BBO bidders challenge: January Panel Comments

Conducted by Marc Smith

Set 2022-01

Play the February hands here

Seasonal greetings and a Happy New Year, both to the members of our illustrious expert panel and to all those competition entrants who attempt to predict on which side of the various fences the panel will alight.

Our guest panelists this month are the three co-winners of the November competition, including the young man who went on to win the 2021 annual ‘BBO Prime Top Bidders’ competition, Luwen Koh. The other two also finished near the top of the 2021 race, Dave Williams from Wales making the podium in third place and finishing as the top-ranked European, and Ian Findlay from Canada, who finished sixth in the rankings. Luwen lives in Singapore and he learned to play bridge as a student twelve years ago. He is also a qualified WBF Assistant Tournament Director. Dave, a retired mathematician, learned to play at school, although he was primarily a chess protégé. His bridge is mostly online with robots, and he is also an avid collector of bridge books. “I used to have over 650 bridge books,” he says, “but after a sort out there are now about 250 left – mostly advanced ones, quizzes, first editions and several by Marc Smith!”(Clearly a man with excellent taste.MS) Ian is a retired computer programmer living in Banff, Alberta, in the Rocky Mountains. He also admits that his first love was chess, and he most recently won the 2018 Canadian Seniors (over 50). However, due to the pandemic, he has switched his focus to bridge over the past couple of years.

Thanks to the new format, making it much easier to participate in the competition, we have a bumper entry this month. The largest entry in any month last year was 180, but this month we received more than 900 entrants, with the readers’ most popular action on every deal garnering the support of more than 300 competitors.

We kick off our second annual competition with what appears to be a particularly difficult set of problems. Last year, around 20% of the entrants broke the 60/80 barrier to make the monthly leaderboard. This month, the list of top scorers may look longer than usual, but less than 10% of competitors made it, and only about 10% of those scored 70/80 or more, so big congratulations to those who did so. Our new software also provides us with all sorts of extra information, so you will also see the average score achieved by competitors on each deal, showing which of the problems proved to be the most challenging. At the end, I will also reveal the average score for the month, and that should give us a good idea which sets are more difficult than others as we go through the year.

The panel produces a majority choice on all but two of this month’s deals. However, the largest group of competition entrants matches the panel’s first choice on only two, so there should be plenty to be learned from what our experts have to say. Enough waffle from me: on with the hands:


Pass10 830
5 :spades: 7 544
5 :hearts: 6 2 17
Dbl 4 0 5
5 :clubs: (insufficient) 0 0 1.6
6 :spades: 0 0 1.2
6 :hearts: 0 0 0.7
5NT 0 0 0.1
6 :clubs: 0 0 0.1
6NT 0 0 0.1
6 :diamonds: 0 0 0.1
5 :diamonds: (insufficient) 0 0 0.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 7.13

There appear to be only three real options, and more than 90% of competition entrants choose one of those three. The panel votes only 8-to-7 in favor of defending, but I think the passers also have the best of the debate:

BIRD: Pass. Do I want to invest a likely -500 against a diamond game that is no certainty to make? I might do so at matchpoints, but not at IMPs.
KOH: Pass. I might bid 5♠ at matchpoints, but not IMPs. Attempting to save 100 points (-500 vs -600) is too risky when it is possible either that 5 will go down or that the opponents should be in slam. We have already made them guess, so it is time to hope they have done the wrong thing.
FREDIN: Pass. I hope partner has a slow club trick, otherwise it will likely make.
FINDLAY: Pass. At first glance, it looks like we should be saving. 5♠ would most likely go two down for -500. However, there is a reasonable chance that partner may have a trick in one of the minors, giving us three tricks for +100. It is also possible that they can make 12 tricks, and I would not want to push them there.
COHEN: Pass. Once I pre-empt, I typically don’t bid again. Hopefully, the pre-empt has done its job. Also, I have decent defensive prospects, especially if North is 1-2 in the majors. Lastly, 5♠ is likely -500 anyway so, even if 5 makes, sacrificing will not show much profit.

ROBSON: Pass. I reckon 5♠ is probably two down (unless partner has a singleton diamond), so it’s no big deal to save, but I still feel a bit feeble to sell. I’ll guess to lead the K.

Wen Fei makes an important point that many missed:

WANG: Pass. The five-level belongs to opponents. If partner has a singleton heart, maybe they cannot even make 5 .

Tim sums up the case for the defense.

COPE: Pass. Whilst one expects 5♠ to go for only 500, are we really trying to gain 3 IMPs? There are many hands where we cannot even beat 6 , but there will also be some on which 5 will go down, if we can take a spade trick, a heart trick and one unexpected trick from partner. Based on risk/reward, it must be best to pass 5 . We only lose out significantly if they can make exactly 11 tricks AND partner has a singleton diamond so that we could have escaped for -200.

