Spade Heart  Diamond Club
Bidding Conventions
  Conventions over a pre-empt

(This commentary relates to Board 14 played on January 31st 2012)

In your system do you play that a double in any position after a three level pre-empt is for take-out?

Many players are happy to play the double as take-out in fourth position but use the “next suit up”* bid for  take-out in second position. This is to preserve the double in second position as a penalty bid (alertable)  when sitting over the opener and holding strength in their suit.  (In fourth position it is less desirable to double holding strength in their suit).

This convention would have worked well on this hand as West would like to defend South’s 3 opening bid , and by doubling should achieve a plus score of +300 via the A and a ruff, a spade and three trump tricks.

Although this is not as good as making a major suit game it proved not easy to bid the game contract and only one pair achieved this target for +420. Five E/W pairs played in a major part score usually making eleven tricks for +200, and two E/W pairs passed throughout allowing South to make 3-2 for a E/W score of +100. One North supported up to 5, was doubled, and lost -1100.

John C Williams February 2nd 2012.

* The “next suit up” bid for take-out in this case would of course be 3 ,and would be used when West had a shortage in clubs. The bid takes up little bidding space in practice and East can always pass if he is very weak and wants to take-out into diamonds. 

  Pick A Slam

(This commentary relates to Board 21 played  on February 7th 2012).

NB I suggest you only look at all the hands after considering what bid you are going to make.

When you are faced with a situation in the bidding where you do not know how to express your hand a little imagination is called for. 

South was faced with such a problem on the above hand. Despite the high level of bidding when the first round came to him it seemed right to show his clubs. However when the spade ‘pre-empt’ was raised to the five level, he needed to ask himself some questions. 

Firstly was the question of whether he wanted to be in a slam. Surely the answer must be Yes as he has a four loser hand and there must be a fit somewhere as partner can hardly have more than one or two spades.

Secondly can he say which of the three possible slams in hearts, diamonds or clubs would be ideal? Equally surely the answer is No and South must therefore leave it up to partner. But how can he do this? The answer in fact is very simple - he bids 5NT. North should not interpret this as anything to do with ‘Blackwood’ or indeed a ‘Grand Slam Force’ as no trump suit has been agreed. Neither can it be to play, as with spade stops South would double 5. Logically therefore it must be asking North to pick whichever slam he thinks sounds right.

Now press “Show All Hands” to look at the other three hands.

Over South's 5NT North has only one bid he can make ie 6. This slam is an easy make and indeed all thirteen tricks should be made. If E/W persist with 6 then N/S have another decision to take but at least they will finish up with a positive score. This conventional but very logical bid is known as ‘Pick a Slam’.

Two pairs made 6 whilst five pairs allowed E/W to play in the spade game (twice doubled). One N/S pair went one off in 6 and one E/W pair sacrificed in 6 going one off doubled.

John C Williams February 9th 2012.


(This commentary relates to Board 20 played at the Chelmsford Bridge Club on October 3rd 2011)

I have often written about not relying on Blackwood to help with slam bidding , instead preferring cue bids , splinters , Jacoby style 2NT bids etc to help one reach the best contract.

 However , occasionally , a hand comes along on which any form of Blackwood works well.

But on this hand most players were lazy and , apart from the above auction , the universal reply across the whole field from South to his partner’s opening 1NT bid was a jump to 6NT. Presumably with 21 HCPs  South simply assumed that with a combined 33-35 HCPs holding this was the limit. However one player took a slower approach and forced with 3 , and then hearing the cue bid response of 4 (which agreed diamonds) used Blackwood to find out that North had the miracle hand of two aces and two kings. 7NT was now a near certainty and was duly bid and made.

John C Williams October 5th 2011.

  The Lightner double

(This commentary relates to Board 19 played on September 7th 2010).

A particular opening lead can be all-important in defeating a slam.

In the bidding sequence above the 2 bid by North is forcing to at least 3, and South‘s subsequent bids show a 6-5 distribution. (Holding a weaker hand with 4 diamonds North would have bid 3 as his first bid. This convention is known as the ‘inverted minor’ and allows good minor suit game and slam investigations at a lower level) 

When South cue bids 5 North realises the importance of his A and chooses to bid 6, the higher-level slam. Now East is in the spotlight. He knows that the contract can be defeated , but can he get partner to lead a diamond?  Yes he can - he should double.

