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Hand of the Week
Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 10/8/23)

I found this deal to be interesting at several levels.  There are a couple of useful principles to be gleaned.

First, what should North open as dealer, playing Standard American?  Either 1♣ or 1 is possible, but surely 1 is the superior choice, AK53 being a far better suit than 9754.  Those who did open 1♣ were none too pleased when their partner led a club to East's eventual spade contract!  This provided both an immediate entry to dummy, and several discards.  In fact one East Susan Hammond extracted full value from the mistaken opening bid, playing 4♠.  She won the club lead in dummy and played three rounds discarding both her diamonds and a heart.  Now a spade to the queen, then ♠A felling the king. All the trumps were drawn. Finally after she led a heart, a perhaps demoralized South ducked it and she guessed to play K.  When that won, two further top club provided discards for her remaining hearts. 13 tricks!! 

Suppose instead that North opens 1 and the defence therefore starts more promisingly with three rounds of diamonds. Declarer ruffs and can do no better than lead a heart. What should South do?  Over the decades I have learned not to think too hard in this situation and just play second hand low.  It's one of the most underused 'rules' of the game.  It's something that has to be done without hesitation, to avoid giving away the show. If South does smoothly duck, then there must be a fair chance that declarer will finesse South for the queen and put in the jack. That's the only way a 4♠ contract will be defeated.  So, except when playing against Susan Hammond, I recommend "second hand low".

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 3/8/23)

What would you do (if anything) with the North hand here. Your LHO has opened a weak 2 and RHO has bumped it up to 4.  You're very vulnerable.

The problem here is that you don't know what your RHO is doing. Is she bidding 4 because she has a strong hand and thinks she can make it?  Or is she bidding 4 with a weakish hand and, say, 4 hearts, in order to extend the original preempt? 

Sitting North, I would be paranoid that it was the latter, and we were being stolen from. But what can one do about that? If you do decide to act, then the only sensible move would be to make a takeout double (if you've agreed with your partner that such a double would be for takeout).  You could hardly try 5♣ with such a moth-eaten suit.

John Robertson was the only North player to be presented with this problem, and he coolly passed, which was very wise, once you see all the hands. (A double would land you in 4♠ doubled, which will go down 800 on good defence.)  He did better than I would have!  Susan Hammond (East) and Maria Christensen (West) were the only E/W pair to present North with the problem. They didn't land their fish, but they did earn a fine score anyway, as only half the field got to the cold 4 contract.  All I can say is that 2 was a good bid, and so was 4.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 20/7/23)

Today's deal involves an unpleasant situation that crops up from time to time. Partner opens 1♣ and you announce it as "3+" or maybe "2+".  Whatever, you don't like it! 

RHO passes, and you have to decide whether to bid 1, or just let partner tough it out in 1♣.  What approach do you like?

If you pass 1♣, a very bad thing could happen. Partner could end up declaring 1♣ holding just 3 clubs himself. In your 3-2 fit, you're surely going to go several down, vulnerable to boot.

On the other hand, it might not be a disaster. Partner might actually have real clubs, and 1♣ becomes your best possible contract. Or maybe your LHO will rescue you with a bid of his own.

Marg Ferguson passed 1♣ and that became the final contract. Partner had 4 clubs, so it was still a non-fit, nevertheless she managed to scramble 6 tricks, for a score of -100 and a 70% board for Marg. Not so bad!

Dawn Braham did even better with her pass. North bid something, and her opponents then proceeded to have a misunderstanding and go down in a contract. That was a top for Dawn. Praise be!

Now let's look at the 1 response. How could that work out well? Heaven would be for partner to rebid 1♠, which you could pass with relief.  But that's not very likely. If partner supports your hearts (which is what would happen here), then you still go down in 2.

And those are the good outcomes from responding!  What if partner rebids the clubs? Now you regret not playing 1♣.  Or jumps to 2NT? Or jump-raises hearts? Or reverses with 2? Bottom. Bottom. Bottom.

I'm happy to try a response to 1♣ with 4 or 5 HCP and short clubs, in the hope that the situation won't get out of hand. But responding with two jacks pretty much guarantees that the situation will  get out of hand. I don't think much of the commonly given advice: "never leave your partner in 1♣".

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 13/7/23)

What should you do with these North tickets?  Partner has opened 1 and your RHO has overcalled 3♣.

And if the overcall had been 2♣?

7 of the 9 Norths bid spades (3♠ over 3♣ or 2♠ over 2♣).  They ended up in 4♠ and mainly went down when the breaks were foul.

2 Norths (Shirley Stewart and Geoffrey Schroder) made a negative double of the club bid. When partner said hearts, they landed in 4 making quite easily, despite those bad breaks.

Which choice is superior in theory? It won't surprise you that I think Shirley and Geoffrey did the right thing.  The negative double kept the auction lower (for example, suppose South had merely bid 3 over it: you now have the option of trying 3♠ or maybe 3NT). And it brought hearts into the picture.  Look at it this way: the negative double depicted 8 of your cards (4 spades and 4 hearts); 3♠ showed only 5 of them (5 spades).  The negative double was the more descriptive bid.

This is a theme that is quite common. When deciding between two bids, it's often a good idea to make the one that shows more of your hand. For example, suppose you have 6 hearts and 4 clubs, and open 1 .  Partner responds 1NT.  Now, should you bid 2 or 2♣? Whilst the quality of the two suits might affect your answer, in principle I prefer 2♣ (showing 9 of your cards) to 2 (showing 6 of your cards). The 2♣ bid both keeps the auction lower and widens the field of inquiry.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 6/7/23)

Today's deal saw a wide variety of results, stemming from a couple of initial decisions.  After North and East pass ...

1) What should South do?  If South opens 1, what should happen then?

2) Suppose South instead passes. What should West do? And what should happen then?

Decide your answers to all these questions, and then click [Show Answer]

1) In third seat, South might take the option of opening light, 1. With 10 HCP after two passes, South suspects that West has a strong hand, and she can get in the way, as well as suggest a potential opening lead to partner. South plans to pass ASAP after this and hope for the best. An interesting alternative is a 2 weak-two opening, which has a lot more going for it than you might think. Cath Whiddon was one South who opened 1 and this paid off in spectacular fashion. 

West, with 20 HCP had little choice but to double 1 and Cath's partner, Patrick Starck, cleverly boosted the auction to 4 (obeying the Law of Total Trumps, competing to a 10-trick contract with a 10-card fit).  It's hard to blame East for bidding 4♠ over this, either as a make or a sacrifice. This made West regret getting out of bed this morning, as she didn't have spades for this particular double ... she showed the strength of her hand by bidding 5♣. Patrick pounced on this with a double (looking much more at his AK than the singleton club), and soon after was writing down 500 in the plus column.  Poor East-West had done little wrong to deserve their bottom.

2) If South does pass, I strongly approve of the decision of Rosemary Polya and Jim Stewart, who opened 2NT on the West cards. Technically the hand was a bit too unbalanced for this (two doubletons), but the doubletons were strong and the length was in the minors (suggesting notrumps as a possible superior destination).  They ended up with middle-of-the-road scores, going down in 4♠ (partner transferred them to spades, then gave 4♠ a punt), but at least their blood pressure remained under control.  This is the good thing about 1NT and 2NT openings: they usually put you into a well-understood auction, and that has a lot going for it.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 29/6/23)

Today's Board 1 could have come straight from the "Advanced Methods" section of a text-book on Roman Key Card Blackwood (RKCB). 

The correct final contract is 7NT (reached by a completely different route by Fiona Ferwerda and Penny Robertson).  Here's how you could get there on the wings of RKCB.

1♠ : the easy part.

2♣ : South is excited. but before heading into the stratosphere, one needs to find out a bit more about North's hand.

3♠ : because it's a jump, this shows extra values - about 16+ HCP. And a good 6-card spade suit.  Note that after a 2-over-1 response (promising 10+ HCP), a jump rebid by opener commits the parties to at least a game contract.

4NT: South has found out what he needs: North's strength and his suit. 4NT, if the partnership has agreed to it, is RKCB for the last shown suit, in this case, spades.

5 : playing the currently popular '1430', this is the "3" ... three key-cards (the two aces and the ♠K).  Note that possession of the ♠Q is for the moment uncertain.

5 : the next step bid (other than signing off in spades) says "tell me more".  Specifically where the trump queen has been neither shown nor denied, it asks for it. The responder to RKCB signs off at the minimum level in trumps if he lacks the queen. But if the queen is held, he bids something else, for example:

6 : this bid shows the ♠Q and specifically the K.  If North had the ♠Q but no side-suit king, he can just content himself with a jump to 6♠.

South knows that North has: ♠KQxxxx AK ♣A plus 4 other cards. It doesn't matter what they are, it's easy to see that there are least 13 tricks on top, so ...

7NT : Tada! Ain't science wonderful?

Congratulations also to Dawn and Viv Braham who reached 7♠ based on a similar RKCB auction: a second top for them.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 22/6/23)

Here's a problem faced by multiple Easts today.

They opened 2♣ with their 10-trick hand, and the auction proceeded as shown.

What should be East's next bid?

Partner has shown approximately 8+ HCP and a 6-card heart suit. 

There may well be a slam here, but if you're not going to go for one (and no-one did) it's essential to bid 3NT at this juncture. No question a spade will be led to 3NT, you'll win and play clubs. You'll then regain the lead and have AT LEAT 9 tricks: 7 clubs and 2 spades.  And that's without depending on anything from partner, who has 8+ points.  Almost invariably partner will provide some tricks and you will take at least one overtrick in 3NT ... and that will be a better score than anything you can get in 5♣.

The bottom line is this: 5-of-a-minor is matchpoint death when 3NT is a viable alternative. 

John Adams was the one East to bid 3NT in this auction. 12 tricks were his when North, perhaps unwisely, didn't take the AK when given the opportunity.  But even 10 tricks (630) would have outscored all the Easts in 5♣ (making an overtrick for 620).

One other East, Sue Hammon, got to 3NT. She opened a slightly risky 1♣, and when partner responded in hearts and North overcalled in spades, she made no mistake, blasting to 3NT, again making 12 tricks. Same principle: no matchpoint death in 5 of a minor.

Postscript: South (remember South?) had a chance to score a near top on this deal. She has to notice the favourable vulnerability and make a brave supporting bid in spades. If N/S buy a spade contract, even up to the level of 6♠, they will do better than allowing their opponents to bid and make a game.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 15/6/23)

Some bidding problems are worthy of Torquemada.  Here is one.

1) Do you agree with the initial double?

2) What do you do after partner responds 3NT?

1) Double looks correct to me. The alternative is a value bid of 5♣, but you are honour-bound to look for the higher scoring major suit fit (spades in this case).

2) This is an ugly decision. I stared at it for a while (looking at all four hands) and still didn't know what to do. If you can survive the hearts, then 3NT might make overtricks (on the basis of your long strong clubs) and score well. On the other hand, there could easily be a slam: partner could have as many as 13 or 14 HCP after all. 

If you do move on from 3NT, you should bid 4♣.  Just like after a lower suit opening, doubling then naming a suit shows a strong hand. Partner would then raise to 5♣ and now ...?  Who knows. More and more I respect the decision of the Easts who gambled by passing partner's 3NT bid: Sheena KayPenny RobertsonShirley Stewart and Derek Stringfellow. Personally, if I can bat at 51% after an opponent's preempt, I'm happy.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 8/6/23)

This board struck me as having interest in the bidding and the play. Let's start with the bidding.

How many hearts should South bid at their first turn?  And how should West react to whatever South chooses?

One South, Lesley Johnstone, responded 4.  I would characterize this as a "winner's misbid". It's a misbid, because it understates the power of the hand ... typically a direct response of a game contract to partner's opening bid shows a weak hand with a very long suit. Partner won't expect a solid 7-card suit, and a slam could easily be missed. But, it's the sort of bid that's typically made by winning players: not quite correct, but an attempt to put off the opponents. South fears successful spade interference by the opponents, and wants to minimize the chance of that: West may well be intimidated and not introduce the spades at such a high level.

Lesley's LHO, Jim Stewartwas not intimidated. He bravely came in with 4♠: he was not vulnerable, and had the makings of 8 tricks (5 spades and 3 clubs). A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

Now the spotlight was on North, Sandra Mansell.  She made the correct bid of doubling 4♠ - the last thing she wanted was to hear partner bid 5.  (At another table, where 4♠ was bid by West in a slower auction, North passed, and was mortified when South went on to 5, down 1.)  4♠ duly went down two, 300 to N/S, a good sacrifice against the making 4.

Finally, the play in 4. At one table, the defence took a couple of club tricks then switched to hearts. With a third club loser inevitable, Fiona Ferwerda made the correct play of taking the spade finesse for the contract, even though she had a singleton spade opposite the ace. Given that West had bid spades, that was a moral certainty to work. 

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 1/6/23)

Today's problem features a strong hand, but is it strong enough? You open 1, then after 1♠ on your left, you see 2 from partner.

What to do, what to do?

What does North's 2 show?  Well, it's a new suit at the two-level, so at least 10 HCP.  And it also promises a 5-card heart suit (at least), because with only 4 hearts, partner would make a negative double of 1♠.  Armed with this information, you can start counting points, including distribution points.  You have 19 HCP plus 3 distribution points, total: 22.  Partner has at least 10 HCP, and at least 1 distribution point (there must be a shortage somewhere, as partner partner has 5+ hearts), total 11.  22+11=33, which is the magic number for slam.

You don't see this sort of slam arithmetic much in textbooks, because it's crude. Very crude. But nonetheless, I think it means the 5 of 6 Souths who simply bid 4 were seriously underbidding their hand. The sixth South was Margaret Hughes who bullied her way to the 6 contract via Blackwood.  The other slam bidder was Jenny Sin, who had a somewhat different scenario, her West deciding to not bid 1♠.  Margaret and Jenny shared the well deserved top.

"Hold your horses!" I hear you cry.  "They'll lead a spade, and possibly take the first two tricks ... bidding slam is ridiculously dangerous"  A fair point. There's certainly room for 10 HCP in partner's hand, but missing the ♠A and ♠K.  Well, you can solve that problem using a slightly sophisticated technique. Over 2 bid 5. When the opponents have intervened with a suit bid, 5-of-your-major sends a specific message to partner: "bid slam unless you have two immediate losers in their suit".  This resolves the issue where Blackwood can't. Slam here will make if partner has a singleton spade, or perhaps ♠Kx - you're still missing the ace, but there aren't two losers. I'll admit this is an advanced technique, but you have to agree it's cute.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 25/5/23)

On today's deal, the only pair to reach the laydown slam here conducted the auction you see.  That was Karen Jorin (South) and Derek Stringfellow (North).  A well-deserved top, but what do you think of their auction? 

Discuss.

At this vulnerability, South's 4 opening should show around 8 tricks. On that basis, North could count three more for his three aces, and then the K was a maybe, as were the spades (maybe declarer will be able to set that suit up by ruffing). There should be somewhere between 11 and 12 tricks available, and so it's a borderline decision whether to progress to slam. Well done to Derek for doing so. The other four Norths that faced this opening bid all passed.

Still, given that there were 13 stone cold tricks on the hand, perhaps we should look at South's 4 bid.  The hand's not really worth 8 tricks: it's closer to 10.  South can estimate 7 heart winners (assuming the ace is missing), and two tricks for the AQ.  That's 9, and the fourth diamond has a fair chance of being established as a winner.  By my lights, that South hand is too strong for a 4 opening.

So I'm with the three Souths who opened 1 (Stan Angelidis, Jan Downing and Fiona Ferwerda).  Their plan was to open 1 and rebid 4, which should logically show a hand with long hearts that was too strong for an opening preemptive bid.  Alas, none of their partners were on the same wavelength, so they all languished in game. C'est la vie.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 18/5/23)

Several Souths faced this bidding problem today, but only one solved it.  

See if you can.  What do you do?

You'd like to compete, but how?  There's no real diamond support, and bidding either the long moth-eaten clubs or the short chunky hearts is unpalatable. 

The solution is to double. This is called a responsive double, and applies after the opponents open, your partner intervenes (with either a takeout double or a suit overcall) and the next hand raises their partner's opening bid.  It is basically takeout for the remaining unbid suits. Only one South, Rosemary Polya, made the responsive double, and it ended rather happily.  Partner bid hearts, and they arrived in 4. E/W were not up to the necessary trump plays to defeat this contract, and declarer took the AK and all eight of the hearts via a cross-ruff. Impressive!  Good bidding was rewarded with an almost top score.

One more thing. Look at East's hand ... is the 2♠ bid wise?  No it is not! Technically the hand meets the requirements for a single raise: 6-9 HCP and 3-card support. But there are three strikes against it:

  1. Minimum points, dead flat
  2. A likely useless QJx in overcaller's suit
  3. Vulnerable, heading for down in 100s if partner competes in spades

East was asking for trouble by bidding that hand, and in a few cases, trouble duly arrived.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 4/5/23)

North, South and East all had a critical decision to make on today's deal.  I will present the decision that no-one got right ... East's.

As East, you are defending North's 3NT, on the auction as shown. You lead ♣K, and it goes ♣2, ♣5, ♣3, leaving you with the lead.  What's going on in the club suit, and what do you play next?

There are only two clubs remaining, the ace and jack.  If you think about it, partner can't have either of them.  If partner started with either ♣Ax or ♣Jx, she would (should) have played her honour at trick 1 to clarify the position for you. And partner can't have started with ♣AJx, as that would mean that declarer has a club singleton, inconsistent with the 2NT opening bid.

No, declarer started with ♣AJx, and has executed a Bath Coup on you. The name comes from the English city of Bath and the olden days of Whist.  Playing small on the first round of the suit, when the king has been led, means that a second round will run up to the ace-jack, giving you two tricks in the suit. The four Easts who faced this situation all continued with another club, gifting declarer a trick.  On best play, declarer will then take the rest, as poor old West is mercilessly squeezed on the play of the black suits. The skilled declarers who gave their opponents a bath were: Yuko Yoshida, Sandra Mansell, John Robertson and Viv Braham.

East needs to switch to another suit, any suit.  My choice would be diamonds, as I would be a little nervous about giving away a trick with either the spade or heart combinations.

Finally, I mentioned that South had a key part to play on this deal. That was in the auction.  Some Souths insisted on a spade contract, to their regret.  The concept of transferring to your major (showing 5 cards there) and then bidding notrumps to give partner the choice between notrumps and your suit is a vital part of the game!

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 27/4/23)

Try this 'slightly trickier than it looks' play problem.

North leads ♣Q to your 5 contract.  Your play.

Let's see now. Ace and king of spades, and your hearts are winners after losing to the ace.  The diamonds are likely good for six tricks, and you can trump your second club in dummy. That will make 2 spades + 2 hearts + 6 diamonds + ♣A + club ruff to make 12 tricks.

Before you start trick 2, could anything go wrong? Only one possibility stands out ... South with all four diamonds, which is not impossible given North's big pre-empt.  You can deal with that scenario, as long as you find out about it in time.

The correct play is K at trick 2. If all follow, a second trump to hand, ruff your club, then cross  to your ♠A to deal with any remaining trumps.  But if North should discard on the first diamond, your second trump to hand will include a foolproof finesse against South's J.

Of the six diamond declarers, three got it right: Margaret Hughes, Jo Quinlivan and Valerie Remedios.  The other three diamond declarers all played a low diamond to the ace at trick 2, and discovered that they could no longer ruff a club and finesse South's J.  A small error, but a crucial one. Bridge can be tricky!

A word about North's opening bid as dealer, not-vulnerable versus vulnerable. A variety of choices were made: pass, 1♣ (!), 3♣ and 4♣.  The passer and 1♣er seriously misdescribed their hand.  Two players who bid 3♣ subsequently volunteered 4♣ later: one of the worst crimes of preempters (bidding again, uninvited).  Of course they were ashamed of the pusillaminity (or whatever the word is) of their 3♣ opening and tried to compensate later.  But this has the downside of giving the opponents room they don't deserve. 

Those who opened 4♣ did some justice to the hand and one was allowed to play there for a fine score.  Personally, I'd open 5♣, assessing the hand as worth 8 tricks, but that's just me.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 20/4/23)

Board 1 this week featured several interesting bidding decisions, but let's start with this one.

You are South. Partner opens 3♠ and RHO bids a natural 4♣.  It's Christmas!

What do you do?

You can surely destroy their 4♣ contract, but before you gleefully double, consider the risk. It may clue the opponents in to the fact that 4♣ is not their best spot.  Perhaps West (or even East) will run to 4, a spot where E/W are likely to have a fit. Your defensive prospects against hearts are far less certain.

So I'm with Shyamala Abey and Lesley Johnstone who calmly passed 4♣, which duly became the final unpleasant (for E/W) contract.  Down a variety of tricks for good N/S scores.

One South did greedily double 4♣. She survived the opponents, but not her partner who got cold feet and retreated to 4♠.  This was duly doubled and defeated several tricks for a N/S bottom. Still, N/S were a class act in that when I checked the chat record, there was not a word spoken.

Now let's look at all four hands and as they say, 'discuss'.

I was pleased to see that all Norths ignored the moth-eaten four card suit in the other major and preempted in spades.  Seven opened 3♠ and one wimped it with 2♠.  The 2♠ choice got a 3♣ overcall, so at least E/W were able to play the horrible hand a level lower.

Over 3♠, we've noted that three Easts overcalled 4♣ ... a fairly normal bid.  Two instead doubled, which I don't particularly like, because when partner inevitably bids 4 of a red suit, you won't know what to do.  And two Easts passed 3♠!  I'm not going to name them, because I don't agree with their choice, but it worked superbly for them, allowing N/S to go down in a contract, rather than E/W.  

One "thinking-outside-the-box" option for East would have been to try 3NT. Sometimes, a stopper can be as strong as it sounds.  For example, if you boldly bid 3NT, maybe South will lead a low club!  I know it may seem ridiculous, but if you put this problem to an expert panel, I expect 3NT would gather the most votes. Experienced players love to bid 3NT.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 13/4/23)

Sit yourself in the East seat. You're the dealer, everyone is vulnerable. What do you do?

8 of the 10 Easts opened 1♣, and you'll get no complaint about that choice from me. The hand has the points and the shape to justify this, and also an easy rebidding plan: more clubs, and yet more clubs.

On the downside, there's very little defence, and the low opening gives the opponents all the room in the world to intervene, if they have the hand for it.  As it turns out, many North-Souths did successfully get into the auction.

So I prefer the choice made by Shyamala Abey and Viv Braham, which was to open 3♣, preempting.  A vulnerable 3-level opening should have the makings of about 7 tricks, which is precisely what East has.  And it's much harder for N/S to successfully compete against.

The 3♣ openings met with mixed success. At one table, N/S got to 3 down 1; at the other, N/S brilliantly wriggled to 3, which could not be beaten.

Now let's consider a dramatic alternative opening bid for East: the Gambling 3NT.  Some (many) partnerships play a 3NT opening bid to show a solid (AKQ) 7-card minor, and nothing much outside.  It's a very descriptive preempt, and being at a higher level, more preemptive than a 3-minor opening.  The Gambling 3NT has significant downsides, one being that the correct contract might be 3NT played from the other side, but remains a popular gadget.  And after all, one doesn't particularly need 3NT as having an alternative meaning ... if you are really strong, you can always open 2♣.

Look what would have happened on this deal. East opens 3NT: that's too rich for South, who passes.  West also passes: there's 7 tricks in partner's minor and 2 aces to make 9 ... so E/W just need to survive the other minor to make 3NT. North passes, and South leads the obvious ♠K.  Voila: 3NT making +600 for a top.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 6/4/23)

Here's a situation that comes up more frequently than one would like. 

Partner opens 1♠ and RHO overcalls 2♣ ... what is your plan?  What about if RHO passes your partner's 1♠ opening?

If you make a heart bid here, you will often land in the soup. Partner will expect more high-card strength and likely take you too high.  That's what usually happens when you show more values than you have.

If (and it's a big if) partner recognizes a jump in hearts as showing this sort of hand, then perhaps it might work out. My experience is that this tends to put the partnership into unknown territory with mostly bad outcomes.  Today, two Wests tried the jump: one East read it correctly and passed, the other bid too much. 

The best approach in my experience is to try a two-step process.  Pass initially, then if the auction should continue, maybe later you can show the hearts. Partner will know you are weak, because of your initial pass. This worked a treat for Pam Richardson and Ray Carbuhn.  They coolly passed 2♣, then after either North or East had bid, they ventured 3. Their partners twigged to what was going on and passed, leaving their side in a safe and profitable heart contract.

Of course, this strategy is not infallible. Gordon Travers also passed, after South had stayed silent, as would I. Sadly 1♠ was the final contract (you can look at North's hand to see why), and even though Deena Pathy played the contract well to make it, their +80 was not a great score. Sometimes even the best laid plans of mice and men ...

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 30/3/23)

Let's start this interesting deal with a bidding problem for South. She has a very nice hand, 16 HCP (and a couple of 10s) with both majors.  After partner's 1NT response to the 1 opening, what should she do?

Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

Ever seen a hand fall apart before your eyes? This is one such hand.

What started as a delightful 16-count has gotten a whole lot worse. Partner's 1NT shows 6-9 HCP, without heart support, nor a spade suit.  Your hopes of a major suit fit have gone.  And there doesn't seem to be a minor suit fit either. So we are stuck with notrumps.

It's time to check the points: we have 16, partner has 6-9, so 22-25.  Only if partner has a tip-top maximum might we have enough points for game, and even then, without a clear suit to establish and cash, 3NT may be no bargain.

In short, game chances have shrunk to near zero, and we should be happy to let partner play 1NT.  Only two Souths had the discipline to pass 1NT: Pam Richardson and Margaret Skeen ... very well done to them.

Now take a look at all four hands, and in particular examine West's hand.  Four of the seven Wests doubled 1 for takeout: how would you rate that call?

I would rate it as seriously unwise: indeed I can think of four different reasons why it's a bad idea:
1. With 11 HCP, it can hardly be described as opening strength.  11 HCP might be sufficient for a takeout double, but consider first reasons 2, 3 and 4.
2. It's lacking 4 spades, the one suit that can beat the hearts.  Whilst 3 cards is all you're technically required in a side-suit, the absence of a fourth spade here is a serious minus.
3. Partner passed as dealer: she lacks opening points. In fact you'll be darned lucky to have a majority of the points on your side, and if you do, partner might bid too much anyway. This is particularly serious, because:
4. Your side is vulnerable. -100, -200 or -300 may well be heading your way.

Indeed if you do double, and North correctly passes, East will be in a nasty hotseat, where the only winning option may well be to make a hair-raising penalty pass of 1 doubled.  So a shoutout to Janice Meldrum, Rosemary Polya and Sandra McCaughey, all of whom coolly passed 1♠.

Maybe it says something about my character, but I like this deal, because it points out situations where your hand is bad, despite its points, and the correct choice is to shut up.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 23/3/23)

This deal caught my eye today. Look at the N/S hands - you will see that 4♠ is a solid contract. You need only to limit your red suit losers to two (to go with the one club loser) to make. That will happen at least three-quarters of the time.

Still, how does one get there?  It's 10 HCP opposite 11 HCP, hardly the world's fair.

Any ideas?

I have an idea.  North should open the bidding with 1♠.  Why? Let me count the ways:

Rule of 20.  This is a pretty reliable guide for deciding whether to open a marginal hand with 1 of a suit.  You add the length of your two longest suits to your HCP and if it comes to at least 20, open.  Here you have 5 spades and 5 diamonds and 10 HCP, equals 20. 

Length points. You're not allowed to include shortage points until your side has found a fit, but length points can be counted up front. They allow you to increase the estimate of the hand's value based on having long suits.  You count 1 length point for each card you have in excess of 4 in a suit. Here you have 2 length points, one in spades, one in diamonds, so add that to 10 to get 12 adjusted points and an opening bid.  You can see that the Rule of 20 and length points are very similar beasts.

Losing trick count.  This is a favourite of Ron Klinger's, and who am I to disagree with him, particularly when it reaches the same conclusion as mine. To open a hand, you're meant to have at most 7 losers. Here there is 1 loser in spades (the king), 1 loser in hearts (the ace), 3 losers in diamonds (with this estimation, you assume that after three rounds of a suit, the remaining cards are good, so you never have more than 3 losers in a suit) and 1 loser in clubs.  That's 6 losers only - why, not only is it an opening bid, but it has extra values! Who'd have thought?

Whichever way you slice it, this is an opening bid.  Yuko Yoshida, Margaret Sheen and Jolanta Terlecka were the three Norths (out of 10) to agree with me. And surprise surprise, they all got to the making 4♠ without much difficulty.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 16/3/23)

Let's for the sake of argument assume that your partner is not insane.  On that basis, what is going on on this deal, and what should you do about it?

Confucius say that if both sides bid notrumps, one of them is wrong. But here, your partner's 2NT should be treated as "unusual", 5-5 in the minors.  On that basis, I think you should bid 5♣, competing in your 10+ card club fit. 

This might seem very scary when you're vulnerable and they are not. But consider this: partner also saw the vulnerability, and still chose to force your side in at the 3-level. He must have a pretty strong distributional hand.

Take a look at all four hands. 5♣ will go down 1 if the opponents take their two spade tricks immediately - otherwise it will make.  Meanwhile 4 is easy for them. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of courage.

No one wheeled out the unusual 2NT, but a few Souths overcalled 1NT with a natural 2♣ bid. Then if West bids 4, I think North should take the same inference that partner will be sound, and compete to 5♣ - but no-one did. 

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 9/3/23)

On today's deal, partner has opened 2NT (20-22 HCP, balanced) and you've made a transfer to spades. Partner now jumps to 4♠.

What is the 4♠ all about, and what do you do now?

Normally you would expect partner to accept the transfer with 3♠: after all, that might be the final contract you want to play. Her unnecessary jump to 4♠ is called a super-accept. It says: "I love your spades, partner". Essentially, partner is not going to let you play the hand in 3♠.

Failing to accept a transfer bid always shows strong support for the transferrer's suit.  After a 1NT opening, such a move should be reserved for the very best of supporting hands.   After all, who wants to be in 3♠ two down, when 2♠ would have been only one down?  After a 15-17 HCP 1NT, there is plenty of scope for such a scenario!

But after a 2NT opening, a super-accept is a far more likely and useful proposition. If you have a maximum in the 20-22 HCP, and a fit, you hardly need anything at all from partner to make game in the major a good proposition, and it may well be worth telling partner about your enthusiasm in case she has thoughts of slam.

Jolanta Terlecka super-accepted with 4♠ as North. Her partner, Rosemary Polya unleashed Roman Key-Card Blackwood, and was delighted with the 1 or 4 key-card response. She bid 6♠, which made in a breeze, despite the trumps misbehaving.

Maria Christensen also made the super-accepting bid. Her partner Jenny Sin damned the torpedoes and bid 6♠ then and there - that's what I call class. (They had met at the BBO Partnership Desk, so maybe had not discussed what sort of ace-asking they were playing.)

Two excellent auctions.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 2/3/23)

This meaty deal has so many points of interest that it could form the basis of the first three chapters of a bridge textbook.

Let's start with a bidding problem. As East you hear partner open 1NT in fourth seat. It's essential to find you whether you have a spade fit so you bid 2♣ , Stayman. Partner, alas, denies a 4-card major with 2 .

What now?

I would figure partner, who lacks a major and might not have too many diamonds given my long suit, to be packed full of clubs. So I'd bid 3NT here.

Look at all four hands to discover how much I know about bridge. 3NT is off the first 6 club tricks, whilst the computer says you can make a grand slam in diamonds. On reflection, perhaps 5  is the wiser choice.

Consider North's lead to 5. I detest leading from broken suits (such as clubs) ... so often they run up to declarer's honours. So I would choose a nice safe and constructive J. Dummy comes down and declarer sees that this heart lead is nasty, threatening to take two heart tricks. West's hearts can be discarded on East's spades, but first something has to be done about trumps.

West doesn't want to lose the lead, for example taking a losing diamond finesse. Then you would go down in 5. Better is to bang down the  A. The king will now most likely be outstanding, but then four rounds of spades will be played, and that  K would be the only loser. In real life, the king drops under the ace, and voila, there's your 13 tricks. My  J lead forces declarer into the winning play ... did I mention how little I know about bridge?

On a club lead, however, declarer has all the time in the world to take the losing diamond finesse.

Finally, what about 3NT? North should lead ♣J (top of an internal sequence) and South wins ♣ A. It is essential for South to return the ♣9, not the ♣5. Get into the habit of playing the higher of two cards, when you are left with a doubleton and returning partner's suit. Here the 9 traps declarer's club holding, and the first 6 tricks are safely negotiated for the defence. But if you return the 5, declarer covers with the 6, North wins the trick but now declarer has a stopper in the clubs.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 23/2/23)

You know an opening lead problem must be a good one when all four suits are chosen from 8 different tables. I have an opinion (who doesn't when it comes to opening leads?).  Let's see what you think.

West's 3 shows a weakish hand with a large bunch of diamonds.

Your choice?

This is the sort of problem when one should look a bit deeper than "fourth highest of your longest and strongest". Declarer, East, will have a strong balanced hand. In fact around 18-19 HCP seems likely, as they didn't open 1NT.

I don't know whether the hearts or clubs are the "strongest", but it strikes me that they are risky leads. Partner will have practically nothing ... for example, give 18 to East, 6 to West, and that leaves only 2 for partner. Either a heart or a club stands a good chance of donating a trick to declarer. 

A diamond lead, on the other hand, is pretty safe.  It gives nothing away at all. Of course, nor does it do anything for you, but sometimes there are hands where a "do nothing" approach is best, forcing declarer to make all the decisions about finesses. Dianna Middleton led a diamond, and I like her thinking.

That leaves the ♠K as an option. It's not a completely safe choice, but it's fairly safe, and of course it does do something towards beating the contract. Two players led it, but they were helped by their partner, who had bid spades. Well done indeed to Yuko Yoshida who risked a 3♠ bid over 3: this was certainly the time for it. That got Ray Carbuhn off to the winning spade lead, and they became the only N/S to defeat 3NT.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 16/2/23)

One of the joys of the game is that you can be confronted at any time with a bizarre problem. It makes life interesting!  

Here is one of them. West's 1NT (15-17) is passed around to you, and you have a monster. What's your plan?

This hand is a fine example of the power of distribution.  Yes, your LHO has 15-17 HCP, which is a lot, but your diamond void may well negate much of that.  Picture West with, oh I don't know, maybe AKQ94, and her 15-17 HCP becomes much less scary.

So I think the best choice here is to make a penalty double of 1NT. Pam Richardson was the only one to agree with me, so perhaps there's a partnership in our future.

