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Hands of the Week
  Opener's second call after an overcall

This is hand 10 from Thursday 21 May 2020. Everyone is vulnerable.
East is dealer and opens 1♠. South bids 2, partner passes and North passes.

What should you be thinking and what do you bid?

Click Show Answer below.

West can’t have 4 spades and probably not 3, since with 3 she can raise to 2♠ after an overcall (or do something more constructive if stronger).
West won't normally have 4 hearts, otherwise she will double (but see below).
West hasn’t got a reasonable balanced hand with diamond stopper(s) or she would have bid NT.
So West must have diamonds and clubs.
West must also have some points since South has simply overcalled and North has not bid.

So what should East do? Bidding 2♠ can’t be correct and there aren’t enough points to bid 3♣.

The action that caters for every possibility is to double (take-out).

Click Show All Hands above to the see the full deal.

As you will see West will be very pleased to pass your double. That would give 800 and a top.
(On this hand West does have 4 hearts, so could have doubled the 2 overcall. But on this occasion doesn't want to do because she wants to pass if East does indeed double).

Now for the good news. You don’t have to worry about all the analysis above. The simple advice is:
If you open, LHO overcalls and it is passed back to you then your first thought should be to double provided you are short in the suit overcalled.

What do we think of South's 2 overcall. It was a bid chosen at 5 out of 7 tables.

Bidding at the 2-level with such a poor suit and a balanced hand is very, very dangerous and ill-advised. You need a good 6-card suit, especially vulnerable. It should satisfy Klinger’s rule – add the number of cards to the number of honours and you can overcall at that level. In any case, with a balanced hand with less than 15 points it is usually correct to pass.

Mike Rothwell
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  Squeeze and endplay

This is a hand 28 from Thursday 7 November 2019 as reported by Jill Rushton.

It is a cold 6 slam involving a squeeze and endplay, executed with flair by Mike Howse against me and my partner, for an outright top!

How do you plan the play in 6 by North on the lead of ♣6 or J? (You will discover that West has 5 spades and East has 4 hearts!)

Declarer (North) soon discovered the 4/0 heart trump split and the 5/0 split in his secondary 4/4 spade fit. Both are surmountable so long as declarer doesn't make the mistake of ruffing his second club in dummy early in the play, thereby losing control of the club suit. If a club is led declarer must take it and immediately set about drawing trumps and counting West's discards. 

West has to find 4 discards on the 4 trump tricks and can only afford 1 spade discard, so has to let three minor suit cards go, it matters not which because declarer, having drawn trumps plays a top spade revealing the unfriendly split and continues squeezing West with three rounds of diamonds, making sure he ends in his hand.

If West discards a second spade declarer simply ducks a spade and claims the rest of the tricks; if West has kept, as I did, three spade cards declarer plays either ♣A ace and another which he ruffs in dummy, (or if a club was the opening lead, he now ruffs his second club in dummy) and leads a low spade towards his 10. West wins the trick but is endplayed, having been squeezed out of a club exit card.

Jill Rushton
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  The importance of the lead

This is a hand from Thursday 26 September 2019. Malcolm Hartley noticed an interesting feature about the effect of the opening lead.

North passed, East opened 1♣ and South overcalled 2♠. West decided to double, North passed and East bid 3NT which closed the auction.
What would you lead?

A couple of comments on the bidding.
Even though he is a bit weak, West decided to double in case his partner had hearts, knowing that he could always revert to clubs if necessary. East took him for a somewhat stronger hand and, with the good clubs, decided to bid 3NT.

Back to the lead question. The best opening lead is 10 (or K). So what is the amusing feature? If you play out the hand you will discover that North/South can take the first 13 tricks for a score of +450! In practice South led ♠A for a score of +100. North/South can actually make 6 but no-one managed to bid it.


  A freak hand

This is a hand from Tuesday 10 September 2019.

West opened 1♠ (minimum but able to cope with any response from partner) and East raised to 4♠.  All the other Souths thought "only 15 points - one not working"  - and passed. I reckoned that partner must be short in spades so there must be a play for 5♣ and bid it. West, with nothing to spare, should have passed but East (6 losers) would have protected (5, to show the double fit, would have been better than 5♠). However West pushed on immediately to 5♠.  As South, I had no reason to suspect that this was not making so I "sacrificed" in 6♣, doubled by West. The lead was K, as West suspected correctly that ♠A would be ruffed. This was no more successful as 13 tricks are cold on any lead against a club or heart slam.

At all the other tables declarer made 10 tricks in 4♠ when North failed to find a diamond lead. Indeed best defence (impossible to find at the table) would defeat 4♠ by 3 tricks. Seeing all the hands, can you do better?

Philip Wraight


After ruffing a diamond opening lead, South must underlead AK successively in hearts and clubs to get two more diamond ruffs, to go with one club and two heart winners.

Some other learning points from the editor.

  1. After 4♠ from East, South knows that East/West have a good spade fit. Therefore North/South also have a good fit. It is most likely to be in clubs. Using the losing trick count, South has only 5 losers (or even 4 if you are optimistic about the club suit). So 5♣ is a safe bid.
  2. Defeating 4♠ by 3 tricks is almost impossible to find at the table. But it should be defeated by one trick which would have produced an excellent match-point score.
  3. Suppose North leads 5. South wins with the King and cashes ♣A. North is almost guaranteed to hold Q so South should now lead a small heart. North should ask "why has South put me rather than cash the A? Dummy is now void in clubs and hearts so the only possibility left is for North to lead a diamond.

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  A Tuesday hand

With the East hand, how would you respond if West opens 1NT?

You know partner has a balanced hand with 12-14 points so there are a combined 33 to 35 points. It is obvious to respond 6NT. Yet of 9 EW pairs, the only ones to reach this contract were Bob Boyd and Dorothy Bayliss. Well done.

At Pairs, how do you play 6NT on a club or spade lead? (Remember that to do well at pairs the overtrick is important). The East/West hands are:

♠ A Q 10
 J 7 6
 K 9
♣ Q 9 5 4 3

♠ K 7
A K 4
A 8 7 6 5
♣ A K 7

When you play clubs, you find that the suit breaks 3-2. You pause and discover you have 12 tricks (5 clubs, 3 spades, 2 hearts and 2 diamonds).  Can you see any possibility of making a 13th trick?  (This could be important to get a good score if the whole field is in 6N as they should be).  It is particularly important for the two pairs who have overbid to 7C and 7NT respectively!

