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Hand of the Day - aug17
HotD-thu : Wotton BC Pairs : 30aug17 : B20

This hand from last night produced some questions about the bidding and about the play.  Let's look at the auction so far : the 2♣ bid is necessary because of the danger of anything else being passed out, and to open 3N cramps the auction and makes finding any other contract impossible.  North's 2N response generally shows 8+ and balanaced, but here as a passed hand it is limited to 8-11 hcp.  It is an underused bid these days; bidding 2 first and then trying to catch up later when partner expects nothing is often difficult. But what is South to do over 2N?  If partner has 8 hcp then with a balanced 34-count you want to play 6N, but if partner has 11 hcp then with a balanced 37-hcp (neat that you know you are missing no kings!) you want to try 7N.

The answer is a raise of 2N to 5N : this generally asks partner to pick a slam and here - with only no-trumps on offer - it gives the choice of 6N or 7N.   Here partner can happily bid 6N and that is where you want to be.  In fact, EVERY table played this hand in 6N, which is really unusual in the slam context.  What's more curious is that while six tables made the "obvious" 12 tricks, two tables only made 11 tricks.   Can you see on how that might happen with some layouts of the East-West hands?   Click ANSWER to find out.

By the way : on these hands having a mechanism to investigate suit fits is very useful.  If you give North a minimum hand with ♠A32 A4 5432 ♣5432 you have a decent 7 contract available.

We don't know for sure what happened at the table, but here's how it might happen.   Declarer will win the opening lead and the obvious next step is to knock-out the spade ace.  Recognising that what is "good" for declarer (taking the ace here as declarer intends) is often "bad"for the defence, West should look to ducking this twice.  The big pay-off from doing that comes when South has only 9 tricks outside and the taking of the ace allows a squeeze to happen. The principle of seeing the setting trick before taking the previous trick is a good one (a concept that would apply also on Tuesday's hand).  When that happens here, South can of course cash out 12 top tricks, but this game is match-point pairs.  If South can make 13 tricks then they outscore all the other pairs and here it could happen.  All it needs is for West to hold the J, so now declarer finesses the T and suddently the walls fall in.  East wins and the defence cash the spade ace; you have gone down in a cold contract and you need an understanding partner.   Would you call this good play all round?

This story is just speculation.  The truth remains a mystery.


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HotD-web : BH Pairs : 28aug17 : B20 (HAND 200)

This hand from Monday divided the field equally - five big scores to North-South, and five big scores to East-West.  This being a matchpoint pairs event the same scores could have been achieved with half the field making one less over-trick than the others in a part-score - but somehow  when it is a vulnerable game made in both directions it seems more interesting!

The bidding shown came from table two. The first question to ponder is the West opening bid. These days where a 1♣ opener is often prepared (clubs or balanced), and therefore gives little lead directing influence, it has become much more mainstream to open 1♠ when holding 5-5 in the blacks.  The 1♣ opener on this or a 5..6 shape is reserved for cases where you have enough strength to be sure of bidding spades twice later in the auction. This hand doesn't quite qualify for that. 

But whichever suit is opened North will overcall in hearts.  It was a very cheeky bid by East, 1♠ on just 2 hcp, but the spade suit has such importance that every chance to introduce it should be taken.  Here, after South started to show a good hand (with a cue bid) it enabled West to bounce all the way to the 4-level. It was normal now for North to pass, and South with five trumps to bid one more.  Five tables got this far in the bidding, but two subsided in 4 and three subsided in 4♠.

The crucial decision came over 5 - do you defend or bid on?  In practice one bid on, two passed, and two doubled.   The right choice by West isn't clear - two aces and more in defence and perhaps something from partner says that their game is going down, but with a void heart, making 5♠ for a higher score is not out of the question.  Either answer could be right on different days - perhaps the solution is to pass it round to partner and let partner decide. On this occasion partner will pass.

