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Improvers' hand of the week
Board 11 Wed 11 May 2022

Highs smiley & sad lows 

Feeling a bit miffed after East's excellent 4 sacrifice - the best you could do after your partner's Pass being to X for penalties - it's now up to you to make sure the contract's going off.

You lead your A and dummy goes down and dummy's 2, the 4 from your partner and the 6 from declarer complete trick 1. What next? Do you continue with the K or switch to a diamond?

What do you make of partner's 4? On partner's lead, it's normal to play a high card to encourage a continuation of the suit and a low card to ask for a switch, and your partner's clearly played her lowest heart. Discouraging you, then - unless, of course, it's a singleton? If it is, declarer has three hearts, so you can cash the AK and give partner a ruff, before starting on the diamonds ...

But what if it isn't a singleton? Well, if they have two each, you can make your AK, but at the cost of setting up dummy's Q to take a trick later on. And if it's declarer who has a singleton, continuing with the K would be disastrous: declarer ruffs, clears trumps and can now discard a loser on dummy's Q ...

So hold your horses. There's no harm in leading the A first and seeing what happens. This time, your partner follows with the 10 - a high card - encouraging you to continue the suit. Why? Well, she must surely hold the Q ...

... and so it turns out, as you see if you look at the whole deal. *

How does it go?

Following your partner's advice, you continue with the K and then lead the 5 to partner's Q. One off.

And if you continue with the K at trick 2? Declarer ruffs, clears trumps in two rounds and discards one of her three diamond losers on the Q, making 10 tricks.

Sure, +100 isn't a great return for a combined 23-count, but it's a whole lot better than -590 for 4♠X making. **

What happened on the day?

In AP, two were in 4♠X, one NS pair getting +100, the other -590. And one EW pair went off in 4.

In the original Open Pairs (3 Feb 2022), all eight pairs in spades were kept to 9 tricks, which goes to show that this lot know their defensive signals!

One NS pair was allowed to play in 4, making, for a 100% top - which serves to underline the excellence of East's immediate raise to 4♠.

cj


* Another possible holding for East would be 10x (the 10 being 'top of a doubleton') - which is just as good as having the Q: partner would be able to ruff the third diamond.

** If you make a doubled contract, you get double the 'tricks' score - here 240 instead of 120 - plus 50 'for the insult'. Add in the 300 for making a non-vulnerable game and you get 590.

Board 8 AP Wed 04 May 2022

'Gambling' 3NT

If you're not familiar with the 'gambling' 3NT, here's a good example *. Rather than a very strong hand, partner's opening bid shows a solid minor suit (at least AKQxxxx) and very little else – maybe a Queen or Jack – elsewhere in the hand.

She's hoping that you have stops in the other three suits and that 3NT will make. If you don't, you simply bid 4♣ and partner will either pass it or correct to 4. There's a preemptive element to the bid as well: if (as is likely) the opps have a fit in one of the majors, you may have prevented them from finding it.

What happens?

Sitting East, what do you bid? Clearly your partner's suit is clubs. You've got the spades and diamonds nicely stopped, but you're wide open in hearts, so on a (likely) heart lead 3NT is going off. Bid 4♣ and partner will pass. End of auction ...

Competition?

... or is it? Take a look at the whole deal. South might be brave enough to X your 4♣ bid for takeout, in which case things'll end up in 4 by NS or 5♣ by EW, both going off. But you have a good chance of being left in 4♣, which makes.

The play

EW in 4 or 5: it all depends on the lead. The defence should take two hearts and a diamond, but a spade lead allows declarer to discard one heart loser and so make 11 tricks. 

NS in 4: it should go one off. EW can take two top spades, a spade ruff and the A.

NS in 4: also goes one off. EW knocks out the A and can then make AK, K and the A.

What happened on the day?

In AP, two were in 4, the other in 5♣, all going one off – well defended!

In the original Open Pairs (13 Jan 2022), people were in all of the above contracts. Two of the 5♣ declarers were lucky enough to get a spade lead, so made their contracts. One pair got into 3NT (not via the gambling 3NT, as East was declarer!) and got away with it as they didn't get a heart lead. Jammy.

cj


* The gambling 3NT has cropped up a couple of times in HOTWs from our days in Box: I've put them both on the Boxbridge home page: here.

Board 04 Wed 27 Apr 2022

Ouch!

Here's a tricky one. Over North's preemptive opening 3 bid, your partner makes a take-out double, asking you to bid your best suit and it comes round to you ... What do you say?

Not clubs, obviously! One possibility is to hope your partner is reasonably strong (as she should be, making a vulnerable take-out double at the 3-level) and bid 3NT.

The other is to ignore partner's instruction to bid and simply pass. North's going to have one helluva time trying to make 3♣, isn't she? You and partner probably have at least 24 points between you and you have 5 of the 6 clubs outside North's hand. So simply leave her in it, and with luck you'll make a better score than being in game yourself. *

And boy does it pay off! Check out the whole deal ...