It does no harm to cash A and  K. On a lucky day the Q may drop doubleton - on this occasion it does not, but you have set up J as a threat to the player still holding Q. Now run all your winners outside the diamond suit. You will finish with the following position when the last club is played. If South discards Q, hoping partner has J, your J becomes a winner. If South keeps Q he must discard a diamond. Now when you cash K and A you find that 8 is a winner. Well done - a genuine squeeze.

K 9

A 8 7
  South (still to play)
Q J 10

Philip Wraight

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  Cue bidding

This is hand 11 from the 2019 St. Mary's Hospice Sims. The Kendal heat was on Monday 24th June 2019.

South passed. The first issue is whether West should open the bidding with a 12 point 4441 hand. It is the worst possible shape and usually plays badly. Here West decided to open 1 (the middle of 3 touching suits). It is a borderline decision and might work out badly if partner bids 1♠ or 1NT (West then has to rebid 2♣).

North overcalled 2♣ and East bid 2. Since 2 is a higher ranking suit than opener's it should show 6 (or a good 5) card suit and at least 10 points. South passed and West was delighted to raise to 3. So what should East do next?

It is wrong to ask for aces when you have a void. You need to know which controls your partner has.

So East should bid 3♠. Since hearts have been agreed this is not a natural bid. It shows a spade control (usually the ace or a void) and shows slam interest, playing in hearts. West now bids 4 which shows a diamond control and, very importantly, denies a club control (otherwise West would have bid 4♣). This is excellent news for East since the void isn't wasted (which it would be if West had the ♣A). Now it makes sense for East to ask for aces with the knowledge that West doesn't have the ♣A. So East bids 4NT and West responds 5♣ showing 3 key cards, which must be the A, A and K. East can now confidently bid 6 slightly worried that 7 might make.

So the full bidding was:

South West North East
Pass 1 2♣ 2
Pass 3 Pass 3♠1
Pass 42 Pass 4NT3
Pass 5♣4 Double 6 
All pass      

1. Cue bid showing slam interest in hearts
2. Cue bid denying the ability to cue bid in a lower ranking suit
3. Roman key card Blackwood
4. 3 key cards

The slam was bid by only 13 out of 35 pairs.

How do you play the hand on a club lead?

Draw trumps ending in dummy and take the spade finesse. You can subsequently discard 2 diamonds and cross ruff making all 13 tricks.

Mike Rothwell

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  A slam

This is hand 9 from Monday 18th March 2019
Most tables bid to 4 or 3NT, making from 9 to 11 tricks, but one pair bid the 6 slam. North and South passed throughout.
North led ♣10, taken by ♣K in dummy. There are 8 tricks off the top plus a ninth after forcing out the A. Where do you find the extra 3 tricks?

Drawing trumps will not make the contract so one way is to hope for 3 extra tricks by cross-ruffing, without drawing trumps. North’s lead suggested a singleton or doubleton; this is useful as dummy’s trumps sit over North’s. Declarer had to hope that South has a similar shortage in diamonds so that West’s trumps sit over South’s.

Declarer plays K from dummy, and South cashes the Ace; the Q is now established. South is fixed, whatever is led plays into dummy: South plays the 6, East discards ♠9, North plays J and dummy the K. A small diamond from dummy, South trumps with 3, East over trumps with 7.
♣A led, North plays ♣6 showing a doubleton, dummy discards ♠2, South plays low club.

West continues crossruffing till the three low diamonds are made. ♠A and ♠K complete the twelve tricks.



Board 8 from Tuesday was of some interest, coming so soon after the seminar on defence.

The first question is what should South bid after three passes?

While it is sometimes right to open the bidding 4th in hand with only 10 points, the relevant question here is "Who has the spades?". Only one pair out of five passed  - well done Wendy Nuttall - and was rewarded with a near top. (In 4 other cases East had opened the bidding light). A good rule to use to help decide whether to open 4th in hand is the "rule of 15". Add your points to the number of spades and bid only if it comes to 15 or more.

My partner opened 1 and the bidding proceeded

South West North East
1 1♠ 2 4♠
Pass Pass Double All Pass

I (North) led 7, 6 from dummy and you win with the K, declarer playing 8.

How do you plan to defeat the contract and what do you lead to trick 2?

Hint - what is the significance of the card partner led? Which diamonds can you not see, and who has them?

My partner assumed that, as I had supported diamonds in the auction, I had Q and returned a small diamond, (hoping to put me in for a heart switch). Now the contract could not be defeated.  If I (North) had held Q73, Q72 or Q732 in diamonds I would not have led 7. Continuing with A, dropping the Q, would have been equally futile. (Now declarer's losing heart would be discarded on J.)  The only hope of defeating the contract is to find partner with a club trick, which would also provide an entry for a lead through dummy's hearts to establish K as the fourth defensive trick, before A has been knocked out.

Which club should South switch to?  The answer is ♣8 (high for hate), not 4 or 3 (low for like - suggesting possession of a club honour). Partner wins with ♣A and a heart return defeats the contract. Well done to Dudley and Ann, the only NS pair to defeat 4♠, although South made it harder for the defence by leading 2 at trick 1 rather than 7.


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  A huge potential swing?

The final NBL match of the season took place on Saturday 6 October. Both Westmorland teams didn't do very well this year, although the B division team had a good finish. The full results are on the Westmorland website.

Philip Wraight has written up board 19 from the first half, which he played in the C division match.

South West North East
Pass 1 Pass 1♠
Pass 2NT Pass 6NT
All Pass      

I was dealer South. With KJ104 over dummy's bid suit it looked as if the only possible way to defeat the contract was to attract a spade lead so I doubled (double of a freely bid NT slam suggests leading dummy's first bid suit). Sally duly led ♠9 and declarer, after some thought played A. Now everything depended on the play of the club suit. See below for how this worked out.

There were a variety of results at other tables. Five pairs, including Westmorland's opponents in the other section, were in 6♣ - always making at least 12 tricks even with a wrong guess in how to play the trumps. (Note that at teams you need to be in the safest slam. It is difficult to understand why East bid 1♠. A 2♣ should lead to a contract of 6♣.) Our immediate team-mates did not try for slam and made 11 tricks in 3NT.

