Minutes from the 2019 AGM now published.
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Two pairs reported how they had squandered their chance of first place in the Mens' Pairs though a lunacy on just one hand. For some pairs it took lunacies on more than one hand! This was one hand in question ...
The bidding shown wasn't the same at all tables but the issue was how to play the 4♠ contract. First about getting there - there were five tables out of ten did not reach 4♠ (and of the five which did only 2 made). The preemptive 3♥ by West was not a stretch by any means, and some bid 4♥ directly over the opening bid. But in either case, South must take fuirther action and over a double North will always bid 4♠. What is less clear is whether an 11-card heart fit will bid on, but here with such a quacky hand, East was in no doubt that it would be too expensive.
The opening lead against 4♠ was a small heart, but the six was high enough for East to know that partner had the KJ7 in the suit. South won the first trick and continued with a spade to the ace and a second spade. From this play - surely a heart ruff at trick two would be better - East can deduce that partner has seven clubs, and declarer the singleton ace. East ducked the second spade and the queen won the trick. Declarer turned his attention now to clubs and played out three rounds of the suit. It was superfically attractive to East to wait to ruff the fourth round of club, cutting declarer off from dummy, but there is a trap. If you duck the ♣T, as one player did, declarer just plays another spade off dummy and has four spades, the heart ace and five clubs to win. It is therefore imperative to ruff the third club and accept that declarer will get to the fifth one.
After ruffing and cashing the spade king, East can see that it will all come down to the defense making or not making two diamonds. It is a toss-up between forcing an immediate guess from declarer, and playing on but concealing your heart honours in the hope that declarer plays you for the diamond ace. The latter doesn't really work, as a low heart lead at trick one virtually denies a KQ or QJ holding, and so East surely has the ♥Q to go with the ♠K and ♣Q - and now the ♦A is inconsistent with a first round pass. There is also the signal which West made on the second spade - was that a strong signal for diamonds? All in all, declarer should get this right, and run the ♦J in due course for the tenth trick.
At the table whose bidding was illustrated, East went wrong by not forcing an immedate guess, but South missed the inferences about the 11-count and played a diamond to the king.
These two hands were remarkably similar; both featured a borderline 2♠ opener first in hand, vulnerable, when the opponents can make a slam. And with the dealer rotating, it balanced out with a slam in each direction!
In both cases the opener has a six card spade suit and only 5 HCP but also a 4-card side suit; the advantage of being first in hand makes a clear case for opening the bidding. Again curiously, the next hand has values and a six card heart suit. In the case shown the hand is just too strong for a simple overcall and needs to start with a double. But the spotlight now shines on the third hand, which (again in both cases) held four card spade support and a weak hand. All reports known have West passing at this point, with the vulnerability causing the player there to shy away from preempting further. Not doing this allowed the fourth hand an easy cue bid and the road to slam was opened.
But in practice it still proved difficult. Only half the field on board 6 bid the slam (and slightly under half on B7). But bidding the slam on this hand didn't finish the interest. You can see that except for the (unachievable) option of 6♥ by North, both 6♣ and 6♥ can be defeated by a ruff. The difficulty is finding the ruff. At the four tables which played in 6♥ only one table found that ruff, and that was when East produced a Lightner double asking for an unusual lead. It is tricky to decide when such a double is worthwhile; here it would beat the suit slam but if North-South are awake, they should run to 6NT and that is unbeatable!
[Later addition: two tables have now emerged where West raised to 4♠ and in both those cases the slam was missed.]
Board 7 had no voids, and the slam there is unbeatable. But there was a trap and one declarer went down by not drawing trumps early enough.
There were a few instances last night of little used but but useful techniques. Here it was Morton's Fork.
Good judgement was shown all round in the bidding, with East-West stealing all the bidding space that was needed for a sensible slam auction. The 5♥ contract was never in doubt, but the game is matchpoints, so the overtricks all matter. There seems to be a "sure" diamond loser and the spade finesse to take, but many declarers did better than that. Here's how...
After winning the club lead in dummy, declarer led a diamond towards hand. East could not jump up with the diamond ace, or the club king, diamond king and the fifth diamond would take care of declarer's losing spades. After the ♦Q won, declared was able to play heart ace and a heart to the jack, after which the club king took care of the ♦6. Now declarer was able to take the spade finesse for a possible 13 tricks.
While bidding, and in particular slam bidding, seems to dominate the swings and potential swings in most games, there are still some interesting play problems around. On today's hand you get the ♣2 lead against your 4♥ game. You can draw trumps in three rounds if you wish, playing the ace then the queen and then the jack. What then?
