Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, December 24th, 2015

Madam, I have been looking for a person who disliked gravy all my life; let us swear eternal friendship.

Sydney Smith

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


Today’s hand does not look like an exciting one; you’d expect whether it was teams or pairs to have 10 top tricks, losing a trump and a heart. The club finesse would determine whether you made an overtrick or not. But the unexpected 6-1 heart break puts you to the test.

After the lead of the heart queen to dummy’s ace, declarer can lead trump from dummy, or more deviously come to hand with his club ace and try to steal a trump trick, by leading the jack, just in case he can catch West napping. However, the result will be the same. West will take his trump ace and lead a second top heart, forcing dummy to play the king and East to ruff.

Let’s follow through the play when East returns a diamond. Declarer wins in hand, draws the last trump, cashes his remaining diamond winner, and then crosses to dummy with a trump to ruff dummy’s third diamond.

At this point declarer has a complete count of the deal. West is counted out for two trumps, six hearts and at least three diamonds. Therefore he has at most two clubs. Consequently, declarer cashes the club ace and king, and then decides which of his opponents he wants to torment the most.

He plays a heart if he likes West less than East, or a club if his inclinations are the other way around. Whoever wins the trick will be endplayed to give a ruff-sluff, and the remaining loser can be discarded from one hand or the other.

This hand poses a challenge. A call of one spade tends to promise real clubs (with this pattern one tends to rebid one no-trump and rely on finding spades later if partner has a good hand). But with no diamond stopper and great hearts might you consider raising hearts instead? All three calls are plausible; but the balanced nature of the hand wins out. One no-trump for me.


♠ Q 9 5 3
 A K 5
 7 6 3
♣ K J 7
South West North East
1 ♣ Pass 1 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


Mr JohnsonJanuary 7th, 2016 at 10:03 am

Vulnerable West hasn’t much for his two-level overcall with only five: I’d say that a six-one break was odds on…

Iain ClimieJanuary 7th, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Hi Bobby,

A tiumph for the G(E)TNIF and hog the hand brigade. If North bids 3NT he has 10 easy tricks and scores more than 4S. Not a serious suggestion, of course, as South will have AKJxx xxx x AQxx and East leads a diamond when 6S is making but I do wonder how often 3N is a safer or better scoring alternative to the more obvious 8 and 9 card major fits – any thoughts on when to break normal rules?



slarJanuary 7th, 2016 at 3:38 pm

Very instructional hand. “High card wins” players (I love that description) will simply play for the finesse and go down half the time. Advanced players should be able to figure it out double dummy but are likely to struggle at the table. If you can work out the count and find the play at the table, you are well on your way to being an expert.

BWTA requires some foresight. If North’s hand is constructive (or less) or balanced you want to be in 1NT. If North’s hand is invitational with 5 hearts, he will bid 2D and you can show your spades, returning to hearts if he rebids 2NT. If North’s hand is game forcing with 4 spades, he will reverse and you can raise to game. If you bid 1S, the continuations are much more muddled especially if 2D (fourth suit) is game-forcing. Save that for unbalanced hands.

Bobby WolffJanuary 7th, 2016 at 3:48 pm

Hi Mr. Johnson,

And furthermore when the heart queen is led and East follows with the deuce (playing normal count, high low even, low high odd) your opinion is corroborated.

Also for those who love opening 1NT with anything vaguely looking like a 15-17 reasonably balanced hand, South would, of course, fit the bill (in spades, so to speak) and at least 10 tricks would always be made when North correctly treats his balanced 13 hcp hand
as better suited to a 3NT raise than a spade exploration (a 2 heart maniacal overcall by West or not, although an 800 set is there for the taking).

And then to top things off after this NS pair ran off the victor of this duplicate scoring up nearly 70% since they were one of the pairs who reached 3NT instead of the more normal 4 spades chosen by most of that field. “Finally a perfect session” they confided to themselves, however their failure to score up 800 in 2 hearts doubled (West overcalled 2 hearts against South’s 1NT opening) put paid to that overbid in results.

No matter how hard we try, bridge will always seem like it remains the master, simply because it always will.

Bobby WolffJanuary 7th, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Hi Iain,

Again, CITM (crossed in the mail) sometimes wreaks some havoc with our timed discussions, but the overall magic of the internet, clearly ALTM (at least to me) overcomes that relatively slight inconvenience.

No doubt the opening of 1NT (with a reasonable 5 card major suit) creates somewhat of a distortion to many very good old time traditional players, but there are other compensating advantages in doing so.

1. It immediately categorizes the approximate strength of the overall hand, intermediate and balanced (no short suits).

2. Partner is then in a position to not give an overly amount of information to wily opponents who are listening, hoping to profit from “loose lips sink ships” a typical example of the partner of the overcaller being able to jump to 3NT holding s. xx, h. xxx, d. xx, c. AKJxxx preventing his LHO from being able to bid a good suit for his partner to lead.

