Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, December 24th, 2016

There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.

Charles Dickens

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


This week’s deal all come from the Macallan tournament in London 20 years ago. Today’s deal carries a salutary lesson for me. I was declarer, and still remember a missed opportunity to put one over on my then-teammates.

Playing with Bob Hamman, we took on Jeff Meckstroth and Eric Rodwell, and we edged them out, despite this missed opportunity. See if you can do better as South than me. You may choose to cover up the East and West cards, to try to duplicate the problem I faced at the table.

You reach three no-trump after East has shown a weak-two bid in spades, and receive the lead of the club six. What would you play from dummy? If you play the seven, well done; East plays the king. Which red suit is it right to play on at trick two?

All right, I admit that I was (mis)leading the witness. The key to the hand is that you need to duck the first trick, or you will go down like a stone.

The hand is truly a complex one, but the right way to look at it is that if clubs are 4-2 you will need the heart queen to be onside, whether you win or duck the first trick. (If it is not, you will lose two clubs, two hearts and a diamond).

However, if clubs are 5-1, you prevent the opponents from establishing clubs by ducking the first trick. Now you will succeed unless West has all the missing red honors – and if that were the case you were never making your contract.

My simple agreement with all my partners about what doubles mean after our side opens one no-trump is as follows. If the only call our partnership has made is to pass, the first double is take-out from either player, whether over or under the suit bid or shown. So here the double of two diamonds is for take-out, and you have a painless call of two hearts.


♠ Q 9
 J 9 6 5
 J 9 8
♣ J 8 7 2
South West North East
  Pass 1 NT Pass
Pass 2 Dbl. 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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieJanuary 7th, 2017 at 10:07 am

Hi Bobby,

An interesting hand but a quick question about the lead. Why 4th highest (although it worked brilliantly here) rather than the 10 from Q109xx which misfires as the cards lie as now declarer can take T1 safely? Obviously West needs east to hold something like CJx or Kx (a longer suit is a bonus) but I’d be interested in the reasoning here.



A V Ramana RaoJanuary 7th, 2017 at 11:24 am

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
The idea to duck the lead is very instructive. However , Even when clubs are 4-2 and one ducks the lead, if east shifts to a spade, one will go down unless he precisely divines which red suit to go after winning the spade. For eg., if in the above hand, supoose clubs are 2-4 and spades 5-3 with east west and if one leads a heart after winning the spade shift in dummy, west wins and continues spades and now again south has to guess which red suit to play. If he continues hearts, he goes down and prevails if he leads a diamond. Yes a complex hand indeed with some luck involved in bringing home the contract

Iain ClimieJanuary 7th, 2017 at 1:13 pm

Hi again Bobby,

A more general query which cost myself with a scratch partner last night. Oppos silent and 2NT – 3D (transfer) 3H – 4N; is this quantitative or RKCB or similar ace asking? We had different views here and wound up 2 off in a no play slam.



bobby wolffJanuary 7th, 2017 at 5:15 pm

Hi Iain,

My guess is that this choice (4th best instead of the book suggested 10) is supported by the bidding, when partner has opened with a weak two bid in another suit. Likely, partner is relatively short in the led suit and keeping the 10 in hand may be a trick difference, especially if partner has an honor (A, K or J).

Regarding your 4NT query, I think it should show a quantatative raise with a 5-3-3-2 hand pattern, not asking for aces but only suggesting to partner that he make the next mistake.

Most experienced partnerships have other ace asks such as a jump to 5 clubs which is likely the most common, with 4 of a minor suit reserved for a 2nd suit (often 5-4 or 5-5).

Obviously the vast number of world bridge players play various different treatments, simple if possible, but sadly and no matter what, still too often forgotten.

Oh well, do not let that single hand make your new partnership one and done.

bobby wolffJanuary 7th, 2017 at 5:27 pm


Thanks for your keen analysis.

However, it is unlikely that the opening leader will have started with three spades since his partner had opened a weak two bid in that suit and he had refused to lead one.

In any event, yes it was an excellent learning experience, if for no other reason than to take enough time at trick one as declarer, before playing.

Michael BeyroutiJanuary 7th, 2017 at 5:29 pm

I think that in the sequence you show 4N is quantitative, because:
2N – 4D
4H – 4N is ace asking,
2N – 3D
3H – 4H is mild slam interest.

from Acapulco!
(It’s not because i am on vacation that I can survive one day without AOB. Hear that Mr Wolff? Best wishes to you , Judy, and all your readers for the New Year.)


jim2January 7th, 2017 at 5:29 pm

I have mentioned here before that I insist my partners play that Gerber is off once a suit has been bid naturally.

With that treatment, 4C would have been Gerber in your auction, hence 4N could NOT have been ace-asking. Therefore, 4N would have been [unambiguously] quantitative.

Iain ClimieJanuary 7th, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Hi Bobby, Michael, Jim2,

Thanks for the comments. I intended it as quantitative based on a 2533 11 count opposite a 20-22 2NT but was doomed after pard bid 5D unless we could settle in 5N. We were off 2 aces, and had a trump suit of K987x opposite Qxx with one opponent holding HAJ10. 5H is 1 off and we didn’t (as a scratch pair) have a set of brakes agreed to stop in 5N. On the other hand it was an 8 team all-play-all IMPs evening and despite this (and a few other aberrations across the team) we wound up ludicrously plus and winning at a club session. The far better players and partnerships strewn round the room somehow managed to have their own worse problems and/or give us late Christmas presents.

Remember the Napoleon comment on a possible general? I don’t care if he is good, is he lucky?



bobby wolffJanuary 9th, 2017 at 7:53 am

Hi Michael,

You have earned both a great Mexican vacation and some time off from AOB.

And from your post since we all agree to your teachings, upon your return you will not have to bone up your slam bidding, especially when 4NT is ask asking or quantatative.

Happy holidays and gracias for your post.

bobby wolffJanuary 9th, 2017 at 8:01 am

Hi Iain,

Congrats on your many splendoured holiday bridge victory.

Napoleon likely could tell which of his generals were “lucky”. They were the ones who were still alive.