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Simple Cue Bidding

(This commentary relates to Board 15 played on October 17th 2017).

An ace asking bid, such as Blackwood, tells one how many aces and kings are held. Cue bidding tells one in which suits first round controls (an ace or a void) and second round controls (a king or a singleton) are held.

In the above sequence, after the heart trump suit  has been agreed, the bids of 4♣ , 4♠ , and 5♣  are all cue bids; the first two indicating first round control (aces) and the 5♣  bid indicating a second round control (an obvious singleton after west’s 2♣  bid). The advantage of using these bids is that suit contract slams can be made holding less than the customary 32/33 HCPs normally needed when there are 40 working HCPs in the pack. Here there are only 34 working HCPs, as 6 HCPs in clubs have been shown to be worthless and the opponents are known to hold most of these worthless HCPs.  Therefore, keeping to a similar ratio, only about 28/29 HCPs are needed for the slam and north knows after south’s opening bid that the partnership hold at least 29 HCPs.

Only two pairs from the 10 results bid this almost lay-down heart slam.

John C Williams October 22nd 2017.


Double Dummy

(This commentary relates to Board 22 played in the ECBA ‘Warboys’ event on September 13th.  2017).

The printed hand records of all the boards played in a session also indicate a computation made, for each hand, of the number of tricks available in No-Trumps and suit contracts. However it is important to remember that this is at double-dummy, defined as “the play of the hand in which the player ‘ie the computer’ knows the location of all the cards”. 

West opened with a weak 2  and after North made a take out double a final contract of 4♠  was reached and the hand records suggest that 10 tricks are available. However on the lead of a heart and with trumps breaking 4-2, it appears at first sight that only 9 tricks can be made, there being a trick to lose in each suit. An extra trick cannot come from losing a diamond trick, setting up the suit for a club discard as the opponents could immediately take their four tricks, but might come by only losing one club trick and using the fourth club for a diamond discard. You will need a lot of luck, with clubs needing to break 3-3, and the ♣ J well placed. And if East holds up his ♣ A until the third round the only entry you have to the last club is the ♠ Q. Therefore you need to refrain from drawing trumps and play clubs, finessing the ♣ J immediately. Whether East holds up his ♣ A, or not, on getting the lead back you will play the ♠ A and then the ♠ Q before cashing the last club for the diamond discard. For this to work, West must only hold two trumps, so that East can choose to ruff now or make a trump trick later. A heart ruffed from East or leading to the  A, and play the ♠ K for ten tricks.

The computer knows of a 4-2 trump break. However I suggest that as declarer knows from the bids that hearts are breaking 6-3, might guess that a 2-4 trump break is more likely than a 3-3 break. In which case by drawing trumps before playing clubs and West holding up his ♣ A you will be defeated.

John C Williams September 15th 2017.


Doubles and Redoubles

(This commentary relates to Board 11 played at the Lingwood Bridge Club on September 5th 2017).

After South’s pass, eight players sitting West opened with a bid of 1NT (12-14 HCPs), and were left to play there. Four players received a diamond lead (usually  Q) and normally made eight tricks (+120). Four players received a low spade lead and normally made seven tricks (+90).

My partner and I play a strong opening 1NT and I therefore opened 1♣  and North made a takeout double.  [This is not our style as I play that if we make a ‘takeout ‘bid of a minor opening you should hold a shortage in the opening suit (ideally 4441 or 5431 distribution), and have tolerance for both the majors (at least 4-3). Unless of course you have a much stronger hand and can show your hand later]. My partners redouble showed at least 9 HCPs and probably not good support for my club suit.  South chose not bid 1  in response to North’s double and holding a defensive club suit bid 1NT. I passed as I have nothing more to show and partner‘s   ‘penalty double’ showed a balanced 10 HCPs. I have no reason to disturb this and led  2. Declarer held up the  A until the third round but having no further entry to hand could only finesse the  K once, and finished up with only 5 tricks (three diamond tricks and two aces), for minus 300 match points.

If North passes my opening 1♣ , partner will bid 1♠  and my weak 1NT rebid will close the auction. +90 or +120 will, as above, be our score.

John C Williams September 6th 2017.


The story of slams

This commentary relates to Board 17 played  on August 1st 2017.

East/West pairs were blessed with three genuine slam hands on this evening where, on boards 3, 4, and 12, optimum contracts of 7♣ , 7NT, and 7♣  are available on combined counts of 33, 34 and 32 HCPs respectively, although most pairs only reached a small slam or game.

However the only genuine North/South slams were on boards 6 and 17 with combined point counts of only 24 and 25 HCPs respectively.

On board 17, 6♠  is cold and my partner and I had the above sequence.  North opened and rebid spades showing a 6 card suit, 4  bid is a cue bid showing first round control, North’s pass over the double of 4  indicated that he did not have first round control in hearts, and the 6♠  bid was reasonable in view of the fact that since all the diamond HCPs were likely to be held by the opponents, partners HCPs must all be working.  On the  A lead ruffed in dummy, the ♠ A was cashed, and then the  A forced out before trumps were drawn. Twelve tricks were made. One other pair bid a slam in 6  and made the contract when the unlikely defence of a spade lead, leading to a spade ruff  to add to the  A, was not found. 

The best East/West score came when they bid 7 , presumably as a sacrifice against a North/South slam. This should have been a poor result as it fell four short for minus 800, if doubled.... but the opponents forgot to double and minus 200 gave them a top.

Nobody was able to bid the 6♣  contract on board 6.  In fact I played in 3NT going one off. My fault!

John C Williams. August 2nd 2017.


Opening 1 NT

(This commentary relates to Board 5 played at the Lingwood Bridge Club on June 6th 2017).

There are two differences between a weak 1NT opening and the strong version.

 (i) The HCP count - usually 12-14 HCP and 15-17 HCP respectively.

(ii) Holding a singleton - seldom with a weak 1NT and more likely with a strong 1NT opening.

