Spade Heart  Diamond Club
Declarer Play
  A complicated squeeze play

(This commentary relates to Board 1 played on March 20th 2012).

No E/W pair bid the excellent contract of 7; four pairs played in 6 and three pairs in 4 , but all made thirteen tricks by taking twelve top tricks and a heart ruff. Three pairs played in a NT contract , two pairs made 12 tricks , a third pair in 6NT made all thirteen tricks. 

The print-out for this computer-dealt hand shows that 13 tricks are always possible in a NT contract played by either East or West on any lead. It is not immediately obvious how this is possible as a complicated squeeze is needed. ( I have previously pointed out how a *simple and **double squeeze operate. See below)

On any lead except a diamond lead, declarer should win the trick with the top honour card in the West hand, cash the A if a heart had not been led at trick one , and proceed to cash five spade tricks discarding a diamond from the East hand. South discards all his clubs but North is squeezed on the last spade. Having to retain all his four clubs and the Q9 he has to give up his third round heart guard.  Declarer then takes his club tricks discarding a heart from the West hand. This time South is squeezed on the last club and has to leave himself with two hearts and two diamonds or else declarer makes three heart tricks. Declarer now plays a diamond to the K and cashes his K. North is squeezed again and has to decide whether to discard a club (establishing East’s last club) , or the 9 allowing East to make the last two diamond tricks with the A and 8.

An original diamond lead from North gives declarer an immediate third diamond trick. On an original diamond lead from South, declarer should win with the K, cash AK , cash the AKQ and then play five spade tricks. On the last spade North is squeezed in diamonds and clubs and South is squeezed in diamonds and hearts.  This is a classic “simultaneous double squeeze” in which the opponents are squeezed on the same trick. The squeeze described in the previous paragraph is a “non-simultaneous double squeeze” ( ie squeezing both opponents but not on the same trick) in which North is also successively squeezed in three suits

Any Lingwood player who was able to work all this out in the few minutes available at the table should apply immediately to join the English national team. With help it took me three weeks!

John C Williams April 18th 2012

See previous Featured Hands , both filed under the menu heading “Declarer Play”

*  The simple “ automatic” squeeze

 ** Putting the (advanced) squeeze on (1)

  Planning ahead

(This commentary relates to Board 18 played in the EBU Sims pairs on April 10th 2012).

Careful thought was necessary on this hand prior to executing a throw-in, following a slice of good luck. I think that 3 is an overbid on this 8 HCP ace-less East hand (2 is adequate), although the bid was made on at least two tables. The 3NT bid described a 4333 hand and partner correctly decided to let West play there. North led the 5 to the J and declarer played the A and, after noticing the 9 from South, he played the 10 ducked to South’s K. South continued with the 6 which declarer took with A. He now played the 8H to Q and, without taking his last heart trick, exited with a spade. North took his two spade tricks on the last of which declarer discarded 6 (leaving the 7 in dummy to take a heart trick later). North is now end played and has to lead a minor card. If North leads a diamond declarer now makes two tricks in each minor suit to add to the two spade and three heart tricks. If he leads a club declarer now makes three club tricks and a diamond for the same result. 3NT made without relying on the club finesse.

The earlier play of not taking his last heart trick was essential as otherwise West would have had to find a minor card discard on the fourth spade.  However as suggested in the above text had he carefully unblocked his 10 & 8 to allow entry to the 7, even a club discard, rather than 6, also succeeds.

Results at other tables suggest that five pairs bid game all failing by one or two tricks; five pairs played in a heart part score making eleven, ten (twice), nine and eight tricks.

John C Williams April 12th 2012.

  A pseudo squeeze

(This commentary relates to Board 3 played in an Essex league match on February 15th 2012).

A pseudo squeeze is when there is no genuine squeeze available but a defender may think he is being squeezed and thus make a fatal error in discarding.

North’s pre-empt in first position is not everybody’s cup of tea and it led to him having a problem later in the play. 

East made a take-out bid of 3 which is the ‘next suit up’ convention (see previous Featured Hand “Conventions over a pre-empt” for a fuller explanation). West then jumped to 6NT. (In fact a bid of 4 by West would have worked better as East would now have bid 4 which West could raise to 6. With the position of the K almost certainly disclosed from the bidding , a ruffing finesse of the Q for a diamond discard would then give declarer twelve tricks).  

In 6NT North led the 10, won by the A, and the lead of the J for a losing spade finesse disclosed that declarer was a trick short. South led the 7 taken by West with his A. Declarer now took three spade tricks and five heart tricks, leaving himself with K3 in hand and 76 in dummy.  South discarded the 5 however North did not know whether to leave himself 98 or the K and 9 as West may have cleverly concealed the 6 in his hand. After a long pause he discarded a diamond, keeping the K, and declarer won the last two tricks with K and a low diamond. In fact South should have spelt out the position by playing MUD (middle-up-down) in clubs playing the 6 followed by the 7 to signal three cards.

Thus with accurate counting and signalling there was no real squeeze on this hand , but North imagined one and made the error. 

At the other table North did not pre-empt and in 6 East, not being forewarned, took the normal finesse in clubs to fall short by one trick.

John C Williams February 16th 2012

  To draw trumps or not?

(This commentary relates to Board 21 played in the Suffolk heat of the National Pairs on January 26th 2012).

