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Board 03 – Wed 23 Nov 2022

Double trouble

Unlike a double of opener's 1, 1, 1 or 1, which is for takeout, a X of an opening 1NT is a business double – it shows 16+ points and is for penalties. And it spells trouble for one side or the other. Why?

Well, going off in 1NTX can be expensive – very expensive if you're more than one off and even more so if you're vulnerable. On the other hand, letting the opps make 1NTX can also be expensive – very expensive if they make overtricks and even more so if they're vulnerable. *

It usually comes down to points. The side that has the most points is the one likely to make at least 7 tricks. So if your partner's opening 1NT is doubled and you have 8+ points, you're probably going to be OK: so you pass (= 'Bring it on!). But if you've got 6 or fewer points, it's not looking so good, so you should try to wriggle into a suit, if you've got one: the weaker you are, the more you need to be in a suit rather than NT. 

What does East do here?

On this hand, East is delighted to see the X of partner's 1NT. EW have at least 21 points between them, and besides that East has a lovely 5-card diamond suit that is certainly worth 3 tricks and may be worth 5! We're surely going to make 1NTXPass!

What about South?

Take a look at the whole deal. With only 3 points, South is worried, but not too worried NS have at least 19 points – but even just 7 tricks will get EW a good score, so she'd wriggle into a suit if she had one. But she doesn't. All she can do is pass and hope for the best.  

How does it go?

North will doubtless lead the ♠K, and it's no problem for East to win the trick, cash 5 diamond tricks and the ♣A: 7 tricks and 180 points to the good guys.

Note that NS can make 2♠, but it's hard for them to find it.

Conclusion

After 1NT followed by X, the ball's in the courts of the bidders' partners: with enough points, you leave well alone, as you're on course for a great score. But with a rubbish holding, wriggle into a suit if you can. **

After someone wriggles, all sorts of thing can happen, but that's beyond the scope of this HOTW. Today's message is simply: East doesn't need to wriggle; she should pass and take the money.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs game (22 Nov 2022), 5 of the 12 EW pairs stayed in 1NTX, all making 7, 8 or 9 tricks. Three ended up in 2. At the other 4 tables, NS managed somehow to wriggle into a spade contract which, even if it goes off, is better than letting 1NTX make. 

The AP contracts and results also varied: There was 2 by East and 2 by North, both going off. The other 3 tables were in 1NTX, two making and one going just one off.

cj


* Here are some of the scores, non-vulnerable and vulnerable:

  • Making 1NTX is worth 180, and any overtricks are worth an extra 100 (200) each. Lovely for you, nasty for them.
  • Going off in 1NTX will cost you: 1 off 100 (200); 2 off 300 (500); 3 off 500 (800). Nasty for you, lovely for them.

** Every partnership needs to have a wriggle available to escape from 1NTX if necessary. The simplest is just to bid a suit if you have one. There's also the Transfer wriggle, which allows you to put partner into a 5-card suit: simply bid the suit below yours: your partner will bid the next suit up and you then pass. (If your suit is clubs, you XX (redouble), asking partner to bid 2♣, which you pass.)

There are other wriggle systems that also work for 4-card suits. I'd be happy to provide details of the one I use if you're interested. 

Board 04 – Wed 16 Nov 2022

L ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ng clubs

Sitting East, you hold this very pleasant 17-count. If partner makes an opening bid, you're going to end up in game – at least. What will you respond if partner opens:

(a) 1♣ ?   (b) 3♣ ?   (c) 4♣ ? 

After 1♣, you will doubtless respond 1*. If partner now rebids 2♣, you can bid 3NT.

If she opens 3♣, showing a weak hand with 7 clubs, you can bid 3NT straight away. You'll be unlucky not to make 9 tricks.

A 4 opening, showing a weak hand with 8 clubs, is (sadly) already too high for 3NT. Tempting though it is to punt 6, this is unlikely to make unless partner has A plus one other ace – which 90% of the time she won't have. Safer to settle for 5.

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. 3NT is the place to be, isn't it? Once the ♠A is forced out, you have 11 tricks off the top.

And as expected, West doesn't have two aces. South will have no problem defeating 6♣! Not that 5♣ will be worth anything anyway if the other EW pairs are in no trumps.

What should West open?

The good thing about 4♣ is that it might make it hard for the opponents to find their major fit (if they have one). The downside is that – as we've seen – it means you can never play in 3NT. If your partner had already passed, 4♣  – maybe even 5♣ – would be a great opening bid. But she hasn't.

From that viewpoint, 3♣ is a better starting point, even though you have too many clubs. 

But there's nothing wrong with 1♣. You have a 'Rule of 20' opening, after all, and partner might have a decent hand – as indeed she turns out to have on this deal.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs game (15 Nov 2022), two EW pairs were in 3NT, and made loads of tricks; two were in 5, making overtricks; and two were in 6, going off. **

In AP, all four tables were in 3NT, making 11 or 12 tricks. Well done!

cj


* No need to bypass your diamonds – just bid your 4-card suits 'up the line': if partner has 4 hearts, she'll now bid 1 and you'll have found your major fit.

** Including me. I (unwisely, as it turned out) opened 4♣ and my partner, rightly judging that 5♣ would be pretty worthless compared to those in 3NT, punted 6♣ just in case! Sadly, it didn't work.

Board 06 – Wed 09 Nov 2022

Either will do!

After West's 3NT bid, East might have tried for a slam by bidding 4NT ('quantitative', not Blackwood, asking partner if she has a few extra points) and with a good 12-count West would probably have punted it. But just because you aren't in a slam doesn't mean that you don't try to make 12 tricks. What are your chances here and how would you go about it? North leads the J.

Well, provided you follow the golden NT rule * and start off by attacking spades, you're always making 10 tricks: 2 spades, 3 hearts, 3 diamonds and 2 clubs. Whether you can make 12 depends on how the hearts and/or spades behave. If either suit is split 3-3 or if the ♠10 or J is in a doubleton you've got two extra tricks, giving you the dozen. So ,,,

... win trick 1 with the A and lead your ♠K. South wins with her ♠A and returns a club **. What now?

Win the trick, pick a major and bang out your winners. If it works out, you're home. If not, cross your fingers and switch to the other major ... 

