DIRECTORS PAGE

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.

29 October – Pre-empt Paradise

A pre-empt on a very weak hand made life difficult for the opponents on Board 12.  Sometimes, it pays to disregard bidding guidelines (never rules) and it certainly did here.  The pre-empter has more leeway with favourable vulnerability as he can afford to go three down, doubled, and score better than an opponents’ vulnerable game.  The standard counter to the pre-empt is to double with at least opening values.  A stronger hand might cue-bid the pre-empt suit.  The doubler’s partner should normally take the double out, except with length and high cards in the pre-empt suit and no other good suit but, with opening points in this situation, 3 NT might score more highly.

West

S  8

H  642

D  QJ98762

C  96

North

S  AQJ62

H  KJT

D  5

C  KQ72

East

S  7543

H  A9753

D  K43

C  T

South

S  KT9

H  Q8

D  AT

C  AJ8543

West opens 3 Diamonds and North doubles.  It seems natural for East to pass but having a ten-card fit plus the King, an Ace and a singleton makes this a better hand than it looks.  Raising to the level of the fit, 4 Diamonds, is not so risky and makes life difficult for South (who should know there is Game somewhere).  What would Double mean now?

If West is cautious and keeps quiet North/South have much more opportunity to describe their hands.  After starting 1 Spade – 2 Clubs, both should plan on bidding to Game but what should North bid next?  2 Spades or 3 Clubs undervalue his hand and partner might pass, 2 NT looks very unattractive given the singleton, so 3 Spades is probably the least worst option unless the partnership have agreed Splinter bids – 4 Diamonds.  Either way, a bold South might now think about a slam (those three Spades are immensely valuable), try Blackwood and end in six of either black suit.  Twelve tricks are laydown whatever is led, even in NT.

As it happened, two pairs bid game in Spades and two in Clubs, one of the latter claiming the thirteenth trick by ruffing a Diamond in dummy and discarding the Heart losers on dummy’s long Spades.  One of those occasions where the defence could only make their Ace at Trick One…  One North played in 3 Spades but the worst result that way was defending against 3 Diamonds, Doubled.  West makes six trumps, a Club ruff in dummy and the Ace for one down – good going on a combined count of just ten points!

22 October – Forcing Bids

Acol and other conventions designate certain bids as forcing.  This is extremely useful when a player holds a strong hand and needs bidding space to determine the best contract, without any risk that partner will pass.  Conventional bids, such as Blackwood, also oblige partner to reply.  Of course, it is essential that partners agree whether a bid is ‘forcing for one round’ or ‘forcing to game’.  With the latter, the player making the force takes responsibility for whatever happens and his partner must comply.  Very occasionally, the best result might come from partner passing but this will be outweighed by the damage done to partnership harmony on other occasions!  This week Board 1 provided a classic example:

North

S  AQJ

H  AKQ8

D  AT3

C  KJ8

East

S  74

H  JT6

D  QJ87642

C  2

South

S  T9865

H  9532

D  –

C  QT43

West

S  K32

H  74

D  K95

C  A9765

With 24 points, North opens with an Acol 2 Clubs.  South replies with a negative 2 Diamonds and North now has three possible bids: 2 Hearts, 2 NT or 3 NT.  The cautious would bid 2 NT but what should South now say?  This is the only sequence after 2 Clubs that is not forcing to game.  South has already shown a weak hand but has one very valuable feature – the Diamond void.  Surely, it would be better to play in 4 Spades or 4 Hearts rather than 3 NT (some pairs might now use 3 Clubs as Stayman…)  If North plays in either major East naturally leads his Club singleton.  After winning his Ace, West returns the suit for East to ruff but, with the Spade King on side, declarer takes all the rest.  If South declares, West is unlikely to lead his ace and South will make twelve tricks.

If North replies 2 Hearts that is unconditionally forcing to game and South will probably go straight to 4 Hearts.  If North upgrades his hand a touch he would bid 3 NT which South would reluctantly pass – the “trust partner” rule applies.

If North plays in NT, East will lead a diamond and declarer has a problem as he cannot make his contract without setting up the Clubs, at which point the defence will cash their Diamonds.  North’s only hope is that West has no more than three Diamonds and the Club Ace: he allows the defence to win the first two tricks and now, when West wins his Ace, he has no way of putting East on lead to cash all those long Diamonds.  If he tries a Spade, North must refuse the finesse but still has nine tricks.  The odds are not great but worth trying…  In practice, declarers in 3 NT went down but, curiously, the cautious 2 NT made twelve tricks!

20 August – Competing for Part Scores

Everyone likes a big hand but, when it comes to scoring, low level contracts are just as important.  Experts talk about “bidding to the level of the fit” but should one bid on once more when the opposition are about to hold the contract?  Much depends on vulnerabilty – two down not vulnerable will be a better result than most part score contracts but two down vulnerable will almost certainly be worse.  Also consider doubles: generally a double of a part-score suit bid is for take-out and this again favours playing rather than defending.  Board 12 provides an example:
North

S  JT52

H  Q94

D  AT97

C  54

East

S  K963

H  2

D  J83

C  KQ832

South

S  A4

H  K8753

D  Q54

C  AJ7

West

S  Q87

H  AJT6

D  K62

C  T96

The hand is passed round to South who opens 1 Heart, with North replying 1 Spade.  If East competes, he may end up buying the contract in 3 Clubs; otherwise South will play in 2 Hearts.  3 Clubs doesn’t look much fun and should go two down unless South decides to start with his Spades in the hope of getting a ruff – a misguided idea as he is likely to have two trump tricks in any event.  Playing in Hearts, all depends on how South plays the red suits as he gets home if he avoids losing more than two Hearts and one Diamond.  On the evening, seven, eight and an unlikely nine tricks were made in Hearts while 3 Clubs duly went two down but 2 Clubs made.  3 Clubs two down turned out to be an average score, but had East/West been vulnerable it would have been a big bottom!

Meanwhile, small slams were bid and made on three boards, though those doing so were in a small minority and, on two occasions, gathered one trick more than most other declarers.  Board 2, though, should have been entirely straightforward.

South:

S  K95432

H  J4

D  KQ8

C  QJ

North

S  QT

H  AKQ853

D  A92

C  AK

North can hardly believe his good fortune when South opens 1 Spade and should immediately be thinking of a slam.  He first needs to find out how strong South is with a simple 2 Hearts reply, forcing for one round.  South can only rebid 2 Spades, so North should limit his ambitions to a small slam (though replace South’s valueless Clubs with the Spade Ace and the Grand is assured).  Blackwood confirms that ace is missing but should North now bid 6 Hearts or 6 NT?  Might he need a ruff somewhere?  In the event, there was no way of avoiding the Spade loser, the Hearts behaved and both contracts made without fuss.  What was surprising, though, that slams were only bid at two tables.

13 August – Lucky Sevens?

On average, a hand with a seven card suit might come up once in an evening but they are usually the weak pre-emptive type.  Strong opening hands with seven card suits are much rarer so having four in the evening was exceptional.  Because they are rare they are not easy to bid if they are not strong enough for an Acol two opening.  The bidder may feel he ought to press for game but, without support from partner, even a part score could be a struggle.  If partner responds and opener jumps to three, the responder should re-evaluate his hand and look for game somewhere with nine points or more even if he holds only two trumps.  With a complete misfit, be cautious!

Board 10

East

S  AJ4

H  AJ97652

D  AQ

C  T

West

S  QT862

H  –

D  9852

C  AQ94

East opens 1 Heart, West responds 1 Spade which will encourage East but, if he jumps to 3 Hearts, surely West will pass.  Curiously, this did not happen though one pair played in 2 Hearts.  Perhaps on point count, West might contemplate 3 NT rather than Pass or 3 Spades for his rebid and East will take this back to Hearts.  A Heart contract should have made eleven tricks when the Hearts split and the black suit finesses worked.  Two Wests played in 4 Spades, one making.

Board 16

West

S  AQJ8654

H  Q

D  KJ

C  A42

East

S  3

H  JT7

D  98763

C  KJ76

West opens 1 Spade and North is sitting with void Spades and seven Hearts to the Ace.  This would seem an ideal moment for a pre-emptive overcall but it would have been a phantom sacrifice, making only eight tricks.  If North is cautious, West will press on in Spades but without any support from partner.  The 5 – 0 Spade split doomed West also to making no more than eight tricks.

Board 21

East

S  82

H  AKJ9764

D  A5

C  A5

West

S  AT943

H  T3

D  Q8

C  K987

East opens 1 Heart, West replies 1 Spade, East jumps to 3 Hearts.  West should now think: partner has a strong opening hand and at least six good trumps, so despite only having two, bid game.  On this occasion, everything behaved and East collected eleven tricks

Board 12 was different because, this time, the opponents got in first:

North

S  T83

H  T9

D  J9752

C  K42

East

S  KQ64

H  Q8

D  AK6

C  AJT5

South

S  A975

H  AKJ7632

D  4

C  Q

West

S  J2

H  54

D  QT83

C  98763

East might stretch to open 2 NT but more probably started with 1 Club, intending to bid 2 NT second time round.  South, vulnerable, might now double, intending to rebid Hearts whatever North said or overcall in Hearts.  West and North stay quiet and East still hopes to declare the hand but, whatever he says, South repeats his Hearts, North now getting quietly nervous.  East will inevitably feel that South is stealing the hand and come in with a penalty double.  Good defence should keep South to nine tricks but two made ten, doubled, for a handsome score indeed.  One East, doubtless supported by partner, pressed on to 5 Clubs.  Although this should go two down, it turned out to be a better score than it might have been!

30 July – Thin Slams

This week saw East/West with the biggest hands but they could be forgiven for erring on the side of caution.  The brave, though, were well rewarded, mostly.

Board 4

East

S  AQ

H  3

D  A98

C  KQt8643

West

S  963

H  A765

D  QT632

C  A

Many would not open with West’s cards, leaving East to kick off with 1 Club.  The bidding might then go 1 Diamond – 3 Clubs – 3 Hearts – 3NT.  If West does open light, East is more likely to pursue a slam and finish in 6 Clubs.  South would do best to lead a safe Club, leaving East to do the hard work (a Diamond from King doubleton would be ridiculous while a card from a Jack-high major risks giving East a free finesse.  In any case, East’s problem is to avoid losing two Diamonds.  Best is to lead the Ace, to guard against a singleton honour and low towards the Queen.  As South held King doubleton, East’s problems were over and twelve tricks quickly made.  Surprisingly, some pairs stopped in 3 Clubs while others scored relatively poorly in a minor suit game as opposed to 3 NT with overtricks.  Congratulations to Phil and Ann for bidding and making the slam.

Board 21

East

S  J86

H  AKQ

D  62

C  AQ963

West

S  A92

H  T2

D  AKQT8

C  K72

East starts with 1 Club and West responds 1 Diamond – there is no need to jump and this gives the opportunity for East to show his strength with 1 NT.  West might feel that the point count is not quite enough to guarantee 6 NT.  If West does press on, declarer needs one or other minor suit to behave – the odds favour Clubs with an eight card fit and there were twelve tricks on top with the suit coming in.  It is rather unlikely that the partnership would end in 6 Clubs but, if they do, East has a good chance of an overtrick on anything other than a Spade lead (which removes the key late entry).  East draws trumps and plays top Diamonds and, if the Jack has not appeared, ruffs the Eight.  Now, providing no worse than a 4-2 split, declarer can return to dummy via the Spade Ace to score the long Diamond.  At the table one pair bid and made 6 NT with an overtrick – congratulations to Barbara and John – but one pair went one down while most others correctly preferred 3 NT to 5 Clubs.

23 July – Three Big Hands

This week North/South pairs found themselves with three very big hands in succession but how did things work out?