If 1NT doubled is the final contract, then even if partner leads a diamond, I like our chances. Sure, declarer may be able to run some diamond tricks, but the sight of dummy will likely give me a clue on what to discard, and which suit (hearts or clubs) I'm likely to be able to establish. 

If someone (partner or RHO) runs from 1NT doubled - a likely scenario, as both of those hands will be weak - then I can bid my hearts.  I will have painted a picture of a strong hand with hearts, which is what I've got. 

On the actual deal, this is what will likely play out. Partner may run to 2, but even if she decides to tough it out in 1NT doubled (I think she should), then East will surely escape to 2♣.  Now when I bid 2, partner with support and distribution should give me a lift to 3, which I will raise to 4.  Maybe I'm a dreamer, but I think this is the sensitive auction.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 2/2/23)

This interesting bidding problem has a learning point attached to it. You are West and must decide what to do after your partner's 2♣ bid.  Your double of 1 showed exactly 4 spades (with a 5+ card spade suit, you would have bid 1♠ directly).

Decide your bid, then click [Show Answer].

With 12 HCP, it would seem you're worth about a game invitation. In fact partner also had 12 HCP, a minimum opener, and there was insufficient combined strength for a game in, say, 3NT.

But one moment, please. Is this hand really 12 HCP? Consider your hearts, KQ8. Assuming South has the A for his vulnerable overcall, then your heart holding represents two stoppers. Two tricks. Just like AK8.  If you had in fact been dealt AK8 with the rest of your hand the same, that would have been 14 HCP, which is easily enough for game. Here, KQ8 has about the same trick-taking potential as AK8. As the auction progresses, and you see bids from the other players, the strength of your hand ebbs and flows as you consider the location of your honours. The ability to notice and act upon this (it's called 'plastic valuation') is one of the great skills of the game.

Well done to Marg Ferguson, Ismail Gulec and Ray Carbuhn who correctly upgraded their hand and jumped to 3NT.

Technically, 3NT can be defeated, but when the play went low heart by North to South's ace and a heart returned, 9 tricks had easily appeared. The KQ8 of hearts had done its job.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 26/1/23)

Sit yourself East today and consider both the bidding and play.

1) Do you agree with the opening 2♠ bid?  Or would you choose something else?

2) You end up in 3♠ on the auction shown, and South leads ♣5, North playing ♣Q, which you win. One of the first questions you should ask yourself when playing in trump contracts is: "should I draw trumps?"  Have a go at that one.

1) When we first learn bidding, we are told to open a weak two with 6-10 HCP and a good 6-card suit. This hand would appear to qualify. However, I would respectfully suggest that the hand is too strong for a weak two. I point you to two factors that indicate this:

- a great rule-of-thumb for deciding whether to open with one of a suit is to add your HCP to the length of your two longest suits, and if it comes to at least 20, then open at the 1-level. On this deal, you have 10 HCP, a 6-card suit and a 4-card suit, so 10+6+4 = 20, suggesting a one level opening.

- the location of the points is powerful. The queen and jack combine. The ace and king combine.  Honour cards working together are more potent than those on their own. Take the ♣AK: that's two tricks, right? But now make it ♣A and K: that's not 2 solid tricks. It's one for the ♣A, and maybe one for the K, but maybe not.  In the very old days, those separated honours would have been evaluated as 1.5 quick tricks.

4 of the 5 Easts agreed with my evaluation and opened 1♠: great minds think alike.

2) Now to the play in 3♠. When we first learn bidding, we are told to "get the kids off the street" - the kids being the enemy trumps. And often that is right: we want to remove their trumps so they are unable to ruff our side-suit winners.

But there are plenty of exceptions, and this is one of them. The most common scenario is that you need to retain some or all of dummy's trumps to ruff a side suit. When you draw trumps, you are drawing your own trumps as well. In this instance, you may want to keep one or two of dummy's trumps to ruff club losers. 

The correct play, not found by anyone (in this case great minds did not think alike) is to play a diamond at trick 2. If South has A, he might duck, and lose his ace altogether. Or if he takes it, that gives you two winners in dummy. Either way, that's good news for you.  And if North has A, at least you've set up one diamond trick, and there's no damage North can do to you.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 19/1/23)

This board raised interesting questions in the bidding, opening lead and defence. I'll present 3 questions:

1. Should North, playing 15-17 HCP 1NT openings, accept South's invitation to 3NT?

2. Against say 3NT, what should East lead?

3. Suppose East leads a heart. When West gets in with the A, what should she play?

Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

1) North is bang-smack in the middle of the 15-17 HCP range. In such situations, one needs to look more deeply into the hand. The negative is that there's only one 4-card suit. The more long suits you have, the better the chances of establishing them.

But there are two significant positives: the two 10s. They're worth like half-a-point each: that definitely improves the quality of the hand, particularly as they are in conjunction with higher honours. Indeed if you look at all four hands, the ♠10 and 10 are each worth a trick, as it turns out.  I think the positives outweigh the negatives and so agree with Julie More, Maggie Kelly, Yuko Yoshida and John Robertson who continued to 3NT.  The other four Norths passed 2NT, and no discredit to them: it was a close decision.

2) Normally you would lead a heart to this contract, but did you notice that South (maybe) implied hearts with her Stayman bid?  (Actually, depending on the opponents' system agreements, that may not be the case ... you have every right to ask the opponents about this before making your opening lead). 

If I found out that South was showing four hearts, I would stay off the suit.  I don't want to lead a spade (that's North's suit), which leaves the minors.  A club is possible, and some Easts chose a club, but it's a suit that is not particularly attractive to break. (In fact it gives away the contract, allowing declarer to win a trick with ♣K).

That leaves the totally passive diamond lead, which would have been my choice. Well, it's food for thought.

3) On a heart (or spade or diamond) lead, West can defeat 3NT by switching to the queen of clubs when in with A. The low club play, found by Shirley Stewart, was a good attempt, but not good enough, because declarer just ducked it. East had to win, and now the the ♣ K was protected. Only the queen lets you run the suit. More food for thought!

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 12/1/23)

One of the best feelings for a partnership is when the eventual dummy pins their faith in partner's declarer play, and then partner repays that faith.  This board is a good example.

The key bid was West's, who should voluntarily support partner's spades even if South does not bid 3. West's 7-pointer has improved during the auction. The ace is a full trick, and ♠Kx is a wonderful asset when partner shows (at least) 6 spades. Deena Pathy and Dawn Braham were two who made this bid, trusting their partners Gordon Travers and Viv Braham to make the most of the declarer play.

As East you are declarer 4♠: South leads a low diamond which North wins with the ace. A diamond is returned which you trump.

Plan the play.

This hand is a classic example of assessing the situation before you make a move. This usually involves counting your tricks: winners, or losers, or both.

Winners: you have 7 spades in all likelihood, and a pair of side aces = 9.

Losers:  none in spades, 2 in hearts, 1 in diamonds,  1 in clubs = 4.

No question about it: unless you do something clever or meet a particularly kind lie of the cards, you're taking only 9 tricks for down 1. The way to reduce your losers is via the heart suit. As long as North has at least one of the king or queen, you can take two finesses in hearts, and reduce your losers in that suit to one. But to finesse twice you need to properly use dummy's two entries.

The correct play is to cross to the ♠K and take a heart finesse, even though there are still trumps outstanding. Then when you get back in, you can pull remaining trumps and use the ♣A to take a second heart finesse. Several declarers made the mistake of drawing all the trumps first and taking only 9 tricks. Gordon and Viv were not amongst them, and completed the deal by bidding and making the 4♠ that their partner had encouraged them to bid.

(Actually, some winning declarers missed an even better play. After the first heart finesse loses to South's K, a trump was returned. After drawing trumps, declarer can ignore the second heart finesse and simply play the ace and another heart, setting up the hearts in dummy, allowing declarer's second club to be discarded.)

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 5/1/23)

Today we look at an opening bid problem. You are North, dealer, vulnerable against not. 

For the record, of the 8 tables, five opened 1 and three opened 3.

To what camp do you belong, or is there another camp?  

And if you do open 1, what's your rebid if partner responds 1?

Open at the one-level or preempt? If the deal belongs to you, then opening at the one-level is the way to go. A pre-empt will probably just make partner miserable.

But if the deal belongs to your opponents, then pre-empting will make them miserable. A one-level opening will cause them little stress.

You can't know, so either choice is acceptable. (Position is important: if you had been in second seat, with RHO passing, the odds would tip towards opening one, as one of your opponents is weak; in third seat, the odds would favour preempting, as LHO may have a strong hand).

If you do choose to preempt, 3 is not enough. Whilst it is impossible to know what the singleton ♣K is worth, the AKJxxxxx represents 8 probable tricks, far too strong for a pre-empt at the 3-level, even vulnerable. You should open 4. Google "Rule of 2 and 3" for more information!

Finally, if you open 1, hoping for a construction auction with your partner, your rebid needs to communicate the significant playing strength that you have. If partner responds 1, you should do as Elaine Watson did, jump to 3. This is where the raw HCP total of your hand misrepresents its strength.  In fact you have 4 length points for the 8-card suit, and this hand should be re-evaulated to 15, justifying the aggressive rebid. Well done to Elaine. Take a look at the South hand. Only 8 points (but 8 excellent points with the two aces) and 3NT is a moral certainty, with a combined 19 HCP. As someone once wrote, Points - Schmoints!

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 29/12/22)

This bidding decision has a useful tip associated with it. Give it a try.

You are North, and your LHO deals and opens 2NT, which is passed around to you. Presumably 2NT shows a balanced 20-22 HCP hand, and RHO has little to nothing.

What do you do?

First, did you notice that you're vulnerable? That's bad news, because it's likely that LHO has you down in his hand. For example, she could have AK, A, ♣AK, 18 of her 20-22 HCP, and that's 5 tricks. Not to mention any problem you might have in spades.

But even if you were not vulnerable, I would be cautious. 7222 shapes are not frequent, but they do pop up, and when you get one, beware. They usually play very badly for you. They're like the distributional equivalent of the 4333 shape ... too flat!  7321 shapes, for example, are far stronger.

So well done to Susan Shand who calmly passed out 2NT. As you can see, no one can make anything much. 3♠ certainly will not make, and nor will 2NT. 

And well done also to Jenny Matheson, who sitting East, doubled an impertinent North for penalties in 3♠. +500 for 2 down was the E/W top.

The takeaway: with 7222 shape, proceed with caution.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 22/12/22)

This is certainly a worthy HotW. Every player had important decisions to make, and there are takeaways available.

West. Should West open 1♠?  There are 10 HCP and a weak 6-card suit. The Rule of 20 provides the answer: 10 HCP and 10 cards in the two longest suits gives you 20, and this is a clear 1♠ opening. The hand is far too strong to open 2♠ (and it misdescribes the nature of the hand anyway). Hilary Brear and Ray Carbuhn were two of the several Wests that did open 1♠ and they were off to the races.

North. Very weak (and vulnerable!) but it is an 8-card heart suit. With 6 certain tricks, I think North should stick her neck out and weak-jump-overcall 3. It's either that or Pass, and personally I couldn't bring myself to click the Pass button. Susan Shand was with me, and duly bid 3. What is life without a little risk? 

East. The Easts that heard partner open 1♠ should surely be looking for slam. Margaret Liew (Hilary's partner) did more than look: she simply bid 6♠. Purists may turn up their nose at this agricultural bid, but it's a good one, and earned her an outright top. She knew that with pathetic spades, her partner must have plenty of cards in the unbid suits.

Nevertheless there is no reason not to ask for aces here. After all, partner could have an opening bid with your side still missing two aces. Yuko Yoshida (Ray's partner) did find the 4NT bid ... and a slam was clearly in view,

South. Finally we come to South, and a really excellent tactical bid made by Shyamala Abey (Susan's partner). She threw a gigantic spanner into the E/W works by bidding 5. She didn't know for sure what was going on, but that 5 bid deprived the opponents of their Blackwood auction. E/W were no longer on firm ground, and ended up missing the slam that they were surely about to bid.

There is a solution to the dilemma of what to bid when the opponents interfere with Blackwood. It is the DOPI convention (Double = 0, Pass = 1).  If the opponents bid over 4NT, double = 0 aces (or keycards), pass = 1 ace, the next bid shows 2, and so on. Here, West would have bid 5♠ showing 2 aces, and East now bids the slam. 

DOPI is the rarest of conventions, but it did once come up for me in 1987.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 15/12/22)

All 9 tables played 3NT on this deal from today's game. With two flattish hands and 26 combined HCP, it seemed obvious to reach it. Unfortunately, a club lead defeats the contract: the defence can get 3 clubs and 2 aces before declarer gets to 9. 4 declarers duly went down, 5 were allowed to make 3NT.

But it's the bidding I'm interested in. How do you think the auction should go, after West opens 1 and North doubles for takeout (as occurred at 8 of the 9 tables)?

Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

You don't have to get to the doomed 3NT. All the Easts bid 1 over North's double, essentially ignoring it. But you shouldn't ignore it, because your opponents have wandered into the auction, a place that they don't belong. They are in fact in deep doo-doo.

East should redouble North's double, the so-called "Omnibus Redouble", which simply shows 10+ HCP.  It says: "partner, we have the balance of strength - let's see what happens next".

What happens next, I would imagine, is that South bids 1 with a sense of foreboding. West, with nothing particular to say, passes - in this auction, East is not allowed to pass out 1 - North passes, and East says DOUBLE.  

In Omnibus Redouble auctions, either party can double the opponents' bid for penalties: that is the whole point of the gadget. East's double is for penalties, and West with a relatively balanced hand and a couple of nice hearts, should be delighted to cooperate with this. On the Q lead, the defence can easily take 3 hearts, 5 diamonds and the ♣A for a score of +500, more than the value of the 3NT contract that they can't make anyway.

Of course N/S could maybe wriggle to 2♣, although I wouldn't bet on it. That contract is only two down. The point is that in such auctions, it's worthwhile at least giving yourself a chance of extracting a penalty. 

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 8/12/22)

One of the joys of a matchpoint duplicate is that every board counts equally, including the ones in which the level stays low. Board 2 was one such example.

You can see all four hands and I am going to quiz you about it. Since my answers are personal and not necessarily good ones, you can either do well at the quiz or respectfully disagree with my answers. It's win-win.

1. After West opens 1NT, should North double for penalties?

2. If North doubles for penalties, and East passes, what should South do?

3. What should North lead?

4. If North leads a low club against 1NT passed out, declarer winning, how should the hearts be played? (Ignore that you've peeked!)

5. Having won the club lead in the East hand (at one table, North led ♣4 and dummy's ♣5 won - so beautiful!), what should be played at trick 2?

1. After West opens 1NT, should North double for penalties?

I don't know for sure, but would be inclined to pass. There are a few factors at play here. First, I'm a little nervous about partner removing it to 2 ... that would put me proverbially up the creek. And I'm not sure what to lead (see question 3). Finally, doubling 'squeals' on the hand, telling the one-notrumper where all the cards are. He may be able to use this information to his advantage.

2. If North doubles for penalties, and East passes, what should South do?

South should pass. The rule for what to do when partner doubles 1NT for penalties is to pass with any balanced hand, no matter how weak. Sure it might make, but if it does, running is not too likely to work either. Meanwhile, partner might have the contract down in his own hand. So only run away with a weak unbalanced hand: one with at least a 5-card suit to escape to. Well done to Maggie Kelly who passed her partner's double. The contract went one down for a good score.

3. What should North lead?

I feel strongly that you should lead the ace or king of diamonds. As the saying goes, "a peek is worth two finesses".  The normal looking low club lead may give away an unnecessary trick, and meanwhile it will still be available once you have led a top diamond, gotten a look at dummy, and received a signal from partner. The ploy of "having a look at dummy" is underutilized.  In this case, dummy will tell you not to go after clubs, and that you are better off, after partner's encouraging diamond signal, to continue that suit.

4. If North leads a low club against 1NT passed out, declarer winning, how should the hearts be played? (Ignore that you've peeked!)

Now we turn to West, the declarer. When a club is led, and South plays a low card, it is obvious that North has long clubs and South short clubs. In the heart suit, we are missing 5 cards. If they divide 3-2, there are 4 easy tricks, but if they are 4-1, then we will want to be in a position to finesse against the jack. Given the club information, it is far more likely that South, if anyone, will have the long hearts.  So the heart suit should be played as follows: A, then a low heart to Q. Then if South does have the long hearts, their jack can be finessed.  Cashing the AK first is a big mistake.  Fiona Ferwerda was one declarer who handled the heart suit correctly.

5. Having won the club lead in the East hand, what should be played at trick 2?

OK, we've won the cub opening lead in dummy, as South could only contribute the 3. Leave the heart suit alone for the moment: now is the time to take the spade finesse. If that works, and we can gather 4 heart tricks, then our 1NT is made. Terry Passlow was one declarer who did so. Alas the spade finesse lost, and he ended up in the soup anyway, but it was a well thought-out play. This was one table where 1NT had not been doubled, so he had every reason to hope the spade finesse might work. 

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 1/12/22)

Sit yourself South and test your defence on this deal.

But first a word about the bidding. South's negative double is the safe way into the auction. It shows some points and at least 4 spades (the other major). The fact that you don't have 4 diamonds (the last unbid suit) is irrelevant ... and indeed over partner's 2 you can return to 2, a known 5-2 fit. Well done to Deena Pathy, Maggie Kelly and George Campbell, who found the nice negative double.

Now to the test. You end up on defence to 3♣. You lead the A, and continue with a second heart. Partner wins the J, and continues with a low heart, which declarer ruffs with ♣Q. How do you defend it?

Did you gleefully overruff the ♣Q with ♣K? Wrong!

In situations where declarer ruffs high, and you have the option of overruffing with an honour that you are going to be taking anyway,  it is almost invariably correct to not overruff.

Look at all four hands now, and follow the play if you coolly discard on the third heart. Declarer, who has only trumps to lose, crosses to ♠A and leads a club. Partner wins ♣A, perforce, and persists with a fourth heart, which declarer ruffs with the ♣J. Again you decline to take your king, and discard. And now look: you are left with ♣K9 sitting over declarer's ♣10, his last remaining honour. Your ♣9 has been promoted to a trick, and it is the setting trick.

This position is particularly pretty, as it was necessary to refuse to overruff twice, in order to bring power to that ♣9. If at any point you do overruff declarer's honour, you will find that declarer makes the contract.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 24/11/22)

Here's a bidding problem that no-one was able to solve at the table, so sadly there are no elephant stamps to be handed out. See how you go.

You simply have to make a call as West.

The first thing is to work out what partner is showing with 3NT. A balanced hand, one would think, and with what points? Not in the range for a 1NT opening (let's assume 15-17) because partner didn't open 1NT. Therefore because it's a jump, it must be stronger. Opener is showing about 18-19 HCP, balanced.

West has 12 HCP, bringing the HCP total to 30-31. But it's stronger than that, because of the 6-card club suit. That long suit translates directly into extra tricks. You can quantify this by adding length points, a valuable tool for estimating how high to go in notrumps. Add a point for each card over and above 4 cards in a suit. The 6-card clubs contains 2 length points, bringing the adjusted point total to 32-33. You are in range of 6NT.

Personally I would just bid 6NT at this point, but you can consider yourself to have passed the bidding test if you make any move towards slam after partner's 3NT. A quantitative 4NT, for example, would be a possibility.  Looking at partner's perfectly normal 19-point hand, you can count 2 spades, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds (after the ace has been knocked out) and 6 clubs, for a total of 12 tricks. It's the power of the long suit.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 17/11/22)

Consider this problem. You open 2♣ with that South hand, which only two of eight Souths did.  The rest of the field opened 1♣, which gives me the heebie-jeebies: it feels far to strong for a non-forcing opening.

Partner gives you a positive response with 2♠, you bid your clubs and partner repeats the spades, showing a 6-card suit at least.

Now what? Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

It's an irritating problem, because you'd like to bid a slam,  but there's no guarantee it will make. 

This is where being armed with Roman KeyCard Blackwood can help. What you really want to know about is four cards: ♠A, ♠K, ♠Q and A. That's what RKCB is for!

Bid 4NT, which is a form of Blackwood in which there's a trump suit set ... in this case it's spades. (If you haven't formally agreed trumps, the implied trumps is the last bid suit, spades here.)  You can google the formula for the responses, but partner will make a bid that shows exactly one of the 5 key-cards (the four aces and the ♠K).  One is not enough: you are either missing the ace and king of spades, or the ace of hearts and one of the ♠AK.  You sign off in 5♠ ... just in time.

Two pairs bid and went down in slam, and I am going to give them the elephant stamp this week, despite their shared bottom, because they were the only two pairs that started, eminently correctly IMHO, with 2♣: Deena Pathy (S) - Gordon Travers (N) and Patricia Stewart-Uden (S) - Don Stewart-Uden (N). They didn't unravel the hand but at least they tried!

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 10/11/22)

Today's deal features both bidding and play. As you can see, 4 is an excellent contract, but only 2 of 8 pairs reached it.

The auction you see is by Ray Carbuhn (West) and  Yuko Yoshida (East).  Each of them made a very good bid. First Yuko recognized that her heart hand was very much better than minimum, with the 7-card suit and 14 pristine HCP, consisting of all aces and kings. Hence the jump to 3.  And then Ray recognized the value of the QJ ... and whilst the rest of his hand was no great shakes, he did hold a maximum in the 6-9 range. Hence the raise to 4.

The only other pair to reach game, on a different auction, was Margaret Skeen and Tony Seed.

Now let's look at the play in 4. The lead from South is ♣3.  How do you play it?

The first thing you should always do as declarer is make an assessment. That means counting your tricks. In this case, there are 7 heart tricks and 2 clubs. The ♠K and ♠Q will combine for another trick. So that makes 10. If you are in 4, you're happy. If in a lower heart contract, you're sad.

But no matter whether you are happy or sad, the next  thing to do is think about whether you can wangle another trick or two. Indeed, if you are in a heart partscore, you can still earn an above-average score by making 11 tricks here.  Good play can make up for bad bidding!

So where can you get another trick?  Hearts and diamonds  ... impossible. Clubs ... unlikely (unless there's a miracle: clubs 3-3 and hearts 2-2 - do you see how?).  But in spades, there's a straightforward route to an 11th trick: by ruffing a spade loser in dummy. Win the club lead and attack spades by leading the ♠Q. The defenders can belatedly win and play a trump, but it will be too late.  You play ♠K and spade ruff, and eventually get back to your hand to draw the rest of the trumps. You end up with 11 tricks, losing just a spade and a diamond.

There are a few things that might go wrong with this plan, but none of them are likely.  

The takeaway: as declarer, start with an assessment: counting your tricks. Then look for ways to take more of them!

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 3/11/22)

On today's deal, South has an enormous hand. The first decision is what to do after RHO's 3rd seat 1♠ opening.

Penny Robertson was the only player to make a Michaels Cue Bid of 2♠, showing (at least) 5-5 in hearts and an unnamed minor. It's the perfect solution to this problem, describing your hand accurately (there is no upper limit of strength as 2♠ will never be passed out) and allowing you to find something out about partner's hand.

Several Souths made a simple red-suit overcall, 2 or 2, bids that give me the heebie-jeebies ... what if there is no further bidding? I really do not want to play that hand in a partscore, as one N/S pair did.

Other Souths doubled, which is less risky (although they would not be enamoured if North passed this takeout double with a bunch of spades). Still, the takeout double is clearly inferior to the Michaels cue-bid.

All right, let's say you make that 2♠ bid, and the auction proceeds as shown.  What do you do now? All you know about partner's hand is that she will have (at least) 3 hearts.

Maybe I'm looking at the hand through rose-coloured glasses, or maybe I'm influenced by knowing what North actually held, but it seems to me that there might well be a slam here.

I would need partner to have one of the A or ♣K.  That side suit of diamonds is very powerful, and is a fair chance of being  played for no losers whatever partner holds in it. If she has the queen, great. Alternatively, if she has 3 or 4 of them, the queen might drop. And if she has shortage, the suit can probably be ruffed good.

So I think 4 is not enough. I suggest a 5 bid, offering for partner to go to slam. 5 of a major, inviting 6 of the major, is an often overlooked bidding tool. 

As it turns out, partner had the and ♣K, with 4 diamonds to boot. There were 13 top tricks to be had in either red-suit. Like I say, maybe the full layout has biased me. But surely at least a small slam could be bid. So well done to Jenny Matheson and Mariette Read, the only N/S to reach a slam (after a takeout double of 1♠). A well deserved top.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 27/10/22)

What would you do with South's hand today?  

Partner's opened 2♣ , you've given a negative response with your 7 HCP hand, and now partner has jumped to 3NT.

Do you bid again, or let partner play 3NT? Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer]

What's partner got? Who knows!  Here's what I do know ... partner could have bid 2NT, showing 23-24 balanced, and you are allowed to pass that, if you have zilch.

So partner must have decided he didn't want to stay short of game under any circumstances. So in my opinion, he must have a stronger hand that 23-24 balanced. 25-26 balanced perhaps?

That would total you up to 32-33 and put you in the 'maybe slam' zone. And whilst you're flat, you do have three 10s as bolster. Let's just just say that I've seen worse 7-counts. 

Or to put  it another way, you are maximum for your 2 bid. It all adds up to making a slam try.  I would suggest a quantitative 4NT bid (how could that bid possibly be Blackwood?)  Offering partner the possibility of slam, without committing to it.

Well, North had 27 HCP, a real monster ... any offer would have been accepted.

Just two pairs reached the excellent 6NT contract: Alan Casanalia -  Terry Passlow and John Robertson - Lanny Chan.  They both achieved this via South showing some strength with their initial response to 2♣, a bid showing 6-9 HCP in one case, and a bid showing 7+ HCP in the other. Either of those was enough for North to take over.

This deal confirms one of my long-held beliefs: that the responder to a 2♣ opener should attempt to describe his hand at all costs, and not to decide the final contract (as the pass of 3NT does here). 

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 20/10/22)

I was giving a lesson on Stayman a few weeks ago, and at some point stated that "if you have a 5-3 fit in one major and a 4-4 fit in the other, go for the 4-4".

One of the students, not unreasonably, asked why, and I probably blathered on for a bit too long in response.

The curious board 4 today explains it better. North-South have a fit in both majors, and should bid a slam in one of them. The hand record is surprising: it tells you that N/S can make 13 tricks in the 4-4 heart fit, but only 12 tricks in the longer 5-4 spade fit! How strange. Let's see why.

In spades, you have 5 spades (when the suit divides so nicely), 4 hearts, 2 clubs and a diamond = 12. For the 13th trick, you take the diamond finesse, but it loses.

But in hearts, where you have the same 12 top tricks, the 13th becomes available elsewhere. After drawing trumps in 3 rounds, you run the spades, South discarding a diamond on the fifth round of the suit. There goes your diamond loser. It's magic!

So this is why the 4-4 fit is (often) better than the 5-3.  It is that you can maybe discard losers on the long 5-card suit. But in the 5-3 (or 5-4!) fit, there are no discards available from the 4-4 side suit. On board 4, the one discard available from spades was sufficient.

Of course in real life, no one got to hearts. North opened 1♠ so spades it was.  Well done to those who reached the fine slam.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 6/10/22)

Today, there was a remarkable set of 4 consecutive deals (9 - 12) all of which involved high level sacrificial decisions. I could have picked any of the four boards to write up, with a number of excellent decisions made at several tables, but I've settled on this one.

The full auction is shown from one table.  6♣ doubled, down 3, is very nearly the par result ... the outcome that would occur if all four players could see all four hands. In fact, the par is 5♠ doubled, down 2, but that was not a realistic contract at all. So credit, in general to the table.

Judge for yourself. Were any of the bids made here particularly outstanding?  Any bids you disagree with?

This was an excellent auction overall. The one bid that I would have a tiny quibble with is North's 4♣.  At the time it seemed (and was) reasonable enough, but as the auction panned out, you can see a flaw. North might have recognized that when her RHO bid 2, she would probably need to be dealing with an opposing 4 bid in the near future, given her singleton heart and West's bid. When that did occur she made the correct decision to sacrifice against it, by bidding 5♣.

The problem is: if you're planning to bid 4♣ and if necessary 5♣ later, you are a whole lot better off bidding 5♣ in the first place. This maximizes the pressure placed on the opponents. Can you see how awkward an immediate bid of 5♣ is for East? Will she bravely bid 5 with an 11-count and 3 little hearts? Maybe, or maybe not.  And what about West? If East does pass an immediate 5♣, then it's not clear for West to keep going in hearts.  The hearts are excellent, but the three low doubletons are awful, and West doesn't know what level of heart support partner has.

North's actual 4♣ bid could pay off big time if it ended the auction ... but how likely is that?  My advice is: with weak supporting hands in a competitive auction, give it your one best shot immediately, and then leave the rest to partner.

I think there were two outstanding bids made in this auction. Dell Macneil's pass as East over 5♣ by North was perfect. She didn't want to bid 5 herself, having supported with minimal hearts. But she wasn't ready to double the sacrificing opponents, given her singleton club. This was the time to pass the final decision back to partner, who understandably chose to go on with his one-track hand.

The other bid I loved was Fiona Ferwerda's bid of 6♣.  Normally, having pushed the opponents up to the 5-level you would leave them there, hoping to take them down. But Fiona didn't think this was likely. Her Q10 doubleton was useless, and given her partner's bidding and the opponents' progression to 5, she knew there would be at most 1 trick in clubs. It seemed 5 was likely to make, and the favourable vulnerability made a further sacrifice attractive. Well bid!

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 29/9/22)

12 North players wrestled over this bidding problem today (or a small variation of it), and no-one was able to come up with the solution. Let's see if we can help.

The auction so far is natural enough, but now we must find a rebid. What should it be?

Let's see. You have 13 HCP and partner has opened the bidding. You would like to think there is a game here, but where? 3NT is a possibility, as long as partner can stop the diamonds.  Or maybe 5♣ as we might have a decent club fit. The third option is 4, should partner have a bit of support there.

It's hard to know. You need more information. You need to get partner to help you. And the only way to do that is to bid 2, the opponent's suit. You know partner won't pass that, and whatever she does bid, it will surely help.

In fact, if West had not bid 1, then 2 would still be the correct bid, but now you would see it as 4th-suit-forcing. I think in this auction, people just didn't see it as a possibility, but it's the only call that will keep the ball rolling and not commit your side to anything.

Choices actually found were 2, a distinct underbid, 3♣, which in the main was passed, and 2NT which led to a notrump contract off the first 5 tricks.

Look at the South hand. Over the 2 bid all this hand can bid is a grudging 2.  There's no diamond stopper for a notrump bid, nor extra length in either of the black suits. Heart support of Jx will simply have to do. And indeed it's just what the doctor ordered: as long as North plays carefully: ruffing the third round of diamonds, and going over to dummy to finesse in hearts, 4 will roll home.

The bottom line: if you have a good hand and don't know what to do, try bidding the opponents' suit. 

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 22/9/22)

Today's deal is not particularly complex, but it does illustrate a useful point about the  Standard American and 2-over-1 systems.

I'll sit you in the East seat. What does 2NT show, and what should you do now?

Playing Standard American, the jumping 2NT rebid shows 18-19 HCP in a balanced hand.

A quick piece of arithmetic will tell East that the combined partnership total is 33-34 HCP.  33 is a magic number, the number of high-card-points you should have in order to bid 6NT. So the correct bid here is 6NT. There is no value in investigating 6♠ instead, because it is highly unlikely that spades will be worth one more trick in the play than notrumps. In a matchpoint duplicate, you are far better off getting 1440 in 6NT than a measly 1430 in 6♠.

Toni Bucknell (West) and Maggie Kelly (East) were the only pair to bid and make 6NT.  After Toni's 2NT rebid, Maggie stopped off to check on aces via a Gerber 4♣.  This wasn't strictly necessary, as having 33 points means you cannot be missing two aces. Still, better safe than sorry.

Why did so many pairs miss the excellent slam? Well, many Wests opened 1NT, which I assume showed 16-18 HCP (or maybe 15-18).  Now it was much more difficult (although it shouldn't have been impossible) to reach slam. 

Be that as it may, I want to make a strong pitch for using a 15-17 HCP range for your 1NT opening. Why?  Because it spreads the point ranges for notrump bidding more evenly.  Using 15-17 HCP, you have the following ranges of balanced opening hands:

  12-14: Open 1 of a suit, then make a minimum notrump rebid
  15-17: Open 1NT
  18-19: Open 1 of a suit, then make a jump notrump rebid
  20-22: Open 2NT
  23+:    Open 2♣ 

Notice how even it is: the entire range of points is broken in to 2 to 3 point blocks.  If you use 16-18 instead, you have a wide range (12-15) at the bottom, which is very very hard to work with. 15-18 1NT gives you an unworkable range in that opening. 15-17 is the sweet spot.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 15/9/22)

Bridge can be a cruel game. Consider this South hand. Partner opens 1 (!) and RHO passes.  How do you bid it?

This is not a hand for science, nor having a dialogue with your partner.  Not in a million years can you communicate your hand to partner.  This is a hand for a blunt instrument: namely Blackwood.

That's what Jane Keyte did. She bid 4NT, partner answered 5 showing two aces, and she bid 6. That's the way I would bid it too.

Take a look at North's hand. It was perfect. 6 seems cold and indeed if the opponents don't take the ♠A at trick 1, they won't get it at all.

Alas, it only seemed cold. Sitting East, Trish Stewart-Uden led a club, without I imagine a lot of hope. When West ruffed it and cashed the ♠A, the Keyte's had their totally undeserved bottom. What can I say?

You might think this is just a flukey hand, not worthy of writing up. But it has hidden depths. Put yourself in the West chair. They bid to 6 via Blackwood, with your partner on lead. How good is your telepathy? You are willing your partner to lead a club, because you will ruff it and cash ♠A.  Several West's psychic powers were not up to it ... their partners led a heart or a spade, and 6 duly made.

But it's not all about telepathy: suppose West doubles 6. That's what's called a Lightner Double (named after Theodore Lightner who first came up with the idea). It tells partner to make an 'unusual' lead, typically from their longest suit, because that's the suit where doubler will be void. A Lightner double might just get you a top board, as partner will certainly lead a club, and now you have them down 1, doubled.

But wait just a moment! Now put yourself North. You open your 18-count with 1, partner goes crazy asking for aces, and puts you in 6.  West doubles it.  You can rescue the situation by running off to 6NT.  There's no ruff to be had against 6NT.

A pretty hand indeed.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 8/9/22)

You are South, declaring a heart contract. 6 is a fine spot, but let's assume you are in 4 as were most of the field. It doesn't matter: you want to maximize your tricks whatever the contract.

A spade is led, and you win with the ♠A in dummy. Next comes the drawing of trumps, but how?  This combination, where you have 9 trumps, missing only the king and the queen, but holding the jack, ten and nine, is not infrequent. There is a correct way of playing it, so we might as well put it into a writeup.

