Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, August 19th, 2016

Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.

Charles Dickens

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


When South opened one spade, North could not jump to four spades immediately, since that would have emphasized distribution not high-cards. So he manufactured a two diamond response, and when South elected to rebid two spades, North jumped to the spade game, expecting a nine-card fit. Thus the cold three no-trump contract was missed.

When West led a trump, South decided to play to ruff a club in dummy to protect against a bad break in that suit. Winning with the spade ace, he tried the effect of ace and another club. When East won and returned a trump declarer took it and played a third club, hoping that if there was a bad split, the hand that won would be out of spades. Alas for declarer, East won and was able to return the last defensive trump, ensuring the defeat of the contract.

When South complained about his bad luck, his partner was unsympathetic; can you see why? So long as all South’s side-suit aces and kings stood up, declarer had a guaranteed line to take 10 tricks, by ruffing in the long (not the short) trump hand. He can win the trump lead in dummy, then cash the red-suit winners, followed by ruffing a diamond high. Now he plays the second heart, which the defenders do best to win, to return a trump.

Declarer wins in dummy, ruffs a heart high, leads a club to dummy’s ace, then ruffs dummy’s last heart with his last high trump. That brings South to nine tricks, and dummy’s master trump represents the 10th trick.

Depending on which textbook you read, this is a textbook example of a responsive – some call it Snapdragon or even competitive — double. When your partner overcalls, there are virtually no positions where advancer (his partner) can double for penalty. Doubles show the unbid suit(s); this hand is dead minimum in high cards, but it is definitely the best and safest way into the auction.


♠ 5 3
 K J 9 3
 Q J 5 4 2
♣ J 3
South West North East
  1 ♣ 1 ♠ 2 ♣

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


Iain ClimieSeptember 2nd, 2016 at 2:14 pm

Hi Bobby,

You noted that 3NT is partner proof and that it therefore better despite the 8 card major fit. If pard opened 1N (strong) and I held CAKQxxx in a semi balanced hand I’d happily bid 3N but this might also be the winning action with a 6 card major. Are there any criteria for avoiding seemingly good 8 plus card major fits when 3N is better?



Patrick CheuSeptember 2nd, 2016 at 2:30 pm

Hi Bobby,Perhaps declarer can follow a sort of maxim,’when holding good trumps in either hand one should consider reversing dummy’,and counting the sure winners might be less of a blind in trying to ruff the fourth club here.Four spades takes a bit more play and scores better than 3N,from the pairs this instance.regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffSeptember 2nd, 2016 at 3:38 pm

Hi Iain,

To answer your valid question we must go back to almost the beginnings of Contract Bridge supposedly conceived in 1927 by Harold Vanderbilt, while on a cruise.

Because of the then new scoring system, it took two more tricks to make game in a minor suit (11) than it did in 3NT (9). Consequently those who caught on fast to the scoring system
soon became convinced that this disparity should switch the general thinking to seriously consider taking the shorter route to game, (9 tricks) as often as possible, sometimes risking the opponents not being able to run enough tricks of their own before presto, the declarer had nine in fold.

However major suits only needed ten and, as we all either now know, or upon learning, find out quickly sometimes having named a trump suit, it can and is indeed safer to be able to trump a high card from an opponent when they have hit our weakness early enough in the defense.

Thus the beginning of answering your query about the percentages involved in choosing 3NT ahead of 5 of a minor, but usually not in favor of 4 of a major since only one trick more needs to be taken, so percentages seem to favor the eight card major for that only one extra trick.

There is more to discuss when the transition in 1927 from Auction bridge to Cointract, perhaps the greatest and most valuable event thus far with our great game, since the suit scores at that time were basically the same as they are today with the trick scores in NT through clubs, 10,9,8,7,6. Those figures then had the same effect in Contract as they did in Auction, but in those days a significant issue of honors being out in the trump suit on every hand played, which number became significant in the selection of suits since they were huge (in those early days) compared to the bonus for games and rubbers.