Seven other pairs were in 6NT, including our pair in the other section. All received a neutral heart lead. Three of them managed to go off (including our other team mates). How did they manage to do so? How would you have played as declarer?

Let's look first at the play in 6NT at the other tables. Taking the club suit in isolation, the odds are marginally in favour of  'playing for the drop' of ♣Q, by bashing out the Ace and King - a 52% chance of success. On this hand there is another consideration. You have to guard against N gaining the lead to play a spade through AQ, when you would have to decide whether to finesse for the King before you had been able to explore other possibilities (the diamonds might break 3-3 for example). So here it is best to make the safety play of finessing North for ♣Q by playing ♣A then a club towards KJ. As the cards lie this gives you the 12th trick at once.

Suppose (on a different hand) South had started with doubleton ♣Q. You win the red suit exit, and pause to consider your options. You now have 11 tricks and the 12th can come from a 3-3 D split or the spade finesse, but you do not need to decide which just yet. Play the remaining heart(s) - if South exited with a diamond,  I hope you unblocked A on the first round of the suit to keep the entries fluid, and run three more club tricks, discarding a diamond. What can South do? He can afford 2 major suit discards but must keep ♠K guarded so on the last club must discard a diamond. Now when you run the diamonds you find that the 4th one is a winner and you do not need the spade finesse. This 'squeeze' works whenever the same hand has ♠K and 4 diamonds. The same line of play gives all 13 tricks on the hand at the table, if you finessed N for ♣Q.

At our table, probably thinking that my double was more likely to show 6 points than 4 (!) declarer played me for ♣Q, starting with ♣K. Now Sally had to gain the lead and a second spade put the contract 2 down, for +500. If declarer had guessed to play N for the ♣Q, this line would have resulted in 6NT doubled making an overtrick for +1880 instead of -500.

The opening lead had made things difficult for declarer. Playing off 3 top diamonds would have helped slightly - discovering the 4-2 split would be a slight indication that N might have 3 clubs - but it is not much to go on and West has my sympathy. He was the only declarer as West (of 16 tables)  playing in NT on a spade lead.

Final comment: What might have been. 2380 points is a big swing but hardly 'massive'.  Suppose EW had a bidding misunderstanding and got to 7N doubled (for the lead) and redoubled  (expecting to make).  If the play had gone the same way as at our table we would have scored +1600. If declarer had guessed which way to finesse the clubs and found the squeeze, we would have scored -2980.  A total possible swing of 4580 points - off the top of the IMP scale - could justifiably be called massive. And all on a two way finesse!


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  Tuesday 2 October 2018

The way Board 7 was played represented an interesting defensive problem which I only partially solved. I was East and the bidding was:

South West North East
1 Pass 1♠  2
2♠  All Pass    

I led 9 which drew 2 from partner and Q from declarer who now erred by not starting on the trumps. She played A and K then ruffed 4 with ♠5 (despite my vulnerable 2-level overcall almost certainly promising a 6 card suit). Now the roof fell in. Partner overruffed with ♠8 and played ♣3 to my ♣A. I returned ♣8, to make it clear I didn't have ♣Q. After winning ♣K, partner reluctantly finally switched to a diamond, ruffed with ♠2. Now a heart was ruffed in dummy with ♠9 and over-ruffed with ♠J and another diamond was ruffed with ♠10. At this stage I took my eyes off the ball! We had already defeated a solid contract by 1 trick for what I thought would be a good score. I could not believe that partner still had K trumps (I vaguely assumed declarer had not over-ruffed J with K for fear of losing trump control) so I exited passively with a club and declarer was relieved to win the rest of the tricks. If I had continued with another heart, we make two more tricks, coming to ♠Q and ♠K separately by ruffs, whether declarer ruffs with ♠A or not.

Learning points.
1. This is another example of the recurring theme - "To draw trumps or not to draw trumps? - that is the question".  Here the lead was clearly a singleton and there is a danger of defensive ruffs. Furthermore there was no benefit in trying for a heart ruff as declarer had enough tricks for the contract in diamonds, if trumps could be drawn.
2.  South should have opened 1NT, not 1. Now North will bid 2NT, eliminating the possibility of a lead-directing heart bid. South will pass and the only uncertainty is how many overtricks will be made!

Philip Wraight

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  NBL slam hand

We were pleased with the bidding on this hand in the NBL teams match on Saturday 11 August.

East South West North
Pass 1 Pass 2♣ 
3 3♠ Pass 41
Pass 4♠2 Pass 4NT3
Pass 5♣4 Pass 55
Pass 66 All Pass  

South has shown a distributional strong hand.
1 4 is forcing and shows slam interest
2 4♠ shows at least 6 hearts and 5 spades
3 4NT is Roman Key Card Blackwood asking in first bid suit (Hearts)
4 0 or 3 Key Cards (although the answer should have been 2 with Q!
5 sign off - not sure now but setting the suit
6 I still think slam will make after partner bid a slam try with 4 and ace-asking so bid 6

West leads8. Plan the play.

Win the Ace. Lead the ♣K, covered by A♣ and ruffed.
Play ♠A and ♠K, East following with 2 then Q.
What next?

You need to play the A (the K might drop). Seeing the 9 being played by E, pray and then ruff a spade with the 8. East is likely to be short in hearts on the bidding. Now you can discard a losing diamond on ♣Q. Draw remaining trumps (losing just the K).

When you need to bring home a contract put the cards where they need to be, (taking any known distribution into account) so that you can succeed. If they aren’t as you hoped you often can't make anyway.

Unfortunately there was a change of mind and declarer tried to ruff a third spade which failed when E was able to overruff with the 9.

Babs Matthews

  Placing the cards

This is board 3 from Tuesday 31 July. The bidding should be straightforward.

West East
1NT 2♣1
2 42
All pass  

1 Stayman
2 An alternative second bid by East would be 4, if this would be a splinter in your system. Here West would not be interested and would sign off in 4. But if the West hand had been something like
then a heart slam would be a near certainty.

However the play is the thing. At all seven tables, North led ♣J against the heart game. You should now make 12 tricks, but at three tables declarer managed only 9 tricks, 10 tricks at one table and 11 tricks at three others.

