Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, March 4th, 2019

Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean someone isn’t watching you.


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


After South opens with two no-trump to show a balanced 22 to 24 points, what should North do? If North’s long suit were a major, he would transfer into it. But one should only do the same with a minor if there is a possibility of slam in the air. Here, North knows that his side probably belongs in three no-trump, so why help the opponents by telling them about his diamonds? North should simply raise to game in no-trump — though give dummy as little as Q-10-fourth of clubs instead of his actual holding, and North might want to consider making a slam try.

When dummy comes down after West’s small heart lead, South sees he has five top tricks in spades, clubs and hearts, with only slim chances for developing another trick from the black suits. He therefore needs only four tricks in diamonds to guarantee his contract.

This in turn suggests that at both teams and rubber bridge, South should take the safety play of cashing the ace, then deliberately ducking the second round of diamonds to protect against a 4-1 break in that suit.

As shown in the diagram, South’s precaution is needed to assure the contract today. If South wins the second diamond in dummy, he can take only three tricks in that suit. His best play would be to turn his attention to clubs, but when that suit also fails to break, he emerges with only eight tricks. Still, at pairs, where every trick counts, when you are in a normal contract, it might make sense to go down in the search for an overtrick.

When you have a weak hand, leading partner’s suit gives you at least a reasonable chance that you might be able to set that suit up. None of your other holdings are appealing, so you might as well play for your partner’s hand. Thus, a spade lead stands out as the safest and most attractive shot.


♠ 5
 Q 7 4
 J 6 4 3
♣ J 9 8 6 2
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♠ Dbl.
Pass 2 ♣ Pass 2 NT
All pass      

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieMarch 18th, 2019 at 12:49 pm

Hi Bobby,

Even at pairs, South can get an extra chance by playing DA then small, so he can duck if West shows out. The temptation to play a small one to the KIng first somehow feels more obvious, but it is disastrous today at IMPs / rubber and even loses the 14% extra chance of 4-1 (East having 4) at pairs. Another possibility is at pairs if you’re struggling to qualify in an event and this is the last hand of the night; this looks like a dead flat hand so duck the 2nd diamond anyway if you think 50% isn’t good enough; this does need the estimate of the score to be very accurate, though, while partner will need to be sympathetic if (when) it fails.



Bob LiptonMarch 18th, 2019 at 1:16 pm

Ian’s line is 83%, improved slightly by both opponents both following to the first round.


bobbywolffMarch 18th, 2019 at 1:44 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt that your complete discussion says about all there is to say about today’s bridge dilemma.

However, at least as far as I am concerned, the decision narrows down to, at IMPs or rubber bridge, make the safety play, but at matchpoints, go for the gusto and not.

By playing the ace and one to dummy and having West follow the odds for the diamond break of 3-2 have actually slightly increased (a 1-4 division is ruled out) and alos since West would have disdained the lead from J109x and while holding only 4 hearts may have preferred that inviting sequence as the opening lead, especially with that simple route to 3NT. Add that to still some make-up chances at overall success with 3-3 clubs and the odds go up a bit for aggression from only the earlier evidence.

We all have to face the scoring system and accept being affected by it. At matchpoints, where frequency of gain rather than amount of gain reigns supreme, I cannot in good conscience recommend any othe then play for the normal break and be done worrying about it.

Sure, there are some ego advantages by executing a safety play, but sooner rather than later (when the scores come out) if even one place has been lost by your conservatism, it shouldn’t be a proud moment. Why? simply because it probably is the percentage play to go set and, yes Virginia there is no Santa Claus.

However, like many things in life, there sometimes are more important things than the very cold percentage tables and looking good is worth something, especially since most partners will understand whatever you do, at least to your face.

However, I completely agree and was impressed with your very intelligent discussion of this common problem and the time you took to describe it well.

Perhaps I do not have the confidence of being able to predict my expectations for that session (or that event) to the gnat’s eyebrow (I seem to be surprised one way or the other much too often) that many do (or hope they have).

Iain ClimieMarch 18th, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Hi Bobby,

Imagine West had a heart less, a club more and (reasonably) leads the DJ. Clearly you run this round to the Ace and lead a small one on which West plays small. Obviously the 8 now works (and is a safety play) but many players might prefer a (relatively) safe D from J10x to a lead from a major suit like Qxxx or Kxxx round to the strong hand. True, North hasn’t used Stayman but he might have a few points and a weak 4 card major when trying for 4H / S can be an easy way to go minus with 3N cold, while there could eb the same number of tricks in 3N and 4M at pairs. Decisions, decisions …..



bobbywolffMarch 18th, 2019 at 3:07 pm

Hi Bob,

First, thanks for working out the math.

If the aggressive line is 83% to succeed, to which you testify, it seems as clear cut as possible to simply go for it in matchpoints, but still take the safety play at rubber or IMPs.

For those who avoid numbers that means giving up 30 points in rubber and 1 IMP at IMPs. However when playing either about 500 points value at rubber and, depending on vulnerability anywhere between 10 and 13 IMPs.

bobbywolffMarch 18th, 2019 at 3:20 pm

Hi Iain,

Much thanks for your down to earth assessment for still another possibility (the jack of diamonds lead) which definitely adds another consideration (to which I completely agree, although the stakes still remain high, but only at matchpoints). And to make matters worse by playing really good and experienced opponents, while West was holding the J109x. When playing to the declarer continuation of a diamond you will get a very casual small one from West, like he had no idea the crucial play by declarer was coming. And if he had only J10x he might not so casually study before playing low.

All in a day’s work, although the slow play could be considered unethical by some, but very normal and protective by others.

Yes, an appeals person has heard quite a few excuses in his tenure, but most are hard to believe.

Bob LiptonMarch 18th, 2019 at 10:26 pm

It occurs to me that given a Matchpoint setting, so long as you’re going to play for a 3-2 diamond split, declarer should cash the two top clubs first. Because the only entry to dummy will be in diamonds, declarer should cash two high clubs first. Should both opponents follow, a third club may yield a second over trick without jeopardizing the anticipated 10 trick (two clubs, five diamonds, two hearts and one spade. Arguably, the same line should be followed at all forms of scoring, since a 3-3 split will guarantee 9 tricks regardless of the diamond distribution, and overtricks are always nice.

The end result is, of course, down 1 on the actual layout.



bobbywolffMarch 18th, 2019 at 11:14 pm

Hi Bob,

The disadvantage of cashing two high clubs first is that the opponents are now protected from making a mistake in their discards. If diamonds are 3-2 and, of course, we play for that, then it is very possible that with one opponent holding the king of spades and the other the queen that both may err and throw one club too many during the run of the diamonds.

Of course this contingency is much more valuable when playing against less than stellar opposition.

Iain ClimieMarch 19th, 2019 at 10:10 am

Hi Bob, Bobby,

Any case for ducking a club at pairs retaining options before playing diamonds? Now when a heart comes back, cash CAK, possibly getting good news and start on diamonds. This is a relatively safe way of checking for C3-3.



Bill CubleyMarch 19th, 2019 at 4:38 pm

Good quote. I guess it applied when I kibitzed yoou in the Mixed Pairs. 😉

bobbywolffMarch 20th, 2019 at 12:53 am

Hi Bill,

Since someone once answered my question of Why are you kibitzing me?, with “because someone once complimented you on what a gracious loser you are”.

Practice makes perfect!