Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, August 12th, 2016

All we know is infinitely less than all that still remains unknown.

William Harvey

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

*Forcing relay

**0/3 keycards


In the next deal from the Chicago NABC last summer, you would probably want to play six diamonds, but getting to a 4-4 minor-suit slam with a combined 29-count isn’t easy. And while slam certainly wasn’t cold, it offered the opportunity for careful play. A relatively natural sequence like this one, where North shows a balanced 12-14 then 4-5 in the minors, worked well.

In six diamonds, after a low club lead, it seemed logical to play a cross-ruff. South cashed the club ace, ruffed a club, went to the spade ace, and ruffed a second club, then cashed the high hearts. When East produced an ominous queen, that seemed unlikely to be a false-card unless he had the jack as well, so declarer changed tack. A spade ruff and a club ruff with a high trump reduced everyone down to four cards.

If you now decide to trust the opponents’ carding, you have a guaranteed route to 12 tricks. Play the diamond queen, then the spade jack. When West shows out, the diamond 10 and ace are good for two tricks.

But had West produced the spade queen, you would have discarded dummy’s club loser. In that case, if you believe his earlier carding, East will have started life with precisely 3=2=4=4 pattern. He would have to ruff his partner’s winner and lead into dummy’s diamond tenace at the end.

At the table the opportunity for brilliancy ended when West showed out on the spade, but the swing North-South scored for making slam was a perfectly acceptable alternative.

A few (too many in my opinion) people still open one diamond with this pattern in the minors. I could grudging accept that would not be entirely unreasonable with this precise shape and a very good four-card diamond suit plus weak clubs. But generally I prefer to open one club and rebid at no-trump (or raise a major with three trumps).


♠ A 6
 10 6
 A 10 4 3
♣ A J 10 8 7
South West North East

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David WarheitAugust 26th, 2016 at 11:23 am

How about: play the CJ at trick one, then later play CA and C ruff? The actual line seems to work only if a number of things work; this line only requires clubs to behave nicely. Against the odds? Yes, but not so much as the line taken. Also note that if E had had a different H doubleton, S might not have done so well. Also, as W, I would have led a H. Now my suggested line of finessing in C seems quite a bit better, gaining not only when W has honor third in C but when he has CKQ as well.

David WarheitAugust 26th, 2016 at 11:26 am

Besides honor third or KQ in C, my line works if W has 4 small C.

Bobby WolffAugust 26th, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Hi David,

Yes I agree and when I first saw this hand I thought a simple club finesse and hoped for established suit soon enough was probably the percentage line also.

However, I guess I fell victim, to accepting the column line, when in addition, some combinations of play, even a 4-1 diamond distribution can be handled, but that was unlikely to occur.

No doubt it is difficult to even begin to figure exact percentages, and in truth, when they are close, especially when experiencing it first hand, very little is lost in not always choosing the very highest percentage.

Finally, but I think worth mentioning, the actual experience of playing enough of these types of hands are invaluable in making playing decisions at the table and in important tournaments.

Our only difference of opinion, assuming we have one, is choosing between reasonably close lines of play, since a player’s nose is worth at least a difference of up to 10 percentage points and my physical snout, both actual and supposed, is possibly large enough to rely on, although others may disagree.

bryanAugust 26th, 2016 at 2:34 pm

Not sure it is a good line, but I looked at as 4 major winners, if Diamonds behaves, 4 Diamonds, From clubs if I can get Ace, 2 ruffs, and 1 trick from J10 = 12.
Place Ace club, ruff, cash K diamond, lead low to dummy Ace diamond, club ruff, Ace spades, 10 diamond, jack of club. Still have a trump in dummy, rest tricks mine
If on the 2nd diamond, if Jack did not appear, then instead of trying for a 5th club, take spade finesse, if works then try cross ruff.

Bobby WolffAugust 26th, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Hi Bryan,

One thing to not overlook when counting tricks, especially noticeable at slams and sometimes for games. While setting caps for certain numbers (12) you won’t succeed if you instead, lose 2 to get there. When you mention one from J10 you are implying losing one to get one which will not succeed if you intend to finesse for the first one with two major honors to overcome.

However as David mentioned, that seemed the best line to him, and I agreed (with some reservation) although not being 100% convinced, but somehow feeling about as good as any.

It is not an easy thing to compute, almost impossible, especially while at the table, and under the strictures of time. Not only needing to know the original “book” percentages, but then having to modify those numbers, according to what else needed to be present in order to succeed.

There are computer related helpmates such as a process called “Deep Finesse” which can mathematically figure out the necessities, but which is not legal to use while playing.

Nevertheless, thanks for your opinion since David’s line obviously feels “right” to you, at least I think that is what you meant.

Iain ClimieAugust 26th, 2016 at 7:22 pm

Hi Bobby,

On BWTA there is a grwoing tendency this side of the pond to accept more and more off-shape weak NT openings, especially at pairs, for their pre-emptive value. This hand would be one example, there is also a trend towards treating 1444 and 4144 hands (usually but not always with a singleton honour). I remember Eric Crowhurst (lovely bloke, incidentally) writing in Precision Bidding in Acol that this enthusiasm was not so clever (he suggested getting a new partner, tongue in cheek) but, whether aided or abetted by the system using 4 card majors, what do you think?

Obviously 2245 with weak minors and in the appropriate range is different, but clearly the approach would have missed 6D today in all probability. I’ve heard it suggested that 5332 should always be regarded as balanced and 5422 is more suited to not playing in NT, but is the pairs disease of G(e)TNIF spreading far and wide?



Bobby WolffAugust 27th, 2016 at 5:10 am

Hi Iain,

Indeed, it is but I do not recommend off distributed hands, especially when a 5 card major is held to follow that trend.

Experience (I’ve now played weak NT NV for many years), allow a NT rebid instead to show the strong NY but not after a 1NT rebid begnining with 1 H pass 1 S pass. Then a NT rebid should usually show 2-5-3-3 minimum, not a strong NT. With 3 (any)5-3-2 or 2-3 raise to 2 spades and prepare tp get an upgrade with results. of course, ir partner had only 4 spades for his 1 spade bid, he is not to rebid them, assuming he has enough to bid on.

It will work for all who try with the only 4-3 fits to be played will be no higher than the two level.

I am glad to issue this report denying a gross increase of weak NT’s with random shapes.

Reminds me of both a girl I used to know and, of course, daring to look in my mirror.