Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, October 23rd, 2017

The world in all does but two na-
 tions bear –
The good the bad, and these
 mixed everywhere.

Andrew Marvell

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


In 2002, the Finals of the international match at Salt Lake City between Poland and Canada saw the latter win narrowly, despite scoring fewer than 1 1/2 IMPs per board. That was a testament to a relatively flat set of boards where both teams played very well.

This deal helped the winners’ cause. In one room they had been doubled and set 100 in three hearts, but here they declared four spades with remarkably few values, after North (Joey Silver) had donned a rosy pair of glasses.

Declarer, Fred Gitelman, received the lead of an unreadable diamond six, and took a while to plan the play. Eventually he won in hand and ruffed a heart, then led a spade to the king. West took this and returned the spade 10 – though a club shift might have worked better.

Gitelman won in hand and ruffed another heart, then led a low diamond from dummy, assuming that East would hold the diamond queen, and hoping that either diamonds would be 3-3, or that West would not have both a doubleton diamond and the last trump.

In fact East won the diamond queen and could do no better than play a fourth heart. Gitelman ruffed, drew the last trump, (pitching clubs from dummy) and led a club up to dummy, conceding just the club ace for 10 tricks.

For the record, had East taken the second diamond and returned the suit, declarer could have won it in hand to draw the last trump before playing a club to dummy.

This is a very unusual auction, but your own hand suggests partner can’t be doubling on the basis of four tricks in his own hand or on a trump stack. Presumably partner has made a Lightner double, looking for ruffs in diamonds. Lead the diamond seven to suggest an entry in a higherranking suit, in case partner does not know what to lead at trick two.


♠ 9 6
 K 6 4
 9 7 5 3 2
♣ J 5 4
South West North East
      1 ♠
Pass 1 NT Pass 2
Pass 4 ♠ Dbl. All 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


slarNovember 6th, 2017 at 3:21 pm

IMPs, Vul vs NV, you have Ax/Kx/QJx/KQxxxx and bidding goes (2S)3C(4S)AP.
1. What is your opening lead and why?
2. Very soon after your opening lead, you are back on lead after winning your SA. What is your next play and why?

Bobby WolffNovember 6th, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Hi Slar,

If I held your given hand and elected to overcall 3 clubs I would, no doubt, lead the King of clubs, but without conviction, and cannot even begin not to. Sure the king of hearts can turn out better, if partner had the queen and I could secure a ruff, if timed properly, but those are only dreams, not reality, and high-level discipline should keep one on the straight and narrow, not to go that non-percentage route.

Also, I confess to wanting to overcall 2NT instead of 3 clubs originally, labeling that as attempting to run to daylight, since if partner then has the hand to simply raise to 3NT, I would expect to make it, or, at least, have a chance to succeed, one way or the other.

Without knowing more about the overall hand, I am unable to now “guess” my way through it, until I see both the dummy and the play to my first trick.

Everything else being equal, and it usually isn’t, but bid aggressively (and with hope), but lead what is in front of one’s nose, trying not to take wild stabs unless nothing else appears plausible.

Winning at bridge demands being consistent and having the discipline to, if at all likely, not risk all of one’s chances on only one “wild” chance of success.

If instead, I got doubled in 2NT, I, of course, would run to the relative safety of 3 clubs, making my original venture of 2NT worth the “risk”.

slarNovember 6th, 2017 at 6:17 pm

Interesting. 2NT did not occur to me at the time and I see your point though I don’t know if it mattered here.

Anyway, dummy shows up with Kx/QJxxx/Axx/Axx
The disaster lead was HK from Kx since declarer had QJxxxx/Axx/xxx/x
My counterparts waited until trick 3 to make that lead. The only difference is that my teammates bid to 3S, not 4S.

My (possibly ignorant) point of view is that my partner couldn’t have much on the auction (no raise or double) and that if he had one useful card, it was more likely to be a heart A or Q than the diamond K with that suit dividing neatly.

You say that leading K from Kx is antipercentage. What would you look for when deciding to make that play?

Bobby WolffNovember 6th, 2017 at 7:32 pm

Hi Slar,

Your general good attitude to discussion, rather than belligerence, is a good sign that you are, at least interested, in moving up the ladder of higher-level bridge judgment. BTW, words like ignorant nor other negativity do not apply to bridge sophistication, since experience, not IQ is the primary factor in growth. Furthermore, what an opponent did at the other table and when he did it, is not helpful to moving forward, but only an indication of just how tricky certain higher levels of bridge can be and, more so, how difficult it is to get there from where many are now suffering.

