Thursday Duplicate

Please note that the Thursday Afternoon Duplicate session now starts at 1.45.

Beginners Lessons

Lessons are held every Monday at 3.15 pm in Nolton Church Hall.  We are now into the second year of the course.  Lessons will be resumed on 6th. January 2020.

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Hand of the Week
Losing Slams

There has been plenty of evidence recently that club members are not bidding as many slams as they should be.  Last Friday there were 5 biddable slams, each board being played five times, so perfect bidding would have seen a total of 25 slams bid.  In practice, slam was bid only six times during the evening, and two of those went down.  So, a 16% success rate as far as slams go.  This week we will look at two of those slams and how one pair tackled them - the first unsuccessfully and the second with positive results, described below under the title, "Finding Slams".  As many of those playing on Friday were quite experienced regular partnerships, it is surprising that their mechanisms for bidding slams are not more established.  How do they recognise a cue bid?  When should you cue bid and when should you use Blackwood (preferably the Roman Key Card variety)?  How do you bid a slam holding a void?  How do you respond to Blackwood holding a void? It would appear that some, if not all, of these questions remain unanswered in some pairings!  

First let us look at Board 7.    What would you do with the East hand after West's dramatic leap to 4?  

East was not sure of the provenance of West's bid, so decided to hedge his bets with a bid of 5 , which West could pass if he actually had a diamond suit, or convert to 5  if he was splintering, which was actually the case.  West bid 5  and that was where he played.  As you can see if you look at all the hands, it was difficult for West to avoid making all 13 tricks given the lie of the cards, and it was doubly frustrating as the two pairs who did manage to bid the slam went down.  What went wrong?  East needs to recognise 4 as a splinter - with a genuine diamond suit West could have bid 3, which would be forcing.  Once 4  is accepted as a splinter, East's hand becomes enormous and he should now co-operate in exploring the slam.  With no more than one loser in diamonds after partner's splinter, which also confirms a 6-4 heart fit, and having singletons in the two other suits, all he needs to know about are key cards, so he should bid RKCB.  This would have caused West a slight problem as he would have been pushed to know how to show three key cards and a void (shouldn't they get this sorted?), but a simple 5  would have done the trick, showing three key cards, suggesting no more than one loser and making 6  a pretty good bet.  Even if West was able to show the void as well, suggesting no losers, it would be a brave East who would go on to the Grand Slam - after all, if most of the field are not even bidding the small slam, and might have trouble making it if they do, why risk the slam bonus by contracting for 13 tricks unless you are absolutely sure it is on?  As one of the club's luminaries has said on more than one occasion - it's not worth bidding Grand Slams on club nights!  It would be nice to be able to bid the small ones though!  The next article shows the same pair being more successful on another of the night's interesting hands.

Finding Slams

Our heroes did better on this hand, which shows the value of The Jacoby 2NT convention.  How would you bid this one with your favourite partner?  (On the night two pairs reached the slam, the others languishing in game contracts)

After North opens 1  , South can use the Jacoby 2NT as a game force, with slam interest if partner is suitable.  Strictly speaking this shows 4 card support for partner's major, but, playing 5 card majors, NS feel they can use Jacoby with 3 card support and a suitable hand.  There are various responses to Jacoby 2NT, NS playing that a bid of another suit at the three level indicates shortage (Singleton or Void).  With this information, South now knows that his two club losers are catered for (they can be ruffed in dummy if necessary) and decided to try 4NT to check on Key cards.  When partner showed two key cards and the queen of trumps, South could be pretty sure slam was "nailed on", and decided to check whether North held K making 7  a good prospect.  After 5NT from South, North, being bereft of K,  settled for 6 . Should NS have made the pairs bid of 6NT?  No, as the scoring was cross imps, so the extra 10 points makes no difference.  At Pairs scoring they should consider it, but there is more risk attached to the NT slam.  West tried her best shot with a trump lead, but there was little to the play with trumps 3-2 and K onside.

The Old Ones are the Best

Some might say that Bridgend on a Wednesday is not what it was, but you can still get at tidy game with freebies rarely on offer, especially if you come up against experienced experts, John Beard and Liam Sheridan.  I had a difficult decision to make against them, holding the East hand after John's opening 1♠ was passed around to me. 2 seems automatic, whereupon John pulls out the stop card and bids 3♠.  Linda and Liam pass again, so I'm in the spotlight.  Given that Liam was unable to respond at the one level, partner must have most of the missing values, so it seems wrong to give up without a fight, especially as they are vulnerable and we are not.  Perhaps one should consult partner in this situation with a double, and, if you look at all the hands, you can see that she will be sorely tempted to leave the double in.  While understandable, it wouldn't work out too well as NS can make 3♠X, for a handy score.  My gut feeling was we should be playing, not defending a three level contract, but I did consult partner by bidding 4♣, in case she had a stack of them, as she could always convert to 4, which she did.  With 3♠  making, we have landed in the right spot, but, having won the battle, can we win the war?  I know it won't be easy against these veterans, and that I'll have to get everything right.  John leads K♠ - how would you play?

Here we have a classic case of the need to avoid a hasty play at trick one, of which I must plead guilty.  I took A♠ in dummy, which meant I had to make a premature decision on which suit to discard from hand.  Furthermore, by failing to duck the lead in dummy, I was spurning a Bath Coup position preventing the opposition from leading spades when they get in, which could well be to my advantage. In fact, once I play A♠ at trick one, I can't make the contract against best defence, and, against John and Liam, that is what you are going to get, so, no matter how I wriggled, they were not going to let me off the hook.  Though one off was not a disaster (50%), even had I made the contract it would not have put much of a dent in the winning margin achieved on the night by Liam and John, as they scored 68%, 14% better than those in joint second position.  The old ones are certainly best - not just the players, but the adages, such as THINK and PLAN as declarer before calling for the first card from dummy - if you don't, you might have cause to regret it!

And when the smoke clears……..

First of all,there were 5 different contracts the five times this board was played, which indicates the level of difficulty of such a deal.  Now, as East, what would you open on the hand?  Although the hand has opening values, there is clearly a danger that NS have a game on in a major, so perhaps some sort of pre-emptive action is in order?  If you open 1, South will bid 4 , so you will wish you had started with 5, because 4  will not put off an intrepid South.  However, this is being wise after the event, and I think there is a strong case for trying a gambling 3NT, which certainly gets your hand across to partner as well as anything.  

Of course, this doesn't stop South from bidding his 4, West bidding 5 , and, North going on to 5 .  East has said his piece, so the spotlight falls on West.  What would you bid now on the auction as shown?  If East has bid a gambling 3NT he is unlikely to have much outside his minor suit (which must be diamonds as West holds A♣ ), and, on the bidding, one of the opposition may be void in diamonds, giving 5 a sporting chance, so going on to 6 does not seem to be an altogether unreasonable course of action (uness, of course, you fear pushing NS into a making slam) and switches the spotlight onto North.  One North chose to double 6 and gained 100  matchpoints when they managed to get this one off.  One intrepid North, however, went on to 6, convinced, on the bidding and with her void diamond, that 6  had a pretty good chance of making.  Wisely, EW did not double this, as they were unable to find the killing spade lead - in fact, those defending the other heart contracts (5 and 5X) also failed to break the rule of leading partner's suit, allowing 6 to roll in.  

Ironically, the two pairs playing in diamonds (5 and 6X) got the two best scores EW because of the 12 tricks made by NS in hearts.  Had the defence led spades against these heart contracts, the reverse would have been true, those E-Ws in diamonds deservedly getting bottom scores for failing to make the cold 12 tricks available to them.  

So, what can we learn from all this?  Firstly, that, on wild hands like these, your systems and rules are not of much use - in fact, to put it crudely, none of the experts present had a clue what was going on!  If the five level belongs to the opponents, how about the six?  How could anybody know that 6 was cold on the lucky layout of South's hand (singleton ♣, so unable to reach partner's winning clubs when in with A♠ ). Clearly the EW who bid on to 6 were sacrificing, and the NS pair who bid 6 were expecting to make.  In fact, it was 6 which makes and 6 which is a good scarifice!  So, you already have the answer - what to do in these situations is anybody's guess, but congratulations to Emer and Debbie, whose gut feeling to bid the slam proved right on the day, and bottom marks for your correspondent, whose gut feeling to double 5 would have secured a top, had he not followed the rules and led partner's suit - who says that is a sure fire way to win the post-mortem?

A Major Triumph

Where would you expect to play on these hands?  The spade game?  Of the 7 times this board was played at the club party, only 3 pairs bid it, and all went off!  Only the Tory pair who rested in 3♠ made a plus score in this denomination.  One EW pair was allowed to play in 3 which scored 50% for down one.  The two pairs who played in hearts fared much better, both making 11 tricks, but only one of them bid the game, our eventual winners, John and Chris.  Had they found the optimum contract?  Click to look at all the hands and view the answer to find out.

Whether North or South declares the contract, and whatever the lead, you can actually make all the tricks if you play in spades, but only 10 against best defence, if you choose hearts.  Whatever the lead, take out trumps in two rounds, heart to the queen, A♥,  heart ruff, ruff a diamond and run the remaining hearts, discarding two clubs and a diamond, then cross ruff the rest.  While you certainly shouldn't be bidding the Grand on a combined 21 points, there must be a case for bidding the small slam, especially if North likes his hand enough to open and NS discover the double fit.  Our winners chose the path less trodden, however, and who is to begrudge them their success when they are brave and imaginative enough to do things differently?

Bidding Opponents' Suit

In today's hand from a recent Pairs evening, South knows his partnership has enough for game once his partner opens the bidding, but which is the best game and how do you get there?  What do you bid next with the South hand after the sequence shown here?

At our table South jumped to 3♠, which partner, with his bare 12 count, opted to pass.  This is a good example of what Tony Disley has been saying to the improvers in his analysis of Thursday afternoon hands.  If you need to create a forcing situation, why not make use of the opponent's intervention by bidding their suit?  If you don't use the opponent's suit, it is difficult to see how South can get his hand across, as a jump to 3♠  is not forcing.  If, however, he first bids 2  and then, when partner bids 2NT, he now bids 3♠ , this creates a forcing situation.  North now knows that South wants to play in game and has to make a choice.  On the night, all declarers were playing in spades at various levels, so clearly the NT option did not appeal.  However, the 3NT game is the only one which can make against best defence because South's J provides a second stopper in the suit, making it impossible for the defence to cash East's long diamonds, allowing them to make only their three aces and K♣ .  Just to show there is no justice in Bridge, the pairs in 4♠ were allowed to make it, so those of us who wisely avoided the spade game scored badly.  Having said that, well done to Dave and Debbie Lea who, as East-West, managed to hold their opponents to 8 tricks in spades, for a well deserved top on the board.

To Benji, or not to Benji…..

What do you open on this hand, non-vulnerable against vulnerable, from The West of England Congress Swiss Pairs at Weston Super Mare, attended recently by a number of Bridgend members?  If you bid 1C, then the bidding proceeds 1D-1H-3D, and you will probably rebid an automatic 3S.  But what will happen if you open a Benji 2C (8 playing tricks).  The bidding now proceeds as in the hand diagram.  What do you now bid when it is your second turn?

As can be seen, 6S can be made from the South hand and very often from North (East is unlikely to lead a heart), and on the first sequence there is a fair chance of reaching the making slam, as you have had time to get spades into the picture.  Even being in game in spades, making plus 2 will score 72%. However, after the Benji sequence, you cannot bid 5S as this would show at least 6 cards, so do you punt 6C, which is one off, Double, eyeing the vulnerability for 200, or weakly Pass?

To me this shows the weakness of Benji:  the opposition can too easily disrupt your auction, especially at more favourable vulnerability than in this hand. You are too high before you can see if you have a fit. This is even more difficult when you have two playable suits as above, you simply cannot show both.  So my advice is to not play Benji, but if you must then open at the one level when you have 2 suits. 

Another advantage of 2C being game forcing is "Kokish"  but that is for another day.

Disapearing loser

Playing in the Ross Congress last weekend, the Bridgend contingent did not build on recent successes, but I had the opportunity to make my team's score a little more respectable on this hand, having unexpectedly found myself playing in 2  doubled.  The J  was led, and I decided to go up with the Ace.  It seems you have at least 6 unavoidable losers (2 diamonds, 2 hearts, a spade and a club) so you could look upon it as a damage limitation exercise and try to make sure you only go one down. In fact, this would score you one IMP, as teammates scored 120 for 1NT plus 1 at the other table.  However, what if you can make it - a very nice swing indeed, so can you see a way home by making one of your losers mysteriously disappear?

