Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

The people people have for friends your common sense appall
But the people people marry are the queerest folk of all.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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


At the Gold Coast teams tournament last year, Frances Hinden and Graham Osborne came all the way from England, and who did they get to play? The Scots team. In that match, Osborne played four hearts nicely here.

There is only one lead by West to defeat four hearts — a small trump. After Victor Silverstone’s lead of a top diamond honor, Osborne won the ace and ruffed a diamond, trying to score as many of his small trumps as possible, then crossed to a top club to lead a third diamond, ruffed by Derek Diamond and overruffed in hand. Now a club to dummy allowed declarer to ruff another diamond. The spade ace and a spade ruff produced a five-card ending where declarer was down to two losing spades and the A-J-10 of hearts, with the lead in dummy.

Osborne now led a diamond from dummy, and when East ruffed with the four, he discarded a spade. No matter which black suit East led next, Osborne could follow with his remaining spade, to ensure two of the last three tricks.

Had East retained both of his trumps in the five-card ending (together with one spade and two clubs), declarer would have needed to lead a club from dummy and pitch a spade as East won his jack.

At that point, West has one spade and four hearts and must pitch his spade to leave his partner on play. In turn, that means West will have to ruff his partner’s plain-suit winner at the next trick and be endplayed to concede two of the last three tricks.

It seems obvious to bid or transfer into spades, doesn’t it? Indeed, the normal route with hands like this is to transfer into spades then offer no-trump. Here, however, I believe the quality of your spades should argue for playing four spades, even facing a small doubleton. I would transfer, then bid four spades — or use a Texas transfer to spades if that is in my repertoire.


♠ Q J 10 9 2
 7 4
 J 5
♣ J 7 6 4
South West North East
    2 NT 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 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Bruce KarlsonMarch 9th, 2019 at 11:52 am

BWTA. Playing pairs, I would be sorely tempted to bid 3 NT. Obviously it is against the field but 10 tricks seem as likely as in 4S, particularly if partner has 2 spades as I have learned to expect from mine. Partner’s 20/21 are likely to include decent cards in the red suits. Agree it might to be more of a mess than 4S but, it is alsomore likely to be a top, absent worse luck than my usual allotment.

bobbywolffMarch 9th, 2019 at 12:50 pm

Hi Bruce,

While I admire your gumption, I might differ
from your bidding judgment.

Yes partner, the 2NT opener, may be relatively short in spades, holding only two or three, but, if so, the only reason to bid game at all, without a choice from partner to jump to 4 spades over a 3 heart transfer to the master suit is the solidity of the
QJ109 which will always be quite valuable in spades, but not so in NT as there is not an entry to them, unless the declarer gets very lucky.

Yes partner should have at least 20 hcps, (possibly 21) but percentage wise that will not be enough to score up 9 of the 13 tricks (game in NT as the opponents will have at least 15 hcps which should, one way or the other, likely, especially with their having the advantage pf often leading their combined longest suit vs. a NT contract.

Obviously it is a matter of experienced judgment, but those key spade intermediates, certainly compared with the disparity of strength elsewhere, causes me to choose either 9 tricks or 10 in spades, rather than in NT.

However, that is just my choice and I’ve been wrong a myriad of times. In the early years of the computer age back in the late 1960s to 70s there were ways to simulate balanced 20-21 hcp hands opposite the one given today and after looking at perhaps 1000 random 2NT holdings one can then analyze which contract (2NT, 3NT, 3 or 4 spades) will be most likely to be scored up. I vote spades and you vote NT and I will suggest let the computer read out determine the winner of our guessing game.

Thanks for your comments. All of us love to find factual answers rather than just educated guesses by either one of us or any others who have definite opinions.

Finally for the record I will guess that both 3 and 4 spades as a final resting place will in turn, be slightly superior to either 2 or 3NT.

Iain ClimieMarch 9th, 2019 at 2:05 pm

Hi Bobby,

Although hardly likely to be found, does a club lead from West take an entry out prematurely to stop diamond ruffs, leaving declarer one-off? West might get to overruff and exit safely so doesn’t get endplayed. I’ve seen the hand before (I think) as Graham Osborne wrote it up in English Bridge, the EBU’s regular magazine.



Bruce KarlsonMarch 9th, 2019 at 2:29 pm

Thnx.. did not consider possible entry problems. Would not be fun to pitch off Spade “winners” as the opps cashed actual red suit winners! I will attempt to literally think twice as a counter to my inclination to take the least travelled road.

bobbywolffMarch 9th, 2019 at 2:30 pm

Hi Iain,

I’ll give you a perfunctory yes on the unlikely club lead taking away a valuable early entry for declarer to arrive at the highly successful coup, succeeding with the defensive chances of a set.

No doubt, there is a large amount of player luck, often riding on a crucial opening lead.

The bad news is neither side can have any idea of what will work and what will not, until the dummy comes down, and even immediately after, before the declarer’s pattern of play emerges.

Then, among the elite players, most will be able to ascertain what the ending will be like and both sides then go to work mentally hoping for it to favor them. Before that crucial time, both imagination, experience and effort will be subject to what ifs.

No doubt our source of column hands is dependent on around the world reports, allowing us to pick and choose, always keeping in mind our space restrictions and, of course, how that hand will be viewed by our wide variance of talented players, mixed with a new player’s sometime unfamiliar knowledge of various favorable results, but difficult to see (for many, but especially them).

bobbywolffMarch 9th, 2019 at 3:23 pm

Hi Bruce,

First, I appreciate your becoming humble response. Next, whenever your partner has the AKx you do not have to want for entries to your long suit or other times when partner has Kxx in spades (another fairly often occurrence) you may find the ace either singleton or doubleton in an opponent’s hand. Also one of your minor suit jacks may by a minor miracle somehow find its role as entry to dummy.

So I do not rate “the lesser traveled road” as always an inferior handling, only, when given a specific choice, at least in theory, perhaps the “more popular road” has a better chance at success.

IOW, keep track of what your eyes see at the table and then base your future play be determined on what you think has the higher rate of success.

Believe me, by only doing that, bridge offers a compelling challenge in so many areas, making our discussion of this hand only of passing interest, though IMO very worthwhile.

Barbara WernerMarch 10th, 2019 at 1:10 am

Hi Mr Wolff
My husband made a 1 No Trump over call yesterday after his right hand opponent opened one diamond. I passed my balanced hand as I had 5 points with a four card heart suit(no face cards and 3 spades. He thought I should have used a staymen to show my 4 card major. I disagree!!!
What do you think? Thanks Barbara

bobbywolffMarch 10th, 2019 at 1:38 am

Hi Barbara,

First of all, welcome to the AOB bridge site.

Second, I am happy to report to you that it isn’t the least bit close for you to pass with only holding 5 hcp, one 4 card major and a balanced hand. Even if you would have also held 4 spades in addition to 4 hearts, you still should let your partner declare 1NT.

While finding an 8 card major suit fit is usually desirable, it in no way will necessarily play better, and having to go to the two level for 8 tricks instead of only 7 to fulfill your 1NT contract shouts out to just pass and hope that your husband makes his bid.

Finally, yes there are hands which will make 2 hearts with a 4-4 fit and go down in lNT if left to play, but always go for the best result possible, rather than the best possible result. If for no other reason than the percentage dictates against trying for perfection since when partner doesn’t possess what he may hold, only bad things can happen, thus meekly pass and look forward to the next deal.

Good luck to both you and your husband and do not hesitate to write in, when the spirit moves you.

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