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John's Tips 09
John's Tip of the Month - January 09
In it to win it!

This month’s offering is a deal from a teams match in November last. The contract and the result was exactly the same at both tables – Four spades tick = +620 to N/S i.e. a flat board.

A question posed at the time was– would the declarers have failed had the deal arisen at duplicate pairs? In that form of Bridge a pair’s match-point score for a hand is determined only by the number of pairs getting an inferior score on the board and not by the size of the difference; so e.g. an overtrick worth 30 points could be as significant as say a game or a slam bonus.

Back to the example deal - here are the North/South hands together with the likely bidding sequence. The vulnerability is Game-all.

Take over from South as declarer – it is teams, the contract is four spades and West starts with the heart knave. How do we play the hand?  

(When you've had a think - Press show Answer)

Our only losers are in the trump suit – if trumps are 5 – 0 we have no chance otherwise the contract is safe and sound. Win the heart lead and play just one round of spades leaving three winning trumps at large. We then turn our attention to clubs and eventually to diamonds allowing the defence to take tricks with those three trumps only - contract just made.

Now consider the task, as South, if we are playing the hand at duplicate pairs. We could end up making 11 tricks if the trump suit splits 3-2  (about  68% of the time). The play would be to win the heart lead, play a low spade from both hands, ruff the heart continuation, play the Ace of trumps (leaving the defence, hopefully, with their one winning trump) and then play our winners.

The contract would fail because of the actual 4-1 trump break (a 28% chance) – and by two tricks if we are not careful. The forcing defence sets up a heart trick or two for East/West. Check it out on the full deal below – West will no doubt ruff a club, remove declarer’s remaining trump, and then play a winning heart. But do the odds favour the above line of play? An extra trick 68% of the time? I don’t think that it is as simple as comparing probabilities and take the view that by landing the game we can beat all those pairs who have underbid. Also there may be some optimistic pairs overbidding and going down; and on this hand, in particular, no doubt the usual suspects (Me - Ed?) will be in 3NT > scoring 20 points less than our game score. Finally and quite importantly for me, even at pairs, failing to make a pretty cast-iron contract is an outcome to be avoided. Hence my own conclusion for this deal is ‘In it then be sure to win it’.

(Press Show All Hands and all will be revealed)

John's Tip of the Month - February 09
How? and When?

For this month we have declarer playing a contract which I think almost plays itself. So in addition to posing the normal ‘How’? I am adding a ‘When’? – i.e. under what conditions will we be successful in our contract? – of course assuming that the defenders do not suffer mental aberrations? Take the South seat – you are playing in 7NT after the simple short auction.

North’s 2D is a ‘waiting’ bid and South is showing a balanced 23-24 count via the rebid of 2NT following an opening basic Acol 2C bid. North is then aware of so many points between the two hands, 37-38 and should never, whatever suit holdings he/she has, consider playing in a suit contract – it could fail due to an appalling trump break or even a ruff on the opening lead. Hence North’s 7NT ends the bidding. Now look at the play problem that faces South. The lead is the Knave of diamonds.      

South is a little unlucky to find duplicated values in both major suits – 20 points yielding just six tricks. Still, however there are twelve top tricks plus the obvious chances for a thirteenth. How do you intend to organise the play?
(When you've had a think - Press Show answer)

Just avoid trying both minor suits early – leave one of them to the very end. Suppose we take the opening lead in our own hand and then try for four tricks in clubs. If that fails we can then collect all the six available major suit tricks. Check what cards remain in our hand and in dummy and consider - When can we expect to end up with all the tricks?

(When you've had a think about this, scroll down for the answer)


If at least one of the minor suits divides 3-3 we will succeed with our contract – but there is a further chance – and that is when one defender has the extra length in both minor suits. If that is the case then there is no need for us to watch too closely how the defenders play their cards. Our only interest is watching to see if our losing club ‘comes to the top’ and calmly proceed to this ‘end position’.

                                            A    5    4                                   

                                           K    2                                        

Now we can see that if the club four is not ‘good’, because a defender has retained a winning club then that defender cannot also have retained three diamonds and so if it was the case that he/she did in fact start with more than three cards in both minor suits then we will play our diamonds and win the last trick with the four in the dummy.

Have a look at the complete deal (Press Show all Hands) – noting that the result would still have been the same had the East and West hands been interchanged. Also note that we didn’t need to know that Bridge aficionados could tell us that we had just executed ‘a simple automatic squeeze’ – wow!  A final observation; - had we played on the diamond suit first, leaving the clubs until the end, then it would have been the club four taking that last vital trick.

John's Tip of the Month - March 09
Putting our eggs in all baskets!