You lead a heart from dummy, and RHO plays the eight. 

The most reliable way to work out suit combinations is to list all possible layouts, and then take the play that works the most times. You might want pencil and paper, and since you are playing on BBO, then go ahead. (Technically, this is illegal, as one is not allowed to use external aids like a pencil, but hey, it wouldn't be the crime of the century.)

Of course in some layouts, it won't matter what you do. Here is an exhaustive list of the ones that do matter.

West   East
KQ     85
Q      K85
K      Q85
8      KQ5
5      KQ8
-      KQ85

Can you work out which play succeeds in all but one of the relevant combinations? 

Lead a low one from North, and if East plays a low card, play the jack.  If that loses, get back to dummy, lead another low card, and if East plays low again, finesse with the 10. That will bring home the bacon on any of the layouts listed, except the first one, where West has KQ doubleton.  All other strategies lose to at least two combinations.

On the actual layout, as long as you finessed on the first round, you were fine.  Joan Courtemanche, Penny Robertson, Jane Keyte, Ray Carbuhn and Lesley Johnstone were the declarers who got this right. I'm going to assume that if they'd lost the first round to an honour, they would have finessed again.

Examination of suit combinations like this runs into a lot of difficulties because players make illogical deductions based on cards that were played. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Restricted Choice. But the bottom line is: With 9 cards missing the king and the queen, finesse twice.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 1/9/22)

Take a look at the N/S cards here. North has opened 1♠, East overcalls 2.

As you can see, a slam in spades looks easy. In fact, a grand slam was making, as East had the ♠K, singleton. And yet, only one pair reached the slam. How do you think the hand should be bid?

Let's begin with South, who passed originally, with 10 HCP. Now that a spade fit has been discovered, South can count distribution points ... 3 of them in this case, for the singleton heart. That boosts South's total points to 13, and this should be enough for game, even opposite a light 3rd seat opener.  Penny Robertson was the only South to bid a simple 4♠ here, and I think she was on the right track.  (An alternative, if you play splinter bids, would be 4, a jump in the opponents suit to depict spade support, a singleton or void heart, and enough strength to go for game.)  

Some Souths bid 3, a cue-bid raise: not an unreasonable choice, but perhaps not quite doing justice to the hand.

Penny's partner was Fiona Ferwerda. After hearing 4♠, she bid 6♠. That's how to do it!  South says: "I think we can make 4♠."  North says: "In that case, I think we can make 6♠."  This is good bidding.  North didn't wheel out Blackwood, because with a diamond void, knowing how many aces partner has is of little help.

We play bridge in a world of lots of conventions and lots of bidding theory. I love bidding conventions. But there are times, more frequent than one might think, when it's best to just blast away.  This was one such time.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 25/8/22)

Today's deal features an interesting duel between the N/S and E/W players.

Let me present it this way. South deals and opens 2♠, a weak two.

What should West do over that? And what should North do over whatever West does?

West's problem is an ugly one indeed. Mostly, double was chosen, but this has a very significant drawback, one I need hardly point out. Let's just say that at several tables, East's takeout to 4 was not a welcome development. And since you can see North's hand, it will become clear that 4  was unsuccessful. Down 2, 3 or 4 where it was bid.

No, you can't double, you simply can't. When you double, you basically promise hearts, the other major, and you ain't got them. Some lies are white, some are grey, but this takeout double is a big black one. 

One West couldn't see a satisfactory bid, so passed. I don't like that either ... it's like you accept being stolen from. But I will concede this: it's better than a double!

The solution is to overcall 2NT. The points are right (16-18). The spades are right (a stopper or two). The hearts are almost  right: you're meant to have two of them, but singleton ace will have to do. 2NT is a white lie.

As for North, whether West doubles, passes or bids 2NT, North should apply the  Law of Total Trumps and bid 3♠.  North knows of a 9-card spade fit, and in this competitive (or soon to be competitive) auction, should bid ASAP to the 9-trick contract, i.e. 3♠.  Well done to Dianna Middleton, Peter Ferguson and Gordon Travers, all of whom found the blocking 3♠ bid. 

One final point: suppose West had bid the recommended 2NT, and North had bid the recommended 3♠ ... what would you do as East?  No one could blame East for giving  4 a whirl, and there you are, back in the worst of all possible contracts. That's how powerful the Law of Total Trumps is.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 18/8/22)

Try this bidding problem for size.

LHO opens 1♣, RHO responds 1♠.  The question is: should you make a bid here, and if so, what? 

No one could complain about your passing ... after all it's not much of a hand.

But if you choose to do something, it should be double. When the opponents bid two suits, as here, then your low-level double is for takeout, showing a minimum of four cards in the other two suits.  One point to note about this particular takeout double is that you don't have to be short in the suit you are doubling ... all that is required is 4+ cards in both of the unbid suits.

There are two other factors that make the takeout double quite a good idea here. Did you note either of them when given the problem?

First, your side is non-vulnerable. If you win the contract and go down, it will be in 50s. That could be a good score if your opponents can make 110 or 140.  Vulnerability is crucial.

Second, you were dealer and passed. Partner knows you don't have opening strength, and shouldn't 'hang you high' for taking a bid.

Another way to look at this problem is to predict your unhappiness should you pass, and, for example, LHO raises to 2♠, passed back to you. It would be brave to come in now, committing to the 3-level, and yet, you don't much relish the idea of defending 2♠.  This is a common theme in competitive auctions: it is often a good idea to get in early, whilst the auction is low, and then bow out - as distinct from listening, and then having to make a decision at a higher level.

Looking at all four hands, the raise to 2♠ was not what was going to happen. However, the hand record says your side can make 3, with the opponents making 2.  If you come in with a double, then your side is quite likely to steal the contract at 2.  Well done to Rosemary Polya and Marg Ferguson, the two Souths that made the takeout double.  

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 11/8/22)

Today's deal features a technique that is under-utilized in today's game: visualization.

Suppose partner opens 2, a weak two showing about 6-10 HCP and a 6-card diamond suit.

Visualize away ...

Here's what one should 'see'. Partner has 6 diamonds to the ace.  For a vulnerable weak two, that makes sense, right?

So, in a spade contract, perhaps the opponents can take 3 tricks in hearts and clubs. But then you get in, and with a bit of racing luck, have 6 spade tricks. And 4 diamond tricks, because your 4-card diamond suit means you have a 10 card fit. If partner does have the A, then assuming the outstanding diamonds divide 2-1, you have all the diamonds.  6 spades plus 4 diamonds = 10 tricks.

A visualizer, such as Michael McTiernan who faced this problem, will bid 4♠ over 2.  He won't worry about points, or rules, or system, or any of that stuff. He will see that there is a decent chance of making 4♠, which will be a higher scoring game than 5 (and of course, 5 risks losing the first three tricks in clubs and hearts).

Of course, it could become unstuck. There might be a spade to lose. Partner might lack the A (although in that case, perhaps there's compensation elsewhere).  But on balance, it seems 4♠ will likely make.

Today, it comes home with an overtrick. 

Other Souths faced a slightly different problem. Their partners passed, RHO opened 1♣, they overcalled 1♠ and partner bid 2.  Whilst not as clear as opposite the weak two opening, you can make the same visualization. Your Kxxx makes it likely that diamonds are running, and again 4♠ is a worthwhile proposition.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 4/8/22)

Today's deal features a tricky rebid problem for South.  To the untrained eye, the decision might look straightforward, but the field found four different bids, all of which were interesting.

So choose your bid, after partner responds 1♠ to your 1, and then we can discuss it.

Two Souths rebid 2, a definite error. A simple minimum rebid shows about 12-14 HCP, and this hand was considerably stronger. If, on your second bid, you are about to bid a suit that has already been bid by your partnership, you need to come out of the woods with your strength. A minimum rebid (2 or 2♠ here) shows a minimum strength hand. With extra strength, one has to jump.

Accordingly 9 Souths jumped to 3, showing about 15-17 HCP and a good 6-card diamond suit, which is precisely what they had. Hard for me to complain about that.  But I intend to.

One creative South was concerned about not showing the nice 3-card spade support. She jumped to 4♠!  Whilst I admire the general attitude, 4♠ was a mistake on two counts. First, partner has promised only 4 spades, so this was potentially bidding to a 4-3 spade fit. And second, South's hand is just not strong enough to commit to game at this point.  A jump to 3♠ would have avoided the second mistake, and would not be the world's worst choice.

The 3-card spade support is an issue ... it would nice to be able to locate a 5-3 spade fit, and a simple 3 rebid might lose that possibility. There is a solution, and it was found by Simon Tissera. He rebid 2, a phony reverse. The phony bit was that he only had 3 hearts ... he bid a non-suit. But it was actually quite a safe choice, because if partner supports hearts (with four cards), then it implies that she has 5 spades (allowing a safe return to spades). Why?  Because with 4-4 in the majors, partner would have responded 1 not 1♠, bidding 4-card suits up the  line.

The phony reverse here was really very neat, and it worked a treat. Partner rebid 2NT, clearly showing a stopper in the fourth suit, clubs, and Simon gave 3NT a whirl.  There were 9 easy tricks in 3NT.

The only other pair to reach the top spot were guided by North, Alison Simon. She tried 3NT over partner's 3 rebid ... an aggressive but plausible option which got the big payout.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 28/7/22)
There is seemingly no end to the interesting deductions that can be made in bridge.  Here is one of them.
You are West, on lead to South's 4. The auction is somewhat revealing. Have a think about that (in particular the spade situation), select your lead, then click [Show Answer].

It looks instinctive to lead the ♠K, top of a sequence. But what is the spade layout?  You can expect North, who opened 1♠ to have 5.  That leaves 3 cards for South and East. OK, so far?

If South had 3 spades, you might expect she would have supported the spades at some stage. So South probably has 0, 1 or 2 spades. If South has 0 spades, then your spade lead won't help and could do damage, if South could take a useful discard on the North's ace.

The interesting stuff is what happens when South has 1 or 2 spades.  If 1, then your lead is safe enough, but won't do much good. If South has 2 spades, partner has the singleton. Your ♠K drives out the ace and you now have a cashing spade winner, but how will you get in to take it? It's very unlikely that you have an entry. And if partner gets the lead, she won't have a spade to play back to you!

In short, a spade lead can't actually achieve anything, in all likelihood, and you know it. That leaves the simple lead of the unbid suit, diamonds. And as it turns out, the Q lead will get your side a trick ... and if you don't lead diamonds, declarer will take all 13.

Well done to Jane Keyte, Jo Quinlivan, Ray Carbuhn and Joan Craig, all of whom found the Q to obtain a trick for their side.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 21/7/22)

Today's writeup is a little bit naughty, containing some very dubious advice, and I would suggest you do not read it.

But you're still reading, aren't you?

There were two consecutive boards where a player has a tricky decision after RHO's opening bid.  The first was board 3 ... and this one is board 4.

After two passes, your RHO opens 1. What's your poison?

Frankly, nothing fits. You have the points and shape for a 1NT overcall, but alas, no diamond stopper.

What about double?  What will you do when partner responds 1? Self-destruct, I would say.  Bidding 1♠ over 1 shows more strength and more spades. Any other bid is out of the question. And passing could leave you in a ridiculous 4-2 fit.

Speaking of passing, passing 1 is like conceding the match before the kickoff. In reality, you'll find yourself trying to defeat 1, which turns out to be impossible.

So now the naughty bit. Your best option, in my humble opinion, is to overcall 1♠ on a four-card suit. Sacrilege, I know, but the suit is very strong, and most importantly, it makes your subsequent bidding easier.  You might not get to the right contract, but at least your stress levels will be low.

Overcalling 4-card suits at the one-level is a slightly controversial subject in the world of bridge, but when all the other options are unpalatable, it should be considered.  Just make sure your suit is a strong one: the AKJ9 fits the bill nicely.  Here, it works a treat, getting you to a making spade partscore.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 14/7/22)

Today's deal is illustrative of what the best players do at the bridge table. It's well worth examining.

You're sitting West, defending South's 4.  You lead ♠K, and dummy wins ♠A (partner ♠5, declarer ♠2).  Declarer now leads dummy's three top diamonds, on which he discards the ♠3, ♠9 and ♠10.  Next comes A, K, Q.  Partner follows twice, then discards a diamond on the third round.

So far, you've just been following suit, but your time will come. My question is: how do you defend the hand?  Declarer's next card is going to be a little club, and you need to be ready for that.

To get the play right, you have to count, keep counting, and then count some more. You have to count as you go. If you can build up the distribution of the unseen hands, you will almost surely know what to do.

Let's try it here. At trick 2, we discover that declarer has no diamonds. He discards three spades which means, unless declarer is playing a very strange game, he started with four spades in total (having played one at trick 1).

Then he plays three top hearts, and you discover that partner had two. A bit of subtraction will tell you that declarer started with 6 hearts.

You've isolated declarer's shape, using the simplest of arithmetic. He is 4-6-0-3 distribution.  Now, in clubs, declarer has either Jxx or xxx. If he has the jack, then there's nothing more to this hand: declarer will lose just one club trick.

But if declarer has three little clubs (as he did), you're in with a chance. When declarer leads a low club from hand, play low. The ♣K will win. Declarer returns to hand by trumping a spade and plays another club. Here's your moment: you duck again, without a care in the world. (And you truly don't have a care: you have worked out that your ♣A is always going to take a trick.)

Declarer is faced with a complete guess: whether to play you for the ♣A, or the ♣J.  In the latter case, your partner would have made a straightforward play of not taking his ♣A on the first round of the suit. Declarer is in fact quite likely to try the ♣10 on the second round of the suit, and miraculously a second trick has come to the defence.

What's the moral of this (rather boring) little story? It is that if you keep counting as you go, you will find yourself not quite in the usual defensive fog of "not knowing what's going on". Give it a try!

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 7/7/22)

Last week's VHotW featured a bizarre deal involving a 12-trick hand. This week, let's return to Planet Earth with a more important bread-and-butter problem.

The question is: how should this be bid, against silent opponents?  I'll start you off with 1♠ as North.

Decide on the (one and only one) correct auction, then click [Show Answer].

South's response:  The correct response to 1♠ is an anti-intuitive 1NT. This is one of bridge's problem bids. Normally 1NT is bid on a balanced sort of hand, but the 1NT response to partner's suit opening is different. It's a coded response, showing 6 to 9 HCP and nothing that can be bid at the 1-level. 

Bidding a new suit at the 2-level promises 10 or more HCP, thereby making the 1NT range 6-9. Indeed South's hand is by no means the most unbalanced one could have for this bid.

North's rebid: The correct rebid is 3♠, showing around 16-18 HCP and a strong 6-card suit. When you rebid a suit that has already been bid by the partnership, it is essential that you show your strength at the same time. That's because bidding suits that have already been bid (by one partner or the other) tend to be non-forcing.

Several Norths bid just 2♠.  South had no reason to bid over that: she would have thought North had as few as 11 or 12 HCP to go along with her spades.  2♠ is too little.

One North rebid 4♠.  That was too much. Put her 17 HCP opposite partner's possible 6, and there's insufficient overall strength for game.

South's rebid: South has no help (literally) in spades, but does have 8 HCP. That's in the top-half of her 6-9 range. So she should try 3NT. She has no idea whether 3NT will make, or how it might make, but better that than simply passing partner in 3♠.  The saying is: 'tis nobler to go down in game.

As it turned out, 3NT was a perfectly reasonable contract that made without much trouble.

Well done to these 5 pairs who had the officially approved auction:
  Carolyn & Bob Hart
  Shirley Stewart - Joan Courtemanche
  Deena Pathy - Gordon Travers
  Gordon Shinewell - Geoffrey Schroder
  Pam Richardson - Mary Day

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 30/6/22)

I couldn't not have this deal as HotW.   What a hand!  You're the dealer, everyone vulnerable. Two questions for you:

1) If the rules of bridge were changed and you were only allowed one bid per deal, what would your bid be?

2) In the real bridge world, what's your strategy for bidding this?

1) If I just had one bid, it would be 6♠. Most of the time, both spades and diamonds run, and there's your 12 tricks. Or if one of the suits doesn't, then perhaps partner has the ♣A. Or even lacking the ♣A, perhaps they lead a heart and your partner has the ace there.

Nevertheless, 7 of the 11 Norths chose to end up in 4♠. If they weren't customers and therefore always right, I might accuse them of being just a little bit wimpish.

2) How might one bid the hand? One option is to open 2♣, planning to bid the spades and then the diamonds. If partner prefers diamonds, then go for the safer 6 ... for example, partner might have a singleton spade and 3 diamonds, in which case 6 is better: you might be able to ruff the spades good. That was the approach taken by Pamela Mathie, Joan Courtemanche, Fiona Ferwerda and Dianna Middleton. No wimps they! When partner was happy to play in spades, they bid 6♠ and there was not the slightest problem in the play.

FYI, a very old-fashioned but useful once-in-a-decade convention is an opening bid of 4NT. This should be played as a specific ace ask.  Partner responds:
  5♣ = no aces
  5 / 5 / 5♠ / 6♣ = ace of that suit
  5NT = two aces

Opener then names the contract.

That way you could give 7♠ a try if partner shows the club ace.  This came up for my partnership in a national event in 2004, and it worked a treat. I reckon it's due to happen again soon.

Finally, one further player needs congratulation. Mary Day sat East. Her RHO opened 2♣, then bid spades and diamonds before jumping  straight to 6♠.  She led a club, cashing her partner's ace, and salvaging a 30% score against one of the slam bidders. Obviously she didn't want to lead one of declarer's suits, and in choosing between hearts and clubs, she had a bit to go on. When players jump to slam without ace-asking, they often have a void (which renders the ace-ask less than useful). With 6 hearts and only 2 clubs, she suspected declarer was void in hearts, and therefore led the shorter suit. An excellent inference that paid off. All the other declarers made 13 tricks.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 16/6/22)

This deal had points of interest in the bidding and play.

First, the auction: what do you think of the bidding shown here? Let's assume North's 1NT has a range of 15-17.

Second, the play. North is declarer in 3NT. East leads the 7, 3 from dummy, 10 from West.  How do you go about the play to maximize your tricks?

South's invitational-to-game 2NT looks spot on to me. With 9 HCP opposite 15-17, there's a combined range of 24 to 26 HCP.  With South's flat shape, 24 HCP might not be enough, but one can hope that 26 HCP is enough for 3NT.

What should North do with 16, the middle of the range? This is a not uncommon situation, and one has to look a little deeper into the hand to decide whether to accept or reject the invitation.

The two four-card suits provide a little bit of extra hope for developing an extra trick, but the real swinger is the 109.  That doesn't contribute a point, but in many situations will contribute a trick. For example, put it opposite South's actual QJx. You will get 3 or 4 tricks, depending on the location of the K.  But make North's diamonds A432, again opposite QJx.  Now 4 diamond tricks is out of the question, and you need a little bit of racing luck to even make 3 tricks. Similar calculations will apply opposite different South holdings.

So 3NT, accepting, looks good to me. Naomi Peters and Karen Jorin were one pair who conducted this simple but finely-judged auction.

Now to the play in 3NT. You win the J at trick 1: have you decided what to do at trick 2?

There are four top tricks in the black suits, and 3 or 4 in diamonds, depending on the location of the king. It looks  for all the world as if East has A: she has led this suit to a blind auction, so it's likely her best one. So there's another heart trick to be won by leading towards the K.

The only possible extra trick is in clubs, should the suit divide 3-3, but even if it does, you still have much work to do to generate your extra red suit tricks. The club suit is a furphy.

The correct, and almost completely safe play is to play back a heart at trick 2. This will generate your extra heart trick, and provide you with a safe entry to dummy to take the diamond finesse.  If East wins the heart, and continues the suit, you take the K and the diamond finesse. If it works, there's your overtrick. If not, you still have a 100% safe 9 tricks (as East can do no better than to win the diamond  and take two more heart winners).

The continuation of hearts at trick 2 looks strange, but it is the correct play. Did you find it?

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 9/6/22)

This explosive deal struck me as having several instructive bidding decisions.

Let's start by giving you North's. When RHO opens 1♣, would you do anything? And if so, what? (Everyone is vulnerable.)

Don't tell me you got fooled by that bit about being vulnerable!  This hand has pluses (the nice shape) and minuses (the singleton king), but the bottom line is that you have 8 HCP and a decent 5-card heart suit. You should bid it. Who knows what might happen next, but disrupting the opponents is usually a good idea.

I fully admit that I might not have the world with me on this, but this is my column, so sue me.

Agreeing with me were Sandra Mansell, Margot McCluskey, Jenny Matheson, Cathy Wilson and Anna Kearon, all of whom bid 1.

Other non-pass alternatives were 1 (selected by a couple of players) and 2NT (the Unusual Notrump, showing the two lowest unbid suits).  1 emphasises the wrong suit (you want partner to lead a heart, not a diamond, to a possible spade contract declared by East). 2NT takes you to the 3-level, which even for me, is a bit too high. Still, better a madman than a wimp.

All right then, take a look at all four hands, in particular East's monster.

Whatever North does, I think East should bid 6♠.  Partner has an opening hand ... surely 6♠ should be there. At the very worst, you may need a finesse. And I doubt even the world's most elite players would have methods that could find a grand slam here.  

No one bid 6♠ directly, but Dianna Middleton, Yuko Yoshida, Dorothy Stewart, Geoffrey Schroder and Moya Crowle all bid to the slam eventually, some with the 'help' of Blackwood, which is actually of no use at all, given your heart void.

One might think that would be the end of it, but perhaps not. Cast your eyes over the South cards, with partner overcalling  1.  Do you think 6♠ will make? I certainly would, even with my ace and a bidding partner. If East has used Blackwood, then they know they're not missing two aces. And if they haven't used Blackwood, then that's because East has a heart void, which is hardly a surprise given our 6-card support.

I think there's a strong argument for sacrificing in 7. It certainly would have worked, salvaging an averagish sort of score rather than a near bottom. 7 loses only three tricks, -800, compared to the -1430 you were headed for. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one found it, but it was a real possibility.  North could have proudly said in the post-mortem, "I bid 1 so that we could go down 800 in 7 doubled".

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 2/6/22)

Looking at the hand-record, I didn't think this deal was writeup-worthy, as it was too straightforward.  But I was wrong.

E/W only are vulnerable, South is the dealer and passes, and if West starts with a spade bid, North will double for takeout.

How should the E/W hands be bid? In my opinion there is only one right answer.

One West passed in 2nd seat: that was too little.

Another West opened 4♠: that was too much. It's a recipe for going two down, vulnerable, against opponents who can only make a partscore. But as it happened, it worked: 4♠ being allowed to play for 10 easy tricks.

Seven Wests opened 1♠: better, but not just right. Mostly they were able to get to game, but of course it did leave the field wide open for their opponents to find a 5♣ or 5 sacrifice.  1♠ is not the world's worst bid, but it does lack a pre-emptive effect. Note that it does not satisfy the  Rule of 20.

Only one West, Anne Heyes, made the correct opening bid of 3♠.  She applied the Rule of 2 and 3, bidding two tricks more than she had in hand, vulnerable. Her hand had 6 spade winners (assuming you have to lose to ♠A) plus the ♣A, making 7 tricks. Add two to that, and you come up with a 3♠ opening.  This bid is designed to pre-empt the opponents whilst accurately describing your playing strength to your partner.

After 3♠ is doubled for takeout, East knows partner has about 7 tricks. Her two aces take it to 9, and the ♣K is  very likely a trick, particularly given that if the ♣A is with the opponents it's likely to be North. East should raise 3♠ to 4♠. Notice how this shuts out N/S. South could hardly bid over 4♠ and North has said her all as well. The minor suit sacrifice is lost.

The Rule of 2 and 3: don't leave home without it.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 19/5/22)

A double-banger problem for you today, each solved by just one player.

1) RHO deals and opens 1♣. Your bid?

2) RHO deals and opens 1. Your bid?

1) RHO opens 1♣.

This situation is not uncommon: RHO opens in your suit. Very often it is clubs, where the opening doesn't really promise many clubs, but it can happen in any suit.

My general advice is to pass (for the moment) in these circumstances. Perhaps you can bid the suit yourself later, and partner should understand what's going on. Meanwhile, if the opponents end up declaring in this suit, who are you to complain?

But there's an alternative, one that was found only by John Robertson, and that is to overcall 1NT, showing a balanced hand of about 16-18 HCP, with a stopper. That is a pretty good approximation of the hand: the strength is right, the stopper is certainly right (!), and it's almost balanced. The 1NT overcall gets the hand off your chest, and puts you into a comfortable bidding situation, where you can respond honestly whatever partner bids.

And that's what happened: partner Lanny Chan showed spades with a transfer, and they eased into the successful 4♠, no sweat.

Other Easts doubled 1♣, pitching themselves into a most uncomfortable position, without any happy ending.  (And  it could have been worse: partner might have bid hearts, your doubleton, and then you would really be in a mess.)

2) RHO opens 1.

Here the decision is closer.  Some doubled, others overcalled 2♣. With 17 HCP, it's a line-ball decision whether the hand is too strong for a simple overcall. The successful East was Gabrielle Costello. who doubled 1.  Her partner, Mary Buchanan, judged very well with her response to the takeout double. She jumped to 2♠, counting something for her 5-card suit and nice distribution. This emboldened Gabrielle to go to 4♠. Well bid!

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 19/5/22)

This deal caught my eye today. The auction you see here is what transpired at most tables.  The 2 response to 2♣ was a negative, although in some cases it was described as 'waiting' (whatever that means!).

2 was raised to game, and there they rested. A few Wests, upon hearing 2, simply jumped to 4.

No one as much as sniffed at slam, which is a shame, as it's virtually laydown. West can ruff her two low diamonds, and take the club finesse for an overtrick.

Your job is to critique the auction. Did anyone do anything wrong, and if so what ... or was this just a case "C'est La Vie": perfection at bridge is not possible.

On the surface, no one did anything wrong. West had a minimum 2♣ opener, and couldn't do much more than she did.  East's 2 shows 0-7 HCP, which is what she had, and her 4 showed a maximum in her range, with heart support.

But in most text books, there is some fine print on the strength range of the 2 response. It says that with a 7 HCP consisting specifically of an ace (4) and king  (3), the hand should be upgraded to a positive response. The reason is that aces and kings are generally undervalued by the 4-3-2-1 scheme, so such a 7 HCP hand is usually worth more than 7.

Just one East, Anne Heyes, recognized this, and she gave a positive response  of 3♣, showing a 5-card suit.  She gets this week's elephant stamp for accurately judging her hand. It didn't lead to a slam, but it probably should have, when she supported her partner's hearts.

The takeaway: A 7-point hand consisting of an ace and a king should give a positive response to 2♣.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 12/5/22)

You are East playing 5♣ after an auction that I find ... unconvincing. But more of that later.  The play's the thing.

South leads the ♠3 to North's ♠A, who returns the ♣J.

What do you play to that trick, and why?

You are missing two clubs: the king and the jack. The a-priori odds are that they split 1-1, but only by a narrow margin of 51% to 49%.   In fact the margin is greater than that, almost 60%, because of the bidding. It appears North has 6 or 7 spades, South 3 or 4. That leaves much more room in the South hand to have the last remaining club.

BUT, the bidding reveals another aspect. North has opened the bidding ... E/W have 25 HCP to N/S's 15. Most of these points will be with the opener, so that strongly suggests than North has the ♣K.  So the distributional odds are outweighed by the HCP odds, and the correct (and winning play) is to finesse the club.  Gordon Travers did so, successfully, as did Anna Kearon and Gordon Shinewell on slightly different plays.

I thought it was a nice try from John Robertson, sitting North, to lead that sneaky ♣J from ♣KJ doubleton.

Now, to my quibbles with the bidding. West's 3♣ doesn't seem enough to me. The ♠Q is certainly not worth 2  HCP, but the singleton should be worth 3. That gives West 12 total-points: was 3♣ enough?  I think West should have bid 4♣, but no-one did. 

And finally, what about South?  2♠ was almost a universal choice, but I much prefer the 4♠ bid made by Julie More, preempting.  Great bid!  That weak and distributional South hand needs to apply pressure to the opponents. And it worked by silencing West.  East came back bravely with 5♣, but now Janice Meldrum, sitting North, was convinced to go on to 5♠.  When that was passed out and defeated only two tricks, Julie and Janice had a most deserved near top.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 5/5/22)

When looking for a hand to write up today, it was hard to go past board 1 ...

Partner deals and opens 1♠. Your bidding plan, please.

Few would have the super-sophisticated methods to bid this hand accurately. And those that do might find it a pyrrhic victory. Suppose you scientifically find out that there are two top clubs to lose, so you stop accurately in 4♠ or 5♠.  The problem is that your opponents might listen in on your auction, as is their right, and know to lead a club.

It's often best to blast hands like these, so that no-one, including yourself, knows who can make what.  I would wheel out Old Trusty, Blackwood, and bid a small slam if partner shows one or two aces. Yes, we might be off two cashing aces, but the opponents haven't taken them yet. 

And wouldn't it be a buzz if partner showed 3 aces! Now you can bid 7NT, counting 5 spades, 6 hearts and the two minor suit aces.

Agreeing with me strategically were Marie Shenker and Terry Passlow.  They asked for aces, got two, and bid 6♠.

There was a funny old accident at another table where Penny Robertson held the South hand. She went the scientific route, responding 2. Partner rebid 2NT. Despairing of finding out what she needed to know, Penny now bid 4NT, ace-asking.  But partner Fiona Ferwerda interpreted 4NT as a quantitative try for slam (as would I).  With her tip-top hand, she accepted by bidding 6NT. Penny was aghast, but what could she do?  With North as declarer, protected from a minor suit lead, 6NT made easily, for a stone-cold top. 

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 28/4/22)

Two questions for you today.

1. Do you agree with the 1 opening?

2. What do you bid next in the auction shown?

1. Assuming you play a 1NT opening as showing 15-17 HCP, this hand technically qualifies, as it has the right points and balanced shape.

However, I strongly agree with the 1 bid chosen. Not only are you top of the range for 15-17, you have a strong 5-card diampond suit (think of it as a length point). Moreover, all your points are in aces and kings, which tend to be undervalued by the 4-3-2-1 point count. The hand deserves an upgrade.

In fact, even on a 16-18 HCP 1NT range, this hand is probably too strong. Indeed, on the famous Kaplan-Rubens hand evaluator (see http://rpbridge.net/cgi-bin/xhe1.pl), it comes to 19 points.

2. Did you realise that partner has shown at least 5 spades?  With 4 spades, she would have made a negative double of 1, showing exactly that number of spades.

In that case, you should give a vigorous support bid in spades.  Either 4♠ , recognizing that you have an effective 19-count, or 3♠ , recognizing that your heart king is a little devalued, due to the 1  overcall on your left.

(If you do bid just 3♠ , then partner should proceed to 4♠, based on the distributional points.)

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 21/4/22)

How would you handle the bidding here, after partner opens 1NT?

What level do you want to reach, and in what denomination?  How do you bid the hand to achieve these aims? (If you bid 2♣ partner will respond 2 - what then?)

With 10 HCP opposite partner's  (for example) 15-17, you want to reach the game level. In fact, your hand is better than 10 HCP, because you should count a length point for the 5-card diamond suit.

Which game?  Forget the diamonds: you can't sensibly get to diamonds in preference to notrumps. However, if partner has 4 spades, you'd like to reach 4♠ in the 4-4 fit.

So apply Stayman, and when partner bids 2, go to 3NT. If partner has 4 spades as well as 4 hearts, she should deduce that you must have spades yourself, otherwise why did you bid Stayman in the first place?

The auction 1NT - 2♣ - 2 - 3NT - 4♠ looks a little weird, but it is the correct way to bid this combination.  Well done to Shyamala Abey (N) - Susan Shand (S), and Valerie Remedios (N) - Lilian Young (S), who were the two N/S pairs to conduct the officially approved auction.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Wednesday 20/4/22)

Today's problem is from an area of bidding theory that is not widely understood. Let's try to clear it up.

Partner's jump to 3♣ shows a good 6-card suit and about 15-17 HCP.  You have enough overall strength for game, but where? 3NT is likely the most profitable spot, but of course you have a weakness in diamonds. Partner, with all those points is likely to cover that problem.

Other possibilties are 4 or 5♣, or maybe even 6♣.

So what do you bid?

One thing I'm sure of: you should not go past 3NT yet. It's far too likely to be the right contract.

But simply bidding 3NT is dangerous. Sure, partner is likely to cover diamonds, but by being declarer, you are exposing his stopper to the opening lead.

There are two alternatives, both of which include their own point of theory.

3 here promises only a 5-card suit. Whilst normally you want to have 6 cards to rebid a suit, in this auction (1minor - 1major - 3minor) only 5 is promised. This is because the strong auction has somewhat preempted the bidding. 3 , looking for a 5-3 heart fit, is a sensible choice here.

3♠ is the other option. This shows a stopper, not length. Spades as a final contract is, for the moment, off the agenda. Partner doesn't have them (otherwise she would have rebid 1♠), and you usually have no more than 4 of them.

New suits in this auction are primarily stopper-showing, angling for 3NT. 3♠  would be my choice on this deal.

Looking at all four hands, it is clear that today you must steer clear of 3NT. The safest spot is 5♣, making easily. 4 will get you extra points, but the 5-2 fit is a little hair-raising. It works though.  

Who did best in real life? No one really. But Louise Leatham, in the problem position,  bid 3. Whilst not doing what 3♠ would do, it at least kept the auction ticking along below 3NT, and left room for partner to give some heart support if she had it. Partner innocently bid 3NT with spades stopped, and on this auction, one could hardly blame North for leading a spade. 13 tricks later, Louise had her shared top. 

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 7/4/22)

I don't condone South's 6 bid here, but wanted to make the play exciting. Actually, 6 is an excellent contract, although getting to it confidently looks difficult.

If you prefer, you can play 5, and try to make an overtrick.

West leads ♣K, you win the ace and lead the 10, on which East plays the 6.

What do you do, and why?

East could have the following holding in diamonds:

1) KJ6
2) K6
3) J6

4) 6

and each is about as likely as any other.

If East has KJ6, you should let the 10 ride.

If East has K6, you should play the Q.

If East has J6, you should play the  A and drop the singleton king.

And if East has singleton 6?  Then you have an inescapable diamond loser, but here it's essential to play the ace.  Why?  Because then you will play on hearts, and assuming that suit divides 3-2, you can chuck your club loser on the third round.  The defence will be welcome to their diamond trick.

That aspect points the way to the correct play of the ace.  It works, and is necessary, in two of the four cases.  Furthermore, in case 2), if East has Kx, then you still will make the slam, as long as East can follow to two rounds of hearts.

And in real life, it's bingo! The singleton king comes down offside.