So, what do the bidders have to say?

DEWIJS: 5♠ . Who knows?
BRINK: 5♠ . The five-level is for the opponents. But, that said, 5♠ is usually at most two down. Can 5 be defeated? Sure, the A is enough (and spades 1-1). But since nobody knows, I like to give the opponents the last chance to make a mistake. I bid 5♠ , and let’s hope the opponents have no idea whether to bid or not to bid.
KLUKOWSKI: 5♠ . Kind of a matchpoint bid, because we are likely to go down two for -500, but maybe partner has a stiff diamond, or the A? For me, pass is not an option.

If you are going to bid, Dave points out why 5♠ is the best option.

WILLIAMS: 5♠ . 5 is pointless as we are on lead already. We MIGHT get a heart trick and we MIGHT get a club trick too, if partner has something useful there. But we can’t double, as we can’t rely on a defensive spade trick and partner could just have KQJxxx and nothing else. It’s more of an offensive hand than a defensive one, so I bid to the length of our fit with 5♠ .

A few seem to be worried that, having asked his partner to choose a minor, North is going to overrule him and play in clubs anyway, leaving partner on lead.

MOSLON: 5♠ . I go with the law. I would like to bid 5 , but the problem is that I don’t want a heart lead against slam if spades are 1/1. So I hope for the best.
MEYERS: 5 . I realize this is tipping them off to my distribution, but I don’t know that a spade lead would survive, and if they bid slam and partner has a minor-suit trick I would like to get our heart trick(s) set up.
SUNDELIN: 5 . I am gambling that they won’t make slam on a heart lead, or that partner sacrifices with the right cards, and that 5♠ will make or be cheap, and that they make 5m. Hmmm, perhaps I am hoping too much.

Partner had KQ109xx/x/10x/Q109x so, as expected, you have four top losers in 5♠ -X. However, both sides could make only nine tricks: North was 1-3-4-5 shape and declarer in 5 had to lose a spade, two hearts and a club.


1 :hearts: 9634
2 :clubs: 6223
1NT 30 0.7
Dbl 00 9
2 :diamonds: 00 2
2 :hearts: 00 1.4
1 :spades: 00 0.6
Pass 00 0.7
3 :clubs: 00 1.1
3 :hearts: 00 0.3
3 :diamonds: 00 0.1
4 :hearts: 00 0.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 7.19

This is one of the two hands this month with no majority on the panel, although the vote was very close between the two primary alternatives. As on Hand 1, there really are only the three choices (those that collected votes from panelists), so it is perhaps alarming that competition entrants managed to come up with a remarkable thirteen different selections. 85%, though, chose one of the top three options. Let’s see what the experts have to say:

KLUKOWSKI: 2NT. Super obvious for me. Any other bid is simply much worse.
ROBSON: 2NT. The best way to get to a heart or club game.

P.O. suggests that 2♣ is the alternative.

SUNDELIN: 2NT. Hopefully, this shows +♣ rather than the minors, as some play in the modern short diamond opening era. This risks the wrong lead against a high spade contract, but gives us a chance to find a heart fit. Bidding 2♣ is obviously better for the lead. However, it might also end the bidding when we have a high heart contract.
DE WIJS: 2NT. Sure, my hearts aren’t great, but that’s a problem for both 1 and 2NT, so I stick to showing my 5/5. Doubling and bidding hearts later would only make my poor hearts even more of a problem.

I find it scary that anyone would even consider doubling with a singleton spade, which is one reason why I awarded some token marks to a 1NT overcall.

BRINK: 2NT. With my regular partner, I could bid 1NT (showing 5+♣ and 4M). But, since that is not an option here, I will bid the obvious 2NT. I would expect that at least the majority (and likely all) will bid 2NT.

Sorry, Sjoert, not even a majority.

KOH: 2NT. Tough, as each plausible bid has downsides. I don’t have spades, so I prefer to show ten cards now rather than only five. I may have to guess what to do on the next round, but there will always be scenarios where I would not know what to do after partner responds. If the opponents bid game, perhaps I will be able to double for an unusual lead, so not emphasizing my club strength is not the end of the world.
MEYERS: 2NT. If partner bids 3♣ , I will likely know they do not have four hearts. If partner bids 3 I am going to take a shot at game.

Which brings us to…

BIRD: 1 . Suppose I bid 2NT instead and hear a three-level response. I will then be guessing (or we might be too high anyway). It is better to show my hearts and then light the blue touch paper if partner raises the suit.

