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County League

MONDAY LEAGUES: Div 1  2and then Div 1A, 1B, Div 2A, 2B

CLEVERLY TEAMS :  Div 1, NorthSouth

Hand of the Day

It will resume on the first Thursday after face to face play resumes.


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

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

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

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

How do you Play?

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

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

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

A Simple Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Little Helps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manage Your Chances

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

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


What's the Best Line?

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

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

How do you Play?

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

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

HotD-sat : Spring Teams : 2mar20 : B16

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

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

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

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

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

Any Chance for the defence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HotD-wed : Spring Teams : 2mar20 : B21

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

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

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

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

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

Basic Stuff

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

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

The Choice is Yours

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

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

How do you Play?

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

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

A Safe Line

West leads the ♠T. Plan the play.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Your Lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HotD-tue : Midlands League : 23feb20 : B11

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

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

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

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


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

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

Read the Signs

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

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

How do you Play?

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

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

HotD-fri : CBC Pairs : 18feb20 : B9

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

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

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

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

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

HotD-thu : League 7 : 17feb20 : B16

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

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

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

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

HotD-wed : League 7 : 17feb20 : B1

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

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

In order to delay the decision a little, the natural choice is to lead small away from the ace at trick four. West rises with the king and plays a diamond which you win. Now is the time to draw trumps and decide on which way to jump. 

The two options remaining are to cash the heart ace (gaining from KQ doubleton), or to lead the jack (gaining from KT doubleton).  A priori the two options are equal and there is some chance (Restricted Choice overtones) that with KQ East would (carelessly) play the queen so that does push in one direction.  But there is another consideration - when you led the heart from dummy East did not know your problem. What would East have played at trick four holding KT8 or KT2 or KT8?  The answer is that it would be very difficult to  play small on any of these in case declarer held Qx. This swings the odds back, and leading the ace next is best - and works here.

[It is worth noting that would happen if East played the ten from KT - you would cover and when West wins and plays a herat back - would you not finesse?]

If you were playing the hand in hearts there is a big difference - South is dummy and when North leads a heart East is under no pressure to rise with the king. In hearts we fall back to a priori odds and would favour KT doubleton (failing here).

How do you Defend?

West leads the ♣K in response to your lead directing double. You overtake and cash 2 more clubs, partner discarding a small diamond on the third trick. How do you defend from here?

Where is the setting trick coming from? Partner might hold the A or the K/A.  A red Ace can never run away and if partner holds the K he would have given you a strong signal on the third club. Hence you conclude that the best source of a setting trick lies in the trump suit. If you continue with a fourth round of clubs, conceding a useless ruff and discard, what is declarer to do when he holds a hand such as that shown? If he discards from hand, the ♠8 forces the Ace from dummy and sets up West's King. If he ruffs high in hand, West discards and later comes to a trump trick. Of course, if you switch to a diamond at trick 4, declarer might still go down if he fails to guess the trump position, but why take that risk.

Read the Cards

E/W are playing a 15-17 1NT opener. West leads 2 (3rd highest in partners suit) and East plays off the AKQ, West following as you ruff the third round. When you draw trumps, East turns up with 3 small cards. When you next play clubs, East wins the Ace on the second round and returns the suit. Plan the play.

You must avoid a heart loser if you are to make this contract and you consider the opponents bidding. You know that East is either balanced or is possibly 3154 in shape. If he is balanced and playing a strong NT then he cannot hold the Q as else he would have opened 1NT. If he has a singleton heart, it may still be the Queen. However, in either case, the way to play the heart suit is to lay down the King and then run the Knave. This picks up a singleton Q or T with East and also Tx. If West started with both heart honours then no winning play is possible.

Play Carefully

West leads the ♣T. You duck the first trick and ruff the next club lead. On the second round of trumps, East shows out. How do you play?

It is going to take take rounds to exhaust West of trumps and by that time you will only have 1 trump remaining. You can always force a tenth trick in spades but there is a danger here. If West wins an early spade and pushes another club through, you will lose control of the hand and lose both the Ace of spades and other clubs. You can be sure from the bidding that East holds the ♠A and hence once trumps are drawn, you should continue with the ♠K. East can win but cannot profitably attack clubs from his side. Then you are safe when you lose the second spade.

Sure Tricks

West, whose overcall promised hearts and a minor, leads the 7 (2nd and 4th leads) against your game, East contributing the 8. Plan the play.

The only worry on this hand is that clubs break 5-0, else you have 4 club tricks, 3 spades and 2 diamonds at least. If you win the T and advance a low club from hand, West shows out and when East wins the ♣K, a diamond return sets up at least 3 diamonds if diamonds are 5-2, to go with a club and the A, spelling defeat. The sure way to make this contract is to win the first trick with the A rather than the ten. Then after a low club and a diamond return, dummy has a diamond entry to lead the ♣7 and finesse against East's marked ♣9. This ensures 4 club tricks with the spade entry the means to get at them. 

HotD-fri : Gloucester BC Pairs : 13feb20 : B6

It is often a bonus when the opposition make an artificial bid and you can double for a lead, but sometimes it can backfire.  Look at this hand from last night ..  

South's 3♣ bid showed some positivity about diamonds, but even with that North wasn't interested in trying 3N.  Following the double East led a club won by partner, and West continued with ace and another spade. The defence got their three spade tricks and now switched to hearts and declarer won the ace. He crossed now to the A and led out the ♣Q trumping the ace. A second diamond went to dummy and declarer got to cash two winning clubs to discard his heart losers before claiming the rest and making his contract.

Was it all down to the lead? It wasn't - the defence could still have survived if West had refrained from covering the second club. The queen would win and provide one discard but ducking the jack would be safe while partner still had a trump as declarer could not discard for free. So after that lead the contract should go one down.  However that's still not best, as on a major suit lead the contract would go two down.

Should West feel guilty about doubling 3♣?  The answer is yes; it is important to look at more than the suit concerned when deciding on whether to make a lead-directing double.  You need to look at the other suits, and ask whether a lead of a different suit is likely to cause damage for the defence. In a case like this - with honours in all three suits - you don't mind which suit partner leads, so it is better to leave that choice up to partner.

Which is not to say partner will always lead the right thing - and leading a club here could happen - but at least it is not your fault if it goes wrong!

HotD-thu : CBC Pairs League : 12feb20 : B7

This hand from last night was the best slam going, with 12 top tricks in clubs as long as you don't lose a trump trick to the missing Q54.  None of the sixteen tables bid it.

The auction above happened at table B2, and might have offered North-South a chance.  Where West jumped in spades on the first round - say to 3♠ - then it might seem more difficult.  But is the slam biddable?

Let's look at the auction first of 1♣ - 3♠; North might at this point consider a negative double but the question is - why would hearts ever be the right answer? With 17 HCP opposite a partner playing a weak NT and 4-card suits, the odds on partner having 5+ clubs are enormous, and the big question isn't what suit to play in but how high to bid.  There is a case at this point for bidding 4♠ to show partner a good raise in clubs and some slam potential.  With the 1246 shape in South, there is a possibility of rolling out an ace ask at this point and bidding the slam.

One difficulty is however than many today do not play that a 1♣ opening guarantees four - which makes the denomination quite uncertain , and a negative double necessary.  After 1♣ - 3♠  - X - P  - 4♣  there is still the option to bid 4♠ to show a club slam try, but there is a danger here (not so much in the previous sequence) that partner might read into that a spade control.

When the bidding starts more gently, as in the example shown, you are much less willing to commit to clubs and a negative double is inevitable. With a very limited opener South will make a minimal rebid and you reach the position shown. At the table North chose to bid 3♠ which should logically agree clubs, as a further negative double would be an easier mechanism to give South a second chance to bid no-trumps.  Now it could proceed 4 - 4 - 4♠  and so to slam.    But it didn't.

As always there are many more slams missed than failing slams bid.

HotD-wed : Winter Swiss Pairs : 10feb20 : B11

Sometimes it is the slam hands which are interesting, but sometimes there are few of those, and on Monday the only attempts at slam all failed. [Although board 2 is an odds on slam, bid by nobody]

This small part-score however was quite interesting; all ten tables played 1N and nine of those were played by South, and every South got the same lead the 3.  The results show that three declarers managed 4 tricks, three declarers managed 5 tricks, and three declarers made 6 tricks.  What should have happened?

On the small diamond lead, declarer has to duck in dummy to ensure a diamond trick, but East wins the queen. Aiming to set up the fourth diamond for partner, East returns a diamond and West wins the ace and plays a third round. It's not clear whether to play hearts or clubs next, and at table three declarer chose a heart to the queen and then led a club towards the jack. West hopped in and cashed the fourth diamond, and when partner threw a club, he knew to play on spades. Declarer ducked the jack, and ducked the second round to the king before winning the ace on the third round. Now a club towards the ten set up two club tricks for declarer and that was six tricks.

Could the defence have done better? Yes - the key was the fact that the fourth diamond squeezed South out of a heart - and that after winning the second spade West could have earned an extra trick by switching to hearts to declarer's now bare ace. Should this have been found? Really it should - the play of the third spade was bound to go to the ace and partner was known to have no entry. 

Could declarer have done better?  The defence would not have been able to set up the third round of hearts as a winner had not declarer played one round early. Declarer avoids that by never playing hearts but playing the club jack at trick four. West can win and play the diamond and spades as before but when declarer wins the ♣T he can now finesse in hearts.

Does that mean there are always six tricks?  Not so - what happens if West ducks the ♣J? Now there is no late club entry to dummy to take a delayed heart finesse - and if the finesse is not taken now the Q will lose to the king.

How people ended up with only 4 tricks remains a mystery.

Play or Defend?

West leads the ♠K. You duck trick 1 and win the spade continuation as East throws a heart at trick 2. How do you play?

To come to 9 tricks, you need to bring in the diamond suit and the double finesse is the recommended line, catering for West holding either honour. At trick 3 therefore you lead a diamond and finesse the 9, losing to the Jack. A heart is returned. You must not finesse on this trick as if it loses, West will have several spades to cash. So play the A and a second diamond. Your problems are over on this layout as the K appears giving you 9 top winners. That is all good, but do you see how the defence could have done better? If West had inserted his K at trick 2, you would have been defeated. You have to take this trick else West cashes his spades, but now the diamond suit is eclipsed and you are held to 2 tricks in the suit. Is this defence too difficult? - Not really. West can see that his diamond King is dead anyway and playing a high card in front of such a dummy should be a fairly standard play. (Perhaps more people would go in with the King if dummy held AJTxxx)

How's Your Defence?

South wins partner's opening lead of ♣Q and lays down the K. Partner wins and continues clubs, again won by South who continues with the J to your Queen (partner following). How do you defend from here and why?

One question to ask yourself is why declarer hasn't used his spade entry to dummy to take the diamond finesse. Perhaps he considered it unlikley that you held precisely Qx  and is saving his entry for something else. If that something else is a finesse against your spade Queen then you can do nothing, but it may be that declarer is hoping to set up a heart trick and get there with the ♠K. You therefore need to attack this entry by switching to a spade. It is important to lead the correct card. If you play the 7, declarer can pick up the whole suit. Since the ♠8 is in dummy and you hold the surrounding 9 and 7, you should lead as if the 8 is in your hand. By leading the ♠ 9, You limit South to 3 tricks in the suit and you have the heart entries to ensure that the ♠K is knocked out before the established heart tricks can be accessed.

Don't Mess Up

West leads the ♣T. You win the Ace and play a diamond to East's Knave and your Ace, West following small. How do you plan to bring this contract home?

You need to dispose of your club loser. Should you play the top spades to throw a club from hand (you survive on 4–3 spades) or play the top hearts to try to throw a club from the dummy?. Given you have 7 hearts between the 2 hands and only 6 spades, it looks superficially attractive to play spades. However, it seems that west started with either 2 low diamonds (East having KJ doubleton) or with Kxx. If you play spades and West started with shortness (fewer than three) and  Kxx, you will be down. West will ruff low, and still have a winning trump trick. Playing on hearts is better. The big difference is that if hearts aren’t 5–1, you are in great shape. After a low heart to the queen and a heart back to your ace, you can safely try the K. If West follows, you throw the club from dummy and East can’t hurt you (if he is out of hearts, he is presumably ruffing with the K . If West ruffs low on the third heart, you can overruff and then play spades (throwing a club from hand on the third round, losing only to the master trump. 

Just a Partscore

West leads the ♠6 against your mundane part-score. The 7 is covered by the ten and your King. How do you continue?

You have 6 top tricks and if you play clubs, you will most likley develop a seventh trick. This line is fraught with danger however, as the defence might easily be able to take 5 hearts and 3 clubs, putting you 2 down. Consider the opening lead. It clearly isn't fourth highest and the 6 would be an unlikely lead from J6x. The logical conclusion is that West has led from a short spade suit and therefore the best line is to cross to dummy with a diamond to the Knave, follwed by running the ♠8. This will give you 4 spdes and 3 diamond tricks.  Being careful in part-score contracts can earn you hundreds of imps over a season.

HotD-fri : Spring Teams 2 : 3feb19 : B28

This hand from Monday was played at nine tables in 4♠ (once in 2♠) but only one table found the winning defence.  How should it go?

Declarer on this bidding (which happened at a number of tables) must have a 4351 shape and dummy with be 44 or 45 in the majors. A trump lead could be useful but of more concern is the fact that you have little in diamonds, and the diamond suit may well take care of dummy's losers if you fail to attack. So either a club or a heart stands out.  In practice the leads were a club three times, a diamond once, K three times, and a spade twice. At this point three defenders had blown their chances but six could still beat the contract. 

Let's take the club leaders first. What should North be thinking on winning the ace? When the queen drops the club position is clear; the ♣JT can be made into a trick when declarer pleases and declarer has too many diamond to discard usefully on those, but heart losers might go away. Defensive tricks have to come from hearts, and that before declarer gets to set up the clubs. A heart switch is indicated, and South needs to continue hearts if declarer ducks - but in practice the two plays were never found!

Let's take the top heart lead. Declarer, seeing this, knows that the defence are onto something.  A shrewd declarer will duck and it looks like two declarers did. It is important at this point (and similarly on the king lead if dummy has only small cards) for North to signal attitude - and this must override any agreement you have that king is for count! [Any time a BATH COUP might happen, signalling to avoid that takes first priority] When North discourages, South knows that a switch is needed, and now a club to the ace lets North play a second heart. If South doesn't get a signal from North and continues hearts that gives away the vital trick. The winning play never happened - the one time that the contract went off was after South led K and declarer took the ace immediately.  There was no trap for the defence to fall into and North could play a heart on winning a minor suit ace.

Opening leads and defence can be difficult - but for only one of nine to succeed here (and that with kindness from declarer) is not a good show. The secret is to treat every hand like a set-hand from a text book - always to be on the lookout for irrefutable logic which tells you what to do, and to avoid playing on auto-pilot.

HotD-thu : Spring Teams 2 : 3feb20 : B22

There were three hands where slam came into play on Monday for North-South.  First was the cold 6 or 6 available on B2, but nobody bid it in practice.  One way you might get there is after a weak 1N - 2♠ start is if North is able to bid 4 as "Leaping Michaels" shows 55 or better with diamonds and hearts. This will induce South to continue over East's 4♠ and North might now take a punt at the slam. But that's still a guess. The second was the no-play slam off two aces on B15 which was bid twice(!), and the third was the cold grand slam on B30 which was never bid (but should have been). The success record for North-South was 0 out of 26 chances!

There was less going for East-West, but this was the other slam hand for them (following yesterday's hand).  What is surprising here is that the hand was always played by East-West but the scores included a part-score going off and a slam making.  There were in fact five pairs in a part-score and that all came about because of their choice of opening bid here.  What should East open?  Captivated by the spade suit, the guilty parties opened a weak 2♠ and partner declared that was high enough.  The part-score should make (it didn't always); but given that game and even slam in hearts is possible, it was embarassing.

The key qeustion is whether or not to open 2♠.   Here's the theory - any time you make a jump bid it delivers a combination of obstruction to the opposition and constructive bidding to your side.  The proportion of these two varies with vulnerability and position.  There is least value in obstruction where you are vulnerable and the opposition are not, so the emphasis on this board should have been being constructive and describing your hand honestly to partner.  To describe a 6502 hand as a single suiter is a mis-description and therefore not an appropriate move.  

Where East passed and West opened 1,  East was able to jump to 4 showing a void and this - even opposite a passed partner - raised the possibility of slam in West's eyes. After cue bidding 4♠ and hearing 5♣ from partner, West could bid the slam. Missing KQ7 meant that success was not a foregone conclusion, but of the two who bid the slam one made and the other deeply regrets his failure to cash his club winners at the right time, as by doing so he would also have made.

