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July-Dec 2021 HOTWs
  HOTW 29 Dec 2021 - the negative double

The negative X

Sitting North, you open 1♣, wondering if you can find a spade fit with partner. It seems not, as East makes a jump overcall of 2♠, showing a weak hand with 6 spades. Your partner doubles, West passes and it's back to you. What do you bid?

Well, that all depends on what partner's X means. In my system - and I recommend in yours, too – it's a negative double, showing at least four cards in any unbid major. * In this case, 4+ hearts, then. And some points, of course. How many? Well, at least enough to respond and in this case a few more – East has, after all, just forced any further bidding up to the 3 level!

Which must bring NT to mind. You've got the spades covered (especially if you get a spade lead round to your ♠AJ87), your partner can manage the hearts (assisted by your singleton A) and you have 'half a stop' in diamonds too. So you bid 2NT (minimum 15 points), and partner raises to 3NT. 

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. You have two stops in each major, 5 tricks in diamonds and 4 in clubs. All you have to do is win the opening (probably heart or spade) lead, force out the ♣A (immediately!) and you're on your way to 11 tricks.

Slamming in the minors

In passing, we should note that, difficult though it would be to bid either, both 6 and 6♣ are on. In either contract you have 5 diamond tricks, 4 clubs and the two major Aces. That's 11 tricks. So where's the 12th coming from?

Answer: simply take a ruff in the short trump hand. So if you're South in 6, ruff a heart in dummy. And if you're North in 6♣, ruff a spade in dummy. It goes without saying (as this has come up many times before) that you have to do this before clearing trumps – if you clear trumps first in either contract, you won't have any trumps left in dummy to ruff with! And of course once you've taken your ruff, you get on with clearing trumps immediately.

What happened on the day?

Two pairs were in 3NT, making 10 and 11 tricks – well done. Two others were in 5♣ and 5, making just 10 and 11 tricks respectively – some lessons to be learned about ruffing in the short trump hand, above.

A further lesson, another we've had before, is that 3NT is usually to be preferred to 5 of a minor: even if you manage to make 12 tricks, that still doesn't score as much as making just 10 tricks in no trumps. And to get to 3NT on this deal, the negative double ** is a very useful tool. 


* In the old days, after SUIT 1 - SUIT 2, the X would show both the unbid suits, but in these major-conscious days it only promises unbid majors.

** Email me at if you'd like an article on the subject.

  HOTW 16 Dec 2021 - a shapely raise to game

Winners & losers

Here's a hand from our last face-to-face meeting of 2021.

Sitting West with this shapely 9-count, you start with a pass, but if your partner's bidding anything other than hearts, you'll doubtless be entering the auction on your next turn. 

And so it turns out. After North's pass, partner opens 1♠, South overcalls 2 and it's your bid. What do you say?

Nothing below game will do! Sure, you've only got a 9-count, but your partner's opening bid has transformed it into a powerful hand. Now you have a fit in spades, you can count your losers * – I make it 6 – one better than the 7 you need for game. Not only that, but you have a void in the opponents' suit.

So don't make a feeble raise to 2♠ or a preemptive raise to 3♠ – both of which partner can and probably will pass. Go straight to 4♠. 

Two better options

I've already made my main point, but there are actually two better options than 4♠, both of which have come up in previous HOTWs. Feel free to skip to the next bit if you're not feeling technical!

If there is problem with bidding 4♠ straight off, it's that you may be missing a slam. After all, you've only got 6 losers, and partner could be quite strong – as strong as 19 points – in which case a slam might be on. So either of these might be better:

  • 3. Bid the opponents' suit. This is the horribly named unassuming cue-bid. ** It promises a raise to at least 3♠ and allows a couple of Ace-showing cue-bids before you reach 4♠. Should partner respond 4♣, for example, showing the ♣A, you would respond 4, showing your A and you'd be on your way ...
  • Alternatively, 4. This would be a splinter bid, promising a sound raise to game in spades and a heart singleton or void. *** This would also show an interest in a possible slam.

How does it go?

As it happens, partner (in spite of having 6 losers) has a minimum 11 points, so what with you being a passed hand and all, whatever your bid you're likely to end up in 4. Which, as you'll see if you look at the whole deal, is exactly the right place to be. And if South is kind enough to lead her A that makes the contract a doddle. There's no slam on, though, as you're always going to lose a club and a diamond.

What happened on the day?

Everyone was in spades, but only half the EW pairs reached game. But then only half made 10 or more tricks: probably something to do with diamond ruffs, or maybe not ruffing hearts in dummy before clearing trumps?


* If you need to brush up on the Losing Trick Count, here's a link.

** Here's Andrew Robson's take on the unassuming cue-bid.

*** And here's a Robson video on splinters

  HOTW 09 Dec 2021 - an example of Jacoby

Slamming with Jacoby

I'm not particularly advocating the auction shown, but it features the Jacoby convention, which may be of interest. Jacoby's used when you have a sound, pointy game raise of partner's opening 1 or 1♠ (as opposed to a shapely but weak pre-emptive direct raise to game). Here's an English version, with private thoughts in italics:

East: 1  Yeah, it's only 11 points, but it satisfies the Rule of 20, so 1.

West: 2NT  This is Jacoby. I've got game-going points and at least 4 hearts, so I'm wondering about a slam. You interested?

East: 3♣  Hmm. I'm a minimum so by rights I should sign off in 4, but ... OK: I've got a shortage in clubs, partner. 

West: 3♠  I'd have preferred a shortage in diamonds, but never mind. I've got the ♠A - and because I missed out diamonds, I haven't got the A, partner!

East: 4  I'm still really weak, but partner's ♠A fits nicely with my spades and she'll be glad to know that I can help in diamonds, so ... I have the A, partner.

West: 4NT  Right. Let's go for it: Roman Key Card Blackwood (1430)

East:  5♣  Oh dear, what have I done? I've got just one key card, partner.