This bid was first developed by a Theodore A Lightner.  He realised that doubling a freely-bid slam often gave away too much information and the bid could be better used to tell partner that he can defeat the contract on a particular lead , which often means an immediate ruff. With North and South both bidding diamonds it should not take West long to work out that East’s void is probably in diamonds. (Of course the Lightner double  does not stop one using a double with other holdings such as AK trumps as the contract will go off whatever partner leads).

In actual results on the night half the field bid and made game contracts , whilst two pairs made 6, two pairs made 6 , and two pairs made 6 doubled!

John C Williams September 9th 2010


  Doubling 3NT

(This commentary relates to Board 26 played on August 10th 2010)

Can you persuade partner to lead dummy’s bid suit when defending 3NT?

As North you listen to the above auction and holding such a good spade suit sitting over dummy’s spade bid you would love your partner to lead a spade. But how can you get him to do it? The answer is to double the final contract. This bid is seldom wanted against a freely-bid 3NT contract as you are unlikely to hold a hand which could defeat the contract on its own , and in any case the double would give too much information away which may help declarer.  Hence the double carries the specific message “I think we are probably going to defeat this contract but will you please lead dummy’s first bid suit or , if this looks nonsensical , lead his second bid suit”.

South duly leads a spade and North overtakes dummy’s card, plays a heart back to partners K who now leads a second spade. The defence comes to three spade tricks, a heart trick and a diamond trick to defeat the contract.   

Now as it happens on this hand East should be defeated even on the natural heart lead as he only has eight tricks , but it is easy for either defender to go wrong and let a ninth trick through. On a spade lead the partnership will not get it wrong.

John C Williams August 12th 2010.




  An opportunistic Grand Slam

(This commentary relates to Board 16 played on March 16th 2010.)

My partner opened the North hand with a Benjamin 2 indicating an eight playing trick hand. (This bid would probably be frowned upon by the EBU , and at best might be described as very borderline).

Sitting South my first response was 2 , as I only give a positive response with a good five card suit. When North bid 3 I bid 4NT (Roman Key-card Blackwood) agreeing clubs , and on hearing that he had three key cards  I bid 5 which asks about the Q.  North’s 5 bid confirmed that he held this card. Since we held all the aces , my four obvious tricks along with his eight meant that twelve tricks was a certainty. I decided that there must be an opportunity to develop a thirteenth trick and, since it was pairs , I bid 7NT.

West led J and I won with the A , played the A and then ran all the club tricks. One should pity poor East as he has to find six discards on the clubs. He can afford to discard two diamonds but must now discard all his high cards in spades and hearts to defeat the contract , retaining four diamonds as his last four cards. Can he work this out? Well there are some pointers:--

(i) Surely South must have a good, long, diamond suit , else why would he  bid 7NT missing so many HCPs?

         (ii) West’s lead of the J suggests he holds the 10 so East knows it is safe to discard his spades.

Also West should try to help East by indicating , with his discards, his length in the majors.

All very well in theory , but difficult to get right at the table. East discarded diamonds and I made 7NT

Three other pairs bid a small slam and seven pairs bid a game contract.

John C Williams 18th March 2010.

  Responding to 2NT

(This commentary relates to Board 5 played on October 20th 2009.)

Is your convention system capable of always finding your 4-4 or 5-3 major fit when partner opens 2NT?

In previous featured hands I have emphasised the importance of finding 8 card major fits. In responding to an opening 2NT , most people holding a game-going hand play a 3 response as ‘Stayman’ and 3/3 as transfers , followed by 3NT , to indicate a 5 card suit. With 5-5 in the majors one would bid 3 , showing 5 spades , followed by 4 to show 5 hearts as well. And with 5 hearts and 4 spades one would bid 3 , to show 5 hearts , followed by 3 to show 4 spades as well. But how do you show 5 spades and 4 hearts?

The answer is to use a direct 3 bid (which is redundant when playing transfers) as a conventional bid to show precisely 5 spades and 4 hearts. On the above deal East will now bid 4 knowing of the 4-4 heart fit. Of course on this hand Stayman will also work well , but imagine if East had a 3343 distribution with 3-3 in the majors. If West bids 3 , East will bid 3 , and a bid of 3 by West would now be treated as non-forcing with a probable 5 : 4 spade : heart distribution and less than 3 HCPs. Thus one would be forced to bid 3NT , and the 5-3 spade fit would be missed.

