Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

A leopard does not change his spots, or change his feeling that spots are rather a credit.

Ivy Compton-Burnett

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

*Game-forcing inquiry


When West led the heart jack against three no-trump, declarer saw that the most likely way to generate the two extra tricks he needed was by developing long tricks in spades.

If spades were 3-3, any play would develop two extra tricks. However, declarer saw that playing the ace, king and another spade might not utilize his spots to best effect. So, after winning the first trick with the heart ace, he led a low spade from the table. East followed with the two, and declarer played the nine from hand. When that held the trick, declarer cashed the spade ace, then crossed to dummy with a low club to the ace.

Next, he played the king and another spade, throwing clubs from hand. Upon winning the fourth round of spades with the queen, East shifted to the diamond nine. When declarer covered this with the 10, West won it with the jack. Since cashing the diamond ace was likely to give declarer an overtrick, West exited with a heart. At this point, declarer claimed nine tricks: four spades, three hearts and two clubs.

Declarer’s play in spades was best because it picked up four tricks against all 3-3 breaks, queen-jack doubleton with West, East holding four spades with the queen and jack, and the jack or queen doubleton with East.

This offers almost a two-thirds chance of making four tricks in spades — quite an improvement over the odds offered by just banging out the ace, king and another spade, which comes in at just over a one-third chance.

This hand is too good to pass; it does not have to be right to act, but in fourth seat with opening values and short diamonds, it looks normal to bid. But are you going to re-open with a three-spade bid or with a takeout double? Doubling may find a 5-3 heart fit or lose a 5-3 spade fit; it may also get you more easily to three no-trump or three diamonds doubled. But put me down for a reluctant three-spade bid.


♠ K 10 5 4 3
 A Q 6
 4 2
♣ A 8 7
South West North East
  3 Pass Pass

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Ken MooreNovember 14th, 2018 at 4:40 pm


You mentioned 5 different holdings in Diamonds that were covered. At the expert level, do you really see all 5 in practice? Or, do you realize that this option covers more of the likely holding than that option?

Bobby WolffNovember 14th, 2018 at 6:36 pm

Hi Ken,

Bridge learning over time is similar to driving a car and even better illustrated by learning to ride a bicycle, “once learned never forgotten”.

At a certain level of bridge experience one doesn’t usually count the exact numbers of winning vs not so combinations, but rather instead just (by feel) jump to the right (or very close) percentage advantage and then immediately (if not sooner, refer back to the bidding, opening lead choice and/or defense up to the time for the right decision). Like brushing one’s teeth in the morning, doing it without much thought, but fully in the knowledge of not ever being thoughtlessly careless.

Yes, like any successful endeavor, good habits need to be formed, especially when the stakes go from leisure time to deadly serious.

Playing bridge for fun is an entirely different enterprise and my guess, why our beautiful game was created. Your reference to diamonds rather than spades is proof of that and never, never, never to even be slightly criticized, but rather to be taken in stride, since what difference could it possibly make.

BTW, the above is not to imply that high level bridge is anywhere near error-free. Far from it and during a normal session of say 26 boards, I would consider it an outstanding accomplishment if I held my mistakes to only ten+, when so-called errors refer to all bidding choices, opening leads, the exact order of playing cards while declarer and defense considering helping partner with the exactly right card played (and remaining actively ethical while doing it), while attempting the opposite while defending (not with being ethical but by playing precisely the correct card) with both following suit and discarding, and, not to be taken lightly, getting the most from partner by handling him psychologically in just the right way (sometimes the most difficult task of all).

Aren’t you glad you asked?

Good luck and gave me time to rant.

jim2November 14th, 2018 at 6:52 pm

I believe Our Host is being a smidge over-modest.


I am confident he sees faster and makes fewer mistakes than he allows.

For example, in this hand there are at least 3 other factors he has left out, but which all point to the column line:

1) Leading small spade from Board preserves the 9 from a cover, which improves the odds somewhat.

2) A small to the 9S increases the chance that the necessary early spade trick is conceded to West, not East, preserving the diamond suit from early attack.

3) Should the 9S win and the AS have West show out, the Board retains a spade tenace and diamonds have STILL not been broached, letting declarer try for tricks elsewhere, like 3-3 clubs.

ClarksburgNovember 14th, 2018 at 7:50 pm

Number of Mistakes?
Moving down from top expert level to typical club level…
…here’s a quote from the last revision of Dorothy Hayden Truscott’s Bid Better Play Better. She says:
” The average player probably makes about one hundred errors in the bidding and play during an afternoon of bridge. Fortunately for his self-esteem, he will recognize only ten percent of them”.

