has 3 hearts (13 - 5 - 3 - 2 = 3)
  • Declarer will play low, and the Q will win the trick. Now knowing that you have the K, she'll then lead her remaining heart to the J, ending up with 5 heart tricks, after dropping your K under dummy's A.
  • She'll win with dummy's A. What happens next depends on who holds the 10 ...
  • ... which is the answer to the 4th question. The 10. You don't know who has it. If declarer has it, you're stuffed anyway. But if your partner has it, she's now going to win a trick with it!

And that's the reason you must cover the Q with your K. You don't know who has the 10, but if your partner has it, playing your K will ensure she makes a trick. Play low and she doesn't.

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. As you can see, the opps are on track for 11 easy tricks, but not 12, as your partner does indeed hold the 10. Unless, of course, you fail to cover declarer's Q with your K, in which case they'll have 5 club tricks, 5 hearts and 2 spades and will lose just one trick, to West's A.

In summary ...

  • Take a moment to glean any inferences you can from the auction - here, about North's heart holding.
  • Take the trouble to 'fast-forward' the next couple of tricks: what will happen if I do cover? What will happen if I don't?
  • Go for the option that gives you a chance. You don't know whether partner has the 10, but she might have it. ** But you do know that you've got no chance at all if you play low at trick 2.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs (22 Feb), everyone was in 3NT by North, and the lead in every case was a spade (mostly the ♠Q). Surprisingly, four of the nine declarers were allowed to make 12 tricks, while the others made just 9 or 10 - no one made 11!

In AP, everyone was in NT, but only one East led the ♠Q. Just one declarer made 12 tricks, the others making 9 or 11.

cj


* Against a NT contract it's usually best to lead a major (the reason they're in NT is because they don't have a major fit). In any case, your spades are much more promising than your diamonds! Top of a (broken) sequence ♠QJ9 is a safer (and more attacking) option than the 4th highest ♠3, which might concede an avoidable trick to declarer's ♠10, if she happens to have it.

** There's actually a 67% chance that partner's got the 10, as she has 3 hearts and declarer has only 2.

Board 09 – Wed 21 Feb 2024

1, 2, 3 ... 4?

Three uninterrupted bids into the auction - by now you'll probably know where you're heading. But do you?

Partner's shown at least 9 cards in the majors - not enough to be sure of a major fit. She might have 5 hearts, of course, but if not ...

.... you'll hope to be in NT. But is your Q86 really an adequate diamond stop? What if partner has diamond singleton? Well, if she does ...

... perhaps she'll have 3 clubs.

In other words, you still don't have adequate information to decide on a contract: you need to know more about partner's hand

How to find out? In this situation, where you and your partner have already bid three suits in an uninterrupted auction, is to bid the 4th suit : 3. Which means?

'Fourth suit forcing'

Your 3 bid has nothing to do with diamonds. It's a conventional bid, which means (as we've seen): 'Partner, I have points but I'm not sure where to go here. Please tell me more about your hand.'

So how should partner respond? Well, like you, she knows that your priority is to find a major fit or, failing that, no trumps. So 

  • if she has 5 hearts, she'll rebid her hearts to tell you so. Failing that ...
  • ... she'll try for no trumps: so if she has a diamond stop, she'll bid 3NT. And failing that ...
  • ... if she's got 3 clubs and some extra strength (because game in clubs requires 11 tricks), she might punt 4♣ ...
  • ... but more probably, with an ordinary hand, she'll just revert to 3♠ - 'Sorry, partner. Just an opening hand with 5 spades and 4 hearts.

Let's have a look at the whole deal. What would you bid, sitting North?

The final contract ...

... is going to be 3NT by North. With only 4 hearts but with a diamond stop, North will respond 3NT. A great place to be. True, as it happens either of the two 7-card major suits yields more tricks than 3NT, but that's only because both suits split 3-3. 3NT is much the best contract. 

