The idea for this page is to offer some comments about a hand of interest at the club or on a point of law. I hope members will find it of some value.
9 September 2019 – Massive Clubs
A very warm welcome to new member Matt and visitors from Essex, Barbara and Geoff. Unfortunately, sitting East/West they didn’t have the best of the cards.
Board 21 The only slam hand of the evening:
North dealt and opened 1 Heart. South is best bidding a game-forcing jump shift to 3 Clubs (replying 2 Clubs would place South with a problem when partner rebids 2 Hearts). North replies 3 Hearts to 3 Clubs to show good Hearts in a minimum hand. A slam may now seem marginal and it would be difficult for South to stop short once he starts enquiring. The cautious should prefer 3NT to 5 Clubs but, in either case, relying on the Clubs running. The small slam seems to depend on East holding the Diamond Ace but declarer has an extra chance playing in Clubs by testing the Hearts. When West’s Queen falls doubleton, declarer can cash the Jack, ruff the fourth round and return via the Spade Ace to cash the fifth, throwing both his Diamonds in the process for an overtrick. Congratulations to Phil and Ann for bidding and making the slam. Nul points for pairs who stopped short of Game.
East has a minimum weak 1NT opener but the bid’s pre-emptive value makes the risk worthwhile, especially non-vulnerable. South has a perfect hand for a penalty double though he expects the opponents to take it out. Some Wests would immediately bid 2 Diamonds – passing implying willingness to compete in the doubled contract. North should trust his partner and pass. East may now redouble if the partnership has agreed that this is a cry for help and West would now bid 2 Diamonds. North bids 2 Spades – there is no need to jump to 4 Spades though this would have been a good contract if South had held a strong balanced hand but, in practice, South would end in 5 Clubs. In play, South runs six of his Clubs and East is faced with a quandary for a discard on the last one – unguard one of his queens or throw a top Diamond. With the Spades in the dummy it seems less risky for East to part with a Heart and South can now clean up that suit. One South collected all thirteen tricks, presumably after West led a Spade. Another declarer went one down in 5 Hearts, doubled, though the contract should make, losing just a Heart and a Diamond. One North went two down in 4 Spades with no way of avoiding three Diamond losers. North/South’s best result was in defending 1 NT, doubled, when poor East secured only a single trick.
20 August 2019 – Pre-empt!
As the aim of a pre-emptive bid is to shut the opponents out, the pre-empter will always be happy to be left in his contract, undoubled, even if it goes down. But Board 9 showed that things do not always work out…
North has a textbook 3 Diamonds opening bid, putting East in a fix. He has no biddable suit but could certainly double for take-out. With a good stop in the Diamonds and his strong balanced hand, he could risk 3NT. Putting the pre-empter with seven points, there are 16 between the other two hands – if partner has half of these 3NT is a very decent bet. If East doubles, West has too many losers to jump to 4 Hearts and, when the bidding comes back to East, he will not know that West is as strong as he is. The aim of the pre-empt has been achieved as the opponents may well be unable to find their good game contract. 3 Diamonds will inevitably go one down for what should be a good score – or was it?
If East plays in 3NT, South will lead his Diamond, which East can see is a singleton and now simply needs to keep North off lead to succeed. The key is in playing the Hearts: first, a low one from Dummy, covering whatever North plays, then playing a low one back. When South produces the Queen, this is allowed to win and East will eventually collect ten tricks: one Spade, four Hearts, one Diamond and four Clubs.
If West plays in 4 Hearts, North is unlikely to risk a Diamond lead and may prefer his singleton Club. West wins, cashes two top Hearts and leads his second Club. If North ruffs with his master trump and leads a Spade, declarer wins with East’s Ace and throws his Diamonds on dummy’s Clubs. He gives up two Spade tricks but can now ruff his last small Spade with Dummy’s third trump. In all he makes one Spade, five Hearts, one ruff and three Clubs. If North declines to ruff, West follows the same line and North will end up ruffing one of West’s losers eventually. If North ruffs and cashes his Diamond Ace, Declarer makes a trick with East’s King but does not get a ruff in dummy, for the same result. In the unlikely event that North did start with Ace and Queen of Diamonds, the defence will defeat the contract by getting a ruff, a trump trick, a Diamond and a Spade.
