Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Our life is frittered away by detail … Simplify, simplify,

Henry David Thoreau

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



In the following deal Paul Lavings of Australia displayed both good table presence and a fine knowledge of the percentage tables.

He and his partner were playing a weak no-trump, which led to his declaring four hearts from the South seat. Lavings won the lead of the club nine with the ace and drew trumps in three rounds. What would you have expected him to do next?

The natural play is to lead out the top diamonds and gulp when the suit splits 4-1. But the correct way to plan the play is to realize that if diamonds break 3-2, all approaches will succeed. If the suit splits 4-1, with West having shortage, there is no chance of playing diamonds for one loser, and that is also true if East has the singleton four. If East has a singleton eight, you have a legitimate play to hold your losers to one, and if he has a singleton honor, you have a pressure play to make West’s life hard.

Realizing that, Lavings placed the diamond nine on the table at trick five. When West covered and the eight appeared from East, it was a simple matter to lead a low diamond from the board to the six in hand and subsequently finesse against West’s remaining honor. Declarer’s play had a psychological edge too. Had West begun with J-10-8-4, for example, it might not have been that easy for him to duck the diamond nine. If he splits his honors, declarer has again managed to hold the diamond losers to one.

You will not stay short of game in spades. But do you have enough for a splinter-bid of four diamonds, showing short diamonds and at least game values? This depends on partnership style, but I'd say no, though with the club ace instead of the king, I'd accept the more aggressive action. Some play a jump to three no-trump here as a raise to four spades with some defense; that might be more suitable.


♠ K 10 6 4 3
 10 9
♣ K Q 10 7 2
South West North East
1♠ 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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2March 20th, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I confess that I would have ended up at 3N.

Using weak NT, I would have bid 3N instead of 4H after checkback (I presume that was what the 2C – 2H bids were) to offer a choice of games. Using strong NT, I would have transferred to hearts and then bid 3N. In both cases, the strong hand would have been declarer.

Presumably, East would lead a black card, declarer would win, test the hearts, then test the diamonds, and then crush the East hand while running the hearts.

Alternately, declarer could win and try to duck a diamond to East while the hearts are still able to provide transportation. Diamonds would not break, of course.

In either case, declarer would throw East in late with the black suit most discarded and probably get a 10th (overtrick) trick in the other at the end.

bobby wolffMarch 20th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Hi Jim2,

From your posts we will start calling you the terror of matchpoints (TOM). For any pair who has a good game coming up to your table, their boots will be shaking.

As long as a 2 club checkback, promised 5 cards in the first bid major, 3NT is certainly a possible rebid with the South hand, although 3-5-2-3 would be the distribution of choice, not 2-5-4-2 especially when partner has opened the bidding in your 4 card suit.

Although I certainly cannot prove what I suspect, when 4 cards are held in partner’s so-called primary suit along with a worthless doubleton in one of the unbids, gut feel should suggest a final 8 card major suit contract as opposed to 3NT.

However, let the winner explain and by choosing NT you would no doubt have a winner, although by doing so you would have destroyed the Aces good intentions by offering a likely higher scoring contract into the mix.

May your good judgment and if you will excuse me, rabbit’s foot luck (and pulling someone’s leg may be your intention) never change.

jim2March 20th, 2012 at 2:23 pm


Your point that 3-5-2-3 would have been a preferred distribution is quite sound.

I took into consideration that partner’s 1D opening then 1N rebid hinted club shortness within a balanced hand. I thus upgraded the value of my non-positional club stopper (the AC) and somewhat discounted the chance that partner had a fatal spade holding, especially as declarer.

bobby wolffMarch 20th, 2012 at 4:35 pm


For what it is worth I, almost certainly in the minority, prefer a raise of 1 of a major to 2 of the major with three of his suit and a side doubleton with the only exceptions of 1. partner’s declaring is suspect, 2. wanting to go against the field in matchpoints. 3. a 4-3-3-3 pattern.

The advantage of the above is that if partner has a 5 card major for his immediate response, but rather a poorish hand we will normally be playing a better contract than 1NT and if it goes pass pass to a balancer, the original responder can more easily make a matchpoint double, knowing his partner is relatively short in the responder’s major.

Obviously it is fairly close, but over the years my guess is that this technique is at least a 60-40 advantage. Also, the extra information works well when competition starts after the bidding slows down.

jim2March 20th, 2012 at 5:01 pm

I hope you don’t mind me continuing this discussion!

Until one of my current partners insisted, my experience with weak notrump systems was limited to Precision. With strong notrump systems, I agree with you completely. It has seemed to me, however, that the weak notrumpers like that 1N rebid so much that they will often do that in preference to a three card major suit raise.

When I asked about that, the answer I got was something like, “Well, that’s what checkback is for.”

Back to the column hand, the raise to 3N – matchpoints or not – is not a decree but an offering of a choice of games. Assuming partner is balanced, has more diamonds than clubs, and does not have four hearts, I think partner is a favorite to have more than two spades.

Additionally, one of the things I was taught in my youth was that there was almost a full trick difference (statistically) when the stronger hand was declarer in game hands, and better than that in part score hands. Here, 3N puts the stronger hand at declarer, and we know the weaker hand has no exposed bits (and may even help a soft club honor).

Nine tricks versus ten.

bobby wolffMarch 21st, 2012 at 12:23 am

Hi Jim2,

Without trying to contradict anyone or start the slightest argument, my guess as to the average difference of tricks between having the strong hand declarer in games is about .25 tricks per game and a little less in part scores.

Since those types of statements are very difficult to prove even with computers since the choice of opening lead as well as to that particular declarer’s judgment has to all be fit around the actual layout of the hand.

So anyone has the right to guess whatever he or she wants to, leaving us to just feel our way, each in his own world.

The only real learning any of us can get out of this discussion is how so many players, and at all above average levels, have their own feel and follow their own icons. Going further those icons usually, as if by magic, tend to have the same strengths and weaknesses as their followers only that they do everything a little more accurate and most of all, with more experience.