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Hand of the Day

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HotD-thu : Autumn Pairs : 14oct19 : B19

It was curious to look at the traveler on this hand from Monday and see that everyone who stopped in game made exactly 11 tricks, while the two pairs who bid slam both made the necessary 12 tricks there.  Here's how the 11 tricks emerged at one table ...

South was on lead and started with a top club; partner showed an odd numbe. East's bidding made it far more likely that it was East with a singleton, and South therefore switched to spades.  Declarer won that with the ace and focussed on the fact that dummy had a losing spade and it could be discarded on diamnonds.  He drew trumps (in three rounds) and cashed the diamonds throwing away that spade.  He had a trump left in each hand and that brought him up to 11 tricks.  Could he have made 12 tricks?

The answer is yes and the approach it to focus not so much on what losers you have as declarer, but on what winners.  With five diamond tricks and one spade trick, to make 12 you need six trump tricks.  That means two ruffs, and that must happen before drawing all the trumps. What you need to do is focus on ruffing two clubs; the winning line is - after the ♠A wins, ruff a club and go back to dummy with ace and another trump.  When this confirms that trumps are not 4-1 take another club ruff. Now back to dummy with the K to draw trumps and you are home with twleve tricks - the losing spade and the last club going on the diamonds.

This line of play is only frustrated by a spade lead, but unsurprisingly no South found that.

HotD-wed : MCL match : 13oct19 : B31

This hand from Sunday's match was the most interersting play problem. A few tables ended in NT and not all bid game, but the big swing depended on the outcome of this spade game. The defenders annoyingly start off with a diamond - over to you ....

With four red winners, your concern is to avoid losing two tricks in each black suit.  The awkwardness on the hand is that you have only one entry to the North hand to allow you to lead towards South. 

Looking at the spade suit in isolation, leading from North and picking up KT/QT doubleton onside or KQx onside gives you a 13.6% chance of success.   If  RHO follows small you can rule out the first option and play the jack - but if anything higher appears you play for doubleton ten (somewhere, playing the jack as early as you can).  SUITPLAY provided this figure but you can get close to it by recognising that these layouts are 4 of the 10 doubletons, and the doubleton will be the right way round only half the time, and the 3-2 break is around 70%.  So multiply 70% by 1/2 by 4/10  and you get 14% which is pretty close.

Looking at the club suit in isolation, leading from the North hand you will succeed with Qx or Kx or KQx onside (and if RHO splits with KQxx). SUITPLAY tells us that gives you a 25.7% chance of success.  You get at this figure by seeing this as 1/4 of the 3-3 breaks (a quarter of 35%) plus on the 4-2 breaks we gain on 6 of the 15 doubletons (Hx onside), and the shortage held by East (so a fifth of 50%), plus the singleton honours with East (a sixth of 12% for a 5-1 break) and KQ-doubleton in either hand (a fifteenth of the 4-2 break) - which comes to 24% in round numbers.

Clearly the answer is to play clubs, but in practice that option was not chosen; the declarers we know of led spades. It is important now for East to recognise that playing the ten gives declarer too easy a time - and inevitable success.  It is therefore standard to rise here with the honour from HT-doubleton.  Richard Plackett duly did this and declarer won the ace but then erred by playing him for KQ-doubleton - ducking the second round to the ten to go one off. Maybe he deserved to go down by chossing the wrong suit to play!

The Advantage of No-Trumps

West leads a low diamond to the ten, jack and your King. You play a heart to the Ace and East drops the Jack. How do you continue?

The principle of restricted choice applies here. With the QJ East would play the Queen some of the time whereas with a singleton Jack he has no choice. In 7 you would enter the South hand and finesse in hearts as the percentage play. However, the advantage of playing in no-trumps rather than hearts is that you do not need to commit yourself to playing the heart suit immediately. The best line is to cash ♠AQ,AQ,♣AK,♠K,♣Q and count the oppponents hand. On this layout you discover that West holds 6 spades, 2 diamonds and at least 3 clubs. He cannot therefore hold 3 hearts and hence you play a heart to the King and drop a doubleton QJ. Grand slam made.

How do you Play?

You play in 3NT on the lead of 4. You win the knave over Easts's nine and to protect your heart holding, you play a diamond to the Ace and finesse on the way back, losing to West's Queen, who now exits with a club. How do you play? 

Now you have lost a diamond trick, you have only eight winners and need to make 2 tricks from your spade holding. You should realise that there is no point in playing a spade towards your Queen, for if East holds the King, he will rise with it and push a heart through. You are now down even if the hearts are breaking 4-3. On this hand you must play West for the ♠K. Cash your minor suit winners and watch West's discards. He will probably keep his ♠K guarded, in which case you can exit with a heart and end-play him. If you judge he has bared the ♠K to keep hearts, then play for it to drop. On this layout, it will probably be easy to take the right view.

Cater for the Bad Break

You play in 4♠ and get a low club lead. You win the King over East's Knave. You play a spade towards dummy and West plays the King. What now?

If you treat West's card as a singleton, you might still make the contract with a favourable position in the other suits. 2 diamonds, 2 clubs and 2 hearts gives you 6 tricks, 2 top spades and 2 further spades by ruffing a heart in dummy and a diamond in hand would see you home. Hence the best play is to lead the K from dummy at trick 3 and hope for the best. It would be fatal to cash a second top trump as this might allow the defence the opportunity to play 2 more rounds of trumps when they win the A. Were you lucky with the distribution? - Afraid not as a look at the four hands will show. When you play the K, West wins the Ace and gives his partner a diamond ruff. A club ruff in West is followed by a further diamond, promoting East's ♠T. You have been fooled by a brialliant false card from West (playing the King from KJ doubleton). 

Play this Slam

West leads the ♠K. Plan the play.

You have no losers outside the trump suit, so how should you play hearts? Many would lead low towards the Queen, but this is poor play. If the hearts are 3-2 you will have no problem in holding your losses to 1 trick. If the suit breaks 5-0, you have no chance, so just consider the 4-1 breaks. A low heart towards the Queen only gains when West holds a singleton King. Cashing the Ace is better as this picks up a singleton King in either hand. Best play of all is to lead the Q from dummy. This picks up a singleton 8,9, or ten with West as you return to dummy and intend to finesse the 7 on the second round. You will be unlucky on the actual hand as given, but at least you can take comfort from finding a superior line.

HotD-fri : CBC Pairs League : 09oct19 : B26

It was disappointing to find that on this hand from Wednesday that there was only one table played in slam, and that was in  a 5-1 fit and that wasn't best.

The sequence shown is how the bidding should have started. After the takeout double from North, South invokes the Lebensohl mechanism whereby 2N forces partner to bid 3♣ after which 3 shows a heart stop and a 4-card spade suit.  A direct 3 bid would have shown four spades without a heart stop.  The use of this approach allows you to avoid bidding 4♠ and then finding that partner has onlt 3 (or fewer) of the suit.  After the spade fit has been confirmed, South can start cue bidding and surely the slam is now biddable.

The play is also interesting as exactly one line of play stands out, whether the contract is 4♠ or 6♠.  Having won the heart lead, declarer can see the heart losers being thrown away on the top diamonds but first should draw trumps. After the ♠K drops the queen, the spades can be identified as breaking 4-1, and that means drawing trumps leaves declarer with only ten tricks.  The answer to that problem is to take two ruffs for additional tricks.  So the play should be a diamond to dummy and a diamond ruff, over to a top spade and another ruff, and finally over to the ♣A to draw the remaining two trumps. 

HotD-thu : Swiss Teams 2 : 7oct19 : B7

This hand from Monday produced enormous swings when four pairs went off in slams (two in 6♣ , two in 6)  while three others made slams (two in 6♣ and one in 6).

The best line in either slam is not clear, and the entry position is affected a little by the opening lead.  The 6♣ slam played by East got three different leads, one spade, two hearts and one diamond.  The expectation is that the slam is trivial if the clubs break, and you mustn't go off if they do - so it seems right to start with two rounds of clubs. Which to choose should be driven by concerns of a 4-1 break, which on this bidding is more likely to be length with North. If there is a bad club break, declarer will need to bring in the heart suit.  Again a 3-2 break is trivial, ruffing in the East hand; if the clubs are 4-1, you want to be able to ruff one heart then draw the last trump - so starting with ♣A,♣Q seems right as after a heart ruff you can then return to the ♣K and run the hearts. So as long as one of clubs or hearts break evenly, then you are home.

But it doesn't work out that way. After two top clubs you try two top hearts and find the suit doesnt break. When South wins and puts you back in, you draw the last trump and set up the hearts and then cross to West to run them.  This works as long as there is an entry to West at the end of the hand - and the only suit in which that is guaranteed is spades (a diamodn lead with the jack covered by the queen compensates, if North is so kind).  Which is why the opening lead is actually crucial here - the defence can alway beat 6♣ on a spade lead, but cannot beat it on any other lead.

The 6 slam is also dependent on the opening lead. On a spade lead declarer can play out trumps and find a loser there, ruff the spade continuation and test clubs.  When there is a loser in clubs the diamond finesse becomes a necessity and if declarer has prepared sensibly (ie thought about a 4-1 club break before deciding that the possibility of that drives you to cash the ♣A♣K as your first two clubs) then the diamond finesse can be taken and the third diamond trick reached.  If the ♣Q had been played too early, then North could block the dimaond suit by covering the jack on the first round. This highlights the vulnerability of the 6 slam to a diamond lead; declarer does not know at that point that both hearts and clubs will have a loser, and will view the diamond finesse as an unnecessary risk; refusing the finesse at trick one - or if North leads a diamond after winning Q - will mean the slam goes down.


HotD-wed : Swiss Teams 2 : 7oct19 : B16

This was the most spectacular hand on Monday - it's not often you get what looks like a 1-loser hand (East here), and on this particular hand there is a conventional opening which solves all your problems for you.  In practice few remembered to use it and the one we know did got the wrong response from partner!  It's a bid that only comes up once every three years, but when it comes up it really helps.

The bid is a 4N opening, asking partner to show exactly what aces they have. The responses are 5♣ with none, 5N with two, and bid the ace you have if you only have one (three is probably an excuse to bid 7N unless one of the aces is a singleton).  Here the 5 response will get you to the grand slam with confidence.

Some of the 2♣ openers as East did manage to get to the grand slam; one such instance was team 2 who bid 2♣ - 2 - 2♠ - 3♠ - 4♣(cue) - 4(cue) - 7♠.   This was not without risk as partner's diamond cue might have not been the ace (but it was). 

Not all the 2♣ bidders had it so easy.  A more common start to the auction saw South overcall and the bidding went 2♣ - 3 - X - 5 - ??   and at this point East could only bid 6♠ and there matters rested.

Another grand slam bidder had a harder time, at their table North opened the bidding, so it went  3♣ - 6♠ - P(after some thought) - 7♠.   West had deduced from the pause that South was thinking of sacrificing, and therefore had enough clubs to show that East had a void.  In that case the A was probably working (but not opposite ♠AKQJ8652KQJT9) so he raised to the grand slam.

Play like an Expert

West leads the Q. You win the Ace and lead a club to dummy's King and East's Ace. A heart is returned. Plan the play.

You need to make 3 diamond tricks to bring this contract home, and that may or may not be possible. However, playing off the club suit first costs nothing. The way you play the club suit is important. When the suit breaks 3-2, one opponent will have to make a discard and the other opponent 2 discards. It is important that you make the defender who has 2 discards to make play before his partner so that he cannot see an informative discard from partner. On this hand you play the ♣Q and then the ♣8. If West follows to the third club, you overtake with the ten and play a fourth club from the table. If West shows out on the third club, you keep the lead in hand to play the last round of clubs. On this layout, the only winning defence for West is to discard 2 spades - coming down to singleton King. At the table, he is much more likely to discard a dianmond, and now you have the 4 tricks and not just 2 tricks in the vital suit.  [If West had ♠KQ then it would have been a true squeeze]

Improve your Chances

West leads the J. How do you play?

A good guess in diamonds will see you home, but you can improve your chances and may be able to avoid a diamond guess altogether. Win the heart lead and cash a second heart discarding a club from dummy. Now eliminate the clubs and lead a spade from the table. If West wins (and trumps are not 3-0) he will have to open up the diamonds or give you a ruff and discard. If East wins and plays a diamond through, you can cover his lead. If the Knave (say) is played by West, you win with the Ace and then exit with a trump. You are not guaranteed success with this line, but there are many diamond suit layouts where you cannot go wrong.

HotD-sun : Premier League M4 : 5oct19 : B28

 A Gloucestershire team (John Atthey, Richard Chamberlain, Patrick Shields, Garry Watson) was promoted last year in the Premier League and started their campaign in Division One yesterday. This was an interersting hand from match four.  The opening lead was a top heart and declarer ducked that, won the Q continuation and played a third heart to put East back on lead.  East switched to the K and declarer could win that and now returned the suit, and that went to West's J.   Back came the ♠5. 

You have lost three tricks in the red suits and surely have a spade loser and the ace of clubs to lose.  Can you avoid losing to the club jack?  If North has it, then you can lead up to the club queen and finesse on the way back - but on the bidding it is much more likely to be with South.  Can you make the contract if South has the jack?

The answer is yes. You need to endplay East to do that. You might consider played three rounds of trumps, but that fails if East has a red suit card left to play (here the 2).  The winning choice is to win the first round of spades with the ace (or king) and to lead out the ♣K.  East has to win (or you make a second club by leading to the queen) and after winning there is no good choice for East. A club would run round to the ten, a spade would be won by the jack, and if East plays a heart you can ruff with the spade jack and discard the ♣T.  John Atthey found this play which none of the other tables (including the World Champion at the other table in our match) missed it.  Unfortunately he was in a higher contract and all this did was save him an undertrick.

Three interesting points. Firstly note North's keenness not to tackle either black suit - putting East back on lead with the inevitable red suit losers maximised the chance of a gift from the defence. None was forthcoming here because East worked out to play diamonds rather than clubs when in with the third heart.  The second point is how to know to play diamonds?  Because of West's signals; West's first heart card gave the count in the suit but there was a choice of two cards to play on the second round, and on tricks two and three West played high-low which indicated (if anything) a preference for the higher suit. That didn't promise diamonds but it did guarantee that West did not hold anythign useful in clubs, so East tried diamonds.  Finally, why was North too high? The answer is that West opened a weak two bid in diamonds and the bidding proceeded 2♠ - 3 - 3♠.  Of course 3 was going down, but without the opener from West, North is not under the same pressure and that pressure is what wins matches.

Simple Stuff

West leads the ♣K and the Ace holds the first trick. What now?

Start by drawing the outstanding trumps - say they are not breaking so it takes 2 rounds. Now your problem is to avoid 2 diamond losers and there is a simple way to do this. Leas the ♠K from hand. If West covers you can ruff in dummy. Later you throw a diamond on your ♠Q and concede a diamond. Dummy has enough trumps to ruff your remaining losers. If West plays low on the ♠K, discard a diamond from dummy. Either the King wins in which case you just lose a diamond as before, or the King loses to the Ace with East. But now of course, you have a spade winner on which to discard dummy's second diamond loser so you make the contract (just losing one spade trick). A simple loser on loser play.


West leads the ♠5, east contributing the ten. How do you plan to get to 9 tricks?

You have 2 spades and 5 clubs and need to develop 2 more. Hearts is an obvious choice but you don't want East winning an early heart and pushing through a spade. Win the opening lead with the queen (concealing the knave) and play a club to the queen in dummy. Now lead a heart from the table. If East holds the K he will not know whether to cover or not - he may place partner with the ♣K and not the A. If you manage to lose the first heart to West, he will not know whether he should be looking to put partner in for a spade through you or to continue spades hoping his partner holds the ♠J. You have no guarantee of success, but following this line of play makes it as difficult as possible for the defence to do the right thing. 

HotD-thu : League 2 : 30sep19 : B20

This hand from Monday needed a little forward planning.  On a trump lead, you can see four diamond tricks and need only two ruffs to get you six trump tricks.  The problem is entries.  If you start on spades and they lead another trump, you will need to win that in dummy to ruff your first spade, then back to dummy with a diamond to take the next ruff. If you go back to dummy with diamonds again to draw trumps, you have cut yourself off from the third and fourth diamond. That won't do.

You need to go for a different ten tricks. If you only get five trump tricks and four diamonds, you also need a club trick. The answer is to win the heart in dummy at trick one, and lead a club. With the favourable lie in the suit, you will be able to set up a trick there and taking one club ruff in dummy to get your fifth trump trick will make the game. Careful timing is needed even at the end.


HotD-wed : League 2 : 30sep19 : B28

The last board on Monday produced double figure swings in all matches but one. There was game making in both directions in a minor suit (only bid three times by North-South and twice by East-West) but also viable trump fits on each side which would fail. The other big scores came from a double part-score making and a 5x contract which suffered a 5-0 trump break.

The auction shown, from table three, seemed "normal" but there were a number of decisions en route which are worth discussing.  The first is the opening bid - to open 1♣ (longer suit) or 1♠ (higher, more preemptive suit). The key point to make is that if you open 1♣ you are committing yourself to bidding spades twice to get the hand shape over, and doing that with such minimal HCP is too much for some (and if the opponents compete you might never get the chance).  When you add to that the fact that for some a 1♣ opener could even be a doubleton in a weak NT hand - which means it provides very little lead directing or cometitive advantage - the 1♠ opener becomes the more attractive.

After the takeout double, there is a very strong take-up these days by tournament players of transfers, starting with 1N showing clubs and here exhibiting 2 showing good 3-card support (weaker bids 2♠ directly).  Now for South, who is clearly going to game on this hand but needs to work out which suit is best; partner has implied hearts with the takeout double, but might only have three.  Bidding 2♠ to create a game force here looks the right thing to do.

Although the West is a relatively weak hand in some way, passing here would leave partner with an expectation of perhaps a boring 5332 minimum hand, and the hand is much more than that, especially as a spade fit has been now uncovered.  It seems natural therefore to show the club suit; it will help partner judge the hand and if defending could help the defence.  North had an easy pass at this point. The club bid was appealing to East, but whether than justifies a jump to game, having already shown a good raise, isn't clear; a bid of 3 to give partner the choice might have been prudent.

South now had to do something. Partner had not taken the chance to bid over 3♣ and this tells South that North has no strong suggestion of the best trump suit.  This makes diamonds a standout, so South's bid of 5 is the obvious choice.  East's double when this comes round seems unnecessary.  West started off hopeful, as all it takes is partner to get in and deliver a heart ruff to put the contract in doubt. He led the ♠Q, trying to avoid giving away a cheap trick but encouraging partner to win the ace and work out what to do.  The effect was unfortunate; winning the ♠A, drawing trumps and continuing spades allowed declarer to set up a spade trick to take care of a heart loser, and the diamond game was home. [South can organise an endplay on East even without the help in spades]

At table one the bidding died in 4♠ after West had opened 1♣ and then bid spades twice. North led the A and could see from dummy that partner was going to be very short in clubs. His club got one ruff, and when in with the ♠A he was able to lead a second club and get a third trump trick to beat the spade game.  His team-mates had also opened 1♣ (which silences North given North's short spades) and ended in 5♣.  It takes a very good view in spades to make this game, but North started by cashing two aces and then it was an easy make.  Bidding the right game in just one direction was good enough for a double figure swing.


Choose Your Line

West leads a low heart against your slam. You hope that East will produce the ten so that you have a late entry to dummy, but instead East plays the 5. What options do you have?

There are two possible lines of play. Clearly West is void in diamonds. You can draw the outstanding trump and cash the top diamonds, then exit with a club. If West has the ace, he will have to lead a black card and that will take care of your losing spade. If East has the ace and returns a spade after winning the first club, you will have to finesse, and if West has the king you will be defeated. There is an alternative line - you can play East for a singleton spade and the ace of clubs. If he has that, you must cash the top diamonds and the ace of spades before playing a club – East, with nothing but minor-suit cards left, will be a stepping stone to the two winners in the dummy. Anyone can make a slam by taking a finesse, but if the second of these lines happens to be the only way to succeed, you can dine out on it for months. Is there any clue as to which line is better? Possibly - you need to consider West's lead. With a void diamond and a collection of low black cards he would surely have tried a black suit lead at trick one hoping to get his partner in for a ruff. His trump lead looks like he has values in the black suits so play him for the ♣A (as well as the ♠K).

Use Your Imagination

You lead a trump and East's King is beaten by declarer's Ace. South draws a second round of trumps and continues with the A. Do you see any chance of beating this contract?

Since East passed your opening bid, he can't have another King and hence your chances are very slim as declarer has 6 trump tricks plus another 4 in diamonds. You must offer declarer a losing option by throwing the K under the Ace. If South has 3 diamonds, he may place East with Jxx and go up with the Queen on the second round of the suit, hoping to get rid of his third diamond via a thrown in play in hearts. If he tries this you will win 2 hearts, a club and a diamond. When all seems hopeless - don't give up - try something unusual even if you can't work out exactly what might happen if you do! 

How do you Play?

West leads the ♠K against your slam. Trumps break 2-2. What is the best line?

This hand revolves around the heart suit, with the odds favouring a second round finesse of the Knave.  You can increase your chances however. Win the spade lead and draw the trumps. Cash a top heart and 2 top clubs pitching a spade. Now ruff a club and exit with a spade. If West wins and plays a heart, you finesse as before. but if West started with a singleton heart, he is endplayed to concede a ruff and discard. Of course, it does no good for the defence to win the spade trick in East.

Maximise Your Chances

You reach game after East kindly reopens the bidding. You get the lead of 5 to East's Ace, and a low heart is returned. You win the King and West follows with the 8   Given that East is likely to hold the ♣A for his double, how do you plan the play?

First of all, do you still have the 5 in your hand? A strong player will have retained a possible entry to dummy in the trump suit. What layout do you need to give you a chance? If you cross to the 7 to finesse in spades, you will have nine tricks - five hearts, two spades and two diamonds, so you will need a trick from clubs. One possibility is to finesse the ♣9. If West holds the ♣T, you will be able to set up a club trick. That might work but not on this layout. Suppose that before finessing the club, you cash AK. Now, what is East to do when he wins the first club? If he plays a diamond, you ruff high, and now dummy has two winning diamonds when you cross to the 7. If East plays a spade instead, you can finesse the queen, and your tenth trick will come from a spade ruff in dummy. And if East leads a club away from the ace, that also provides a tenth winner for you.

HotD-fri : World Championship SemiFinal : 25sep19 : B21

England had four teams in the World Championships and all four of them reached the knock-out stages (by being in the top 8 of the 24-team round-robin).  The Open team went out at the quarterfinal stage, and the Womens and Mixed teams went out at the semi-final stage - but the Seniors team didn't and will now play against Denmark for the Gold Medal. In their semi-final the seniors were behind for a lot of the time but this board - in the fourth stanza out of six - was the point where they drew level and after that they never looked back.

The key decision was for Alan Mould sitting East at the point shown - what do you return after partner leads the 4 to your ace?

The big danger looking at dummy is the (looks like it is) running diamond suit, so it is important for you to cash your winners quickly.  Partner on this auction is known to have four spades, and if they include the king then there are four spade trick to cash.  If they don't then you need to play hearts.

Can you find out?  Easily - Alan played the ♠A and looked to see whether partner encouraged or discouraged.  When he got an encouraging signal he continued the suit and they cashed out.  The other table played back a heart at trick two and declarer cashed out. The gain was 13 imps, to bring the teams back to exactly level.  Over the remainder of the set, England gained 56-6 imps.

In the Womens match, both England and Sweden returned a heart to give declarer 12 tricks. In the Mixed teams the English pair bid up to 5 down one, but Graham Osborne (for England) defending 3N found the ♠A and continuation to beat that game. 

HotD-thu : CBC Swiss Pairs : 24sep19 : B9

It was curious to note that when this hand was played on Tuesday, half the field played 3N-1 while half played 3N-2.  Why the difference?  Here's a couple of stories.

With a top club lead, declarer ducked ducked and won. There were now six top tricks and two potential tricks in diamonds but to make the contract at least one heart was needed, so declarer played a heart.  South could see five tricks for the defence, so he leapt up with the ace and cashed the clubs.  Declarer now had eight tricks and was one down.

After a similar start another declarer tried a heart but South played small and the queen won the trick. The contract was now in sight and declarer turned attention to diamonds. After cashing the top diamonds it seemed safe to give North their diamond trick to set up the fifth diamond (equal to setting up a heart) but when this was done, North won and played to partner's heart ace to beat the contract by two tricks.  Sneaky defence!

BTW : the English Senior team has just qualified for the final of the D'orsi Bowl (Seniors World Championship) in China. The final is 96 boards over Friday and Satruday and can be viewed on BBO.

HotD-wed : Ladies/Mens Pairs : 23sep19 : B28

The GCBA Ladies & Mens Pairs Championships took place on Monday. The turn-out was the smallest for as long as our records go, and as we often see, the scoring in the Mens Pairs was very flat.  The Ladies event was won by Val Constable & Alison Pritchard, pulling away from the shared lead with Corrie Bowyer & Gill Wilkins at the very end.  In the Mens Pairs there was nothing to separate two pairs in the end, both scoring  53.57% (exactly one top above average over 28 boards), so it all came down to the boards played by Tony Letts & Allan Sanis against Richard Harris & Patrick Shields, to determine which pair wins the trophy.  This was the deciding hand ... it illustrates a couple of aspects of the pairs game that we all need to remember.

After a weak NT opening from North the question is what should happen.  Let's consider first what happens if East passes.  South will now take out into spades and playing in two spades declarer will have AK to cash in both minors and will always make three trumps tricks and should make no more - and that scores 100 for East-West.  The alternative to East passing is for East to use one of the popular NT-defence conventions; the most convenient here, as is often true, is bidding 2♣ to show the majors but if you are playing an alternative such as Asptro then it pays to bid even if partner is going to expect a 5-4 shape in the suits you show.  On this hand Tony chose 2 showing spades and a second suit and when Allan bid 2 to find out the second suit, that bid was passed and they were in the best contract. That scores +140 (beating 2♠-1) which turned out to be a complete top on the hand, and was enough to win the trophy.  The message from this is to bid over their 1N opening, because otherwise you are leaving them to reach an optimal contract.

The reason this score was a top was because it was the only plus score for East-West.  All the other EW pairs had overstretched and played at a higher level and went down. This illustrates another key message for all matchpoint pairs games - and the message is that plus scores are good, so that it pays to go low in pairs games to ensure that.

Not Too Difficult

West leads the ♠J. Plan the play.

If the diamond finesse loses you have no chance. Hence assume it works. Win the first spade in hnd and try the diamond finesse. That holds but do you now see a problem? You have no sure entry to hand to repeat the finesse and pick up the suit when West holds 3 diamonds. How do you get the extra entry you need? - The answer is you don't. Just lead the K from the table and give the defenders a dilemma. If they take the A then your Q is an entry. If they duck the K, you have scored a heart trick without losing a tempo so you now just clear the diamonds and make 2 spades, a heart and 6 diamond tricks for your contract.


West leads the ♠Q against your slam. How do you play?

A simple line is to pin your hopes on the trump finesse, in which case you will ultimately just lose a club. There is an alternative line however. You may be able to set up a long diamond for a club discard. Win the lead and lay down the A. If the King drops then you have 12 tricks. Let's say both opponents follow small. Now play Ace and another diamond ruffing. You have 2 spade ruffs and the ♣A as entries to dummy to ruff 2 more diamonds and get back to cash to last diamond. All the defence can make is the trump King. The chance of a 4-3 break is around 60% so this line represents a better chance than the simple finesse.

A reader (Roger Miles) wrote it to suggest that testing the diamonds before the hearts gives you an even better chance. By winning the spade and playing A and ruff, spade ruff, diamond ruff high - you will find out if diamonds behave in time to switch to taking the heart finesse when they don't.  This combination adds up to a 78% chance of making!  [And the 60% above is probably an underestimate - it's more like 70%]

The Contract is Safe

West leads the ♠J. How do you play?

On the lead given the contract is secure provided you play properly. If you cover with the ♠Q and East plays the King, you can win and knock out the A. You have an entry to dummy with the ♠T and must make at least 5 diamonds, 2 hearts and 2 spades. The problem arises if East does not play his ♠K on your Queen at trick 1. Now the defenders can duck a round of diamonds and prevent you from entering dummy. The mistake on this hand is to play the ♠Q and West's lead as this gives the defence a chance to shine. If you play low from dummy and win the Ace, you will later always be able to force a dummy entry in spades and make your contract. Always consider the play to trick 1 carefully as this is where many a solid contract is lost.

Plan the Play

How do you play 6♠  on the ♣K lead?

If suits break reasonably, you can virtually guarantee this contract. Win the lead and cash AK. Now play a third diamond and discard a heart. If both opponents follow you can claim but if diamonds are 4-2, you can later ruff a diamond with the ♠A and a heart with a low trump.

Hotd -fri : World Championship China : RR15 : B7

England have four teams in the current World Championships taking place in China.  After five days of play the teams are lying 5th in the Open Teams, 7th in the Women's teams, 1st in the Mixed teams and 2nd in the Seniors Teams;  this is very impressive and the top eight out of the 24 in each event will qualify for the knock-out stages which start on Monday.  You can watch on (in the morning).

This hand was an interesting one to watch although England lost out on this in the Open teams and the Mixed teams (and in the Womens, but gained in the Seniors). Against 4 the lead was a spade to the queen-king-ace, and the Norths fell into two camps - some returned a spade immediately (as if they were trying for a ruff) while the others led a diamond at trick two. 

In the Mixed teams, our North tried diamonds and East won, cashed a spade and exited with a second diamond. The best chance for declarer now was to avoid a club loser, but when she led ♣J to the king, there was an unavoidable heart loser and the game was off.  In the other room, declarer returned a spade at trick two won by the ten, and East played on hearts. In again with the A, another heart picked up the suit and game made.  Loss of 13 imps.

In the Open teams, our North stopped in 3 after a very controlled sequence in which North had shown six hearts, four clubs and about an ace above an opening bid (he was on the strong side for this). That made +140.  In the other room North was in 4 and tried a spade at trick two. East (having led the jack) was brave enough to duck this to partner, who could win the ♠8 and lead a club. This went to the king and East cashed the A and played a second diamond.  This didn't give away any tricks but it gave declarer a vital entry, and he knew he needed to play hearts for no loser, so he led 5-8-T to make his game.  Loss of 11 imps.

It is a difficult game sometimes. 

HotD-thu : League 1 : 16sep19 : B25

The best bidding test from Monday was on this hand.  It is very easy to see that 13 tricks are there in either of the two major suits - with two clubs ruffs adding to the top 11 tricks in spade, and two diamond ruffs (most easily) adding to the top 11 tricks in hearts.  The only pair to bid the grand slam went off, but we have not yet uncovered what accident happened in the play there.

Most tables had a quiet run as East-West in the bidding, and it always started (from East) 1♠ - 2 - 2; now a lot depended on your style of system.  Those playing that 2 (2 over 1) was game forcing could just raise to 3♥; the others were fortunate also that they could bid 4♣ to agree hearts and show slam interest.   At table five after the raise to 3 the bidding continued with 3N as a serious spade cue bid, and 4♣ cue from West and East might have won the day with a jump to 5 as Exclusion Blackwood but wasn't sure partner would be on the same wavelength.  This choice would have been dangerous as West has so far only promised an opener by bid with a club control. In quencethe real world East will cue bid spades and West might now continue with 4N but even were East to jump to 6D over that (showing an odd number of key cards and a void diamond) West cannot identify enough tricks to bid the grand slam.  So no sequence has been identified yet as a candidate for bidding the grand slam confidently. 

HotD-wed : League 1 : 16sep19 : B28

This hand from Monday was the most interesting play hand. There were two tables not in 4♠ and of the others 10/12 declared the hand in 4♠ as North.

The key issue for East in making the opening lead is to recognise that partner cannot have much in the way of values on this auction, and because of that the lead of either red suit is very dangerous. Only one East fell into the trap of leading a heart. Although it might sometimes cost a trick, the club combination is reasonably safe and seven of the remaining nine led a top club (the others a spade). Declarer can expect five spade tricks (four winners, one ruff) and four outside, so is only one trick short. After a black suit lead declarer played trumps and West was in with the ace; in practice, the choice now determined the fate of the contract.

Returning a club might seem natural but this gives declarer an easy answer - win the second club and draw trumps before exiting with the third club. East is on lead and must lead a red suit. [A ruff and discard would in fact not give declarer an extra trick, but on this layout East has run out of clubs]. 

Returning a diamond leaves declarer a winning option which a number of players missed. The winning option is to play the nine (or lower) and when West wins this trick (s)he is endplayed to give the tenth trick.  Most Norths played Q instead and East won the king, and returned the jack. The contract can still be made but in practice North drew the last trump, ruffed the third diamond and now tried to end play East in clubs.  East could exit with the T and wait for the heart king to beat the contract.

Returning a heart gave the defence the best chance, although when the finesse loses to East only a heart return doesn't give away a trick and East might not realise this.  Actually a heart return isn't enough to beat the contract if declarer squeezes East out of the long heart (by drawing trumps) and eliminates hearts before exiting in clubs.  But in practice this won't happen.

Of those who got a spade lead, one made 4♠ and one didn't; of those who got a club lead, three made the game and four didn't.

Back Your Instincts

The defence lead the ♠K. The second and third tricks are taken by East's ♠A and West's ♠Q. At trick 4, West switches to the ♣7. How do you plan the play?

There is no reason to not take the trump finesse, but the card you lead from hand is critical. If you play the Q and West covers, you will naturally play a heart back to your ten and will discover that you have a heart loser when West started life with a singleton King. Much better is to lead the T from hand for the finesse. If West plays the King on this trick, there is a fair inference that it is a singleton as covering with say Kx would blow a trump trick whenever partner has Jx or Jxx. Of course, if West does play the King on your ten, you need to back your instincts and take a deep finesse on the second round of trumps

How Should you Defend?

You lead the A on which East drops the Queen. What do you think should happen at tricks 2 and 3?

East's card at trick 1 guarantees holding the J. You should therefore play a low diamond at trick 2. When partner wins this trick he might well know how many diamond tricks are cashing and when the answer is only 2, he will switch to a heart. You simply cover declarer's card and sit back and wait to take the setting tricks in hearts. You don't need to play partner for a singleton heart as that would leave South with 4 cards in the suit which aren't being discarded anywhere. Look what happens if at trick 2 you continue with King and another diamond. South ruffs, draws trumps and eliminates clubs. He now leads the Q from hand and your second heart trick disappears. 

Patrick Phair writes : The comment "that would leave South with 4 cards in the suit which aren't being discarded anywhere" isn't necessarily true. East: T9, 8, QJT85, T8765 South: AKQ853, QT52, 96, Q

Be a Good Partner

You lead the ♣A on which partner plays the 2 and declarer the Knave. Now what?

Clearly you should switch to hearts. The bidding indicates that South has a singleton club and you need to either cash heart tricks or set up a heart trick before the spades are established (if they are not already solid). However, if you switch to a low heart and partner wins the Ace, can you be sure that he will do the right thing? He might play you for a spade void and return to spade to give you a ruff. Be kind to partner and switch to the K at trick 2. This way you will beat the contract whenevr it is possible so to do.

Take Care

West leads the ♣3 to his partner's Jack. How do you plan the play?

You might duck trick 1 and hope to ruff a club on the table, but surely the defence will play 2 rounds of trumps if they can and spoil that line. It must be best to take trick 1 and at trick 2 lead??? - the right card is the Q. If the defence wins the King, they only have 1 club and 1 trump trick before you can get to dummy to make use of the top spades. The play of the Q virtually gurantees the contract.

HotD-fri : CBC Pairs League : 11sep19 : B12

It's not often you see a 7600 shaped hand and it is even more curious that we were able to report on one last week (B13 from 02sep19) and we have another one from this week. 

Almost everyone started the North hand off by bidding the longest suit first, and this is the generally recommended pattern with extreme shape. The first crucial decision came at this point - what should South bid?

Where South chose 3N, North expected South's values to be predominantly in the red suits (where it is almost half and half) and continued the description with 4♠ which for some finished the auction.

Wheere South here chose 4♣ North felt more enthused and a few from that position pushed into a small slam in clubs.  We prefer 4♣.

Only 2/16 tables managed to bid a slam on these hands, but more worrying is that 3/16 tables played the hand in a part-score!

HotD-thu : Autumn Pairs : 9sep19 : B17

This hand was a potential slam on which most played in game. A consequence of that is that the defence becomes even more important. The auction shown is that of table nine.  2N showed a good raise to at least 3♠ after which South signed off to show a minimum before cue bidding in hearts.

The lead was 2. Should the slam be made?

There is clearly a trump loser, and declarer must avoid any other loser.  The  two options with which you start for avoiding a heart loser are ruffing out the diamond ace, and discarding South's hearts on winning clubs and then ruffing a heart in South. In both cases a major concern is the club suit.

Playing West for the king could prove successful if West has doubleton or tripleton king. Playing East for the king with a ruffing finesse will generate the club winners desired if East has Kxx or Kxxx.  It is best therefore to take the ruffing finesse and this was done. Once the club king was gone, declarer played trumps and West won and tried a diamond to their partner's ace. But declarer ruffed and cashing all the black winners squeezed East in the red suits and the slam made.

On winning the spade ace, West needed to play a second heart, to break up the squeeze. In situations like this you sometimes have to trust that the opponent's bidding is honest.

HotD-wed : Autumn Pairs 1 : 09sep19 : B14

This hand from Monday produced a problem for East-West and a variety of results.  A number of pairs started with a strong or strong-ish 1N opener from East;  if South passes , what should West bid?

Clearly 3N might (as always) be the right contract but you could be wide open in hearts and need to avoid no-trumps.  Making 5♣ is another option but might that be too high?

Rather than have West guess, the real answer is for West to describe the hand and let East decide;  for some pairs this can be done via 2♠(transfer to clubs) - 3♣(quite liking clubs) - 3(shortage)  after which West should respect East's decision.  On this occasion it is a close choice and if East chooses 3NWest cannot argue as the heart stopper might be KQT.  This was not however the most common route to 3N - that route was a 1 opening bid by East followed by a NT rebid; West did not feel inclined to challenge this but whether South still led a heart or instead led a diamond, the contract was doomed.  Two declarers (one on a spade lead, one on a heart lead) got to make 3N.

When West shows clubs and a decent hand, East might take a different tack - with some club support and a very suit-suitable hands and a ruffing value in diamonds - it looks good to support clubs. Those who did ended in 5♣ and that contract was unbeatable.  In fact 6♣ is a very respectable contract, having a similar chance of success to 3N but scoring a lot more.  Nobody bid 6♣.

It is much more difficult to explain the fact that two pairs, with a 25-count and a 10-card fit, stopped in a part-score.  [One pair actually heard a 14-16 NT from East and West was concerned therefore that they might have only a 23-count between them; a bid to show clubs and invite would be useful but lacking this West took a pessimistic view this time]

Champion Defence

You lead a heart to partner's Ace. At trick 2 East returns the Q, covered by declarer's King. Where will you look for the 3 tricks you need to beat the contract?

If you ruff at trick 2 and return a minor suit card, South will win and lead a trump from hand. He will rise with dummy's King for if East holds the Ace, he is doomed anyway. On the next round, the outstanding trumps fall together and declarer is home. You have 2 chances to beat the contract. If you refuse to ruff at trick 2, partner's ♠Q is an entry to cash the J. An alternative is to ruff trick 2 with ♠A to achieve the same result. The former line is better, as declarer may well go down when East holds the ♠J and declarer the ♠Q as the refusal to ruff may well suggest 4 trumps, causing declarer to place the ♠J with West. 

Simple - so Don't Mess It Up

West leads J. How do you play? (West holds ♠ QJ5)

You have a potential loser in every suit, but you should be able to set up a heart for a minor suit discard if you are careful. Win the diamond lead in hand to preserve entries to dummy. Cash the ♠K and then play A and another heart. Say that West wins with the K to play a second diamond. Now win with dummy's Ace and lead the J. You must discard a diamond on this trick, even if East covers with the Q. You later cross to the ♠A and pitch a club on the established heart winner. You only lose a trump and 2 hearts. If you make the mistake of ruffing the Q, West can overruff and put his partner in with the Q for him to play a further heart, promoting a second trump trick for the defence.

How Good is this Game?

West leads a top club, and continues with  AK8. How do you rate this game?

At first glance it looks like you need to find the spades 3-3, so the game is quite poor. However, when you consider the bidding, your chances are a bit better than this. West has 4 diamonds for his bid, and if he happens to hold 4 spades as well then he will have real trouble discarding. All you need to do is cash dummy's remaining two trumps, discarding clubs from hand, and watch West squirm. A diamond discard allows you to overtake dummy's Queen and win 4 diamond tricks, whilst a spade discard sets up dummy's spade suit.

Hotd-fri : Swiss Teams : 02sep19 : B6

Here's an excllent slam to be in from Monday's teams.  You get a club lead at trick one.   Do you start the hearts by leading the king or by leading the ace?

Before you decide you must count your tricks.  With three in spades, one diamond and three clubs, you need only 5 trump tricks. That will come about if you keep yourself to one trump loser but manage one ruff in the short (West) hand. The important thing is you don't lose two trump tricks.

So the answer to the original question (whether to lead the ace or the king) is neither.  You should start the hearts by leading small toward either hand, and if the second hand plays low you insert the 9/T.  You will never be in trouble with a 3-1 trump break, and this play keeps you to one loser with a 4-0 trump break (a 9.6% chance).   You run a danger of finding a 6-1 spade break (a 7.3% chance) and a ruff, but accept this is lower odds.   

HotD-thu : Swiss teams : 02sep19 : B16

This hand from Monday generated disappointment for some and relief for others.  There were 11 pairs played in 3N and 6 of them made the contract while 5 went down.

The key issue is how you play the club suit, needing at least 4 possibly 5 tricks from the suit, with only one dummy entry outside clubs.  On a red suit lead, how do you proceed?

There are two options to consider in clubs - one is playing them from the top and the other is leading up to and finessing the ♣T.  All options work when the suit breaks 3-3 or when there is any doubleton from QJ9 sitting onside. 

Playing from the top gains when there is ♣Q9 or ♣J9 or ♣ QJ offside which is three useful doubletons.

Playing up to the ten gains when there is ♣95 or ♣93 or ♣92  offside which is three useful doubletons.

It is a tie, and one should not feel bad (just lucky or unlucky) therefore from choosing either line. It is important whichever you choose that you continue next with top clubs.  One might break the tie in favour of the second line as with ♣QJ9x  SOuth might decide it is better (lest declarer has two clubs) not to split the honours on the first round.

It was the first line which succeeded on Monday.

HotD-wed : Swiss Teams 1 : 2sep19 : B13

This hand from Monday was one of the most awkward hands to bid that has been seen for many a year.  There were a number of different starts to the auction, of which the one shown was the one reported most often. The 3 bid will usually have some high cards outside, but if all East's points are in spades and diamonds then 4 might be the limit of the hand. Today, with East holding the A and ♣AQ, you want to reach either a small or grand slam in one of hearts or clubs.   Is there any way to tell?   Answers please on a postcard.

From the event itself, we can report

table 1 : started with 1 - 1♠ - 2 - 4♠  at which point East doubled and that was the final contract.  It went for -800 but still represented an above par result.  The spade overcall was rather pushy, but if the auction does start 1 - P - 1  then North might well bid 1♠ and disrupt the conversation - but few did at this point.

table 2 : started off  (East-West only bidding)  2♣ - 2   after which West ended as declarer in 5 and North led out the spade ace to beat the contract.

table 3 : the bidding was  1 - 1 - 3N(long diamonds, too good for 3)  - 5♣ - 5 - P   and here South failed to lead a spade.  Winning the heart, cashing two diamonds and then crossing to play hearts allowed declarer to throw away enough spades to make the contract.  A fotrunate guess as playing out clubs is almost equivalent (but fails on a 4-1 club break, while all lines fail on a 4-1 heart break) and on that choice the defence get to ruff with a small diamond and not the queen, and defeat the contract.

table 5 : possibly had the best chance for successful bidding here as this pair were playing an "Unbalanced Diamond" system so that after  1 - 1,  East was able to bid 1N (not needed for balanced hands which all open 1♣)  showing a 16+ hand with no easy choice of bid, and over that West was able to create a game force by bidding 2♣ (showing 8+).  Unfortunately they did not use the space to good effect and ended in 5♣.

table  6: here it went 1 - 1♠  - 2  - 3♠  - 6  - end. The 6 bid was a reasonable evaluation but it was not catering for the hand be by West, but who could?

table 8 : West saw the auction above and settled for a "pragmatic" 4.

table 10 : started as shown, and over 3 West bid 4♣ and over 4 West bid 5♣ .  This was enough for East who passed.

table 12 : the auction was reported as (East-West only bidding)  2♣ - 3 - 3N - 6♣ - P   and this got the best score of all the tables.

table 14 : the auction started 1 - 1♠   and West chose to double (!) to show the other suits.  Over North's raise to 4♠ East bid (only) 5 and West converted this to 5 and that finished the auction.

A different approach at every table (of the nine we know)!  Across the field of 14 tables,  five tables played in hearts, five tables played in diamonds, three tables played in clubs, and one in spades.

Spot the Danger

In your system, 3♠  is invitational and North raises to game. West leads the ♣2 to East's Queen. At the second trick East leads ♣A, West following with the 9. At trick 3 East continues with the ♣K. How do you play?

From the carding so far, you know that West has a third club, so it is safe to ruff low. There will be no problem if trumps break 3-2, but there is a danger that West may hold ♠9xxx and that if you lead the ♠K from hand, East will win his Ace and lead a further round of clubs, promoting a trump trick for West. Once you have spotted the danger, you can easily avoid it. Cross to dummy with a diamond and lead a trump from the table. When East wins his Ace, your KQJT remain intact and you can safely ruff the next club high and draw trumps.

A Thin Grand

You reach a grand slam after a game forcing 2 over 1 response to North's opening bid. West leads the J. How do you assess your chances?

You had hoped for something extra in dummy, and although it is very minimum, North does at least hold the 8 which is an extra entry. Win the lead in hand and play a spade to the Ace and ruff a spade high. Now a trump to the 8 allows another high spade ruff. If spades have broken 4-3 you now just need a 3-2 trump break. Cross to the Q and ruff another spade establishing the long card. Draw the outstanding trump and dummy has a diamond entry for the last spade on which you discard your losing club. Note that a trump lead would have defeated the contract as it would have removed an entry to dummy before it could usefully be used. Spades 4-3 and hearts 3-2 do not represent good odds for a grand slam but you do in fact have some other chances. If the ♠KQ fall in 3 rounds you are OK, and the ♣Q might be singleton or doubleton. There are also some squeeze chances if the same player holds long spades and the ♣Q 

Your Lead

What do you lead against this doubled contract?

When partner doubles in this situation, he is showing a good holding in dummy's suit and this is the suit you should lead. On this auction, you might say that North has not bid a suit, but in reality, North has shown 4 spades and hence partner is calling for a spade lead. A further indication if one were needed is that East did not make a lead directing double of 2 clubs, so he won't be doubling on the strength of his club suit. Also you have length holdings in the red suits so East can't have enough in those suits to make him think that he could beat 3NT. Lead the ♠Q and watch declarer go down. Don't forget to thank partner for his action. If he hadn't doubled you would have been unlikely to find the killing lead.

HotD-sat : Gold Cup QF : 29aug19 : B2.7

The bulk of the County team played their Gold Cup Quarterfinal match this week. The match was lost but by only a respectable amount. The visitors to Cheltenham got lucky in the first stanza, bidding a slam needing to play AT542-J63 as a trump suit for one loser, and this 37% chance came home; if that had gone down the match would have been tied. This hand from the middle of the match was well played by Garry Watson.

After the bidding shown North led a low club which immediately gave Garry the message that North had a diamond void.  So he rose with the ace and drew trumps in three rounds.  Expecting South, on the bidding to hold both the ace and jack of hearts, there is the potential for five losers and it will take two endplays to recover.  

Garry started by exiting with a club and since South had failed to unblock at trick one, that produced the first endplay and South played a heart round to the ten. After continuing hearts, declarer was put back in with the third round. But he could now continue by ducking a diamond from both hands leaving South on play and endplayed again. Neat!

Could South have done better by unblocking at trick one? Yes, North could then have won the second round of clubs but there is still an answer. When North plays through a heart, declarer must rise with the king, forcing South into an impossible position. Contract makes.

Sound Technique

West leads a low trump. You win and play a second trump but East show out. How do you continue?

If trumps had broken 2-2 you could have eliminated the major suits and run a diamond to West. The enforced ruff and discard or minor suit return would yield a twelfth trick. That elimination play is no longer possible when the trumps break 3-1 so you draw the last trump. Now it is good technique to cash your heart tricks before running the 9. If West has no more hearts he concedes the contract on a minor suit return. If he can exit with a heart you can ruff in dummy and play A and ruff a diamond. If the K is still out, fall back on the club finesse.

HotD-thu : Summer Pairs : 26aug19 : B3

There were three good slams to bid on Monday but on only one of those (not this one) did anyone reach slam, and that was only 2 pairs out of 8 in slam. This hand offered a chance for some very natural and elegant bidding that was not taken up.

The start depends on whether or not South decided to open the bidding. The hand is either a pass or a weak 2 opener; is it worth opening?  The hand has more going for it as defence (the A and ♣Q) than it has in attack (a poor suit and minimal shape). This argues for passing, but being non-vulnerable against vulnerable, and being in first seat argues for bidding. It's a close call but taking away bidding space is always a Good Thing, so bidding is recommended while passing cannot be criticised.  In practice South passed.

Now left to themselves, the bidding started for West and East with 1 - 1♠  and West now had the first real choice to make - the choice is between rebidding the hearts or bidding clubs. On weak hands with this shape it is normal to rebid 2 and there is extra strength here but we'd prefer to have more to rebid 3. When you cannot choose between 2 and 3, it becomes very appealing to bid 2♣ instead, and that is the best choice here.  Over that, it is natural for East to continue with a game forcing (fourth suit) bid of 2; West can now bid 3 and the ball is back with East. 

Partner is expected to be a -6-4 shape at this point and to have extra values, but the best game to choose is not clear. East can however continue with a natural 3♠ bid.  What should West do over this?  Clearly partner has six spades here, so spades will be the right denomination, and we want to tell partner.  West could simply raise spades and that is likely to end the auction, but there is another way of showing spade support - and that is by introducing a new suit at the 4-level, which logically and by convention shows a good hand with support for the last bid suit. Here it hints at a spade slam. The fact of spade support on a -6-4 shape also implies short diamonds.  This should raise the possibility of slam in East's mind and be enough to ancourage the use of a 4N ask before bidding the slam. 

But nobody did - maybe next time!

HotD-wed : Summer Pairs : 26aug19 : B16

This hand from Monday had a number of interesting points to it. The bidding at some tables proceeded as shown, and South led ♣4 against the spade game. North won the ace and returned a club; declarer now had to figure out the club position. In the bidding South has shown at least 5-5 shape with hearts and a minor, and North has shown enough support for both minors to make it worth bidding to the 4-level.  Unfortunately, South has not had the chance to show the second suit.

If the lead was ♣4 from a five card suit, then declarer must not finesse or it will lose to the queen and a club ruff will follow. If the lead was from a short suit then declarer must finesse to avoid a loser in clubs. In practice most Norths led back the ♣3 at which point declarer should look at the pips played so far. The return marks South's club as his/her lowest and so wouldn't usually be from five.  Finessing the club is then best; the remainder of the hand is about whether to make three tricks in hearts to get a trick from the K.  The very informative bidding means that it is really no contest - if South has five hearts then three hearts are guaranteed, and so declarer is making the spade game. [Perhaps South would have been better off not bidding]

If North returns a less clear cut club, say the ♣7 - can declarer get it right?  The answer is no - it is a guess and you could go either way.  Suppose now that declarer goes wrong and plays the ♣K and it gets ruffed. South plays back a heart.  Can declarer find 10 tricks any more?  The answer is yes - they can get to ten tricks by cashing all their spades and watching what South plays. In the end position South has to discard from QT9 AJ in front of dummy's KJ8 T2.  If South ditches a heart, declarer ditches a diamond and takes three heart tricks (to go with A and six spades). If South ditches the J declarer ditches a heart from dummy and then  leads a small diamond away from K7 to set up the king, to take that with two (more) heart tricks and make the contract. A squeeze without the count!

