Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

While all deception requires secrecy, all secrecy is not meant to deceive.

Sissela Bok

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


Last month I mentioned in passing that while attitude signals worked to give partner your opinion as to whether to continue with the suit led or whether to shift, there might still be occasions when you would encourage partner’s lead, even if you didn’t like the suit all that much.

The best reason for doing that is that you know you fear the consequences of partner’s shift, if you discourage his lead. Let us look at where we want to avoid partner making the “obvious” switch.

Playing a five-card major system, South opens one heart, West overcalls one spade, North bids two spades to show at least a limit raise in hearts and South bids four hearts.

When West leads a top spade, your systemic play would be the two, but do you really want partner to play a diamond, which is his most probable switch if you discourage spades? You are better off encouraging a spade continuation, (before the rats get at it) and allowing partner to collect his diamond winners if any in the fullness of time.

The point here is that even if partner were psychic enough to shift at trick two to a club not a diamond, declarer would then dispose of his second spade loser on the clubs and make his contract in a different way. From partner’s perspective, a diamond might be essential if declarer was about to build a discard on clubs and spades. His hand might be a 2=6=3-2 shape with the top hearts, diamond ace and club jack.

As 14-counts go, your hand could hardly be any better; indeed I could not imagine stopping out of game. The real concern might be that you would miss slam here, since the right 10-count opposite could make 12 tricks a formality. A jump by you to five clubs should be a splinter, setting diamonds as trump, and letting partner evaluate his assets as best he can.


♠ J 3
 A K 8 6 3
 A Q 7 4 2
♣ 2
South West North East
1 Pass 1 ♠ Pass
2 Pass 3 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


bobby wolffApril 25th, 2017 at 4:13 pm

Hi everyone,

But if West (the opening leader) held instead:
s. AK10xx, h. x, d. KQJxx, c. xx with declarer instead holding, s. Jx, h. AKxxxx, d. Axx, c. xx, then if West cashed his second spade before switching to diamonds, declarer will have then been presented his contract on a silver platter, courtesy of a defender with an active mind, which was close, but no cigar (at least on the hand above).

Such is the beautiful game we play, alive and kicking which on any one hand might require creative magic, but on others just mundane following suit.

Then add to the always present ethics required, in this case, East signalling his partner with a high spade, but perhaps after taking a small amount of time to figure out why, thereby giving unethical information to a world class player, who may on the above example to then understand his partner’s dilemma.

It would, of course, be unethical for West to rely on his partner’s slower than usual signal, but the rules of our wonderful game are clear and the hesitation should be discounted and a 2nd high spade then should immediately emerge. No doubt a very difficult decision, but all potential bridge appeals committees should discuss these situations prior to having to deal with them, (before emotions have arisen) and arrive at a majority decision.

Finally rationalization should not be allowed, when a 3rd seat defender then explains, “I always take an unusual amount of time at trick
one before I follow suit, so my hesitation does not mean anything”. To be honest he should then follow that statement with “unless I don’t”.

No doubt I am interested in intelligent follow-ups to this discussion, since otherwise these conundrums are often decided politically, rather than consistently.

Iain ClimieApril 25th, 2017 at 9:55 pm

Hi Bobby,

Point taken but the problem from East’s viewpoint here is that a quick declarer will just call for a small card instantly. I did have a partner who would play his card in rythmn face down at T1 (so no chance of changing it or UI) but said “I want to have a think about the whole hand” before turning it over. Fine if you can play the card quickly enough but an obvious no if you later try to change it. The only way that East can sensibly play in rythmn is to have thought of the situation before the hand, so can realise that automatically playing small may not be right. Even so, it is still easier said than done. A good dilemma, especially at this time in the UK (22:55).



bobby wolffApril 25th, 2017 at 11:23 pm

Hi Iain,

The problem I attempted to address on today’s hand is real, thus does not have an easily accomplished solution.

No doubt, when the dummy surfaces, the partner may well have a difficult choice, especially so when the stakes are high and the information and evidence obtained takes time and even some seconds later is, to say the least, hazy.

No doubt, if 3rd chair was required to wait at least 45 seconds before playing, each and every time a defense began, most of the bases would be covered, leaving only the enforcement of that caveat to be dealt with.