Although we have all heard the story of the declarer who did not draw trumps finishing up on a park bench on the Embankment in London , there are times when it is right to leave them alone.

 On the above hand my partner bid a 2 game force in response to my 1 opening , repeated his spades when I showed my second suit , and when I suggested 3NT offered the alternative contract of 4.

The Q was led round to my A and I realised that trying to draw trumps would leave me with club losers. I thus led a diamond to the  Q, took the A discarding a club, and noted the Q played by East. This might have been a false card from Qx, however with nothing better to do I played the K, discarding another club, and East ruffed. After some thought he led a diamond which I took with the A (noting that West’s card suggested a doubleton), and ruffed a club with the 8. Having disposed of all my clubs I led Dummy’s bare Q.

West gave this some thought and played low realising that with no trumps left in dummy he would be able to make a trump trick later. The Q won the trick and I now led the K. West trumped and decided to lead a spade trying to promote a trump in his partner’s hand (a club is no better). However I simply discarded my losing diamond (loser on a loser) and East ruffed for the second time. Although the defenders had now made three tricks with trump ruffs I was left with A973 and the only trump outstanding was the K which I drew when East now led his J.

So 4 was made, for a good result , by allowing the opponents to use up their trumps with three ruffs. Of course it would have been easier to make 4....but not so hair-raising and exciting!

John C Wiliams. 28th January 2012.

  Declarer's assumptions

(This commentary relates to Board 20 played on February 24th 2012)

It is often necessary for Declarer , in order for a contract to succeed , to make assumptions as to which of the defenders might hold particular cards.

My 1NT bid in fourth position after two passes showed 11-15 HCPs and North’s raise to 2NT was based on the hope of making a lot of club tricks.

West  lead the 5 and I took East’s 9 with the 10. To succeed in this contract I am going to need to establish the clubs, as envisaged, and unless the QJ  is doubleton (low odds) I am going to need an entry to reach the clubs. This can now only be the Q and therefore I should, not unreasonably, assume West has the K.

I played K, then A and the 10 to establish the clubs. East took his J and played 9 which I should take with my A as I cannot afford to let West win and establish his hearts before I have set up my spade entry.  Then I would play a spade and West can take his K, two hearts and Q, but I have my entry and make eight tricks (5 club tricks, a heart, the A and the Q).

Unfortunately I erred , and in a mistaken attempt to block the diamond suit I ducked the 9 lead from East and West won with the J. Gaining a tempo he played A, Q and a small heart to establish his hearts before I could set up the Q entry to my clubs. The defence took 7 tricks (4 hearts, J, Q and K) for 2NT-2! My mistake had turned what would have been a good result into a near bottom.

John C Williams. January 25th 2012

  Conceal your Strength

(This commentary relates to Board 9 played in the Christmas pairs on December 20th 2011)

 (NB If the bidding above seems strange it is simply because the Director’s instruction on this hand was that the opening bid on this Xmas deal had to be at the two level!)

 North led the J taken by the Q. Declarer tested the diamonds and was pleased to find they broke 2-2. With eight tricks in the bag via two spade tricks and six diamond tricks , he now played a heart up to dummy’s KQ to try to establish his ninth trick. But North had also been counting declarer’s tricks and , with the fall of partner’s J he could see that the only hope of defeating the contract was to immediately hop up with A and play the K and another club hoping that South had the AJ.  The defenders thus took their six club tricks for 3NT -3.

However had declarer played the K at trick two, would North have realised that a switch to the K was essential?  Because declarer had concealed the strength of his diamond suit , this would be far from clear. Surely North would be more likely to continue spades, to try to establish them, and retain the K as an entry. But of course this line of play would in fact give West his contract.

Wishing all readers a healthy and peaceful 2012.

John C Williams December 21st 2011

  Taking All Your Chances

(This commentary relates to Board 8 played on December 6th 2011.)

Three pairs bid and made 6 on this hand. However, if the defence is accurate, the declarers will have had to work hard to achieve their target.

In the bidding above East utilises a ‘fourth suit forcing’ bid of 3 to find out more about West’s hand , and then jumps to 5. West has got a bit to spare and , since East must have one of the missing aces for his bidding, simply bids the slam.

North must lead a spade , as either a club or heart lead into a KJ tenace will immediately give declarer twelve tricks. South wins the trick and his spade return is ruffed. Declarer has eleven tricks :- the AK and Q of diamonds, four ruffs in total with his remaining trumps and the A and K of both hearts and clubs. He needs one extra trick which is achieved if the trumps break 2-1 giving declarer an extra club ruff. However on leading the A he finds the trumps break break 3-0. Declarer draws trumps and sets about the clubs. If the clubs break 3-3 or 4-2 he can set up his fifth club for his twelfth trick , however he quickly finds out they break 5-1. What now? If declarer has been carefully watching the discards from North when drawing trumps he will have noticed that he discarded his last two spades and....? If the third discard was a club then the fifth club can be established , and if it was a heart then dummy’s fourth heart can be established by playing K , A and ruffing the 5. The 9 is then established as a winner , and North has been squeezed when drawing trumps.  Job done! 

