SUDBURY CELEBRATIONS

Free bridge evening to mark Sudbury's 40th anniversary

Sudbury contract bridge club is holding a 40th birthday party on Friday 5 July when there will be snacks, refreshments, wine - and free bridge. And everyone is welcome.

The evening gets underway at 7pm at Sudbury AFC, Kings Marsh Stadium in Brundon Lane (off Bulmer Road, Sudbury). CO10 7HN

SIMS PAIRS

Bury St Edmunds bridge club is hosting a heat of the Bill Hughes Sims Pairs on 27 June (7pm).

This is an international event with more than 50% of the entry fees returned as prizes and trophies. Booklets are given to competitors with a commentary by a top player.

The club meets at Southgate Community Centre, Caie Walk, Bury St Edmunds IP33 2PJ. Visitors are welcome and the cost will be £5.

CLARE SWISS PAIRS
Fifty two pairs took part in the Clare Swiss Pairs at the weekend. The event was won by Alison Lloyd & Simon Stokes (centre) from Cambs & Hunts. David & Jenny Price (right) were runners-up ahead of Chris Hollingsworth & Gerry Ford (left) in third. Click on CLARE to see all the scores.
SUFFOLK BRIDGE LUNCH

Andy Higginson & Chris Kennedy from Colchester bridge club were the comfortable winners of the Suffolk birdge lunch at Elmswell on Wednesday.

The event attracted 24 pairs, the largest turn out since the county starting organising bridge lunches, and included a number of players who do not usually play in Suffolk events.

An enjoyable two course lunch with wine served as an appetiser to the bridge that followed. To see all the scores click on LUNCH

FRINTON'S HALF CENTURY
Congratulations to Frinton Bridge Club on their 50th Anniversary.  The occasion was celebrated by about 50 current and former members with a lunch at Frinton Golf Club, followed by a bridge session.  It was fitting that the bridge was won by one of the founder-members, Tony Haig-Thomas (playing with his brother, David). Results are HERE.
NEW SUFFOLK MEMBER
..to Dovercourt Bridge Club which recently affiliated to the Suffolk Contract Bridge Association.

 

GOOD EFFORT BY I&K TEAM IN GARDEN CITIES TROPHY

A team from Ipswich & Kesgrave performed with great credit at the weekend in the regional finals of the Garden Cities Trophy, the EBU's inter county teams of eight competition.

The eight players - Peter Gemmell, Chris Chambers, Maria Allnutt, Debby Sutcliffe, Peter Sutcliffe, Chris Green, Malcolm Pryor and Karen Pryor - finished a very close up third behind teams from Warwick and Cambridge bridge clubs.

Unfortunately only two teams from each of the four regional finals make it through to the final of the competition. To see the results, click on GARDEN

CHEERS, MIKE
Mike O'Reilly is stepping down from the Suffolk bridge committee after many years as a member. He was presented with something suitably refreshing as way of a thank you by Chris Rickard, the county's competitions secretary, following a recent meeting of the committee.
HERTS CONGRESS

Hertfordshire has released details of its popular green pointed congress next July.

The two day event will be on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 July at the usual venue - Wodson Park, Wadesmill Road, Ware SG12 0UQ.

For all the details click on HERTS. To enter on line, click PAIRS (Saturday) and/or TEAMS (Sunday)

ANALYSIS

When Suffolk captain Rick Hanley and his partner missed a slam, he decided to email US expert Marty Bergen and - for $1 a minute - seek his opinion.

How did he rate my bidding?

Within a couple of hours, I discovered the answer.

He didn't rate it all! Nor did he rate my partner's bidding as being much better.

Click on Consulting The Oracle to read more.

WEBMASTERS

Richard Evans & Paul Rickard are the webmasters running Suffolk's dedicated bridge website.

If you would like to publicise a forthcoming event or submit a news item for this website click Richard or Paul

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Hand of the Week
AN ACCIDENTAL SLAM

 This hand was from Board 7 of the EBED Sim Pairs, played at Stowmarket Bridge Club.

♠ KJ1094  AK762  AK ♣ 3

4th in hand, and after three passes, I opened 1 [first mistake].   Why not 1♠?    LHO passed and partner bid 2♠.    Half-forgetting that he had already passed [second mistake], I had no hesitation in looking for a small - or more likely - a grand slam.   Roman KCB brought forth a rather disappointing 5 response, showing one keycard, and I had to settle for 6♠.    Even with ♠Q missing (unlikely), but with 10 or more spades, the slam seemed a very good proposition. 

 Contract: 6♠ by West.   Lead: ♣J

 

There was little problem to the play; even a 3-0 trump break would not matter.

Some may query West's 2♠  bid (not me!), but after 1 - 1♠, finding the slam would be more difficult.    If East opens with a normal 1♠, West has several options.   The best, perhaps, is 4, showing a void or singleton in that suit and good spade support, but 2NT, played as game-going with good spade support, or a direct raise to 4♠ are also possible.   All could reasonably lead to a slam. 

Surprisingly, though, no other Stowmarket pair found the slam.    But that was not true world-wide where it was bid 717 times out of 1688 times played.

A SMALL SNAG...

Abbeygate Club, 3 June:

♠ KQ87  A7  AK10 ♣ AQ85

4th in hand as North, you pick up this rather nice 22 HCP collection, but there is a small snag in your expected action, i.e. of opening 2NT.   Annoyingly, RHO bids a pre-emptive 3.     Is it worth risking 3NT with only one heart stop?    You decide not, and double instead.    At (their) favourable vulnerability LHO now raises to 4, and after two passes you double again.     Now you are delighted when your partner bids 4♠, and that becomes the contract at three tables.   At one table NS reach 5♠ (voluntarily or pushed?) and the other contracts - no-trumps by North and hearts by West - are discussed below.

    Contract: 4♠ by South.     Lead: 9 or Q.

You win Q (or A and cross to Q) and lead a spade.   East captures North's ♠Q but fortunately the suit splits 2-2 and you have lost - or will lose - just one trick in each major suit.  What about clubs?    You must play the suit from the South hand, so cross to ♠9, lead ♣3 (which fetches ♣J-Q-2) followed by the ♣A (♣4-7-K)!   ♣10 is now established for an 11th trick.    What luck.    In practice, two Souths made 11 tricks for +650 and one made 10.

How does no-trumps by North fare?     It is clearly a more dangerous contract than spades, but needs only that declarer holds up for one round after the heart lead, and that East holds the ♠A.    And when that proves correct, declarer can later safely take the club finesse.    11 tricks.    Two Norths in 4NT and 3NT each made their contract but without overtricks.

Three Wests played in hearts, doubled, and at the favourable vulnerability could afford to be three light for -500.    And with careful defence EW have just seven tricks - six hearts and ♠A.    The results:  4x-3, 4x-1 and 5x-3.   All excellent scores for EW.

EXTREME DISTRIBUTION
Extreme distributions are always interesting, even if at the time they may seem more pain than pleasure.    Board 23 at Abbeygate Club, May 28, saw East with 5-7 in the black suits opposite West's 7-4 in the reds.  

                    
Assuming that South passes (although if using a weak two diamond opening, the hand is suitable), West opens with 1.    There is no need to pre-empt, and the holding is not quite good enough for a strong-two opening.    East responds 1♠, taking it easy initially, and now South may intervene with 2.    West bids 3 - although some may try 4 - and East continues with 4♣ .    West naturally persists with hearts and East either gives way to partner (some did so) or continues with 5♣.    After 5♣, West makes his third heart bid and East reluctantly passes.    The (possible) bidding sequence:

In practice, six of the eight Wests played in heart contracts, although at different levels, and with mixed results:
 
3+2, 4+1, 44-2 and 5 (11 tricks) twice. 
 
Additionally, one East was two off in 4♣, and one South was allowed to play in 5 undoubled for eight tricks.
What is the best play - and defence - in hearts?  
   The lead of ♣A was friendly (and unwise) and my partner had no difficulty in scoring 11 tricks.   Even 12 tricks was possible at some risk of an adverse ruff.  
   A diamond lead should allow 11 tricks (as long as declarer is not tempted to finesse in spades).   Declarer ruffs the lead and concedes just one trump and one diamond trick after discarding a diamond on a top spade. A spade lead allows a diamond ruff and 11 tricks (win spade, ruff club, ruff diamond, ruff club, force out K etc
    Finally, the best lead for the defence: a trump.   This prevents the diamond ruff, but can declarer still make 11 tricks?   (Assuming, of course, that South does not make it easy by playing the K at trick 1).    Declarer should win the trump lead and concede a diamond trick immediately.    Now declarer can win the defender's exit, force out the HK and draw the outstanding trumps.    This is the likely position after six tricks:
When two more hearts are cashed North can throw a spade and the ♣ Q (C10 and low spade from dummy), but has no safe discard on the final trump.    Try it.
  
