Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, January 14th, 2012

The words of wise men who are skilled
In using them are not so much to defy
What comes when memory meets the unfulfilled.

Edwin Arlington Robinson


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

♣K

In today's deal North's raise of four spades to five specifically suggested concern about the opponent's suit. If North had weak trumps and a club control, he could have advanced with five clubs, so the actual sequence asked South to pass with no club control, cue-bid the ace, or bid slam with second-round control.

Now to the play. When the board occurred in a team game both tables relied on the heart king falling early or on diamonds breaking. The declarers drew trump and tried to ruff out the heart king, falling back on the diamond break when nothing nice developed. Both tables ended up with 11 tricks, and both were unaware that they had failed to exploit their chances properly.

Better technique is to ruff the second club, draw trump, then cash the heart ace, cross to dummy with a trump, cash the diamond ace, ruff a heart, then run all but one of the trumps. In the four-card ending, dummy has two hearts and the diamond king-queen. In hand you have three diamonds and one trump left; but which four cards does East keep? If he reduces to two hearts and two diamonds, you will unblock diamonds, ruff a heart to hand, and take trick 13 with a diamond.

If instead he keeps one heart and three diamonds, you will know the diamonds are not splitting when West shows out. Your one remaining chance is to ruff a heart to hand; with the heart king falling, dummy is now good.


The two possible approaches are to put maximum pressure on your opponents by bidding five clubs, or to try to get the opponents to sell out quietly by bidding four clubs, hoping they stop in four spades. Of the two approaches I marginally prefer the latter (not least because five clubs doubled might prove expensive if your partner's clubs are on the feeble side).

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ 5
 K J 9 6 2
 J 10 4 3
♣ J 8 7
South West North East
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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, January 13th, 2012

Nothing is so good as it seems beforehand.

George Eliot


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

5

When both sides have a good fit and the bidding gets high quickly, it is always hard to judge who can make what. It is often a sound principle to keep on bidding when in doubt. Maybe you can make your contract, or maybe it is a good sacrifice. That was why North tried five diamonds over four hearts.

Declarer ruffed the heart lead, crossed to hand with a club, then ruffed another heart. However, the pace of play now slowed down and declarer was short of winning options. In practice he played a low spade, but East went in with the king and switched to a trump.

Declarer ran this to dummy but now, with the spade suit blocked, the best he could do was cash the spade ace and jack, discarding a heart. In the end he had to lose a trump and a club to go with the spade already lost.

Although it looked tempting to play to ruff hearts in dummy immediately, declarer should have foreseen that this line might not work against a bad trump break. Look at the effect of playing a spade at trick two.

Say that East goes in with the king, as before, and plays a trump. Declarer runs this to dummy, plays a spade to the queen, ruffs another heart, and cashes the spade ace while discarding a heart, then plays the spade jack. Whether East ruffs in or discards, declarer loses just one more trick.


Your partner's double shows a good hand, unsuitable for a call of three no-trump, something akin to an optional double. It looks normal to bid four clubs now, suggesting extra club length and allowing your partner to decide where to go from here.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ A J 3 2
 —
 10 9 4
♣ J 9 5 4 3 2
South West North East
1 1
Dbl. 3 Dbl. 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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 12th, 2012

First ponder, then dare!

Helmuth von Moltke


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

♠Q

Declarer looked beyond the obvious when playing this heart slam. Unfortunately, he did not look far enough, and the slam failed.

Declarer appreciated that the obvious route to 12 tricks was to find the club king with East, and dummy’s trumps provided the necessary two entries to repeat the finesse. But South saw another possibility — that he could give up a diamond trick in exchange for generating two extra winners — in which case he would not need the club finesse at all, since there would then be two discards for the queen and jack of clubs.

For this to be so, the most likely lie of the diamonds would be the king in West’s hand, with the jack due to fall in three rounds. So, declarer cashed the heart ace, then followed with ace and another diamond. West took the king, and when the jack dropped doubleton from East, followed with a third diamond. East ruffed and South overruffed, but now only one club discard was available. With the club king offside, down went the slam.

