Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Help yourself, and heaven will help you.

Jean de la Fontaine

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


Today’s deal cropped up in the finals of the 2012 Women’s World Championships between England and Russia.

Both tables declared four spades rather than the simpler contract of three no-trump. When Susan Stockdale was South, West led the heart 10. Stockdale won with dummy’s ace and advanced the spade queen. When that held, she played a spade to her 10 and drew the outstanding trump, while West discarded the heart two.

Now declarer followed the sound principle of eliminating the side suits by cashing her top hearts, with East discarding an encouraging diamond. Declarer exited with the diamond jack, and West put up the king and returned the 10 for the eight, five and ace.

South now exited with a diamond, and when East won to play a club, she ducked. She knew the defenders would be able to take only one club, since West would be endplayed on winning her club honor.

When Natalia Ponomareva for Russia was declarer, West also led a top heart, and the play to the first six tricks was identical. But when South led the diamond jack, Nevena Senior as West made a good play by ducking. Now Heather Dhondy was able to win and switch to the club six, which Senior won with her king to return a devious diamond 10, rather than the king.

Declarer assumed that East had the diamond king, so she ducked, hoping West had no more diamonds. But now Senior could exit with the diamond king, and declarer had to lose another club trick eventually.

There is no need to do anything but raise to four diamonds here. A jump to game would be weaker than the simple raise. You may not have a great hand, but you do have good trumps, a control and a ruffing value. The real question is whether to cooperate in any cuebidding sequence partner may initiate. I say yes.


♠ K 4 3
 7 4
 Q 6 5 4
♣ 8 6 5 2
South West North East
  Pass 2 ♣ Pass
2 Pass 3 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 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Bruce karlsonJanuary 25th, 2018 at 2:38 pm

From the cheap seats: I would routinely bid 3nt with the North hand. No,ruffing power and the Stayman sequence might help then opps find an effective lead. The diamond duck seems easy to me as declarer would have taken the hook if she had the Q. Doubt I am good enough to subsequently lead the D10 however. Suspect declining Stayman is incorrect as these ladies are far better than I. Thoughts?

Bobby WolffJanuary 25th, 2018 at 4:02 pm

Hi Bruce,

I agree with both your theory and action in just raising to 3NT while holding any 4, triple 3, even including a 4 card major.

Yes, others can argue that perhaps the 1NT bidder with the same 4 card major has a doubleton somewhere, making a fifth trump trick available to compensate for having to take 10 tricks instead of 9.

However my experience has suggested that even when the NTer does have the same 4 card major, more times than not, NT is the choice, either because of bad trump breaks are more even often, favorable opening leads, both from the obfuscation of the responder not having a 4 card major and/or not giving away other important information (both for opening lead purposes and for later defense).
Always keep in mind that leads against NT are much looser than they are against suit contracts, sometimes immediately losing a trick they could avoid by not leading that suit.

Some like chocolate, others vanilla, but just because some other players prefer their own experiences or sometimes just inaccurate advice from whom they think are gurus, doesn’t by that choice make them better players than you or, for that matter, others.

Thanks for commenting on this subject which is likely to produce different opinions making it well worth discussing from both viewpoints.

Iain ClimieJanuary 25th, 2018 at 4:03 pm

Hi Bruce, Bobby,

How strong is the 2NT? if 21-22 (say) then there are likely to be a few points to spare and 3N could be easier. The urge to avoid using Stayman with a weak 4 card major (obviously not here) can make more sense e.g. imagine winding up in 4H with HJxxx opposite HQxxx and a missing side Ace, but a total 28 or 29 count.

The modern tendency to often have a five card major in the 2NT shouldn’t be discounted either, while some players will use 2N on (say) a 4414 21 count with a singleton honour. Is 3N always simpler, though? If /when the spade finesse loses and West starts with (say) DQ10xx and leads one (not necessarily sensible round to 2N), this could struggle badly.

Any thoughts?



Bobby WolffJanuary 25th, 2018 at 4:31 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt (our posts likely crossed in the mail) everything you suggested is true (at least in my view) so perhaps computer simulation over thousands of hands with the 1 or 2 NTer having the appropriate points and balanced, even including a few (but rare) singletons.