Needless to say, things did not work out quite like this. Playing in 3 Hearts, one West went two off after failing to draw any trumps, one East made ten tricks in 3NT and ten tricks in 3 Hearts (perhaps a scorecard error for West) but the last East went three down in 4 Clubs…
29 July 2019 – A Grand Score
After last week’s shortage of big hands along came several like London buses. Three hands saw twelve tricks made but no slams bid. On Board 3 North held a balanced 24 point rock-crusher but with South having just two kings everyone stopped at game level. As things turned out, the pair had a 4-4 Spade fit that provided a twelfth trick when the defence’s cards split 3-2.
Board 21 found West with the rock-crusher and East holding an eleven point hand:
Naturally, West opens 2 Clubs and East responds with a positive 2NT. As this sequence is unconditionally forcing to game, West could now bid 3 Diamonds and East 3 Spades. Blackwood would now confirm that there were no missing aces or kings, leaving West to decide between a small or grand slam and Spades or NT. With a combined holding of 34 points and no long suits to run, the grand looks to be against the odds, probably around one in three. Two pairs duly bid and made 6NT with an overtrick courtesy of a successful Club finesse. However, the prize goes to David and Maureen who bid 7NT, played by East. Here, they got a helping hand from South who led his fourth highest Heart, with the trick won by dummy’s Ten. As there is no realistic prospect of establishing any long Hearts, the aim of the lead should be avoiding giving away a free finesse or an undeserved trick. In this case, a Spade would probably be safest. On the Heart lead, when the Spades behaved, thirteen tricks were guaranteed.
22 July 2019 – Competing over One No-trump
Almost everyone at Crickhowell plays a weak 1NT (12-14 points) and it’s probably the commonest opening bid. Of course, declaring in 1NT can occasionally go badly wrong but in a far greater number of cases it achieves its purpose of making life difficult for the opposition. This week saw at least three hands where the player sitting over the 1NT opener had a decent hand and scored well by entering the bidding. A two level overcall requires at least a good five card suit and opening points – slightly fewer with a longer suit. If the opener’s partner passes after a two-level overcall, the overcaller’s partner will need to judge whether there is a realistic chance of game and, if not, pass. That should end the auction as the 1NT opener should not have a rebid.
There is no take-out double against 1NT. Sitting over the opener, a penalty double should have at least 16 points. If the strong hand is in the fourth seat a double should have a couple of points more as the doubler loses the advantage of sitting over declarer. The doubler’s partner should only take the double out when he is extremely weak and has a six plus card suit that would not make tricks in no-trumps – for example Jxxxxxx.
Advanced players have various conventional responses to compete over 1NT but, with their inevitable complexity, comes the risk of misunderstandings. Partnerships will also need to agree the meaning of any other overcall bids. For example, 2NT may indicate a two-suited hand, asking partner to bid 3 Clubs. A jump to a suit at the three level may be pre-emptive. With a strong hand, the overcaller will almost always prefer a penalty double to a shot in the dark for game.
A glance at this week’s results shows the merit of competing. On Boards 6 and 19, East scored well in 1NT while, where North/South bid their Spades, they came out on top. Of course, it’s a big advantage to hold Spades as it makes it far more difficult for the opponents to compete further.
8 July 2019 – Defence counts
On average we defend twice as many hands as we declare so good defensive techniques can make a big difference. Communication and counting are fundamental. Here are two examples:
You hold AKJxx in a side suit and lead the Ace. Dummy puts down Queen and two small cards. The Ace wins but do you continue the suit? Hopefully, partner’s play will have been informative: an unnecessarily high card indicates an even number holding; a low card, odd. There will, of course, be cases of doubt – is a Seven high or low, for example? If partner’s first card is high, it is safe to continue and play for a third round ruff of dummy’s Queen which will otherwise win a trick once trumps are drawn. Conversely, if partner indicates an odd holding, continuing will give declarer an early discard from hand.
In another common situation, in a no trump contract, you hold Axxx, with dummy having QJxx and no side suit entry. Declarer leads the King which you allow to hold and continues with the Ten. Do you hold up a second time? Once again, partner should give you a count signal to help you decide. High on the first round indicates he has two, so declarer has three and you should win the third round. Low on the first round indicates three, so declarer has only two and ducking a second time will concede a trick needlessly. The successful defender will also ensure he discards his remaining small cards in the suit to avoid the possibility of being endplayed.
As with everything in Bridge, there are no absolutes but using techniques that work more often than not will pay dividends in the long run.
