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Jan-June 2023 HOTWs
Board 04 – Wed 28 June 2023

Cat among the pigeons

West's pre-emptive weak 2 opening here really puts the cat among the pigeons.

If she passes instead, it's pretty straightforward for NS to find 3NT or 5♣, whether North passes or opens 3♣.

After the 2 opening, it's a different story. With just 8 points, North can't risk a vulnerable 3♣ overcall and East will surely jump straight to 4. * Leaving South with just one option: double

Is that a penalty double or a takeout double? Well, it's a bit of both, isn't it? It North's got a suit, all well and good, but 4X is surely going off, so it's up to North, really.

So what should North say? It's a toss-up between pass ('My partner's got a strong hand and I've got 2 kings') and 5♣ ('Will probably score us more than 4X.')

So what happens?

It turns out that 4X is a great place for EW to be, as it only goes one off, declarer losing at most 2 spades, a spade ruff and a diamond trick. Just -200, then.

5♣, on the other hand, is a doddle and a great place for NS to be: in fact, because the ♠K is 'right', NS can make a small slam.

Preemptive power

The point of West's preemptive opening and East's preemptive raise to 4 is that it gives NS a chance to go wrong. Left to themselves, they're bound to get to 3NT or 5♣, but after the preempt they might just slip up. So what happened ...

... on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 22 June), the result was very mixed. 3 pairs were in 5♣, one stopped in 4♣ (!) and just one bid the 6♣ slam. The other 3 pairs were all in 4 or 5 doubled, all getting a decent score. East's 4 raise ensured that no one was able to play in 3NT 

In AP, just one pair found 5♣, and one EW pair was allowed to play in 4 undoubled (!) making (!) for an almighty top. The other two NS pairs were allowed to reach 3NT, which makes comfortably.


* A great example of 'bidding to the level of your fit': West has 6 hearts, East has 4, so bids 4. Sure, you're vulnerable, but so are the opponents, so you can afford to go 2 off doubled.

AP Notes Wed 21 June 2023
You're the one that knows
Hi all
Back to AP notes instead of HOTW this week, as there's a simple and very useful message coming from several of this week's hands. The message is:
If your partner opens the bidding and you have enough points for game
you are the one that knows that game is on.
Your partner 
doesn't (yet).
Therefore it's
up to you to make sure that game is reached.
So while you're finding out which is the best place to play,
make sure that you 
don't make any bids that partner can pass.
If that sounds complicated, it isn't. Take a look:
Board 13
As soon as your partner opens 1♦, you know game is on: you have 17 points! As yet you have no idea what the best game (or maybe even slam!) might be ...
... so you bid 1♠ and wait to see what partner bids next.
Partner now bids 2♣, which suggests an ordinary opening hand with 5-4 in the minors. Slam not likely, then. So what do you bid now?
Well, it looks like NT, doesn't it? So bid it: 3NT. 
But whatever you do, don't bid 2NT. That will suggest to partner that you have just 10-11 points and are merely inviting her to game. An invitation that she'll turn down, as she has only 12 points.
As we said at the top, you're the one who knows that game is on, so it's up to you to make sure you get there!
Here's the whole EW holding: 
If you get a heart lead (likely, as hearts is the unbid suit), you're safe to set up your diamonds, and you make at least 2 hearts, 4 diamonds, 3 clubs (maybe 4) and a spade. Lovely.
Partner won't be happy, though, if you're only in 2NT ... and it'll be your fault!
Board 10
This is a bit trickier to bid, but is basically the same idea.
You're sitting North and your partner again opens 1♦. Again, it's unclear what the best final contract is, but what is clear is that with your opening hand you're going to end up in game.
So don't raise your partner's diamonds! 2♦ shows a miserable 6-9 points, while a jump raise to 3♦ is worth 10 or 11. Partner can (and probably will!) pass either of these bids, and therefore they're to be avoided!
The same goes for 2NT for the same reason as with board 13: it can be passed.
But what else to do? There are various gismos used by more experienced players to get around the difficulty, but the easiest practical solution is simply to bid 3NT straight away. 
But what about diamonds, then? We have a fit, after all! Well, yes, but as you know, with a minor fit it's usually better to be in NT. The problem with bidding 4♦ or 5♦ is that that's already taken you beyond 3NT, which is probably the best place to be. *
And finally, Board 2 ....
Yet again, your partner opens 1♦, and again you know immediately that you're going to end up in game.
You bid 1♥ and partner now bids 1♠, showing an ordinary opening hand with 5-4 in diamonds and spades.
Crunch time again: partner might have 3 hearts with you, but it's pretty unlikely given the auction so far, so yet again NT is looking like the best place to be.
And yet again, whatever you do, don't bid 2NT, which (as we've seen!) partner can pass! Instead, do your duty and bid 3NT.
If you've read this far, well done: you've given yourself an extremely useful tool that you can use again and again: after all, it just came up 3 times in 14 boards!
 * Yes, I know, 6♦ actually makes on this hand, but it's a fluke and is unbiddable. Remember that even one overtrick in NT is going to net a better score than 5♦+1.
Board 11 – Wed 14 June 2023

A moment's thought

You lead the 8 against South's 4 contract, and North lays down an impressive dummy. So impressive that you find yourself wondering whether North should have tried for a slam ...

Your partner beats dummy's K with the A and returns the J. South wins with the A and lays down the J.

What card do you play?

It's tempting to cover with the Q to force out the A, but that would be a daft play here. Why? Because there are only two trumps in dummy. Play low. Let the J win. On the next round declarer has to play dummy's Ace anyway, leaving you with two trump tricks. If you cover the J with your Q, on the other hand, you'll only make your K, as you can see if you look at the whole deal.

About that slam ...

Sure, North has a lovely 20-point hand, but she also knows that partner has opened a weak 2♠, showing just 5-9 points. A slam's looking just too unlikely. On the other hand, they have a known 8-card spade fit, and surely enough points for game, so not a lot of point exploring hearts or even no trumps: safest just to go for 4♠. *

But if North does look for the slam and they end up in 5♠ or 6♠, there's all the more reason for West to have a moment's thought before following to that first trump trick. 

Imagine that West had led a heart instead of a diamond. If she now covers the ♠J, the slam's in the bag: declarer can discard her singleton diamond on the 3rd round of hearts, and ends up losing just one trick, to the ♠K. Egg on West's face big-time.

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 08 June), 6 of the 9 pairs were in 4♠, either making 10 or 11 tricks. Two punted 3NT, making 10 or 12 (!) tricks. And one unfortunate East went 7 off in 5X for a whopping -1700.

In AP, two pairs were in 4♠, making 10 tricks (well defended, West!), one made 11 tricks in 4 ... and another East went 5 off in 3X for -800: well doubled, North!


* As it happens, both 4 and 3NT are worth 11 tricks as the cards lie, but North has no idea (a) whether partner has support for her hearts or (b) whether partner can stop the opps running off lots of club tricks. So my vote still goes for 4♠.

Board 10 – Wed 07 June 2023

The only Xception

An opponent opens the bidding, your partner doubles for takeout, the other opp passes, and it's your bid ...

One thing they drum into you in bridge classes is that however weak you may be, you have to bid. Quite right, too. You don't want to leave a strong opponent in a doubled contract that'll earn them a small fortune in overtricks. 

There is, however, one exception to this rule, of which this deal is a nice example ...

The exception ...

... is when you have a fistful of the opponents' suit and you think you'll earn more points from the penalty you'll earn from getting them off doubled than you can make from any contract of your own.

You've got an almost opening hand yourself, with five nice hearts. From her double, you know that your partner also has an opening hand. So you've certainly got more points than the opps, and they have a rotten trump split to deal with. Could be worth a tidy penalty if you can get them 2 or 3 off. *

So instead of bidding your spades you pass. What you're doing effectively is converting partner's takeout double into a penalty double of your own.

The only question is: is it better to let them play in 2X than to play yourself in eg 4♠? Take a look at the whole deal.

How does it go?

South has a really difficult time. She has zero communication between her hand and dummy and EW end up taking 8 tricks: that's three down and a penalty of 800 points.

