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County Leagues


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22 Dec 20 : latest newsletter (by Garry Watson) - Dec 2020  and the answers to the quiz are now available.

08 Dec 20 : minutes of the December committee meeting (our seventh online meeting)

09 Oct 20 : summary of the outcomes from the August survey is published.

11 Aug 20 : notes from meeting of club representatives : 02 Aug 2020

20 May 20 : Financial Report and Accounts for the year ending March 2020

05 Nov 19 : Selection Guidelines of the REC published (see Representative Events tab)

23 May 19 : minutes of the 2019 AGM have published.

Hand of the Day

It will resume on the first Thursday after face to face play resumes.  We couldn't wait that long - we have a full programme of games,  so it's back


To save space and make reading easier, we will put the option for feedback here at the front, rather than embed it in each article.

When you do feed back, please be clear to which items you are referring.

HotD-fri : County League 6 : 18jan21 : B8

It was interesting to look at the opening calls by West on this hand from Monday. There were three choices of opener - one opened 2♠ (rather specialist showing 5♠+another and 8-13 hcp) but the rest were divided between pass and opening 1♠.

Opening with a 10-count is not without dangers, but the plus factors for this choice are that it is first in hand (ie not after a passed opponent, increasing the chance that they own the hand) and that the suits are in a very convenient order to bid. The downside of passing is that you might never get a chance to bid, and in practice this only hapened at two tables, where West passed and over North's 1♣ opener, South showed spades.

What were the outcomes?   There is game there for East-West and nothing for North-South to make; exactly half the field got to game (or equivalent penalty) and half didn't.  All six of the Wests who opened reached game level, and only one of those who didn't managed it.

Game is not certain to make but with a sure club, diamond and spade to lose - there is no choice but for declarer to take the heart finesse, and with North bidding and showing up with a void spade the odds on its success are quite high.

Hotd-thu : League 6 : 18jan21 : B14

This was another hand from Monday where it was open to a pair to win the hand in the bidding. It mostly came down to East's choice at this point.  What would you bid?

The winning answer was found at three tables - they bid 3N.  Despite the low point count, 3N is a very respectable contract, being certain if the opponents fail to attack diamonds, and still have a decent chance if they do.  In practice declarer could be induced to go off, but the ♠QJ92 proved too appealing to South and that was either the opening lead or the trick two switch.

What does a 3N bid mean in this position?  With a balanced hand, many different contracts could end up as the right answer, and a 3N bid leaves no room to check that out.  For this reason, we don't want to use it that way, and so organise that a 1N rebid here shows 15-17 (or 11-14 if you are playing a strong NT) and that means  2N covers 18-19 and with more than that you open 2N.  So there is no need for a balanced hand to bid 3N, and it is therefore agreed by most tournament players to show a long good suit and some stoppers outside. An ideal description of this hand. It also means that West has no inclination to return to playing in hearts.

Nearly everyone else bid 3♣ at this point, and of those who did only one managed to move on to 3N.



HotD-wed : League 6 : 18jan21 : B20

As often the slam hands produced big swings on Monday but there was only one real slam hand and it was this.  The slam bid by two pairs on B22 was distinctly poor (27%) but this time the cards were lying favourably and it came home, and there was a system mis-understanding which led to the slam off two aces on B23.  Back to this - it was actually a flat board in two matches, one flat in 4+3, and the other flat in 7=.  What should have happened?

The auction on diaplay was a common start (6 times) equal with three passes around to South's 1 opener.   The two exception were one player who opened 3♣ (and might well count -800 when doubled as a success) and the case where East responded freely to the 1♣ opener.   How did these choices fare?

  • Letting South open the bidding resulted in two opponents playing game, three playing a small slam, and one playing a grand slam.
  • Opening 1♣ and passing round to South resulted in one instance of game for North-South, one small slam and four grand slams.
  • Opening 1♣ and a response from East resulted in one instance of game.

Before working out if there is a message in this we need to check what contract we'd like to be in. Yes, the grand slam makes but it depends on roughly  {hearts 2-2 and diamonds 3-3/4-2}  or  {hearts 3-1 and diamonds 3-3}   and when you add this up it comes to about 52% so it is a playable contract but not good enough odds to bid a grand slam when there is a serious chance (even in Division One) that your opposition stop in game.  So the contract of choice is 6.  The best performance therefore as North-South came from the case where East-West let the other side open the bidding, and the worst performance for North-South came from the (admittedly solitary) case where both West and East bid before South had a chance.

There's the message!

How do you Defend?

Partner leads the ♠J against 3NT. You win the Ace and declarer drops the 9. How do you defend?

Think about the bidding and play to trick 1. South's most likley shape is 3154 and his spade holding looks like KQ9. Partner will surely hold a minor suit winner else you have no chance. You should play partner for the J and switch to the T at trick 2. When West comes in he can then push through the J and you collect 5 tricks. Some of you might return a spade at trick 2, playing partner for ♠ KJT in which case you can take 4 spades and a heart to beat the contract. Well that is a possibility I suppose. This is an area where one's lead style needs to be examined. A good method is to play that the lead of a jack denies a higher honour in the suit - and this makes the defence on this hand absolutely clear. From an interior sequence like KJT, AJT, those players lead the ten - systemically the lead of a ten against NT sows either no or 2 higher honours. This method is known as strong tens and makes it clear to partner what your holding is. The knock on effect of playing strong tens is the problem of what to lead from QT9(xx) - you can't lead the ten as you only have 1 higher honour. The solution is to lead the 9 and play that 9 leads also show zero or 2 higher cards (i.e an interior sequence). I call this strong nines. It is a method that makes it easy to identify partners exact holding.

Subtle Play

West leads the 4. You duck to East's King and the 3 is returned. How do you plan the play?

On the bidding, it looks like West will hold virtually all of the missing high cards, including the Q. From the bidding and carding so far, you can assume that hearts break 4-4. Thus you win the A, cross to a club and run the T. When this holds, you play the A and run the clubs. If the endgame West will be down to ♠AK  QJ  Qx and have no good discard on the last club. When he throws a major suit card, he is thrown in to ultimately lead a diamond round to your KJ. A simple endplay you might think, but West could have thwarted you by unblocking a heart honour at trick 2 and then discarding the other heart honour in the projected endgame. This would have allowed him access to his partners hand via the heart suit. So is this really a defensive problem? - Not if you play correctly. On the first 2 rounds of hearts, you should have followed with the 5 and 7, concealing the 2. Now it will look to West that partner may have started with K32 and unblocking a heart honour would merely give you a heart trick by force. Concealing the 2 is a subtle falsecard of the sort that good players make all the time. You don't necessarily have to work out exactly what might happen on a hand if you play confusing cards as declarer - just be aware that always playing your cards in a traditional fashion can make it easier for the defence to reconstruct your hand.

Assess The Risks

West starts with the K and continues with a second round to East's Ace. What are the dangers?

You have masses of tricks on this hand but lack an important card - the Ace of trumps. This gives the defence control of that suit. Suppose you ruff the diamond and play a trump: If hearts are 4-2 which is with the odds, the defence will hold up their Ace on the first round and then be able to force you in diamonds. The solution to not being forced is to not ruff trick 2 but to discard one of your winners. The defence cannot continue diamonds as you can ruff in the short trump hand. This play carries a small risk.The defence may be able to switch to a black suit and obtain a ruff in that suit if it breaks 4-1 and the A is with the long holding but I would assess this risk as much less than that of a 4-2 trump break.

What Next?

West leads the ♣2 and dummy's Queen holds the trick. What now?

You expect the clubs to break 4-4 from the looks of the opening lead. The red suits need to furnish 5 tricks and they can easily do this but only if you play the suits in the right order. Suppose you start on diamonds and the defence duck 2 rounds. Now if East holds the A he may be able to deny you an entry to dummy to cash the diamonds. However, if you play on hearts first, the defence can never deny you a diamond entry, so you will make 3 hearts and 2 diamonds whilst the defence can only get 2 red aces and 2 clubs.

HotD-fri : Pairs League 2.1 Div3 : 11jan21 : B15

This hand from Monday was a good candidate for planning but nobody managed to find the winning path.  The contract needs some luck, but you can identify what that luck needs to be. It is inevitable that you lose a club, a diamond and a spade.  Your missiion is to avoid losing a second spade or a heart.  How should you proceed?

The defence start off with the ♣Q which you win.  You play a diamond to give you an entry to dummy, and they play a second club, North following with the jack.  Now  is time for a plan for the remainder of the hand .....

Let's do the trump suit first. The best play to avoid a loser is to lead small to the queen, and you will need one entry (a diamond ruff) to dummy to do that.  Easy.

Now the spade suit.  One option is that a spade might be discarded on the fourth round of clubs. The other is that you make two spade tricks by force; on a random layout; there's almost a 40% chance of doing that if you know the right sequence of plays. This is one to learn and remember - best is to lead the ten and run it unless covered; the next round is again led from dummy but finessing the ♠8 is your best choice now if the ten had been covered earlier. Leading small initially to the ♠8 is not far behind (losing 2%).  To play the spades this way you need two entries to dummy.

That comes to three dummy entries, and you can see two diamond ruffs as candidates and the third will have to come from leading a trump to dummy at some point.

The sequence is therefore dictated by these requirement : ruff a diamond and play to the Q and then cash the A. Now you must test the clubs by playing the third round - that fails and you ruff the fourth club. Now comes - ruff your last diamond and play ♠T (covered by the queen and ace) and then back to dummy by a heart to the ten to lead a second spade. and the eight forces the king.

The cards are lying exaclty as you want them to be, and you wrap up 10 tricks.  Neat!

HotD-thu : Pairs League 2.1 : 11jan21 : B10

This was a tricky play hand from Monday, with only 5 out of 9 declarers successful in their 4♠ contract.  The defence in all cases started off with two top hearts but the key question is what came next?

All three suits were played with four Souths switching to the ♣5, three playing the 5, leaving one to lead the  8 and one led a spade.

Now let's consider this from East's perspective. There are eight top tricks and two more are needed from the clubs and diamonds, and there are options in both suits. Four diamond tricks solves the problem, else you need three in one minor and two in the other (without losing two tricks).

With a diamond switch, the key point for declarer to register is how foolish it would be for South to lead from the ten or the queen in this position, and so those cards can be placed with North. The only chance to gain is to play low on the diamond switch (or cover the 8) and doing this generates three sure diamond tricks, which with the club finesse gets you home. Although only Anne Swannell got this right, all declarers with a 5 switch got home. With a club switch, it was more tricky; two declarers were tempted by the chance that South had led from ♣J and they played small - fatally as a club trick and the inevitable diamond trick defeated the contract. One declarer played the queen (the winning choice) but later continued clubs giving the defence a trick there. The fourth rose with the ♣A. All four of these declarers by giving up a club trick left themselves dependent on the Q being well placed - and were off.  The declarer who had the spade switch at trick three had least to go on and drew trumps and tried ♣Q and  ♣A and a third club, and that was fatal.

What is the best line of play? The diamond switch tells declarer they have a diamond loser, and therefore they need the club finesse to work - so they should always succeed. The club switch does suggest that the club suit will break 4-2 and that North has a club honour (South should lead the J from any ♣KJ holding).  Running the club switch round to the ten is playing for South to have given away a trick with this switch; there is no doubt that can happen but if you trust South not to be giving away tricks, there is a strong case for playing the queen on this switch and then giving up the suit.  On this play you will make the contract. The spade switch gives declarer fewer clues as to how to proceed; finessing the club queen and the diamond jack are necessary steps and the key is which suit will break 3-3 and give you an extra winner if one of those finesses fails. But you cannot allow two losers - so sdiamonds is the only option.. 

Looks like the game should make after all.

HotD-wed : Pairs League 2.1 : 11jan21 : B1

The first hand from Monday (in three Division) was this, and it was a very tricky hand to bid, with only two pairs out of nine reaching a comfortable contract.

Of the Easts who had the problem, six of them chose to open 2♣ on this hand while two opened 1♠.  After the 1♠ bid, the problem passed to West who in both cases was constrained by the fact that a 2♣ response was game forcing. Both Wests chose that auction but their paths diverged over East's 2 response.  One jumped to 5♣ while the other bid 3♣ (and then 4♣ and then 5♣).  In both cases East proceeded to bid the slam in clubs. This was playable (needs Kx or Jx in clubs for one defender, and a winning guess by declarer) but on this layout was doomed.

Over the 2♣ openers, West was pleased to be able to reply with a positive 3♣ ad to rebid that suit over 3♠.  All but one of the Easts bid 4 (the other a less ambiguous 4♠ avoiding the concern that 4 might be a cue agreeing clubs).  What should West do now?  Two chose 6♣ , two chose 4N ace asking, one chose a 5 cue bid - but only Dan McIntosh found the winning answer of giving partner preference to 4♠.  This last one was the only plus score from the 2♣ openers.

So how should this hand be bid?  The first question is show high can East force the bidding; try this approach - if partner would pass 1♠, say averaging 2335 3-count, how will East fare?  If spades break evenly, and they lead a diamond setting up the KQ, then that is nine tricks - so as well as all that luck partner must have something else to contribute.  By no means a certain game and partner could have something less or less well fitting. That makes a decent case for opening 1♠, but it's hard to argue with either opening bid - so let's work out what should have happened after that.

The start after a 2♣ opener has to be 3♣ - 3♠ - 4♣ and it is hard to reists 4 at this point (although who offers a new trump suit at the 4-level?). Over 4, there is a good case now for the winning choice; the warning bells are there - this sequence could easily find opener with 6-6/6-5 in the majors, but it is hard to give up with two aces. The 5 cue is appealing (but not if partner leaps to 7N in response, as happend at table 8) and is less ambiguous if opener had rebid 4♠. Still if West's ♣Q was the Q then 6♠ is the contract you would want to be in.  So slam is hard to resist.

After a 1♠ opener there is a better chance of avoiding the slam. West does start with 2♣ game forcing, but the choice of 5♣ on the next round sends a very definite message. It tells of long clubs (8 or 9) and specifically rules out 3N as an option.  This must say something about the quality of the club suit. A solid suit, or a one loser suit with an outside entry really ought to bid differently to allow for 3N. There must be a good case for passing 5♣ despite the enormous extra strength East holds. This might be the best chance of stopping in game.

But there was a second table which stopped in game on this hand; this happened after North opened the bidding instead, with a weak two in .  There is a flaw in the hand (holding a decent heart sut) but otherwise it does look like a good candidate for an obstructive bid; here the effect was unlucky, as now East could show a atrong hand but not as clearly as with a 2♣ opener, and they came to rest in 5♠. It is quite uncommon for the more active bidders to suffer this way.

The bid question from all this is - will any of us change the way we would bid the same hand if it came up tomorrow? 

Play This Slam

West leads the J. How do you play?

Assuming you have a spade loser — a reasonable assumption because you do unless West has king–jack doubleton — you need the heart finesse to work. There is no need to risk playing three rounds of clubs just yet as the clubs might be 6-2. Win the A and run the 8. Assuming the finesse works, repeat the finesse and draw trumps whether they are 2–2 or 3–1.If hearts are 4–0, draw four rounds of trumps, discard a diamond on the third club, and play the ♠A. If no honour falls, guess whether to play for Kx or Jx in the suit. If trumps are a more civilized 2–2 or 3–1, draw the outstanding trumps, and play three rounds of clubs, discarding a diamond. Then ruff a diamond and lead a low spade to the queen. If the queen holds, lead a low spade to the 10 guarding against K–J–x–x with West. Once the queen wins, you are home. If the ♠Q loses to a singleton king, East has no safe exit. After East surrenders a ruff and discard, ruff in your hand, discard a spade from dummy, and run the ♠10. If East started with the ♠K and the ♠J (any) length, then bad luck.

Logical Defence

Partner leads the ♣J to your Ace and declarer's King. How do you defend?

You know South still has the ♣Q from partner's opening lead. Dummy’s diamond spots are pretty good and South should have no trouble setting up a diamond or two for spade discards, so you’d better get after your spade trick.
You shift to the king of spades, which declarer allows to hold the trick. There is danger now that the ace of spades and a spade ruff will set up the spades for diamond discards. Now it is time to get after your diamond trick, if you have one. Partner will need to hold the queen of diamonds plus a trump trick, but if he doesn’t have those things, you are not beating this contract. You must shift to a diamond – and your good work is done. You have played a different suit at every turn – not always a good idea for the defence – but it was all suggested by logic. You are rewarded when partner has exactly what is needed.

Use Your Imagination

West leads the T and you win the King and Ace, partner contibuting the 9 whilst South plays the  2 and Knave. How do you see the defence?

Two tricks in the bag and the Ace of trumps still to come but beyond that prospects are bleak. South surely has ♠ KQxxx and there can be minor suit tricks for your side. One possibility is that South has falsecarded in hearts and that partner has a doubleton. Then all you need is for partner to have a spade higher than the 8. You lead a third heart but both South and West follow. South ruffs his winning heart in dummy and leads a trump. This is your last chance. Although you know partner will be out of trumps after this trick, South doesn't have that information. Rise with the Ace of trumps and lead another heart. On a good day declarer will ruff high and lay down his remaining top trump, hoping the Knave will fall. You will then have conjured up a second trump trick from thin air.

How's Your Luck?

West leads the J, covered by Q,K,A. You lead the ♠K and East shows out. Can you find a way to bring home this contract?

You will need a big slice of luck to make this contract. After the ♠K, cash the K and finesse the diamond. If this holds, you can discard a club on the A and play King, Ace and a third club ruffing. If clubs are 3-3 you enter dummy with the ♠A and discard your losing heart on the last club. Not great odds but perhaps your good fortune in the minors offsets your bad luck with the trump break.

HotD-fri : Monday Swiss Teams 2.1 : 4jan21 : B1

A lot of North-South pairs collected an unnecessary minus score on this hand from Monday by an inappropriate pre-empt. It's all about the opening bid on this hand.

What the biggest cuplrits did - and there were five of them - was to open 3 on the hand.  It won't always hit an unfavourable distribution like this but there are multiple reasons why a pre-empt is not the right choice on these cards

  1. The hand is a positively contructive one, rather than being obstructive. if you hit a diamond fit, the losing trick count could call it a 6-loser hand - better than many opening bids!
  2. The hand has good defence to any opponent's contract, with three possible defensive tricks.
  3. The hand is playiable in hearts and clubs as well as diamonds.

The next most common opening bid on the hand was 2; this worked out a bit better - all four Souths now bid 2♠ and the two who were allowed to play there got a plus score, but most people play 2♠ here as forcing and North was reluctant to pass and so moved on to a minus score.

The third most common opening bid was pass - and the twice that occurred there was no probem with South playing the hand in 2♠.

The final table saw North open 1 and take fright later in the auction and pass partner's forcing 3♣ bid.

What will we all do next time we are presented with this North hand?

HotD-thu : Monday Swiss Teams 2.1 : 4jan21 : B6

The South hand here was the "big hand" from Monday's game.  Holding 27-hcp only happens about one hand in every 20000 hands, which means playing 4 sessions a weak of 25 hands would give you one of these every four years.  It would be no surprise that many were not prepared for this - but still a number did cope.

There were six tables who opened 2♣ and rebid 3N which did show what they had and one which opened 3N to show this hand; this left no space to explore and when the robot pair tried to explore (the others all passed) they found themselves propelled into 6 which could not make.    There were two tables which improved on that, allowing South to rebid 2N with GF-balanced, and over that North was able to transfer into hearts and then show spades.  Both Souths here felt that had a little to spare (did they?) and showed this by jumping to 4N.  One North (having actually shown 4-7 hcp already) passed this natural bid, while the other - unsure as to what was going on - gave a Blackwood response and that led to 6N (a playable but doomed contract, given to declarer on a play that should have been avoided).

There was one odd table where West - despite the vulnerability and the poor quality of the suit - decided to intervene at the three level, offering 800 to the other side.  Gallant as always, NS refused but they were in unexplored territiry and they stumbled into 6♣ after that (making).

Two tables found an innovative and winning answer to South's dilemma. Having a hand they felt too good for any NT bid, even after starting with 2♣,  what they did was rebid 3♣. They immediately found the only fit and were soon in the best slam, and duly collected +920. 

How should one handle these hands?  The tables which started with a forcing 2N rebid were clearly in the best space, and that gave North time to explore for a fit in either major. With partner showing 45xx shape what should South be doing?  Despite the high cards in South, it is far from clear whether  any game will make opposite a really weak North hand. There is likely to be much more flexibility playing in hearts than NT, which makes that the natural choice. Neiother South with the option went for that. :(   Unfortunately hearts is not where you want to be - playing in clubs on thsi layout is significantly better (as the fourth spade might take care of the third round of hearts).

Can we get to clubs on this hand?  Suppose we go through the motions described above and after North has shown two suits, South bids 4.  On the basis of exactly that North hand and assuming that South holds 24+ balanced with three hearts, a selection of 20 random hands (only 3 with as many as 26 hcp) showed up the following - 6 cases with two cashable winners for the defence (so no slam), 8 hands where slam was an easy make (seven in hearts, one in clubs), and 6 hands where slam is around the 40% space.  Across the 14 slam hands, there were only three where clubs was preferrable to hearts.  From another perspective, North might have a much less appealing hand - so it is clear to make a further move.  What should that move be? Sorry - no easy answer. A natural bid of 5♣ would be ideal, but this is unexplored territory for most partnerships.

What are the lessons from this? The first is that auctions which go blah-blah-3N are genrally uncomfortable, and better avoided; playing a system which allows a GF 2N bid is much better (as exemplified by the auction at table 11).  The second is that a shapely 4-count is a powerful hand opposite a very strong balanced partner, even when that partner might be weaker than the hand held here. Slams need to be explored, even if you cannot be sure that a slam is there.

HotD-wed : Monday Swiss teams 2.1 : 4jan20 : B2

This hand from Monday was played in 4 seven times, and only three declarers made their contract. One table had the auction shown; the lead was a top club and at trick two East switched to the 7.  North knew from the bidding that East would only have a doubleton diamond, so he put up the queen, forcing East to take the ace. After that, there was the ♠A to lose and the contract made in comfort. 

When the game went off, the play started with a top club and then a diamond switch. In these four cases declarer played a low diamond from dummy and the 9 forced the king; when East later got in with the ♠A  they could play a second diamond and that was four tricks for the defence. 

You might think that it all came down to fact that West bid diamonds at the first table, and indeed it was staightforward there - but could the other Norths have worked out the winning play?  The big uncertainity declarer needs to consider is who has the A?  Playing low from dummy is the winning choice if East has the ace or if West has a doubleton ace. Two things come into play in deciding; the first is West's signal at trick one and the second is how much you trust East as a defender.

With a singleton in dummy in a suit contract, most players have agreed that neither attitude nor count is very important, and the card played by third hand is suit preference.  In practice, at all four of the tables concerned, West played the ♣3 at trick one.   This was a strong sign that West held something in diamonds. The other question is how would East have defended holding the ace. Even without a signal a diamond switch is not unlikely, but that switch could come from a varity of holdings. Is there any ace-high holding where East would lead the seven?  The only candidates are AT7 and A97  as with AT97 the lead would be the ten, and with AJ97 the lead would be the jack. But even with A97, leading the ace might matter if partner has KT842 (to avoid declarer scoring with a doubleton jack).  Or is could be a non-ssytemic lead from say A72.  When we add these factors up, the odds strongly favour it being a lead from 74 or 72.

So do we tink the contract should always have made? 

It was actually rather trickier that suggested at two tables; it was curious at these to see East lead the 2 rather than the 7 at trick two. This could well confuse partner (if a 1♣ opener, West might diagnose a singleton diamond and rise with the ace) but in practice it encouraged declarer to releax, fatally. 

[The other tables which made 4 both had a top club lead; one had a heart switch at trick two and the other had a second round of clubs. Neither troubled declarer.]

Monster Hand

West leads the ♠Q. Plan the play.

Don’t try to make this one more complicated than it is. Ruff the opening lead, ruff a low club, ruff a spade, ruff a second club, cash 2 top diamonds throwing clubs, and ruff a third spade with the 9 (this ruff should be safe as East would surely have bid over 1  if he held ♠ AKxxxx. Now draw trumps and claim. This line handles a 4-0 heart break and merely requires the minors to be no worse than 5-2 (if ♣Q drops you dont bother with the diamonds. Starting with one high club can be fatal if a third round of clubs is ruffed with the 10 by a defender holding two low clubs.

