Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Uncertainty and expectation are the joys of life. Security is an insipid thing, through the overtaking and possessing of a wish discovers the folly of the chase.

William Congreve

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


In today’s auction South’s three no-trump rebid showed a balanced hand and 25-27 points. North’s four clubs was Stayman (similar to three clubs over a two no-trump rebid) and his subsequent raise of four hearts to five invited a slam, suggesting nothing to cuebid, thus good trumps. South should perhaps have passed, with his minimum 25-count, since slam could hardly be better than the spade finesse. But how would you play six hearts when West leads the club 10 to East’s ace and a club is returned?

Declarer saw that he would need the spade finesse to be right. Not only that, if East held four spades to the king, declarer would need to take the spade finesse three times. He cashed the king of trump and continued with the jack of trump. When West followed suit it was safe to overtake with dummy’s ace.

Do you see the point of this play? Declarer was trying to set up the maximum number of entries to dummy in the trump suit. East showed out on the second round of trump and declarer took his first spade finesse, pleased to see West follow with a low card. The four of trumps to dummy’s nine provided a second entry to dummy, and a second spade finesse followed. A trump to dummy’s queen returned the lead to dummy, and now declarer finessed for a third time in spades.

This same overtaking play would have been possible had dummy held the heart eight instead of the nine, so long as East has a singleton heart nine or 10.

I come down firmly in favor of one spade rather than one diamond here —partly because of the suit quality issue. But one can also lose spades after an auction that begins with North bidding clubs and hearts. After that start would a one spade call show spades – and would it promise a better hand than this? Better to bid the suit at once, planning to give preference to clubs over a one no-trump rebid.


♠ K 8 7 5
 8 6 5 3
♣ A J 7 3
South West North East
    1 ♣ Pass

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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitAugust 26th, 2015 at 9:55 am

My following remarks assume matchpoints. S knows when N bids 5H that N has only 2 of the 4 missing key cards (SK, HAQ & CA), probably HAQ, so he should surely pass. But if he bids on, say because he’s desperate for a top, surely he should bid 6N. Note that both contracts require the S finesse to work and either W to have at least 2H or singleton 10 or E to have no more than 3S or that dummy’s minor suits are reversed. Also 6N makes and 6H fails even if E has SK if W has all 5H!

David WarheitAugust 26th, 2015 at 10:00 am

Small correction: if W has specifically 3-5-3-2 distribution, S can make 6H despite the 5-0 H break.

AviAugust 26th, 2015 at 10:52 am

this is a general question, so I would welcome answers from everyone, not just Bobby.
My partnership plays a similar style, where 2D is almost always waiting (with sometimes as much as 11 HCP!), and a 3NT response shows 25-27.

However, unlike the column, we always used 4C as Gerber rather than Stayman.
My question is for these very random hands of 25+, is it better to use Stayman or Gerber in order to avoid a convention mix-up?
If you suggest Stayman, how would you ask aces over 3NT, and how would you make a quantitative invite?

bobby wolffAugust 26th, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Hi David,

Not so fast.

While I do not necessarily disagree with South chancing 6NT rather than either passing or continuing on to 6 hearts there are other chances.

Those other chances would have to do with other holdings by the responder such as:
1. s. x, h. AQxx, d. Jxxxx, c. Jxx, 2. s. x, h. AQxx, d. Jxxx, c. J10xx, or 3. s. x, h. AQxx, d. xxx, c. J10xxx.

All of the above would, of course be dependent on 3-2 hearts, but with the normal (67+%) heart split all would be much better off in 6 of that suit. Besides partner would have every right to be quite upset, if overruled after finding the heart fit.

Also, of course, I agree that South should pass, but like Will Rogers once might have said if he had played bridge: “I never met a 25 point hand, nor a beautiful girl, I didn’t like”.

In conclusion and while at the table in very tough competition, it is very difficult to visualize all of the potential hands partner may have, offering a likely surprise 13 cards which match up favorably with yours. Sure, it sometimes can be done, but those ” always moving parts” in evaluation are not always clearly visible and often I used to just rely on “gut instincts”.

