Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?


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

*Game-forcing heart raise


All finesses are equal — in that, in the absence of information to the contrary, they all have a theoretical 50 percent chance of success — but some are more equal than others.

Consider today’s deal, where there are five possible losers and four possible finesses to take in four hearts. But taking those finesses in the right order is the key to eliminating two of them.

West led the diamond queen, and South played low from dummy. He covered the continuation of the diamond jack, since the chance that East had the doubleton diamond ace was very small, whereas West might easily have found the shift to a club if left on lead — indeed, he could have done so at trick two. South ruffed the third diamond, drew trumps, then fell at the final hurdle when he finessed the club 10, losing to the jack. The queen held on the spade return, but when the second club finesse failed, the game was down.

After drawing trumps, ending in dummy, the unavoidable spade finesse should come next. When this wins, South is in business; he does not need either club finesse to succeed because he can arrange a strip and endplay. South takes the spade ace and enters dummy in trumps, and North’s last spade is ruffed in hand, reducing the North and South hands down to just clubs and trumps. Now a club to the 10 fixes East, who can win cheaply but must then either return a club into dummy’s tenace, or concede a ruff-and-discard.

It feels right to double two clubs, which simply shows extras and is not purely for penalty — even if you would like it to be! When the opponents have agreed on a suit, most low-level doubles show extras. Here, when partner removes the double, you plan to bid two no-trump, suggesting these values.


♠ K J 7 2
 A 10 6 4 2
♣ K J 4
South West North East
  Pass 1 Pass
1 ♠ Dbl. Pass 2 ♣

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


bobbywolffDecember 27th, 2017 at 10:24 am

Hi Everyone,

Let’s play a game. That it, those who
1. like games,
2. do not mind others disagreeing, thus creating a likely learning session,
3. do not feel embarrassed by different thoughts by others,
4. look on it as a challenging exercise, with a productive upside which may eventually make
our sometimes difficult game less so.

All anyone willing to partake needs to do, is to suggest the one most likely overall distribution, around the table of each of the four suits with everyone knowing that South’s distribution is 4-1-5-3 and, of course, with the hypothetical knowledge that all four players are of average + class (whatever that might mean to you).

As a slight additional challenge what will be the estimate of the approximate hcps (try to be exact) of each of the other three players with only the South hand known, 4-1-5-3 and 12 hcps.

The practical kicker is that I, also, would like to guess, but when to do it, is the problem. I will suggest my entering after 2 or 3 have already done so, since I, in no way, do not want to influence anyone, only just be one of the troops, ready to discuss the results and, most importantly, why.

If preferred by some, they can offer the distribution and hcps with slight deviations, no more than 1 card off, nor 1 hcp (though that may be raised to 2 for our next time doing this, if, in fact, it is agreed. (plus other slight changes thought to be better)

Finally, at least IMO, this is a key ingredient in raising ones awareness of what to expect, keeping in mind that some players with talent, start out with pretty wild thoughts which, over time, temper down to reality. A caveat we should include is that we should not concern our self with strange goings on which are too unusual to contemplate.

I hope I hear from just a few at first, and let me know, if you have a preference when you want me to enter my opinions. Not too early nor too late, but when should that be?

PS: I do not think this exercise is terribly difficult, I just want to start in such a way so that no one will be intimidated out of speaking their mind, which if done, can only help everyone and not hurt anyone.

DO NOT BE COMPELLED TO ENTER, but I hope many do.

bobbywolffDecember 27th, 2017 at 10:31 am

Hi again,

Sorry, but if in doubt, I am talking about the BWTA in today’s column. I think it may offer, indigenous to bridge and therein to correct bridge thinking.

I apologize for not having the above paragraph at the beginning of my first comment.

Iain ClimieDecember 27th, 2017 at 11:09 am

Hi Bobby,

OK approx HCP split is partner has 12, the doubler has 10-11 and his/her partner has 5 or 6. I’m placing partner with 3-5-3-2 (probably moderate spades due to the lack of raise), doubler with 1-3-4-5 and doubler’s partner with 5-4-1-3.

