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Board 02 – Wed 20 December 2023

Ebenezer's squeeze

Bridge players tend to get a bit trigger-happy at this time of year: 'Oh well, it's Christmas!' they say as they land partner in an unmakeable slam. Not so Ebenezer, sitting East on this hand. If he bids a slam he intends to make it. Rightly assuming that his partner's 'shutout' raise to 4 shows a weakish hand with plenty of hearts and only 7 losers, he reckons he's got every chance of making 6

South leads the ♠J, down goes dummy (with three Kings, appropriately) and it's time to make a plan. What are your thoughts? Has Ebenezer overreached himself?

At first sight, you'd think he has. As well as the 100% chance of losing a trick to the A, it looks as if the opps are going to get a club trick too. How will you play the hand? 

The hope-for-the-best method

I'm guessing, but I think that most declarers will ruff the opening lead, clear trumps, ruffing dummy's second spade en route .... 

... and then bang out dummy's last two trumps, hoping that someone will discard a wrong card or two, so that they can set up a 12th trick in either diamonds or clubs. Not being able to see your hand, opponents often do discard a wrong card, so you have a reasonable chance of success. *

Ebenezer's squeeze

Ebenezer would dismiss the above as amateurish humbug. As a ruthlessly analytical entrepreneur, he immediately spots a chance to execute a squeeze. A what? Oh I couldn't possibly do one of those! Much too complicated!

Maybe, but maybe not. Here's Ebenezer's thinking:

"North's overcalled 4♠ out of the blue, so surely has lo-o-ong spades. Leaving not much room for the minor suits. What if South, then, has length in both diamonds and clubs? She'll need to keep at least four diamonds and three clubs to stop me from making an extra trick. But if I take two spade ruffs and five rounds of trumps - that's seven tricks - she'll only be able to keep six cards, meaning that she'll have to throw a vital card in either diamonds or clubs. She'll be squeezed."

Does it work? Let's take a look at the whole deal and find out ...

Executing the squeeze

Well, Ebenezer got it spot on: South has control of the diamonds and the clubs. Let's follow it through:

  • He ruffs the opening spade lead and leads his top heart.
  • North wins and (say) leads another spade, which declarer ruffs.
  • Declarer now clears North's remaining two trumps, ending up in dummy. That's 5 tricks
  • He now cashes another heart, discarding a club in hand. That's 6 tricks, leaving South with J1076 and ♣J103.
  • And now the coup de grâce. He leads dummy's last trump - the squeeze card - again discarding a club ...
  • ... and South has nowhere to go. If she discards a diamond, Ebenezer can grab four diamond tricks. And if she discards a club, all Ebenezer's clubs are good.

Slam bid and made.

Erm, hang on a bit ...

Did you notice (I'm sure you did) that there's actually no difference between the hope-for-the-best method and Ebenezer's scientific squeeze? The declarer play is identical for both. The only difference is that Ebenezer's got it all worked out in advance and the average declarer will just force the defenders into making lots of discards and hope for a 'mistake'. 

So if planning a squeeze is a bit beyond you (as it is for most of us, if we're honest), keep hold of method number 1. You may end up executing an expert squeeze entirely by accident!

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Tuesday 30 November), 6 of the 9 EW pairs were in hearts, only 2 making 12 tricks. The others were in 4♠ and 5♠making (!) and one sacrificed in 6♠X-2. 

In AP, 3 EW pairs were in 4 making 10, 11 or 12 tricks. One went 2 off in 6. And one NS pair bid and made 4♠. Note that 6♠X-2 is the 'optimum contract'.

Happy Christmas.


* Some will instead 'cut their losses' by ruffing their small diamond in dummy: this is pointless, as dummy's trump is getting a trick anyway, and leaves declarer with a sure club loser. Much better to play the trumps off and hope for an error.

Board 06 Wed 06 December 2023

Find the lady

Here's a hand which is worth 6♣ or even 6NT ... provided you can avoid losing a club trick. As it happens, you didn't bid it, but you'd still like to make as many tricks as possible, and at least there's no chance of going off ...

The auction

Before looking at the play, let's see how EW got to 3NT. The first 3 bids are straightforward: each player has shown the other any 4+ card suits.

West's next bid is, of course, 4th suit forcing: nothing to do with hearts, but wanting to know more about East's hand. With 5 spades, she'll repeat her spades; with a heart stop she'll bid NT; and with neither, she'll simply have to repeat her clubs. In order to bid the 4th suit like this, West needs extra strength - at least 10 points, as partner may have to respond as high as the 3-level. East therefore knows that with her 15-count the partnership have enough for game, and so with her heart stop bids 3NT. Not 2NT, which might be passed!

Should West now look to go further? Maybe. But given that East is only promising 15 points, maybe not. As things are, you're wanting to make the max no of tricks in 3NT ...

Playing the clubs

You're not surprised to get the 3 lead from South: hearts are, after all, the unbid suit. North wins with the A, dropping your Q and returns the 2 to your K. Your thoughts?

Well, you've always got 9 tricks: 4 spades, 2 diamonds, 2 clubs plus your one heart trick. But if you can nail the ♣Q you're going to make 12. What are the chances?

We've come across this before. With just 4 clubs missing, you're marginally more likely (53%) to drop the ♣Q under the ♣AK than you are to catch it in a finesse (50%). But it's worth knowing what that 53% consists of:

  • 40.7% of the time the 4 missing clubs will be 2-2.
  • A further 12.4% of the time the ♣Q will be a singleton
  • Giving you (roughly speaking) a 53% chance of 'dropping' the Queen.

So what? Well, only that even if you decide that the finesse is the best option, it's always worth cashing the Ace or the King first, in case the Queen's a singleton. And if it is, it's job done: you no longer have to make that tricky decision.

Which is exactly what happens here. Take a look at the whole deal: the ♣Q drops under the A (or K) and the rest of the tricks are yours. Whether you're in 5♣, 3NT, 6♣ or 6NT, you have 12 tricks. 

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Tuesday 30 November), 8 of the 9 tables were in 3NT, the other being in 5♣. All declarers made at least 12 tricks - they all found the lady. And two were lucky enough not to get a heart lead and so ended up with all 13 tricks.

In AP, 3 EW pairs were in 3NT, one languished in 3♣ frown  ... and one bid 6♣. And wouldn't you know it? The only pair to make just 11 tricks was the one in the slam. 'Twere ever thus.


Board 07 – Wed 29 Nov 2023

A bit of luck (or two)

As with any hand, there are two things to get right: first, you want to get into the right contract ... and then you have to make it.

Have NS got the first bit right? Well, it looks reasonable. North's hand isn't attractive but it's certainly worth a raise to 2, and with a very pleasant 5-loser hand AND a singleton in the opponents' suit South is surely worth a raise to game. But does it make?

You're declarer ...

West has led the 3♠. Time to check out your combined holding and plan the play ...

On the face of it, you're going to need a bit of luck. Even if the hearts behave themselves, you still have a spade loser, a diamond loser and possibly two club losers. That's too many. Any thoughts about where that bit of luck might come from and how you could turn it to your advantage?

Well, the opening lead may have a cloverleaf attached ... East's got the ♠A, sure, * but supposing the ♠Q is with West? It costs you nothing to play low ... and if East rises with the ♠A, you're in clover. Next time you're in dummy you can cash your ♠K and discard your losing diamond on it ...

But that's for the future. If East holds the ♠AQ, you're back to square one. Is there another way of avoiding 4 losers? What about the clubs? There are possibilities: if West has the ♣K you're in trouble, but if the ♣K's with East, you're in luck: just lead a low club from dummy towards your ♣Q and cross your fingers.

So you've got two possible routes to salvation in the plan. How does it pan out in practice?

How does it go?

