Spade Heart  Diamond Club
  Another Nightmare

(This commentary relates to Board 16 played in a Gold Cup match on Wednesday November 16th 2010)

‘Sophisticated’ conventions can aid bidding , but when opponents join in the bidding those sophisticated conventions can sometimes create extra difficulties.

West (my partner) opened with a ‘multi 2’ bid to describe either a weak two major-suit  hand , or a game forcing ‘Acol style’ 2 opening. North overcalled 3 , and as East I had no sensible bid so I passed. (If my partner had the strong hand he would obviously bid again). South decided to conceal his heart suit and bid 4NT (Roman Key Card Blackwood) and , on hearing the response of 5 meaning 0 or 3 key cards , he bid 6.

From my point of view I naturally assumed West’s opening bid was a weak 2 , and thus thought that he had the heart suit covered to some extent. Not wanting to give away a trick in spades or diamonds I led the 10. Within a few seconds of dummy appearing North claimed 13 tricks for 6+1 (5 clubs, 7 hearts and the A).

The conversation with my partner then went along the following lines.

My partner to me :-

 (i) “Pity you did not under-lead your A since I could then win with the K and can give you a heart ruff to defeat the contract”. (Not a lead I am ever likely to find!)

 (ii) “Actually 6 would be a good save”

 (iii) “In fact 6 , by West , would make on any lead except the A and a diamond ruff (a lead which the opponents are also very unlikely to find). A 14 HCP slam!

With each true statement my misery grew. We did not win the match.

John C Williams November 17th 2010.

  My nightmare board 13

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

(This commentary relates to Board 13 played at the Hertfordshire Swiss teams event on September 26th 2010).

Occasionally a hand will live with you as a personal nightmare , this is one such. My partner South opened a Benjamin 2 and , although I had enough HCPs for a positive response , the bid should have an A and a K. I therefore decided to respond with a negative relay of 2. After partner bid 2 the opponents entered the fray.  I bid my clubs , the opponents kept bidding spades , my partner showed his diamonds , and after West bid 4 I decided to bid the slam in diamonds.

West led a spade not realising that his partner East was on lead (due to my earlier 2 bid). I accepted the tournament director’s option of forbidding a spade lead , and East led a low diamond taken with the A , with West discarding a spade exposing his void. I spent some time working out how to play the hand and since it seemed clear to me that I would need the club finesse , I took it straight away. The Q won the trick - so far so good. I now led the J and the 10 which both held. I could not afford to take the last diamond as hearts might not break 3-3 , therefore I crossed to the A , then led K followed by  a small heart , feeling pleased when West discarded on the third round enabling me to ruff safely. Then I had to get back to dummy , so I led the AC  , with the view of subsequently ruffing a third round of clubs in dummy. However East ruffed the  A with the Q (having originally held only a singleton ) and cashed a spade winner. If East had had one more club I could have made my contract by then leading a third club and ruffing or over-ruffing as necessary.

Why was it a nightmare? Well now reveal the E/W cards. What I had failed to notice was that West held J10 doubleton in hearts. So once I had cashed the A and K the suit was already established , and my 8 was now a winner!  My mood was not improved when it was further pointed out that East’s diamonds were Q542 and that earlier on , instead of taking two rounds of trumps I had taken only one , I could have left a finessing trump position as an entry to dummy.

The slam was not bid in the other room and 6-1 , instead of 6 making , cost us the match. A case of not watching all the cards. Mea culpa.

John C Williams September 27th 2010

  Bidding balanced Grand Slams

(This commentary relates to Board 22 played on June 1st 2010).

Most Grand Slams are bid when one hand has a long suit and all the controls (aces) are held. Normally it is only worthwhile bidding it at pairs if the odds on it succeeding are well over 50% , say 75%. This is because if the odds are less than 75% then the whole field are unlikely to bid even a Small Slam , and therefore bidding the Grand is not necessary to achieve a good result.

The success of a Grand Slam normally depends on being able to run a long solid suit whilst , of course, holding all the controls. If both hands are balanced then one needs more HCPs , but how many? On the above hand E/W have a combined holding of 38 HCPs and 15 top tricks , which should certainly be enough. When East opens the bidding with a strong bid (2NT or 2C if playing Benjamin Acol) West could ask for aces and kings but might as well just bid the Grand Slam directly. The only discussion on the hand at our table was as to which of the N/S hands was the stronger as both held 1HCP. North won as their Jack was accompanied by two tens as opposed to South’s one ten!

Seven pairs bid 7NT and three pairs only 6NT.

John C Williams June 4th 2010.