... and it works out nicely, as you'll see if you check out the whole deal. The spades don't work out, so you switch to hearts, which split 3-3, giving you your 12 tricks. 

Combining chances

Many players will simply take the heart finesse, hoping the J is with North. This is a straight 50% chance – which happens to work on this hand. Our combined spade/heart line, on the other hand, offers a much better chance of success: around 77%. This is because instead of being a single chance of 50%, it combines two chances, each around 52% – the arithmetic's given below *** if you're interested!

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs game (03 Nov 2022), all declarers were in NT – all West, by the way – mostly in game, but two in 6NT. 8 declarers made 12 tricks.

In AP, the NT contracts were 3NT, 3NT and 6NT – but no one made 12 tricks. One pair came top for making 4X – with 7 points, S is nowhere near strong enough to X, even holding A10xx. 

cj


* The golden rule of NT play: If you need to lose the lead to set up extra tricks, do it immediately, while you still have stops in the other suits. (Here it would be plain daft to bang out your AKQ or ♣AK before hitting the spades, as the opps would then be able to cash any remaining diamonds/clubs when they come in with the ♠A.)

** Strongly suggesting that she's out of diamonds. Not that it matters much here, but it's always worth picking up on inferences from the defenders' play.

*** The odds of 6 missing cards splitting 3-3 is just 36%. BUT there's also a 16% chance that a missing honour will be in a doubleton (ie that someone will hold ♠10x or Jx), giving you 52% - better odds than the finesse!

Your overall odds of success are 52% in spades OR 52% in hearts. Either one will do. Combining them, you get:

  • You'll succeed if spades work out - that's 52%
  • But if they don't (48% of the time) you also have a 52% chance of the hearts working out. So that gives an extra 48 x 52 = 25% chance.
  • Add the 52% to 25% and you get 77% overall.

You don't need to get out your calculator at the table, though - just be aware that combining two chances often gives better odds than having just one chance.

Board 03 – Wed 02 Nov 2022

Bin the 'dustbin bid'

The 'dustbin bid' is, of course, the 1NT response to partner's opening suit bid. So called, I suppose, because it covers a wide variety of hands, many not the least bit 'no-trumpy' in shape. Much better, though, to rename it as the 'last resort bid', which is actually what it is. It means that you can't support partner's suit, you have no 4-card suit you can bid at the one level and/or you don't have enough points to bid a suit at the two level ... but you have to scrape up a bid because you have at least 6 points: so 1NT it has to be. A last resort.

If you think of it like this, there's no chance that you will respond 1NT to partner's opening 1 on this hand. Sure, you've got 6-9 points, but 'no suit you can bid at the one level'? You've got not one but two – and crucially, they're both majors. There's no 'last resort' about this hand at all. If you respond 1NT 'to show partner my points', you're denying four hearts or four spades. And on this hand that's disastrous – take a look at the whole deal.

The rest of the auction

Over 1NT, partner will rebid her diamonds. She can't reverse to show you her spades, because with only 14 points she's not strong enough to reverse – and why bother anyway, because you've already denied having 4 spades? So you'll probably end up in a diamond part-score.

If instead you respond 1, partner can now bid 1♠, you can raise to 2♠ ... and how high you go depends on how highly partner rates her 5-loser hand. You should end up in 4♠, making 11 tricks.

A major fit is the 'Holy Grail' of the bridge auction. * This hand is a good illustration, as you can make game in diamonds, NT or spades. The difference is in the scores: 5 nets you 400, 3NT also 400 (or 430 with an overtrick) and 4♠ +1 450. No contest.

How does it play?

Say you get a club lead. You want to get on with clearing trumps asap, so you can cash a bagful of diamond tricks. So win with the ♣A and finesse your ♠J. It wins – back to dummy with the A and finesse again with the ♠Q. Now drop the ♠K under your Ace and bang out the rest of the diamonds, discarding hearts from dummy. You end up with 12 tricks (only 11 if the opening lead is a heart).

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs game (27 Oct 2022), 8 declarers were in spades – all but two in game – all making 11 or 12 tricks. The other two languished in 2♦ +3 for a shared bottom.

In AP, two tables found the spade fit, and the other was in 3. Sadly, the spade declarers' cardplay wasn't quite up to it and they both went off – transforming the 3 contract from a bottom into a top!

cj


* Here's the poster that filled much of the notice board at the Pavilion in Box in pre-Covid days – the last paragraph is the crucial one:

 

Board 04 – Wed 26 Oct 2022

Guaranteed!

Well, that was a snappy auction. West leads the A, down goes dummy and you're in the South seat needing 11 tricks. How does it look?

On the face of it, you have three possible losers: the A and Q, plus a diamond. So the question is: is there a way of reducing that to just two? Whatever the location of the A and Q? Indeed there is – and there's a sporting chance that you can even make 12. How's it done?

Turning losers into winners

It's all down to the spades, which conveniently have only two holes in them: once you've lost your two tricks to the ♠A and ♠Q – which you will if East has them both – you'll be left with the top two spades. On which  – provided you've retained a way of getting the lead into dummy – you can discard your two losing diamonds. 11 tricks guaranteed. How does it go?

Better than you hoped. you ruff the heart and lead a low spade to the ♠9 – and it wins! Back to hand with a club – West and East both following suit – and clear the last trump before leading your other spade: This time West goes up with the ♠A and leads a diamond ...

... and it's all over. You win the trick, go out to dummy with a third club and lead the ♠K, neatly dropping West's ♠Q and discarding a diamond. Now you can discard your last losing diamond on the ♠J and claim the rest of the tricks.

Take a look at the whole deal. Luckily for you, East doesn't have the ♠Q, which is why you get an overtrick. But even if she did have it, your contract is still making: they'd make their two spade tricks, but that would be all.

Shouldn't I have cleared trumps at trick 2?

Well, you could certainly take one round of trumps before you start on the spades. And provided both opps following suit, you're safe to clear their last trump before starting on the spades. But if either opp had showed out, you'd have had to switch to spades PDQ. Why? OK. Suppose you take two rounds of trumps, then switch to spades ... and East wins with the ♠Q and leads her last club. That's your only entry to dummy gone and you haven't set up your spade winners yet! And you're going off.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs game (20 Oct 2022), 6 declarers were in clubs – all but one in game – and most made 11 or 12 tricks. It turns out that 5 is a good sacrifice, as it makes 9 tricks, which even when doubled (-500) is cheaper than letting 5♣ make (-600) ... unless it pushes NS into 6♣, which makes!