What happens?

If partner starts with her A, you're making 8 tricks (AK, ♠AKQ and 3 club tricks), scoring you a massive 1100 in penalties. Far, far better than making 3NT ...

... which will make if North leads a club (though not if she's canny enough to lead a heart, as NS will make AK, ♣A and 2 heart tricks).

What to take from this hand

  • Normally, West would have to bid in response to partner's takeout X – however weak she is. This hand is an example of the only exception to the rule: when you have a good holding in the opponents' suit and you prefer to leave them in it. Effectively, you're converting partner's takeout double into a penalties double.
  • This isn't to say that bidding 3NT would be wrong – it just doesn't score as much.
  • Was North wrong to open 3 in the first place, then? No! The idea of a preempt is to make it harder for your (stronger) opponents to find the right contract. You're quite happy to take a negative score provided it's less than the opps would get for making game. Most of the time it works, or at any rate doesn't cost. This was just the cookie happening to crumble in East-West's direction.

What happened on the day?

In AP, two unhappy NS pairs went for -1100 in 3♣X, while one EW pair languished in 2♠=.

In the original Open Pairs (26 Aug 2021), quite a few pairs were in a diamond part-score (East having bid 3 instead of Xing, presumably). Three pairs were in 3NT (two making on a club lead, one going off on a heart lead). And 4 Norths were in 3♣X: two went 3 off for -800 but the other two did much better – East's Q lead allowed them to discard two spade losers on South's AK for a much cheaper -200.

cj


* If you can get 3♣X three off vulnerable, that'll earn you 800 – that's 200 more than you'd get for 3NT making. and four off's even better!

Board 12 Wednesday 20 April 2022

Strong!

Most players reserve an opening 2 bid as their strongest bid. But what does 'strong' mean? Legally, it's usually a minimum of 16 points (though very unusually it can be bid on as few as 12 *), but most commonly it'll be one of these two:

  • a balanced hand with 23+ points. You open 2 and rebid 2NT (or 3NT with 25+).
  • an unbalanced hand with 9 or 10 'playing tricks'. You open 2 and then bid your suit. This is normally forcing to game. **

Here, it's obviously the latter. You can see a cold 10 tricks with diamonds as trumps even if your partner has nothing. Partner responds 2 ('Tell me more') and you rebid your suit: 3.

Your partner's 5 bid is an example of 'fast arrival': 'I haven't got much, partner, but if you want to be in game, so be it!' with a stronger hand, she'd bid 4, allowing an exchange of Ace-showing cue-bids and maybe Blackwood. A good example of how a lower bid can be stronger than a higher one.

So. Does partner have the A? Very unlikely, on that bidding. Does she have the Q? Who knows? So stop in the safer 5? Or punt 6? Up to you! 

Playing it safe, you stop in 5, then realise that it's East playing the hand, not you. South leads a low heart, dummy goes down, and it's over to you, East ....

Making 12 tricks ...

... isn't difficult, as you can see if you click to see the whole deal. How is it done? 

Well, provided you can get the lead into your hand, you can eventually ditch dummy's two losing spades on your KQ. But can you?

As luck would have it, yes. You can win a trick with your 7. After ruffing the opening heart lead, you clear trumps (in one round – they split 1-1), win the (heart?) return and then ... cash dummy's A before coming over to your hand with the 7, fling dummy's little spades on your club winners and the rest of the tricks are yours. 

What happened on the day?

In AP, there was a bit of dodgy scoring going on, but as far as I can see those in 5 made 12 tricks.

In the original Open Pairs (25 Nov 2021), it was pretty well 50-50 between 5 and 6, with all but one making 12 tricks. Maybe the other declarer forgot to cash the ♣A first?

cj


* See Trevor's two very illuminating example hands here.

** If partner's very weak (0-2 points, say), it's sometimes possible to stop below game, but at a high risk of unpopularity! I won't bore you with details here.

Board 11 Wed 06 April 2022

Cherchez le valet

Sitting North, your first thought when you see East's J lead against your 3NT contract is 'Thank goodness she didn't lead a spade!'

You need 9 tricks and so far you have just 7: the A, AKQ, AK and A ... Where are the other two coming from? If the hearts aren't breaking 3-3 (and judging by the lead they aren't) you're going to need three tricks from clubs. 

There are various ways you can play the clubs, but one thing's certain: because setting up club tricks is going to involve losing the lead, you must do it now, while you still have stops in all the other suits.

Playing the clubs

So here we go. You win trick 1 in dummy with the A. How are you playing the clubs? A couple of thoughts to get you going:

  • There's a slim chance (around 12%, I think) that either the J or the K are singleton. If either were to drop under the A, making 3 club tricks would be a doddle.
  • East's heart lead is probably from J109x(x). That would suggest that West is more likely than East to have more clubs. *

So cash your A. No honours appear. Ah well. Now lead a small club towards your Q93, hoping to see the K or J from West. No luck. She plays another low club ...