But now to the defence - all four tables defending 5 led the ♣T which was won by the ace.  At exactly one table of the four, West played back a club to give a ruff and then won the A at trick three to give another ruff - collecting +500.   The other three assumed that partner had led from doubleton ten and tried to put East on lead with a spade to get a diamond through.  But this didn't work.  The failing defence is plausible with the auction shown, but if partner produces a ♣T lead out of the blue when West has opened 1♠ then it should be easily identified as a singleton.

A lot can swing on these very close decisions - here in both the bidding and the play.


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HotD-tue : BH Pairs : 28aug17 : B3

There was plenty of variety in the choices on many hands last night; on this hand North-South played in four different denominations and East-West played in the fifth!  The auction shown is that of the Constables, whereby Val ended in 4♠.  

From East's perspective this contract looked to be doomed, but look what happened. West sensibly enough chose a club lead, which has an appealing combination of being passive (not giving away any tricks) and agressive (might catch a ruff).  This went to the jack and queen, after which declarer tried the trump suit. When this behaved badly, it was back to clubs to cash the winners there.  East got in with the club ace, and could cash two trumps but whatever came next South could win in hand.  It still looks like there is a diamond to lose, but Val correctly cashed her winners to see what would happen, and when they are cashed the West hand is squeezed in diamond and hearts.  Decalrer comes down to A87 opposite  K K9  and West has no answer.   Contract makes despite the bad break.

East initially felt relieved not to have been tempted by a double.  But later the thought came - perhaps I could have beaten this contract.  Can you see how?

The answer is not to help declarer squeeze partner.  Cashing the wining spades was a mistake - East needs to use two out of the of the three winners (spade, spade, club) to play hearts.   After winning the club, Val had played ♠A and then ♠K and then ♠2  which was won by the eight.  Looking at ♠JT it seemed natural (perhaps auto-pilot?) to played back the jack so that on winning the club ace you can draw a trump from declarer.   It is not clear whether East could have worked that this is not good enough, but I suspect the spade return from JT was a bit lazy!


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HotD-thu : ChippingC BC Pairs : 23aug17 : B26

This hand from last night presented some interesting dilemmas in the bidding and in the play.  Let's do the bidding first.  Clearly South is rather too good a hand to open with 1 and the next question is how to treat the hand after 2♣-2 ?  If you show the two suits, you have forced yourself to the 3-level and essentially created a game forcing auction as the lowest point at which you will stop is 3 and then only if you have no fit.  It seems better therefore to treat is as strong balanced. It has 22 hcp, but is above average even for that count because it has no jacks and has a decent five card suit; you must however be willing to downgrade a little because KQ-doubleton doesn't usully pull its weight.   If my ranges includes 22-23 then it fits fine; if I had to choose between 21-22 and 23-24 on this hand, I would tend to go for the higher range.  Having got that far, if North is expecting about 22-hcp balanced, what is the best course of action with the long clubs?

This isn't a problem we see every day, so thinking back to the last time might not help.  One tool which can help is the Hand generator ( on the internet which allows consideration of a random selection of 22-hcp hands opposite this particular North hand.  Using that tool to look at 25 hands, it seems that 44% of the time you'd want to be in 5♣ (or occasionally 5 is just as good), 12% of the time you want to be in 3N, 20% of the time you want to be in 2N, but 24% of the time you want to be called urgently to the telphone (as there is no viable contract achievable).  The North hand just has to guess which of the answers to go for, as you cannot stop in a part-score after this start to the auction.  On today's layout, the best answer is 5♣ but it will struggle with the heart finesse wrong (but it take a spade at trick one and a heart lead then to beat it - and both declarers in 5♣ suffered this fate).

At the table North chose 3N and now it became a defnesive play problem.  All the current wisdom suggests that leading from honours into a strong NT hand will cost you tricks more often than not, and that makes the diamond lead here seem to be a stand-out.  Decalrer will be pleased at this, and should cash the diamonds before trying a top club. West is likely to duck lest declarer has KQ6, and will win the next round. At this point it is vital to switch to spades, but can West tell?  If declarer has played all four diamonds then yes, as partner has had a chance to discard and can surely throw a heart to show no interst there.   If declarer has not cashed the fourth diamond, it is very difficult, but a spade is still indicated as a heart could be so dangerous, giving declarer an entry to the long clubs.

