Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.

Oscar Wilde

N North
None ♠ Q
 Q 9 3
 A K Q 10 7 5
♣ Q 3 2
West East
♠ J 5 4
 8 7 6
 J 6 4 2
♣ A 10 5
♠ A 9 6 2
 K J 10 5 4
♣ 9 8 7 6
♠ K 10 8 7 3
 A 2
 9 8 3
♣ K J 4
South West North East
    1 1
1 ♠ Pass 3 Pass
3 NT All pass    


In a teams match neither North-South could manage to declare three no-trump the right way up. North would have had no problems, but as it was, only one of the two Souths succeeded. He found a simple but easily overlooked ruse, though he was admittedly helped by his opponent’s lead-style.

In both rooms when North rebid his diamonds, South jumped to the no-trump game, not prepared to risk a cuebid of three hearts taking his side past three no-trump.

In one room West led the heart six, covered by the nine and 10. South won, led a diamond to the ace to discover the bad break, and followed with a club. This was not a success, because West won and led another heart for his partner to take the next five tricks. In effect, declarer was hoping that East held both black aces as well as his heart suit. But might East then have doubled the opening bid rather than make a simple overcall, especially if he also held four spades?

At the other table South received the lead of a MUD heart seven. South introduced a neat diversion by allowing East’s heart 10 to win the first trick. East fell for it – he decided that declarer had played low from ace-third, and that his partner had a doubleton heart. In that case leading another heart would have cost a trick. He switched to a club: West took his ace and led another heart, but it was all too late now. With the help of the marked diamond finesse, South had his nine tricks.

The first question to decide is whether to invite slam or drive to slam – this hand is certainly too good to sign off in game. Inviting slam seems best to me, so I want to show my spades and give partner the information to make the decision. Thus the right route is to transfer to spades and jump to four no-trump, quantitative. To use Blackwood I would transfer at the four level, and then bid four no-trump.


♠ K 10 8 7 3
 A 2
 9 8 3
♣ K J 4
South West North East
  Pass 2 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


Iain ClimieNovember 19th, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Hi Bobby,

On the main column hand, a few points strike me from the bidding. If West dredges up 2H, East has no problem but South might do better to bid 3H over 3D. Today North bids 3NT protected against a heart lead, but he might have something like SQJ HJx DAKQ10xx CQxx (exact cards I admit) when 4S may be better than 3N. South had an attack of GETNIF / GTNIF (Get The NoTrumps in First) but we’ve all had days like that.

On the BWTA, can you suggest a set of guidelines for when 4N is and isn’t Blackwood / Quantitative / something else e.g. stop bidding now, please. Obviously a direct raise is Quant, but what about 1N – 3C (Strong) 3N 4N? Quantitative or BW implying clubs are trumps? I recall a set of fairly clear rules in an old book on The (Italian) Blue Club years ago but could never cope well with the rest of the system, or specifically the Canape approach. As I suspect an unambiguos set of guidelines beats a theoretically optimal aproach giving partner some scope for error (OK, or myself), what would you recommend here?



Bill CubleyNovember 19th, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Tricks stolen are twice the worth of tricks earned. Just rewriting what Paul Newman’s advice to Tom Cruise in The Color of Money. “Money won is twice as good as money earned.”

bobby wolffNovember 19th, 2015 at 5:00 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, no doubt, South in many cases (this one included) would do better to try and right side the 3NT, keeping in mind that if 3NT is the right contract there is almost no holding which will not either play better or, at least, play no worse than the same from his side (with perhaps the J10x or even J9x,lthough for different reasons, the exceptions when the heart honors turn out to be split between East and West).

However, for other reasons, very common in our great game, when attempting the scientific 3 Hearts, South will run the risk of partner bidding something at the four level (denying something important in hearts) but going past 3NT, which, on another day will have 9 laydown tricks from the get go in NT but still going down one in 5 diamonds. Picture partner holding the ace of clubs instead of the three ladies.

All the above, at least in my always optimistic assumptions, make bridge the great game it is, rather than which, to others, make it only a guessing contest often decided by luck.

Somehow I believe (perhaps wishful thinking) that you, for one, agree with my view, since so often, during the bidding, and perhaps even more likely in the play, choices need to be made, only based on what the chooser believes is a more likely chance to succeed.

Your alternate question revolves around partnership agreements, but in the absence of them, yes, a direct raise of NT to four is always quantatative (with either a jump to 4 or 5 clubs an ace ask, and even conventions such as redwood which then substitutes a jump to either 4 diamonds or 4 hearts as the ace ask (depending if one of those two suits become the ultimate trump suit), freeing 4NT as being quantatative.

And, of course, the super scientific, very serious bridge partnerships will have specific situations where, even though NT has not been bid by either party, still 4NT stays quantatative but to now delve into deeper nuances would require enough words to constitute a full chapter in a comprehensive bridge book.

Is all this worth it? Yes, if the moon is what that partnership has set its sights on. No, if only fun and diversion is the goal.

When the Italian Blue Team is mentioned together with their systemic agreements, the overall subject becomes somewhat surreal and now not a proper time to explore why. One day and likely hopefully and reasonably soon, that fine day will arrive.

bobby wolffNovember 19th, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Hi Bill,

Yes, that famous quote alludes to the habits of an inveterate gambler, which emphasizes the thrill of victory and implies the despair of defeat.

Found money feels better to some than earned money since the “working for it” is too high a cost to pay for obtaining it. And when Paul Newman talking to Tom Cruise is where that feeling is expressed, we all will tend to listen and best of all, feel and therefore remember.

Thanks for recalling that specific event and detailing where it was first said.