As you have two inescapable diamond losers, why not lead back a diamond immediately, which West will win with Q , East discarding a club?  This is one of those hands where you need to let the opposition take their winners and hope they manage to create an extra winner for you in the process - i.e. make their sixth winner disappear.  Here West may opt to get off lead with her singleton trump, covered by your Jack in dummy which wins the trick.  You might try leading 10 in the hope East will cover with an honour, but he is an expert and plays 6 and West discards a small club.  As you suspected East is sitting with two heart winners.  Do not despair - simply lead another diamond to West's King and you have established the diamond suit.  Now the defence is in trouble.  They had better cash their club winner or it could go away on a long diamond.  Now you have plenty of winners on which to lose your potential spade losers in the dummy, so you only lose a club, two diamonds and two hearts.  Obviously there are many strategies the defence might try, but all will lead to the same result.  Two examples:  Suppose West ducks the second diamond and allows his partner to ruff it low, thus retaining her high diamonds to stop declarer establishing the long diamonds?  The defence is simply rruffing winners it is going to take anyway, and, if East ruffs twice, one of his heart winners is disappearing on your AH - this approach just doesn't work.  Suppose West grasps the spade nettle and leads one, hoping to ensure one spade winner eventually.  Declarer now has two spade stops and time to set up the diamonds.  Looking at all the hands, it is difficult to see what the defence can do if you adopt this passive approach. Did you find this way of making your losers miraculously disappear?

Dim Pwyntiau

What do you do when partner opens a Benji 2♣ and you hold a Yarborough?  This fate befell several distinguished Bridgend players recently and, not surprisingly, it is difficult to find a solution without seeing all 4 hands.  Obviously, if RHO passes, you are , whatever your methods, bound to squeak, most people playing 2 as a relay these days.  At this stage you are probably hoping to be able to get out as quickly as you can at as low a level as possible, when LHO joins in with 2S.  What do you do if, a) partner now bids 3D and RHO passes? and b) what do you do if partner bids 2NT?

East decided to pass, and, after some hesitation, so did South.  At another table, West elected to open 2NT and things were much more exciting. East thought it best to bid 3♣  in the hope of hearing about a 4 card major opposite, but South swept this aside with 3♠ . Opener now ventured 4 , which a surprised partner passed, but South was not finished and went 4♠ , doubled by West.  What would you do now with your collection of tram tickets?  Once again, holding nul points, discretion proved the better part of valour for East and she passed.  When the dust had settled 4♠X was one off for 200 to EW, scoring better than 3 +2.  Nevertheless, despite a second top (only one EW pair found 5♦) West was beside himself, thinking it was obvious he had a good hand and partner should have bid 5D.  I ventured to suggest that, after a 2NT opening, 4 over 3♠ is not easy to read, and, as the pass of his double proved profitable, and, in my view, understandable, I wasn't convinced West had much to complain about.  Indeed, doesn't he get his message across better with the Benji bid, advertising 9 tricks in diamonds?  Now East might be able to envisage a couple of spade ruffs to bring the total to 11 tricks, but, seriously, did you bid game on that rubbish?  In the heat of battle some Wests, even calm and objective, journalistically-inclined ones, may have suggested mildly that partner might have considered the possibility of game, but it is always easy to be wise after the event, so those Wests who berated their partners were being a tad unfair, especially when you consider that, if South starts with a trump and North leads another when in with 10♠, the maximimum for EW is 10 tricks.  The fact that nobody found the killing trump attack on the night is hardly East's fault. Very well bid partner!  (Whoever said Bridge was an easy game?)

Going Down Gracefully

Hand 10 from Friday 21st. April was generally better handled by the East West Pairs.  I say this because the all knowing computer says the par score is +140 to NS, but, in the real world, no NS pair was able to obtain a plus score!  At our table East elected to pass (see answer below for a comment on the bidding) and partner opened 1D.  West also passed, so I bid 1S with the North cards.  Pass again from East, then 3S from partner.  I know I only have 6 points, but we have a double fit and I have a void, so it seemed to me that bidding 4S was, as an expert might say, "automatic."  East led a low diamond, which I won cheaply, but when I started on the trumps, the KS appeared immediately, suggesting a 4-1 break and that I had three trumps to lose.  If KC is onside I can still get home, but this proved not to be the case.  How would you proceed after this unfortunate start?

Firstly, a comment on the bidding.  Looking at all four hands, it seems surprising that EW stayed silent, but, as it happens, this resulted in NS getting into an unmakeable contract.  Had East opened 1♥, or, if playing weak twos, 2 , South would double and West would jump in hearts, possibly to the  4 level, so NS never find their spade fit.  However, there is no justice in Bridge, as two EW pairs bid and made 4 , and two others played hearts in a part score, making 9 tricks, which the computer says is the most EW can make in hearts.  This means that, to get a decent result against the other EW pairs who bid their hearts, our opponents needed a) to double my 4♠  and b) take it three off to beat those making the game, or, more realistically, at least one off to beat those making 9 tricks in hearts.  

On the play, this is an example where declarer has to be pragmatic and accept that he is going down, playing for the lowest penalty he can escape for.  I have to admit that, being a slow learner, it has taken me years to realise this obvious point; there are times when you just have to take your medicine and make it as palatable as possible.  In the Bridge context this means that, if you struggle to make an impossible contract, you may well go more down than you need, but if you play for one down, you may get an acceptable result. So, having noted the spade situation, I accepted that I would lose to all of West's remaining spades and East's K♣, and just cashed my winners. Obviously, if West makes the mistake of playing a spade when in with a ruff, then I can make an extra trick and the contract, but Martin was too wily for that.  Clearly I cannot afford to play any more spades as West can then draw trumps and bury me in an avalanche of hearts.  One down for minus 100 was an outright top as we had, unsurprisingly, not been doubled.  I think, as well as an example of going down gracefully, this also shows how unfair duplicate Bridge can be, as East West got a bottom, not through any great fault of their own, but because of what happened at the other tables.

Anybody applying the law of total tricks to this hand is likely to be disappointed.  With EW's 12 card fit and NS's 8 card fit, it suggets that at least one of the pairs should be able to make game in their suit, but, on perfect defence, that is impossible.  How about bidding to the level of the fit?  EW have 12 hearts, but they are nowhere near making 12 tricks in hearts!  So, once again, it all comes down to that elusive quality, judgement, which is very difficult on wild hands like this one - when do you stick and when do you twist?  And, playing, how well are you able to take any chances your opponents give you.  In that context, well done to the evening's winners, Glenda Roberts and Liam Sheridan, as well as those 80%ers, Eileen Mahoney and Jeff Barnett, for bidding, and also making, 4H on this difficult hand.

Put Firmly in Our Place

Twice a year, in early March and early October, I cross back into England to meet up with my old partner from Somerset for a weekend's Bridge.  This month we were at Bath University again for the Wiltshire Green Pointed Weekend, an excellent event which is usually sold out - 122 Pairs on Saturday and 61 teams on Sunday.  Alan and I had a solid start in the Pairs and, by the penultimate round had reached table two, where we were due to play Simon and Jonny Richards, who were on a roll and storming through the field, having, like us, sustained only one narrow loss up to that point. Simon and Jonny continued their excellent form, and this, combined with our performance being below par (the older pair tiring towards the end of a long day?) led to a sweeping win for the Bridgend duo and elevation to the top table, where they won the last round by an equally large margin to secure the trophy - well done to them, but I'm claiming an assist!  This week's hand is one of several on which we could have done better against Simon and Jonny, both in the bidding and the play.  Alan tends to get where he has decided to go fast, so, after I opened 1♣ as South (playing 5 card majors), we were soon in 5♣, with the spade suit unmentioned, though, to be fair, the intervention made this difficult - you would need to play that 3H from North shows the fourth suit in a reasonable hand, a direct bid of the fourth suit being pre-emptive.  Most of the field was in 4♠, though, with a bad break, slightly fewer made it than succeeded.  Still, it is one less trick you have to make, and there were only two of us attempting the more adventurous and less good scoring 5C, the other declarer making it after what I can only describe as a more generous lead, A♥,  than Simon found for me (singleton ♠).  After losing the first two tricks, how would you seek to make the rest and your contract, thus reducing your result from an absolute rout to a heavy drubbing?

Even looking at all the hands, it seems as though you must now lose another trick. However, as West is guarding  and  there is a squeeze on which will get you home (as long as you haven't carelessly played a ♠ honour to the second trick as your tiring correspondent did.)  Remove trumps, take the spade finesse and cash the last spade, then run the trumps.  West must find seven discards, so comes down to  A and  Q8, while you can come down to  K and  KJ.  You can then play 3  to K♦, J back to the A and dummy's 7 is your last trick.  It won't win you the match, but will add a small fig leaf of respectability to a dangerously over-exposed Bridge partnership.

Keep it simsple, stupid

Is it just me, or do players get more skittish, tend to "take more views" in Sims events, perhaps influenced by the supposedly diabolical nature of the hands set for these occasions.  There was certainly plenty of evidence to support this view during the St. David's Day Pairs on 1st. March, partner and I contributing our fair share of eccentricities which served to turn what at one stage looked a promising evening into a decidedly mediocre one.  For example, both partner and I, holding 15 points, had separate opportunites to double a weak NT opening, but for reasons which seemed perfectly sensible at the time, chose to take other courses of action which proved a lot less successful than the obvious one.  Perhaps the best examples, were the two ocassions when partner chose, in second position, to overcall 2♣  with a decidedly fragile 5 card suit.  Now partner has been something of a mentor to me since I moved to Wales and started trying to take Bridge more seriously, and one thing he has always been insistent on is that you should have a six card minor, or at least a very good 5 card one, to overcall.  Now he demonstrated exactly why he gave that advice.  On both occasions his 2♣  bid could have proved fatal, but, in the event, we were rescued by the opposition.  When I later asked him, with some incredulity, why he had ventured these bids, he said, "I just thought I'd muddy the waters a bit." I rest my case - a clear example of a Sims event making an experienced player act against all logic, including his own oft repeated advice.

I accept that there are occasions when you need to flout accepted guidelines (what we teach the beginners as "rules"). If I had been less chary of leading a singleton trump, we would have defeated 4♠  on the very first board, instead of presenting declarer with the contract.  Indeed, leading from doubleton AQ♣ would have been equally successful!  On the whole though, I think we should follow the wise advice of Chairman John (see article below, "The Great Leap Forward") who says, "He who follows system, succeeds most of time: he who takes view may get lucky once or twice, but will usually fail."

Today's hand is one of partner's near misses and, I believe, a rare occasion when I was perhaps the only blameless player at a table containing three Bridge legends, partner and the opposition, who will remain nameless to protect the guilty. After two passes East opened 1♠ and partner decided to "muddy the waters" with 2♣.  West passed again and humble North wasn't getting involved in any of this, so the spotlight fell on East.  What would you bid with his hand?

East decided to show his strength and his other major, so bid 3 , and now South was off the hook and passed.  West had been hoping that partner would reopen with a double, which he would swiftly pass for a penalty, likely to capture all the matchpoints. He was now faced with a difficult decision and opted to punt 3NT, which forced East into the tank.  He correctly decided that 3NT might be problematic, so emerged with 4♠, which concluded the auction. Having absolved myself from blame, I now wonder whether a braver player might have doubled the final contract, but I didn't do so as I didn't want to give declarer too much advance information on how to play it. In the event, after partner cashed his two top diamonds and led his singleton trump, there was no way home for declarer.  I think it is a difficult hand for EW to get right, although partner's 2♣ bid gave them a chance to get a spectacular result.  West does not know how good partner's spades are, so it is difficult for him to give false preference to that suit, so perhaps 3NT was the best available option once partner has not re-opened with that crushing double, or, indeed, shown a longer spade suit.

Elimination, my dear Watson

Having played a fair amount of teams lately, it has struck me how one hand can make all the difference between losing and winning a match (see "Cautious Bidder" No. 131, East Wales Website on Bridgewebs). Another good example of this occurred in our East Wales League match recently.  Partner and I were content to play in 4 but our opponents in the other room were made of sterner stuff and went for the slam, a big swing to them if they made it. Looking at the North South hands, how would you and your favourite partner bid them?  At our table, after South opened 1 , North decided to splinter with 4 which, unsurprisingly, did not inspire South, who discouraged with 4 . Our expert adviser, Tony Disley, believes North should have bid a Jacoby 2NT, the hand being too strong for a splinter, besides which, the splinter in diamonds implies a lack of control in clubs, which is not the case here.  However, with a minimum rule of 20 opening, South would still have bid the discouraginig 4♥. Whatever forcing bid North chooses, he won't get much co-operation from South, so, if the partnership is to find the slam, North has to make a unilateral decision and bid 4NT, RKCB.  Once South admits to two aces, the slam is surely a reasonable bet.  Now the focus is on South.  If you are only in 4  as I was, there is no problem as you already have 11 certain tricks, with two finesses available for one or two overtricks.  If you were playing pairs, I think this is probably also the best line, as it gives you a chance of all 13 tricks.  But, if you need to make twelve tricks in a slam, is relying on finesses the best approach?  As the cards lie, you have a 100% line for 12 tricks.  Can you see what it is?

