Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

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

The uneducated person perceives only the individual phenomenon, the partly educated person the rule, and the educated person the exception.

Franz Grillparzer

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


Very few people have heard of the Vondracek phenomenon, and fewer still would believe that it is a serious bridge idea, rather than some kind of a joke. However, the concept is a serious one.

More than 60 years ago the idea was proposed in Bridge World by Felix Vondracek that when faced with a choice of trump suits, it might work better to play in the weaker not the stronger fit. The logic is that if you have sure losers whichever suit you play in, you may retain control by leaving the opponents with the master trumps. By contrast, playing the stronger suit may compel you to draw more rounds of trump.

On the auction shown, South finished up in four hearts when North thought it was just possible that South had 5-6 in the majors, and that otherwise it would be a pure guess as to which major might play better.

As you can see, four spades gets forced on repeated club leads, when the 4-1 heart break makes it impossible to set up the side suit. Not that four hearts was easy to make either, but South ruffed the opening club lead and guessed well to play three rounds of spades before tackling trump.

West ruffed the third spade and played a second club, which South ruffed, in order to cash the heart ace and lead winning spades. West ruffed in, drew one more round of trump, then played a third club. However declarer could ruff, pitch a diamond from dummy on the master spade, and cross-ruff the rest.

Your partner’s combination of cuebid and heart call are forcing. With a hand worth no more than an invitation, he would have jumped to three hearts at his second turn. So you must bid, and the choice is to raise to four hearts or bid four clubs. I can’t say I like the raise with a singleton, but I’d like to make the most discouraging noise I can, and this is it.


♠ 8 5 4
 Q J 8 3 2
♣ A 10 8 4
South West North East
    1 1 ♠
Dbl. Pass 2 ♠ 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 ClimieJuly 25th, 2017 at 11:32 am

Hi Bobby,

I’ve seen the principle before, on hands like AKQJ10 J1098x Ax x opposite xxx xxx Kxxx Axx on repeated club leads when 4H is OK but 4S isn’t. What happens today is West doesn’t ruff the third spade, though, particularly if East held a singleton K, Q, 10 or 9 rather than the 5? I suspect at the table I’d have just ducked an early heart and hoped for hearts to be 3-2 but the roof caves in then.

On BWTA, I wondered about 3S but partner might get over-excited and (hopefully) will just have bid 3NT over 3D anyway with something like 6 (or even 7) running hearts and SAx or Kx. The opponent’s failure to raise spades (or to double 2S) does suggest he has something in the suit.



A V Ramana RaoJuly 25th, 2017 at 12:33 pm

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
Bridge, lik life is full of ironies

bobby wolffJuly 25th, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, with bridge careers has long as both of ours, we have seen most everything, including, when faced with playing not too long but equal length suits as trump, and when ruffing is necessary, it is often worth a key extra trick to be able to do so with smaller cards, saving outside high card winners to not be required to take on double duty of having to also take on the responsibility of drawing the opponent’s fangs.

Concerning the BWTA, perhaps South might (after first chirping 3 diamonds) hold s. Qxx, h. x, d. J10xxx, AJxx and then rebid 3NT allowing positional advantage of forcing the spade bidder to lead up to rather than allowing partner to lead through and catching one’s OX (but a good looking one) with: s. Ax, h. KQJ109x, d. Qx, c. KQx.

Proving first that bridge bidding is very much a partnership exercise and most important, “certain ladies, (here in spades) are indeed, not tramps”, but instead, game savers, but only if allowed to be in an advantageous position.

bobby wolffJuly 25th, 2017 at 4:44 pm


Yes, you nailed the essence of our sensational game with your comment.

A combination of touch, visualization, talent and togetherness which, as you casually explained, mirrors life’s ironies.

“Don’t leave home without it”.

PeteJuly 25th, 2017 at 4:59 pm

Hi Bobby,
Could you please give your opinion on upside down attitude and count. I have played ‘standard’ for many years and am not really comfortable with upside down. One partner wishes to play upside down attitude, but standard count. Is this playable? What would you do with a doubleton in this case? Attitude would say to play low, but count would say to play high. Thanks for your insight.

bobby wolffJuly 25th, 2017 at 5:52 pm

Hi Pete,

One of the difficulties in discussing bridge is that the game itself lends itself to many stages of learning.

This enigma can and will be overcome as it has been in now eleven different European countries together with all of China (with its 200 million primary and secondary school children) where it is being taught in schools with accompanying rave notices from students, teachers and believe it or not, parents.

Meanwhile those of us in the Western Hemisphere, unless the ACBL gets to work by influencing our Eduicational leaders to follow suit by taking our cue from the above and installing our beautiful game which teaches, problem solving, everyday realistic logic, partnership communications via code language (bidding), life’s ethics via our game, all forms of numeracy, legal deception, and perhaps life’s feature, competitiveness and effort to succeed.

Without the above it is only a question of years (and sadly, not too many) before bridge will basically die out here, if for no other reason than not enough exposure. relegating our side of the world to has been status. BTW the results of bridge world competition is already beginning to suggest the future.

Sorry for the above digression and now to your specific questions.

1. There are positives and negatives with as you say “standard” and “upside down” attitude and count signals making them close to a “toss up” as to which to choose. One may waste a high card to encourage, but at the same time many think that is more than balanced by the other being easier to read.

2. However the choice of what to do will and should never cause a partnership not to agree with one or the other, since ASAIK there is so little difference between the two rival methods, allowing whatever is chosen to be OK. PS, I slightly prefer standard, but possibly because that is what I have played for so many years.

