Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, September 8th, 2020


A V Ramana RaoSeptember 22nd, 2020 at 11:28 am

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
But perhaps NS should be playing in Four spades on this hand. Surprising North did not bid stayman . Makes most of the times though not today due to the diamond ruff . You may please reflect : which contract is better on this hand? Three NT or Four spades

bobbywolffSeptember 22nd, 2020 at 2:52 pm


And also good morning!

All I can do is relate my experiences with either using Stayman or not when holding 4 of a major suit, enough strength for game and partner having opened a strong NT (15-17).

If also a balanced 4-3-3-3 and/or either some 4-4-3-2’s (but not both 4’s major suits) I, rather strongly, prefer a direct raise to 3NT without going through Stayman.


1. Going through Stayman gives both defenders major clues, both for opening leads (sometimes crucial) and/or for general defense, (usually in early stages).

2. By using Stayman and then reaching a 4-4 fit, if that specific suit breaks badly (4-1) oft times the offense can supply an easy nine tricks outside of that major, but still fall victim to being set because of the bad trump break.

3. When opponents know by experience (or by inquiring) about their opponent’s tendencies, it becomes a favorable psychological advantage for the offense to throw that possibility in the works (sometimes causing them to be adversely affected), mainly with their opening lead).

4. If responder holds a very weak 4 card major (today’s hand) it, because of that feature makes it even more so to ignore that suit.

5. Obviously, because of the sensitivity of various advantages to play 4-4 fits in that trump suit (instead of the alternate 3NT) it sometimes backfires to not check for it, but in the long run, I have become convinced of its long run advantage in spite of occasionally the NTer will have a 5 card major suit, but even then, at least seemingly to me, it doesn’t automatically preclude NT to be at least playable and sometimes, when ruffs by the defense creep into the picture, represent the only makable game.

Finally, on today’s hand I think (by a fairly close margin) 3NT will succeed slightly more than would 4 spades since more defenders will lead a diamond vs. 4 spades and easily defeat it while others will cover the ten of hearts while defending 3NT of if not, still falter later.

However, that extraneous fact doesn’t influence my preference, but only my past experience, over many moons.

BTW, thanks for bringing this subject up, since it seems to be (at least to me) an oft asked question for discussion (usually with emotion attached).

A V Ramana RaoSeptember 22nd, 2020 at 3:54 pm

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
Thanks for dwelling elaborately on the subject bringing out many nuances which certainly is quite educative

jim2September 22nd, 2020 at 5:49 pm

I am not Our Host, so I hope you will forgive me for chiming in here.

I absolutely agree that 3N is often better than 4 of a major when both top trump are missing, but I want to add reasons not laid out in detail by Our World Champion.

Consider, West will ~ always lead a singleton so East need only have one of the missing top trump for West to get a ruff. That’s three tricks for the defense already, so any missing side ace or badly placed honor will defeat the contract.

But it is even worse odds then that because West will often be able to lead a doubleton if lacking a singleton. Now, most of the times West when has the third trump will also produce a ruff. Alternatively, West might lead a 5-card suit if dealt 2-3-3-5 with the doubleton in trump letting EAST get a ruff. Of course, if West has 6 or more cards in a suit, then either a short suit of long suit lead might work, and West gets to choose.

These scenarios show the power of the trump ace. With it, declarer always has the option to play two rounds of trump, depriving the defense of many ruffing possibilities, or finessing if the hand that could win the King is the safe hand.

Bob LiptonSeptember 23rd, 2020 at 1:57 am

Bear in mind that many players — including me! Like to make speculative leads. Prticularly when holding a weak hand, or four-card suits that are not amenable to leads…. Axxx or K9xxx, I have had success leding from my doubleton into NT contracts. True it’s more frequently a matter of holding, say, xx QJxx xx KJxxx and the bidding )with us silent) goes 1C-1H-1NT-2NT-3NT. I don’t want to lead a heart or club, diamonds are not appealing, so that leaves spades; opponents should have a maximum of 7 spades, after all. So if the bidding goes 1NT-2C-2D-2NT-3NT, a doubleton major looks very attractive, rather than one of my 4-card minors.

I’ve found mixed success with these leads, often because declarer cannot read my lead. Of course, sometimes I find myself leading into an 8-card fit, or finding the Queen for declarer…. but he might find that anyway.


bobbywolffSeptember 23rd, 2020 at 2:01 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for sharing your powerful thoughts about opening leads, especially ones chiefly dedicated to defending against four of a major suit, once your opponents have opened with some number of NT, denoting (among other information) a balanced hand.

Although, like all old timers who love bridge, I have been in that position many times and, although never having kept exact records, have, no doubt, followed your lead (please excuse) in often choosing short suits, of course, richly preferring a singleton rather than a doubleton, but being stuck with what I was dealt. Of course, having a top trump honor such as Ax, or Kxx with the ace hopefully held by partner or, in any event, not in dummy.

However, up to now, I have not actually thought why, only, I suspect, that decades of experience have lent me that urge:

1. your above thoughtful description.
2. seemed anti-percentage to lead either the honor or away from high honors into strength.

To conclude my thinking, perhaps you have also brought Ms. Denise Leventov’s poignant quote (above) to life while attempting to play bridge logically, especially when considering an occasional critical (to be) opening lead.

bobbywolffSeptember 23rd, 2020 at 2:34 pm

Hi Bob,

Also, thanks for giving us your thoughts concerning your lead experiences principally while defending NT.

Obviously and as usual, the available bidding is heard by all four players participating at the table, and by such, becomes the cornerstone of that important (often critical) hand outcome.

For example, while holding KJ975 of hearts, but hearing your RHO opening 1 heart while playing 5 card majors, would (should) dissuade you from even considering a heart lead and thus go passive with your choice of the other eight cards available.

Also, like Sherlock Holmes’ dog which did not
bark helping him solve his crime adventures, the would be opening leader needs to piece together the evidence before choosing his opening lead.

It certainly can vary, with a major general theme of, “if the hand is breaking well for declarer be bold in your choice”, but if badly (with the example above involving the heart suit) then remain passive and try and not give back, positional advantage Dame Fortune apparently has offered you.

All of us are of one feather, in trying to choose the best defense against our hated opponents (not actual, but at least on any one hand).

Good luck to you in your quest to be the best bridge player you can be, and while you are gaining experience keep your eyes and ears open for good advice, with my suggestion of reading and strongly considering what others on this site are often recommending. Simply because IMO, we are blessed with their presence, to which other bridge sites, as well as even other good friends, will find it more than just difficult, to equal their overwhelming talent.

Thanks for your post and good luck, especially with your opening leads and your logic which goes with.