How would you have played to do better?
1) What can you deduce from the ♣J lead? Is it from length or shortage? Who has ♣Q?
2) Having answered 1), which opponent is likely to have length in hearts, including the Q?

The first decision, as with all suit contracts, is "to draw trumps or not to draw trumps?" There are two reasons to immediately draw trumps on this hand.
a) The lead looks worryingly like a singleton and, with A missing, a premature attempt to set up diamonds could lead to a club ruff. Also an early attempt to ruff a spade in hand (a more reasonable line on a none-club lead) might lead to a ruff or over-ruff.
b) If trumps can be drawn without loss, declarer has 11 certain tricks - 4 trumps, two spades, 3 diamonds (after losing to A) and two clubs, and a twelveth trick comes from the marked club finesse.

How should trumps be drawn? Assuming the lead indicates club shortage, North is likely to have the trump length, including the Q. So the best line is to win the first trick with ♣A, play a heart to the King and run J. When this wins and South shows out, it is fairly plain sailing. Continue with two more rounds of hearts, then play J. South can cause a slight problem by ducking, when it is a mistake to overtake with Queen (setting up a diamond trick for the defence). However one can immediately finesse ♣9 and continue diamonds until A is played. On winning the return you have 12 tricks.

Hard luck story. My partner, perhaps worrying about the small doubleton spade, wrongly opened 1 rather than 1NT. Now I, as East, "knew" that she either had a balanced hand too strong to open 1NT, or had 5 hearts, or (rarely) a 4441  shape (so no wasted values in clubs). In any event slam seemed very likely. When "5Ace" Blackwood showed that she had one keycard, I propelled her to 6. She started well, by taking an early heart finesse against North, but then, under time pressure, and perhaps overwhelmed by the enormity of being pushed to a slam on a combined 28 points, lost the plot and went three off. So near and yet so far!

I guess the moral is: do not bid thin slams, especially in a field where making two overtricks in a game contract is likely to get you a good score. I guess I may have been influenced by my last hand the previous Tuesday, when I propelled another inexperienced partner to a minor suit slam, after she had overbid. She played brilliantly to land the contract when the field was making overtricks in 3NT.

Philip Wraight

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  Tuesday 18 July 2018

This is board 6 from Tuesday 18 July. Firstly, how should the bidding go? At our table (I was South and Libby Willoughby North) it was straightforward, EW passing throughout.

South North
1♣ 1
2♣ 3NT
All pass  

It is important, at pairs, even with a void, to be in 3NT not 5♣, as two out of six North/Souths were. Perhaps South incorrectly responded 1 not 1 at the two tables where South ended in 5♣, as South would then have been very worried about the diamonds (an unbid suit).

East led ♠8. Plan the play to give yourself the best chance of 11 tricks. (If you play ♠9 from dummy, West will cover with ♠10).

You have 10 tricks on top (7 clubs and 3 spades). An eleventh can be set up by knocking out A. However an alert East may win A and switch to a heart, when you have three losers and are reduced to 10 tricks again. How can you play to dissuade E from finding the heart switch?

It does no harm to try Q rather than K. East may duck for fear of crashing a singleton King with West.

Much more important - which spade did you win the first trick with?  If you won cheaply with the Queen, you have given the game away that you also have King. If you play ♠K smoothly at trick 1 there is a good chance that West started with Q10x(x) over AJ9 and it will look safer for East to continue spades rather than risk opening up the heart suit.

Final comments:
The other three Norths in 3NT all received a small diamond lead, giving them the 11th trick at once. However two of them only made 10 tricks. Did they continue with another diamond in a greedy attempt to make 12 tricks, only for East to take the Ace and wake up to switch to a heart?

The two Souths playing in 5♣ were booked for a poor score in comparison with 430 or 460 but were allowed to make 11 tricks, in spite of West leading A. Which card would you have played as East?  It is important to play 3, not 2, to show the top of a doubleton. Now when When continues with the King you follow with the 2, completing the signal, and you get your ruff to defeat the contract.


Philip Wraight

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  Tuesday 20 June 2018

West opens 2 and North overcalls 2♠. What should East bid?

With a flat 10 point hand it might not be obvious to make a pre-emptive raise to 4. But, especially at this vulnerability and applying the Law of Total Tricks, it is the best bid. 4 is unlikely to make but if it doesn't then North/South must have a game on. The excellent 4 bid puts North/South in difficulty. If Tony Forrester (who I believe plays negative doubles up to 7 hearts!) were South, he would know what to do, but for most club players, double would be more penalty oriented. 5♣ is too unilateral, and risks missing a diamond fit, so South must pass (not too slowly, which would make it more difficult ethically for North). Since East/West have a fit, North/South must have a fit. If it is not in spades (which South has not supported), it must be in diamonds. Furthermore North has only 5 losers which suggests bidding on. So, in spite of the vulnerability, North must bid 5. South's hand has suddenly become huge. It would be feeble not to go on to 6.

The play in a diamond contract also raises points of interest. Two pairs got to game in diamonds and both managed to go one off. The deal is a good example of the "to draw trumps or not to draw trumps" conundrum. Here setting up one of the black suits by ruffing, and then drawing trumps would lead easily to 12 tricks (13 on a non-heart lead).

Philip Wraight

  Teams 1 Feb 2018

Board 26 from the teams session on 1 February was a textbook example of using elimination play to overcome a bad trump break.

East South West North
Pass 1NT Pass 21
Pass 2♠ Pass 3♠
Pass 4♠ All pass  

1 Transfer to spades

The bidding is routine. At Pairs there might be a temptation for South to try 3NT instead of 4♠ in case the same number of tricks were available in either contract, but at Teams the safer contract is essential.

W leads Q. Plan the play. Hint - can you avoid four losers and guard against a bad trump break?

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When a contract looks easy, look out for what can go wrong. There is a probable loser in clubs and a possible one in hearts. It would be unlucky if both spade honours were offside (as it happens it is even worse, with KJ9 sitting over AQ10) but as this is a possibility, attention should be directed to avoiding a heart loser. This can be achieved if declarer can force the opponents to open up the hearts. To do this diamonds and clubs should be eliminated before playing on trumps, .

