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Improvers hands of the week
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Improvers hands of the week
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! ***


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.


* 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.


* 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.


* 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. 


* 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


* 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.