Declarer was on the right track, but failed to allow for the diamond jack being doubleton with East. The way home is, at trick three, to lead the diamond seven toward the queen — without first cashing the ace. West cannot afford to duck, but now a diamond return can do no harm. After South draws trump ending in dummy, both of his losing clubs can be offloaded on dummy’s good diamonds.


This is a forcing auction, since your partner could have shown a good hand, or an even better one, by bidding two hearts or jumping to three hearts at his previous turn. This sequence is stronger still. In any event, in the context of what you have shown (or denied), you have a decent hand. You should raise to four hearts, confident that you will be offering your partner a few useful assets.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ K 8 6 3 2
 6 5 3
 J 8
♣ 10 8 7
South West North East
1♣ Dbl. Pass
1♠ Pass 2♣ Pass
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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Choose your neighbors before you buy your house.

Hausa proverb


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

♣K

Few historical characters play much of a role in the naming of bridge coups, though the Deschapelles Coup is named after a famous whist player, and the Merrimac Coup is named after a historical event.

Cardinal Morton’s role in history is relatively minor. As Henry VII’s grasping cardinal, he impaled England’s peers on the horns of a dilemma. Either they entertained him well — in which case they were wealthy — or they tried to look poor, in which case their thrift also implied funds in the bank. Either way, they had to pay heavy taxes to the king.

Here is a Morton’s Fork coup. In four hearts West leads a top club and shifts to a trump. You win cheaply in hand and play a second club. West wins and exits in trumps, letting you take both red aces and the club queen, then cross to hand with a trump.

When you lead a spade toward the king, it presents West with a Morton’s Fork. If West takes this, he provides a home for your diamond loser, so he must duck the trick. You win dummy’s king, and now cash your last two trumps, reducing to a three-card end position. If you judge that West has reduced to a single diamond, you cash the diamond king and score your diamond jack. If West keeps two diamonds, he must come down to a bare spade ace. You exit in spades and wait for him to play a diamond around to your jack.


You have a relatively minimum hand that is semibalanced. You can advance by repeating spades (which seems unsatisfactory given your spade spots) and then rebid no-trump — which is inappropriate without a heart stop — or by raising diamonds, which seems like the least misleading option.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ A J 7 6 3
 7 5
 Q 10 7
♣ A K 2
South West North East
1♠ 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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

The good things of life are not to be had singly, but come to us with a mixture.

Thomas Lamb


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

5

Deals from actual play are somehow more satisfying than constructed deals. No one has rung a bell to let the player know that the critical moment has come and that he must focus on the problem at hand before it is too late.

The deal came up on OK Bridge and the auction shown was typical. After South took a punt at three no-trump, the defenders led a heart to the ace and returned the heart eight to West’s jack. West saw that the missing hearts were the nine and queen, and since East would have returned the nine had he been left with the 9-8 at trick two, South must logically hold both of those cards. A shift was logically called for, and West had the choice of playing his partner for the club ace or any two spade honors. Most guessed well by playing a spade. (On a club shift declarer would be likely to succeed by ducking the trick.)

But at our featured table, declarer, Tim Bourke, could see this scenario about to present itself to West. To prevent him from finding the winning play, Tim cold-bloodedly sacrificed the heart nine under East’s eight at trick two!

Now there were no inferences available about the small hearts. From West’s perspective he needed to cash the hearts immediately or declarer might be able to scamper home with nine tricks. (Give declarer any one of East’s black-suit honors, and that would be true.) So he cashed the heart king and set up Tim’s ninth winner for him.


Your partner's cue-bid suggests a good hand, and you certainly have extras — enough to suggest that game is in the cards. Neither a call of two hearts nor three hearts really describes your hand; a repeat cue-bid of three diamonds by you should suggest extras with no clear direction to go.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ K Q 5
 A 8
 9 7
♣ Q 10 8 5 4 3
South West North East
1 1 Pass
2♣ 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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, January 9th, 2012

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments, and a man can raise a thirst.

Rudyard Kipling


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

K

After South's strong no-trump, West came in with two hearts and North showed four spades and no heart stop by cue-bidding three hearts. (Had he held a heart stopper and four spades, a convention called Lebensohl would have let him bid two no-trump as a puppet to three clubs, then cue-bid three hearts.)