Conclusions:
 
    A tough hand for bidding, play and defence.    And although Wests can make 11 tricks in hearts against any defence, there must be doubt whether they would find the best play after a trump lead.  (Technically "rectifying the count").    Fortunately - or not - no North found that defence to test declarer. 
    More importantly, West must make the best use of dummy's small singleton trump if the suit is not led.    It is certain that using it to ruff a diamond gains an extra trick, but saving it for a heart finesse is useful only if South holds precisely Kx in hearts.
'WRIGGLING' OUT OF 1NT DOUBLED

Most players in English clubs use the weak 1NT opening, showing a (reasonably) balanced hand of 12-14, or perhaps 13-15 high card points (HCP).    It has several advantages over the strong variety (15-17, 16-18) favoured in many/most other countries, and one major disadvantage.

Advantages:  (a) It occurs more frequently, (b) it gives partner an immediate picture of the hand (strength, shape), and (c) it has an appreciable pre-emptive value, often making bidding more difficult for the opponents than after a one-level suit opening.

Disadvantage:  If partner has a weak hand and opponents find a double, the consequence can be drastic: a large penalty is possible, certainly greater than the opponents' possible game or part-score, especially if the doubled player is vulnerable.

SO IT IS ESSENTIAL WHEN USING THE WEAK 1NT to have a rescue system available - a "Wriggle".   It may not always succeed, but normally gives the opener and partner some chance of improving their situation.    (And opponents cannot always know how best to continue, e.g. to double a rescue bid or to find their own contract).

Rescue bidding:   There are, of course, several systems and variations of systems to escape from 1NT doubled.   Make sure that you and partner are on the same wavelength!  Exit Transfers is one that I can recommend.   Let's consider firstly the double by LHO:  1NT - double - ??    Partner can have three - perhaps four - types of holding. 

(a) Moderately strong with 8+ HCP.   Action: Probably pass, but with a 5-card suit may prefer to transfer as in (b) . 

(b) Weak but with a 5-card or longer suit.   Action: Transfer.  Redouble, asking partner to bid 2♣ ; bid 2♣ for 2; 2 for 2; and 2 for 2♠.  [Note: Some responders will merely bid their long suit; a weak takeout.   Perfectly acceptable, but it is usually better if the stronger hand is hidden]. 

(c) Weak with no 5-card suit.   Action: Pass (which partner must alert).   If, as is likely, the next player passes, opener should bid a 5-card suit, if he possesses one, or redouble (asking partner to bid his lowest ranking four card suit)    If LHO then passes the redouble, responder will bid his lowest 4-card suit.   And opener will normally pass this bid, although with only two of the suit may remove to his lowest 4-card suit.

(d) And a 4th option for responder?  If he holds 8+pts and partner has redoubled, he can pass!

Finally, suppose that the double is in 4th position,  i.e.  1NT - pass - pass - double.

Following 1NT P P X, exit transfers are off and natural bidding takes over. So, if Opener has a 5-card suit he bids it naturally following the X by his RHO. If he doesn’t have a five card suit he passes and if LHO passes, Responder bids a 5+ card suit naturally if he has one. If Responder does not have a 5 card suit he bids XX, asking Opener to bid his lowest ranking four card suit. Responder will then pass (unless he has 2 or fewer cards in that suit in which case he bids the next suit up)

Two hands at Abbeygate, 13 May, involved a double of 1NT at some tables.

East opens 1NT (better than 1), South doubles, and this is followed by two passes.    Without the 5-card suit East would redouble, and EW might end in 2♣x  losing 500 or 800.  But this time East can rescue into his 5-card minor.   That could lose 500, but it is more likely that South will try 2.    Remarkably, South can make 3NT but none bid it.   The results were highly varied:

           3-3(E), 1NTx-3(E), 1NT-3(E), 2+1(S), 2-2(S), 1NT+1(N) and 1NT(S).

After two passes, West opens 1NT (but 1♣ is also an option), North doubles and East bids 2 - a transfer to hearts.    South may make a lead-directing double, but much better is 2NT or 3NT (relying on partner's heart holding).    With no entry for East to lead a club, there are 10 tricks in no-trumps by South.    It is a different story if North is declarer.

In practice, five Souths played in diamond part-scores; an 11th trick is possible only with a club lead from West.   The other results:

                        3NT(S), 3NT-2(N), 1NTx-2(W) and 2x-1(W).

East was especially remiss in not removing/transferring partner's doubled 1NT to 2.   1NTx could have been held to two tricks and -1400 points.    2 would lose only(!) 500 or 800, but as described above NS would probably decide to bid their own contract.

FIREWORKS

With West holding a near-solid 8-card heart suit, East a less solid seven cards in spades, and North-South with 5-5 and 6-3 fits in the minors at Stansfield on Tuesday 30 April, there were bound to be fireworks in the bidding.   

East has a 3-spade opening (not 1♠; those knaves are likely to be of little use), South passes (don't think about intervening!) and West bids 4.   That leaves North with the most difficult problem at the table.   

In practice, half (of the eight) left 4 in place, one doubling it.    But North has two reasonable bidding alternatives, with the hope that any penalty that might ensue is less than the value of West's (assumed) making game.    5♣ is the most straightforward, the suit needing little help from partner.   'Double' is for takeout; South must bid his better minor, unless (unlikely after the bidding) he has a good defence to 4.   And after the remaining four Norths doubled or bid 5♣, there came four very different outcomes. 

5♠x-2(E) for -300 was rather naughty; decisions should now be partner's.  6♣ -2  for -100 was an excellent result for North; a double was surely obligatory.   5x-1 (S) was another excellent NS result; it should be two light. 5x -5 (S) for -1100.   Words fail.

How did/should 4 contracts fare?    With two aces to lose, declarer will score 10 tricks or eleven, depending on whether South can get his spade ruff quickly.   Two pairs made 10 tricks (including the doubled West, but he was laughing anyway), and two made 11.

Conclusion:   Definitely a hand for a North-South sacrifice at the five level, but quite difficult to judge whether to do so.

COUNT THEIR HANDS - WITHOUT LOOKING!

This hand played last year at Colchester had a number of interesting aspects.  

Dealer South, Both Vulnerable.

First the bidding. You have:k

KQ62  AQ984  63 ♣ J2

Playing 5-card Majors, sitting South as dealer, you open 1.  West overcalls 1♠, North doubles and East passes.  What now?

At favourable vulnerability you might consider passing for penalties, but here that would risk missing a possible bonus for a vulnerable game, so you rebid 1NT.  West passes, North raises to 3NT and this ends the auction.  West leads ♠J.  You play low from dummy, East contributes the 3 and your K♠ wins.

♠ J led

Prospects look good.  West presumably has most if not all of the outstanding high cards for his vulnerable overcall.  Obviously you need West to have the A, but if he also has one, two or three hearts to the King you can set up the suit for at least three tricks.  This, with the presumed ¨Ktrick, plus at least one spade trick on the lead, and four club tricks, gives you the contract.

You lead 4 to West’s 3, dummy’s J but East wins with the  K.  You are relieved when East can’t return a spade (the opponents confirm that the overcall could be on a four card suit at the one level), but plays J to your 3, West’s 9 and dummy’s 2.  East continues with 10 to your 6, West’s 5 and you win in dummy with the King.  What now?

One declarer in 3NT erred at this point when he cashed the top hearts, hoping the drop the 10. When this failed he finished two down for an outright bottom.

It costs nothing to play four rounds of clubs. You are rewarded when West follows to three rounds then discards ♠4.  You now have a complete count of the hands.  West started with 5 spades and three clubs.  The play in diamonds confirms he has four cards – the A & Q in addition to the two already played.  He therefore has just the one heart, already played.  You can therefore lead the 6 from dummy and simply cover whichever card East plays.


If West had followed to fewer than three clubs you would not know for sure whether his remaining cards were hearts or diamonds.

Did you spot the small defensive error?  West should overtake the 10 with the Q.  It’s then not clear whether he started with three or more diamonds, so declarer cannot get a full count of the hand and will have to take a view on the hearts.

Only three pairs bid and made 3NT.  This is a good hand for 5-card Major systems, as it effectively forces the 1NT rebid and right-sides the eventual 3NT contract (3NT by North obviously fails on a spade lead).  The 4-3 diamond break means that 3NT by South can be made against any defence.  Many of those playing 4-card Major systems chose to rebid the hearts after North’s take-out double.  They played in Heart part-scores, making 8 or 9 tricks.

10 UNIMPRESSIVE RESULTS

In both bidding and play there was a simple error or misjudgement for North-South to find: Board 18 at Abbeygate Club (23rd April).    Some found each, some just one, but none escaped both errors!

