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This was the first board in the 64-board final of the Welsh Cup played this week. Paul Denning was East and had this defensive problem to resolve.
Although they have bid the suit, there is nothing better than a club to try at trick one as the opening lead and the singleton in dummy gives you hope until the best partner can produce is the ten. Declarer wins the jack, and plays ace and another diamond, partner showing three diamonds. How are you going to beat this contract?
The first thing to recognise is that declarer now had available three club tricks and four diamond tricks. So you will only beat this by cashing major suit winners. Also, declarer has shown up already with 12 hcp, from an expectation of 15-17, so you expect there to be just one high card hidden in declarer's hand.
If declarer has the ♠K you are going to need to cash five hearts to beat the contract, which means partner needs to have ♥KQxxx and has not taken the chance to bid then after 1♣-P-1♦; it could happen. The alternative is to play partner for the ♠K and declarer for the ♥K. Ideally partner's play in diamond would give you a hint, but after showing the count partner had a choice of two sequences for the last two cards. One of these sequences has to be neutral and that was the one you saw.
What Paul spotted was tne option to start with the ♠A and see if partner encourages or discourages. That seems to cater for both possibilities. Here the ♠A fetched an encouraging deuce (notice the importance of reverse attitude here - you could not afford to encourage with a high card). Next Paul played the ♠J and that generated four spade tricks. It wasn't hard for West to play through the ♥Q after that and the contract was down one.
All that gained was 4 imps, but since the final margin was just +7, half the match was won on the first board!
This was the other slam hand from Monday and it was bid by only 2/8 pairs. That's not so terrible, as it is a decent slam but likely to go down if the hearts do not behave.
The bidding shown was that of Tricia Gilham (North) and Richard Harris (South). Note how the strong jump shift was used effectively; after the 1♠ opener, the heart hand is excellent opposite a 15+ balanced (which didn't open 1N) and it has good spade support opposite any unbalanced 1♠ opener. In neither case will it force to slam, but telling partner this is a good hand puts the opener in a good place to make the crucial decision.
Opening on the North hand is not a given; it would actually be more attractive were it first in hand, but the two tens are well placed, and at least two tables opened 1♠ on Monday (did you?). After the responder cues in spades and then doesn't cue in diamonds, it is almost a command for the opener to bid the slam with diamond control. South would have to bid the same way with ♥ AKQ754 and then slam would be just about 100%.
If North were to pass initially, all is not lost - as long as North, after hearing partner open 1♥, wakes up with a fit jump of 2♠ which promises spades and three card heart support. South might make a gentle move now and if that is 3♣ (the more descriptive 3♠ might not be forcing) then North can continue with a jump to 4♦ to show shortage there and roughly the shape held. South might now bid the slam. Or do I hear "dream on" at suggesting that?
This was the a curious hand from last night - in that two tables played at the four level, two played at the five level, two played at the six level, and two played at the seven-level.
The two leading teams on the night were the two who ended at the seven level and they produced a flat board in down one. Only one North players maanged to have partner put down a near solid heart suit in dummy, but his 5♣ proved impossible with the bad break. The only real success was Richard Harris who played in 6♥ making (the other declarer in 6♥ went off).
What should happen? The auction illustrated is a candidate start. North has the shape one normally associated with a preempt, but at this vulnerability the hand seems too strong for that. After 1♣-P, South must use a game force if that is available. Otherwise the bidding is likely to become too contorted in efforts to keep it forcing. After the start shown, West will be expecting them to have a club fit and maximum disruption seems the order of the day; hence 4♦.
What can North do now? It seems odd not to rebid a good 8-card suit, but the strong heart bid from South should temper North's certainty as to what trumps should be. A pass will leave South able to bid 4♥ although that does seem rather an underbid. The difficulty with anything else except 5♥ or 6♥ is that it may well be read as showing club support (suggesting a jump shift based on a club fit). The catch with 5♥ is that it sounds like the hand has two losing diamonds and is looking for a control there.
Sometimes you have to shut your eyes and bid what you think you might make. Put me down for 6♥ at this point.
But that might not be the end of the story. North is looking at two aces and a potential diamond ruff. Does that constitute a raise?
Stories please - what happened at your table?
Board 19 from Monday is a good slam for N/S. What are the chances? As the cards lie, there are 12 tricks (13 if they don't take the heart at trick 1), but let's assume that the cards are lying less well for declarer e.g. spade finesse wrong and suits not breaking.