  Computer Dealt Hands

(This commentary relates to Board 14 played on April 20th 2010.)

I like computer dealt hands for many reasons. These include :-

 (i) They are completely randomly shuffled and dealt, unlike hands dealt at the table which may be  imperfectly shuffled.

(ii) They offer the opportunity of having a print-out of all the hands played at a session such that one can study the hands later , learn from any mistakes , and so improve one’s bridge.

(iii) The print-out usually includes a computer analysis of how many tricks can be made by each side in all suit and no-trump contracts.

This later aspect should, however, be treated with some caution as the computer can “see” all the cards in each hand and whilst the number of tricks cited is accurate this is not necessarily achieved by the best percentage way to play the hand. This is known as double-dummy play and it is not always possible, at first glance, to see how to make the number of tricks cited.

For example on the above hand should the N/S partnership bid to 3NT the computer analysis indicates that 9 tricks can be made on any lead. It would appear at first sight that on a heart lead ducked all round and won by North with hisJ , only 8 tricks can be made (1 , 4 , 2 and a ) before East gains the lead and plays a second heart to West ‘s 4 tricks. However, look what happens if North simply plays a second heart at trick 2 allowing West to take his 4 heart tricks early. North discards2 from his hand and a diamond , with two small spades from South’s hand. Whatever West now plays, North takes his AK , A  and A  (key play) before crossing to Q  and then 9 . In the two card ending South is left with Q and 10 whilst North is left with A and 8. However, East has either discarded the K and kept two diamonds or kept theK andQ. Whichever it is, North plays appropriately from dummy to win the last two tricks. East has been squeezed, not by declarer, but by his partner West! 

Any other line of play by West in the heart suit only allows West to take 3 heart tricks and gives North the time to develop up to three tricks in spades for his contract.

John C Williams 21st April 2010. 

  A Premature Double

(This commentary relates to Board 2 played on March 30th 2010)

Sometimes (but usually only claimed in retrospect) it can be a good idea to double the opponents in game , in order to keep them from bidding a slam!

Nobody bid and made 6 with the above N/S cards , although twelve tricks are always available by ruffing two spades in dummy to establish the suit , drawing trumps , and simply conceding one club trick. 6 scores +1370. However three pairs , who may perhaps have been on their way to 6 , were doubled in 5 , made 12 tricks , but only scored + 950. The bidding shown above occurred at our table , and West’s jump game bid of 4 holding only a five card suit should have worked well. I think East should now sacrifice in 5 over 5 , and indeed 6 over 6 if the slam is bid. 6 is only three off against best defence - after a spade lead to the A, a high spade (indicating a diamond entry) is returned for a ruff and a second spade ruff is obtained after North under-leads his A to the K. Three off in 6 doubled is only +500 for N/S.

In addition to the three doubled game contracts , one N/S pair made + 620 (5+1), and one pair collected a penalty of +300. Meanwhile one E/W pair were allowed to make 11 tricks in 4 , and two E/W pairs collected penalties of +100 and +200.  

John C Williams April 1st 2010

  Double Slam v Double Game

(This commentary relates to Board 15 played on October 6th 2009)

It is always interesting to see the diverse contracts that can sometimes be reached on the same board.

With a slam available for N/S in either major suit , and a game available for E/W in either minor suit , this was always going to be an exciting and competitive hand. The bidding sequence suggested above uses the *‘Michaels’ convention to pinpoint a two-suited hand. A ‘Michaels’ bid is similar to the ‘Unusual 2NT’ overcall , which is normally used over a major suit opening bid to indicate both minors. A Michaels cue bid of the opener’s suit promises a two-suited 5-5 hand , thus the 2 overcall above indicates a holding of 5-5 or more in the majors , with 8-12 HCPs.  When East raises clubs to the 5 level South has a problem. If South does decide to bid a major then North , with his extra distribution, may well bid a slam. If South passes then North should bid 5 , and now South may well bid the slam. For pairs not using  Michaels bids the 2 bid by North is replaced by a double. East will still bid 5 , and perhaps the bidding should still proceed as indicated above, although South will now not appreciate the strong major distribution in the North hand.

Contracts reached (assuming spades , although hearts was the contract at some tables) were 6 dbl + 1 (1860), 5 dbl and redbl + 1 (1600), 5 dbl + 2 (1250), 5 dbl (850), five contracts of 4 + 2, one of 4 + 1, and one of 6-1. One E/W pair were allowed to play in 5 , making 11 tricks. Well , you have to get lucky sometimes!