John C Williams December 8th 2011

  Make the most of your luck

(This commentary relates to Board 22 played on November 1st 2011)

                                           Back of the bar in a solo game, sat

                                             Dangerous Dan Mcgrew,

                                          And watching his luck was his light-o’-love,

                                             the lady that’s known as Lou.*

Finding yourself in a poor contract is the time to explore all your chances as, like Dan above, luck is with you. Playing a strong 1NT system (15-17 HCPs) partner opened 1 and when I responded 1 he jumped to 2NT specifically showing 18 HCPs. My jump to 6 may look wild but I have a six loser hand and his NT bid must indicate he has at least two diamonds with an honour.  A heart lead and I was disappointed to see he had wasted points in hearts. I played the A and K discarding two clubs, followed by a spade to my A, a successful diamond finesse and the A cashed. Now a heart ruff allowed me to draw the last trump. I decided to try for a 3-3 spade break and played my K, crossed to the Q and ruffed a fourth heart. Now I can no longer make my contract as all I can do is lead my now singleton club taken with the A. A fifth heart forces me to ruff and I still have a spade loser. My error came at trick two. If I do not take a second heart and still play as above then North has to lead a heart or a club at the end and I make K, (discarding my fourth spade), and the K. My play at trick two forced me to make a premature discard before I knew if spades were breaking nicely or not.

John C Williams November 3rd 2011.    

*From: “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” (1907) by Robert W Service 1874-1958


  Given a second chance

(This commentary relates to Board 19 played in the EBU Swiss Teams at Brighton on August 22nd 2011).

It is not often that players are given a second chance after making an error.  Only the N/S cards are shown  so play this hand with me.

 South opens 1 and , after North responds 1 , he reverses into 2 showing 15+ HCPs. With his 5 card club suit North now has just enough to bid 3NT.

East leads K and getting a discouraging signal from West , switches to the 5 taken by the K. Assuming that clubs behave themselves and yield 5 tricks declarer needs a diamond finesse to be right for nine tricks. The important point is that since he has to assume that the diamond finesse is right , he can make 3 diamond tricks and therefore only needs four club tricks.

So his first chance  is a safety play at trick 3. To keep West off lead, he should lead 10 and duck it , losing to East’s J.  East plays a second heart taken by the A. Playing Q overtaken with K declarer discovers that East started with four clubs , and a diamond finesse now wins. Taking his club tricks and a second diamond finesse he makes his contract.

 If declarer does not make this safety play but instead plays out his A , diamond finesse,  and then Q he only makes three club tricks and the contract looks doomed unless diamonds are 3-3. However when he now plays his second diamond East plays the K with the suit breaking 4-2. What should declarer do now? He should take his second chance and simply duck this trick keeping East on lead and ensuring four diamond tricks for himself.

Now press “Show All Hands” to look at the East/West cards

Hopefully you took one of the two ducking chances to make your contract.

John C Williams August 22nd 2011

  A Tricky 3NT

NB I suggest you do not reveal the EW cards until the point indicated later in this commentary.

(This commentary relates to Board 7 played in Session 4 of the Swiss Pairs at the EBU Brighton Congress on August 14th 2011).

Passive leads , counting tricks , an end play , and good fortune all play a part in this hand.

The bidding sequence shown starts with a strong 1NT , and the 2 and 3 bids find out that North has neither a 5 , nor a 4 card major , but is maximum in HCPs. (A bidding sequence for weak  1NT players would start with a bid of 1 but end in the same contract).

You are Declarer sitting North and East leads the passive 6 which you run round to your A. It seems right to play a diamond to the A and lead a small diamond to your J which wins the trick. What do you do now? You have eight tricks (4 spade tricks , two diamond tricks and the AK of clubs). It seems instinctively right to now duck a club into the East hand and try to establish a third club trick. However stop and count. If you do tackle clubs it ought to become clear to the opponents by now that they should tackle hearts which , however they are distributed , will almost certainly yield three tricks to defeat the contract. Best play therefore is to cash all your spades and play the Q yourself.  The opponents are end-played.  Whoever wins this trick must continue hearts (and then again) or give you a third diamond or club trick.  If West is on lead for the third heart trick he will have to set up your 9 , and if East is on lead you will have to hope East started with 4 hearts.

 Now press “Show All Hands” to look at the East/West cards. East takes his A and K , then leads the 4. All is well as West has to give you a diamond/club trick after winning 10.  

(Note that an opening active lead of 4 would immediately give N/S the contract)

John C Williams August 23rd 2011.

  A Classic End-Play

(This commentary relates to Board 7 played  on June 28th 2011)

An End-Play is executed when an opponent is put in to lead, during the play, such that whatever he leads he has to give declarer an extra trick. A simple bidding sequence soon reaches 4 and West leads a diamond in response to his partners bid. As soon as South studies dummy he should realise that he has nine tricks on top and is 100% certain to make an extra trick whatever the distribution of the opponent’s heart suits. A key card is the 10. East takes the first trick and continues with a diamond which South ruffs high. South then plays a trump to the J and ruffs the last diamond high. Now he draws the last trump and takes his three club tricks finishing in his own hand. Having eliminated the side suits he leads a heart and simply covers whatever card West plays.  If West plays low the 10 is inserted; should West play the J or Q then the K is inserted. East has to try to take this trick or concede the contract and now has to play to give South the extra trick. If he leads another heart then dummy’s K or 10 will win a trick and if he plays another suit it will allow declare to ruff and discard a heart.  Obviously on this hand, with the lie of the cards, simply leading up to the K will succeed, since West has the A.  However the play suggested above is successful even in the worst case when East holds AQJ sitting over dummy’s heart suit.