Counting through the effects of multiple plays one by one, whilst laborious, can be an effective way to work out what to do.

Very very well done to Trish Stewart-Uden who not only bid the slam (via a different, competitive auction), but played it exactly right to chalk up a top board.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 31/3/22)

Here's a question for you: would you prefer to play in a 4-4 fit or a 5-3, in principle?

Answer: the 4-4 fit, in principle. You hope you can draw trumps in 3 rounds, then develop discards in the 5-3 suit. Whereas if the 5-3 fit is trumps, there are no discards to be had from the 4-4 fit.

What about a 4-4 compared to a 5-4 fit? That's trickier. The longer trump fit would seem better, but the same concept applies. In the 4-4 fit, you can draw trumps and then perhaps get a vital discard from the 5-4 side-suit.

Board 13 is a case in point. In 4, you have 3 inescapable losers: two diamonds and a club.

But in 4♠, if spades divide 3-2, there are only two losers! You will draw trumps, then discard a diamond loser on the 5th heart: making 11.

It's a weird game, bridge.

In real life, 4 was ironclad, and yet 4♠ by East can theoretically be defeated ... in practice, it will make an overtrick.

Of course, this issue can not always be diagnosed in the bidding, but bear in mind the beauties of the 4-4 fit.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 24/3/22)

Even the 'smallest' deals can interest the true devotee of the game. Here is one which centres around a possible final contract of 1♣.

I have a number of questions for you.

  1. What should West do after partner opens 1♣?  (For the sake of maximum pain, let's assume 1♣ = 2+.)
  2. If West does pass 1♣, what should North do?
  3. Suppose the final contract is in fact 1♣: what should South lead?

West. If 1♣ is passed out, you could be ending up in a 2-2 fit ... how ridiculous is that? On that basis, it's tempting to jump from the possible frying pan into the possible fire by responding.

I don't think there's a definitive answer, but experience tells me to let sleeping dogs lie. Yes, the contract could be ridiculous, but it could also be your last making spot: partner doesn't have to have short clubs.  On this deal, if you do respond, you will next hear 2NT from partner: how are you feeling now?

If you do choose to respond, I strongly suggest you bid 1, making every effort to keep the level low. Then if partner should happen to rebid 1, you can pass with a sigh of relief, knowing that at least now you are in a 4-3 fit.

North.  It goes 1♣ - pass - pass to you. The guideline in the balancing seat (where 1-suit has been passed around to you) is to mentally add 3 HCP to your hand and bid accordingly. Well, here you have 11 HCP, add 3 to get to 14 "virtual" points.  Now if I heard 1♣ on my right, and I had a 14-point 2-4-4-3 hand, I would pass. I'm not strong enough for 1NT, don't have a 5-card suit to bid, and a double tells a ghastly lie about your spades: promising at least 3 of them when you only have 2.  So I'm with Jenny Matheson who calmly passed out 1♣.  

Now it was up to Jenny's partner Mariette Readsitting South, to lead to 1♣.

South. South is on lead to 1♣ and knows quite a lot. She has 7 HCP, West has fewer than 6 HCP, and partner who has passed it out, even after mentally adding 3 HCP, can't have that much either. Clearly declarer has a very strong hand. When leading around to a strong hand, you want to avoid leading away from unprotected honours, because they often have the effect of giving declarer a trick for free. That rules out a spade and a heart ... I would decide between the minors.  Mariette settled on a diamond lead (leading away from a jack is not particularly dangerous at all), and duly defeated 1♣ by a trick for an excellent score.  A strong partnership result, that.

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 17/3/22)

Test yourself  on this fine little declarer play problem.

You, South, wind up in 2 after East opens 1♣, and your side conducts a transfer sequence.

West leads ♣10, which rides around to your king.

Figuring that East is more likely to have the Q than West, due to the opening bid, you play to the K, then back to the J, winning.  A third round of trumps clears the suit, East having started with Qxx. So far so good.

Next you play on diamonds, leading the king from hand, East winning the ace. East now plays a low spade, and the moment of truth is at hand.

What do you play from hand with ♠KJ9, and why?

You might use the same reasoning as you did for the hearts, figuring that East was more likely to have the spade ace, due to the opening bid.

But you'd be wrong, and a piece of visualization will prove it.

What do you know about East's hand? She has Qxx in hearts, that's 2 HCP, and the A, that's 6. And from West's ♣10 lead, East also has ♣AJ ... brings it to 11 HCP.  All the evidence so far points to East having a balanced hand.

Only two honour cards are unplaced, the ace and queen of spades.  And if East has the ♠A, that takes her count to 15, and would she not have opened 1NT with 15 HCP, balanced?  (Before you make your decision, you might want to ask the opponents about the range for their 1NT opening ... that is your legal right.)

So East probably doesn't have the ♠A, and probably does have the ♠Q (otherwise she might not have opened a balanced 11-count).  You should play the ♠J to this trick, which will ensure you 9 tricks.

The calculation given above is not hard to do, however you have to think of it. The issue of visualization is one of the most challenging of the game ... peering into an opponent's hand and making deductions from it, some of which are negative inferences (if she had this, she wouldn't have done that).

Virtual Hand of the Week (Thursday 10/3/22)

AARRGGHH!  You pick up an absolutely luscious hand, but then RHO ruins all your fun by opening 3.  What do you do?

For the record, the 8 pairs facing this decision bid as follows:
- five overcalled 3♠ 
- three made a takeout double

Which of these choices is the right one, do you think?

I have to admit I was completely befuddled when I gathered this data.

3♠? What if you're left to play there?

Double? This could perhaps work out, but there must be some chance of partner, with a fair number of diamonds, leaving your double in.

I'm not saying I know what to bid. I don't. But making a choice that could result on my side not even getting to game seems wrong. Still, maybe a few Easts know more than me ... Lorraine Pitman and Sandra Mansell were two who managed to reach slam after their first dangerous bid. But 7 of the 11 E/Ws languished in game. When you look at West's hand, you will know this was not optimal.

Actually, I would have got to slam myself, bidding 6♣ directly over 3. And if South had sacrificed 6, I'll try 6♠ next. It won't always work, but at least it will do justice to a hand that has 11 tricks in it, with plenty of chances for a 12th. 

This deal isn't particularly educational ... bidding freak hands is something of a guessing game.  But I write it up because it illustrates a malaise that I am increasingly seeing in bridge: the desire to bid scientifically when you should not.  There is a philosophy rooted in the Acol system: bid what you think you can make.  It has a lot going for it. Here I think I can make 6♣ so I bid it. But many players seem to feel they are not bidding 'properly' when they just make a simple bid suggesting a contract. Sometimes, that's exactly what you should do.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 3/3/22)

It's not often that a 1-point hand presents an interesting bidding challenge, but here is one.  Your partner surprises you by overcalling 1♠.  Next hand bids 2, and you ...?

I was fairly sure no-one would choose what I believe to be the correct bid, myself included. And I was not disappointed.

The Law of Total Trumps tells you to, in a competitive auction, immediately bid to the level equal to your combined trump length.  Well, partner has shown 5 spades, you have 6 of them, for a total of 11. The Law suggests a bid of 5♠ (!), and this idea is supported by your favourable vulnerability (they are, you aren't). 

5♠ just happens to be the correct "par" contract: down one against their making 5.  As it turns out, the law is not an ass.  And of course the huge advantage of bidding 5♠ now is that your LHO, East, may be sucked in and bid 6, missing two aces. 

Several players in this position crept up on things, bidding just 2♠ ("walking the dog") and in a couple of cases this worked spectacularly, when they got to play 4♠.  Nevertheless, in the long run, this is a losing tactic.  I much prefer the immediate 4♠ bid made by Sandra Mansell and Geoffrey Schroder, which stimulated their partner to progress to 5♠ over the opponents' 5.  And Geoffrey landed the big fish, when his opponents overreached to 6

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 17/2/22)

Board 1 today presented a sticky bidding problem that is worth a discussion. LHO deals and opens a weak 2♠, passed around to you.  The field found four different calls here:

Pass
Double
2NT
3 

What would you do?

Here's my analysis:

Pass ... no guts.  Sometimes it's true that if you can't think of a good bid, don't bid at all. That's presumably was the passers' reasoning here. But this hand is simply too strong to let the opponents play 2♠. Even though 2♠ went down, +50 was no compensation for what your side could make, as it turned out.

Double ... no hearts.  A takeout double is not the answer. The odds are strong that partner will bid 3 ... what will you do over that?  Pass, and maybe land in a 4-2 fit. Or bid one of your suits in a 'hail Mary' attempt to get to a winning contract. If I was setting this hand up for teaching purposes, I would have partner bid hearts, and then you would regret it. Learning point made! Alas, today the double did no harm with partner responding in clubs. Lucky.

2NT ... no agreement.  A number of players bid an "unusual" 2NT, thinking to show both minors. But the unusual notrump really only works as a jump bid.  Here I would ask you: suppose you had 16 HCP balanced, with a spade stopper.  If 2NT is for the minors, what are you meant to bid with a normal notrump overcall?

2NT should be natural. It's hard to work out whether the various players who bid 2NT were on a wavelength here with their partners. I know that the pair who got the top E/W score achieved it by accident. West self-alerted 2NT as showing the minors and East bid 3NT, clearly thinking (as I would have) that partner's 2NT was natural.  10 tricks later, they had their top. Lucky, lucky!

That leaves 3 which I'm fairly sure is the best choice. It's not perfect, but it doesn't have any of the obvious flaws of the other calls. 3 is a perfectly valid bid, and if you get the chance, you can follow it up with a club bid later.  So I'm with Dell MacNeil and Ray Carbuhn who were the only Wests to make the simplistic overcall.  

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 11/2/22)

In today's deal, every single declarer found the same initial line of play, but I think the correct play was different. It's 17 to 1 against me, but I'm standing my ground: perhaps this is an example of the lyric: They were all out of step but Jim.

See what you think. You're in 4 as East, and the lead is ♣10. Take it from there.

Every single declarer took the heart finesse at trick 2.  This lost, and those Souths that were canny enough to continue with a black suit, found themselves taking 3 tricks: a spade, a heart and a diamond. The problem for declarer was that they were now stuck on the table. It was not a nice position to be in.

If the heart finesse had won, declarer would be in a far better position. They could take the A and lead a diamond up. If South has A, there's a discard for their losing spade.

My contention is this: the heart finesse was unlikely to gain ... it helps only when North started with K-doubleton. Now try playing a heart to the ace at trick 2, then playing your diamond up. If South has A, then there's your overtrick. If North has A, well you haven't really lost anything.

Maybe I'm tilting at windmills ... it would have been nice to have just one declarer agreeing with me.  But it was not to be.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 10/2/22)

Looking at the hand record, I was interested in what the field would do with this South hand as dealer, no one vulnerable.

What's your poison, and why?

I'm pretty sure you should bid something

Here's a thought: the lower the suit, the more aggressively you should bid it at your first opportunity. Because, later in the auction, it will become more difficult, as you will be needing to raise the level to bid your suit. When you have spades, for example, bidding them up front is not quite as critical: if the hand doesn't fit any particular spade bid, well maybe you'll have the chance to cheaply introduce spades later. But with clubs, it may well be now or never.

One hand proves nothing, but those that passed were unable to catch up later. They did get to introduce their clubs, but partner tended not to co-operate, having heard the original pass.

When I first saw the hand, my instinct was to open 3♣: the suit, although lacking a 7th card, is pretty good, and the two-suited nature of the hand gives it plenty of playing strength. Only Narelle Szuveges was with me, and it worked just fine. Partner Jenny Sinn extended the pre-empt by raising to 4♣ and East took the cautious view and passed. Narelle and Jenny had stolen the contract, with the opposition on for game. 

A number of South's opened 1♣ with varying degrees of success. 1♣ is OK I guess (it conforms to the Rule of 20), but there's little defensive strength, and it doesn't impede the opponents at all.  Some Norths then allowed 4 to play, thinking the opponents would be going down.  I like 1♣ better than pass, which is perhaps not saying much.

Geoffrey Schroder opened 2NT, showing  5-5 in the minors, part of the Multi 2 structure.  (A normal 20-22 2NT opening is built into the 2 bid).  That worked well ... after club bidding by both players, the partnership judged well to bid 5♣ over 4.  Their opponents did well to double 5♣ for down one.

Finally, there was Margaret Skeen who opened 4NT!  This was the Unusual Notrump on steroids.  Partner responded 5♣ and East, suspicious that she was being stolen from, came in with 5.  She was left high and dry there - down one.  Great bidding!

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 9/2/22)

Test yourself in this 3NT contract.

But before we get to that, how do you think the bidding should go after South opens 2♣ and North gives a positive of 2 (a 5-card suit and 8+ HCP)?

Most Souths settled for game, either 3NT or 4, but I think that's a little pessimistic.  South's  KQ10 fleshes out North's suit nicely, and the rest of South's hand is not too bad either. Just two Souths had the courage to go for slam, ending up in excellent 6 contracts.

For game purposes, we've been here before. There are more matchpoints to be earned in notrumps than hearts ... as there are no ruffing options for South, it seems that notrumps is likely to make the same number of tricks as hearts, resulting in an extra 10 points. The auction shown above seems sensible.

Now to the play in 3NT. West leads ♣4 and East follows ♣2.  What do you do?

There are 11 tricks easily available: 1 spade, 5 hearts, 3 diamonds, and 2 clubs, after you knock out the ♣A.

The twelfth trick can come from one of two sources: a successful finesse in spades (East holding ♠K), or an extra  diamond trick, if that suit splits favourably.  The trick is to take both chances.

Only two declarers did so, Rosemary Polya and Colin Walker.  The remainder didn't, which certainly justified their decision to stay out of slam!  It's really no more complex than taking your chances in the correct order.  First thing is to knock out the ♣A, which surely resides with West. Let's say West wins ♣A and plays a third round. Throw a spade from dummy, and play all your hearts, then three rounds of diamonds, ending in dummy. 

If dummy's last diamond is good, that's your extra trick. If not, you can try the spade finesse at trick 12.  (There is a tiny chance you will make only 10 tricks, if West happens to win a singleton ♠K, but you shouldn't worry about that.)

As it turns out, diamonds divided 3-3, and Rosemary and Colin took their 12 tricks to share the top.

Why a top? Because the two pairs that bid to 6 were truly unlucky. North was the declarer, and both their Easts hit on a spade lead, the only lead that stopped the combination play described above. Declarer had to finesse, and when it lost, West took the setting trick with the ♣A.  This was a deal in which the strong hand needed to become declarer.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 4/2/22)

I don't know what to make of today's deal ... all I know is that it is a worthy candidate for "Hand of the Day".  I won't pose it as a problem, because if I did, I would advise you to do the wrong thing at every turn.

The auction you see was spectacular. The star was Sue Read, sitting North. Undeterred by the adverse vulnerability, she bid her clubs then her spades at the 4-level. If she were non-vulnerable I would call that a clear-cut auction, but vulnerable it took a lot of courage.

And boy did it work!  West did very well to push on to 5, but South Penny Blankfield went on to 5♠ with her wonderful black-suit fit. The play was  impressive also. East led A, ruffed, and now Sue could in practice have made all 13 tricks. But that entailed some risk ... if she went to the ♣A to take the spade finesse, and it lost, the defence might well then get a club ruff, defeating the contract by two tricks for -500, a disaster  against a non-vulnerable E/W game.

Instead she cashed the ♠A (maybe the king would fall singleton), assuring her of a score no worse than -200, and a near top.

Two other tables had spectacular results also. At one, East played 4, North not having bid, and Ramona Enconniere quite sensibly led the ♣A, trying for a cashout. When partner followed with the ♣2, might that have been a suit preference signal for a low suit?  Ramona must have thought so, because she now switched to a diamond, and became the only player to hold East to 10 tricks.

For the flip side, what about this for a result?  Deena Pathy opened 2♣ as East, and Gordon Travers, playing a superior scheme of responses, bid 2 showing 0-4 HCP. Now Deena made a calculated gamble by bidding 6!  That made West the declarer, and North quite reasonably led the ♠A. The rest is history.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 3/2/22)

Today's deal involves a double decision for East. What do you think is the correct bid after RHO's 1 opening?

Suppose you bid 4, which may be wise or unwise ... what do you do if the auction then comes back to you with RHO's 5?

It's hard to over-emphasize the importance of this situation. There is one, and only one, correct way to bid this hand. Every other way is 100% wrong. There's a big statement for you.

When you hold a pure pre-emptive hand like this: not a lot of high-card strength, but a great big long suit, you should do the following: pre-empt as high as you dare (taking the vulnerability into account), and then be never heard from again.  (The only exception to this second part is if partner makes some sort of forcing bid, such as Blackwood: that won't happen here as partner is a passed hand.)

The principle is this: you pre-empt them, and then assume that the pre-empt has done its dirty work and they have bid to the wrong contract. This is usually the case.

So this powerful heart suit, not-vulnerable, is easily good enough for a 4 pre-empt. You have somewhere between 7 and 8 tricks on your own: if the opponents have a game, then 4 will be a good sacrifice. And if they don't have a game, they may try one anyway, and even if they defend, 4 could make, or be a decent sacrifice against their partscore. There are just so many ways for 4  to work.

And once they bid over 4, it's up to your partner to make any further moves.

As it turns out, their 5 (or 4♠) doesn't have a prayer, but you can hardly expect them to meekly pass out your 4.  Your 4 won't make either: three rounds of diamonds destroys it.

Julie More, Maggie Kelly and Anna Kearon were the three Easts that overcalled 4 and then shut up, defeating the opponents' contract by various numbers of tricks.  

A few East/West pairs did bid 4 but then carried on to 5 creating an even bigger minus for themselves.  

And a number of Easts bid less than 4 (1 or 3) and made up for it by bidding more hearts later.  By this time, their opponents had learned enough about the hand to let E/W stew in their heart contracts.

Pre-empters: give it your best shot at your first bid, then shut up.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 2/2/22)

I found this bidding problem extremely interesting, not that I have a definitive solution to it. Partner's auction suggests a balanced 12 to 14 HCP hand.  It raises many questions about what to do next, in particular ...

- game or slam?

- if slam, will you ask for aces, and if so, how do you do that?

- hearts or notrumps (or even spades)?

What are your answers to these questions?  What's your next bid?

Here's the way I see it, with no warranty offered.

West has a powerful hand, and should look for a slam. I of course could be cheating,  because East had an absolute maximum, and slam was there.  Still, the heart suit is very powerful. And whilst the singleton K is perhaps not that great, if partner has the ace, then it works fine. You can visualize discarding your losing club on the A, for example. Even if partner has only Q, that might be OK. I think those that settled for game were being unduly cautious.

As for denomination, forget the spades. For starters, partner probably doesn't have them (didn't bid 1♠ over 1), and you already have a presumed 8+ card fit in hearts. 

The decision between hearts and notrumps is more interesting. If you're only going to bid game, I recommend 3NT. Go for the extra 10 points. There could be danger in diamonds, but it's relatively low risk, given you have the king.  Those that did bid 3NT, including Kerri Jones, Michael Ryan, Moira Hecker, Ros Davies and Jo Quinlivan tended to get better scores than the 4ers.

If you want to go for slam, then hearts is safer. Whilst there's still an extra 10 points to be had in 6NT, the best strategy when bidding marginal slams is to play the safest one, because you can expect to score very well for bidding and making any close slam. 

For slam purposes, this deal is probably one for Old Trusty: Blackwood. If partner has at least 2 aces, then go for it ... bid 6.  Whether you do this via a Gerber 4♣ (my recommendation after the natural 1NT rebid), or 4NT, is up to your own partnership agreement. Mary Adams asked for aces, got the delightful 3-ace reply, and duly bid 6 for a near top.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 27/1/22)

A declarer-play problem for you today. You are West, playing in 4♠ on North's lead of J.

What do you play from dummy, ace or small?

Suppose you win dummy's A, rightly or wrongly.  What next?

Who has the K?  Not North, surely. Only a lunatic would lead the J from a holding that includes the king.  (If North held KJ10, then maybe the jack could be plausible, but North cannot have that.)

No, South has the K, and playing low here in the hope of winning a cheap trick with your queen is futile. If you do play low, as a number of declarers did, then South will win K, and return a diamond for North to ruff. Down you go, when the heart finesse loses later. 

You should go up with the A at trick 1, and draw trumps. You can then lead 10: South will win the K, but if she still remains with 9x, that 9 can be finessed.

Drawing trumps should be easy, but there is a small point of technique involved. Do not play ♠Q on the first round, as some did. If North should happen to have all four outstanding spades, her jack will take a trick. You should start the trumps with the ace. If either opponent shows up with all four trump, then they can be finessed.  4-0 breaks are not unheard of.

Good work by Brian Morrow and Lanny Chan, the only declarers that got tricks 1 and 2 correct.

Other declarers made 10 tricks when North didn't lead their singleton diamond. I'm sure I've written this here before, but side-suit singleton leads to trump contracts should be just about automatic. Some Norths were distracted when their partner made a dodgy 1 overcall, but it's not really an excuse. You need to have a really really good excuse to avoid the singleton lead.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 26/1/22)

The most satisfying bridge deals are those that present interest in both the bidding and the play. This is one of them.

If you aren't going to reach the excellent 6♣ (and it's not easy to find a way to do so) then you want to be in 3NT with its top 10 tricks and a score of 630, compared to at most 620 in 5♣, if it makes an overtrick.

North has a gruesome rebid problem after South rebids 2♣: there's enough strength for game, and even though one is mindful of the advantages of 3NT, can one really do that with only Jx in both unbid suits? And what if partner, improbably, has 3-card heart support ... then you may belong in 4.

So one has to hand it to Lyndon Charlesworth who was the only North with the courage to jump to 3NT over 2♣ ... what a well deserved equal top that was!

Only an equal top because Adrienne Reid, holding the South cards, rebid 1NT after the 1 response, raised effortlessly to 3NT. I think I would have made the dull 2♣ rebid myself, but the choice of 1NT has lots of merit ... well done to her.

Now on to the play in 5♣. Let's say West starts with a small spade (as most did) to East's ♠K ... how do you play it?

And as a bonus question: what if West had led a diamond instead (to East's Q)?

It's hard to muck up a trump holding of KQ65 opposite AJ9832, but that's what most declarers  did.

After a spade lead, you want to set up at least one extra heart winner on which you can discard your losing diamond. Christine Walker didn't find that difficult at all. She drew trumps with the ♣A and ♣J, then started on the hearts, A, K and  ruff. Hearts divided 4-2, so there was still a good heart out. She crossed to the ♣K to ruff another heart, setting up dummy's fifth heart. Now she lost her inevitable spade, won the diamond return with the A, ruffed a spade, and discarded her last diamond  on the established heart. 12 tricks for a third top.

It didn't seem difficult, but the fact is that no one rings a bell when you are about to do something wrong. Many many declarers drew trumps in an opposite way: the played the ♣K and ♣Q, and, disastrously, followed with the ♣2 and ♣3. Now there was no trump entry to dummy, and only 11 tricks.  Such little things!

Oh, and on the more dangerous diamond lead? Here you need to establish the heart without losing the lead. You can afford to play the ♣A, but must now turn your attention to hearts, using the ♣K and ♣Q as later entries. 

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 21/1/22)

Today's deal looks dull, but isn't. It in fact illustrates an obscure but rather fun point of card play. There was a top on offer if you knew it.

You are in 3NT as East, and South leads a diamond, which scares you not one bit.  North discards a heart on this trick.

There are 11 top tricks (3 spades, 2 hearts, 5 diamonds, 1 club) and seemingly no chance at all for a twelfth. But there is in fact a small chance: how do you go about taking it?

The small chance is a squeeze. You must hope that one opponent has the sole guard in hearts and clubs, and that the run of the other two suits forces her to unguard one of them. When North shows out on the opening diamond lead, it is not impossible that she has 6+ hearts and 4+ clubs, which will set her up.

To make the squeeze work, you must do the obscure thing mentioned: you must rectify the count by playing a low club from both hands, losing the one trick you certainly have to lose. Squeezes work best when declarer needs the rest of the tricks ... this is the the way to maximize the pressure on the opponents.

Suppose you duck a club at trick 2, and for the  sake of argument, the defenders win and play a spade ... nothing else is better. You win that, and take all your spade and diamond winners (discarding clubs from West on the fourth and fifth diamonds).  This leaves:

         North
                 QJ9
                ♣ KJ
West               East
 K42               A7
♣ 8                ♣ A4
         
         South

                ♠ 10
                 103
                ♣ Q

You'll notice that North has 5 cards, and the others only 4. North is yet to discard on declarer's last winner, and what will it be?  If she throws a heart, then West's hearts are good; if she throws a club, then East's clubs are good. All declarer has to do is to remember, when she next plays the ♣A whether the ♣4 is now a winner.  If it isn't, she plays A, K and 4, and looks suitably shocked when the 4 wins the trick.  Playing a squeeze like that should make your day, and the only point of technique required was to rectify the count by ducking the club.

No one got the play completely correct (including the robot), but John Enconniere came closest. He did in fact rectify the count by ducking a club, and whilst the rest of the play wasn't quite right, he made 12 tricks when North erred on discarding.  

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 20/1/22)

How's this for a problem to be hit with on board 1? Partner opens with 2♠, 6-10 HCP and a 6-card spade suit. What do you do?

If you think you can bid this scientifically, finding out whether you can make a slam, then I'm all ears.

As long as you survive the hearts, then surely you will make slam: the odds are heavily in favour of having no spade losers, and your diamonds will take care of everything else.

If partner has the A or K or a singleton or void, then that would be great. 

And if partner doesn't have heart control, then they still need to lead hearts to beat your contract: if they don't, declarer's hearts will be discarded on the diamonds. How likely is the heart lead? Nobody knows. If opening leader has the A, then maybe it will be led, and down you go. But if not, then it's likely they will lead something else.

I think the chance of partner controlling the hearts, combined with the possibility that the opening lead is not in hearts, makes it more likely than not that slam will make, and would recommend going to 6♠.

Two players agreed with me: Elizabeth Gibas and Lilian Young: I applaud their judgment, if not their luck (both opening leaders found the killing heart lead!)

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 19/1/22)

Not too many declarers were faced with this problem, but those that did were unable to find the right play. See if you can.

You're in 6 (although if you are not in slam, the declarer play problem is the same): you are trying to make 12 tricks. Let's say South leads J and North discards a club on this. How do you go about it?

There's an old saying: two chances are better than one. (If this isn't an old saying, it should be.) Here, you have 11 top tricks (8 hearts, 2 spades, 1 club) and there are two chances for a 12th: the K and getting a third spade trick by finessing someone's ♠Q.

The trick is to take these chances in such a way that if the first one doesn't work out, then you still have the option to try the second one.  It's not totally obvious how to do this: if you start by finessing in spades, and it loses, then you are down, losing to the A as well. Or if you lead up to the K hoping the ace is onside, and it isn't, you quickly lose two diamond tricks.

The correct play, after taking the A and K, is to cash the ♣A, discarding a diamond from your hand. Now ruff a club and lead your last remaining diamond up. If South has the A, then there's your 12th trick. But if North takes the K with the  A, you can ruff the next diamond, and hope to sniff out the ♠Q later. Well done if you found this neat combination play.

Two declarers didn't get the chance to show their wares.  Rosie Richmond and Faye Norton-Old were the two Souths that led the Q (top of the sequence) to East's slam, reaping the first two tricks. This was the correct lead both in theory and practice ... it could have worked in several other ways as well, and had the added advantage of being reasonably safe.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 14/1/22)

Try this rebid problem, which stumped much of the field today.

Partner opens 1 and you correctly respond 1♠, the first order of business being to check out whether there's a 4-4 spade fit. Partner rebids 1NT, showing a balanced opening hand weaker than whatever your 1NT opening bid means.

Now what?

There are several possible final contracts. You may belong in 3NT, if partner can cover the hearts. Failing that, you have at least a 9-card diamond fit, so perhaps 5 is the go. Even 6 if partner has the right cards. Then there's a possible 4♠ in a strong 4-3 fit, which could score very well if 3NT is not playable.

The problem is: you cannot find out.  Or if  you can find out, via some super-sophisticated gadgetry, then even if you avoid one partner forgetting the system, you clue the opponents in on how to defend. 

The fact is that in these situations, simplicity is best, whether you're a beginner, an expert or a world champion.  You don't have an 8-card major suit fit. You do have enough strength for game. Ergo, bid 3NT and let nature take its course. If the opponents can defeat you in hearts, then too bad: it's not likely (after all, partner has to have her points somewhere) and the cost of trying to find out whether that's the case is prohibitive.

A number of Souths flirted with dangerous bids like 3 (is that forcing?) or 5, or a checkback bid, but mainly they came a cropper. Bob Leighton, Pip Liebelt and Faye Bell bid the honest 3NT, getting to the correct contract with a minimum of fuss.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 13/1/22)

Try this opening lead problem. East has shown about 18-19 HCP, and ended up in 3NT.

What's your choice?

It would be a mistake to lead your longest and strongest suit, hearts. In a million years, it could do no good.  But it could easily do lots of harm.

West has at least four hearts, declarer presumably at least a doubleton. That leaves partner with at most a doubleton. Even if that doubleton allows hearts to be eastablished (give partner a miraculous KJ doubleton), it won't help, because the ace will be held up until the second round, and any entry you might have wlil only be available on the next deal.

On the flip side, leading away from that holding could easily cost a trick (for example, declarer with AJ and dummy the king).

In summary, the heart lead is futile and dangerous:  choose another suit.

Clubs is a non-starter - after all declarer did open the suit. It's between spades and diamonds. Two arguments point to the diamond lead. First the 109x is nice to lead from: you can lead the 10 (top of a sequence) to help develop whatever diamonds partner might have. And there's a subtle reason for not choosing a spade. If partner held 5+ spades (which is what you would be hoping for), then why didn't she bid 1♠ earlier in the auction?  Partner presumably has a few HCP, given that you only have two.  Partner's silence is the "dog that didn't bark in the night": she didn't bid spades, because she doesn't have them. But she could easily hold diamonds, where an earlier bid would have had to be vulnerable at the 2-level.

Good work by Shyamala Abey, Ray Carbuhn and Judy Lyon, all of whom successfully led a diamond in this situation.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 12/1/22)

Today's problem is straightforward, but contains an excellent learning  point.

You're the dealer, and simply have to decide whether to open 1 or 1♠.

It's normal to open your longest suit, 1 in this case, and almost everyone did.

But when deciding how to open distributional hands (6-5 shapes present the most frequent dilemma), one should also ask oneself the question: how will the auction develop if partner makes a likely but unhelpful response? 

Here, if you open 1 and partner responds 1NT, or 2♣, both likely enough bids, what will you do?  If you bid the spades, you are reversing, showing considerably more strength than you have. Even worse, partner will assume you have exactly 4 spades ... to show 5, you will have to bid the spades again, and now the auction will be in the stratosphere.  But if you don't bid the spades, you may well miss out on a 5-3 major suit fit.

Now consider what happens if you open 1♠ and partner responds 1NT or 2♣.  You bid 2, not promising extra high card strength, and showing 5+ spades and 4+ hearts. Yes, you haven't conveyed your heart length, but if the auction continues, you will repeat the hearts, and now you are getting much closer to an accurate representation of your hand. And all the while, leaving partner the option of returning to spades without raising the level. 1♠ is the choice that plans for the future.

If you lack reversing values, and your 5-card suit is not too decrepit, you are usually best off opening the higher 5-card suit instead of the longer 6-card suit, with 5-6 shapes.

One hand proves nothing, but in actuality, you belong in 2 and only one pair was able to achieve it. Jenny Gray opened 1♠, partner Colin Walker responded 1NT, and Jenny rebid 2 passed out. That worked well!

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 6/1/22)

You are North, playing in 4♠ ... your opinion of the auction?

East, the opening leader starts with the ♣A, then switches to 4, to the 2, 9, and your K.

Now what?

In the auction, the key bid was South's 3♠.  Only 12 HCP, but the club singleton adds significant distributional strength. I don't know what the right answer is in theory, but I do know that if I bid only 2♠, I would be very uncomfortable that I had underbid the hand. (Those playing mini-splinters - you can google it - have a solution to this problem.)

As for the play, one question you should ask yourself before doing anything  much is: should I draw trumps? Usually the answer is yes, but not here. You're in a diamond race: the defenders are racing to set up a diamond trick, and they're going well. But you have a counter: to set up the hearts for a discard.

If you play an instinctive trump at trick 3, you will lose the race. The defenders will win ♠A and play another diamond, and you cannot avoid a diamond loser. This is one of those times when there is something more urgent to do than draw trumps.  You must immediately play hearts, to set up your discard. The opponents can win A and play a diamond, but you can now take two more heart tricks to discard North's diamond.  Only now is it time to play on spades.

Well done to Jo-Anne Heywood, who was the only one of several declarers in this situation to see the necessity of playing a heart at trick 3.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 30/12/21)

A double-barrel question for you today. Holding the North cards:

1) Do you agree with the Pass over West's 1?

2) What do you do, if anything, after West's 2 bid?

Let's deal with question 2) first.

North is in what is known as the "pre-balancing position". He doesn't know how high E/W plan to progress, but if their auction is actually about to die out in 2, he would want to come back in with a balancing bid, holding a decent hand with 4 cards in both unbid suits. In other words, if North was South, holding that hand in the pass-out seat, he should double 2 for takeout. It follows the adage: don't let your opponents play at the 2-level in a fit

But North isn't in the pass-out seat, and doubling here is dangerous. Nevertheless, I think it is the best choice, even though being vulnerable gives one pause. Bridge is a game of calculated risk, and this is a beauty. Only one North, Richard Fitzherbert, made the pre-balancing double, and he hit paydirt and an equal top. Partner bid 3♣, and that contract was easy-peasy when the A lay with the opening bidder.  Even had the A been wrong, down 1 in 3♣ would still probably be a good score, because then, 2 is likely making.

Still, the double could have worked very badly, if N/S were heading at least 2 down in their contract. Which takes us back to question 1).

I seem to spend much of my consulting time telling people not to make a takeout double when you have a shortage in an unbid suit, even though you have opening points. Well, here is the reverse situation, where you have good shape, support for all unbid suits, and nearly opening points. I think North should double 1 (only the Robot did). You're a whole level lower than what actually transpired: it is quite a safe bid.  Experienced players have learned that it's a good idea to get into the auction early, and then shutup.  Richard's shared top was with the robot partnership, that also got to the making club partscore.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 23/12/21)

This rebid problem struck me as quite interesting today.  As South you open 1♣ and partner responds 1.

What's your rebid?

And what's your rebid if East comes in with 1 over 1?

With 17 HCP, this is the point at which you have to show some strength. One honest and righteous choice would be 3♣, showing about 16-18 HCP and a good 6-card club suit. That's what you have.

