Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, September 1st, 2014

In this country (England) it is thought well to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others.


West North
Neither ♠ K Q
 Q 4
 K J 4 2
♣ Q 8 6 5 3
West East
♠ 6 4
 A K 9 8 6
 A 10 8 6
♣ 10 9
♠ J 7 2
 J 7 3
 9 7 5 3
♣ J 4 2
♠ A 10 9 8 5 3
 10 5 2
♣ A K 7
South West North East
1 Pass Pass
1♠ Pass 2 Pass
4♠ All pass    


In today's deal after West opens one heart, South protects with one spade, then jumps to four spades when North cue-bids two hearts to show a good hand. As East, do you want to encourage or discourage on the lead of the heart king?

The point of today’s deal is that defensive signaling is not just about likes and dislikes. Everything has to be viewed in the context of the whole hand.

East must encourage on the opening lead for two reasons. The first is that he fears that a shift to either minor-suit might blow a trick. The second reason is that East can see the possibility that a third round of hearts might promote a trump trick for his side.

Meanwhile, afterthe two top hearts are cashed, the most difficult part of the defense comes at trick three — though I suspect Mrs. Guggenheim might get it right without realizing the subtlety of the position. The point is that West must now cash the diamond ace before the rats get at it. East discourages, of course, and now a third round of hearts will force dummy to ruff and allow East’s spade jack to become the setting trick.

The point is that if West does not take the diamond ace before playing the third heart, declarer ruffs with the spade queen, then cashes the spade king. Now he crosses to hand in clubs and takes the spade ace. He can subsequently run the clubs and dispose of his diamond loser on the fourth club.

You passed over two diamonds since double would have been for takeout. Now you have to set two diamonds by the maximum. With what look to be natural trump tricks, there is no need to go active with the lead of the spade ace. I would lead a fourth-highest heart, assuming that if a trump shift proves necessary, it can be done later.


♠ A 4
 J 7 4 2
 Q 9 6 4
♣ J 4 3
South West North East
1 NT 2
All pass      

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


Iain ClimieSeptember 15th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Hi Bobby,

That would be Admiral John Byng who lost Minorca and was shot for (basically) not trying hard enough! The play hand today is a salutary lesson against dogmatic signalling of length and with xxx Jxx xxx KJxx or similar, east would discourage at T1. What would be tricky is if east held 10xx Jxx xxxx K109 or similar. If west has the club J, a club switch is far better than cashing the DA, although the trump promotion is still possibly there if pard has Jx.

Can you give any general advice (apart from doing what works, even for the wrong reason) in such cases? One approach might be to take the option needing least from partner, despite the TOCM being the elephant in the room.



Iain ClimieSeptember 15th, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Also, on LWTA, should this hand be passing opposite what I assume is a 15-17 NT?


bobby wolffSeptember 15th, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Hi Iain,

We are discussing a subjective part of the defense in bridge, which like it or not, is dependent on good judgment by the defender under the microscope.

That defender, West in today’s hand, heard his RHO, declarer, jump all the way to 4 spades, not a change of suit (which usually is meant as just a game invitation) or only a lesser jump to a NF 3 spades. I guess declarer could have AJ10xxxx, 10xx, Q, Ax, but perhaps with that hand he would have reopened with a more descriptive 2 spades (however, my saying so doesn’t make it true).

Therefore West’s judgment enters the room and after piecing together which unseen hands (E & S), considering the bidding, best fit a possible set, methinks cashing the diamond ace before playing the 3rd heart is more likely to win the day. IMO, at least some remembered knowledge of our worthy (sometimes) opponent becomes golden we, nevertheless, are left alone on an island with “Just play the right card, baby” our only guide.

Certainly your admonition of taking the option needing least (for defensive success) is vital, but the TOCM being the elephant in the room should forever be discounted since successful vaccine has been discovered by Madame Curie’s grandchild, Mandrake who is both a chemist and a magician.

bobby wolffSeptember 15th, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Hi Iain,

Again, with partner opening a 15-17 NT and doubling by you being for TO, South is left with the options of passing (hoping to defeat the opponents enough to offset a part score made by NS), to bid a natural 2NT (which I prefer to playing Lebensohl, since to give up a natural 2NT is, to me, a bigger loss than Lebensohl is a gain), or to gamble with a 2 heart competitive effort, but which easily could work, even if it is only to drive the opponents up one (possible, but not likely). Of course, we could pass and hope partner, being short in diamonds (doubleton) will reopen with a TO double, allowing us to pass, but do not hold your breath, waiting for your partner to accommodate.

I certainly agree that, in cases of choices, bidding something seems to work considerably better than does wimpy passing. However, justifying some actions in the post-mortem often is more unpopular than conservatism, but for me (and, my guess, also for you), pressing on, is more our style.

Maybe either a loud double, causing partner to tremble and pass or a 1 spade effort (insufficient) and then change it to double, barring partner and keeping the opponents from running to spades, might work. (except the rules suggest that doing that is illegal and will not pass muster).

I’m not worrying about Iain not understanding, but for younger (more gullible) readers, the last few lines above are made in jest and I apologize, if anyone is offended.

Iain ClimieSeptember 15th, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the amusing replies and bidding boxes haven’t quite killed off the loud double. I sometimes see players try to place that red double card through the table rather than on it. The best retort (if I think I’m in deep trouble at pairs and out on a limb in a daft spot) is an instant redouble on the basis that it is only a bottom and someone might panic. This works more often than is deserved!


