Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, April 13th, 2012

I can find nothing lowly
in the universe.

A.R. Ammons

South North
Neither ♠ 6 2
 7 5 3
 Q 10 8 3
♣ A K Q 6
West East
♠ K Q J 9 4
 6 4
 7 5
♣ 10 5 4 2
♠ 10 8 5 3
 K 9 8 2
 A 9 4
♣ J 9
♠ A 7
 A Q J 10
 K J 6 2
♣ 8 7 3
South West North East
1 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


The true expert pays proper attention to the spot cards, even when there is no obvious reason to preserve them. The idea that you will need to optimize communications and entries is an obvious one, but is often overlooked. Today's deal offers an example.

West leads the spade king against three no-trump. You win the second round of spades and see that you will need four hearts and four clubs to land the contract. How would you tackle the play?

When the cards lie as in the diagram, only one play is good enough. You must lead the club eight to dummy’s ace. The nine falls from East, and you take a successful heart finesse. You continue with the club seven to dummy’s king, noting with interest that East follows with the jack. How do you think the clubs lie after this fall of the cards?

East will produce two middle cards on the first two rounds when he holds J-10-9, J-10, J-9 or 10-9. So, the odds are approximately 3-1 in favor of East’s holding only two clubs. What is more, you are prepared for a finesse against West’s 10 after your thoughtful unblock of the eight and seven!

You take your second heart finesse and lead the club three to dummy’s six. You then play the club queen and finesse a third time in hearts. Contract made!

In standard American, you'd bid four no-trump to invite slam with no four-card major. For an extra wrinkle, if you play Texas transfers (four diamonds and four hearts show six-card heart and spade suits), a four-spade call can be used to show a balanced invitation with both four-card minors — in other words, exactly this hand. So a direct four-no-trump response will suggest a very flat hand.


♠ 6 2
 7 5 3
 Q 10 8 3
♣ A K Q 6
South West North East
2 NT 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


jim2April 27th, 2012 at 11:29 am

On the column hand, I would never have found that play at the table. Having seen it, there is at least some small chance I might now. Thank you!

On the bidding question, it should probably be noted that the answer depends on the partnership opening 2NT range. For example, if playing 22-24 2NT in the older style, many would simply bid 6N. If South wanted a choice of slams bid, one could still bid 4S but then bid 6N over a 4N response, I suppose. NOt sure I would, though, as it might help the defense.

The same situation would arise playing 20-21 2NT openings if the quiz hand had another couple stray points (e.g., Q2 of spades, instead of 62),

MikeApril 27th, 2012 at 12:27 pm

In the play hand, taking 4C and 4H is such low % (C 3-3 but not exactly JT9 with E, or 4-2 with E having doubleton JT9) that in MP, I would just concede a D to go down 1. The S lead seems like it would be made at the other table, so take the average and go to the next board. May be try one round of C and if a J,T, or 9 drops from E, then play to make. Otherwise, play for down 1.

In the bidding hand, 11 + 21 is only 32, so as you pointed out, the point count is not right. However, responder needs 1, not 2 extra points to bid 4N. If S is allowed to bid 4N because she upgrades the hand (AKQ combination), then the partnership needs to play check back Gerber to make sure they are not missing two A’s. Also, after 4N, partnership can always agree to bid to try to locate 4-4, 5-3 or even 6-2 fit.

bobbywolffApril 27th, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Hi Jim2,

As always, thanks for your positive interest and seemingly, at least, to always be asking the right questions and along the way never failing to bring up the necessary particulars. Considering your approach, might you have some formal educational experience in your background?

The unblocking of the 8 and 7 of clubs comes with experience in proper technique. A so-called top player will learn to just do that (without thinking much about it) since those two cards can only hurt him to keep them, not enabling him later to have an important extra percentage option.

The only other factor worth describing is that after in the old style, as you pointed out, with 22-24 HCP 2NTs in style or now in vogue the modern 20-21, by adding the extra queen to the responders hand which you suggest, making the total around 33+, if the responder jumps to 5NT (at that point with no determined trump suit) or even if the 2NT opener raises 4NT to 5NT a universal world-wide convention (named Baron) takes hold asking both partners to begin bidding 4 card suits up the line until and if, a 4-4 fit is discovered at the 6 level. If no one is, then the partnership is stuck with playing 6NT, but even then, with that point total between the hands, we should have at least, a decent chance to make it.

jim2April 27th, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Mr. Wolff –

Not educational in the sense I think you meant, but I do admit to being a nuclear engineer. On your NT bidding items, how would one invite 7NT? Back in my youth, I think I was taught that 1/2NT – 4NT invited 6, and that 1/2NT – 5NT invited 7.

I’m still thinking over Mike’s points.

bobbywolffApril 27th, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Hi Mike,

Your point about conceeding down 1 at matchpoints, instead of trying for a make (by merely knocking out the ace of diamonds) with 4 club tricks (about 36%) and a heart finesse (about 50%) making an overall total of an 18% chance of success has much to recommend it.