West: 6  Obviously the A. Hasn't got the K, then. Pity. I should really bid 5 now to find out if partner's got the trump Q, but she's looking a bit frazzled, so I'll just cross my fingers and jump to 6. *

What's nice about Jacoby is that it's sets the situation in stone: we're at least in 4. And that frees up all the bids between 2NT and 4 for Jacoby responses (like showing a shortage) and subsequently for cue-bids showing controls. The result is that by the time you get to wondering about using Blackwood you already know quite a lot about each other's hands.

How does it go?

And of course it's poor old East who has to try to make 12 tricks. South leads the Q. How does it go from there?

Well, the first job is to win the trick and play 3 rounds of clubs, discarding your J9. Now you can attack trumps. And you get lucky: not only is the K in the right hand (South) but North's ♠Q drops under your ♠AK, so you end up with an overtrick. **

What happened on the day?

Most pairs played in 4, but 3 bid and made 6 (one with an overtrick), with one pair going one off in 6NT.

If you'd like some notes on Jacoby, email me at


* After East's 5♣, West can bid the next suit up (5) to ask if she's got the Queen. If she doesn't, she signs off in 5. If she does she can jump to 6 - In which case, it does no harm to show any non-trump Kings in passing. Here, after West's 5, East would respond 5♠ - 'Yes, I have the Q, partner, and I also have the ♠K, in case you're interested.' But I agree, it can seem a little complicated!

** If declarer rightly reads that Q lead as a singleton (it's otherwise a weird lead to make missing the J, isn't it?), she might decide to play safe and cash the A and another heart, instead of finessing for the K. If the finesse fails, a diamond lead could result in a diamond overruff by South ... Like many 'safety plays', this sacrifices an overtrick as the cost of making the contract safe.

  HOTW Wed 24 Nov 2021 - a bad trump split

Plan A Plan B

It's the last board of the morning, and you've just missed a slam! Not that you should be in it, of course – if the opps find a diamond lead, they're probably going to make a diamond trick as well as their A. But luckily for you, West leads the ♣7 instead ...

... so provided the trumps split 3-2, you have 12 tricks: 3 trumps, 2 spades, the A, 5 clubs (on one of which you discard your 5) and finally a diamond ruff in your hand.

So win trick one with the A and start on the trumps ... and East shows out on the 2nd round. Dammit – now you can't bang out your club winners for that diamond discard without using up all your trumps first! But if Plan A doesn't work, there's always Plan B. How's it done?

Plan B  Well, you already have a spade shortage in dummy, so simply switch to a spade ruff instead: cash your A and ruff a 2nd spade in dummy. Now you can clear the rest of West's trumps and you have 3 trump tricks, 5 club tricks, AK + a spade ruff and the A for 12 tricks. Check out the whole deal.

Hearts vs NT

Sometimes you can make as many tricks in no trumps as in a major fit, in which case NT will yield a better score. But on this hand NT is clearly an inferior contract. On a diamond lead you'd be in serious trouble: never mind 12 tricks, you're going to have to risk the spade finesse to even make 9!

What happened on the day?

Maybe the declarers in hearts had a Plan C, but whatever it was it didn't work – they all made only 9 or 10 tricks. 

What about the pair in 3NT? As luck would have it, diamonds are not an attractive lead for West, who instead led a spade round to South's ♠AKJ. Declarer's diamond stop remained intact, therefore, allowing her to knock out the A and claim 12 tricks! Nothing's fair in love, war or bridge.

And finally ...

OK. Imagine you ended up in 6 and got the dreaded diamond lead. You can still make it – how? Click below for the answer.



You'd have to risk the spade finesse (before touching trumps, obviously, or they'll win with the A and immediately cash a diamond). 

This wins, enabling you to discard dummy's remaining two diamonds on the ♠AK. Then ruff a diamond in dummy and clear trumps. Phew!

  HOTW Wed 17 Nov 2021 - A hand for Lebensohl

Er ... Lebensohl, anyone?

When your partner opens 1NT and your RHO overcalls – as here – it can be difficult to get to the best place. Without the 2♠ overcall, you might have simply passed partner's 1NT, but as things are, you want to compete in clubs. Trouble is, if you bid 3♣, partner has no way of knowing whether you're a strong hand looking to be in game or a weak hand wanting to stop in 3♣.

Which is where the Lebensohl convention comes in: after partner's opening 1NT and a 2-level overcall you bid 2NT. This is not a natural raise to 2NT*, but a conventional bid instructing partner to bid 3♣. Your subsequent bid (or pass!) then clarifies the position. Here your subsequent bid is dead easy: you pass, leaving partner in 3♣. But what if your long suit had been diamonds or hearts? No problem – over partner's 3♣, you bid 3 or 3, whichever it is, and partner will understand that you're WEAK with a 5+-card suit and will pass.

With a stronger holding, however, you bid 3, 3 or 3 directly, without going via 2NT/3, and partner can judge whether or not to take things further.

There's a lot more to Lebensohl than just this – it's a fairly complicated convention, but less experienced players can make a start with this 'lite' version – which is also handy after opponents open a weak 2: see below.

What happened on the day?

Most EW pairs were in spades, but some NS pairs found clubs. On the best defence, 2♠ goes 1 off, but that's only worth 50, compared with 110 for making 3♣. One happy NS got doubled in 3♣ and made an overtrick, scoring an unassailable 570 – well done!

Lebensohl after the opponents' weak 2

Suppose you've got the same hand and the bidding goes: opening 2 by West, X from your partner, Pass from East ... What do you bid? It's the same problem, isn't it? You want to bid clubs, but you don't want partner running off into game ... So what to do? If you're playing Lebensohl, it's easy: bid 2NT, partner is required to bid 3♣ and now you pass. And with a stronger hand, you'd bid 3♣ directly. Exactly the same as you did over partner's 1NT.

It's a neat solution. It ain't the whole convention by a long way, but you can add just this bit for now and maybe add more later. **

A word on alerting: As both bids in the Lebensohl sequence – the 2NT and the forced 3♣ response – are artificial, they are both, of course, alertable!


* As your natural raise to 2NT has been hijacked by Lebensohl, with 11+ points and no particular suit to show, you X instead. Partner will either leave the X in for penalties or bid on.

