Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, March 8th, 2018

For evil news rides post, while good news baits.

John Milton

S North
None ♠ 8 6 4 3 2
 A 10 5
 10 2
♣ Q 6 4
West East
♠ 7
 Q J 8 7 2
 K 8 4 3
♣ 9 7 3
♠ Q 10 5
 K 3
 J 9 6 5
♣ J 10 8 2
♠ A K J 9
 9 6 4
 A Q 7
♣ A K 5
South West North East
2 NT Pass 3 ♣ Pass
3 ♠ Pass 4 ♠ All pass


Today’s deal comes from the Common Game, which allows identical deals to be played all over the U.S. at roughly the same time, thus allowing large numbers of players to compare how well or badly they have done with the same cards.

This deal is a declarer play problem in four spades that features a small point of judgment as opposed to system. You reach four spades here after a two no-trump opener when North uses Stayman rather than a transfer. Yes, either route would have led to the same contract, but the point is: Do you really want to play a 5-3 spade fit here as North? I’d say no, but if you transfer, that is surely what you will achieve. Anyway, South must plan the play in four spades on the lead of the heart queen.

The key here is to duck the opening lead, to try to keep East off lead, then win the second heart and draw trumps by playing the ace and king, hoping they split 2-2. But even when they do not, you can improve on the simple chance of the diamond finesse by stripping off the clubs and playing a third heart.

When, as here, East began with the doubleton heart king, West will be thrown in with the heart, either to give you a ruff-sluff or to play diamonds for you by leading away from his king. And, of course, if East ruffs his partner’s winner to lead diamonds, he is combining his side’s winners on the same trick, so the contract will still come home.

You could make a sensible case for bidding one no-trump here to try to make it more difficult for the opponents to compete. On the other hand, if they do bid two of a major, will you or your partner know whether to bid on to three diamonds? This is a strong argument for raising to two diamonds at once, and letting partner raise if the opponents compete in a major.


♠ Q 10 5
 K 3
 J 9 6 5
♣ J 10 8 2
South West North East
    1 Dbl.

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieMarch 22nd, 2018 at 4:47 pm

HI Bobby,

Interesting hand although if the DK is right, South can actually make 6S here (!) at least double dummy. HA, spade finesse, draw trumps, CAK and Q, the D finesse, DA and ruff a diamond before playing a heart. Any NS that lucky should be apologising big time to EW and buying them a bottle of expensive wine each. Yet there is an extra lesson here, albeit for pairs.

If desperate to qualify for an event, and things are not going well, the slightly anti-percentage play of a first round spade finesse in 4S gives you a fair chance of a non-standard (not necessarily good) result which you might need (as might passing a 15-17 opening 1N with a flat 9 count). How often (if at all) did you try such plays or bids in your pairs career or did you prefer to play more rationally while maximising pressure and waiting for gifts?



BobliptonMarch 22nd, 2018 at 6:07 pm

Happily, it was not played as well at my table. I led the Heart Queen, which was ducked. Declarer won the second heart, played the trump Ace, then three clubs, ending on the board. When my partner followed to the next round of diamonds, declarer faced his cards, announcing his intention of finessing. If it won, he explain, he would draw another round, then end play me with a heart for five. If it lost, I would be endplayed for 4.

I expressed my doubts at the time. When I see him next, I’ll show him this column. Him and his 81% session!


BobliptonMarch 22nd, 2018 at 6:12 pm

That should read “…when partner followed to the next round of trumps….”


Iain ClimieMarch 22nd, 2018 at 9:19 pm

Hi Bob,

That’s pairs for you! A pity East didn’t have SQx, 2 clubs and Kxx(x) in hearts.



bobbywolffMarch 22nd, 2018 at 9:54 pm

Hi Iain & Bob,

The continued beauty of our game can be clearly seen and from many angles. Even this relatively simple strip (ducking the first heart) and eventual endplay, which could easily materialize in several different ways, plus the what ifs? west deciding to lead 4th best instead of the queen (FWIW I prefer the queen against a suit contract, but not against NT, except, of course, on this 52 card layout).

My judgment is based only by what I think, but not anywhere close to 100% sure, a condition which constantly befuddles us all, the result of which often, materially affects our mood of the moment.

However the uncertainty almost ever present, does carry with it my belief that the game of matchpoints only gilds the lily, by, because of the exaggerated gain with overtricks, is just proof to me of the game’s bastardization by featuring unadulterated luck as a major scoring difference in the final result of any one hand, consequently putting the wrong accent to what the game should be about, making one’s contract and the opponents desire to set it.

Bob directly accented that frustration by singling out an 81% game as luck, while Iain merely discusses taking wild chances in the hope of winning rather than just settling for playing percentage bridge on as many hands as possible and treating the thousands of sessions of matchpoint duplicate as only the average score, dividing one’s final percentage total by the number of times one teed it up.

I do hope that at least some number of players who tuned in to this hand on the internet will understand my emphasis, but if you didn’t, you will not have missed anything critical, or for that matter, even important.