Spade Heart  Diamond Club
  False Carding

(This commentary relates to Board 9 played on October 25th 2011).

West made a take out double of North’s opening weak 2 bid and when East bid 2 decided to invite game with a raise to 3.  East , not unnaturally , declined.

When South led the Q it looks as though East can make 9 tricks , and his contract , by simply losing a heart , a club , and two spade tricks. He took the A and tackled trumps by leading a small spade to the J which was taken by South’s K. South led a diamond which was taken in dummy , and when West played the A North played his Q putting the thought in declarer’s mind that this was his last spade.  East decided not to continue trumps and played a second round of diamonds , and then a third which North ruffed with his 10 and played K and then 8 which South trumped. Thus declarer lost 5 tricks - the K , a diamond ruff , the K , a heart ruff , and a club to go one trick light.   

This is not really a true false card because with the J being played earlier the Q and 10 are of course equal , however it was enough to put declarer off his stride.

John C Williams, October 28th 2011. 


  A trump promotion too far

(This commentary relates to Board 20 played on June 15th 2010)

It is not often that a successful trump promotion play by the defence brings a poor result , but this was the case on this hand.

The opening 2 bid by South at our table showed an eight playing trick hand in diamonds (marginal) and after a negative response of 2 the 3 bid closed the auction. Sitting West I led the A , with East playing the 9 , so I continued with the K and the J overtaken by East with the Q. East then cleverly played his fourth spade and we were thus able to promote my J. In fact declarer discarded a small club and I ruffed with the J.  Feeling rather pleased  I now led J club to declarer’s A , but there were no more tricks for the defence. Declarer simply cashed the A , drew two rounds of trumps using the 10 as an entry to the North hand , and then lead the K to discard her last club.

So 3 made , for a complete bottom for us.

To defeat the contract  I need to lead the J after cashing three spades  (with East not overtaking my J). Declarer now has no entry to her K and Q before the defence have taken either two club tricks , or the J and a club , to defeat the contract.

John. C. Williams   June 30th 2010

  Good contracts........good defence

(This commentary relates to Board 24 played on May 4th 2010).

When holding four trumps it is often a good defensive strategy to force declarer to ruff to reduce his trumps to be less than , or equal to , your own holding.

Although West’s hand has only 3 losers he may prefer to open  1 , because if he opens with an artificial conventional bid at the two level it may prove difficult to fully express the distributional nature of the hand. North may double 1 (I would) , and when East bids 1NT West jumps to 3 , almost certainly describing a 6-5 strong hand. After East finds out , via Roman Key card Blackwood , that West has three key cards , he bids the spade slam (preferred at pairs) which North may well double.

North leads K , South encourages with the 7 and , in view of the double , West leads  9 at trick 2. North plays 2 and the 9 wins. West now plays a small spade , and North must rise with his A to play a second club , forcing West to ruff. West now plays a spade to the Q and tries to get back to his hand with a diamond in order to draw North’s last trump. Unfortunately this is ruffed by North and the contract goes one off.  (If North fails to play his A on either West’s first or second spade lead then West continues with spades and does not need this last entry back to his hand , so will make his contract).

6 also fails if North leads A and then a small spade for a ruff, a play which may be indicated by the bidding. One pair however made 6 , one pair 5+1, with two pairs making a part score in diamonds. Two pairs were defeated in 6 doubled , and three pairs made 4+1.

John C Williams May 12thth 2010


  Trump Leads

(This commentary relates to Board 22 played on October 20th 2009.)

Trump leads can prove very effective for the defence , but how does one judge if they might be more helpful for declarer than the defence?

One circumstance where it is often right to lead a trump is when an opponent has bid a suit , his partner has bid his own suit , and after a third new suit has been introduced the partner returns to the opponent’s first suit. An bidding sequence such as 1-1-2-2-NB for instance often calls out for a trump lead. Another telltale sign for a trump lead is when you estimate that the other suits are breaking badly for declarer. Both of these elements seemed to be in play on the above hand. 

Whether you consider the South hand is suitable for a 1 opening is a matter of taste , however it soon propelled the bidding into a 4 game contract. After ascertaining that North’s 4 bid was natural (ie not Gerber or a cue bid) , East has to find a lead. A diamond lead may look attractive in the hope of getting a ruff , but experience suggests otherwise. It looks as if both minor suits are breaking badly , but it appears that a trump lead is unlikely to take a finesse for declarer that he cannot take for himself , so this is the best choice.