HotD-wed : Spring Teams : 3feb19 : B3

This hand from Monday produced a plethora of bidding decisions of which the second is the one shown.

The first decision was actually South's choice of what to open : given we would all want to open 2♠ in first seat at green with  ♠QT9753 72 T8 ♣J92, doesn't this hand feel rather strong? With so little defence to the red suits, it is a close call whether to open 2♠ or 3♠.  All we know of chose 2♠.

West's hand is too strong and too flexible for anything other than double, despite having a little dread of the double being passed out. How high should North raise at the point shown?  The first question to ask is who can make what?  Clearly East-West will have the majority of the HCP, and there will is an expectation of no defensive tricks in spades.  How many defensive tricks will a frist-in-hand-at-green 2♠ opener provide outside spades - the answer is very few and often none. The expectation therefore it that the opponents have a slam to make, and if they do that you would be best to sacrifice in 6♠.  Reasoning thus, table one's North bid 6♠ immediately and all the opponents could do was double.  Others tried 4♠ over which it proceeded P-P  and West had a second chance; there is some temptation to bid 5 but partner could have short hearts and even four spades sometimes, so double looks best. 

Opposite a second double - still takeout but with extra values - East can be confident that they have a contract to make. The choice of suit is not clear, but East has a tool to deploy here - bidding 4N will shows two places to play (2PP).  When East bids this it conveys a message beyond just shape to West - it suggests that East expects to make a contract at the 5-level. With a void and such good suits, West can see even better chances - the possibility of a slam. The question of what suit is as yet unclear, as the East shape could even be 3055 on this bidding, so West needs to hear about East's suits. This is handled by bidding 5N, and when this was done East bid 6 and West converted to 6, and at table three this is where the bidding finished.

Across the eight tables who played this board, slam was bid at five tables and at four of these North sacrificed in 6♠.  At table three, Mick Bird took a different view and took his chance on defence. At trick one, he led a club to his partner's ace and a ruff at trick two scuppered the slam. 

Back to the bidding after 2♠ - X ?  As argued above the odds favour sacrificing if the opposition bid a slam, but as seen bidding just 4♠ gives them room to find their fit and bids to a contract they like.  How about bidding 5♠ over the double?   This doesn't stop you sacrificing if they bid a slam, but they lack the potential safety of the five level and might well be more inclined to double than to bid on.  One table did get to play 5♠ (doubled)  but how that came about is unknown.

There were two tables played the hand in 5♣ and curiously they were in the same match. At one table that contract failed quickly when declarer tried to ruff the opening spade lead with a heart, only to realise too late that clubs were trumps. The failure of the defence at the other tables meant that this hand was a fortunate gain for the evening's winning team,

Don't Despair

West leads the ♠3. When you play low from the table, East wins the Queen and returns the ♠8. When you test the diamonds, East turns up with four. How do you continue?

You still have plenty of chances in this contract. You have 8 top tricks and a 3-3 club break or a successful heart finesse will see you home. You might also be able to endplay West in spades to lead hearts for you. Your exact line depends on how the clubs play out. Play ♣AQ and a third club to dummy. If clubs break you can claim. If West turns up with 4 clubs, the heart finesse represents the best chance. If East has 4 clubs then return to hand with a diamond and exit with a spade. If West has led a true card at trick 1, he will only be able to cash 3 spades before leading a heart.

Basic Play

West leads the Q. How do you play?

The opening lead marks East with the A and this in turn means that West will hold the K and ♣A to justify his opening bid. If East gets in and fires a club through you are in danger of losing 4 tricks. However, the only card that East can get in with is the A and you can nullify his entry by playing low from dummy at trick 1. Now if East uses his entry for the club play, he sets up the K for a heart discard, If he plays low, you set up the hearts for club discards in hand. 

Play Safely

How do you play on the lead of K?

This hand is a sure thing provided trumps aren't 5-0. To retain control of the diamond suit, play low in dummy and ruff in hand with a high trump. Now cross to dummy by playing the ♠8 to dummy's 9. Now ruff a second diamond high before drawing trumps by overtking your ♠J. Cash the remaining trumps, discarding your 2 losing clubs. Now you can finesse in hearts and lose at most 1 heart trick - all without having to touch the A, so that you have protection in that suit if the heart finesse loses.

How do you Defend?

West leads the ♠4 and when you play the Knave on dummy's 9, it holds the trick. How do you continue?

On the bidding, you possibly have a trick in each suit. However, if you switch to a club, declarer may be able to ruff a club in dummy, and if you draw dummy's trumps, declarer may well be able to set up the heart suit. A neat solution to this dilemma is to switch to the T. South can win but your diamond Ace wins the next trick and now you can play a club. This way you come to 2 clubs and a trick in each of the other suits.

HotD-fri : Rank Xerox Teams : 27jan20 : B10

This hand from the Rank Xerox was played in 3N at three tables, twice by North on a club lead and once by South on a top diamond lead.  What should have happened?

Firstly from declarer's perspective there are no chances of tricks in spades, four tricks in hearts and surely exactly two in diamonds. Clubs are therefore needed for three tricks. The bidding makes the play in the club suit obvious - playing first the ace and then towards the Q9xx. If the opposition play spades there may be problems, but you have little other choice.  

Now let's look from the defender's perspective, particularly East. You can see what is happening in clubs and have to decide on whether to switch, and if so to what? The key is partner's discard - not discard system, for it is just logic which applies here.  Partner throws away a heart (ideally showing an odd number, and anyway they'd have bid the suit with four) and from that you can deduce that declarer has four heart tricks, to go with potentially three clubs and surely, having bid 1N over 1, there will be a diamond stopper to go with dummy's ace.  That means nine tricks, unless ...  yes you must switch to spades. Playing ♠AQ and another will beat the contract.  

Is this too far fetched?  No; the same hands were used in a Gold Cup match and against 3N, Paul Denning discarded a high heart and Garry Watson found the spade switch to put the game one off. 


HotD-thu : County Pairs QF : 27jan20 : b18

This hand from Monday needed some analysis in the play, but before we get to that there are a few interesting points in the bidding.  The first is South's evaluation over 1♠; this hand counts out as a 6-loser hand, and the queen is well placed, and it is so much better than  J95 - AJ953 - 5 - KQ92  which would also open 1 and raise partner's spade response. It is therefore worth a raise to 3♠  and partner should expect about a trick more than a minimum opener and not go overboard. Here partner is expecting a 45xx shape and the key wil be whether the singleton is opposite the ace of clubs or the king of diamonds. One way to find out is to give partner space to show, and here the 4 bid shows a short diamond and that discourages North from continuing.

Playing in 4♠ on a club lead you first consider how to play the trumps.  Leading first from dummy, finessing the ten, and returning to lead again from dummy is easily recognised as the best odds play in that suit, giving a 73.20% chance of only one loser.  The catch is that if you do that you will not be able to take the heart finesse, and will need to play for the drop in that suit, hoping the queen falls. The alternative is to keep the K for the heart finesse and relying on at most one entry to dummy when tackling spades (it turns out ace and another is best if only one entry).  This gives a lower success rate on spades of just 61.61% but a better chance in hearts.

Which is best?  Calculating it with SUITPLAY suggests that one line has an 81.95% chance of delivering ten tricks while the other is an 81.90% chance. In practice both lines give you ten tricks, but the difference is that one line delivers eleven, and that line is the second choice - and that is just random luck.

It is difficult to care which line one chooses, but in practice some people didn't have to think about this. Why was that? It was because West could not keep quiet after the 1 opening, and overcalled 2; this made West a big favourite to hold the spade king, and it indicated the second line (leading spades from hand) is best, and that line delivers an extra trick.  There was little reason to bid at the 2-level with a weak NT hand; if you do that you will sometimes suffer penalties and at other times partner will not dare continue buty you turn out to have a better hand and need partner to bid. Silence is golden!

HotD-wed : County Pairs QF : 27jan20 : B4

This was the best slam hand from Monday (three of the others were about 50% and a fifth was 25% - but  all finesses were onside and they all made) and it was only bid once. The key issue was how to proceed from this point in the auction.

Your basic system affects the choice; if 2 was forcing for only one round (traditional Acol) then you must bid game now and bidding 4 to show shortage there is clearly best.  Unfortunately this discourages East who now sees his/her diamonds as wastage. West has however shown some extra values, so East can decude that West has some hight cards in clubs and might still push on.

If the 2 response was forcing to game (playing 2-over-1)  then you also have the option of a simple raise to 3.  Why might that be attractive?  The answer lies in the theory of splinter bids; when you make a splinter you are describing your hand to partner and leaving them with the decision to make. For them to do that successfully the description must be fairly complete, and in particular the strength of the hand needs to be fairly tightly defined.  For that reason we treat a sequence such as 1♠ - 4♣ as showing short clubs in support of spades, but just a minimum raise to game.  This hand is not only a robust 14-hcp (where this shape might have opened with as few as 10-hcp) but it has a void rather than a singleton. The combination makes it too strong for a splinter in this context; it's not certain a 3 bid will reach the right solution, but it definitely gives more scope.

What will happen after 1♠ - 2 - 3?  Many now play the lowest bid in these circumstances as limiting the hand - declaring it (via a "non-serious" bid) not to be a trick better than an opening bid. The misfit in spades is discouraging on this hand, but the losing trick count makes is a 5-loser hand, so it cannot be declared a minimum. As long as East makes a bid denying a minimum, there should be no stopping West.

You do want to bebidding the slam on this hand, but did you notice what happens in the play?  If South leads the ♣2, the best slam of the day goes down - while all the other slams made!



How do you Play?

West leads the 3 and you play the Ace on East's Queen. You cross to dummy with a spade to take a winning club finesse. Play from here.

It look tempting to cross to dummy with another spade to repeat the club finesse, but there is a danger in this. If West has ducked holding the club king, he can win the second round and play another heart. East can duck this trick and leave you stranded in dummy, forced to concede  five further red suit tricks. You can avoid this by refusing a second club finesse. Just continue with 2 more rounds of clubs, discarding the heart from dummy. Now if the defence plays hearts, you have the entry to hand to cash your clubs, and if they dont play hearts, you have the time to set up the diamond suit, losing no more than 1 heart, 1 club and 2 diamonds. 


West opens a 15-17 no-trump and North's double showed a 6 card minor. West leads the 2 to East's 8. How do you play?

Often the technique on hands like this is to run your long suit, but here this would be a mistake as you would have to make discards from your major suit holdings, fatalyy weakening your hand. You can tell from the opening lead (low from an honour holding) that West holds the Q. West needs a diamond honour to make up his minimum 15 points and if East held that card, he would have played it at trick 1 if he did not hold the Jack. Hence you can play to keep East out of the game. Win the opening lead with the K and play a top heart. West can win but if he continues with the Q, you duck and win the next lead to knock out the remaining heart honour. This way you come to 9 tricks. If West leads a low diamond on the second round, you rise with the Ace to block the suit. 

Play the Odds

How do you play this contract on the Q lead?

You clearly need the trumps to break to have any chance. The odds of diamonds producing 2 winners and only one loser are very remote, so your best chance lies in establishing the club suit where a 4-3 break is around 60%. Duck the opening lead and win any lead from West at trick 2. Now play Ace and another club, ruffing in hand. 2 rounds of trumps finishing in dummy allow you to play the ♣K, discarding a diamond from hand, followed by a club ruff. Now a heart ruff on the table lets you lead the fifth club for a further diamond discard. The defence can only make a trump, a heart and a diamond whenever the clubs are 4-3.

Simple Stuff

West leads the K against 4♠. How do you defend?

It looks like you have 2 hearts and a spade trick and some hopes of making your ♣K to set the contract. However, declarer will note from the lead that you are heavily odds on to hold the ♣K, so may well get the clubs right. There is no need to take this chance. Overtake the heart at trick 1 and return your club. Win the Ace of trumps and play a heart to partner to get your club ruff. Simple stuff. 

HotD-fri : League 6 : 20jan20 : B17

Thuis hand from Monday proved a test for some, with a small majority if those in 3N failing to make it.  Some Norths stretched to open 2N on the hand (not recommended) but many bid liek this - with South's delayted 1N showing a weaker hand than an immediate 1N would have shown. After a spade lead to the singleton king, how should declarer proceed?

There are communications problems, but eight top tricks and surely another can be generated in hearts. Declarer started off at trick two with hearts, and West won to play a high spade.  South won this (discarding a heart from dummy) and then cashed the six card club suit. The ending is four cards and dummy has  K98   at the point where East has to discard from  ♠J9 A9   in front of declarer's ♠T7 T9 T.   East discarded a diamond, as did South.  Now exiting with a heart to the queen put East on lead to cash the A. As long as South holds onto the right card, the contract makes. This is a case where watching the opponents' discards is vital.

HotD-thu : League 6 : 20jan20 : B12

The results on this board from Monday surprised. With 25 HCP between the two hands, a majority (9 out of 16) chose to play in their 6-1 fit at levels ranging from 2 to 5 and only those at the lowest level made a plus score.  The other tables reached other games, with five tables playing in a "hopeless" 3N and a mere two playing in the practical 5♣.

Looking first at the bidding, a natural start would be 1 - 2♣ - 2,  although one might stretch and bid 1 - 2♣ - 2♠.   How should South continue?  The natural choice of 3♣ seems to lead to support from partner and the 5♣ game but was rarely found. The best lead against  that game is a trump and when declarer wins the first trick in dummy there is something of a dilemma. Assuming you can find the ♠Q, you have ten tricks in the black suits and need another one - which will no longer come from a diamond ruffed and must come from hearts.  Declarer needs to come to hand in spades and play a heart towards the KJ9 and guess right when West ducks. A close call, only managed once.

Some Souths on the second round, rather than bid 3♣, chose 2N and this North would naturally raise to game.  After a diamond lead from West to the king and ace, you would expect that the defenders would cash five diamonds and the heart ace and that happened at two of the three tables who got a low diamond lead. One table didn't cash the diamonds, and at a fourth the lead was a diamond from East as North was declarer (perhaps this was a cheeky 1 -2♣ -2 - 3♣ - 3N) and now the king scored. The last NT table got a spade lead, picking up that suit and giving declarer nine quick tricks. So 3N had a 60% success rate.  Does that make it a better contract than the 5♣ which only made 50% of the time?


HotD-wed : League 6 : 20jan20 : B4

This hand from Monday was played at all sixteen tables in spades by West, and excatly half made the game and half went off.  

Declarer starts with only 8 top tricks, and needs to find two more. Three Norths, feeling that there was very little chance of making tricks in diamonds and with East having bid clubs, led the Q and that made life very easy for declarer. The queen was covered by East and South, and declarer won the heart return. When the 9 fell declarer could set up a tenth trick with the 87 and didn't even need the club king. 

The play is much more interesting on a diamond lead (the choice at 11 tables). How should declarer proceed?

The first step is surely to win the ace, draw trumps and lead the Q.  There are two options now (ruff or discard) of which discarding a club is the more appealing.  This leaves South on play and guarantees a ninth trick. South's best exit is the ♣Q and this forces declarer to eventually lead hearts for themselves. From declarer's perspective the contract is doomed if South has both heart honours (North will switch to hearts) but if that is not the case, declarer is now home if the clubs break 3-3 (by winning ♣K and ruffing one round).  In practice declarer gets bad news is clubs and resorts to leading up to the heart ace. Down one.

An interesting position arose at table one when declarer chose to ruff the second diamond and led a club; North rose with the ace and South found a fine play of dropping the queen. If he had not done that, then when declarer ducked the next club (en route to trying for the suit 3-3), South would be endplayed and forced into leading a heart.

How the other five declarers made their game has yet to be uncovered.

What's the Best Line?

West leads the A. How do you play?

It looks like you need to find the club finesse working or avoid losing a diamond trick. On the surface of things, you would be tempted to play West for long diamonds as you know that East has great heart length. However, if you play carefully, you can improve your chances. Ruff the lead and draw trumps (say this takes 3 rounds), followed by a further heart ruff. Now play the K and a second diamond. If East follows, finesse your ten. If it loses, West must concede a ruff and discard or give you the club finesse. If East show out on the second diamond, you rise with the Ace and endplay West with a third diamond. You will only be defeated on this line if West started with 4 diamonds and the club finesse is wrong - unlikley given that East may well have doubled the contract with his diamond void.

Patrick Phair commented on the bidding and the lack of a heart sacrifice; the problem is that it isn't clear to either East whether or not partner will have hidden defence to this contract, and not cleat to West that with a 4333 shape that it will be so cheap. The reason the sacrifice is cheap - which nobody yet knows - is that each side has a double fit. 

Play This Slam

West leads the Q. How do you play this slam?

