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At last a decent coffee machine!

Yep. Got them in Bath too.

We have tablet scoring. 

In Bath, too. Same.

Competing & sacrificing
  HOTW 11 Mar 2020 | The other two suits

The other two suits

Q1 What does your partner's double mean, and Q2 what (if anything) should you bid now?

Answer 1  It's a takeout double, showing an opening hand and asking you to bid your best suit. BUT as the opposition have already bid two suits, it promises only the two unbid suits: spades and clubs.

Answer 2  Normally, a takeout double is absolutely forcing *, even if you've got zero points, but East's 2 rebid has let you off the hook and you are no longer required to bid. But you should, nonetheless. Why? Two reasons: you have enough points to respond to an opening bid (which is what your partner has effectively made); and you have not one but both of partner's two suits – a double fit. Bid 2. Note that because you made a 'free bid' (ie you could have passed), partner will be expecting you to have some values.

What happens next? West raises her partner to 3 ... and your partner raises you to 3, which is passed out: you've just become declarer with a crummy 6-count! West leads a small diamond and dummy goes down ...

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. Your trumps aren't great, but you have 9 of them. Dummy has a singleton diamond and the AQ sitting over West's hearts, and you have a pretty solid looking club suit as well. Could be a whole lot worse.

And everything goes beautifully. The trumps are 2-2, the clubs break 3-2 and you lose just two trump tricks and one diamond, making 10 tricks in all. Not a game you'd want to bid with a combined 17-count, however.

Don't forget the takeout double. It's a really efficient way of getting your whole hand across in just one bid, and is especially useful if you don't have a decent 'overcalling' suit: North has 5 spades, but their quality is zilch.

In Box and Bath

In Box, I'm guessing that no one made the takeout double, as it was all EW in hearts or diamonds – all making far too many tricks!

In Bath, just two NS pairs ended up spades: both made 10 tricks for a well-deserved shared top. All the others were allowed to play in hearts or diamonds, making their contracts. 

* The only exception, as we saw in a recent HOTW, is if you're holding a fistful of the opponents' suit: your PASS converts the double from a takeout into a penalty double.

  HOTW 30 Oct 2019 | Pre-emptive pain ...

Pre-emptive pain ...

Here's a painful decision for you. After two passes, your right-hand opponent opens a pre-emptive 3. Do you pass or bid 3

What are the pros and cons? Well, you have a decent 14-count, and you and your partner probably have the balance of the points ... But do you have enough? Do you even have a spade fit? You're vulnerable, too, so bidding on could be expensive ... On the other hand, are you going to let them cheat you out of a decent contract ...? It's a difficult one.

OK. Decision time. Do you bid or pass?

If you passed, you're going to get +50 for getting 3 one off. If you bid 3♠, your partner will raise you to 4♠ and you'll make ... 10 tricks for +620. Take a look at the whole deal and count the tricks for yourself. *

In Box and Bath

On this hand the contrast couldn't be greater.

  • In Box, four NS pairs were in 3 and one in 4. (In that last one, did East maybe bid 3 and not get raised?)
  • In Bath, all the Easts took a punt on spades, with the result that at every table bar one EW played in 4 and made 10 tricks. At the other table, NS made an excellent non-vulnerable-against-vulnerable sacrifice in 5X: this goes 3 off for -500, a top when compared to -620 for 4 making.

So they got it right and we got it wrong, then?

On this hand, yes. But on another day it'll be the other way around and EW will be thanking their lucky stars that they passed. What we can conclude is that Bath players are friskier than Box players, more willing to chance their arm ... and that pre-empting can make things very difficult – painful, even – for the opposition.

So keep pre-empting – and some of the time they'll guess wrong!

* In hearts, NS lose tricks to the ♠AK, the A, the A and the ♣K, so make 8 tricks.

In spades, EW lose tricks to the K, K and ♣A, so make 10 tricks.

  HOTW 04 Sep 2019 | What have they got?

What have they got?

Bridge, as we all know, is all about inference (OK, and probability, too). What do you infer from this auction so far?

Well, West has a balanced 12-14 points and her partner East has (at least) 5 spades and ??? points ... But what about your partner? 

She passed after West's 1NT, but is strong enough to make a (takeout) double over West's 2. Well, she must have an opening hand - after all, any suit you bid will have to be at the 3 level, and you're vulnerable. And presumably she can support hearts, diamonds and clubs. Which leaves one other inference: if partner's got 12+ points and West has 12-14 and you have 12 ... East has got hardly any points at all!

So what do you bid? Your only suit (other than spades) is diamonds, but with c 25 points between you do you really want to be playing in 3? Nah. You've got the spades covered nicely, so bid 3NT. (Alternatively, as they're vulnerable too with only 15 points between them, you could pass and let them struggle in 2X - ie convert your partner's takeout double into a penalty double. But to get more than 600 points you'd need to get it THREE off.)

Let's say you bid 3NT and West leads not a spade but the 5 ...

How does it go?

Take a look at the whole deal. This is a classic no-trump 'race'. They want to set up their hearts (or spades) before you can make your 9 tricks. And you want to set up your 9 tricks before they can make theirs. Can you see who's going to win? 

You are. East takes the K (must be her only points - see above) and leads back the 2 to West's A. West now leads the 3. That leaves you with two stoppers in hearts. (the Q9)*

Now is the crucial moment when you set up your nine tricks. You have 2 in hearts and 4 in clubs ... where are the other 3 coming from? Diamonds, of course - if they're split 3-2 all you have to do is force out West's A and you're home. They can take their A if they like but you make the rest.

It works just the same if they start with a spade instead of a heart. You win the first trick in dummy and again immediately attack diamonds, after which you still have enough stops to set up a spade winner for your 9th trick.

In Box and Bath

In Box, most EW pairs were in 1 (fair enough, but with a poor heart suit like A10xxx I prefer to open 1NT). As it happens, it's not easy for NS to come in after 1 ... 

In Bath, most EW pairs got away with 2♠ - though once it was doubled, going for -800!. Only 2 pairs reached 3NT, though bizarrely declarer was North in both cases and both went off.

* An extra inference  How does South know to play the 9 from dummy at trick 3? In other words, how does she know that East doesn't have the 10? When you're ready, click for the answer.


First, West must have a good reason not to lead a spade - and a good heart suit is presumably it. When you see East's K you know West's suit isn't great, so it's probably long instead - exactly the kind of 5-card major she might have with a 1NT opening.

If East held K102, she'd lead back the 10 at trick two (top of remaining doubleton).

If she'd started with FOUR hearts, East would certainly lead back the 2 (original 4th highest) but can she have 4 hearts? Surely she would have bid 'weak Stayman' if she had 4 hearts and 5 spades? And why would West bother to lead a heart from Axx?

So East hasn't got 3 or 4 hearts - just 2. So West must have started with 5. So the 9 wins trick 3, leaving dummy's Q as a second heart stop. smiley 

  HOTW 28 Aug 2019 | Total tricks

Total tricks

It's been a while since we've focused on the so-called 'Law of Total Tricks', so ...

They've all bid and now it's your turn. What do you know about the other three hands? Well, North's got an opening hand and South's got enough points to respond and at least 4 hearts - yes, it's that negative double again, which I go on about weekly. What about your partner, East? She'll have a reasonable spade suit with at least 5 cards and anything between 8 and 15 points. 

So what to do? With your 3-count, they're sure to have more points than you, probably enough for game. BUT they haven't yet had time for a sensible conversation and they haven't yet agreed a fit ... You, however, have found a magnificent 10-card fit of your own and being spades it outranks both of theirs ... so how high can you go? The Law of Total Tricks recommends that you 'bid to the level of your fit': in other words, bid to make the same number of tricks as you have trumps. Here you know you have at least 10 spades between you, so you should bid to make 10 tricks: 4

But I've only got 3 points! We'll go off! Hmm. Will you? If your partner's got (say) AKxxx Ax and any old rubbish in hearts and clubs, I reckon you're making. After all, you've got singletons in BOTH of their suits. And if she's weaker than that, they'll have a game on, so 4 is a great sacrifice. It certainly interrupts their conversation, doesn't it? If they've got a makeable contract, they're going to have to guess their way into it now. So go for it.

What happens?

Take a look at the whole deal. What is North to do after your 4? She has a nice 17-point hand. She might punt 5, which can go off but probably won't. But probably she'll double for penalties. And South? Well, she might punt 5♣ (she hasn't shown her club fit yet), but the most likely result is 4X. Which goes just 1 off for -100. 

And if you don't bid 4? Well, they'll find their 4-4 heart fit, won't they? And then South will know that they have a double fit in hearts and clubs, so if you up your raise to 4, it'll be too late: South can now bid 5, which makes.

The moral is that, given equal vulnerability, 'bidding to the level of your fit' makes a lot of sense. If you look back over the past HOTWs on Competing & sacrificing, you'll see the same message time after time: if you're going to get in the way, go straight there; don't pussyfoot around because if you do you'll give the opposition a chance to continue their conversation.

In Box and Bath

In Box, all the spade contracts were doubled and made 9 tricks: extra congratulations to the pair who went on to 5X: -300 is still better than game the other way! And well done to the NS pairs who made 4, 5 and 5X

In Bath, about half the EW pairs got away with the spade sacrifice - in two cases undoubled! One lucky NS was allowed to make 4, and several made 5♣, doubled in one case. The best EW score came from one NS pair going off in 6♣.

  HOTW 21 Aug 2019 | Risky


In pairs the part-score hands are just as important as the games and slams: it's all a question of knowing when to go on and when to stop, when to shove your oar in and when to keep quiet. Take this hand, for example.

If West had passed, it would be easy: you just open 1 and see what happens. You're not going to get to game (partner's a passed hand) but you probably have the balance of the points so can probably make 2, 1 or 2 or maybe 1NT, for a modest plus score.

But West's made it more difficult by opening a weak 2, promising 6-10 vulnerable, and a 6-card suit. What do you do? Pass? Double for takeout (good if partner has 4 spades)? Or risk a 2 overcall?

Well, they're all risky, aren't they? If they can make their 2 (and why shouldn't they?) a pass will earn you a bottom. Double's a bit like Stayman: fine if you find a major fit, but what if (quite likely) partner responds showing clubs? And hearts will be tricky if partner's short and East has a fistful of them ...

I think my vote goes for 2 – the suit's just about adequate and even if it goes 1 off (-50) that's better than letting them make their diamond contract (-90). Let's look at the whole deal and see what happens.

With 10 points and 3 diamonds, East may raise her partner to 3, but it's risky: NS know from the auction that EW have less than half the points, and if they double for penalties and you're one off, that's a nasty 200 penalty: much worse than any NS part score. So 2 is likely to be the final contract. If East does raise to 3, South will probably just raise to 3, which makes. Sure, 3X gets the best score, but doubling 3 is helluva risky: if it makes, EW will make game for a massive 670!

Vulnerability  If the vulnerability is reversed, it's much more difficult for North. The 2 overcall becomes much more risky, as does the double. I think I'd probably pass and defend 2♦ instead. And of course non-vulnerable it's much less risky for East to raise to 3 if needed.

Without the weak 2  Not all players have a weak 2 bid, so many Wests will pass, initially. What happens then? Well, after 3 passes North will open 1, South responds 2 and West now overcalls 2. Ignoring that North rebids her hearts and with a 10-count and 3 hearts, South will invite to game with 3, which will be the final contract. Without West's preempt getting in the way, it's so much simpler for NS.

Conclusion  Just an ordinary part-score hand, but a good example of the kind of risk-assessment that comes up again and again – remembering that stopping too soon is just as risky as going too far!

In Box and Bath

In Box, everyone was in hearts, but a couple went to game – too high!

In Bath, most NS pairs ended up in 2, mostly making, but one lucky EW pair got away with 3 undoubled, one off for just -100, for a 100% top.

  HOTW 05 Jun 2019 | Worth competing

Worth competing

Here's a tricky situation. Sitting West with this rather attractive 8-count you pass, intending to come in later in the auction, and your partner opens 1NT. If South passes, you'll probably simply transfer partner to 2 and leave her there – it's tempting to go on, but if partner has only 2 hearts you could get stuck in an uncomfortable place. But South doesn't pass; she puts down the STOP card and bids 3. What to do?

Difficult. If only you could be sure that you have a heart fit (ie that partner has 3 hearts), you can bid 3 – but you can't. What you do know, however, is that you have a fit in diamonds (as partner must have at least 2 of them). So 3 is certainly a possible response.

But you might have a niggling feeling that you might be missing something here. South's bid (showing a strong, long club suit) makes your hand a lot more powerful than it was before – South surely has 7+ points in clubs and with either red suit as trumps your club void renders them absolutely useless. You could well be worth game. But how to take things further?

Well, 4 is a possibility. Partner knows that you're a passed hand, so the extra strength you're promising must be distributional – you surely must be short in clubs. But just in case partner has 4 hearts, you might consider 4. What? Why? Well, it can't be a natural bid, can it? If I were East, I'd take it as showing both majors. On this hand (take a look at the whole deal) she'll bid 4, which West will convert to 5 – which makes! (So does 4, as it happens, but you're not to know that partner has 3 hearts, and she's not to know you have 5.)

The play

It's pretty simple. Let's say North leads a club. You ruff and clear trumps in 2 rounds. Now to set up the hearts: cash the A and then lead a low heart toward your Q. Up goes North's King and you have 11 tricks, losing just one heart trick and the A. Not bad with just 22 points between you.

In Box and Bath

In Box, two NS pairs were in clubs and two EW pairs in diamonds (the ones in game making just 10 tricks and the part scorers making 11 – it were ever thus), and one East made 1NT doubled (double is a decent alternative bid for South over East's 1NT).

In Bath there was also a wide variety of contracts, though 4 of the 9 EW pairs bid and made 5 and one unluckily went off in 4.

  HOTW 08 May 2019 | Choices, choices ...

Choices, choices ...

After two passes, your RH opponent opens a weak 1NT. What do you say with this holding? Pass? Double? 2? 3?

The first thing to notice is that they're going off in 1NT. At best, declarer will make the A and (say) 5 diamond tricks. After which you'll come back in with one of your major aces and take the rest. But if your partner has the A or some kind of stop in diamonds, they're going to be 3 off. This is pretty likely, as passed hands East and South have around 13 points between them.

Should you double for penalties, then? No. A weak East will surely 'wriggle' into a major suit, and given your major holdings they've got a good chance of having a major fit.

Pass, then? Well, it's not a bad option. You've got a good chance of earning 150 points (= 3 off) and Pass has the advantage of not scaring them off. To earn as much in clubs, you'd need to make a very unlikely 11 tricks ...

On the other hand, if East has a 5-card major (which is quite likely) she'll transfer her partner into it and their suit will outrank yours.

Perhaps bidding your suit is a better option after all. But NOT 2, please. Most partnerships use 2 as a conventional bid anyway (eg Landy, showing both majors), but even if you don't 2 isn't going to get you anywhere: East can simply overcall her major and you're outranked again! So if you're going to bid your suit, make it difficult for them: bid 3. Now a weak East will have to think very hard before bidding a flaccid 5-card major at the three level and you'll probably have won the auction. Will it make? Probably, yes: you have 8 certain tricks in your own hand, and your partner has probably got an Ace or King of her own for the 9th trick.

So I think it's a toss-up between Pass and 3, with the latter having an edge because of its preemptive value.

What happens?

Take a look at the whole deal. They're only making 4 tricks in NT, as you're going to take 6 clubs and the three other aces. And in clubs you're making the same 9 tricks, for 110.

BUT, as we suspected, East has 5 hearts and if you pass, double or bid a feeble 2, they're going to end up in hearts – in which suit they can make 8 tricks. So on this hand, 3♣ is the clear winner.

(Yes, I know, it says that North – but not South – can make 3NT. This is due to a number of flukes which compromises any opening lead by East, allowing North to force out the A safely. It's not a contract you want to be in!)

In Box and Bath

In Box, 4 of the 5 NS pairs were in 3, mostly making with overtricks. One EW pair went 2 off in 4, which would have cost a nasty 300 points if doubled.