West needs to pounce on this trick with A and lead another trump , irrespective of whether dummy plays the K or 9. Declarer is now unable to ruff his 2 , and has to lose a trick in each suit to go one light in his contract. (An original diamond lead will be won by dummy’s A and after a club to the A , declarer will ruff the 2 for his contract.)

In the actual results 5 pairs made ten tricks in spade contracts , and 5 pairs made nine tricks. But not all bid game , so defeating 4 earned E/W a joint top.

John C Williams October 21st 2009.


  A Leading Question

(This commentary relates to Board 3 played on August 2nd 2009 in the George Curtis Essex Swiss Teams trophy.)

What does the lead of a 9 mean against a NT contract?

As well as the standard lead of the fourth highest of the longest suit , many people also play MUD (Middle-Up-Down) leads from 3 or 5 small cards , or second highest then next down from 4 small cards , or the 10 from any suit headed by the 10 9.Therefore the 9 is never lead unless from a singleton or doubleton , and I have long been an advocate that from a holding such as J985 one should lead the 9 to tell partner that you have the 8 and a higher honour. 

The system would have worked well on the above hand. After East has opened 1 , and then rebid 1NT to show 15-16 HCPs , West either bids 3NT directly , or 2NT , which East should raise to 3NT. If South leads the standard fourth highest club ie the 7 , and dummy plays the 3 , then North has a problem. If South has something like KQ972 of the suit , with East holding A85 , he needs to play the J , but with something like the actual holding above he needs to play the 4. See how much easier it is if South leads the 9. Whether dummy plays the 10 or 3 then North knows what to do. East will take the trick with the K and lead a diamond. Knowing that East may still have the Q South will switch to a heart after taking his K. Declarer is now limited to eight tricks ( one club, four diamonds, two spades and the A )before having to give up the lead in spades or hearts. The defence will take this trick , and since North now has a heart entry they will now take the rest of the tricks via clubs (leading the J) , a spade , and a heart , to defeat the contract by one trick. However if North plays the J at trick one this will give declarer two club tricks and the contract.  

John C Williams August 4th 2009


  Trump Promotion

(This commentary relates to Board 7 played on September 15th 2009)

Forcing declarer to ruff high to promote one of the defence’s trumps into a winner is a useful way to find an extra trick.

After East has supported his partner’s suit West has enough HCPs to invite game , and East with his good 5 card trump support should certainly accept. After North has taken the first three diamond tricks it looks as if West needs to get the heart finesse right for his contract. However , although it is far from obvious to see at the table , the defence can always beat the contract by creating a trump promotion. Although it seems right for North to switch suits at trick 4 , look at what happens if North leads a fourth diamond.  What can declarer do?

If he ruffs low , or discards in dummy, South can ruff with the 8 forcing declarer to over-ruff with the A , and now South’s Q is promoted into a winner.

If he ruffs with the 10 in dummy then South discards , and now if declarer tries to finesse South by leading the J , South covers with the Q , and his 8 is promoted into a winning trick. (Alternatively if he leads a low heart South plays the 8 and his Q is now a winner).

If he ruffs with K in dummy , then once again the Q or 8 will be promoted into a winner.

Five E/W pairs made 10 tricks , presumably finessing South for the Q after North has shown up with long diamonds. Six pairs made 9 tricks possibly by finessing North for the Q , or by playing for a 2-2 trump split , or by falling victim to the above trump promotion.

John C Williams 16th September 2009.


  Third hand high? (again)

(This commentary relates to Board 1 played on June 16th 2009)

This is a return to a subject which I have covered before (Please see ‘Third hand high?’under menu option “Defence”). The key message from the original article was “Third hand high” is a maxim taught to all new Bridge players. However there are times when after studying the opening lead , and the cards in dummy , it is worth thinking of playing a different card.

 South’s 1NT is likely to be passed out , and West has no reason not to lead the 3. When dummy plays low East should consider the various possibilities. South may have holdings of Kxx , Axx , A10x, K10x or 10xx. (With AKx declarer would have tried the J from dummy , and with xxx partner would have led the A). If declarer has either of the first two of these holdings, it is vital for East to play the 9 to restrict declarer to one spade trick. If instead he follows the above maxim and plays the Q , this gives declarer two spade tricks which , together with four diamond tricks , and the well placed K , presents him with the contract.  If declarer holds the above third or fourth holdings, and East plays the Q , declarer will again have two spade tricks. If East plays the 9 declarer only makes a second trick if East or West lead the suit and declarer guesses correctly. 

The only circumstance where the play of 9 will cost the defence  a trick is if South holds 10xx , therefore the play of 9 is by far the best percentage play.