The final contract of three no-trump was predictable enough, and West equally predictably led a top heart.

Before you play to the first trick, it is always a good idea to count your winners and decide where you need to set up tricks and who is the danger hand. A cursory count of potential winners should come to eight. If clubs split, you have nine tricks, so you need to allow for the likelihood that they will not break.

The secret here is that the hearts are useless to you, and the diamond king is worth nothing if the ace is onside. If that is so, West will have heart winners galore, ready to cash. So you must hope the diamond ace is offside!

Win the heart lead for fear of the diamond shift, unblock your spade honors, then cross to a top club and cash the spade jack. Now take your club winners, ending in dummy. If the fourth club is not a winner, exit with the club loser and wait for East to lead a diamond. With any luck, the diamond ace will be offside, and East will be endplayed to lead around to dummy’s diamond king.


Your best choice for setting up tricks is a heart lead, but at the same time this lead is likely to give up a trick unnecessarily. I'd prefer to lead the more passive club, hoping that if dummy does not have a long running club suit, we can defeat the contract by giving nothing away. The diamond jack is also a good choice if looking for a swing action.

LEAD WITH THE ACES

♠ K Q
 Q 10 6 4 2
 A J 7
♣ 9 5 3
South West North East
Pass Pass
1 Dbl. Pass 1 NT
Pass 3 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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, January 8th, 2012

In a recent Sunday letter you said that the Law of Total Tricks (which involves judging the level you compete to by counting the total number of tricks your partnership holds) does not work as well at the five-level as it does at lower levels. Why is this?

Totally Tricked, Smyrna Beach, Fla.

I'm not going to say that the Law doesn't work at high-levels, but its main use is at lower levels where the high-cards are approximately split. As you get higher, too many variables mean you can't rely on the law so much.

My partner held ♠ A-K-7-3,  A-K-9-4-2,  10-5-3, ♣ 4. His LHO opened three spades, passed around to him. As I see it, the choice would be to pass — which seems a little pessimistic — or to reopen. If he bids, should he double, bid three no-trump, or try four hearts? At the table we wended our way to four hearts, mercifully undoubled, down 300.

Ray of Sunshine, Montreal, Quebec

Your partner had a tough hand, but if he wants to bid, the choice is between a call of three no-trump and four hearts, with my money firmly on the latter. Passing seems very pessimistic, but could easily be right. Even if it is, you may not score well at pairs.

If my partner opens two clubs and I respond two diamonds, what auctions will allow us to stop short of game? Or are we forced to game?

Minny the Moocher, Walnut Creek, Calif.

After a negative response of two diamonds, responder can pass opener's rebid of two no-trump, which shows 22-24 or so. If opener bids a suit and responder bids the lower minor as a second negative, then opener's rebid of his suit becomes nonforcing. Everything else must lead to game.

In second seat I held this strong unbalanced hand: ♠ J-3,  A-K-10-9-4-2,  A-J-5-3, ♣ A. I bid two hearts over one spade, and my LHO raised to two spades. When the auction came back to me, should I have bid three hearts, three diamonds, or should I have passed?

Off the Grid, Elmira, N.Y.

You should clearly reopen here, looking for the most flexible action. Best is to double, since you can raise diamonds or correct a club response to either three diamonds or three hearts.

What is the best way to defend against a strong no-trump? Would you rather play a defense that allows you to bid with two suiters or play natural?

Old Artificer, Dodge City, Kansas

I used to be content to play natural, but these days I'm more inclined to consider a defense geared to letting me act with two-suited hands as well as one-suiters. The most active defenses are called DONT and Woolsey. You can find out more here.


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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, January 7th, 2012

A clever person turns great problems into little ones and little ones into none at all.

Chinese proverb


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

4

I freely admit that when given today's deal as a problem, I started out well but missed one of the subtleties of the play. So see if you can "Stump the Swami" and do better than me!