How do you Defend?

Partner leads the ♣6 to the King and your Ace, declarer following. How do you proceed?

You can tell from the lead that partner has no more clubs since the only missing club is higher than the 6 and partner would not have led low from a doubleton. Hence you have a club ruff coming. However, this by itself will not defeat the contract unless you can take 2 further tricks and it is difficult to see how that can happen. If West held AK he would surely have led one of them to begin with. Declarer most likely holds the ♠A and therefore your best chance is that West has the A, Switch to the Q at trick 2. If it holds, now is the time to give partner his ruff. If declarer covers the diamond, you get back in with the Knave for the club ruff. A simple case of thinking ahead.

Every Little Helps

What are your chances in 7NT on the ♠K lead?

You have 12 tricks and the thirteenth could could come from a 3-3 diamond break. More experienced players will also see that if West holds 4 diamonds along with his known ♠Q, then he will be squeezed by running the clubs and then the hearts. The last heart will leave him with no good discard. That is not the full story however. You do have a tiny extra chance - that the JT are doubleton. You need to be careful to take advantage of this possibility before pursuing the line mentioned above, else you will not be able to take advantage. Your first move should be to play off the AK. When JT drop, you can take your 13 winners. If you run your clubs and hearts first, there is no squueze and East defeats you by keeping his 4 small diamonds. 

Just a Little Thought

West leads the ♣J. How do you play?

You could take the spade finesse, but if it loses and a heart comes through, then 3 rounds of hearts gives you a problem. You have to ruff the third round in dummy but how high? If East started with 3 decent trumps, they will beat you with a trump promotion. An alternative line might be to cross to dummy and cash 2 clubs, throwing hearts. If that passes off without West ruffing, then you might well scramble home, losing a trump, a heart and a diamond. It is a messy way to play however, and risks running into club and diamond ruffs. The best line is to eschew the spade finesse and play a spade to the Ace at trick 2, followed by a low spade from dummy. Now if East rises with the King to play a heart, there is no trump promotion and you can just ruff the third heart high.

HotD-fri : Christmas Pairs : 28dec20 : B23

Today's hand from Monday was a battle between declarer and defence, with 18 pairs playing in the normal 4 game (and two in 5 when South got too excited - balanced 18 opposite less than an opener does not make slam).  That left three pairs playing in 3N and one who stopped in a part-score.

Against 4 what should West lead?   The danger of leading out aces is evident on this hand; either ace being led gives declarer an extra trick, so all but one avoided that, settling for leading the doubleton club.  This is useful for the defence as the threat of a ruff will push declarer to draw trumps, but if declarer draws four trumps then the extra trick a trump suit usually delivers will vanish. Declarer should try the ♣7 at trick one but that gets covered and the king wins (if the queen is well placed, the jack can be finessed later).  Looking to ruff a spade, declarer can count on one spade trick, five hearts, one diamond and two clubs - so it needs only one more trick.  This can come from finding the A onside to get two tricks on that suit, or from developing an extra club trick. 

The natural sequence of plays is to win the ♣K, play to the Q and then to the K - at which point the bad trump break emerges. Declarer must now pay attention to getting a spade ruff, and play a spade to the queen and duck the next round. This leaves East on lead.  It would be normal for East now to play a diamond and when the king loses to the ace, declarer knows they only have one diamond trick. Whatever gets returned now (except a small spade to the king) declarer has to resort to the club finesse and when that fails the contract is one down.

But in practice six declarers succeeded;  how did that happen?   One table saw the ♠A rise when declarer led towards the queen; this gave declarer two spade tricks, and a diamond could be discarded on the ♠K and a diamond was ruffed.  At another the ♠A was used on the ♠Q but that West now cashed the A giving declarer an extra trick in that suit.  At two tables West got to beat the K with the ace but promptly played the ♠A, giving declarer an extra trick in that suit. The commn theme on these was rushing to cash aces; the restraint was there at trick one, and it should be easier to be restrained later as if there was a way it might vanish, declarer should already have taken that option.

At another table East discarded carelessly and in the endgame after the club finesse lost they had to play back into dummy's ♣A8 to give declarer a discard for their losing diamond.  And the final table making 4 East pulled out the ♣Q by mistake on the first round, gifting a trick there.

HotD-thu : Christmas Pairs : 28dec20 : B3

This hand had more potential  than any others for swings in Monday's game, with both sides able to make game. The direction in which the hand moved depended a lot on the bdding choices made by South.

One choice was to open 1 and this is the option which traditional bridge teaching suggests. One table which started this way proceeded 1 - 1♠ - 2 - end (with EW silent).  This went down, which was poor in comparison to the table which started 1 - 1♠ - 2♠  which then got to the spade game.  This start to the auction was also the path to the East-West game at one table, where it went  1 - P - 1♠ - 2♣ - 2♠ - 5♣.  That's three different denominations from the same start.

The other regular choice as an opening bid from South was 1N; this is very much the preferred approach today, which treats any 5332-shaped hand as balanced. When North hears that opening bid the path is very clear - the target is 4♠ and the sooner it is bid the better. It's not very many HCP in the North hand but a 6-6 shape makes it worth trying to make game and with a known 8+ fit in spades, that has to be the best choice.  Where North took it slowly by transferring into spades, it gave East the chance to double the transfer to show hearts. The best East-West result came after this start - East doubled 2, West showed their clubs and East was able to raise to game. That scored +600 for EW. 

The par result (both sides bidding optimally) on this hand is North-South sacrificing in 5 or 5♠ over the opponents 5♣ game, and losing 100 points (when doubled). The closest to this was 5♠ undoubled. The par result on this hand would score about 20% for NS and 80% for EW which reflects the fact that achieving the optimal result happened on this hand to be much more difficult for East-West.

What would be the recommended auction on this hand?  Opening 1N as South seems a clear choice as it does so much to describe the hand.  Over this North can bid 4♠ on the logic exposed above. Can East now bid?   It's hard to say yes or no here.  North could very easily be stealing the hand, so there is a good case for a takeout double. This would lead to West bidding 5♣ (the making game), but North would see the danger of that making and offer 5 as a sacrifice to partner. When East now doubles, the par result is achieved. Wow!

HotD-wed : Christmas Pairs : 28dec20 : B10

There were four hands on Monday where slams could be made - three for North-South (this and B6 and B12) and one for East-West (B18).  Although they could make the others were not as sound propositions as this one was; board 6 depends on diamonds not 4-0 plus a spade finesse (decent odds but a tiny bit odds against) and the other two were rather more fortunate makes. Only three pairs (from 72 chances) bids slams on those other boards.

As well as being the best slam this one was the slam most often bid. But even then it was only bid at 5/24 tables, which isn't very many.  There was one bidding sequence to 6♠ which happened twice and which has a lot to commend it. It is illustrated here, and there are a couple of interesting points to note

  1. North is showing some positive values by raising the bidding level with a 2 bid.
  2. Over this positive bid, South knows that 3♠ is forcing and can bid this to hear more from partner.

The combination of these means that South knows of values and spade support from the 4♠ bid, and can now proceed to check on aces before bidding the slam. Well done to the Martels and to Ferguson & Jarman for producing these sequences.

But bidding it was only part of the story. The slam is a Good Slam, with 12 top tricks provided the spades break 2-1 (as then you can unblock the K and cross to the ♠9 to cash three hearts in dummy) and when they don't you need a favourable position in diamonds to cocmpensate. Today the slam is actually doomed, except that - as so often - the defenders come to the rescue.  Here, and with some justification, three Wests started off with the A at trick one, and that meant declarer could survive the bad spade break and make the slam. 

Bidding slams pays!

Make This Slam

How do you play in 6 on ♠2 lead, East contributing the 9?

Your first move should be to take the diamond finesse. Your future play depends upon what happens. If the finesse loses, you are reduced to the heart finesse, the percentage play in the suit to make the contract. If the diamond finesse wins, cash the A and if the king does not drop and both follow, discard the Q on the ♠K and ruff a diamond. There is no chance you will be overruffed because West still has the K. Next, lead the J to the ace. If both follow low, ruff the ♠J, and with spades and diamonds both stripped, exit a heart and claim. Whoever wins has to lead a club or concede a ruff and discard. If one opponent holds Kxx of hearts, drive out the K, win the major-suit return, and try to get as much of a count on the hand as you can (reducing to three clubs in both your hand and dummy) to determine who started with longer clubs and play that hand for the Queen. Unless something dramatic has happened in spades, chances are the hand that was void in hearts started with the longer club holding. If East ruffs the A, a black suit return eliminates the club guess. If he ruffed from Kx, then unless he returns a heart, you are just on viewing the trumps, probably playing East to not have started with 2 singletons. If he ruffed from xx he will certainly exit with a heart, reducing you to pitching the Q on the ♠K and playing East for the ♣Q (he would have three red cards, presumably five or six spades, and therefore four or five clubs, compared to West’s seven red cards, three or four spades and two or three clubs). Notice that after the diamond finesse wins, you do not have the wherewithal to cash the A before stripping spades and diamonds. You are short of a quick dummy entry (the A) to pull this off. 

A Routine Part-Score

West leads the 5, East contributing the 8 under dummy's 9. How do you get to 7 tricks?

Making 4 club tricks will see you home but the obvious danger is that the defence will hold up the ♣A until the third round and you will need a side entry to dummy to cash your winners. This entry can only possibly come from the heart suit. However, an alert defender will deny you a heart entry by ducking your King or by rising with the Ace if you lead a low card from hand. The solution is very simple - play the K at trick 1 and later you cannot be denied a heart entry to dummy. The rule of eleven tells you that East has only one card higher than the five and you have seen that card when he plays the 8. Don't take your eye off the ball at trick one.

You Can Always Ask

West leads the ♠J against your game. How do you play?

You have 9 obvious tricks and can look to spades to provide a tenth. It looks tempting to finesse the Queen at trick one but first you should check the defensive carding methods. If you are told that the Jack denies a higher honour, you have a strong indication that the finesse will fail. Best is to rise with the Ace at trick one and draw trumps before leading a spade towards dummy. If West has led from KJTxxx (he isn't barred from playing a misleading card at trick one) he will most likely rise with the King, pleased that his subterfuge at trick one seems to have worked. Now your Queen will be good for a diamond discard. If West plays low on the second spade, you intend to duck and play East for ♠Kx to again establish the ♠Q as your tenth trick. A simple play but the moral is that when opponents opening lead is a J,T or 9, it is important to know what the lead can be from on their methods. You can always ask!

[And sometimes West will have opened on a seven card spade suit and you might drop a singleton king]

HotD-sat : League 5 : 21dec20 : B2.8

This was the most interesting hand from the second half of the match on Monday, and there were two bidding decisions worth discussing.

The first was the opening bid by West whio held enough HCP for a "normal" opener, and a good suit, even the boss suit so that you will not be easily outbid. It was a surprised to find that only 2/12 Wests chose to open this with 4♠, the remainder starting with a quiet 1♠ bid. In practice the two results at the tables of the two 4♠ openers were both towards the extreme, the case of the mis-interprettion of the 4N  overcall resulting in the largest penalty seen yet in the league this year.  So these results here do not tell us much; what better measures the effectiveness of the bid is the comfort level of North after hearing 4♠; over a 1♠ opener North has space to describe their hand, and room to hear from partner.  After a 4♠ opener that have not, and both Norths chose to gamble with a 4N bid without any certainty as to which side owned the hand. They landed in a sensible spot but more will lack a 10-card trump fit. The 4♠ bid has a lot to commend it.

The other auctions all started with 1♠ and the next decision was up to North. There are two schools of thought on 5530 hands - some people treating them as two suiters and some as three suiters. The advantage of showing a 2-suiter (here by bidding 2♠) is that a partner with say ♠987 K98 AT86 ♣A75 will get excited over a Michaels Cue but less so over a takeout double.  The advantage is showing a 3-suiter is that partner might turn up with something like  ♠987 K9 AT8632 ♣A7 and now your chances of making 6 are better than those of making game in a rounded suit. In the event, the choices came down as 7/10 for showing a 2-suiter, and 3/10 for showing a 3-suiter.  Because partner gets enthused with a big heart fit in either case means that either choice worked this time. Next time - who knows?

Where do we want to get to on this hand?  If you look at just the EW hands, then you will make 6♠ most times that the diamond finesse works, while they will make 5 most times that the diamond finesse loses.  This says that for sure you want to play the hand (in spades).  If we just look at the NS hands, we expect to make 5 most times the diamond ace is lying with West, and to average about three tricks when defending a spade contract.  This justifies bidding up to 5 but no more.   How many tables matches these expectations?  The majority of NS pairs (7 out of 12) bid up to 5 while only 4 EW pairs bid as far as 5♠ (one voluntarily, three over 5).  The common advice "if in doubt bid one more" might well have led to a better result at many tables.

A quick look at the Law of Total Tricks, in vainalla form, suggests 20 total tricks and here it turns out to be 10 tricks in hearts and 12 tricks in spades. Why?  The extreme shape of the West hand drive that difference (and the fact that the diamond length in West fitted diamond strength in East).



Counting in Defence

You lead the 5 to partners Queen and declarer's Ace. South plays a low club from hand at trick 2. Where are the defensive tricks coming from?

You should already have a count of South's hand. In the bidding he showed 64 in the majors. You know he has the J else partner would have played this card at trick 1. Hence declarer has a singleton club. You have 3 tricks in your hand and you must do two things. The first is to make sure you do't lose any of  your three tricks and the second is to hope that partner has a heart winner. Rise with the ♣A, cash a diamond and then hope. If you play low at trick 2, hoping that South has a club guess, you risk letting declarer make an impossible game.

HotD-thu : League 5 : 21dec20 : B6

This was a very respectable slam bid at six tables on Monday (there was also one table in 6♠ which was not a good choice). All six players in 6♥ went down, and it is worth looking at how and whether they might have done better.

Three tables received a club lead, two had the ♠J, and one had the lead of two rounds of hearts. There is clearly only one top loser, so we need to count winners to make a plan. The default expectation from the heart suit is three winners plus a ruff for four tricks, to which we can add six outside top tricks. The best source for tricks is the spade suit and one or two spades ruffed will usually set up two long tricks there and make the slam comfortable. Five of the six tables in slam were happy with this approach - one preferred to go after diamonds as a first choice. What happened next?

Two of them had received the ♠9 lead and won the ace and took a ruff with the 2.  This was a bit lazy as a higher heart could be spared and they were dead when that was over-ruffed with the 4 and they were one off.  Cue stories about sending a boy to do a man's work!  A third table took the ♠A and tried (unnecessarily?) to cash the king immediately and that got ruffed - and again they were doomed.

The table whiich started with two rounds of hearts was in a better space, but they won the K and cashed only one spade before taking a spade ruff. They won that trick, and had discovered that the spades we not going to work out - but they had used up an entry to the diamond hand in the process and that stopped them taking two diamond ruffs and still drawing trumps. Unlucky but perhaps a little careless - the second top spade might have been ruffed but if that was happening the contract was never making anyway.

The fifth table had the best chance. Here Peter Shelley won the club lead and played a trump at trick two to the K (fair as he can afford two rounds of hearts being played) and then played ♠A and ruffed a small one. All South could do now was over-ruff with the A and play a second club. He continued correctly with A and Q which held.  There were five trumps left between the two hands, to go with the K, two top spades, two diamond tricks and two club tricks. He needed either five trump tricks or a minor suit trick and four trumps. He went for the ♣K and when that got ruffed he was off. Could he tell?  North was known to have five spades, three hearts and had shown up with two in each minor. It was all down to whether that thirteenth card was a club or a diamond. It's always hard to tell, but - because they cannot tell whether or not it will matter later - the defenders are often honest in the count signals they give in situations like this. If you are willing to trust that, then the ♣8 then the ♣2 might well have been an indicator (and you can add to that South is more likely to lead a sixth best than a fifth best club at trick one). 

The analysis suggests that every declarer might have done better.  What does this tell us?  Maybe the reason we don't bid enough slams is that we are not making the ones that we do bid and should make?

HotD-wed : League 5 : 21dec20 : b4

This was the first interesting game hand from Monday, with ten out of the twelve teams playing in 3N and only two succeeding. The crucial question was the opening lead from North, after West had shown hearts and a balanced hand. What should be the thought process  at this point?

The two strongest rationales in choosing an opening lead are (a) setting up tricks for your side, and (b) not giving declarer tricks they do not deserve. The balance between the two depends on your assessment of whether or not declarer is about to have an easy time, or is going to be struggling. The answer to this is sometimes clear from the bidding, but here with East forcing to game opposite an opening bid, there isn't any certainty as to how many HCP each side has. The other piece of information you have is about the suits which have been bid.  You know declarer has hearts and you know these do not split well for declarer.  You might (some auctions were 1N-2♣-2-3N) know that dummy has spades and - because they have not chosen to play there - partner has four spades too. This "bad news" for declarer gives you a tendency towards being cautious in the opening lead department.

With a holding of KQ64 there is always uncertainty about which to lead. It all depends whether or not one of declarer or dummy has four in the suit. If that is the case, leading high can harm your chances. [Sometimes when faced with such a dilemma the best answer is to lead another suit]  There is no certainty on any hand - so let's look at what happened here on the lead of the 4.  This happened four times, and on one occasion declarer was asleep at the wheel and played small from dummy, but the others were awake enough to put up the jack and win trick one in dummy.  This gave declarer seven top tricks, needing two more to make the game. Clearly the best source of two more tricks is spades, and crossing to the tpo heart to run the spade queen seems to be clearly indicated. Yet it was only one - Judy Sanis - of the three declarers who managed to do this. The other two started playing clubs and tried to go down (although only one of them was given the contract back later).

On a top diamond, or any other suit lead, the contract was doomed as South had an easy play of diamonds as soon as they gained the lead. 

This does look like a case where caution rather than attack was the right answer.

Careful Play Needed

West leads the ♣K. Can you see any dangers on this hand?

You have 6 trumps and a trick in each black suit. Diamonds are sure to produce 2 tricks and probably more, so the contract looks easy. Now is the time to play carefully. Win the lead and draw trumps. Then run the T. Let's say this loses to the Knave and a spade is returned. The critical point of the hand has been reached. If you play low from hand and win the King as West ducks, you can return to hand with a club ruff to repeat the diamond finesse. However, if this loses and a spade is returned, you lose 2 spades and 2 diamonds. When the first spade comes through, you must rise with the Queen. This limits the defence to one spade trick if the second diamond finesse fails, as you have severed the link between the defensive hands. 

All is not Lost

West showed 5-5 in the majors with his 2 bid. He leads the ♣K. You win the Ace and lead a diamond towards dummy on which West throws a heart. Now what?

If you can make 6 diamond tricks, you could get home with 2 clubs, a heart and 3 spades. East's 5 card trump holding seems to make that difficult, but you can succeed provided West holds the ♠Jxxxx. Win the A and finesse a diamond. Now cash the K and play Ace and another spade, inserting dummy's ten. If this holds, you are home. Continue with a top spade. If East ruffs, you overruff, draw trumps and just lose a club. Hence East must discard on the 2 spades from dummy. Say he discards 2 hearts and you do likewise. Now comes dummy's A and East has the same dilemma. Ruffing is no good so he discards a club and you do the same. Now you ruff and heart and exit with a club. You sit with QT as you last 2 cards and must score them both. 

How do you Defend?

South's 2♠  bid is described as intermediate. You lead the A on which partner plays the 4  (high0low for even/encurage) and declarer the 9. How do you see the defence developing?

The first thing to appreciate is that you have a second heart trick. The missing hearts are the 6 and the 2 and partner wouldn't have played the 4 from an original 642 holding. Partner could well have a singleton heart and prospects in the minors don't look great so you should cash a second heart, hoping partner shows out. When he turns up with a doubleton, the best hope is for a second trump trick. Continue with a third heart for East to ruff. If he can ruff with the ♠7 or higher, then you have promoted your ♠9 to a second trump winner.

Draw Trumps

West leads the ♣8. If you avoid a trump loser, you are home, so how do you set about drawing trumps?

The only danger is that trumps are 3–0 , so how do you start the suit with nothing to indicate who might hold 3 trumps? There is a subtle reason to start with the A. Suppose West shows out. You still have a chance to make. If spades are 3–3, you will be fine. Play the top spades, ruff the third round and then throw a diamond on the fourth round as the opponents get their Queen. The extra chance comes if spades are 4–2. If you lay down the A and find RHO with Qxx and a doubleton spade, you can still make your contract. Play the top spades ending in dummy, and then play a third spade. If RHO ruffs with his natural trump trick, you throw your losing diamond. If he declines to ruff, you ruff and go back to dummy’s K and play a fourth spade. Again, if East ruffs, you throw your diamond. If he discards again, you ruff, ruff a club and play the fifth spade (now good) to throw your diamond loser. This won't work if you start with the K because if LHO has Qxx, you can’t benefit from 4–2 spades the wrong way. You have to ruff the third spade and LHO will overruff and cash a diamond winner. 

HotD-fri : Pairs League 7 : 14dec20 : B16

There were two part-scores (reasonably) and one odd ball choice (of 4) on this hand from Monday, but the vast majority played in 3N as North on an auction very like that which is shown.  There were two instances of unprovoked club leads from East (why lead your weaker suit when it's also the suit the opponents are more likely to hide in the bidding?) and it was curious to see that - when the lead offered declarer four tricks in the suit, both declarers refused the free gift and played the ♣J at trick one, limiting themselves ot three tricks. They did however pick up the message that the clubs were not breaking 3-3, and so went after diamonds and made their contract eventually. So a club lead did in fact cost.

The more common, and more demanding lead, was a spade by East. North won the king either immediately or just aftter and could then start counting tricks. Clearly exactly five tricks in the majors, so a successful 3N needs four tricks in the minors.  One option is four tricks in clubs and since it is very difficult not to lose two tricks in diamonds (creating a minimum of 5 defensive tricks), everybody went for clubs.  It was curious to see that of all the declarers with a spade lead, only Peter Swales found the best play in the club suit - he started with small to the jack, which would net him four tricks if West had ♣T9, while all other declarers started with the ace, which would gain instead on a singleton offiside ♣Q (both less likely a priori, and more so given no club lead or discard from East). Today it made no difference, and on either route the queen shows up as onside and the key decision now comes.

With eight tricks in the bag, and the spades lookine to be splitting 4-4 (clearly for some, rather less so for others) declarer has a choice. if the clubs are 3-3 then cashing the king makes the contract, while if they are not cashing the king sets up the fifth trick for the defence. Is there an easy answer? 

Not really. The key information you have gained in cashing the hearts is the discard from East of the 6 and then the 9.  Absent anything else, once the clubs are not 5-1 and East has at least three clubs the odds favour a 3-3 break. The fact that the hearts break with East a doubleton swings things, but swings it to making a 3-3 break and a (losing) 4-2 break identical odds. Any more hints? Answers please on a postcard. None were found at the table, and everyone cashed the ♣K to go one down, where running the J would have made the contract. 

HotD-thu : Pairs League 7 : 14dec20 : B4

There were only three pairs played in 4 on this hand from Monday but it illustrates well the importance of counting your tricks and the evidence is that none of the three did that.

The spade lead was the most common (and least helpful).  How should declarer proceed?  There are two basic options in any suit contract, either draw trumps and develop winners, or you aim for a cross-ruff - and that could be ruffing some winners and then cashing out or cashing some winners and then cross-ruffing. What are the options here?  In terms of high cards, there is not a lot of prospect of side suit winners apart from ♠A, K and ♣A. If that is the total then 7 trump tricks are needed. Is that possible?  If we win  A and two ruffs in East, that means four trumps in West. That would be one heart under the ace (surely they'll lead trumps when they can), and making all the remaining four trumps in West - ruffing diamonds and spades. 

Are there any alternatives? We clearly cannot draw trumps unless a side suit can be set up - drawing trumps would generate four trump tricks, and we would have to find ourselves four spades tricks and two outside (or four club tricks and two outside). This would need spades 3-3 and trump behaving - but are there entries?  If North plays a trump honour at any point the ace needs to win, and now there might be no entry to dummy. 

