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At last a decent coffee machine!

Yep. Got them in Bath too.

We have tablet scoring. 

In Bath, too. Same.

  HOTW 04 Dec 2019 | Counting to 13

Counting to 13

As usual, the opposition have got more points than you and you're stuck with defending against 3NT with just 4 points. Your best lead by a mile is the '4th highest of your longest and strongest' – which also happens to be the unbid major. You lead the 5 and dummy goes down. Declarer plays low from dummy, your partner wins with the J and now leads back the Q, declarer playing the 2 and then the 3. What happens next?

Well, the spades are falling nicely - dummy's K will take one trick and you'll get the other four ... or will you? How's it going to work? It rather depends on which card you play now ...

... because you have no entries to your hand outside spades. After this trick, your partner and declarer will have just ONE spade between them, and for you to get your spade tricks, you've got to hope that it's your partner. And if it is, the one thing you mustn't do is cash your A and lead a small spade to 'knock out dummy's King'.

Instead you play low, allowing dummy's K to win the trick. Then, when your partner comes in with a diamond or a club (which is likely - you've only got 4 points, so she'll have anything up to 10) she'll still have a last spade to play to your Ace, and they'll be one off.

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. After winning his spade trick, declarer has 4 diamond and 3 heart tricks *, but for his 9th trick has to force out the A. Your partner wins the trick and, because you had the foresight not to win the 2nd spade trick, still has a spade to lead to your Axx and they're one off.

If you play your A at trick 2 they're making. But playing the right card isn't difficult: it's just a question of counting to 13 and crossing your fingers.

A note on the auction

  • South's 2 is the only sensible response to North's opening 1, showing fewer than 4 hearts, at least 4 clubs and at least 10 points.
  • North's 2NT rebid is forcing to game on both players: both know that they have at least 25 points between them.
  • Rather than just raising North to game, South must tell him en passant that she has 3 hearts - just in case he has 5. He doesn't and so signs off in 3NT.

In Box and Bath

In Box, two tables were in 3NT, making 10 or 11 tricks, in spite of a spade being led. Not counting to 13 ...

In Bath, everyone was in 3NT, a spade was led at 10 tables, and 5 declarers went one off, the others making 9 or 10 tricks. Better defence than in Box, but by no means at every table!

* Note that if North bangs out his four diamond tricks 'to see what happens', you must be very careful not to discard a heart - instead, throw your clubs away. If you go down to 3 hearts, declarer can drop West's Q and take 4 heart tricks - allowing him to scrape home without having to touch the clubs at all.

  HOTW 20 Nov 2019 | Wake up!

Wake up!

Sleepwalking into defeat is easy at any time, but even easier when you've got one of those rubbishy old hands where you're just following suit ...

Here, for example, you're sitting East and hold just 6 points. You pass when North opens 1 and again when she jump rebids 3 (= 6 good spades and 16-18 points), in spite of your partner's 2 overcall, and yet again after South rightly raises her to 4.

It's your lead, and a small lightbulb flicks on in your head as you realise that there might be a way of defeating the contract. Which is ...?

Well, if your partner's suit's any good, maybe she can take the first two tricks and give you a heart ruff ... and your A will take the vital 4th trick to take them one off. Let's try it.

The play version 1

You lead your 8 (high then low from a doubleton) and partner takes the trick with her K! She then cashes her A, notices that your 6 shows a doubleton and leads a third heart to give you a ruff.

What happens? Every player at the table – you included – should be aware by now neither you nor declarer has any hearts left. South's overcall shows at least 5 hearts, there are 4 in dummy and you and declarer have shown up with 2 each. That's 13 ...

But we all have our off days. Let's say declarer ruffs with the 2. You suppress a grin as you overruff with your J and, just as you had hoped, your A is now the setting trick.

Rewind – the play version 2

This time, North thinks for a while, glances in your direction – and ruffs not with the 2 but with the Q. It's your play. What do you do?

It's so easy to overruff, isn't it? So tempting to crush that puny Q with your mighty A that it's pretty well automatic ... but if you do, you've just given declarer her contract. Can you see why?

The answer is provided by another question: what happens if you don't overruff? Answer: with declarer's Q out of the way, you now hold AJ over her K. That's two more tricks for you and one off for them. But if you overruff with your A, your J will fall under declarer's K and it's curtains for EW. As you can see if you take a look at the whole deal.

Moral  It's not particularly 'difficult' to get this one right. It's just a question of asking yourself 'What if ...?' for the two choices facing you. The answer to 'What if I don't overruff?' is 'They're going off' – and that's that.

In Box and Paignton

Everyone should be in 4 on this deal. Three out of five NS pairs were in Box (the others were in 3 and, bizarrely, 1). Three of them made 10+ tricks. But the two EW pairs who led the 8 kept them to just 9.

In Paignton, of the seven pairs in spades, four made 11 tricks and three were held to 9. I won't mention the EW pair who were allowed to play in 3, going 3 off.

My thanks to James Dunlop, who led a discussion of these hands at Paignton, for the 'don't overruff' insight on this board.

  HOTW 16 Oct 2019 | Showing a bit of attitude

Showing a bit of attitude

When partner leads a suit, you'll often be trying to win the trick ... but what if the trick's already won (if partner's led an Ace, say, or you can't beat declarer's card) and you're just 'following suit'? Well, you can just chuck your lowest card or – more usefully – take the opportunity to tell partner your views: follow with your lowest card if you have no interest in the suit or play a higher card if you'd like it continued. *

On this hand, it's your opening lead against South's 4 and it's a no-brainer. You have a singleton – in partner's suit, no less – so you lead the 10 hoping for a ruff ...

... and you're in luck. Partner wins with the A and returns the Q (why the Q and not a small one, do you think?**), and you ruff declarer's K. Two tricks in the bag. Now then. Where are the other two tricks coming from? What next?

Well, what's clear is that you have to attack NOW – once declarer gets the lead, trumps will be cleared and any diamonds in her hand will disappear on dummy's lovely clubs. So up with the A and watch carefully for the card that partner plays. Why? 

Because you need to know if she has the K. If she does, you lead a 2nd diamond ... but if she doesn't? In that case, there's only one chance left – that she's void in clubs. Not so unlikely, as you can see no less than 11 clubs, so if they're not 1-1 someone's got a void and it could be your partner.

In the event, partner follows with the 10 – if that isn't an encouraging signal, what is? – and you therefore ignore declarer's Q (who does she think she's kidding?) and continue with a diamond to partner's K and they're one off. Take a look at the whole deal.

Yes, I know. You're going to play A and another diamond anyway, aren't you, and hope for the best? Sure, but we can do better than just hope. If you know partner's got the K, you continue diamonds – but if you know she hasn't (if she'd followed with the 4) it would be a waste of time, and a club lead would at least give you a chance ...

Is it a poor contract?

No! NS have a combined 27 points and just 6 losers each. If West doesn't have a singleton spade it makes hands down – and on a heart or club lead makes 12 tricks. It's just bad luck for NS – and an opportunity for decent defence to clean up.

In Box and Devizes

In Box, 3 pairs were in 4, two going off. At the other two tables, EW's splendid 4♠ sacrifice was, sadly, in vain, but on another day will earn them a top.

In Devizes, most pairs were in 4, though two ventured to 5 and 6 (!). Four made just 9 tricks, but one made 10 and a further two 11. An excellent (but unnecessary) 5 sacrifice from EW went just 1 off.

* Or HELD, for short: High Encouraging, Low Discouraging. HELD is commonly used for discards as well: throw a low card in a suit you're not interested in, but a higher card in a suit you want led. Works a treat – always providing partner's not asleep!

** Well, partner had the 10 and the J's on the table ... so when partner ruffs declarer's K East's 9 will be the top spade. And if declarer doesn't play her K? Then instead of ruffing, West discards her 7 (high, asking for a diamond lead) and it's a simple matter to cash the A and K for one down.

  HOTW 25 Sep 2019 | '2nd player plays low'

'2nd player plays low'

You'll be familiar with this mantra for defenders. Pretty good advice most of the time, but you don't want to follow it blindly. If you can get a contract down by giving partner a ruff, for example, who cares which seat you're in? Up with your Ace and get it done!

Sitting West and defending against 4, you haven't got much in the way of high cards. You lead the 9 and dummy goes down ...

Declarer wins with the A and leads the 3 ... Decision time 1. Do you play low? Or do you play your Q?

The mantra's dead right on this one. You play low. If partner has the A you'll be getting at least 2 trump tricks. And if declarer has it, the chances are she'll come back with a finesse, giving your (now singleton) Q a trick. 

OK. Fast forward ... later in the deal, declarer leads the Q. Decision time 2. Do you cover with your K or follow the mantra and play low?

Here the mantra doesn't help. It's pretty clear what's happening, isn't it? Declarer's going to finesse the Q. If you don't cover, the Q will win and along will come another club to dummy's J, giving declarer three club tricks. But if you cover, the third club trick will go to whoever holds the 10 – and that person might be your partner. So play low and they're guaranteed THREE club tricks – play high and they might only have TWO. Once you've seen the point, it's a no-brainer.

How does it play out?

Take a look at the whole deal. As it happens, declarer's only losers are in trumps – either 2 or 3, depending on how she plays them. Let's look back on your decisions:

Decision 1: If you play your Q, they're getting a top. Partner beats dummy's K with her A, but declarer can now finesse, catching partner's 10 with her J 9 – for 12 tricks.

Decision 2: On this deal, it doesn't matter whether you cover with your ♣K or not, as declarer has only two clubs. But note that your partner DOES have the ♣10, so in other circumstances (eg in a no trump contract) playing low will cost you a trick.

The 'Cover or not?' decision comes up all the time and is well worth taking on board: if by covering you can promote a card that your partner might have, go ahead and cover. If not, play low.

From declarer's point of view ...

... there are tricks galore: 2 spades, 2 clubs, 5 diamonds and however many it is in trumps. Barring a 5-0 trump split, there's no way 4 can go off. The best way to clear trumps isn't that obvious, but clear them you must and as soon as possible, so you can cash all those lovely side-suit winners. If you didn't make at least 10 tricks, I'm betting it's because you left clearing trumps too late and got ruffed.

Which brings to mind a pretty water-tight declarer-play mantra: unless you have a good reason to delay, clear trumps at the first opportunity.

In Box and Bath

In Box, 3 pairs reached 4 and one stopped in 3 (how come, with a combined 27 points?). Two made 10 tricks, but two only made 9 – see above. 

