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This was the best slam hand in the 28 deals of last night's league match. There were two other hands where slam was makeable but none of those contracts was bid (and neither slam was great); plus the 6♠ slam bid on B7 which was made on a fortunate lead, and one pair 6♥ on B25 only to go down two.
The bidding problem shown comes from a common start when playing a weak NT with four card majors. At this point you'd like to show club support but also the balanced nature of the hand. Bidding NT doesn't seem ideal with this spade holding. What's your poison?
The easiest way out of these problems is, of course, not to start from here. The way to avoid the issue is not to open 1♥ (or more generally to avoid opening a 4-card major) when you have a decent alternative. So here either a 1♣ or (if in range) 1N opening would have avoided the issue.
If you are hooked on 4-card majors you need to put the spare 3N bid to use here. It is a spare bid because 2N (showing extras) is game forcing and that can handle all balanced hands. There are a number of choices but the simplest is to let 3N show a balanced minimum (15-17 since you are game forcing) with four card support for partner's minor. Stronger hands with support can justify 2N and then supporting at the 4-level when partner bids 3N.
On this occasion it is close but the 5-card clubs and the 14-hcp and the 5422 shape justify making a try over 3N and after 4♣-4♦(cue)-4♠(cue) the East hand is sufficiently control rich to insist on a slam.
Looking at two hands, 6♣ is an excellent contract with two sure tricks in each side suit, plus five trumps and a ruff of the fourth diamond - at least until the trumps turn out to be 4-0. Carefully cashing either the ace or queen first lets you pick up all 4-0 breaks and when you find the bad break you will need one extra trick from diamonds. The winning play of the losing finesse of the queen, and then cashing the ace and finally finessing for the ten. That play in the diamond suit is the a priori best line, but the club break, the lack of a diamond lead from T94, and West's discomfort in discarding on four rounds of trumps - these all point to playing West for the diamond ten.
Three pairs bid to 6♣ on this hand, and two bid to 6N. The latter is a somewhat inferior contract, but when the clubs break 4-0 is comes down to the same considerations and so it should make.
This hand from last night's practice match caused a lot of head scratching. Every table opened 3♦ even vulnerable against not. On the plus side the shape is not 7222, the suit quality is ideal for a preempt, and it is first in hand. So the bid is clearly justified, even before we see the problems created for the other side.
The first problem is for East over the opening bid - what to do with a 5332 shape and 12 HCP. This is a hand which would happily have opened a weak NT and shown a minimum when asked. Despite this, three pairs found a 3♠ bid (and the fourth passed). This comes with serious dangers of partner having short spades and the third hand being able to make a penalty double. It is not recommended; even over a 2-level preempt, a double is preferred to an overcall, unless the hand is seriously one-suited or two-suiter. Over this 3♦ a double is my preference, as these 12 high card points are all working cards. The pass is also quite acceptable.
Let's look first at what happens after 3♦-3♠-P. Clearly the West hand will proceed, and be thinking that there are three denominations in the running. There is little option but to introduce the first of these with 4♣ and this creates a dilemma for East. It can hardly be right to invent a heart suit or to rebid this spade suit, so the choice is between 4♦ as a waiting bid (not extra values as you are already game forcing, and too useful as a mark-time bid to insist on a control) and a raise to 5♣. The appeal of the latter is that it might dampen partner's spirits, but in practice of the three who overcalled with 3♠ and who all heard 4♣, only one raised to 5♣ and their partner gave them one more. Full marks there. Two Easts, amazingly, rebid 4♠; one heard his partner pass and fortunately there were only three trump losers, so that game made. The other West continued by torturing partner with a 5♦ cue bid. From East's point of view this was slamming in either clubs or spades, and he cue bid 5♥ only to hear partner raise this to 6♥. He did not feel able to bid these spades for a third time, and the pass of 6♥ actually earned +980 on the board for a top score.
To be fair, it is very difficult to handle a 2-suiter like West's after partner has overcalled even at a lower level. If the 3♠ overcall did indeed have the sort of suit one should have to come in at this level, then you would expect 97 doubleton and a void to be adequate support.
