Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Vulnerable: North-South

Dealer: West




A K J 8 7 6

A Q 6 5 4


Q 7 4

A K 10 6 5

Q 10 9

9 8


9 6 5 2

9 7 3 2

5 4

K 3 2


A K 10 8 3

Q J 4

3 2

J 10 7


South West North East
Pass 1 Pass
1 2 3 Pass
3 NT All pass

Opening Lead: Heart six

“It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

— Henry David Thoreau

This column tries to teach good habits. Normally I show deals where good technique succeeds and an incomplete plan will fail. But I would be remiss if I suggested that the technically superior line should always be followed. That approach ignores the human factor. Often one can infer that an approach other than the percentage play will have a greater chance of success. Does that sound obscure? Today’s example will make the position clearer.

In this deal, from the North American Open Pairs Final, the eventual winners of the event found the right pressure play to get the most out of their no-trump game.

Lew Stansby’s partnership with his wife, JoAnna, represents one of the country’s leading mixed pairs — and they have had considerable success in the open game too. Here, in three no-trump, Lew won the opening heart lead with the jack and immediately led the club jack. He felt sure West would find himself unable to resist covering if he had the king. Naturally West played low, so Stansby went up with dummy’s ace, played off the diamond ace, and overtook the spade jack with the ace. He then cashed the spade king and led his second diamond, crossing his fingers as he did so. When he finessed the jack and found the suit behaving, he had his 10 tricks. This was a fine score, since 11 tricks were the limit in either clubs or diamonds.


South holds:

Q 7 4
A K 10 6 5
Q 10 9
9 8


South West North East
1 Pass
1 Pass 3 Pass
ANSWER: There is some temptation just to blast to three no-trump, which rates to be the best game most of the time. However, a more subtle approach is to temporize with three diamonds, waiting for partner to bid three no-trump himself or raise hearts. If he now bids three spades, that will act as the fourth suit, allow ing you to bid three no-trump next.


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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2April 27th, 2011 at 1:12 pm

I find it interesting that, if N-S blunder into 4S, West will surely lead a top heart.

bobbywolffApril 27th, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Hi Jim2,

If so, it seems that most roads lead to declarer making that awkward contract.

However it is hard to envision NS to not end with South demanding a minor suit and North complying.

Alex AlonApril 27th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Hello Mr. Wolf

This fine deal behaves according to Zia’s advice ” if they don’t cover they don’t have it”

I know it sounds funny but works most of the time.

Thank you for your blog writing it is very educational and fun

Alex Alon


JaneApril 27th, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Hi Bobby,

I am glad you suggested that north/south should look for the minor suit game. I was curious about the wisdom of passing three NT. (Once again, luck can be a lady sometimes.) I see too many potential bad things happening in a three NT contract. As an aside, if the west hand does not bid, and south winds up in the unlikely 3NT game, then declarer has lots of guessing to do. Where is that elusive king of clubs or that sweet queen of diamonds? With west bidding, one of them should be there, but which one. Maybe both, with the spade queen in the east hand. Makes my head hurt.

Zia’s advice is sound, naturally, but if you, as west, held the king third of clubs, would you cover the jack? If declarer leads the ten of clubs instead, then what? All kinds of fun things to think about.

Thanks in advance.

bobbywolffApril 27th, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Hi Alex,

Yes, Zia’s advice is sound, but when to follow it is more delicate? In some ways it is more predictable to determine what good players would tend to do as opposed to inexperienced novice ones.

To try and amplify the above comment, very good players, not being privy to knowing what declarer may be doing and totally conscious of the advantage the declarer has over the defense in knowing all of his assets instead of as defenders do, only seeing 1/2 of them, tend to follow the rules rather than playing mind games against superior foes, made so by the normal procedures of the game itself. It could be downright silly to not cover the club if declarer was going to finesse it and is holding only Jx.

However novices, not being privy to all the nuances which surrounds them often think wrongly, that bridge is very much like poker, instead of only a little like poker and make plays such as not covering with the king for the wrong reason but, by not doing so, achieve a good result because declarer was not privy to West’s mindset.

Assuming I am on track in describing this phenomenon, all any defender (easily the hardest task present in playing high-level bridge against excellent players) can do is totally concentrate on every defense, using time at the table to be ready for fast tempo plays (legal as such) which can come at any moment during the hand.

Before anyone cries out that it is too difficult to do well, let me simply add, that these mind battles, both as declarer and as a defender, contribute mightily to the beauty of the game, as well, of course, to one’s standing in the expert community.

If you are waiting for me to give more advice on what to do generally, all I can say is follow Al Davis’ (owner of the Oakland Raiders) sage advice which simply says, “Just win, baby”!

bobbywolffApril 28th, 2011 at 1:15 am

Hi Jane,

While I agree with you about, when sitting South, I probably would not sit for a 3NT contract, but if partner had a weak hand, which included the queen of diamonds, a heart stop and only the ace of spades, 3NT would produce 9 tricks while at the same time, depending on the layout of the club suit there could easily be 3 losers against a 5 diamond contract. However, I do usually prefer to head for the contract which appears to be in front of my nose and that is 5 of a minor suit.

As far as declaring 3NT, in many cases the right percentage line would be to cash ace king of diamonds, hoping for the queen to fall doubleton and then if not, go for the gusto with the club finesse. Sometimes though the declarer is not afforded that simple opportunity due to lack of entries back and forth.

No one can say that high-level bridge, or bridge almost at any level, is not thought provoking, where the numeracy of cards plus the logic of the game itself as well as partnership harmony, always reigns supreme.

Bridge tips from experts like Zia should usually always be considered, but when any one of us is at the table, the declarer, not a surrogate, has to decide on what he thinks is the best percentage opportunity to score up the contract.

Thanks for your well written and thought inducing questions.