West has an easy lead, Q♠, top of a sequence. As it happens, a club lead would make it impossible for declarer to come to 12 tricks, while a diamond lead would give it on a plate.  A major suit lead gives nothing away and leaves declarer with plenty of work to do. Trumps lie nicely for declarer, so that he still has three in each hand when defenders' trumps are drawn.  Now it is a simple matter of cashing the boss spades and A , and ruffing two diamonds and two spades, ending in hand, and leading a low club.  At this point spades and diamonds have been eliminated from dummy and declarer's hands, and the club pips enable declarer to end-play East. Whatever West plays on the club, Dummy will cover, forcing East to win.  Now, whatever East returns, South has his 12th. Trick. A diamond gives a ruff and discard to dispose of the second club loser, while a club provides South with the free finesse he needs.  As you can see, if you go for the finesses, you will go down, so you need to set up the elimination and end play to make your slam and gain a match winning swing.  Well played Simon Brindle.

The Great Leap Forward

There was a keen interest in Bridge in the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party in the latter part of the 20th. Century, with the diminutive leader, Deng Xiaoping a particularly dedicated player.  Not much is known about his predecessor Chairman Mao's dummy play, but, judging by the confusion and uncertainty his policies caused, it seems he would have been a fairly typical Bridge partner. The Cultural Revolution was the most famous of Mao's cataclysmic initiatives, but, even before that, The Great Leap Forward had succeeded in bringing the country to its knees.  

Last week I felt my partner must have been a keen student of the little red book, as he made a great leap forward, and with great effect, on two occasions during the evening.  I'd descibe a great leap forward in Bridge as quickly taking the bidding to an unusually high level, generally when you suspect the opponents have something on, and you want to make things as difficult for them as possible.  In both these cases partner had a minor two suiter, so could have bid an unusual NT at the two level, but he judged this would give the opposition too much room to explore, so bravely leapt forward to 4NT!  I was a bit stunned by this the first time partner did it, but so were the opponents, which is the whole point, so we were able to find an excellent minor suit sacrifice.  When partner did this later in the evening, I was more sanguine, as I'd seen it all before, but, nevetheless, it certainly had the effect of sowing considerable confusion at the table. To be honest, the rest of us bid too quickly, starting with East's 5♠, but what do you do now it's your turn to bid?

 

Like East, I did not think for long and ventured 6, believing there was a strong chance 5♠ was making. Just as quickly, West bid 6 causing partner, whom I shall call Chairman John in order to preserve his anonymity, to pause for thought. He eventually emerged with a double, which was where the bidding ended.  On lead, I was now faced with a dilemma.  Was partner's double." Lightner?  If it was, I probably need to lead a spade to defeat the contract, but that risks giving it away if declarer can discard a minor suit loser. On balance, and certfainly according to the experts, I should have led a club, but I decided to go with the spade, which, fortunately, did not prevent partner coming to both his minor suit aces to defeat the slam.  It subsequently emerged that partner, when he made his bid, thought he was on lead, so Lightner only struck by accident.  The computer suggests the par score was 5♣ /5 X, plus 300 to East-West, so only Chairman John covered himself with glory in the bidding.

This hand was played six times in the course of the evening, five times in Hearts and once in Spades, and made 11 tricls on five occasions and only 10 once - human defenders cannot see all the cards, unlike the computer, which is why declarers made more than they were entitled to in nearly every case.  So, what can we learn?

Bidding:  Generally the five level does belong to the opponents, but how can you work this out at the table - following "rules" like this does not help you when the exception should be applied?  Another "rule" is the Law of Total Tricks.  In this case with NS enjoying a 10 card fit and EW a 9 card fit, the total tricks available are 19.  If NS can score 9, likely on the bidding, then EW may only make 10, which suggests doubling rather than bidding on.  It certainly should deter South and East from pushing on to the six level.  Once again though, this is only a "rule" and you need to use judgement to be able to understand when to do something different. Above all, don't let the momentum of the auction carry you away!

Play - the Lead:  Once again, slavish adherence to the rule that a double of a slam is Lightner (for an unusual lead) leads you astray here.  Admittedly there is a case for arguing that North should not consciously double in this situation in case partner takes it as Lightner, but, if you follow this to its logical conclusion, you would never double a hopeless slam, so, once again, you have to be able to trust partner to use judgement.  For those of us who have not yet located the aisle where you can buy judgement, Gwynn Davis came up with a useful definition of when a double is Lightner - i.e. when it "comes out of the Blue".  So, as in many instances in Bridge, the context is all important, and applying "rules' automatically can only get you so far. Thinking, logic and, above all, judgement are the tools of the trade we need to acquire if we are going to get more rewarding moments and fewer sleepless nights attempting to play this challenging game.

Presidential Performance

Board three presented some interesting possibilities for the North-South partnerships at the annual dinner.  Unsurprisingly, nobody managed to reach the grand slam, but, perhaps more surprisingly, only three bid the lay-down diamond slam.  Of those, only our President, Bill Turner, still playing a mean game at the age of 84, managed to make all 13 tricks on 13th. January - lucky for some, except for unfortunate opponents, David and Norma, who could do nothing about it.  How would you play to make all thirteen tricks after West leads 4?

After this no nonsense auction (can you devise a more scientific sequence which will give you enough information to be certain the Grand is making?) and the lead of 4, you have 11 tricks on top - two others can come from spade ruffs in the dummy.  Win A, cross to A♠, and ruff a spade, return to hand with a club and ruff the second spade with A. It is now a simple matter to cash K, return to hand with Q, and extract the final trump with J. You now cash your remaining club winners, discarding the last losing spade from your hand - 13 tricks made: 5 diamonds, two ruffs in dummy, four clubs, and the two major suit aces - well played Mr. President.  Did you match him?

Restricted Choice? (4th. January 2017)

It is well known that Bridge is a game of mistakes, and mine have provided plenty of material for this column.  An excellent example occured during the club session on Wednesday 4th. January, which, as usual produced many interesting and challenging hands. On Hand 20, all the declarers were in 4H bar one, who got a top because the computer says the contract can't be made, and, indeed, nobody succeeded.  However, the computer can see all the hands, which the players can't, so, in this game of mistakes, it is quite possible that the defence will give you a chance to make your contract, but can you take it?  At our table, South made the unusual lead of a low spade, but even the more usual Q♠ would not have improved her chances, because, to be sure of defeating the contract, the defence has to lead a diamond.  So....you have been given a chance to make an unmakeable contract.  How will you play?

I took the lead in hand with 8♠ and immediately unbocked A♣.   It seemed to me I needed to play two diamonds to enable me to get to dummy with a ruff to dispose of my spade loser, given that it looked as though it would be difficult to avoid a trump loser.  I didn't want to cash any trumps as, when in with their diamonds, the defence would be able to lead trumps twice, so I wanted to ensure I would still have a third trump to reach the dummy.  This is an example of not thinking things through far enough as, if the defence leads trumps twice when in with diamonds, it may have the effect of disposing of my trump loser, so cashing just one round of trumps may have been a better idea, and, in the event, it would have paid dividends when the Q falls on your left.

Anyway, I didn't do this, I led a low diamond and South hopped up with her K and led another spade, ruffed by North.  This has disposed of my spade loser, but leaves the contract in peril as I now definitely have to avoid a trump loser to get home.  

At this point the spotlight falls on North.  What he has to do now is play his Ato avoid being endplayed when I get in and lead a second diamond.  He decided to lead a trump however, giving me my last chance to make this unmakeable contract.  I played A and Q came down on my left.

 I now have a choice.  Do I play South for QJ doubleton, in which case the winning play is to cash K removing the last trumps from the opposition and then set up the diamond winner?  I no longer have to reach the dummy as I no longer have a spade loser to throw on the club winners.  Alternatively, if I assume South started with a singleton Q♥, then North started with J873♥, and, if he also has A♦, I can endply him with that card and make the contract.  Of course, if South has A she will win and give North another ruff to defeat the contract.  So the decision hinges on who holds A and J♥. 

Despite the fact that North didn't play A when in, the fact that the dog didn't bark in the night should lead me to place A with North.  If South had QJxxx Q K and also A♦, she would surely have overcalled my 1 opener with 1♠. Logically, she can't have A♦, so it should be safe to lead my second diamond to the North hand.  If I do that, there is still a decision to make when North returns 7♥. If South started with a singleton ♥, then I must let the lead run around to my 10 on the table, but if she has both the honours, the play is to go up with K. I decided to play South for the doubleton, and, if I was going to do that, I might as well cash K now and avoid the admitedly not very likely pitfall that South also has A♦. If I am going to play hearts from the top anyway, I might as well do so now.

As you can see, this does not work and now I couldn't avoid going one down. This hand was played in Hearts all six times, but nobody made ten tricks, despite the fact that only one declarer received the killing 2 lead (well played Graham Norris).  I think this proves my point that Bridge is a very difficult game laced through with opportunities to get it wrong.  The difference between the expert and we mere mortals, however, is that they will get these tough decisions right most of the time - i.e. make fewer mistakes. Unfortunately for our side, the only expert at the table was dummy, so had he been playing the contract, we might have done the impossible.

Anyway, at the end, Tony invoked the Principle of Restricted Choice, as well as that of the dog which didn't bark in the night, to explain why I should have got this one right.  While I don't profess to understand the logic/laws of probability behind this theory, if applied to this case the reasoning is that, if South held J as well as Q she might have played it, so that North is likely to have J .  There is no 100% guarantee, of course, and, whenever I apply it, it doesn't seems to work, but It certainly would have in this case.  You could also argue that South's length in spades makes it likely she will be short in Hearts.  This, together with the near certainty that North holds A♦, should have led me to the correct line of play.  As this hand shows, the experts are simply much better at extracting every possible inference from the bidding and play to find the line which gives them the best chance of success, which is why they are making fewer mistakes than the rest of us.  Very well done if you got this one right.

Too Much Pud? (30th. December 2016)

There were some interesting hands, produced by the duplimator, for the diehards who attended our two sessions between Christmas and the New Year, but, perhaps because of seasonal over-indulgence, most of us did not really make the best of them.  Take Hand 13 on Friday for example.  How do you bid the East hand after partner opens 2NT (20-21)?  If you can find a fit, a slam might be on, but what systems do you have available for bidding this sort of hand?  I think most people now play transfers over 2NT, so it seemed natural to transfer to spades and then bid 4H, which must show 5-5 in the majors, giving partner a choice of contract.  Partner chose 4S.  The question is, have you done enough?

I consulted a panel of experts on whether I should have bid on.  One, Colin Juneman from Somerset, decided to pass with some reluctance, another, Gwynn Davis from Cardiff said he would have tried 5S, which, as you can see if you look at all the hands, would surely encourage partner to bid the cold slam.  Tony Disley offers another approach, bid 3C, Stayman, to determine whether partner has a 4 card major.  If he does, then look for a slam in that major, if he doesn't, settle for 3NT.  This has the virtue of putting the responding hand in control, which is useful in this case as opener cannot have a full picture of responder's hand.  My method tells him I have 10 cards in the majors, but he doesn't know how well my minor suit holding is working, so does not consider venturing beyond 4S. Having chosen to bid the way I did, I think Gwynn's solution must be the way to say I have a bit extra, which I have not really done so far.  But there is another aspect of this hand, only apparent when you can see the West hand, which I did not initially give to the experts.  The issue is, "Do you play transfer breaks after 2NT?"  This hand illustrates why you should.  If partner can bid 4S to show he has 4 spades, then my hand is surely worth a shot at the slam.  My reluctance to venture beyong 4S was influenced by my lack of knowledge about what partner has in the majors - once that uncertainty is removed, then things become easier.  In fact, partner considered breaking the transfer by bidding 4H, which would have been a brilliant move.  This clearly expresses a doubt about the minors, which I have no worries over, so I would be more than happy to dive into Roman Key Card Blackwood after 4H and we'd get there.  Finally, do you have a less cumbersome method of showing 5-5 in the majors after 2NT?  Gwynn does - bid 4C.  However, demonstrating that it is difficult to cover every eventality, this bid says to partner, "I am 5-5 in the majors, but have no interest in slam!"  With this hand, partner will happily bid 4S, but then Gwynn suggests you should "give partner a surprise" by continuing with 5S.  I'd like to surprise partner by bidding more of these slams which our machine keeps presenting us with.  Did you?

