Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, July 20th, 2013

I imagine, joking apart, that to know love, one must make mistakes and then correct them.

Leo Tolstoy


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

Q

Dummy did not have much to offer in this deal, but declarer wrapped up 10 tricks in his spade contract with seeming ease. In fact, West had missed a defensive point that might well have eluded almost everybody.

West led the diamond queen against four spades, and, after winning in dummy, declarer finessed the heart queen successfully, cashed the ace, and led a low heart. West was quick to rush in with his trump jack and followed by forcing South with a diamond.

Now the fourth round of hearts was ruffed in dummy with the nine, and the spade eight led and run when it was not covered. At this point another trump lead from dummy finished matters, and declarer made game with the loss of just two spades and a club.

Hard as it may be to see, West’s ruff of the third round of hearts was premature. Say he discards a diamond instead and allows dummy to ruff. Declarer comes back to hand with the club ace and plays a fourth heart. It is only now that West ruffs with his spade jack and plays a diamond. With no entry to dummy, South must lose two more tricks to East’s remaining trump holding, as well as a club.

It was certainly a difficult defense to find at the table, and you may need to work through the play in detail before you are convinced — just as I did!


In third seat it must be right to open this hand, but I'm not sure whether to open one club or one heart. With a one-bid hand, as here, I will open a four-card major, but this suit does not really qualify — give me the jack as well and I would open one heart. So one club it is. As a general policy, open in third seat whenever you have close to opening values or a suit you want partner to lead.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ A 10 4
 K 9 6 5
 K 5 2
♣ Q 5 2
South West North East
Pass Pass
?      

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact theLoneWolff@bridgeblogging.com. If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, July 19th, 2013

We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence.

Charles Darwin


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

♣J

In the following deal, while South's breaking the transfer with the leap to four spades may have been a marginal action, the final slam contract is superb. How would you play it when West leads the club jack?

The best plan is to win the club ace and draw trump in three rounds. After crossing to the club king, eliminating that suit, try a heart to East’s six and your queen. The only dangerous situation is when the full deal is as shown today.

If West trusts his partner’s echo to be based on a doubleton heart (and since he knows his partner has a Yarborough, he ought to get this right) he may well be able to work out that if he wins his heart king, he will be endplayed. A red-suit return would concede an extra trick, either to the heart nine or to South’s diamond jack. A club return would give declarer a ruff-and-discard for the losing diamond.

Suppose therefore West smoothly plays low, allowing South’s heart queen to win. If you have not considered this situation, pause to think how you would continue from this point. It is no good crossing to the diamond king and playing a heart to the jack. West will win and exit safely with the heart 10, killing the heart discard.

Remarkably, the winning continuation is to cross to the diamond king and run the heart nine when East follows low! Here, West can win with the 10 but now he is truly endplayed.


This feels like a hand where your best result will surely come from penalizing the opponents (or at least defending two diamonds undoubled if your partner has a balanced hand). By passing now, you let your partner reopen with shortage in diamonds. If he doubles for takeout, you will bid two hearts to suggest a minimum hand with hearts.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ 4
 K 10 7 4
 Q 10 8 6
♣ J 10 8 6
South West North East
Pass 1♠ 2
?      

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact theLoneWolff@bridgeblogging.com. If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Two and two the mathematician continues to make four, in spite of the whine of the amateur for three, or the cry of the critic for five.

James McNeill Whistler


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

8

At the Dyspeptics Club the players are not given to introspection. Thus it was remarkable that after South had made his game, he reconsidered his play and admitted that he had missed the best line.

Against five diamonds doubled, West led the heart eight, won with dummy’s ace. South cashed the spade ace and led a second spade, East ruffing in with the diamond 10 and South overruffing. Declarer ruffed his heart loser with dummy’s solitary trump and now had the problem of returning to his hand to draw trump.

Worried that East would ruff in again, promoting a trump trick for West. South decided to play a club instead. East tried to cash two rounds of the suit, relying on his partner for a trump trick. So South made his doubled game.

South was not slow to comment that perhaps East might have played a low club after winning his king, putting his partner in with the queen for another spade play to generate the trump promotion. However, there was no need for declarer to give the opponents this opportunity. Do you see what he had missed?

South was right to worry about the trump promotion but found the wrong solution. He should simply have played a spade anyway, and when East ruffs in, then South discards a club. Even if East is able to put his partner in for a further spade play, there are only two trumps out and declarer has the ace and king, so no further trump promotion is possible.