1 July 2019 – One that got away…
North/South looked to have good prospects for a slam on Board 19:
There are various ways this might be bid. South could start with a slightly lopsided 2 NT. North, with 12 points might go straight to a quantitative 4 NT, with South then going on to the slam. A more cautious approach would see South open 1 Heart (the suit is not good enough for 2 Hearts), North replies 2 Clubs, South 2 NT (forcing to game), North 3 Spades, leading to 6 NT (via Blackwood, or direct). Needless to say, just because all the aces and kings are held this is not the moment to go for the Grand!
With ten top tricks, declarer needs to find two more from the minor suits or the Heart Jack falling in three rounds. The best bet looks to be the Clubs and, if they do not split 3-3 or the Jack fall, the Diamond finesse. As it was, neither happened and those who bid the slam all failed. But others who stopped short sailed home with twelve tricks… Of course, the opening lead against 3 NT can be a factor as fourth highest risks giving away a trick in order to set up the suit later. Against 6 NT, the defence is unlikely to set up a suit and should concentrate on not giving declarer an undeserved trick, such as a free finesse. But, in this case, it is difficult to see how any reasonable lead could help. If declarer plays out his top cards it is possible that West guarded the wrong suits, even though there is no genuine squeeze or endplay to be had. Answers on a postcard, please!
24 June 2019 – Fortune favours the brave!
Grand slams bid and made are few and far between so many congratulations to Phil and Ann on their success on Board 20. But was that the whole story?
With a flat 15 points, North might prefer to open 1NT rather than rebid no trumps after a suit opener. If he does, South can try Stayman and, after a 2 Hearts reply, jump to 3 Spades – game forcing and showing slam interest. With little in Spades, North is likely to end in 3NT. However, if North starts 1 Heart and bids 1NT over South’s 1 Spade, South can see at least 33 points and is definitely interested in a slam. Blackwood would show all the Aces and Kings but this is no guarantee of 13 tricks. Phil and Ann’s bidding didn’t go this way as it was South playing for the Grand. Unfortunately, our Bridgemates don’t record the lead but Ann must surely have had some help. Even with the Spade finesse succeeding, there are only twelve tricks as West will surely keep Hearts and East Clubs – no chance of a squeeze. Perhaps West led fourth highest Heart, giving declarer a lucky thirteenth trick. Fortune did indeed favour the brave!
17 June 2019 – A Possible Grand
Congratulations to our new pair on their success; we hope to see a lot more of you.
This week it was East/West’s turn to have a slam hand (sadly the North/South efforts on Board 23 were doomed).
East opens 1 Spade and West can afford to go steady with 2 Diamonds, to allow partner to describe his hand further. With his good six card suit, East replies 3 Spades (forcing to game after West’s two-over-one response) and West should now be thinking of a slam. West can now show his second suit, bidding 4 Clubs and East now shows suit preference with 4 Diamonds (without that valuable Diamond Queen, he would bid 4 Spades). West can now try Blackwood and then has to choose between the safe option of 6 NT or risk 7 Diamonds.
Assuming the defence make a safe Heart lead, West wins in hand and draws trumps. He now plays Spades from the top. If they split 4-2, he ruffs the fourth round in hand and returns to dummy via the Heart entry to throw his remaining losers on the long Spades. If the Spades split 5-1, he has to fall back on the Club finesse. In all, very good odds of success. In practice, the hand was played in 6 Spades or 6 NT which made 13 easy tricks when the Spades divided 3-3 against the odds.
10 June 2019 – A Marginal Slam
North had a huge hand on Board 13 with decent support from South but was there a slam?
North opens an Acol 2 Clubs and, with ten points, South should consider the possibility of a slam, depending on what North bids next. The Buchanan convention allows responder to show a point count: 2 Diamonds 0-3, 2 Hearts 4-6, 2 Spades 7-9, 2 NT 10+. Here, the 2 NT reply allows North to know there is a total of at least 33 points – just enough for 6 NT. North rebids 3 NT to show a balanced “minimum”, though there is a case for showing his excellent Clubs. Now it’s a matter of South’s gut feel as he has a very flat hand, albeit with the plus of tens and nines.
With South playing in 6NT, it is tempting for West to lead a top Diamond but this gives away the contract. Declarer wins, forces out the other Diamond honour and has the rest on top. If West starts with a safe Heart or Club, declarer is effectively reduced to relying on the Spade finesse and is lucky to find West’s Queen singleton. Although nobody played in 6 Clubs, the suit contract offers declarer an extra chance by playing for a ruffing finesse adains West in Diamonds.