Many players, perhaps most, would join in a conscientious attempt to get it done, but unfortunately the sly foxes (not to mention wolves) out there somehow would seek advantage, so back to scene one the process would return.

At the high levels most of the players are aware of who tries his (or her) best and who doesn’t, so that in fact does help, since all of us want to be thought of as actively ethical. And to be sure, sometimes, this likely being one of them, it is really difficult to succeed, but, in the long run most of those competitors will break about even with their intentions as long as all of us view bridge in a very serious and fair way.

In any event, it is good to get the cards on the table, discuss the problems, and then earnestly give one’s best to set positive examples.

Your suggestion will help with a part of the problem, (of course, not being able to change the card placed face down) but IMO there is just no intelligent way to deal with extremely sticky situations.

Thanks for your response and perhaps others may eventually also sign-in with some unexpected help in overcoming all of our fervent desires to win without risking the cost of individually embarrassing our sensational game.

PRCApril 26th, 2017 at 2:33 am

Dear Mr. Wolff et al:
I play in a two table bridge club. Several players have gotten in a bad habit when they get the bid of leading from their hand, and pulling a card from dummy before LHO has a chance to play. It disrupts the rhythm of the game and frankly is rude. Do you or others have any suggestions for how to address this problem? I’ve told them how I feel but they do it anyway. They surely couldn’t get away with that in duplicate!

bobby wolffApril 26th, 2017 at 3:55 am


I, of course, do not have any magic potion to solve that rudeness notion you mention.

Perhaps the next time your group meets and before you play the first hand, you should lead a discussion of why everyone should play when only it is his turn. That goes for declarer to wait for his LHO to play before he reaches over and follows from dummy. The rules of our game demands playing in turn, without which, our game cannot be played intelligently.

Then, if during play that bad habit continues, all three of the other players need to call attention to the declarer for not giving his LHO enough time to make a decision on his play.

It may or may not work, but I do not see any better way of dealing with it. Good luck!

Paul FlashenbergApril 26th, 2017 at 1:18 pm

One strategy worth considering is that 3rd hand can say “I don’t have a problem playing to this trick, I am thinking about the whole hand” and then play the appropriate card, so his partner can take no inference.

bobby wolffApril 26th, 2017 at 3:48 pm

Hi Paul,

Your solution is kind of like either:

1. When asked how one is feeling, always say fine, regardless, in order to not make excuses.


2. Directly not tell the truth in order to serve a greater master, often the lame excuse for a politician always seeking support.


the above has much to recommend a successful answer to a very common experience with first trick playing by third seat defender.

While I really like your solution then TDs with committees to come need to not only understand that practice, but to approve its use as a “lesser of evils” answer to a serious flaw in our otherwise practical game.

Much thanks for your clear thinking, and who knows, “it might eventually be called the “flash in the bridge question approach”or maybe “Super Paul’s solution”.

However, and an adversarial thought, the 2nd time that partnership tries the same tactics, the opening leader may know too much about that tune, so perhaps that partnership needs to vary those tactics in order to not create a predictable theme.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to…….not be sure”.

Paul FlashenbergApril 27th, 2017 at 12:49 pm

I understand your position. However, some declarers intentionally play almost immediately from dummy just to create the problem for 3rd hand. If declarer takes his sweet time from playing from dummy, as it is generally recommended that declarer not play hastily at trick one and plan out the hand, then 3rd hand has the opportunity to think about the hand as well. So it cuts both ways.
Is declarer being unethical went he plays quickly from dummy on some hands and not on others? My solution is just to level the playing ground.

bobby wolffApril 27th, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Hi Paul,

While your point is valid, well thought out and practical, there is a disadvantage with your solution. Likely, more declarers than thought are fairly fast thinkers (after all he, unlike the defense, is able to glance at all 26 instead of 13, of his side’s assets at trick 1 plus, of course, the opening lead).

Also, and somewhat arguable, most experienced players want to encourage opponents to play ASAP in order to keep the game moving, making an appropriate slow down impractical, at least, according to some.

Add the above to most of the time 3rd seat has no problem and a more or less almost automatic play available, therefore suggesting otherwise, may offer a resistant response.

However I agree with you and when defending 3rd chair at the table, I do slow down my play whether it is automatic or not. However, my doing so has little to no impact on solving the problem, making only a strong ethical desire to honor the game by all players, the most practical 100% solution.