So there seems to be only one line available - ruff a spade and play a diamond. The ace goes up and now you win the A, ruff a diamond, ♣A and a ruff, diamond ruff, club ruff, spade - and at this point West has only the Q left - but it is good enough as long as South holds the king - the spade break doesns't matter.

None of the declarers managed this line  :(   One did succeed however when the opposition failed to playa trump when they got on lead.   Is this such a difficult game?

HotD-wed : Pairs League 7 : 14dec20 : B1

There were a few interesting points arose on this hand on Monday. One key issue was the choice of bid by South at this point, and what was key was the space left to West to show diamond support. Some players chose 3 at this point, and this left West few choices and the only way of showing primary support for partner was to bid 4 and it was a close choice then from East, with a pass being the winner here. It was quite different when South chose to bid only 2.  This led to a different outcome as West could bid 3 to describe this hand and now East was able to bid 3N.  This is clearly a viable (maybe uncertain) contract and much preferred to 4. This re-iterates a common theme - taking away bidding space does make life more difficut for the opponents - so well done the 3 bidders.

The play in 3N is quite interesting. South at the two tables playing 3N started off my playing hearts from the top. East won the queen and now had 8 top tricks.  There were two options for the ninth but it was not certain which would survive. If South had the ♠A then clearly you need to go for the club finesse as the ninth, but it's not 100% who has the spade ace, as South would bid the same way with ♠63  AKJT932  8  ♣Q42.  Attributing most of the HCP to South does bias you in favour of the clucb finesse - but there is a much better answer.  That answer is to cash five diamonds and see what happens.  When one East did this, South discarded three clubs. Now which line do you take?  Not a guess any more!   The general point here is where you have a choice, you should delay it when you can, and cashing your winners can often inconvenience the opponents and tell you a lot.


West leads the ♣2 to East's King. What should you be thinking?

If the spade finesse loses you have a loser in each suit. If you cross to dummy with a diamond to take the spade finesse, the defence can continue diamonds and easily set up their 4 tricks. You need to play on hearts immediately to try and build a second winner in the suit. Win the opening lead and play a low heart to dummy. If West wins the King, your problems are over and the spade finesse is for an overtrick. If West plays low on the heart, it is best to assume he does not have the King (most players would rise if they held this card) so insert the ten and hope this draws the King.

How do you Play?

West leads the ♠Q. What is your plan for getting to 12 tricks?

You have 2 potential losers in the black suits so it looks like you will need to find a favourable position in clubs (East having a singleton honour perhaps). Your first move should be to duck the first trick. Let's say that West continues with a second spade. You win and start to draw trumps and East turns up with 3 small diamonds which increases your hopes in the club suit. What next? You need to get a count on the East hand so play three rounds of hearts ruffing the third round. If East follows to 3 rounds, you know he started with at most 1 club so you can play him for a singleton honour. If East turns out to have started with a doubleton heart, then you know he started with a doubleton club and you are reduced to the slim chance that he holds QJ doubleton in clubs. Its all about counting.

An Extra Chance

West leads the T. East wins the Ace at trick 1 and returns a heart. When you lay down the ♠A, West shows out. How do you plan to get to ten tricks?

On the surface, it looks like you need to find West with the K, in which case you can pitch your club loser on the K and just lose a heart, a spade and a diamond. You can however give yourself an extra chance if East holds the K with a partial elimination play. Cash a second spade and enter dummy with a club. Pitch a club from hand on the K and ruff a club before exiting with a trump. If East has only 3 hearts, he will have to open up the diamonds or give you a ruff and discard. 

What's the Best Line?

West leads the ♠Q. What's the best line?

There are two key elements to the best line of play. The first is to duck trick 1, which is essential as you will see. The second is to win the likely spade continuation and cash one top trump followed by AK. If hearts are 4–3, you can easily make a grand slam by winning the first trick and ruffing a heart, so you must prepare for a 5–2 or 6-1 heart break. Consider the possible distributions:- West has two clubs and one heart - he ruffs the second heart, but can’t put East in to lead a trump, so you can ruff a heart and get rid of your remaining heart on a diamond. If West has two clubs and two hearts. he ruffs the third heart, but can’t put East in to lead a trump, so you can ruff your remaining heart. If West has one club and two hearts. Cashing one club first allows you to ruff a heart and make an overtrick. Even if you failed to cash one high club first, you still make your contract. After West ruffs the third heart, he can’t put East in, you can ruff your remaining heart. What about East: If East has two clubs and one heart and ruffs the second heart, he can’t put partner in to lead a trump, you make the contract as you can ruff a third heart, etc. If, however, East refuses to ruff the second heart, you will eventually lose two heart tricks. This will beat the contract and full marks to East If East has two clubs and two hearts, you can’t make the contract. If. East has one club and two hearts. You make an overtrick. Had you not cashed a high club early, you still make your contract because East can’t put West in to lead a second trump after overruffing dummy on the third round of hearts.

HotD-fri : Swiss Teams 4 : 07dec20 : B11

It was curious to see how many declarers went wrong in the diamond suit on this hand from Monday (5 out of 7) and we need to ask why?

The bidding almost uniformly started with 1 from South and 2 from West; One might postulate that the next bid determined the fate of the likely 5 contract, but the evidence suggests otherwise!

Every North showed heart support, with equal numbers bidding 2 and 3,  and one bidding a Bergen 3♣ (although his partner might not have been on this wavelength).  East has of course a massive hand at this point, and some doubled (to bring spades into the equation) and some cue bid to show good support, but it was surprising that nobody produced a jump to 4 to show support and the heart shortage at once. It is hard to blame people for ending in a slam, although with AQ in clubs opposite a void it is poor odds. More of a surprise was the player who deemed the East hand worth only a simple raise - he must have seen some terrible 2-level overcalls from his partner in recent time to justify that. 

Anyway back to the play in 5 where after losing the A and having a strong expectation of losing a spade, all declarer's energy should be focused on how to avoid a diamond loser. The issue is a 3-0 break and the question is which opponent is more likely to hold a void. There are 16 hcp missing and held by a pair which opened the bidding and made a raise; Where North raised to 2 you might think they had shown little to get excited about and therefore a void diamond was unlikely; where North raised to 3 and there were so few hcp around, you might expect North to be more likely to hold the void. 

What happened in practice?  In all cases where North raised just to 2, declarer started diamonds with small to the king (catering for North having a void) and in the cases where North bid 3 two declarers played South for a void and one played North for a void. So only one out of six followed the above logic (and they were in 6 doubled, so it only saved an undertrick). 

There must be some other logic - but what is it?

[I can report that one declarer who played North for a void after a 2 overcall was too focussed on making 12 tricks and was punished for that]

HotD-thu : Swiss Teams 4 : 07dec20 : B18

This hand from Monday gave a swing in every match; in each match there was one table in 3N and one table in 6N. There two instances of the hand played by West, but the remainder were by East.

Should the slam be bid? There are 24 hcp opposite 8 hcp, so in theory it is just enough. What is often crucial is which cards are missing; clearly missing two aces is a killer, and here the missing AQJJ is not as bad as missing AKJ or AQQ. It is the combination of the suits which matters, of couse, and here there is a guarantee of 10 tricks plus extra chances, each of one trick, in spades, hearts and diamonds.  Two out of three chances working comes to roughly 50% but here you don't really have a free hand to test them all.  On the other hand, the defence are often helpful - particularly with the opening lead - and that might justify bidding the slam. 

It is interesting to look at the play and defence in 6N.  The advice in defending against 6N is always to make a passive lead, and in practice only one defender found a passive lead - the five Souths on lead  all gave away something with the opening lead.  The two spade leads went to the ace and now declarer had the comfort of testing the hearts, with the diamond finesse in reserve. Easy. The one heart lead cleared up the heart suit and brought declarer to 11 tricks, and they had the choice now of the ♠A onside or the Q onside. They played a spade first and could not go wrong after that, as playing safely in diamonds meant they saw North show out on the second round and they knew to give up that option; so they survived. The diamond lead actually gave an immediate trick but left more uncertainty.  Declarer now had 10 top tricks plus one guaranteed in spades; both declarers played a spade early, but rather than risk a second spade they both tested the hearts next; when the jack fell they were home but they would have gone down unnecessarily if North hed the spade ace and four hearts to the jack. The club lead (from North) gave the sixth 6N declarer more to think about; he played a spade to the king which held (and it was very easy for South to duck with ♠KQ in dummy here). He played a second spade up at his next chance and was home when the hearts came in.

Any conclusions we draw from all this?  At first 6N seemed quite reasobable but even with a favourable lead the play suggested it was a bit shaky.  While people spray tricks with opening leads against 6N, it's probably worth bidding, but once they cotton onto what a safe lead really is (and that has to be a club from this South hand) Ithe odds must favour playing in game rather than slam.

HotD-wed : Swiss Teams 4 : 07dec20 : B17

We had a robot team again on Monday and they were doing quite well (lying equal second after three rounds) when they crumbled on the last round, and the crumble was very much to do with a known weakness of the robots - one you can sometimes take advantage of!

This board (and B19 is another example)  illustrates the problem they have. The problem is that they cannot read or understand the announcements bidders make, and so simply assume that everyone is playing the same system as they play. The key point is that they believe EVERY 1N opener is a 15-17 balanced hand, and they judge their actions accrodingly.  Here East doubled to show points with the aim of getting North out of a comfortable 1N, and when West later bid 3 there was no way that East - believeing North had 15+ HCP - could see game making. This was just a part-score battle, and so East passed.

If you look at B19, you will see that after 1N-P-P the robot passed with 20 HCP; this was because, from its perspective, the vast majority of the missing strength was sitting over these 20 points, and all finesses etc would be wrong and no contract would make for EW. That was very wrong. 

The team playing against the robots on this round collected 20 VPs to win the session on Monday !

A Tricky Slam?

West leads the 2. You win the Ace over East's Queen. You cash the ♣A, cross to dummy with a trump and ruff a club, East producing the Queen. You go back to table with another trump and play a third club on which East shows out. The contract is now 100% if you find the right line - which is?

You know the shape of both hands, so simply run the trump suit. On the last trump, West will have 3 hearts and 2 clubs and will have to find a discard. If he throws a club, you enter dummy with the A and throw West in with the ♣K to lead a heart into your KJ. Hence West must discard a heart. You throw dummy's last club and the spotlight falls on East. He is down to 3 hearts and 2 diamonds and must make a discard. A heart discard allows you to cash 3 hearts as the suit must now be breaking 2-2 but if East discards a diamond, you just play a diamond from hand and establish a diamond trick in dummy with no need to find the Q.

Always Take The Extra Chance

West starts with ♠AK. How do you plan the play?

You have 2 black suit losers and a heart to take care of. Can you see a way to avoid the heart finesse? Ruff the second spade and cash the diamonds, pitching a spade and a heart from dummy. Now exit with a club. If East wins this trick he will be stuck. If West wins, you will have to hope the heart finesse is working.

Save the Children

West leads the ♣T against your thin game. How do you play?

The lead looks like a short suit and your first thought might be to 'get the children to safety' - a slang term for drawing trumps. Later, you will have to find the Q. However, when you are missing the 2 tops, drawing trumps without suffering a ruff may not be easy. If opponents win a spade and play a second club, they might then win the next trump and get a club ruff using the heart suit for communication. The solution is to 'save the children' later and play a heart at trick 2. This cuts the link between the defenders hand. Later you will finesse West for the Q on the basis of the shape of East's hand and all is well. 

Count Your Tricks

How do you play in 3NT on the Q lead?

This is a very simple hand that declarer got wrong at the table. If the club ten drops you have ten top tricks so it looks tempting to play a club to the King and then reenter hand with a diamond to run the clubs. Unlucky, clubs are 5-1 and you have just gone down. The winning line is simply a matter of counting your tricks. You only need 5 club tricks so just lead clubs from the top. Your club pips guarantee you 5 tricks. 

HotD-fri : League 4 : 30nov20 : B10

It was interesting to see the same (or a similar) auction happening at multipe tables on Monday with dfferent outcomes.  The difference was generated by the choice of opening lead and it was the one peson who was listening most carefully to the bidding who obtained the best result.

The key thought which should be in South's mind in deciding on the opening lead is this - what sort of hand does East have?  When East has bid two suits and then bid NT with no encouragement from partner, where will East's weakness be? The answer has to be in fourth suit - and it was only Ollie Burgess who got this far in the thinking and pushed out the J at trick one. The jack was a combination of displacing honours from dummy but still retaining control of the suit. He was multiply rewarded when declarer showed up with a void, and when he won the ♣Q at trick two, he could clear the hearts and set up three winners for his partner. The other declarers were not presented with two heart tricks, but the other tables all ended up with 9 tricks while this declarer only managed 6 tricks.

The other situation where this approach is very common is when a 2♣ opener shows an unbalanced hand at first and then bids 3N when the weak hand bids a suit - that suit  is usually the reason declarer did not bid NT on the previous round, and is often the best place to attack.

HotD-thu : League 4 : 30nov20 : B8

It was surprising on Monday to see that there were five tables played this hand in 3N by East and that in only one case did the defenders manage to cash their club tricks.

At one table South led the 4 and given West had opened a weak two in that suit, it is hard to see why.  At another table South led the ♠2 and there was a small reason for this as East had opened the bidding with 1♣ at that table. But there were three tables where South led clubs - what went wrong at two of those?

At all three tables a top club was led from South. At one table, North overtook the ♣Q (led from KQ because K is a strong lead) and switched to spades - and that killed the defence. The other two tables encouaged as North and South cotninued with a low club. One North won the ♣A  and returned a third club which South won with the ten, and now the suit was blocked. At the third table Alan Wearmouth found the right answer - winning the second club with the jack. Now when he returned the suit partner could win the third round and the ace took the fourth, giving an entry to cash the fifth. So easy !

Since the contract is so easily defeated, why should people be bidding this game? Two pairs did better - one bidding 5 and the other bidding 4♠.  For the former the auction was 3-5 but reaching a major suit game is more tricky.  A straightforward Acol sequence might be  P-1-2-2N-3-3♠ which highlights the club weakness and West will return to 4.  Nobody actually reached 4 but it worth noting that it is quite possible to bid to the optimum contract.  The strong&5 brigade have a more difficult time, and at the three tables where East opened 1N, two Wests pushed to 3N while the third put their side into 3.

HotD-wed : League 4 : 30nov20 : B7

There were two slam hands for North-South in the first half of Monday's match. There was an above 80% slam available on board one; one pair did make a slam try (rather pointlessly bidding 4N as South) but nobody bid that slam.  This was the other hand.

Making 6♠ on this hand is strightforward if the trumps break 2-2 or the singleton king drops - and if that all fails then a club finesse will usually give you 12 tricks - so we are looking at about a 75% slam.  This was bid only once to slam, and that sadly failed when trumps broke 4-0 and the club finesse was wrong (although declarer mihgt have guessed better and made it).  What's worth considering is why so few managed to reach the slam level here (and ditto for board one).

The first question is whether or not West opens the bidding; it is a close call here - the extreme shape calls for disrupting but second seat is not as effective as first seat, and this is only a 1-count, vulnerable.  In the event two of the ten Wests had the opportunity to open 2 showing hearts and a minor, and duly did so. There is usually considerable value in denying the opposition a free run in the bidding, but the fact is that it was over one 2 opener than a pair bid slam (X-P-3♠ and onwards) while the other 2 opener could not keep quiet on the next round and the cost of that was -1700.  Here there were zero out of eight North-South pairs got to slam after West passed - so maybe that was the right choice here!

After a pass from West there were three pairs opened with 1♣ and the other five opened a variety of things all geared towards showing 20-22 balanced. The three 1♣ openers all got different reactions from East, one case of 1, one case of 2 and one case of 3.  The simple overcall allowed South to bid spades, but now North's jump to 4 (splinter) cramped the auction and it finished with South's rebid of 4♠. Where there was a jump overcall, it was passed around to North who made a takeout double over which the two Souths - having passed already - made minimal responses. With a decent five card suit and an ace, this was understating the hand.  North could hardly get into trouble by making a slam try but both just raised to game.  Opportunities missed all round.

The 2N openers might have had more success, except than in three of the five cases East came into the auction, again in three forms bidding 2 once, 3 once and 4 in the other case. Only one South bid at this point (3N closing the auction) and the others were passed around to North who make a takeout noise and passed out South's simple game bid (3N in on case, 4♠ in the other).  As in the most cases over the 1♣ opener, South had bid the same way they would have bid holding ♠5432 432 J432 ♣32, when they had a much better hand.

There were two cases of no intervention over a 2N opener and here South was able to bid 3 showing spades; in one case North bid 4♠ to show a commitment to spades, but South added 8 HCP to a maximum of 20 HCP and decided that was enough. In the other case North accepted the initial transfer and then when partner bid 3N to offer a choice of contracts, they had a golden opportunity to show slam interest in spade by cue bidding 4♣ on the way there - but they didn't, simply converting to 4♠ where matters rested.

In fact there were opportunities at every table (except the 1700) to do better on this hand, but it was perhaps the last sequence discussed where the failure was most glaring. Which does restore the faith in the value of disrupting the opponents' bidding.


Play This Slam

How do you play on the lead of ♠A?

You ruff at trick 1. Now what? If you play off the AK and the Queen doesn't fall, you will have several spade losers, but you need to draw trumps if you are to enjoy the diamond suit. The solution is to play a heart to the knave at trick 2. If it loses, you can ruff any further spade lead with the King, return to hand with a club ruff and draw trumps. It it wins, you can cross to the King of trumps and continue as before. You will only be in trouble if the hearts break 4-0.

Take All Your Chances

Plan the play in 6♠  on a trump lead, East following.

This is a very good slam. Three suits have finesse possibilities, and you only need one to work. Still, there is a best line of play.Draw a second trump ending in dummy and lead a club to the jack If this wins you have 13 tricks. Say it loses and a club comes back to your king. Your next move is to play the AK. If no queen appears, discard a diamond on the ♣A and ruff a diamond. If the queen still has not appeared, take the heart finesse. In total, this line is around 90%. The key is to not let East in early (via a losing diamond finesse) allowing a heart shift to occur before you know whether or not to take the finesse.

What's The Problem?

West leads a heart against your game. This looks a trivial hand. Is there a problem?

It looks like you can win, draw trumps and claim. On hands that look easy, you should consider what can go wrong. If trumps are 4-0 then you have a potential diamond loser to dispose of. You might be able to ruff it in dummy, but for this to work, you need West to hold at least 3 diamonds. There is a more elegant line which is 100%. Take the lead and ruff a heart with ♠A. Now a spade to dummy revealing the bad break allows you to ruff another heart high. Now is the time to draw the remaining trumps throwing a loser from hand. You make 6 trump tricks to go with 4 top red suit cards. A simple dummy reversal but a play that might easily be missed at the table.

How do you Play?

West leads the ♠J. How do you see your chances?

The usual play with this spade holding would be to play the Queen at trick one and then hope to keep East off lead. However, it is quite likely that East holds the K and quite possibly the A as well, so that plan is most likley doomed. An unusual play improves your chances. Duck the spade lead in both hands. Say that West continues with Ace and another spade. Now you can win and try the diamond finesse. If it loses you will be defeated if West has the A, but there are many layouts where ducking trick one will bring home the goods.

HotD-fri : Pairs League 6 : 23nov20 : B16

Transfers are sometime thought of as protecting declarer from an attacking lead but on this hand from Monday, the fatal spade lead was easily found from North but just about impossible from South. But in practice it did not work out that way - only two out of the eight Norths found the spade lead - and one of those two was a robot! In fact declarer had to be rather nimble to avoid two down on that lead. Here's what happened ...

After the top spade won trick one, North continued with ♠Q and another (trusting that partner had not started with ♠Ax inwhich case they might have overtaken at trick one) and after winning the third trick South switched to a diamond. This ran to the king and a diamond came back, setting up a ruff for the defence. This declarer set about trumps but lost two trumps and the ruff on top of three spades and a diamond - down two.

One other declarer face the same problem but he diagnosed that the diamond king was offside and rose with the ace; he led a club to the queen and a heart to the queen. He was now ablt to ditch two diamonds on the ♣AK and then play the thirteenth spade to ditch the last diamond while the defence ruffed. Well done by Val Constable. She did have the advantage of having stopped in 1 - with essentially the same sequence but with the 1N hand opening 1♣.

HotD-thu : Pairs League 6 : 23nov20 : B12

This was the "big" hand from the second match on Monday and it was handled in a variety of ways; we consider here whether the wisdom of the crowds is a good guide.

Almost all tables opened 1♣  - the exception being a 2♣ opening whose effect was primarily as a preemptive bid! Over the opening it is clear than North will bid spades - but how many? Every level got chosen, but 1♠ and 4♠ only once, and the majority came down in favour of 3♠ (6 takers) rather than 2♠ (with 4 takers).  Does it mean anything that three of the 2♠ bidders and none of the 3♠ bidders were in the top two divisions?  The vulnerability is key to the decision here - at this vulnerability the emphasis has to be on a making contract as opposed to being obstructive. If the vulnerability was reversed, we would expect a large majority for a 4♠ bid, and if both vulnerable then that would be too much and 3♠ would look correct. There is an argument that adverse vulnerability should pull that back one level, which leaves the argument in favour of a 2♠ overcall. 

But in practice all that made no difference as South now (in all but two cases - the 4♠ overcall and one 3♠ overcall) bid game in hearts.  It was natural for West to bid again at this point and everyone chose 5♣. There was one North who volunteered 5♠ at this point and got a -1100 penlaty as a reminder not to bid her hand twice, but the other tables all put the spotlight now on South.  As Garry pointed out in the discussion, there is a common label for an nine card suit - it's called "trumps" - but there were only three Souths felt that calling - the other seven in this position all passed. Is it right to bid or right to pass?   You are only dealt a 9-card suit one hand in every 2500, which means playing one session a week it will happen for some player at the table on average twice a year.  Here there are two reasons to consider bidding - one is that you might make (a singleton heart with partner and two aces makes it odds on), and the other is that the other side might make (almost half playing in 5♣ did make).

Neither of these possibilities came to pass but the fact is that the 5 bidders actually scored well; one played there losing 100 and collecting 3.4 on the cross-imps, one heard the opposition bid 6♣ and collected 300 and 10.7 cross-imps, while the third is looking at -1100 and asking her partner how many times she has to bid hearts to get out of playing in spades. Those who passed 5♣ scored an average of +2.7 cross imps.This is only one hand but the bidders did come out on top.  Remember that the next time you have a nine-card suit.

How's Your Defence?

Partner leads the 7 and declarer wins with the Q. He now cashes the ♣Q and plays a spade to the Ace. He now continues with the top clubs, discarding a heart on the ♣A. How do you see the defence developing? 

You should determine from South's heart discard that he is 5-5 in the majors. Your only hope of beating the contract is to find West with the K and pick up a ruff. Therefore you should ruff the club with the ♠K and continue with Ace and another heart to get a heart ruff. Note that if you ruff the club low, declarer will overruff and lead a trump, restricting your side to 3 tricks. South has played well by playing clubs before leading a second trump, giving you a chance to go wrong.

HotD-wed : Pairs League 6 : 23nov20 : B1

This hand from Monday was a non-event for most pairs as all but three tables played in game in spades, but there were interesting points in the bidding and the play. 

The first question was the opening bid and we saw one pair open a strong club, three pairs open a strong 2♣ and the remaining nine opened 1♠. Of those nine, one got a pass, one got a 1N response (where 2♠ would have shown more strength) and seven got a simple raise. The question is how excited should North get after a simple raise from partner?  We are taught to give up if it take perfect cards from partner to make a slam, but here a single raise with ♠432 65432 A32 ♣A2 makes a grand slam in hearts trivial.  When perfect cards make a grand slam, it is surely worth checking out  whether a small slam might be on.  But of the seven who could only two offered hearts as a trump suit. And it is here we see some of the extra value in opening 1♠ rather than 2♣; those who opened at the two level were a level (or two) higher when they found the spade fit, and could not investigate hearts.  Today all routes converged on 4♠ apart from the table where North drove straight to slam.