* The Michaels Convention

In the late 1940s Alvin Roth developed the unusual 2NT overcall to indicate the two lowest ranking suits. Mike Michaels, an American player, recognised that a cue bid was also a somewhat redundant bid and suggested its use to indicate other two-suited hands. Thus over a minor opening  a cue bid indicates both majors , and over a major opening a cue bid indicates a major/minor two-suiter. The partner of the over-caller can then use 2NT to ask which minor suit the over-caller holds.

(NB  In theory 6 can be defeated via A and a spade ruff , but this defence is unlikely to be found.)

John C Williams October 7th 2009

  Penalising the weak 1NT opening bid

(This commentary relates to Board 23 played on June 30th 2009).

In the UK we stand alone in that the majority of players play a weak opening 1NT.

Throughout the world a strong 1NT is preferred , and players wonder why the weak 1NT is not penalised more often. Sophisticated techniques such as “Wriggle” have been developed to enable the weak 1NT opener to avoid serious penalties , and I have previously described these (see the two previous Featured Hands “Wriggling one’s way out of trouble” and “Further Wriggling “).  Occasions do arise however where an opening weak NT is exposed to penalty , and on this hand , after South has opened a fairly normal 1NT, West should consider doubling despite having only 12 HCPs.The point is that he would be fairly unlucky to find either North or South with a four card heart suit , and can therefore guarantee 6 tricks (not including the QS). North has neither a five card suit nor two four card suits and therefore has difficulty in using Wriggle. If South re-doubles (Wriggle – see “Wriggling one’s way out of trouble” for explanation) then with 6 HCPs and a useful 10, North may well pass! 1NT doubled  always goes three off for -800. If N/S do use Wriggle then they will probably alight in 2 doubled. After a heart lead the contract will go two off for -500 , and neither 2 or 2 will fare any better. Whether this is a good result or not depends on whether most E/Ws bid their vulnerable game in hearts. To do this West must find some bid other than an overcall of 2 , which is likely to be passed out. The traditional way to express a hand with game interest , but not suitable for a double , is to overcall 2NT usually showing a strong two-suiter. An overcall of 3 also works well. Playing in 4 either the clubs can be established , or a spade ruff taken to make the contract. 3NT also cannot be beaten.

One E/W pair collected the 800 penalty, two pairs a 500 penalty, three pairs played in 4scoring either 620 or 650 , and five pairs played in a heart part score. One N/S pair collected 100.

John C Williams July 2nd 2009.


  A mixed bag of results

(This commentary relates to Board 4 played on May 26th 2009.)

This was an intriguing hand where results ranged from NS game contracts making plus two to part scores being defeated.

After North has opened 1 East may pass and South then bids 2. North will reverse into 2and South will bid 4. East, very pleased he did not bid, will probably cash two club tricks and either continue with the J or switch to the Q. Playing a spade to the K North discovers the bad news and cannot avoid losing at least two trump tricks. However if he escapes a club lead he can ditch his two clubs on the hearts ,  ruff clubs in dummy, and finish with ten tricks.

If East does overcall 1 then the auction will take a different course - South bids 2 and probably ends up playing in 3NT. When West leads a club South , seeing dummy ,will be concerned. But then he realises that the suit is blocked as East switches to the Q taken by K. Despite this good news South appears to have only eight tricks. However , since East must have all the spades for his overcall , South should try to arrange an end-play against East by throwing him in when he only has spades to lead.  South plays the A discarding a heart ,followed by three rounds of hearts and, providing he is counting , will realise that East’s hand is an open book. He has shown up with five spades, only one diamond and only three clubs. He must therefore have the last heart and on playing the fourth heart East is end-played in spades having to concede the last four tricks.

Had East shown up with only two hearts, and therefore three diamonds, declarer must hope that East’s last diamond is the master and cross to the Q (overtaking East’s  10) and end-play East by throwing him in with a diamond. Should East show up with exactly three hearts and two diamonds declarer is doomed and settles for eight tricks. (If North ends up declaring 3NT then a spade lead from East gives NS an easy nine tricks).

Actual results :- One NS pair made 3NT+2 , one pair just made 3NT and one pair made the unlikely contract of 4 (presumably because the defence did not find their spade ruff). The contracts failing were 3NT-2 (twice) , 3NT-1 , 4 doubled -1 , 4-1 , 3-1 and 2-1. It all depended on whether East overcalled , and who became declarer.

John C Williams 28th May 2009.


  Avoiding flat hands

(This commentary relates to Board 9 played on April 21st 2009.)

The senior tournament director’s exhortations to give all the hands a good shuffle in order to avoid a preponderance of flat 1NT hands obviously had its effect last Tuesday. No fewer than five 7-card suits were dealt , together with an 8-carder!

