Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Surely your gladness need not be the less for the thought that you will one day see a brighter dawn than this.

Lewis Carroll

S North
None ♠ J 8 7 4 2
 K J
 Q 7 3
♣ K 10 9
West East
♠ K 6
 7 5 2
 J 10 9 8
♣ A 8 5 3
♠ A
 9 8 6 4
 K 5 4 2
♣ 7 6 4 2
♠ Q 10 9 5 3
 A Q 10 3
 A 6
♣ Q J
South West North East
1 ♠ Pass 3 ♠ Pass
4 ♠ All pass    


The North hand is hard to evaluate in response to a one spade opener. However, a limit raise feels the most sensible description to me; North does not have enough to commit to game with such a balanced hand.

When West leads the diamond jack against four spades declarer puts up dummy’s queen more in hope than expectation, and captures East’s king win with the ace.

Now South is threatened with the loss of two spades, a club, and a diamond. Nothing can be done about the losers in the black suits, but South can prevent the loss of a diamond if he is careful.

Declarer must immediately run the hearts, discarding diamonds from dummy, hoping for the suit to break 4-3. Even though one opponent will surely be able to ruff the fourth round of the suit, this is unlikely to give the defenders a trick that they weren’t going to get anyway.

The defenders have only three trumps between them. If the ruff is made with the trump king or ace, this will immediately eliminate one trump loser. If the ruff is made with the only missing small trump, South may then be able to lead a trump and get both the ace and king to fall together. As the cards lie today, whether West ruffs high or low, or discards, one of the defenders’ sure tricks vanishes.

If declarer had led a trump at the second trick, East would take the spade ace, and now the defenders would get their diamond and club tricks to defeat the contract.

Your hand offers virtually no prospects for slam. Should you bid three no-trump, transfer into spades, or use Stayman? Put my vote in the third category, since a 5-3 spade fit might be the only game that won’t make here. You have enough high cards to be relatively sure that three no-trump will be safe, but a 5-4 spade fit might still be best.


♠ J 8 7 4 2
 K J
 Q 7 3
♣ K 10 9
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


Michael BeyroutiMarch 15th, 2016 at 10:51 am

Dear Mr Wolff,
today, both the AOB hand and BWTA are what we call “exercise in logic”. I especially loved BWTA where 99.9% of the players will instinctively (auto-pilot) transfer to spades then bid 3NT. Gosh, when I think of how many times I’ve done that and four spades went down and we simply move on to the next hand… Yet the reasoning for using Stayman is clear and logical. Learn something new everyday!

Michael BeyroutiMarch 15th, 2016 at 11:05 am

Sorry, I missed a couple of words:
…are [perfect examples of] what we…

Bobby WolffMarch 15th, 2016 at 11:29 am

Hi Michael,

Not only appreciation for your very kind words, but whether it is business, love, or bridge, compliments like yours are to be treasured, so much so, that you could have, instead of only missing a couple of words, left out a couple of sentences and I would not have minded a bit.

Yes, music is said to “soothe the savage beast” and if so, include wolves as being savage for your uplifting comment.

ClarksburgMarch 15th, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Mr Wolff
My thanks added to Michael’s for the great BWTA item today.
So, given the apparent ranking of choices (nine-card fit, 3NT, eight-card fit), is the preference for 3NT over the eight-card fit a general choice, or is it because of today’s specific holding? Also, is the logic the same over a 1NT opening?

Bobby WolffMarch 15th, 2016 at 5:15 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

First, also thanks for your kind words.

Cannot say for sure, but I think too many just seek out the 8 card major by rote, rather than possible exception. Of course, at matchpoints, a player has to understand that most will be playing in the eight card major suit fit, so if playing 3NT instead keep that in mind for matchpoint purposes which occasionally will suggest a wide open line when other partnership’s trumps will break evenly, (and others wonder why I prefer IMPs as the REAL game of bridge and matchpoints as its subordinated surrogate).

Yes, today’s relatively weak spade holding, J8xxx has a great deal to do with that choice since, depending on the random nature of the three cards opposite may be the difference in predicting the result.

Finally the logic is not necessarily the same over a mere strong 1NT opening (15-17), unless the responding hand is a maximum for game with a relatively weak 5 card major suit but 13-14 hcps.

Simply put, the above only reflects the inviolate principle in bridge of playing the safer game rather than one which requires reasonably normal breaks for success.

However the later developed tournament game of matchpoints emphasizes, and with every hand, the exact number of tricks brought home (overtricks just as important as the contract making trick), instead of what real bridge, its father, Auction Bridge, and its grandfather, Whist preached.

Normally, but probably by a smaller margin than most think, an eight card major suit fit will more likely produce an extra trick than will that same hand produce in NT.

For one who delves into the why of it, the original leads against NT are much looser than they are against suits wherein aces are not underled, sequences are preferred and the general outlook is safety rather than the attempt to just develop long suit tricks in NT (with the declarer not having the protection of trumps).

“Little by little we can do great things” by having our best and brightest students begin to understand what our superior logical game is all about, but since it not only is not taught in schools, there has been so much competition regarding what to do in our leisure time these days preventing our game from reaching its popularity numbers always eminent in its glory filled past years.

Bobby WolffMarch 15th, 2016 at 5:37 pm

Hi again Clarksburg and Michael,

Picture, s. Jxxxx, h. Ax, d. KQx, c. Kxx opposite
either s. 9xx, h. KQx, d. AJ10xx, c. AQ when either a bad spade break or a singleton diamond lead can spell finis to the major suit game or s. Qxx, h. Jxx d. AJ, c. AQJxx when declarer has to guess the way to play trump to make the 10 trick contract.

David WarheitMarch 16th, 2016 at 12:12 am

Michael missed a few words, and you only missed a letter; “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.” –William Congreve.

Bobby WolffMarch 16th, 2016 at 4:39 am

Hi David,

I checked with my word guru, Judy and she simply said that either would pass the test.

However, I had never heard of breast, unless it meant the breast of a beast. And William Congreve is confirmed to have originated the quote but Judy also said there appeared to be some confusion at the quote source.

Bobby WolffMarch 18th, 2016 at 6:16 pm

Hi David,

Upon delving deeper, although I usually do not have such tendencies, it seems that either interpretation could have been the intent of Mr. Congreve.

The word “savage” could easily refer to a beast of prey, or instead a reference to savages, tribes which in the past overtook towns or even small cities and performed barbaric acts to take over control.

Therefore, at least to me, if it was intended to only refer to savage animals, beast would be proper, but if, instead, it also applied to humans than breasts would be descriptive.

Perhaps the above has confused the interpreters of that popular quote for ages and as yet has not been specifically determined.

Does the above make sense to you or have I missed an important consideration?