Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 15th, 2015

There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.

Aldous Huxley

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


At the Gold Coast congress in Brisbane, Australia, last year, four hearts was clearly the best game for North-South. However Howard Melbourne found the killing trump lead, and declarer won in dummy to lead a spade to the eight and jack. After much thought Melbourne kept up the good work when he found the shift to a low club. Declarer rose with the ace to play a second spade and Barbara Travis won to lead a second heart. Now declarer won in hand and advanced the spade queen, ruffing it in dummy when West followed low without pause for thought.

That was one down when spades did not break — but declarer had been guilty of careless play. When East produced the spade king after having ducked the first spade, who had the spade ace? It was dollars to doughnuts, as one of my journalist colleagues is fond of saying, that West had the spade ace.

Meanwhile the blame was not all with South. East could and should have settled the issue in favor of the defense by rising with the spade king at trick two to play a second trump. This might not she been enough to defeat the contract had the cards not lain as they did. Still, looking at the doubleton trump, East should know that it could hardly be wrong to let partner win the second spade in order to give them the chance to lead a third trump – a play East knows she cannot perform for herself.

There are two sensible approaches here. One is to ignore the weak spades and focus on the suit named by your opponents, by bidding one no-trump. This gets your values across but exposes your partner's spade holding to immediate attack. A better idea would be to raise diamonds. A simple raise to two diamonds would be undercooking it, so make a limit raise by cuebidding two clubs now.


♠ 3 2
 Q J 8
 K 9 3
♣ A J 8 5 4
South West North East
1♣ 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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Mircea1January 29th, 2015 at 12:06 pm

When partner is known to have at least 8 cards in the minors, is South not better off in 3NT? His minor suit holding should be good fillers. East would have a nice opening lead problem

JeffJanuary 29th, 2015 at 1:30 pm

I may be sleepy this morning, but I really don’t see how 3NT is defeated. I keep coming to 2 clubs, 2 diamonds, and five heart tricks whatever the opening lead may be. Am I missing something?

jim2January 29th, 2015 at 1:44 pm

3N sure looks better to me. At 4H, neither black suit seems a likely lead, but if West gets it wrong with a diamond, cannot East win the AD and transpose into a successful defense with the now-obvious trump shift?

Meanwhile, any non-diamond lead at 3N seems to lead to at least nine tricks. Even on a diamond lead, it looks to me like declarer needs only the KC or JS onside to get at least nine tricks.

For example, let’s pretend South is the declarer at 3N and West leads a diamond, East wins and returns a diamond, threatening to set up a fourth round winner. South advances the QC and has nine tricks as long as either the KC is onside or the defense cannot cash three spades if the KC is offside.

Say South gets it wrong originally and crosses to the Board in hearts to lead to the 10S. If West wins the JS and clears diamonds, South has no alternative but to revert to clubs. Suppose West gets cute and wins the 10S with the AS and clears diamonds. Declarer — convinced the JS is onside — leads a second spade from the Board and East pops up with the KS and declarer’s QS is now the game going trick.

bobby wolffJanuary 29th, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Hi Mircea & Jim2,

Yes, as both of you have so deftly pointed out, 3NT is clearly a better contract than 4 hearts.

If one, like a bridge lab, instead of the now popular crime labs on TV, was to analyze why, the two minor suit jacks would play the major role (or should we say the minor suit role)?

Sometimes, (I’d say most) it is difficult to determine, when holding a solid major suit holding (such as 8 combined hearts with the four top leads), when it becomes significantly better to veer off normal course and eschew that 10 trick contract for the much better game contract of only 9, 3NT.

There are variables which can (should) steer an experienced pair to success, but bridge not offering second site, only a limited language not, of course, including total transparency becomes restricted to only judgment. No doubt our bidding systems, both simple and scientific are taught to search out 8 card major suit fits as, in the long run, probably on frequency, more likely to produce game with at or near the magic 26 points usually required.

However, and no doubt, the very best pairs somehow sense when the QJ of diamonds and the queen of clubs (albeit singleton) might lead an imaginative South into merely raising 2NT to 3, even though he is being somewhat unilateral in not bidding out his hand, which may lead to a lesser result on the next hand.

Of such do local duplicates through World Championships often be determined. Does anyone doubt (and many do) that these types of judgment separate the very good from the best? I don’t and haven’t for perhaps 60 years, but there is little to force the many top players from all around this world to 100% agree, a condition which IMO will always continue to exist since the many varied talents, required for world success, is not always thought to demand that quality.

Thanks for introducing that thought to ponder.

bobby wolffJanuary 29th, 2015 at 4:36 pm

Hi Jeff,

Please accept my apologies for not including your effort, since for some incorrect reason I, with my impatience, just assumed that Jeff meant Jim2.

I do appreciate your comments and am glad that you are part (along with Mircea & Jim2) of what I think is a wonderful subject and BTW you are directly on point and certainly not missing anything.

Iain ClimieJanuary 29th, 2015 at 10:16 pm

Hi Bobby, Jess, Jim2,

I just found an amusing quote from Terence Reese plugging NT over major suit fits, although he was focussing more on 4-4 fits. He pointed out that 4H or 4S at IMPs or rubber needed to be 2 tricks better than 3N (!). His point was that you had to make 10 tricks in 4H or 4S when only 8 were available in NT and 3NT is the game which is let through most often.

I suspect his passion for rubber bridge influenced his views here but how often at IMPs does stayman over-use locate a major suit fit when 3N is easy with a combined 27-28 count but a 4-1 break wrecks 4 of a major. Clearly preferring 3N can be overdone, but is there a lesson here to play in it a little more often?



PS Can I just mention a couple at my local club, Bill and Iris Draude at Crawley. It is their 60th anniversary today, and their obvious affection and ongoing partnership is hugely impressive.

Iain ClimieJanuary 29th, 2015 at 11:01 pm

Sorry Jeff, finger trouble!

bobby wolffJanuary 29th, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Hi Iain,

The way you and I have treated Jeff today, he might just lend us his finger.

Next, sincere congratulations to the Draudes for their 60th anniversary. No doubt, they have overcome many losing finesses and still manage both affection and a bridge partnership, proving that some lucky souls can appreciate real romance as much as some of us love competition.

Your topic of comparing NT with major suits has long been bantered back and forth.

While having a trump suit to rely on can hardly be underestimated, another advantage of NT, not often considered, is that the opening lead against a suit contract usually is somewhat conservative and not as likely to give a “soft” trick away as against the usual choice vs. NT which is just usually one’s longest hoped to be set up suit with not much thought to what happens at trick one.

However, in spite of that advantage going to the NT choice, my guess is that an eight card major suit fit, on balance, is slightly more likely to score itself up 10 tricks legitimately than would 9 tricks be available at NT.

However mine is only a guess and subject to a normal bias. Computer simulation could let us know who is right, but obviously both the program and the analysis must be foolproof, not an easy task to offer.