Seven pairs made 4 and two pairs failed to bid the game. No E/W pair found the excellent 5 sacrifice.

John C Williams June 29th 2011

  Card Reading

(This commentary relates to Board 19 played on October 26th 2010).

When it is not clear how to develop tricks , try playing off your long suit and watch the discards.

I hate leading from QJ9 as it always seems that the opponents have the A, K, and 10 of the suit and make three tricks!  Holding QJxx it is usual to lead an x against NT,  however when holding the 9 it is more normal to lead the Q.  Failure to do this against my 3NT contract , combined with some lucky card reading , allowed me to make my contract.

 Sitting South my opening 1NT showed 15-17 HCPs which was followed by a transfer sequence to 3NT and I was favoured with a small club lead. I played the 8 which was taken by East with the 10. When East then led a small spade to North’s A I placed East with both the Q and A. With no obvious way of developing tricks I decided to play off my five diamond tricks and watch the discards. East is forced to keep all his spades and clubs , and he discarded three hearts. This suggested that he started with a five card suit and almost certainly had a 3523 distribution. Playing for West to perhaps hold a singleton Q , I now led K which was taken by East with the A. East is a bit stuck , and elected to play A followed by a small club to North’s K . There were only hearts left in the North hand , so when East took the next trick with Q he was end-played and had to lead a spade which I finessed to make my contract.

(If the Q had been lead at trick one I would have lost three club tricks , and either two hearts or a spade and a heart  , for one down.)

John C Williams October 26th 2010.


  On not drawing trumps

(This commentary relates to Board 4 played on October 26th 2010).

Whether playing 4 or 5 card majors West should support partner’s opening spade bid and , after North does likewise ,  the competitive auction will probably reach 3. Although all pairs played in a spade contract , the number of tricks made included every number from 7 to 11 tricks.

South should probably lead a club , and when East takes the A if he now plays either two or three rounds of trumps , even if he gets the finesse right , he is destined not to make many tricks.

East needs to realise that with the hearts sitting badly (as indicated by the bidding) he must establish dummy’s diamonds for heart discards , and leave an entry to get there.  If he takes three rounds of trumps South will later hold off his A until the second round of the suit and now dummy is dead. (North will signal that he has three diamonds by playing his lowest first to indicate an odd number). East should play one round of trumps only , leaving the A in dummy as an entry , and then play on diamonds. Playing this way he should not lose more than one trick in each suit , and makes either nine or ten tricks.

John C Williams October 27th 2010.  

  Coping with a bad trump break

(This commentary relates to Board 1 played at the Herts / Essex Swiss Pairs event on July 24th 2010)

Declarer should always try to anticipate a bad trump break in the preliminary planning of the play of a hand.

After a routine sequence to reach a good game contract , South leads 5 round to declarer’s 10. Declarer has nine tricks and if trumps break 3-2 he can ruff his fourth diamond for the tenth. However it is important to realise that a 4-1 break is not uncommon (a probability of almost 30%) and declarer should try to allow for it. Since declarer almost certainly has a diamond loser he should leave trumps alone for the moment and play a small diamond to the J. This has the advantage that , if South has the K and plays it , declarer now has three diamond tricks and the contract. However South correctly played low allowing J to win the trick. The K was overtaken with the A , one round of trumps played (A) and a diamond discarded on the Q. This allowed declarer to play A and then ruff a small diamond.  Success comes by ruffing this diamond with the J , playing a heart to the K (in the process disclosing the 4-1 break) and then ruffing the fourth diamond with the 7. Although this is over-ruffed by North , declarer still has Q6 of trumps and North only has the trump 10 , so declarer is bound to make his last two trumps. Declarer makes 3 spade tricks , 2 diamond tricks , a diamond ruff (with J) and all the 4 hearts in his hand.

If two rounds of trumps are played early then declarer has not got the entry back to his hand in order to lead a diamond for dummy to ruff and thus reduce North’s trumps (when he over-ruffs). North would later gain entry with a club and lead a trump leaving declarer a trick short. The defence would make 2 club tricks , a trump trick and K.

As well as highlighting the need to plan in advance for a bad trump break , this hand also illustrates two other key points :-

1. Consider the most advantageous way to play a side suit when you have a certain loser in the suit.

2. If you need to ruff a side suit twice , it may be right to ruff first with a top trump.

John C Williams July 26th 2010.

  The simple “automatic” squeeze

(This commentary relates to board  7 played earlier this year in the Essex Spring Senior Pairs competition.)

This hand is really very simple and highlights some basic mechanics of a squeeze.

The above E/W hands should be bid to either 6 or 6NT depending on technique - the bidding sequence shown employs Blackwood to reach 6. Twelve tricks are on top providing the spades break nicely , which they do. And yet everybody should make thirteen tricks simply by watching the cards.

For a simple squeeze to operate there need to be two cards in different suits which could become a winner if the opponents discard certain cards. Possible cards here are Q (if the K is discarded) and 9 (if the person with the longer diamond suit discards a diamond). So , say on a spade lead , declarer (East) simply plays out three rounds of spades , his two master clubs , the A , and continues with his spades , discarding the clubs and one heart from dummy.  When he plays his last spade (the ninth trick), South has a problem as the cards he has left are K and four diamonds and he must play one of them before dummy plays his card. Whichever suit South throws, dummy discards the other suit , and makes either the Q or 9 for his thirteenth trick.