In Bath it was much more complicated – and competitive – with many NS pairs going (or being forced) too high in clubs. One North punted 3NT, though, and made it for an absolute top.

  HOTW 06 Feb 2019 | Stretching a point

Stretching a point

Lots of good bidding practice to take from this competitive auction. EW use their points and losing trick count to reach their best destination, while NS use other considerations to reach theirs.

Let's imagine for a moment that NS remain silent. How does it go? East opens a diamond and West shows her hearts. With a fit and what looks like an ordinary opening hand, East now counts her losers, discovers the expected 7 and so raises West to a modest 2; and West's 7 losers allow her to upgrade her mere 11 points to a game-going 4.

Which is exactly as it goes even with South's intervention. Have a look at the whole deal ...

With 16 points and a good 6-card suit, South is too good for a mere overcall: she should double first, and then bid her clubs, ignoring whatever suit her partner may have bid in the meantime. The double allows West to bid her intended 1, North gratefully passes, East makes her 2 raise, South now shows her clubs (good suit, 16+ points) and West raises to game.

What now? Two crucial bids to go:

  • North has a big decision to make. Should she pass or sacrifice in 5? Trump support she has, but little else: this should persuade her that 4 is going to make. NS will make a maximum of one club trick and maybe not much elsewhere. But will the sacrifice pay off? How to tell? Check the vulnerability. EW are vulnerable, so will collect 600+ from their 4 contract. NS, however, are not, so even when doubled – which they will be! – even going 3 off will cost only 500 points. And with a likely 11 clubs between them, NS are surely going to make at 8 tricks. 5 it is.
  • East's turn. Does she have anything that suggests that 5 is on (eg a club void)? No, not really. But with 2 aces, her hand will be useful in defence. So East should double for penalties. 

And that's the 'par' contract. NS make 9 tricks in clubs, for -300 – cheap compared with the -620 for 4 making. And NS, while they only make 300, are better off than going one off in an unmakeable 5.

What to take from this hand?

  • Once you've found a fit, count your losers in case they take you higher than your points alone would suggest.
  • An overcall shows 8-15 points; with 16+ and a decent suit, you should double first and bid your suit on the next round.
  • Know the rewards and penalties for both vulnerable and non-vulnerable contracts. Otherwise you'll have no idea whether to sacrifice or not. (With the vulnerability reversed on this hand you would not sacrifice: game is worth a mere 400+ points, whereas going 2 off doubled vulnerable would cost you 500. Yuk!)
  • When the opponents are obviously sacrificing, you must double their contract. Unless you bid on, of course (remembering the mantra 'The 5 level belongs to the opponents'). 

In Box and Bath

Every table in Box missed at least one of the above bullet-points. Two played in 3 (Count your losers, West); two in 4 (bid up, North); and one NS bid 5 (but wasn't doubled).

In Bath, only one pair played in 3 and two were allowed to play in 4. A further five played in 5♣ – all doubled. And a couple of EWs ventured too high and went off in 5.

  HOTW 05 Dec 2018 | Putting your oar in

Putting your oar in

9-card suits don't come up that often but when they do, things can go a bit wild. What's your assessment of the situation here? 

Well, if you've got an 11-card (at least!) fit with partner, you can be pretty sure the opposition have got a decent fit as well, probably in a major - and from the auction, spades could be it. They've got more points than you, too. So as sure as eggs is eggs, they're going to be ending up in some game contract or other, probably making. Unless you put your oar in and get in the way.

Give South something to think about. Make her guess. Bid 5. You'll probably get doubled and you'll probably go off, but not by much, and it'll be cheaper than letting them make game themselves.

If you have a look at the whole deal, you'll see how difficult this makes life for South. She's got spade support, sure, but only 9 points, and from her perspective 5♠ looks distinctly dodgy. She's more likely to double you for penalties instead. But if you bid a feeble 3 or a tentative 4, they're going to find their spade fit no problem: and once South has shown spade support, North will surely go up to 5♠ if required. And as you can see, 5♠ makes with ease.

Try the scores for size: 5X going 1 off will cost you just 100. 5 making, on the other hand, will cost a nasty 650 - and if West doubles it, which with Qxxx and two aces she might well, you'll be out to the tune of 850 - even worse.

You could, if you like, regard this hand as being extreme example of 'bidding to the level of your fit' - a sound mantra if you've fewer points than your opponents, especially at favourable vulnerability. Here your partner, having opened 1NT, is known to have at least 2 diamonds. Added to your 9, that comes to 11, so bid to make 11 tricks: 5.


In Box & Bath

In Box, nearly everyone was doubled: bizarrely, the ones who were doubled in 5 actually made it - how I'm not sure - and the two in 5X made that as well.

In Bath, 8 of the 9 tables played in 5, by no means all doubled, and three somehow made it. Only one NS pair found 5♠ - and they were richly rewarded as they were doubled and made an overtrick for a 1050 top.

  HOTW 19 Sep 2018 | Ruffing potential

Ruffing potential

Have a look at the auction so far. Who's got what, do you think? Well, South's weak, isn't she? She hasn't even got enough to squeeze out a preemptive 3. Your partner presumably has a normal 8-loserish overcall with at least 5 spades ... and so North must be quite a strong hand. Strong enough to bid and make 4? Hard to tell. 

What's more certain is that your partner will have two or three losing hearts and that you have plenty of spades to ruff them with. Strictly speaking, your 7-loser hand isn't quite what it takes to raise your partner's overcall to 4♠, but your heart void makes it worth a go. If North is really strong, she'll be left with a nasty guess - should she double? pass? punt a vulnerable 5? And who knows - you may make it. 

How does it go?

Let's say North trances for a bit and then passes. South meanly leads the and down goes dummy. You're now declarer, in the East seat. Have a look at the whole deal.

Mindful that you need to avoid a diamond ruff at all costs, you go up with your A, clear trumps in two rounds, then lose a couple of tricks in diamonds. They'll no doubt knock out your ♣A and take a club trick too, but that's all they get. You can ruff two of your hearts in dummy and throw your 3rd on one of dummy's diamond winners. 4♠ bid and made.

It turns out that they can't make 4 after all (and with his 3 quick tricks your partner would rightly double 5, should North be rash enough to bid it). But you've just made game in spades on a combined 18 points - wonderful what a void can do! 

NOTE: Trevor disagrees with me on this one, preferring a raise to just 3. He's right, of course - you only have 7 losers and should be 'bidding to the level of your fit'. But then they'll bid 4 and it'll have to be you digging out the 4♠ later - in which case, why not just bid it straight away? You decide!

In Box and Bath

A mixed bag in Box: two pairs went off in 4, 4♠ made only 9 tricks and 3♠ made 10! So well bid one EW pair and well played the other!

In Bath, one NS pair was allowed to get away with 4 -1 (for an outright NS top). All the rest were EW in spades, all but two in game. All made at least 10 tricks (one somehow got an overtrick) and the top EW score was for 4♠X making for 590. 


  HOTW 29 Aug 2018 | Make 'em guess

Make 'em guess

What a lovely 8-card diamond suit. Trouble is, your partner probably doesn't have much to go with it, as East has opened and West has raised her to the 3 level. What to do?

3NT is an attractive thought, isn't it? If East is kind enough to lead a spade round to your ♠K, you have your spade trick, which, added to your 8 tricks in diamonds, comes to 9. Tempting. BUT ... there's no reason to suppose that East wants to be kind. Instead, missing the King, she'd do better to get the lead to her partner, who will lead a spade through your ♠K (rather than round to it) and take you screaming off.

Better to stick with the diamonds, then. But how many? 4 or 5? My preference is the latter. It rules out 4♠ and puts EW right on the spot. Do they pass? Do they double? Or do they punt 5♠? They simply have to guess.

What happens?

Have a look at the whole deal. You'll see that 4♠ by East makes comfortably, declarer losing just one diamond and two clubs. So what of the other possibilities? 

How do you do in NT? Well, as we thought, on a spade lead from East you're home and dry. But what if East starts with the A (dropping declarer's Queen) and continues with a small heart? West takes two heart tricks, then leads a spade for four off. Ouch.

What about 5X (which East will of course double in her sleep)? It's a good sacrifice, as it goes only two off for -300: declarer loses a heart, a club and two spades. But note that just as an opening spade lead from East is disastrous against 3NT, so it is against 5X, as North will now only go one off for -100. It's generally a bad idea to lead from AQ unless you're sure that partner has the King.

Note also that EW can't make 5♠. If they punt it, NS just shut up shop and defend, taking +50 for an absolute top.

And one very final note: with just 6 points, many Wests will (not wrongly) just raise partner's opening bid to 2♠. But with only 8 losers, it isn't wrong to make the more positive 3♠ response either: that's what the Losing Trick Count is for, after all!

In Box and Bath

In Box, all five NS pairs were in diamonds (4, 5 or in one case 6!), but 3 of them got lucky as they got a spade lead. Only one pair, however, was kept to just 9 tricks.

The defence didn't do much better in Bath. One North got away with an unmakeable 3NT on the lead of the ♠A. Most of the other 10 pairs were in diamonds, but only TWO were kept to 9 tricks. One was even allowed to make 5X - how I'm not sure.

  HOTW 28 Feb 2018 | Spanner in the works

Spanner in the works

Here's a perfectly executed (and perfectly simple) auction to game on a mere 22 combined points. South, just failing to meet the criteria for a 'Rule of 20' opening, passes and her partner opens 1♠. Alert to the possibility of a spade fit, South responds 2♣ and awaits her partner's next bid – which turns out to be 2. Perfect. Partner has 5+ spades so we've found our major fit. It only remains to decide how high to go. South only has 10 points (in itself worth a raise to 3♠) but wisely counts her losers just to see if she should upgrade. And with just 7 losers bids on to game, which makes comfortably. In fact, as the cards lie, 12 tricks are possible. 

'So what?' I hear you ask. 'A useful point about losers, but not really worth a HOTW article, is it?'

Well, not yet, no. But have a look at the whole deal. East, who happens to be dealer, can and should open a weak 2. Now what happens? Does South overcall 3♣ (vulnerable) with her 6-card suit and 10 points? Maybe yes, maybe no. Either way, West will 'bid to the level of the fit' * and raise her partner to 4. And now it's North who's in a quandary. Can she risk 4♠? Vulnerable? Not really, whether South overcalled or not. And if South passed, she can't even afford to make a penalty double of 4. East-West have royally shoved a spanner in the works – in this case by preventing their opponents from communicating with each other.

What happens in hearts? Well, NS will probably start with 2 spade tricks, then switch to a diamond, knocking out dummy's A. North will win the first trump trick and lead her singleton ♣9. South wins with her ♣A and returns a club for partner to ruff, and North will cash her K as the defence's sixth and last trick. Three off. Not bad going. But not a patch on bidding and making 4♠. Undoubled 4-3 will net NS just 150 points. Even doubled it's only worth 500. While 4♠, even without overtricks, will score 620.

Moral: The purpose of preemptive bids is to shove a spanner in the works. Use them!

​​In Box & Bath

In Box, every NS pair ended up in 4♠: good on them for not missing game – but presumably none of the Easts opened 2, which would have earned a top.

In Bath, only 3 of the 9 pairs managed to find 4♠, which suggests that most Easts were in preemptive mood. Apart from one disastrous NS 3NT contract, everyone else was going off in hearts – only two doubled. 

* Bidding to the level of your fit: a technique used by the weaker side in a competitive auction. You count the number of trumps you're known to have and bid to that level. So if your partner overcalls 1 and you have 4 hearts, you raise to 3 (5 + 4 hearts = 9, so bid to make 9 tricks). On this hand, partner's opened a weak two and so is known to hold 6 hearts. West has 4, so raises to 4 (6 + 4 = 10 trumps / tricks). Beware of adverse vulnerability, but if you're not vulnerable, go for it!

  HOTW 29 Nov 2017 | Yikes a Yarborough

Yikes – a Yarborough

Oddly enough, when I picked up this hand in Bath, I found myself wondering what I'd do if partner opened 2NT. Yarboroughs are usually worthless in no trumps, but those seven clubs would have to be worth a trick or two if they were trumps. 3♣ would be Stayman, however, and 4♣ would be a strong slam try, so I'd just decided that I'd punt a 'fast-arrival' weak 5♣ when my partner really did open 2NT. Bizarre.

More bizarrely still, North came in with 4. What now? Well, my heart void would be quite useful in 5♣, so I bid it anyway ... and everybody passed. I was declarer in game with not a card above a 9.

5♣ went one off for a really good score. Why good? Have a look at the whole deal and you'll see: North can actually make 6 – and that's in spite of my partner having half the points in the pack. So getting minus 50 for 5♣ -1 is pretty cheap by comparison.

What happens in hearts?

The amazing thing about this deal is that North, who can see 20 points in his hand and dummy, knows that every missing high-card point must be with West, because of his opening 2NT bid. So she knows that West has the AQ, the ♣AQ, the K and the ♠KQ. All the finessing's going to be dead easy, then!

Say a club is led. Up with the ♣K and ruff West's ♣A. Then over to dummy's ♠A and lead a low diamond, finessing the J, which – of course – wins. Then ruff a diamond and have some fun with the clubs: lead the ♣J and ruff West's ♣Q – and now dummy's ♣10 is a winner.

What next? Ruff another diamond in dummy and cash your ♣10, discarding a diamond. So your only remaining diamond is now the Ace. 

Now lead a trump. West can take her A but all the rest of the tricks are North's. A little slam on just 20 points. Marvellous.

I shouldn't have been allowed to get away with my 5♣, should I? Holding an Ace and a King, a singleton diamond and FOUR hearts, South has surely got to raise her partner to 5. At this point, West will, correctly but very unfortunately, double for penalties and the result is going to very pretty indeed for North-South. Luckily for me, South passed.

​​In Box & Bath

In Box, two tables got away with going off in 5♣, with the rest making 11 or 12 tricks in hearts. But only one of the heart contracts was doubled.

In Bath, only 2 EW pairs were allowed to get away with 5♣, and one of those was doubled. Nearly everyone else was in 5X, which scored a very nice 750, including the overtrick. How one NS pair ended up in 2 with 4 overtricks is another question altogether!


  HOTW 27 Sep 2017 | High stakes

High stakes

Sitting North, vulnerable, with just 11 points and no 'rule of 20' opening, I prefer to pass and see what happens rather than open a dodgy 1. And plenty does happen – East opens puts down a preemptive 4♠ (showing an 8-card suit) and your partner doubles. West passes and it's back to you.

Before you decide what to bid, what do you make of your partner's double?

Because any suit response from you has to be at the 5 level, some pairs take the double of an opening 4♠ as for penalties rather than takeout. I prefer a 'halfway house': it's for takeout, but has 3 defensive tricks – which gives your partner a choice of passing or going on. So what do you think?

Well, it's all down to vulnerability again, isn't it? Your A and ♣KQ may be worth a couple of defensive tricks in addition to your partner's 3 (remembering that East has only 5 cards that aren't trumps!). So East would be going off no more than 3, for a penalty of 500. Less if she can manage 8 tricks. Whereas if you can make 5 you'd get 650, which is much better. But can you? Probably yes. Partner must have a pretty good hand for a vulnerable double and surely has good hearts, so 5 is definitely worth a punt.

East will now subside (she's shown her hand with her opening bid and preempters are well advised to leave any further bidding to their partners) but West might well now go on to 5♠ – which you will now double for penalties.

Who can make what?

Take a look at the full deal. NS can take 11 comfortable tricks in hearts (I know, it says 12, but that's pretty fluky), so 5 is a great place to be. But with spades as trumps EW can take 8 tricks, all in trumps, so are only going 3 off in 5♠X for -500 – a bargain compared to 650 for 5 making.

Note that West can work out for herself that 5♠ is a good bid. First of all, she's got a load of rubbish, so 5 is surely making. She also has the ♠A, and partner's odds on to have the ♠K as one of her 8 spades, so she can count 8 tricks in spades. And a glance at the vulnerability will tell her that it's a good sacrifice. 

​​In Box & Bath

In Box, the competition wasn't quite sharp enough. Two pairs were allowed to play in 4 and one was pushed up to 5 – all making. But one EW was allowed to get away with 4♠ undoubled, which really shouldn't be happening when NS have a combined 26 points. 