It's crunch time. Where's that Jack lurking? Do you play your Q (hoping the ♣J is with East) or the ♣9 (hoping the J is with West)? Make your choice, then take a look at the whole deal ...

The ♣9 is the winning play. East had a singleton. If you now lead a 3rd club from dummy and you'll have your 3 club tricks. But if you played your ♣Q, that's the last club trick you make, as West still has the ♣KJ. **

A toss-up, really. Except for the slight clue that if East has longer hearts, West probably has longer clubs ...

What happened on the day?

In AP, the contracts were 3NT, 3NT and 2NT, with just one declarer making 9 tricks. 

In the original Open Pairs (16 Dec 2021), half of the 12 tables ended up in 3NT, 3 others stopping in 2NT: only 2 made more than 8 tricks! The other 3 tables were in 2, all making 8 tricks.

cj


* Because West has more 'vacant places' to accommodate clubs than East does. For vacant places, scroll down to the HOTW for 03 Nov 2020 here

** Switching to a defensive seat, you can see that West must play low to the 2nd club trick. If she goes up with her ♣K the game's up and her ♣J will be caught. Playing low gives declarer a chance to guess wrong.

Board 07 30 Mar 2022

A difficult decision

Bridge, like life, is beset by randomness, and is therefore full of difficult decisions. Even if you know your system backwards. 

On this hand, you respond 1NT to partner's opening 1 – you have to bid something with 8 points, and that's the only one available – and she now bids 3. What do you make of that?

3 is a jump shift. It's kinda similar to 2 in that it promises at least 5 hearts and 4 diamonds, but the difference is that it's much stronger. Strong enough, once you've responded, for partner to force game, because a jump shift is a forcing to game, for both of you.

Three choices

So it's up to you to choose a game ... but which will you choose? You have 3 choices: 5, 4 and 3NT. What are the pros and cons of each?

  • 5: Diamonds is your only known fit ... but 11 tricks is a lot. Do you have enough strength?
  • 4: 10 tricks is easier than 11, and 4 scores better than 5 – but only if you make it! You may only have a 7-card fit.
  • 3NT: 9 tricks should be a doddle ... provided your partner has a stop in spades. But does she? You already know that she has 9+ cards in the red suits so maybe not ...

So which is it to be? I haven't a clue myself! Pick one and then read on.

Take a look ...

... at the whole deal. How have the dice fallen? Let's reverse the order:

  • 3NT: No spade stop! If East leads the A, you're doomed. But if she doesn't, you're home and dry with overtricks.
  • 4: Only 7 hearts between you, but it makes! The hearts are 3-3 and you can make 10 tricks.
  • 5: As the K is with East, this makes too – but doesn't score as much as 4.

What to take from this hand

Apart from some comfort in the knowledge that some things are simply beyond your control, there are a couple of valuable lessons in what you can control:

  • It's vital that South rebids 3 – the game-forcing jump shift – and not 2. 2 will be passed by North and the missed game will be South's fault.
  • Once a game-forcing bid has been made, both players must keep bidding until game is reachedincluding the player who made the GF bid. Sure, it can be difficult, and sure, sometimes you'll go off, but in the long run it'll pay off.

What happened on the day?

In AP, one 2 rebid was passed, one 3 jump shift was raised to 4 ... and passed. And one pair got to 4, but sadly went off.

In the original Open Pairs (06 May 2021), 7 of the 11 tables ended up game (the others were in 2, 3, 4 and 3). All four declarers in 5 made at least 11 tricks. As did the three in 3NT! No one was in 4.

cj


* An encouraging ♠7 from West and EW take the first 5 tricks.

Board 06 Wednesday 23 March 2022

And now for something completely different ...

How did EW manage to reach an excellent game contract with just 24 points? Mainly because East chose to open with just 11 points. * Once they find their spade fit, it's easy for West, sitting opposite an opening hand, to raise partner to 4♠.

If East passes, it's a bit chancier: West will open 1NT and maybe they'll find their fit via Stayman (it's not certain as West will initially reply 2) and then maybe West will accept East's 3♠ invitation to game (she only has 13 points).

Let's say we get there, with East as declarer. South leads a small diamond and you need 10 tricks.

What's the plan?

Outside trumps, you have 5 top tricks - AK, AK and ♣A. You're going to lose at least one trump trick, so that leave you needing at least 2 extra tricks by ruffing ... Or maybe the clubs will split 3-3, giving you club tricks after you've cleared trumps. 

But what's the best way of clearing trumps? ** It could be tricky, especially if they split 4-1 ... Yikes!

Actually, why bother with all that? Let's try something completely different. The best way of making the contract is not to clear the trumps at all, but instead to go for a cross-ruff – that is, ruffing suits backwards and forwards between your hand and dummy.

How does it go?