In AP, two tables were in clubs, making 11 tricks, and two were 1 off in 4 – cheap at the price!

cj

Board 21 – Wed 19 October 2022

Getting in the way

Here's another hand on competing after the opps open the bidding. Last week's HOTW was all about showing extra strength (in both hands), whereas this week's is all about weakness - again, in both hands.

If South hadn't opened the bidding, you'd probably open with a weak 2, showing 5-9 points and a 6-card heart suit. What to do after South's opening 1, then?

Answer: exactly the same. 2. Just as most players open weak 2s these days, so do they also play weak jump overcalls. It gets in the way just as effectively - and gives your partner the whole picture in a single bid. 

What happens next? Take a look at the whole deal.

The rest of the auction ...

Without your bid, North would have bid 1♠ (or, I suppose, 1, though much better to show the 4-card major, rancid though it is), and over a 1 overcall would have the same two options open to her. * Over 2, though, it's a bit trickier. Now everything's a level higher than before, and all North can do realistically is pass or stretch to 3. Sure, she could still X to show her spades, but that now looks a bit pushy - they are vulnerable, after all!

East, her 10-count notwithstanding, now knows that NS have most of the points and, as EW are non-vulnerable, feels free to 'bid to the level of the fit': 3. Whether North has bid or not.

And South can only pass. Well, if North stretched to 3, I suppose she might risk 4, but I wouldn't advise it. Not vulnerable.

What happens?

Well, with 23 points and a 9-card fit, you'd expect 3 by NS to make - and 3 by EW to go off. Which is fine: 3 is worth 110 to NS, whereas getting you even 2 off in 3 is only worth 100 - a good result for you.

By a quirk of fate, though, they can only make 8 tricks in diamonds, whereas you can actually make 3, for a magnificent +140.

Note, by the way, that you want to be in 3  whether you can make it or not. Provided you don't misplay it too badly you're in for a good score anyway. The fact that it makes is just icing on the cake.

And don't be put off by the 'poor quality' of your heart suit: sure, you're missing the AKQ, but you have 6 of them and the other two honours. And you're not vulnerable. Go for it! **

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs game (13 Oct 2022), it seems no one was worried about missing the AKQ - 7 of the 8 EW pairs ended up in hearts, all but one making 9 tricks. One unfortunate South punted 3NT and went 3 off for -300. Ouch!

In AP, two tables were in hearts, making 9 and 10 (!) tricks. One South went off in NT and one East went off in 1♠ (I'm not surprised! But how did they get there?)

cj


* Over 1, she'd show her spades via a negative double, showing exactly four spades. Leaving the 1♠ bid to show at least five spades. Neat!

** You'll have noticed that the above is peppered with references to vulnerability. It's important in competitive auctions, when each side has to decide how high it dares to go. If you're the weaker side (as EW here) and you're not vulnerable, you can be friskier. And if you're vulnerable (as NS here) you'd be well advised not to risk going off in 4X. 

Board 05 – Wed 12 Oct 2022

Showing your strength

When we open the bidding we've got an array of different techniques for working out whether we have enough combined strength for game: invitations, jump rebids, simple and jump raises, unassuming cue bids, jump shifts, trial bids, 4th suit forcing ... You name it! Less well known are the equivalent bidding tools available to you when the opponents have opened the bidding. 

This hand shows two of the most useful of these in action - both needed if you're to find game.

East's bid?

After North's 1 opening, East says 2, right? Well, not really - not if you want to find game. The range for a normal overcall is around 8-15 points, so East's hand - with 16 points and a good suit - is too good for that. With a hand like this, you double (yes, just like the normal take-out double) and then on your next turn bid your suit - ignoring whatever suit partner has bid in response. When you 'overrule' partner's response, she'll understand that you have a one-suited hand with 16+ points. Perfect. So for the moment, you X and await West's response.

West's response?

South passes and it's West to bid. West, so far, is taking the X as a normal take-out double and so wants to show her spades. Bid 1♠, right? Wrong again! Consider: if partner makes a take-out X, you have to bid - even if you have zero points. How, then, to tell your partner not only that you have spades but that you also have a chunky 9 points? Well, the normal range for a minimal response is 0-7 points. If you have 8 or more, you have to jump - in this case to 2♠. Describes your hand perfectly.

Back to East ...

West's 2♠ response has done its job: With West's 8+ points and her own excellent 16-count, East now knows that they're probably in game. Now it's time to pass the good news on to West: 3.

... and back to West

West is now also in the picture: partner has a 16+ count with a good diamond suit, and game is now on. So one thing she won't do is pass! But what to bid? 

  • 3NT would be lovely, but is maybe a bit dangerous, given that North opened 1. You'll have at most one heart stop, and maybe not even that.
  • An alternative might be to rebid your spades to show partner you have 5. If you do, East will raise to 4♠.
  • Or you might feel it's safer to go for 5  Hard to make 11 tricks, though, and spades and NT will score better than a minor ...

Which works best?

Take a look at the whole deal. As it happens, N has the AK and S can't get the lead, so 3NT works brilliantly: you have 2 spades, 6 diamonds, 2 clubs and a possible heart trick as well. Lovely. On paper, 4♠ would be the best contract, but you're unlucky in finding North with ♠QJxx. You can still just make 4♠, but only if you guess the trumps right, which is unlikely. 5 isn't so good, either. With S leading a heart, you're going to lose 2 hearts and a spade.

But the important things to take from the hand are the two ways for overcallers to show their strength. If East simply overcalls 2, West will probably pass; and if West simply responds 1♠ to East's X, East will think game's not on and stop in a part-score. And who wants to end up in a part-score when there's +460 on offer?

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs game (06 Oct 2022), most EWs were in 4♠, all unluckily going one off; the remaining 3 tables languished in miserable 2 and 3 contracts - well, should have languished, but as it turned out got utterly undeserved tops! No one risked 3NT.

In AP, all three tables ended up in 3NT with overtricks, with a little prompting from me. 

cj

Board 19 – Wed 05 Oct 2022

Lifeline!