However, it would be better and easier for me to allow all who are interested to check into that themselves, saving me the stress of delving deeper with boring number comparisons.

Thanks for listening, but closing with the following statement. Even today, it is still a preference, even among our best and brightest players (worldwide) to prefer major suit games with 8+ trump between them rather than 3NT, although bridge being the game it is, will always have exceptions, but when they arise, those best and brightest will have a good idea when to do it, as will, of course, the contributors to this site.

How is that for making (keeping, I hope) friends and also acting as a mere messenger?

And to answer your specific example, if holding AKQxxx in a major and having partner open 1 strong NT I would consider 3NT, but not bid it immediately until I at least checked out my partner’s distribution, attempting to find out if all other suits are adequately stopped before committing.

Bobby WolffSeptember 2nd, 2016 at 3:53 pm

Hi Patrick,

No doubt your comments ring true and that reverse dummy play you talk about is likely available (often the best line) but not necessarily noticed by newbies simply because it is not promoted enough by books and teachers as an attractive and winning alternative.

Back in my youth (too many years ago to count) I was fortunate enough to be playing autobridge (IMO the best teaching tool, especially at that time, and perhaps ever) when I needed, as declarer to trump three losers from dummy in my hand allowing the three high enough ones in dummy to be able to extract the teeth of the opponents, making an extra trick for my side at the death.

The above is the calling card of a reverse dummy play, so, if remembered (and please do) always keep in mind that alternative with the proviso that a 4-1 adverse trump break will often rain on our parade. the odds against such a break are just about 2-1, allowing us to choose that line when no better one exists.

Thanks for emphasizing a declarer’s technique which should also be available to every hoped to be, adequate player.

ClarksburgSeptember 2nd, 2016 at 4:48 pm

Further to the choice between 3NT and eight-card Major-suit fit.
What would those top-player Responders be most likely to do with GF values 4333 shape and only three trumps? (three-trump holding varying in quality from xxx, up to say the AJ10 as in today’s column hand enabling the dummy reversal).

Bobby WolffSeptember 2nd, 2016 at 6:13 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Since I would raise 1NT to 3NT with any 4-3-3-3 hand regardless of the 4 being a major suit and for the most part the specific description of all four suits, it then follows that I believe in not using Stayman (an advantage in itself since it prohibits opponents injecting bids and worse, a lead directing double). And although, yes dummy reversal’s on that hand then become history, but, no doubt, bridge being a percentage game acknowleges that such a result is in the strict minoity. Even though it is acknowledged that sometimes experience becomes illusory, my take is that my habit of doing the above has, over time shown a significant plus, likely because of many opponents, some of them top drawer, do, in case of what they consider virtual ties, select a major (even sometimes when it is only three when the responder disdains Stayman).

IOW the war time phrase, of “Loose lips sink ships” applies as much in bridge as it does in war.

Furthermore, if old time supposedly close choices, but subject to illusion, was rated on a 1-4 scale with 4 having the strongest support, I would rate the above as a 3.

One word of caution, if and when the opponents enter the bidding (and also even more so when that opponent is vulnerable), everything changes, since unusual distribution rears its head, and every case needs to be decided on its own merit.

Finally if a responder to a 5 card spade opener held something similar to: s. xxx, h. KQ9, d. KJ!0x, KJ9, I would make every effort to declare 3 NT, assuming partner then did not feel a desire to run for cover in a suit. Since the opening lead style, ever since the inception of Contract bridge is to be aware of not losing a trick while defending a suit contract, wherein while defending NT all effort seems to be in establishing a suit, even at the risk of giving up a trick on lead. Therefore, the taking advantage of that factor seems to be only fair in every bridge war.

I’m purposely not giving an opening bidder’s hand, to just let you know the theory rather than deal with a specific set of 13 cards, which might veer the subject away from to what it is intended to be.