If the ♣K is right, then you can afford a trump loser, so the first priority is to win the opening lead in hand and finesse the ♣Q. If this holds the trick then you safety play the trumps by playing the King from hand and then a low one towards dummy, inserting the 9 if West follows low. This way you can handle any 4-1 split. If the club finesse loses, then you cannot afford a trump loser and you will have to take the percentage play of Cashing the Ace and finessing the Knave on the second round.

Careful Management Required

West leads a low diamond to East's Ace. You cover the Q return but this is ruffed and a trump is returned, East contributing the Knave. Play from here.

You have 2 further diamond losers to dispose of and your plan must be to discard them on dummy's heart suit. You will need to find the K with West. Draw trumps and cash the A. Now play ♣A and a low club to dummy. On the lead of the Q, you discard your ♣K. West can win but his return gives you access to dummy to discard your 2 diamond losers. 

Listen to the Bidding

When 7♠ was doubled, you removed to 7NT as a first round club ruff was likely looming. How do you set about making 7NT on the lead of the Q?

If you get the spades right, you have 7 tricks there plus 5 more top winners. You will need the Q to drop or a minor suit squeeze for trick 13. Before playing the spades, you might as well find out the position in the minor suits. Play off the 2 top diamonds and the ♣K. If West shows out on the club King as you expect and the Q hasn't dropped, it is time to get the spades right. You know that West most likely has 7 hearts and at least 2 diamonds, hence 4 unknown cards, whilst East is assumed to have 3 hearts, 5 clubs and at least 2 diamonds, hence 3 unknown cards. If a squeeze is going to operate you need East to hold the Q, leaving just 2 unknown cards. Consider the bidding - is it likely that East raised to 5 with ♠Qx or ♠Qxx in a flat hand? More probable is that he has a bit of shape. On the basis of this, you should finesse the ♠J on the second round and run the suit. If East holds the Q, he will be forced to give up either a club or diamond trick at the end.

HotD-fri : Winter Swiss Pairs : 13jan20 : B21

This hand from Monday was an awkward bid for East, and this was the path chosen at table six. Where East overcalled 1N the outcome was simpler. The question on this contract is - how many trump tricks did East make?

The answer is three, and this is how it happens.

After cashing two top clubs, East might well have switched to a trump but instead played the J. Declarer won the ace and played a diamond, and East won to play a second heart. To get a diamond ruff  (and to score their smll trump) declarer tried a club from dummy aiming to score the ♠3 and then take a ruff. But West popped in with the ♠8 forcing declarer to over-ruff with an honour. Now came the diamond ruff and declarer tried the same - but now West ruffed with the ♠6 to the ♠K and out came the third round of diamonds.  But this time East was able to ruff in with the ♠7 and lead the ♠J to take the last trump off dummy and knock out declarer's ace. Declarer tried again but East ruffed the fourth diamond with the ♠9 and drew the remaining trumps with the ♠T and cashed a winning club.

It is just possible for declarer to get to seven tricks against best defence, but the defence must play the same game as above. After one top club and a trump switch, should declarer play diamonds, at this point East must play a second club and give partner a ruff with the third club. That will beat the contract by one trick, and any other defence on winning the first diamond will let the contract make. Seven tricks come about because East has to ruff the third heart, allowing declarer four trump tricks in hand, one ruff in dummy and two hearts.

HotD-thu : Winter Swiss Pairs 1 : 13jan20 : B4

This was the auction which on Monday propelled a solitary pair into the heart slam, played by East. The contract went two down, and nobody playing in 4 made 12 tricks. But twelve tricks are there to be made.  Is there a sensible line which generates 12 tricks?

In the event, East won the diamond lead and ruffed a diamond at trick two. Unfortunately he ruffed small, was overruffed and faced a trump return. 

Suppose he ruffs that second round of diamonds "high" (ie with the 8 or 9).  This wins and North shows out. East can see good prospects now as one more diamond ruff, four trumps in hand, and six tricks outside will give 12 tricks.

So declarer crossed back to A and cashes K before ruffing again.  Declarer now ruffs a small club and draws the last trump. It just remains to cash the spades but when declarer plays off the ace and king, South shows out. All dummy has left is ♠Q7 and ♣9, but look what happens when declarer exits with the club.  North - who has been seen to play ♣QJT already - has to win the king and lead away from the spade jack.The slam makes!

Are there any alternative lines? The only logical variation is not drawing the second trump after the first but taking a ruff before that, so you can return to the East hand on the second trump and now draw the third round. If you get that far, you have only the danger of a 4-1 spade break to worry about. Were South to have four spades, then North would have a 1318 shape and surely you would have heard from North during the bidding (they might be forced to pass once, but can surely bid clubs naturally on the next round).  So you rule that out and focus on North having a 4315 shape. If that is the case, there is just one line of play that makes sense and it is to cross to a spade, play ♣A and a ruff before playing a second spade.  And now you are in the position just described.

It all depends just on ruffing high at trick two - would you have found that?

HotD-web : Midlands Counties League : 12jan20 : B3

There were 7 hands on Sunday where slam bidding came into play, and across those there were four excellent slams and three so-so slams.  We must not disparage the so-so slams as in practice they make remarkably often; that wasn't the case with this small sample where in the four instances a slam was bid across those three hands, all four declarers went off.

The record however on the four excellent slams still needs improving. One was never bid and the other three were bid 3,3 and 5 times across 12 tables. This was the first of those slams.  How should it proceed?

The first trap some fell into was treating the West hand as a strong 1N opener; it is more than that, with the AJT of spade at least as good as AQ2 would be, and the good five card heart suit.  We need to upgrade this and treat it like 18-hcp. When the East hand hears of partner having 18-hcp opposite their 14-hcp, and this control rich hand finds that partner has five hearts, there should be no stopping.

For the weak NT players, after 1 - 2 - 2N  the West hand is still rather wide ranging (15-20 for some). A useful tool here is a 3♣ asking bid, to which the usual pattern is that partner replies 3 with 18-20, and with a major or 3N on the 15-17 hands.  That would clarify the position here and now after 3♣ - 3 - 3 (three card support) - 4♣ (cue) is should be 4N and so to slam.


West leads the ♣2. Plan the play.

As always, count your tricks. You have 9 obvious winners so one diamond ruff on the table will suffice. Win the club lead and play Ace and then a small diamond from hand. You can then ruff a diamond and make 10 tricks. If you try to cash the K and diamonds are 6-1, you will be defeated if the hand that ruffs then returns a trump.

A Difficult Defence

Your lead of the T holds the first trick and your heart continuation sees East winning trick 2. At trick 3 South ruffs East's A and leads a low diamond. How do you defend?

Surely South holds at least ♣AQ and therefore it is difficult to see where the setting trick is coming from. However, you can see that if declarer holds a singleton diamond, he will lack the entries to dummy to enjoy the diamond suit if he has no more than 6 spades. You can tentaively reconstruct the South hand as a 6214 shape. Give declarer ♠AJxxxx xx x ♣ AKxx. Can you find a defence that gives you a chance? A trump return sees South discard a club on a top diamond and ruff a club on the table. The same is true on a club or diamond return. You are therefore left with winning the A and continuing with a heart, conceding a ruff and discard. On your heart, partner can discard his second diamond. Now East can ruff in when dummy's top diamond is played. If partner's spades are good enough, he will be able to ruff again when dummy plays another top diamond and you will find that your ♠9 becomes the setting trick when the layout is as shown. A difficult defence - certainly.  

Take Care

West starts with the ♣K. How do you set about this contract?

A friendly trump break gives you 11 tricks, so you must guard against a 4-1 split. Clearly if you play off 2 top trumps, the defence may be in a position to draw your trumps when in with the Ace of spades. They would then be able to cash a load of clubs. Take just one top trump and then play on spades. That way you retain control of trumps and cannot lose more than 3 tricks


West leads a heart. Can you conceive of any way you might bring this contract home?

You need an entry to dummy to allow you to discard your losing diamonds on ♠AK and clearly you don't have one. However, you may be able to fool opponents. Win the lead and lead a low trump from hand. If West holds ♣Jx or ♣Qx, he may err by rising with his honour and that will then allow you to get to dummy with the ♣T.

HotD-fri : CBC Pairs League : 8jan20 : B18

On Wednesday fifteen of the sixteen tables played this hand in 3N and nearly all got a spade lead at trick one - to the jack and queen. A surprising number made their contract, but it was very tricky at some tables.

Looking (after the opening lead) at four sure tricks in the black suits declarer just needs five in the reds. The concern is that you have to lose two tricks en route and on the first loss they clear the spades while on the second they cash the spades.  What can you do to avoid that problem?

The answer is to get a quick trick in hearts under your belt before playing diamonds. Leading a heart through the ace is the target, as if the hand with the ace rises you might well get four heart tricks and that means you never need to give up a diamond. So declarer started with a heart at trick two towards the queen, and when that held he went back to diamonds.  He played the diamonds from the top (the best option for four tricks - always at least as good as a finesse and sometimes better) and South won the third diamond while dummy threw a heart and a club.  With no more spades, and all those hearts in dummy, South tried a club.  Declarer won and played a heart, after which North continued spades. Declaerer could duck one and win the next one but by now South was short of discards and the 9 had to go. With South only holding clubs and diamonds, declarer could bash out the clubs to put South on lead at the end to lead from the 96 to declarer's T8.   Hard work but that's what was done by Division One winner Paul Denning.

In fact South could have defeated the contract by not taking the Q when it was offered (question - if declarer wants you to do something, should you always refuse?). But going back another trick, declarer can alway make the contract if they play A then J first; not cashing the king avoids an awkward discard from dummy; there is a case for this as the second top diamond only gains when there is Qx in on hand (6 possibilities) while the alternative keeps options more open when someone holds xx (15 possibilities).

And of course there are easier ways to make - if you don't play hearts early you can fall back on the heart jack being onside with a 3-3 break and that delivers your nine tricks (win spade, three diamonds ditching clubs, win club, heart to king).

HotD-thu : Spring Teams : 6jan20 : B18

There were only 6 (out of 12 tables) played this hand from Monday in hearts.  Admittedly three North-South pairs pinched the hand and went off playing in spades, but there isn't much excuse for playing in diamonds as East-West with a 9-card heart fit. At other vulnerabilities/positions a weak 2 opener might get you to stop there but in this position and vulnerability the last thing you should have for such a bid is 10 HCP and three honours outside of diamonds.

The auction shown happened at table 11, and declarer wrapped up 10 tricks.  Of the six who played in hearts - with four heart leads and two diamonds leads - only two took the ten available tricks. How should the play go?

The answer here - as in so many hands - is that the first step is to pay attention to the side suit. Andrew Urbanski, after the above bidding, showed how it should be done by the following sequence : he won the heart lead with the ace, played A and ruffed a diamond, and then went back over to the Q to ruff another diamond. The failure of the diamonds to break 3-3 meant another ruff was needed to set the suit up, but the even heart break meant that he could rely on a spade ruff as an extra entry to dummy. He played spades, ruffing the third and then ruffing another diamond, making the last two diamonds into winners. Finally he played a club towards the KJ and found he could not guess wrong. His third club went away on the long diamonds.

Could the contract have been beaten? The answer is yes. The key is to take an entry away from the dummy before declarer has started to ruff diamonds.  Either an early club or three rounds of spades is good enough.  Notice how there were the two suits nobody led!  Some lead problems are just too difficult.

HotD-wed : Spring Teams : 6jan20 : B16

This hand from Monday resulted in a number of red faces, and we need to consider whether or not we have sympathy with those who suffered.

The start of the auction is simple but how it should continue is not clear. One pair started as shown and continued 3 - 3N - 4N - P, and that contract was very straightforward.  But their retraint was only shared by one other table and ten of the tables reached the impossible 6N contract.  Against the slam, there were six instances of a diamond lead, two spades and two hearts.  The last two saw the contract off quickly, but all the others left declarer with a chance.

When South led a spade, East won with ♠J to lead a club to the ten. South was now on lead and had to find the right red suit to beat the contract. And didn't.  When North led a spade, the red suits in East were visible on the table, so that South had no problem picking a heart and so beat the contract.

When a diamond was led the position, the choice on winning a club was between hearts and spades. Four of the six were allowed to make. 

Which means five defenders our of eight found the wrong switch.  Should they have done better?  On the spade lead by South and a club at trick two, there isn't much to go on - apart from the spade played by North at trick one. SInce neother count nor attitude in spades matters here, that signal should have been the ♠T as a signal for hearts.  On the diamond lead it is hard to see why declarer should be allowed to make.  Maybe someone will tell us!

Mark Rogers wrote in : after a diamond lead won by East, declarer played a spade to the ♠J and led a heart off the dummy. North ducked, and now declarer cleared the clubs from the top and South failed to unblock (if declarer is playing sensibly then South should unblock), and declarer had enough tricks with the A unaccessible.

How do you Play?

West leads the J. You try the Queen from dummy but East plays the King. When you play 2 top trumps, East shows out on the second round. Play from here.

If the club finesse works then you will have no problem, so can you cope if the finesse is wrong? If East wins a club and switches to a diamond, you will be defeated if West can ruff the third round of clubs and cash a diamond. The solution is to play to the King of clubs and then back to the Ace before leading a third club. Whenever clubs are 3-2 or 4-1 with West holding Qxxx, you are a tempo ahead.

A Cold Contract?

West leads the K and switches to a low club to east's Queen. Can you ensure your contract on the likely assumption that West holds the K?

On this hand, you need to appreciate the value of dummy's heart suit. Win the ♣A, Cross to dummy with a trump and lead the 8. If this is covered , ruff and return to dummy in trumps to lead another heart, discarding a club. Ruff the club return and cross again in trumps to cash your established heart. You just lose 2 hearts and a diamond. If East does not cover the 8, you discard a club and later 2 diamonds on dummy's heart suit.This time you lose 3 heart tricks but that is all.

What's the Best Chance?

West leads the Q against your game and you ruff the diamond continuation at trick 2. You draw trumps in 2 rounds, finishing in hand. What now?

Superficially, you could rely on the double heart finesse, offering a 75% chance of success. You can improve on this by playing on clubs first. If you play the Ace and King of clubs and the Queen drops the worst that can happen is you lose two hearts. There is an endplay available if East started with ♣QTxx as you next lead a club towards your Jack and eliminate the suit before hearts get played. If the third round of clubs loses to West's Queen, then the clubs have divided and a heart lead from West to dummy's ten will again endplay East. The only difficult situation is when West started with ♣QTxx. In this case he wins the club and returns the suit. Now you ruff in dummy and cross back to hand with a trump to try the heart finesse. If it loses and a diamond is returned, you need to ruff in hand and try a second heart finesse. It is only now that you have a 25% chance of not making. The trap is to not take an early club finesse. If West has ♣Qx or ♣Qxx and East both heart honors, West, upon winning the ♣Q, can shift to a heart, leaving East with a safe club exit after winning the first heart. Then you will be forced to take a second heart finesse.

Maximise Your Chances

West leads the K against your slam. Plan the play.

You have 3 potential club losers. One can be discarded on the A, and if the spades break kindly, another trick is available there provided you can get at it. You will be OK if the ♣K is with West, so let's assume that East holds this card. If spades are 3-3, we can still succeed if the club King is singleton or doubleton provided we play as follows. Duck the opening lead in dummy and ruff in hand. Draw trumps and play off the top spades. Now Ace and another club, playing the Queen from dummy if West follows small. East can win but if he has no more clubs, he must return a diamond which gives access to dummy for 2 discards from hand. You would have gone down if you had played the A from dummy at trick 1.

HotD-thu : YEAR END PAIRS : 30dec19 : B23

This was one of two hards from Monday where there were twelve tricks available; the other was B10 where - if you can see the two hands - it is clear you want North-South to be in 6 as the club losers can be discarded on top diamonds.  But on that board there was an opposition pre-empt in first seat and bidding a slam proved too difficult for any pair.  This hand is actually a less good slam, but the hand deserves a little thought as more pairs made game in the other direction (3 in 4♠), and more were in a part-score making overtricks (3 in club part-score), than played in game in the suit which can make a slam (just two).

The first question in the bidding came at the point shown. It's a close call what East should do, with a weak NT strength and a poor suit opposite a passed partner.  In fact the strongest case is for passing; if you do want to bid on these hands (and it is a bidder's game, and we'd always bid if partner had not already passed) then the bid has to be a takeout double.  Partner won't know you have five hearts but partner - when you double one major for takeout - will always strain to bid the other, so the worst case is you miss a 5-3 heart fit; any better fit should be found. After double South will raise, both preemptively and constructively as it happens, to game, and the next bidding question falls to West. Which suit, if any to bid?  The answer is none but to let partner choose; bidding 4N here shows two place to play and passes the buck. It's not the ideal bid for East to hear - as there is a danger on this hand of choosing hearts. If East was to do this (not recommended) then the pair might actually stumble into a 6♣ contract, but it is safer for East just to bid 5♣ and that should finish the auction. Two pairs ended in 5♣.