The bidding:  At 'green' vulnerability, East may open 1, and South will make a weak jump overcall of 2, or possibly bid a simple 1.    But if East passes, South has a weak 2 opening bid.   (Some may consider the hand good enough for a normal 1 opening).   North has an excellent hand opposite any of those bids, and even if West raises East's diamonds, should have no hesitation in bidding 4.  But only five (of ten) North-Souths reached game, one of whom was then overcalled with 5.   [North should have either continued to 5 or doubled, with best defence collecting +500 rather than the actual +100 from 5-2].

The play in hearts:    The lead of the A looks helpful to declarer, but shouldn't make a difference to the result.    The key to obtaining a good score on the hand - assuming that South has reached 4 - is the spade finesse(s).   There is a small risk of a ruff, but at Pairs the risk is worth taking.   South must use two heart entries to finesse spades twice; then dummy's K is followed by the ♠A.   Fortunately - for declarer - that fells the King and allows three discards from hand if necessary, and a total of 12 tricks.

How many Souths scored those 12 tricks?    Just two; and they were both playing in 2!

The full results:  4+1, 4, 4-1, 4-2, 3+1, 2+2, 2+4 (twice), 5-2 and 4-1.

Conclusions:   North-Souths can be forgiven for not bidding the slam, but not for (a) not recognising the combined power of the hands, and (b) not attempting to set up the spades (and planning at trick one how to do so).

A (SLIGHTLY) FORTUNATE SLAM

Board 4 was a spectacular hand from the final of the Suffolk Championship Pairs.   These were the East-West hands (dealer West, game all):

♠ J 7 4    9 5    A K 8 6 4 3   ♣ 8 2             ♠ A K 10 8 5     A Q J 7 3 2    J   ♣ A   

If West opens the bidding (2/3), East will force, and will aim to show both of his suits.   Reaching a major suit slam should not be too difficult, with the more cautious Easts checking for the A on the way.   If West passes, is East worth a strong two opening?   The advantage, of course, is in announcing the hand strength immediately.    The disadvantage is in limiting the bidding space in which to show two excellent suits.

Against a heart slam (but in practice it makes little difference if spades are trumps), a club or a diamond are the likely leads, and declarer has to judge how best to avoid a loser in each major.   As there is - annoyingly - only one entry to dummy, which finesse should declarer take?    The probability of North holding the K bare or doubleton (the only holdings allowing no loser in the suit) is less than 20%; not good odds.    But North has a 50% chance of holding ♠Q, so that should be the finesse to try.  At trick 2 (or trick 3 if a club was led) play ♠J from dummy.

If North covers, declarer's problems are nearly over; win and play hearts hoping that they break 3-2.   If ♠J holds the trick, another spade finesse risks a ruff by South, so best to tackle hearts; playing A-Q is safest.   [If South wins♠ Q; bad luck].    The full hands:

In practice, however, it is likely that most slam declarers finessed the heart, not the spade (draw trumps quickly etc.) and then had the good fortune to find the ♠Q doubleton!   Slam made.

At the 12 tables, five EWs bid and made the heart slam - none were in 6♠ - and four made 4+2.   4♠+1, 4♠ and 3+3(!) also appeared.

BID UP!

It must be unusual for a reasonable - and makeable - slam to be bid at one table (modesty forbids), and all others to play in part-scores (3 or 4).   Stowmarket, 12 April, Board 1.

2 = 8 playing tricks;  2NT = 7-9pts;

6 - a slight gamble!

The A lead from South was followed by ♣A, ruffed, and the slam now depended on a successful spade finesse.   Declarer was quite hopeful; surely South would have found a 'double' if holding that card as well.


A similar situation, although at the other end of the bidding range, occurred later in the same session.    Board 12.

Just one South (modesty again forbids) opened in 4th position: all others passed.   And North had little difficulty in making eight tricks.

 

FORTUNATE UNDERBIDDING

At one table - your correspondent's - both North and East made pushy - OK, dodgy - bids, and eventually East was doubled and lost 800 points.    That, of course, was more than the North-South (makeable) vulnerable games, so it was an excellent board for North-South ….. but should it have been?

1NT = 12-14!; 2♣ = natural; First X = For Penalties; 2 = can't stand the X; 3♣ = bold; N PASS = Well, perhaps this timer

 

South led ♠K against East's 3♣X, and then switched to A-K-J.    North ruffed in order to lead a trump, and with no spade ruff possible (defenders can lead a second trump) but with only one trump loser, declarer could make five trump tricks but no others.   That was +800 to North-South.    [If North discards on the third heart and ruffs a 4th, declarer can obtain the spade ruff].    At most tables NS played in 3NT or 4♠, making 11 or 12 tricks for 650-690.  So an excellent score for us, unless some had ventured and succeeded in a slam.

Should a slam make?    The answer is "yes" in spades (♣A on-side, and a club ruff for the 12th trick), and "no" in no-trumps (only 11 tricks are available unless - all too likely - West leads the standard '4th highest of the longest and strongest suit').  

Should we have bid a slam?    Yes!    South has 20 HCP, partner has opened the bidding, the spade fit can quickly be found, and after East's bid the ♣K is certain to be a trick.   So what was South waiting for?   In practice, a slam was bid at just three of the 11 tables, with these results:

6♠ (made) by South, ♣10 lead:  6NT (made) by South, 9 lead:  6NT-1 by South, 10 lead.

And for the record, thanks to the North-Souths' mostly cautious bidding, 3♣-4 for +800 was worth 82%.

OVERTRICK SHENANIGANS

Board 1 at Abbeygate Club, 18 March, illustrates again how even in the simplest Pairs contract declarer should strive for extra trick(s) to gain a good score.    After three passes, West bids 1NT (12-14) and that is passed out.    North leads ♣5.

Declarer has one club, four diamonds and possibly one heart trick.    What about spades?  The aim should be to lead them at least twice from dummy, deep finessing each time if South plays low.  How does declarer reach dummy twice?    The first time is on the third round of clubs …except that the defence is unhelpful, and after South wins ♣A and continues ♣10, North plays low and lets West's knave win.    Would readers see that they should overtake with dummy's ♣Q (which is dead anyway)?    No, neither did I.

But recovery was fairly easy with East-West holding the top five diamonds.   Q (or J) is overtaken, and a spade is led to the nine.   It wins!   Now a low diamond to the ten is followed by a second spade and South's card is covered (say, 4 - J - Q - x).    Finally ♠A is played, and when the suit fails to split 3-3, declarer cashes his remaining diamonds and leads a heart.    North plays the A and that should limit declarer to eight tricks (3+0+4+1), but North has unwisely thrown a club earlier and kept a low heart, and so concedes a 9th trick to K at the end. 

Even better declarer play, as readers will no doubt see, is to ensure three entries to dummy: a club (suit played correctly) and two diamonds.   With three spade leads, declarer - with the fortunate lie of the suit - can score four spade tricks, and thus always nine in total**.

The board was played by West twice in diamonds (2 made and 3 made) and nine times in 1NT (with club leads):      1NT+2 (2), 1NT+1 (3), 1NT (3) and 1NT-1 (1).

** That's not quite true.   South can prevent any club entry to dummy by - bizarrely - ducking the first round of clubs.  Now eight tricks are declarer's maximum against best defence.

A RATHER BAD TRUMP SPLIT...

RHO deals and opens 3, and with this respectable hand...

♠ AQJ1043  K2  74 ♣ KJ4

you overcall 3♠:

It's slightly unlucky, however, that your LHO opponent holds the remaining seven spades!  This was Board 9 at Abbeygate Club, 11 March.

Surprisingly, four Easts (of 11) were allowed to play in 3♠ undoubled (South no doubt worried that EW would run to a better contract), three were 'rescued' from a double by a further diamond bid by North, and just three Easts were doubled and played there.    And one other contract: 1♠ by East.    Were North and South both fast asleep?

The Play:  The defence starts with three rounds of diamonds ( A, Q/K, J ruffed and over-ruffed).   It is difficult to see East scoring more than three trump tricks, and to that can be added two hearts and a club (finessing the knave if South has not led the suit).   That's three light and either -300 or -800.    But in practice those were not the only spade scores.  

3♠-2 (-200), 3♠-3 twice (-300), 3♠-4 (-400), 3♠ x-1 (-200), 3♠x-3 (-800) and 3♠x-4 (-1100).  And not forgetting 1♠ (+80).   And the three diamond contracts?   Even making the contract, the results were very poor for NS: 4 (+130), 4-1 (-50) and 5-1 (-50).

Conclusions:   With seven of the opponent's suit bidding at the 3-level (and sitting over the vulnerable opponent), a double seems a very good idea.    But then teach your partner to trust your judgment.