The golden rule of the cross-ruff is that you cash your side-suit winners before you start. You may also need to set up a void – clubs, in this instance. So ... 

  • win trick 1 in dummy, cash your ♣A and lead another club. This sets up your club void.
  • win the return, and cash all your red suit winners, throwing your 3rd diamond on the K. Now you're ready to go.
  • Start cross-ruffing.

Take a look at the whole deal. It turns out well, in that South is short of clubs, so can be overruffed in dummy. Eventually, you'll get overruffed, of course, but you're going to end up with at least 10 and probably 11 tricks – it's worth making up the deal and playing it out to see what happens.

The best defence to a cross-ruff, by the way, is of course to lead trumps. What if South sees it coming and leads a trump at trick 4? Well, actually, you're delighted, as that traps North's ♠K for you, and you've still got lots of trumps left to cross-ruff with. 

What happened on the day?

In AP, two pairs were in 4♠ and one in 3♠. But only one made 10 tricks.

In the original Open Pairs (17 June 2021), 10 of the 12 tables ended up in 4♠, all but one making at least 10 tricks. How many did it via a cross-ruff, I don't know!

cj


* This is a classic 'Rule of 20' opening: add your points to the number of cards in your two longest suits and if it comes to 20 or more, open at the 1 level.

** There are several possibilities. One is to cash the ♠A (in case the ♠K or ♠J is a singleton), then play a low spade from both hands, hoping that the ♠K's in a doubleton. That works here, but if it doesn't and they lead a 3rd trump, you've got just 1 ruff left – not enough for 10 tricks!

Board 07 Wednesday 16 March 2022

Two in the bush

'Weak major 2' opening bids come up all the time, but what on earth do you do if you have two of them in the same hand, as here? You're likely to have a fit with partner in at least one of them, but which? 

One thing's certain: whether you choose 2 or 2 you'll be misleading your partner. Most players avoid opening a weak 2 if they hold 4 cards in the other major – in case partner also holds 4 and you miss your fit – and the same applies here, with knobs on. Wouldn't you feel daft if partner passes your 2 and turns out to have a singleton spade and 3 hearts? Or vice versa?

The other certain thing is that with you holding only 5 points, the hand's not going to be passed out: someone'll bid something and then you'll get your chance to come in. For the time being, pass.

The rest of the auction

North passes, your partner opens 1 and it comes round to you. What do you say?

Just do what responders do: with 2 4-card suits, bid them up the line. Otherwise, bid the higher-ranking of two equal-length suits first. Why? Because next time you can show your second suit cheaply. Bid 1. If partner now rebids 2, you can show your hearts - and if necessary bid them again to get the point across.

But it doesn't come to that: partner simply raises you to 4 and that's the end of the auction.

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. Your partner turns out to have an impressive 20 points, but with the singleton heart chose not to open 2NT. 

And as it happens, it's a simple matter to make 12 tricks. After losing a trick to the A, a single heart ruff is enough to set the hearts up and the rest of the tricks are yours.

What happened on the day?

Everyone in AP was in 4, making 12 tricks.

Ditto nearly everyone n the original Open Pairs (12 August 2021). One unhappy pair found themselves in 4 making just 11 tricks, for a bottom – did W open 2, one wonders? And one very happy pair bid and made 6.

A bird in the hand ...

Well, you started with two birds in the bush – spades and hearts – but with no way of telling which would turn up trumps. Your initial pass was what enabled you reliably to find the bird in your combined hands – without guesswork. 

cj

Board 07 Wednesday 09 March 2022

The 4th suit

When your partner opens the bidding, you know you're going places with your potentially 3-loser 17-count – but where? That should become clearer as the auction progresses ...

With more than enough points to respond at the 2-level, you bid your longer suit first, and when partner rebids her hearts, you can show your spades. Partner now bids 3 – what's that, then?

Out with the  Alert  card – it's that most useful of bids: fourth suit forcing. Partner's not sure what to do and is asking you for guidance.

What to say? Partner's probably wondering if you have a diamond stop for NT – and while the singleton K might do the job, it might not (remember that the opps have at least 9 diamonds between them – if partner had 4 diamonds she'd have bid 2 instead of 2).

Which leaves you looking for a useful bid: what can you tell partner that she doesn't know already? She knows you have at least 5 clubs and 4 spades – but what she doesn't know yet is that you have five spades. Perfect: bid 3 – now you've described your shape exactly: your spade rebid shows 5 spades but also shows 6 clubs – which is why you bid your clubs before your spades.

Problem solved: your partner has 3 spades with you and can now bid 4. You've found your fit!

Auction over. Or is it ...?

Now you've found your fit, you can count your losers: just 3. It's tempting to look further, isn't it? What would it need to make a slam? Probably any two of the three missing Aces.

Why not try Blackwood? If you do, partner replies 5, showing two keycards (both Aces, as you hold the K yourself), and you can bid the slam: 6. East leads the A ...

