Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

It is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message.

Marshall McLuhan

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


Today’s deal comes from the third of three books published recently by Mike Lawrence, “Tips on Cardplay”. The book includes a dozen important topics, and today’s theme is one that all intermediate players should take to heart: every card means something.

Against three no-trump West led the heart five, to East’s ace. East returned the heart two to South’s 10 and West’s jack. West, knowing East had four hearts, (or he would have returned the top of his remaining doubleton) continued with the king, dropping South’s queen, and cashed the heart nine.

West could now exit with the spade eight. When declarer ran his spades West needed to find two discards. What should they be? With the sight of all four hands, West can’t discard a club today. But from West’s perspective, if declarer had the diamond queen not the club king, a diamond discard would be absolutely fatal.

The answer to this dilemma comes if West and East signal helpfully, rather than playing their cards at random. On the first two spade leads, East must follow with the spade 10, then nine. West now knows East has a stopper in the higher-ranking remaining suit, diamonds. If East has a diamond trick, it will be safe for West to discard diamonds and defeat the game.

Since both defenders know that East’s spade cards are irrelevant for trick taking, the only useful message for them to carry is suit preference. That principle might also apply to East’s play on the third and fourth rounds of hearts.

The disadvantages of bidding one spade here are illusory. If partner passes, what game are you likely to miss, since most hands with scattered values and four spades will raise to two here? With all your values concentrated in two suits, this doesn’t feel like a hand where you need to commit to no-trump yet. A jump to two spades would be game forcing; you’d need a fifth diamond to make that call.


♠ A K Q J
 8 3
 A K 7 3
♣ J 5 4
South West North East
1 Pass 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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitJune 1st, 2016 at 4:52 am

This hand has bothered me all day. First, I don’t agree with N’s bid of 2NT, I think he should bid 2S. Second, I think that 4S is a better contract than 3N, and if EW run H against 4S, N discards a C on the 3d H, ultimately ruffs a D, draws trump and squeezes W! Do you agree that N should have rebid 2S and which contract would you rather be in?

bobby wolffJune 1st, 2016 at 6:22 pm

Hi David,

While I have always appreciated your role of often dissenting from the norm, and therefore ascribing to the unique aspects of our mutually beloved game, I still respectfully admire your simple right to question.

First, how do you intend to arrive at four spades, even if instead, rebidding 2 spades instead of 2NT in response to partner’s 1NT?

However, since you didn’t include that discussion, out of respect, neither will I, but rather join with you in discussing the relative merits of both final contracts.

For opening lead purposes, advantage 4 spades, since when usually defending a trump contract, safety in not immediately giving up a possibly unnecessary trick is almost always more of a consideration than while defending NT, where the establishment of long card tricks (for the defense) is much more the order of the day.

However, the counter to that advantage returns to NT when secondary values, such as jacks, tens and nines often become important when in combination with higher honors serve to act like the little Dutch boy who stopped the flood, by sticking his finger in the dyke.

Then there is the simple, but also sometimes complicated fact, of only being forced to take nine tricks rather than the ten a major suit game requires.

A second advantage for your point of view often emerges with the use of “tricks with trumps” which a suit contract sometimes offers. Here the ability to ruff the third diamond in the short trump hand represents that enterprise, although the squeeze ending which you correctly diagnose does require a guess as to who has the queen of clubs (whether with the player with the fourth diamond or his partner, hearts being 5-3).

Next, the retaining of control while being in game with only a 4-3 fit in the major suit is often a determining factor in the result. Here it is difficult to judge whether or not it will occur, although it is fairly safe to surmise that East, as the opening leader will not start out with a heart lead, but it does make this type of analysis “shaky” at best.

Finally our different perspectives, or should I say habits, will influence me to say 3NT is slightly superior, but in no way do I not admire your unique approach to making the better playing of our game the largest issue.

However, referring back to the above, in order to arrive in 4 spades one must find a way to get there, and I do not think it plausible (note, I didn’t say impossible) to arrive there, since I do not think that South will ever raise spades holding only the 743.

One thing for certain though is that you, David, must have loved Andy Rooney as a newscaster.

A.V.Ramana RaoJune 2nd, 2016 at 3:14 pm

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
I hope I have your permission to add the following to Mr Warheit’s query.
Suppose East leads A of heart in four spades by south, sees no future in hearts and shifts to a club. Now the contract cannot be made. Assuming south wins and leads a heart- west can win and play a spade locking declarer in hand and if now declarer plays diamonds and ruffs the third diamond in dummy and leads another heart discarding a club from hand, west can lead another spade or melodramatically return queen of clubs killing the contract.
Same case even if south becomes declarer. West leads a heart- east wins and shifts to a club. Perhaps Three NT is an ideal contract but destined to get defeated on the excellent defense by EW

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