Making twleve tricks in clubs depends on bringing in clubs (26% chance) and diamonds (70% chance) for no loser, but today the diamonds break badly. The computer told us that 12 tricks are available in clubs - but it is not obvious how. One answer is for declarer to run the 9 through North on the first round, picking up the diamond suit for no loser. We cannot see any player without x-ray visiion doing this.   Given some pairs got to play in 4♠ as North-South, bidding and making 5♣ should be considered a sufficient success (and earned 17 msp out of 18 on the night).

The play in 4♠ is interesting too - declarer has only three losers (all aces) but to make 10 tricks, needs to take three diamond ruffs in the South hand. The defence can counter this as long as they play trumps themselves early enough. It's not obvious to do that, which is why the three pairs all made their 4♠ contracts.

HotD-wed : YEAR END PAIRS : 30dec19 : B24

This looks to be a straightforward hand from Monday, with five top losers to e cashed against the spade contract.  Every one played the hand in spades by North, but half the field made 8 tricks and half made 9 tricks.  What went wrong?  We cannot be sure, but here's what should have happened ...

Against North's preemptive opening, there is always a danger of losers being thrown on dummy's winners, so it is "normal" for East to start off with their strongest suit, and in this position it is not uncommon to lead an unsupported ace. Leading say the diamond ace here does give a chance to look at dummy, but it will only attract a discouraging signal from partner (who does not hold the king) and partner will not know the location of the king. That makes the king a better lead here, and in all such circumstances to adopt the practice of second best from a sequence of honours. Whichever you lead, you see dummy and can sense that only the heart suit is a danger, and that the only winners you need to establish (since the diamonds either cash or don't) are clubs.  So out comes a club, but you are disappointed when it goes to the queen and king (marking declarer with the jack).

There is still a trap left, if  declarer cashes the ♣J and then leads a spade. This play would be completely pointless unless holding a doubleton club, so you know that declarer is heading to cash the ♣A to discard a loser. There is a slight danger (that declarer started with ♠JT876543Qxx♣ KJ) but you cannot afford to take that risk and should rise with the ace. It is clear to you that clubs are dead, and that you need diamonds and hearts to beat the contract. You cash the other top diamond and lead a heart to partner; partner can now cash the Q to hold declarer to eight tricks.

It doesn't need any special system in defence here - simple logic leads you to the winning choices.

Could North-South have avoided bidding too high on this hand? It is just about possible.  Holding four honours outside the long suit, as here, does not feel right for a preemptive bid which has a primary obstructive element - as you are holding too much defence.  There is a good case for simply passing, because the hand is also unsuitable for a constructive 1♠ opening. It is possible that if North does pass that the hand will be passed out, but more likely is that East (provided North has not taken too long to pass) will open 1N, and now when North bids 2♠ that might buy the contract.

Watch the Cards

You lead the K. Declarer wins and draws trumps in 3 rounds. He then cashes 4 rounds of clubs (South holding 4) and exits with the T, everyone following. You win the heart. What do you play next and why?

You have a count of South's hand. He started with 4 diamonds, 4 clubs and 2 hearts. Hence he holds 3 spades. If you play a heart you give a ruff and discard and South will ruff in hand and play a spade to the King, making his contract. So you have to play a spade - but which one? If partner holds the knave, it won't matter what you do, but if South holds that card, you must switch to the ♠Q to have any chance of beating the contract. 

Play Carefully

West leads the ♣J. East overtakes and continues the suit. How do you play?

If trumps don't break you have no chance so you must work on the assumption that they are 3-2. You might try a heart to dummy's Queen at trick 3, hoping to ruff a heart on the table. However, on the bidding, East is favourite to hold the Ace and he can win and play clubs to possibly promote a second trump trick for the defence. If you cash a couple of rounds of spades, East can play a third round when in with the A, leaving you a trick short. The winning line is to cash 2 trumps finishing in dummy and lead a low heart away from the Queen. If East wins the Ace, you have no second heart loser, so let's say he ducks. Now you win the King and cross to dummy twice in diamonds to ruff clubs and then continue diamonds. This way the defence is limited to 1 heart, 1 spade and 1 club trick.

How Good is this Slam?

West leads the ♠K. How do you assess your chances?

Provided you make the right play at trick 1, your chances of making this slam are pretty high. If you duck trick 1, what can the defence do? If they continue spades then you win, release the A and ruff a spade in dummy to cash diamonds and throw losers. If the defence switches to a trump, then the ♠A remains as a sure entry to dummy.

Don't Worry

West leads the T. Plan the play.

Having escaped a spade lead, you will be fine if the diamond suit comes in. You also have a chance if they are 4-1 offside. Cash all your winners outside of diamonds, throwing 2 spades from hand on dummy's clubs. Now play off AQ. If East still has a diamond trick, he must have come down to a singleton spade. You know this will be a top spade honour else West would have cashed ♠AK at the outset. If so, exit with a spade. If East wins, he is forced to lead a diamond. If West wins, then he will have to give you a spade trick when the layout is as shown.

HotD-fri : League 5 : 16dec19 : B15

The difficulty in forecasting what will happen on any bridge hand was well illustrated by this hand fom the last League Monday.  Here are three auctions, which led to very different outcomes ...

The first decision point is whether or not South opens.  With 11-hcp vulnerable, opening 1N is generally considered too dangerous so it comes down to the acceptability of a 1♠ opener. The plus sides include getting into the auction first, and the attractiveness of a spade lead from partner. The minus sides include poor value from QJ-doubleton, and the fact that the opposition are not vulnerable.  Only one of our three stories started with 1♠ and over that opening, West will want to show the two minor suits.  There are two options here - if you are willing with this shape to defend a major suit game, then 2N will be your choice but if you were always going to bid above their game, then bidding 4N immediately stands out as a better choice (would your partner treat this as minors?) as it stops North from describing their hand before deciding on whether to penalise the intervention. In practice 2N was chosen, and over this North bid 3♣ to show a good hand with spade support.  This created an opportunity for East to ensure the right lead against the spade game, so he doubled. On hearing this West bounced to 5♣ and North was able to double.  South was happy to defend and on a spade lead the contract went two down (it takes a ♠Q lead to put it three down).

A second table saw South pass and West had the chance to open, but a second seat opener should be up to strength (since in opening you are getting in the way of partner as often as the way of the opponents) and this two suiter can be described better later - so both of our story tables passed and that left it up to North to open. One table opened 1N showing 14-16 hcp, and over this East was keen to bid (in a disruptive sense) and chose 2 to shows a six-card major (bidding 2♣ would have been better). South knew his side had the values for game and jumped to 3♠ (an action which would not have happened over 2♣ showing the majors). Convinced now that 4♠ was easy, West decided to show a two suiter by bidding 4N (this could not be ace asking by a passed hand) - only to find partner misread this and bid 5.  This was doubled but the defence failed to put this down six, and settled for a +500 score.  Now you know that the 5 contract on the traveller was not a typing mistake!

Our third table has North playing a 15-17 NT opener, so after P-P it had to be 1 after which everyone bid their suit : 1 - 1♠ - 2♣.  Notice how the diamond opening has much subdued West's enthusiasm on this hand. North supported spades (2♠) and over this South bid the spade game. West led his singleton heart and dummy won trick one. Now came ♠Q, covered twice, and back to dummy in hearts to finesse again in trumps. There are eight tricks in the majors, and in the ending West failed to realise that partner had to have the ♣A (South had passed initially) and kept diamonds to stop dummy winning tricks there, and lost the third club trick.  So the spade game made!

Who could have forecast those results?

HotD-thu : League 5 : 16dec19 : B21

This hand from the lasr league session didn't really deserve to be bid to slam, but two tables did that.

Question 1 : how do you play to make 6N on this hand?

Question 2 : does the opening lead matter?

There are four sure club tricks, at least three diamonds, at least two hearts and at least two spades - so that's 11 tricks and there are chances of more; we have all been in worse slams.  The danger is that you lose two tricks - as you will if you give up the A and K.  Left to your own devices you will take the diamond finesse (twice) and test to see if the king falls. If the finesse succeeds and the king falls the fact of four diamond tricks means you need only knock out the  A to make twelve tricks.  This gives you a 27% chance of making the slam (half the 3-3 breaks is 18%, a sixth of the 4-2 breaks is 8%, plus a little for a singleton king), which isn't great but can happen.  If the diamond king had not dropped, you probably resort to the spade finesse, and that gives you a further 11% chance of making.  So this is far from the worst slam we will ever bid.

But now what about the lead? 

  • If we get a spade lead into the ♠AKJ we have gained one trick and now a straight diamond finesse is all we need, making it a 50% slam. 
  • If we get a heart lead, presumably to South's ace, then nothing has changed from our original analysis, leaving it as a 38% slam.
  • If we get a club lead, again nothing has changed and we play the same line for a 38% chance of success.
  • If we get a diamond lead - we need to stop and think. Would you ever lead from a diamond king against 6N?  If you wouldn't do it, why would your LHO choose to make that very dangerous lead?  The answer is they would not, so on a diamond lead you should "know" that the diamond finesse is doomed, and rise with the ace.  You are not feeling positive but every so often, the cards are lying like they did last week - and you drop the singleton king and now your slam rolls home. 

The one West who played in 6N is recorded as getting 9 lead, and a swing of 22 imps depended on their trick one choice.  Would you have got it right?


There are a growing number of treasures to be found within the services offered online by BBO - are many of them remain free.

A great one - in the tradition of many of the problems presented here - goes by the name of   BRIDGE MASTER.  This could be your most useful Christmas present of 2019 (for which thanks to Fred Gitelman).

To get at this you need an account on BBO ( and free of course) and then take the option labelled SOLITAIRE (which I had long ignored) and there you will find BRIDGE MASTER.

You will be offered five different levels of problem, and you can choose whichever suits you best, and most sets contain over a hundred problem.  The WORLD CLASS level problems are far from easy, but at every level the offered SOLUTION steps you through the reasoning behind the best play, and you can swap between levels at will. The system tracks which problem you have tackled in the past and whether you succeeded (marked with a star) or failed (marked with a cross).  

The display is in the style of BBO, and very easy to read. You can do these problems on a PC or on a mobile phone (Android) using the BridgeBase app.

Once you have done with the Hand-of-the-Day here each day, BRIDGE MASTER gives you a great way to continue and make sure that even on days you don't get a game, you fully exercise your bridge brain.

Technical Skill Required

How do you play on the lead of ♣J?

The problem on this hand is that regardless of how many club tricks you take, you need to knock out 2 aces to make the contract and hence you must avoid the loss of 3 clubs in addition. You dont know who holds the ♣K, so one option is to play the Queen at trick 1. However, if this loses to the King and a club is returned, you will be defeated if clubs are 5-2, unless East has both red aces. It is better to play the Ace at trick one and knock out a red Ace, say that West wins and a second club comes through. Now if you play the Queen and it loses to the King, East will have no club to return when the suit is 5-2 so you will only go down when West has both Aces. There is a flaw in this play though. If East started with ♣Kx, then he can unblock the King at trick 1 and you be dependant upon guessing which red suit to attack first. The best technical play is to duck the first club completely. Now it does not help East to unblock and you will make the contract whenever clubs are 5-2 and the Aces split. Of course, if clubs are 4-3 and the King is wrong, you are likley to be defeated however you play.

Trick 1

West leads a low club against your game. Plan the play.

If you study the hand carefully, you will see that this contract can only succeed if the trumps are 2-2 and the hearts 4-4. In that case, you need to win the first trick on the table as you need the entries to set up the hearts. Don't get careless, play a top club from dummy at trick 1.

How do you Defend?

West leads the ♠3. Declarer takes dummy's Ace, crosses to hand with the ♣A, and plays a trump to the Jack, partner following small. How do you see the defence developing?

You know from the lead that you have a spade trick, and it looks like you have a diamond trick to come at some point. You therefore need 2 trumps tricks to beat the contract. At trick 3, you should smoothly drop the 8 on dummy's Jack. It may well be that declarer  - fearing it was a singleton 8 - will return to hand with a club to lead the Q, giving you 2 trump tricks.

How do you Play?

West leads a trump against your game, East following suit. Plan the play.

The defense will certainly play another trump when they gain the lead, so you will make 3 additional tricks by ruffing either in dummy or in hand. You maximise your chances by playing your diamond at trick 2. The defence win and play a second trump but now you succeed whenever spades are 4-4 or diamonds 4-3.

HotD-fri : Leage 5 : 16dec19 : B1

This was an interesting hand from Monday, in that game was made in three denominations, in two directions, and in all cases could have gone down. The crucial point in the auction often came at this juncture - and Norths were seen to choose three optons.  Some raised to 4♠ and this East could not resist doubling and that finished the auction.  Some others passed and some raised to 3♠ but in both those cases the next step was for East to describe their hand by bidding no-trumps.  Where that was 3N the auction finished, but when it was 2N that left room for West to continue with 3 and at this point North woke up with 3♠ and East supported the hearts making 4 the final contract.

Against 4♠ first; this was played at 8/14 tables, and it is good to see Norths all raising to the level of the fit in the bidding position shown. Notice how a tendency to make jump overcalls on five card suits would make that raise much more problematical. After a diamond lead the first choice is declarer's; if the diamond is ducked then West can se there is no future in diamonds and should find the heart switch easily.  It is therefore important for declarer to cover and now it is much harder for East to find the heart switch. After two diamonds, declarer can ruff and cross to dummy in clubs to lead spades. East will win the ♠A and this is the last chance for the defence. If West is looking now at ♣AQ then anything will beat the contract, when it can be beaten but if not  that, then a heart is the only option, If instead East goes passive, then declarer can draw the last trump and give up a club, setting up the thirteenth club for a heart discard. Only two of the five defenders who led a diamond beat the game. [Two tables saw East open 1 and now they got a heart lead and it beat the game]

Against 4 by East, both defenders led the 5, but only one of the two Norths led back a heart after winning the A - and without doing that the game gets to make.

Both major suit games should have been defeated.

Against 3N by East it is much more difficult; if South leads a spade then declarer has time to knock out the heart ace and later take the diamond finesse. Should South avoid the spade lead?  There is a strong expectaiton that East has the ♠AQ so that one cannot be surprised by the fact that a spade lead costs a trick. But what else to lead? The only winner is the least attractive option - to lead a low club and for North to win the king. That choice of lead is dangerous, and North will almost inevitably play the ♣T at trick one - so I would accept that beating 3N is "impossible".

Make Them Pay

West leads the 3. Plan the play.

It looks like you are running into a bad trump break, but if you play carefully, you can overcome this. At trick 2 you should play a club to the Ace and ruff a club. Then play the K. Whether or not East wins this trick, you come to 1 heart, 2 diamonds, ♣A and 2 club ruffs. That is 6 tricks and you remain with ♠KQJ9, good enough to secure 3 more tricks as West is trump-bound.

HotD-wed : League 5 : 16dec19 : B27

Monday this week was not a great day for bidding slams, although the scoresheet tells us that there were slams to be made on six out of 28 boards (21%) - which is way above the average we experience,  In practice there only 13 instances of slam being bid (ie 3% of all contracts) and of those only 5/13 succeeded.  Some slams (eg the 4-3 club fit on B10) were quite unbiddable and others were quite lucky (eg the 6♦ on B24 which requires roughly three finesses).  The last three boards provided increasingly good slams starting with 39% chance of making 6♦ on B26 rising to just under 50% for 6♥ on B28 - but those calculations are based on best defence and that doesn't always happen. This board was the one of the three (quite reasonably) bid most often to slam, but two of the five who bid slam went down.

Against 6♠ three defenders found the (recoomened, attacking) lead of a club - without which the odds on the slam are much better.  Since the ace of hearts had to be lost, this lead forced declarer to trust that the club king was on lead, and they were able to run trick one to the queen. After that it looks plaing sailing, as you expect six spade tricks, two in hearts, two in diamonds and two in clubs. There is however one danger and you must guard again it - that the spades break 4-0; if they do you can recover but only if East has the spades, and for that reason it is important to play the spade king first.  When you find out the bad news you lead the ♠9-♠T-♠Q and need to go back to dummy to lead spades again. You cannot use the ♣A as this is the entry to the hearts - so you need to play hearts first and East wins the ace and returns a club, covered by the jack, king and ace. This forces you into cashing the hearts now,  and it looks awkward when you play the third heart and East ruffs your winner. But you can cope with this - you can now afford to ruff a diamond in dummy, as you no longer need to lead spades through East as all that they have left is the jack. After the ruff you return to hand, draw the last trump, and claim.  Well done by Jack and the others who found the winning line.