Looking at the North-South hands, slam is clearly odds against. You expect to make the slam if both major suits break 3-2 and the diamond finesse is right - which is about a 25% shot. But we have all been in worse slams than that, and when we are, you do want to make the slam 25% of the time. Here Deep Finesse tells us the slam cannot make, but when we look closer we find that East must lead a top club to beat the slam - and no East did. So the question is - should the slam be made on a trump lead? On a trump lead most declarers won that, cashed a top heart and ruffed a heart. There is no way to come off dummy to ruff another heart  because the necessary 3-2 spade break means whoever wins the club can play another trump. So declarer plays a trump to hand, draws the last trump and cashes one more in the hope someone will discard a heart. When nothing happens (East ditched a club and a diamond, West a club) out comes another top heart, but this exposes the bad heart break. Do you give up?

You know at this point East has J6 and you need East to have K and that is still not enough unless East is under pressure in clubs - and this is not totally unlikely. Provided you have kept AJ6 ♣T97 in dummy you can succeed. Look what happens if you play three rounds of diamonds ruffing the last. East must discard on that last trick and cannot afford a heart - so away goes a club honour.  Now East has two hearts and one club, and declarer can exit in clubs and the defence is helpless - East can win and lead a heart into the Q7 or West might get to overtake but then the top clubs in dummy become winners. 

It doesn't always look the right thing to do, but the extensive simulations done of leads against a slam do suggest that leading an ace when you have one is the most effective choice. 

From declarer's side, it is amazing how often, when there is only one option in a poor contract, that option actually works out if declarer can find it.  A key point is that, in a contract you'd rather not be in, you must not give up until trick thirteen.

A Sure Thing?

West leads a top heart. How do you assess your chances?

Two lines of play initially come to mind. You could play East for the ♠J, or the club finesse might work, after which you could probably set up a long club. However, the contract is 100% on the assumption that West holds the ♠A (almost certain on the bidding). Ruff the heart lead, cross in trumps and ruff another heart. Then draw the last trump and lead a spade to the King. Now a second spade inserting the ten either forces the Ace, or West wins with the Knave after which all he can cash is the ♠A before having to lead a club or a heart - either of which concedes the contract. 

Timing is Key

You receive the lead of ♠2. How do you set about making 9 tricks?

You need spades to be 4-4. and you can't release the K before making a diamond trick. The only chance is to time the play in a way that puts the defenders on lead when they could cash three spades and then be forced to give you a second trick in a red suit. As the only sure way of achieving this is to endplay the defence with a spade, you should win trick one. Cash the ♣A at trick two, then play a heart to dummy and run the clubs, throwing 3 hearts and a diamond from hand. Now is the time to exit with the K. If this is ducked, get off play with a spade. The defence can take 3 spades and at most 1 diamond before having to give you the K. If the defence win the diamond and take their spades and exit with a diamond, then you rise with the Q and will only be defeated if East started with a singleton A. Note that the natural line of trying to cross to dummy with a diamond fails. East wins the trick, the defenders cash the spade suit, then exit with a heart. You never make a trick with the K, losing three spades and two diamonds.

Easy When You See It

West starts with AKJ, on which East throws two clubs. How do you play?

You have 9 probable tricks in your hand and dummy has one more if you can get there. Ruffing clubs in dummy is futile as by this time it is likely that East has no more. Could the trumps be 3-1 with West holding 3 in which case a club ruff is still available? - impossible as that would give East 9 hearts and he would hardly have bid 3♣ with that hand. So ruff trick 3 and lay down two top trumps, West turning up with the stiff Knave. Now Play off the ♣A. If East ruffs, he will have to lead a heart into dummy's tenace. If he doesn't ruff, exit with a low trump to achieve the same result.  As is often the case, West's bidding is fine when his side finishes up playing the contract, but gives declarer a clear map to the winning line otherwise.

HotD-fri : League 3 : 16nov20 : B2.2

This hand from Monday had a number of interesting points in the bidding and the play. We must note first that all but two tables ended up in game and although two made their game, the game was seriously odds against and better avoided. In the two successful games the opponents had easy options to beat the contract.

Looking at the bidding first, the two tables which stopped out of game were the cases where North could open a forcing bid at the 1-level, to which South was obliged to respond; when they gave South the option to stop out of game, South accepted. For the rest the plurailty choice (6 times) of opening bid was 2N showing 20-22 hcp; one cannot deny that the hand contains 20 hcp.  It is wrong however to imagine that a singleton ace carries the same weight as say KJx.  If you imagine how it combines with partner's Qxx the stiff ace gives you one trick from the combination while KJx gives you a guaranteed two tricks. Singleton honours need to be downgraded. This makes the choice of the other six tables a preferred choice. Why could they not stop out of game after opening 1♣  or 1?  The answer is that South could not keep quiet; with 5 hcp and a 4333 shape there is every reason to keep quiet, but failure to do so meant North could not stop. There are many occasions we encourage bidding, but two of the reasons - to give partner another chance (not necessary where East overalled 1♠) or to block the opposition (who had both already passed) - can hardly apply here.

Playing in 3N as North the lead was always a spade, and when played by South it was a spade in all but one case (In the other case a diamond lead gifted the contract). All declarers proceeded by attacking hearts first - primarily because the other suits were better led from South. West beat the heart queen with the ace and continued spades, giving declarer an entry to the South hand. Having thrown clubs on spades, there was a choice now of two finesses - diamonds or hearts? In each case finding the missing honour onside and a 3-3 break would gain a trick, leaving you the option to play the other red suit from the top, hoping to drop the missing honour. The crucial difference is that a heart finesse and dropping the Q will get you nine tricks, while the diamond finesse and dropping the J also needs the diamonds 3-3 to get the ninth trick. But all declarers went for diamonds.  The one successful declarer was the one who gave up a legitimate chance to play for a mis-defence - he led the T which was not covered, a play which would lose a trick if West had held Qx   That gave four diamonds tricks bringing the total to eight - so how did he make?  His ability to cash four diamonds put the screws on East who was squeezed out of a winner.

HotD-thu : League 3 : 16nov20 : B2.10

This little hand from Monday saw 12 pairs play in 1N and four of them went minus (and anotehr four should have); we remember the big swings after a match, but it is on the accumulation of hands like this than the results often depend on.

It was curuous to note first that only two Easts saw fit to open the bidding; this was a surprise, Not for the weak NT-ers (1N vulnerable on 11 is dangerous) but for the those who could open 1♣ and had the prospect of finding a spade fit, as well as disrupting the opposition bidding. 

The bidding shown was common, and others started with a minor from North and hearts from South to get there.  After a spade lead found at all 11 tables, North can see three tricks in the majors and everything depends on finding the diamond queen. 

While you might imagine that knowing something about the missing high cards and shape - which can be very meaningful when both East and West have passed - might help you make a winning decision in diamonds, nobody took the investigative route. Every table went straight for diamonds after winning the opening spade lead. On the two occasions where East led the ♠3, declarer had an extra spade trick and guessing the diamonds wrong didn't matter - but in all other cases this was the vital choice on the hand.

In practice only three of the declarers guessed the diamonds right - the other eight lost a trick to the Q and after that sensible defence would have beaten 1N, but it did so in only 4 of the 8 cases. Should declarer have found the Q on this hand? A little more information would have helped them on their way. One option for that is to pick up the spade distribution, from the opposition carding and by ducking one round if necessary. If you can uncover that the lead was from a four card suit, and deduce from that that East lacked a five card suit, then vacant spaces tells you that East has more diamonds than West (on average), and now you play the diamonds by cashing the ace and running the jack.  Another alternative would be for declarer to play clubs at trick two, and again clues may arise from the actions of the defenders at this point.

HotD-wed : League 3 : 16nov20 : B1.2

There were a bundle of slam hands again on Monday with four (plus one where a pair had illusions of a slam) in the first set of 12 boards. The fact that the respectable slam on B1 went off (when a bad spade break combined with a losing club finesse) the five times it was bid was not encouraging and in fact fewer than five reached the optimal level on the other slam hands. It was interesting to note the differences in approach on the board shown, which ended with just one pair in slam, and three pairs stopping in a part-score.

It all depended on the approach North took to competing over the 1♠ opening from West. In practice 8 Norths bid 2N at this point, while 4 Norths doubled (and two Norths faced a 2-level opener and didn't have the same choice). The key diffference that makes is that 2N by North competely rules out the heart suit from the bidding and this cannot be right on a hand whiere a heart slam is playable. It is surely rtight to treat a 5530 hand as a 3-suiter rather than a 2-suiter.

After 2N the choices made by East now varied; the two who passed over 2N reaped great rewards when South selected 3♣ and the auction finished there. This brings out another difficulty with the 2N bid - the range; the North hand is a lot stronger than it might be, but bidding on over 3♣ could generate a minus score. Some Easts chose 3♠ and that was enough to buy the contract once, but twice South thought it worth making a lead directing 4 bid and found themselves pushed up to game. Other Easts bounced to 4♠; one was able to buy that contract and escape for -150 (as happened after 1♠-X once).  After the bounce to 4♠ two Norths continued unilaterally with 4N and escaped to their making game.

The cases of 1♠ - X where more interesting. Here every East bid 4♠ and South faced the key decision; one passed, one doubled and two bid 5 and it was just one of these that got raised to the slam (the other took 800 from 5♠-X).

The best line of play in the slam - after a spade lead - is still being debated.  In practice declarer drew trumps and took the winning club finesse.

Not So Hopeless

West leads the T. Given that the lead is almost certainly a singleton, plan the play.

You do have a legitimate play for this contract. You need West to hold 3 trumps and the ♣J. Win the A, cash the ♠A, draw two rounds of hearts ending in your hand, and lead a diamond. If West ruffs, and exits a spade, ruff in dummy discarding a club, cross to the ♣A and discard your remaining club on dummy’s fifth diamond, being sure to unblock the jack on the third round. If West exits a club instead, surely West cannot have the ♣K, as he would simply let partner win the third diamond and lead a club, so stick in the 10. There goes one of your club losers and the other goes off on dummy’s fifth diamond. Clearly, West should discard on the second diamond and not ruff air. After West discards, win the king and exit a diamond to East’s queen, unblocking your jack Now what can East lead holding the ♣K? If East exits a club, run it to the queen, cross to the ♣A, draw West’s last trump and discard your remaining club loser on dummy’s fifth diamond. If East exits a spade, discard a club, ruff in dummy, cross to the ♣A, draw West’s remaining trump, and discard your remaining losing club on dummy’s long diamond. Nor does it help for West to ruff partner’s good diamond, as any black-suit exit gives the contract.

HotD-mon : RealBridge Teams Trial : 15nov20 : B8

The GCBA ran its first event using RealBridge on Sunday and it went very well.  Sixteen teams turned up and with help from Shirren Mohandes at RealBridge we were abe \to run a multiple teams event in a astyle we have missed since the bridge clubs all closed in March. The event was won with a decent margin by Malcolm Green & Mike Liews, Mike WIgnall & Roger Williams.  This board was their largest gain.

The bidding to 6NT by North was very natural and the contract can actually be beaten but only by the right combination of leads; first East must lead a spade, and then when in with the K, West must lead a club. That one combination gives declarer an unsurmoutable problem with entries and the 12 tricks are not cashable. The opening lead when played by South is similar - West must lead a spade or the doubleton club to set up two tricks for the defence. Malcolm got the lead of a heart and played out the diamond ace and another to quickly set up 12 tricks.

In the other room the contract was 6 which has exactly the same tricks to cash - but East found a way to get declarer to go wrong, How?  What he did was made an early discard from his doubleton spade. When declarer came to cash the spades, Roger now showed out on the first round and declarer  (having paid insufficient attention to the discard) registered that the spade suit was breaking 5-1; so after cashing the top four spades he gave up on the suit and played clubs instead. East's maneouvre there is one that has been seen before - and of course it should not work, but it did!


How do you Defend?

Your partner leads the ♣2, You win with the King as declarer ducks in dummy. How do you see the defence developing?

You know from the opening lead that partner has 4 clubs, which means that declarer also has 4. He has bid both red suits so can have no more than one spade at most. Hence you should switch t♣ A♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ 

[Jack points out : declarer should not have given you the chance - rise with the ♣A and the contract cannot be beaten]

Are you a Good Defender?

Your partner leads the 2 and you win the King. How do you see the defence developing?

Partner has found a good lead and you must capitalise on it. The lead tells you that you can take a second diamond and your Ace of trumps is a third trick. Where will you find a fourth?  Your have a key asset in the ♠A and partners lead tells you he holds the Q - does this suggest anything? The solution is to switch to the ♣Q at trick 2. Then you can win the trump Ace, put partner in with the Q, and get your club ruff.

What's the Best Line?

West leads a low heart against your slam and you are able to win with the Knave. What's the best line?

One line would be to draw trumps and then try to hold the diamond losers to one. However, it is better to cash three rounds of hearts and then play Ace and another diamond. You will make whenever diamonds are 3-2 and still have lots of chances against a 4-1 break.

HotD-thu : Pairs League 5 : 09nov20 : B9

It was curiuous to note that there were only three tables missed the game on this hand from Monday. You might wonder how a 20-count sitting West let the opponents buy the hand at the 2-level. 

It happened twice and it was because the same situation arose at exactly those two tables - that situation was that both opponents had already bid before West got a chance. After 1 - P - 1♠ both Wests chose to double and then never bid again. It must be admitted that game is far from certain - and if the defence happen to start on declarer's shortest (combined) holding with a diamond lead, then there aren't even enough dummy entries to pick up the heart queen (unless doubleton) and still lead up to the top club. So sympathy to the pair who bid to 1N but lost a bundle of points. 

Do the two pairs who kept West out of 3N deserve credit or mockery? They managed to keep the other side out of the "normal" contract, which as we noted might be a Good Thing or might not.  It will lose sometimes, but on average any bidding activity - and in particular opening before they do - will  pay for the side that bids more. Here there are three points which encourage opening as North - first is the position (much less advantage if one of the opposition have already passed), the vulnerability (less to lose, more to gain) and the convenience of the suit order (if partner bids your singleton

The answer is credit.

It's worth noting that there were four other instances of bidding by North-South but where only one of North-South bid, it was easily swept aside by West who just powered into game as the best bet on the hand.

HotD-wed : Pairs League 4 : 09nov20 : B15

The boards on Monday were noticable for the appearance of a numebr of slams; there was a 63% slam on B2 (going down on a bad diamond break) and a 50% slam on B7 (nobody bidding close to this) which were flat boards but the slams on B1 (bid by 7/13 all making) and the slam on B5 (bid by 7 but made by 4) and the slam on B15 (bid by 5, all going off) generated a number of swings.

In the case of B1/B5/B15 the decisionmaking was all up to the pair with the big hands, but curiously as the movement went, there were only two pairs (MR & JC, BH & RH) who never had control of any of these auctions - and our sysmspathy must go to the pair whose opponents chose the winning option on all three hands. 

Board 1 was just an issue of evaluating the opening bid with six solid diamonds opposite partner's 18-19 balanced - and there should have been no hesitation in pushing to a slam. Board 5 was a much more iffy contract with 29 HCP and a minimal trump fit; those in 6♠ found a decent lie of the cards while the three pairs in 6N were clearly OTT.  Boiard 15 was a decent but uncertain slam and it was interesting to see how the play unfolded.

The lead against 6♠ was a heart four times and a club once. The spade suit by itself offers a 10% chance of 6 tricks by running the queen, and if you plan on a diamond finesse should that fail you get to about a 55% chance of making the contract. Of the four with a heart lead, three won trick one and ran the ♠Q and found that they could not make the contract even when the Q dropped under the AK.  The fourth started with a spade to the ace and a spade to the queen and was also doomed.

The one declarer who had a club lead got closest of all. He won the ♣A at trick one and ruffed a club to lead the ♠Q. This lost to the king and a spade was returned. He continued with a second club ruff, leaving his spades as J9 over West's T7. The contract can now be made if he can cash winners and then be in dummy to lead through West. He failed to spot the one option that would give that - which is the Q dropping from East. This allows declarer to cash the jack and then cross to the K to run diamonds through West. It was the only possisble line - and the cards were lying perfectly for it!

Could the others have done better too? The answer is yes - if they had played a club and a ruff at tricks two and three before running the ♠Q. There is a slight risk involved in that but here it would set the timing right for a trump reduction and lets you make the ocntract. Shortening trumps like this falls under the category of "good technique" so it is worth watching for cases it might help. Here it makes a big difference.


What Can Go Wrong?

West starts with a top heart and switches to the club King. How do you play?

You have plenty of tricks and 2 losers outside the trump suit. Your plan must be to avoid 2 trump losers if the suit breaks 4-1. To this end, win the club and play a low spade towards dummy. If the Jack wins, return with a diamond to play another low spade. West can rise and force you in hearts, but you can cross to the spade and return in diamonds to draw the last trump and enjoy your winners.

Defensive Thinking

You lead a top club which is ducked all round, partner showing an odd number. How do you see the play developing?

You should be thinking along the follwing lines: On the bidding, partner can't hold much, and the bidding indicates that N/S have a double fit. You have 3 tricks with a club, heart and diamond, but the bidding has marked the position of key cards to declarer and a competent South will win the second club, draw trumps, eliminate the club suit and throw you in with the second round of diamonds. Then you will have to open up the heart suit or conced a ruff and discard. You must be ready for this and unblock your King of Diamonds under the Ace whenever that card is played. If partner holds the J, you beat the contract. If not, you still make a couple of hearts at the end so are no worse off.

Part-scores can be Hard

West starts with the A and switches to the ♣T. East plays an encouraging card to this trick and you win with the King. How do you see the play developing?

Part-score hands are often hard to play and indeed to analyse, since the nature of them involves many variations as the defence are likely to get more opportunities to cause you to vary your plan. On this hand, if you assume the heart finesse is working, you have 3 tricks outside trumps, and hence will need to generate 5 tricks from the trump suit. Your first thought might be to ruff diamonds in dummy, but whilst the first ruff is easy, you lack re-entries to your hand to take more ruffs. A better line is to ruff hearts in hand. Finesse the heart and cash the Ace before ruffing a heart in hand (say East discards a diamond on this trick). Now consider how you think the spades are dividing. East did not respond 1♠, so probably doesn't have 4, hence you can now take 2 rounds of trumps before leading the last heart from dummy. You can ruff this in hand and this gives you 7 tricks and the trumps in dummy will furnish 1 extra trick to see you home.

HotD-sat : MOnday Swiss Teams : 02nov20 : B1

The intiial choice made here by North on Board 1 generally mapped their path through the rest of the bidding, and there were two options.

  1.   There were five who opened 1♠ and they all heard a response from partner, with invititational or more values from all except the 1N response. Four showed no ambition beyond game, even with nine solid playing tricks, while one (Paul Denning) got a hint of spade tolerance and then pushed to slam.
  2.   There were seven who opened 2♣ and duly showed a near-game-force in spades and left the rest to partner. Ignoring the mixup at one table (playing complicated responses to a 2♣ opener) we saw two Souths drive on to a slam, while four were happy to stop in game despite holding three card support and an AK.

Clearly slam is where you want to be on this hand - so which path is preferred? Given so few got it right there could be flaws with both paths. Let's consider them in turn

  1.   After opening 1♠ and hearing something positive, it is criminal with 9 top tricks not to make some move towards a slam. For sure partner could have an unsuitable hand but making a move is not a commitment to slam. If North does make a movement to slam, South will surely cooperate and if that happens momentum will carry them to the right contract. So this path should always work.
  2.    After hearing partners' 2♣ opener, the failure of South to make any move towards slam must show an expectation of partner having a much weaker hand than this. Why would that be? The answer must be in the expectations from a 2♣ opener; these Souths must have been expecting partner to bid this way on much weaker hands. There is a need for partnership calibration here.

Conclusions? There seems little excuse for not bidding the slam whichever way the bidding starts. It was odd to see that the partners of many 2♣ openers expected a weaker hand from their partner than that which others deemed to be only a 1♠ opener.  With nine clear playing tricks and a decent set of controls, the auction is much more comfortable if North opens 2♣ and then leaves the driving tio slam up to partner. The only pair whose auction we get close to recommending is that of Alan Wearmouth and Tony Hill. 

Bidding to the right contract is only part of the game. The Great Shuffler on Monday did give the defenders a chance, alrthough it was only at one table that the winning defence was found.  When David Atthey had bid 2♠ over a 1♠ opener,  and led a heart against a spade contract, Alison Pritchard recognised the failure to lead a singleton club as significant and found a club at trick two to give partner a ruff and hold declarer to 11 tricks..  Well done with that defence.

Play This Slam

Your very agressive opening leads to playing a thin slam. West leads the K. You win and play a top trump from each hand, East following on the second round with the Knave. How do you continue?

You should play clubs without drawing the last trump. Ace, King and a third club ruffed low sees an honour is still outstanding, but now you can cross to dummy with a spade to ruff the last club with the T. As it turns out, West has 4 clubs and hence his shape is marked as 1534. Now you must not play a second spade, else West will ruff and have a heart to cash. Instead, exit with your top heart and West will have to give you access to dummy through a heart ruff to draw the last trump before cashing your remaining 2 high spades.

HotD-thu : Monday Swiss Teams : 02nov20 : B18

This was the auction at three tables on Monday (and a few others started the same way but passed over 3N) and each of these tables got the lead of 7.  You have only 6 top tricks but prospects of three more in spades, which leaves you one trick short if you are playing in 4N. A second heart trick is one possibility but there is a danger of having four losers.   How should declarer proceed?

One easy answer would be to win the Q at trick one, and that is tempting but before you play a high heart from dummy you need to look at  the opening lead and imagine what hearts South holds. The key options  to consider are KJT7(x) or 7x.  In terms of the odds of these holdings there are three doubletons, three five card suits and one four card suit which means that the odds on South having length is greater. There is also the possibility of KJ7 or KT7..

The key question however is whether South would lead the 7 from a KJT7 holding, and and the answer is (generally) no,  You should therefore expect that the leadmust more likely to be from two small cards than from a four/five card suit. Playing the queen is not appealing. 

So you play low and North plays the ten (ruling out a lead from KT7); your choice now? It is important now that you stick to your first judgment; if you win then the defence might get to run the heart suit later, but if you duck then they cannot continue the suit and you will be protected from a heart continuation.  Because the heart entry has been preserved, declarer now had a valid option of coming to hand in spades, giving up a club and using the heart ace entry to cash the club suit. 

On the layout from Monday this is the vital play. Well done to Toby Roberts getting that right, while the two Advanced Robots playing in the same contract won the ace at trick one and - despite the good news in clubs - could no longer make their contract.

HotD-wed : Monday Swiss Teams : 02nov20 : B7

This hand from Monday produced some of the biggest swings and a lot of problems stemmed from early decisions in the auction, notably at this point.

It's worth noticing first how awkwardly a strong minor suit hand bids after a 2♣ opener; the first step in describing this hand comes with a bid of 3 - even if there is no intervention to cope with.  However with 24 HCP nobody could resist and all twelve tables opened with 2♣ (or for two, an equivalent 2).  It was encouraging to see almost all Norths came in with a 2♠ bid at this point; the value of bidding is clear when you look at the auction where North passed. At that table it proceeded 2 - 3 - 3 making the best trump suit visible and bidding a slam was straightforward. 

After a start of 2♣ -2♠ there were only two Easts who bid; one was with a double to show some values and create a game force and the other was a bid of 3; the latter choice made bidding the right slam trivial and that produced the second successful auction. There was also one table where the auction started with 2♣ - 3♠ and at that table East bid 3N which ended the auction. That leaves eight tables where the auction started as shown. What should West do now?

There was a curious choice by the two robots who were in this position; the both upgraded their hearts to be a five card suit and bid 3; they were raised to game and played there. We cannot recommend that. The mainstream choice was between X and 3.  Two Wests in this position (and the West whose partner doubled 2♠ to show values) bid 3 now  and heard partner bid 3N. Amazingly all three now jumped to 6 and that contract drifted off when there was a diamond to lose as well as the space ace.

Double, found four times after 2♣ - 2♠ - P - P,  had a much better chance but there were four different responses from East. One choice was a pass by East which did not fare wll as North always had 7 tricks available. Another choice arose when North bid for a second time with 3♣ which got a 3♠ bid from partner and a second double by West. East chose to defend and when declarer misplayed the hand that collected +1100 (which should only have been 500). 