Note that no planning or counting were involved , all declarer had to do was to play his cards in the right order (ie A before the last spade) and keep his eyes open for the K. The squeeze would not work if the N/S hands were transposed , as dummy has to discard before North who now holds the essential cards.

Nine pairs bid a slam and four pairs bid game , however only six pairs made thirteen tricks.

John C Williams

  A gentleman from Bath

(This commentary relates to board 23 played on October 20th 2009)

Some aspects of card play in bridge go back a long time.

Two hundred and five years ago in 1804 Thomas Mathews from Bath published a book entitled ‘Advice to the Young Whist Player’.  The reason that he is remembered is because in this book he sets out for the first time a play which has ever since been known as the ’Bath Coup’. He recommended that when a K has been led and you hold the AJx of the suit you should hold up the A. The aim is to try to persuade the leader to continue the suit. Of course the game he was describing was whist , as bridge was not invented until ninety years later. However the rule is as applicable today as it was two centuries ago.

On the above hand East ended up in 2. South led the K and East ducked this card. In fact he played the 6 (not the 2) creating doubt in South’s mind as to the whereabouts of the 2. If North held this card then the 5 which he actually played was encouraging indicating that he held either the J or A or both. South decided to continue the suit giving declarer 3 tricks in the suit , en route to ten tricks as he established the diamonds for a heart discard before the defence played hearts.

John C Williams October 24th 2009


  Morton's Fork

(This commentary relates to Board 16 played on September 1st 2009)

Sometimes ,whatever a defender does , declarer has a counter.

A simple bidding sequence leads to a contract of 3NT , and unless North is psychic he is likely to lead the fourth highest of his longest suit ie the 6. Declarer will win with the Q and run his five diamond tricks discarding one heart from his own hand.  He should now lead the 3 from dummy and South is caught. If he rises with the A he gives declarer two club tricks which , together with the five diamonds and two spades , gives declarer the contract. If he does not rise with A then declarer wins with the K and then plays a heart to the Q. This loses to the A , but once again declarer has nine tricks via one heart , one club, the spades and diamonds. South is caught in a classic Morton’s Fork*.

4 pairs made the contract exactly, and 4 pairs were surprisingly given one or two overtricks. However 5 pairs went one down in 3NT. Of course this may possibly have occurred as a result of North deciding not to lead his spade but to chance the 10 or 10 instead. Now declarer only has six top tricks and will definitely struggle to make his contract.

(*John Morton was England’s Lord Chancellor who, in 1487, gave rise to the phrase Morton’s fork as a “a choice between two equally unpleasant alternatives”. The expression arose from his policy in tax collection....but is often used in bridge circles as well.)

John C Williams September 3rd 2009.


  Count your tricks

(This commentary relates to Board 18 played in a NICKO (National Inter-Club Knock Out) match on June 24th2009.)

The first thing to do on seeing dummy is to count your tricks.

After the above bidding sequence West led 6 , East playing the A ,  then the J ducked with West playing the 5 ,and his last heart taken by declarer with the K. Obviously West started with a five card heart suit but how would you play the hand from here? You have seven top tricks and it is clear that any sensible line of play will be successful if diamonds are 3-3.Therefore one should assume that they are 4-2 and look solely for either the best spade line of play to deliver four tricks or consider ducking a diamond trick to the East hand to set up the diamond suit 

*The play of the A followed by the K will always guarantee four or more tricks for all distributions if the Q is with East, and also if the Q is singleton or doubleton with West

*Playing the2 and covering with the 8 will succeed if West does not play a higher card which he may not be able to do, or simply does not appreciate the need to do. 

Either of these plays succeeds on this hand. What declarer must not do is to lead J and take the spade finesse because unless West has exactly Q together with two small spades then the spade play described above has a much larger probability of success.  Remember you need two spade tricks and not one. If West has the Q with either 3 or 4 small spades the finesse only yields one extra trick and if the finesse loses a club return from East blocks you in dummy with no entry to your established spades after taking the A and K.

John C Williams 27th June 2009


  Maximising one’s chances

(This commentary relates to Board 20 played on June 16th 2009)

A player can often make his contract if he correctly guesses which of two finesses to take.

North opens the bidding with 1 and South is likely to play this hand in 4 after East has shown a good hand with clubs. West leads a club which suit is also continued. South ruffs , plays a heart to the A , ruffs a third club and draws trumps.South may play a few trumps to watch the discards , but eventually plays the Q losing to the A. A club is returned and ruffed. Declarer can now play a diamond to the K , or finesse the 10 for his contract. Each has a 50% chance of success.....but which to choose? The best play in fact is to play a spade to the K in the hope that West started with J doubleton or East started with the AJ doubleton. This has a 40% chance of success but when this fails he can ruff a spade and now lead up to the K which fortunately works.  The combined chance is increased to about 70%. Declarer has maximised his percentage chance of making that vital trick by trying for success in both suits. Such opportunities occur quite often (see other hand ‘Be wary of the sudden leap to 3NT’).

John C Williams June 17th 2009.


  A void opposite a void

(This commentary relates to Board 15 played on May 26th 2009)

A curiosity hand, in that both North and South were dealt a void in diamonds.

