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Hands of the Week
Hand of the Week [16 March 2020]

The summary of what can be made on each hand shown on the hand records can be misleading about what should be made in practice. It knows the position of all the cards and can drop singleton Kings offside and play unlikely squeezes.  But when you have gone down in a contract after having taken what seemed to be the best line it is still upsetting to find that it can be made – especially when it’s a slam.

East led an unhelpful Diamond [he'd been at the seminar!].

One line might be to lead a Spade from dummy and play the ♠9 if it is not covered, but this relies upon West having ♠KQx(xx) or a doubleton honour, which is a very poor chance.

The only realistic line, although against the odds, seemed to be to play out the top 3 Hearts and hope that the Jack drops, but when this fails there is virtually no hope; it is now too late to try and set up tricks in Spades because there are not the entries.

So North, who tried the “best” line was upset to find out that the analysis shows the contract as makeable, presumably by taking the inferior line.  But after much thought on the following day he realised that it is possible to combine the two lines.

The best play after taking the lead in hand is to cross to HA and play a spade. If covered this permits 3 spade tricks, with sufficient entries to make them.  If the S9 loses to an honour the hearts can still be tried, and the contract makes if the Jack falls. This risks going more down, but that is insignificant as compared with the slam score if it succeeds. The lesson to be learned is that even when you can see the most likely line, it might be possible to also look for another possibility and see if the two can be combined.

Returning to the bidding, North probably should rebid 3♣ and not 2NT.  After the 2NT rebid it is very difficult to find the much superior 6♣ slam.

David Beever

Hand of the Week [9 Mar 2020]

This was a slightly irritating board, for two reasons.

Firstly, having found the best denomination in which to play the hand, we finished up with an indifferent score. It seemed to us that the only way to end up with 12 tricks in no trumps was either by West gifting the 12th trick via a spade lead, declarer taking an unlikely finesse of 10, or West discarding a diamond.

Secondly, how do we bid to the excellent 6? It's fairly straightforward up to the point where South rebids 1NT [15-17 for us]. North now has two choices, either using 2♣ checkback to ascertain whether South has three hearts, or rebidding 3 to better communicate his distribution. I opted for the latter, as this guarantees five hearts but also provides another possible denomination in which to play the hand. When South now bids 3 we now know where we're going. And it's down to me as North to investigate a slam if anybody's going to; South has already described and limited his hand.

So I think the North hand is good enough to bid RKCB over South's 3. The 5 response [0 or 3] makes slam a fair bet, and declarer can take out two rounds of trumps before ruffing the diamonds good with A.

Mea culpa.

Hand of the Week [2 Mar 2020]

I've chosen this hand because the results ranged from 4♠-1 [1 result] through 4♠= [2 results] through 4♠+1 [4 results], all played by North. Four East's found the potentially contract-beating diamond lead, either 9 [3 times] or 10 [once].

I'm interested in this hand because I'm presenting the March seminar on Beating the contract [or similar wording]. 

Starting with the lead, I think the diamond lead stands out. I don't want to lead away from an Ace, leading away from a jack often costs a trick, and leading a trump seems like too passive to succeed given the auction.

Do you lead 10 or 9? Always the nine for me, promising shortage or the ten. If it's shortage, West can see that the defence will take one and only one trick in the suit, otherwise he can duck in the knowledge that there may be two defensive diamond tricks coming if he can get East back in.

Defence is the most difficult part of the game, and as defenders we have to formulate a plan just as we do as declarer. We have information from the auction, and from partner's opening lead, and we add to this is the play unfolds. What we're trying to identify is declarer's [and therefore partner's] point-count, distribution, and tricks taken or available.

As West, we can see the defence has just one one club trick, two possible diamond tricks, no trump tricks [North was showing 5+], and therefore at least one heart trick will be needed. So we duck the diamond lead [there's no point doing anything else], and declarer wins with the Ace. So two diamond tricks are possible as long as East started with three card in the suit. Declarer plays a spade to the Queen, before leading dummy's ♣5. This looks like declarer must have the King, otherwise there will be a high probability of East regaining the lead and firing through a further diamond. If West ducks, declarer will take his King and ruff  any further clubs, so it must be right to rise with the Ace. The problem now is that, having decided that declarer holds ♣K, we know he will discard one of his possible diamond losers once he gets in. If he holds ♣Q as well, both possible diamond losers will disappear.

What do we know now? Declarer has 5+ spades, three diamonds [an assumption, otherwise we don't have the possibility of two defensive tricks in the suit], at least two clubs including the King, so at most three hearts. It's unlikely that declarer has just two clubs, otherwise partner would probably have led his 6-card suit headed by QJ, so now we're down to declarer having at most two hearts. If one of these is the Ace, then declarer has his contract. If declarer doesn't have A, his HCPs are at  most four in spades, four in diamonds, one in hearts, three-plus in clubs, i.e. 12+ in total. With a semi-balanced 12-count including a spade suit containing KJ at best, declarer may well have opened 1NT, so maybe he isn't semi-balanced, i.e. he might have a singleton heart.

All in all, the indications are that West should play East for having A, certainly in teams play, and probably in pairs also [the risk of declarer having ♣KQ being the deciding factor].