Bath were a bit on the flaccid side as well, with only ONE pair playing in 5♠X. No less than 4 EW pairs were allowed to play in spades undoubled, but four NS pairs were at least pushed up to 5, again all making. And as for the EW pair who played in 4♠X and made ELEVEN tricks for a magnificent top, I can only assume there was a revoke somewhere!

  HOTW 20 Sep 2017 | Red vs green

Red vs green

Let's review the auction so far. Your partner opened a weak 2 and over East's takeout double you made a preemptive raise to 3, raising 'to the level of your fit' (your partner's 6 hearts + your 3 hearts = 9, so bid to make 9 tricks). West confidently bids the spade game, North and East pass ... and it's all down to you. Do you (a) pass (b) double or (c) bid 5?

Well, you're only going to double if you think they're going off in 4♠. How likely is that? You've got a club trick and (probably) one heart trick and with 6-9 points your partner may be worth one more trick, maybe in diamonds ... but that's probably it – so let's say they're making 4♠. Should you pass or sacrifice in 5? Think about it before reading on.

How many tricks do you think you'll make in hearts? 10 is very unlikely, as you have a maximum 20 points between you – and given the opposition's bidding, probably fewer. Your 9-card heart holding suggests that you can make 9 tricks. So now it's a question of simple arithmetic: how much do they score for 4♠ making and how much will it cost you to go 2 off in 5 doubled? (You will of course be doubled, as your opponents aren't daft and can tell that you're sacrificing.) Which brings us to the title of this article: in this situation, you need to check who's vulnerable and who isn't. And on this hand, you're vulnerable (red) and they're non-vulnerable (green). So they're going to score 400 and something for making 4♠ ... and they're going to score 500 for getting you 2 off in 5♥X. That's 200 for the first trick and 300 for the second.

So you pass. 420/450 is cheaper than 500. Easy peasy.

But ...

... change the vulnerability and it's a different story.

  • If you're both vulnerable, that 4♠ will be worth 600+ instead of 400+, so you should go ahead and sacrifice in 5.
  • If neither side is vulnerable, your sacrifice will only cost you 300 (100 for the first trick + 200 for the second) – again you should bid 5.
  • And if they're vulnerable and you aren't, it's a total no-brainer. They stand to score 600+ for their game and 5♥X -2 will cost you just 300 – even going 3 off will only cost 500, so bid on!

So to summarise: decide if they're making or not. If you think they are, make a guess of how many tricks you can make in your suit. Consult the vulnerability to work out which alternative is cheaper, and bid accordingly.

What happens?

Have a look at the whole deal. They're certainly making their 4♠ – indeed, if declarer drops North's singleton ♠K (which she should) EW are making 12 tricks in spades. As predicted, only 9 tricks are available for NS in hearts (as EW can take three aces and can also make a club ruff): East leads a spade to West's Ace, West returns her singleton club and then, when she comes in with her A, she leads a diamond; East wins and leads a club to be ruffed. Lovely.

​​In Box & Bath

In Box, two pairs made the spade game, but one lucky NS managed to make 10 tricks instead of 9 in 5♥X for just -200. 

In Bath, all the EW pairs but one were all in the spade game, all making. The other pair sacrificed not in 5♥X but in 5♣X, which genuinely goes just 1 off for -200. This happens if North decides not to open a weak 2; then East opens 1♠, South overcalls 2♣ ... and North bids 5♣ over West's 4♠.

  HOTW 01 Mar 2017 | Double first

Double first

When you're the overcalling pair, it can be hard to know whether game is on or not. The overcaller can have anything from 8 points upwards, so how can her partner judge how high to go? 

The most popular solution is that if you're strong (16+) with a good suit, you start with what looks like a normal take-out double and – ignoring whatever your partner bids – you THEN bid your suit. Your partner then has a much better idea of what to do next.

Have a look at the full deal here. If you simply overcall 1, your partner, with a flat 9-count and just three hearts, will raise you to 2 and it'll probably go no further.

But what happens if you double? Partner will either show her clubs or maybe (having a diamond stop but no 4-card major) bid 1NT. When you now bid hearts, that changes the picture completely. Your partner now knows you have a good (probably 6-card) heart suit and 16+ points. Suddenly 4 looks obvious.

Plan the play

Take a quick count. You're going to lose a diamond trick and possibly two spade tricks as well. That means you mustn't lose a trump trick as well. Fortunately, South has most of the outstanding points so the K is probably finessable. So out to the dummy with a club and ... what do you lead? 

The main point is that if the finesse works you will want to take it again. – and possibly even a third time. So you lead a card that enables you to keep the lead in dummy: the 10. As it happens here, you have every heart from the 6 up to the Q, so any of dummy's hearts will do, provided you drop a low card from your hand. 

What happens? The finesse works and you lead another of dummy's hearts, again playing low from hand. North shows out – South started with Kxxx. Never mind. You can still catch the K: lead your last trump from dummy, this time winning in your hand and finally you lead your A, dropping South's K.

As it happens, the spades don't work out well for you and you do lose two tricks in the suit. So you have to play the hearts right for your 10 tricks.

NOTE: It's vital that you keep the lead in dummy for all three finesses here. If you end up in hand and lead a second club to get back to dummy, South, who started with a singleton club will ruff and you're one down!

In Box & Bath

In Box, everyone was in hearts – more than half the tables in game – but only one declarer made 10 tricks. In Bath, lots of EW pairs missed game and a couple went too high, looking for a slam, but several pairs still failed to make 10 tricks. All to do with managing your entries.

  HOTW 15 Feb 2017 | Pre-empter's partner

Pre-empter's partner

The beauty of making an opening preemptive bid is that your job is now done. You've described your hand, and the rest is up to your partner ...

... who is you on this hand. Your partner opened 3 and East (after a bit of humming and hawing) has finally bid 3♠. What's the first thing you do? And the next thing you do? And finally, what do you bid?

The first thing you do is check the vulnerability, which tells you that a sacrifice will be CHEAP (because you're not vulnerable) and letting them make game will be EXPENSIVE (because they are vulnerable). 

Next, you decide whether they're likely to make game in spades. If partner's a weak hand, then surely they are. Easy, then. Your partner got in East's way, and from all the hesitating going on, it almost worked. Now you have to do the same. West is surely going to bid 4♠ anyway, so give her something to think about: raise your partner to 5. (You're going to make 7 diamond tricks and with luck partner can provide one more, for 8 tricks. Doubled, that'll cost you 500, which is at least 120 cheaper than them making game in spades. Cheap at the price!)

If West doubles you for penalties, you're home and dry: if you can go just 3 off, you're showing a profit. But one more question for you:

Supposing West instead raises her partner to 5♠. North and East will pass and it's your bid: do you now go on to 6?

Don't even think about it. For one thing, that's going to cost you 800, which is MORE than they can make for game in spades. But there's another, much stronger reason. We just agreed, didn't we, that your partner might have just one trick outside diamonds. OK, that's one trick. The only possibility for a second is your A and you already know that you can't make a trick with that. Don't you? If partner has 7 diamonds for her opening preempt and you have 5, the opposition only have one diamond between them. So they're going to ruff diamonds from trick one. In other words, EW have probably got a small slam in spades. And the only way they're going to bid it is if you force them up by bidding 6. So 6 is a disaster, whether NS bid on or not.

What happens?

Have a look at the whole deal and you'll see that EW do indeed have a small slam in spades. Thank goodness, then, that you left them to make their 5♠. But why, you may ask, did we bother with all that preempting? Didn't help in the end, did it? Well, it might have, for three reasons:

1 There will be Easts who, with just 8 points and missing the ♠AKQ, will be put off bidding at all, in which case your 5 will certainly silence West.

2 And if East does bid 3♠, there will certainly be Wests who will prefer to double 5 for a sure penalty than raise partner to what may well be a dodgy 5♠. 

3 And even if they bid and make 5♠, you might well have put them off looking for what turns out to be a stone cold slam in spades OR clubs.

In Box & Bath

In Bath, 4 pairs reached 5♠ and 4 pairs played in 5♦X. Fine. The other three results were substandard: one EW was allowed to play in 4♠ (S didn't raise to 5), one NS played in 5 UNdoubled (see below) and one NS went the extra step too far into 6♦X, which duly cost 800.

In Box, we had one pair in 5♠ and three in 5. So far, so good. But NONE of the 5 contracts was doubled. You got the preempting right, but when you know an opponent is making a sacrifice you HAVE TO DOUBLE IT. Otherwise, they're laughing all the way to the bank.

  HOTW 16 Nov 2016 | How high to go?

How high to go?

Sitting North with a tasty 17-count, you're delighted when West opens 1♣. You have the perfect hand for a takeout double: a good opening hand, a singleton in opener's suit, and 4-card support for whichever suit partner happens to bid. East passes and partner bids 1♠. Opener gives up and you have to decide what to bid now.

What does partner's 1♠ bid mean? Presumably she has 4+ spades, but what about her strength? Well, a takeout double requires partner to bid her best suit, however weak she is, so she could have as few as zero points. With 8 or more points, she'd jump to 2♠ to show her strength (and with 10+ to 3♠ and with opening points to 4♠). So you know she has somewhere between 0 and 7 points.

You certainly can't jump to game, but you equally certainly want to explore the situation further. You've got a strong hand, a major fit and just 5 losers. It's a toss-up between raising to 2♠ and jump-raising to 3♠. As it happens, partner has just 5 points, one of which is in a singleton J, so if you raise to 2♠ she's likely to pass, as game seems a bit too far away. If you jump to 3♠, though, her ♠A and ruffing potential in hearts might just push her to game – after all, her points are much nearer 7 than they are to zero. 

If you take a look at the whole deal, you'll probably agree with me that game is pushing it a bit. Technically, it's on, but not many Norths are going to make 10 tricks in real life. 

In Box & Bath

No one in Box or Bath bid to game. And just one pair (in Bath) made 10 tricks, the rest making 9 (and just 8 in a couple of cases). So if your instinct as North was to err on the side of caution, it paid off on this hand.

And talking of caution, I'm not sure what possessed some EW pairs to bid on. West has a minimum opening hand, while East doesn't even have enough points to respond, yet in Bath two pairs somehow reached 3♣ and 3, both going 3 off. That's -300, vulnerable. Hey, that's what 'vulnerable' means, folks: be cautious or you may get burned. In Box, I'm glad to say one North preferred to double 3 to bidding on herself, and netted a very pleasant 500 when it went 2 off – well done!

  HOTW 19 Oct 2016 | When to stop?

When to stop?

How far do you go in a competitive auction? Here's a deal where each player has to make that judgment. Let's see how it goes.

South 1NT   Yeah, I know. With 6-3-3-2 you should be opening 1♣. But do you really want to have to rebid 2♣ (and possibly 3♣) with such an empty suit? With a poor 6-card minor and the points spread around the other suits, a lot of players prefer to open 1NT. Gets the whole hand over in just one bid.

West PASS   Not a difficult decision.

North 2   The start of a transfer into hearts.

East 2♠   Just what you need for an overcall at the 2-level after partner's passed: a really good suit and an outside Ace.

South PASS   You've already bid your hand and you have no great liking for partner's hearts. With a maximum (which you have) and 3 or 4 hearts (which you don't have) you might have bid 3.

West PASS   Again, an easy decision, especially with your holding in North's hearts.

North 3   Only 7 points but a 6-card heart suit, so you have a known major fit. You have no reason to suppose that their 2♠ is going off and you can expect to make 8 tricks in hearts. You're not vulnerable, so going one off in hearts (even if you're doubled) is still cheaper than giving them 110 for 2♠ making.

East 3♠   Same argument. You have no reason to think that 3 will go off, but you have 7 tricks in your own hand: if partner can come up with just one trick, you're only one off, which is a great sacrifice if 3 is making. And on a good day, 3♠ might even make!

South PASS   Difficult. Can you make 4? Say your partner has absolutely solid hearts. That's 6 tricks plus your two outside aces. Eight. Two more needed. If partner were strong enough to provide them as well, she would surely have bid to game on her own. Could be a level too high ... On the other hand, you have 3 defensive tricks against 3♠ and partner could well provide a couple more. So pass and take the money.

West PASS   Yawn. Haven't got much of a dummy for you, partner.

North PASS   You've certainly bid your hand to the full and partner wasn't interested. To go on now would be to invite a penalty double. 

So how does it go? East turns out to be doubly unlucky: her partner does have a trick (the ♣K) but it's impossible to get over to dummy to cash it. The result is a heart and a spade loser and FOUR losers in diamonds, for 2 off. Which would be fine if 3 is making: apparently it can make but it's not easy: everyone who was in hearts in Box and Bath only made 8 tricks. 

But it's still the best place to be. In a just world, 3 would make without a care in the world, and 3♠ would go just one off. 

In Box & Bath

Half the EW pairs in Box ended up in 3♠, two of them getting a bit of help from the opposition, because they made 8 and 9 (!) tricks.

In Bath, all the pairs bar one bid to game, mostly in spades, and only two got the penalty double they deserved, going 2 off for -300. Ouch! Which just goes to show that in Bath they simply don't know when to stop ...

  HOTW 05 Oct 2016 | Assess, then bid

Assess, then bid

You have this rather rubbishy 8-count and partner opens 3♣. West passes and it's your bid. What do you say?

Hold it! Before you decide, you need to assess the situation. Try answering these questions:

  • Do you think the opposition have got game? If so, what's the most likely game and how much will it earn them?
  • How many tricks do you think you can make in clubs? If you go off doubled how much will it cost you?

Here are my answers: 

  • Yes, they probably do. My partner has maybe 7-8 points and my singleton K is probably worthless, so they might well have a game in hearts or diamonds (probably not NT, as we've got 11 clubs between us). They're vulnerable, so game will earn them around 600.
  • We've got lots of clubs, and we might be able to ruff a diamond or two in my hand, so I'd expect 8 tricks, maybe 9 if we're lucky. We're not vulnerable, so if we're doubled, one off will cost us 100, two off 300 and three off 500.

OK. You've assessed the situation. What do you bid? Your answer must surely be 5♣. Was it? Well done!

There are two seriously good reasons for bidding 5♣. One is that even if it goes 3 off, it'll be cheaper than letting them make game. Another is that it makes it very difficult indeed for East to bid. EW haven't exchanged any information so far, and you're forcing them to make their first bid at the five level. Difficult. Dangerous. 

What if ...

... you just raise to 4♣ or (God forbid!) pass? Have a look at the whole deal - what do you think East will do with that very attractive 18 count?

Easy. She'll double for takeout, hoping that West will bid 4. And if West bids spades, East can settle for 5 instead. In the event, they'll end up in 4, which makes 11 tricks for 650. Thank you very much.

But she can't do that if North's bid 5♣, can she? Most probably she'll double for penalties, or she might try 5 (which makes, but only scores 600). If they do go on, NS would have to decide whether or not to sacrifice further in 6♣, which is dangerous but in this particular case pays off, as they only lose 4 tricks with clubs as trumps.

In Box & Bath

All sorts of results. What stands out in Bath is that only one pair were allowed to play in 4: most EWs were forced to declare at the 5-level, some going off. Some NS pairs sacrificed in 6♣X but went off by one too many (they probably finessed for the ♣K instead of playing for the drop, which is a better play when you hold 11 cards in a suit).

What stands out in Box is that only one of the NS pairs in clubs was doubled, and the other two were only in 3♣ and 4♣. With an 18-count, East can't simply allow NS to get away with it: she has to either enter the fray or double for penalties.

  HOTW 27 Jul 2016 | Weak jump overcall

Weak jump overcall

Most of you play an opening 'weak two' in the major suits. 2, for example, shows a 6-card heart suit with 5-9 points (maybe 6-10 vulnerable). It's a great way of taking away opponents' bidding space and generally getting in the way. Not so many are aware that you can make the same bid as an overcall – actually, a jump overcall. On this hand, for instance, North opens 1♣ and East overcalls 2♠ – it's a 'jump' overcall because one spade is also available as an overcall – and it shows, you've guessed it, a 6-card suit and 5-9 points. 

