Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, August 7th, 2016

This deal came up in a local pairs game. I held: ♠ A-Q-10-6-5-3, 3, A-2 ♣ A-Q-10-5, and opened one spade, raised to two, which we play as constructive. Would you simply jump to four spades, or look for slam? If you do decide to make a move toward slam do you prefer a splinter jump to four hearts or a long-suit try of three clubs?

Dolly the Llama, Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

I actually use a form of trial bids where all singleton game- and slam-tries go through the first step, here a two no-trump bid (also called Reverse Romex). Thus a jump to four hearts would show a 5-5 two-suiter, and a slamtry. Here I think the slam you are most likely to make is six clubs, so you can start with three clubs, hoping partner will accept the try by some call other than four spades.

After my opponents bid: two clubs – two diamonds – four spades I led the club king from: ♠ 7-3, 7-6, K-Q-9-3, ♣ A-K-J-10-2 — consistent with the ace-king or king-queen. My partner discouraged, when dummy came down with a 1=6=3=3 shape, with just the heart queen and diamond jack. Should I have shifted to diamonds? If we don’t cash our two diamond winners they go away, since declarer can run both majors and has a singleton club, while partner has the diamond ace.

Lost Chance, Newark, N.J.

This is an impossible problem. Even if you play that when you lead the club king partner should give you count, you still would not know what to do. Even if East discourages clubs, that doesn’t mean a diamond shift won’t cost a trick. I’m not sure how to solve this dilemma. Not all bridge problems have a sensible or logical solution.

Last month you ran through some questions to ask a new partner; those questions related to some simple sequences in bidding and play. Could you give some more ideas please?

Filling In, Charleston, S.C.

My next set of questions would be: how high do you play negative, support and responsive doubles? What defense to one no-trump do you like? What kind of Blackwood shall we use? And do you play Michaels Cuebids — or any other gadgets I should know about?

I’ve seen the ACBL bulletin refer to using the services of a recorder if you suspect your opponents might have been guilty of a lapse in ethics. Can you describe in more detail the recorder concept?

The Bionic Man, Kingston, Ontario

The recorder is supposed to be the first line of defense against possible serious bridge crimes. I think this may be most obvious when an unlikely opening lead hits partner’s surprise suit. If a pair does it once against you, you would tend to put it down to luck. Twice is a coincidence, three times is enemy action. Each district should have a recorder where you can write down the details of what happened and let them take over.

Holding ♠ J-7, K-J-9-3-2, A-4, ♣ K-10-9-2, I opened one heart and heard my partner respond two diamonds (which we play as game-forcing). Should I rebid my hearts, bid two no-trump, or three clubs?

A New York Second, Manhattan, N.Y.

If you did not play the sequence as game-forcing, rebidding two hearts would be clearcut. This sequence does NOT promise six hearts, unlike the sequence where you rebid your suit after a one-level response. But as it is, I think I still go for the rebid in hearts; my clubs are too weak in the context of having a minimum hand for a three-club call, my spade stop too feeble to be happy with a call of two no-trump. Notrump may well play better from partner’s hand.

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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


ClarksburgAugust 21st, 2016 at 1:48 pm

From a Club game. A strong NS pair uncharacteristically fumbled the defense and let a dicey 3NT game through.

N A876 AJ84 987 Q4
E Q53 Q9653 K5 J75
S KJ109 K107 42 10832
W 42 2 AQJ1063 AK96

West opened 1D, and the auction went 1D 1H 3D 3NT.
As can be seen, NS can achieve an easy two-trick set, and a three-trick set by optimal play of the Heart suit.

South’s opening lead was SJ.
After winning the SA, should North have cashed the HA before returning a Spade?
If not, what Spade spot should North return, and what should it mean?


bobbywolffAugust 21st, 2016 at 5:11 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Wonderful hand, not for its bidding beauty (East taking an overbid together with West preferring a 3 diamond immediate rebid to a more correctly valued, simple 2 clubs) From there East might give a false preference to 2 diamonds in order to keep the bidding open, just in case West was close to larger hopes and dreams (small lie but in hopes of much greater things, e.g. x, AKx, QJ10xx, AQ10x) although pass by East would not be considered incorrect, keeping in mind that this sequence by an opening bidding has a wide range (12-18+).

However. with the hand which West held and over 2 diamonds, merely just raising to 3 diamonds, showing extra for a diamond contract, but not overextending nor misdirecting with 2NT (not even a sign of a spade stop, nor, of course, indicating secondary heart support).

Back to the defense vs. 3NT. Yes choosing the jack of spades for South’s opening lead (but, of course not from jack denies, then, if so, the 10).

West winning the ace and if a spade back (to be discussed next) then his original 4th best back, the six, likely going to the queen (from declarer’s standpoint North may have been dealt the AK so that the queen is automatic to be played but, as feared by East, not this time.

However the next play, believe it or not is one which is REQUIRED to be remembered. When South now cashes the 10 of spades, North MUST play the eight (not the seven) so that when South cashes his fourth spade North now plays his seven and that legal signal should state exactly what North wants to signal, lead a heart not passively through dummy, with no regard for East’s one heart response, but rather logically obeying North’s suggestion.

However, as promised, upon winning the ace of spades, I think that North should then switch to a low heart catering to declarer holding s. KQx,(x) h. Q653, d. Kx(x), c. xxx.

