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At last a decent coffee machine!

Yep. Got them in Bath too.

We have tablet scoring. 

In Bath, too. Same.

Looking for a slam
  HOTW 26 Jun 2019 | Suit or NT? Game or slam?

Suit or NT? Game or slam?

So far so straightforward, but where do you go from here? Partner's showing a balanced 17-18 points (which might include a 5-card heart suit). You have a rather nice 14-count plus a couple of 10s. Do you check for a heart fit? And do you explore for a possible slam?

Check for a heart fit?

 It's usually better to play in a major fit (if you have one) than in NT. Why? Two reasons: (1) Extra tricks: you can often get a ruff in the short trump hand, which is worth an extra trick. And (2) Extra security: if they've got a good suit you can stop them in their tracks by ruffing their winners. So if either of these applies, you should now bid 3, agreeing game but offering hearts to partner in case she has 5.

Let's check. Well, I don't see much chance of a heart ruff in your hand – you haven't even got a doubleton, let alone a singleton. And with 31-32 points between you, I don't see much danger of NS running away with their strong suit – they don't have one!

So on this occasion, I vote to ignore the possible heart fit: you're going to make as many tricks in NT as you will in hearts, and that's worth a vital 10 points more.

Explore for a slam?

Normally, you'll need a combined 33 points for 6NT – at least the opposition can't have two Aces! Sometimes you can get away with fewer, especially if one of you has a long suit. Here you've got a maximum of 32, which isn't enough. No long suits either, apart from a possible 5 hearts in partner's hand. Sure, you've got two very useful 10s, but slams are all about high-level controls, and your 10s aren't going to help if the opposition have two high-card tricks ... 

So, unless this is the last hand of the evening and you're desperate for a big result, it's best to settle for a certain 3NT. Most of the time you'll only make 11 tricks.

(With just one point more, though, you'd be right to have a go: 4NT would mean 'With a maximum 18, bid 6NT, partner, but with a minimum 17 pass.') 

What happens?

Take a look at the whole deal. Even on a (likely) spade lead, you're having to do a bit of work for 11 tricks. Continue with spades, losing a trick to the Q and you'll eventually come to 4 clubs, 3 hearts, 3 spades and 1 diamond trick. 11 tricks. Good thing you stopped.

In Box and Bath

In Box, everyone was in 3NT, making 9, 10 or 11 tricks. (West, by the way, shouldn't be declarer: she must have concealed her 4-card spade suit in the auction.)

In Bath, 6 pairs were in 3NT but three couldn't resist the lure of the slam and went off in 6NT. One pair made 12 tricks, but they weren't in the slam: didn't matter – they still got a 100% top!

  HOTW 23 Oct 2019 | 33 and 37 - two magic numbers

33 and 37 – two magic numbers

In suit contracts, you can often economise on points, as you can ruff voids, but no trump contracts depend on muscle – in NT you win tricks with high cards. Which makes it much simpler to tell whether or not you should bid a slam – you just count your points. There are two numbers you need to know:

  • with 37 points between you you should be in 7NT (the opponents can't have as much as an Ace).
  • with 33 points between you you should be in 6NT (sure, they could have AK in the same suit, but it's highly unlikely, and even if they do they have to find the right lead).

So there are times when bidding a NT slam is simplicity itself. If partner opens a 12-14 1NT and you have 21 points, you have a total of 33-35 points: bid 6NT. And if she opens a 20-22 2NT and you have 17 points, the total's at least 37: bid 7NT. 

The hand shown, therefore, is a doddle: partner's opening bid shows a balanced 20-22 points and you have a 13-count. That's not enough for 7NT even if she's a maximum 22, but it is enough for 6NT, even if she's a minimum 20. So simply bid it. Easy. (Oh, and don't get sidetracked by the long club suit – those tricks are worth more in NT, as we'll see.)

Not sure?

Sometimes, of course, you won't know immediately if you've got enough points: it'll depend on whether partner's a minimum or a maximum, just as when you raise her 1NT opener to 2NT with 11-12 points: 'Pass with a minimum, partner, but go to game with a maximum.'

It's the same with slams. Since we're more interested in the number of points (rather than Aces), most pairs use 4NT not as Blackwood but as a quantitative bid over opening NT bids. So 1NT-4NT (or 2NT-4NT) means 'Pass with a minimum, partner, but bid 6NT with a maximum.' This is what you'd do if partner opens 1NT and you have 19 points. Or on this hand if you had a point or two fewer. Again, pretty straightforward.

Then there are those rare occasions ...

... when you're not sure whether you should be in 6NT or 7NT. If you had a 15-count instead of 13 on this hand, for example: now, if partner's got a maximum 22, you'll want to be in the grand. What to do?

You've guessed it: take it a bit higher and respond 5NT. This means 'Bid 6NT with a minimum, partner, but with a maximum go all the way to 7NT.'

Back to board 14

Take a look at the whole deal. Whatever the opening lead, declarer can lay her cards down and claim 13 tricks. In actual fact, thanks to her long clubs she has 14 tricks off the top. The thing to take from this hand, though, is how easy it is to bid the slam simply by adding up your combined points.

In Box and Bath

In Box, one pair went it alone and made 13 tricks in 4. The other four Wests called me over and so found the slam. No need to call me next time, though!

In Bath, 10 of the 13 pairs played in 6NT. One, mysteriously, subsided in 3NT and another got sidetracked by the long clubs, earning a near bottom for 6+1 (scoring just 940, as opposed to 1020 for 6NT+1). At the other table, West gambled on his partner having all the Aces and the K and punted 7NT for a very lucky 100%.

  HOTW 24 Apr 2019 | A great hand for RKCB

A great hand for RKCB

Here's a situation that surely sets the SLAM? bell ringing in your head: partner opens 1 and you have 5 spades and 18 points. The trouble is, there are so many possible ways to continue: you can splinter (4 on this hand), use Jacoby (if you know it!), bid an interim suit to see what partner will say next ... almost any forcing bid will do (but PLEASE don't raise directly to 4, which is a WEAK SHUTOUT bid and will be PASSED). 

It all depends on what you want to know. On this hand, it's quite simple: you need to know how many KEYCARDS partner has – you've got almost everything else! There are 5 keycards – the four Aces and the trump King – and for all your points, you have only ONE of them. If partner's only got 2, there's no slam, but if she's got 3 or more ...

It's a no-brainer, then. No need to faff about with splinters or suit changes – just go straight for 4NT. Roman Key Card Blackwood. *

Crunch time. Your partner's response (either 5 or 5, depending on how you play it) says that she has either ONE or FOUR keycards. Which is it, do you think?

Well, it's (just about) possible to construct an opening hand that has only one: something like ♠ A 8 6 4 3 2   K 5   ♣ Q J 5 4, maybe. But that's looking perilously close to a (vulnerable) weak 2 opening. It's just so much more likely that partner has ALL the missing keycards. In which case ...

Small or grand slam?

With all the keycards, you're surely going to make 12 tricks – you have at least 11 top tricks and there's probably a ruff somewhere – so you're fine to sign off with 6, which will get you a great score in most bridge clubs. But when you have ALL the keycards, it's good practice to check partner for KINGS before signing off. On this hand, if partner has the K (the only missing king), you can count 13 tricks – the grand slam – 5 spades, 3 hearts, 3 diamonds and 2 clubs. So it costs nothing to bid 5NT just in case. (With no kings, she'll sign off. Otherwise, she'll bid the suit of her king.) As it happens, she doesn't have the K, and (as you can see if you peek at the whole deal) only 12 tricks are available.

In Box and Bath

In Box, with a little prompting, 4 of the 6 tables bid (and made) 6, the other two stopping in game.

In Bath, 11 out of 12 tables bid a slam (2 of them in the inferior but 'better-scoring' contract of 6NT, one going off, the other somehow making). At one table, North got too excited and punted 7♠ (without checking for the K!) and, when the heart finesse failed, went one off. Yes, it was me. Will I ever learn? frown

* RKC Blackwood is really MUCH more useful than 'ordinary' Blackwood, partly because it includes the trump King as well as the four Aces, but also because it also carries information about the trump Queen. If you'd like to know more, ask me for some notes.

  HOTW 08 Aug 2018 | Which slam?

Which slam?

Whenever you have a combined holding of 30ish points, you should be thinking 'Slam?' For 6NT you'll normally need 33 points, but in a suit you can often get away with fewer.

So when partner opens 1 and you have 17 points, as here, you know you could be in slam territory. What to respond? What you mustn't do under any circumstances is raise partner to 4 – this is a weak shutout bid that partner will pass. Bye bye slam! Instead, you need to keep the bidding open and find out more about partner's hand. The simplest way of doing that is to respond with a suit of your own: 2♣ forces partner to bid again and with luck her rebid will give you the information you need.

As indeed it does: partner's 2NT rebid shows 15+ points, which means you're definitely in slam territory. 

But which slam? It's a toss-up between 6 and 6NT. The good thing about 6 is that it's easier to make than 6NT – trumps give you extra protection plus the possibility of making an extra trick by ruffing. On the other hand, 6NT scores 10 points more than 6, so at pairs can make all the difference between a top and an average score. But then on the other other hand, you might not have enough strength for 6NT: if partner has only 15 points, you only have 32 between you, which is probably fine for 6 but maybe not for 6NT.

So if you're playing safe, bid 6. And if you're feeling frisky, go for 6NT.

How does it go?

Have a look at the whole deal. 6 looks pretty straightforward: you have 2 certain spade tricks, 4 hearts, 3 diamonds, 2 clubs and ... where's the 12th trick coming from?

Yes, that's right. You can discard North's losing club on the 3rd round of diamonds and then ruff a club, and there's your 12th trick. That's the beauty of trumps!

6NT, however, is more difficult. North indeed does have only 15 points, so you're a tad under strength. Actually, once you've forced out the ♠A, you can squeeze East in clubs and spades. If you bang out your red suits, she can't keep both her 4th spade and her 3rd club ... but that's a bit advanced for these pages. We can just be thankful that we ended up in 6 instead!

Couldn't I just have gone straight for Blackwood over 1?

No, not really. What if you partner's got a really weak 'rule-of-twenty' opening? You'll end up in 5, which might be too high! Better to wait at least until she's made her 2nd bid.

'I don't do slams.'

Many less experienced players are afraid of bidding slams, thinking that they're something for 'better players'. Which, of course, is daft. Sure, it can be a bit scary waiting for dummy to go down, but so it can be for a simple part-score. If the 12 tricks are there and you play the cards sensibly, a slam's no more difficult than any other contract. You've got to be in it to win it ...

In Box and Bath

In Box, everyone got to 6 (with a bit of bullying from me). Two made and one went one off.

In Bath, 7 pairs played in 6 and 3 preferred 6NT – all making 12 tricks. As did the two pairs who stopped in 4 and 5. Only one pair made 11 tricks and they'd stopped in 3NT anyway.