Three Souths went in a different direction: Dawn Thistlethwaite, Basil Danylec and Penny Robertson all rebid 2NT instead. Since this bid suggests 18-19 HCP and a balanced hand, they were lying all over the shop. How dare they!

But with such powerful major suit holdings, and trusting (hoping) partner to cover the diamonds, they wanted to head towards a higher scoring notrump contract. And right they were. North is unlikely to willingly consider notrumps after a 3♣ rebid, with the singleton heart (particularly if East has bid the suit), and the partnership will likely end up in clubs. After the 2NT rebid, it's a different matter: the partnership appears to have enough points for game (add 8 to 18-19), and North is blissfully unaware of the 10-card club fit: from her perspective, partner might have as few as 3 clubs.

The moral of all this: there are few rules in bridge bidding, only guidelines. The 2NT rebid was a highly pragmatic choice.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 16/12/21)

Bridge is a game of seemingly limitless variety.  No one got the play of this 3NT correct, possibly because no one has experienced this situation before. It is worth examining.

Against your (East) 3NT contract, a low heart is led from South, and you take North's Q with K.  There doesn't seem to be anything clever you can do except play the clubs. On your ♣A, lo and behold, South drops the singleton ♣K!  Happy days.  All those clubs are winners ... in fact you now have 10 top winners (6 clubs, 2 diamonds, 1 spade, and the heart trick already taken).

But you want more. What do you do?

Most declarers gleefully overtook the ♣J with ♣Q and ran the clubs. The problem was then discarding from the East hand. If you discard too many hearts, you unguard the suit, and it would then be dangerous to finesse in spades or diamonds. But if you keep your hearts, then you have to throw too many of the other suits to take advantage of any winning finesse.  

In short: running West's clubs squeezes East's hand. 

So don't cash the clubs. After overtaking the ♣J with ♣Q, run the ♠Q.  If the finesse works, there's your 11 tricks.  You're still in dummy and can take the clubs: you might even scramble 12 tricks if the defenders get their discards wrong.  And if the spade finesse loses, South has the lead, and your hearts are still there to guard that suit. Either way, you have safely developed an extra trick in spades.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 9/12/21)

It didn't take long today to find a board that was both interesting and instructive.

I will give you the E/W hands and ask you what you think the correct contract is (precisely) and how one should get there. East is first to speak.

The correct contract is 3NT, played by East.  The position of declarer is crucial.

Take a look at all four hands. It may not pan out, but if West declares 3NT, North could lead a heart, in which case East's Qx is toast. But if East is declarer, and South leads a heart, then that rides round to the queen. 

Indeed the hand record says that East can make 11 tricks in notrumps, West only 10.

A queen-doubleton holding is generally a decent one to have if you're thinking of bidding notrumps first.  It comes into its own should dummy have Axx.  Even if dummy has Kxx, you want the lead coming up to the queen (think about opening leader having the ace).  Of course it's not so great if dummy has xxx ... but in principle, if notrumps is on the horizon, then you should be happy to bid it with Qx in a suit, even though it's not a full stopper.

The correct auction, in my humble opinion, is 1♠ by East, 2 by West, 2NT by East (showing the points and balanced shape, and mentally beaming at the Qx), 3NT by West. Voila. Well done to Lyn Mayer, Fiona Trescowthick and Marie Malcolmson, who all made the 2NT rebid.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 2/12/21)

Here's a puzzler for you. Partner opens 2NT, 20-22 HCP balanced.

What do you do?

The trap here, playing in a matchpoint duplicate, is to bid 5♣.  This is the worst of both worlds ... losing out to all those who bid 3NT.  It may beat  those who try for a slam and go down, but it could also lose to them, when the slam is making. No, I think you have three valid choices:

1. 3NT 

2. 6♣ 

3. 4♣ (Gerber, planning to play 6♣ if partner shows 2-3 aces, and 4NT otherwise)

I like option 3 (found by Valerie Remedios), but also option 2 (chosen by Pam Richardson). But then, I'm an optimist. I respect the multiple Norths who soberly bid 3NT.

As it turned out, slam was so-so, depending on rooting out the club queen. That proved to be no problem. But the learning point should be that in this sort of situation: it's either 3NT or a minor suit slam, almost never a minor suit game.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 25/11/21)

It would be easy to get too high on this deal, but let's say you manage to stay at a safe 4 contract, by West.

North leads ♣3. The play doesn't look too complicated, but it contains a hidden point. So what do you do?

All things being equal (as they are here), you should play off the ace and king of hearts.  The saying is "8 ever - 9 never", meaning: with an 8-card fit missing specifically the queen, you 'ever' finesse for it; with a 9-card fit missing the queen, you 'never' finesse, hoping instead that the queen drops.

And there's a spade loser, and probably a diamond loser, unless the Q falls short.

The hidden point is this. If you can sneak a spade trick without losing to the ace, then you can discard dummy's remaining spade on clubs. The sneaky play is to win the club, and immediately lead your nine of spades. If North is caught napping and fails to play his ace (assuming he has it), then the queen will win. Now, after the two top trumps, you will play off the clubs, throwing away your spade loser. Voila.

North probably shouldn't fall for this ruse, but it's easy to reflexively play second hand low. Worth a try!  Well done to Adrienne Reid and Mariette Read (there must be something in the name) who both made an early play of leading a low spade from hand.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 18/11/21)

Bridge can on occasions be an irritating game.  Try this particular irritation.

You hold a hand that is short on points but long on distribution, and irritatingly, the bidding is up at the 4-level before you have the chance to speak.

What will you do over RHO's 4 bid?

A bid of 4♠ here is hard to justify on any rational basis.  You have the makings of about 7 tricks (it's a 6-loser hand), but vulnerable against not, this means that 4♠ could be catastrophic. If it gets doubled and then goes 2 or 3 down, then the 500 or 800 point penalty is more than the value of the opposition's game.

Or 4♠ might go down when 4 wasn't making in the first place.

One can only justify a 4♠ bid based on experience, which says: "always bid 4♠ over the opponents' 4".  It just seems to work more often than not, and is one of the best rules-of-thumb there is. (Obviously there must be some context for this rule, such as you having some spades in the first place!) Most Easts made the rational pass here, so well done to Moya Crowley, Yuko Yoshida and Jenny Matheson who bid the irrational 4♠.

If East does bid 4♠ then North will be faced with a difficult decision. The winning option is to go on to 5 but that is hardly clearcut. And even if North does bid 5, there is something to be said for West competing with 5♠. 

(As an aside, some Souths opened 2, a Multi. This gave East a lower entry into the auction, as North could not bounce up to 4♠ at his first turn, not knowing what partner's suit was. This is one of the several downsides to the Multi.)

Virtual Hand of the Day (Monday 15/11/21)

I think it was P. G. Wodehouse's character Psmith who said "never confuse the improbable with the impossible". It was very apt to this deal, where none of our declarers recognized the improbable. 

E/W likely have 13 tricks in spades, hearts or  notrumps, but only one pair, Ella Lupul - Jeffrey Fallon reached a slam of any kind, so they get today's elephant stamp. 

Meanwhile, see if you can dig out the improbable, playing in a spade contract by West. North leads ♣Q. Let's say you win it, and draw the trumps which divide 3-2. Take it from there.

There are 6 spade tricks and 2 minor suit aces. If the opposition hearts divide 3-2, then there are 5 easy heart tricks for a total of 13. 

So a good player would now think to himself: "what if hearts are not 3-2 - can I do anything about that?". 

If South has Jxxx, then the answer is "no". You can take 3 heart tricks, and ruff a heart to set up a winner in dummy, but there's no entry to dummy. Sadly, you will go down in 6♠.

But if North has Jxxx, you can pick up the suit, as long as you deal properly with your 10.  Suppose you play a small heart to the ace, then a heart back to the queen, and you discover North still has the guarded jack. Then your 10 is a big problem: you lead it, but North ducks. The 10 wins but you are now stranded in your hand, with no entry to dummy's two remaining winners. Down you go. Instead, play the 10 to the ace, then back to the queen. Now, when you discover North with Jxxx, you can lead your 3 for the proven finesse, and run the hearts for 13 tricks.

Congratulations, you have dealt with the mildly improbable. But you didn't handle the very improbable, which was the actual layout today. The correct play is, after drawing trumps, to play Q. Suppose all follow. Now 10 to dummy's ace. If South shows out (North having started with Jxxx), it's no sweat. You return to your A and finesse North out of his jack.

Where this pays off is in the very improbable situation where North has all the hearts, Jxxxx.  The Q reveals the situation, you then play 10 finessing once, and then a third heart finessing again. You have successfully brought in all 5 heart tricks.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 11/11/21)

Try your hand at this slam contract.

West leads ♠J to your 6♠ contract: how do you play it?

The question is what to do with all your club losers.

You could try to establish the suit perhaps. Win the trump and play ace and another club. The defence will doubtless play another spade. Win that and ruff a club with dummy's last trump. If clubs divide 3-3, you are home.

If not, you have another string to your bow. Lead K from dummy planning to discard a club if East plays low (a ruffing finesse). If East has A and plays it, you ruff, and dummy's QJ and diamond winner will provide more than sufficient discards for your remaining club losers.

Sadly none of these good things will come to pass. The clubs divide 4-2, and West has A, so your ruffing finesse fails. I think I would go down in 6♠ on a trump lead.  (The winning line, not quite as good, is to start with the ruffing finesse in hearts. Even though West will win A, dummy's long heart can be established, the suit dividing 4-4, to provide sufficient discards for all your clubs.)

So it seemed like bad news for the two pairs, Jenny Matheson - Mariette Read and Lanny Chan - John Robertson who bid to the excellent slam. But their bidding virtue was rewarded when both their Wests led A (given that North had opened 1, this was probably not a very good idea). The declarers ruffed, drew trumps, and threw all their clubs away on red winners, to score an overtrick.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Monday 8/11/21)

This opening lead problem may not seem very interesting, but humour me.

The opposition has climbed to 5 and it's your lead. A top spade seems obvious. Is it?

Well yes it is obvious, but there's a very much non-obvious alternative.

Your side is taking at most one spade trick, for sure, so you need two more. One of those could come from you ruffing a club, if you can get partner in before trumps are drawn.  It's possible: you could cash a round of spades, then shift to a diamond to partner's winner. Finally a club ruff to defeat the contract. That of course depends on partner having (probably) the A.  

A better chance, and one that might get your name up in lights, is to depend on partner having the ♠J: well, she did support the spades so the probability of this is higher than that of partner having the A.  Suppose you were to lead the ♠2. Crazy perhaps, but when partner wins ♠J, after getting over the shock, she will realise what you're up to. A club return, plus partner's other winner, will sink this contract. And so it would transpire.

Of course such a venture could explode the defence and perhaps your partnership. The opponents win the ♠J, bye-bye spade trick, and it's another bottom.

In real life, only one table played in hearts, and North led a totally normal ♠A: 11 tricks made. All the other E/W allowed their opponents to play in 4♠, except Kerri Jones, who went on to 5 as East, and then easily defeated 5♠ when the opponents pushed on.  In the tables that played 4♠, East led a top heart, and with one exception switched to clubs, resulting in 10 tricks. The exception was Mike Pogson who switched to Q, generating four tricks for the defence (1 heart, 2 top diamonds and a diamond ruff). That switch could have backfired, but it was a worthwhile shot.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 4/11/21)

The auction on today's deal is a bit of a puzzle ... what should South open as dealer? The hand seems a bit strong for a 3♠ opening, when not-vulnerable. But is it good enough to open 4♠?  A compromise is to open 1♠, and treat the hand as a minimum opener with a long suit. That would probably be my choice.

There were quite a few bidding accidents ... either finishing too high or too low, but really, all roads should lead to 4♠.

West leads ♣Q. You win this, and cash ♠K, to which all follow. What now? Decide, then click [Show Answer].

There are 10 tricks, no sweat (7 spades, 2 diamonds, 1 club), but what about an 11th?

Some declarers drew the last trump with the ♠Q then ran the J, some sort of quasi-finesse. That's an incredibly risky move, because if East wins Q, the defence can take three more top tricks, and your 10 tricks has turned into 9. 

An alternative is to run all 7 trumps and hope for the defenders to go wrong. Whilst never a bad idea, it's highly unlikely to do any good in this case. The defender with Q will almost surely hang on to the suit, looking at dummy, and there's no scope for anything good to happen in hearts or clubs. Even if the defence let some diamonds go, setting up the suit in dummy (with AK and a ruff) won't help, as there's no entry to cash the established winner.

There's only one legitimate approach for an overtrick and you should take it: draw the second round of trumps (leaving a spade entry to dummy), and play A, K and ruff a diamond. Maybe, just maybe, the queen and ten will appear on these three rounds, in which case you can cross to dummy's spade and cash the winning diamond. And lo and behold ...

Well done to Lesley Johnstone and Lanny Chan, the two declarers to take this line of play.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Monday 1/11/21)

I didn't have to search far when looking for a worthy hand for today's writeup.

The deal presents lots of interesting questions in both bidding and play. Have a go at them, then we'll discuss.

1. Should North bid anything as dealer?

2. What should West do after East's 3♠ bid?

3. West declares 4♠  on the auction shown. What should North lead?

4. Suppose North chooses a heart lead. How should South defend?

5. On that heart lead, how should West play 4♠?

1. It looks normal to pass, but consider the merits of a 3♣ opening bid. Yes, only 6 clubs, but the suit is excellent, and the extra shape provides lots of playing strength.

Monika Cornell was the only North to open 3♣. Her partner Diana Crowther bounced up to 5♣, and there they played, stealing from E/W's game. This was only a second top, because ...

2. Christine Paine was the only West to try for a slam, which is in theory an excellent contract. She Gerbered over 3♠, reaching 6♠ after partner Larry Allender admitted to his two aces. A heart ruff sunk this contract: bridge can be a cruel game.

3. Even without South's heart bid, North is best off leading his singleton heart. The side suit singleton is one of the very best opening leads to a suit contract. Only an AK suit is better. (If you have both, you could lead the ace, retaining the option of switching to the singleton).

4. South strongly suspects partner's lead is a singleton. Therefore he will play the ace, and return a heart for partner to ruff.

What then? South would just love partner to next play a diamond, so South can ruff this. This is achieved by returning the jack of hearts, a McKenney Suit Preference signal, saying that you want the higher suit played of the two remaining non-trump suits.

5.  When the lead is a heart to South's ace, West must play the king on it! That will sow the seeds of doubt into South's mind: could the original lead have been from 65 doubleton? 

West doesn't need to save the K: once he gets the lead, he will have all the tricks anyway: this play comes into the category of the "obligatory falsecard", and of course it needs to be done without too much thinking, to avoid giving the show away.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 29/10/21)

Today's deal features a tough bidding problem and interesting declarer play problem.

The only pair to get to the correct 4 contract was Ismail Gulec (West) and Lisa Yoffa (East), via the auction shown. The keys to their success were the 3 and 4 bids.

Ismail's 3 with the lousy suit served two purposes: to maybe show a heart stop and get to 3NT, and to also seek out a 4 contract. And if partner had a bit of spade support, then she could bid 3♠ and 4♠ would be reached.

Meanwhile, Lisa drew an important inference from 3: that it would be a 5-card suit. Why? Because she herself had denied having 4 hearts, when she failed to bid 2 over 2.  Therefore, 3 must logically suggest a 5-card suit.

Very well bid, but now you have to make 4.  North starts with A and Q. You ruff. How do you attack the hand? 

You have 8 hearts, the opponents 5. The first thing to do is make a positive assumption: that they divide 3-2.  If they are 4-1, you are surely doomed.

On this premise, there is a foolproof play, if you think of it. Play a heart from your hand, and duck it in dummy. Let's say the defence wins and plays a club (nothing else is any better: a spade you win with the ace, a diamond you ruff in hand).

Next play A. Assuming the opponents follow, there is one heart outstanding for the defence. Finally, start playing all the winning clubs. The opponents are welcome to ruff with their final master trump, but you are left with a trump in dummy. Whatever they return, you can enter dummy with that trump (eg by ruffing a spade) and take the remainder of the clubs.

The concept of getting to a position where the defence has the one remaining master trump, with you playing your other winners, is a frequent and useful scenario.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 28/10/21)

Today, you're sitting East and partner opens 3♠ , vulnerable. That's a sweet hand you have: could there be a slam? And if so, how does one look for it?

I haven't spruiked the Rule of Two and Three recently: it's time for a re-run. It says that when vulnerable, partner's preempt should show a hand with enough strength on its own to be within two tricks of the contract. (Non-vulnerable, it's three tricks.)

So when partner opens 3♠ , a 9-trick contract, he should have about 7 tricks in his hand. 

You can use that factoid. If partner has 7 tricks, then you have a pair of ace-kings, that's four more, and your diamond singleton combined with three spades, should provide at least one ruff. So 5 tricks from you: 7+5 = 12.

There's probably a slam. But not definitely: you want to check that you're not off two aces, or if you play RKCB, two keycards.

You should bid 4NT to check on this, and when partner's response is satisfactory, bid 6♠.

Partner's 7 promised tricks were of the purest form, so this is a textbook hand, but the Rule of 2 and 3 is surely one of the most useful there is.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 27/10/21)

Today you are East. When RHO opens 1, your instinct is to check the back of the cards, to see whether one of you has taken their hand out of the wrong board. But no, that can't be the case here.

So what's the plan?

A couple of Easts, Shayne Wurf and Sandra Hart, couldn't think of anything sensible to do, so they passed, and ended up defending 1. That worked beautifully, 1 going down 3 at one table and down 5 (!) at the other.  The pass is a very plausible action, although I would much prefer it if the opponents were vulnerable, so that they go down in 100s rather than 50s. 

Most of the other tables got too high E/W, going down in high notrump contracts.

But one pair nailed it, systemically. Jane Griffiths doubled 1 for takeout, and when partner, Pip Liebelt advanced 1, Jane made the key rebid: 1NT.  This shows a hand too strong to make an immediate 1NT overcall (about 15-18 HCP), and therefor depicts about 19-21 HCP, balanced ... a close approximation to her hand.  Pip passed that, and this pair were the only one to stay at a safe low level. Great auction.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 26/10/21)

Here's a simple opening bid decision for you. Go for it.

The field found 6 different calls. In decreasing order of popularity:

1 (7 times). Very reasonable. What it lacks in HCP it makes up in playing strength. It has two downsides: you'll won't be able to communicate the long strong diamonds later ... if you at any stage jump in diamonds, partner will play you for much more high card strength.  And the bid does nothing to interfere with the opponents, who may have a fit of their own.

Pass (3 times). These players couldn't find a bid that fit the hand, so they passed. Again understandable, but experience says that some diamond bid, even if imperfect, will do better than passing up the opportunity to do anything. 

3 (2 times). An underbid. The problem here is that partner won't expect 8 solid tricks.  This may result in missing a winning game (or slam).

4 (2 times). An accurate bid. Vulnerable, a 4-level preemptive opening should show about 8 tricks (two short of the contract), and 8 tricks is absolutely what you have. The downside? It takes you past 3NT. 

5 (1 time).  An overbid. Not much more to say. Too much red meat.

And then there was one player, Susan Douglas, who made a strange bid. She opened 3NT, the Gambling 3NT, systemically showing a solid (AKQ-headed) 7-8 card minor, and at most one king outside of it. The idea is to make a descriptive preempt, whilst still retaining the possibility of playing and making 3NT. Her partner, Christine Walker, was on the same wavelength. Seeing that they were probably wide open in hearts, she removed 3NT to 4♣, corrected to 4, and there the partnership rested, in the theoretically correct spot. They had both preempted the opponents and bid to the right contract. Good stuff.

A 3NT opening is not really needed to show a strong balanced hand ... you can open 2♣ instead. The Gambling 3NT has worldwide popularity.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 22/10/21)

What do you do with North's cards here?  Partner's 2 rebid is a reverse, showing extra strength (typically 16+ HCP), because it forces the partnership to 3-level if they are to go back to opener's first suit, diamonds.

If partner has 16+ with 4 hearts, then your hand is very powerful, even applying a small discount for the singleton king. There could be a slam, but how would you go about trying for it?

Most Norths contented themselves with 4, which usually ended the auction. (A few Souths then turned into Superman and bid on themselves, to which I say: there's no arguing with success.)

Just one North saw the huge potential in the hand, John Foreman. However ...

He bid 4NT over 2, Roman KeyCard Blackwood with hearts (the last bid suit) as trumps. Can you see the gigantic problem with that bid?

Suppose partner has, I don't know, ♠Jx   AKQx KQJxx ♣Qx, an 18-count. What's his response to 4NT? It is 5♠, showing two keycards and the queen of trumps. You have now just forced yourself to slam missing two aces! One thing you must always check on before embarking on any form of Blackwood (particularly RKCB): is there a response that takes you too high, with no escape? 

Fortunately for John, that little nightmare didn't eventuate, and they ended up successfully in slam.

So if 4 is too wimpish, and 4NT is too dangerous, what can North do?

Two suggestions.  A 4♣ splinter bid (showing support for the last bid suit and shortage in clubs) would clearly act as a slam try. That will work just fine opposite South's actual hand.

Or if splinter bids are not in your armoury, then the simplest slam try of all ... why not just bid 5, inviting slam? Once in a blue moon, partner will have the wrong minimum and that contract will go down, but it really is a very good mechanism for finding out whether partner has a minimum for his reverse, or extra values. Here South has a superb hand, full of aces, kings and distribution, and would not hesitate to go on to 6.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 21/10/21)

Today you are South, declaring 1NT. Not a very thrilling contract, but the beauty of a matchpoint duplicate is that every deal counts. You could win or lose based on what you do here.

Enough of the pep talk. West leads 3, you play low from dummy, East 8 and you win J. Good start!

What now?

It's all about the clubs. There's a lot of potential in the suit, but entries are a problem. Indeed, the only entry to your hand is in the club suit itself.

That's where the solution lies: you want to establish the clubs, whilst maintaining the club entry to your hand. The correct play is to lead a low club from your hand at trick 2. Assuming the suit divides 3-2, you will then be able to later lead a club from dummy and run the remainder of the suit.

Did you find the low club play? Stan Angelidis, Marie Shenker and Ian Cox did. And so also Larry Allender and Dennis Goldner, after a different defensive start. 

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 20/10/21)

Here's an interesting little problem faced by most Wests today.

Playing with your favourite partner, what do you do after RHO opens 1NT?

A number of Wests passed. They jointly share the Caspar Milquetoast award.

Others overcalled 2, their better suit, which as it happens finds their 6-1 fit rather than their 5-4 fit.

Almost all these players ended up defending notrumps, led their 4th best heart, with the result that declarer made many more tricks than deserved.

This is a hand in desperate need of a bidding convention, and there are many of them out there. What they all have in common is a mechanism for showing two-suited hands after an opponent opens 1NT, and having both majors is by far the most important of these.

A very simple and effective convention is Landy, where an overcall of 2♣ is artificial, showing both major suits (at least 5-4 shape). There are others, including Multi-Landy and Cappelletti. If you can show both majors, partner will bid spades, and whatever happens next, you are better off (for example now you know to lead a spade to South's notrump contract).

The best potential outcomes were earned by Faye Norton-Old, Alison Wright and Suzy Narita.  They all made the two-suited overcall, partner bid spades, the opponents competed further with their combined 24 HCP, and now all three Wests bid 4♠. Great contract, which while no means laydown, is likely to make and should indeed do so.  They share the Indiana Jones award.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 19/10/21)

I wasn't sure whether to present North's hand or South's for today's deal. I'm going with North, because about half the Souths made the right bid, whereas very few Norths did.

You can see the auction ... the question is what action, if any, North should take over partner's 1NT.

The hand doesn't look very notrumpy, what with the singleton spade. So a lot of players in this position removed: mostly to 2♣, a few to 2. It's understandable.

But perhaps they were missing a useful inference, which was that partner didn't have to bid 1NT.  This 1NT was volunteered, rather than forced upon partner. If South has some lousy 6-9 point hand, then he can simply pass the 1♠ overcall ... after all, he doesn't need to keep the bidding open for partner - East has done that.  So partner actually wants to bid 1NT, which strongly suggests multiple spade stoppers, which indeed partner did have, in spades, as it were.

In which case, a notrump contract should be just fine and dandy. One North recognized this and actually jumped to 3NT: let's call that overbid a strong compliment to their partner's declarer play skills. In this case, justified, as 3NT made for a total top (the ♠Q opening lead helped).

No, I'm with Joan Courtemanche and Christine Walker who coolly passed their partner's 1NT bid. That contract comfortably scored better than any minor suit partscore.  I'll add John Royle to the honour board, suggesting he would have passed 1NT, but didn't have the problem, when West perhaps unwisely raised to 2♠, a contract that failed by 3 tricks.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 15/10/21)

What would you do as South in this position?  

First things first: partner has shown at least 5 spades. With a 4-card spade suit, he instead makes a negative double of 1.  So there's an 8-card fit in spades here: you should play in that suit.

How good is South's hand in support of spades? It's a whale of a hand. Those 15 HCP are pure: none of your lousy queens and jacks here.  The singleton adds to it. And the side suit of ♣AKxxxx is powerful. An old partner of mine used to say: "ace-king-sixth is the world's best side-suit".  That's because whatever sits opposite, there's a healthy chance of it being developed for many winners and no losers.

Putting the purity of the points, the shape and the strong side-suit together, nothing less than a jump to 4♠ is sufficient. That was well judged by Richard Fitzherbert, Dawn Braham, Marcus Brodmeyer and Cath Whiddon who all bid 4♠ here. Indeed, even opposite the lousy 6 HCP North hand, this can make 12 tricks if the defence stays off diamonds.

PS. Some Wests jumped to 2 over 1♣, a weak jump overcall.  And why not indeed. See how much harder it makes life for N/S: North doesn't really have sufficient strength to bid at the 2-level, and E/W may well buy the contract in hearts. I haven't checked all the tables, but if you as West bid 2 over 1♣, give yourself an elephant stamp.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 14/10/21)

Today, you can test your defensive skills. You are minding your own business sitting North, with East declaring 4♠.

Partner leads 3, dummy plays low. Should you play the king or the nine?

"Third hand high" is a pretty good rule. However it should not substitute for thinking, in particular about what partner has in diamonds, and therefore the layout of the whole suit.

The missing honours are the ace, queen, and ten. Partner should not have the ace. If your partner underleads aces against suit contracts, now is the time to buy him a book on opening leads as an early Christmas present.

So partner will have the queen, or the ten, or both, or neither. 

Forget about neither: declarer has AQ10, and it doesn't matter what you do.

If partner has both the queen and the ten, you better play the 9, forcing declarer's ace. That will yield you two diamond tricks. Whereas if you play the queen, dummy's jack will come into play as a second trick.

If partner has only the 10, you also better play the 9. Declarer has AQx, which will be worth just two tricks to him, as long as the defence stays off the suit from this point on. Playing the king gives up the whole suit.

It's looking good for the 9, but what about partner holding the queen but no 10? Here, playing the 9 allows declarer, who started with A10x to win cheaply with the 10. But does this matter?  Declarer always had two tricks in that setup, whatever card you played now. Unless declarer can get a discard somewhere (possible, but very unlikely), you will still eventually get the diamond trick you are owed. Note that partner's lead of the 3 (with you holding the 2) means he probably has a 4-card suit, giving declarer 3 diamonds.

So the 9 is the correct play in theory, as well as practice. There was a lot to think about in working that out, which is why defence is so darned difficult.

No one found the correct defence, but then again few had the opportunity. Why? Because most Souths stubbornly led a heart, from their longest and strongest, throwing away a trick. I'm telling ya: leading away from unsupported kings against a suit contract is a bad idea!

So kudos to Margaret Hughes, Marjorie Pertzel, Shirley Stewart, Brenda Glyn and Dennis Goldner, who all found the diamond lead.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 13/10/21)

Today's scenario is a little unusual, because it never occurred. But it might have. And the deal is worth looking at.

Put yourself in the East seat. What do you think of that 3♣ opening, in third position? Three players did it: Jim Stewart, Elly Papasavas, and an American who was filling in a half-table. It's an excellent bid. Sure you only have 6 clubs, but they have quality if not width. And after two passes, you can bet your socks that LHO has a good hand.

Those who passed instead gave N/S an easy ride to a making partscore. But the 3♣ opening created a N/S nightmare. Two Souths doubled 3♣ for takeout (as would I), and North knew she should have skipped today's game. Both responded 3, their stronger major, and got raised to 4, too high and in the wrong suit: a lethal combination.

Now the hypothetical ... a bit advanced but let's go for it.

Suppose North rolls the dice and passes the takeout double, hoping for a positive score on defence. South leads a top heart. What should East (declarer) play on this trick?

You don't want the defenders to continue hearts. If they do, they will certainly take three heart tricks, together with at least their two other aces. If on the other hand, they switch to another suit, maybe just maybe you will be able to get a discard for your losing hearts.

The trick is to make North's spot card look like a discouraging signal, convincing South to switch. But how to do that? It depends on your opponents' signalling methods, which they should have stated at the start of the round.

If they typed something like "standard signals", then a high card encourages. You want to make the 8 look "low". To do that you play the 3.  Then perhaps South will think partner started with 1098, in which case a switch is suggested.

Or if they typed "low encourage" or "high=hate, low=like", then a low card encouragaes.  You want to make the 7 look "high". To do that you play a high card yourself, say 9.   Then perhaps South will think their partner started with 1073, and again switch.

The rule-of-thumb is: "play a spot card that is consistent with your opponents' signals".  In other words, if opponents play standard, you yourself play high to encourage a continuation, low to discourage. If they play reverse, play low to encourage, high to discourage.

Like I said, it's all a little advanced. smiley

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 12/10/21)

Today's deal presents an interesting tactical and judgmental problem.

You are East, and partner makes a takeout double of South's 2 raise. You bid a fairly normal 3♠ over North's 3, but when that rolls around to North, he persists with 4.

How do you react to that?

You could bid pass 4, double 4 or bid 4♠.

The robot bid 4♠ which seems a bit crazy to me: what was it thinking? But it worked like a charm: 4♠ made, rather luckily. (Some players think the robots cheat by peeking at the 4 hands, but I don't believe that is the case.  Anyway, robots and their human partners do not earn masterpoints in Northern BC games.)

The other player in this position, Deb Fogarty, passed 4, a wiser move, surely. But what about trying a penalty double instead. There are two good reasons for this:

1) What was North doing? He contented himself with 3 then pushed on to 4 over your 3♠: unless he is playing a deep game, he doesn't sound very confident.

2) More importantly, you have an excellent opening lead to their heart contract: the singleton club. Short suit leads are particularly desirable when you hold length and control in trumps: here you have both. You lead a club, maybe declarer will win this and lead a trump,  but you will win A, find partner's entry in spades or diamonds (she has to have something for her double), and get a club ruff in return. That's three tricks, and you still have K plus other high cards that partner clearly has. And so it transpires: 4 goes two down with the greatest of ease. +300 would be a near top.

Anyway, defending 4 for 2 down still earned Deb a decent score, because many Wests 'forgot' to double the 2 raise, and let N/S out lower without a peep. So good work by Cecile Senior, Faye Norton-Old, Joan Courtemanche, Edwina Willis and Gail Feller who all made takeout doubles with that West hand, to force N/S too high.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 8/10/21)

In today's deal, the field as a whole was remarkably cautious. Only two human pairs reached the excellent slam, Brian Morrow - Jim Stewart and Geoff Pratt - Ron Irwin. The auction you see here is from the latter pair.

Whether you are playing 4♠ or 6♠, you, West, receive the lead of the A. You ruff, and draw a couple of rounds of spades, everyone following, so that's the end of the enemy's trumps.

What now?

12 tricks is now 100% (do you see how?), so your eye should be cast on making 13. 

The next step is to play the 3 top diamonds, discarding a club from dummy. If diamonds turn out to be 3-3, they are all good: you can discard another club from dummy and ruff the two losing clubs with dummy's two remaining trumps.

If diamonds are 4-2 (or worse), ruff the fourth one, and now take a ruffing finesse in hearts: leading the Q ... if South plays low, then discard a club. If North wins K, then your J is a winner, on which you can discard another club. You reach dummy by ruffing your last diamond.  If South plays K on Q, then ruff, ruff your last diamond and discard your two little clubs on the J10.

Shirley Stewart was the one declarer to find this correct play, so although she wasn't in slam, she still gathered in a 90% score. Isn't it nice that you can sometimes use the play to recover from being in the wrong contract.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 7/10/21)

Many West players today were confronted with an unusual situation on board 1.

Their LHO dealt and opened 1, RHO responded 1♠. Hmm. Is there anything that can be done?

The point to recognize here is that your RHO (South) doesn't need to have anything other than 4 spades for this 1♠ response. He might hold ♠5432.

In this modern world of Michaels and other cue-bids, it might seem strange that a 2♠ overcall is simply natural, but that's how it should be played.  After all, if you had the other two suits, you could make a takeout double, or perhaps try an Unusual 2NT bid. 

Indeed a 3♠ bid or 4♠ bid would be even more natural. 

On the actual layout, if you meekly pass here, "biding your time", then you may well hear 2♣ on your left then 3♣ on your right, and it will be too late to try a spade bid.

I don't believe anyone found the direct 2♠ overcall of 1♠, but two Wests, Deena Pathy and Rosemary Polya, did balance with 2♠ when their opponents stopped at a lower level, making their contract for an excellent score.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 6/10/21)

Here's a play problem that trapped many players in various ways. You try it.

You're in 3NT as South and West leads ♣Q.

a) Do you win this trick? (If not, a second club will be played.)

b) When you do win, what next?

a) You should win trick 1. Some declarers artistically executed a holdup play, but this wasn't the deal for it. Look at it this way: if East has ♠Q, it can be finessed for 12 tricks, so why needlessly give your opponents a club trick?

b) The real trap on this hand is to run the hearts. It's very tempting - all those lovely tricks - but you will have to make 3 discards, and what will they be? A club and a spade are easy, but the last discard executes a squeeze on your own hand. If you throw another spade, then you give up on winning 2 spade tricks, and if you discard a diamond, you give up on 4 diamond tricks. 

The correct play is to cross to dummy in diamonds and run the ♠J. If it wins, then 12 tricks will be there (3 spades, 4+ hearts, 3 diamonds, 2 clubs). If it loses to West's ♠Q, and the defenders continue with clubs, you still have the chance of winning  11 tricks with 0 spades, 5 hearts, 4 diamonds  and 2 clubs.

Well done to Sue Potter and Lilian Young, who both successfully deferred playing off the hearts. 

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 5/10/21)

Today's bidding problem presents an interesting bit of bidding theory.

Your LHO opens 1♣, partner makes a takeout double and RHO bids 1. What do you do? 