Hand of the Week [24 Feb 2020]

What's my excuse for opening this hand with a 4-count? Okay, so I owe partner a point. I'm working my way through a series of Mike Lawrence books at the moment, and one of his tenets is that players who bid are more difficult to compete against than players who are over-cautious. Not that he would advocate opening this North hand - another of his tenets is that partners must be able to trust your bids. But still, we are where we are.

East is immediately presented with a problem. You can hardly pass, the heart suit isn't good enough for a 3-level overcall, so it has to be a double. Over to West. For me [yes, the one who opened with a 4-count], West's 6-count indicates a 2NT [Lebensohl] response, requesting East to rebid 3♣, but in practice West responded 3♣ and East rebid 3. Holding ♠AQ, West converted to 3NT. South decided it was time to enter the fray with a double.

So, what does this double mean? The possibilities are:

  • please lead your suit
  • please do not lead your suit
  • lead dummy's suit.

It seemed hardly likely that partner wanted me to lead my suit after West had bid 3NT, and the usual reason to double opponents' 3NT is to request a lead of dummy's first-bid suit, so out with 7. Having decided that this is what partner wants, which heart to lead. This is a question of partnership understanding, which for me meant a normal MUD lead. The hand's all over now.

Whilst this led to a good result for NS, I can't claim my opening bid was justified, but it does go some way to justifying the general point that getting involved in the bidding, particularly with some form of pre-emptive bid, does make life very difficult for opponents.

Hand of the Week [17 Feb 2020]

I think our opponents felt sorry for the idiots who'd bid to 7♠ on the previous board.

The first two bids were fairly unexceptional, then East has to decide how many clubs to bid. I decided I wanted partner to know what suit he could lead, but I also felt I should be cautious at adverse vulnerability. So, wimp that I am I advanced 2♣. Now South brushes my intervention aside and rebids 3. North's second response was 3, raised to 4 by South. So, where does North go from there?

A hand that opens 1 and rebids 3 is typically showing a 6-card diamond suit and 16+ points. When South then shows four hearts, what conclusions can North draw? There's a slight inference that South has seven diamonds: with six diamonds, four hearts, and a 16+ count, it's quite likely that South would have reversed into 2 for her first rebid. Anyway a fit has been found. Our North now bid 4♠, and South passed! What do we think?

North has taken the trouble to show a second suit and, having been fortunate enough to find a fit, that's where we're going to play; it's just a question of at what level. So 4♠ is a cue-bid from a hand with slam aspirations, and I'd expect South to bid on, probably with 4NT as RKCB. North responds with whatever bid shows three key-cards, and South bids 6.

For me, as North I'd bid 4NT rather than 4♠. I'm interested in the quality of South's heart suit and whether she holds A. Over the 5♠ response, I'm very happy to bid 6.

Hand of the Week [3 Feb 2020]

I don't suppose I'm the only one who scans his/her results post-bridge with a particular focus on those red zeros.

Some of you will remember Ted Martin, a very fine bridge player and Welsh international who played at and for Burnham before tragically succumbing to cancer in his early 50's. His particular wont following a match or other event was to award 'monster points' to team-mates and others who he regarded as having been guilty of significant transgressions [at the bridge table]. Those accumulating the greater number of such points could expect to have to put their hands in their pockets at the bar or restaurant table.

Which brings me to board 16. As East you hear partner open 1 and North overcall 2♣. With an 8-count and four cards in each of the unbid suits, I thought a take-out double was appropriate [we don't play support doubles]. I was slightly surprised to hear South enter the fray with 2♠, but partner hasn't finished yet, and a 3 bid appears on the table. That's enough to silence the rest of us, and it drifts off for the dreaded -200.

Where do your monster points go? Well, wherever they go, I'm writing this piece so I get to say.

I know the tendency in modern bridge is to bid with what I regard as sub-minimum hands, and I can just about stomach the opening bid, even though it's not for me. But to continue to the 3-level vulnerable with such a hand, with both opponents bidding, I think is asking for trouble. And it got it. Although partner was hoping I would be short in clubs for my double, there simply aren't the values to underwrite a 3-level contract vulnerable. Having said all that, I'd have thought North was worth a raise to 3♠, but perhaps he suspected what might be coming!

Hand of the Week [27 Jan 2020]

Last board of the night for us - my excuse for my slightly pushy 3 bid as South.

Once West has passed, East's 3 bid is a fairly wide-ranging pre-empt. Question is: do you come in as South? For me, I knew partner had 5+ spades and that the only way I could indicate some values and where they were was to bid immediately. I'm slightly light for the bid, but partner will take into account that the 3 bid has limited my room for manoeuvre [at least I hoped so!]. Although West did his best to put the pressure on with his 5 bid, North is now in a position to select 5 as the correct bid, preferring a vulnerable game to doubling EW's non-vulnerable sacrifice.

Hand of the Week [20 Jan 2020]

No-one was left out of this moderately wild hand!

