Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order the continuous thread of revelation.

Eudora Welty

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

*natural and forcing


In today’s deal North’s bidding indicates a moderately strong hand with shortness in hearts. Any player who can bid two suits and raise a third clearly rates to be relatively short in the fourth. There is an argument that his strength is limited by the fact that he did no more than raise three clubs to four. There again, what else could North do if he wasn’t going to jump to game or use Blackwood?

In any event, South cuebids four hearts, then jumps to slam when North cuebids four spades at his next turn. The four spade bid promises a diamond control, since South has denied one by bypassing that suit at his previous turn.

The auction directs West to a diamond lead, and South can see that he will have no problem if clubs break. He takes the diamond ace to draw trump, but when he cashes the top clubs he finds West with a trump trick. Therefore he must try to discard dummy’s losing diamonds on his own hearts before West can ruff in and cash a diamond.

South starts with the three top hearts, pitching diamonds from dummy. West must follow suit to three rounds of hearts and can discard a spade on the fourth. South ruffs in dummy, plays the spade ace and ruffs a spade, then discards dummy’s last diamond on the fifth heart.

West’s ruff comes just too late to defeat the contract. Declarer can trump his losing diamond in dummy for his 12th trick.

As someone who frequently espouses the virtues of fourth suit as an artificial rather than natural call, I’m pleased to tell you that on this occasion the fourth suit is natural and non-forcing. (For the record, though, had you opened one club, using two diamonds here would be strong and artificial.) This is one of the good reasons for opening one diamond with this shape.


♠ A 7 6 2
 A J 6 3
♣ K 9 7 3
South West North East
1 Pass 1 Pass
1 ♠ Pass 1 NT 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


Michael BeyroutiOctober 11th, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Dear Mr Wolff,
I am sorry if I am about to hijack your blog.
Re: BWTA, let’s change opener’s hand by interchanging hearts and spades:
And let’s have the response be 1S. Then we have:
where responder returns to 2D. Easy enough, but let’s now increase the strength of opener’s hand to 16 HCP:
After 1D__1S, opener is not strong enough for a 2H rebid (a reverse) and too strong for a 1NT rebid which would show 12-14 HCP. So the auction goes:
Why 2H? Because opener has a bit more than what he has shown so far by opening 1D and making a 2C rebid. He allows himself to take one more step forward to complete the description of his hand.
Shouldn’t a responder with 9 HCP bid 3NT instead of 2 since opener has shown extras? Can opener go to 3NT after 2NT?
I am referring your readers, those who are ACBL members and receive the Bulletin, to Bidding Box Problem No 5, January 2003. Responder’s hand, with a slight modification, was:
The two pairs of competitors for that Bidding Box challenge were:
Pair 1: Mr and Mrs Cappelletti Jr, playing 2/1, and
Pair 2: Mr and Mrs Berkowitz, playing one of the many variations of Precision.

The article mentions that these two are formidable pairs on the circuit of mixed pairs tournaments. Yes indeed, they’re quite well known and their accomplishments are quite great. I respect them and admire them. However, the tools at their disposal [that is whatever system they (we) use] are not adequate and cannot handle the difficult problems selected for the Bidding Box…

Pair 1 reached 2NT according to the auction shown above.
Pair 2 started with a Precision 1C opening and reached 3NT.

Using my system, the auction is:
The 1C opening, artificial, shows an unbalanced hand in the range 15-17 HCP. The 1S response is natural. The 1NT rebid is surprising since he didn’t open 1NT. It shows a 4441 shape with a singleton in responder’s major. It is descriptive, it is not necessarily the final contract. Responder is now well informed about opener’s strength and shape and he can place the contract.

The scores: 3D = 10, 4D = 7, 2NT = 5, 3NT = 2.
Pair 1: 5, Pair 2: 2, my system: 10.

For those who are interested in knowing more about my system, it can be found at:

jim2October 11th, 2017 at 2:25 pm

I would note that, as a personal coincidence, I am visiting Jackson, MS as I read this column today.

Iain ClimieOctober 11th, 2017 at 3:27 pm

Hi Michael,

No marks for playing in a heart part-score? Old-fashioned Acol playing 4 card majors might have started with the suit below the singleton so 1H – 1S – 2C – 2H would be a possibility although East might bid 3H. Not the world’s worst spot, though.



bobby wolffOctober 11th, 2017 at 4:16 pm

Hi Michael,

First, thanks for presenting the hands which showed, to advantage, your thoughts on partnership bidding.

Of course, as viewed, and while sometimes wrestling with unusual bidding choices (contrived by the source to difficulty) let me present, as an example, two possible holdings by the original responder to your theme.

1. s. A9853, h. K984, d. 1092, c. Q and hearing the bidding by partner with: s. 6, h. A762, d. AJ63, c. K973 go identically to what you suggest: 1D, P, 1S, P, 2C, P 2D, all pass as opposed to 1D, P, 1S, P, 1NT, P, 2H, all pass.

Obviously hearts are a better contract, with even plays for game, but particularly at matchpoints it may become critical to play this hand at hearts instead of diamonds, in order to score perhaps a 1/2 board higher in results.

Of course, with: s. 6, h. AQ62, d. AQ63, c. KJ63 opposite the responder above the hand becomes a high percentage game in hearts, arrived at by most all methods except perhaps a non-Precision Club player who opted for a one diamond opener but did pass, once partner showed a mere preference for 2 diamonds over his partner’s 2 club rebid.