Your Chance to Shine

Your partner leads the ♠K but declarer ruffs and leads the Q. You win the Ace - and play?

It may look safe to return a spade, but this is not the case. You know the spades are 4-4 and you can see 3 entries to dummy. If you return a spade, South will be able to set up the suit for a discard and that might enable him to make his contract. Instead you should attack one of dummy's entries by leading a club. Now declarer cant get the spades going and on the layout shown he will have to lose a diamond in the end.

Count Your Tricks

You get the ♠T lead to the Ace from East and a spade is returned. How do you play?

This is simply a matter of counting your tricks. Without the spade attack which has removed your sure entry to dummy, you could have played on diamonds and gathered at least 4 tricks in the suit. Now however, if you take a diamond finesse and it holds the trick, you are not well placed. The correct play is to lead hearts and force out the Ace. You have a sure entry to dummy in the diamond suit so the defence cannot prevent you taking 2 spades, 3 hearts, 2 diamonds and 2 clubs.


West leads the ♠2. How do you play?

It looks natural to run the spade to hand at trick 1. If West has led from the ♠K you could easily finish with 10 or 11 tricks. However, your target is to make the contract. If you allow East to win the first trick with the ♠K, he can switch to a club. Now if the diamond finesse is wrong, you will lose a diamond, three clubs and a spade. The correct line is to rise with the ♠A at trick one and run the 9. If the diamond finesse loses you can later add another spade to go with your 7 red suit tricks. The defence cannot take more than one spade, two clubs and a diamond.

Where's My Calculator

West leads the 5. East plays the Knave and you win the Queen. How good is this contract?

This hand occurred in a recent match and gave declarer a lot to think about. You have 3 spades (4 if the suit breaks 3-3), 2 hearts on the lead, 1 diamond at least, and at least 3 clubs. You will make 4 club tricks unless clubs break 5-1 or worse offside and neither the King nor 9 are singleton and if you make 4 club tricks you have 9 on top and don't need to knock out the A. This type of hand is much beloved by bridge writers. If West has long hearts (or the suit is 4-4) then the 'book' line is to play a diamond to the queen at trick 2. Suppose this loses and a heart comes back - you insert the ten and this loses and a heart comes back. Now you can take a club finesse into the safe hand - either he has no more hearts or the suit is breaking. The contract looks 100% on this line. The alternative is to run the ♣Q at trick 2. If this loses and the hearts are cleared as before, you make whenever you have 4 club tricks or whenever the spade suit comes in for 4 tricks or when the A is with the short hearts and there may also be some squeeze options.  The chances of a 5-1 or 6-0 club break are 16% - so offside is 8%. Of the 5-1 breaks, one third of the time there will be a singleton K or 9 so we are down to below 6% chance of failure. If this is the case then spades 3-3 reduces it to 4% and A in the right place further reduces it to 2%. Hence it looks like running the ♣Q at trick 2 is a 98%+ line. Ah - but not as good as the 100% line outlined earlier I hear you say.  True, but there was a supposition that West had led from long hearts. If in fact West has led a 3 card suit, then playing a diamond might give East the 2 entries he needs to set up and cash the suit. He will only have the 2 entries 25% of the time and the chances of West having chosen to lead from Kxx are difficult to quantify. However, if we think this lead might be made just 10% of the time, then the club play at trick 2 has the edge and was the line duly taken at the table (after about a 4 minute trance). As a look at the full deal shows, you have 9 tricks whichever line you choose. 

HotD-fri : Summer Teams : 19aug19 : B33

This hand from Monday was a comedy of errors, but as so often at brcidge, there are useful things to learn from these errors.

In the play at table two (which had the auction shown) South started, naturally, with the singleton heart won by the ace;  declarer played A and a diamond ruff, heart ruff, diamond ruff, heart ruff, and then led a club from dummy.  North won the ♣A and now had to decide whether to play for a spade ruff (with some concern it might get over-ruffed) or play a top heart to gain a trump promotion if partner had started with ♣87.  The latter choice was made but declarer ruffed happily, drew the last trump and led to the spade king to make the contract.

Should North have done better?  Yes.  If South held two clubs then (as the red suit layout had been disclosed) South would have a 4162 shape, and with three card support why would East have run from spades?  So the desired club position cannot occur (and if it did a spade ruff first would not cost).

Could South have helped?  Yes - in two ways. As North already knows that South has good spades, signalling (discards on the hearts) should focus on shape and if South could discard spades to promise an odd number, North 's worry about a spade being over-ruffed would go away. 

Could South have avoided the problem altogether?  Yes - doubling four spades was a bit greedy - passing would have resulted in a sure plus score.  One must be very circumspect when doubling with five trumps.

Was West right to offer South this choice?  No.   While it is right (almost mandatory) to overcall at the 1-level in your major when you have five, as the bidding gets higher suit bids becomes more committal and you should prefer a takeout double when you only have five of the major.  Here a double would have received 5♣ immediately from East.

North's opening bid was impeccable.

HotD-thu : Summer Teams : 19aug19 : B2

This hand from Monday proved intractable for everyone, and would have resulted in bigs swings in more matches had not some of the disasters applied equally to teams playing against each other.

The North hand is clearly enormous after partner opens 2N, but what is the best way to tackle it?  On overall values you have no doubt that you want to be in slam, and the issues are whether to stop in a small slam or go for a grand slam. and whether to play in no-trumps of one of your suits.  Given the overall values, your worries are about missing a cashable ace, or - on the hand where it is vital - missing the Q.  

Where the bidding has reached the point shown, it is tempting to investigate a club fit, but the big danger with that is commiting to clubs and finding that you are missing ♣JTxxx - something that would make a grand slam in clubs borderline.  You'd want to play in clubs if partner had five, but with four it is uncertain.  This argues that you settle for playing the hand in hearts (or NT if partner does show distate for hearts). 

An approach you can take on such powerful hands is - because there are so few of them (only 5 hcp max missing) - to work on which cards are missing.  In particular, if you found out that South was missing the diamond ace you would know you were missing at most one jack as well as that, and you could bid 7 comfortably.  Today's style of cue bidding however doesn't usually distinguish between aces and kings - and in any case there isn't much space for that.

There are two paths - neither ideal - which might get you to the grand slam.  One way to find out about the key cards (♠A,Q,♣A) and if the knowledge of those cards is enough to decide things for you (the flaw is it might not be), then what you can do is over 3 a jump to 5 as Exclusion Blackwood (asking for aces but ignoring the diamond ace).  That would tell you that the opening hand has all of those key cards.  Is that enough to bid the grand slam?  It is necessary, but is it sufficient? [Probably yes, given so few HCP are missing]

The other approach is - if you are playing in this style - to transfer to hearts at the 4-level and to continue with 5; depending on the meaning of this (shortage, control ask) you might be able to find out whether or not the diamond ace is missing; if missing you can easily bid the grand slam, but if partner has it the grand slam could stil be cold (say you are missing only KQJ).

There is a lot to be said for just bidding a small slam here, but if you have more ambitions than that - the route of transfer then Exclusion Blackwood is really the only option.

What is most important is that you avoid these disasters which occurred at the table

> one table bid 2N-4♣ asking for aces, and mis-interpreted the response and bid the grand slam in no-trumps.  East doubled but that gave West a dilemma. There is a good case for leading diamonds (your best/longest suit is the suit declarer is most likely to be able to make 13 tricks without touching), but a club was chosen and the doubled grand slam rolled home.

> another table started 2N-3-3 4♣-4 ; at this point South had promised a good doubleton heart and when North tried 4N to ask for aces, South took it as quantitative and passed.

> two other tables played in 4 and in 4N, but we have not embarassed the people concerned by asking what the exact sequence was.

HotD-wed : Summer Teams : 19aug19 : B19

This was quite an unusual hand from Monday. What would you like to open the bidding with in first seat?

There are two obvious options to consider, namely 1♣ and 2♣.

At table 5 the latter option was chosen and the bidding proceeded 2 - P - 3  after which South chose to close his eyes and bid 6♣. Today partner put down three trumps and short spades and that was just perfect.

At table 10 the choice was to open with 1♣ and the auction proceeded 1 - 1 (cheekily) - P  and South could now bid a game forcing 2♠.   North gave preference to clubs and South was able to make a grand slam try before settling for 6♣.

Which auction felt more comfortable? Clearly the second, and that is because it started describing its suits at the 1-level while a 2♣ choice meant that the earliest possible description came at the 4-level.  The only reason to open with a strong artificial 2♣ is that a 1-level bid might be passed out and prove embarrassing. With only one red card in the South hand, and space for everyone to bid at the 1-level, that is just not going to happen on this hand. 

A Simple Play

West leads 3 top hearts. How do you play?

The contract appears to depend on the spade finesse but with only one entry to dummy, you need to take care if the spades break 4-1. Discard your losing diamond on the third heart, win the next trick and cross to dummy with the ♣K. Now lead the ♠Q and unblock with the nine. You will succeed if West has the singleton 8 as well as when the spades are 3-2 as on the next round you can run the 7 from dummy and underplay with your 6.

Patrick Phair notes :  if declarer discards DJ on the third heart West is quite likely to continue with a fourth, since trumps must be the defence's best chance of a trick. In that case declarer must ruff in hand with the 9, and later unblock the 10 on the lead of the queen from dummy. Given that declarer can afford to ruff with the 9 at trick three and lose the diamond at the end. It is possible (though unlikely) that East is 4-3-5-1 and can defeat the contract if a fourth heart is led.

Play This Slam

West leads the Q and continues with a diamond when he holds the first trick. How should you play?

There will be no problem if both majors divide, and if trumps are 4-0, you will need the spades to break 3-2. What can be done if spades are 4-1 and trumps 3-1, the hand with a singleton spade having 3 trumps? The recommended line is to play to set up the clubs. Ruff in dummy at trick 2 and play Ace and another club, ruffing.Now cross to dummy with the 9. If both opponents follow, you ruff another club high. When clubs are shown to be 4-3 you cross to dummy with ♠A and ruff another club with the A. Trumps are then drawn with North's KJ and the clubs cashed. Your spade winners bring the total to 12. Of course, if clubs had not been 4-3, you would need to rely on a 3-2 spade break.

Defend Like a Champion

You lead the 5. Declarer ducks in dummy and partner wins the King and returns the 2 to declarer's Queen. Next comes the Q which you allow to hold. You win the next diamond, East showing 3 cards in the suit. What now?

Declarer has taken 2 tricks, and if he can reach dummy, 5 more tricks await him. On the bidding, declarer surely holds ♣AK, bringing his total to 9. However, there is away to beat declarer. Lead a low club. On the layout shown, this looks like you have gifted declarer an extra trick but see what happens. If South cashes a second club, he kills the dummy. If he discards a spade, you can win South's first spade play and play Ace and another, leaving declarer stuck in hand and forced to give you a club at the end. If he discards a diamond or plays a spade immediately, you just win and clear the hearts and the defence comes to 5 tricks. The club switch at trick 5 is essential to detroy declarer's communications.

Your Only Chance

West leads the J against your game. What is your only chance of making this contract?

Your only chance is to find the heart suit is blocked and the trumps breaking 1-1, but you still have to prepare the ground properly. Win the lead, play the ♣A and lead the ♣Q, overtaking with the King. Now ruff dummy's last club and exit with a spade. If the cards lie kindly, the defence will only be able to take 2 heart tricks before conceding you a ruff and discard.

HotD-fri : Summer Pairs : 12aug19 : B7

This hand from Monday was a good example of why attitude signals are important. There were five pairs who defended 5 and had to decide, on the lead of a top heart, what to do next when partner followed with the 8.  Do you try to cash another heart?

The answer is that you just do not know who has the missing Q, but in fact hearts is not the crucial suit here. The missing ♠A and ♣K are the cards that matter and the big danger is not that a heart trick goes away if not cashed, but that one of dummy's club or spade losers might vanish. You need therefore to cash the ♣A and watch carefully whether or not partner encourages.  Sometimes it will be difficult to tell, but sometimes it will be easy - as on this hand where partner has a wide choice fo clubs to play.  When partner encourages you know it is best to play another club and that will beat the contract. If you do not cash your clubs, a club loser will go on declarer's winning spades, and the contract will make.

Three of the five declarers were allowed to succeed in 5.    :( 

HotD-thu : Summer Pairs : 5aug19 : B4

There were not many pairs bidding the game on this board from Monday, and that was because few opened the bidding with the North hand.  In a weak-NT system it is indeed dangerous to open 1N with an 11-count as even when they don't double you can loose too many points; but when you are playing a strong NT, that danger is less and you add the prospect of quickly finding a 4-4 major suit fit, and that makes the bid well worth while.

When we looked at the hand initially, it looked like a poor game to be in - but actually it is quite reasonable.  What you need to note is that this feeble club collection (Qxx opposite Jx) will actually deliver you a trick at least 50% of the time. You will benefit when both the ace-king are in the one hand (50%) plus also sometimes when West leads from the king, and also sometimes when you can find East with an Ax or Kx holding.  On top of all that, you have the chance of a heart lead giving you a trick, or of a very favourable lie of the hearts which saves you a loser there. 

Looking at the computer analysis of the hand - which shows that only 9 tricks are available - might lead you to disagree with this assessment.  In one way the computer analysis is right, with the actual layout of the defensive hands the game goes off - but that is only if the defence start with three rounds of clubs, ruffing the winner that would otherwise take care of a heart loser. Otherwise the game makes and it's the sort of game we want to bid.

Nobody found the defence to beat the game, but a number of declarers failed to make ten tricks by not spotting the opportunity that the club suit offered.

HotD-wed : Summer Pairs : 12aug19 : B26

This hand from Monday has some interesting points for declarer and for the defence.  It was suprising that only four of the seven pairs who held the East-West hands managed to identify that they had 33 hcp between them, and therefore bid the slam.  The sequence shown should have been replicated, possibly with a Stayman enquiry before the 4N bid to make it easier to find a heart fit.

Against 6N there is one principle on the opening lead which dominates all others - and that is to avoid giving away a trick.  That makes one suit (hearts) a stand-out choice on this hand - but only two of the four defending pairs found this, the other two leading a diamond.

Now switching to declarer's perspective, there are four top tricks in each major and AKA in the minors, so the lead of a diamond into the KJ gives declarer an easy 12th trick.  Having received a twelfth trick, declarer should not stop there - this is a matchpoint game and the focus needs now to shift to a possible overtrick. Can it be done?  Yes - there is a double squeeze there if you simply cash your spades, the K and then the hearts.  The ending has A8♣J in dummy and the ♠3♣A7; when the A is cashed, South must hold onto a top spade (and therefore only one club) and now declarer can discard ♠3.  North has already discarded down to a singleton club in order to keep two diamonds, and that means that after cashing the ♣A that the ♣7 is the only club left.   This line was followed by John Arblaster to get his ovretrick and a score of +1470.

Another table got a low heart lead and declarer didn't spend long considering the options; he just assumed that spades would deliver five tricks and it was just a question of how best to arrange a squeeze for the overtrick. Cashing hearrts before spades looked more attractive so he played hearts and everyone followed to the first two rounds, but South had to discard on the third and fourth. It was trivial to spare a spade on the first discard, but what comes next?  It looks natural to spare another spoade but that proved fatal - giving declarer five spade tricks where there were only four before. A diamond discard would have beaten 6N.

A Common Contract

West leads the ♠8 against your game. How do you plan the play?

Your best chance of making 9 tricks lies in establishing your diamonds rather than dummy's clubs. Therefore win the lead in dummy (the 8 lead suggest West does not hold the Q) and cash the A. Now play a spade to the jack and exit with a low diamond. This way you will make 4 diamond tricks whenevr diamonds are 3-3 or 4-2 with a doubleton honour. You have 2 remaining entries to set up and cash the suit.

A Good Slam

You play in 6 against the lead of J. How do you maximise your chances?

Win the lead in hand, Cash ♣AK and ruff a club with the Q. Now discard your spade on A. This line scores when either clubs are 3-3 and trumps 3-1, clubs 4-2 and trumps 2-2, or when trumps are 3-1and one hand holds Q9 or J9 doubleton in clubs (in which case you revert to drawing trumps)

How's Your Card Play?

West leads the ♠J against 3NT. How do you play?

You should realise that if the A can be held up until the third round then you can only count 3 spades, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds and a club for 8 tricks. You might be able to develop an extra trick in clubs so win the lead and duck a club. Say that East wins and returns a spade. You win and lay down the ♣A. Then you lead the K and a second diamond to dummy. There will be no problem if the A is taken so assume that it is held up. Now you are in dummy and can lead a club towards hand, winning an extra trick whenever clubs are 3-3 or when West holds a doubleton honour.

Plan the Play

How do you play this slam on the lead of ♣Q?

You appear to have good chances. There are 10 top tricks and a club ruff in dummy gives you 11. If one of the red suit finesses works you will be home and there is an additional chance that if the hearts break you will have a diamond discard. However, there is a line that ensures the contract. Win the lead and draw trumps. Now cash the other top club, return to hand in trumps and ruff a club. Now play a heart and cover East's card. Either the 8 wins immediately (on the layout shown) or else West wins but must concede a 12th trick on his next lead.

HotD-fri : Summer Teams : 05aug19 : B7

Five tables defended this contract on Monday and only one of them managed to defeat it; it should go down, so what went wrong?

The first hurdle was for East to find the right lead, and here the one way - spotted by four of the five defenders (that's good!) - was to lead a spade. West can tell what is happening in spades as North has denied four cards in the suit, sothe nine must be a doubleton (and not a singleton).  At table nine, West therefore ducked to keep communicaitons open, playing the ♠5 (low to encourage).  Declarer won the ♠K and played ♣A, ♣6 and East won the trick with the ten(!).  This only happened because West had played ♣J and then ♣4, to indicate a holding of three trumps. The problem was that East did not appreciate that the ♠5 was encouraging - there were two smaller ones missing and two larger ones.  East played a diamond and declarer won and played a third trump to secure the contract.

Should East have known whether the card was encouraging or not? The answer is yes.  East's concern was that North held ♠AKx and on another spade lead would be taking the last trumps out and then get to discard a diamonds loser (say from Ax) on the fourth spade.  Apart from the fact that this venture would only save an overtrick and never beat the contract, East should have reasoned as follows : in the worrying case, West will always have a spade capable of giving a stronger signal than the ♠5 (something higher or lower) and didn't. So the worrying case doesn't exist - and a second spade at this point is correct and would have beaten the contract. 


HotD-thu : Summer Teams : 05aug19 : B27

When you get a very strong hand you are usually in the business of trying to find out what partner has, so that you can choose the final contract.  Sometimes it goes the other way around, and with a very strong hand you can describe that hand well to partner and let partner make the decision. 

After this start to auction on board 27 from Monday, what are your tactics going to be on this hand?   And suppose partner had bid 1N rather than 2♠?

Your hand can be described quite easily - great hand with both majors and only two key cards missing - the king of spades and the ace of diamonds.

Can you find out about those missing cards? The answer is you can if your are playing the "right" convention.  What you need here is a 5♣  bid of "Exclusion Blackwood" asking partner about key cards but saying to discount the ace of clubs.  When partner shows one key card you "know" you can make 6♠ but you do not expect to make the grand slam.  Sometimes bidding is easy!

Not all Norths responded with 2♠, which makes life more diffciult as now you don't know which suit is trumps. What do you do after 1♠ - P - 1N - 2 ?  Exclusion Blackwood is no longer an option.

First thing you must do it get partner to choose between the potential trump suits.  You will have to bid to the 5-level to get your strength across and there are two options - either bid 3 now and then 5, or bid 5 immediately.  Do we know the difference?  I doubt it and any distinction might be arbitrary, so it is hard to apply logic with confidence. You might not be surprised that the first choice - keeping the bidding lower and give more space - might work out better, as when partner bids 4♠ over your 3 you are a bit more enthused and will now insist on a slam.


Reports from table 5 : here it started 1♠ - P - 2♠ and South then bid 4♣ as a slam try over East's 3.  North's 4♠ bid denied the ace of diamonds, so South settled for 6♠.

Reports from table 9 : here is also started 1♠ - P - 2♠ - 3   but now South bid 3 and heard partner cue bid 4♣ (useless of course).  East decided to sacrifice in 5 and over South's slam try with 5 North was happy to bid 6♠.  East showed amazing confidence in the North-South bidding by sacrificing over that in 7 for only -800 and a 5 imp gain.

HotD-wed : Summer Teams : 05aug19 : B2

This hand from Monday provided a good reminder to think before you bid - and to think about what you are trying to achieve with this bid. It is important to bid as much as you dare, and to take away bidding space from the opposition as often as possible, but you also need to be thinking about the context-specific (potential) benefits and losses.   If you are thuinking of an obstructive bid, particularly when you are vulnerable against not, you need to be aware that a penalty against you will have its biggest cost, while the loss for the opposition if they miss a game will be minimal.  You need therefore to be circumspect about pre-emptive bids, and the theme of pre-emptive bids at this vulnerability changes from being obstructive into being a constructive description of your hand. 

A long time ago, back in the days when people didn't pre-empt as much, we all learned the "rule of 500" in making preempts. That approach is over-cautious in many contexts today but the one time it applies in full in when vulnerable against not. The result of bidding 2♠ on the hand shown, was that the auction proceeded P-P-X-end, and even through two declarers escaped with an extra trick, that was still two scores of -800 and one of -1100 which had to be reported to team-mates.

Should South pass on this hand? There are dangers in doing that - you can always overcall 1♠ if you want to, and this might also be penalised, but it is more difficult for the opponents to do that and you are a level lower.  When people describe pre-emptive bids as "weak"  thatr leads people into the thinking that the alternative (simple overcall) is therefore "not weak" but that is not the case.  The alternative bid is simply not suitable for a pre-empt, and that can be for a number of reasons.

A Sure Thing

You play in 6♣ against the lead of ♠K. You win the Ace and draw trumps which break. The contract is 100% if played correctly. Can you see the winning line?

There will only be a problem if diamonds are 4-1 or 5-0. You can cater for a bad diamond break as follows; eliminate the hearts and cash the K. Now exit with a spade. Whoever wins this trick will have to give you a ruff and discard else they must play a diamond. If they can play a diamond then they must be the only hand with diamonds if the suit is breaking badly. Hence it is now trivial to pick the suit without loss.

Are you a Good Defender?

You lead a low diamond to partner's ten and declarer's King. A low heart follows, which you duck, and dummy's King wins to lead a spade to South's Jack. Next South cashes the ♠K and continues with a low heart. How do you defend? 

You can count South for 5 spade tricks and 2 diamonds. If you let him score 2 heart tricks he is home, and declarer's play to the heart king suggests (s)he also has the queen, so you need to rise with the A and take 4 more tricks quickly. These will have to come from clubs. You might lead the ♣K and follow with the Jack. That will be good enough if partner has ♣ AT9x. However, it is better to lead ♣J first. Then if this is covered, partner can win and put you back in with the ♣K for a further lead through dummy. This way you pick up a doubleton 9 or 10 with South and only need partners suit to be as good as AT7x

How do you Defend?

After South has opened a strong NT and been raised to game, partner leads the ♠T. You cover dummy's Queen and declarer wins the Ace and plays a club which you have to win. What are your chances and how do you defend?

You know that declarer has a second spade trick with the ♠J, so that gives him 8 tricks. It doesn't matter how strong partner's hearts are there can't be more than 3 heart tricks for the defence. It follows that to beat the contract you need partner to hold good diamonds. If partner's diamonds are as good as AJ7x then you can beat the contract with a diamond switch, but you must play the T to unblock the suit. Try it out and see.

How do you Rate this Slam

West leads the T against this contract. How do you rate your chances?

Since you will be able to discard a heart or club loser on the Q, it look tempting to try the J at trick 1. If this gets covered you will later discard a heart from dummy and just rely on the club finesse. A better line is to withhold the J at trick 1 and win the King in hand. Now you can draw trumps finishing in dummy and play a diamond. If East holds the A he cannot play it without giving you 2 discards, so he must duck. But now you can win a diamond, ruff a diamond, play a club to you King and throw East in the the A to lead up to your tenaces or concede a ruff and discard. Of course if West holds the A, you will be back to relying on a finesse in hearts or clubs. I would suggest that clubs offers the better chance as else West has made a very dangerous lead.

HotD-fri : CBC Pairs : 30jul19 : B21

This hand from Tuesday provided a curious sort of trap into which some fell.

What would you call at this point in the auction?

There are three options and by far the most natural seems to be to bid your longest suit. If you do bid 1 then it goes P-2♣-P  to you again. What now? It seems it must be 2, but just look at what a disaster this is.  Another option is 1♠ which works nicely today, but hurts you rather when partner's major are swapped. Mike Wignall found a third choice which worked rather well - he passed.

Now let us look at West's options over a pass.  Clearly you must bid a major and it seems natural to bid the more robust hearts. So we have an auction of 1 - X - P - 1 - P  and it is back to East.  Hoping to learn more East chose 2 and heard a repeat of the heart suit from West, and then raised that to game.  South knew what to do and the doubled netted 1400.

Could East have avoided that disaster?  One alternative over partner's 1 bid would be to bid 1N or 2♣; the former comes with concerns about spades, and if anyone has long spades on this auction it is South, so that is a real concern. The second possibility is 2♣, which is descriptive (too good a hand to overall 2♣ on the first round) and with a working 18 hcp, that seems a perfect description.  The third choice, the 2 bid, is a general force most commonly used on a hand with 3-card support for partner's major and extra values. This too is descriptive but does enter - for many - uncharted territory in terms of West's continuation.  It is worthwhile filing away a convention scheme for this situation which goes by the tag of HADAC - Herbert (negative) after double and cue;  the agreement is that the lowest bid after partner's cue here is a negative, showing just 0-3 hcp and nothing about the suit bid.  This might have been enough to persuade East to settle in 2.

HotD-thu : Summer Pairs : 29jul19 : B10

Most North-South pairs missed out on the game available on this hand - five stopped in 1N and one in a 3 part-score.  The auction shown was one of the successful auctions - what happened to the others?

It's hard to say but the issue might be that the point-counters looked at the North hand and counted to 17 HCP.  What got missed was that the long diamonds make the hand worth a couple of extra tricks, and this needs to be reflected in North's rebid.  The losing trick count takes account of this when evaluating hands in suit contracts, but too often the value of a long suit - as opposed to a 4333 shape - is not noticed.

But it might not have been that - for at this table West was amazingly silent.  On the first round West might well have opened 1♣ and on the next round West might well have doubled 1 and both of these actions would have made it much less comfortable for North to bid 2N. At the table where West bid 2♣ (on the second round) East doubled the 3N game and North was too frightened to pass that - so he ran to 4. That was all set for a bottom except that East now doubled that and it made to give a top to North-South.

The play in 3N is quite interesting. Declarer won the opening spade with the king and played a diamond to the king, and learned of the bad break in that suit.  The contract can still be made, with five diamonds, two spades, and two aces. The dilemma comes if  two rounds of diamonds are won in the South hand. Declarer has the choice of a heart to the ace and bash out diamonds - to guarantee the contract, or to finesse in hearts rather than lead to the ace - which could result in defeat if it lost and the defence played the right black suits.  The choice should depend on the judgment as to how many would be bidding game on this hand; declarer was saved from going wrong on the hand when East won the second diamond to play the 9.  Declarer could cash his winners and set up a third heart trick for two overtricks.

HotD-wed : Summer Pairs : 29jul19 : B5

This hand from Monday was a good illustration of the importance of keeping control of the trump suit.

It is hard not to bid game with a 4-4 fit and 25 hcp between the two hands, but it is clearly a hopeless game to be in with a minimum of two trumps and two aces to lose.  In the event, three tables managed to stop out of game, and at least one of them counts as well judged - this was the table where East opened 1♣ and West responded with an artificial 2 showing 4+hearts, 5+spades and a hand short of invitational values opposite a weak NT opening. From that information, the KQJ-K which East holds in the minors looks like bad news. 

But the key point is the play; the lead of the ♣A was common, and then East got the lead. Even though the herat game is doom,ed declarer needs to concentrate on not losing unnecessary tricks.  The greatest disasters arose when East played ace and another trump.  North said thank you and drew the remaining trumps before reverting to paertner's suit. In one case the defence got to cash three hearts, the diamond ace, and four clubs to put a 3 contract down four.  

In the heart suit, clearly ducking one and then cashing the ace would have been better - but what is the optimal play in this heart suit?  The answer is to lead the ten on the first round; this caters for every layout except North having the KQJ8(3) and in that case there is no answer. 

How to Handle Trumps

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

Clearly you will lose a spade and hence must hold your trump losses to 2 tricks. You will be OK if one opponent holds both top honours but if they are split, it looks like you need to lead through the defender with the doubleton trump and then duck on the way back. On the bidding it looks like East will be the player with shorter trumps, so you might cross to dummy with a minor suit and lead a low trump from the deck(intending to duck the next round of trumps). This is not entirely safe however, as you may suffer a ruff in whichever minor suit you open up. If you intend to play East for A/Kx then you can just lead the J from hand at trick 2. Later you will either lead to the Q or duck completely depending on which defender takes the J.

Just count your Tricks

West leads the ♣2 against your mundane part-score. This turns out well for you as when you play low from dummy, East produces the 9 and your Queen wins. What now?

One line of play would be to start on setting up your diamond suit. If diamonds and trumps behave you might finish up with a couple of overtricks. However, your contract is 2 - not 4 and you should concentrate of taking 8 tricks. Having won the ♣Q, cross to dummy with a club and ruff a club in hand. Now cash the ♠A and cross to dummy with a trump to ruff a small spade. At this point you will have won 6 tricks and nothing can deny you KQ.

Mark Rogers pointed out a safer order of play: Surely it is safer to cash SA cross to HA ruff a spade cash HKQ now cross to CA and ruff whichever black card looks less likely to be ruffed if there are any trumps still out. 

Play This Slam

West leads a heart against your grand slam. How do you plan the play?

You appear to have an abundance of tricks so think what could go wrong. 4 trumps in the West hand will be fatal, but if East has all 4 clubs you can pick them up. However, you need to be careful with entries. The best line is to win the first trick and immediately unblock the A. Then cross to the ♣K. If both opponents follow you can draw trumps finishing in dummy and simplay cash 3 diamonds discarding your losers. If West shows out on the first trump then you continue by leading diamonds from the table. These act as trump substitutes. If East declines to ruff at any point, you discard your losers and finesse in trumps. If East ruffs in you overruff and re-enter dummy with the third round of trumps to continue with diamonds. You will only be defeated if diamonds are 5-2 and the spade finesse is wrong.

A Simple Defence

West leads the ♠2 against this part-score. Declarer rises with dummy's Ace and plays Ace and another diamond (West holding a singleton). How do you see the defence developing?

You have 4 defensive tricks in your hand and another one could come from hearts if you can get partner in. On the bidding, partner has very little, but his lead indicates a spade honour and if declarer held the ♠Q, then surely he would have run the spade lead to his hand at trick 1. There is a strong chance therefore that West holds the ♠Q and you should cash your remaining diamond and lead a low spade. When partner wins the spade trick he should see the necessity of switching to a heart.

HotD-fri : Ross GP Swiss Teams : 21jul19 : B47

This hand from Sunday produced a lot of swings, including a vital one pushing the best local team back into fourth place.   Making this 3N would have let them win.  The sequence shown illustrates today's favoured form of checkback, in which the 2♣ bid forces South to bid 2 after which 2♠ shows a hand with invitational values and five spades, letting South choose the final contract.  There were only 11 pairs bid to 3N on these hands, but that is definitely where you want to play. 

Of the 11 declarers of 3N, ten got a diamond lead and could win that in the South hand, and be confident of a second diamond trick later. Clearly clubs is the primary source of tricks and the plan is to hope that East holds either of the jack or king,  That would deliver four (five on a good day) clubs to go with three hearts and two diamonds.  Meanwhile the defence only have a club, a diamond and two spades to cash.  But of those eleven declarers, only four made the contract - so what went wrong?

The most common error was this - to win trick one and cross to dummy in hearts, and then lead the ♣T round to the ♣J.  After either a diamond or heart cotninuation, declarer won a second heart trick in dummy and led the ♣7 and were forced to overtake it with the ♣8 and now it was impossible to pick up East's king. 

Could declarer have done better - yes, and very easily.  All it takes is for declarer to start with the ♣7 on the first round, or when leading the ♣T to drop the eight or nine underneath it. That means when the ♣7 is led, the six can now be played and the lead remains in dummy to lead another club for the final finesse.  Easy game this?  It's what the winning team had to do, and they did it.

HotD-thu : Ross GP Swiss Teams : 21jul19 : B3

This hand from Sunday was an early test for the East-West pairs, reaching them just after 11 o'clock that morning. 

There were plenty for opening 2♣ on this hand, but the danger of 1♣ being passed out is almost nil, and that makes starting with 1♣ a preferred option, letting you show two suits with the second bid.  The auction shown took place at table 9, while at table 29 the auction was 2♣ - 2♠ - 3♣ - 3♠ - 4♣ - 4♠ - P, which shows that it is possible to stop in game after a 2♣ opener - but most of those who opened 2♣ found that too difficult to do.

There were 21 pairs bid a slam on these hands, but only 6 of the make their slam. For 

(a) those in 6♣ any lead but a helpful spade was going to beat the slam, and the one pair in 6♣ went off.

(b) for those in 6♠ by East, it was vital for South to cash the A at trick one, else with careful play declarer can draw trumps andd throw losing hearts away on clubs.  [Three declarers who had been gifted a diamond lead were not careful enough, and went down two].  Of those in 6♠ five made the slam on a diamond lead, and four went off on a heart lead.

(c) for those in 6N, the key was for South not to take the A as once that happens, North is going to be squeezed in three suits - and that squeeze will generate declarer's twelfth trick.  Four of the declarers in 6N got a heart lead, and four got a diamond lead - but only one of the eight made the contract.  In fact only an impossible-to-find club lead defeats 6N.

The remaining 13 pairs all played this hand in game, making easily. 

Where would you rather stop?   A sure game, or a 6N where the defence needs to find a next-to-impossible lead but then you have to play well, or perhaps in 6♠ where everthing depends on the killing opening lead (and only 1 in 3 found it).  Seems pretty even money ....

HotD-wed : Ross GP Swiss Pairs : 20jul19 : B45

This hand from the last match on Saturday, provided a top for the winners and could so easily have provided a top for the other pair. 

What happened was the auction as shown.  North-South got doubled in a game that could go off, but the normal opening lead lets it make, while East-West failed to bid the excellent game available in their direction.

What should have happened?

It is hard to critice the opening bid here - it will be difficult to find a heart fit after starting with 2♠ but the hand is much more an obstructive than a constructive hand, and has the right suit quality for a vulnerable bid.  After the opening, East's only option for intervention is double - although you might consider pass, as normally either partner has spades and you'd rather not bid, or the other side will outbid you in spades.  This isn't quite what happens here. South can see that 4♠ is the best place to be, so we cannot criticise that bid either.  The fact that South will bid 4♠ on a big variety of hands is what makes the choices difficult for East-West..

Which leaves us with the more interesting question of the final double - a double not found at many tables. There is an expectation by West of owning half the (HCP) pack at this point, and that hints that 4♠ might go down - so there is a case for saying something.  This hand - just two kings and one might not be working - is just a bit weak for a double, particularly when the pass from East indicates that it was read as strongly suggesting defending. It feels like there was a disconnect between East and West on this auction.

But there is an alternative outcome - and that is for West to bid 5♣.  It seems natural to bid a 6-card suit in response to partner's takeout double, but the issue here is that the likelihood of making 5♣ is not great and when you are making it there is a danger of partner raising to the slam. Should West have bid 5♣?  It's very hard to say; two things come to mind.  The first is that when it is not clear who can make what, then bidding on often pays (it loses only if both contracts fail).  The second is that sometimes when you bid one more, the opposition do also.  The most we can really say is that this is one more example where bidding on works, and it is probably right for us all to bid on a little more than we have been doing.

BTW : the one instance tracked down where North-South played in 5♠ (going off)  was a case where North did not open and East-West found their diamond fit early and bit to 5.

BTW, the one instance tracked of East-West playing in 5♣-doubled, arose when after 2♠-X,  South decided on a wait-and-see policy.  This allowed West to bid 3♣ and hear support from East (4♣) so that when South now bid 4♠ , West could continue with 5♣.  Wait-and-see is not to be recommended.

The Wrong Contract

When dummy goes down, you see that you would have preferred to be in 6♣. Be that as it may, how do you play 3NT on the lead of the ♠Q?

You have plenty of tricks if either minor breaks kindly but the odds favour a 4-2 diamond break and a 3-1 club break and you need to cater for this distribution. If spades break 4-4 you can simply give up a trick in the minors so assume that they are 5-3. You might assume from the lead that West has the spade length since he has led the suit but in reality, you don't need to assume anything. Duck the spade lead (and assuming the suit is continued) hold up your spade til the fourth round. Now you will know the spade distribution for certain and you should follow by testing the diamonds. When the long diamond turns out to be in the short spade hand, you merely set up your fifth diamond. If the long diamond is with the long spade, you can hope that the same hand has short clubs (or that they break) and you concede a club to the non-danger hand. 

Play This Slam

West starts with a trump against your slam. How should you be thinking?

If trumps break 2-2 you have a sure thing. Draw the trumps in 2 rounds, eliminate hearts and then take a diamond finesse. Whatever West returns will present you with the extra trick you need. Unfortunately the trumps break 3-1 (and West has three) so the certainty of that line of play has evaporated, as you need to play 3 rounds of trumps to draw them and now West will potentially have a safe heart exit when he wins the diamond. You might still make the contract however. If West was dealt less than 4 hearts he will be end-played and if he can in fact exit with the long heart you ruff in dummy and then play Ace and another diamond ruffing. If the J has not appeared, you then fall back on the club finesse. All in all, a pretty good slam. 

How's Your Card Play?

West leads the ♠7 and East plays the King. How do you set about making 9 tricks?

With 3 aces to knock out, there is a danger that East will be able to set up and cash 2 spade tricks eventually. There is not much you can do if East holds all 3 aces, but there is room for West to hold one of the Aces and if it is the Ace of the suit you attack first, there is a way to make the contract. Duck trick 1 and win the spade return. Now attack hearts and if West wins the Ace, he will not be able to continue spades and you will have time to set up 2 diamonds and a club. No-trump contracts are generally a race to set up tricks and ducking at trick 1 puts you a tempo ahead when the cards lie as shown.

Where's the Queen?

West leads the K. If you can locate the Q the slam is yours. Where does the lady lie?

The answer is that you don't know where the Q is and if you play the hand properly you don't care. Win the A, draw trumps and play 3 rounds of spades discarding a heart from dummy. Now exit with a heart and sit back whilst the defence presents you with a ruff and discard else leads a diamond thus picking up the Queen.

HotD-fri : Summer Teams : 15jul19 : B23

Everybody played this hand from Monday in spades, but at three different levels (two tables in 2♠, four in 3♠ and four in 4♠).  The number of tricks made also varied a lot with every instance of 8 to 11 tricks occurring.  Why so varied?

The starting point was West's opening bid after South had passed.  The 7=2=2=2 shape will always bid spades, but the question is how high, in second seat when both sides are vulnerable.  The spade suit quality is very acceptable vulnerable, but the outside jack and queen are vey much defensive values are are unlikely to contribute in a spade contract.  Our expectation for a weak two bid is six cards, and for a weak three bid is seven cards.  Which bid is best here?

Of course there is no perfect answer guaranteed to always be right, but it is generally the case that a 7222 shape is much less useful than a 7321 hand and this argues for a downgrade. The fact of being in second seat moves the empahsis on an opening bid away from obstructive and to the constructive end of the spectrum. The fact of being vulnerable, means there is an expectation of not going too many down.  This all argues that 2♠ is the right level at which to open this hand. Over that opening, East is only likely to bid if the opening is specifically a sound weak two, but in that case the hand is minimal and stopping in 3♠ should be the outcome.  We can only postulate that the game bidders bid 3♠ - 4♠, which shows that East did have a expectation of something a little better from West.

The game is not unplayable; there are two sure losers and a possible further loser in each suit - and you need to keep that to one  loser across the four suits. The key suit there is clubs, and the most common opening lead (six of ten) was the ♣6 which on this hand is difficult for declarer to read. When the first trick is lost to South it's not all over - at least until South returns a diamond and that sets up the fourth trick for the defence.  The lead of the A looks to be a neutral lead but both instances of a heart lead saw declarer make 10 tricks - because it is so natural for North to switch to a diamond at trick two.  Can that be avoided?  On that heart lead, since the heart suit is now dead to the defence, South's signal should be a suit preference in the expectation of a switch.  Here that signal should have been the 2 and the key message that gives is to expect nothing useful in diamonds from South. After a club at trick two, the defence should manage their four tricks.  No explanation is yet forthcoming for the instances of 8 or 11 tricks.

HotD-thu : Summer Teams : 15jul19 : B25

This hand from Monday produced a mix of games and small slams, plus one large penalty (which scored roughly average) and just one pair in the extremely desirable grand slam.  

This was the start of the bidding at table six - what do you do as South?  Caroline Hartley found the answer - she raised to 4N just as she would have done if there had been no intervention.  Her partner was on the same wavelength, and with a maximum continued to 6N and claimed 13 tricks as soon as the opening lead was made and dummy appeared.  It is very difficult to find a better bidding sequence after a 3♠ overcall, as were you to bid clubs you would get a raise from partner and still not know what to do. 

It was a different story at table two however, where the overcall in second seat was 2♠.  This allowed South to bid a forcing 3♣ for now, and when partner supported clubs and had cue bid, it was easy to roll out 4N as a key card ask and find out that the aces and club honours were present. There was also one other difference at table two - here the opening bid had been a 14-16 1N (rather than 12-14) which meant that South could count that East had at most 8 hcp. Since it was already possibly to count 12 tricks from the 11-hcp which partner's response to 4N had shown, there was bound to be multiple chances of a thirteenth, and that brought out a bid of 7♣ and that earned the top score on the hand.

Notice how much difference the jump overcall makes; with a virtual lock on 7 tricks, the East hand should pre-empt to the limit at its first opportunity - if partner has nothing the score is roughly a game away, but if partner turns up with just one or two tricks playing 3♠x will be more profitable that the opposing game.


hotd - weds

This hand from Monday was a make in 3N for most of the tables which played there, but not at all.  It is commonly the case that the computer analysis suggests a declarer could make more tricks than happened in practice, but here it tells us that 3N should go down. What should have happened?

This auction was not replicated at all tables, but when it happened at table three East knew what to expect in dummy.  Any suit could have been the right lead, but any suit could also be wrong - so East chose the only suit of length and led a spade. It looked normal to lead the second best from this holding, in order to give partner the right understanding of what was held, so out came the ♠6.  This went to the queen-king-ace and declarer tried a heart to the king, which West beat with the ace.  West returned the ♠2, covered by the ♠5 and (by necessity) the ♠T.    At this point East regretted the choice of which spade to lead (will he lead ♠2 next time?), but recognised that another spade offered a serious chance of helping declarer, so he had to switch - but to which suit?

The answer came from declarer - as declarer had to discard from the dummy (South) on the second spade.  When that discard was a club, playing clubs became the safe bet and after that switch the defence were always going to get one trick in every suit plus a second one in hearts.  So 3N went down.

Table two saw South play the hand (there were four instances of each of NS declaring) on a less informative auction (1 -1♠ -1N - 3N). The club lead at trick one was ducked and a second club was played. Declarer is now getting very close to the contract, with three club tricks, three diamonds and two spades - even when both of those finesses fail.  There is a difficulty with entries, which makes a heart to the king appealing after winning the ♣K; West can win with the ace, but needs to (a) attack spades (leading the king) to set up the fifth trick for the defence, or (b) lead a diamond and have partner duck. Both options are too difficult.


Partner's double promised 4 spades but he felt he needed to take action and that his spades were as good as some 4 card holdings. Anyway, West starts with 2 top hearts. How do you handle this 4-3 fit?

You might consider discarding a club at trick 2 and another club at trick 3 when they continue with a third heart. This will be OK if trumps are 4-2 and diamonds not worse than 4-2 as you could then ruff any further heart lead in dummy and retain control of trumps. However, this is not the strongest line. If you look at the trumps pips, you have a completely high cross ruff once you ruff the second heart lead with your small trump. Best is to continue with 2 top diamonds and ruff a diamond in dummy. Now back to the ♣A for another diamond ruff. A further heart and diamond ruff gives you 8 tricks and you remain with 2 high trumps in your hand. This line succeeds whenever diamonds are no worse than 4-2 irrespective of how trumps break.

Clear the Blockage

West leads the ♠5 against your game. The opening lead runs to the ten and your knave. How do you plan the play?

Unfortunately the club suit is blocked even if it breaks 2-1. The danger is that if you duck a club to circumvent the blockage, the defence might be able to then take 4 spade tricks. It is likely that the spades are no worse than 5-3 and hence you can succeed by returning a spade at trick 2. If West cashes his spades, you will discard the ♣9 from hand. If West switches to some other suit without cashing the spades then you can win and exit with your last spade and this time if West doesn't take his tricks you will try to duck a club to East. 

Be Careful in Defence

You partner leads  AK and a third diamond. You ruff and return a low club. Declarer rises with the Ace and plays out five rounds of trumps. If you are going to beat this contract, what will be the setting trick?

If declarer has the K then clearly you have no chance. You therefore need partner to hold Kx of hearts and you in turn must keep a tight hold on your heart suit. When declarer cashes his last spade and leads the J, partner will cover and declarer will only be able to take 3 heart tricks. It is a grave mistake when holding a poor hand to think that you have no useful part to play in the defence.

HotD-fri : Summer Pairs : 08jul19 : B4

The bidding on this hand from Monday took a very straightforward path for once. South led the 7 at trick one to North's ace, and back came a small heart won by the ace. The drop of the jack from South makes it look like trumps might be breaking 4-1. How should declarer proceed?

First thing to do is count the obvious tricks, and you can see five hearts and two spades, so there is some serious work to do. Ruffs in the short hand are possible but there is no easy way back for a second ruff, so counting on only one ruff will limit you to six trump tricks. Two more tricks are needed and there are possibilities in all three side suits. 

In spades it could be a successful finesse or even running the suit, but the defenders could so easily cut you off by covering the first spade, or by winning the queen and playing back a second.

In clubs, you could find the ♣AQ onside and that would give you enough tricks - but that's giving points to the hand with short hearts which did not bid.  Definitely a possibility, but against the odds.

In diamonds, you need to draw the implications of the lead of the 7 and North's play of the ace.  False-carding in North's position here is dangerous a partner will count declarer for a trick in diamonds if North wins the ace from ace-king and could misdefend as a result. So that false-carding rarely happens; the lead of the 7 is therefore going to be from  KJ87(x)(x) or from K87 or KJ7.  The odds must favour the first of these, and in that case and the third case you can set up a diamond trick by taking ruffing finesses through South.

The combination of one extra trick in diamonds and then guessing the clubs right looks a good bet, and declarer set about this plan.  Trick three was the 9 casually led, and when South played low a club was thrown from dummy.  This was one trick in the bag, and when a diamond was now ruffed in dummy the layout of the diamond suit was confirmed.  Declarer drew trumps now, needing to come down to a singleton trump to draw all of North's hearts.

What's the best guess in clubs at this point? 

Declarer didn't guess clubs - here's what happened on the hearts - South discarded two spades and a club.  South surely hasn't discarded from four spades here or come down to a void, and so started with either five or three. Declarer went for the latter and played off the top spades and led a third one on which North played the queen. Now came the twist - instead of ruffing this and guessing the clubs, declarer discarded the remaining losing diamond.  North had nothing but clubs left at this point, and had to give declarer a club trick now matter where the ace and queen were.  Neat!

This was only one line adopted, as can be seen by the fact that the results on this board (everyone in hearts) were evenly divided between making 9 tricks and 10 tricks and 11 tricks.

HotD-thu : Summer Pairs : 08jul19 : B2

A number of tables on Monday faced this problem - what do you do opposite partner's 1N opener with a singleton but no suit to run to?  

People's choices will often be based on past, most often, recent experience - but we all see so few of these how can we be sure?   Some simulation studies have been done on these situations (admittedly against a strong 1N opener but the same principles apply) asking when is it right to take out partner's 1N bid.

What do you suppose comes out best on this hand?

The great surprise on this hand is that the answer is to transfer into hearts!

On the 500 hands analysed, with a 1=4=4=4 shape opposite 1N and any hand short of invitational values, you are more likely to be better in 2 than you are in 1N. 

When the hand turned up on Monday, you could not ask for a stronger validation - here 1N goes off even when the spades are favourably divided, but playing in hearts South can make 10 tricks. [In practice, some of the declarers in 1N, despite a spade lead, were allowed to make their contract, even with an overtrick, but 100% of the matchpoiints went to the one pair in 2]

You can read more about the outcomes of these simulations at Ted Muller's website here.

HotD-wed : Gold Cup round-of-16 : 5jul19 : B22

A local team played last week against the current holders of the Gold Cup, and came through by 17 imps to reach the last eight.  On this hand, John Atthey sat South and Garry Watson sat North.  At the other table the auction had started the same way but South simply raised to 3♣ and that finished the bidding.  At this table there was rather more at stake.

Zia made the opening lead of the J which was won by the ace. John continued with a top club from dummy and then the ♣A revealed the bad break in that suit. He now switched to spades and Zia rose on the first round with the king to lead another heart.  John ducked this and when the third heart was now played, he now had three heart tricks, bringing his total up to seven. After cashing the fourth heart he was able to continue with spades; ducking did West no good, and when the spade queen won, he was put on lead with the third spade. After cashing the fourth spade Zia had to lead away from the Q to give declarer a ninth trick.  3N made!  Well done.


Count the Hand

West leads the A on which East shows out. West continues with a small diamond and East ruffs. You overruff and cash the A, East throwing a spade. How do you play? 

By now you shaould have a complete count of the hand. West cannot have a spade for this play (he doesn't know his partner was dealt a trump), hence West must be 0-3-8-2 and East is 8-1-0-4. So all you need to do is draw trumps and play 2 rounds of clubs finishing in dummy. Now exit with the Q throwing a spade from hand. West wins but must lead another diamond allowing you to win in dummy and throw your remaining spade.

An Elementary Play

You play in a pushy 6NT from South and West leads the 8. How do you play?

If hearts break and the club finesse is right you have 12 tricks, but if you can make 3 spade tricks then you won't need the club finesse. Win the lead and cash 2 top hearts. If the suit doesn't break then you will need a favourable position in both black suits. If both follow to 2 hearts then play a low spade (not the ten) towards dummy. If an honour appears on your left then you have the 3 spade tricks you need to fullfil your contract. If West plays low then finesse the 9. If this loses (as it probably will) then subsequently take 2 finesses in clubs. If West started with both spade honours then the 9 will hold and you can afford to lose a club trick.

The Right Assumption

West starts with 2 top hearts. You ruff the second round and draw trumps in 2 rounds. Now what?

The only danger on this hand is that you lose 2 clubs and a diamond, which might happen if East holds the ♣A. If you assume that this is the case then you can be sure that West will hold K and the safe line is to play a low diamond towards the Queen. If  West takes his king, you can later discard 2 clubs from dummy and only lose one club. If the diamond Queen loses to the King in East, then assuredly West will hold the Ace of clubs and so you won't lose 2 club tricks.

HotD-fri : Summer Teams : 01jul19 : B14

A question that often comes up is this one - when partner has opened 2N showing 20-22 hcp, should I raise with a 4-count?  

What do we need to think about here?

Two things factor into the answer - one is how many HCP is partner likely to have, and the second is how many points do we want (on average) to make 3N a decent cotnract?

Looking first at partner's opening, what we need to know is that the relative frequerncies of 20/21/22 hcp in partner's hand are roughly  52%, 31% and 17% respectively.  So more than half the time, partner will be a minimum.  (For a strong NT opening the relative frequencies are 15-count 43%, 16-count 33% and 17-count 24%;  for a weak NT the relative frequencies are  11-count 30%, 12-count 27%, 13-count 23% and 14-count 19%).

Now to question two. The succes rate of 3N with say 24-hcp will vary depending on whether the HCP-split is (say) 12-12 which is best, through to 24-0 which is worst. Simulations suggest the best case gives a 41% chance of success but this drops to 29% when the HCP are split 20-4.  With more HCP between the two hands we get a 47% chance of success with 21-4 hcp, and a 66% chance with 22-4.  Putting all these numbers together gives a 42% chance of being able to make 3N on this hand. That makes respectable odds even non-vulnerable, and you need to factor in the fact that sometimes when 3N goes down, 2N goes down also.

