Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

So much one man can do,
That does both act and know.

Andrew Marvell

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


The contract of three no-trump seems perfectly normal, but when the lead of the spade 10 from West goes to the queen and king, the contract may need careful handling. South must develop the diamonds to make his game, but the play to trick one strongly suggests that West may have well led from a suit headed by A-10-9. If East is allowed to lead a spade later, West will be able to run the rest of the spades. This may defeat the contract.

Establishing the diamonds safely is simple: South must cross to dummy, with a club rather than a heart, of course, and must lead the diamond queen, planning to duck the trick around to West. However, when East covers (as he surely will), declarer wins and goes back to dummy, again with a club, to take another diamond finesse, this time leading to the nine. When both opponents follow and the nine wins, declarer can cash out for at least 10 tricks, with five diamonds, three clubs and two major-suit winners.

There is no danger if West wins the first or second diamond trick and leads another spade, as long as diamonds are breaking. Likewise, if West is able to score his diamond 10 and continue the attack on clubs, declarer can unscramble his nine tricks in peace and quiet.

One problem may arise if West can take the second diamond and play a heart: Declarer will have to hope the heart king is with West, since otherwise the blockage in diamonds prevents declarer from running that suit.

The world splits into two groups here. One half says double is penalty, with diamond length and at least a strong no-trump in high cards. The other group argues that it should be takeout — but if so, why didn’t you bid the first time? I side with the penalty crowd, and I will choose a spade or diamond lead if this is the final contract.


♠ A 10 9 8 4
 J 8 6 2
 7 6
♣ 7 4
South West North East
  1 Pass 1 NT
Pass Pass Dbl. 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 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieFebruary 27th, 2019 at 10:24 am

Hi Bobby, folks,

A couple of interesting decisions from last night at pairs. Firstly, Game All, I opened 1D on KJx K109x KQ8xxx x, heard double on my left, 1H from pard, 5C on my right. I passed (should I bid 5H?), as did LHO and partner hit it. What now (if anything) and how many do you expect it to go off?

The second was LA where I opened 1H on QJx AKQJx 10 10xxx, LHO bid 3D (a scratch weak partnership, subsequent enquiry indicated they hadn’t agreed its strength) , 3H form partner, 5D on your right Pass from me (agree?), P 5H from partner (!) P P 6D on your left, passed back to me so I hit it. Again, how many off do you think this is going?



Joe1February 27th, 2019 at 12:14 pm

Re: BWTA your comment yesterday regarding 5 card major opposite TO by partner (I don’t think I would interpret double as penalty) I assumed today’s hand was perfect timing after yesterday’s comment, so bid S. So, pros and cons of low level doubles for penalty?

Ken MooreFebruary 27th, 2019 at 1:53 pm


On the first, definitely NOT. LHO doubles with Aces and Queens behind your tenaces.

On the second one, if there are any controls, partner has them and it is up to him to take action.

Our host always talks about “context” of the hand.

“Hit it” ???

Iain ClimieFebruary 27th, 2019 at 2:18 pm

Hi Ken,

Seems pretty rational on the first but you’d reckoned without LHO who had doubled on Ax x AJ9xxx KQxx – What!! Was it a penalty double or something? Instead of having their partner punt 4 of a major (pard is 5-6-2-0) they found then with AJ109 to 8 clubs and 5C X is cold while 5H can be beaten but will almost certainly make in practice.

On the 2nd one, LHO has K109xx None AKQxxxx x and finds partner with x xxx Jxxx AKQxx. I hit is and 6D is cold.

Talk about one of those nights, although I think partner (with Axxx 109xxx x J9x) might have been better bidding 4H on the first round and then leaving it to me (when I leave 5D alone). Minus 1090 not a good matchpoint score, although we’re heading for a fair number in 5H X if they hit that.

It was one of those evenings when you wonder why you play. I punted a pushy 3N after LHO had opened a weak 2s and it just needed H3-2 for a top (pard had 6). They were 4-1, and so it went on.

Any sympathy gratefully received.



bobbywolffFebruary 27th, 2019 at 3:14 pm

Hi Iain,

Since your self-expressed “one of those evenings when you wonder why you play” comment, I’ll follow up which may follow suit with you, one of rendering opinions, especially subjective bidding decisions, which will range from fairly logical (best) to an even more skeptical approach than you with my future in our always challenging game (and at every level of competition).