That leaves us with two auctions where after the double East bid 4 and West bid 6. This was a very simple way to get to the best slam, and was rewarded with a score of +1430.  Could you ask for a simpler auction?

Once again we see an enormous number of ways to bid any hand, and here only a minority of paths reached a successful ending place. 



You play in 6NT on the Q lead. How do you play?

If either black suit breaks, 13 tricks are available. Hence you should take out insurance in case neither suit breaks. You cannot afford to give up a club if that hand can then cash the fourth spade, so your safest choice is to win the lead, cash the ♠A and duck a club. On the layout shown, no return can harm you.

What are Your Chances?

West leads the J. You try the Queen, but East covers with the King. What are your chances?

You have 4 losers and so need to set up a club for a discard. You need to be careful how you do this. You hope for split honours (or both with East). Win the lead and cross to the ten of spades to lead a low club. You hope that East plays low and your Queen loses to West. Say they cash a diamond and then play a heart. You win and cross to dummy with a second trump to lead the ♣J for a ruffing finesse. If it is not covered, you pitch a heart. Note that it is important to play the first club from dummy in the hope of slipping past East's high card. If you lead the ♣Q from hand, East can win and switch to hearts and your ruffing club finesse will lose, leaving you with 4 losers.


West leads the 9 to East's King, who then switches to the 2. How do you play?

You plan to ruff your losing spades on the table, but you need to be careful. If you return to hand twice with ♣A and a heart ruff, you will eventually have to come off the table with a club or a heart, and you will then suffer a trump promotion, allowing West to score the Q. The way to play is to ruff a spade and lead the ♣Q from dummy. When East covers, allow him to win the trick. Now you have an easy club ruff back to hand at the critical juncture to draw the last trump.

Be Careful

West leads the 5 to East's Ace. The 8 is returned. When you win the King, West drops the Queen. Plan the play

If hearts are 5–3 as it would appear, you need to score 9 tricks without letting them in. Obviously no problem if diamonds behave, so plan for them not to. If diamonds are 4–1, you need four club tricks. With the lead in dummy, the best play for four club tricks is low to the 10 catering to Qx with East and still picking up the suit if it is 3–3. Therefore, the best line is to cash the K and ♣A before playing a second diamond. It can’t hurt and it might save the day if West has a stiff queen. You can still pick up Qx  or Qxx with East, so you have the best of both worlds. You need to be careful not to commit either of the following careless plays: - (a) not cashing a high club before leading a second diamond to dummy (b) leading the ♣J once you are in dummy having discovered diamonds are not 3–2. 

HotD-fri : Pairs League 4 : 26oct20 : B15

The South hand in today's deal was handled in two different ways by the various players on Monday. Clearly you expect to play this hand in hearts and the one concern you might have is that the opposition have a spade contract and can outbid you. 

The opening bids were divided into two camps - there were four who opened at the 1-level, and nine who opened at the 4-level, and of those nine there were eight instances of a 4 opener and one who could open 4♣ to show a solid heart suit. One could argue for opening at either level, but the fact is that the 4-level openers all felt happy that they had bid their hands with one bid, while two of the 1 openers could not contain the urge to bid 5 (offering 800) on the next round. Everyone who played in hearts - and all but one was doubled - went off, which is not what you are looking for at this vulnerability.

There was only one table where East-West were silent on these handsand they did collect +200 but that was the worse East-West score of the night. Was West right to pass? In fact there was only one other tables where West was silent, and that resulted in the best East-West score of the night - when East "sacrificed" in 4♠ and partner pushed to a slam for +980.  There is a lot to admire about that auction.  There was some variety in the interventions by West but most Wests doubled whatever the opening bid was; the exceptions were one instance of a 2 overcall and three cases where West bid 4N over 4

What is the best East-West action over 4? The style has moved these days very strongly to a double being takeout oriented even at the 4-level, but the catch is that over 4 it strongly encourages partner to bid 4♠  and in three of four cases of 4 - X that is what happened,  The uncharted nature of these auction was evident in the three different choices made by the Wests in these cases - one passed, one bid 5 and the other bid 4N intended as "pick a minor" but read as ace asking!  The case for passing improves.

In practice every East-West contract made, so what does all this tell us? The key point is a reminder that people are bidding up these days, and so more and more auctions start at the 4-level. We will struggle to do well with uncharted territory in common auctions, so partnerships need to talk about what the various bids mean in sequences like these, as next time there might only be one rather than three denominations in which East-West can be successful. 

HotD-thu : Pairs League 4 : 26oct20 : B8

It was slightly unusual to see on Monday all 13 tables make the same opening bid on a balanced hand - but that's what they did on this board. Then it diverged.

One divergence was because North at table 1 opened a 16+ 1♣ and East was able to bid an artificial 1N showing the majors. This did not stop that North getting to play in 3N along with most other tables.

Over a natural (or just balanced) 1♣ opener the field split, with 6 bidding 1 (one bidding 2) and 5 passing. It's a very weak hand on which to overcall, but bidding can often have a good effect. Here bidding was effective in a couple of odd ways.  The consequence of the overcall at three (!) tables was that North-South stopped in a spade partscore.  With 25 HCP and a 4-3 fit that is not expected to be the right contract. The reasons they struggled are not clear but competitive bidding does generate a lot more uncharted territory than non-competitive bidding, so we must put down some of the gain to the fact of an overcall. 

At the tables where East passed, most (all but one) North-Souths bid up to 3N and that's the interersting contract to play.  [The 5 bid by one pair is in some ways a safer contract - so well done to them - but  was a different play problem]   Against 3N all Easts led the Q and when that was ducked (everyobody did duck) they continued with the J which was covered by the K and the third heart was won by the ace.  With 7 top tricks declarer must find either two more in spades, or set up the diamonds. The danger with the diamonds is that the defenders can cash one or more hearts together with the AK to beat the game. Do you go for the diamonds or the spades?

For the diamond play to succeed you need to find both top diamonds with a three-card heart suit; for the spade play to succeed you need to find ♠Qxx sitting under the ♠AJ8.  Which is better odds?  Ignoring other issues both diamonds honours in the one specific hand is about 25% while spades behaving as nicely as this is just under 18%. What we need to factor into the first of these numbers is the question of the hearts breaking 5-3, and here it is a judgment call based on what has happened so far. With an overcall there was near-certainty, and even without there are good reasons to expect a five card suit was led. Most importantly West could not afford to play the king on the jack with four, in case the lead was from QJT tight, and if West had five again they would have held back the king lest the lead was from QJx.  With a little help from vacant spaces the odds are actually more biased that the earlier figures - 29.4% for both diamonds with West, and 18.1% for the spades.

With this in mind two of the Norths (two out of eight tables facing the problem - the ninth had a nonsense defence) played on diamonds to make the contract while the others all played on spades and that didn't work. Why did so few choose the better line?   I can offer two reasons : one is that they did not think through the calculation of the odds on the spades behaving, The other is the second reason why the heart overcall helped - the fact of East bidding persuaded declarer that both diamonds with West was impossible. 

It all goes to show that bidding pays.

HotD-wed : Pairs League 4 : 26oct20 : B2

The choice of opening bid on today's hand had some surprising effects on the final contract.

Over the years the attitude to opening a weak two bid with a 4-card major on the side has changed from being never done to being done frequently. This reflects the move in the game today to bid as often and as high as you can. But is it right?

For any weak two opening you are performing two functions - you are being obstructive to the opponents and you are informing partner about your hand to allow your side a constructive auction. The balance between the two functions changes with vulnerability and seat, and for most people in this seat and this vulnerability the obstructive aim dominates enormously. Consider this hand; it is 8 HCP but with a fit in a major it is a 6-7 loser hand, which is usually an opening bid. The side major is a strong major and is not a suit you want to lose in a constructive auction. This all argues that the hand is not a weak two opener. 

What did people do in practice?  There were 13 tables in play and 5 of them opened the bidding; at four tables West responded with a raise whcih made life difficult for the other side. Two raised too high and ended in 4♠x going down, one played 3♠ making (with a silent North!), and one raise pushed the opposition to 4♣ (a contract one should alwys be happy to defend). The fifth - where West passed the opening bid - was a failure for East-West as it gave the opposition room to find their way to 3N by South - the best game for NS to bid. What do we learn from that? The opening bid did prove disruptive as this time North-South did own the hand - but it was only disruptive enough when raised by West to the three level.

How did passing on the first round work out? For three Easts there was no second chance - North upgraded their hand to open 2N in fourth seat after three passes, and were raised to game. East led a top spade and the defence cashed six tricks. Silence is golden sometimes!

This leaves five tables where East passed on the first round and came in later. The instance where East-West later bid to 4♠ (doubled, down two) was not a success, nor was the instance of bidding only 1♠ (and then defending 3♣) - but the cases where East came in with spades later and West supported to the three level did have the right effect.

What's the verdict? East-West have a 9-card spade fit and bidding to the level of the fit generated a successful outcome whenever it was done. And you can get there even if you pass on the first round.

Read the Cards

West leads the ♣Q. How do you plan the play?

You might hope for the ♠A to be onside, in which case you have a parking place for one of your small hearts. However, East did open the bidding at the one level and must surely be credited with the ♠A and K. If indeed he does have these cards, you can still succeed if you read the cards correctly. You draw the trump and eliminate the clubs, followed by running all your trump suit. In the 3 card ending, dummy has ♠K AQ whilst 2 of East's cards are ♠A and K. If you think East has bared his spade, throw him in to lead a heart. If you think he has come down to a singleton heart, then drop his King. How can you tell? - Well, in view of West's spade preempt, it is likley that East started with 3 spades, hence it shouldn't be too difficult to work out what he has left provided you keep track of his spade discards.


West leads the ♠2, East contributing the King. How do you play?

It looks like West has led from ♠Txxx and you can set up a long spade. If clubs break, or a critical red suit card is onside you are home. You are however, vitually certain to make this contract if you play correctly. Win the lead and cash 3 rounds of clubs and only then follow with three more rounds of spades. West can win and perhaps cash a club, but will then have to give you an extra red suit trick at his next lead.  

Just One Trick Short

West leads a heart. Plan the play.

With 11 top tricks and 12 if spades are 4-1, there may be a spade-diamond squeeze against the defender with long spades if they break 5-0. If you cash even 1 spade and duck a diamond, the defender with 5 spades might win and return a spade, killing the squeeze. The timing is key. Win 2 top hearts and 2 top clubs before playing a spade to dummy. If they prove to be 5-0, play a diamond and cover East's card. If East has 5 spades and inserts the J, win the King and pass the T. Say East wins and exits with a spade. You win on the table and cash the A, discarding the Q. Now you can cash the J and discard a top club. Now the ♣J from dummy squeezes East when he holds the long diamond as well as his 5 spades. If East had played low on the first diamond, you insert the ten. If this loses you can unblock the diamond King before crossing in spades to achieve the same ending. If West had the long spades, the your play would be the King and duck the next diamond.  


West leads a spade and the defence cash two spades and switch to a diamond. You win and play two rounds of trumps, East showing out on the second round. Now what?

You are in danger of losing control of this hand. Suppose you play 2 top clubs with the intent of ruffing the third round. If West has a singleton club, he will ruff the second round and force you with a diamond and your clubs are not set up. You can take out insurance against a 4-1 club break by playing Ace and then Knave of clubs. East can win and play a diamond to force you but you now just lead winning clubs. You can overruff West and draw his last trump and claim. This hand might have proved trickier if the defence had given you a ruff and discard at trick 3, but that is not so obvious for them.

HotD-fri : County League 2 : 19oct20 : B2.1

There were a variety of leads and results on this hand from Monday and it is interesting to look at the pattern.

The first curioisty was the choice of opening bid by North; there were five whose system led them to open 1♣, six whose approach led to a choice of 1, and two who opened 1  (plus one who upgraded the hand to a 2-level opener.)   All Souths (who could) responded with one spade - and that was the only suit bid at all tables.

All four suits got led but the heart only when South was declarer; when North declared we saw three lead ♣Q, five lead ♠J and four led a diamond,  You would expect to see these leads correlate to the opening bids, and indeed the most common combinations were a 1♣ opener and a diamond lead, and a 1 opener and a club lead (each three times). But there were spade leads against all opening bids - which is why that choice dominated.

The hand looks straightforward - declarer can make three spades, three hearts, two diamonds and a club.  The catch is that in setting up the red suit winners declarer has to lose the lead twice and the defence can set up three club tricks to beat the contract. This involved the defence playing clubs, so you would expect the opening club leads to be successful, but only one of three was. Why was that?  In one case it was because declarer won ♣K at trick one and played back a club which East ducked; this blocked the suit and cut off the fifth defensive trick. In a second case East later switched to a heart away from the queen. Which left one successful defence.

The analysis tools tell us that any red suit lead from East lets the contract make, and any black suit lead beats it. Why is that? In the case of a heart it clearly costs a trick; in the case of a diamond it is more subtle - it is because it gives declarer their second diamond trick cheaply (without giving up one) and the defence now only had time - when it wins Q -  to set up the clubs and it doesn't get to its diamond trick. After the ♠J lead the contract can always go down but nobody found the winning defence and most declarers actually went down themselves rather than were defeated by force; the reason for this is that the sight of ♣T876 in dumy put East off the crucial attack on clubs.  

Defence can be difficult.

HotD-thu : County League 2 : 19oct20 : B8

As last week, it's a small 1N contract that is most amenable to analysis - but not enough Wests did the analysis. They may claim that they were actually playing for a defensive error, but we suspect there are many cases of autopilot around.

There were 11 tables played this hand in 1N (all but one was a strong NT opener) and one had an easy time after a heart lead but the remainder were faced with the lead of the ♣3 to the ace and a club back. You might thing there was nothing to this club combination but there was; two declarers failed to make any club contracts and can offer respectable reasons why.  What happened?  After the ♣A South returned the ♣3 and declarer stopped to think about where the jack was.  With the ten in dummy, the opening leader might have held ♣K973 and in that case South's return of a low club would be almost criminal - giving declarer a trick they did not deserve. Why would they not return the club jack?  Because they didn't have it - so up went the ♣Q and the defenders had four club tricks and the contract had no chance.  This dilemma was presented five times and three declarers did play small to preserve their club tricks.  Three declarers missed the problem because South returned the jack, and two declarers avoided the issue by playing the ♣T from dummy at trick one - after which the ♣9 on the second round was clearly better odds. After the first three tricks, eight declarers of the ten declarers facing a club lead still had the chance to make their contract.

Now look at declarer's problem; with one club trick and four heart tricks, it will take both pointed kings to make 7 tricks.  From the other side the potential losers are three clubs, two aces, and then the queens once the kings are released. There is no choice about what declarer's winners should be, and so attention needs to be paid to what the losers (ie the defensive winners) will be. The key here is that once you win the K the defence has two diamonds and a spade to go with its clubs which is fine, but after you win the ♠K they have three spades and a diamond to cash and that is one too many.  So diamonds must be played before spades. The answer is to cross to the heart jack, lead to the diamond king, and now lead to the spade king. Easy seven tricks, but a sequence of plays only found by two players - well done Harry & Alison. [Two other declarers were allowed to make on a misdefence] 

Is this really such an easy game?


HotD-wed : County League 2 : 19oct20 : B4

This was the most spectacular hand from the first set on Monday evening, and the very natural bidding sequence shown here did actually happen (at only one table athough two tables managed the first five bids but passed the hand out in 3N!).

This does look like the contract you want to be in with 10 top tricks and possibilities from the ♠9, the long diamonds, the ♣QJ and even from the heart suit. The lead is the J. How should one proceed?

The first thing to note is that if the diamonds break you are up to 12 tricks immediately, so your only concern is when they don't break. If they don't break you can lose one diamond to reach 12 tricks and then will choose to rely on ♠T falling or the club finesse. Finding out about the bad diamond break and having an entry at the right time to cash the spades is awkward.

The two declarers in 6N won the first diamond in East and crossed to the K to get the bad news. This forced them into cashing the spades now. One declarer threw a club then a heart and then a diamond. The other threw two hearts and then a diamond. On the fourth spade they both threw a diamond. When one North discarded a second heart on the next diamond, Jim Grant was able to make the contract by playing three rounds of hearts, leaving North to lead away from the ♣K. The other 6N declarer having thrown a club had less flexibility, North kept his hearts, and now in a similar position he had an extra winner, so 6N failed.

A more popular contract than 6N was 6 by East. Here the good news was that no South led a safe diamond - so every declarer had some good news to start with (although advantage was not taken when the ♠8 was led by playing the nine, and that declarer went off).  On a club lead declarer could afford to give up a diamond and enough winners were cashable to make the slam easy. It was curious to see that the extra element of control mean that declarer in diamonds had an easier time (even without the lead) than declarers in 6N.

With one exception - that was when West played in 6 at one table and rose with the ace on the initial club lead. Now after two diamonds showed the bad break, there were only 11 tricks in sight. He started by cashing three rounds of spades, at which point a light dawned. With South holding a 6-4- shape there were only three cards outside. He left the ♠J9 stranded, ruffed a club and drew the last trump. Now came the top hearts and South had no answer; when he didn't ruff he was thrown in with the top diamond to lead a spade to the J9. Contract made.

A little surprising how more flexible the suit contract turned out to be.


Simple Stuff

West leads the 2 to the King and Ace. How do you play?

Instead of thinking that 3NT would be easy, concentrate on making 4♠. If you ruff the diamond and try to draw trumps you will go down as the trumps break 5-1 and East sits with the clubs over your King. This hand is very simple. Jus discard a club at trick 1 and you are safe for ten tricks. 

A Tricky Game

West leads the J, continuing the suit at trick 2. You ruff and lay down the ♠A but West show out. The ♣QJ are not doubleton. Can you see a possible way home? 

You need to engineer an endplay on East, else you have 4 losers. You will need to cash 2 high clubs and use the heart entry in dummy to ruff the last diamond. Now if the K and a heart ruff stands up, you are home. Exit with a club. West wins and must play a red card on which you discard a club from both hands. East only has spades left so must ruff this trick and concede the last 2 tricks to the split spade tenace.

Star Defence

West leads the ♠T, covered by King and Ace. What do you play at trick 2?

South will have very good hearts and a singleton spade for his bidding. There is a danger that South will be able to use dummy's diamond suit and so you need to attack the entries in dummy. Did you switch to the ♣K at trick 2? Sorry but South has the ♣Q and claims. You are right to think that dummy entries need to be attacked, but you should assume that South has just 2 diamonds for with 3 you either do or do not have a diamond trick. If South has say Kx he will need two outside dummy entries to set up and cash the suit and the entry to attack is therefore the heart - of course you don't know that the 9 is a winner, but if it isn't, then dummy never had the 2 required entry cards. A heart return at trick 2 kills the contract on the layout shown. On a spade at trick 2, declarer ruffs, plays 3 rounds of diamonds ruffing high. Then a trump to dummy allows the long diamond to be set up with the ♣A as an entry to cash it.

How do you Play?

The defence start with two rounds of hearts, won by East with the Ace a nd Queen. East switches to a club on which West shows out. How do you play?

One of your spade losers can go on the A, but barring an exceptionally lucky layout in the spade suit, you will need a squeeze for your eleventh trick. If West holds length in spades (or QJx) together with the Q, he will be stuck in the end-game. Take a second top trump and cash the K. Cross to dummy in trumps and play the A, then if the Queen has not fallen, run your trumps. Dummy comes down to ♠Kx J, whilst you have ♠ AT9. If West started with the diamond and spade guards, he will have to relinquish one of them on the last trump. 

HotD-fri : Pairs League 3 : 12oct20 : B17

This was a much less exicting hand than the last one discussed but with five plus scores for North-South and five plus scores for East-West on the traveller there were plenty of swings and these part-score swings can quickly accumulate.

The first thing to note is that 7 of the 10 tables saw South open a strong 1N - not a pattern we would have seen in years gone by. Against all of these 1N contracts the lead was a spade, but the results were down two, down one (thrice), making (twice), and plus one.  Why is there such variety?

Two instances of the contract making must be attributed to lunacies by West who led the ♠7 on the first round and played the ♠8 on the next round of the suit thereby making South's ♠6 into a winner. The other successful 1N happened when West abandoned the suit, switching to diamonds on winning the K and setting up a trick for declarer in that suit before the defence returned to spades.

The most sane results all started with two rounds of spades after which declarer played ace and another heart; one West rose with the king but the others all ducked - this being very necessary to cut off the fourth round if declarer had started with only three hearts. What should declarer do when the heart is ducked? The answer is that it is even money whether or not to play the queen and in practice more ducked than won. When the heart was ducked and West won the J, the third round of spades was played and now the K was dislodged. West could cash one top spade and then had to decide which minor to play. East's discards were important - with absolutely no interest in the suit it was natural for East to discard two clubs and this is what happened. In making two discards East can tell partner more than just about the lack of interest there, the informative partner also shows the count in clubs. West needs to look now at the hand as a whole; the count in clubs shows that South started with ♣KQ doubleton and it is here you must remember that partner's discards were information and not commands - partner might be suggesting you play a diamond but West knows better, and playing ♣A and other now sets up the ♣J for the defence where a diamond would set up a diamond trick for declarer. Only one defender found this line, to put 1N two off after South had misguessed the hearts. If South  chooses the winning option in hearts it is more tricks but it is still settig up the ♣J which beats the contract.

Being on the right side of these little hands is a winning strategy.

HotD-thu : Pairs League 3 : 12oct20 : B13

The hands on Monday were not generally exciting but this hand was an exception - at least if you were sitting North.  Bidding after a 2♣ opener is notoriously difficult, so it's worth going through this auction in detail.

It usually starts with 2♣ - 2 -  2  and the next choice is partly system dependent. Many today play 2 in this sequence as a two-way bid, either hearts or game-forcing balanced, and over that 2♠ is a waiting bid to find out which option.  After 2♠ here the 3 continuation (slam is good odds opposite just four small diamonds and nothing else, and skipping the 2N bid which would show the game-forcing balanced) promises the opener has hearts and diamonds. South is still not excited, and the most neutral bid that can be made is a preference to 3. This is preferred to a 4♣ bid as that would exclude playing in 3N which might be the right place. There is quite a wide range of hands that South could have at this time, so it is important for North to take it easy. Here that is best done by a continuation of 3♠ and that doesn't tell you much but when South now bids 3N (natural, a stopper in clubs) North can tell that (a) the heart support was only a doubleton, and (b) partner's values are in the wrong place.  This allows a stop in 4 which is much safer than the higher level reached at  8 tables (out of 12) on Monday.

One pair nearly reproduced the sequence shown but their final bid was not 4 but 6. At four tables West produced an overcall of 3♣ on the first round; all Norths at this point bid 3 where a takeout double would have netted a score of up to 1400.  There is a good case for double as after 3 South will be forced into bidding 4 on an enormous variety of hands leading to a missed diamond or spade slam (and all four tables bid 4 on this hand). 

Having said that we want to stop at the 4-level, we have to report that three of the five pairs who bid the slam actually made it.  The first making slam got a spade lead, and when West won the A at trick two back came a spade rather than a heart. This allowed declarer to cash two diamonds discarding dummy's losing spade, and then a spade ruffed with the low heart and the diamond ruffed with 8 (phew!) was enough to make 12 tricks.  It should have been clear to West that there was never any hurry to play spades - where could a quick spade loser go?  A heart switch means one less ruff and the slam goes down, The second making slam came from East leading a diamond despite West having overcalled clubs (now declarer needed one less ruff), and the third making slam came where East preferred at trick twelve to hold onto the thirteenth spade rather than the winning 8.  Who says overbidding doesn't pay?

Most of the pairs in 5 had an easier time, but at one table Richard Harris found the winning heart lead at trick one. Declarer could lead a top diamond now but when Betty followed her husband's example with a second heart, declarer was held to ten tricks.  And that is why we want to stop at the 4-level.



HotD-wed : Paris League 3 : 12oct20 : B3

This hand from Monday was subjected to inadequate analysis by most  (was it all?) players on Monday.  The contract was always spades, for some it was 1♠-P and for others North responded and the result was 4♠. In either case the same questions arise.