The verdict is that it is worth raising to game on this hand.

Other studies have shown that a KJ 4-count is better value in 3N than a  QJJ 4-count or a JJJJ 4-count.  That fact together with the existence of the five card suit and the supporting club cards, making this an above average 4-count - another good reason for bidding game!

On the day, it looks like 8 out of 10 Wests raised to 3N, a contract which should make and did make in all cases but one.

HotD-thu : Summer Teams : 01jul19 : B28

The best result for East-West on this deal came from a most unexpected contract of 2-doubled by West, which could have rolled in with two overtricks but declarer settled for making that contract.  This was obtained after an auction of P - 1♣(clubs or weak NT) - 1N - P - 2 - X - end.  North's double of 2 to attract a lead was not justified, and when East passed the double to deny three card spade support, West decided that hearts looked a good prospect.

More interesting is the play in the 4♠ contract reached by half the field (three others were spade part-scores, and two played in diamonds as NS).

The most common, and the most demanding lead was a top diamond.  For some players it looked too easy - they ruffed and set about drawing trumps - cashing dummy's top two trumps and then ruffing a diamond to draw the last one. Next came a heart to the jack and a second heart, but when North won and played a second diamond, suddenly declarer was out of trumps. All that could now be made was the top two clubs and that meant only 9 tricks.

The secret here - and this comes up a lot - is to tackle the side suit before trumps.  Clearly the side suit that matters here is hearts, and if you play on hearts you give the defence a dilemma - if they force you then would will embark on a total cross ruff, and if they don't you have time to set up your second suit. 

HotD-wed : Summer Teams : 1jul19 : B26

Most pairs on Monday ended in the "wrong" contract on this hand from Monday, but a number got away with it. The bidding started as shown at most tables - but how should it then continue?

There were two difference choices found at this point - some bid 3 and some bid 3N.   The latter choice finished the bidding, but after 3 and South bidding 3N, North had another call to make. In practice all Norths passed (not reocmmended) and so it came about  that 3N was as a result the contract at eight of the twelve tables. [The pair in 6♠ have declined to discuss the hand, and we dared not ask about the 3 contract]

The one table to reach 4 had the sequence 1♠ - 1N - 2N - 4.  There is a lot to be said for the 2N response, as it better describes the value of the hand - the game forcing jump to 3 being a stretch when you cannot guarantee game. Well done that pair.

The play in 4 is straightforward, but in 3N the result is not a foregone conclusion; the success in practice depended almost entirely on the opening lead.  Having heard spades and diamonds bid, one East led the K and continued the suit after the king held (partner's signal was count - so he couldn't tell who had the jack).  This was fatal.  The majority of others (5 out of 7) led the ♣3 and for this declarer was very grateful;  after winning the club queen, declarer could bash out the spades and with four spades, one heart, one diamond and three clubs (on the repeated finesse) make nine tricks.

Two tables defeated 3N, and those were the two table who led diamonds. 

How should East have been thinking about the lead on this hand? What the bidding suggests is that North has hearts and clubs, while South has the other two suits. Given the honours East holds, the cards are not lying nicely for declarer, and when that is the case declarer will struggle for tricks and the primary concern for the openign leader should be to avoid giving away any unnecessary tricks. A passive lead is therefore your target and that means keeping away from clubs and hearts. The diamond has a slightly more constructive air than has a spade, as declarer surely has five spades and will be setting up that suit at some point.  And that is the logic that led two defenders to the successful lead. Maybe next time it will be more than two!



West leads 3 top hearts. You ruff the third round. Play from here.

You have plenty of tricks but you might be in trouble if the spades break badly. Suppose you start with the Ace of Spades first. Then if Spades are 4-1 with West holding ♠Kxxx, he will hold off his ♠K until the third round of the suit and then South will have to play on clubs and West will make a small trump. If South crosses to dummy with a diamond say and finesses the ♠Q, then West ducks. You might try the effect of continuing with the ♠T but West can win and exit with a club and you are left with no way to get to dummy to draw the last trump. The winning line after ruffing at trick 3 is to continue with the ♠Q. If this holds, follow with the ♠T. If West takes this trick you can ruff the next heart with the ♠A and enter dummy to draw the last trump. 

How do you Defend?

West leads the ♠3. How do you see the defence developing?

You obviously need to look for the setting tricks in the black suits. It looks from the bidding and lead that West holds ♠Txx and that declarer has a secure guard in spades. Therefore you will need to make 3 club tricks to go with your 2 spades. The problem is how best to acheive this. It is unlikely that Wests clubs are good enough for you to win 3 tricks by force, so some deception is called for. Try the effect of winning the ♠K and continuing with King and another club. If the cards are as shown, South might well place you with ♣AK and rise with the ♣Q. If he does, then West will win and put you in with another spade to cash the setting trick with the ♣J.

Get the Maximum

You lead the Q, declarer winning with the Ace and following small from hand. At trick 2 South ruffs a heart and plays Ace and another club to dummy's King (on which East discards the ♠J). Declarer now plays a spade to his King (East playing the ten) which you win with the Ace. You play the ♠Q and South follows as East plays the ♠3. What now?

It looks like East started with ♠ JT983 and hence you can count South for 2 spades, 1 heart, 3 diamonds and 7 clubs. If you play a heart conceding a ruff and discard, South will pitch a diamond and you may lose a diamond trick if East started with the King. If you play off the A you will be OK if partner has the King, but this play will cost you a trick when declarer started with Kxx and you next lead another diamond. The winning play is to exit with a low diamond. If partner holds the King you will take your three diamond tricks, but more importantly, you will still come to 2 diamond tricks when declarer holds Kxx.

A Recurring Theme

West leads the K. Do you see a sure way to 10 tricks?

We have seen hands like this before. You must not allow East an early entry to play a heart through else you might be badly placed. The way to achieve this is to duck trick 1 and then discard a club on the A. You will be able to draw trumps and eliminate the minors without losing a trick to East. Finally you play a heart from dummy and cover East's card to endplay West.

HotD-fri : CBC Swiss Pairs : 24jun19 : B13

This hand provided an instructive point as well as a trap, when it appeared on Tuesday. A lot of people settled far to readily to play in 3N, but after a sequence that starts like the above, the South hand should be thinking about a slam - and the question is how to express this and to proceed?  

With the North hand as it occurred, slam is almost hopeless (needs HT-doubleton or KQ onside) but if you move either of North's side suit kings to be the K then you actually have a play for a grand slam - which is surely an indicator that you want to be in a small slam.  South cannot tell what North has, so they have to find a way to get North involved to make a sensible decision - can we find one?

The answer here - as so often when you cannot decide - is to describe your hand further to partner and hope thay can decide.  Here South simply rebids diamonds to tell partner of some slam interest and a 5-5 shape. 

Over to North : on that bidding North's AK ♣AK are clearly overkill against South's three cards in clubs and heart.  Clearly there are wasted values and North signs off. 

If you give North the K in place of  one of the kings above, then North can tell there are no losers in South's short suits, and holding ♠KJK must be quite a respectable holding in support of South. At this point a cue ebid should be enough to let South take control, but North could almost drive to slam themselves, as partner inquired and ♠KJ2 A62 K83 ♣AK82 would be hard to improve on.

HotD-thu : Summer Pairs : 23jun19 : B26

This was another hand from Monday where making the contract looked easy - but you need to be on the lookout for overtricks if you want to win at matchpoints.

The opening lead was the 8 and when North wins and plays one back you feel confident that North didn't make this bid with A9542 and so finesse the jack.  Even if it loses, the K can take care of a club loser instead later, so it is no cost. After that gets ruffed South could return either minor, so let's say the ♣T comes back.  Declarer wins and starts with a top trump but then finds the bad break. Doesn't look a great hurdle - cash A and ruff one, finesse spades, and ruff the last diamond.  In this end position there is still the ♠Q out, and dummy has the ♠KJ, but declarer has no trumps left and you are in the wrong hand to draw the missing trump.  You have to play either clubs or hearts and you can no longer avoid a loser.

Wind back and see what happens if after winning tricks three you take one diamond ruff.  Then you play a spade to the ace to get the back news, ruff the second diamond, and now take a spade finesse. At this point you have no trumps left in hand but you are in dummy and can cash the ♠ K to draw the last trump, bevore coming over you your winning club(s) and the A.   That makes 11 tricks - a feat nobody achieved.

That (good) practice of taking simple (and they must be safe) ruffs early is surprisingly often an important play to make, simplifying various aspects of the hand later.  While the full analysis of the hand was more than we can ask for, following the technique of early ruffs will usually pay dividends and would have been enough here to earn a top.



HotD-wed : Summer Pairs : 24jun19 : B7

This hand from Monday was bid to 4♠ at most tables. Four of the five tables in spades got the lead of  6, and in most cases that was covered by the queen, king and ace.  After winning trick one, you can see you have ten top tricks. You could settle for the ten top tricks you have now, or you can try for more - what's your preference and where might extra tricks come from?

The obvious chance for an extra trick is finding the dfiamond ace onside, so you must ensure you can get to lead a diamond towards hand at some point.  The other opportunity - which got missed by most people - is the chance of an extra trick in clubs. Cashing the ace and king is the first part of that check, but you give yourself an extra chance if after doing that and drawing two trumps, you (safely) ruff the third club high in hand. This sets up the jack and now you can draw the last trump and finally cross to the J to take the discard on ♣J.

There is a stronger defence available - East could avoid covering the heart queen; this is generally a better approach, although it does mean that East can no longer lead hearts. Ducking the heart does not however kill the overtrick; the only entry for the club jack is the second trump and you could try winning the heart queen, cashing two top clubs, ♠K, club ruff, ♠Q and then cash the ♣J while the hand with the long trump follows suit.  Taking this line however risks not being able to lead up to the diamond king, and if the onside ace was a reaonable prospect that risk is probably not acceptable.

At Monday's event only 1 out of 5 declarers managed an overtrick.

Tempt an Indiscretion

West leads the J. What are your chances?

The duplication in clubs makes this a poor slam but you do have the chance that East holds ♠Ax, in which case the ♠K will provide a parking place for the losing diamond. The best line is to combine this legitimate chance with a pyschological play. Win the A and 'finesse' the Q to play a low spade to hand. When the Queen holds, cross to dummy with a club and try the effect of another low spade from dummy. You still win of course when East has ♠Ax but also when he panics and rises with the Ace from a longer suit holding, fearing that you started with ♠QJ. East is in effect playing his partner for a trump trick from say KTx originally.

Take All Your Chances

North leads the 7 which runs to your Knave. Plan the play.

Diamonds will provide you with the extra tricks you need but the obvious danger is that South will wijn a diamond and fire back a heart to North's winners. You can give yourself a slight extra chance by laying down the A and occassionally dropping a singleton King in South. However, a better line is to cross to dummy with a club and finesse the ♠9. Say North exits with a diamond. You win the Ace and play off the ♠K before crossing back to dummy in clubs to take the ♠A. If both spade honours have fallen, you are home without risking the diamond King being guarded in the South hand.

Listen to the Bidding

West leads the ♠T to East's Ace and a spade is returned. How do you plan the play?

If you play trumps, West will surely win and give his partner a spade ruff. Once East has shown up with the ♠A, you know he cannot hold the K as he passed his partner's opening bid. Therefore you should win the second spade in hand and finesse the Q. Now cash the A and pitch your last spade before playing trumps. Thus you avoid the damaging spade ruff.

A Testing Hand

West leads the J. How do you play?

If hearts are 3-3 you are home and if not you can hope to score 5 club tricks to bring your total to 12. The problem arises that if you cash the top hearts and they don't break, you will be defeated if the hand with the boss heart has a sure club entry. The best line is to play for clubs to be 3-2 (or 4-1 with a singleton queen) or hearts 3-3. Win the diamond and unblock the A. Now duck a club completely. Win the diamond return an enter dummy with a club to test the hearts. If they are not 3-3 you can return to hand with a spade and hopefully run the clubs

HotD-fri : Summer Pairs : 17jun19 : B16

This 3N contract by North was reached by 8 out of the 10 tables on Monday and at all those tables a top club was led by West.

At table five, after the bidding shown (a strong 15-17 1N opener), declarer ducked the lead of the strong ♣K and when East played the 5 (in an unblock, overtake, or low from even position) declarer was known to have a protected club jack.  East now pondered how the defence were going to beat the contract.

He came to the conclusion that if declarer had the ace of hearts, then with six tricks in clubs and hearts, and declarer holding at least 10 hcp in the other suits, there was no way of deferating 3N. The only chance had therefore to be that partner had the ace of hearts, and if that was the case then it becomes vital to cut off dummy's heart suit.  East therefore continued with the ♣Q, giving away one trick to the jack but planning to save three tricks by cutting declarer off from the hearts.  As you can see, partner didn't have the ace of hearts but nevertheless this cut declarer's heart tricks from five to one (an even bigger bonus) - and after that had happened declarer had no chance and even had to produce an end-play to escape for two down. Four of the eight tables in 3N suffered the same fate but four tables managed to make 3N.

The coup performned here - giving away one trick in removing an entry, to save many more - goes by the name of the Merrimac Coup, and is a favourite with textbooks but is not often seen in regular play. It even has its own wikipedia entry!


HotD-thu : Summer Teams : 17jun19 : B25

This hand from Monday was one of the most difficult to bid to the right contract - but here is how the the pair in the winning team bid the decent grand slam (there is a different slam - in a suit never bid - which I would rate as excellent).

East took two good views in the bidding - the first was to overcall in hearts when the hand is playable in three suits which might have been shown with a takeout double, and the second was the jump to 5 on a hand which was looking good but still represented a bulk-standard 2-level vulnerable overcall.  East's first cue bid was a way of showing a good 4 bid (or better)  and East's final jump was a clear choice - how could partner not have the AK for a 5 jump?  The play was straightforward.

Notice the use of a weak two bid in diamonds; this hand is eminently suitable for bidding a weak two with only five cards - first in hand, favourable vulnerability, strong  intermediates, few cards in the majors, and little overall defence.  A South with more experience - at a different table which also saw a 2 opener - found a 5 raise on the first round and this left the opposition no room to explore and they stopped in 5.

In practice, even a pass from North was not enough to allow the grand slam to be bid.  At table five, the bidding was  P - 1 H - P - 1♠ ,  P - 1N(weak) - P - 2(general GF),  X - P(no stop) - 4 - 5, P - 6 - P - 6 - end.


HotD-wed : Garden Cities Final : 15jun19 : B44

The Cheltenham Bridge Club team-of-8 champions made one of their occasional appearances on Satruday at the final of the EBU's national clubs championship. They were lying first by just 1 VP when this board appeared in the last match. The contract at all four tables in our match was 4♠-doubled by West; the auction shown happened at one table, but others were different. At two tables in our match, the heart lead was won by the ace and declarer promptly ruffed a heart and pushed out a diamond. Both Norths quickly decided that declarer would not have two singletons, and they ducked; this was fatal as declarer rose with the king and now only lost three tricks.

Ducking the diamond was poor logic.  If you place declarer with six spades and one heart, then declarer has at least 6 cards in the minors, and it can never hurt to go up with the diamond ace, as declarer can never throw away enough clubs on the diamonds to worry you.  Ducking in the hope of a mis-guess and declarer going an extra trick down is never worthwhile when a doubled game is at risk.

Across the four tables at which we played, there were two instances of 4♠-doubled making and two instances of 4♠-doubled one down - so in the end it was a flat board for our team.

The board however was vitally important to us because of what happened to our main rivals - the Tunbridge Wells team.  In their match nobody played in 4♠  - every table played in hearts.  There were three tables pushed up to 5 going down, and importantly the team from Avenue Bridge Club in Brighton was allowed to play in 4 making; the Tunbridge Wells team lost 24 imps on the board because of this and with that  they lost their chance to get ahead of Cheltenham. 

The Cheltenham team comprised : Allan Sanis & Paul Denning, Ben Ritacca & Tony Letts, Judy Sanis & Val Constable, Patrick Shields & Richard Chamberlain.

This is the first national trophy won by the Cheltenham Bridge club since 1999.

Counter Intuitive?

After a 2 over 1 auction in which 2 created a game force, you play in 6 on the lead of the ♣K.  How do you tackle this contract?

The odds in the trump suit played in isolation favour a finesse for the Queen, but you should consider the hand as a whole. If you take a losing finesse, you will be down immediately, but if you play off the top hearts you may have a chance to discard all of your club losers before an opponent can ruff in. Suppose you lay down the top hearts and both opponents follow but no Queen appears - now what? It looks tempting to first cash the diamonds and then follow with the spades and hope that the hand with the last trump has 3 or more spades, in which case your club losers all get thrown. However, this line of play is no good. You always need the hand with the last trump to hold 3+ spades, so you may as well play spades first. This scores on the layout shown when you are able to play 5 rounds of spades discarding all your club losers. Of course, if spades had broken 3-3, you would have had to try for a diamond discard before leading a fourth round of spades.

An Informative Discard

You lead the ♣J to Queen, King and 3. South follows to the next lead of ♣A and ruffs the next club lead with the ♠J. What do you discard on this trick?

On the bidding South probably holds 7 spades and 3 diamonds since East did not bid the suit. Unless East has a trump trick, the defense will have to win 2 diamond tricks, but there is a danger here. If declarer crosses to dummy with the A and leads a diamond, East may win the Ace and go wrong by trying to give you a trump promotion. You can prevent this by under-ruffing at trick 3. Now when East wins his A, he can return a trump and you will later come to a second diamond trick.

A Sure Thing

This one is an old problem that some of you may have seen before. You play in 7NT on the lead of the ♣T. This contract is certain against any distribution. How should you play?

If ever the J drops, or if either defender shows out of spades or discards one, the game is over.  So noting, we play off all of dummy's kings. If nothing good has happened yet, then cash the Q and Ace. If nothing good has happened yet, then run the clubs, discarding dummy's hearts. If nothing good has happened yet, then play off the A at trick ten and throw away dummy's diamond, whereupon something good must happen.  If anyone discards on this lead, then a complete count is available and you can play the spades appropriately.  If instead both opponents follow to the heart lead, then whoever still is clutching the J cannot also hold the three remaining spades.

HotD-fri : CBC Pairs League : 12jun19 : B18

The latest run of the popular Pairs League completed this week; the winners of Division One were Patrick Shields & Garry Watson, with Val Constable & Judy Sanis winning Division Two and Kate & Philip Morgan winning Division Three.  [The lower Divisions complete next week].  The Division One winners were 40 VPs clear but sufferered their worst result of the series on this hand from Wednesday.

The bidding shown was difficult to avoid after East opened the bidding; not everyone would open as East but the style of getting in there first, and opening on any decent lead in first position at favourable vulnerability, is all the range these days.  Given partner was known to have something, it was difficult for West for avoid doubling the final contract. And so it came that Joe Angseesing had to declare in 4-doubled.

The opening lead was the Q won by declarer, who was much cheered by the perfect fit which the North and South hands displayed. The play continued with the club ace and a ruff, a diamond to the king and another club ruff, and finally the ♠A and a fourth club ruff - importantly not over-ruffed. By this time declarer had 7 tricks and still held the T9 opposite dummy's AK6.   Joe exited in diamonds and East's 9 was beaten by West's T.  West could exit with the Q but when declarer exited with a losing spade, West could discard the ♣K but he had to ruff the next spade and then lead a heart into dummy's honours - letting the contract make.

Could the defence have done better? Yes - it was all about who won the third round of diamonds.  If East had risen with the Q he would have been on lead at the important moment and been able to cash a spade and avoid partner's end-play.  Alternatively West could have got rid of the T on the second round and ensured that partner got it right.  Both felt guilty.


HotD-thu : Summer Pairs : 10jun19 : B26

Another hand from Monday on which everyone played the same contract (3N) and all but one made the same lead (5) - and the outcome was 10 tricks except for one table which made 9 tricks;  nobody made the 11 tricks I felt I should have made.

The opening lead whether a heart or a diamond is quite neutral to delcarer, and there should be no doubt that a spade to the ten is the better way to play that suit as you can thereby collect four tricks when South has the queen, while leading the king first loses out to South having four to the queen (gaining when South has five small) and leading to the ace and returning the jack only works if North has exactly Qxx and fails with Qx or Qxxx. 

After the spade ten holds, declarer comes back in diamonds, hoping to duck a trick to South but when the ten appears you win and it seems natural to play back a low diamond (importantly the 9) to find out how they break.  This leave North the option of safely playing back partner's suit or a diamond;  if either of those happens declarer can cash all their major suit winners, using the 8 entry if necessary to end up in dummy and ready to lead a club towards the ♣KT - and when you do this you make a club tricks and find 11 tricks have landed in your lap.

It seems this happened at none of the seven tables;  at my table North inconveniently switched to a club on winning the second round of diamonds, and rising with the club king would have risked the contract - so in went the ten and South made a club trick - and now declarer's total could not exceed ten tricks.  :( 

HotD-wed : Summer Pairs : 10jun19 : B7

It is hard to imagine a different contract on this hand and on Monday all tables did play in 3N;  it is hard to imagine a different lead from East and on Monday all but one West led a fourth best club. But across the field people made either 8 or 9 or 10 or 11 tricks.  How did that happen?

The 11-tricks first - this was the consequence of the lead of 7, which gave declarer the tempo to play on both diamonds and spades to set up tricks, before the defence could get clubs going. Given West is looking at 10-hcp, the likelihood of setting up partner's suit and getting there to cash is remote - so a heart lead doesn't look right.  It got its just deserts.

One a club lead declarer might duck the first round but will soon be in, and has a choice of whether to go after diamonds or spades to develop tricks. Two aspects of creating tricks must play in; one is guaranteeing enough tricks to make the contract  (which means making two tricks in spades or making three tricks in diamonds) and the other is making - since this is matchpoints - as many tricks as possible.

The spade suit can guarantee two tricks but losing two tricks might be fatal if the defence get clubs going. The best line there to get two quick tricks is small to the king and queen, but the best overall line in the suit (maximising the chance of three tricks) is to run the ten.

The diamond suit can guarantee two tricks, but making three tricks is only a 37% shot.  The diamonds are therefore more likely than spades to let the defence in twice - and so allow them to set up clubs. 

This settles that the spade suit the best one to tackle, but we are then faced with the question of going for two tricks (up to KQ, a 60% chance of two tricks and a third of that will deliver three tricks) or for three tricks (run the T, a 50% chance of success).  The calculation of what is optimal requires using Game Theory to model what other tables will do.  The two options deliver very different results - running the spade ten will cost the contract as East can win and clear the clubs (in practice it looks like one declarer did this). Leading up to the top spades will (when the spades break 3-3) ten tricks, and a number must have found this to get their 10 tricks. 

Leading diamonds does get you three tricks on this occasion, but when you give up a trick to the  KQ you give the defence a chance to set up clubs, and now you get no spade tricks - and this gives a 9 trick outcome.

Count Your Tricks

West starts with 3 top spades, East following suit. How do you get to 10 tricks?

You have 10 winners in the form of 4 hearts, 4 diamonds and 2 clubs. There is a danger that one defender might hold Jxxx and a doubleton diamond, in which case you will not be able to cash three trumps and enjoy the diamonds for that defender will ruff the third round and you will be cut off from the suit. The solution is to concede an immediate trick to the J whilst there is still a trump in dummy to cater for a further spade lead. You can do this by leading the T from hand but an improvement is to cross to dummy with a diamond and finesse the T. Then if East has Jxxx you avoid a heart loser. 

How do you Play?

West leads the T. Plan the play.

On this hand, you ideally want to set up the clubs before being forced to take the heart finesse. To this end, cover the opening lead with the J and discard a club from hand. You can later discard another club on the A. There are enough entries to dummy to set up the clubs by ruffing and get back to cash them without having to resort to the heart finesse.

Manage Your Entries

West leads the ♣T to his partners Ace and a club is returned. What is your plan to get to 12 tricks?

Counting your tricks you see that you need 4 tricks from spades and hence not only must the finesse be right, but also you may need 3 entries to dummy to pick up a long spade holding with East. You can generate the entries you need in the heart suit. There will be no problem if hearts are 3-2 but you should take care to capitalise on some of the 4-1 breaks. Win the K and then play the J to dummy's Queen assuming West follows. Later you will have 2 further heart entries via a marked finesse. These 3 entries are obviously used to repeatedly finesse in the spade suit, giving you 4 tricks there and 12 in total.

HotD-sat : Avon League : 06jun19 : B2

There were a couple of interesting points in this hand from this week's league match.  The first is the opening bid - the rationale for opening 1♣ being that this will never be passed out and so a chance to show a big hand will come on the next round.   The other table opened a strong 1♣ and after the bidding continued 2♠ - P - P ;  what do you bid now?   The option found, was 3♠ a a Michaels bid, showing 5-5 in hearts and a minor.  As a result both tables played in 4.

The lead was the J for which declarer said "thanks" and proceeded to cover with the queen-king-ace.  It was best now to cash a top club and ruff one, and lead a heart from dummy.  Now came the question - with six spades on th eleft and one on the right, do I finesse in hearts or play them from the top?

The answer - a little counter-intuituively - is that it is better to play for the drop.  Yes, the queen is more likely to be with East, but you need to note that the finesse gains only when East has Qxx (12% chance), but loses out when West holds singleton Q (4%) or Qx (14%).

What's the Best Line?

You play in 6 on the lead of ♠3. What's the best line?

This hand hinges around the play of the trump suit. You have a standard safety play available to guarantee no more than one loser if the suit happens to break 4-1. You can achieve this by playing off the K and later playing a heart towards the Jack. If either hand holds QTxx they can be restricted to one trick in the suit. However, we don't know initially whether we can afford the safety play. We would look very silly losing an unnecessary heart trick if we also have a club loser. The best line is therefore to win the first spade in hand and finesse the club. If it holds we then make the safety play in hearts. If the finesse loses we need to play hearts for no loser and the best way to do that is to sart with a finesse of the Jack as this picks up any 3-2 break with West holding the Queen and also a singleton Q with West. Playing the Ace first to drop a singleton Queen with East does not help as you will still have to lose a heart trick to West's ten.

HotD-thu : Summer Teams : 3jun19 : B31

This was the only good slam on offer on Monday, and you had to be sitting East-West to get a chance at bidding it!  The "normal" start to the bidding might be as shown. 

Notice first how the East hand bids hearts before diamonds;  this is very much the common style these days, making the finding of a 4-4 major fit quicker (and if you were passing a 1N rebid it might be the only way to find it). Notice also that the West hand does not merit a game forcing 2♠ bid on the second round, as you cannot justify game on a misfit.  And finally, notice how East prefers to mark time with Fourth Suit Forcing rather than jump to 3N, as opener could still be a 4045 shape at this point.

Over partner's game forcing 2 however, West must show some signs of life, and the most descriptive way of doing this is 3. How should East continue at this point?  The hearts are clearly not ideal for playing in that suit, and there are two diamond stops, so it looks like 3N is the best choice.  East has already promised 12+ hcp, so there isn't much extra and the diamond honours opposite a shortage does dampen any slam ambitions.

This puts the boat back in West's court; should West continue?  The answer is yes but that wasn't clear to everyone at the table;  the 3 bid was a positive move but you might have bid that on a hand that was a king or ace less, which means you really owe partner another bid, and if you are willing to trust partner's ability to make 4N (as you should have a minimum of 30 hcp) then a raise to 4N looks in sorder. 

Over this East's best move is to jump to 6♣ and that might well be the final contract. We might prefer to end in 6N on these cards, but 6♣ would be an excellent slam even if the diamond king was replaced by a small diamond - and the reason it is such a good slam is that the card missing are all jacks and queens. 

How should the play go?  The key is not to lose two club tricks and the best play is to lead towards the K87 and insert the 7;  because the jack appears today, you win the king and run the ♣8 on the way back to collect 13 tricks.  BTW - you would normally be happy to need four tricks from this club suit - did you know the odds on making 4 tricks is over 94% if you take the suggested line?

HotD-wed : Summer Teams 2 : 3jun19 : B16

The value of getting into the bidding first can be seen on this hand from Monday; with a free run you'd expect North-South to find their spade fit and have room to judge the level, but what is the answer here?  [You might think that the problem would be solved were South to simply overcall in spades and get raised, but when you have to overcall at the two level, you don't want to do it on a suit like this - think what would happen were partner say a 1525 shape. The higher the opening the more shape you need to bid and the more willing you are to double]  The options facing North were a minimum bid in spades (the hand must be too good for that), or to make an invitational bid in spades (3♠ it would be, but if partner lacks four spades it's not where you want to stop) , or to make a game forcing bid showing four spades (a clear overbid). The latter was chosen and so South ended in 4♠ (as did the majority of the other nine tables).

Every table played this hand in spades and every table got a diamond lead. It was surprising so many made 10 tricks. The best defence is for East to win two diamonds and to play a third.  One declarer erred at this point by ruffing with the spade ten (better than ruffing with the queen) - and although West played the ♠K on that, there was still a losing club in the end.  It would have been better to discard a club on the third diamond, which West will ruff. On a neutral return, declarer now has to decide whether to play West (who started with only two diamonds) to have been dealt ♠K9 (small to ace now wins) or ♠K98 (lead the queen to pin the jack). It might look a close call but it's not really - you have to factor in also that West might have started with ♠J98 (where small to ace is wanted).  Since - subject to West's expected high card values - the last two options are so close, small to the ace which also caters for the first option is the winner. 

It was good to see that eight of the ten declarers managed to make their ten tricks on this hand.

Simple Stuff

West leads a low heart to East's Ace and a low heart is returned. Plan the play.

You have 5 losers - 1 spade, 1 heart, 2 diamonds and a club, so how do you reduce these to 4. Once you have knocked out the 2 black aces, the fourth round of clubs will provide a parking place for one of your diamonds. However, it is just wishful thinking to assume that the defence will not switch to diamonds when you take out their first Ace, so that line will probably not work. The simple solution is to capitalise on the defensive mistake that E/W have already made! Discard a diamond on the heart from East at trick 2, and then another diamond on the established J. 

The Bidding Points the Way

East opens a strong NT and West initiates rescue machinery when you double. West leads the 8. How do you play?

The bidding marks East with the significant high cards and you can use this to your advantage. Cover the diamond lead. Suppose East wins and returns a heart. You win and play the ♠J to dummy's Queen. If East ducks and trumps are 2-1, you just cash the hearts and exit with a trump to endplay East so say East wins and plays another heart. Now you can play the ♠8 to the 9 on table and ruff a diamond. Now play your other top heart and enter dummy with a trump to lead the Q. When East covers, you can discard a club and East is endplayed - forced to give you a ruff and discard or play a club round to the Queen on table.

How do you Defend?

You start with 2 top hearts, partner following to show an odd number. How do you continue?

On the play so far partner is marked with Txx and it looks tempting to switch to a diamond at this point. However, this play is unnecessary and not without risk. If there is a diamond trick coming that it won't run away and you are in danger of being squeezed in hearts and clubs when declarer runs his trumps. You can avoid the squeeze by continuing with the Q at trick 3. Declarer will ruff and play a trump but you can win the Ace and lead another heart for partner to ruff and declarer to overruff. Now when trumps are played, you just have to keep clubs and let partner keep diamonds. In due course you will make a trick in one of the minors.

Find the Lady

West leads out ♣KQJ, east following. When you play hearts, West wins the second round, cashes a club on which East throws a heart, and exits with a heart, East following. You win in hand and finesse the ♠Q, which holds. When you play the ♠A, both opponents follow small. Who holds the Q?

West is known to hold a 3334 or 4324 shape - i.e. balanced. He has so far shown up with ♠K, A, ♣KQJ so 13 points. The key to the hand is knowing West's range for opening 1NT. If West is playing a weak NT then the fact that he opened 1♣ with a balanced hand would indicate that he must be out of range for a weak NT and must hence hold Q, bringing his points tally to 15. If instead he is playing a strong NT, then he can't hold the Q as that would put him in his normal 1NT opening range and he would not have bid 1♣. You finesse accordingly.

HotD-fri : Welsh Cup : 28may19 : B32

The county has had a presence in the Welsh Cup for many years now, but the format changed recently and that fact that Paul Denning & Patrick Shields lost an early match was no longer a killer - the competition has become a double elimination, and this was the last board from the repercharge, from which they qualified for the finals in August.  The bidding here was little surprise, but the play thew up something we had never seen before.

Expecting North to be strong in clubs, East chose to attack dummy's suit and the first trick was the ♠T which ran round to the jack.  Declarer crossed to the ♣A and ran the T which held, and followed with a diamond to the queen.  This cut off the diamond suit, so North went back to spades, leading to the ♠Q and, disappointingly, the ♠K.  West continued with a spade to the ace, and for want of anything better they were given the fourth round of spades.  Again conscious of North's club strength, West kept away from that suit and attacked hearts, leading the 8 to the J and K.  Declarer has eight tricks at this point - two spades, one heart, three diamonds and two clubs - so the contract is getting very close. 

The ending we have reached has North holding  AJ♣KJ8  with the lead in dummy; both defenders are in danger of being endplayed as West holds  QT♣Q95  while East holds  A75K9.  Declarer has to play a heart from dummy to the ten and discard a club. Things are looking good for an endplay, but consider what happens when West continues with the next heart. North needs to discard down to a singleton in one minor; the winning defence is now for East to duck if North comes down to a singleton club, but to overtake if North comes down to a singleton diamond. That way a defender can always put declarer on lead to gain their partner a trick.  The hand actually finished with an entry-shifting squeeze by the defence on declarer - something none of us have ever seen before!

[The defence would have had an easier time if West had led a top heart the first time he led hearts - unblocking the suit, but then we'd still be waiting for an entry shifting squeeze by the defence]

HotD-thu : BH Pairs : 27may19 : B15

It was curious on this hand from Monday to see the majority choose to play in an 8-card fit in hearts rather than a 10-card fit in spades, and to see the majority play in a part-score when a small slam looks to be excellent odds.  How did it happen?

It came down to a combinaiton of decisions from South first and then North. The first decision by South was whether or not to open a weak-two bid on a near-ideal heart suit but with Axx on the side as support for spades.  At this vulnerability the opening is primarily constructive, so the strength seems not inappropriate, and the danger of playing in the wrong suit is real but acceptable. 

The next choice was then for North to make - to pass 2 or to offer spades.  The danger of bidding is that you end up too high on a misfit, but at the same time you are expecting the opposition to have half the HCP in the pack and you have a singleton club - making it unlikely that 2 will finish the auction. There is therefore a good case for bidding 2♠ - and on average you will have mnore spades between the two hands than you have hearts.  Over 2♠ South has an ideal hand for a 4 splinter and that is all North needs to hear to bid the slam.  But nobody did!

Notice how difficult it is to have that auction if South were to open a multi-2 on the hand, showing an unspecified major.  It is much more difficult after that start to find a spade fit - but not impossible (you need to be playing that 2♠ then 3♠ is non-forcing with spades).  This might well put you off a multi-2 opening when you are playable in both majors. 

HotD-wed : GCBA Squad : 23may19 : B8

This hand from last week's game proved difficult for many. Notice first how advantageous it is for South to be declarer on this hand - any lead but a club gives declarer a definite advantage, and even a club lead does set up some winners.   This bonus from transfers applies particularly when the hands are of unequal strength, so particularly over a 2N opener.  If you choose to break the transfer with the South hand, you should be sure to play re-transfers (4 here) so that North can put the declarership back with South.

Here the lead was a not-terribly helpful club (♣5), and RHO won the ace and played back a diamond.  What should you try now?

You have lost one trick and there is the possibility of losers in diamonds and hearts, and you can afford two but not three. 

The first thing to register is that the odds on the KJ lying well for you are not good - as with nothing in diamonds West might equally well have led a diamond as a club at trick one. So you will want to dicard some diamonds on clubs. Some declarers tried the Q but this lost to the king. A second club went to the king, and declarer led the A and another but East had two heart tricks and that was one down.

Although there might be some implications from the card led, a priori the odds on the clubs being 4-3 is seriously greater than 50% - which means there is an excellent chance of being able to make two discards on the ♣JT.  Declarer's better line is therefore to rise with the diamond ace, cash A, unblock the club, and take a spade ruff to get to dummy. Provided the third club stands up and takes care of one diamond, the fourth club can take care of the second and we don't mind who ruffs.  There will only be two trumps to lose on this line and the contract makes.

Avoid Trouble

West leads the ♣K. How do you play?

The obvious danger on this hand is that East will gain the lead in hearts and push a diamond through, spelling defeat when the A is over you King. If hearts are 3-2, you can make this contract by ducking the club in dummy at trick one and discarding a heart. A second heart goes on the ♣A and you use the trump entries to set up and enjoy the heart suit.

Play Carefully

West starts with ♣KQ and continues a third round which you ruff. What now?

You are in danger only if trumps break badly. You might cross to dummy with a spade and finesse trumps, but West might duck holding four and on the second round, if you duck, West can win and switch to a singleton diamond, meaning you can't draw all the trumps without suffereing a ruff. Alternatively, if you rise with the A on the second round, West can force dummy with a club when you play the next round of trumps. The correct play is simply to duck a heart at trick 4. If West wins the second heart, you still have the ♠A in dummy as an entry if he tries the diamond switch.

Your Lead

What do lead on this hand?

Leading partner's suit could not be criticised (except perhaps for lack of imagination). However, since you have a nasty surprise for declarer in the trump suit, and since on the bidding, the ♣A is most likely in dummy. a good case can be made for attcaking an option with lead of ♣7. If the declarer can afford a club loser on a normal trump break, he may well refuse the finesse and regret it later. If the full hand is as shown, declarer will refuse the finesse for fear of losing a couple of ruffs. He will probably put up the ♣A and play trumps. 

This Hand's a Snip

After making a pre-emptive raise to 3 , West's lead of Q is overtaken by the King and the 3 is returned. How do you plan the play?

The diamond switch looks very much like a singleton and if East holds ♠Kxx, there is a danger that the defence will score 2 trump tricks and 2 hearts. You can possibly thwart this attack by cutting the communications between the defenders hands. Win the diamond switch on the table and take a club finesse. Now cash the ♣A and cross to table with the ♠A and lead the ♣Q, discarding your remaining heart when East covers. West is unable to gain the lead in hearts to give his partner a ruff and you can knock out the ♠K losing a spade, a heart and a club.

HotD-fri : Summer Teams 1 : 20may19 : B3

This little hand from Monday was played in 1N by the majority of tables, but the tables which obtained the best scores were those who played in 2 (as North-South) or 2♠ (as East-West), both of which contracts made exactly.  These contracts are only reachable if North (playing a strong NT) opens with a minor suit. 

But the real interest arises playing in 1N;  after the lead of the ♠2 to the ace and the return of the ♠3, you should expect that the spades are breaking 4-4, and that means you have six top losers.  You need to find the heart jack to deliver yourself three tricks there and a total of 7 tricks. There is no certainy in whatever line you choose, but what is your best play in the heart suit?


The answer depends on who has most hearts.  If you know who has most then your best play is to lead through the short hand first, winning with the king or queen, and then finessing on the way back (whether or not the ace has appeared).  But who has the short hearts?  There is no certainty, but if you are willing to make one simple assumption then there is an answer.  The assumption is that the hand (East) which led a fourth best spade did not have a five card suit.  If you are willing to go with that, then you know that West has at least two diamonds and at least three clubs (to go with the four spades).  For East you only "know" there will be at least one heart, one diamond and one club.  

When we now look at the hearts, West has 4 vacant spades while East has 6 vacant spaces. We therefore expect West to have the short hearts.  So the right play is to cross to the top club in dummy and lead up to the heart king, later finessing East for the jack. Curiosuly enough this is also the winning line here today. But all four declarers who got a spade lead got that wrong and went off. [The diamond lead at the fifth table did not worry declarer].

HotD-thu : Summer Teams 1 : 20may19 : B12

The strong NT opening here makes for a simple auction, and LHO leads the 6 which goes to the queen and king, after which West shifts to the 6.  It is good news that the hearts are blocked (LHO having A9763 is what it looks like).  With three tricks in spades and none in hearts you need six in the minors.  What's your best bet?

There are two choices - you can go for five tricks in diamonds and one in clubs, or go for four/five tricks in clubs and two/three in diamonds.  The big isssue you had was entries to dummy - to get the diamonds going you would (normally) have to cross to dummy once to run the jack, and then after unblocking the ace-king, go back to cash the long diamonds.  But you lack the entries to do this - until they lead a diamond for you ....

You are therefore very tempted to let this lead run, and that is what a number of declarers did do.  But East won the queen and cashed the remaining hearts for 3NT down two.  

Should declarer have ducked? This is a play which would gain if West had started with exactly Qxx diamonds - it is neutral with Qx and not enough if Qxxx and loses when West has the queen. The alternative play is to win the diamond ace and play a club to the jack.   This makes the contract every time West holds the king of clubs - either doubleton, tripleton, of four-carded.  In itself this surely at least as good odds; cashing the top diamonds might be combined with the clubs - but when West wins the club and plays back a spade (assuming the defenders still held the Q) there will be entry problems in cashing the clubs and spades (which disappear when the ♣98 drop).  Still it makes on doubleton Qx, or ♣K with West and clubs 3-3 (or the 98 drops). Which means the simple line in clubs comes out best.

From another perspective, West's choice after winning the first two hearts will be geared to find East's entry - and the fact that the choice was a diamond (with that length in dummy) rather than a club, must strongly suggest the diamond is offside - and even hint that the club is onside (ie with West). But of course, next time, West might try a double bluff on you here! 

HotD-wed : Summer Teams 1 : 20may19 : B1

This was thw wildest hand of the night on Monday, with a big swing result in every match.   This was the auction from table one and there are a few points worth discussing.

The first is the opening bid, which was in second seat at both non-vul, and as such is where you would expect the bias in the bid to be constructive slightly more than obstructive - but the fact that three declarers ended in diamonds means is was not an uncommon choice. The suit quality and the playability in two other suits, and the fact that partner cannot bounce the bidding before their "strong" hand gets to bid - these all argue that a pass is more sensible.

The next quesiton is what West should do; the hand is very suitable for playing in diamonds and that makes the leap to ace asking attractive, so although it is not everyone's cup of tea (some prefer to show the heart suit first), it is reasonable here.  After West finds there is a key card missing and settles for a small slam - it is over to North and here, as whenever the opportunity arises, one should not hesitate from producing a Lightner double (a double of a slam, asking for an unusual lead).   The main catch is that this gives West a chance to reconsider. This West might have deduced that the double was a heart void wanting a ruff, and the possibility of removing to 6 (any heart honours are onside) should have been considered - but West let it go.

The result was not a foregone conclusion - it all depends on what lead South selects.  Reading partner for a void would lead some to fish out a spade at trick one (which lets declarer wrap up 13 tricks) but Allan Sanis made a Good Move by starting with the ♣A.  He could see dummy now and - importantly - he got a signal from partner with a low club, and that was enough to signal the heart ruff.  That put the contract one down.

Two pairs bid the heart slam - well done to them, and three pairs stopped in a heart game.   The auction at table seven was P - P - P - 1,  1♠ - 4 - 4♠ - 5♣,  P - 5 - P - 5 - end.    This auction had started well but faltered.

The auction at table nine was this : P - 2 - P - 4 , X-end.   North had intended the double to show the other two suits and if South had been on the same wavelength then they might have been the only pair playing in spades, sacrificing over whatever the East-West pair bid.  When the doubvle was passed out and a top spade was led, that was three overtricks and an unusual -890 score.


Who Has What?

West leads the A, East contributing the Knave. At trick 2 West plays a low heart to East's 9 and now a diamond comes through. Which card do you play and why?

A wrong guess spells defeat. What clues do you have? The play to the first 2 tricks shows up the heart position. If East held the Q he would have played it in preference to the knave at trick 1 and also West would not have underled his King. If East held the K he would have won trick 2 with the King as to play the 9 risks letting you have a cheap trick with the Queen. Hence West holds  AKQx (x) and East  JT9 (x). Since you will be defeated if the club finesse fails, you must place the ♣K with West. Hence you should play East for A to justify his bid. 

Can you Handle this Freak?

You play in 6♠ on a heart lead. How do you play to get a 100% chance of success?

The sure line is to discard a club from North and ruff high in hand. Now play a diamond. If the defence return a trump, the 8 in dummy is the required extra entry to set up the diamonds if they are 5-0. On any other return you make on a high cross-ruff.

[As Patrick Phair pointed out : the scenerio is a little unrealistic as the opposition can always make 7; more realistic is how to escape for the minimum damage in your 7♠x when they mistakenly lead a heart at trick one]

What's the Best Line?

West leads the Q against your slam. How do you play? When you play a trump, West produces the Knave.

If you start by playing a spade to the Ace, then when the ♠J appears, you don't know whether to finesse or play for the ♠Q to drop. You can clear up the spade suit by playing the ♠K first, then a spade to the Ace. Now if trumps are 4-1, you cash the heart for a diamond discard before playing a spade towards your ten. Later you will need the clubs to break 3-3 so not a great slam but we have all been in worse and you need to make these contracts by avoiding guesses whenever you can. 

How do you Play?

West leads 2 top diamonds against your heart game. How do you plan the play?

You are in danger of losing a diamond a heart and 2 spades. Of course there may be a favourable position in either major that allows you to avoid all of these losers, but the best odds must be to take 2 spade finesses since on the bidding West surely has at least one spade honour. You need 2 entries to hand for those spade finesses and you can generate those entries in trumps. Ruff the second diamond lead with the A and lead a low heart to your 7. If it wins take a spade finesse and later use your second trump entry for a further finesse. If the Q is taken, you have 2 slow heart entries.

HotD-fri : Summer Pairs 1 : 13may19 : B18

It took only a slightly optimistic view by the North-South pair to over-stretch on this hand from Monday. Facing a heart lead, what is the best way forward?

If we look at the individual suits - we have in spades a finesse and one possible loser, in hearts the same, in diamonds a finesse and two possible losers, and in clubs we have to find one of the king and jack, and that looks like a double finesse is best. It is possible that the fourth club might obviate the need for the spade finesse - which might help sometimes.  If everything lay perfectly for you that might be 11 tricks, but with a weak NT on the right there will be only about 5 HCP on the left and at least one of the finesses will be wrong.

When West leads a heart, it is important that you recognise that the heart finesse is wrong for you, and so you rise with the ace and play a second heart.  When East wins with the doubleton king, the return you get must help you.  In practice East led back the ♣5 which you let run (he might have had ♠KKA♣K and no choice) but West wins the king and switches to spades. 

Once again you should expect that to be a sign that the spade finesse is offside, and rise with the ace.  When the ♣Q is cashed and the ♣T is led, you see East plays the ♣4 and ♣6.  You haven't seen the jack at this point, so you have to ask yourself whether the lead of the five is more likely from ♣J654 or ♣654.  Clearly the latter - so the defender in situations like this should be careful to play cards from the bottom.  When your ace drops the jack, you can discard the ♠Q and lead up to the diamond king in the hope of making the contract.  You know by now that it is going to be wrong, but escaping for one down earns you a score a tiny bit above average.

Notice the importance of end-playing East - if you hadn't done that then you would have been taking a double club finesse, and would have lost to both the king and jack of clubs.

HotD-thu : Summer Pairs 1 : 13may19 : B19

There were plenty of interesting hands on Monday but curiously there were also a surprising number of flat boards.  On B8, everybody scored the same 480 playing in spades as West on the same K lead and making the same 12 tricks. (It is a cold slam we should all have bid).  On B13 every North played in spades and it is a mystery why two of them did not achieve the ordained 11 tricks.  On B16 every West played in 3N making the same 11 tricks on the same ♠4 lead.  On B22 every South played in 4♠ making the obvious 10 tricks (and all but one had the same lead). 

Today's hand wasn't like those hand;  three tables played EW in spades and should all have gone down although one made;  four tables played in hearts and should all have made 9 tricks but two tables only made 8 tricks.  

After the auction shown the defence naturally kicked off with two spades, the second one ruffed by declarer. Across went declarer to the ♣A and then came a losing heart finesse. West carefully continued hearts which declarer won. He did a good thing next - cashing his top clubs before trying a diamond to the jack and king. If West had played a third spade earlier then East would be down to just diamonds and the thirteenth club here and would have to play diamonds to declarer's advantage, but here he also had a spade to play and declarer ruffed this with his second small trump.  At this point he had to lead diamonds from hand and lost two more tricks in the suit. 

That was all a little careless; the key point was when the third spade came - declarer should have ruffed high and then could cross to the 8 in dummy to lead diamonds towards hand. The diamond suit looks a priori very fragile - btu we need ot remember that it is worth a sure trick if the other side lead the suit, and if you have to lead it yourself it still makes a trick 50% of the time (when both honours are in the same hand - as long as you get to lead up to both). 

Sometimes it takes a lot to go off in a contract, but people are surprisingly good at finding ways!

Simple Technique

West leads the 5 and East contibutes the Ten when you play low from dummy. What is your plan for getting to 9 tricks?

You have 2 hearts, 3 spades, and 2 diamond tricks and clubs will provide 2 more. Suppose you win the heart and lead a top club. East will win this trick and fire back a heart. Now when you knock out the remaining high club, West wins and cashes his hearts. Alternatively, you might get lucky in spades and diamonds with each of these suits providing an extra trick so you could have played for this instead. However, that is very poor odds. The best play is to simply duck the heart at trick 1 and win the heart return. Now when you knock out the club honours you will only fail if both top clubs are with the long hearts. If your hearts had been Kxx, ducking the first trick would have been an automatic play - somehow with QJx it looks more tempting to win the first trick but really this is the same position.

What's Your Line?

West leads the T. What's your line?

You should win the lead and play the ♠J from hand. If this holds, you can then play ♠A and a spade ruff, and then discard a club on the A. If a defender takes the ♠J and continues with a trump, you can later cross to dummy with the ♠Q for a discard on the A. This line is better than playing a spade to the queen at trick 2 as if this loses and a trump comes back, you have very little hope.

Plan the Play

West leads the K. You win and play the King and Ace of Spades, but West shows out on the second round. How do you plan the play?

A diamond ruff will bring your tally of tricks to 11 and you hope to make an extra trick with the Q by forcing the opponents to open up the suit for you. Ruff a diamond and play clubs by cashing the King and overtaking the Queen. If West turns up with only 1 club, then his probable shape is 1561 since East bid 3 rather than 3♦. Hence you play another top trump and cash all the clubs reducing everyone to 4 cards. If East ruffs the last club, he is endplayed, whilst if he throws a heart, a trump lead puts him on play to lead a heart to dummy. If West follows to 2 clubs, he shape will be 1552 so you can safely ruff another diamond. The A takes care of your last diamond and you just play winners - losing only one trump trick.

A Subtle Defence

You lead the ♠2. Partner wins the King and returns the 9. How should you defend?

I am sure you see the dilemma. If East has a singleton heart, you must win the Ace and return a heart for partner to ruff. If partner holds a doubleton heart, you need to win the Ace and hope to be able to take a second spade trick. How can you tell? A thoughtful partner has given you the answer. If East held 6 spades, he would know that there was no second spade trick to take and would have won the first trick with the Ace of spades rather than the King. This would have forced you to return a heart since you would think there could not be an extra trick in spades. When partner plays the King rather than the Ace, he is in effect announcing a 5 card suit only and that there may be a second cashing spade. This deal also raises another point of interest. Many expert pairs abandon the usual 2nd and 4th leading style when leading partner's suit, preferring 3rd and 5th instead. This style helps on this hand because East can tell there are 2 cashing spade tricks from your lead of ♠2. He can therefore simply take his spades before switching to a heart so that you cannot go wrong.

HotD-fri : Spring Fours : PB FInal : 6may19 : B2

The local team of John Atthey, Richard Chamberlain, Paul Denning, Richard Plackett, Patrick Shields and Garry Watson played in the Spring Fours at Stratford last weekend.  Their first defeat was against the Mossop team who won the competition overall;  their second defeat was to the Brock team, some of whom went on to win the Swiss Teams; their third defeat was to a Scottish team who had to run off at that point and that allowed this team to continue in the Punch Bowl (the secondary event), only to be defeated in the final of that by the winners.  The final was a very close scoring match with six 1-imp swings, two instances of 3N making or not depending on the lead (10 imps went each way on those), and this hand.