However the balanced and, of course, minimum nature of South’s hand might (should) cause him to not be too optimistic, but as the late and great Edgar Kaplan used to say on vu-graph while commentating at the World Championship, “Often when there are 11 sure tricks while in a slam or 8 tricks while in a NT game, one more sometimes magically appears”.

jim2August 26th, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Avi –

I would advocate Stayman (4C) + quantitative raise (4N) over Gerber here, reasoning as follows:

1) In a quantitative auction (NT), one simply adds points, so the key card aspect is generally less important, and

2) Key cards are most often sought after a suit fit is established, and in these auctions Stayman is probably the most common way that fits are found.

Once a fit is found — (say, 2C-2D; 3N-4C; 4M-?) — I will defer to Our Host on what experts do. One possible treatment might be that a 5 bid in a lower suit is a cue bid inviting slam in the Stayman suit, while 4N is a Q raise and 5N is a choice of slams.

The one sequence that might be anomalous is 4S over 4H. Is it five spades and four hearts looking for the best game, or is a cue for hearts? It is likely a partnership agreement thing but, again, I defer to Our Host — a true expert.

Gerber might be more helpful if the responder is the one contemplating slam in a suit, no matter what the opener has in support, and so wants to check for key cards. I would hazard to guess that such holdings are uncommon enough to make Gerber less useful than Stayman + Quantitative.

bobby wolffAugust 26th, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Hi Avi,

My suggestion is to generally play (over 2NT openings, 2 clubs followed by 2NT or 2 clubs followed by 3NT all after waiting responses by partner) clubs Stayman, and transfers with 4 direct clubs over all forms of strong 2NT bids as Gerber, but over 3NT, 4NT quantatative and 5 clubs Gerber with no number of kings ask available and that would also always apply over any natural 3NT bid anytime in the auction (a jump to 5 clubs always Super Gerber and 4 NT only a raise, aiming at slam).

It may be now worth noting that in the super expert player category many partnerships have developed lower level ace asks (redwood and other funny but rhythmic names) in order to keep the level lower for finding out other specific information).

Finally (whew?) after a 4NT quantatative bid 5NT by responder is forcing and often requires both partner to then bid unbid 4 card suits up the line in order to search out a previously unknown 4-4 fit in a suit before (after checking) finding out there are none and then arriving by force in 6NT. Simple example: 1NT P 4NT P 5NT P 6 clubs (or else the lowest ranking 4 card suit held all the way to a fit or 6NT).

bobby wolffAugust 26th, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for your intervention (crossed in cyberspace) and I tend to agree with you in everything you say including the spelling of quantitative.

BTW, sometimes key card ace asking (with its 5 aces and sometimes 6 when 1 of 2 suits may eventually be trump) can get cramped for space, but rather than be negative seeking solutions, be positive and hope those sequences do not materialize.

If one spies at least a little cynicism, he or she is spying right.

David WarheitAugust 26th, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Am I missing something? Of the 3 hands you claim to be better in H rather than NT, all are either certain or virtually certain in 6NT: 1) 1S, 4H, 5D, 2C. Even if D 5-0, it still makes if the S finesse is right, while 6H probably goes down (CA & D ruff or H 5-0); 2) 1S, 4H, 4D & 3C; 3) 1S, 4H, 3D, 4C. Even if C 5-0, it still makes if the S finesse is right, while 6H probably goes down (CA and C ruff or H 5-0.

bobby wolffAugust 26th, 2015 at 7:15 pm

Hi David,

No, you are not missing anything. I think I had the right idea, but thoughtlessly added an extra minor suit trick to each hand, allowing 12 tricks in NT to be scored instead of the 11 I intended for NT but, of course 12 for hearts (scoring, in effect 5 hearts tricks instead of only 4 for NT).

Even though I may win the argument, I obviously do not deserve to, since I carelessly failed in the presentation.

However, overall it may indirectly suggest that bridge is a difficult game, but the idea of a 4-4 fit allowing 5 trump tricks with normal breaks and also more than 4 real tricks on other types of declarer cross-ruffs or dummy reversals goes to the very core of what to emphasize in the bidding, against the low percentage “mirror” distributions (exactly the same distribution in the same suits) or whenever there are overlapping high card or long card advantages which will tend to make the same number of tricks in NT.

The above is only meant for a a general description and not to be a primer in bridge bidding.