Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, August 13th, 2015

Oh! Let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about!

Hilaire Belloc

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


This deal involves a nice point of technique. When it came up in a French pairs event, the best play was not always found. The reporter of the deal was one of the unlucky Easts, as the declarer at his table knew what he was doing. Still, at least he had the consolation of a good story!

Our reporter’s partner led the club king, and after winning with the ace perforce, declarer drew trump. You can see what happens (as it did at several tables) if declarer goes all out for the overtrick and hopes that the spade jack will fall in three rounds. It does not fall, and South ends up by losing two diamond tricks when that suit also fails to behave.

Instead, judging that he was in a good contract, and one that would not be reached by the majority of the field, South looked for the safest line for 12 tricks and decided not to worry unduly about the overtrick.

At trick five South advanced the spade nine and covered with dummy’s 10. If East had taken this, declarer could have claimed 12 tricks immediately. However, after some reflection East avoided that trap and ducked. It did not help: next came a diamond finesse, losing to the queen.

The club return was ruffed and the spade queen overtaken in dummy to allow a diamond to be discarded on the third top spade. When the spade jack did not fall, the lead was on the table for a second, and successful, diamond finesse.

There is a temptation to insist on playing spades here, but you should appreciate that the advantages of playing in one no-trump are that you are a level lower and partner’s tenaces are protected on opening lead. Unless the opponents have a five-card suit ready to run, seven tricks in no-trump look easier than eight in spades.


♠ A K 10 8 7
 6 4
 7 6 3
♣ 10 5 2
South West North East
    1 ♣ Pass
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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


slarAugust 27th, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Bobby, I have a two-part question here.
N: 1NT E:2S* S:???
* upon inquiry, described as “natural”
S has jx-kxx-axxx-qxxx
In real life South (a recent life master) chose to pass figuring that 3NT was doomed after a spade lead. However, after the auction ended there was a clarification that EW play DONT so 2S shows a weakish hand with 6 spades where double followed by 2S would show a better hand with 6 spades. Upon hearing that additional information, South felt she was harmed and called the director.
So my two questions.
1. What do you think of South’s decision to pass after the interference? (I believe the pair play negative doubles over interference and do not play Lebensohl so it was either 3NT or bust.)
2. Do you feel that South was harmed by the incomplete information and was deserving of a score adjustment?

Also, regarding BWTA, I would like to amplify your comments. In addition to what you said, I seem to have better results insisting on a suit when I am unbalanced. Give me 5-4-3-1 distribution and I am going to have a hard time passing 1NT.

bobby wolffAugust 27th, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Hi Slar,

First, let me explain my overall objectives. I do not believe appeals committees should necessarily cater to the appellants and have no trouble, if the conditions so indicate, to have the total number of IMPs or especially matchpoints total less than available after the hearing.

Following that thought, in the case of the recent life master, who while holding a full blown 10 hcps opposite a strong NT 15-17 (I assume although not confirmed) merely passed the 2 spade overcall by his RHO richly deserves the exact number of matchpoints he got and so closes that case. In the case of EW (the overcalling side) I would start out also giving them their “earned” matchpoint score on that board, minus the punishment I think they deserve by not better describing their convention. FWIW that penalty would range from a minimum of 1/2 of a board up to probably a full board if I think they knew better but were hoping to slither through the hand unnoticed, withholding important information they were required to relate.

Therefore, at least to me, all masters would be satisfied, 1. NS did not protect themselves in finding out, nor playing normal bridge, usually learned early in competition but if not, then must suffer the consequences in order to change their emphasis for next time. 2. EW, likely either did not know the special types of ethics required by our game, (opponents need to be brought up to date regarding conventions used against them which are necessary for them to know and furthermore required to be told to them rather than for them to have to peruse the convention card to make sure they are not being taken advantage of (much too time consuming).
3. The penalty needs to fit the crime, small enough while dealing with newbies, but much greater when dealing with long time players figuring that by doing so will help to make up for all the times they have benefitted from. (Also, if possible, their names should be mentioned in the tournament bulletins, if there are any). Embarrassment can play wonders in bridge crime prevention.. 4. (and very important) the field is protected by giving less than a full board since the other partnerships scores in that section will not be adversely effected by unfair windfall awards for no deserving reason.

All the above should always be in the offing for every bridge committee who meets and then rules. Sadly it is often not even a consideration but rather either bleeding hearts or worse, friendly committee members, do their political rulings.

Finally I think I answered your 2 part question. If they do not play Lebensohl it only emphasizes that they then need to make a choice of what to do. Not anyone else’s fault but them. Also, yes they were harmed by the lack of disclosure, but when they then just pass being totally defenseless, by decision would be for them to live with it so they will better remember to protect themselves in the future. Bridge players who are trying to improve should not be rewarded for total sloth.