And a final note: '4th suit forcing' is, as its name suggests, forcing for at least one round. Some pairs prefer to play it as forcing to game. Up to you. But in either case, once you bid a new suit at the 3-level, you're committed to game anyway: so on this hand, South must be sure that she can stand game before she reaches for the 3 bid. Here, with 12 points, she has just enough. But (say) just 10 points wouldn't be enough. In this case, South would have to make do with 2NT.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs, everyone was in 3NT - half by South and the other half (probably via fsf) by North. Declarers made 8, 9, 10,11 or 12 tricks!

In AP, 2 pairs reached 3NT and went one off. One pair was in 2NT and made 10 tricks ... and one made 10 tricks in 4 for 100%.

cj


* For past HOTWs looking at the 4th suit, there are two here: (1) 14 March 2022 The 4th suit and (2) 15 June 2022: Reversing towards the 4th suit. Plus one more from 2012 on the Box website here, entitled 4th suit to the rescue.

Board 13 – Wed 14 Feb 2024

Hand in hand

Just two bids - one in each hand - for a match made in heaven.

North's bid

North picks up one of those awkward 4-4-4-1 hands. What to open? The standard Acol method of dealing with this distribution is: 

  • With an extreme ranking singleton - ie if the singleton's a ♠ (the top-ranking suit) or a ♣ (the bottom-ranking suit) bid the middle-ranking of your 4-card suits.
  • Otherwise - ie if your singleton's a middle-ranking suit ( or ) - bid the suit below the singleton.

In other words, if your singleton's black, bid the middle-ranking of your 4-card suits and if it's red, bid the suit below the singleton.

On this hand, then, North - to South's surprise and delight - will open 1. *

South's bid

East passes and it's South to bid. Tricky. The opps have surely got a major fit and you'd rather they didn't find it. Part of you wants to hope that North has the A (very likely!) and punt a very dodgy 3NT. Safer, though, would be to raise partner's diamonds. But how high?

Well, to scupper their 4 or 4♠, you'd need to jump straight to 5. How does that square with the normal 'rules of thumb', like the Law of Total Tricks and the Losing trick count?

Well, the Law (see HOTW 31 Jan 2024, just below) would agree: partner is known to have 4 diamonds and you have 7 ... so bid to make 11 tricks.

What about your losers? You have only 6. Add your partner's (supposed) 7 and again, you get to bid 5.

A final check: what's the vulnerability? You're both vulnerable. So if they X you, you can afford to go 2 off for -500 - less than they'd get for a vulnerable major game.

5 it is, then.

What happens?

Have a look at the whole deal. EW do indeed have a major fit and can make 4♠ - but not 5♠!

And 5? Well, in theory it can go 2 off (the ♠A, ♣AK and a club ruff) but in practice it might well make. If they don't cash their clubs before you get the lead, you can dump two losing clubs on the AK and make it. But even if you do go 2 off, and even if you're doubled, that's still only -500 instead of -620 for 4♠ making. 

Happy Valentine's Day!

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs, 5 NS pairs were in 5, one in 6 and two in 3, all making 10 or 11 tricks. One EW pair went 1 off in 5♣.

In AP, four NS pairs were in 5, making 10, 11 or 12 (!) tricks. One EW pair made 4♠ +1,

cj

Postscript  What about that 3NT punt? On a ♠Q lead (most likely) you're actually going to make a very pleasant 10 tricks. But that's just the luck of the draw!


* Sitting North, your rebid will of course depend on partner's response:

  • If she says 1, you'll support: on this hand, with 16 points, you'll raise to 3.
  • If she says 1♠ (which is quite likely, given your shortage), you can rebid 2♣ or (if you have 15+ points, as here) 1NT.
  • If she says 1NT, you'll pass.
  • If she says 2♣ or 2 you'll raise to 3.
Board 01 - Wed 07 Feb 2024

NT or the major fit? How can we tell?

