Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, September 18th, 2014

An injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult.

Lord Chesterfield

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


Arguably, it is easier to learn from other people's mistakes than from your own. Have a look at what happened here to South; but before you criticize him, consider whether you are entitled to cast the first stone.

At the table South did not compete to three spades, refusing to be pushed just because of his decent spades. But when his partner doubled, announcing the balance of power, he wisely decided not to defend, and found himself in game a moment later.

So far so good. But after the lead of a heart to the ace, East continued with the heart queen which declarer covered and West ruffed. When the club shift came and both minor-suit finesses failed, South was down one. He could feel justifiably aggrieved at the bad luck he had run into in all three of the side-suits.

South was undeniably unlucky. But he had the fate of the contract in his own hands.

All declarer had to do was duck the second heart rather than cover the queen. The spot-card led had made the 7-1 break somewhat more likely than usual, after all. West would not be able to afford to ruff the trick or declarer has a home for dummy’s club loser, so he discards a club. The next heart is ruffed and overruffed. But now South simply draws trump and passes the diamond jack, not caring if it loses since he now has a home for dummy’s club loser on the fourth diamond.

My simple rule for determining whether to open a 10- or 11-count with a weak-two bid or a one-level call is to add up my high cards, then an additional two points for a six-card suit and one more point for each four-carder. If the total comes to 13, I suggest you open at the one-level, UNLESS you do not have one and a half quick tricks. This hand qualifies as a one-level opener on all counts.


♠ A 10 9 6 4 3
 6 2
 J 10 2
♣ A Q
South West North East

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


MirceaOctober 2nd, 2014 at 10:43 am


Do you use a similar rule as in BWTA for 11-count hands with just a 5-card suit in the first two seats?

bobby wolffOctober 2nd, 2014 at 11:23 am

Hi Mircea,

The rule mentioned is both for my public teaching image and for most players who have little to no exposure to high-level play.

The (sort of) rule I usually follow is that if it either looks like a duck, walks like a duck, or quacks like a duck, I will call it a duck or rather open the bidding one of something. I believe either Kxx, xx, xxx, AKJxx, or x, AK10xx, 109xx, Kxx, as well as x, xx, AQJxx, K109xx are all opening one bids and when it gets to 6 card suits: AJ10xxx, x, A10xx, xx or x, KQJxxx, Q10xx, Kx are also. Defense is not necessary when playing against relatively good opponents, so forget eventual penalty doubles unless one’s hand (usually, somewhat like Poker, based on the specific bidding) either justifies it or on some rare occasions cries out for it.

Togetherness of honor combinations, aces and kings, rather than quacks, K109x instead of Kxxx and, of course, fairly easy rebids available are larger factors than just HCP’s.

Opening the bidding is an advantage, blown up much higher when an immediate fit is found, and another thing to remember is that preempts, weak two bids and higher are meant to make it more difficult for the opponents, not necessarily to buy contracts so the emphasis needs to be on that fact, leading to the happy conclusion that it is much more profitable for a preemptor to only have offensive potential and little on defense, rather than to have both, since partner is much more likely to do the wrong thing as the bidding gets higher, if the opening preemptor has that surprise of defense also for partner.

Iain ClimieOctober 2nd, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Hi Bobby,

The hand today reminds me of an unfortunate incident in the 1980s when I was playing with a fairly scratch partner in trials for the England Junior team. Lard had opened 1S, LHO bid 3H (11-15, probably 6 cd suit) and we reached 4S. I put down HAxx amongst my assets and partner decided to duck the first heart (K) led when holding xx as a technical play holding xx. Things hadn’t been going well anyway and the hearts were 7-1 so the HA was ruffed at trick 2. He apologised, smiled ruefully, and I cracked slightly, saying it was just another of those things, before we both started laughing.

Opponents were more impressed than teammates, mind you.



MirceaOctober 2nd, 2014 at 1:36 pm

This makes a lot more sense, Bobby. Thanks for the clarification.

IMHO hand evaluation is the crux of this game and I dare to say it for players at all levels.