In Bath, most pairs were in 4 – though some preferred 3NT – and just one pair stopped in 3. But everyone made 10 or 11 tricks.

  HOTW 19 Jun 2019 | More suit preference

More suit preference

Here's a neat bit of defence. West ends up in 4 after your opening weak 2 and partner leads the K. You play an encouraging 10, expecting declarer to win with the A - but he doesn't. Partner's K wins the trick, then she continues with the A. What's going on, do you think? And what card do you play to the 2nd trick?

Well, you normally play the Ace first from AK, so when you reverse the order, as here, it has a special meaning: Partner, my AK is a doubleton. Ah - partner's after a heart ruff. It doesn't take much arithmetic to work out that declarer's only got a doubleton too, but your partner knows that as well (she knows you started with 6 hearts) and she's probably got her reasons ...

So on to question 2. What card do you play to trick 2? Easy. In this situation, your choice of card is a suit preference signal. Partner wants a ruff and is hoping you have one of the black aces, but has no way of telling which ... so play the 2, your lowest heart: lead the lower of the other two suits (spades and clubs), please, partner.

Partner duly leads a club, as instructed, you win with your A and lead a third heart, which declarer ruffs high with his Q and partner overruffs with the K for one off. Magic.

Take a look at the whole deal ...

If partner continues with a spade instead of a club, declarer makes his contract. He wins in hand and finesses his Q, catching partner's K, and makes 10 tricks. The only way the K is worth a dime is as a heart ruff, and that's exactly what you've engineered by your excellent communication: partner signals that she wants a ruff (leading her K before the A), you signal (with your 2) that you have an entry in clubs and the subsequent ruff takes the contract off.

So what's wrong with 4, then? Well, nothing. With an uncontested auction, it's an easy contract to find, but after South's weak 2 opening, it's much harder. Note that 4 also goes off, in exactly the same way: the only way EW can avoid a heart ruff with the J is by ruffing with West's A or K, but that'll give North a trick with her J anyway! 

In Box and Bath

In Box, two NS pairs went one off in 3, one EW pair went one off in 4 (good defence!) and one EW pair made 11 tricks in 4 - ouch! 

In Bath, EW mostly made just 9 tricks in diamonds, but two pairs were allowed to make 4♠. The most extraordinary result was 5 doubled by NS making 12 tricks for +750 - don't ask me how!

  HOTW 12 Jun 2019 | A singular preference

A singular preference

'If you've got an AK, you haven't got an opening lead problem,' the saying goes. Why? Well, first of all, leading the Ace doesn't risk giving a trick away (because you've got the King too). And second, you get a chance to see dummy – and the card partner chooses to play – before deciding what to do next.

Here your partner, who overcalled 2, is clearly leading from AK ... What card do you play after dummy's singleton 2, and why?

Normally, you'd encourage partner with the 8, telling her you've got the Q (and in no trumps you'd be all set to clean up!) but here that would be pointless. Dummy's singleton rules out a continuation in clubs because it's going to get ruffed. Instead, you have a golden opportunity to give a suit preference signal.

Apart from clubs and trumps, there are two other suits out there, and partner's going to switch to one of them at trick 2. Which would you prefer? On this hand, hearts is the clear winner: dummy has three hearts, and if declarer has three as well, you're taking the contract off with two heart tricks and a ruff. And even if not, there are two tricks there for the taking. How to ask partner for a heart, then?

Simple. If you follow with a LOW card you're asking for the LOWER RANKING of the two suits. Following with a HIGH card asks partner for the HIGHER RANKING suit. So here playing the 3 is asking for a diamond, whereas the 8 requests a heart. But just in case partner might misread the 8, you can make your preference absolutely crystal clear by going up with the Q, which simply screams 'Gimme a heart, partner!'

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole hand. As it happens, declarer has only 2 hearts, so is making his contract. But look what happens if partner switches to a diamond instead of a heart: declarer clears trumps in two rounds, ruffs out the diamonds and discards his two losing hearts on dummy's last two diamonds, taking 12 tricks instead of 10. A heart switch at trick 2 is the only way of keeping declarer to 10 tricks.

Should EW be sacrificing?

Yes, they should, really. Non-vulnerable, with a singleton spade, the AK and decent club support, West can wreak havoc by raising partner to 5. Doubled, this goes just 1 off for -100 (and will actually make if NS fail to cash their three top tricks immediately). And if NS venture on to 5 ... well, it goes one off for a terrific EW top – provided, that is, that EW know their suit preference signals.

In Box and Bath

In Box, everyone was in 4, but only one NS pair was kept to 10 tricks.

In Bath, three NS pairs were in 4♠ – but 3 were forced up to 5♠, two of them going off (in all, 4 out of 6 were kept to 10 tricks). Additionally, two EW pairs played in 5♣ and 5, both undoubled – and both making!

  HOTW 17 Apr 2019 | Cracker or damp squib?

Cracker or damp squib?

Q   What do you feel about the Ace doubleton (eg A8)? Would you lead it against a suit contract?

A   Well if partner happens to hold the King, it can be a contract-beater. You lead your Ace, partner encourages with a high card, you lead your 8 to partner's King ... and she gives you a ruff. Magic. The trouble is, the opposition are more likely to hold the King than your partner they're the ones who won the auction, after all; in which case, all you've achieved by leading your Ace is to set them up a winner.

So unless you have reason to think it might pay off (eg partner has bid the suit) or every other possible lead looks ghastly, it's probably better to look for an alternative. On this particular hand, there are two further reasons why leading your ♣A would be a bad idea. The first is that South (not your partner!) has overcalled in clubs, and so promises a decent suit. And the second reason ...?

... is that you have a very attractive alternative. You hold the AK, of which the Ace is simply begging to be led. Why? Because unlike in clubs, leading your doesn't give away a trick to the opposition – as you hold the K yourself. Not only that, it leaves you free to take a look at dummy while still retaining the lead and decide in the light of what you see what to do next.

Let's do just that (try to look only at dummy for the moment). Aren't you glad you didn't lead your A? You're certainly not going to do that now, are you? So what should you do? Clubs are out. Sadly, you're not going to make your K as dummy has a singleton heart. And spades aren't going to help much either – the auction tells you that North is long and strong in trumps. Your only hope is that you can get something from diamonds. So cross your fingers and lead your 4th highest diamond. Declarer wins with the A, clears trumps and leads a small club towards dummy's KQ ... and now you can rise with your A and cash your K, keeping declarer to 10 tricks.

And if your opening lead was the A? Then your A will be your only other trick: declarer will throw her losing diamond on the 3rd club trick and can ruff a heart in dummy for her 11th trick. *

To sum up   The AK is a powerful combination that allows you to take a peek at dummy without losing the lead and without giving declarer a free trick. the Ax doubleton can be a spectacular winner on a good day, but more often than not will turn out to be a damp squib.

In Box and Bath

In Box, everyone was in 4: the four EW pairs that led the A made 3 tricks; the two that led the A made just 2.

In Bath, the A was led in every case, nearly always keeping declarer to just 10 tricks. Say no more. 

* Should East want to make a complete pig's ear of the defence, she should start with the ♣A and continue either with another club or a trump. Declarer will now clear trumps in 2 rounds and bang out 5 club winners, discarding all her red card losers and ending up with 12 tricks. No one at Box or Bath did this!

  HOTW 03 Apr 2019 | 'What discards do you play?'

'What discards do you play?'

A common question from declarer. But what does it mean?

Well, defenders need to take all the chances they can get to communicate with their partners, and one such chance is their first discard, ie the first time they can't follow suit. As you can discard any card you like, your choice can be used to tell partner which of the other suits you'd like led. For this to work, of course, you need an agreed system so that you can understand each other - hence the question in the title. Here are the two most popular systems:

  • HELD (= High Encouraging, Low Discouraging). The simplest and probably the best. A high card indicates that you want that suit led, whereas a low card indicates that you don't. (You can turn this upside down if you want, in which case it's called Reverse Attitude.)
  • McKinney. Probably the most fun. You discard a card in the suit you DON'T want led. A low card says that you want the lower ranking of the other two suits, whereas a high card says that you want the higher ranking of the other two suits.

What about today's hand, then?

As you can see, South opened 1NT, which became the final contract. You're sitting East, and you're probably expecting to have to find a discard on the 2nd round of diamonds. Wrong. Your partner leads the A, followed by the K, then the Q and then (you've guessed it) the J ... and finally the 3 - on which you must make your first discard. Well, you've got 5 tricks under your belt, but declarer's probably got a bunch of tricks of her own ready to cash, so you'd like your partner to continue with a spade if possible. Dummy doesn't offer him any clues: you're just as likely to have the K or the A as the A, so you need to use your discard on trick 5 to guide him towards spades.

How do you do it (a) using HELD? (b) using McKinney? Jot down an answer before reading on.

  • HELD Telling partner what you don't want doesn't help much, as that still leaves two choices, so it's best to go for a high card in spades. Play the ♠8 or, to make it absolutely clear, the ♠10. If he still doesn't lead a spade, it's time to look for a new partner.
  • McKinney You can choose either diamonds or hearts, but either way it should be a HIGH card, to indicate the higher-ranking suit. The 9's pretty high, so that should do; otherwise, the 10 makes your meaning crystal clear.

So what happens? Your ever-observant partner, grateful that he doesn't have to guess, leads the ♠2 (the low card indicating an honour) to your ♠A and you're delighted to find, when you return a spade, that the promised honour is the ♠K. That's the first 7 tricks and you've got declarer one off - at a canter.

A note on the auction

North would probably like to show his clubs, but 2 over 1NT is usually conventional, so he passes, confident at least of taking the first 5 tricks. With a promising 10-count, North is also content to pass 1NT, her singleton club notwithstanding - defenders usually lead majors against NT - and 8 tricks in NT (120) outscore even 9 tricks in diamonds (110). 

In Box and Bath

In Box, two Souths went one off in 1NT, while one made 2 +1 (after West's 2 intervention) for a top. 

In Bath, surprisingly, only 3 pairs were in 1NT (one making - no discard system there, then!). The best NS scores were in diamonds (most making 10 tricks) while the best EW scores were 3♣ and (of all things) 3♠, both making.

  HOTW 20 Mar 2019 | Double take

Double take

If you hadn't come across it before, you might well do a double take of your partner's X in this otherwise entirely NS auction. I mean, is it for take-out? For penalties, maybe? Surely neither: NS, after all, seem to have game-going points, so your partner can't have more than 9 or 10 points. So what's going on?

