Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, January 28th, 2017

Few things are brought to a successful issue by impetuous desire, but most by calm and prudent forethought.


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


After three passes, both Souths in a team game had no ambitions beyond game facing a passing partner, so they opened and closed the auction with a call of three no-trump. This normally shows a solid seven-card minor and few high cards in the other suits. But third or fourth in hand, other considerations apply.

At both tables the opening lead was the club jack, won by South’s ace. One declarer led out diamonds from the top, then played a third diamond to East’s queen. East appreciated that the most likely chance of defeating the game lay in hearts, and returned the three. South rose with the king, captured by the ace, and West continued with the heart jack, so the defenders emerged with five tricks. It wouldn’t have helped if South had divined to play low on the first heart.

The second declarer worked out the necessity to keep East off lead, so he entered dummy with a spade and led a diamond. When East played low, he inserted the nine as a form of a safety play. He was prepared to invest a diamond trick to achieve the avoidance play he wanted.

West won with his jack, but could not attack hearts profitably from his side of the table. He returned a club, and South soon wrapped up 11 tricks. It would not have helped if East had put up the queen or 10 of diamonds. South would have won in hand, then returned to dummy and finessed again – and now he emerges with 12 tricks.

It is sensible to play an artificial negative on this auction (whether you play that as two hearts or two no-trump is up to you). But even if you play three clubs as natural and game-forcing, you should bid four clubs with this hand, setting clubs as trump and showing at least a sliver of slam interest. Let partner take it from there.


♠ A K 7 2
 9 6 5
 7 6
♣ K 8 6 4
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♣ Pass
1 ♠ Pass 2 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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitFebruary 11th, 2017 at 10:50 am

Since EW spades are 3-3, the second S actually “wraps up” 12 tricks, and if E puts up the Q or 10 of diamonds, he would “emerge” with all 13 tricks.

GinnyFebruary 11th, 2017 at 12:16 pm

I am missing how we make 12 or 13 tricks if East puts in the queen of diamonds on the first diamond (except in double dummy). Playing for a safe contract, aren’t we locked in our hand after a spade back to dummy and the second diamond finesse. The KC and 4th spade not able to be accessed?

What is the right play by East if South crosses to dummy and plays that first diamond?

Mircea1February 11th, 2017 at 12:35 pm

Hi Bobby,

What are the other considerations that you mention in the column for opening 3NT in third and fourth seat?

BobliptonFebruary 11th, 2017 at 2:06 pm

You don’t make 12, Ginny, but you make 11. Win the first trick in hand and go to dummy with a high spade. Lead a diamond off the board. If east plays low, you put in the ten; west wins and now has no good lead as the cards lie. Declarer may, at his leisure, take the rest of the tricks — west may cash the HA, but if he does not, declarer has six diamonds, two clubs, four spades. West may cash the HA and lead another heart, but that just holds it to 11.

However, let us assume that east puts up an honor. Declarer rises with the Ace, returns to the board with another high spade, and plays another diamond, inserting the Ten if east plays low, covering if east plays high. Now declarer takes 7 diamonds, 3 spades and a club.It’s not 12 or 13, but it’s a lot better than the down 1 recorded at the other table. Win 13 whether you make 11 or 13.


bobby wolffFebruary 11th, 2017 at 2:40 pm

Hi David & Ginny,

Moot point, but as usual, worth considering particularly so since it was not stated whether we were playing IMPs, matchpoints, or rubber bridge.

If South, after East rises with the ten or the queen (Ginny, I think the ten seems to be the better play, but still difficult, since South did open a 4th seat 3NT, usually a long suit, but not 100% clear, just how long, then when the jack is played by West, in order to insure the contract, declarer will be squeezing himself if he attempts to cash 4 spade tricks or, of course, even the king of clubs. If so, he could be following his safety play with a very unsafe discard, just in case West either had three diamonds or only, after the diamond finesse, an original double honor in that suit.

Yes, if declarer had X-Ray vision he could and would do so, but it seems, with mere mortal vision, counter intuitive to do so, winding with only eleven tricks, but still entitled to feel good about him or herself, especially later when he finds the ace of hearts in West’s hand.

Thanks to both of you, especially Ginny, for her
to the point, perception. Of course David, being a matchpoint aficionado, would likely accomplish his goal of all the tricks since no doubt, his pseudonym might be Clark Kent, whose calling card (with his special talent), and why not, “going for it”!

bobby wolffFebruary 11th, 2017 at 2:51 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Many experienced (usually high-level) players use a 3NT opening bid (especially opposite a passed partner) to show a playing trick (good long suit) equivalent to making 3NT (the game of choice, since only 9 tricks required). In addition to the good long suit (almost always a minor suit) at least semblances of stops in the other three, but that could vary, hence the name of that treatment (gambling 3NT).

Not much is lost by doing so, since the huge point count hand (24-26 hcps) can be handled through an artificial 2 club opening and 3 NT rebid, if necessary.

bobby wolffFebruary 11th, 2017 at 3:17 pm

Hi Bob,

A common lament, “crossed in the mail”. Thanks for your clear and accurate discussion. Since no one appears to need me, I’m going directly into my garden and eat worms.

Just kidding, since I am delighted that you came to the aid of your parties by answering all questions.

BobliptonFebruary 12th, 2017 at 2:30 am

Thanks Bobby. As a minor correction, today’s column notes it was teams; that means it was either total points or, more likely, IMPs.

As a note, if east plays low and I win my jack as west at teams, I’m going to return a low heart, hoping that declarer’s “stopper” in the suit is Qxx, Making 12.

Second note: today at the duplicate table, I played two hands at 3NT in which I tried exactly this sort of avoidance play. In the first one, I lost to the singleton honor in the danger hand and then had to give up up the fourth trick to the danger hand for down 3; in the second, after righty’s 1D opening and lefty’s pass, I ducked diamonds twice and won the third, and took the safety duck into lefty’s hand. He cashed two high clubs. Down 1.


bobby wolffFebruary 12th, 2017 at 6:45 pm

Hi Bob,

Thanks for allowing us to profit by understanding your experiences.

One thing for sure, we both, like probably others as well, might try bidding a little less.