After an auction which features a nice example of an 'unassuming cue bid' * you find yourself in 4. South leads the 5, down goes dummy and it's time to make a plan. What are your thoughts?

Well, what with South's 1♠ overcall, it's not looking great. South has surely got the ♠AQ, and they're also making their A ... meaning that you can't afford to lose a club trick. Any chance of that dream coming true?

In the ordinary run of things, none at all, but maybe South's opening lead throws you a lifeline...

Pick an honour

What does the lead tell you? Well, it might be top of a ♣53 doubleton or middle from something like ♣853. In which case, tough luck: North will have ♣KJxx(x) and will eventually have a club trick.

On the other hand, the ♣5 might be South's lowest club, in which case she has a club honour. Which one? If it's the ♣K, tough luck again - she'll get her club trick.

But what if it's the ♣J? Now things are looking up. You play the ♣10 and if North plays the ♣K you're home: win with the Ace, clear trumps and finesse the ♣9 and you have 3 club tricks. 

If you take a look at the whole deal, you'll see that your luck's in: South does indeed have the ♣J. So provided North plays ball and covers with her ♣K, you're home ...

Plan B

... but supposing North doesn't fall for it and doesn't cover? Sure, you've won a cheap trick with your ♣10, but you're still losing a club later, aren't you? 

But all is not lost. After clearing trumps, you simply switch to spades. ** Sure, South can win her ♠A and her ♠Q, but to what avail? Leading another club doesn't help – that only traps partner's ♣K – and after 2 rounds of spades you can discard your losing club on dummy's (now) top spade. Contract made. ***

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs game (29 Sept 2022), all 11 EWs were in hearts. Eight made 10 tricks, one made 11 ... and two only made 9 – both after getting a club lead!

In AP, two pairs bid and made 4 – one after getting the free gift of a ♠Q lead (see me afterwards!) – and one went 1 off in 3.

cj


* the awkwardly named 'unassuming cue bid' (UCB) is a very useful tool for opener's partner after interference. In short, any direct raise of partner's suit after an overcall is weak and distributional. If you have a sound raise (4-card support and 10+ points), you simply bid the opponents' suit. On this hand, West's 2♠ bid is enough for her partner to punt game in hearts. For other examples of the UCB in action, see the HOTWs Two kinds of raise (Jan 2016) and The UCB again (Apr 2016), both here.

** It doesn't much matter how you play the spades. You can finesse if you like or simply bash out the ♠K (and, if necessary, lead another later to force out the ♠Q). Either way you'll be left with a spade winner in dummy to dump your losing club on.

*** So is the club lead really a lifeline? Can't East always make 4, whatever the lead? No - NS can take the contract off. How? Answer below.

 

Taking the contract off

  • South has to lead a diamond instead of a club. North wins and leads a spade.
  • South cashes two spade tricks, leaving dummy with two winning spades, so ...
  • ... leads a third spade, which North ruffs and East overruffs.

No matter. Declarer can now discard one club loser on dummy's ♠J, but now has to open up clubs herself, and has to concede a club to either North's ♣K or South's ♣J.

Board 12 – Wed 28 Sep 2022

M©JªR vs NT

Here's a cracking illustration of a familiar theme. What do you make of the bidding so far? Why did partner rebid 2 instead of just 1?

Well, partner has at least 5 diamonds and 4 spades - and fewer than 4 hearts. And her jump shift into 2♠ is forcing to game and shows 18-19 points *

So what now? With your K10xx it's tempting just to bid 3NT and be done with it. But hang on - are you sure you haven't got a major fit? Most of the time, a suit contract will be worth an extra trick over NT, so it's well worth thinking about. And a major fit here is by no means out of the question. Partner might have 3 hearts - or she might have 5 spades, for that matter. And in either of those two cases you're probably better off in the major.

How to find out? The answer is our old friend: fourth suit forcing **. Bid 3♣. And partner's reply will tell you all you want to know:

  • 3: she has 3 hearts, so you can bid 4 ***
  • 3♠: she has 5 spades, so you can bid 4♠ ***
  • 3NT: no major fit, but she has a club stop. You can pass.
  • 3: no major fit OR a club stop, so she can only rebid the diamonds: but as you have clubs stopped yourself you can now bid 3NT.

And if you take a look at the whole deal, you'll see that partner does indeed have 3 hearts, and you end up in 4.

Which is better?

Let's take 3NT first. On the lead of ♣6, North wins with the ♣A and returns the ♣9, and the defence end up with 3 tricks (two clubs and a spade).

What about 4? This time there's no second club trick for the defence, who only make their two black Aces. 

So, on paper at least, 4 is the better place to be. What about in real life?

What happened on the day?

I don't know how it went in AP, which was a teams match. In the original Open Pairs game (22 Sept 2022), only 3 of the 10 tables took the trouble to seek the major fit: they ended up making 11 (in one case 12) tricks in 4. Of the others, all in 3NT, most made 10 tricks, though two pairs (lucky them!) somehow managed 11 and 12 tricks, for a good score that, on the bidding at least, they didn't deserve.

cj


* The problem with rebidding 1♠ is that if you're weak with 4 spades you might pass, which wouldn't do at all!

** 4th suit forcing  In an uninterrupted auction, bidding the 'fourth suit' has nothing to do with the suit itself: it means 'Tell me more about your hand, please' and is usually a way of looking either for a major fit or for a no-trump stop.

*** In either of these cases, with a decent 10-count opposite a strong hand, it would be reasonable to enquire about a slam via Blackwood, but with 2 aces missing, you'd end up stopping in 5.

Beware the switch!

Sitting East with a minimum 12-point opening 1NT, you refuse your partner's invitation to game and South leads the K. Your first thought on seeing dummy is 'I wonder why partner didn't use Stayman?' - of which more later.

Meanwhile, you have to plan your play, so the more pressing questions are: what's South's heart holding and should I win the trick? What's your plan?

The K is surely top of a sequence. South probably holds KQJx(x), leaving North with xx(x). It's certainly worth ducking, just in case North has just 2 hearts and also the A, but when South continues with the Q (East following both times) you should win it and hit the diamonds. Why?

