Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, September 3rd, 2012

From things that differ comes the fairest attunement; all things are born through strife.


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

*Offering a choice of slams


Today's deal has two problems in one. In both cases you play in six spades, but in one case you receive the unfriendly heart lead, which sets up a winner for the defenders immediately. In the other case you receive a passive club lead. How should your approaches differ?

The deal, like all this week’s deals, comes from the world championships four years ago in Beijing.

West led the heart three and declarer won with the ace, drew trumps, eliminated the clubs ending in hand, and exited with a heart. East allowed West to win and he exited with a low diamond. (I’ve been told the jack is the best shot, but it never seems to work when I try it.) Declarer took East’s queen with the ace, and the diamond finesse gave him plus-920.

In the other room the lead was a trump. Is there a better plan than the one described above? Yes, your best play is to draw trumps and go after diamonds to establish a discard for your heart loser. It is a very close decision whether to lead them from the top or finesse twice against West. So the best approach is to test clubs before playing diamonds. If West shows any real spade or club length, you should go for two finesses against her by leading to the nine, then to the king and finessing. If West appears to be shorter in clubs than East, play diamonds from the top.

On an auction of this sort there seems to be no obvious urgency to lead diamonds. If declarer is going to set up clubs or hearts successfully, he will probably be making his contract whatever you do. But what may be relevant is the need to kill a ruff in dummy. And when your side holds the balance of high cards, as appears to be the case here, repeated trump leads might be effective.


♠ 6 3 2
 K 3 2
 K 10 7 4
♣ Q 8 6
South West North East
1 1♠
2 2♠ All 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


jim2September 17th, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Did South open light?

bobby wolffSeptember 17th, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Hi Jim2,

Definitely, at least at the high-level, no.

A 2NT opening is now suffering from deflation. being lowered to 19 (with a 5 card suit or possibly 2 tens or more) to 21 instead of the 21-22 in the past with 23-24 being reserved for 2 clubs first, then 2NT, which is now being lowered to 22-24 or 21 with a 5 card suit.

This also lowers the 1 of a suit with a 2NT rebid to 17 + a five card suit-a good 18.

Experience has caused me to accept the new numbers and, at least as of now, agree with them.

jim2September 17th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

It sure looked to me like North – who offered 6N as a contract – sure expected the combined HCP math to preclude being off two aces.

Would not 4N (instead of 5N) have been a better choice if such deflation was their partnership understanding?

JaneSeptember 17th, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Seems like opening a balanced 20 HCP hand with 2NT is pretty standard now and has been for as long as I have been playing regularly. My opinion is that the north hand was a bit light to insist upon slam, but it is a bidder’s game, plus north was lucky that partner held such lovely spades. I know, NT could have been chosen instead, but I can think of a few card combinations that would cause misery and grief. I wonder if using stayman, either regular or puppet, to look for the spade fit first might be better? With the hand in question, then when spades are chosen (happy days), slam looks worthwhile. I guess north felt there was no need to check for aces either, but I would have felt more comfortable doing so with a potential 31 HCP fit and no knowledge about how good the spades were. I know that giving out too much info to the opps is not smart, but we do have to communicate with partner first.

Do you think it would have been wiser to check for aces, use stayman, or just blast ahead?

bobby wolffSeptember 17th, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Hi Jim2,

Absolutely, but what happened here is probably because North wanted to use his new learned gimmick of 5NT meaning pick a slam (NT or spades) rather than address whether enough values are present. In truth South should have jumped to 4 spades, rather than just 3.

Another thing to be learned is that the slam is a very good one (with only 31 HCP’s), perhaps 75% and slightly higher if a heart is not led.

bobby wolffSeptember 17th, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Hi Jane,

You have made several excellent points in your pragmatic comment.

As I mentioned to Jim2, it would have been prudent for South to have super accepted his partner’s transfer (usually done with his hand, but not always a wise thing to do, if partner has a real Yarborough with only 5 spades and perhaps a singleton somewhere, but probably the correct thing to do percentage wise). Please keep in mind that bridge does not lend itself to perfection, particularly in bidding choices, but that said, methinks the luck added factor makes the game even more interesting and is certainly, at the very least, a more fun game to play than chess with its unrelenting analytically based skill requirement.

I would not use Stayman, if for no other reason than if South responded 3 hearts than 3 spades by the Stayman bidder is better played to show a 4 1/2 heart raise rather than to show 5+ spades which transfers require.

The immediate above allows 4 of a major to be the final resting spot by using the suggested treatment, sometimes (often with some bad breaks during the declarer’s play) allows a game to be scored instead of the awful down one while playing a 5 of a major contract.

Although too much ace asking sometimes can be awkward (in taking other more important modern improvements away) it should usually be used rather than chance an immediate loss of the first two tricks (2 aces or an AK in the same suit taken early by the defense) but again bridge bidding is not perfect, nor ever will be, at least during my time left on this planet, while playing bridge.

