Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday May 3rd, 2017

To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.

Oscar Wilde

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


East puts South under immediate pressure when he opens three clubs. If the North and West hands were switched, a double from South would put his side into minus 500 or 800 territory. As it is, though, once South stretches to double three clubs, North will be interested in a grand slam, especially when the heart fit comes to light. Today, though, six hearts is quite high enough.

When West leads the club two at the first trick against six hearts, South will assume that clubs strongly rate to be 7-1. His thoughts should turn at once to the chance of an endplay on one defender or the other. Which possibility do you think is the most convincing?

Declarer does not have to commit himself immediately; the play in the black suits can wait. He begins by drawing trump, then cashes his three diamond winners. When East turns up with one trump and three or more diamonds, to go with his seven clubs, he cannot hold more than two spades. Is that bad news for the spade finesse? Yes and no.

Curiously, if the spade finesse is working, there is no need to take it. Play the spade king then ace, and if the queen has not put in an appearance, exit with the spade jack to put West on play. When he wins the trick, he must surrender a ruff and discard on either a spade or a diamond return, and your club loser goes away.

Incidentally, you should probably follow the same line if East turned up with two diamonds and three spades.

Is this hand worth an invitation to slam? I could be persuaded that it was worth a quantitative four no-trump call, but only because of the decent intermediates. The heart 10 would be enough to reassure me completely, but take away the club 10-9 and I would go low and settle for three no-trump. Even as it is, three no-trump might be enough facing any but the strongest of declarers.


♠ A J 2
 A J 9 3
 J 9 4
♣ 10 9 3
South West North East
  Pass 2 NT Pass
3 ♣ 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


Iain ClimieMay 17th, 2017 at 11:44 am

HI Bobby,

I just thought of an unexpected take on TOCM which could occur here. It seems flippant but I can illustrate it by a practical example. Imagine a pushy East had opened 3C on Qxx xx xx KQJxxx and a myopic West had put the C6 (say) in with the spades. They lead the C2, you have a perfect count on the East hand as 2-2-2-7 until he wins the 3rd spade and cashes the CK. Partner then helpfully points out that you’d have made it if you had taken the spade finesse…

I mention this as I once misplayed a spade part score hand in a club duplicate due to completely mis-placing the high cards. I was missing D AKQ and West hadn’t led one at T1 or switched to one later while East hadn’t risen with the DA or K when I led one from the table. Based on the likely combinations of diamond honours I misplaced other cards and “mis-guessed” (not). When I led to a heart to the Ace in my had around T9 or 10, the lady on my left sat bolt upright and said “Oh, I thought I had that!” She’d had the DA in the hearts and had only just realised. I could have called the TD, but the unauthorised information made no difference to the result by this stage, it was a regular club game of no great intensity at a very friendly club and the whole table was now helpless with laughter.

I was reminded of James Thurber’s comments about self-help books in the US during the 1920s and 30s which suggested developing a disciplined mind for success. What happens when the disciplined and rational approach someone has cultivated falls foul of the undisciplined mind or just plain chaos? I suspect the disciplined mind will fail to see the funny side.



jim2May 17th, 2017 at 11:49 am


jim2May 17th, 2017 at 11:54 am

BTW, on the BWTA, this is a classic example of how my partnerships treat quantitative versus ace-asking in such auctions. Specifically, that until a suit is bid naturally, Gerber is on and NT raises remain quantitative. For example, if partner had responded 3H (instead of 3D), then 4N would have been ace-asking.

There are better or more nuanced treatments, but the above is simple and far easier for this non-expert to remember at the table.

slarMay 17th, 2017 at 1:19 pm

I guess BWTA depends on how you treat 2NT. Is Ax/Ax/AKQJ/KTxxx a 2NT or a 2C opener? I treated it as a 2C opener and it just so happened it led to a laydown 7NT. My feeling was that if 3NT didn’t make then 2NT wouldn’t make either so I might as well go big. But this has sideeffects on quantitative auctions. If opener can’t have a hand as good as the above with a 2NT opener, making a quantitative raise seems awfully risky.

@jim2 the multitude of Gerber and Blackwood treatments are the bane to my existence. I’m learning a transfers-over-1C system this month (nearly every response is artificial) and I’m finding it easier to deal with.

jim2May 17th, 2017 at 1:28 pm

In college, it was fashionable to tinker with systems and treatments. I remember morphing a Schenken 1C system by adding 5-card majors in what turned out to be a version of Precision, before Precision.

Once out of school, however, real life limited time available, thus preventing the level of time/intensity commitment needed to play systems at a high level with a partner. I suspect others had similar experiences, and that may have been behind the “yellow card” format.

Bobby WolffMay 17th, 2017 at 3:38 pm

Hi Iain,

Think of the useful plus side of dementia and its by- products.

Old folks care, fully stocked with employees doing good deeds (usually, but not always), making their livings, insurance companies collecting life long premiums, doctor visits, companions for loners, most local duplicate bridge games, comedians and their schtick.

As people start living longer, the condition you describe will only increase, making your scene much more believable, but as long as our beloved game will be played, our youngsters of today, assuming they take up bridge, will need to get used to it, otherwise their senses of humor will indeed be tested.