For all your high card points, there are three top losers and you are in danger of losing a club too. You cannot be sure at this time whether there is a club loser - the suit might be breaking 3-2 or either hand could have a singleton. Can you tell? The fact that West had only one heart gives a strong hint that West has four clubs, and it is best to proceed on that basis.
As often when you have nothing positive to do, the right thing is to get off lead. So exit with a diamond. If the defence cash two diamonds and then play spades you are home. If West leads from the ace you can make the queen and then the king provides a discard for the losing club. If East leads the suit then either West gives you two tricks or West ducks; in the latter case, if declarer diagnoses the position (and they should) then the answer is to cash the remaining trumps and this squuezes West down to ♠A ♣Q83 and that hand is then end-played with the spade, to lead a club.
Can the defence do any better? They can get closer but can't quite do it. When the diamond is led from dummy East can see the problem coming, and did at one table rise with the diamond king to play the ♠J. If declarer ducks this then East must either win the ace or be subject to an end-played later to lead a club. If declarer covers with the queen, then the defence can succeed by winning the ace and cashing the ♦A before playing a second spade.
It is worth noting that in positions where East rises with the spade ace, declarer needs an entry to dummy to reach the king after the queen has been unblocked. You need to be careful therefore in cashing your three trumps , ending with 9 opposite K5.
It was curious to see that on Monday, out of 12 tables, this hand saw four pairs bid a grand slam, four bid a small slam, and four get no farther than 4♥ . How could it be so different?
The starting point is West and the opening bid. The hand is nominally outside the range for a weak two bid, but there are three pointers to making the bid. One is the suit quality, which means you are always happy to get that suit led, and your fear of a penalty is low. The second is the 6-4 shape, and the third is being first in hand. Monday's top scoring team started with 2♠ on this hand and North's 4♥ bid then closed the auction for a 16-imp gain when the other table bid the grand slam.
The auction shown happened at table 8, and benefited from the fact that the 2♦ bid was game forcing. This style of bidding ("2/1 game force") can lose out to Acol on some part-score hands, but it pays big dividends on big hands. Not that this hand is impossible otherwise; the alternative over 2♦ is a jump to 3♠ which shows diamond support and game values, and after that 4♣ - 4♦ (waiting) - 4♥ (cue) - 4N will get you to 7♦ with great confidence.
The Great Shuffler has his/her shuffling boots on last night. There were a lot of big hands and big swings; one match managed to divide these evenly, and end up with a draw but the Wearmouth & Stanley, Atthey & Hill team clocked up over 100 imps in the plus column. This was their worst board, losing 9 imps when they played in 4♥-2 at one table and the other table played in 3♥+1.
The 4♥ game was made at both tables and curiously both Easts failed at trick one and again at trick two - both doing the same. What happened at both tables was a singleton diamond lead won by the ace, while East played a low card. Declarer next tried the ♥T which was covered by the queen, king and ace. What West wanted to know at trick one was where East's entry was, to obtain a ruff - and this need should have been recognised by East. If recognising it, East would make a suit preference signal at trick one, and West would know that the suit to play is spades and not clubs. Despite lack of a signal, one West guessed to lead a spade, while the other led a club. The club lead gave the defence no more chance, but the spade - which went to the king and ace - left East to choose what to do. In practice East led his singleton club and declarer won to draw trumps and claim.
So what should have happened? First things is the suit preference at trick one; suppose that is done and East does get in at trick three and lead a diamond to give partner a ruff. Will that beat the contract? In fact it won't, as declarer will play small from both hands while West ruffs, and will later cross to the ♥6 to cash the second top diamond and throw away the club loser. Should the contract be beaten? The answer is yes - East must refrain from covering the ten of hearts at trick two. Our instincts and mottos like "cover an honour with an honour" might encourage it, but you must also look at what cards you are aiming to promote. Since South has promised seven hearts, there are no cards to promote. If South has eight and partner the singleton heart king - the last hing you want to do is cover! Playing small works here by killing the second heart as an entry to dummy, and gives declarer the chance to go wrong by rising with the king (after all you opened the bidding).
Do we have any stories from those who went off in 4♥ ?
There were three slam hands in the CBC Pairs last night, with
But to the bidding on this board. There was a very common start to the auction with 1♦ - P - 1♥ - 1♠ - 3♠ - P. At this vulnerability, West cannot afford ot bid more than 1♠, which allowed North to make a splinter bid shorwing heart support and short spades. What can South do now?
One South saw no available cue bid and signed off in 4♥. This ended the auction.