What do you open when you have a balanced hand but too many points (15+) to open 1NT? Easy: you open a suit - you must have at least one suit with 4+ cards in it - and then bid NT on your next bid, at an appropriate level. Which in standard Acol is as follows (though many players, me included, prefer to use the bracketed numbers):

  • 1NT with 15-16 points (15-17)
  • 2NT with 17-18 (18-19)
  • 3NT with 19 

Here your 4-card suit is clubs, so you open 1♣ (You don't like the suit? Nor do I but so what? You aren't going to end up in clubs and it could be useful to deter the opps from leading a club later on.) Your partner responds 1 ... and with 19 points you'll probably rebid 3NT.

Part of me would want to rebid 2NT, though. Why? In case partner has 5 hearts. If she does, we have a major fit, and most of the time, a major fit will make more tricks than NT. Which is why I bang on about the importance of finding a major fit all the time. If I rebid 2NT, that leaves my partner room to tell me that she has 5 hearts: if she has just 4, she raises me to 3NT, but if she has 5, she can instead bid 3 ... and we can find our heart fit.

The trouble is, the trump contract doesn't always earn more tricks than no trumps. And in those cases, it's better to be in 3NT than (say) 4, because whereas 4= is worth 420, 3NT+1 is worth 430. A crucial extra 10 points.

Why is a trump contract normally worth more tricks?

Two reasons:

  •  It's safer. If you've got one weak suit (it could be clubs here!), the opps might be able to rattle off a whole bunch of tricks in NT, whereas if you're in 4 one of you can ruff and stop them in their tracks.
  • You can often make an extra trick via a ruff. To make an extra trick, the ruff has to be in the short trump hand. Or, if you've got a 4-4 or 5-5 fit, either hand will do.

When is it NOT worth more tricks?

Looking at the above, the answer's pretty obvious: it's when a ruff looks unlikely AND when you're not worried about safety. So:

  • Shape  If you're not 4-4 in trumps and you're flat (so no shortages you can ruff) AND
  • Strength  If you're stronger than the minimum 25-6 - strong enough, say, to have two stops in every suit.

What happens here?

So (assuming partner has 5 hearts) where's the best place to be on this hand? 3NT or 4? Let's apply our two tests:

  • Shape  Well, you're not 4-4 in trumps and you're as flat as a pancake, so no extra tricks by ruffing. Suggests NT.
  • Strength  You're certainly strong enough, but you have no idea whether partner has just a minimum 6 points or more. So who knows?

So although NT might be better, you simply can't be sure. Pick a contract and let's have a look ...

On this hand, 3NT is a winner. You make 11 tricks in either contract - having a trump suit doesn't offer an extra trick: you have 3 spades, 5 hearts, one diamond and two clubs.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs, 8 pairs went for 3NT and just 3 were in 4. (This might have been because they didn't actually find the heart fit.) Everyone made 11 tricks except for one, who managed a 12th trick in 4.

In AP, everyone was in hearts, probably due to unwise advice from me! My excuse is that finding the heart fit involves some snazzier bidding.

Conclusion

Because the major fit will usually earn you more tricks, and because it's very hard to know whether the hand you're on is an exception, the best rule of thumb is: when in doubt, go for the major!

That said, it would be interesting to know what 'usually' means in this context. I'll try to find out and let you know.

cj

 

Board 14 Wed 31 Jan 2024

A handy rule of thumb

You may have come across something called the Law of Total Tricks, which links the number of makeable tricks in a suit contract to the total number of trumps you and your partner hold between you. Some of its conclusions are a bit dodgy - my old bridge teacher Robert Baker called it the 'Law of Total Tripe' - but one of its rules of thumb seems to be a pretty reliable guide:

Bid to the level of your fit
If you're the weaker pair in a competitive auction, work out how many trumps you have between you
and bid to make that number of tricks.

So if your partner has opened (say) a weak 2 and you're also weak and have 3 hearts, bid 3: 6 + 3 = 9, so bid to make 9 tricks. Or if partner overcalls 1♠ and you have a rubbish hand with 4 spades, again raise to 3♠: 5 + 4 also = 9.