At the table, West found the fourth best lead of a spade and the defence started with six rounds of that suit. If declarer throws four hearts then it is clear for the defence to switch to hearts, and if declarer doesn't then the defence will always get the  K and the ♣ A to put declarer an ignominious down four!  Feels terrible with sucha good hand. 

On the evening there were only two declarers who made their contract, and these contracts were 1 and 2.


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HotD-wed : Summer Teams : 21aug17 : B32

The most innocuous hands can present many choices both in bidding and defence. Here in the bidding North faced the frequent question of whether to play in 3N or in the 5-3 major fit.  On any one hand either option might turn out to be best; statistical analysis in the past has been inconclusive, with neither choice showing a clear advantage over many hands.  Here North's shape being 5422 encourages a suit contract and in practice North chose 4♠.

When East led the ♣5 against this game, he created an unexpected dilemma for declarer. The dilemma was this : if the trumps break badly, then taking a successful club finesse is vital, while if they break evenly taking a losing finesse offers the defence a chance to take a diamond ruff. Which should you go for?  You are comparing (a) a winning club finesse and a 4-1 spade break which combines at about a 15% gain, with (b) a losing club finesse and running into a diamond ruff when the trumps were 3-2.  But what is the percentage on this?   It needs the diamonds not to be 3-3 and for there not to be a blockage preventing the ruff, which mihgt be about 50%.  This gives, for (b), roughly 12%, and then you have to allow something for the defence missing the right play, so perhaps even less.  Clearly you finesse!

Declarer at the table chose the club finesse and ran into a diamond ruff - down one.  Unlucky!  Or do we blame South - after all if South had not bid such a poor heart suit, East would surely have led a heart and now declarer cannot go wrong!   :)



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HotD-tue : Summer Teams : 21aug17 : B19

The official scorer should soon confirm that the joint winners of the Summer Teams (it being an individual competition) are Tricia Gilham, Richard Harris & Mark Rogers.  They turned up on five of the six sessions and Mark had three different partners over those sessions.   They came in the top four in all five occasions, albeit equal fourth in one session.  Well done to all.

The team they overtook was led by Garry Watson and it was this board which stopped the members of that team coming first.  This was the problem at table nine.  The 2♣ bid was either a single suited heart hand, or a hand with 4-cards in hearts plus a longer second suit.  With the North collection, you "know" they will bid their heart fit, but you have some values too; you might feel an inclination to obstruct that if you can.

Your options are bidding 2 and then bidding spades later (presumably after they bid hearts), bidding 2 as a (often limited) takeout double (they can double to ind their fit), or bidding 2N as a puppet (partner must bid 3♣) after which you will bid 3.    What do you fancy?

[LATER NEWS: other tables had North facing a similar probleme but over a 2 overcall;  now the choices are double or 2N]

At the table the choice made was 2N, which would often be a pain for East-West but on this occasion, East was able to bid 3 and that is where the bidding ended.  In pass-out seat, North considered 3♠ but since the sequence had precluded even showing diamonds, this was going to be mis-interpreted as a hand with long spades and invitational values.   The 3 contact made for +140 to EW.    When you look at the North-South hands now, you now see that those hands can make a slam in either spades or diamonds as long as West doesn't start with a club at trick one.

The contract in the other room was 4♠+2 for +480 to the other side, and 12 imps to the eventual winners.  [LATER ADDITION]  This came about because over 3 Richard made a brave choice of 3♠;  this was on the basis that partner ought to have a six-card suit and that meant there was a fit somewhere.  This bid was a surprise to North, but was raised to game and that is how they reached 4♠.

In years gone by South would have opened 1♠ on this hand, but current wisdodm is that it is better to open 1N with any 5332 shape, as on this hand you could have an auction 1♠-2-2♠ and find dummy puts down a 0525 nine-count.  Unlucky!    Those tables who did open 1♠ as South on this hand had, of course, and easy time reaching the spade game.