While trying to explain the importance of experience (using this hand as an example) there are several reasons your LHO may be jumping to 4 spades over your 3 club intervention: 1. to expect to make it, 2. as a NV save against a possible V. game, 3. as a barricade to your side being able to exchange enough information to make the right decision.

Add the above to certain weaknesses wannabe opponents (in this case you and partner) may, at least at that time, be saddled. Partner may have a decent hand, hoping to set 4 spades, but not having enough, perhaps starting with Jx(x) or even Ax(x) in clubs but not knowing that, at least in possible strength that you possessed a semi-balanced hand which I deemed to be worth a 2NT overcall instead of 3 clubs.

No doubt preemptive bidding is a vital tool in disrupting, especially worthy opponents, from making the winning bridge decisions. Against not so worthy opponents, it usually doesn’t take extreme means to get them to do the wrong thing, but in whatever case, it is a critical talent to at least have some kind of winning gauge about how far to go to stay at least one step ahead of them.

Therefore, to keep this from being a tome, you should now realize that what you may have thought to be a somewhat desperate defensive situation, instead only requires remaining passive to get the job done, although if your partner fell for their act and should have either doubled or bid on and didn’t, will result in a below average score as a result, regardless how many tricks you defeat them.

Never forget, when others talk about the danger of bidding on and/or general aggressiveness, it may (and often does) become more dangerous to pass than to just do something else.

Finally, in case of a 50% tie with bidding on or not, the partnership that bids, always has the extra advantage of at least one of your opponents (even though they are both above average competitors) bidding more and saving you from yourselves.

Playing very good bridge requires a winning temperament and being wimpy is not a plus. However, in regards to defending, rather than bidding, the key word is exacting, with following the percentages (at least as you see it), a close second.

Good luck and, going forward, keep your good attitude.

Iain ClimieNovember 6th, 2017 at 10:52 pm

Hi Bobby,

On BWTA, partner appears to have no diamonds, at most 3 spades so 10 or 11 cards in the round suits, a fair hand and yet didn’t bid; no Michaels cue-bid, for example. It all suggests something like Jxx AQJx None Kxxxxx but would you have got into the auction with that?

For that matter, I’m a little surprised on the play hand that East didn’t raise hearts although maybe the flat shape and fear of pushing the oppo into a making game were his reasons for silence. Any thoughts on that too?



Bobby WolffNovember 7th, 2017 at 12:08 am

Hi Iain,

No doubt true, although the specific holdings in the other three suits could wildly differ.

Perhaps, including the ace of spades as one of his tricks, but the main idea is NOT trying to increase the size of the set, but rather to give a significantly better chance to go plus, rather than minus on defense, to be the overwhelming goal.

Now with bridge being taught in so many country’s public schools, the teacher can get across the logic of not having to have a specific convention in order to accomplish this coup. It just should flow naturally, so all the readers of this BWTA can have an opinion as to why this would be a “way” of thinking so that two interested parties can “feel” the right way to think and read one another’s mind. And, of course, be twice blessed with the ability to make it come to life.

Difficult, you betcha, simply because it doesn’t come up often. Impossible, NOT AT ALL!

Speaking of mind reading, you did a good job on why East didn’t raise hearts. With that vulnerability, even if East raised to 4 hearts the first time, could “wild horses” keep you, if you were South to immediately bid 4 spades over it, even if you were minimum, but knowing you were going to get at least 4 from partner plus the then known shortness of hearts, opposite your ace instead of the King or worse KQ as part of your minimum values.

Proves what we all know, instead of 26 HCPs to make a game contract, how about around 20 working points, since on average there are between 4-7 wasted points when no clues are “tipped off” during the bidding.

Another lesser known legal tactic (since no ethical partnership should be allowed to have a “private understanding”) is that perhaps East could psyche another bid, perhaps 3 clubs, in order to get the job of obfuscating by making it more difficult for NS to be as well placed to value their hands.

Obviously top level partnerships are aware of this possibility, causing wonderful and legal “mind” battles to continuously occur when strength meets strength.

Finally is there a major difference between strategies in business to out maneuver one’s competitors than doing just that kind of thing.
If so, and our leaders in education realize the possibilities how could they legitimately keep bridge out of our scholastic agendas?

What a waste of time to not allow bridge in our schools and why shouldn’t smart people all around the world realize it, but not in some more familiar ones, at least to me, like the USA. HINT, HINT!

jim2November 7th, 2017 at 2:20 pm

I know I come late to this party, but one thing possibly worth considering in BWTA is what certain bids might have meant over 1N.