The action in this months hand doesn’t really start until trick five. Declarer has to organise the play so as to allow for all possible chances to secure the vital extra trick. Take the place of South playing in the contract of three NT. Vulnerability is not an issue and the auction has been very straightforward – 1N opened by South, North bidding 3N - happy to be dummy.

West has lead the spade deuce, East takes trick one with the Queen (sensible play v NT contract – usually to prevent a declarer from a ‘hold - up’ play if he/she has the King) and continues with the Ace of spades and another - East taking tricks three and four with 10 and King and then gets off lead with the 10 of hearts.  Sensibly our two discards from dummy are a small diamond and the 2 of hearts. Now we hope to win the remaining tricks. Decide how an extra trick might be found (eight are there on top already) and then organise the play accordingly.

(When you've had a think - press Show Answer)
There are three routine chances for that extra trick.

(1) Knave of clubs falling within 2 rounds
(2) Queen of diamonds falling within 2 rounds and
(3) The club suit breaking 3-3.

In order to take advantage of all possibilities the order of play is important. This is how I think it should go.

(1) Win the heart lead in hand and play two top clubs. If the Knave has dropped we can take our club 10, return to dummy with a heart, enjoy the winning club and then claim the remaining tricks in our own hand. If that knave has not appeared –
(2)   Try the top diamonds hoping that the Queen comes down. If not
(3)  We take our heart winners and hope that the 6 of clubs can save the day at trick 13. Without delving into any theoretical requirements for the more sophisticated play techniques, leaving the 3-3 split possibility to the end is generally a sound idea.

It is time to look at all four hands - Press Show all Hands)

Did we succeed? At first sight ‘No’ - because all three hopes are unfulfilled. But we do in fact succeed almost unwittingly. West had to play before dummy – this is the position with three tricks to go:-

                            Q    6                                       
            W                                            E               
                                                    J    9               
    Q                                            8                   
    J    8                                                            

When South played the Ace of hearts West had no answer – dummy playing after West and therefore declarer was able to choose which card to release from dummy depending on West’s play. Position is, as we know, very important at Bridge. If the diamond queen and the long clubs had been with East then the contract would have failed – similar to a finesse winning or losing. The above ending is an example of ‘a simple positional squeeze’. – whether planned or unplanned!

John's Tip of the Month - April '09
Coming soon on a television near you

Yes there is to be Bridge on the box – four hours in total - April 20th to 26th. Title:- ‘Celebrity Grand Slam Bridge’ available on Skyarts2. When I read through the advance publicity it gave me the impression that the main objective of the production was to promote interest in the game of Bridge rather than to instruct on bidding, play or defence. Nevertheless I gathered that two bridge experts will be on hand to explain what went wrong and to advise how one might avoid similar mistakes in the future. The bridge players themselves are known in other areas of activity and are said to have very limited bridge experience. There is some prize money involved and this will go to charities chosen by the winning contestants.

The ‘freebie’ magazine ‘Bridge’ in its April edition sets out all the 32 deals that are to be featured in the programmes (follow the link from the Home Page to see them all - Ed) and for this month I have decided to use Hand No 6, from that list, and present it as a declarer play problem. Solve it and then see how the celebs cope later in the month!

Take the West seat – you are the declarer - 3NT is the contract and the lead is the King of spades. East dealt and the bidding may well be as shown.

So what is your plan?

(When you had a think - Press Show Answer)

Duck the first two spade leads and win trick three with the Ace of spades – South will play spades on the first three tricks.

Eight tricks are there in the West hand – so just the one more required in order to land the contract.

Now play all four diamonds plus the Ace and Queen of hearts and then ‘exit’ with the last spade. North will win this trick and can take another spade but then must either lead into our Ace-Queen of clubs or lead a heart allowing us to make the King in dummy – contract made.

(Press Show all Hands)
John's Tip of the Month - May '09
The sooner the better!

For this month we have a declarer play problem that in one form or another confronts us from time to time. We find ourselves in a 5-3 trump fit and also have losers in a side suit requiring our attention. So take the declarer seat, South, on the deal below. The bidding, with South dealer, has been as shown. West leads the Ace of spades and continues with the King, following encouragement from East.

It should be clear that you will need a 3-2 break in the missing trumps and either a 3-3 diamond split or the chance to ruff your last, losing diamond, in dummy. But firstly you must ruff that second spade. And your plan is?

(When you've had a think- Press Show Answer)

If you decided to play three rounds of diamonds immediately then you should only succeed if the diamond suit splits 3-3. On a 4-2 break the defence can continue the suit and beat dummy’s ruff.
If you decided to take two top trumps before tackling the diamonds then again you achieve success with a 3-3 break in diamonds but now there is the extra chance that if the diamonds are 4-2  and the 4 diamonds are not with the outstanding trump. But if that is not the case then the defence should remove dummy’s trump and cash a winning diamond.