For us, North opened a multi 2, I overcalled 3♣  and South bid 3, alerted as prepared to play there if the multi is a weak two in hearts, otherwise a liking for spades. My partner raised to 4♣, North (never one to be shy in the bidding) bid 4♠ and I went on to 5♣. South now bid 5♠ and all passed.

I led my singleton diamond (those who read David Gold’s recent article in English Bridge may recall his mantra – when you have a singleton, lead it!) as opposed to trying to cash a club first (after all, one of my opponents could be void and partner might not get the message if I lead a singleton at trick 2).

Partner wins the diamond cheaply with the 10 and, somewhat bizarrely, returns a diamond for me to ruff with my singleton (and our only) trump. I now cash a club for one-off.

Most pairs achieved the desired result, one way or another, nobody allowing the unbreakable 5♣ to play by EW on their combined 17-count, and all “saving” in 5♠ where appropriate. The two EW pair who failed to bid 5♣ received a large minus score by virtue of allowing 4♠ to play.

Nigel Marlow

At the editor's table we were playing against probably the only NS pair in the room not playing weak twos, so North passed and I opened 1♣. South overcalled 1♠, partner doubled, and North came to life with 4♠. Although it looked like we had a 4-4 heart fit, I felt my club suit was worth a further mention, so I 'sacrificed' in 5♣. South was having none of this and produced 5♠, which was passed out as above.

Partner led ♣3, an 'obvious' singleton so, ignoring South's play of ♣J, I followed ♣K by 'cashing' ♣A. It turns out that partner's ♣3 was a Chisnall-seminar-inspired lead showing values in diamonds. As it happens I'd intended to switch to my singleton diamond anyway once I'd 'cashed' ♣A.

Hand of the Week [13 Jan 2020]

We're featuring a relatively wild hand this week, unless you happen to be sitting East.

The initial focus is on South as dealer. There used to be rules about pre-empting, such as you should expect to go no more than three down if non-vulnerable, no more than two down if vulnerable, but things have moved on. Would you open 3♠ with the South hand? Rules apart, you would like your HCP values to be in your pre-empt suit, partly to ensure the suit's worth a sensible number of tricks, partly because this reduces your hand's defensive value. The amount of aggressiveness you want to display varies according to seat, and you still need to have an eye on vulnerability. In first seat you can afford to be pretty aggressive. In second seat [to quote Michael Lawrence] you don't have as much concern that the hand belongs to the opponents so you don't have to pre-empt unless your hand is classic. Actually Mike Lawrence quotes the South spade suit virtually exactly as being worth a pre-empt non-vulnerable, but not vulnerable.

So for me, I wouldn't rule out pre-empting with the South hand but, if South passes, I would rule out pre-empting 3 with the West hand. But you pays yer money and etc.

At our table, South passed and West bid 3. Now the spotlight's on North. You can't double as that would promise a spade suit. You have a biddable diamond suit, but that would take you above 3NT, and you have what looks like two stops in hearts. So my choice was 3NT, with the option to escape into a minor suit if doubled. Well, I wasn't doubled, but there was no way South was going to stand for 3NT with his 7-card spade suit and a heart void, so 4♠ was the contract we finished up in.

At least we weren't doubled and 4♠ - 1 took us to the right side of 50% on the board. So West's pre-emptive bid has done its job? Actually I think NS may well finish up in the same spot without any help from West, but what do I know?

Hand of the Week [6 Jan 2020]

The likely bidding is as shown [though at editor's table West took his life in his hands and doubled again, EW playing in 3♣, and North mistakenly failing to double].

For us, they are playing strong NT, so South opens 1NT, North transfers into hearts and there they play.

What do you lead as West (1) if the contract is 2♠? (2) if the contract is 2?

  1. Perceived wisdom is that you don’t lead a singleton trump against this type of auction, as you will often pick up partner’s honour card(s) for declarer. Yet leads away from Aces or Kings are also generally not advisable. Here, the only real winning lead is a heart, anything else and declarer should make at least 9 tricks with careful play.
  2. For us, defending 2, partner led the 2, not a bad start. Declarer won in dummy and played a small spade, winning in hand, then played a heart towards dummy, West ducking (correctly). Now the ♠J was played, East refusing to cover, and West ruffs. What now – you are similarly end-played as in (1) above. In fact, the only real winning line now for the defence is for West to play the Q, setting up diamond winners whilst retaining the A to keep control. Anything else and declarer has an easy ride; unfortunately this not-so-easy defence was not found at our table and declarer ended up making 10 tricks for a poor score for us.

They say defence is the hardest part of the game and hands such as this prove it – a wide variety of results on this board!

Nigel Marlow

Hand of the Week [30 Dec 2019]

A couple of interesting points on this hand.

East has to decide how to handle his/her 2-suiter, whether to open the strong, 6-card diamond suit and risk losing a heart fit, or to open 1 planning to rebid diamonds. At our table, East opened 1 and hearts never got a mention. Not to worry: 3NT is the optimum contract - providing declarer makes an overtrick.

3NT was declared three times by West, each time with the obvious opening lead of ♣6. South can't be sure whether the lead is from a doubleton or MUD, but must retain the Ace as a subsequent entry [playing ♣A immediately allows West to hold up ♣K to the third round]. West wins ♣K, and clearly has to bring the diamond suit in without the defence getting back in. Finesse or play to drop the queen in two rounds?

