Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, September 29th, 2017

O but we dreamed to mend Whatever mischief seemed To afflict mankind.

W. B. Yeats

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


After today’s deal South must have felt not only that he had earned 14 IMPs for his side, but that he had scored a palpable hit on his opponent. While the defenders often have to disguise their holdings, an excellent declarer can participate in the game of bluff and double-bluff.

In the qualifying rounds of the 1989 Bermuda Bowl France played Chinese Taipei, and Patrick Huang as South declared six no-trump. On Christian Mari’s club lead, Huang won in hand and led a spade to the queen, then took five rounds of diamonds. Mari’s first discard was a low heart, then a low spade. Now Huang cashed his four clubs, on the last of which Mari threw the spade jack. With one spade and two hearts in each hand, Huang had reduced to an ending known as a strip-squeeze, where he had forced West, with a tenace in one suit, hearts, and winners in another, spades, to weaken his holding fatally in one of those suits. All declarer had to do was guess which.

Huang could have exited with a spade, hoping Mari would be left with two hearts and the spade ace, and would have to concede the rest to him. Or he could have taken the heart finesse, which would have turned out even worse. Instead, he decided that Mari’s discards were what a very good player would do if he could see he was going to have to bare his heart king sooner or later. So he played a heart to the ace.

Very nicely done by both sides.

We haven’t discussed ‘inverted minors’ for a while. Here a raise to two diamonds by an unpassed hand in a noncompetitive auction is natural and forcing for at least one round. Unless either player limits their hand with a re-raise to three diamonds, or with a call of two no-trump, the auction becomes game forcing. This is surely the best way to explore for a possible slam.


♠ Q 5
 Q J
 A Q 10 8 3
♣ A J 8 4
South West North East
    1 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


Mircea1October 13th, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Hi Bobby,

Is “fourth best from the longest and strongest suit” still the best lead against slams in no trump? Here, it leads to the same result and the same guess for the declarer. Nice hand.

Bobby WolffOctober 13th, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Hi Mircea1,

First, no. 4th best leads vs. slams in NT are not necessarily the best leads against NT slams, unless the lead perhaps is a sequence, J109xx, or 1098xx, as well as possibly xxxxx, but the idea, especially vs. NT is not to establish tricks like it should be vs. only game, but to not give the crucial 12th trick away against their aggressive slam.

And, of course, even with the examples above the highest card from those sequences is fairly standard unless the opening leader possesses shorter important cards, such as isolated kings and/or queens (even an ace) trying to play with the declarer’s mind so that the defense will prevail. Keep in mind that if such cards are all held by one defender, partner figures to be high card less and will only know what length to hold onto as the hand develops.

On today’s hand, both Patrick and Christian have been close friends of mine for perhaps close to 50 years and are not only “nice gentlemen” but absolutely great, top bridge players (Patrick from Taiwan and Christian from France).

Today’s hand involves itself only with psychology, little to do with technique, except both “key” players, West and South virtually are 100% sure from the beginning that the contract will be determined by whether declarer takes the heart finesse, plays for the end play or makes, as here, the winning gambit of playing for West to have unprotected his king of hearts and thus “correctly guessing the ending”.

Therefore the battle lines are clearly drawn, with Christian baring his heart king early, in order to not give away (by a telling hesitation), its location, but Patrick, knowing what a great player his LHO is, guessed what he had done.

Such is life at those bridge heights, forever let it wave, since, at least to me, it is awe inspiring and what our truly beautiful and difficult game is all about, especially when played at the top and against each other.

My fervent hope is that this type of highest-level bridge is not on its way to extinction where I live in the USA and future generations will, at the very least, have an opportunity to become as good as both of today’s heroes, which can only occur, IMO, if great efforts are made by our top leaders and organizers.

Because of my age, I can offer only verbal assistance in hopes of achieving keeping our highest-level game from dying out in the next few decades to come, at least in the USA where bridge is not now being taught in our schools for credit where it is being done in both Asia and Europe and on a large scale.

ClarksburgOctober 13th, 2017 at 3:08 pm

These auctions following a 1m opening, which start out as, or become, GF seem to spawn some questions (for this meandering Intermediate at least!!) about the continuations.
Is it understood that it will no doubt play in the suit, or is exploring for 3NT still ON ?
If there can be some exploration, say for a secondary fit, what’s a good agreement as to at what level should unambiguous “control bidding” commence?