Congratulations to the two pairs who bid and made the slam.
3 June 2019 – A Tricky Game
Declaring Board 18 in Spades, North or South had some thinking to do…
After East and South pass, West may well open a light 1 Club. North has a perfect take-out double and, assuming East passes, South should bid 2NT to show 10 points and a stop in Clubs. North now bids 3 Spades which South raises to game.
East will naturally lead a Club which South wins. With eight top tricks, declarer can find a ninth with a Heart ruff (assuming the suit splits 3-2) and the tenth from the Diamond Queen or a long Diamond. The risk to the contract is that Spades split 4-1 and declarer loses control of trumps if the defence force him in Clubs. Declarer therefore starts with Hearts, successfully ruffing the third round and returns to hand with a trump, noting West’s Ten. He now leads his last Heart, hoping that East has the Spade Nine. If East ruffs high, a losing Diamond is thrown; otherwise, Declarer gets his second Heart ruff and the contract with his remaining high cards. If East has ruffed and leads another Club, this can now safely be ruffed with a high trump and the Ace and Queen of Diamonds played to the following two tricks. West now wins two Diamond tricks and forces North to ruff another Club. But now South’s two remaining trumps are higher than East’s and the contract is made. Phew!
At the table, two pairs stopped in a part score. When North declared nine or ten tricks were made but, when South was declarer, eleven or twelve tricks resulted – surely, a defensive error somewhere.
20 May 2019 – One that got away??
IMPORTANT – PLEASE READ THIS!
This week two boards were spoilt because the cards had not been correctly put away at the end of the hand. In one case, one had only eleven cards, partner fifteen; in the other an opponent gained an extra card. It is difficult to resolve these situations satisfactorily and means that other players’ scores may have to be averaged on the boards affected. Please count your cards at the end of each hand – it only takes a moment.
The results for Board 11 looked pretty flat this week but things could have been very different:
North opens 1 Heart as the hand is not quite strong enough for an Acol Two. East has a good overcall of 1 Spade (many experts would employ a weak jump overcall in this situation to make opponents’ lives more difficult). South reasonably responds 2 Clubs and West passes. What should North bid next? Despite the possibility of a misfit he should be thinking in slam terms. A jump to 3 Hearts should be forcing to game – here South might respond 3NT to show dislike of Hearts, a stop in Spades with the King over East’s presumed strength, and control in both minors. North might now continue with Blackwood (content, if necessary, to end in 5 Hearts) but in this case go for the small slam with one ace missing.
As the cards lie, either 6 Hearts or 6NT can be defeated on the right lead. With North in 6 Hearts, East leads his singleton Diamond. When declarer starts to draw trumps, West wins his Ace on the first round and returns a Diamond for East to ruff. If South plays in 6NT, West is unlikely to find the killing Club lead, especially after South has bid them. The obvious lead of partner’s suit allows South to force out the Heart Ace and make his slam with two Spades, six Hearts, three Diamonds and one Club.
6 May 2019 – A Slam Goes Begging
I hope everyone enjoyed the Howell movement – new opponents and new seats for many of us.
East/West pairs all missed a good slam on Board 12:
West opens 1 Spade and East, with a seven loser hand, should see game as the minimum target. This is where the Jacoby 2NT response is really useful – it promises at least four card support and values for game. Direct raises to 3 or 4 Spades are respectively invitational to game or pre-emptive with long trump support and much weaker values. Jacoby does mean doing away with the Acol 2NT response but, with a ten point hand, responder can bid two of a suit instead.
After Jacoby, opener goes direct to game with a minimum, anything else below game level is forcing and shows slam interest. Here, opener replies 3 Clubs and responder 3 Diamonds to show controls – this is great news for West who now has only one immediate loser at most. Blackwood shows that East has one ace (Key Card Blackwood would also confirm the trump king) and West can confidently bid 6 Spades. The play is straigntforward whatever the lead. West draws trumps, cashes the Diamond Ace, throws East’s small Diamond on a top Club and then ruffs his Diamond loser in dummy, giving up a Heart trick at the end.
Although the experts always recommend showing support before anything else, here, without Jacoby, East might best respond 2 Hearts. West now jumps to 3 Spades and it would be up to East to gamble on going beyond game. For those who are tempted by the extra value of 6 NT, it is worth noting that this would fail on a Diamond lead…
15 April 2019 – A Phantom Sacrifice
There were no really big hands this week but Board 6 featured some really big fits and bidding to match!