If declarer takes the view that he/she needs to make an overtrick to achieve a good score, perhaps it's better to cash one top diamond before returning to hand via a spade finesse? Although this would pick up a singleton diamond in the South hand, the diamond suit wouldn't be coming in anyway, so all we're doing is postponing the awful moment of decision.

Short of employing the well-known technique of a mirror on a long stick, with South holding at least five clubs, there's more space for Q to be in the North hand than with South, so declarer has no reason not to take the finesse. And be doomed!

Going back to East's original decision, I plump for opening 1. Yer pays yer money and takes yer choice. 

Hand of the Week [23 Dec 2019]

The bidding was as I recollect at our table - I've forgotten whether North made a contribution.

It's interesting in that EW can make 6, although no-one found this slam.

Once NS get as far as 4♠, it seemed to me as East that we would be taking whatever tricks were available outside of the spade suit and, vulnerability being as it was, this would probably yield a better score than would be available in any game contract. West saw no reason to disturb this as it could be that East had a useful spade holding. So there things rested.

Hand of the Week [16 Dec 2019]

One of our poorer boards from last night - though there were a couple of other contenders!

Our opponents found their way to a poor slam via the bidding sequence given. The opening bid and 2 response are likely to have been replicated at all tables. What do we think about West's rebid? Would 3 have been forcing? Does 4 deny an interest in proceeding further?

As is apparent, the best defence is to get off to a club lead, establishing a trick in the suit before declarer can get the spades going. Alternatively, the defence has a good chance of collecting a heart trick to go with ♠A. In practice, South kicks off with a small heart, and declarer's now got a chance of bringing in the suit for no losers and establishing the spade suit before the defence can attack clubs. Ah well, it's Christmas!

Hand of the Week [9 Dec 2019]

With 5-5 in the majors and a void in clubs, North must think there's a good chance for game with both opponents having passed. So 1♠ was presumably the opening bid at all tables, with North expecting to rebid in hearts over any responsive bid from partner. But 2 was certainly not the response he/she expected, and it's time to think again. Game is no longer simply 'a good chance', and it's all about exploring the slam possibility.

At our table the bidding was as shown: North elected to splinter in clubs and South quite reasonably decided that his values didn't merit going beyond 4. Partner and I [we were EW] had a brief discussion as to how we would have bid the hands, and thought that North was worth a further try over 4, probably via 5. The difficulty here is that South has shown 10-11 points with five hearts, and his/her only other values are in partner's splinter-suit, so is unlikely to do anything other than bid 5.

So how could North proceed:

  • punting 6, on the grounds that it will be impossible to get across how good a fit he/she has, and any non-diamond lead should make slam odds-on.
  • rebidding 4♣ as a splinter and then 5♣ over South's 4 'sign-off' to show definite slam interest with a void in clubs.
  • rebidding 4♣ as a splinter and then 5 over 4. But what can South do now? He/she won't know about the club void or the 5-5 heart fit, and any bid other than 5 commits NS to a slam.
  • rebidding 4NT over South's 2 response in an attempt to ascertain where South's 10-11 points are located. In this particular case this will elicit the information that South holds K but not Q, and also ♣A. So a further 3-4 points somewhere. If those 3-4 points include a king, 6 should be cold. If not the slam should depend on a successful spade finesse at worst.

So my take is that the slam decision will be North's, and that using a splinter rebid is simply providing information to opponents without having any realistic chance of South doing other than to rebid 4. Going via 4NT at least has the benefit of extracting information, and may provide the ammunition to justify the punt to 6, which will surely follow!.

Hand of the Week [2 Dec 2019]

There were one or two candidates for this week's featured hand, including one that achieved a 'save' of 1100 against opponents' possible, non-vulnerable 3NT.

But the hand I've picked is the unlucky-for-some board 13. As is often the case it's the part-score battles where judgement and interest are to be found.

I've given the bidding at our table. For me the East hand is not worth an opening bid second in hand, irrespective of vulnerability. In this case, the diamond bid assists NS in quickly establishing their heart fit, though I think it would come to light even if East passes [P P 1 P 1♠ P 2♣ P 2]. EW would probably come in rather than let 2 play, but NS will be prepared to compete to 3.

With the bidding at our table, what should West bid? 2 is promising a good raise in diamonds, but the high-card points outside are relatively 'soft'. The other option is a direct raise to 3 - close decision but I think the one I'd go for in view of the soft values and relatively balanced shape outside the trump suit.

Once EW have landed in 4, the other aspect of the part-score battle comes into play, namely accurate defence, which should take the contract two off but, as the traveller shows, two pairs did better than that, actually making ten tricks in one case.

The net result of 4 -2 yielded the much-sought-after score of 200 in the part-score scenario.

Hand of the Week [18 Nov 2019]

I imagine the auction was similar to ours at most tables, with the possible exception of North's double. At our table, this was alerted as being for take-out. At one table, 2♠* was allowed to play, a dangerous decision in teams, and South quite reasonably chose to rebid 2NT, giving North a relatively straightforward raise to 3NT.