Bobby WolffOctober 13th, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

3NT is always in the mix, especially when the fit is in a minor. My guess is that when inverted minors are used (and they are getting more popular, at least by the high-level set) 3NT is still the most popular contract.

Unlike after a major suit opening, when a minor suit fit is established, except in very rare cases, when the minor suit opener also possesses a 5 card major (and eventually finds an 8 card major suit fit by rebidding it), the final contract 99+% results in either that suit or NT the final contract.

Therefore the early bidding usually becomes an exploration for game in the minor or NT (with earlier bids of other suits by either partner usually showing stoppers or if 3NT is passed by, slam tries in the minor with those earlier bids, controls, (for example, not QJx) but at least the ace or perhaps also the king.

However, as the BWTA suggests, bids of 2NT or an immediate return to 3 of the minor, limits that bidder to not a GF and can be passed.

With the above as a general outline, after adopting inverted minors (but not GF) even a new partnership should not have trouble with level. However I am not a great fan of adopting inverted minors unless much practice is available for that partnership since sometimes confusion reigns between suggesting NT and/or slam tries. Another danger is that (sometimes depending on the vulnerability) an immediate jump to 3 of the minor (weakness but supposed to be at least five), can and does often catch opener with a poor holding in his opened minor and subjects that partnership to down 200 in a non-competitive auction.

However, no doubt inverted minors saves more room for slam exploration, once a fit is established at the two level, but on an overall basis (especially taking into consideration that much information is passed on to the worthy opponents, almost always getting the right lead from and for them and also later defense) sometimes as in war, “loose lips sink ships” allowing an old time bash (6 of a minor jump) to have a better chance to make, always the primary goal, and for that subject, also the secondary!

Another thing to consider. suppose one is dealt: s. xx, h.xx, d. xxxxx, c. AQ10x and hear your partner open 1 club and have RHO pass.

Would you feel comfortable jumping to 3 clubs instead of an old-fashioned simple raise to 2?

Hoping the above answers your questions without too much confusion as to now either install or not, inverted minors, into your partnership repertoire.

Mircea1October 13th, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Thanks for your explanation, Bobby. I totally get it that this was psychological game played by two top players who knew what the other is capable of.

But what if the hand was played against unknown opponents and/or at a less prestigious event, or even at the local club? Is the strip squeeze still the percentage play, or is it better to take the heart finesse? If my logic is correct, taking the finesse is better as it depends solely on the location of the HK, whereas the strip squeeze has the additional condition for the SA to be with the LHO. Am I right?

Iain ClimieOctober 13th, 2017 at 6:05 pm

Hi Mircea1,

If the spade to the queen loses to the Ace then a heart will probably come back and you need the finesse, either now or later. If West holds the SA, though, then you have an extra chance and will probably be able to judge from agonised wriggling on your left (at lower levels) whether West is being put through te mangle. You are never any worse off than if you just relied on the heart finesse.



Bobby WolffOctober 13th, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Yes, and those players, playing for so long and both being every bit of world class, likely had played as many as hundreds of boards against each other with Patrick being far and away the best player ever for Taiwan and Christian being of more or less equal talent (and for the record, both of them always continuously actively ethical).

The psychology was ever present since this hand involved itself entirely with making the heart discard (baring his king) at the earliest opportunity (by knowing after the spade play toward the queen, of course, necessarily ducked by West).

Both of our heroes will file this away till next time they meet (problematic since no one involved is still a Spring Chicken) and then double cross or double, double cross will fill the air. Just another positive adventure always likely to occur when two bridge icons clash.

If playing among average players, it is dollars to doughnuts that West would discard down to AJ of spades and Kx one of hearts before he would be forced to now choose as declarer played his last good card. He then would probably throw the jack of spades, setting himself up as a pigeon with declarer knowing exactly what he was holding. Then the end play, forcing West to lead away from his Kx of hearts.

It needs to be now noted that if West had two little hearts instead of Kx and became dramatic as to what to discard and then threw a little heart, that would be PATENTLY UNETHICAL and ruled against as such. The grounds would be that he did so, entirely to unethically create an atmosphere designed to ILLEGALLY influence the declarer, a serious bridge crime which would and should establish that player as a bridge crook in the making!