How does it go?

... and that's the only trick they take. Check out the whole deal and you'll see that both the trumps and the clubs behave themselves. Note that on any lead other than a diamond, you can make 13 tricks, as you can discard your losing K on a heart.

What happened on the day?

Everyone in AP was in game: 3 in 4, the other in 5.

In the original Open Pairs (03 March 2022), it was much more varied. Most were in spades, but only 2 found the slam. One pair bid and made 6. Three others found themselves in the decidedly inferior 3NT, two going off on a diamond lead. **

cj


* Here's Andrew Robson's take on 4th suit forcing: https://www.andrewrobson.co.uk/article/articles/394

** Which raises the question of how it goes if South opens 1NT instead of 1. I think I'd focus on the spades first: bid 2 to transfer to 2♠, then bid 3♣. With 3 spades, South will now raise to 4♠, and you can pass or try Blackwood, as above.

Board 07 Wednesday 02 March 2022

Never mind the quality ... 

What do you open with West's hand? If you're an Acol player, the answer's 1. * If you're uneasy about opening a suit with the 7 as its highest card, there's no need. What are partner's likely responses?

  • 2/3/4. Fine. You've found your 8+-card fit. Partner's hearts are doubtless rather better than yours!
  • 1. Lovely. You have a spade fit and can raise to 2 or even 3.
  • 2/2. With 15 points you can rebid no trumps, and will probably end up in 3NT.
  • 1NT. 6-9 points and no major fit. You'll pass, and with 21-24 points will expect to make.

In this case partner will respond 3 and with a 15-count you'll accept the offer and sign off in 4. Which makes, as we'll see in a bit.

Meanwhile, what happens if you don't open 1?

  • If you open 1, partner responds 2 (she can't say 2 as that requires 5 hearts). You will now rebid 2NT (you can't bid your hearts, because that would promise 5 spades!) and you end up in 3NT, (probably) going off.
  • If you 'downgrade' your 15-count and open 1NT, your partner (with just 10 points) will pass. It makes, but you've just missed your game contract in hearts.

Moral: Don't get too hung up on suit quality: you're aiming to describe the shape of your hand as well as the strength. **

How does it go?

Let's say you get a bit lucky and North leads a club. That's one club loser, one trump loser (assuming a friendly 3-2 split), one diamond loser and maybe a spade loser too. BUT provided you take the spade finesse in good time, you can later ditch your diamond loser on a spade. So:

  • Win trick 2 with your ♣K and cash the AK - both opponents follow, leaving the opps with just the Q.
  • Don't waste two more trumps getting rid of the Q. Take the spade finesse - which loses. That's 2 tricks lost, and at some point you're going to lose the Q as well.

But that's their lot, because you now have tricks galore in diamonds and spades and you've made 4.

What happened on the day?

Three pairs were in hearts (2 in 4, 1 in 3), all making 10 tricks. One pair was in 1NT, making 8 tricks

In the original Open Pairs (24 Feb 2022), only 4 of the 10 EW pairs were in hearts, the other 6 being in 1NT or 3NT.

cj


* This is the only situation (other than the dreaded 4-4-4-1 distribution) in which you open the lower of two equal-length suits. Here's a handy checklist for 'ordinary' opening bids: What to open checklist.pdf.

** The time you do need to worry about suit quality is when you're overcalling, especially at the 2-level and even more especially when you're vulnerable. Why? Because the opponents are likely to hold more points than you, and you don't want to go several off doubled for a huge penalty. That's why an overcall needs a decent suit with 5+ cards in it.

Board 05 Wednesday 23 February 2022

Probably OK ...

As in life, so in bridge: you can't be sure of anything. You can only try to give yourself the best chance. Which in bridge means going with the odds ...

Not a long auction

2NT  Most pairs open this with 20-22 points, so the opening bid's fine. It's worth noting that the 'shape' rules are a bit looser for an opening 2NT than 1NT – some pairs will open 2NT even holding a singleton, though I won't – so no need to worry about the 2 doubletons. *

6NT  West has no interest in the majors, so it's just a question of how high to go. The two magic numbers are 33 (usually enough points for 12 tricks) and 37 (usually enough for 13), so it's all down to a little simple arithmetic. Add your 13 points to opener's and you get 33-35 points. Job done. **

Note the 'usually' above and the 'probably' in the title, though. It won't work every time. But what about this time? Let's see ...

Finding 12 tricks

Count your winners – always do this! Once you've knocked out the A, you'll have 2 diamond tricks, giving you 11 top tricks in all. One to go, then – without losing the lead again ... But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Much depends on the opening lead.

What if it's the A? Congratulations - you've just made your contract. You now have three diamond tricks instead of two.  Aces aren't a great lead against NT slams – as you can see!

How about the ♠6? Again, lucky old you. You now have four spade tricks instead of three. Simply knock out the A to establish your 2 diamond tricks and you have 12.