DOZY DEFENCE

East had a difficult defensive problem on Board 9 at Abbeygate Club, 4 March.    With EW vulnerable, North opened with 1♣, East overcalled 1 with a somewhat marginal hand:

♠ 942  AK53  AJ6 ♣ J107

The full bidding was:

 

West led 8 to South's 3NT contract and this dummy appeared:

After 8-2-K-4, what next for East?    He can be almost certain that declarer has Q for the 3NT bid, and may have as much as QJxx.    Equally dangerously, if declarer holds ♣A, East has a very helpful (to declarer) club holding.   And even ♣A with partner would allow dummy to take four club tricks.   How might East counteract these holdings?    The key card is the K.   If partner has it, the contract is defeated; if he hasn't, that may mean overtricks, but they will probably only make a bad board a little worse.

So be bold and switch to 6 at trick 2.    And reap your reward.   These were the full hands:

Did East find the switch?   Unfortunately, that was a little beyond a relatively inexperienced player, and instead, a low heart exit at trick two allowed declarer to reel off 11 tricks (5+1+0+5).     At the other tables two pairs were in 4♠  which could similarly have been held to eight tricks, but wasn't**, two stayed cautiously in 2NT (+1 and +2) and the remaining five played in 3NT.  Tricks made: seven twice, nine twice, and 10 once.

**A heart lead followed by a low diamond is best, but a trump switch will also defeat the contract, probably by one.

INTERFERING

It is becoming more appreciated that interference bidding even on quite weak hands, by disrupting the opponents' auction, can pay large dividends often at little risk.    Particularly, this is true at 'green' vulnerability: non-vul v vul.    And a help in this activity is the popular weak jump overcall of an opening bid.    This was Board 5 at Bury Club on 21 February.

(3) Close to bidding 4S.  (5) A no-brainer.   4 is highly likely to make and you would need to be four light (doubled) to suffer a worse score.  (X) A difficult decision.   South can by no means be sure of making 5.

After South's diamond lead - or ♠A, then a diamond - NS will take five tricks and score +500.   But 4♠ for +620 makes easily, and irritatingly for NS (and not so easily) so does 5♠.   A 5th diamond can be established, via the finesse and two ruffs, for a second club discard.

Just two Easts played in 5x, one three off and one - remarkably - only one.  At the other seven tables Souths were allowed to play in 4♠, with five making 10 tricks and two - again remarkably - with 12.

But for a really bold interference bid - and devastating response - look at this recent hand.  Australian Liam Milne was South.

Liam decided that partner must have a strong hand for his double, so bid a fearless 7♣.   And when dummy appeared he concluded that East must have a singleton or void in clubs for his leap to 6. Winning the diamond lead he cashed ♣A, and when East's Queen fell, ran the ♣10!    The grand slam was made.

TWO GRANDS GO ASTRAY

There were 13 easy tricks on each of two boards at Abbeygate Club, 11 February, but a slam (small) was bid by North-South at only one of 12 tables on the first, and at only four on the second.    What went wrong?

Board 11.   Dealer South.  Neither vulnerable.

After 1♣ - 1, South has a problem in showing both his heart support and the general strength of the hand.     Despite holding only three of the suit, a raise to 3 or even 4 may be the best bid.    It could lead to a 'moyesian'  4-3 game (not necessarily disastrous), but in practice North cannot now fail to reach 6 (7 only for the boldest), probably after checking for aces. 6H+1 (once), 4H+3 (8 times), 3H+4! (once) and 3NT+4 (twice).  

Board 15.  Dealer South.  NS vulnerable.

With two flattish hands, but 30 HCPs and a major suit fit, a slam should not be too difficult to reach, but only one third did so.  

1 - 1 (best not to waste bidding space);  2 - 2 (forcing);  3 - ??  

Should North raise to 6?    A heart and a club fit with partner, controls in the other suits and 17 HCPs.   Yes!     Even a diamond lead does not put the slam at risk: win A, draw trumps and discard a diamond on a spade. 

But there is a problem.    These were the full hands:

West - at 'green' vulnerability - may intervene with a weak jump overcall of 2 or even of 3.    North will double, but now NS, with a guaranteed diamond attack, may consider a slam too risky to bid. 6+1 (4 times), 4+3 (5), 3+4! (2) and 3NT+4 (1).

REMARKABLE!

Board 15 at Stansfield (4 February) was remarkable, with North-South holding a massive fit in both black suits (8-3 and 6-4), and East-West an equal fit in the reds (5-5 and 7-4).    And both pairs had a slam in each of their suits, except that for one of each pairs' suits, the defenders could obtain a first-round ruff.         

South has eight spades, but at 'red' vulnerability a 4♠ opening could prove very costly.   3♠ is enough.    West will surely bid 5, and North and South now have difficult decisions.  North may double or bid 5♠, but 'pass' is a poor option.  And South?   Remove a double to 5♠, and pass partner's 5♠.    And if EW now bid 6 over 5♠, there comes a further choice: double, 6♠ or pass?    North could not be blamed for choosing 'double', but compared to bidding 6♠ that would cost nearly 3,000 points!

The results:   Two East-Wests were allowed to play in diamonds at the five level, for +400 and +420, and two were doubled in 6, scoring 12 tricks and +1090.    And two Souths played in spades: 5♠+1 (+680) and 6♠x+1 (+1860).

GO FOR THE MOST!

    Board 15.   Abbeygate Club, 21 January.

          

Unsurprisingly, all 11 Norths played in spade contracts on this hand, but ranging from a super-cautious 2♠ (once), through 3♠  (twice), 4♠  (seven times) to 5♠ (once).    A possible NS bidding sequence (with opponents silent):    

                                       pass - 2*;    2* - 2;    3 - 4;  End

And when seven Easts failed to find their best lead of a heart, declarer had the chance to make a lot of tricks: all 13 of them!   But only two seized their opportunity.   There are 10 top tricks, and most declarers were content with making one more if, as it did, the diamond finesse succeeded.    But those who escape the heart attack should be looking to establish the diamond suit for several extra tricks.   And that would be possible if the King fell in three rounds.  Even then, to succeed would require care in using all three black-suit dummy entries.   This is a safe line of play, assuming a club lead (the most popular), and there is a similar play after a trump lead.

Win the club in dummy - preferably with the knave - and immediately finesse Q.   Cash ♠A and A, cross to ♠J and ruff a diamond (there is no danger of being over-ruffed).   Draw the last trump(s) (declarer can afford a 4-1 break) and return to dummy with ♣K to discard North's two hearts on the established diamonds.

Just one declarer scored 13 tricks after a spade lead.    Your correspondent must confess to receiving a helpful diamond lead against 4♠.   I played the knave - pour encourager le Roi - and it duly appeared.   End of story.

18 POINTS - AND LITTLE TO SAY...

It is unusual for a player with a powerful 18 HCP holding to be almost entirely side-lined in the bidding, and for almost all the opposition pairs to reach game.    This was Hand 18 at Abbeygate Club on 14 January:

                 

East opens 1♣, and North-South rapidly reach 4.    Possible auctions:

1 - 2 - pass - 3;  4 - 4 - ??

1 - 1 - pass (or 2) - 3; 4 - 4 - ??

Surprisingly, no doubles of 4 were forthcoming, although if West had known that his K was over - not under - the ace there would no doubt have been several doubles.     Six (of 10) Norths played in 4 and lost the obvious three tricks.   One South declared 4 (after North had doubled West's opening bid), and one South boldly but unwisely advanced to 5 (perhaps over 5♣ ).

Should East-West sacrifice in 5♣?    At 'red' vulnerability it is dangerous; even if 4 is making EW can afford to be only one off.    But if West has chosen to double 4, East (with a distinct lack of points) might consider 5♣x  as the lesser evil.    Just one West played in 5♣, and was doubled for two light and -500.    The diamond suit is the key to the contract.    If North does not, or cannot, obtain an immediate diamond ruff, declarer will later lead them twice from dummy (no entry problems).   If South plays low on the first lead declarer will finesse the knave.    5♣ made.    In practice, however, North led his singleton diamond to partner's ace, and on the low diamond return declarer unfortunately played the King.   That resulted in two off (-500) rather just one and an excellent score of -200.

DEFENCE GALLOP TO THE RESCUE

On Board 10 at Bury Club on 3rd January, in competitive bidding, North-South somewhat over-reached themselves to play in four spades.   (Hands reversed for convenience).

            

West led ♣A, East playing ♣2 and declarer ♣J, and after some thought West continued with ♣K.   That seemed a favourable start for declarer, but was really not very helpful.    He was disappointed - after both opponents had bid hearts - that dummy had two of the suit.   With three unavoidable losers, it was therefore necessary not to concede a diamond trick, but that seemed to require not only a fortunate distribution (a singleton honour or Q-J doubleton), but for declarer to guess the diamond play correctly.    Wouldn't it be better if an opponent could be persuaded/forced to open up the suit?