Bobby WolffNovember 14th, 2018 at 8:32 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks mightily for coming to my aid.

However, keep in mind that I have a team, all times at least 2 and often 3 or more who spot errors with the original effort, before it goes to press, of course, limiting the number of glitches our challenging game is capable of causing.

Fortunately that team is both bridge loving and conscientious enough, to suffer when uncompromising great analysts like you, can offer something superior.

To call you and more than several others worthwhile friends, is vastly understating your collective due. However in truth, my estimate of playing or bidding less than the exact right card or bid at any one time must add up to 13 times on a diminishing plateau (tricks) plus an average of three or four times 26 hands played, subtracting the 1/4 of the time one is dummy.

To quote you, the above results in a number which might hurt your head (or anyone else’s) for the mere chance of choosing one of many alternatives on a consistent basis. Also keep in mind that even in playing equals if one possesses both QJ or J10 one will likely be superior to the other, although to determine such, often it would have to be thought out but unethical for one to take more than 1 second or so to do.

Please forgive my generalized conditions, likely exaggerated to some extent, but I do think bridge does lend itself to a myriad of tiny mistakes, which very likely will go unnoticed until, BINGO, any one of which, might cost a major negative result.

However, do not think for one minute, that I do not appreciate what I hope that what you said. is at least on a 50% percentage that you were no less than 100% right.

Finally, I have no doubt that, after reading, your head is still hurting, but if it is any comfort, so is mine.

Bobby WolffNovember 14th, 2018 at 11:04 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Well quoted and equally well said, except likely 100 is an underbid and ” recognizing 10% of HIS errors” is a serious overbid.

And furthermore, no sexist, I, but instead perhaps masochistic.

Ken MooreNovember 14th, 2018 at 11:45 pm

I think that it was Charles Goren that said, “You can play bridge for the fun of playing or the fun of winning. But not for both.”

Bobby WolffNovember 15th, 2018 at 1:27 am

Hi Ken,

If Charley said that about bridge, I wonder how he would have described poker or blackjack?

Probably the same, except for the fun of playing part.

Joe1November 15th, 2018 at 2:49 am

BWTA, my (novice) experience is that double conveys more information. Given W pre empt, N is likely to have numbers in H or S, and given 2 passes and the pre empt, points are fairly evenly distributed, i.e. pard has some. So why not double first, hope for H or S response, and go from there? Keep 3-4 H in play. 3 S takes away pard having 5 or even 6Hs and possible H contract.

jim2November 15th, 2018 at 3:26 am

Joe1 –

I am not Our Host.

With that typed, I share the misgivings expressed in the BWTA answer but also lean towards 3S.

You see, the chance that pard is 3-3-4-3 or 3-3-3-4 is very real, and disaster may be waiting. Even 3-4-3-3 might go very badly in hearts.

The absence of a 4D raise hints that the opponents do NOT have a big diamond fit. This suggests pard may have 2 to 4 diamonds, which reduces more than a little the chance that pard has five or more hearts. Thus, the best chance of a fit at the three level is spades. Also, spades may play better in a 5 – 2 fit (esp if pard has a good doubleton behind East) at the 3-level than 4 clubs might in a 5-3 fit.

Bobby WolffNovember 15th, 2018 at 5:55 pm

Hi Joe1 & Jim2,

Jim, even the consideration of you not being the official host doesn’t prevent you from answering, since, by doing so, is usually straight to the point and even more importantly, directly in the main stream of being what most of us will think is surely the best percentage action.

While Joe1 was giving his considered opinion on what he thought best, it is likely that his future experience will guide him to a more likely realistic viewpoint on what partner is more likely to hold and thus head toward, on balance, a better result.

Nothing proved, since to do so, is an impossible practicality, leaving all three of us only to ponder and ask and tell what the three of us,, with perhaps more to help decide, what bid (or, for that matter, pass) might work out best.

In any event Jim, you are hereby promoted to Jim3, with all its added advantages (TBD) but still should continue to be known by your former name, Jim2, if only to not lose all the respect you have justifiably earned and thus be recognized immediately.

BTW Joe1, The number of total trumps held by the side declaring the hand, especially at the 3 level and above needs to reach at least 8 (except on rare occasions), otherwise sometimes big trouble results leading to what could be an embarrassing result, meaning starting out with 5 instead of doubling and taking a bigger risk on how your partner’s hand is distributed would likely be decided by qualified high-level players as prudent.