Top marks if you decided to lose a diamond at trick three - playing a small diamond from both hands. On regaining the lead you play two top trumps and claim when both defenders follow. The last diamond, if required or even if not, can be ruffed in dummy and the club suit cashed out – leaving the defence with a winning trump and just the three tricks in all.

(To see the full deal - Press Show all Hands)
John's Tip of the Month - June 09
First among equals

This month it is (hopefully) a straightforward declarer play problem. So get comfortable in the South seat. This is what you see.

South opened the bidding with a 21/22 point balanced 2NT. North’s 3C was the start of a conversation about four and five card major suits. South showed a five card heart suit and North, just in case partner’s shape had been 4-5-2-2, revealed the four card spade holding. 3NT concluded the auction.

Back to the action – what is to be your approach?

(When you've had a think, press show answer.)

(I.d try a low heart from both hands to set up the H suit - Ed

Yes the spade suit can provide those two extra tricks needed in order to make your contract.  But if you started with the spade Queen then the defenders can let you win that trick, your one and only spade trick, and the contract will fail – you cannot both establish spade winners and enjoy them having just the one outside entry to the Dummy. In order to stay in touch with dummy, start by leading the ten of spades. Now there is nothing the defenders can do – if the ten wins that would be trick number eight and one more spade trick can easily be established by simply playing the Queen. If the first spade loses to the knave you can win any return in hand and then create two more spade tricks by playing the Queen to the King in dummy while the Ace of clubs is still there as the entry to the established spade tricks.

I guess it could be helpful to consider the K,Q,T,9, and 8 of spades as ‘equals’ knowing that both the Ace and Knave will need to be dislodged. Then the decision regarding the first lead in the suit should be based on entry considerations

(Now press 'Show all hands')

(Rats, I bet he fixed the cards so my cunning scheme would't work - Ed)
John's Tip of the Month - July '09
Suit Management

This month’s deal is from a teams match and concerns a declarer’s management of two suits. The bidding has been as above

The 2S is alerted and clarified as a weak jump overcall based upon at least a six card suit.

What is your advice for declarer as West leads the spade Queen?

(When you've had a think - press Show Answer)

If you ‘ducked’ the opening lead you would have been defeated. Having secured a spade trick West would have had no difficulty in switching to a diamond – attacking dummy’s side entry to its longest suit. Indeed had the opening lead been a diamond the defence would have prevailed – check it out ‘double-dummy’ later!

Back to the action - simple arithmetic tells you that East has at most two spades and therefore, long term, is not a threat in that suit.

Hence you take the opening trick with a top spade and now manage the club suit - needing at least three tricks from it in order to fulfil the contract. Retain contact with dummy by playing low from both hands at trick two.

You can win the next trick in hand (most likely a diamond trying to kill dummy’s entry – but if it is a spade return then hold up once just in case West ‘miscounted’ his/her spade holding) and then clear the clubs – hoping for a 3/3 split or 4/2 with East holding the four. The fifth club can then be reached via the diamond Ace. If you played clubs ‘from the top’ without playing low on the first round of the suit then only a 3/3 club break would have lead to success.

John's Tip of the Month - August '09
Not a difference a month makes?

For this month we are looking again at the same board as July. It comes from the same Teams match but now we are kibitzing at the other table. The bidding has been the same (See above)

As before West chooses to lead the Queen of spades, but there has been a slight ‘misboarding’ – the critical club suit has been redistributed. It wasn’t noticed at the time simply because there was no swing - 3NT being bid and made at both tables. If you need reminding of how the cards lay at the other table you can see July’s tale by scrolling down.

Here is the scene for declarer now.

What would your plan have been if you had sat in that declarer’s seat? Winning the first trick was essential for success – if not West would have switched attention to the diamond suit and the contract would have failed. So make your plan for trick two and beyond!

(When you've had a think - show answer)

Obviously tricks are needed from that club suit – at least three.

If you finesse in clubs at trick two you will win that trick but lose the contract. East holds four to the King and Ten and will refuse to take that trick and you will never ‘enjoy’ a third club.

The winning line is to play a low club from both hands at trick two and ….. – in fact no different to last month. There is still the same need to stay in touch with dummy – entries being limited

(Press Show all hands for the complete deal).

John's Tip of the Month - September '09
Swap shop

For this month and the next we have a declarer play problem which will include a little advice for a defender. We start with what you would see, as South, the declarer, when dummy first hits the table:-

At game all the bidding has been:-

N            E            S            W
               P            1S            P
2NT*      P            3H**       P
3S***     P            4S           

*   Shows 4 card support and a raise to at least 3 spades (modified Jacoby raises – I think!)
** I am better than minimum.     and   *** I am not.
West starts the play by leading the King of clubs. Taking our time as usual at trick one we see that nine tricks are straight forward. A tenth could come from the fourth round of hearts, if that suit breaks evenly, or if a trick can be made with the diamond King.