Board 22

South:

S  AKQ4

H  AQ6

D  A84

C  AK4

North:

S  963

H  KT943

D  K6

C  Q72

Hands as massive as South’s only come round once in a blue moon and so are difficult to bid.  South naturally opens with an Acol 2 Clubs and North can respond with a positive 2 Hearts but just how good is his hand?  Here, the Buchanan convention helps as the first response to 2 Clubs is a point count: 2 Diamonds zero to three; 2 Hearts four to six; 2 Spades seven to nine and 2 NT anything more.  Here, North replies 2 Spades; South rebids 2 NT (no danger of North passing) and South can now show his good hearts.  North should reckon that, with no more than 35 points, 6 NT is the best bet – when the Hearts behave, there are thirteen tricks on top.  Perhaps, surprisingly, only two pairs bid the small slam.

Board 23

North:

S  985

H  QJT

D  AK4

C  KJ98

South:

S  AKQ64

H  –

D  J8732

C  A42

North opens 1 NT but East competes with 2 Hearts.  South might show his strong hand by doubling and bidding Spades on the following round.  Either way, South would prefer to play in Spades rather than NT and, with all the suits behaving, could make 13 tricks as opposed to 11 after the defence took their top Hearts.

Board 24

North:

S  A5

H  K87643

D  AT8

C  A7

South:

S  Q76

H  AJ952

D  K3

C  J52

North opens 1 Heart.  South will want to be in game but a direct raise to 4 Hearts would indicate a weaker, pre-emptive hand and shut out ideas of slam.  Likewise, 3 Hearts would be invitational and a probable game could be missed.  Although somewhat light on points, the 2 NT Jacoby response which shows game-level support (or more) could be used here.  With his three Aces, extra strength and sixth Heart, North would probably push on to 6 Hearts.  Unfortunately, dummy reveals a very likely loser in each black suit.  North’s best bet would be to lead his low Spade towards dummy’s Queen, hoping that West held the King.  As it was, West led a small Spade – it would have been most foolhardy to lead away from the King, so declarer can only duck in dummy and hope that East goes up with the King anyway but again pretty unlikely.  Had West held Club King and Queen, the lead of a top Club would have given declarer the contract by winning his Ace and then leading his small Club through West’s remaining honour to set up the Jack.  If West had started with a small Club, declarer cannot try the Spades, so must duck in dummy and hope that East rises with his honour with West holding the other.  This may seem like clutching at straws but any chance is better than none!  Needless to say, the one pair bidding the slam didn’t make it – guess who!

16 July – Lost Opportunities

This week saw two decent slam hands.  Board 13 found North/South with all the aces and kings plus a lovely fit in Spades.  But with a combined point count of only 30, a no trump slam seems unlikely.  Nobody bid the Spade slam but made all the tricks in game contracts when the outstanding Spades split 2-2.  With the helpful split there were twelve top tricks in no trumps but the only pair bidding the slam contrived to go one down.

It was East/West’s turn on Board 19.

West

S  JT4

H  AKQ852

D  963

C  Q

North

S  K97

H  T976

D  Q54

C  875

East

S  AQ2

H  3

D  AKJT8

C  AKJ9

South

S  8653

H  J4

D  72

C  T6432

When West opens 1 Heart, East with 22 points will immediately be thinking of slam, even without an immediate trump suit.  Even if West passes initially, East should be able to press on with Blackwood and settle for 6 NT.  Play for twelve tricks is straightforward providing declarer sets up the Diamonds rather than hoping for a 3-3 Heart fit.  Starting with the Hearts first risks finding South with both the long Heart and the guarded Diamond Queen.  As the cards lay, East can pick up the Diamonds without loss to provide the thirteenth trick.  At the table, only two Easts bid 6 NT, with only one securing the overtrick.  Others played in 3 NT but one pair scored poorly in 5 Diamonds.

2 July – Sneaking that Overtrick

Board 20 provided a lovely pair of hands for East/West

West

S  KQ5

H  KQ96

D  J82

C  A62

East

S  A98

H  AJT732

D  AK4

C  8

With a very flat 15 points, West might prefer to open 1 NT rather than 1 Heart.  If he does, East replies with Stayman and should scent a slam when West responds with 2 Hearts.  East could now go to Blackwood – key card Blackwood would show two “aces” and the trump queen.  East might now contemplate 6 NT but, with his singleton, will probably be conservative and settle for 6 Hearts.  If West does open 1 Heart, East could reply 2 NT Jacoby, with the following cue bid sequence following: 3 Clubs – 3 Diamonds – 3 Hearts – 3 Spades – 4 Spades and then Blackwood.

If West declares there are twelve tricks on top and the defence will obviously keep the Diamond Queen to prevent the overtrick.  If East declares there is the possibility of a pseudo-squeeze by drawing trumps, playing off dummy’s winners and then running the remaining winners from hand (avoiding giving the game away with a club ruff).  South had both the minor suit queens but which should he keep?  It should be apparent that East has a loser that cannot be ruffed in dummy, so East cannot have the Club King (otherwise he would claim 13 tricks) so South can afford to let the Club Queen go on the penultimate trick.

Congratulations to the two pairs who bid the slam, both played by West for 12 tricks.  When West opened 1 NT, the partnerships stopped short of slam but two declarers secured the valuable overtrick – only 30 points on the score but the difference between a ‘middle’ and the dreaded ‘bottom’.

18 June – An Ethical Conundrum

Known as “unauthorised information”, players will often give something away about what cards they have but partners have an obligation to ignore it.  If their opponenents feel that unauthorised information has influenced the outcome of a hand they may ask the Director to consider adjusting the score (thankfully, not something that happens at Crickhowell!)  Sometimes unauthorised information may come from other sources…  A player approached the scorer to tell him that a result had been entered incorrectly into the Bridgemate – the contract should have been shown as doubled and went one down.  Unfortunately, this was Board 22 which was about to the played at the scorer’s table!  All the players now have unauthorised information and must do their best to put it out of their minds – not easy.  Distracted by all this, the scorer’s partner promptly passed but out of turn!!  The laws on bidding or passing out of turn have recently been updated, to ensure that the penalties are not unduly severe (as this gives the opponents an undeserved advantage over everyone else).  Way back when, the penalty for passing out of turn was to be silent for the rest of the auction.  Now, the offender may be required to pass for one round of bidding but not necessarily.  In this case, North had good reason to keep silent, having but a single queen.  South, though, had an excellent hand and bid his strong hearts, with the opponents competing in diamonds.  Eventually, South showed his second suit, spades, at the three level and North, with five of them to the Ten, breathed a big sigh of relief!  The scores showed spade and diamond contracts making ten tricks but South was unsuccessful when he persisted with hearts – as demonstrated by the double.  And, mercifully for the Director’s conscience, there was no evidence that the unauthorised information had affected the result!

11 June – Hearty Fare

Bidding slams on light point counts is not easy, so congratulations to Peter and Paddy on being the only successful pair this week.  This was Board 3:

North

S  8

H  A943

D  T85

C  KQ942

South

S  AQT

H  KQJT875

D  AQ

C  T

South dealt.  With eight guaranteed tricks, some might open 2 Hearts rather than one but most were probably more conservative.  Although North is light on points he has seven losing tricks and so might jump to 4 Hearts; his hand seems rather weak for a 3 Spade splinter, still less 2NT Jacoby.  If North bids 2 Hearts, South will assume nine losers and simply jump to 4 Hearts.  The meaning of an intermediate jump to 3 Hearts can vary – some partnerships prefer to play it as stronger that a pre-emptive raise to game.  South should certainly explore a slam in response to the stronger option.

The slam is guaranteed (barring an improbable defensive ruff on the first trick).  South wins, draws trumps and must avoid any temptation to finesse.  Instead, lead dummy’s Club King.  Assuming the defence take their Ace, declarer wins the next trick, re-enters dummy via a Spade ruff and throws the Diamond Queen on the Club Queen.  If the defence fails to take their Ace, South may now try the Diamond finesse for a no-risk overtrick.  In practice, the Diamond King was on side and everyone made twelve tricks by one route or another.  Given that two of South’s queens were surplus to requirement, the slam made on an effective partnership total of 23 points!

 

28 May – Passing Out!

Bridge on a bank holiday was a pleasant change, as was the Howell movement that allowed every pair to play every other.  Board 2 illustrated why the Laws of Bridge do not allow a hand passed out on the first round to be redealt: at three tables it was passed out but, at the fourth, South ended in 3 Clubs which went down.  Very rarely will every table pass a board out…

At the other end of the scale, Board 1 offered possible slam prospects that were scuppered by bad splits:

North

S  AQ76

H  J873

D  –

C  AK983

South

S  K954

H  AK95

D  QJ5

C  54

North opens 1 Club so South can reckon on being in game, at least, but which one?  The normal response would be to bid Spades first and Hearts on the second round but some might prefer to show the stronger Hearts first.  North might now jump in support, show his other major or use a 4 Diamond splinter.  If the partnership ends in a small slam in either major declarer needs a great deal of good fortune to secure twelve tricks by way of four in each major, two Diamond ruffs and two Clubs.  If South declares and West starts with a top Diamond, this is ruffed and South now has a marked ruffing finesse to secure a trick in lieu of a Spade loser.  As it happened, North played in Spades and, though the Heart Queen was obligingly doubleton, the Spades split 4 – 1 and the Spade slam stood no chance.  One pair failed to make 4 Spades while 4 Hearts played by South made an overtrick.

14 May – A tricky overcall

Congratulations to Cathy and Shirley on being the only pair to bid and make a slam this week.

What should you do when an opponent “steals” your bid?  This was a dilemma for both South and North on Board 20:

North

S  AJ853

H  62

D  QJ52

C  98

East

S  –

H  KT987

D  AKT86

C  AT2

South

S  QT97

H  AQJ53

D  7

C  KJ6

West

S  K642

H  4

D  943

C  Q7543

West and North both pass, with East opening 1 Heart, prepared to come back with 2 Diamonds on the second round.  What should South do?  He has opening points but quite the wrong shape for a take-out double of Hearts (perfect if East had opened 1 Diamond…)  If he passes, knowing that another bid is very likely, West will respond 1 Spade and North faces the same problem.  East now comes back with 2 Diamonds and, at this point, South could double providing the partnership know this is also for take-out.  West passes and North might now bid 2 NT.  If West leads a Diamond East can set up four tricks in the suit to prevent any overtricks.  Unsurprisingly, no North/South pair ended in NT but played in Spades making between eight and ten tricks.  North’s best line is to take the Spade finesse but then to abandon drawing trumps when East shows out, so that Diamonds may be ruffed in dummy.  Two Easts played in 2 Diamonds and although one went down this was still a good score

23 April – Weird and Wonderful

If the Bridgemates weren’t behaving this week, the same could be said for the cards, with some extraordinary distributions and eight card suits on show.  Unfortunately, bidding conventions aren’t designed for the weird and wonderful, so gut instinct and crossed fingers are the order of the day.  North/South missed a good slam chance on Board 27 thanks to some interference from their opponents.

North

S  AJ2

H  JT9863

D  Q8

C  J2

East

S  65

H  AK542

D  75

C  T973

South

S  KQT987

H  –

D  AK9643

C  8

West

S  43

H  Q7

D  JT2

C  AKQ654

With only just opening high card points, South still has a three-loser hand.  West naturally overcalls his 1 Spade opener with 2 Clubs and North bids 2 Hearts.  Arguably, East should now jump to 4 Clubs, the level of the presumed fit.  South shows his second suit with 4 Diamonds (switch South’s singleton to a Heart and he could consider a 5 Clubs cue bid).  North should now know that South’s shape is 6-5 or better, recognise the value of his cards in those suits and jump to 6 Spades.  If East doesn’t compete in Clubs, South bids 3 Diamonds and repeat 4 Diamonds over North’s 3 Spades suit preference.  Again, North should now progress to 6 Spades.  The slam requires either Spades to split 2-2 and Diamonds no worse than 4-1 or Diamonds to split 3-2: overall good odds in favour.

Where East/West were allowed to play in Clubs it proved an excellent sacrifice, even though no North/South pair reached the slam.  Only an inspired Heart lead by North (or Heart switch after a spade lead) should prevent West from making nine tricks, while poor defence would allow ten.