That's even better than the 620 EW would earn from making 4♠ - if they can make 4♠, that is. There's a dreadful 5-0 spade split in store, with North's ♠AQJxx sitting behind West's ♠Kxxx, making 2X a much more attractive prospect.

But how many EW pairs found the jackpot?

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 01 June), 2 was played at 5 of the 6 tables, with 3 of them being doubled. No-one made more than 5 tricks. The 6th pair were in 4♠, but the 5-0 split was too much for them and they went one off.

In AP, just one pair left the double in, again making a handsome 800 for getting 2X three off. The other three pairs played in 2♠, 3♠ and 4♠, all making 9 tricks.


* The opps are vulnerable, so going 1, 2 or 3 doubled off will cost them 200, 500 or 800, respectively. 

Board 08 – Wed 31 May 2023

First things first

With spades as trumps, you're pretty well guaranteed 9 tricks even if partner has nothing, losing just the AQ, a heart and a club. But partner's 1NT response promises at least 6 points, which are surely going to be worth 1 trick one way or another, so a 4♠ rebid is pretty much a no-brainer.

And so it turns out. West leads the 3 and dummy shows up with a very handy ♠A, albeit a singleton. No danger of going off, then, but as always in pairs you're after the maximum possible number of tricks. What's your plan?

Getting the order right

You noticed, of course, that besides the A, dummy has the Q - which is also, with luck, worth a trick. If you cash your AK, you can - provided the diamonds break 4-3 - discard one of your two losers (7, ♣8) on that Q. Trouble is, you have only one entry to dummy: the singleton trump Ace. So you have to cash your AK before you touch trumps. Otherwise you'll never be able to cash your Q.

How does it go? Cash the AK, lead a trump to dummy's ♠A, then cross your fingers and lead the Q, discarding one of your losers ... and the diamonds are indeed divided 4-3. Lovely

Take a look at the whole hand. It remains only go get back to hand with a heart or a club, drop West's ♠Q under your ♠K and you've made 12 tricks.

'With luck'?

But is it really 'lucky' that the diamonds are divided 4-3? Actually, it's with the odds. Here's a handy (and short!) note on the probabilities:

  • If you're missing an even number of cards in a suit, they're unlikely to split 'nicely':
    Missing 6 cards, for example, you'll only get a 3-3 split 35% of the time (a 4-2 is the most likely, at 48%)
  • But if you're missing an odd number of cards, they're more likely than not to behave in a friendlier fashion:
    Missing 7 cards, as here, they'll split 4-3 around 63% of the time.

And even if you're unlucky enough to get a 5-2 split, it won't cost you anything if somebody ruffs the Q - you can still discard your losing card from hand and make 11 tricks.

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 25 May), 6 of the 7 tables were in 4♠. three made 11, three made 12 ... and one somehow made all 13.

In AP, again all but one table were in 4♠, but none of the declarers noticed the potential extra trick, so no one made 12 tricks.


Board 10 – Wed 24 May 2023

There's 30 ... 

After opening 1, your partner rebids 3NT over your 1♠ response. That presumably gives her 19 points (with 18 she'll probably rebid 2NT and with 20 she'll be opening 2NT). Which means you have 30 points between you. What do you bid?

Easy: pass. Being in NT, you can't ruff anything and you're missing 10 points: easily enough for NS to hold AK or even AKQ! No slams on offer here.

Take a look at the whole deal. Actually, you're not far off 12 tricks - if South had the ♣K, you'd be there.  As it is, on a diamond or club lead, 11 tricks are a doddle. Once you've forced out their A and ♣K, the rest of the tricks are yours.

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 11 May), everyone was in 3NT, making 10 or 11 tricks. Ditto in AP, making 9, 10 or 11 tricks.


With a balanced 30-count, then, 3NT is where you want to be. But what if things aren't so balanced? Take a look at the very next board ...

Board 11 – Wed 24 May 2023

... and then there's 30 

This is a continuation of the previous HOTW article

This time partner has opened 2NT (20-22). Your plan is to transfer her to spades and then to bid 4 over her 3 response, offering her a choice of major suits.

Instead of bidding 3♠ , however, partner super-accepts with 4, showing 4 spades and a better-than-minimum hand.

Again, you've got 30 points between you, but this is a bit different from the last hand. For one thing, you're in a trump suit. For another, you have a singleton. And for yet another, you have a nice side-suit that will surely be worth a few tricks.

Caution is needed, though - if the opps have two Aces, that'll take you off. So first you bid 4NT (RKC Blackwood) to check partner's Ace holding. She replies 5♣, showing 3 of the 4 missing key cards, and you punt the slam: 6♠. *

Does it make?

Take a look at the whole deal. Yes, it makes easily, in spite of the nasty 4-0 spade split. The hearts split more kindly, so you're making 5 spades, 5 hearts and the ♣AK. **

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 11 May), 4 of the 9 EW pairs found the slam. Declarers all made 12 or 13 tricks.

In AP, one pair bid (and made!) 6♠. Three pairs made 12 tricks, the other two 11.


* I'm simplifying a bit here. In fact, you'll want to be sure that partner's also got the trump Queen. To find out (as you'll know if you went to the recent RKCB slams workshop) you bid the next suit up: 5. When partner replies 6♣ ('Yes, I have the ♠Q and I also have the ♣K') this is ample evidence that the slam is on. Now you know not only that the trumps are solid but that on a club lead they can only make one club trick.

** Actually, if North doesn't take her A at trick 1, you might make all 13 tricks. If you bang out all your trumps and hearts, North may well leave herself with A and ♣Qx, allowing your ♣J to become the 13th trick.

Board 13 – Wed 17 May 2023

Getting in the way

Here's a taster from last week's AP session for Terry's upcoming seminar on competitive bidding ...

Imagine how the auction goes if East passes. South will bid spades, and one way or another they'll easily find their way to 4. *

What if East instead overcalls 1♠? Which she shouldn't, as the suit's simply not good enough. Again, no problem for NS. South will X (the negative double, showing at least 4 hearts - 'the other major') and they'll find their heart game again.

A much better option for East is to use Ghestem, a convention that allows you to show any two 5-card suits after an opponent's opening bid. Here she can bid 2, showing both spades and clubs. **

Suddenly, things look very different. Sure, NS will still probably find their heart fit, but with an 11-card club fit West can now sacrifice in 5♣. She can either bid it immediately (in which case they might never find their heart fit) or as as sacrifice over 4. Which will either be doubled or will push them up to a much more difficult 5.

Supposing North opens 1?

Many players, fearing that if they open 1 they will never get a chance to show their major, will prefer to open this hand 1. In this case, East will overcall 2 (again showing the extreme-ranking two suits). NS will of course have no problem bidding 4, but West still has the option of sacrificing in 5♣, leaving NS with the same difficult decision: to X or bid on?

Who can make what?

As you can see, NS can always make 4, scoring 620.

5♣ only goes one off: EW make 5 trump tricks plus 2 heart ruffs, a diamond ruff, the ♠A and the K. Doubled, that's only 200 for NS - a great sacrifice!

What about 5? Well, if East finds the right defence, it goes off: the ♠A followed by a spade ruff is worth 2 tricks and eventually the K will take the contract off. But on any other lead 5 will make.

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 11 May), everyone was in game in hearts, though two NS pairs were forced up to 5. Everyone made at least 11 tricks, as no-one found the killer ♠A lead.

In AP, all the pairs were in 4, and only one declarer made 11 tricks. Ironically, the killer ♠A lead was made only once: against the declarer who made 11 tricks.


* Strictly speaking, North should rebid 2, as she's nowhere near the required 16+ points to reverse into 2. That's no problem, as South will now bid hearts herself. The danger of reversing into hearts with just 11 points is that South may sniff a slam and aim too high ...

** Once a suit has been opened, there are three possible two-suited combinations you might hold. You show them as follows:

  • Cue-bid the opponent's suit (here 2) to show the two extreme (ie lowest- and highest-ranking) unbid suits. Here that's ♠ and ♣ 
  • Bid 2NT to show the two lowest-ranking unbid suits. Here that would be  and ♣ 
  • Bid 3♣ to show the two highest-ranking unbid suits. Here that would be ♠ and  

Ghestem commonly goes by the handy mnemonic ELH (standing for extreme, low, high)

Board 12 – Wed 10 May 2023

Fits like a glove

Weak two openings by opponents can be (and often are!) a nuisance, but sometimes they can play right into your hands.