So... Win A, ruff a diamond, return to ♣K, ruff the third diamond and play another club to ♣A. If East followed small, South would exit with the 3rd club, but when JC appears, it is likely that East has only two clubs, so South now plays ♠2 towards dummy. When West shows out, ♠10 should be played from dummy. East wins ♠J and is endplayed. A trump return would be helpful (but unlikely) and a diamond allows a ruff (in hand) and discard (club from dummy), so a heart switch is likely. This enables declarer to play the hearts without loss. East can ruff the third round but is endplayed again to lead a trump up to the AQ tenace or give a ruff and discard. The defence can only come to three spade tricks or a club and two spades.

Click here to play out the hand
Philip Wraight


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Board 17 on Thursday 4th January 2108 was an example of what "might have been". A very difficult hand to sort out in the limited time available at the table.
At our table the bidding was

North East South West
Pass Pass 1♣ 1♠
Double1 Pass 2♠2 Pass
2NT Pass 3NT3 All pass

1 1NT is an alternative - either could be right but the singleton club is perhaps in favour of the double.
2 Directional asking bid.
3 Slightly pushy but it is Teams. 9 tricks may depend on whether or not the clubs come in.

How should North play 3NT on the lead of ♠10 - ducked by West after some thought?

There are two possible lines of play, both of which could be scuppered by communication problems.

a) Set up the clubs.
b) Play to make 3 spades, 4 hearts, a diamond and ♣A.

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a) Set up the clubs. There will be 4 club tricks if the suit breaks 3-3 (unlikely on the bidding, as the spades are clearly 5-1) or if East has a singleton honour. The downside is that the hearts will be needed for entries so there may be only two heart tricks. If there are three club tricks and 1 diamond (assuming split honours), three tricks will be needed in spades. The danger is that the defence will take 5 tricks (a spade, two diamonds and two clubs) before the clubs can be established.

b) Play to make 3 spades, 4 hearts, a diamond and ♣A. This looks a better bet, but the timing must be perfect. Win ♠J and unblock both hearts. Lead ♠9 and DUCK when East covers, leaving A8 as a tenace over the K. (If ♠A is taken at this stage there will be only two spade tricks as there will be no entry to the fourth winning spade). Now West can cause a problem by switching to ♣J. This is more likely to be doubleton than singleton so it is safest to duck. West will continue with a spade. After cashing two spades and two hearts a diamond must be led, guessing who to finesse for Q. West wins A and can cash the fifth spade, but then has to lead a diamond to resurrect dummy.

The only time 3NT was bid and made it was played by South (did West not overcall spades?) and was favoured with lead of ♣J (which looks odd since South had presumably opened 1♣). This would have made it obvious to set up 4 club tricks.

Philip Wraight


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A hand of the week submitted by Philip Wraight

Maxim: when a contract appears to be lay-down, look out for hidden problems, but when it appears impossible, go for any chance however unlikely.
This hand illustrates the latter situation. It was played at U3A (Chicago) on Friday 24 November so can be treated as teams tactics rather than pairs.

Playing basic Acol, I opened 1♣ (not 1♠) as South with a view to subsequently buying the contract in NT at the appropriate level. My partner responded 3♣ (not playing inverted minor raises). Now what? At Pairs it would be routine to rebid 3NT. At Teams a club contract looked safer, but should it be game or slam? I could see no sensible way to explore and simply punted 6♣, hoping there was no club loser and that with first round controls in all the other suits it would be possible to develop 12 tricks without losing two.

LHO led ♠K and partner was concerned about the 3♣ bid.

Point for discussion - should one count minor suit losers if a NT contract is still a possiblity? My view is, only on very distributional hands, prepared to pull a NT contract back to the minor. Again it may be different at teams or pairs. At the latter I think a raise to the 2level is better.

Plan the play. (Trumps split 2-1. If West gains the lead they will switch to a red suit).

I won ♠A, ruffed a spade and led a club, inserting 10 when East played ♣9 (in case she had started with KQ9). West won ♣Q and exited with8, covered by Q, K and A. Now what?
I drew the last trump, crossed to dummy with another ruff, and ledQ, again covered by K and A. Now a Heart to 9 established a third heart winner on which the losing diamond went away and 12 tricks rolled in. This was extremely fortunate, depending not only on three successful red suit finesses, but also a mistake by East. Did you spot it?

Answer - When there are touching honours in a suit, it is usually right to cover the second honour not the first. If East had ducked Q I could not have made 12 tricks.

Philip Wraight

  NBL slam

A hand of the week submitted by Philip Wraight

This is the first hand we played in the final B division NBL match.
I thought we bid well to get to 6 by South. Sally (North) opened 1NT and broke my 2 transfer with 2NT (14 points, 4 Hearts and no small doubleton). Looking at just the NS hands the slam is odds on. There is no heart loser if the suit breaks 2-2 or if Q is singleton. Failing this you could fall back on the spade finesse. Can you improve on that line, assuming that you have a heart loser? The lead was 6.

In the B division 6 was bid 6 times (3 by North, 3 by South) but no-one made it. The other 10 pairs played in 4.
In the A division 6 was bid 3 times (1 by North, 2 by South) but no-one made it. One pair were in 6NT down 1 and the other 8 played in 4.
In the C division 6 was bid 3 times (1 by North, 2 by South) but no-one made it. The other 9 played in 4.
Can you do better?
(6 by North is much more difficult in practice so Sally and Philip did well to play it from the South hand)

Two further questions posed by Mike Rothwell:
How do you play the heart suit to guarantee making at least 4 tricks no matter what the heart distribution?
How do you play the heart suit to give the best chance of making 5 tricks?

I thought I could improve my chances by playing for an elimination - I nearly got it right.

How should it have gone?  I was favoured with a 6 lead to Q and K. A heart to the K (10 dropping from E) and a heart to A confirmed that I had a heart loser. I should have played ♣K, ♣A and ruffed a club, A and ruff the last club, J discarding a spade. West is thown in with a heart and is is endplayed. Declarer makes the last three tricks whoever has ♠K.

Unfortunately I took my eye off the ball. I am not sure what distribution I was playing for but I completed the elimination by ruffing one club and discarding the other on the third diamond, leaving me with two trumps in both hands.  Now when W is thrown in it doesn't matter whether he leads a spade, or gives me a ruff and discard, I still have a spade to lose.