A few panellists mentioned the range for a 2NT overcall…

COPE: 1 . I am not a big fan of making a two-suited overcall (which will be the popular choice) on intermediate hands. If I am not good enough to raise partner’s forced bid, I would rather start with an overcall and let the bidding develop.
COHEN: 1 . I have the wrong strength (medium-ish) for 2NT. Also, I don’t want to commit to the three-level in case it is a misfit.
MOLSON: 1 . Anti lead-director! 2NT gets clubs in, but it’s very strong for it, so there you go.
WILLIAMS: 1 . 1 , 2♣ and 2NT are all far from perfect. Who does the hand belong to and where are all the spades? With Michaels and Unusual No Trump type hands, there’s often symmetry, with other players having long suits and shortages too. Eight tricks in clubs might be a stretch if partner has little, and nine in clubs/hearts even more so. I’m starting low with 1 , as my two A-Ks will hopefully make anyway, but my hearts will likely only yield tricks if they’re trumps. If the opponents buy the contract, hopefully I will be on lead!

One player did mention the fourth scoring option:

FREDIN: 1 . 1NT crossed my sick mind!

Only two panellists avoided the most popular choices:

WANG: 2♣ . I don’t like to overcall in a suit with only five small cards.
FINDLAY: 2♣ . In case this is not our hand, I do not want partner to lead a heart against 4♠ or 3NT. I’ll treat my bad five-card heart suit as a four-card suit, and hope to be able to bid them later.
Ian and Wen Fei would have won the board at the table, but for a reason that no one foresaw. Partner had J10xxx/—/xxxxx/xxx and, if you bid either 1 or 2NT, the opponents play in an unbeatable 3NT. Against those who overcall 2♣ , though, the opponents find their 5-3 heart fit and partner gets off to a lead that sets up a successful forcing defence.


3NT 847
4 :diamonds: 6226
5:diamonds: 513
3 :spades: 4018
4 :hearts: 203
4 :spades: 103
3 :clubs: (insufficient)000.55
Dbl (illegal)000.55
Redbl (illegal)000.4
2NT (insufficient)000.2
4 :clubs: 000.1
5 :hearts: 000.1
6 :diamonds: 000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 6.80

Like hand 1, the panel produces the smallest of majorities, 8-to-7, in favor of defending, which was also the most popular choice amongst the competitors. Here, the bidders on the panel are split three ways, with 3NT the most popular of the minority choices, whilst a large faction of the competition entrants preferred the safer-looking 4 . We start with the majority:

COHEN: Pass. Scary, but this is the long-run winning action. I am planning to lead the ♣ K, not that you asked
MEYERS: Pass. I am going to take my chance and defend. Unless partner has something like A-K-x-x-x of diamonds and three little clubs, I think we will beat this.
COPE: Pass. Partner can be light in the protective seat, but this may be my only chance of going plus. We’ll start with ♣ K and take it from there.
WANG: Pass. I have nothing to bid.

We even got a rare prediction that is not too far off.

ROBSON: Pass. I expect a big majority here. Are we really going to play partner for a perfecto with a void heart? I don’t think so. Next question, what do we lead? It is tempting to go big with the ♣ K, eying up a trump promotion.

Not a big majority, Andrew, but a majority at least.

WILLIAMS: Pass. Who has the two remaining hearts and which are they? If South had the five top honours he might have pre-empted with 4 at favourable vulnerability, so he’s probably missing at least one honour. If partner has, say, the Q-10 or similar, my 9 will be a stop for 3NT to make? Vulnerable against Not, some may try this. I prefer to take my chances of collecting five or more defensive tricks against 3 -X, rather than try to win ten tricks in 4 or keeping my fingers and toes crossed in a speculative 3NT! Partner’s double rates to net us +300 and may be even +500, which is close to what we’d get at IMPS for 3NT, if indeed we can make it?

Luwen highlights a significant problem with one of the popular alternatives.

KOH: Pass. I have good values, but don’t know whether and which game makes, so I’ll take what I expect to be a modest plus score and run. To be honest, 4 is not that bad despite the flat hand, as the cards are quite prime. My only issue is that partner will not know when to raise as I could have either this suitable hand or some junk just be trying to avoid -530? If it is unlikely to solve any issues, it is unlikely to be a better bid.

Sjoert is spot on with his prediction about the most popular alternative amongst the panellists.

BRINK: Pass. When there are only two options (Pass and 3NT) I always seem to go for the wrong one. So, I pass, and will apologize to partner and teammates. Only Dan Zagorin would agree with this Pass. I shouldn’t listen to him anymore

A couple of our panel held the hand at the table.