Here's a clue: when you double for takeout, you're doubling a natural bid (eg they open 1 and you double); similarly, when you double for penalties, you're doubling a natural bid (eg they end up in 4 and you're sitting behind declarer with AQ10x).

But here, your partner is doubling a 2 response to an opening 1NT. This isn't a natural club bid, of course: it's Stayman. It's an artificial (or conventional) bid and has nothing to do with clubs at all. Which gives defenders a very useful little tool:

Doubling an artificial bid shows that suit.

So the meaning's simple: your partner has a club suit. Normally it'll have at least 5 cards and it'll have some good high cards. Why do it? Usually, it's to suggest an opening lead: lead a club, partner. Alternatively, it might indicate a possible suit in which to sacrifice. Either way, it's a cost-free way of giving your partner useful information. It's risk-free, too – they're hardly going to want to play in 2X, are they?

Fine, but that's not going to happen very often, is it? Well, yes it is, actually. For example:

  • As well as 2 Stayman, 2 or 2 in response to 1NT are also artificial bids – they're transfer bids. A double would show that suit.
  • The responses to Ogust (2NT in response to a weak 2 opener) are all artificial and therefore vulnerable to this kind of double
  • The responses to RKC Blackwood are similarly artificial.

A useful tool for your defensive arsenal, then: if they make an artificial bid and you have a decent holding in that suit, double.

So what happens here?

Well, you might have been intending to lead your ♣J anyway (although with only 4 points I'd be tempted to try to find a major suit in partner's hand – leading the ♠6, maybe). But partner's X seals it. You lead your ♣J, partner cashes his ♣AK, dropping declarer's ♣Q (as you can see if you look at the whole deal), leads you back a small club ... and the defence take the first 5 tricks for one off.

(As you'll see below, some declarers made their contract in spite of getting a club lead. How come? West knows declarer has the Q - if partner had it, she would have led it instead of the J! - so the only chance of dropping it is to cash the K at trick 2. Leading back a low club is fatal as the Q becomes declarer's 9th trick!)

In Box and Bath

In Box, two were in 3NT, one making and one going off – both on a club lead. A third pair were in 4 – and made it!

In Bath, everyone was in 3NT: six went one off and 3 made – club leads notwithstanding.

  HOTW 20 Feb 2019 | 'Aces are for killing kings'

'Aces are for killing kings'

Choosing the best opening lead is a chancy business, but there's plenty of judgment involved, too. You won't always be finding the 'killer lead' that brings declarer to her knees, but at the same time you want to avoid leads that gift her overtricks.

Some leads are 'attractive': leading a singleton (or indeed a doubleton) against a suit contract will sometimes gain you a ruff. Leading 'top of an honour sequence' (eg KQJ) will set up tricks for the defence – and just as importantly, not give anything away.

Other leads are 'unattractive': they may well help declarer instead of the defence. Against a suit contract, leading from 'empty' honour holdings (e.g. Kxx, Axx) will often do more harm than good (unless partner has bid the suit, of course). Take the A on this hand. Ask yourself who's more likely to have the K – your partner or the opposition? Well, if they've freely bid to game, they are, aren't they? So leading your Ace is probably simply setting up a trick for declarer – possibly one she otherwise would not have made. (Leading a small club would be even worse, of course: if declarer or dummy has the singleton K, you'll end up with a very eggy face!)

The other two side-suits don't look that attractive either, do they? As it's pretty obvious that declarer has a massive trump suit (at least 7 cards long), I think I'd probably opt for a trump lead. No harm done, and let declarer open up the side suits herself.

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. She's always got 11 tricks, but if you lead the A, she has 12. She makes 8 heart tricks, two spades ... and, thanks to your lead, the K and Q.

On a trump lead (and any other lead than a club), however, she has 10 tricks off the top and has to broach the clubs herself. Now you can use your A to knock out declarer's Q, and you'll be the one to make the 2nd club trick. As Victor Mollo was fond of saying, Aces are for killing Kings.

You need to keep your nerve, of course. When declarer, having cleared trumps, leads a small club towards dummy's K, you have to stifle your fear that it might be a singleton and play low. Then you can slaughter the Q on the next trick.

In Box and Bath

We didn't record the leads in Box today (as the Bridgetabs weren't working) but one pair made just 10 tricks (?), one made 11 ... and three made 12.

In Bath, 2 Wests led the ♣A (12 tricks), 4 led the ♠4 and 3 led a trump. Only 2 declarers were kept to 11 tricks, however – I suspect because when she led that little club from hand, South quite reasonably didn't want to risk it being a singleton!

  HOTW 12 Dec 2018 | All on a lead

All on a lead

Here's a fun hand. South opens 1 and jumps to 4 over partner's 1 response. North rebids her spades, everyone passes and it's your lead against 4.

Before you choose your lead, what do you make of the auction? 

  • The 4 is a splinter: it agrees spades as trumps, shows a singleton or a void in clubs and indicates an interest in a slam. (Useful bids, splinters – we had a HOTW on the subject in September last year and another in September this year: both are in the Using conventions section of the Improvers' pages).
  • North's response is weak, with no interest in a slam. More specifically, it denies a first round control (Ace or void) in either diamonds or hearts.

So you can expect dummy to be pretty strong, with at least 5 diamonds and 4 spades and either a singleton or void in clubs. And you can expect declarer to be pretty weak.

And now to choose a lead. What'll it be?

A lead away from an unsupported honour isn't generally attractive against a suit contract, so that's hearts and clubs out. Maybe a diamond through dummy's strength (though that might help to set up dummy's suit for later discards)? Or a trump, maybe (though that might do declarer's finessing for her)?

As it turns out, as you'll see if you look at the whole deal, the only lead that stops North from making all 13 tricks is a heart. Anything else, she wins, clears trumps, ruffs a couple of clubs in dummy and throws all her other losers away on dummy's long diamond suit.

Could we have done better? Well, maybe, with hindsight. Clubs aren't likely to lead to anything because of the singleton/void in dummy, and we've already noted possible disadvantages to diamonds and trumps. So that leaves hearts, the only unmentioned suit. And there's one other indication that a heart might be a good lead: North's 4 bid denies a heart control – so maybe it's the one suit where partner has something: the A would be great, but the Q would do.

Ah well. At least we know the answer to the post-mortem question: Hey, 13 tricks, partner – why didn't you bid on to a slam? Um ... because we're missing the AK. Good reason!


In Box & Bath

In Box, everyone was in 4, and everyone made 12 or 13 tricks. No heart lead there, then.

In Bath, all 13 tables were in 4♠, with just 2 tables leading a heart – possibly because of a very frisky vulnerable 1 overcall from West, with just 7 points. Almost everyone else made 13 tricks. 

  HOTW 10 Oct 2018 | At the double

At the double

You're West, and it's your lead against South's 4. Looking at the auction (but not at dummy, which hasn't gone down yet!), it's pretty obvious what you should lead, isn't it?

The clue's in partner's double. We all know about takeout doubles, but this is different. North's 2 bid is a transfer to spades - it isn't a real heart bid. And doubling an artificial bid means 'I have that suit, partner'. It's useful in two ways: it indicates a suit you could 'sacrifice' in, but more usually it's just a lead-directing bid: you lead it for the same reason as you would lead a suit partner had actually bid.

So you lead your 8 (MUD - middle of three rubbish cards) and NOW you're entitled to look at North's dummy.

Declarer plays low from dummy and partner wins the trick with the Q (South must have the 10, then - think about it!) She then leads back the 3. What happens next?

What's going on? Partner clearly has the A but instead of leading it, she's switched to a club - and in doing so is setting up dummy's K. Doesn't make a lot of sense ... unless her 3 is a singleton. After all, you've got a fistful of clubs yourself ...

So go for it. lead back a club ... and partner ruffs. She then cashes her A and they're one off. Good defence ...

Where did they go wrong?

... but rather frisky bidding by NS. Have a look at the whole deal. The auction's fine up to the last bid: North transfers, then bids 2NT, showing 11-12 points and 5 spades. But South, with a minimum 12-count, should sign off in 3, not go on to game. 

Mind you, it takes that double by East plus some good defence by both defenders to take it off. If West leads anything but a club at trick 3, they make it: after trumps are cleared, the A is EW's only other trick.

In Box and Bath

In Box, one pair stopped in 2N (not the best place to be with a 9-card spade fit!), two were in 3 and two in 4. All made 10 tricks, which goes to show that overbidding does pay sometimes!

In Bath, 5 pairs were in 4♠ and just 2 in 3♠. Four EW pairs had their defending hats on, though, and kept their declarers to 9 tricks. The others made 10.

  HOTW 05 Sept 2018 | Race for trumps

Race for trumps

This hand is a nice illustration of the tension between declarer and the defence.

First, take a quick look at the auction. East's raise to 2♠ after North's takeout double is enough to deter South from showing her diamonds, but North's not letting them get away with that and doubles again. Now South has to bid 3, West reluctantly reaches for the 3♠ bid ... and that's it.

Declarer's view

Let's imagine North leads her A (partner's suit), dummy goes down ... and West has to make 9 tricks.

OK. You're West. Where are your tricks coming from?

"I can see 5 spade tricks and (with luck) 3 heart tricks. And the ninth ...? Well, I only have 2 diamonds in dummy and I'm about to follow suit with one of those. So when I get the lead, instead of clearing trumps I'm going to lead a second diamond. That's dummy out of diamonds. So when I next get the lead I shall ruff a diamond. Then I can clear trumps. And the diamond ruff is my 9th trick. Good, eh?"

Defender's view

Now put yourself in the North seat. You're looking at a dummy with 3 trumps and (now) just one diamond. You're not daft, and you can see the ruffing potential in the diamond suit.

"Oh dear (or words to that effect). She's going to ruff a diamond in dummy, isn't she? I'd better switch to a trump ... "

... but it's too late. West wins the trump trick and leads another diamond, as planned. Back comes another trump ... but West wins and still has a trump in dummy to ruff her losing diamond.

REWIND    Let's go back to North's opening lead. Hearts and clubs are unattractive leads, and actually diamonds aren't that attractive either - partner only bid them when forced, so there's a good chance declarer has the K anyway. So maybe the most attractive lead is the only suit left: trumps.

Supposing North leads a trump. How does it go? 