Also keep in mind that the opening leader doesn’t always get off to the right lead, nor do even excellent defenders have the ability to see through the backs of cards, making discussions about right and wrong contracts problematical at best.

slarSeptember 2nd, 2016 at 10:00 pm

@Clarksburg some systems allow you to bid 3NT directly over 1M with a balanced 13-15. If that is your system, then it is reasonable to consider that bid with any balanced hand (no side doubleton) where it is unlikely that your hand will take any extra tricks in the major. (Opener can then correct to the major, usually with a 6-card suit.)

Of course this could go horribly wrong with the 4-3-3-3 hand. In matchpoints or BaM, you would have thrown away the board here because you can never make more than 9 tricks in NT and both your partner and the field are competent enough to find the dummy reversal. In “real bridge”, your partner’s values could be distributed differently and you could be down off the top. As Bobby notes, there is no real way to investigate this without revealing valuable information to those pesky opponents.

You can rest assured that there are mad scientists out there working furiously to build a better mousetrap. Our local mad scientists have opted to eschew weak 2s in favor of intermediate 2-level openings. This has trade-offs as you might imagine. I’m not close enough to the situation to know whether this kind of thing has any impact other than intimidating middling players.

ClarksburgSeptember 2nd, 2016 at 10:59 pm

I have in fact been playing that in the sequence 1M > 3NT, Responder shows 13-15, flat 4333, and only three trumps.
What I have picked up here today (if I have understood Bobby and you correctly) is that the trump count (three or four) is not important; the real key is simply the lack of a side-suit shortage.
Some of the strongest players in our local Clubs would be shocked that anyone would ever play in NT with even an eight-card Major fit, let alone nine.

Bobby WolffSeptember 2nd, 2016 at 11:43 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Just to set the record straight, while playing 5 card majors, I would not ever jump to 3NT to play holding 4 of my partner’s major.

It is conceivable that a couple of hands (very few) might eschew a nine card major suit fit to play 3NT, but I am, in no way, advocating such a thing, since and no doubt, that partnership would have to be right (not nearly guaranteed not to be) in order to score a top, but the bottom, which could be lurking, is not worth the risk.

However at times playing in 3NT while playing IMPs with a good major suit fit may withstand possible bad trump breaks, which may be indicated in the bidding at some of the tables.

“Nuff said.

slarSeptember 3rd, 2016 at 1:36 pm

In one of the key hands in a brutal defeat at the GNTs a month and a half ago, our opponents settled in 3NT despite an 8-card major fit. Our teammates were down 1 due to a 7-1 club split and a club ruff. I’m not entirely sure how they decided to play 3NT but in this case it was the winning action. It doesn’t take a whole lot of that for it to be not your year.

Bobby WolffSeptember 3rd, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Hi Slar,

Obviously I am not here to espouse the psychology of winning and losing, but a word to the wise, although I am convinced that, in truth, you do not need it.

Sure, luck plays a big factor in all kinds of competitive endeavors, even in simple day to day life, especially in timing as to when some adventure or miss adventure enters the scene.

However in bridge, all one can do is play as well as possible on hand after hand, and if careful enough in the process you representing, the immutable law of averages, will see you through.

Of course, Jim2 with his TOCM affliction is an exception, but since medical science has determined that TOCM is not contagious, you and I will have no excuses left to explain.

As one very long time friend once told me after a horrific loss. “Don’t worry, Bobby, I, myself have lost thousands of tournaments”.

BTW, that same person once told me a story about playing against a pair at a French tournament, before bidding boxes, who obviously didn’t speak English (the supposed official world language of bridge) and had come to our heroes table with a dominant attitude and, of course, was bidding with his wife in French. After arriving at 3NT of course, spoken in their native tongue, Cy, while sitting in his wheel chair turned to his partner Judy Jacoby (Jim’s wife), and said for all to hear, “lead a diamond, Judy”.

Whether she did or not will likely never be known, but we all will have to admit that it is certainly a novel way to get in the bidding.