First off, we have to play to the first trick, so let's test our first potential bit of luck. You play low ... and East plays the Ace! Excellent: make a mental note to cash dummy's ♠K and discard your diamond loser at some point. Meanwhile, East switches to a diamond, which you win with your Ace. You have the lead, so ...

Next, trumps. Do we have a good reason not to clear them immediately? No. So let's do it now. Lead your A. Both opps follow suit, so your K will drop the Q. Do it and that's trumps cleared.

Now, where were we? Yes. Discarding diamonds. Right. Over to dummy with the ♣A, then, and cash that ♠K: that's your losing diamond gone.

And finally, as we're in dummy, we can have a go at finding the ♣K with East. Lead a low club towards your ♣Q ... and Bingo! East goes up with the ♣K.

So instead of going 1 off with 9 tricks, you find yourself making an overtrick with 11. Lovely. Take a look at the whole deal.

A note on the spades: As partner had bid spades, a better lead from West would have been the ♠Q (to 'catch' a possible ♠K in dummy). As it happens, that doesn't work here. You cover with dummy's ♠K, East plays the ♠A and you drop the ♠J and dummy's ♠10 is now the top spade - you can discard your little diamond on that instead! West should still lead her ♠Q, though, in case the other honours are with her partner.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Tuesday 23 November), all the Souths bar one were in the heart game, and they all made 11 tricks. 

In AP, three Souths were in 4 (the other two stopped in 3). No one made 11 tricks: two made 10, but the other three made just 9. 

Conclusion  So a hand of two halves: first get to the right contract, then make it. You have to be in it to win it, innit?


* Remember (from last week - see below!) that it's best not to lead 'away from an Ace' against a suit contract. West didn't lead the ♠A, so she hasn't got it!

Board 12 – Wed 22 Nov 2023

An everyday hand

Taking a break from slams, here's a perfectly ordinary hand with the simplest of auctions, but from which we can squeeze some useful insights ...

The opening lead

What would be your choice?

As so often with leads, there's no 'right' answer, though there are a couple of wrong ones - any heart or diamond lead other than the Ace would be a poor idea, for instance - as we'll see in a minute. So:

  • The A or A would be possibilities. These are usually best avoided (in case you're gifting a trick to declarer's King) but against a weak 2 contract might be OK. 
  • The ♣3 is also OK - leading your lowest club to show that you have an honour.
  • What about a trump? It might work out, but if partner's got the ♠Q or ♠K you could end up finessing her and giving declarer a trick.

So 4 possibilities, one in each suit. I think I'd plump for the ♣3. Let's look at the whole deal and see how the leads work out:

  • The A is OK. Partner will encourage (with the 6) and make her King. Declarer's Q is now good, but there we are.
  • The A is OKish. The problem is that declarer can now discard a (possibly) losing club on dummy's K. But just as well you didn't lead a small diamond!
  • The ♣3 doesn't work out so well either. Declarer can let it run round to her ♣10, leaving her with only one club loser. But swap partner's ♣9 for declarer's ♣10 and it would have been the perfect lead.
  • Leading a trump ensures that declarer loses only one spade trick, but she probably will anyway - see below.

Other questions

Q (i)  Declarer plays a low club from hand. Sitting East, which card do you play? (ii) What if she leads the 10 instead?
 (i) Play low. You might need your
J later. (ii) Cover with the Jack in case partner has the ♣9 - which on this hand she does.

Q  One way or another, declarer gets herself into dummy and leads a low trump. Do you, sitting West, go up with the ♠A or play low?
  Play low. As the cards lie, declarer might insert the ♠10, hoping that you've got the Jack ... in which case you've got two spade tricks.

Finally, what about the auction?

This is a good example of the effectiveness of a preemptive weak-2 opening. East has an opening hand, but what is she to do over North's 2♠ bid? She could make a (dodgy) 3 overcall, or she could (just) try a takeout double ... but as West is a passed hand, most Easts will pass.

All of which is great news for NS. 2♠ makes (110 for NS), 3 goes just one off (50 for NS) and 3 (which is where you end up after the takeout X) makes (-140 for NS). So 2♠= is a great place to be.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Tuesday 16 November), 6 Norths were in spades, nearly all making 8 tricks. One East was in 3, going just one off. And two Wests were in 2 and 3 - but only making 8 tricks.

In AP, all the Norths got away with 2♠, but the play was wildly different, as declarers made 6, 7, 8 and even 9 tricks!



Board 05 Wed 15 November 2023

Good housekeeping

This is almost a rerun of last week's HOTW - you're in 6, you need to play it sensibly and the auction shows several useful techniques in action. As last week, let's look at the play first and then backtrack to the auction.

You're declarer, sitting South, and West leads the 10. Where are your 12 tricks coming from? 

Well, assuming you're not going to be making the daft mistake of playing dummy's Q at trick 1, you can count 10 top tricks: one diamond, six trumps and three clubs, leaving you needing 2 tricks from spades. The ♠KQ will certainly net you one, so it only remains to ruff one spade in dummy (the short trump hand) for your 12th trick.

So how to go about it?

Getting the order right

The first question you always ask yourself in a suit contract is whether you can clear trumps immediately - which you would do in an ideal world. It's dangerous leaving opponents with trumps - you want to be ruffing their tricks, not the other way around - but sometimes you have to leave it for a while. As you do on this hand. 

Why? I can surely ditch my losing diamond on a club after clearing trumps? Sure you can. But that's not the reason. Imagine that the trumps are split 3-1 or worse (as they will be 60% of the time). If you clear trumps you won't have a trump left in dummy for that spade ruff. So just take two rounds of trumps, maybe, before leading a low spade from dummy? No! West might win with the ♠A and lead a trump: same problem. The following seems sensible:

  • Play one round of trumps: a small heart to the A. Both opponents follow. That leaves you with two trumps in dummy, so no one can run you out of trumps before you take your ruff.
  • Now cash the ♣AK, ditching your 5. (You need to do this before you lose the lead!)
  • Now a little spade towards your ♠KQ, hoping that East has the ♠A ... which, happily, she does. And seeing that dummy's ♠5 is singleton, she plays it.
  • And that's it. Game over. You have your spade tricks without having to ruff, so finish clearing trumps and claim.

Take a look at the whole deal. As it happens, you could have cleared trumps straight away, but on another day your prudence will make all the difference. 

Back to the auction

Take a look at each bid: what do you think it means/promises? Then click on Show answer, below, for an interpretation.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Tuesday 14 Nov), four of the 7 pairs found 6, two stopped in 4 and one sneaky pair got a top for 6NT. All made 12 tricks except one, who made 11 (on a club lead, too!)

In AP, just one pair found the slam, three were in 4 and one stopped below game. Four of the five declarers made 12 tricks - well done!



Notes on the auction

This is how the auction went at my table. Sitting South, Trevor became declarer. Sadly, I was in the East seat ...

  • N 1♣  You've got a strong 19-count hand, but 1♣'s fine for the moment. If partner responds, you can show your strength later. And if she passes - well, you probably haven't got enough for game anyhow!
  • S 1  After partner's opening bid, you're sure of reaching some kind of game (at least!). But there's no need to go jumping all over the place. A simple change of suit is forcing for one round, and you'll know much more about partner's hand after her second bid. One thing at a time ...
  • N 2  Here we go. This bid is a reverse (it takes the auction beyond two of your opening suit), so as well as showing 5+ clubs and 4+ diamonds, it also promises at least 16 points.
  • S 2♠  You're now seriously wondering about a slam. You decide on a 4th suit forcing 2♠ bid, which (as well as promising extra strength yourself) asks for further information from partner:
    - if she now says 3 (showing 3 hearts) you're looking for a heart slam.
    - if she says 2NT (surely promising the ♠A?) you'll be wondering about a NT slam.
    - if she simply repeats one of her minor bids, you'll sign off in 3NT yourself or punt 4.
  • N 3  She has 3 hearts. (So her shape is possibly 5-4-3-1, or maybe 5-5-3-0 or even 6-4-3-0.)
  • S 4NT  RKC Blackwood for hearts.
  • N 5♣  (or 5, depending on how you play your RKCB): partner's showing 0 or 3 key cards. On this auction it must be 3, obviously ...
  • S 6  ... so missing just one key card, you bid the slam.
Board 12 – Wed 08 November 2023

Watch the pips

Sitting West, you find yourself as declarer in 6 after an auction involving the Jacoby convention - there's more on the auction at the end, if you're interested.