4 played by East is likely to make 11 tricks as , even if North switches to a diamond when gaining the lead with the K , declarer can go up with his A and discard three diamonds on the long spades , only losing the K and A.

On best defence (a club lead) nine tricks is the limit in 3NT , and in practice declarer needs to play carefully so as not to be defeated.

 John C Williams 22ndOctober 2009.


  The Jacoby 2NT

(This commentary relates to Board 4 played on September 29th 2009)

It is sometimes difficult to create a forcing bidding situation after your partner has opened.

What do you bid with the East hand after West has opened 1? In basic ACOL 2NT shows 11 HCPs and is of course non-forcing. Instead East could either jump to 4 , or bid a three card minor suit. 4 is a gross underbid with such good HCPs and controls , and bidding two of a minor does not give a true picture of the distribution of East’s hand.

The modern technique is to use the Jacoby* 2NT bid to indicate good support for the opener, and a hand with 7 or less losers. The bid is game-forcing giving players the space to describe their hands or cue bid. West has only 5 losers and is therefore interested in a slam. After West’s natural 3 bid , East shows interest with a cue bid of 4. West then bids 4NT to start a Roman Key Card Blackwood sequence in which he finds out that East has 3 aces , without the Q. So West settles for 6. This is a good contract , and thirteen tricks should be made as both spades and hearts break nicely.

(Obviously the standard Acol 2NT cannot now be used to show a balanced 11 count , however alternative bids can usually be found)

* The Jacoby 2NT bid is named after Oswald Jacoby a famous American bridge player who died in 1984. In 1931 he played in a well-publicised exhibition match against Ely Culbertson which he famously walked out of after having many disagreements with his partner. Along with splinters and cue bids it is one of my favourite conventions to assist in bidding slams.

John C Williams  1st October 2009

Footnote 5.10.09    See page 19 of the October 2009 issue of English Bridge magazine for an article about the Jacoby 2NT Convention

  Bidding a slam after the opponents have opened the bidding

(This commentary relates to Board 14 played on September 15th 2009)

Nobody bid the only slam available on Tuesday even though twelve tricks were on top for N/S in 6 , 6 , or 6NT. The problem arises because the opponents open the bidding. When East bids 1 , most players will now double with the South hand ; my partner and I play this as guaranteeing a 4 card spade suit , unless the hand is so strong in HCPs that no alternative bid is available. In this circumstance the hand may only have a three card spade suit , as was the case here.

North wants to play in at least 4 and has the options of bidding 4 immediately , or cue-bidding 2 first , and then bidding 4 over South’s next bid. With a 7 loser hand a bid of 4 is preferred , but as this is a better hand then a cue-bid is the choice. (A cue-bid of the opponent’s suit in response to a take-out bid is forcing to suit agreement and can be used on a variety of hands where North is asking for more information about South’s hand).  In this case South should make a natural suit bid in response , or bid No Trumps holding a heart stop such as Kx. When South bids 3 in response to the 2 cue-bid he is suggesting a minimum hand , but he knows that North will bid again. In fact when North now jumps to 4 , North is telling his partner that he has a good 5 card spade suit , and a better hand than an immediate 4 would indicate (e.g. a 6 loser hand). This should steer the partnership towards a slam , as with only 6 losers himself ,  knowing that North has a five card suit , and holding so many controls (ie aces and kings) South should continue over 4 by bidding 4NT (Roman Key Card Blackwood) , or starting a series of cue-bids. 6 is now likely to be reached.

Six pairs made twelve tricks in 4 , one lucky pair made all thirteen tricks, and one pair only eleven tricks. At three tables East carried on bidding and went 3 off doubled, 2 off doubled and one off in contracts.

John C Williams September 17th 2009.


  The trouble with conventions

(This commentary relates to Board 10 played  on August 25th 2009.)

One annoying aspect of conventions is that it is sometimes impossible to make the (natural) bid one really wants to.

Many people play a defence to an opening weak 1NT in which a bid of a minor suit at the two-level shows a two-suited hand. Variants include ‘Aspro’, ‘Astro’, ‘Apstro’,‘Landy’ etc all of which show a 5-4 or longer distributional hand with typically 10-14 HCPs. My partner and I play ‘Aspro’ in which 2 shows a heart suit and a minor , and 2 shows a spade suit with any other suit. We were sitting NS on this hand and when East opened 1NT , even though we both held 12 HCPs together with a six card suit , we were both forced to pass.