(Of course if an opening 1NT might contain a singleton then it must clearly be stated on the convention card and announced, along with the HCP total, by the partner of the 1NT opener.)

It is interesting how effective the gambit can be especially holding a singleton major honour.

On the above hand my partner opened a strong 1NT on a hand holding poor majors and strong minors (ie at pairs already hoping to play in NT). After an enquiry about majors and finding that there was no 4-4 or 5-3 fit I settled for 3NT and South, not unnaturally, led  10 giving East two heart tricks (or a club and a heart if North does not return a heart when declarer's spade finesse loses to North's ♠ K), 5 diamond tricks and three spade tricks for 10 tricks in total and on the night a complete top. Despite holding a combined 26 HCPs other pairs had difficulty reaching game, making a diamond part score on four occasions , twice letting South play in 3  not doubled and going one off , bidding 3NT twice, making and going one off , and 4♠  twice, making and going one off. 

Were we lucky? Perhaps, but had North held  A the suit might not have been led or if led North may have opted not to play the  A. An opening 1NT bid is designed to make the defence difficult.

John C Williams June 7th 2017.

Maximising your chances

(This commentary relates to  Board 12 played in a friendly team of four match on May 21st 2017)

You reach the fine contract of 6♣ , receive 7 lead and when you play trumps they break 2-2.

You now have to tackle either spades or diamonds but, rather than simply taking a finesse in both suits and possibly cursing your bad luck when both fail, consider the following facts:-

   (i) You are playing in 6♣  (not 7♣ ) and can therefore afford to lose one trick. You only need four tricks from the diamond and spade suits (with one ruff).

   (ii) By playing on spades you will always make 3 tricks if either the ♠Q is well placed under the ♠J, or the opponent’s spades break 3-3, by discarding a diamond on, or ruffing, the fourth spade.  If both, you will make thirteen tricks. But you do not need 13 tricks!

Why not therefore play ♠K, a small spade to the ♠A followed by a spade up to ♠J. You are probably giving up the possibility of making all thirteen tricks but you will also take three spade tricks if either of the two criteria in (ii) apply. But you also give yourself the extra chance of the ♠Q being doubleton in the West hand. If nothing works you are then forced to take the diamond finesse.

Looking at the four hands ( click on "Show All Hands") you can see that this play is necessary and in fact you should make all thirteen tricks as, on seeing the 9 and Q of spades drop, you should finesse against East’s ♠10 to make four spade trick discarding the losing diamond.  Lucky, but the point is you are taking every opportunity to maximise your chances of making twelve tricks had West’s spades been any Q doubleton.

John C Williams May 24th 2017.


New Slam Convention ‘Pick a Slam’

(This commentary relates to Board 6 played at the Chelmsford Bridge Club on October 26th 2015).

In a recent article by Andrew Robson in the Times , he outlined a new convention used in the top-level game. A jump to 5NT over an opening 1NT (or after Stayman has been used) asks partner to bid his lowest level  4 card minor suit, or 6NT otherwise. The convention is used to find a 4-4 minor fit when holding enough combined HCPs for 6NT , as the suit slam will normally play a trick better than 6NT.

We decided to add this to our convention card and almost immediately the above hand occurred at our table.  My partner (East) opened 1NT (12-14 HCPs) and after a Stayman enquiry I decided to try the new convention out. Now I freely admit that I have not quite got the HCPs for a 6NT raise (19+ HCPs is ideal) but I got lucky when partner bid 6  and I was happy to pass. Had partner not got a 4 card minor he would be compelled to bid 6NT. With the spade finesse right and the  K ideally placed 6  is a reasonable contract and on the lie of the cards an easy make with 3/4 spade tricks,   K and 2 heart ruffs, 2 club tricks and four trump tricks. In fact with the Q4 club doubleton and Q10 spade doubleton 6NT is a miraculous make. But 6  is a better contract depending on less , and we achieved an outright top.

The only system loss is the use of 5NT as a grand slam enquiry , but I cannot remember the last time I used it as such. Balanced, 4-4 fit, minor suit slams have always been difficult to bid and this convention is a useful addition to one’s armoury.

John C Williams October 28th 2015

I am happy to provide a copy of the article to anyone interested.


Watch the spots

(This commentary relates to Board 5 played in the pivot teams competition on July 14th 2015).

A fairly simple auction in which East shows his balanced 23-24HCPs and West shows a 5+ card heart suit. If West then bids 4  the best contract is reached making an overtrick; however most chose to pass. Against 3NT South leads  6 to declarers  J. Declarer only has seven top tricks or eight if clubs break 3-3. Needing extra tricks it is natural to lead  Q to try to develop tricks in hearts and use the ♣ Q as an entry. If South plays his  K then ,whatever he leads next, East will make eleven tricks and his contract. He thus plays  5H. But what should North now play? It is normal to also duck a trick in order to stop declarer establishing the suit. However he should reason thus:-

Since East did not bid 4  he is unlikely to have a three card heart suit. If he has a singleton  Q it must be right to take this trick as declarer will have stolen the one trick he needs for his contract. But what if declarer has a doubleton heart? If it is  KQ doubleton he should duck this trick as ten tricks will be made; but if it is  Qx doubleton he should take the trick. How does North know which? The clue is in South’s play of the  5. Had he had a doubleton 65, he would have played the  6 on declarer’s lead to peter and show count.

By playing the  A and leading a diamond declarer can now only make eight tricks and is defeated.

7 pairs made 3NT often with overtricks; one made 4 ; one a part score; and one pair defeated 3NT

John C Williams July 20th 2015


Don't always draw trumps

(This commentary relates to Board 35 played on July 14th 2015)

At one table West decided to pass in first position and the bidding proceeded as above. South showed his  A and spade support,  and when he bid 5♠ , asking North to bid the slam if holding better than expected spades, North duly obliged. A heart lead followed by one round of trumps exposed the bad trump break. If North continues to draw trumps he is doomed to failure (unless West holds a doubleton KQ of clubs), as he can then only ruff two diamonds, making eleven tricks. To succeed he must try to make three ruffs in dummy by discarding a club in dummy, giving up a club , and ruffing a third club as well , all before drawing trumps.