9 Apr 18 – “The Five Level Belongs to the Opponents”

In contested auctions the maxim suggests that it’s best to avoid going to the five level.  A sacrifice may attract a heavy penalty and might prove to be “phantom”.  Best to leave the opponents to get on with it or, with defensive values, double.

Board 5 showed that there are always exceptions that “prove the rule”.

North

S  –

H  KQT854

D  953

C  KJT7

East

S  AJ42

H  962

D  KT4

C  Q32

South

S  9

H  AJ3

D  AQJ763

C  986

West

S  KQJT87653

H  7

D  8

C  A54

North has a lovely hand for a weak two opener but the bidding otherwise passes round to South who opens 1 Diamond.  Not vulnerable, West is now perfectly placed for a big pre-empt and should go straight to 4 Spades to show the eight card suit.  North should judge that he has little in defensive values but that, with the partnership having the balance of the points and the Spade void, 5 Diamonds stands a fair chance.  East can see a twelve card fit in Spades, implying that a sacrifice, non-vulnerable, will score well.  With two aces, South should double and hope for the best.  If North leads a Diamond and East ducks, South wins but must resist the temptation to try to cash his Ace.  If, instead, he leads a Club, West cannot avoid going one down

If South plays in 5 Diamonds, he ruffs West’s Spade lead in dummy.  If the outstanding trumps split 2-2 and the finesse succeeds, there are thirteen tricks.  Otherwise, South must give up a trick to the Diamond King in order to preserve entries to dummy’s Hearts after drawing trumps.  As the trumps lie, South should lose two tricks.  At one table, when West bid only 3 Spades, North could show his Hearts, ending in 5 Hearts, which was doubled.  This time, declarer has the entries he needs to draw trumps and set up the Diamonds, losing just a Club at the end for a top score.  Six out of eight tables played in Spades, with 5 Spades making on one occasion.

 

26 Mar 18 – The Importance of Overtricks

The key to success in Pairs is getting a better score than others, even if only by a small margin.  Bidding and making the right contract often isn’t good enough.  So, it’s often worth taking a small risk in order to secure overtricks.  This week Board 17 provided a good example.

North

S  AJ652

H  QT42

D  AJ

C  T3

East

S  KQT

H  J93

D  T854

C  J87

South

S  9

H  AK8765

D  K62

C  A64

West

S  8743

H  –

D  Q973

C  KQ952

North opens 1 Spade and South replies 2 Hearts.  Although North has primary support, he has no reason to think beyond game and so bids direct to 4 Hearts.  If South now applies the losing trick count the result indicates 11 tricks and so South can be forgiven for stopping short of slam.  West is likely to lead a club and South now takes stock.  There are ten top tricks and, if South gives up a club trick before drawing more than one round of trumps, one loser in each minor suit can be ruffed in dummy.  The risk of an overruff is low and, in any case, would not jeopardise making the contract.  But, what about the thirteenth trick?  If South finesses the Diamond Jack and cashes the Ace, he can throw dummy’s club loser on his Diamond King.  Here, the risk is that, if the finesse loses, the defence would cash a club winner, holding declarer to eleven tricks.  Had South been in a small slam, he could well reason that others would not have bid it and therefore not worth risking his contract for an overtrick as 6 Hearts could well be a top score in any event.  Playing in game, he may decide the risk is one worth taking, especially if things had not been going his way previously.

Unsurprisingly, every South bid and played in 4 Hearts but making anything between ten and thirteen tricks.  But those making twelve tricks only secured an average score…

19 Feb 18 – One that got away

Congratulations to Barbara and John for bidding the only slam of the evening, on Board 7.  Another equally good East/West slam went begging on Board 3:

West

S  JT94

H  A98

D  A742

C  AJ

East

S  AKQ532

H  72

D  8

C  KT93

West is most likely to open 1 NT (12-14) and North with six hearts, headed by K, Q, J, intervened with 2 Hearts.  It’s tempting for East to go straight to 4 Spades but a jump to 3 Spades is game-forcing and allows slam possibilities to be explored.  West with his aces and spade support could now go direct to Blackwood (the key-card variety would show ace and king), enabling West to bid 6 Spades with confidence.

If West opens 1 Spade, a Jacoby convention 2 NT response shows a minimum of support to game and interest in slam (though there is a risk of misunderstanding after the intervening bid by North).  Alternatively, East could bid a 4 Diamond ‘splinter’ (also game-forcing) which is marvellous news to West who can see his weak diamonds going away.  Again, West should now press on and end in 6 Spades.

While it was not too surprising that nobody bid the slam it was odd that several declarers didn’t make twelve tricks.  Assume a heart is led.  Declarer wins his Ace and draws two rounds of trumps before playing Ace and King of Clubs.  He can now ruff two clubs, making six spades plus two ruffs and four top cards in the other suits.  This fails only if a defender has a singleton club and long trumps – pretty unlikely.  Finessing for the Club Queen is a totally unnecessary risk – even if the Queen falls there are still only four club tricks to be made.  Whatever happens there is no way of escaping a heart loser at the end.

5 Feb 18 – Part-score Battles

There were plenty of interesting hands this week and it’s tempting to focus on the big ones.  But the part-score hands are just as important in determining the week’s rankings.  In general terms, it pays to be declaring rather than defending but caution is needed when vulnerable as minus 200 is a very poor score when the opponents don’t have a game contract.  The last player to bid should always try to compete when the auction has gone 1 suit – pass – pass or 1 suit – pass – 2 suit – pass – pass.  The advice is to “borrow a king from partner” to decide what or whether to bid.

Things don’t always work out as expected…

Board 15

North

S  KQ7

H  KQT2

D  KJ3

C  A42

East

S  A42

H  A983

D  AQT2

C  T

South

S  JT53

H  64

D  965

C  9863

West

S  986

H  J75

D  84

C  KQJ75

South and West both pass.  North opens 1 Heart, intending to rebid NT, and East is snookered so passes.  South can say nothing.  If West now “borrows a king”, he has just enough to bid 2 Clubs.  North knows that, as South could not bid 1NT, there is no chance of 3NT and should therefore look for a part score with a take-out double, intending to pass whatever South now bids.  If East passes the final contract would be 2 Spades by South or, if East bids 2 Diamonds, things end there.  It looks likely that neither declarer would make more than six tricks.

The actual results were East playing in 3NT and 3 Diamonds, doubled, both two down, and in 2 Diamonds making nine or seven tricks; and North making 2NT and 1 Heart.  Both the latter seem to have needed some help from the defenders!  Bidding to the three level was definitely too ambitious in the absence of any suit fit.  Discounting those two contracts, the results indeed show that the declarers gained rather than the defenders.

22 Jan 18 – A Good Sacrifice?

A player brings out the STOP card but then makes a bid that does not require its use.  There is nothing in the Yellow Book covering this situation so I asked David Stevenson, the expert on laws and ethics, for his view.  The answer: there is no requirement to change any legitimate bid because of the STOP card.  However, it is Unauthorised Information to the bidder’s partner who must take the bid at face value as though he had never seen the STOP card.  If the opponents feel that the subsequent bidding did take advantage of the information they may ask the director to review the bidding and, if he feels appropriate, adjust the contract and score.

Board 2 featured competitive bidding and, for East/West, the opportunity for a sacrifice to keep opponents out of a vulnerable game:

North

S  K76

H  KT4

D  8

C  AQJT42

East

S  98543

H  QJ

D  QJ974

C  9

South

S  AJ

H  A76532

D  T3

C  765

West

S  QT2

H  98

D  AK652

C  K83

The bidding passes to West who may open 1 Diamond or 1NT.  After 1 Diamond, North has a good hand for a take-out Double followed by a Club bid to show opening points and his long, strong suit.  As it happened, East supported his partner with 2 Diamonds and South came in with 2 Hearts.  As this is not a forced reply to the Double, it should show the same strength as a two-over-one response (as it does).  West may now rebid Diamonds and North should support Hearts to game, with the ability to ruff Diamonds and the potential to set up the Clubs.  East’s calculation should be simple – the correct contract his way is 2 Diamonds and 5 Diamonds, Doubled, three off is minus 500.  4 Hearts making is minus 620, so the sacrifice is in order.  It’s generally ill-advised to bid over a sacrifice, so North/South must double.  Perfect defence would net North/South the first six tricks for 800 with a Spade ruff to add to five top cards.  West would count himself unlucky and this did not happen at the table where two declarers gathered eight tricks in Diamonds.  If West opened 1NT, North would overcall in Clubs and the Heart game is more difficult to find.  Curiously, two Wests declared in 2 Spades, going one down – presumably North did not intervene over 1NT and East bid a transfer into Spades…

18 December – Risky No-trump

Many thanks to Mike for organising our Christmas individual event and to everyone who brought delicious food.  A great success all round.

There were some odd hands and Board 5 caused some tricky bidding problems:

North

S  AKQT97

H  82

D  32

C  532

East

S  862

H  53

D  QJ954

C  T74

South

S  3

H  AKQ9

D  AT8

C  AQ986

West

S  J54

H  JT764

D  K76

C  KJ

North opens the bidding but with what?  This would be fine for a vulnerable weak two but is just a little light for 1 Spade.  Some might even consider 3 Spades but that risks misleading partner.  If North passes, South opens 1 Club, North replies 1 Spade and South could now bid a forcing 2 Hearts if the partnership are playing reverses (if not, North, as a passed hand, could pass 2 Hearts).  South’s alternative is 2 NT.  Over 2 Hearts, North should bid 3 Spades to show a solid six card suit, leaving South with Hobson’s choice of 4 Spades or 3 NT.

Three of six pairs did end in 3 NT and were fortunate when the Spades divided 3-3 against the odds (only roughly one in three).  In theory, the finesse would have been a better bet but, had it failed, South could easily have no Spade tricks whatever.  As it is, South runs the Spades successfully.  There appear to be eleven top tricks (though one South, at least, gained a bonus at Trick One when West led his fourth highest Heart).  South could try the Club finesse but a sneakier approach might be to throw the Club Queen and Nine on the Spades, keeping the Eight.  Then, when he plays out the top Hearts from hand, surely West will unguard the Clubs rather than the Diamonds and East will discard Clubs too.  South plays off his minor suit Aces and, if his ploy works, wins the last trick with that Club Eight!  One South did indeed make all thirteen tricks…  Elsewhere, North made ten or eleven tricks in Spades while one unhappy South made only nine in 3 Clubs.

 

20 November – Claret spilled!

Congratulations to Joyce and Richard on their victory in our annual competition.  There were plenty of competitive hands, if no really big ones.  North might have fancied his chances on Board 12 but West got in first…

North

S  AQ52

H  AQT

D  AKQ4

C  94

East

S  T973

H  876532

D  76

C  6

South

S  64

H  J9

D  T32

C  KT8752

West

S  KJ8

H  K4

D  J985

C  AQJ3

West might reasonably open a slightly over-strength weak 1 NT or 1 Club; he probably anticipates ending in no trumps in either case.  North would have opened 2 NT, taking a gamble on the gap in Clubs, but now has to show his strength by doubling.  With 1 Club doubled, East can safely pass, but 1 NT is doubled for penalties and his Heart length is a guaranteed source of tricks.  South and West would pass 2 Hearts but North must double again, for penalties this time – 2 Hearts should go two down.  However, if West’s 1 Club, doubled, is passed round to South, what should he bid?  Pass for penalties or 1 NT, to show good cover in Clubs but no other biddable suit, or 2 Clubs to show real length?  If South does bid 1 NT, he faces the disadvantage of the strong hand being on the table when North jumps to 3 NT.