DE WIJS: 3NT. I remember the hand and would not have bid 3NT at the table, but I’ve learned and will bid it now. It makes a lot of sense, as the 3 opener will hardly ever be able to run the suit. Alternatives (pass) are terrible anyway, so we might as well try for the jackpot.
KLUKOWSKI: 3NT. Well, I know this hand. It depends very much on who I am playing against. Against aggressive opponents, my 98xx is almost certainly a stopper, but against people I don’t know it is not so obvious. However, my alternatives are so bad that I can gamble for 3NT anyway.
BIRD: 3NT. This is the most likely game. Passing for 300, 100 or (close your eyes) some negative number, doesn’t seem as good.
MOLSON: 3NT. I have no idea and no good bid. I am slapping everyone at table. I feel 3NT is possibly on, but so is down three.

The Scandinavians at least agreed with each other, if no one else.

FREDIN: 4 . At matchpoints, I would pass as that is the best odds to go plus. We might be cold for 7 though, and it would be stupid to defend 3 -X then.
SUNDELIN: 4 . I agree that game is close, but partner must be allowed to balance without being slaughtered.

Only Ian was willing to commit to taking eleven tricks:

FINDLAY: 5 . All my high cards are working, and partner should be short in hearts. I do not think I am good enough to cue bid 4 .

Most of the panel manage to go plus. Partner held Kxxx/Q/Kxx/AQJ10x, so you get +300 from passing (declarer makes six trumps and the A), +140 from 3♠ and an impressive +600 from 3NT (North has the singleton 10 and South the doubleton J-10). In the Alt, of the nine who faced this problem, one bid 4 and there were two each for pass, 3♠ , 3NT and 5.


4 :diamonds: 101336
4 :hearts: 6225
5 :diamonds: 401.2
4 :clubs: 001.3
Dbl (illegal)001.2
4 :spades: 000.9
5 :clubs: 000.2
6:diamonds: 000.1
2 :hearts: (insufficient)000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 5.75:

By far the biggest majority of the month, so I am grateful to the couple of mavericks who prevented the dreaded unanimous panel. The most striking thing, though, is that a third of competition entrants score poorly (and should probably be grateful for 2/10) for passing, an action ruled out by the panel for two main reasons. Firstly, partner probably intends 3♠ as forcing, whilst Michal, Simon and others explain an even more important reason.

KLUKOWSKI: 4 . What else? My hand is just bad for spades and good for diamonds.
DE WIJS: 4 . I play this 3♠ as non-forcing here. Even so, my hand still plays a million tricks better in diamonds, so I’ll bid them again. Of course, we might miss 4 (or go for 1100).
BRINK: 4 . Stop!! For me, 3♠ is forcing….
ROBSON: 4 . Clearly, I can’t pass. Partner probably has nine black cards (six spades, three clubs) so I’m just trying to get out of this alive.
WILLIAMS: 4 . 3♠ is likely forcing, so I will bid 4 with the great suit quality and so few HCP and await any developments.
WANG: 4 . I hope I can make it.
COHEN: 4 . Whether or not 3♠ is forcing, I am in damage-control mode, and playing in diamonds is likely to be the least harmful.
BIRD: 4 . East has not denied diamond help. He may be just investigating an alternative game.

A few panellists looked fleetingly at an alternative strain…

FINDLAY: 4 . Although I would love to show my shape by bidding 4 , partner might get carried away.
FREDIN: 4 . We might miss a non-vul 4 , though.
MEYERS: 4 . I am not introducing this heart suit now.
COPE: 4 . This is not such a great hand, and we would be lucky to find partner with four hearts, as they did not double 3♣ . Bidding 4 could escalate the auction beyond a manageable spot.

And P.O. points out another reason.

SUNDELIN: 4 . I am afraid 4 might be taken as good spade support, say KJxx/x/AKJxxx/xx.
Two brave souls still march in where angels fear to tread.
MOLSON: 4 . In for a penny…
KOH: 4 . Deciding between this and 4 . Pass is criminal. But as I originally bid 2 with the plan to bid hearts next, it doesn’t make sense to chicken out with 4 now just because partner bid 3♠ , which already shows a serious hand. Sometimes 3♠ also carries tolerance for diamonds and may even have hearts too. Most importantly, the opponents’ willingness to raise their clubs when everyone seems to have values also indicates that we probably have a fit. If that suit is hearts, this is our only chance.

As to whether 3♠ should be forcing, if not then what is East supposed to do with a good hand? Is 4♣ the only forward-going move available? How do you get to 3NT when that is right or, for that matter, find a 5-3 spade fit? This hand also illustrates the third reason why passing 3♠ is wrong: partner held AK10xx/Ax/Axxx/xx so 6 was an easy make. Indeed, at one table in the Alt, West did pass 3♠ , which went one down with teammates conceding -920 defending 6 in the other room.