After East and South pass, West opens 1 Diamond. North’s shape is wrong for a take-out double but has an excellent 2 Clubs overcall. East raises to 2 Diamonds. South now knows that there is a ten (or more) card Club fit and should raise to the level of the fit, 4 Clubs. But West is also likely to raise to the level of his fit with 4 Diamonds. As North has a sixth Club he may confidently bid 5 Clubs. At this point, neither side really knows where the balance of power lies. There is an adage that the five level belongs to the opposition but does West really want to risk see North sail home in a game contract when 5 Diamonds might, at worst, be one or two off? Or is 5 Clubs a sacrifice that needs to be punished? Of course, East could relieve his partner of the decision by bidding 5 Diamonds himself as he has virtually nothing to contribute in defence against Clubs. The same logic now applies to North/South: South may well expect his partner to be a litttle weaker and 5 Diamonds to be making, so bidding a small slam sacrifice is the least worst option.
As things lay, the Club slam is defeated providing the defence cash their Diamond trick at the outset. Otherwise, North can draw trumps and take a ruffing finesse in Hearts against East. Here, a normal finesse would lose an extra trick if it failed but the ruffing finesse would see South’s losing diamond go – a loser on loser play. Note the importance of the Heart spots – once North sees the Nine appear from West, his Jack, Eight combination is worth a certain trick whether or not East covers the Jack with his Queen.
Of course, 5 Diamonds also fails by one trick…
8 April 2019 – Slams Galore?
This week saw a strange mix of hands that didn’t get past an opening bid and several possible slams, but remember that each score is of equal worth in calculating the evening’s results. Congratulations to Barbaea and John, and Ann and Roger for bidding and making small slams. This was the latter’s success on Board 24:
West has a bare minimum opening hand. Some might prefer 1NT over West’s weak Hearts but bidding is more likely then to stop in game. Having a forcing reply that shows support is a really useful bidding gadget and there are two commonly-used conventions. Using Jacoby, a 2NT response shows at least four card support and is unconditionally forcing to game, with slam interest. Jacoby means sacrificing the unlovely Acol 2NT response – better to show that sort of limited, balanced hand bt bidding a suit and then NT. Responses to Jacoby need to be agreed – potentially either cue bids or trial bids. In this case, a trial bid of 3 Diamonds by West would encourage East to press on and eventually settle for 6 Hearts. The alternative is a Splinter bid – a double jump, in this case 4 Diamonds, showing a singleton or void in that suit. There is no way of defeating the Heart slam but declarer should play safe by ruffing his losing Diamonds in dummy before drawing trumps. Otherwise, if a defender held three trumps to the Ace, he could win the second round and then lead his third trump to leave declarer a ruff short. In practice, everything behaved…
On Board 22, on the other hand, the cards did not behave.
East opens 1 Spade and South overcalls with 2 Hearts, prepared to show Clubs later if necessary. West is very weak but might bid to the level of the presumed fit, 4 Spades, in the hope of keeping North/South of a making game contract. Left to his own devices, North might have opened with the Gambling 3NT. As it is, he has no defensive values in a Spade contract, so going on to 5 Diamonds looks like a fair two-way bet. At this point, South would be very well advised to keep quiet and trust his partner! With the horrible 5-0 split in Diamonds, North cannot avoid a trump loser as well as the two black Aces. Two declarers did actually make eleven tricks, though neither was in 5 Diamonds – one in 4 and the other in 6, presumably a rescue from South’s 5 Hearts. Where that was bid, East doubled and South, with no access to those Diamonds could make only eight tricks. One East declared in 5 Spades, going one down. If South starts with his top Hearts, declarer can obtain ten tricks via a cross-ruff after drawing two rounds of trumps. Otherwise, he must try to endplay South in Hearts and Clubs.
18 March 2019 – A Bidding War
Revokes happen. Nobody means to revoke but it’s essential that the rules are followed. Call the Director who will determine what should happen – it’s not entirely straightforward. If the revoke is spotted before play begins for the next trick, it must be corrected. A player due to play after the revoke card may change his play. If the revoke card is played by a defender it becomes a Penalty Card. Once the next trick starts, the revoke trick stands – the cards are never, ever changed retrospectively – and revoke penalties apply. Please resist the temptation to agree the outcome of a revoke at the table.
