Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

A sight to make an old man young.

Lord Tennyson

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


Before you touch a card here in the contract of three no-trump, on a top spade lead, focus just on the North and South cards, and ask yourself just how good your chances of making the contract are.

A simple answer would be that if you quite reasonably assume the opponents’ spades to be 6-3, they are threatening to set up then cash out that suit. To come to nine tricks you could play on diamonds — a 50 percent chance — or you could play on clubs, which seems to work when that suit breaks, or when the diamond finesse succeeds, should clubs not break.

Many players would win the spade lead and play to the club queen, then advance the club jack from dummy. West wins the trick and clears spades, leaving you the diamond finesse as your last chance. Bzzt! Bad luck, but we have some lovely parting gifts for you.

You can improve dramatically on that last line, after the club queen holds. Come to hand with a heart and play another club up towards the jack. It will do West no good to fly up with the ace and lose his second club stopper, so he ducks, and now you have discovered the bad club break without losing the lead. There is no need for heroics, simply play the diamond ace and another diamond, losing a trick to the king, but scoring three diamond tricks and two winners in each of the other suits.

If facing a 15-17 notrump, I think it is clear that one should pass at any form of scoring bar teams, when vulnerable. Game does not rate to be better than 50 percent, so you surely don’t want to propel yourself too high while helping the opponents on lead. If vulnerable at teams, I could imagine bidding Stayman, but only if the red suits were switched.


♠ 7 4
 9 7 5 2
 A J 6 2
♣ Q J 4
South West North East
    1 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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitJuly 28th, 2015 at 9:32 am

You ask how good your chances are of making 3NT. Well, a lot depends on who you are, but if you follow the recommended line, then: clubs 3-2: 68% ; W having Axxx or singleton A of C: 14%. This totals 82%, but then add the chance that the D finesse works which adds another 9%, so the answer to your question is about 91%. Note that for purposes of making an overtrick when leading D, it is right to lead either the Q or the 10 which fails if W has singleton K, but gains if E has singleton 8 or 9, making leading a D honor twice as good a play as leading a small D.

Iain ClimieJuly 28th, 2015 at 11:30 am

Hi David, Bobby,

Can I add an extra tweak here? Suppose the CA is single with east who returns a,spade. Now the diamond safety play is small towards the AJ to cope with west having singleton K – unless you’ve got my disease of thinking there are 14 diamonds in the pack or west has got 6-0-4-4 shape. Good point by David on odds, nonetheless.



ClarksburgJuly 28th, 2015 at 1:05 pm

BWTA today (i.e. conservative approach) resonates with previous items where, for another example, you recommended a high standard for raising 1NT to 2NT.
Also in a previous discussion, you and others seemed to agree that scoring well at Pairs will likely be about doing a good job on part-score hands (because there will be so many more of them).
I have compiled some data from local Cub games, and found an unexpectedly large number of game contracts; also a well known and respected Teacher visited recently and noted too many aggressively-bid games.
My interpretation is that aggressively-bid games are often being made because of abysmal defence; so the aggressive bidding continues because “it works”.
So, at every-day club-level competition, this appears to be “know your opponents” and “just win Baby” in action!

Bobby WolffJuly 28th, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Hi David & Iain,

Yes between the two of you, with David taking the lead and Iain the self styled tweakist, with his humor filled 14 card shapes, explaining as he goes, cleaning up the anomalies, the deed is done and all the bases covered.

Their continuous and dependable accuracy in reporting leaves me only to add a very brief summary of it not being 100% (or even close) necessary to be a mathematician type in order to reach near the top in our challenging game, but rather to only be logical in assessing random chances of success.

Obviously when spades are thought (known or taken for granted) to be at least 6-3 in favor of course, with West being long, the chances of West then having 4 of either minor suit are small, and as Iain pointed out, to have 4 of both, impossible.

Likewise, the art, for declarer, as he contemplates the play, is often fraught with ever changing circumstances such as when he returns to hand with a heart and West follows, realism is constantly changing possibilities.

The good news is that the simple task of counting to thirteen is all that is really involved. However, the challenging news is that the arithmetical nature demands the visualization of only one of the opponent’s (original) hands (usually only his 13 card distribution) but that task MUST not be shortcutted, since without that talent there is NO WAY any aspiring player can cut through that glass ceiling to stardom.

Try as one might, I have never seen that achieved without mastering that nitty gritty process.

Like so many life changing processes, once learned, never forgotten, and for the playing of high-level bridge there is no substitute.

Bobby WolffJuly 28th, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

No doubt, your focus and then ability to find sticking points in moving up the elevator to consistent bridge success is impressive.

Especially so since this “twilight zone” entered (matchpoint scoring) is not usually a common topic among new players, but, at least to me, well worthy of delving deeper.

Yes, aggressive bidding combined with mediocre defense often leads to complete tops, but why take risks, such as bidding 3NT with only 24-25 HCPs with no 5 card suits to be found. Except of course the AKQJx in the opening leader’s hand which, in itself, will likely not find the mediocre defense hoped for (even if the opening leader decided to lead 4th best).

When, as with today’s BWTA choice, there is only a fair 8 hcp example with 2 four card suits making it unlikely that opposite a 15-17 NT (most commonly held range) will then never have more than 25 combined hcps and well could only have 24, in addition to having to contract for 8 tricks with as few as 23 (or even 22 when partner is slightly, called by him a different name, tactically, instead of light)

Also, almost all decorated bridge players would NEVER open 1NT with 17 and a 5 card suit (yes, a firm but unwritten treatment to which almost all high level players agree), but would often “fudge” (because of the already mentioned tactical advantages) and open too many 14’s.

Very simply, by playing only 1NT and, with the same mediocre (or worse) defense sometimes 9 tricks (or even 10 or 11) emerge, but by staying steadfast at the 7 trick level at 1NT, one can even live comfortably when the opening leader is dealt AKQJx.

The result then of going plus will be worth quite an increased number of matchpoints and the +150 or +180 will only lose a matchpoint or two, making it a slam dunk and a form of safety play to insure what could be construed as playing the boards one hand at a time and concentrating on scoring consistently above average results.

Obviously sometimes the better players are forced out of their safety plays and cinches, but why take chances when the risk/gain ratio cries out not to?

Just ‘saying.

David WarheitJuly 29th, 2015 at 6:04 am

Ian: Good “tweak”; thanks!