Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, November 29th, 2018

‘Will you walk into my parlor?’ said the Spider to the Fly;
‘ ’Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you did spy.’

Mary Howitt

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


The field reached three no-trump or four hearts on this deal from the first qualifying session of last fall’s Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs, and both contracts offered interesting play on a spade lead.

In three no-trump, after the lead of the spade six to the seven, jack and king, one declarer tried a diamond to the queen after cashing the heart ace. East won and shifted to the club jack, and that meant 10 tricks for declarer.

Let’s say you play four hearts after the same start. When you put in the spade seven, East can lead you astray by playing the spade queen. Now declarer will surely draw trumps, then finesse against the spade jack and go down without a struggle.

But if South avoids that trap, he will strip out the spades and trumps, then lead a diamond toward one honor or the other. Whether he leads a diamond toward the king or queen, West will have to unblock his jack early on to let East win the third diamond and shift to clubs.

Whichever club is chosen, South must decide whether East started with J-10-2, J-8-2 or 10-8-2. So if East shifts to the two, declarer should put in the seven, unsuccessfully, because that caters to two of the three positions.

If East shifts to the club jack or 10, should South play him for both honors? Probably yes, because shifting to an unsupported honor might give declarer a winning option when none would have existed on a shift to a low card.

Normally the range of a one-no-trump response is 7-10, but this hand probably falls outside that range for more than one reason. The intermediates are spectacular, the spade cards are worth more than 3 points, and there is a builder in hearts for partner’s long suit. I would stretch to a response of two no-trump.


♠ Q J 8 5
 Q 7
 A 10 8 2
♣ J 10 2
South West North East
    1 1 ♠

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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


David WarheitDecember 13th, 2018 at 12:45 pm

You mention that some declarers played 3NT. I assume that means the bidding went 1NT-3NT. Since the HQ drops and since neither opponent has a 5-card suit, there is no way to beat that contract, even if NS lacked the S10 and the C9. Well bid!

Bob LiptonDecember 13th, 2018 at 1:14 pm

I can see opening this hand 1NT; I would not, since I don’t like to open 1NT without at least 4 cards in the other major; I think it would be silly, with a hand like this, to risk playing in a 5-2 Spades fit when a 5-3 Heart fit exists.

Nonetheless, I expect that, given the two hands, I’d play it in 3NT. The sequence would be 1H-2H-2NT-3NT.


bobbywolffDecember 13th, 2018 at 1:14 pm

Hi David,

Yes, no doubt, if NS are playing the accepted 15-17 opening NT, South will likely treat his hand as qualifying for that choice, while North with his balanced (and somewhat unattractive) 9 hcps will only raise to 2NT (disdaining a Stayman response with his 3-4-3-3) while South, rather than give his hand away (rather than follow what I consider a long range losing habit of over disclosure) by bidding 3 hearts, depicting a 5 card suit when every suit is amply guarded.

IOW simply accepting the invitation in NT and let the devil take the hindmost.

While computer simulations are sometime difficult to judge, so very dependent on many variables, methinks it is just prudent to carry on to 3NT and await the opening lead.

All the above is only my way of judging what I think my experience has informed me to do. Not to say that I am surely right, but only to suggest that perhaps I am, and in no way, could others, prove me wrong (not that I am or am not).

Somehow, as I now await an opening lead, I feel confident, justified or not, that I have taken the right percentage view of not tipping off my entire hand, which may matter with the opening lead, but worse, is likely to be just too informative to those worthy opponents, later on in the hand, usually depending on how the early play develops.

bobbywolffDecember 13th, 2018 at 1:32 pm

Hi Bob,

While crossed in the mail, I feel compelled to suggest that once,while possessing 4 hearts and raising 1 heart to 2 (my choice along with yours) when partner did now bid 2NT, while I, like many others, would consider 3NT I, instead, while holding 4 hearts would, then merely jump to 4 hearts.