The trick sequence is thus:-   A, ♠ J,  A,  K (discarding a club), a diamond ruff, a club ducked to West (who continued with hearts ruffed with the ♠ Q), a second diamond ruff, a club to the ♣ A and a club ruff.  Holding AK2 of trumps and a last trump in dummy, declarer now makes the last three tricks.

Of course East needs to hold at least 4 diamonds and at least 3 clubs for this to work but this is not unlikely as West is known on the bidding to hold a long heart suit. (This play also caters for West holding a doubleton KQ of clubs).

Only one N/S pair bid and made 6♠ .

John C Williams July 16th 2015


Breaking the Rules

(This commentary relates to Board 4 played  on February 24th 2015).

In a previous article (See “Continuations after a Transfer”)  I discussed the use of transfers after partner opens 1NT. However with a very distributional hand it may be necessary to slightly bend the rules.

South’s first duty is to transfer to 2♠  to let partner know he has a 5 card spade suit. A game-forcing, new suit bid after the 2♠  response from North shows interest in a spade game contract if North has three spades.  In general South should have 12+ HCPs for a 3♣  bid but here he also has an interest in a 5♣  contract , and with a five loser hand should decide to continue. North has only two spades but has good stops in the red suits and will bid 3NT. South now knows that North has at least three clubs and judging that a suit contract will play better than 3NT, bids 4♣ . North knows that South has 5 spades and probably 6 clubs. His hand is now enormous , being a maximum with both red suit aces and having excellent support for clubs. A bid of 6♣  would not be out of order , but playing pairs he may opt to settle for 5♣ .

In fact as the cards lie 6♣  is stone cold. However on the night 5♣ +1 earned N/S an 87% score anyway. (4♠  was bid four times making 8, 9 and, twice, 10 tricks).

John C Williams March 4th


Establishing extra tricks

(This commentary relates to Board 10 played on March 3rd 2015).

Whether East raises his partner’s opening bid of 1♠  to 3♠  or 4♠  , the spade game should be reached. There appear to be only three possible losing tricks - a diamond and two possible heart tricks. However playing pairs it is vital to make as many tricks as possible. Declarer should therefore concentrate their mind and try to make extra tricks. If the  A is with South then this is one source of an extra trick. And if clubs break nicely, (4-3), here is another possible source of an extra trick - the fifth club being established as a winner by ruffing out the suit. Care must be taken however to preserve entries to dummy in order to take this last club trick.

After North leads , declarer should just take one round of trumps with the ♠ A, noting that both opponents follow suit, and then play a club to the ♣ A and ruff a club with the ♠ K. (If East leads a club at trick one declarer should win and immediately ruff a small club with the ♠ 7 before playing the ♠ A). Now a spade to the ♠ Q, drawing the last trump, followed by another club ruff establishes the club suit and the ♠ 9 entry to dummy is used to play the ♣ K and the fifth club for two diamond discards. With eleven tricks in the bag he now leads a heart up to the  K hoping for a twelfth trick, but unfortunately the  A is badly positioned and declarer loses two heart tricks. Eleven tricks is thus the optimum, in what ought to be a flat board.

Three pairs made eleven tricks for an 86% score of +650. Five pairs only made ten tricks in a 4♠  or spade part score contract.

John C Williams March 4th 2015. 

Defence to an opening weak 1NT

(This commentary relates to Board 12 played  on February 3rd 2015)

There are many varieties of defensive conventional bids over a weak 1NT, and most show two playable suits and at least a 5-4 distribution.

A popular tournament convention is known as “Astro” in which an overcall of 2♣  indicates a hand in which one of the two suits is hearts, the other being a minor , and an overcall of 2  indicating a hand with a spade suit and any other suit. A point count of 10-14 HCPs is the usual range.

With a poor 5 card heart suit North is reluctant to overcall 2  but his hand qualifies for an overcall of 2 . Knowing that North has at least a 4 card spade suit , South should bid 4♠  even though he only holds 10 HCPs. With at least 9 trumps and knowing in which hand the majority of the HCPs are held reduces the number of combined HCPs necessary to make ten tricks.

On a club lead the contract should be held to 10 or 11 tricks , and on other leads either 11 or 12 tricks should be made.

 In practice no pair bid 4♠  , although two pairs bid and made the inferior game of 4 . Three other pairs bid a heart part score , and four pairs played in a spade part score making 12 tricks three times and 10 tricks once.

I recommend that players should adopt one of the many conventional bids available. Note that the “Astro” convention still allows overcalls of 2  and 2♠  on single-suited hands.

John C Williams February  6th 2015.


A distributional slam

(This commentary relates to Board 8 played on November 4th 2014).

Nobody bid this near lay-down minor suit slam. Three pairs played in a minor suit part score (+170), one pair allowed their opponents to play in 4♠-2 (+100), and six pairs bid a minor suit game making one overtrick for +420 four times, two overtricks for +440 once, and being doubled once for +650.

Three loser hands, as this is, are normally opened with a strong bid , however EBU rules* prohibit calling this a strong hand and therefore West opens 1.  But West should follow this by continuing to make forcing bids as far as 5♣/5. Assuming that the opponents do not interfere, the above sequence might then ensue. Note that East having agreed diamonds as trumps (his 3 bid), West’s bids of 4♣ and 5♣ are forcing and indicate a six card holding. By opening 1 West holds at least as many diamonds as clubs and his minor suit distribution is thus 7-6 or 6-6. East should realise this and, appreciating the importance of his two minor suit honour cards + good fit, bid 6. West is likely to hold at least the missing top AKQ honours in the minor suits for his opening and jump bids.