Which brings us to today's hand. Over South's opening 1 your partner overcalls 1 and North bids 1♠. What do you bid?

Well, according to the 'Law', you should raise partner to 4: partner has promised at least 5 hearts and you also have 5. 5 + 5 = 10 so bid to make 10 tricks.

Wot? With only 3 points? Yes, with only 3 points. The opps surely have some kind of game on, and at the very least your bid has removed all the bidding space they need to chat amiably between themselves: they now have to guess on their best contract or else X you for penalties. 

So what happens?

Take a look at the whole deal. Bizarrely, because of the cross-ruffing potential, 4 actually makes - despite your combined 15 points. Because you can catch South's K in a finesse, you only lose two spades and a club. Lovely - specially if the opps have doubled you for penalties!

What if the opps instead bravely punt 4♠ over your 4? Well, that makes, too, though declarer has to be careful - see below.

Should EW push on to 5 over 4♠, then? As the cards lie, it's obviously a good sacrifice, as it only goes one off for -100 (doubled). But that's one trick further than the 'Law' recommends, so if it goes horribly wrong, you're on your own! 

Be aware of vulnerability

On this hand NW and EW have equal vulnerability, so go ahead and use the 'Law' as it stands.

At unfavourable vulnerability (ie you're vulnerable and they're not) you might want to pull your horns in a bit and maybe just raise partner to 3 instead of 4.

On the other hand, at favourable vulnerability (you're not vulnerable and they are), you can confidently push on to 5.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs, 3 EW pairs were in 4♥X, 5♥X and even 6♥X, all making 10 tricks. A couple of NS pairs were in 3NT, going off, and the rest were in 4♠ or 5♠: one with disastrous results - again, see below.

In AP, one EW pair were allowed to get away with 2 (making 10 tricks) while all the others NS pairs were in 4♠, two of them making.

cj

 

Making 4 as North - 3 led   Plan your play, then click on Answer

 

OK, you can see all the hands, but at the table you can't!

The key to making the contract is to ask yourself. 'Why hasn't East led a heart - her partner's suit?' The ♣3 can't be a doubleton - it's East's lowest club, so would normally promise an honour. But why would East prefer leading that to a heart? Maybe ... just maybe it's a singleton.

In which case you have to be careful. It would normally be correct to finesse for the ♠Q, but suppose East has it? She can then give her partner the lead (with either of the red aces!) and then get a club ruff. Yuk!

So, just in case, you give up the idea of the spade finesse ...

  • Win the trick in hand (noting in passing that West has played the ♣Q - which makes East's lead look even more like a singleton) and cash your ♠AK. Leaving one opp or the other with the master ♠Q.
  • Not bothering to clear the ♠Q, you can now set up your diamonds.
  • Contract made: you're losing tricks to the A, A and ♠Q.

In the Open Pairs, one North went four off in 4♠ - and that was on a heart lead. Somehow the defenders managed to set up a cross-ruff in clubs and diamonds and ended up with 7 tricks! The moral: clear trumps!

 

Board 02 – Wed 24 Jan 2024

Icing on the cake

This is a bit of a continuation of last week's 'gift horse' theme. Your (20-22 points) 2NT opening bid is raised to 3NT and West leads the 6. What are your thoughts?

First off, you can count nine tricks off the top (the A and four tricks each in clubs and spades), so you're making your contract. But as ever, you're looking for as many tricks as you can. Can you spot any opportunities for extra tricks?

Clue: There's one now - and if that works, then there's another!

Extra no 1 The lead looks as if it's the traditional 4th highest - and as it's quite a high card, West's probably got 5 of them, making it more likely than not that she holds the K. In which case, you can pinch an extra trick by going up with dummy's Q at trick 1. Try it - it works and you have an extra trick. What next?