If you play in diamonds, you will need a 3-2 trump break (68%) and the clubs must not be 4-0 (9.5%) else you may suffer a first or second round ruff, so the contract is around 58%. Playing in No-trumps by South to protect the ♥K, the odds improve by 5% as there can be no ruff and you can pick up 4 clubs with West by playing the King first. The best contract is 6♣, as this allows you to set up the diamonds if they are 4-1. Lets assume clubs break 3-1 and the spade finesse is losing. If played by South, there will be no problem on a minor suit lead - win, draw 3 rounds of trumps and unblock the diamonds. Now give up a heart. There are now 2 entries to dummy to set up the diamonds and get back to cash them. You make 5 diamonds, 5 clubs in hand (including a diamond ruff), the top spade and a heart ruff in dummy. On ♥A lead and a spade switch, you will need the clubs 2-2 if the diamonds are 4-1 to have the entries to make 12 tricks. Only an original spade through the AQ is awkward. You will not finesse as the diamonds might be breaking and this is much better odds than the spade finesse. Now you will go down when the diamonds are 4-1 as you lack the quick dummy entries required. If you can manage to play 6♣ from the North hand, your chances are improved as the defence can only attack spades by leading a heart to South's King and West's Ace and then a spade switch. This won't happen very often as East will surely lead a spade as often as a heart, and on a heart to the King and Ace, West will surely be tempted to try and cash a second heart rather than find a spade switch. If West does lead a second heart, the enforced ruff reduces the North hand to 3 trumps so if the diamonds dont break, declarer will need the trumps 2-2 or can fall back on the spade finesse. The advantage is that declarer will know the trump and diamond positions before having to take such a finesse. The chances of success in 6♣ by North are well over 80%.
Did everyone find the top spot on Monday? - not quite! 8 tables played in 3NT, 1 pair was in 5♣ and only 1 pair bid to the inferior 6♦ contract (although as the cards lay they gained 9 imps by bidding to a making slam).
This hand produced a significant swing in the match between the two teams which had been leading the series so far.
The auction shown led to a contract which needed some luck, as well as some good play. After a diamond lead, declared should start on clubs immediately as the top spades are needed as entries to ruff out that suit. The key play comes when East wins the club ace and plays the heart queen. Diana Nettleton, sitting North, paused to consider the implications. While the contract initially looked like it depended on the heart ace being onside, surely here was a strong suggestion it was not (if held by East it looks like East had an opening bid but had passed on the first round).
So the indicated play is to duck, and to duck the next round too. When that sets up the king and the trumps break 2-2, the contract is straightforward. So 4♠ made happily.
At the other table the contract was 3♠ this time by South (North, very reasonably, had doubled the 1♦ overcalled). Again the first trick was a diamond and then came the ♣K to the ♣A and East switched to a heart. But this time, with the sight of four hearts in dummy, East did so with a sense partner might be short in the suit. So out came ♥3 and declared had a new worry. If the ace was onside, then ducking this trick might get a heart returned to the ace and a third round ruff, so she went up with the king, losing to the ace. Back came the ten to the jack, and then the queen, and then the nine. This generated a trick for the ♠Q and the part-score was now down one.
Tricky game this!
Some of the hands from last night's game seemed straightforward, but this hand was not in that category.
The bidding started as shown at one table, while others started with 1N-3♠ (one level lower but still a problem). Clearly the East hand has slam potential but it could be a massive misfit, it could be right to play in hearts, or it could be right to play in clubs. How can you decide?
One useful bid, applying most clearly after 4♠ (should it apply over 3♠?), is the use of 4N as two places to play. This could be like an unusual 2NT with 5-5 or more in the unbid suits, or it could be one decent suit plus three card support for partner.
Here 4N should elicit 5♣ since West prefers clubs to hearts, and now East can try for the grand. Whether or not West would oblige (with clubs and high cards clearly better than they might be) is not clear. What is clear is that nobody found the club fit, the most common contract being 6♥ and this happening most often as a punt from East after partner's 1N opening promised two hearts.
Any better ideas for how to bid this, and on what is best over 3♠, would be welcome.
The boards at Stroud last night were hand dealt, a less common occurrence these days, but they had plenty of shape and interest.
Here the 1♦ opener was standard, and East now had the chance to rob North-South of bidding space and duly did so.
South supported partner with a 5♦ bid, but this bypassed the best contract. What was missing from South's armoury was a takeout double at the 4-level. Even over a 4♠ overcall a double needs to be primarily takeout, given the level of preemption which happens in competitive bridge today.
Against 5♦ East has a lead problem; with a lead from either king possibly giving away a trick, she chose the ♠Q. This saved declarer a guess but when dummy went down with KJT of the suit it felt like the queen had always been doomed. Declarer had no problems with the major suits now, but had two potential losers in each minor.
Since the lead had all the hallmarks of a singleton, the first concern was drawing trumps. After cashing the ♥A to eliminate that suit, North played a diamond to the ace, thinking of putting East on lead with a second diamond and getting a club back into the AQ5. When East showed out that plan was shelved, but the idea of an endplay was still valid. So the next play was a second and a third spade, followed by a low club from dummy. When West played low, declarer ducked and now East was endplayed. The heart return was ruffed while the ♣Q was discarded, and a small trump towards the ten kept the trump losers to two and the contract was one off.