At all 3NT tables, West kicked off with a spade honour, and now battle commences.

South can see there's going to be a struggle to arrive at nine tricks, but the defence is going to have to be on its toes to stop this happening. Where to look for these nine tricks? Four clubs for sure, two hearts by force, two spades by force once the queen and ten have been conceded, and the chance of an eventual diamond. Our declarer took ♠A at trick 1, led a small club to dummy, and returned a small heart, ducked by East and won with J in hand. Now declarer led a small spade, taken by West's ten. Crunch time.

From West's point of view, South can't hold ♣A and K, else she will have nine top tricks and nothing in diamonds, so there'll be no messing around in spades.

With K and A, declarer will establish her three club tricks to go with four hearts and two aces.

With A and ♣A, declarer would have started with 14 HCP, which is not impossible, but seems inconsistent with the 2NT rebid. And this would put East with K and Q. But the odds are on South scrambling to nine tricks.

With ♣A and neither K nor A, South must hold Q to make up an initial 12 HCP.

So, West has to assume that K is with East. Probably 10 as well as declarer hasn't sought to establish a third heart trick. There's no urgency in cashing ♠Q, as West has a further entry with K. All in all, the stand-out lead after taking ♠10 is a heart.

Well done declarer, you put us to the test, and we failed!

Hand of the Week [25 Nov 2019]

We were fortunate to be on the receiving end of our opponents' mis-bidding on this hand: the bidding at our table is as shown.

Probably most of us use the Jacoby 2NT response to an opening 1-major bid to show a game-forcing hand with support for the suit opened. Opener can rebid four of the original suit to show a relatively minimal opening hand with no interest in going beyond game.

I say 'mis-bidding' firstly because the 2NT bid is defined as showing a relatively balanced hand with no singleton or void - we have splinter bids for that. If East responds 4♣, West is in a much better position to judge that the hands are not fitting particularly well, and will certainly not now overbid her response.

More generally, it's important that partnerships' agreements on bidding systems and conventions are built on a sound and referable base. For the Jacoby 2NT, pairs need a joint understanding of why the convention exists, when to use it and when not. Looking at the Burnham System Card on the website, the HTML version has a number of topics underlined, Jacoby being one. Clicking on an underlined topic provides access to a detailed explanation, and sometimes allows the browser to drill down even further. In the Jacoby explanation, there is a further underlined hyperlink leading to an article in English Bridge by David Bakhshi. You may not want to play the convention his way, in which case you can replace his version with your own. What is important is that you and your partner are singing from the same hymn-sheet, to which you can refer when things go wrong.

Hand of the Week [11 Nov 2019]

Breaking the Law

Board 14 does not seem to be a very exciting hand, but it is likely to be a  typical part-score battle.

The bidding at one table was as above. At another table, East came in with a skimpy double over 2, and EW were allowed to play in 3♠, going one-off.

Unluckily for NS, East had been reading a book by Larry Cohen the arch-prophet of “The Law of Total Tricks”.  This states that the total number of tricks available to the two sides playing in their respective longest trump suits is equal to the total number of trumps held by the two sides.

So East did a quick calculation:  it was virtually certain that EW had 8 spades and probable that NS had 9, or possibly 10 diamonds.  So the total number of tricks available in their best suits was 16 or 17.  In other words, if EW could make 3♠ NS could make 1/2 and if EW were going one down, NS could still only make 2/3.

North had “broken the Law” by going a level higher than his sides trump total.

So East did what Mr Cohen instructs, and doubled, not without misgivings.  He was very relieved when North had to lose 4 tricks after a heart lead.

So, was the double a great triumph?  Not really, as at the three tables where EW had pressed on to 3♠ they were allowed to play there [results =, -1, -2: it needs more than Mr Cohen's Law to explain this disparity!]. 4x -1 doesn't hugely improves EW's score compared to 4 -1, but at least it should have the benefit of getting West to pull out a Pass card.

David Beever

Hand of the Week [4 Nov 2019]

What do you open as East [if anything]?

If your non-vulnerable weak two bids are in the 5-9 range that would seem to rule out 2. But for me, with such a poor-quality suit, 2 seemed the most practical bid. If partner's holding the spades, I don't want to be fighting him for where to play; if opponents have the spades I'd like to get my pre-emptive bid on the table. As in many situations, we have to find a bid for the hand rather than the other way round.

My 2 was followed by two passes, and North in the protective position came in with 2♠. After two passes, West doubled: what does this mean? The general rule is that a double following partner's pre-emptive bid is for penalties, although I'm not sure my partner and I saw things completely eye-to-eye on this point. Anyway, I passed, and after a lead of A and accurate defence, 2♠* was two-off for 500.


  • find the best bid for the hand rather than sticking rigidly to a system
  • make sure you're on the same wavelength as your partner with doubles following pre-empts
  • don't be over-concerned about doubling low-level contracts in match-pointed pairs, especially when at favourable vulnerability.
Hand of the Week [28 Oct 2019]

This is ironic in that the West hand is ideal to investigate a slam using the Minorwood bid of 4♣. Ironic in that the only pair to find 6♣ was partner and I and we weren't playing Minorwood! Partner responded 3♣ to my opening 1NT, and I rebid 3NT on account of my lack of first-round controls. Not to be put off, partner now found 4NT so, with three clubs including the King, two other Kings, and a potential source of tricks in diamonds, I decided to bite the bullet and respond 6♣.