(If we had not been constrained by conventions then as NS we could well have reached 3NT. On a spade lead 3NT is cold for NS with 9 tricks coming by playing successfully on diamonds , scoring +600.)

Defending 1NT South led a diamond to my A and diamonds were continued until declarer took his K. Declarer has to play on spades , and on winning the K South ran his diamonds making declarer find three discards. He can throw one heart but has to throw two spades. Even if one of these is the A giving him an entry to dummy, provided N/S defend correctly, declarer should always be held to only three tricks. 3NT-4 produced  a score of +400 and actually earned us a complete top. Ah well, perhaps there is something to these conventions after all.

On other tables 3 N/S pairs defeated 1NT by three tricks and 2 by only one trick. 4 N/S pairs made part scores in minor contracts and one E/W pair defeated a N/S contract.

John C Williams August 29th 2009


  Competitive Doubles (1)

(This commentary relates to Board 13 played on June 30th 2009.)

Particularly in the pairs game, partnerships should look for ways of penalising opponents in low-level contracts.

The Competitive Double is a powerful tool to use in bidding auctions , particularly when holding a singleton or void in the opponent’s suit and with no obvious constructive bid to make.

West opened 1 and North made the poor bid of 1. As readers of previous Featured hands will know I am all in favour of light overcalls for lead-directing purposes , but the suit should have some solidity which this diamond suit does not. East bid 1 and South with his 11 HCPs not unnaturally raised to 2. West’s double is known as a competitive double telling partner that he is not minimum and asking partner, in this case, to compete by either (a) supporting his clubs , (b) re-bidding spades if it is a 5 card suit , (c) bidding hearts if he has a 4 card suit or (d) , as in this case, turning it into a penalty double by passing. (NB It does not preclude partner forcing to game). On a club lead North cannot avoid losing a club, two heart and two spade tricks together with the K. He also gets forced in hearts or spades , thereby reducing his trumps , and has to concede a further trump trick to go two down in his contract. As there is no makeable game for E/W , the score of +200 for one off (let alone +500 for two off) is always going to achieve a good result on a part-score hand.

A further example of competitive doubles in action is shown in the next hand.

John C Williams July 3rd 2009.


  Competitive Doubles (2)

(This commentary relates to Board 8 played on June 30th 2009.)

Playing five card majors West’s opening bid of 1 promises a five card suit. East cannot double North’s 2 as this would be a negative double (not for penalties , but expressing a  wish to play in a minor suit). His pass is made knowing that West will strive to re-open if at all possible. West’s choice is finely balanced between 2 and a competitive double.

Ideally he would have a 5143, 5134 or 5044 distribution for the double but he should ask himself the question “where are all the hearts and the HCPs?”  The strong inference is that East would welcome a double. If West does double the bid asks East to either (a) support his spades with at least a doubleton, (b) bid a minor suit , or (c) pass to convert into a penalty double. Should West choose to double he will reap a fortune as E/W can take the first three spade tricks with a ruff , followed by three club tricks , and East still has two trump tricks to take later. Three off for + 800 , and note that there is no game available for E/W. 

If instead West chooses to rebid 2, especially if not playing five card majors , then the bidding will subside in 3 or 2NT. Both contracts make , but the juicy penalty will be missed.

John C Williams July 3rd 2009.


  Cue bidding voids

(This commentary relates to Board 24 played on May 19th 2009)

When cue bidding first round controls, how does one distinguish between an Ace and a void?

After West has opened 1 it is difficult to judge whether to bid 2, 3, or 4 with the East hand. Although you have only 3HCPs , it is an eight loser hand and any of these bids could be right. I decided to take it slowly and bid 2. Over South’s 3 bid my partner's 4 bid suggested slam interest , if I held the right cards. 4 would be a cue bid indicating first round control , but this may not help partner. The jump cue bid of 5 specifically indicating a void may be more helpful , especially as it hints at a good trump suit. West would now bid 6 , which is a fabulous 20 HCP slam.