“You pays your money, you takes your chances” will ever be connected with certain areas in bridge bidding and again, I, for one, respect that inevitable part of our beloved game.

Finally, when faced with a choice which might be thought of as deciding on stopping or going forward on dubious values and in turn by going forward, becoming very helpful for the defense, particularly the choice of opening lead, simply decide to be conservative since your side’s bidding (listened to also by the enemy) should help the strong hands decide to take the money and run rather than fly to well informed armed opponents.

The above advice together with $1.50 (used to be a thin dime) will get you a cup of coffee.

jim2September 17th, 2012 at 6:20 pm

When I first read this hand in the paper, I interpreted South’s failure to “super accept” as:

a) trying to compensate for South’s original 2N over-bid,
b) having seen North’s bidding before, or
c) both of the above.

JaneSeptember 17th, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Totally forgot about the super accept. This would have been the best thing to do and hope for the best, unless you are playing with one of the partners that Jim2 referred to. Very funny, but none of my partners are like that. I might be, but none of them are.

JoeSeptember 17th, 2012 at 9:12 pm

At least in the central US (where I play), the 2/1 standard point ranges are
15-17 = 1NT
18-19 = 1minor-2NT jump
20-21 = 2NT open
22-24 = 2c then 2NT
25-27 = varies, either 3NT or 2c then 3NT

This isn’t even ‘high level’, this is what is taught as basic 2/1 to people in the 299er games. I would open that 2NT 10 times out of 10, and then superaccept over the transfer with that amazing spade fit. KQ9x opposite any hand with 5 spades should be in game, period, even xxxxx-xx-xxx-xxx.

Iain ClimieSeptember 17th, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Hi folks,

Surprising that nobody has mentioned South’s colossal controls and possible ruffing value in hearts if North has 3 or more. This is a far better hand over 3H than many 21 or 22 pt ones riddled with Queens and Jacks. I would suggest 4C rather than just 4S over 3H though – game is near certain even opposite junk and the cue-bid could encourage a partner with (say) Axxxxx Hxxx DKx Cxx to bid 4D and then NS may press on to a good slam on limited values.


Iain Climie

bobby wolffSeptember 17th, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Hi Joe,

First, welcome to

I agree with most of what you say, especially all the point ranges and the varying 3NT values, depending what the partnership prefers.

Yes, it is not even high level and 2NT is a standout opening bid with the South hand, as is probably the super accept over a 3 heart transfer response.

However, with your example hand as North, even with average defense, the opponents are almost sure to take 1 spade trick, 1 heart, 2 diamonds and 1 club, holding the declarer to only 8 tricks. However, we all would super accept the spade transfer and my vote, although it might turn out wrong, would be for North to Pass 2NT and on a very good day, (spades and hearts both splitting), 8 tricks can also be scored for contract made.

Thanks for writing.

bobby wolffSeptember 17th, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Hi Iain,

While I do not necessarily agree with a 4 club double super accept, it could hit a nerve and drive your partnership to a great fitting small slam on a very limited number of hcp’s, usually required to attempt a slam.

The reason for my reluctance is that such a bold response should include, in addition to a rich hand in controls (instead of quacks), it should also represent the top hcp number at least adding distributional points.

Sometimes, especially in the very weak area in most Standard American systems of the opening 2NT call of wide balanced ranges for 2NT openings (sometime 5-4-2-2 or even 4-4-4-1) because of the danger of partner passing an opening 1 bid, a 4 level cue bid should (IMO) only be used with partner’s transfer bid striking a nerve and getting an unusual response to awaken partner.

Some like chocolate, others like vanilla or strawberry, but in the interest of everyone’s wanting to arrive at the right contract, these particular situations need to be discussed before hand with the expectation that their partnership will become special.

However, all of us, especially I, appreciate your original thoughts.

Iain ClimieSeptember 17th, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Thanks for this and perhaps I’m being a little too keen, although change the D9 to the Jack and I’m definitely going the whole hog. A crucial point in the slam hand I suggested, of course, is the 6th spade – that last x is a vital extra trick.



jim2September 18th, 2012 at 12:26 am

I would note that my Q if South had opened light was intended to refer to that partnership’s methods and agreements. How else, I reasoned, could North offer a choice of slams w/o a South super accept of the transfer That is, North’s 11-point hand contains no singleton or void, and the 5-card spade suit is not particularly strong, yet North was willing to play 6N.

Had he added 11 to South’s promised count and arrived at 33? No five card suit or extra jack or ten will stop two aces from cashing! Hence, my Q if N-S were playing an old fashioned 22-23 point 2N. If not, then the North bidding seemed … well … unexpected.