The bidding shown was when the other team sat North-South; most North's preferred to double 1♠ and when this happend in the main event it proceeded 1♠ - X - 3♠ - P - 4♠ - end and that drifted one down.   The other table in our Punch Bowl final also reached 3N, but after a takeout double by North.  Both tables in 3N had a spade lead, won by declarer.  This was the hand which swung the event - our man made too few tricks and they made more than they might.  How should you proceed?

The first step is going to be to cash some diamonds; starting with the ace keeps all option open but which honour will you play next?  The concern is someone having Jxxx and it could be either.  The only hint you have is that West is likely to have 5+ spades and East has only promised 3; so it seems best to cash the queen, and when you do, West shows out and you can cash four rounds of the suit.  On these West keeps all his spades and discards two hearts and a club. You are now up to seven tricks, with the possibility of another in hearts or in clubs.

It is important at this point to recognise that you are going off in this contract (they have four spades to cash when they get the lead) and your job is now to minimise the damage.  The best chance of an eighth trick is to play A and lead towards the queen and this was the line of play chosen by the players in the main competition.  Here however, declarer tried the ♣A first, and exited with a second club, hoping for an endplay.  East won and played spades but West cashed from the top and then had to lead away from the heart king, so the game was just one down.  If West had put East in on the fourth spade, it would have allowed East to cash the ♣Q before playing a heart through and the game would have been two off.

At the other table, our man got the diamonds wrong and basically cashed out his six top tricks to go down three.  The 5 imps lost on this board was the final margin in the match. 

HotD-thu : Spring Fours semifinal : 7may19 : B11

The football results of the past two nights made the point to us all that you never know how it is going to turn out - and the same feature of bridge is illustrated by this hand from the semi-final of the Spring Fours on Tuesday of this week.  The two teams concerned were the two English teams who reached the semi-finals, led by David Mossop and by Sandra Penfold. 

It was Brian Senior (for the Penfold team) who prepetrated the opening bid on the South hand here - purporting to show a weak two bid in hearts.  What a time to choose to do it with a 2-count, finding the next hand with a massive 21-point hand.  Over this opening what can you do?    Most of us would settle for a double but Tom Paske had a tool in his toolbox, and bid 4♣ to show game going values with at least 5-5 in clubs and spades.   His partner had values but they all seemed wasted, so he signed of as quickly as he could in a game that might make.  But his 4♠ bid could be made on many different hands, so West continued with a cue bid of 5.  East declined again and 5♠ was the final contract.  This made easily but when giving up one club tricks gets you 6N that looks like a disaster.  Or, from South's point of view, it looks like a success.

But that all depends on the other room ....  and here's what happened there when North-South were totally silent.  West opened 1♠ and East bid 2 (natual and game forcing).  They proceeded 3♣ - 3 - 4♣ - 4  and at this point (like on yesterday's hand) the bidder chose 5N to ask partner to pick a slam.  East duly picked 6 and that's where the auction ended.  The contract had to go down, and now the 5♠ contract turned into a success, gaining 11 imps.

The other semi-final match found it no easier - one table played in 6♣ making, while the other was in 7♠ going down three.

HotD-wed : Spring Fours : 03may19 : B1.28

The Spring Fours is the top English congress weekend, and this year had 60 teams taking part, including a number of foreign visitors.  The top seeded team were English, but the next seed mixed Germany & USA, the losing finalists were German (with one Englishman), and so it went on.  The winners of an exciting final in which the lead changed hands multiple times in the final set, were the Mossop team.  There was one Gloucestershire team playing in the Spring Fours, and they played against Mossop in the first round.  The Mossop team did bid the wrong slam on th efirst board (losing 17 imps) but then they got their heads down and won easily; this hand - bid by Jason & Justin Hackett - illustrates their bidding skills.

The 1N opening showed 14-16 HCP (that changes to 15-17 for third and fourth in hand) and the 3 bid was a new gadget - showing four spades and longer hearts (and game forcing values).  West started by showing a spade fit, and there then followed a diamond bid showing shortage, a heart cue, a club cue, and the diamond ace.  At this point came the important choice - with the diamond ace known to be in West, the West hand could nd longer contain ♠AK and AQ so a grand slam was too dicey; settling for a small slam, East bid 5N to ask partner to pick which slam.  Clearly the options were hearts and spades and with three (good) hearts it was easy for West to choose hearts.  This slam could have been beaten if North had led a spade at trick one, but when that didn't happen, declarer was able to draw trumps, throw a losing spade on the diamond ace, ruff a club, and give up a trick to the spade king.  Those who found and played in their 4-4 spade fit did not find it as easy - no matter what they tried there were two unavoidable spade losers. 

Sort out the Blockage

If the defence had cashed their 3 minor suit winners, there would be no story, but West gives you a chance by starting with ♣AK. You ruff trick 2. How do you play?

You have to assume no trump loser and the fifth spade in dummy will allow you a diamond discard. There is a problem however in that if the ♠A is played early, the fourth round of spades must be won in hand, and you will not be able to get to dummy's long spade. You could hope that the spades break 2-2, but is this any good? West has presumably shown 10 cards in the minors and if he holds 2 spades, then you probably have a trump loser. The best line is to play a trump to the Ace and a spade back to your King, hoping that West plays the ten or the Jack. If one of these cards appear, you can play a second heart to dummy and finesse the ♠9 next. Now the fourth round of spades can be won in dummy and a losing diamond discarded. 

Play this Slam

You play in 6♠ and West leads a club. You win and play a spade towards the ♠A9 in dummy, intending to insert the 9 if West plays the 8. This safety play will ensure the contract. West however, goes in with the ten and you win the Ace as East shows out. What now? 

In order to make this contract, you need to plan a trump reduction and find West with a 4333 pattern. Ruff the ♣Q, cash 3 diamonds and take the heart finesse. Ruff the ♣K, play a heart to the Ace and ruff a heart. In the 3 card ending you hold ♠K7 7, West has ♠ QJ8 and North ♠ 92 8. When you lead your diamond, West is left without an answer.

A Tricky Game

West leads the ♠Q, East playing the 2 (showing an odd number). How do you plan to get to 9 tricks?

You have 7 winners and perhaps the Q will be an eighth but where will an extra trick come from? Even if a minor suit breaks, the defence will surely be able to take 3 spades, a minor suit winner, and the K even if it is well placed. If the K is wrong, where is your second heart trick. The solution is to play East for Kx. Win the ♠A and run the 9 from the table. If this loses to West's ten or Jack, you later lay down the A, dropping East's King, and finesse the 8 to win 3 heart tricks. If East plays an intermediate heart when you lead the 9, duck the trick and then continue as before. If East plays the K on your 9, you are on a guess in the suit. You win and play another heart, If West plays an honour you duck and all is well but if West plays low, you have to decide whether East started with a singleton King, in which case you must finesse the 8 or to play East for KJ/T doubleton, in which case ducking completely is called for. I would be tempted by the former line as defenders generally find it difficult to insert the King from say KJ when they are sitting over the Queen.

How do you Defend?

West leads the 3 and declarer plays dummy's King. How do you defend?

You know from the lead that declarer must hold 3 diamonds (West can't have more than 5). Also partner must surely hold the J else declarer would have not played the King at trick 1. Therefore it is clear to play 3 rounds of diamonds, forcing dummy to ruff the third round. Now you you will 2 trump tricks and beat the contract.

HotD-fri : League 10 : 29apr19 : B28

The two teams leading Division One met in the final league match on Monday, and their respective scores meant that one of the two teams would end up league winner at the end.  After 27 boards the match score was tied at 52-52 and then came this board, which decided the match. 

The bidding at table one (where East-West were playing five card majors) started as shown;  what should North do now?  You clearly expect to defeat 1♣ but if you pass you do not expect the opposition to stop there, and when they run partner will start doubling for penalties in the expectation of rather more help from your hand.  For this reason Paul Denning chose 1;  from East's perspective, the vulnerable opponents were playing in his best suit, so he passed (where 1N would have been a winning bid) and that became the final contract.  After a club opening lead, East found the heart switch necessary to hold declarer to seven tricks;  two top trumps, three outside tricks and one club ruff and one diamond ruff then delivered the contract, and a score of +80 to team one.

In the other room, East had started the bidding (here playing weak NT and four card majors) with 1 so that was never going to be North's contract.  The bidding proceeded 2-P-P  and with so many HCP, East would not let it go;  his takeout double led his partner to bid 2 and there the bidding ended. The fate of the match now depended on the defence to this contract.  When North-South failed to get the two ruffs found in the other room, the contract was one down to give 50 to team two.  That lost one imp and the final margin was that single imp.   If the contract had gone down two for +100, then the score would have been 1 imp in the other direction!

The board decided the match but not the league as the other team went into the match 9 VPs ahead, and they won the league!

HotD-thu : League 10 : 29apr19 : B3

The results on this hand from Monday were surprisingly consistent, but a number of interesting options appear in both the bidding and one in the play.

The first question is how to treat the opening hand;  it is 21 HCP but it has a decent five card suit, and it has no jacks.  This latter point is very important when slamming with these hands, and the combination of those two features should make you want to treat the hand as a 22-count (or even a 23-count).  Whether or not this leads to a change in your opening bid depends on the strength you assign to a 2N opener. 

The second choice is by North on how to continue.  Although there may be system constraints, for many there will be a choice of ask (with 3♣) or show (tranferring to 3 and then bidding spades).  In general the latter option is to be preferred as it leads to a more informed conversation but if you are playing a convention called Smolen (where 3♣-3-3M  shows four of that and five of the other major) then the ask route maximises the chance of the strong hand being declarer.  If you start with 3♣ this time you are pleased to hear partner bid 3♠, but what now?  You want to go slamming but your hand is unsuitable for taking charge; the answer is that while a 4♣ or a 4 bid would be natural, a bid of 4 does not make sense after opener has denied hearts, and so this bid is assigned to be a general slam try in spades.  This ought to get the South hand excited enough to take charge with 4N asking for key cards (although when opener had already shown 22-24 hcp, it might well sign off).  If South asks for key cards it will quickly come to light that the trump queen is missing and so the contract has to be just 6♠. 

When rather than bid 3♣, North decides to start with a transfer there are options for South to consider over 3.  Most of the County team here play that a break to 3♠ tells partner that opener lacks a heart fit (and so has at most two hearts) but has a five card spade suit.  This is very descriptive and can be key to reaching a five-three spade fit when responder has a 35-- shape.  The follow up question not always answered is how, after a 3♠ break, responder can show support and slam interest.  Since clubs and diamonds bids need to be natural (responsder could have 55 shape or more)  and hearts and spades are to play, this hand would need to bid 5♠ as a slam try; this is mildly descriptive in that it passes over the option to jump to 5♣ or 5 as a splinter agreeing spades (or could it be a splinter for hearts?) and so will be a 3532/3523/4522 shape.

Yet another issue arises if South make a simple transfer acceptance of 3 and then North continues with 3♠.  Clearly South wants to show excitement now about the spade fit, so a cue bid of 4♣ looks natural, but in this position opener might want to suggest slam in hearts or suggest a slam in spades and needs to be able to distinguish the two.  There is only one recongised option for that, and it is to use 4♣, irrespective of the actual club holding, to indicate slam interest in hearts and 4 to indicate slam interest in spades.  After South shows slam inteest, North will not stop.

Across the field, there was one table played in game, and one in the grand slam, but all the rest were in 6♠.  Why one table ended in 7♠ has not yet been revealed.

The play in 6♠ is of course trivial, but in the grand slam you have the dilemma of how to play the trump suit. The a priori odds are that the suit will break 2-2 and you cash spades from the top, but there is something else to consider when in a grand slam.  And the fact to consider is that a trump lead is often recommended as a safe option against a grand slam.  If the hand on lead has the trump queen you will not get a trump lead, but if it hasn't got the queen then you might.  This is enough often to swing you in favour of playing the opening leader for the trump queen when it is missing.  (Here the position is a bid more clouded as opening leader would probably shy away from leading a singleton trump also - the argument comes mostly from 8-card trump fits).  Here the grand was played by North on the one occasion it happened; North duly cashed the spade king first and had an easy answer on the second round. 

And we thought that responding to 2N with both majors was one of the easier bidding positions to be in!

HotD-wed : League 10 : 29apr19 : B1

This hand from Monday offered a variety of lines to choose in the common 4♠ contract, and it was a surprise to see that everyone in spades emerged with exactly 10 tricks.  The different lines depended on the opening lead and defence.

The eaiest lead for declarer was the Q, found at three tables.  With so few values, East was thinking that high cards were not enough to beat the contract, and was looking to a ruff as a fourth defensive trick.  In practice this gave declarer a trivial second heart trick and the contract was now unbeatable.

The most common lead was a diamond, which allowed West to cash the ace and king.  At this point the contract's future lay in West's hand. Unfortunately it looks very appealing to tackle hearts, but look what happens - this sets up the second heart trick for declarer.  The stronger defence at this point is to play the ♣Q.  After that declarer has the problem of how to play hearts.  The best odds line is not clear, but a little research shows that the best odds is achieved by leading the ten.  Once that is covered and the ace wins, you cross back over and lead the 8 and to finesse West for the nine. You will lose out when West has KQ and East the 9, but gain in the two cases of West with Q9/K9 with East holding the K/Q.  Across 10 tables, it would be a surprise not to see some declarer lead low to the jack and then lose a second trick to the K9.

There were two leads of a black suit, and these both put declarer in the same position.  The winning line now is to draw trumps and eliminate the clubs with one ruff, and then to exit in diamonds,.  The defence can cash two tricks but they do better to cash one and then play hearts, so that East can win and lead another diamond.  But again the defence have opened up hearts and given declarer a second heart trick.

Finesses Galore

West leads the ♣2 against your game. How do you plan the play?

At first glance it looks like this contract depends on finding the A or K onside. However, you can improve your chances. From the lead it is likely that West holds the ♣Q so win the lead and cash the other top club. Now a trump to dummy allows you to lead the ♣J from the table and discard a diamond from hand. West will win and probably lead a fourth club for East to ruff. You overruff and draw the last trump before taking a ruffing finesse in diamonds. You only lose the lead to the safe hand and will be able to discard a heart on a diamond, losing at most 1 club, 1 diamond and 1 heart.

How do you Defend?

South's 1NT opening showed 15-17. You lead 3 top diamonds and they stand up. Where do you look for a fourth trick?

Assuming declarer has 15 HCP, partner has three. If partner's points are in clubs, it's not going to help as declarer can discard a club from dummy on the A (if partner has something like QJx). If declarer has something like: AKxx Ax xxx A10xx, there is still no club trick coming because partner has the QJ doubleton and declarer has the 10. If the setting trick can't come from clubs or hearts (partner can't have the ace) it must come from spades. If partner has Kxxx, there is no problem because he always has a spade trick, declarer having Axx. But if declarer has Axxx, partner with K9x can only garner a spade trick if you play a fourth diamond, your correct play. What  can declarer do? If he doesn't ruff in dummy, partner ruffs with the nine driving out the ace, and dummy ruffs with an honor, partner discards and now the K9x is a natural trump trick.

Never Mind the Break

West leads the Q. You win and play a trump but West shows out. Play from here.

Although the bad trump break is unwelcome, it should not worry you unduly. Cash the A before continuing to draw trumps. Discard the K from dummy on one of the trumps. Then exit with the J. An opponent can win this but you can cater with any return.

Give Yourself the Best Chance

West leads the K and follows with a low heart to East's Ace. East now switches to a trump. What is your best chance?

On hands like this, taking 2 finesses seems superficially attractive, but there is a better chance. Draw trumps and play 3 rounds of clubs. You will only be defeated if West has the guarded ♣Q and East holds QT and in this case no winning line exists.

HotD-fri : GCBA Squad Practice : 25apr19 : B15

This hand from last night was only a small part-score but it proved tricky and two declarers went off. The opening lead is the ♣T and when it scores the defence continue with a second and third club.  You play ace and another trump and RHO wins the KJ-doubleton and plays a fourth club which you ruff.  The trumps have broken and that gives you four tricks there, two sure hearts and one sure diamond.  Where will your eighth trick come from?

There are three options for your extra trick - making a third heart, finding the dimaond jack, or finding the diamond king.   The question is whether and how you can combine all three. 

Given East doubled 1N as takeout of spades, you expect most of the high card points to be there, but you've already seem 11 hcp in the black suits, so you cannot be sure about any of those missing high red cards. There are a number of paths to success in practice, but the important thing is to allow any of the three options to work for you.

If you want two chances in diamonds you need to aim for a double finesse, but you lack the entries to lead twice from dummy.  The answer is to lead once from hand towards then QT9, and then later once from dummy.  This will succeed when East has one or two of themissing cards.  Those whwo failed were those who played A and another towards the QT hoping for a winning guess.  You can combine the double fiensse with cashing the AK to give you a chance in that suit as well.


HotD-thu : BH Summer Pairs : 22apr91 : B14

Sometimes your bidding - despite all the good intentions - can leave you in what looks like a horrible spot.  Today's hand is just such an example.   It might have been better for West to open a weak 1N, in which case clubs would have been the contract - but here we are in 1N by East.  The opening lead is a low diamond and you can see you are now wide open in both spades and diamonds.  You must switch your attention from the bidding to the play.  How is it best to proceed?

You have two choices in the club suit;  you can start with the ace or can come to hand with the top heart and lead towards the ♣AQ9.   The latter will gain whenever there king is onside doubleton or tripleton, but you cannot cater for both.  If you lead the jack and it is not covered, you need to overtake with the queen to to avoid blocking the suit - but if there is a ♣K76 holding with South you want to run the jack.  The odds favour a doubleton king over a tripleton king, so the overtake looks right. 

But the other thing to consider is would South ever duck with ♣Kx?   Does playing small on the jack suggest that the king is with North?  Now you might rise with the ace to drop the offside singleton king.  The key is to play the ♣J before South knows your problem; what you need to do is to win the diamond ace at trick one, cross to the heart ace and lead the club jack; at this point it will be far from clear to South that you have this unexpected shape and the play on the ♣J will be to cover with the king and to play small without. 

At the table declarer ducked trick one and North won the trick; he cashed the ♠J just to make that position clear, and returned to diamonds. When South now comes to play on the ♣J it was known that East had singletones in the two pointed suits, so playing small on the ♣J becomes easy from any holding. In practice declarer lost to the club king, lost four diamonds and - having discarded a spade on the run of the diamonds, lost five clubs. That meant only 3 tricks for declarer and a complete bottom.  Playing the club suit optimally would have results in quite the opposite - with the favourable club position there are ten tricks available to declarer in 1N, and this would have outscored all the pairs who played in the more prosaic club contracts. 

HotD-wed : BH Pairs : 22apr19 : B3

It was a surprise on Monday that all but one table missed the optimal contract on this hand - so let's have a look at how it might be bid.

Let's assume that the vulnerable opponents with very few values keep quiet.  Clearly South has a 1♣ opener and North a 1 response.  It is curious to South that nobody has bid spades, but what can South do but support diamonds? And it has to be 3 to show the extra values.  Over this North cannot rule out a 3N contract, so it seems right to continue with 3.

The interesting question is now what South does, having noted that North has suggested weakness in spades, and that makes it look like the hand is a good fit. The easy way to express this is with a splinter, and 4♠ at this point not only descibes the shape of the South hand, but places the final decision with North.  From North's perspective, since South has a singleton spade, doesn't South's bidding guarantee  K ♣AK ?  This makes slam trivial, and so the closing bid is 6.

It gets a little bit more fuzzy if East-West overcall in spades, but when the diamond fit is identified, South should aim for the same jump in spades to show a splinter.  Maybe next time everyone will bid it!

Plan the Play

West leads the ♣Q. Plan the play.

If you can make 4 diamond tricks you will be home. There is a danger that if you have to lose a diamond to East, a low heart switch might net the defence 5 tricks. The best line therefore is to win the club lead in dummy and play a diamond, inserting the 9 if East plays low. If East inserts the Jack, you can win with the King and lead the 9, ducking West's ten if it is played (and playing diamonds from the top if West plays low).

A Simple Defence

Your partner leads three top hearts, dummy ruffing the third round. What do you see as your defensive tricks?

You should appreciate the power of your ♠7. If you overruff the third heart, declarer will have no troble in playing a spade to dummy's King and when West shows out, (s)he will finesse against your Queen and you will make only one spade trick. If you refuse the overruff then you will subsequently win two spade tricks to defeat the contract.

Maximise Your Chances

West leads the 6. How do you plan to take 9 tricks?

The first thing to realise is that you should not duck trick 1 else a spade switch will surely prove fatal. You need to maximise your chances in the minor suits. If you win the opening lead in dummy and play a club and East holds the Ace, then either the King of Clubs will win or else East will rise with the Ace in which case you probably have 5 club tricks and 5 more outside. If the ♣K does win the trick, then you play the odds and duck a diamond, making a 1 spade, 2 hearts, 5 diamonds and a club whenever diamonds are 3-2. Of course, 50% of the time West will hold the ♣A and if he wins the first club lead, you will need to find the suit breaking 3-3 or perhaps the hearts breaking 4-4 with West not finding a spade switch.

Entries are Short

You play in 6♠ and West leads the 5, dummy's Queen holding the first trick. How do you continue?

You have received a helpful lead but still have few entries to dummy. You need 3 entries to take 2 spade finesses and a club finesse but you only have 2 in the form of Q and A. The solution is to play a low spade to your knave at trick 2. Say this loses and a heart is returned. You then cross to the A to lead the ♠T. If this is covered, your ♠9 is then a re-entry for the club finesse. If the ♠T holds, you can then lead the ♣Q from the table, unblocking the 9 from hand so that you can repeat the club finesse.

HotD-fri : League 9 : 15apr19 : B14

This wasn't the strongest slam candidate on Monday (that was B26 where the grand slam was bid by five of the six teams in Division One) but it generated more swings because it was bid at half the tables (and one of those went down).

The key decision point was this;  what should West be bidding on this round?  Partner's 2N rebid has shown 15+ balanced and has created a game force.

There are two quesitons you have to settle - one is denomination and the other is level.  It is important to settle the denomination first, and here the issue is recognising that there are only two possibilities - and that these are clubs and no-trumps.  The lovely heart suit we are looking at  is an illusion as we "know" that partner does not have four hearts; for with 4-4 in the majors the opening would be 1 and with longer spades then partner would have bid 2 on the second round. 

The only way to check out the denominaiton therefore is to bid 3♣, and when partner supports you are off to the races.  You can see that making 6♣ depends on either finding the ♣Q and thereby avoiding a club loser, or if that fails, then taking a ruffing spade finesse. Easy slam to find, but only five tables reached it!

HotD-thu : League 9 : 15apr19 : B27

At many tables this hand from Monday started with a weak 1N opener from West, and after a raise to game North led a heart and that provided declarer with an easy ninth trick, and time to set up a club for a tenth. 

Three tables, including the one whose auction is shown (they were playing a strong 1N opener) got a spade lead.  This immediately sets up four tricks in that suit for the defence, and so nine tricks must be made without losing the lead.  The club finesse is an obvious possibility but on the auction shown it is extremely likely to fail.

In these circumstances, declarer's best option is nearly always to run the long suit, and this is what declarer did.  For North it seemed safe to discard three hearts and two clubs.  What could go wrong?

At table 4 : South had also to find some discards, and chose the T early as a suit preference signal for spades.  After cashing the diamonds declarer played a second spade; North won the king and played a spade to South who cashed two more winners.  On the last of these declarer was down to  Q ♣AQ in dummy and to A8 ♣5 in hand.  North was squeezed and could not guard both suits - so the contract made.  In fact even with the (poor choice of the) T discard, the defence could have succeeded if South had won the third spade and played either side suit - as partner will gain the lead with that and lead a spade again.

At table 6 : North had showns hearts and another suit over 1N here, and East indicated a heart stop, hence the low spade lead from North; this was run to South's queen and the spade return went to the ace.  North failed to unblock the ten and this allowed declarer to take the club finesse to make the contract - as the spades were blocked.

At table 3 : after a similar start North cofrrectly unblocked in spades but miscounted declarer's winners and threw too many winners and bared the club king. Because North had shown five hearts on the bidding, declarer was able to read the position correctly and dropped the king to make the contract.

It looked to be a simple flat board across the field, but it was harder work at some tables than at others.

HotD-wed : League 9 : 15apr19 : B25

This hand from Monday offered South and West a couple of tricky judgement calls.   The first came after East passed;  South is expecting solid clubs with partner and no aces or kings outside.  There are clearly nine tricks there unless the opposition cash five spades and the defence against 3N openers (start with your strongest suit rather than your longest, and lead an ace if you can) is well known, so if the contract can go down it is likely to go down.  It's a close call, as making 5♣ needs 11 tricks (with 10 in sight) and could be subject to three losers.  South chose to pass.

Now over to West - who had no plans made for this situation.  It is clear that North has long cubs, and any of the other suits could be the right answer. The best option to get partner involved is double and that is what West did. The double by West was recognised as a takeout double, but East passed because it looked like if South was serious that nothing would make for East-West, and if South wasn't serious South would rescue.  Spotlight back to South.  The stakes were now higher but there were no losers outside spades, so South braved it out and this passed the next problem back to East.  What to lead?

There is a bit of bluff and double bluff going on here. For South's final pass to make sense there had to be some combinaiton of high cards and suit lengths in what was about to be dummy; the likely shortage in diamonds makes that suit more likely to be high cards, so East felt the choice was between the majors. On the basis that hearts needed less from partner (say, AQxx and an outside ace) the choice was J, but declarer knew better than to try for an overtrick and rose with the ace to cash out for 3Nx+1 and a score of 550 points.

It was curious to note that this was the only North to declare 3N, and when South was declarer West managed to find the winning defence.  The preemptive nature of the 3N opening paid off at this table, but where two Souths played in clubs after a 3N opener, the lead was an easy one for West to find.  The 3N opening has much going for it.

Count Your Tricks

How do you make 3NT on the lead of the 5?

This one looks easy. It looks natural to win in hand and play a club to the ten. However, if this loses to the Jack and the second club finesse is also wrong, you may find yourself losing 2 clubs, 2 diamonds and at least one heart. A simple count of tricks shows that you have 4 spades, 1 heart, 3 diamonds and 1 club which is all you need for your contract. Simply win the diamond lead in hand as cheaply as possible and play hearts to establish your heart trick. You do best to cross to a spade and lead a heart to your ten as this gives you chances of overticks when both hearts are onside.

How do you Defend?

Having made a weak jump overcall in spades, West starts with ♠ AKJ and dummy ruffs the third round with the J. What is your best chance?

If you count the points on this hand, it is clear that West can hold no additional significant honour card and therefore if you are to find the setting trick, it will have to come from trumps. If partner holds the T, all you need to do is not overruff at trick 3 and you will have 2 trump tricks. If you do overruff, then your 9 is no longer promoted and you will only make one trump trick. 

Play the Odds

You play in 6 against the lead of the ♣A. What is the best chance?

On this hand you have to decide whether to cope with a 4-1 spade break or a 3-1 diamond break. Since the 3-1 break is more likley, ruff the opening lead and cash 2 top spade discarding clubs from hand. Now ruff a spade with the K and lead a trump to dummy. Now lead another spade discarding your last club. The defence is helpless, since you can win any return and cross to dummy drawing the last trump and discard your heart losers on the spades.

Thanks for your Help

West leads the ♣Q. How do you play?

You can count 11 tricks and know that West will be under pressure when you cash the major suits. Win the ♣A and play 5 rounds of trumps, followed by 3 hearts finishing on the table. Thanks to West's bid of 2NT showing 5/5 or better in the minors, you simply have to watch West's discards. If he started with 5-5 and has thrown 3 diamonds, you can simply play Ace and another diamond. If West reduces to 1 club and 3 diamonds, you cash dummy's remaining club and duck a diamond to West who must then give you a 12th trick on his enforced diamond return.

HotD-fri : CBC Pairs League : 10apr19 : B12

This hand from Wednesday produced a lot of swings, and a few interesting points to discuss.

The first question is the opening bid by North; this auction from table two overcame the first hurdle which others faced, when Paul Denning upgraded and showed a strong balanced hand on the first round. Not many did that, and three of the tables who opened 1♠ played there; making the contract with overtricks was little consolation for the fact that a clear game had been missed.  Once the bidding had reached West that was going to the be final cotnract, but there were two bids before that;  East has minimal values but a six card suit is often worth bidding and here the hand might bid, but even if it doesn't South should really try to scrape up a response. Bidding has a very definite obstructive value, as well as the constructive value illustrated here - and that combionations makes it nearly always the right thing to do. A minimal 1N bid by South should lead to game in hearts. 

As you can see, game in hearts is straightforward with two hearts to lose and possibly a diamond.  The acution shown was the result of a memory lapse; the sequence of transfer and raise was actually a slam try (hence North's 4♠) - South should have transferred with 4 in order to stop in game.  But the fact of a 5 contract raised interesting issues in the play, which we would otherwise miss!

The first is the opening lead; from East's perspective the opposition have made a slam try and partner cannot be expected to hold any values; every suit is therefore a dangerous lead and the target must be wichever is the least like to cost. The answer found, correctly, was the heart queen, which was overtaken by the king and the ace. Declarer now faced a dilemma - if the trumps break 2-2 then the contract is cold if a second trump is played.  Can you tell?  It depends a bit what you read into the play of the king.  If the queen is an honest lead, then the king is known to be with West, so all West had done is play the card "known" to be held. The only two realistic options are that the lead was from a stiff queen or from a QJ or QJT combination. Declarer decided the trumps might be 2-2 and played a second round.  West won the ten, and now had to choose what to play.

Defeat of the contract clearly depends on making a trick in diamonds or spades, and the question West needs to ask is whether there is a danger of a loser in one of those suits being discarded.  The ♣K is not visible (although the lead gives an inference partner might hold it, for otherwise partner would have had a safe cliub lead).  If we assume no ace will get lost, the question is whether declarer has enough spades to throw away three diamonds or enough diamonds to throw away one spade?  Enough diamonds would imply that partner had failed to lead a singleton diamond, where enough spades does not have any negative implications.  That decided the issue for West and he led a diamond.  Declarer finessed and was one down.

Importantly, West had not cashed the winning heart;  doing so would have enabled declarer to rise with the A and cash the spades throwing diamonds - an option that was not practical when West could trump in to allow the defence to cash the K.  It is important when the opposition have misbid to be careful to take full advantage - we cannot relax because they are in a silly contract!

HotD-thu : CBC Pairs League : 10apr19 : B22

This hand was an appealing slam opportunity from last night's game, but whether or not to bid it was a close call.  In practice there were only 2/12 tables bid the slam, and 3/12 stopped in 5.  It was surprising that 7/12 managed to finish their investigations before stopping in 4.  The play was easy at the four level, but was interesting at the five and six level.

Playing first in 6 the key question is the opening lead; both tables defending the slam started off with the singleton 7.  The idea of leading a singleton against a slam has a good reputation, and here is was the only lead to beat the contract!  Declarer won the first lead in hand and started on trumps.  The most flexible approach is the Q and J first and at this point you learn of the heart break.  The opening lead screams of the fact that the diamonds are breaking 1-5, so it looks right now to continue with the K and a club finesse.  It is now time to draw the last trump and - again with that diamond break in mind - you need to be looking for a twelfth trick.  You can set up a trick in clubs because the break 3-3 but to take advantage of this you need to keep the K as an entry for the fourth club. If you do this then a spade when the opponents win the third club will kill the entry for the long diamonds.  One of the two tables in 6 was allowed to make.

Playing in 5 is a different proposition and all three tables in 5 received a club rather than a diamond lead. Two tables failed to make 11 tricks (and the third should have gone down too).  The start to the play was similar - win trick one and then start drawing trumps. The mistake made by declarer at table one was - after that - switching to playing diamonds.  The second diamond was ruffed and West played a third trump - there were only 10 tricks now.  They key is to focus on the winners you need; knowing of two club tricks after that opening lead and five trumps, you need only four diamond tricks.  The only layout which will stop that is West having five to the jack.  The alternative which actually existed was however - given the heart break - rather more likely.  The winning play is to draw all the trumps and then play a diamond to the king and a diamond to the ten.  As soon as East has followed to the second diamond, this guaranteed the contract. 

HotD-wed : Swiss Pairs : 8apr19 : B1

The fourth session of the Spring Swiss Pairs took place on Monday; in that session three wins and a score of 46 out of 60 VPs allowed Ashok Kwatra & Mike Wignall to move up from sixth place to first place.  On this hand they earned a complete top in match ten.

The auction started as shown, and at this point a number of Easts looked at their four trumps and passed happily.  On the three occasions when South played in 2, West led a spade - giving away a trick - and declarer won that cheaply.  A diamond to the king saw West play the jack, and on the next spade South two of the Souths made the (sensible and) careful play of just covering East's card - and that limited the defence to one diamond and that meant ten tricks.  This was good technique as playing the ace on the second round of the suit could never gain.

That didn't happen at the winner's table. Here Mike protected with 2 and when South decided to be (over?) cautious that is where the bidding finished.   The defence started with two top spades and the leader recognised that a third one would be ruffed, and so switched to the singleton club. The ace won and when the ♣2 was ruffed on the next trick, South knew to underlead in diamonds (to the king) and a third club came through.  Declarer has now lost 5 tricks and must find the trump queen to make the contract. Mike duly ruffed with the heart ace, and found opener with the queen and wrapped up 8 tricks.  

The key point to note is that this vulnerability (neither vulnerable) is the time where it is more necessary than ever to compete; this is because the undoubled penalties are low - even down two is better than the opposition scoring 110.

Another table competed differently - with West doubling the opening bid on the first round;  it proceeded 1 - X - 1N - 2 - 2♠ - P - 3 - end.   West now avoided the spade lead and the play started with three rounds of hearts, the third ruffed by declarer.  There was always a danger of losing the fourth spade to West, so declarer started with two top spades and then crossed to the K to lead a third spade from dummy.  If East ruffed that was likely to be with a trump trick, and if East didn't the fourth round could be ruffed with the 5 - and any over-ruff was likely to be with a trump trick.  In practice East ruffed, and the spade ten was played; declarer felt pleased but when the remaining diamonds broke 3-1 there was still a trump loser - but at least the contract made!


Read the Bidding

The defense begins with K and another heart, East cashing 3 rounds while West discards a spade. East now switches to the ♠T. You run this to the King and draw trumps in 2 rounds (West discarding a club on the second round) How do you play from here?

If you listen to the bidding and read the discards, it looks as if West started with a 5215 shape, whilst East is marked with the ♣A. If that is the case you can succeed by playing a spade to the Ace to extract East's exit card and then playing a club, covering whatever card West plays. This will endplay East, who must now concede a ruff and discard or establish a club trick in dummy. Well played if you found the line but do you see how the defence could have prevailed? West has to ruff the third round of hearts and switch to a club - a very tough defence to find. 

Unfamiliar Angle

You lead a top spade against 5♣. Declarer plays low from dummy and East plays the ♠2 and South the ♠7. What do you play next?

It looks like declarer has ducked the opening lead to possibly safeguard a heart holding such as Kx. It therefore looks right to continue with a safe spade. This analysis does not stand up for a number of reasons. For one thing partner may well hold 5 spades. Also if declarer has a doubleton spade and a diamond loser, cashing the A will defeat the contract. South has made a decptive play. He plans to discard a diamond on the ♠A and set up the diamonds without loss. You must lay down the A at trick 2 and continue the suit when East encourages. Perhaps East could have made life easier by dropping a high spade at trick 1 - but if you failed to switch, don't try to shift the blame.

A difficult Defence

You lead your diamond against 4, and partner's 9 is captured by declarer's Ace. South now leads a low spade to the King and Ace. East plays the Q, covered by South's King. How do you plan the defence?

It should be clear tha South has led a spade at trick 2 hoping for a quick discard of a diamond. If he held a low doubleton, he would have finessed the Jack, so he must have ♠ Qx. Partner has a diamond winner, but the problem is how to get him in to cash it. You can only do this by playing him for the K. You must ruff the K with the Ace of trumps and exit with a low trump. Full marks if you got this one right.

Good Technique

There are no misprints in the bidding table. South's opening showed 2+ clubs and North's double showed 4+ spades. 3 was 18+ with 4 card spade support and 4 was a retransfer. Anyway, West leads the ♣Q on which East plays an encouraging low card. Plan the play.

There are opportunities for good technique here. Duck the opening lead and win the club continuation. Now draw trumps (in 2 rounds as it happens). Now ruff a club in hand to eliminate that suit. Now you plan to ruff the third round of hearts and duck a diamond to West. However, on the third round of hearts, West produces the Queen so you discard a diamond from dummy and West is caught - he either concedes a ruff and discard or must open up the diamond suit. The defence could have done better. If East had overtaken the first club you could not afford to duck else a diamond comes through. You win the ace and later play a low club towards your 8 but East can rise with the ten to again play diamonds. Of course, on the layout of the cards, you can always succeed if you guess the diamonds correctly, but the game is all about playing in such a way as to avoid guessing - for certain you will guess wrong some of the time.

HotD-fri : County Pairs FInal : 30mar19 : B15

The County Pairs Final last week took a little while to score - there was one board mis-scored and two rulings which affected the results.  The eventual winners were Tony Hill & Alan Wearmouth, a fraction of a match-point ahead of Patrick Shields & Mike Wignall.  This hand provided a complete top for the winners (although the auction shown is that from the runners-up table).

All tables but two played this hand in a spade game - the other contracts being 3♠  and 5 where the results did not trouble the scorers.  The lead against the spade game was a top heart at three tables and the ♣6 at the others - which presumably reflects the frequency of the choice of clubs and hearts as the opening bid by South. On a heart lead by North, the club switch should come at trick two.

The focus is now on West and the one choice to be made is how to play the spade suit.  The opening lead marks North with 3 hcp in hearts and that means there is at most 13 hcp left for South and we can be sure South holds the AK and the ♣K.  The other "knowledge" we have is that South did not open 1N, and if South is unbalanced, then it is odds on that South has a singleton somewhere. Clearly this could be in either diamonds or spades - but which is more likely?  It has to be spades as declarer has more of them.  Pushing against this is the expectation that most of the HCP will lie with the opening bidder. 

But in fact we know where 13 of the hcp are, so all we have to consider is the ♠Q and the ♣J. We know that one of them is needed by North to justify a vulnerable 2 bid, and the other is likely to be with South to make the opening bid.  Do we place the missing hcp as 4-12 or 5-11?   Given any hand is more likely to be 11 hcp than 12 hcp, and a raise is likely on 5 but might be skipped on 4 hcp, the odds must favour playing North for the spade queen.

If you do so, you get a complete top - as the winners showed us.  Easy game this!

Alan Wearmouth reports : South managed to bid both hearts and clubs which made the spades much easier to get right.

HotD-thu : Spring teams 4 : 01apr19 : B9/B10

The two best (ie most likely to make) slam hands on Monday were on these consecutive booards; there was also a slam on a finesse on board 1 (bid by five teams, who all lost points as a result), the slam on two finesses on board 6 (bid by none and with three teams in part-scores), a distinctly poor slam on B14 bid only by the winning team who received a helpful defence and so made the contract, a poor slam on board 18 (bid once and failing, while four tables stopped in part-scores), a potential slam on B21 which fails on two suits lying unfavourably (but bid by no-one), and an acceptable but odds against slam on B22 bid only once (and making on the only lead to let it make, while two tables stopped in part-scores).

The hand shown was the strongest candidate for bidding a slam, but this was only achieved at half the tables. The sequence shown happens to propel you to a slam, but were North to bid 2 on the second round - and there is surely a strong case for that - then finding the heart fit is a lot more difficult.  That is the reason we see two tables playing in spades, and four tables playing in no trumps.   Were it to start 1♠-2♣-2-2  then it would be natural for North to rasise but many play this as trying to "right-side" a 3N contract.  The alternativer shown (1♠ -2♣ -2) totally rules out a diamond contract, and for this reason the best choice by North on the second round is not clear.

Having reached the position shown - how should North proceed?  At table 9 the choice was 4N asking for key cards, but this wasn't helpful at all and this North just settled for 6, none the wiser as to whether or not the grand slam was good. When you cannot tell what to do, the right answer is to pass the buck to partner - which here means cue bidding and leaving it to partner to decide on which level of slam ot reach. The South hand is so slam unsuitable that after a 4♠ cue bid it will sign off in 5 and that will be enough to discourage North (although ♠Q8 QJ96 KQT ♣Q843 looks even worse and makes the grand slam quite decent).

The companion board was  ♠AT A73 KT732 ♣KJ9   opposite ♠65 64 A5 ♣AT86543  which makes for an excellent 6♣ contract (ruff out the diamonds for one extra trick there) but it was bid at no table. What's more, half the field stopped in a part-score.  There was opposition bidding at some tables but could you bid it without interference?   It might start 1-2♣-2N-3♣, but would opener appreciate how valuable aces are?  It is hard to say.   

The lesson to take away from all these hands is that if we could just improve our slam bidding there is easy pickings in terms of good scores.  And if you were a team who played some of these slam hands in a part-score, then you might want to work on your game bidding too!

HotD-wed : Spring Teams 4 : 01apr19 : B2

This hand from Monday provides a few interesting things to think about.   It was curious to note that there were two tables - despite four-four fits in both majors - played in 3N, and most times that would be hopeless because of an attack on the club suit but here, amazingly the clubs are irrevocably blocked.  Yet neither pair made their 3N; it is hard to see how they went down, as surely declarer must play on hearts to get anywhere and when you do that they clear the clubs and what else can you do but hope for a club blockage?

The most tricky game was for the two teams playing in 4♠ as they have to either suffer two top hearts and a ruff, or declarer will fail to pick up the spades and there will be two hearts, a natural trump loser, and a diamond to lose.

Various pairs playing in 4 however were able to make game; how was that?  At table one, the defence started off with the top hearts and on winning the third round declarer played a fourth. There would be ten top tricks if the spades behaved but playing the ace and then the queen showed that to be a non-starter.  The tenth trick had to come in diamonds, but how?  Declarer noticed that on the play of the heart, South had discarded three clubs.  So he cashed his top clubs and continued with spades.  South could win the ♠J but then only had diamonds left and had to open up that suit, giving away the tenth trick.  The winning defence is to keep a third club - do you think you would have found that?

At rather more tables, North led the singleton ♠5 at trick one; if this runs round to the ♠T-♠A, then a declarer who is watching the pips will know that the jack is with South and should pick up the suit for no loser.  This gives ten tricks.  To avoid making this so obvious, South should really play the jack at trick one, leaving the possibility open that North had led from the T542.   This should however be discounted as then South would be 1-1 in the majors and silent, which feels unlikely.


A Tricky Slam

West leads the ♣A. You ruff and lay down the ♠A but disappointingly, East discards a club on this trick. How do you continue?

East’s club discard means you will need a trump endplay to bring the contract home. The first requirement is that you need West to have three clubs, because you need to reduce your trump length as West follows suit. Also if West holds more than 3 clubs, he will be short in at least one red suit and will be able to ruff one of your winners and exit safely in clubs. In the endgame you need to have two trumps and a good heart and West three trumps. You don't know Wests shape in the red suits, but given 4 spades and 3 clubs, you could succeed if West is  2=4, 3=3 or 4=2 in the red suits, but obviously you don't know which of these to play for. Playing three rounds of diamonds works in the first two cases, so that is the preferred play. On the layout shown, East discards on the third round of diamonds, so you can cash the remaining diamond winner throwing a heart from hand. After ruffing a club, play a heart to the ace and ruff another club. After cashing the K, you hold the ♠K9 and the Q. West holds the ♠QJx. Dummy had the ♠T8 and the ♣Q. When you lead the Q, West is stuck. if he ruffs high, you make the last two tricks with trumps. If West ruffs low, you score a trump in dummy and the king of trumps to make your contract. It needs a lucky layout to make, but when the cards lay as they do, you must capitalise on it.

Stay Awake

Your partner leads the ♠Q against 3NT. How do you plan the defence?

This is just a matter of staying awake. It is all too easy to play an encouraging spade at trick 1, but you should appreciate 2 things - one is that partner most probably has no other spade to lead and two is that you can surely beat this contract in your own hand. Simply play the ♠K at trick 1. If declarer ducks you are on lead and can play a second spade. Your 2 aces will allow you to establish and cash the suit/

Defend like a Champion

You lead the King and Ace of hearts, partner showing 3 cards in the suit. How do you see the defence developing?

You know that partner cannot be contributing any useful high cards to the defence, but what about a decent spade holding such as 9x. At trick 3 you should continue with a third heart conceding a ruff and discard. Now if declarer subsequently takes atrump finesse you can play another heart allowing East to ruff with the 9 and promote your ♠8 to winning rank. When this hand was played, partner didn't hold the ♠9, but declarer ruffed the thrird heart with dummy's Jack before taking the trump finesse. It then transpired that a fourth round of trumps ruffed by East with the 5 was enough to promote a second trump trick for the defence.  Well done if you played a third and fourth round of hearts. 

Find a Good Line

You play in 7 on the ♠ Q lead. Over to you.

You have 12 top tricks and clubs offer the best chance of a thirteenth. If clubs are 4-1 with the King not falling then you need 4 entries to dummy to set up the clubs and get back to cash them. Win the ♠A and cash the ♣A and ruff a club high. If clubs break there will be no problem but if they are 4-1, continue with a diamond to dummy's Ace for another high club ruff. Now you ruff your K and yet another club high before drawing trumps and returning to dummy with a spade to enjoy the long club, discarding your losing spade.

HotD-fri : GCBA Squad practice : 28mar19 : B13

This hand from last night had a couple of features of interest.  The first question which arose was about the handling of the spade suit.  The missing spades are JT32 and there are no worries unless the suit breaks 4-0; if South has such a holding you must lose a trick, but if North has it then you can bring in the suit for no losers, but only if you retain the KQ over the JT. Which means that the only logical play in the suit is to start with the ace; this was only found by 2 of the 5 declarers!

The other point of interest was the consistency of the opening lead, with all 5 defenders choosing to lead a top heart.  This lead does indeed look "normal" but do check on the effect. It set up one trick but also gave away a trick by setting up the heart jack in dummy.  The alternative lead is a club from the T97542; consider the effect of that - it takes away a vital entry from the West hand, and makes it (in practice) impossible for declarer to pick up the spade suit. This would defeat the contract!  It was surprising not to find any deviations from the losing lead.

HotD-thu : Seminar on slams : 27mar19 : B2

You bid this hand sensibly up to a small slam, and when you see dummy you think maybe you should have bid 7♠.  After ruffing the openign diamond lead, South shows out when you play a trump to the king.  How should you proceed?

When it looks too easy you must focus on what can go wrong.  There are in fact only ten top tricks and you need at least two more.  With the club suit in reserve, your first port of call must be the heart suit.  There will be no problem if the suit breaks 3-3 or 4-2; can you cope if they are 5-1?  The answer is yes, all you need to do is ruff one round in the short trump hand. That trump trick plus the long heart are the two extras you need - and if you are ruffing a winner it still doesn't cost you.

Notice that running the first diamond to the king (and ruffing two diamonds in the long trump hand) is also a valid choice - although this gives up the overtrick more often than I would like to.

[Hand from Porthcawl congress, 2017]

HotD-wed : Spring Swiss Pairs : 25mar19 : B20

This hand from Monday produced a few interesting points.  The first question is what the bidding tells South about the opening lead, and the answer is that West has shown hearts - probably four (but if 3♣ was asking about five-card majors then it might only be three).  This makes a heart lead a lot less attractive. This was enough to persuade three out of eight decfenders not to lead a heart - two of them chose a diamond and one (knowing partner had to have 5 spades if the opponents lacked a fit there) led the ♠Q.  That spade lead is not as weird as it looks; if they lack a spade fit then partner has 5+ spades and the queen is likely to fall under an honour anyway. [Here it takes a trick and a tempo from the defence, but doesn't give declarer any more tricks than were already available]

In all cases declarer could win the lead, and then set about the club suit. With only one likely entry to dummy (the ♥A, except in the case of the spade lead) the best play in that suit needs to be investigated. Curiously the answer is to lead from East and that all options from the East hand (the king or the six) are equal in terms of delivering four tricks - but leading the king maximises your chance of 5 tricks.  (If you want five tricks the clearly best option is to cross to dummy and lead towards the club king). Without the entry constraint it is different - the best line for both 4 tricks and for 5 tricks is to cross to dummy and lead towards the K76, covering whatever appears.

On the diamond lead, declarer beats the jack with the king. If they next tackle clubs to best advantage (leading the king) or spades (small towards the jack) then West is on lead and has to decide whether or not to continue diamonds.  It's easy to lead the queen, but when it holds can you tell whether or not to continue?  It could be a guess were it not for a device known as SMITH PETERS.   It covers the position where partner's play at trick one didn't clarify the layout in the suit, and says that a high card in declarer's suit says "I am better than expected in the suit partner led initially" and here either the ♠T (where East has many to choose from) or the ♣T (fortunately high) will give the message.  At the table, this enabled West to continue the suit confidently and declarer had no chance.

Find a Safe Line

West leads the K and switches to T. Can you find a safe line?

You are safe even if both finesses are wrong. Duck the heart in both hands. Win the continuation, draw trumps and ruff a low diamond. Now eliminate the hearts and exit with the Q to endplay West.

A Defensive Problem

Partner leads the 4 to Ace, King and 3. Declarer plays a spade to his King and partner's Ace, partner continuing with the 2. How do you continue?

You have 2 tricks and clearly partner will need to hold the A as a third trick - where is the fourth defensive trick to come from? There are 2 possibilities - play a heart for a trump promotion if partner holds the ♠J or possibly the ♠T or hope West holds the Q and that you can collect 2 diamond tricks. Are you on a guess? The answer is no. If partner wanted a trump promotion he would have have cashed the A before putting you in with a heart. When partner plays the way he has, he should be desperate for a diamond lead.

What's the best chance?

You play in 6 and West leads the Q. When this holds the trick, he continues with a diamond to his partner's King and you ruff. How do you play from here?

The problem is to set up the clubs for 2 spade discards. Finessing the queen gives the best odds. So draw trumps, club finesse, cash the Ace and ruff a club. Now back to dummy with a trump to ruff the fourth club. If clubs have broken, you are home; if East had 5 you could pick up his Jack via a known ruffing finesse on the fourth round. If West turns up with 5 clubs then run all your trumps and hope West has the ♠K, in which case he will get squuezed in the black suits.

HotD-sat : CBC Pairs : 22mar19 : B15

This hand from last night was curious in that there was an easy slam available, but the only people who stepped towards it got themselves a bottom.  How did that happen?

The key decision comes at the point shown in the bidding.  The vast majority bid 3N and played there, and they all made 13 tricks when West discarded diamonds rather than spades (playing partner for the wrong jack). 

The potential of the hand was not identified by those who bid 3N.  Although there are stoppers in all suits, the three card club support and the good controls make the hand too strong for this.  Where this was recognised, North bid 3 as a first (forcing) step and heard next of 3-card spade support.  After that came a key card ask and the discovery that one key card and the trump queen were missing.  North quickly stopped, but the 5♠ contract had two losers, and that scored a lot worse than everyone else's 3N+4. 

What should have happened?  North might have reasoned that even though 6♠ was not going to be good odds, that either 6♣ or 6N would have decent chances.  For sure, 3N was making at least as many tricks as were available in spades, and that meant 5♠ was likely to be a bad matchpoint score. We get into the habit of rejecting a slam automatically when key cards are missing - but this is not always right.  

How do you Play?

You play in 3NT from South on the lead of ♠8. How do you play?

To make this contract you will need to bring in the club suit for 4 tricks. The best play in the suit is to lead the Ace followed by a small card. [Fully ducking the first round and then playing the ace is equivalent] Later you will lead a club honour. This line succeeds against clubs 3-3 and 4-2 breaks that contain a doubleton honour. Of course on this hand entries to South are vital and hence you must rise with dummy's ♠K at trick 1 before playing clubs as described above. You will use the ♠AJ as entries on the reasonably assumption that East holds the ♠Q given West's choice of lead.

HotD-wed : League 8 : 18mar19 : B6

This hand from Monday generated a lot of discussion afterwards.  The auction shown has South bidding 2N as a passed hand to show a good raise, and North's 3N accepts the game try and denies a shortage. 

The opening lead at every table was a top club, enabling West to win the ace at trick one. At this point the contract clearly goes down if the defence cash three hearts, but this was too difficult for most Wests.  One did switch to hearts, but that was to the 2 and when East won the contract could no longer be defeated.  Another found the T switch, which went to the king and ace, but East was now scared to play another heart, and that declarer also succeeded.