The Bath result shows the advantage of 6NT (provided you can make it!) over the suit slam. 6 earned those who bid it a score of 50%. The three in 6NT, however, scored 91.6%. Good for them!


  HOTW 21 Feb 2018 | Quantitative 4NT

Quantitative 4NT

To make 12 tricks in no trumps, it's reckoned that you need a combined total of 33 points (37 for the grand slam). If the 7 missing points happen to be AK in the same suit, you're going off, but nearly all of the time they won't be. 

This makes NT slam bidding over an opening 1NT fairly simple: 

  • If partner opens 1NT and you hold 21-22 points, for example, you know that you have a combined 33 points even if partner's a minimum 12 points, so you can go straight to 6NT.
  • If you have fewer than 19 points, you haven't got enough for the slam even if partner's a maximum 14 points, so you just raise to 3NT.

But what if you've got 19-20 points? Now it depends on how many points your partner has, and that's when you bid 4NT. It ain't Blackwood – rather it means 'Partner, please bid 6NT if you're a maximum and pass if you're a minimum.' It's an invitation to the slam in just the same way that a raise to 2NT is an invitation to game: partner passes with a minimum and goes for it with a maximum. 

And so it is here. North starts with Stayman, in case partner has 4 cards in either major, and on seeing the negative 2 response, bids 4NT. Should South pass or bid 6NT?

Well, she's neither a maximum nor a minimum but bang in the middle with 13 points. So South has to decide whether she has a 'good' 13 or a 'poor' 13 and act accordingly. What makes a 'good' 13 would be a reasonable 5-card suit and/or good 'intermediates' (a sprinkling of 10s and 109s). South has neither, so should pass. Have a look at the whole deal.

Does the slam make?

No, not against decent defence. West will lead her ♣K (a sure way of creating at least one trick for the defence without giving anything away), and South can count 4 heart tricks, 3 spades (4 if she's lucky and the spades are split 3-3), one club and two diamonds (3 if she's dead lucky and the Q is in a doubleton). That's 12 if both bits of luck come in – which will happen well under 10% of the time (I can give you the maths if you're interested).

As you can see, the big bit of luck comes in – the Q is in a doubleton – but that's as far as it goes, and only 11 tricks are available. How come (see below) that some declarers made 12, then? It's all down to defence. West can see 4 spades in dummy, and so must ensure that she keeps 4 spades in her hand – if she discards 2 spades, dummy's ♠4 is going to be worth a trick. Similarly East (who has that rarest of hands, a true Yarborough), has to be alert and hold on to her 4 diamonds (opener hasn't got a 4-card major, remember, so may well have 4 diamonds) as well as 4 hearts if possible. If she discards a diamond, that crummy little 7 in declarer's hand will become her 12th trick. Never make the mistake of thinking that with a rubbish hand you have no role to play in defence!

​​In Box & Bath

In Box, just one pair was in the slam, but 2 of the 3 declarers made 12 tricks. (Were you defending? What went wrong?)

In Bath, 5 of the 9 tables got to 6NT, greedy so-and-sos, but only 1 made 12 tricks. It's interesting to note the other contracts. 3 stopped in just 3NT – why oh why didn't the Norths try the quantitative raise to 4NT? And – a lesson to those who overcall on tram tickets instead of a sensible suit – one West overcalled 2♠, only to be doubled for penalties by North and go four off (vulnerable!) for a penalty of 1100. Almost as bad as EW bidding and making the slam against you!

  HOTW 15 Nov 2017 | 6 spades or 6NT?

6 spades or 6NT?

Here's a great hand to start off an EW evening's bridge. A balanced 18 points opposite a balanced 16 – and a spade fit, too. Thing is, would you rather be playing in 6♠ or 6NT?

As so often, it all boils down to the final trick. In either contract, you've got 11 tricks off the top – 4 in spades, 3 each in clubs and hearts and one in diamonds – so the question becomes: where's your 12th trick coming from (a) in 6♠  and (b) in 6NT? 

Well, if the K is with South, it's a doddle in either contract: you simply lead a low diamond towards the Q and there's your 12th trick. If you're in spades, it doesn't matter where the K is. You can give up a diamond trick and then ruffing a third round of diamonds in dummy gets you your 12th trick.

But what do you do in 6NT if the K's wrong? Well, then you have to hope that the clubs are split 3-3. Or that the ♣J's in a doubleton. Or that the ♣J can be finessed.

I can't work out the odds exactly (though better players than I, of which there are very many, will be able to do just that!), but I'd say that the chances of making 6♠ (K with South OR trumps 3-2 or in some cases 4-1) are at least 85%. which is pretty good. And the odds of making 6NT (K with South OR clubs 3-3 OR the ♣J get-at-able) are near enough the same.

So since 6NT earns you 10 points more than 6S, maybe 6NT is the place to be. 

Maybe? Well, yes. 'Cos there's something else going on here, and that's how easy it is to get it right (a) in spades and (b) in NT. In spades it's fairly straightforward: take a couple of rounds of trumps, then attack the diamonds and get your ruff (OK, if the trumps are 4-1, you have to be a bit careful). But in NT, it's much trickier. For a start, do you try the diamonds first or the clubs? (Answer: the diamonds, because they necessarily involve you losing a trick.) And how do you work the clubs? Do you try to drop the ♣J? Or try a couple of rounds and then if it hasn't appeared try to finesse it?

You see what I mean? NT are worth more, but more difficult to play. Spades are worth less, but are easier to play. So the answer is: it's up to you! 

The full deal

If you look at the full deal, you'll see that the K is wrong. As we've seen, this doesn't matter two hoots if you're in spades: just give 'em a diamond trick and ruff the 3rd round of diamonds.

But in NT, it's a different story: you test the diamonds and your Q loses to North's King. Now you have to get the clubs right to succeed. And as you can see, if you simply bang out your ♣AKQ, the ♣J doesn't drop ... and that's you one off. To succeed, you have to cash your ♣A, then your ♣Q (noticing North's ♣10 dropping) and then finesse the ♣9 – not at all obvious. In fact, it comes down to a guess. [Actually, a good strategy after losing to the K is to bang out all your winners in hearts and spades before touching the clubs. It may be that a player holding ♣Jxxx will carelessly discard one, not realising what's coming!]

​​In Box & Bath

Given the foregoing, you won't be surprised to learn that in Box, all the pairs in spades made at least 12 tricks, whereas the only pair in 6NT went one off. 

And it wasn't much different in Bath: all the pairs in 6♠ made 12 tricks, but only ONE of the five pairs in 6NT made their contract. It's just one of those hands!


  HOTW 1st Nov 2017 | That's bridge!

That's bridge!

Take a look at this EW holding. Pretty good, huh? In spades, all being well you should be making 3 club tricks, two each in hearts and diamonds and 7 trump tricks. That's a grand slam plus one! Or if the trumps unkindly split 4-1 you'll only make the small slam *. It's a bit awkward to find – and I have no particular fondness for the auction shown, which is a bit of a 'punt' – but any pair having seen both hands will be disappointed if they've failed to find the small slam at least. 

But the bubble is about to burst. South leads a heart, which you (East) win with your singleton A. You lead a spade to dummy's Queen at trick two ... and North shows out. The trumps are split 5-0. Ouch!

There are layouts where a skilled declarer can salvage 12 tricks in spades even when South holds ♠J9762, but sadly this is not one of them. 

So what happens at the post-mortem? To help you, here are the probabilities of the outstanding trumps splitting 3-2, 4-1 and 5-0:

3-2    This happens 68% of the time.
4-1    This happens 28% of the time.
5-0    This happens 4% of the time.

So with this particular holding, EW will make a grand slam a hefty 73.5% of the time ** , a small slam (with or without an overtrick) 96% of the time and 11 tricks just 4% of the time.

  • I don't think anyone will get into trouble for not bidding the grand slam, even though it's odds-on to make. A small slam will usually net a good score. That said, the grand's the place to be, and can be reached if West bids 4NT Blackwood over East's 4♠ and East replies showing 4 keycards.
  • No EW pair in the room should be in less than 6♠. Stands to reason: if you bid 6♠ you'll get a good score 24 times out of 25.
  • So any EWs who are congratulating themselves on stopping in 4♠ (OK, understandable in the circumstances) should actually be working out how it was that they failed to reach the slam and make sure they bid it next time they have a similar holding. After all, bidding the way they just did will get them a bottom 24 times out of 25 – they were very lucky to get away with it this time!

So spare a thought for Peggy, who sniffed the possible slam and asked for my help in getting there. We duly did ... and they ended up with a whacking bottom – all because they got to the right contract!  To misquote Alex Ferguson's famous remark after nicking the Champion's League off Bayern Munich, 'That's bridge!' 

​​In Box & Bath

In Box, all EW pairs were in a major game (mostly spades) except for Peggy & Phyllis, who were in 6♠. Everyone made 11 tricks.

In Bath, most of the room was in 6♠, and various pairs were also in 7♠ (well bid!), 6 and 7X, all making 11 tricks, as in Box. One doubly unfortunate pair ended up in 4NT (I suspect a Blackwood bid misunderstood by partner) going 3 off – odd, when EW have 10 tricks off the top.

* unless the singleton is the ♠J, in which case you'll still make 13 tricks.

** That's 68% plus an extra 5.5% of hands when the  ♠J is singleton (see * above).

  HOTW 10 May 2017 | Sniffing out a slam

Sniffing out a slam 

Either partner might sniff the possibility of a slam on this hand. North because, her 10-count notwithstanding, with a fit in either minor she has a 4-loser hand - and first round control in 3 suits. And South because when your partner opens and you have a 16-count, you'll surely wonder whether a slam is on.

In this auction, South is in charge. She's chosen 2 - 'fourth suit forcing' - for her second bid, to find out more about her partner's hand: on the auction so far North could, for example, have 3 spades, in which case game (at least) in spades would be the best place to be. Instead, North responds 3♣, meaning that she holds at least 5 cards in each minor suit. 

From South's perspective, the sniff has become a strong scent: 6♣ looks a distinct possibility. With at least 10 cards in the minors, North can have NO major suit losers (because South has 3 major suit winners!). All that's required is that North should have a few high cards in her two suits, including at least 1 ace. How to find out? Blackwood's a possibility (if partner replies 5♣, showing no key cards, you can just pass). But in the event, North's two aces decide the matter and you bid the slam, losing just one trick to East's K.

But what if South's olfactory powers aren't what they might be, as in the following auction?

Here South, mindful of the superiority of NT over a minor fit, signs off with an eminently reasonable 3NT. Now it's up to North. 'Hang on a minute,' she might think. 'If partner's bidding NT, we must have a fit in one minor or the other, and I've got a control-rich 4-loser hand here. I'm going to try for a minor slam'. And so she bids 4♣ (rebidding clubs rather than diamonds - she needs to show her partner that both her minors are long), suggesting that there's somewhere a good deal more profitable than 3NT. That somewhere being, of course, 6♣. (A very confident North could, I suppose, go straight to 6♣ over 3NT: 'Pick the minor slam you prefer, please, partner', but then it really would be your fault if it didn't make!)