Since it seems that most pairs sitting your way (probably about 90%) will probably be in 3NT, I think you are correct, however, players usually being extremely competitive, will mostly be trying to make the hand and if great play (club guess or merely just a break), lands the game you will probably feel bad about it, but I agree with you on your choice, but whether I would do it or not probably depends on how macho I was feeling when it appeared.

As to your point on the BWTA hand I also agree with your general premise, but other than Baron determining 4-4 fits and, if instead the NTer accepts the slam invitation he, holding a decent 5 card suit can merely jump to 6 of that suit (instead of 5NT) which his partner should accept unless possibly holding only a weak doubleton, when he might feel obliged to return to 6NT.

On your other issue about Gerber, it gets tricky since usually when one decides to inquire about aces he has already made up his mind to bid slam if his partnership has at least three of the four aces, so that modern high-level bridge does not provide (not enough bidding space available) for last minute asks. Your intention is good, however I do not believe, (although I could be wrong), there is an intelligent way to do it.

bobbywolffApril 27th, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Hi Jim2,

In my youth, I seem to remember the same thing as you, but probably the emphasis has changed (based on frequency of occurrence) so that reaching the correct small slam, has become the method of choice involving the bid of 5NT (jumps and sometimes just raises) with, of course, king asking present after a 4NT beginning and a grand slam force in effect (asking for 2 of the 3 top honors) immediately after a certain specific suit is established between the partnership.

jim2April 27th, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Mike –

Our host usually gears his answers towards rubber or teams, unless indicated otherwise, but your points have relevance either way.

With many partnerships playing weak NT, I would ask myself if 3NT would often be played by North and, if so, would the same lead be likely. With 9 spades missing, I would guess that on this hand even the weak NTers will generally get a spade lead.

Taking the heart finesse means down 2 about half the time. If it wins, but clubs are NOT 3-3, then we’d be back to down 1, absent a club play as in the column. If we take the column club play and turn out to have been hoodwinked, then we’re back to down 2.

For simplicity, I’ll just consider 3-3 clubs, and also assume the heart finesse is 50%. (I think it is slightly higher due to the revealed spade length and that West cannot also have both AD and KH).

Mike’s line always produces – 50, and I’ll assume the field tries to make the contract.

-100 — 50% of the time when the heart finesse fails
– 50 — 32% of the time when the heart finesse wins but clubs do not break 3-3
+420 –18% of the time when the heart finesse wins and the clubs split 3-3

This suggests that Mike gets a top 50% of the time, is even 32% of the time, and gets a bottom 18% of the time.


At rubber, gambling 50 points for 18% chance at game is a clear call.

At IMPs, assume the other table will always try to make the bid.

– 50% of the time the other table goes down 2 so Mike gains 50 for +2 IMPs
– 32% of the time the other table also goes down 1, for no swing
– 18% of the time the other table goes +400 so Mike loses 450 for -10 IMPs

So, conceding down one has an expected value of:

(0.50 x +2) + (0.32 x 0) + (0.18 x -10) = (+1) + (0) + (-1.8) = -0.8 IMP

So, it would be better to try for the game.

Interestingly enough, if N-S had been vulnerable, the IMP math changes only slightly:

(0.50 x +3) + (0.32 x 0) + (0.18 x -12) = (+1.5) + (0) + (-2.16) = -0.66 IMP.

Of course, with nuke stuff I would have a second checker, so I may be mistaken.

EDIT: I just checked and saw that our Host just beat me with much of the above, but the math might still be of interest, esp for IMPs.

MikeApril 27th, 2012 at 6:04 pm

@ Mr. Wolff. Check-back Gerber: After 4N, 5C is Gerber allowing BOTH opener and responder to upgrade (e.g. with good long suit) without playing slam missing 2 A. Other 5 level bids are bidding 4 card suit up the line (5N = C). Rebidding suit at 6 level => 5 cards. Bidding 6m directly after 4N shows 6 cards. Or switch the ways to bid 5 vs 6 cards if one wants. Since opening NT with 6 M is rare, 6M may be used to show 5-4 in the M’s. Of course, having these bids does not mean one has to use them in any one particular hand if one wants to not give too much info to opponents.

@Jim. If S opens 1D, W would bid 1S, so a S would be led anyway. But even if not, the declarer who gets a S lead can never catch up with one who does not if the H finesse is on. Because then, the ones who did not get a S lead will make at least 11 tricks. Thus, if it is possible that some people may not get a S lead, one should assume the H finesse is off and play accordingly. Playing to make guarantees a poor score against those who do not get a S lead whether the H finesse is on or off.

jim2April 27th, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Mike –

That was why I was happy to math it on the basis of spades always led. My head was already beginning to hurt again.


clarksburgApril 27th, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Nuclear engineer huh? Me too. Maybe if a wind and solar proponent ever pops up here we can take him/her aside and provide some helpful enlightenment…but I digress…;)

jim2April 27th, 2012 at 11:34 pm

Digression can be good, but good capacity factor is better ….