Another South invented a cue bid of 4♣ which got a 4♦ response from partner. This South reasoned that with such weak hearts North had to have a five card club suit headed by the AK and that slam had to be close. He asked for aces and then bid the slam.
A third alternative would be for South to temporise over 3♠ with 3N. This must show slam interest as you are already committed to hearts, and would allow North to take charge.
Another way of looking at this is what you expect from a partner who bid 3♠ simply after a 1-level response. This must be a good hand - on average about 17 working HCP in the suits outside spades. If you add this to the 11 HCP you have there, you can work out that on average you are not going to lose any tricks there. Once you add in the singleton spade as a loser, you expect to be making a small slam. It is still worth checking for key cards, but the slam becomes easy to bid.
Maybe next time!
It is worth noting how, if West had been non-vulnerable, a jump to 2♠ or 3♠ would have taken all the science away from bidding this slam, and it becomes much more difficult.
Sometimes it is clear what should happen on a given hand, and other times it is not. This is one example where the right answer is still uncertain. We can simply report the events at four tables, and continue to ponder ....
Table 2 : West thought it most likely that the opposition had the majors and would win the contract. The vulnerability is ideal for being obstructive, so he came out with a 4♣ opener as the highest practical option. North was happy to pass, as was East, but South bid 4♠ . North clearly had a wonderful hand now, with four card support and a void and well placed club honours. She showed support by bidding 5♣ but South was a minimum and signed off in 5♠. He was not pressed to make 12 tricks. It;s not clear whether West might have bid 4N over 4♠ to show diamonds in addition to the previously declared clubs.
Table N : West decided here that the best description of the hand would be to pass and come in later, and the auction started P-P-P-1♠ but by this time he had forgotten the plan and he passed. North continued with a 4♦ bid showing shortage and spade support. South was enthused but opposite a passed partner it was too much to bid the slam; he tried 4♥ to show interest, and North now cue bid 5♣ . South signed off with 5♠ and there the matter rested, again 12 tricks.
Table 5 : West here took it easy - opening 1♦ to get his best suit in first; North made a pushy takeout double, and East, expecting that his side owned the hand, bid 1♥. South now jumped in spades and they North-South ended in 4♠ once again making 12 tricks.
Table 7 : here West had a tool for this hand, and was able to open 2N showing at least 5-5 in the minors and less than an opening bid. North for reasons not yet understood felt compelled to bid 3♥ over which South bid 3♠. West, we are told, re-evaluated the hand and jumped to 5♣ which North doubled, and when East retreated to 5♦ South doubled that. This went down two for +300 to North-South.
In total there were 6 pairs played in 5♦x going down - the others will have to add their stories below. And if Allan & Toby want to tell us how they got to 6♠ , we are all ears!
Sometimes chances are there on a hand from trick one, and sometimes they are rejected. But they can come back again .... as on this hand.
Mike Lewis as West opened 1N (14-16) and opposite him Malcolm Green had a rare tool in his toolbox - a weak takeout to 2♦ (by bidding 2♣ and passing the forced response). When 2♣-2♦ got passed round to South, he competed with 2♥. North tried a natural 2N, but the bidding ended with South in 3♥. The lead was the spade ten, and declarer won the ace at trick one to try a trump - but the trump queen lost to the ace.
Now knowing that it was safe, West continued with ace and another diamond - to dummy's king. A second round of hearts showed up the bad news, and declarer ducked to let West win. At this point West tried a club and was fortunate that declarer had both the queen and jack (or this might well have cost a trick). It now looks like declarer has to lose three hearts, a diamond and a club. Is it possible to do better?
The answer is yes - South needs to get help from the opposition in terms of an end-play. This can happen only if West leads away - for a second time - from the club king. It's not by any means certain, but you must play West for exactly a 3424 distribution. Cashing the winning spades and following with two hearts leaves West with nothing but clubs to play.
Could West have voided this? Yes, by not leading a club when in with the second heart. West at that point could have exited in spades or hearts - and kept the club exit for later.
Could South have made the contract anyway? Yes also, but this is more tricky. Declarer needs to be thinking about an end-play possibility much earlier - and to set about eliminating spades and diamonds before touching trumps. So win the spade in hand and play a diamond. West can exit in diamonds or spades but after three spades and two diamonds are played - playing trumps will end-play West and not just once but twice. The bidding marks West with every high card except for the diamond jack, so it's not impossible to envisage this position. Well done if you did.
Another "big" hand from Monday was this offering. You can see that 7♦ is an easy make, but when you look at the traveller you find there was one pair in a part-score and three pairs played in 3N going down! We have to ponder why there is such a gap between theory and practice.