Meanwhile, North leads a small heart and you need 12 tricks, which looks pretty straightforward, provided the diamonds behave themselves. You clear trumps in two rounds, discard a small club on dummy's ♠A ... and now it's just a matter of bringing in 4 diamond tricks. No problem if the diamonds are split 3-2 (as they will be 68% of the time), but what if they're 4-1 or 5-0? 

As came up in a recent HOTW * when you're trying to 'catch a Jack', it's best to test the water by leading towards the hand holding the double top honour - in this case the AK. If the J drops or South shows out, your troubles are over. In the event, North plays the 9, you play the A and South drops the 2. Any thoughts?

Well, you're missing J9632, so North's 9 is worth noting. Why would he play the 9 instead of a lower one? One reason might be that he doesn't have a lower one. In which case it's either a singleton or North started with J9. In either case, you should now continue by leading your K: if North started with J9 the J will now drop, and if he started with a singleton, you'll be perfectly placed to catch South's J by leading a 3rd diamond towards your Q8.

As it happens, the 9 was a singleton, as you'll see if you check out the whole deal. Which raises the question ...

So why didn't North lead his 9 to start with?

Good question. One possible answer is because it makes life too easy for you. What do you do if he does lead the 9?

Easy: you cover with dummy's 10. If South doesn't play the J you have your 4 diamond tricks. And if she does, you win with your Q and the 8 is now your 4th diamond trick.

It's just a question of watching the pips!

What happened on the night?

With only 28 points between them, this wasn't an easy slam for EW to find, and most players stopped in game. **

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 02 Nov), most pairs stopped in 4, with just 2 bidding 6. Every pair bar one made 12 tricks.

In AP, three of the four Wests played in 4 (one didn't reach game). Two made 12 tricks, the other two just 11.


* See A spanner in the works, further down this page (HOTW Wed, 27 September 2023).

** For a discussion of the auction shown, click on Answer.

Auction commentary

  • West: 1    A normal opening bid
  • East: 2NT   This is Jacoby, showing 4+ card support and a good raise to game (at least 12 points, but probably more)
  • West: 3♠    Shows a shortage (singleton or void)
  • East: 4    No spade losers then! This is a cue-bid showing the A but denying the ♣A.
  • West 4NT   RKC Blackwood. If East has an extra Ace and the Q that should be enough for slam ...
  • East: 5♠    Two key cards plus the trump Queen. 
  • West: 6    Let's have a go ...
Board 14 Wed 01 November 2023

A comedy of errors

Sitting West, what do you respond after partner opens 1♠? The 'correct' bid is 1NT: you can't support partner's spades, you don't have enough points to respond with one of your suits '2 over 1', but with 7 points you have to say something: and that something is 1NT.

Instead, I decided to bid 2. My reasoning was: We're bound to have a fit in one of my suits, so if I just keep insisting them we'll get there eventually. I've got a 5-loser hand, after all. That was mistake number 1 ...

  • My partner now rebids 2, showing at least 9 cards in the majors.
  • No problem - I'll show him my clubs now: 3♣. My second mistake: 3♣ is (rightly) taken by my partner as 'fourth suit forcing', showing a much stronger hand than I have and 'asking for more information about his hand'.
  • He now bids 3, meaning that he has 5 hearts as well as 5 spades. Not only that, he still doesn't know that I have a club suit.
  • With a trace of desperation (which partner can't spot as we're playing on BBO) I try again: 4♣ ... 
  • ... which my partner (again rightly) takes as being a cue-bid agreeing hearts as trumps and looking for a slam. Mistake number 3. He signs off in 4.
  • I decide to have one more try: 5♣. Surely partner will now understand what's going on ...
  • ... and thankfully he does. After a long pause and no doubt uttering profanities in my direction, he passes, preferring clubs to diamonds.

Thankfully, no one doubles, but I'm so flustered that I go 3 off (instead of 2 off) for an absolute bottom: 0%. Take a look at the whole deal.

Rewind ...

This is how the auction should have gone (as related to me by my partner a couple of days later):

  • I reply to his opening 1♠ with 1NT (showing 6-9 points) and he rebids 2.
  • Hating both of his suits, I run to my better 6-card minor, which is clubs: 3♣.
  • This time, partner knows (a) that I have long clubs and (b) that I'm weak (because my first bid told him so). And so he passes.
  • We play the hand in 3♣, making. That's +110, for a very good score.

The moral? Beware of opening Pandora's box. If in doubt, stick to the system.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 26 Oct), most pairs managed to stop in 3♣, 3 or 3♠.

In AP, I managed (with hindsight!) to steer most tables into 3♣, which all made. One table went one off in 4♣ and another in 3.


Board 09 – Wed 25 October 2023

Bid up!

Sitting East, you may be surprised by your first two calls, so let's get those out of the way first:

  • The initial pass. Why didn't I open a weak 2♠? 
    Most pairs don't like opening a weak 2 if they have 4 of the other major. Opening 2♠ kinda fixes the suit as spades, so if you do happen to have a heart fit you're now unlikely to find it. So you pass for the moment, intending to enter the auction later.
  • The Stayman 2♣. We've got a known spade fit, so why bother with Stayman? And anyway, don't you need at least 11 points to bid Stayman?
    The 1st point: same as answer 1: you might have a heart fit, and 4-4 is usually more productive than (say) 6-2. And if partner replies 2 now's the time to bid your spades.
    Which also answers the 2nd point: the reason you need 11 points for Stayman is so that you can escape to 2NT if you have no major fit. But on this hand you can always run to spades, so your 8 points are no problem.  

So you've made your Stayman bid and partner (surprisingly) responds 2♠.

What now?

Do you pass, invite game with 3♠ or go straight to 4♠? Pass I think would be daft, because it's easy to imagine partner having a holding that would fit well enough with yours to make game - one with weak diamonds and strong clubs, for instance. Your losing trick count would also suggest bidding on: you have a LTC of 7 ... but 3 of those 7 losers are in spades, and your partner has just turned up with four of them: the only way you can have 3 spade losers is if ONE opponent holds all three of ♠AKQ. So you can cut your LTC pretty certainly to just 6.

I think I'd just punt 4♠, but as it happens partner's a maximum 14-count and will raise your 3♠ game anyway. Rightly so, as 4♠ makes easily, albeit on a combined 22 points - as you'll see if you check out the whole deal.

Hang on ... What about North, then?

With 11 cards in the minors, North ought to be getting into the auction somehow. As it happens, there's a very handy overcall that fits the bill: a 2NT overcall after a 1NT opening shows at least 5-5 in clubs and diamonds and asks partner to bid her better minor. * This obviously changes your bid. As you can no longer use Stayman, you simply bid 4♠ straight away.

But it isn't necessarily over yet: non-vulnerable against vulnerable, with 10 good points and with a double fit in the minors, South may well decide to sacrifice in 5 (her better minor). It only goes 2 off, costing just 300 if doubled. Much better than losing 620 for 4♠ making!

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 19 Oct), 10 EW pairs were in 3♠, 4♠ or 5♠, mostly making 10 or 11 tricks. Just one NS pair found the diamond sacrifice, and wasn't even doubled, so got away with -100. 

In AP, half the EW pairs found 4♠, two stopped in 3♠ ... and one NS pair got away with 3♣, making. 


