Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

'Tut, tut, child,' said the duchess. 'Everything's got a moral if only you can find it.'

Lewis Carroll

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


Today's deal dates back 75 years — it originally appeared in an American magazine in 1938. The deal was set as a puzzle for readers to solve.The contract was six spades, on the lead of the diamond king.

Imagine that you win the diamond lead and run your trumps. You hope that at least one defender if not both will retain their hearts to prevent you from running the suit. Now you can cash your club winners and cut loose with a diamond, hoping that someone will have to give you a winner in dummy at trick 13. But that is hardly a guarantee, and indeed, as the cards lie, as long as West retains two diamonds, the slam will fail.

The solution does not rely on defensive error, and once you have seen the theme, you may kick yourself if you didn’t find it at the table. All you have to do is to duck the diamond king. Now if a second diamond is led, declarer can arrange a diamond ruff in dummy. If West shifts to a trump to kill the ruff, the diamond ace remains in dummy to provide an entry to the heart king after all the trumps have been drawn.

In a sense, ducking the first diamond requires the defenders to do two things at once to defeat the slam — namely, to play a trump and to continue with diamonds. If you win the first diamond, you accomplish one of those things for the defense.

I don't think a simple call of three clubs gets your hand across fully. I'd rather jump to four clubs, which (even though my heart king may be utterly wasted) does suggest a hand with real game interest and good club support. You would bid three clubs if the club two were the spade two.


♠ 9
 K 8 6 3 2
 A 5
♣ 10 8 7 5 2
South West North East
1 Pass
1 1♠ 2♣ 2♠

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


ClarksburgJune 24th, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Good morning Mr. Wolff.
A question unrelated to todays column.
Pairs. Both VUL. After three passes, you are in fourth seat holding:
S J2
D Q1098643
What to do, and why?

Bobby WolffJune 24th, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Your question is challenging, if for no other reason than we are sitting with only 11 HCP’s and unusual length (7 cards) in a minor suit, yet no other one at the table saw fit to open the bidding before me, especially 3rd chair where experienced players usually make, if at all possible, some positive noise (rather than meekly pass).

The above circumstance likely means that the HCP’s are equally divided around the table with perhaps the weakest hand being our RHO, since he was in 3rd chair.

Yes, I am stalling, since my action, at least to me, is an outright guess, but usually I would round it off by opening with 3 diamonds, which should only be played as a hoped for three passes following, allowing our side to have perhaps a better than even chance to score up 9 tricks in diamonds for +110 which should garner about an average of 65+% of the matchpoints.

All these ridiculous views by others, such as, a 3 bid in the 4th chair, since he (or she) had a chance to pass it out, then by logic should show a better than normal 3 level preempt is better left unsaid (as well as un thought). I do like the togetherness of my heart holding since my partner figures to have at least 2 entries in order to finesse hearts, assuming he does not have the king and, of course, the possible lead of a heart from the blind flying player on my left who must find the opening lead.

I also like my interior diamond spots which may come into play, but I am hoping that the first card my partner exposes in dummy is the jack of diamonds, making that 1 hcp worth almost an ace and enabling trumps to be drawn, simplifying the play.

I would normally open 3 diamonds, but if my partner is aggressive in opening the bidding and I judge my opponents conservative in not opening I could very well change my tactics and pass this one out.

At any rate, whatever happens will enable you to discuss with partner tactics, the first one about the nature of a 4th position 3 bid is always (or should be) to buy the hand and go plus rather than pass it out and accept the randomness of the matchpoint result for doing so.

Developing a partnership is what bridge is all about and sometimes that becomes as intimate (in a different context) as does a marriage.

The good news is that a pair does not have to pay a lawyer to dissolve such a union, but the bad news sometimes results in emotional pain for both partners not belonging together at the bridge table, causing both of them to rue the day they decided to “table up”.

TedJune 24th, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Hi Bobby,

My partner and I had a major misunderstanding on an undiscussed sequence. What would you suggest this auction to mean? The opponents were silent throughout (other than amused chuckles as we spun out of control). Partner in first seat opened.

1C 1H

2H Showing 15-17 support point with 4 card support or 3 with a singleton

4C Intended as a splinter since Hearts had been agreed upon.
Partner thought this showed massive Club support.