This board had both a 7 card and the 8 card suit. After North has opened 1 South has the option of trying to bid the hand constructively and bid 2 , or to take the bull by the horns and bid 5. After a 2 bid North will probably either bid 3 or 4. (Which of these bids you play as weaker depends on your style). If North bids 4 then my advice when fixed like this is to pass, as a bid of 5 is likely to be taken as a cue bid , supporting spades , and North may sail on to a slam. If North bids 3 then 4 is an obvious bid and North will still bid 4.

In fact no game is makeable against best defence - 5 , 4 and 3NT all go 2 off. However perfect defence is not easy , especially if North is declarer , and , although the majority of NS contracts went down , three pairs managed to bid and make game. Your correspondent did not take his own advice , bid 5 over 4 , and finished in 6 doubled going 3 off for a very clear bottom…….

John C Williams April 24th 2009.

  Going for Grand

(This commentary relates to Board 12 played on April 7th 2009)

Nobody bid the Grand slam available in diamonds, hearts or no-trumps , but with only 28 HCPs it is perhaps expecting too much for most players to get there. However any pair using Roman Key-Card Blackwood (RKCB) may find a way. After West has opened 1NT East should realise that he wants to play in any heart contract from 4 to 7 dependant solely on just three cards , which are the two black aces and the Q. Any Blackwood convention will give you the number of aces and RKCB will indicate a Queen , but only in the agreed trump suit. Therefore East needs to deliberately mislead his partner by pretending that diamonds are the trump suit and bid a forcing 3. West may now bid 3 (cue bid), 3NT (balanced hand) or 4 (showing support) but whatever he bids East now bids 4NT. West replies 5 indicating two aces and the Q trumps (i.e. Q). Bingo! East now bids 7 to the surprise of West , but that is where he will play.

One pair bid 6NT , 5 pairs bid 6 whilst 2 pairs only bid a game in hearts.

John C Williams April 8th 2009

  Two Grands (1)

(This commentary relates to Board 12 played on January 25th 2009.)

There were two good grand slams on offer last week , one each way.

If West passes , North should open 1 as his hand satisfies the rule of 20 (i.e. the number of cards in the two longest suits plus his HCPs equals 20 or more). South checks on aces (and also , if playing Roman Key Card Blackwood * see below , the Q) and bids 7. The only possible problem from his point of view might be if North held three small clubs. If West opens with a bid of 1 or 2 then North overcalls spades or makes a Michaels cue bid of 2 to show 5 spades and 5 of a minor suit with 7-11 HCPs. Again, after checking on aces, South bids 7.

Only two pairs bid 7 , seven pairs bid 6 , and two pairs bid 4. All made 13 tricks.

  Two Grands (2)

(This commentary relates to Board 16 played on January 25th 2009. )

This hand is perhaps more difficult to bid. When West opens 1NT East should set the trump suit by bidding 2, a transfer to 2. He then bids 3 (a second suit) and West will bid 3NT to show a doubleton spade.  East may now bid 4NT (Roman Key Card Blackwood * see below), and , on finding one ace and Q with West , he should realise that 7 must have a good chance , at the very worst depending on the diamond finesse. In the event with diamonds breaking 3-3 and the Q , declarer has a trick to spare!

Only one pair bid a grand slam in spades, whilst two pairs bid the small slam in NTs and eight bid the small slam in spades. All made 13 tricks.

(* Note on Roman Key Card Blackwood.  The K of the agreed trump suit is considered to be an Ace , and in response to 4N :- 5= 0 or 3 aces , 5 = 1 or 4 aces , 5 = 2 aces without the Q trumps , 5 = two aces with the Q trumps , 5NT = 5 aces . After 5 or 5 the next suit up (excluding the trump suit) asks about the Q trumps. Then a one step bid answers No , and a two step bid answers Yes. After any of the above 5NT asks for kings (excluding the trump K). 6=0, 6=1, 6=2 etc.

Thus in the above two examples 5 shows 1 or 4 aces (obviously 1) and 5NT indicates holding the trump Q.)

John C Williams January 30th 2009

  Pre-empts etc

(This commentary relates to Board 7 played on October 28th 2008)

I was sitting South and after the opening lead was made my partner jokingly explained that as my opening 2 was vulnerable he fully expected it to be a strong suit! He then tabled AKQ1095!

There are several points to make about the hand :-

(i) West’s double is excellent despite having only a 9 count. I always work on the principle that it is the hand with shape that should take the action over pre-empts almost independent of strength. This is a good example.