As things stand, you have a heart trick, a club trick, (probably) 4 spade tricks, and can develop a further two in diamonds - that's the 8 tricks you need. Even if South has the A and 5 hearts, the opps can only come to 5 tricks in all. But if you duck the 2nd heart trick ...

... just suppose South now switches to clubs? They've already netted two heart tricks, and now they stand to take the A and at least three club tricks, taking you at least one off.

If you win trick 2, on the other hand, they don't get any club tricks at all. Take a look at the whole deal. As it happens, South has only 4 hearts and the diamonds are split 3-3, so once you get back in you have the rest of the tricks - 9 in all.

What about Stayman?

I think your partner should have bid Stayman. He probably thought it wasn't worth it because he has a flat 4-3-3-3, but you don't. If the diamonds don't split 3-3 (which most of the time they won't) you're only making 8 tricks in NT (for 120), but in spades you're always making 9 tricks (140). So 3 spades is actually the place to be.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs game (15 Sept 2022), only one pair was in spades, making 10 (!) tricks. Most of the others were in 2NT, making 9 tricks. One East played in 1NTX, making 9 tricks for a terrrific top *. In AP, one pair was in spades also making 10 tricks, and the other was the horrid 1NTX making with overtricks.

cj


* Is South strong enough for a penalty X? Not quite, I think. Anyway, with 11 points West is happy to pass and NS are sunk!

Board 03 – Wed 14 Sept 2022

On the other hand ...

What do you bid sitting East? Here are three possibilities: 2NT, 3NT, 2.

2NT  Certainly, NT look a likely outcome, and you're obviously too strong to respond 1NT. 2NT would be a textbook response, showing 10-12 points, no fit with partner, and with stops in the opps' suit. Your partner may only have 11 or 12 points, so better safe than sorry. On the other hand ...

3NT  ... your ♠AQ10 sitting behind North's (presumed) ♠KJxxx makes your hand worth (at least!) one extra trick. You've just got to be worth 9 tricks in no trumps! On the other hand ...

2♣  ... 3NT is a bit of a shut-out bid. Your partner might have a 6-card heart suit or a strong holding that might be worth a slam. 2♣ is forcing, so is a good way of finding out more about partner's hand. And if you do end up in NT, it's also a good way of discouraging a club lead from South. It's my preference of the three responses.

Take a look at the whole deal. As it happens, whichever you choose you're probably going to end up in 3NT. West has a 15 count, so will raise your 2NT to 3NT; simply pass your 3NT; and will raise your 2♣ to 3♣, after which you'll bid 3NT yourself.  

The play

It all works out very well. With luck, South will lead a spade (her partner's suit), taking your first finesse for you and leaving your two diamond stops intact. You can then finesse a club, losing to the K, and later take a 2nd spade finesse. You end up with 3 club tricks, 2 diamonds, 2 hearts and 3 spades - 10 tricks in all.

If, on the other hand, South starts with a diamond, you win with the J, finesse the 10 (which wins), then on with the club finesse ... ending up the the same 10 tricks.

What happened on the day?

In the Wednesday AP game, everyone ended up in 3NT, making 9 or 10 tricks. In the original Open Pairs game (8 Sept 2022), 9 tables were in 3NT, mostly making 10 tricks. The other two were in an inferior 4 contract, which happens to make only because the hearts are split 3-3.

cj

Board 05, Wed 31 Aug 2022

The level of your fit

For you sitting West, the question in this already-busy auction is a simple one: do I bid 4?

And the answer is equally simple: yes!

Why? The short answer is that by bidding 4, you're bidding to the level of your fit. This is a handy rule-of-thumb for competitive auctions, and it means: work out how many trumps you and your partner have between you and bid to make that number of tricks. Here, you know your partner has at least 5 hearts for his overcall, and you have 5 as well. 5 + 5 = 10, so bid to make 10 tricks: 4

This doesn't mean that you necessarily expect to make the contract - merely that it's probably a cheaper alternative to letting the opps make theirs, especially if they're vulnerable and/or you're not.

Does it work on this hand?

Yes, it does. Take a look at the whole deal.

NS can scrape together 9 tricks in spades (by a combination of ruffing hearts and setting up a diamond trick) ... but far better than that, you can actually make 4 - losing only one spade, one diamond and one club - in spite of having just 21 points between you.

Which raises two further questions: should NS now bid 4♠ ... and if they do, should EW pass, double or try 5? I'll leave you to answer those yourself.

The main thing to take from the hand is that you should bid to the level of your fit.

What happened on the day?

In the original Open Pairs game (25 August 2022), three pairs were in 4, all making. Six others were stretched to 5, some doubled, some not - and some making, some not. One unfortunate NS pair got doubled in 4♠ and went 2 off for -500.

cj

Board 11 – Wed 24 Aug 2022

Two sides of the same coin

It's easy enough to get to the best contract on this deal. Sitting East, you open 1 after 3 passes and when partner responds 1 you jump-shift to 3, showing game-going points and at least 5-4 in hearts and diamonds. * With 3 hearts, your partner now knows to sign off in 4.

Making sure of your contract isn't so obvious. Let's say South leads the 6. What are your thoughts about (a) making 10 tricks and (b) not losing 4 tricks? They are, after all, two sides of the same coin.

Making 10 tricks  Assuming the trumps behave themselves, you're making 5 trumps tricks, the A and the AK: where are the other two coming from? If the diamonds are kind (if they're 3-3 or the Q drops), they could provide the extra two tricks. And if South has the A you can harvest a club trick by leading low toward dummy's K. 

Not losing 4 tricks  You could have two unavoidable club losers. And if you do, you have to ensure you only lose one diamond trick. Well, if you're unlucky in diamonds too that might not be possible! But if the diamond split is no worse than 4-2, you can do it. How?

As so often is the case, the route to making extra tricks (and avoiding losing extra ones!) is to ruff in the short trump hand. And on this deal that means getting your ruff in before you clear trumps - if you clear trumps first you won't have any trumps left in dummy to ruff with! So how does it go?

  • Win trick 1 in hand, cash the AK and ruff a 3rd diamond high with dummy's J (in case North is out of diamonds). Which indeed she is.
  • Now you can clear trumps in two more rounds...
  • ... and you're sure of making your contract. Even if you have two club losers, you now only have one diamond loser (South has the Q).
  • As it happens, South does have the ♣A, so a small club from your hand towards dummy's ♣K gets you an overtrick.