Again, perhaps others may understand that I, in fact do appreciate a nine card major suit fit and might guess that computer simulations would then suggest 4 of that major to be a better contract, with the only minus in your different scenario is that, now I have given those worthy opponents an advantage (early roadmap) that I was hoping to keep away from, therein losing the advantage of a lesser damaging opening lead, plus a possible early successful switch, if available.

“You pays your money, you takes your choice”!

Ken MooreDecember 13th, 2018 at 3:28 pm

Bobby, With declarer having 3 Aceless Kings in his hand, NT just “feels” correct to me. Leading into your Kings seems more helpful in NT than in a suit. Or, is that just me?

bobbywolffDecember 13th, 2018 at 7:08 pm

Hi Ken,

While what you suggest does make sense, at least in general, since vs. NT all players (expert or not) tend to lead low away from their strongest (longest) suit, which may include the ace as against vs. a suit, the opening leader would shy away from either leading the ace or away from it.

However, I am no way convinced that the above logic is accurate enough for it to even become a factor in the choice of NT vs suit when both potential contracts are in the mix.

IOW, thanks for suggesting such a thing, but before one buys into that fact as useful, many more factors need to be examined.

Getting my two cents in, my belief is that in the very inaccurate point system to which both Milton Work discovered followed by Charles Goren commercializing it, I think aces and kings are undervalued at 4 and 3 while queens and jacks are basically overvalued.

Proceeding further, high card points only seem to be of value as close to being accurate for strict NT bidding, where long suits are less likely to be held, enabling the average value of each individual picture card (including 10’s) to definitely be counted as some value, especially compared to a 7 or less. And even more so when J109 or even 1098 are held together especially when including a higher honor with each, those holdings are much more likely to be a vital source of trick(s).

Everything above is speculative, but, like most evaluations are subject to the “feel” of the player, and furthermore, that feel is merely a built in talent, pertaining to numeracy to which IMO in order to ever be an elite player (however that is defined) one needs to be born with, at least the possibility of developing that feel which will only get more accurate with age, allowing that particular human to achieve much greater status than one who either was not born with it, or, even worse, does nothing to progress with its value.

Perhaps most everything above is guesswork and not to be taken seriously, but since there is no accepted method to rely on, the above may be as good as any.

In any event, please continue to have an opinion since no one, including me, is refuting it, only not accepting it, but, at the same time, not offering anything to take its place.

Ken MooreDecember 13th, 2018 at 8:25 pm

For what it is worth, I value points at 4 1/2 , 3 1/5, 2, 1/2.

And having Kings without Aces is much better as declarer so they cannot lead through dummy to a tenace.

bobbywolffDecember 13th, 2018 at 10:16 pm

Hi Ken,

Seems perfect making the sum
40 4/5.

Now if you can only break down what it will take to open the bidding, respond and deal with the fractions we may start a revolution with hand evaluations.

Might steal the popularity, especially with math majors.

bobbywolffDecember 13th, 2018 at 10:24 pm

Hi again Ken,

And just think if one forgets and falls back on his old time count, bidding the same thing he once did, he won’t be overbidding as much.

We grow so soon old and too late smart.

TedDecember 14th, 2018 at 1:01 am

Hi Bobby,

If playing weak NT (12-14 HCP) what would you consider to determine whether to open the hand in a 5 card major vs. 1NT? In Pairs, I thought generally opening the major was most likely to be the field bid so tried that, but wound up in several ugly 3-3 minor suit fits after partner’s 1NT response and some almost as ugly 5-2s on a combined 17-18 HCP. Maybe it was just a bad run of the cards, but I haven’t played weak NT enough to know.

Would you use different criteria at IMPs?


bobbywolffDecember 14th, 2018 at 1:28 am

Hi Ted,

While playing weak NT 12-14 (or close) I prefer not opening a weak NT with a 5 card major so, while against your recent experience, I think it wise since with the weaker hand, and after opening 1NT with a 5 card major it is certainly a bigger risk then to bid the major at your next turn, when your partner may have a very weak hand.

However, it is not that clear cut so if you feel differently play it the way you feel most comfortable.