Extra no 2 The screaming headline here is that because your Q won the trick, you still have a heart stop, so it's quite safe to lose the lead once more before you cash all your winners. Can we create a trick in diamonds, then? Well, we can try. Maybe East holds the Q - if she does, we can nick a trick by leading the J at trick 2. Try it - East covers with the Q, you play the K and West wins with the A ... leaving dummy's 10 as your 11th trick.

Take a look at the whole deal.

A question or two

  • What if East had the K? Then you'd just make your 9 tricks. Once they'd knocked out your A, you couldn't afford to lose the lead again, so you'd cash your 8 black-suit tricks and give in!
  •  Suppose I play the diamonds differently? You could, of course, have hoped that East held the A and not the Q. In that case, you'd play a low diamond at trick 2 and go up with the K. That wouldn't have worked on this hand - West will win and go back to knocking out your A and you'll end up with just 10 tricks. It's not a 'wrong' play - just an unlucky guess. 
  • What if West leads a diamond instead of a heart? That's just as good! You'll insert your J, East will cover with the Q, you'll win with the K and immediately lead another diamond, setting up your 10. And if West now switches to a heart you'll be on for 12 tricks!
  • What if the opening lead is a black suit? Then you have to do all of the work yourself. The message is the same, though: don't be content to take just 9 tricks. While you have stops in all suits, now is the time to create extra tricks. The best line is probably to win in dummy and lead the J, as above. And later on, you may get the chance to lead a low heart towards dummy's Q - while you still have the A, of course!

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 18 Jan), every table was in 3NT, with most getting the 6 lead. Three made 11 tricks, one 10 and one only 9. At two other tables the lead was a black suit and declarer made 10 tricks.

It's worth looking at the scores. Those with 11 tricks scored 83%. Those with 10 just 33%. And the one who didn't go for any icing on the cake got 0%.

In AP, the four pairs in 3NT made 10 or 11 tricks, and one pair went off in 4♠.

What to take from this hand

  • 'Making your contract' is of course useful, but if it's safe to do so, go for all the overtricks you can. 
  • In no trumps, your best opportunity for extra tricks is usually as early as possible in the play, while you still have stops in the other suits and can therefore afford to lose the lead.

cj

Board 01 Wed 17 Jan 2024

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth

Here's a hand tailor-made for Ghestem! * It's your RH opponent's deal and you're praying that she opens 1♣ or 1, so that you can show partner your TWO major suits in just one bid ...

... but it isn't to be. Instead East opens 1! Hmmph! All you can do is bid 1♠, then. What do you make of the rest of the auction?

  • West's pass: probably very weak. Unless she has a fistful of spades ...
  • Partner's 2♣: Well, she has fewer than 3 spades. And she has enough points (and/or shape) to 'rescue' you into a decent club suit. 
  • East's X: for takeout. East's got extra strength!
  • Your 3♠: a bit pushy, but you've got a decent hand, an extra spade and want to get in the way.
  • West's 2nd pass: she's not doubling your spades, so is probably just very weak.
  • Partner's 4♠: looks as if she has 2 spades, then, and a few points. And probably a heart shortage!
  • East's second X: this time for penalties. Oh dear!

Playing the hand

West dutifully leads the 6 - her partner's opening suit - and down goes dummy:

 What are your thoughts?

Well, you have two major choices:

  • You can ruff the heart, then (after ruffing a diamond) ruff another heart and then hope to lose just the A, one club and one spade OR
  • Discard a club and wait for East to win with her A, leaving you with three lovely heart winners. Then you can ruff just one low heart and again hope to lose the same three tricks.

Which is better? The second alternative: it gives you a much better chance of losing only one spade trick. If you've had to use both dummy's trumps for ruffing, you're left with having to lead trumps from your hand, giving EW every chance of making tricks with both the ♠K and the ♠10. If you've only ruffed one heart, on the other hand, you can lead the ♠J from dummy and concede just one trick - or maybe none, even! - in spades.