What happened on the day?

I can't remember what happened in AP, but in the original Open Pairs game (18 August 2022), everyone was in 4, bar one pair who somehow got stuck in 2. Three declarers made 10 tricks, four made 11 ... and one made 12!

Conclusion

At first sight, it's tempting to get involved in a 'cross-ruff' in diamonds and spades, but on this hand ruffing spades earns you nothing: the trumps you use to ruff spades were making tricks anyway; whereas ruffing a diamond in the short hand gets you an extra, 6th trump trick that you wouldn't make otherwise. Plus it helps set up a fourth diamond trick later in the hand. 

cj


* Whatever you do, don't rebid 2: if she has only 2 hearts and a diamond fit, partner might pass and there goes your game. Once your partner has responded to your opening bid, you know you've got enough for game - so make a bid that she can't pass!

Board 01 – Wed 17 Aug 2022

Show your strength (but remember your shape) 

What does East open with this lovely 20-count? Bearing in mind that bridge bids are supposed to give partner info about your high-card points and your shape, the one bid she won't make is 2NT. Sure, she has the right points, but the shape's about as far from a NT hand as it gets. *

With strong unbalanced hands like this, it's often best simply to open at the one level (here 1), the idea being that if partner is too weak to respond, you won't be able to make game anyway. That won't wash here, though, as you're probably making 4 or 5 on your own on this hand, even if partner has nothing. You simply can't risk partner passing.

The answer's simple: open the strongest bid in the toolbox: 2.

Over to West, who must realise that with 13 points opposite a game-forcing hand a slam must be on. 2 would be the normal 'tell me more' response, but with lots of points and a 5-card suit, she'll say 3 instead, a natural bid showing points as well.

Now East again. Hmm. She could just punt 6, but if West has both missing aces, 7 (and probably 7NT) is surely on. Straight to Blackwood, then? It's a possibility. But I quite like the idea of 3. A heart fit would score better than the minor, and even NT may be a possibility .... **

And over 3, not fancying hearts but with stops in both black suits, West might well punt 6NT herself.

Clearly 6 will make, as will 6NT by West (but maybe not by East). 

Which brings us back to the 2NT opening. Say East ends up in 6NT and South leads a small spade. Do you play your ♠K or your ♠J? It's a guess, isn't it? If you think South would have led the ♠A against the slam if he had it, you'll punt the ♠J. But if he's always going to lead his 4th-highest, maybe the ♠K will win. Take a look at the whole hand and you'll see that the King is the winning play. But the point is that East shouldn't be in 6NT at all. If West is declarer, 6NT makes whoever holds the ♠ A, and without having to 'guess it right'.

What happened on the day?

In AP we played teams. One was in 6NT by East (who had opened 2NT), which went off on a spade lead when declarer guessed wrong and played the J. At the other table, 6 made easily, for a hefty swing.

In the original Open Pairs game (11 August 2022), it was more important to find 6NT if possible, as the extra points matter in Pairs. 5 pairs were in 6, but scored less than 50%, because two others were in 6NT and 7NT, both making and both bid by West. We won't mention the EW pair who stopped in 5.

Conclusion

There are many reasonable auctions on this hand, but all of them start with 2♣ and end in 6 or 6NT. In Teams, either will do, but in Pairs, NT has the edge – preferably with West as declarer.

cj


* Poor bids are often of this kind: either 'I wanted to show my points (and never mind the shape)', as here, or 'I wanted to show my shape (and never mind the points).' Here are three typical (and very common) examples:

♠ Q95  
♥ J874  
♦ Q8  
♣ A1075

Responds  1NT  to partner's opening 1. 'I wanted to show my 6-9 points!'
So what? You also have a 4-card major. Bid it! 1.
1NT denies 4 hearts or 4 spades. You're misleading your partner.

♠ 53 
 AK84  
 AQ953 
♣ 107

Opens 1, then over partner's 1♠, bids  2♥ . 'I wanted to show my shape'
Yeah, but 2 is a reverse, taking partner beyond 2,
which could leave her in difficulty if she's weak.
To reverse you need 16+ points. Rebid 2.

♠ Q9 
 8  
 K75 
♣ AKJ9753
Opens  3♣ . 'I wanted to tell partner that I've got 7 clubs!'
Yeah, but you're also telling partner that you have 5-9 points,
which isn't true. You have 13. Open 1♣.


**
Trevor disagrees with the heart bid: 'You've found a diamond fit, so don't bother with hearts. Go to Blackwood to check for Aces and you end up in 6.' He's probably right!

Board 05 – Wed 10 August 2022

Check back with Checkback 

What are your thoughts sitting East when your partner makes a 1NT rebid, showing 15-17 points?

I'd be thinking about spades. You know that partner doesn't have four of them, as she didn't raise you, but what if she has three? In that case, you have a major fit, and that's usually a better place to play than NT. 

But how to find out? Bidding spades again is out:

  • 2♠ is a sign-off, showing a weak 6-pointish hand with 6 spades. Which you don't have. 
  • 3♠ is a game-force, giving partner a choice between 4♠ (if she has three) and 3NT (if she only has two). With only 8 points, you're not strong enough.
  • 4♠ would be plain daft: you might have just 7 spades between you and 23 points!

Time to check back ...

Checkback Stayman is a handy little gadget specifically designed for situations like this. It allows you to find a 5-3 major fit – and as a bonus you can find out whether you want to be in game or not.

Like ordinary Stayman, it begins with 2♣ (and yes, over a 1NT rebid, 2♣ is always Checkback even if clubs have already been bid on the way, as here). And it's asking about any majors that have already been bid.

Here that means spades. So depending on her spade holding and her strength, West's replies are:

  • Positive – 'I have three spades': 2♠ (with a minimum) or 3♠ (with a maximum)
  • Negative – 'I have only two spades': 2 (with a minimum) or 2NT (with a maximum)

Let's try it: 2. West responds 2♠ – showing three spades and a minimum 15 (maybe 16) points. You've found your fit! No point in raising further, so you pass.

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. NT is looking pretty horrid: on a diamond lead, you're losing five (maybe just 4) diamond tricks and either the ♠K or K: just 7 (or 8) tricks. Whereas in spades you're making nine tricks (losing just 2 diamonds, the ♠K and the K). Better.