It's not an easy slam to find (see below), but provides a nice example of a holding where each partner has a bit more than they might have, and if either is prepared to stick their head above the parapet, riches can follow.

In Box & Bath

In Box, no one bid the slam: most pairs were in 5♣ or (better) 3NT.

In Bath, people were in all sorts of contracts, including 3NT, 5♣, 5, 6NT (going off) and - bizarrely - 4♠ (making!). Just two pairs reached 6♣ - well bid, Susie!  

  HOTW 17 Feb 2016 | Get in the cue (or two)

Get in the cue (or two)

Have a look at the auction. Does it look like gobbledegook? If so, please read on, because it's a great example of the rudiments of cue bidding – which isn't as mysterious as you may think.

  • East opens 1. If West has enough points to respond, some kind of game is certain.
  • West has enough points not only to respond but to respond at the two level. That's 10+ points ...

... which is enough to make East start sniffing a possible slam. How to make sure that West gets the message?

  • Bid 3. Why jump? Well, the jump shift is the strongest bid you can make after opening just 1 of a suit. So as well as getting across the message that East has at leat 5 hearts and 4 diamonds, it's also unconditionally forcing to game on both players.

Let's pause there for a moment. Now BOTH players know that they mustn't stop bidding before game. No need to hurry, then. West could just jump to 4 – 'OK, partner, you want to be in game. We have a heart fit, so there you are. The end.' But she's a bit better than she might be. For a start, she knows that they have a double fit in hearts and diamonds. And for another she has some nice controls ...

  • So bid 3, not 4. Why? Well, as we said, there's no hurry. Partner isn't going to pass. And by keeping the bidding low, you're effectively saying to partner 'We have a heart fit, but I'm better than I might be. Maybe you want to explore for a slam?'

And indeed East does. And how do we explore for a slam? One way is Blackwood, but that takes things a bit high. A much better route in this situation is to start cue bidding.

How does it work? Essentially, you're showing partner first round controls (Aces or voids) in ascending order. Since the partnership has agreed hearts as trumps, any other suit bid now is a cue bid. How does it go?

  • East bids 3♠ – 'OK, partner, let's go slam-hunting. I have the Ace of spades.' 
  • Now it's West's turn. She can't cue-bid clubs as she doesn't have first round control, so instead bids 4 ...
  • ... which is very interesting from East's point of view. Partner has the A. But equally, partner DOESN'T have the ♣A (because if she had she would have bid 4♣ instead).

And that's all East wants to hear. 'OK. The opposition have the ♣A, but I have a singleton in clubs, so we're only ever going to lose ONE club trick. The hearts and spades are looking good, and with a bit of luck the diamonds will work out too. Partner has at least 10 points, after all. Let's punt the slam: 6.'

Why, I hear you ask, don't you use Blackwood, just to make sure? Well, because we already know the answer from our cue bidding – partner has the A but not the A. So no point. Sure, we could go through the motions and then use 5NT to ask about Kings ... but by then you're at the 6-level already, so you might as well just punt 6 straight away, as here.

The Play

If you click to see the whole deal, you'll find the slam is cold. You have 5 tricks in hearts, 4 in diamonds, 2 in spades and ... and ... and what? Where's the 12th trick? It's a spade ruff in dummy, of course! Which means you have to play carefully and NOT clear trumps straight away. Take TWO rounds of trumps (to reduce their trump holding to just one card) and then play 3 rounds of spades, ruffing the third with dummy's last trump. Now back to your hand with a diamond and clear their last trump IMMEDIATELY, before cashing the rest of your diamond tricks. Home and dry.

In Box and Bath

Most pairs in Box bid the slam (with a little help), one in diamonds, which also makes. But a couple made only 11 tricks – probably because they cleared trumps too quickly. I've no idea how one pair made 13 tricks, but well done anyway!

In Bath, not everyone found the slam, but every declarer did make 12 tricks.

  HOTW 07 Oct 2015 | Just checking ...

Just checking ...

Whenever partner opens and you have a decent hand, you need to be thinking about game. And if you have a very decent hand, as here, you ought to be sniffing around for a possible slam.

You have a rather lovely balanced 17-count and your partner's opened 1, so you're certainly in game. Three no trumps, in all likelihood. But don't just bid it – think about it first. Along these lines:

For a small slam in no trumps, you usually need 33 points. So if partner has an 'ordinary' opening hand,we've probably got around 29 or 30 points between us – not enough. But if she's got 16+ we need to be in 6NT. How to find out?

So what you don't do is simply to bid 3NT. It's a cut-out bid and even if she has 16 points partner will think 'OK. Partner has 13 or so points. Great. Pass,' and you've missed your slam. She'll never find out that you're A WHOLE ACE BETTER than you need for your 3NT bid – until you cash your 12th trick, that is, and the recriminations begin ...

So how to find out if partner has 12, 16 or 19 points? The easiest way is simply to bid another suit – she has to bid again and her second bid will tell you what you want to know. What to bid, then? You have no 4-card suit other than diamonds, so you have to tell a white lie. Bid 2♣. Now if partner rebids 2NT (showing 15-17 points) or reverses into hearts or spades (showing at least 16 points) or jump rebids 3 (16-18 points), you can bid your slam. Otherwise, never mind – content yourself with 3NT and congratulate yourself for having at least 'had a look'.

In this case partner simply rebids 2 – an ordinary hand, then – and you bid 3NT, making a comfortable 11 tricks.

If you click on Show all hands, you'll see that West has a potential heart overcall. If she bids 2 over your 2♣, partner will PASS – again, showing just an ordinary opening hand with nothing extra. And again, you are happy to bid 3NT.

Hang on a minute ... Have a look at North's hand. She shouldn't have opened 1 in the first place, should she? With a balanced 14-count, even with a 5-card minor, she should have opened 1NT. And that would have saved you all that faffing about. After 1NT, you know from the start that the slam isn't on – 14 + 17 = 31; not enough. So the auction should have simply gone 1NT–3NT–End. I dunno. Can't get the partners these days ...

In Box and Bath

Apart from one lapse into 2 – which nonetheless made 12 tricks! – everyone at Box ended up in 3NT, but North, not South, should be the declarer. In Bath, everyone was in 3NT, nearly all by North, except for one pair who plumped for 5, which made with an overtrick but scored a bottom because everyone also made overtricks in NT – and there are lessons to be learnt from that, too.

  HOTW 27 May 2015 | 3 stronger than 4

3 stronger than 4

How do you and your partner play your strong opening 2♣? Some always respond with the 'relay' bid 2 ('Tell me more, partner'), while others give a point-count: 2 = 0-4, 2 =5-8, etc. But most players (myself included) tend to bid 2 with 0-6 or 0-7, but make a higher natural bid with a stronger hand. 

On this hand, East has chosen just to relay with 2, in spite of her 7-count, and opener (noting that partner has something between 0 and 7 points) has continued with 2♠, showing at least 5 spades. What now?

The most important thing is that East is quite happy with spades and must therefore agree the suit with partner. But should she bid 3♠ or 4♠?

Here we come to an important bidding principle. The 2♣ opening is what's called a game force – it commits BOTH players to continuing until game is reached. The only get-out for East, if she had absolutely nothing, would be to bid 2NT after 2♠ – a 'second negative' – after which it would be up to West to decide whether to continue or not. But any other bid agrees the game force. In this situation, something strange happens: 3♠ shows a STRONGER hand than 4♠. 4♠ would mean 'OK, partner, I accept that we should be in game. I'm happy with spades, but I'm pretty weak so here you are: I've bid game. Now please shut up.' Whereas 3♠ would mean 'OK, I'm happy with spades, and I'm towards or at the top of my range – just in case you're interested in looking for a slam.'

With a maximum 7-count, East chooses the stronger option: 3♠. Now West can decide whether he wants to look further – and clearly he does. If partner has the A, it's surely worth punting the slam, and East's 3♠ bid has provided a cheap way to find out: the whole of the 4-level is available for cue-bidding. West bids 4♣, which shows the ♣A (or possibly a void). East now bids 4 to show her A (this also denies the A, as you always make the lowest cue-bid possible). West doesn't mind about that, because he's holding the A himself. But he's delighted to find the A with his partner, and can now punt 6♠ – if not with total confidence, at least with optimism.

If you click on 'Show all hands', you'll see that the slam does make: the 4-1 spade split means a trump trick lost, but with 9 tricks available in the other 3 suits, you're home for +980.

In Bath and Box – and the play

In Bath, 6 out of 10 pairs found the slam, and everyone made at least 12 tricks. In Box, 3 pairs found the slam, but two of them went off ... so it might be worth looking briefly at the play.

Most people got a heart lead (the Q), so all declarer needs to do is win the trick, clear trumps, and then decide how to approach the clubs (as it happens, the ♣Q drops AND is also finessable, so you're never going to lose a club trick however you play it) ... Unfortunately, South has ♠J10xx, and that will put some declarers off track. The way to do it is to take three rounds of trumps, leaving South with a master ♠J and then IGNORE that and just bang out all your winners in the other suits. Sooner or later South will have to ruff with her ♠J, but it's the only trick NS make. You can win whatever they lead and continue banging out winners till you run out of cards. 12 tricks.

  HOTW 06 May 2015 | Go with the odds

Go with the odds

Imagine you're sitting North. You bid your clubs over partner's opening 1♠ and partner now bids 3♠ – a jump rebid showing 6 good spades and 16-18 points. You've got a spade fit, and 28-30 points between you. What are your chances of making a slam?

Answer: not very good. The opposition have probably got too many high cards. It would be different if you had, say, 3 spades and a singleton, because you would then have chances of creating an extra trick or two by ruffing their high cards. But as things are, it doesn't look too promising.

That's not to say you have to simply give up and sign off in 4♠. You could bid 4 (a very informative cue-bid showing the A and denying aces in the lower-ranking clubs and diamonds), thus helping partner to estimate how well the hands fit together. There's always the risk that partner might take 4 as a genuine bid (rather than a cue-bid agreeing spades), but that's maybe a risk worth taking. And if you do, your partner, holding ♣J6 doubleton, would be well advised to sign off in 4♠, as there's a good chance that the defence can take 2 club tricks.

If you look at the whole deal, you'll see that in fact 6♠ (and indeed 6NT) both make. BUT ... take the trouble to check out why. First of all, the ♣A is with West, so declarer, leading a small club towards the King, only loses one club trick. And second, the K is with East, so the diamond finesse works.

The slam makes because TWO finesses are right. If either one is wrong, the slam fails. Getting faintly mathematical for a moment: a single finesse has a 50% chance of success. If there are two finesses, you have a 50% chance that ONE of them is right, but only a 25% that BOTH are right. In other words, because it requires TWO finesses to be right, 6♠ will make just 25% of the time. Indeed, if you swap the East and West hands, declarer's only going to make TEN tricks, never mind 12.

