Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, October 3rd, 2014

The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.

Alfred Adler

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


In today's deal what precisely does the raise to five of a major ask for? Most commonly, as here, it asks for the control in a specific suit — one either bid by the opponents or not cue-bid by either player, while all other suits have been cue-bid.

The second meaning is for it to raise a red flag about trump quality, a less common but parallel variation being that you have good trump but nothing to cue-bid. And least common of all, typically in a contested auction, is to use the call to show otherwise unbiddable extras.

In today’s sequence North cannot have a club control (he would have cue-bid five clubs or used Blackwood) so he is demanding that his partner bid slam with a first-round club control. With the same hand and an extra king, South would try six clubs or cue-bid in another suit.

When West leads a club against six hearts, South can see that the matching distributions leave him in danger of losing one trick in each black suit if spades do not break, but he can protect himself against anything but a small singleton in East.

Declarer takes the club lead in hand and draws trumps. Then he carefully cashes just the spade king, noting the fall of the nine. He eliminates the diamonds by ruffing the third round in dummy, and exits with a club. If East wins this, he will be endplayed; if West wins, he must lead a spade and give up his potential spade winner.

When your partner produces either a forcing or nonforcing no-trump response, you aren't good enough to force to game, but equally are too good not to make a try for game. Since partner won't hold spades and already knows you have five hearts, the least misdescriptive action is to raise to two no-trump. This is an invitational call, which you are just about worth because of your good suit.


♠ A 8 3 2
 A K Q 4 2
 K 2
♣ 4 3
South West North East
1 Pass 1 NT 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


David WarheitOctober 17th, 2014 at 9:48 am

Over N’s 5H bid, I think S should bid 5S since it’s not too hard to imagine a N hand where 6S would be better than 6H. Also, it is interesting to note that NS would make 7S virtually always, provided S are 3-2. I think they should reach that contract provided opponents never enter the bidding. Do you agree and if so how do you think the bidding should go following a pass by E?

jim2October 17th, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Does the BWTA assume the partnership is playing Flannery?

bobby wolffOctober 17th, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Hi David,

While your overall analysis is right on, the practical application, often present, renders it very dangerous.

We, as bridge lovers, must constantly understand, while, that through the years, bridge bidding has made bounds and leaps forward, it still is severely restricted and unfortunately not as simple as it would be if the bidding partners could be sitting on the same bench together peering at each others hand.

Let us delve deeper. The opponents have started us off at the three level and South then makes a small overbid, double, but, because of the nature of our competitive game, having support for both majors and almost as many high cards as he should, decide to take a gamble by choosing aggressive rather than passive.

Partner (North), now makes the obvious 4 club cue bid, announcing a good to sensational hand (especially on this bidding) with an inquiry, “please tell me more”.

South makes the usual response, his lowest 4 card major suit, merely a noise, but nevertheless the proper response. North then should use the language limitations (bidding), to pinpoint what troubles him most, in this case, not 2 immediate losers in the opponents suit.

Suppose South held, s. KQJx, h, Jxxx, d. AQJ, c. Jx, might he not have made the same TO double? It calls attention to, if you’ll excuse the expression, what we are dealing with, when the bidding starts high, but now slam is in the air, what then to emphasize with our limited language available.

I think (hope) that you will agree that a raise to the five level now (as attempted to be described in today’s column) should focus on a specific holding, that being control (at least 2d round) of the opponent’s suit.

BTW, if South had held a better hand, including the jack of spades and/or but especially so, the queen of diamonds, he, instead of bidding 6 hearts should announce to partner his first round club control by accepting with 6 clubs (a forward going bid showing not only yes, but happily so).

Does this eliminate guesswork, which always includes superior judgment (from the very top players)? Heavens no, since the game itself is constant problem solving which, never forget, emphasizes vast experience rather than just numeracy, natural intuition, and, most important, the language of card playing.

Bridge was not meant to be, and never was, a game of aces and cinches, but rather a somewhat delicate exercise in legal partnership communication (via the bidding) taking in consideration constant changes at the table (depending on opponents, dogs who bark or sometimes don’t and partner’s striving to impart the most important features of one’s hand during the difficult period of trying to show so much, with strict limitations on doing so).

Perhaps the creed of a top level bridge player should represent, “little by little we can do great things, but do not try and overstep along the way, with our ability to do so”.

Also on a practical side, a necessary caveat to keep in mind is that when opponents preempt with poor hands, featuring a long suit, the distributional table of splits changes markedly in favor of radical rather than expected.

And while I am not even close to 100% sure what 5 spades by South should show in response to 5 hearts by North except certainly a first round club control and strength in spades, but not necessarily looking for a 4-4 fit in order to be able to throw a loser away on the 5-4 one.

And the beat goes on, as I hope, so will the development of better bridge, but I sincerely doubt that trying to force mental telepathy to always be present between two bridge partners, no matter how talented, is just expecting more than can be delivered.

bobby wolffOctober 17th, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Hi Jim2,

No, although playing Flannery would make the task easier. However it is still common practice for the responder to choose to bid a 4 card major at the one level rather than 1NT, especially so when 1NT is NF over a major suit opening.

Therefore many experienced partnerships assume the above and do not waste time looking for a spade fit (4-4) but rather just bid values with the hope of not tipping the opening leader off in what to lead, or probably what not to.

All the above merely emphasizes the somewhat randomness of bridge strategy, but keeping in mind that being a tough opponent is not to be underestimated.

jim2October 17th, 2014 at 1:25 pm

I misread the answer. I thought it meant that pard still could have four spades since South’s one heart denied most 4-spade holdings.