If the opponents interfere with spade bids then West should bid forcing club bids up to 5♣ but may not have the space to show his complete distribution. East may then subside in 5.

John C Williams November 13thth 2014

*[I have checked with the chief tournament director of the English Bridge Union who confirms that the West hand does not have eight clear-cut tricks and does not meet the rule of 25 (adding the number of HCPs to the number of the cards in the two longest suits as 12 plus 12 only equals 24). Since it has also not got 16 HCP it is thus against the EBU ‘directives and permitted agreements’ to open this hand with any bid described as a strong two]


Competing for the part score

(This commentary relates to Board 10 played  on November 4th 2014.)

This hand shows the importance of competing for the part score whenever possible.

After a fairly normal bidding sequence up to 2 , North is in the pass-out position. He has a good hand and it would not need much help from South to be able to compete in either clubs or diamond , so he doubles.  (He is right not to double on the first round as if E/W had bid to a higher level he will have given a lot of information away to the opposition). South bids 3 and whatever East decides to do EW are going to get a bad score. At our table East bid 3, losing the obvious 5 tricks and thus going one off for -100. Had he decided to pass it looks as if NS may go one off in 3. However , with careful play , 3 should make. A K lead is taken with the A followed by A and a small diamond. NS will now lose a heart and two diamond tricks and can therefore only afford to lose one club trick. However it is now clear that on the bidding East must have the ♣A and the only hope is to lead up to the ♣K and duck a club back, hoping that East has the ♣A doubleton , which he did.

Eight pairs bid and made 2, two of them making an overtrick. The 3 -1 gave us a top but note that had we been allowed to play in 3, and misplayed for one off, we would have still got a good score as -100 beats all those in 2. One pair did play in 3 -1 for a second best score. (But had they been doubled they would have got a bottom!)

John C Williams November 6th 2014


With nearly all the HCPs

(This commentary relates to Board 14 played on October 7th 2014)

Holding between the two hands all four aces , all four kings, all four queens , and a jack , and with no duplication of short suits , any E/W pair should be able to count to 13 and immediately claim all the tricks whatever level of NT contract they reach. But is it easy to bid 7NT?

Bidding the grand slam may depend on the opening bid. If East judges the hand to be a 20-22 HCP hand and opens 2NT then perhaps not. For me I would upgrade the three loser hand and open a game forcing 2. This is because with even a minimum West hand of say 2 or 3 HCPs I would want to reach game. If I only open 2NT he may well pass with such a hand.

In fact with 15 HCPs opposite an apparent 23+ HCP hand it would now be sensible for West to first check for a 4-4 major fit and if not simply bid 7NT (as in above sequence). But over an opening 2NT bid West may be worried about the 3- 5 missing HCPs and settle for 6NT.

On the night only one pair bid 7NT. Most pairs bid 6NT with one pair bidding 6D and one pair in 3NT. All declarers made thirteen tricks.

John C Williams October 10th 2014


Do not give up hope

(This commentary relates to board 13 played on October 7th 2014)

Sitting West you arrive at a contract of 3NT , no doubt because partner has overvalued his three tens to add to his 3 HCPS. Do not give up hope , but do take time to consider the whole hand. To enable you to make nine tricks you will need to make one trick in each of the club and spade suits , together with five diamonds and two heart tricks. You will also need to find two entries to dummy , and keep South off the lead.

 On a club lead therefore go up with the ♣K which fortunately holds. Now lead a small diamond and play the J. Fortune is still smiling on you. (Note that you must not lead the 10 as you need this card to get a second entry to dummy). Play off the A and K and be glad to see the Q fall. Now use the 10 entry to get to dummy and finesse the Q. It is your lucky day!

Only one pair bid and made 3NT as above (our opponents!). Everybody else played in 2NT making 9 tricks twice, 8 tricks twice and 7 tricks three times.

John C Williams October 10th 2014


Continuations after a Transfer

(This commentary relates to Board 5 played on February 11th 2014).

When your partner opens a weak 1NT most people play responses of 2D/2H as transfers to 2H and 2S respectively to show a five card suit.  But how should one continue?

  • Pass with less than 11 HCPs and five cards, or less than 10 HCPs and six cards.
  • With a six card major bid 3/3♠ with 10-11 HCPs (invitational), 4/4♠ with 12 HCPs or more.
  • With 11-12 HCPs bid 2NT.  Partner will either pass, bid 3NT with a maximum, bid 3/3♠ with a minimum and a three+ card suit or 4/4♠ with a maximum and a three+ card suit.
  • With  12-17 HCPs  bid 3NT or bid a new suit (game forcing)

And times not to transfer  in the first place :-

  • With less than 11 HCPs and 5-4 in the majors do not transfer but use Stayman. Pass if partner shows a 4 card major or bid the five card suit otherwise. (to play)
  • With 18+HCPs may be best to start with a three level bid in the major to show slam interest

How might one bid the above hand following these rules?

With this strong major distribution Bid 2 to transfer to 2, then bid 2♠ (forcing) and then bid 3♠ (forcing)  over the 2NT.This sequence shows six hearts and five spades. (five spades because you bid them twice and six hearts because that was the first transfer showing more hearts than spades). Partner must have at least one three card or more suit and will now bid that major.

The very bad distribution of spades and hearts makes 4/4♠ contracts difficult to make. Although both can be made by seeing all the cards, both will in practice probably go one off. Unlucky.

John C Williams.  March 5th 2014                              


The dreaded five-level (2)

(This commentary relates to Board 15 played on August 19th 2014.)

With N/S vulnerable against E/W non vulnerable what should West do over the bid of 4♠ , and then over 5♠?  Let us see if the ‘Law of Total Tricks’ helps. West is fairly sure that they hold ten heart cards between them and also that N/S probably hold 9 spade cards. There are thus nineteen total tricks. If N/S can just make 4♠ (10 tricks) then E/W can make nine tricks. West correctly thinks that 4♠ is likely to make and therefore, at this vulnerability, bids 5 as he can afford for this contract to go two or three off doubled for up to +500 for N/S. (This score is better for E/W than the +620 for N/S making 4♠.)