So if you meet this situation 4 times and bid the slam each time, you'll get a great score ONCE, and a bottom THREE times. If you stop in 4♠ each time, however, you'll get a great score THREE times and a poor score ONCE. It's a no-brainer: go with the odds and stop in game.

In Bath and Box

In this respect, Box outgunned Bath on this hand: every pair ended up in 4♠ (though they didn't play the hand as well, no-one making more than 11 tricks). In Bath, 3 pairs punted the slam – and two of them got away with it. Bar that one failure, though, every pair in the room ended up with 12 tricks.

  HOTW 18 Feb 2015 | Minimum or maximum?

Minimum or maximum?

You're sitting East and your partner responds to your opening 1NT with 4NT. What does it mean and what do you bid?

The 4NT is 'quantitative' – partner has a strong, balanced hand and is wondering whether a slam is on. The point-count for 6NT is 33, so West will have a 19-count or possibly a poor 20. The 4NT means 'Bid 6NT if you're maximum, partner. Pass if you're minimum.' 

Which is easy enough if you have 14 points (bid 6NT) or 12 points (Pass) ... but what if you're in the middle, as here, with 13? You simply have to make a judgment: do you hold a 'good' 13 or a 'poor' 13? One good indication is if you have a 5-card suit: that 5th little club (or diamond, whatever) is very likely to be worth a trick – maybe the vital 12th trick you need for the slam. Another is good 'intermediate' cards, especially in sequences: things like J109 or 1098. 

So how do you rate your 13-count holding here? No 5-card suit – you're a flat-as-a-pancake 4-3-3-3 – and apart from a 9 and a couple of 8s your intermediates aren't very promising either. There might be 12 tricks out there but it's not worth the risk – thanks all the same, partner, but I'm passing. End of auction.

The play

How does it go? If you check out the whole deal, you'll see that EW can expect 11 tricks: 4 each in the black suits, the AK and, once the A has been forced out, a diamond trick. (A 12th trick can be established if the hearts break 3-3, which they do, but unfortunately that involves losing a heart trick, and while they have the lead they can cash the A, so that won't work.)

The opening lead's vital here. If EW bid the slam, South must resist the temptation to lead the A, as that hands them the contract on a plate. Think about it: EW have nearly all the points in the pack, so who's more likely to hold the K and Q – your partner or EW? The latter, of course. If you lead your A, EW will play low from both hands and now have TWO diamond tricks instead of one. It's the ONLY lead that allows them to make the contract. So don't waste your A on 2s and 3s. Let them force it out with their K or Q. As Victor Mollo memorably had it: 'Aces are for killing Kings.'

In Bath and Box

Not many bid the slam in either place. In Box a couple of EW pairs made 12 tricks and in Bath 4 out of 11 managed it, so several Souths must have led the A. As always, bidding an unmakeable contract and then making it will get you a great score – but in the long term unmakeable contracts are best left to one's opponents.

  HOTW 07 May 2014 | A spade slam

A spade slam

Slams are all about CONTROLS – Aces, Kings, singletons and voids. Having 33 points between you is all very well, but if you each have just 2 small diamonds (say) and the opponents have AK, you're going off. This is why cue bids (which are used to show controls) and splinter bids (which show a shortage) are so useful when you're in or around 'Slamland'. In this hand, both types of bid are used to full effect.

West can hardly keep a straight face when her partner opens 1♠. She has 6 spades herself, a heart void and just 4 losers. Surely a slam is likely here. How to go about it? She decides on 4 – a splinter bid loaded with information: 'I have at least 4 spades, a singleton or void in hearts and game-going points AND I'm interested in a slam.'

With just an ordinary hand and weak clubs, East isn't particularly interested in going beyond game, so signs off in 4♠.

But West doesn't want to give up yet – after all, she has NO heart losers and a very nice club suit too. She decides to make a cue-bid, showing first-round control in clubs – 5♣. Now if only partner can help in diamonds ...

And indeed East can. Reassured that West has got the clubs covered, she feels more positive about her hand and it costs nothing now to show her excellent controls in diamonds via another cue-bid: 5 from East.

And back in West's seat, it all falls into place. If partner can look after the diamonds, the necessary controls are all there, so 6♠ it is. And as you can see if you click on Show all hands, at least 12 tricks are there for the taking.

Can NS find a sacrifice in hearts?

This came up in discussion at one table where one North had very shrewdly doubled the 4 splinter bid. Doubling an artificial bid (and a splinter is of course just that) shows that suit, and it costs North nothing to tell his partner about his excellent AKQJ5. Armed with that knowledge South, who has just 1 point to his name but also SIX hearts, may decide that going off in 7X might be cheaper than allowing 6♠ to make.

And that indeed turns out to be the case. 7 goes FIVE off, doubled vulnerable, for – wait for it – minus 1400. But 6♠, again vulnerable, is worth 1430. So the sacrifice ends up being cheaper! (This would have made all the difference in Bath, where 7 out of 10 EW pairs bid and made 6♠. That lowly-looking 30-point saving would have given you a 70% near-top.)

OK, but supposing East had opened 1NT instead of 1♠?

They can still find the spade slam, using a different but equally interesting route – see below.

  HOTW 07 May 2014 | A spade slam (continued)

A spade slam (continued)

In spite of the 5-card major, many players (Andrew Robson among them) will choose to open East's hand with 1NT.

Acol provides just the bid for West in this situation: a 3-level suit bid. Here 3♠ simply means 'I have a 6-card suit and I'm interested in looking for a slam.'

Now you may think that with just 13 points, East wouldn't be particularly interested in trying for a slam, in which case she'd just sign off in 4♠. But you have to remember that her partner KNOWS that she has just 12-14 points and has still shown interest in slamming. And that's without knowing about East's 5-card spade suit (including 3 honours) and the excellent controls in diamonds. East must surely share her partner's enthusiasm. But how to show it? Easy – simply cue-bid the diamonds, as she did in the previous auction. This says to her partner 'OK. Slam may well be on. I like the spades, and I have the A – but I DON'T have the ♣A (otherwise I would have bid 4♣ instead).'

And that's all West needs to know. She herself controls clubs (♣AK) and hearts (void), so as before she can confidently go ahead and bid the spade slam.

Magic – a slam reached in just 4 bids.


  HOTW 09 October 2013 | 5, 6 or 7?

5, 6 or 7?

This is a great hand needing spot-on bidding by both North and South. I've filled in the shape of the auction – how might it go after West's opening 1?

  • With a magnificent 20-count, North is far too strong to be making a 1 overcall (which would show up to 15 points). She should first make a take-out double – and can bid the hearts later if necessary.
  • How should South respond? Her partner has shown an opening hand, so with a long spade suit and just 7 losers she must go straight to 4♠. No, DON'T bid 1♠, 2♠ or 3♠ – partner can pass any of these. You know, and your partner doesn't, that you can make game in spades, so it's up to you to bid it yourself!
  • Back to North. Are you a bit worried that South might only have 4 spades? You needn't be. Why? Well, add up the points. You have 20. West will probably have 12-ish for his opening bid ... so that only leaves a maximum of 8 points for partner. With 8 points and only 4 spades, she won't be jumping to game, will she? No, she must have a distributional hand with long spades. So. What to do now?

    Well, look at your holding. Which tricks can you possibly lose? OK, there may be a loser in hearts or clubs, but if partner's got lots of spades, that's unlikely. The only important cards you're missing are the A and the ♠K. How can you find out whether partner has them or not? Easy – they're both 'key cards', so Roman Key Card Blackwood is the answer. It's designed precisely for such a situation. So bid 4NT and ...
    ... if partner has neither the A nor the ♠K, you'll have to sign off in 5♠.
    ... if she has just one of them, you can confidently bid the small slam: 6♠.
    ... and if she has them BOTH, well, you haven't got ANY losers and you can bid the grand: 7♠.

And that's it. Partner shows her A, and North bids the small slam. As it happens, you make 13 tricks, because West has the singleton ♠K, but that's fine: it would be foolish to bid a grand slam with a missing key card when the small slam's cold.

Did you miss it? Well, you're not alone. In Bath, only 4 out of 12 pairs bid the slam, the rest stopping in game.

So lots to take away here:

  • With 16+ points don't overcall – start with a double. (The exception, of course, is when you have a balanced 15-17 and a stop in their suit, when you can overcall 1NT.)
  • If you know you're in game and partner doesn't (and may otherwise pass), bid it yourself.
  • Think about partner's bids in the context of the whole auction – here you were able to deduce that partner has a weak hand with a long spade suit.
  • Don't automatically pass just because partner's bid game. Consider whether it may be worth looking further. It certainly was here!
  HOTW 13 Feb 2013 | Asking for kings

Asking for kings

You don't often get a holding which has a cold 14 tricks off the top ... but how do you bid to the no-trump grand slam?

There are various possibilities depending on your system, but you're likely to end up using the bit of Blackwood that everyone forgets about: 5NT asking for Kings.


How does it go? East opens with her system's strongest artificial opening bid. In ordinary Acol that's 2 (nothing to do with clubs!) and in Benji it'll be 2. Both are ordinarily forcing to game.

There are two styles of reply to this: in one, you always just bid a 'relay' bid (the next suit up) – regardless of how strong you are – and wait for opener to say more. I prefer to make a positive reply if I've got something to say (at least an A and a K, or 8+ points), so here I'll show my diamond suit straight away: 2 would just be the relay bid, so instead I'm saying 3, which is natural and says 'I've got some strength here, partner, and a diamond suit.' *


This is music to East's ears – well, eyes. Don't automatically reach for the 4♣ bid. If East happens to have the A – likely, as she's bidding them and is showing at least 8 points – 6NT is looking great. How to find out?

How about Blackwood? Partner will think that you've agreed diamonds as the trump suit, but you can overrule that later. So 4NT ... and West replies 5 (or 5♣, whichever it is that shows 1 ace).

Now let's count: unless you're very unlucky, you have 7 club tricks. You now know you have 2 diamond tricks as well. Plus the other two aces makes 11. 

So if partner has either of the two other kings you have 12 tricks – and if she has both you have 13. So ... 5NT ('How many kings do you have, partner?') and back comes 6 ('I've got two.')

Now you know about partner's high cards, you can count the 13 tricks in your own hand – provided you don't get unlucky in clubs. So out with the 7NT card, South leads and West lays down dummy ... revealing, in addition to the promised Ace and two Kings ... the delicious ♣J4. 

Lay your hand on the table and claim: 'I'm going to win trick one, then cash dummy's ♣J, then cash all my other clubs from the top, and I have top cards in all the other suits.' Grand slam bid and made.


*   If you're playing the 'relay' style, then West will always reply 2. East will now show her clubs: 3♣. And West now has an opportunity to show her strength and 5-card suit by bidding 3. Not quite as elegant, but it amounts to the same thing and East can now proceed to Blackwood as before.