** There are many online articles about Lebensohl – browse at your peril! There's a nice one by Michael Rosen in the EBU magazine here.


  HOTW Wed 10 Nov 2021 - an unlikely slam ...

One slam ...

It's not often you get three potential slams come up in quick succession – especially all in the same suit! So let's gorge on them all ...

This first one is mightily unlikely, with a combined total of only 19 points. Sure, when you see both hands – 5 losers opposite 6 losers, heart void, 11-card fit – the potential's obvious, but it's hard to see how you'd bid it without being pushed. Which might happen, of course, as EW have a 12-card heart fit!

After you ruff East's K opening lead, there's only one decision you have to make: whether to finesse for the K or play for the drop: you have to get it right (if you're in the slam), because you're always losing a trick to the A ... So which is it to be?

The bidding doesn't really help you decide: East didn't go leaping off with a 4 overcall, so the hearts are probably 6-6 or 7-5 in one direction or other ... so what do the books say? It's a close-run thing: the finesse is a 50% chance, while the trumps will split 1-1 52% of the time *, so other things being equal, cashing your A has the edge – and succeeds here, as you'll see if you look at the whole deal.

What happened on the day?

Everyone reached game in spades, some were pushed to 5♠ – and just one pair was pushed all the way up to 6♠. Ironically, they were the only pair not to make 12 tricks – very bad luck. Presumably they went for the trump finesse.


* It's those vacant places again: if you place one of the two missing trumps with East, then East only has 12 vacant places left where the other might be – whereas West still has 13! Which is why the 1-1 split is 52% instead of 50%.

  HOTW Wed 10 Nov 2021 - ... another unlikely slam ...

... after ...

On the very next board, it's EW's turn. More combined points this time (27) but still very hard to bid. East's a bit strong for a straight (preemptive) raise to 4♠, but it seems the safest route to ensuring game. 

Anyway, the slam's far from certain to make: you're always losing the ♣A, so for 12 tricks you have to guess the diamond finesse right ...

... unless, of course, you get a diamond lead, which neatly gives you your 12th trick. And there's another possibility as well: if the hearts divide 3-3, dummy's 4th heart will become your 12th trick (instead of needing 3 diamonds).

And talking of hearts ...

... supposing North leads 10 (as happened at a couple of tables). Does that give you any ideas?

Looks a bit like a doubleton or maybe a singleton, doesn't it? Either way, The J must be with South (from J10, North would surely have led the J). So win the trick in dummy, clear trumps ... and you can now lead a heart towards your A8, trapping South's J. Again, 12 tricks – take a look at the whole deal. *

What happened on the day?

No one bid the slam, and just one pair failed to reach game. 3 declarers made 12 tricks, but among those who only made 11 were two who got the 7 lead. Oops!


* Note that if North (unwisely) butts in with a horribly weak 3♣ preemptive overcall, it's much easier for declarer to get the diamond finesse right: if North has 7+ clubs, then South's more likely to hold the Q!

  HOTW Wed 10 Nov 2021 ... and an unlikely grand slam

... another

And finally, a grand slam for EW with a combined 21 points ...

I think that weak as East is, after North's diamond overcall it's more useful to show the diamond void (as a splinter bid agreeing spades) than simply raise to 4♠. With 6 of her partner's suit, South will now surely bid 5 and West, with just 4 losers, will just as surely continue in spades. Where it all stops is anyone's guess, though it's unlikely to get as far as 7♠. But supposing it does ...?

North leads the K (as happened at every table), which is ruffed in dummy, and it only remains for declarer to choose between trying to drop the ♠K or finessing for it – exactly as on board 13. And, again as on board 13, North's 2 (rather than a jump overcall) suggests that the 12 diamonds are fairly evenly divided, so it's again just a toss-up, really. This time – check out the whole deal – it's the finesse that wins, as South has ♠Kx. But those brave enough to try 6♠ won't be too worried either way, as nothing can stop EW from making 12 tricks.

What happened on the day?

Two pairs were in 4♠, three were in 5♠ ... and two bid 6♠ – well done! Most evidently went for the finesse this time, as 6 of the 7 declarers made 13 tricks.


Three amazing hands in a run of four. The lesson being, I suppose, that shape matters at least as much as points. Keep counting those losers!


  HOTW 04 November 2021 - where's the 10th trick?


Well, you punted 4, so now all you've got to do is make it ... West leads a small heart to partner's Ace and you ruff the heart return. What now? You have 9 tricks off the top. Where's the 10th coming from?

One possibility is the diamond finesse, but although this has a greater than 50% chance of succeeding * there's a much surer route: simply ruff your 3rd club in dummy.

How does it go? Well, there's a bit of work to do. First you have to get rid of dummy's clubs. Lead a club, win the return, lead another club, win the return ... and now ruff your last club with your A, clear trumps and claim your 10 tricks.


But isn't that a bit dangerous? Shouldn't I get rid of some trumps first? No! Well, not if EW know anything about defending, anyway! Take a look at the whole hand.

Let's say you cash your ♠K at trick 3. East shows out – West has 3 spades. OK. Lead a small club – West wins and leads a trump. Win and lead another club. West wins again and leads her last trump ... and you have no spades left in dummy for your club ruff! Now all you've got is the diamond finesse ... which loses and you're one down.

So it turns out that leading a trump is much more dangerous than not leading a trump. Yet another example of the adage: Clear trumps at the first opportunity unless there's a good reason not to: and here the need to ruff a club in dummy is as good a reason as you'll get.

So: leave trumps alone and lead a club at trick 3. Now, even if West spots the danger, she can only deprive you of two of dummy's trumps – and you still get your club ruff.

Rerun ...

Suppose that instead of leading a heart, West starts with the ♣A. Now it's even easier to make your contract, as the opps have already cleared away half of dummy's clubs for you. Even if West spots the danger and switches to a trump, you're OK. West can win the next club trick and lead another trump, but you've still got the ♠A in dummy to ruff your 3rd club. Home and dry.

What happened on the day?

