Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Respect was mingled with surprise.

Sir Walter Scott

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


An early card-play lesson given to beginners is "play the high honors from the short hand first, so as not to block the suit." So a novice might have looked askance at declarer's handling of this six-heart contract, on receipt of a club lead.

South could count on 11 tricks, and courtesy of his diamond holding, appreciated that his best chance of a 12th trick lay in the diamond suit, so long as the missing diamond honors were divided between the defenders; or if West held both the queen and jack.

But he saw another problem: the diamonds might become blocked, with the defenders switching to dislodge the spade ace before diamonds could be untangled. So, seeing the need to keep a late club entry in dummy, declarer won the lead in hand with the club ace. As the only other entries to hand were in trumps, South led the diamond 10 at trick two. East won with the queen and found the spade switch.

Winning in dummy, declarer proceeded to draw trump in four rounds, pitching a spade from North, then advanced the diamond nine. Hoping that East held the diamond eight, West covered with the jack. But on winning with the king, declarer was able to return to his diamond eight, play a club to dummy’s queen, then discard his losing spade on the diamond ace.

All that remained was for declarer to ruff a spade with his last trump and cash the club king for 12 tricks.

If you are playing two-over-one, where two clubs sets up a game force, it is technically correct to play that a jump to three no-trump suggests the values for a strong no-trump but a semibalanced pattern. A call of two no-trump should show 12-14 balanced, or a hand with 18-plus HCP, planning to bid on over a sign-off. If you do not play that style, then jump to three no-trump now, to show 18-19.


♠ A J 8 2
 A J 5
 A K 4 2
♣ Q 4
South West North East
1 Pass 2♣ 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 WarheitNovember 6th, 2014 at 11:21 am

There is an alternate line of play: Win the CQ, draw trump & lead a S to the 8, succeeding if W has S9 and at least one S honor or if W has 4S & either 4D or DQJ or has SKQ doubleton or third. Of course, this line is very much inferior to the line suggested. The problem with playing correctly is seeing that dummy may well be short of entries, DESPITE HAVING 19HCP! Thus this hand is a very good lesson: once the bidding is over, so is counting HCP, at least in your hand and dummy.

bobby wolffNovember 6th, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Hi David,

It is always helpful, as you did, to point out an alternate line, which will enable our best and brightest to compare options, as you also did, complete with annotations as is, with nothing more, a valid gage for comparison.

Methinks the important fact to appear is that one of two cards being split between the defenders (or both in the right hand) is approximately 75% (3 out of 4) while any one card is only 50% (1 out of 2). The other often percentage use is that of a suit breaking exactly equal, 3-3 (only 36%) or 2-2 (only 40%) should be enough to greatly influence would be excellent declarers to select the 75% chance than the lesser one, when, of course, given a choice.

Little by little we can learn critical facts by just the experience of letting the joy of learning become the spoonful of sugar which lets the medicine go down.

AlNovember 6th, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Being a novice to bidding systems, I’m curious how you would bid the following hand, from two perspectives: First-as a novice playing 5-card majors and weak 2’s; and Second-in your own preferred system. Thanks!

Vul: none
Dealer: South

S – A,Q,10,6
H – A,6
D – 7
C – K,J,9,6,4,3
S – 9,5,4
H – K,9,8,7,4
D – J,10,9,5
C – 10
S – J,8,3
H – Q,10
D – A,Q,8,3
C – A,Q,8,2
S – K,7,2
H – J,5,3,2
D – 7,2
C – K,6,4,3


bobby wolffNovember 6th, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Hi Al,

First, I’ll start with a forcing club system, wherein an opening 2 clubs shows long clubs (at least 5 and usually 6) with normal opening bid requirements.

South North
2 clubs 2 diamonds (Artif.)
2 spades 3 clubs (F and wait)
3 hearts cue 4 diamonds cue
6 clubs pass

Standard system
South North
1 club 1 diamond
1 spade 2 hearts (GF) artif
3 clubs 4 clubs (est clubs)
4 hearts cue 5 clubs (spades?)
6 clubs judgment Pass

An important thing for players to consider is the different onus on each while playing a forcing club system the 2 club opening is much more definitive than would be a natural 1 club opening in standard, allowing both partners to mentally establish the trump suit immediately and proceed to tick off distribution and controls. 6 clubs from South allows a heart guess at trick one and lacking that success still a spade finesse, now for either 13 tricks or, bite your tongue, only 11. Still a very good slam and basically cold against a non-heart lead.

Strangely, 7 clubs will often make with a winning spade finesse (may need a little more) but basically IMO impossible to bid, not that the partnership would want to.

