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Board 08 – Wed 15 March 2022

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!