Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, May 21st, 2015

I have hardly ever known a mathematician who was capable of reasoning.


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



Calculating the percentages can be tedious, but when the success or failure of a vulnerable slam is at stake, it should be worth the effort to calculate the relative chances of success of the lines under consideration.

At the table West led the heart 10 against six no-trump, and declarer felt a rush of euphoria for having been spared a diamond lead. He won in hand, led a club to the king, cashed the club queen, then set about spades. He would be home against any normal break, since only four spade tricks were needed. Accordingly he led a spade to the queen, and a spade towards dummy and his hopes were dashed when West showed out.

Of course a 4-2 or better spade break will occur five times in six, and additionally if the spade jack or 10 fall under the queen, the combined holding of the spade eight and nine will be good enough to establish an extra trick. But declarer should also consider how to protect against one opponent or other having five chunky spades. In fact you can almost always succeed if it is East with the length. Cash one top club only, then lead a spade towards hand, inserting the eight if East plays low.

This copes with East having five spades and West holding a low singleton, or with West having five spades and East holding the singleton jack or 10. Admittedly it loses out when West has the bare spade jack or 10, but it is far the best approach over all.

This is largely about personal style, but for me, with the same hand but my long suit either hearts or diamonds, an overcall feels right. I’d worry that doubling would lose my ability in competition to get my suit in. With my actual hand, it is a toss-up. I could either double or bid one spade, down-valuing my clubs. Equally, with a small club instead of a diamond, I would surely upgrade the hand to a double.


♠ A K 9 4 3
 A 6 5
 10 6 4
♣ K Q
South West North East
      1 ♣

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


LeonJune 4th, 2015 at 9:13 am

Hi Bobby,

That is a nice safety play in 6NT. Not such a ‘standard’ safety play that is well-documented in literature.

Should/could NS have reached 6S which is a much better contract on a diamond lead?


Peter PengJune 4th, 2015 at 1:22 pm

hi Mr. Wolff

I appreciate your comments on the following

West held (suits in natural order)

A J 8
A K 10 9 2
A K Q 8

and East as dealer held

Q 8 5
K 9 6 3
Q J 5 4
5 4

East and South passed and West opened 2C

North came in with 2S

a) How should the hand be bid from that point on?

b) How should the hand be bid from the beginning?

Thanks for your considerations

BryJune 4th, 2015 at 1:42 pm

What happens if South keeps trying?
Defense should carry the day, but is there a way to give them a chance to slip up?

Ducking the 2nd spade (to try and squeeze) or wining 2nd spade, to hand with heart, run both clubs and then duck a diamond (wrong pitch or west rises with queen on diamond lead) seem close but no 12th trick likely.
Is there a better way to at least get a chance at larceny or a very favorable lay of the hand in another suit to make up for spades zotting?

bobby wolffJune 4th, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Hi Leon,

Yes, some safety plays, with less publicity than others, need to be figured out at the table. And also and because of the lead, it seems that East not West is more likely to have the spade length. However, if West had the singleton Jack or Ten instead of small (about a 33% chance, two out of six), it would indeed be a sad hand for declarer.

It would be very difficult for NS to find a 6 spade contract rather than 6NT since there will only be 7 trumps instead of the “looked for” 8, that being the major reason South chose NT, even though he would have done better to have chosen 5NT (over 4NT) which would have been an acceptance of slam and asking North to bid suits up the line in case North had a 4 card minor.

However, even that fit could have been a disaster if the suit chosen would have 2 losers within.

Our beloved game is not, nor never has been, a perfect science with justice always being served.

bobby wolffJune 4th, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Hi Peter,

One of two sequences:

2 Clubs (strong & artificial) and after North intervenes with 2 spades, then East pass showing some values with Dbl instead being negative (0-3) and any other action showing at least something. With NS then remaining silent, West, 3 diamonds, E. 4 diamonds, West 4 spades (very important control, although 2nd round), East then 5 or 6 diamonds and West pass, respecting his partner’s judgment.

or: West 1 diamond North 1 spade, East double (negative showing 4+ hearts), West 2 spades (GF) East 3 diamonds, West either 4NT and over no aces just 6 diamonds hoping for the right cards which can be the jack of clubs (affording 2 heart discards) or the queen of hearts or just good playing luck.

It is a toss-up to me whether to open 1D or 2C with the strong West hand and although then altogether different bidding sequences, but nevertheless dependent on nothing more or less than good bidding judgment and of course, simple play which will determine the all important result.

bobby wolffJune 4th, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Hi Bry,

Of course, when declarer finds out about the terrible spade break he should not give up, but indeed, on this specific hand things look worse than bleak since upon giving up the initial spade trick East will return a diamond and now the entries back and forth do not lend themselves to any kind of very favorable end result.

Sorry for that, but sometimes the bridge gods just seem to be cruel with no relief in sight. Of course the declarer should have thought ahead and switched to apple sauce from just apples by guessing to play the spades with the added chance for success.

Thanks for your further question.

LeonJune 5th, 2015 at 9:25 am

Hi Bobby,

Thx for your reaction.

My reasoning was that in 6NT you very probably have to make a lot of spade tricks as well. So if you can find out that you are not likely to have 2 losers in that suit, a 6S-contract probably plays as good (and now a lot better) as a 6NT-contract.

I agree, you would need some specific methods to find this out….


angelo romanoJune 5th, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Hi Bobby,
the 5-1 chance is about 14,5%, so the advantage of coping with 6 singletons over the total 12 (your suggested line) against with 4 (the obvious one) is about 2,4%, I believe

bobby wolffJune 5th, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Hi Leon and Angelo,

While specific methods to find out suit lengths are sometimes available as are the exact knowledge about comparative percentage chances (thanks Angelo). And to that are Jim2’s comments about winning the post-mortem, but in reality the tools really necessary to compete equally against the best players around is the working together with partner to get a compatible bidding system which works (not forgotten) and most of all, an unvarying consistency in being ready to play, dedication, not being afraid to lose, and a quiet while at the table which becomes deafening.

The above, although all at least possible, are achievable, but finding the time to get that done is rare and often requires more than any two people can accomplish.

However if a pair has the talent and a method to carve out that calendar to success, it becomes a more than worthwhile goal to seek.

Good luck to those who try!