Two other Wests led back a club at trick two, noting that there was at that point only one discard available to declarer.  These two declarers won that and continued with the ♠A and saw a high spade drop from West.  Both declarers knew about the Theory of Restricted Choice and now finessed the ten, but West won and now could play a low heart and when the king went up (as it must) declarer was down two.

These declarers both missed an interesting point. Although the odds on a finesse are better than playing for the drop - you still have a second chance if you play for the drop and West shows out.  This would mean East has a spade trick - but this won't be fatal if declarer can keep it to one heart loser.  Cashing the top diamonds, and then putting East in with the third spade, creates an end-play which makes a trick out of the heart ace. 

What should have happened? It's hard to say; the winning choice by West would have been a switch to the Q at trick two. After that lead, the defence cannot go wrong. 

LATER: Patrick Phair points out that "Given that if a spade trick is lost declarer would prefer to lose it to East, there is a case for cashing ♠K first rather than ♠A. This is what our opponent did at my table, and she now couldn't go wrong in spades. She also got the diamonds right (is this obvious?) and made the contract."  

Trial for the Defence

Partner leads the 7. Declarer puts in the Knave from dummy. How do you plan the defence?

On the bidding partner will have an entry somewhere, and if by some chance he doesn't then you won't be beating the contract. If you woodenly play the Q on dummy's knave, partner will have no reason not to think he has found you with KQ9xx, and will continue with a second heart when he gains the lead. You know that a spade switch will beat the contract and the best way to tell partner that is to play the K at trick 1 so that he will see no future in leading the suit again

Is This Too Easy?

West leads a low diamond against your game. East wins the Ace and returns the suit. How do you play?

This hand looks very easy. If you play Ace and another spade and it turns out that you have 2 trump losers, then you can always fall back on the heart finesse. However, if West started with all 4 trumps. you will have 4 losers. It is no good playing a spade to the 8 in dummy because this will result in your losing 2 trump tricks on many layouts where this was unnecessary and you will then go down when the heart finesse loses. The key is to clarify the heart position first. Finesse the Q at trick 3. If it wins then you can enter hand with a heart ruff and play a spade to the 8 (if West plays low), thus ensuring no more than 2 trump losers. Of course if the heart finesse loses, you will play Ace and another spade and hope to limit your losses in the suit to 2 tricks. Your losing club will go on the A later.

The Clue has been Seen

West leads the ♣Q. How do you avoid what looks like 4 losers?

West's bidding has given you a clue. His 2NT bid shows at least 5-5 in the minors, so it may well be possible to endplay East. Win the club lead on the table, draw trumps and knock out the A. Win the likely club return and play a heart to the ten. East will win but will have to return a heart. Now you can win dummy's Ace and exit in hearts to force East to give you a ruff and discard. You wont be able to win on all layouts e.g. when West has 2 heart honours or the hearts break 4-3, but you will succeed most of the time given West's bidding 

An Extra Chance

You play in 4♠ on the J lead. Over to you.

You could win and draw trumps and hope to do something with the hearts. You have the club finesse as a backstop. You can do better than this however by playing hearts early. If you win the opening lead and play a low heart towards dummy. Whenever West has a high honour he cannot afford to go in with it as else you will later establish a heart trick for a minor suit discard. So West plays low and East wins cheaply. You win the diamond return a nd lead your second heart. Now West might win, cash a diamond and play a club through - but you eschew the finesses and ruff a heart high. You then use the 2 trump entries to establish and enjoy the long heart for a club discard.

HotD-fri : Spring Swiss Pairs : 11mar19 : B14

Today's hand from Monday brought up some questions about how best to play this particular club suit. On the auction shown, West chose to lead the T, a choice which makes it look very like East has one of the top two diamonds. You cover, aand East plays the king and you win with the ace.  You draw two rounds of trumps, say the ace and then the king.  If you can make three club tricks the heart loser can do away, and if you can make four that's even better.   How should you play the suit?

This is one of those combinations where the best line for 4 tricks and the best line for 3 tricks are different - and this set-up is common enough that we ought to know the answers in both cases.

For four tricks the best option is a double finesse, playing for ♣Q and ♣T onside. This is about a 25.2% chance.

For three tricks the answer is different : you start with the ace and then (if nothing happens) lead towards the jack.   This has a 83.85% chance of success.

These figures don't give us the answer however : we also need to know that the double finesse will still generate 3 tricks 78.3% of the time (losing to QTx/QTxx offside), while the alternative line generates 4 tricks 4.4% of the time (stiff Q, or QT doubleton with West).

At matchpoints it's the better average number of tricks that matters, and here the best average comes from the double finesse.  If you went for that, then hard luck, only ten tricks.

If you started wrongly, cashing the ace and seeing the ten drop - what did you do next?  You had the choice of playing for singleton ♣T or doubleton ♣QT.  There is an easy answer to the odds here - any specific holding which is more balanced is more likely, and with six clubs out a 2-card holding is a more balanced split.  So you should drop the queen next.

Little point - you didn't know that spade were breaking two-two and you started with the ♠AQ before going to dummy's king, When they broke, you switched to clubs.  Suppose you got the clubs right?  You win the third round with the jack, but how do you get back to hand when your remaining spades are the 74 and dummy has the K98?  The answer is you remembered - and you just have to do this automatically in case it might matter - to unblock the ♠9 (or ♠8) on the second round.  [Actually you might be starting this suit with the king to pick up JT63 onside, and then the nine to the ace]

All this on a hand where almost everyone made the expected 10 tricks - but I bet not many played ♠K then ♠9 to hand and then a third round to dummy's ♠8 to run the ♣J.

HotD-thu : Spring Swiss Pairs : 11mar19 : B10

Today's hand is a lead problem - what's your choice?

The answer was actually found by the majority on Monday - with four of the five defenders in this position choosing a diamond.  Unfortunately that was only part of what was needed - only one table after that start managed to hold declarer to eight tricks.

The first key play was North's on trick one - it is vital for North to duck this trick, so that when South next gets the lead, two more rounds of diamonds can be played. If you do that then declarer cannot avoid losing two hearts plus a trick in each other suit.  Notice how useless the club discard turns out to be - declarer can either throw the third spade (a likely winner) or the fith heart (ditto).

When it went awry at table one, North won trick one and continued the suit. This convinced South that North held only two diamonds and that declarer therefore had only three black cards.  So after a club to the queen and ace he attacked spades. That made it even worse and declarer emerged with ten tricks.  

Stories from other tables welcome.

HotD-wed : Spring Swiss Pairs : 11mar19 : B6

When this hand arose on Monday the bidding at table 1 was as shown.  It seemed inevitable that the play started with the ♣A and then because the king was set to win the next trick, North had a clear opportunity for a suit preference signal with the club seven.  It was easy to switch to the heart queen, and this set up four tricks for the defence.  East-West had done well to stop in a part-score, but the traveller suggested that oithers playing in spades had done better.

And indeed they had - but what mattered on this hand was the opening lead.  When East declared there were three different suits led - the club ace here, a top heart, and a spade.  Are you can see the spade lost a tempo - the heart winners were not set up and declarer made four trumps, five diamonds, the heart ace. and the club king.  Two tricks different!   A number of times West was declarer - presumably after a strong NT opener and a transfer;  here it was much more difficult for North to find the winning lead.  Both Norths faced with this problem led the T;  declarer could set about drawing trumps, and when North won the ace and played to the club ace for a ruff that was three tricks for the defence but there was no time for a fourth.  Could North have done differently?   The answer is that they might;  holding four trumps your first choice must always be to force declarer because of you can do that you will set up your long trump as a winner.  Here that would hint at striking out with a rounded suit - and whichever you choose should work.

The bottom line is that, for all the effort we might put into thinking through the opening lead carefully, sometimes it is just too difficult.  The four suits were led on this hand, resulting in 9 or 10 or 11 tricks depending on the choice.  If there is anything to learn from this it is that helping partner with the opening lead will be a worthwhile exercise (here the 2♣ bid even though you are bound to be outbid in spades).  On this hand if South had opened 1♣ would North find the winning choice?  [They might find the 4♣ bid which nets a better score than -140]

How do you Defend?

You lead the Q. Dummy's King holds and declarer plays a diamond to his 9 at trick 2. How do you defend?

Simply win the A and play a trump to partner's Ace for a club through! How do you know this is the right thing to do? Consider declarer's line of play. If he held the ♠A he would certainly have played a spade at trick 2 and discarded a club on his A.

Slow Down

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

If spades break you will have no problem. Is there anything you can do if spades are 4-1? You will still make if one hand has sole control of both majors as that hand will be squuezed provided you play your cards in the right order. You must not play spades early as the ♠Q is a vital entry card. Instead, win the lead and cash all of dummy's minor suit winners before returning to hand with the ♠Q to cash South's minor suit cards. In the 3 card ending, dummy will have ♠AKx and you will have T. West will not be able to keep a top heart and 3 spades. In practice, he will certainly discard his heart winner, hoping his partner has the T.

Hear the Bidding

After making a Michaels style cue bid of 2♣ ,West leads the K against your slam. How will you get to 12 tricks?

On the bidding, the spades are marked offside so you will need to engineer an end-play. Win the lead and ruff a heart. Now a trump to the Ace sees West show out. Since West has at least 10 major suit cards, it is safe to play off the top diamonds in dummy and then draw the remaining trumps in 2 rounds finishing in hand to play 2 more rounds of diamonds ruffing on the table. Now play a spade from the table and duck in hand unless East plays the King. If West overtakes his partners card, he is endplayed, whilst if East is allowed to win the trick, he must concede a ruff and discard. The bidding has given you all the help you needed. 

Plan the Defence

West leads the 3 against this game. You win with the King. How do you see the defence developing?

For his lead partner will either have a short diamond (unlikely), or a 4 or 5 card suit headed by an honour (clearly the Queen in this instance). Hence partner has an entry. This points the way to the defence. If you return a heart at trick 2, you will later be able to put partner in with the Q for a heart ruff.

HotD-fri : BBO ICL League : 6mar19 : B5

The BBO Inter-Cities league (ICL) has been running for about 15 years and is a Croatian-led, mostly-European competition which runs on-line matches on a Wednesday evening.  This year there are six divisions with 48 teams, and after the group stage there will be knock-outs to determine the winner.  The Aberystwyth team (and yes Aberystwyth striclty isn;t a city) had its first match this week, against Essen. 

This hand came up early in the match - and provided this test : after the opposition open 2 (Multi - weak two in a major or strong balanced) how do you proceed ?

We'll come to conventional approach second, but first is what to do if you have limited methods.  The big danger of any suit bid you make it that it might end the auction, and the trouble with double is that you might be no better off on the next round.  The hint lies in those last words - if you can hold your fire until they have declared their suit you are in better space - so you pass smoothly and the bidding proceeds  P - 2♠ (preference for hearts) - P - P  and now everyone knows that third seat had a weak two in hearts.  At this point a Michaels Cue bid of 3♠ starts to describe your hand - a two suiter with hearts and a minor.  

An alternative directly over 2 is to have a clear agreement about the jumps to 4♣ and 4; fairly common amongst the organised tournament players is the use of these for two suiters - and there are two styles, the first being that it shows hearts and the minor named, the other that it shows the corresponding major plus either minor.  In all cases the shape shown is at least 5-5.   The first style give more instant definition, but the latter covers twice as many two suiters. 

Either approach on this hand is likely to get you a 4 response from partner - and now comes your second choice - what do to now?

It is very hard not to make another try, as partner needs as little as Jxxx to make the slam quite decent, and KQx would make a grand slam possible.  The only hint you have on this hand is the 2♠ bid by North.  The suggestion of heart support there should act as a caution.  The other difficulty with a try is that partner might not know when to proceed. Still, it feel almost superhuman to pass 4 at this point.  You could proceed with 4♠ and see what happens - leaving it up to partner;  this seems the best approach.

Anyway - the fact is that neither East could give up in time, and the result on the board was 6♣-1 in both rooms. Sad.

HotD-thu : Spring Teams : 4mar19 : B18

It seemed normal to reach 5  after the auction shown, and it looks like an easy 11 tricks if the clubs behave.  Can you see a way of coping if the clubs break 4-1?

The answer lies in the spade suit.  If the clubs break 4-1 then if the hand with long clubs has sole control of the spade suit, that hand can be subject to a squeeze. 

The indicated line of  play is to draw trumps, duck a spade, win the return and play ♠A and ruff the third round. After this only one defender can guard spades.  From this point declarer should cash the remaining trumps - and end with ♣A964 in hand while dummy has ♠6 ♣KQ5.  If the same hand has the clubs and the long spade - South here - they will give away a trick as they come down to four cards.   

There isn't any counting needed here - beyond watching to see if one missing spade gets discards - and if it doesn't you cash the clubs.  Can't we all do this?

[As AlanW pointed out : there is a good case for North bidding 5 with a seven card suit opposite a takeout doube, and this does indeed get a better result]

HotD-wed : Spring Teams : 4mar19 : B13

This was the most spectacular hand on Monday and as a bidding exercise it proved too difficulty for most pairs. It was easy enough to decide to open 1♣ with the East hand but what should you do over 1?   You clearly want to emphasise the clubs, and three routes were found: the simplest was 3♣ which is a bit of an underbid but it might be the limit of the hand if partner's values are all in hearts, and when partner continues over this with 3N your prospect improve as partner has suggested values in diamonds and spades.  The difficulty is how to continue, and if you can bid a confidently forcing 4♣ then you are on your way - a cue bid of the A, a cue of the heart shortage, anbd a cue of the ♠K makes it easy for East to bid the slam. 

The second alternative was a natural 5♣ bid.  This might get you to game when 3♣ would fail (give partner ♠K J and nothing much more) but gives up on any investigation of slam;  West is forced to guess to pass or bid on.

The third route is for East to reverse into 2; this bid should have four diamonds but it does at least promise longer clubs and it is forcing.  When it was tried, West continued with a FSF 2♠ and this allowed East to jump to 4♣ to emphasise that suit; after this we are in the same position as option one.

Of those who bid slam, the only stories we know are of pairs who started the auction with 2♣;  the hand is not strictly within the limits for an opener described as "strong" but that caused no damage in this case.  The strong opening however led West to insist on a slam, despite all the attempts by East - after the opening bid - to back-pedal.  

Do tell of any sensible and successful auctions.

One reported sequence was 1♣ - 1 - 2 - 2♠ - 3♠(suggests short hearts) - 3N - 5♣ - 5 - 6♣ - P,   but this does smack of an attempt to play in diamonds that got corrected to clubs.

Careful Play Required

East's 1NT opening was showed 14-16 pts. West starts with the T lead. Plan the play.

The bidding marks East with all the relevant high cards and you can use this to your advantage. Cover the opening lead. East will win and probably switch to a heart. You can now play a high spade from hand. East wins to play a second heart. Now you can enter dummy with an intermediate spadeand ruff a low diamond. Cash your remaining heart and enter dummy with a trump to lead the Q. When East covers you discard a club and East must now lead a club from his King or concede a ruff and discard. If East had ducked the first spade, you simply play off your heart winners before throwing East in with a trump to again endplay him.

Find an Entry

West leads the K. You win and lay down the ♠A on which West throws a heart. Play from here.

You need an entry to dummy to finesse the spade but where is that to come from? The answer is to force West to give you the entry you need and in order to do that, you must remove his exit cards. Simply cash 2 clubs in hand and then lead a diamond. West can rise with the Ace but then on this layout only has red cards to lead. A heart allows you to ruff in dummy and a diamond goes to dummy's King. Why cash specifically 2 clubs? - well if West holds 3 clubs and hence would have a safe club exit after winning the A, then East would have held only 2 clubs and would ruff the third round, thus defeating you.

How do you Defend?

You start with the A, declarer dropping the King while partner plays the 2. How do you continue?

When the King of diamonds holds, it looks like declarer is 6214 or perhaps 6115 distribution. You hope to make your 2 aces, but where is the setting trick to come from? The best hope is that partner has ♣Kx and if this is the case, you can beat the contract by leading the ♠Q at trick 2. If declarer tries to enter dummy with a heart, you rise with the Ace and give partner a spade ruff.

Fallback Plan

You open a strong 1NT and partner transfers and then asks you to pick a slam by bidding 5NT. You choose spades because you might need to ruff a club in hand. West leads the ♣J. It looks like you will make 4 spades, a heart, 4 diamonds and 3 clubs for 12 tricks. At trick two you play a spade to the Ace but East shows out, discarding a club. What are your chances now?

You will make this contract if West's shape is 5143. Continue by cashing your other top club and crossing to dummy with a diamond to discard a heart on dummy's ♣Q. Now overtake the diamond back to hand and continue the suit. You ruff the last diamond with a baby trump in dummy as West is forced to follow. Now a heart from the table sees West having to ruff his partners trick and then lead away from his ♠Q.

HotD-fri : County Individual : 25feb19 : B18

You might not have wanted to be in 3N, but when you show 15-17 balanced over partner's 1♠ response, you get raised to game.  On the lead of a small diamond, how will you proceed?

Clearly your best prospects for extra tricks lie in the heart suit.  How do you play this combination?  The answer is small to the nine first, and when it loses you play hearts from the top. You are aiming for three heart tricks and you might be surprised to find that the chances of three tricks is 45%.  The play succeeds when JT are both onside (unless South has five), when any three card combination with a jack/ten is onside, and when there is JTx offside (as is the case here).

On this hand the 7 loses to the T, and when a second diamond is played you duck this and win the third round.  Now you knock out the A, and a spade comes through - but you have no choice, you play the king.  When the king wins, you have nine top tricks and the clubs breaking 3-3 delivers a tenth.  Suddenly it doesn't seem such a poor contract after all!

In fact the line of play shows that the contract was only about a 20% shot, but if others are in the same boat, you don't worry about these things!

Could the defence have done better? The answer is yes; the defence needed to focus on where their five tricks were coming from. After the second round of diamond was ducked, North might have realised that a continuation was futile.  A spade switch now will generate two spade tricks for the defence - and before the A has been knocked out.  The defence get two spades, one diamond and two hearts - and that is enough to beat the game. 

The reality of this game is, as this example shows, that optimal defence is much harder than optimnal declarer play, and it is for this reason that we will keep on bidding games that are below the theoretically required odds.

HotD-thu : County Individual : 25feb19 : B10

This hand from Monday's game was a decent bidding exercise for North-South.  Fortunately the specified system (a standard simple system to ease the mixing of partnerships)  had specified that 3♠ over a 2N opener (20-22 balanced) showed both minors, and that was just what was needed here.  What is less clear is how the bidding should continue after South has shown a positive interest in diamonds.   Slam is clearly in the offing, as North would not have suggested a 5-level minor suit contract were there not a decent chance of 11 tricks, and when 11 tricks looks easy, there is always a chance of 12 tricks. 

There are two choices of how to proceed after 4 sets the trump suit, and it is not clear which is better. One argument says that shortage is key to evaluating hands, and that showing the shortage is appropriate here.  That makes a lot of sense but needs to go with the possibility of 4N as a sign-off (eg when holding AQJT opposite the singleton) and that removes the possibility of 4N to ask for keycards. This trade needs to have been discussed in advance.  The alternative is to simply cue bid high cards, which here would be a 4♠ bid.

In either case, what should South do?  Especially if North has by-passed hearts to show the ♠K, South knows that a grand slam will  be too much to ask, but might well worry that you are missing the ♣AK and in that case you don't want to bid a small slam either. In fact that concern is an illusion, as North would not have suggested going to a high level in a minor if only queen high in those two suits. So you can be sure that North has a high club.  The answer therefore has to be a 6 bid. 

Two tables got to the small slam by this route, but one table chickened out and stopped in 5.  Who would come out best is not yet clear.

After a neutral lead (a trump seems best) from West you can see no losers in spades or diamonds, and possibly not hearts - so it all seems to come down to guessing the clubs. There is a catch however - as if you draw trumps (they are 3-1) you find you have six diamond tricks, three spades and the heart ace.  So you need two more tricks. That could come from the ace and queen of clubs both onside - which doesn't make the slam great odds.  You can do better however if you go in for a dummy reversal - winning the Q and ruffing a heart, back in trumps, ruffing a heart, back in spades, ruff a heart, back in spades to draw the last trump.   That's better - now it is only a 50-50 guess which club honour to find onside.

Down to this guess - which way will you jump?  Usually the key pointer is the fact that a club was not lead.  Unfortunately it doesn't tell you much as dummy had shown the suit and leading it would be a very strange choice.  What do we choose?  One declarer started by leading the jack and West solved the problem by covering with the jack.  The other two tables also guessed right, so all tables made 12 tricks and those who bid the slam came out on top.

HotD-wed : County Individual : 25feb19 : B9

There was a neat turnout on Monday's game - exactly 12 individuals, which allowed each person to play with each other, over the 33 boards we had in circulation.  It was a pleasant surprise to find that we played 33 boards and fnished before 2230 hrs, a new record for a GCBA event!

This hand was an interesting hand to play in 5♣ - which was reached at one table after the auction shown.  In fact, making 5♣ was never going to be a top, as one table played in 3N when the West player treated the singleton king of hearts as a stopper in that suit, and North led a diamond against 3N, in which there were now ten top tricks.  Playing in 5♣, the defence start with two rounds of hearts and you ruff the second; the trumps break 2-2; how do you proceed?  [It would be too easy if the diamonds generated four tricks - they don't]


The key here is not losing two spade tricks, despite missing the king and queen and jack. This can only happen if the defensive spades are blocked - and for this you need to find one hand with a doubleton of two honours, and embarassed when they win the second round of the suit.  Before you get to that point, you will need to have removed all that defender's exit cards - so you need (after drawing trumps) to cash the diamonds and ruff the fourth round.  Then comes ace and another spade and South is on lead with only hearts left.  The ruff-and-discard from a heart return lets you discard a spade from West amd ruff in the East hand.

If the trumps had broken 3-1, your best line would have been very similar - drawing only two trumps, clearing the diamond, and exiting in spades hoping that the winner would be end-played. 

Play Well

West starts with 3 top hearts, East following to the third round with the J. You ruff this and draw trumps in 2 rounds. Play from here.

The bidding surely marks West with the ♣K so it looks like an easy make. However, you need to safeguard against losing 2 club tricks if the suit breaks 4-1. The best line is to draw trumps, eliminate diamonds and play a low club to dummy's Queen. When this holds the trick, you return to hand with a trump and lead a low club towards dummy's ten. If West rises with the Knave, either the clubs have broken or else West is endplayed if he started with 4 clubs.

Plan the Play

West leads the Q and when you play low in dummy, East wins the Ace and returns a club. Plan the play

On the bidding, West is marked with the Ace of spades and if it is a singleton, you are in danger of getting your K ruffed, losing in effect 3 hearts and a spade.  There is nothing you can do to prevent the ruff but by careful play you can ensure that having taken his ruff, East has no good exit. Win the club return and eliminate the minor suits before leading a trump. Now when East ruffs your K, he must concede a ruff and discard and your remaining heart loser disappears.

You Will All Get This Right

To make 3N on the  Q lead ....  how do you proceed?

You want to make four spade tricks and three club tricks and must be careful about unblocking and with entries.

You will play spades first, so the late entry needs to be to the club suit. You therefore win the A at trick one, cash three spades, and play a club towards the JT. This gives you an entry to cash the fourth spade, and after doing that you can continue clubs - with the K as an entry if they duck twice before winning the ace.

A Bad and Good Break

West leads a trump on which East discards a diamond. Plan the play.

The trump lead and break is annoying. If you duck a heart at some point, West will most likely win and play another trump, ruining your chances of a cross-ruff. The long club can't be set up and cashed with the trumps 4-0 through lack of entries. There is hope however. If East holds the Q and wins a trick, he doesn't have another trump to lead, so you might still be able to ruff 3 times in dummy. Win the opening lead in dummy and lead the J. If East covers, let him hold the trick and later discard a heart on a diamond and cross-ruff the hand. If East doesn't cover the J, you need to have the courage to run it.

HotD-fri : League 7 : 18feb19 : B20

This hand from Monday proved troublesome for many. You would prefer to have found your heart fit, and if playing 4-card majors the auction would have started with 1 and the fit would have been found.  On Monday there were 5 declarers in 4  and 5 declarers in 3N. When you find yourself in 3N and South leads a spade (some high, some low), how will you continue?

Clearly you need the club suit to come in and your worry on this hand is the diamond suit. If South has the ♣K you are quite safe but if North has that card then you are in more danger. With no visible entry to dummy, most declarers laid down the ♣A and continued the suit, banking everything on the club king being with South. When North won and played a diamond through, the contract was down.

Could declarer have done better.  The key word above is "visible" (alongside "entry") and the extra chance that *all* the declarers in 3N missed was that the heart queen would come down in two rounds and that the J would become an entry to dummy.  If you start with the top hearts you will find the queen drops and you can then cross to dummy, to take the club finesse into the same hand and clock up 11 tricks.  Extra chances must be taken!

HotD-thu : League 7 : B19

This hand from Monday produced a bidding problem for North.  After partner opens and the next hand cue bids to shows at least 5-5 spades and a minor, you know that the opposition have at least a 9-card spade fit.  You have some heart support but (for some at least) partner might only have four hearts, and anyway the diamonds are the real feature of your hand.  Bidding 3 is possible but it might lead to the loss of your heart support, and there is the question too of whether or not 3 is game forcing.  Your choice?

There is no easy natural answer to this, but there is a solution we use in many other contexts and that is to introduce transfers.  Starting at 2N, we can transfer into the minor suits with 2N promising clubs and 3♣ promising diamonds. Over the transfer request, partner with nothing special to say will accept and on this hand it offers you the chance of showing diamonds and then bidding hearts next to show three card support.  If your hand was just competitive in the minor you would pass the transfer acceptance, while if your hand was game forcing you could continue with a cue bid or a new suit. It's all very convenient and allows 3 as a transfer into hearts to show a good 3-card heart raise.   [For all these plans of course, the opponents might interfere and block your plan]

On this hand, over your transfer partner will break (positively) to 3 or 4 and that will tell you that hearts are fine as a trump suit and you can bid the heart game. 

The one table which played this hand in spades had the auction : 1 - 2 - P(stuck) - 2♠, 3 - 3♠ - 4 - 4♠ -end.  On this auciton it was very difficult for North-South to realise that they owned the hand, as either of them could have been much weaker.

HotD-wed : League 7 : 18feb19 : B23

This hand from Monday was almost a text-book hand, and (not always true) one where the correct play was vital. Slightly more Norths failed on this than did succeed.

There is clearly one spade loser and one club loser in 4♠ and none in diamonds, so the hand comes down to avoiding two heart losers.  Clearly the king is the card that matters and you are aiming to make a trick out of the queen.  With the holding of AQx, and lacking any useful pips (AQ9 would be different) the key play is to cash the ace before leading up to the queen.  In some cases this will gain because a singleton king falls offside, but the more common case is where - as in this hand - you can eliminate all the side suits before leading up to the queen, and when it loses now to a doubleton king, the defence have to give a ruff-and-discard and that solves the problem with the third round of the suit.

In fact a number of successful declarer did not get quite that far - when they cashed the ace, East could see the end-play coming, and unblocked the king (hoping partner had the queen-jack).  Well done to both North and East in those cases.

Read the Lead

West leads the J on which East plays the 6. Plan the play.

If diamonds are 3-2, you can simply duck a diamond for 10 tricks so assume they are 4-1. You can still set up a long diamond, but this will require the hearts to be 4-4 or perhaps 6-2 if the hand with long diamonds has a doubleton heart. An alternative is to cash 2 top diamonds and if they don't break, then switch to spades, playing King, Ace and then small to your ten. This will succeed if spades are 3-3 or 4-2 with West holding a doubleton honour. If hearts were 6-2, East would probably have unblocked his Q at trick 1. As a favourable spade position is a better chance than hearts breaking 4-4, then the best line is to play 2 top diamonds and revert to spades.

Take Your Time

West leads the ♣6 against your slam. How do you play?

You should consider the lead carefully. Why has West led dummy's first bid suit? It is quite likely a singleton and you might suffer a club ruff if East holds the A so you first need to dispose of your club. Win the opening lead and play a spade to your King. Ace and another diamond ruffed in dummy allows you to throw your remaining club on the ♠A. Now is the time to lead a trump from dummy. If East rises with the Ace and leads a club, your best chance is to ruff high and play the opposing trumps to be 2-2 (you are down in any case if West started with a singleton club and Jxx)

Silence is Golden

West leads the Q against your slam. Can you see a way to 12 tricks?

Obviously the defence will always hold up on the first round of hearts in an attempt to kill dummy's heart suit, but if East has no more than 3 clubs and 2 diamonds (likely enough on the bidding) then you can succeed whenever he holds the A. Win the opening lead and cash 5 rounds of trumps (West shows out on the first round). It is important to keep all 3 clubs in dummy. Now cash the top clubs and play a heart to dummy which will hold the trick. Now you can ruff a club back to hand (extracting East's exit card in clubs) before playing a second heart.  East has only hearts left so has to concede.

Hear the Bidding

West leads the Q against your game. How do you get to 9 tricks?

Surely East has a 7 card suit for his vulnerable pre-empt and if that is the case, you should plan to eliminate his side suit cards and throw him in with a club. Duck the opening lead and win the likely heart continuation. Now duck a spade (let's say West wins and clears the hearts -East showing out on the third round). Now you can take the Ace of spades and 3 or 4 rounds of diamonds before playing the ♣J and allowing East to win the trick. His enforced club continuation can be run to dummy's ten for your ninth trick. Yes there will be some distributions for East where he will still have a safe exit card (e.g. 3217 shape), but most of the time you will be successful on this line.

HotD-fri : CBC Pairs League : 13feb19 : B23

Today's hand was a curious exhibit from Wednesday's match.  The question for you is : playing in 6 you have 11 top tricks, and no ruffs to take.  What should be your twelfth trick on this layout?

The answer is the ♠T.  

How do we reach that conclusion?  From declarer's percpective there is the simple chance of a diamond finesse, but there is no reason to take the finesse if the opponents can take it for you.  So after winning the opening lead and drawing trumps, the best plan for declarer is to eliminate the clubs, and play out three rounds of spades.  It turns out here that North would have to win the this spade and lead into the AKJ, giving declarer the twlefth trick with a diamond.   But North should see this coming, and should make sure that on the third round of spades they can play either the eight or the nine, intending that partner can win with the ten and play diamonds from the South hand.  When partner lacks the spade ten, that card becomes declaerer's twelfth trick.  Even if  declarer cashes the top spades early, the strangeness of that play ought to wake North up to what is about to happen.

Did any declarer make the ♠T as their twelfth trick?  I don't know.

It might be wortth noting that this hand is a case where 3433 opposite 3433 actually has extra chances when played in a suit contract than it does in NT.

HotD-thu : Spring Swiss Pairs : 11feb19 : B24

There was a good general of principle came into play on this hand from Monday.  After the auction shown - we start with your choice  lead - which card comes first?

The key question to ask yourself when the opponents sacrifice is "where are their tricks coming from?".   The answer is usually from trumps, and when you have honours in all the side suits that message gets re-enforced.   The winning lead here is a trump, because that is the only chance you have to get to play three rounds of trumps (either ace and another now and another when in with the A, or one now and two later).  Leading trumps will hold declarer to 8 tricks here, and anything else allows declarer the chance to get out for -300.   Given you can make the game in hearts, this makes all the difference between a top and a bottom.

HotD-wed : Spring Swiss Pairs : 11feb19 : B15

There were some strange occurrences in the first session of this year's Swiss Pairs.  Board 2 saw the majority of the field play in diamonds and every one of them made a different number of tricks, while a sizeable minority played in hearts and all of them also made a different number of tricks.  This was followed two boards later by all tables playing in 4♠ and everyone making 10 tricks - a consistency that is unheard of!   

We usually complain here about people not bidding enough slams, but on Monday Board 12 and Board 23 there were good spade slams to bid but the few people who did bid them found that the cards were lying very unfavourably and they had to go down!

On this board it's worth looking at the lead from West's perspective.  With a 4333 shape and nothing to go on, you really have to lead your four card suit; there might be a suit that works out better but you have no idea which and the odds of picking a suit that helps declarer is just too great.  The second question is what spade to lead from  AK96 ?  In practice three Wests led low and one led a top spade.  There are for sure times when low works best, but the argument is put forward that unless the suit breaks 3-3 or partner has length, then the lead will not work out well for you.  In both of those cases a top spade works just as well, and importantly after one top spade, if it looks bad for you, you are still on lead and can switch if necessary.  The lead of a top spade also helps enormously when the declarer has a 2-2 holding in the suit. 

An odd consequence arises from the choice of a small spade. Declarer of course wins and sets about cashing hearts.  Can you see how this now generates 9 tricks for declarer?


The answer is that the fourth heart squeezes West.  If West ditches a diamond then declarer can cash two diamonds and exit in spades, end-playing West.  If West ditches a club, then declarer can duck a club to set up the queen.  You might not think that the latter is easily read, but when it happened at the table the club discard from West was combined with two club discards from East - and declarer could not go wrong in clubs.

A Thin Contract

After some very aggressive bidding, you arrive in 6 and receive the lead of the ♣K. Plan the play.

You can make this contract by setting up the spades provided they are no worse than 4-2. Win the lead and play Ace and another spade, ruffing low in dummy. A diamond to hand allows a further spade ruff with the K. Now cash a diamond throwing your losing club. Then 3 rounds of trumps and play spades from the top. If the layout is similar to that shown, all the defence can take will be a tump trick.

Read the Lead

West lead's the 2 against your slam. Plan the play.

We have seen a similar theme in a previous problem. After pre-empting in clubs, a player who leads a side suit almost certainly has a singleton. If this is the case, is there a way to succeed? If you win the A and draw trumps in 2 rounds, you can play off ♣A and ruff a club, then 2 rounds of spades finishing in dummy allows you to lead the ♣J, discarding a small diamond. Now West must concede a ruff and discard allowing you to dispose of your remaining diamond loser.

Be Careful

West Cashes the A and ♣A at tricks 1 and 2. East plays the ♣Q so West continues with a low club to his partner's Knave. At trick 4 East returns a heart. How do you play?

You need the diamond finesse to be right. Suppose you ruff trick 4 and play 3 rounds of trumps finishing in dummy. Now the Q is run and holds but when you repeat the finesse, West shows out and you cannot avoid a diamond loser. The solution is to ruff high at trick 4 and cross to dummy with ♠8. Now play a low diamond and finesse. Now you can draw trumps finishing in dummy and lead the Q to pick up the whole suit. It is just a metter of being careful with your entries.

Take the Right View

West leads the ♠5. You duck to East's King and the Knave is returned. How do you play from here?

It looks like the spades are 5-3 so losing the lead spells defeat. If may appear that your chances in the minor suits are equal but this is not the case. You can combine your minor suit options by playing off the AK of one suit before finessing in the other. If you play the top diamonds and the Queen drops, you will still need the club finesse as you will only have 8 tricks (3 diamonds, 1 spade, 1 heart, 2 clubs). However, if you cash the top clubs and the Queen appears, you have 9 tricks - hence this is the better play. Of course, if the ♣Q doesn't fall in 2 rounds, you will need to find Qxx onside.

HotD-fri : CBC Mens : 5feb19 : B22

Cheltenham Bridge Club helds its gender-specific pairs championships this week.  Val Constable & Judy Sanis retained their title in the Ladies Pairs with a score almost 5% ahead of second, but in the Mens' Pairs the winners - a new partnership of John Arblaster & Ben RItacca - clocked up an even better score of full two tops ahead of second place.  This board was one of their tops - earned by good judgement from each in turn.

One might question the opening bid, and many would surely have opened with a weak 2 as South, but this vulnerability is ideal for making obstructive bids and it was that fact which pushed South to open at the three level.  The first good move was West's double, which is much less commital than a 3♠ bid would be, and caters for partner being short in spades and holding a decent minor suit.  North raised to 4 but this didn't stop East bidding 4♠ and there the auction ended.

South led a heart won by declarer, who now took the right view and played South for a singleton trump, finessing North's queen successfully.  After that it was time to knock out the two top diamonds; on the last of these North tried a third heart which gave declarer a ruff-and-discard so that one club loser went away, and when the club finesse now succeeded that was 11 tricks and an outright top.

Could the defence have done better?  Definitely. A diamond opening lead from South would have led to a one trick defeat, as partner could have delivered a ruff on the third round.  Should South find that? It is hard to say but a doubleton is appealing and if declarer was known to have a 9-card spade fit that would be a stand-out choice;  South's heart lead was based on a hope that partner had four trumps and that a forcing defence was what was needed.  And of course if South had only opened 2 it is possible that East-West might have stopped short of game.

Could North do any differently?  Clearly the ruff-and-discard was an error but that only gave away one match-point as the contract was always making.  What North might have done was over the double, to bid 4 on the way to 4.  That way South would have no excuse for failing to find the winning lead.   And North might have sacrificed in 5 but that would gain very little as most tables were 4♠ by West on the lead of a top diamonds, and so down one,


Take Your Time

You get the lead of the ♠Q. How do you play?

There will be no problem if the club finesse works but if it loses, you will lose 3 spades (minimum), a club and the A. It is better to play diamonds first. Win the spade and play a low diamond to your Queen. If this holds you can just concede a club trick. If East rises with the A you have chances of bringing in the diamonds for four tricks and hence no need to risk the club finesse. If West wins the diamond Ace and clears spades, you can cash the diamond King (the Jack might drop) before reverting to finessing the club. 

HotD-wed : Spring Teams 2 : 4feb19 : B8

It was curious to see on Monday how three tables made 11 tricks in hearts, with a clear loser in each of clubs, diamonds and spades.  How did it happen?

The bidding first - this was very straightforward, with a 2N opener from East and an enquiry about majors from West.  This uncovered the heart fit and led to a 4 contract - or at least that was the story at six of the tables.  With a 4333 shape, four Wests eschewed the major suit enquiry and simply raised to game, and this was indeed a good move as there were 9 top tricks and nothing could possibly go wrong with that contract.  This judgement with a 4333 hand is quite acceptable (but we lack any analysis to confirm that this pays in the long run).  There were two "accidents" - one with East ending in 3,  and the other when East opened a multi 2 - P - 2 - ?    and North poked his nose in with 2♠.   East doubled to show a strong 2N opener and this was passed out,  This contract escaped for down two, but could have gone down three.

Playing in 4 as East, three tables produced a top club lead, two produced a heart lead, and one the ♠J.  The club lead would be normal in many circumstances, but a KQ9x holding generated a bad experience for some when leading into a very strong hand, so the choice of a heart instead has support.   Declarer on any lead except a spade faces the prospect of four losers, and the key thing is to maximise chances in spades.  Since North leading spades through is clearly bad news, the best play is to duck the ♣K, or if a trump lead to draw trumps and then lead to the ♣A4, hoping to duck the trick to South.  When this happened and South returned a spade, declarer found that there were ten sure tricks, and set about the standard play of eliminating the clubs before deciding what to do in the pointed suits. The only prospect of anything "good" was an endplay and it turned out that cashing the top spades and top diamonds, and then exiting in EITHER suit, would end-play one defender or the other, and gain a ruff-and-discard to allow the other loser to be disposed of.  That is the path to 11 tricks.

There is however no reason for South to switch to (or lead) the dangerous ♠J and on a more passive club or diamond continuation, East's choice should be to eliminate the clubs, cash the ♠A and exit with three rounds of diamonds. With the long diamonds in South, this play leaves the safe hand on lead and the ♠Q is guaranteed as a tenth trick.  It is worth noting that while 11 tricks were available and identified as so by Deep Finesse, the best declarer play and defence results in just 10 tricks.

HotD-tue : Spring Teams 2 : 4feb19 : B7

There were two slam hands last night that you would want to bid, and it pleasing to report that 9 out of 12 tables bid the slam on board 10. This hand proved more problematic.  The bidding alwayed starts off with 1♣ from South and 1♠ from North.  There seems little doubt that unless you have a specific agreement otherwise, 2 would be forcing (as a reverse) and so 3 is free as a splinter bid agreeing spades.   North should be very enthused by this; despite the bad fit in clubs, North holds both a decent five-card spade suit, and a good side suit in hearts. The only danger is that there are two major aces, or a major ace and the ♠K missing.  Is there a way to check up on these?

Not immediately, so it is appropriate that North continues with 3 and over that South will bid 4♣ showing a control there.  There are two paths now; North could cue bid 4, or if concerned that the heart control had already been shown, then a "cue bid" of 4 should get the same job done - the job being to tell partner that they are positiuve about a slam.  After that South will take charge, ask for key cards, and settle for the small slam.   But most didn't find this so easy ...

Work it Out

West starts with the J against your game. East overtakes with the Q at trick 1 and you duck. East continues with  Ace and another and you win the third round (West showing out). Play from here.

The spade finesse is likely to be wrong but there are other chances. Try to get a count on East's hand. Play off 3 top diamonds. There are 9 tricks if they break so let's assume that East started with a doubleton. He will have to discard on the third diamond - suppose he throws a spade. Now take 3 rounds of clubs finishing in hand. If East shows out, then you know that he only has major suit cards left and you can throw him in with a heart to lead a spade into your tenace later. If both opponents follow to 3 rounds of clubs then you have a decision to make. Did East start with a 2524 shape or 3523. If we assume that East holds the ♠K for his overcall, then he is probably 3523 as else he would probably have thrown a club rather than a spade. Hence you exit in hearts as before. Of course, if you playing against a devious expert, then he might well have chosen to blank the ♠K early knowing you would find the endplay - so you can't be sure of doing the right thing - but such is the fascination of the game.

Count your Tricks

West leads a low trump against your game. How do you play?

You might be tempted to cross to the K and try the heart finesse. You will make if the finesse scores or diamonds break 3-3 or on some hands when West cannot lead another trump when in with the K - so not bad odds. However, winning the first spade and playing AQ is pretty much 100%. You can win the trump return, cross to dummy and ruff your remaining heart. This way you will come to 5 spades in dummy, AK, ♣A and a heart ruff in hand for 10 tricks

A Good Lead

West leads a low trump and East shows out. This looks like a good lead for the defence. How do you plan the play?

You lack the entries to set up and enjoy the long club so it looks like you need to take 4 ruffs on the table. However, this wont be possible if West gets in with a heart at some point and leads another trump. You could hope that East holds KQ but that is only a 25% chance. Better is to play A followed by 9 from hand, If West fails to cover this then throw a heart from dummy. If West does cover then ruff and enter hand with a club ruff to lead another diamond to repeat the procedure. This way you will make whenever West has only 1 diamond honour (or fails to cover the 9) as well as when East has KQ - around 70% in total. 


How do you Defend?

Your partner leads the ♠4 after a simple auction in which South opened a 15-17 1NT. Declarer plays the ♠5 from dummy. How do you see the defence developing?

It looks like partner has led from a long spade suit and will have at least one entry. What do you think the spade position is? Partner's lead and the rule of eleven tells you that declarer has one card higher than the 4. You can deduce that this will not be the ♠8 else surely declarer would have tried for a legitimate trick in the suit by playing the Queen. If delarer started wih ♠ Jx it hardly matters what you play at trick 1. The critical position is when declarer holds ♠Ax. If you play the ♠T at trick 1 (as many would), then when partner comes in with say the A and leads a second spade, declarer has a 50/50 guess in the suit but may get it right by inserting dummy's 9.  If you had played the ♠6 at trick 1, then declarer will most probably rise with the ♠Q on the second spade lead as this is a better percentage shot. 

HotD-thu : CBC Swiss Pairs : 29jan19 : B23

There were two slam hands on Tuesday and they both proved problematic.  The first was board 5, and at some tables there was opposition bidding but if you had a free run how would you bid this hand, starting from East ...

  ♠  AKQ8543


  ♦  A52

  ♣  Q86

  ♠  J6



  ♣  AKJT43

After a start of 1♣ - 1♠ - 2♣  it is very difficult to find out exactly how good partner's clubs are, and that is what matters most.  It goes a bit easier if you can start off with 1♣ - 2♠  showing a strong hand, as then raising clubs is clearly forcing.  Across the field only four got to 6♠,  two got to 6♣, and the other three quarters of the field stopped in game.  Nobody got to the cold grand slam in either suit.   If you can see a good bidding sequence, do let us know.

The other slam hand (ignoring the two boards where a very lucky 12 tricks were available) was the board shown in the diagram.  After this start, in standard Acol with a weak NT, you have to bid 2N (forcing, balanced) and when partner now shows spades with 3♠ you need to support clubs at the 4-level. Unfortunately, partner will not knwo to expect four card support.  A cue bid in hearts might now allow you to bid 4N as a key card ask (hoping partner's spades are not QJT9), and you should then continue with 5N to show you have all the key cards.  It is a close call now for East as to whether the ♠K is enough to justify bidding the grand slam, and you are forced to guess.  Since showing a king would still allow a stop in 6N (which is plyable and might be best at matchpoints) it is right to show the spade king.

The slam bids a bit more easily when 2♣ is a game forcing bid, as now West can raise to 3♣ and we have suit agreement one level lower.  We can proceed with 3♠ (stopper for NT) - 4 (cue for clubs) - 4 (cue, which has to be shortage) and we are in the same boat as the traditional Acol bidders.  One extra to note here is that over 3♣ a minimal 2♣ bidder with a shortage in hearts should splinter with 4, which means that when the short heart emerges here the East hand is known to have extras (beyond a minimal game force).

Across the field performance was slightly better here - only one pair bid the grand slam, but five pairs bid 6N and four pairs bid 6♣,  which leaves just 14 pairs missing out.  We must learn to bid up!


HotD-wed : County Pairs QF : B21

This hand produced an interesting "vacant spaces" problem on Monday.  After the bidding shown East led a diamond and West continued with three rounds forcing a ruff in the dummy. The spade finesse will come at some point - there being little expectation of a doubleton queen offside when the diamonds are 6-2 in that direction. The question is finding the heart queen - who do you think has it?

Normally with the ace and king in different hands and missing Qxxx trumps, the odds favour playing for the drop.  We learn this as "nine ever".

When you start with one more vacant space on one side then leading through that hand, after it goes A-small-small-small and you lead again and see a small card - the number of vacanct spaces is now dead even, and finesse is equal odds with the drop.

If you started with two (or more) more vacant spaces and you lead through, there are still more vacant spaces on the left and the odds swing into taking the finesse on the second round. 

Here there are 4 more vacant spaces which says finesse, but awkwardly you cannot cash an honour first to catch singleton queen with West.  Does that change it?  Indeed it does, and SUITPLAY tells us that the odds on finessing on the first round (as you must) or playing for the drop are dead even.

But there is a flaw in the above argument - as there are not 4 more vacant spaces, only 3, for East has discarded a club on the third diamond.  With three vacant spaces, and no ability to catch the singleton queen, the best play is hearts from the top. {Says SUITPLAY]

The pair who lost out because declarer finessed deserve our consolation.

We cannot expect to be able to do all of this calcuation at the table, but if you can get your mind around the first three lines above, they will prove generally useful and easy to apply.

HotD-tue : COunty Pairs QF : 28jan19 : B19

It was a small field for the County Pairs Qualifying Round last night; the turnout has been low since we moved the qualifying round from November to January, so as to be two and not four months ahead of the final.  If you have any ideas why this kill the turnout, do let us know.

Curiously there were two completely flat boards - on B23 everyone played 6N just making (have you ever seen a flat board in slam before?) and on B25 everyone played in 4♠ making +1 (and 3N would have scored better).

This hand was an interesting 3N to play as East. In the bidding shown, South's opener was a weak two in either major, and North expressed interrest in hearts but not spades.  Unfortunately for East this generated a heart rather than a spade lead. There are eight top tricks and clearly you need one from a black suit to make the game. One alternative is to try guessing the spades but it is so likely that South has both the ace and queen, that option is not appealing. Declarer chose therefore to run the diamonds and decide later.  This had the unfortunate effect of squeezing the East hand out of what hadn't been identified as, but actually was, a stopper in clubs.  When the time came to try for a spade trick it was too late - the defence could jump up with the ♠A and cash four clubs.

Should declarer have seen this coming? Possibly yes. Was there a decent alternative? Not really - even with a successful spade guess early there was still a big danger of the defence cashing five tricks. 

We have to attribute the swing here to the opening lead.  There are times when an attacking lead is needed to set up tricks for the defence, but here it would simply have removed declarer's guess and made the contract very straightforward.  In club bridge, the number of times a trick is given away on the opening lead, or by an unnecessary switch in the middle of the hand, is enormous.  You will see, in top class bridge, a much stronger tendency towards passive leads - leaving declarer with all the work to do.  [There are exceptions to this - in explicit situations such as leading against a suit slam, or against a preempt]

How's Your Defence?

N/S are playing 5 card major openings. West leads the T. Declarer rises with dummy's Ace and leads a trump. How might this contract be defeated.

Prospects are bleak. Surely South has all the missing points for his push on to game opposite a limit raise and your hearts are well placed for declarer. It looks like all you will make is a heart a diamond and a club. True, if partner has led a singleton diamond , you would have 2 diamonds tricks, but then declarer might well have ducked trick 1. This is the time for a deceptive play. Try rising with the A on the first trump lead and playing off 2 top diamonds. If the layout is as shown, South might well ruff the third diamond with a high trump and then play another top trump, hoping the hearts are 2-2. Now you will make 2 trumps, a diamond and a club.

Plan the Play

West kicks off with a low club lead. Plan the play.

With luck you can restrict your diamond losses to 2 tricks, but with a spade loser that is still one off. You need West to hold the A so mentally assign the ♠A to East. Ruff the club lead in hand and cross to dummy with a trump to lead a low spade. If East rises you will have 2 diamond discards in hand. If East ducks, you win the ♠K, return to dummy with a trump and discard your remaining spade on the ♣A. Later you just lose 2 diamonds when the diamond Ace is onside.

Clues from the Bidding and Lead

West leads the ♣3 against your slam. Plan the play.

Consider the opening lead. What could it be from? One of Andrew Robson's tips is that when a pre-emptor leads a side suit, it is usually a singleton. If so we can succeed by careful play. Rise with dummy's Ace of clubs and draw trumps in 3 rounds (they have to break 3-2 if we are to have any chance). Now it is not good enough to lead the ♣Q from hand as East would win and exit with a heart and you would lack the entries to set up and enjoy the clubs. Instead it is important to lead the second club from dummy. Hence after having drawn trumps, cross to dummy with a diamond and lead a club, finessing the 9 if East plays low. When this holds, just concede a club trick by leading the queen. That way you will have 12 tricks.

HotD-fri : GCBA Squad : 24jan19 : B14

On this hand from last night's squad practice, the results were 4+1 twice, 4-1 once and 3+1 once.   You would want to get to game on these hands as there are two top losers and you have chances to avoid the extra potential loser which exists in every suit. But it isn;t clear for a 13-count with a wasted K to bid game opposite a passed hand. The bidding shown is one plausible route, with West's pass over the double being more encouraging than a sign-off in 3.

The interesting question is how to combine your chances, after the defence starts with A and a second diamond.  The three tables with this lead made 9, 10 and 11 tricks. Your choice?

There are no choices in the trump suit when low cards appear on the first round, so step number one is to draw trumps.  There are three ways of tackling the spade suit - play for the drop, or finesse South for the queen, or finesse North for the queen.  The location of the queen cannot be deduced from the bidding, not can the location of the spade length.  But while ponderign which to chose, we note that there is an advantage in playing for the drop, as when this fails, you can (usually) put the opponents on lead with the thid spade and force them to open up the club suit.  For this reason that is the clear choice.

When the queen drops you can now play someone (and surely this has to be North) for a short club holding including the ace.  This is how to achieve 11 tricks.

If you finesse through North you get to the same place, but if you finesse through South you will lose to North's ♠Q. Since North is short in spades, this forces North to open up clubs and gets you 10 tricks.

How 9 tricks happened remains a mystery. [We are told declarer started hearts by leading to T and losing to the J.  The spades were found but then declarer got the clubs wrong  :( 

Constructing Possibilities

South's opening bid promised a 5 card major. The raise to 2 showed 3 trumps and decent values (8-11). You choose to lead a low diamond. Dummy's Queen is covered by the King and Ace. South plays the A, partner dropping the Q. South now leads the ♣7. How do you defend?