If you'd reached 7NT in Bath you'd have had a very good score indeed, as only two of the nine EW pairs got there. Two others stopped in 6NT and one played safe in 6♣ – leaving nearly half the EW pairs in a miserable 3NT. All making 13 tricks, of course.  Shocking! 

  HOTW 31 Oct 2012 | Three-bid slam
Three-bid Slam
Question 1  How many points does a partnership need to make 6NT?
Answer  Normally (that is, when the holdings are reasonably balanced), 33 – that means the opposition can't have 2 aces. Sure, they could have AK in the same suit, but most of the time you'll be OK.

Which brings us to this week's hand. Partner's opened 1NT and you have a very gratifying 20 points.

Question 2  Have you got enough for a slam or not?
Answer  You don't know – yet. It depends on how many points partner has. If she has just 12, possibly not. But if she has 13 or 14, 6NT is where you want to be.

Question 3  How do I find out?
Answer  Bid 4NT. In a situation like this 4NT is not Blackwood, but a quantitative raise: it says 'Partner, I'm not sure if we have enough strength for a slam, so over to you. If you're a minimum, pass; but if you're better than that, bid 6NT'.

And as you'll see when you click 'Show all hands', North has a maximum 14 points and bids the slam. So there it is – a slam in 3 bids: 1NT - 4NT - 6NT.

(Note, by the way, that there's no risk of EW holding AK in the same suit: South's holding precludes that from the outset!)

Does 6NT make?

Oh yes. You've got 11 'top tricks' (4 in clubs, 2 in diamonds, 3 in hearts and 2 in spades) and need to generate just one more from hearts or spades. That'll happen if

  • the spade finesse works OR
  • the opponents' spades are split 3-3 OR
  • the opponents' hearts are split 3-3 OR
  • the J is singleton or part of a doubleton OR
  • the defence make a mistake (you bang out your 4 club tricks first, in the hope that a defender will discard the wrong card)
This gives you odds of around 85% even if the defence is perfect, so it's a slam you want to be in.

Postscript: so what about Stayman?

Good point. You have four cards in both majors, so why not try to find a major fit?

Well, you could. How would it go after you bid 2
  • EITHER Partner responds 2 (no 4-card major) so you simply continue with 4NT as above ...
  • ... OR partner shows a 4-card major, and you continue with 4NT (Blackwood this time, because you've now found a trump fit!) and provided you're not missing more than one keycard you can bid 6 or 6.

The problem with 6/ is that if you're playing duplicate pairs you score 10 points less than the pairs who ended up in 6NT, and so even if you make your slam you could get a rotten score – a bottom, even!

So – you pays your money and you takes your choice. This time, at least, 6NT is the winning contract.

  HOTW 30 May 2012 | Multiple choice
Multiple choice
When partner opens 1, what are your thoughts with this holding?

Your first two thoughts should be 'spade fit!' (with an exclamation mark) and 'slam?' (with a question mark).

So let's start with what you shouldn't do: don't make a bid that partner can pass. Both 3
and 4 would be hopeless underbids. You have a 5-loser hand with a magnificent side-suit, and you must investigate a possible slam. But how to do it? Here are three possibilities:
  • Go straight to RKC Blackwood.
  • Bid 3, a jump shift forcing to game, which may or may not include spade support.
  • Bid 4♣, a 'splinter' bid, showing good spade support, strong points and a singleton or void in clubs.

All are forcing to game and all show a slam interest. But which is best?

Going straight to Blackwood is not a good idea. Why? Because of your horrid little Q3 doubleton. If partner's response shows one keycard missing, it could be the A, and since you have no idea where the K is, you could end up bidding a slam missing the AK and go one off before you've even won a trick. Other things being equal, it's best to avoid Blackwood if you have a losing doubleton.

What about 3? It's a perfectly good Acol bid, but ... well, you already know what you want, don't you? You want to be in SPADES, a known 4-4 (or better) fit, and to use your hearts as a lovely long side-suit on which you can fling any losers. So why faff around with hearts when you already know what trumps are going to be?

That leaves 4, which is by far the best bid: your partner immediately knows what trumps are, that you're looking for a slam and that you have a shortage in clubs. And as slams are all about CONTROLS (i.e. not losing two tricks off the top as in AK above), shortages are crucial.

It so happens that partner has Axx, so she loves your club shortage: no losers in clubs, then! Even though she has a pretty ordinary opening bid, she's encouraged enough to show you her next control, which happens to be the diamond Ace, by bidding 4.

And that gives you the safeguard you were looking for: you can now ask about keycards without having to worry about losing two diamond tricks off the top. You bid 4NT, partner responds 5 (showing two keycards and the trump Queen), which means you're missing just one keycard and you can now confidently bid 6. To sum up:





 4♣  game force in spades; club shortage

 4 control bid showing A

 4NT RKC Blackwood

 5 two keycards plus the Q


The play

Have a look at all the hands. It plays itself, really. You just get to hand and take the spade finesse, which wins, and all 13 tricks are yours.

In Box and Bath

Sadly, no one reached the slam in Box. In Bath, about half the pairs got there (including, I'm glad to say, yours truly), and everyone made 13 tricks.

The Dos and Don'ts:

  • If you want to look for a slam, don't make a bid that partner can pass.
  • Don't use Blackwood with a losing doubleton.
  • Do get familiar and comfortable with splinters!
  HOTW 25 Apr 2012 | A grand hand
A grand hand
This hand's got it all: a reverse, 4th suit forcing, Blackwood and lots of the kind of inference that improving players need to develop. Here's what I feel is the best auction, focusing on how the picture each player has of the other's hand (and their combined holding) develops as the auction progresses. 

East has a wonderful 2-loser 19-point hand but doesn't (in my opinion) have the shape for a strong opening, so opens one of her longest suit: 1♣.

West has opening points herself and so already knows that they must end up in at least game. There's no reason to go jumping all over the place just yet, though, as a simple change of suit is forcing anyway, so at this stage it's quite safe just to bid 1.

East will now want to show her second suit, diamonds. But she doesn't need to jump either, because bidding diamonds will constitute a reverse, which guarantees extra strength and (again) cannot be passed. So she bids 2. (The point about a reverse is that if partner prefers your 1st suit, she'll be forced to show that preference at the 3 level instead of the more normal 2 level. Therefore, if you're going to reverse you have to have enough strength to stand it.)

West is now beginning to sense that something good might be on. Not only does she have more strength than she's yet shown, but her partner is now showing extra strength too. On top of that, you now have a better picture of her distribution: she must have more clubs than diamonds. Well now, what to bid? You still need to know more. Perhaps partner has 3 spades with you and you can bid a slam in spades. Or maybe she's short of spades but has heart stops, making no trumps attractive. How to find out? This situation, where you want further clarity from partner, is exactly what the fourth suit forcing bid was designed for: bid 2.

East That's interesting. That's 4th suit forcing, and THAT means that partner has extra strength. This is very promising. Now, what can I tell my partner about my hand that she doesn't know already? I don't like her spades, and I don't fancy no trumps. I like my minor suits, so I'm going to bid my diamond suit AGAIN, showing that I have 5 of them: 3.

What does this tell West? Well, if partner has more clubs than diamonds and has bid diamonds twice ... she must have at least SIX clubs and FIVE diamonds. Goodness. And I have both of those Aces, plus we have a 9-card fit in clubs ...

... And this is the crucial bit. West knows that the partnership is at least in game (she has opening points and partner's shown extra strength), and East also knows the same thing (she has a fantastic hand and her partner has bid 4th suit forcing, promising extra points). So everybody knows that the auction must continue until game is reached.

That being so, what would 5
from West mean here? It would mean 'Partner, I think we should be in 5.' and so partner will probably pass it. Or West might want to use Blackwood to look for a slam ... but wait a minute: I don't know anything about the quality of my partner's long minor suits. Surely it's better if I leave things to my partner ...

So the best bid by a long way, I think, is 4. This (finally!) agrees a trump suit, cannot be passed (as you're not at game yet), and gives East a chance to take the initiative.

East duly does. Take another look at her hand. All she needs to know, really, is where the A and A are. And that's easily done by using Blackwood: 4NT.

All over bar the shouting, now. West responds 5, showing two key cards: in this case the only two cards East wanted to know about and ...

East takes stock. Barring a 4-0 split in clubs, she has no club losers. Barring a dreadful split in diamonds, she has no diamond losers either ... and she certainly doesn't have any losers in the major suits ... So out with the stop card and bid 7. (7NT is also a great contract, and scores even more, but I'd be content to reach the grand slam in clubs.)

And, of course, it makes. The beauty of the auction is that East can count all 13 of her tricks even before dummy goes down, because both players have used the tools available to them to communicate effectively. Lovely. Lots to take from this deal.

In Bath

They didn't do badly in Bath. Of the 10 tables, two pairs bid small slams (one in clubs, one in NT) and four pairs found the grand (two in clubs, two in NT). At our table, EW had a bidding misunderstanding and ended up in 5, giving us an undeservedly great result. :-)

  HOTW 30 Nov 2011 | Double fit slam
Double fit slam
You're sitting South, and partner opens 1. Nice. You have a void, plenty of points and 4-card support, but you don't want to miss a possible major fit so you respond 1. West comes in with a spade bid and partner now bids 2, East raising partner to 2. What are your thoughts?

Well, for one thing, you have a double fit in the minors. Partner clearly has at least 5 diamonds and at least 4 clubs, and given that her clubs are rubbish (!) there's every hope that the diamonds are a bit better.

For another, partner's probably got a few spades (as you don't have any), and that leaves her pretty empty of hearts.

So let's count tricks. We'll make diamonds trumps, so that you can ruff partner's spades with teeny little diamonds instead of big chunky club honours. Let's assume that partner has nice diamonds and 3 spades. That will give us five diamond tricks, plus (with luck) 4 club tricks and 3 spade ruffs ... which is a little slam in diamonds.

But hey, partner might not be as strong as we'd like. We need to find a strong bid that allows partner to go on if strong but to sign off if she's weak. I like 4, which I would regard as forcing. If partner simply raises to 5, we leave it like that. But if she can manage a control bid in hearts, then the slam beckons.

Partner does bid 4, so you can now bid 6 with some confidence.

(Note: many players sitting East will raise West's 1to 4, just to get in the way. This actually makes it easier for you – you can just punt 6 directly and hope for the best!)

The play

West leads the A and dummy goes down (click Show all hands to have a look). Partner turns out to have only 2 spades, but never mind – she has Ax instead, which could be even better.

The play couldn't be easier, really. Ruff the opening lead in dummy, go back to hand with a trump and ruff your second spade. Then clear the rest of the trumps, bang out all your clubs, ending in dummy ... and try the heart finesse for an overtrick. You lead your
Q and it works. 13 tricks and a great score for NS.

