Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

The only thing more intimidating than a huge international film star is your mother-in-law.

Benjamin Walker

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



Today’s deal comes from the U.S. Nationals last fall and demonstrates that players from all over the world make these events the toughest of contests. Here, for example, we see Peter Gill of Australia trying to bring home a delicate contract of three no-trump, in a team game.

Yes, North’s bidding looks a trifle forward, but we’ve all been in worse games. West leads the club five to the jack and ace, and when East returns the seven, he covers with the 10, allowing declarer to win the queen in dummy.

Clubs are clearly 5-3, so if the defenders obtain the lead in a side suit, they can cash their clubs and defeat you. After winning the second club, you must try to run the diamonds; the good news is that the suit breaks 2-2.

On the run of the diamonds, West pitches one heart and two spades, and East three spades. What should you do next?

At the table, Gill worked out that West had reduced down to three hearts and three clubs. If West had pitched a club, declarer would have set up a spade winner for his side. So declarer now exited with a low club. West could cash his clubs, but then had to lead a heart. The auction would have favored playing for split honors in the heart suit if West had shifted to the heart queen or heart jack. However, when West led a low heart, declarer was home without a guess. He ended with three hearts, five diamonds and one club trick.

Your partner’s four-club call was a splinter, showing short clubs and a raise to at least four spades. Over your four-heart cuebid, he indicated he had nothing more to show, but even in the context of having made one effort, three key honors make the hand too good to pass. A general try of five spades feels right now, though you are expressing great trust in the soundness of your partner’s bidding.


♠ K Q 6 5
 A 9 6
 9 7 4 3
♣ 9 2
South West North East
  Pass 1 Pass
1 ♠ Pass 4 ♣ Pass
4 Pass 4 ♠ 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


David WarheitDecember 6th, 2017 at 9:13 am

If W pitches a second H instead of his last S, South is helpless. From W’s perspective, he should realize that S has only 3 hearts (including the ace) and therefore his partner has 3 hearts and must hold the J (and the spade ace) to give the defense a chance, so there.

Iain ClimieDecember 6th, 2017 at 10:21 am

HI Bobby,

I was griping the other week about the tendency to bid more and more dodgy slams nowadays; looks like the tendency has spread to games! This one is extremely odiferous, but I suppose you can’t argue with success.

Another point on David’s line is that declarer might just get hearts wrong if West dumps two hearts smoothly and declarer had the HJ – or he might have done if West hadn’t weighed in with that double. Loose lips again…



Bruce karlsonDecember 6th, 2017 at 11:27 am

More from the cheap seats: not sure why the “…auction would have favored playing for split honors…”. Would not most non vul Easts bid 1S with 8 and 1/2 as opposed to 9 and 1/2 HCP? Had I been East, I would intuitively lead the Q. If declarer has the Jack, we are toast, so why not?

Shantanu RastogiDecember 6th, 2017 at 11:42 am

Playing H Q as suggested by Bruce is also correct as he is getting triple squeezed on run of Diamonds if he holds both QJ of hearts.

Best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

jim2December 6th, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Could you explain:

“However, when West led a low heart, declarer was home without a guess.”

Assuming declarer won East’s JH with the AH, could not East have begun with QJx?

Shantanu RastogiDecember 6th, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Hi Jim2

If east has qj third of hearts west has easy heart discards on diamonds and would keep a spade.

Best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Shantanu RastogiDecember 6th, 2017 at 2:21 pm

Also as David said most likely distribution of east is 5323 which can be known from spade discards of east. So west can choose to discard hearts. If he hasnt only reason is that qj is with him.

Shantanu RastogiDecember 6th, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Also while defending both defenders have to assume spade ace with east as otherwise declarer has nine tricks. So spade discards should show count.

bobbywolffDecember 6th, 2017 at 4:31 pm

Hi Everyone,

Yes, this is a type of hand which is played, and therefore defended, in many home games, retirement communities and even bridge clubs the world over as well as in higher level tournament play.

More or less duck soup for experienced players sitting West to early on, when after realizing the diamonds queen and jack dropped two-two from the defenders on the way to three more discards coming up to drop two small hearts, at tricks 5 and 6 and a then small spade at trick #7.

As a barometer to future bridge success, until that sequence of plays defensively becomes routine and untroubled by whoever is sitting West, trouble with the game itself, will continue to haunt West since he has yet to look at the global aspects of defending in general instead of suffering each trick as the play progresses.

Quote the Raven, and in this case any animal playing the game with the intention of getting good enough to then concentrate on the other more sophisticated tasks which may lie ahead in understanding and then executing properly.