Note that although you only have 24 points between you, you're unlucky not to be making 10 tricks – you only need one of the two finesses in hearts and spades to be right. For them both to be wrong, as here, is just a 25% chance.

What happened on the day?

In AP every EW pair stopped in 1NT. (Most play a 15-16 NT rebid, though, so East is more likely to pass – but see *)

In the original Open Pairs game (04 August 2022), results were all over the place. Most were in spades, making 9, 10 or even 11 tricks. The others were in NT, making 7, 9 and 11 tricks!

More on Checkback

  • Supposing both majors have been bid (1 - 1♠ - 1NT)? In this case, East might be looking for opener to have 5 hearts or 3 spades. Opener just bids the one she has – or with both, starts with the hearts and thenceforward uses common sense!
  • Since you can end up in game, it's best not to use Checkback unless you have enough for game opposite a maximum – but see * below.
  • Use Checkback over a 1NT rebid, only. Over a 2NT rebid you can achieve the same simply by rebidding your 5-card major or your 3-card holding in partner's major. See the previous HOTW En passant (13 April 2021) here

cj


* Playing a 15-16 1NT rebid, you technically haven't got enough points for game (max 24 available). That said, using Checkback isn't much of a risk: If partner responds 2♠ or 3♠ you can pass. And you can also pass if she responds with a max negative 2NT.

Board 15 – Wed 03 Aug 2022

New suit at the  3  level
 


In an uncontested auction, bidding a new suit at the 3 level is forcing to game.


 

Looking at both hands, it's pretty obvious that EW want to end up in 3NT. But given that you can't see partner's hand during the auction, what's the best way of getting there?

The first two bids are simple: West has a rule-of-20 * 1 opening, to which East responds 2. Which leaves West in a rather uncomfortable place. She'd like to show her clubs, but that means 3, which – see above – is a game force, showing a far stronger hand than she has. ** So 2 it has to be.

East, on the other hand, can make a game force, since she has 15 points. What should she say? With stops in hearts and clubs, many Easts will simply sign off in 3NT. End of auction. But there's another option ...

An alternative

Suppose West has something like     ♠ Q 10 8 5 3 2   A Q 2   Q 8 4  ♣ J 8

Now you don't want to be in 3NT. A club lead will knock out your A, and when you lose the lead to the A or K, NS will feast on clubs and you'll be off. Not only that – because your partner has 6 spades, you have a perfectly reasonable 4 contract.

So how about bidding 3 instead of 3NT? It's a new suit at the 3 level, so there's no chance that partner will pass. Sure, you don't have a heart fit (partner rebid 2, not 2!) but that's not what you're looking for:

  • If partner has the hand above (6 spades, nothing in clubs) she'll plod on with 3 and you can raise to 4.
  • But with the actual hand, with club stops of her own, she'll happily bid 3NT herself.

Either way (check out the full deal) 3NT makes without a great deal of trouble – though as it happens, weirdly, you can make more tricks in either 4 or 4 ... and even 6 makes if you guess the finesses right!

What happened on the day?

In AP every EW pair was in 3NT by East, all getting a heart lead. Two made, one went 1 off.

In the original Open Pairs game (28 July 2022),the overwhelming favourite was again 3NT, again all by East, making 8, 9 10 or 11 tricks. So much for my 'better alternative', then! ***

Conclusion

But the main point to take from the hand is the rule at the top: West cannot force to game, so must rebid her threadbare spade suit. East is strong enough to force game, and is therefore free to explore further via 3.

cj


* Rule of 20: add your points to the number of cards in your two longest suits, and if it comes to 20+ open at the 1 level. Here West has 11 + 10 = 21, so opens 1♠.

** How strong? Well, East has guaranteed 10+ points with her 2 bid, so to force game West would need 15+ points.

*** Actually, 3NT by East is a pretty good punt. Of the two unbid suits, you're more likely to get a heart lead than a club, and you'll have the opening lead coming round to your Kings, rather than through them.

Board 03 – Wed 27 July 2022

All in one basket

When North leads the 5 against your 3NT contract, you wish you'd gone for 5 instead - indeed, 6 may well be on the cards.

In no trumps, however, you're in a spot of bother. You have just 8 'top tricks', and you can't afford to lose the lead: if they come in with the A, they can take at least 4 diamond tricks and you'll be off. If only they'd led a different suit! But you are where you are. What to do?

Well, there's only one chance. Thanks to the diamond lead, all your eggs are in one basket: and that's the hope that North holds the Q. If she does, you're home. If not, you're going at least 2 off. So win the trick with your A (there's no point in holding up), cross your fingers and lead a small heart to dummy's J.* It works!

Great. That's that then. What now? Just cash out and claim 9 tricks?

No! Now that the heart finesse has worked, you actually have a chance of a 10th trick. If the hearts happen to be split 3-3, your 4th heart will be a master. So before you take your club tricks, cash dummy's AK ... and everyone follows! Now take your club tricks, being careful to end up in your hand, and your 9 will provide an overtrick. Phew!

A word on the auction

East has a difficult opening bid. She has enough points for 2NT, but with a singleton diamond she prefers to open 1, hoping that she doesn't get 'passed out'. Once her partner responds, however, getting to game is easy, via a game-forcing jump-shift into 3.

West can now choose between clubs and NT, and with a stop in the unbid suit (A) opts for 3NT. This is likely to score more than 5♣ , and 6♣  seems unlikely on the combined point count, which is (as far as she can tell) around 27 - not enough for the club slam.

What happened on the day?

In AP one pair was in 4 (a reasonable contract, which can make), one pair made 5 + 1, and one pair hit a lucky jackpot with 6 - Jacklin & Jones being frisky! 

In the original Open Pairs game (21 July 2022), 5 EW pairs were in 3NT (3 making 9 tricks, one who spotted the chance of the overtrick with 10, and one very lucky with 12 tricks). Two were in 4♠ and two were in 5♣, mostly making 12 tricks ... and one unlucky NS pair bravely sacrificed in 5X, going one too many off for -800. No one bid a slam.

cj


* You can give yourself a slightly better chance by cashing the A at trick 2 (in case the Q is singleton), crossing back to your hand with a club and then taking the heart finesse. You never know!