Several Easts bid 1, perhaps obeying "4-card suits up the line" principles.  When South's 3♣ bid came back to them, it was too late to try spades, because then if partner wanted to go back to hearts, it would be at the 4-level, too high.

This is an auction where up-the-line bidding doesn't apply. Just one East, Susan Shand, bid 1♠ instead. This left her better prepared for later in the auction. If the opponents persisted in clubs, or maybe diamonds, she could consider bidding hearts next, allowing partner the choice between the majors without raising the level.  The difference between this situation and the one where you, for example, respond 1 to partner's opening is that in this auction, your bid is not forcing and nor is partner going to bid a 4-card spade suit next.  In a sense, when you bid spades here, you are supporting partner's implied spades, and if that doesn't work, you may later support partner's implied hearts.

As it turned out, Susan's partner, Shyamala Abey, freely (and correctly) bid 3♠ after South's 3♣. She noted that the 1♠ bid was not forced, and therefore showed a little something. South had been successfully removed from his making 3♣ contract.

What would have happened if West had 4 hearts but not 4 spades?  Then 3♣ would have been passed back to East, who then has another go with 3.  Either way, the major suit fit will be found.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 1/10/21)

Today's deal features a delicate defensive problem.

You are West, defending South's 4. You kick off with the ♠Q - ♠3 - ♠8 - ♠A.

Declarer plays  J, you win with the ace as partner follows 2.

Now what?

Where oh where is that ♠K? If partner has it, you may want to continue with the spades, to win whatever tricks you can before declarer potentially discards spades from dummy on some other long suit.

But if declarer has it, it may be very risky to continue spades, particularly if declarer also has ♠10.

Partner's play at trick 1 might help you. If you play "high=hate, low=like", then that ♠8 is a hateful card. Partner doesn't want you to continue the spades. 

(If playing "standard", where a high card is an encouraging signal, then partner would have followed with the ♠2 at trick 1.)

Assuming partner has played a discouraging card to trick 1, you should switch to a minor, clubs for preference. (Do you see why? There are two reasons to prefer clubs to diamonds.)

Good work by Ramona Enconniere, Sue Douglas, Faye Norton-Old and Robert Ziffer, who all switched to a club at trick 3.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 30/9/21)

The thought processes behind this bidding decision struck me as interesting. Let's see if you agree.

Partner opens 1♠  and the next hand passes. Your move.

There could easily be a slam here. All you need is for partner to have 3 of the missing key-cards: ♠AK, A, ♣A. So it's tempting to bid 4NT right now, particularly if you play Roman KeyCard Blackwood, which immediately focuses on what you need to know. (Even if playing simple Blackwood, 4NT is almost as good, getting you to a likely slam if partner holds 2+ aces.)

But there's a fly in the ointment. What happens if partner holds only one of these key cards? You could end up in 5♠, off for example 3 aces. Embarrassing! It could easily happen, partner holding useless lower honours in hearts and clubs to make up his opening bid.

Notwithstanding this risk, I think 4NT right now is the correct move. It seems to me that a making slam is far more likely than going down at the 5-level. Moreover, I can't see how you can ask partner for their opinion. Look at partner's actual hand, and take away the ♣K. Now partner's hand is hardly even worth an opening bid, and the slam is cold. There's just no way of finding out what you need to know without risking Blackwood.

Good work by Kerri Jones, Nerida Eastoe, Adrienne Reid, Aviva Kamil and John Robertson, who successfully made an immediate ace-asking bid.

Useless fact #1: I know of one pair who play a device called "Roman Key Card Gerber".  I hate the idea. But credit where it's due: they would have had the auction 1♠ - 4♣, thereby finding out what they needed to know without getting to the 5-level.

Useless fact #2: The website shows the "Optimum Contract" on any deal ... what will happen if both sides can see all the hands. Also known as the "double dummy result".  Here it's 7 doubled down 5, a score of -1400, beating out -1430.  It does, I suppose, support the concept of bidding 4NT immediately, preventing the opponents from getting together.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 29/9/21)

This HotD arose out of an email correspondence I had after last Friday's writeup.

You have that exciting South hand, and hear RHO open 1♣ ... your call.

Of the 27 Souths who faced this, most overcalled 1 (a few doubled instead).  I say to them, what's your plan?  To which I imagine the answer is, to bid 4 next. Which they duly did.

If your plan is to bid 4 next time round, then why on earth aren't you bidding it the first time, to make life as hard as possible for the opponents? 

To which a possible answer was: "I've been taught not to preempt with a side 4-card major". Which brings me to the email I had. On Friday's HotD, a player was meant to preempt with a side void, and my correspondent admit she didn't do it because she had been taught not to preempt with a void.

These reasons against preempting are seriously overhyped. They have their place, perhaps, but in principle, one should look for reasons to preempt, rather than reasons not to.  On this deal, three of the 1 overcallers allowed E/W to find their cold 6♣ contract ... they shared the bottom results on the board.

Four sensible Souths, Suzy Narita, Trish O'Brien, Arie Meydan and Jan Lonergan jacked it up to 4.  For three of them, their opponents with all bidding room removed, subsided in 5♣.

But for Jan Lonergan, it was different. 4 rode around to East who bid 5♣.  Jan, with the making of 10 tricks in her hand, and feeling that 5♣ was a good thing, persisted with 5.  West raised to 6♣ and now North, Ian Williams, with zero defence (less than zero actually) went on to 6.  He realised that with Jan preempting wildly, 6♣ was going to make, and 6 should surely be a cheap sacrifice. Indeed, 6 goes down less than the value of an E/W game, let alone slam.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 28/9/21)

Today's deal may not be the most exciting ever, but it does illustrate an important strategy.

You are West, on defence to North's 3NT, after North opened a 15-17 HCP 1NT and was raised to game. Partner leads ♣Q.

a) What is partner's hand?

b) How do you defend?

a) Partner must have ♣QJ10 and 10 other low cards in various suits, not a point amongst them.

Did you work that out? It's actually simple arithmetic.  You have 11 HCP, dummy 10 HCP, that's 21 in total.  Declarer has 15-17, so South, West and North total 36-38 HCP, leaving partner with 2-4 HCP. Partner has ♣Q and ♣J, that's 3 HCP, so can have at most one further jack. But since you can see the other three jacks, then there's no other point left for partner. 

Finally partner should have ♣10, because with ♣QJxx(x), he would have led a low club rather than top of the sequence. (Viewing dummy's ♣9 bolsters this analysis.)  

Nothing about the above is difficult, but it's a matter of developing a habit. You can always see your and dummy's strength, and often declarer will have indicated some sort of HCP range.  You can then deduce an HCP range for partner, an invaluable piece of information.

b) So how to defend? Well, you should go in with the ♣A.  If you duck the  lead, declarer might duck too. Then when partner continues clubs and you win the ♣A you will have no club to return. Against notrumps, holding doubleton-honour in the  suit led by partner, it's almost always correct to play the honour, whatever dummy plays.

And you should continue with a club at trick 2, even though it's completely futile, partner not having an entry to take any established clubs. The point is that declarer doesn't know this. In particular, if you can clear the club suit, declarer may decide not to risk taking the spade finesse into the danger hand (remembering that you know he has ♠AQ).

Good work by Annette King and George Campbell who found this correct defence. (It didn't help either of them, because their declarers, perhaps correctly, decided to take the risky spade finesse anyway.)

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 24/9/21)

Honestly I could write a book about this hand. The bidding I've put up is how I think it should go. Three points:

1) If you as South don't open 4, go to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass GO, etc etc.

2) Most Easts, facing partner's 4♠ overcall, Blackwooded. This did not solve their problem when partner showed one ace (or one keycard). What East really wants to know about is the hearts ... are we off two top tricks there?  A much better choice is a raise to 5♠, which should ask partner to go on to 6♠ if she doesn't have two heart losers.

3) The double by South, found by Ramona Enconniere, is a great bid. It's the Lightner double, asking partner not to lead a heart, but instead lead their long side-suit which will be ruffed. Her idea was to ruff the diamond then take a top heart.  We'll come back to that.

The play in 6♠ (a very fine contract) is fascinating.  On a heart lead, you ruff, play ♠A and ♠K, and with trumps drawn, ruff a second heart. Over to the ♣A to ruff the third heart. Now play to the K.  You plan to play another diamond, covering South's diamond. If North wins that, then declarer claims the rest.

What happens if South discards on the second (or first) diamond?  It's easy! Just play a low diamond from your hand on the second round of the suit. North wins, and is stuck.  He either leads a diamond up to declarer's AJ, or a club up to declarer's ♣KJ.  Either way, 12 tricks are there.

Back to Ramona's table. Partner John Enconniere read the Lightner double perfectly and led a diamond for partner to ruff. But he led the queen!  That was no good. Ramona ruffed it, but it was the defence's last trick.

If you want to see true beauty in bridge, check out the play after North leads a low diamond, ruffed. It would seem that there's an inescapable further diamond loser, but the contract can still be made. The technical description of the winning play is Dummy Reversal plus Squeeze.  If you'd like to see it play out, use the "play it again" button.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 23/9/21)

Here's a neat declarer play problem for you. You land in 6 by East, and let's say South leads a trump.

A trick audit yields 11 top tricks, with a potential loser in each of the minors. You need to develop another trick from somewhere, and there are a couple of possibilities.

For example, the spade finesse could work. That would boost 11 tricks to 12. 

Or the outstanding six clubs could divide 3-3. You could then establish dummy's long club on which you discard your diamond loser.

So how do you play it?

There's no reason why you can try each of these chances. For example, after drawing trumps, play ♣A, ♣K and a third club. If the suit divides, then great, and if not, you take the spade finesse.

Even better is to make those plays in the reverse order. Draw trumps ending in East, and try the spade finesse. If it loses, then get the lead back (if a diamond is returned, win K), play ♣A, ♣K, then ♠A to discard your third club. Now ruff a club, hoping that the suit divides.

What's the advantage of this approach? Look at the full hand, in which everything is working. The spade finesse wins, and the club suit is 3-3. There are 13 tricks for the taking, by discarding a club on the spades, then ruffing out the suit to generate a diamond discard. Greed is good!

Shyamala Abey was the only declarer to play this hand correctly for all 13 tricks.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 22/9/21)

Today's deal involves interesting decisions for all four players, so rather than present it as a problem, let's discuss the excellent auction that occurred at one specific table.

East opens 1. What should South do?

                                                                       

Rather than bid a major (which one?), why not show them both with a Michaels Cue Bid of 2 (which specifically shows 5-5 in the majors over a 1-minor opening). If you instead overcall, who knows how high the auction will be once it comes back to you: it might be very uncomfortable to come back in to show the other one. Suzy Narita was one of about half the Souths who bid 2. Now what should West do?

                                                                       

Mary King bid 3. Some Wests cautiously passed here, perhaps fearing that partner had opened a 3-card diamond suit. This is losing strategy. For starters, it's unlikely in the first place, and even more so once South has shown the majors. If you count distribution points for the side-suit singleton, this hand is definitely worth a raise.  And we come to North - what should she do?

                                                                       

North's has only 6 lousy points and little shape. However those two honour cards are golden, because they are in partner's long suits. Put that ace and queen into the minors and one should certainly pass, but in the majors, this is a very decent hand. With the known 8-card  spade fit, Susie Kiddie duly bid 3♠.  We're back to East.

                                                                       

Quite a few Easts were faced with this situation (some after South had overcalled 1♠).  Only Maggie Kelly bid 5.  Why not? Partner has shown diamond support. You have a good hand with distribution. 3NT is out of the question, with the opponents bidding your singleton spade. 5 is a make, and ultimately guaranteed a good score for her side.  And now South had to decide what to do.

                                                                       

I think Suzy Narita did the right thing by sacrificing in 5♠.  It seemed likely that 5 was making, and with her extra distribution, 5♠ should make at least 9 tricks, which would translate into a worthwhile sacrifice.

No one doubled this contract (West might have considered it), but the vulnerability robbed N/S of any value.  Down two, -200, was a bigger minus than all the tables that ended up in an E/W diamond partscore, or a lower major suit contract N/S.

The learning points from this interesting deal:

  • Michaels cue-bids allow you to show two suits with one bid
  • With support, show support
  • Where your honours are can have a big effect on your bidding
  • See game, bid game
Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 21/9/21)

You are East, declaring a heart contract. I've made it 6, but it could easily be 4. Either way, your objective is to make 12 tricks.  How do you play it if:

a) South leads a diamond to North's A, who returns a diamond, or

b) South leads ♣9.

(Hearts will divide 3-1.) 

a) On a diamond lead to the ace, and a diamond returned, it seems you will have to hope that the ♣K is onside. However, there is an extra chance: if the ♠J drops in three rounds, then there will be two club discards available for the East hand, in which case you won't need to take the club finesse. Dianna Middleton was the only declarer to see this. She won the diamond at trick 2, cashed AK, then ♠KQ. Next she drew the last trump with Q, and tried the ♠A. Bingo! The ♠J dropped and she had her 12 tricks.  If the ♠J hadn't dropped, she would have ruffed the last spade and then tried the club finesse. Two chances were a whole lot better than one.

b) The ♣9 lead is tougher. Now you don't have two chances ... you have to stake everything on one chance: the club finesse at trick 1, or alternatively, you can go up with the ♣A and hope that the ♠J drops in three rounds.

The raw odds say that the club finesse, at 50-50, is the better option: the odds on the ♠J dropping are only 36% (you don't have to learn that number, only use common sense: with 7 outstanding spades, any particular card is more likely to be with the defender who has the longer spades).

But, what do you make of that lead of the nine? It feels to me like it's from a weak holding, such as top of a doubleton. If South had the ♣K, wouldn't he lead a low club instead?  It looked that way also to Jamal Yazdanparast, who made the courageous play of going up with the ♣A at trick 1 and staking everything on the spades. Bravo!

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 17/9/21)

Today's deal is a re-run, but the concept is so important, it's worth it.

You have an exciting hand: what do you do with it after partner's 2♣ rebid?

Some Norths simply signed off in 4♠. They knew that in all probability, partner was short in spades, and since she has only shown a minimum opener, slam was unlikely.

Other Norths launched into 4NT, asking for aces. They knew that their spades were almost self-sufficient, and if partner had a couple of aces, slam was surely there.

One North, Viv Braham, just didn't know. Perhaps there was only 4♠ in the deal, or perhaps there was a grand slam. He needed to find out more.

So he invented a new suit bid, 2, to see what partner did.  Partner, Dawn Braham, now jumped in spades, indicating 3-card support, and a maximum strength hand within the constraints of the 2♣ rebid.

Now Viv bid 4NT, and followed it with 5NT.  When he discovered that partner had two aces and two kings, he could count 13 tricks: 7 spades and the ace-king of each of the other three suits. So he bid 7NT to obtain the maximum score possible on the board.

It's the same old story: when you need more information, make a forcing bid and see what partner does.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 16/9/21)

Here's a situation that traps a lot of players. See if you fall into it.

Your 1 opening runs around to RHO, who bids 1.

What now?

You had a plan. Partner would probably respond 1 or 1♠ and you were going to jump to 2NT, showing a balanced hand too strong to open 1NT (typically about 18 or 19 HCP).

The trap is to continue with that plan.

The problem is that this is a different auction. When partner responds to your 1 opening, she is showing 6+ HCP. Your side therefore has a combined 25+ HCP and a probable game. But here, your partner has 0-5 HCP, and your side almost certainly does not have a game.

The correct bid is just 1NT, showing 18-19. It feels wrong, doesn't it? 1NT should show 12-14 HCP. But if you had 12-14, bidding 1NT in this auction would be like putting your head into the lion's mouth: it's crazy. With a minimum opener, opposite 0-5, you would just pass.

A few Wests fell into the trap of following the plan with a 2NT rebid. A few others doubled 1 (no shape), and others passed 1 (no guts). But a pleasing number got it right: Deena Pathy, Shirley Stewart, Tatiana Stratford, Jan Downing, Susan Douglas, Dawn Thistlethwaite, Mariette Read, Nicole McManamny and Susie Kiddie all correctly bid 1NT.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 15/9/21)

This tricky problem defeated almost everyone today. 

What do you rebid with East's hand on the auction shown?  What would you have done if West's rebid had been 3 instead of 2?

You want to reach game, but is it 5, 3NT or 4♠?

Some Easts just blasted 3NT. I like their style and panache, and also their luck when partner produced an unassailable club stopper. (Imagine partner with ♣Kx: you want her to be declaring 3NT, not you, so that the king is protected at trick 1.)

Other Easts went for spade or diamond contracts, with less success.

This is a hand where you want to consult partner. Does partner have spade support? Then 4♠. Does partner have a club stopper? Then 3NT. And if partner has neither of these, then 5 it is.

You can ask these questions by making a bid that tells a teensie-weensie lie. Over 2 bid 2, as Dorothy Bush did.  Or if partner had rebid 3, bid 3 as Maree Muir did. Both these will wring a bid out of partner to help you.  In each case it was a notrump bid, showing a club stopper (clubs being the unbid suit), and Bob was their uncle. 

If partner had volunteered some spade support over the heart bid, then 4♠ would have been the contract. And if partner had bid something unhelpful, like repeat the diamonds or raise the hearts, then it's back to 5. You've found out what you need to know.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 14/9/21)

This hand presented interesting problems for North, South and East (and also in a few cases West), but I will choose to present the very first problem.

Do you have a plan?  What is your opening salvo?

I feel very strongly that you should open either 5 or 1.

The hand may feel too strong for a preemptive opening, but at this specific vulnerabiliy (you are vulnerable, they are not), opening preempts do denote a good hand. The Rule of 2 and 3 is invaluable: vulnerable, a preemptive opening should have 2 fewer tricks than the contract bid for.  This hand is a 9-tricker: 7 in diamonds (you are prepared to lose to the Q, and 2 in clubs: the king and you hope your fourth club will come good.  So if it's 9 tricks, you should make an 11-trick opening: 5.  That's what I'd open, but I only had one soulmate: Andrew Muir

The 5 opening not only preempts the hell out of the opponents, but accurately informs your partner of your strength. In this case, Andrew's partner might have considered that he had 3 tricks to add, to make 12, although I freely admit that's a tough decision.

Any lower diamond preempt is totally inadequate.

That leaves 1 (which is what you should certainly start with if not vulnerable ... your hand is too strong for a Rule of 2 and 3 5, and you can hardly open 6).  Lots of Norths did so, but you only get full marks if your plan was to repeat the diamonds at the 5-level, to show partner your enormous playing strength.

Edwina Willis opened 1 ... it went 2 on her left (a Michaels cue-bid showing the majors), pass from partner (biding his time), and 2 on her right. She rebid 5 as planned, and South Ian Jesser read it perfectly, giving 6 a shot, despit the big gaps in the major suits. Brilliant stuff!

Finally, in the humour section, we get to West. Three N/S pairs played 3NT by South (let's call that contract 'interesting'). Two Wests led a club, ignoring partner's bidding, leading to -690, an equal second-bottom.  Only Margaret Lehmann did the partnership thing, leading partner's bid spade suit. 3NT still made, rather fortuitously with all four top major suit cards with East, but at least she avoided a wipeout.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 10/9/21)

Today's deal contains an important point of bidding theory. Let's present it as a problem.

Partner's 1NT rebid shows about 12-14 HCP, balanced, and denies 4-card heart support. What do you do now?

Your objective here should be simple. You need to find out if partner has 3-card heart support. If she does, you play 4 ; if not, 3NT. Complicating this thinking is not a winning strategy.

So how best to achieve this, without risking stopping in a partscore?

A number of Norths bid 2. The problem with this natural bid is that 2 is non-forcing. It is not a "change of suit", because your new suit is being bid after a notrump bid. It's only when you go from a suit to a new suit that it is forcing. As it turned out, these Norths got lucky ... their partners, with 3 hearts and 2 diamonds, took them back to 2, resulting in the correct 4 contract. But they could have easily been left to languish in 2.

There are a couple of solutions to this dilemma, and you should choose one. The simplest is a convention called New Minor Forcing. It applies specifically after a 1NT rebid from opener. If you bid a new minor (2 in this case), then it is not a natural bid, but simply an artificial force, asking partner to keep describing their hand. This is how you safely find out whether partner has 3-card support for your major.

The second somewhat more complex approach is Two-Way Checkback.  In that method, a 2♣ rebid (which forces opener to bid 2) begins a game-invitational sequence. A 2 rebid over 1NT is an artificial game-force.  That set of rules applies no matter what bid opener started with.

Two-Way Checkback requires a little bit of work (although it's a great method, used extremely widely throughout the world). New Minor Forcing is almost as good, and there's less to learn. You should pick one.

One pair got this deal right. Lisa Yoffa bid 2 and self-alerted it as an artificial game-force. When partner Ros Davies bid 2, the 4 contract was reached with authority. 

If any of the other pairs that had this same auction were in fact using New Minor Forcing or Two-Way Checkback, keep it to yourselves, because you failed to alert. 

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 9/9/21)

Consider this bidding decision for West: what to do after RHO's 5♣.

I reckon you should bid 5♠. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find three reasons why this is a good idea.

1. The vulnerability. You are non-vulnerable, which means if this turns out to be a sacrifice, then it will be worthwhile. You only need to take 8 tricks in 5♠ to guarantee a better score than them making 5♣. And the fact that the opposition is vulnerable makes it seem likely that they were bidding 5♣ to make it, rather than as a sacrifice themselves.

2. The six spades. Partner's 4♠ is of a 'weak-freak' variety ... lots of spades and very few points. Partner will have 4 or possibly 5 spades, which combined with your 6-bagger means you will be lucky to take a single spade trick against their contract.  You will probably make a diamond trick. Which brings us to:

3. The ♣K.  This card is likely waste-paper. North probably has the ♣A for his overcall, which will chop off the head of your king. Factors 2 and 3 combine to make it likely that 5♣ will make. As indeed it will, with the greatest of ease.

So very well done to Joy Millen and Carolyn Hope who both progressed to 5♠. Their reward for this good judgment: a shared bottom board! Sometimes it's better not to get out of bed. Congratulations to their two sets of opponents, Fiona Ferwerda - Penny Robertson and Martin O'Dell - Basil Danylec, the only two North-South pairs to both overcall that marginal North hand (they felt the quality and width of the clubs) and progress to 5♣ as South. 

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 8/9/21)

Here's an interesting bidding problem for you. Partner opens 1♣, you respond 1 and partner raises to 2, which shows about 12-14 HCP and 4-card heart support.

What now?

You have a pretty good hand - could there be a slam?

Let's see, 17 HCP and 0 distribution points.  Add this to partner's 12-14 and you get 29-31. Normally you would need 33 total points for a suit slam, so it seems to me you are not quite strong enough to go on a slam hunt. Slam could be there, but frankly it's unlikely.

So you might just bid 4, as many did. But your dead flat distribution should make you think about 3NT. It's entirely possible that there are exactly the same number of tricks in notrumps as hearts, in which case you would want to be in notrumps for the extra 10 points.  It's also entirely possible that there is an extra trick available in hearts, if partner has a bit of distribution.

You can have your cake and eat it. The correct bid here is 3NT, offering partner the choice between 3NT and 4. Looking at partner's hand, she was maximum in points (14) but also dead flat. If you were to suggest 3NT, she should accept the offer. There were indeed 10 tricks available in both contracts.

Well done to Yuko Yoshida, Jenny Gray and Elizabeth Gibas, who found the 3NT bid in this auction, and to their respective partners who passed it. An intelligent way to stay out of the 4-4 major suit fit.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 7/9/21)

Here's a very fine defensive problem that no one at the table solved. This was probably due to the fact that no-one was informed in advance that this is a very fine defensive problem.

You have been informed ... see if you can work it out.

Sitting East, you are on defence to North's 5. You decide to lead the ♠A, and declarer, North, follows with what appears to be (and is) a singleton king.

What now?

One very useful defensive technique is to count the missing HCP and mentally divide them between declarer and partner, based on the bidding.

Here, you have 11, dummy 13, so there are 16 outstanding. Declarer opened the bidding and will have most of these 16 HCP. You will be lucky if partner can contribute one useful card to the defence.

Next you look at dummy and see those threatening clubs. The king is missing: if partner has it, then you will defeat 5 easily enough with three top tricks. 

But if declarer has, as is likely, the ♣K, trouble looms. He will have 5 trump tricks, the ♠Q, A, and once your ♣A has been knocked out, 4 club tricks (as your ♣10 obligingly drops  early): that adds up to 11.

So there is no time to lose: you must hope partner has Q and switch to diamonds, establishing a diamond trick for the defence whilst you still have the ♣A. As I said, no-one found it, but it is completely logical. And as you can see it works.

What if the Q and J were interchanged? Then your diamond  switch would have run around to declarer's queen, giving him an undeserved extra trick. However it would have made no difference, as the clubs were always going to be established anyway. This is a situation where an apparently dangerous play is not dangerous at all.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 3/9/21)

You're playing 2♠ as South, and West leads a low diamond. You hopefully try Q, but East covers with K, and you win A.

The correct play here is to start drawing trumps. Anything you might try in the other suits can wait. So you lead the ♠A, West follows with ♠2, East ♠9.

Now what?

Your next trump play requires a bit of calculation. The first thing to note is that if the 6 outstanding spades divide 3-3, then what you do now doesn't matter. You will play 3 rounds, eventually, and that will be the end of the enemy trumps. The second thing to note is that if that ♠9 is a singleton, then West started with exactly ♠KQ1042, and as long as you don't play the ♠3 next, it also won't matter.

The key situation is when the ♠9 was played from a doubleton. It could be ♠K9, or ♠Q9 or ♠109. The first two combinations also don't matter: whatever you play next, that honour will win, and West will have two further trump tricks coming.

There is in fact one and only one scenario where your next play matters, and that is the actual real-life layout of East with ♠109 doubleton (and West with ♠KQ42). Then it is essential that you play the jack next, smothering East's 10. You will hold your spade losers to two.

Very well done to Billie MacKenzie who made that exact play to wrap up her contract. Valerie Remedios also played ace-then-jack, but later in the play.  Playing good bridge requires hard work.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 1/9/21)

This bidding problem illustrates an important principle of bidding. if you disagree with West's 2♣ response, let's assume you've been called in to replace the actual West, whose internet has dropped out.

What now?

Partner should have 6 spades and a minimum opener. Maybe there is a slam in this, maybe there isn't, but one thing I know: asking for aces is not going to help. The problem is your void heart, which means you are not interested in the A ... the ♠A and ♣A are what you are after. 

Some Wests used Gerber. They found out that partner had two aces and then two kings, and they still couldn't know whether slam was cold, possible or hopeless (you could be missing the ace and king of trumps).

On this deal, you are never going to scientifically find out about the crucial cards that you need: the ace and king of trumps, king of diamonds, ace and queen of clubs.  In my opinion, after this start, you should either bid 4♠ (give up on slam), 6♠ (try a slam) or ...

Why not ask partner what she thinks about her hand?  I recommend 5♠, a natural invitation to slam. It's as good as anything, and in my view better than taking the decision yourself. In this instance, partner has a maximum, 15 HCP, and although the king and jack of hearts are entirely waste paper, it's an excellent slam and she will bid it.

I don't think anyone made this bid, but two Wests, Shayne Wurf and Lanny Chan, simply blasted 6♠ in a slightly different auction ... North had stuck in a heart bid over 2♣ , and partner then volunteered a repeat spade bid. That changed the nature of the auction, in a sense East showing that they would accept a 5♠ invitation in the auction I postulated. The point is that neither of them bothered with 4NT, a bid that could not possibly help them.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 31/8/21)

It's a little difficult for this deal not to be hand-of-the-day. As you can see there are 14 stone-cold tricks in either a diamond or notrump contract.. So up front let me congratulate Anne Kirkpatrick - Carol Wilson and Edwina Willis - Ian Jesser, the two pairs who reached a grand-slam and shared the E/W top.

As for the bidding, it wouldn't surprise me that the 16 tables saw 16 different auctions. Despite the 14 tricks, it's not necessarily an easy hand to bid. But there are a few useful learning points to make.

Let's start at the start ... what should West open?

I wonder if anyone considered opening 4NT, as simple Blackwood. It's a thought, right? 3 aces = 7NT, 2 aces = 6, 1 ace = 5, 0 aces = oh s..t.  Well, it's a plan, and not a bad one.

But if you don't go for it, my strong opinion is that you should open 2♣, as our two successful pairs did. Normally one would expect more than 13 HCP for a 2♣ opening, but the big problem is that if you open 1, you will never ever ever be able to communicate to partner the vast playing strength of your hand.  

Suppose you do open 2♣ and partner gives you a positive with 3♣.  Now perhaps bid 4NT?  Even if partner reads this as Roman Key Card  Blackwood for clubs, your ♣K protects you from an ambiguous response. There are dangers with that plan, in particular over the 0 or 3 response to RKCB. This is a rare situation where you can't tell for sure which one it is!

So I prefer the auction to  start 2♣ -  3♣ - 3.  Now at one table I watched, East leapt into Blackwood, 4NT, and got a 5♠ response (two key-cards with diamonds trumps plus the Q). East then asked for kings with 5NT, which brings me to the second learning point.

When you use Blackwood, of any form, and then follow up with a 5NT bid asking for kings, it promises that you hold all the aces (or keycards).  Why? Because it forces you to a slam anyway, and why would one bother with a king-ask if it wasn't to keep a grand slam in the picture?  So 5NT here should guarantee ownership of 3 aces, and this can result in my recommended winning auction:

  2♣ - 3♣ 
  3 - 4NT
  5♠ - 5NT
  7NT 

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 27/8/21)

Here's a nasty bidding decision for you. It is worth noting that even the most gruesome problem provides an opportunity to win lots of matchpoints. You just have to make a less-worse decision than everyone else.

Partner opens 1, you respond 1♠, LHO overcalls 2♣ and partner rebids 2. Yuck. What do you do?

And what do you do if partner had instead rebid 2?

Over the 30 tables in play, East-West managed to go down a total of 83 tricks - an impressive performance.  So the aim here is to say as low as possible so you can go down as few as possible.

West's hand is truly horrible: 7 lousy points, no fit for partner's suit(s) and with LHO's club overcall sitting over your clubs. 

Let's dispense first with the scenario where partner rebid 2. With or without the 2♣ overcall, you should pass. Partner's rebid shows a 6-card suit, so at least you will have the majority of the trumps. Those that bid on in this auction were contravening a basic rule of everything: "when you're in a hole, stop digging".  Good work by Jean Macleod, Teck Chan, Faye Bell, Sarah Walter, Jan Downing and Moira Hecker who duly passed 2 to avoid a wipeout. (They don't get their names in bold, because I reckon passing 2 is totally clear ... sorry about that.)

The situation where East rebid 2 is nastier. It's a change of suit, and should normally be played as forcing. Still ... what is West going to rebid? 2 preference on a singleton? 2♠ on a rotten 5-card suit? 2NT? Good luck making that contract!  And a problem with all of these choices is that they give partner another bid in the auction, and unless you see "pass", you are going to be very unhappy.

So kudos to Jo-Anne Heywood and Lesley Johnstone who passed 2, potentially (but not actually) ending up in a 6-card fit. They stopped digging, and scored well. 

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 26/8/21)

Try playing 5  here. You can see the bidding: that might be useful input.

North leads A, and a trick two, switches to ♣5.

What to do, what to do?

One of the more useful (and challenging) techniques in bridge is to put yourself in an opponent's place and ask: "what would I do in that situation?"

On this deal, if North has ♣K, you can play low from dummy and win the trick in your hand. This will likely lead to an easy make, as the clubs can be established for a spade discard.

BUT, North is looking at that threatening club suit in dummy ... would he really lead away from the ♣K in that position? It would be crazy, surely. Much more likely is that South has ♣K, and that North has led from a doubleton club, or even ...

Looking at the full deal, you can see that ducking in dummy is fatal: South will win ♣K and give partner a club ruff.

If South does have ♣K, the hand makes quite easily. Rise with the ace at trick 2, draw the trumps and lead towards the ♣Q. Eventually dummy's fifth club will be establised on which you can discard your losing spade.

Easy enough, but first one must place oneself in North's shoes and ask "why is he playing a club?"

Well done to Lanny Chan, the only West to get this right. Her opponent led the club at trick 1, but the reasoning was the same: this is far more logical as a shortage lead, rather than from strength against dummy's known 5-card club suit.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 25/8/21)

Here's a problem that might have arisen today, but actually didn't.  You open 1 and partner responds 1♠. What's your rebid?

It's a tricky one. A 3♠ bid promises 4-card support, which you don't have. 2NT shows 18-19 HCP, which you don't have. In my view the best compromise here is to bid a 3-card minor (2 in this case) to keep the auction rolling along. Of course that lies about the diamonds, so my solution is hardly perfect. 

The auction never came up for two reasons. Most Norths gave heart support, resulting in a 4 contract. Jim Stewart was the only North to respond 1♠, by far the best choice in my view. With the dead flat hand, I don't think North should commit to a heart contract just yet. Spades (if partner partner has support) or notrumps might be far better.  At his table, East bid 2 which actually resolved South's rebid problem.

The other reason the auction 1 - (P) - 1♠ - (P) never came up is that about half a dozen Souths opened 1NT. The question of whether to open 1NT with a 5-card major has been around for donkey's years, but one reason why it's a good idea is that it allows you to avoid nasty rebid problems when you open 1 of a major. It's good for the blood pressure: open 1NT and let nature take its course.

Col O'Brien, Rosemary Polya, Lisa Yoffa and Sandra McCaughey were among the Souths who opened 1NT. Their partners all used Stayman, and rebid 3NT over South's 2 response. The 5-3 heart fit was missed, but 3NT was by far the best contract both in theory and practice. The fact is that a 5-3 major suit fit is not always the key to the city.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 24/8/21)

Sit East, defending North's 3NT contract. What do you lead?

It looks to me to be a bit of a toss-up between clubs and spades: the clubs are longer, but the spades are stronger. For the sake of the upcoming problem, let's say you start with ♠Q.

Down comes the dummy, which plays low, ♠5 from partner, ♠A from declarer.  So no damage done so far. Next declarer plays ♣K. You should probably duck this, to see what declarer does next, but suppose you win ♣A, partner following with ♣7.

What now, and why?

If you 'responded' to this problem by considering what partner's ♠5 at trick 1 might signify, then you have answered correctly.

Some level of defensive signalling is essential if you want to win. A simple and effective rule is that when partner is simply following low to one of your leads, she gives you an attitude signal. For example, playing "low = like, high = hate", a good method, a low card would say she likes the suit, all things considered. 

If you are playing that way, then the ♠5, being the lowest outstanding spot card, says 'like'.  That would be consistent with partner having some help there, the king, or more likely the ten. So you should continue at trick 3 with your small spade, continuing the spade attack. This will defeat the contract, as partner had ♠1073.  Declarer cannot hold up the spades, and cannot develop 9 tricks before you get 5.