In practice, four Norths ended declaring in NT, one in Diamonds and one in Spades.  West went five down in 2 NT, amazingly undoubled, and somehow made 2 Hearts, again undoubled.  The play in 3 NT is interesting as North has to end-play West twice to get home.  East started with a top-of-nothing Heart, allowing North to pick up three tricks in the suit.  If he plays dummy’s nine on the first trick, West should duck to deny an entry to dummy for a Spade finesse.  North cashes his top Diamonds, finding that West has four and now knows almost exactly what other cards he has.  Having eliminated West’s remaining Heart, North gives up a Diamond, leaving West with only black cards.  If West leads a small Spade, North confidently inserts his Queen and then cashes the Ace before leading a small Spade to West’s King.  West must now open up the Clubs and give up a trick to dummy’s King.  Had East started with his Club, dummy would have ducked and West would have again had Hobson’s choice in his leads…

6 Nov – A missed opportunity?

On Board 9 almost every North/South pair made 4 Hearts with two overtricks with these cards:

North

S  8

H  AK832

D  AJT93

C  93

 

South

S  T9

H  J654

D  KQ84

C  AK4

 

North dealt, non-vulnerable and has a clear-cut 1 Heart opener.  South’s hand is just strong enough for the Jacoby 2 NT response which indicates a minimum of four card support, values for game and at least mild interest in slam.  This convention allows the one to three raise to be made on weaker hands that are only invitational to game and the one to four raise a pre-empt on weak distributional hands.  (Traditionalists may dislike losing the Acol 2 NT response but this sort of hand can easily be described by bidding a suit first and then 2 NT second time round.)  Partnerships need to agree the meaning of bids after Jacoby – is a new suit bid genuine, a cue bid or a trial bid?  With cue bids, the sequence would be 3 Diamonds – 4 Clubs – 4 Spades (at this point little risk in going past 4 Hearts as partner can sign off in 5), at which point South could check for aces or key cards with Blackwood and end in 6 Hearts.  In this case, the slam is rather marginal as it relies on dropping the Heart Queen doubleton or singleton (as it was).  Fortune in this case would have favoured the brave.

30 Oct – No winners!

It is rare for competition over an Acol 2 Club opener but, on this hand, everyone lost…

Board 18

North

S  AQ8732

H  QT42

D  K64

C  –

East

S  65

H  8753

D  3

C  T98762

South

S  T4

H  6

D  QJT9752

C  Q53

West

S  KJ9

H  AKJ9

D  A8

C  AKJ4

West deals and naturally opens with an Acol 2 Clubs.  Sitting over the strength, there is little risk for North in bidding 2 Spades, even vulnerable.  What should East do?  Although 2 Clubs is forcing, West now has another bid, so East should pass to indicate that he has nothing.  If he bids 2NT, West may take this to mean that East has something in Spades and the opening lead in no trumps, inevitably a Spade, will be through West’s holding.  If East does pass, West can reopen with 2NT which is passed out.  North leads his fourth-highest Spade which West wins with his Jack.  West’s best hope is the Clubs but is in trouble when North reveals his void.  If West continues with Clubs, North is likely to throw one card from each suit and now only has four Spade tricks.  Whatever he leads now, West can win in hand and claim the rest of the tricks via dummy’s established clubs to scrape home with the part score.

This is not what happened in reality!  Three Wests declared in 4 Hearts, all going down and doubled in one case.  But North/South sacrifices as opposed to interference were disastrous.  North’s 3 Spades went two down, doubled, for a worse score than allowing East/West to make a non-vulnerable game.  South did not fare well by sacrificing with 5 Diamonds.  West’s best defence is to attack trumps, reducing dummy’s ruffing potential. However, with poor defence, South might even squeak home, losing just the two red aces but, in practice, went down, unsurprisingly doubled.

2 Oct – Two Slams

There were plenty of big hands this week with a couple of good slam opportunities though only one was found.

Board 16

North

S  J98

H  T32

D  J7

C  KJ874

East

S  AKQ6

H  A86

D  962

C  A32

South

S  T42

H  J9754

D  Q5

C  T96

West

S  753

H  KQ

D  AKT843

C  Q5

West opens 1 Diamond and East can immediately see 3 NT but should take his time.  A reply of 1 Spade is forcing for one round and West should jump to 3 Diamonds with his strong six card suit and partner covering his spade weakness.  East can now use Blackwood (a Roman key card response would show East that West had the Diamond Ace and King) and bid 6 NT with confidence.  If South leads a club, East has no choice but to play for the outstanding diamonds to drop – when they do, he has all thirteen tricks.  If South leads something else, playing for the drop is still the best bet as East has a certain side entry to dummy’s long diamonds if he has to give up a trick in the suit.  Most declarers made 13 tricks in 3 NT though one West played in 3 Diamonds.

Board 23

North

S  KQ4

H  AK

D  KQJ63

C  AQ8

East

S  AJ975

H  983

D  T4

C  JT3

South

S  3

H  QJ64

D  A95

C  K9754

West

S  T862

H  T752

D  872

C  62

Bidding passes round to North who opens an Acol 2 Clubs.  South can see a minimum 33 combined point count assuming that North did not open on the basis of a club suit.  South can reply with a positive 3 Clubs, North replies 3 Diamonds and South should support with 4 Diamonds.  North now uses Blackwood, finds that an ace is missing and settles for 6 NT.  East would almost certainly not lead his ace as this could easily give declarer a second spade trick.  In a no trump small slam, an ace is unlikely not to score but, in this case, it doesn’t.  Declarer unblocks his Heart Ace-King and can claim thirteen tricks when the clubs break, without touching the spades.  In the one case that South declared, West led a spade and East won the first trick.  One North played in 6 Clubs but should have considered that his balanced hand and good stops made 6 NT the better-scoring contract.

25 Sep – Two Suit Fits

Hands with two suit fits can be immensely powerful but the opponents will also have two suit fits which may lead to competitive bidding.

Board 12

North

S  J32

H  AQJ53

D  5

C  AQJ7

East

S  9764

H  964

D  AK9

C  962

South

S  T

H  T872

D  J762

C  T853

West

S  AKQ85

H  K

D  QT843

C  K4

West opens 1 Spade and North overcalls 2 Hearts (unless using a convention to show a two-suited hand).  East has just enough to bid 2 Spades and South passes.  Despite his weak kings, West is strong enough for a trial bid, forcing for one round – 3 Diamonds – asking partner if he has control of the suit.  North may now double for take-out or bid 4 Clubs and East can show his excellent diamonds by bidding 4 Diamonds.  The bidding will end with West in 4 Spades unless… South with his one jack upgrades his hand and goes for a 5 Hearts sacrifice.  With the kings in North’s suits falling, 5 Hearts actually makes!  Perhaps not surprisingly, nobody bid the sacrifice, leaving West to make between ten and twelve tricks in Spades, though some stopped short of game.  West should not have made twelve tricks but can guarantee eleven by endplaying North – draw trumps and play diamonds, finessing South’s Jack, throwing two of dummy’s hearts.  Now West leads his singleton Heart King and North must either give West the Club King or a ruff in dummy and a club discard.

Board 16 was another interesting two-suited deal.

North

S  Q87

H  K43

D  Q9

C  K8542

East

S  KJ32

H  QJ6

D  3

C  JT973

South

S  AT9654

H  T9

D  A865

C  Q

West

S  –

H  A8752

D  KJT742

C  A6

West opens 1 Diamond, North passes and East replies 1 Spade (1NT would deny four cards in either major).  South is now stymied for a bid (though he would venture 2 Spades over a 1NT response).  West now bids 2 Hearts (if the partnership are playing reverses the hand should have more high card strength but what else could West reasonably bid?) and East raises to three.  North has an unenviable choice of leads – a small club looks safest.  West wins and plays Ace and a small heart.  North wins his King but if he cashes his club winner he sets up three tricks in dummy.  Whatever he does, West enters dummy, drawing the last trump (cashes the clubs) and leads the diamond towards his King.  If South rises with his Ace, the favourable lie of the cards allows West to take the rest of the tricks.  If South has bid Spades and North leads the suit dummy will collect a trick in the suit after South’s Ace is ruffed but, if the defence persist with Spades, they will leave declarer short of trumps before he can set up his diamonds.  At the table, declarers in hearts made nine or ten tricks while 3NT was a disaster when the defence were able to run their spades.  One South sacrificed in 3 Spades which was doubled for a score that was just above average.

21 August – 1NT Overcall

The 1NT overcall does not crop up that often, so to have two successive hands where it was used was unusual to say the least.  It is stronger than a suit overcall, with 15 plus high card points, and shows a balanced hand with a stop in the suit bid.

Board 5

North

S  K872

H  54

D  9876

C  AQJ

East

S  QJT4

H  AQJ987

D  K

C  75

South

S  A63

H  KT632

D  AJT

C  KT

West

S  95

H  –

D  Q5432

C  986432

After North’s pass, East opens 1 Heart.  South has a near-textbook 1NT overcall.  North should be thinking of game, but where?  Partnerships need an agreement on the meaning of responses – Stayman, transfers or weak take-out?  North might explore Spades but could have equally gone to 3NT, hoping that partner’s Hearts were good enough.  East would be ill-advised to bid again as his partner has shown no support but, if he does, should South bid 3NT or double?  3 Hearts will obviously be defeated but, with the vulnerability favouring East/West, would have to go four down to outscore 3NT.  In the latter contract, declarer wins a Spade or Club in dummy and leads a Diamond, capturing East’s King.  He can now lead his Jack and Ten to force three tricks in the suit, whether West holds up his Queen or not.  Returning to dummy, a Heart through East will establish at least one trick there, giving a total of nine or ten tricks.  Curiously, two Easts were allowed to play in 1 Heart, both going down but 3 Hearts, doubled, only went two down.  Congratulations to the pair who bid and made 3NT for the top score.

7 August – Two Slams?

Suit slams need strength and distribution but can succeed with many fewer high cards than in no trumps.  Recognising slam potential and bidding the right contract can be tricky.

Board 3

North

S  AQ8654

H  J5

D  3

C  Q762

East

S  97

H  K643

D  T976

C  J98

South

S  T32

H  AQ982

D  A4

C  AK5

West

S  KJ

H  T7

D  KQJ852

C  T43

South opens 1 Heart and West has the values and suit quality for a 2 Diamond overcall.  North might perhaps double to show the unbid suits but is more likely to bid 2 Spades.  Although East has good support for partner’s Diamonds his weakness and flat shape should discourage him from bidding – West would be lucky to make six tricks.  In response to 2 Spades, South would do best to bid 2 NT, inviting North to bid 3 NT or rebid Spades.  When North does rebid Spades, South can raise to game.  As the cards lay, one North wrapped up all thirteen tricks in Spades and one South twelve in NT.  Playing in no trumps is questionable as the contract would have been defeated by two tricks if East had held the Spade King.  Three Souths played in Hearts which should make twelve tricks despite the poor trump split providing declarer ruffs his small Diamond in dummy before tackling the trumps.  One South played in 3 Clubs after a bidding misunderstanding – West’s intervention had the desired disruptive effect in this case.

Board 4

Making a slam on Board 3 required a helpful layout of defenders’ cards, against the odds.  This was potentially more straightforward.

North

S  63

H  AKJ754

D  2

C  AQJ3

South

S  AK5

H  Q3

D  A743

C  T752

After West’s pass, North opens 1 Heart and rebids 3 Hearts in response to partner’s 2 Diamonds.  If North prefers 3 Clubs, South is likely to opt for 3 NT and North is unlikely to go further.  However, after 3 Hearts, South can raise to game or instigate Blackwood.  One South responded 2 Clubs to North’s opening bid, resulting in the partnership playing in 6 Clubs.  With that King on side, thirteen tricks are straightforward, in Hearts, Clubs or NT.  Only two pairs ended in the small slam: 6 NT scored more highly but relied on the Club finesse after a Diamond opening lead by West.  The partnership point count is very light for 6 NT but the run of Hearts made the slam possible.  Elsewhere, North played in Hearts but must have underestimated the strength of South’s hand and stayed in game

31 July – Digging Deep!

It was great to see Paul and Dee back, and many thanks to them for laying on the most welcome refreshments.  Whether the prosecco affected the bridge is for others to judge!  This week’s cards were certainly interesting and the featured boards focus on the Spade suit.