On your first question (to which I am taking the liberty of ridding myself of a likely loser with the 14 card hand by throwing my losing club under the table).
I would then bid 5 hearts straight out (as you no doubt also would). Of course, while playing pairs and the opponents also being vulnerable, I would expect a make and be happy that my partner saw fit to chirp 1 heart while he had his chance. If lacking that and deciding to pass but then hear my partner then did double I would weigh my three options carefully, stand for it, now take out to 5 hearts or call the TD and inform him that this hand should be thrown out because of the number of cards I am holding (before I dumped it).

Moral of the above (or perhaps I should label it immoral) is that once partner doubled when I had passed over my RHO’s maddening preempt I feel now that this hand has become a guessing contest with a too likely result of me now duplicating your sorrowful evening lament. (How’s that for me, slithering out of a likely wrong decision?)

Seriously though I tend to bid em up rather than risk a distributional nightmare to which this hand seemingly belongs where their lowly club suit will outrank our reds with tricks taken, with either action by me not garnering many matchpoints. BTW (and for what it is worth) I do not cotton to partner’s who, after hearing a TO dbl by their RHO then respond in a major with only a mediocre or worse 4 card suit since it just seems the wrong idea of being of more value to those worthless opponents than to my loving partner (at least before this result will occur).

PS: I have not read your follow up yet, but noted it may be off subject since it was directed to Ken.

bobbywolffFebruary 27th, 2019 at 3:30 pm

Hi Iain,

I signed off prematurely since there is no follow-up by me with your second hand. Yes, although no vulnerability (perhaps important for the decision at pairs) is given but I, again do not know whether I am afoot or on horseback with this one. I have no real defensive tricks (likely a void out there and the opponents are bidding to make, since by listening to the first round of bidding they know that we are weak since partner only made a NF raise and then goes to the five level to obviously be in the “save” mode. Therefore with no defensive tricks from me, my guess against any vulnerability than unfavorable, I would bid the sixth heart.

“Sue me, sue me, shoot arrows through me”, but I doubt partner has 2 likely defensive tricks since he didn’t double 6 diamonds and I do not fancy to my opponents (or even close friends) gloating afterwards with only showing a wry smile, even worse than a whooping cheer, when they score up their slam.

BTW, I think you were understating how horrible your game went last night, but I did jump wide awake from a deep sleep last night, no doubt feeling your pain, remote though it may have been.

bobbywolffFebruary 27th, 2019 at 3:56 pm

Hi Joe1,

You flatter me by paying attention to the column’s suggestions. Therefore I will not only pay you a compliment for doing so, but will elucidate on today’s BWTA.

My experience with today’s BWTA is to play when an opponent opens a major suit (In the USA, five card major openings are commonplace) and among tournament players although a minority as compared with home rubber bridge players, but much more publicized) and since it is usually a 5 carder while, of course, minors can be as few as 3 making a reopening dbl by the original second seat player penalties vs. the 5 card major who passed a NF 1NT meant for penalties and to lead that suit since my holding represents extra strength and perhaps also 5 cards, over his hand, in fact taking advantage of the positioning of the cards with the intention of scoring up a good board or at IMPs a significant plus score because of it.

However if the opener has opened with one of a minor and had his partner respond 1NT to which he, the opener, had then passed, then a reopening double only is competitive and known as “balancing” the non original bidder’s hands so that the original 2nd seat bidder (and his partner) can either buy a contract they can make or push their worthy opponents up high enough to possibly set them and not be cannon fodder for their aggression.

Not really complicated (as it might originally seem) but I hope to you and others, to just be logical in making use of the limited language available, known as bidding.


Ken MooreFebruary 27th, 2019 at 4:10 pm

My dad told the (bad) joke about the hunter who would cut off his dogs tail a little bit at a time so it would not hurt as much.

My bridge teachers told me that if you are going to preempt, do so all at once, quick and big, before the opponents could exchange information.

Iain ClimieFebruary 27th, 2019 at 4:15 pm

Hi Ken,

Sound advice, but not as sound on the 2nd hand as passing 5D when we just lose 420; 5H is losing 3C, a diamond and a spade for -500, 6H is cheaper than 6D.

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for that and clearly 5H (albeit with an aceless hand and despite the possibility of a sane double containing major suit strength on my left) is the winning shot; you can’t argue with success!