The auction shown was a very natural auction by a pair playing a strong 1N opening. The jump to 4♣ unequivocally sets diamonds as trumps (even though East might have opened on a 4432 shape). After that cue bids identified club control and the ace and king of both hearts and spades. The question is - who should have taken the plunge and bid the grand slam? Could West tell from the fact that partner went past 5♦ that East had perfect cards? Could East from the 5♠ cue bid know that partner had a void club and such good diamonds? Answers please on a postcard.
The tables where East opened 1N needed to have some suitable conventions to bid this well. Playing jumps to the 3-level showing shortage works well, as after 1N-3♣-3♦-4♣ the opener knows that diamond are trumps and partner has a void club. Now a cue bid in heart plus the ♠A and ♦AK gives the grand slam. Without this, the West hand has to start with Stayman in case hearts was a better contract (partner could be 3523 shape, say). After 1N-2♣-2♦ you need to know that 3♦ is natural and forcing. The part-score may have arisen because of a mis-understanding about this. After that start it will be possible to settle on diamonds as trumps and probably get to the slam, but bidding the grand is difficult as the club shortage is not exposed.
The one trap to avoid is 1N-2♣-2♦-3N!
What happened to you?
Bidding is indeed difficult. This hand looks to be an excellent candidate for a 7♣ contract (making 78.5% of the time - curiosuly more likely when hearts are 6-2 when they are unknown) but nobody got close to that.
Only one pair - across 18 tables - managed to get to a slam at all (although we can excuse Malcolm & Mike who collected +1100 from 5♥x-5). Why was the slam difficult to bid?
One answer might be that the North-South pair were not given an easy ride. Most tables started P-P-2♥(weak) and now North had to decide what to bid. The practical bid - found at a number of tables was 3N. The one table to bid a slam had South raise this 3N bid to 4N (quantitative, and partner cannot expect more than 10 hcp from a passed hand). North had the chance now to bid the almost impregnable 6♣ slam but he went for 6N and it rolled home easily when the clubs broke 2-1.
But in fact, that was rather gentle bidding from East-West. East could well bid 4♥ over 3N and now 4N would be natural but it loses the slam connotations. (Dangerous if the 2♥ opener might be five, but that is a good reason for preferring a 1♥ opener in that case). North might feel it is better to go back to 5♣ over 4N, and this might indeed get a raise to the small slam. Another way to make it more difficult for North-South would be for West to open 3♥. North will still bid 3N but it is no longer a jump and South cannot afford to bid on.
As so often, the more you bid (with the one exception noted above) the better off you are.
One Cheltenham team has done well in the EBU's National Inter-Club Knock-Out (NICKO) over many years - reaching the final three times but losing then to Southampton(1995), Manchester (2007) and Cambridge (2012). This year they cruised through their quarter-final and semi-final matches and their opposition in the final will be determined by a match this coming Friday. In Sunday's match, Richard Butland found himself at the helm in this 4♠ contract. The opening bid had shown hearts and a minor, less than an opening bid, and it all looked easy until he won the heart opening lead and played a top spade to find out the bad break.
There are now 3 trump losers looming but it is always wrong to give up. The next step was clear - if the club finesse works the only losers are those trumps and the contract is secure. So over to the ♦A and cash the ♥K to throw the losing diamond, and run the ♣Q. West won that with the king and tried a second diamond ruffed in hand. Ricahrd now cashed the ♣J and the ♣A and led out the ♣T. What could West do? He ruffed with the ♠T and led another diamond, but Richard ruffed that again in hand. Now holding ♠K7 ♣9 opposite ♠98 ♥4, he played his last club. West was down to ♠QJ4 and could ruff with the jack but then had to lead away from the queen. Contract made, and I forgot to say - it was doubled too!
The defence could have done better - can you see how?
The success came about because declarer was able to reduce his trumps and end-play West. This is made much more difficult if West ducks the lead of the ♣Q, smoothly, as if declarer now runs the jack, West can win and play back a third club. The timing has changed and the end-play does not materialise. If the ducking of the club queen indicates the position of the king, then declarer can reject the second finesse, instead ruffing a diamond at that point and then playing club ace and another.
Can West find a smooth duck here? Possibilities from the initial bidding and the play in diamonds and hearts are that partner is 0652, 0625, 0643 or 0634. The diamond discard by declarer on the ♥K only makes sense from short diamonds - so it is a choice of 0652 or 0643. Whichever it is, declarer has another club and the duck cannot cost.
It's a tricky game.