In the match between the two teams leading Division One, only one of them bid the slam and their declarer missed the winning line, as a result of which his team is now second rather than first in the league standings at the half way mark.

The Killing Lead

You are on lead after this unusual auction. What do you play and why?

Partner's double is Lightner, asking for a lead that he can ruff. You might think he is asking for a heart or a diamond as you have length in both suits. However, this analysis makes no sense. Declarer can only be bidding like this with a second suit that will provide tricks. This suit can only be clubs, and a club lead is required. Declarer's hand was ♠AKQJTxxx, -, -,♣ AKQJx

Increase Your Chances

How do you plan the play in your slam when West leads the J?

There is no sure way to succeed, as you will need a good guess in the club suit, but you give yourself the best chance as follows: cash 2 top trumps in hand and your remaining heart winner. Cross to dummy with a trump and cash the Q, discarding the ♣J from hand. Now play a club from the table. If East follows with a low club, play him for the Queen rather than the Ace by inserting your 9.  

HotD-mon : Teltscher Trails : 14dec19 : B1

Two from the county (Richard Chamberlain & Patrick Shields) played last weekend in the trials for the England Seniors team for the Home Internationals. This was the second board.  Playing in 3N, North leads a low club and you win, and cash a second club but South shows out.  How are you going to find nine tricks?

Your prospects are not great - with at most three clubs to take and at most three spades, you need a third red suit trick to go with the two aces. There is only one way to set up another trick and that is to get South to lead a red suit for you. You need to cash a third club and three spades (finessing South for the queen). Once you've done this you need to play a small diamond from each hand, letting South win.  At this point South - having discarded a heart and a diamond on the clubs - is down to KQ8 KQT.  Leading a top diamond postpones the inevitable choice, as you duck that. The best chance is then to play a top heart hoping their partner has the jack, but you win the ace and lead upo to your jack and that becomes your ninth trick. Neat, and well done to RC for finding that.

How do you Defend?

You lead the ♠J against 3NT. South wins with the Queen and plays the ♣K. How do you defend?

The only chance for the defence is if declarer has only a doubleton club and that partner hold the A. Even then, you can see that he can develop an entry to dummy. You must attack this entry by winning the first club and switching to the Q. East must duck if declarer covers with the King. This way, declarer is denied a slow dummy entry to enjoy the clubs. 

HotD-fri : CBC Pairs League : 11dec19 : B11

This hand from Wednesday had a very natural but unusual sequence that is worth noting. The game was bid at exactly three of the sixteen tables, and was made much easier because the pairs concerned were playing four card majors. 

The 1♠ opening was good news to East who lacked the values to introduce a new suit but who could happily support. The 2N game try by West now showed 17-19 hcp, and East's removal into hearts promised five or more. It was a simple matter to raise.  This gets to a sensible, but not quite certain contract.

If South was to lead a top diamond, then declarer would know to duck that and in due course would lead through the jack finessing the nine and forcing the ace, to restrict the hand to two diamond losers. Then a heart break would bve enough for ten tricks.  Nobody was so kind!

If South doesn't lead a top diamond - and most people led a trump - then declarer must negotiate the diamonds for two losers. The winning option - chosen by most - is to draw trumps and lead a diamond to the 9, gaining today when the QJ are onside, and with the intention of leading up to the king later if the queen or jack is with North and wins the first round of the suit. The option of leading to the 9 is not risk free and if you are forced to come back to hand with a ruff to lead to the K, then an onside ace could lead you to being forced again - embarassingly as that is your last entry. You could go off with Ax or Axx diamonds onside.  We are still trying to work out what is the optimal play!

HotD-thu : Autumn Pairs : 9dec19 : B6

This hand from Monday illustrated well a dilemma that can arise on any hand - namely, whether the focus is to be winning tricks or avoiding losers.  After mild support from partner, East leads the ♠T against 3N and North wins the king and plays out the K.  You should win this as you might well cost your side a heart trick if you dond't (when declarer has Kx).  But what do you play now?

Your normal approach in trying to defeat 3N is to seek out five tricks and establish them. Here, by continuing spades, provided partner turns up with just the jack (partner would have overtaken/unblocked at trick one with the QJ, so you know declarer has the queen), you have three spade tricks and two aces - perfect.

What can go wrong? The one thing that can go wrong is declarer can run nine tricks first, which is indeed the case here as declarer has five clubs to cash - and with two spades and two hearts that is enough to make the contract. That happened at both tables where 3N was played.

The defence can clearly do better by not setting up the spade queen, but should they know to avoid that? It's not easy.  The only chance is for West to recognise the fact that East will have this dilemma at trick three, and to use the play to trick two (the heart) to make a signal. Here dropping the T under partner's ace (where West's length is expected as hearts were not supported) should be a signal suggesting diamonds, and if that persuades partner to lead the suit then you will beat 3N by three tricks. 

This is a difficult defence, but is the sort of thing we need ot be on the look-out for.

Careful Play Required

West leads the J. Assuming that all three missing cards are offside, can you make this contract?

You can afford a loser in each minor but not 2 hearts in addition. You must play low from dummy at trick 1 and win with the Ace. This way you avoid 2 immediate heart losers. Now draw trumps and run the ♣J. When it loses, the defence cannot play a second heart and if they play a diamond through, you must be careful to rise with Ace and cash the clubs for a heart discard before conceding a diamond trick to West.

HotD-tue : Midlands Leagues : 8dec19 : B3

On Sunday last, three County Teams headed to Nottingham Bridge Club for our annual match against Nottinghamshire.  This is the board on which we lost most imps (104 across the three teams). What contract do you want to be in and how should it be bid?

If the spades behave you have 12 top tricks with extra chances through a club ruff, setting up some diamonds, or the heart finesse.  And there might be squeeze chances.  The spade break comes in at 68% which is just with the odds for bidding a grand slam. So in pure theoretical terms, the answer is we should not mind whether we play the hand in 6♠ or 7♠.  The fact is however that the grand slam was bid and made, twice by our pairs, but six times by the opposition. The loss was 8 instances of 13 imps. 

How should we be bidding this hand?  The NS players are silent and it will surely start with 1♠-2.  In a world increasingly playing that 2 here is game forcing, a 2♠ bid now shows six and instantly identifies a viable trump suit. The simplest route is now for East to raise spades, and on the next round bid 4N to check on key cards. Once these are all accounted, you can see 11 potential tricks and partner can turn up with two outside kings, or the J or a KQ-holding in a rounded suit.  The only worry is spades but the 68% identified above is the worst case scenario; the ♠T increases the odds on no spade loser to 73.5% and the ♠J would raise it to 96%.  You just cannot tell about these cards, and of course there is a chance partner has seven spades. Which means you should guess to bid 7♠.

It gets more difficult if 1♠ - 2 - 2♠ - 3♠ is not forcing, as it was for some. Here over 2♠ (which might only show five) the hand was forced to bid 3 but now 3♠ promised a sixth and East could agree the suit by bidding 4♣, and continue with 4N on the next round - reaching the same position as the others.

The odds add up to making the grand slam a good bet, and it feels like general momentum should get you there.

A Subtle Defence

Your Partner starts with the AK. Declarer ruffs the second diamond and plays ♣AK7, ruffing on the table as West follows small each time. How do you see the defence developing?

This is one of those hands where the defence appears helpless. Declarer can ruff his fourth club on the table and the heart finesse (if needed) is known to be working. When all looks lost, it is a good time to try a little deception. If you play the ♣9 and ♣Q on the second and third round of clubs, declarer's ten will be good and he will not need to ruff it on the table. If the layout is as shown, he may well play the ♠Q and ♠A. When you show out in trumps, he may think he can avoid the heart finesse by cashing his club, throwing a heart from dummy, and then ruff a heart on the table. He will be defeated when your partner makes a trump trick by ruffing the ♣T

Play This Slam

West leads the ♠J against your slam. Plan the play.

You have plenty of tricks on this hand and you should appreciate that your only losers could come from the trump suit. The danger is that trumps might break 4-0 but if you are careful you can cater for this. Win the opening lead and play a small trump towards dummy. If West has 4 clubs, then you restrict him to 1 winner by leading towards dummy twice. If East has the trump length then you later play trumps towards hand to avoid a second loser. 

Plan The Play

West leads the ♠9. Plan the play.

It looks likely on the bidding that the club finesse is working so you appear to have plenty of tricks. Suppose the lead is ducked around to your King and you play diamonds, expecting East to win. He may switch to hearts but you can unblock the diamonds and take the club finesse for 9 tricks. However, when you play diamonds, to your surprise, West wins the trick and pushes another spade through dummy, allowing East to take 4 tricks on the suit. As is often the case, the critical point of the hand was at trick 1. You can be sure from the lead that East holds ♠AJ, so the correct card to play from dummy is the Queen. If East ducks, you have 2 spade tricks to go with 4 diamonds, 2 hearts and at least 1 club. If East wins trick 1, he cannot return the suit without conceding a second trick. Let's say he switches to a heart - win the Ace and clear the diamonds. If hearts are continued you can win, unblock the diamonds and take a club finesse for your contract.

HotD-fri : Swiss Teams 4 : 2dec19 : B20

There were two contracts considered on this hand from Monday (with one exception) and these were 3N and 4.   And in both contracts there were roughly as many succeeded as failed.  What should have happened?

Let's look at 3N first - a contract reached at some tables after North opened 2♠ (spades and another suit) and East bid 3N.  At two 3N tables South led a spade and declarer was able to win that and bash out the clubs (AQ and another) and come to four clubs, three spades and two or more red suit tricks. Easy game this! Two tables found a diamond lead against 3N and this killed the game. Isn't defence simple? When partner has shown a two suiter, the second suit might well catch declarer out, but the difficulty is guessing which suit it is - as if you lead thre wrong one you have seriously helped declarer.  The right openign lead is very important to find, but without knowing the bidding it is unfair to critique these choices.

The game in hearts was played more often by East (7 times) than by West (3 times).  Taking the latter first, the lead was most often the ♣9 and the message this gives to declarer is that the king is offside. The big danger on the hand is therefore losing one trick in each minor plus the K and a ruff.  Declarer could try to avoid a heart loser by coming to hand and finessing, but there is only one quick entry to hand, so you loseat least heart unless North has exactly Kx.  An alternative in hearts is to bash them out from the top. This avoids the ruff if the short club is with the short hearts, or if  the defence lack the entry for the club ruff.  A third approach is to use the spade entry to West to lead diamonds, creating more entries to West for later heart finesses.

Which is best? It's very hard to measure, but the last choice (come and play diamonds) looks like a line to make 11 tricks rather than just 10. Bashing out the hearts loses against the finesse when North (who we presume has the short club) has Kxx hearts and South has an entry - but gains when North has a doubleton heart of any nature. The hand with the short club is likely to have more hearts - but roughly in a ratio of 3:2, so that Kxx onside is slightly lower odds than a doubleton onside, and so bashing out the top hearts is clearly best.

Played by the other hand, that damaging club lead is never going to happen, and this could be a clear advert for the 3♣-asking systems which ensure that the strong hand is always declarer.  Yet when 4 was played by East three declarers went off - two on a spade lead and one on a diamond lead. A key difference in these cases is that declarer lacks the strong hint that the club king is wrong, and could therefore easily take an innocent finesse and run into an unexpected club ruff.

HotD-thu : Swiss teams : 02dec19 : B5

This hand from Monday was the big slam bidding challenge. East starts with a choice of openings, and some went for 1♣ while more often people opened 2N.  Opposite the latter it is not often West will be looking at such a powerful hand, and few have planned their system to cater for this. Although it is not impossible for the opponents to cash two top diamonds against a slam, the odds massively favour partner having a top diamond - so you will not stop out of slam on this board.  One option is to transfer first to spades and then bid 6; the other option is to start with Stayman 3♣ and then show a 5♠4 hand and see how it develops.  When the transfer was chosen, over 3 showing spades, East broke the transfer bidding 4♣ to show good spade support and a control in clubs. West can cooperate here with 4 (cue bid) and the East hand is so slam suitable that opposite any suggestion it can now afford to take control.

If East bids 4N to ask for controls, West has a choice of responses here; two issues must be resolved. The first is whether or not to show the void as part of your response (some bid 5N to show two key cards and a void, others bid the "normal" response at the 6-level to show a void) and the second is whether the length in spades justifies declaring that you have the queen of that suit. On the first point, when you have said nothing about your void yet, partner - to justify taking charge - must have a control in that suit, and this will be wasted values; this argues (quite strongly) that you do not show. On the second question, there is considerable merit in showing the queen - if that is all partner lacks then his/her ♠Kxxx will be enough for slam purposes, but perhaps more usefully, when partner has the queen partner will recognise that you have extra length and that extra length is an extra trick or two - so partner will evaluate more accurately. If we make a response of 5♠ at this point, partner will know there are no key cards missing, and since West is unlimited, East must pass on this knowledge by bidding 5N. Although nominally asking for kings, the more important function of this bid is to confirm all the key cards. West will be very interested to hear this and could almost chance the grand slam. 

A useful alternative is available with the more modern style of responses to this 5N bid; that style is to show the kings you have rather than to show the count of kings, as some kings might be much more valuable than others. That works nicely here as West can invent a bid of 6 ostensibly showing the king, which allows East to show the king of hearts, and at that point West knows to bid the grand slam.

Was the transfer break vital to get to this slam? I'd argue not and if the bidding went 2N-3-3♠-6  all it takes is for East to try to imagine what hand partner has to bid this way which - given it is missing the minor suit aces and the ♠KQJK - could not have both the ♠A and the A.  Here bidding 7♠ is the stand-out option.

If the Stayman route was chosen over 2N, then the response would be 3♠ and at this point West should bid 4 to tell partner of slam interest, and the immensely suitable East hand can then take charge as before.

Not all tables had a free run after a 2N opener; some had a 3♣ overcall and when West here bid 3♠, partner could cue bid 4♣ in response and the position described earlier re-emerges. Curiously a 4♣ bid by West - while showing 55 in the majors for most - would not have worked as well, as forcing partner to choose a major will mask East's suitability for spades.  Still, raising 4♠ to 6♠ should, on the argument given for no transfer break, lead to the grand slam.

Finally, after a 1♣ opener, it might take a little more time to get to a grand slam but it should be possible; one sequence might be  1♣ - 1♠  - 4♠ (balanced, 18+, sometimes not as good as this) after which 4N might be the best route to the grand.

Three tables out of fourteen earned themselves an extra 11 imps on Monday by bidding the grand slam when others didn't.

HotD-wed : Swiss Teams 4 : 2dec19 : B11

The final session of the Swiss Teams took place on Monday and team 13 (Tony Hill & Alan Wearmouth, Mark Rogers & Peter Waggett) completed their undefeated run with their two narrowest wins, which still left them 13 VPs ahead of second place. Their biggest gains of the evening came from bidding a grand slam (on B5) and from this hand (which was the swingiest of the evening). A key moment at their home table was the choice to make at this point - what should South bid?

The difficulty is that you have two things to show - the extra heart length and the club suit.  Mark Rogers chose the hearts and the bidding proceeded 3 - 3♠ - 4 - end. The play was straightforward - losing just three trumps.  The opposing table had a 2♠ overcall  and when South rebid 3♣ it seemed normal for North to try 3N.  This went two down when East led spades, and the winners picked up 11 imps.

More interrsting was the play in 4♠ at the seven tables (half the field) who played in that contract.  All were doubled and every one of them got the J lead.  Declarer is only looking at four potential losers - two in spades and two in diamonds - and with the Q sitting onside and the Q available to take care of the fourth diamond, what can go wrong?  It all depends on North getting some value out of the ♠3.  If declarer wins trick one and sneaks a spade to the ten it is all over, but if North rises and continues hearts the defence are in control. After winning the second spade North needs simply to put partner on lead to play a third heart, and the discard of the last diamond vanishes from sight, and declarer loses two diamonds and the contract.

How would North put partner on lead? It takes a lead of a minor suit, and it must be diamonds. Here any club bid by South becomes an important part of the calculation. If South has four clubs then West has none and North will know that a diamond is the only hope of a quick entry.  Can North be sure that South has the diamond ace?  Yes, because otherwise South has opened the bidding in a bad suit first in hand with at most 10 hcp - and that doesn't seem right. But leading diamonds is not without danger even if South is known to have the ace, as if South has say AT, then the defence has two diamonds tricks if it just waits, but only one if it attacks. Beating the contract however is paramount, so a diamond should be found.  