What I am trying to say is that the construction of bidding systems has many “trying” moments, some which fit certain hands and others which do not. Of course, bidding contests from time immemorial, have tried to exploit this weakness or another, as mostly entertainment concerning whether or not that specific system is, as you say, able to handle the slightly different responses (both as to strain and to eventual level).

All any architect of bridge bidding can do is to try to handle the most frequent hand distributions which arise, together with the various strengths, and even after a full 90 years (since 1927) of being exposed to our great game of contract bridge, there seems to be both successful and not so, ways to handle this problem or that.

However, by merely getting involved with the necessary thinking, you are doing a great service to you and your partners, exposing them to back and forth discussion, since most even just fairly talented players, who have played for considerable years, have little idea of just what is involved in the way of wicked witches, poisoned flowers, or the other extreme of, no problem, a clear path to another great contract, smartly reached.

However, never forget, there is not a bidding system developed, even ones played by the world’s best partnerships, which cover all the contingencies thus alluding to the inalienable fact of, it is not you nor me, who is in control, only the game itself, and both of us and all other bridge lovers, become only messengers to our game, not close to being fully in charge.

bobby wolffOctober 11th, 2017 at 4:27 pm

Hi Jim2,

Welcome to Jackson, MS, believe it or not, once, and long ago, the home of a Spring Bridge National, one I wanted to attend, but alas, I was not able to. Your post also reminded me of one of its former best bridge players, the late Mr. Fred Berger, a typical Southern lawyer, who was, at that time 60+ years ago, such an enthusiastic player, who also had a great sense of humor and was very entertaining to be around.

No doubt, being a bridge lover will introduce a large number of different type personalities, never to be forgotten, and never an inclination to want to.

bobby wolffOctober 11th, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for reminding me of 4 card majors, my favorite all time method. At least to me, the right way to play, which I did for at least 3/4s of my playing days, presenting those players the ability to arrive at a major suit game with the first two affirmative bids made by their side and often leaving their opponents feeling hit by a truck.

It is not always how well a pair plays itself, but rather what that pair does to hinder and thus benefit from the pressure which is transferred to their opponents time at bat.

Never underestimate the benefit of early arrival to a partnership’s best contract. Also, in addition to creating bidding problems for their worthy opponents, they also have a more difficult time with both their opening leads and with their planned overall defense.

Rarely discussed by 5 card major addicts, who seem to be much more comfortable with that knowledge, but in practice, sometimes wonder why they do not get better scores and often blame it on their opponents who seem to play better against them than they do against the winners.

Iain ClimieOctober 11th, 2017 at 5:01 pm

Hi Bobby,

Ironically the trend nowadays in the UK is for stronger players to go back towards 5 card majors. Fashions come and go.



bobby wolffOctober 11th, 2017 at 5:45 pm

Hi Iain,

The world itself has embraced comfort. Daring has seemed to lose its appeal, and what I espouse above is probably just based on myth, at least by those bridge scientists who have prevailed. No doubt 5 card majors has a better feel during many auctions, but the critical question of what is most effective, while almost impossible to prove (either way) has, at least at this moment in time, if for no other reason, cannot accurately calibrate the damage to the opponents which 4 card majors accomplish.

And after all, when you say fashions come and go, you are dead right about apparel. but should looks enter into bridge judgment?

JRGOctober 12th, 2017 at 1:13 am

I still remember playing Acol with a 13-15 NT and 4-card majors. I have often thought of asking a partner to try that again with me. I succumbed to playing 5-card majors because I was told that playing 4-card majors, while superior, required greater bridge judgement.

My bridge judgement might not have improved a lot over the years, but I’m fairly confident it has improved. What I miss is the the straightforwardness of the bidding system. I may do a bit of research to find out what a modern Acol-like 4-card majors system looks like.

jim2October 12th, 2017 at 1:18 am

By the way, I have driven past it several times today on my errands.

Iain ClimieOctober 12th, 2017 at 9:47 am


The English Bridge Union has a definition of modern Acol on its website somewhere ( I couldn’t track it down easily but it may repay a search or you could contact them.



bobby wolffOctober 12th, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Hi JRG & Iain,

With likely some backlash from the younger, more sure-of-themselves newer experts, Acol had, and I think still has, much to recommend it.

Because of its 4 card major accent, it was almost by definition a more difficult system to play against, since big-time fits can be earlier established (4 card suits occur more often than do longer ones) making constructive defensive bidding less likely to get an early start.

Also when those fits became established, the bidding suggested lesser information to their worthy opponents, making both the opening lead and even the earlier overall defense more problematical.

Since it has been some time since Acol was in its heyday and the great English players who espoused it long gone, sadly, it has more or less faded from memory. Of course, since then constructive bidding has added much to their original style and likely has passed Acol in general effectiveness, but no one who views tradition and history as valuable should lose sight of its place in world bridge development.

Skippy Simon, Harrison Gray, Victor Mollo (though originally Russian), Tony Priday and John Brown are just a few of the great English names to come to mind, with the still controversial Terence Reese a mixed subject for both off-the-charts magnificence, but no doubt also grotesque with his past reputation.

And even on the feminine side Rixi Markus (born in Romania) and Fritzi Gordon (born in Austria) as well as the still alive and kicking (and still winning) Nicola Smith, and add Sally Brock, worthy to mention of pioneering English bridge (and with it, ACOL) to an exalted level.

Please excuse my leaving out many others who may belong on this list as worthy of also being directly connected to English bridge history.

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