First question: Is three clubs forcing? And if not, should it be? In my view the call is not forcing but that doesn't mean your partner has a subminimum opening bid, just that he doesn't have enough to drive to game facing a 10-count. You may not make three no-trump, but your fitting clubs and ability to stop hearts mean you must make the call.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ K J 5 4 3
 K 10 8
 Q 9
♣ Q 8 5
South West North East
1♣ 2
2♠ Pass 3♣ Pass
?      

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact theLoneWolff@bridgeblogging.com. If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Much ingenuity with a little money is vastly more profitable and amusing than much money without ingenuity.

Arnold Bennett


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

A

While the world junior championships were being played in Bali nearly 20 years ago, a tournament to celebrate Indonesia(s 50th anniversary was being run simultaneously. This problem came up for the British team — and was not solved at the table. Because they failed to qualify for the final stages by the smallest of margins, it was an expensive slip.

South handled his very powerful hand sensibly enough in the auction, although North might have reasoned that the club king was not likely to be pulling its full weight. The final contract of four spades looks next to impossible, even on the lead of the diamond ace.

However, after a lot of thought, West switched to the club ace, then played the heart nine, which went to East’s queen and declarer’s ace. What next? The line chosen at the table was to draw four rounds of trump and try the heart 10, but East ducked that, and declarer had no chance now.

Can you spot the winning line? It is not so bizarre; West’s auction and opening lead suggest he has seven clubs and the bare diamond ace. You need to win the first heart and play West to be 4-1-1-7. You can test the theory by playing three top trumps, then throw West in by leading your low trump, forcing him to play a club for you. Now you have an entry to dummy to take the diamond finesse, and eventually a second parking place for your losing hearts.


This is a hand where it is clear to respond two hearts rather than make a negative response and then bid hearts or transfer into the suit. The two-heart response will never rob partner of his natural rebid, and when you have a hand that is marginal for slam, you should strive to show a positive initially with a good suit.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ 7 2
 K Q 8 7 5 2
 Q 9 8
♣ 10 6
South West North East
Pass 2♣ Pass
?      

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact theLoneWolff@bridgeblogging.com. If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small.
That puts it not unto the touch
To win or lose it all.

James Graham, Marquis of Montrose


North North
Neither ♠ A 7 2
 A 9 6
 9 7 6 4
♣ K 4 3
West East
♠ Q J 10 8 4
 7
 A Q 3
♣ A 9 6 2
♠ 9 6 3
 Q 8 5
 10 8 5 2
♣ 10 8 7
South
♠ K 5
 K J 10 4 3 2
 K J
♣ Q J 5
South West North East
Pass Pass
1 1♠ 2♠ Pass
4 All pass    

♠Q

In today's auction North cue-bids at his first turn to show a limit raise in hearts, and South has enough to jump to game, despite some concerns about his kings being badly placed because of the overcall.

On the lead of the spade queen, South will have to play carefully to make. Of course, he could succeed by playing East for the trump queen, but there is a far better line. South wins the spade king and ace and ruffs the spade loser in hand. Then he leads the club queen to knock out the club ace; West is forced to win and can only exit with another club. South wins the club jack, cashes the heart ace, and then takes the club king. (On a bad day West might ruff the third club, but if he did, declarer could reasonably hope he would have no more trumps left and thus be compelled to lead away from the diamond ace or to provide a ruff-sluff by playing spades.)

As it is, when the club king lives, the key play follows. South leads a second trump from dummy and, when East follows with a low heart, finesses the jack. If the finesse wins, South is safe; he must give up two diamonds but has 10 tricks. If the finesse loses, West will be out of hearts and must open up the diamonds or give South a ruff and discard. Either way, South is home free.


There is no clear-cut action here, since you really have no idea if you want to defend on this hand or find partner's five-card suit if he has one. My guess would be to double for takeout and let partner pick a trump suit. Even if your partner bids a weak suit, he can surely score his small trumps by ruffing diamonds in his hand.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ A 7 2
 A 9 6
 9 7 6 4
♣ K 4 3
South West North East
1 Dbl. 2
?      

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact theLoneWolff@bridgeblogging.com. If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, July 15th, 2013

So always look for the silver lining
And try to find the sunny side of life.

P.G. Wodehouse


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

3

There are few bridge players whose names have entered into common parlance — perhaps Stayman and Blackwood are two that have achieved immortality. Another possible candidate, at least in the expert community, is Alphonse Moyse, whose championing of the 4-3 trump fit meant that this holding is often referred to as a Moysian fit.

Moyse, whose heyday as a player was in the 1950s and who was a long-time editor of the Bridge World magazine, was credited with playing this grand slam, in which the auction is a throw-back to earlier and simpler times.