Should you have bid 7
, then? No – you don't want to be in a slam that depends on a finesse being right. There's too much at stake. Take your 12 sure tricks and take the overtrick as a bonus.

In Box and Bath

In Box, everyone found game but no one bid the slam. Bath didn't do much better: only 3 of the 13 pairs bid 6
or 6.

Which is fair enough. It's not an easy slam to find. But the signs are there for an alert South to see:
  • A double fit with partner. Always good news.
  • A shortage (in this case a void) in the opponents' suit. Ruffing opportunities!

The key is to find a way of asking partner if she's got a bit of extra strength. 4 does the trick, I think: it allows her to sign off in 5 if she's weak or bid something else if she isn't.


  HOTW 09 Feb 2011 | Exploring for a slam
Exploring for a slam

Here are a few thoughts on bidding with strong hands. A bit dense for a 'featured hand' spot, but why not?

  With 8-9 playing tricks in a suit, open 2♣

What would you open on this lovely 4-loser hand? You could bid 1, but you'd look a bit daft if partner passed, as you pretty well have enough for game in hearts all by yourself. Better, then, to go for a strong Acol (or Benji Acol) opening of 2♣, showing 8+ playing tricks in a suit. (If you were playing more traditional 'strong 2s', you'd open 2.)

Playing tricks should be a sensible prediction of the number of tricks you would expect to win playing the hand in hearts. With a long trump suit like this, you're supposed to assume the next to worst possible trump split - which would be that one nasty opponent would be holding QJxxx and your partner would be void. Even then, you're making 5 heart tricks, and under better circumstances you'd hope to make 6, so your hand is worth a confident 8-9 playing tricks.

People vary in their responses to 2♣, but most of you play a 2 'relay', however weak or strong you are, to see what partner bids next.

So let's say your partner dutifully says 2. You now bid 2, so your partner now knows that you have at least 8 playing tricks with hearts as trumps. Pretty good going.

  In a situation that is 'forcing to game' you can afford to take your time getting there

You and your partner are now in a situation that is (as near as dammit) forcing to game. This means that neither of you may pass until game is reached. You can therefore stop worrying about 'missing game' because you both know you have to go at least that far.

This leads to an interesting conclusion. If West has a couple of hearts and otherwise a load of old rubbish, she can cut things short and just jump straight to 4 - there's nothing else to say, and she doesn't want her partner to get ideas. 4 means 'OK, OK, you've got your game, but as far as I'm concerned that's as far as we're going.'

If, however, West has more to offer, it's better to stay lower, to leave room for further conversation. So with a better holding, West will instead bid 3.

The interesting conclusion is that in this situation, a lower bid shows a better holding than the next bid up.

  If you've agreed a suit and have slam interest, you can use cue-bids to show controls

When your partner bids 3, your thoughts now turn to a possible slam ...

... And this is where cue-bids come in. You've agreed hearts as your trump suit, you both know you're going at least to game - so anything you do in between 3 and 4 must be because you're interested in going beyond game - to a slam.

And the main thing you want to know if you're bidding slams is which suits you control - in other words, where the Aces are.

What you do is pretty simple, actually. You tell each other about the suits in which you have 'first round control' - that is, an Ace or a void (you can trump instead, so it's as good as having the Ace!), starting with the 'cheapest' bid. That is, you make cue-bids, in ascending order. So what do you bid as East? Have a think, then triple click below.

Well, apart from trumps, you have the spade and diamond Aces. You can bid spades 'more cheaply' than diamonds - in other words, 3♠ is a lower bid than 4 - so you bid 3♠.

OK, you've cue-bid your cheapest Ace, and West responds 4. What does that tell you? Again, think of an answer, then triple-click below.

Well, if West had the Ace or a void in the next suit up - clubs, he would have bid 4♣. Ditto for diamonds. So 4 tells you that, sadly, your partner has no aces or voids in either clubs or diamonds.

Which just about wraps it up. Your partner can't help in clubs. Sure, she may have the ♣KQ doubleton, but equally she may have Kxx, Qxx or even xxxx, leaving you with two - or even three - losers in clubs.

Safer, then, to abandon thoughts of a slam, and over partner's 4 you reluctantly select the PASS card.

  It's often useful to use 4NT (Blackwood) to check for Aces

Very true, but not in this case, because you already know about the Aces. All that will happen if you use Blackwood here is that you'll end up in 5 - which might go off, leaving you looking very silly.

That's the beauty of cue-bidding: you've found out all you need to know without going above the 4-level.

  The play   

Have a look at the other hands. Say West leads the
Q. You win, clear trumps, and lead a low club towards your K. It works - the club Ace is with South, so make an easy 11 tricks.

And in Bath BC? They did pretty well, actually, with 8 out of 11 pairs stopping in 4
, and only 3 struggling on to 5 (presumably via Blackwood).

Strangely, though, several pairs made 12 tricks. As a final challenge, see if you can work out how. Here's a hint:

I think North led

And if you're still stuck, here's my answer:

North led the
♣Q, South won with the Ace and returned a club. Declarer played dummy's ♣K and North's ♣J dropped, leaving dummy's ♣10 a winner. So later on (after clearing trumps) declarer cashed it as his 12th trick. Lucky lead.



  HOTW 19 Jan 2011 | 12 tricks + 1
12 tricks + 1

What a nice surprise it is when you pick up a huge fistful of points and partner opens the bidding. This will usually light up a little bulb marked Slam!, and this hand is no exception. North opens 1♠, and South is sitting there with a whopping 20 points. We're virtually certain to be in a slam ... so how best to get there?

Well, as we discovered in our Don't Jump session in December, there's no hurry, and certainly no need to jump: a simple change of suit is forcing for one round and will give partner an opportunity to describe his hand further. So you simply bid the lower of your two 4-card suits: 2.

Partner responds 2 (showing at least 5 spades and 4 hearts), and you now know what suit you want to be in: hearts. That's good progress: you've learned a lot about partner's hand already, and you're still only at the 2 level.

So how to go on? Blackwood would be useful to find out if partner has the A♠, so you bid 4NT. (Note that your 4NT Blackwood bid also agrees hearts as the trump suit.)

Back comes 5 from partner (some of you will use 5♣ here) showing one Ace, so that's the slam certain, then.

But should it be small or grand?

Well, that depends on whether partner has the trump Queen, and maybe a couple of Kings. If you play Roman Key Card Blackwood, there's a way of finding out about the Q, and 5NT will tell you about partner's Kings ... but it can all get a bit complicated. For most players just getting to the slam is good enough, and grand slams are pretty rare so ... 6 it is.

  The play   

It seems a shame to have to put down such a lovely hand as dummy, rather than play the hand yourself, but there you are. East will probably either lead a singleton spade (which is lovely for you) or the top-of-sequence J, which also does you no harm.

So how are you going to make your 12 tricks?

You're going to have to be lucky either in trumps (dropping the
Q) or in spades (catching the Q). The trump loser is the crucial one, so you find out about that first. Out with the A, followed by the K ... and the Q falls. Lovely. Now you can afford to lose a spade, so lead your J, playing low from the dummy - and the Gods are with you. It wins. Now finesse again with dummy's 10 and you have 4 spade tricks, 5 heart tricks, 3 diamond tricks and the A: contract made with an overtrick.

Should we have bid the grand? Not really. Making 13 tricks needed a bit of luck, and it's silly to risk a stone-cold small slam for a gamble on a grand.

But hey - even the small slam can go off if you don't do things in the right order: crucially, you must clear the opponents' trumps before you start playing with spades or it could all go horribly wrong.


There is this rather irritating thing about playing pairs that a No Trump contract is worth 10 points more than its suit equivalent, so if you're prepared to take the risk it's often worth converting a suit slam into NT. It doesn't always work, but it works here (especially since South is the one who bid NT first, so an opening club lead doesn't pose any difficult choices).

The heart slam's a better contract, though.

And in Bath BC?
One pair reached and made 7; a further 3 ended up in 6; and no fewer than 5 pairs found 6NT. However, all the declarers made 13 tricks, while two of the NT declarers made only 12. So 6 +1 will be a pretty reasonable score.



  HOTW 00 00 2010 | Counting up to 13
Counting up to 13

In a slam-heavy set of boards, here's one where West can literally count her tricks before she sees dummy - provided she can trust her partner.

  The auction   

There's nothing quite like the buzz you get when you have a nice hand and discover that partner has a nice hand too, and that's just what happened here.

West has a pleasing balanced 16-count, and opens 1
, intending to rebid no trumps on her next bid. North passes, and East puts down the STOP card and bids 3. A jump shift. Pretty well as strong as you can get. But what does it show? Think for a moment, then triple click below to check.

It shows an excellent club suit (Good honours, and probably with 6+ cards), plus at least enough points for game, and certainly interest in going for a slam. Partner might have a good fit for your suit or not. You will find out in due course!

So, what does West bid next? Well, with a 16-point hand herself, surely they're going to be in some kind of a slam. She could simply bid 3
, but that doesn't really get across her extra strength (after all, she could have a measly 12 points, and she's an Ace better than that) ...

So how about 4
? Confidently going beyond 3NT, and therefore indicating to partner a desire to seek a slam? And (just in case partner hasn't got heart support) showing a key card (the Queen) in partner's otherwise solid 6-card club suit.

Partner now comes back with 4
. Which, of course, tells you that partner has 4+ hearts, in addition to cardloads of points and an excellent club suit.

So do you pass? Not a chance. Your partner would never speak to you again. Once you've bid 4, you're both committed to slamland.

So what's next? It would be handy to know how many aces your partner has, so let's use Blackwood to find out: 4NT.

Partner now bids 5
, showing two aces. Now you have all the information you need, and you can start counting your tricks. Have a go before reading on.

OK. You have 5 trump tricks.
You have a trick each in spades and diamonds. That's 7.
Now then. How many clubs does partner have? Very probably 6. And they're certainly headed by the
AK and probably the AKJ. So seven and six adds up to ... goodness. 13. That's a grand slam.

Hang on a minute. What if she only has 5 clubs? That would only add up to 12 tricks, wouldn't it? Well, yes, but (1) she ought really to have 6 (2) even if she only has 5, she has at least 4 hearts, so has a maximum of 4 cards in the minors, and if one of those is a singleton, you can ruff in dummy for an extra trick.

So it one way or another it adds up to 13, or 12.75 on a bad day.

Question is, do you bid 7
or 7NT? If you trust your partner to have 6 clubs, go 7NT, but if you're not sure, go 7, so you can ruff something in dummy. 7NT is worth 10 points more than 7, of course. But most people in the room will have stopped in 6 anyway, so you'll still be getting a top!

  The play   

Nothing to say. If you click on 'show all hands' you'll see that you have 13 tricks off the top - 5 in hearts, 6 in clubs and the two other aces. Even I couldn't play that wrong!