The problem is that by looking for a club slam in this way, we bypass the potential match-point-winning 3NT contract, right? Wrong! As you'll know if you came along to our Minorwood seminar in March 2011 [Graham]. The Minorwood system allows for the slam-investigating player to sign off in no trumps, usually at the 4-level.

If you would like a copy of the Minorwood Powerpoint presentation, in one form or another, please contact Graham or Nigel.

Hand of the Week [21 Oct 2019]

For a hand with relatively little “swing” last night, this board is of interest in bidding and defence. I suspect for most, the bidding went 1♣  from South, pass (1♠  vulnerable from West seems a little over-aggressive at teams), 1  from North, pass, 2♣  from South, all pass. But North might have judged to bid 2NT over 2♣  playing teams, which South will surely raise to 3NT after a “maximum” weak rebid of 2♣ .

What should East lead against 3NT by North? If he follows the principle of “4th highest of your longest and strongest” and leads a diamond, he will be sadly disappointed, for there is no defence. North will let the lead run to his J and that will yield at least 5 clubs, 3 diamonds and 2 Aces for an overtrick.

If East finds a magical spade lead, normally choosing the ♠4, as actually happened at one table, West plays the ♠9 if Dummy plays low, which North ducks. A simple spade continuation by West, playing a small card to East’s ♠Q, also ducked by North, is not enough. All East can do is play another spade but North can now prevail with the diamond finesse, 5 clubs and 2 Aces for 9 tricks.

West, when allowed to win the first trick with the ♠9, must then have the foresight to play the ♠K, holding the trick, to play – not a 3rd round of spades, but a counter-intuitive diamond at trick 3! East covers whatever card North plays and South wins the Q. Declarer tackles clubs, East winning with the ♣A over North’s ♣K, then must lead the J. Declarer probably plays low, West wins the K and exits with either red suit, forcing dummy to win the trick. Poor North never gets back into his own hand to make the stranded ♠A and the contract fails by one trick.

Congratulations would be in order to any E/W pair who found this defence. No wonder it is said that defence is the hardest part of the game and also that 3NT is the contract most frequently mis-defended.

Nigel Marlow

Hand of the Week [14 Oct 2019]

Harping back to the October seminar, this is a North hand you would like to open 1NT if playing a weak no trump. Even if 1♠ only promises a 4-card suit, this is not a suit you would want to rebid.

Having said that, an opening 1NT by North is going to be doubled, and one would expect a rescue into 2 by South will suffer the same fate, for an EW top [give or take the odd 800 being thrown into the mix!].

Anyway, at our table North opened 1♠, East overcalled 1NT, and there things rested. South led ♠A, perhaps a little dangerous with East having promised spade cover, and East is now able to set about hearts. With 10 coming down, the defence is now restricted to taking its three aces.

2 is the most successful lead, although a heart lead to the Ace followed by a diamond switch will similarly hold declarer to 8 tricks.

Hand of the Week [7 Oct 2019]

The topic for last night's seminar was Opening 1NT with a 5-Card Major, and this hand was an example.

There is an argument for opening 1♠ opposite a passed hand, but a suit headed by AJ is not one which opener would be comfortable rebidding. Another consideration is that, with a 3-card heart suit, West is perfectly content with being transferred into 2, should the situation arise.

Once we've opened 1NT, partner is in the driving seat for the remainder of the auction: all we need to do is to respond appropriately to any bids partner makes.

At our table, West opened 1NT, East bid 2NT [strength enquiry or transfer to a minor], West rebid 2NT [minimum], and East ended proceedings with 3♣. The hands fit together very well, diamonds break 3-3, and ten tricks roll in.

If on the other hand West opens 1♠, one would expect East to respond 1NT and play there, scraping 7 tricks or being allowed to make an overtrick. West has no reason to disturb 1NT, and a 2♠ contract gets its just desserts.

Hand of the Week [30 Sep 2019]

This is an interesting hand from several points of view: bidding, declarer play, defence. Assuming East opens 1 [adding a bit of interest to South's meagre collection], how should West respond? If a 2-level response requires 10 points, the only option is 1♠. East may choose to forge directly to 3NT, although 2NT [typically showing 18-19 HCP] would leave things open for West to show a 5-card spade suit. In practice, West only has four spades so we're going to finish up in 3NT anyway.

EW have a combined count of 29 yet because of the diamond blockage there is no immediate entry to dummy. A club lead would be helpful but on any other lead declarer will cash AK, but how to  get to the three winning diamonds in dummy?. As ♣AJ  are sitting over dummy there is no entry in that suit, provided that the defence ducks ♣K, which they will. So declarer tries a heart which East must win. but is now endplayed. If South has led his/her singleton spade at the outset, the enforced heart return will give declarer a third heart trick and the opportunity to endplay North in spades. Otherwise a spade return now will enable declarer to win ♠Q then give North three club tricks, after which he/she will be forced to lead away from the ♠K. All very difficult, as evidenced by the fact that three of the five declarers playing in 3NT failed in their contract, despite the hand analysis indicating that 10 tricks can be made.