Everyone was in spades, mostly in game, but only 2 declarers out of 7 made 10 tricks – even though 5 Wests led the ♣A. The rest presumably cleared trumps and put all their eggs in the diamond finesse basket.

Four things to take from this hand

  • Don't automatically rush to clear trumps. The most common reason not to is that ...
  • ... you can gain a trick by ruffing in the short trump hand (dummy)
  • You don't need to worry about unfriendly distributions on this hand, as you have the top 7 trumps: you can afford to ruff high!
  • Just because a finesse is possible, it's not necessarily the best way to go. 


* This is because of 'vacant places'. On the bidding, East has 6 hearts and West only 2, so there are 11 possible cards that might be the Q in West's hand but only 7 in East's. For more on this, see the HOTW for 03 November 2020.

  HOTW 27 Oct 2021 - taking your time in defence

Live now, pay later

Sitting East, you're defending against NS's 4 contract and your partner has led the 6. While declarer's planning her play, so should you. Here are a couple of questions to be getting on with:

How are the remaining points distributed between West and South? What are your chances of getting the contract off?

Well, with only 8 points, North's been a little cheeky in inviting game – and by accepting, South's presumably showing a maximum 14 points ... so that leaves your partner with 10. Which together with your 8, comes to 18 points, meaning that you should have a decent chance.

Which brings us to the crucial question: After dummy plays low, which card do you play? Why?

Partner's lead is probably from a doubleton or trebleton. Does she have the K? Unlikely – leading away from an unsupported King is a pretty unattractive lead. So you'd better go up with the A, just in case, right?

Wrong! It's the only surefire way of giving them a free trick. How come? Well, they now have two heart tricks, don't they? The K and the Q. Whereas if you play your 10, they only ever make the K. *

Play on ...

Say you play the 10. South wins with the K and immediately plays a low heart. Aha – obviously planning to get some heart ruffs in! So win the trick ... and lead a trump, with your fingers crossed. Sure enough, partner wins with the ♠A and plays another spade, minimising declarer's ruffing potential.

And it works, as you'll see if you look at the whole deal: NS can take 5 trump tricks, the K, just one heart ruff and the 2 minor Aces for just 9 tricks.

But what happens if you play your A at trick 1? Now they make the same 9 tricks plus a 10th with the Q.

The opening lead  West did well to lead a heart. A club or diamond would be asking for trouble, leading round to a maximum 1NT opener: much better to get the lead coming round to her minor suit honours. A decent alternative opening lead would have been ♠A and another spade, which will also take the contract off – provided East plays her hearts sensibly, that is!

What happened on the day?

The two pairs who prudently stopped in 2♠ got unlucky, as the other three were all allowed to make their 4♠ contracts – two with an overtrick! One South was lucky enough to get a club lead round to her ♣AQ, while the other two got the 6 lead.


* And if your partner does happen to have the K, the 10 is obviously still the right play: you now retain your AJ over dummy's Q, which can now never make a trick.

  HOTW 20 October 2021 - getting tricky as declarer

Sleight of hand

This continues last week's theme of maximising your haul. Again you're declarer, this time in 4, and again you're grateful for a friendly lead: the 3, which you let run round to your singleton K.

Too late you realise that perhaps you should have won with dummy's A instead: then you could have finessed for the ♠K ... and now you can't get back to dummy. A pity, because if you could, you could dump your losing ♣8 on the A!

At which point, you might be getting a glimmering of an idea ... ?

Supposing East holds the ♠K. What you know, and she doesn't, is that you hold every single one of the other spades above the ♠9. What if you were to lead a low spade towards dummy's ♠98? Does East rise with her ♠K? She might reason 'If partner has the ♠10 or the ♠J or the ♠Q she'll win this trick and I can take my ♠K later' and play low. In which case you win the trick in dummy, dump your ♣8 on dummy's A and end up taking 12 tricks, as you'll see if you look at the whole deal.

Yes, but ...

  • Sure. It doesn't work if West has the ♠K. And if she does, she's pretty sure to lead a club, isn't she?
  • As the cards lie, East only has to count to realise that West has at most 1 spade – North surely has at least 6 spades on the auction. But even if she goes up with her ♠K she still might not lead a club – she didn't lead one before, did she? and if she leads (say) a heart, you can now get out to dummy (with a trump) and discard that losing club.
  • Many Wests will overcall 2♣ over South's 1NT, in which case East will lead a club and declarer will have to be content with 11 tricks.
  • Yes, this kind of thing doesn't turn up every day, but when it does ... Here's another example: you have KQJx in a side suit and singleton 10 in dummy. Lead the x towards dummy. If your LHO has the Ace, she might not play it, expecting her partner to have the K, Q or J. TYO *
  • And yes, I've cheated a bit, because on the day no one led a diamond ...

What happened on the day?

Everyone was in spades (though only 50% were in game!). Two Easts led a club and two led a heart. Just one declarer made 12 tricks – well done!


* BBOese for 'Thank you, opponent'

  HOTW 13 Oct 2021 - extra tricks in NT

Maximise your haul

This is a fairly straightforward hand, but it's worth a second look. Sitting East, you're pleased to see South's J lead against your 3NT contract and (as always!) take a few moments to plan your play. To that end, here are a couple of questions:

What didn't you want led? Why? How can you maximise your potential trick haul without taking any risks?

The lead you didn't want is, of course, a spade. Sure it gets you a trick with your ♠K but it also leaves you wide open in spades, so you can't take any further risks - losing the diamond finesse, for example, would be fatal! Instead, you'd have to just cash your top winners for 10 tricks in all. Not bad, but the heart lead gives you chances of a better haul. How do you play it?

The obvious place to look for extra tricks is in diamonds, and with your ♠Kx still there to provide a spade stop, it's safe to try the finesse. * If it comes off, you'll be taking 11 tricks - 12 if the diamonds are also 3-3! And even if the K is with South, you can still reap 11 tricks if the diamonds are 3-3 - and maybe the ♠A is with North.