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HotD-thu : Bermuda Bowl R1 : B4

The 2017 World Championships are taking place in Lyons over this week and next week. The only British representation is the English Ladies Team completing in the Venice Bowl. Their day to day progress is recorded by the EBU and is easily seen on their website at

This hand comes from the first round match between some of Europe's best, Helness and Helgemo for Monaco, against long standing American champions Meckstroth and Rodwell for the USA.  The Americans are well known for not needing 24 points to make 3N and this hand shows that the style they adopted in their youth still applies and delivers when they are old enough to play in the seniors!

The 1 opener is Precision style, denying 16+ (when they open 1♣) and encompassing a weak NT. After the other three had bid, South was looking at possibly the best hand at the table and started with a redouble.  Given partner had overcalled vulnerable, when the opponents bid game he felt sure they were too high and doubled the game. 

Let's look at those bids. The 1 opener is on a hand of just average strength and just one ace and no kings; we would never consider such a bid, although the lead-directing value might justify the risk in first seat when non-vulnerable against vulnerable.  The 1♠ overcall again we would hardly consider; non-vul we might think of 2♠ but not at red. Good players are quite circumspect about jump overcalls when vulnerable, and will often make a 1-level overcall on such a hand, and that's what Helness was doing here.  The rest of the auction seems inevitable after that start, with opener's 1N bid an attempt to dampen partner's enthusiasm. Is this the same game we play?

But now to the play. Will the contact make?

The double of 3N is usually more than just an expression of strength; it often suggests that cards are lying well for the defence. Here when East has suggested hearts but West has shown no interest there, it looks like South holds the hearts and that led to theT being led.  Declarer made his first good move by covering that with the king. This gave declarer two tricks in hearts when South won the ace. He switched to the ♠T and again declarer had to find the right play, and he did - he ducked in both hands. South switched back to hearts and with the diamonds coming in for five tricks Rodwell had his contract, 3N doubled making on 22 HCP! 

Was it right to double? Actually it was, as the contract can still be beaten after the spade ten wins. How? Only by switching to a small club; this works because North can play the ♣J on winning the spade ace. Would you have found it?


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HOtD-wed : Summer Pairs : 14aug17 : B11

This hand looks straightforward from a North-South perspective and you easily reach 4.   The shock comes when you first play trumps and find they break 5-0.  Can you recover?

All those defending against 4 found a club lead, either the queen or the ♣4 when the game was played by South.  With prospects of only two spades to lose and the diamond ace, it is natural to start with drawing trumps, but curiously which top trump you play first matters.   It all comes down to the need for entries to the North hand when trumps break badly.  Winning the club ace on the lead of the queen at trick one offers you an extra club trick letting you cater for the diamond ace being offside.  But this option gets lost if you play out the 2 at trick two.  You need to play a top trump from North so that you can continue (with either minor) when you find the bad news.  It is hard to foresee that this matters; it looks more like you'd want the North hand entries later for after trumps are drawn, which inclines one towards using the top trumps in South first.  It is therefore had to criticise those who chose wrongly.

You might succeed by not playing trumps at trick two. This is reasonable as setting up the side tricks is set to become a problem if trumps break 4-1.  If you start with a diamond or spade at trick two the defence have to work hard to beat you. At that point, and indeed at trick one, there is only one defence which can beat the game by force.  This defence aims to stop North-South cashing four minor winners.  Can you see it?

The answer is for East-West to play three rounds of spades at the start, and when South ruffs high West can discard a minor (say a diamond). When East duly gets in with the A we get another spade and a high ruff in South gets another (same minor suit) discard from West and now that minor suit will get ruffed.   You cannot expect anyone to find this defence, particularly when North has shown spades.  On the auction (which did happen) 1N-2♣-2-4 the lead of the ♠ A is quite appropriate - but those in that boat chose a club.

Well done to Steve Sasanow, the only declarer to make 10 tricks (after ♣Q to the ace, A and a second club) who scores 14/14 for that.  Commisserations to his opponents.