With a strongish hand, you'll often be able to X for takeout, but that won't work here: you've got too many diamonds and only have 4-card support for clubs. Instead, this hand is word-perfect for a 2NT overcall, which describes your hand to a T: a balanced 16-18 points, with at least one stop in the bid suit. Like its cousin, the 1NT overcall, the 2NT overcall over a weak 2 retains all the features of the opening 1NT system – in other words, your partner can use Stayman and transfers as if you've made an opening bid. *

What happens next?

Take a look at the whole deal. With 9 points, partner knows you're going to end up in game (16 + 9 = 25), so will transfer you to spades and then bid 3NT, leaving you the choice. With a balanced hand you may prefer to pass 3NT, but I'm a great fan of major fits, so holding 3 spades I'll prefer to end up in 4♠.

As luck would have it, both contracts make the same number of tricks: 10 tricks are available in NT (on a diamond lead, at least), and the extra trick that should be available in 4♠ is sadly nullified by a ruff if East leads her singleton ♣J.

Either way, the 2NT overcall, which fits your hand like a glove, provides a sure route to game.

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 04 May): one pair ran out of steam in 3♠, while the others were evenly divided between 3NT and 4♠. Many wangled their way to 11 tricks in both contracts, on less than perfect defence. 

In AP, one pair made 4♠, while the other two had contrasting fortunes in 3NT: one just made, the other made a wrong guess and got pummelled in diamonds for 3 off. Ouch! ** 


* It's interesting that the 1NT overcall over a 1-opening (15-17 points) requires almost as many points as the 2NT overcall over a weak 2 (16-18 points). The reason's simple arithmetic:

  • If you open 1NT, you need 12-14. On average, your partner will end up with around 8-9 points, giving you 21+ between you: enough to make 1NT
  • If you overcall 1NT, one of the opps obviously has an opening hand, so there are fewer points left for your partner: now she'll only have around 6-7 points, on average. So you need 15+ to make your contract.
  • But if you overcall 2NT over a weak 2, the opener's weak and your partner's still likely to hold at least 7 points: so 16+ should be enough to make 8 tricks. 

** And another good reason for choosing the major fit over NT: it's safer!

Board 05 Wed 03 May 2023

Stay connected

Here's a hand where a few moments' thought (and some simple arithmetic) can net you vital extra tricks in defence ...

After two passes, South bids 1NT, which is passed out ... and it's your lead. On this hand, the '4th highest of your longest and strongest suit' seems the best idea, so you lead the 6.

Declarer plays the 10 from dummy and partner's J wins the trick, declarer following with the 3. Partner now returns the 9, declarer plays the 7 ... and it's your play. What are your thoughts? How do you play it? Why? 

The clue's in the title

This is one of those situations where it's only too easy to sleepwalk into trouble. 'Hey - if I cash my A I can knock out dummy's K and then we've got two more heart tricks ...!'

But have you? By the end of trick 3 you'll be the only player with any hearts left, so you're going to need an entry in order to get the lead - and you haven't got one. The only hope would be spades, and all three of your spades are going to be beaten in dummy ... So you can say goodbye to your two extra heart tricks.

There are plenty of points out there, of course. Partner will have (Um ... I started with 8, dummy with 9, opener has 12-14, so ..) at least 8 points, so will probably take a trick at some point ... but unfortunately, as we've seen, no longer has a heart to lead you ...

Which brings us back to trick 2: the only chance you have of making all those heart tricks is if partner started with three hearts and if you duck the 2nd heart trick. Sure, declarer wins with dummy's K but later on, assuming partner's got that last heart, you're going to make a further three heart tricks - not just the A!

Does it work?

Yes, it does - take a look at the whole hand. Partner has both minor Aces and three hearts so you end up making 6 tricks in all. But if you play your A at trick 2, declarer ends up making 9.

But how can you know that partner has the last heart? Well, the missing 5 does look more likely to be with partner rather than declarer, * but you can't be absolutely sure. So yes, there's a risk that if you duck at trick 2, you'll never make your A. But it's always better to make an informed choice rather than an autopiloted one. In this case, it's just a matter of a bit of counting: first, counting the number of remaining hearts, and second, counting the points to work out partner's likely point-count.

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Tuesday 02 May): of the 3 pairs in NT, two made 9 tricks and one was held to 7. 

In AP, the three pairs in NT made 8, 9 and 9 tricks. So over both events, presumably only one West ducked the 2nd heart trick.


* When returning partner's lead, it's normal to lead HIGH from a remaining doubleton, so the 9 suggests the possibility of a further heart. South's play (of the 3, then the 7) also suggests that your partner has the 5, but declarers are cunning beasts, and she might be false-carding ... 

Board 03 – Wed 26 April 2023

It takes two to Tango - again!

Here's another deal that requires understanding between partners to reach the best contract. South opens 1 and after two passes your partner doubles for takeout. South now passes. What do you bid?

Hearts - the other major - is the obvious choice, but how many should you bid? Partner's promising an opening hand - and presumably at least 4 hearts! - so if you had 13 points or so, you could jump straight to 4. With just 7 points, you're kinda in the middle between 0 and 13, so you're 'on the cusp': should you say 2 or 3? My usual rule of thumb is to jump with 8+ points, but with 0-7 to keep it low. On this hand, holding the Ace of the opponents' suit, some will punt 3, but let's be conservative and stick with 2.

North passes again and your partner now bids 3, followed by another pass from South. What does 3 mean? Is partner just being awkward or is she looking for game?

West's next bid 

She's looking for game. NS have shown no appetite to compete, so why should she bid otherwise? Your 2 response has promised at least 4 hearts and 0-7 points. So what your partner wants to know is: are your points nearer to zero, partner, or nearer to 7? In other words, it's the usual 'Maximum or minimum?' invitation.

And if that's the question, the answer's a no-brainer: 4.

The play

Take a look at the whole hand. The obvious lead for North is his singleton ♠K - partner's suit - and this plays right into your hands. You now no longer have a spade loser!

All that remains is to clear trumps and force out the ♣A. And if you choose to to clear trumps by cashing the A instead of finessing, you've got 12 tricks. 

So should you be bidding the slam? No! A slam that requires you to drop two singleton Kings ain't biddable, is it? The main point of this hand is not to miss game.

It takes two to Tango

East's first bid is also crucial to finding game: with 19 points, she's far too strong to make a simply overcall (8-15 points). With 16+ points, even with a single-suited hand, you double initially, then (if partner's suit doesn't work for you) bid your suit. On this occasion, hearts are fine, and the invitational 3 is sufficient to find game.

But if East simply overcalls 2, West will (rightly!) pass and game will be missed - as happened at two tables on the posh night: see below.

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 20 April), 6 of the 10 EW pairs reached game. Two got stuck in 2 by East (East's fault!) and two others got stuck in 3 by West (West's fault!). Declarers made 10, 11 or 12 tricks.

In AP, everyone found 4, but the 3 declarers who got the free gift of the ♠K lead still only made 10 tricks ...


Board 04 – Wed 19 April 2023

It takes two to Tango

Do you use the Losing Trick Count? It's just a rule of thumb, but used sensibly it can help you find games that you'd miss if you relied just on your point-count. Without going into all the details here *, 24 minus your combined 'losers' is an indication of the number of tricks you should be able to make. So to make 4 on this deal, you should have no more than 14 'losers' between you. An 'ordinary' opening hand will typically have 7 losers.

West to bid

West has just 8 points. With 4 spades, a raise to 2♠ seems OK. But It's a nice raise, and crucially the hand has just 8 losers, which would suggest a raise to 3♠ - an invitation to game.

East to bid

Take a look at the whole deal. Your partner has invited you to game, so no doubt has 8 losers. How many have you got?

At first sight, you're not good enough: you have an 'ordinary' opening hand with 7 losers, so should pass ...