Why do it? Same reason – it gets in the way and takes up the opponents' bidding space. And it works a treat here. South now has to bid 3 (instead of just 1) and North will now be forced to bid 3NT. What now? South will either leave it or (if she's worried about the spades) convert to 4.

So what? you may ask. 3NT makes 9 tricks and 4 makes 11. You haven't got in the way at all! Or have you? Take a closer look and you'll see that NS can make a grand slam in clubs – and East's 2♠ overcall may well have prevented their opponents from finding it. 

Supposing East doesn't bid. After partner's opening 1♣ South will reply 1 (no need to go higher – it's forcing) and North will rebid 2♣. 'Hmm,' thinks South. 'We have a 9-card club fit, and if my partner has an ace or two we could well have a slam on here ...' A simple way of finding out would be to bid 4NT Blackwood, which would allow South to discover that North has TWO aces plus the KING of trumps and also (if we get sophisticated) the QUEEN of trumps as well. No trouble finding a slam with that sort of information ...

... but East's 2♠ bid makes that a whole lot more difficult. It stops NS from agreeing their club fit and, more important, it makes them worry about getting into the right game ... and so the idea of the slam kinda fades away.

Moral: Chat with your partner and agree about what a jump overcall would mean in your system. It will always show a 6-card suit, and most pairs play it as weak, as EW did on this hand. I recommend that you do the same.

​​In Box and Bath

In Box, most NS pairs found game, either in 3NT, 4  or 5♣. The best score was for 11 tricks in hearts.

In Bath, most people were in the same games. Just one pair bid 6♣ (and made 13 tricks). Another pair, ridiculously, bid and made 6 – how, only God knows, as West was sitting behind the A with KQ4 and therefore, you would have thought, can't fail to make two trump tricks. That's bridge for you.

  HOTW 08 Jun 2016 | It's that negative double again

It's that negative  X  again

There goes East poking her oar in again. If she keeps quiet, it's easy for NS to reach 4♠ – South replies 1 to North's opening 1, North now bids 1♠, South raises to 3♠ and North has no trouble going on to game.

But here, East has overcalled 2♣. What to do? You aren't strong enough to bid hearts at the 2 level, but if you pass or bid 1NT the auction's likely to fizzle out long before game. The answer is, of course, to use the bid everyone always forgets about – the negative double. In a situation like this, where partner has opened a suit and the opposition have overcalled, it means:

Partner, I have enough points to respond, and I'm guaranteeing at least four cards in any unbid major suit. 

Just perfect for this situation, isn't it? It actually turns East's overbid into an advantage for NS, because it enables South to show BOTH of her majors at once. So how does it go from here? West may raise her partner to 3♣ – just to get in the way – but now that North knows that you have 4 spades and enough points to respond, she'll have no trouble bidding 3♠ – or even going straight to 4♠. 

MORAL: Whenever an opponent's overcall 'pinches your bid', consider whether the negative double might be the answer.

The play

So how does it go? East will probably start by cashing her AK and then switch to a club. You win with dummy's A and cash the A (in case someone happens to have the ♠Q singleton), then you'll come over to dummy's A and take a trump finesse, felling West's ♠Q, and take one more round of trumps to finish the job. Then you cash your KQ, ruff a diamond with dummy's last trump and the rest of the tricks are yours. 11 tricks made.

In Box and Bath

Most pairs in Box reached 4♠ but only one declarer made 11 tricks.

In Bath, strangely, less than half ended up in 4♠, though nearly everyone who did made 11 tricks. One EW sacrificed in 5♣X,  which went 3 off for -500 – a bargain compared with -650 for 4♠ +1 made by NS.

  HOTW 20 Apr 2016 | Double!


Every Wednesday morning I get at least two bidding queries to which the answer is 'Double': either a straight 'take-out' double, offering support for whichever suit partner chooses to bid or the 'negative double' after an overcall of partner's opening bid, showing any unbid major. If your reaction is of the 'Oh yes, for some reason I never think of doubling' variety, then the sooner you add the double to your bidding toolkit the better.

Here, of course, it's the takeout double, showing (at least) OPENING POINTS and support for the other three suits – but, as always, with special emphasis on the majors. Your partner will expect you to have at least 4-4 in the majors, or 4-3 on a really bad day. On this hand it's the only sensible bid. Consider the alternatives. PASS would be a feeble admission of defeat. And 3♠, with that threadbare 5-card suit, would be simply foolhardy.

Now have a look at the other hands. (Aren't you glad you didn't bid those spades?) Assuming for a moment that West passes, what is North to bid? Well, for a a start she should prefer her 4-card MAJOR to her 5-card minor. But should she bid 3 or 4? Best simply to regard partner's hand as having opened 1 (the double marks it as an opening hand with at least 4 hearts). With 11 points and just 7 losers you'd bid 4, wouldn't you? So do the same here.

Now it's certainly true that 4 can go off. East's singleton spade to the Ace, followed by a spade ruff, then a low club to West's Ace and another spade ruff. Which North can of course prevent by herself ruffing with the K ... but 4 is still the place to be and is unlucky not to make.

Which brings me, just before we look at what happened where, to West. I think that after South's double of partner's opening 3♣, West should sacrifice with 5♣. What? With 2 aces? Well, yes. I'd reason as follows:

The opposition have only 3 clubs between them, so we have only ONE club trick (they'll ruff the second). I have ONE other trick (my A♠). My partner made a preemptive opening, so may have ONE trick other than a few useless points in clubs. That makes only THREE tricks, so they're going to make 4. Therefore it's best to bid 5♣ NOW, before they can exchange any more information. If we go 2 off doubled, fine. And maybe they'll risk 5, which I reckon we can probably take one off.

In Box and Bath

Very interesting. NO-ONE in Box played in hearts, though a couple went off in spades (yuk) and one pair reached 4. So maybe someone doubled. In Bath, by contrast, 5 pairs played in hearts, three in diamonds and only 2 in spades, meaning that LOTS of Souths doubled. A small handful of Wests agreed with me about sacrificing in 5♣. Sadly. most of the people in hearts went off, but that was the luck of this particular draw. On another night, they would have had well-deserved tops.

  HOTW 23 Mar 2016 | 5 + 5 = 10

5 + 5 = 10

Here's a nice competitive situation. Over North's opening 1♣,  your partner has overcalled 1. South then makes a negative double (the one I go on about all the time), showing enough points to respond and exactly 4 spades.

And now it's up to you. You clearly want to support partner's hearts – but will you bid 2, 3 or 4?

Enter the Law of Total Tricks (Google it if you really want to), which has quite a lot of mumbo-jumbo associated with it, but one very useful rule of thumb:

In a competitive auction, especially if you're the weaker side,
bid to the level of your fit.

Which means: count the number of trumps that you and your partner hold between you and bid to make that number of tricks. So here, your partner is known to have 5 hearts (at least) and you also have 5. 5 + 5 = 10, so bid to make 10 tricks. Bid 4. Straight away.

A word of explanation: you're not necessarily expected to MAKE 4. You're getting in the way. Taking bidding space away from your opponents. And linking how high you go to your total trump holding is a way of making sure you don't go too many tricks off.

Now take a look at the complete deal, and see the havoc you've just wrought.

North knows that she and her partner have a 4-4 spade fit ... but only has an ordinary opening hand. Can she risk bidding 4♠ when South may only have 6 points? Not really. So she passes. So does your partner. And now it's poor old South's turn. South doesn't even know that they have a spade fit, so can only double 4 for penalties. (Yes, she could try 5♣, but how likely is that to make?) 

The result? 4♥X goes 2 off for -300. As you can see, NS can make an easy game in spades for a much better score – but thanks to your 4 bid they never get there. 

A couple of final points

  • It's no good you 'taking things slowly'. If you bid anything less than game, North will surely support her partner's spades and they'll probably reach game. You must go STRAIGHT to 4.
  • Temper your boldness with wisdom. At unfavourable vulnerability, it's usually best to bid one level lower, as even going 2 off will prove too expensive. But at favourable vulnerability, you might even risk bidding a level higher.
  • South mustn't fail to DOUBLE the 4 for penalties. With a good defensive hand containing 10 points opposite her partner's opening bid, she has to realise that EW are SACRIFICING and therefore EXPECT TO GET DOUBLED. Letting them get away with -100 for 2 off would be silly. And who knows? Maybe your double will alert North to the fact that you're stronger than a mere 6 points, so maybe she'll decide to bid 4♠ after all ...
  HOTW 03 Feb 2016 | 8-card suit

8-card suit

You're the dealer on this hand. What, if anything, do you open?

Well. with only 8 points, you're weak. With a 7-card suit, you'd open 3♠, but you haven't got 7 spades – you've got 8. And with a weak hand and an 8-card suit, you should open 4♠ .

Vulnerability comes into it, of course. You're vulnerable here, but so are they and you have a very good suit and probably have 8 tricks in your own hand. So in the worst case, you're two off doubled for minus 500. 

How does it pan out? Depends who's got what:

  • If your partner's got a reasonable hand (say a couple of spades and two aces), you're going to make it.
  • If she's got a strong hand, you've already told her enough about your hand for her to decide whether to explore for a slam.
  • And if the opposition are strong, they'll either have to double you and put up with only getting 500 instead of 600+ for game or they'll have to start guessing at the FIVE level without knowing ANYTHING about each other's hands. 

Can't lose really. Have a look at the whole deal, and you'll see that the opposition have game in hearts. Their problem is that you've taken all their bidding space away and it's sheer guesswork whether they should simply double you or punt something at the 5 level. Actually, they can't make 11 tricks so if they bid on you're in profit. And if they double you, they only get 500, as the ♠Q drops.

Or things could get really stratospheric for you, as they did at our table. My partner led A, then (seeing the singleton in dummy) led ♣A followed by the ♣K – disaster! Can you see what happened next?

That's right. North ruffed in hand, ruffed a heart in dummy, then ruffed another club and used dummy's last trump to ruff another heart. It remained only to clear trumps and claim +750 for 4♠ doubled making! Well done, Kath.

Note: Vulnerable against non-vulnerable, I'd probably only open 3♠, because they're only going to make 400 for game, and that makes -500 too expensive. So keep an eye on the greens and reds ...

In Box and Bath

The Box results were largely bizarre: both declarers in 4♠ made their contracts and one East somehow managed to make 5. Bath, on the other hand, was littered with EW pairs who had gone too high in diamonds or hearts and gone one or more off. Which just goes to show how effective an opening 4-bid can be.

  HOTW 21 Oct 2015 | How to wriggle

How to wriggle

Here's a situation that happens pretty often, and every partnership needs an agreed method of dealing with it. Partner opens 1NT and your right-hand opponent doubles. Whereas the double of an opening SUIT bid is for take-out, doubling an opening 1NT bid is for PENALTIES, and requires a point-count of 16+. Your partner has already described her hand – you know she has a balanced 12-14 points – so it's up to YOU to decide the next move.

In essence, it's pretty simple. If you have 8+ points (or even a decent 7), you and your partner have half the points between you, so you're quite happy to play in 1NT doubled, and you calmly pass. 

But if you're weak – as here, with only a 4-count – you know that 1NT doubled is not going to play well. You're going to go off for a nasty penalty and you need to do something about it. You need to WRIGGLE.

Wriggling essentially consists of 'running' from 1NT into a suit contract at the 2-level, which is likely to be less expensive. Here's what I play. It's not complicated and usually does the trick:

  • If you're lucky enough to have a 5+-card suit, REDOUBLE. This requires partner to bid 2♣. And on your next bid you pass (if your 5-card suit is clubs) or else bid your suit.
  • If you don't have a 5-card suit, bid the LOWER of two 4-card suits (and if you're unlucky enough to be 4-3-3-3, PRETEND that you have two 4-card suits).

Let's just look at that again from opener's point of view. You've opened 1NT and your LHO doubles. If partner then ...

  • passes, she's saying 'Don't worry, partner. I've got plenty of points and we can make 1NT – maybe even with overtricks.'
  • redoubles, she's saying 'I'm weak, partner, but fortunately I have a 5-card suit to wriggle into. Please bid 2♣ and I'll tell you what suit it is.'
  • bids a suit, she's saying 'I'm weak, but I have two 4-card suits. This is the lower one. If you like it, pass. If not, bid on and we'll try to find a better fit.'

So what happens here? West has 4 hearts and 4 spades, so bids 2. North passes and East, who has 4 spades, is happy to sign off in 2♠. Wriggle successfully accomplished!

The interesting thing is what happens next. In practice, few doublers can resist making a bid – after all, they've got a nice hand and want to be in something! No doubt here South will bid 3♣, which North, with a wretched 4-count and not being sure exactly how strong his partner is, will probably pass. Which is a quite wonderful result for EW, because on this hand NS can make 3NT.

Let's look at some scores. No-one's vulnerable, so it looks like this:

  • If NS find 3NT, they'll score 400.
  • If they leave you in 2♠ (unlikely) they'll score 50, because you can make 7 tricks in spades.
  • If they double 2♠ (more likely) they'll score 100. 
  • If they play in 3♣ (which only just makes) they'll score 110.
  • But if you leave your partner in 1NTX (which goes THREE off) they'll score a massive 500 – better than making 3NT themselves.

The lesson is clear: if your 1NTX is going off, WRIGGLE!

In Box and Bath

In Box, most EWs were either in spades (after a quick introduction to wriggling!) or defending against 3♣, which surprisingly went off a couple of times. No NS pair reached 3NT. Bath had its fair share of 3♣ contracts, but several NS pairs succeeded in reaching 3NT. Most of the rest were 'wriggled' spade contracts by EW. Just one EW pair played in 1NTX, and they were FOUR off for minus 800 – the worst EW result in the room.

Again, the lesson is clear – WRIGGLE!

  HOTW 14 Oct 2015 | Negative double

Negative double

Here's a perfect example of the negative double that I bang on about every week. You're South, your partner has opened 1♣ and East overcalls 1♠. But for the overcall, you would have responded 1, but now you can't. With only 7 points, you aren't strong enough to bid 2 either. Enter the negative double, which means:

Partner, I have enough points to respond to your opening bid (so anything from 6 upwards) and I have at least 4 of any as yet unbid major.

Spades have already been bid in this auction, so the double simply means: I've got 6+ points and at least 4 hearts, partner. A pretty good description of your hand!

What happens next? North, who has a very pleasant 4-4-4-1 holding with four hearts, 17 points and just 5 losers, goes straight to game: 4. A simple negative double and you've found your spot. Have a look at the whole deal and you'll see that it makes comfortably. You lose just one spade and one diamond trick.

A negative double by North?

Just for fun, let's replay the auction with East bidding differently. Some of you play Ghestem, which is a way of showing TWO five card suits with one bid. Here, East's bidding 2♣ over North's 1♣ would show a hand with at least 5 diamonds and 5 spades – much more informative, and what's more it silences South, who now no longer has a bid. West bids 3 to show her (marked!) preference for diamonds ...  and now it's North's turn to double. This basically says 'Come on, partner, bid something!' but with the opposition showing both spades and diamonds, there's a clear inference that North has hearts herself . And again, NS will have found their major fit.

This time, however, EW have been able to find their own fit, and may well decide that sacrificing in 5♦X is worth a punt. As indeed it is, as it only goes 2 off for -300, compared with -450 if NS are allowed to play in 4.

So a hand with all sorts of possibilities. But if you take just one thing from it, take the negative double. It comes up time and time again, and may well be the answer when you're saying to yourself 'That b......'s just pinched my bid!' 

In Box and Bath

In Box, most pairs found the heart fit, but two pairs decided to sacrifice in diamonds and were duly rewarded. In Bath nearly everyone found the heart game – two bravely overbidding the diamond sacrifice to bid and make 5.

  HOTW 22 Jul 2015 | 9-card suit

9-card suit

Everyone knows that with a weak hand and a 7-card suit, you can make a preemptive opening bid at the 3-level. Similarly, with an 8-card suit you can open 4, and on the rare occasions you have a 9-card suit, you can open 5. Although you could open 1 on this hand, an opening 5 would ensure the opponents don't find game in a major suit ... but no matter - it isn't your opening bid. In fact, you're 4th in the bidding order, so you wait and see what happens.