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HotD-tue : Summer Pairs : 14aug17 : B1

This was the first problem hand of the night and it is one for which we should be prepared. Looking at the opening bid first, we can see a drop in the standards to which we are accustomed. This opening is probably not recommended but there are always advantages in bidding in first seat (two opponents you can inconvenience) and here you have the boss suit and it is a suit you would be happy to see partner lead. And it has created a problem.

What can West do now?

The way for West to describe their hand at this point is with an"unusual" 4N bid, promising at least 5-5 in two lower suits.  Here East replies with clubs as the lowest acceptable option, but South had just to many spades and could not resist bidding one more.  The 5♣  contract would have been a photo finish; after ruffing the spade lead and having the good fortune to find trumps 2-2, declarer must decide which red suit to play after using the one entry to dummy. Playing a diamond (suggested on the bidding shown as opener is more likely to hold the missing ace) works, but playing a heart (encouraged by the added chance of dropping a singleton diamond king if necessary) fails.

Over South's 5♠ bid West has another choice, but since partner's bid has shown nothing, it is clear to double to show the extra strength, and let partner decide. Here the choice is to defend, and the suit led by East determines whether the contract goes one down, two down, or three down! It's all about how often West gets end-played.  On a heart lead declarer will play 10-K-A, draw trumps, eliminate the hearts and play a club towards the queen. West can win two clubs but then has to lead diamonds or give a ruff and discard. Down one!  Better if East leads a club, as West can cash two clubs and exit in hearts to get two diamond tricks (or with A and another to get a later heart trick). Down two! Best of all is a diamond lead, which allows West to cash two tricks in each minor and exit with the third diamond, and wait for a heart trick. Down three!  A club was chosen at this table, but the other declarers in spades were all South, and the best West could do was lead a top club and that held declarer to nine tricks.

Top score went to the winning pair of the evening, Allan Sanis and Garry Watson who bid up to 6♣ as West. North passed at their table and South opened 2 showing a weak two in a major, over which West bid 3♣.  This could have been the final contract but following a sequence unknown, North chose to make an advanced sacrifice in 5♠ and this goaded East-West into bidding 6♣.  It is surprisingly often correct to lead aces against a slam but this was not the right time, and when it was chosen this was fatal for the defence, and the slam made.


HotD-fri : Summer Teams : 07aug17 : B31

This hand was played in 3N at all tables but two and at the five played by West there was always the J lead.   Two declarers made only 10 tricks - isn't that a poor show when the clubs breaking J4 opposite Q3 gives you five tricks in that suit, to go with six top tricks outside?  What happened?

The answer is that both of these declarers played the hand correctly. After winning the diamond lead, your contract is easy unless the clubs break 4-0, and you can cater for this, no matter where the void lies.  How?

By taking a finesse on the first round, either running the 7 or leading up to the 7.  This does result in losing a club trick on this occasion, but you will reap your reward when that suit breaks badly and half the others have had to lose two club tricks.

Safety plays in action!


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HotD-wed : Summer teams : 07aug17 : B26

This hand was a candidate for some very large swings, and it nearly all depends on the choices made by the hand shown.  The debate is still going on as to what is best after the auction starts as shown.  The advantage of bidding Michaels (2 as spades and a minor) is that partner will look at their hand very differently from the time you overcall 1♠, and of course you might get to a club contract you would otherwise miss.  On the other hand, you are not offering partner a choice between equals, and if partner has a doubleton spade you nearly always want to play in that suit.  As well as 1♠ and 2 there are two other bids worth consideration - these being 3♠ and 4♠. The latter would be an easy choice non-vulnerable but it might just get you too high somedays and that costs more when vulnerable.  What do you fancy?

The most common option taken was 1♠ and this allowed East to support hearts (2).  South passed and West would either bid 4 now or make a game try with 3.  The former rather shuts out North but the latter does allow 3♠ and that is what happened at table 8 last night.  East continued with 4and for most people that was the final contract.