Having been given the warning in four spades that trumps will not be splitting (what else could West’s double signify?). you win the diamond ace at trick one and ruff a diamond to hand. What next? Best is to exploit the possibility of finding the club king onside — but you do not want to lead the club ace and a second club, or East might win (as here)and play a third club. So you lead a low club to the queen and king. Back comes a heart, and you win in hand and lead a trump to the board, intending to insert the seven. West must contribute the eight, and you win the ace, finding the bad news, then take the remaining top hearts, in case you need to ruff the fourth heart in dummy, finding the suit to be 3-3.

Now you cash the club ace and can be sure West started with a 5-3-3-2 pattern. You lead out the fourth heart to force West to ruff high and return a diamond, which lets you ruff in hand and lead a spade toward the seven. Again, West must win the trick with a high trump, but now he will have to lead away from his Q-5 of spades in the two-card ending.


You have a choice of simple actions: a rebid of two clubs and a response of one no-trump. Although your six-card suit is weak, it looks better to rebid clubs because your heart spots are not quite good enough to announce you are comfortable in no-trump.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ A 7
 Q 9 8
 A 5
♣ Q 9 7 6 5 2
South West North East
1♣ 1 1♠ 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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, January 6th, 2012

Success encourages these people; they can because they think they can.

Virgil


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

*3 or 0 aces, counting the trump king as an ace

K

In today's deal North's initial two-club response persuaded South to try the club grand slam, expecting there to be a 4-4 fit and the chance of a discard if necessary. However, the three-card club suit in dummy was a big disappointment. How would you set about playing the grand slam?

I have the greatest confidence in my readership, but I suspect few players would find the winning line here. While 12 tricks are easy enough, near misses do not count for much except in the case of horseshoes and hand grenades.

The simplest line is to play for clubs to be 3-3. Draw trumps and run the winners with some very small extra chances if the clubs do not break. But you can do much better.

Win the the heart king with the ace, play the spade ace, and lead a spade to the nine. Then ruff a heart, play a club to the ace, and ruff another heart. Next play a diamond to the ace, ruff another heart, play a diamond to the king, and ruff a diamond. Then go back to dummy with the club king to draw the last trump and take trick 13 with the club queen.

In total you scored four ruffs in hand, three trump tricks in dummy, and six winners in the plain suits. This is a perfect and extended dummy reversal whereby you used dummy’s three-card suit to draw trump, and your long trump in hand for ruffing purposes.


Although your hand is sterile in distribution, if your partner has the extra shape he has promised, you might make a slam. Start by cue-bidding two spades to find out if your partner has a spade control.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ Q 9 6
 7 5 4 2
 A K 5
♣ A K 8
South West North East
1 Pass
1 1♠ 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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Alas, regardless of their doom,
The little victims play!
No sense have they of ills to come,
Nor care beyond today.

Thomas Gray


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

K

How would you play today's contract of six clubs after receiving a heart lead? It looks natural to play for a diamond ruff in dummy, and indeed that is the right approach. But there are some formalities to be observed if you are to give yourself the absolutely best chance.

When the deal came up, David Smith of Australia was at the helm, after an auction in which South’s delayed jump to five clubs suggested solid clubs together with some extra values on the side. After winning the heart ace, he made the careful move of ruffing a heart in hand in to protect himself against the somewhat unlikely but by no means impossible bad break in clubs. Now came a diamond to the king and a heart ruff, the diamond ace and a diamond ruff, then the spade ace and a spade ruff as East pitched a heart.

At this point in the deal declarer had cashed four winners and taken three ruffs in hand and one in dummy, to reduce to a five-card ending. Smith now cashed two top trumps, ready to claim if they split. When they did not, he simply exited with his losing diamond and could claim the last two tricks whichever defender won the trick since he had the Q-10 of clubs poised over East’s guarded jack of trumps.

(Declarer has some flexibility in the timing, but must use his entries to dummy to ruff three times, to reduce his trump holding to East’s length for the trump coup.)


You have only five hearts. Additionally, with a minimum hand and a slow trick on defense in the trump suit, it would be totally wrong to bid on here. Just for reference, if your minor suits were switched you would still not really have enough to bid three hearts, but the decision would be much closer.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ Q 8 7 4
 K Q J 9 4
 Q 8 2
♣ 8
South West North East
Pass 1
1 2 2 3
?      

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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.