  HOTW 00 00 2010 | Take it slowly
Take it slowly

It's intriguing how many of these featured hands have been Board 13. Here's another Board 13, notable for an instructive auction between West and East.

After 3 passes, West must make the opening bid. I tend to avoid the Benji strong 2 and 2 opening bids unless it's a balanced no-trump point-count or a pretty clear one-suiter. Most of the time I find it better to open one of a suit, on the grounds that if partner passes ... well, we weren't going to make game anyhow. In this case, however, West has a pretty clear 8½ playing tricks in spades and 2♣ seems the obvious opening bid.

I'm also not a fan of the obligatory 2 relay, preferring to make a positive bid if I have anything positive to say. But again, in this case it seems better just to bid 2 and wait and see what West has in mind.

So far so good. West now shows his spade suit: 2

Back to East. Now, playing Benji Acol, if he has absolutely nothing East is entitled to pass - partner has, after all, only shown 8 playing tricks in a suit. But if he decides to bid on, then they're in game. Here East clearly has enough to go on, and equally clearly they're going to end up in spades (West having shown at least a good 6-card spade suit). But what to bid: 3
or 4?

This is the point where things get a bit non-intuitive, and we get involved with something called the Principle of Fast Arrival. Since we're in game anyway, with a weak holding East will bid 4
directly: "Hey, partner, OK, I like your spades - let's play in 4." With a stronger holding, however, there's no need to rush: East knows that his partner is going to go on to game, so can safely bid 3 instead. This (bizarrely) is stronger than bidding 4 directly, and says "I rather like this, partner, and we may have a slam on." What's nice about keeping the bidding lower is that it leaves the whole of the 4-level available to cue-bid controls (Aces or voids) in ascending order, which is what now happens.

But before we go on, let's just reiterate the Principle of Fast Arrival: bidding directly to a game contract suggests weakness and a desire to play in that contract and go no further. 1
- 4 is an example: the 4 means 'Let's try game in hearts, partner, but I'd rather not go any further unless you're extremely strong because I've got a pretty rubbishy 7-loser hand." With a stronger holding, responder finds other ways of getting to 4 that show greater strength. So a fast arrival is weak, and a slower pace suggests more strength.

So back to West. Partner has supported your spades and has also indicated some strength (by bidding 3
rather than 4), and you now begin to sniff slam possibilities. What you'd really like to know if whether partner has the A, because then you could be in grand slam territory. And your partner's bid has made it easy to find out: you've agreed your suit, so now you simply start cue-bidding, starting at the lowest available level: 4: "I've got the A, partner."

Over to East, who has neither the
A nor the A, so can only sign off in 4.

Back to West, who now knows (from his partner's failure to bid 4
) that they do not hold the A. What now? Well, you could try RKC Blackwood, but what's the point? You know about the A, and you have all the other key cards anyway. It would tell you nothing. So you shrug your shoulders and settle for 6 (not forgetting to leave the STOP card down for 10 seconds after making your bid).

  The play  

Well, as you can see, making 12 tricks is a no-brainer. Whether you choose to try to 'drop' the trump Queen or finesse for it, you succeed, and whether you make 12 or 13 tricks depends only on whether North chooses to lead his A at trick 1. If he doesn't, you can discard your losing diamonds on East's KQ and make all 13 tricks.


I'm almost ashamed to tell you what happened at Bath BC. Of the nine EW pairs that played the hand, only three reached the slam, and one pair stopped in a pretty sad 3♠. Further, only one North led his A to keep declarer to 12 tricks. At the other 8 tables, declarer made all 13. Which seems to suggest that you should always lead an Ace against a slam. Hmm. Let's just say that it worked in this case.

  HOTW 30 Jun 2010 | Which Ace?
Which Ace?

It's not often that your partner's opening pre-emptive 3-bid gives you a thrill, but this is certainly one of those rare occasions.

  The auction  

What are your thoughts as North after your partner's 3 opening and West's 4 overcall?

It's difficult to imagine losing any trick other than the
A, really. South has only 6 cards other than spades, and 4 of them are accounted for by your AK and AK. In addition, even if South has neither of the Queens in those suits, he will surely be able to set up the clubs - just keep ruffing them until the Q falls - for further tricks.

So the question is whether you should be in
6 or 7. Or, put another way, does partner have the A? Technically, Blackwood is unlikely to provide the answer: if partner replies showing one ace, how can we tell whether it's the A (lovely) or the A (useless)? We can't. On the other hand, if partner has no aces, then we know we have to stop in 6.

So no harm in trying: you bid 4NT and partner replies 5
(or 5♣ in some systems) showing just one Ace. What do you bid: the small slam or the grand?

The safe answer, of course, is 6
, which is pretty well 100% bound to succeed. On the other hand, South has 7 of the 9 outstanding spades and is known to have an ace. That makes it better than 3:1 that the A is with South.

Or think about diamonds. Say South has 3 - half of his non-spade holding. That leaves 10 diamonds with East/West. Again, there are more than three times as many places for the
A with either East or West as there are with South.

So on the whole, the odds look pretty good in favour of South holding the

It's a brave decision to punt the grand slam when the small slam is a certainty, and you'd have every justification in stopping short, but my goodness it's pretty tempting to go the whole way.

Let's say you do. What happens next?


  The play  

What happens is a huge sigh of relief even before you see dummy, as West leads her A - which means that you were right and South does indeed have the vital trump Ace.

Click on 'Show all hands' and see how it goes from there.

It couldn't be easier, could it? You clear trumps in one round ('Nice split!'), and play ♣AK and AK, leaving you with just trumps and two diamonds. A cross-ruff takes care of the rest. Grand slam made.


At Bath BC, all the pairs bar two ended up in 6♠. Just one pair stopped (for some reason) in 5♠, for a resounding bottom, and just one pair bid the grand, for a resounding top. Just for once, I had got it right, and was able to shrug off my partner's 'How did you know I didn't have the diamond Ace?' with a cheery 'I didn't. But you didn't, did you?'

  HOTW 05 Apr 2010 | Jump-shifting to a slam
Jump-shifting to a slam

There's a grand slam in clubs* available here, but even getting to the small slam isn't easy on this hand after North opens 1. The key to success is for South to jump-shift in Clubs, but first: how the slam might be missed.

North's hand is pretty horrible. If South replies 2♣ or 2, he can only rebid 2 - 2♠ would be a reverse showing 16+ points, so is out of the question. And if South replies 1NT ... yuk! Nevertheless, he punts 1. Let's say South says 2♣, and North rebids his ropy 5-card heart suit. What now? Well, many Souths will think "OK. We have 28+ points. Not enough for slam, but fine for 3NT" and that will be the end of it. Others, realising the enormous power of a seven-card club suit headed by the AKQ (you'd have to be pretty unlucky not to get 7 tricks from it), might reason "We've easily got enough points for 3NT, plus I've got an extra 3 tricks in clubs, so what the heck, let's punt 6NT." And they'd get away with it this time.

A better route is the jump-shift, which Acol reserves for just such an occasion. When you open one of a suit (e.g. 1), a jump-shift (e.g. 3♣) by partner is unconditionally forcing to game, and means one of two things.

  • either "I have good support for your hearts, partner, plus a strong club suit of my own."
  • or "I don't like your suit, but I have a totally self-supporting club suit here."

Which it is becomes apparent later in the auction.

This suits North very nicely. If South has hearts, fine, but meanwhile his ♣J93 is pretty good support for South's already strong club suit, so 4♣ it is. Notice there's no hurry for North to rush to 5♣: the jump shift is forcing to game so there's no danger of South passing, and this way she has the option of using Blackwood to look for a slam. (And if South does indeed want to end up in hearts, 5♣ kinda wrecks the option of stopping in 4, doesn't it?)

But here, Blackwood it is. South bids 4NT (discounting the faint possibility if playing 1430 that North will bid 5 showing no aces - heaven forbid - landing you in an unmakeable 6♣) and is delighted to see partner respond 5, showing both missing aces.

What now? South can see 11 tricks - 7 clubs plus A, A and ♠AK - and can work out that for his opening bid partner must have something else besides just two aces: any red king would do, or even just the ♠Q.

So six no trumps (which scores better than 6♣) is pretty well cold. Further use of Blackwood for kings reveals that North has none, so with two missing kings 6NT will probably be the final contract.

  Postscript 1  

* In fact, as you found at the table, you make 13 tricks in no trumps. This would not be a good contract, however, as the only reason you make the grand is because the spades break 3-3. As you know, a 3-3 break happens only 36% of the time, so would be a poor bet with such a big score at stake.

The good grand slam to be in is 7♣, which is stone cold. Ignoring the lucky 3-3 spade break, there are two ways of creating the 13th trick. The obvious, cast-iron one is to ruff a diamond in the short trump suit - effectively creating an 8th club trick. The other, riskier but more fun way is to ruff out the hearts: play your A, ruff a heart, back to dummy with a club, ruff a heart, back to dummy with a club (you've now cleared the opponents' trumps) and ruff a heart. Now your last heart in dummy is the only one left, so the next time you're back in dummy (via a spade) you can lead it and discard your losing diamond on it.

But how to find 7♣? To bid it, South needs to know about her partner's singleton diamond, and there are ways to do that via cue-bidding, but I think we should be content to have found 6NT.

  Postscript 2  

Did you fail to find the slam? You're in good company. At Bath BC, only 4 out of 13 NS pairs got to 6NT, and just one pair (the eventual NS winners) bid 7♣. Very well done to them.

  HOTW 10 Feb 2010 | Yet another slam this time it's a Grand
Yet another slam – this time it's a Grand

This hand provides a great opportunity to put Blackwood through its paces. Let's go through the auction.

West has a very nice 19-point hand, but elects to open just 1. No hurry.

With 12 points and an 8-loser hand, East raises to 3.

At which point, West feels a gentle stirring of excitement ... With a 3-loser hand, there are very few things she needs to know about partner's hand. The most pressing of which is how many Aces, if any, she holds. Blackwood is the ideal tool: 4NT. (Note that although this is a conventional bid, it's not alertable, as we're already above 'game' level.)

East replies 5, showing two Aces, but denying the trump Queen.

Better and better, thinks West, who has the trump Queen herself, safely tucked behind the King. Let's see ... I already have 6 trump tricks, 3 diamond tricks and one trick in each of the black suits. The only serious-looking loser I have is that little ♣2. I wonder if partner can help there ... Let's find out about Kings: 5NT.

You see the point? West holds two kings herself. If East can provide just one of the black kings, the club loser disappears. If it's the ♣K, that takes care of the little club. If it's the ♠K, we can arrange to discard the little club on it in the fullness of time.

And East duly responds 6 (in your system it might be 6♣, but no matter), showing one King.

OK. Let's think. We now have 12 tricks. The only possible loser we have is a 4th diamond. But that's not likely to be a problem. If partner has 3 or fewer diamonds, we can ruff our last diamond in dummy (partner has after all shown 4 trumps). And if partner has 4 diamonds, all we need is for the opponents' diamonds to split 3-2. Surely 7 is worth a punt.

