Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, April 6th, 2017

To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.

George Orwell

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


How will you play today’s spade game when West leads the heart king?

You win immediately, to avoid a potentially fatal diamond switch. You can count eight top tricks: five in trump plus three aces. One heart ruff in dummy would not help you all that much, because you would still need to set up the clubs. Your best chance is to hope for a 3-3 club break.

Play one round of trump, to the king, and then duck the first round of clubs to preserve communications, ensuring that you can use the club ace as an entry on the next round to ruff out the suit. East does best to win and press on with two more rounds of hearts. What now?

If you ruff the third round of hearts, you will go down. You hope to establish the clubs with one ruff, and will then need to draw trump ending in dummy. But you cannot do this if you have taken a ruff on the board. Instead, discard a diamond from dummy on the third round of hearts. Regain the lead, draw a second round of trump with the king, and you can then ruff out clubs and cross to the ace of trumps to discard two diamonds on the good clubs.

What if East switches to the diamond 10 after winning the first club? You would have to rise with the diamond ace to avoid the defenders reverting to hearts, to defeat you. Again, you can ruff out the clubs and draw trump ending in North, then run the clubs.

You correctly limited your hand with a non-forcing effort at your second turn. Partner then produced a slamtry and your mundane 12-count is suddenly almost worth a drive to slam. Start by cuebidding four hearts, and plan to bid on over four spades with a second cuebid of five clubs. If you trust partner, you know you have golden cards for him.


♠ A 5 4
 A 4
 7 5 3
♣ A 10 8 7 5
South West North East
1 ♣ 2 2 ♠ Pass
3 ♠ Pass 4 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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2April 20th, 2017 at 3:25 pm

I am confused with BWTA. In particular, if I were North I would expect more support and playing strength for a 5C bid over my 4S.

First, could S have passed 2S?

Mircea1April 20th, 2017 at 3:56 pm

I’m not trying to be picky, but is South strong enough for a 2H cue-bid? I would have bid 2S with that hand.

Bobby WolffApril 20th, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Hi Jim2,

If I was born to be a bridge doctor (poor me) I would define (and file) your expectations side by side with your partner of the cue bidding decisions.

No doubt, the opener’s hand is barren of high cards (for an opening bid), with the fifth club, the doubleton heart and the gigantic (for slam purposes) of three aces the positive features.

Let me now emphasize Culbertson (honor count), rather than Goren (point count) for almost 100% of the thought to be optimism involved in responding with a cue bid to his first slam try of a diamond cue bid.

While honor tricks are not always perfect (perhaps sometimes overrated) HCPs almost always are at least somewhat random as to what cards are irrelevant to almost so, while aces and longer side suits (at least 5 and sometimes 6) are where the females are when one is male and interested in moving rapidly up the romantic phase, but in bridge, and, of course, evaluation ladder, in “feeling” slam potential.

For proof, merely examine today’s hand and while slam needed both black suits to divide evenly (clubs 3-3 against the percentage) please fairly agree with the above valuation, although the above is, at the very least, a distortion regarding ;the optimism. Only the diamond jack is wasted, but also realistically understand that North was also putting the pedal to the metal with his diamond cue bid after being merely raised to 3 spades.

IOW 6 spades is NOT a good contract unless a team is behind and wants to catch up with aggressive, but not ridiculous evaluation. No one, certainly including me, is recommending bidding 6 spades, but it becomes important for a bridge lover to, at least be aware, of what blessed bridge players intuitively put into practice, while at the table.

In answer to your question, yes, 2 spades by North is a one round force, but not game forcing and could have legitimately passed three spades, making his 4 diamond cue bid a “bit much”.

Thanks for your probing questions. We simply could not get there from here (meaning strong steps forward in becoming a genuine expert) without these types of discussion.

Bobby WolffApril 20th, 2017 at 6:42 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Yes, I would first bid 2 hearts, but then only bid 3 spades over partner’s 3 club natural response. Most, if not all, top players play 3 spades as a game force (after cue bidding) but 4 spades should imply (at least to me, another positive feature, such as a singleton somewhere or another working king (either hearts or clubs). To me, after cue bidding (2 hearts) and then a jump to 4 spades is just too much and I, for one., do not at all object, to either bid his hand the way he did, except for only a 3 spade bid (instead of 4) after 3 clubs or, grudgingly accepting a full throttle jump to 4 spades, which undoubtedly would scuttle the slam try and, of course, great result.

However, to only bid 2 spades is not nearly enough, for many of the reasons suggested above.

I do not expect you or many of our loyal bridge friends to automatically agree, but do think about how good suits, aces (and to some extent kings, but not quacks) and key shortness somewhere are golden, but sometimes, just because the bidding portion of the game, is not long enough to sometimes enable the information necessary to reach brilliant contracts (nor for that matter to avoid overbidding) with “fake news” (a today expression) which implies, often not as valuable as hoped.

jim2April 20th, 2017 at 7:45 pm

Okay, so S was forced to bid … something, and I would have bid 3S, too.

Now, when N cuebids 4D, I also agree South is worth a cooperative (with the 4D cuebid) below-game slam try with 4H. At this point in the bidding, South has shown opening points (with a good chance of a C suit given the bidding at this point), S support, and a H control (likely the AH).

