Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Bring out number, weight and measure in a year of dearth.

William Blake

South North
East-West ♠ K J 6
 Q 7 6
 A 10 8 7
♣ K 10 6
West East
♠ 10 8 5 4
 3 2
 K J 4
♣ Q 8 5 2
♠ A Q 9 2
 8 4
 Q 9 6 2
♣ J 9 4
♠ 7 3
 A K J 10 9 5
 5 3
♣ A 7 3
South West North East
1 Pass 2 Pass
2 Pass 4 All pass


The expert declarer knows the percentages but may prefer to rely on deception rather than making the apparent percentage play. Let's look at a single-dummy problem — just the North and South cards.

Declaring four hearts In an unopposed sequence you are treated to a fourth highest spade four lead. The natural play is to put in the jack and hope the queen is onside; if not, you have virtually no practical chances of finding a 10th trick.

The psychologist plays low from dummy at trick one. East, holding A-Q-9-2 of spades can’t be sure if the lead is from two, three four or even five cards, and will surely not risk putting in the nine and having it lose to the 10 — that might lose at least two spade tricks on a particularly bad day, should South’s spade losers be about to vanish on a club or a diamond. Once the spade queen goes in, you can build a spade trick for a minor-suit discard. And if worst comes to worst, and East does insert the spade nine, you still have time to play a spade to the jack and enjoy your legitimate 50 percent chance, do you not?

The key to making these plays at a suit contract is to appreciate that you can virtually ignore the possibility of West’s underleading an ace at trick one against a trump contract; however, after the first trick, all bets are off.

You are, of course, far too good to pass. The simple choice boils down to doubling (which, I think, might suggest a 4-3-3-3 hand rather than this one), bidding two diamonds, which you would also do with a five-card diamond suit, or rebidding two spades. At matchpoints a two-spade call is plausible, but here maybe bidding two diamonds is the best way to insure you find an eight-card fit.


♠ A Q 9 2
 8 4
 Q 9 6 2
♣ J 9 4
South West North East
1♣ Dbl. Pass
1♠ Pass Pass 2♣

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Shantanu RastogiNovember 27th, 2014 at 9:56 am

Hello Mr Wolff

NS are cold for 3 NT and its not that this contract is not biddable. Norths cards with 3343 shape demand a call of 3 NT. The only worry could be that South may hold 5 cards of hearts (usually with 4 card clubs which are not biddable at 3 level and certain 5332 pattern where South doesnt want to bid 2 NT). But in that case 4 heart would even more be vulnerable. So Norths 4 heart is a very questionable bid.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

bobby wolffNovember 27th, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Yes 3NT is cold, but should it automatically be bid?


1. South’s specific distribution, whether it be, as you generally mention, 1-5-3-4, 1-6 (not as good as today’s hand e.g. K10xxxx,-2-4), 3-6-2-2, or 3-6-1-3)

2. What type of system NS are playing, 2 over 1 GF where 2NT by responder would be F, but even then would South raise to 3NT?, Acol (very natural with as few bids as possible forcing, not 2NT in this sequence), old time Goren & Culbertson (2NT NF).

3. Tendency of South to have 6 of the opening bid suit to rebid it, or if not to find another bid such as 2NT which, then, could be a simple minimum (12-14) and auger for a NT contract.

4. Scientific nature of the partnership which goes an extra dimension to attempt to find the best game contract, but which sometimes (more often than imagined), lionizes the defense into defending perfectly (often not good for declarer).

In no way am I disagreeing with you, but only playing devil’s advocate in making everyone realize it is not as simple as your comment may suggest. And this coming from a player who has jumped to 3NT on similar hands all of his adult bridge life.

Questions and opinions from you on this and many other subjects in bridge are what enables many others to consider critical choices, but in order to get close to maximum pro and con arguments, both sides need to be presented.

Thanks for your effort in this constructive direction and hopefully will encourage others to offer their opinions.

Bill CubleyNovember 27th, 2014 at 2:44 pm


The mere one spade bid in BWTA shows a lot of conservatism. RHO passed the double. Might mean bad breaks or about 5 HCP with 4 clubs.

I would bid 2 spades at my first bid to alert partner we might have game if he has just a bit extra for his double.

Happy Thanksgiving!

bobby wolffNovember 27th, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Hi Bill,

While I tend to be aggressive, jumping to 2 spades the first time perhaps is pushing the envelope just a tad.

IMO there has to be both a maximum on that bid, no more than 12-, but also a minimum required, at least 10, and, with no 5 card suit (such as the same high cards but an extra diamond, or perhaps just a stray 10 in spades and/or elsewhere.

As to what RHO passed, it, at least to me, could be anyone’s guess and remains to be seen, but is not IMO to be a factor in choosing the proper response to partner’s TO Dbl.