Board 6

North

S  A8

H  432

D  A76

C  AQJ74

East

S  73

H  T8

D  KJT53

C  K983

South

S  Q

H  KJ965

D  Q84

C  T652

West

S  KJT96542

H  AQ7

D  92

C  –

East and South both pass.  West’s hand is too strong for a normal pre-empt but, after two passes, West may feel that North may well hold a strong hand.  With eight good Spades, this is an ideal moment for a “strong” 4 Spades pre-empt, even though vulnerable.  Even if East had nothing, it is unlikely to go more than two off and, with a little help, may well make – an excellent two-way bet.  North would probably double 3 Spades for take-out, while a double of 4 Spades would be for penalties – with three aces, it seems reasonable.  North has an unenviable choice of leads but might start with the Spade Ace with a view to preventing a possible ruff in dummy.  West wins the second Spade and leads a Diamond towards dummy – if North has doubled, he is likely to hold the Ace, so declarer would go up with dummy’s King if North ducks.  Then he can take the Heart finesse, eventually losing a trick in each red suit – 4 Spades made.  If North had started with a Heart lead, he finesses his partner’s King and declarer still has a small trump in dummy to ruff away his Heart loser for an overtrick.  In practice, four Wests played in 3 Spades and two in 4 Spades, one doubled.  The best result for North/South was 4 Clubs, two down.  This was either a lucky overcall of 3 Spades or a natural outcome if West opened 1 Spade.

Board 8

Two boards later, West had the Spades again but an altogether stronger hand.

North

S  T7

H  KT85

D  KQ975

C  43

East

S  A6

H  92

D  AT

C  QJT9875

South

S  Q8

H  7643

D  J8642

C  62

West

S   KJ95432

H  AQJ

D  3

C  AK

Despite the gaps in West’s Spades, it is worth an opening strong 2 Spades, with eight playing tricks.  East has a natural, positive 3 Clubs reply.  West can show the length of his Spades by rebidding 3 Spades and East can show his Diamond control with a 4 Diamonds cue bid.  West can check for aces and go for 6 Spades.  North’s obvious lead is the Diamond King, prematurely removing an entry to dummy.  Unblocking the Clubs before drawing trumps would be risky, relying on both suits to split 2-2, with odds of only 1 to 6 against.  Instead, declarer cashes the Spade Ace and leads up to his King, picking up the Queen from South.  He is now stuck in hand and has eventually to lose a Heart.  An alternative line would be for West to take the Heart finesse before starting on trumps.  If it succeeds, declarer can return to dummy for a repeat via the Spade Ace.  Here, the finesse fails but trying would cost nothing.  Any opening lead other than a Diamond allows West to draw trumps, cash the blocking Ace, King of Clubs, enter dummy with a Diamond and claim all thirteen tricks.  Unsurprisingly, everyone played in Spades but only two pairs reached the slam, making twelve tricks.  Curiously, 7 Clubs or 7 NT cannot be defeated, thanks to the helpful split in the Spades.

24 July – Three “Slams”

Back with some big hands this week.

Board 10

North

S  852

H  J96

D  J732

C  853

East

S  9

H  Q8

D  T54

C  AJT9762

South

S  KQ643

H  T7532

D  8

C  Q4

West

S  AJT7

H  AK4

D  AKQ96

C  K

East opens 3 Clubs, nicely pre-empting his partner!  West should certainly see slam potential and it’s tempting to press on in no trumps.  The key questions for West are: will the Clubs run and does partner have an outside entry?  Neither is guaranteed, so the safe bet is to settle for 6 Clubs.  However, it’s often worth taking a risk to get a top in pairs scoring, so it was no surprise that most did end in no trumps, one brave pair in the Grand Slam.  In 6 NT, West has a safety play unless he has received a Spade lead: overtake the Club King with the Ace and lead the Jack to force out the Queen.  The Heart Queen then provides the side entry to the rest of the suit.  In the Grand, West does not overtake the Club King but uses the Heart entry immediately and hopes that the Club Queen falls doubleton – against the odds, she does, phew!

Board 19 found North/South with a slam opportunity.

North

S  J952

H  6

D  K82

C  A9832

East

S  QT843

H  T9432

D  6

C  J5

South

S  K

H  AK8

D  AJT9753

C  K6

West

S  A76

H  QJ75

D  Q4

C  QT74

Individual partnerships will have slightly different views on what constitutes a strong Acol two; with only seven playing tricks in Diamonds, this does not quite qualify in my view.  After 1 Diamond, North replies 1 NT.  This makes things difficult for South as a 3 Diamond rebid is not forcing.  South could manufacture a reverse control-showing 2 Hearts which should encourage North to go to 3 NT – he has full value for his Diamonds and keeps fingers crossed where Spades are concerned.  As the cards lie, there are twelve easy tricks in Diamonds (ruffing the Heart loser in dummy).  Only one pair was brave enough to bid the slam while others languished in 1 or 2 Diamonds.  Poor North/South: after missing a good slam, the very next hand (Board 20) offered a chance for redemption – 31 combined points and a fit in Spades.  Alas, it was not to be, as the defence’s Spades split 5-0 and their Clubs 6-0 (the slam would have been easy on a 3-2 trump split).  The lucky ones escaped undoubled.  Perhaps East feared the opponents would escape into 6 NT, though this, too, was doomed.

17 July – Another Unusual No-trump

Board 20 caused East/West some tricky bidding problems:

North

S  QT75

H  Q62

D  75

C  K865

East

S  –

H  AT53

D  AQJ9864

C  T4

South

S  842

H  KJ87

D  KT3

C  732

West

S  AKJ963

H  94

D  2

C  AQJ9

West opens 1 Spade and East has an obvious 2 Diamonds response.  With five losers, West is worth more than a simple 2 Spades rebid but the lack of a Diamond fit is a negative factor.  Bidding 3 Clubs rather than 3 Spades allows space for East to describe his hand further, including supporting Spades (West must have at least five or would otherwise have rebid 2 NT).  East might now bid 3 Hearts, either natural or Fourth Suit Forcing.  In the first case, West bids 3 NT and in the second 3 Spades.  East might leave 3 NT or press on with Diamonds.  Other sequences may lead to West ending in 4 Spades.

If West plays in 3 NT, North does well to avoid leading up to West’s strength.  A Club lead would allow dummy’s ten to win and West then leads Diamonds from the top to establish the suit.  West regains the lead, enters dummy with the Heart Ace and runs the rest of the Diamonds: eleven tricks.  A Heart lead, however, scuppers West.  He can duck twice and eventually set up a second Heart trick but now has no side entry to dummy.  His only hope is to find North with the Diamond King doubleton.  When that fails, West is stuck in hand and must lose two Spade tricks to North before the suit is established.  Should South win the first Diamond trick when West finesses the Queen?  He may think that holding up is necessary but, if he does, West can sneak home.  Play dummy’s second Club, losing to North’s King.  West ends with two Spade tricks, two Hearts, two Diamonds and three Clubs.

In reality, every East/West contract failed: Spades, Diamonds or the one 3 NT (played by West, after North led a small Heart).

10 July – Unusual No-trumps

This week we had two cases of cards being misplaced when they were returned to the boards.  This disrupts play no end and there really is no excuse.  Please count your cards when you return them!

A couple of curiosities this week.

Board 3

North

S  AQ

H  A9873

D  QT53

C  64

East

S  KJT954

H  6

D  8

C  AJ972

South

S  8763

H  Q4

D  K42

C  KT85

West

S  6

H  KJT52

D  AJ976

C  Q3

South deals and passes.  West might pass but equally might open a light 1 Heart.  This completely stymies North who has to pass.  East bids 1 Spade and West responds with 2 Diamonds.  Seeing a misfit, East should be cautious and simply rebid 2 Spades.  If East introduces his Clubs (if not using Fourth Suit Forcing) the partnership will inevitably end in 3 NT.  South has an unenviable choice of leads against 3 NT – both his long suits would be playing up to East’s strength.  Best is to lead dummy’s second suit, hoping that it is relatively weak.  This would work well here as North/South would make three diamond tricks unless declarer ducks the first two rounds.  As it was, a club lead from South can be won with dummy’s Queen, followed by a Spade, eventually giving East five tricks in the suit and one more in each of the others.  South will come under pressure when East runs out the Spades and may easily end up conceding overtricks.  In practice, 3 NT went off twice and made once while various Spade contracts made eight or nine tricks.  The hand was passed out on one table; strangely, as North has a legitimate opening bid – this turned out to be an average score!

Board 27

North

S  AQ82

H  A9

D  J

C  AKQJ43

East

S  J

H  Q754

D  AKT653

C  97

South

S  T753

H  JT3

D  982

C  T86

West

S  K964

H  K862

D  Q74

C  52

Poor North!  His lovely hand is worth an Acol 2 Clubs opener under the eight playing tricks evaluation and rebids 3 Clubs when his partner replies with the dreaded negative 2 Diamonds.  This sequence should not be game-forcing and North has no difficulty in making nine tricks when East’s Spade Jack drops singleton.  One North made 2 NT despite the opposition having six straight Diamond tricks – presumably East les from the top and West failed to unblock the Queen.  One North failed in 4 Spades, defeated by the 4-1 split and others went down in 5 Clubs.  The obvious way to play in 4 Spades is to enter dummy with the Club Ten and finesse the Spade Queen but two Spade losers are then unavoidable.  There is a sneaky double-dummy line that succeeds.  Suppose East starts with top Diamonds.  Throw the Heart loser on the second and ruff the third.  Now lead a low Club and cover whatever East plays.  Finesse the Spade Queen.  Return to dummy with the other small Club and finesse the Spade Eight if West plays low.  Now cash the Ace, leaving just the Ten in dummy and the King with West.  Now run the Clubs.  West can trump in at any time but declarer is protected against a Diamond return (if West had one) by dummy’s remaining trump.  As it is West has only Hearts left so North wins with his Ace and claims the rest.  Yes, quite impossible to see at the table!  So, a very streaky 2 NT turned out to be a good score after all.  One East did well, overcalling 2 Diamonds and being allowed to play there, somehow making ten tricks despite having four top losers.

3 July – Pass Out!

From last week’s grand slam to the opposite end of the scale – hands that aren’t bid at all.  The Laws of Duplicate are explicit that, if a hand is passed out on Round 1, it must not be redealt.  Tiresome though it is for those concerned, the hand has been played and its score must stand.  Two boards this week illustrate why.

Board 11

North

S  97

H  AJ5

D  J73

C  KT754

East

S  T65

H  763

D  KQT8

C  AJ3

South

S  KQJ432

H  Q98

D  654

C  Q

West

S  A8

H  KT42

D  A92

C  9862

At love all, South dealt.  Those using weak twos would have no difficulty in opening 2 Spades which would be passed out.  Non-vulnerable South might open a very light 1 Spade (though the queen singleton is a minus point).  West might double for take-out but will probably feel a bit light.  North has an obvious 1 NT response – “nul points” in my view for anyone bidding 2 NT.  South will rebid his excellent Spades and that will be that.  If East/West find the Diamonds, declarer will be restricted to eight tricks but, as happened, will otherwise make nine.  Three tables passed the board out while one North ended in a disastrous 2NT.  Unable to force an entry to the Spades if West holds up the Ace, he will be restricted to five tricks.

Board 22

North

S  J96532

H  K43

D  Q

C  AJ3

East

S  Q87

H  A62

D  KJ942

C  T5

South

S  K4

H  JT87

D  A83

C  Q942

West

S  AT

H  Q95

D  T765

C  K876

East dealt at game all.  The bidding passes round to North who has slightly better cards overall but much weaker Spades than declarer on Board 11.  Pass seems a very reasonable bid.  The weak two is a pre-empt and there is no point in pre-empting in the fourth seat!  If North does open, East might squeeze 2 Diamonds and South bid 2 NT.  Horrible for North who has little option but to bid 3 Spades.  This needs a lot of luck.  If East starts with his Club doubleton, North has three tricks in the suit once trumps are drawn, to go with one trick in each red suit and four Spades.  In practice, one table passed the board out, North made between seven and nine tricks in Spades and one unfortunate South went two off in 1 NT, again unable to establish and run dummy’s suit.