Ken MooreFebruary 27th, 2019 at 4:17 pm


On BWTA, if this is the final contract, I think I would lead the 8 of Spades. The 8, 9, and 10 all have the same value in one hand. If I lead the 10 and partner has, for example, Qxx, he may not cover that will certainly cover the 8 and either force out the King or be able to mostly clear the suit.

PaulFebruary 27th, 2019 at 4:55 pm

Hi Bobby,
For aspiring bridge players like me your comments are invaluable as they do give a glimpse of how the very best think. But I am a bit confused with your comments. Could you clarify whether you are espousing that the double in today’s BWTA should be played as take out which is contrary to what had been mentioned in the column.

bobbywolffFebruary 27th, 2019 at 5:49 pm

Hi Ken,

Your dad, while masquerading as your bridge teacher, as well as your real bridge teacher spoke without forked tongue.

With preempting, do so as early and as effectively high as the market (not going for too great a number if doubled and set) will allow.

Perhaps you should have stopped one paragraph sooner, since the lead of the ten, when the jack (and two+ small) are in dummy, you want your partner to not play his queen, unless, of course, (and unlikely)
the declarer rises with that jack. Just a small dose of defensive play logic to never (in the immediate or distant future) forget or suffer the pangs and arrows of a cold hard stare (from your partner, not the wry smile offered from the declarer).

In life it is known as making the most out of a grizzly situation, but in bridge (far more important than just life itself) that caveat will NEVER (except with cunning at heart) be violated by anyone with even a week of expert experience.

Another winning concept, “bid ’em high and let the opponents sleep in the streets”.

bobbywolffFebruary 27th, 2019 at 6:18 pm

Hi Paul,

Since I sincerely appreciate being invaluable and even more so, rather than confusing, I need to clarify.

When an opponent offers 1 of a major suit opening, followed by pass, 1NT, pass, pass, then I suggest that a double be penalties with length and strength in that major suit, eg, AQ108x together with additional other values and asking partner to start out his defense (opening lead) by leading that suit through the 1 spade opener.

However when 1 of a minor suit is opened followed by pass, 1NT, pass, pass, then a double by the original 2nd player to speak is a take out, typically a 9-12 point hand with some support for the three unbid suits (typically 3 or 4 cards). This tactic is called “balancing” by an experienced bridge group in order to compete with the opponents by trying to find, along with partner, the best suit available to declare trumps and not allow those wily opponents to have such a simple road to win tricks and positively effect their matchpoint score. IOW, compete and try and either make a contract your way or, just as favorably drive them higher, hopefully resulting in a plus score defensively.

The above method is generally played by a large group of both experienced and successful players and represents IMO the best way to utilize bidding to your side’s advantage.

Finally and critically, the lesson learned is to believe what the opponents are obligated (not legally but rather practically) to speak with their actions at the table, following bridge logic in their best interests (their 26 cards will only produce a part score, not enough for game or even an exploration) toward it, which, in turn is a giveaway that their combined assets are not as great as they could be, but at the same time, allowing their hated opponents in on that information since to do otherwise will normally result in a progressively worse result for themselves.

Therein your partnership by entering the bidding,, then utilizing that information, is indeed the right thing to do and in actuality is one of the more important aspects of the whole game itself, mirroring life in business and many other life adventures, in its effect.

Hopefully this try makes what I said earlier much clearer.

Iain ClimieFebruary 28th, 2019 at 10:15 am

Hi Bobby (and also Jim2),

Looking at what very weak opponents (that 1D X, for example, and the opponent who overcalled 2D natural over a weak NT on DK10xx and a balanced 13 count finding partner with D Q9xx, a few bits and got out cheaply despite misplaying the hand when everyone else was in 1N), I’ve found a TOCM variant – TOOM i.e. Theory of Opponent Migration. The rare times that oppo’s bad bidding habits come off, they’re playing you.

We were TOOMed!



bobbywolffFebruary 28th, 2019 at 4:14 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt the lively positive effect for description, though truly drastic for Jim2,
the short cut name for it, TOCM, renders complete, similar to finish coloring in a coloring book for children, particularly to developing neat habits for kids.

If so, perhaps either Toomed as you suggested will get it or even Destiny of Opponents Mistake, Doomed might better describe the feeling.

Let’s throw it open to a contest for best described malady.

Thanks for your idea, but perhaps we should consult Jim2 himself, before we Lovingly Oppress Such Everpresent Restrictions.