The 5 is more difficult. It looks promising, because if South is leading 4th highest from a suit headed by an honour, you'll be able to be able to catch her Q later. But for the moment, don't take any risks. Take the trick, knock out that A and see what happens in spades first.

And finally, the 10. Now you've simply got a guess on your hands. As always, first get rid of the A. Then it comes down to trying to drop (or finesse for) the J or taking the club finesse for the 12th trick. As above, try the spades first, and if that doesn't work, try the clubs. *** On this hand (click to see the whole deal) the spades don't work out, but the clubs do. laugh

What happened on the day?

Neither of the two declarers that I pushed into 6NT made 12 tricks. Mea culpa – but actually the declarers' culpa because the two leads were the A and the 6 – the very 2 leads that guarantee you 12 tricks before you play a card! I suspect the problem was that declarer got stuck in the wrong hand and couldn't cash all 12 winners. Well done one declarer in 3NT who made 12 tricks on a 4 lead.

In the original Open Pairs (02 Sept 2021), 7 of the 11 EW pairs were in 6N, all making – 3 with a cheeky overtrick! How they managed that, I'm not sure.

cj


* Many players use a special version of Stayman over 2NT called Puppet Stayman, which allows opener to show 5-card as well as 4-card majors. If you're feeling adventurous, ask me for some notes.

** All of which raises the question, suppose you have 11-12 points instead of 13? How do you invite to 6NT? Simply bid 4NT – it means 'Pass if you're a minimum, partner and bid 6NT if you're maximum. Similarly, 5NT would mean 'Pass if you're minimum and if you're maximum bid 7NT.' Simple!

*** Why try the spades first? Because you can do it without losing the lead. Then if the ♠J doesn't drop, you've got the extra chance of the club finesse. But if you start with club finesse and it loses, you're off!

Board 05 Wednesday 16 February 2022

Free gift

Can you pre-empt over a pre-empt? Why not? North opens a weak 2 but you can still continue as planned with 3♠, showing your partner a weak hand with 7 spades. Partner raises you to 4♠, South dutifully leads the 4 and you're delighted to see a chunky 17-point dummy with 4 spades ...

As always, you'll want to take a moment to think things through before you play any cards. How many tricks have you got? How many losers do you have? Any chance of any extras?

Tricks? Well, you're making your contract. You've got at least 6 trump tricks (7 if the ♠K drops), plus 4 top tricks in the other suits.

Losers? One heart, one diamond and (maybe) one spade. No losers in clubs, as you only have a singleton opposite dummy's ♣A.

Chance of extra tricks? Yes! The opening lead has offered you a free gift. How can you claim it?

Claiming your free gift

Simply play low from dummy. If (very unlikely!) South has the K, your Q will win the trick. But even if (as expected) North wins with the K, you've still gained a diamond trick: now your A and your Q are masters. And later on in the play, after cashing your Q, you can discard that losing heart in your hand on dummy's A. 11 tricks.

But supposing South's lead is a singleton? North can win and give his partner a ruff! Um ... well, it isn't a singleton, is it? North's opening 2 shows a weak hand with exactly six diamonds. Which means that South has 2 and therefore can't ruff a diamond return. *

So how does it go? North wins trick one and you win the diamond return. Cash the ♠A – sadly South has the ♠K2, so you're always losing a spade trick – and cash your Q. Now out to dummy with (eg) a heart and lead the A, discarding a small heart from your hand. South can ruff if she wants, but she if she does, that's the master ♠K gone! And the rest of the tricks are yours. Check out the whole deal.

What happened on the day?

In our Assisted Play session, everyone was in 4, two making 10 tricks and two making 11.

In the original Open Pairs (16 Sept 2021), again everyone was in spades, but a couple overstretched to 6 and went off. 8 of the 11 tables made 11 tricks, the other 3 making 10.

Creating your own free gift

A final thought: supposing South doesn't lead a diamond. Say she leads the K instead. Can you still make 11 tricks? Yes! It's the same free gift but you have to produce it yourself. How's it done? Click below for my answer.

cj


* Actually, even if it is a singleton, it doesn't cost you. If North returns a small diamond for South to ruff, there's now only one trump left out, so you don't lose a trump trick to the ♠K.

Answer

You have to assume that North has the K – very likely after his opening 2.

At trick 2, you simply lead a low diamond from dummy towards your Q. If he wins with his K, you have two diamond tricks. And if he doesn't, you still have two diamond tricks. Just the same as before!

Board 21 Thursday 27 Jan 2022

4-1 or 9-1?

What a hand! West leads the ♠A against your 5♣ contract and it's time to think. That's one trick gone. You can afford to lose one more. What are your chances? How should you play the hand?