There was plenty of interest in the bidding and play of these two hands, and a good range of results.  On one, it paid off to be bold; on the other it did not.  One thing only is certain: the cards should not be redealt!

26 June – Digging In

Unfortunately, after two rounds, the cards for Board 12 were not returned correctly and it was impossible to determine accurately who had had what.  The scores for the first two rounds had to be cancelled so that everyone else could play the board on a level playing field.  Please be careful!

On Board 21 West must have been astonished when his partner dealt and opened 1 Spade.

East

S   KQT96

H  KQ

D  T

C  KJT94

West

S   A87542

H  A3

D  AKQ

C  A3

Congratulations to the three pairs who reached the laydown grand slam and especially to John and Barbara who claimed the top score by bidding 7 NT rather than 7 Spades.  Pairs using the Jacoby 2 NT response could use the bidding space to cue-bid but other Wests would have to jump to Blackwood or risk languishing in game, as a couple did.

On Board 18, Spades were not the only suit in contention but who would blink first?

North

S  AQ854

H  64

D  3

C  AKT73

East

S  JT

H  Q9

D  KQ642

C  Q542

South

S  K97632

H  85

D  AJ97

C  8

West

S  –

H  AKJT732

D  T85

C  J96

With North/South vulnerable, East deals and the bidding passes round to West.  With favourable vulnerability and partner having passed, West should definitely pre-empt rather than open a light 1 Heart.  Indeed, there is a fair case for a spoiling 4 Hearts with such a good suit.  This would certainly put North on the spot.  He would be in a right pickle if South responded Diamonds to his Double but his Spades are poor for such a high level contract without decent support from partner.  If, as happened, West opened 3 Hearts, it is safer for North to bid 3 Spades which South will not hesitate to raise to game.  Back to West: he should reckon that his pre-emptive gambit has failed but it is still tempting to sacrifice as he has no defence against 4 Spades.  Even three down, doubled will be a good result.  What should North do next?  The general principle is that “the five level belongs to the opposition” and double.  If North passes, the rule should be that it’s South’s decision to double or to bid on – he must not leave the sacrifice undoubled.

As it happened, one North/South pair did bid on and made an overtrick when the opponents failed to grab their two Heart tricks straight away.  In a Heart contract, perfect defence should snaffle the first six tricks: North cashes the Club Ace, then leads his small Diamond.  South wins the Ace and returns a small one which North ruffs.  North leads a small Club, South ruffs, returns a Diamond.  North ruffs and cashes the Club King.  As this defence is probably impossible to find, West only goes three off for minus 500 and gains.  Most remarkably, one West made an overtrick in 3 Hearts – presumably North started with a Spade, West ruffed and drew trumps and then only lost the three minor suit top tricks.

19 June – Playing the Odds

Small margins matter much more in Pairs than in teams or rubber bridge.  Thinking about what might happen with the same cards at other tables is a crucial part of bidding and play as illustrated by the following two boards.

Board 22              Dealer East, E/W Vulnerable

North

S  5

H  J98

D  AKJT842

C  T2

East

S  AKJ62

H  AKT

D  Q95

C  KJ

South

S  8743

H  75432

D  3

C  A74

West

S  QT9

H  Q6

D  76

C  Q98653

East opens 2 NT (2 Spades would imply an unbalanced hand and better/longer Spades).  West has enough to raise to 3 NT, even facing a minimum, but no interest in slam.  What should North do?  He may reasonably assume that East has the guarded Diamond Queen and, even if he does not, would South lead one?  So, 3 NT is likely to make, score 600.  However, 4 Diamonds, doubled, 3 down, relying on one trick from partner, is only 500, not vulnerable.  So, the sacrifice 4 Diamonds is a good bet.  Back to East: bidding 4 NT becomes unattractive – South will now surely lead a Diamond and North may well have a side entry to run the suit once East’s Queen has gone, so he must double and hope to get North 4 down.  The play is trivial: North has seven tricks in Diamonds and East ten in NT.  Two Norths, though, went on to 5 Diamonds – perhaps their opponents had bid 4 Spades rather than 3 NT – losing 800 and a bottom score.

Board 6 – Dealer East, N/S non-vulnerable

North

S  A

H  AKQ87

D  QJ

C  AKQ65

East

S  J86432

H  962

D  54

C  84

South

S  KQ9

H  J543

D  KT962

C  T

West

S  T75

H  T

D  A873

C  J9732

The bidding passes round to North who opens with an Acol 2 Clubs (a two-loser hand!).  Following a positive response from South, the partnership should find their Heart fit and that one ace is missing, ending in a small slam.  If East does not lead a Diamond, North wins and takes stock.  If North is in 6 NT, play is simply a matter of knocking out the Diamond Ace and claiming.  However, in 6 Hearts there might be a chance of an overtrick if North’s Diamonds go away on dummy’s King and Queen of Spades and dummy ruffs one or, if necessary, two Clubs.  If Hearts split 2-2 there is no risk but if they split 3-1, as is more likely, the defence might get a ruff with a 7-2 Spade split and win a Diamond to defeat the slam.  North considers what may happen at other tables: 6 Hearts, made, is par at best, beaten by 6 NT, so going for the overtrick is a necessary risk for a top score.  Play requires careful timing.  Suppose East leads a trump: North wins in hand, cashes both black aces and ruffs a Club in dummy, East discarding a Diamond.  Next, North’s Diamonds go away on South’s top Spades and declarer returns to hand with a Diamond ruff.  Now he ruffs his second small Club as the suit has not split and East discards his second Diamond.  Declarer returns to hand using dummy’s last trump, draws East’s final trump and claims the rest.  Nobody made the overtrick at the table.  One declarer who tried made the small but crucial mistake of returning to hand first with a trump and then with the Diamond ruff.  Disaster – East can overruff, so no overtrick.

12 June – Misfit

Sometimes things just aren’t meant to be…  On Board 21, North didn’t need much support from partner to make a game contract but South’s cards could hardly be less helpful.

North

S  AQ9

H  AK976

D  J

C  A762

East

S  KJT7

H  QT852

D  T42

C  3

South

S  82

H  –

D  AK9873

C  T9854

West

S  6543

H  J43

D  Q65

C  KQJ

North opens 1 Heart.  South needs to ignore his two-suited cards and show weakness and lack of support by replying 1 NT.  With 18 points, North can now make a game try with 2 NT.  With a maximum, South would respond with 3 NT but here he can show a weaker hand with long diamonds by bidding 3 Diamonds and North bids 3 NT.  If East starts with a spade, North wins cheaply and looks to set up the clubs – sadly, there is no hope for the diamonds with no quick side entry.  North loses two clubs and, if the defence persist with spades, two tricks here as well.  With the auction described above, the North/South partnership never discover their club fit but 5 Clubs should make, with just two trump tricks being lost.  Declarer needs to set up South’s diamonds by ruffing the suit good before drawing trumps as the suit is more likely to split 4-2, rather than the 3-3 that actually happened.  Not surprisingly, a great variety of contracts was bid.  One South passed North’s 1 Heart opener; three Norths tried 3 NT with two going one down, one North made eleven tricks in 4 Clubs but one South went one down in 5 Clubs and the final North got carried away and went three down in 6 NT.  Guess who!

5 June – Hearty Fare

Despite some extraordinary hands, there were no biddable slams.  On Board 15 North/South had an amazing thirteen card heart fit and a void in the opponents’ suit, Clubs.  Unfortunately, for the brave pairs who risked the slam there were two unavoidable losers.  Quantity helps but doesn’t guarantee success.  On Board 3, North/South again had the hearts but the opposition had most of the rest.

North

S  Q976

H  KJT76

D  2

C  K97

East

S  KJ5

H  953

D  KT7

C  AT82

South

S  3

H  AQ84

D  864

C  QJ643

West

S   AT842

H  2

D  AQJ953

C  5

With a lovely 6/5 shape West opens 1 Diamond, even though vulnerable and a little light on high cards.  North is too weak for a take-out double but overcalls 1 Heart.  East now cannot bid 1 NT and has to introduce his weak Clubs.  South can now support partner by bidding to the level of the assumed fit: 3 Hearts.  West knows that the partnership has the balance of points and can introduce his second suit: 3 Spades.  North keeps quiet and East raises to game.   Back to North who can see a likely Spade trick, maybe one in Hearts but little else.  4 Spades vulnerable, 620, means that 5 Hearts going off three, doubled, for 500 would be a better score.  So North should sacrifice and West should apply the maxim that the five level belongs to the opposition and double.  In practice, all but one Wests were allowed to declare, making ten or eleven tricks in Diamonds or Spades, depending on how they played the Spades.  With correct play, declarer should only lose one spade trick, even when the split 4-1: the Ace, King and Jack or Ten take care of three of North’s spades, so declarer should make in all six diamomds, four spades and one club.  Against 5 Hearts, East leads either a Spade or a Diamond, West returns his Club to East’s Ace who, seeing the Club length in dummy and considering West’s bidding, should find giving his partner a ruff rather obvious.  West can then cash his other ace before North can get in: two down but an excellent result.

15 May – Double?

Slams eluded everyone this week, with the only pair trying going down, even though there were hands where declarer made twelve or thirteen tricks.  Elsewhere, the Double card came into play with mixed results.  On Board 15 West dealt and opened 1 Spade; North with a strong hand and good shape doubled; East had nothing and, to North’s surprise, South passed the take-out.  This is rarely the right thing to do, even if South’s suit is Spades, but in this case it worked perfectly as North/South netted 500 but could not make game.

On Board 21 North opened a weak 1NT, passed round to West who had 19 points and five top tricks.  In this case, Double is for penalties and, with North/South vulnerable, looks the best bet.  East is now in a fix and, with a long suit, might take the double out.  Here he could only pass, leaving South to hope that his partner could scramble home.

North

S  84

H  KQ53

D  KQ3

C  Q973

East

S  JT54

H  J86

D  65

C  T842

South

S  Q97

H  9742

D  J87

C  KJ6

West

S  AK63

H  AT

D  AT942

C  A5

If East starts with the Spade Jack the defence will have seven tricks guaranteed; with anything else led, North will avoid the suit and may squeak home with three Hearts, two Diamonds and two Clubs.  Other Wests preferred to overcall, making nine tricks in Spades or Diamonds and eight in NT.  But none scored as well as one down, doubled, vulnerable…

8 May – Six of the Best!

This week saw some remarkable cards including six where slams could and probably should have been bid, three by North/South (Boards 1, 19, 23) and three by East/West (Boards 16, 18, 21).  Unfortunately, things did not work out that way and congratulations go to Tony and Pam and to Sian and Ann who were the only pairs to bid (and make) any of them.

Board 16 gave North the opportunity to put a spanner in the works:

North

S  743

H  T5

D  KQJT865

C  2

East

S  AKQJ986

H  A

D  42

C  KQ4

South

S  5

H  KQ876

D  973

C  A753

West

S  T2

H  J9432

D  A

C  JT986

 

West passes and North opens with a 3 Diamond pre-empt, preventing East from starting with a strong 2 Spades.  A take-out double would probably be followed by South raising in Diamonds and East bidding 5 Spades.  Is it reasonable for West to reckon that his singleton Diamond Ace should be worth that extra trick – or might the bidding indicate that East is void in Diamonds?  If North did not pre-empt, the East/West bidding might go 2 Spades – 2 NT – 3 Spades – 4 Diamonds (cue bid) – 4 Hearts (cue bid) – 5 Diamonds (cue bid) – 6 Spades (at this point East knows that West holds two Diamond controls and is missing the Club Ace.

The winning play, whatever is led, is to cash the Diamond Ace, return to hand and ruff East’s second small Diamond before drawing trumps.  Then there is only a Club to lose.  If East makes the mistake of drawing trumps first, North/South will win a Diamond trick once South has taken his Club Ace.

10 April – After the Lord Mayor’s Show

Following last week’s riches, the cards seemed in particularly miserly mood, especially where North/South were concerned.  Only two pairs bid a slam and both failed though, on other boards, declarers collected twelve or thirteen tricks, in some cases in part-score contracts.