It felt bad at the time, having mis-guessed the diamonds, but even after a diamond to the ten at trick two, there are still two diamond losers. More of concern was what happened to 4♥ when that was the contract. A diamond lead allowed declarer to play the jack forcing the ace. The next trick was the heart ace and when the defence didn't find the spade switch now, declarer could throw a spade on the ♦K and use the two heart entries to lead clubs up to the KJx to make the heart game.
Anyway, I'd rather be in the spade game.
This was the big hand from Monday's Pairs game. The two pairs who shared an equal top had similar misunderstandings to avoid their intended 6♥ contract.
The auction shown started with a game forcing 2♥ which meant that North had the luxury of bidding 3♥ to set trumps, leaving lots of space for investigating just how high to go.
Switching to the alternatives if not playing 2/1 GF, your only choices are a jump cue bid in either clubs or diamonds. The catch with either of those is that partner will look favourably in honours in the other, while you know such honours are wasted. Another option was 5♦ as Exclusion Blackwood (asking for key cards but ignoring the diamond ace) but the problem is that with a no-ace response you still might want to be in slam, and if partner has the heart ace, how do you investigate the grand slam?
A good agreement after game forcing starts like the one shown is for the next bid to show shortage and 3N is used to deny one. This lets responder in this case distinguish between a diamond singleton and the diamond ace, so that a partner with ♦KJx can assess sensibly. This was not available to our pair today.
There was however some light at the end of the tunnel when South bid 4♦. North concluded from partner's failure to cue bid either clubs or spades, that South lacked the kings there, and cue bidding diamonds without the ace in such a poor hand did not make sense. So partner had the ♦A and now a 4N ace ask would get an understandable response. The 5♥ bid showed the heart ace and thus a means of discarding the club jack. The grand slam was still a possibility, if partner had a singleton spade, so North continued with 5♠ intending this as an ask about control in the suit. This approach was new to South, who shrugged his shoulders and showed his spade support with 6♠ .
The other pair to reach 6♠ started the auction 1♠ -2♥ -3♠ after which, despite North's later attempt to offer hearts as a contract with a bid partner did not understand, led them to finish in 6♠.
Playing in spades, it is important to lead that suit from the South hand, and to cover West's card, rather than rise with the ace, to avoid losing to a 3-0 trump break. Here the appearance of the king gives you thirteen tricks.
Playing match point Pairs here, when you get the ♥J lead and RHO overtakes with the queen, how do you proceed?
The instinct in these situations is to duck this, in an attempt to stop later development of the heart suit, and that is what happened at the table. But here it cost declarer.
In Pairs you need to think through every individual hand. Here there are ten sure tricks once the club ace is knocked out and another to develop in spades. What's more is that when you do take the spade finesse, you can only lose that trick to what seems to be the safe hand.
The right play is to win trick one, give up the club ace, win the return and take the spade finesse. Here you will take the rest of the tricks after that.
Only one declarer managed 11tricks last night!
Gloucestershire fielded 2 teams in yesterdays finals for winners of the regional county leagues. The Markham team finished equal first in their section - very well done. The Dawes team fared less well. The following hand was very expensive.
Partner opens a pre-emptive 3♦ and seconds later opponents are in a slam. You lead the ♣K and partner plays the ♣3, showing an even number of clubs under your methods. In view of East's pre-empt, this seems like an obvious doubleton and it looks like the contract is going 2 off with AK and a club ruff. However, it is possible that East holds 4 clubs, in which case, playing off the second top club will establish the Queen in dummy. You have to consider the consequences of say switching to a diamond at trick 2. If we assume that declarer has 3 clubs, will he be able to discard his losers on a diamond switch? Declarer will have one or perhaps 2 diamonds, probably 6 hearts for his overcall, and we are assuming 3 clubs. Hence declarer has either 2 or 3 spades. If declarer has 3 spades then he has at most one discard and cannot get rid of both losing clubs. If he holds only 2 spades (KQ doubleton say), then he will have 2 discards for the clubs, but on this shape he will also have a losing diamond. Of course, if declarer has 7 hearts and KQ doubleton spade, then he would have enough tricks, but how likely is that specific holding?
At the table, both Gloucestershire defenders tried to cash a second club - contract made. At the other 2 tables, Gloucestershire players had stopped in game. This resulted in a loss of 13 imps instead of a gain of 13 imps - a 26 imp swing. Bad enough you might think, but in this competition, each E/W pair score up with each N/S pair so the swing on the board was multiplied by 4. Swinging 104 imps away on one board is not the way to win these events!