Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.

William Henley

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

*Transfer to hearts


On this deal from the first qualifying session of the von Zedtwitz Life Master Pairs in Washington last summer, South led the club king against four hearts. The best play might be for declarer to take diamond ruffs early, but declarer got understandably greedy and played three rounds of spades at once, pitching dummy’s club.

When East ruffed in, it looked obvious to play a club. Declarer ruffed in dummy and led a trump, the fatal error, for now the defenders could win and kill the discard with a fourth spade. Declarer had to ruff high, then play three rounds of diamonds, ruffing in hand. Whatever declarer did next, East could ruff high and return a trump, killing declarer’s ruff and leaving him with a diamond loser.

For the record, Brad Coles as declarer did make the contract by playing on diamonds at trick six. He ruffed the third diamond with the eight, over-ruffed by the king. Back came a spade and Coles ruffed high in dummy East pitching a diamond.

Coles now had a complete count of the West hand as 5=1=2=5, so he ruffed a diamond low. When this could not be over-ruffed, he gave up just one trump, to claim his contract.

Have you noticed the slip on defense? East should have played back a low trump at trick five to his partner’s king, to let him lead a fourth spade. East can later over-ruff a black suit, then play back a trump to kill the second diamond ruff.

If playing transfers over a two no-trump opener you must map out a plan of campaign. Transfer first; but then sign off in game, try for slam or drive to slam? My view is that the heart intermediates make it worth a slam try. So transfer to hearts then bid diamonds, which is a natural slam try. A reasonable alternative would be to transfer then jump to four no-trump, quantitative, not Blackwood.


♠ K 3
 Q J 10 3 2
 K J 7 4
♣ 10 3
South West North East
    2 NT Pass

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2August 9th, 2017 at 12:20 pm

I confess I would ruff a diamond and lead trump, hoping for an overtrick. Declarer could, however, decide enough pairs would be in 3N with the club lead revealing they will all go down that making 4H would be a good score with little need for over-tricks.

With that in mind, declarer could merely lead a pedestrian heart towards the board at Trick 2 intending to draw trump. The heart spots guarantee that any over-ruffs would be with honors always destined to win tricks.

Bobby WolffAugust 9th, 2017 at 4:24 pm

Hi Jim2,

While I agree that because of our 8 card major suit fit missing the top two honors, there would, at pairs, be more pairs in 3NT than 4 hearts, however because of that nine of clubs in dummy (assuming the same king of clubs lead) 3NT would normally make.

Therefore, while playing a heart game I would do as you suggest, play a heart at trick two. However perhaps you meant, instead of 3NT going down, 3NT being held to contract, allowing merely ten tricks in hearts to be a good enough score.

In any event I think we agree on course, only not in the specific words used. However, by no means could any player dare predict anywhere near exactly how the play is very likely to go at other tables vs. either game, so with that as a theme I would still start out with leading a heart, only because it may seem a camouflage to the defense and cause the defense vs. 4 hearts to not defend to best advantage.

And the beat goes on, as it does so often when playing close contracts and, of course, depending on the many various distributions plus, of course, the caliber of the opposition.

Bill CubleyAugust 9th, 2017 at 4:29 pm

I agree the BWTA hand is worth a slam try. It easily qualifies for the try. However, since I was once punched for my slam bidding, feel free to discount my thoughts. Too many just add the point count of the hands together and give up. There might not be a heart slam, someone wrote on Bridgewinners SDAM – Six Diamonds Always Makes.

Bobby WolffAugust 9th, 2017 at 6:08 pm

Hi Bill,

However, you didn’t stay to read on, EWID, Except when it doesn’t.

That expression, first heard by me perhaps 60+ years ago, came into existence primarily among a matchpoint group who too often settled for 3NT without paying enough thought to a minor suit slam (Stayman only emphasized the major suits) simply because of the inability to stop at 5 of a minor profitably once 3NT was passed.

Minor suit slams have since reached a higher level of possibility in this modern age, but probably only among the higher-level players who cannot afford to miss good minor suit slams, especially when playing IMPs against each other.

One bet I will make is that whoever referenced SDAM on BWs was likely an old timer or, if not, mentored by one.

jim2August 9th, 2017 at 6:11 pm

You are, of course, quite correct on the club spots.

The actual layout offers additional potential complexities at 3N. For example, if declarer ducks the opening lead, West could shift to a diamond. Another is what declarer might discard on the fourth heart, especially if East has held up until then.

Bobby WolffAugust 9th, 2017 at 7:03 pm

Hi Jim2,

The reality of this hand is easy to determine. Of course, that easy I refer to sometimes becomes incorrect, and if so, I will have to deal with it.

Upon winning the Ace of clubs and leading a heart, it is very likely that West will win the heart and then cash his clubs vs. 3NT, not expecting to run the suit, but at pairs to safeguard his partnership to not lose that often crucial trick on defense. Of course, it also makes sense for declarer while playing 3NT to duck the first club and perhaps even the second, but that is conjectural depending on the club and diamond (and even the heart) holdings by the defense.

However while playing 4 hearts, and from West’s viewpoint after partner suggests a doubleton at trick one, will almost surely hope to promote partner’s nine of hearts, if he should hold it, by leading a 3rd club after cashing his queen of clubs at trick 2.

And the beat goes on, signifying not much, except on this particular hand.

ClarksburgAugust 10th, 2017 at 2:21 am

In BWTA discussion:
Assuming standard range of 20-21 for the 2NT opening, they have only 30-31 HCP. If the auction did go transfer and then 4NT Quantitative, what would Opener need to proceed? (I think I know, but would like to hear your explanation).
Also, would you, as responder, explore for slam in Matchpoints as well as IMPs ?

Bobby WolffAugust 10th, 2017 at 4:05 am

Hi Clarksburg,

Over a 20-21 hcp 2NT it may go 2NT 3D 3H P
4D (now showing at least 9 cards in the reds) (5-4) and then passing a return to 4 hearts. Twice the opening bidder showed negative when he only responded 3 hearts instead of 4, then bid only 4 hearts over a forward thinking
rebid by the responder. To first transfer and then attempt a 4NT quantitative rebid is just too much. Some hands break badly and if possible, it is almost never a good idea to play at the five level when there is an alternative to make a mild slam try early but still sign off at a normal game.

For example a transfer to 3 of a major and then a simple raise to 4 of that major is a mild slam try since otherwise the responder would have used Texas transfer the first time.

When some talented but inexperienced players complain about high-level bidding there is only one caveat involving discipline which to my knowledge is never violated. NO BAD BIDS ALONG THE WAY, AND IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO BE BRILLIANT ONLY BECOME WARY OF PRACTICAL APPLICATION. Such as forgetting Texas and then transferring and then raising must be a mild slam try, since otherwise it is illogical to have different sequences show the same thing!!!

Bobby WolffAugust 10th, 2017 at 4:08 am

Hi again Clarksburg,

In my early example sequence above all the affirmative bids were by the same partnership. Sorry for the gaffe!