* This is an example of the 'unusual no trump'. The Ghestem convention also uses this bid: a 2NT overcall over any opening 1 of a suit shows at least 5-5 in the lowest-ranking other two suits.

Board 08 – Wed 18 October 2023

Double meanings

After the dealer passes, your partner opens 1 and you will, of course, respond 1♠, hoping to find a major fit ... but it's not to be. East is going to interfere with a heart overcall. How do you deal with it? What do you bid ... 

... if East overcalls 1?

Easy. You double. This is a negative double, and it has a special meaning: it shows at least enough points to respond and at least 4 cards in any unbid major *. In this case, spades. Actually, in this sequence (as you have a choice of X or 1♠), it shows exactly 4 spades. With 5 or more you'd bid 1♠ instead. Simple but informative. You're hoping, of course, that partner will raise your spades, in which case you'll bid 4♠. If not, you'll probably end up in 3NT.

Not all overcalls are at the 1 level, however. What do you do ...

... if East overcalls not 1 but 2?

This would show a (probably weak) hand with 6 hearts. The negative double is still the way to go. With a 5-6 count you'd probably be best to pass, but you've got game-going points. Bidding 2♠ instead of the double would promise 5+ spades and a strong hand. So your X is promising just one or the other. So while we're on the subject, what happens ...

... if East overcalls 3?

This would be a full-blown preemptive overcall with 7 hearts. I think I'd still X. Same meaning, but promising a pretty good hand. On the other hand, you might be thinking 'Well, if partner hasn't got 4 spades, she might not know where to go, so maybe I should just forget about my spades and bid 3NT.' Which would also be OK. And finally, what do you bid ...

... if East overcalls 4?

Now you'll be thinking 'They've taken all my bidding space away, but they're clearly not going to make 4, are they? I've probably got 3 tricks in my own hand, and partner's opened the bidding. Can't let them get away with that!' So yet again, you double. But this time it's for penalties, not for takeout.

All of which accords with most players' systems: doubles of suit contracts are for takeout up to 3, but above that they're for penalties. Easy to remember and a sensible rule of thumb for your own system. 

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. Partner does have 4 spades, so most of the time you're going to find your way into 4♠. which is the best place to be.

But what about East? What is her best overcall?

  • 1 is OK, but it's a bit lame: doesn't get in the way much.
  • 2 isn't great as she has neither 6 hearts nor a weak hand.
  • 3 is better: really gets in the way!
  • 4 is too ambitious: her three doubletons make her vulnerable to attack. If she's doubled it could be very expensive ...  

So 3 seems to be best: very disruptive, but difficult for to X for penalties.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 12 Oct), 7 NS pairs found 4♠, mostly making +1. One South settled for 3NT, making just 9 tricks. And two Easts were in 4 doubled (for penalties) going 4 off for -800. Ouch!

In AP, the 3 pairs in 4♠ and the one in 3♠ all made overtricks, and there was one 4X-4.


* You can find other HOTWs here (Titles: Negative double and It's that negative double again). Also here.

Board 01 Wed 11 October 2023

Bidding & making 3NT (+1)

The auction features a couple of my favourite themes to good effect:

  • First, in replying to partner's opening 1, South prefers to show her major suit with 1♠ instead of simply supporting the diamonds ...
  • ... enabling them to end up in an excellent 3NT contract (which makes with an overtrick) instead of 5 (which scores less than 3NT even if it makes 12 tricks).

It only remains for declarer to take as many tricks as possible. Exactly how that's done will depend on the opening lead .... 

Planning the play

There are no super-cunning tricks needed to play the hand well - just the application of a basic bit of NT common sense. So here we go: let's say the lead is the ♣3. What's the plan?

There's only one bit of housework to do before claiming lots of tricks, and that's to set up your diamonds, by getting rid of the K. And as that might involve losing the lead, you have to do it now, while you still have stops in all the other suits. So after winning trick 1 in dummy, you finesse a diamond *, hoping to find the K with West. It doesn't happen - East wins with the King - but now it's job done: you can win the return, and bang out 5 diamond tricks, two clubs, two hearts and one spade for 10 tricks in all. 

Other leads

Suppose East leads a heart instead of a club? No problem: win in hand, cross to dummy's ♣A (NOT the ♠A, which is your only spade stop!) and take your diamond finesse. Same result.

What about a diamond lead? Holding the K, East really shouldn't be leading a diamond around to declarer (who bid them!), and if she does, it costs the defence a trick, as you now don't lose a trick to the K. 11 tricks and an outright top to NS!

And finally, supposing the lead is the ♠2? At last, something to worry about! If you just go up with the ♠A and East has the K, you could be getting an uncomfortable second spade lead back through dummy's ♠Jxx which will certainly restrict you to just 9 tricks and might even take you off. How to guard against that happening? The answer is to hold up: refuse to use your Ace - let them take the first couple of tricks and then win the 3rd. Then when East gets in with her K, she might not have a spade to lead.

And indeed she doesn't, as you'll see if you look at the whole deal. You'll also see that 5 makes, but is harder work for less reward!

What to take from this hand

  1. South: don't be tempted to jump in diamonds - show your major suit. Then, when partner rebids NT, raise to game.
  2. North: once you have the lead, attack the diamonds immediately, while you still have cover elsewhere.
  3. East: any of the ♣3 (4th highest of a suit with an honour) **, 6 (2nd highest of a 'rubbish' holding) or ♠2 (lowest card showing an honour) are reasonable opening leads.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 05 Oct), 8 out of 9 pairs were in 3NT, making 10, 11 or even 12 tricks. The other pair plumped for 5, for a score of zero.

In AP, four Norths reached 3NT, but two went off. The fifth pair were in just 4, making an overtrick.


* Just in case West has Kxx and you need to repeat the finesse, you should lead the 9, so that you can repeat the finesse if necessary. Best not to lead the J, as you might need that to get back to dummy's diamonds.

** The ♣10 (from the 'broken sequence' Q109) is a better choice, just in case dummy has the ♣J.

Board 10 – Wed 28 September 2023

Reopening double

Sitting East as dealer, you have a lovely hand. If you can find a fit, you're in game - at least. You open 1 and - don't they always? - your LHO comes in with a pre-emptive 3. Hmph. Partner now passes, as does North, and it's up to you to get things going again. 

Your best bet is to double. This is not a penalty double, but a take-out, asking partner either to support your hearts or to bid a suit of her own: whatever she chooses, you have good support and can raise to game. If you want a technical name for it, it's a reopening double: if you pass, the auction will be at an end, so your X has the effect of keeping it alive for another round.

What happens next?

Take a look at the whole deal. West has three choices:

  • Give belated support for your hearts: 3. I like this: the odds are that partner started with 5 hearts, and even if she didn't, you have two nice honours in the suit.
  • Bid your own suit: 4♣. Second best: you'd rather be in the major than have to make 11 tricks in the minor for a worse score.
  • Pass. This has the effect of converting partner's takeout double into a penalty double, the idea being that you're going to score more by getting 3X several tricks off. Doesn't seem much of an idea here. Sure, you've got a diamond trick, but not much else in defence. Yuk.

So let's go for 3, which partner will raise to 4. 4 makes comfortably. 6♣ makes too, but only because the ♣Q is finessable.

What if South doesn't overcall?

Responding to 1 - Pass, West should raise partner to 2 rather than bid 1NT. Yes, she only has three hearts, but (1) she has a heart honour - two, actually (2) she has a spade shortage, so a ruff might be possible and (3) 2 is more pre-emptive than 1NT. East will now have no problem bidding game.

What to take from this hand

  1. East: you're too strong to let the auction die. A reopening X shows that strength and gives partner an opportunity to bid.
  2. South: Be sure to butt in with a pre-emptive 3: you're vulnerable, but your suit is good enough for a cheap sacrifice. They might even pass you out!
  3. West: go for the major. And if South doesn't butt in, still go for the major instead of 1NT.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 28 Sept), six Easts bid and made 4. One East inexplicably passed 3 and one West left S in 3X: not a good idea, as it only goes 1 off. 