Over 5♠ it is more difficult. If N/S can make eleven tricks and 6 doubled goes four down for +800 to N/S this would be inferior to the +650 from making 5♠ , and therefore it is better to pass. The decision is very finely balanced however , and our opponents did bid 6 doubled which in fact only went 3 off for +500 for N/S, and could therefore be good for E/W. 

But would 5♠ make? Well on the night (apart from two EW pairs playing in Hearts)  4 pairs were in 4♠ , two making 11 tricks one making 10 and the other only 9, and two pairs went off in 5♠. So in total two out of 6 pairs made 11 tricks in spades. 5♠?  Marginal.  

John C Williams August 20th 2014


The Law of Total Tricks (2)

(This commentary relates to Board 21 played  on August 5th 2014).

NB - For the background to the Total Tricks concept see the previous hand “The Law of Total Ticks (1)”

North’s double showed a holding of four spades only and the subsequent bidding should indicate to him that there are eight spade cards in his and partner’s hand , and probably nine hearts in the opponents’ hands. (East’s second heart bid suggested four hearts). i.e. there are 8+9=17 Total Tricks.

 North should remember the useful note from the previous article that “with 17 total tricks one should bid at the three level if you can, even when your opponents are already there”. North should therefore compete with a bid of 3♠.

The printout from the computer-dealt hand indicates that 3 by E/W and 3♠ by N/S can both be made precisely , and 3♠ is thus the optimum contract for N/S.  It would have earned N/S a 75% score on the night. In practice many pairs went on to game in both hearts and spades and , although being allowed to make on two occasions , these contracts usually failed.

John C Williams August 6th 2014.


The Law of Total Tricks (1)

(This commentary relates to Board 20 played  on August 5th 2014.)

The Law of Total Tricks is relatively new in Bridge terms , having only been in use over the last two decades. It states that “in a competitive bidding situation on any hand the number of total tricks available is equal to the total of the number of cards in each side’s longest suits”.

If N/S hold 9 hearts between them and E/W hold 8 spades between them then the total number of tricks available is 17. Therefore if E/W can just make 2 (8 tricks) then E/W can make 3♠ (9 tricks). At first sight this may sound curious that this could be calculated without knowing the distribution of High Card Points. It works because if the HCPs are shifted around the hands, certainly one side or the other may make more tricks, but the total remains the same.

I shall return to this Law in future articles but let me take the simple example above.

 When the bidding comes round to West he knows that his side have eleven spade cards. It is clear also that the opponents probably have eight heart cards. Therefore there are nineteen total tricks. Thus:-

  • If N/S can make 8 heart tricks  E/W can make 11 spade tricks.
  • If N/S can make 9 heart tricks  E/W can make 10 spade tricks.
  • If N/S can make 10 heart tricks E/W can make 9 spade tricks (and 4S is a good sacrifice).
  • If N/S can make 11 heart tricks E/W can make 8 spade tricks

The rule does not tell West which of these four possibilities is the most likely , it is up to him to judge.  In this case , bearing in mind the fact that East has overcalled , the HCPs in his own hand , and considering the vulnerability , it must be right for West to now bid 4♠ (and double a bid of 5, should the opponents be so rash).

On the night all E/W pairs made 11 tricks (7 bidding game , 4 in part scores).

 In more tight situations (e.g. at the three level) the law can be of great assistance , and a useful note to remember that I came across is that “With 16 total tricks, bid at the three level over your opponents two level contracts but not if they have reached the three level themselves.  With 17 total tricks, bid at the three level if you can, even when your opponents are already there”.

Players may find this all very strange , perhaps even unbelievable! And of course like the “rule of nineteen”  or the “losing trick count” and other “laws” and “rules” it is not exact. But try it for yourselves and see if it does help.

John C Williams August 6th 2014


Knowing the odds

(This commentary relates to Board 1 played  on July 8th 2014)

 Bridge players should know the odds concerning card distributions for some simple cases such as :-

  • The chance of a simple finesse succeeding is 50%.
  • The chance of five missing cards breaking 3-2 are 68% , breaking 4-1 are 28% , and breaking 5-0 are 4%

Knowing these odds would have assisted declarer on this hand. The bidding sequence above was probably replicated by many pairs , as seven pairs reached 4♠. (NB South should not overcall or double as this will only help declarer in the play of the hand). Reluctant to lead a trump, or the A, or a club , South probably leads a heart. (I led 8 trying to confuse declarer, but not partner as he has few HCPs.)

On losing a spade finesse declarer needs to consider his options. He knows he has three tricks to lose (♠A, ♠Q, A) and therefore cannot afford to lose another. However the chances of not losing a club trick are poor. He would need to find an opponent with either ♣QJ doubleton (1 in 10 of the above 68%) or with a singleton ♣Q or ♣J and cash the correct honour first (♣A or ♣K) before finessing the other opponent for the other honour (half of 40% of the above 28%). In total his chances would be about 13%.

But he does not need to lose a club if the heart finesse is working as he can throw a club on the third heart , and as noted above the finesse has  a 50% chance.

Why then did all seven 4♠ contracts go one down? At teams it is 10 imps thrown away. (The eighth E/W pair made 3♣+1)

 John C Williams July 11th 2014


Heart Grand Slam Number One

(This commentary relates to Board 4 played on July 1st 2014).

On July 1st 2014 players at Lingwood had the opportunity to bid and make three heart Grand Slams.