6 :spades: 921.2
6 :diamonds:717
5 :spades: 710.6
5 :hearts: 404
5 :diamonds: 2014
4 :spades: 2037
4 :clubs: (insufficient) 001.4
4:diamonds: (insufficient) 000.2
6 :clubs: 000.1
5 :clubs:000.1
3 :diamonds: (insufficient)000.1
2NT (insufficient)000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 4.26:

Comfortably the toughest deal of the set for the competition entrants, this board proved to be the graveyard for many potential winning scores. Numerous competitors who had scored 39 or 40 on the first four deals added just a couple to their tally here, as the largest group of competition entrants chose an action not favoured by any panellist. Indeed, the experts did not think that either 4♠ or 5 (the choices of more than 50%) were enough on this massive hand. Not that there was complete agreement about the meaning of the panel’s majority choice either. Some think 4NT is RKCB, while others think it is a general slam try in diamonds, which would be consistent with how 4NT has been viewed before by the panel in similar auctions (when the opponents bid 4M after we have agreed a minor). Some don’t care which it is. Let’s hear from them…

MOLSON: 4NT. Keycard Blackwood.
MEYERS: 4NT. Hoping this is key card.
WANG: 4NT. Keycard in diamonds.
COHEN: 4NT. Hopefully, partner thinks this is RKC. If he has two with the queen, I will take my chances in 6 . If two without the queen, I’ll try 6♠ .
COPE: 4NT. It’s not often you get the chance to use Blackwood in a bidding problem, but partner’s answer should tell us what level we should be playing at. If partner shows me two without queen, I might then consider playing slam in spades rather than in diamonds.
ROBSON: 4NT. Hopefully RKCB for diamonds. KJ doubleton means no trump losers (unless heart-heart promotes 10-x-x-x).
WILLIAMS: 4NT. Heading to a slam somewhere anyway. I’m alright with all responses to 4NT. We are likely to be heading for 6 , or possibly even 6NT?

Luwen and Simon both prefer 4NT as a general slam try agreeing partner’s suit.

KOH: 4NT. Showing an invitational raise in diamonds. The K-J doubleton is good enough, even if it is only a seven card fit. If Partner bids 5 , I might still decide to press on with 5♠ , assuming that would be natural. My distant option would be to bid 5NT pick-a-slam instead of 4NT, but it could get very uncomfortable if partner bid 6♣ with Axx, Qxx or even Jxx(x), expecting better clubs from me. Suit quality is paramount when choosing a slam.
DE WIJS: 4NT. I play this as a slam try in diamonds, so it seems like a good place to start.
Michal is happy, whatever it means.
KLUKOWSKI: 4NT. It looks like the right bid, whether it is RKCB or just a general slam try agreeing diamonds. My K-J gives me a kind of guarantee that we have already found a suit to play in, so there is no need to bid 5NT.

I won’t tell all the world-class players above about Sjoert’s assessment if you don’t.

BRINK: 5♠ . I can bid 4NT (slam try in diamonds) but, obviously, it is much better to bid 5♠ , offering partner a choice of slams. This is also a slam try and partner shouldn’t be worried about his poorish diamonds. So, amateurs bid 4NT, grandmasters will bid 5♠ …

Few would argue that 5♠ is an imaginative choice. Does partner have sufficient inspiration to choose the right contract, though?
Slightly less imaginative, is another lone choice…

BIRD: 6 . Members of an expert panel usually overbid by half a trick. When in Rome…
And another…
FINDLAY: Dbl. Looking for the right strain. Over 5♣ , I plan to bid 5 , and over 4♠ , 4NT.
And, finally, the Scandinavians, again on the same wavelength…
FREDIN: 6♠ . 4NT is probably not RKC. If partner is looking at three aces, he might raise me anyway.
SUNDELIN: 6♠ . I aim both to beat 6 and protect the ♣ K. I am afraid 4NT might be taken as a choice between the minors. Unfortunately, the bidding box manufacturers failed to provide us with a special 4NT=RKCB card.

No one managed to reach the optimum contract on this deal (6NT by West), but a few imaginative members of the panel got to the next-best place. Partner had x/AKx/AQ109xx/xxx, so you could legitimately make 6♠ or 6NT from your side. The good news for the rest is that 6 made almost everywhere that it was bid: why should North find a club lead from Q-x? The only possible losing choice is 5NT, if partner happens to think bidding 6♣ on three low is a good idea, as that is the one slam that has no chance.