And that difficulty is still there after 3♦-P-P and after 3♦-X-P. In the former case, one useful tool is to defend over a minor suit preempt with the 4-level bids having the same pattern as your defence to a 1N opening (on the theory that both want the best way of finding major suit fits). Here for some 4♥ would now show hearts and a minor (clubs here) and game going values. Partner would cue bid 4♠ (never right to argue with partner's two suiter) and on confidently to the heart slam. After a double the responder can just assume that both hearts and clubs are good enough for slam, and the only issue would be stopping at the 6-level (and finding the grand were the spades headed by the AK). The one table which saw 3♦-P-P found a double over which partner of course bid 4♠. It continued P-5♣-P-5♥ and all pass. This just shows that being able to handle two suiters over a preempt matters.
The other interpretation of all this discussion is that "preempts work".
This was the other slam in the first round hands for the County KO and like yesterday's hand, there was only one pair bid to the seven level, and again that was the level you wanted reach.
Only two auctions are known and they both started 1♦ - 1♥ and have been censored. So how should it be bid?
With 5-5 in two suits it is always right to bid the higher suit first, so here it must start 1♦-1♠. South might be tempted to show the club suit, but it's wrong to hide the spade support, and the hand doesn't deserve another bid, so it is now or never. Over the 2♠ bid, the default action for natural bidders is 3♥ and over this it seems honest for South to bid 3N. The club values are not good news for North, but there is a hint - almost a guarantee in a weak NT system - of a singleton heart. North should now institute cue bidding and then a 4N ask, possibly also checking on the ♣K, before bidding the grand slam.
The alternative approach after 1♦ -1♠-2♠ is to bid 2N as an asking bid, over which 3♣ by South would show a 3154 shape. How North now continues is undiscussed territory for all of us, but one hopes that a path to 7♠ can be found.
The grand slam looks excellent, with 11 top tricks and two heart ruffs to make 13. But declarer needs to be careful, and curiously it is the lead of a singleton (very unusual against a grand slam) which creates the problem. After a club lead, declarer needs to start by ruffing two hearts, intending then to cash the ♣KQ, but when the heart king falls the clubs are not needed and declarer can just draw trumps instead. Playing a second club too early lets East ruff and the grand slam is now down.
How the one pair bid the grand slam has still to be discovered. Does anyone know?
There was one exceptionally tough match in last night's first round draw for the County Knockout, when Angseesing was pitched against Waggett. There were plenty of swings ending 66-79 in favour of the team of Peter Waggett with Roger Jackson, and Richard Harris playing with Mark Rogers. The winners gained enormously from swings on two slam hands, of which this was one.
The bidding shown was the winner team's auction to the good grand slam which no other team reached. We cannot offer much to recommend about it after the third bid.
More interesting is whether or not the grand slam (everyone bid to some slam) should have been bid with confidence rather than on a whim. Most people started with a 2N opener, with an excellent 21-count (upgraded mentally to a 22-count). Clearly South will show spades, but then comes the key question, whether to show diamonds next or not.
If South shows the diamond suit through a 2N-3♥-3♠-4♦ sequence, what does North do? A favoured approach is always to sign off in either 4♠ or 5♦ with a minimum, and to use the other three bids as slam interest, with 4♥ for slam interest in spades (else no there is no way to stop in 4♠), and 5♣ for slam interest in diamonds, leaving 4N for slam interest but no fit. Here that would be fine for South, who is now intent on playing in spades. How you get to the grand slam now remains uncertain, as none of us have ever discussed what happens after 4N!
More promising is for South to ignore the diamonds and treat the hand as a spade single suiter. This gives up a good grand slam opposite ♠AT♥A64♦KQJ8♣ AT5, and that is somewhat short of a 2N opener. But it also avoids finding a diamond contact opposite ♠AT♥AKQ♦J764♣AKT5. You cannot just blast a slam in case they are cashing two top hearts, so your best bet is either transfer at the 3-level or the 4-level and then bid 5♣ showing shortage there. After a 5♦ cue, you need to sign off in 5♠ but partner continues with a heart control. Continuing with 5N (ace asking since 4N was missed) gets a response showing all the keycards and North can now see that the grand slam is good.
Easy game this.
It was surprising to see so few defenders collect their tricks on this board from Monday. The auction seems almost inevitable, although an immediate leap to 4♥ by South would have given the defence less information. There were four tables did not play in 4♥; one was when South on the second turn bid only 3♥, one when North played 3N, and the other two were 5♥ contracts, bid presumably over the opponent's 4♠. Bidding 3♠ is actually par on this deal (not quite true!), but given that so many made the heart game, sacrificing in 4♠ might have been a good safety move, and when the opponents bid on it shows a fine profit.