This should be the easiest of the three slams to bid. When South responds 3 to the 2NT opening bid (transfer to hearts), North should realise that he would like to be in a 4 contract even if South has few HCPs to go with his five card heart suit. He should thus bid 3♠, a cue bid, but which also emphasises strong support for hearts and a maximum hand. After further cue bids of 4♣ (suggesting slam interest), and 4 , South asks for aces and then kings. On finding out the partnership hold all of them South should realise that at worst the grand slam might depend on a spade finesse and with many other chances including minor suit ruffs, bids 7. There are no problems in the play. My partner and I play Benjamin Acol however we bid along similar lines and were the only pair to reach 7 for a top. Four pairs made 6+1 , three pairs made 6NT (once with an overtrick) , and two pairs made all 13 tricks in a heart game contract.

John C Williams July 3rd 2014.


Heart Grand Slam Number Two

(This commentary relates to Board 21 played  on July 1st 2014).

It is never easy to bid a grand slam after an opposition opening bid , however all pairs fell well short on this hand. The first five bids in the idealised bidding sequence above happened at our table when after South’s alerted transfer bid to spades, West’s double indicated a reasonable heart suit holding. North bid 2♠ with his solid four card suit and East might bid 3♠ which West can almost certainly recognise as a void. West now bids 4♣ (a cue bid) and if East asks about trumps and finds out via Key Card Blackwood that West holds the KQ along with the ♣A , he should confidently bid the Moysian (4-3) fit  7 contract. 

What a great Grand Slam this is. But no pair on the night even bid a small slam!

In fact our partnership reached 4 for +510 which nevertheless earned us a top as six other pairs had made only +440 in 5+2 and three other pairs +190 in a diamond part score.

This is just the sort of hand that top experts will get right but , without the necessary sophisticated bidding tools , mere mortals will find difficult to bid.

John C Williams July 3rd 2014


Heart Grand Slam Number Three

(This commentary relates to Board 24 played on July 1st 2014).

With hearts agreed as trumps, in a game forcing situation, the bids of 4♣, 4, 4♠, are all cue bids  showing interest in a slam, after which, via Key Card Blackwood, North discovers that South has three aces and the KQ. North should bid 7 as the six card diamond suit is likely to yield enough tricks. With trumps no worse than a 4-1, the grand slam always makes even against a 4-2 diamond break. By establishing this suit declarer has 5 heart tricks, the ♠A and a ruff, the ♣AK and the AK of diamonds with two established diamond tricks.

Five pairs bid a small slam, three making thirteen tricks whilst two pairs only made twelve tricks. One pair made +990 in 6 and two pairs, including our opponents, made +450 in a heart game. Two pairs went -50 in a failing slam contract

Perhaps some general comments on the three hands may be helpful :-

  • The use of cue bids should be in every player’s armoury. In addition to identifying a control the bid suggests slam interest.
  • Identifying voids by the use of splinters, cue bids, jump cue bids assists greatly in identifying the total number of tricks likely to be available.
  • Break a transfer sequence if you want to emphasise a fit with a strong hand.
  • When playing pairs it is important as declarer to work out how to make the maximum number of tricks and not simply make enough tricks to make the contract.

John C Williams July 3rd 2014.


Compete....especially at Pairs

(This commentary relates to Board 13 played  on June 3rd 2014)

Playing the pairs game it is important to compete for the part score. The reasons are simple and outweigh, in my view, any suggestion that you are simply giving opponents more information :-      

 * You may make a contract for a positive score.    

 * You may push the opponents too high, again making a positive score.         

 * Any negative score may be smaller than the opponents’ possible positive score.

 * You may indicate a good lead for partner.                       

 * Holding the ‘boss’ spade fit gives that pair an advantage

On the above hand it is slightly dangerous for East to double North’s opening 1 bid in case West bids diamonds, but when South bids 2 and North repeats his hearts, a take-out double from East is indicated. As East is showing the black suits , and probably a 4-5 distribution , West will now compete up to 3♠. Whatever N/S do now E/W are on for a good result. This is because for N/S, 3 or 3 is always making, 4 should go one off, and for E/W 3♠ will only go one off , even against best defence.  In fact unless opponents start with A and a small heart allowing South to ruff a third round with ♠10, 3♠ will make.

On the night only one E/W pair played in 3♠ making +140, eight N/S pairs played in a heart part score making either +170 or +140; two N/S pairs bid, or were pushed, to 4 losing -100. Any positive E/W score or any negative score of -100 would achieve a good result for E/W.

John C Williams June 5th 2014


Trump Reduction play

(This commentary relates to Board 1 played at the Chelmsford Bridge Club on May 12th 2014)

A trump reduction play involves ruffing until the number of trumps held by declarer is equal to that of an opponent , and then arranging for this opponent to be on lead with only trumps left in both their hands so that the opponent is end-played.

North opened the bidding with 1 , and over South’s 2 game force bid reversed into 2♠ showing a 4-5+ distribution and 15 or more HCPs. When South rebid his hearts, North bid 3NT to indicate his spade stop, but South persisted with 4.

The opening lead of ♣K was taken by the ♣A in dummy, then the 3 was played and South learnt of the bad trump break. It looked as if West could win three trump tricks plus the ♣Q. However all may not be lost.

South played his J on this trick and West took his K, cashed ♣Q, and led a diamond to South’s A. South now crossed to the K and was pleased to see that West had started with four diamonds. A diamond was ruffed by South and a spade was led back to the ♠Q before ruffing another diamond. Now that  South had reduced his number of trumps to equal  West’s he crossed to the ♠A to lead any card and ruffed with the 7. What can West do? If he takes this trick he is end-played in trumps , and if he declines to do so South has made his contract. West’s three trump tricks have been reduced to two. The reduction play is necessary in order to eliminate all other exit cards for West except trumps.

John C Williams May 13th 2014

Note.  I would like to highlight the excellent on-line bridge publication ‘News Letters’ produced by the Chelmsford Bridge Club which contains many articles, discussions etc on bridge matters. ( )

Is game on?

(This commentary relates to Board 3 played on May 6th 2014).

On this hand it is difficult to reach the right game.