So near and yet so far!

Philip Wraight

How do you guarantee at least 4 tricks?
You will always succeed if the suit breaks no worse than 3-1. If they break 4-0 you have to start by playing the A.

What is the best line for 5 tricks?
Start by playing the King. If West shows out you can finesse both the 10 and Queen. If West follows suit then next play the Ace. Overall this gives you a 57.0% chance. Unfortunately that line doesn't work on this particular hand.


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  Teams tactics

Those who attended the recent "Teams Tactics" seminar should have benefited when playing this hand from Thursday 7 September.
There is a safety play which is almost the same as an example that we discussed.

1. At teams, how do you play the hearts to give the best chance of 4 tricks?

At match-pointed pairs the tactics are different. So how you would play the suit at pairs.
Assume that you have plenty of entries to both North and South. Just take the heart suit in isolation (you should normally consider the bidding and lead).

2. How do you play the hearts at pairs (i.e. to maximise the number of tricks)?

3. How would you play this hand at pairs if East opens 2 showing 8 playing tricks in diamonds and leads A

Mike Rothwell

1. At teams, how do you play the hearts to give the best chance of 4 tricks?
If the suit is breaking 3-2 then there is no problem. So you need to think about what to do if the suit breaks badly.
The best line is to cash the A first. This works unless West-East have:

West East      
K 10 8 x x -
K 10 8 x x
K 10 x x 8

Overall that is an 89.6% chance of at least 4 tricks.
This is how it was played at our table, making 11 tricks in total. Sadly North-South weren't in 4. It is difficult to reach after East opened 2♣ (8 playing tricks in an unspecified suit, or 23+ points balanced).

2. How do you play the hearts at pairs (i.e. to maximise the number of tricks)?
The best line at pairs is to lead the Q.
If the finesse works then play East for the 10.
If the finesse fails then play the A when you regain the lead.
This guarantees making at least 3 tricks. It gives you a 87.6% chance of making at least 4 tricks and a 10.2% chance of making 5 tricks.
On average you expect to make 3.98 tricks.

3. How do you play the hands at pairs?
Since East has opened the bidding (either 1 or showing 8 playing tricks in diamonds) then there is a strong case for making the safety play, even at pairs. Do you agree?


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  Play problem - 31 August 2017

This is a hand submitted by Philip Wraight from Thursday 31 August.

West North East South
Pass 1♣ Pass 1♠
Pass 2♠1 Pass 4♠2
All pass      

1 Not strong enough to reverse to 2. Only 3 trumps but they may be useful for ruffing hearts.
2 Only 11 points but 6 losers now that spades are agreed and partner opened the bidding. You also hope (wrongly) that ♣Q is a useful card.

Plan the play in 4♠ if
a)  The lead is 7
b) West cashes A (after East overcalled hearts during the auction) and switches to 7♣
c) W leads 7♣  (if you play small from dummy, E will win ♣K and switch to ♠6)

a) There is a heart loser, a possible club loser and probably at least one trump loser. On a good day East will have Kx or Kxx. On a bad day West will have KJx and you will have two trump losers. One of the reasons for not drawing trumps immediately (usually the right thing to do) is to play first to discard potential losers. Assuming West does not haveK (likely on this lead) you can discard a potential club loser on a good diamond by winningA and leading Q (discarding a club if East does not cover). When East plays K you ruff, cross to dummy with ♣A and discard ♣Q on J. Now there is a second reason not to draw trumps. One of your heart losers will go away on the 10 but you need to ruff two others in dummy. So now play a heart. K loses to A but West cannot play trumps without helping you. You can now ruff two hearts in dummy (ruffing clubs as entries back to hand. You will eventually discover a bad trump break but all you will lose is A and two trumps. Two out of three declarers receiving a diamond lead, failed to make 10 tricks, although one of these had stopped in part score.

b) (i) The lead of A should have made it easier for declarer, but two out of three failed to make the spade game, one by two tricks. Win ♣A, cash A and take the  ruffing finesse in diamonds. Ruff K and cross to dummy with a heart ruff and discard a club on J as in a), ruff a club in hand and ruff another heart in dummy (W plays Q on this trick).  These cards remain:

♠ 10
♣ J 6 4

♠ A Q 9 7

The contract is now safe as you can lose two trumps at most, but can you see how you might make all the remaining tricks but one? Hint: West has shown up with three hearts. East made a very light overcall so probably has only one spade. At the start you and dummy had 5 diamonds and 7clubs between you. What is West's probable shape and how can you take advantage of it?

Answer b)(ii). It looks as if West started with a 3-3-4-3 shape and now has KJx - x x remaining. Declarer can now execute a "trump coup" by cashing 10D, discarding H! and ruffing a club (reducing his trumps to 3, the same as West). Now South can exit with a trump (Q is better than 9, in case East's singleton was the J) and West is endplayed into leading from ♠J4 up to declarer's A. 11 tricks made, losing only A and a trump.

Finally c) How can S make 10 tricks in spades on an initial club lead? This is very difficult even looking at all four hands, and almost impossible at the table, when South has to make crucial early decisions before he knows there are two probable trump losers. South must duck the club lead and win the trump switch with ♠A. (On a heart switch West can be endplayed as described above). NowA and the ruffing finesse, trumpingK as before. ♣Q is overtaken by ♣A and three hearts are discarded onQJ and ♣J.K is discarded on a club. West ruffs in, but too late to cashA and the only tricks for the defence are ♣K and two trumps.

Postscript. If you held
♠ 6
♣ K105
what action would you have taken when your RHO opened 1♣?

Please use the form below if you have any comments.


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  Partner opens 1NT

This is a hand sumbitted by Philip Wraight from Tuesday 11 July supervised play. What should North bid after South has opened 1NT, and why?

What should North have been thinking? With a good 7-card heart suit, first round controls in both minors and knowing the combined HCPs are 28-30, game in hearts is a certainty and slam a possibility. The latter is unlikely unless partner has K, and either ♠A or ♠KQ, when it becomes odds on, because the defence cannot cash two early tricks.

A transfer followed by 4NT should show 5 hearts and 19-20 points, inviting slam in hearts or NT if partner is maximum - not relevent here. Asking about aces and kings also does not get the job done.