Even on a club, ruffed, declarer is in trouble. The K is vital as an entry to the Q, and if the king is beaten by the ace there is no entry.  South should try the 9 on the first round, and to beat the game by force West must cover at this point. If West ducks this and East ducks, but West covers the next diamond, declarer needs to refrain from playing the king. Perhaps too difficult!

Four declarers in 4♠ made their contract, three went down.

What Can Go Wrong?

West starts with a spade to the Jack and Easts's King. East switches to the 9, West following suit. How do you come to 10 tricks?

You have 1 trick outside of trumps so need to make 9 tricks from trumps. You can do this by embarking on a cross-ruff, just losing 2 tricks at the end. However, you must be careful at trick 2. If you win the heart return in dummy, you will have to take 2 club ruffs with low trumps and it is possible that East may over-ruff. This hand is very simple once you have applied the 'What can go wrong" principle. If you win trick 2 in hand, you only need one low ruff on the table. Don't throw away contracts by careless play.

Just a Little Thought

West starts by leading AKQ. Plan the play.

You have 9 tricks and a ruff in dummy will be enough. If you ruff the third heart with dummy's ♠9, you will succeed if West started with the ♠T or if East held 3 hearts. However, a little thought will show this is a needless risk. On the third heart, discard a diamond from dummy. Win the next lead and draw trumps. If trumps are 2-1 you have a diamond ruff for your tenth trick. If trumps are 3-0 you will still succeed if the hand with 3 trumps has at least 3 diamonds.

HotD-sun : Squad Practice : 27nov19 : B3

This hand from Wednesday's squad game was navigated successfully by most declarers, but the winning choice was not obvious.

The auction shown is fairly standard and the defence starts with North leading a singleton diamond and South playing 9, K, and A.   You ruff high and draw trumps, finding North with three. You have to lose to the club ace and need to avoid losing to the club jack. How do you proceed?


The first thing you need to do on this hand is to learn what you can about the side suits. Here you cash the hearts and find that North started with five and South with two. 

This is the time to count out the distribution, and when we add up all we know then we discover that North started with four clubs, and South with three. Since one of South's clubs is the ace, South has two spaces which might include the jack while North has four. The inidcated line is therefore to finesse for North having the club jack.  

And that works!

A Simple Slam

How do you play this slam on a club lead?

Making 7 will be easy if both majors break 3-2, but you are only in a small slam and you should take care to guard against the majors breaking 4-1. Win the lead and cash the ♠A. When both opponents follow, play Ace and a low heart from hand. Say that East shows out on this trick and that West plays another club. Now you can cross to hand with a trump, ruff a heart with the ♠Q and return to hand with another trump. Draw the last trump and your hand is now high with the A in dummy. 

Many Routes

West leads  AK and another, East following to all 3 rounds. Plan the play.

Having lost 2 tricks already, you need to avoid 2 club losers if you are to make this game. In addition, a bad trump break might prove difficult to handle so let's hope for a 3-2 break. There are several ways that you could play the club suit: the Ace might drop a singleton honour; you could finesse the ten and hope East started with Hx or both top clubs: you could lead a low club from hand, playing West for a doubleton honour and later guessing the suit correctly. There is also another way to succeed. West passed originally so won't have both club honours. His overcall on a flimsy suit suggest that he has something in clubs. If you conclude that the ♣KQ are split then try the effect of this line. Unblock the K and draw trumps in 3 rounds. Now take the 2 top hearts discarding clubs from dummy, and exit with Ace and another club. The defence wont be able to untangle their second club trick, instead having to concede a ruff and discard enabling you to get rid of your losing club.

HotD-thu : Mixed Pairs : 25nov19 : B13

This hand from Monday was played in the same contract at every table, and resulted in either 10 or 11 or 12 or 13 tricks. How could there be so many variations?

It wasn't all down to the opening lead. A spade won the ace happened at five tables, and South led a club at the other two.

On a spade lead and continuation, there are two equally good sequences for playing the heart suit. You will always take the finesse for South holding the queen - but starting with the ace gains when North holds a singleton queen, while starting with the 5 gains when South holds a singleton queen. [Take away the 8 and the first of these gains disappears, and starting with the 5 is definitely best] On this auction there is nothing to tell, and either path allows you to draw trumps in three rounds. After that you need to tackle the club suit and missing the KJ the right play is to go for a double finesse. hoping first for the jack onside and then the king onside.  You need to start the suit from the West hand and this might involve crossing to A before leading a club to the nine. When this wins, you go back to dummy with a spade ruff, cash dummy's two diamond winners to throw the ♣86, and then finesse again. You find you have 12 tricks, but have no regrets about not bidding the slam as it took four cards sitting onside, and a trump break to let you make so many tricks.

On a club lead you don't have a spade trick to start with, but you can do even better than those who made the ♠K as a trick.  The answer is to win the first club (beating North's jack with the queen) and draw trumps. Now comes the ♣T and a successful finesse against the king, and you can collect five clcub tricks. This lets you throw both of dummy's losing spades and you will be able to ruff dummy's losing diamond and collect 13 tricks. Is it that easy?  Not quite - North's play of the ♣J at trick one was very helpful to you, as now you needed only one later finesse. If North - who should recognise the lead as a singleton - correctly plays small at trick one, you will still need two entries to dummy to pick up the clubs and that means you must use a trump entry and a diamond entry for that purpose.  You'll be fine if you played A first and drew the third trump with the jack.

Curiously it is a diamond lead, taking out the entry to the West hand, which makes you work hardest for your tricks.  To get 13 tricks from that start, you need to play at least one round of clubs before drawing trumps.

HotD-wed : Mixed Pairs : 25nov18 : B10

There were plenty of slam hands on Monday but a couple of them presented stories we don't usually hear. Standard stuff first - B6 was a playable slam bid by no-one, B13 was game values with four finesses working and allowing a slam to make, B16 was a great grand slam bid only by two pairs, and B19 had slam on a finesse bid by one table out of seven.

The two other relevant hands were B3 and B10.  On B3 the East-West hands have 33 hcp and a very respectable play in 6N but things lie badly and there is no way to make that contract.  Commiserations to the four pairs who bid sensibly to 6N here.

B10, featured, was of the same (unusual) nature. Looking at the two hands you expect most days (90% of the time) to make seven diamond tricks and six outside, and will make 7N (or 7).  Monday was part of that other 10% and the grand slam cannot make. The "problem" is that no pair managed to bid to that excellent contract.  Should they have reached a grand slam? The answer is yes everyone should, and the key issue comes up at this point in the auction.

At this point West knows that together the partneship has over 30 HCP and a long and respectable diamond suit. It is imperative therefore to support diamonds, so that slam can be investigated. There are two paths over 3 - one is a simple raise, and the other is to bid a new suit at the four level. This latter choice does not make sense as a trump suit suggestion, so it always shows support for the last suit bid, and slam interest.  When it happens over a major suit it is a general slam try with no more implicaitons, but over a minor suit - when a raise is forcing - it also shows a control in the suit bid.  The bidding here should proceed 4♣ (diamond support, club control) - 4 (cue) - 4N (key card ask) - 5 (zero or four out of five).  At this point West can stop to count; if East has seven diamonds then there are 13 top tricks, and if East has only six then a trick out of any of  ♠J, K, ♣Q would suffice and if none of those are available then ruffing out the long spade must be an option.  The odds enormously favour now bidding a grand slam, and because of that last mentioned option we have to allow 7 as an alternative to the optimal 7N.

Easy game!


What Can Go Wrong?

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

If you make 4 diamond tricks that is enough for your contract, so a 4-1 break is not a problem. Hence you should plan the play based on the chance that the diamonds are 5-0. If West has 5 (unlikely on the bidding) you are doomed unless the trumps are 2-2, but you can cater for East holding 5 provided you are careful with your entries. Win the spade in hand and draw trumps (let's say that takes 4 rounds). Now a diamond to the King and another diamond towards hand. If East has 5 diamonds he must split his honours on this trick., but now you can return to dummy with a spade to lead another diamond through East. Your diamonds are good enough to win 4 tricks in the suit. If you had called for the Ace of spades at trick 1, you would have been defeated through lack of a dummy entry.

Plan the Defence

N/S are playing 5 card majors with a forcing 1NT response. This sequence shows a limited raise with 3 trumps and South may only have a 3 card diamond suit. No lead is massively attractive but in the end you decide to lead your singleton and dummy's King is headed by the Ace, partner returning the J at trick 2. How do you see the defence developing? 

One possibility is that you can get 2 diamond ruffs. If you interpret partners J as asking for the highest outside suit, then you may be able to ruff this trick, cash 2 hearts if partner has the King, and then get a further ruff to beat the contract. Very occassionally, this might be the only way to succeed. However, consider partner's diamond holding. He would only return the J with a good holding in the suit, and therefore it is most likely that partner has a winning diamond of his own. It is generally not good play to ruff partner's winners and you do much better to discard at trick 2. The layout is quite likely to be similar to that shown, and on this hand, declarer will have to guess the hearts correctly to get out for one down. Ruffing costs your side a trump trick as well as a diamond, and if you had indeed followed your ruff by playing Ace and another heart, declarer would be able to come to 10 tricks by setting up a long diamond for a club discard. Ruffing prematurely is a common defensive error - always consider whether it is likely to actually gain you a trick.

Read the Signs

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

You will make the contract unless you lose 2 clubs and a diamond. You ruff the second heart and draw trumps. Now it looks obvious to play a club towards dummy. However, if East holds the ♣A, you will be defeated. The safe line is to play a low diamond towards the table. If West rises with the K, you later have 2 club discards on the diamonds. If West ducks the diamond, you don't lose a trick in the suit. If East is able to win the K, then you can be sure that the ♣A is onside so you will have no problem.

Improve your Chances

You play in 6 and West leads the ♣8. You win and lay down the A but disappointingly, East shows out. How do you continue?

You will succeed if you take a winning finesse in spades or diamonds, whereas a losing finesse spells defeat. Which suit to play? It is a pure guess as to which finesse is working (if any) but you can find a way to effectively try both. Cash the ♠A and your remaining clubs before exiting with a heart. West wins and must play either a spade or a diamond. A diamond immediately concedes the contract so suppose he plays a spade. Now you can put up the ♠Q and if this holds you are home. If it is covered by East's King, then you ruff, cross to dummy in trumps and try the diamond finesse.

HotD-fri : Tollemache QF : 17nov19 : B25

The County team played last weekend in the major inter-counties championship - the Tollemache Cup - and survived the first round, for the first time since 2013. The team which won the qualifying heat (the top two go through) was Berks & Bucks, who would have beaten the Gloucestershire team 20-0 had not our team gained points on this hand.  The opening bid by South rather propelled West into 3N, and the opening lead was ♣4 to the ♣A, after which South switch to K(ducked), Q(ducked) and 7.  Over to you as declarer ...

The key issue now is not to lose a heart trick to someone who can cash a diamond. There are two scenarios to consider; the first is when South holds a fourth diamond in which case you cannot lose a trick to anyone, and the second is when South holds only three diamonds in which you can afford to lose a trick to South.

In the first case, South will have just 3 major suit cards, while North holds 8 major suit cards; here the odds on a singleton 9 or singleton T with South are better (about 18%) than the odds on a doubleton queen anywhere (about 17%). The winning play is to run the jack.

In the second case, South will have 4 major suit cards, while North has 7 of them, but this time you can win by running the jack and then finessing again if covered - which works unless North holds all of the QT9 or you lose two tricks to South, and you are home about 38% of the time, while dropping Qx is only about a 33% shot.

Both cases are remarkably close, but our man went for the winning line by instinct rather than calculation, and was rewarded on running the jack when the singleton ten appeared and he was able to collect five tricks in hearts and make an overtrick.

It is worth noting that where South did not open the bidding, the lead was either a diamond or spade from North, and in those cases the best play in the heart suit is different; it is to play the AK and hope the queen drops, with a 27% success rate - and that results in the contract going one down,  The 4 game also faces three losers and should take the losing line in hearts.

HotD-thu : League 4 : 18nov19 : B4

This hand from Monday was the only real slam hand, and it proved too difficult for most pairs. [There was also a slightly against the odds slam on B3 bid at three tables, a hopeless slam bid once on B12, the luckily making slam bid once on B16, and the poor failing slams on B17, B18, B20 and B25]

This was the bidding by the one pair who reached the excellent grand slam. Worth noting in that auction is the fact that 2♣ was game forcing, which allowed the East player to continue and hear partner bid diamonds for a third time.  At this point he leapt to 4N to ask for key cards (which many would treat 4N as a natural, slam-invitational bid) and he heard of AKQ from the 5♠ response.  He continued with 5N to ask for kings and heard from partner about the ♣K (bidding specific kings is now the favoured was to answer 5N) and that made it easy for East  to bid the grand slam. Well done to Mike Letts & Andrew Urbansksi for showing us how to handle this hand.

Without 2-over-1 game forcing, it is only a little more difficult to bid the grand slam. It would not be out of place for the bidding to go 1 - 2♣  - 2  - 2♠  - 3  at which point, if the leap to 4N is asking for key cards then the same sequence could be produced.

Why did 10 pairs only get to game on this hand?

HotD-wed : League 4 : 18nov19 : B8

This hand from Monday had some interesting choices to be made, both by declarer and the defence. It was played in the spade game at 7 tables, and in 3N at 8 tables (2N at one). 

Playing in 4♠ happened from both directions; the two instances from West benefited from a heart lead into the KJ7, after which declarer could afford to lose two spades - and so was under no pressure. A positive benefit is seen here from the use of transfers. Played from East the opening lead against 4♠ gave nothing away and - with a diamond weakness visible and a possible heart loser, declarer will want to play the spades carefully. The optimal choice is small towards the ♠AJ9 and putting in the ♠9; followed by a second finesse.  When the lead is made from East, South traditionally rises with the ♠K on the first round to give declarer another choice, but the odds still favour finessing the nine on the second round. The spade game always succeeded.

When 3N is played by West, a key choice is made by North on the opening lead. In practice all four suits were led at different tables, and the only lead to give declarer an issue was diamonds.  Should this lead have been found? North - on the bidding shown - has a fairly even choice bwteen the red suits.  Current wisdom says that the weaker suit is less likely to give away a trick (true here) but when it comes to majors and minors which nobody has bid, we need to factor in that the declaring side would often investigate a major suit fit, and often ignore a minor suit - and this pushes North to leading a major. Perhaps there is no surprise that equal numbers led each red suit.

The trick given away by the heart lead makes the contract easier but still not certain, so spade have to be tackled. The diamond lead created worries, but declarer must duck twice and then win, and again tackle the spade suit. The interesting thing about the spade suit when playing in NT is the limited entries to the East hand. Playing for the KT(x) or QT(x) onside gives a 40% chance of a second trick - and this uses both dummy entries. And using both dummy entries leaves you no way to take the heart finesse.  Which is best?  Surely the latter.  You can actually combine both chances by using the first entry to try a spade towards the jack - which will succeed with KQ(x)(x) onside, and use the second entry to take a heart finesse. 

In practice, sadly, playing purely on spades would have succeeded, while taking the heart finesse was a losing option. All three defenders on a diamond lead were held to eight tricks.

CBC played the same hands, and there six declarers succeeded in 3N on a heart lead, and four failed in 3N on a diamond lead.

If only we could find the best opening lead every hand!

How do you Defend?

West leads the 5 against South's slam. Declarer plays the Queen from dummy. How do you see the defence developing and do you cover with the King at trick1?

If South has any problems on this hand they will revolve around the spade suit. You don't know what partner has but on the bidding he is marked with 4 spades, so you have to hope they are good ones. If declarer has 2 losing spades he may be able to discard one of dummy's spades on a club and try to ruff 2 spades on the table. Declarer will achieve this in comfort if you squander your King of hearts at trick 1. If you retain the King, then when the layout is as shown, you will be able to overruff North on the third spade and return your last trump to kill the contract. Well done West for finding the right lead.

Play This Slam

West leads the J. Plan the play.

It is no use planning to ruff spades in dummy as East is marked with a shortage in the suit. You need to set up the diamonds. You can cope with a 4-1 diamond break provided you are careful. Win the lead and draw trumps. Now play a diamond towards dummy and finesse the Knave. This will probably lose but you are safe. If East returns a spade you can win in hand, ruff the diamonds good and return to dummy with a spade to cash them.

Play Carefully

West starts with the K. How do you play?

You appear to have 6 spade tricks, 1 heart and 3 diamonds - making the contract. However, if spades are 3-0 offside and the ♣A is with East, you may go down on a trump promotion. If the cards lie as shown, you play ♠AQ at tricks 2 and 3 but West wins and switches to the ♣Q. Now you lose 2 club tricks and a third club promotes the ♠T - unlucky. You could have made the contract however by winning the A at trick 1 and continuing with a second heart on which you discard a club. West may win and switch to clubs, but you can ruff the second club and then play the top spades. With defensive communications destroyed, you can win West's return and draw the last trump, making the 10 tricks you appeared to have from the outset.