In AP, three Easts bid and made 4, but two subsided in 3. Bid up!


Board 03 – Wed 27 September 2023

A spanner in the works

You're sitting South, declarer in 4♠. West leads the A, down goes dummy, and your first thought is that you wish you were in 6♠ instead. As long as the spades and/or clubs behave themselves, you should have no trouble making 12 tricks. So let's pretend we're in 6. A couple of questions:

Q1   What are the 12 tricks you would hope to make?

Q2  How would you hope to make them?

Q3   After trumping at trick 1, which card do you play at trick 2?

Here are my answers:

A1   Five trump tricks, four club tricks (you can't make five) and three diamond tricks. 

A2   I'd clear trumps, hoping for a reasonable 2-2 or 3-1 split. Then I'd concede a club trick, playing low from both hands. If the clubs split 3-2, then I'm home. If they don't, I'll try the diamonds instead: if they split 3-3 I'm home, and if they're 4-2, I can ruff one with my remaining trump in dummy and still make 4 diamond tricks. 

A2   The Ace of trumps. Why's that then?

Catching the Jack

Well, the only thing that might throw a spanner in the works is if the trumps split 4-0. On this hand, you can cope with a 4-0 split just fine, provided you start off right. After leading the ♠A, you leave yourself with  ♠K10 in hand and ♠Q9 in dummy, so you can catch the ♠J whichever hand it's in. But if you start by leading low to the ♠Q and West has ♠Jxxx, you've just lost a trump trick. So play it safe and play the Ace first.

As it happens, the trumps are 4-0, though it's East that holds the ♠Jxxx ... but the bad split means a change of plan. Can you see the problem?

Over to Plan B

The problem is that you now can't afford to give them a club trick. They'll come straight back with another heart, which you have to ruff, and that will leave East with longer trumps than you have!

Instead, you'll have to work on the diamonds. You could clear the trumps and then hope that diamonds are 3-3 (not very good odds), but the best plan is to cash your AK, then ruff a small diamond with dummy's ♠Q (just in case East's out), then clear trumps (you can still catch East's ♠J with dummy's ♠98) and provided the diamonds split is no worse than 4-2 * you'll have your 12 tricks: 5 trumps, one ruff, 4 diamond tricks and the ♣AK.

As it happens (check out the whole deal) the diamonds are 3-3, so either version of Plan B would have worked anyway.

What to take from this hand

  1. If you have AKQ split between you and dummy, cash the 'duplicated' honour first, leaving one in each hand: then you can finesse either way.
  2. Make a plan, but be prepared to ditch it in mid-stream if it becomes untenable.
  3. Beware of letting a defender end up with longer trumps than you – it will leave you helpless!

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 21 Sept), all NS pairs were in 4♠, except one who bid the slam. One made 11 tricks, one 13, and the rest all made 12.

In AP, two NS pairs were in 4♠ and one was in 5♠. One made 12 tricks, the others just 10.

The opening lead was the A at every table.


*  If you're interested in the probabilities:

  • the odds of a 3-3 diamond split are just 35.5%. The odds of a 4-2 split are 48.5%. So the odds of the diamonds being no worse than 4-2 are a whopping 84%.
  • the odds of a 3-2 club split are a hefty 68%.
  • the odds of a 4-0 trump split are a meagre 9.5%.
Board 09 – Wed 20 September 2023
Board 09 – Wed 20 September 2023

Stayman with fewer than 11 points?

Nowhere to run to ...

We'll come to today's deal in a moment. First, take a look at these three hands. In each case partner has opened 1NT:

 ♠AK104  QJ85  84  ♣AJ7        B   ♠KJ104  J85  84  ♣AQ106        C   ♠K104  QJ85  84  ♣K1087

A is great for Stayman *: if partner responds 2 or 2♠ you raise to game; and if she says 2, denying a 4-card major, you bid 3NT.

Ditto for B: if partner responds 2♠ you raise to 3♠, inviting to game; and if she says 2 or 2 you bid 2NT, again inviting game in NT.

With hand C, however, you must pass. Why? Because if partner responds 2♠ or 2 you're stuck. You haven't got a heart fit and you haven't got a spade fit – the only thing you can do is bid 2NT and with just 9 points you aren't strong enough to bid 2NT

Hands A (15 points) and B (11 points) are fine for Stayman because they're both strong enough to 'stand' 2NT in case you don't find a major fit. But hand C (9 points) isn't: if you don't have a major fit, you've nowhere to run to.

So how come ...

... you're OK to bid Stayman on this deal holding just three points? Because, in spite of your low point-count, you do have somewhere to run to. As it happens, partner responds 2♠ to your Stayman bid – which you gratefully pass!

You'd do the same if she bid 2 – another grateful pass.

And if she doesn't happen to have a 4-card major and bids 2, you're still OK: because you have five spades, you can simply sign off in 2♠. No need for the dizzy heights of 2NT.

So here's a Stayman variant for weak hands: if you're weak (1-10 points) and have 4-5 or 5-4 in the majors, use Stayman. Pass any major bid, and after 2 bid your 5-card major.

How does it go?

It works a treat here – take a look at the whole deal. Not only can you make 2♠ with just 16 points between you, but your use of Stayman has also put them off getting into the auction – they can make 3NT or 5 of either minor themselves!

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 14 Sept),three NS pairs were in spades, while one went 3 off in 1NT (don't pass partner's 1NT with just 3 points if you have a place to run to, which you do here!) Two EW pairs made lots of tricks in diamonds, and one EW pair took the biscuit with 3NT bid and made!

In AP, two NS pairs made 2♠ while another went 3 off in 1NT, and one EW were unlucky to go off in 5♣.

You can find further examples of 'weak Stayman' (Stayman to the rescue and Using Stayman as a weak takeouthere.


*  Just in case you need reminding: a 2♣ response to partner's opening 1NT is Stayman, asking partner if she has a 4-card major. If she does, she bids it (2 or 2♠); if not she bids 2.

Board 8 – AP Wed 06 September 2023

Thinking it through

What are your thoughts when partner opens 1 on this deal? Mine would go something like:

Well, I've got 13 points, so one way or another we should be ending up in game. We're very unlikely to have a major fit, so the choice is going to be between diamonds and no trumps.

So far so good. Normally, NT is a better option than a minor game, as just 10 tricks in NT scores better than even 12 tricks in a minor. Always provided that 3NT actually makes, of course. So what to bid?

Well, first of all, what NOT to bid. A raise to 3 is definitely OUT. This is a horrible underbid, promising 10ish points, and my partner will probably pass it. Game missed! 

A raise to 4 isn't any better, as it takes the bidding beyond 3NT, which is probably where we want to end up ....

So a diamond raise is out, then. So what will you bid?

I think the best bet is simply to punt 3NT. This describes my hand pretty well: I've got game-going points, no more than 3 cards in either major, and so at least 7 cards in clubs and diamonds. Sure, I haven't got a club stop, but the opps don't know that - with no majors bid, they'll probably lead a major in any case ...

But what if they do lead a club?

Partner may well have them covered herself. And if she doesn't, the opps' clubs might be something like 4-4 or 4-3, in which case they can only take 4 tricks and we can (with luck!) take the remaining 9! 

So you bid 3NT, everybody passes ... and South leads not a club but the Q ...

How does it go?

Swimmingly. Take a look at the whole deal. Partner does indeed have the clubs covered and you can just bang out 11 tricks off the top for a very pleasant 460.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 31 August), things were all over the place. There were two pairs in 3 and 4 (you can guess how that happened!), one in 5 and one in an unmakeable 6 (which nevertheless made, somehow!). One hapless NS pair ended up going 4 off in 5♠X for a very nasty -800. And the other four found 3NT, all making 11 tricks - which but for the unmakeable slam and unfortunate sacrifice bids would have been a shared top.