Far back, when computer simulations were in its infancy (around 1970) the Aces did experiment with a this subject and a few surrounding ones, but came to few conclusions since the results were mixed with only one very likely truism, When the Nter had a Qx combination, NT seemed to be the clear winner to play it from that side, even when that suit was either the longest or tied for the longest combined defender holding.

What likely was the explanation, involved itself with both the lesser trick needed (9 vs. 10) plus giving another trick away on opening lead, which would probably not be led against a suit contract.

Of course, at least some subjectivity is always present in the analysis, thereby giving opposing views some wiggle room.

However when a 2NT opening is discussed, my feeling is that 5-3 in a major is slightly better than taking the short cut in NT, but again that is highly subjective and merely an opinion. Perhaps so since normal bidding (without relays or even strong clubs) allows for off shape 2NT openings since those large hands often risk being passed (when a decent game is available) at the one level when partner has 5 or even fewer hcps.

Finally and trying not to overlook extraneous factors, even the habits of one’s immediate opponents on opening lead, may swing a close decision wherein conservative opening leaders, (not necessarily inclined to lead their longest suit if they deem it likely to give a key trick away, especially while playing matchpoints) which would dictate bidding more chancy NT game contracts.

Finally, perhaps Ms. Fontaine’s quote above
may speak volumes when applied to bridge judgment in this area.

David WarheitJanuary 25th, 2018 at 7:19 pm

Assuming S winds up playing 3NT and W leads a heart. I would win with dummy’s ace and lead a club to my jack, rather than go after spades immediately. Reason: if I go after spades, I succeed if W has 3 small, 2 small, stiff 9 or maybe 4 small. If I go after clubs, I succeed if E has KQ in all probability or if E has either K or Q. What thinkest thou of my line?

Bobby WolffJanuary 25th, 2018 at 8:08 pm

Hi David,

Yes, those unlucky spade spots NS, make 3NT something considerably less than an almost “slam dunk”

I do agree with your line of play which starts out at somewhat above 75% (at least one club honor onside and with West leading a heart, a little better, since East probably has more vacant spaces). However if West wins the club and switches to a diamond (not far fetched) success moves a little further away and with the diamond honors split (or possibly East having the KQ), may depend on which opponent has the ten.

Conclusion: Your line probably in the high sixties, with the spade line, likely easier to miss defend, (for example West having the spade king but also the KQ of clubs would likely switch to clubs), slightly lower but fairly close. The irony of our game is that if the spade line is taken and is offside, declarer should then hope that West also has the KQ of clubs, except, of course, if he is playing against cheaters.

Against superb defenders it slightly narrows the gap which isn’t much to begin with.

However this experiment being discussed can be great for aspiring players with talent to thoroughly dissect.

jim2January 26th, 2018 at 12:35 am

I confess that the spade finesse first line looks better to me.

Bobby WolffJanuary 26th, 2018 at 1:52 am

Hi Jim2,

Although the bridge statistical tables do not lie, the overall translation into best line has several subjective components, with each possibility not only depending on the specific cards held, but also the view from a defender, based on the proposed play, of how he will likely respond.

Therefore with all of the ifs to be determined, the final estimation becomes, at the best, cloudy, and the middle on down basically up to Dame Fortune, together with how a defender or the collective partnership reacts.

All of the above makes it very difficult for anyone to even closely guess, let alone give a specific percentage as to the best lines, in spite of a thorough knowledge of probabilities.

However, this is not true on mama, papa hands which will always be played the exact same way and quickly.

At least to me, I will repeat what I have often implied and directly said. Among the best players technique is the least important (since all the players at that level make very few, if any mistakes) but the ones at the top guess card layouts better, based on the opponent’s opening lead, tempo during the play, and their knowledge of tells in the legal signalling, as well as the bidding, with tempo also being a factor, but different from each high-level player (who is always trying to throw a smoke screen to the declarer).

In other words, what I will always consider the essence of our great game.