Take a look at the whole deal - as you can see, the heart lead is a bit of a gift horse, provided you discard and provided East decides to go up with her A. You win the return, ruff your remaining small heart with dummy's ♠2, then run dummy's ♠J. The defence then make just one heart, one spade and a club and you're home.

But will East win with the A? If instead she plays the 8, you'll have to force out the A yourself, and you'll probably be going one off. ** Most Easts, though, will reason 'This is my only chance of making my A. Then I can cash my AK and later on a trump trick for one off'. Bit of a shock, then, when you ruff her A at trick 2.

So there you are. With luck, West and East will between them offer you a gift horse, which you should by no means look in the mouth.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 11 Jan), most Souths were in spades - only one in game, though and it was doubled. All made at least 10 tricks. One unfortunate East ended up in 4X, going 4 off for -800. Must have been a bit of a shock when she discovered the heart split.

In AP, there was much more variety. Two pairs in 4♠X went one off, though one South in 3♠ made 10 tricks. Two Easts played in 2 - one making! - and one other went 3 off in 1NT.

cj


Ghestem is a really handy convention that allows you to show any two-suited hand (at least 5-5) over an opponent's 1-of-a-suit opening. It doesn't work here as the opp has opened one of your two suits! Well worth adding to your system. For a HOTW on the subject, go here - Showing a 2-suiter with Ghestem.

** As it happens, there's another way of making the contract which is made possible by the East's very lucky (for us) AK doubleton. But for us ordinary mortals, EW's present of 3 top heart tricks is a much easier route.

Board 03 – Wed 10 Jan 2024

Major disruption - the Landy convention

Decision time - your partner's passed and West has opened 1NT. Are you worth a bid? 

Sure you are. If partner has max points for her pass, you might even have most of the points between you. And if partner has nothing, they can make a vulnerable game, so it's well worth shoving a spanner in their works.

You can just bid 2, but it would be a pity to get stuck in that if partner has (say) a singleton heart and 4 spades. As luck would have it, there's a handy (and widely used) convention called Landy, which you use to show partner a hand with both majors. You'll need at least 8 points (preferably more!) and at least 5-4 or 4-5 in the major suits - so this hand's just right. You initiate the convention by bidding 2♣ - let's do it. East passes and it's your partner's turn to bid ...

Responding to Landy

Before we look at the whole deal, let's imagine what partner might have in the majors. (Just like a takeout double, partner obviously has to respond, unless she's got a 6- or 7-card club suit!)

  • If she's got a 4-card major (or longer!), it's a no-brainer: she just bids it - 2 or 2♠. You're found a major fit. And if she has both, she can bid the one she prefers.
  • Suppose she's 3-3 in the majors. You've got a fit, but she doesn't know whether it's in hearts or spades. In this case she responds 2 - 'Which is your 5-card major, partner?' And you bid it.
  • What about 3-2 or 2-2 or 2-1 or 1-1. Same thing. She prefers to be in your 5-card major. So she bids 2 and you say 2.
  • And then there's 3-1. What now? She crosses her fingers and bids her 3-card major. With luck you have a 5-3 fit, but in the worst case you'll still have 4-3.

OK. Let's have a look. Partner has a handy 8 points and two 3-card majors. So she needs to find out which is your 5-card major: she bids 2 and you say 2 - end of auction.

What happens

Sadly, 2 goes 1 off, for -50. On the other hand, EW can make 1NT for +90, so 2 turns out to be a great sacrifice.

And sure, on this deal you could simply have bid 2 directly instead of going through Landy - but on another day, partner might turn up with 1 heart and 4 spades ...

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Tuesday 02 Jan), two Easts got away with 1NT making. Six NS pairs were in hearts, making 6, 7 or 8 tricks. One East somehow ended up in 2♠-1.

In AP, three EW pairs were left in 1NT, two making, for a great EW score. One N went off in 2 and one other in 2♠ - both for a great NS score.

Supposing NS have stronger hands?