Double Trouble

Partner and I decided to have some mince pies two days before Christmas, so rolled up at Friday night's Merry Christmas duplicate, he feeling mellow after a splendid lunch at the Ogmore cafe and me in a decidedly adventurous bidding mode.  In fact, I seemed to have turned into my partner from Somerset, such was the optimism, not to say indiscipline, of my bidding, and partner did well to cope with a sequence of 1S-2D-3C, and another of 1H-2D-3C, one of which contained 11 points and the other 20!  The penny has finally dropped as to why you might consider opening a club with 5-5 in clubs and spades, even playing 5 card majors (Quite a debate on this one in a forum on BBO). Anyway, to get to the point of this article, it was a  game of two halves.  In the first half and a bit we were really flying, spinkled in fairy dust and sailing across the firmament like Santa on his sleigh, the Holy Grail of 80%+ clearly beckoning.  This sort of attitude is commonly known as Hubris, and certainly invites Nemesis, rapidly approaching in the shape of Irene and Margaret and Board 4.  Partner opened 1C, which could be short, RHO passed and you decide to ignore your diamond suit and show your 4 card major.  Irene now bids her spades and partner ventures 1NT. While partner has now probably got a club suit on his bidding, I decided we might score better in NT than in a minor, so passed, whereupon Irene quite rightly rebid her spades (it's a bidders game, as a sage once said). Partner also passed, so it was soon back to me. NT now looks decidedly unlikely if South can bid her spades twice, and partner's pass suggets he is minimum for his bidding, so it does not look as if we have game on.  They are vulnerable, so it struck me that we might get our best score if we could defeat 2S by a trick, as long as I doubled it, which I duly did, and everybody else seemed happy to go along with it.  The good news is that the computer says we can defeat this contract by a trick -the bad news is that we didn't!  See if you can see how to triumph where we failed.

The key is to remove dummy's trumps so that declarer cannot ruff a losing  in dummy for her eigth trick, so you must start with a trump and continue trumps once back in, while at the same time refraining from leading a  to provide declarer with a free finesse (once agian, the computer knows declarer has no entry to the dummy - to the human eye there is clearly an entry in the shape of A♣ - only the computer knows declarer is void in clubs).  Anyway, partner, not unreasonably, led his singleton in my suit, hoping I could hop up with the A and give him a ruff - once again I was to disappoint him! Irene played faultlessly - low from dummy and took my Jack with her A and then started on trumps.  Partner now did his best by hopping up with the A♠  and returning another trump, but we were doomed.  Irene simply extracted the last trump and played a heart to Q♥ setting up two further heart winners to go with her 5 spades. Ironically, East can make 5♣ or 5 but nobody got there, and certainly nobody played in 2♠x - well done Irene - a complete top, and a big fat zero for us.  The tide had turned and two further zeros, inflicted, rather than self-inflicted, by John and Colin, and Glyn and Vida, brought us back down to earth with a bump.  Did you find this fiendish defence?

Too Hot to Handle

The 19th. Century French philosopher and politician, Proudhon, specialised in memorable quotes, such as "Property is Theft".  A lesser known observation of his was, "Liberty is like a horse.  In some it inspires the desire to ride; in others, to walk."  Such are duplimated boards, which some Bridge players view with deep suspicion, fearing a wild trap at every turn, while others find them exciting and challenging in their unpredictability.  Such was Board 18 from Friday evening, which even a bunch of internationals and grandmasters found difficult to handle.  You are given the full deal this week, so that you can see just how difficult it is not to overbid.  

North-South have 26 points between them, easily enough for game, and East-West, particularly East, have highly distributional hands which are hard to resist bidding up in a competitive auction.  The bidding at our table is given, with North-South, who happened to be two of the best players in Wales, not unreasonably, finding their way to four hearts.  After South's four heart bid, the spotlight fell initially on West, who decided to leave it up to East.  From East's point of view, there is not much defence to this contract, but perhaps he (I) should have thought a little more deeply and imaginatively.  NS are probably reasonably balanced, so I should make both my club honours, and how many diamonds can West have as South has bid 1NT over my 7 card diamond suit opening.  Might he be ruffing diamonds, and, if he is, then he might be so good as to give me a spade ruff after he has ruffed a diamond, and, who knows, he might even secure a second diamond ruff.  

Unfortunately, none of this occurred to me at the table.  My sole calculation was that, if I only go 3 down, I get a better score than selling out to 4H vulnerable - perhaps this is not the way to think at teams?  So... I made the fatal mistake of bidding 5D, doubled of course.  As our teammates had doubled 4C in the other room, which made, it was a huge swing to our illustrious opponents, contributing to their convincing victory in the final of the East Wales League Cup.  The computer suggests the par contract on this board is 3D* by East going one off, 100 to NS.  The hand was played 9 times, 7 in the club duplicate and twice in the teams final, and nobody managed to find this result.  Perhaps the bidding prize should go to the two EW pairs who left their NS opponents in 3H, especially Emer and Debbie, who then managed to take it two off for a complete top their way.  So, after looking at this hand, would you prefer to ride, or walk?

Another Bridge too Far?

My partner from Somerset is, shall we say, a very optimistic bidder, but the fact that we got to an uncomfortable level on this hand was entirely my fault.  Holding the South Hand, I opened 1H, partner responded 1S and I bid 2C, whereupon partner jumped to 4H.  Now I realise that I should pass this bid, but I felt that I had a bit more than partner knew about (perhaps I should have found a more agressive second bid - 1NT?) so I thought I ought to take a look, despite the obvious risk of getting one too high.  When partner was only able to show me one key card in response to my enquiry, I swiftly settled for 5H, and it was now a question of whether I could bring this contract home.  With everybody else (the sensible ones) likely to be in game (4H, 4S and 3NT all make) our team-mates are not going to be very impressed if we produce minus 100 on this board.  Before looking at all the hands, decide what strategy you would adopt to secure 11 tricks in your Heart contract after the lead of a low diamond to the Jack.

After this lead you are staring at three potential losers (a diamond, a club and a trump).  It seems your only hope is that East has K, as well as just two spades.  Given the lack of entries to the North hand, I also made the assumption that East held just Kx. Accordingly, I put my plan into action.  Cash A, which also caters for the unlikely singleton K, cash Q♠, cross to A♠ and play K♠. Whether or not East ruffs with K, you discard your  loser and now only have to lose to K and A♣.  But, whoops, the K is in the right place and East does indeed have only two spades, but he has a third heart, so is able to ruff in with 9 and you must now go one down.  Can you see a way of dealing with this distribution?  Well, you now need one more assumption, namely that West's three spades include the Jack, allowing you an extra entry to dummy via a spade finesse.  So, take the first diamond with your Ace and overtake Q♠ with A♠ to lead 5 playing Q when East plays low.  NOW you can cash A and return to dummy via 10♠ to play K♠ , leaving East with the same dilemma as before, allowing you to dispose of your  loser whatever he does.You still have J  as an entry to your long spades when East has ruffed in with K, and, of course, if East declines to ruff in, you just keep playing your boss spades.

My big problem when facing decisions like this one, is lack of knowledge of the odds.  Is it better to play as I did, a line which also works when K is singleton, or to take the second line, which caters for  Kxx with East, but requires an even more precise location of the cards?  I really must read those books on playing suit combinations and get a better understanding of the odds - there is really no time to work it all out at the table each time you are faced with a difficult hand.  Of course, you could always make sure you are in the right contract in the first place!

Tumble Treat

How would you bid the East cards from last Sunday's John Isaac Competition in Tumble, won by club experts Tony Disley and Roger Penton?  Once partner has opened, you must be looking at a game of some description, but, when he supports your suit, how do you proceed?  Beware, you may find the contract you end up in quite a challenge!

At the table, partner first bid her second suit, 3 and then went to 4NT (RKCB) over partner's 3.  When she heard that partner held two "aces" plus Q, she had little hesitation in bidding the club slam.  Well bid partner.  Doubtless partner would have preferred to see A rather than the king, and the inevitable spade lead put her under some pressure.  Her plan was to cross to A and lead K♥, discarding the losing spade if the K was not covered - it was, so partner ruffed and intended to return to dummy to discard her spade on Q once she had drawn trumps.  Unlucky, trumps were 3-0, so her only hope was to return to dummy via a diamond ruff - doubly unlucky, as North, who held the long club, also held a doublton diamond, so was able to over-ruff and cash his spade winner for one down.  Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see that East should have cashed her A♣ first, getting the bad news, and then use her A entry to take the club finesse.  It is then a simple matter to establish the diamond suit for 12 tricks and a joint top, as only one pair had bid and made 6♣.  The other pair who bid the slam also went one off, with 8 pairs resting in the club game, half of whom managed to find 12 tricks.  Two pairs were in 3NT and one, rather feebly, in 4♣.  But, another twist, the hand record says you should be making 13 tricks.  Do you see how?  Play as suggested above, finessing against North's Q♣.  If he doesn't cover at the first attempt (best) play K and ruff North's A (if he doesn't cover this it's all over anyway).  Then draw Q♣ and cross to dummy by ruffing a diamond to enjoy your heart winners, discarding a spade and two diamond losers - simpulls, though nobody found this at the table, but then they didn't have to.  And how did our winners fare on this board?  Theirs was the fifteenth time it was played, and the one contract I didn't mention, 3♠ by North-South!  This was the only time this board was declared by NS, and, though it went two off for minus 200, was only bettered by two pairs who were lucky enough to face those of us in 6♣ one off, and one who mesmerised their opponents into stopping in 4♣ +1 for the princely minus 150!  Is that what they call table presence?  Anyway, well done once again to Tony and Roger.

PS  To be fair to partner, she bid an excellent 6 during the morning session and played it expertly to make an overtrick for an outright top - the years rolled back!

Jersey Royals

Partner and I spent a very pleasant week at the Jersey Congress.  Nice hotel, friendly locals and a high standard of Bridge, with many challenging hands to boot.  This offering came up during a pairs contest.  When partner opens and you hold 15 points and a long suit, the prospects look good, except she has opened in your void.  You make the skillful bid of 2C and partner bids 2NT, so she has at least 15 points, and you may well be in the slam zone. I think that, if you play "Minorwood" where 4 of your minor initiates a RKC enquiry in that suit, that is one possibility, though is it the right bid with a void?  What bid would you make next with the East hand?

I didn't think we had sophisticated enough methods to determine exactly where we should end up, so I just bid 6♣. A heart was led, so the Ace was played on the King, which I brilliantly ruffed.  It was now a simple matter of drawing trumps while establishing long hearts for two diamond discards and 13 tricks.  Of course, this was not as good as the two pairs who played in 6NT making exactly, but was still worth 83%, as only one other pair had made 6♣+1.  Somebody contrived to go off in 6♣, and the others in it made exactly, with 6 pairs not even managing to find the slam. I don't think you can bid the grand, which depends on the even split of the heart suit as well as the favourable position of the A, but I suppose there is a strong case for punting the NT slam in a pairs competition, as, with 15 points, it is highly likely that partner will be able to provide the three tricks you need.  I just felt 6♣ was a safer bet, though I guess I was lucky to find partner with such good trump support.  Do you have a more sophisticated way of bidding these hands? 

A Shot to Nothing

In snooker, when a player attempts a long pot and brings the cueball back down the table, the commentators describe it as a "shot to nothing".  If they pot the ball, excellent, but, if they miss, the white is safely in baulk and they have lost nothing.  See if you can spot such an opportunity as declarer in this week's hand, playing in 4♠  after the lead of 8♥-J♥ -K A . How do you proceed?

It appears you have a heart loser, at least one spade loser and a diamond loser.  At the table declarer spurned the club finesse as he didn't want to lose one of those as well.  But do you see that the club finesse is a "shot to nothing".  If it wins you can discard your losing heart on Q♣ , and if it loses, you can discard the heart on A♣, and you are no worse off than before.  You have simply swopped a loser in hearts for one in clubs.  BUT - you need to take this finesse early, while you still have entires to dummy, or you cannot aford to risk it, as you might end up making no club tricks by leaving the A♣ stranded!  Declarer spotted all this too late and got a poor score for 4♠ =, when many others were making the "shot to nothing" overtrick - a mistake which cost this declarer top spot on the night!

When Two Clubs is not forcing to game!

What do you do when partner shows a strong balanced hand, either by bidding a direct 2NT, or via Benji, and you have a virtual bust?  In this deal from Friday 27th. March, Bill Turner found an ingenious solution.  Partner opens 2♣  (game force or 23-24 balanced) and right hand opponent decides to disrupt with 2♠, which allows you to relax and see what partner will do with his monster hand.   Partner now identifies his hand by bidding 2NT (23/24 points, balanced, and now, presumably showing a couple of stops in spades).  Playing transfers and 5 Card Puppet Stayman, what would you bid with the West hand?

After a long pause for thought, Bill came up with 3♣ , asking whether partner has a 5 card major.  Given the bidding, it would be miraculous were partner to respond 3♠ , and West can cope with a 3 reply (in that event, should he pass or bid the game?).  If, as he hopes, partner replies 3♦, promising a 4 card major, he can pass, which, as you can see, was what happened and which turned out very well for East-West, making 10 tricks with only 7 or 8 being made in NT contracts.  A couple of other interesting points emerge.  While it is often useful to put a spoke in the opposition's wheel by sticking in a bid, even if only to direct the lead, which, in itself, could be vital, it can, as in this case, provided extra options for the opposition.  Suppose South does not bid.  West has to reply 2(relay) and then what does he do over 2NT?  He now has no hint that there are long spades on his right, so there is a danger partner will respond 3S to his enquiry.  Where can he go now?  A hopeless 3NT seems the only option, as 4 over 3S would be taken as a cue bid.  Of course, a similar problem would arise if partner has neither a 5 or a 4 card major, when he has to reply 3NT.  But now a 4 bid must be a take-out, so West can steer the partnership onto solid ground.  The risk involved in Bill's 3♣ bid was clearly lessened by South's overcall, as the danger of the 3S response was almost completely neutralised, and, as we have seen, West can cope with any other response from his partner. A well thought out piece of escapology!