You need 4 tricks to beat the contract.  If South holds ♠Kx  AKxxxx  Axx ♣ xx, then it doesn't matter what you play on this trick provided you continue with a diamond when you win the ♣A. If South has ♠Kx  AKxxxx  A98x ♣ x then you must rise with ♣A immediately else your ace of clubs will be ruffed out and South has trump entries to discard his losing spades on North's clubs. If South holds ♠xx  AKxxxx  AJxx ♣ x then you can never beat the contract as you only have 2 spades and a club to take before South's losers go away. By constructing possible hands for declarer, we can see that the right defence to give you any chance of beating the contract is to rise with your Ace on the first club lead and play a diamond. You must hope that partner can win and play a spade through. 

HotD-wed : League 6 : 21jan19 : B22

This hand from Monday produced a double figure swing in three matches and a lesser swing in the other two.

The bidding is all natural, although a cheeky South was known to overcall 2♣ on at least one occasion.  North's normal lead was the singleton club and declarer won the ace to play trumps. North won and tried a heart which ran to the king and ace. Declarer was now looking at the prospect of four losers.  It seemed natural at this point to discard one of them, so declarer tried three rounds of diamonds, only to find that the third one was ruffed and the contract was one down.

There was however a winning line - and it was found by some. If you read the lead as a singleton, and the play in hearts to be honest, then it all depends on who has the missing top spade. Here it is held by North and that means that you will succeed by playing a second spade, as you can then delay the discard of a club on a diamond until after trumps have been drawn.

Can you find this play?  Quite possibly; on the bidding shown - if you have read the lead correctly - South has 8 HCP and North must surely have the top spades and the top heart to justify bidding. 

Could the defence have done better?  The answer is yes.  After a club lead, North needs to lead diamonds each time they get the lead in spades; declarer will then be forced to cash the diamonds before trumps are drawn. [Not a likely choice]

There is an alternative, found at table five.  Here North didn't lead the singleton at trick one, but led a heart to the king and ace.  On winning the first spade he now switched to a (low) club.  It was impossible at this point for declarer to judge this a singleton and place the high cards the way they were, so that declarer could only sensibly play diamonds and that failed and he was down.

HotD-tue : League 6 : 21jan19 : B7

This hand from Monday provided swings for two reasons : one was that some played only in a part-score (three out of ten), and the other was that of those in game half (actually three out of seven) went off.

It is difficult to find alternative sequences to that shown, and with 25 HCP and a 4-4 heart fit, you would expect everyone to have reached the same contract. Somehow it is never that easy - indeed in the CBC Pairs event using the same boards, there were no tables (out of seven) reached 4.

Now to the play - which always started off with East winning a top spade at trick one. With the risk of discards on the diamonds, it is inevitable that East will cash three winners in the black suit. Whatever comes next, here is how declarer should be thinking.  There looks to be three top tricks (two in diamonds and one spade) and in that case it needs seven trump tricks to make game.  Looking at the trump holding and the missing pips, the best target must be to make tricks from the Q974 and the AKJ.  This means ruffing three clubs in the dummy, and on a trump at trick four can be done with careful timing.  Since the 2 is not part of the ruffing plan, it must be played at this trick so it is important to win the first heart with the queen (although the nine works too). After that, A and a club ruff, K and a diamond ruffed high, it all falls into place.

An alternative for declarer is to go after the diamonds. This takes a bit more card reading.  After winning a heart at trick four, entries to the South hand mean that you can only engineer one diamond ruff - and now you must guess after cashing the first two diamonds whether the suit started off 3-3 or 4-2.  The spade overcall and the heart break tell you that West had 7 cards in the minors to East's 6 cards.  After the J brings the nine, each hand had six vacant spaces, so the odds are even on whether to ruff the suit out or go for the ruffiung finesse.  It becomes a 50% game, which is why the cross-ruff approach is more appealing.

Not that the cross-ruff was a certainty but the fact that a heart switch at trick four is to the 8 makes the heart pips less of a worry, and no heart switch lets you retain the Q9 and you are only in trouble if the long clubs are with East and the T is with West.

An Extra Chance

West leads the 4 against your slam. You play low in dummy and East produces the Queen and switches to a diamond. How do you play?

The bidding as shown contains an intesting treatment. A method popluar with some top players is to complete the transfer only when holding 3 card support and to break to 3NT otherwise. This has the advantage of setting the suit early on and allowing subsequent bids to be cue bids. Anyway, back to the play. On a non heart lead you could have pitched your losing heart and made the slam easily. It looks like you need the spade finesse but there is a small extrac chance - did you spot it? West may have led from 9xx. Best is to win the diamond return in dummy (throwing a spade from hand) and lead the K, ruffing East's Ace. Now a couple of rounds of trumps finishing in dummy and play the J. If the 9 falls you can discard 5 spades on dummy's red suit winners. If not you ruff a heart and rely on the spade finesse.

Plan the Play

West leads ♣6 against your game. You win and play the K which unsurprisingly holds. Now what?

You need 2 entries to dummy to set up and then enjoy the diamond suit. You have those entries in hearts and you will be fine if the heart finesse works. If it loses, however, the defense will clear the clubs and then you will most likely have 3 clubs, a heart and a diamond as losing tricks. Instead of looking for your second entry in hearts, you can create one in clubs instead. Cross to the A and play a top diamond pitching your other high club. Now if the defence plays clubs, you have 5 diamonds, 2 clubs and 2 aces. If the defence abandons clubs, you have time to set up your second heart entry after all.

It's an Illusion

West leads the ♣J. What is the best line?

If you finesse the club at trick 1 and it loses, you may go down on a diamond switch with the Ace wrong. Even so, it is a 75% chance. You can do better however. The contract is assured if you win the ♣A at trick 1, draw trumps and play Ace and another spade, discarding a club if East doesn't cover. If this trick loses you can use your trump entries to take a second ruffing spade finesse. This way you make at least 7 hearts, 2 spades and a club.

HotD-fri : Midlands Counties League : 13jan19 : B6

This hand from Sunday's match was a major gain for all three of the county teams, and we started off by congratulating ourselves on the obvious strength of our slam bidding.

The fact that we bid the slam when others didn't is great, but closer examination showed that it wasn't slam-bidding technique which mattered on this hand.  Can you see what it was that mattered?

It was in fact South who was the most cruciual player in determining the outcome here.  That was because bidding a slam or not depended on the extent to which South cramped the auction on the first round.  Many of the Nottinghamshire pairs bid just 2♠ as South, which allowed West to support hearts and still leave East room to make a safe slam try.  When the various Gloucestershire pairs overcalled either 3♠ or in one instance 4♠,  then the options for East-West became more limited.  Over 3♠ by Keith Stanley, West bid 4 and East declined to make even a try for slam.  When Richard Plackett bid 4♠ all West could do was double and there the matter rested.  "Normal" defence collected +500 which wasn't great when East-West had 1430 available in their own suit. 

Two questions come to mind - should we all be bidding 4♠ and why did the defenbders of 4♠x not collect the +800 to which the computer tells us they are entitled?

Q1 : on these hands you generally have to ask yourslelf what you would do with similar high cards an a lesser shape.  With ♠J987543 J5 64 ♣J7 would you not also want to preempt?  At this vulnerability would you itch to bid 3♠?  If so, you need to bid one more with a 7204 shape as your chance of a defensive trick with the club jack has gone down, and at the same time you count out as one less loser.

Q2 : this is tricky, and it comes from forcing declarer's trumps before the top clubs are knocked out.  The only defence is to start with three rounds of hearts.  It is difficult to give a ruff and discard so early on any hand, but it can only gain a trick when declarer ruffs in the short hand, so here with the spade king - and that is likely to return a trick in the trump suit (and would do so here).  So the defence is not totally impossible to find. 

Listen to the Bidding

West leads the ♣T to your Ace. Play from here.

You have 9 top tricks but you could easily have 4 losers in the red suits as the bidding marks East with both missing Aces. Your holdings in the red suits are such that you may be unable to stop West from gaining the lead in whichever suit you play. The solution is clear when you consider the bidding. For his 1NT opening, East must hold at least 2 spades and hence you can throw him in with the second (or third spade if they are 3-0). Now East can take his 2 aces but no more as he will have to allow you access to dummy.

HotD-wed : Winter Pairs 5 : 14jan19 : B11

There were numerous excellent slams on Monday which few got close to.  Board 11 has a robust five-three fit in both spades and hearts, and 12 top tricks - but the small slam was bid only once and the grand slam (needing the Q onside, but it wasn't) once.  Board 13 has 13 top tricks in spades (but the A to lose) and everyone played in 4♠.   Board 14 we discussed yesterday had slam available in both directions!  Board 15 had 12 tricks trivially available in hearts (but not good odds - a very lucky layout) and we had nobody in slams and two in partscores!  Board 16 had an easy diamond slam just needing to handle themissing Q843 of trumps (a 58% shot) but we saw every table in 3N and half of them sneaking through the 13th trick.  Board 21 was a making 6 but it depends on diamonds 2-2 and clubs 3-3, so it is poor odds (say 13%) but everything was perfect this time. Board 22 was a laydown 6 where most played in 3N and at  those six tables all but one the defenders cashed their six heart tricks (the other two tables went minus in a 4-3 spade fit).  FInally on board 25 there is 7♣ available; that grand slam depends finding the ♠Q and being able to ruff two hearts - that's too much to ask, but the small slam in clubs needing just one of these is an excellent proposition.  [Excercise for the reader - with hearts 5-2 the wrong way round, how does 7♣ make?]

Is this because we are rubbish at bidding slams, or at bidding in general?   I do not believe it is so, it's just that bidding is a very difficult task.  The one successful slam in this list is the hand illustrated, and the final contract was only achieved after a mis-understanding!  Here's the explanation.

The pair concerned had few arrangements in place - only that 2 was game forcing - and they had, despite playing in all five sessions of this event - very little experience in slam bidding.  After 2 West does face a dilemma - whether to set the suit early or introduce diamonds and potentially cloud the issue.  It is a trade off between simplicity and the possibility of playing in hearts with a 5-5 diamond fit on the side.   After 3, the bid of 3♠ was a cue bid and West now felt obliged to show the (undisclosed) diamonds.  East thought at this poiint there were two club losers and signed off in 4.  The 5♣ continuation now sounded like second round control to go with the first round diamond control, and for West to be so enthused there was surely a good spade suit present.  With an eye on protecting ♣ Kx of clubs against a lead through, East chose 6♠  as the final contract, and there it rested.

Notice how much more difficult it is to have a sensible bidding conversation if the opposition put in a 3♣ or 4♣ overcall.

We cannot learn a lot from that story, but it would be a worthwhile exercise for any pair to examine boards 11, 13, 16, 22 and 25 - and decide what their preferred partnership sequence would be on thse hand.  Agreeing on that will provide a solid foundation for a number of hands in the future.



HotD-tue : WInter Pairs 5 : 14jan19 : B14

This was the most spectacular hand from last night's Winter Pairs, and the auction from table eight.

East's 1N opener nominally showed 14-16 HCP, but East judged the long clubs were worth an extar point. South might well have considered a jump bid with such shape, but even the 2♠ bid chosen made life difficult for West.  The takeout double didn't show the fith heart but at least brought all suits into consideration.  Over North's raise, it was easy for East now to show the clubs - and after that it became a battle between South and West.

South bid 4♠ in  constructive vein, having heard of support from partner; when it came to 5♠ it is not clear what the intention was, and when it came to 6♠ South had become convinced that the club slam was making and that a sacrifice was necessary.  In 6♠ there is no spade or club loser, a heart loser, and the need to play diamonds for no loser.  The play in diamonds clearly starts with small towards the AJ632 and the jack is inserted and holds.  An alert West at this point will drop a high diamond, creating in South's mind the possibility of a T9-doubleton.  The reason for doing this is to encourage declarer to lead the queen next in order to pin the other high card and set up the eight.  The ruse is quite well known and with West holding no spades, the odds clearly favour doubleton king (two possibilities) over doubleton T9 (one possibility) - although that does mean playing the 1N opener for two doubletons.  So declarer should not go wrong.

In the event, three Souths got as high as 6♠ and all were doubled; one miscounted trumps and saw the third diamond ruffed with the spade queen, while one made 12 tricks, and the otehr went down for reasons as yet unknown.

Notice that a 6♣ slam can be made by East (as was bid at the table shown).  Delcarer must play North for the heart queen, and then take care to ruff the fourth round and set up the fifth heart to discard a diamond.

LATER : the other auction to 6♠ also involved a 1N opener : this time it went  1N - 2 (a long major) - 3 (forcing) - 4♠ (pushy) -  P - P - 5♣ - P - P - 5♠ - P - P - 6♣ - 6♠ - X - end. 

Defensive Thinking

The opponents arrive in 3NT after a 15-17 NT opening from South. Your opening lead is the 3, which declarer wins with the knave to lead a spade. Your play.

Did you duck the spade lead smoothly? Reconstruct declarer's hand. He has shown up with  AKJ and must hold ♣AK for his bid. The important cards we don't know about are the ♠J and T. South has 4 club tricks (maybe 5 if he holds a long club suit) and 3 hearts - i.e at least 7 tricks. If South has Txx(x) he must make a spade and a diamond for 9 tricks minimum - The defence can at most win 2 spades (on a wrong guess by South) and 2 diamonds. If you duck the first spade South will have 9 tricks if he holds 5 clubs. If you duck the first spade and South does not run for home, he re-enters hand with a club and leads a second spade and you have the same dilemma. If you duck and South has no diamond guard, he will rise with a top spade as he cannot afford to lose the lead - hence when you duck you gift South the contract (and he may hold ♠ Janyway).  So what it comes down to is that ducking the spade can never gain. Best is to rise with the ♠A immediately and play diamonds from the top. This way you will beat the contract whenever it is possible so to do.

Don't Give Up

West starts with 3 top diamonds. You ruff and finesse the 9, which holds. When you cash the A East shows out. Play from here.

It looks like you must lose a trump and a club to go with the 2 diamonds already lost. Never give up should be your motto. Simply play off your black suit winners and exit with your small club. Wheneverr West is 3-2 in spades and clubs, he is caught in a smother play end position and does not make his 'sure' trump trick.

Isn't bridge Easy?

West leads the ♣3 to East's Ace. The ♣5 is returned. West wins and switches to the 2. Take it from here.

It looks from the carding that West has 4 hearts and 4 clubs. He therefore has at least 4 diamonds which means playing West for the Q is with the odds (4:3 or 5:2 if West is void in trumps) Counting out opponents shapes can help with critical decisions on many hands and is a habit that should be cultivated. However, you should not lose sight of the fact that no counting is needed when looking at a sure thing. Simply rise with the A at trick 3, draw the outstanding trump and exit with a heart. The defence must now lead diamonds or concede a ruff and discard.

Find the Lady

West leads the 2, won by East's knave. He continues with ♣J. How do you play the trumps?

This is a simple example of a second degree assumption. You cannot make the contract if the A is with West, so assume that East has it. In that case he has shown up with AJ  A and ♣J yet passed when he had the opportunity to bid. Therefore you assume that he does not hold ♠Q. Finesse West for that card.

HotD-thu : CBC Pairs League : 9jan19 : B12

The final session of the autumn series of the CPL finished last night, with Richard Butland & Paul Denning winning Division One, Wendy Angseesing & Peter Waggett winning Division Two, while Sue Evans & Graham Selby from Worcestershire won Division Three.   There were seven hands (out of 25) with slam making  - but one of them was poor odds, and another one was roughly 50%.   Of the good slams, this was the only one which was regularly bid - but it was stil considered a failure by many as they did get to 6 but only to find they'd rather have been in 7!

Those playing 2-over-1 as a game force had the best chance, after the bidding started as above.  In practice the Easts all bid a fourth suit forcing 3♣ and then had to decide what to do over partner's 3.  The common choice was a raise to 4 after which West checked for key cards and bid 6

How might it have gone better?  The problem is that East has done little to describe their hand, and has chosen a 5-2 heart fit in ignorance of which of West's majors is stronger, and with a danger of missing a 6-2 or 6-3 diamond fit, or even a 5-3 club fit.   The best chance of exploring all of these is for East to bid no trumps at some point, in the hope that West is better placed to make the decision.  On this hand, were East to bid 3N over 3, it would be natural for West to continue with 4 which is rather good news for East.  It is hard to see what would happen next as space for checking on key cards is sparse.  There is a chance that overall momentum might get the partnership to the grand slam, but it is hard to be sure how.  In fact, East might have done better to bid 2N on the previous round, as it would allow West to show three cards in either monor and ensure that a good fit there is not missed - but here it would have resulted in a 3 rebid and the same problem as is shown.

HotD-wed : Spring Teams : 7jan18 : B20

This hand proved a difficult bidding problem for people on Monday, with five out of twelve tables ending up with a minus score when a plus score was available.  What should you be thinking at this point?

The popular choice at this point was to bid 3N, and that was just fine when North passed, but a number of North's continued with 4♠ and four tables played there with only one successful.  [Two went four down after making a slam try!]

Was 3N a good choice?  It has the positive attribute that it shows something in clubs, and if 3N is the right contract then North might not be able to bid that contract.  The catch is that, especially if partner is known to have ten red cards, you might find spade shortage or even a spade void going down in dummy, and your spade stop is very suspect.

The alternative to bidding 3N is simply to give preference to 3 on the sequence shown. In practice this works out nicely as partner then shows 3-card spade support with 3♠ and now your 3N describes your hand well.  Bidding 3, partly because it is the lowest bid, provides the strong hand more space to describe what justified a game force, and so it has a lot going for it.  Were North to bid 3N over 3 it even gives you a chance of getting to a 6♣ slam.

Notice that the hand is only the T away from an excellent slam, and it takes a trump lead to defeat 6.

HotD-tue : Spring Teams : 7jan18 : B17

This was the most shapely hand that turned up last night in the first Spring Teams game.  What do you fancy at this point?   You haven't got much of a fit for partner, but you know the opponents have a lot of hearts; you can bid or you can pass.  Your choice?

There's no "book" answer to this sort of problem.   Have a look at all four hands, and consider these options and how they worked out at the table

PASS : this let West bid 4 in great confidence and unless you come in again you can write down -420.

4N : this was chosen at table four (and we are not sure what was intended by the bid), but that didn't stop West, so you heard 4N - 5 - P - P  to you?   At this point South tried 6♣ and West placed too much trust in this and sacrificed in 6 duly doubled for down two on a diamond lead. , [One other table ended in 6 doubled down two]

5♣ : this was chosen at a number of tables and of course it provoked 5.   Since that contract is going down it looks right to pass, but when the bidding went this way North had to choose a lead and we have three instances of the ♣A lead allowing 5 to make. Oops.

The opening bid of 4♣ was not everyone's choice.;  one table opened just 3♣ allowing that West to bid 4 and play there.   Another table opened 5♣ and it went P - P - 5 - P - P   to South; the choice of 5N, which was passed out and went down eight(!) for a score of -400 and that gained 2 imps when their team-mates played in 5 making.

We have no understanding of how one pair ended in 6♠ undoubled going down five, or of how the one successful pair bid the making 6 slam.   Can anyone tell us?


Lots of Losers

West leads the Q. It looks from the bidding that the spades are breaking 6-0 and if so, you have 4 losing spades to dispose of. You start by ruffing the lead and taking a heart finesse. When it wins you discard a spade on the A and play a spade from dummy, which East ruffs to play another trump. What now?

East has defended well. You now have a choice as to how to get rid of one of your two losing spades; if East started life with a doubleton club the play is easy - win the club ace and lead a spade to the ace and ruff a spade. But if East started with three clubs he will discard when the second spade is led, then overruff dummy. If you judge East is 0-3-7-3 then the solution is to win the club switch in hand and lead a low spade. If West wins the trick he cannot stop you ruffing your remaining spade with  ♣A, and if East ruffs in he will not have a trump left to lead any more so you can take your ruff in comfort.

Plan the Defence

Your partner leads the J. How do you plan the defence?

From the bidding, South is marked with a diamond stopper and if you clear the diamonds then you will only have 3 tricks and presumably (hopefully) a winner in partners hand. That will not be enough. Despite South's overcall in hearts, that is the suit that offers the best prospects for the defence. If partner holds the A or perhaps a club stop and the heart Queen, then you will be ok. You should switch to the J at trick 2 to maximise the number of defensive tricks you might take in the suit.

How do you Play?

West cashes the ♠Q and switches to 2. You win and lay down the A and East drops the Queen. Play from here

It looks as if you have four losers: three spades and a heart. Yet, if you count your tricks, you could easily have 10: three hearts, theA, two diamond ruffs and four clubs. You do have a count on this deal. West is known to have one spade and four hearts. He appears to have four diamonds given the bidding and the lead, so he has also four clubs. Play three rounds of hearts ending in dummy and ruff a diamond. Now back to dummy with a club and ruff dummy's last diamond with your last trump. Now take three more club tricks: tricks eight, nine and ten - piece of cake. You have taken 10 tricks. They took the first trick, still have the top spades in one hand and a winning heart in the other for three more tricks! Those three tricks, however, will crash on top of each other on the last two tricks.


West leads the ♣Q against your game. Can you find a 100% line?

Win the ♣ A and play AQ. If the opponents take the K then you have 4 diamonds, 3 hearts and 2 clubs. If they allow the K to hold, then play a low heart towards your ten. Either the ten holds, in which case you revert to diamonds, or the ten is taken by the knave, in which case you have 5 hearts, 2 clubs and 2 diamonds.


Here's another problem, this time from a Crockford's match.  You have a good hand, as does partner, but they are not fitting well.  How do you proceed?

A key question here is your attitude to the introduction of a new suit (diamonds) at the 4-level. For many, it is impractical to be looking for a fit at this level, so they will treat it as a slam try agreeing hearts.    But those holding thisn hand might think it the most natural description of the hand.  It is important to recognise the uncertainty, and polling suggests that the majority will treat a new suit at the 4-level as always agreeing the last suit mentioned (hearts here).  That has been my rule for a long time (with one exception).

If we rule out 4 we have two choices - either 3♠ or 3N - or do we raise to 4?  [The latter option should be discounted as if hearts is the right denomination then partner will bid it again on the next round - we don't need to.]

The argument for us bidding 3N is that partner will struggle to bid it with short diamonds, but the downside is that partner could instead have short clubs. 

The argument for 3♠ is that it doesn't rule out 3N but the downside is that partner might raise with a doubleton.   [It is important to know that this bid is forcing - we don't rescue partner from a jump rebid unless doubled for penalties]

In the event (a Crockfords’ match) the 3N choice got 4 from partner on ♠A4 KQ98732 T8 ♣KJ which was made without difficulty.  The 4  choice at the other table led to disaster.


You are sitting in second seat here but don't have a good enough hand with which to open the bidding.  After LHO opens 1♣ in third seat (promises 3+, could be a weak NT hand) and partner overcalls - do you want to get involved, and if so how?

This question is intended to explore the expectations overcaller should have from a 1♠ bid by advancer, but it also raises the question of whether or not advancer should bid at all.

We have learned over recent decades that it is better to show shape first and values later, so a Good Hand with hearts would always show the suit and then double on the next round, so the overcall can be quite strong.  East's silence encourages this view, so we don't want to pass.

There is really only a choice of two bids, 1♠ or 1N.   For sure 1N shows these sort of values, but it does lack a club stop.  We are all accustomed to ignoring the club suit when overcalling a nebulous 1♣ with 1N, since LHO doesn’t know when to lead a club and when not to. This position is different as the hand which does know will be on lead..

The doubts about bidding 1♠ come from a feeling that in a competitive situation suits should be five cards.  The difficulty with insisting on this is that here you might misss a 4-4 spade fit.   This situation should not be treated much differently from partner opening a five card major and you respondd - and in that case we would never dream of by-passing a spade suit. 

When this hand occurred in the 2017 Spring Fours (R2, B11) 9/20 tables played in 1♥ despite having 25 hcp between the two hands and only 5 tables reached 3N (of which all but one succeeded).  Where West opened 1♥ or 1N there was a different auction.   When offered to the Scottish bidding panel, seven out of seventeen opted for 1N and only three passed.

What do we learn?  Particularly when we can bid at the 1-level we should not pass out partner’s overcall; we might not know where we are going but when good outcomes are possible, we should give partner a second chance.


With no Monday night game as a source of hands - here are some bidding problems from the recent past ...

Here there is a number of conflicting interests and the key question is what compromise is best.  Your choice?

The big difficulty with Pass is that partner will never expect as many HCP, and you will miss game too often (if we even get into the bidding). Moreover we know what sort of hands are opened third in hand favourable.  One bonus from that fact of that  is that the danger of a penalty double in 1N disappears. Double must be considered, but double of one major so asks partner to bid the other major that it feels like asking for trouble. 

The alternative to bidding 2 is bidding 1N.  Do you proceed with 2 and more HCP than partner could expect, or without the stopper which would be expected from 1N?

When the hand occurred, both tables in the match bid 1N (and stopped the opening side bidding their making 4 game), and when the hand was presented to a Scottish bidding panel, ten out of seventeen went for 1N.   The rationale is two fold - firstly the closest description on offer for this hand is as strong balanced, and secondly a stopper is often as strong as it sounds (opener might well duck a heart lead to you when holding AKxxx).

A key point is that there is little Good that will happen after bidding 2,  but a 1N bid does offer the chance of a vulnerable game.

The conclusion is that we have to make imperfect bids sometimes, but in the game of bridge there are a myriad of ways things can turn out right, so don’t worry too much when you have to compromise.

Plan the Play

West leads a heart against your spade game. Plan the play.

It looks like you might win 6 spades in hand, the three top red suit winners in dummy, and a club ruff brings your total to 10. You do need to be careful however. Suppose you win the heart lead and cash 2 diamonds to pitch a heart and then play a club from dummy. East will win and lead 2 further rounds of hearts and which West can throw a diamond as you ruff high. You concede another club and East persists with a further heart and agin you ruff high. Now you can ruff a club and cash 2 top trumps in dummy, but whenever West started with ♠8xx he will overruff you when you play a diamond from dummy and that will be your fourth loser.  This is indeed an unlucky layout but it need not have bothered you. Simply ruff a diamond in hand at trick 4 before conceding a club. When the defence continues along the same lines as before, the timing is different and in the endgame you are left with only the Ace of trumps in hand and cannot suffer a trump promotion

Plan the Defence

How do you plan the defence when partner leads the ♣J and declarer plays low from dummy?

Let's assume that partner has led from a 5 card club suit and that declarer has ♣Qxx If you win the ♣K at trick 1 and return the suit, you can play another club when you gain the lead in one of the red suits, but ultimately you will have run out of clubs by the time you come in with your second red suit winner.  If however you duck at trick 1, declarer's second club stop is knocked out and when you come in with say a diamond, you can return the ♣K. Now you have retained communications with partner and when you win the A you will have a club to lead to partners winners. On this layout, declarer could have succeeded double dummy by playing the ♣A from dummy at trick 1 as now it doesn't matter whether or not East unblocks, declarer can always run East out of clubs and communications are broken. 

Not Obvious

West starts with AK. How do you play?

Did you ruff the second trick and lead a top spade? That will be OK if spades break, but you will lose control if West has ♠ AJxx. He will duck the first spade, win the next round and force you in hearts. The solution is simple but not that obvious. After ruffing the second heart, just play a low spade towards dummy. If either defender wins the ♠ J, they cannot play another heart as you can ruff in dummy. If the ♠T is allowed to hold, then a second spade to hand puts you a tempo ahead. If West plays another heart, you can ruff and draw another trump before playing your minor suit winners. You will only lose 2 spades and a heart.

Take all your Chances

West leads the ♠K. What is your Plan?

It looks like West holds seven spades, and he may well have the A as well. You have 1 spade, 4 clubs and 2 diamonds on top so need to develop 2 more. Duck the lead and win the spade continuation. Now it costs nothing to cash 4 rounds of clubs finishing in hand. The critical point has now been reached. You intend to finesse the J, but you should not start by laying down the Ace. If you do, you will not be able to take more than 3 diamond tricks when West holds a singleton Q. The right way to play the diamonds is small towards the KJ. If the Queen appears, you can now score 4 diamond tricks and your contract.

2018 Christmas Quiz Answers

Q1 : which of the scores 1000, 1010, 1020, ... 1100  is not a valid duplicate bridge score?    There is no way to get a score of 1060.

Q2 : which two Gloucestershire players were involved in a European Championship in Israel in 1980?       Keith Stanley was non-playing captain of a Junior Team which included Garry Watson.

Q3 : which was the only winning lead from  ♠986 ♥AQ4 ♦AQ54 ♣986    after (from RHO with your side silent)   1♣ - 1♥ - 2♣ - 3♣ - 3N - P    when this occurred in the Teltscher Trophy in 2014?     The heart ace, dropping declarer's singleton king - achieveable and achieved, on the basis that hearts will be declarer's weakest suit on this auction.

Q4 : which country lost a semi-final of a world championship only by mis-scoring a board that went six down doubled, agreeing it as -1100 rather than -1400?     Canada lost out to Germany in the 1990 Rosenblum.

Q5 : when Zia played this hand in 6♦ after the bidding shown, and Bob Hamman led the ♠3  at trick one, what winning play did Zia make at trick two?     He played a heart to the nine and queen.  He recognised that the low spade lead indicated that Soiuth had all the clubs, and therefore his plan had to be a club discarded on hearts, rather than a heart discarded on clubs.  One spade ruff is also needed, and a heart winner is needed as a way to return to hand to draw trumps.  Hence the choice.

Q6 : ignoring the difference between clubs & diamonds, and between hearts & spades, but allowing for different vulnerabilities : which score between 200 and 300 can be obtained in 7 different manners?     The answer is 200 : this can come from 1M+4, 2M+3, 3M+2, 4 down non-vulnerable, 1 down redoubled non-vulnerable, 2 down vulnerable, 1 down doubled vulnerable.

Q7 : in which year did the GCBA start using Duplimated boards?     1991

Q8 : when the French Bridge magazine presented this bidding problem to its experts, what bid got top marks?   Vulnerable at teams, partner opens the bidding and you have  ♠AQJ9 ♥QT ♦T653 ♣AJ3  and the bidding (from partner, with the opposition silent) goes  1♥ - 1♠ - 2♣ - 2♦(FSF,GF) - 3♠   to you.  What next?   The winning answer is 4,  confirming to partner that you will play in spades and making a slam try.

Q9 : which Gloucestershire player represented England as a junior in the 1970s?     Richard Butland played for England in 1977 and 1978.

Q10 : when Andy Robson played the hand shown, he went one off, but in a later write-up regretted his play at trick two.  What did he think he should have done at trick two after West led the ♥9 at trick one?    In practice he played a trump, but he argued he should have won the A and played a spade towards his own hand.  He "knew" the lead was a singleton and that West was about to win the A and put his partner in with a spade for a ruff. The best chance of thwarting that plan is to play a spade before East reliases he must play high.

Q11 : which score in the range 700..800 can be achieved in the greatest number of ways?     760 can be achieved in 7 ways (720 can be done in 6 ways).

Q12 : which Gloucestershire pair played against Meckstroth & Rodwell in a 1982 world championship?     Paul Denning & Patrick Shields in a qualifying session of the World Open Pairs.

Q13 : the auction started with 7N on your right and you double.  What is your best lead from  ♠KQ ♥KJ2 ♦J432 ♣QT98 ?     The best lead is the J.  The only sensible hand for declarer is ♠A AKQT98765 ♣AK  and if you lead (a) a spade, you'll get in with J and cash one spade for down two, (b) a diamond, you let it make, (c) a club you win J and get it one down.  A heart lead  but not the king guarantees two down,  more if parnter has the queen, and if you lead the jack you might unblock the suit when dummy has T8xx(x) to get even more.

Q14 : Cheltenham hosted an England-Wales match in 1999;  can you name any of the people who played in that match?      England were represented by Garry Hyett & Alan Mould, David Kendrick & Brian Senior, David Price & Tom Townsend, with Keith Stanley as NPC.  [Two of these pairs played in the recent EBU Seniors Trials] .  Wales was represented by Jill Casey & Filip Kurbalija, Peter Goodman & Adrian Thomas, Mike Hirst & Jim Luck, with Tony Haworth as NPC. 

Q15 : Bobby Wolff reports this hand in his book "The Lone Wolff".  How did George Burns sitting East defend after winning the club ace at trick one and seeing declarer drop the king?     The answer is to switch to hearts - by playing a heart at trick two and another on winning the diamond ace, declarer can be cut off from the heart suit and has to lose a spade in the end game.

St Stephen's Day quiz questions

Q11 : which score in the range 700..800 can be achieved in the greatest number of ways?

Q12 : which Gloucestershire pair played against Meckstroth & Rodwell in a 1982 world championship?

Q13 : the auction started with 7N on your right and you double.  What is your best lead from  ♠KQ KJ2 J432 ♣QT98 ?

Q14 : Cheltenham hosted an England-Wales match in 1999;  can you name any of the people who played in that match?

Q15 : Bobby Wolff reports this hand in his book "The Lone Wolff".  How did George Burns sitting East defend after winning the club ace at trick one and seeing declarer drop the king?

Boxing Day quiz questions

Q6 : ignoring the difference between clubs & diamonds, and between hearts & spades, and allowing for different vulnerabilities : which score between 200 and 300 can be obtained in 7 different manners?

Q7 : in which year did the GCBA start using Duplimated boards?

Q8 : when the French Bridge magazine presented this bidding problem to its experts, what bid got top marks?   Vulnerable at teams, partner opens the bidding and you have  ♠AQJ9 QT T653 ♣AJ3  and the bidding (with the opposition silent) goes  1 - 1♠ - 2♣ - 2(FSF,GF) - 3♠   to you.  What next?

Q9 : which Gloucestershire player represented England as a junior in the 1970s?

Q10 : when Andy Robson played the hand shown, he went one off, but in a later write-up regretted his play at trick two.  What did he think he should have done at trick two after West led the 9 at trick one?

Christmas Day quiz questions

For the next three days, there will be a bridge related quiz here for you to puzzle over.  The answers might take you a little research, and will be revealed towards the end of the week.

Q1 : which of the scores 1000, 1010, 1020, ... 1100  is not a valid duplicate bridge score?

Q2 : which two Gloucestershire players were involved in a European Championship in Israel in 1980?

Q3 : which was the only winning lead from  ♠986 AQ4 AQ54 ♣986    after (from RHO with your side silent)   1♣ - 1 - 2♣ - 3♣ - 3N - P    when this occurred in the Teltscher Trophy in 2014?

Q4 : which country lost a semi-final of a world championship only by mis-scoring a board that went six down doubled, agreeing it as -1100 rather than -1400?

Q5 : when Zia played this hand in 6 after the bidding shown, and Bob Hamman led the ♠3  at trick one, what winning play did Zia make at trick two?

Play with the Odds

West leads the ♠2 and East contributes the ten when you play low from dummy. Plan the play.

It looks from the lead that the spades are breaking 4-4. You need to knock out the Ace of diamonds., so play a diamond at trick 2 and continue the suit if necessary. The defence will win and clear the spades. Now you have 2 spades and 3 diamonds so need 4 more tricks. The club suit might oblige but will more likely break 4-2. If you play clubs and they are indeed 4-2, you will have up 5 winners for the defence. Better is to play a heart from dummy. Sometimes East will rise with the Ace and solve your problem, but if he plays low, finesse the Jack. If it forces the Ace you are home. In effect, you make whenever the Q is onside and in some other cases too. Hence this line is at least 50% as compared to 36% for a 3-3 club break.  

Play Carefully

North leads the K. How do you plan the play?

You hope that the trumps are not worse than 3-1 and you note that you can set up the clubs if they are no worse than 4-2. You need to be careful to not suffer a trump promotion when North holds ♠Txx and a short club. The best play is to win the diamond lead and unblock the A. Cash the ♠Q and cross to dummy with a club. Discard a club on the top heart and ruff a club low. Now cross back with a trump and ruff a further club high. Another trump lead draws the remainder and puts you in dummy to cash your clubs.

How's your defence

West leads the 3. Plan the defence.

West's lead looks like it is from three to an honour. On the bidding, declarer is surely marked with the K. If you win trick 1 with the A and continue with the Queen (showing a possible spade entry), you will be disappointed. Declarer can duck the second heart and win the third round. He can now knock out partner's club winner and score a quick nine tricks. It is important to retain communications with partner so insert the J at trick 1 and continue with a low heart when declarer ducks. When partner comes in with a club, he will have a further heart to play to enable you to cash the suit 

HotD-thu : Seniors Trials : 16dec18 : B2.2

Last weekend two locals (Richard Chamberlain & Patrick Shields) teamed up with two from Surrey (Graham Sadie who used to play here, and Richard Granville) to play in the trials for the English Senior team.  The team came in the middle of the field, losing to the winners by only 9 imps but being hammered by the team in second place.  The match against the second team included this hand, where Sandra Penfold was faced with the problem described here. (THe other table bid on to 5♠ and these hands got to defend).   It doesn't look good with the ♣A out and such a flimsy heart suit.  What can you do?

How about this line, found by Sandra.  Win the spade lead and draw trumps with the ace and queen.  Now a small club towards the Q3 gives East a problem.  When East ducked, she won the queen, crossed to the J to throw a club on the ♠K  and now she ruffed a club.  The issue now was not to lose three heart tricks.  A heart to the 8 - Q followed, and East could win but was now endplayed.  Either a spade ruff & discard or a club gave away a trick, and it remained for declarer to lead towards the K94 to get 11 tricks.

Could the defence have done better by rising with the ♣A?  No - that would allow declarer a discard of a heart on the ♠K and the ♣K and now a heart to the king is the only line to make the contract and that works.

Could the defence have done better earlier?  Only by leading the A and taking a ruff before  cashing the club ace. 

Was it better for East-West to have sacrificed?  In practice yes, as the two declarers in 5 made the contract.  But if declarer doesn't find this line, you'd rather defend.

HotD-wed : League 5 : 17dec18 : B17

This was a problem faced at many tables on Monday after South had cue bid to show at least 5-5 in the majors.  Do you go on?

The difficulty is that you don't know whether partner is giving preference with two small spades, or whether partner has real support.  The answer - which can be applied in many situations when one hand cue bids clubs to show the majors - is to play a diamond bid as negative (Lebensohl style), so that a bid of a major in response to the cue bid promises real support.   This can apply anytime that the club bid showing the majors promises at least 5-5; in cases where it only promises 5-4, then the diamond bid is more useful to ask for the longer major.  Over the diamond bid, the cue bidder just bids hearts and partner chooses whether to play there or convert to spades.

Here bidding 4♠ over 4♣ would show positive support and enable South to continue with confidence.   Lacking this tool, it is closer to a guess for South - so well done to the four tables who managed to bid on to the slam on Monday, each gaining 11 imps for their side.

HotD-tue : League 5 : 17dec18 : B13

Last night completed the first round robin in League Division One, and saw the two leading teams (tied for first place at the time) playing against each other. This hand was a flat board, but across the field it was 3N making half the time, and going down half the time. It takes some good card reading to have a chance of success.  Here's how it was made at table two ...

The opening lead of the ♠7 was recognised as second best from a bad suit, so declarer knew the finesse would lose and rose with the ace at trick one.  If the king had fallen that would have settled the contract, but it didn't.  Declarer continued now with three rounds of diamonds; this has the advanatage of forcing some discards from the defenders, and when West threw two small spades, it was clear there was no threat now from that suit, so North played a top spade.  This put East on lead, uncomfortably - and highlighted the advantage of rising with the spade ace at trick one.

East could count declarer for two spade tricks and five diamonds, so a heart lead was out of the question(whoever held the ace) - and in practice he switched to the ♣7 which went to the ♣9 - ♣Q - ♣A.  Declarer now cashed out his diamonds and the defenders came down to four hearts and four clubs between them.  Declarer had in hand J8 ♣K4   opposite dummy's K8 ♣54.  and needed one more trick.   One choice was to lead up to the heart king, but neither declarer in this match chose that.   Instead, they exited in clubs and left it to the defenders to play hearts.  When East led a small heart, declarer was now ready to play low and this forced the ace and gave the ninth trick. Why did they guess right?  There isn't much in the choice but West's lack of interest in spades suggests a hand not looking at a heart entry and that led to declarer's winning choice.

Could the defence have done better?  The answer is yes - at the final discard, West needed to come down to Q♣K84 and with this holding declarer cannot find a ninth trick.

Should declarer have realised this would happen and gone for a different line?  It's hard to say - as the position reached would have been a winner if West had held a top club honour to go with the ten. 

Consider the bidding

The 1 opener showed a five card suit. West starts with the J - you try dummy's queen and luckily it holds the trick. Plan the play.

It looks like West holds most of the outstanding points. You have chances for extra tricks in both diamonds and clubs. To maximise your chances, you must take your tricks in the right order. Cross to hand at trick 2 with a spade and lead a diamond. if West plays low then rise with the King and assuming this holds, you can now revert to clubs for your contract. If West rises with the Ace on the first diamond lead and clears the hearts, then you assume that the club finesse is wrong and you play on diamonds for your extra tricks. Win the heart Ace and lead a diamond, just covering West's card. If East wins the J and switches to a club, you rise with the Ace and have 10 tricks. If it turns out that West held AQJ then you will be defeated (perhaps even when the club finesse was working) - unlucky - your play would have succeeded whenever East held a singleton J or Q, or a 3 card diamond suit.

Timing is Key

You play in 3NT on the lead of 8. You cover with dummy's 9 and this holds the trick. How do you play?

If you try to establish the heart suit immediately, you risk failure if East attacks one of your black suits. You will finish up having to guess the position of Q. The contract is safe if you play a diamond to your ten immediately however. If this loses, west cannot profiably attack either black suit and you have time to get the hearts going.

Plan the Play

You play in 6♠ on the lead of K. Plan the play.

Win and cash a top spade. If either opponent shows out you will need a friendly club position. However, if trumps are not 4-0, you can succeed whenever the clubs break. Play a club to the Ace and ruff aclub high. Then exit with a low trump. The defence can win but the best they can do is force dummy with a diamond. Now ruff anothe club high and enter dummy with a trump to run the clubs.

Hotd-fri : CBC Pairs League : 12dec18 : B1

This hand from Wednesday offered some interersting points for declarer.  Most East ended up as declarer in 3N and of these 6 got a spade lead which allowed then to win, and run first the 9 and then the 8 to set up a heart trick to make the contract.   This is the best odds in the heart suit, succeeding when either the jack or queen is onside (better odds that just playing for the ace onside).  Two declarers in 3N on a spade lead, however, failed.  We don;t know how.

There are attractions in a spade lead even on this auction, but at some tables East opened 1 which  further pushed South to the spade lead. The other 5 declarers in 3N had a diamond lead and that gave them more work to do.  At one table the diamond lead went to the jack and the king (line A), after which declarer knocked out the club ace.  South continued diamonds and when hearts were played North could win and push back diamonds - which gave the defence five tricks.

Could declarer have done better? An alternative line (line B) was to duck the first diamond, letting the jack win, and then winning A to play clubs. South was then unable to continue diamonds, so declarer was back on lead with a spade and had a choice of whom to play for the ace of hearts.  If South had it then a heart to the ace would make the game, but so would running the 9, so that line is preferred and delivers 9 tricks.

A third alternative (line C) is to win the first diamond with the ace and play on clubs. South can play another diamond to the jack and decision time comes again.  If South has the heart ace then ducking and winning the third diamond is the answer, but if North has the ace then declarer must duck the second diamond.

What is best?  Line A fails only when North has the A.    Line B fails when North has the ♣A and South has the A.   Line C fails when declarer guesses wrongly who has the A.   This makes line B the winner.

This might take too much working out at the table - so is there any pattern we can identify?  It's hard to say but an earlier duck is important in a number of situations, and if the lead had been from a 5-card diamond suit that could have been vital.  Small from dummy can also gain if South led small from the QJ. 

The conclusion has to be that we all want to make this contract next time.

Improve Your Chances

You play in 3 on the lead of 3. You will be OK if trumps divide, but do you have any other chances?

If West holds a singleton ten or jack, you have an excellent chance provided you are careful.Win the heart lead and cash the A. Suppose the ten drops from West. Now play your club. Say the defence wins and cashes 2 hearts and exits with a spade. Win in hand, play a diamond to the King (West showing out), ruff a club, then a spade to dummy for another club ruff. Now exit with your last spade and you sit with the Q9 for your last 2 tricks.

HotD-wed : Midlands League vs Derby : 9dec18 : B29

This hand produced a few swings and a few regrets in Sunday's match.  This auction was very common, although there is a case for (a) upgrading the North hand because of the controls and supporting tens, or (b) passing the South hand as the evidence is that this is not enough values to make game - and these sort of balance.

The first question is East's lead - passive or active?   The evidence on leading against 2N openers is to go passive, but here declarer has bid your spades and a singleton is very unappealing (and may mislead partner somewhat).  Leading a heart is not attractive given dummy has implied hearts, and a diamond round to the AQ looks silly.  

Our defender managed to find the lead of a high spade, and when dummy went down that looked good.  Declarer won the first spade and played ace and another heart.  It was clear for East to cash another heart to avoid being end-played, and after partner discards ♠2, he still has a problem as to what to lead.  A diamond remains unappealing, and if partner has only the one spade honour, then a spade lead costs nothing.  On this basis East continued spades giving declarer three tricks there. To get to the winning heart in dummy, North now played out three rounds of clubs but West ducked each time.  There was an easy answer for declarer - he played his winning spade and then his losing spade.  East was on lead and now had to lead a diamond into the AQ and that gave declarer nine tricks.  Every lead East had made helped declarer!

Another table saw East lead a diamond at trick one.  On a low diamond lead, West can deduce that declarer must have a doubleton honour in diamonds, and could judge to play small.  Now when East won a heart, they could continue diamonds in the same vein, and declarer had 8 tricks and no chance of a ninth.

I wonder what the various Easts will lead next time.

HotD-tue : Winter Pairs : 10dec18 : B17

This hand from Monday offered a tidy endplay which most declarers missed.  West played in 3 after North opened a strong NT and South showed spades.  After two top spades - how do you play this hand?

The bidding rather marks the location of the high cards - surely all with North.  After ruffing the second spade there are three losers declarer needs to worry about - the third and fourth hearts and the club.  With the club king (almost) marked in the North hand, the fourth heart should not be a problem, so declarer started by drawing two rounds of trumps. When they broke 2-2, another spade ruff could follow and at this point North was down to clubs and hearts.  It was an easy oiption therefore for declarer to play three rounds of hearts and suddently North was on lead. It was impossible to guess wrong, and there are 11 easy tricks.  Only one declarer playing in diamonds managed this!

Alan Wearmouth adds : When North was playing a weak NT at my table, the bidding went 1♣ -P-P-X,   P-1♠ -P-2 , P-3-P 3N.    West can count 8 likely tricks after partner raises his diamonds and it's not obvious that 3 is any better than 3NT so even though the points aren't there game looks a distinct possibility. If Northdoes lead the spade ace for an attitude signal the defence will get their five tricks as the spade queen is now the critical card for South (surely North wouldn't lead an unsupported ace with the suit bid on his left) and given the bidding it right for North to look. However, North led the "safe" Q and nine tricks were quickly wrapped up. A club lead would give an overtrick!

How do you Play?

West leads the K and your slim chances look even worse when you win the A and play a low trump on which East discards a heart. How do you play from here?

Strangely, your chances of making this contract have improved when East shows out in trumps. Cash the 2 top trumps, the A and ♣AK. Then exit with J. West can win and cash a trumps but then must play a diamond. On this trick you discard a heart from dummy and a club from hand. On the next trick, you discard a further heart from the table whilst ruffing in hand. Now you can ruff 2 hearts on the table and bring home your contract.

When Nothing Else Will Work

South plays in 4♠  after opening a strong NT. West leads the ♣Q and you win the ♣A at trick 1. Do you see a way to defeat this game?

A count of points shows that South must hold the K, yet the only possible source of tricks is the heart suit. Time for a daring coup. Try the effect of switching to the Q at trick two. If this holds, continue with a second heart. When the layout is as shown, do you blame declarer for getting it wrong?

Watch Your Step

Following his 3 fit jump bid, West leads a low diamond against your 4♣ contract. How do you play?

It looks like you might make 11 tricks if the ♠K is onside, but that doesn't mean 10 tricks are assured. If you win the A and play trumps, the defence will win and clear the diamonds. If the spade finesse loses, East can then put his partner in with a heart to cash a diamond trick. The solution is to win the A and play a heart. This severs the link between the defenders and you will make the contract whenever East has only 2 diamonds (marked on the bidding)

Time to Give Up?

Your 2♣ opening was a bit light but showed an opening bid with 6 clubs. Partners 2♠ bid was constructive but not forcing. Anyway, partner starts with the ♣A (King from AK so it looks like this lead has already blown a trick). You discourage the club and partner switches to a spade. This runs to declarer's 9, who now draws trumps in 3 rounds before cashing the ♠A, crossing back to hand with the ♣K and playing a low diamond to partner's 9 and dummy's ten. How do you defend from here?

Things have gone very poorly to this point. The first 2 tricks gifted 2 tricks to declarer that he might not have made and it looks like partner has a doubleton diamond, so you could have beaten this contract by several tricks on an initial diamond lead. However, this is not the time to give up! Declarer has made 3 tricks in the black suits and has 5 trump tricks and a diamond. You can deny him any extra tricks by winning the K and exiting with the 7. You now sit with a major tenace over dummy and have an easy diamond exit if declarer tries to throw you in. If you had mistakenly cashed 2 top diamonds, or played a club conceding a ruff and discard, you would not have defeated the contract.

Patrick Phair points out : after this defence, can't declarer throw West in with a spade and discard the diamond loser on the black-suit return?

Editor replies : yes, well spotted. Which means it's all too late after the spade switch, which was so likely when East discouraged clubs.  Maybe that was the mistake - as the damage in clubs is already done, it is better to make your club signal an indicator of your spade position, which means you encourage at trick one on this hand.

HotD-thu : BBO ICL league : 5dec18 : B24

Last night the quarterfinal of 30th run of the Inter-Cities-League took place on BBO.   A few Gloucestershire players have played in a Welsh team (by the name Aberystwth) in that league over many years.  You can read about the league at, and I am sure a CHeltenham team would be welcomed.

This hand was the last board of the quarterfinal match, where Aberyswyth was playing against Edinburgh, and at that point were leading by 11 imps.

The auction shown was that of the Edinburgh team (the other table having bid 2-P-4-end), who because of the light opener reached the dicey slam.

The opening lead was the ♣Q  which declarer won.  He drew three rounds of trumps when East showed out on the first round, and then tried a diamond to the ten and was pleased to see West win with the ace.  The contract still looked in trouble, but then the ♠J came back.   How would you play from this point?

The first thing to realise is that the spade king is with East.  There is just no way West would lead a spade if holding the king. There are six heart tricks, two clubs and if you trust the diamond finesse, two there - and the ace of spades makes 11 tricks.

The best chance is that the diamonds break 3-3, but there is another chance, that the same hand has to guard diamonds and spades.  The best line is therefore a squeeze and you can run this whoever has four diamonds - but  you have to work out who that is.  If East has the long diamonds, then hold back the ♠Q and run your winners.  If West has the long diamonds, you want to cover the spade jack - transferring the spade control to West - and then do the same.    The Scotsman chose the latter and it was the former which worked.  This cost the match.

Was there an argument for getting it right?  There is - as if West had the long diamonds, then there is a defence against the squeeze - West simply ducks the first diamond.


HotD-wed : Swiss Teams 4 : 3dec18 : B20

This hand from Monday's teams produced big swings in three matches, when exactly three tables tried for a slam.  The bidding shown was one of the successful sequences, given a relatively easy time by the failure of West to open the bidding on the first round.  In one way bidding the slam after this start was a close thing - North was worried about partner having weak hearts but conscious that KQxxx and three small spades would make an excellent slam.   Meanwhile, South took a good view that with such weak hearts for North to make a try after the 4 signoff, the rest of the hand must be enormous.

Even if West had opened with a weak 2♠,  the slam should be bid as over North's takeout double South will (playing Lebensohl) bid 3 in response showing values, and now who could stop North?

At two of the slam tables West led the 8.  The lead of a singleton against a slam in gernally encouraged, as if partner is obliging enough to hold the ace of that suit or sometimes the ace of trumps, you will defeat the slam.  It's not quite the same when you have an ace in your own hand - as if partner gets the lead to give you a ruff, then the ruff is not needed as you have an ace to cash. 