One pair got to play in 4♠ (by bidding that over the opening ) and one pair ended in 5 but we don't know if that was voluntary or a good view to sacrifice over 4♠.  We have evidence of at least one instance of North choosing the Michaels cue bid here, where South played in 3♣ which could only happen as a pass-or-correct option over 2.

The fact that both sides can make a vulnerable game on this board stems from the fact that there is a double fit about, partner holding useful honours opposite West's diamond suit and opposite North's club suit.  These are very difficult to diagnose.

BTW : my favourite over 1  is to bid 3♠ .  This might buy the hand and if not, partner might well sacrifice if they bid 4.


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HotD-tue : Summer Teams : 07aug17 : B2

This was the first board with 13 top ticks, and nobody managed to bid the grand slam.  In fact (as always?) a few stopped in game.

The bidding shown is only partly realistic, as there were cases where South made a spade overcall, and there were cases where North made a spade overcall. Both bids have to count as doubtful, and there is a case for passing with each hand.  But it still takes a few useful techniques to get to the top contract.

The first three bids are simply value bids and the 3 call is treated (as in all auctions with a minor suit supported) as a stopper in case 3N is the correct contract.  Since 3♠ would now have something of the same flavour, it is useful to use jumps in this conext (and hence the 4♠ bid) as showing shortage.  When East has shown shortage, West can comfortably check on aces.  The normal responses cover 5♣ through to 5♠, and the higher bids are reserved for hands with a useful void.  Here there is every expectation the void is useful and the 6 response shows an odd number of key cards (surely 3) and a void, and this is what allows West to bid the grand slam.  Over 4N, a response of 5N would have shown an even number of key cards with a void.

If we look at the traveller for the CBC Pairs on the same hands, we find nobody bid the slam, which reminds us that even the 6♣ or 6 bidders do deserve some congratulations.

HotD-thu : CBC pairs : 01aug17 : B9

This was the simplest of auctions and the contract was 1N at 16 tables on Tuesday.  The puzzle is why so many declarers made 6 tricks, and some even made 7 tricks.

It seems natural for East to start off with a top diamond, but when partner plays the nine and you see dummy's holding, you need to show some caution. This is true whatever signalling system the nine represents; it is quite common for a player to have no choice as to what to play (sometimes a singleton, sometimes to avoid burning tricks) and we should only read a message into partner's card if partner had a choice of what to play.  It therefore looks right to switch, and a club is the least dangerous switch.  Declarer ducks this and partner wins with the king, cashes the diamond queen, and plays a spade through.

It is easy to win this and cash two diamonds, but it is now you must avoid going onto autopilot.  Two things you have learned up to now must register - firstly that declarer has only 1 high card point in the minors, and if it was a 12-14 opening, then that means at least 11 points in the majors, and so at least the queen of spades. The second point to note is that declarer played the club ten on the first round.  To do this with any holding other than ♣JT exactly, is to give away a trick, and while you might find a declarer willing to do that, these are rare.  The layout looks to be very much like it is, and when you play the ♣Q you will set up the vital 8th trick for the defence, to get the contract two down.

It's not quite so simple if declarer might open 1N with 11 hcp (which we would advise, non-vulnerable) as partner might just have the ♠KQ862  and you want to be cashing out that suit rather than reverting to clubs.  But the odds must be against that one particular layout in the majors, so playing the ♣Q is still right.  If you had found this you would have outscored all six defenders of 1N in the downstairs movement on Tuesday.


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HotD-wed : CBC Pairs : 01aug17 : B8

This hand from last night brought up a number of interesting points, the first of which is what to bid in the position shown?  [Notice the 2♣ response, necessary on this shape since 2 would promise five]  Clearly slam is in the offing and there is an implication that North has at least six spades as without a second suit (5332 shape) North might have opened 1N rather than 1♠.  But this is still not enough to underwrite the slam as there could be two aces to lose or two top hearts to lose.  The answer is to consult partner and the only way to do that is by bidding 4.  This is a cue bid (usually shortage but without 2♣ being game forcing you cannot insist on that) and over this North happily bids 4, solving one problem.