Competing over 1NT

In modern, highly competitive Bridge, we are told we should never let the opposition play in 1NT.  Whether you use natural overcalls or an artificial system, the advice is to get stuck in, unless, of course, you are sure you are getting 1NT well off.  East-West on this deal were using Astro, so the two diamond overcall showed spades and another suit.  East's 2NT asked what the second suit was, and, on hearing it was hearts, bid 3S.  What would you now bid with the West hand?

At the table, West bid 4S, which, if you look at all the hands, makes comfortably.  In fact, it is impossible to stop declarer making 13 tricks.  While you wouldn't expect a grand slam to be bid on this collection, should East West have found the 22 point slam?  Does East's 2NT enquiry suggest a decent hand, or does he not really fancy spades, but fancies hearts even less, in which case 3S is probably enough. So, East's 3S risked being passed out, unless the partnership has an agreement that 2NT is a positive bid, as opposed to an escape mechanism.  Why didn't East just support the spades at once?  Well, if West's second suit happens to be diamonds, then they are really in business with a massive double fit.  But what are the odds of West bidding diamonds at his second turn?  Doesn't East's 2NT bid complicate the auction unnecessarily?  Is there a case for an immediate splinter of 4C with the East hand. Now, with his void diamonds and excellent heart suit, West might give the slam serious consideration, though I suspect that, other than punting it, you would need some highly scientific methods to get there.  If E-W are playing Exclusion  Blackwood, a bid of 5D from West asks about key cards except the Ace of diamonds.  But how should East reply with his void?  6C shows a void club and one key card (KS - and remember AD is not included).  This response has committed the partnership to the slam anyway, but what a good slam it is.  Do you and partner have the methods to get there?

Tips for Improvers
Too hospitable

It is always a pleasure to see Adrian Thomas at the club, and we are always perhaps too hospitable towards him, as he usually comes top, as he did last Friday, but that might be more to do with his exceptional ability than our generosity, intentional or otherwise.  Board 3 provided an object lesson on how the experts make life so difficult for we mere mortals.  After Liam passed as South, Bill opened 1 with the West hand and Adrian overcalled 1♠ .  I bid 2♣ , Liam kept the disruption going with 2♠  and partner bid 3 ♣ .  Adrian passed and I bid the heart game, passed back to Adrian.  I feared that, now the opposition know of our double fit, they are likely to sacrifice, and sure enough, after due consideration, Adrian bid 4♠ .  Now the spotlight is back on partner and me.  Would you be inclined to take the money and double, or continue to the five level, which, according to Bridge lore, belongs to the opponents?

I decided to pass the buck to partner as I don't know the vaue of his opening hand.  Unsurprisingly, given his spade holding, Bill doubled and we took the contract three off for 500 points, but this was not tidy enough, as 4  is a shoo-in (making 11), and 5♣  made 12 tricks(well bid Dilys and Linda).  Non-vul against vul, Adrian had calculated accurately before making his bid, but should we have known to go on to the five level? Given that few other NS pairs were likely to be bidding 4♠ , I suppose you could argue that we were on a bad result anyway unless we could hold declarer to six tricks (unlikely) so we might as well have pushed on.  Difficult to work all this out, of course, in the heat of battle.  What is interesting about the expert bidding is the initial 1♠  overcall on 6 points, which encouraged partner to admit to some values, thus allowing the eventual sacrifice to be made.  I suppose this is all about envisaging how the auction is likely to develop, as well as having the confidence in one's ability to get the best out of a poor collection of cards, green against red.  

Lucky for Some

Board 13 provided your correspondent with a pleasant surprise at a recent Western Area event.  What are your expectations holding the East hand when North opens 3♣ ?  This is passed round to partner, who doubles, so you bid 3♠, fearing that you might end up playing in 4S with your undistinguished spade holding.  Life is full of surprises, however.  What do you think partner bid next and where did we end up?

Partner now cue bid 4♣  , so it looked as though my fears were about to be realised.  Ever the obedient one, I joined in the exercise with 4 , which prompted partner to enquire further with 4NT.  Four spades was clearly, like my milkman, now a thing of the past, so I described my holding most skilfully with a call of 5 . Partner now gave the situation due consideration and eventually emerged with a bid of.............7NT!  Right hand opponent commented that I went a lighter shade of pale at this point, but, as you can see from looking at the full deal, 13 tricks were a walk in the park, even for partner. This board was played 12 times and slam was only reached 50% of the time, and the grand slam only twice, and the top scoring NT Grand, only once.  Very well bid, partner.

Another Minor Suit Slam after 2NT!

For the third time within a month, the use of a gadget to find a minor suit slam after partner opens 2NT would have proved invalauble on board 3 from the second round of the club pairs championship last Wednesday, 19th. November.  What would you bid with the North hand after partner opens 2NT?

My Wednesday partner and I don't have a system for bidding minor suit slams after 2NT, so we need to get one.  I decided on the "practical" bid of 3NT, which makes 12 tricks and scores you 50%, but it must be worth loooking for the slam, and two pairs did.  An excellent approach is described in the last article (see below - "2NT and the Minors Again").  Using this system, North should bid 3♠ , transfer to 3NT, followed by 4♣  (I'm interested in a slam in either minor, partner).  As you can see from the South hand, this is music to partner's ears,  and she will accept the invitation in clubs by bidding 4  (first step, as 4  is reserved for indicating a preference for a   slam) showing 4 Key cards.  After this North can take a shot at 6♣, which makes 13 tricks, as does 6♦.  Shouldn't you be bidding 6NT at pairs? Well, you have a maximum of 30 points, so the minor suit slam is safer, although the NT slam happens to make as well on this occasion, so those chancing their arm would have been, some would say, unjustly rewarded.

2NT and the Minors - Again

Having messed up a minor suit slam the previous week (see below) another opportunity presented itself last Friday (31st. October) but, fortunately, partner took charge this time.  After I opened 2NT (20-22 balanced - note that 2D-2H-2NT would show an unbalanced 20-22) partner bid 4C, ostensibly showing an interest in a minor suit slam and asking about my key cards.  I felt that my Ax of clubs was good enough not to bid 4NT, which would have been a sign off.  Instead I bid 4S (two key cards without the queen).  I was a little surprised to see partner now dump all his bidding cards on the table - 7NT!  Click to see the whole deal and you will see that, after the information I had provided, partner can now count 13 tricks -he knows I can't have a club singleton - unless the clubs misbehave badly, so felt justified in bidding the maximum.  Perhaps surprisingly, only one other pair found this cold contract, so well done to Dian and Pat, but it has certainly increased my confidence in our new "toy" over 2NT - see article two hands down.

Expert Bidding

Bill and Marjorie were in good form this week, and we were the victims of their expert bidding on the very first board of the evening, so an unlucky start for us. How you would handle this hand from the East seat?

Marjorie did well to bid out her hand, so her next bid was 3S.  Bill now knew that she could only have one diamond, and, with a double fit and nine trumps, he had no hesitation in bidding the 21 point game.  There is nothing to the play, so all declarers made 10 tricks, but only Bill and Marjorie, and Rob and Alan, managed to find the game.  Very well done to them, and unlucky 13 to their opponents, as this was the number of the first board we played!

Hand 1: Jumping About

Playing with an unfamiliar partner you decide to open 2NT on your 21 pointer.  Not everybody's cup of tea, but your regular partner would have understood.  Partner now bids 3S, which you have not discussed.  Most experts seem to play this as a transfer to 3NT, reserving the 3NT bid as indicating 5♠ and 4♥. Partner is certainly an expert, so you opt for 3NT, whereupon partner bids 6♣, clearly an expert bid - but what does it mean?  After it was expained to me in words of one syllable, I was able to understand it, and, indeed, appreciate its beauty, but, at the table, I did not rise to the occasion.  Can you make the bid which the expert's brilliance deserves? 

Like most mysteries, it's easy when you see it.  Partner must be giving you a choice of minor suit slams.  Not having discussed any more scientific methods, partner hit upon a simple way of doing this, expecting somebody with a logical brain to work it out.  I hope your brain proved more logical than mine, and that you bid 6.  As you can see from looking at all the hands, passing 6♣ was not a success.  Is there a way to invite minor suit slams over 2NT?  Yes, by agreement, of course.  Merely interested in a club slam or a diamond slam, bid 4♣ or 4 over the 2NT, which should be taken as RKCB in the suit bid..  But, with a two suited minor hand go via the 3♠ relay to 3NT, then bid 4♣, to which partner will give RKCB responses if he is interested in clubs (FIRST STEP 1) or bid 4 if that is his suit, and then responder can use 4 as RKCB .  If opener wishes to reject the slam try, she simply bids 4NT, which must be passed.  And what of that 2NT opener with a singleton?  Most people seem to disapprove, but what if you use a Benji style?  Then after 2♣ - 2 (relay) - 2NT you are showing an unbalanced 20-22 points.  A direct 2NT shows a more balanced hand with the same number of points.

Hand 2: A step too far?

With the holding above, it is quite a surprise when partner opens, and even more when he jumps to three at his second turn.  A small slam at least must be on the cards, but in which denomination?  You bid 4 to express slam interest, and partner hastily bids 4♥, so he surely must have a two suiter with long hearts as you have expressed no interest in hearts so far.  It doesn't seem unreasonable to try Roman Key Card Blackwood, and the five diamond response should indicate that partner possesses three rather than zero - although this does not seem to make sense if you look at your hand and consider partner's bidding earlier - he can't have zero, surely, and he has no room for three!  Oh well, why not see how many Kings partner has?  After 5NT partner shows K♣, so he doesn't have K, or he should have bid 6NT, showing two Kings, so what do you do now?

The lack of K might suggest to the wise man that settling in the pairs contract of 6NT would be sensible.  However, we had not had a good evening, so I was looking for a spectacular result, and thought partner might be able to discard some diamond losers on A♣ and the spades, which might even be establishable if trumps were hearts, so I bid the Grand.  As you can see from the full hand, partner did not have K♣ (he was trying to say he had no kings outside KH, which should have been a bid of 5H).  Had I known this, I would certainly not have bid a grand, being a punt as it was, even if partner held K♣.  Amazingly, because QS is onside, you can actually make the Grand, so we could have scored a totally undeserved top, had partner taken the risk in spades.  Whether it is ever wise to bid a Grand Slam unless you can actually count the thirteen tricks, I leave it to you to decide.

Better Minor

Having played (very messy) kitchen Bridge for many years, I was finally dragged along to a Duplicate Club (what a scary experience!) when well into middle age, and by the time I fetched up in South Wales I had got quite used to playing a Canadian-Geordie version of 5 card majors, with a better minor.  Round here, the short club appears to be king, so, when in Cambria......!  However, the short club can leave you in a quandry if you think partner might have only two, as happened on this deal from our session on Wednesday 20th. August.  After dealing and passing, West sees partner open 1C and RHO bid 3D (what he calls a BUTO bid - ......-up the opposition).  What do you do as West?  Playing better minor you have the option of 4C, as partner must have at least three, but you don't want to be playing 4C on a 5-2 fit in an ideal world.  Double seems a reasonable bet, and partner now tries 3S.  This suggets partner started with at least three clubs (with 4 diamonds she would have opened a diamond and with 4 hearts she would have bid 3H rather than 3S).  When RHO passes, you now have an interesting decision to make.  Do you play in a 4-3 fit at the 3 level, or in a fit which is at leasy 5-3 at the four level?

At the table, East decided to leave three spades in, hoping partner could scramble home for +140, beating the possible +130 for 4C, assuming it makes anyway.  As you can see, West actually has 5 clubs, so 4C turns out to be a comfortable make, with 3S, though makeable according to the computer, much more difficult and, in real life, it drifted off. So, is this a minus point for the short club?  Certainly playing better minor it would have been easier for East to find what turned out to be the winning bid of 4C right away, though you could argue that, after West's 3S, he still had the option of going to 4C, but was seduced by the higher scoring major suit.  Perhaps the strongest argument for 4C is that North said he would have bid 4D over it, which EW should be able to double for +200, a good score in a part score battle.  On balance, I think a return to better minor is an attractive thought, but I have partners to convince, and, to quote from my favourite poet, miles to go before I sleep!

Ruffing Values?

This hand, from last Wednesday's selection of teasers, shows how difficult it is to find the right defence.  Of the six times this board was played, declarer was successful on four occasions.  See if you can do better than most defenders.  Partner leads 9H against East's 4S contract.  Declarer takes the opening trick in dummy, cashes AD, discarding a club from hand, and leads his singleton club, which you win with KC.  What do you now lead?