  • West wins, but now she has to lead diamonds TWICE to get her ruff. Let's try it anyway. She leads a diamond.
  • North wins and leads another trump.
  • West wins and leads her 2nd diamond. Not looking so good now, is it?
  • South wins and leads a 3rd round of trumps, denuding dummy of its last trump.

And now, even if the hearts go well (which they do) West can only make 8 tricks. She loses a heart, a club and THREE diamonds.


It's a typical suit-contract race. Declarer wants to create a void and ruff in the short trump hand before she runs out of trumps. The defence want to run her out of trumps before she can take the ruff. And on this hand, as it happens, an opening trump lead is the only way - a diamond lead just gives declarer a head start.

[The no trump version of this race, of course, is declarer wanting to knock out defender's high cards in her best suit before she has to give up her stops, while the defenders want the exact opposite: and the opening lead is often crucial in gaining a tempo or giving one to declarer.]

In Box and Bath

In Box, most pairs were allowed to stop in 2♠, and all made 9 tricks (one made 10!). Alarmingly, three Norths started with the ♣5, giving a quite unnecessary trick to West's singleton ♣K - it's a perfect example of why you don't 'lead away from an Ace' against a suit contract. One NS pair played in 3 and made it (for 110). So even going one off, 3♠ is a good result for EW, costing only 50 points.

In Bath, 8 pairs were in 2and 2 were in 3♠: 7 out of 10 Norths led a trump, which mostly kept declarer to just 8 tricks. No one led the 5! The other two were in 3 by NS, making 10 tricks.

  HOTW 20 Dec 2017 | Exchanging Xmas presents

Exchanging Xmas presents

Not very Christmassy of EW to cheat you out of whatever game you should be in, but that's what they've done. You double East's opening 3♠ (hoping that partner won't bid clubs) and West, bidding 'to the level of the fit' raises to 4♠ and it's simply too risky for you to start looking for a fit at the 5-level. Still, at least your partner's doubled them for penalties. Let's see how many we can get them off ...

First a couple of holiday defence revision questions:

  • On partner's lead you encourage or discourage. How's it done?
  • What do you lead (a) from a sequence of honours? (b) from a single honour? (c) from a rubbish doubleton? (d) from a rubbish tripleton?


  • Play a high card to encourage continuation of the suit and a low card to suggest a switch to another suit. (HELD = high encouraging low discouraging)
  • You lead (a) top of an honour sequence (b) the lowest card you have with a single honour (eg 2 from Q92) (c) high, then low (e.g. 7 then 3 from 73) (d) MUD – middle-up-down – e.g. 5 than 8 then 2 from 852

The reason for all this, of course, is to allow defenders to talk to each other and give each other early Christmas presents. And it works a treat on this hand. How does it go?

  • South starts with her A (probably promising the K too). That means she can have a quick look at dummy while she still has the lead – and she can also see whether her partner likes that suit or not.
  • Everyone follows, North playing the 2. What does this mean?
  • It means she isn't interested in diamonds and would like you to switch (she doubled 4♠, don't forget, so she's got something worth having). But switch to what?
  • Well, trumps are a waste of time and hearts don't look great – if you lead your A, dummy's K will be worth a trick. So presumably she'd like a club. You hold ♣54. Which club do you lead?
  • Yes. Lead the ♣5. Partner wins with her ♣K and continues with the ♣A, on which you throw the ♣4. And your high-low signal tells her that you don't have the ♣Q (which declarer therefore must have) so she leads a third club and you RUFF it with your ♠K.
  • Going well, isn't it? Time to cash your A for two down. Then you might as well try your K, but declarer ruffs that and takes all the rest of the tricks.

And that's about as good as it gets: you give partner the present of a club lead and she gives you back the present of a club ruff. Happy Christmas.

What happens if you don't notice partner's signal at trick 1 and continue with a second diamond? Declarer ruffs and leads a spade, catching your ♠K, and you can say goodbye to your club ruff. Now she's only going one off, for -100 instead of -300. Bah humbug!

​​In Box & Bath

As I said at the start, it's never going to be a great result for NS, because EW have stopped them getting to game by great pre-empting. 5 (worth +400) is the place to be, of course, losing just one heart and one spade.

In Box, just one pair reached 5 (well done) and somehow managed 12 tricks! The others were all in 4♠ (which should always be doubled!), but in all but one case (sorry, Helen and Ainsley) managed 9 tricks. Defenders please take note!

In Bath, people were all over the place: mostly in diamonds but by no means all in game. Just two pairs were in 4♠: neither was doubled and both were allowed to make 9 tricks. Too cheap a sacrifice!

See you in January.

  HOTW 12 Apr 2017 | It takes two to tango

It takes two to tango 

Less experienced players often worry too much about stops in unbid suits when wanting to bid no trumps. Most of the time, partner will have the suit covered. And even if she hasn't, the defenders have to find the right lead. And even if they do, they have to play the suit properly. So most of the time you'll make your contract – and sometimes even if they find the right lead. Go with the odds and bid your 3NT.

As it happens, on TWO hands out of today's 14, 3NT can be taken off by the right lead followed by the right defence. Here's the first.

Your partner leads the ♠8, dummy goes down, and you beat the singleton ♠Q with your Ace. What now?

Hmm. What's partner got? Not a lot, as you've got 9 points yourself. Could the ♠8 be 4th highest? No - the only spades higher than the 8 that you can't see are the 9 and the K. So it must be 'second highest from rubbish'. Still, it's looking good, especially if, as is likely, partner has 5 spades. Presumably declarer needs to develop the clubs to make her contract, so you're going to get in again. Meanwhile, you have to knock out declarer's ♠K. So you lead the ....?

If you led the ♠7, they've just made 3NT. Have a look at the whole deal. Sure, you can get in again with the ♣A and cash two spades ... but poor old partner's going to be stuck with a winning spade that she can never lead, and declarer is going to bang out lots of club winners with a smug smile on her face.

You have to lead not the ♠7 but the ♠J – and if declarer holds up, continue with the ♠10. Then, when you come in with your ♣A you'll still have the precious ♠7 in your hand to lead to partner's ♠9 – and then she can lead her fifth spade for your vital 5th trick. It's call UNBLOCKING: getting rid of your high cards early so you don't block the suit.

So there you have it. Declarer has a weakness, but the defence can only beat the contract (a) if they find the right lead (West might easily have preferred a diamond lead) and (b) East finds the right lead at trick 2.

But even if the contract goes off, it's still the right contract to be in. With 28 points between them NS should be in 3NT, because most of the time it'll make, with overtricks (thus making it a better contract than 5♣, which also makes).

In Box & Bath

There's a pronounced difference. In Box, 3 out of 4 pairs in 3NT made 9 tricks, suggesting that spades were indeed led, but that East led back the ♠7, blocking the suit. (We'll gloss over the two pairs that subsided in a club part-score: simply not possible with a combined 28 point-count!)

In Bath, 11 out of 12 pairs were in 3NT (suggesting strongly that it's the best place to be), but ONLY THREE pairs made their contract. A spade was led in every case, so 8 out of 11 Easts knew to unblock by offloading their ♠J10 and keeping the ♠7 as an entry to partner's hand. Worth taking on board.

Board 11

The same kind of thinking applies here. East is in a (rather dodgy) 3NT, and unfortunately for her, South has no difficulty finding the right opening lead: the A or K. But it can still go wrong. Can you see how?

If North simply plays low for 3 rounds, he will perforce take the fourth heart trick with his Q ... and South will be stuck with a fifth heart winner she can never cash. Note that as soon as EW get the lead they have 9 tricks off the top: 6 diamonds, 2 clubs and a spade.

At trick 1, North should encourage with the 9 (telling partner he has the Q) and then, whatever happens next, must make sure that he plays his Queen before the 4th trick, so he still has a low heart to lead back to his partner.

Simple, but also vital: unblock and you've taken 3NT off; fail to unblock and they make it.

  HOTW 08 Feb 2017 | No justice

No justice

What would you lead against 4 after this uninformative auction?

I think most players would answer 'Anything except for a club.' The reason? You're missing the ♣K. And declarer is more likely to hold that card than your partner. If so, leading your ♣A will simply present declarer with an extra trick – while a club lead from your partner through declarer, by contrast, will net you a second club trick.

So some will lead the 3 (the start of middle-up-down or MUD, showing three rubbish diamonds), others will prefer the ♠6 (2nd highest of 4 rubbish cards, intending to play the ♠2 on the next round) and the rest will lead a trump. Personally I'd go for the spade. The diamond's ambiguous (partner might think the 3 is your lowest and that you therefore have a diamond honour), and leading a heart might finesse your partner. So the spade seems the least dangerous.

But on this hand, as you'll see if you click on Show all hands, all this intellectualising is in vain. A club is the only lead that prevents declarer from making 12, or even 13, tricks: your partner has the ♣K after all and you have to take your ♣AK right at the start before declarer gets the lead. If not, here's what happens:

You lead 6♠: declarer gratefully accepts the extra spade trick, goes out to dummy with a spade ruff, finesses to catch your partner's trump Queen, ruffs another spade, clears trumps and bangs out 5 diamond tricks (bye bye club losers). 13 tricks.

You lead 3: not quite so easy, but still: declarer wins in hand. Plays ♠A, ruffs a spade, takes the trump finesse, ruffs another spade, clears trumps, etc. This time for just 12 tricks. (Yes, she could have finessed the spade too, but that's dangerous: if it loses, there might be a diamond ruff and then she's in trouble).

You lead a trump: that's the trump finesse taken for you. Much the same as above: combine spade-ruffing with trump-clearing and again declarer has 12 tricks.

No justice?

At times like this, when there seems to be no justice, remind yourself that bridge is a game of probabilities. In bidding and play, you follow the line that has the best chance of success. So with 25+ points and balanced hands, more often than not you'll be able to make 3NT, for example. But sometimes you won't. Never mind. Console yourself with the thought that most of the time your decision will turn out well. Just as most of the time, leading your ♣A against 4 hearts will turn out badly.

In Box & Bath

In Bath, no North led a club against 4 (though one South did, when East was declarer). Most declarers subsequently made 13 tricks. Lucky them.

In Box, two Norths made the truly dreadful * lead of the ♣4, and (because there's no justice on this hand) got away with it.