Board 19 caused East/West some bidding problems:

West

S  AQ642

H  654

D  AK

C  J53

East

S  93

H  KQ8

D  9

C  AKQ9642

With a decent five card suit, some Wests preferred 1 Spade to 1 NT.  What should East do when West replies 2 Spades to his 2 Clubs?  He can hardly risk 3 NT with no cover in Diamonds but West could easily pass a non-forcing 3 Clubs rebid.  Perhaps he should pretend to have a fourth Heart and bid a forcing 3 Hearts.  West would surely now bid 3 NT.  If West opens 1 NT, East can be very confident that the Clubs will run for seven tricks and might more reasonably jump to 3 NT.  Alternatively he might make a game-forcing jump with 3 Clubs, leaving West to decide between 3 NT, 5 Clubs or maybe 6 Clubs as the potential contract.  If West decides to explore, he starts with 3 Diamonds and East replies 3 Hearts, both showing controls.  West should now know that 3 NT is the best contract short of a slam.  In practice, nearly everyone pressed on to 5 Clubs, making an overtrick when the Spade finesse succeeded.  One East made eleven tricks in 3 NT for the top score but one unhappy West earned a bottom one down in 4 Spades.

Board 24 found North/South in an unhappy situation:

North

S  AJT842

H  A5

D  AJ2

C  A4

East

S  KQ9653

H  T82

D  5

C  J85

South

S  –

H  KQJ976

D  T976

C  T73

West

S  7

H  43

D  KQ843

C  KQ962

West wisely decided to pass and North opens 1 Spade – East is amazed and remains poker-faced.  If South bids 2 Hearts North will surely jump to 3 Spades, expecting South to press on to game and be horrified when he sees the dummy.  East will refrain from doubling lest the opponents run to Hearts.  Play in 3 Spades is a game of cat and mouse once North discovers the terrible Spade break.  His best bet is to dump minor suit losers on dummy’s Hearts, allowing East to ruff in on the fourth round.  It looks as though East will end up with four trump tricks, scoring K, Q, 9 and the ruff.  In practice, almost all Norths scored no more than eight tricks.  One South did bid and make 4 Hearts, scoring six Heart tricks, the three other Aces and a second Diamond trick by finessing through West’s honours.  Of course, South should not have responded 2 Hearts with such a weak hand – the correct bid is 1 NT, followed by a Heart rebid to show the long suit but, then, those Hearts are so tempting!

3 April – Slams Galore?

Board 1 produced quite extraordinary cards for East/West:

East

S  KQ753

H  AKT5

D  A

C  AKQ

East naturally opens an Acol 2 Clubs.  Now it’s West’s turn to get excited, holding:

S  AJT98642

H  8

D  KJ

C  63

After a forcing 2 Clubs there is no need to rush things so West should bid 2 Spades.  Any bid from East now is forcing, except a direct jump to game and West replies by rebidding Spades.  East can now use Blackwood and then confidently bid the Grand Slam, still not expecting West to hold eight Spades.  The bidding would have been much easier if the hands had been reversed – the opening 4 Spades pre-empt could be raised direct to 7 NT!  Congratulations to those who bid the Grand, especially John and Barbara who got the extra ten points and a top for bidding 7 NT rather than Spades.

On Board 9 it was North/South’s turn to hold the cards:

North

S  AQJ6

H  AK98

D  863

C  AQ

South

S  2

H  543

D  AKQ9

C  KJT65

North should open 2 NT, even without a stop in Diamonds.  South can now see that the pair hold at least 33 points – enough for 6 NT but, at most, 35 and not enough for the Grand.  South’s strong Clubs are a bonus.  Any reply by South, other than a direct game call, is forcing and showing slam interest.  Here, South can show his minor suits and North the majors, leading naturally to 6 NT.  East’s lead is irrelevant: North has eleven tricks on top and can force the twelfth in Spades whether the finesse works or not (East held the King).  Note that North must set up his extra Spade trick before trying out the Diamonds for the overtrick if the finesse succeeded.  If he tries first for the Diamonds falling 3-3 and they don’t, East could defeat the contract.  Surprisingly, only two pairs bid 6 NT and one went down…

On Board 18 it was North/South’s turn again.  The bidding is passed round to North who holds:

S  AJT984

H  K5

D  A4

C  AK6

Some may rate this as worth a strong 2 Spades opener but there are six losing tricks so opening 1 Spade would not be wrong either.  In response to either opening South bids 3 Spades holding an eight loser hand:

S  KQ732

H  AT3

D  762

C  T3

Note that the 3 Spades response to 2 Spades is stronger than a direct raise to 4 Spades as it leaves room for cue-bidding.  Here North bids 4 Clubs and South 4 Hearts, so North knows that all the suits are covered.  If he next uses key card Blackwood, South’s 5 Spade reply shows two key cards and the trump Queen and North can confidently bid 6 Spades.  Again, there are eleven top tricks and North can ruff a small Club in dummy to make the slam on a combined holding of just 28 points.  This time only one pair bid the slam.

13 March – Fortune favours the (reasonably) brave

This week the few slams that were bid failed to materialise.  Board 7 was one.

West

S  KQ2

H  AJ

D  KT987543

C  –

East

S  A7

H  973

D  2

C  AKQT862

After South passes, West opens 1 Diamond.  East can see points for game, at least, but where?  In reply to East’s 2 Clubs, West jumps to 3 Diamonds.  It’s tempting for East to plump for 3 NT and hope that West has a stop in Hearts but, in practice, three Wests played in 5 Diamonds and two Easts in 5 Clubs.  One brave West tried 6 NT.  As luck would have it, the North/South Clubs split 3-3 and Diamonds 2-2 (but with the Ace off-side) so there were eleven tricks available in Clubs, Diamonds or NT.  Playing in Clubs or NT, declarer’s only hope is that the Clubs split or the Jack falls in two rounds (less than 50% chance).  The Diamond contract has better odds: West enters dummy with the Spade Ace and cashes one Club, to discard his Heart loser, and then leads the singleton trump.  Unless South produces the Ace, West’s best bet is to rise with the King, as the chance of North having a singleton Queen or Jack is twice that of a singleton Ace.  Here, the defence could take their two Diamond tricks but that was that.

6 March – One that got away…mostly

There were plenty of weirdly distributional hands this week but balanced ones can cause problems too, as Board 3 showed.

North

S  KJ9

H  865

D  AKJ4

C  653

 

South

S  A43

H  AKQT

D  Q9875

C  A

When South opens 1 Diamond, North has excellent trump support but no ruffing value whatever and might hesitate to jump to 3 Diamonds.  Whatever North bids, South now makes a forcing Heart bid – a “reverse” that shows a strong hand with more Diamonds than Hearts.  After a 1 Diamond – 3 Diamonds (or 2 Diamonds), 3 Hearts in some systems is a trial bid showing interest in 3NT.  Here it would be logical for North to bid 3 Spades; lacking Spades, he would bid 4 Diamonds.  It’s up to South to make the running now – key card Blackwood would show him that North had the two top trumps and he might then risk bidding the Grand Slam.  South has eleven top tricks and can make the twelfth by ruffing two Clubs in hand while drawing trumps.  He needs some luck for the thirteenth – first try Hearts and, if the Jack does not fall in three rounds, take the Spade finesse.  Here, the Jack did indeed fall, making the finesse unnecessary – just as well as East held the Queen.  At the table, one pair made two overtricks in 3 NT, four made thirteen tricks in Diamonds but only one bid the small slam.  The last bid and made 6 NT – the hand was really about three points light for the contract but made thanks to the Hearts coming in.

27 February – Sim Pairs

There were certainly some exciting hands and plenty of results that didn’t match up with the organisers’ expectations.  Congratulations to David and Mo who were the only pair to reach a slam on Board 12 (North/Souths did rather better in slam bidding on Board 19).

North

S  KJ96532

H  A765

D  –

C  JT

South

S  A84

H  KQJT8

D  A5

C  A65

If West passes (having six Clubs to the King-Queen, he migh pre-empt non-vulnerable) it is natural for North to pre-empt with 3 Spades.  Being vulnerable, he should have more than a minimum for a pre-empt and his side Ace and void are excellent.  South should immediately use Blackwood to explore a slam with his Spade support, aces and wonderful Hearts.  Key card Blackwood would confirm that North held the Spade King as well as the missing Ace and allow South to go for the Grand Slam (7 NT scores more than 7 Spades and avoids the slight risk of a first round Heart ruff).  When the Spade Queen falls the slam is home.

20 February – Eight is Great?

Eight card suits are rare, so having two in the same evening is most unusual.  But results were mixed.  On Board 6, poor West struggled with eight Spades to the King-Queen with North sitting over her with Ace, Jack, small guaranteed to take two tricks.  On Board 13, it was North’s turn to be in the hot seat:

North

S  K32

H  7

D  KQJ96432

C  9

East

S  QJ87

H  J42

D  75

C  AJ64

South

S  AT6

H  QT9865

D  A

C  Q53

West

S  954

H  AK3

D  T8

C  KT872

What should North open, vulnerable?  With only six losers, there is a good case for opening 1 Diamond but that could easily let the opponents in.  To score better than a hypothetical vulnerable game, North must go no more than two down, doubled (-500) so, in this case, 4 Diamonds is a good bid.  In theory, South should have better controls to raise 4 Diamonds (or bid anything else) but, having two aces, going for game is tempting.

In the play, all hinges on North avoiding a Spade loser and, as so often happens, the opening lead is crucial.  With East’s balanced hand and no scope for scoring a ruff, a trump lead looks safe.  Dummy wins and leads a small Heart.  West will surely go up with a top honour but is doomed if he tries to cash the second one.  Any other lead, such as a second trump is safe.  If West leads a Club to East’s Ace, an attempt to establish a second trick in the suit may set up dummy’s Queen and, again, another Heart will set up dummy’s other Queen.

Suppose East starts with a Spade?  If it’s the Queen, it might be a singleton or top of touching honours.  North has to hope for the latter, winning in hand with his King and later finessing the Ten.  But if East leads the Seven, what then?  It looks more likely to be top of a doubleton rather than fourth highest, so North hopes that the honours are split and plays low from dummy.  No good in this case!  Declarer must now win in hand and play on Hearts, hoping that the defence make a mistake.

In play, three declarers made eleven tricks and three ten, though only half reached 5 Diamonds.  The last pair preferred South’s Hearts which was not a success…

13 February – Weird and Wonderful

There was a rich choice of bizarre hands this week.  On Board 10, East and North both had 19 point hands with a long suit but neither could make game.  Put the hands together and there were thirteen top tricks!

Board 6 provided an opportunity for pre-emptive disruption.

North

S  Q5

H  QJ5

D  QJT9642

C  6

 

East

S  943

H  T64

D  K

C  AKT872

South

S  KT76

H  A9732

D  83

C  94

West

S  AJ82

H  K8

D  A75

C  QJ53

The bidding passes round to West who opens 1 Spade or perhaps 1NT.  North is not vulnerable and in an ideal place to disrupt with 4 Diamonds.  What can East do?  Perhaps Double and hope for the best?  As the cards lie, East/West can make 5 Clubs or 3 NT, so 4 Diamonds, two down, doubled seems like a good sacrifice.  However, as it turned out, the only East/West game bid was 4 Spades which also went 2 down.  On the other hand, 4 Diamonds, 2 down and not doubled was a better North/South score than any of East/West’s making part-scores.

Board 18 found North with a strong distributional hand.

North

S  A2

H  J52

D  KQT76542

C  –

East

S  T9853

H  –

D  3

C  AKJ9852

South

S  KJ7

H  AT84

D  J98

C  QT7

West

S  Q64

H  KQ9763

D  A

C  643

Suppose East opens 3 Clubs, South and West both pass and now North bids 4 Diamonds to compete rather than to obstruct.  West might now come in with 5 Clubs and South raises Diamonds.  Against 5 Diamonds, East is likely to start with a top Club, North ruffs and leads a Diamond.  West is endplayed at Trick 3!  A Spade sets up South’s Jack and a Heart (whether large or small) keeps declarer’s losers in the suit to one.  If West returns a Club, declarer throws a losing Heart from hand, East wins but sets up dummy’s Queen for a second Heart discard.    If East had led something else, West could safely return a Club when in with the Diamond Ace and North could not avoid losing three tricks.  At two tables East went on to 6 Clubs, going at least two down.  Whether intended as such or not, this turned out to be an excellent sacrifice, of a sort!

