Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, September 4th, 2017

In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress toward a victory.

Alfred North Whitehead

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


Congratulations if you managed to bid today’s hand to three no-trump. This is not at all easy to do, though maybe South should probe with three hearts over two spades, and now if North guesses to bid three no-trump South has an easy pass.

When West leads the heart eight against four spades, East cannot tell for sure whether his partner has one or two cards in the suit. But since it rates to be very difficult to beat the hand unless his partner has a singleton, he wins the ace and returns the suit, hoping for the best. South should follow with the heart 10 at the first trick in an attempt to confuse East, but it should not work. If South does follow with his low heart at his first turn, it makes East’s life easier, as now he can be sure that his partner does not have the doubleton eight-three.

Anyway, East gives his partner a ruff, West returns a diamond to his partner’s ace, gets a second ruff….. Whoa! How did West know to play back a diamond? There is an answer, but it is not obvious. The question of which minor suit ace East has is determined by the size of the heart East returns to give his partner the ruff. His play of the nine calls for the higher suit.

This suit preference signal (also known as Lavinthal, or as McKenney in England) would allow East to show the club ace instead by returning a low heart.

Partner has scattered values but has not joined in, so we can assume no heart fit. Is that enough reason to lead a different suit? I think so. The spade sequence is just enough reason to lead that suit, particularly because your RHO might well have bid spades if he had the right hand with a three-card suit. So I would lead the spade jack.


♠ J 10 8
 A J 7 4 3
 K 5
♣ J 9 3
South West North East
    Pass 1 ♣
1 Dbl. Pass 1 NT
All 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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieSeptember 18th, 2017 at 11:24 am

Hi Bobby,

I think on today’s play hand that South really should try a little (and maybe a lot) harder for 3NT given that N/S clearly have points to spare for game. One of the few ways that 4S will fail is Heart to Ace, ruff, West finds partner’s other Ace, 2nd ruff. Obviously there will still be a problem if East holds (say) AKxxx(x) and a side Ace and N/S can’t run 9 tricks after East clears the Hearts but then that could also scupper 4S after 3 rounds of hearts early on. Having a 5-3 or even 5-4 major suit fit shouldn’t preclude NT on occasion, and South could hardly be accused of hogging the hand if he tried 3H. I do wonder how often 4 of a major goes 1 off when 3NT would have made and when the signs were actually there to avoid the major suit fit. Having a balanced 12 count with (say) Jxxx in a major opposite a 15-17 NT strikes me as an obvious time not to trot out Stayman.

With some partners, mind you, I’m not going to try such ideas. The moaning when it goes wrong will far exceed the gratitude when it works, even if there are more cases of the latter.



ClarksburgSeptember 18th, 2017 at 12:35 pm

Good morning Iain and Bobby
I’m just looking for a bit of clarification on what South should be thinking.
Would South really be “trying” for 3NT, or just leaving it on the Table just in case.
Does the 3H call say:.. “Partner, 4S is OK with me, but if you have a Heart stop and no ruffing value, we can play this in 3NT”…”

Iain ClimieSeptember 18th, 2017 at 1:18 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

I think it is just “Do I need to engage brain and think if there could be any problems before bidding the obvious 4S”. Often it’ll make no difference, but today it is a potential game swing out at IMPs or an average turned into a near top at pairs; it does seem a chance to nothing.



bobby wolffSeptember 18th, 2017 at 6:28 pm

Hi Iain & Clarksburg,

The significant and no doubt, highly controversial problem, to which Iain refers is indeed one, in high-level bridge, to be hashed and rehashed.

However, methinks the answer is similar to my namesake, a wolf, howling at the moon. The answer comes down to only judgment, together with the limitations for bridge’s code language, bidding, being available to describe specific cards therefore and in this case arriving at 3NT (in spite of a nine card fit in a major suit replete with all the honors and then some).

What if North had instead only three spades (AQx) and two little hearts, might he not pass 3NT only to see his partner miss guess the hearts at trick two when one was led to the ace and another low one returned, only to go down in 3NT when either 10 or 11 tricks were available at spades without having to breathe heavily.

No doubt, legal communication is severely limited in our otherwise beautiful game, with our most successful worldwide partnerships being able to divan out when to deviate from accepted practice more often than others.

However, when also observing strict ethic codes, (discounting, from time to time, tempo breaks) there is, at least IMO, just not enough specific information which can be transmitted, not allowing much brilliancy to successfully occur.

Sure for bridge column purposes, bridge offers a wide range, but for participating in very high-level tournaments against, of course, fierce opposition, let the other partnerships try to be thought of as sensational, but instead, insure your own to be mundane, but painfully consistent.

No doubt Iain, engaging one’s brain before bidding 4 spades, is the thing to do, but at least IMO to blast 3NT instead of 4 spades should be reserved for knowingly being behind in a match and therefore trying one’s best to catch up.

None of the above is meant as an argument against taking a flyer, but rather only the experience necessary to be pretty sure 3NT is a
gamble, not to be tried at the other table.

At matchpoints, it is a different story, but nevertheless, even at that game, a top and a bottom equal out to only two averages, not enough to equal the advantage a good player has, while at the table and being declarer.

No one is right, no one is wrong, but only the wolf knows why he is howling.

bobby wolffSeptember 18th, 2017 at 7:12 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Didn’t mean to ignore your special question.

Yes, once South bids 3 hearts (instead of just 4 spades), North would be expected to bid 3NT if he, instead had raised with only three trumps, but since he had 4 (meaning at least 8 between them, discounting South’s 1 spade bid in competition which some, but not all, play shows 5 spades) most all players, bad, medium or expert would return to spades, in this case only at the 3 level since that hand is very much a minimum (HCPs and position of the king of hearts), However, Iain’s considerable bridge brain may be telling him to protect that king from possible initial onslaught by eschewing spades for NT. May be right, may be wrong, but winning bridge is very much attuned to doing the right thing when the opportunity suggests it.

Finally, his bid is an overbid for sure, but the end result is the judge and in this case he would no doubt be equal to at least a birdie in golf and perhaps even an eagle.

ElaneSeptember 22nd, 2017 at 5:55 pm

Eventualmente agente deste progresso de certo programa melhor que assim mesmo bem como jamais isto abençoado com essencial que
aduzir nesta acerto, mas ego preferia estar aberto e também jamais me guardar qualquer achaque
sobre esta programa anti-celulite.