In terms of the Animal Farm quote, I’ve spent over 38 years in British industry; all companies are equal but some are LESS equal than others. OK, correction – all companies are less equal than others in at least one or two annoying ways!



AviDecember 27th, 2017 at 11:50 am

Hi all

In my system, I have to disagree with Iain.
Partner’s lack of a XX specifically DENIES 3+ spades, so he is at best a doubleton there.
He is neither weak with 6H (as he would bid 2H) nor strong with 6H (as he would be at the 3 level)
perhaps 2-5-2-4, with the same point distribution Iain suggests.

Michael BeyroutiDecember 27th, 2017 at 11:52 am

Dear Mr Wolff,
I love the game you propose!
Perhaps an additional piece of information is whether N-S are playing the 2D Flannery convention (5 hearts and 4 spades, 10 to 14 HCP). This might affect the guess as to how many HCP each player holds.
So far, in my thinking, I have reached an initial conclusion based on the following reasoning.
West doubled for take out, yet he heard a 1H opening and a 1S response. So he must have the minors, let’s say 4-4. Also, West is a passed hand, so I’d give him 10 or 11 HCP for his take out double.
North’s pass doesn’t tell me whether he fits spades or not, but I am soon going to find out from East’s 2C response to the double.
Back to West: if he is 4-4 in the minors, he must have 2-3 or 3-2 in the majors. Let me give him 2-3 for now. That would explain East’s 2C response.
North has opened 1H with 5 hearts, I have 1, West 3 so East must have 4. At this point, I am guessing the rest based on assuming that the diamonds are 5-4-2-2 around the table, with 5 with me, 4 with West and 2-2 for North and East.
East has 3-4-2-4 shape for his 2C response and a weak hand.
So North is 4-5-2-2. He fits spades! If playing Flannery he must have at least 15 HCP. (I don’t really know the upper limit of Flannery 2D because I don’t play this convention; I only know about it.)
So, 12 HCP with me, 15 or more in North, 10 or 11 with West… that leaves poor East with 2 or 3 HCP.
If not playing Flannery, North’s hand can be substantially less than 15 HCP. Subtract 3, give them to East: now East has 5 or 6 HCP.
Having reached that far, now I would like to test the possibility that North doesn’t have 4 spades. Let’s say he has 3.
(This raises the issue of whether we’re playing support doubles and redoubles… I know you don’t like them; so I’m assuming we’re not playing that. North passed but could have 3 spades.)
Where did that 4th spade travel to? To East. So East gives a diamond to North in exchange for the spade.
That makes East’s hand: 4-4-1-4,
which, in turn, makes North’s hand: 3-5-3-2.
East does not leave the double in for penalties because his hand must be quite weak. 4 or 5 HCP.
I could bid 2D in all confidence… except that West has four of them… better not venture there…

May I suggest we wait for at least one other input from your readers (hopefully different from mine so we can have different points of view) before you tell us your “solution”. Am I even close? This is fun! I’m enjoying it!

Matt W.December 27th, 2017 at 1:53 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff, great game!

West: 4-1-4-4
North: 2-5-4-2
East: 3-6-0-4

I don’t feel that N has the 3rd spade (no rdbl), nor a 6th heart.
As for finding a bid over 2C? That’s just too hard, as all four answers are too difficult to contemplate!

bobbywolffDecember 27th, 2017 at 1:59 pm

Hi all,

Just to set the overall rules straight regarding possible conventional conflicts, we must automatically assume no conflicting conventions played by either partnership, such as Support dbls or redoubles, and Flannery now mentioned.

Obviously, if we included them, everything would be different, but even if your favorite partner and you have played these conventions for years we must assume that this then “new” but hopeful partnership does not.

Next, my purpose for going this direction is to at least explore how an up and growing bridge mind needs to develop his eventual educated bridge judgment which encompasses much of mature bridge bidding, first for bidding choices, and then acting upon them should we become anyone at the table except dummy in the play or defense. And for that matter, even dummy, as he watches the play unfold and to my mind, can often fairly early in the hand (possibly at even trick 3 or 4) be relatively sure of partner’s original distribution with only a few cards being still unknown.