So win trick 1 with dummy's A and finesse a diamond. It loses - never mind. You're still safe in spades and the diamonds might yet be 3-3. If South now switches to a spade you've got 11 tricks anyway, so let's say she leads another heart. Win in your hand and cash your two winning diamonds ... Marvellous - everyone follows, so dummy's 8 has just become your 11th trick. You can bang out your winners in the faint hope that a defender will discard the ♠A, but it ain't gonna happen, so after checking that the clubs aren't 4-0 you can just claim 11 tricks.

Take a look at the whole deal.

A couple of points

  • Go straight for the diamonds at trick 2. Sure, you can bang out your 5 club tricks first, but to what end? It gains you nothing and gives you fewer entries to play with in your hand and in dummy. As always in NT, lose the tricks you have to lose early - the clubs can wait.
  • South's lead should be the J, not the 5. Top of a sequence trumps 4th-highest, as it were. Leading the 5 costs nothing on this hand, but on another it might: what a nit South would feel if declarer won the first trick with the 8!
  • In the auction, I prefer 1 to 3♣ from West: it gives East more flexibility for her next bid, and might even deter a diamond lead in whatever contract you end up in.

What happened on the day?

Two pairs ended up in 5♣, which even if it makes isn't going to score as much as 10+ tricks in NT. The rest were in 3NT. Of the 4 heart leads, only one was the J - see above - and those declarers made only 9 or 10 tricks - again, see above. Bizarrely, the one pair that got the more dangerous spade lead ended up with 12 tricks. As has been said before: funny game, bridge.


* That's because South is the safe hand - she has to lead toward your ♠Kx rather than through it. Swap your spade holdings around and South would become the danger hand, leading through dummy's ♠Kx: in that case you couldn't afford to risk the diamond finesse.

  HOTW 30 September 2021 - does 3NT go off?

Taking a punt

What do you bid, sitting West? You've got enough points for 3NT, but are you a bit concerned about your singleton heart? Unless you've got a posh bidding system, it's difficult to see what to do about it. Maybe try Stayman and punt 4 over a 2 response, 3NT over a 2 response or 5 over a 2 response? It's a possibility. But most of the room will be crossing their fingers and going straight for 3NT, and I'm with them. If it makes, you wouldn't want to be the only pair in the room making overtricks in something like 3, would you? And if it doesn't make, well, you're all going down together ... 

Look at it another way: partner's hearts might be fine. And even if they're not, the defence may not find the killing lead. And even if they do, they might misdefend later in the hand ...

So what happens? Let's look at the whole deal and find out.

How does it go?

Well, it goes off, doesn't it? Declarer has just the one heart stop, so if South leads her 4, they can force out East's A and will eventually come to 4 heart tricks plus the ♠A and ♣A for two down.

If, that is, South leads a heart. If she leads a club, on the other hand, declarer wins and switches to a spade for at least 10 tricks (3 spades, 1 club, 1 heart and 5 diamonds). South should prefer hearts to clubs: the reason players end up in NT is that they haven't got a major fit, so major suits are usually a better source of defensive tricks than minors. *

Can it go wrong for the defence even after a heart lead? Yes, but only if North fails to rise with the Q. If she plays her 9, East wins with her 10 and still has her A, enabling her to set up her spade tricks safely.

What happened on the day?

Everyone punted 3NT except for one pair, who retreated into 3, making 130 for 10 tricks. Which on this deal could (should!) have ended up as a top. As things turned out, though, it was a resounding bottom, as everyone else made their 3NT contracts, mostly with overtricks. Only one South led a heart, but that declarer still made 10 tricks.

Interestingly, the alternatives mentioned above – 4♠ and 5 – both make, though neither scores as well as 3NT + 1. Funny game, bridge.


* See former member Roger Bendall's amusing article Always lead a heart against 3NT, which you can find here.

  HOTW 23 Sept 2021 - finding the best lead

Free gift

With a bit of help from you, the opps have reached game and it's your lead. Before you make a decision, let's narrow it down a bit: which would be the best card from each of your three suits? Here are my answers:

  • Clubs: the ♣3. Lead your lowest card to show an honour (or 4th highest of a longer suit).
  • Diamonds: the K. Top of a sequence of at least 2 honours.
  • Spades: the ♠A. 'Don't lead away from an Ace against a suit contract.' Suppose you lead a low spade and declarer or dummy has the singleton ♠K? Yuk.

OK. Which of the three is best - ♣3, K or ♠A?

  • For me, the clear winner is the K. Sure, the opps are short of diamonds, but whoever has the A, your lead will give nothing away. It's safe.
  • The ♣3 is a possibility, but is a bit of a stab in the dark: it might work out, but it's more likely to give something away.
  • The ♠A is a no-no. Ask yourself: 'The opps are in game and I have 11 points, leaving my partner with maybe 4-5ish points, so who's more likely to hold the ♠K - us or them?' To which the answer is a resounding 'Them'. Leading the unsupported ♠A is therefore a pretty surefire way of gifting the opps a trick with the ♠K.  

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. There's a bad trump split, so declarer can only make 5 trump tricks. On top of that she has ♣AK and A, and can ruff her 2nd diamond in dummy - provided she remembers to do that before clearing trumps. That's 9 tricks. Leaving her needing a 10th trick from spades. As the cards lie, that not easy if she has to lead spades herself. But if your opening lead was the ♠A, she's home and dry at a canter.

What happened on the day?

Everyone was in hearts by South. At three tables the lead was K and at the other three it was the ♠A. Only two declarers managed 10 tricks, and the ♠A was the lead both times.

Interestingly, half the declarers were in 5, suggesting that you, West, had sacrificed in 5. That's a great bid, because even doubled (which it should be!) it only goes 2 off for -500 *. Even better if the opps stretch to 5, which should go off. As it happens one declarer did make 11 tricks - which, even after the ♠A lead, is some achievement! 


* As NS are vulnerable, making 4 earns them 620, so a sacrifice costing just 500 is good value.

  HOTW 09 Sept 2021 - Quick & slow routes to a slam

Slamming again

For a change, here's a hand from last week's f2f '9 HIGH' session, soon to be rebranded 'Relaxed' – for a relaxing time, come along!