Against 4♠ it is normal for West to lead a spade, and if the bidding is as shown then East will win and know that a switch is needed. The question is whether to play partner for a top heart, in which case leading a club might get you a heart ruff, or to go after diamonds, where you need partner to have KQx in the suit. And there might be some combinations that work too.
The downside of leading the club is that partner needs to turn up with the heart ace and declarer must not have a singleton club, which is a lot to ask. Partner having a slow heart trick and something in diamonds is much more appealing, so the diamond switch seems better odds. After a switch to the low diamond you expect the defence to cash three rounds of the suit. What comes next? The only chance is a fourth diamond, and that works wonders - promoting the heart jack as the fifth defensive trick.
Why did no table manage that?
The par contract was reached very few times on this hand from Monday, and the puzzle is why?
The bidding shown was a common start. After partner has passed West's ambitions are limited, and it seems right to make a preemptive bid. But after the opponents volunteer 5♦ you need to decide on whether or not to defend. You don't have much defensive strength, but partner may be sitting there with a juicy diamond holding. Which way do you jump?
The key is that partner must get involved, and there is only one way to do that which still allows your partnership to defend, and that is with a double.
In common with the theme that where at all feasible, any double shows extras and a desire to bid on (progressive rather than penalty) this double by a hand which has already declared weakness is an ACTION DOUBLE, giving the message that you want to bid again but you are letting partner make the final decision. Here it would allow partner to sacrifice in a very cheap 5♠. You give up the ability to set a trap for the opposition by making a deceptive bid, and then doubling for penalties, but that is a small price to pay.
It is curious to note that had you overcalled 1♠ you would have known what to do as then partner's 4♠ bid would tell you more about their hand, while the raise of 2♠ covers a wide variety of hands. Other winners on this hand were the Easts who opened 1♠ in first seat. With a good lead and this vulnerability, opening in first seat is the right thing to do. After the 1♠ opener, West had no problem bidding 5♠.
The just concluded run of the EBU's Inter-Club Knock-Out started in September 2016 with 222 teams from bridge clubs all across the country, including 7 teams from Cheltenham Bridge Club. For the fourth time, one of the Cheltenham teams has reached the final, and the final was played on Saturday last - against a team from Tunbridge Wells BC. For the fourth time, Cheltenham came second in the final. The Cheltenham team was Richard Butland & Paul Denning, Richard Chamberlain & Patrick Shields. Patrick & Paul have been in all four teams which reached the final, and the two Richards were in the team on the last three occasions.
Here was an early hand where they outplayed us to make game. After the uninformative bidding shown (1N was 15-17 balanced), West led the ♥8 ... over to you ....
It is not impossible to make 9 tricks without the diamond suit - all it needs is the club queen onside. Can you do better? The answer is yes - the diamonds offer a better option for 5 tricks, an 81% chance of 5 tricks by leading out the ace first and then towards the queen. So Espen Erichson rose with the heart ace and played diamonds, knocking out the king. The defence continued with a heart to the ♥K and a club through to the queen and back to the ace, but at this point the defence had only four tricks and declarer had the rest.
As well as making your plan for diamonds you must be also be watching for traps. What was noticed by Espen but missed by our man, was that running the heart at trick one could see the opposition win and switch to clubs. And indeed that is that happened. After one heart and a club switch, the defenders had three club tricks to go with the two red suit kings - and that was 3N-1.
The Tunbridge Wells teams had three hurdles to overcome - first the heart lead by their West when no other lead creates a problem, second rising with the heart ace by their South to avoid the club switch, and finally the switch to clubs after winning the ♥K by their East. Well done, Tunbridge Wells.
We saw the strongest responding hand for some time last night, when the 24-count shown heard partner open a weak NT, of the 11-14 range. There is no doubt that you want to bid a slam, but the question is whether to bid a small slam or a grand slam, and in no-trumps or in a suit?