Declarer ruffed the second club, drew trumps in three rounds and exited with a heart.    West won ♥Q and led the J!   Assuming that that was not a devious play from QJ(x), declarer won with the King, ran 10 and lived happily ever after (well, almost).    These were the full hands:

                         

Clearly, the defence could have done better by continuing clubs (either immediately, or after cashing another heart trick), or even by playing a third round of hearts.    But the latter risked conceding a vital ruff and discard. The defenders might have asked themselves an important question: why didn't declarer take a discard on ♣Q when he had the opportunity?     And the answer, "He had nothing useful to discard", would/should have led to a safe club continuation and the defeat of the contract.          Other results: 4-1, 4, 4-2, 3 and 2+2.

But readers may see that declarer's play was not optimum.    After drawing trumps - ending in dummy - he should cash the ♣Q, discarding a heart, and only then exit with a heart.    The defenders now cannot avoid leading a diamond or conceding a ruff and discard.    (But note that this play is not available if West switches to a heart or a trump at trick two).

A NICE DEFENCE
♠ AKJ753  1052  A ♣ Q83

 You open 1♠ with this East hand, but after South doubles and your partner passes, North forces to a final contract of 4.    You lead A and see this dummy.     What next?

♠ 102  A96  KJ10 ♣ AJ764

All Easts now cashed two top spades, and Norths - whether in 4 (three times) or 3 (twice) - scored 10 tricks.    But EW can defeat 4 (and even 3).    East needs to reach partner's hand at trick two to obtain a diamond ruff, and clearly a club or a heart lead will not do that (unless partner has the King and declarer is asleep).    East must lead a low spade!    Partner is surprised to win with the Queen but plays a diamond back and all is well (for the defence).    This was Board 6 at Stowmarket on 14 December.

Isn't there a danger of conceding an overtrick when declarer has the ♠Q?     That's true, but it is surely worth the chance of a spectacular coup.  More seriously, this is a play that should unquestionably be tried at Teams where defeating a game is far more important than conceding an overtrick.

And even 3 can be defeated by the - definitely not recommended - play by West of the ♠9.    Diamond ruff, low spade to the Queen, diamond ruff.    Easy!

For the record, two East's were allowed to play in spades.    A was led.   3♠x (nine tricks, +730) and 2♠-1 (-100 but still a good score).

DECLARER PLAY

Sometimes good declarer play, perhaps differing from the 'expected' line, can not only save a rocky contract but may generate 'bonus' tricks. This was Board 22 at Abbeygate Club on 10 December.

 

Despite West's distributional hand, it is only a small gamble with 13 HCPs to raise partner's 12-14 no-trump opening directly to game.   And after a 1♣ opening by East that is also the likely destination.

eg 1♣-1; 1♠-3♣; 3NT-End

Nine out of 12 Easts reached 3NT, although 3+1 and 3+2 by West and 4♣ by East also figured.   Of those in 3NT, five received a heart lead (J or 2) and four a low spade lead.

The heart gives 3NT an easier ride.   Declarer holds up the King to the third round after North plays the ace and continues the suit, and then cashes A and finesses 10.   North wins, but has no further heart to play** and exits with a spade.      All now depends on the club position.  These were the full hands:

It is possible for a perverse declarer to lose a trick in the club suit, but most will be successful and will claim ten tricks. 

What about a spade lead?    That makes North very much the danger hand, with either a further spade or perhaps a heart switch threatening the contract if he gains the lead.   But surely a losing diamond finesse runs to North, or perhaps declarer should make the safety play of cashing A-K?   No.   To minimise the danger declarer runs J from dummy at trick two!    Even if that finesse loses, North can gain a useful entry only with A (if he has it) and if South finds that switch.    And if the diamond finesse wins, the contract has a very good chance of making.    It proves to be declarer's lucky day and 10 tricks roll in rather than a threatened eight.

Four pairs in 3NT made 10 tricks after a heart lead (and one made just six!), but after the spade lead three contracts failed and only one (my partner's, I am glad to say) succeeded.

*Note that holding A-Q-x, North - at trick 1 - should play the Queen smoothly.   Declarer almost certainly has the King so this play can hardly cost a trick.    And declarer cannot now risk ducking.      If/when North wins a diamond trick he will lead the ace and another heart, and though not defeating the contract, this defence holds declarer to nine tricks.

A STEP TOO FAR? PERHAPS NOT...

All too often it seems that your partner - very rarely yourself! - propels you into a contract substantially higher than the partnership holding justifies.    What to do?    Assuming that defenders haven't, for example, immediately cashed two tricks against a slam, you may hope for a favourable lie of one or more suits, or that the defence is inaccurate, or even that you can conjure up a brilliant play to gather extra tricks and/or avoid losers.

As an example let's look at Board 10 of the Abbeygate Pairs on 2nd December.  (Hands reversed for convenience).   Dealer West, both vulnerable.

2= Intermediate strength jump bid.   2NT= Pushy.   Wouldn't 3 (or pass) be better?  3= A decent suit and a singleton, but minimum HCP.   4=Pushing out the boat!

♣J is led against South's heart game, and declarer considers the options.   Hearts:  A 2-2 break is the best hope, but if West drops an honour on the first round...…    Spades:  There are likely to be two losers but not three.   (Look at those lovely intermediates).    Diamonds:   Just one loser if East holds the ace - likely from the bidding - and declarer will hope to ruff the third diamond in dummy.   Clubs:   No losers but almost no chance of a second trick.

♣A wins the first trick and declarer takes the opportunity while in dummy to lead a diamond.    East rises with the ace and returns a diamond to declarer's King.   A-K drops both missing honours on the second round; things are going well with just one losing trick in three suits.   Now for the spades.

The ♠10 is led and run (10-3-2-Q) and the contract probably now depends on West holding the ♠J.   Until, that is, East plays the ♠A, setting up the King, and tries to cash the ♣K.    That defence makes things easy, but West does hold the knave and a second finesse would have succeeded.

Unsurprisingly, 4 was a lone effort; all ten other Souths stopped in 2 or 3 making eight, nine or 10 tricks. 

Conclusions:    The game contract was not as bad as it may have seemed initially.   With trumps 2-2 (about 50%) and DA with East (probable after the bidding), only a very unlucky lie of the spades would defeat the game (assuming, also, no defensive errors).    But perhaps the conclusion should be:  "Best not to try these sorts of things too often!"

    Contract: 4 by South.    Lead: ♣J.

LUCKY DECLARER

South opens 3, West passes, and a sober North will surely settle for 3NT (keeping fingers crossed for a club stop or no more than four losers in that suit).    South should pass, but not fully trusting his partner may bid 4 which is raised to 5.    That may already be dangerous territory.  At Abbeygate Club, Tuesday 27 November (Board 7), five pairs reached each of the game contracts,

.   But the board was played 11 times.   Yes, one pair bid to 6  .

Can readers see any hope for the slam except after a non-club opening lead?    But West led a club and the contract was made!    These were the full hands:

Only the singleton club ace (not the king) - in either hand - allows 6 to be made against any defence.  And the chance of that holding is just under 1%.    Lucky declarer.    [Actually NS did not find the best contract.   6NT is twice as unbeatable; with no ruffing possible a singleton ♣A or ♣K is all that is needed]. 

TRICKY

Board 27 of the Stowmarket Teams event played on 23 November saw Wests trying either spade or no-trump games.   Spades failed and no-trumps succeeded each time they were played, but the outcomes should have been reversed!    Clearly there are always five club losers in no-trumps, and the nasty spade distribution seems to doom that contract.    But neither of those statements proved correct.

At one table West opened 2NT (although 1 might have been more prudent despite the 21 HCP) and the bidding continued:

Against 4♠, North cashes a club and switches to a red suit, won in hand.   How should declarer play?    With two expected trump losers it is essential not to lose a second club trick, and there are two ways to avoid that.  (a) Ruff a club, return to hand and ruff the third club.   Return to hand, cash the two top spades (forget a finesse) and continue with red-suit winners.   North scores just two spade tricks to add to his one club trick.  (But declarer must avoid getting a heart ruffed before the second club ruff).   (b) Ruff a club, cash the top spades and discard a club on a third top diamond.   North can ruff, but with a natural trump winner.    Despite these possible successful lines of play, two declarers were one light in 4♠x.

What happened in 3NT?    That made twice.   How?    Unless South dumps both ♣J and ♣9 under partner's top clubs the suit is blocked.    Can he do that?    Suppose that declarer holds 10 x x x.    A difficult judgment to make.

Note that the most straightforward EW game is 5.   Declarer has 11 easy tricks and can try - safely - the spade finesse for a 12th.

WHY IGNORE THE 5-3 FIT IN A MAJOR?

Board 4 of the Suffolk Sim Pairs wasn't the most spectacular, but should have given North/South a comfortable ride to a (fairly) comfortable game .   But few took the opportunity. Contract 4by South.

