Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, May 13th, 2017

Art must take reality by surprise.

Francoise Sagan

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

*artificial second negative


Today’s deal looks too easy to be worthy of being a problem in this column. You play four spades after your partner has produced a second negative then suggested only tepid support for either major, persuading you that slam cannot be a favorite to make.

You receive the lead of the club jack, overtaken by East’s queen. When the club ace comes next, you ruff, and should pause before making your next play. The danger is that trumps are 4-1. If they are, then you will run out of trumps before you can establish your 10th trick from the hearts. The secret is to find the play that works when spades are no worse than 4-1 and hearts no worse than 4-2.

The solution is both charming and unusual. Declarer must attack both major suits in idiosyncratic fashion — by leading the jack or the 10 before any of the aces and kings. Suppose you lead the spade jack to trick three. West does best to win and force declarer with another club, ruffed in hand.

Now declarer plays the heart jack, to leave the defenders without recourse. The point is that the next round of clubs can be ruffed in dummy, and declarer can come to hand with a diamond to draw trump.

If declarer plays either the spade or heart ace prematurely, he fails. Either the defenders can set up a force (if you go after trumps) or take a heart ruff, if you let East in on the second or third round of hearts while West still has a trump left.

It was once considered normal to use two no-trump as a second negative, the original two diamond call having denied eight points. But because players now tend to temporize with a two diamond call over two clubs, no matter what they have, you need the two no-trump rebid to show at least a semi-positive, balanced. Hence you should subvert a three-club rebid to show the double negative here.


♠ 4 3
 8 5 3
 Q 9 8 7 3
♣ 8 7 2
South West North East
  Pass 2 ♣ Pass
2 Pass 2 ♠ 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


Mircea1May 27th, 2017 at 1:46 pm

Hi Bobby,

Very nice problem, at least for my level. I’m happy I found the solution. What is your opinion about the use of 2H as showing a bust (less than a king or two queens) over 2C?

Bobby WolffMay 27th, 2017 at 4:10 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Your worthwhile question first: I suggest a 2 heart response being a double negative with your parameters (less than a king or 2 queens about right). That said, of course, loses a natural 2 heart response (as well as an artificial 2 diamonds which would be GF, but still not require much) does lose occasional valuable bids, but most of winning bridge theory has to do with giving to get since the code language used in bidding is limited in both scope and amount.

No doubt a strong club opening bid allows much better descriptions, but, sigh, not without allowing worthy opponents to preempt (or sometimes just to bid naturally) in order to restrict the language available to the stronger hands.

No free lunch anywhere, but those in favor of allowing a basically random frivolous destructive defense, which in turn may turn bridge (as we know it) unto some kind of farcical wasteland ( and, if so, definitely requiring major score changes into much larger penalties for sets) are only, at least to me, wanting to rain on other people’s proud parade of enjoying IMO the greatest (and most entertaining) overall mind game ever created.

Today’s hand represents just one of the superior mind challenges our great game has to offer. Of course, the chance of this type of conundrum is astronomically small, but when it (or other unusual coups) arise and the declarer proves up to the task, the exhilaration created soars off the charts since the logic involved, while numerate in nature, allows one to be very proud to merely understand it.

Yes, the thinking involved is specialized, but to say almost impossible is definitely an overbid and well within what most human minds can comprehend (no doubt, people who enjoy numbers more than letters, find it more quickly).

Again and so often from me (perhaps too much, but I continue to not think so) if such teaching were taught in public schools like around the civilized world in Europe and China,, the world would be better placed to treat constructive thoughts far ahead of basically destructive ones (petty religious differences which lead to hate and worse, wars).