I apologize for the strong feelings shown, but I have intentionally emphasized them so that all the readers will easily understand, first the gravity of correct ethics and what their moral obligations are to the game itself.

If West discarded down to AJ of spades and xx in hearts and then immediately discarded a heart, when declarer played his tenth winning card, that would be totally ethical with nothing ever being said. However any dramatic discard should and would be penalized severely, assuming, of course, that a small heart from two small ones is not a card which is necessary to hold.

Finally the above should serve as the answer to your question about playing this hand in a far less important venue than a very important tournament. It is better to play it like Patrick did and then guess, by your LHO’s table action, what to do at trick eleven.

Is bridge a great game or what?

Mircea1October 13th, 2017 at 6:27 pm

So if West hesitates significantly and then turns out with two small hearts, do you just call the director at the end of the play and claim the damage or is it better to first agree with the other players at the table that there was a significant hesitation right when it happens so that they cannot deny it during the director’s inquiry?

How ethical is it to take the opponent’s (or declarer’s) hesitation into consideration?

Bobby WolffOctober 13th, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Hi Miircea1,

Second question, first.

It is 100% ethical for either the declarer and/or the defense to take unwarranted hesitations, eg. no material bridge reason for one, and thus, to base one’s actions on that answer.

Of course, there are some “stock” answers for same, such as, “I was thinking about the entire
hand, not just this play”. If a reasonable statement, then back to being legal.

The 100% reason for that rule about ethics is that bridge, as we know it, and particularly the high-level kind cannot function on anything less than the above. If we would, bridge would then take on all kinds of problems, making it no advantage for those who both had quicker minds and little desire for chicanery to decide who wins.

There is no place for what is called unethical conduct, especially for players who love the game, to include any phony baloney behavioral problems for those who have larceny in their hearts.

Patrick CheuOctober 13th, 2017 at 10:23 pm

Hi Bobby,I have missed your comment on my post on October 7 column,many thanks again for your reply.Sorry to drag the hand up again-you commented that you prefer to double on 12 count count opp a weak NT after opps overcalled 2H for take-out if no are you saying after a 2H or 2S overcall it’s better not to adopt Lebensol based on your experience? regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffOctober 13th, 2017 at 11:52 pm

Hi Patrick,

Not exactly. If Lebensohl is played then I prefer to only play it over a 2H or 2S overcall, but against all other competition 2NT by the partner of the weak NTer is just competitive and not invitational.

If the partner of the NTer doubles it is also for TO, but tends to be short in the opponent’s suit and possibly a better hand. Many hands tend to get fiercely competitive and a winning player is always looking for reasons to bid, even at times choosing to bid over the opponent’s overcall with a 4 card suit. With s. AJ9x, h, Kxx, d. x, c. Jxxxx and having your RHO overcall 2 hearts, I would merely bid 2 spades and await developments.

Not science, is certainly not guaranteed, but IMO a winning philosophy.

Patrick CheuOctober 14th, 2017 at 5:38 am

Hi Bobby,Had the auction gone as you envisaged-1N (2H) DBL P~2N(say) p 3S-would that just show four spades GF and no heart stop? Should he bid 3S on that 12 count?

Bobby WolffOctober 14th, 2017 at 3:35 pm

Hi Patrick,

No, since the NTer has denied 4 spades by his 2NT response to your dbl., it would then be wrong to bid 3 spades with less than 5. Therefore the bid of 3 spades should be regarded as too strong for only 2 spades (but not GF, which would only be competitive and not seek a raise), allowing partner to bid again with a maximum.

Although the above is what could be called general bridge logic, it must be clear in both partner’s minds as to the difference in values.

However this area is not scientific (no way to make it more exact) and only relies on the individual to make his own choice. My advice is to be as consistent as possible so that your partner is now more likely to mesh with you, but in case of a close decision, decide it in favor of bidding, so then when that person’s partner, give him leeway and do not “nail” him for competing, simply pass and not then bid game, unless you think you have enough extra.

To repeat, in case it is unclear, the NTer should, when responding to partner’s TO dbl, always show priority to bidding the other major suit (if holding 4 of them).