What do you choose as your opening lead as South? Two chose the singleton spade [3NT-1 in both cases], two chose 8 [3NT+2, 3NT-2], one chose ♣6 [3NT=]. In the latter case, North mistakenly contributed ♣J: ♣6 is obviously from a poor suit, so playing the Jack gives declarer the opportunity to fashion a definite entry to dummy.

Some people maintain that bridge is an easy game!

Steve Gore

Hand of the Week 23 Sep 2019

The auction on board 19 will depend on whether North/South are playing weak or strong NT and if outside their NT range whether a spade opening shows at least a 5-card suit. I am surprised that more than half the field played in 3NT when North has a fine 6-card heart suit. The best way to handle the heart combination for 5 tricks is to take two finesses, which works here. If West leads ♣K then declarer will be held to 11 tricks, but that will not be easy if South has opened 1♣. On any other lead South should make 12 tricks if two heart finesses are taken and it is strange that two declarers only made 11 tricks on a neutral diamond lead.

If North/South are playing a strong NT then South might open 1♣ or 1♠. I would normally recommend opening the lower suit with only 4 cards in each, which is best to ensure that no fit is missed, but here the spade suit is so good that at pairs there is a strong case for opening 1♠ provided it only guarantees 4 cards.

If the 4 contract is reached then most pairs will make 12 tricks. A fine defence is needed to hold declarer to 11 tricks. A club must be led (not easy to find if North is declarer). Declarer rises with the Ace and 2 clubs are discarded on the 3 top spades. Declarer takes a losing heart finesse and the spotlight falls on East. He must play a fourth spade which West ruffs with the heart Q to promote a second defensive trick for 9.

Dick Davey

Hand of the Week [16 Sep 2019]
A wide variety of conventional bids is available for use by regular partnerships, but it is of course essential that both players are using the same ones, to avoid what can be disastrous results.
Board 31 provided a good example of how conventions can lead to a good result, which would otherwise be missed.
At one table the bidding was as shown, with the 3♠ response being alerted.
After a couple of rounds of bidding, with lots of thought, it seemed probable that something was going wrong, but no-one including the perpetrators was quite sure what!
South, on lead, was fairly confident that the opponents had reached the wrong contract.  He would obviously make the ♣A and, as opponents clearly had no real fit, it seemd best to lead a trump to cut down possible ruffs in dummy.

Declarer took this in hand, played A, K, led a small trump to dummy's Q, ruffed a heart back to hand, and drew the remaining trumps. He now played ♠K, finessed ♠J, and when spades broke 3-3 made all 13 tricks as South had discarded a heart in order to hang on to his ♠Qxx.
Surprisingly enough every other table was in 3NT+2.
And the bidding?  This was accounted for by the fact that West thought that 3♠ showed 5 spades and 4 hearts whereas East thought it showed the minors.
North was not too pleased that South had not made the obvious lead of CA!
[Incidentally, if 3♠ does show the minors, opener rebids 3NT with no minor-suit interest, otherwise 4-minor is RKCB in the suit bid. A 4♠ response to 4 would show zero or three key cards, and leave declarer somewhat perplexed. Opener took responder's subsequent 5♠ bid as possibly showing a spade void.
As always when the wheels have come off, declarer has to make the best of a bad job. The only chance is that spades break 3-3 with the Queen on-side, and that was the position.]
Hand of the Week [9 Sep 2019]

Our last board of the night and without doubt our worst.

East as dealer passed and South opened 1. West passed and North responded 1♠. South made a game-forcing jump rebid of 3♣, which North converted [or so he thought] to 3NT.

South now unconverted to 4♣. Question is what is this? The possibilities are:

  • South has doubts about 3NT making, and wants to play in five of a minor
  • South thinks 3NT may well make but thinks five of a minor will yield a better score
  • South thinks 3NT may well make, but is certain six of a minor will yield a better score
  • South intends 4♣ as RKCB in clubs.

Well, our North [my good self] took 4♣ as RKCB and responded 4 to show one key card. Our South, who had intended his bid as a request for suit preference between the minor suits, took 4 as suit preference for diamonds, and punted 6. So what do we think of all this? Partner and I have a general understanding that removing 3NT to four of a minor is RKCB, but this is normally where that minor has been agreed.

My own view is that if partner thinks we should be playing in five of a minor for whichever reason, the most unambiguous route is to unconvert 3NT to 5♣ for pass or correct to diamonds.Whereas if he is hell-bent on playing in a slam, he could similarly unconvert 3NT to 6♣.

Finally, having wound up in 6 what's the best line? This is all about playing the diamond suit for just one loser. How do you set about this, missing KJ10xx? You're in dummy after the opening heart lead, so you embark on trumps. What are the possibilities?