... or should you? As Trevor observed at last week's session, two of your 7 'losers' are in the spade suit. But if your partner has 4 spades, how likely is it that you really have two spade losers? Not very! That knocks you down to just 6 losers and suggests you should bid game.

And as you can see, game is the place to be. In the event, you have one spade loser at most (none if you 'play for the drop'), so you're going to make 10 or 11 tricks.

It takes two to Tango

If game's to be found on this hand, both East and West need to step up to the mark: if West doesn't bother to invite with 3♠, East won't be looking for game. And if East doesn't spot her 'extra values' in the trump suit, she'll turn down the invitation anyway. 

This is a cautionary tale for me, as I was sitting East when these hands were originally played. I just counted my 'losers' and concluded that I had nothing extra to offer ... and ended up in 3♠ + 2 instead of 4♠ +1. Next time I'll know better!

On the night

But it wasn't just me. In the original Open Pairs (Tuesday 18 April), just 2 of the 7 EW pairs reached game. The others made overtricks in part-scores.

In AP, the ratio was better: 2 out of 5 pairs bid and made the game.


* If you're not familiar with the LTC, you'll find the basics in an ancient (but still valid) article here.

Board 04 – Wed 12 April 2023

Hard to find

Check out this EW holding: each player has 16 points, so you'd expect a slam to be on somewhere ... but which is better: 6 or 6NT?

The answer (as so often is the case) is that the suit slam has much better chances than the NT slam. Why?

  • For 6NT to make, you need the spade finesse to be right. Otherwise the defence will take the K and the A for one off.
  • But if hearts are trumps, it doesn't matter whether the spade finesse works or not. Declarer simply clears trumps and bangs out 3 club tricks, discarding dummy's 10 - and ruffs a spade for her 12th trick.

But how to bid the heart slam? It isn't easy, as RKC Blackwood is of limited use for either player ...

'Two quick losers'

They say not to use Blackwood if you have 'two quick losers' in a suit. What does that mean?

Well, suppose East fancies looking for a slam via Blackwood. West will show 1 key card, and East can't be sure that NS don't have 'two quick tricks' in diamonds.

Similarly, supposing East instead raises partner to 4 and West tries Blackwood. East replies showing 3 key cards: again, one missing. And West can't be sure that NS don't have 'two quick tricks' in spades.

So short of just crossing your fingers and punting 6, the slam will probably remain undiscovered.

Punting 6NT is exactly what one pair did last week, and it made, in spite of the fact that the spade finesse is wrong - as you'll see if you look at the whole deal. How come?

Leading against a slam

Well, South led the 4th highest of her longest and strongest suit - spades - thus guaranteeing declarer two spades tricks and 12 tricks.

But isn't that what you're supposed to lead against NT contracts? Normally, yes: against 3NT, your partner might have a helpful spade honour and maybe get the lead later and lead a spade back to your K ... And maybe set up your spade suit. But against a slam, partner won't have much at all, and leading away from a potentially important card like the K is risky - for the very reason we see here.

Against a slam, then, avoid taking risks and make a passive lead - anything, in fact, bar a spade! Declarer will now go off.

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 06 April), everyone was in 4 or 5. The latter had doubtless tried RKCB and decided against it.

In AP, it was the same except for the one pair who punted an unmakeable 6NT ... and then got a spade lead. Good on them!


Board 06 Wed 05 April 2023

Split honours

Not the lead you were hoping for - West leads the 3 and the fat's in the fire. You have to go up with dummy's K ... and luck is with you: it holds, East playing the 2.

What now? Can you see your way to 9 tricks?

Well, you have 8 tricks off the top. One extra needed. An obvious possibility is the hearts: if they break 3-3 dummy's fourth heart will provide your 9th trick without having to lose the lead. The odds are around 36% - not great, but better than nothing.

The diamonds offer much better odds. If you go for 'split honours' * you have a 75% chance of multiple tricks. Better than twice as good. The downside is that you'll have to lose the lead on your way.

The question is: can you afford to let them in? Won't they cash all their clubs? Well, yes they will - but will that matter? 

Check out trick one again. East followed with the ♣2, so if West's ♣3 lead was '4th highest' that means that the clubs started 4-4. Giving them just 3 club tricks. You can afford to lose the lead - so go for the diamonds!

Playing for 'split honours'

  • At trick 2, lead a diamond to your J. West wins with the Q ...
  • ... and cashes 3 club tricks. She now lets you in with (say) a heart ...
  • ... which you win in dummy. Now cross your fingers and lead the 10 ... and it wins. East has the K.
  • You can now drop the K with your A and can claim all the rest of the tricks. 3NT bid and made.

What about the hearts? Were they 3-3? Nope - West will take the last heart trick and you'll be one off.

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 30 March), Everyone was in 3NT. Of the 5 that got the ♣3 lead, two made the contract and three went one off. The others had more time to set up their diamonds, and all made overtricks.

In AP, only one declarer got the club lead, and went one off. The others all made overtricks.


* Because you're missing both the K and the Q, you'll need to finesse the diamonds not once but twice: the first time you're expecting to lose the trick. But the second time, you'll succeed, unless West has the KQ, which is just a 25% chance. If the honours are split or if East holds them both, you only lose one trick.

Here are links to two previous HOTWs which are well worth a look:

Click here for Split honours in a suit contract (HOTW 6 June 2018)

Click here for Split honours in a NT contract (HOTW 24 May 2017)



Board 1 – Wed 29 March 2023

Similar but different ...

This hand bears an uncanny resemblance to the one in last week's HOTW (below). Partner's opened a weak 2 and again you decide to use Ogust – this time to look for game, not a slam.

West pokes her oar in with a 3 overcall but your partner is still able to give you her reply: 3. What's she telling you? *

It means poor points but good suit. The 'good suit' will be AQxxxx and the 'poor points' means that those 6 points are pretty well all that she has.

But that's surely good enough. The only question is: do you prefer 3NT or 4?

I think 4 is better. True, you can count 9 tricks in no trumps (6 hearts + 3 aces) but

  • if the hearts split badly you'll never be able to get to dummy to cash partner's remaining hearts
  • you're certain to get a club lead in NT, and that's your stop gone in at trick one.
  • in hearts, you might be able to ruff a club in your hand for an extra trick.

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole hand. With your K, the hearts are solid, so 3NT is a doddle, even on a club lead. But 9 tricks are all you get.

4 works out much better: you don't get a club ruff, but all you have to do is clear trumps and set up the diamonds for 12 tricks – even if East leads her ♠K EW can never make a spade trick, as her partner has a singleton spade.

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Tuesday 21 March), EW were pretty aggressive with their clubs: more than half ended up in 5♣X, sadly for them going 3 off for -500 (even worse than the 480 NS earn for 4+2!). The others were in 4 or 5, all making 12 tricks.

In AP, 3 out of the 4 tables were in 3NT (maybe due to half-thought-out advice from me at the time) making 9, 12 (!) and 5 (!) tricks. The other pair duly made 12 tricks in 4.


* Suppose she'd been wanting to respond 3♣ (poor points, poor suit) instead? No problem: she simply passes: 'My bid's been nicked, partner!' In which case, South would sign off in 3.

If you're not sure how to use Ogust, take a look at these past HOTWs. They'll give you all the explanation you need to start using it: go here and click on these titles:

  • Ogust in action (Dec 2011)
  • Ogust revisited (May 2019) and finally
  • It's that Ogust again (Nov 2019)




Board 01 Wed 22 March 2023

It isn't often that you get a hand with 26 points, and it happens even more rarely after partner's opened the bidding. If she'd opened ONE of anything, you'd be eyeing up a grand slam, but sadly the opening bid is a weak two, showing 5-9 points. Could still be worth a slam, though ... How to find out?

You're probably familiar with the Ogust convention, which is the usual 'Tell me more, please, partner' response to an opening weak two. If not, check out the info at the end * – it's definitely a convention to include in your armoury.

We usually use Ogust to check whether game is possible, but there's no reason why we shouldn't use it to find slams, too.

How does it pan out? In the auction shown, 2NT is Ogust, and East's reply means 'I'm at the top end of the points, partner, but I haven't got two of the top three heart honours.'