Board 3 featured a bidding war between North and East:
After two passes North opens 1 Diamond, being not quite strong enough for an Acol Two. East might show his strong hand with a jump overcall 2 Spades but may well feel that going to direct to game is the best option. Either way, South and West are shut out of the bidding. Over 2 Spades, North has the option of a strong reverse 3 Hearts but has a difficult decision over 4 Spades – Pass, Double or 5 Diamonds. How should East respond over 5 Diamonds? Despite the maxim that the five level belongs to the opposition, it is tempting to press on to 5 Spades which North should definitely double. South would lead a Diamond and North should cash his three winners when East tries to set up the Clubs.
Only one North got to play in 5 Diamonds, making an overtrick, for a top score. Declaring in Spades, Easts had mixed fortunes, one making 5 Spades (doubled), another 4 Spades and others going down in 6, 5 and 4 Spades. At one table, East bid 4 Spades, doubled by North and then redoubled! This convinced North that East was void in one suit and so bid 5 Diamonds. East overcalled 5 Spades and North doubled again, reluctantly, but the contract was defeated. It is interesting to note that North/South could make 6 Hearts or 6 Diamonds on anything but an unlikely Club lead. The East who sacrificed in 6 Spades showed good judgement, even for a relatively poor score!
11 March 2019 – Two Slams…
Thanks to Mike for producing the results despite a hiccup with the Bridgemates. The movement in their programme was different from the one on the movement cards as it switched N/S and E/W positions halfway through. We stuck with the movement cards to avoid confusion but Mike had to calculate the results by hand.
There were two good slam opportunities on the North/South cards. Congratulations to Tony and Pam who were the only pair to bid one, on Board 20:
North could certainly be justified in opening 2 Spades with his strong hand and long suit. South responds positively with 3 Hearts and North rebids 3 Spades, forcing and setting the suit. With the singleton king, South might simply bid 4 Spades or show Heart control by bidding 4 Hearts. Key card Blackwood would allow North to discover that all-important Spade King and risk the small slam. The chances are good, requirine either the Spades to split 3-2 or the no-risk Heart finesse to work. As both did, almost every declarer collected 13 tricks. If North conservatively opened 1 Spade, South would again reply 2 Hearts and North’s jump to 3 Spades, after a two over one response, is forcing, showing extra strength and at least six Spades. In this auction, South would now have the option of 3 NT (though not with the cards he actually held).
The slam on Board 10, with only 28 points, eluded everyone – not surprising as the extra strength in North’s Hearts is not easy to show.
South opens 1 Spadeand North replies 2 Hearts. Given his very good Spades, South might now jump but could also show his extra strength and shape with 3 Clubs (with a minimum hand, he should not introduce a new suit at the three level). North replies 3 Diamonds (natural or fourth suit forcing in this case) and South rebids his Spades to give North a choice – with the fit now confirmed, Spades is a better bet than 3 NT and North’s support might just encourage South to explore a slam. Or perhaps North should seize the bull by the horns, knowing that his Heart honours will guarantee tricks. In Spades, the play is straightforward, even despite the 4-1 split in trumps. South wins whatever is led, cashes a Club and then ducks one. Even if the defence return a trump, South can now ruff a Club in dummy, draw trumps and claim the rest. Two declarers plyed in 3 NT where only the eleven top tricks are available. One North played in 4 Hearts. Twelve tricks are again possible by ruffing a diamond in dummy before drawing trumps.