6 February – Hearty Fare

Bidding conventions are designed to cope with the types of hands that crop up the most often.  Just occasionally bidders have to be a little inventive.  On Board 19, West must have thought that Christmas had come very early.

S  A94

H  AKQJT972

D  –

C  T6

This is much too strong for a four-level pre-empt which could easily prevent a slam being found but too weak for an Acol strong two which should have at least 16 high card points (not counting length or shortage).  With such a distributional hand, it’s pretty unlikely that 1 Heart will be passed and, if the opponents get going, West could jump to 4 Hearts on the next round.

If West opens 1 Heart, North is likely to compete with 2 Diamonds:

S  J5

H  83

D  AJT42

C  AJ87

What should East bid?

S  KQ7

H  64

D  KQ75

C  KQ42

3 NT seems reasonable, having Diamonds and the unbid suits well stopped.  Back to West: he can deduce that partner has at least opening points and therefore slam may be possible.  His best bet is to cue-bid 4 Diamonds.  As West has no first round controls, he bids 4 Hearts but East shows his second control with 4 Spades.  West now knows that his Spades will be useful opposite East’s Ace and that there is only one fast loser, in Clubs, so he should bid 6 Hearts.  Note that the bidding is actually more difficult if West starts with a “light strong two”.

Last week, the defence had to lead an unsupported Ace to defeat a slam.  Here, leading the Diamond Ace concedes an overtrick.  If East/West have been using cue bids, North should realise that West is void in Diamonds and lead something safer like a trump.

At the table, three pairs bid the slam, one doubled.  One pair stopped in 5 Hearts, presumably having used Blackwood, while the others only went to game.  None of the pairs in slam made the overtrick, so presumably North did not lead that Diamond Ace.

30 January – Pre-emptive Puzzles

 Pre-emptive bids carry risks but are usually well rewarded.  The golden rule is to pre-empt as high as you dare straight away – he who hesitates is lost.  The pre-empter aims to force his opponents to a level too high without having had the chance to share much information about their cards.  He needs to calculate that, if the pre-empt is doubled and left in, it will be a cheaper sacrifice than the opponents’ game score.  Vulnerability is all-important.

Board 8

 North

S  T

H  92

D  92

C  AQJT7642

 

East

S  2

H  AQJ743

D  KT65

C  K9

 

South

S  KJ7543

H  T6

D  AJ8

C  83

 

West

S  AQ986

H  K85

D  Q743

C  5

At love all, West opens a slightly light 1 Spade.  If North bids 4 Clubs, East has an easy 4 Hearts bid and that is that.  But what if North bids 5 Clubs?  East risks finding his partner short in Hearts and going back, disastrously, to 5 Spades.  Double is best, indicating high cards and some length in the two unbid suits.  West might now try 5 Diamonds and East 5 Hearts.  At the table, all Easts bar one were allowed to play in 4 Hearts, most making eleven tricks.  Where North jumped to 5 Clubs, that was the final contract, undoubled.  But, even doubled, 5 Clubs two down would have scored better for North/South than East/West’s non-vulnerable game.

 

Board 9

 North was immediately in the spotlight again, this time at favourable vulnerability.

North

S  Q876432

H  A

D  Q32

C  T6

 

East

S  T9

H  K7643

D  K8

C  9752

 

South

S  AK

H  852

D  T7654

C  KQ4

 

West

S  J5

H  QJT9

D  AJ9

C  AJ83

Despite his thin Spades, North has a huge advantage in bidding first and should use it.  East and South (if he has any sense) pass and what can West do?  Being vulnerable, he may be tempted to make a game try by doubling but the resulting 4 Hearts goes at least one off.  Conversely, 3 Spades is the limit for North/South, both sides making their contracts at the level of the fit.  Where North stayed quiet, West opened 1 NT which was disastrous when the defence ran their spades, while a weak take-out 2 Hearts by East made eight tricks.

Board 14 was unusual, as the potential pre-empter’s partner opened the bidding:

North

S  94

H  KT9

D  Q53

C  AQT95

 

East

S  AKQ52

H  –

D  AK762

C  842

 

South

S  76

H  52

D  T984

C  KJ73

 

West

S  T83

H  AQJ87643

D  J

C  6

East opens 1 Spade: great news for West who can see his weak Spades given some cover.  West does not want to play in anything other than Hearts and so should jump to 4 Hearts.  At this point, East needs to trust his partner rather than rebidding his Spades which might be opposite a shortage.  In practice, several Easts did declare in Spades, making nine or ten tricks.  East should succeed by ruffing two Diamonds in dummy before drawing trumps, making West’s Heart Ace along the way.  One brave East pressed on to 6 Hearts via Blackwood, despite missing an ace and having no Hearts!  But fortune again favoured the brave as the only defence against the slam is for North to lead his ace and who would do that when this could so easily set up tricks for the opponents?  Well done the Craskes!

23 January – Competitive Bidding

 Experts agree that it pays to compete at Pairs.  A contract that goes off will often outscore an opponent’s part score and even a disaster can never score worse than a “bottom”!  But, once both sides get into the bidding anything can happen…

Board 13

 North

S  A86

H  9532

D  AQ72

C  T5

 

East

S  T7532

H  K

D  T86543

C  4

 

South

S  KQ4

H  Q8

D  KJ9

C  AKJ73

 

West

S  J9

H  AJT764

D  –

C  Q9862

 

Bidding passes to South who opens 1 Club or maybe a marginally light 2 NT.  What should West do?  As his partner has passed, it is likely that the opponents have game values at least.  It may be best, vulnerable, to keep quiet and hope to catch South out.  But the temptation to bid may prove irresistible and, on this occasion, things did not turn out well: 3 Hearts by West went three down while 3 Diamonds by East went 5 down, doubled.  North/South also struggled on account of the weird splits – 3 NT went down twice while one North bizarrely reached 4 Hearts, going 5 down.  Another North made his 3 Diamonds, despite the 6 – 0 split.  In 3 NT, as South has nine top tricks whatever West leads, going down can only have been the result of greed!

Board 16

 North

S  T73

H  AQ96542

D  7

C  Q5

 

East

S  J962

H  KT83

D  93

C  J98

 

South

S  854

H  J7

D  Q865

C  T762

 

West

S  AKQ

H  –

D  AKJT42

C  AK43

 

West has an amazing two-loser hand that is well worth an Acol 2 Club opening.  Not vulnerable, North may try to put a spanner in the works with a pre-emptive 4 Hearts.  East should double and collect a penalty of 800 or 1100 if West now passes.  If East does not double, West will surely ignore North’s  intervention and bid 5 Diamonds.  At one table, South doubled on the basis of his trumps even having no defensive values elsewhere.  West’s problem is access to dummy and will be forced to lead trumps from hand, to force out South’s Queen.  Then he is lucky to find that the Club Queen falls doubleton, so dummy’s Jack provides an entry to cash the Spade Jack, to end up with twelve tricks.  The safer play in Clubs would be to cash one and then lead low, making a third trick when the suit falls 3-3 or North has the Queen.  Of course, North’s intervention prevents East/West from reaching the top scoring game – 3 NT and it also makes slam investigation difficult.  At the tables, only one West played in 3 NT, with four in Diamonds (one in part-score – aargh!) and one in 6 Clubs going 2 down.  Two Easts played in Spades, making ten tricks but one had gone for the small slam which seems pretty optimistic.

16 January – Two Slams

 Both sides had their chance to score a slam but finding them proved tricky.

Board 6

 North

S  AKQ8

H  AQT32

D  A

C  AQ4

South

S  94

H  J9

D  K973

C  KJ652

North’s 25 point hand is a rare beast but curiously has only six top tricks.  However, opening an Acol 2 Clubs is obvious.  But how does South reply?  The natural response is 3 Clubs (though a point count convention like Buchanan could help North judge the level to go to).  North responds 3 Hearts, so South shows a lack of support and his second suit with 4 Diamonds.  North may calculate that partner’s Clubs will run, given his supporting honours and that slam should be possible.  A Blackwood enquiry for kings will leave North with a choice of 6 Hearts or NT, or risking the Grand Slam with a king missing.  As luck would have it, the Heart King was on side for the finesse but the hapless declarer in 7NT tried to be too clever and went one down.  Likewise, the one 6 Heart contract bid also went down while elsewhere 12 or 13 tricks were scored in game contracts in NT or Clubs.

Board 16

West

S  32

H  T954

D  AK6

C  AQJ7

East

S  J

H  AKQJ2

D  J975432

C  –

West dealt and opened 1NT (12-14).  East might respond with Stayman and be delighted with a 2 Hearts response but how should he check that West has high Diamond honours?  What would West make of East’s rebid of 3 Diamonds or even 4 Diamonds – surely, this will show a highly distributional hand?  Perhaps East should simply make a game-forcing 3 Diamond response to 1 NT.  West might use a 3 Spade trial bid, asking partner to bid 3 NT with a good Spade stop, to which East responds 4 Hearts to show his two-suited hand.  It’s difficult so see how West can now reach a slam unless he shows suit preference by bidding 5 Diamonds giving East the excuse to go for the small slam.  A complication was that South held seven Spades to the Ace-King-Queen.  If he jumps in over East’s first bid with 4 Spades (always pre-empt to the limit straight away), West’s next bid is a guess and the partnership are unlikely to find the slam.  Congratulations to the two pairs who bid 6 Diamonds, especially Huw and Ann who made theirs doubled and redoubled!  South’s 4 Spades, one down, not surprisingly was the top score the other way.

9 January – Misfits

Clearly, the cards were restless after their Christmas layoff: misfits and abominable splits abounded.  With the former, the secret is recognizing the problem early and bailing out of the bidding.

Board 3

North

S  Q

H  KJ752

D  KJ

C  AKQJ4

 

South

S  A76542

H  84

D  T875

C  T

Should South reply to his partner’s opening bid?  It seems sensible to do so but quickly leads the partnership into the mire.  North will surely press on to game but 4 Spades or 4 Hearts didn’t stand a chance.  3 NT by North is more interesting: if East leads his fourth-highest Diamond, North beats West’s Queen with his King, enters dummy with the Club Ten and leads a Heart.  If West ducks, North successfully finesses his Jack and leads the Diamond Jack to force a second trick in the suit.  If East wins his Ace, declarer can enter dummy via Spades to cash his Diamond winner but must then use the winning Club Ten to return to hand and ends up a trick short with the bad Club split.  There are other possibilities, of course, and in practice the only North in 3 NT went three down, while the one who was left in 1 NT made two overtricks!

Board 6

North

S  AJ86542

H  9

D  852

C  J4

 

East

S  Q7

H  AK876

D  763

C  KT3

 

South

S  –

H  T542

D  KT4

C  A87652

West

S  KT93

H  QJ3

D  AQJ9

C  Q9

East opens 1 Heart or 1 NT (12-14) and West knows that the partnership should be in game, perhaps responding to the latter with Stayman to seek a major suit fit.  Now, it’s crunch time for North who, not vulnerable against vulnerable, would pre-empt given the chance.  But the fundamental rule of pre-empting is never to use half-measures, so North, if he bids, sacrifices with 4 Spades.  This steals East/West’s bidding space and leaves Double as the only option.  Poor North!  He knows his partner is short in high cards but he might at least have had a couple of small Spades.  Where this was bid, North escaped for three down, -500, a good score compared with -620 or -630 for game and ten tricks to East/West in Hearts or NT.  Of course, the other results at the table were not all as might be expected – one pair languished in 2 Hearts, one went one down in Four and one elected to double North’s simple 2 Spades overcall.  Fortune doesn’t always favour the brave!