At any rate, the future will likely require good losers to materialize, and, if so, I would like to be introduced to one, again assuming it is possible to become one.

Seemingly S. J. Simon was well ahead of his time in the bridge world, with Victor Mollo following, at the very least, reminding us of all kinds of bridge humor which can and, in reality, does occur.

Bobby WolffMay 17th, 2017 at 3:51 pm

Hi Jim2,

No doubt, the high-level bridge community is well into making the bid of 4NT a quantitative raise, few standard, but all with that intent. The only common denominator which attaches is that a then raise to 5NT is forcing and asks for suits to be explored, up the line, usually looking for 8 card suit fits, usually 4-4 but, depending on the previous bidding, only a better suit fit, instead of the eventual default choice of 6NT.

I heartily concur to your treatment and agree that fewer misunderstandings will occur, at least to me, a firm condition precedent, to result.

Bobby WolffMay 17th, 2017 at 4:23 pm

Hi Slar,

Deflatioin has set upon the opening 2NT gambit.

Once steady (years ago) at 22-24, a 2NT opening has fallen to 19-21 with recent overtures at lower while holding a good 6 card suit, e.g. s. Kx, h. Kx, d. AKJxxx, c. Axx. Therefore your example hand a good 21 with a five card suit is, at this moment in time, definitely and conventionally a 2 club opener.

However, if we start worrying about making 10 tricks at 4NT, when holding close to 30+ HCPs (and all the suits stopped) we may be on our way back to the Flintstones, although, and in no way, am I denying that possibility, only instead, disregarding it.

Gerber/BW sequences have always been troublesome. When Johnny Gerber (BTW he, living in Houston, was my chief bridge mentor in my very early years), first proposed 4 clubs as artificial he, for simplicity sake, suggested all 4 club bids were ace asking. Likely, few experts at that time, took him seriously and thus at least, tweaked that suggestion, but in order to commercialize his idea for the masses, he wanted to keep it simple.

Good luck with learning your difficult mind boggling strong club with transfer responses. Have you set an over or under time period yet on how long it will be before you return to sanity? Only kidding (I think) but here is hoping you prove me wrong.

Bobby WolffMay 17th, 2017 at 4:59 pm

Hi Jim2,

Sorry to hear about your disastrous exit from bridge while attempting to live a normal life.
No doubt as debilitating as the bubonic plague epidemic in Europe all those years ago, but evil things do happen.

Yes, the Yellow Card devised by the ACBL was, no doubt, created, in order to ease bridge players back into the game, without being overrun by newer conventions designed, but not always successful, by creative players anxious to improve the game.

It appears harmful to participation as bridge players to call such a process, “dumbing down”, although many people in the USA havn’t at all resisted using much greater abusive, insulting and accusatory language in currently describing their “so-called real feelings” regarding political preferences.

I guess those things are decided by whose bull
one thinks, is getting gored.

TedMay 17th, 2017 at 10:50 pm

Hi Bobby,

The first time I bid 5NT in response to the 4NT quantitative raise, my partner thought I was throwing the quantitative decision back to him, and after a long pause he bid 6NT. As a result we missed our 4-4 Diamond fit with the 5-0 break.

Iain ClimieMay 17th, 2017 at 10:51 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the reply but remember that physical and mental activities can both slow down the grim situation you describe while laughter and the love of family & friends should never be discounted. I read recently that loneliness can be as damaging as smoking 15 a day so the company and stimulation that bridge provides should not be underestimated, even at a relaxed level of play. Even as overall skill and results decline with time, there is always the opportunity for a brilliant coup or technical excellence in the game. As Tim Allen’s character says in Galaxy Quest, a lovely spoof of Star Trek, “Never give up, never surrender!”

All the very best,


slarMay 18th, 2017 at 1:57 am

FWIW the club system I am learning is not a strong club, it is natural (11-21ish) and non-forcing. If I have my story straight, it is used by the defending/repeat champions of the NAP and is filtering its way down to anyone willing to take it on. My first live game with it is tomorrow. No matter what it will be fun. That’s the point, right?

Bobby WolffMay 18th, 2017 at 3:44 am

Hi Ted,

The one universal truth in competition is being lucky is better than being talented.

With that 5-0 diiamond break and winding in 6NT, presumably making, proves the point.

However one should never underestimate a combination of experience, hard work and appropriate time spent on the partnership, enough knowledge and the ability to play at one’s best, when a long career in bridge is in the cards.

That above combination will soothe a great deal of rough edges.

I wish you continuous success.

Bobby WolffMay 18th, 2017 at 3:47 am

Hi Iain,

Thanks for the good advice of giving one’s all through both the good and the bad times. It is not only character building, but it will almost always get the job done.

Perhaps not now, but certainly later!

Bobby WolffMay 18th, 2017 at 3:53 am

Hi Slar,

No doubt having fun is the name of the game, but somehow that emotion tends to show up more when victory is achieved. But first one has to just enjoy competing, which is similar to learning to walk before one starts running (not to mention crawling before walking).

And BTW, good luck tomorrow and be sure to let us know how you did and why.