Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

I have been taught never to lead or underlead an ace or king against a slam. But after reading yet again about a slam that would have been set if an ace had been led and the suit continued, I wonder how often it is fatally wrong to cash an ace against a slam, as opposed to that being the necessary defense.

Look Back in Anger, Horne Lake, Miss

My policy is not to lead an ace unless the auction tells me there is a side-suit on which my tricks may go away. To be sure, passive leads against small slams are not always right. When I have a sequence, I normally lead that instead of an ace. Leading away from kings is active, but not necessarily wrong.

When my partner opened one heart, I held ♠ 9-8-7-5,  Q-8-7,  K-Q, ♣ A-Q-J-7. What is the right way to show my hand, and how should I plan the bidding?

Bumble-Bee, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Assuming you play a style where a two-club response is forcing to game, I would do that, planning subsequently to raise hearts and take it from there. I do not like a response of two no-trump here (whether you intend it as balanced or trump support). For me, bidding good suits and setting up a game force has a lot going for it. I don’t see how spades can ever be the right trump suit here unless partner bids it.

I found myself in third seat with an experienced and relatively aggressive partner, holding ♠ Q-8-4-3,  A-8-6-3,  Q-10-4, ♣ 10-3. The bidding started with a weak two spades from my partner and a double on my right. Would you pass or raise spades? If the latter, to what level should you bid?

Mischief Maker, Durango, Colo.

Raising to three spades looks right to me. I’d expect game my opponents’ way to be borderline to make. Taking away one level of bidding makes it much harder for them to get their act together, and the raise exposes our side to virtually no risk, given our good fit.

I’ve been confronted with the problem of choosing the right card to lead from the ace-king. I have received a lot of different answers from other players, and I’m still not sure what the rule is. Please shed some light on this for me.

Caramel Candy, Kansas City, Mo.

You ask a great question — one that is more dependent on partnership agreement than a right or wrong way to do things. My (rather old-fashioned) approach is to lead the king from ace-king throughout the hand. That is by agreement; others play ace from ace-king at trick one. Regardless, in the middle of the hand, lead king for count (high-low with an even number) and ace for attitude, typically about possession of the king. This helps to cash out suits accurately.

I recently heard my partner open the bidding and my right-hand opponent jump to two spades to show a weak hand and a long suit. I doubled and heard the next hand raise to three spades. With what kind of shape and values would it be right to double three spades here?

Lying Low, Wichita Falls, Texas

Your double here sounds like takeout to me. Most players believe you can’t double any contract for take-out at your first turn and then make a second double below game for penalties if the opponents have announced a fit. I’d say about a 10-count with short spades would qualify for take-out, so anything stronger is just fine.

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E. B. DyerJanuary 7th, 2019 at 10:55 am

On Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, The Charlotte Observer published s short piece that felt with Opener supports responder’s major suit and talked about “Spiral Scan” to determine either three or four trumps support. Can you give me more explanation on the response especially the four step response – I need more explanation – maybe an example.

bobbywolffJanuary 7th, 2019 at 3:32 pm

Hi E. B.,

While I’ve heard of “Spiral Scan” I did not pay much attention to its suggested responses since the normal way of handling it, when partner opens the bidding, you respond in a major with only four of them and partner than single raises the major (with three or four card support) and you, the responder have enough to bid again with game (or even slam in mind).

Anytime you have four trump you either bid three or four of that major suit depending on your strength. While holding only three you, of course, do not rebid that suit, but follow with any other bid (either NT if you have stoppers in the other two suits and 2NT with a minimum, but 3NT with a max) or, if while bidding the suit you have stopped if not the other one, but still guaranteeing your hand is still possibly at least game oriented. Of course, returning to your partner’s suit at the three level might show if partner had opened 1 club and you held: s. Jx, h. AQxx, d. 10x, c. AKxxx then partner would realize you have either the hand above or the same type but instead lesser values but the same distribution less the king of clubs.

At least to me, the same thing is accomplished as is the goal in “Spiral Scan” but more is told partner, enabling him to make a wiser decision.

Of course, while holding 5+ of the agreed major, the responder can still bid another suit in order to find out more information for a possible slam, since partner will be inclined to bid where he lives if holding only a 3 trump raise, and either jump or not when holding 4.

Finally I am of the school which offers an only 3 trump raise often (when faced with a choice) so that this phase of bidding comes up often in my various bridge partnerships.

The only problem area is when the wily opponents come into the bidding: around the table, 1C P 1H, 2D, 2H, 4D does complicate what to do when the original 1 heart responder has both only 4 hearts and a game going hand.

Then he must make a decision, whether 4 hearts with 5+ hearts or double with only 4 as a compromise, allowing partner to then make the mistake by passing with only 3 card support or bidding 4 hearts with 4.

At least to me, the above is at least the equal to a regimented artificial conventional response (whatever it is), and sometimes has the advantage of those opponents not being able to listen to that regimentation and benefit defensively as well as in a competitive sequence, be better placed to make winning decisions while playing against you.

Apologies for not being able to directly answer your question, but perhaps the above will also help you decide, and keeping in mind that some bridge aficionados may spend their time complicating bridge bidding when natural will be at least as effective.

TedJanuary 7th, 2019 at 11:39 pm

Hi E.B.,

This sounds like something I’ve played.

It applies to auctions which start:

1m 1H
2H 2S (2S is the asking bid)


1m 1S
2S 2NT (2NT is the asking bid)

Opener’s responses are the next four steps:

1) 3 card support, minimum
2) 3 card support, maximum
3) 4 card support, minimum
4) 4 card support, maximum

Bobby WolffJanuary 8th, 2019 at 5:34 pm

Hi Ted,

Much thanks for describing what must be “Spiral Scan”.

While having no experience from never playing it, I already like it, since it is to the point, relatively simple (at least for artificial responses) and takes no prisoners (direct and not inferential, leading to memory lapses).

Believe it or not, at least to me, when partner is very likely interested only in how many trumps the opening bidder possesses after raising, why give to those wily opponents extra information to which only the opening leader (enemy) may benefit?