Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, December 9th, 2017

What is best in mathematics deserves not merely to be learned as a task, but to be assimilated as a part of daily thought, and brought again and again before the mind with ever-renewed encouragement.

Bertrand Russell

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



This deal comes from the fertile pen of Steve Bloom, who showed me a deal where he had missed a subtle point in the ending by being too thrifty with his resources.

Declaring two spades after having blown your opponents out of the auction, you get a top club lead and continuation as East echoes. (Yes, a trump shift was necessary by West.) You ruff the second top club, play a diamond to the king and duck a diamond to East’s ace.

Back comes a heart, and you win with the queen as West encourages. Now you play a third diamond to West’s queen, East pitching a club, and West leads a second heart to East’s ace.

You win the third round of hearts in hand as West follows with the jack. Next, you ruff the club jack in dummy as West produces the queen, persuading you that East has the spade king, otherwise West would have acted over your no-trump opener.

When you lead dummy’s diamond, you are ready to over-ruff East and play the ace and another spade; but what if East discards his last heart? You must ruff your winner anyway, and then you can lead your fourth club. West will follow, and East will be endplayed to lead away from the spade king when he over-ruffs dummy.

So why must you ruff your winner? If you do not, pitching your club on the diamond jack, you will have to guess whether to lead a spade to your seven or to the 10 in the three-card ending.

The raise to two hearts can be based on either four trumps or an unbalanced hand with three trumps, so many people use two no-trump here as a forcing relay to find out partner’s shape and range. I think a simpler route is to bid three no-trump and let partner decide which game he wants to play.


♠ K J 6
 A 8 5 2
 A 3
♣ 10 7 5 4
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♣ Pass
1 Pass 2 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


Iain ClimieDecember 23rd, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Hi Bobby,

How (if at all) do you think EW should get into the auction here and where would they wind up? Is it one of those hands where the weak NT just represents a “system fix”? If the EW hands were reversed then East could maybe bid 2N in pass out position for the minors but West can’t really risk that (I think) after the transfer as North is not yet limited.



Michael BeyroutiDecember 23rd, 2017 at 1:06 pm

Thanks Iain, I was going to ask the same question.
So I’ll ask another one.
Mr Wolff,
the situation you discuss in BWTA is a tricky one. Say I bid 3N but partner had raised on three trumps with an unbalanced hand. Surely he must have 5 clubs and a singleton in either spades or diamonds. What is he to do? Leave 3N in? Do I really want to play 3N on a spade lead with a singleton opposite? Maybe that forcing 2NT relay is useful after all? But where would it take us? 3C, 3H, maybe 4C? Do we really have to be in game?
Thanks for your answers,

bobbywolffDecember 23rd, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, the weak NT (12-14) does sometimes cause its opponents to not be able to conveniently balance, but at other times it also causes problems (usually when it is a part score battle) for the weak NTer’s partner.

My answer, although not without glitches, is to liberal out as an immediate overcaller, eg. s. AQ9xx, h. xx, d. AJx, c. Qxx to either just overcall 2 spades or probably a little safer, have a way to show spades with a cheaper bid, allowing your defensive partnership some room at the 2 level to sometimes prefer.

In no way is what I am suggesting safe, but in reality, passing can be the most dangerous choice, almost surely to resonate a bad result for your side when ever your partner has 3+ spades and some scattered values.

When bridge players one respects, suggest that bridge is a “bidder’s game”, this type of hand is exactly what they mean. Translation: While bidding can run into a bad result if your side has a misfit, or even if your bid allows the opponents, who buy the hand to play it to perfection, still, depending greatly on who your opponents happen to be, they will have a more difficult time buying the hand, and even if they do, your side may push them beyond their comfort level.

I could go on, but whether I do or not, you will likely go back and forth yourself while you decide yea or nay to bid and find out for yourself what your partnership needs to know.

Finally, on today’s column hand NS possibly has almost the “perfect storm” with the EW values not being in great position to challenge. However and at least to me, a word to the wise, at least IMO is that transfers are overrated, if only because it gives the opponents an extra round of bidding to decide whether to balance or not. Particularly when discussing the weak NT, but even more important with the strong NT.

I’ll flatly say that this extra round of bidding for the opponents to get their balancing porridge just the right temperature, is far more damaging to the opening 1NT side than it is to their opponents. IOW, the small advantage (and it is IMO infinitesimal) to have the lead come up to the strong hand is just not worth it.

bobbywolffDecember 23rd, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Hi Michael,

First the good news. You have summarized accurately at least IMO. However, the alternative of when you have only a 4-3 fit, and especially when the four are only A852 I do not think nor agree that the 4-3 fit will normally be your best game contract. Also, especially when the heart raise was based on a singleton spade, but sometimes the declaring partnership gets lucky (somehow a spade is not led) or when they do, partner’s spade singleton is the Q or even A.

Add that good fortune to perhaps no game (4 hearts, or even 5-3 or 5-4 in a minor) will get home, but perhaps 3NT with that particular card layout just happens to work. I know that my advice is somewhat flimsy but I think and hope practical.

Obviously any one hand can suggest this, that or the other thing, but on percentage, all the best partnerships can do is give themselves the higher percentage chance for success, and since bridge is no where close to an exact science, the best way to do that sometimes is just to (as the English say) punt or (in America) blast and let the devil take the hindmost.

However and no doubt, if those kinds of risks are anathema to that partnership, please do it their way, since some very good players, just cannot stand to abuse what they consider the beauty of our game.

To me, beauty is winning, and how we legally manage it, nobody should care. To me, chalking up a make on a likely down game hand is much more beautiful than a perfectly bid +130, even though -50 or more does sometimes occur.

Michael BeyroutiDecember 23rd, 2017 at 2:51 pm

Quote of the day:

“To me, chalking up a make on a likely down game hand is much more beautiful than a perfectly bid +130.”
Bobby Wolff

In this end of year, we, your readers, are grateful and thankful for the countless nuggets of bridge wisdom you shared with us through the years.

slarDecember 24th, 2017 at 2:37 am

That quote hits me pretty hard. I was in an event where we lost by 2 IMPs and obviously there were a million opportunities for us to emerge victorious. In one, I realized that we only had a single heart stopper and probably didn’t have nine top tricks so I signed off. Our counterparts blindly bid game and it came home when the heart suit blocked. A local teacher says not to be a stopper proctologist. Richard Pavlicek puts it more poetically, periodically reminds me that fortune favors the bold, but sometimes it is hard to take that message to heart.

ClarksburgDecember 24th, 2017 at 3:26 am

I have a file note recording something I learned here from Bobby.
They may not find the lead, their suit may be 4-4 or it may be blocked.
I live by that now, particularly at Teams.

bobbywolffDecember 24th, 2017 at 12:08 pm

Hi Slar & Clarksburg,

Richard Pavlicek’s (always my hero) aggressive tactics have always emboldened me to do likewise. However one needs to learn when and sometimes not to do it, especially when just doing it on a whim (call it iron discipline, one of the most important qualities of a winner).

For example there is a significant advantage in playing 1NT instead of 2 and also 2 of a suit fit instead of 3. By doing so, often that partnership can still produce a plus (even with below average playing luck), while always stretching (more correctly described, merely hoping) for a magical game to appear is, in my view, anti-percentage.

However, the above is not a cry out for conservatism, far from it, only when the hand looks like a part score, feels like a part score, and bids like a part score, pass at the lowest possible level, play it well, and let the opponents grasp for miracles.