So where do you want to go?

Two possibilities

Well, you're certainly in slam territory, aren't you? Partner's 'top end' of the points must be 8-9, so you look to have at least 34 points between you.

Where are those points, do you think? Since she doesn't have the KQ, she must have at least 5 points outside hearts, and they surely include one of those missing minor Kings.

That means that 6 is likely to be a doddle. Even if you lose a heart trick (likely) and partner's King is the K, you can still count 12 tricks: 3 each in diamonds and spades, 5 in hearts and the ♣A.

So bid 6, then? Well, there's a pretty obviously better place to be ...

...and that's 6NT. The lead's coming round to you, meaning that you have at least two stops in each suit, which in turn means that you can force out the opps' winning heart and make the same 12 tricks in NT as you can make in hearts – for 10 points more! On this occasion, you can see before you start that NT will earn you as many tricks as your major suit fit (If you need an entry to dummy to get to your heart winners, you can use that minor suit King that partner's promised!)

Take a look at the whole deal: if you guess the hearts right, you can make 13 tricks in either contract, but no need to be greedy – 12 tricks is a handsome haul, especially in NT.

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Tuesday 21 March), three of the seven EW pairs played in 6 and four played in 6NT, all making. One pair punted 7NT, but finessed the hearts in the wrong direction and went off. 
In AP, there was an even split between 6 and 6NT. One declarer managed all 13 tricks – yey!


* There are several HOTWs that show Ogust in use. They'll give you all the explanation you need to start using it: go here and click on these titles:

  • Ogust in action (Dec 2011)
  • Ogust revisited (May 2019) and finally
  • It's that Ogust again (Nov 2019)




Board 08 – Wed 15 March 2023

Trial and to avoid error

It isn't going to take much to persuade South to bid 4, is it? You've found your fit, you have a tasty 17-count, and with only 5 losers, many players will just jump straight to game.

But taking a more cautious view, it isn't difficult to imagine partner sitting with a 6-count which includes three little clubs and doesn't have the A. That's one off. Maybe even two, if they get a club ruff.

Is there a way of testing the water? Yes, there is. It's called a 'long suit trial bid'.

A trial bid in action

The clue is in the 'three little clubs' bit. The suit you're worried about. Just bid it: 3♣. It means exactly what you want it to mean on this hand:

'Partner, I'd like to be in game, but I'm worried about losing a bunch of tricks in clubs. Can you help?'

If partner's got that horrid 6-count with 3 little clubs, she can't help, so she simply signs off with 3♠. But if she's a maximum for her raise (9 points, say) or if she can help in clubs (either with high cards or with a shortage, or both), she'll raise you to game. Simple.

What does she do on this hand? Let's have a look at the whole deal ...

...and her clubs are exactly what you need. Her ♣Ax means you're going to lose no more than one club trick, so she should raise you to 4♠ - which makes comfortably, as you can see.

To summarise:

  • Opener After 1-2 or 1♠-2♠ * bidding a new suit shows an interest in game and asks for help in that suit. Typically you'll be holding 3 or 4 cards in that suit and not many high cards.
  • Responder If you can help in the suit (if you have eg a void, singleton or doubleton and/or a high honour or two) or if you're a maximum, jump to game. Otherwise, sign off in 3.

On the night

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 02 March), 7 of the 10 tables ended up in 4♠, all making at least 11 tricks. Whether or not they used a trial bid, I don't know! The others were in 2♠, 3♠ - and 3 by EW.
In AP, 4 of the 5 pairs found 4♠, one declarer making 13 tricks after the unwise lead of the ♣J - that's one for Terry's seminar!


This kind of trial bid (asking for help in the suit) is reserved for the major suits. If you've agreed a minor suit, you're usually looking for no trumps, so your trial bids are showing strength (stops) in a suit, rather than asking for help. We had a HOTW on this topic only last month: Zooming in, 08 February 2023, further down this page.



Board 02 – Tues 07 March

Grand designs

Not the most scientific auction, but you (North) seem to have punted yourself into a good place.

East leads the Q, down goes dummy, and it's not hard to see 12 tricks: two clubs, two hearts and eight diamonds. Pity about the heart loser ....

Hmm. Does there have to be a heart loser? In pairs, every trick counts, so it's worth a little thought in case anything springs to mind ... 

A grand idea

The answer may lie in dummy's spades. You've got 5 to the King, so if you could somehow get rid of the opponents' ♠A, the ♠K would become your 13th trick, on which you can dump your last little heart. Which we'd do by ruffing, of course. What do we need for success?

  • One opponent to hold singleton ♠A, ♠Ax, ♠Axx or ♠Axxx. Not unlikely * so definitely worth a shot.
  • Enough trumps to ruff up to FOUR spade tricks. No problem - you have diamonds galore.
  • Enough entries to reach dummy up to 5 times (4 spade ruffs plus one more so as to cash your ♠K). Again, no problem. You have A, K, K, Q and (eventually) the 8, if you're careful.

So let's go for it!

How does it go?

  • You're about to use up your first entry to dummy (the A), so you have to take your first spade ruff NOW. The ♠A doesn't drop.
  • Now make yourself safe in trumps. Cash the A (East shows out) and now a small trump out to dummy's Q. That's trumps cleared, and you're back in dummy so ...
  • ... ruff another small spade. The ♠A doesn't drop.
  • OK. Back to dummy with (say) the ♣K and ruff a third spade. The ♠A still doesn't drop.
  • Last shot. Back to dummy with the K and ruff a fourth spade ... and at last the ♠A drops. The spades were 4-4.
  • Now it only remains to get back to dummy with your last entry – the 8 – and cash your K, which is now a master. 

What? You used up all your little diamonds ruffing out the spades, so now your lowest diamond is the 9? Oops!

It's so easy to overlook – you have to ruff at least one spade with a HIGH trump, so that you still have a little one to get back to dummy. ** The best laid plans ...

6NT is better

As it happens, 6NT also makes, and of course it scores better than 6, even with the overtrick. On a spade lead, South's ♠K provides a stop, so you're always making 12 tricks. But it's not as much fun as making the overtrick in 6!

On the night

In the original Open Pairs match ( Tuesday 7 March), everyone went slamming: 4 Norths were in 6 and one South was in 6NT. Two of the 6 declarers made 13 tricks, as above, the others just 12. Somehow the 6NT declarer also wangled 13 tricks for an outright top.


My numerate friends tell me the chances are 55% – better than a finesse, then!

** Alternatively, simply use your 8 entry earlier, while you still have small diamonds in your hand.



Board 05 Wed 01 March 2023

From zero to hero

Well, you haven't quite got zero points, but you don't really expect your Q to be worth anything, and your 6-card spade suit couldn't be weaker if it tried. 

So what are your thoughts when the bidding comes round to you? Your partner has made a takeout double, so probably has 4 spades. Do you bid or not? And if you do, how high do you go?

As a guide you recall the 'bid to the level of your fit' mantra:

If you're the weaker side in an auction, add up the number of cards in your fit and immediately bid to make that number of tricks.  *

So with an 8-card fit, bid to the 2 level, with a 9-card fit, bid to the 3 level, and so on. If your partner does indeed have 4 spades, that would suggest that you should jump straight to 4♠. Can't be right, surely? On this hand? Well, maybe it is. Consider:

  • Your very weakness suggests that they can probably make game. As does South's 2-level response, showing a minimum of 10 points.
  • They're vulnerable, so if they can make game it's worth some 600 points to them.
  • You're not vulnerable, so even if you're doubled (which you will be!) you can go as many as three off and still get a better score (it'd only be -500).
  • Your distribution is right. You've got lots of North's suit which (together with partner's X) suggests that partner will be short in hearts. And you're void in their other suit, diamonds.

That's surely good enough to get you 7 tricks. So go for it. Bid 4♠. **

What happens?

Take a look at the whole deal. NS can indeed make 4. It's tricky because of the 4-1 heart split, but it makes. 5 can make too, but it's even harder.

And how do you do in 4♠X? Well, you can certainly make the required 7 tricks: 6 spade tricks plus ruffing a heart with dummy's ♠10. 