Why's the ♣4 so dreadful? Well, against 3NT it's a great lead, because you're likely to make some club tricks later when partner leads a club back. But against a suit contract it's vile: first of all (as discussed above) because it's likely to give away a trick. But that's not all: if declarer (or dummy) happens to have the singleton ♣K, you'll never make a club trick at all. If you insist on leading a club from AQx against a suit contract you must therefore lead the Ace!

  HOTW 20 Jul 2016 | High encourages ...

High encourages ...

West's 4 bid (showing a long, probably 7-card heart suit) brings the auction to an abrupt halt and your partner leads the ♣A. How do you read the situation? And what card will you play to the first trick?

Well, North won't be leading his Ace from ♣AQ, will he, so we can safely assume that he holds ♣AK. That's two tricks, then, and your ♠A will provide a third. Where's the 4th trick coming from to get the contract off? Your K? Possibly, but North and West have only 3 diamonds between them, so maybe not very likely. But wait a minute – if North has only 5 clubs (he must have at least 5 for his overcall), then declarer has 3 clubs – and that means you can get a club ruff at trick 3. How to tell partner the good news?

It's all to do with signalling. When partner leads a new suit, it's normal to play HIGH if you like the lead (and want him to continue the suit) and LOW if you don't (and want him to switch). Here you want to encourage your partner to continue clubs, so you should play your higher club – the ♣7. Then when he continues with the ♣K, you'll play your ♣6, and being an observant player he'll realise you started with a doubleton and lead a third club for you to ruff. Marvellous.

But wait a moment. The ♣6 and ♣7 are right next to each other. How will partner know that you're playing 'high' rather than 'low'? Well, you can't be sure, but watch what happens after you play your ♣7. Declarer follows with the ♣9. Now your partner, who happens to hold ♣AK842, will wonder why no-one played the ♣6. Either declarer is deliberately playing a higher card to confuse him or else you, South, must hold the ♣6 yourself. North must trust his partner and continue with the ♣K.

And that's your four tricks: two clubs, a club ruff and a spade. Nothing declarer can do about it. A couple of final points to notice:

  • If you look at the whole deal, you'll see that you're never going to make your K, because declarer has a diamond void.
  • You have to get your club ruff in immediately, at trick three. Once you let declarer get the lead, she's going to clear trumps straight away and your goose will be cooked: you won't be ruffing anything.
  • If you play your ♣6 at trick one, partner will read that as a discouraging signal and may switch to another suit. So make it easy for him – play your ♣7.

In Box and Bath

In Box, everyone was in hearts, and two declarers were allowed to make 10 tricks. One other made 9 and the fourth made just 8.

In Bath, everyone was also in hearts (though only 6 of the 11 tables were in game). Most of them are watching their signals, as 9 declarers were restricted to just 9 tricks.

  HOTW 30 Mar 2016 | Keep your eyes open

Keep your eyes open

As a defender, which card do you lead from a rubbish doubleton – 74, say, or 93? The higher card, right? Then when partner sees you play a lower card the next time the suit is played, she knows how many you started with. Simple. The corollary of that, of course, is that in order to use that information she has to take the trouble to notice what you play. And vice versa. Defence is, after all, all about communication – no communication, no defence!

Take a look at this situation. You're sitting South, and EW have made their way to 4♠. It's a simple enough auction – the 3 bid by East is a trial bid, asking whether West can help in hearts, which indeed she can: a singleton is a very useful card in a suit contract, so West raises partner to game. Not that you could see the singleton before you chose a heart as your opening lead.

So. Down goes dummy. Your partner, North, wins trick one with the A, and leads back the 9. West plays the 6 and you take the trick with your Ace. What now?

Depends if you're paying attention or not. You started off with 5 diamonds and so did dummy, and everyone's just followed to a diamond trick. So, doing some very elementary counting, you can work out that there's just ONE more diamond out there. The 10. If declarer has it, you can give your partner a ruff. But if your partner has it, it's no go. 

Which is it? Obvious, innit? If North had started with 10 9, she would have led the 10, not the 9. But she didn't. She led the 9. Can't have the 10, then, can she? You can now give your partner a ruff and take the contract one off (having wisely cashed your ♣A before giving the ruff, just to be sure).

Before we go, let's switch attention to declarer. A canny East will drop her 10 (instead of the 6) on North's 9 lead. Why? Because it may mess up your calculations. Now it's the 6 that's missing, and you may well conclude that North is leading high from 9 6 – a dastardly trick, but it costs declarer nothing to try. Actually, it shouldn't fool you, because you will reason as follows:

Hmm. My partner's led me back a diamond. Doesn't seem much profit in that with the KQ in dummy, does there? Much better to lead me a club – after all, as far as partner's concerned I could have something like ♣AQ, or even better. But she's chosen a diamond. Why? There's only one possible answer: it's a singleton, and declarer is falsecarding to pull the wool over my eyes. Huh! Take that!

It all boils down to trusting your partner rather than your opponents. But before you trust her, you have to notice what card she plays!

In Box and Bath

Nearly everyone in Box was in 4♠, and only one made it. Some even went 2 off, which baffles me a bit, and one unfortunate North went too high in hearts (vulnerable!) and went 2 off doubled for a very nasty -500. 

In Bath, several pairs stopped in 2♠, which is a little tame. Of the three pairs in 4♠, only one made the contract. But the others ended up in NT, all making 9 tricks – 3NT is an inferior contract, but makes a profit here because of that singleton diamond!

  HOTW 17 Dec 2014 | Watch the pips

Watch the pips

Sitting East, you supported your partner's 2 overcall, but NS have nonetheless found their way to 3NT. Very sensibly you lead the 3 (your 4th highest heart) – after all, you and your partner hold at least 9 hearts, so it seems a good bet – and you're greeted with a dummy which is VOID in hearts. 

So what occurs to you about (a) your partner's and (b) declarer's hands?

What should jump out at you is that they must have decent length in their suits. Take partner's hearts. North surely has either Q10x or A for his 3NT bid, so for West to overcall vulnerable with so many honours missing, she must surely have 6 hearts, not 5. She hasn't got many points, either, because North has calmly bid twice at the 3 level and is clearly fairly strong. North's diamonds must be significant, too, as she would otherwise have bid NT straight away.

Back to trick 1. Partner plays the Q and declarer DUCKS with the 5. Partner returns the 6 (her original 4th highest), declarer plays the 9 and you win the trick with your J.

It seems pretty clear. Declarer started with A95 (so now only has the A), and partner started with  Q10xxxx.

What now? Your next card will decide whether declarer makes the contract or goes off ...

It's tempting to lead a small heart, isn't it? That will force out declarer's A and your K will be good for a trick later. But if you do that, declarer's home and dry. Your partner will be sitting there with TWO heart winners that she can't use because she can't get the lead. What will happen is that you will eventually make a trick with your Q (declarer needs to establish diamonds to make her contract), and you will then cash your K ... and that will be that. You will have just 4 tricks and will have to sit and watch while North bangs out hundreds of diamond tricks.

Rewind to trick 3. Instead of leading a small heart, lead your K. Now when you're in with the Q, you lead your 8, which your partner overtakes with the 10 ... and she can now joyfully cash TWO further heart tricks to get declarer 2 down. By playing your K at trick three, you have unblocked, allowing you to pass the lead to your partner at precisely the right moment.

Have a peek at the whole deal. You can see that once declarer has disposed of the Q, she can count nine tricks: A, ♣A, ♠AK and 5 diamond tricks, plus one more if she's prepared to risk the club finesse. So you have to be ready to take your tricks before declarer can set up the diamonds. Hence the need to get rid of the troublesome K, which will otherwise block your progress.

What happened in Bath?

I was lucky on this hand, because I was in 3NT and for some inexplicable reason they switched from hearts at trick 3 to a spade, allowing me to make a comfortable 10 tricks. (I was able to set up my diamonds while I still had the other three suits safely guarded, so it was a doddle.)

The bidding lesson of the hand is for NS, though. When South comes to bid again, having seen a strong diamond bid from partner and extensive heart competition from EW, she could do worse than consider trying for a slam in diamonds. She has Axx and can RUFF hearts and there must be a chance of setting up spades or clubs as a side suit. 4 might be better than simply rebidding spades.

Anyway, 12 tricks are to be had in diamonds, but only one pair bid and made the slam. Most of the other 10 pairs were in 3NT and, sadly for the defence, only three of those were beaten. And all they had to do was lead hearts and watch the pips ...

  HOTW 10 Dec 2014 | Killing defence

Killing defence

You're North. Forget the auction for a moment,except to note that you're defending against 5♣ by West. A few cards into the play (so actually you haven't still got all those cards), West leads the ♠J. 

Do you play your ♠K or not?

This kind of decision comes up time and again, so it's worth knowing the answer. How to decide?

All you have to do is ask yourself this: how many spade tricks is declarer going to make (a) if I don't play the ♠K? (b) if I do play the ♠K? The answers are:

(a) Three. She'll play low from dummy and her ♠J will win. Then she'll lead another and play her ♠Q, again winning the trick. And finally she'll make a trick with her ♠A. 

(b) Maybe two, maybe three. It depends who has the ♠10! Declarer will have to beat your ♠K with her ♠A - one trick. Then she'll make her ♠Q - that's 2. And if she has the ♠10, she'll get a third. But if it's your partner who holds the 10, two is all they get.

So the answer's clear: play the K. Half the time it'll gain you a trick.

Click on 'Show all hands', and you'll see that partner does indeed hold the ♠10: by playing the ♠K, North has prevented declarer from getting a valuable 3rd spade trick (and probably discarding a loser from her hand). 

♠  ♣  ♠  ♣  ♠  ♣  ♠ 

Now let's rewind a bit to North's opening lead. It ain't rocket science to see that the singleton Q in her partner's bid suit would be an excellent lead. But what happens next? What are your thoughts sitting South? Something like this, perhaps:

'Partner's Q could be top of a doubleton, in which case we can come to 2 heart tricks. But what if it's a singleton? Then we can take 3 heart tricks off the top and they're 1 off by trick 3! In case it is a singleton, I'd better take the trick myself ...'

Either way, South is safe to overtake partner's Q with her A and then bang out her K followed by the J. And as luck would have it, the Q was a singleton and the contract's 1 off. 

Later on, when poor old West comes to take her spade finesse, up goes North with her ♠K and the contract might now end up going off not one but two. Marvellous ...

... except that on the day, South didn't overtake the Q - so North, having no hearts left, had to switch to something much less attractive. And North didn't later cover the ♠J with her ♠K. So instead of going off, declarer makes an overtrick. 