4 March 2019 – A shot in the dark?
East/West pairs had good reason for feeling short changed by their cards – North/South had ten game-making boards against East/West’s four. There were certainly plenty of big hands around but only one slam opportunity, on Board 20:
North has an immensely powerful hand – some would open a game-forcing 2 Clubs rather than a strong 2 Diamonds. Either way, South can show his Clubs and North should immediately be thinking of slam. At the table where a slam was bid, West overcalled South’s 3 Clubs (game-forcing) with 3 Spades. North now bid Blackwood and found an ace missing (a 4 Club bid, to which South replies with a 4 Spades cue bid would be a more expert sequence), assumed from West’s bid that it was the Spade Ace and punted 6 Clubs for his partner to play! As West led his ace the hand was now laydown. Had he led anything other than a Heart, South would make an overtrick by throwing his Hearts on dummy’s Diamonds. The only tricky lead would have been a small Heart, albeit a very unlikely one against a suit slam. Declarer would now have to guess whether it was away from the Ace or the Queen…
18 February 2019 – The Value of a Void
A void in the opponents’ suit is hugely valuable and worth bidding at least one level higher than would be indicated by the point count. The Losing Trick Count is a good way of factoring in the value of a void once a partnership has found a trump fit. Board 1 provided a good example:
North has lovely cards for any suit except Clubs and naturally opens 1 Heart. East has a sound overcall with 2 Clubs. With three card support for Hearts, South can afford to show his excellent Spades first (if North continues with 3 Hearts, South should raise to game). West should assume that East has five Clubs and raise to the level of the fit – no great risk non-vulnerable – 4 Clubs. If South has bid Spades, North should now have no hesitation in raising to game. Aggressive bidders might even consider a slam enquiry. With an extra Club, East might now sacrifice with 5 Clubs which must be doubled.
In Spades, the play should present no difficulties providing South ruffs his two Clubs in dummy at the same time as drawing trumps. If the defence start with a trump, the lead will be in dummy after two rounds of trumps and two ruffs, but there will be a trump outstanding if, as is most likely, they split 3-1 (in fact they were 2-2). South has no immediate entry back to hand to draw the last trump and there is a risk of a defensive ruff. For example, if he leads a Heart honour from dummy, East ducks the first round, wins the second with his Ace, leads a Diamond to West’s Ace, with a Heart returned for East to ruff. Even then, declarer would still make his ten tricks for the contract.
The evening saw a range of results, with both East and West allowed to play in 4 Clubs (undoubled), two down. In 4 Spades, Souths made ten, eleven and twelve tricks (in the last case, how the defence failed to make their two red aces is incomprehensible) while one North made eleven tricks in 4 Hearts. As a general rule, it is better to play in the suit that will provide ruffs in the shorter hand but here it made no difference with the defence’s Hearts splitting 3-2.
4 February 2019 – A Double Fit
All North/South pairs missed makeable small slams on Boards 5 and 8 but Board 12 was altogether more interesting:
After West’s pass, North opens 1 Club, with East overcalling 1 Diamond. With opening points, support for Clubs and good Spades, South should be thinking of game – but where? Best to start with 1 Spade, to allow room for investigation. West should intervene by bidding to the level of the fit: nine cards equals 3 Diamonds. North will probably pass as South could be much weaker, so it will be up to South to make the running, with a jump to game in Clubs. If South’s initial bid is a jump to 3 Clubs and West intervenes, North will bid 3 Hearts, implying no cover in Diamonds. South now replies 3 Spades, again implying that 3 NT is a non-starter. North will most likely rebid his Clubs, with South raising to game.
If West has supported East’s Diamonds, East can risk leading from his tenace and the defence take the first two tricks. Declarer can count eleven top tricks, whatever is led next and so should think about how to avoid possible Pooh traps. Playing in Clubs, North draws trumps and overtakes his second Spade in dummy. South’s top Spades now take care of North’s losing Hearts, despite the bad Spade break and game is made. If South plays in Spades, the defence might make things awkward by playing a third round of Diamonds. Declarer can ruff in dummy and discard a Heart loser from hand but must now resist the temptation of playing on Hearts to return to hand as he would then have fewer trumps than West. Instead, he plays the trump Queen from dummy and then a small Club, hoping that neither defender is void. He can then play out all the trumps, followed by the Clubs and the Heart Ace, making eleven tricks. If North plays in 5 Clubs and the defence do not lead a Diamond, declarer can score an overtrick by throwing both his small Diamonds on dummy’s Spades and losing just a Heart.
There were very mixed results on the evening: two Norths made twelve tricks in Clubs, but only one was in game, while another went one down, doubled, in 5 Clubs. Spade contracts were less successful with game bids going two and three down, though 2 Spades made three overtricks. One East/West pair also scored well by making 3 Diamonds, losing two Hearts, a Spade and a Club.