  • diamonds break 3-2 with the King on-side - no problem, finesse the Queen and claim
  • diamonds break 3-2 with the King off-side - your Queen loses to the King and you're down unless J10 doubleton is on-side
  • diamonds break 4-1 with the King on-side - finesse the Queen
    • if the off-side singleton is the Jack or the ten you rely on the principle of restricted choice to play for K10 being on-side
  • diamonds break 4-1 with the stiff King off-side - play the Ace on the first round and hastily hide the mirror on the long stick you were using
  • playing the Ace on the first round also scores if the King is in a doubleton either side and you play low on the second round
  • if diamonds are 4-1 with a singleton J or ten off-side, playing the Ace at trick one leaves you without recourse.

I'll leave you to work out which course of action has the best chance of success.


Hand of the Week: [2nd Sep 2019]

Hand 2 from last night was a good example from the seminar given on Monday [Responding to partner's overcall].

East will open 1♣ and South would overcall 1♠. West may well bid 2. Now North can bid 2 IF you play non -forcing responses to overcalls, as advocated in the seminar.
Without that understanding North cannot really bid.

Now East has to decide what to do over 2.

3♣ or maybe 2NT: either bid will be passed out. At our table East passed and we played in 2 going one-off.

A couple of points to note:

  • if South, unsure as to whether partner's 2 is forcing, raises to 3, this converts a 79% board to a 14% board - an indication that agreement as to whether responses to overcalls are forcing or not is vital.
  • if West raises 2NT to 3NT on the grounds that there may be 9 tricks to be made, he/she is demonstrating sloppy thinking in a match-pointed event. 3NT making, as it might, certainly gives EW a complete top, but 3NT-1 is an absolute bottom. If 9 tricks are making in no trumps, 2NT+ 1 is already a 71% board for EW.


Hand of the Week [26 Aug 2019]

It's interesting that when looking for a hand from Monday evening to feature in Hand of the Week, many hands raise some point worthy of dicscussion.

Hand 19 raises one or two interesting points.

Firstly, when you pick up a 12-14 hand [assuming you're playing a weak no trump] containing a 5-card major, otherwise balanced, do you open the major or 1NT? If you always give the same answer whatever, this is an easy decision for you. If not, what criteria do you employ in coming to your decision? Perhaps this should be a seminar topic.

Anyway, let's assume that with the South hand you open 1NT. The spotlight switches to West. Do you have methods to get involved here? Many Burnham players use the Modified Landy system, where a 2 overcall shows a 4-card major and a longer minor, but let's assume that vulnerability keeps West quiet for the moment at least.

Moving on to North, some players [and today's author is one such] always respond 2♣ on any hand containing two 4-card majors. Had opener rebid 2, on this hand responder now bids 2, typically showing a weak hand with 5/4 in hearts/spades respectively. Assuming opener is on the same wavelength as responder, he/she will pass except holding two hearts and three spades, in which case he/she will convert to 2♠, just in case partner's major-suit holdings were 4-4.

At our table last night, North responded 2♣, East passed, South rebid 2 , and this was passed round to East, who now came in with 3. South decided his 5-card heart suit was worth a further contribution, and West decided quite reasonably to remain silent no longer, and trotted out 4♦.

This is where matters rested for us, but the final point is, should NS have taken further action? If 4 is making and NS judge that this is going to yield very few matchpoints for them, they have little or nothing to lose and should bid 4. If they don't think 4 is making, they should double their vulnerable opponents. Bear in mind that if 4* makes and 4 making would have been a poor score anyway, the double is unlikely to have cost much.

In practice, a NS heart contract plays very well, but that's just luck of the draw. My point is that NS should take some action over 4.

Hand of the Week [19 Aug 2019]

This is board 26 from last night's teams. Five pairs languished in 4♠ [including partner and myself], two were in 6♠, one in 6NT. Every declarer made 12 tricks.

Question is how to bid and should you be in a slam?

At our table, East opened 1♠ and West responded 2NT [game-forcing Jacoby]. Spotlight on East who has the crucial decision as to whether he/she regards his/her hand as minimal [rebids 4♠] or better-than-minimum [for us we'd rebid 3♣ to show a reasonable-quality second suit of at least four cards]. This East took the wimp approach, largely based on the stiff K.

West has an awkward initial response: even though our opening spade bid shows at lease five, the Jacoby response should still show at least 4-card support. But what else can West respond? The only 4-card suit is hearts, but 2 would promise at least five. Maybe West can respond with a temporising  2-minor bid, knowing that he/she can convert to spades if opener gets too excited.

I was favoured with a heart lead, which helped not one jot if your goal was 12 tricks. Once the spade suit has behaved itself, it's fairly clear from the outset that squirm as one might the point will come where declarer has to lead a club from dummy towards K10. As it happens both ♣A and ♣Q are with North, leaving even this declarer no opportunity to fail to make 12 tricks.

Did I make the wrong decision with my initial rebid? Well, if I'd employed the mirror-on-the-long-stick technique to tell me that the missing club honours were favourably placed and the trumps were behaving, I'd have taken a different view. But having left my m-o-t-l-s at home, I'm not castigating myself: for a slam to be worthwhile in teams it has to be at least a 50% chance, and this was less than that, so I'm prepared to take it on the chin.