But that's what Wednesdays are all about: two valuable lessons for defenders from just one hand. When it's happened to you and cost you a bottom, it kinda tends to stick in your mind!

  HOTW 19 Nov 2014 | Unblock!


Weird auction here that wouldn't have happened if I'd been North (because I would have opened 1♠ using the Rule of 20), but there we are. Your partner has led the K again East's 1NT. What are your thoughts?

Well, first of all you notice that she didn't lead a spade – the suit you bid. Either she hasn't got one (which is entirely possible, given East's 1NT bid over your 1 overcall) or she thinks diamonds are a better bet.

Second you notice that she led the diamond King. What does this mean? 

We noted in a recent Featured hand (29 Oct 2014, Defence page) that the lead of an honour against NT is top of a sequence of not two but THREE cards. So the lead of the K will be from KQJx(x) or from KQ10x(x). 

So what's partner got here? Well, you've got the 10 yourself, so she has to have KQJx or KQJxx – the latter, you hope! And now to the main question: what do you play?

Answer: you overtake with the Ace and lead back the 10. Now you've cleared away all your high cards in a suit, leaving the way clear for partner to bang out all her diamond tricks. (Suppose you play low or encourage with your 10. Partner then leads the Q and you play low again. She now leads the J ... and your A wins the trick - but you're BLOCKED. You now don't have a diamond to lead back to her!)

Two points to take home from this:

  • The lead of a King against NT is begging you to play your Ace if you have it and lead one back (this hand shows why!). And if not, you should throw any honour you happen to have under the King – again this clears the way for partner's winners.
  • When partner makes the opening lead and you win the trick, the card you lead back depends on how many you started with. If you started with 3, lead back the HIGHER of your remaining doubleton. But if you started with 4 or more, lead back your ORIGINAL 4TH HIGHEST. This not only helps to unblock (as above), but it also tells partner how many cards you have in the suit (and therefore how many declarer has too).

What next?

By the time your partner's run out of diamonds, you'll have 5 tricks to your credit. But what happens next? You'd love to tell partner about your club suit, wouldn't you?

This is easily done by your choice of DISCARDS on partner's 4th and/or 5th diamond tricks. We won't get bogged down on the various systems available, but (for example) playing a small spade will tell partner you're not interested in spades (in spite of having bid them) and she should be able to see for herself (by looking at dummy!) that hearts aren't going to get you far ... and that should be enough to make her lead a club.

As it happens, she has ♣Kx, and she should lead the ♣K. When that wins, she leads another and you make both your ♣A and ♣J – giving you 8 tricks for 2 off. Not bad with a mere 20 points between you. smiley

  HOTW 29 Oct 2014 | Which spade?

Which spade?

The adage has it that when leading your best suit against NT, you should lead 'top of a sequence' (if you have one) or (if not) the 4th highest. A 'sequence', in the context of NT, needs to have three elements, not two: so you'd lead the K from KQJx(x) and the Q from QJ10x(x) or AQJ(x)x, this last being a 'broken sequence' – see below. 

But why? This hand provides a good example. Sitting West, you're hoping to set up some spade tricks (at least 4). So what do you lead? The ♠7 (4th highest)? Or the ♠A ('Just to have a peek at dummy')?

If you start with your ♠A, you can say goodbye to all those nice spade tricks. Why's that? Click on Show all hands and have a look. You've taken the first trick ... and now you lead another spade to knock out declarer's spade stop. And partner, who started with two spades, doesn't have any spades left. How can you make your spades now? You don't have any entries (you're unlikely to win a trick with the singleton Q) and when partner comes in with his ♣A (or possibly with his Q) later in the hand, he can't lead you a spade because he doesn't have one. Oops!

Rewind. This time, lead the ♠7. Declarer has to win the trick (if she doesn't she never makes a spade trick at all). And now you just wait for partner to win a trick. And when he does, he leads you back his last spade and you make your 4 spade tricks.

That's not to say that it's always wrong to lead the ♠A. If you're the one with the outside entries (i.e. if you, not your partner, have the ♣A) then no harm done. But you're probably still best to lead the ♠7, just in case partner has something like ♠Q3.

What did they lead in Bath?

Three led the ♠7 and two the ♠A. As it happens, it's not crucial on this particular hand, as the singleton Q and the finessable Q mean that declarer can come to 9 tricks without losing the lead again. But in the long run, the ♠7 will produce better results. (Several Wests led ♠A against 2, mind, but that's fine against a suit contract.)

Postscript What about AQJxx?

The received wisdom here is that you lead the top card of the unbroken bit of the sequence – in this case the Q. 

Why? Well, imagine that partner again has just two spades and that declarer has Kxx. If declarer takes his K, fine. Later, you'll have a good chance of clearing the spades. But if declarer holds up, don't lead another spade! Switch to another suit and hope partner can get the lead later: then she can lead her last spade through declarer's Kx to your ♠ AJxx. Should have taken his K while he could!

  HOTW 22 Oct 2014 | Own goal!

Own goal!

You're sitting South after a brief auction and it's your lead against East's 4♠ contract. Before you choose a lead, have a think about what you expect to see in dummy and what declarer's hand might look like. 

OK. What about dummy? Well, she has opening points with at least 5 hearts and 4 diamonds. That leaves a maximum of just 4 cards for the black suits. West hasn't promised any spade support either, but that doesn't mean she has none.

And declarer? Surely 7 spades, and up to opening points. He can't be very strong, because after partner opened the bidding he'd be exploring for a slam if he had a big hand. 

So what to lead? You could conceivably lead any suit, the choices being, in suit order: ♣Q, 10, A, ♠7. Have a think about each one and make a choice. Then read on ...

♣Q Top of a sequence. Quite an attractive lead, as it's the unbid suit. Declarer and/or dummy could be short, so maybe a good idea to grab any tricks before they can discard club losers?

A If you're going to lead a heart it has to be the Ace ('Don't lead away from an Ace against a suit contract'). But not an attractive lead – E or W (who have most of the points) are far more likely to hold the K than your partner.

10 Again, top of a sequence, albeit a less interesting one. A reasonably safe lead. It's dummy's second suit, so you'd be leading through strength.

♠7 There are two main reasons for leading a trump. One, if both sides have tried other suits and settled on spades, they might well have a good cross-ruffing hand – in which case the best defence is to shorten their trump holdings by leading a trump at every opportunity. Or two, if every other possible lead looks dangerous, as a handy last resort. Neither of these is true here: a cross-ruff looks unlikely and you have two other attractive opening leads.

So. You've chosen your lead. Have a look at the whole deal and see what happens.

In an ideal world, he's going one off, losing two clubs, a heart ... and a trump to North's ♠J. Unlucky that partner didn't have just one tiny little trump.

But what about your lead?

The ♣Q is champion: you take your two club tricks straight away, and later on will come to a heart trick and a trump trick. 

The 10 is fine, too. East can set up his diamonds (by playing the AK and ruffing a 3rd round ... but he sadly can't get back to dummy without letting you get the lead first – so you'll grab your two club tricks before he can discard losing clubs from his hand.

What about the A? Well, it's OK provided you switch immediately to a club at trick 2. What if you lead a 2nd heart at trick 2? East wins with his Q, goes out to dummy with a diamond and discards a losing club on the K! ('Oh no he doesn't', I hear you cry. 'North will trump the 3rd round of hearts!' Ah yes - but then you don't get your spade trick, do you? Think about it!)

And finally, the ♠7. The one utterly disastrous opening lead. Why? Because it finesses your partner, who will now not make her ♠J. Declarer has no trumps to lead ... so you've done it for him! Own goal!

And guess what my partner led when we played these hands in Bath for the Swan Trophy? Yep. The ♠7 it was. sad10 tricks bid and made by the opposition.


In Box and Bath

In Box half the pairs in spades went one off (well done, defence!) and half didn't.

But what did people lead in Bath? Well, no-one led a diamond or heart. Four led the Q, resulting in one off every time. Three others led a SMALL club, which is not so useful – when dummy plays low, how does North know that his 10 will win the trick? Poor old North has to rise with the A ... and instead of making 2 club tricks you only make 1. 

And three Souths led the fatal trump. Ah well, at least it wasn't just us.

  HOTW 00 00 2014 | High Encouraging Low Discouraging
High Encouraging Low Discouraging
Bidding in fourth place, and hoping to open 1NT, you're a bit miffed when East sneaks in before you with 1: you don't have a suitable overcall, so you have to pass and EW end up in 3NT.

What do you lead?

Your only 4-card suit is hearts, and that's been bid by declarer, as have clubs by West, so it's a choice between the two unbid suits: diamonds and spades.

Well, you know what they say about
A from AK being a good lead: it doesn't give anything away and gives you a chance to look at dummy before leading again. And in this case it really is a no-brainer, as you have the J as well, giving you a 'broken sequence' of honours.

There's another reason for leading the A, of course: it gives your partner the chance to signal. If she doesn't like spades, she'll play low (= discouraging) and you can switch to a diamond at trick 2. If she likes them, she'll play high (= encouraging) and you will continue with the suit.

Not that your partner will have very much anyway: the opposition are in game and you have 14 points: you'll be lucky if she has any points at all! Still, defence is all about communication, so here goes ...

Trick 1

You lead the A.

Down goes dummy (click on Show All Hands), which has a spade holding of just
93. That's good – better than Qxx, anyway!

But the crucial card is the one your partner plays to trick 1. You don't know it yet, but she holds Q8742 (yes, she has two points!), and she has to tell you that NOW. If she plays the 2 (low = discouraging) you'll switch, and she doesn't want that. She wants you to continue with spades, so she must play the highest card she can afford (high = encouraging), which is the 8.

There are two things going on here. First, partner has to signal her encouragement, and second, you have to take the trouble to notice which card she plays.
No point in her signalling, otherwise!

So let's say she signals and you notice. What happens then?

Tricks 2-5

At trick 2, you continue with your
K, partner this time playing the 2. (She's already told you she likes spades, so she doesn't need to tell you again!)

At trick 3 you lead your
J – and your partner has to overtake with her Q, so that she has the lead to carry on leading spades.

By this time, declarer has no spades left, so
tricks 4 and 5 consist of two further spade tricks for NS, taking the contract off.

The rest of the hand

Nothing much else happens now, except that later on your make your A, thus netting 200 points for getting declarer two off. Not bad going for a combined holding of 16 points.

Right to overtake?