I think the best approach is an immediate 3 bid, showing a  good 6+ card heart suit and slam possibilities. With a couple of little hearts South should sign off in 3NT, and North will convert to 4. With K and ♠A, South should cuebid 3♠, which is all the encouragement North needs to bid 6. (If playing Roman Keycard Blackwood or "5 ace" Blackwood, North could double check that S holds ♠A and K). The suggested elegant bidding sequence is 1N 3 3♠ 6 

Now plan the play, after East leads ♣K

♠ J 5
A Q 10 8 4 3 2
♣ A 10

♠ A Q 6
 K 5
 K 9 4 3
♣ 9 8 6 2

Answer. There are 11 top tricks and the 12th can be established in spades. After drawing trumps, there is no alternative to taking the spade finesse. You play the J (if it is not covered, and holds you have 13 tricks) which E covers and you win with A.

(Comment - it is not in general a good idea to bid a slam depending on a finesse, but in this case only club lead creates a problem, which would have been unlikely if K and Q had been in different hands)

Points to note:
1.When slamming, only ask for aces if you can see 12 tricks as long as 2 aces are not missing. It is generally wrong to do so with a small doubleton in a side suit, unless partner has made a cue bid.

2 Transfers are extremely useful in deciding between Game/part score and Trump/ N T  but are in general not useful at slam level.

3 Think before making your first bid - once you have made a transfer on this hand you cannot recover.

It is difficult to see but you can make all 13 tricks. As so often is the case with a long suit, try the effect of playing them all.

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  Murray League Final

This is hand 8 from the Murray League final as reported by Philip Wraight playing with Sally. Tim Harrison and Brian Smith were their team-mates.

The Bidding went:

South West North East
Pass 1NT Pass
2♣ Pass 2♠ Pass
3♠ Pass 4♠  All pass

I thought I was too strong for a Lucas 2♠ but did not like to open "rule of 20" 1♠ as I could not stand a red suit response. I mentally upgraded my intermediates and opened 1NT. Sally bid Stayman and raised to 3♠ over my 2♠ response. I found I had 7 losers so went on to 4♠ in spite of my 11 points. East lead J and I won the second round. How do you plan the play (East has 3 spades)? Hint: You have lost A and when you  play the two top trumps you discover there is a trump loser, so you have to play to avoid two club losers. The clubs, missing A and Q are a so called "broken suit" which you would prefer the opponents to open up. If you play the suit yourself, you have to guess who has ♣A and ♣Q and cannot succeed if East has both cards.

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Best is to play for an elimination and endplay. So play 3 rounds of diamonds and ruff a heart. This eliminates the red suits. Now play a spade. East wins but has to open up the clubs or give a ruff and discard. The latter is a better defence (found by Tim at the other table), which would have left me guessing whether West had ♣A or ♣Q, but East cashed ♣A and gave up.


(Note that you can hover your mouse over each of the hands above to see details of points etc.)

This is a teams of 4 hand from Thursday 2nd March played by John Toothill and Jim Lawson.

The Bidding went:

South West North East
Pass 2 2 3♣
3 5♣ All pass  

The opening bid of 1♠ shows an admirable devotion to the adage "6-5, come alive".

John and Jim were the only pair to reach 5♣.

John played safely to make his contract. This gave them an excellent score of 12 IMPs when their team mates made 2 as North-South.
In fact, at one table, North-South were allowed to make 4, although it should go off on any lead from East.

The eagle-eyed will have noticed that East-West can actually make 6♣ as the cards lie, even on a heart lead.

Please use the form below if you have any comments.

  Slam Hand - Burton

This is a hand played at Burton as reported by Geoff Harrison playing with Joan Thomas.

The Bidding went:

South West North East
1 1♠ 2 4NT
Pass 5 Pass 6♠
All pass      

North ledJ. West discarded a club from dummy, wonA in hand, cleared the trumps, yielded one club.
Heart and Club winners and cross-ruffing secured the rest.

As East, I reasoned that with West’s overcall, game in spades was a certainty but that the void in my Diamonds, length in Clubs and the A, the absence of points in West’s Spade suit meant points in Hearts and elsewhere. Thus that if she had one ace, then a small slam was on.
And so it proved. If there are no aces in West’s hand then 5♠ was a safe close out.

Nobody else found the slam, most were in game and made the same 12 tricks. Three pairs were slightly less successful!

Geoff Harrison

Editorial comments:
On this occasion the bidding has yielded a good result, but some points worth stressing:
1. How does East know that West doesn't have 2 small clubs. That would lead to 6♠ going down.
2. West's 1♠ overcall is not recommended. If North ends up as declarer, do you really want East to lead a spade?
3. North should double rather than bid 2. That way you will find a 4-4 heart fit.
4. If West passes rather than bidding 1♠, North bids 1, then East can bid 2NT to show at least 5-5 in the other two suits. West jumps to ♠4. East can then cue bid diamonds (denying a club control) and West can bid 6♠ with confidence.

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  Peebles Autumn Congress

Here's a fascinating hand from the SBU Peebles Autumn Congress, as reported by Babs Matthews.
It is Teams and North/South are vulnerable.

The bidding at our table went

West North East South
1 Pass 1♠ Pass
2 Pass 3♠ Pass
4 All pass    

At another table it went

West North East South
2 Pass Pass 3♠
All pass      

At yet another it went

West North East South
2 Pass Pass 4♠
Pass Pass Double All pass

Which of the above auctions do you think you and your favourite partner would have followed?
Can you see the most improbable game that can be made by North/South? Click "Show Answer" and then see if you can make that game.

3NT makes (very fortuitously) as does 3♠ by South.


This was hand 7 played at Grange on Tuesday 16 August and reported by Jill Rushton. It is fairly routine but does illustrate an important principle of defence.
The contract was 1NT by East.
The lead was 4 at every table, which is obviously from a 4-card suit.
The contract was allowed to make at 4 tables (once with 1 overtrick and once with 2 overtricks), but it should be defeated.

North played A and declarer the 10. What should North return?

The normal card to return is the higher of your remain doubleton (i.e. the middle of the original 3 cards).
That is a very good principle which allows partner to judge what to do next.
But there is also a more important principle, which is to think about the specific situation.