Board 05 – Wed 20 July 2022

Two suits

Points aren't everything, as you can see from your holding here. Just 10 points, but if your partner can support one of your suits, you're surely (at least) in game. The difficulty is that the opps have got a major fit, so can outbid you ...

The auction

Your RHO's opening 1 gives you a handy opportunity to show both of your minors in one bid, via the very useful Ghestem * convention: 2NT, showing at least 5-5 in clubs and diamonds.

South raises her partner to 3. At which point your partner jumps to 5. Interesting: kinda preemptive (it stops them bidding 4), but she's surely got some values as well as just clubs ...

At which point, North bids 5. This is it, then: do you go for it with 6? Pass? Or maybe X, with your 2 aces?

Make your decision and then click to see the whole deal ...

What happens?

Well, they can certainly make 5, can't they? They lose just two tricks, to the K and the A. X was never a good idea, really: all they need is to be void in one of your suits, and then partner will need to have two more tricks to take it off. Not worth the risk.

But, barring fluke defence **, you're making 6: on the A lead (most likely), you can clear trumps and net at least 12 tricks.

So should you bid 6? Yes, if only because the opps are likely to make their (vulnerable) 5, so going off in 6, even doubled, will be cheaper. But you've got chances: their hearts are useless (you have a void) and you have 1 spade loser at most. So if partner can help you in diamonds as well, you can make it ... And so it turned out.

What happened on the day?

In AP we were playing teams, resulting in an apocalyptic swing for one team: at one table they bid and made 6, and at the other they bid and made 5

In the original Open Pairs game (14 July 2022), 4 EW pairs punted the 6, three of them doubled, and all made. Two pairs bid and made 5. And the rest were all in 5 or 5, all making.

cj


* See Showing a 2-suiter with Ghestem, here.

** If North instead leads a spade to South's ♠A, South can switch to a diamond, giving her partner a ruff. But it's not easy to find!

Board 09 – Wed 06 July 2022

Fun defence

Sitting South, you stuck your oar into the auction with a dodgy 2♣ (perhaps a takeout X would have been better), but partner stayed silent and East is now in 4. *

Your singleton spade seems the best opening lead: down goes dummy and declarer wins the trick with dummy's K, your partner following with the 8. The Q is now led from dummy, declarer playing low ... What happens next?

The fun starts ...

You'd like to get a spade ruff, but can you get the lead to your partner? Possibly she doesn't have much in the way of points, but she could just have the A. So win with your K, cross your fingers and lead a low club ...

... Partner goes up with the A (yey!) and returns your spade lead for a ruff. What now?

If you've been paying attention you'll lead another club for partner to ruff. There's only one outstanding club – the ♣K – and if partner had it she would have played it instead of the ♣A. so secure in the knowledge that East has the ♣K, you lead another low club ... No, hang on a minute! Let's cash that A first, just in case. Now the low club, partner ruffs ... and declarer's two off!

Key decisions

If you take a look at the whole deal, you'll see that EW will be feeling a bit hard done by. Though they only have 23 points, they look to be losing just three tricks: one heart, one diamond and one club. Their going off is all to do with your key decisions: (1) to lead your singleton spade, (2) to win your K and lead a club to partner's Ace (3) to cash your A before (4) giving your partner a club ruff. None of them that hard, really ** – and there's nothing quite as much fun as finding a killing defence.

What happened on the day?

In AP, both EW pairs were in hearts, making 7 and 9 tricks.

In the original Open Pairs game (07 July 2022), the two pairs in 4 made 8 (good defence) and 10 (not so good defence) tricks. At other tables EW were in spades and NS were in diamonds. 

cj


* West's X is a negative double, promising enough points to respond and at least 4 of any unbid major (in this case, hearts). Once East agrees hearts, West counts her losers (just 7) and punts game. 

** Except, maybe, for the early cashing of your A: just as well you did, as otherwise declarer can ruff a spade, clear trumps and discard dummy's KJ on her long spades, and you never make your Ace.

Board 03 – Wed 06 July 2022

Min or Max?

When your partner opens 1♣ opposite your tasty 17-count, you've got to be wondering about a possible slam. But no hurry a simple change of suit is enough to be getting on with: partner's 2nd bid will tell you more ... And so it does. She rebids 1NT, showing a balanced 15-16 (or maybe 15-17) points with no 4-card major.

So have you got enough for a slam or not?

The answer is that you don't know. With two balanced hands, you'd normally need 33 points to make 6NT. Which you'll have if partner is a maximum 16 (or 17), but not if she's a minimum 15. What to do?

No, it ain't Blackwood

You invite partner to the slam with 4NT. This isn't Blackwood (which only applies once you've agreed a suit), but a quantitative bid, asking partner whether she's minimum or maximum for her bid. * If she's minimum, she'll pass and if she's maximum she'll accept the invitation and bid 6NT.

And if you check out the whole deal, you'll see that on this occasion, with only 15 points, she'll pass and you end up playing in 4NT.  

How does it go?

Well, it depends on the lead, but against the best defence, you're only making 11 tricks: you have 4 spade tricks, 3 hearts (if you finesse correctly), 3 clubs (sadly the ♣J doesn't fall!) and one diamond.

A spade lead gives nothing away, but West's most likely lead is the 6 (2nd highest from rubbish), which gives you your 3rd heart trick but still leaves you losing a club and a diamond. 

A club lead (unwise, given your opening bid) gives you a 4th club trick which, combined with the heart finesse, makes 12 tricks, and a diamond lead does the same: you play low, allowing East's K to win, but you can now take the diamond finesse and catch West's Q. But on the whole, a good slam not to be in!

What happened on the day?

In AP, two pairs were in 3NT, making 11 and one pair was in 6NT, making. 

In the original Open Pairs game (30 June 2022), they were friskier: 6 of the 9 pairs in 6NT, and the rest in 3NT. Only one of the slammers made 12 tricks – courtesy of West discarding a club and thus donating a trick to declarer.

Nobody, however, ended up in 4NT, in either event. Not even at the table where I was sitting North! blush

cj


* This is simply a 'slam version' of the more common raise to 2NT inviting partner to game: pass with a minimum, bid 3NT with a maximum.