After two passes North opens the bidding with 1, probably raised to 3 by South. Despite his 13 HCPs, North has a poor hand and should pass. However the temptation to bid game led many to bid 4. Providing the defence set up their diamond tricks before North draws trumps and establishes his clubs this contract should go 2 off , probably losing two spade tricks, one club trick , and either two diamond tricks or one diamond and a club ruff.

However two pairs made ten tricks in heart contracts (one bidding game) whilst six pairs went down in contracts. Other N/S pairs made a small positive score including , against us, when North opened 1NT, passed out, and my partner led a small spade.

So, going back to the title, is game on? Well yes , because 4♠ by E/W always makes with an overtrick against any defence. But how do E/W ever enter the bidding? Never I suggest, unless E/W are playing Lucas style opening weak twos showing 6-9 HCPs with a five card major and a 4/5 card minor, as now West can open 2♠.

John C Williams. May 9th 2014.


A most difficult hand to bid

(This commentary relates to board 20 played at the Chelmsford Bridge Club on April 7th 2014).

Part score hands, games, slams, bidding over pre-empts - which are the most difficult hands to bid?  For me none of these , it’s hands where one player holds about 30 HCPs in a balanced hand.

Such a hand was noted by Tom Townsend the bridge correspondent of the Daily Telegraph in a recent article*, and a similar hand occurred on Monday night at our table.

After three passes South opens with an Acol game forcing bid of 2♣ (or a Benjamin bid of 2). What to do next after a negative response by North?  3, 3NT, 4NT, 5NT, 6NT are all possibilities but I see no sensible way of finding out about the three missing queens. Perhaps an opening bid of 4NT, 5NT or 6NT is the best guess?

All pairs, bar two, bid a slam , either going 2 off for -200 or three off for -300.Top was a pair making 3NT +3 (some feat) with the second top pair making +180 in a NT part score (also some feat in a strange way). At our table South bid 3, his only 4 card suit, after the negative response by North and we finished in 6-2.  As he said, ‘at least the trumps broke nicely’.

John C Williams April 8th 2014.

*The Daily Telegraph Monday April 7th 2014 Bridge column. Curiously this article appeared on the same day as the above 31 HCP hand was played. Both hands had been randomly computer dealt.


Double Avoidance

(This commentary relates to board 21 played on April 1st 2014)

I have previously described in the featured hand ‘Avoidance play’ the mechanism whereby care is taken to avoid letting the dangerous opponent win a trick. In this hand, it is necessary to consider either opponent as dangerous, dependant on the opening lead.

Over East’s weak six card 2♠ opening South bids 2NT (16-18 HCPs) and North, perhaps somewhat optimistically, may raise to 3NT. If West leads a spade South needs to take this trick with his ♠A, take his four heart tricks and ♣A, and lead a club towards his ♣K. If East does not play his ♣Q declarer should play ♣8 forcing West to win the trick. (If East does play his ♣Q declarer takes it with his ♣K and gives up a club trick to West). Either way South now has eight tricks and due to the fortunate position of the diamonds he can end-play West by leading a low diamond towards the 10.

Should West decide to lead the Q he, not East becomes the dangerous opponent and care must be taken to ensure he does not win the third club trick. Declarer should take the K at trick one, take his four heart tricks and ♣A and lead a club towards the ♣K. If East plays low, then declarer needs to win with his ♣K and give up a club trick to East’s ♣Q, or if East plays the ♣Q, he should be allowed to win this trick. Either way South has his three club tricks, four heart tricks, a diamond and ♠A.

But, I hear you say, East can avoid this by ditching his ♣Q under the ♣A. True, but now, after cashing ♠A, South can afford to play diamonds as West has had to discard one diamond on the fourth heart leaving him with only four diamond tricks. He is now end-played in clubs having to give declare two club tricks. The four tricks are the only tricks the defence make as they do not now make a club trick.

John C Williams April 2nd 2014 



Defending correctly , or Don’t Panic!

(This commentary relates to Board 7 played on March 4th 2014)

Counting is the essence of defence , together with the art of not giving declarer any tricks he does not deserve.

All eight pairs bid to 4 on this hand , probably via a sequence such as the above. Although holding all the aces and three kings there is no guts to the outside suits that might otherwise suggest that a higher contract should be attempted. Indeed only ten tricks should be made via three rounds of trumps, two ruffs and the outside three aces and two kings. However five of the eight E/W pairs allowed eleven tricks to be made. Why?

It seems natural to lead the Q or Q which declarer probably takes with his ace , followed by three rounds of trumps, his other minor ace, K, and a diamond ruff before exiting with a club. At this point East is on lead having won his K and should lead the 10 knowing declarer will have to ruff with his last trump and will have to tackle hearts himself losing a further trick in the process. But perhaps panic may have set in and East led a low heart instead , as if they had been end-played. Now, holding both the 10 and 9, declarer can make all three heart tricks for an overtrick. Accurate counting of all the suits should have prevented this as it is not a real end-play since East has the diamond exit card. 

Or did the error occur at trick 1 with a low heart lead from J764? Leading from the J is seldom a wise move defending an uncontested suit contract.

John C Williams March 5th 2014


The Best Slam?

(This commentary relates to Board 11 played on March 4th 2014).

What does a jump , or raise, to the five level in the agreed major trump suit imply?

In the above sequence after West has reversed into 2 (game forcing after the 2 response) East bid 5. Holding about 30 or more combined HCPs with good controls East decided to try for a slam. His 5 bid asked his partner to bid the slam if his trump suit is better than previously stated. West has already stated that he holds 5 hearts and 4 spades with 16+ HCPs. With a six card suit headed by KQJ he is certainly better than he has stated and bids the small slam.

Twelve tricks are on top and this is an easy make. However is it the best slam?