How do you Play?

West leads the ♣AK and switches to the J at trick 3. How do you play? 

Do you cover with the Queen? Why on earth would West switch to a heart holding KJ? There may be a use for the Q later and you should preserve it. Win the A, draw trumps and eliminate the clubs. Now cash the diamonds. If they break 3-2 then you lose a heart at the end. However, if they are 4-1,with West holding 4, you appear to have a diamond loser but all you then need to do is exit with a heart and East will win and present you with a ruff and discard.

HotD-fri : CBC Pairs League : 13nov19 : B21

This hand from Wednesday proved difficult for many to evaluate - with only 3/16 reaching the excellent slam.  The bidding often started this way, with a sequence where South shows game forcing heart support and then North shows a hand with extras but no shortage to declare. The key question was what South did next. A number of Souths felt contrained at this point by the limited nature of the hand, and their 4 bid finished the auction. The fact remains however that this is a 7-loser hand, and that would be true if we replaced the ♠K and J by small cards. It therefore deserves a more positive view and here the least you can do is offer a cue bid in clubs, aiming to stop at 4 unless partner insists on going further.  An alternative, played by some, is that 4♣ here shows a basic opening bid (non-serious slam try); this is attractive as it doesn't overstate the hand but allows North to bid 4 (Last Train) to show continued interest. Hearing that was enough at one table to propel South into slam.

Playing in 6 by South on the club queen lead you must pause at trick one as you have a choice of plays. Can you see what possibilities you need to balance?

You have no shortage of tricks on this hand - so the issue is not losing two tricks. You have two concerns

(a) there could be a 4-0 trump break and in order to cater for that happening either way around, you need to start hearts by leading the queen.

(b) but if you run the Q at trick two, you could run into a club ruff at trick three.

Which is more likely?

The calculation comes out as follows : missing four cards the odds on splits are 40% for 2-2, and 50% for 3-1, leaving 10% for a 4-0 break. Starting with the A would lose out therefore in 5% of cases (East holding KT54).  In the club suit, missing seven cards, the odds on splits are 62% for 4-3, 31% for 5-1, leaving 7% for a 6-1 break. Running the Q only costs when it loses to the king and that hand has the long clubs - roughly a 2% chance. 

The correct choice is therefore to lead win the ♣A at trick one, and lead the Q.  After you see K-A the contract is safe. On the next round do you rise with the jack or finesse the nine? The trade-off here is against East holding exactly K or exactly KT.  In every situation a single more balanced break of the cards is more likely that any single less balanced arrangement, so the odds favour rising with the jack. You end up with 12 tricks.

HotD-thu : Autumn Pairs : 11nov19 : B16

This hand from Monday had two curious aspects to it, quite unrelated.

The first set of questions arise around the bidding. Those sitting East and playing the (newer, and generally recommend) 2-over-1 game force, had to respond with 1N to partner's opening of 1.  Over this one South chose to bid 2 (still a Michaels cue bid in this position, showing 55 spades+minor) and North quickly bid 4♠ to end the auction.  The contract succeeded and everyone put their cards away, oblivious to the fact that East-West had a game on in diamonds, and also in hearts if the defence wasn't on its toes.  Could anyone have done differently?  Nothing suggests itself.

Where the 2-level response is not game forcing, it would be natural for the auction to go 1 - P - 2  and then South has a choice of actions.  While showing a two suiter might appeal, the opposition have surely found a fit by now, and that makes it best to make an obstructive bid in spades. Over any spade jump, West is unlikely to support diamonds, but might try 4 with suich a good suit.  North can bid 4♠ and the spotlight falls on East.  Bidding 5,  as chosen at one table proved a winning action when North with two aces doiubled but failed to find the diamond ruff his partner needed.

Three pairs bid on over 4♠ on this hand - well done to all of them. It turns out that in all three cases South bid just 2♠ on the first round, giving West much more space in which to describe their hand (two showed the sixth heart while the third showed diamond support). South had made it easy for the opposition and suffered as a result.

On the play side there was actually a curiosity when North played 4♠.  After the lead of A and a diamond switch, declarer drew trumps in two round and set about clubs. After leading the ♣7 he paused, noting that the contract was guaranteed as long as the king of clubs didn't lose to a singleton ace - and on the bidding that was not impossible.  It looked very like the ♣A would be offside, so he duly ducked in dummy. As East had played the ♣4, the seven forced the ace and that meant only one club loser, so a bonus overtrick.  The dilemma for East is that while inserting the ♣T does guarantee a second club trick, if there was a singleton ace and declarer had ♣J76  and played the king, then the defence would have three club tricks and would beat the contract. Which way would you have jumped?



HotD-wed : Premier League D1 : 09nov19 : B12

The team of four locals (John Atthey & Garry Watson, Richard Chamberlain & Patrick Shields) struggled in the top division of the national league over last weekend, winning only two of their seven matches. There was only one bad loss however (42 imps over 16 boards)  so they managed to retain their position of seventh in the table quite easily. The eventual winners were the first team they played over the weekend and our locals beat them by 11 imps (they lost only one other match).  This board was flat in our match but saw a swing in others; it looked reasonable to bid a slam here, and three tables did while five stopped in game.

When we sat East-West the auction was  4(weak) - X - P - 4♠ - end.  Notice how West was willing to give up on a potential heart fit, since obstruction has so much to gain at this vulnerability, and East avoided raising to 5 as South's action over that would show positive values (unlike the sequence which occurred) and that might well propel the opposition into slam.

When we sat North-South the auction was  P - 1 -  P - 1♠ - 4 - 4♠ - end.    Again the intervention was nicely timed, taking away all the space where North could show the strength of the raise.  South knew that North could have a wide variety of hands and felt he had to pass. 

At both tables the defence started with A and another, ruffed. Declarer was able to continue with ♠A and the ♠K; when the ♠J9 had appeared declarer came to hand with  A and a heart ruffed, ruffed his last diamond, and then returned to hand with the ♣K.  He was able to draw the last trump, discarding dummy's ♣T and make 12 tricks whoever had the club queen.   Both North-South pairs felt disappointed in the result and apologised to team-mates for missing the slam.

Two tables bid to 6♠ by South and at a third table it started 4 - X - 5 - X - P - 6 - end.  It's not often you play a slam with fewer trumps than the opponents, but this is what was done. With trumps breaking it looked like it depended just on finding the club queen; unfortunately (for declarer) East's K was allowed to win trick one and he found the club switch to beat the slam.  And what about the 6♠ contracts?  Both we played by South and at both tables West led the 2.  When East won the king, the club return was obvious and was found. Slam down one.

So there was no need to apologise for missing the slam after all!


How do you Defend?

Your partner leads the K. How do you see the defence developing?

You have 2 heart tricks and hopefully 2 clubs at some point. Indeed, if declarer has a singleton club it is difficult to see any chance for the defence. Your best hope is that partner has a singleton or doubleton club and that you can generate a trump trick for him by means of a promotion. How do you get him to switch to a club? Playing the 2 of hearts at trick 1 might be seen as showing count, or discouraging/encouraging a heart continuation according to your methods, and if partner does switch, it might be to a diamond, looking for 2 diamond tricks. The best way to proceed is to overtake the King at trick 1 and return the 2 of hearts. Now this should be seen as a clear-cut suit preference signal. When partner plays a club through you continue with 3 rounds of the suit. On this layout, you generate a trump trick for West to beat the contract.


West leads the ♠K. How many tricks might you make on this hand?

Given that West holds the ♠Q, you have a chance of 12 tricks provided you get the timing right. Duck the opening lead and see what West does. He is very unlikely to cash the ♣A at trick two so lets say he switches to a trump. You win in hand, cash the A and take the spade finesse. Now pitch your remaining diamond on the ♠A and ruff a diamond. Go back to a trump and ruff another diamond. Now if diamonds have broken, you can enter dummy with a trump and get rid of both your clubs on the good diamonds. If the diamonds are not good, then at least you have 10 tricks with the remote chance of an eleventh should the ♣A be onside.  

How do you Defend?

West leads the ♣J, covered by the Queen in dummy. How do you see the defence developing?

From the lead, you know that partner has a singleton or doubleton club and hence you have a club ruff. Hopefully, you also have 2 spade tricks with which to defeat this contract. Can you see what might happen if you play King, Ace and a third club? - Your third club is the 2 and partner will certainly interpret this card as suit preference for diamonds, rather than spades. You should not be surprised therefore if West ruffs the third club and switches to a diamond. How can you get partner to do the right thing? The answer is you can alert partner by winning trick 1 with the Ace of Clubs, rather than the King. Now when you continue with the ♣K and ♣2, a thinking partner should be asking himself why you have adopted an odd way to play the suit, and should draw the conclusion that you could not send an accurate signal with your third club. A spade switch is thus indicated. 

HotD-sat : CBC MIxed Pairs : 5nov19 : B17

This monster hand turned up on Tuesday evening and curiously rings a bell with Wednesday's hand of the day.  Can you see how to decide on the right level to which to bid? It clearly depends on one card.

The key card is the  K - so the question is how you can ask partner about that card?  We have three styles of asking on offer - ace asking bids like 4N, cue bidding for controls (aces and kings), and trump asking questions.  Which might work here?  The winning answer is the third of these, but in order to make a trump ask in hearts we must first agree hearts as trumps. 

The easiest way to do this is to continue at this point with 3 (natural, forcing) which partner will then raise to game.  After 3 - 4 you can invoke the Josephine convention described a few days back, bidding 5N.  Partner's response of  6 shows one of the top three honours, and you know which that is.  You can now clearly bid 7♠, and trust partner to pass this,

Was this sequence too fanciful?  Nobody found this at the table but various people suggested it off-line.  The small slam was bid at neary every table.  There was one table did bid the grand slam, but the auction cannot be repeated on an open forum - it was too horrible!

Play This Grand Slam

West leads the T. You win in hand and play a trump towards dummy but West shows out, discarding a diamond. Play from here.

If the trumps had broken, you could have discarded a diamond on the fourth round of hearts and then ruffed a diamond on the table for your thirteenth trick. Well that plan is no longer available, but a dummy reversal could come to your rescue. Play the ♣AK and ruff a club with the ♠K. Now play the ♠Q to dummy's Ace and ruff the last club high. Now a trump to dummy allows you to draw the last trump (discarding your losing diamond from hand) and claim thirteen tricks.

HotD-thu : Swiss Teams 3 : 4nov19 : B26

This hand from Monday provided rather an unbalanced beast to handle, and a number of declarers didn't get to the contract they desired, while a number of defenders also missed the boat.  The bidding as shown was the slightly pushy auction at table 10 (after a most surprising pass from East on the first round).  Notice that South doubles 2♣ before bidding diamonds for two reasons : one is to bring the possibility of hearts into the game, and the other is that double then 3 sounds stronger than 2 and a possible double later.

The question is should the contract make?

The answer is yes, and indeed of those in spades three made 11 tricks (impossible without help), three made 10 tricks and four made 9 tricks.

The best defence starts with a club ruffed at trick one.  If declarer draws trumps then when the defence get in with hearts they can force the last trump and when they get in with diamonds they can cash clubs. That line fails. So declarer cannot draw trumps.

As so often, it is best first to set up some outside tricks.  Here the top heart looks good at trick two,and West will win and should continue clubs. Declarer needs to ruff, and again - need to lose the lead again in diamonds - trumps cannot be drawn.

Declarer must now go about setting up the other suit wanted - diamonds.  After A and another, what should East do? If it is anything but a club, declarer will ruff and play a third diamond - so you either play a club now or a minute later.  Decalrer takes a third ruff.

Declarer now has no outside losers, so uses the last two trumps held to draw some of the opponents' trumps. It's then about cashing winners, and whether declarer plays on hearts or on diamonds - the contract falls into their lap. If East uses the last trump, dummy can over-ruff and continue with hearts. 

Maybe the bidding was justified!

HotD-wed : Swiss Teams 3 : 4nov19 : B28

This hand from  Monday provided too difficulty for the community, with only one pair reaching the best contract. 

This start to the bidding is worthy of comment - you need to know that a change of suit by responder is always a one round force (bidding too many hands becomes impossible otherwise) so that it is safe for South, with this powerhouse, to bid a simple 2 on the second round.  It is a slight surprise to see partner support, but havibg recovered from that, you must decide on how to proceed.  Clearly the most important card to you is the heart ace. What next?

The answer comes from one of the oldest conventions on our books. FYI, the oldest three that we would recognise seem to be

  • Blackwood, which was first published in 1933 - but today this has been generally overtaken in tournament circles by the variation known as Roman Key Card Blackwood.
  • Josephine, which was first published in 1936 - invented by Ely Culbertson but publicised by his wife, Josephone.
  • Stayman, which went into print first in 1945, but was actually invented earlier and by two others (Rapee & Marx says the wikipedia entry).

And the winner is Josephine.  This convention is a jump to 5N after a trump suit has been agreed, and it asks aboput how many of the AKQ of trumps are held.  The answers are always 6♣ with none, something above six of the trump suit with two or more, and something in between these options with just one.  Here 5N would get a response of 6 promising one of the top three hearts, which can only be the ace - and this allows South to bid the grand slam with confidence.  

No table found this approach.  :( 

As with many conventions, we only get to use this one once a year (or sometimes less) but if we lack these tools we are forced to guess on hands like these and we lose out as a result.   It is therefore worth while having a good set saved away,

[Guy wrote in with, and others have mentioned, another suggestion - using 5 over 3 as Exclusion Blackwood; this would also work perfectly as long as partner was on the same wavelength.  The danger is that partner thinks your heart bid was not a proper suit, but angling for partner to bid NT with a club stop]

Maximise Your Chances

West leads the J. What is the best way to 9 tricks?

You have 7 top tricks and spades offers the best chance of generating 2 more: you also have the chance of a diamond trick if things don't go according to plan. What is the best way to play the spade suit? Bashing out AK and another wins when the suit is 3-3 or there is an unlikely QJ doubleton (in all about 39%) However, if you first play a spade to the 9, and then later lay down the K and Ace, you score 4 spade tricks when the suit beaks 3-3, there is QJ doubleton with West, QJxx with East, or any doubleton honour with East. In all this comes to over 60%, so a significant improvement on the first option.

Play This Slam

West leads the 2, confirming that the heart suit is breaking 6-3. When you play trumps, West turns up with ♠Txxx. How do you play?

Win the lead and draw trumps - that takes 4 rounds, during which time East throws 3 hearts. Now play ♣KQ and another club. If West follows 3 times rise with ♣A. If the ♣J falls you have 12 tricks. If West has ♣Jxxx he must be 4324 shape and hence playing AK and a third diamond gurantees you 3 diamond tricks. If West shows out on the third round of clubs, he has to keep 4 diamonds else you always have 3 diamond tricks. Hence he must throw a heart. Now ruff a heart and play a diamond to the King and a diamond from dummy. Just cover East's diamond and you end-play West to give you a diamond trick on his return.

Obscure Odds

The opening diamond lead is ruffed in dummy. You continue with Q and both opponents follow. Play from here.

It looks like you have 4 trumps, 1 ruff, 3 spades and 5 clubs for 13 tricks. Alternatively, you could cross to hand with a spade and ruff a second diamond. Come back on a spade, draw trumps and make 4 trumps, 2 diamond ruffs, 3 spades and 4 clubs. The first line goes off with clubs 5-0. The second line fails if spades are 6-1. Whilst most players are familiar with basic bridge odds such as a finesse 50% or a 3-2 break 68%, they are unaware of the relative odds of the more obsure distributions and you would not find many players who could tell you that a suit breaks 5-0 roughly 4% of the time, and a suit breaks 6-1 roughly 7% of the time, making the first line mentined above nearly twice as good a line albeit on this layout, it fails.

Mark Rogers writes : knowing the odds returning to hand for the second diamond ruff, declarer should use clubs not spades, but if clubs are holding up the second diamond ruff is not necessary!

HotD-sat : Trial for Europeans : 1nov19 : B25

The trials have started for the English team for the European Championship, and four members of the county team are taking part. None of them are currently above average, but there are 112 boards to go, so lots of time. Here's a hand from the first day, just to illustrate that even at this level people find ways to go wrong. What do you think happened next?

At the table East chose to bid 5. This got doubled by North and the East-West pair let that go. [A rescue would have saved them a fortune - perhaps North should have let 5  be passed out]  South led a heart to the bare ace, and declarer tried a trump, which North ducked. Then came a club which North ruffed, and after three more rounds of trumps, declarer was left with only the ♠A to cash and the penalty was -2000.  I trust you could avoid that!