In AP, one pair found 3NT, while the other 3 were all in 5 - not great, but a lot better than 3 or 4!


While it's wise to have cover in any suits that the opponents have bid, there's no need to worry overmuch about the clubs. As we've seen, even if your clubs aren't up to much, the opps have to actually find the killing lead. If you're interested in exploring an alternative (but non-intuitive!) response to partner's 1 opening, follow this asterisk. *


*  Your difficulty here is that you either have to bid game yourself (as the 3NT above) or find a response which is forcing - ie one that partner can't pass. A possibility here is, strangely, 2♣.

  • If partner now says 2 you can now bid your 3NT, having (with luck!) put the opps off leading your 'suit'.
  • If partner says 2NT, you simply raise to 3NT - again, hoping you've deterred a club lead.
  • And if partner makes a strong rebid (eg a jump in a major or a jump rebid of 3) you can explore for a possible slam. 

But if that all seems a bit dodgy, a direct 3NT is a great alternative!

Board 04 – Wed 31 August 2023

Once in a blue moon

You won't get a hand like this very often, so when it happens you'll want to make the most of it. *

Even if partner's got nothing but a couple of spades and a few clubs you're probably going to make 6♠, but it's worth checking for a spade fit en route.

You open 2♣ (strong, game-forcing hand) and over partner's 2 response ('Tell more, partner!') show your suit: 2♠. **

Partner now raises you to 4♠: this is a weak bid, but does at least show support for spades, so you're not anticipating losing a spade trick.

So what's it to be? How many club tricks are you going to lose? The answer is, of course, that you don't know, but there's a good chance that you'll only lose 1: even if partner can't help in clubs, she might have the K or the Q (which you'd have to reach via a high trump in dummy). And if she's got the ♣Q or the ♣J10 - or simply 4 clubs - then you're making a slam.

One thing's certain: Blackwood won't do you a lot of good, as you already have every key card in the pack!

Just bid 6♠.

What if East opens?

Before we look at the whole deal, let's suppose East opens a weak 2 before the bidding gets to you. What do you do then? Sure you could double, but at some point you're going to have to bid spades and the overwhelming likelihood is that your partner will pass whatever you bid. So there's nothing for it: you can't afford the luxury of finding spade fits. As above, you just have to punt 6♠. Pretty short for a slam auction!

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. Talk about the luck of the devil: not only does partner have FOUR spades with you, but she also has the ♣Q AND the ♣J ...

You have a 'lay-down' 13 tricks off the top in spades or no trumps: no need to play a single card.

What happened on the night?

Evidently the slam wasn't as obvious as it seems. In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 24 August), one pair played in 2♠, another in 4♠ and two others were in 3NT. Four were in 6♠ and the final NS pair punted a VERY optimistic 7♠, which of course makes! Just my luck that my partner and I happened to be sitting EW at that particular table. sad

In AP, two pairs were in 6♠ while the third - you've guessed it - also punted 7♠ for a top.


*  You'll only get dealt a hand with 27+ points once in every 20,000 hands, give or take a few - that's once every five years if you play 4 sessions a week 50 weeks a year.

** Isn't there a danger that partner might pass your 2♠? Not after your 2♣ opening, no: if she has absolutely nothing, she can bid 2NT. This is a '2nd negative', telling partner you're very weak. In which case, on this hand, you might choose to stop in 4♠ - though I'd still punt 6♠ anyway! 

Board 05 Wed 23 August 2023

Best of a bad bunch ...

With a 17-count, you X North's opening 1, intending subsequently to bid your clubs *, but South raises her partner to game, your partner passes and you wisely decide that punting 5♣ would be pushing your luck a bit.

It's your lead, then. What takes your fancy?

If this were a no-trump contract, no problem: you'd lead the ♣7 - the '4th highest of your longest & strongest suit' - and hope to make a string of club tricks later in the play. Sadly, this is a suit contract. So what's it to be?

Attractive and unattractive leads

Sometimes an obviously attractive lead will jump out at you. For example:

  • a singleton: partner might be able to give you a ruff.
  • the top card in a sequence like KQ or QJ10: at best you'll set up a trick for yourself or if not at least you won't give anything away.
  • Ace from AK in a suit: allows you to retain the lead while you look at dummy and decide what to do next.

Sadly you have none of these, except for a singleton trump, which isn't the kind of singleton you had in mind!

Indeed, the leads offered by all of your suits are singularly unattractive.

Take clubs and spades: our only lead in either of these suits must be the Ace. **  An unattractive choice, as declarer is far more likely than your (obviously very weak) partner to be holding the King. Leading either the ♠A or the ♣A may well give a trick away. What's next?

Diamonds. Same thing. If you lead the 6, you're in danger of gifting declarer a trick with the Q: sure, your partner might have it, but if she doesn't you're again giving a trick away.

Put another way: these are all suits you'd like declarer to lead instead of having to lead them yourself.

The only remaining choice is the 7. Again, not nice. It's usually best not to lead a singleton trump because your partner is likely to have a few and you might be playing into declarer's hands by finessing her.

But given your partner's obvious weakness, it's probably the best of a bad bunch. Let's go for it.

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. How do our four leads fare? First the side-suits:

  • ♠A. Not too bad as it happens, as you drop declarer's singleton ♠K: good thing you didn't lead the ♠Q, though, wasn't it? See ** below.
  • 6. As we feared, dummy's Q takes the trick (though declarer can engineer this anyway by leading a low diamond towards the Q).
  • ♣A. Oops. This is ruffed in dummy, and declarer's ♣K is now worth a trick.

Which leaves us with the 7, which, as we suspected, is in fact the safest lead, as your partner has absolutely nothing in hearts (or any other suit)!

None of this is conclusive: the opening lead always has an element of luck, and sometimes it doesn't matter a hoot anyway, but sometimes it does, and that makes these kind of considerations worth the effort.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 17 August), all NS tables bar one were in hearts and every East chose the 7 as opening lead. Fairly conclusive. (One East, BTW, couldn't resist punting 5♣, which was doubled and went 4 off for -800. An unattractive result)

In AP, all 4 tables were in hearts, but no-one led the 7. One led the ♠A, two the ♣A and one the K (ouch!). No declarers managed 10 tricks.


*  You're a bit too strong simply to overcall 2♣, which would normally be in the range 8-15 points. With 16+ points and a decent suit, it's normal to double first and then bid your suit, thus showing partner your extra strength.

** 'Don't lead away from an Ace against a suit contract'. If you lead a card other than the Ace, you're in danger of losing the trick to a singleton K ... and so will never make your Ace at all.

Board 09 – Wed 16 August 2023

Just one throw of the dice

Before we get onto the play, a word on the auction. Sitting West, you know you're going to end up in 4♠ as soon as your partner opens 1NT. The only question is: which of you should be declarer? It's up to you: you can either transfer partner to spades and then raise to game or simply bid 4♠ yourself, as in this auction.

It usually comes down to where you want the opening lead to come from. On this deal, I'd prefer it to come round to my hand, rather than through it, as I have a couple of AQs: a club or trump lead might be just the job. Plus I'm short in the red suits, so they're not so much of a problem.


As it happens, North leads the 5. What happens in the first 3 tricks?

You win with the A and immediately cash the AK, discarding the second heart from your hand. That makes the contract pretty secure: unless the trumps are 4-0, you're not going to lose more than 1 spade trick and 2 clubs. 

What now? 

A choice of finesses

Being able to get rid of your heart loser was a bonus. The downside is that you've now used up all your entries to dummy. You're in dummy, so you can now take a finesse – but only one, since you can't get back to dummy to finesse for a second time.

So which is it to be? Clubs or spades?