4 pairs made 1NT, and one pair even made an overtrick. (Clearly the five Easts had not read my previous Featured Hand!)  4 pairs failed by one trick , and two pairs failed by two and three tricks in 3.

John C Williams June 17th 2009

  Be wary of the sudden leap to 3NT

(This commentary relates to Board 8 played on June 16th 2009)

When an opponent leaps to 3NT is he trying to conceal a weak prior bid?

Whether West rebids 2 or stretches to reverse into 2, East will jump to 3NT. He is fully expecting a spade lead , where he has two stops , and realises that his A and J10 will probably be enough to support partner’s suits and make the contract. But South has other ideas , and with such a good heart holding should not be afraid to lead them. Whether to lead the J or a low heart is a bit of a guess , but it does not matter here as either way the defence always quickly make the first five tricks. If South does lead a small spade East should follow the principle of ‘maximising one’s chances’ as described in the previous hand by taking the lead with the J , playing the K , and then A , hoping to drop the Q (40% chance), take the A and K and lead the J intending to finesse (50% chance). Overall this is a 70% combined chance and declarer finishes with ten tricks.

Five E/Ws were allowed to make 3NT with either  9, 10 or 12 tricks, five E/Ws were defeated by either 1 or 2 tricks , and one pair played in a part score.

John C Williams June 17th 2009

  Ducking and Diving

(This commentary relates to Board 13 played at the Chelmsford Bridge Club multiple teams on January 5th 2009)

It is common to hold up an ace or king to block communications between defenders but it is not always realised that it is as important with lower honours as well.

When West leads the 6 against 3NT and East plays the A followed by the J , declarer must duck this trick. If declarer plays the Q , a wily West will now duck the trick himself and when East gets in again with a club he will lead the 5 finessing declarer’s 10 and defeating the contract by one trick. Even if East plays the J on the opening lead it is important to duck this trick , or again defenders will take four spade tricks. The general rule when holding only one stop in the suit is to hold up until the third (or fourth) trick and not be tempted to take an earlier trick.

When declarer takes his spade trick , then by playing on clubs and ensuring that West (the danger hand) is kept off lead by leading the 10 and finessing , he is able to take one spade trick, four hearts, three clubs and a diamond to make his contract.

John C Williams January 6th 2009  


  Counting and Distribution

In my view Counting and Distribution are probably the most important themes for the majority of players to concentrate on in order to improve their results. By Counting I mean the ability to count and remember up to thirteen cards in each suit , and up to 40 HCPs. The Distribution of the suits around the table can often be determined very early on in the play. Clues to assist in deducing both of these can be found in:-

* The opponents bidding or lack of it.

* Partner’s bidding or lack of it.

* The strength or weakness of our own hand.

* The opening lead.

* The first sight of dummy.

* Declarer’s initial play.

* Signals from partner.

To demonstrate these ideas in action I will use the example of a hand played recently at the club. (Board 12 played on November 25th 2008)

East opens 1NT (12-14) and South has various options. He could pass, or even double (even though he only has 14HCPs) as he has got a good suit to lead. (This is a better hand to double on than the one highlighted in a previous Featured hand - see “Doubling a 1 NT opening bid”) He could also make an Astro-type bid although these are usually reserved for hands with both a five and four card suit. I would not quarrel with any of these bids.  (Although in a team event I think it is very dangerous to pass , as a missed game can be very costly) On this hand most Souths passed and 1NT became the contract.

A modern method of leading from a suit headed by AK is to lead the A to ask partner to give an attitude signal (like or dislike the lead) and the K for partner to give count. Here the lead of K is ideal as you would like to know how many spades to cash ; North plays the 2 indicating an odd number. Obviously this could be a singleton , but cashing the A is not going to give East any more tricks than he can make himself in the suit , and when North plays the 6 and East the Q , you lead a small spade to North’s known 10. By now North already knows a lot about the hand.

  * He knows South started with a good spade suit

  * He knows that South and East both have exactly 14 HCPs.  (With 15, South would not pass)

  * He knows South has not got a five card suit (If he had he would have taken action in the bidding)

  * He knows East has at least 3 hearts.

North now leads 3 to show an honour (far safer than to lead away from the K round to an honour) which East takes with the A , and South encourages with the 9. East now tries to establish hearts by leading the 4 to the Q and North’s A. North now knows East has four hearts (South played the 5) and leads another diamond ducked to South who continues the suit. In with the K East cashes his K and now loses the rest of the tricks to the J, 7, J A and K. Declarer is restricted to three tricks , and 1NT ends up 4 down for a loss of 200.