Yes, of course, if East would have immediately raised to 2 clubs, I would then compete with 2 spades and perhaps feel then that I wasn’t holding back (as you apparently do).

And, of course, a return very happy Thanksgiving back for you and yours. Health, happiness, good cheer and above all, winning finesses, especially to one who likes to bid em up.

bobby wolffNovember 27th, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Hi Shantanu (again),

I, as usual, forgot to mention what a jump to 3NT might be:

How about:

s. QJx, h. x, d. AKQJxx, c. QJx and if so, we certainly do not want partner returning to hearts. What do we learn from this?:

1. The advantage of a 2 over 1 GF system (a method I question and am not thrilled playing)

2. The ability, like the above example, of asking partner not to interfere with my decision.

Little by little, and with much experience necessary, the light at the end of the tunnel with bridge shines brighter.

Shantanu RastogiNovember 27th, 2014 at 4:22 pm

Hello Mr Wolff

Thanks for your detailed response. I was referrring to simple standard bidding which appears to be used in the deal and not 2/1 gf system. Like you I’ve played 2/1 gf system but I’ve my reservations on that and prefer simple standard system. I normally play Precision and reading your bridge column helps me learn nuances of standard bidding and refine my standard judgement. Discussing finer things of bridge with a multiple world champion is an honour and is a luxury in India. I’m also indebted to Dr Raghvan’s Indian bridge website where I learnt about your page. I would prefer more Indians to interact with you so that general standard of bridge in India improves and your page is a golden opportunity to get world class advice free of any charge. I thank you once again and hope you would not mind discussing things which may appear to some silly.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Iain ClimieNovember 27th, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Hi Bobby,

A studious east might reason that west’s low spade must indicate an honour and thus play the 9. TOCM could then strike with a vengeance, as declarer might have 108xxx AKJ10xx K Q – odds against but likely to trigger a tantrum when east complains about not getting his ruff and the club loser walks too.

Less flippantly, I’ve known players express strong views about whether to lead 2nd, low or occasionally top from 108xx and similar. What do you suggest here?



bobby wolffNovember 27th, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Thanks for your extremely kind words and especially for your love of the game we all share.

I have always loved my bridge association with so many of your old time great Indian bridge players who have always accented the best features our game represents plus, of course, their consistent superior play.

Although I do not know Dr. Raghvan personally I enjoy hearing about his obvious dedication to bridge and wish him well in his spreading the word. If only other countries, in addition to Europe and China, would work to get bridge in primary and secondary schools, bridge would quickly rise in prominence the world over, allowing its logic, problem solving and legal code communication (bidding) to rule the day in learning what is in essence, only common sense.

Finally, I, nor would anyone else, ever consider your questions “silly” or anything but right-on target.

I’m looking forward to your continued participation with our bridge lovers group.

bobby wolffNovember 27th, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Hi Iain,

There are lively discussions about a number of topics, certainly including choice of cards when leading, and you zero in on one of them.

At least to me, there is really no correct answer (by that I mean right some large percentage of time) and I have held firmly on fourth best, regardless of strength but, of course, catering to leading the top of a sequence, 1098, 987 or some such.

Of course a very experienced East might respect a fellow great declarer who ducks quickly, but in doing so, he must accept the risk of being wrong, which, at least to me, will always be a distinct possibility.

As long as bridge is the topic, these kinds of problem solving will always be frequent, however in this case, the battle will always include at least one superior player, the one who either as South ducks or if so, East, who will, or at least seriously consider, playing the nine.

The only advice I can or will offer is that anyone who even begins to suggest what he (or she) is sure as right is, by the very God who made him (apologies to Rudyard) as wrong as he can be. First of all 2nd highest may or may not include the ten, second to throw the ten out there for the opening lead is a significant violation of the often precious value of that honor.

jim2November 28th, 2014 at 12:04 am

Suppose West gets off to a neutral trump lead. How do you play four hearts?

Bobby WolffNovember 28th, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Hi Jim2,

Although there is an alternate line of play (with the hearts 2-2) of stripping the diamonds (ruffing 2 in hand) and then being able (with certain club holdings) to throw East in with the club loser (East holding both the QJ or at least 5), forcing him to either lead a spade or give a contract making ruff and a sluff, its likelihood is not appealing. Therefore the straightforward play of leading up to the KJ of spades twice playing for at least one honor to be onside seems clearly best (75%). Also true in the event of a club lead which still allows declarer to test the spades twice before the defense can establish the setting trick.

If the timing was different and a club lead threatened declarer into having to guess the spades correctly to make the hand (not true with this one), a spade to the king probably should be the percentage play since the opening leader is more likely to have led a spade from the queen than the ace.

A relatively small advantage, but nevertheless the application of bridge logic which will serve a thoughtful declarer well in the very long run.