As North I opened a Benjamin 2 and East made a jump overcall of 3. When the bidding reverted to me I bid 4 , asking partner to bid his best major.  Partner bid 4 and , as this might be a 3 card suit , I now bid 4 to show a five card suit. Despite East’s bid of 5 my partner realised that with his good major suit holdings and void diamond suit  a slam should have chances , and bid 6.

Looking solely at the N/S hands , and not knowing the KQ  were doubleton, I have two club losers and the trump position to negotiate. However East , not unnaturally, led a diamond allowing me to ruff in dummy and discard one club from my hand. I played a spade to my A and entered dummy with a heart to theQ. Since East had indicated long diamonds , I decided to finesse the J. After drawing the Q I played all my hearts discarding a second club from hand on the fifth heart , thus only losing one club and making twelve tricks.

A ruff and discard on the first trick is rare. Perhaps West should have been more active and raised to 5 on the first round of bidding. East may then have sacrificed in 7. With the ideal club situation I will always make the slam on any lead , provided I get the trumps right.

John C Williams 27th May 2009

  With a little help from my friends (2)

(This commentary relates to Board 22 played on April 7th 2009)

In a similar vein to the first hand , a bridge pair should also try to use the opposition’s bidding to help to indicate the best line of play.

East opened 1 and sitting South I bid 1NT (15 - 17 HCP), but with a better spade stop suit than in the previous hand. My partner closed the auction with 3NT and West made the good lead of 6. East took his A and continued the suit which I took with the K. Despite holding 26 HCPs I now need to bring home the club suit without losing a trick. When I cashed the A I noted that the J was played by East. Other things being equal I should now finesse the 8 , as there is a higher chance that the J is singleton than it being from a QJ doubleton. (This is known as ‘the principle of restricted choice’ which I have covered in a previous featured hand). However other things are not equal as East has opened the bidding and therefore will obviously have all or nearly all the HCPs. I thus played a club to the K , dropping the Q , and made ten tricks. If East had not opened the bidding (on what I consider to be  a pretty poor 11 count including 3 Jacks) then I would have finessed the 8 and lost four heart tricks , as well as the club , to go one down in the contract.

Despite holding 26HCP, 5 N/S pairs bid a part score in clubs usually making eleven tricks ,  2 N/S pairs defeated an E/W contract.

John C Williams April 8th 2009.

  Throw-ins and End-Plays

(This commentary relates to Board 2 played in the Essex club’s “Helliar Trophy” competition on February 22nd 2009.)

You are North , declarer in 3. East leads the 7 to West’s A who continues with the 3 to your K and East’s 6. You have one club and one spade trick to lose in addition to the A trick already taken. You must therefore restrict your diamond losers to one trick. A spade lead goes to East’s A who returns the 3 to West’s J and your K. You remove West’s last spade with East discarding a heart , and play a further two rounds of trumps (See Note below) on which East discards a heart and a club , and West discards two hearts. You now play the A and then a small club to East’s Q. East has been thrown-in to lead at the critical point as any lead , except a diamond , will enable declarer to pitch a diamond in one hand and ruff in the other , thereby only losing one diamond trick. East has been end-played. East thus leads 4 and you play the 9 , hoping that East has the 10. West plays the K and you should overtake with the A and lead a diamond up to the J , hoping that East has the Q? Right?...No , wrong..... Count West’s HCPs (High Card Points). He has shown up with A, J and probably the Q. He therefore  needs to hold both the K and Q for his opening bid. So you duck the K and now West is similarly end-played.  He must lead a diamond which you allow to run round to your J to claim the contract.

Note : The play of two extra rounds of trumps was to try to elicit E/W’s distribution and HCPs by forcing two discards. East would have done better to discard a diamond and keep his clubs intact , taking the trick with the 10 thus concealing the Q.

John C Williams. February 24th 2009

  Duck and Hope

(This commentary relates to Board 47 played in the Swiss Teams Congress at Woodham Ferrers on January 25th 2009.)

The following contract needed an enormous stroke of luck to make it. Playing a strong NT South declared in 2NT and received the 5 lead to the 8, and 10. In line with the previous Featured hand entitled  ‘Ducking and Diving’ , declarer should duck this trick in order to cut communications between defenders. However this will only work if the suit is breaking 6-2. When a club is returned West will probably take his A and clear the suit. Declarer should now take the Q and J and finesse the Q. When this works he should take the A, K and the A ; dropping the K. Now for the minor ‘bridge miracle’. Declarer plays the 8 (note, not the 6) and then low from dummy and East is end played in spades to give declarer his eighth trick.

 If West elects not to take his A, or takes it and plays a red card, then South plays the red cards as above , and a similar spade play succeeds. 

If West takes his A and switches to a spade , then play low in dummy. You will now have to decide whether East started with only two diamonds, for the same play to succeed (after cashing the K), or started with three diamonds and has cleverly concealed the J (* see below). In this latter case declarer needs to cash K, play red cards as before, and then play a diamond.  East will win, but is end-played as he can only play A and then a spade to dummy’s K.

Simple really!!!  All it needed was the clubs to be 6-2, the diamond finesse to be right, a correct guess of the diamond layout , and East to have all the top missing five spades. Not surprisingly at our table this line of play was not followed and the contract went light. However I think it is declarer’s only hope.