The auction shown is just one of many possibilities, but worth a look for all that. How would you interpret each bid after the 1? My take on it's below:

  • 3: invitational raise. I have 4 hearts, I'm an Ace better than I might be and/or I've got just 6 losers.
  • 4NT: I smell a slam here, partner. RKC Blackwood.
  • 5♣: 0 or 3 keycards. (Has to be 3 on the bidding so far!)
  • 5: Have you got the trump Queen, partner?
  • 5: No.
  • 6: Hmph. That scuppers our chance of the grand slam, then. I'll settle for 6.

There are other ways of reaching a slam, including ace-showing cuebids after the 3 bid, but if the ins and outs of all that are not your style, there's a dead easy way: 'Partner's 3 probably shows 15+ points and I've got 18. That's enough for a slam: 6!'

Even better would be: 'Hmm. If we've got 33+ points, that's actually enough for 6NT. And the most likely lead is the unbid major, which'll come nicely round to my ♠AQ.'

The only trouble with bidding 6 or 6NT directly over 3 is that you might be missing the grand slam – but here it matters not.

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. Say you get a club lead against 6. You soon discover the bad heart split, but no matter: once you've given South her heart trick, you have 1 spade trick, 3 hearts, 5 diamonds and 3 clubs: 12 in all. You'd make the same 12 tricks in 6NT, which of course scores 10 points more than 6.

What happened on the day?

One pair bid and made 6 – well done! Most others were in game, either 4 or 3NT, but only made 11 tricks. One other pair made 12 tricks, but evidently after a bidding misunderstanding, as they were in 3.

What to take from this hand?

  • Bidding: make sure you show your full strength. You both need to in order to find the slam.
  • Play: Once you concede a heart you have 12 tricks. No reason to make do with 11.


  HOTW Wed 01 Sept - forcing partner to game

Forcing game

What's your partner got on this hand? 6-9 points, clearly. And probably fewer than 3 spades *. Obviously she'll have at least one of the other three suits – and maybe that will include hearts.

What to do, then? You could bid 2, showing at least 5-4 in the majors, and let partner choose. The trouble with that is that partner can choose hearts simply by passing – and that scuppers any chance of making game.

Let's consider. You have an 18-count, so you're only missing game if partner happens to have a pretty rubbish 6-count. And opposite a spade or heart fit your hand has only 5 losers. So how about forcing game with a jump shift: 3? With 4+ hearts, partner will raise to game. With both minors, she can punt 3NT. And 4♠ has a fighting chance of making, even with just a 5-2 fit. I think I'd go for it.

What happens?

Take a look at the whole deal. Partner has only 6 points, but you've forced her to game, and with 5 hearts she'll be happy to raise you to 4. Which makes comfortably as you lose only 2 clubs and the K.

What happened on the day?

None of the three pairs in hearts had any trouble making 10 tricks, but only one had bid game - well done! 

The fourth pair languished in 1♠. Moral: With 6+ points, don't pass partner's opening bid - she may have 18 or even 19 points! 


* With an unbalanced hand and 3 spades, I'll prefer to raise to 2 – it's more positive than 1NT and makes it more difficult for the opponents to butt in. (But with 4-3-3-3 and 3 spades – no ruffs to be had in dummy! – I'll prefer 1NT.)

  HOTW 18 Aug 2021 - bidding up the line

Bidding up the line

Here's a pretty simple question. Sitting West, how do you respond to your partner's opening 1? Do you bid 1 or 1♠? With two 4-card suits, Standard Acol would have you bid 'up the line' - 1 - and I agree. Sure, your spades are more impressive than your hearts, but bridge is all about finding fits, and bidding 1 actually conceals your 4-card heart suit. Consider. Supposing your partner has something like:

♠ J 4    A Q 6 4    A Q 8 5 3 2   ♣ 7 

After 1♠, she's not strong enough to reverse into 2, so has to rebid 2, which will become the final contract. You've just missed playing in the more profitable contract of 2.

But what if partner has spades, not hearts? For example:

♠ K J 6 4    Q 4    A Q 8 5 3 2   ♣ 7  

No problem. Over your 1 she'll now bid 1♠ and you'll have found your spade fit anyway.

The message is clear: respond 1 and you'll find your major fit if you have one; respond 1♠ and you might miss a heart fit. Bid your 4-card suits up the line.

And on this hand?

Take a look at the whole deal. You do indeed have a heart fit, but luckily for you, West gets away with 1♠ this time. Holding a 16-count, partner is strong enough to reverse ** into 2, which with your 9-count you can raise to 4. You lose just 1 trump and the two black Aces for 10 tricks. 

What happened on the day?

Two of the four EW pairs got to 4, but both were played by East, meaning that West got lucky after a 1♠ (or in one case 1NT - see * below!) response. One EW ended up in 2(oops by both bidders!) and one sneaky NS pair went off undoubled in 4♣!


* I don't list 1NT as a possibility because it's not a good response on this hand. Bidding is primarily all about finding a major fit, and you don't do that by concealing not just one but two 4-card majors. Respond 1NT if you have no 4-card suit that you can bid: it's a last resort.

** If you're not sure about reversing, I have some notes from a past seminar. Email me at if you'd like a copy.

  HOTW 11 August 2021 - Don't send a child ...

Adult in the room

When East bids 2 over your partner's opening 1, you decide to punt 4, which ends the auction. West leads the J to East's A, then drops the 6 on East's K. East now leads the Q ...

Well, on paper you've got the rest of the tricks: 8 hearts and 3 diamonds. But you're going to have to play it carefully and cross your fingers as well. So what's the plan?

First up, you need to deal with this trick. Like you, West is out of clubs (♣J followed by ♣6) and you need to ask yourself who's more likely to hold the J, West or East. 'Vacant places' would suggest that if East has long clubs, West is more likely to have long hearts and so probably has the J. It would clearly be disastrous if West won this trick, as you're also missing the ♠A. So ruff with the Q, just to be sure. 

