Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, May 24th, 2018

Evil communication corrupts good manners. I hope to live to hear that good communication corrects bad manners.

Benjamin Banneker

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


Here is a deal from the ACBL’s Senior Pairs simultaneous event played in April, rotated 90 degrees. The accompanying commentary suggests that some Easts may open four spades, but those defensive tricks suggest a one-spade bid instead. West will respond one no-trump, and when North doubles, East can rebid two spades. Now South will want to compete, but how?

Depending on your partnership agreements, South’s options may include a take-out double, an artificial two-no-trump call or a simple three-heart bid. When West competes to three spades, par will have been achieved … but if North now bids on to four hearts, the defenders may have their work cut out to set it.

After West leads the spade king, this deal emphasizes that when dummy has a singleton, standard methods of signaling really aren’t good enough. The default method these days appears to be to use suit preference; in other words, a high card from East suggests playing a diamond, and a low spade maybe asks for a club. But here, East wants to encourage a spade continuation, and middle cards are often hard to read. Perhaps if East calls for a club, West can work out that that play can wait?

West can defeat the game by playing another spade. Then East wins the first heart to play the spade ace, forcing dummy to ruff again. East can now follow up with a fourth spade when in with the heart ace, to promote a trump for West.

Your double of four spades is card-showing, not penalty. Your partner’s four-no-trump call suggests two places to play; and when he corrects five clubs to five diamonds, he is showing the red suits. You should bid five hearts now, to play the longer, if not necessarily stronger, trump suit.


♠ 3
 J 5 4 2
 A K 7
♣ A Q J 6 3
South West North East
      4 ♠
Dbl. Pass 4 NT Pass
5 ♣ Pass 5 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 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Bobby WolffJune 7th, 2018 at 2:52 pm

Hi everyone,

First, prepare yourself to what may thought to be by some, as an a capella rant.

Yes, I genuinely love bridge and thus rank it as no less than the #1 competitive mind game of all time whether that ranking is restricted to only cards or not.

But, does it also have an ingrained flaw or two
which is very difficult or impossible to remedy?

My answer would be, probably yes, and today’s column hand will serve as a prime example to judge.

Yes, you will have guessed the subject when one turns to the hallowed playing ethics to which all players need to be well versed. Especially the ones who have the talent to compete at higher levels, while giving a tentative non-committal to others, while trying to achieve that lofty goal.

Now to the chase, when sitting 3rd seat (East), at trick one, after partner leads the king of your rebid suit. No doubt, thought now becomes necessary, first to digest the now spread dummy, remember and then analyze the bidding. Then, to not so simply, tie your specific holding to both the viewed cards (half the deck) to the other 25 with, of course, the intention of directing the defense to what one thinks is a good chance for the best result possible.

The above takes time and to say or think otherwise is unrealistic. Therefore, your hesitation to both decide on what card to follow with and its thought to be meaning, to partner (usually regardless of your heretofore partnership agreements, but hopefully to be read correctly. at least in your opinion) might be considered by your (let’s assume) worthy opponents, by the virtue of your slow decision, to not represent the proper bridge ethics of not giving unauthorized information (UI).

Ipso facto, is the defense guilty of committing UI, if partner reads East’s middle spade as a desire to continue spades as opposed to the normal expert tactic of playing this situation as a suit preference choice, since in most cases that would be an expert standard agreement?

The mitigating factors are of course that having the AK of the opponents trump is an unusual holding and difficult to impossible for West to likely figure out (at least in less than a couple of hours).

Obviously, IMO EW does not, nor should not be considered unethical for West to find the right defense and continue spades, just because his partner took a significant time break to choose that middle spade.

However, in the highly competitive world of world class bridge where sometimes both reputation and money are at stake, it might even be thought to be standard practice to protest and who am I to make a unilateral decision when other bridge minds think otherwise? Result then is up to first the tournament director, but, in fact, ultimately to be decided by the appeals committee which is practically sure to follow.

Therefore, I guess my message is to make sure that committee is of the highest quality made of our very top players who are willing to be accountable (opinion to be proudly disclosed) to their individual decisions and hopefully with absolutely no politics involved (not a likely happening).

IOW, I now bow my head to whatever happens, only hoping that bridge cleans itself up to the hoped for standard, to, and in fact, overcome what I think to be, one of the only flaws in our extremely beautiful and very challenging competition.

David WarheitJune 7th, 2018 at 4:24 pm

I always write at the top of my convention card “we always hesitate at trick one”, meaning both the opening leader and his partner. This eliminates most of the problems you refer to. Occasionally, of course, one hesitates quite some time. Aha, gotcha, you might say. No, because every once in a while I hesitate (as partner of the opening leader) quite some time even though I have no problem.

On this hand I would play S10 on the opening lead. This 100% says don’t lead a club to trick two, and I can hardly want a heart lead, so I’m signalling either for a diamond or another spade. But for what possible reason could I want a diamond?

Bobby WolffJune 7th, 2018 at 5:03 pm

Hi David,

To also use your Aha: It is both your approach to the game itself and your extraordinary analytical ability, which enables your discipline to act as the poster child for correctness.

Leaving only you to find the time to exhibit your skills and (no small task) find the right partner to fly over the rainbow in formation.

While not disagreeing with your accurate analysis, it is possible that partner may think you might have the diamond queen (J) and perhaps even the club king, but that can wait.

However, my above only emphasizes the need for partner to also consider what you really do have (AK of trump), a not easy visualization.

No one, at least to me, has said (or likely thought) that bridge is an easy game, but all you can do is play the right card (spade 10) and let the devil take the hindmost.

As a side note, wouldn’t your mind and all who agree with your reasoned play, allow West to continue spades even after a longish huddle by you, especially with your convention card message and shouldn’t this decision (if ever it occurred) then be used as a precedent for this type of debate.

PS: There is a strong alliance of good bridge players who DO NOT want precedents to take significance with bridge appeals. GO FIGURE!

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