3. Yes, whatever combination selected works well enough, but forgetting or being unsure (as in different partnerships) is catastrophic.

4. Now to the chase, as to when to signal count and when to signal attitude: Sophistication, developed when a player gleans enough experience (never overnight, but arriving faster with a partner serious enough
to, together with you, make genuine efforts to improve ones play) the signal needs to be given which mostly will be what partner wants to know (bridge common sense developed over time). Normally the first signal will be attitude first, unless it is obvious (or almost) that count should take priority.

BTW, because of the above and accenting the necessity for a wannabe excellent partnership to stay on the “up” elevator I believe (but am not sure) that original standard signals make this transition easier than would upside down.

My above description may scare some off, but that is not my intent, but rather only to warn all who are interested, of early difficulties in making necessary adjustments which eventually will have to be faced, sometimes better early than late.

Furthermore coordinating proper legal signalling with the probability of sometimes causing unauthorized information to occur is just one of the poisoned flowers which will have to be dealt with. Think pure, be solid bridge citizens, and let your own positive characters shine through.

Good luck!

jim2July 25th, 2017 at 7:21 pm

On BWTA, I simply cannot bring myself to raise on a spot singleton here.

Thus, I would pass unless pard’s cuebid set up an absolute game force, rather than a one-round force. If absolutely forced, I would bid 4C. It has the merits of NOT supporting hearts and bidding something I actually have.

PeteJuly 25th, 2017 at 8:22 pm

Hi Bobby,
Thank you for your answer on standard versus upside down signals. Here’s another theoretical question on something that galls me. I play 2 over 1 with several partners who all like ‘constructive raises’. You also mentioned recently that constructive raises go along with 2 over 1. I think constructive raises would be great if opponents always kept quit. Raising from 1M to 2M immediately seems more likely to make it harder for the opponents to bid. And what happens if the bidding goes 1S P 1N 2D P 3D ?. It seems to me that bidding 3S now overstates the value of your hand, but if you pass partner will never know about your fit. I guess I believe in the old saying ‘With support, show support’. Thanks again for your insight.

bobby wolffJuly 25th, 2017 at 8:27 pm

Hi Jim2,

Please visualize holding s. Ax, h. KQJ109x, d. Kx, c. KQx and having the bidding go 1H by you, 1S by LHO and a negative double by partner.

At least to me, there are only 2 contracts to seek, 4 hearts or 3NT with slam much too remote but both 4 hearts and 3NT still in the picture. Therefpre, I think that system then provides 2 spades to be the beginning of a game force so that when next you bid 3 hearts your partner, depending on his hand will either select 3NT or 4 hearts. Of course if he bids 4 of a minor instead you would then be locked in to the inevitable 4 hearts.

With my earlier discussion with Pete this subject then comes up, but only indirectly since at least to me, 2 spades by the opening bidder is an unequivocal GF.

The above makes sense to me and I believe is the standard way of show this good a hand. With one trick less (say the queen of diamonds instead of the king) then just an immediate jump to 3 hearts without the cue bid would get me to pass with the other hand in a NY second.

Let me know if you disagree, but if you do, that treatment should adequately cover the waterfront.

With a different treatment I have no opinion between 4 clubs (your choice) except to say that the negative doubler’s hand is so weak,
I think it more prudent to just bid 4 hearts and not have my partner consider a minor suit game. However you may have nailed the right bid if partner has an entirely different hand, even 5-5 in the minors and perhaps a void in hearts to boot I would then bid 4 clubs since that suit could still be in the ballpark, but, at least to me, while it might be, my bet is negative and that partner has good enough hearts to cope with my actual hand for what I chose to bid.

Whatever, this hand contributes an excellent discussion for what high level bidding judgment should be about.

bobby wolffJuly 25th, 2017 at 9:49 pm

Hi Pete,

Your deft questions, while difficult to almost impossible to give confident correct answers, does, in fact allow a pseudo intellectual bright
bridge devotee to receive great joy for merely presenting those inconsistencies to anyone who may have the credentials for others to follow.

I do not ever remember being one who suggested a 2 over 1 system allowing a constructive raise, by hiding a weak raise to go through the 1NT first routine.

No doubt your keen mind has enabled the very weak spot which defeats the ability to differentiate that somewhat common occasion.

IOWs I will raise to two of partner’s major with a range of 5-poor 10 e.g s. QJx, h. xxx, d. KJxx. c. QJx (exaggerated but on point). However, and although having always thought that a 4 card major system with a forcing club (similar to Blue team, a somewhat disgraceful moniker), to be the most effective system, and prefer when playing America’s favorite tournament system (2 over 1 with 1NT forcing) to play a 1NT response to 1 of a major only, “intended forcing” (up to 12 hcps), but not 100% forcing.

That glitch then will demand a limit raise with only 3 of the subject major, with examples to a 1H opening being: s. Axx, h. Jxx, d. AJxxx, c. xx or, s. x, h. Qxx, d. Kxx, c. KJxxxx, or even, s. xxxx, h. xxx, d. AKJxx, c. Q.

In effect, many bridge writers, not really honest bridge theorists, will overlook your specific problem in order to recommend an inconsistent method which will not and does not, stand up to necessary scrutiny.

Not then to be totally surprised for those charlatans to not be, as a group, on top of the list of those who consistently practice active ethics.

Nothing really horrible, but aspiring bridge enthusiasts with more than normal talent for the game, would be better off to blaze their own trails, not paying too much homage to those who preach without any or, for that matter, enough evidence, to gain attention.