And if they do punt 5, there's a decent chance that they'll go off, giving you a plus score. Magic!

3NT is on!

Weirdly, NS can make 3NT, in spite of their lamentable spade holding. West's spades are so low that she can never get the lead. So EW can make 4 spade tricks and that's it. The diamond and heart finesses are both right, so NS can make 3 heart tricks, two diamonds and four clubs!

On the night

In AP, two EW pairs were in 4♠X, making 7 and 9 tricks. One North went off in 5, another was allowed to make 4, and one South got away with 3.

In the original Open Pairs match (23 Feb), lots of EW pairs must have bid 4♠, as most Norths were forced up to 5, some making but some going off. One NS pair went off in 6X, and a couple of others went off in 5. Only one NS pair was allowed to play in 4. And only one of the 4♠ bidders was doubled – they made 8 tricks.


For a nice Andrew Robson piece on BTTLOYF, click here.

** It's important to jump to 4♠ immediately, to cut out further communication between the opps. If you start off with something flaccid like 2♠, they've got plenty of room to chat further and find their best fit. Over 4♠ they have to guess – and they may guess wrong!

Board 11 – Wed 22 Feb 2023

The art of being lucky

The subtitle of Victor Mollo's and Nico Gardner's classic Card Play Technique seems apposite here, as as your good play is rewarded by a double dose of good luck. 

It would be too much to hope that North would lead the Q against your 3NT contract. Instead she leads the 3, and you survey the possibilities.

  • You've got 3 spade tricks – and if you're lucky a fourth, if the ♠J drops on the first 3 rounds. Make a note to keep hold of that ♠10!
  • You've got a likely 4 club tricks – maybe even 5, if you get really lucky.
  • Hearts are looking promising – at least one stop, and maybe two.
  • And there are two diamond tricks once you've got rid of the A.

So what happens?

It doesn't start so well, in spite of dummy's K. South wins with the A and leads back the 4. North beats your 10 with the Q (Dammit!) and now leads the 5 to South's 8 to your J. You have had the presence of mind to discard diamonds from dummy on the last two tricks, preserving your clubs and spades.

If South started with 5 hearts, it's looking pretty bleak. She must have the A for her opening bid, so when she comes in with the A, she'll cash two further heart tricks for one down.

Is there hope elsewhere? Well, you might get lucky in clubs. Cash the ♣A ... and South drops the ♣Q. Hmm. According to a HOTW the other week *, the odds are that that was a singleton ... Let's try it. Run the ♣10 ...

... and it wins! You were right – the ♣Q was a singleton. Now run the ♣9, cross to dummy with the ♠A and cash your remaining ♣K8.

That's one heart trick, 5 clubs and (so far) one spade. It remains only to cash your two remaining spade winners – and sure enough, the ♠J drops and your 10 is good for an overtrick. Well done you, dumping those little diamonds in order to keep dummy's ♠10 and all five clubs. You made your own luck.

The auction

I like West's 1NT response to the takeout X. Instead of showing the rather feeble diamond suit, 1NT is a positive bid, showing a heart stop and 8-9 points, possibly even 10. 

If she does choose to bid the diamonds instead, it has to be 3 rather than 2 (which would show zero to 6/7 points), and a bold East will then punt 3 ('Got a heart stop, partner?') – another route to 3NT, which with 28 combined points is clearly the best contract.

On the night

In AP, every EW table was in a different contract: 2♣, 3, 2NT, 3NT and even 4♠! The 3NT declarer made 10 tricks - well done!

In the original Open Pairs match (16 Feb), half the 10 EW pairs found 3NT. One went off, one made 9 tricks, and three made the overtrick.


* Betting on a certainty, the HOTW for 18 January 2023, a bit further down this page. It's the bit about the weirdly named Restricted Choice: there's a couple of great links at the end of the article to an Andrew Robson article and a short (4-minute) video tutorial.

Board 10 – Wed 15 Feb 2023

Slam dunk

Well, after a long and exhausting auction * you've finally settled in a diamond slam. It only remains to make it. East leads the Q. What's your plan?

It's looking good. The only danger you've got to guard against is that you might have to lose a trick to the Q ... in which case you have to be sure you're not losing a spade trick as well. So what are you going to do about (a) spades and (b) trumps?

  • Spades You could discard dummy's losing spade on a 2nd round of hearts, but there's a more elegant solution: discard the two losers in your hand on dummy's ♣AK. But how do I get to dummy to do that? Easy - simply lead a low heart to dummy's J, then lead the ♣AK. Job done.
  • Trumps The odds are (just) in favour of trying to 'drop' the Q (as opposed to trying some form of finesse). So you plan to lead 'from the top' and see what happens. 

So which comes first? The golden rule is Only delay clearing trumps if there's a good reason to do so. On this hand, there's no reason why you shouldn't at least try the trumps first, so get clearing. You lead the A and both opponents follow; then the K, and East shows out. West has the Q. Now stop! Why? First because it's generally pointless to remove a winning trump. But if you do it here you'll kill your contract: West will win and cash a spade for one off.

Now's the moment to make your spades safe: over to dummy's J, discard your two losing spades on the ♣AK, then lay your cards on the table announcing 'I'll concede the Q and claim the rest.' Slam dunk.


On the night

In AP, every table was different. One stopped in 3, two were in 5 (making 11 and 13 tricks) and one punted an optimistic 6NT, going 2 off. 

In the original Open Pairs match (09 Feb), 5 of the 11 NS pairs found and made 6. Two were in the ill-fated 6NT. Two others were in 3NT and 5. And two failed to find game with 30 points between them. frown


* There are at least two paths to 6, both relying on North's insistence on being in a suit rather than NT. In the auction shown, North opens 1 and rebids a game-forcing jump shift into 3:

  • South's 3♠ is fourth suit forcing, looking for a spade stop for NT.
  • North ignores her spade stop, feeling that if she bids 3NT that will be passed out, and she wants a slam. So she rebids her diamonds, showing at least 5.
  • South prefers diamonds to hearts, so raises to 5.
  • North punts 6. Why not?

The other is similar, but starts with a game-forcing opening bid by North:

  • 2♣ - I've got a strong hand partner.
  • 3♣ - Mine isn't bad either. At least 8 points (or an Ace and a King) and 5+ clubs.
  • 3 - My suit is hearts
  • 4♣ - Not keen on them, but I really like my clubs
  • 4 - My 2nd suit is diamonds
  • and upwards to the inevitable diamond slam, maybe via Blackwood.
Board 09 – Wed 08 Feb 2023

Zooming in

Bridge bidding systems - such as Acol - are designed to facilitate your two main aims in the auction: to find the best denomination and the best level for your contract. This can happen immediately (1NT-3NT!) but usually involves a few exchanges between you and your partner to find out who's got what and zoom in on the best slot.

When it comes to denominations, the pecking order is clear:

1  Your main aim is to find a major fit. If you find one, look no further.

2  Failing that, see if you can land in no trumps. Usually makes fewer tricks than a suit, but scores well, and game is only 9 tricks.

3  As a last resort, you'll have to make do with a minor fit. Scores poorly, and needs 11 tricks for game.

If you keep these simple principles * in mind in every auction, so much that might otherwise seem like gobbledegook falls into place and makes sense. Take today's deal, for example ...

What's partner saying?

Where have we got to so far? Partner's opening bid is wide open: all you know is that she (probably) has 11-19 points and at least 4 diamonds.

You haven't got a major to show (you would show one if you had one - see above!), but have good diamond support and just 8 losers, so raise partner to 3. So far so good.

And now partner bids 3. What's that about, then? Does she maybe have 5 diamonds and 4 hearts is looking for a heart fit? Does she have average points? or is she stronger? What's going on?

It doesn't make a lot of sense until you remember the guidelines at the top. At which point everything becomes crystal clear:

  • She's probably not looking for a heart fit. Why? Because she knows that (good partner that you are!) if you had a 4-card major you would have bid it instead of raising the diamonds. **
  • No, she must be better than average points. Why? Because with a minimum opening she'd surely have passed 3.
  • So what is she saying? The guidelines say that if you haven't got a major fit you look for no trumps. That's got to be it. Obvious! Partner's got the hearts covered (and probably the clubs too) and she wants to know if you can help with the spades. So .. can you?

