Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, September 19th, 2019

It is folly to expect men to do all that they may reasonably be expected to do.

Richard Whately

N North
None ♠ J
 K Q 9 7 2
 K 9 7
♣ A 10 7 3
West East
♠ 9 8 5 4 2
 J 8 5
 J 10 8 4
♣ 6
♠ K 10 7 3
 A 10 6
 Q 5 3
♣ K J 4
♠ A Q 6
 4 3
 A 6 2
♣ Q 9 8 5 2
South West North East
    1 Pass
2 ♣ Pass 3 ♣ Pass
3 NT All pass    


In today’s deal, South’s threeno-trump call was an attempt to protect his spade tenace. An alternative would have been a stopper-showing three spades instead, to highlight the danger of the diamonds. After all, if North’s pointed-suit holdings had been interchanged, five clubs would have been far better than three no-trump. Also, curiously, three no-trump by North likely would have made on a low spade lead!

Against three no-trump, West led the second-highest spade eight to deny an honor in the suit. This went to the jack, king and ace. Declarer could see that even taking four club tricks would probably not be enough. The defense would establish the spade suit and come to five winners before he had nine.

So South decided his best chance was to sneak a heart trick first. If the heart king held, he could turn to clubs with the game-going trick in his pocket. Alas, East won the first heart and persevered with spades. Not just any spade, though. South was marked with the spade queen, and if he had started with acequeen-six, the “normal” current count return of the spade three would block the suit, assuming declarer played low.

So East put the spade 10 on the table. Declarer ducked that and won the third round, hoping for a 6-3 split. He then turned to the clubs, cashing the ace first in case West miraculously had the singleton king. But no — East won the second club and had a fourth spade to lead to West, who cashed out for down one.

I would raise to four spades at any vulnerability. Partner likely has a singleton heart, and our own singleton should allow him to cross-ruff the hand. We definitely want to sacrifice over four hearts, so we should do so immediately, making life as difficult as possible for the opponents.


♠ 9 8 5 4 2
 J 8 5
 J 10 8 4
♣ 6
South West North East
  1 1 ♠ 3

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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


Steve ConradOctober 3rd, 2019 at 11:49 am


In the “Bid With the Aces” question, when partner opens 1H and RHO bids 1S, most players at the upper intermediate or better level would bid 3H with a weak hand and 2S with a hand with a limit raise or better (or some use 2NT to show 3 cards and 2S to show 4). Doesn’t the 4S call presume strength?

bobbywolffOctober 3rd, 2019 at 1:29 pm

Hi Steve,

While you are correct in describing the current
meanings among the “high brow” tournament players of today, especially the differences below the all out jump to 4 spades.

However, 4 spades can be a very weak preempt, of course attuned to the vulnerability,
which is intended to not only take bidding room away from the stronger hands (opponents) but make them guess when and if to double for penalties.

The reason being that sometimes an immediate jump to 4 spades can also then have excellent values, and although partner will not know that, neither can then an opponent merely just double for penalties with a minimum opener, tending, more often than one would expect, to allow that contract to be made.

Sure, partner may also be fooled, but once he makes his first bid (in this case, a one spade overcall) he should allow (except in rare cases) his partner to take it from there, which could mean a psychological battle with those worthy opponents.

However, while I mention “any vulnerability” I should have excluded when vulnerable against not, since my barren hand (not in distribution but in high cards) might allow too great a penalty, if opponents decide to double (which they often might).

No doubt high level tactics, rather than just consistent excellent playing technique, become an integral reason for success or failure, and the only way to take an “up” elevator to that favored status, is by playing against good opposition and with a partner who also wants the experience gleaned together with what generally happens in high level competitive auctions.

Good luck and join us when you can for further discussion, if indeed you have the time to do so.

David WarheitOctober 3rd, 2019 at 6:52 pm

N’s pointed-suit holdings don’t have to be reversed to make 5C a far better contract than 3N. Despite the facts that C are not 2-2 (or stiff K w/W) and the HA is offside, S should make 5C without much trouble. So my question: how should the bidding have gone to get to 5C (even at duplicate!), and how do you apportion the blame between N & S for not getting there? I’ll start by pointing out that S knows his side has a 5-4 fit in C but almost surely a loser in the suit, meaning it’s unlikely once the C are established at 3NT that there will be 9 tricks to cash.

bobbywolffOctober 3rd, 2019 at 10:40 pm

Hi David,

Yes, I agree that 5 clubs is a better contract than 3NT, but only slightly, especially if the defense starts a diamond instead of a spade, while on lead.

However, my above revelation, at least to me, and, of course, if it is indeed accurate, will not shed the light on exactly what will determine arriving at game in clubs, after the opening combined first three bids by NS.

Next a word about the technical bidding. If North was dealt: s. Jx, h. KQxxx, d. KJx, c. KJx or that specific distribution but not having a stopper in one of the unbid pointed suits, I believe that most so-called experts would prefer a club raise rather than a heart rebid or a stilted 2NT call.

If my statement is even near correct, I see the same rebid by South, 3NT, with really no second choice, but, of course, understanding that the final contract might well be speculative, but to contract for two tricks more, instead of the short route, just, at least to me, is not realistic.

Technical purists like you (and I think you are one, at least about bridge, which is intended to make you proud), perhaps has only one potential failing and that is to consider most, if not all of our game (especially during the bidding, when no other hands are exposed), have right or wrong answers, instead of merely the best judgment possible considering the built in strictures of “no see, gotta guess”.

Another underrated asset to, “When 3NT is a possible choice, choose it” originally quoted from my former long time partner, Bob Hamman, but very much the truth regarding our partnership in, that the defensive opening lead is much more of a wild guess as to which of usually several choices might work, instead of IMO a much more learned one against a suit contract on strict percentage.

While approving of South’s 3NT choice on this hand, I do not speak from either learned optimism or special knowledge, only from years of facing those choices, to which there is no doubt, I would rather be on lead (assuming I cannot construct my own hand) against a minor suit game than the often more or less random NT game.

Finally, in answer to how NS should play 5 clubs rather than 3NT, I have, possibly because of my bias, no effective way to even suggest, much less, recommend it.

Thanks for your excellent exercise, since it allowed me to only give you my opinion, but not have to denounce other possibilities.

Finally, I probably should quote Donald Duck with the real answer, “Always landing in the right contract is not what it is quacked up to be”.

bobbywolffOctober 4th, 2019 at 7:59 pm

Hi David,

Although, while playing 5 clubs as my contract, I would most definitely lead a heart to dummy at trick 2, and if it won, would then lead ace and one club back towards my hand.

I did certainly owe you an answer to how I would play it, and although it will depend on how the defense goes, I should and will suggest to you how I would begin the play.

I guess the way to bid this hand to 5 clubs is to bid 3 diamonds over the three club raise and then if partner bids 3 spades, I will, of course try 3NT.

If he then bids 4 clubs I will bid 4 spades, but then pass 5 clubs if he should then chose 4 diamonds, and of course, pass 5 clubs, if he chooses that bid.