In all case West was on lead with no guidance from parter as to which suit to lead. Three chose a spade - with some rationale if North had indicated preference for the suit - and four chose a club and two chose a diamond. The diamond lead allowed declarer to go to ruff one heart, win the spade return when West rose with ♠T and continued the suit, and ruff another heart. Easy ten tricks. Those with a spade lead, or a club lead to the ace and a spade switch, were not going to be able to do that. But they tried anyway, playing three rounds of hearts with West ruffing the third and playing a second spade  - so that the fourth heart was another loser and declarer was held to 9 tricks.

Could declarer have done better?  As soon as one spade has been played the only chance for avoiding a heart loser is the suit breaking 3-3 which is only a 35% short. But in fact the heart suit is worth a lot more than that - if you ignore the idea of a ruff, you can get 4 tricks in hearts a full 61% of the time.  Can you see how?

The key is not to waste the T or the 9. starting the suit with a heart to the ten works when the suit breaks 3-3 and when it doesn't but either both honours or a short honour in hearts is with West. Here, the play gains because West has Q7.

It's not quite as simple as this as the 3-3 break could get you 11 tricks if all suits break, and sometimes the heart over-ruff is with a natural trump trick - but it is worth noting how best to play this heart suit, and if you are playing in game where making 10 tricks is paramount, then that's the line to take.

Play This Grand Slam

How do you play in 7♠ on a trump lead, East following?

You probably can't cope with spades 4-1 and hearts 4-2, but you must try and set up the heart suit. Win the spade in dummy and cash AK and ruff a heart high assuming East follows to the third heart. If the hearts in dummy are now high, you have 13 tricks. All you have to do is draw trumps and you can handle 4–1 spades. Cash two high trumps in dummy, return to the A, discard a diamond on a high spade, cross to dummy with a diamond, etc. Say that the hearts are not good and the Q remains at large. Cross to dummy with a spade and ruff a second heart high establishing dummy’s two remaining hearts. Dummy remains with a high spade, two good hearts, three diamonds and a club. You remain with a low spade, the AJ and four clubs to the ace. You are reduced to finding the Q with West. Cash the A and run the J. If it holds, cross to dummy with a trump and the rest of the tricks are yours.

Defence Isn't Easy

West leads a diamond. You cover dummy's Queen and South wins and draws 2 more rounds of trumps, West turning up with a singleton. Declarer now advances the ♣J, West playing the 3. Plan the defence.

You know declarer has at least 5 hearts along with 5 diamonds. South probably has a spade since West did not go on to 3♠ by himself as he might have done with six. In any case, it is difficult to see how you can beat this if South has no spade loser. Therefore you should defend on the assumption that South is 1552, and this is reinforced by partner's play of the ♣3. The defence has reached a critical point. If you win the club then no matter what you play next, declarer will set up the clubs and have a heart ruff as an entry to dummy to cash them. You need to duck the ♣J. Although this gives up a club trick, you effectively eclipse dummy's club suit. Now all you need is for partner's hearts to be good enough to leave declarer with three losers in the suit.

Rate Your Chances

The defence lead hearts and take the first 4 tricks, West holding KJT9. West switches to ♠ J. Plan the play.

You have 8 top tricks and there will be no problem if the spades break 3-3. You will also succeed if one of the defenders holds a spade stop along with the ♣K. Win the ♠A and cash the ♣A. Now take your 4 diamond tricks, discarding clubs from dummy. If either defender has the desired holding, they will be squeezed into parting with a trick.

Better than a Finesse

You play in 7♣ as South and West leads the ♠K. Can you see anything better than the heart finesse?

Rather than take a heart finesse, you should first cash 10 winners outside the heart suit. On the eleventh trick, dummy is down to ♠J,AQ. West is known to hold the ♠Q from his opening lead, and he has to keep this card to prevent you scoring the A and ♠J. You throw the ♠J and then play a heart. If the King does not appear, you play the Ace and will succeed in dropping the King when the layout is as shown. In effect, West is squeezed, for although he holds nothing in hearts, his discards have to give you the count in the suit. 

HotD-fri : Monday Swiss Teams 2 : 05oct20 : B6

This looks a straightforward hand to play in 4♠, a contract the the majority of tables reached on Monday,  There might seem to be little excuse for going down - but at two tables South laid a trap into which an unwary East fell.  Here's how the play went ...

The opening lead was the ♣K and declarer won that with the ace and took a spade finesse.  Since declarer has six spades, South knows the full layout of that suit, and what Waggett & Watson both found was a duck on the first round. Declarer thought it safe now to cross to the A to take another finesse and duly did so, but now South won that and played a diamond. North was able to get in now and play a heart to give the fatal ruff. 

One other South found the duck of the spade, and declarer did cross to the A but, when in with the diamond, North failed to give the ruff.  Would you have avoided the trap laid for East?

HotD-thu : Monday Swiss Teams 2 : 05oct20 : B1

There were some interssting points on the very first board from Monday's game.  The opening bid depended on what style of NT opener was being used, and we saw half the field open 1N showing 11-14 and the other half all opened with suits (mostly hearts). This was unfortunate for the NT openers as South lacks the values to bid and when South passed West was able to bid diamonds and bought the contract there.  Not all NT openers were doomed, as two Souths dredged up a 2♣ Stayman response and when it went 3 - 3 - P to them they were well placed (and one bid game while the other passed).

In total we have eight tables found the heart fit and only two of those stopped ourt of game.  Over one 4 game West sacrificed in 5 (losing 300) leaving five declarers to play in 4; only one succeeded.  Four Easts were on lead and  three led a diamond in response in resoonse to partner having shown that suit; the fourth led a spade despite partner's suggestion.  The key question is how do you play 4 on the lead of a diamond to the queen, king and ace.

You can see three black suit losers and you also have the K to worry about.  What do you do first?  Two declarers won the diamond, ruffed a diamond and came back to a top spade. Next was a losing heart finesse and the defence had no problem setting up a spade to go with two clubs and the contract was off. The opening spade leads (one from East, one from West) both got a heart finesse at trick two and another spade doomed the contract.

Clearly a spade lead gives declarer no chance with the K wrong but can the contract make on a diamond lead?  The answer is yes, and here's how the fifth declarer in 4 did it.  Diamond ruffs and heart finesses are tricks which will wait but the one thing that cannot wait is trying to dispose of the spade loser. This declarer played a club at trick two, running the ♣8 to the ace; he ruffed the diamond return, crossed to a top spade and played another club.  East could win and play a second spade but now declarer was in control. He won that trick, ruffed a diamond and led a top club. What could West do? Declarer's plan was to over-ruff if necessary, cross to A and ruff another club to set up the fifth. A diamond ruff would give the entry to cash that and discard the losing spade.  It was not fool-proof but was good enough on today's layout.

The key message was to be doing something constructive, something which could not wait, at trick two. The big candidate was disposing of the spade loser.  Miss that and your contact is doomed.

HotD-wed : Monday Swiss Teams 2 : 05oct20 : B20

This hand was played in hearts at three tables on Monday, and at very different levels.  One table got to overcall 1 and hear P-P-2♣ and now their 2 bought the contract while East continued to doze.  The other two tables started 1♣-X  and found themselves introducing the heart suit for the first time at the 4-level; one got to play there and the other ended up bidding 5 over the opponent's 4♠ bid (necessary if the East-West hearts split 3-1).

All the other tables played in spades - four at the 3-level, four at the 4-level and one at the 5-level. The defence in each case started with the Q and the number of tricks made was 7 (once), 8 (four times), 9 (three times) and 10 (once).   How can we see such variance?

North had an easy task at trick one to overtake the heart and could see from the dummy that the only tricks to chase were in the red suits. Many Norths played A at trick two and the best Souths signalled their pleasure very clearly by dropping the king. At this point North must remember that partner might have led a singleton Q, in which case it is important to cash the second heart. If this is followed by a second diamond South will wiwn the fourth defensive trick. After that there isn't anything to try but a third diamond and when North ruffs with the ♠Q that is the fifth defensive trick. So the optimum outcome is 8 tricks.

What went wrong at the other five tables?  Seven tricks was an aberration by declarer who failed to over-ruff the third heart when it was played after the above start. Nine tricks happened in three different ways (a) North played a second diamond before the second heart (b) South won trick four and tried a club rather than a diamond, and (c) one North cashed two hearts and (defending 4♠ which gives some justification) underled the A in case declarer had a guess in that suit and now the wrong hand won trick four..  Ten tricks came when South failed to signal strongly enough on the A and partner presumed no future there and tried playing three rounds of hearts.

So the play was not without interest but what is most curious about this hand is looking at the double-dummy contracts which can be made; it is rare that you see that whichever side plays the hand in no-trumps will make ZERO tricks; that's an enormous advanatage for the defence from being on lead. There's a similar variation in suit contracts - North/South can make only 7 tricks with diamonds as trumps at the same time as East/West cannot make any tricks (on best defence) if they play the hand. 



You get the ♣J lead. A reasonable start is to cash the two top clubs discarding a diamond from the table and then take the spade finesse, but what do you do when it loses and a club is returned?

If you ruff the club in dummy, you will be able to set the spades up whenever they are 3-2, but you will be short of an entry to cash them after drawing trumps so you will be reduced to finding the A onside. A far better play is to discard another diamond fom dummy on the club lead. If the defence plays a further minor, you then make 2 minor suit ruffs in dummy, whilst on a trump switch,you make whenever the majors break.

How do you Play?

West leads the Q. Plan the play.

You might be in danger if everything lies badly, but you do have some chances extra to those offered by the play in the diamond suit. Win the lead and play a spade from dummy. Assume East follows. You win and eliminate hearts and clubs before exiting with a spade. If West wins he must open up the diamonds or give you a ruff and discard, seeing you home. If East wins, you will have to hope that East holds at least one diamond honour.

A Simple Slam

You play in 6NT on a club lead. How do you play?

You only need 5 diamond tricks to make the contract so win the lead and play the T. If West plays low, you must let this run. If East shows out, you can duck a further round of diamonds. If you carelessly play a top diamond first then when diamonds are 4-0, West can restrict you to 3 diamond tricks and you will fail unless both major suit kings are onside

HotD-sat : Pairs League 2 : 29sec20 : B14

This hand from Monday was interesting because the natural bidding chosen at this table was so amazingly descriptive. It didn't happen this way at many tables however; the first difference was that not all Souths opened the bidding - and the five who passed all ended in a part-score on tbhis hand (where it says you can make 13 tricks!),  Everyone else (including the one who opened South as 3♣) ended with one side or the other in game.  Should one open?  There are big advantages to getting in first and the vulnerability is favourable - but it is only a 9-count.  The margin of 6/12 opening at the one-level reflects how close the choice is.

Cleary from West's perspective hearts is a better suit than spades, and you usually want to play there. The issue with just bidding 1 is that you need so little from partner to make game, and you don't want it to go three passes. At the table we saw two choosing 1 while the other four all showed a two-suiter.  And here North doubled to show values and East showed a preference for spades. At this point paths again diverged and two Souths bid clubs again, while two passed (one over 2♠, one over 3♠).  West's 4 bid is now very descriptive, and must be either 56-- (occasionally 57--) shape.  North knows to bid the club game when South bid clubs twice.

The play in 5♣ (or indeed the 6♣ reached at one table) is very interesting. West starts off with a top heart and declarer starts by taking a ruff and then cashing ♣A.  Suddenly you know that West is 5620 shape and that means you can always cash three diamonds. With one heart and all your trumps in hand that guarantees 11 tricks and if you can get in a second ruff in dummy that's 12 tricks.  Two things are important here - to use your small trumps with spade ruffs, and to cash the diamonds. If you go about the ruffs using the diamonds as entries the good news is that the J appears setting up an extra trick for you there.  Your ending is ♠97 43 ♣Q in dummy and you are in hand with T9 Q ♣KT  and now you cash the diamond queen, ruff a heart and sit back for your two trump tricks. Sadly of the four players in 5♣ two made only 11 tricks and two made 10.  Not a good day.


An Extra Chance

West leads a low diamond to East's Queen. You win, perforce. Play from here.

Prospects are not that good. For his 1NT bid West must hold a high spade and hence the ♣A is virtually certain to be offside leaving you with 4 black suit losers. You do have a chance however. West didn't double 1♠, so probably doesn't hold a 4 card heart suit. Also, if someone ruffs one of your heart winners, it may well be from a doubleton trump. Hence, attempt to cash three hearts, using dummy's heart entry to ruff a diamond en-route. Now a trump exit allows you to endplay East when he holds a singleton spade honour.

HotD-thu : Pairs League 2 : 28sep20 : B9

When today's hand  was played on Monday there was only one pair in a part-score (the auction shown except West passed) and two pairs bid to 5 as East-West, leaving the majority to play in the (odds against) 4♠ game.  Against that game there were three instances of a heart lead, two instances of the lead of K and then a heart switch, and four instances of the lead of K and a second diamond (mostly where North had bid hearts).

On the play of diamond - diamond there was no way declarer could succeed and those declarers all went off. With a heart lead, or a heart switch, it all depended on what West played on the first heart. In practice, all five players in that position covered dummy's card, giving declarer the chance to draw trumps ending in South to take another heart finesse and make 10 tricks. If they had not covered, there is no line of play by which declarer can succeed.  Should they have known to duck?

It is very easy to be on auto-pilot and play "third hand high" without thinking. The first step you should take in third seat at trick one is to consider what partner has led from. An honest heart lead from East must be either K75 or 54 or 43 or 5.  Given the knowledge that East has a diamond suit biddable at the 3-level vulnerable (and supported), a lead from the heart king is too dangerous to make any sense, so that option can quickly be discounted. If the lead was from a doubleton there is nothing to do in the suit as declarer has AK7 - so we are left with the (very likely on the bidding) lead of a singleton.  Placing declarer now with 55 in the majors, you have three defensive tricks in the minors and need one more. 

Goven the scenario described, you need to think through how the play might go. You will see that with a 55xx shape, declarer cannot deny you the one heart trick you are due as long as you duck the first round.

The key learning point is to avoid auto-pilot, always stop at trick one to work out what holding partner has (or might have) led from, and act accordingly.

HotD-wed : Pairs League 2 : 28sep20 : B1

This innocuous hand from Monday offers a number of points of interest. The auction at all 12 tables started with the same three bids (1 - P - 1N) and the fourth bid was the same  (2) at all tables except at the one where East-West were using their defence to 1N openings (after any 1m-P-1N) and bid 2 to show a single suited major hand. The first question is what does North do over a 2 bid, and it was here that the community split.  After the first round of bidding, North knows that there is a 8-card fit available in one minor, but will bidding 3♣ suggest more values than just a 12-count and lead to partner bidding too much?  Seven of the twelve tables thought so while five pushed on with 3♣.

Was bidding 3♣ justified? Probably not, and for those well enough organised there was a way around : this is the use of the "Good/Bad 2N bid" (you can read about it here) and this was exercised by exactly one pair on Monday; unfortunately they got mixed up about it and ended (uniquely) playing in 3 going well off. One other pair could (and did) show a limited 3♣ bid and that was Keith Sharp who was able to pass over their 2 bid (mentioned above) and then back in with 3♣ on the next round.  That strategy, plus the immediate 3♣ bid, all led to East supporting hearts and South continuing then with 4♣. That was enough to end the auction four times but twice West thought they had enough extras to bid game and duly did.

Both 4♣ and 4 should be defeated but in practice only one pair defeated 4♣ and nobody defeated 4.  The failure in both cases was - curiuously - the same. The defence's suit was led and the suit continued even though it should have been apparent to all that it was about to be ruffed.  In the case of defiending against 4♣ declarer was able to set up the diamonds to discard losing spades, and in the case of hearts, declarer escaped the diamond ruff and now with the spade finesse onside could make the game. Should the defence have been found in both cases - the danger is very apparent defending 4♣ as if partner lacks the ♠A they will need to provide both the ♠T and the ♠9 to beat the contract making ♠A better odds. In the case of 4 it is more difficult, but one could argue that to get 4 defensive tricks North needs partner to provide two tricks in the majors or just A - which looks less to ask for in the sight of dummy's major suit holdings.

Keep Safe

West leads the J. Plan the play.

You have 3 hearts and 2 diamonds so need 4 club tricks. This layout offers a classic sfety play for 4 tricks in the suit. Lay down the King and then play towards the A9 allows you to make 4 tricks whenever the suit breaks 4-0. However, there is a further consideration on this hand. If you lose a trick to East, the defence can never take more than 3spade tricks whereas if you lose a club to West, you may find that you have 4 spade losers if a clever West switches to the  ♠T from ATx say. This influences the way you play the club suit. Start with a low club from hand and if West plays the 7 or eight, insert the 9 from dummy. Even if this loses to a singleton ten (when the standard safety play would have gained an overtick) you are still home. In theory you can't keep West off lead if he started with ♣ QTx as he can always insert the ten on the first round. In practice, he may not do this as it would burn a trick if his partner started with a singleton King. 

Which Suit?

West leads the ♣J, East following with the ♣3. Plan the play.

You have 8 top tricks and diamonds or spades could provide an extra trick, so which suit do you play? If you look closely at the spot cards, you will see that in spades, you are guaranteed to develop an extra trick even if you lose 3 tricks in the process. Win the lead and play the ♠Q. Win the next club and play the ♠J. Win the next lead and play your third spade. The ♠9 is now set up as a winner with the diamonds providing an entry to cash it.

Maximise Your Chances

West leads a spade. Spades break 3-2. How do you play?

Assuming clubs aren’t 5‑0, this contract is cold if East has the A. The idea is to try to make it even if West has the A. A little subterfuge can’t hurt. One possibility is to win the opening lead in dummy, cash the ♣AK of clubs, cross to dummy and lead a club. Another possibility is to win the lead in dummy, lead a club to the queen, cash the ♣A, return to dummy with a trump (always keeping a later trump entry to dummy) and lead a club. In both cases you are leading towards a high club with a trump outstanding. If a second round of clubs is ruffed with the outstanding trump, you need to find the A onside to make the contract unless West ruffs and errs by leading a heart from the ace. If clubs are 3–2 and the player with the long spade also has the long club, you are home: Your third high club lives, so you can cross to dummy with a trump, pitch a diamond and a heart on dummy’s winning clubs and lead up to the K, trying for an overtrick. Say the player with the doubleton club has the odd trump. If it is West, and he ruffs looking at both red aces, he then has to underlead the ♦A to get the heart through to defeat the contract. This Ace underlead is far from clear as from West’s point of view, declarer might have the K and the Q. The big gain comes when East has the doubleton club along with three spades and no A. East must ruff, though not sure that you have the winning club. In any case, you are giving each opponent a chance to err with no risk yourself.

What's the Best Line?

West leads the ♠8. What's the best line?

You have 11 tricks and several chances for a twelfth. For example, you can take two club finesses and come home 76% of the time. You can do better, however. Win the K, cash the ♠Q, cross to the A and cash two more spades, discarding diamonds. If everyone follows to three spades, play a fourth round and discard another diamond (reducing to the blank AQ in your hand), and lead the ♣J from dummy. If it is covered, you’re home. Just win the ace, cross to dummy with a heart and play the fifth spade, discarding the Q, and concede a club. The rest are yours If the ♣J loses and a heart comes back, win in dummy, discard the Q on the fifth spade and repeat the club finesse. This line gains when West has one or two hearts and fewer than five spades (as in the diagram) as when he wins the first club, West must return a minor suit giving you your twelfh trick  If West has five spades, you will see East show out on the third spade. Stop playing spades (you will wind up squeezing your hand) and run the ♣J. Say it loses and West exits a heart (best) if he has one. Win in dummy, discard two more diamonds on winning spades and repeat the club finesse. If West started with five spades but has no more hearts when he wins the club finesse, West’s best return is a spade to dummy as you pitch a diamond. Now you can give yourself a small extra chance by crossing to the A, and if no stiff king falls, return to dummy with a heart, discard the Q on the fifth spade, and repeat the club finesse.

HotD-fri : League 1.2 : 21sep20 : B3

This hand from Monday generated plenty of swings with just under half the 13 tables playing in 4♠ making that contract.  All but one table played the hand as North and ten declarers had a club lead. How  should the play develop?

In order to make a trick from the clcub queen you need to duck this, and West wins the king and returned a club which you win. The hand looks straightforward and you continue almost on auto-pilot, starting with the A and a ruff before coming back to hand in trumps. When West shows out you see a problem. as another heart ruff will generate an extra trump loser and so does not benefit you. You win the ♠ A.  You can afford a heart loser as long as you don't lose a diamond trick - and an easy option presents itself for that.  So you take the diamond finesse and ditch your losing diamond on the club ace. The position is now

NORTH :  ♠J432 Q   opposite   SOUTH   ♠Q9  542     and South is on lead

and you need three more tricks.  East is known to hold  ♠KT8 and two other cards.  Can you see what to do?

The answer comes by a process of elimination; if you lead a spade you give East two spade tricks to go with a top heart, so you must lead a diamond.  When you do this and West plays the J you go through the same process. If you ruff low then East will overruff and you still have ♠K and K to lose. If you ruff with the ♠J it does not work for East to overruff but if East simply discards a heart what can you do - nothing works?  Ergo you must discard the Q. If you do this you find that the defence has no remedy. - they can only make one more trick.

There were other successful lines on this hand - and the majority of successful declarer did in fact tackle diamonds early, and when the king was onside and they broke well, that turned out quite advantageous.


HotD-thu: League 1.2 : 21sep20 : B2

It was surprising that only 5 tables reached 3N on this hand, with 24 HCP between East and West, stoppers in every suit and a good diamond fiit on the side.  This was the auction at one table.

In the bidding here, 1 was always an unbalanced hand, 2N showed an invitational raise in diamonds, and 3♣ was a range enquiry showing some interest in game.  After South's double West felt that the onside ♣K was enough to justify bidding 3N and against 3N a club was led, covered by the jack and king.  Over to you now to play this .....

The key issue on this hand is how to play the diamonds. With no further information the default play in diamonds is to cash the ace and king, succeeding 58% of the time. Here however you might have some extra information - you have the fact that RHO is keen on clubs. If you make the assumption that South has at least 5 clubs to justify asking for the suit to be led, then the odds change. It is now better odds to play the short club hand for three diamonds - and your chance of success moves up to over 66%.  Filip Kurbalija duly did this and collected when North had started with Q73.

In practice only two tables made the game; one was a gift from the opposition and the other was this table. The other tables in 3N bid the game against silent opposition and had no useful inferences to draw, so they got the diamonds wrong and went off.  Silence can be golden!

HotD-wed : League 1.1 : 21sep20 : B8

This hand from Monday illustrates a number of interesting plays as well as bidding developments. In traditional Acol the West hand would be a 1 opener but only 3 of the 14 tables opened 1 here; there were two opened 1 (playing 5-card majors) and the remaining 9 opened a strong(ish) 1N.  Over the suit openings we find three Easts responded 1♠ (raised to 3♠ by the heart openers) and two Easts responded with 2♣.  These all got to 4♠.  For the 1N openers, every East investigated the spade fit; in almost all cases South showed hearts and that led two EW pairs to play in 3N and a third to doduble South (in 3).  So the majority did reach 4♠ but there were 12 distinct auctions took place (only 2 auctions were repeated and one of those involved a slight variation).

Of those playing in 4♠ six were by West and four by East. The real interest is in the play, and across the ten tables all suits were led. North led the J three times in response to South's bid and declarer could now count a certain 5 tricks outside trumps. There would always be 5 trump tricks on a 3-2 break but the one cautious declarer played safe by ruffing a heart at trick two and engineering another heart ruff later to go with the AKQ to make five trump tricks. The other two declarers played ace and another club and in tne end needed helpful defence to make 10 tricks.

The two cases where South led A were times when West had opened 1 and declarer had no knowledge as to where the K was. They both refused the heart finesse and went down. Is that a minus for the 1 opener?  The two cases of North leading the 8 also led to a refusal of the heart finesse and the contract was off at both tables until one defender returned it to declarer. With a bad trump break, the heart finesse was more necessary that realised.

Three leads left : on the 7 lead declarer rose with the ace and went about clubs; to make ten tricks now he had to pick up on the fact of the 4-1 trump break and he didn't, so one down.  On the ♣J lead (despite dummy having bid the suit) declarer had an easy time setting up the clubs and made 10 tricks.  Finally we get to the ♠9 lead by South.  Declarer won and started clubs but ducked the ♣J.  North played a diamond to the ace and a diamond came back. Declarer drew two trumps and ruffed a club which was overruffed. He won the diamond return and now cashed his winners in the process of which South, holding KT9♣K, was squeezed out of a winner and the last three tricks were dummy's three hearts.