Then segue yourself imaginatively to either the defense and/or declarer and both of those sometimes demons become not as difficult to determine.

Yes, it takes concentration, but after exposure, habit forms, and then added to natural numerical talents your mind has learned forms a powerful advantage with almost every hand that you play. However, sadly and no doubt true, some minds grasp this ability easily and in some cases at a very young age, soon after arithmetic is learned in school, while others, not so much. No doubt this last group has a much tougher fight to eventually compete with their natural competitors, but at least, with forms of the above description, all of us will soon know to which group we belong.

My guess is simply if in the second group, they have the chance to improve enough to compete against the very best, although it, of course, will be more difficult, but if lower than that, bridge will just remain, at best, a social pass time and not to be taken seriously.

However my above thoughts are by no means proven, and possibly many of those have-nots can be taught to rise much higher than I suggest, only the difficult road to achieve it may not be recommended.

While I do not want to yet comment on what I have now already read, I am pleased so far. However, it should be pretty obvious that if certain conventions were in the mix, I would be 100% obligated to not neglect the mention of them,.

However, for the best and brightest, it is sometimes indeed important to know what your opponents are playing in order to better basically count their hands, ruling out certain possibilities by their refusal to choose those bids. Simply put, adequate conventions are always more valuable than not, but sometimes they create a defensive blueprint (or even for declarer) allowing them or him to improve their play.

Perhaps, with this subject, it should even be mentioned that only bridge cheats can possess the ultimate weapon of transmitting illegal information which is not received by their unfortunate opponents, making dirty, filthy cheating even more horrible than thought.

How could lay juries, who do not play bridge even begin to imagine that advantage, meaning they can’t and that is why, at least to me, those who are found guilty should NEVER be allowed to bring their extremely flawed personalities back into the game itself. It is just too hideous to contemplate, but not everyone feels that way.

Thanks so far to those who have already dived in. Let’s wait some more hours, if, for no other reason than to give sleeping people time to wake up and join in, before getting into the next discussions. Although I am far from the most organized moderator, I will, at least try my best, to incorporate what others have said and felt about the information given.

However, I certainly would NOT like to be the only moderator here and would love to see others join in, especially with points which I overlooked or ones to which they disagree.

Simply, this is like a “town meeting” not a preaching and definitely needs to be conducted, like one.

Iain ClimieDecember 27th, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Hi Bobby,

On the play hand, what did East say after he’d played the D2 at T1 and West played another diamond instead of a club? Something unseasonal?



Jeff SDecember 27th, 2017 at 4:27 pm

OK, interesting game. Here goes:


2-2-4-5 based on his double showing minors


4-5-1-3 based on wanting the opps to hold six spades and seven hearts plus his club bid



For points, let’s give our partner 12 or 13 to open that flat distribution. We’re trying to be exact so I will say 12.

West was a passed hand, maybe 10 which would leave East with six points, poor fellow, forced to take out a double with six points and a 3-card suit.

CurtisDecember 27th, 2017 at 5:17 pm

West has short spades and a few points for the double; North did not support spades so East has spade length but very few points and bids the lousy 4-card club suit.

West has 1 – 4 – 4 – 4
North has 3 – 5 – 3 – 2
East has 5 – 3 – 1 – 4

Curtis (making a wild guess by an inexperienced player)

Lurking BeginnerDecember 27th, 2017 at 6:29 pm

HCP N12 E5 W11
N 2513
E 4423

bobbywolffDecember 27th, 2017 at 6:39 pm

Hi Everyone,

The battle is joined. First, since the main purpose of this “hoped for” exercise is not to have immediate winners and losers among the posters, I would, for obvious reasons, like to generalize what I may think has been underrated, but often fact, which seems to travel with many competitive auctions.

1. West, a passed hand, who decides to come in the auction between 2 bidders, partnering a player who has also passed the first time through, though in a partnership which stretches to bid early, rather than meekly pass. (general theme, with me assuming that the winning players responding are only plying their trade, and not related to Casper milk toasts.