Only a real gambler would open the flat, 11-point, vulnerable West hand, so North bids 1♠ and South replies 2**.    North, with excellent trump support and a known 5-3 or better fit, and 16 HCP, can do nothing but raise to 4.   Why rebid spades, or even worse, get into no-trumps with no diamond stop?    But many pairs did so!

Firstly let's consider the play in 4.    After the inevitable diamond lead, declarer has two main options: play for a diamond ruff in dummy (the defence may help by continuing diamonds at trick 2) or for the spades to break favourably.   After a trump switch at trick 2, declarer wins in dummy, plays a diamond, wins a second trump in dummy and crosses to ♣K to ruff his third diamond.   A spade ruff to hand fortunately holds up, the last trump is drawn and declarer has 11 tricks, losing only two diamonds.    [Alternatively - and more simply - declarer can draw trumps immediately and aim to set up the spade suit in three rounds, with ♣A as re-entry to dummy.  But now the contract will fail if the spades misbehave].

At the (64) tables just nine pairs played in 4; four made 11 tricks, four made 10 and one contract failed.    4♠ was bid and made twice, and 3NT made seven times.

**Many Souths bid 1NT over partner's 1♠ opening, and were either allowed to play there, or NS ended in 2NT, 3NT or in some number of spades.   [10 tricks are available in spades ].    But surely South is strong enough to bid 2 over 1♠; importantly, a weak 2♠  from partner could be passed and would not be a disaster.

'RETREATING' INTO 3NT...

♠ AJ9  -  J1086542 ♣ 1087 

 

At 'red' vulnerability you hold the hand above, and partner deals and opens 1.    The bidding continues:

Should West pass or run to his seven-card diamond suit?    A difficult decision, and when West at Aldebrough (Board 6, 6 November) decided to pass the double, his partner ended with just five tricks and -1100.   And 4, possibly doubled, would have succeeded easily!    These were the full hands:

In hearts, East could have scored more than five tricks; seven or even eight looks possible.   Declarer initially plays on the side-suits, with the favourable lie of the spades being a bonus (as long as he is not tempted to finesse the knave).   But even -200 would be a poor score compared to +130.   An even better result would follow West's 'retreat' to 3NT.

Assume that North leads ♣K.   Win the third round of clubs (although North may/should switch to a spade - Queen or low - after two rounds: take ♠Q with East's King).   Now play K to South's ace.   A second spade is won by West, and it now appears that with no further entry to West's hand the diamond suit is blocked by the Queen.   But with the ♠Q falling or being played earlier, declarer has the answer: he discards Q on the winning third spade.   Six diamonds can now be cashed, and declarer has 10 tricks if South has omitted to cash the ace of hearts.

At the tables, no-one played in no-trumps, one West was allowed to make 5, and four other (undoubled) heart contracts failed.   (4-3, 3-2 twice, and 3-1).

BATTLE OF THE 10-SUITERS!

Board 22 at Stowmarket, 2 November, included three highly distributional hands.   Most of us would not see similar holdings in many a year of play.   (But your correspondent had the boringly flat nine point, 3-3-4-3, North hand).

I'll leave the bidding to readers' judgment, noting that spades is higher ranking than hearts.   South had a superb 10-card club suit, but at one table couldn't stop bidding.  Having correctly called 6♣  over 5♠ , then disastrously punted 7♣ over 6♠.   It was not doubled, but +50 was the only positive score by an EW pair! 

Let's consider how many tricks should EW score in the major suits.

Hearts:  This is easy.    Two aces must be lost: 11 tricks made.

Spades:  The opening club lead is ruffed by declarer, but with only one entry to dummy the rather nice side-suit is unfortunately dead.   One trump trick must be conceded, but how many diamonds?  An unlikely play is to cross to ♠K and lead a diamond to the nine (it doesn't help North to split honours).   Two diamonds are now lost and 10 tricks made.   Equally good is to draw trumps and then play low diamonds, hoping for A-x (or bare ace) in either defender's hand.   A third option is to play K (to ace) and later cash Q, hoping to drop the J or 10, or find the suit 3-3.   That play, unluckily for declarer, results in three diamond losers: 9 tricks made.

These were the contracts and outcomes: 5♠-2, 6♠-2, 6♠x-2, 6♠x-3.   No East-Wests played a contract in the superior suit: hearts.

1 IN 12,500

Holding a 9-card suit is - needless to say - uncommon; approximately one in 2,800 hands.  And the 9-2-2-0 distribution that appeared at Abbeygate Club at the AGM Pairs on October 29 was considerably rarer at about 1 in 12,500.    What should dealer - at 'green' vulnerability - open with this hand?

♠ A10   -   ♦ AKJ1075432   ♣ 86

With nine certain tricks, and probably 10, West might open with his strong bid (2♣ or 2), but the chance of partner having the right cards for a slam (and particularly covering the two potential club losers) is not high.  Such a bid may also allow opponents to find a fit in one of three suits, with a possible -200 save against 5 , or even making 11 tricks in a major suit.    So West opens 5not 4  as some did.   The opponents pass, or risk a massive vulnerable penalty, and this is the dummy that greets West:

♠ A10 ♠ J652
 -  KQ32
 AKJ1075432  96
♣ 86 ♣ A92

Eleven tricks are 'cold', other than suffering a first round ruff, but at Pairs declarer must look for a 12th trick.    After a spade lead it is easy.   Win the ace over the King or Queen, draw trumps, concede a spade trick and cross to ♣A to discard a club on the ♠J.    When A was led - a popular but unwise choice - 13 tricks were laydown.   What about a club lead?    Finding a 12th trick now needs a little luck (and some thought before playing trick two).   Win ♣A, lead K, and ruff if covered.    If not, discard your low club.   Now you need trumps to be 1-1, giving a trump entry to the established HQ for a spade discard.

One (untried) lead is a diamond.   I'll leave readers to play that for 12 tricks, which shouldn't be too difficult now.

Seven (of 11) Wests played in 5, once doubled.   Two made 13 tricks after the A lead, but five made only 11, even after three received spade leads.    Shame!    And two bold Wests bid to 6  and received the welcome A lead.   A (perverse) 3NT by East scored a useful +460.     The full hands:

                   

TWO HANDS OF INTEREST FROM STANSFIELD

Among the many interesting hands of the Stansfield Handicap Pairs, two proved very favourable to East-West at my table.    Could North-South have reversed those outcomes?

(A question:  With 8-card holdings in both major suits (5-3 and 6-2), and one suit including the A-K-Q and one missing the A-K-Q, could there be much doubt over which one to play in game?)     These were the hands and the (rather lengthy) bidding on Board 13:

Readers will see that game in hearts is hopeless.   With defenders attacking diamonds and spades, declarer will be fortunate to score more than five hearts and two club tricks.     But in the spade game West ruffs the diamond lead, and the contract is made by playing spades twice - losing both times - and finessing the 10 when in dummy with ♣A.   (Perhaps not too difficult after South's double).   Declarer now has one spade remaining - after ruffing three times - and can play heart and club winners.   North takes ♠A, but declarer has the remaining tricks.   And EW score a very healthy +790.    Note that North can lead an opening heart and obtain a heart ruff after partner wins the first spade lead, but now the two remaining top trumps fall together. 

Unsurprisingly, 4♠x was a unique result.    3♠+1(twice), 3-2, and 3NT-1 by South also appeared, but 12 of the 17 contracts were played by South in diamonds at levels from three to six, and with varying degrees of success. 

This was the second hand of interest:  Board 29.

A certain East player could not count accurately, and opened with 2NT (20-22 HCP).    West checked for aces and bid 6NT, but two flat, 'mirror' hands and 32 HCP do not make for a good slam.   South led A and declarer could now count 11 top tricks.  Clearly the slam depended on the heart finesse, and when that succeeded, a fortunate +1430 could be entered.    Eight of the 17 East-Wests bid the slam.   Four were by East, each receiving the A lead and making their contract.    The four Wests all received a spade lead and only one succeeded in making 6NT.    Readers will no doubt see that East's slam can be beaten as long as the diamond is not led.   Can it really be helpful against 6NT?   ♠J looks reasonably safe.     Declarer wins a non-diamond lead and cashes ten winners (including the heart finesse), but as long as the defenders hold on to their diamonds, declarer must fail.    Is that defence so difficult?

OUCH!

With South dealer and East-West vulnerable, West held this very shapely hand (Board 3, Abbeygate, 15 October).

♠ K10987654 KQ4 2 ♣9

South opens 1 and West ……?     Would you be tempted to bid 4♠  or, perhaps noting the unfavourable vulnerability, just 3♠ .    My opponent did the former and, unfortunately for him, could hardly have run into a worse distribution.    North and East passed and I (South) doubled.    These were the full hands:

North led A and declarer ruffed a second diamond, but with no dummy entry to lead either major suit, declarer was in a difficult situation.  