MirceaSeptember 16th, 2014 at 9:36 am


Pardon my lack of experience, but are you saying that it is better to play Double as take-out after an overcall to partner’s strong 1NT opening? I always thought it is far better to go old fashioned in this situation and double for business. Could you please elaborate a bit on this?

Iain ClimieSeptember 16th, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Hi Mircea,

I’m inclined to agree with you but using dbl for TO is the modern style, and came as a surprise when I came back to the game after 25 years. The problem is that the opening 1N bidder has given a good view of his hand, so expecting him to dbl when it comes back is putting pressure on the player with little view of the combined assets. It also allows overcaller’s partner to lurk and see if the 1N bidder can get himself into trouble. Bobby may be able to show how these concerns are outweighed, however.


bobby wolffSeptember 16th, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Hi Mircea & Iain,

Between the three of us, we can both feel and see the lobby for the old style of opposite a NT opener or after NT, even if not an opener, has been bid as a strong balanced hand, then doubles by partner should be for penalty and as a vehicle to keep opponents out of auctions to which they do not belong.

Even though my thoughts are basically with both of uou (say 55%), I will represent the devil’s advocate with arguments from the other side.

Advantages of playing doubles by the partner of the NT bidder as take-out:

1. Allows a bid, double, to represent in frequency (arguable) the most likely hand a NT bidder’s partner will be dealt: e.g. 1NT, 2 heart overcall (natural or almost, H+ another) s. Kxxx, h. xx, d. Kxxx, c. Q10x.

2. Penalties are not totally ruled out since the NT bidder may have a great heart holding and convert partner’s double to penalties. (infrequent and highly overrated).

3. To play doubles for TO together with Lebensohl (an artificial response of 2NT demanding 3 clubs from his NT opener partner
with the idea of passing or correcting but overall just a competitive noise). Then, of course immediate 3 level overcalls become natural and forcing, with immediate cue bids (bidding hearts in this case or if 2 hearts showed specific 2 suits then also a bid of the other known suit a different sort of a TO.

4. After choosing 2NT and having your partner bid 3 clubs, a forced response, the cue bidding or even now 3NT as opposed to an immediate 3NT over the overcall showing different types of hands, usually one with hearts stopped and one without. In addition the difference is centered around the purpose of the Stayman convention, seeking a 4-4 major suit fit.

All very neatly put together, however in actual practice, what does playing Lebensohl wreak?

A. Better defense from the opponents, especially on opening lead with sometime opportunity for doubles of artificial responses from the non opening leader, not frequent but when they occur, quite often lethal.

B. Sometime confusing to non-professional players who try and emulate the big boys, but not remembering the nuances sometimes causes grievous errors almost always resulting in disasters.

C. High level bridge, IMHO, cannot escape being directly involved with a strong luck element on more hands than are admitted (John Brown, an old time very accomplished English bridge writer, in his signature book Winning Defence, I think, said, If just an average bridge player would never get off to the wrong lead, he would win every Bridge World Championship held, and although his statement is very broad, do not underestimate its accuracy.

D. In our bridge zeal to find the perfect bidding system, we are all tantalized into seeking back and forth information in the bidding, but the opponents are always listening and if there is anywhere near the luck element I fear involved in most hands played, then more often than realized those bidding gimmicks used, lionize, beyond belief, average plus opponents into downright experts in application.

E. There is probably no way to check for sure, (I know I haven’t), the percentages involved, but my suspicions, perhaps illusory, lead me to feel that my 60 years of experience indicates that these wonderful conventions are overrated to a significant extent. Will time prove me right or wrong? Probably not, since no real studies have been planned nor are any in the works, at least as far as I know.

F. No doubt, none of the above, should influence proven conventions such as negative doubles, forcing clubs (although there are defensive preemptive concerns here), control showing, ace asking, serious and non-serious slam tries (modern), captaincy and its disciplines, defensive preempting, space saving one under suit bids (very modern), bidding ’em up defensively with big time trump fits and favorable vulnerabilities, and perhaps opening lead tables.

G. However I think the famous quote of “The more things change the more things stay the same” is not to be underrated, and since certain old time bridge players were nothing less than great many years ago, give them their due and thus the respect they have earned and thus deserve.

Anyway, whether accurate or not is up to the beholder, but the above represents, at the very least, some of my thoughts on the subject.

Good luck and by my description every winner is going to need it, but the players who combine finding necessary information, but adhering to “loose lips sink ships” philosophy are more likely to get it.

MirceaSeptember 17th, 2014 at 9:54 am

Hi Bobby,

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, I don’t know of any other Great who does it so freely.

The more I play this game the more I realize that it’s about judgement and rational thinking rather then memorizing systems and conventions. The more I try to learn about it the more I realize the value of someone like you sharing their experience. And for that, I feel grateful.

If you ever need help with your computer, please don’t hesitate to call (I’m much better at that than at bridge)

bobby wolffSeptember 18th, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Hi Mircea,

Much thanks for your very kind words and your offer.

My computer is sometimes a bother and, unfortunately for me, often above my knowledge. Consequently, when the stars align so that it is even barely possible you can bail me out, I’ll likely bridge it to you.

Whoever said, playing good bridge is all about counting, was on the right track, especially considering real friends.