5 :spades: 101014
5 :diamonds:808
6 :spades: 202
4NT 0015
5 :clubs:005
Dbl (illegal)003
6 :clubs:000.9
4 :spades: (insufficient)000.7
5 :hearts: 000.6
4 :hearts: (insufficient)000.4
6 :hearts: 000.2
7 :spades: 000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 5.13:

This deal is a straightforward two-way choice for the panel, and it also produced the largest single vote for any action this month from the competition entrants (although not for the top-scoring action). Since a 5 cue-bid achieves much the same thing as the raise to 5♠ , I have upgraded it in the making even though it garnered no support from panellists. Why does another choice that was popular for competitors (4NT) score zero? Because partner will tell you that he holds one key card, and you will still have no idea whether the defenders can cash two clubs against a slam. This time we start with the pessimists…

MEYERS: Pass. Partner doesn’t promise anything but spades.
DE WIJS: Pass. Partner was stretched so I’ll give him a lot of room. Hopefully, not too much.

FINDLAY: Pass. It is tough to be perfect over pre-empts, and I would not like to go minus on this hand by bidding on when partner may have stretched under pressure to get us to a making spot.
MOLSON: Pass. There is no safety at the five-level. When pre-empted go low, they say.

Sjoert has a clever toy for serious partnerships to consider

BRINK: Pass. The question is what you play over 4♣ . In Swiss Standard, 4 is either weak with hearts or strong with spades, and a direct 4♠ is the weaker route to game in spades. So, since 4♠ now isn’t that strong, I just pass and hope we won’t miss slam. And yes, please all, after 1M-4♣ , play 4 as either a weak 4 bid or a slam try in spades. You will improve soon.

The rest are all of similar mind.

FREDIN: 5♠ . Asking for a club control.
WANG: 5♠ . Asking for a club control.
SUNDELIN: 5♠ . Showing a good hand without a club control.
KLUKOWSKI: 5♠ . This seems like a 5♠ bid to me — “Partner, do you have a club control?”
KOH: 5♠ . “Do you have a club control?” I have too much to pass, having aces and a trick source in hearts, with diamonds as a last resort backup. Partner bid 4♠ knowing I could have no trump cards for him.
WILLIAMS: 5♠ . Nice controls so a slam is possible? The doubleton club is a worry, so I’ll try 5♠ .
COPE: 5♠ . I am just good enough to ask for a club control, and maybe even get to the grand if partner bids 6♣.
COHEN: 5♠ . However partner takes it, I have the right hand. Looking for club control? Check. Looking for good spades? Check. General invitation? Check. A post-mortem I can’t lose.
BIRD: 5♠ . Seeking a club control for the small slam. This is not such an overbid as I essayed on problem 5.

We finish with a useful tip from Andrew.

ROBSON: 5♠ . Slam try implying two losing clubs. The old Sharples rule: are we more likely to make six than go down in five?

In the Alt, both West players passed after this same auction, flattening the board at +510. Partner had KJ98xxxx/xxx/Kx/– so twelve tricks were easy and 13 makeable by a number of routes.


6NT 10919
4 :hearts: 613
4 :clubs: 606
Dbl (illegal)002
5 :clubs: 000.7
4 :diamonds: 000.1
4 :spades: 000.1
5 :diamonds: 000.1
1 :spades: 000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 4.67:

Another difficult hand for the competitors: with more than a third scoring zero by passing, this was the equivalent of the Stroke 2 hole on a golf course. To see why passing scores so badly, ask yourself what partner has for his jump to 3NT. 2NT would be around 15-18, so 3NT is either balanced and stronger than that, or a strong minor-suit one-suited hand with stoppers. Either way, the panel thought it was a choice between inviting slam and just bidding one, with the majority thinking that even a quantitative 4NT not enough. No one even considered passing.

WANG: 6NT. I think this 3NT shows 19+hcp, so bidding anything less than 6NT is not enough
COHEN: 6NT. Nobody made partner jump. Likely he has long/good diamonds (trick-taking hand). I am afraid we might miss a lay-down grand, but I see no good way to get there.
KLUKOWSKI: 6NT. This looks like a raise to 6NT, but there are no guarantees as something like xx/Ax/AKQxxxx/Kx is definitely a 3NT bid.
COPE: 6NT. There are plenty of ways in which partner can bid strong balanced hands, so I expect them to have a source of tricks, which in this case will be in diamonds with a couple of outside cards. It would be nice to bid 4 as natural, in case we can make more, but that would be a transfer in my book, so there really are no sensible alternatives.
BIRD: 6NT. Does partner have a massive point-count or a long minor? Perhaps he would double first with the strong balanced type. Either way, I am hoping for a delighted ‘Thank you, partner!’ when my dummy goes down.