In situations like this, you're not often going to want to be in game, as one opponent is known to hold at least 12 points: most of the time, the above is all you'll need to know about Landy. But it'll happen sometimes - if you're interested, see below.

cj


Postscript: looking for game with Landy

Let's suppose your partner bids Landy 2♣ over an opp's opening 1NT and you have (say) 13 points and an actual or potential major fit. If partner has only 8-10 points you want to stay in 2 or 2♠ but if she has 11 or more, you want to be in game. How to find out?

The simplest way (once you're sure of your fit) is simply to invite with 3 or 3♠. With a minimum, partner will pass. With a maximum, she'll bid game.

A fancier route is to go via 2NT - which is a stronger version of the 2 enquiry we used above and tells your partner you're interested in game. So ... 1NT from opp 1, 2♣ from partner, PASS from opp 2, 2NT from you ... and your partner can choose from these responses:

3♣ I'm weaker with 5 hearts 4 spades
3 I'm weaker with 4 hearts and 5 spades
3 I'm stronger with 5 hearts and 4 spades
3♠ I'm stronger with 4 hearts and 5 spades

Looks a bit cumbersome, I know, but actually quite logical and a standard component of a very nice enhancement of Landy called Multi-Landy. If you're interested, I can provide notes ... 

Board 02 – Wed 03 January 2024

Delivering on a takeout

Here's a nice example of a takeout double in action. Your partner doubles East's opening 1♠ bid and West passes. Two questions arise: 

Q1 What's partner promising (and asking you to do)? and Q2 What should you bid on this hand?

A1 She's promising an opening hand (at least) and, normally, support in the other three suits. * She's asking you to bid your best suit, with (as always) a preference for a major.

A2 Well, you'll obviously be bidding hearts. But how many? The thing about a takeout double is that (again, normally) you have to bid, however weak you are. * So you need to tailor your response to your strength - just as you would if partner had opened 1. As a rough guide, with 0-7 points you'd respond 2 and with 8+ you'd jump to 3 or 4. Here you have 11 points and just 7 losers (as well as 5 hearts), so I think you're worth a raise straight to 4.  

Does it work?

Certainly - take a look at the whole deal. You're going to lose tricks to the ♣A and ♠A, but should take the rest. 

Things can go wrong, of course: East will probably start with her singleton ♣A, then switch to her ♠A, dropping dummy's ♠K. If she now continues with another spade, South has to ruff high with the K. She probably won't, mind, because she doesn't know that West is also out of spades. In which case, West will overruff and return a club, which East will ruff for one off. Oops!

And talking of East having a lot of spades ...

... Should East bid 4?

I think so, yes:

  • She knows her partner has next to nothing (having passed after South's double), so 4 is surely making.
  • NS are vulnerable, so will score 600+ for making 4. EW, on the other hand, are non-vulnerable, so can afford to go up to three off doubled for just -500 - a better score than -600.
  • Can East make 7 tricks with no help from partner? Yes! Even without the ♠K she can count 6 trump tricks and one club - which is enough.

4♠ is an excellent sacrifice - and should actually make 8 tricks, as the singleton K♠ falls under her A♠.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Tuesday 02 Jan), every NS had evidently bid to game in hearts, as every contract was 4♠ (or 5♠), mostly doubled. Good bidding by players on both sides. 

In AP, one EW pair went off in 4♠ (undoubled) and one went off in 4. The other two made a passed-out 1♠, suggesting that at least a couple of Souths need to read this article!

cj


* Normally (1)  You'll also make a takeout double with a single-suited hand which is too strong for a simple overcall - ie with 16+ points. So if partner doubles, then ignores your response and bids her own suit, then she has a strong hand with that suit.

** Normally (2)  You don't have to bid, of course, if opener's partner bids something as your partner now has another bid anyway - passing is a good way of telling her you have a really weak hand.

The other situation where you can pass is if you're sitting there with a fistful of opener's suit and you think you can get a good score by taking them off. But be careful - it's not easy taking opps off when they're in just one of a suit!