Yes! So what do you bid? You can bid either 3♠ (showing your spades) or go straight to 3NT (partner doesn't need much in clubs to supplement your ♣10xxx). The advantage of the former is that the stronger hand (partner) will be playing the contract, and the advantage of the latter is that the (likely) spade lead will come round to your ♠KJx rather than through it. Up to you.

How does it go?

Very well. Take a look at the whole deal. You've always got a spade trick, so they make at most 3 spades and a club (give them their club trick asap, while you're still protected in hearts.). On a spade lead, it's better if South is declarer (giving you two spade tricks instead of one!) but if you're North you prefer a heart lead. ***

Zooming in ...

At the risk of being repetitive, let's take another look at the auction, this time as a 'conversation', and see how the partnership zooms in on the final contract:

  • 1: 11-19 points. At least 4 diamonds. If I have a major, the diamonds are longer.
  • 3: I don't have a 4-card major - guideline 1. Got 4+-card diamond support and either 10 points or 8 losers or both! (BTW, if I had a 4-card club suit I'd prefer to bid that than raise the diamonds - because it helps towards NT.)
  • 3: Well, that leaves us looking for NT - guideline 2. OK Here goes. I've got some extra strength and I've got hearts stopped. What about you?
  • 3♠: I've got spades stopped. Does that help?
  • 3NT: Yep. We've got there!

To conclude, if you and your partner keep these guidelines at the forefront of your mind in every auction, you'll end up having much more productive 'conversations'!

On the night

In AP, every table was in 3NT (by N). Three made 11 tricks for a great score. One was unlucky and went 1 off. 

In the original Open Pairs match (02 Feb), 5 of the 9 NS pairs found 3NT (3 by N, 2 by S), all making at least one overtrick. One bid and made 5 (for a worse score). Three failed to zoom in and stopped in a part-score in ♣ or ♦ - didn't follow the guidelines!


* For my much-cherished (by me!) Holy Grail handout, see below.

** It's possible that North's 3 bid is a 'proper' heart bid: and that's if she's got 6 diamonds and 5 hearts. If that's it, you'll find out on her next bid, as she'll bid her hearts again.

*** As it happens, 5 also makes on this deal. But it only takes a single overtrick in NT to outscore it, and it's routinely true that if you can make 5 of a minor you can usually make at least 10 tricks in NT.

Board 09 – Wed 08 Feb 2023
Board 01 – Wed 01 Feb 2023

Systems on!

Imagine you've got an 11- or 12-count with 5 hearts and your partner opens 1NT. You've got an invitational raise to 2NT, but you'd like to tell partner about the hearts on the way. What to do?

Easy - first transfer your partner to 2 (via 2) and then bid 2NT. This describes your hand perfectly, and allows your partner to choose between Pass and 3NT (if she has only 2 hearts) and 3 and 4 (if she has 3+ hearts). 

What's that got to do with this hand? Quite a lot, as it turns out ...

The auction

South needs a few moments to rearrange her thoughts - East's pinched her opening bid! - but after recounting her points decides on a 1NT overcall, showing a balanced 15-17 points and at least one (!) spade stop. * 

What now? Well, most partnerships keep the same system of bids over a 1NT overcall as they use over an opening 1NT. In other words, it's as just if partner had opened 1NT, except that she has 3 extra points. It's called Systems on.

So the auction can continue exactly like the one we imagined above. North initiates a transfer with 2, South completes the transfer with 2 and North now invites game with 2NT - she only has 9 points, but her partner's got 15-17, remember.

With a minimum 15 points, South isn't interested in going to game, but she has 3 hearts, so instead of passing signs off in 3.

Disaster strikes!

You'll agree, I think, that in the normal run of things 3 should make comfortably: you're going to lose two clubs, the ♠A and probably a diamond - and if you're lucky enough to get rid of the opps' trumps and their ♠A before they attack diamonds, you can even make game, by discarding your losing 9 on a spade. 

But disaster strikes: the trumps turn out to be divided 5-0 and however well you play you're only making 8 tricks. One down. 

'I/You should have stopped in 2, partner.'

The importance of hands like this is your reaction to them. By all means bemoan the rotten heart split - but never even think of saying anything like the idiotic remark above. 3 is absolutely the right place to be. North has to go beyond 2 in order to invite partner to game, and if you don't look you don't find. A pair who doesn't bother to look for game and ends up in just 2 will score well on this hand, because 2 makes and 3 doesn't. But there will be countless other hands in their future where they'll miss games that do make ...

On the night

In AP, two pairs were in 3 (well done!) and went one off (bad luck!)

In the original Open Pairs match (26 Jan), 7 of the 10 pairs were in 3 or the more frisky 4, all making 8 tricks except one, who was gifted a lucky diamond trick. The one pair in 2 got an absolute top but see above. 


* Why do we bid 1NT on 12-14 points? Because on average the other 3 players will have around 7 points each, giving you and your partner at least half the points. When you make a 1NT overcall, the situation's different. One of the opps has probably got at least 12 points, so there are fewer points available for the other 2 players - maybe an average of 4-5 points instead of 7. For this reason, you need more points for a 1NT overcall than for an opening 1NT: 15-17 instead of 12-14.

Board 06 – Wed 25 Jan 2023

The long and the short of it

Here's one of the many hands from last session that opened 1NT. You pinched the contract with your 2♠ overcall and West leads the 10. East wins with the A and returns a diamond to your K. 

What's the next card that you play? ♣9? 3? ♠A? ♠2?

The heart. You've already lost a diamond. You're going to lose 1 spade, maybe 2. But you're in danger of losing several tricks in hearts. Unless you take steps to ruff them in dummy. You have to lose one heart to create the void in dummy, and with luck you can throw one more on dummy's Q. That leaves just two heart losers in your hand, and if all goes well you can ruff both of them in dummy. But only if you get going now - before you clear trumps.

How does it go? East wins with the K and leads a third diamond - you dump a small heart and hope that West follows suit. Which she does. So far so good.

Now to the ruff the remaining two hearts. First get to hand: you can afford a small spade to the ♠A. Ruff a heart. Now back to your hand ... but how? Cash the ♣A and ruff a club. And ruff your last heart with dummy's ♠Q.

At this point (check out the whole deal) you have to concede two tricks to East's ♠KJ, but you end up with 9 tricks: the KQ, the ♣A, four long trump tricks plus two heart ruffs.

Timing is everything

  • If you start on the trumps before the hearts, you're in trouble. The opps will keep leading trumps and you'll soon have no trumps at all left in dummy. Now you're wide open in hearts.
  • Leading a club can look tempting because 'now I can ruff clubs'. But what's the point? You're making all those little spades in your hand anyway, so it gains you nothing. In addition to which, you're going to need a club ruff later as an entry to your hand to ruff hearts - so keep it till you need it!
  • This is a classic illustration of the maxim that it's ruffing in the short trump hand that gains you tricks. 

On the night

In AP, the only pair in spades made 8 tricks. (The others were all EW playing in hearts.)

In the original Open Pairs match (19 Jan), 6 of the 10 pairs were in spades, all making 9 tricks except one. * The others were EW in hearts or NT - one was in 3NT making 11 tricks. 


* They got a trump lead instead of a diamond and then hit clubs to ruff in the long hand (instead of hearts to ruff in the short hand), eventually going 2 off.

Board 12 – Wed 18 Jan 2023

Betting on a certainty

Over West's opening weak 2 and two passes, you compete with 3♣ and after a short skirmish you end up in 4. West leads the AKQ. Can you make your contract?

The answer is yes, provided you don't lose a trump trick. You have three sure losers in the red suits, so you can't afford any more. How do you play it?

Well, if the trumps are 2-2, you're home and dry. Are they likely to be? Well, maybe, but the odds are against it, because of vacant places.

Vacant places?

