Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, January 16th, 2016

No matter what there always seems to be something clouding my existence, nothing is ever clear.

Emilyann Girder

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


In today’s deal from the NEC Cup at Yokohama there is a choice of games between three no-trump and four spades. Four spades looks better, and is indeed makeable – but there are some subtle wrinkles in the play.

After a club lead, found at most tables, it seems declarer can succeed by leading a trump to the jack. In the match involving the Hackett team, the eventual winners, both tables played four spades on a club lead. Gunnar Hallberg won the club lead in hand, then unblocked clubs to lead a spade to the king. (In general terms this seems a sensible approach, since leading a spade to the jack and ace would not guarantee you were out of the woods, while if the spade king held declarer could almost claim 10 tricks.) Not today though, since after the spade king lost to the ace, a diamond shift would have set the game. However, West passively exited in trumps, and Hallberg had regained control, and made his game.

At the other table his teammate Brian Senior as West led a club to the jack and king, and back came a club to the ace. Now declarer guessed to lead a spade to the jack. When Senior ducked smoothly, declarer elected to lead out two more rounds of clubs, pitching diamonds from dummy. This was not absurd, but it let East ruff in with his bare spade queen. The defenders still had two trump tricks and a diamond to come, for down one.

The normal thing to do here is to transfer to hearts and offer a choice of games. I’m not sure that is wise; do you really want to play a 5-3 heart fit here? I say no. Use Stayman, and unless you find a heart fit, bid three no-trump, since with all your honors in the side suits, three no-trump rates to be your best game. With a small doubleton spade and the heart queen, the equation is completely different.


♠ Q 5
 J 8 7 3 2
 K 10 7
♣ J 7 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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2January 30th, 2016 at 5:55 pm

In the column hand, once Brian Senior ducked, I think I would simply lead another trump from hand. This appears to make any time trump are 3-2.

Iain ClimieJanuary 30th, 2016 at 6:26 pm

Hi Bobby,

BWTA raises an interesting point today. How often does the obsession with 8 card (especially 4-4) fits rebound on fairly balanced hands when NT is better? Today’s example was one obvious example; another might be SJxxx HQJx DAJx CK10x after a 15-17 NT opposite. Trotting out Stayman instead of just 3N (OK, pairs may be an exception) is a fair risk of going minus for no reason. There will be occasional exceptions, but I’d be interested in whether you think this modern trend has gone a little too far.


Iain aka GOF (Grumpy Old F**t)

bobby wolffJanuary 30th, 2016 at 6:30 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, yours is an instinctive play which became available after declarer received his fortuitous lead.

The obvious reason to fear is the what if trumps are 4-1 onside, and my long time experience, while certainly not proclaiming what is right or wrong, seems to create a mind set, out of not believing what apparently is right in front of one’s eyes, the AQ being onside and thus, often in the heat of battle, are afraid to take such a critical decision of immediately leading a small trump back from hand.

In addition, there are way too many teammates, rarely though have I ever played with them, at least once I had started improving, who might say later, why throw away an extra IMP for no really good reason.

Those types of remarks and almost anything else which could be interpreted as critical or demeaning should NEVER be said aloud and while being Captains of teams came down hard against those who did.

All the above is well worthy of so many (my guess all) of your comments since by discussion and thus sharing, if we were half as smart as we think we are, would be powerfully important of getting there from where ever we now think we are.

jim2January 30th, 2016 at 7:40 pm

Suppose East DID begin with AQ105 of trump.

1) East now is a heavy favorite to have fewer clubs than West. Even if the clubs are 4-3 as in the column layout, East ruffs the fourth club with the 10S and declarer must lose a diamond and the two master trumps.

2) Declarer seems to need East not only to have four clubs, but also to have at least three diamonds. Otherwise, when West wins the second diamond later, East would be able to over-ruff the Board on the third diamond. Also, if East had four or more diamonds, then East would be 4-1-4-4 or 4-0-5-4 and would ruff a high heart with the 10S (when declarer strips the hearts before leading late from the Board).

Thus, the column declarer had a choice after winning the KS:

A) Play trump to be 3-2, or
B) Play East to have precisely same distribution as the South hand.

However, holding 1-6-3-3, how likely was West’s actual Club lead instead of a Heart?

bobby wolffJanuary 30th, 2016 at 7:55 pm

Hi GONG (grumpy old nice guy),

The advantages of 4-4 fits (usually pertaining to majors for games and all suits for slams) instead of NT are now, have been, and are still:

1. A surplus trick because of an extra ruff (sometimes necessary, but not always to receive 3-2 breaks) in each hand making a total of 5 tricks instead of the only 4 when playing NT.

2. The hiding of the 4 card major from those worthy opponents by not using Stayman with either 4-3-3-3 or 3-4-3-3 so then naturally more percentage favorable leads for declarer.
(I do not recommend this advantage while playing against cheats). Only kidding, I think!

3. The additional strategical advantage for the NTer to not at least partially give away distributional features to those same wily opponents.

4. The small percentage advantage from completely mirrored declarer hands (exact distributions) including specific suits, facing each other).

Disadvantages of 4-4 fits:

1. Bad to horrible breaks in what then turns out to be the trump suit.

2. Sometimes better defense planned and followed through by those same talented opponents with once in a while a very effective trump lead wrecking havoc. (note: against KCBW when the queen of trumps is known to be with declarer’s side makes it much easier to lead a trump for the defense because of the less likelihood of losing a trump trick because of the opening lead, especially when the opening leader is holding either Jx or Jxx.

3. Although most sensationally played hands involve suit contracts (usually more complicated with many more options) occasionally that advantage switches to NT hands when throw-ins can be effective, but only by cashing out side suit sold tricks, before using the likely trump suit to be the throw in suit.

4. (not always known or thought about by everyone). The leads against NT are not suggested to never lead away from aces, but rather to try and establish which figures to be side tricks knowing the opponents will not be able to trump anything, therefore their opening lead is more likely to give away a trick than would be the recommended lead against a suit contract.

Now, as if my answer was not long enough, my conclusion is that, No, 4-4 fits are not overrated, but while holding any 4 triple 3 hand
I prefer keeping it in NT, once NT has been the opening bid by partner up through the game level, but before bidding a slam I think it wise to use 5NT, (not having bid first 4NT) to ask for 4 card suits up the line to play it in what I think will figure out to be the better percentage contract. Just in case anyone asks, that convention is known as Baron and was invented about when I was born, IOW (long ago).

Iain ClimieJanuary 30th, 2016 at 10:12 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for that but my wife will tell you I’m more GOF than GONG. It was still very kind of you!


bobby wolffJanuary 31st, 2016 at 6:29 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your cogent argument, of course, in addition to making sense, helps make bridge the great mind game that it is.

So many options, therefore much to consider, some of which is technical play (percentage plays which, at least, theoretically work out the best), reasons for all the play up to then, and then the very telling psychological plays which often cause surprises in the result.

Brian Senior’s duck of the spade jack undoubtedly caused that assumed competent declarer to go set, by perhaps not engaging in Jim2’s suggestion to just lead another spade from hand, after his jack held the trick.

Will we ever know, or perhaps even care, whether Senior could foresee exactly what may happen when he performed his magic?

Likely no, but since similar (but in actuality, likely very different) opportunities often arise in both defense and declarer play, our game (especially the high-level variety) will continue to both entertain and therefore challenge all who take it on.

The skill represented by our consistent posters is, in fact, extraordinary, therefore a wonderful promotion for others to aspire and therein rise to what our game never fails to represent.