(* The bridge maxim is ‘having two cards which have become equal always play the one you are known to hold’. If East had three diamonds then concealing the JD gives declarer a losing option)

John C Williams. January 26th 2009.

  Preserving your Trumps

(This commentary relates to Board 6 played on January 6th 2009)

Occasionally , on some hands , one should delay drawing trumps until one knows how the other suits are behaving.

Surprisingly , only one E/W pair bid this game , although they in fact went one off.  Five pairs did however make ten tricks in a spade part score, one pair made nine tricks and four pairs played in a NT part score. Surely East’s hand is worth the effort of Stayman and a raise? With such a good maximum West should bid 4.

 North’s natural lead is the Q and declarer needs to count his tricks. He has two diamonds, two hearts, two trump tricks and two ruffs if he draws three rounds of trumps (assuming a reasonable 3-2 break). He needs two more tricks. Possibilities include a 3-3 heart break and the club Ace being right. 

If he could use his small trumps separately he would only need one of those extra chances. But drawing two rounds of trumps might allow the opponents to quickly draw another round when they get in , thereby extracting two more of declarers trumps.

Declarer should therefore delay drawing trumps and , after taking the Q with the K , lead a club to the K and A. Unlucky. North probably continues with the J taken by the A and declarer should now play A, K and a third heart. Luckily they break. Whatever North plays back now declarer ruffs as necessary and draws two rounds of trumps only. He then takes his heart trick and cross ruffs the hand. North can take his master trump whenever he wants to , but it only catches one of declarer’s trumps. Had hearts broken 4-2 declarer would now have to rely on the defence allowing him to ruff three clubs in dummy.

An alternative line of play of taking two rounds of trumps early, followed by two diamond ruffs, also succeeds on this hand. However if hearts break 4-2 the defenders are sure to take their four tricks to defeat the contract.

John C Williams January 13th 2009

  Putting the (advanced) squeeze on (1)

I plan to explain the mechanics of a 'simple’ squeeze play to gain an extra trick in a future Featured Hand  when I come across a good example from actual play. However , to whet the appetite , here are two examples of more complicated squeezes from actual play this week. The reader is encouraged to follow the play card by card , in order to understand how pressure on discarding for one or more players leads to an extra trick in each case.

(This commentary relates to a hand played on 18th November 2008 in the Autumn Swiss Teams)

On this first hand I opened 4 sitting South and it was passed out. West led the A and switched to the 8 which I took in dummy with the A. It is clear from the opponents' play that West has the K and East the K. I led 10 which East won with the Ace , saving me a guess.  East then led a club which I ruffed. I now played out all my spades, leaving myself with K10x in hand and A9 and the two minor queens in dummy. On the last spade West was forced to throw a heart , or my  Qwill be a winner. I then discarded the Q, and East is now forced to throw a heart , or my Q will be a winner. Thus I took the last three heart tricks , making my contract with an overtrick. Both East and West have been squeezed in turn , which is why it is called a double squeeze.

  Putting the (advanced) squeeze on (2)
(This commentary relates to board 2 played at Chelmsford Bridge Club on 17th November 2008)

On this second hand one should beware a declarer offering Greek gifts!  North’s 3NT was a bit pushy, but he did have two tens. The 3 was led to the 10. Four rounds of clubs followed with West discarding a diamond and a spade. If South now plays a heart allowing West to take four heart tricks, should he take them?  If he does he makes it impossible for East ,who has to find three discards on the hearts , in addition to the one discard on the fourth club. He either leaves himself 2-2 in spades /diamonds or 3-1 in these suits.  South comes down to ♠K64 and 10  in hand with ♠A10 and A9  in dummy. Declarer now makes the last four tricks , and his contract. West should never have thrown a spade earlier on the clubs , as he could then guard this suit. But how was he to know?

(NB In actual play South did not follow this line , he tried to endplay an opponent and failed by one trick.)

John C Williams. November19th 2008.

  The Principle of Restricted choice
(This commentary relates to board 8 played on 28th October 2008)

The bidding sequence above uses a splinter bid of 4D to show both a singleton or void diamond and a raise to 4H. When North finds out about the two aces he bids 6H. However , irrespective of whether the bidding reaches 4H/4S or 6H/6S or whether North/South becomes declarer , twelve tricks should be made thanks to the position of the club Ace. (I plan to cover splinter bids in future pieces once suitable example hands occur.)

The play of the spade suit is the subject of this note. The correct play is to cash the KS and , on seeing any honour fall from the West hand , then finesse the 10S. It may seem to be a close decision when East plays a small spade on both tricks as to whether to finesse or play West for QJ doubleton. In fact the odds on the finesse succeeding are approximately twice as likely as the drop of the QJ doubleton. This is due to the Principle of Restricted Choice (* see below) and may seem counter-intuitive , however I can assure readers that it has helped me in many contracts. Terence Reese highlighted the principle in his classic book “The Expert Game“, first published in 1958. More recently Brian Senior published an article on the subject in the EBU magazine “English Bridge“, (pages 38/39) in June of this year.