Well, you would get one from me, but then I always thank partner before I look at dummy in order to avoid giving anything away.

BRINK: 6NT. Slam try. I bid the slam, and partner will try to make it.
DE WIJS: 6NT. I might bid differently with different partners.
MOLSON: 6NT. I have a convention for this hand, but under our system card I settle for the simple raise.

Dave sums up for the majority.

WILLIAMS: 6NT. Partner has 20+ points or a long suit and outside values. Why give partner what could be a close/difficult decision with 4NT or 5NT? The 3NT overcall has improved our spade QJ values. Partner must have the A and probably another heart for the marked J finesse too, and any missing honours are likely to be well placed with North.

P.O. also drove to slam, but catered for playing in partner’s long suit.

SUNDELIN: 5NT. Pick a slam.

A handful thought they should give partner a chance to stop short of slam.

FREDIN: 4NT. Looks like a normal bid.
ROBSON: 4NT. A courtesy invite.
MEYERS: 4NT. Invitational.
KOH: 4NT. I have too much to pass but am a bit short of a direct slam bid as the lack of pointed-suit values could hint towards missing two aces. I am fond of the treatment to allow partner to bid a five-card suit at the five-level if he is unsure, a slam holding a 6+ card suit if he is sure, or 5NT to pick a slam if he doesn’t know in which strain we belong (a reason why I don’t bid 5NT right away).

Ian was alone in trying to find the fit via a cue-bid. Starting with Stayman (4♣ ) is another alternative way of doing the same thing, but I do not see the advantage of this approach over 5NT, hence the marking.

FINDLAY: 4 . Partner either is very strong or, more likely, will have long diamonds. Maybe 6 will be easy with 6NT going down

Partner held A10x/Axx/AKQxx/K10, so 6NT and 6 are both cold, with the grand needing little more than the spade finesse. Will he accept a 4NT invitation? Perhaps not, as he may feel he is minimum for his original jump to 3NT. Suffice it to say that +520 was not a winning score in one Alt match!


Note: 2  would be Drury

3 :hearts: 10618
4 :hearts: 8521
2 :clubs: 712
2 :hearts: 5234
3 :spades:410.3
4 :diamonds:400.6
1 :spades: 0013
2 :spades: 001.5
4 :spades: 000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 5.18:

Although there was no majority on the panel, there was general agreement about the direction of travel. This was another tough hand for the competitors, with fairly large factions scoring poorly (2 ) or zero (1♠ and Pass). The fundamental objective of bidding is to determine two things – which suit is trumps, and how high to bid. The sooner you agree on the first question, the more space you have to decide the second. This is why, having found a heart fit, no panelist confused the key issue (how high to bid) by introducing their motley spade suit. Most of our experts considered this hand too good for a simple raise to 2 , so I have accordingly upgraded the Drury 2♣ bid in the marking. Let’s start with the two main groups on the panel.

DE WIJS: 3 . For me, this shows a mixed raise. I know this is not typical, but this hand doesn’t ideally fit any of the alternatives either.
MEYERS: 3 . 4+ and shortness somewhere.

WANG: 3 . Showing about 5-7 HCP and four-card heart support. With a stronger invitation in hearts, I can start with 2NT as a passed hand.
BIRD: 3 . I need more points for a Drury response. I am hoping that my jump to 3 will show shape without points.
ROBSON: 3 . Very much a question of partnership style.

The hawks were just outvoted, 6-to-5.

COHEN: 4 . It just feels right. This could win in many ways.
MOLSON: 4 . Not perfect but I want to play in game here.
KLUKOWSKI: 4 . I have no way of finding out what my diamond void is worth. I have good trumps, which might be very useful in case we need to get to dummy a few times to establish spades.
FINDLAY: 4 . As much as I would like to go slowly and bid only 2 , the opponents might find their diamond fit and have a save or even a game. Just like a hand earlier in the competition, it is better not to let the opponents back into the auction.
COPE: 4 . No doubt you will tell us that partner has the perfect hand for a slam, but what do you want in my life? Let them guess what to lead in case 4 is in jeopardy.

Only one man thought his hand was worth a slam try on the way to game, which was too much for anyone else. As he did so using his own toy, I have also awarded a 4 splinter the same score as it seems to be in similar spirit.

BRINK: 3♠ . By a passed hand, this should show a weak hand with any void. Martens proposed this idea and I super like it. 3NT, 4♣ and 4 would also show a void, but with a better hand.

Drury did attract one advocate.