We've come across this before. * It's dead simple: West has 6 hearts, so has 7 vacant spaces that can accommodate other suits, such as clubs. East has just 2 hearts, so has 11 vacant spaces that can accommodate clubs. Ergo there are likely to be more clubs in East's hand than in West's, because East has more room for them. That's not to say that the trumps aren't 2-2 - just that the odds are against it.

What to do, then? It's no good finessing, is it? That'll fail whenever West has either the J or the Q, even if they're singletons. Really rotten odds. Something like 25%.

So you start by cashing the ♣A. West follows with the ♣J and East with the ♣3. Well, that's good - at least the trumps aren't 4-0!. What now? 

The ♣J falling means that a finesse is now possible. So do you go over to dummy and hope to catch the ♣Q with East or do you play for the 2-2 split, with West starting with the doubleton ♣QJ?

Finesse. Every time. Why?

Three reasons!

We've already seen the first reason. Vacant places. There's an 11/18 (or 61%) chance that East holds the ♣Q.

The second reason is glaringly obvious: if West has the ♣Q she started with at least 12 points - and so will not have opened a weak two!

And there's even a third reason: something called the 'principle of restricted choice'.

Restricted what?

Choice. It's a daft name, and the maths involved is a bit weird too, but the outcome's simple to understand and remember. You use it whenever you're clearing a suit which has two equivalent (or adjacent) 'critical' missing cards. Here you're missing both the ♣J and the ♣Q, which fits the bill. It goes like this:

If one player drops one of the two critical cards, his/her partner is twice as likely to hold the other.

Which means in English that when West drops the ♣J the odds are 2:1 that East has the ♣Q. **

So go ahead. Out to dummy and finesse the ♣10. It's almost bound to succeed, and it does, as you'll see if you check out the whole deal.

On the night

In AP, everyone was in 3♣. One made 10 tricks, the other two just 9.

In the original Open Pairs match (12 Jan), the 3 pairs in clubs did much the same: 2 made 9 tricks and just one made 10. The difference was that a lot of EW pairs unwisely insisted on going on to 4, where North should X them. It goes 2 off for -300 - a much better score for NS than 130 for 10 tricks in clubs!

Conclusion  Any one of the three reasons for placing East with the ♣Q would be enough to make it worth a try, but when all three of them point that way it's a near certainty!


* See the HOTW on Vacant Places on 03 Nov 2020, here

** For Andrew Robson's take on Restricted Choice, click here. And/Or take a look at a nice little 4-minute YouTube tutorial on the subject by bridge teacher Bridget (!) Rampton here.

Board 11 – Wed 11 Jan 2023

Magic number: 33

You're familiar with the magic number 25: that's the number of combined points you generally need to make game in no trumps (you can often get away with less in a suit contract, because you can ruff). So what's magic about the number 33, do you think?

Right. It's the number of combined points you generally need to make a small slam in no trumps. Add up your combined points on this hand. Do you have enough for a slam?

The answer is that you don't know. You have 11 points. So if partner has 20-22, you have 31-33 between you. Enough for slam if partner's a maximum, but not otherwise. How to find out?

Well, what you don't do is raise partner to 3NT: this is obviously a sign-off and partner will pass. The answer is to go one higher: 4NT. 'Wot? That's Blackwood, isn't it?' Yes and no. It's Blackwood if you've agreed a suit, but when you have no suit agreed – as here – it's quantitative, asking partner to pass if she's minimum or bid 6NT if she's a maximum. *

Take a look at the whole deal. Partner turns out to have just 20 points, so will pass on your invitation. 

But it makes!

True enough. You have 6 club tricks, 3 hearts and the A and once you've forced out the ♠A, you have the two extra tricks you need in spades. There's nothing the defence can do – whatever the opening lead.

Hmmph. Pity we didn't bid it, then. Well, yes, on this occasion ... but more often than not you'll go off with only 31 points in 6NT. As might have been the case here:

If South is on lead instead of North and leads the J, you're off: the defence are taking the K and the ♠A. That's the kind of thing that often happens when you've only got 31 points. ** My advice is: go with the system, which works most of the time and is therefore the best bet in the long term.

So what happened 'on the night'? An interesting spread: three were in 3NT – so didn't even look; two were in 4NT – as recommended; two were in 6NT; one was in 6♣; and one (ouch!) went off in 7NTX! We won't mention the one that stopped in 5♣.


Sounds impressive, but it's nothing new. When partner opens 1NT and you raise her to 2NT (11-12 points), that's quantitative: it asks her to pass with a minimum and go to game with a maximum. Exactly the same principle.

And to finish with, what about these other three sequences?

  • 1NT - 4NT. Same as this hand: pass with a minimum, bid 6NT with a maximum. You'll need 19 or 20 to bid 4NT, as 19 + 14 = the magic 33.
  • 2NT - 5NT. Similar but this time an invitation to the grand slam. The magic number here is 37, so you'll need 15 points to bid 5NT. ***
  • 1NT - 5NT. Another try for the grand. You'll need 23 points! 

So three magic numbers needed for three destinations: 3NT, 6NT and 7NT. 


* As always, there's a judgment to be made if opener has 21 points. A 5-card suit is a good pointer, as is a scattering of 10s and 9s – 'good intermediates'. 

** Sure, the lead's going round to the strong hand, which is why a diamond lead can't hurt declarer. But it isn't hard to imagine a layout in which East has an AQ that North can lead through.

*** Careful of your responses here. Partner's looking for the grand slam, so you've definitely got enough for 6NT. With a maximum, then, bid 7NT, but with a minimum, sign off in 6NT – don't pass!

Board 01 – Wed 04 Jan 2023

Topsy-turvy 2

This hand follows on from last week's HOTW on slow/fast arrival, again involving a game-forcing situation.

After two passes, partner opens 1, to which you respond 1. Partner now whips out the STOP card and jump-shifts into 2♠. The jump shift is the most powerful bid you can make after opening 1 of a suit and is an unconditional game force. Here it means 'I have at least 5 diamonds and 4 spades and since you have enough points to respond, we're in game.' What to bid?

If you looked at last week's hand, this will ring bells: you have a major fit and you're in a game forcing situation. Time to think of fast and slow arrival *. With nothing much, you'll take the fast route: 4♠. But if you've got a bit extra, you can tell partner about it by going slower: 3♠. Here, with 4 trumps and an AK, you easily qualify for the slow route.

Which encourages partner to bid 4NT RKC Blackwood. You show your A and partner now bids 6♠ – which makes comfortably, as you can see if you look at the whole deal:


If West doesn't lead her ♣A, you're going to make an overtrick. You clear trumps, bang out your diamonds (taking the first diamond trick with dummy's J), discarding all dummy's clubs and a heart, and you're left with the AK and a ruff in either hand for 13 tricks. Lovely.

But a question arises:

Shouldn't South have opened 2♣ ?

Yes, I think so. It's an enormously strong hand and it would be tragic if partner passed out the alternative 1 opener. I just wanted to illustrate another case of 'slow arrival'.

What happens after 2♣, then? You bid 2 ('Tell me more'), confident that if she now says 2NT you can use Stayman and that if she bids a major, you can support her – 'slowly', of course!

In the event, she says 3, you show your hearts with 3, she bids 3♠ ... and you're too high for the fast/slow choice. Unless you want to embark on Blackwood yourself ... In the event, partner's so strong that she carries on over 4♠ and you reach the slam. 

What happened on the day?

In the original Twixtmas Open Pairs game (29 Dec 2022), 4 of the 5 tables were in 6♠ , making 12 or 13 tricks. I was South at the other table and rashly punted 6NT after my partner's 3 bid (ensuring that any club lead came round to my ♣K and not through it). I was lucky to make it – if partner doesn't hold the J I can never get to my two heart winners!

In the AP session, 4 of the 5 tables were in 6, three making 12 tricks when West led her A. But there's a cautionary sting in the tale (sorry): one West, ignoring the golden rule of leading against suit contracts **, led the 6, giving South a trick with her K and all 13 tricks. Doh!


* For some notes on Fast arrival click here.

** Golden rule of leading against suit contracts: Never lead away from an Ace against a suit contract. Declarer's more likely to have the King than your partner, and if there's a singleton around you will never make your Ace!