After the play to the first two tricks you have a fairly certain count on the hand.  Declarer has almost certainly 8 spades for his opening bid, Ax of Hearts (partner would NEVER lead away from an Ace in a suit contract) and, therefore, three small clubs.  Clearly partner has a singleton heart and would very much like a ruff, but see what happens if you give her one straight away.  What can she lead back?  She cannot play a spade to deny declarer his club ruff, as she now loses her certain spade winner.  If she leads a diamond, declarer simply ruffs in hand and then ruffs his last club in dummy, losing a club, a heart ruff and KS.  So... you must disappoint partner and play your singleton spade at trick three, denying declarer his ruff.  Now declarer is on the spot.  Have you brilliantly led away from KS?  Unlikely, so declarer's best bet now is to go up with AS and play another, hoping spdes are 2-2.  Unlucky, as partner is now in with KS and needs to find the underlead of AC to get you in to lead a heart for her to trump for the setting trick.  Great defence, which partner and I almost got right at the table, but almost is not good enough.  Well done to those who found it.  Did you?

Best Defence

As West, you have an interesting lead problem after the opponents end up in 3NT.  What would you select as your opening gambit?

Did you find the lead that gives declarer most trouble? At the table Mike Best certainly did, leading from his doubleton diamond.  Not something you'd find in a textbook, but you don't become a Grand Master without being able to think on your feet.  This lead gives nothing away and declarer was not able to find a way to 9 tricks after this lead, the only declarer to fail to make 9 tricks - indeed, most of the declarers made an overtrick in NT, so this was certainly the best start to the defence.  Now put yourself in the shoes of declarer - can he do better?  Clearly you need to read West for most of the points after his very defensive lead, but, if East has AH you can make both of your Heart honours - worth a try.  BUT, before testing the Hearts, why not lead another diamond?  This removes West's other safe exit card, so that, when he takes his AH, he is forced to return a club, meaning that he now has to guard all three side suits when you run the diamonds.  This suggets that West does better to duck the first Heart, which makes life more difficult for declarer.  He can now run the diamonds, and it is now a question of how he and  West read each other's discards, with West having the advantage of discarding second.  South's best bet is probably to come down to KxS, QxH and AJ clubs, exiting with a Heart (hoping East does not have AH to shoot a spade through)  This will work as, though East can now cash 4 tricks, he has to concede declarer's last trick (assuming declarer has worked out what West's last card is!) This is all a bit double-dummy, of course, very difficult to get right at the table,  and will only gain declarer one MP, as most other declarers have made an overtrick.  Well done Mike!

An Inspired Pass.

Hand 22 from Wednesday 2nd. July was interesting to say the least.  The first question was, do you open with the East Hand? In our Thursday lessons members have been told that such a hand does not meet the criteria for a weak three when vulnerable, as going down could be more expensive than any disruption to the enemy bidding which you achieve, and, ideed, the results tended to support this view.  However, modern experts generally believe it is a bidder's game and lean towards adventurous prempting, so that the best pair in the room and eventual winners had little hesitation in opening 3H.  Those of us who are less adventurous might compromise by shading to a weak two, as at least one East decided to do.  At our table, East decided to pass, which was to earn him a joint top.  East's pass leaves NS bidding on a misfit and North in particular getting very excited with his three loser hand once South opens, admittedly in his void suit!  North drove on to slam, but chose the wrong one, clubs rather than diamonds, which would have been much easier. As it happened, declarer might have got home after a club lead, but eventually went one off, as did one other NS pair (in 5C). Suggested expert bidding is given, but the results suggest that most of the tables did not follow this pattern.  Click on the answer to see why, even making a slam as NS, would not have secured you a top.

The most EW could make in 3H* was 4 tricks, so our experts had to endure a bottom , conceding 1400 points, 300 worse than the more cautious pair who played in 2H*.  So, even had a non-vulnerable minor suit slam been made, it would have scored less for NS than doubling the preemptive bid. Unfortunately, at our table no premptive bid was heard, leaving partner and I to flounder off in a slam with East no doubt reflecting that, on this occasion at least, silence was indeed golden.

Was partner right?

Partner was not happy with my bidding on this hand, as she felt my shot at game was too adventurous, especially after it bit the dust.  She might have been happier had I made 10 tricks. How would you have tackled the hand after the defence starts with an attack on clubs?

West starts with AK♣, and you ruff the second trick in hand. Not wishing to end up on The Embankment, I played as we urge our Thursday class and started to draw trumps....whoops! The bad break means that I lose control as I can be forced when the defenders lead clubs whenever they are in.  Did you spot that you need to leave trumps in dummy to take care of the clubs while you set up K and the heart suit. So.....at trick three lead to dummy's Q♠ and then play toward K. If East takes this and returns a club, you can ruff in dummy and return to hand to lead towards K. West takes and tries another club, but you ruff again in dummy, cross to hand with a diamond ruff, draw trumps and enjoy your hearts.  Perhaps partner was right to criticise me, but it should have been for my play, rather than for my bidding.  Would you have satisfied her?

Is partner weak or strong?

When you have opened and your next oponent overcalls, what do you understand by jump support from partner?  Some pairs play this as relatively weak, simply competing and trying to buy the contract.  If this is the case, then you need to be able to show partner when you have actually got something of value.  Take board six from Wednesday 21st. May.  What do you bid as West at your second turn?

If you passed, you are getting a zero, as all other E/W players are in game.  This West thought partner was weak, though you might argue he was worth another try with such a shapely hand.  Look at the East hand, though. If partner is likely to think your jump rise is weak, you must have a way of showing a good rise, or at least values.  Depending on partnership agreement, this could be 2NT or double.  While double implies the other two suits, East can support spades with her next bid (after West's 3C) and game will surely be reached.  Similarly after 2NT, whether it is played as a good rise in partner's suit or a balanced 10-12 count. (1♠-2-2nt-3♣-3♠-4♠).  So, if you are going to raise with tram tickets over doubles or overcalls, you must have a way of showing partner if you have more than that.  Finally, suppose North overcalls 3?  Now life is more difficult, as East's 3S could be simply competing on very little, as the 2NT option has been bypassed.  Double could again be used to show values in this sequence, or it could be agreed that a 3 level response after a 3 level jump overcall does indeed show an invitational hand, and, with less than that, you must pass and hope partner is strong enough to reopen with a double, and you then bid 3S, competitive. How many partnerships have all these eventualities covered?

Sims Struggles

There were a lot of Slam hands in this weeks EBU Spring Sims, though by no means all our punters spotted them. Having said that, it is not always bidding the obvious slams that will score well in a Pairs contest, it's winning those tight-part score hands where the experts, with their judgement and knowledge of the odds, will often bring home the goods.  An excellent example of this occured on Hand 10, which looks innocuous, but is just the sort of hand on which you need to have your wits about you if you want to secure a podium finish.  The bidding starts normally enough, with East opening 1♣ and West responding 1 after South's pass.  The spotlight is on North.  Vulnerable after partner's pass, club players might pass at this point, but the experts tend to compete, and, sure enough, at our table, Tony Ratcliff doubled.  I bid an automatic 1NT with the East hand.  South could pass this quietly, but partner has asked him to bid and he does have some points, so he ventured 2♠.  What does West do now?  After a long tank partner decided to pass, which shows what pressure you can put the opposition under when you compete.  Even if we can get this contract down one, which is possible with best defence, we are on a bad result as we can make 2NT (or 3♣). The best result for EW is to double and secure +200, which the commentator says is unlikely to be found - only seven pairs achieved this nationally.  So, assuming you have left 2S in, doubled or not, what do you lead as West and how do you defend to defeat this contract?

As you can see, the only way for the defence to get that vital sixth trick is via a Heart ruff.  After a Heart lead from West, ducked by declarer to East's King, East must lead a heart back into the teeth of North's AJ. Then, when in with KS, West can give East his Heart ruff - end of story. In practice, West led a low club, taken by South's A♣. South now led a small spade, taken by East's K♠, taking out West's easy entry to give the Heart ruff.  Naturally West leads a Heart at last, taken by East's K♥,  but it now looks hopeless for EW.  However, had West led J♣ rather than a small one, it might have occurred to East to underlead his K♣ when in with A♠ (expecting West to hold 10♣), thus securing his  ruff. So he should play back a  after taking his K, and then, when in with his A♠ he can complete the execution of his plan.  In my defence, I did consider a club underlead, but was discouraged by partner's initial low club and did not want to present an overtrick in clubs.  On reflection, knowing we were on a bad result anyway, I should have gone for broke and  gambled that partner did hold J♣. This hand shows how important and interesting part-score battles can be, and they should certainly be given as much effort and concentration as the spectacular slams we so love to bid and make.

How strong is your rebid?

Hand 6 from 5th. March club duplicate illustrates the need to describe your hand fully with your rebid.  At one table, after a two diamond overcall from East, South contented herself with repeating her suit, which doesn't sound very encouraging. Partner passed and 2H made with an overtrick, but this was a poor score with 3NT on.  My Somerset expert argues that, after the 2D overcall, you might even consider a reverse into 2S, which would certainly hit the jackpot.  If you think players from Somerset are inveterate overbidders, how about trying a double at your second turn.  Partner will now feel confident to bid 2NT and you, even being the ninny you are, might stretch to the winning contract.  Bid up partner!

Good Start?

I expect most players would open 1D on the East hand after North passes, but what would you bid after West responds 1H?  Click on the solution below to find out what happened on the night.

On the first board of the evening, East decided his hand was worth a jump to game.  After some thought, West now decided his hand was worth a look, so bid 4NT.  On hearing of partner's 3 key cards he decided he was going on to slam, regardless of whether partner held the queen of trumps, so bid 6H.  As you can see, there was little to the play, but, with everybody scoring twelve tricks and this pair being the only ones in a slam, it was a very good start to the evening.  How did you do?  Some might be a little more sophisticated and bid a 3S splinter with the East hand at their second turn, which would give West even more justification to look for a slam, either through a direct 4NT or a 4C cue bid, hearing 4D from East - now you must surely get there.

Diabolical Defending

Wednesday 19th. February was remarkable for some dreadful defending, but this effort on hand 9 not only qualifies as the worst of the lot, but may well turn out to be award winner for poorest defence of the year.  After a simple auction, what would you lead as South agianst East's 4S contract?

If you found the trump lead you hold declarer to his seven trump tricks, as you can take out his other trump once you are back in and you will make three hearts, a diamond and two clubs - simples. Defenders at this table, however, managed to find a way to enable declarer to make his contract. Try  this. 1. Lead AH  2.  Switch to AC and note partner's encouraging 7.  3. Play a small club to partner's KC.  4.  Partner, thinking you are after a club ruff, returns a small club, away goes QD as declarer wins in dummy. 5.  It is now a simple matter for declarer to ruff a diamond, ruff a heart, ruff a diamond, ruff a heart, ruff a diamond and cash the top trumps for his contract.  The identities of the pair who snatched a bottom from the jaws of victory will not be revealed here, but we know who we are.  Lesson:  Always consider a trump lead to cut down declarer's ruffs.  It is surprising how often it can be a killer blow.

Dr. Strangehand...or How to Stop worrying and Learn to Love the Duplimator!

There are some players to whom duplimated hands are an anathema - they just don't think they are fair.  My partner on Wednesdays is one of those who regards the Duplimator with deep suspicion, but we managed to survive this monster unscathed when it appeared under the guise of Board 16 last week. How would you bid the North hand?  As you can see, I decided to pass after dealer had passed, and, sure enough, partner opened a minor and jumped in the other one after my 1H response.  I now bid 3S, possibly a bit pushy (my expert advisor from Somerset would have contented himself with 3H). Partner now bid 4H, very good news, as I'm not sure what I would have done had she bid 3NT.  The question is, should you let it rest there, or explore the possibilities of a slam?  Click on the answer and look at the full deal to see what happened on the night.

Four of the seven pairs who played this hand did go on to slam, demonstrating that the majority of players at Bridgend are optimists.  I decided to pass 4H and got a spade lead, which I ruffed in dummy. I then cashed AD and ruffed a diamond so that I could lead towards dummy's two remaining trumps, covering East's 8 with the 9, but finding West void.  Two trump losers were now inevitable, so I was glad to have avoided the slam, but I was able to ruff or dispose of my spades on dummy's minor suit winners, so came to 11 tricks. This was not a top, however, as one of the pairs in the slam did manage to make it, as they did not get a spade lead, so were leading up to three, rather than two trumps in dummy, and can hold the trump losers to one.  However, if West goes up with AH and returns a spade, then another loser appears.  A difficult hand to bid and to defend, but I don't think it proves the case for the anti-duplimator faction.  What do you think, and how did you fare on the deal?