After a diamond lead - can you see how South will make 12 tricks?

Counting the tricks, and expecting the spade ace to be offside, declarer has six minor suit winners and therefore needs six trump tricks, ie two spade ruffs. This can be done by winning a top diamond, losing a spade trick, and using two heart entries and the ♣J entry to hand to ruff two spades and draw trumps. 

There are two ways West could have defeated the slam.  One is by leading a club rather than a diamond at trick one - as this uses up the clucb entry too early for declarer's purposes.  And a heart lead does exactly the same. 

Should West have found the lead? Possibly yes, for the reasons given that a singleton lead is unlikely to be vital.

Patrick Phair notes and I agree : given that South needds to ruff two spades in the North hand I can see that a heart lead would help the defence. But the fact that a club lead is better than a diamond lead looks like pure luck -- I can see nothing in the bidding or West's hand to suggest that South has a club entry rather than a diamond entry.

HotD-tue : Swiss Teams 4 : 3dec18 : B3

It is hard to believe many pairs actually bid this hand as shown, but seven tables ended in 2N while 3 stopped in 1N and one ventured 3N. 

Curiously an auction to 2N sends a much clearer signal to the defence than an auction to either other contract.  The message is that East-West are close to game but not quite there, so the HCP can be pinned down to about 23 between the two hands.  The repercussion of this for North, on lead, is a change in priorities; instead of actively chasing tricks before declarer sets up theirs (say against 3N), the primary concern is that the opening lead does not give away to declarer a vital trick they could not otherwise obtain. Against 2N, it is possible that a black suit lead might be the best source of tricks for the defence, but it is rather more likely that a black suit lead will blow a trick en route to that.  Many dangers exist also in the J9 suit - so what is left?  Diamonds.  This is in fact the only suit lead which will hold declarer to six tricks.  Is it findable?  The answer must be yes, as two pairs did find that lead.

Are we surprised that 2N was such a struggle that nobody made it?  No.  The 12-count held by West is very short of tricks and opening a weak NT with this hand is extremely dangerous - it would be much safer to pass.  Looking at either hand, one is reminded that a 4333 shape does not deliver as many trick taking opportunities as a 4432 or 5332 hand.  Many people deduct 1-hcp from such a hand when considering raising partner,  This would justify East passing 1N on this particular hand, and that contract does require very spefici defence to beat it - so one might manage a plus score.

Avoid Defeat

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

It looks like the lead is from ♣T8 doubleton or is a singleton. If the former, you will have no problems, but if it is a singleton, you need to be careful. If you win the ♣A, East will use his two club entries to set up and cash a spade trick for the defence. This will be enough to defeat you. The solution is to play low from both hands at trick one when East produces the 8. West has no safe exit except a trump. You can now draw trumps and clear the club suit, providing discards from your hand. 

Keep Safe

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

In isolation, playing for the drop in clubs is the percentage way to make 5 tricks in the suit. However, you only need 4 club tricks to make the contract so that point is not relevant. If you lose a trick to West, he might defeat you if he finds a switch to the ♠9 from say ♠K9x, as you will then lose 4 spades and a club. You should play the clubs by taking a finesse into the East hand. If doesn't matter if this loses as the defence cannot take 4 spade tricks if they start the attack from East.

Thought Processes

West leads the J against this slam. Declarer plays low in dummy. What are your thought processes and how do you defend?

There are some clues from the bidding. South supported diamonds so is known to hold at least 3. This leaves West with at most one diamond and yet he did not lead the suit. It looks like West could judge from the bidding that N/S could be missing an Ace (no attempt to look for a grand) and a singleton lead would work if East held the A or ♠A. A second clue from the bidding is that South employed Blackwood with nothing in hearts. Surely he wouldn't have done this with 2 losing hearts. The pointers are such that the best defensive chance is to overtake the J with the Queen, and switch to a diamond. Here's a thought. Whatt might it mean if West doubled 6♠?

If the leaders's partner doubles a slam, it asks partner to lead something unusual. Since West can't be doubling on power, and is on lead himself, perhaps a double should act as an alert to partner that something unusual is needed in defence. For the double to be successful, partner need to have a fast entry, but on this hand, there is a possibility that East holds A or ♠A, so the double might be a big winner if it prompts a diamond switch from partner. Obviously it is not without risk, - opponents mayrun to a different making contract (not on this hand) or the slam may be solid (in which case you lose a few imps)


This One is Easy

West leads the ♠7 to East's King. Plan the play.

If you win the first trick, you are sure of 2 spades, 3 clubs and 3 hearts, but when you play diamonds, the defence can arrange to set up and cash enough spades to beat you. If you duck the spade at trick 1 and the likely spade return at trick 2, you can only be defeated if the hand with 5 spades has both top diamonds.

HotD-thu : MIxed Pairs : 26nov18 : B26

This hand from Monday was played in 3N at every table, and it was a slight surprise that only one table failed to make the contract.  There were three instances where North was declarer but it is hard to identify a sensible bidding sequence that leads to that outcome.  Those three tables however did each receive a favourable lead and benefited from that to the tune of overtricks, while no South declarer managed more than 9 tricks.

There was also, gladly, little evidence of East having opened a weak two bid on this hand (only one heart lead from West), and that means that we had six Souths declaring in 3N on a club lead.  Now let's look at it from declaer's perspective.

There are five top winners to start with and prospects of 2-3 tricks in spades once the ace is knocked out, and also prospects of 2 extra tricks in diamonds if the suit breaks evenly, and a winning heart finesse is a third option, as well as a second club trick.  On the opening club lead it is "normal" for East to play the king first, with a decent expectation of being on lead to show the queen on the second trick (if that doesn't happen, you must expect partner to be confused).  This abnormal sequence declares that the KQ is doubleton, and allows West to make a more meaningful signal on the second trick. When declarer sees the king, there is a threat that the QJ are sitting over the T9, and the way to neutralise the suit is to duck the first round, but cover a small club on the second - so that West cannot attack the suit any more. When East continues with the queen, South can reconsider; if South recognises the position now then ducking guarantees the contract as the clubs cannot be set up before the diamonds and spades are established - and two spades, two hearts and four diamonds go with the ♣A to get nine tricks.

Unfortuantely when the ♣Q is played, South is offered the chance of two sure club tricks and might well grab that.  When declarer did that at table one, and continued with diamonds, West was able to win and clear the clubs while still holding the ace of spades, and South should now have gone down (but an accident returned the contract to her).  Was declarer always doomed after winning the club ace?  Not really - the play of diamonds was only setting up two tricks where three were needed, so playing on spades offered a better prospect.  When the ♠T appears that give declarer nine tricks and the contract will always make. 

Well done the Souths who avoided the traps on this hand.

HotD-wed : Mixed Pairs : 26nov18 : B12

This hand from Monday produced a ridiculous variety of scores - with three different denominations chosen, and some game, some small slam, and one grand slam.  The first key issue arose at the point shown.  The opener has shown a decent chance of nine tricks (rather more certainty than this bid usually has) and a long diamond suit, with the 3N bid, and East must decide on whether or not to sit that out.  In practice, most Easts decided that 4♠ would be better and took out (although at least one bid 4♣).  That created the next problem for West - should West sit that?   Various Wests chose differently, with bids of pass, 4N and 6  all being chosen at this point.  Both the pass and the 4N (when that was passed) were successful. 

How one pair ended in 7 is not known, but please do tell the story if you know!  

There are 11 tricks available in spades but neither pair in spades made 11 tricks, which suggested that both Norths concerned avoided covering the ♠T when that was led.  Well done there.

There are only 10 tricks available in diamonds, and the one exception came when South pulled out the ♠Q by mistake on the first round and gave declarer an extra trick there.

There are 10 tricks available in NT but one declarer pulled out the wrong card by mistake in the ending to only make 9;  how the other pair managed 11 tricks (for a complete top) is not known.

The question now is - how can one hand generate so many accidents amongst a group of such experienced bridge players?

LATER : the 11 tricks in 3N came as a result of a revoke and a 2-trick penalty!

HotD-tue : Mixed Pairs : 26nov18 : B4

The winners of last night's Mixed Pairs were John Councer playing with Suzy Lawson from Bristol.  It was nice also to see Sue Evans from Worcestershire playing.  Our County Competitions are open to all comers.

This was one of the winners' favourite hands. The bidding was that of the opponents, and it is not clear whether they should have been tempted to go for a 5-3 fit when they have 27+ hcp between the hands and the game is match-points.  In the event, four tables played in 4♠ and six tables played in 3N, but the latter made every number of tricks from 8 through 11, so the play there might be worth discussion someday.

Against 4♠ John faced an opening lead problem : to find the right combination of attack and safety, and he found the only one which gave the defence a chance. Let's try the more obvious (more boring?) lead of a club.  When West's honour forces the ace, declarer knows that a discard is needed for the losing club pronto, and that most come from the third diamond.  So the only possible play is to win the club, unblock the diamonds, and play a heart towards the QJ94 to set up an entry to the diamond king.  They win the A and continue clubs but declarer is in control - winning ♣K, crossing in hearts and ditching the losing club. Contract makes.

Now try this on a heart lead.  First point is that West "knows" it is not a singleton lead as that would give declarer four hearts as well as five spades and with that they would normally have shown both majors in reponse to 3♣ rather than hide one.  So West plays a low heart on the first round and North wins.  The danger now, if any, is losing an unnecessary heart ruff, so declarer continues with ♠A and another. To East it is not impossible that declarer has the queen, but there is a decent chance declarer would have preferred a finesse in that case, so East judged well to duck this spade and West won the queen. West - seeing the ♠T from partner - could recognise the spade position and switched to the top club. Declarer won and now had a dilemma. The heart ace and the spade king has to be lost  but which one first?  The expectation was that whoever won the first would continue clubs, and the key was that whoever won second one could not cash a club. In practice the two declarers faced with this dilemma - very reasonably - played hearts, and on winning the A, West was able to set up the ♣T to be the fourth defensive trick.  This gave the winners a joint top, shared with the one pair in 3N who didn't manage 9 tricks.

Why might one find a heart lead here?  The answer is that leading any of the other suits has the potential to give declarer a trick they could not otherwise get.  The heart suit is much safer in that respect, and has the bonus that it creates the potential of a heart ruff.

Be Careful

West starts with AK5. You try the 9 from dummy at trick 3 but this is covered by the ten and you ruff. What now?

You have 3 tricks outside trumps and even making 6 trump tricks leaves you short. The obvious source of extra tricks is diamonds but do you finesse the diamond Jack or do you try for diamond ruffs?  If you play carefully, the contract is assured if 2 rounds of diamonds stand up. Ruff the third diamond with the ♠A, return to hand with a club ruff, and ruff your last diamond with the ♠7. The ♠Q will be your only loser.

Be Lucky

West leads a low heart against your game. How do you plan to make 10 tricks?

There will be no problem if the club finesse works but on the bidding that is unlikely. You will therefore need to be a bit lucky with the layout of the cards. Suppose you draw a second round of trumps and exit with the K. Let's say West wins and gets off play with another diamond. Now you can win in hand and play a spade towards dummy. West can't rise with the Ace else he gives you 2 spade tricks. Now you cash the other daimond and exit with a spade. West wins but when he also holds ♠JT he can only take one more spade trick (on which you discard a club) before being endplayed. 

Listen to the bidding

West leads the A on which East plays the ten. At trick 2, West continues with the Q. Plan the play.

West’s opening bid at adverse vulnerability tells you that he started with seven diamonds. So East began with a singleton, and If you play dummy’s diamond king at trick two, East will ruff it. Now, if the heart finesse is working, as it might well be, this will make no difference. But with this layout, if East ruffs away the diamond king and shifts to a heart, you will lose four tricks: one heart, one diamond, one diamond ruff and one club. The best play is to duck in dummy at trick two. When West leads a third diamond, you overruff East, draw trumps, and run the club jack to guarantee your contract, losing two diamonds and one club.


HotD-thu : Leage 4 : 19nov18 : B17

This hand from Monday produced a lot of swings when half the field made 10 tricks and half the field didn't.  When North opened a weak 1N, then North would end up playing the hand (this happened 5 times) and when the system was a strong NT, then South ended as declarer (which happened 7 times - is that a sign of the changing pattern?).

With North as declarer on the bidding shown, no lead is attractive, but the heart lead has the possibility of stopping a useful ruff from happening and was found at three tables, while the others found a club and a spade.   With South as declarer there is similarly a set of horrible options, and the choices made were three spades, two clubs and two diamonds.  It is worth noting that nobody led a trump as this is too dangerous from the king - something to remember next time you get a trump lead through the ace, it might be the right time to drop the singleton king.  Since all suit leads here are dangerous, I would have favoured the J as it comes with a greater possibility of striking gold from a later diamond ruff.

From declarer's perspective there are eight sure tricks with extras possible from a long spade, a heart finesse, the onside A, from a club finesse, or from a club ruff.  The first ones to go for on any lead are the club and the diamond and these quickly show up a dead ends. [Actually if East ducks the diamond - which might or might not be possible depending on whether the count signal from West is clear - then you are  don't know this yet.  Which is a good example of why East should be ready and willing to duck whenever it is safe to do so]

At this point things get a bit worrying.  If the defence has continued without giving away any tricks, and the prospects in spades don't look great - this means a club ruff is necessary. And the idea must now emerge of what about two club ruffs?  The best approach is for declarer to ruff a club now, come back to a top spade and lead the fourth club; when West follows it must be right to ruff with the A and then continue hearts. West will win and play a second spade and this does leave you a dilemma. If West started with two spades then coming to hand with a third spade will generate a trump promotion, while if West started with two diamonds coming to hand with a third diamonds does the same.  If you get to this point you have to guess right - but there was an alternative.  If you had cashed the ♠A before playing the heart then this problem would never have arisen. [The Dentist's Coup]

In reality, many of those who made 4 were given a much easier ride.  One for instance got a club lead at trick one round to the AQ, while another, as North, got a heart lead to the Q-K- A and could now ruff one club for a tenth trick.  Which just emphasises the point that defending is difficult.

HotD-wed : League 4 : 19nov18 : B19

Many tables had an easier time on this hand, but this was the problem facing Allan Sanis on B19 on Monday.  The opening lead -  at table two after the bidding shown - was a small club from North.  You need a plan for 11 tricks, over to you ... 

The first point to register, from the bidding, is that North has 10+ cards in the minors, and so at most 3 spaces for spades, while South has many more.  The second point to register, from the play, is that North did not lead a singleton heart.  This all points to the fact that South has four spades, and your pips are good enough to cope.  The best line is therefore to win ♣A, cash the ♠Q, and now run the ♠T.   This is the line found by Allan who consequently wrapped up 13 tricks on the board.

There are two points to make in the bidding.  The first is the leap to 5♣, which South knew to be the inferior minor suit fit.  It generated a club lead, which was much more testing for the defence that a diamond lead would be - but that was a piece of luck. The reasoning behind the 5♣ bid was to make it more difficult for East-West to evaluate the position.  Were 5♣ to be doubled, South would always have a chance to go back to 5.  The second point to make it that it was the bidding of North-South which pushed declarer into making the winning deductions about the spade suit.  Had North-South not bid, then no player is likely to get the spades right (although the case remains for leading Q then T in case a careless South covers).  Our commiserations therefore to those who bid 6♠ on this hand against silent opponents and went down. 

A Lucky Lead?

West leads the ♣T, covered by Queen and King. East returns the Q. Play from here.

The idea on this one is to appreciate the value of your lower club spot cards once the ♣T, jack and the king are out of play. At this point, the two highest remaining clubs in the opponents’ hands are the ace and 9 and your side remains with the ♣Q76. Notice you have four possible losers, two hearts, a club and a diamond. Win the A, draw as many trump as necessary, ending in dummy, and lead the ♣Q, which will be covered by the ace (or else you will discard a heart and have 10 tricks). Say it is covered and you ruff. Now cross to a high diamond and lead the ♣7, intending to discard a heart if it is not covered. If East has the ♣9 and covers, you ruff, cross to dummy with a diamond and discard a red-suit loser on the ♣6. If West has the ♣9, he will win the trick, be able to cash one heart (all you have left) and your possible diamond loser vanishes on the ♣6, no diamond finesse needed. Loser on loser plays like this abound.

HotD-mon : Tollemache QF-D : 17nov18 : B2.28

The County Team went into this year's Tollemache Cup competition with high hopes, and found themselves in a section with Kent and Surrey as the two (other) strongest counties.  The team ended in third place in the group behinf these two, with the highest score of any team that didn't qualify for the final.  This hand from the match against Dorset was our biggest lost in that match and cost the team 24 imps - fortunately not quite enough to let us catch Surrey (who came second).

The bidding did vary from table to table but 14 tables played this hand in 4♠ by North (the exceptions being when a pair from Kent and a pair from Worcestershire both stole the contract in 2 by East).  The opening lead varied between K (7 times) and 2 (6 times) and there was one lead not known - but in our match all four tables led the top heart. 

Table 1 took the first heart with the ace, and - knowing there were two spades to lose - led a small spade from hand at trick two. The defenders won this, cashed a heart and played a diamond.  Now when West won the ♠A, he was able to give partner a diamond ruff and that was the fourth defensive trick - so we were down one.  Perhaps we don't want to lead spades from hand?

Table 2 took the first heart with the ace, and crossed to dummy with the A to lead a spade, but West hopped up with the ace and gave partner a diamond ruff, but the signal (top diamond) for a heart return was not picked up, and the Q now allowed the Dorset declarer to make ten tricks.  Clearly this line was also doomed if East had found the heart underlead and now gets a second ruff.  Would it have been better to cross to dummy in clubs? 

Table 3 took the first heart with the ace and crossed to dummy with the ♣A to lead a spade.  West won the ♠A, played to the Q and got a second club through.  This set up a club trick for the defence while they still had enough trumps to get in, and the contract was down one. What about ducking the opening lead?

Table 4 ducked the opening lead and East continued with a heart to the ace. This declarer now tried a small spade from hand which went to the ♠T-♠6-♠J.  West clearly could not lead a club, and didn't want to give a ruff & discard with a heart, so she led a diamond. Declarer won the Q and tried another spade; West won the ace and faced the same choice of leads but now a diamond gave partner a ruff, which was the setting trick.

The hand records however show us that the contract is always makeable - and indeed 9 tables out or 14 (all but one of those with the  2 lead) made the contract.  The answer is a combination which has not yet been tried - declarer needs to duck the first heart; if they play a second then win that and cross to dummy in either suit, and lead a spade.  If they switch to the 2 at trick two then win that and play a spade (the defence can get one ruff but not two).  On an initial diamond lead, declarer will win and play a spade but now if the defence take a ruff, there is no entry for a second ruff.  So the top heart is a seriosuly more demanding defence than leading the singleton diamond.

Should the winning line be found?  That is not clear - if East rather than West has the doubleton spade (likely when hearts are 3-6 or 2-7) then by crossing to dummy you could easily be setting up a ruff in the short hand for the defence - and that let's them beat the game.  Playing a small spade from hand first loses when East has three spades and a side singleton - which is less likely.




What's the Best Chance?

West leads the ♠T. Plan the play.

You have 10 top tricks and have to decide whether to try for your two extra tricks in clubs or hearts. If you run the J, hoping East has the queen, you will make your slam 50% of the time. Perhaps more. Say West has the Q and doesn’t have the A. He might not return a heart and now you have a chance if the club finesse works. So running the J actually gives you a bit more than a 50% chance.Now let’s consider clubs. If you take the club finesse and it works, you still need the clubs to break 3-3. This comes to 18%. But you aren’t exactly dead if they break 4-2. You can’t give up a club, but you can cross to dummy and run the J. You can’t make the contract if East has the A, (he will simply take it and the fourth club as well) you must play West for the A. It’s about a 30% chance that all this will happen. The bottom line is that it is far better to attack hearts rather than clubs because you need only one piece of good news, the Q with East, to make 6NT. Working with clubs and finding the ♣Q with East is still not enough to guarantee the contract.

A Pleasing Defence

West leads the ♠5 against South's strong NT. South wins the ♠Q at trick 1 and leads a diamond to dummy's ten. Do you see a way to defeat this contract?

Partner can only hold around 8 points so defensive prospects are not bright. Now might be agood time for a piece of deception. Win the diamond finesse with the Ace and return the T. Look at all 4 hands and put yourself in South's position. It looks like you have 4 diamonds, 3clubs, a heart and a spade trick if you play the A. If West has led from a 6 card suit and holds the K, then you will lose the next 6 tricks. Surely South will win the A and repeat the diamond finesse. Now you have 7 defensive tricks. I trust South will be gentlemanly enough to congratulate you on your fine play.

How do you Defend?

Partner leads the K. How do you see the defence developing?

It looks like you will have 2 hearts and a diamond trick, so a trump trick is needed. On the K, you should signal encouragement. When partner continues with a second top heart, you show a doubleton. Now partner will continue with a third heart. Declarer is very likely to ruff with the ♠K and lead the ♠J from dummy - but you cover and will ultimately win a trick with the ♠4. If you show 3 hearts, declarer will ruff the third round low and have no difficulty picking up your trumps given West has shown at least 10 red cards.

HotD-thu : CBC Pairs League : 14nov18 : B4

There were plenty (8 in total) of hands last night where bidding a slam was an issue, and there was the usual pattern of too few people bidding slams but also a most unusual smattering of people bidding slams and going down (on three of these hands) and people stopping in a part-score (on four of these hands). This one was the most interresting from a bidding perspective ...

The opening bid from West was always 1♠ and it was almost a uniform 2♣ response from East (there is one known exception).  West will bid diamonds next and then the spotlight goes back to East.  How should East continue?

Whatever your system, there seems to be one answer - and that is a jump to 4♣.  This must set the club suit as trumps and invite cue bids.  After West cues in diamonds, East has no control in hearts and it is not recommended to cue bid a shortage in partner's suit, so it looks like 5♣ next. 

That sequence did happen at some tables and when West passed it was all over.  But there was an alternative; with a good set of controls covering all the suits, West needs to think about bidding on. The least partner should have in clubs is seven to the AKQ, which means that there are 10 top tricks - but are there 12 tricks?  The reason for thinking there might be is this : with just that club suit and nothing else, it would be foolish for East to bypass 3N as that must be the most likely game. On top of that, East could have bid 5♣ over 2 if the hand did not have slam ambitions. WhereverEast has a stray high card - spade or hearts or diamonds - it is going to combine well with the holding in West's hand.  Just a little bit of optimism is needed to come to the conclusion that 6N must be the right bid at this point.   

The only instance of 6N last night was 6N played by East.  The opening lead was set to make a difference of 1870 points - and this time it went in favour of declarer, when South led a top diamond. 

HotD-wed : Winter Pairs 3 : 12nov18 : B19

This hand from Monday was curious in that of the six tables who did play in the "obvious" denomination, there were some chose a part-score, some chose a game, and some chose a slam.  But they all made the same number of tricks  and none of them made enough!

The bidding shown was that of table 6, and it concluded at this point when South made an (slightly) undisciplined pass. There are a few aspects to notice; firstly South avoided opening 2♣, easily the better choice as there is no danger of a 1♣ opening being passed out, and starting lower will give more time to describe this complicated hand.  After that start, the remainder of the auction looks inevitable - which makes the fact that four tables ended in different denominations seem strange. The re-evaluation in passing 4♣ is reasonable, if dangerous, as the South hand, despite its strength, might offer very few tricks to a partner with diamonds and a club shortage. 

In terms of what contract you would like to be in - the fact is that 5 looks best, as any 3-2 trump break and a number of 4-1 breaks will deliver declarer 6 tricks in the suit and let game make.  That means you make game 85% of the time. 

What happened in 4?  The answer is that declarer relaxed and after winning the heart lead, played the ♣A aiming to ruff the next one and play trumps. West ruffed and there were three trump losers still to come and declarer was one down.  Should declarer have avoided that accident?  The answer is yes - you just have to ask before trick two "what can go wrong" and it becomes clear that a ruff of the ♣A will be more likely than a problem by playing a second and thid heart (after nobody has bid the suit).  The fact is that every declarer lost four trump tricks.

Curiously the top two scores (for North-South) on the board came from a penalty double of 2 at one table (it's hard to see North passing that comfortably with eight diamonds but they did) and the South who played in 1♠.  We cannot belittle that last choice, as the pair concerned went on to produce the best score of the evening!  We are reminded of the question "what do you call an 8-card suit" to which the answer is trumps.

HotD-tue : Midlands Counties League : 11nov18 : B14

This hand from Sunday's match presented a nice opportunity for a pretty play, but in fact the best contract was reached at only two tables and they both failed!

This was a common start to the auction, where East has doubled for takeout.  What should West be doing now?   In practice more chose to bid 3N than chose to bid a five card suit in response to partner's request, which seems strange, and in 3N there was little play, as North set up the spades with the opening lead and got in with the club ace to cash them later.  

With that hint about the club ace, how should the play go were West to bid 4 over the double and get raised to game? The lead is the ♠K.

Playing in 5 you are comfortable there are no losers in the pointed suits, so it is all down to not losing two clubs and a heart.  After winning the spade lead, it seems natural to start with drawing trumps, eliminating the spades and trying a club to the king.  When that loses North is forced to play back either a club or a heart. You win and now know there are two club losers - so you have to avoid a heart loser.  North has by this time shown up with a 7.2. shape with at least one club, which means you South cannot have the doubleton heart king.

There are two choice in the heart suit that allow you to escape for no loser.  One is singleton K with North, and the other is to find North with a 7222 or 7321 shape, which allows you to put South on play with the third club and forces a lead away from South's assumed heart king.  Neatly, exiting at this point with the third club tells you which option to play for and in this case - when North shows out - South is indeed forced to lead from the heart king and you make your contract.

Easy game this?

How do you Play?

West leads the T against your slam. You win the A and cash AK. On the second heart, West discards a club. How do you play from here?

Had trumps been 3-2, 12 tricks would have been easy. The contract is now more fraught. If you cross to dummy with a club to take a spade finesse, you will lose a club ruff if the suit is 5-1. If spades are 5-1, you cannot make the contract, so a reasonable line is to play a low spade from hand. If West wins and exits with a club, you can win in dummy and ruff  a diamond. Then J and a spade to dummy allows you to draw the last trump and claim 5 black suit winners in hand. If East wins the spade Queen, you can later just draw trumps and score 12 top tricks. It does not help West to duck the spade, for then the ten of spades will win. Declarer now now draw another round of trumps and ruff out West's ♠Q. On this line, East will make a trump trick, but that is all.

Not a Great Contract...but

West leads the K against your slam and you are disappointed to see dummy. The contract does not look great but can you find a way home?

The good news is that West appears from the bidding to have 7 hearts, so your chances of success are not as bad as you might think. Win the opening lead and play 2 top trumps. If all follow continue with a low trump from hand and hope that it is East who has to win this trick. Now if East holds the K he is stuck. A diamond switch gives you an entry to dummy and your loseres will disappear on the spades  and a second diamond finesse. If instead East exits with a spade, you discard 2 hearts and the diamond Jack on the spades and then lead the T from dummy. If East plays low you can underplay with the 9 and repeat the diamond finesse.

Planning Required

West leads the ♠K. What is your best chance for 11 tricks.

You need to set up dummy's hearts, but if East gets in then a club switch will likely prove fatal. Your best chance is to hope that West holds ♠ KQJ. Win the lead and cross to dummy with a heart to lead the ♠T. If this isn't covered by East, you can throw your remaining heart. Now you can use dummy's 3 trump entries to ruff out the heart suit and get back to enjoy them.

HotD-fri : CBC Mixed Pairs : 06nov18 : B20

This hand from Tuesday's Mixed Pairs was curious in declaring ten tricks were available while everyone trying for that failed.  All 11 tables played in spades, with only two in a partscore and the rest in game.  From the 11 tables we had eight Norths led the ♣Q and three led the A.  The heart leaders would likely have led the ♣Q at trick two - so over to you ...  how do you play the 4♠ contrct?

There are two options on the hand.  The first - which is what people seemed to adopt - is to go for a cross ruff. On that line there is at best (unless a heart lead is giving you a trick there) three tricks outside the trump suit, and you therefore need seven trump tricks. You cannot imagine more than four long trumps in hand and that means a need for three ruffs in dummy.  That can only happen if the opposition never lead a trump, and since one of your ruffs has to be a heart they always have a chance for a trump switch, killing one of those ruffs. So this feels doomed.

If you have a likely heart trick (eg because of a heart lead) you are better off, as you now need only six trumps tricks. The catch is that you will struggle enormously to draw trumps before cashing your winners. And indeed this is a problem with the cross ruff - as taking two ruffs with the AJT leaved you with Q7653 for drawing trumps - and that's not likely to work.

The alternative line is to set up the long diamond suit.  So how about a spade finesse at trick two, and run the K.  This loses and North can see that the diamonds are breaking and you are heading for success. The best chance now for the defence is is to attack dummy's entries, by leading A and another.  As declarer you have a neat counter to that - you simply discard, creating two more heart winners in hand.  This is enough to let you abandon the diamond suit after cashing the queen. [Is any North devious enough to lead a low heart after the A?] Setting up the diamonds was not a high probability choice - needing the spade king right and the diamonds 3-3, but it was viable.   Next time?

Pay Attention

West leads the K against your game - plan the play.

You win the A and cash the ♣ K. Now exit with a diamond. West wins the Queen and probably plays a third big diamond after East signals a doubleton. Simply discard a spade from dummy on this trick. Suppose East discards a club and West leads that suit. Your ♣A gets ruffed but you overruff and exit with the ♠K. Now provided West holds the ♠A which is likely enough on the bidding, you will be able to crossruff spades and clubs and make 1 club, 1 diamond, 2 spade ruffs and 6 trumps in hand. By discarding a spade on a diamond, you transfer your ability to take ruffs in dummy in a suit where you don't get overruffed.

HotD-wed : Swiss Teams 3 : 5nov18 : B25

There were 6 hands on Monday where slam came into view, but on only two of them did the majority of the field bid the slam.  

Board 2 was a roughly 25% slam bid by two tables (our condolences to the defenders).  Board 16 was a slam missing a cashable AK, bid and made by one pair but we cannot object to that since the defence had a clear chance to gain.   Board 24 was a good slam in 6♣ but the only slam bid was 6N at table 2, which also made by dint of a very fortunate heart position; 6N looks like a 43% slam, and such slams are worth bidding as an unfortunate lead can often drastically improve the odds.  And today's hand is a great slam but was bid to a slam by no pair at all.  The auction shown is imagined - but might we not find it?

There are a number of bids in the sequence shown which might not be made, bvut there is a clear rationale for the choices shown.  Now is it a good slam?  Yes, it needs just the diamond ace or diamond jack onside - although you have to guess which.  Which brings us to the play. The bidding and the first few tricks should make it clear to the defence that their only tricks are in diamonds. Once you cotton on to that, you can see that it is vital for South with the ace to smoothly duck the first round of diamonds, as to win it pushes declarer into the winning option of finessing the jack next.  A smooth duck might fool declarer but a sufficiently alert declarer might spot that North has the QJ and ♣ KQ  and these days that does not leave enough room for the A and a first-in-hand pass.

Board 12 we discussed yesterday - there was only one East-West pair left to play in a slam and that was the 6-1 result, while 5 pairs sacrificed in 6♠ (most, I bet, over 6).  

HotD-tue : Swiss Teams 3 : 5nov18 : B12

This spectacular example from Monday has to be Hand of the Day/Week/Month.

This was the bidding at one table, and it is impossible to fault the actions of any player.  In fact, the par contract was reached, as the 6 slam is making even though 6 goes down when North gets to ruff the second spade with the T while declarer cannot over-ruff.  If South starts with the spade ace and king then there is a danger of North not realising the need to ruff, and that will let a diamond slam make.

Roy Collard reports that he bid 6 over 3NT in case partner was void in hearts and the ♣A was taken out at trick 1. However, that did run the risk of North being void in diamonds and ruffing a diamond lead. South naturally bid 6♠ anyway.

The two tables where West started with 1 and South got to bid quietly, first with 1♠ and later with 4♠ in an attempt to be allowed to play there, backfired on South when East bid on to 5 and North doubled this.  It made an overtrick in each room.

There is no great science in bidding hands as shapely as these - but it is often the case that bidding "one more" is the right thing to do.

Defence is not Always Obvious

You lead your singleton heart. Partner wins the Ace and returns the Queen to declarer's King. How do you see the defence developing?

On the bidding, South can hardly be missing the A, so there can be no defensive tricks in the minors. If you ruff the second heart trick, then you will only make the ♠A thereafter. If South lacks the ♠ Q, he has no choice but to get the trump suit right by playing a spade to the King and another spade, as losing a trick to East will allow him to take his J. You have 2 options available. One is to ruff with the ♠A so that partner will have an entry to his heart trick with his presumed ♠Q. The alternative is to discard at trick 2. This is a better play for even if partner has the ♠J and not the Queen, there is a chance that South will interpret your failure to ruff as holding 4 spades and he might well fineese the spade ten at some stage. Of course, if delarer's trumps are solid, there is no hope of beating the contract whatever you do.

Clear the Way

West starts with the 3 top spades. How do you play?

Firstly you should discard a diamond from hand on the third spade, as you want to retain control of the hand. Win the diamond switch with dummy's Ace and play off the 2 top hearts hoping both opponents follow. Now your best shot is to cash 2 top clubs before returning to hand in trumps. You can then discard dummy's last club on your J and enjoy your club suit. This line makes whenever clubs break 3-2 and hearts are no worse than 4-2.

The Only Chance

West starts with Ace and another spade against you slam. How might you bring home 12 tricks?

The first move is to ruff the second spade high in case East holds a singleton spade. Then you cash the other top heart and say West shows out. You have 11 tricks and given that West has 9 spades, the 12th will most likely come from a minor suit squeeze on East. Draw the trumps taking the marked finesse against East and play 3 rounds of diamonds, ruffing the third. In the end position when you play off your remaining heart, dummy will be down to a diamond and ♣A8, whilst you will hold ♣Kxx. East's discard will give you the rest of the tricks.

How do you Defend?

West leads the J. Declarer plays low in dummy. How do you defend?

Declarer has at most one diamond, so you should overtake with your Q at trick 1. When South follows you could continue with a second diamond to try and promote a trump trick for partner or you could switch to a club, hoping that partner has enough to then beat the contract. Probably a club is best. Which club should you switch to? - Normally you would lead the highest of your doubleton, but that would not be good enough on this occassion. The play to beat the contract is to switch to the ♣2 at the second tick. Now partner can establish a second club trick with the ♠A as an entry.

HotD-thu : CBC Tuesday Pairs : 30oct18 : B11

This hand produced a big variety of results, from  +800 to North-South at one table, to +1100 to East-West at another table - and from the same contract!    How could it happen?  Well - the contract was 5-doubled at both tables, but in one case North was declarer and in the other case West was declarer.  You would expect both results to be disasters for the declaring side and that was the outcome.   How did it happen?

It was the first bid by North, and sometimes the first bid by East, which determined the outcome.  At table three, after two passes, Anne Swannell took a sensible view by bidding 4♠ immediately.  Hands of a 7411 shape do call for an obstructive opening, which isn't alway needed when you have the boss suit, but with partner here a passed hand, the potential value in bidding slowly is much less.  The key decision now was East's;  at the table he chose a double, which might have been intended for penalty but these days - with so many more 4♠ openers around - most people play double for takeout and partner duly took it out to 5.  This is how West ended up with -1100 on the card. 

At table 7, North took a different view and started with 1♠.  This left room for East to bid 2♣ and after South showed his diamonds (we are still wondering why) West was able to support clubs.  North now woke up and bid 4♠ but that didn't stop East bidding the club game. This was a sensible game to be in, and it would make were it not for the spade ruff on best defence.  When it was passed tound to North however, he would not give in and tried 5.  This did indeed show an imbalance between the major suits, but partner's preference for hearts did not prove a success, and when forced, the hand fell apart for declarer; he made four trumps in hand, one spade ruff on dummy, and the ♠A for down five.

The par result on the board, 4♠ -doubled down two (by North) was achieved at only one of the 27 tables which played the board.   North-South only have to bid 4♠ when East has found the making 3N contract, and there was only one instance of 3N across the 27 tables which played this board.


HotD-wed : League 3 : 29oct18 : B21

This hand produced  the greatest number of swings on Monday, with double figure swings in all matches bar one.   North played the hands in clubs once (presumably South bid 4N over 4♠) and in hearts twice (we presume in response to South's takeout double, rather than as a weak two bid with this suit quality at this vulnerability). 

Defending against 4♠ everything hinged on the opening lead. The four tables to defeat the game all led the T, which is surely the natural choice from the strongest suit; all the alternatives run as many risks of giving away a trick, which makes this choice best.  South, on winning the ace, cannot see many sources of tricks. The only chance of defeat is therefore a heart to the ace and the K and a diamond ruff.  If declarer has dropped the J on the first round, there might be rather more concern about whether the K will stand up, but there looks to be four tricks for declarer in dummy's side suits - so what else can South try? 

Here it let's you collect a ruff from partner and beta the contract.  Isn't this an easy game?

One has to hope that where South led the A against 4♠, in response to North's opening bid, that North took responsibility for the fact that the game was allowed to make.

HotD-tue : League 3 : 29oct18 : B7

Board 7 from this week's league match generated more regret than any other for most East-West pairs last night.  If we look at the two hands, it is clear than simply an even (3-2) club break delivers 12 tricks, and there is a thirteenth trick available when North is squeezed in the red suits.  Yet only one pair - Paul Lilley & Peter Swales - managed to bid to the 6N contract that we all wanted to be in.

This should not be a difficult slam to bid, but it all hinges on the first bid by East and the second bid by West.  If East can and does start off with a strong 2 response, then West will soon learn of a balanced hand opposite and will drive to slam with these long, good clubs.  If East bids just 1,  it depends on West's rebid - and a 2♣ choice by many resulted in East just bidding game, but the 3♣ choice by Peter Swales allowed that pair to reach the slam with ease.

Playing in any contract, the play should be the same.  Declarer wins the opening lead and tests the clubs. Once they are know to break, you will have the rest if the hearts are 3-3.  To cater for the other times, declarer should now cash the A, and come back to the top spades to run the clubs.  This will squeeze anybody holding the hearts and the top diamond.  You need to cash the A first if it is South who is to be squeezed, but when North is being squeezed it doesn't matter.


Keep Control

The defence starts with 2 rounds of hertas. You ruff the second trick and play....?

If spades and diamonds both break, you can easily make 12 tricks, but your target is only ten so you should take steps to guard against the suits breaking 4-1. At trick 3 play a diamond to the Ace and a low spade back to your Ace (both following). Now ruff a diamond (say East shows out) and play the Queen of spades from dummy. You should overtake this trick with your King and lead diamonds from the top. On this layout, East will win 2 trump trumps, but you retain control of the hand. You cannot afford to duck the ♠Q, else you will next have to force yourself down to less trumps than East, thus losing control of the hand.

Careful Defence Needed

West leads the 3 to your Queen and declarer's Ace. At trick 2, South leads a club to West's ♣4 and  dummy's Queen. How do you defend?

You can tell from partner's lead of a low heart that declarer started with the singleton Ace. It looks safe to continue with a top heart having won the ♣A but this is not so. Declarer will ruff and play 3 rounds of trumps. You exit again in hearts but now South leads the ten of diamonds and you cannot escape the endplay. To avoid the end position, you must retain both your hearts as exit cards. The correct exit after winning the ♣A is a spade. Now when you win the third spade you can lead a heart and a furth heart when you come in with the J. This way you will come to a further diamond trick and defeat the contract.

Proceed with Caution

West leads a low trump against your slam. How do you play?

Whilst it looks appealing to draw trumps and rely on a favourable diamond position, there is a better plan. After winning the trump lead in dummy, lead a low diamond towards hand at trick two. Even if East ruffs, there is still a fair chance of making 12 tricks. If the A holds, continue with the three top clubs, throwing diamonds from dummy. Next, played a diamond to dummy's Queen and East's King, West showing out say. You are now in control. On the actual layout, East must lead a heart round to dummy, or concede a ruff and discard which allows you to discard a diamond from hand and ruff low in dummy. You can now take the A and crossruff high. If East had had a second trump to return, you would have won in hand, ruffed a diamond, drawn the last trump and claimed 12 tricks via four trumps, one heart, three diamonds, one diamond ruff and three clubs.



A 50% Game

West leads the ♣K against your game and East discards a heart. You win and play a top diamond on which West throws a spade. How do you rate your chances?

Your game is 50% - merely requiring East to hold the ♠A. After the diamond play, enter dummy with a heart and lead a low spade towards your King. If East rises with the Ace, you will later win your spade in hand and eliminate the hearts before putting East in with the long diamond. He will eventually have to concede a further spade trick to dummy. If East ducks the spade, a similar endplay will ensue.

HotD-thu : County KO QF : 22oct18 : B18

This hand produced a number of unhappy bidders, when they didn't finish in the contract they wanted to reach.  The first real choice was West's response to the opening bid.  Should West bid 1 here?

The common choice here was 1, and over that North could happily double to show the majors.  When East bid 1♠ South passed and West gave preference to clubs.  This was all convenient for North who could bid 2 .  East competed again with 3♣ and South now faced the crticial decision. In practice 3 was favoured, and that finished the auction.  When 10 or 11 tricks were achieved, that felt embarassing, and North-South found themselves asking each other who should have bid more.

Contrast that with the table where West raised clubs on the first round. Bidding even just 2♣ has two positive advantages - one is it much more tightly limits the West hand and that means East can judge immediately what to do, and secondly it raises the bidding level so that a 1 or 1♠ overcall become impossible.   Over 2♣ North doubled, as you have to with such a good hand and two suits, and East was able to bounce to 4♣. It was easy enough for South to pass at this point, but when North doubled 4♣ (who wouldn't), South suddenly had options.  Clearly a major suit game would be best, but there was no way of telling which five card suit North had (if any); and the long diamond suit was appealing.  At the table South tried 5 and even without a double from the defenders, that was -200 and a bottom on the board.

This hand is a good advert for "support with support" - don't wait until later!

HotD-wed : County KO QF : 22oct18 : B5

The success of the common 3N contract on this hand from Monday was rather a surprise.  This auction was typical, and North was declarer in 3N at all but two tables;  we cannot explain the 2 contract chosen by two experienced performers at table 5, but the 3N played by South at table 9 was no surprise.   When West was on lead against 3N, the small club lead at trick one made the defence trivial and the game went one off.

When North was declarer it turned out to be more difficult.  The opening leads chosen by East were a top club four times, and a spade twice.  It is hard to argue against either, although the dominance of the club lead does support the idea that it might be best to see dummy before going too far.  When the top club is led, it is important for East to receive some sort fo attitude signal from West, so if the king (chosen twice) asks for a count signal then that is the wrong lead.  One would expect that with an encouraging signal, and the strength of dummy indicating that West can have at most 2 hcp, we would see a club continuation and five tricks for the defence.  This only happened at one of the four tables which started clubs.

When a spade was led, declarer won that and started on diamonds. It makes sense for West to duck the first round, and it looked very appealing to duck the second too - as that let's partner provide a signal on the third diamond which might help the defence.  The problem however is that, if declarer is awake and can count, they will recognise that a third diamond is not needed - and they will run for their nine tricks.  Can East tell? 

On a spade lead, whether declarer rises or not in dummy at trick one, it should be apparent that declarer has three spade stoppers. The question is whether the queen (at most) which partner has is in hearts or in clubs, and the answer comes back to playing a top club and receiving an attitude signal.

Is this really a difficult game we play?

How Good is this Slam?

West starts with the ♣ K. How do you play?

Your best chance is that both spades and diamonds break 3-2.. If this is indeed the case, then you can give up on the diamond finesses and play for 4 diamonds, 4 spades, 2 Aces and 2 club ruffs. Win the ♣A at trick 1 and ruff a club. Now play a low diamond from dummy. Say that East rises with the Queen to play a heart through. You win and ruff another club. Now 2 top spades and then a diamond to hand allows you to draw the reamaining trump before cashing your diamond winners.

HotD-mon : Everett Cup : 20oct18 : B3

There were 9 hands in total on Satruday (out of 48) where slam bidding featured.  Admittedly one of these was crazy (and the opposition quickly cashed their three top tricks) and one was a poor but playable slam (which went off) but all the others were good slams to bid and this was the one which provoked most interest.    There are four plausible starts to the auction on this hand, although it is not clear they all occurred (please tell).   The question therefore is what you would bid with the hand shown after these starts, with partner dealer

  • 3♣  - Pass
  • Pass - 1♣ 
  • Pass - 3♣ 
  • Pass - 3N(gambling)

This hand generated a lot of interest because it was so enormously strong, but in fact the strongest combination was on board 34 where there were 13 easy tricks in hearts for East-West, and 13 possible tricks in no-trumps;  on that board everyone did bid a slam, but only one pair managed to get to the grand slam.  (A sight rarely seen - everyone made the same number of tricks on B34).  Of the other 5 decent slams to bid, the average number of pairs to bid the board to slam was 1 out of 12;  they were all decent slams but in practice two of them failed, and one would have failed if the defence had (surprisingly) found the winning lead.  Well done to Mary Jones & John Stirrup for bidding the slam on B2, and to Helen & Paul Tempest for bidding the slam on B16. 

Back to this hand, the choices we can report on are

(a) North bid 6♠ immediately

(b) North doubled the 1♣ opener and bid 4♠ on the next round (when thankfully, partner bid 1 rather than pass).

(c) North doubled the 1♣ opener and bid 6♠ on the next round.

All but two tables in spades managed 12 tricks, and for the instance where the contract was 6♠ this was crucial. 

Against the slam, East wanted to lead partner's suit but could not - so most chose a trump while one chose a diamond and one a heart. It should have made no difference - as even on a trump lead declarer still has time to ruff a heart in dummy and lose a diamond towards the end.

We don't have much practice with 3-loser hands, but it would be enough for South to turn up with three small spades and a yarborough, and - with the heart finesse through the opening bidder - the slam would be excellent odds.  The optimism of the slam bidders was justified.


Not too Hard

West leads the ♣J. Plan the play.

The hand is a sure thing. Win and draw trumps. Next take the A, and the other top club before playing AQ. Whoever wins this trick must concede a ruff and discard or play a diamond. You are now in a position to pick up an original 4-1 diamond break

What Now?

Partner leads the J. You cash 2 heart tricks - What now?

Presumably partner has some heart winners if you can get him in. An experienced West in this position would likely have indicated where his outside values lay by playing a high heart when holding the ♠K and a low heart when holding the ♣A. However, I didn't tell you which heart partner played at trick 2. On this hand, there is no need to despair at the lack of that information. You have the diamonds under control so you will get 2 bites at this cherry. Switch to the ♠Q at trick 3. If partner encourages, you can later put partner in with his ♠K. If partner discourages the spade, you can try the club when you get in. If partner fails to give you the right signal for a second time on this hand, then a chat with him about signalling methods might be in order!

How do you Defend?

After South opened a strong NT, West leads the ♣3. You win the Ace over dummy's Knave. What do you return and why?

The opening 1NT by South marks partner with 3-5 points , so he will likely have one key card but not 2. There can be no point returning a club as partner wont have the 2 entries needed to establish and cash the suit. Hearts offers the best chance of beting the contract but you must switch to the Q at trick 2. This surround play is necessary to prevent declarer winning 2 heart tricks.  On the layout shown, declarer can only win 1 heart trick and partner will return the suit when he gets in, allowing you to take the maximum number of defensive tricks in the suit.

HotD-thu : League 2 : 15oct18 : B25

It was a surprise to see this tight game made at all the tables (5) which bid it on Monday evening.  It was no surprise to see some stop in 1N after a 14-16 opening, or in 2♠ after West raised East's opening.   The 1♠ contract was more of a surprise, but it quite understandable after an auciton of 1♣ -1 -1♠.

Against 3N by East the lead was mostly a heart and this should set up two heart tricks to go with the top clubs, so that if declarer tries to set up the diamond suit there are five losers. In practice three suits were led at the four tables where East was playing in 3N - once a spade, once a club, and twice a heart.  A heart was also led twice against 1N and once against 2N.

As far as we can tell, every North played the Q at trick one and declarer gobbled that up, generating a second heart trick, and the defence could never now make five tricks.  If North had ducked, then declarer cannot succeed - ducking a diamond gives five tricks, and playing on clubs allows South to duck the second heart safely to set the hearts up.

Was it possible to avoid the play of the Q?   The answer is that on the lead of 7 (the choice in all five cases) there is no way out, as South might well have led from AK976 or AK876.  But there is an alterative lead here, which is the 9,  now the normal choice amongst experts from an  H98x(x) holding, as it avoids giving declarer an undeserved tricks were partner to be sitting with J32 over dummy's AT7.  Would that lead help?   The answer is yes if the lead of the nine can only have one higher honour (but no if it could have two), and the argument for preferring the nine to a small one only makes sense with a single honour above.

Even without the 9 lead, the bidding might strongly suggest that South cannot hold the AK, and that might encourage North into the winning play.  The more common variation of this problem is when dummy has JTx in the suit, and you need to know whether or not to cover the jack with the queen.  The same considerations as above apply then.

Leading the 9 from an H98x(x) holding can cause considerable confusion if your practice is to lead the 9 from a T9x(x) holding - but such a practice has a number of downsides anyway, and is no longer recommended practice.

Patrick Phair writes : we reached 3N after partner opened a 15-17 1N, and I invited game. North played the Q on the opening lead. It is surprising that this board led to a game swing in all five matches -- only just over a 1 in 8 chance if game is bid at five tables.

HotD-wed : League 2 : 15oct 18 : B23

The spade game on this board proved too difficult for most declarers.  It looks very much like there are only three losers - one spade, one diamond and one club.  It didn't turn out that way.  Here's how it went at table 4.

The opening lead of a heart was ruffed, and declarer then played to A to take a second ruff.  He continued with trumps but West won the ace and - knowing that declarer would not have eschewed the diamond finesse - could underlead to partner's Q and get a chance to ruff the A.  When the club finesse lost, declarer was one down. 

What would have worked? Declarer does need to ruff at trick one, and a diamond next is fine, but when the T appears, declarer needs to play the jack.  This might give up a second heart ruff, but if West wins the diamond king and plays trumps, then declarer has enough control to take a club finesse, and so set up the third club for a heart discard. Still having the A when East wins the ♣K  is important, which is why ruffing at trick one matters.

Should this have been found?  You might well find the winning line if given the hand as a problem, but the bidding shown did not suggest that East had as many as eight hearts. Were East to have jumped to 4 that suspicion might have come out, but even then it is not certain.  But there are always bad breaks to look out for, and one of those might be a singleton diamond with East (but then playing A and a second diamond would be good enough).  It is hard to say whether going off in 4♠ is criminal or just unlucky.

Patrick Phair writes : I was West on this hand and the contract went down one. I was surprised to see that it could be made, and I didn't find out how until I used the analysis tool on the web. I led 4 to partner's bid. Declarer ruffed in dummy and played a trump to an honour in hand. I ducked, and then declarer (according to the double-dummy analysis) went wrong by continuing trumps. I won ♠A and switched to a club. Declarer finessed and partner won. Partner then found the essential return of a club, and when declarer thought for ages about overtaking the ten it was clear what the position was. After declarer stayed in hand with the ten and drew trumps we won one trick in each suit.



HotD-tue : Leage 2 : 15oct18 : B6

There was plenty of shape in last night's hands and this one proved too difficult for most.  With a nine card spade fit, you'd expect most pairs to play in 4♠ but this was only achieved twice.  There was a good sacrifice available, and the par contract is 5-doubled and it looks like this was bid at half the tables but in fact a number of the 5♠ calls were voluntary.

The auction at table 2 is the one shown, and here West initially showed a four card diamond suit and on the next round was torn between showing the extra length and strength in that suit, or showing spade support.  He chose diamonds, and even were the diamonds to behave well, the contract has three aces to lose.

The auction at table 4 did not allow North-South to find their sacrifice, as it started with 2♠ from East and over this West jumped to 4N (key card ask).  The response was most disappointing and here the defence was always going to get its three aces.  Asking first about partner's strength (with 2N) would have received a negative response (thereby denying two aces) and West could easily have settled then for game.

At table 6 the auction started as shown, but here South jumped to 3 on the second round (a "mixed" raise) which allowed West to cue bid 3 before showing spade support.  For unknown reasons South decided to double this cold contract, but West took fright and ran to the failing 5 game, only to be put back by his partner into 5♠, doubled again.  And this was one off.