South then wins the 10 or king (depending on what the declarer plays) then leads the other one back and, of course the third one to partner’s ace and only then should North then return a spade. From North’s standpoint it is indeed VERY unlikely that East started with Qx in spades on that bidding sequence and more likely that the jack lead was only from the jack ten.

Yes, this defensive hand is a good example of a benefit from the convention “Jack denies” and thus an original 10 shows, but in the long run I think that convention helps the opponents more than it does the defense, but definitely not this time, although with the correct logic used above, not even this time.

This hand is an important hand for the bridge student and suggests the thought process which needs to accompany a best and brightest student on the “up” elevator in bridge.

Thanks for presenting it and allowing it to be discussed, to which you might inform them so that they can feel that even a miss defensive wind can blow someone some good (besides those fortunate opponents who got rewarded for poor bidding).

To again emphasize: Both partner’s when a spade comes back should be aware of the normal way to defend, original 4th best back, so that partner knows the partner of the opening leader, started with either 2 (virtually impossible on this bidding) or 4 but not 3. Then the 8, not the 7 to indicate suit preference (without a major honor in hearts then the 7, not the 8).

Continued good luck in your leading your group to better bridge.

ClarksburgAugust 21st, 2016 at 6:15 pm

Thanks very much for this great Sunday lesson !
Actually South had expressed interest in hearing your thoughts, so yes this will most definitely be shared with others.

By coincidence, another of the strongest players in our Club will be doing a presentation on Jack denies / coded tens and nines at our pre-game seminar. Your side comment here ” in the long run I think that convention helps the opponents more than it does the defense “, is duly noted. If you have time, your further comment on that theme, would certainly add to the discussion at our upcoming seminar.

bobbywolffAugust 21st, 2016 at 7:10 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

It is only my experience which dictates my feeling and am always glad when the opponents alert me, of if after my asking, they confess that they play jack denies.

However, going back to playing in the trials with the winner going to the 1987 Bermuda Bowl in Jamaica our match went into an 8 board overtime after our long match ended in an exact tie.

I arrived at 3NT after overbidding and was faced with the jack of spades lead with the Q64 in dummy and me holding the K83. I, of course ducked, but already had the knowledge that our expert opponents did play Jack Denies. My RHO, knowing what I knew, rose with A7 and continued. The hand was now cold since the two cards I needed to knock out to secure 9 tricks were equally divided between the opponents . At the other table our opponents, holding our cards settled for 1NT (the right contract, but upon the jack of spades lead let it pass to the king and then when LHO then secured the lead he continued with the 10 to which declarer flew queen (our teammates Martel & Stansby did not play Jack Denies) causing him to only wind up with 6 tricks.

Therefore we won 10 IMPs (400+50)=450
and the match by only 1. Almost thirty years ago, but I could swear it seems like yesterday.

However this one experience is not the only reason I do not like jack denies, but it does indicate how important I think winning is dependent on how well the opponents play against you, so helping them (do not ever think that it does not and sometimes in a monumental way) is not my preference.

slarAugust 21st, 2016 at 9:09 pm

I dislike questions like the one from A New York Second. There is no “right” answer here. In response, I developed the following page:

bobbywolffAugust 21st, 2016 at 10:16 pm

Hi Slar,

And your prompt above disclosed just what a variety of answers 5 well known authorities suggested, with nary a one question being unanimously agreed to.

Most well established bridge teachers still go with who brought them to the bridge game, only proving that this difference has little determination as to which one is the better player or better expressed, bridge theorist.

However every aspiring new bridge partnership must agree as to what they want to do as a union and work hard consistently to accept that challenge.

Also. usually your so-called right answer blends in well with the overall system requirements which is always intended to make good bridge bidding flow, instead of being subject to glitches.

Even being allowed to seek getting on the “up” elevator to more and more bridge succes requires devoting one’s energy to understanding the pros and cons of each major choice.

There is almost always the necessity to give to get, but I can only assure you that this determination will not be an important factor in your eventual success. However constant determination, needed experience, and admission to failure (at times) is an absolute requirement. Without which, that elevator has already left your station, not to return, until you accept what the game is really all about.

All the above will not keep me from wishing you the best of luck since what I have read of your posts you indeed, have a chance, a quality that others may not have now, nor perhaps ever.

slarAugust 21st, 2016 at 10:31 pm

> I can only assure you that this determination will not be an important factor in your eventual success

And this is why I’ve been on a studying binge lately. After a middling performance at the NABC, I reviewed my results and determined that my defense and stamina/consistency were the weakest parts of my game. I am committed to improving my defense. As for stamina and consistency, well, I have to keep putting myself out there.

bobbywolffAugust 21st, 2016 at 11:53 pm

Hi again Slar,

No doubt, almost all wannabe players regard defense as easily the most difficult part of the game and for many reasons, with the fact that a declarer, in full view of all of his side’s assets, coordinates his play without fear of not knowing, at least what he sees, all he has to offer.

Obviously on defense, both partners are subject to missing this or that which, in turn, doesn’t improve the result.

My guess also, is that on defense with both defenders being very good, by trick 3 both partners will know declarer’s exact starting distribution more than 50% of the time and ranging upward to as high as 80%, although the mystery element has to do with the bidding and its complications.

“Loose Lips Sink Ships” used to be a World War II slogan, but it also applies whenever the declaring partnership has chosen or for various other reasons, have a long auction,