By following the clues about Counting and Distribution in the areas set out at the beginning of this piece note how the defence have been able to quickly ascertain the distribution of cards and each player’s point count.

But the variety of actual results from this hand seem to show that not everyone followed this approach :-  1NT was only 1 off x 3 times , 2 off x 2 , 3 off x 2 , 4 off x 1.

(NB the pair that defeated the contract by 4 tricks almost certainly gained the extra trick due to the optimum play of the spade suit , and this itself was because of the use of the signalling method on A & K leads described above).

 In other results on this hand one NS pair made 2 (don’t ask me how) and two EW pairs played in 2 (going down one and three tricks)

I intend to keep returning to the theme of counting and reconstruction of the opponents hands as I feel sure it is where many players try to play by instinct and as a result don’t do as well as they could. The effort necessary really is very worthwhile , and I also recommend the signalling method on A and K leads described above.

John C Williams November 26th 2008

  Third hand high?
(This commentary relates to board 10 played on 30th September 2008)

“Third hand high” is a maxim taught to all new Bridge players. However there are times when after studying the opening lead , and the cards in dummy , it is worth thinking of playing a different card. On this hand 10 out of 11 EW pairs played in NT ,making between 7 and 10 tricks. Assuming North makes the standard lead of the spade 2 , then after the spade 7 is played from dummy South needs to weigh up the position. Assuming that North has led from a four card suit to an honour, then it is clear that if South follows the “Third hand high” maxim and plays the spade J , declarer will take this trick with his honour and later finesse the spade 10 to take three tricks in the suit. It is safe to play the spade 8 because if partner has the spade 9 then declarer can now only make two tricks in the suit. And if declarer has the spade 9, say Q9 doubleton, then he will also still only make two tricks  (if it is K9 doubleton he is always going to make three tricks whichever card you play).

So , in this case , by ignoring “Third hand high” the defence will usually take one extra trick.

(The play of the spade 8 can only lose if partner has led from four spades to the KQ and declarer has a doubleton 9. In this less probable case, you will have to blame partner for making a bad opening lead!)

John C Williams October 1st 2008.

  Right Idea Wrong Execution

(This commentary relates to board 1 played on 19th August 2008)

Not surprisingly nobody reached the East/West slam in clubs which can always be made even on a diamond lead , as declarer can take an immediate three rounds of hearts discarding a diamond , before forcing out the Ace of clubs. Most pairs played in 5C , four of them making exactly , and two with an overtrick. At our table North passed and East opened 1H. Sitting South I overcalled 2D , West bid 3C, North 3S, and East 3NT.  I felt that with my strong spades I should double , and this was passed out. On a diamond lead this contract is going two down , however I decided to lead a spade. What is more, I lead the spade K in an effort to unblock and force an entry to my partner’s hand. Declarer took his Ace, forced out the A clubs , and made 3NT doubled +3 for a top East West score of 850. On a low spade lead declarer makes 3NT doubled plus one as the suit is indeed blocked. However , look at the effect of leading the JS. Now I can cash the KS when in with A clubs , and have an entry to my partners 10S. This would have been 3NT doubled minus 3 for a top North South score of 500. 

So , once I had decided to lead a spade , three results were possible depending on which of the three cards I lead. One of these results would have been an outright top , unfortunately I chose the one that produced an outright bottom!


John C Williams August 21st 2008

  Leading an Ace against a slam (1)
(This commentary relates to board 9 played on 5th August 2008)

The opening lead against a slam is critical as, usually,there is only one chance to get the defence right. The defender making the opening lead is thus under a lot of pressure. For instance do you lead an Ace against a slam? Two hands from Tuesday night highlight the problem.

On the first board East opens 1S and West probably bids 2H before supporting spades.  A spade slam may be reached and , if West has shown a long heart suit , South should appreciate that this suit may provide discards. South may thus realise that it is vital to lead the Ace of clubs before clubs are discarded on the long hearts. Any other lead will enable the slam to be made.  All seven pairs who bid the slam were thus defeated.  

However on the second board it is a different story.              

  Leading an Ace against a slam (2)
(This commentary relates to board 18 played on 5th August 2008)

East opens 1NT and a heart slam may be reached by East after a transfer bid of 2D. What should South lead? No long suit outside of trumps has been bid , and now if the Ace of diamonds is the opening lead this enables the slam to be made. Of the four pairs bidding the slam , three made the contract. The only lead to defeat the slam is a spade, which is difficult for South to find. Of course without a transfer bid West may become declarer and now the spade K is an automatic lead by North.

John C Williams August 7th 2008