KOH: 2♣ . I don’t see much downside with using Drury. If partner opened light just to throw South off a 1NT opening, this is the perfect bid to intimidate him further. At the same time, this is closer to a limit raise than a simple raise – my accountant reports 4 HCP and 5 shortage points. There might even be a couple of votes for 4 given my distribution, so 2 is totally insufficient. I don’t think I should bid a natural 1♠ or a 2♠ fit jump with such a weak hand. If partner jumps to game, I might have up to four tricks for him – more than enough compared to what I originally advertised!

And finally, the doves…

FREDIN: 2 . A sick bid, but I hope I can make a strong bid after this.
WILLIAMS: 2 . Eight losers, and the fourth trump makes the diamond void more valuable too, but the poor black suit spots limit my enthusiasm for now. Maybe I will get a chance to show my diamond void later if partner has more than a minimum hand and acts further?

Partner had A/AQ10xx/10x/AQJ9x, so 6 was excellent, and was easily reached at one table after a Drury 2♣ response. Getting there should also be possible after either 3 or 4 , but a simple raise to 2 will just get 4 from partner.

We have a three-way tie atop the panel this month, with Tim Cope, Andrew Robson and Larry Cohen all scoring 77/80. An honorable mention also goes to Wen Fei Wang, with 76/80. Larry, Andrew and Wen Fei are three of the five panelists who have given their time to contribute to every panel since the competition began a year ago. Many thanks to them and all members of our esteemed panel.

For the record, the average competitors’ score this month was 46.5/80. If you were thinking that your score of 54 or 55 was not very good, think again as you did better than more than 600 other entrants. Even if you scored below average, take heart from the fact that so did 450 and more others. Entering every month lets you drop your worst scores at the end of the year, so check out the new set of problems and get your entry in: let’s try to break the 1,000 entries mark next month, so get your regular partner to enter too and you can then compare answers.

The BBO Prime Expert Panel:

Larry COHENPass1:hearts: Pass4:diamonds: 4NT 5:spades: 6NT 4:hearts: 77
Tim COPEPass 1:hearts: Pass 4:diamonds: 4NT5:spades: 6NT 4:hearts: 77
Andrew ROBSONPass2NTPass4:diamonds: 4NT 5:spades: 4NT 3:hearts: 77
Wen Fei WANGPass2:clubs: Pass4:diamonds: 4NT 5:spades: 6NT 3:hearts: 76
David BIRDPass 1:hearts: 3NT4:diamonds: 6:diamonds: 5:spades: 6NT 3:hearts: 74
Michal KLUKOWSKI5:spades: 2NT3NT4:diamonds: 4NT 5:spades: 6NT 4:hearts: 73
Simon DE WIJS5:spades: 2NT3NT 4:diamonds: 4NT Pass 6NT 3:hearts: 71
Dave WILLIAMS5:spades: 1:hearts: Pass4:diamonds: 4NT5:spades: 6NT2:hearts: 71
Luwen KOHPass 2NTPass 4:hearts: 4NT 5:spades: 4NT 2:clubs: 70
Jill MEYERS5:hearts: 2NTPass 4:diamonds: 4NTPass4NT3:hearts: 69
P.O SUNDELIN5:hearts: 2NT4:diamonds: 4:diamonds: 6:spades: 5:spades: 5NT3:hearts: 69
Peter FREDINPass1:hearts: 4:diamonds: 4:diamonds: 6:spades: 5:spades: 4NT 2:hearts: 65
Sjoert BRINK5:spades: 2NTPass4:diamonds: 5:spades: Pass 6NT3:spades: 64
Janice MOLSON5:spades: 1:hearts: 3NT4:hearts: 4NT Pass 6NT4:hearts: 64
Ian FINDLAYPass2:clubs: 5:diamonds: 4:diamonds: Dbl Pass 4:hearts: 4:hearts: 56
TOP SCOREPass2NTPass4:diamonds: 4NT5 :spades: 6NT3 :hearts:


HAND 1: Pass 10, 5♠ 7, 5 6, Dbl 4

HAND 2: 2NT 10, 1 9, 2♣ 6, 1NT 3

HAND 3: Pass 10, 3NT 8, 4 6, 5 5, 3♠ 4, 4 2, 4♠ 1

HAND 4: 4 10, 4 6, 5 4, Pass 2

HAND 5: 4NT 10, 6♠ 8, 5♠ /6 7, Dbl 5, 5 /5NT 4, 5 /4♠ 2

HAND 6: 5♠ 10, 5 8, Pass 6, 6♠ 2

HAND 7: 6NT 10, 5NT 9, 4NT 7, 4♣ /4 6, 7NT 2

HAND 8: 3 10, 4 8, 2♣ 7, 2 5, 3♠ /4 4

Play the February hands here