Sacrifice Ignored by the Gods

On Wednesday 3rd. October we were presented with many difficult hands, but perhaps the most interesting was Board 15, played in various contracts on six occasions by NS and once, to their great misfortune, by EW.  I say misfortune because, as you can see, NS have a slam on in Hearts, so EW's sacrifice in 5S*, despite costing 1100, would have been a top had the other NS pairs in the room bid the vulnerable slam.  In real life, only John and Liam  got anywhere near it, coming to rest in 5H.  Looking at the full deal, how do you think these hands should be bid?  At our table my partner, Alan, took the view to open1D with the South hand, overcalled 1S by West.  I then bid 2H, East upped the anti to 4S and Alan bid 5C.  Things were moving on rapidly and I was pondering whether to bid 6D when West came in with 5S.  Given that partner has opened and I have 17 points it seemed likely that 5S was going several off, so I doubled, which seemed a better bet than punting the slam, but would have proved costly had all the other NS pairs bid it.  How can you bid this elusive slam?  I suppose I had a good chance to do so as it looks pretty good after the sequence given, as South must have shortage in Spades and Hearts and a reasonable two suiter in the minors.  However, I'd be bidding 6D, which is not the top score available with 6H on.  Partner knows I must have 5 hearts, so there is a case for showing support rather than his second minor, but the barrage by EW certainly makes it difficult to explore the possibilities fully.  If Partner bids 5H over 4S I am still likely to consider the slam, but not once West bids 5S.  Even without the interference it is difficult to construct a scientific sequence which will get you to 6H.  For example, after 1D-1H-2C-2S-3H-?  If North asks about aces, how does South show no key cards and a void?  Perhaps North just has to punt 6H with his very nice hand once he knows South has 3 card support?  Perhaps it is just impossible to find, which makes EW at our table very unlucky for keeping us out of the slam.

When the opponents run from 1NT Doubled

Firstly, sorry to my reader for the time elapsed between this article and the last.  This week's offering is Hand 16 from Wednesday 25/9/13, and demonstrates that, the more you play this difficult game, the more you have to be flexible about the "rules" you learn to help you when you are a struggling "improver" (though you could argue that this is a permanent state for most Bridge players).  One such "rule" fixed partner and me this week, namely that any double after 1NT is for penalties.  As you can see from the bidding, the opponents managed to find what looks like a good escape, so we really need to be playing the hand, but double is for penalty (the "rule") and South can hardly bid that pathetic club suit at the 3 level, and can either North or South risk a 2S bid on a four card suit (when partner will assume it shows 5 cards)?  Decide how you would bid the N/S hands before looking at the full deal and the solution below.

I have discovered two expert approaches to this problem.   The first, employing Lebensohl, worked well with this particular hand.  After East's 2 bid, South bid 3, showing a stop in Hearts and 4 spades, after which North had no trouble bidding 4.  Had he not possessed four spades, he could have bid 3NT, though this might have been problematic, which suggests there is a danger of getting too high with this method.  Furthermore, as our resident expert Tony Disley points out, you have now lost all chance of penalising the opposition if they really are in deep trouble.  Tony's style is to regard any second double after 1NT has been doubled as TO, with a third double, given the opportunity, as penalties.   Again this would have worked well with this hand, as a TO double from South after 2would get 2from partner, raised to 3 by South and 4 by North.  Change North's hand slightly to 972, K1095, KQJ8, AK, and he would likely leave the double in.  And where the opposition, however unlikely it seems, decide to compete over North's 2, a third double would be for penalties, in this case netting +500, beating the +420 gained by the 4bidders, but not the +800 of the luck pair whose opponents decided to stand the double of 1NT.  So, if you want a moral to this Gothic tale, it is that "rules" are there to be broken and that, if you are going to cope with the complex situations which arise at the Bridge table, you need to be flexible and adaptable in your systems and thought processes.  Sticking to the simple "rules" you used as an essential crutch when a learner and improver can only get you so far.  Thanks again to Tony for his valuable insights.

Competitive Bidding Continued

Last Wednesday(Aug 14th.) provided a glut of hands where accurate competitive bidding scored well.  There were two great examples of sitting over a weak 1NT opening, one with a strong hand and one with a long suit (Boards 19 and 7 respectively) and the results show that finding the best contract is not easy, especially when it is difficult to shut up with 22 points!  Wouldn't it be good if there was a way to help us judge when to stick and when to twist?  Well, there is something called "The Law of Total Tricks", of which I've only had a hazy knowledge up to now, but which our hand of the week (Board 23) seems to support as a good "prop" for those of us who find judging these things nigh on impossible.  In a classic competitive auction, the 2C overcall was alerted as Ghestem, showing Spades and Diamonds, and East doubled the 2S bid to show Hearts.  West bid 3H, North and East passed and South ventured 3S.  After two more passes, what should East do now?  

The Law of Total tricks suggests passing.  (If the opposition have 9 trumps, and you and partner have 8 between you, the toal number of trumps (Total Tricks available) is 17, so, if they can make 9 tricks in spades, you can only make 8 in hearts.  If you can make 9, they can only make 8).  As it happens, the total tricks available is 18, as both sides have a nine card fit, so, if they can make 9 tricks, 4 hearts is a good save as long as they don't double (it should be one down).  At the table, without benefit of this "science" I decided they were making 3 spades so I bid 4H.  Looking at the four hands, it appears 3S should make and 4H go one off, but we are dealing with human beings, and the other pairs in hearts actually made10 tricks and the one pair in 3S made 8, so we got a bad result. Clealry the law of total tricks is not infallible (or perhaps I should say the people using it aren't) but it seems to me, certainly on the basis of this hand, that it is worth adding it to your armoury, though clearly you will need to have some idea of the trump holdings in the four hands to be able to use it reasonably accurately.

A Spirit of Adventure

There was a lot of bidding at some tables on board 24 this Wednesday (10th.July). With the points evenly divided, it looks as though each side will struggle to make 8 tricks in their favourite major, but some spirited bidding saw several pairs pass this mark, though with mixed success. At our table, partner opened the "automatic" 1S with the North hand, and East doubled for take-out. What do you do with my hand? I decided to redouble to show values and, hopefully, imply an interest in the minors. I guess many would have preferred a 2D bid with the South hand, but our West was in no mood to mess about, and bid a bold 4H, so North would have been faced with the same decision whatever I had bid. Perhaps wisely, partner decided to pass, though there is a case for doubling, which would have had the merit of shutting me up! The bidding was reaching terminal velocity all too quickly, and, carried away by its momentum, I made the common mistake of forgetting that I had a pass card in my bidding box. Liking my distribution, I decided to bid 4NT (2 places to play, obviously the minors) and, understandably, partner felt that 5S was a better bet than either of the minor suits. This was doubled, and partner did brilliantly to make 10 tricks, but this was a joint bottom as another pair had gone two off, undoubled in 3S. What were the better results our way? Top of the pile was Alan Grant who scored 590 for making 4S doubled, followed by Colin Lewis, 430 for 3NT plus one (on 20 points) then 200 for doubling 4H, which shows why Laura and Mike (overall winners on the night) are grandmasters and I am not. What lessons from this hand? Firstly, don't let yourself get carried away by the momentum of the bidding - those green cards are there for a reason. Secondly, and perhaps paradoxically, if you do have to bid, especially with a weak hand, it pays to be bold. You'll get burnt a few times, but, by pushing the opposition beyond their comfort zone, you give them plenty of opportunity to go wrong. Finally, how did four of the best players in the room handle this hand? With caution. Wisely, Andrew and Liam did not venture any further than 3S, Tony and Kevin careful not to overstretch in Hearts. Unfortunately for declarer, the defence was spot on, a diamond lead and a duck of the first club leaving him cut off from dummy for ever and unable to make more than seven tricks. An unlucky joint bottom for Andrew and Liam, but such is pairs, and certainly a well deserved joint top earned by Kevin and Tony's defence. Where does that leave my spirit of adventure? In this case, I fancy, it's success depends on whether your opponents can judge whether and how to call your bluff, and also whether they can then back this up by accurate play. The range of results on this board suggests that getting the bidding and the play right are both problematic, but that, if you can back up accurate bidding with skilled play, you will be bringing home the bacon more often than not.

Fortune favours.....?

How many points do you think you need for game?   If partner has 15/16 and you have nine, do you have a punt or settle for the part score?  There is an argument that you should either play in 1NT or 3NT, and one gadget which might help you is Crowhurst, but, like many such toys, it can be quite revealing to your opponents.  On this week's hand, (Board 24 on Friday) I opened 1D as East after two passes and West responded1H, so I now bid 1NT.  Partner and I play this as wide ranging (15-18) so, if I am top of the range, game should be odds on (17/18 + 9 = 26/27 points).  This is where Crowhurst comes in.  Partner now bids 2C to find out more about my hand.  My next bid as East, 2H, tells partner that I have the lower end of the points range (15/16 points, and 3 hearts).  If partner has 5 hearts, he will find little difficulty in bidding the heart game.  With West's actual hand, what do you do next? In our system, East's 1NT bid does not deny 4 spades (though it does deny 4 hearts) so game may be on in Spades or NT.  Partner has the option of bidding 2S now, to show his spade suit, giving me the opportunity to bid 3 with 4 card support.  Without 4S I would bid 2NT and then partner is left with the question I asked at the start of this article.  His actual choice, 2NT is more ambiguous, but also more subtle.  What 2NT says is, "If you have 4 spades, bid 3S, without 4 spades, bid 3NT with 16 points or pass with 15."  In other words, it solves the question of whether you have 24 or 25 points between you - with 24 you stick, and with 25 go for it.  Supposing West doesn't have 4 spades?  Then he'll convert 3S to 3NT, in which case you could still be playing in a 24 point NT game, which is why you need to think carefully before launching into Crowhurst, as you must be prepared to end up playing in game, having also provided the defence with considerable information about your distribution. 

So, how lucky did the seven E/W pairs who played this hand feel?  Three declared 3NT and one 4H, with one pair in 1NT and two in 2D, so the optimists have it, just.  Was this optimism justified? Look at the full hand and check the answer below.

The auction suggested a club lead to South, which he duly offered, and it is difficult to see a legitimate way to make this contract as you must now lose 3 clubs and two others, whichever way you tackle it.  The one time 3NT was played from the West hand, 10 tricks were made, which suggests a spade may have been led, but the Easts playing in NT had to settle for 8 tricks, and one only collected 7.  Do we blame Crowhurst for pinpointing the best lead?  In this case South may well have led a club anyway, so eschewing the advantages of Crowhurst does not necessarily follow.  Having said that, there will be times when leader might have had a better choice of leads and your sequence has helped him to decide which to produce.  It is therefore worth considering jumping to the NT game, particularly with a balanced hand, rather than risk providing free hints to your opponents, and the same applies to the use of Stayman over a NT opener.  As ever, this comes down to judgement,  and an acceptance of the fact that no system will work perfectly for you all the time - it would be a pretty boring game if that were the case.

Taking a view

How do you feel when, as partner puts dummy down, he says, "I took a view, partner"?  Of course, taking a view (an off centre 1NT/concealing a four card major) can work well on a good day with a following wind, but my experiences this week suggest that a measure of trepidation is in order when partner admits to having "taken a view."

So, what is "taking a view"? Probably different things to different people, but I'd suggest it involves ignoring the obvious system bid in favour of an alternative action, rather than a spectacular gamble or punt.  This week's hand illustrates both in action, the gamble (bold intervention?) being far more successful in this example than the taken view.

Holding the North hand and playing 5 card majors, I took the view, after two passes, to open the hand 1NT, despite the two doubletons, it having more pre-emptive value than the more obvious 1D.  The idea that this would silence an intrepid East was soon dispelled as he entered the auction with 3C.  The spotlight was now on partner, who thought for some time before, with a despairing shrug, passing, leaving North with little alternative but to do likewise.

With both sides vulnerable, how risky was East's 3C? How wise was North's "view"? Take a look at the full hand to find out.  As you can see, East's intervention was spectacularly successful.  It prevented NS reaching the cold game contract (should it have done?) but at little cost.  Even if NS double (which we didn't) and take the contract one off (which we didn't) minus 200 is a much better return than minus 620/650.  As it was, +110 was the only positive score for EW, a just reward for enterprise, and vindication for those who say you should get into the bidding over 1NT at all costs.

Coping with intervention over 1NT is difficult, and expert partnerships will certainly have methods to deal with two-level interference, but how many club players have agreements to handle this situation?  I suspect a lot of partnerships will play a double, once partner has bid NT, as for penalties, but, as in this case, the reward might not be enough, which is why, I understand, the expert view is to use the double as primarily for take-out.  Here it would work well as South could convert North's 3S response to 4S and reach the solid game.  Given that double would be for penalties, however, the "view" to open 1NT now looks flawed in these particular circumstances.  Had North opened 1D, a double, ostensibly negative, but, in this case, showing a hand which is strong for a pass, allows North to bid 3S and again reach the game.  OK, if there is no major suit fit, playing in 4D will not give you as good a result as doubling (and correctly defending) 3C, but there is no system which covers all the angles.

In conclusion, though there will be times when it comes a cropper, the 3C bid looks like an effective disruptive measure rather than a risky punt, and taking a view looks as though it can stymie a partnership's normal bidding strategy.  To paraphrase George Orwell: View-taking: BAD. Bold bidding: GOOD.