South captured the K and returned a heart, and when North won a third round of hearts she correctly played ♣A followed by ♣Q.  Declarer ruffed to leave this position:

South wins trump leads and declarer has to ruff South's diamond exits.   Declarer could score no more than five trumps and one heart trick, and that cost 1100 points.  

But there were many different scores.    4S*-3 for -800 appeared once, and unbelievably, one West was allowed to play in 3S-2.   A lone 3NT scored nine tricks (12 is possible on the spade lead; overtake ♣K, concede a club and later finesse J), two 5 contracts produced 11 tricks and nine, and (most popular) three Norths made 11 tricks in 5♣.   But two bold NS pairs bid to 6♣: one made the slam for +920 and one was three light.   I'll let readers play 6♣ by North on a spade lead; timing is important.

WHY NOT 3NT?

25 HCP combined, all suits covered and no major suit fit: surely an invitation to 3NT.    But only one pair at Bury Club on 20 September reached that contract. (* South responds 1 rather than the lowest 4-card suit - diamonds - which makes it easier to locate a possible 4-4 major suit fit.)

The almost inevitable spade is led, and South can see four tricks or five in clubs, two in diamonds and three in hearts after forcing out the ace.    The problem, of course, is in spades.   If there are four, or even more losers there, the contract is dead, but with only three spade losers it will be safe to set up hearts for the one or more tricks needed.    Despite missing the three top spade honours and the ten, declarer is saved by the two important intermediates, ♠8 and ♠9.   He will cover East's ♠10 and the ♠8 will be a 4th round winner (if EW continue the suit).

The declarer in 3NT followed that course and emerged with nine tricks, and a top.    All others, North or South, played in diamonds (at the 2, 3, 4 or even 5-level!) and lost the obvious four tricks.    But that is not quite the end of the story, because the computer insists that no-trump contracts can be held to eight tricks.   Can readers see how?

The answer is that West must lead, not a spade, but a diamond*.    (If after some arcane bidding sequence North is declarer in 3NT, East must first lead the ♠10 to partner's ace.   Not a very likely defence, you may believe, without a peek at the NS hands)!     Declarer wins the diamond lead and - best - unblocks the ♣J before playing a heart, but then meets West's second brilliancy: he ducks.   The hand now has insuperable communication problems and declarer is limited to one heart, two diamonds and five club tricks.   Try it.  

*Note that if EW cash three spades (conceding a spade trick) and then switch to a diamond, declarer needs only one heart trick  which EW cannot prevent (1+1+2+5 tricks in total).

THE CONTRACT THAT (ONLY JUST) WON THE FELIXSTOWE SWISS TEAMS

The result of the Felixstowe Swiss Teams was as close as could be imagined.    Entering the final match (of seven), and with 20 VPs at stake, Team 'A' led Team 'B' by eight VPs.   And at least four further teams also had a chance of winning.   [I must here confess a personal interest as a member of Team B].   A and B met in the last round and simple maths showed that B would need to beat A by 14-6 or better to win the event, assuming that no other team managed to overtake both.   (Winning the A v B match would decide a split tie in B's favour)

Playing North-South, the card strength in this match was concentrated in the East-West hands (we played only one contract and that failed on a bad trump split), and I held out little hope of success after failing to obtain a single positive score.    Bur our partners had done rather better with the EW hands and we found that we had won the match 14-6!    Almost any different result on one of the seven boards - an overtrick for example - could have altered the final score, but I think Board 25 can be claimed as the key hand.

My partner opened 1♣, and East bid 2♠ which ended the auction.   Nine tricks were made for +140.    At our other table the bidding was brief but more adventurous, and after North passed, West reached 3NT by this no-nonsense sequence:     pass - 2♠ - pass - 3NT.

The play for 3NT was easy, if not guaranteed successful.    If J falls in three rounds (why finesse?) there are eight red-suit tricks, and the best (only?) hope for a ninth is for ♣A with North.   Importantly, the defenders can take only three spade tricks, and declarer cannot go wrong if a club is led (which it was).    So West made 3NT, giving a vital 10 IMP swing on the hand.   For interest, no other of the 28 EW pairs played in no-trumps, although two Souths did so with dire results.   Unsurprisingly, the popular contracts were diamonds by West and spades by East, with a smattering of club contracts by North and some disastrous heart contracts by North or - surprisingly - South.

THE HERO WHO BID THE GRAND

This hand from Abbeygate Pairs on 17 September should not have taxed East-West greatly to reach at least the small slam in hearts.    And bidding the Grand needed only a little courage (and/or the right bidding system).

The first thing for Wests to note is that their hand - with good shape and an excellent suit - is too strong for a weak 3 opening.    [But that is what my opponent did.   I then decided - at 'green' vulnerability - to overcall 3♠  with my massive one-point hand.  East looked a little perplexed, and the bidding continued:   - 4 - 4 - 5 - End]

Back to reality, 4 seems a much better opening bid, but some will prefer a simple 1.   After 4, East - with 21 HCP - will check for the ♠A, and finding it at home will bid 6.  After a 1 opening the bidding might continue:  (1) - 3;  4 - 4NT* etc.    For those using Roman KCB, 7 is easier to reach.   West's Blackwood response of 5♠ will show two 'aces' - ♠A and  K - and Q, and with a strong diamond side-suit (hopefully) to take several discards, East can bid 7  with some confidence.

The play for 13 tricks is not completely straightforward: five pairs in hearts made 13 and five made 12 tricks.  Declarer wins the opening lead (10 was universal), draws trumps and plays the top diamonds.  Finding the 4-1 break, he ruffs a diamond and returns to dummy to discard a spade on the established 5th diamond.   (One lead prevents 13 tricks; I'm sure readers can find it).

How many of the twelve East-Wests bid to a slam?  Just three!!  One East was in 6NT+1 (and blessed with a club lead), one West in 6+1 and one (hero) in 7 (made for +2210).

THE PAUSE AND THE 'PUSHY' DECLARER

East overbid slightly (!) - but with some justification - on Board 16 of the EBU Sim Pairs played at Stowmarket.    And his luck was in when North failed to find the successful defence.

Partner deals and bids 1, North passes, and East, looking for a good board on the last round of the Pairs, bids 3NT with this hand:

♠K J 3    Q 10 2    9 5    ♣K Q 5 4 2

Unwise?  Possibly, but that wasn't quite the whole story of the bidding.   After West's opening, North hesitated and pondered for some while before passing.  East was now entitled to place most of the defenders' high cards with North, making his hand more valuable.   A low spade was led and this dummy appeared:

♠2   J 3    K Q J 10 4 2    ♣A 9 8 7

After a long pause North played the ace (clearly he also held the Queen) and I - the pushy declarer - realised that my vulnerability was in hearts; the defence could establish a third trick - at least - in the suit before I could set up diamonds.   At trick three North played the A (oh, dear!) but then switched to a club (phew).    Now the defenders could take only four tricks (♠ A, A-K and DA), and making 3NT proved to be an EW top.   (The diamonds broke 5-0 giving declarer's nine a vital role).

One West made 2NT+2 after a diamond lead, one East failed in 3NT, 3♣ by East should have been defeated by a diamond ruff (but wasn't), and 3♠x (unbeatable) by South also succeeded.

North, with 18 HCP, has a difficult decision after West's opening bid.   Double, 1 and pass are all possible, and Brian Senior, the commentator, suggests that 1NT is an option.   East may or may not double that, but South can rescue safely into spades.    Can North be blamed for not continuing hearts against 3NT?    It's easy with a sight of four hands, but East was very likely to have had four hearts and weaker clubs, making the club switch a not unreasonable choice.

THE DEFENCE FAIL TO TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE

These highly distributional hands (Stowmarket, 24th August) produced some strong competitive bidding.    At one table, for example, this was the auction:

                                    1  - 3♣  - 3  - 4 ;  

                                   4  - 5♣  - P - 5;  End

All six Souths ended in 5 with, remarkably, only three being doubled.   (Your correspondent was a lucky escapee).    Could the EW doublers continue their good fortune (4 fails, so that 5 or 5♣  is a phantom sacrifice) by taking the maximum penalty? 

West starts with ♠K - four out of the six did so - which holds the trick, partner signalling positively.    But East has already missed the easiest chance to take the maximum penalty by overtaking the King and playing a trump.   It should, however, be clear to West that a trump lead is needed to prevent a heart ruff in dummy, but he may hesitate to lead from K.   The answer: switch to a low heart at trick two.  Surely partner has the King!   East wins and - of course - leads the necessary trump.   After that start and with careful discarding by the defenders, declarer can now make only one heart and seven diamond tricks, and concedes a 500 penalty. 