In case you are pondering about the subject for your future book, this will fit the bill quite nicely. There is very little printed material out there on this matter. As you can see, I’m the ever optimist. Who knows, maybe you’ll give it a second thought (just teasing…)

ClarksburgOctober 2nd, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Mr Wolff,
Of the three five-carder and two six-carder examples you gave in response to Mircea, I’m curious about whether one of them is clearly closer to the line than the others, and just barely makes the grade. Specifically, the second five carder. Would that be correct?
Also, before Mircea’s great question came in, I was going to ask about a “no togetherness” downgrading modification to the BWTA hand to become:
S A109643
H Q6
D J932
Seems this one is now not even close. Would that be correct?

bobby wolffOctober 2nd, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, a bridge partnership, being more like a marriage than a marriage, is quite an undertaking, particularly when it continues for many years.

Competition, while bringing out the best in a person, may too often also bring out the worst and when playing for high stakes, ego more important than money, both stings, but on a brighter note can cause impromptu celebrations, to be cherished, but in private.

Probably the most important asset in crunch time is a well developed sense of humor, without which, partnerships, again not unlike civil unions, often do not survive.

With your example, you and pard learned to cope by laughing instead of crying (and cursing). To fight another day, no doubt.

bobby wolffOctober 2nd, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Hi Mircea,

No doubt, expert evaluation is a necessary ingredient in all forms of high-level bridge. It mostly comes with experience, rather than being born with or having much to do with intelligence. Probably because of the unusual applications soon learned leads potential bridge stars into feeling, therefore learning the unique aspects of card combinations, which often accent the middle cards (tens and nines) especially valuable when they are together.

Sadly, I’ll leave the book writing to teacher types who, being younger, have the patience to plow through the most effective ways to present bridge as it needs to be.

Thanks for your comments.

bobby wolffOctober 2nd, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Pretty much yes, with your example hand I would tend to want to open two spades, not one, but you may be interested to know that my rating would be: two spades 100, one spade 90, three spades NV 20, Vul 10, Pass 0.

There is no such thing to me of pondering a potential opening bid of something, choosing that and then to judge pass somewhere in the middle, ahead of other possible opening bids.

At least to me, the choice of opening the bidding, if possible, starts out with a huge advantage and when faced with a choice should always be chosen ahead of a meek pass.

The only reason to even consider not to open by almost all very good players is lack of defense, and that theory has been, through the years, been blasted out of the water. The accompanying caveat is simply for the opening bidder’s partner not to double the opponents expecting defensive contributions when the flag is up and waving.

Yes, it requires judgment and much patience, but experience will allow the bright beginner to know what is going on when the poker element in bridge arrives. Our game is not anywhere near an exercise in mathematical precision, never was, never will be.

Distribution, not high cards, rule much more often than most of the early bridge stars played and then espoused and finally taught.

Don’t sweat the small differences I selected during the discussion of opening the bidding. Obviously with QJ10xxx, QJ10xxx, x, void I would make an exception and probably pass. No I wouldn’t consider opening a one bid, but yes I will definitely come in the bidding later and perhaps open a weak 2 spade bid against certain very good partnerships.

Never underestimate the taking away of bidding space from worthy opponents. None of what is being said specifically by me now should be learned or probably even discussed by others who are just learning the game. However, if they become very interested in our wonderful pastime they, like all those very fortunate bridge students in all those schools around the world, will come bursting forth with similar theories about the necessity to get into the bidding and as early (and in many cases, as preemptive) as possible.

BryanOctober 2nd, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Why would East lead a third heart? Leading a third heart feels wrong. A diamond lead seems more normal. If get K clubs, still need a trick from pard. Timing wise, a diamond now may be called for.

Leading what South wants rarely leads to good defense? (South could have covered and choose not to. Unless South is a fool, there was a reason for ducking and letting the King get roughed and over roughed next round. ) If pard has scary trumps, declarer may not over rough but discard the Q clubs in a loser on loser play.

bobby wolffOctober 2nd, 2014 at 7:11 pm

Hi Bryan,

Regarding East continuing with a 3rd heart, if declarer had one less diamond and one more club, he needed to prevent him from drawing trump and then throwing the queen of clubs on his now alive king of hearts.

In a high-level game you can rest assured that East knew that his partner would be able to ruff the 2nd heart, otherwise he would likely have switched to a diamond. Many hands between worthy opponents become cat and mouse affairs which often become, “if I do this, he will do that, but if I do that he will do this, so instead I’ll attack elsewhere” (already envisioning a vulnerable layout of the remaining cards, consistent with the bidding and previous play).