* Actually defining the Principle of Restricted Choice is not that simple, as witnessed by the number of different definitions that are in circulation. I myself find it easier to think of it in terms of an actual example , such as the one above which is a classic. But for those who would like to see the principle written down , here are a couple of ways of expressing it :-

“A defender should assume not to have had a choice rather than to have exercised a choice in a particular way”   or

“The play of a particular card (one that might have been selected from two or more equals) increases the likelihood that the player doesn't have the other one”

John C Williams October 29th 2008

  Avoidance play
(This commentary relates to board 1 played on 7th October 2008)

The uncontested bidding sequence shown would appear to be the most likely and , even if East overcalls clubs , 3NT will normally be reached. Although six pairs reached 3NT (played by South), five pairs failed to make the contract. It is perhaps difficult to see why  as declarer would appear to have 4 diamond tricks, 3 heart tricks and one trick in each black suit. However , dependant on the opening lead , South may need to play carefully to establish all of them and retain the necessary entries.

On a low spade lead to the 5, 10 and K, South needs to play K and J hearts before establishing diamonds. If West covers the J hearts with the Q  , dummy should win with the A and immediately duck a diamond to establish the suit.  Declarer will also need to duck the first round of clubs, if they are led, but will come to nine tricks.

On an initial low heart lead to the 2, 7, and J, South should also take the K hearts and then lead the 9 diamonds and let it run to East’s J. If East now leads clubs South needs to duck one round before leading a second diamond effectively cutting out an entry to East’s clubs. Declarer will now come to 10 tricks , making the extra heart.

Should East overcall North’s bid with 2C then an opening lead of 10 clubs may prove difficult for declarer. The lead should be ducked and then , if continued , South should take the second round. Now declarer must ensure that West and not East takes the opponents’ diamond trick. South can do nothing about it if East has Qxx of diamonds, (or indeed the spade Ace).  South should play the 9 diamonds and dummy’s Ace unless West plays the Q in which case South should let West win this trick.South must then come back to his hand by first leading a spade to the 10, K and presumably West’s Ace. West now leads a heart or spade and on winning this trick in hand South should lead a second diamond and again let West win the trick if the Q is played. Otherwise South should take the trick with the K and then let West have his Q diamonds. In this way East is kept out of the play. Note that it is not good enough to simply play the A and K diamonds from dummy and then duck a diamond , as a clever West may unblock his Q and East will now win the third round with his J and cash his winning clubs to defeat the contract. Declarer must lead up to both his A and his K to ensure success.

This type of play is known as an ‘avoidance play’ (you avoid the dangerous opponent, in this case East, from gaining the lead) and this will again lead to 9 tricks.

Note how a light overcall on a good suit makes it difficult for declarer. (See the earlier Featured Hand from June 3rd 2008 entitled “Lead-directing overcalls” )

As a footnote , two NS pairs reached a contract of 4S (on a 4-3 fit) on this board , both making their contract despite the 5-1 trump break.

John C Williams October 11th 2008

  Loser on a loser play

The opportunity for this sort of loser on loser play occurs quite often , and it is a valuable technique as it can help to bring home a marginal contract. This particular example is from a recent duplicate event played at the Chelmsford Bridge Club on September 29th 2008. (Board17)

West led the 10 diamonds in an effort to stop declarer ruffing clubs and I won this trick with the A. It is important not to try to draw trumps as this would leave you with a lot of club losers. Thus I led the 3 spades to my K and the A. West now led a club to his partners A who continued with a club (NB East cannot lead a trump without surrendering his trump trick).I ruffed the club with dummy's 6 diamonds and cashed the diamond Q, West showing out. I then played my Q and J spade winners , discarding a club and led a fourth spade.  East had to trump this or I would have simply discarded my club and played another spade. When East trumped I did not overtrump but discarded my fourth club. Effectively I had eliminated my trump loser and my last club loser on the same trick  (hence the phrase ‘loser on a loser’). If I had have overtrumped I would still have had a trump loser, a club loser and the heart A. However by losing this trick, whatever East did then , I could only lose one more trick ie the heart A.  So the contract was made losing just the three aces and one trump trick.

John C Williams September 30th 2008

  Finding that extra chance

(This commentary relates to Board 7 from the Essex versus Norfolk match on June 8th 2008)

Sitting West I appreciated that my reverse showed at least 15 HCP but the hand is so strong in distribution and controls I was certainly not going to rebid a simple 2C or a misleading 3C.

My partner bid a fourth suit forcing 2H , I showed my distribution with 3D, he set the trumps as clubs and although I could have cue bid 4H I felt I had done enough and bid 5C. However my partner made the excellent raise to 6C as he knows I must have a heart control for my strong bidding.

Sadly your correspondent fell from grace in the play. I received a heart lead to the Ace, played a diamond to the King, ditched a heart on the AS and a diamond on the KS. I now played a diamond to my Ace and led a small diamond. When North showed out, I ruffed with the 9 played the AC and ruffed a heart back to my hand. When I now played KC I found that the trumps were breaking badly and I lost a trump trick and a diamond for 6C-1. I could of course have ruffed two diamonds but now I have to lose two club tricks.

However I missed giving myself a small extra chance with little risk. I should have played a third spade, (ruffing low) after playing the Ace and King, which luckily brings down the QS. Now I play AD and a diamond ruff.  On the JS, I ditch my last diamond. North is caught. He can let me have this trick or he can ruff with what is effectively a winning trump. Either way I make 6C. [Note that I need to set up the JS before I take a diamond ruff as North can foil this plan by ruffing with the 10C or discarding the QS.]

Our opponents did not bid this excellent slam and it was thus a very costly board in a team match

Sackcloth and Ashes.

John C Williams. June 11th 2008