South might now invoke an ace asking bid (and if not the North will) and when two aces are missing it is normal to bid 6♠.  Playing Roman Key Card, over South's 4N North's correct response is 5♠; this normally promises the spade queen but here the extra length (opposite expected 3-card support) means that the spade queen is not an issue, no North shows it.  It is tempting (and perhaps tempting enough) to bid 6N now since it is matchpoint pairs and there is no extra trick from a ruff;  it would usually only cost if North's heart control was a singleton.  The travellers show that only 3/9 tables downstairs reached the slam (all in spades), while 13/16 tables upstairs bid a slam (4 in no-trumps, one at 7-level)

Against a game-level spade contract it would be normal for East to attack with a heart as clubs are never going to generate tricks, and if partner turns up with the right cards a heart ruff might be a vital trick. Against a slam it is different, as there is a danger of giving away the twelfth trick in attacking hearts, and that is just too dangerous. It seems better to lead a minor against the spade slam and that is what people did, after which declarer could claim 13 tricks.  There was only one case of 6♠ held to twleve tricks.

When South chose to play the hand in NT it was top-or-bottom territory. There is a strong body of wisdom that advises cashing aces against slams and here cashing the A at trick one is a winner as you thereby outscore everyone who made 13 tricks.  Cashing an ace against 6N seems counter-intuitive but only one of the tables playing in 6N was allowed 13 tricks (for a complete top). Well done those ace-cashers. Defending 7N by South the lead was more obvious.

By the way, our man once underled an ace against 7N-doubled and it was the right thing to do!  Can you think when that might happen?

The answer is "at trick two" as he had already defeated the contract at trick one!


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HotD-tue : Crockfords round of 16

The remaining county interest in Crockfords died on Friday last in a match against a Cambridge team, for which both squads travelled to Coventry. This was board three and the first of five double figure swings in the first 16 boards - all of them on the wrong side.

The opening bid from West was light but the hand has too much strength for a weak two, and it is surely an opener in first or third seat (the other table passed in second seat).  After West has bid hearts so many times, it was easy for East to choose that as a trump suit, and East just had to assume that West had a high spade to justify opening the bidding - a reasonable chance to take.

The spotlight is now on North for the opening lead.  With all the other suits bid, it looked like it was crying out for a spade lead, but it was still quite likely that East-West had the ace and queen and this would be futile.  The potential for a bad heart break might have suggested to North to be cautious but with nothing in diamonds and clubs it seems like a trick must be set up to go with a hoped-for ace in partner's hand.  The spade went to the jack, then came A and A and a diamond ruff, and then trumps; when declarer rose with ♠A next, it was all over.  We only worked out later that a club lead would beat the slam - can you see how?

The other table played in 6 by East after West passed and East made a strong opening bid.  This meant that South was on lead and duly started with a spade, which was run to the king.   North tried a heart now in case partner had the heart ace and declarer won that.  The easy way to 12 tricks now looked to be a club ruff, but when South could ruff in on the third round the slam was one down.  There are some interesting issues here : if a diamond ruff was the way to make the contract why didn't North play a diamond at trick two?   If you deduce that North knows a diamond ruff won't work for you, can you still make the contract on a heart return?  And if so, what should North have returned?

Defending 6 : watch the play after a club lead.  Declarer wins and cashes A and wants to come to hand to draw trumps but doesn't want to chance the spade finesse. So it goes A and a ruff and then trumps.  But when South wins he can return a second club and this cuts declarer off from dummy.  Returning a spade after the K isn't good enough as declarer can still draw trumps and enjoy dummy's winners.

Defending 6 : on a heart return declarer has 11 top tricks and can make 12 from a club-spade squeeze by just running the diamonds.  And if North returns a diamond at trick two you are forced into this line.  But if North returns a spade, that suit is cut off and the club ruff won't work and declarer has only 11 tricks.

So we started the match by letting make a slam that could go off, while in the other room team-mates went off in a slam that was being allowed to make.   It didn't get any better  :(    There is always next year!


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