3. #2 above also keeps some distributional hands from entering the bidding which we all know can allow very good sacrifices (and even occasional makes) to wreck havoc against the side blessed with most of the hcps.

4. And what about the reasonably large numbers of hands which wind up playing 1NT (remember no less an authority than Charles Goren used to proclaim “1NT is usually the best place to play an indifferent contract” and most good players seemed to agree with him).

If so, it may well be an advantage to the declarer to arrive there in one bid, preventing any G2 available for the defense to utilize, always so in the defense, and even so in not being able to intelligently compete in low level bidding.

However, in spite of the above, there are, of course, some decided disadvantages also, but that question has not been asked yet.

Bobby WolffJanuary 7th, 2016 at 4:51 pm

Hi Slar,

Your role in this discussion seems to be similar to those ALTM (see above comment to Iain) giant talents who both explain and summarize how to use the information gleaned from the instructions given in either how to put some appliance together or how to best use the instrument you just bought.

I not only could never be such an instructive person, nor if I was forced to, I, for one, would hate to see the result staring back at me, after someone complied.

And, especially after what I just said. will only attempt to just slightly tweak your workable
advice. After partner rebids 1NT I suggest the partnership now plays both 2 clubs and 2 diamonds as artificial with 2 clubs NF to game and 2D, GF. Next three card heart support should be shown ahead of an unbid (as yet) 4 card spade support, merely for less awkwardness in the continuations. The last comment would be to suggest a then jump to 3 clubs or 3 diamonds directly over the 1NT rebid as a 100% signoff in that suit. Of course a direct raise to 2NT is merely a game invitation in NT, while denying further interest in playing game in a major.

Finally my description of “High card wins” players is not meant in any sense as a derogatory term, but merely to categorize less serious players who “love” to compete in bridge.

They truly are the life’s blood of the game and very similar to weekly golfers or tennis players who are more interested in competing than spectating (and also some quite good all the way up to being fringe top players who probably have never had the time to perfect their games).

However, IMO Horn Lake and the ACBL BOD will be making a “HUGE” mistake if they put the world’s best players on the back burner (to only shift for themselves) since without that spark and dedication bridge ltself will be on a certain path to obliteration without the magic of the great game as only the top players know it.

Since that great game will eventually be the thing to do in the future once European and Asian schools produce vast numbers of bridge lovers, both great and not so, the Western Hemisphere will be the only world chunk not involved with the greatest game and mind producer ever known leaving our continents to later be classified as “dark and unknowing”.

That choice needs to be known and ALTM anything but as much cooperation as necessary available (and money thrown at) would be, at least in my (and so many others) opinions as horrible a decision as any otherwise intelligent bodies could possibly consider.

slarJanuary 7th, 2016 at 5:35 pm

For sure a two-way checkback can work wonders too. My point was more that you need to think through the continuations to make the right bid. You can memorize bidding sequences until the end of time but you will invariably hit something that you haven’t thought of or can’t remember. You can’t consistently get bidding sequences right until you can think through the ramifications of a particular bid.

Likewise, you can’t get the hand column right until you a) know all the ways that you could conceivably pick up that last trick b) can count the hand to figure out which technique has the best chance of success c) have the stamina to do these things consistently at the table. For you could give an average or lesser player the count (or indeed the whole hand) and he might not be able to work out that if you strip diamonds and lead out a rounded suit, your gift is a white elephant and any subsequent play gives away the contract.

From my standpoint, I am preparing my brain for what it has to do if I want to make a big step forward in the first seven months this year (culminating in the NABC in my backyard).

Bobby WolffJanuary 7th, 2016 at 6:36 pm

Hi Slar,

Yes, you have intelligently summarized what is practically needed to hit the big time in bridge.

And gone further by discussing practically why there are not many more who make it.

However, to just arrive at the pinnacle of knowing what to do once there, may be one’s highest achievement since both a similarly dedicated partner who blends intelligently with your same thoughts is also likely necessary.

In order to win while playing against worthy opponents needs consistency, concentration and above all, iron discipline, none of which grows on nearby trees.

While I am indeed pulling for you to be able to play successfully in the next Summer Nationals to be held in your backyard (Washington D.C.), you and your partner will also be subject to the notorious lady luck whose choices sometime do not coincide with ones, like you, who, no doubt, richly deserve.

However, you are well aware of what has been said above, making your strength of character the deciding factor in enthusiastically preparing for it.

Having a successful life is indeed concerned with taking chances, and, at least for both yourself and for me, do not miss the opportunity to trade haymakers with those of your ability.

Win or lose you may recognize what many take years to realize, the exposure to possible excellence, not necessarily the winning (although it certainly helps), is the most important goal of all.

Good luck!