My difficulty is bidding past North’s sign-off of 4S. South does not have a fourth S, does not have C suit texture, and does not have a singleton/void. All South has are 3 aces.

North had a safe route to 5S via 4N and did not take it. If South’s aces are the key to slam, why did North fail to bid 4N over 4H?

Iain ClimieApril 20th, 2017 at 10:15 pm

Hi Folks,

Sorry, I’m a caveman. ON today’s column hand I’m just bashing 4S in reply to partner’s double of 1H. I accept it could be 1 off or make life tricky if partner has a perfect hand for slam, but it allows me to focus on the play after bidding what I think I can make. Sorry!



Bobby WolffApril 20th, 2017 at 10:41 pm

Hi Jim2,

As you and I should both agree, that any form of Blackwood (BW) or any other form of ace asking is NEVER used to bid a slam, but rather only meant to keep out of slam while in the past, missing two aces, or in this modern generation, two key cards.

The above is not meant to be a restriction to the use of a preferred method of ace asking (whatever form that takes, and remember William Shakespeare’s admonition, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

However, to balance that bridge discipline, slams need to be checked out as to strong enough strain (trump suit), source of tricks and, finally, not two immediate losers in any one suit or for that matter hopefully not losing tricks one and two (except sometimes by an unlucky occurrence).

Leaving in finality the last fail safe available, losing two aces before assuming the lead with regular Blackwood or counting the king of trumps as an ace with including key card BW (KCBW), also. Of course we all know (or should) the king of trumps is not exactly an ace, nor should it always be regarded as such, but sadly those who play KCBW insist that it is the percentage action to take, and then also have a thing about the queen of trumps which is sometimes left up to judgment as to whether to fudge on having that card sometimes when either the hand or partner’s bidding has indicated that the key queen is not necessary to be not shown.

The above can be argued until the cows come home, but as with many bridge arguments conclusions are not always found, justifiably since, with subjective subjects, there are usually two sides to it and at last reports most players (no matter how good or fair they intend to be) the disagreement remains firmly entrenched, as to its conclusion.

Bobby WolffApril 20th, 2017 at 10:52 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes cave men may have been among the best bridge players of their generation and it is not surprising to hear that you are indeed one of them.

If I appear positive of your choice of action, it is likely to be because I am, and for your reasons.

However, the males at that time had to learn to play quickly since their principle job was to go bring home tonight’s dinner for the family, which usually did not include a stop at the closest meat market.

Not to mention what could always be a possible alternative result, winning at bridge, but losing the other joust. Oh well, no more masterpoints for you, sir!

jim2April 20th, 2017 at 11:14 pm

You are the expert and World Champion, not I.

With that typed, your earlier point appeared to be that South’s three aces were gold. Here, if North needed that form of gold, North could have bid BW over 4H to see if South had it and did not.

Hence, I do not think South would be justified in bidding 5C but, as I said above, you are the expert and WC.

Bobby WolffApril 21st, 2017 at 1:49 am

Hi Jim2,

Even with all 4 of the aces, NS are lucky to be able to make 4 spades with their 26 card collection, thanks to a 3-3 club break estimated to occur around 36% of the time. Of course, as you can see, the hand has to be declared very well even then.

Having said that, my point is just how valuable aces can be (on average, much more than Mr
Charles Goren or, in actuality, Milton Work assessed their value in his original high card point count invented over 80 years ago).

However the evaluation in bridge is very difficult to judge since there are, as all experienced players will attest, many extraneous factors combining to produce any single result (how the hands fit, what the opening lead happens to be, the specific location of cards and distribution and the “X” factor, how well the hand is declared and defended.

To bid a slam on the NS cards is, on percentage a horrible contract, in IMPs figuring to lose a game swing, in matchpoints to get nary a half point, and in rubber bridge for money, to lose a swing that is significant in amount.

World Championships have little to nothing to do with the results of hands, but how and why luck can be combined with judgment to sometimes make apple sauce out of apples and other times to lose the farm.

Yes, aces are undervalued and 5-2 fits sometimes combine to produce 4 tricks with nary another honor card in the mix (here the 10 is not of value) Other times, perhaps over 50%, they take only 1 trick and yet, since Clark Kent with his X-Ray vision is not at the table to produce miracles.

I’ve always contended that a winning bridge player should be: 1. a good card reader as to the specific bidding producing within a certain number of tricks, 2. When given the chance and in the clutch rising to the occasion of performing up to his best, 3. Often creating his own luck against a certain pair of opponents, causing them to make mistakes they usually do not make.

As Rudyard Kipling may have added, with those three traits you may create a player at the table who is capable, with good teammates and normal playing luck to produce championships,whether they are World or only Club, winners win and losers, well you know……

I hope you do not think I am advocating doing anything but bidding and making this game, a feat of its own, and a little secret if you and I teed up and played against each other for a significant time, with more or less equal partners, there would not be near the difference in results you may think.

I do appreciate all you do for this site and your enthusiasm and love for the game. Please never lose that desire and thanks much for your faithful support.