Unfortunately I missed the opportunity and bid 4, partner bid 4 , and that was our final ,slightly disappointing resting place. Indeed nobody bid this good slam. Four pairs made twelve tricks in a heart game for 480, three pairs made 5 doubled plus one for 750 , and four pairs allowed NS to play in a contract , collecting penalties of between 250 and 500.

John C Williams 27thMay 2009.

  Wriggling one’s way out of trouble

(This commentary relates to Board 17 played in a National Interclub knockout (NICKO) competition match on March 31st 2009)

East opened 1NT and South doubled. With a weak hand this is almost certainly going to be a bad contract for EW and West would like to find a suit fit. A convenient convention which seems to fit all occasions is known as Wriggle. Essentially the elements are :-

    * With a weak hand holding a five or more card suit West redoubles which is alerted as East is forced to bid 2. West would now bid the five card suit, or pass if it is clubs.

    * With a weak hand holding two four card suits West bids the lower of the four card suits.This is also alerted. If East has a doubleton in this suit he will bid his next highest four (or more) card suit. If West has a doubleton in this suit West would then bid his other suit , otherwise pass.

    * With a hand of 7/8 HCPs or more West would pass. This is also alerted , as East is forced to redouble (or bid a five card suit).  West would now pass the redouble and the pressure would be all on North who has few HCPs and will not know whether to bid or not (see hand below "Further Wriggling"). If East bids a suit (five cards) West would pass. [West’s initial pass is also used with weak 4333 hands by responding 2 to East’s redouble who will now bid his longest suit]. 

To come back to the above hand , and using Wriggle, West bid 2 and East  bid 2 knowing of the four card suit opposite. North did not know what to do and passed. This contract went one off , which is far better than the probable three off doubled in 1NT had the double been left in. These methods may sometimes leave you playing in a 4-3 fit , but it is interesting that this is often left either undoubled , or opponents decide to “buy” the contract in a part score.

NOTE: Wriggle is a generic word used to describe different versions of this defence. All use the bids of pass , redouble and suit bids to cover the situations described ; the above version is that favoured locally.

John C Williams April 2nd 2009

  Further Wriggling

(This commentary relates to Board 21 played at the Chelmsford Bridge Club on March 30th 2009.)

What do you do if you are the victim of the Wriggle ploy?

The bidding above is a Wriggle sequence with West’s NB forcing East to redouble.  Poor North does not know what to do when the redouble is passed round to him.  His partner could have a hand on which NS can defeat 1NT. But it is more likely that 1NT redoubled will make giving EW an enormous score. My advice with a flat hand is not to bid your four card suit , but bid 2 asking partner to take this out by bidding his longest suit. On this hand he will do this by passing , and possibly escape un-doubled for one or two off. But even if doubled it is better than letting EW make the low-level game contract of 1NT redoubled plus one!

Another Wriggle bidding sequence would result if West chose to initially bid 2 showing four card heart and spade suits. East would now bid 2. This sequence may be preferred by those who do not relish making partner play in 1NT redoubled with the HCPs split roughly evenly between the two pairs. Although it lets North off the hook, 2 is a likely make. On this hand the above sequence works well , but it is not always the case. With 8+ HCPs in West’s hand I would always pass.

One EW pair made 1NT redoubled, one pair 1NT doubled, one pair 1NT plus one and one pair 2 doubled minus one. One NS pair played in 3 going two off.

John C Williams April 2nd 2009.

  Special Conventions

(This commentary relates to board 2 played on 19th August2008)

In general I believe that results in Bridge come from sound bidding and good technique in the play , irrespective of the system used.However , very occasionally it is useful to have a special convention in ones armoury. Such an occasion occurred on this board.

Playing five card majors and sitting South I opened the bidding with 1S. West overcalled 2H (4H might have been better shot).  North bid 4H, which is a conventional splinter bid showing spade support (normally a four card suit), together with a void or singleton in hearts. I bid 4NT (Roman Key Card Blackwood) and my partner made the special response of 6D showing a void in his hand and a strong diamond feature. I know that the void must be in hearts and that therefore there are only 30 effective high card points in this hand as the AKQJ hearts will play no part. Since I have 15 of these high card points and my partner has obvious grand slam ambitions , he must have the A and K diamonds and K clubs , so I bid 7S. There were no problems in the play , and on a spade lead I ruffed two hearts in dummy to make thirteen tricks.

John C Williams August 20th 2008