Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, October 13th, 2017

Government and co-operation are in all things the laws of life; anarchy and competition the laws of death.

John Ruskin

N North
Both ♠ A 7 3 2
 J 8 4
 A 9 7 4
♣ K 4
West East
♠ Q J 10 5 4
 K Q 6
♣ J 9 7 3
♠ K 9 8
 7 6 2
 10 3 2
♣ 10 8 6 2
♠ 6
 A K Q 10 5 3
 J 8 5
♣ A Q 5
South West North East
    1 Pass
1 1 ♠ Dbl.* Pass
3 ♠ Pass 4 ♣ Pass
4 NT Pass 5 Pass
6 All pass    

*three hearts


The decision as to when to use Blackwood requires judgment, but the responses are relatively hard to mess up. By contrast, a cuebidding auction requires judgment from both sides of the table, so both players need to be in harmony.

Today’s deal shows cuebidding resulting in an almost hopeless contract. When South showed slam interest and short spades, North cooperated by showing his club control. Now South drove to slam, hoping that he would buy a subsidiary diamond honor in dummy.

Can you see what meager chance South was able to exploit to bring home his slam? Declarer won the spade queen with dummy’s ace and ruffed a spade, then crossed to the club king and ruffed another spade, bringing down the king. Now he cashed his clubs to discard dummy’s spade loser, and played the heart ace, collecting West’s nine.

Had trumps turned out to be 2-2, declarer might next have played ace and another diamond, trying to endplay West. But the fall of the heart nine allowed declarer to cross to the heart eight and then to reconstruct West’s hand. Since that player had turned up with one trump, he was far more likely to have three diamonds than two, because he had not made a Michaels cuebid. So South led a low diamond from dummy, covering East’s card. That forced West to win one of his honors, after which he was endplayed to return a diamond round to South’s jack, or concede a ruff and discard for the 12th trick.

It would be simple to drive to four spades at once, but if partner has raised with three trumps, this might be premature. Your hand may be a little too good for a non-forcing call of two no-trump (though some play this as a forcing enquiry about shape and range — in which case it would be perfect). But to my mind your absence of intermediates makes the two no-trump call your most accurate way forward.


♠ A 7 3 2
 J 8 4
 A 9 7 4
♣ K 4
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♣ Pass
1 ♠ Pass 2 ♠ Pass

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieOctober 27th, 2017 at 3:04 pm

HI Bobby,

Well played in a rather filthy slam by a rather fortunate South but how much of the problem is caused by the support double here? With North’s modest support for hearts and minimum hand I would consider passing and then South doesn’t get over-excited. I know support doubles are very fashionable but the inability to distinguish between hand strengths early on does seem to be a flaw.

If not playing support doubles, North’s choices seem to be 2H, 1N or pass with the first possibly most attractive. Any thoughts on the pros and cons of the convention, though?



David WarheitOctober 27th, 2017 at 8:22 pm

Iain: good question, but you make one misstatement: N doesn’t have a minimum opening bid, he has a subminimum opening bid. He has only 2½ quick tricks and 8 losers. He thus needs, in my strong opinion, either ½ quick trick more or one loser less to open. If he passes, I see no way he and his partner would get to any contract other than 4H. Note the difference if N had the same distribution but the DK instead of the CK (i.e. now holding 3 quick tricks and a mandatory opener). 6H now makes if either the C finesse works or if the DQ is doubleton.

bobbywolffOctober 28th, 2017 at 12:12 am

Hi Iain & David,

Even if I somehow thought I could pull rank on either one of you, which I do not, the essence of this discussion, at least to me, has little to do with the specific match-up of cards, but rather just a concept of whether it is right or wrong to open North’s hand.

Even though I think David is closer to right than wrong, believing, probably as all three of us do, that Culbertson’s valuation (honor count) is less commercial and thus more accurate than Goren’s might be close to unanimous. No doubt a together AK is usually (and by a significant margin) worth more than an isolated ace and king. Togetherness of honors is simply more likely to add up to more tricks than ones who are separate.

However, there are other factors such as how distributions match-up (with a mirror distribution the worst, both while playing a suit contract, or for that matter, notrump). However, while during the bidding it is rare that the dreaded mirror can be predetermined, although when it does, that would be the lucky time for that partnership to have bid it conservatively.

To deny that difficulty is not recommended, and although I cannot in any logical way prove it, I do recommend opening one diamond, with today’s North hand since there are two aces and one king and the hand is not completely balanced.

Now to get to something I do feel strongly about and that is a veto of the “support double”. To me, when one is made and the initial major suit responder goes back to the opener’s minor, it creates a blue print to their opponents when each of them have three of that suit, since they now both know it, and thus, except in rare competitive cases, will only lionize their judgment (be careful about bidding too much).

IOW, taking advantage of their opponent’s system, is a healthy sign for any partnership able to do it, since first of all playing 4-3 fits, although often not known until the dummy comes down, is not so difficult to declare (as some may preach or write), and certainly not worth the undeniable advantage it gives their opponents.

No doubt, David, you present a good case for not opening and granted this poor 6 hearts should not be reached, but I would not attribute arriving there solely to whether or not the North hand elects to positively open or not.

More could be said, but in order to cover this subject and its satellites, probably is worth a whole chapter in a thick book.

Thanks for listening.

David WarheitOctober 28th, 2017 at 6:51 am

You say that you “would not attribute arriving” at 6H “solely to whether or not the North hand elects to open or not”. While of course it is true that NS by no means must reach 6H after N opens the bidding, I think that it is 100% that if N DOESN’T open the bidding, there is no way that they would reach that contract.

bobbywolffOctober 28th, 2017 at 11:22 am

Hi David,

While not at all questioning your intentions, nor bridge knowledge or acumen, you probably do not fully remember (because of your younger age), the halcyon days of the late, great and downright fearsome ego of Al Roth after he had become the chief architect for the then very popular Roth-Stone bridge system.

It featured very strong opening one bids, sometimes refusing to open 14 pointers (if rigidly balanced), but relied on so-called “feel” of the table to always be “at the ready” to slide into the auction after the opponents had a “free’ ride for the first one or two rounds.

His famous quote, in those much earlier “famous years” in the mid 20th century suggested about himself: “When I pass originally, the opponents, even very goods ones, are known to tremble”.

However, even disregarding his influence, suppose North does pass and then after South opens 1 heart and then gets a “Drury” response of 2 clubs (showing at least three hearts and 10+ hcps, but then is greeted with a robust and immediate 4 hearts which most South’s would venture, then inviting North to, at least consider, cue bidding 4 spades because of his solid values, not being 4-3-3-3, and his “near opening bid”. Then, might not South cue bid 5 clubs followed by 5 diamonds from partner.

Then, maybe 6 hearts from South which is only the 10 of diamonds with North away from making it about a 75% slam and even greater than that with a 2-2 heart break and a non- intermediate diamond lead.

Yes, now Roth-Stone advocates, of which there were many great players who chose that method, have pretty much vanished, causing the necessary strength of that opening bid thrust to go in a significant downward spiral.

However, the influence of those long ago times has remained, at least to some extent, with some of its early believers, causing me, to a small degree, to challenge your statement of “there is no way they would reach that contract”.

Finally, even Ely Culbertson, possessing the requirement of 2 1/2 honor tricks (perhaps thought to be the main force) might have opened the bidding with North.

However, all the above influence does not make the above layout a good theoretical slam, unless one considers that an accurate definition of a good slam is simply no more than “one which makes”.