Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Dealer: South

Vul: Neither


Q 9 8 5 2

K 9

J 5 4

Q J 6


J 7 6

10 8 7 4

10 3

10 8 4 3


4 3

Q J 6

Q 9 8 7 6

9 2


A 10

A 5 3 2

A K 2

A K 7 5


South West North East
2 Pass 2 Pass
2 NT Pass 3 * Pass
3 Pass 5 NT** Pass
6 NT All Pass    
**Choice of slams

Opening Lead: Heart 4

“Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.”

— Francis Bacon

There are plenty of excellent bridge players who claim never to have read a textbook. Personally, though, I find that articles and bookss do help me play better. I learned basic technique — not to mention some of the more complex percentage plays — by reading up on them. However, one of the most obscure combinations you will ever see is featured in this deal’s spade suit, and I had never seen it reproduced in a book until very recently.


There might be something to be said for playing six clubs today, but six no-trump looks like the normal spot. How should you develop tricks in spades? The answer is to run the spade queen! If the suit is 3-3, it is a blind guess which finesse to take. But if the suit is 4-2, your spade intermediates will let you pick up three of the four honor-doubletons by leading the queen. No other play caters to that.


It is only fitting that when this combination came up in the Cavendish tournament a few years ago, it was Fred Gitelman, author of “BridgeMaster,” which features this precise combination, who was at the helm in six no-trump. He made the right play and was rewarded when the cards cooperated.


Just for the record: if you did not have the spade eight, your best play would be to lead low to the 10. This gives you a 50 percent chance against the 3-3 breaks and also picks up either doubleton honor in East.


South Holds:

Q 9 8 5 2
K 9
J 5 4
Q J 6


South West North East
1 Dbl. Pass
2 Pass 3 Pass
ANSWER: Your partner’s sequence is invitational, and your hand has no extra features beyond what you have shown already, bar the fifth trump. If your partner can not bid game, you have no reason to do so. You have bid your cards to the full already, so pass three spades.


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


Ron HartlenSeptember 15th, 2011 at 10:40 am

Question from a novice. What is it about North’s holding that would inspire the comittment to slam opposite the hand (strength and shape) shown by South?

toldoSeptember 15th, 2011 at 11:54 am

…one of the most obscure combinations you will ever see is featured in this deal’s spade suit…

Agreed, I rarely see a hand without spade king.

jim2September 15th, 2011 at 12:32 pm

On the bidding question, could you offer an example or two of slighly changed South holdings with which you would bid four spades?

For example, if the shape were the same but the minor suit points consolidated into the club ace? Or, the diamond jack becomes the spade jack and the spade deuce the diamond one?

Bobby WolffSeptember 15th, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Hi Ron,

You are in very safe territory when you question North’s judgment in demanding a slam with his holding. Here are the factors, pro and con:

1. South’s range for his 2 club bid and his rebid of 2NT is 22-24 making the application of 19-21 (but usually a good 5 card suit with 19), for an immediate 2NT opening.

2. North’s 5NT was forcing and asked South’s judgment as to what slam to bid, allowing South to bid a 5 card minor (or possibly even a very good 4 carder, especially with a doubleton spade) with, of course, the opportunity to return to partner’s 5 card spade suit if he had 3 of them. North’s bidding had pretty much denied a 4 card second suit (which he would have bid over partner’s 3 spade response and, of course with slam interest).

3. Since, on this hand, by far the more important point is the play of the spade suit, we can chalk up the significant reason to the writer’s privileged editorial license.

4. For what it is worth, your sophisticated question belies you being a novice.

Bobby WolffSeptember 15th, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Hi Toldo,

Again I am embarrassed by what all the internet readers see with only 12 cards in the East hand, but when it left our office the 13th card was there and it was, of course, the king of spades.

I sincerely apologize for the confusion and, of course, wish for all of our readers to have understood the hand as we intended it to be. Also in the text, “books” had an extra s in it. No doubt, gremlins were having a field day and we vow to do everything we can to prevent such things from happening in the future.

Jeff SSeptember 15th, 2011 at 2:05 pm

toldo, there are only 12 cards in the East hand, so I assume the invisible king can be located there. Raymond Smullyan has nothing on me! 🙂

Bobby WolffSeptember 15th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Hi Jim 2,

Your question is of course, a very good one, and both your possible changes would be enough for me to accept my partner’s game invitation.