Well, the only place you have potential losers is in the trump suit – clubs. There are only 3 missing, and everything depends on where they are and who's got what. What are the odds? You may already know that with an odd number of missing cards in a suit, they're likely to split kindly. And in the case of just 3 missing cards, the odds are actually pretty good of getting a benevolent 2-1 split: a whopping 78%, in fact, or almost 4-1. *

Well, that decides it, then. Bang out the ♣A and it'll work out just fine – especially if the ♣K turns out to be a singleton ...

Whoa! Slow down! You haven't finished thinking yet! What about if the trumps are 3-0, with one player holding the ♣KJ6. It's going to happen more than 1/5 of the time.. If it does, can you do anything to salvage your contract?

No and yes

If West has the ♣KJ6, you've had it. She's always going to make 2 trump tricks.

But if East has the ♣KJ6, you're smiling. All you have to do is get over to dummy and take the trump finesse, beating whatever card East plays. But can you get over to dummy?

Yes! – provided you think it through before you play to trick one. Just drop your ♠K under West's ♠A and you can get out to dummy via the ♠Q.

On this hand, as luck would have it, East does have all three missing clubs. It was worth thinking it through after all!

What happened on the day?

Of the 11 declarers in clubs, just four made 11 tricks, with the rest going one off. Not great, considering that this was one of our 'posh' sessions.

So why did so many talented, experienced players go off? Probably because the odds were so good to start with. Most of us would grab an 80% chance with both hands, so why bother to waste any more brain power on it? Well, in this case, those that did bother shared a very nice top. By catering for the 3-0 break, the successful declarers converted an 80% chance into 90%: or a 4-1 chance into an even better 9-1.

cj


* It's well worth knowing some of the more common probabilities: such as the chances or 3-2 vs 4-1; and 3-3 vs 4-2. You can find them here.

Board 8 AP Wed 19 Jan 2022
Board 8  AP Wed 19 Jan 2022

 

Sitting West, you opened 1 (not 2, as you're too strong for a weak preempt) and now have to find a lead against South's 4♠ contract (without peeking at dummy!) There are two front runners: the top-of-sequence ♣A and the singleton J. Which should it be?

Well, you might get lucky with a diamond ruff if partner has the A (though on the bidding, she has fewer than 6 points), but the ♣A allows you to have a peek at dummy and then decide what to do next. Down goes dummy, and your partner follows with the ♣10. What next?

What does the ♣10 tell you? A high card is normally encouraging, so partner's either playing hi-lo to show you a doubleton or else the ♣10 is a singleton. So carry on with clubs. You lead the ♣K and partner discards the 2 ... What next now?

Well, a quick count tells you that South has one more club, so let's grab a 3rd trick with the ♣Q ... and partner now discards the K! Goodness. Is she trying to tell me something? What next?

Lead a heart! If you check out the whole deal, you'll see that partner's now out of hearts and will ruff trick 4, taking the contract off. Clever old partner – she's never going to get a club ruff, because declarer hasn't got any clubs left either, but your ♣KQ have enabled her to create a void and get a ruff in a different suit.

As you can see from the whole deal, South's going off even without the heart ruff, as she can't open up the hearts without losing a trick anyway. But still nice play from East!

What happened on the day?

All three tables were in spades (two in 4, one in 3) and two Wests led the A, while one preferred the J. As always happens, the two in game went one off and the pair in 3 made an overtrick!

In the original Open Pairs (played on 25 Nov 2021), most pairs were in 4 (5 making, 3 going off).

And on a diamond lead?

If West leads the J instead of the A, declarer can now make the contract. How's it done? Click below for my answer.

cj

Answer

It looks as if South has 3 clubs and a heart to lose, but the diamond lead allows her to reduce the club losers to just 2. It just needs a bit of care to get the lead in the right place at the right time.

  • South wins in hand and plays the ♠AK, West showing out on the 2nd round.
  • Time to get rid of the K
  • Now play a small trump to dummy's ♠J, clearing East's last trump. Now the lead's in the right place to ...
  • ... cash the Q, discarding one of your 3 losing clubs.
  • Now cash the A and give the opponents a heart trick.
  • They can cash their ♣AK, but that's their lot, as you now have a 10th trick – by ruffing your last heart with dummy's last trump.
Board 3 AP Wed 12 Jan 2022

Over to you, partner ...

Here's a hand from our first Assisted Play session * since the first Covid lockdown.

East to bid ...

First up is East, responding to partner's opening 1♠ after a 2 overcall by North. Strictly speaking, the ♠Q provides your only useful points, but you mustn't pass! Any of 2♠, 3♠ and even 4♠ are reasonable responses, depending on how frisky you feel. There's a handy mantra called 'bidding to the level of your fit', which East might use at this point. It says that, if you're the weaker pair (which seems likely with your meagre holding!) you should add together your total trump holding (in your suit, spades) and bid to make that many tricks. What does that mean here? Well, if partner started with just 4 spades, you'd need to bid 3♠ (you have 9 spades between you, so bid to make 9 tricks) but if she had 5 (5 + 5 = 10), you can go straight to 4♠. Which should it be? 