That is, partnership understandings/agreements sometimes preclude what would appear to be normal bids to the neutral observer. Iain Climie, above, suggests and absence of a 2S bid means partner does not have a Michael’s cue bid holding. Another example, might be the absence of a 2N call might mean no minor 2-suiter. However, would 2C have been natural? Might it instead be clubs and a higher rank suit? If so, perhaps 3C was the only way to bid clubs.

When I got out of the USN, I played some local bridge in the town where I had settled.

I got off to a bottom-causing lead because I did not understand the nuances of the artificial system of one pair. That is, they explained the bids adequately, but the implications of what they did NOT bid were opaque to me.

I complained after the session to the director about it, and asked why was the system even allowed at this level. He said I could take it up with the rules director, who just happened to be in the room. He pointed to the man I had just suffered against.

Turned out that he was William Woodson (he of 2-way notrump) and this was his home club.

Gave it up, but each time after I encountered him or another playing that system, I pestered and interrogated them on each and every bid for the next five years I played there. I did not like playing against them and eventually they did not like playing against me.

His system was good at generating positive results against opponents unfamiliar with it, or lacing in specific counter-measures. In stronger play, it never prospered.

Nuances – what was NOT bid as well as what WAS bid — so very important at expert levels and I am not an expert.

Bobby WolffNovember 7th, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Hi Jim2,

First, much thanks for being a leader. And by leading, I intended that designation to imply, the nuances necessary to the sometimes (usually) major differences between players well on their way to unlocking some of the high-level mysteries of what it takes when, after already becoming experienced with basic bidding (and its necessary disciplines) defense (rules of eleven, at least in the past with 4th best leads), legal signalling, of course, with all of its ethical obligations, the flow of the various auctions and the sometimes necessity for balancing, and finally the choice of opening leads, based on the full bidding sequence, complete with the dogs (merely players), present who have either barked or significantly not, especially when your hand, together with where the opponents stopped, and always the question to be asked of oneself, why?

Although the above was likely not your reason for posting, by so doing, you have opened the door to discuss the vast differences from world class players all the way down to only social ones who only play (millions of them who were only interested in doing what many others had recommended, simply because back in those days, 60+ years ago when playing bridge was a virtual necessity to keep up with the Jones’ as a huge social asset or even to grab a lifetime mate).

Since then and, of course, life has progressed with many technologies, thinning out the players (certainly including world wide but emphasizing the USA), but IMO, since the learning of how to play it well, has deprived those who did not, with a glorious opportunity to develop the logic of everyone’s brain (to me, an understatement) which would
help almost everyone who partook that opportunity to apply bridge logic to life and be better off for it.

Finally, and to summarize, in business to think why did the other side negotiate the way it did, what are they trying to accomplish and in relationships, why did this or that happen and again, why? These sometimes important secrets are also often critical in bringing up children since different generations emphasize various characteristics indigenous to the current flow, not the ones previous generations figuratively and literally danced to.

Enough of the above and back to your ranch, yes the Woodson 2 way NT (I think either approximately 10-12 or 16-18, when opened) became a conversation piece all those years ago, and like others (Roth-Stone, Kaplan-Sheinwold, Strong Pass to mention others) phased in, stayed around and then slowly disappeared, not so slow with the Strong Pass, when either too many weaknesses or other critical complications were discovered or, more to the point, their opposition learned how, with time, to handle them successfully.

Your subject, the two way NT, was highly intimidating to some, since new players were taught to over respect an opening 1NT (originally 16-19 in Goren) and rarely ventured into the bidding, allowing Woodson, for one to
often steal hands since arithmeticians understand that the 10-12 occurs much more often in frequency but the opening 1NT, with the fear of entering, took over and basically lionized its results (together with the current scoring system which has never been adequate for down tricks, eg, the thinking being changes make it difficult for devotees to keep up), with stealing hands.

It also, at least for a while, was regarded as ethical, since no rule was violated, but in essence, as again we have learned in living life, we need to keep our legal system up to date with what is currently going on and not be fixated with a past which didn’t provide for antidotes for the short-cut answer of, in many cases, extreme and unconscionable) evil doing.

Finally, yes Jim2, contrary to what you claim, you are very much an expert, especially so in what makes bridge the great game it is, by every time you say something about it others not only learn, but more so, it makes them think about why, and if that doesn’t resonate expertise about what our competition is about, there is not a cow in Texas, and, although I have been away from there for a number of years, I can still think I hear them MOO, from many miles away.