Meanwhile East (as well as West on this hand) can be thankful his spade holding included the ace rather than the KQ, allowing the defense to triumph for sure when it also included the precious heart jack, to which he carefully kept it guarded as his partner had to discard two hearts down to only two left.

Furthermore, in an all expert game it would be slightly showboating for both E and W (E first), to expose both hands to the declarer after trick seven and his run of the good diamonds, but stranger defensive claims have happened as everyone at that table could forecast that result, only preventing the declarer for now playing only for West to have started with QJxx in hearts and now being squeezed out of his
heart guard (especially with the heart 10 in dummy), staring at him, instead of in partner’s hand.

Finally, when this ending becomes routine enough for all four players to be 100% (or almost) certain of what remains closed in the other two hands, there will be a way to go for that player to be well underway on the bridge Yellow Brick road to the Holy Grail.

Sorry, if the above appears not respectful, not its intent, but only to emphasize the imagination required in order to compete at a higher level. Keep in mind that only the player holding the jack (third) in hearts (in this case, East) can know the entire end situation, otherwise of course (if declarer possesses that key card) he will have a two way guess for the game producing queen of hearts location. In that way only East could expose his hand prematurely, a fantasy created only to explain the emphasis that goes along with learned knowledge of our sensational exercise of becoming proficient at our game.

Good luck to all, fully realizing that the above explanation is unnecessary to many of the readers, but, just in case some (or I hope many) of you who never post, but only read, and if so, I did not want to overlook your presence.

bobbywolffDecember 6th, 2017 at 4:54 pm

Hi again,

Please excuse my not explaining the individual questions which were all (or almost) relevant and right-on, in order to seize this opportunity to deliver and attack, what I considered a healthier learning experience (for the defense) of how and what to emphasize as the hand progressed.

There are many stages in learning our great game, and ones who have already made the transition to excellent may be bored with what I say (and I do not blame them), but for those who are in earlier straits I have concentrated my efforts.

And to those less experienced, please consider (if not linger) on why I suggested for West to first throw away two low hearts on declarer’s third and fourth good diamonds, before discarding a spade on his fifth.

Answer: To make it look more convincing that partner, not me, had the elusive heart queen allowing me to throw away worthless hearts sooner rather than later, as if I didn’t hold that precious lady.

“Ah, by dear Watson, that is exactly why I later finessed West (while originally holding the AJx
of hearts) since I knew West to be a very thoughtful and experienced player so I read his mind”. Pretty clever, these English!

Making it, like the three bears, a winning position to be exactly one step ahead (or perhaps three) of their opposition, but not two.

Iain ClimieDecember 6th, 2017 at 5:47 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for that and a general question on BWTA which I remember being a hot topic in the 1980s. Given the opportunity of splintering / cue-bidding on the way to game (assuming it isn’t a sequence like 1H – 3H where a cue bid clearly shows beyond game interest) would you always do so “on the way” to game or should partner assume you have some extras? I’m guessing the first approach is more sensible as you can always go quietly afterwards, but would appreciate a more authoritative view.

Also what are your views on splintering with singleton honours (OK, probably not a concern with jacks) when a partner holding AQ10x in the splinter suit may think there is a misfit when the opposite is true opposite singleton K. I’ve heard something recently about “Where he lives” cue bids which seem to emphasise a 2nd suit or holdings like AQJ; any thoughts on whether these are worth trying, at least for well- practiced partnerships?



jim2December 6th, 2017 at 6:47 pm

Shantanu Rastogi — Those are inferences. It’s not like one defender failed to follow suit, or something.

bobbywolffDecember 6th, 2017 at 6:55 pm

Hi Iain,

First, thanks for your general interest in an area which greatly affects our scores, whether rating points or coin of the realm are our principle goals.

I was outvoted in making another try with today’s BWTA. At least to me, (and I am too often wrong), the difference in not having a 5th spade is about as important as it could possibly get. However, if I am playing with a VERY conservative partner, it may change my view, but lacking that and already cue bidding 4 hearts, I’ll merely hope for decent breaks, which could be necessary in even scoring up this game.

Delving deeper, when holding: s. AJxx, h. KQJx, d. QJ10x, c. A many would choose a 4 club splinter and then possibly follow a 4 heart cue bid by partner with a 5 club affirmation of 1st round club control, thereby not only entering dangerous “down” territory but also painting a not so pretty picture for declarer about arming one’s worthy opponents how to defeat it.

Rather imagine: s. AJ109, h. xxx, d. AKQxxx, c. void, a good grand slam, with 4 less hcps but 2 or likely 3 more tricks. Add to “points, schmoints”, “tricks, clicks”, not as humorous, but perhaps more bridge logical.