The two-heart opening was strong, and the three-diamond bid was a free bid promising extra values. Four no-trump was Culbertson, promising three aces, and the seven-heart call was not unreasonable, in the hope that North had six diamonds.

West led a trump against the grand slam, and Moyse could have settled for the club finesse, but the auction had suggested that West had most of the outstanding cards. Accordingly Moyse played five rounds of trump, discarding the club queen from dummy. Then came the spade ace followed by the run of the diamonds.

As Moyse placed West with the club king, there was no escape for the defenders. The spade queen in dummy forced West to keep his king, and thus to bare his club king. At trick 12 Moyse played a club to the ace, taking the last two tricks and bringing home the grand slam.


If you could get opening leads of this sort right every time, you would never lose any event at bridge again! This is a problem with no right answer. A club lead is absurd, but a spade away from the ace into a strong hand is unattractive, while a heart lead is too likely to clear up a guess for declarer. That leaves a diamond — not so attractive either, I admit.

LEAD WITH THE ACES

♠ A 10 6 4
 8 3
 J 8 5 2
♣ Q 5 2
South West North East
1 NT
All pass      

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact theLoneWolff@bridgeblogging.com. If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, July 14th, 2013

There is always a quote with your column and I wondered why. Is there any significance to the quotations that run with Aces on Bridge?

Bartlett Junior, Richmond, Va.

The quote has been part of the column for as long as I can remember. My twisted mind tries to produce a link between the column material or a participant in the deal, and the quote. Where I cannot think of anything to link to, I look for an entertaining or thought-provoking line.

To a player holding a balanced hand with four decent clubs, you recommended a passive lead of a spade against the unopposed sequence of one club – one diamond – one spade – one no-trump – two no-trump. Since his partner rated to have four hearts and moderate values, why would you not lead the heart five from ace-third?

Attack Dog, Park City, Utah

Partner has likely heart length (declarer might be 4-5 in the reds, I suppose), but it feels that leading from an ace is only right if we want to be active. Even when partner has four hearts, we could easily be setting up a critical trick for declarer. When dummy's long suit doesn't rate to be splitting, go passive.

This was my partner's hand: ♠ A-Q-7-5-4,  A-K-7-5,  4, ♣ K-9-4. He opened one spade, and after I bid the Jacoby two no-trump to show a spade raise, the next player jumped to four diamonds. My partner bid Blackwood, and the player to his left bid five diamonds. How could we have combatted this?

Running Wild, Spokane, Wash.

Many experts play DOPI when the opponents intervene after Blackwood below your trump suit. Double shows no aces; pass shows one ace; step one shows two aces, etc. If you play keycard responses, use those steps instead. With higher intervention, one can play DEPO — double is an even number of aces, while passing shows an odd number, typically one, and the steps start at three.

When my partner opened one spade and the next hand overcalled two no-trump for the minors, what should I have done with ♠ A-6-4,  K-J-4-3-2,  9-4, ♣ Q-3-2?

Unusual Suspects, Janeville, Wis.

Where there are two known suits on your right, you can use the higher cue-bid to show a limit raise in spades – so a three-spade bid by you becomes competitive, what you would do if your spade ace were the jack. You can use the low cue-bid for a good hand with hearts, the fourth suit, planning to raise spades later to invite game. Meanwhile, a three-heart bid would be nonforcing with six hearts.

What precisely is a support double? They seem to be all the rage at my club! Do you advocate playing them? And when you have a long suit and support for partner, which takes priority?

Learner, Miami, Fla.

Most expert pairs playing strong no-trump use support doubles, though in my opinion they should be optional, not compulsory. Opener can double any action below two of his partner's suit to show three-card trump support, while a direct raise of partner guarantees four trumps. However, with a terrible hand you should have discretion to lie. Equally, you may care to repeat a good six-carder, then raise partner later if the suit quality suggests it.


For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact theLoneWolff@bridgeblogging.com. If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, July 13th, 2013

Happiness is not the absence of problems; it's the ability to deal with them.

Steve Maraboli


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

♣J

The small slam in spades was a fair bet on this deal, but the trump break seemed to make South's task impossible. Never a player to give up lightly, declarer set West a problem that he failed to solve.

West led the club jack and, after winning, declarer played off the two top trumps to reveal the loser in the suit. With no clear idea in mind, he led a third trump and noted that West (who had already thrown a club) brooded for a little before discarding the diamond two. After winning with his trump queen, East pushed through the heart nine.

At this point South could have settled for one off, but risking a larger loss, he won with the heart ace and played off his remaining trumps. On the first of these, West threw the heart queen, but on the last, something vital had to go. In the vain hope that his partner held 10-third in diamonds, West let a second diamond go and suddenly South had four tricks in the suit.