Pick up the reins – what is your plan?

(When you've had a think - Press Show Answer)

The heart suit will provide an extra trick when the suit splits 3-3. The problem with that plan is that East might win the third round of hearts and switch to diamonds allowing the defence to take three tricks in that suit. To combat that situation you should allow West to win the first trick. Then later you can discard a heart from hand on the club Ace – in effect swapping a heart loser for a spade loser and, importantly, keeping the lead away from East. Trumps can be drawn in two rounds sensibly starting with the King - then play Ace and King of hearts and ruff a heart. If hearts do break evenly, return to dummy with a trump to discard a diamond on the long heart and then try for the overtrick by leading up to the King of diamonds.

Had trumps turned out to be 3-0, you would just take two rounds (sensibly!) and then hopefully establish the long heart before completing the trump extraction simultaneously with a return to the dummy.

The contract just makes as you can see here from the full deal:-

(Press Show all Hands)

There are bidding systems around in Tournament Bridge circles which would allow East to open a weak Two Clubs thereon leading to a contract of Five clubs doubled - a good ‘save’ for East-West except when vulnerable against not.

Next month the East West cards will be changed in order that the heart suit does not behave. Perhaps declarer will still succeed in the ‘end game’.

John's Tip of the Month - November '09
Could have done better

Here is an interesting hand from a one-day Swiss-pairs event. South had the task of playing a contract of four spades against the lead of the King of hearts. It was love-all and the bidding had been very straightforward (see above)

Form your own plan of action. We will return to the optimum play later but in the meantime let us cut to the action and follow South’s efforts.

Trick one was taken on the table and trumps were drawn using the Ace and King of spades. South then led the Knave of hearts which was covered by West’s Queen. At this point South called for dummy’s four of hearts thereby leaving West on lead who then switched to a low diamond. Winning this in hand with the King, South continued with the diamond Ace and then ruffed a diamond in the dummy – hoping, no doubt, for a 3-3 break in the suit and the establishment of  the thirteenth diamond  for a subsequent club discard in dummy and a successful outcome regarding his contract. However that was not to be as East discarded a heart on the third round of diamonds. Declarer immediately returned to his own hand via a trump and then played his last diamond. West had to follow with the Queen. “Low club please” was the triumphant instruction from declarer to the dummy. West had been ‘end-played’– he could either lead a heart, thereby allowing declarer to discard a club from dummy while winning the trick via a ruff in hand, or lead a club giving declarer a trick in that suit. The contract was made.

“Well played” was heard from a gracious West and, maybe buoyed by that observation, South turned to address his own partner with “Perhaps that could be a hand for the club’s next newsletter with ‘loser on loser’ and ‘end-play’ featuring there?” “Fine” was North’s response “but do make sure you play it better in your write-up” Ouch!

How could declarer have improved on his play? Matching our own action plan?

(When you've decided - press Show Answer)

Once the trump suit had split 2-1 the contract was a certainty - if played correctly.

Declarer should play the two top diamond honours before leading that knave of hearts. This caters for any diamond distribution whereas the line adopted would have failed if East had held the longer diamonds.

(Now look at the full deal)
John's Tip of the Month - December '09
It’s a snip

This month we have a deal wherein North and South were lucky with the opening lead they received. A little later, however, North’s luck ran out when his partner failed to make the contract. Can we do better? The bidding had been a triumph of optimism over science but it had given little away.

Take a look at the task handed to South – contract 4 hearts; opening lead is the knave of diamonds and it is game-all. What is your plan?  

(when you've had a think - press Show Answer)
It is clear that you will need the outstanding trumps to divide 2-2 and that the spade losers will need your attention.

Thus - win tricks one and two in hand with the top diamonds cross to dummy via the king of clubs and discard a spade on that diamond king. Success – the diamonds are 4-3. Now lead dummy’s last diamond and discard your other spade – ‘loser-on-loser’ usually a ‘no-cost’ move. West will win this and attempt to make his spade ace. Too late – you will ruff and tackle trumps which do indeed behave kindly. Contract made

(Have a look at the full deal).

How then, I hear, did the original declarer manage to ‘put the contract on the floor’?

Well he missed out with that ‘loser-on loser’ step. Having disposed of one spade loser in hand, he turned his attention to the trump suit. East won the first trump round and led a spade to his partner’s ace. West then played his last diamond on which East had no difficulty in ‘discarding’ his king of trumps. At that point in the play West held the setting trick with his trump ace.
Loser-on loser is an accurate but wide description of the play above

More apt, because of its effect – cutting communication between the defender’s hands, we should use the classification from Bridge literature – ‘scissors coup’