2. Thus for West to now come in the bidding strongly suggests his fragment instead of hearts will be spades instead since any honor in hearts, especially while holding 3 of them is a huge liability instead of a much better spade fragment (likely 3) which is, at least on paper, in
a much more favorable location.

If this is true and experience will prove it, it switches the length (and likely whatever strength in hearts to East making NS’s potential considerably less in both declaring and even with defending. IOW, while holding KJx in hearts instead of spades West would (should) not consider coming in later (after passing) but when KJx is spades it would be markedly different. and KJx could be AJx. KQx, and even K10x.

2. Therefore since East will have great length in hearts and normally about 3 spades he will be relatively short in both minors, almost assuredly fewer than 4, yet West has put East in this position by making a passed hand TO dbl. Yes East might be 3-6-2-2 making a penalty double with South’s hand the sensational action. However the above is too much to hope for, but to double in a more or less card showing situation might lead to a bonanza for NS.

3. On the other hand EW could get lucky, especially if North happen to be dealt 4 diamonds and only 1 club, holding 5 hearts but only headed by the KJ and 3 mediocre spade Axx, However with 3-6-4-0 I doubt North would pass since he should tend to raise spades, although many very good players just do not raise with three. How about the more likely holding of 3-5-4-1 with only a bare minimum. I would raise, but would be in the minority, since most wouldn’t.

Back with the South hand, and it is clear to double 2 clubs, leaving it up to North to make the final decision. Thus remember, if a fit has not been established yet (and if North because of his minimum hand passes his RHO’s belated TO dbl.) he then becomes obligated to TO partner’s general double since his partner has then not been informed of the pending fit.

It is a NO-NO of a rather large position to not make partner aware, at the earliest opportunity of fits, otherwise, especially at higher levels, where all the players play well, since competitive auctions are often involved and both sides need to know as much as possible ASAP.

Keep in mind that sometimes the difference of one single trump held by the declaring side instead of the defense can cause several tricks (3 or 4) to be added or subtracted from the ultimate result of any one hand. That is the nature and glory of our tantalizing game, and especially evident when strength plays against strength.

Another somewhat accurate way to describe it is to not take defensive chances (low level doubles) when the defensive hands do not have an adequate combined number of trumps.

Welcome, Curtis and to all our wonderful regulars who contribute so much to keeping our site both lively and instructive.

I’ll be back later to answer specific questions and/or to broach other features about today’s subject.

Most of the above comments were, at least IMO, right on about the approximate numbers of points, but slightly skewed, or better said, not realistic enough, about what to expect with the opponent’s distribution.

In any event, thank all of you for your thoughts.

bobbywolffDecember 27th, 2017 at 7:24 pm

Hi Iain,

As to what East said to his partner, after East signaled “please switch” by playing the deuce on partner’s initial queen of diamonds lead (going all small with the king still in dummy) but West came plowing on with the diamond jack, only to get his partner end played later for the game going trick.

Probably something lovable like: “You’ve been naughty by not following my direction” causing me to have to knock your two front teeth out and you to then, not get your Xmas wish, from Santa.

Patrick CheuDecember 27th, 2017 at 8:49 pm

Hi Bobby,West likely shape,31(54)9+ and East 4504 or 4513 or 4522 or 3514 or 3523 n 5-8.NS has 23-24.Does Vul come into this?

bobbywolffDecember 27th, 2017 at 10:34 pm

Hi Patrick,

First, vulnerability does come into this, but only like it always does, suggesting, in spite of one of bridge’s top icon’s, the late Al Roth’s famous comment that “vulnerability is for children”, being a little more circumspect about risk, but never to capitulate completely.

As always, you followed the procedure to perfection, suggesting by example that West will be longer in spades than in hearts. and I may add, at least one major honor with the spades.

Obviously, with the polyglot of various levels of players, and while playing at a local bridge club, one may run into all kinds of overall distributions, but in order to keep within safe principles the overall hand, always changing in value according to the bidding, will only have a mark of the high-level player when and if that particular player is making the decision.

For example, if vulnerable, West would never have more than a singleton heart and would never put all the emphasis on as trite a valuation as high card points unless, of course, he perhaps had a 6-5 distribution.