Ring-ring. I answer the phone.
"You hold - AQx Jx AJ10xxxxx. Partner opens 2, showing 5-5 in two suits. What do you bid?"
Normally I would be hesitant at this point - there's no crime worse than getting bridge problems right. However, it is Friday night, and having had a whole week of being at work to recover from last weekend's labours, I am wide awake, and more than capable of spotting a clue. My wife does not play a two-suited weak two, so one of the opponents obviously held this hand - no harm getting this one right.
"That would have worked okay. The Irish lady passed, missing a thirteen card fit and going quietly off in spades."
I'm not the sort of chap who makes Irish jokes, or comments about women's bridge, so I move swiftly on to establish how things are going. It is the Lady Milne - between the five home nations - and the first match has got off to a narrow win for England.
Actually another possible shot on the hand would be 3NT. You are expecting partner to have diamonds as her second suit, and so on a perhaps likely heart lead, 3NT may well scrape home.
From then on I received matchly news bulletins of the progress of the team, only missing out when Cath cunningly contrived to sit out a set in order to watch the French Open Ladies' Final.
After a while the following hand came down the wire:
Cath had an uneventful auction to 4, after East overcalled in clubs, and West did not deem the hand worthy of any action. At the other table the auction was far more exciting, but also instructive:
5 showed 1 or 4 of 5 aces. Can you spot the five crimes? The first I think belongs to South - one assumes that 3 was a fit jump, but this looks like someone with a new toy who wants to use it! Passing with five card support for partner is rather timid, whilst the Blackwood bid was not only optimistic, but would not have helped at all if partner had two aces but two spade losers off the top. Passing and then later saving is usually a bad strategy, as opponents are far less likely to go wrong. Here it is doubly bad as the opponents have just found out whether they have enough aces for slam - surely they are not going to have much of a problem deciding what to do over 6?! Perhaps the greatest crime lay with North - having found out that there were two aces off the slam, she passed, presumably allowing her partner to bid on should she fancy!
Overnight England had gone into the lead, with the crucial match being against the second favourites, Scotland, who had been faring badly but had a team full of experience.
Cath opened 1, and the auction came back at the five level. Undaunted, it seemed to be a choice between 5, and 5. In this situation, where it is quite likely that you might have a big spade fit, it is sensible to use the cue of their suit as showing both majors, with better hearts. However, given the quality of this heart suit it is far from clear whether it is wise to show the spades - in spite of the four card spade support, 5 actually plays better.
Strangely enough, the auction was completely different in the other room, though the same principle could have been applied: 1-2-P-3NT. West could have considered bidding 4, but instead passed. This made +660 to go with -300 for a valuable swing to England.
By now England had only one match to play - and the event was already won! So time to take a well earned break and prepare for the most important session of the weekend - the banquet!
(The other editor takes over at this point to fill up some space.)
I note that 6 minor is excellent on this last hand. Many people claim that their UNT is either weak or strong but not intermediate, yet in my experience they mostly bid it anyway with a hand like North's. This can make it difficult to reach the right level. Once North has bid 2, it seems to me that 3NT is a lazy bid, and I prefer to temporise with 2. Give West the K and 5 could make while 3NT fails, and 6 could be on, as here.
So how should one play a minor slam? This was the hand on the front cover. If trumps are 3-1 there is no problem, as a spade ruff in hand or two heart ruffs in dummy provide the 12th trick. But suppose we are in 6 on a diamond lead. A diamond ruff is quite possible if spades have not been mentioned, so we start by drawing trumps. Once we find out West had 12 major cards we could argue that with either 6-6 or 4-8 she would have bid differently. If we're confident of reading the bidding and discards we can play off all our minor winners forcing her to come down to either Kx A, when we endplay her in hearts, or K Ax, when we drop her king. But we might misread the position on a bad day.
An alternative line is to leave one card in each minor in dummy and then run J. If West wins with Q she is endplayed, while if it goes Q, K, A and West exits with a low heart we can run it to 9, making unless East has Q10. Both these lines are excellent; I prefer the latter on most plausible auctions, because I don't always count to 13 reliably.