Here the sight of the 8 in dummy should make North realise that the 9 is a crucial card.
So North played the 4, which is (almost) the only return to defeat the contract.
(The only other card to defeat the contract is ♠Q, which is hardly obvious!)

If you look at all 4 hands you will see that South can win the second trick and continue with 7 to North's 9 .
So North/South will eventually win 4 diamonds, 2 spades and 1 club.

The other principle worth mentioning is that of whether to return partner's suit or not.
Here a club return is tempting, but the sight of J x in dummy is offputting as it might help declarer.
So on this hand it looks most sensible to return partner's suit, and it is clearly not going to be totally wrong.
So the principle is to return partner's suit unless it is clearly wrong or you have a good reason of your own for switching (e.g. a good suit or to avoid endplaying partner).

  Negative and responsive doubles

This hand illustrates the problem of responding in a competitive auction.
Sitting East I had a problem after Tim, sitting West, had opened 1♥ and North overcalled 2♣.  I had 5 spades but I didn't have the 10+ points necessary to bid the one round forcing 2♠ . Instead I made a negative double which only promised at least 4 spades. South now bids 3♣ and West has a real dilemma of how to show his strength and keep the options open for game in hearts, spades or NT.  West's 3♥ bid ended the auction missing the spade game.
Philip's answer to West's dilemma was a second negative double (technically known as a "responsive double"). This cannot be for penalties (with any suitable hand for a penalty double West would bid 3N).  It must show extra values, 5 hearts (East does not know you have more than 4), 3 spades (with 4 West bids 4♠) and denies two club stops so not suitable for 3N. East  would have bid 3♠ to show his fifth spade and deny three hearts allowing  the correct contract to be reached.
Richard Brazier
Feel free to add comments or questions about this Hand of the Week.

  Slam Bidding - Tuesday 22 March

This deal illustrates the difficulty of bidding minor suit slams and was too difficult for Tuesday players, none of whom got beyond game, although all but one made 13 tricks.
At two tables I was watching the bidding went 1♣ - 3♣! - 5♣. East is, of course, much too strong for a limit bid but West could still have risked 4NT as it is unlikely partner has only one ace.
I have thought of six ways to get to 7♣, most of which also lead to 7NT.

This is the simplest bidding:

West East
1♣ 21
2 3♣
4NT 5♠2

1 Respsonder's jump shift showing 16+ points, good diamonds and (after subsequent club support) a slam try in opener's suit
2 Three aces in Blackwood or Keycard Blackwood. With Roman Keycard Blackwood, the response to 4NT is 5♣.

Playing inverted minors and Roman Keycard Blackwood (neither available on Tuesdays) the bidding is nice and simple:

West East
1♣ 2♣1
4NT 5♣
5NT 62

1 Agreeing clubs and forcing
2 If 5NT asks for specific kings, the 6 response enables West to count 13 tricks and bid 7NT. (Note that if East denies the K then West can count 13 tricks in 7♣)
Philip Wraight

Feel free to add comments or questions about this Hand of the Week.

  Cumbria Congress - 20 March

At our table there was the above unopposed auction to 3NT (no checkback by East). Our team mates bid better to 4 which is destined to go one off - they were the only pair in the room to bid and make the heart game.
On lead, Sally ruled out both majors. As the auction suggested a safe rather than attacking lead she settled on ♣J rather than 3. Any other lead makes it relatively easy for West to make the contract. I felt I could not spare any card but the 6. In spite of this "discouraging" signal, when West, not unreasonably, ducked she continued with ♣9 after overcoming her surprise at still being on lead. A low card again from dummy and I played the ♣10 in tempo, mainly because I was worried that West would duck again if I played ♣8 and Sally would be endplayed. However it had the additional advantage that when West won the ♣A he assumed Sally had ♣8. He not unreasonably played a heart to the K, and discovered the bad break. He could still have recovered with a spade to the ♠10 but not totally unreasonably played ♠K which Sally took with the ♠A. It was not clear to Sally to return a spade now but she did well to avoid a diamond lead and played a safe heart. Declarer could now see the way to 8 tricks - a spade, four hearts (losing one)  two diamonds (losing one) and a club. Assuming North had ♣8 the 9th trick could be safely established in clubs  so declarer played ♣7. When Sally showed out, I had two club tricks and a diamond return led to one down.
Philip Wraight

  Grand Slam - Thursday 17 March

Only one pair bid to the correct grand slam on board 22 from Thursday 17 March.
One pair got to the wrong grand slam (7♠) but made it on an unfortunate (i.e. poor) lead.

The bidding shown is one route to the top contract of 7 

  1. 2 is game forcing (playing Benji Acol). Open 2♣ if playing Acol.
  2. 2 shows nothing positive to say. (2 if the opening bid was 2♣)
  3. 2♠ shows a 5+ card suit
  4. 3♣ is natural, waiting to hear more about partner’s hand
  5. 3 is a second suit
  6. 4 (pleased to have found a better spot)
  7. 4NT Roman Key Card Blackwood
  8. 5 - 1 key card (which has to be ♣A)
  9. 7 (can count 13 tricks)

Instructive points:

Looking at the North hand it is tempting to assume that you will be playing in spades.
But remember that a 4-4 usually plays better, since the long suit can be used for discards or (as here) for setting up a suit for no losers. So it is usually correct to show 2 suits rather than just 1 - don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

It is rarely correct to use Blackwood when you have a void. North used it to find out if South had the ♣A (to be able to discard the losing diamond). If the answer was “no, I don’t have any aces” then North would have asked for specific kings. If South shows ♣K then North would sign off in 6. If South shows K (or both kings) then North bids 7

Note that 7 is a very good contract. Trumps and spades need to break no worse than 4-1

In fact you can make 7 on some 5-0 breaks. If East holds the following hand, you still make 7 

♠ 6
 10 6 4 3 2
 10 6 4 3
♣ K 9 8

Advanced points.

We use 5NT to ask for specific kings. Remember that there are only 3 kings to worry about, since the king of trumps is one of the 5 key cards. With one king, you bid that suit. With two kings, you bid the suit where you don’t have a king.

When North/South bid to the much poorer contract of 7♠, East made the unfortunate lead of a trump. Whilst it is usually safe against a grand slam, you should worry when it is a singleton, as it can easily pick up an important card. Here, any other lead is likely to defeat the slam.

Mike Rothwell