It was true that West was squeezed, but he knew that declarer now had only 10 top tricks. A club discard looks illogical since it would give South an 11th trick immediately. However, West would now be discarding after declarer (who would have to use the diamond king to reach the clubs), and there would be no additional pressure on the defenders, with East’s heart eight now controlling that suit if necessary.


Once East is known to have extra length in hearts, the chance that partner also has too many hearts (and thus only a three-card spade suit) is greatly diminished. That being the case, you should invite game, rather than drive to game, and the simplest way to do so is to jump to three spades. If partner cannot bid game now, you won't make it!

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ A K 9 6
 7 4
 K 8 3
♣ A K Q 5
South West North East
1
Dbl. Pass 1♠ 2
?      

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact theLoneWolff@bridgeblogging.com. If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, July 12th, 2013

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying.

Robert Herrick


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

Q

Most Souths reached three no-trump in this deal, but many missed a simple point in the play, there being a right and a wrong way to maximize the possibilities in hearts.

West led the diamond queen against the no-trump game, and you realize that playing on clubs would be too slow because the defense would almost always come to three tricks in the suit, plus at least two diamonds.

Therefore, you have to go after hearts, and since you have six top winners in spades and diamonds, you need three heart tricks for the contract. The simple finesse of the jack works half the time, but if it fails, you will be doomed in the absence of an unlikely squeeze. Contrast leading a heart to the nine — also a 50 percent chance, since East will hold the 10 half the time. If it loses, one defender or the other will have started with queen-third a third of the time. The combination of the chances gives you a two-thirds chance of success.

One more trap: You cannot afford to duck the opening diamond lead because if the heart finesse fails, there may be five tricks immediately available to the defense via three clubs and one trick in each red suit. So win the opening lead with the diamond king in dummy and finesse the heart nine. The finesse loses to the 10, but with East holding queen-third of hearts, there will be nine tricks for the taking when you regain the lead.


If ever there was an eight-count that cried out for balancing action at the three-level, this is it. You have weak length in a suit that the opponents have bid and raised, and as a result you can confidently expect partner to be short in hearts and (since partner did not bid spades) to have reasonable length in diamonds. For the record, your partner's shape rates to be close to 4-1-3-5.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ 10 9
 10 7 6 2
 Q J 10 4 2
♣ A J
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1
Pass 2 Pass Pass
?      

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact theLoneWolff@bridgeblogging.com. If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Time reveals all things.

Desiderius Erasmus


South North
Neither ♠ Q 5 4 3 2
 7 4 2
 5 3
♣ A 8 5
West East
♠ K
 9 8
 K Q 10 7 6 2
♣ J 9 4 2
♠ 10 9 8 6
 6 5
 A J 9 8
♣ 10 6 3
South
♠ A J 7
 A K Q J 10 3
 4
♣ K Q 7
South West North East
2♣ 2 Pass 4
4 Pass 5 Pass
6 All pass    

K

A decade ago, Michael Rosenberg, considered to be one of the game’s greatest technicians, wrote an extremely interesting bridge autobiography called “Bridge, Zia … and Me.” It’s a fascinating trawl through his bridge life, and his partnership with the charismatic Zia Mahmood.

The hands are fascinating (but are not for the beginner) and his novel outlook gives food for thought. Michael is known as one of the finest card players in the world as well as one of the slowest, and you can guarantee that he will never fail to solve a problem because he has not pondered it long enough.

He claims that today’s deal is his favorite in his book. You are in six hearts, and your only chance of making it appears to be if East holds the spade king either singleton or doubleton. Yet even though West holds the critical card, you should still make the contract!

West cashes a top diamond and plays another, which you ruff. Now play the rest of your hearts, discarding two small spades from dummy. Then come the three clubs, ending in dummy. In the three-card ending, you have reduced to queen-third of spades in dummy facing ace-jack-third in your hand. If East has not discarded a spade, you finesse. But he does. Now consider that no-one would discard from king-third of spades in this position. Therefore, he must have started with four. If they include the king, you are sunk; so you take your only chance and play to the ace.


In this auction, when the opponents compete, your partner's reverse shows real extras, with four hearts and at least five clubs. You do not need to repeat your spades here, since partner will introduce three-card support if he has it, and if he doesn't, you do not want to play spades. A simple three-club call here is natural and nonforcing and sums up your hand perfectly.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ Q 5 4 3 2
 7 4 2
 5 3
♣ A 8 5
South West North East
1♣ Pass
1♠ 2 2 Pass
?      

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact theLoneWolff@bridgeblogging.com. If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.