More interesting was the play in hearts; four pairs played in 5,  all doubled and one pair bid to 6 (missing two aces makes this a BAD contract). Against hearts by North the leads were a heart six times, the ♠A once, and a club twice.The heart leads were attempting to stop diamond ruffs and two instances did hold declarer to ten tricks. For this to happen, West needs to win and play spades, so that East can play a second trump. Most failed at this step. Theclub suit lead also holds declarer to ten tricks; after ruffing in, declarer tries a top diamond and a diamond ruff, takes a ruff back to hand and a third diamond.  West will over-ruff with the ace, but that makes the J into a trick - to go with a spade. The spade lead allows declarer to make 11 tricks via one diamond ruff and then a trump - as West cannot organise for a second round of trumps to be played.

But the best East-West score didn;t come from defeating a heart contract - it went to the pair who were allowed to play 3N by West. There are ten top tricks here and declarer had no problem taking them. SO the range of scores was from 2000 to one fortunate North South pair, to 600 to a fortunate East West pair in the otehr direction.


A Simple Part-score

West leads the AK. How do you play?

You ruff the second heart lead. Now what? If you cross to dummy with a trump to play a spade up, you are doomed to fail. West will win and switch to a trump and now you can only ruff 1 spade, so you will be limited to 7 tricks. Just give up on trying to establish the spade suit and instead concentrate on getting 2 ruffs in dummy. Lead a spade from hand at trick 3, Now you have a trump and the ♣A to ensure 2 spade ruffs on the table and an easy route to 8 tricks.

HotD-thu : Knock Out QF : 28oct19 : B16

There was one set of boards on Monday with three slams there for those sitting North-South. Admittedly the slam on Board 17 depended on two finesses working which is only a 25% chance, but we have all been in worst contract than that at times. The others were better slams with 13 top tricks in three denominations on Board 16, and a grand slam available in clubs on Board 18.   How many slams were bid - there were three instances from 8 tries on Board 16, and only one out of 8 tries on Board 18. We'll look at the first of these, where the crucial point comes after the bidding illustrated.  What comes next?

Here is another place where some conventional agreements do help - and here the useful extra is an agreement that 2 after the 2♣ rebid is a general game force. Without this you are forced into guessing the final contract, or inventing a bid and hoping partner does not pass. In fact there is one natural offering that might work - and that is a raise to 4♣; common sense suggests that this should be forcing and it sets up the ability to cue bid to slam, but how many have checked this with partner?

After a forcing 2 bid we might well find the bidding continues with 2 or 2N or 3♣ from North, but after all of these the most useful continuation from South is 4♣, promising four card support and slam interest, and that puts all the different sequences in the same position.  Can we cue bid to the grand slam from here?  Try this ...

North cues 4, the only control they have and now South cues 4♠, and with no diamond control North must sign off in 5♣.No choices so far.  South will of course continue and there is little point in bidding 5 at this point as any continuation from South (other than 6♣ which must end the auction) promises the A. Why?  Because anything here is a grand slam try and so must promise the top diamond as partner has denied any control there. So over 5♣ South can continue with 5 telling partner about both K and the A with one bid.  This is very good news for North as four heart tricks are now in sight and it is clear that partner needs exactly AAAK outside hearts now to make the grand sensible.  The key question to ask is whether partner could be making grand slam tries opposite a 2♣ rebid with anything less.  The worrying hand partner might have is ♠ KQJx Kx Axx♣ Axxx  where the spade ace opposite makes such a great difference. North's only chance to keep options open is to bid 5N which at least shows grand slam interest but denies the spade ace; how South will interpret this is not clear, but there is a chance still. 

In reality, the answer is that we don't know enough to bid the grand slam. So we settle for the small slam instead - but that's not all bad news; anyone who bid 6♣ on Monday would have found that they had earned 11 imps from doing that.  Well done those who did bid it.

HotD-wed : KO Qualifying : 21oct19 : B9

This hand from Monday offered nice opportunities for each hand to describe their holding; let's look at the sequence.

The first choice is for North whose hand is in the strength for opening 1N showing 11-14 hcp, but could also be opened 1. The key question when you have both options is how the bidding will proceed. When you don't know who will finally own the hand, a priority is to help partner understand how far to compete. The strength of the heart suit argues that a 1 opener will have positive value if the opponents compete, and makes that our first choice.

From East's perspective next, the hand is a strong two suiter and there is one way to show that easily is to overcall an unusual 2N. There are times when partner will expect a weak hand intent on obstruction from that bid, but when you are vulnerable against not, the emphasis changes and being constructive comes first. This hand matches the constructive intent, and with a little to spare. Nothing else gets close and again; we cannot be sure who owns this hand, and letting the opponents bid spades at the 2-level cannot be in your interest - and that's the main issue with a 2 overcall. So 2N does look like just right.

South now is forced to come in at the 3-level. Bidding 3 would be expected to be a stretch in any competitive sequence but the catch with bidding 3 here is that when 3 is the contract you want, partner will be expecting more from you and bid on.  Bidding spades is an option, but you need to have firm agreements with partner here that a bid of 3♠ is not forcing, and that you will cue bid one of the minors if you want to make a forcing bid with spades.  There are two pretty close options here - either pass and bid a major on the next round if the bidding is not too high, or pushing the boat out with 3♠.   Neither could be criticised.

From West's perspective life is simple; if West doesn't have to bid the answer is pass, and if West does have to bid (when South passes East's 2N) then the standard pattern is to bid the lower of equals, so 3♣ here. 

North has already bid their hand, so next comes a pass. 

East now has a second chance, and there are two things that East might like to show - the extra strength and the extra diamond.  Neatly there is one bid that does exactly that - correcting 3♣ to 3 promises both of those things and does complete a full description of the hand. 

And now South can come to life again and show the spade suit by bidding 3♠.

At this point everyone should feel comfortable that they have told partner about their assets, and will be comfortable to let the bidding stop.  Looking at just the North-South hands now there are three sure losers and you then need to avoid losing a heart and a second spade, and have hopes that one of those might work out.  So 3♠ is where you want to be (for sure in preference to defending 3)

Now let's look from the East-West perspective, seeing only their hands. There are two clear losers (missing aces) and potential losers to navigate past on the third round of diamond and the third round of clubs. With no certainty about any entry to the weak hand, you might need both the J and the ♣Q falling to make game - but one of these might happen, so you'd be willing to take a chance in 4. Could this contract have been reached? It is hard to say.

Supposed East did get to play in 4; South would normally start off with the ♠A and on seeing dummy has so many hearts South would know not to play that suit. A second spade goes to the king and East is in dummy for the only time.  To make 4 now declarer must take a first round finesse in one of the minors - and playing a small diamond to the king is fatal. So in practice East is unlikely to 10 tricks.  [The case of 4 x making arose because North had bid 3N over 3♠ and advertised their diamond stop]

Which leads us to feel thart South playing in 3♠ making a fortunate overtrick when West didn;t know to lead a heart, is a very fair result.  And of course, it never happened!

A Simple Hand

West starts with AK and another diamond. East started with a singleton diamond and ruffs your T at trick 3 with a low trump. He now switches to a heart. Over to you.

Your problem is to avoid a club loser, so you need to divine the club position. This is where a little counting helps. You know that West started with 5 diamonds and 3 hearts from the bidding. That leaves him with 5 black cards. Surely these will be 4 spades a just one club, for if West held fewer spades, East would have more spades than hearts and would have responded 1♠ to the opening bid. Therefore you play a club to King to collect West's singleton and now just run the ♣8. A simple hand that quite a few people got wrong at the table.

Find The Extra Trick

West leads the J. Plan the play.

You have 4 clubs, 2 diamonds and 2 hearts and need to generate an extra trick. Where will this come from? The spade suit will not do as the defence will surely take at least 2 diamonds and 3 spade tricks, so that just leaves the heart suit. On the bidding it is quite likely that West holds 4 hearts and if they are headed by the QJ then you have no chance. You must cater for East holding Qxx or Jxx. Win the diamond lead and play the A and a heart to your 9. This will be good enough to generate 3 heart tricks when the suit behaves as you wish.

How do you Defend?

You lead the 4. Partner plays the King and declarer wins the Ace. At trick 2 South plays a diamond to dummy's King and Easts's Ace. East returns the 9, coverd by the Jack. How do you defend?

On the bidding, South cannot hold 3 aces along with his knave of hearts. Hence partner holds one of the missing aces as an entry. The play in hearts suggests that partner holds 3 hearts and thus declarer has 4 cards in the suit. It is important not to cash the T and set up a heart trick for declarer, and a club switch could give away a trick if South holds the ♣A. Your safe exit at this point is a spade. If declarer has the ♠A, he cannot cash more than 6 tricks before you get partner in to play a heart through.

What's the Best Chance

West leads the ♠4 against your game. How do you play?

You have 7 top winners and an extra trick available in hearts. The ninth trick might come from a 3-3 diamond break or you might be able to generate a second heart trick. If dummy had ample entries you could play hearts twice from dummy and succeed whenever the A is onside - a 50% chance. Unfortunately, dummy does not have the requied entries. Still, you do have a 50% chance available and that is better odds than playing for a 3-3 break. You need West to hold the J. Win the spade lead and play a low heart. If West holds the Jack, he can win and clear spades, but if West's lead promises no more than 4 spades, the defence cannot take more than 2 hearts and 2 spade tricks.

HotD-fri : GCBA Squad : 23oct19 : B1

This hand was bid uniformly to 3N.  What should South lead?

Souths chose three different suits in practice. Given no investigation of major suit fits, South should have preferred a major suit lead, and steered clear of diamonds. Of the majors, both are cases of trying to set up the 8 as a trick - but there is a positive danger with hearts of giving away a trick if declarer has K and Q in different hands. This makes a spade the clear winner, but only one table found this way to beat 3N. In practice declarer on the diamond lead gained a tempo but when South got in with the ♣K he worked out to lead spades after which the contract was doomed. South did well to find that spade switch given the holding in dummy. The heart lead was a gift.

Worth noting also is that in clubs, declarer should consider leading small towards the queen on the first round, as that enables a second club trick if South has a stiff J/T/9 which is better odds than North having a stiff K.  You do however trade that against sniffing out a doubleton king with North and ducking the second club to set up the queen.

HotD-thu : Everett Cup : 19oct19 : B6

The Everett Cup took place last Saturday and 22 pairs put their names into the hat to be drawn for team-mates.  Winners were the combination of Andrea & Stan Powell with Linda Barrett & Steve Tedd. 

This hand from Saturday provided opportunities for declarer to shine and for the defence to shine.  The bidding was straightforward, and it was natural for South to start off with a high spade. From East's perspective there are plenty of tricks to be had, probably four spades, two diamonds, two hearts and a spade.  The only concern is the other side getting five tricks first. Since it is not clear who might win a club trick, and the spade suit is the big danger, it looks best for East to duck trick one. It is important for South here to have received an attitude signal from partner, and to know not to lead a second spade (else declarer gets an easy time).  Playing "low for like", North should have dropped the ♠7 on the first trick, and this strongly suggests to South that East holds at least ♠AJ4.  So South knows to switch and the key thing is which suit to switch to.

Playing your short suit is most often playing declarer's long suit and so it is to declarer's advantage.  That makes a club look wrong.  The diamond  position looks very unattractive given dummy's pips are so much stronger than yours, and here again you might help declarer - by finding a missing jack or queen.  What about a heart?  Given the layout you see (South and West) there is little prospect of giving away a trick, and if partner can win the king that's great.  So we try a heart.

On a heart switch if declarer might let this run - hoping to win the jack, and setting up three tricks in the suit if North wins the king - only to find that North will get in and play through a spade. This sets up three spade tricks for the defence and given a heart trick has been lost, this means declarer cannot set up the clubs - else the defence have five tricks. There are eight top tricks on the spade return and prospects do not look good. But on Saturday declarer could still succeed, but only by taking the winning view in the very fortunate lie of the diamond suit.

There was a better answer for declarer. When South switches to a heart here, you should know where the heart king is - and it is not with South. For if South held the heart king, switching to a heart would give away a trick so often, it would be avoided like the plague. Since North is the danger hand, the answer is not to let North in - to rise with the heart ace and play on clubs, aiming to lose a trick in that suit to South.  Here a club gets ducked to South, who continues hearts. North can win now but when the spade comes through declarer can rise and cash four clubs, two hearts, and after the first two diamonds suddently there is an extra diamond trick to be taken.  That comes to 10 tricks, and the contract has made.

hotd - weds

It was surprising to see only three tables try for a penalty on this hand from Monday, as the auction shown looks very standard. The important thing when you choose to defend is to defend accurately.  The three tables who defended resulted in down two, down three and down four. What was the "correct" result?

The answer is the last of these - the contract should go down four. The key on hands like this is to ensure that the declarer doesn't make too any cheap tricks - and cheap here means tricks with small trumps. When Joe Angseesing & Keith Stanley defended, the defence started very naturally with one top spade, and then the club ace and a heart. West was on lead and returned a club and then won the third round. The carding suggested North had no more clubs, so now it was time to switch, and the defence cashed two diamonds and a spade.  At this point declarer was down to QJT85 and nothing else.  When the next card was ruffed, declarer had to lead hearts and West, with 9632 had to get a trick. 

At the companion table, the defence played a fourth club too early and declarer - when on lead - was able to get out with a plain card and in the end position was sitting with the T8 over the 96.

A Cutting Edge Deal

West leads the A on which East drops the Queen (promising the knave). West now switches to the knave of spades. How do you plan the play?

The spade switch looks like a singleton and if you play trumps then West will win his Ace, put East in with the J, and get a spade ruff to defeat you. Can you counter this? A scissors coup could well come to your rescue. Play the ♣AKJ and on the third round throw your losing diamond when East does not cover. This swaps a club loser for a diamond loser but severs the link between the 2 defenders as East can no longer get in to give his partner a ruff. Well done if you found that line and perhaps you earned a good result. Unfortunately at the table, the layout wasn't quite as anticipated. When West won the third round of clubs, he played another spade. Then after winning the A he was able to give his partner a spade ruff for the setting trick. West has found a brilliant defence to beat a stone cold contract!

A Thin Slam

You play in a very thin 6♠ on the K lead (denying the Ace in this partnerships style). Do you see any chances if spades are 3-2 other than drpping a doubleton ♠QJ?

On the bidding, it looks as if West will hold the ♣K, and if he happens to hold 3 spades, you may be able to make this contract regardless of which spades they are. Ruff the opening lead and cross to dummy with a spade to ruff another heart before laying down the ♠K. Now run your diamond suit. If West ruffs at any point he has to lead away from the ♣K or concede a ruff and discard. If he refuses to ruff any diamond, he can eventually be thrown in with a trump to lead a club. He may come down to 1 spade, 1 club, and 1 heart in the end position, but the opening bid marks him with the ♣K so you can now drop it singleton if West unguards it. 

Plan the Play

How do you play this hand on a low diamond lead from West?

You could come to hand with a trump and play a spade to the King but on the bidding the Ace is probably with East. The issue is that then East may be able to continue with a trump each time he wins a spade and you may be denied a spade ruff in your hand. The winning line is to play a low spade from the table at trick 2. This way you are sure to be able to ruff a spade in hand and make the contract whenevr the ♠A falls in 4 rounds (very likley given the bidding)

A lead problem you can solve

Opening leads are often categorised as the most difficulty part of the defence, as there is least information available to the defenders.  It's different here. Can you find the best opening lead here?

The key is what hand could opener possibly have?  There is only one hand which makes sense  ♠A AKQT98765 ♣AK.    Looking at this we can see that we will - unless we lead the suit - make a diamond trick and whatever else we can cash at that point.  A club sets up no extra trick for us.  A spade sets of one extra trick for us.  

But what about a heart?  As long as we don't lead the king we get at least one heart trick.  If we lead the two is depends on who has the queen, but also who has the ten. We lose by leading out the jack only when partner has a singleton or doubleton queen, but in scenarios like the one shown - it can be worth extra tricks for us to unblock at trick one. So this has to be the right lead.

Did you find the J lead?

Play This Grand Slam

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

You need to set up the heart suit. There will be no problem if hearts are 3-2: draw the trumps and use the A and AK as entries to ruff the heart suit good and get back to dummy to cash your winners. However, you will defeated if hearts break 4-1. Now you will need an extra dummy entry. This can come from a club ruff provided you don't draw trumps prematurely. The winning line is to win the lead and play A, ruff a heart. Now if hearts are 4-1 you ruff a club and ruff another heart before drawing trumps. The diamonds are the 2 entries you need to ruff another heart and get back to cash your heart winners.

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