The conventional wisdom is that you need 37 hcp (actually I might lower this) to make 7N and that is probably true as long as the points missing do not include a king. It is very hard, on balanced hands, to make 12 tricks in just three suits to go with the ace in the fourth. Here there are only two kings missing and it would be nice to check on these before bidding 7N. It's also worth considering a suit contract, as that often generates an extra trick. The same consideration - missing a king is bad news - applies to a suit contract, and if you are missing just a few jacks or a queen and a jack, the extra trick from the 4-4 fit might not matter.
The key when you don't know what to do is to consult partner. You might start with 2♣ asking for majors, or 2♠ (for some) starting a Baron sequence (bidding suits up the line). Again it comes back to the missing kings - you could find a suit fit and then invoke ace and king asking, but if you don't find a fit, any NT bid will be natural and you lose the chance. This is curiously a position where Gerber 4♣ becomes useful - just like it was useful on one hand about 8 years ago! You can check for aces and then for kings and when a king is missing, it seems that 6N is the prudent choice.
How well does that work? Look at the hands and the answer ....
Simulation of 103 openers opposite this particular 24-count showed that
As you can see there is one king missing (and a jack) but there are 13 top tricks - so much for science!
The results were surprisingly varied. Two pairs hit a disaster when consulting partner after the 1N opener, by raising to 5N. It is pretty standard that this is a choice of slams - either 6N or 7N because no suit has been mentioned. Sad to say, two players didn't pick upon this and passed 5N to score an embarassing +520. And these were in the first and second divisions, while everyone in the third division did bid the slam.
Four of the remaining 10 pairs bid the grand slam. Some chose 7N without consulting partner, and might not have made that choice if they knew they had only 36 hcp and were missing a king - but it's the result that matters! Anyone who consulted partner, would have got a negative response from such an unappealing 12-count, and stopped in the small slam.
This hand looks like a very easy slam to bid, but it eluded most pairs on Monday night. A lot was generally read into North's response to the opening bid. Where North bid 1♠ it was followed by clubs from South and now North became mesmerised by the two stops in the fourth suit, and quickly bid 3N. In practice this contract made even though there were five top spades to be cashed.
But better contracts were available. After 1♥ - 1♠ one South rebid 4♥ and his partner just charged ahead (via 4N asking about keycards) into 6♥ and they got the top score on the board. One pair started really well, when North preferred to bid the stronger club suit first. This style is to be encouraged, as long as the hand has game forcing values. The initial 2-level bid, especially if game forcing, gets partner thinking game and slam rather than part-score and it often works out well. Here it sh asould have hit the jackpot as South can now bid 3♠ to show a good hand with club support and short spades. Bidding the slam is easy then, although this pair had a slight mix-up and ended (disastrously) in 6N.
One other pair bid to 6♣ - perhaps they'll tell us how ....
The East hand on this board was the wildest distribution seen on Monday. After South's pre-empt, North might well have raised to game, as hearing either 3N or a spade bid from East would not be good news. The pass gave East a much improved chance to describe the hand, here with a 4♥ bid promising a major-minor two suiter. Over this West could easily bid 4♠ but now East had to ask - was this enough?
In practice East chose to bid 5♥ next, clearly a slam try and agreeing spades. A bid of 5♣ might have been more informative, but it was likely that partner knew which was the second suit, and it was better not to introduce any doubt as to the denomination in which to play. At this point things went wrong and the pair ended up in 6♠.
You might think it was all over then but propsects were improved when North led a heart. Now dummy's diamond was discarded and declarer was given an entry to hand. The best play in the spade suit, with no informaiton about distribution, is to cash the ace and king. Here, when South is known to have seven hearts to North's three, the odds change and - given no opportunity to cash a top spade first - the best odds are a first round finesse of the jack. Sad to say, declarer was aware of this and took the finesse and when it lost the contract could no longer be made.
Could the defence have avoided that heart lead? One option would be for South to double the 5♥ (or even the 4♥) bid by East. Since partner was by default leading a heart, this is not a lead directing bid but an anti-lead-directing bid - suggesting to partner that they might be disappionted in this suit and there is an alternative which might work better. While this might get the diamond lead you want - look what happens if North, as they might, finds a club lead. Decalrer has no choice but to play the spades from the top, find an entry to hand with the ♠T, and dispose of the diamond on the ♥A. The slam now makes!