Readers may note that the defence described has not only prevented a heart ruff, but also access to dummy's ♣A - an important trick.    A hurried low diamond from West at trick two may appear equally valid, but dummy's mighty seven will win, no doubt to the defenders' surprise, giving the necessary entry.    And what about continuing spades at trick two?    Declarer ruffs and leads a heart.    Will West allow his partner to win the trick?

How many East-Wests held declarer to eight tricks?   None.   Five Souths scored nine and one 10 tricks.

THE MIGHTY 7...

All but one pair at Abbeygate Club on 13 August reached a respectable 25 HCP, 3NT on this board, but only three made their contract.    North declared 3NT seven times and South twice.   With EW silent, the bidding could be as simple as  1NT - 2NT -3NT - End.    Should 3NT succeed?    East has an obvious, and worrying, lead for declarer - a top diamond - but when the suit proves to divide 4-3, if declarer plans carefully there is a reasonable chance of success.

The A is held up until the third round, West following all the way.   Phew!   Clearly declarer must develop three tricks in hearts or clubs, but should quickly realise that there is really no choice.    Even if four club tricks materialised, the defence would almost certainly be able to score their 3rd diamond trick plus a club trick and the A.   So hearts it must be, with declarer hoping to score in total four spades, three hearts  and two minor aces.    Is that possible?    In a perfect world probably not; the hearts are not quite good enough.   But if a defender makes a small error....

South, dummy, wins the third round of diamonds, and leads 10.   Naturally, West, with the J well protected does not cover, and East ducks the first round.   The 9 is taken by the ace (9-4-6-A) and East cashes his diamond trick.    But declarer has the rest; four spades, two hearts and the club ace to add to his existing heart trick and diamond trick.  Have readers seen the small defensive error?  If West covers the first or second heart lead, his mighty seven is promoted into a winning trick.

What happened at the tables?  The two Souths in 3NT received a low heart lead. One played the king with dire consequences; the other, ducking in dummy, ended with 11 tricks.  One North in 3NT received the bizarre lead of 3 and scored 11 tricks.   All the others, after the lead of K, failed in their contract, except one (modesty forbids....) who scored nine tricks.  And one North took nine tricks in 3♠.

16,000 to 1 AGAINST!

I wonder how many of us have been dealt an entirely two-suited 7-6 hand.  (For probability fiends the chance of 7-6 or 6-7 for two specified suits is approximately 1 in 100,000, and for any two suits it is 1 in 16,000).  But at Bury St Edmunds bridge club on August 2, Souths picked up this collection on Board 1.  It is shapely, but not well-endowed with high cards. What should the top contracts be...after partner deals and opens 2NT (20-22).  The answer is 7 or 7!   But how many reached even a small slam?  The answer to that is just one pair.

I wouldn't presume to give a 'correct' bidding sequence, and reaching a grand slam is probably a wild gamble, but what about this:  2NT - 3*- 3 - 5- 6  - End. North will, of course, be worried about the club position, but is it a reasonable guess after that bidding that partner is void or singleton in clubs?  And West may even put in a risky spade bid to disrupt North-South's bidding.

One pair bid to 6, three stayed in 4 and one mysteriously did not get beyond in 3. And one more result: West was allowed to play in 4♠ and found that it wasn't as risky as he had expected. He made the doubled contract for +590!

DUMB OR SMART?

I Don't Believe It....(Or perhaps I do)

 

You make a conventional bid, such as Stayman or a Transfer, and wait for Partner to recognise it and bid appropriately…

Only for Partner to Pass. Aaaagh!

Which is precisely what happened at Abbeygate on Monday, on Board 19. But was Partner being dumb – or smart?

 

South opened 1NT and after West and North passed, East bid 2♣  (Landy, a useful and popular defence against an opponent's 1NT opening.)    2♣  shows at least 4-4 in the major suits and asks partner to bid a 4-card (or longer) major.   If he has neither major he replies 2 .

After a big ‘think’, East passed…and the look on West’s face would have done Victor Meldrew proud. “I don’t believe it!”

A distraught Declarer had two good major suits, as promised, but was left to play in clubs holding a singleton five...

However, partner's clubs were quite good!  And South was (almost) end-played at trick one.  A trump lead would have been safest, but South chose a low heart which did declarer no harm.    The tightest defence still holds declarer to eight tricks.   South wins the first trump lead, exits safely with his other trump, and when North wins ♣Q he pushes through a high diamond.   Declarer has four clubs, two hearts and a spade trick, and is able to score an additional spade or a diamond trick.   In practice nine tricks were made for +110 and an equal second on the board.

 

Two club contracts, 3♣ -1 and 4♣ -2, were played by West with the damaging diamond opening lead through East's hand.  Heart contracts by East were the most popular strain, but only one was successful. (2 made, 2-1 twice and 3-1).  3♠-2 and 2♠-2 by East were quirky contracts, but another oddity - 2 by East - scraped home.   Finally, one North-South pair wouldn't give up and suffered a bottom for it; 2NT-3 by North.

DECLARER'S POSITION SEEMED HOPELESS...

With a weak hand, but holding a 7-card heart suit at 'green' vulnerability, East - and partner, who had a more than decent spade suit - were able to interfere substantially with North-South's quest to find either of their rightful (!) game contracts.    Abbeygate Club, 23 July, Board 5.

North passes, East opens with 3 , and South with 19 HCP has three choices.    The real gambler - and no-trump addict - will bid 3NT.    The more sober player will overcall 4♣ (5♣  is at least as much of a gamble as 3NT), but the best/correct bid is 'double'.   If North bids 3♠ , now is the time to introduce 3NT.   Over a minor suit reply, especially diamonds, South has a difficult choice between passing and raising to game.  

But in practice West will surely intervene with 3♠ , North and East will pass, and South can do no more than bid 4♣ .   And that is likely to be the final contract, except that it happened at only two of the ten tables.   One South reached - and made - 5♣ , one West was in 4♠  (undoubled!) -3, and four Easts played in hearts (4*-2, 4*-3, 3 -2 and 3* made).    There is little excuse for East bidding hearts a second time.  But what about the most interesting contract?   In 3NT, one South scored nine tricks and one scored ten.   This was the surprising bidding at my table (my partner was South):

N E S W
P 2! X P!
2♠ (a) P 3N(b) End
(a) little choice        (b) 2NT would be over cautious

 

 

 

 

A top spade was led and declarer's position seemed hopeless.   But, remarkably, the defenders could not cash the six spade tricks that seemed their due.  Whether West continued with a high or low spade makes no difference; the suit is blocked thanks to dummy's massive holding!    West cashed three spades and switched to a heart, and with the favourable lie of the clubs declarer had no trouble in making 10 tricks (1+2+1+6).

5 is an interesting contract.   If West starts with a top spade, switches to a heart and East plays the king, declarer might even make 12 tricks.   (A, ♣ A-K, cash J, club to knave, Q, diamond to J, A etc).  But the play in 5♣  would be much harder if West continued with a second spade.  Declarer would have to ruff, cash the top clubs, cross to J and finesse a diamond, not a heart.   When the K then falls under the ace, declarer has a re-entry to dummy with Q and can finesse in hearts.   That's a rather double-dummyish play.

Readers may note that in practice South's best bid is the immediate 3NT over 3.   West is unlikely to interfere (expensively) in spades, and can hardly risk a double.   But supposing that he does double.   Has South the courage to stand firm?

GOOD DEFENCE REWARDED?

East had a difficult, early decision to make as defender on this hand - Board 14 of the Suffolk Seniors Pairs. Dealer, East, neither pair vulnerable.

QJ3  J6  K87 ♣ AJ1064

East opened with a modest 1 but the bidding quickly rocketed

East led a low diamond to North's 4♠, and saw this dummy:

A was played, and a spade led on which partner, West, discarded.   So eight spades with declarer.  Declarer won, and led a low club, and it was decision time for East - ace or low?   Supposing that declarer's club was singleton.    Surely East must play the ace and try to cash a diamond trick.   But he should consider further.    Playing the ace probably sets up one or even two discards in dummy; playing low sets up none.   And with no discards, where are declarer's likely diamond and/or heart loser(s) going?   They cannot run away!    A further deduction: surely declarer does not possess the K, otherwise why not tackle that suit rather than clubs.   Thus a losing heart finesse is in prospect.   So of course (!) East plays a low club.   

Dummy wins, declarer returns to hand with a diamond ruff, cashes a second top spade and finesses Q to West's King.  Declarer ruffs West's diamond exit and now comes a cruel blow to the defence.   A heart to the ace fells East's knave, and declarer holds the key card of the hand - the  10.    Despite an accurate defence, NS have 11 tricks.   The full hands:

All ten Norths played in 4♠ ; seven made the vital overtrick. Finally, a not too difficult puzzle for readers.   North can be held to 10 tricks.   How?