Wait a minute, do I hear you ask? How does your partner know you only have 3 spades? You led them, after all, so you might have started with AKJ10 – in which case playing her Q at trick 3 will block the suit and limit you to just 4 spade tricks.

This is true, but think it through a bit more, this time from the perspective of North

The bidding suggests that partner (South) has quite a few points – maybe 12 or so. That ought to be good for a trick at least, even if EW rattle off 5 club tricks. So if South does have
AKJ10, we're still going to get the contract off, whether you overtake with your Q or not.

But supposing the
J is his last spade. If you don't overtake NOW with your Q, you'll never make more than 3 spade tricks, will you? You have no entry to your hand. You'll be sitting there helplessly following suit for another 10 tricks, and at some point you'll have to discard two winning spades simply because you can't ever get the lead.

And in fact, that is exactly what happens if you don't overtake. Declarer knocks out South's
A, but South has no spades left to lead to his partner, so declarer cashes heart, diamond and club tricks galore and doesn't lose another trick: 3NT bid and made.


I'm not sure what happened at Bath on this hand, as the scoring system went AWOL that evening, but at Box, one pair found the killing defence against NT.

The two that didn't were a bit naughty, as West was declarer, making the defence a whole lot easier. It goes like this:

North leads her
4 (the 4th highest of her longest and strongest (!) suit). South wins with the A, then leads the K and then the J.

For North now, it's simply a question of adding up to 13. Dummy has shown up with 3 spades. Partner has shown up with 3 spades. Declarer has shown up with just 2 (discarding on the third round). So my 5 spades + dummy's 3 + declarer's 2 + partner's 3 ...

... adds up to 13. So partner doesn't have any spades left! That makes it a simple task to overtake with the
Q and cash the two remaining hearts.

  HOTW 04 Jun 2014 | Don't lead that!

Don't lead that!

It's your lead after an auction in which you competed in spades against the opponents' heart contract. They've ended up in 4, and you could have sacrificed in 4♠ but you felt there was a chance of getting them off, so you passed – and you have to find a lead.

First, though, you're curious about East's 3♣ bid, and West explains: 'It's a 'trial bid'. My partner is asking me if I can help out in clubs – if I can, she wants me to bid game.'

[This, of course, is the reason you're supposed to leave the auction down on the table until the lead is 'faced' – in case either defender has a question about it.]

So what do you lead? A good way of finding the best lead is to eliminate those that don't seem like a good idea and see what's left at the end. Here, for example ...

  • The ♠A? After all, partner agreed spades. 
    Yeah, but you have the ♠AQ, and who's most likely to hold the ♠K? Declarer, of course – she has far more points than your partner does. So if you lead your ♠A you could be giving away a trick.
  • OK, what about a small spade, then?
    Even worse. If one of the defenders has a singleton (quite likely if partner has supported your spade bid), you may never make your ♠A at all! Don't lead away from an Ace in a suit contract.
  • How about a club? If partner has the ♣A I might get a ruff,
    Same argument as spades: declarer's more likely to have the Ace, and if she holds the Queen too, that's giving away a trick. Not attractive (especially when West has shown values in clubs after East's trial bid).
  • A trump, then – my Q's in a doubleton so it isn't going to make a trick anyway.
    But it might! Declarer will probably try a finesse – and it may be in your direction. She doesn't know that you have Qx doubleton.
  • Oh all right then – a diamond?

Good choice – it's the only one left. BUT it's also

  • top of a sequence (so unlikely to give anything away)
  • the suit where partner is most likely to have a high card and
  • if partner can gets the lead, partner can be the one to lead your spade suit – towards your ♠AQ, rather than away from it.

Have a look at the whole deal. North wins with the A and leads the ♠J through declarer's ♠K, and you make two tricks with your ♠AQ. You have three tricks already – and whether you get a fourth depends on how declarer plays the trumps. Her correct play on this hand will be to finesse ... and if she does you will be delighted to win a trick with your Q and get the contract one off.

But that doesn't happen if (as happened at several tables in Bath) you begin your defence by leading the ♠A. Now the defence only take one spade trick, and even if declarer guesses the trumps wrong she's making 10 tricks. 

So there you are. Sometimes the opening lead is obvious ... but when it's not, try a few ideas – and when you've eliminated some poor options, what's left may be a good one.

  HOTW 1 Feb 2012 | Leading question
Leading question
After an uninformative auction, what's your choice of opening lead here?

What first springs to mind is  the
6 – the fourth highest of your 'longest and strongest' suit. Well, longest, anyway ...

But hang on a minute. One of the reasons that people end up in no trumps is that they haven't got a fit in a major, and what's conspicuously absent from this auction is anyone asking about major suits: no transfers, no Stayman. So the odds are that partner has something to offer in either hearts or spades.

Hearts seem to be the best bet for finding partner with length, but the great thing about having an AK is that you can lead the Ace (not too dangerous as you still have the King), have a peek at dummy
and also, crucially, see whether partner likes spades or not, all without losing the lead.

You'll remember that partner will encourage with a high card if she wants you to continue with the suit and discourage with a low card if not.
So let's see what happens. Lead the A. Dummy appears (no, don't click on Show All Hands yet) and has, among other things, 974. So far so good. Partner plays the 6 and declarer the 8.

Hmm. So what about this 6 from partner? Is it high/encouraging or low/discouraging? Well, you can't see either the 3 or the 2, so unless declarer is being very cunning both are likely to be in partner's hand. So the 6 is clearly a high card, and partner is encouraging you to continue with spades.

Does that make sense? What's partner got, then? Well, she knows that you have the
K (otherwise you wouldn't have led the A, would you?) so the only reason she would encourage you is if she has the Queen to go with your AK. It looks as if she has Q632, which leaves declarer with just J108 – and that means you can take 4 spade tricks off the top.

So you continue with the
K, then lead a low spade to partner's Queen, she wins trick 4 with her 3 and subsequently gets the contract one off with her A.

Yeah, but ...

You may now be thinking 'Yes, but NS always have 5 tricks off the top – 4 spades and the A – so you don't need to find that as an opening lead. Fair enough. Although an opening club lead gives away a trick (as declarer wins trick 1 with 9), you may now eventually come into a trick with your J.

But a cunning declarer could still find a way through. For example, if he just bashes out four diamond tricks and then starts on his club winners, poor old North has to find discards, and will doubtless throw one – or even two – spades, leaving the defence looking distinctly dodgy. Best to get your five tricks early!

Box and Bath

I don't know what
the leads were in Box, but 3NT went off just once out of four. In Bath, only three pairs found the A lead, though (weirdly) only 2 of those went off. All the rest led a low club, and of those some went off but most made their contracts.

And once in each location, declarer made 11 tricks. Don't ask me how!
  HOTW 00 00 0000 | Thrust & counter-thrust
Thrust & counter-thrust

On last Wednesday's board 11, everyone ended up in 6NT, but the four declarers ended up with 11, 12, 12 and 13 tricks.

The auction is straightforward (though it may well feature in the upcoming special 'Don't Jump!' in a couple of weeks).
With a balanced 17 points, West opens 1♣, East replies 1 and West duly rebids 2NT. East does a little arithmetic and concludes that their combined 34 points are enough for a no trump slam and bids it: 6NT. You should note in passing that East doesn't feel the need to fiddle around with all sorts of complicated conventions just because she's strong: she can see that the partnership has the points for 6NT so she bids it - end of auction!

  Thrust ...   

The first attacking move in the play is the opening lead, and this can be crucial. True, it sometimes doesn't matter a whole lot, but there are times when it can destroy a contract - or hand it to declarer on a plate.

On this hand, the latter is a distinct possibility, and I'm grateful to Pete for pointing out to me the importance of getting it right. Here's North's 'longest and strongest' suit. Which card should he lead?


♠ J 10 8 7 6

My first thought (and maybe yours) was that he should lead his 4th highest: the 7. But glance at declarer's holding and see what happens if he does: dummy plays low, South plays her singleton 5, and Declarer wins the trick with his 9. If you add up declarer's tricks, you'll find that North has just presented Declarer with his 12th trick. (He has 4 club tricks, 2 diamond tricks, 2 heart tricks - and now 4 in spades instead of 3.)

The correct lead, of course, is the
J. 'What?' I hear you cry. 'You only lead top of a sequence of THREE against no trumps.' Well, true, but the rule also applies to broken sequences - a sequence with an intervening card missing - and J108 is such a sequence. Here are some others:



AKJ    KQ10    KJ10   QJ9    Q109    J98   

In each case, you lead the top card of the unbroken bit: the cards underlined above. This ensures that when your partner leads the suit back to you (through declarer), she'll be leading into your tenace - with which you hope to trap Declarer's intervening card.

And as you can see, if North leads the
♠J, he's given Declarer nothing.

Which leaves Declarer rubbing his chin and wondering where his 12th trick is coming from.

  ... & counter-thrust   

Can you help him find it? In the absence of a suicidal lead from North, where is there a chance of developing the 12th trick? Think for a moment before reading on.

Well, it's always a possibility that North will win a trick later (maybe a spade) and will then helpfully lead a diamond around to your AJ, so you should make a mental note to clear the ground for that by getting rid of that K in dummy as quickly as possible. So you do that at trick 2. But without much hope that anything will come of it.

Is there a more realistic hope?

Well, you have 7 hearts and 7 spades. If either of those suits were to break 3-3, your fourth heart (or spade) will eventually become a winner, and provide you with your 12th trick. Hearts look the better bet (North's spade lead suggests that he has 4 or even 5 spades), so how to proceed?

The key thing here is not to lose control. So you DON'T go banging out your
AK and then another, hoping for the friendly 3-3 break. If either defender started with QJxx or Q10xx or J10xx, you'll be giving them two tricks on that same plate I mentioned earlier. Instead you play a LOW heart from both hands, allowing the defence to win the trick. Then, when you get back in, you can test the hearts without losing the lead again.

But although a fourth trick in hearts is my only hope, I wouldn't attack hearts straight away. First, I would play four rounds of clubs.

Can you think why?

The answer is that I'd be hoping the defence will make a mistake. Four rounds of clubs will require the defence to play 8 cards, and they only have 5 clubs between them. Therefore they will have to discard 3 non-clubs somewhere along the line. Yes? OK, well, maybe one defender is holding something like 10xxx, and decides to discard a small one on one of my clubs. It looks harmless enough - how is he to know I'm pinning my hopes on hearts? - but once that defender has only 3 hearts left, my 4th heart is worth a trick and I've made my contract.