As it happens, EW are bidding and your partner isn't. That doesn't necessarily mean your partner is weak - she may just not have a convenient bid. But from where you're sitting, EW could easily end up in game in hearts - and possibly spades (given that your partner didn't overcall 1♠ over East's 1♣ and so probably doesn't have 5 spades). You've got a great suit, with a void in East's clubs and a conveniently placed K (given West's heart bid), so it's a no-brainer to bang down the STOP card and bid 5 - that'll shut 'em up!

Um, yes - but is that a sacrifice or are you hoping to make the contract? The answer is that you don't know yet. If partner has values, you might make it. But if partner has nothing, EW have probably got game on. Either way, 5 is a good place to be.

So what happens? East probably leads the A (click on 'Show all hands'), and you see that dummy is NOT particularly weak - EW DON'T therefore have a game, so you need to make your contract! 

But it's not particularly difficult. You clear trumps in one round (keeping dummy's Q as a vital entry) and lead a small spade. Lovely. If East plays her ♠A you can later discard two small hearts on dummy's ♠KQ, and if she doesn't, you win in dummy and lead the J - or even a small heart - towards your K, losing at most 2 heart tricks. 11 tricks bid and made.

What you shouldn't do ...

... is to end up stuck in your hand (e.g. by unnecessarily taking two rounds of trumps). Without an entry to dummy, you're helpless. Having taken her ♠A, East will now lead her ♣K, forcing you to ruff in hand, and now you've had it. Eventually you'll have to lead away from your K, allowing West to make her AQ, and you'll be one off - as presumably happened at one table in Bath and two in Box.

  HOTW 20 May 2015 | What about my hearts?

What about my hearts?

Just as an illustration of how silly today's hands were, here's a situation where East never gets to bid a really good major suit: AKQ754.

After the opening joust in the minors, North has to think. She has good support for partner's clubs, but that must wait in case NS have a major fit. She can choose between a negative double (showing both majors) or simply bidding 1. I think the latter is slightly better, as South can always bid spades herself if she has four.

But what is East to do now? Hearts don't look so good, and there's a ready-made diamond fit. Part of me wants to raise straight to 5 – which is actually the best bid, as it happens – but let's be cautious and just raise partner to 3 (we have a known 9-card fit, so bid 'to the level of the fit').

South can now only pass. Ditto West. But North, with a 7-loser hand and good club support, can now compete with 4♣.

And then it's just a game of chicken until one side backs off. But amazingly, as it turns out, NS can make GAME in clubs, with just EIGHTEEN combined points (losing just one heart and one spade), while EW can make 10 tricks in diamonds. Hearts are a misfit, with just 8 tricks available to EW in spite of the super suit.

So it turns out that the par contract is 5♦X going just 1 off for -200. On an 18-22 point split, no-one's ever going to bid that far, though. Are they?

In Bath and Box

Well, one EW pair in Box reached 5 (presumably as a sacrifice over 5♣) and two EW pairs in Bath did the same (though they were DOUBLED, and rightly so). So the message from this hand? Don't ignore a major suit, but if there's an obvious major misfit, go for the known minor fit instead.

Or simply shake your head and hope for a more sensible distribution next time.

  HOTW 01 April 2015 | A helping hand

A helping hand

How likely are you to look for a slam on this hand, after partner's raise to 3♠? You've only got 5 losers, but with partner showing 8 losers herself, that still only adds up to 11 tricks. Most Norths will, I reckon settle for game: 4♠.

But what if West comes in with 4 over your partner's spade raise? Does that change things? I think it does. His partner has passed, yet he's prepared to bid at the 4-level – vulnerable! – all on his own. That suggests a long – and very good – club suit. Which in turn suggests that your partner's points are in suits other than clubs.

Put it another way: if the opponents have 15 points or so, 9 or 10 of them look likely to be in clubs - wasted points, because you have a club void. So all your partner's points are working – in suits where you need help.

So rather than signing off in 4♠, it does no harm if you try 4 en route, showing partner your A and a slam interest. And when partner now comes back with 4 – almost certainly showing the A – things look pretty promising.

What now? I'd probably just punt the slam. But it might be a good idea to go via RKC Blackwood, which allows you to check whether or not partner has the trump Queen (she has).

The play

Have a look at the whole deal and you'll see that the slam is cold (with just a combined 23-count!). All you have to do is clear trumps, get rid of their K (their only trick) and you can chuck your losing heart on one of your four diamond tricks. Easy – no excuses for not making 12 tricks!

But bidding it is another matter. In Bath, just 3 pairs bid the slam. I wonder whether those were the ones who got a helping hand from West?

  HOTW 15 Jan 2014 | 22-point game, with overtrick
22-point game, with overtrick
Here's a nice illustration of the negative double, the losing trick count and cross-ruffing, all rolled into one.

You're sitting East, your partner opens 1
and North overcalls 2.

If North hadn't overcalled, you would have responded 1NT (6-9 points, can't support spades, not strong enough to bid any other suit at the 2 level).

As it is, this is an ideal opportunity for a negative double. In this situation, where one of the two suits bid is a major, a double simply means that you have enough points to respond and at least 4 of the other major (that is, either 4 or 5-but-not-strong-enough-to-bid-them-at-the-two-level).

Your partner turns out to have at least 4 hearts with you, and bids 2
, and now North passes. What's your bid?

Simply count your losers: you have a 7-loser hand, and since your partner opened the bidding, you should go straight to game: 4.

What? With only 6 points? Sure. But OK, if you're in doubt, think about it a bit more:



  • If partner has 4 hearts, yet opened 1, he must have at least 5 spades, mustn't he? Leaving him only 4 cards in the minors.
  • You have the Ace in North's suit, and given that you and North have 10 clubs between you (he must have 5 for his overcall), partner could well have a singleton – so maybe no losers at all in clubs.
  • You have a maximum of 2 losers in diamonds, and a singleton in spades (partner's suit).
  • You have a 9-card trump fit – super for cross-ruffing ...

So it's a no-brainer, really. Take a deep breath and reach for the 4 card.

Dummy goes down

North leads the K and you lay down dummy.

If you click on Show All Hands, you'll see that I've cheated a little. Your partner (West) has a very nice 6-loser hand himself, and so should really respond to your double with 3 rather than just 2. I just wanted to get across the idea that even if partner had a weaker, more ordinary hand, you should still jump to game.

That being
so, you really ought to be able to harvest an overtrick on this one.

How is it done?
Move over to the West seat, take a moment to plan your play, then read on.

The play

The simplest solution is to set up a cross-ruff. The rules of cross-ruffing are pretty simple. First, you don't clear trumps, as you need to retain the maximum number of trumps yourself to ruff with.
And second, before you start cross-ruffing, you cash all your side-suit winners (because if you leave it till later, the opposition might start ruffing your tricks).

So. Win the first trick with the
A, cash your AK (discarding one of those horrid little diamond losers from dummy).

Then lead a spade and ruff it in dummy ....

... lead back a club and ruff it in hand ...

... lead back another spade and ruff it in dummy ...

And carry on like that until you have 11 tricks. (It's well worth getting a pack of cards and playing it out – or if you have Jack, email me and I'll attach you the hand.)

And in Bath?

They didn't cover themselves with glory, I'm afraid. Even with 6 losers opposite 7 losers and a 9-card trump fit, only 3 of the 9 EWs bid to game. The rest subsided in 3 or even 2. Most declarers managed 11 tricks, though, and the poorest result was 10 tricks – which just goes to show how useful it can be to count your losers: it can guide you to an 11-trick game contract with just 22 points ...

PS: Losing Trick Count

If you're not familiar with the LTC, you'll find my version on the Nuts & Bolts page (see menu, left).
It's well worth knowing!







  HOTW 04 Dec 2013 | Shape!


The great plus of the Losing Trick Count is that it takes account of shape, and on this hand shape is everything.

How do you reply to partner's opening 1? You have just 9 points and no aces – but you have plentiful support for partner's suit and a void in what is surely the opposition's best suit (partner is unlikely to have more than 3 hearts, so they've probably got a 10-card fit!).

Let's count losers and see what we get. We have just two losers in each of our three suits – 6 in all. Add that to partner's 7 losers and we get 13. The Losing Trick Count suggests, then, that we can make (24 – 13 =) 11 tricks. 

Goodness. Are you brave enough to bid 5 – vulnerable against non-vulnerable? You should, because East is marked to have points and if you make a tentative response like 3 – or even 4 – East will double for take-out or maybe punt hearts himself, and they'll find their fit. For all you know they can make a slam: after all, you have no aces yourself, and East or West could easily be void in diamonds. But if you go straight to 5, you're making it really difficult for them.

Have a look at the hands. East does indeed have points, but his double of 5 is for penalties – and 5 makes, thanks to partner's singleton club, netting you a handsome +750!

But look what happens if you don't jump straight there: East doubles for take-out and as sure as eggs is eggs West will show her 6-card heart suit, and that will be that. They'll either make game themselves in 4 or, if you persevere into 5♦ (as you should), they'll sacrifice in 5, going just 1 off.

So be bold. Each side holds just 20 points, but because of their shape game is on both ways. The key for NS is to go straight there before EW have time to catch their breath.

Postscript Sadly, this hand wasn't played in Bath, as it was one of our two low-tech shuffled-and-dealt hands. Here in Box, it was 50% in 4 and 50% in 5. Well done those who cracked on to game in diamonds – EW shouldn't be allowed to get away with 4​. 

  HOTW 20 Nov 2013 | Keep them out!

Keep them out!

Sitting North, what do you open on this hand?

You're just a bit short of a Rule of 20 opening (points + the no of cards in your 2 longest suits >= 20). But you have 6 spades, so a weak 2 seems like a good idea: 2♠.

East passes, so what should South now bid? You have ample support for partner's spades, some lovely club tricks and not one but two singletons, so surely there's a good chance of game. Also, your partner wouldn't have opened a weak 2 if she had 4 of the other major – so the opposition have at least 9 hearts between them. They don't know that yet, though, so go straight there: 4♠.

West duly passes, and you play – and make – in 4♠, for a handsome 620.

Which is an excellent result for you, because (as you'll see from the diagram) EW can make 10 tricks in either hearts or diamonds. If they can only start talking to each other, they will realise that, and will sacrifice in either 5 or 5. Either of these goes just one off, so even if you double it you'll only get 200 – not a patch on 620.

So why didn't they find it? Because you kept them out! Let's say North opens just 1♠. East will surely overcall with 2, and then West, knowing her partner has values, will feel emboldened to show her hearts or raise partner's diamonds. Similarly, if South just raises to 3♠ instead of 4♠, West may well feel brave enough to show her hearts, and again EW will be able to escape with just -200.

But as it went, for East (11 points) to come in with 3 vulnerable would be daft, and for 8-pointed West  to come in out of the blue with 5 would be even dafter. You bid high and preemptively, without hanging around, and stopped them in their tracks for a great score.

And in Bath?

Not a heart or diamond contract in sight. Everyone was in spades. Just one EW pair had presumably made the sacrifice, because NS had gone on to 5♠, which went 1 off doubled, for an absolute top for EW. Well done them – but I wonder if NS had themselves to blame for bidding too tentatively instead of going straight for game, thus allowing EW to enter the auction.

  HOTW 18 Sep 2013 | Pre-emptive power

Pre-emptive power

What do you bid on this hand after two passes?

Technically, you have a pre-emptive 3♠ opening – a 7-card suit and 6–9 points. It's a bit ropy, mind you: 5 of your 7 points are the singleton K and the doubleton Q, and the quality of your spade suit's pretty poor, too ... So what to do?

Before we decide, let's consider why we pre-empt at all. The idea is to make it difficult for the opposition to find their best contract by getting in the way. So, again, what to do? Well ...

  • ... first of all, North is SURE to have an opening hand, maybe quite a good one, and the odds are they have some kind of a game (maybe even a slam ...)
  • Second of all, your suit is SPADES, so if you open 3♠, they'll either have to punt 3NT or show their first suit at the FOUR level. Difficult.
  • And third of all, they're vulnerable and you're not. Why's that important? Well, if they're allowed to make their game, they'll score 600+, whereas if you're in spades, even if you're doubled, you have to go FOUR off before you get a worse score than that. In other words, it's safe to go 3 off.

So it's a no-brainer: bid 3♠. 


Does it work? Have a look at the full deal.

Poor North. She has a lovely 18-count, but what can she bid? 3NT looks a bit dodgy. Double's not attractive, as partner will expect her to hold at least 4 hearts. And the diamonds are far from being a solid suit. But whatever she does, it's too late. Holding ♠AJ8 and a singleton, East will bid 4 over any call that North makes (other than pass!), and if necessary, e.g. if NS get into 5, even 5♠. Which North will, of course, double.

The result? EW can make 8 tricks in spades, so 4♠X goes 2 off for -300 and 5♠X goes 3 off for -500. Neither of which are as expensive as the -600 it will cost if NS are allowed to make 5.

And in Bath?

It was around 50-50, with some NS pairs making 4 or 5, and in the rest EW were in 4♠ or 5♠ doubled – and in 2 cases were left in 3♠ undoubled for a very good result. All because of a pre-emptive opening bid.

HEALTH WARNING: Always check vulnerability before embarking on this kind of thing – and take especial care if YOU are vulnerable and they aren't: in that case, they're only making 400+ for game, and you will lose 500 for being just TWO off doubled. Yuk.

  HOTW 05 June 2013 | Overbidding!



Here's a great hand on which the first two bidders should really pass - but didn't!


With just 4 points, South is too weak even to preempt, but as she's non-vulnerable against vulnerable she decides to put a spoke in the EW wheels with an opening 3.


Over to West, who with an awkward 4-4-4-1 holding and just 11 points, was intending to pass ... But South's 3 changes all that. Suddenly, 4-4-4-1 becomes transformed into the PERFECT holding for a take-out double: this, plus the decent spade holding, makes this otherwise nondescript 11-count worth bidding, even vulnerable and even at the 3-level: double.


Now it's North's turn. With a wretched 6-count, North can see at once that EW can make game (even if partner has a 'proper' preempt with 5-9 points) and maybe more ... So with a couple of hearts to supplement partner's seven, it's worth making things a bit more tricky for EW by bidding 4


Which brings us to East, who has a magnificent 19-count as well as four spades. After partner's takeout double (which should show opening points) the question is not 'Can we make a slam?' but 'Should we be in 6 or 7?' The way to find out, of course, is via Blackwood, which can tell East first whether partner has the A and then, crucially, whether she has the Q too. But NS have kinda made that more difficult ...


Question: If East were now to bid 4NT, would that convey the meaning 'This is Blackwood agreeing spades, partner'? 


Answer: I think it would, as West is guaranteeing 4 spades by her double. It's the default 'fit of preference' for both players.


So that's what I'd do: I'd find that partner has the missing keycard (the A) and then I'd ask about the Q, and finding that it's not there I'd sign off in 6.


But if you can't be sure that partner would understand 4NT, the only alternative is simply to punt 6 and hope that you can't make 13 tricks! (You can't, as you're missing 5 trumps including the J and the Q.)


So there you are. Does the NS preempting spree pay off? Hard to say – in Bath, certainly (and surprisingly), only four out of 13 EWs ended up in the rock-solid slam. We did rather better in Box, with 2 out of 3 tables reaching 6.


No one in either place, though, found the best spot for EW, which is (apparently!) 7. Can't win 'em all.

  HOTW 16 Jan 2013 | Protecting


Imagine you're sitting West, and the auction is as shown. What do you think the other players are holding?
Well, South's got 0-5 points, yes? Let's give her an average, say 3 points. And let's give North a decent opening hand, say 15 points. Do a little arithmetic and you'll see that partner actually has an opening hand - 12 points. Hey! That means we have more points than they do ... and I was about to pass, too!

Let's look a little closer. Even if North is stronger than that, the odds are that you have around half the points. And there's a possibility (if North has a minimum opening hand) that partner has as many as 15.