So without being too convoluted, we've felt our way to a grand slam. Here's the auction again:

 West  East
 1 3
4NT 5
5NT 6♣/
7 Pass



The play

At our table, North led a trump, dummy went down, revealing the promised aces and the ♠K, and declarer made a plan.

What's yours?

Well, the slam's fine, provided the diamonds are 3-2, or the opposition make a mistake. The only difficult bit is to work out how to get rid of that little club loser in your hand. My suggested plan is:




  • Play a second round of trumps, so the opposition have none left.
  • Cash the ♠A. This creates a void in your hand, so clears the way for dumping that club loser.
  • Out to dummy with the A (both opponents following, you note).
  • Cash the ♠K, discarding your losing ♣2.

Now the way is clear. You can carry on with diamonds, hoping for the best. But it might be better to



  • Play out all the rest of your trumps.
  • Cash the ♣A.
  • Finally, play out the diamonds. The reasoning being that if the diamonds aren't 3-2, the opponent with the long diamonds might carelessly fling one away.

But as it happens, the remaining diamonds drop harmlessly, and you have 13 tricks: a vulnerable Grand Slam worth 2210.


At pairs, it's relatively rare to find club players bidding a grand slam: a small slam's less risky, and is usually enough for a good score. But what you do find is players bidding no trump slams when the best contract is really in a suit. This is because you get a silly little 10 points extra for being in no trumps. 7NT here is clearly an inferior contract, as it relies on luck for the 4th diamond trick, but if it comes home, it beats all those in the more sensible 7. But that's pairs for you.

So what happened at Bath? Of the 12 pairs who played the hand, all except one (who stopped in 4
) bid and made slams. Eight stopped in 6 (one inexplicably failing to make an overtrick). Just two pairs bid to 7, and only one punted the distinctly dodgy 7NT, for an absolute top.

If you'd been there, you'd have scored 19 matchpoints out of a possible 22. Good enough!



  HOTW 27 Jan 2010 | Finding a minor suit slam
Finding a minor suit slam

It's sometimes difficult to deal with a strong hand opposite a 1NT opening bid. Here, with 12 points and a balanced 5-3-3-2 with a 5-card minor, South correctly prefers 1NT to 1 (though a 1 opener might have been easier for North to deal with in this case).

With 18 points and a not-entirely-unbalanced 4-4-4-1 distribution, North knows that there aren't quite enough points for 6NT, even if partner has a maximum 14 points. But in a suit, a slam looks virtually certain, as any losing hearts can be ruffed.

A spade fit is obviously the most attractive (and most easily found!) solution, so North bids 2♣ (Stayman) only to get a negative 2 response. (Goodness - EW must have at least 9 hearts between them!) Hmm. What next?

A lot of Norths will simply shrug their shoulders and sign off in 3NT (Let's hope South has got a heart stop!). But it's clearly worth exploring further: with no more than 3 cards in either major suit, South must have at least four cards in either clubs or diamonds. Let's try 3♣ and see what happens.

What will South make of that? Well, it could be a number of things, but surely a forcing bid (new suit at the 3 level) after abandoning the majors suggests an interest in a minor-suit slam. An obvious response for South is to show her 5-card diamond suit, and at that point the pair have found a fit.

As it's possible that South has no aces at all, a check is called for: 4NT (Roman Key Card Blackwood, agreeing diamonds as trumps) elicits a response of 5 (just one Ace, partner) and that's enough for North to bid the slam. Here's the complete auction:

 South  North
 1NT 2♣
2 3♣
3 4NT
 5 6



The play

The only problem for South (who is declarer by virtue of her negative reply to Stayman) is to find the trump queen. To that end, she will hope for (but not get!) a trump lead.

To finesse or not? Well, the old adage 'eight ever, nine never' suggests that with 9 trumps you should try to drop the Queen, but it's just a guess. One piece of advice, though: whichever hand you choose to lead a trump from, lead small. Imagine starting off with the K from dummy and finding that East doesn't have any trumps. If you still had the King, you could trap East's Queen by finessing twice ... but too late! Now imagine leading the 2 and finding East is void. No problem: win with the A, finesse the J, come back to hand with a club or spade and finesse again. Job done.

On this deal, as it happens, the trumps are 2-2 and the Queen drops, so if you follow the adage you're home and dry. On another day, you might not be so lucky ...



  HOTW 20 Jan 2010 | Bidding to a slam
Bidding to a slam

Interesting, this one, both for bidding and play. I'm not exactly recommending the auction shown here, but it's one way of getting there.

After West's pass, North has a straightforward 1. At both tables, East bid 1♠, which isn't a great bid. For one thing, the spade suit isn't chunky enough for an overcall, even at the 1 level (it doesn't pass the 'Rule of 7': no of cards in the suit + no of honours = only 6), and for another, East is 5-5 in the black suits: a Ghestem bid of 2 is better, showing exactly that. Or if you don't play Ghestem, simply pass and await developments.

Anyway, 1♠ it is, so what is South to bid? It's tempting to jump in hearts, but that isn't necessary, as after the 1♠ bid, a simple 2 takes you 'above the 2 barrier' anyway: it shows a strong hand and is forcing for one round. So 2 does the job.

Over to North. Well, I'm not very strong in points, but I have a 6-loser hand and great heart support (partner must have at least 5 hearts for her bid), and partner has announced a strong hand, so we're surely in game: 4.

At which point, South must start to wonder if a slam is on. The crucial cards are the three missing 'key cards': the A and the AK of trumps. Perfect for Roman Key Card Blackwood. 4NT elicits a response of 5 (or 5♣, depending on which variant you play) showing 0 or 3 key cards. Well, it isn't 0 on that auction, is it? And that's enough for South to bid the slam.

Should South have considered looking even further, for the grand slam? Perhaps, but as you can see, there's a horrid 4-0 split in trumps which makes the grand a bit tricky.

Playing the slam

West leads the ♣10 (odd when his partner's bid spades, but just as well when you look at declarer's spade holding!). Still, a club is pretty nice, too!

Can you see 12 tricks? Or 13, maybe? And how are you going to make them? You will, of course, discover the rather nasty split as soon as you lead a trump and it will, of course, affect the way you play the hand ...


Count your tricks. The club lead gives you 2 club tricks. You also have two spade tricks and a diamond trick. That's 5. Add six heart tricks. 11. So where's the 12th coming from? Answer: ruffing a club (or spade) in dummy. In normal life, you'd ruff twice in dummy, giving you 13 tricks, but as the cards lie this would give West a heart trick, so you still only have 12.

But hang on a minute ... Didn't East bid 1♠? Between them, Declarer and Dummy have the ♠AKJ10, so surely East hasn't bid on ♠9xxxx? East must have the ♠Q. Which makes 13 tricks easy:

  • Take the first club trick
  • Take a second club trick
  • Ruff your last club
  • Take the spade finesse, which succeeds.
  • Now two rounds of trumps, starting with the AK in dummy (noting that East shows out on the first round)
  • Back to hand, either with a spade or A and another diamond, ruffed.
  • Clear trumps with the QJ and you have all 13 tricks.

Now why didn't I bid that grand slam after all?


I didn't notice the above 13-trick play during the session. The reason for that (that's my story, and I'm sticking to it!) is that I was busy pondering a different possible route to 13 tricks: setting up the diamonds. After taking the first trick you play off the A, ruff a diamond, back to dummy with a trump and ruff a 2nd diamond. Now all dummy's diamonds are good, and provided the trumps are no worse than 3-1 you can take two further rounds of trumps, ending in dummy and cash diamond tricks to your heart's content.

Unfortunately, as the cards lie, North will still have a trump left, and your plans will come to nothing.

The answer, of course, is that as soon as you see that West has no trumps, you fall back on the spade finesse as Plan B and still make 13 tricks. Or have I missed something somewhere?

  HOTW 11 Nov 2009 | A choice of slams via 2C

A choice of slams via 2C

This hand gave rise to quite a lot of interest on Wednesday: there are 12 tricks in diamonds, spades or no trumps (provided the splits aren't unkind - and they weren't), and several players were wondering how to reach the slam.

There are any number of ways of getting there, depending on what system you're playing. Here's a possible route (not necessarily the best, but it seems to work):






An artificial bid for strong hands: either 8+ playing tricks in a suit or else 21+ (or 22+, 23+, whatever you play) and balanced.



The usual response to 2 is 2 ( a 'relay' bid to see what the opener will say next), but with 10 points and a really good suit it's worth bidding spades immediately.



Opener clarifies: not a balanced hand, but at least 8 tricks with diamonds as trumps. Probably 9 in this case.



Once South has made a positive response to 2, the auction is always going to game, so it's quite safe to repeat spades (to show extra length) - North isn't going to pass!



North has gone beyond 3NT, and is obviously thinking in terms of a slam. The diamond suit is clearly self-sufficient - which is just as well, as South only has a singleton.



What now? It's usually the strong hand that sets things in motion, but let's try RKC Blackwood: this asks partner how many 'key cards' (the four Aces + the trump King) she has.

(or 5)


Marvellous. North's response shows either 0 or 4 key cards. In view of her opening bid, it has to be 4, and they have to be 3 Aces plus the King of trumps.



Well, you have the other Key card yourself, North has a solid suit and you're at least a King better than you've promised ... so bid the slam!



Hmm. No trumps are worth more than diamonds. Partner's spades are obviously pretty good, so maybe ....?

As you can see, provided the diamonds are 3-2, 6NT is a doddle, as is 6. But what of 6♠ (which one table found themselves in on Wednesday)? Even if the spades are 3-2, you're always going to lose a trump trick, and if West's opening lead is a heart, you have to play carefully if you're going to avoid at least one heart loser as well.

How do you plan the play?

Yikes! You have to make sure that by the time the opposition win their trump trick you have no heart losers left in your hand. That means that one way or another you have to discard three losing hearts on other suits.

Well, it can be done, as you have four winners to throw them on: the ♣A and the AKQ. But care is needed:

  • After taking your A, play off your ♠AK and sigh with relief when both defenders follow to two rounds. The Queen drops, but East still has the ♠J, which is now the top trump.
  • Time to get rid of those heart losers. To set the scene, play off your ♣K and lead your small diamond, taking the trick in dummy with the Ace. You now have no clubs and no diamonds.
  • Lead your ♣A, discarding a heart from your hand. That's two hearts gone. Two to go.
  • Heart in mouth time. Lead your K and hope East and West both follow. They do, you discard another heart, and you're home ... Aren't you?
  • Sure you are. You now lead the Q and, whatever the opponents do, simply discard your last heart from hand. The opposition can trump it if they want to: it makes no difference to you whether they take their ♠J now or later. It's the only trick they're going to make, as you have no heart losers left - just a fistful of trumps.
Easy, huh? At a computer keyboard, yes, but not necessarily so easy in the heat of battle!