Yes, I agree with you that with some type of 5-4-3-1 distribution I would normally not pass 1NT unless partner has bid my singleton. And even then I may, depending on my partnership’s actual system, seek a better final contract.

slarAugust 27th, 2015 at 5:35 pm

Thank you for that answer. Yes, N/S play the usual 15-17 NT. The one thing I did not specify is that the event happened to be a Swiss Team game. (I’m chuckling here because you normally treat matchpoints scoring as the outlier!) If I understand you correctly, the adjudication would be similar – the original score would stand but there would be a small penalty for EW (1-2 VPs?) for their transgression.

I can’t say I am entirely satisfied by this answer. South did attempt to protect herself by asking what 2S meant and bid based on the information she received. I know you don’t want to hand out unearned game bonuses and I respect that. But what should South do (other than have a more sophisticated bidding system)? Is it proper for South to restate the question or pry for additional details? I do believe that if she received the complete answer that she would have committed to 3NT.

GinnyAugust 27th, 2015 at 10:52 pm

Hi Bobby,

Can you help me out with the scoring part of the play hand today. (The spade play was fun to find.) When do we say that the OT is so against the odds that we should not jeopardize the contract? Should we play all of the trump before the second spade (and potentially lose control of the hand), just to gain on some odd distributions? In the hand today, playing the two remaining trump seems to put pressure on East. What 4 cards does East hold?

bobby wolffAugust 27th, 2015 at 11:11 pm

Hi Slar,

Yes, paragraph one of your above comment explains it plus capturing one of the rare times I seem to prefer matchpoints, but only here, where the penalty is easier to translate.

At least to me, sure the 2 spade overcall, under law, was needed to be much better quantified, but the very sad give up by a 10 hcp holder by simply saying pass, stands out
by its ridiculous nature as to what all kinds of bridge should stand for, even the one many too many people play, called high card wins (HCW).

It is hardly the unsophisticated bidding system employed (No Lebensohl) but rather the illogical pass which leaves me very sad.

Would I rather the responder bid 7NT instead? Yes I would, although the frivolity of raining on other people’s duplicate parade should probably force some discipline in the form of a procedural penalty, still the pass by your example, shows that this particular player needs to bone up on certain minimum logic before he or she decides to play in his next tournament.

In actuality, I probably have more understanding than I am letting on, but, well you know I am driving at the “shape up or ship out” principle we all are taught in our primary school activity does apply in tournament bridge as to the responsibility all of us have, to not be a hindrance to the tournament itself.

As we speak our leaders in Horn Lake are doing everything possible to cater to the HCW set, but instead of spending time and money to try and educate, bringing these people up to a certain minimum level, all they appear to be interested in is to give droves of masterpoints away (some for below 40% games) in order to TRICK them to keep playing and more important, paying their ever going up annual dues.

Of course our heretofore great country seems to be changing to embrace these scams (sort of) which of course, would be a much greater menace to the high quality of life we used to stand for.

bobby wolffAugust 27th, 2015 at 11:28 pm

Hi Ginny,

Chances are that East will hold Kxx in diamonds and the good jack of spades, but then when South leads a diamond to the 10 West will win the queen and cash a good club. Of course, the trick is that West will throw at least one diamond away earlier, but all logical defensive roads will lead to a set of the slam.

And, for that reason the earlier spade play makes sense, even at the risk of no overtrick since the contract, when played correctly is worth taking the very best chance of scoring it up and spades 3-3 or the jack doubleton is only about 50%. Yes to that add East when he holds both the KQ of diamonds, but, as alluded in an inferential way, in my response to Slar, I do prefer either rubber bridge or especially IMPs to matchpoint bridge, basically because of the pureness of attempting to make one’s contract without the overly important feature of trying to make the most overtricks. That fact just makes a very difficult game almost impossible to play since too much luck, like the proverbial elephant, enters the room.

GinnyAugust 27th, 2015 at 11:37 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the quick response. I am with you on IMPs, probably coming from learning playing rubber bridge.

With regard to the play, my question was after playing the same first 7 tricks – up to ruffing the club after the first diamond finesse loses. At that point, should South play 2 more trump tricks, bringing everyone down to 4 cards?

bobby wolffAugust 28th, 2015 at 12:32 am

Hi Ginny,

Not against good players he shouldn’t since the 2nd diamond finesse is a favorite to work and any average plus player sitting West would unprotect the other diamond honor that he didn’t win the first diamond with, so the declarer would then go down an extra trick, not important but as sure as the sun comes up in the morning.

Since West, if the 10 of clubs is in dummy, would have to guard against it with a club honor forcing him to do the above. But declarer would never be able to divan out that West was squeezed and consequently would (should) take the second diamond finesse.

slarAugust 28th, 2015 at 3:45 pm

I understand your frustration. It is a forcing auction and so there must be some non-green card in the bidding box that can reasonably be played. Even if it is a lie or a stab in the dark it is better than a pass. In retrospect I am embarrassed by asking this part of the question even though I wasn’t the one who messed it up at the table. Meanwhile I thank you for clearing up the procedural aspects. These things don’t seem to be taught very well in most resources that I know of.