Good luck!

Iain ClimieNovember 6th, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Hi Bobby,

A couple of stray thoughts on suit combinations in today’s hand. In diamonds, if west had ducked the second diamond lead smoothly, would you be tempted to change tack and play for the drop based on table feel e.g. how twitchy does east look?

Secondly, the spade combination has real potential if east figures to be short. Leading small from dummy towards the 10 may cause east to jump in with Kxx or KQx giving various options on the next round. On today’s hand, I don’t think there are such pointers, and it wouldn’t work here, but the suit has potential as David noted.



bobby wolffNovember 6th, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Hi Iain,

Your subjects are indeed interesting and deserve a well thought out answer.

At a certain definitive point, percentages, often important, but lesser so against read out competition (easier pickings) allows liberties (which I as coach or captain would encourage my very best players), to rely on. In other words, a really great player (of which there have not been all that many, at least during my era) should act on his “feel” rather than what the odds say to do.

However, when playing against equals (or near so) forget it, since they are as up to date with your mind as you, yourself are. Consequently all psychological tempos and other supposed “tells”, although appearing and “feeling” valid while declaring, are usually illusory.

Of all my opponents, Benito Garozzo with Georgio Belladonna a fairly close second stood out as examples of nothing less than brilliant bridge psychologists.

When I was very young and just sticking my toe into what I thought was “a big time bridge pool” I was told that when playing against Victor Mitchell and then got an “itch” to not follow a recommended line, better forget it and follow that line since Victor’s vibes were directed to make me a loser. And so it came to pass, which was a fortunate introduction to my attempting to improve, instead of to fall victim.

However, the two great Italian stars created another much more formidable task to deal with. I must say that, I, now looking back, must say that those “mind” contests are clearly the battles that I find myself remembering most.

Of course time itself, has blurred out other more important and significant events, which I will not go into now, but all in all, bridge, being my life, has not disappointed me in any shape and form, and I only hope the game itself will never die, in spite of not nearly enough effort here in my mother country to keep it from so doing.

Just too much effort in satisfying the “High Card Win Bridge Crowd” instead of the high-level game itself, plus the enormous greed of the professional bridge group who refuse to understand that dealing with these obviously lesser players (though in truth necessary benefactors) MUST not carry over to World Championships, lest we disgrace the game itself, leaving us with not enough to remember nor to entice the world’s administrators to raise our off-the-charts beautiful mind game to the real Olympic level.

I apologize for my digression, but feel that someone must continue to cry out for what our game vitally needs and cannot survive, at least in my beloved country, without.

Iain ClimieNovember 6th, 2014 at 10:34 pm

Hi Bobby,

No apology required as the description of former greats was very interesting indeed. To what extent (if at all), like chess grandmasters having opening databases on computers, do you think the best players are better now than they used to be, is it bidding (and signalling) advances or a mixture? A modern team of fair players might have beaten Culbertson playing his 30s system, but level the bidding field and what then?


bobby wolffNovember 7th, 2014 at 12:50 am

Hi Iain,

No doubt a modern team of fair players, perhaps a country who figures to finish between 30th and 40th in a field of 70 present world teams would be a 2 to 1 favorite to win a challenge match against Culbertson and his cronies playing his 30s system.

The only truth worth learning from that (assuming that fact is true) is how much contract bridge players have improved over the past 70+ years.

For what my opinion is worth I think our game has improved by bounds and leaps from the competitiveness of so many yearning to be as good as they can be, which, at least to me, speaks to how great and across the board in rules, bridge has become probably because of the time spent by the world’s best and brightest players.

Remember, perhaps in 1958 (when Charles Goren was featured on the cover of Time Magazine) there were estimated to be about 40 million bridge players in the USA as compared to only 8 million today, in spite of a great increase in our overall population.

Someone or something needs to take the blame for such a decrease and my guess it is a combination of several circumstances (more general options, children, because of the Viet Nam war, not wanting to do what their parents did, the birth control pill, the decay of neighborhood friends, and of course, TV and the overwhelming popularity of spectator sports).

Yes, no doubt the best players now are better than the best players long ago, but not because they are smarter nor worked harder to be successful, but because of the pressure from peers and better teaching methods which will always tend to raise the level of any and all things competitive. Needless to say the same applies to almost all, if not all, other popular sports. Better equipment, the opportunity to make money, and more personal time available probably also are major contributors.

Finally, no doubt defense and bidding have improved the most and far ahead of declarer’s play since the first two are strictly partnership efforts as opposed to the relative unilateral task of merely playing the dummy.

But do not forget, the above is just my opinion, causing others to rightfully disagree.