If partner had instead started with ♠75 doubleton, then she would have played the ♠7 at trick 1, discouraging the suit. You would then look elsewhere, rather than lead a second spade into declarer's ♠K10 jaws.  And if partner had started with ♠5 singleton?  Well, that would be unfortunate, but perhaps then declarer might have bid 3♠ over South's 3.

Only one East-West pair defeated 3NT.  Pam Davey led a 4th best ♠3 to resolve the spade situation with ease. Good old 4th best leads to notrump contracts. Partner Gail Feller then cooperated appropriately in the defence to leave declarer with no chance.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 20/8/21)

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the Dutch liqueur company Bols ran a series of "Bols Bridge Tips" where the world's best players wrote about their favourite tips for players.

One of the best known of these was by Benito Garozzo, the Italian star, who wrote the tip, "Against a slam contract, attack!".  See  tinyurl.com/nsstm2n5 

His advice was to make passive opening leads to game contracts, but aggressive attacking leads to slams.

Bearing that in mind, choose a lead to this slam.

If you read the article, you will see that in each case, the lead of an unsupported honour defeats the contract (jack from KJ, king from K10xx, king or jack from KJ98). Sadly these setups exist only in the world of bridge fantasy, and liqueur-addled articles. In the real world, dangerous attacking leads against slams are much more likely to toss an unmakeable contract into declarer's hands.

I'm no Benito Garozzo, but I suspect if you gave this problem to a bunch of international stars, they would unwaveringly do the opposite of his advice, and lead a quiet trump, giving nothing away. And so did Kerri Jones, Eveline Fallshaw, Teck Chan, Deb Fogarty and Helge Pedersen.  In due course, declarer lost both minor suit finesses (unlucky!) to go down in the excellent slam. Those who led an attacking diamond let the contract make.

At a few tables, North was declarer in slam. East had nothing but passive leads, and could lead his left boot to defeat the contract.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 19/8/21)

Today, let's consider an interesting opening lead problem. What do you lead? Or in more detail, what score, out of 10, would you give to each of the leads: a spade, a heart, a diamond or a club?

I can't think of a single good thing to say about a club lead.  It is declarer's second suit, so leading up to is most unwise.  Let's say Club = 1.  If you chose the club, keep quiet about it.

The diamond lead was more popular. Perhaps some led it due to the "fourth highest of your longest and strongest" rule, but that really only operates for notrump contracts. A diamond lead could develop tricks for your side, but it is probable that those tricks will be available later in the play anyway. In other words, what's the rush? There would only be urgency if declarer can develop diamond discards on dummy's spades, and frankly, that scenario is unlikely, as partner may well have spades sitting over the dummy.  And the potential downside of a diamond lead is obvious, that it gives declarer a free cheap trick. I will give Diamond = 5.

What about the spades? That's a good lead. Whilst there's not a great chance of getting a ruff, leading through a weak dummy's suit is always a viable option. The spade lead gives nothing away, and is a fine lead, found by Chris Heesom and Lanny Chan.  It duly defeated 4  and I give it Spade = 9.

Finally there is the dynamic headline-grabbing lead of a trump. How many hearts does dummy have? Or clubs?  Almost certainly dummy has two hearts, and any number of clubs from 0 to 3. Declarer may want to trump clubs, and your trump lead (perhaps followed by another one if you get in with a club) will foil that plot.  In my view, Heart = 10.

The four Do's and Dont's out of this:

  • Don't lead declarer's second suit
  • Don't necessarily lead 4th from longest and strongest again a suit contract
  • Do lead from weakness through dummy's strength
  • Do lead trumps to stop dummy getting ruffs
Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 18/8/21)

Test yourself on this 3NT.  You are East, and South leads ♠5.  You play low from dummy, and North follows with ♠4.

How do you play it?

It's all about the overtricks. There are 9 tricks on top, and at least 2 more in all likelihood from the clubs. All things being equal, with an 8-card fit, the best play in that suit is to finesse the jack, hoping North has ♣Q. If it works, you will make 12 tricks.

But are all things equal? Suppose you finesse in clubs, and lose to South's ♣Q. Now if South plays a heart, your K is exposed. If the A is with North, you could take as few as 9 tricks.

This is a situation where South is the danger hand, the hand you don't want to give the lead up to. So I agree whole-heartedly with Yuko Yoshida and Ian Williams, the two declarers who banged out the ♣A and ♣K at tricks 2 and 3. Gratifyingly, the ♣Q dropped from South, so 12 tricks were there: I love it when a plan comes together.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 17/8/21)

Today's deal is a declarer play problem, but the bidding is also a challenge. What should South do after her 1♠ response is raised to 2♠?

It's tempting to try for slam, but the hand is dead flat, and the spades are awful. There's probably not enough strength for a slam.  Most Souths just bid 4♠, but a few tried 3NT, offering partner an alternative contract, which could be best if partner is also dead flat, or perhaps has only 3 spades. I think it's a good idea, and North should probably go back to spades, with legitimate 4-card support and a side suit doubleton.

Anyway, you are South declaring 4♠ and West leads a low heart. How do you play it?

Your only losers are in trumps. The clubs and hearts are solid, and you can ruff your third diamond in dummy.

Trumps will divide either 3-2 or 4-1 (we don't want to think about the situation where one opponent has all 5 spades). If trumps are 3-2, it doesn't matter what we do, but if they are 4-1, some care is needed. A number of declarers played ace and another spade. They put their contract at risk, because if spades were 4-1, all their trumps would be extracted, and it's bye-bye diamond ruff.

The correct play, found by Brian Dean, Penny Robertson, Annette King and David Hudson is to play a low spade from both hands at trick 2. They won the return and now played the ♠A. If spades were indeed 4-1, they would find out at this point, and be in control. A diamond is ruffed, and all the other side suit winners taken. A defender is welcome to his two remaining trump tricks whenever he wants to take them, but the contract is secure.

The trump ace of course is the most valuable card there is. It can be used to control your play in the trump suit, as here. As luck would have it, trumps were 3-2, so the four declarers gained no extra points other than the satisfaction of having played the hand correctly.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 13/8/21)

The Multi 2 convention is becoming increasingly prevalent around the world. Escaping from England back in the 80s, it has spread globally like a virus.  Only America seems to have been vaccinated against it: it is hardly played there.

Enough of the silly analogy. I don't much care for the Multi myself ... I think that on balance the 2 opening (a weak two in an unidentified major, or 20-22  balanced) is a losing proposition against properly prepared opponents. 

However, the convention has a huge upside in how it frees up to the 2 and 2♠ openings, which become real weapons. Those bids are best played as showing about 6-10 HCP, a 5-card major in the opened suit, and at least 4 cards in an unidentified minor. (Some partnerships require the minor to be 5 cards long, but perhaps that reduces the frequency of the opening too much.)

Look at how it operated on board 2 today. What can N/S do to counter the 2 opening, raised to 4 by West?  In my view, nothing. Being vulnerable, how can they possibly enter the auction?  Even if South screws up the courage to overcall 3♣, that is not going to help North after West's 4.  4 makes easily, and so in all probability will 4♠.

Three E/W pairs deployed the convention here: Jenny Gray - Tony Georgeson, Anna Kearon - George Campbell and Robin & Moira Hecker. Their opponents were left with my sympathy and very few matchpoints.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 12/8/21)

On today's deal, partner opens 1NT.

This doesn't look too complicated, but how do you bid it?

At one level, this is straightforward. You have 6 hearts, so there is a guaranteed 8+ card heart fit. And you have 10 HCP, so there's enough overall strength for game.

Most Souths considered it no further, transferring into hearts (via 2) then raising themselves to game. Note that it's far preferable that partner be declarer, so that the opening lead comes around to his hand.

But one South, David Hollands, thought about it more deeply. Was there not a healthy possibility that whatever tricks are available in a heart contract are also there in notrumps? Partner has got nothing in hearts, so it is very unlikely (but not impossible) that any of the other suits pose a threat to a notrump contract.

So he took the completely opposite approach, and simply raised 1NT to 3NT!  Sure enough, after a club lead, partner had no difficulty taking 12 tricks, for a top score. And well deserved it was too.

A third "middling" approach is possible. Transfer to 2, then rebid 3NT offering partner a choice between 3NT and 4.  But I prefer David's decisive action.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 11/8/21)

It's the first board of a red-point duplicate, and already you are given a tricky decision. That's bridge!

You are West. LHO opens 1NT, RHO responds 2, a transfer, and LHO's 2♠ is passed back to you. Are you going to balance back into the auction, or not?

Practically everyone passed out 2♠, which is understandable. Your hand is rather moderate and there is a strong notrump on your left.

The outcomes in 2♠ varied dramatically, from three down to two overtricks, but all these scores were worse (from an E/W perspective) than E/W making 170 or 420 in a heart contract.

One brave West, Carolyn Hart, balanced with 3 and played it there, for an excellent score. This is also understandable ... the 10 provides protection in the suit, and the vulnerability is all-green, which is absolutely the best situation for competing for a partscore. (It often pays to buy the contract at nil-vulnerable, when either you or your opponents are going down in only 50s.)

However there is a better solution - a far better solution - to this problem, found by Libby Persson. She doubled 2, a completely safe way of showing her hearts without getting sucked into the auction. The result was gratifying: partner Mike Pogson competed to 3 over 2♠, and when N/S unwisely competed with 3♠ he went on to 4 and made it with an overtrick. Whatever he had done, Libby's double of 2 had locked in a good score.

Doubling a transfer (or Stayman club bid for that matter)  is a fine way to show a suit: it can point the way to the best opening lead or, as in this case, allow you to compete for the contract.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 10/8/21)

You are North, playing a heart contract. It could be 4 or 6: it really doesn't matter: you just want to make as many tricks as you possibly can.

East leads ♠A (a Greek gift). You trump it, and take stock. What's next?

Dummy's ♠K has been set up, but it's of little use to you: what you really want to do is establish the clubs, by ruffing out the king. 

The problem is entries to your (North) hand. The opening lead has removed one of them. It won't matter, as long as you clear out the ♣ A before drawing trumps.

The correct play is ♣A at trick 2, then K, A. If trumps divide 2-2 (as they did), you can ruff a club, and as long as that suit divides 3-2, you still have two entries back to your hand to ruff the clubs good: making 13 tricks.

If trumps are 3-1, run the ♣Q next, being prepared to possibly lose a club trick, but making the rest easily.

Neither of these schemes will work if you don't clear away the ♣A early (which is also the safest way to make 12 tricks: several pairs didn't).

No-one found this line, but well done to Jan Lonergan and Ian Williams, the only pair to bid and make 6.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 6/8/21)

This cruel hand illustrates an important point of theory, involving ace-asking, solved by only one pair.

The early part of the auction had many variations, but the heart fit should be revealed, and North will typically investigate slam. In the auction I have given, let's call 2NT a "notrump raise", showing hearts and some sort of good raise.

North then unleashes Blackwood, and let's say South gives a "1430" style response, with 5♣ showing either 1 or 4 keycards for hearts.

What should happen next?

From North's perspective, it's certainly possible that partner has only one keycard. So Liz Gillies (and a bunch of other Norths) correctly bid 5, fearing that even that cautious contract might not make.

But South has four keycards, and realizing that North was worried about her having only one, should clarify matters and bid 6Hayley Mitchell (and a few other Souths) did so.

Now North should sit up in her chair and re-evaluate. If South has 4 keycards, they are the ♠A, K, A and ♣A.  In which case surely 7 is an easy make!  Liz was the only North to make this deduction and bid the almost laydown grand-slam.

Almost laydown. Alas, the spades broke 5-1, and the hand with the singleton had 3 trumps. After two rounds of trumps, Liz played spades, planning to ruff the third round high to establish the suit, but West ruffed the second round.  That was truly unlucky.

(Technically, 7 should be made. On say ♠J lead, declarer should win, and play A then ruff a diamond high. Next a trump to the K and ruff another diamond high. When the K drops, dummy's last two diamonds are good. Declarer draws the rest of the trumps  and claims. If the K has not appeared, declarer plays a second trump, and does the normal thing of trying to ruff the spades good. But only the most cautious of declarers would bother with all this.)

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 5/8/21)

Consider this bidding decision, the genre of which crops up frequently.

You open 1♠, partner gives you 2♠.  Could there be a making 4♠ here?  What do you do?

Some Norths saw a 13 point hand opposite 6-9, and cautiously passed 2♠. That was too little.

Others counted distribution points, length points and any other points they could find, and blasted 4♠. That was too much (at least it was if their partners were like all of mine, who never have the right hand).

Finally there was the group who thought they were Goldilocks and invited with 3♠.

Of those 3♠ers, most of their partners passed, a few went on to 4♠.

The hand is worth an invitation to game, but it should be targeted. What you really want is for partner to help you in clubs, with either honours or a shortage. A bid of 3♣ here is a Long Suit Game Try (also known as a Help Suit Try). It says to partner to evaluate whether their hand is minimum or maximum, but particularly whether they can help deal with your losers in clubs, either with honours, or with a shortage so that clubs can be ruffed.  Conversely, it tells partner to pay less attention to honours/shortages in the other side suits, hearts and diamonds here.

There should be no danger of this bid being misinterpreted: you are hardly going to end up in clubs when you have an announced spade fit.

Look at partner's hand. It's only 7 HCP, but the ♣AK are pure gold in the context of the long suit game try.  And indeed 4♠ is a mighty fine contract, on 20 HCP total, but fitting like a glove.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 3/8/21)

Robots rule. I noticed this interesting declarer play problem in the hand record, and was wondering how many would get it right. Only the robot did, which makes it a truly impressive piece of software, because it's not entirely obvious.

See if you can play as well as the robot. You end up in 4 by North, and the 4 is led ... 5, 10, J.

Take it from there.

Should you draw the rest of the trumps?  Whilst you have only 3 top losers (2 diamonds and a  club), the third and fourth spades in the North hand need to be dealt with.

You could try to trump them in dummy, but there's a snag. Suppose you play ♠A, ♠K and trump a spade. How will you get back to your hand to trump the  last spade? You have to give up the lead, at which point the defence will play a second round of trumps, removing dummy's last heart. It won't work.

The solution is to set up the dummy's (South's) clubs. And you have to start that right now, because if you do establish the clubs, the only entry to them will be in the trump suit, hearts.

At trick 2, play ♣Q.  If the defence win and play a second trump, then play ♣K, ruff the clubs good (you can afford to ruff the third club with A) and draw the final trump to dummy.  You will need both trumps and clubs to divide reasonably, but it's your only chance.

Are you as good as the robot?

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 29/7/21)

Today's deal might appear to feature the world's most boring bidding problem, but bear with me.

You are North. Partner opens 1♣, next hand bids 1 ... and you?

Nearly everyone bid 1. This was not necessarily calamitous, although it does get you to an inferior heart contract, whose fate depends on the defence.

Just one North, Jenny Gray, chose a negative double. This is a far superior bid, as it brings spades into the picture. This negative double shows at least 4-cards in both majors. One way of seeing, philosophically, why the negative double is better than 1 is that it immediately shows 8 of your 13 cards to partner (4+ spades, 4+ hearts). 1 on the other hand only shows 4 of your 13 cards.

Making a bid that shows less of your distribution is not necessarily wrong, if you have a plan to continue describing your hand later.  That plan usually depends on your having plenty of strength,to justify more bidding later. This is not the case here. Suppose you bid 1, next hand 2 and partner passes, lacking heart support (which could have happened on the actual layout).  Now what? Are you going to repeat the hearts, when partner could have a singleton? Or bid 2♠ taking you to the stratosphere if partner fits neither major. It's much better get almost all your hand off your chest immediately.

On the actual layout, a negative double works perfectly: you will reach your 4-4 spade fit, and stay safely at the 2-level. 

The takeaway: with limited strength, choose a bid that shows as much of your hand as possible.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 27/7/21)

This deal was a study of contrasting contracts. I will show you the North and South hands and ask you how you would start the auction.

West deals and opens 1♠. What should North say?  

Whatever North does, East will pass. What should South say?

The main teaching point on this hand is that North should pass 1♠. The hand lacks one of the conditions for a takeout double: 3+ cards in each side suit. If North doubles, what will he do if partner responds in clubs? There is no answer. Passing 2♣ could land you in a ridiculous non-fit. But there's no suit to show, and a followup 2NT shows 19-21 HCP. One simply has to learn to pass these hands. Good job by the half-a-dozen or so Norths who did so, including Shyamala Abey

If North does pass 1♠, what about South, when East also passes?  2 is tempting, on the basis of adding 3 points in the balancing seat. I admit that I may well bid 2, but I think in the cold light of day, it's an error. The ♠Qxxx sends a big signal. If partner couldn't bid over 1♠ (eg a takeout double with a spade shortage), and North also has some strength, then she is likely to have length in spades. In which case marooning the opponents in 1♠ might be the winning action. A huge round of applause to Shyamala's partner, Susan Shand, who did indeed pass out 1♠.

Take a look at all four hands. 1♠ goes down, and meanwhile, E/W make 6♣! One of the Norths who doubled 1♠ lost control of things. Partner responded in diamonds, West bid clubs and suddenly E/W were in business. N/S competed to 5 but East now bid 6♣, doubled by N/S.

As N/S, I'd much prefer defending 1♠ than 6♣.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 23/7/21)

Life is rather challenging in Melbourne (and elsewhere) at the moment, so I thought I would laud a decision that was taken quite a few players.

You hold the North hand and partner opens 1NT, 15-17 HCP.

What's your plan for this auction?

In one of my (many) written lessons, I have a flowchart for how to respond to partner's 1NT. Part of it reads like:

If at least 10 points, then
    If 5+ major, then transfer, etc etc
    Else if 4+ major, then Stayman, etc etc
    Else 3NT

It's a simple piece of logic, and pretty reliable in real life. Assuming you add some length points for the 6-card club suit, it tells North to bid 3NT and damn the torpedoes.

The danger is overthinking it: ooh, I'm worried about the singleton diamond, or ooh, I'm worried that we won't be able to run the clubs. It's fine to worry, just don't let it affect your bidding.

The following Norths stuck to the flowchart: Viv Braham, Sue Hollands, Jim Stewart, Carolyn Hart, Robin Hecker and Denise Donald.  Good job.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 22/7/21)

Today's deal features bridge's most awkward distribution: 1444, with a singleton spade. You're up as dealer, and must choose your opening bid.

It's a good idea with tricky hands like this to ask yourself the question: "If I open X, what will I rebid if partner responders Y?"  Y is a likely and unhelpful response (in this case 1♠). 

So I ask you: what do you open, and what do you rebid if partner responds 1♠?

The field came up with a number of 'solutions', few of which worked.

1 then 2♣ was quite common, lying about the number of diamonds held. Then when partner repeated the spades, 2NT to show the extra strength.

Or 1♣ and then 2 or 2, a reverse bid on doubtful strength, and also misdescribing the distribution.

1♣/ followed by 1NT was another option, lying immediately about the strength.

Lies, lies, lies.

No one selected my choice, 1NT, which of course is also a lie. But it is a lie that doesn't come with a rebid problem. In fact this is why opening bids of 1NT on offshape hands are worth considering, because at least you won't be stressed later in the auction. It employs a bidding tactic which is one of my favourites: hoping for the best.  And in this case, at least your singleton is an honour.

On this deal, a 1NT opening will have you shortly declaring 2♠, which might not be what you hoped for, but is nevertheless the best. The correct contract to reach. 

A handful of pairs reached 2♠. A couple of them Helen McAdam & Moira Hecker and Maggie & Nick Truscott reached it via a weak jump response of 2♠, passed by opener: another bidding tactic of which I am particularly fond.

For a second example of a good offshape 1NT opening, see the South hand on board 6.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 21/7/21)

Here's a neat declarer play problem for you. Not an easy one, by any means, but not impossible either.

You're East playing in a heart contract. In 4, it's all about overtricks: if you don't care about overtricks, then imagine you are in 6, as several Easts were.

The opening lead is ♣K. You win that and lead the A, all following. There's just one enemy trump remaining.

Now what? There are no losers in hearts, diamonds or clubs, but there is certainly a risk of two spade losers, a likelihood even. Is there a layout in spades that could work to your advantage? Or something else you could try?

Have a good long think about that, then click [Show Answer].

If an opponent started with ♠A-doubleton (or ♠A singleton), you can make this. Suppose it is South.  You lead low from your (East) hand, South must play low, and your ♠Q wins. Next you play a low spade from both hands, on which South wins the ace perforce ... your ♠K is a winner.

Or if it is North with the short spade ace, you cross to dummy and lead low towards your ♠K for the same effect.

It's not much of a chance. In fact it's only 27% that the short-ace scenario is in play, and you have to halve that because it's pretty much a guess which way round to play the spades.  You don't have to learn these percentages, but it should be clear that it's an unlikely setup.

In fact there's a far superior play for 12 tricks, 50% in fact ... it is to finesse North for Q. This seems weird, when you have no losers in diamonds, but it's actually a risk-free approach. You draw the second trump with dummy's Q, then lead a diamond to the jack. If it wins, then K, and a third trump to dummy's beautiful 6 to play the A on which you discard a spade. If the diamond finesse fails, you've lost nothing, in fact just switching losers. You will eventually discard a spade on dummy's A to lose the two tricks you were always likely to lose.

Very well done if you found this play ... I don't believe anyone did at the table.

As (bad) luck would have it, the Q was in the wrong hand, so the correct play wouldn't have helped. C'est la vie.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 20/7/21)

This East hand presented a well-known bidding problem. It is when partner opens 2NT and you have precisely 5 spades and 4 hearts.  (They say lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but here it did: board 16 presented exactly the same scenario.)

The problem with the instinctive response, which is to bid 3 as a transfer to spades, is: what will you do then?  If you rebid 3NT, you might miss a 4-4 heart fit. But if you bid 4, perhaps you belonged in 3NT all the time?  And a 4♠ rebid presents the worst of all worlds.

Is there any other solution to this dilemma?

Three Easts found three different solutions to this dilemma, although they all started the same way, with a Stayman 3♣ response. This was the only way they could uncover a 4-4 heart fit. If partner had responded with a major, then Bob would have been their uncle, as a major suit game is bid.

But partner was unhelpful, as partner's tend to be, bidding 3 to deny a major.

Now Pam Davey continued with 3NT, giving up on a 5-3 spade fit. Her spades were not very strong, so she effectively treated them as a 4-card suit. That would have been my plan also.

Jim Stewart on the other hand continued with 3♠. Since partner had denied holding 4 spades, that must show a 5-card suit, and, logically, 4 hearts as well, to give purpose to the Stayman enquiry. Partner, Brian Morrow, read this perfectly and raised to 4♠: the 8-card fit had been uncovered with no stress.

Finally Jo-Anne Heywood wheeled out the heavy artillery, continuing with 3, alerted and explained as the Smolen Convention, showing a 4-card suit and longer spades. Smolen is popular in the USA, where it is most commonly employed after a 1NT opening.

But the bottom line is: if you ever find yourself holding precisely 5 spades and 4 hearts after partner bids a strong 2NT, Stayman is your best option.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Monday 19/7/21)

Consider the East hand here. Partner opens 1, you respond 1♠ and partner jumps to 4♠.  That shows a very strong hand, with 4-card spade support: so strong that partner expects you to make 4♠ even if you have a pathetic 6-point hand.

Well your hand is not so pathetic. In fact, could there be a slam here? Should you try for it, and if so, how? (Don't peek!)

Partner should have around 20 total points for the raise to game. You have 11 TP, so the combined total of 31 TP would seem insufficient for slam. Everyone who faced this problem came to the same conclusion and passed 4♠.

Nevertheless, I think this hand is worth bidding on with. The point is that the 10 HCP you do have are pure gold.  The two aces are great, right? But so is Q, because it is in partner's opened suit. That card is going to pull a lot of weight.

Take a look at partner's hand ... see how the Q fills in the suit. Indeed 6♠ is just about laydown: it would take a wrecking ball of bad distribution to defeat it.  Some queens are better than other queens: switch that queen to hearts, or clubs, and now the slam has practically no chance. Secondary honours, queens and even jacks, are far more powerful in your side's long suits than in your short suits.

One pair did bid the slam: Lindy and Ken Anderson. They were playing splinter bids, and West (Ken) rebid 4, showing enough for a spade game and with a singleton or void heart. Now East (Lindy) knew for sure that her Q was a huge asset and bid 5♣, a cue-bid showing a top honour (or shortage) in clubs. When Ken returned the compliment with 5, that was enough for Lindy, and she bid 6♠. Well done!

(The 5♣ cue-bid points the way forward for East if West instead makes the bulky raise to 4♠.  The East hand is not great for Blackwood, with the small doubleton heart.)

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 15/7/21)

Many many lead problems are of the genre: "Nothing stands out: it's a guess". But just occasionally, you get one where you are spoiled for choice.

This hand is a good example: on lead to 4♠ there are two excellent leads available: the Q top of a sequence, or the singleton diamond.

Which one is it to be?

Here's a tip based on several decades of experience: When in doubt, lead a side-suit singleton against a trump contract.

It just works. Dell Macneil and Stan Angelides were two Souths that led their diamond. It went A, diamond ruffed, Q - K - A, another diamond ruff, with the ♣A still to come ... down two. The many Souths that instead led their Q found that 4♠ made when the second heart was ruffed by declarer.

I know that one deal proves nothing, but it should be noted in that in the wonderful book Winning Suit Contract Leads by David Bird and Taf Anthias, the authors perform massive computer simulations to discover what leads tend to work best. Their conclusion? "Side suit singletons are excellent leads and should nearly always be chosen."

This deal had another very interesting point to it. Sit yourself in the East chair, declaring 4♠. The lead is a diamond, and a diamond is returned and ruffed. Damn it! Next comes the Q.  There is absolutely no point putting the K on this: it is totally obvious that North has A.  If you play low, then the Q will win, South will play another heart, which you ruff. The defence's second diamond ruff has been avoided. You still go down one, but down one is a whole lot better than down 2.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 13/7/21)

I was curious to see how the field would evaluate this North hand, after partner has opened 1NT.

How would you approach it?

Just how good as this hand? There are two aspects to it that merit consideration.

First, the singleton K. We are taught to discount the value of singleton kings, but that's not really the whole story. For notrump purposes, it doesn't matter all that much that the king is singleton, particularly when put together with a strong 1NT opener. It will provide value when combined with honour cards in partner's hand. Basically, it still deserves its 3 point allocation.

Secondly, the 6-card club suit. That's worth plenty, in a notrump contract, the point being that the suit may well get established and run. That is why the good Lord invented length points.  A length point is allocated for every card beyond 4 cards you hold in a suit. So in this case the clubs provide 2 length points. (Length points must never be used in conjunction with shortage points, otherwise there will be severe double-counting.)  

In summary, for notrump purposes, this hand is woth 11 points (9 HCP plus 2 length points) and is sufficient to go to 3NT.

Helen Snashall was the only North who agreed with this evaluation. She bid 2♣, Stayman, to check for a possible 4-4 spade fit, and when partner responded 2, denying a major, she went straight to 3NT. This, I think, is the right way to bid the hand.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 8/7/21)

You may find the following play problem instructive.  Sitting North, you are in 3NT (do you agree with partner not using Stayman?), and the lead from East is the ♣5.

The question is ... what should you play from dummy (South)?

If East has led from a suit headed by KQ(xxx), then you should put in the jack.

But if he started with K10(xxx) or Q10(xxx), then it's right to play the 9 ... this will force West's other honour, and your remaining AJ will deal with East's honour.

The correct theoretical play is right there in those two sentences.  Playing the jack caters for one class of holding (KQ), whilst playing the 9 caters for two classes of holding (K10 and Q10). 

You should play the ♣9 at trick 1. Evelyn Borner, Gordon Travers and Colin Wilshire found this correct play ... and fell flat on their faces.  West won ♣10, returned the suit, and down they went. Virtue had to be its own reward for those three.

Two further little points:

1) If opening leader has bid the suit, then led it, then you might consider this changes the odds. Perhaps they are now a bit more likely to have started with KQ, in order to bid it. You must judge whether that's the case.

2) This deal illustrates why you should play 4th highest leads (rather than top of a limited sequence) to notrump contracts. Anyone who led ♣K gave the show away.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 6/7/21)

This problem defeated several South players tonight. The solution is a little bit of technology.

First the problem ... then the solution.

You would like to compete in clubs, but don't want to get partner excited. For example, if you bid 3♣ here, partner will regard it as a forcing bid, and bid on. That's not what you want.

The solution is a nifty little convention called Lebensohl. You bid 2NT, which commands partner to bid 3♣ and then pass your next bid (if any). With this hand you would pass 3♣, but if your long suit is diamonds instead, you convert 3♣ to 3, and expect partner to pass that. Neat!

Lebensohl is best known for when partner opens 1NT and they intervene, but it works equally well if partner overcalls 1NT.

Of course conventions like this also have a downside. What if you want to bid 2NT naturally, inviting partner to bid 3NT? You can no longer do so. So there are swings and roundabouts to the Lebensohl convention. But experience says that the swing of being able to compete in a suit without getting partner excited is far more valuable and frequent than the roundabout of not having an invitational 2NT available.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 1/7/21)

Today, we have a declarer play problem, which involves expertise at two different levels.  Let's see how you fare.

You are West, declaring 6NT after the simplest (and correctest) of auctions.  North leads a spade.

Over to you.

Start, as always in a notrump contract, by counting your top tricks.  3 top spades, 3 hearts, 2 diamonds and 2 clubs = 10. You're looking for 12, so where are the extra two tricks to come from?

You could finesse South for the ♣Q: if it works (a 50% chance) there are 4 club tricks, not 2. That brings your tally to 12. 

Or you could play on diamonds. If diamonds divide 3-2, which they usually will, then you can, for example, play AK, give up a trick to the Q. East's two remaining diamonds are good, and there are your extra two tricks.

Even better, if the diamonds are foul, you will find out when someone discards on the second round of the suit. You can then divert to Plan Clubs, again making if the club finesse works. 

How did the field do? Well, of the 19 tables, 9 reached the correct contract of 6NT, and of those, just three planned the play correctly. They are the Level 1 Play Problem winners.

The Level 2 issue is more advanced. After the A (all follow small) you could play the K next (as Maggie Callander and Warren Cousins did), hoping the Q appears. When it in fact did drop, they scored up an overtrick.

Or, after A has won, you could play a low diamond from dummy, towards your J, which is how Dennis Goldner played it.  This is a safety play, because it will score up the slam if South started with Q10xx, without needing the clubs.  If making your contract is your sole objective (and it often should be, even playing for matchpoints), then that line of play gives you the absolute best chance of success.

Deciding which of these two good plays (AK or A then low to jack) is a tricky business. It depends on your estimate of what the field will be doing. If you think you will be the only one in 6NT, then you should take the safety play, as Dennis did: just making your contract is paramount.  But if you think everyone will be in 6NT, then Maggie and Warren played it right, as the possibility of an overtrick is a more likely outcome than you needing the safety play. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 29/6/21)

Of the 8 tables in play, no one quite had this problem, but I thought it was worth discussing anyway.

As West, defending South's 3NT, you decide to lead a low spade (the unbid suit). Partner plays ♠K, which wins the trick, then ♠J, also winning, then ♠9, which declarer wins with the ace.

Next declarer plays a heart. 

How will you defend?

As a defender, it's important to try to construct, as best you can, declarer's hand. 

For example, if declarer has, as well as the ♠A, both minor suit aces, it's essential that you grab your A right now. If you don't, you won't get it! Dummy's K will win, then declarer will play the minor suit aces, cross to dummy with a minor, then take a lot of minor suit tricks ... in fact, all of them, as your J10 fall like ninepins.

But if declarer has only one minor suit ace, then he's in trouble, as long as you let the K win. Now declarer has only one entry back to their hand, and the hearts cannot be established (see the actual layout).  Declarer is quite likely to go down in this scenario. 

I don't know the correct theoretical play.  You can give yourself a big tick if you at least thought of these two scenarios.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 24/6/21)

Today's deal features a setup that arises from time to time. Indeed, it was there also on board 9 of this session.

You're East playing in spades - it could be anywhere from 2♠ to 4♠ - and the defence starts with a club to North's ace, then ♣Q and a third club, which you ruff. 

All you have to do is look after the trump suit. How do you play it?

Clearly you play a diamond to dummy, and lead a spade. What will you do if North plays a small one?

You could play the king (or queen). if South wins ♠A, you will need to hope that the jack falls on the next round of the suit. If your king wins, then you would play the ♠Q next, again hoping to see that jack. (It would be an error, after your king wins, to play a small one next, hoping that North has the now bare ace - do you see why?)

Or ... you could put all your eggs in one basket, and finesse the ♠10 on the first round of the suit.

There are two ways to work out why it is vastly superior to finesse the ♠10 at once: one easy, one hard.

The easy way is to read a book (or this article) that says it's correct. There's nothing wrong with learning by rote the right way to play suit combinations. It's an important aspect of the game.

The hard way is to count all the setups where one play works and the other doesn't, and choose the one that has the most. Playing king then queen works when South started with J9, J8 or J4: 3 cases. (If North has one of these, both options work).  Finessing the 10 works when North started with AJ9, AJ8, AJ4, J98, J94, J84: 6 cases!  It's no contest.

No one found the correct play, but next time, I hope you will.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 22/6/21)

How would you approach this hand?  Your partner opens 1NT, and RHO overcalls 2♠, a natural bid.

Your call.

I thought this hand is worth writing up, because of the impact of the 2♠ overcall. Obviously your hand has great potential, but it rather depends where partner's points lie.  If partner has lots of HCP in the majors, then you may belong in 3NT. Conversely, if he has lots of points in the minors, you probably should bid a slam in diamonds.

The 2♠ overcall gives you a clue. For his vulnerable overcall, South will have multiple honours in spades, which reduces the number of points partner will have in spades. This shifts the odds.

I'd like to think that with West's hand, I would have dramatically bid 6 over the 2♠ overcall. That might improve my reputation, or possibly destroy it. But I believe the odds are that 6 will make. 

And so it proved ... indeed even 7 had a chance. Well done to Marie Warncken who was the only West to get to 6.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 17/6/21)

How would you deal with this 19 point hand? You open 1, partner responds 1NT, showing 6-9 HCP.

Your bid.

A show of strength is required. There's only two realistic options.

You could jump to 3, which after the 1NT response is a forcing bid. It shows 5+ hearts, 4+ diamonds, and 17+ HCP, which is what you've got. 

Or you could bid 3NT, which takes you directly to the most promising looking game, although the club situation is fraught.

There are two factors here that I would like to draw to your attention.

First, if you bid 3, you make it extremely difficult to get to 3NT. Partner is not going to bid it, because she has at most 3 spades without a high honour. She is more likely to support the diamonds, and that takes you past 3NT.

