Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Big Brother is watching you.

George Orwell

W North
Both ♠ 10 5 2
 9 6
 K 6 5 4
♣ A J 10 4
West East
♠ 9 8 6 4 3
 K J 8
 Q 10 8 2
♣ 6
♠ —
 A Q 10 7 5 2
 J 9 7
♣ Q 9 5 3
♠ A K Q J 7
 4 3
 A 3
♣ K 8 7 2
South West North East
  Pass Pass 2
Dbl. 3 Dbl. Pass
4 ♠ All pass    


In today’s deal from the Common Game, I assumed the role of innocent bystander, watching as a defender while declarer missed the best line for his contract.

I sat West, and when my partner opened two hearts in third seat, I heard a double to my left; I raised to three hearts to try to make a nuisance of myself. East doubled, denying spades, and South jumped to four spades to end a competently bid auction.

I led a low heart to the ace, won the next heart with the king and exited with the spade eight. Declarer won in hand, looking unhappy, then crossed to the spade 10, played the club ace and called for the club jack. I ruffed and exited with a spade, and now my side was sure to take the 13th trick, for down one.

Let’s look at declarer’s options here. He could not afford to draw trumps before playing on clubs, since the defenders were threatening to run hearts once his trumps ran out. But if declarer played the club king from hand, followed by another club, I could have ruffed and exited in trump for a safe down one.

The winning line was not too far from what declarer actually did. After winning the spade ace at trick three, he should cross to the spade 10 and run the club jack from dummy. If West wins the queen and gives a ruff-sluff, declarer can trump in dummy and cross to hand in diamonds to draw trumps. But if dummy’s club jack holds, declarer can draw trumps and play for the overtrick.

When deciding whether to invite game facing a strong no-trump, consider how much your bid will help the defense. Here, if you have to bid Stayman, you will surely give the opponents extra information about declarer’s hand pattern. So while I might think this hand just about worth an invitational sequence, I’d pass if compelled by system to bid Stayman as opposed to a call of two no-trump.


♠ 10 5 2
 9 6
 K 6 5 4
♣ A J 10 4
South West North East
    1 NT 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 ClimieJuly 4th, 2019 at 10:48 am

HI Bobby,

What a fascinating and rather counter-intuitive piece of play. South can afford to lose a club or a ruff but not both. The danger situation is exactly as here i.e. East has CQ9xx and the second club gets ruffed. If clubs are 3-2 then there are no problems and the club finesse can be taken either way so declarer should assume that clubs are 4-1 or worse. If East has 5 clubs though, then South has to draw trumps and then play CA before running the CJ to get home, and that line actually works today but fails if West has (say) CQx(x). Vacant spaces may be relevant here – West has 8 major suit cards, East 6 so the CQ is probably onside. There again if East was 0-6-2-5 he might have broken discipline and bid 4H (even 4C) over 3H suggesting a save.

All easy away form the table!



Iain ClimieJuly 4th, 2019 at 11:05 am

The other point about clubs 5-0 being unlikely is that West would surely have bashed 4H holding 5-3-5-0 just to cause maximum trouble.


bobbywolffJuly 4th, 2019 at 1:04 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for following through and not only giving what you so often provide, a learned conclusion, and one which also includes possible failures.

While I cannot add much of anything of value, I can speak to the usual safety play of first playing the ace of clubs from dummy (usually as a safety play against a singleton queen of clubs, here from West), but in truth, that so-called safety play could become what amounts to a very unsafely one, if one is continued.

And of course, thanks for including your right-on view as to the unlikelihood of a 5-0 club distribution which, in addition to your evidence of West not leaping to 4 hearts (instead of just 3) but East if he held 5, might have at least considered leading the queen of hearts back giving West an option of not overtaking it, if he needed an immediate club ruff while holding the right trump holding for such a defense (Qxxx or better).

JohnJuly 4th, 2019 at 4:49 pm

Hi Bobby – re BWTA

Many years ago a local pro told me to invite game with a balanced 8 HCP and “8 over the 8”. So if you’re looking to invite game opposite 15-17 NT then you need 8 cards higher than the 8. At the time all my partners and I were at best intermediate players.

What do you do you thinks about that?

Does the form of scoring matter? I’m guessing at IMPs it pays to invite aggressively.

Hope you’re well. Thanks!

Jeff SJuly 4th, 2019 at 7:51 pm

Hi Bobby,

Happy Fourth!

I am not a sophisticated bidder, but I’ve never heard of a system where Stayman is required without a four-card major. Is this a common agreement?


David WarheitJuly 4th, 2019 at 7:56 pm

The defense cashes 2 H tricks and then W exits with a S, E discarding a H. What are the odds as to the location of the CQ? Well, W has 6 unknown cards and E has 10, so the odds are 10-6 in favor of E. But wait a minute, E had to play something on the S lead, so you can’t count the H that he did play, so the true odds are 11-6. Welcome back to the Monty Hall problem.

bobbywolffJuly 5th, 2019 at 12:16 am

Hi John,

Rather than 8 over the 8, I prefer to break ties by card combinations. Here the J10 combination is a positive.

However a winning philosophy is when making that type of decision, play a part score at as low a level as practical, since with only an 8 count and no 5 card suit or great intermediates, accept playing 1NT rather than reach for the stars. Therein, if your side is playing 1NT and others in whatever game, IMPs, rubber bridge or matchpoints have chosen a higher level to reach, I like your percentage chances on that hand and all others in which you handle the same way.

Sure, your partnership may miss some exciting moments, but your side is more likely to reach the winners circle, based only on percentages.

And BTW, Good Luck!

bobbywolffJuly 5th, 2019 at 12:24 am

Hi Jeff S,

Many high-level partnerships play a raise to 2NT as part of some conventional forcing situations.

The idea is that not to bother with the mama papa idea of trying to be exact, but rather to use that bid (2NT) for more constructive purposes than just merely a raise. Needless to say I do not agree, but I cannot begin to prove who has the right belief.

In any event North is North and however that phrase goes, but as Jimmy Durante (long ago) made famous, “Those are the conditions which prevail”.

Finally, although that choice of doing away with a quantitative raise is not common, at least among sophisticated tournament bridge players, there are more than a few who subscribe to that treatment.

bobbywolffJuly 5th, 2019 at 12:42 am

Hi David,

While that argument would be accepted by all (or almost) those who totally agree with the Monty Hall theory, I would not think it would enter into being a factor. However whether the odds are 10 to 6 or 11 to 6 the above argument would have no logical factor since the strategy of discarding often is chosen in a different way (than would be a falsecard of say the jack or the ten) but in some relatively rare cases the defender needs to plan ahead in order to adopt his best opportunity to either help his partner or to confuse the declarer.

IOW it is not a blind choice of playing the lowest card or perhaps a false card, but other intent could enter the equation.

Yes, the above may make sense to me, but to the Monty Hall supporters it might not and sadly for me, perhaps they are correct.

I’m ready to listen, but do not promise blind adherence.