If there was such a thing as a real bridge college, that type of bridge judgment where aces and kings being undervalued and quacks (queens and jacks) being overrated would be an entire course, because with it would be the value of high cards being in one’s long suit(s) rather than in one’s short suit where they are not as often important for developing long card tricks.

The only worthwhile caveat which should be mentioned is for the bidder to beware of possible mirror distributions (exact same distribution as partner and in the same suits) which invariably produces the fewest possible tricks.

It is often impossible to spot possible mirrors, but when they occur all one can do is apologize to the bridge gods for being a bad boy (girl).

`ss,sSeptember 15th, 2011 at 5:13 pm

There is another way to play the spade suit other than by starting with leading the queen, and that is cash the ace and then lead the ten intending to play the queen. It took me a long time, but I believe this line is inferior to leading the queen, but only by something like 36% to 34%. Interestingly, if one of “`

the hands contain the 7 of spades, the suggested line wins by about 38% to 34%.

David WarheitSeptember 15th, 2011 at 5:25 pm

There is another way to play the spade suit other than by starting with leading the queen, and that is cash the ace and then lead the ten intending to play the queen. It took me a long time, but I believe this line is inferior to leading the queen, but only by something like 36% to 34%. Interestingly, if one of the hands contains the 7 of spades, the suggested line wins by about 38% to 34%. I recommend to anybody to do the math; it will help a lot when the next puzzling combination shows up.

Ted BSeptember 15th, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Giving partner 15-16 support points and 4 card support, I would have bid 4 Spades and would have expected to make it well over half the time.

In addition to the fifth trump, you have a ruffing value, filling points in both secondary suits, a likely quick entry to your hand, know where almost all the points are and partner’s points (likely mostly Aces and Kings, since you have the Quacks) are over the opener. Given the auction, the filling QJ of Clubs could well be at least as useful as having the Ace of Clubs under the opener.

There’s also a good chance that squeeze or endplay possibilities will be present if necessary.

What warning signs have I missed or ignored which make 4 Spades a bad bet?

Bobby WolffSeptember 15th, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Hi Jeff,

I just realized that Raymond Smullyan is a well decorated famous mathematician. Is there no end to learning?


And for the column hand, just think that if that combination comes up to anyone as declarer (without the seven in sight) if you, the declarer, play it right you will maximize your tricks to 108 out of 210 instead of letting it fall to only 102 out of 210. Possibly a better exercise would be to figure out how many years it would take and how many hours out of each day would one have to be playing bridge, to have that combination come up 210 times. Living to Methuselah’s, nor Yoda’s ultimate years would probably not be close to enough, but who counts?

Bobby WolffSeptember 15th, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Hi Ted,

The only fact I think is certain, is that since the subject is hypothetical, arguable, and totally subjective that no one will be able to either verify nor doubt your judgment.

Since I would pass, I will only offer one bit of advice as to why and that is, unless you are playing with a very conservative partner, he, like you, in any important tournament (IMPs or rubber brudge, much moreso than matchpoints) would love the game bonus just as much as you, so since he just doesn’t up and bid game himself, that is the big magilla which freezes my optimism.

Everything you say is true, especially about the QJ of clubs, but there are infinite possibilities never to be quantified, so everyone make a choice and let the winner, at least on this hand, explain why.

Bobby WolffSeptember 16th, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Hi David,

I did not mean to neglect your numeracy report.

You are, of course, correct in your suggestion for “everyone to do the math” in order to better understand why the correct play is correct, rather than take someone else’s word for it. However, not everyone is numerate enough to dabble with numbers and have them listen and provide the information that you seek.

Consider yourself fortunate and number talented enough to have an inside track, if for no other reason, then to rise to greater heights in your bridge career.

Jeff HSeptember 21st, 2011 at 5:47 pm

This deal (as printed) reminds me of something that occurred recently when playing in a pairs event at a regional tournament. It was somewhere around the 5th round and when partner counted (and recounted) her cards she had only 12. The director was called and he looked around briefly for the missing card before taking the board away. Several minutes later he returned with the board which now contained a different deck as he had to reduplicate it. I have no idea what happened to the card or how long it had been missing.