Obviously not , as the same twelve tricks are available in 6NT. However even this is not the best slam as 7 makes, with the same twelve tricks together with a club ruff taken before trumps are drawn. This is a good slam only dependant on a 3-3 or 4-2 trump break. But I do not know how it can be bid i.e. rejecting the 6-3 and choosing the 4-3 fit. (See previous ‘Moysian Fit’ Featured hands under the sub-heading “Bidding”)

Three pairs bid 6 on the night , the remaining pairs only bid to 4.

John C Williams March 5th 2014


The Surround Play again?

(This commentary relates to Board 17 played on January 28th 2014)

Best defence often relies on estimating declarer’s cards from the play thus far.

In a recent article I described ‘The Surround Play’. The standard position is that you are sitting over dummy and you have a high card in dummy surrounded , plus a non-touching higher card as well.  In this position it is important to lead the card just higher than dummy’s high card.

And sometimes you need to use your imagination! 

Against 3NT South led the 6 taken by the K. Declarer then immediately played on clubs , won at some point by North’s A. Looking at dummy’s diamonds it seems likely that declarer has 4/5 diamond tricks, 3 club tricks and 2 spade tricks at least.  To have any hope off defeating the contract North needs to lead hearts now. But which card to lead? Had North held the 9 the ‘surround criteria’ would apply. But all may not be lost. North should imagine the situation if South has the 9, in which case North’s 8 will suffice to make it a surround position. By leading the J declarer would then not be able to avoid losing 5 heart tricks. And If East has the  A nothing is lost.

But unfortunately, as you can see from the above layout, South had the 5 and 3. East had the 9 and 2. Thus the defence could only take 2 heart tricks for 3NT +1. Any North who spotted the position and played this defence certainly deserved better.

John C Williams February 1st 2014


Slam bidding again

(This commentary relates to Board 24 played on January 28th 2014)

Sitting with the South hand, what is the first word that enters your mind when your partner opens with a 12-14 HCP bid of 1NT? Surely it is .....Slam.

With a known 6-2 or better heart fit, a four loser hand, 2 first round controls , 3 second round controls and 2 working 10s in the long suits , twelve tricks must be worth investigating.

The 3 bid is forcing and , although North could cue bid the A he probably chooses  , with a minimum hand , to bid 4 suggesting at least a three card suit. North’s response to 4NT either shows two aces or an ace and the K dependant on your system , and with North’s other 4 HCPs twelve tricks should be likely. Indeed even with a wasted Q the slam still has a 75% chance (one of two red suit finesses).

And yet only two out of 10 pairs bid the slam on the night. I suspect this was because South simply added up their combined (28-30) HCPs instead of realising the potential of the hand as described above in italics.

John C Williams January 30th 2014


Bidding Grand Slams

(This commentary relates to Board 24 played in the Sim Pairs competition on January 7th 2014.)

For me there is nothing more satisfying in Bridge than bidding and making a Grand Slam. Some players shudder at the thought of bidding to make all the tricks but I find it exhilarating. 

What should North open on this hand? Some will simply count their 22 HCPs points and bid 2NT, but for me the hand is a lot more powerful than this bid suggests. With the number of A and K controls, no wasted Qs or Js as they are complimenting these controls in their suits , and a good 5 card suit I was sure the hand was worth an opening Acol 2 bid. So , playing Benjamin , I opened 2 and rebid 2NT. My partner’s next four bids found out that I had a 5 card heart suit, two aces and the  K , the Q and the two black Kings. This only comes to 19 HCPs so I must possess at least one queen for a twelfth trick plus other HCPs. In a contract of 7 there must be possibilities of establishing the fifth club for the thirteenth trick and he bid the grand slam in hearts.

Why not 7NT? Indeed as it happens the J makes the thirteenth trick but it is possible that North might have the Q instead of the Q in which case either the establishment of the fifth club or 3-3 break in clubs or ruffing a diamond if I had  had three,  or a squeeze etc might be necessary. 7 is safer than 7NT and more importantly what would a bid of 7NT gain?7 scored us a 100% score at Lingwood, and a 85.5% score nationally. Although 7NT would score 94.3% nationally this small increase is not worth the extra safety of playing in 7.

John C Williams January 19th 2014.


The Surround Play

A Surround Play arises when an opponent’s card denomination is surrounded by one’s own cards. 

(This commentary relates to Board 6 played at the Chelmsford Bridge Club on January 6th 2014)


South has no sensible bid to make over the 12-14 HCP 1NT opening , and North elected not to protect in fourth position. Having possible red suit entries South decided to attack and led the A. With an encouraging 7 from North, he continued with Q,10, 9 overtaken by North withK and the fifth club cashed by North. North now decided to lead a heart.... but which card? If he leads the A followed by the 7 declarer can play low and establish his Q. If North leads either the 7 or 9 declarer can again play low and by later leading up to his Q, establish a trick. The correct card to lead is the J as declarer cannot guess right as whatever card he plays, four heart tricks are taken.


How can one recognise this situation? North noticed that the 10 in dummy was surrounded by his J and 9 , together  with a higher honour card. This is the classic surround play situation and the card just higher than dummy’s card should be led. Nothing is lost if East has the K or even the K and Q as he can always then make one or two tricks whatever card North leads.


For a good analysis of surround plays and indeed other defensive situations I recommend a recent paperback book entitled ‘Deadly Defence’ by Izdebski, Krzemien and Klinger, published by Wiedenfeld and Nicolson.

John C Williams January 8th 2014



Another example of a surround play occurred at the Clacton Bridge Club on May 30th 2014 when defending a contract of 1NT. Sitting West I held K972  sitting over dummy (South) who held 84. Since I had the 8 surrounded by my  97 , together with a higher honour, when I gained the lead I led the 9. My partner held QJ5 and declarer held A1063. Whatever card declarer plays, we were now able to develop three heart tricks.  If I had led the 2 declarer could have played the 3 which would have been won by partners  J , but then we could only have developed two heart tricks.

John C Williams June 3nd 2014