What do we learn from all this? Firstly that even a simple looking hand offers an enormous number of bidding sequences even if most ended in the same contract, and a large variety of lines of play. On the bidding, the three tables which started to investigate spades but missed the suit after South overcalled hearts need to work out how to find spades the next time. The pair who bid 6♠ need to calm down a little. On the play, we must admire the simply approach taken by the declarer first described, two heart ruffs and nothing can go wrong.  For declarer in general - with only two losers outside trumps, there should be an increased alertness for the 4-1 trump break, as it can be handled. And what about the defender whose partner was squeezed for the tenth trick - he needed to count declarer's winners, for he could foresee the ending and he can counteract it by playing a heart into the AQ when he wins his last trump.

Will we ever get on top of this game?



Make them Pay

West leads the ♣9. The lead suggest that West has little in clubs so he is sure to have a good trump holding (probably all 5 of them). How do you rate your chances?

You can make West pay for his double provided the other suits behave. Win the ♣A and cash 3 diamonds discarding clubs, followed by ruffing a club in hand. If this passes off OK, then play the top spades. You are now down to 1 spade and 4 hearts in hand, whilst West has 5 trumps. When you lead your last spade, West is stuck. He cannot win by ruffing high so he ruffs low but now you overruff and ruff a minor card in hand with the Q, West is limited to 1 heart trick however he defends.

How do you Defend?

Partner leads the T. Declarer plays low in dummy. Plan the defence.

If partner gets in and plays another diamond, you will have enough tricks to beat the contract. How likely is this? Not very since you can account for almost all the missing points. Declarer has denied a spade suit and your best chance of beaing the contract is to find West with ♠Jxxx or perhaps ♠9xxxx. Win the A at trick 1 and switch to the ♠K.

Play This Slam

West leads the ♠K. Plan the play.

You need to cater for both red kings being offside. Fortunately, your spot cards in hearts are good enough to ensure the contract. Ruff the spade lead and come to hand with a trump to ruff another spade. Another trump to hand allows you to lead the 9, playing low in dummy unless West covers, in which case you just cover his card. East may win but then must concede your twelfth trick whether he gives you a riff and discard or leads a red card into your tenaces.

HotD-sat : CBC Imps Pairs : 18sep20 : B17

This hand from last night's game was dropped on the floor by the three tables who bid as shown (or veyr like as shown) to 3N.  At the fourth table South did not overcall and after 1♣ - 1 - 1♠ - 3N,  North chose to lead a diamond and that made the game very easy.

When South bid hearts, the lead was the 6 covered by the jack and queen.  What should declarer's plan be?

Thee are six top tricks in the majors and three more need to be developed from clubs and diamonds.  And this before the defenders can set up five tricks.  

The big danger is the defence running heart tricks and the best way to avoid that is to cut off the heart suit. By ducking at trick one and winning trick two, declarer will exhabust North of hearts and provided South has only one of the key cards in the minors, the heart suit can never be set up.

One sequence of play is to duck the heart, win the next and lead the ♣T which should be covered by the queen and king,  Now is the time to lead a diamond (through the hand likely to be short in the suit); if the ace rises you can set up two tricks on diamonds to make nine, and if it doesn't North will beat the jack with the king. When a diamond is next led towards the queen, declarer must duck to allow South to win the doubleton ace.   The odds on all this working were not great, but it is clearly the best line and all the cards are lying nicely for declarer - but only if declarer takes advantage of them.

In practice all three declarers won a top heart at trick one and were now doomed and went off.

How do you Play?

How do you play this hand on a low heart lead?

Your first thought is that you probably have 3 club losers and must therefore avoid losing a spade. The spade finesse offers far better odds than trying to drop a doubleton Queen. However, you should consider the hand as a whole. If spades break 4-1 you have very little chance, but if they are 3-2 the hand is virtually certain. Win the lead and play off the 2 top spades. Follow with the other top heart and then play diamonds. Whoever ruffs a diamond will have to play clubs or give you a ruff and discard. If no-one ruffs a diamond, simply exit with a trump to achieve the same result.

HotD-thu : Pairs League 1 : B17

The bidding options on this hand are discussed in the commentary with thr results, but the play is also of interest and is covered here.

The auction took p;lace as shown and the lead was the ♠2 to South's ace and he continued with the ♠Q which was ruffed. How should West continue?

The answer is going to depend on how alert West was.

On this hand you have eight diamonds between the two hands so setting up some diamond tricks looks best; on an even break you will lose one diamond and ruff one, making four tricks in that suit. Add that to one heart and you need just six club tricks to get home. If the diamonds break 4-1 and you need to ruff two of them, you get one less diamond trick and need a seventh trump trick (which is easy if trumps break 2-2). In both cases your best start is an immediate ace and another diamond. But how will the diamonds break?

The answer lies in the opening lead. This was NOT a fourth best lead. It must surely be telling partner (who in practice noticed nothing) something about diamonds - and the most likely is that opener has a void diamond.  Now what can declarer do?  The answer is nothing with the diamond suit - attention must be switched to the heart suit. What could be done there? Cashing the ace and taking some ruffs might set up a trick or two there; it will be a second heart trick on most 4-3 breaks, but you get two extra tricks if you find the short heart hand with both the king and queen. If you want to set up the hearts, you need to start on that suit first.

You need to judge this well. Declarer was strongly expecting that void diamond but didn't back that judgement and played diamonds. Playing on hearts at trick three would have results in 11 tricks. Declarer's choice saved South considerable embarassment but damaged the East-West score.

HotD-wed : Pairs League 1 : 14sep20

This was the first board from this week's new Pairs League, for which there were 21 pairs taking part.  It is a hand on which only one pair got close to the optimal contract (7♣ rather than 7N), three were one step removed from there (6♣ or 6♠), another six were two steps removed (playing game) and one was even two steps further away than that.

The last one first is worth noting, and it is a problem we will see more often. North at that table opened 2 showing in theory a bad weak two in either major, but with an expectation that it was quite often only a five card suit. East doubled and South passed showing diamonds.  West decided that they could descibe their hand better once North had exposed which major, but in this case North had a very suitable hand to play in 2 and passed it out. The defence slipped and allowed 8 tricks to make.  The key error was not realising that after South has passed to show diamonds, you need to defend as if partner has made a takeout double of diamonds - to avoid this danger.

Back to constructive bidding which at all tables (except the twice North opend 2) started as shown. How should it proceed?  The majority choice was fourth suit forcing with 3 (4 times) and there were two tables with inexplicable choices (2N and 3♠) but it was another option still which led to the best seqeunce, and that bid was 3♣. Only two pairs had the confidence to know that this showed 3 cards support and game going values - which can be the case as long as you have agreed that over a reverse you bid 2N on any bad hand (Lebensohl style).  One of the tables which bid FSF 3 managed to get back to play in clubs when West was able to jump to slam in that suit, but all the others converged on spades. The catch with spades is that you are missing the queen and so can never bid the grand slam comfortably.

How did it proceed after a 3♣ choice?  In one case East continued with 3♠ and over West's 4N jumped to 6♣; there the robots stopped.  The other pair continued over 3♣ with 4 asking for key cards. When West showed two, East continued with 5 promising all the key cards; West bid 5♠ to show the king and East ccould tell that the only possible losers were in hearts, and so took a chance on bidding the grand slam. That was the only route taken to 7♣.

Coping With The Break

Partner's 2♣ bid was Drury - showing a good raise to 2♠. You get the J lead which you win with the Ace. You run the ♠J but West shows out. Play from here.

Best play is to throw a club on the K then call for the ♠T from dummy. East covers with the king and you win the Ace and lay down the ♣J. This play guarantees the contract provided East has at least two clubs.  If the Queen of clubs is taken, the ♣T is an entry for a further spade finesse. If the ♣J holds, continue with Ace and another club, ruffing on the table. This may get overruffed but then your hand is high.

Play Carefully

West sarts with ♠ KQ. You ruff the second round and play..?

If trumps are 2–2, declarer will be able to make 12 tricks. But at teams, first priority is to make the contract. On the bidding, East may have all the missing trumps, and you can cater for this by leading a low diamond to dummy's 8. If both opponents follow in trumps, you can win the next trick, draw trumps and claim. If East has 4 trumps, he will win and let's say he returns a club. You can win in dummy, finesse trumps, return to dummy with a heart and repeat the trump finesse If clubs (or hearts) are 3–3, there will be no problem. But, if East has four (or more clubs), trouble lurks. If West has short clubs (two or fewer), he will have at least four hearts. There will be nowhere to put the club loser. So, before drawing trumps, declarer should test clubs, ending in dummy. If they are 3–3, he can play diamonds and soon claim. If they are 4-2 as is the layout shown, you can ruff your fourth club and use that entry together with the K as entries for the diamond finesses.

Your Chance to Shine

South gets to game after opening a strong no-trump. Partner leads the 8 which declarer runs to his King. The 9 comes next from South. How do you see the defence developing?

A count of points shows that West can't hold more than a Knave so propects are poor. Spades offers the only hope of establishing enough tricks to beat the contract. West might hold the ♠J but even the ten will be good enough most of the time provided you switch to a low spade. Switching to the King gives South an easy second trick whenever he holds the Knave whereas if the layout is as shown, he is likley to play low and West's ten will be good enough.

[You may care to note how West's lead of a high heart gave South an extra trick in that suit]

Choose Your Line

West starts with the K and continues with a heart to East's Ace. A third heart is returned and West, who started with  KQTx, cashes a fourth round on which East discards a spade, whilst you pitch a club from dummy and a diamond from hand. West gets off play with the J, East following suit. How do you play?

You need the rest of the tricks, so you need one of the minors to break, or a minor suit squeeze, or possibly a defensive error. Which suit should you test first? The answer in these situations is to play the suit that the defenders can see (diamonds in this case). Win the Q and continue with 2 more top diamonds. Clearly if the suit breaks you are home, but when it is 4-1, one defender has to make 2 discards. On the layout shown, East is under pressure as he does not know declarer's holdings in the black suits - can you blame him for letting go a club? If he does the game is yours.

Hotd-fri : BBO Swiss Teams 1 : 07sep20 : B14

This hand from Monday offers traps to the unwary.  The first point of curiousity is that at two tables North did not bid  - but all the others overcalled with a weak 2♠ at their first chance.   The overcall led two teams to play in 3N and both made this despite having five top clubs to lose if the suit were led. The others all played in 4.

The reason the two 3N contracts made, and the reason why one of the 4 contracts made was because the declarer listened to the bidding.   The fact that the spades are splitting 6-1 is a key peice of information, as it changes the odds on how to best play the heart suit.  With seven vacant spaces in North and twelve in South, the best (but not guaranteed) play in the heart suit is to cash one top honour and then to run the jack,  The three who did this notched up their game.

Four tables went off in 4 - and three of those made the defence too easy.  Those three all started with a spade lead and declarer bashed out the top hearts. With the prospect of  a heart and two clubs to lose, these declarers continue by testing the diamonds, hoping for the 4% chance that they could avoid losing a trick there. In doing so they set up a defensive diamond trick.  The fourth table started with a diamond lead which made the defence easy.

The other three declarers looked at the diamond suit and recognised that this was a suit they wanted the defence to lead. So they played on the other suits. At one table South ruffed an early spade and played a club to the queen and king. North switched to a diamond won by the king, but declarer crossed to dummy and led a club towards hand.  South needed to - but failed to - resist rising with the club ace and now he was endplayed (ducking would let North win and play a second diamond).  At another table South refused to ruff, and when clubs were played (there was a club lead at trick one too) North did find the diamond switch but now South got endplayed with the Q.  The third table failed to find the necessary diamond switches and again South got endplayed.



HotD-thu : BBO Swiss Teams 1 : 07sep20 : B13

There were a number of interesting points on the defence to 3N on this hand from Monday.  All tables got to 3N, except the one where East was playing a strong NT opener and West was assuming a weak NT opener.  3N was played by West at one table, and at another, East played 3N after North has overcalled in hearts; these two tables had a heart lead and that doomed the contract.

The other eight tables played 3N by East on a spade lead. It is surprising to note that three different spade pips were led - four led a fourth best ♠7,  three led the ♠2 (presumably because they thought partner might misread the 7 as second best from a bad suit), and one person led the ♠9.  You might not think it mattered but it did!

On the spade lead a few declarers were very lazy and played the ♠4 from dummy but most tried a high spade from dummy, and now the spotlight was on North. If we look at the actual layout, playing the queen at trick one gives declarer two tricks in spades - while if North ducks trick one then the spade king will shortly fall under the ace and the queen will make, depriving declarer of a second trick in the suit. Surely you should therefore duck?  Not so simple - as 

If the opening lead was from ♠AK97x or ♠AK87x, then North must not duck as there are five defensive tricks to cash.  How can you tell?  The bidding might be an answer this time, but more generally the answer is to make a different lead from ♠A987x and ♠K987x  - the top of the interior sequence (♠9 here). If you do that  North will know when to cover and when not to cover. 

Curiously the defence goes more easily of North does cover. Declarer plays a club to the king and ace, and North returns a second spade ducked by South, and when declarer gives up the ♣J there are three spades to cash. Only in practice that didn't happen - either North went after the heart suit or South took the ♠A rather than duck.  If North does duck trick one, declarer plays a diamond to hand and a club to the king and ace. North can play a second spade to the ace and get the ♠Q as the next trick, but the defence are now stuck and only get two tricks in each black suit. So if you deprive declarer of a second spade trick, you let the contract make!

But it actually gets more complicated than that. On the best defence of spade, club, spade ducked - declarer can still succeed. Can you see how?  Declarer must play a third spade and force South to take those winners.  In doing so, North gets squeezed and declarer makes either an extr heart ot drop the club jack.  Tricky game this!


HotD-wed : Last Open Teams : 16mar20 : B22

This hand from Monday was a flat board at the three tables who played in 4♠, and at some tables it was made easy, but there was one interesting point hidden away.

After the auction shown happened at (at least) two tables, all Norths found the lead of the J and there was a mix of continuations or overtake and club switch. West got on lead at trick two and led a spade to the king and then another spade. The key question now is whether to play for the ♠T onside by finessing the nine, or to play an honour which wins on a 3-3 break or when North has the ten? 

The answer comes from the opening lead, and your ability to diagnose that the lead was a doubleton. The time that playing the queen or jack of spade gains is when North started with ATx or Tx or Txx in spades; we can rule out the last two as South would have won the spade ace. In the remaining case that North has three spades and if North has three spades then surely that means a singleton (or void) in a red suit. That suit would surely have been led or played - so we deduce that North lacked a short suit and is very likely to be a 2227 shape. Therefore finessing for an onside ♠T is indicated.

How do you Play?

How do you play on ♣K lead (trumps are not 4-0)?

Win the ♣A and play the ♠K and a spade to the ace. If the suit breaks 2–2, ruff a club and then try a diamond to the jack. If the finesse loses, you will have to take the heart finesse after cashing the ace first. If the jack holds, ruff a club and exit with the A and a diamond to West. West is endplayed to give you the remaining tricks.

If spades are 3–1, play to the A and then back to dummy with a spade to take the heart finesse. If it wins, you are home. If it loses, ruff the club return and play the K. If hearts are 3–3, you can pitch a diamond from dummy on the fourth heart and need a simple diamond finesse to bring home the slam. If hearts are 4–2, you either have to play West for both the KT and take two diamond finesses starting with the queen, or alternatively play West for Kx and lead a low diamond to the jack. Of course, the double finesse is the percentage play, but the distribution of the other three suits may tell you otherwise. You will know the count in the major suits so if you can get the count in clubs, you will know how to play diamonds. For example, West might have show up with a 3424 shape, making a low diamond to the jack the winning play.

A Simple Play

West leads the ♠6 against your thin game. East playing the Knave. How do you play?

From the lead it looks like West has a 5 card suit and East a doubleton (if the lead is fourth highest and there is only one card lower that you cannot see then West can't have more than 5). On the bidding, West is likely to have all the missing Kings so the heart finesse looks doomed to fail. There are a number of lines that you could consider but a simple way to succeed would be to win trick one, cash enough diamonds to exhaust West of that suit and then exit with a spade. West can cash 4 spades but then will have to concede your ninth trick by leading from either his K or ♣K.

HotD-sat : CBC Pairs League : 11mar20 : B14

This looked like a routine hand on which sensible bidding and play was rewarded - but then I started to delve a little deeper.

Looking at the bidding first - it is hard ot imagine divergence before we reach 2♠ as shown, but most lessons don't discuss what to do next. The best answer is to keep everything natural - any bid should show the location of extra length, so that 3♣ would imply a 5413 or 5404 shape , and similarly 3 would show short clubs, 3 would be 5-5 and 3♠  should be 6-4, leaving 2N for 5422 shapes. Here 3♠ describes the hand well.  The only uncertainty is about whether or not 3 is forcing; on the basis that the bidder could jump to 4 (unfortunately by-passing 3N) most players will treat 3 as a non-forcing game try. Here once North learns of a 64xx shape, there is no doubt that both the Q and ♣A will be useful cards, and the hand can justify a raise to game (for some it could also justify stopping in 3♠). In practice 6/16 pairs bid game, 8/16 stopped at the two-level and two ended in 3♠.

Against 4♠ the opening lead was three rounds of diamonds; declarer ruffed and drew trumps and then had to play the hearts for one loser. Ideally you would tackle that with a double finesse leading twice towards the AT95 but here there is only one entry to dummy. It feels close to a double finesse to test initially for West having the jack by leading to the 8, and when that loses crossing to the club ace to lead the queen - testing now for the king with East. That might feel like a 75% shot but I was surprised when I checked with the SUITPLAY software to find that this wasn't and that the optimal line only had a 59% success rate. How could that be?

The answer lies in how the defenders play. Suppose you started with a heart to the eight and it lost to the king - how would you proceed? It seems natural to assume the jack is with West and to ruff the fourth diamond to lead the ten next towards the queen of hearts. That works fine if East was not too devious - but if East had started with KJx or KJxx hearts then winning that first heart with the king would have put you on the wrong track and you would lose two hearts. So on best defence you cannot  cater both for KJx(x)(x) with West and for KJx(x) with East.  In fact, after the 8 loses to the king, it is a tiny bit better to play East for both the king and jack by now crossing to the queen and finessing East for the ten, but even better than that is the combination of  crossing to the queen and then cashing the ace picking up all 3-3 breaks and neither xx-KJxx or Jxxx-Kx. 

Do we thing such a defence could ever be found?  Think first of the case of  KJx with East. East should have been preparing for how the heart suit will go on this basis : declarer surely has the ace and with ATxx or less opposite Q84 then the best play is clearly to lead to the queen. So when declarer plays to the eight, the hidden hand has to be AT9x in hearts, and that means that if you win the jack declarer's only sensible line will be to cross to the North hand and play the queen to pick up your king.  So winning the jack is a doomed effort, and you should try something else. Clearly ducking never gains, so the answer has to be winning with the king.

I often say that this is a simple game - but I cannot say so this time!

BTW the best play in the heart suit - against perfect defence - is to cross to the ♣A and start by running the 8, which works when the jack is onside or East holds a short K-holding.  But in practice you need to assess your opponents before deciding on the best play at your own table.

Every Little Helps

How do you play this grand slam on a trump lead?

Without the annoying trump lead, a heart ruff in dummy would have sufficed. Still - you do have some chances. Clearly you draw trumps and hope to make something of the club suit. The best play in clubs is to cash the ♣AK and then ruff the third round. This gains on a 3-3 club break or any Queen doubleton. So after drawing trumps you cross to the ♣A. There is no need to continue clubs at this point. Play A pitching a heart and then ruff a diamond. Suppose the Queen drops on the second round. Now cross back to dummy with a second top club. If nothing significant has happened, continue by ruffing a club, hoping for a 3-3 break. However, on the layout shown, West will discard on the second club so you know there is no future in the suit. This is where your foresight may pay off. If you ruff a further diamond and find the other top honour falling, you can cross back to dummy with a heart and your diamonds are good. A small extra chance but one that is no cost to play for.

[LATER NOTE: an alternative is to lead to ♣K to play A and one ruff and if an honour falls (which might be a falsecard), followed by a heart to the K and another diamond ruff. Good news in diamonds (KQ doubleton or KQx) will emerge 10.3% of the time, and when that fails you still have the club finesse and possibilities of a squeeze if West has the long diamonds.  It looks like the extra from diamonds dropping outweighs the advantage ruffing out the clubs has over a club finesse]

HotD-thu : Spring Swiss Pairs : 9mar20 : B3

There were plenty of slam hands again on Monday.  There was one  91% slam bid at only one table (B9), one 89% slam bid by nobody (B10),  one 85% slam bid by nobody (B3) , one 73% slam bid by nobody (B17), one good grand slam bid at only two tables of nine (B5),  and one poor slam - a balanced 31 count - bid at three tables (B14).   There is obviously a lot of potential there to improve.  It is worth bidding each of the hands mentioned off-line with your favourite partner to confirm you have a decent and successful sequence available on each.

This hand was the one 2♣ opener in the set, and brought out a few interesting questions. The first was what South should bid at the point shown. The big danger (admittedly at its lowest at this vulnerability) is that West bounces with diamond support, and therefore the most important message for South to get across is that the hand is playable in all the other three suits. You would like to have a takeout double, but double is an illegal bid. What is the answer? It is to have agreed (as a few of us have) that XX here is for takeout. If you do redouble, the bidding could proceed 3 - P - P - 3♠ - P - 4♣ - P - 6♣.   

In practice most Souths bid 2♠ and North - to shut partner up - raised quickly to game and that was the final contract. Your 2♣ openers are your most previous hands, and it pays to have considered how to behave after the opposition interfere.

Notice how with preparation the position was recoverable - but from East's perspective - would not a 3 overcall have taken away a lot more space from the other side?  In all cases except this vulnerability that would have been a worthwhile choice, and this issue is sufficiently common that using 2♣-X  and 2♣ -P-2-X  for some hand other than the suit shown (most commonly both majors) is well justified.

HotD-wed : Spring Swiss Pairs : 09mar20 : B13

This was an interesting play hand from Monday. This contract - probably on this auction - was the one most commonly played, and it was natural for East to lead their longest suit - diamonds. [There were two 3N contracts by South and they both had gentle leads, and were not so interesting]

From declarer's perspective there are plenty of tricks to set up but also the need to lose the lead in clubs, and probably lose the lead in each of spades and hearts. Losing a trick in all three of those - and expecting the opposition to set up some diamonds en route - is not a winning choice. The question is how to set up enough tricks without letting the opposition cash too many diamonds.

The key is losing tricks to the safe hand at the right time. Working on the assumption that the opening lead will have any extra length in the suit (by no means a given on this auction) you would select East as the danger hand, and importantly West as the safe hand. Looking at the three suits you might play, you can see that spades is the one suit on which you can surely restrict the defneders, so that only West might win a trick. 

So spades get postponed. Since the club ace is always an entry for whoever holds it, the danger is that the long diamonds has that card - so playing clubs first becomes the only option. East does best to win the third round, and continue diamonds. In order to exhaust West of diamonds you now need to duck one diamond and win the third round. This gives you seven tricks outside spades, and you come to hand with the A and take a spade finesse. You need to be careful after the ♠T holds. It is necessary to cash the other top heart and the last club at this point, before finessing again. When you do West will grab thei king, but be left with bothing but spades and giving dummy the last two tricks. Plus one!

You might survive with an early spade finesse, but only if West decided to duck the first round - and they should not!  If during the play of diamonds you became convinced that West rather than East held the length - you might still recover by going for your extra tricks in hearts, running the T after winning the third diamond.  Watching the opponents' play in the diamond suit becomes very important.

The other candidate contract is 4 and looking at the North--South hands, you would rather be playing there as you have decent prospects of 11 tricks. Should South have bid 4 instead? It is hard to tell, as if North held a singleton spade and three diamonds the picture is rather different. On the day however, 4 was made by all its declarers - while three in 3N went off for a worse score, and three made an overtrick for a better score.