All 11 tables played this hand in 3N, and whether it was easy or not came down to the opening lead. Declarer has one top trick in hearts, and four in diamonds, and two in clubs. When a spade was led by the spade bidder round to the king the total is eight and declarer should try clubs next - but when they were found to be 4-1 offside, there was only two club tricks. The fall back is to play hearts - so come to a top diamond and play a heart to the ten and when that holds, you now have nine tricks.
But only six declarers got a spade lead - the record shows one defender led a club, one led a heart, and three led diamonds. The problem is much the same with any of these leads - you test the suits and find you have two hearts, four diamonds, and two clubs. So you need to manufacture a trick out of spades. Can you do that?
The answer is yes, but it needs an endplay to do it. On the natural play of two clubs and then a heart finesse before cashing the diamonds - you can work out that West was 4-1 in the minors and has bid spades, and so it likely to have a 5341 shape. That means West is open to an endplay. If you play a spade at this point,West can win it but will simply play a second heart to avoid the endplay. The answer is to cash the ♥A before playing spades, and now West can win the spade and cash the ♥K but then has only spades left and has to lead one round to declarer's king. Notice that declarer didn't (and cannot afford to) play the king on the first round of spades - in fact playing small from both hands is good enough as long as you lead from the North hand and cover East's card. If East held any of ♠Q6/♠Q7/♠J6/♠J7 it would have been important to lead the ♠ 8 for the first round duck. However if West had the AQJ76 then East could cover the eight with the nine and you are doomed. The most likely holding is one of ♠Q6/♠Q7/♠J6/♠J7, so go for that and be pleased that playing with the odds brings the contract home.
This hand proved troublesome to a number of teams on Monday. It represents an unsound slam, as with a spade loser you need to find the club king onside and the diamond king onside (usually) and that's only a 25% shot before you factor in not losing two spades.
After the opening bid the responding hand will always be thinking about slam possibilities, but the opening bid shows limited values and that means slam is uncertain. The answer is for responder to consult opener. After the sequence above reaches 3♠ the West hand can show interest in two ways. Bidding a natural, invitational 4N as shown is one (ace asking would cue bid then bid 4N), and cue bidding and then stopping in 4♠ is the other. But the fact is that four pairs could not stop before the 6-level.
But now to the play. The three potential losers are in clubs, diamonds and spades and you can only afford one. There are two ways to tackle the spade suit; if you cannot afford a loser you must find doubleton QJ or North with a singleton honour - and starting with the king on the first round is best. If on the other hand you can afford one but not two losers in spades, the best play is different.
How do you tell what to do? The answer is to test the minor suits first. If you try them both and find both finesses working, the best play in the spade suit is to start with small to the ten. This allows you to pick up all 3-2 breaks and all 4-1 breaks except for singleton honour with South.
None of those in slam found the winning line. One declined the club finesse at trick one, convinced that nobody would lead away from the king. Another started the spades by leading the ace. It is very important that if you bid 23% slams, that you do succeed on the 23% of occasions when the cards are lying just right!
There was a variety of results on this board, even though everyone played in spades. There were 6 tables in 4♠, 5 tables in 3♠, and just one stopped in 2♠. The results were all 9 or 10 tricks with most of those in game making it when it can or should go down one.
First to the bidding shown. The third in hand 2♥ opener is stronger than usual but was chosen as a 2♥ rebid was likely on this hand and starting at the 2-level can make life difficult for the opponents. Here it goaded South into stretching with 3♥ showing spades and a minor. North had been expecting a bit more and also stretched to game, but it turned out that every high card was playing a useful part and the game was viable. Opening 1♥ would have made it easier for North-South to stop in a part-score.
Over to East for the opening lead. Given partner would have little, East had to look to a ruff ruff to gain a trick, so out came the ♦J. West won trick one with the ace and now needed to stop and think. After the top diamond and a ruff, there were still two tricks to find, and this meant East having either two aces or one ace and the ♥KQ. Two of these three need East to hold the spade ace, and from that thought Mark Rogers spotted a third more attractive alternative, needing just the spade ace with East.
He switched to his singleton heart. Now when partner won the ♠A there would be a heart ruff, and after that could come the diamond ruff. Really neat, and he beat the game by doing this. The other table took the diamond ruff at trick two, after which the only successful defence would be to lead away from the long hearts (so as to give partner a heart ruff after winning the♠A) but this was not found.
The key to getting this hand right is to be thinking in terms of all the tricks you need to beat the contract, and not just thinking one trick at a time.