What can we say?  Opening 2♠ on the East hand is a sound choice; the spade middle cards are useful protection against a penalty double, the hand has virtually no defence, and you are first in hand.  The East hand, in response, must take its time to avoid the embarassment felt at table 4.

The successful auction at table 11 was the one recommended 2♠ -2N(ask) - 3♣(worst hand) - 4♠ - P.   Well done by John Stirrup & Steve Sasanow.

The successful auction at table 7 started with P - P - 1 - 1 - 1♠   and South produced a paltry raise to 2 over which West bid 4♠.   The single heart raise made a sacrifice impossible to find, so the bidding stopped there.

Patrick Phair writes : our opponents missed their spade fit after the auction P-P-1-2N-P-4-5.

It's a Snip

West leads a diamond, East winning with the Queen, and continuing with the Ace. Plan the play.

It looks like you can ruff high and clear the trumps, but if West holds A8xx, he can take the A and put partner in with a club. A further diamond will then promote the 8 to winning rank. The solution is to discard a club at trick 2. This is a scissors coup - it cuts the link between the defenders. You ruff the third diamond high and play the K. Although West can win, he cannot now get his partner in. You just win the return and draw trumps.

Play Carefully

West leads the 3. Plan the play.

Diamomds is the obvious source of tricks on this hand but the only entries to dummy are in trumps. If you ruff the heart lead you will need to find the trumps 2-2 as well as a friendly diamond break. Best is to discard from dummy at trick 1 and let the opponents have the trick, Then you can win any continuation, draw 2 rounds of trumps before cashing AK and entering dummy with the ♠A to enjoy the long diamonds

Think it through

West starts with 3 top spades, declarer turning up with a doubleton. How do you see the defense developing?

It is unliklely that partner holds the ♣A. You need to ask yourself why partner has played a third round of spades, establishing dummy's suit. Surely it is because West holds a little something in hearts, and he hopes for a trump promotion. Perhaps he has a holding such as J9x, whereby if you were able to ruff with the Q, he would have 2 trump tricks. Your actual heart holding is good enough for a promotion if West hols as little as Jxx. Ruff trick 3 with the A and sit back and wait for partner to make a trump trick when the layout is as shown.


West starts with 2 top hearts. You ruff the second round and play 2 top spades from hand. On the second round East discards a club. Plan the play from here.

You can't afford to draw any more trumps at this stage else a losing diamond finesse will see you lose control of the hand. Suppose you take a diamond finesse at this point. It loses and a heart comes back - is there still hope?

The answer is yes - you just need the minor suits to behave. Ruff the heart return and cash 2 clubs and 2 diamonds finishing in dummy. If this has passed off without incident, you can ruff dummy's last heart with the ♠ J. That gives you 5 spade tricks in hand, 2 clubs and 2 diamonds. The ♠ K remains on the table as your tenth trick. You have made the contract via a dummy reversal.

HotD-thu : CBC Pairs League : 10oct18 : B4

There were a few curious features in the scores from last night's game.  The first was that the traveller showed board 1 as played in the same contract at all 12 trables, by the same declarer, with (essentially) the same lead.  They did not all make the same number of tricks, but this is the closest to a uniform traveller that we can remember.  And then there was board 6, where both of pair 12 and pair 14 played in 5♣ doubled and went down five tricks, but one of them scored -1400 and the other -1100.  How could that happen?  [Hit ANSWER if you can't work that out]

This hand (B4) was one of a number where a small part of the field bid a slam, and in this case a number of declarers went down.  The opening bid is sound, with the shape compensating for a spade suit which you would rather was stronger when vulnerable. The bidding of a slam was also reasonable - and in fact investigating a grand slam would not have been out of place.  In practice, only 4 out of 12 tables bid the slam (although two also got to 5♠ in their investigations).

Against a suit slam, the advice is to lead agressively, and the reason is that it is often a race to get two tricks, while defending 6N the issue is more often declarer finding a twlefth trick, and then you want to be cautious.  Here a club lead would see a not-unexpected dummy, and would regret not having set up a red suit winner immediately.  From North's perspective either red suit might be better, but the only North who led a red suit chose hearts on the basis that on top of setting up partner's king, there was the chance of finding partner with AJ over dummy's king.  

From declarer's perspective now, whatever the lead there looks to be six trump tricks and five top tricks outside.  Does the contract have any chance?  There are two realistic options - one is that something good happens in hearts, the other that something good happens in clubs.  The former depends on finding KQ or KQx in one hand (an option which would be denied you by a diamond lead) and the other is that the club suit breaks 4-4.   You lack the entries to try both.  If you get a red suit lead, then the heart prospects do not look good, and they were not great odds anyway.  To try for the clubs behaving, you need to win in dummy, and ruff a club while drawing two trumps.  Now cashing the clubs let's you discard three diamonds and the fifth club takes care of the losing heart whiwle the defence ruff with their trump trick.  You clock up +1430.  Easy game!

The answer is that one pair sat North-South, and the others sat East-West - and one was vulnerable, one was not!

HotD-wed : Winter Pairs 2 : 8oct18 : B22

This hand from Monday was a simple exercise if you played in 4, as one should, but a few pairs found themselves playing in 3N and had to make the best of that.  You could well imagine that it would only be when West forgot to bid, that South played in 3N but that would not be true.  When played by North the spade lead from East awkwardly leaves the suit blocked, and after that declarer can afford to lose a minor suit finesse to West, and if that is the club finesse then there is a tenth trick.

The more intersting contract is 3N by South on a spade lead. Where this happened East won the first spade and the suit was cleared.  At this point declarer can see eight easy tricks, and just needs a minor suit finesse for the ninth.  The question is which, and this is crucial as the wrong choice will generate five losers.

The key thing is that West can also see that this is the position. Against Mike Wignall, West capitulated and refused to give up control of either minor, and so had to throw a spade on the last heart.  Now South could exit with ace and another club and receive a diamond into the ace-queen as the last two tricks.  The key in these situations is to plan the ending early, and come down to a singleton king without any sign of discomfort.  And of course partner must cooperate and not be discarding too many of that same suit.

At another table, Alan Wearmouth came down to a singleton king, and when declarer chose to go for a minor suit finesse, there were five losers and the contract was one down.

HotD-tue : Winter Pairs 2 : 08oct18 : B7

This hand from yesterday presented an informative lead problem.  The bidding won't always have been this but this is a standard Acol auction.  What would you lead?

Whether you are playing pairs or teams, the feature of your hand which should be screaming at you is the weak heart suit.  This strongly implies that dummy will have good hearts, and if anything hearts will be declarer's short suit. That combination means that declarer is likely to have the option to discard some losers on hearts, and it means you must get to your winners first.  A minor suit lead is therefore strongly indicated.

Which minor will be best?  It's very much an even call, with a king in each, which will be more effective.  There is a slight push however to clubs on this basis - if you lead from a king and it turns out that declarer has the A/Q between the two hands, you will sometimes still make a trick with the king.  If you started with Kxxxx, then the you will only make the king if declarer has 3 cards in each hand in the suit - not so likely.  If you started with Kxxx, the same question comes up and here your chances have increased a little.  And if you started with Kxx then the chances are better still.   So here the ♣7 looks like the right lead - and this was found at only two of the nine tables.

When the club is led, East wins trick one with the ace. The ♣7 was the lowest out, so partner is known to have an honour but it is not clear whether declarer started with one or two in the suit. At the table East carefully continued with the ♣Q and was allowed to hold the trick.  He switched to a small diamond and declarer ran this to the king before claiming the rest of the tricks. 

The contract made and scores +620 but this was a bottom score, as a number of people made over-tricks.  Could declarer have done better?   Clearly yes - as on any other defence the best play is to try the hearts from the top in case they break 3-3 and you get even better news when the QT fall, and all your losers go away.   Should declarer have done better?   Probably yes.  The one thing you can be sure of when the defence win the second club in East and lead a diamond is that West has the king - because otherwise West would have won the second club to lead a diamond through the queen.  So declarer should have risen with the A and taken 11 tricks. 

Look at the effect of a heart or spade lead on the hand.  Declarer can draw trumps safely and then turn to hearts.  When the top hearts all appear on the first two rounds, two clubs can be discarded and the diamond finesse becomes the option for 13 tricks ... a lot swings on opening leads ...

Helpful Bidding

West 's overcall of 2♣ showed at least 9 cards in the majors. How do you play on the lead of ♠5?

You have 4 spade tricks, 2 diamonds and a club. If you can make 2 heart tricks, that brings your total to 9. On the bidding, West is marked with 4 hearts (at least) and hence East has at most 2. The best chance is that East's doubleton include the J,T or 9. Win dummy's ♠ Q at trick 1 and lead a low heart, just covering East's card. Say that West wins the 9 and plays a diamond. Win and lead the Q, ducking in dummy regardless of whether West covers. Later in the play you can finesse dummy's 8 whenever the ten or Jack of hearts fell from East on the second round of the suit.   If East had risen with a high heart on the first round, you play the Queen and later generate a second heart trick by running the 7 to set up the same position with A8 acting as a major tenace over West.

Beware the Danger

Against your 4♠ contract, West leads the ♣K. East plays the ♣T at trick 1, suggesting a value in hearts. What is the best line of play?

There is a danger that East will gain the lead in hearts at some point and play a diamond through your King. You might then lose a heart and 3 diamonds. The best line is to duck trick one. Suppose West switches to a heart. You win the Ace and discard your second heart on the ♣A. Now 2 rounds of trumps with Ace and King will clear the trumps even if they are 2-0. You can lead and pass the J, discarding a diamond if East does not cover. This may lose but you have 2 more trump entries to dummy to try a second ruffing finesse in hearts. 

How do you Play?

West leads the ♠T. How do you plan the play?

You have 5 tricks in the black suits so 4 hearts will see you home. The problem is that the defence can duck the first heart , take the second round of the suit and then lock you in dummy with a club.  Then you will lose 2 diamonds, 2 clubs and a heart. You need to find a way around the communication problem. The solution is to play a diamond at trick 2. Suppose East wins and exits with the ♣Q. Now you can win and play a low heart to hand. If the defence wins the heart you have your nine tricks so they must duck. Now you can cash 1 top spade in hand and force out the remaining top diamond. Now you have 2 spades, 2 clubbs 1 heart and 4 diamond tricks.

Careful Management Required

West start with the Q against your game. How do you plan the play?

With a delicate trump suit and some ruffing to do you need to be careful with the timing. Win the first trick with dummy's Ace and duck a round of trumps. Win the likely diamond continuation and cash the Ace of trumps. If all follow you can then arrange to ruff 2 spades in dummy. These ruffs, together with 2 top spades, 2 diamonds, a club and 2 trump tricks in hand brings your total to 10. It is essential to duck an early round of trumps else you will suffer a spade overruff. If you play Ace and another heart, the defence can draw too many trumps and leave you short of tricks.

HotD-thu : Swiss Teams 2 : 01oct18 : B22

This was an intriguing hand from Monday; it was played in the same 3♣ contract at ten tables and the contract made at seven.  The Deep Finesse analysis of the hand says you can always make the contract with an overtrick, unless one specific card is led.  You would never guess that this card was the ♠J!  No table in 3♣ made the maximum ten tricks, and at the one table where the ♠J was led, they only made 8 tricks.

The first interesting point is the opening lead, which of course depends on the auction, but it is hard to imagine many auctions different from that shown.  South must be concerned about diamond ruffs in dummy, and doesn't know that partner can stop these.  It seems natural therefore to lead a trump, but only 2/12 tables did this.  The others (bar the one already mentioned) led a small spade and cannot have been pleased to see partner's queen beaten by the ace at trick one.

After a trump lead (would declarer say thanks, or prefer not to have had one?) the line by which declarer makes 10 tricks is to draw trumps and give up three diamonds.  This works because South runs of our hearts and is forced to play a spade after forcing declarer twice.  It is not an obvious (or likely) choice and I would not expect anyone to follow it. 

On a club lead one option for declarer is to win with the ace, so as to ruff a diamond in dummy with the seven, but this fails when North over-ruffs and on that start 3♣ goes down one.  A more plausible line (chosen at table one) was to run the club round and win the ♣T and then take a guaranteed diamond ruff.  With three outside winners, declarer needs to make 6 trumps tricks, and therefore win tricks with all of the KJT54.   This looks reasonable, especially if North has withheld the club queen.  So declarer took the diamond ruff, ruffed a heart, and then played ♠A and another towards dummy and won the ♠K.  After that the contract could no longer be made; curiously playing the ♠T rather than the king on the second round would have left the contract a chance (the trick comes back but in this ending South can be end-played).   But winning the ♠K and ruffing a second heart looks normal, and gets declarer up to 7 tricks. 

Will it now make?  That depends on the defence - what happened in practice next was that the J was played to the Q, and South gave North a diamond ruff.   North chose to lead the wrong major now and East got to ruff the spade with the ♣J to make nine tricks.  The Q instead will allow South to over-ruff (now or on a spade at the next trick) and deny the ♣J a trick. 

Defeating the part-score is hard work!  It's a tricky game.

HotD-wed : Swiss Teams : 01oct18 : B17

There were numerous slam hands on Monday and it was pleasing to see that in the event (and the CBC event playing the same hands) that with not-far off balanced 30-hcp between the two hands, the majority bid the slam.  The key was the strong heart suit of AKJT2.  The sequence shown is the how the only pair to do so reached the grand slam.  The grand slam is respectable odds, making on a 3-2 trump break or a singleton jack.

The sequence shown concluded after the ace asking response with a cue bid of the K and a cue bid of the Q, and this last information was just what West wanted to know.  Well done to Joe Angseesing & Paul Denning.

Those who stopped in game need to review their bidding style!

HotD-tue : Swiss Teams 2 : 01oct18 : B8

This was the most interesting play hand amongst the seven (out of 28) on which a slam can be made.  Two pairs didn't bid the slam (despite 34 hcp), and only one pair bid to the best contract, namely 6.  There are many times you would make 6N with this number of hcp, but there are also many times when playing in a 4-4 suit fit can give you an extra trick or at least extra options.

Playing in 6, North faced the lead of the ♣T.  There are 11 top tricks in this contract (as there are in 6N) and the heart finesse looks like the best option for a twelfth. There is one better option of course in hearts, and that is for East to lead the suit.  Can that be arranged?

The answer is yes - and this is how.  Declarer wins the opening lead, draws trumps in three rounds, and cashed the spades and finally the last top club.  At this point North and South are both down to one diamond and three hearts.  The lead of the 9 creates a problem for the defence; if West plays small then this runs to East's ten and East has to return a heart or give a ruff-and-discard.  But if West convers the nine, North covers the jack, and East can win the king, but then has to lead away from the T, and that is fatal.

Malcolm Green, having opened 1 and later raised to the slam, played the hand exactly this way - well done!   Their bidding sequence to 6 is shown,

There is a similar end-play (this time a squeeze end-play) possible in 6N but it depends on perfectly reading the defnsive layout.  Three pairs playing in 6N making 12 tricks, but we haven't heard how the play went there.  Any stories?

How do you Defend?

You lead ♠K. Partner overtakes with his Ace and returns a spade (declarer following). How do you defend from here?

The first thing to appreciate is that declarer will drop your K. He will have noted that East passed your opening bid and has already turned up with an Ace. Your only chance to beat the contract is to find partner with the 8. At trick 3, cash the ♣A and then continue with a low spade. If East can ruff with the 8, your K will be promoted to the setting trick.

Key Play

West starts with the ♠ J against your game. East takes 2 rounds of spades and switches to the J. You win and draw trumps in 2 rounds. Now what?.

It looks like East started with 7 spades and 2 hearts. If West wins the third round of diamonds, he is end-played, and if East holds 4 diamonds and wins the third round, he is similarly end-played. The critical case is where East hold 3 diamonds and a singleton club. If East were to win the third round of diamonds, he could exit with a club and leave you with a club loser. The key play is to cash the ♣K before playing diamonds. Now the defence will always have to lead a club to your tenace or concede a ruff and discard.

Play Like a Champion

West leads the ♣Q against your slam. How do you play?

East passed originally and then found a double of the weak 3 raise. Surely he hods both black Kings and a void heart together with the missing diamond honours. The winning line is to take the ♣A and play a low heart to dummy's 7!. Now lead the ♣T and throw a diamond when East plays low. This loses and a trump comes back say. Win in dummy with the ten and run another high club, throwing a spade if East ducks. Then ruff a club high and play Ace and another heart. The winning club on the table allows you to throw a losing diamond and a spade finesse sees you home. For the eagle eyed ones amongst you, East would in fact have been squeezed by the play of the heart suit , so as the cards lie, you might choose to discard your ♠ Q and win the remining tricks with your diamond suit. Note that it is not good enough to lead the A and nother heart early in the play. If you do that, West can insert the J and the blockage in the heart suit prevents you from doing everything you need.

HotD-thu : Ladies/Mens Pairs : 24oct18 : B2

It was curious to see such uniformity in the results when East played this hand in 4♠ on Monday.  All five tables had the ♣8 lead and went down one.  There were variations in the auction, with some tables overcalling 2 and some overcalling 3. At a number of tables declarer won the club lead with the ace, and led out the J losing to South''s king.  With a diamond discarded on the first club, South knew it could not cost to lead the top diamond, and so the play proceeded K-A-ruff and back came the club queen, ruffed and overruffed, and another diamond got a third ruff for the defence.  Declarer now had the rest.

How should it have gone?

What declarer set out to do, in hearts, was pointless.  If the king was onside, the two losing hearts were never going to be ruffed (you cannot use the ♠K for that) so there was always a heart loser.

Now think about the bidding; whether it was a 2 or a 3 overcall, at this vulnerability, surely South holds the heart king.  Doesn't this make a heart towards the jack seem a much better play?

How soon do you want to do this?   If South has two or three hearts, then this play will results in just one loser and the play can come later.   If South has four hearts, then South still has to duck when you lead towards the jack and you can then manage ace and a ruff to hold your heart losers to one. This looks much better than running the jack.

What about the rest of the hand?  The diamond position must look ominous - North has sure at most one diamond on this bidding (at most zero on the 3 bid).  This argues for drawing trumps before anything goes wrong.  The bidding here might guide - it is less clear with a 3 overcall, but surely if South overcalled 2 the odds favour cashing the top spades dropping the queen.

Doesn't this look like a plausible 11 tricks, with the possibility of just 10 tricks if you finesse the spade?    But nobody found it.  :( 

HotD-wed : Ladies/Mens Pairs : 24sep18 : B11

There were a lot of opening lead decisions on Monday, of which this was one.  Your choice?

B11 : the auction at table 8 here was 1D-1H-1S-3N  and that cannot have bene uncommon. East had the issue of what to tackle and the confident 3N suggested that clubs were sewn up.  The key question here – whether teams or pairs – is what will avoid giving away tricks and ther spades are enormously vulnerable to doing just that.  The DQ lead was found at only one table and earned a complete top by holding declarer to 10 tricks.

B9 : on lead as East against 1S-2C-2N-3N, you have very little defence and your suit is weak. The consequence is, as here, a heart lead gives away a trick.  This is expected, and a diamond lead  - with the possibility of catching partner with five – is a clear choice.  In practice the four declarers as North got two diamonds and two heart leads, and a diamond lead got 12 tricks while the other three got 10 tricks.   When South played the hand, the top heart lead worked well (the only defeat of 3N) but the S7 lead is a give away – allowing declarer to spot the offside queen and drop it.B14 and B16 : there two cases saw South on lead after 1N-all pass  and with a 3433 shape.  The answer with any 4333 hand is to avoid guiessing the wrong three-card suit – and you do that by leading your four card suit. Most people found the heart lead, but those who didn’t suffered as a result.  Hint, hint!

B14 and B16 : there two cases saw South on lead after 1N-all pass  and with a 3433 shape.  The answer with any 4333 hand is to avoid guiessing the wrong three-card suit – and you do that by leading your four card suit. Most people found the heart lead, but those who didn’t suffered as a result.  Hint, hint!

B18 : a common lead problem is after a weak two bid get raised to game.  In these circumstances the big danger is that the dummy is going to provide discards for declarer’s losers, and there it is vital to make an attacking lead.  Here the five opening leads against the spade game were trumps – and they all got a joint bottom for that.

HotD-tue : Ladies/Mens Pairs : 24sep18 : B26

The Ladies Pairs last night was won by Wendy Angseesing & Anne Swannell, who led comfortably going into the last round.  In the Mens' Pairs however it was much closer and when the last round was played the leaders with one round to go (Ashok & Patrick)  were sitting East-West here against the Roger Jackson & Peter Waggett sitting North-South.  

This was the bidding on the last board, and it was the choice at this point which determined which of these two pairs would win the trophy.  It was all quickly settled when Roger continued with 4; this provoked a cue bid of 4♠ and a return cue of 5♣.  Fortunately South signed off, and was able to clock up +600 and a complete top for 5 making.  Peter & Roger collected the trophy.

Why did others not bid the game?   A key point was on the first round, when North here chose a takeout double over 1♠ rather than just a club bid; the latter would have left the diamond fit unfindable.

An Extra Chance

West leads ♠Q against your game. Clearly you will make if the A is onside. Do you have any other chances?

25% of the time, East will hold both missing club honours. Duck the opening spade lead and win the likely spade continuation. Cross to dummy with a trump and lead a low club. If Est plays a club honour, win and cross back to dummy with another trump. The top spade allows you to throw the ♣J and you follow with a ruffing club finesse. Of course, if you do end up losing a club trick along the way, you still have the original chance of the Ace of diamonds being on-side. You have merely transferred a losing diamond to a losing spade, but in doing so, have given yourself a sizeable extra chance.

Plan Carefully

West leads the ♠K. How do you play?

Clearly the heart suit should provide the tricks you need. The danger is that if you lose a heart trick to East, a club switch through your King may well defeat you. There is a good chance that West holds all the top spades. Cross to dummy with a heart and lead the ♠T. If East plays low, discard your remaining heart. Say that West wins and switches to a trump. You now have 3 trump entries to ruff the hearts good and get back to cash them. Provided the hearts are 3-2 you will come to 4 hearts, 6 diamonds and a spade for your contract.

Think Ahead

West leads the ♠5 to East's Ace, who switches to the ♣J. Do you see a way of coming to nine tricks?

You will need to bring in dummy's diamond suit to have any chance. Therefore at trick 1, you should have unshipped a high spade from hand. Win the ♣A at trick 2, unblock the diamonds and play a low spade towards dummy.  This way you will have 2 spades, 5 diamonds and 2 Aces for your contract.

What are the Chances?

West leads the A against you slam. How do you assess your chances?

If the trumps break 2-2 (around 40%), then your contract is secure. Ruff the opening lead and draw trumps in 2 rounds. Then cash 4 rounds of clubs and exit with a low spade from both hands. If West wins, he must lead away from his ♠K or concede a ruff and discard. If East wins, he gives you a ruff and discard as he will have nothing other than diamonds left. Either way you spade loser goes away.

HotD-thu : League 1 : 17sep18 : B10

The board with most swings on Monday was this board, which had swings in every match - and the average swing was over 10 imps.   This is the bidding from table 6, from one of only four tables which managed to find the nine card fit and play in game with 24 high card points and a bit of shape. 

The 1N response at this table was an artefact of the pair playing that a lower 2-level response to a 1-level opening is game forcing;  this is very much the preferred option these days amongst serious bridge players, as it maximises the space for bidding of strong hands.  A slight downside occurs here (a lot of hands get bundled into 1N), but by the time of the 3 bid everyone knew a reasonable amount about partner's hand.  South was too strong to pass, and 4♣ was just an indication of where strength lay, but it was clear to sign off over the 4 cue bid as the North hand was known to be of limited strength - never enough to justify a slam.

In the play West led a top heart (a singleton into declarer's suit looked dangerous and was only found at one of the four tables in 5) which was normal and was won by the ace.  Declarer's first step was to play a trump to the king, but he then abandoned the suit, crossing to the ♠ A to take the club finesse.  When that held he set about his side suit, and was not pleased by the bad break but was pleased that the spade king was not ruffed.  It was straightforward now to cross-ruff to eleven tricks and a twelfth came along.   When another table won the K and played to ♠ A for another diamond, East was able to rise and play a third diamond and the contract could no longer be made. 

HotD-wed : League 1 : 17sep18 : B26

This was one of the excellent slams from Monday which was bid by few pairs (3 out of 12 in this instance).  Let's look at how the bidding should have gone ..

The 1 opener is a preference on all systems as experience shows that if playing a strong 1N opening (15-17), that hands with a maximum and a decent five card major will get passed out too often with a major game there for the taking.  After the opening North will surely commit to at least game in hearts, and the fact that this is a (confident) value raise is best shown by an artificial raise - of which 4♣ showing shortage is the simplest.

What does South do now?  Clearly the singleton club is good news, as none of South's high cards are wasted and the two losing clubs can be ruffed.  The only concern South might have is losing two spades. There are two options on that.  The first is to cue bid 4 and then continue with a 5-level bid over partner's expected 4 signoff.  By-passing a spade cue indicates that spade control is key and North can (should) now decide to bid the slam. It can be helpful in situations like this to have one sequence which encourages partner to bid the slam with the missing control, and another which commands them to bid it with the control;  in my partnerships the cue bidding sequence encouages, while a raise of the major to the 5-level (bidding 5 here) is the command.

The alternative approach is to reason that without a top spade (ace or king) then North has made a splinter raise with no aces and at most one working king. Would you ever do that?  This reasoning shoudl lead to a 4N (key card ask) continuation over 4♣ and a stop in the small slam.

A path reported by a couple of tables did have cue bidding but nobody progressed over 4 and the easy slam was missed.

HotD-tue : League 1 : 17sep18 : B28

There were plenty of slams available last night - eight boards where slam could be made out of twenty eight.  Across these eight boards, each played at 12 tables, there were only 14 instances of slams bid and 6 of them went down.  Two slams (board 2 and board 10) were distinctly poor, and the one which was bid most often (board 12) went down on a bad trump break.   Boards 14, 15 and 26 were all laydown slams but hardly bid.  This slam hand was the most interesting play problem.

In a 6 contract, you will inevitably get a spade lead, and that will be ruffed.  There are nine top tricks and there will be extras from the trump suit - and that can be two extras if you get to ruff three spades (having said thanks for the lead).  Now the slam begins to look good. The twelfth trick can come from the fourth club, or the fourth diamond, or the J becoming a winner.  What is unfortunate is that you cannot try all the options, as once the first fails you cannot afford to lose a trick with the second one. You can combine a good break with a diamond finesse, but you need to decide which break you are going for.  If a club break, you must duck a club first and if the suit is not 3-3 then take a diamond finesse;  if going for a diamond break, you take the diamond finesse first and then test the suit. 

Which would you go for?  There is nothing in it;  sad to say the only declarer in the slam chose the wrong one.  :( 

MW adds : I thought the slam was very decent - home if N is 6322, d finesse (well less than 50% on the bidding) plus guess whichever minor is 33 - very likely to be one on the bidding. As you say you can't do it all  - but if you play for 33c but you can if you play for 33d with a d to J early. I did - sadly.

Later Analysis (vmt, MW) : there is actually a positive advantage in going for the diamond finesse first, as when that fails and you get to draw trumps there is an automatic squeeze on any hand holding four clubs and four diamonds.  

Guard against Bad Breaks

West leads  8 to East's ten. At trick 2, East continues with a top heart. Over to you.

On this hand you probably don't expect the suits to break well. A 5-0 break in spades or diamonds will probably prove fatal but you can cope even if both suits are 4-1. Ruff the second heart and cross to the A. Now a spade to the King is followed by a diamond ruff with dummy's Knave. Now lead the ♠Q and overtake to run the diamonds. All the defence can take is 2 trump tricks to go with their heart.

Don't be fooled

Against your slam, West leads T. What are your thoughts?

This hand hinges on how you play the club suit and that in turn depends upon how many club tricks you need. There is a standard safety play in clubs to ensure 3 tricks - Cash the King and then low to the 9. To find out how many club tricks you need, first play on spades. Win the heart lead in dummy and take the spade finesse. If it wins it looks like you have 3 spade tricks and can make the club safety play whereas if the spade finesse loses, you will need to play the clubs for 4 tricks. However, a clever defender might duck the first spade finesse. There is of course, no need to be fooled. When the spade Queen holds, cross to dummy to repeat the finesse. If that wins you safety play the clubs with impunity as you now have your 3 spade tricks wherever the King lay.

Get Lucky

West starts with the ♠Q against your game. Plan the play.

You have 6 top winners and can set up 2 more in diamonds if they break 3-2. Unfortunately, this means you still need a trick from hearts and as soon as you lose the lead, the defence will establish their spade suit. The bidding gives you a clue that the A is likely to be with West. If you win the ♠A and play a low heart towards dummy, what is West to do? If he rises with the Ace, you have 3 heart tricks which is all you need. If he ducks, the Queen wins and you switch back to diamonds. Now you just need the diamond break for 9 tricks.

Draw the Right Inference

West leads the K and switches to a low heart. How do you plan to make 10 tricks?

You hope to make 2 Aces and 8 trump tricks on a cross ruff. A trump switch at trick 2 would allow the defence to play 2 rounds of trumps and limit you to at most 7 trump tricks. Why hasn't West found the spade switch? - Answer - he doesn't have one! Your play therefore is to keep East off lead so as to prevent him playing 2 rounds of spades. Win the A at trick 2 and play the 9. If it is not covered, throw a heart. If East covers you ruff, enter dummy with a club ruff and lead the 8 to throw a heart. You will succeed unless East has 2 diamond honours. You hope the hand is something like that shown.

HotD-thu : Winter Pairs 1 : 10sep18 : B25

This bidding problem was faced by a number of declarers on Monday, and not always solved.  The problem is that you want to show clubs at this point but with seven sure tricks and two kings, you have excellent chance of making 3N, with only a little help from partner.  A couple of Norths tried 3♣ even though this is non-forcing; over both of those South continued with 3♠.  One table saw North now get excited and he bid 4N and then tried 6♣ but this was a disaster when South converted to 6♠. At another table North tried 3N over 3♠ but partner converted that back to 4♠.

Was there a way to avoid these disasters?

The last reported table got close but the problem was that South did not expect the North hand to be like as this.

The answer is for North to bid 3N on the second round; since 1N here would show 15-17 and 2N would show 18-20, the 3N bid is free and is best used to show a hand which fancies 3N, holding a long (usually running) suit.  Ideal here, and with that sort of description, South is much happier to pass.  The contract is by no means guaranteed, and here could go down two, but in practice the only table to play there made two overtricks!

An example of this approach occurred in a bidding competition recently, when a hand with  ♠KQJ987  and a good smattering of points opened 1♠ and raised partner's 1N response to 3N.  The 1N opener, worried about a side suit weakness, could now bid 4♠ with ♠A5, in the knowledge of a spade fit - and that was the right contract. 

HotD-wed : Winter Pairs 1 : 10sep18 : B13

This hand from Monday showed everyone making exactly the same number of tricks, and all but one in the same contract - but this was actually a surprise, as there were alternatives on offer.

The first bidding problem arose on the third bid. Few pairs had any choice but to bid 3 at this point, to ensure that partner did not pass.  This unfortunately cramps the auction enormously and leaves East with little choice.  There is still one choice, but it depends on whether over 3 a bid of 4 is a cue bid in support of hearts or a new suit (I favour the latter, but am in the minority on this).  In practice, nobody used this to bid the slam.

The more organised pairs have a better mechanism over 1♠ - 1N.   The simplest improvement is to play transfers, so that here East bids 2 to show hearts and on the next round (because partner will not pass) can bid 3♣ to show a fragment there (and therefore a singleton diamond).  This scheme is simple to adopt and works quite well.   On this hand, a 2 transfer would get a super accept of 3 and now West will be looking slamwards.

The more complicated improvement is to play 2♣ as forcing, with either clubs or a big hand (Gazilli).  On this hand it produces a slam possibility if East chooses 2 next, but not if East chooses 2♠.

The fact of everyone making 12 tricks was also a surprise.  Look at the heart suit and the best play there.  A priori the best result comes from finessing twice, but here you can see that if that is done, there will be two heart losers.   The losing option was never taken.  One table which avoided it was table 1 when East was declarer; what made the difference was South's "safe" trump lead - this would have been very dangerous from honour to three, so it was easy for declarer to realise North had KQ-tight, and get the hearts right.  How did others avoid that trap?

HotD-tue : Winter Pairs 1 : 10sep18 : B6

Even where there are twelve top tricks, it can be hard for the bidders to realise this - but just occasionally there is the chance to count the tricks.

On the auction shown, East has opened a 14-16 balanced hand, and over partner's transfer has broken to 2N to show a fit and a maximum.  Clearly West is thinking of a slam at this point, but how to continue?

This is where some system preparation helps. The key to evaluation at points like this is showing shortage.  West can do this very effectively over the 2N bid, with two routes to show shortage giving a chance to distinguish a singleton from a void.  The simplest scheme is to make jumps over 2N as void-showing, and for re-transfer and then a suit bid to show a splinter.   If you want to make a slam try without a shortage, then re-transfer and bid 3N.  

On this hand the bidding continues 3 - 3 - 4♣.   This enthuses East enormously, as now all that matters is the top trumps and the diamond ace.  There is no way after this splinter that East can stop out of a slam, and a 4N continuation confirms that a small slam is enough.  Were West to  show up with AKQ A then there are 12 top tricks visible and if West has anything more (a sixth heart, an extra trick in any suit) then the grand slam is easy, and even with nothing else the grand slam is playable (depending just on trumps 2-2). 

In the end only 3 out of 7 pairs bid the slam, and they were rewarded with an 83% score.   It seems a lot but even in a much bigger field (say 70 pairs not 7), were that propotion to bid the slam the reward would still be 79%.

Be a Tricky Defender

You decide to lead the 3. This turns out well as partner wins the Ace and returns the 9. Declarer ducks the second trick and wins the K at trick 3 as partner continues the suit. Declarer now leads a small heart from dummy to the 9 in his hand. How do you defend?

Presumably declarer is playing on the heart suit because that is where he hopes to develop the tricks he needs. If you win trick 4 with the Jack of hearts, declarer will ultimately have no choice but to finesse you for the King and that will be enough to give him his contract. If you win trick 4 with the K, declarer may well be fooled. It would be a reasonable line to cross to dummy and run the T. If declarer does that you will score 2 hearts and three diamond tricks. These deceptive plays are easier to find when set as a problem. At the table, a clever defender needs to think ahead to find the heart play in tempo

Watch the Cards

West leads Q and East plays the 2. How do you continue?

If the hearts are 5-3, which looks likley on East's play of the 2, then you cannot afford the time to play spades and must make your tricks in the minors. If the diamonds break you only need 3 club tricks and this is best achieved by cashing ♣AK and later playing a club to your Jack. However, if the diamonds don't behave, you will need clubs 3-3 and the Queen onside. How do you know which option to choose? The answer is to force the opponents to tell you! Play a low diamond to dummy's Queen at trick 2. The defenders are duty bound to signal their length honestly at this point, as for all they know, their partner might hold the Ace. Say that both opponents follow with low diamonds. You then assume the suit is breaking and will play the clubs as described above. If you get cards showing an even number of diamonds in opponents hands, then you will fall back on hoping the clubs are breaking and that the club finesse is right. 

Retain Control

You play in 4♠ and West Leads K. How do you play?

It would be bad play to lead out 2 top trumps. If spades are 4-1 and the player with 4 trumps holds the ♣A, you are in danger of making very few tricks as the defence will draw your trumps and run the heart suit. Nor is it any good to ruff a heart at trick 2. This would weaken your control in that suit.  On this hand, you can afford to lose 2 trumps and a club. Cash one top spade and play clubs. If the defenders win immediately and force dummy, play your second club before playing a second top trump. Now a 4-1 break is easy to overcome as you can ruff another heart and lead a top Club from dummy on which to discard your fourth heart. The diamond will then go away on the last club

Watch the Entries

You play in 4♠ with no opposition bidding. West leads 8 which you duck to East's Queen. East switches to a club. Plan the play.

It looks like you have a ruffing finesse against East's K and that should eventually allow you to discard a losing club. You need to be careful with dummy's entries. Suppose you win the club and draw 2 rounds of trumps ending in dummy. Now A and J gets covered, ruffed and overruffed by West who leads another Club. If you have not retained the ♠5 in your hand then you will be unable to reach dummy quickly to throw away your losing club on the established heart. The correct play in trumps when drawing the first two rounds is to play the Ace and seven to dummy's King. When you later ruff a heart, ensure that you do not ruff with the 5 as you need this card to communicate with dummy. Of course. if West refuse to overruff, you have time to enter dummy with a diamond.

HotD-thu : Swiss Teams 1 : 3sep18 : B17

If you look at these East-West hands from Monday, you would want to play the hand in hearts - but in practice only 4 out ouf 14 managed to find that denomination.   The three who played in 1♠ (presumably an opening bid passed) can be forgiven, although we would recommend bidding 1N over that opening.  The problems for the others arose after the 1N response - what should East rebid?

The hand feels too good for a 2♣ respponse, although if that does get passed partner will be short in spades and lack a long red suit - so why would you want to be higher?   The hands is not good enough for a 3♣ response, as this is game forcing and you are a long way from seeing nine tricks in no-trumps or ten in spades.

The East hand is in fact only the tiniest bid away from balanced, which brings to mind the best bid - a raise to 2N.  This gives West the next decision to make.  The answer has to be hearts - but how many pairs have worked out whether 3 at this point is forcing or not?  The few who are well organised don't have that problem - because in this position they play four suited transfers.  So 3 here would show hearts, allowing for a 3 response to be passed, raised, or followed with 3N to offer a choice of games.

One table which reached the 2N point had a punt at 4 at this point, It's not a brilliant contract as there are three top losers and then more work to do, but it is very respectable. Two pairs reached this contract.  At table one, after an initial diamond lead to the ace, South (hoping to be able to cash four red suit winners) shifted to a small heart to the king and won trick three with the heart ace. Out came the 2 and West was faced with a choice.  There are nine top tricks and the prospects of a diamond finesse, or a spade finesse, or someone throwing away a lot of clubs - to get a tenth trick.

It looked wrong to commit so early, so he rose with the K and cashed some trumps. Then came three clubs but the last one was a loser, so that got ruffed.  The last trump forced South into a final discard, and then declarer was down to ♠6J  opposite ♠AQ.  It was all looking good for the spade finesse and 10 tricks but South's last discard had been the ♠J. Now there was another chance - was South being squeezed?  What would you do?

In the event, ithe squeeze was too appealing and West chose to cash the ♠A.  Declarer has bid the hand very successfully and played it just right until the last minute. With North having four spades ot South's two - it was just a case of playing the odds in the end.

HotD-wed : Swiss Teams 1 : 3sep18 : B23

This hand from Monday proved a trap for a few of the East-West pairs.  South at most tables opened a weak 2♠ bid, enthused by the quality of the spades, despite the lack of overall high card points.  The first problem arose when this was passed around to East.  The East hand - with only four losers on kind breaks - is too strong for a simple 3 overcall, and anyway there are two suits to show.  Many pairs have a mechanisms for handling such hands, with either a cue bid of the opened suit (Michaels) or a jump to 4♣/4 showing at least 5-5 with that minor and the other major (hearts here).  Even lacking such a mechanism, East could (and did) get by through a takeout double and a conversion of partner's diamond bid to hearts.  This has to show extras as well as five hearts, making a raise to game by West a clear preference.  Across the field 12 tables played in the heart game - the exceptions being the 4♣ table mentioned and one table which stopped in 2 (but how?).

With no support from partner, leading a spade from South looks dangerous and in practice only two of the twelve Souths led one.  After a club lead or a diamond lead and club switch, declarer won the ♣A and cashed a top heart. With propsects of a loser in each suit, the best line now is to take a heart finesse, and East crossed to the ♠A and led the J-Q-K only to be disappointed when South discarded.  The next step was to cash a second club and then ruff a small club in the West hand. This was intended to set up the club suit in and restrict the hand to three losers.  But North over-ruffed and led the ♠Q, overtaken by the king, to give a second club ruff - and the contract was now one down.

There was a way of avoiding this trap - declarer needed to duck one round of spades before using the ♠A entry.  That choice is not without danger as South might have opened with a seven card suit, but ducking in situations like this is fairly routine and the risk would be acceptable here.  Surprisingly 8 out of 12 declarers succeeded in making 10 trick on this hand - I suspect there must have been some other routes to success.  Do let us know.

GW reports : at my table declarer won the spade and led J-Q-K but then played the club ruff before taking a second round of trumps. Now there is no second club ruff for the defence as North cannot beat dummy's 6. Well played Tony Hill.

HotD-tue : Swiss Teams 1 : 3sep18 : B2

This was an interesting play problem from last night's game, solved by a surprising proportion of the field. 

After partner's 2N game forcing raise, North bids clubs (a bid that is often just lead directing rather than serious) but South surprises you by leading the ♠2 against your game.

Ten tricks would be trivial if the spades did';t break 4-0 as you could make five long spades and at least one ruff to go with four outside tricks.  Here you cannot draw trumps and then ruff a club, and if the clubs are as they appear, breaking 7-0, playing clubs early loses out too. 

Where are you going to find your tenth trick?

There is a slight chance of an extra trick in diamonds (if the ten falls from a short hand) but that is outside your control;  there is a slight chance of an extra heart trick if the ace is played early (but why would they do that), and there is a tiny chance of a second club trick on some misplays.  But the best chance for an extra trick comes from trumps, and since you cannot ruff clubs in dummy - the answer has to be a dummy reversal - ruffing a diamond and a heart in hand, and later drawing trumps in dummy.  

If you win the first trump and play out the K they will win and play another trump.  You unblock the diamond and now play on hearts.  When North wins a club does no good as South could only ruff a loser, and you find you have enough entries to take two ruffs and draw trumps.  Key to that is that when you play a club, if South were to ruff, North will lack an entry for a second ruff because you have knocked out the two red aces - so the ♣A is a useful dummy entry.

Well done all those who found the winning line.

What is the correct switch?

You start with a top diamond on which East plays a discouraging card. How do you continue?

In view of partner's failure to echo, you conclude that you only have one diamond trick in defence. You have to hope that partner has one of the missing high cards else there is no hope. If partner has the A, then a switch to that suit will be right, but it is dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket. The best switch is to your singleton club. If partner has the ♣A or ♠K, you will be defeating the contract with a club ruff and a later heart trick. If declarer has the ♣ A he should probably refuse the trump finesse (playing Ace and another to try and reduce the ruff chances), but partner can win the second trump and give you your ruff. Do remember to echo in trumps to show a third spade with which to ruff - you don't want partner deciding to play you for 2 heart tricks!

Count your tricks

You play in 6 on the ♠Q lead. Plan the play.

5 hearts, 4 diamonds and 2 Aces gives you 11 tricks and the diamond finesse may work for the additional trick you need. It is easy to think that this is your only chance, but a finesse is only 50%. You can improve on that as a 3-2 trump break is 68%. Ruff a spade at trick and continue with the T and a heart to dummy. If either opponent shows out then you revert to the diamond finesse. If trumps prove to be 3-2 you can ruff another spade high, cross to the club Queen for another spade ruff high. The diamond Ace is an entry to draw the last trump. This dummy reversal play increases the number of trump tricks you win from 5 to 6.

How do you Defend?

South's 2NT opening showed 19-21. Partner leads a low spade to your Jack and South's Ace. At trick 2, South leads a heart to dummy's King. How do you defend?

If declarer can draw trumps, he figures to have plenty of tricks. If you win the A and switch say to a diamond, declarer will likely win and draw trumps. It looks from the lead that partner has a spade honour and therefore not much else, so declarer figures to make the contract with ease. However, if declarer has a doubleton trump, ducking the first heart might give him some problems. Suppose you duck the heart and win the second round before exiting with a diamond. Now declarer has no quick entry to dummy. If he leads a top club, you duck that also. Declarer may try to ruff a spade on the table but then you overruff and play another diamond. Later you can win ♣A and cash a diamond when the layout is as shown. If you had won trick 2, South would have had an easy route to 11 tricks.

Listen to the bidding

West starts with ♠K. Can you see a line to make your slam?

On the bidding, West surely holds the outstanding high cards and his double suggests he has all the missing trumps. You can punish him if his shape is 3334 (not unlikely on the bidding). Win the spade lead and cash the ♣K and all of your diamonds. Throw a spade on a top club and cross ruff the next 4 tricks in the black suits.  Everyone is reduced to 3 cards. Playing the Q now puts it to West. 

HotD-thu : Welsh Mixed Teams final : 27aug18 : B14

Not everything went swimingly for our locals in this event - there were three adverse slam swings in the first 28 boards.  This was one, where the bidding shown led to a nearly hopeless contract. 


The opening bid showed 20-22 high card points, which fitted expectations.  The North hand could see 12 hcp, meaning a minimum between the two hands of 32 - which is usually enough for slam.

What went wrong?

There are two issues to recognise here. The first is that not all 20-counts are created equal - if you shuffle some cards and changed this hand into ♠AQJ73 AK5 QT6 ♣A9 then it is a much better hand.  What we need to remember is that although opening 2N is one option, it is not the only option and opening with a suit at the one level must also be considered.

The second issue is the fact of a hand shape being 4333.  When you have this shape, the options for making tricks are always more limited that they would be on say a 4432 or 5332 shape. On average a 4333 hand will play about 1-hcp worse than the same high cards in a "better" shape. Both hands suffer here.  If you were to change one of the hands to be 4432 - say making the opener into ♠ AQJ7 AK52 QT6 ♣A9 then the slam is playable but it is only a 50% slam, so you are quitr happy not to bid it. 

A number of people regularly apply an adjustment to their evaluation for a 4333 hand, so that, for example, a 1N opener is 12-14 but could be 15 if a 4333 shape.

HotD-wed : Welsh Mixed Teams final : 27aug18 : B57

For many years now, Paul Denning & Patrick Shields have played in the Welsh Mixed (pivot) Teams with Filip & Diane Kurbalija from Cardiff.  This year the competition became a double elimination event, so that after a disaster in the first round over the range of a 2N bid resulted in a loss, the team were able tocome through the repecharge, beating the team who once beat them, to face the one undefeated team in the final.  This final was initially 42 boards, but extended to 60 boards when the undefeated team was behind after 42.

This hand arose towards the end of the final. The contract was inevitable and Paul Denning got the expected Q lead. There are eight top tricks and the K is the obvious candidate for a ninth. Paul ducked the first round, won the second and cashed the other top diamond - in case the suit was breaking evenly - but no luck.  Then came three rounds of clubs - A then Q then J.  There was no hurry yet to play hearts, so Paul tried a fourth diamond throwing a small heart from his hand.  North won this and clearly didn't want to play a heart, so out came a small spade to South's jack and Paul's king. South had been forced to make three discards by this point, and had discarded two spades and one heart. So at this point there were only 3 spades held by the defence and all the signs were that North had two and South only one. Paul therefore cashed his ♠A and played a third one to put North on lead and now there was a forced lead of a heart round to his king.  So he made nine tricks even with the A offside.  Nicely done!

Play the Percentages

West leads the AK against your game. You ruff and lay down a top trump, both opponents following suit. How do you continue?

The best percentage line is to take the double finesses in clubs, but if for example, you cash another high spade and cross to dummy to take a club finesse, West can win, take his spade winner and exit in hearts. You will have to ruff and now there is no entry to dummy to repeat the club finesse. 

You do better to give up on relying on the spades to break 2-2. Continue with a low trump at trick 4. Now you will always have enough entries to dummy to finesse clubs twice.

HotD-mon : Welsh Cup SF : 24aug18

Two from Gloucestershire and two from Cardiff have been playing in the Welsh Cup, this year as always, and had a semi-final match arranged for last Friday in Ludlow.  Only on arrival in Ludlow, did we find out that the hotel venue had closed down and we needed somewhere else to play.  Fortunately one of the travellers coming from the north spotted the Ludlow Golf Club - positioned just to the north of the town right in the midst of Ludlow Race Course - and they were most hospitable, letting us play at short notice and take advantage of their refreshment facilities.  Our many thanks go to them.

This hand arose in the third set and provided quite a pretty problem for declarer (East). The bidding, as you can see is all very natural (with 3♣ forcing as West had not promised clubs on the opening bid) and after winning the heart lead with the ace, declarer played a trump to the ace to discover the 3-0 break in that suit. There are no immediate losers but it looks like there will be two spade losers later. The catch is that North's failure to support diamonds suggested that North has only three of them, and in that case declarer's fourth diamond is going to be over-ruffed - creating a third loser. 

One option is to set up the fifth heart as an extra winner, so the play proceeded - diamond ruff, heart ruff, diamond ruff, heart ruff.  When South showed out the heart option  was seen to be a dud. Can you find a way to get to 11 tricks despite this?

The answer is to accept that the fourth diamond will be a loser, and you will lose that trick to South.  Can that ever be of an advantage?  Yes - when South as a consequence has to lead spades.  The winning line is therefore to ruff the third diamond but to come off dummy with a trump, finessing North's queen. After drawing the last trump, give South the A, and another diamond if they have one, but they then have to lead from the king of spades and you make your queen - the extra trick you needed.  Finding this gained 12 imps for our heros.

Careful Play Needed

You play in 6 as South and West leads the ♠J. You win the Ace and cash the K on which East throws a small spade. Plan the play.

Your hearts are good enough to overtake the ten and draw the enemy trumps. However, you will be in trouble if the diamonds break 4-1 and the Queen is withheld when you play three rounds of the suit as you would then lack the entries to set up the diamonds. The solution is to cash one top diamond before drawing the remaining trumps, and to discard the other 2 of dummy's diamonds in the process. Thereafter you can simply concede to the Q. This line only fails on a 5-0 diamond split, but in that case the contract was unmakeable. 

An Easy Slam

West leads a trump against your 6 slam. How do you play?

Provided spades and diamonds stand up for 2 rounds, you are safe. Take the opening lead, cash your spade and lead the Q. If this holds, then play Ace and another diamond, ruffing in dummy. Then discard your last diamond on the ♠K. If the defence win your Q, the J is now an entry to cash the ♠K

When can you claim?

West leads the ♠J against your slam. When can you claim this contract?

On the reasonable assumption that East holds the ♠A, you can claim at trick 1. Duck the lead in dummy. If East takes his Ace you have 12 tricks, so East must duck. Now play off ♣AQ. If clubs break there is no problem. If West has 4 or more clubs than you have a marked finesse for 4 club tricks and your contract. If East turns up with club length then cashing your red suit winners will reduce him to ♠A and ♣ Jx. A spade exit will endplay him. 

HotD-thu : Newent BC Pairs : 22aug18 : B13

Declarer on this hand through she was lucky at trick one, but it turned out to be a Greek Gift.

Let's look at the bidding first. You might prefer 4♠ as your game North-South, but the jump to 3♣ (not in the modern style where all jumps are weak) did make it very difficult to get the spade suit into play.  North took a good view in supporting diamonds with such a minimal hand and minimal trumps, and that was all South needed to hear.

From West's perspective there was little chance of any tricks in clubs (knowing of at least 11 of them between the East and West hands), so finding partner with the A and getting a spade ruff seemed the best chance. Hence the opening lead was the ♠Q.

From South's perspective, here was a spade suit with an expected loser, but if the lead was from ♠QJ then the finesse of the ten might be an extra vital trick. So she won the ♠K and set about drawing trumps.  It was impossible not to lose to the Q and when West won that card he thought a bit more about the original plan. A heart at this point would be won by partner, but what is likely to happen then?  The likely next step is an attempt to cash the ♣A to defeat the contract - and that would be fatal.  So West played out a club at this point which declarer ruffed.  The last trump was drawn and declarer played a spade to the ♠AT and had to lose a trick to the jack and then then A.  Down one.

Notice how without a spade lead, the natural play in the spade suit is for declarer to lead towards the ace, see the queen appear, and then run the ten on the way back - for no spade loser. The intended outcome of the singleton lead was nothing to do with what actually happened! 

Declarer should have been a little more suspicious of the opening lead - when an unexpected suit is led, it is surprisingly often a singleton,

HotD-wed : Summer Teams 6 : 20aug18 : B7

This hand from Monday produced a few surprises ... this was the position at tables 6 and 7 (and possibly others) on the first round of the bidding.  What should South do?

In these days of negative doubles, there isn't much doubt about the answer - South must double in case partner wants to penalise 2.  The minimal