4D Intended as KCKB for Clubs
I thought it was a Diamond Q-Bid

It deteriorated further at this point, but 6H was not a great success. Fortunately it was pairs so only a 0 not a major swing.


Bobby WolffJune 24th, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Hi Ted,

I’ll try and answer what I think to be the best way to understand what partner is trying to say:

1. A raise to 2 hearts may be 14-16 total high card and distributional points with either 3 or 4 hearts to be determined later, unless everyone now passes.

2. A jump to 4 clubs, in the absence of a specific discussion should be a GF with a very good club holding for partner’s first suit and indirectly implies only a 4 card heart suit.

2A. A soecific agreement can be played successfully where 4 clubs (in spite of partner’s opening bid) is, as you mention, shortness, setting hearts as trump which would mean 5+ hearts.
2B. It could also, by partnership agreement be used as Gerber asking for either aces or key cards.

4 Diamonds, again in the absence of discussion should normally just be a cue bid in support of what both sides agree as trump, clubs after the jump which meant great club support, but hearts if meant as a splinter.

2C. It can NEVER be the right way to play for the bidding to have gotten any where near this far and not have both partners know what trump is going to be. Later, after more information is exchanged the final bidder can possibly override that earlier decision on trump and, of course, opt for (usually) a slam in NT or even in the higher ranking, not thought to be trumps earlier to cater to the god of matchpoints or in some cases to protect against a dangerous opening lead.

A word of caution. Do not bite off more than one can chew and even after one misunderstanding stay home from the next duplicate and work at bridge (with your partner if convenient) rather than not react to terrible misunderstandings and just let it happen.

It is true that in pairs a zero is only a zero, but when it consistently happens, the flag is up and waving, meaning that one or two more times will destruct this partnership, whether one or both is prepared for that or not.

The not so secret way of succeeding is, like many other things in life, effort by both to think about what the other may feel about poor results and a responsibility to keep it from happening in order to keep the partnership on a straight line to improvement.
NO FRIVOLITY ALLOWED other than an occasional smile.

TedJune 24th, 2014 at 8:49 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thank you for all your comments on this.

We play an 11-14 pt NT, hence the 15-17 support point range. With balanced 3 card support the opener would normally bid 1NT allowing partner to check back if desired.

Misunderstandings are rare enough that they don’t concern me other than making sure it doesn’t happen again and if there are related items which should be discussed.

We knew the opponents well enough, that we felt any amusement displayed had a definite sympathetic tinge.

Anyway, if 4C as a splinter should not have been considered, is there a better way to check, or should I have just bid 4H and be done with it? My hand:

AJx KQJxx QJ10x J

Thanks, again

Bobby WolffJune 25th, 2014 at 1:19 am

Hi Ted,

A middle of the road approach might just be a 3 diamond rebid by the 1 heart bidder. Then if partner bids 3NT or 3 hearts either pass or merely bid 4 hearts.

While science is nice and perhaps of value, IMO any slam try (except in rare occasions) may get the job done one way or the other (get to a good slam and stay out of bad ones).

Exact science is rarely the case but good judgment is always in the building for an experienced played to put information to good use. And then to add to the dismay, bidding a close slam and either making it or going set, often turns on random events, like a lucky or unlucky lead, or some close percentage splits, not to mention occasional brilliance or careless overlooks.

Then turning to strategy, what if one pair bashes to a slam after NV competition and the opponents then take a phantom save. What could anyone call that, but winning tactical strategy, or bidding in such a way that teases the opponents into making the wrong lead, therefore scoring up a no play slam with another lead.

Is that luck or is it skill and cunning? I would usually vote for the 2nd description, especially when a known winner at high-level bridge is the one who operates.

My overall take is not to be overly concerned about any special phase of our wonderful game. Just put together a game plan, be unpredictable, especially to the opponents, concentrate fully and let nature take its course, without worrying about what is happening, just good or bad, being ready to play the next hand to your fullest extent.

Experience gleaned will bear out the above with wins and losses as long as the team’s expectations do not theoretically reach a level their skill cannot consistently achieve.