Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dealer: West

Vul: E/W


9 6

K 6

A 9 2

A K J 9 7 5


J 10 8 4 3

Q 7

10 8

6 4 3 2


A K 7

J 9 8 2

7 6 5 3

Q 10


Q 5 2

A 10 5 4 3

K Q J 4



South West North East
  Pass 1 Pass
1 Pass 3 Pass
3 Pass 3 Pass
3 Pass 4 Pass
4 All Pass    

Opening Lead: 4

“Give me a look, give me a face

That makes simplicity a grace.”

— Ben Jonson

The Principle of Restricted Choice (which, like Occam’s Razor, says “Always take the simplest path”) applies when an opponent plays an honor and you need to find a touching honor by either playing for the drop or finessing. It says that the missing honor is more likely to be in the other hand because with both honors a defender had a choice of which to play.

Say you are missing four cards including the queen and jack. When you play the ace, one opponent plays an honor. Do you play him for Q-J-doubleton or a singleton honor? With Q-J-doubleton, the defender might have played either honor at his first turn; with a singleton honor, the player had no choice. The odds heavily favor finessing on the next round, playing him for a singleton honor.

The same theory can be applied to situations like the one in today’s deal, where North-South bid to their best game — four hearts. The defenders started with three rounds of spades. Declarer won and cashed the heart king and ace. When West played the queen, declarer, using the Principle of Restricted Choice, correctly decided that an original holding of honor-doubleton was more likely than Q-J-7.

Accordingly, declarer played a club to the ace, ruffed a club, took the diamond king, crossed to dummy’s diamond ace, and played winning clubs through East. Whenever East ruffed in, whether high or low, declarer would lose just one trick more.


South Holds:

J 10 8 4 3
Q 7
10 8
6 4 3 2


South West North East
  1 Dbl. Pass
1 Pass 1 NT Pass
ANSWER: Your partner has shown a balanced 18-20 hand and not promised any spade length at all. But the odds strongly favor his having two or three spades, in which case spades will probably play better than no-trump. So bid two spades and apologize if partner has a small doubleton spade. But even then, your decision might still be right.


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 2010. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitDecember 2nd, 2010 at 11:54 am

It seems to me that North-South’s best game is 3NT, not that they should be in any game. Four hearts makes if hearts are 3-3 or someone holds queen-jack doubleton of hearts or South can pull off a trump coup, as he does today. Three NT makes if East has the ace-king of spades or if spades are 4-4 and the club finesse works or if West has the ace-king of spades and the queen of clubs. The math is complex, but I believe that 3NT wins by a few percentage points.

jim2December 2nd, 2010 at 3:01 pm

David –

I played with the math a bit, also, when this was first published. Both opponents had a cheap opportunity to bid one spade, especially East. This suggested to me that either spades were 4-4 or that the one with 5 did not have both honors. Consistent with the column theme, it represents a bidding application for this deal of “Occam’s Razor”!

Another aspect to consider is that the bidding is certain to fetch a spade lead if the suit layout is unfriendly.

bobbywolffDecember 2nd, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Hi David and Jim2,

Yes, I certainly agree that 3NT is clearly a better contract than 4 hearts. In a discussion of what went wrong in the bidding, I would pinpoint South’s decision to bid 3 spades rather than 3NT, which at the table would be my choice.

While 3 spades does enlist partner’s cooperation in choosing the final contract, is partner supposed then to bid 3NT holding Jx of spades? Possible, but far from convincing. Let this be a lesson that:

1. Bridge bidding is not a perfect exchange which guarantees success.

2. Someone needs to step up to the plate and make a decision. Here South’s spade holding is not perfect and represents risk, but anyone who doesn’t realize that and sometimes act on it, will soon be disappointed.

3. As Jim2 points out, no opponent has bid spades yet so that slightly indicates that they are distributed 4-4. Together with that plus having either opponent holding both the AK (about a 50-50 chance) should also sway us toward the NT game.

And finally from a bridge columnist view, since the play’s the thing wherein we will get the reader’s interest, why dilly dally around bidding when we have interesting subjects such as Occam’s Razor to mention and a trump coup to pull off.

Thanks to both of you for getting involved. You provide a very important vehicle on the internet in which many thousands of bridge lovers can satisfy their addiction by listening to all of us and then deciding for themselves.