How can that be? Easily. What can partner bid over 1
♣? She can overcall with a (decent) 5-card suit ... or bid 1NT with a balanced 15-17 and a club stop ... or double with a shortage in clubs and support for the other 3 suits. But there are lots of hands that aren't suitable for any of those bids, and then all partner can do is PASS - and rely on you to protect the partnership's interests.
Which is why, if it's your bid after BID - PASS - PASS you're said to be in the protective position. If you pass, the auction dies, so if anyone's going to keep it going it has to be you. And for this reason, Acol allows you to bid with a weaker hand than usual: in essence, you can 'borrow' a King (or 3 points), which in this case brings you up to a notional 13 points.
So what to bid here?
NT doesn't look attractive (you have no club stop) and you haven't got a decent 5-card suit, so an overcall's out ... but what about a takeout double? You have at least some support for each of the other three suits so ...
... let's try it and see what happens. Have a look at the other hands.
As it happens, North is a minimum in this case, and partner has a very pleasant 14 points, including a 4-card spade suit. You'll probably end up buying the contract with something like 2 or 3 - which is far better than leaving them in 1 (even if they go one off).
A couple of cautions:
  • East must be aware that partner's double was made in the protective position - i.e. it might be 'light'. She should not therefore go leaping straight off into 4♠, as partner might have as few as 8-9 points. An invitational 3 is quite high enough.
  • You don't always want to bid in the protective position. If you're pretty weak, it's likely that North has a very strong hand - so leaving them to play in 1 of a minor is probably the cheapest option.


So - a useful addition to your convention card. To find out more, google 'protective position bridge' - if you don't include the 'bridge' you get lots of stuff about flight emergencies.

  HOTW 24 Oct 2012 | You've pinched my bid!
You've pinched my bid!
Two useful points arise from this week's hand - one each for East and West.

West's bid

It's always a bit of a surprise when an opponent pinches your bid
. Here West, who intended to open 1 (and rebid NT on her second bid, showing her balanced 15-16 points) finds that option scuppered as South opens 1 himself. What to say?

It's often a good idea to pass smoothly when they bid your suit, but you have a better option here: the 1NT overcall. This shows a balanced hand with 15-17 points plus at least one stop (preferably two) in the opponent's suit. Which in this case is exactly what it says on the tin.

[Why do you need 15-17 points instead of 12-14? Well, because one of the opponents is known to have opening points, there are fewer points left lying around to be in your partner's hand. So to balance partner's probably weaker holding, you need to be a little stronger yourself.]

So West bids 1NT. North passes, and the next move is up to East.

East's bid

Easy peasy. This is simply a question of counting. You add up your combined point count and follow the golden rule:

  • If you know you have enough points for game, bid it.
  • If you know you don't have enough points for game, pass. (No point in going higher than you have to!)
  • If you might have enough points for game, raise to 2NT to invite partner to game. (With a minimum, she'll pass; with a maximum, she'll bid game).

So here we go. West has 15-17 points, and I have 7. We have a minimum of 22 points between us and a maximum of 24. Option 2 applies: we know we don't have enough for game. So East passes.

Just as well, as it turns out. West is a minimum 15 points, and with a combined 22-count you'll be lucky to make more than the bare 7 tricks.

  HOTW 12 Sep 2012 | Sacrifice?
This hand's a cracker. What do you do, sitting East, with this lot? When North opens 1, you come in with 2 (not the best bid, but there you are), South makes a negative double showing spades (and possibly also diamonds) and following your partner's pass North jumps straight to game in spades.

It's a classic do-I-sacrifice-or-not situation. Do you bid 5
or not? ... Well, do you?

As always, there are two questions to be considered:
  • Are they making 4? Because if they aren't, there's no point in going on anyway.
  • Will it cost me less or more if I sacrifice?

From where you're sitting, 4 looks pretty likely to make. They've obviously got a good fit in spades (as your singleton would suggest); they've gone straight to game, so they're either strong or very distributional; your partner has said nothing; and they're going to be very short of your best suit, so you'll probably make just one club trick at best. 4 – or even 5 – looks to be on.

So think about the sacrifice. If your partner has absolutely NOTHING, how many tricks are you going to make with clubs as trumps? I make it 9. That means you'll be no worse than 2 off in 5X (oh yes, they're going to double you!) – and if your partner has something, maybe only 1 off.

And the rest is simple, provided you know your game and penalty scores. If you don't, this is a good opportunity to learn them – I've listed them at the end – but for the moment you need to know that 4 vulnerable will gain NS 620, whereas going 2 off vulnerable in 5X will only cost you 500. Sacrificing in 5is clearly the right thing to do.

Of course, they may decide not to double you but to bid 5 instead, and now you'll need to do your sums all over again, but that takes us into murkier waters – if you bid further you're in danger of pushing them into a slam which might even make! – so we'll leave it there.

Have a look at the hands. It turns out that they're certainly making game in spades (in fact, a rather freaky 6 is on) and your sacrifice is spot on, as you can make not 9 but 10 tricks: just one off for a cost of 200 points.


I said earlier that 2 wasn't the best overcall. Your two singletons suggest that the opposition have a major fit somewhere and bidding 2 doesn't disrupt their communications much, does it? But with that huge suit, what if you bid 5 straight away? They're never going to find their spade fit now, are they? And for all you (and they!) know, it could make. Makes things much more difficult for them at no greater cost to you.

Game and penalty scores

Here's a table of scores and penalties:


Score/Penalty for …



… making game



… going 1 off doubled



… going 2 off doubled



… going 3 off doubled



… going more off doubled

extra 300 per trick

It's a good idea to know these scores. You can then tell whether it's worth making a sacrifice or not. e.g. if you're not vulnerable and they are, you can afford to go three off doubled (-500) to stop them getting game (-600), but if you're vulnerable and they aren't, you can only afford to go one off (-200 vs -400): two off (for -500) is too many.
  HOTW 11 Jul 2012 | 20-20
I'm wondering whether recent articles in praise of 3NT have been a mite too persuasive, as 3 NS pairs ended up in 3NT on this deal, and the fourth was only one short with 2NT.

How they got there is a mystery, for two reasons. First, each pair has only 20 points between them - way short of the requirements for 3NT. And second, West must surely be bidding hearts and neither N nor S has anything like a stop in the suit, so bidding NT is unsafe.

How two of those pairs actually made 9 tricks is equally mysterious: on a heart lead, EW take at least the first 7 tricks (6 heart tricks and the A), for at least 3 down.

Here's my version of the auction.

  • With opening points and a decent 6-card heart suit, West overcalls 1 over South's opening 1.
  • With enough points to respond, North shows his 4-card spade holding by means of the now well-documented negative double ...
  • ... and East (bidding to the known 'level of the fit': 5 hearts + 3 hearts = 8) raises his partner to 2.
  • I'm not sure what South does now: it's either PASS or, if you're feeling very frisky with a miserable 12 points, 3.
  • West, on the other hand, has a 5-loser hand with a singleton in EW's suit and there's a known fit in hearts. She's surely either going to bid game herself (a bit optimistic, but it makes!) or at least invite game with 3 (whether South has bid again or not).
  • And that's it, unless North decides to compete further in diamonds. East, with a totally flat 10-loser hand, has already bid his hand.

So my auction has EW in either 3 or 4, unless NS have the temerity to sacrifice in 4 or 5. In Bath almost every EW was in hearts, many in game and making it, and all the rest were NS in diamonds. Not a NT contract in sight!

Handling the hearts

So how come 3NT made? One possibility is that the hearts got blocked. Here they are:
Q109764            AK5


If you were declarer, you'd handle this suit by playing off the AK first, then leading low to the Q so the lead's in the right place to cash all the other heart winners. And that's exactly how it goes in defence too.

If it's East's opening lead: lead the A, then the K then the 5 and you've got 6 heart tricks.

If it's West's opening bid: You could lead the 7 (4th highest) but it's best to lead 'top of the sequency bit of a broken sequence'): the 10 from Q109. And East, mindful of the danger of blocking the suit, must go up with the A (or K) then the K (or A) and finally, again, the 5 ... and again you have 6 heart tricks.


So lessons for both sides:

NS: don't get into impossible contracts and

EW: bid up! And if NS do get into an impossible contract, don't let them make it!

  HOTW 29 Feb 2012 | Leaping to game
Leaping to game
It's surprising how few points you need sometimes to make game. Bidding it can be tough, though, unless you count your losers as well as your points. On this hand, North makes a minimum Rule of Twenty opening 1 bid, and East overcalls with 2.

Sitting South, you have a heart fit and just 9 points. What do you bid? You're surely too good for 2
, but is even 3 enough? Counting your losers, you find you have just 7, so you should leap straight to game. Especially with a singleton in the opponents' suit.

East leads the
A, dummy goes down and declarer finds that they've bid to game on just 19 points. Which, as it happens, is plenty. There are six trump tricks, the A, a diamond ruff in dummy and at least 2 tricks in spades - three, as it turns out.

Sacrifices are for doubling

But that's not the whole story: have a look at all four hands. What will West do when South bids 4? Her partner has bid diamonds and she has five of them herself, plus a pretty solid club suit. Not vulnerable, she might well sacrifice in 5.

If that happens, NS have a decision to make: try 5
or double 5. What is not an option is to let EW play in 5 undoubled: it's a sacrifice; they're not expecting to make it, so it would be daft not to double, wouldn't it?

What are the possible outcomes, then?

  • 5 happens to make, though it's a bit frisky to bid it. That's worth 450, and is the best score for NS
  • 5♦X goes just 2 off, for 300 to NS. That's the next best score.
  • 5 undoubled gets you just 100. Barely worth it!

In Box and Bath

In Box everyone reached game, though the pair that sacrificed in diamonds wasn't doubled, so got away cheaply. In Bath most pairs ended up in game in hearts, but again, the diamond contracts weren't doubled.

The best result for EW was at my table. North decided to wait and see what happened, and so passed instead of opening 1
. What happened was nothing, as everybody else passed too and we got away with a score of 0, for our only clear top of the evening. :-)
  HOTW 23 Nov 2011 | Weak 2s, finesses and sacrifices
Weak 2s, finesses and sacrifices
This started off as an illustration of the 2NT overcall after a weak 2 opening, but turned out to be much more interesting ...

The auction

Here's the auction as it went at my table:
  • After two passes, South's opening 2will scupper many a West with an opening hand. Just what weak opening 2 bids are for. (It's been pointed out to me that South shouldn't open a weak 2 with 4 of the other major. Fair enough, but that's what happened on our table!)
  • West's 2NT overcall is straight from the Acol textbook, though it doesn't come up that often and you may not have come across it. Just like a 1NT overcall, it requires a balanced hand with at least one stop in the opponents' suit. Plus, of course, you need a bit of extra strength: I play it as showing 16-18 points.
  • With some points and good spade support (don't peek yet!), North is rightly not deterred by West's announcement of a strong hand, and gets further in the way by raising partner to 3♠. A good move, but I'll come back to it.
  • And now it's East's turn. Partner has made a vulnerable overcall, and really ought to either be a maximum or hold more than one spade stop, or both. So forget 4 – those clubs could be lovely in no trumps – and punt 3NT.

And that was that. North leads a spade and down goes dummy.

The play

OK. You're declarer and you have to make 9 tricks in NT. What's your plan? And in particular, how are you going to deal with the clubs – will you finesse for the Q or will you play AK hoping to 'drop' it?

Take a moment to think about it.

The way I saw it, I had 2 spade tricks, the
A ... and 6 club tricks if I can guess the Q right. Trouble is, my elementary maths tells me that North has 4 spades, so once I've used up my two spade stoppers I really mustn't lose the lead again. And I've already used one of them on the opening lead ...

The books tell us that with a combined 9 cards in a suit and missing the Queen, and other things being equal, it's about 50-50 whether you should finesse or 'play for the drop'. But are things 'equal' here? Well, no. South has shown up with 6 spades, which means that there are more spaces for clubs in North's hand than in South's. In other words, North is more likely to have 3 clubs than 2. So the finesse is the better option.

I play the
K from my hand (just in case the Q is singleton) and everyone follows with a low card. So grit the teeth, lead a low club ... low from North ... up with the Jack ... which loses to South's now singleton Q! South now removes my second spade stop, and defeat is staring me in the face: I have just 8 tricks before I have to lose the lead again, leaving the opponents with hundreds of spade tricks.

'Oh dear,' I quip, after cashing my clubs. 'I'm only going to make this if the
K is a singleton'. And, against all the odds, it is! It drops under my A and dummy's Q provides the 9th trick. Phew.

But should I be in 3NT in the first place? If you haven't already, click to see the whole deal and let's (briefly) revisit the auction.

The auction again

There's a useful rule of thumb that in a competitive auction in which you're the weaker party, you should immediately 'bid to the level of your fit'. That is, if you and your partner have 8 'trumps' between you, bid to the two level (8 tricks), if you have 9, bid 3 (9 tricks) and so on. Especially when you aren't vulnerable – and super-especially if they are.

At my table, North did well to bid
3 when with just 7 points she was clearly as weak as her partner. A more experienced player might have jumped straight to 4, knowing that she and partner had 10 spades between them and bidding to the level of the fit.

4 completely scuppers EW. 5 should go steaming off (especially on a heart lead) and 4X goes off just 3 for -500, considerably less than the -600 for 3NT vulnerable. A great sacrifice.

In Box and Bath

In Box, 4 of the 5 pairs reached 3NT (all making more tricks than I did – they obviously didn't take the club finesse!) but no-one found the
4X sacrifice.

In Bath, most pairs ended up in NT, but 4 sacrificed in spades, all making 7 tricks. And just to prove me wrong, one pair reached 5
and (on the K lead) managed to make 12 tricks. Funny old game.
  HOTW 12 Oct 2011 | To sacrifice or not?
To sacrifice or not?
Let's assume for a moment that NS are NOT playing Astro, Asptro, etc, and that 2 over 1NT would be a natural bid. The bidding will go something like this:
  • East opens 1NT ...
  • ... South, with an excellent diamond suit and 12 points, overcalls 2  ...
  • ... West, with 5 spades, 7 losers and a diamond void, bids 3 ...
  • ... North passes for the moment ...
  • ... and East, with 4 spades and a maximum, raises to game in spades ...
  • ... and South passes, as does West.
Which leaves North with a dilemma: to pass or to sacrifice in 5 doubled. (Oh yes, it's clearly a sacrifice, so EW would be sure to double!)

First, check your vulnerability, to see how expensive it will be. Non-vulnerable, going 2 off will cost you 300, and going 3 off will cost you 500. OK, you've got 5 diamonds, but you're otherwise very weak, with 10 losers, so -500 looks more likely to me.

Now, what about the EW vulnerability? They're not vulnerable either, so their game will only net them four hundred and something. So I pass. The sacrifice is going to cost me more than letting them make their game. (If they're vulnerable, on the other hand, their game is worth 620, so -500 is good value and I bid 5
in my sleep.)

The point is that there are two factors involved. First you have to know
the scoring arithmetic, so that you can work out how many tricks you need. That's the easy bit. And second, you have to judge how many tricks you're actually likely to make, which is trickier.

The play

Well, the spade game is making. So how about the diamond sacrifice?

You have two losers in spades, and you're missing the
A and the A. The K is sitting kindly, but you've still got one heart loser. So that's 5 losers in all, leaving you three off and -500: too expensive.

In Box and Devizes

In Box, two out of three pairs decided to avoid the sacrifice, but the pair that did got away with it: somehow they clawed their way to 9 tricks, and so ended up with -300 – a top for NS.

In Devizes, by contrast, only one of the 11 pairs risked the sacrifice, and duly went three off in 5
X for -500 and a bottom.

So well done that pair in Box for getting away with it on this occasion (though if you keep doing it it'll cost you!), and well done the other pairs for resisting the temptation.

  HOTW 28 Sep 2011 | Counting losers
Counting losers
The strength of a hand is a combination of two factors: your shape and your high-card points, and the beauty of the Losing Trick Count (see Nuts & Bolts, menu left) is that it takes both into account. It ain't infallible, but once you have found a fit it can be a very useful guide.

This hand's a case in point. You're West and your partner opens 1
after three passes. South, who passed originally, sticks in a 2 overcall and it's now your bid.