Second, just how "fraught" is that club situation, with the singleton king?  Regarding the ace, there are three possibilities: South has it, West has it or East has it. If South (partner) has it, then great: that's at least two club stoppers.  And if West has it, that might also be great, as she's not going to lead it. If she does lead clubs, against 3NT, it will be her fourth-best club that she leads, and your singleton king will win at trick 1.

If East has, then it's not so great (assuming West leads a club), but 2 out of 3 ain't bad. The point is that a singleton king may turn out to be a stopper, even when it isn't.

On the actual deal, partner had the ♣Q, which combined with your king was a certain stopper. And there were 9 easy tricks to take in 3NT, with no other game making.

Well done to Helen Schapper, Jenny Gray, Roshni Chand and Colin Wilshire, who all bid 3NT over partner's 1NT response.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 16/6/21)

Deciding how to bid the East hand here is a bit like a Myers-Briggs test: it reveals your personality. Let's see if you are type P, type W or type G.  It's OK, just as they tell you with personality tests, there's no right or wrong answer.

RHO opens 1♠. What's your approach?

Type Ps (preempters) pick a level to preempt to, make that bid, and then never bid again. They force their opponent to make a decision over their high bid, and hope that it will be the wrong one. The Rule of 2 and 3 assists them in deciding how high to preempt.

Here, E/W are vulnerable against not, so preemptive bids need to be made with some degree of caution.  I think it is perfectly OK to preempt with either 4♣ or 5♣ here. But you need to live with that decision. Don't be a type S-P (schizophrenic preempter) and, for example, bid 4♣, and when LHO's 4♠ comes around to you, have another shot with 5♣. That's a huge tactical error ... it means you should have bid 5♣ in the first place, which might have induced 5♠ from the opponents.

Type Ws (walkers), start low with 2♣, planning to keep repeating the clubs up to a certain level and no higher. This gives up on the preemptive value, but delivers the extra chance of having some sort of auction where your side can maybe work out what the right level for you is. 

Two Ws did this effectively. Ron Verrier overcalled 2♣, and when it came back to him at 4♠, he packed it him (clearly his 'certain level' was no higher than 4♣).  4♠ went down, giving him a decent score.

And Geoff Swanson also overcalled 2♣.  On the next round it was at 3♠, so he bid 4♣.  That rode back to North who bid 4♠ and he passed. The bonus was that his partner Stan Angelides doubled 4♠: down one for a better score.

Finally, there are the Type Gs (gadgeteers). They wheel out a device, a 3♠ overcall, jumping in the opponents' suit, which asks partner to bid 3NT if he has a spade stopper. And why not? If partner can stop the spades, you have 8 club tricks to add, making 9 in total.

I don't think anyone found the 3♠ bid, but Jim Stewart faced a 1 opening on his right. Whenever you have a solid minor, you should be thinking about 3NT, and Jim did more than think about it: he bid it. 3NT made when the defence led and continued hearts. Bravo!

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 15/6/21)

This bidding on this deal is a callback to last Thursday's VHotD. Again, East has rebid 1NT with an unbalanced hand, a singleton in partner's suit.

I had a subsequent conversation with a player about doing this: she wasn't keen on the idea at all. But I ask you, what else can you do with that East hand?

But I want to examine the defence. Sit yourself South, defending 4♠. Partner leads 3, declarer plays A from dummy, J from their hand. Next comes ♠9.

What's the plan?

There are a lot of rules-of-thumb in this game. Here are two of them:
   Second hand low
   Cover an honour with an honour

Everyone in this position played second hand low ... they probably didn't consider the 9 to be an "honour", and therefore not worth covering.  But in the context of this deal, it certainly is. The point of covering an honour with an honour is to promote winners in partner's hand. It particularly applies when you yourself are short in the suit, meaning that partner may well be long. The bottom line is that in the right context, "cover an honour with an honour" trumps "second hand low".

Look at the entire deal. If you play the ♠Q on ♠9 it eventually establishes your partner's ♠7 as a winner. That will probably be the setting trick. But if you play low then ...

What happened at two tables was quite impressive. It went ♠9, ♠8 (mistake), ♠2, and North let that win, a good idea. But it didn't help, because the two declarers, Dawn Braham and Geoff Pratt, later got to their hand and played the ♠K (!) which squashed South's ♠Q.  That was excellent technique (no other play can work), and the two declarers duly made 4♠ to share the top.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 11/6/21)

I probably shouldn't be saying this in public, but it is my belief that this East hand should make a 1♠ overcall of North's 1 opening.

Clearly the basic requirements for such a bid are missing, in particular, the 6 lousy HCP.  Nevertheless, there are three reasons why 1♠ is a good tactical move.

Can you work out what they are?

1. Favourable vulnerability.  In particular, you are not vulnerable. The vulnerability is so important in these situations. Suppose you bid spades with your poor hand, and end up in a spade contract, going down. Then going down in 50s is infinitely preferable than going down in 100s. Going down in 50s when the opponents can make something is usually a good result.

2. Suit quality. If you are going to bid with lousy points, then you should have a good suit. If the opponents then win the auction, you will be pleased when partner leads a spade.

3. Spades. Having spades confers a huge advantage in the auction. Your side can outbid their side without raising the level. Suppose instead that your majors are swapped: you have AQ109x and three little spades. Now the overcall is a lot less attractive. You bid your hearts, the opponents bid spades, and now it's partner who has to raise the level when supporting hearts. You are a full trick to the worse.

Of course, none of these advantages may come to the fore. You could fall flat on your face with an overcall here. Nevertheless, keep in mind those three factors: vulnerability, suit quality and spades, when considering a light overcall.

Gwen Branton and Diana Saul were the two Easts who overcalled 1♠. Their partners had strong hands in support, but wisely kept to the 3-level when supporting. 3♠ is a great contract: it should make, whereas if you keep quiet, you will allow the opponents to make something, or perhaps take them down one for a lousy 100. 

Finally a shout-out to Jim Stewart who overcalled 2♠!  That's an even more far-out choice, but the three factors still hold true. And his partner, facing a weak jump overcall passed 2♠, which became the final contract. Hard to do better than that.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 10/6/21)

Try this two-parter for size.  You open 1, partner responds 1.

1. What's your rebid?  1NT? 2♣? 2? (I can't think of anything else.)

2. Whatever your choice, partner rebids 2. Now what?

1. I recommend 1NT, for the simplest reason: it could well be the correct final contract, particularly in a matchpoint duplicate. Whilst usually 1NT will be based on a more balanced hand than this, when partner has bid your shortage, why not go for notrumps, rather than a minor?

Of course not rebidding 1NT might work better, particularly if partner's hearts are weak. You pays your money and you takes your choice. My point is that you should be allowed to rebid 1NT with a singleton in partner's suit. If you intend to not rebid 1NT, then 2♣ is far superior to 2.  It opens up more possibilities, and anyway, rebidding the diamonds here strongly suggests a 6-card suit.

Speaking of which ...

2. When partner rebids the hearts, after any of opener's rebids, that is showing a 6-card suit. In most auctions, bidding then rebidding a suit promises a 6-carder.  There are exceptions, but this auction isn't one of them. If partner repeats the hearts, then I am going to expect 6 of them, and if she doesn't have 6, then whatever disaster might ensue, it's her fault

The 2 rebid is unpleasant, but it's essential that you pass it: when you're in a hole, stop digging. And as it turns out, 2 is the right contract. 

Cheryle McBride, Stan Angelides, Hazel Viccars and Sandra Mansell were the four Norths who agreed with me, rebidding 1NT and passing 2 to land in the top spot.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 9/6/21)

Today we look at a bidding area that is often butchered by players: balancing auctions.

1 is passed around to West, who is in the 'balancing' seat. This means that unless she bids something, the auction will end.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to work out what the one and only correct E/W auction is. The opponents will be silent from here.

You weren't fooled by all those question marks, were you?

The golden rule of balancing auctions is that the balancer (West here) should mentally add 3 points and bid accordingly. So West has 14 actual points, and 17 'mental' points. A balanced 17 points with a diamond stopper would normally overcall 1NT, and that is West's correct bid here.

To keep the world in balance, partner of the balancer (East here) mentally subtracts 3 points and bids accordingly. East has 9 actual points, 6 'mental' points. A balanced 6-count opposite a strong 1NT passes.

The correct auction is for West to bid 1NT and East to pass it. So simple, no? And whilst you can make 2NT, one would far prefer to be in 1NT. Well done to Lisa Yoffa - Ros Davies and Helen Snashall - Maggie Callander, the two East-Wests who conducted the officially approved auction.

The reason for this 'add-3 / subtract-3' concept is that it allows the balancer to make bids on hands that would normally pass in the direct seat. And you want to make a bid if you can, because otherwise the auction will die out at the one-level, which is usually not what you want.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 8/6/21)

After this abbreviated auction, you have to make an opening lead. I suppose any one of the four suits is a possibility, but you may disagree. 

What's your choice?

Let's work through the alternatives.

Normally I would look at each of those side suits with revulsion and lead a trump. I dislike leading from suits with one honour (or disconnected honours) against a suit contract ... there's too much risk of this running around to declarer's honour and giving away at trick.

But this is not a normal situation. Declarer's high preempt means he doesn't have much in the way of side-suit honours, so there's much less downside. Whilst a trump remains plausible, those who led one were dismayed at the outcome, their three defensive tricks all evaporating.

The K lead could work spectacularly if partner provides the ace, but it's an all-or-nothing choice. No one went for it.

Leading a low diamond is a good option. There's an excellent chance partner has an honour, so this lead is relatively safe and also constructive. 7 Wests chose it, and safely took their three tricks.

Then there's clubs. I like the ♣A lead: you get a look at dummy, which may help you decide what to play next. Only Col O'Brien led the ♣A. That was one trick for the defence, at least avoiding a wipeout. He then made a devastating play at trick 2: the 9!  Declarer didn't like the look of that one bit ... it seemed it might be a singleton. So rather than risk two-down, she went up with the A, and Col became the only defender to defeat 4♠. I'm not suggesting declarer did the right thing, but you have to admit that defeating 4♠ when a bunch of declarers made 13 tricks is impressive.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 4/6/21)

Today's deal featured many many different auctions, but only 4 were successful.  Here is one of them.

Partner's jump rebid of 3 shows about 16-17 HCP and a long strong diamond suit. The question is what to do, if anything.

Obviously you could pass with your moderate 8 HCP. 3 is an option, as partner could still have 3-card support. Or 4. Or 3NT. Or ...

What's it to be?

Jo-Anne Heywood bid 3♠.  Partner couldn't possibly have four spades (he would have rebid 1♠), so this bid was more stopper-showing than natural. It's by far the best choice, as it allows partner to check his clubs and then decide whether to bid 3NT. Bob Jacobs, North, had no problem bidding 3NT over that, and there they were in a contract that had 9 top tricks, and only a very small chance of defeat via the spade suit. Good auction.

And the other three successes? Helen Schapper and Rosemary Polya opened the North hand 1NT, and soon found themselves in 3NT after partner invited. Actually the first thought that comes to mind when picking up that North hand should be "3NT".  You have 7½ tricks, and is it so much to ask partner to provide 1½ more?  So 1NT was a step in the right direction. My only quibble with 1NT is that the hand might be considered a bit too strong for that bid.

And at another table, in Bizarro-World, West opened 3♣ after two passes. This bid breaks any number of preempt rules, but in fact has a lot going for it. Lying to a passed partner is not a capital offence, and the vulnerability is favourable. It would work on many days. But today, Dell MacNeil was North. Her 7 tricks had turned into 8 (with the ♣AQ), and she could reasonably expect partner to have some help in the majors, sitting over East's majors. Since East had passed as dealer, and West had preempted, partner had to have something. So she bid 3NT, got the ♣K lead from East, and wrapped up 11 tricks. It's fair to say that West's imaginative preempt didn't pan out too well!

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 3/6/21)

I thought board 8 today posed some interesting decisions in various directions. I've put in some of a plausible auction, but there were as many variations on this as there were tables in play.

Let's start with East. I'm sorry to have to report that about half the Easts overcalled 2♣, putting all their faith in that rickety club suit, when a perfectly good takeout double was available. Perhaps they were of the school where a takeout double promises 4 cards in any unbid major. My advice is to throw that little piece of nonsense away.  Mostly the 2♣ overcallers did very poorly, basically allowing their opponents to make a spade partscore, because they never found their lovely diamond fit.

The rest of the field correctly doubled 1♠, and the question is what South should do, if anything. Mostly they passed, but several Souths gave a single raise. I'd give a shoutout to Faye Bell and Dell MacNeil, who made a pre-emptive raise to 3♠, somewhat blindly obeying the Law of Total Trumps (bidding immediately to the level of their fit in a competitive auction).  Of course their partners went on to 4♠, after all who wouldn't, and that contract was at the mercy of an unlikely club finesse. In theory, that N/S auction was a good one, as E/W can make 5.

The most interesting (to me) decision was that of West's, in responding to the takeout double. Should she bid the longer diamond suit or the very major hearts? You will probably get two chances to bid here, given your short spades, so a plan is required.  Mostly West bid the diamonds, raised by partner: surely they must have been nervous that they were missing a more profitable heart fit? So I'm with Dawn Thistlethwaite who responded in hearts keeping the diamonds in reserve. She  ended up in the correct contract of 5, with a gold star, having investigated hearts along the way.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Wednesday 2/6/21)

Today's deal is a tough one to bid. In particular what should North open? The possibilities are 1♠, 2♣ and 2NT.

I'm not keen on 1♠, because of the raised blood pressure whilst waiting to see if partner responds to it. 1♠ is too little.

2♣ on the other hand is perhaps too much. If partner gives me a 2 response, then I have a choice between 2NT (23-24 balanced), or 2♠ which is best played forcing to game. The hand falls short in both departments.

I wouldn't say 2NT is the Goldilocks bid: it's not just right, but it is perhaps the best option. It shows 20-22 balanced, which is what I've got. I'm not too fussed about the 5-card spade suit, since I have good spread-out values. This might very well be the hand that is worth going for the extra 10 points in notrumps.

In responding to 2NT, South should bid 4NT, quantitative: a natural invitation to 6NT. That is precisely what that very pleasant 11-count is worth (pleasant because of the decent 5-card diamond suit).

And North has a clear acceptance of the invitation.

So we've reached the correct contract of 6NT, as did about half the field. Kudos (or commiserations) to Diana Wilson and Geraldine Newbegin and perhaps others, who agreed with me on the 2NT opening.

Now to the play. East leads ♣3. Let's say you win ♣A and cash K, Q and are pleased that both opponents follow. The diamonds are good.

Take it from there.

You're up to 11 tricks: 5 diamonds, 3 clubs, 1 heart, 2 spades. And a twelfth trick is easily available via the jack and ten of spades. So there's no problem making this contract, but what about an overtrick? That will be available if West has ♠Q, but you may need to finesse twice to make both your jack and ten of spades.

You have two entries to dummy (the third diamond and a club) and both are needed to finesse in spades. The correct play is to play a diamond to dummy, run the rest of the diamonds if you like, and then take a first round finesse in spades. If that wins, use the club entry to finesse spades again.  If you play one top spade first, then you cannot pick up 4 spade tricks, as West held ♠Qxxx.

Good work by Christine Paine and Brenda Glyn who found the correct sequence of plays.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 1/6/21)

Bridge is a very tricky game, and today's deal illustrates that par excellence.

You are sitting West, as partner leads the 5 to North's 3NT. The 4 is played from dummy, and you win A as declarer follows 3.  

Have a (long) think about what to do next, then click [Show Answer].

This problem is quite difficult because it's unclear what your goal is here. Are you trying to defeat the contract? Or, with those threatening clubs in dummy, is the idea to reduce the number of overtricks that declarer takes, an important factor in a matchpoint duplicate.

To keep most of the balls in the air, the correct play here is to switch to the A at trick 2. If you look at the entire deal, you will find that this is the end of the story. You've taken your two aces, declarer has the rest, and -660 is an fine score for you, as most declarers got 12 tricks.

But if it's not the end of the story, you will get a signal from partner. She will play an attitude card on your A (for example, low=like, high=hate), and that will determine which red suit you play at trick 3.  For example, if partner shows she likes diamonds, perhaps another diamond to her king will get you a third trick. Or if she hates them, a second heart to the king in that suit.

A number of Wests got an opening lead of a small diamond from partner, to their ace (some Norths had responded 1♠, ignoring the diamond suit).  Curiously, the same logic applies. The correct trick 2 play in that scenario is the A, the other ace, to get a signal from partner.

As I've said, most Wests continued the suit of their partners lead, giving declarer a trick in that suit, 7 clubs and 4 spades, for 12 tricks in all. Just three took their other ace at trick 2: very well done to Brian Morrow, Gill Minson and Christine Walker.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 28/5/21)

Consider this bidding decision.

What call do you make when LHO's 1 floats round to you? Would it make any difference if RHO had responded 1?

It's a pretty good hand. Just give partner one teensy-weensy card, the ♣J, and you would appear to have 10 probable tricks: 7 spades, 2 clubs and the ace of diamonds.

If you bid anything less than 4♠, and you end up in a spade partscore, and partner puts down a 1-point hand, that point being ♣J, what are you going to do after you've made 10 tricks? Perhaps say to partner: "why on earth didn't you support my spades with that lovely J?"

In fact, partner did provide the ♣J, plus a few other completely irrelevant honour cards, and making 10 tricks was easy.

There is another reason why you should be bidding 4♠ here: it is that it prevents the opponents from having a dialogue. They could perhaps profitably bid 5 of a red suit, either as a make or a sacrifice ... this is particularly the case after East responds 1. Why make it easy for them to discover this? It doesn't always work out, but in most cases, removing bidding space from your opponents makes it harder for them to find the right level. 

Bidding in bridge is a multi-faceted operation. At a superficial level, it is all about reaching your correct contract. But it is also often about preventing your opponents from reaching their correct contract.

Out of the 20 Souths that faced this problem, well done to Helen Schapper, Helge Pedersen, Warren Cousins, Sue Douglas, Frank Kovacs, Susan Lipton and Cecile Senior who found the immediate 4♠ bid. 

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 27/5/21)

A simple one today.

RHO opens 1. Do you or don't you?

You should overcall 2♣.

There are two potent reasons for this, which far outweigh the miniscule risk of entering the bidding (which is about equivalent to crossing the street during a lockdown).

First, if West happens to become declarer in a heart, or maybe spade, contract, you want to tell your partner what to lead. Seven of the twelve Souths in this position did choose to pass. The auction proceeded 1 by West, 4 by East. Partner led the obvious ♠K, and declarer drew trumps, ran diamonds discarding a club on the fifth round, and lost just one club and one spade. A club lead on the other hand allows you to cash two clubs, and a third trick is inevitable in spades.

And second, the 2♣ overcall of specifically 1 is well known for causing sometimes intractable problems for the opponents, making it very difficult for them to investigate the majors.

Look what happened to the five Wests, Fiona Ferwerda, Stan Angelides, Margaret Shewan, Faye Bell and Bron Simmonds who made that 2♣ overcall. Did their partners find the winning club lead against West's 4? Not at all, because none of their opponents were able to reach 4. West, with 6 lousy points, passes, partner obstructs with 3♣ and East is stuck. The best they can safely do is to repeat the diamonds, and the heart fit disappears in a puff of smoke. E/W could only find a diamond fit, in which they couldn't even make game.

The 2♣ overcall of 1: don't leave home without it.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 25/5/21)

This deal was interesting in both bidding and play. 

As West, what would you do over South's 4♠?  Partner's jump to 4 indicates some sort o 'weak freak' ... lots of hearts, but not much else.

It's a tough problem, but let's say you quietly pass, and that's the end of the auction. Partner leads J, South's dummy comes down. Declarer wins A, and plays ♠K to your ♠A.

What now? Have a think about that, and then click [Show Answer].

Since you hold the 10, it is clear that partner's J lead is from shortage. You should hope it is a singleton and return a diamond ... any other winners you have will keep.

And you should play a low diamond. If declarer did start with AKQ8, he could profitably play the 8 on this low diamond, but he won't. North doesn't know the diamond situation: from his perspective, East could easily have J10(x).

What happens next is rather discouraging for declarer. Take a look at all four hands. Declarer plays a high diamond, and partner ruffs it. A heart comes over to your winner, and the 10 forces out declarer's last top diamond, as partner ruffs with her last trump. Now a club play (necessary) through dummy's ♣AQ, establishes a club trick for you, and your 9 is also a winner.

Three down! Great defence by David Hudson (West) and Joan Courtemanche (East) who were the only E/W pair to hold declarer to 7 tricks, and an 80% score.

As for a 5 contract, that should make (basically it needs the ♣Q to be with South), but only Adrienne Reid both bid 5 and made it, doubled to boot, for the E/W top. 

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 20/5/21)

Once in a while, a perfect example of good bidding strategy comes along. Here is such an example.

Your RHO, West, deals and opens 1♣. What say you?

Oodles of Norths bid 3♠ here, bravely preempting. Their LHO bid 4, passed back to them, so they (correctly as it turned out) had another go and bid 4♠. Not to be silenced, East persisted with 5 and that was the end of the auction. 5 made easily, losing to just the red aces.

North's bidding is wrong, wrong, WRONG! (Sorry, got carried away there.)

If you think 4♠ is the right bid the second time you get a chance, then you simply must bid it the first time you have that chance. With this auction, 3♠ then 4♠ is simply saying to your opponents: "please be my guest, have all the room you would like to find your right contract or double us in ours". 

Let's count North's losers.  1 in spades (the ace), 1 in hearts, 2 in diamonds, 2 in clubs.  6 losers, hence 7 winners. N/S are not-vulnerable versus vulnerable: the very best conditions for preempting to the max. The Rule of 2 and 3 tells you to bid, non-vulnerable, 3 tricks more than you have. You have 7, you should bid for 10: pre-empt 4♠ directly over your opponent's opening bid.

Just two of the 12 North's bid 4♠ immediately, Shirley Wanz and Joan Courtemanche. Let's see what happened to them. 

Against Shirley, East was cowed into passing. 4♠ was passed out, went down 3 tricks (partner provided a trick. but the spades produced an extra loser), for a score of -150, a second-top for N/S.

Joan's East bid 5 directly over 4♠, the correct bid, but then West, who had quite a lot of extra strength, took a shot at 6. Down it went for the N/S top. 

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 18/5/21)

Put yourself in the West seat and consider what you would do when North's 1NT opening (announced as 15-17) is passed around to you. North stole your opening bid: what are you going to do about it?

First things first. Unless you play some fancy-shmancy convention here, a double of 1NT is for penalties. It shows a strong hand and suggests that 1NT will not make.

I think you should indeed double. Let's give North 16 HCP. That means that there are just 7 HCP between East and South. So give them a few each. If 1NT doubled is the final contract, partner will lead from his long suit. If he leads from an honour in hearts, diamonds or clubs, you will be delighted, as you have two honours in those suits and the result should be very threatening for declarer.

A spade lead would be less delightful, but even then, all is not lost.

And whilst it's true that declarer's honors are 'sitting over' yours, North won't have much in the way of entries to dummy to lead cards through you.

Most Wests limply passed out 1NT, but Stan Angelides and David Roseman found the double. And their partners Geoff Swanson and Mr Robot duly passed it out. Their diamond lead skewered 1NT good and proper.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 13/5/21)

Consider the West hand here, and make an estimate of what the likelihood is that you can defeat North's 4, from 0% (couldn't possibly defeat it) to 100% (absolutely certain defeat).

Press [Show Answer] to compare your estimate with mine.

There are some warning signs. Partner opened 3♣ at favourable vulnerabiity: he may not have the world's fair. And North jumped to 4, vulnerable: he will have the world's fair.

Still, the expectation is that partner contributes 1 trick to the defence: a top club for example. And you have ♠AK, A and some cards in diamonds: that's likely to be worth 3 tricks. You must be a heavy favourite to defeat 4: let's say a 75% chance.

The point is this if you think it's more likely than not that you will defeat 4, then you should double it. It's an old-fashioned concept, to double a contract because you think it's going down, but one that is every bit as valid today as it was 100 years ago.

A number of Wests faced this auction, but only Geoff Pratt doubled 4.  His partner Robert White continued the good work by leading his singleton diamond. That developed a diamond ruff for the defence, and 4 eventually went two down (it could have been three down) for +500, a top score.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 11/5/21)

Today's deal involved a decision that only one protagonist got right. The 9 tables possibly produced 9 different auctions, but the one shown here was typical.

Partner opens a weak 2, and after a few rounds of bidding, the opponents bid 4♠. The question is whether you, as West, should let this play, double it, or perhaps bid 5.

Decide, and then click [Show Answer].

This is a situation where you can make some decent estimates of who might make what.  You should assume that for his weak 2, partner has Axxxxx and perhaps one other high card.

How will their spades play? Your side has at most one heart trick, as one or other of the opponents will have a singleton, your side having 10 cards in hearts. Your ♣A is a second trick. And partner's 'other high card' might constitute a third. But a fourth trick looks unlikely. The most likely possibility would be partner having the ♣K, and you being able to snaffle 3 tricks there. On balance, they rate to make 4♠ for a score of -620.

What about your heart contract?  You will have 6 heart tricks, and your ♣A: that's 7. And partner's other high card could be a trick; even without one, if partner has at least 3 diamonds, there is an extra trick via a  diamond ruff. And even without that, your ♣AJ10x will likely source another trick. In summary, you are  almost certain to be able to make 8 tricks (at least!) in hearts. The worst case scenario would be 5 doubled by the opponents, down 3, for a score of -500. 

-500 is better than -620. By far the most likely scenario is that the opponents are making 4♠ and you have a fine sacrifice available in 5. The favourable vulnerability (they are, you aren't) helps.

So, well thought through by Mike Pogson who was the only West to keep progressing in hearts. 5 went down one, undoubled, for a near top for Mike.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 6/5/21)

Don't let the machines win. Here is a declarer play problem that only the Robot got right today. Your mission is to prove that you are at least as good as he/she/it.

You declare 4♠ as East, after South has made a club overcall. A low club is led, and you play the queen with confidence. Yes, it wins the trick. Things look good. No losers in spades, diamonds or clubs. It's just a matter of minimizing how many hearts you lose.

Plan the play, then click [Show Answer].

If North has A, then great ... there are just two heart losers.

But if South has it, you might lose three hearts, unless you can discomfit the defence. If you can lose a trick to South in a situation where she has no good play, you can still take 11 tricks. The key is to clear away the other suits first.

Draw trumps, play ♣A and ruff a club, then A and K, so both your hands have nothing but spades and hearts remaining.

Now lead a heart from dummy, and whatever North plays, play a higher card, to force South on lead. So if North plays low, play the 10. If North puts in the J or Q, play the K.

South will win and be well and truly stuck. If she plays a minor suit card, you discard a heart from dummy and ruff it your hand.  You will lose one more heart, but can ruff both your third and fourth hearts.

And if South plays a heart, then that gives you a heart trick. In the actual layout, your 10 will force J. Now when South plays a heart, your king must win a trick. Similarly if North had played an honour, covered by the king and ace, another heart play from South will set up a trick for your ten.

Congratulations, you've brought off an endplay. The key was to clear away the undergrowth, all your minor suit cards in this case, before playing the key suit.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 4/5/21)

Today's HotD features a point of system that is worth discussing with your favourite partner.

Partner opens 2♣, you give a negative 2 response (more about that later), and hear 2, a bid that is 100% unconditionally forcing.

In the context of this auction, your 5 HCP hand is very strong. There's heart support, a useful spade shortage, and a king. The question is: what do you bid to convey this strength?

You could bid 3 or 4: which one is stronger? There's two answers, obviously:

1) 4 is stronger because it's a higher bid.

2) 3 is stronger, because you are in a game forcing situation and the principle of Fast Arrival applies. 4 (arriving fast) would be a 'drop dead' bid with weakness. 3 is stronger, giving the partnership room to explore for slam.

There's no way to resolve this except to come to a general agreement with partner whether or not you play Fast Arrival principles (where, in a game-forcing situation, a precipitate jump to game shows weakness, and a single raise to one below game shows relative strength).

A third possibility is to jump to 3♠, a splinter bid, showing heart support and a singleton or void in spades. A good bid, if partner will understand it.

Only three of nine pairs got to the laydown slam.

One had a happy accident about the meaning of a bid (a 2 response to 2♣) - or maybe it was a happy misclick.

A second was where Deena Pathy, North, bid 6 over her partner's 2! Great bid, giving slam a shot ... if you think about it, about all you need from partner is the ♣Q, and how will you scientifically find out about that? There should be more such judgmental bids made. 

And the third was Jenny Gray and Mike Pogson who had the tools. Mike as South responded 3♣ to the 2♣ opening, showing 5-8 HCP and 5+ clubs. Now it was oh-so-easy for Jenny to bid a slam. Indeed, she might even have ventured a grand slam, as she needed nothing more than ♣Qxxxx from partner. I may possibly have mentioned this fine response system before!

Virtual Hand of the Day (Thursday 29/4/21)

No one was able to solve this play problem in today's online duplicate. See if you can do better.

West leads ♠K to your 3NT.

It looks like there are 9 probable tricks: 1 spade, 3 clubs and 5 diamonds. The only risk to this is an unkind diamond division. Is there anything you can do about that?

If the diamonds divide 4-1, with West having 4, then no, there's nothing you can do about  that.

But If East has 4 diamonds, and West happens to have the singleton 10 or jack, then the problem can be solved. The correct play is to cash the A, then play a diamond to the king. If West did indeed start with a singleton honour, then you are in dummy at the right time. You can take the proven finesse aginst East's remaining honour.

Everyone instead started diamonds by playing a small one to the king. West followed with the jack,  but of course it didn't have to be a singleton. West could have J10 doubleton or J10x. So all the declarers played back to their ace, and with one exception, down they went.

The exception was Marie Shenker. She had taken the small precaution of ducking one round of spades and taking the ace on the second round. When she then lost a diamond trick, East had to be very careful. East must win the diamond, take the ace and king of hearts, then put South back on lead with a club. When East unsurprisingly failed to find this defence, Marie had her top.

But the moral of this interesting hand is to cash a top honour when you can, to help reveal the layout of a suit.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 27/4/21)

How do you think this auction should proceed after East's 6-9 HCP 1NT response?  (A couple of Easts chose 2♣ instead, showing 10+ HCP ... not the worst lie in the world, but it worked poorly when they got cold feet later in the auction.)

Decide for yourself, then click [Show Answer].

Obviously West bids diamonds next, but how many? The HCP aren't too good: you have 15 HCP, and opposite partner's 6-9, that gives you 21-24, apparently not enough for a game contract.

However the hand has shape, and with those minor honours in the long suits, it's very powerful. Another way of looking at the hand is that it has just 4 losers (one in each suit). I think the two Wests, Marie Warncken and Penny Robertson, who jumped to 3 were on the right track. 

Over any diamond bid, whether 2 or 3, East should return to spades, even though the diamonds are one card longer. Essentially, East knows about two 7-card fits, as partner's diamond rebid only promises 4 cards in that suit (whereas 1♠ showed 5). So going back to spades has two important advantages: it bids to a major rather than a minor, and it keeps the auction alive. This frequent situation of returning to partner's major with a doubleton is known as false preference.  The Easts that dropped their partner in diamonds were doomed to a poor result.

The two Easts that heard a 3 jump, Aviva Kamil and Fiona Ferwerda, both duly bid 3♠, and their partners, staying consistent with their view of the hand, bid on to 4♠. Basically they were banking on partner covering at least one of their four losers, and nothing horrible happening elsewhere. Obviously Easts two aces were a pleasant surprise, but 4♠ was such a great contract that it made even with spades dividing 4-2 and diamonds 4-1.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 20/4/21)

Here's a deal where only one West agreed with my thinking. Obviously I'm going to write her up, whatever the outcome.

When partner jumps to 4♠ in this option, she clearly is showing a pretty good hand with a bucketload of spades.

Do you keep bidding, or allow 4♠ to play?

Most Wests, no doubt concerned about their weak hearts and spade void, passed here, and if you look at all four hands, that's the correct move. South briskly cashed two top hearts, holding declarer to 11 tricks.

Only Helen Schapper was on my side, thinking that if partner could bid 4♠ here, there may be a slam on. That's a mighty powerful West hand on which to meekly pass 4♠. She unleashed 4NT, RKCB, and when partner showed two key-cards and the ♠Q she bid 6NT, looking for the extra 10 points in a notrump contract. 

That wasn't necessary, with every other E/W in game, but on the other hand, it turned out to be extremely necessary. Poor old North led a normal Q, and Helen took 13 tricks: that ♣J was priceless! Perhaps she was a trifle fortunate, but let's face it: fortune favours the brave.

Two further points about the deal. I think I would have opened 4♠ with the East cards, or at least considered it. It would be automatic if E/W were vulnerable (cf Rule of 2 and 3), but perhaps debatable at equal-nil vulnerability. Everything about this deal was debatable.

And two Souths overcalled 1♠ with 2, which I definitely agree with. That would put paid to Helen's result, but then of course, if South had bid 2, then no doubt West would not have gone adventuring to slam.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Friday 16/4/21)

Maybe I'm tilting at windmills with today's deal ... see what you think.

North's 3♠ opening is passed around to you.

What are your options? What do you do?

Practically everyone bid 4 and one can hardly argue with such a natural and apparently obvious  bid.

But ... you have a spade void. Your RHO South has not raised to 4♠. All my experience tells me that in this situation, my partner has spades. So, tilting at a windmill, I wonder if it's best to double 3♠ for takeout, giving partner the opportunity to make a penalty pass with a bunch of spades.

The opponents are vulnerable: you only need to defeat this contract by one trick to score 200 and beat out any partscore you can make. Or beat it by 2 tricks (500) to outscore any game you make.

What are the downsides? There's only one, really: that partner will bid 4, counting on you to have at least 4 hearts. But even that scenario could be a winner: at least your hand can trump spades. 4 could be the right contract if partner has five hearts, and could even work out well if partner has only four.

Looking at all four hands, partner would be delighted to pass your takeout double, resulting in a penalty of 800 points. 

Only one West did anything other than bid 4Fiona Ferwerda passed out 3♠ for a good score. Cautious perhaps, but it sure worked well.

Virtual Hand of the Day (Tuesday 13/4/21)

Today we have an unpleasant problem of play that defeated several declarers. See if you can do better.

South has opened a weak 2 and you have found your way to 5♣ after an auction that is as good as any.

South leads out the ace and king of hearts, dropping his partner's queen-doubleton in the process, and plays a third round.

Your  J is a winner, but that's no use to you, as North is out of hearts and will ruff. You have to somehow avoid losing a trump.

Decide your play and click [Show Answer].