Now, provided the hearts and diamonds don't split too badly, you're home. Cash your A, out to dummy with the K ... and discard your two little spades on dummy's KQ. Now you can come back to hand by ruffing a spade, clear trumps and that's that. Take a look at the whole deal.

A couple of things to note:

  • It was vital that you didn't get overruffed at trick 3. If you'd carelessly ruffed low, allowing West to overruff with her 6, you could go two off. Don't, as they say, send a boy to do a man's job. Or, in these gender-sensitive times, send a child to do an adult's job. You have two adult hearts in your hand, so use one of them. Sure, it turns out that East held the J, so the adolescent 7 would have done the job, but you weren't to know that: so ruff high!
  • 'But if West had Jxx, she's now going to make a trump trick!' So what? By then, you'll have already discarded your spade losers and you still make your contract. As it happens, the J was singleton, so you've lost nothing: fortune smiles on the brave!
  • Before you go out to dummy you have to unblock the diamonds by cashing your A. If you don't, you can never make your KQ.

The 'best defence'

As you can see, you can't make 4 against the best defence. But it's hellish difficult for EW to find it. I suppose East could discourage clubs by playing a low club on the ♣J opening lead. But will West then find the killing switch to the ♠Q? If her partner doesn't have the ♠A, that would be suicidal. And anyway, East doesn't know her partner has the ♠QJ ... So 4 is actually a great contract to be in.

What if East bids 5 clubs ...

... over your 4? Well, your partner opened the bidding, and you have two Aces. 5♣ is a sacrifice bid, isn't it, and you will surely double it for penalties!

What happened on the day?

Two pairs reached 4, one making (for a deserved top) and one pair stopped in 3. The other two were in 5♣ by EW ... undoubled! 


  HOTW 28 July 2021 - who do you want as declarer?

Up to you

When your partner opens a 12-14 1NT on this deal, it's pretty clear that you want to end up in 4♠.* But how to get there? There are two main possibilities, which are ...?

Well, you'd usually transfer partner to 2♠ (via 2) and then raise her to 4♠. Alternatively, you can just go straight to 4♠ yourself. Which raises the questions: does it matter which you do? Is one better than the other?

The answer (you've guessed it) is that it depends. One advantage of going straight to 4♠ is that it stops the opponents from talking to each other. On this hand, they've surely got a heart fit, which won't worry you unduly as spades outrank hearts. But swap your spade and heart suits and I'd be inclined to go straight for game in case they decide to sacrifice in spades.

That apart, it'll depend on where you want the opening lead coming from. Is there a reason you'd rather have the lead coming round to your hand? Well, yes - you'd rather get a club coming round to your ♣AQ than coming through your ♣AQ. So let's go for a straight raise to 4♠.

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. As you can see, a club or a diamond lead coming round to your hand would have been great ... but as luck would have it you get a heart.

Never mind. You're going to make your contract. At the very worst you'll lose one trick each in trumps, clubs and diamonds. A couple of points to note in passing:

Which finesse?  It's not going to be easy to get to dummy, but that aside, should you go for clubs or diamonds? Clubs might be better, in that even if the finesse loses, you might be able to discard that little 2 on a club later on.

Clearing trumps  When you cash your ♠K, West drops the ♠Q. Hmm. Is that a singleton, do you think, or did West start with ♠QJ? According to the rather weird Principle of Restricted Choice (yes, really!) when a player drops one of two equivalent high cards, as here, there's a 2:1 chance that it's a singleton rather than a 'significant doubleton'. I won't go into details here **, but it certainly works on this hand: finessing on the second round of trumps catches East's ♠J for an extra trick.

Which means that you can't get back to dummy to take that club finesse. Never mind. Lead the ♣Q and hope someone goes up with the King. If not, cash the ♣A and see if it drops. And if not, not to worry: 11 tricks is a pretty good result.

What happened on the day?

Everyone was in spades (though one pair didn't bid game): half played by South, half by North. One pair made 11 tricks, the rest 10.


* With a 5-loser hand and Aces in 3 suits, you might experience a dim flickering of a slam-seeking lightbulb, but with a max 28 point holding, you'd need a bit of luck to bring a slam home.

** The message is a simple one - see Andrew Robson on the subject here . But the explanation ain't: see, for example, Larry Cohen's amusing but challenging effort here

  HOTW Wed 21 July 2021 - A short auction with RKC Blackwood
HOTW Wed 21 July 2021 - A short auction with RKC Blackwood


It seems a bit unfair to be picking up a hand like this on board 1, before you have a chance to settle in, but that's randomness for you. We've talked before about lightbulbs flashing when a slam might be on, but when you're looking at a 19-point hand AND partner OPENS the bidding with ONE OF YOUR SUITS, the slam possibilities are fairly screaming at you – not so much a lightbulb as a firework display!

But let's take it slowly. Bid 1♠ and see what partner says next ... which turns out to be 2. So what now?

Prefer NT to a minor unless ...

I'm always banging on about ignoring minor fits and going for NT instead, but there's an important exception: unless you can make a slam in your minor fit. Which looks pretty likely here. For her opening bid, partner has at least 10 of the outstanding 21 points, so the chance of her holding at least 2 of the missing 3 Aces is pretty good.

There are all sorts of complicated ways of exploring for a possible NT or spade slam, but looking for a slam in your known fit, diamonds, is easy. RKC Blackwood should do it: bid 4NT.  If partner only has one Ace (either 5♣ or 5, depending on your system), you can stop safely in 5. If she has 2 Aces (5) you can raise to 6. And if she has 3, you can bid the grand! *

As it happens, partner responds 5, showing 2 Aces, and you end up in a comfortable 6. as you'll see if you look at the whole deal.

But doesn't 6NT score better than 6?

Yes, it does. But whereas West may lead a low club against 3NT, she may lead her ♣A against 6NT, which'll take you 5 off. Bidding and making any slam's usually enough for a good score, so there's no need to break a leg scrabbling for the extra few points. Why take the risk?

What happened on the day?