Well, take a look at the green and red colours. They're not vulnerable (green) and you're vulnerable (red), so going off doubled could be very expensive. Maybe 3♠ is enough for the moment!

... and now South

As South, you have no problem. You have hearts with your partner, 11 good points and, better still, a void in spades. This effectively reduces the number of active points in the deal from 40 to 30 – EW aren't going to take a single spade trick, even if they hold ♠AKQJ. It's easy, then, to bid straight to game: 4. It might even occur to you to wonder if you might have a heart slam, but you certainly mustn't stop short of game.

What happens next?

EW could try 4♠ – could be dangerous, but what the heck? – in which case NS should either X for penalties or go on to 5. If you're familiar with the Losing Trick Count, you'll see that North has 7 losers and South just 5, suggesting that they can make 12 tricks in hearts, but most pairs will probably end up in either 4 or 5.

And what happens? Take a look at the whole deal. EW can make just 8 tricks in spades, making 4♠X too expensive (-500), while NS have no trouble at all making 12 tricks – with just 23 points between them!

What happened on the day?

In AP, One pair made 4 +2. One was in 4X, but somehow only went 1 off for a cheap -200. At the other table, EW ended up in 6X, going 4 off for -1100. Ouch!

In the original Open Pairs, almost everyone was in 4 or 5, taking 12 tricks. No-one bid the slam. One pair sacrificed in 4X and, bizarrely, made it! How, I have no idea.

Things to take from the hand

  • 'Bid to the level of your fit' if you're the weaker pair. You may be able to preempt the opps out of their best contract. But gently does it if the vulnerability's against you.
  • 'Count your losers'. If you're not familiar with this idea, you can check it out here. If South counts her losers, she might end up taking her partner up to 6, which makes for a great score.
  • If the other side is clearly sacrificing – ie they're not going to make their contract – be sure to X them. If they sacrifice in 4♠, they've just done you out of 400+ points. So don't let them get away with a mere 200 loss. Double them and take 500 instead!

cj

* The hands in these sessions were originally played in the Bath BC Open Pairs on BBO, on 2nd December 2021.

Board 14 Thursday 06 January 2022

Go for it

Would you open on the South hand? I would open 1♠. Sure, you haven't got a 'Rule of 20' opening *, but spades are the senior suit and you have a good holding, which partner needs to know about. And if she has nothing, at least you've made it more difficult for the opps to find their contract ...

As it happens, partner responds 2. In Acol, this bid – 2 in response to 1♠ – is the only 2/1 response that promises a 5-card suit, so you know you have a heart fit. It's also forcing, of course. Somewhat reluctantly (Oh Lord, why did I open in the first place?) you raise to 3, and with 14 points partner raises to game. Which, with a major fit and a combined 25 points, is a reasonable place to be.

OK. Switch seats. You're declarer in 4 and East leads the ♣Q. Plan the play!

Heart in mouth time

It doesn't take long to work out that (barring really rubbish defence) the trump finesse has to work. If it fails, they're making their K, two clubs and the A – maybe the Q as well. But if it works – and the trumps split kindly – you're making your contract. Always provided you get that ♠A out of the way so you can cash all dummy's spade winners later.

So win the first trick, take a deep breath, lead a little heart and insert dummy's J ... and it wins! Right. Back to hand with the ♠A (see above!) and finesse again. Everyone follows! Now it only remains to cash the A, dropping East's K, and you can cash dummy's 4 remaining spades, discarding three clubs and a diamond. 

Finally you lead a diamond and if you guess it right (playing the J instead of the K), you're making 12 tricks. Take a look at the whole deal.

Sure, you got lucky. But you still have to play it right. Imagine how daft you'd feel if you cleared trumps without cashing that ♠A first ...

What happened on the day?

Everyone was in hearts, but only 4 of the 8 NS pairs reached game. Why? It's all down to whether South opens or not. If she passes, it goes 1 – 1♠ – 2♣ – ... now South must say 3 (not 2, which would be a weak preference!) and North has to accept the invitation (which, with 14 points and 6 losers, she should). But if South opens, it's much harder to go wrong.

And the play? All but one table made 11 tricks, and 3 made 12 – see below.

A note on opening leads

At no fewer than 4 tables, the opening lead was the A. Unless partner's bid the suit, an unsupported Ace is usually a poor lead. Why? Because declarer's side is much more likely to hold the King than your partner, so leading the Ace is usually just donating the opps a free trick. The only worse option is to lead a small diamond, which happened at one table: don't lead away from an Ace against a suit contract!

Much better to lead the Q, a high spade – or even a trump.

At all three tables where declarer made 12 tricks, the lead was the A.

cj

* Add your points to the number of cards in your two longest suits. If it comes to 20 or more, you can open a suit at the one-level. Here you have 11 points + 8 cards = 19. Officially not enough, but these things are rules of thumb, not set in concrete.