Slams Dunked
The Duplimator produced hands on Friday which were every bit as challenging as Wednesday's offerings, especially in the slam zone. Of the six slams bid, only one was successful, and that because the defence didn't find the killing lead. In fact, the only slam which could be legitimately made against best defence was not found. On board 3, three pairs made 12 tricks in NT, but the pair who actually bid the reasonable slam didn't succeed as you can't make 12 tricks on a heart lead. But can you make 12 tricks in clubs? It appears as though you can. Take the lead with the Ace, take out trumps in three rounds and then play 4 rounds of spades discarding your losing hearts. You now only have to lose to AD. But how do you get there? A suggested auction is given above. 2NT (20-22) - 3C (5 card Stayman) - 3NT (no 4 or 5 card major) - 4C ( long cub suit, interested in slam) - 4NT (RKCB) - 5C ( one key card - obviously either AS or AD) - 6C (Let's hope it's AS!) OK, many will consider 3NT the practical bid at pairs on a club night and bypassing 3NT does risk turning a flat or slightly better than average board into a bottom, but you have a minimum of 31 points between you, so there must be a fair chance. Depends how lucky you feel. For the most part on Friday, the evil Duplimator had it in for those who felt lucky.
Expert Declarer Play? In your dreams!

We all know how we should approach a hand as declarer.  Firstly, don't panic.  Assess the situation rationally and make a plan.  Look at the whole picture and be prepared to adjust the plan as events unfold.  Take account of any inferences from the bidding and play, what the opposition do and don't do.  If the cards have to be in a particular place to make your contract, play for that distribution etc etc etc.  I suspect that one of the many differences between the experts and the rest of us, the most obvious being that they have brains like computers, is that they systematically follow this advice, but, in the heat of the battle, the rest of us forget it.  I cite as my evidence hand 17 from last Friday (24th. May) when all the declarers in NT contracts made 7 tricks - the problem was they were either in 3NT or  2 NT!  At our table, partner and RHO having passed, I opened 1NT and, after LHO also passed, partner produced the 2S bidding card, promptly doubled for lead by RHO.  Looking at my spade holding, a certain level of concern was already brewing as I knew the inevitable 2NT contract would be a toughie, especially against this expert pair who were not likely to provide any freebies.  Sure enough, LHO obeys her partner and leads a low spade, and my partner at least has the decency to have two of the top three spade honours.  Before looking at the answer, make your plan of campaign to secure 8 tricks on this deal.

My plan was to secure one spade trick (no chance these opponents will provide another) at least one heart, three diamonds and three clubs.  The problem with this plan is that it requires favourable distribution in both clubs and diamonds, and making the right guess in hearts.  Furthermore, lack of entries to dummy are likey to complicate matters - as I write this I can see I was already thinking in a muddled and pessimistic mode, and hoping things would turn up (I'm sure an expert would have thought things out more clearly).  

I play low on the first trick, which RHO has to win.  He is far too mean to return a spade and present me with an extra trick, so, after some thought, a low diamond comes back.  This is OK - you win in hand and play the other honour, captured by RHO - phew!  He now returns a low club to the J, K and A. You can now cash your long diamonds, throwing a couple of hearts, and it is decision time.  If you now take the heart finesse, playing LHO for AH, which she must have for you to succeed (and oviously not hold QH as well) the opposition will knock out your spade stop (and last entry to dummy) so you will no longer be able to set up your long club and enjoy it.  I therefore decided to gamble on the club split.  UNFORTUNATELY, when in with 10C, LHO cashed 9C, so I am now one down (No split - boo).  Clearly this was not the best thought out plan.  Partner helpfully suggested I should have ducked a club to RHO!!!!

Knowing the odds on various things working, another expert trait, would have helped, but a logical rethink halfway through (the ability to see the whole picture and be flexible) might have got me home.  RHO has turned up with 4 diamonds as well as at least 4 spades, so the chances of his having 3 clubs must have lessened the odds on the even split still further. What about the hearts?  You need two tricks if you are not getting three in clubs, and you cannot do this if RHO has AS and LHO QS.  In fact, you need RHO to hold QH and 10H.... SO...the only chance, if you give up on the clubs, is to play a Heart from table and insert 9H.  As the cards lie, this ensures 8 tricks and your contract however the opposition defends, assuming you continue to play impeccably yourself.

There are variations depending on whether LHO has discarded a spade or a heart on the last diamond, but, as far as I can see, you should make, having got to the position I was in at trick 7, having cashed the last diamond in dummy.  Of course, all this has taken a great deal of analysis and the knowledge of all four hands, and I still haven't covered all the angles (what if RHO ducks the second diamond, for example?).  How can you possibly work all this out at the table in the time allowed by our ever vigilant director - four of us couldn't anyway, but I guess that's the difference between the experts and we mere mortals.  FINALLY....look what happens if you go for broke and throw a club and a spade on the long diamonds.  If you now play a heart to the nine and LHO takes her AH, you win the spade return in dummy and finesse RHO's QH, cash KH, clearing the hearts, and enjoy two further heart tricks as well as the second club.  One spade, four hearts, three diamonds and two clubs.  TEN TRICKS when, in  real life, we all struggled to make SEVEN.  Fantasy land, of course.

Beating the Commentator

On Board 5 in this week's EBU Sims, the hand commentator correctly predicted the bidding and the opening lead (7H), and suggested the contract would drift one off.  However, she reckoned without an intrepid declarer who had already bid and made a Grand Slam requiring two finesses.  Before looking at the full deal, how would you tackle this contract?

In last week's hand we saw the importance of ducking as a defender to destroy declarer's communications.  This week it was declarer who needed to duck, which he did at trick one.  He played 8H from dummy, covered by 10H and ducked in hand.  North cannot return a Heart (unless he believes partner's lead is a singleton).  Suppose he returns a diamond.  Declarer lets South win this trick with QD, and South naturally plays her second Heart to the 8,J and Ace. Declarer now leads a low spade towards dummy, South splits her honours and the trick is won in dummy by AS.  Declarer now finesses the JD and is then able to discard the losing Heart from dummy.  He now only loses one trick in each suit, whereas the commentator thought he would lose two hearts, which he would have done had  he taken the first heart trick.  At our table, declarer, Simon Richards, worked all this out in a split second and smoothly racked up his nine tricks.  Mind you, three other declarers also made 3S, so, either we are not very good at defending in Bridgend, or our declarers can outdo EBU commentators any day!

John Raymond Transport Cup

Nine teams contested this championship in an excellent spirit on May 3rd., in no way distracted by the bevvy of grandmasters and internationals playing an EBU teams knockout competiton in the corners of the room.  Deserved winners were Eileen Mahoney, Jeff Barnett, Norma Newman and David Newman, though they were pushed hard by Dave Reed and Jim Hume, playing with Vida Halford and Glyn Williams, who bid an excellent 7NT on board 24.  This week's hand, Board 5, is a real nightmare, largely for NS, but it also poses interesting problems for the defence.  Apart from one EW, who bravely bid to 4H on a combined 16 count and only went one off, all the contracts were played by NS and all but one went off.  This suggests that accurate defence should defeat any contract attempted by NS (usually 2 or 3 NT, once 2S) but will it be found?  Firstly, take the East seat and decide what you will lead after the bidding sequence shown.  Suppose you decide on a "safe" JS lead.  Declarer will cash two top spades and switch to a small diamond.  Now take the West hotseat.  What do you play after partner's 10D is covered by dummy's QD?

It is essential to duck the first diamond to sever communications between declarer and dummy. If you take the first diamond, declarer still has a diamond to lead over to dummy and can knock out your JD while still having KH in dummy as an entry to enjoy the long diamonds.  So.... it is difficult to see declarer making his contract on best defence.  Take a look at the whole hand and see the problems faced by declarer on this deal.  Can you see a legitimate way for N/S to make a NT contract?  WELL.......it may be possible to make 1NT by end-playing East at some point, but how do you stop in 1NT with 24 points between you?  I consulted our newest GM, Tony Disley, on this hand and, on the bidding, he feels South should respond 1NT, resisting the temptation to upgrade the hand because of his singleton opposite partner's spades.  He agrees that, at teams, it is now tempting for North, with his 16 points, to invite game, but favours the disciplined approach of passing, allowing declarer to play in the optimum contract of 1NT.  On the play, Tony agrees with the JS lead (phew!) and considers it "automatic" for West to duck the first diamond.  Once West has ducked, declarer has a maximum of 6 tricks on top, but Tony believes another should materialise from the opponents being endplayed at some point.  Even if this doesn't happen, going one off in 1NT should obtain a better result than playing in a higher contract, though the results suggest that the Ace was not withheld from the first diamond trick by many of those playing the West cards. So, a nightmare for declarer, yes, but this hand also shows how difficult finding the best defence is, which can often lessen the pain for declarer, and even, on some occasions, banish all his bad dreams completely!>

April 24th - Leading Questions

Has a Bridge player ever felt sorry for partner?  I did on this week's hand, which was one of 10 out of 24 on which she was on lead during the course of the evening, and on most of which is was fiendishly difficult, if not impossible, to find a safe lead, let alone a killing one.  The experience of being end-played at trick one, or, as in this case, trick 4, can become a little demoralising after three hours!  On this hand partner managed to find a "safe" diamond lead, which ran to declarer's Ace, but it availed her little as she was back on lead after declarer cashed KD and AS before putting her back in with KS.  In the resulting position below you now have a choice of poisons:  ruff and discard on a diamond lead, or present declarer with a trick in hearts or clubs (Partner can have nothing on the bidding).  Before looking at the full hand, which brand of poison do you think is likely to be the least deadly?

As you can see from the full hand,  the club allows declarer to set up the clubs for 12 tricks and a complete top.  The Heart return ensures 11 tricks for declarer, and even the ruff and discard only yields 11 tricks, as now declarer doesn't have enough entries to ruff out the clubs and enjoy them.  So, while conceding a ruff and discard is normally considered bad form, in this case it proves to be relatively harmless - on best play declarer already has 11 tricks in the bag.  Even if you don't find the fatal(for you) club switch, you still score only 3/12 on the board, so all you can do is congratulate declarer on his play and hope you don't get stuck on lead quite so often next week!

Wednesday April 17th.

One of several "interesting" offerings on Wednesday, this hand was played in various contracts over the course of the evening, demonstrating that great minds rarely think alike, perhaps?  Take the North seat after the auction above and decide what you would bid now, if anything, before looking at the answer.

North's first instinct was to bid 6C, but, after some thought he decided that, if partner could set up his hearts, the grand might be on, and he bid it, perhaps rather recklessly in view of the information available, but goaded no doubt by the excellent top scored against them by the opposition on the previous board, they having bid a slam which nobody else was in.  The lead was 10 clubs (leading a trump against a Grand Slam)  and, as you can see from the full deal, it is possible to bring the contract home by establishing the Hearts, but declarer opted to play for an even split in diamonds, which was not forthcoming - one down for a joint bottom.  At another table 7C was doubled after a more scientific auction, but declarer brought it home for a clear top, exclipsing the more sensible 6C bid by another pair.  Six Hearts was one off at another table, but one of the three pairs in the heart game did managed to make 12 tricks.

April Sims

In a week when the Sims on Wednesday threw up any number of extreme challenges, I prefer to highlight a hand from Friday's club night which raises a few interesting issues.  You pick up the following collection: S J6, H K7, D AKQ98764, C 7.  An opportunity to roll out the gambling 3NT?  But wait....it's partner's turn to bid.  He passes and RHO places the 1NT card on the table, so you need a new plan.  You could still gamble on 3NT, but it looks less promising.  Bid some level of diamonds?  BUT ..how about double?  You will surely take the first 8 tricks and, if you watch your partner's signal, can certainly take the first 11 and possible even twelve as the opposition is squeezed to death.  But......is the opposition going to leave 1NT doubled in?  Is partner? (I, ill-advisedly, did take partner's double out and we were the only pair not to make a plus score our way).  Isn't there a case for passing here?  The danger is that you may miss a game (the reason for my taking out the double) but, as it happens, there is no game available as the defence can take the first three tricks in 5D, the first 4 in 4 Spades and the first 5 in 3NT...IF they find the right lead.  In practice, defenders generally didn't find the best line (except against me) and those playing in diamonds made 12 tricks twice and 11 tricks once.  1NT made the regulation 8 tricks our way, but, when it was left in (undoubled) the other way, it only made 5 tricks, not a good result for defence with all those other pairs being allowed to make lots of diamond tricks the other way.  

What do we conclude from all this, apart from the fact that to err is human?  Well, assuming everybody gets everything right, pass, a much underused bid, is the winning option on this hand. If you pass 1NT and make the first 11 tricks, which is possible on correct defence (you'll probably make the first 12 in practice) you will score +250 (1NT minus 5)  which beats the score of 130 you could make by playing in a part score in diamonds.  At the table this didn't happen - in fact there were 6 different contracts the six times this hand was played.  That's pairs for you.

For the full deal, see Board 27 from Friday 12th. April