Yes, the above, being contrived with comparing a perfect fit with one not so, contains some propaganda, but whatever it is, still needs to shout from the rooftops that a vivid, but controlled bridge judgment takes years to develop, but once done, makes butterflies out of caterpillars, instead of, for example the opposite, the ravages of, ATTENTION Jim2, the ravages of TOCM.

Yes, Jim2, against your good spade grand slam there would be either a diamond ruff on lead or a horrendously bad (5-0) spade break.

Finally, Iain, I believe on average and thus percentage speaking, a further cue bid, a justified first round control, should only be made, if other features of your hand do not, at least appear, to be substandard since our beautiful game is not an exercise of exact science (said by me and others many times) and one plus (likely that 1st round control) may be negatively balanced by an unexpected (to partner) other weakness.

No way to escape this subjected weakness, at least to many bridge dreamers, who pretend it just doesn’t exist and continue to wonder why they do not win as much as they expect.

bobbywolffDecember 6th, 2017 at 7:16 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Haven’t been ignoring you, only concentrating on what I think is worth discussing in detail and important enough to be necessary.

No doubt, respecting what Jim2 says is, and on a daily basis, worth believing and therefore acting upon.

Always thanks for your questions and opinions.

bobbywolffDecember 6th, 2017 at 8:18 pm

Hi Iain,

Today is splintering day, not to show shortness, but instead to answer previously ignored questions since they appear so fast and then like Chinese food if one is not careful, fades away just as fast.

Your question about showing “where one lives” including when holding a “high” singleton should its value as a high card, in addition to its shortness value when having a trump fit, make a difference, and if so, “how” are not easily answered and if they are, become somewhat tentative.

The answer becomes a resounding “maybe” which if not explained, should change a group of 50% non-believers into almost 100%.

So here goes to reduce that almost 100% to somewhat less, though not pretending to come even close to a low figure.

Yes, that high card value or bidding “where one lives” sometimes, when it “hits a nerve” becomes somewhat valuable, but again the subjective nature of our overall game keeps even a would be bridge “genius” on edge until the entire 26 cards of a partnership are seen.

First the negatives of trying to show partner, during the bidding stage, of as much as possible about one’s hand:

1. On opening lead those worthy opponents will be forewarned as to what to expect after the opening lead with not only what declarer has bid, but what he neglected to do, making their defense, (the most difficult part of our game) easier, depending on the specific problem(s) which will ordinarily occur, although they figure to be varied from hand to hand.

2. By doing so will usually enable especially proficient defenders to more easily throw up smoke screens, so that declarer will be more often subjected to severe tests in “guessing” where the key cards may be.

3. The “perfect storm” would be a declarer who has a good enough “feel” to both tell partner what he needs to know to make the best decisions he can make, while at the same time, (usually when captain of that hand with the ability to sign off and then, without doubt, prohibit partner (while playing their style) from over ruling him and proceeding to “screw” it up by bidding too much.

By perfecting that, while following bridge active ethics completely, will enable a clever player, whether the eventual declarer or not, to make it as difficult as possible for his worthy opponents to defend to best advantage (certainly sometimes including the opening lead) as well (especially when declarer is the cause for obfuscation) rendering those unlucky opponents the worst of all possible bridge worlds, at least for that hand.

After hearing the negatives, which to me, often overrule the advantages in doing it, so I will only mention a couple of times when it may do more good than harm.

1. When jumping to 5 of a major or 4NT as a quantitative exercise, merely asking whether partner thinks, based on the previous bidding action whether he considers himself to have “extras” or not.

2. When making invitational to game bids by playing either “help suit” game tries or instead bidding strength or distribution side suits rather than shortness.

3. When, in a competitive part score sequence which may turn into a game bid, a lead director just in case partner becomes the opening leader (similar to lead directing doubles when the opponents are in control of the auction).

The above caveat has to be tempered by the double of an opponent’s cue bid wherein the motive is to symbolize a possible sacrifice bid partner may choose when the opponents stop at game or even slam.

Sorry for the length of my “rant” but I didn’t want to overlook a possible life saver on any one hand which could arrive, and here is hoping that the first time a reader tries this and fails, he’ll certainly know the first person to blame.

Finally, when a shortness jump occurs, it is better for the singleton to be a small card, also, of course, a void (joke, son or daughter), otherwise partner may, as mentioned above by Iain) be misled as to its value. Some things, like many times in bridge, things turn out to be not what they were intended to be.

Thanks for listening and you get a medal for still reading.

Iain ClimieDecember 6th, 2017 at 11:37 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for your tborough and illuminating reply. All I need now is a partner keen enough to apply it with.