28 January 2019 – Game in a Minor Suit
With game values and a minor suit fit, it pays to consider 3 NT as an easier and more lucrative alternative to the five-level suit contract. But 3 NT can go badly wrong if the defence can run a side suit…
North opens with 1 Club and East may overcall with 1 Diamond. South should be thinking in terms of game but a jump to 3 Clubs undervalues his hand – it could miss a fit in Spades or 3 NT. Best to bid 1 Spade and await developments. West might support Diamonds, bidding 3 Diamonds, to the level of the fit. This would make further action difficult for North but South should now show support for Clubs (the Losing Trick Count suggests ten tricks). If West bids only 2 Diamonds North may now show his Hearts – by avoiding no trumps he shows, by implication, a gap in Diamonds. South can again show support for Clubs. Finally, North could re-evaluate his hand to recognise the value of his two Spade honours and go for game. 5 Clubs cannot be defeated. If the defence do not cash their Diamond tricks, North’s Diamonds may be discarded on South’s Spades once trumps have been drawn, leaving just a Heart to lose.
In practice, only one pair bid the Club game while the one trying 3 NT came to grief, with the defence taking the first five tricks in Diamonds.
21 January 2019 A Big Pre-empt
Pre-emptive bidding with a weak hand but a very long suit is designed to prevent opponents from finding their best contract. A simple rule is to go as high as you dare straight away and then leave bidding to partner. With an eight card suit, open at the four level…
Board 14 illustrated how this might (or might not) work:
After East passes, South pre-empts in Hearts. West could double for take-out or bid 4 Clubs over 3 Hearts, with space to explore the other suits without going too high. Another golden rule that didn’t apply here: never pre-empt over a pre-empt – any competitive bid shows a strong hand. Over 4 Clubs or Double, North should raise to 4 Hearts. This is known as “bidding to the level of the fit” to make life even more difficult for the opponents. However, here East will have no difficulty in raising to 5 Clubs, or maybe double to invite West to name his suit (if West started with a Double). With an extra Heart, South can bid to 5 Hearts, leaving the opponents no choice but to double for penalties. If South started with 4 Hearts, his bid might win the auction.
With best defence, South would make just his eight Hearts, for minus 500, if doubled. If West plays in Clubs, Declarer should take thirteen tricks, whatever the lead: 5 Clubs, 2 Heart ruffs in dummy, 5 Diamonds and the Spade Ace. The pre-empt would make a Club slam almost impossible to find so, in theory, 5 Hearts, doubled, going three down should be a good score. In practice, it turned out to be the worst score as two declarers were able to make 3 and 4 Hearts, while Club contracts unsurprisingly stayed at game level.
14 January 2019 Hearty Fare
Congratulations to Barbara and John who bid and made the only slam of the evening, on Board 18:
East opens 1 Club and West replies 1 Heart. With good support but a minimum opener, East raises to 2 Hearts (a jump would imply a stronger opening hand). With that valuable Club King as well as excellent Hearts, West should be thinking about slam possibilities but must make a forcing bid to show his strength (partnerships need to agree how to proceed with cue bids or trial bids in these situations) or go straight to Blackwood and hope that partner has the Diamonds covered. In any event, 6 Hearts is an an excellent contract that cannot be defeated, save for a defender having five clubs to the Ten and trumps dividing 4-0. If the opening lead is a Diamond, West wins the Ace, draws trumps and plays out the Clubs, discarding the Diamond losers on the third and fourth rounds. If the Clubs did not split, West now gives up a Spade to the Ace, wins whatever is returned, cashes his second Spade honour and ruffs the small spade in dummy (5 Hearts, 4 Clubs, 1 Spade, 1 Diamond and 1 ruff for the twelve tricks).
7 January 2019 New Beginnings
A great start to the New Year and the cards served up some treats, including several slam or near-slam hands. Congratulations to those who bid and made small slams on Board 4 (West) and Board 14 (South). Commiserations to others who were brave but failed…
Board 23 was one that got away:
At game all, after South passes, West most likely opens 1 Diamond, though some might choose a slightly lopsided weak 1 NT or even pass. Assuming West bids, North knows that the opponents are in the game zone at least. As the cards lay, North would have made seven tricks in Hearts, so three down, doubled, vulnerable would have scored worse than a vulnerable game to the opponents but much better than a slam, if there was one. Whether North bid or not, East would not stay silent with such a powerful hand and all pairs, bar one, ended in 4 Spades (the exception being one West, playing in 3 NT). If North doesn’t bid, the sequence might be 1 Diamond – 2 Spades (game-forcing) – 3 Clubs – 3 Spades – 4 Spades (minimum) – 4 NT – 5 Hearts – 6 Spades. If North does intervene with 4 Hearts, East might just risk 6 Spades anyway. Success requires one of the two black suit finesses to work (75% chance) and the slam comes home.