Manage Your Chances

You play in 7 on the lead of K. How do you play?

Ruff the opening lead (you don’t want to commit to a black-suit discard at this point), and draw trumps, discarding a spade from dummy. Cross to the ♣A, ruff a diamond, return to the ♣K, and assuming the queen hasn’t appeared (your 13th trick), discard a club on the A and ruff a club. Assuming clubs were not 3–3 and dummy’s fourth club has not set up (your 13th trick), you still have good chances. All hands have been reduced to four cards. You have Kx of spades in dummy along with a low club and a low diamond. In your hand are four spades. If either defender started with four spades and four or more clubs, that defender has been squeezed and either the club is high or the spades will run. If either defender started with four spades and six diamonds, that defender has been squeezed and either dummy’s diamond is high or the spades will run. In addition, you make the contract if spades were 3–3.


What's the Best Line?

West leads the 4. What's the best line?

It’s tempting to play three rounds of hearts and pitch a diamond, but it’s a risk. If West has led from a doubleton heart, and ruffs the third heart low, you are at the mercy of the club finesse. A better idea is win the lead in hand and push out the ♠J. West may duck with Ax and that gifts you the contract. Suppose West wins the ♠A and leads a diamond to East who returns a club. Then you should take the Ace, draw the last trump and pitch a diamond on the third heart. If East wins the ♠A at trick two and leads a club, win the ace, draw trumps and pitch a diamond on the third heart. If the opponents cash two diamonds and then East leads a club, win the ace and discard both clubs on red-suit winners. If the player with the ♠A has at least two spades along with a doubleton diamond, you have a problem. That player can win the ♠A and shift to a diamond. Three rounds of diamonds, East ruffing the third, kills your club discard after you overruff. Now you need the club finesse. If the third diamond comes from East you have to decide whether to discard a club or ruff high. If you ruff high, you will need the club finesse. If you discard you need to find West with at least one more diamond. If West has one more diamond, you won’t need the club finesse. In this unlikely scenario, it would have been better to play three rounds of hearts immediately, hoping they lived. But don’t take any credit if you played hearts before spades!

How do you Play?

West leads a trump and East shows out, discarding a low diamond. How do you play?

If East had followed to the trump lead, you could have ultimatelu ruffed a spade and a diamond in dummy for 10 tricks. Now it looks as if West wil get in enough times to lead 3 rounds of trumps and spoil that plan. Could the diamond finesse work? - hardly. West didn't lead a spade from so probably doesn't have a solid honour sequence. Neither did he lead a club as he might if he held K in the suit. Hence it looks as if East has a couple of black honour cards leaving the diamond King with West. You must therefore look elsewhere for your tenth trick. Win the trump lead and play a club. Say West wins and leads another trump. Win in dummy and ruff a club. A trump and the ♠A remain as two further entries to ruff out the clubs and cash the last club whenever they break 4-3.

HotD-sat : Spring Teams : 2mar20 : B16

This was an interesting slam from Monday, bid by very few but actually quite a respectable contract. From West's perspective if East has a K-KQ combination rather than a K-K-QJ combination the slam becomes a certainty.

The interesting point was the play. Looking just at the East-West hands - you have at least 6 diamond tricks and at least AK-A-AK outside.  All you need to make the slam is one more trick, which could be either by avoiding a diamond loser, or by a ruffing heart finesse.

Playing in 6N you have no option but to go for the diamond finesse as hearts involves giving up a trick; a problem is that although you can collect from an onside king most of the time, you cannot collect from K974 onside, and that happens almost 5% of the time - so your success rate is only 45%. [How two tables made 6N with the K offside is a mystery]

There are better chances with diamonds as trumps, because you can take advantage of the heart king being with South. This is a 50% shot, but importantly it can be combined with some chances in diamonds. If you are using one entry to dummy to lead hearts, you only have one entry left for diamonds and you have two choices. If you start with the ace you will avoid a loser whenever there is a singleton king - that's about a 10% chance, which would raise your overall success rate to 55%. Even better is to go for hearts first, and if that option fails then go for a diamond finesse; a single diamond finesse will only deliver no loser when South has a singleton or doubleton king, but that is a 26.6% chance, so now your success rate is a healthy 63%.

This is a good advert for choosing a trump slam over a NT slam - there are often extra options when you do that.  Well done to Joe Angseesing & Paul Denning - the only pair to bid it.

Any Chance for the defence?

When partner bids 5♥, you interpret this as showing good cards in the black suits but with 2 losing diamonds, so you take a pot at 7♥. West leads the J. How do you plan the play?

You see that you have a losing minor suit card, but that the spades might break 4-4 and that you have the necessary entries to dummy. There might also be some squeeze chances. Win the lead and play A and then an heart to dummy's 9 (retaining the 3 in hand). Now cash the ♠A and throw? - the answer is a club because if spades don't brek, you might need the 9 as a threat card for a squeeze. Then ruff a spade high and cross back to dummy with a trump for a further spade ruff. Now a club to dummy and spade ruff reveals the position. If spades have broken you are home and if West has 5 spades, then run all of your trumps. In the end position, West will need to keep a spade and East will need to keep a diamond. Hence they both have to come down to a singleton club and dummy wins the last two tricks in that suit - a classic double squeeze. Do you see how the defence could have done better? Leading a diamond is automatic on the bidding, but if West had led a low diamond, East could have thrown all his diamonds away and kept a club guard, defeating the contract.

HotD-thu : Spring Teams 3 : 2mar20 : B24

It was a surprise that East got to play this hand so often in 1N undoubled. As you can see, the defence runs well, with five club tricks, two diamonds and two spades. What happened?

There are two philosophies to doubles of 1N.  One camp looks to have confidence that the contract will go down before doubling. This means either having a clear majority of the HCP, or when making a minimal hand double, insisting on having a plan for generating tricks - usually in the form of an attractive lead. That camp passes 1N on the South hand here.

The other camp takes the attitude that 1N is a very attractive contract to play in and often generates a good score; it is therefore incumbent on the other side to get the 1N bidder out of that contract as often as possible.  Doubling on less strong hands is one way of doing that; a double can result in third hand running from 1N-x, or can encourage fourth hand to take out into a suit that would not have been bid otherwise. Or, as here, it could result in a sizeable penalty.

The camp you choose to live with affects the behaviour of the fourth hand; in the first camp any fourth hand with 8+ HCP would expect to be going for game, but in the second camp the fourth hand might be more circumspect.

A single hand is no guide to the efficacy of the two methods, but there is increasing momentum behind the latter. Either approach can go wrong - which is why the weak 1N opener has a positive reputation. Because the weak NT has such limited following world-wide, there is snot developed evidence to prove which is better. Monitoring the boards you play is the best way to form your own judgment.

HotD-wed : Spring Teams : 2mar20 : B21

This was the good slam hand from Monday which proved most difficult to bid (8/12 bid the slam on B7, and the other slam candidates were only so-so, and only 4/12 bid this slam). The crucial bid on the hand came at this point. What should East bid?

It is surely right to introduce the spade suit - the question is just at which level.  Some tables overcalled 1♠ ; over this North will want to show heart support and should recognise that the opponents have at least 9 spades between them and they are going to be bidding more spades. It is vital therefore to get the strength of support over to partner, so that partner can later decide on whether to bid on. The one bid which does this best is 3♠; it is a slight overbid, but shows the fact of heart support and spade shortage and firmly leaves it to partner to decide on how to proceed. At the table is went 3♠ - 4♠ and South was able to sensibly cue bid 5 indicating slam interest but lack of a control in clubs -  and now it was easy to bid the slam.

Some tables saw West overcall 2♠; at this point there are fewer options available to North to show support - basically, in order of strength 3, 4 and 3♠; that's useful but unfortunately none of them is specific about spade shortage. In trying to help partner decide what to do over a likely 4♠ by East, it is hard to choose between 3♠ which suggests more high cards and 4 which suggests more distribution. When East does bid 4♠ however, the idea of spade shortage in North should come through to South and bidding on makes sense. South is likely to bid on but slam is not so visible and the position is fraught as sometimes East-West will be in a 6-3 spade fit and there will be two spade losers and possibly something else to worry about.

The key here is that West has removed bidding space from North, and as always taking away bidding spade hampers bidding accuracy. 

Declarer needs to be a little careful playing in the slam. The key asset in the North hand is the long club suit, and declarer will need to play ♣ A and another early enough to be able to enter North twice to ruff out the suit, in order to make the slam.

Basic Stuff

West leads 3 rounds of hearts. You ruff the third round and play?

You have a diamond loser (possibly two), so you have no chance unless trumps break 3-2. If you draw trumps you need to find the diamonds 3-3. A better play is to start on diamonds before drawing trumps. It won't be any good to play diamonds from the top as you may then have to ruff the fourth round with the Ace of trumps, setting up a trump trick for the defence. Best play at trick 4 is to duck a diamond. Now win the return and cash the ♠AK, followed by the diamond AK. If diamonds are 3-3 all is well and if the hand with 3 trumps holds 4 diamonds, you can ruff a diamond in dummy for your tenth trick. 

The Choice is Yours

West leads Ace and another diamond. East continues with a third round of diamonds. You ruff high, West discarding a heart. How do you continue?

Your problem is how to avoid 2 heart losers. The hand screams endplay but you have a choice of which endplay to make. Start by drawing trumps and eliminating the clubs finishing in hand. At this point you will know that East held 2 spades, 6 diamonds, 3 or 4 clubs and hence 1 or 2 hearts. If West started with KQ then a low heart toward the Knave will bring the contract home. If the heart honours are split, then Ace and another heart will either force East to give you a ruff and discard if he wins the trick, else the defence must clash their heart honours (or a singleton heart honour with East will have dropped). So which endplay do you make? Given that East opened with a vulnerable weak 2, he probably has a heart honour, so I would go for the A and another heart play. However, at more favourable vulnerability, and against some players, the other option may work. Really, the choice is yours.

How do you Play?

You get the lead of a low heart. What is your plan? 

You have communication problems. Unless hearts break 3-3 or the ten falls you only have 3 heart tricks, so which suit do you develop? If you play the A and another diamond, East follows with 2 low cards. Do you play the Queen or the 10?  It is a good idea to know this suit combination. If diamonds are 3–3, it would just be a pure guess as to which card to play on the second round. If they are 4–2 then the Queen is the correct play as this may drop a doubleton Knave. If the King is doubleton, you always have 2 losers in the suit. However, you must consider the hand as a whole. Rather than play diamonds when an unfavourable lie or wrong guess will likely see you defeated, you should play on clubs by winning the Ace of hearts at trick 1 and leading the ♣K (you never know, the Queen may drop singleton). As long as the clubs are no worse than 4-2 Your plan is to later play another high club and as long as clubs are no worse than 4-2, you set up 3 clubs to go with 3 hearts, 2 spades and a diamond..

A Safe Line

West leads the ♠T. Plan the play.

You don't want West switching to a diamond so your first move must be to cover the lead with the ♠J. Say East wins and continues the suit. You ruff and draw trumps. The diamond finesse is unlikely to win and you might consider an endplay on East. This line is fraught as West may be able to gain an entry for a diamond through. Although you can always ruff 2 hearts on the table, the safe line is to run the J. It may lose but then you discard 2 diamonds on your hearts and ruff 2 diamonds in dummy. If the heart finesse wins, you only need one discard so either way you score your game.

Hotd-fri : Winter Swiss Pairs : 24feb20 : B2

This auction and contract was what happened at four tables on Monday; there were also four heart contracts played by East (2-level, 3-level and 4-level and 4-level doubled) and two contracts in black suits.  But let's focus on this position.

What should North be leading against such an auction?  Three suits were chosen in practice - the ♠7 twice, the 5 and the J.   In double dummy play the lead makes no difference, but you can see here that a diamond gives away a trick, and that is the reason the tendencies these days are much stronger towards passive leads than they used to be. With a singleton trump lead in danger of helping declarer more than helping the defence, the spade lead therefore stands out.

After winning trick one, it is natural for declarer to start working on trumps, and with only one entry to dummy, leading out the queen looks very attractive.  When South wins and a spade comes back, declarer will be thinking that if everything lies well there might only be the top clubs and the A to lose, and at matchpoints you need the overtricks, so playing a second heart looks right. When North shows out you must duck to South who will now play another spade and we hope to win that with the ace. The only chance for eight tricks now is three spades, two diamonds, and three trumps. So the line is a diamond to the queen, aiming to cash the ace and ruff a diamond and be sitting with six tricks and dummy left with KT ♣Q86.  But the diamond finesse fails; North can safely return a diamond and declarer gets one ruff  and we reach the same ending but with only five tricks in the bag. 

The result would have been different in teams, where the focus would be on getting eight tricks rather than the maximal number. The position that became the target gives a hint of the winning play. The key is getting two diamond ruffs early. Winning the spade lead and taking one ruff, then a heart to the queen and a second ruff, and then spades will get you to an ending with dummy holding KT ♣Q865. It's not all over yet - you are holding ♠9 4 ♣T973 in hand and it might natural to play a trump but that is fatal - the point being that is a heart works just as well late as it does now - so play the other suits first.


Your Lead

You find yourself on lead after a simple auction. What is your thinking and wich card are you going to lead?

You know that you hold virtually all your sides assets so it looks like a club is the only suit worth attacking. You could hope that partner holds the ♣J in which case a low club lead will likely set up enough club winners to beat the contract, but that is putting all your eggs in one basket. If you lead the ♣Q you will score a goal when South hold ♣Jx, but it won't be so good if North holds ♣Kx and South has ♣Jxx. How can you tell? The best lead is the ♣A to have a look at dummy, before continuing appropriately. This lead gains whenever partner has the Jack, or declarer or dummy has Hx. If the club suit is Kxx with North and Jxx in South, you are never going to beat the contract whatever you do. 

HotD-wed : Winter Swiss Pairs 3 : 24feb20 : B3

There are a lot of different rare events in bridge - but so many that we come across something "rare" all too often.  Take this hand from Monday, 29 HCP - how often do you get that?   The answer is about one hand in 100,000  which means if you play four duplicate sets a week (say 100 hands) every week, then this happens to you about once every 20 years.  You might see it more often than that, as one of the other three players might hold this hand - so you might see it once every five years.  But the bridge club here in Cheltenham plays more than four sessions a week - more like a dozen sessions a week, so  the average wait for a repeat at the club will be under two years.  

Is it worth having some system bids prepared for such an eventuality? Not really. But you do need to be able to plan how to handle these rare hands.  What would you do here?  [Notice that you are not guaranteed even with this holding to make 3N]

Everyone starts here with their strongest bid - usually 2♣ and will hear from partner a neutral/negative response (as you might expect) of 2.  What next?

There are two difficulties here - one is getting over the enormous strength to partner (and the fact that the hand is relatively balanced) and the second is getting cooperation from a partner whose hand might be pitifully weak. Clearly a NT bid would be descriptive but  you need that bid to be game forcing as you are very very likely to make at least 3N on this hand. Many people use the (artificial) sequence 2♣ - 2 - 2(two way) - 2♠(asking) - 2N  to show game forcing balanced and that would be one option here.   That start was found by one pair, and now East was able to use Stayman to investigate a major suit fit, but the particular sequence (3 one major - 3♠ showing hearts) led to opener bidding 3N and there it rested as East thought the opener, though strong, might be as few (!) as 25 hcp. 

Another pair started 2♣ - 2 - 3N  but that also ended the auction and they missed out on better things.

The most common winning start was 2♣ - 2 - 3  which uncovered the diamond fit and with so few losers outside, opener could now insist on a slam - and two tables saw the 29-count put down in dummy, letting East play the handa in diamonds.  But actually the diamond fit can only generate an extr trick if there is a spade ruff to be taken, so - the game being matchpoints - the more alert Wests convered to 6N at the end.  Another winning start was 2♣ - 2 - 2♠;  this shows a suit which is quite happy with three card support, and could often lead to an easier auction that a diamond rebid would.  At the table, East jumped to 4♠  showing support but no high cards, and West bid the slam in spades - looking forward to ruffing some diamonds in dummy - but that was not to be. Still 6♠ made easily and outscored 6.

There were two noticable accidents, which meant that the pairs who felt so bad about bidding just 3N on this hand still scored 30% on the board!   One accident was a 2N opener by a player whose system said that 2N was weak with both minors; partner knew the system and expressed a preference for diamonds, but this was interpreted as a transfer to hearts and the big hand decided to gamble on that being the right denomination and bid 6; that drifted down two.  The other accident came after finding a fit and multiple cue bids pushed pair 23 to bid a grand slam in NT.  If the diamonds had broken 2-2 and the heart finesse was winning, that would have been a success - but not this week. 

Are we all better prepared for the next time we have 29 HCP to bid?  Yes, but more importantly we might be thinking more clearly on the next game forcing hand we have, and 25+ HCP is twenty times more likely than 29+, so it will happen before we forget all this!

HotD-tue : Midlands League : 23feb20 : B11

There was a good sprinkling of slam hands in Sunday's match, with three excellent slams (bid twice by Gloucestershire across the six tables, but never bid by Warwickshire) and two reasonable slams (five instances bid by Glos, one by Warw - and all but one made)  and four bad slams (two bid by Glos, five by Warw - and one success for each team). Glloucestershire gained 161 imps across the slam hands.  This was the most interesting of the good slams.

There were two common starts to the auction, of which one is shown. The key question is what to bid next; you will clearly support diamonds and for those well organised 3 is known to be natural and forcing. This is however not the best choice as it leaves open the option of 3N and that muddies the waters, while a bid of 4 declares that diamonds will be trumps and initiates a cue bidding sequence. It's not all over then - when West bids 4♠ denying a heart control, East cannot just ask for aces as the danger is partner bids 5 or 5♠ and you are in a slam missing two key cards. One answer is to guess to bid the slam, but a better one is to cue bid 5♣; this promises a heart control (else you would have signed off when partner denied one) and allows opener to identify the problem and bid the slam.

The other common start to the auction (1♣ - 1 - 3) faces the same sort of dilemma about how to avoid bidding a slam missing two aces; the answer again is for East to give the task to West.  Over the 3 raise, the winning choice is a 4 jump - showing shortage in hearts (where 3 would have shown a high card) and letting West continue to slam.

The third and least common start to the auction was the one which made slam bidding most difficult.  It was where North overcalled 1♠. The bid is on the aggressive side with a suit as weak as 86542, but the fact is that if you do find a fit in the spade suit you have hit the jackpot and if you do find a fit in any of your suits, this hand should work well for partner. Perhaps it's the standard picture - every time you enter the auction you seriously dent the accuracy of the opponents' bidding.  After the 1♠ overcall what can East do?  Bidding 2 is so likely to get hearts from partner that it feels doomed; and once you pass partner can double but the opponents will surely rescue themselves to 2. Not easy!


West cashes 2 top hearts and continues with the ♣K. Plan the play.

The danger on this hand is that both trumps and diamonds break badly. One line you might consider is to cash a top diamond and then cross to dummy with a trump in order to play a second diamond. Then East cannot profitably ruff in if he holds 1 diamond and four trumps and you score the K. The problem is that you still need to ruff two diamonds on the table to set the suit up and that means having three entries to hand to set up and cash the diamonds. Your only entries are in trumps and if they break 4-1 you will lose control and suffer defeat. The winning line is to play off the two top diamonds. If the K is ruffed, the long trump hand is shortened and you now have enough trump control to ruff two more diamonds and get back in trumps to cash your winners.

Read the Signs

West leads the ♠Q, East following with the 6. How do you play?

Once you have knocked out the A, you clearly have plenty of tricks. Hence the danger is that the defence will cash enough spades to beat you when they win their diamond trick. If spades break 4-3 then this can't happen but what if they are 5-2? Your first thought might be to duck trick 1 and hope that the hand hand with 5 spades doesn't hold the A. but you should consider the opening lead carefully. If West has 5 spades then East has ♠K6 and taking the first trick will block the suit. East played small because he could not afford to unblock the King as this would set up a second stop for declarer. As is often the case, reading the signs at trick 1 points the way to the winning line. 

How do you Play?

West leads the ♠4. East plays off ♠ AK9. Plan the play.

On top, you have 1 spade, 2 hearts, 3 diamonds and 2 clubs for 8 tricks. With no obvious source of an extra trick, and considering that if you let East win a trick in a side suit, he will have enough tricks to defeat you, consider a squeeze to gain that vital extra trick. It is quite likely that West holds 4 cards or more in both hearts and clubs, and this is what you should play for. In order for the squeeze to operate, you need to rectify the count i.e. get to a postion where you need all of the remaining tricks. Spades is the obvious suit in which to lose tricks. The best play is to duck the ♠9 at trick 3 and also the next spade if East continues the suit. On these tricks you throw 2 small clubs from the dummy. When you ultimately play off your winning spade and cash the diamonds, West is in an impossible situation where he cannot guard against your scoring either the 8 on the table or the ♣8 in hand. The contract cannot be beaten once East takes his second top spade at trick 2. If East continues instead with a heart or a club, the defence has the time to kill declarer's entries needed for any squeeze to operate.

HotD-fri : CBC Pairs : 18feb20 : B9

This was a fun hand from Tuesday's bridge.  You can see that each player has a decent suit, and in the auction shown can bid them around the table. Where would you expect it all to end?

The board was played eight times, all with plus scores to North South, but it is curious to record that

  • North played the hand in clubs at three tables,
  • East played the hand in hearts at two tables,
  • South played the hand in diamonds at one table,
  • West played the hand in spades at two tables.

All the contracts were at the same level - the five level - and the best results for NS came from playing in 5♣ (twice doubled for +650), and the next best came from East playing in hearts (down 500), follwoed by South playing in diamonds (making +440), and the worst NS came from West playing in spades going down.

There phrase oft-quoted that "the 5-level belongs to the opponents" but West here might prefer to disagree.

HotD-thu : League 7 : 17feb20 : B16

This hand from Monday raised a few interesting points. The first quesiton is, on the sequnce shown using Simple Stayman, you show slam interest in hearts.  The answer is easy - you bid spades!  Why does this work? We have to go back to why Stayman was chosen as a bid; it only happens when the user has a four card major and over 3 any bid of no-trumps (3N or 4N or more) has to show spades.  This includes a bid of 5N (pick a slam) which is primarily offering the option of 6♠ or 6N.  Because of this you never have to bid spades to show them, so any bid of spades is free - and here it is very useful to agree hearts and suggest some slam interest. In this case 3♠ will lead to a 4♣ cue bid by opener, and now South can complete the description of the hand by continuing with 4♠ (now a cue bid) and opener can take charge - checking for key cards - before bidding the slam. Played by North, the slam depends just on the trumps breaking evenly, and they do.

Commonly amongst tournament players, the sequence 2N - 3♣ is used to ask first about 5-card majors, and in the simplest form a 3 response is used to deny a five card major but promise at least one four card major. At this point again there are multiple choices; the simplest is to bid majors up the line but what happens here is that responder ends up as declarer in hearts. Does that matter?  Just occasionally and you can see from the results on this board that it mattered this week.  If the heart slam is played by South, then a diamond lead defeats the contract - and this happened at two tables.

The most advanced form of 3♣ ask these days is known as MUPPET STAYMAN. It focusses on making the strong hand declarer in all situations.  Details on (at least one variation of) this can be found on page 21 of this bulletin.

[LATER: Patrick Phair poiinted out that on a diamond lead you can still make the slam; if you know or can guess to avoid the diamond finesse, you can aim to run the ♠J and when that holds you have two spades on which to discard the losing diamonds]

HotD-wed : League 7 : 17feb20 : B1

This hand from Monday generated some discussion on the best way to play the heart suit. Everyone (except the one North declarer) had two top clubs to start with and then a trump switch. With spades and diamond tied up, it all comes down to not losing two hearts. Most commonly it will be two losers but there are some layouts where declarer can hold it to one. 

The three vanilla options to consider are these : (a) singleton honour with West, (b) doubleton king-queen in either hand, and (c) doubleton honour-ten or singleton ten in East.  In the first you would cash the ace and then lead up to the jack, but you would have to draw trumps first and be left with two losing diamonds to take care of; this scenario won't work.  In the second case you can cash the ace or lead small from the ace first. In the third case you must start with small towards the jack. 

In order to delay the decision a little, the natural choice is to lead small away from the ace at