Two pairs played in 5 (making 12 and 13 tricks) and one made 10 tricks in 3NT. Which goes to show that you have to be on the lookout for lightbulbs – and fireworks – all the time, even on board 1.


* If partner's response shows '0 or 3 Aces', it has to be 3. With no Aces, she'd have a maximum of 9 points, so wouldn't have opened the bidding.

  HOTW 13 July 2021 - making 3NT on any lead

Suit  yourself

Leaving the auction for the moment, let's just say you're in NT. Now imagine that you could choose which opponent should lead each suit. Starting at the top with spades, who would you nominate - N or S? Here are my answers:

  • ♠  I don't care. Either way, once they've taken their Ace I make 3 tricks.
  • ♥  North. That way, whoever holds the K, I make 2 tricks - or, put another way, I have 2 stops! If S leads them and N has the K, I could be in trouble.
  • ♦  Either. Whoever leads them takes my finesse for me. I make 3 tricks - maybe 4.
  • ♣  Again, North. Like the hearts, I let the lead run to my ♣J and I have 3 club tricks, whoever has the ♣Q.

Back in the real world ...

... you're East in 3NT and South leads the ♠4 (not a heart - phew!), dummy's ♠8 winning the trick. What now?

Well, whoever holds what, you can now guarantee your contract. You have a heart, two clubs, (ultimately) 3 diamonds and (again ultimately) 3 spades. What you don't want is a problem with hearts. So make sure that if anyone leads them, it's North (as discussed above). Switch to diamonds and finesse towards North. If it wins, you're home, but if it loses you're home, too. North can't lead hearts without giving you a 2nd heart trick, so you've got plenty of time to force out the ♠A and claim your contract.

So a diamond to the A, lead the 10 back ... and South shows out. Never mind. Give North her trick with the Q anyway and that's that. You can set up the spades safely and you're home. Check out the whole deal.

Sure, but why switch to diamonds so early? Why not set up the spades first and then go for the diamonds?

Well, you can do it that way, but it's much trickier. Say South wins with the A and switches to a heart. You must keep the Q in dummy and win the trick with your A. * Now when North gets in with her Q you're still safe in hearts.

But the early diamond switch is easier!

On the auction

East may open the bidding 1♣ or 1♠, depending on their style. Either way, it should be East playing the final 3NT contract. West replies either 1 or 2, as required, East rebids 2NT and ends up in 3NT.

It turns out that on the day, 3 of the 5 tables ended up in 3NT by West. At each of these tables, the auction began 1♠ - 1NT. The 1NT response is wrong on two counts. One, because West has 10 points (not 6-9) and two, because the 1NT response is essentially a bid of last resort **: 'I've got to respond something but I don't have any other bid!' Well in this case, she has: she has a 4-card diamond suit and enough points to respond at the two level: 2.

What happened on the day?

As luck would have it, both of the East declarers got a spade lead but went one off (well bid, anyway!). The West declarers got it easier, as North (quite reasonably) led either hearts or diamonds, thus doing declarer's job for her! Wouldn't you know it!


* If you duck, you're doomed. A second heart lead disposes of your A and you're now wide open in hearts.

** Not least because the weaker hand ends up as declarer, leaving the stronger hand exposed as dummy.

  HOTW 06 July 2021 - How high to compete?

A 30-point deal?

What do you make of this auction so far? What's your partner's spade holding, for instance? And what do you know about the opponents' hands?

First, partner's hand. Well, she didn't open a weak 2, so she'll only have 5 spades. And looking at your own holding, she surely wouldn't have overcalled unless she has ♠QJxxx. And points? Well, she's a passed hand, so 8-10ish. Which gives you (say) 18 points between you ...

... and the opps 22. Divided how? Well, West's 2 over your 1♠ overcall is pretty weak, so East has most of the points – 15 or 16, say. 

Can they make game? On points, you'd guess not. But hang on a minute. If you're lucky, the spades will split 2-1 instead of 3-0, but even then your mighty 10 points in spades are only going to net you ONE trick. So if you're going to get 4 off, your other 8 points are going to have to win you 3 tricks. Unlikely.

So what's your bid?

Received wisdom would suggest you jump straight to 4♠ – 'raising to the level of your fit'. *

On this hand, though, I'm not so sure. With only 22 points between them, are they actually going to bid game anyway? If not, there's no point in sacrificing – East can surely see that as two passed hands you're not going to make 4♠ so will double, maybe getting you 2 off for-300. That's great if you've stopped them making 4, but horrid if they were going to stop in 3 anyway.

You could just raise to 2♠, hoping they'll be content to outbid us in 3. Probably better is the more pre-emptive 3♠, hoping they'll give up – it's a brave East who'll bid on to 4 with only 16 points after partner's weak raise. They don't know, remember, that you guys are holding 10 points in their short suit!

And hey – if they do go to game, you can still do your sacrificial 4♠ anyway.

What happens?

Take a look at the whole deal. The spades are indeed 2-1, but with your Q and partner's K handily placed for them, they're still making 11 tricks in hearts – on a combined 21 points!

That Q and K also mean that you're struggling in spades, making only 7 tricks against the best defence. That's -500 if you're in 4♠X. Ugh!

What happened on the day?

It was pretty well a split between hearts (2 and 3) making 10 and 8 (!) tricks, and spades (3 and 4) making 8 tricks. (West reasonably led the A at trick 1, gifting you a trick with your K.)

And the title?

Well, if you're void in a suit in which the opps have a (useless) AKQJ, that's 10 points that you don't have to worry about not having. You're effectively playing a 30-point deal. OK, here West has a singleton, but the same principle applies. Which is why 21 points are enough for game.


* This is a handy rule of thumb derived from the Law of Total Tricks. The weaker side bids straight to the level that = their combined trump holding. So if partner makes a weak jump overcall of 2♠, say, and you have 4 spades, you have 10 trumps between you, so bid 4♠ (= 10 tricks). But it ain't a rule. Vulnerability might make it unwise. And as we've seen, it shouldn't pay off on this hand.

For Andrew Robson's take on bidding to the level of your fit, go here.