Well, you've no idea which finesse, if either, will work. So instead, imagine how it'll go with the other suit, the one you'll have to lead from your hand. If you have to lead clubs, you're almost certain to lose two tricks – to the ♣K and ♣J. Leading spades, on the other hand, is likely to cost you only one: to the ♠K. *

So go for the club finesse: play a low club to the ♣10 and hope that South's holding the ♣J. What happens? Check out the whole deal.

It works: North wins with the ♣K ... and you win the return, play ♠A and another spade (yes, the spade finesse would have lost) and when you come in again you can clear North's last trump and your ♣AQ are good. 11 tricks. 

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 10 August), everyone was in the spade game: 5 by West and 3 by East. five made 11, one made 10 ... and 2 went off! Both were West declarers on a heart lead.

In AP, all 5 tables were in 4♠: 2 by W, 3 by East. All made, with just one declarer making an overtrick. 

And finally

Full marks to South for jumping straight to 4 with just 6 points: she has a great shape and just 7 losers, so there's a good chance of making game in spite of the lack of points. 


*  This is because you hold the AQJ in spades but only the AQ10 in clubs. If you'd had the AQJ in both, I'd go for the spade finesse, because after a successful finesse you'd have a decent chance of dropping the ♠K under the ♠A.

Board 8 – AP Wed 09 August 2023

 One or the other  

As a now seasoned bridge player, you're always on the lookout for a major fit – especially with a pleasantly unbalanced hand like this one. If you decide to open the bidding (which you can – you have a perfectly respectable Rule-of-20 opening hand) you'll start with 1♠ and continue with 2, hoping you have a fit in one or other major. What's more interesting is what you do if, instead, partner opens the bidding with 1NT.

Two questions

Before going on, ask yourselves these two questions. What are your answers, and why?

Q1 Do you have a major fit?   and   Q2 Should you be in game?

Answer 1  Yes. Your partner won't have opened 1NT with an unbalanced hand, so won't have more than one doubleton. Therefore she must have at least 3 cards in one of the two majors – you have a major fit, but you don't know which yet.

Answer 2  Again, yes. If you have a fit, you can count your losers. You have only 6 losers, and therefore are strong enough opposite an opening hand to be in game.

It only remains to discover which of the two majors you want to be in. How's it done? By giving partner information about your hand. There are two possibilities:

Route 1: via transfers and standard bidding

  • First, transfer your partner into spades. You bid 2 and she bids 2♠ – she now knows that you have at least 5 spades.
  • Now bid 3 – she now knows that you have at least 5 spades AND at least 4 hearts AND that you're insisting on game.
  • What happens now depends on your partner's response. If she bids 4 or 4♠, job done.
    But if she has just 2 spades and 3 hearts, she'll bid 3NT – she doesn't yet know about the fit! So you now simply bid your hearts again – 4 – and your partner will pass. **

Route 2: via 'Extended Stayman'

This is a natty little convention designed to cope with exactly this situation: when partner opens 1NT and you have 5 cards in each major.

Like last week's Gambling 3NT convention, it doesn't come up that often, but when it does it's very handy. It works like this:

  • You start with what looks like ordinary Stayman: 2♣. If partner responds 2 or 2♠, you simply raise to game: again, job done.
  • But if she responds 2 (denying a 4-card major), you now bid 3. This is the 'extended' bit: it tells partner that you are 5-5 in the majors and asks her to choose the one she prefers, and you end up in the best fit.
  • NOTE that this allows you to stop in 3 or 3♠ if you don't have values for game, though in this case, you'd raise to game yourself.

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. As it happens, your partner has plenty of hearts and spades, so you don't need the strongarm methods detailed above, and most pairs will end up in 4 making 10 tricks. (Note that the 5-4 fit works better than the 5-3 fit, as you can only make 9 tricks in spades.)

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 03 August), 5 pairs played in 4 and the other two in 4♠. All made at least 10 tricks except for one of the 4♠ declarers, who went 1 off.

In AP, all 5 pairs played in 4, all making at least 10 tricks.


*  In an uninterrupted auction, bidding a new suit at the three-level is forcing to game.

**  If partner now lays down a dummy with a doubleton in each major, you should have a word with her about what a 'balanced hand' means ...

Board 02 – Wed 02 Aug 2023

A gambling convention

What do you open with this hand? 1♣? You've got opening points, after all. Or a more pre-emptive 4♣, to keep the opponents out? A better bet than either of these is a neat little convention called the 'Gambling 3NT', for which this hand is perfect. The requirements are:

  • a solid (AKQ ...) long (at least 7 cards) minor suit ...
  • ... with very little in outside strength – no more than a Queen or maybe a Queen and a Jack.

What's the point? Well, there are two points:

  • If partner has a decent hand and has stops in the other three suits (she should be able to guess which minor you hold!), you're going to make 3NT. All she has to do is pass.
  • If not, she simply bids 4♣ and you can pass or correct. In this case, your opening 3NT has acted as a powerful preemptive bid and may have stopped the opps from finding game in their own suit (probably a major).

What happens on this hand?

Take a look at the whole deal. Your partner's hand is almost good enough for a cheeky pass: she can stop hearts and (just about!) diamonds, but has nothing in spades, so retreats to 4♣, which you pass.

What if she'd had one of the other two hands? With East's holding, she can stop both majors, but is helpless in the minors, so again she'd retreat to 4♣. But with West's hand, she'd hope for the best in hearts and pass.

The result? 4♣ goes 1 off but is a brilliant result for NS. Why? Because EW have a stone-cold game in spades, which your preemptive bidding has prevented them from finding. It's a brave West that'll venture into the auction at the four level with just 14 points!

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 27 July), most pairs were in either in 4♣ or 5♣, going off, for a good score. Two EWs somehow managed to make 4♠ for a top their way. And one over-optimistic North left her partner in 3NT, which duly went three off!

In AP, three pairs were in clubs, one somehow managing to make 5♣! The other EW pair bid and made 4♠ for a top their way.

More examples

The Gambling 3NT doesn't come up that often, but it's easy to remember and well worth adding to your armoury. If you'd like to see what happens when partner passes the 3NT opening, there are two other instructive HOTWs on the subject on the Bridge @ Box website – you can find them here



Board 11 – Wed 20 July 2023

Cards on the table

Never mind the auction for now. * One way or another you've found your way into a splendid 6♠ contract. South leads a small club, North plays the ♣5 and you win trick 1 with your ♣8. It only remains to clear trumps, so you lead the ♠A ...

... and South shows out. Annoying. Certainly no overtrick, then. But can you still be sure of making your contract?

Pause ... and fast-forward

Yes! This is one of those situations where you can 'see' your opponents' cards. North's spades are on view to your mind's eye as clearly as if they were face-up on the table: she has ♠QJ8.

It's time to 'pause' for a while, visualise the situation and 'fast-forward' through the next few tricks. Then, when you're sure you've got it sorted, get the job done. This is the situation:

North ♠QJ8

Dummy ♠107                                      You ♠K9542

South ♠ –

How's it done?

In either of two ways:

1 You go over to dummy with the A and lead a trump – but which one? Do you lead the ♠10 or the ♠7? If you've done your fast-forwarding properly, you'll lead the ♠7:

  • If North plays the ♠8 you win with the ♠9, cash your ♠K and she only makes her ♠Q.
  • If she plays high, win with your ♠K, then lead a low spade to dummy's ♠10. North wins but now you can drop her ♠8 with your ♠9.

But if you carelessly lead your ♠10 from dummy, North will cover and you're going to lose TWO spade tricks. Try it and see.

2 Simply lead a low spade towards dummy's ♠10 at trick 3. North will win the trick but then you pop over to dummy with your A and can finesse her out of trumps.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 20 July), 6 pairs were in 6♠, but only one made it! The only pair in 4♠ did make 12 tricks, however. Somehow, two pairs ended up in clubs.