Simply counting your points – you have just 7 – would suggest a raise to 2
. But you have a fit, so count your losers ... Hmm. Just 6. Well, they say you can go to game with 7 losers, and this is even better, so take a deep breath and jump to game: 4.

Now look at the full deal and see what you've got yourself into. South will probably lead a trump or a spade. Count your tricks.

It's looking pretty good, isn't it? You can ruff THREE clubs in dummy, so already you have 5 trump tricks plus 3 club ruffs. the
KQ and A give you tricks 9 and 10, and if you lead a small diamond towards dummy's Q you have an overtrick. 11 tricks on a combined 22-count. And the key to getting there is simply for West to count her losers.

Worth a sacrifice?

Before we go, let's take a quick look at the NS hands. South's clubs aren't really good enough for a 2
overcall, but NS aren't vulnerable, the risk doesn't seem too great after all those passes, and the bid might prove useful.

And indeed it might be. North, who can see a 10-card club fit, can now decide whether it would be better to defend against 4
or to sacrifice in 5X – for it will be doubled! Would you pass or bid on? How will you decide?

In Box and Bath

Well done to the Box pair who made the jump to game (the other two stopping in 2
). In Bath all the pairs bar two reached game, making either 10 or 11 tricks, and just one NS pair dared to bid 5, which was duly doubled and went 2 off – for a clear top. Well, you'd rather be -300 than -620, wouldn't you? Well bid North and South!
  HOTW 00 00 2011 | Major decision
Major decision
It's not often you get dealt 6-6 in the majors, so when you do you'll want to make the most of it. Only 12 points, but points shpoints ...

After 2 passes, you start the description of your hand with a simple 1
- the higher of your two equal-length suits.

South now makes a jump overcall of 3, your partner passes and North raises to 4. As it's now your turn to bid you can enquire about the bidding and North explains that they're playing intermediate jump overcalls: so the 3 shows a six-card suit and opening values - say 12-15 points.

Now what? Your partner has passed and is probably quite weak ... BUT with the opponents bidding diamonds he surely has something in one of your majors - he can't be all clubs, as he didn't open the bidding with 3! And if you do have a fit it's difficult to see how you would lose more than 3 tricks ...

... so you bid 4
, giving partner a choice of major games.

Alas, South now bids 5
. So what to do now? Well, partner will realise what lies behind your bidding and if he has anything at all will bid 5 or 5. And if he has nothing and passes, 5 will probably make - so you must bid 5 yourself, again offering a choice of major suits.

At this point, everyone passes, North-South bearing in mind the dictum 'The 5 level belongs to the opponents', South leads the A and dummy goes down.

The play

If you look at all the hands, you'll see that there's nothing
to it. West has a magical A and a magnificent set of 4 trumps, so it remains only to clear trumps and play off all those spades (ruffing one in dummy on the way if necessary). The only tricks you lose are the AK of trumps.

You'll see, too, that 5 also makes (losing only the black-suit Aces). The 'par contract' is, of course, 6X by NS, which goes just one off for a penalty of 200: cheap at the price.

How did we do?

Not badly at all. Two pairs were in heart games (one in 4 and one pushed - well bid NS! - into 5), and one lucky NS pair were allowed to play in 5 (they should have made it but went 1 off, which was actually still a top!).

And in Bath?

Again, these boards were previously played on a Wednesday, when many of you already play in Bath, and I have to say that most pairs made a pig's ear of it. Lots of NS pairs were allowed to play in 4
, which is nutty. Only three pairs out of 11 made it to 5H (one of those being outbid by an excellent 6 from NS). So of the 11 times this board was played, only 3 resulted in a positive score for EW - an opportunity wasted.

So there you are. Maybe it's time to dip your toe into a Bath Wednesday evening and see how well you do ...
  HOTW 00 00 2011 | Making it difficult (2)
Making it difficult (2)
Last week, we saw the power of a preempt at the 4 level. It can work pretty well at the 2 level as well, as this week's board 1 shows.

With an 11-point 7-loser hand, North would like to open the bidding but should really pass and see what happens. A perfect opportunity for East, then, to put a spanner in the works with an opening 2
. Nothing controversial here: it's a perfectly standard 6-10 point, 6-card suited weak two.

So what happens now?

With 11 points, 4 of the opponents' suit and a feeble 5-card diamond suit, South can only pass.

West, with 12 points and a singleton heart, knows that with a maximum of 10 points opposite game can't be on and so also passes.

Bringing us back to North. It's a toss-up, really. If North passes, EW's preempt will have done its job, as 2
should make on a combined 18-count. And many Norths will pass at this point.

But with a 4-card spade suit and decent support for the minors, some Norths will double for take-out. What does South do then? Leave it in for penalties? Probably not, as partner is a passed hand and 2
might well make! So South will bid 3 ... which West will either leave in or possibly beat with 3. After all, EW aren't vulnerable and West has two aces ...

A better chance of a good result

The point is here that preempting doesn't guarantee you a good result. It just makes it more likely. Here, if you don't bid 2
, NS will surely end up in a diamond part-score. It may happen anyway, but your preempt has made it less likely. It has also suggested to partner a possible sacrifice (3), which even if it's doubled shouldn't go more than 1 off for -100 (better than -110 for 3 making.)

The lesson is, then (for EW) that preempts can work. And (for NS) that you can sometimes work your way around it - in this case with a takeout double.

What happened?

The results varied, both at Box and Bath. One NS pair in Box made a rather lucky 2NT (lucky because East has no outside entry, so can't cash all those lovely heart winners), and one EW pair made 2
. In Bath, lots of pairs were in hearts (2, 3 or even 4) making 8, 9 or even 10 (!) tricks. And most of the rest were in diamonds, making 9 or 10 tricks.

But by and large, the EW pairs declaring in hearts did better than those defending against a NS diamond contract. So keep preempting!

  HOTW 00 00 2011 | Making it difficult
Making it difficult
Should South bid 3 or 4 over East's 1? To find out, let's see what happens in each case.

View from the West

First, put yourself in West's seat. Your partner has opened 1, which means that he's either got at least 5 spades or 15+ points: with 4 spades and 12-14 points he'd have opened 1NT. 

South now bids 3
. What do you do? Me, I would double (showing the other two suits, clubs and diamonds). If partner has a minor suit, fine. If he has long spades and rebids them, that's fine too. And if he has hearts, he'll either pass the double (for penalties) or bid 3NT. I'm not strong, but I'm not threadbare either, and as we're not vulnerable I'm prepared to keep the auction alive.

But what do you do if South bids 4
? That's not so easy. There's no 3NT available, any minor contract will be at the 5 level, and 4 could be distinctly dodgy. Pass.

View from the East

Now move over to East's seat. You have a rather nice (potentially) 4-loser two-suited hand, and you're not going to meekly hand over to a preempting upstart opponent.

You open 1and South bids 3. We suggested above that partner would double, but even if she passes you're not going to be put off. You'll bid 4 and expect partner to express a preference for one of the black suits.

Now imagine that South instead bids 4, and the bidding is passed back to you. Not so easy now, is it? You could bid 5, but that cuts out 4, doesn't it? And you can't risk bidding 4 yourself with that rather empty 6-card suit. So you'll probably pass.

View from the South

Sitting South, being short of spades and in possession of that huge heart suit, you're obviously going to try to get in the way.

And as we've seen, a preemptive 3
doesn't get in the way enough. One opponent or the other will bid again, and they'll find their game, either in clubs or spades.

But with an 8-card suit, you can afford to go higher, and bid 4
. And as we've seen, that tips the balance, stops the opposition from communicating further and pinches their game contract from right under their noses - they don't even get to double you for penalties! Even if they did double you, you could go 2 off and still be in profit.

So what's the message of the hand? First, with an 8-card suit, it's generally best to come in at the 4- rather than the 3-level. And second, if you're going to preempt, bid as high as you are prepared to go immediately. It does you no good bidding 3
and then bidding 4 later. It's too late by then, as the opposition have meanwhile found their game contract.

And that's how it was in Box. At two tables the preempting wasn't high enough, allowing EW to find 4
and 5. But at the 3rd table, 4 ended the auction, and NS scored -100 for a top. (In Bath, just over half the pairs played in hearts, the remainder in spades.)

Making it difficult ...

... for your opponents is what preempting is all about. So if you're going to do it at all, don't hold back: make it as difficult as you can!
  HOTW 14 May 2011 | A forgotten bid

A forgotten bid

What do you bid on this hand when your right-hand opponent has pinched your bid and opened 1

You haven't got an 'overcalling' suit, and in any case with 16 points you're too strong to make just an overcall. But double's no good either, is it? Not only can you not really support spades, but you don't have 4 cards in ANY of the other three suits ...

The answer's obvious once it's pointed out, but this situation doesn't arise that often, so many players simply forget what to do. And that is: make a 1NT overcall.

What does it mean? Well, it's stronger than the ordinary opening 1NT by 3 points (it has to be, as your opponents have already shown strength by opening the bidding) so has the range 15-17 points. It also shows a balanced hand AND at least one (preferably two) stops in the opponents' suit. 

Which, I think you'll agree, describes East's hand perfectly. And if you click on Show all hands, you'll see that everyone will probably now pass. If South starts bidding her spades, North will expect her to be quite a lot stronger than she is, and West, with 6 points and long minors (so with a combined 21-23 points), is quite happy to stay in 1NT.

What to lead? How to play it?

What is poor South to lead? What happens if she leads a spade? Well, the contract will go off, but only if her partner drops his K under dummy's singleton A. How on earth can he tell? Well ... 'I have 16 points, and so does East. And there are 6 on the table. That leaves just TWO points for my partner (who presumably has a lot of spades, because I have just 2, dummy has just 1 and East didn't bid them over 1). So the ONLY entry my partner can possible have is the ♠Q. Therefore I must dump my ♠K, so that when I get the lead I can lead back a small spade ...' Not easy, though.

If South instead leads a heart (her partner's suit), East is home at a romp. She wins the trick and immediately sets up the diamonds, leading the A and then the J and then carrying on with diamonds until North's K is forced out. The ♠A provides a handy entry to the remaining diamond tricks in dummy. What she MUSTN'T do is waste that precious entry (and precious stop in spades!) going over to dummy to take a diamond finesse. Set up the diamond tricks NOW, at trick 2, and let them have their K.

At Bath BC, they hadn't forgotten their 1NT overcalls, because almost every table was in 1NT by East. It only went off once ... and that was on a spade lead.

  HOTW 00 00 2011 | Punting 3NT
Punting 3NT
If you insisted on being 'sure' of every contract, you'd miss games galore. Bridge is a game of percentages, and it's often right to take a punt if the odds are on your side.

Today's hand is a case in point. Sitting East as dealer, you have a chunky balanced 19-count and open 1
, intending to rebid 3NT. But the sailing is far from plain, as South comes in with a 1 overcall. Partner now jumps to 3 and North passes. What to do?

Well, first, what does your partner's bid mean? The main thing is that it's weak. With a stronger hand, partner would bid a suit at the 2 level, or even bid 2
(asking you for a spade stop for NT). But a jump raise in your minor suit has 'pre-empt' written all over it. Partner has good diamond support, including length, but not a whole bunch else.

So what to do? Sure, you have a magnificent diamond fit ... but are you going to make 11 tricks in diamonds? Probably not. So you bid 3NT.

Two lessons

There are two important lessons that come out of this.

1   First, one for East. Admit it: you're worried about hearts. You have just Qx, and your partner might not have much to help. On the other hand:
  • no-one's mentioned hearts, so partner might well have something. If he has A, K or Jxx, you have a heart stop.
  • even if you don't have a heart stop, the opposition don't know that you don't. Indeed, your confident bid of 3NT is telling them that you do.
So they're only going to trash you in hearts if (a) you have no heart stop AND (b) they find a heart lead.

Bid 3NT. It'll gain far more often than it loses.

2   Second, a lesson for West. Click on 'Show all hands' to see what he's got. You can just imagine West worrying away: 'Oh dear, I'm really weak. All I have is diamonds, and I don't know if my partner has stops in hearts or spades. I think I'd better run to 4 ...' DON'T DO IT! Why? Because you've already told your partner all about your hand. She knows you're weak with lots of diamonds, and she's decided that 3NT is the best contract. She obviously has the A, so that's 6 tricks in the bag already. Just trust your partner and go with it. You've bid your hand: don't take it upon yourself to bid hers as well.

The play

Well, it all depends on South's lead, doesn't it? If she leads a small heart, you're two off. And if she leads a spade, you're making 11 tricks (as the Q comes crashing down under your AK after you've cashed all your lovely diamond tricks).

And most Souths will lead a spade. Certainly they did at Box.

So there you are. The East and West worriers amongst you were right in thinking that you may not have a heart stop: you didn't. But as the defence didn't find the right opening lead, it didn't matter.

And 5
? It goes off, as the defence can (and will) take the A and AK off the top. (Even if it made, it would still earn 60 less than 3NT +2 and so would be a wretched result in pairs.)

And in Bath?

Some interesting results. Only 4 pairs were in NT, and they all made at least 11 tricks (so no heart lead there either!). One pair was in 6NT, which made courtesy of South's kindly lead of A (making West's KQx holding worth two tricks.) Others were floundering around in 5 or 5♣, which variously made or didn't. The most interesting was a 4X sacrifice by NS, which only went 1 off for -100. Well done them!

Postscript for Benji players

Some of you play an opening 2NT with 19-20 points, and so would have opened 2NT in the East seat. I can't see South overcalling that, so it's over to West, who must again ignore the lure of the long diamonds, hope partner has the A and confidently raise to 3NT.

  HOTW 00 00 2011 | A lucky game?
A lucky game?
Nothing spectacular here. Just a few reminders of basic Acol, a bit of judgment ... and a bit of luck.

Let's follow the auction through:


West opens 1.
Sure, the spades are better and spades are a major suit BUT the diamonds are longer. Bid them first.

North PASSes.
Yes, she has a few points and the requisite 5-card suit, but the suit quality is simply not good enough. Yuk. Pass.

East also passes. Wouldn't you?

South uses the X card: double.
With a balanced 16-count and diamond stops, South could overcall 1NT (showing 15-17), but with both majors it's better to double, hoping to find a major fit. If partner bids clubs you can always bid NT then.

West now bids 1
Why not? He has a good hand and showing his second suit at the 1 level risks little.

North says
With a pretty certain heart fit, 8 losers and the
K (West's suit) a lot of players would jump to 3 here, but North is a cautious player, and reasons that making a 'free' bid of 2 shows a bit of extra strength anyway. (It's a free bid because West bid 1, so North could pass if she wanted to without ending the auction.)

After East's pass, South raises to 3
Hmm. Partner made a free bid, so probably has a bit extra – but how much? Well, I've got a nice 6-loser hand, so I'm going to invite game.

... and North raises to game: 4.
Oh all right then. I almost bid 3 last time, and I've got just 8 losers, after all.

The play

So North is in 4
and it's East's lead.

And whether it makes or not depends entirely on the opening lead.

Which of partner's two suits will East lead?

If he leads a spade, the contract's going off. The defence take the
AQ, plus West's other two aces.

But if he leads a diamond (which she probably will, as his partner bid diamonds first) it's making. North can win with the
K and play 2 further rounds of diamonds, discarding one of her two losing spades and ensuring 10 tricks.

Actually, he doesn't even need to do that, as poor old East never gets the lead again: it's always West winning the tricks, and so declarer makes 3 diamonds, 3 clubs and 4 hearts.

As far as East is concerned, it's a spade at trick 1 or not at all!

So what happened at the table? One pair bid game, the other two stopping in 2 and 3 (which are also reasonable contracts, given the risks!). Only one pair made 10 tricks – and that had to be the pair that bid 2, of course!

And in Bath?

Nearly every pair were in hearts, though only half of them risked game. But every single pair made 10 tricks. Why? Because no-one found the killing spade lead: the opening leads were all diamonds.

  HOTW 00 00 2011 | Fit? What fit?

Fit? What fit?


Here's a fun hand from last Wednesday morning. After East's pass, your partner opens a weak 2. West doubles for takeout ... and it's up to you to make the next bid.


