Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

To understand God’s thoughts we must study statistics, for these are the measure of his purpose.

Florence Nightingale

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

*Limit raise or better in hearts


There are, on occasion, good reasons for not telling the truth with your initial signal. For example, sometimes you should tell partner you like his opening lead, even when you are not wild about it. The best reason for doing so is that there may be no better lead available to him; let us look at where we want to deter partner from making the “obvious” switch.

On the auction shown, put yourself in the East seat, and consider how you want to signal when partner leads the spade king. Your systematic play would be to discourage by playing your lowest spade, here the two, but think before you play. Do you really want partner to attack diamonds, which is his most probable switch if you discourage spades? After all, your partner does not know that the clubs will not prove a fertile source of discards for declarer. If the layout is like the one shown, you will certainly be better off encouraging a spade continuation. (Partner needs to cash that second spade winner while he can, before declarer pitches his spade loser on the clubs.)

When West leads three rounds of spades, declarer pitches one diamond loser, then can discard another diamond on the second of the top clubs. But he is left with three diamonds in each hand and no way to avoid losing two diamond tricks in the fullness of time, no matter what he does.

I’m a great fan of the quick-and-dirty approach to overcalling. That is to say, get in fast on marginal hands, and the danger of being penalized is less severe. So, is this hand worth a double, given your soft defense in hearts? I think it is on the cusp. The point is that while acting is dangerous, bidding later may be even riskier. I’d double, but with the heart king instead of the ace, I might pass.


♠ Q 9 6
 A J 5
 6 5 3
♣ A K 10 6
South West North East
    Pass 1

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Iain ClimieAugust 20th, 2019 at 11:36 am

Hi Bobby,

This is yet another hand where 3N rolls home with an 8 card major fit fails to bring home the bacon; there have been a few recently in this column. I do wonder how many cases there are where game swings are missed due to the understandable urge to support partner’s suit, although Matchpoint may be trickier decision. At IMPs, though, I can think of few approaches more likely to generate a negative score than using Stayman on (say) QJx Jxxx AJx KJx when partner opens a strong NT although obviously hands can always be constructed to provide counter-examples.



bobbywolffAugust 20th, 2019 at 2:02 pm

Hi Iain,

For me to dispute your view would be similar to announcing that tomorrow the sun will come up in the West.

However, the devil is involved with the solution, akin to my stating, I sincerely believe anyone else claiming that he or she can pinpoint when to do as East did, (with his spade signal) is either (when he so chooses) to be right or wrong, with his legal signalling to partner.

Sure, it can be West, not declarer who has the singleton club, making a discard unavailable for him on the third spade. Also, West can have six spades and my come on may entirely explode the best defense.

However and in this case, the alternative of not having a major honor (A, K, or Q) in the obvious suit for the defense is strong enough (or so I think) to instead encourage partner (not that I have to love him or her) to think mightily about continuing spades, rather than seriously consider making what I think to me the overwhelming likely shift (remember partner will not know that I have the clubs effectively stopped for offering discards).

Finally, declarer has shown better than a minimum hand by accepting dummy’s invitation to bid game and although a singleton spade could be part of that equation, it, at least to me, would more likely show good diamonds.

No doubt, the diamond suit turns out to be perfect (not always the case) for my decision, but South’s bidding does lend itself to credibility and besides, why would I be lingering on what is right, since now I have the advantage of being in the cat bird’s seat by already knowing the hand. (meant as a joke, but possibly with at least some, reality).

For the record, no one, especially at this site, has suggested that good judgment (together with valuable experience) is not the distinguishing factor in many aspects of our respected game and in this case, East’s diamond holding should set up a warning sign about suggesting for partner to continue spades.

Even if West had KQx in diamonds (in this case, without the eight) it would be fatal for him to switch to diamonds, but with KQJ, he still needs to cash the second spade before the switch (or not).

Finally, and no doubt, great defense is definitely the most challenging part of our high-level game (lower level too, but then less overall involvement in the attempt to rise to the top, usually keeps most of those classification players, with lesser ambition to tackle the difficulty of the hardest part,

Again, Rudyard Kipling’s “If” would direct a budding genius at bridge into the above discussion, if, in fact, he had aspirations to be THE MAN, at bridge.

Thanks as usual, for listening and, of course, your move to either add to, or subtract from.

bobbywolffAugust 20th, 2019 at 2:10 pm

Hi again Iain,

My diatribe, of course, has to do with today’s defense, but only after totally agreeing with you on the NT raise with 3-4-3-3 instead of searching out an 8 card heart fit.

Obviously my mind gets carried away, the solution sometimes very late, if ever, causing undesirable confusion.

Iain ClimieAugust 20th, 2019 at 11:32 pm

HI Bobby,

No worries at all and many thanks for the second post. I’m going to look through a load of hand records to check if my suspicions are valid.