In AP, three EW pairs were in the spade slam – and made it – and one was in 4♠ making 11 tricks.


* In the auction shown, East's 3♣ rebid is a game force ('new suit at the 3-level') and West, with nothing to add to her 2 response, signs off in 4♠ ... making 6♠ a very reasonable punt.

Those who attended the recent Slams seminars might prefer to open 2♣. How might that go? Click below for my answer ...


An auction starting with 2 ...

East 2♣       23+ balanced or unbalanced with 9+ playing tricks

West 2      Positive response showing points (maybe 8+) and 5+ hearts.

East 2♠       Strong unbalanced hand with spades.

West 3♠      Agrees spades. Slow arrival, therefore extra values and interest in slam

East 4♣      Control bid showing ♣A

West 4      Control bid showing A

East: 4NT   RKCB - mainly to find out about ♠Q. If partner has it the grand slam is on!

West 5      One key card

East 5       Have you got the ♠Q?

West 5♠      No

East 6♠       Best stop in 6, then.

Board 8 – AP Wed 13 July 2023


With a nice 14-count and 5-4 in the majors you were intending to open 1♠ but West has scuppered that with an opening 1NT. What do you do now?

Well, the quality of your spade suit is (just) good enough for a 2♠ overcall, but if you and your partner play a nifty little convention called Landy, you can instead show both your majors at once.

Landy - the basics

Over an opponent's opening 1NT, 2♣ from you shows a hand with at least 8 HCP and at least 4-5 (or 5-4) in the majors. Perfect for this deal. 

How does partner respond? Depends on her holding. There are three main possibilities:

  • with a weakish hand and a clear preference for one major (ie a four-card suit) she simply bids the suit: 2 or 2♠.
  • with a weakish hand and no clear preference, she bids 2, asking you to show your longer suit (or if you're 5-5, your better suit).
  • with a stronger hand (11+ points) she'll bid 2NT, which asks you to tell her your longer suit AND how strong you are. Just in case game is on.

It's actually pretty straightforward. For the details click on the link below. *

What happens on this hand?

Take a look at the whole deal. Partner has a weakish hand (8 points) and 4 hearts, so bids 2 and that's the end of the auction.

And 2 is clearly the place to be. Sure, as it happens, you can make 10 tricks, but with 22 points between you you don't want to be in game. 

Note that without Landy, you'd be playing in a 7-card fit in 2♠, which is not nearly as nice a place to be. 

Recommendation: add Landy to your system and look out for opportunities to use it in future weeks ...

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 06 July), 6 of the 8 pairs used Landy to find 2, mostly making 9 or 10 tricks. Two pairs didn't, so ended up in 2♠, making 8 and (a lucky) 9 tricks. 

In AP, two were in spades (7 and 8 tricks) and two were in hearts (10 and 7 tricks).


* My notes on Landy are available here: Landy notes 2023.pdf.

PS If you've got Landy sorted and want to expand it into something more powerful (though more complicated!), ask me for notes on MultiLandy ... 

Board 03 – Wed 12 July 2023


Sitting North, you've just done a very bold bit of bidding. Once your partner had shown 10 points (you hope!) with her 2 response, you decided that your ♣Qxx was good enough for a club stop and rebid 2NT ... and your partner, who does indeed have 10 points, raised you to game.

Now your heart's in your mouth, because ... IF East leads a low club and West happens to have ♣Ax or ♣Kx, they're going to make 5 club tricks before you even get the lead ...

... but the gods are with you. East leads the ♣A. Which means that you're going to make your contract. How come?

Let's think it through. The situation is that you have just 8 tricks off the top: 5 diamonds, a heart and 2 spades. You need one more. And how it pans out depends on what East does at trick 2. There are two possibilities:

1  East continues with another club

This is a doddle. Your ♣Q has just become your ninth trick. Just cash the ♠AK, A and your 5 diamonds and you're home. Thanks very much.

2  East switches to eg a spade

Why would she do that? Well, she's hoping that somehow West might get the lead and can lead back a club through your ♣Qx to give her lots of lovely club tricks.

It ain't gonna work, but it makes things trickier for you, as you now have to find your 9th trick elsewhere. Where is that trick coming from? And how do you set it up?

Well, the 9th trick is coming from hearts, isn't it? You're quite happy to lose a trick to the K, provided that West doesn't get the lead *. So win the spade in dummy, and lead a low heart, finessing the Q. Sure enough, East wins with the K but

  • you've just set up your 9th trick (the J) and
  • the lead is with East again, which is SAFE for you: sure, she can take her ♣A but if she does, you have the rest of the tricks. Take a look at the whole deal.

What about the diamonds?

Before we finish, here's a tip on handling the diamonds. Suppose you start by leading the K ... and East shows out. Shucks - West has Jxxx and you're going to lose a diamond trick.

Rewind: lead a low diamond to the A. Now if someone shows out, it doesn't matter: you can finesse for the J in either direction, because you still have a top honour in both hands.

It doesn't actually matter on this deal, as the diamonds are 3-1, but sometimes it will matter. Another useful way of staying SAFE

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 06 July), just two pairs found 3NT, both making. The others were spooked by East's 2♣ overcall, and ended up in a part-score in diamonds. Not nearly so good!

In AP, two pairs found 3NT. Both got a high club lead, but one went off. 

Stay safe!


* In the jargon, West is the 'danger hand', the hand you don't want to get the lead. East is the 'safe hand', because she can only lead a club around to your ♣Q, and not through it.

Board 10 – Wed 05 July 2023

"The 5 level ..."

Sitting East, you open a 'Rule of 20' 1, your partner bids 1♠ ... and North comes in with a whopping 4.

What kind of a hand do you think North holds? And what do you say now? 4♠? Pass? X?

Well, North's certainly got a lot of hearts. How strong/weak she is you're not sure, but you do know from partner's response that NS don't have a lot more than half the points between them, and may well have fewer.

It would be crazy to X their 4, though. You have a minimum opening hand, so it would be up to your partner, not you, to decide if they're going off.

So should you bid 4♠ or pass? It's a close-run thing:

  • smiley You have a spade fit and a singleton in their heart suit, and if you don't bid spades now it'll never happen, as partner doesn't know about your spades.
  • frown You're vulnerable, so if they X and you go off it could be expensive (2 off would cost you 500) ...
  • smiley ... but on the other hand, they're vulnerable too, so if they make 4 they'll score 620.
  • frown But will they make 4? Who knows?

OK. Decide ... and then take a look at the whole deal. 

Who can make what?

Well, 4 is making, isn't it? NS are losing just 1 spade and 2 diamonds. So a good thing you didn't X for penalties.

What about 4♠? Against the best defence, you're going 2 off - but as we've seen, that's cheaper than leaving them in 4, even if you're doubled.

So 4♠ is the place to be. And there's one other compelling reason for making that 4♠ bid: it gives the opponents ...

... a chance to go wrong

Instead of Xing your 4♠, N or S might instead be tempted to go on to 5, which doesn't make. Thus giving you a positive score, and a guaranteed top.

To complete the mantra in the title: The 5 level belongs to the opponents. In other words, think hard before you bid at the 5 level, as 11 tricks are a good deal harder to make than 10.

What happened on the night?

In the original Open Pairs (Thursday 29 June), half the pairs were allowed to play in 4, making. Two EW pairs played in 4♠, undoubled, and went just one off. And the other two ignored the mantra and stretched to 5: one went off ... but one made! How do you think they made it? *

In AP, one pair made 3, while two NS pairs were tempted up to the 5 level and paid the price - one doubled.


* Well, the lead was the 10, so I'm guessing that North won in hand, successfully finessed the ♣Q, then dumped her spade loser on the ♣A. A better lead would have been a low spade, won by West, who now switches to a diamond for 1 off.