What can you deduce about your holding and theirs? 


For a start, you have a 9-card spade fit. And they have a certain heart fit. (How do you know? Because your partner would not open a weak 2 if he has 4 cards in the other major. So his max. 3 hearts added to your two leaves them with at least an 8-card heart fit.) 


Hmm. Are they going to make game in hearts, then? Well, they probably are. Your long diamonds and your spade fit means that EW will be probably be short in both of those suits, so not many defensive tricks for you there, then. Plus partner is weak ... So what to do? One more consideration:


Who's vulnerable? Answer: they are and you aren't. That means that they're going to get 600+ for game in hearts, and even taking you as many as THREE off in 4 doubled will only get them 500. So out with the stop card and bid 4, confidently expecting to get doubled and go at least two off!


Click on Show all cards to see what happens. It's a brave East that will now risk bidding 5 with an 8-count, in spite of her chunky KQxx holding. And when West then doubles again, this time it's for penalties. So the net result of your 4 bid is that East-West will probably never find their heart fit even though they can make 11 tricks in hearts.


Rewind a moment and imagine what happens if you bid your diamonds (why bother, when you have a major fit?) or raise your partner to a feeble 3. East will now be thinking 'Hmm. I've got a nice heart suit here, and they might even make 3, so I'm going to punt 4.' You've allowed them to communicate: they've found their heart fit, and now West will have no problem bidding 5 herself if necessary.


The moral, then: take all the inferences you can find, check the vulnerability and then bid as high as you dare. The best way of stopping them bidding to game is to prevent them finding their fit.


Postscript: don't forget to double!


If you're sitting West, you'll have realised that you've probably been cheated out of a contract of some kind by NS. But that's no reason to collapse in a heap and let them get away with it. Look at your hand. You have two outside aces, plus the ♠AQ sitting BEHIND declarer, who surely has the spade King. That's four pretty certain tricks, even if your partner has NOTHING. So whatever you do, don't forget to double: 100's better than 50, 300's better than 100 – and 500's better than 150!

  HOTW 15 Dec 2011 | 3NT vs 5C
3NT vs 5C

Here's a strange hand to end the year on. Imagine your partner opens 1NT. How do you respond with the hand shown? Well, you only have 9 points, but with your partner guaranteeing at least 2 clubs (she won't open 1NT with a singleton), you look to have 8 tricks in clubs once you get the lead. I would bid 3NT and hope that partner gets a friendly lead. Most of the time you'll get a comfortable 9, 10 or even 11 tricks.

So why not try for 5♣? Well for one thing, you need 11 tricks, which may or may not be forthcoming. And for another, tricks in no trumps are worth more than tricks in a minor suit. Of which more below.

But this is all slightly by the way, as North does NOT open 1NT. She holds a balanced 15-count with a small doubleton club, and opens 1, intending to rebid NT on her next turn. East comes in with 2, and it's your bid. Now the situation's rather more difficult, as you don't know if partner has got East's diamonds stopped, so 3NT would be much more of a punt. Instead, bid 3C, and let partner decide. North duly bids 3NT, and the auction is over.

Does it make? Click on 'Show all hands' and check.

East duly leads his J, and North collects a comfortable 11 tricks: one diamond trick, the ♠AK and 8 delicious clubs.

Just to recap: even though 5♣ happens to make, 3NT is better. Your 11 tricks in clubs, @ 20 points each for each one after the 6th, are worth 100 points. The equivalent 5 tricks in no trumps, however, are worth 40 + a further 30 x 4 = 160 points. Even if you're restricted to just 10 tricks by brilliant defence, in no trumps you're still getting 130 for your trouble, which is still better than 5♣.

Happy Christmas.



  HOTW 25 Aug 2010 | Compete!

Everyone ended up with East in either 2 or 3 on this hand - but with 24 points between them North-South shouldn't really be allowing them to get away with that. A competitive auction is called for.

  The auction  

The dealer, West, passes, and North, who's just a point short of an opening 1NT, passes as well. East has only 10 points, but on the Rule of 20 scores 21 (points + no of cards in the longest two suits) and so is easily strong enough to open 1.

What would you bid in the South seat? There's only one answer: with opening points, a shortage in opener's suit and 4-card support for the other three suits, South's hand is a classic take-out double. This requires partner to bid his best suit (even if he has no points!), and with 8 or more points he should jump.

What happens then? West was planning to respond 1, and still does so (why not?), and now it's up to North. Well, if South's double is up to scratch, North-South have an 8-card fit in hearts, and may even have game. No matter that the heart suit is weak - South has advertised opening strength and a 4-card heart suit, and is likely to have honours in hearts. Add to that your 11 points (plus a nice spade holding sitting behind West, who bid spades) and you're easily strong enough to bid 2.

And you might be lucky enough to get away with it. Sitting East, I think I would bid 3, but with only 10 points a lot of Easts will pass. But let's say East does bid 3. With 6 losers South may go to 3, but he only has minimum points for the double, so may pass. As will West. In which case, North may be tempted to go to 3 himself.

So one way or another, then, NS are likely to push the bidding to 3, and if EW are foolish enough to press on in diamonds, they're going off.

So if North's in 3
, East has the lead and will probably choose her singleton 6.

  The play  

Look at just the North and South hand for a moment, as if you're declarer. Looks quite good, doesn't it? On the spade lead, you have 3 spade tricks, and if the trump split is friendly, 4 trumps tricks, plus a ruff (in either diamonds or spades), giving you 8. And although you're unlikely to make your Kwith East holding the diamonds, you could get lucky with the club suit and pinch a 9th somehow. And even if you don't, going one off is better than letting them make 3.

Unfortunately, it doesn't turn out quite like that. There's a poor 4-1 trump split, and the club honours are badly placed for you. Even so, if you get your diamond ruff in quickly, you should make 3 spade tricks and four heart tricks (5 if you manage to ruff a spade as well), so it's still not a bad result for you.


As well as a reminder of the take-out double and the necessity to bid on with a 4-card major suit - even if it's 8xxx! - there's a further lesson to take from this hand: you have to know the rudiments of scoring. If you always rely on using the back of the bidding card as a crib, you won't know how far to bid.

9 tricks in diamonds are worth 60 + (part score bonus) 50 = 110 to EW.

NS aren't vulnerable, so going 1 off will cost just 50, and 2 off just 100. Either is good value compared to -110.

But what if East-West double? Well, for one thing they're unlikely to with just 16 points between them. And for another, even if they do, you have to be pretty unlucky to go more than 1 off in 3, and (as you know) 1 off doubled non-vulnerable is only 100: still cheaper than -110.

And if it turns out to be one of those days when the Gods are against you and you go 2 off doubled  in a perfectly reasonable contract, then you have to just smile and get on with it, happy in the knowledge that you did the right thing and that 80% of the time it'll come off.

(In Bath, by the way, quite a few EW pairs were also allowed to get away with 3, but 5 EW pairs were pushed too high, into 4 and even 5. Some of them were doubled, and all went off, giving NS a deserved reward for bidding on in hearts.)

  HOTW 26 May 2010 | The Rule of 1
The Rule of 1

The auction on this deal will be of some interest to fans of the Losing Trick Count (see Nuts & bolts on the menu), though the main point that arose at the table was on the play.

  The auction  

OK. First the Losing Trick Count. Assuming each side has a fit (actually, both sides have a double fit, don't they?) what's the combined loser count? Have a go before reading on!

North has 8 losers and South has 7. Total 15. Subtract that from 24 and you have 9 tricks.
West has 9 losers and East has 6. Again, total 15. Again 9 tricks.
But as NS's major outranks EW's you'd expect NS to win the auction.

Which is exactly what happens.

After North's pass, East opens 1 and South, disregarding the dismal quality of his spade suit because he has strength elsewhere, overcalls 1♠.

At this point, a really brave West will punt 3, hoping to silence North, but vulnerable and with a wretched 9-loser hand, she decides that 2 is enough.

With a decent 8-loser hand and 3-card spade support, North is happy to support with 2♠.

East now 'cashes in' the 6-loser-ness of her hand (she could have opened with 7 losers, so she's better than she might have been) and bids 3.

And South, similarly 'cashing in' (as he could have overcalled with 8 losers and in fact has only 7), ends the auction on 3♠.

Both sides have competed to their LTC maximum. Non-vulnerable, EW might have sacrificed in 4. Why? Because as things stand, they're going to score -140 if NS make their 3♠ contract. 3♥X - 1 only costs 100, so it's cheaper. But if you're vulnerable, 3♥X - 1 costs 200, which is horrible. So EW pass and hope to get 3♠ off.

  The play  

West leads a small heart, naturally enough, which suits Declarer very nicely, especially when East wins with his Ace and returns a heart. Declarer (who should have sat and planned the hand at trick one but didn't bother!) can now stop and take stock.

You're Declarer. You're hoping that the spades will split 3-2. If they do, what's the plan?

Well, you've lost a heart, and you have two clubs and a spade to lose. And that's that.

BUT, being an avid Times reader and everyone having followed to your ♠A and ♠K, you decide to obey Andrew Robson's 'Rule of 1'. This states that if there's only 1 trump left outstanding and it's a winner, you don't bother to clear it unless you have a very good reason. It's going to take a trick anyway, so why should you waste two of your own trumps getting rid of it. Much better that the opponent uses it to trump something without taking any of your valuable trumps along with it.

So after winning your heart trick and taking two rounds of trumps, you simply start taking diamond tricks, allowing East (who has the missing ♠Q) to trump in whenever he likes.

That's the lesson for Declarer: don't waste your trumps drawing an opponent's trump that's going to win a trick anyway.

But there's a lesson for East (the player with the trump) as well. Let's take it trick by trick ...

Let's say Declarer takes the first diamond trick in dummy, then returns to his hand with a second. East has to follow both times.

OK. Declarer now leads a 3rd diamond, a high one, from hand. If East ruffs in now, the defence can take their two club tricks, restricting NS to 9 tricks. But he decides to wait. OK. Fine. No problem.

Now Declarer leads his last diamond from hand, playing high from dummy. Again, East has to decide whether to ruff or not. If he ruffs, the defence can still take their two club tricks. And this time he must ruff, because if he doesn't ...

The lead is in dummy, which contains the last diamond. Declarer now has no diamonds left in his hand. He leads the dummy's last diamond, and whether East ruffs or not, throws away a little club from his hand. Now he has only one club in his hand – and all the others are trumps. East has left it so late to ruff that Declarer has been able to throw away a certain loser, on a trick that he was going to lose anyway. It's a classic 'loser on loser' play, and South is now going to get a top for netting 10 tricks when he was only entitled to  9.

As I read this, I'm the first to admit that it's all a bit wordy. If you don't quite get it, do grab a pack of cards and play it out. Try ruffing the 3rd or 4th round of diamonds and leading a club. Then try leaving it till the 5th round. And it should all become clear!


As always, what happened at Bath? 6 pairs ended up in 3♠ (one doubled!) and all made, 9 tricks netting a pretty good 63%. Two, however, made the elusive overtrick (no doubt because the defence failed to ruff in early enough), and scored an even more pleasant 82%. Of the rest, some were in hearts, making either 8 or 10 tricks, and two Easts ended up playing in 1NT, one going off, but both for pretty good scores.

  HOTW 24 Mar 2010 | You choose, partner!
You choose, partner!

There were several interesting candidates in this week's hands, including a dramatic slam or two, but one in particular caught my eye, as it bore a strong resemblance to something we covered only last week in the Level 1 class.

The lesson was on take-out doubles. One situation that arose (you can find it on page 103 of the Beginning Bridge coursebook) was what to do if your partner doubles an opening bid of (say) 1, and you have a decent point-count and 4 cards in both majors. How do you choose between them? You don't want to choose hearts only to find that partner has 3 hearts but 4 spades. Nor do you want to err the other way round. The answer is to ask your partner, and the way to do this is to bid the opponent's suit - in this case, 2. This can hardly be a natural bid (if your diamonds were really that good, you'd pass your partner's double and play for penalties!), and so is handily available for other purposes. In this case it means "You've asked me to bid my best suit, partner, and actually I've got quite a nice hand. Trouble is, I have 4 cards in both majors, and I don't know which one you prefer. Can you help me out, please?" Partner will then express a preference and you can go on from there.

This is exactly what NS need to find their contract on board 14.

East is dealer and opens 1.

South, holding two good 4-card majors and three clubs, would like to double for take-out but is about a King short of opening points - and so passes for the time being.

West eyes her four diamonds and is tempted to raise in partner's suit but with just two jacks decides to pass instead.

What should North do? Well, he could just punt 2♣, but the hand's a bit too good for that - and what if partner should have 4 spades? North decides to double for take-out. There's a slight risk of ending up in a 7-card fit in hearts, but North can always escape to clubs if he doesn't fancy it, and the attraction of finding a spade fit is too great to resist. So out comes the X.

East, with only 6 losers and a 6-card diamond suit, decides to have another go: 2.

South is now seriously interested. She has 10 well-placed points, and game in a major is a distinct possibility. But which one? The answer, as we found above, is to let partner decide. She bids 3. Her partner is flummoxed, but only for a moment, as he quickly remembers his lesson on take-out doubles all those months ago. His partner has both majors and a decent hand (she's not going to stick her neck out at the 3 level with a collection of tram tickets). Perfect. With a singleton in the opponent's suit and (surely) 5 club tricks once trumps are cleared, we must be in game: 4♠ it is.

Here's the complete auction:

 West North East  South
 - - 1 pass
pass Dbl 2 3
pass 4♠ end  


And if North only ventures 3♠, South will no doubt ensure that game is reached by bidding it herself.




The play

Not much to it, really. East will no doubt start with the A and then, not entirely believing North when he drops the Q, will continue with K, which North will ruff.

It remains only to force out the trump Ace, win the next trick, clear the remaining trumps and cash all those lovely top clubs and hearts, for 11 tricks in total.


Pretty obvious, huh? You're betting that everyone at Bath BC ended up in 4♠? Not a bit of it. The hand was played 9 times in all.




  • At no less than 4 tables, East ended up declaring in 3, making 9 tricks - once doubled, for an unrivalled 470. (Well done, West, for supporting partner's diamonds with only 2 points and scaring them off!)
  • One NS pair went one off in 4 (having presumably opted for the 'better' major without consulting partner)
  • One NS pair made two overtricks in 3♠ - the right idea, but falling short at the end
  • And just 3 NS pairs reached game in spades, all making 11 tricks.






  HOTW 07 Oct 09 | Tricky decisions

Our very first Play & Learn hand raises tricky bidding decisions for all four players.

North opens 1♠, East passes and South (probably) raises to 2♠. West, with her very nice heart holding and spade void, has no problem bidding 3. North probably passes at this point, hoping that EW will stop short of game.

The spotlight now falls on East, who is already reaching for his second Pass card ... But hang on a moment. Your partner has bid at the three level all on her own, after your initial pass, and you have three cards in her suit including an honour, plus a KQ she knows nothing about. Surely that merits a raise to game - 4 it is.

So will either South or North be brave enough to sacrifice in 4♠? They're surely worth 8 tricks in spades, and even if they're doubled (for a 300 penalty) that's still cheaper than 420 for 4 making. I think that South should bid 4♠, and if she doesn't, then North should!

Which makes life very hard for poor old West. Should she pass? double? or bid 5? Personally, I'd bid 5, but what do I know?

Have a look at the four hands and decide what you think happens

  • if West plays in hearts.
  • if North plays in spades.
Defending against 4 or 5, North leads ♣A, then ♣K. Taking note of his partner's discard on trick 2, he leads a third club for his partner to ruff. That's 3 tricks to NS, 10 to EW. So 4 makes, but 5 goes one off.

In 4♠, NS lose three diamonds and one heart, for just one off.

The main lesson from this hand is the importance of North-South reaching 4♠:
If EW are allowed to play in 4, they get away with a chunky 420 points.
Defending against 4♠, by contrast, they get just 50 (or 100 if it's doubled).
And if they decide to go on to 5, it's even worse: a plus score for NS!

I still think 5is the right decision - they're very unlucky not to make it. But then bridge is unpredictable - which is one of the things that makes it such fun.