(ii) I believe North should bid 5 on the first round. He knows his hearts are wasted in defence and surely East/West will bid a game contract. East will be put under strain by a 5 bid and may even venture a minor slam. Over 4 he found it easy to bid 5.

 (iii) If North/South are not playing weak twos then North will probably open the bidding with 1 and East may overcall 2NT. This is a conventional bid, known as the Unusual No trump (UNT) and indicating 5-5 in the minors with 8-11 HCP’s. South will bid 4 and undaunted West will bid 5 or 5. North should again bid 5.

In fact 4 pairs were allowed to play in 4, making 10 tricks; 3 pairs were pushed to 5, going one down; and one EW pair played in 6 going one down.

John C Williams. 30th October 2008


  Points don't always mean Prizes
(This commentary relates to board 13 played on 30th September 2008)

Be wary if contemplating doubling just because you hold the balance of HCPs (High Card Points) especially if the hands are distributional. I wish I had heeded this lesson!

At our table my partner, North, opened a slightly offbeat strong 1NT (15-17) and East overcalled 2S. I decided to use the relay conventional bid of 2NT to ask partner to bid 3C after which I would have bid an invitational 3H. Unfortunately West intervened with a bid of 3S and I had to decide what to do when the bidding came round to me. I should have passed but foolishly decided to double knowing we had 22-24 HCP . I then made a passive lead of the jack of diamonds. In short order declarer took his Ace diamonds (discarding the 10 clubs) , Ace of hearts, a heart ruff, Ace of clubs , a heart ruff, a diamond ruff , a last heart ruff with the queen spades. Whatever North does now , declarer makes eleven tricks for 3S plus two (doubled) ie a score of 1130. If I had bid again East said he would have bid 4S which , had I doubled and made the same lead , would have only cost us 990! 

I can of course hold declarer to nine tricks if I attack and lead my 10 spades as he will lose two spades and two hearts. Two pairs who doubled 4S did defeat the contract by one trick , but one pair let the contract through.

John C Williams October 2nd 2008

  A tale of two 8 card suits (1)

(This commentary relates to Board 10 played on July 15th 2008)

8  card suits are unusual , so the odds on one player being dealt two such hands in 24 boards, and both in spades ,  must be very high. But such was the fate / fortune of South last Tuesday night.

On the first hand shown it was useful to be playing the Texas convention whereby an opening bid of 4D shows at least a 7 card , or more probably an 8 card, solid spade suit with little else (4C would show the same in hearts). Once South has opened 4D, North should bid 6S on his void! (The contract is best played by North to protect the KH.) However as it happens , even if the contract is played by South , declarer is likely on a heart lead to get the position right. Indeed four pairs made the contract , three of them making an overtrick. Two pairs played in 4S , both making 13 tricks. What is surprising is that four pairs played in 6NT which must be the luckiest contract ever!! This contract would normally be heading for disaster as there appears to be no entry to the South hand. However the lowly 10D comes to the rescue as an entry , and all made the contract.

However luck tends to even out , and on the other 8 card suit the luck situation was reversed.

  A tale of two 8 card suits (2)

(This commentary relates to Board 16 played on July 15th 2008) 
Most N/S pairs reached game in spades , possibly via the sequence shown, a contract which is only defeated due to the bad diamond break. (A club lead to the A, a diamond ruff , and then the KC and AH cashed for one off)  Indeed eight pairs failed to make their contract , and only one pair made 4S.  (Note that if EW compete to 5H on their combined 15HCP , NS must sacrifice in 5S , as 5H makes.)

Curiously one pair bid and made 6S, presumably on a spade lead. As this pair also made 6S+1 on the first hand for the second best score , they certainly were the main benificiaries of this surfeit of spades.

John C Williams July 17th 2008

  Re-evaluating your hand
(This commentary relates to Board 17 played 3rd June 2008)

On some hands it is important to re-evaluate your hand in the light of the opponents' bids. North passes and East may well open 1S. Despite having only 14 HCP the South hand with its excellent spade stops and major interior sequences should bid 1NT (normally 15-16 HCP). Whether West passes or bids two spades , 3NT should now be reached and it is highly improbable that West will find the JD lead necessary to defeat this contract by one trick. In fact four pairs made ten tricks and one pair nine tricks.


However, dependant one one's style, East may well open 1D in which case South needs to be more cautious as the JD lead will now be found. A take-out double is a reasonable bid and North may end up playing in NTs or perhaps even clubs or hearts. On a small diamond lead from East the defence should come to five tricks in NTs and most club contracts will fail badly due to the unlucky trump break. In fact one pair went two off, and two pairs three off in contracts. Two E/W pairs were allowed to play in 2S (making).


John C Williams June 10th 2008