And as it happens, the hearts do split 3-3 and however well the defence play they can't prevent 6NT from making.

But how, you may be wondering, did one declarer manage to make all 13 tricks? It was a combination of all of the above! First, the opening lead was the ♠7, which was worth a trick. Then Declarer played off all his club winners, then his spade winners, and each defender duly discarded a heart - leaving the defence with 87 and QJ. So when Declarer finally went in search of heart tricks, all the outstanding hearts dropped under the AK and declarer made not one but two more heart tricks, for the Grand Slam. Marvellous.


At Bath BC, it was much the same story: most pairs were in 6NT, usually making, but two pairs went one off and one made an overtrick. Crucially, though, one pair bid and made 7♣, and I'm sorry to say that it was at my table. Worse still, it was my opening lead ... which, I find on the Bath BC website, was no other than the ♠7! Oh the shame of it. Sorry, partner.











  HOTW 00 00 0000 | Trust your partner!
Trust your partner!

Put yourself in North's chair. You played a small part in what appears to have been a rather weird auction (of which more later), and are now defending against 4 by East.

Your partner led the J, and you've won the trick with your Ace. What are you going to do now?

Made your choice? OK. Time for a quick click to reveal all four hands.

Did you return your partner's diamond lead? Full marks if you did, because declarer's now going to be two off.

Or did you switch to a spade, hoping partner would give you a spade ruff? Bad move, as you've now given declarer an overtrick.

Let's take the spade switch first. Partner dutifully returns a spade which you gleefully ruff ... but your joy is short-lived, as declarer overruffs. Just like you, he only had a singleton. He then clears trumps, ending in the dummy, and proceeds to discard his two club losers on two of dummy's top spades, then cashes hundreds of winning diamonds and takes the rest of the tricks.

And now what happens if you return your partner's lead instead? You lead a small diamond. Partner ruffs, then leads a club (you bid clubs, remember?). You win with the Ace and lead a third diamond, which your partner also ruffs. That's four tricks to you, and partner completes the rout by leading her
A. Sometimes defence can be just wonderful.

Yes, OK, but how do I know?

Well, your partner had bid a suit, but he didn't lead that. You had also bid a suit, and partner didn't lead that either. Instead he chose to lead a diamond. It's kinda worth asking yourself why. And if you do, the obvious answer is that it's a singleton. And as for spades, your partner bid them lacking the King, Queen, Jack and the 10 (which you hold). He has a minimum of 5 spades for his overcall, and in the absence of all honours other than the Ace, really ought to have 6 spades rather than just 5 - in which case, declarer will only have a singleton.

So ... trust your partner and return his lead, and all will be well.

  The auction  

A word on the auction. When South bids 1♠, West's best line is to pass smoothly. If North also passes, your hope is that partner will try what's known as a 'reopening double' - that is, double the 1♠ to mean 'Come on partner, they ain't getting away with this. Bid again please.' In which case, West will pass, converting the double into a penalty double. North's 2♣ bid scuppers that, however, so East bids his 2nd suit, diamonds, and West, realising that partner is at least 5-4 in the red suits, is happy to bid game in hearts.


At Bath BC, only 8 out of the 15 pairs got to 4, and of those 5 succeeded in making game. Which goes to show that not enough players at Bath trust their partners. It also shows that quite a few pairs are not bidding to game when they really ought to. There's hope for us all!

  HOTW 18 Aug 0000 | Make a bid: help your partner's defence ...
Make a bid: help your partner's defence ...

Here's a hand where East makes it easy for her partner to find the killing defence.

  The auction  

I'm sitting South, with a pleasant 18 count and a 6-card club suit, and open 1♣.

West, though vulnerable, has a pretty low-risk 1 overcall, and my partner passes.

What do you do in East's seat? With just 7 points, you could pass. With a heart fit (you have 3 to add to your partner's 5+) you could raise your parter 2. But it does no harm (and could do a lot of good!) to show your own strong suit: 1♠. Why? Well, if (as seems likely) you end up defending, your spade holding could be useful information for partner. And if you don't have a spade fit, you're quite happy to go back to hearts at the 2 level. So what harm can it do?

To show my extra strength and good club suit, I now bid 2♣, West passes, as does my partner, and now East raises her partner's hearts: 2. She's not going to let me off lightly. 

OK then. I'll fall for it: 3♣ it is. And now, having forced me up to the three level, they all pass.

And it's West's lead ...

  The play  

Put yourself in West's position. Why would partner bid spades when she could support hearts instead? Possibly to ask for a spade lead ... But no hurry. He has AKx. It can do no harm to lead the A first and have a peek at dummy before going any further. (If nothing else, it'll tell his partner that he also holds the K.)

So West leads his A, down goes dummy, partner plays 4 and West wins the trick. And what does he notice? Well, first of all, his partner has discouraged diamonds: the 32 are on the table, so partner has played her lowest diamond (with a doubleton she would have played high-low, hoping for a ruff on the 3rd round). And the other thing he notices is that dummy has 3 spades. Hmm. So if partner (who bid spades) has 5, that leaves declarer with 3, and that could mean a spade ruff. So West now switches to the ♠10.

And that's the end of the contract. East wins, takes a second spade trick, then leads a low spade. South plays his Queen, but West ruffs and now takes his K for one down. Perfect defence and there's precisely nothing that South could do about it.


So there you have it. Force the opponents too high, then defend perfectly and get them off. Lovely.

Note that any other defence allows South to make his contract. Play 3 rounds of diamonds, or lead a heart or a trump and South wins, clears trumps and makes 9 tricks. Only by switching to a spade can West take the contract off - and his partner's simple little 1♠ bid makes it that much easier to find the killing defence.

  HOTW 21 Oct 0000 | Choosing an opening lead

Choosing an opening lead

What a difference the opening lead can make. You're sitting North, leading against 4♠, after an uninformative auction (well, you know that East is a passed hand, and that the raise to 4 is likely to be based on the 'losing trick count' rather than lots of high-card points). So do you lead

  • a trump (to reduce dummy's ruffing potential)?
  • the 5 (4th highest of the longest & strongest)?
  • the 8 (2nd highest from 4 rubbish cards)?
  • the ♣A (hoping that partner has the King and can give you a ruff on the 3rd round)?

Make a preliminary choice, then read what I think my thoughts would be if on lead:



  • Trump lead? Well, East has at least 4, and West probably has 5 (if he's only got 4, he'll have 15+ points - otherwise he would have opened 1NT). So you aren't going to damage East's ruffing potential very much - and you could be finessing partner. Still ...
  • the 5? Certainly in a NT contract, but could give a trick away in a suit contract. ('Don't lead away from an unsupported honour.')
  • the 8? A fairly neutral lead. Probably harmless. Certainly better than a heart.
  • the ♣A? The trouble with leading an unsupported Ace is that declarer may have the King (and probably does, given that they have more points than the defence!). An aggressive lead that is likely to defeat declarer if it works, but give an unnecessary trick away if it fails.

OK. What's your final choice?

Consider it led, and click on 'Show all hands'. How many tricks does declarer make on the lead you chose?

  • Leading a trump does indeed finesse partner, but declarer's going to try the finesse anyway. Declarer clears trumps, ruffs the third round of hearts, tries the diamond finesse (which fails) and ends up with 10 tricks. Contract made.
  • Leading the 5 is not good (as we suspected from the start). Declarer lets it run round to his Jack, and after clearing trumps has a convenient third heart winner on which to dump his losing 4. 11 tricks and a clear top in duplicate pairs.
  • Leading the 8 will also fail against a competent declarer. (The danger is that declarer will be tempted to play low and hope the King is with North - but how likely is North to have led away from the K? The lead of the 8 suggests otherwise, too.) Up with the A, clear trumps, and again 10 tricks.
  • As it happens, the ♣A is the only lead that defeats the contract. South encourages with the 6, and North continues with his ♣10 to South's King. Now South, like the rest of us when we put our minds to it, is quite capable of adding up to 13, and is aware that neither declarer nor North has any more clubs. But lead another anyway and see what happens. And what happens is that declarer can't win. If he ruffs low, North overruffs with his ♠J, and if he ruffs high with his ♠Q, the defence will later come into a trump trick with their combined ♠KJ holding. Add to that an unavoidable diamond loser and that's four tricks - one off - and a top for North-South.

Don't be disappointed if you didn't get it. It was largely a matter of luck. On another day, declarer will have the ♣K and make 11 tricks on a club lead, and a diamond will instead be the killing lead. You just have to weigh up the alternatives and try the one that looks best.

So what happened at Bath Bridge Club? Eight out of nine pairs reached 4♠ (the other stopped in 3♠), and six pairs made 10 tricks. One made 11 (must have been a heart lead), and only twice was declarer restricted to nine tricks.





  HOTW 00 00 0000 | Test your defence

Test your defence

You're sitting South, and about to defend against 3NT by West. Fortunately, you were able to show your diamond suit along the way, and your partner, North, has dutifully led 7.

Without looking at the hidden hands yet, what are you going to play to the first trick?

Hint  Count the diamonds. What diamonds is declarer likely to have?

Answer  You can see nine diamonds. West wouldn't have been daft enough to bid 3NT with just Qx after you've bid the suit. So he either started with Qxxx (in which case your partner's now out of diamonds) or Qxx (in which case partner still has one).

You've got to hope that it was Qxx, and that your partner has a second diamond. That's your only realistic chance of getting in to cash your diamonds before West bangs out nine tricks in the other suits.

So the answer is: play the 9 (or 10, or J) - but not the A or K. If you cash your AK now, your partner won't have a diamond to lead to you, and you'll be sunk.

Now check out the full deal. How does it go? Well, West wins trick 1 with his Q, and can notch up a further seven tricks in the black suits. Eventually, though, he has to let your partner in with A. Back comes the 4, and you clean up in diamonds.

But look what happens if you play A, K and another diamond. West takes his heart in his mouth and leads his 8 towards dummy's King. If North doesn't rise with her A, dummy's K is declarer's 9th trick. And if she does, she has no diamond to lead: again, nine tricks for declarer.


Postscript: Hang on, I hear you say. What about going up with the A at trick 1 and switching to a low spade to dummy's King. Don't we come to a spade trick eventually? Yes, but it doesn't help. Declarer simply leads a second diamond from dummy ... and still ends up with 9 tricks. Try it and see!