Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, December 23rd, 2011

And the little moments,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
Of eternity.

Julia Carney


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

*Four-level minor-suit pre-empt

♣8

This spade game is from the Seniors' final of a recent Australian Teams event. You can hardly blame East for leading a top club to the second trick (a diamond shift is easier to find with the sight of all four hands), but that was all the help declarer needed.

Declarer ruffed the second club and drew three rounds of trump with the king, ace and queen, taking care to preserve the trump five in dummy and the trump four in hand.

Now he played the heart king, West taking the trick and returning a heart. Declarer won and cashed the three heart winners to produce a four-card ending with three diamonds and a trump in each hand, while West was down to his four diamonds and East had the doubleton diamond nine and two irrelevant clubs.

The diamond king seemed to be marked in West, so declarer went for his one remaining chance, a one-suit squeeze. Does that sound impossible? Well, watch what happens when declarer leads a spade to dummy’s five. If West pitches his low diamond, declarer will duck a diamond to West and endplay him. If West pitches the diamond 10 or jack, declarer leads a diamond toward the seven, planning to cover East’s card. If East plays the five, South puts in the seven; if East plays the nine, South covers with the queen. Either way, South’s spots are just good enough to take the last two tricks.

This position works only when East has no diamond higher than the nine.


In standard bidding, North's sequence is conventional. It shows four spades and a self-supporting club suit of six or more cards. South has a fifth trump and two potentially useful kings, just enough for a four-heart cue-bid. With any luck partner can take control now and use Blackwood.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ K 9 7 4 3
 K 10 6
 Q 7 4 3
♣ 10
South West North East
1♣ Pass
1♠ Pass 4♣ 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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Henceforth I ask not good fortune; I myself am good fortune.

Walt Whitman


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

♣Q

Today's deal raises the question of whether South was extremely lucky or unlucky. You decide!

South (who reported this deal from a national event with profuse apologies to his teammates) took an unjustifiably cautious view after a limited opening and rebid by North and missed the excellent grand slam in hearts. He won the club lead, crossed to the diamond ace, and played a top heart, to find the tremendous news of the bad trump break.

All that remained was to cross to the spade ace and ditch his diamond loser on the club king. Alas for South, East was able to ruff the first spade and cash a diamond for down one.

The probability of two suits breaking 5-0 meant that declarer had around 999 chances in 1000 of making his contract. But could South plead bad luck? No, the moral of the tale is that even when you spot a 99.9 percent chance for your contract, you should still look for something better.

The correct way to cross to hand is by ruffing a club at trick two. This line only fails if West has led a singleton club and East is void in spades or diamonds.

Of course, any gain for South would have been undeserved so perhaps South was just being magnanimous to go down in six hearts. The really unfortunate declarers were those who played seven no-trump, where the bad break and the poor communications meant that the grand slam had to go four off.


Your partner's double shows real extras and no clear call (perhaps better than a strong no-trump, but without a good heart stop). Your black-suit holdings suggest that you should jump to four clubs to get your pattern across and let your partner decide on which strain to play in.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ Q J 10 7 3
 —
 Q 6 3 2
♣ Q J 10 3
South West North East
1♣ 1
1♠ 2 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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

False though she be to me and love,
I’ll ne’er pursue revenge;
For still the charmer I approve,
Though I deplore her change.

Sir William Congreve


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

♣7

In today's deal, from a Far East Championship a few years ago, the defenders tricked declarer.

Three no-trump by North-South is untouchable, and it looks as if four hearts should be comfortable too, with the trump queen lying doubleton under the ace-jack — even if the defenders find their diamond ruff.

But in one match, West led the club seven, taken with dummy’s ace. Declarer continued with a low heart to the ace, under which West, L.H. Chin of the China Hong Kong Youth Team, smoothly dropped the queen. It now looked to declarer as if trumps were breaking 4-1 and that East had a natural trump trick.

Even had this been the case, declarer could still get home. However, reading West’s initial lead as top of a doubleton, and taking the heart queen at face value as a singleton, South decided that it was safe to ruff dummy’s losing clubs in hand, believing that West could not overruff. Declarer was shocked when, after cashing the club king and ruffing a third club, West overruffed with the 10. Chin made no mistake with his continuation: ace and another diamond, ruffed by East, who then promptly cashed the spade ace for the setting trick.

Had West not false-carded, declarer would have drawn trump, of course, and sailed home easily.


Whenever you hold a 5-4 hand pattern, you should be happy if you can bid out your shape economically rather than settling for playing no-trump and hoping your decision is correct. Yes, there are hands where no-trump will play better than a suit; equally, bidding your hand will help partner in the auction, especially with how far to compete if the opponents bid again.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ 6 3
 K J 8 5 2
 J 2
♣ A K 9 8
South West North East
1 1♠ 1 NT 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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.

Oprah Winfrey


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

9

There are many good reasons that I'm always happy to let my readers know about Frank Stewart's writing projects. His latest, titled "Who Has the Queen? — The Bridge Player's Handbook of Card Reading'"is out in time for Christmas.

Stewart has put together an excellent intermediate-level book on card reading. There are themes and ideas that will prove interesting to all players.

However, the real reason why I can recommend this self-published project is that Frank has a history over the last decade of self-publishing, then donating the proceeds to his local charities in Fayette. This will be his fourth such project.

Consider today’s deal. Against four hearts West leads the diamond nine, and East plays the jack. You take the ace and lead a club, West playing low. Should you put in the king or the jack?

West’s top-of-nothing opening lead appears to mark East with the missing diamond honors, and you must hope he also has the heart king. But East never bid. If you play the club jack, you will probably go down, even if it forces out the ace, losing a trump to West’s king and two diamonds. The point is that East cannot hold all the diamond honors and club ace, as well as the heart king. Make a “second-degree assumption” and play the club king to give yourself the best chance.

The book is $21.95 postpaid, inscribed on request, from P.O. Box 962, Fayette, AL 35555.


You should make an invitational jump to three clubs, knowing North has at least four clubs, typically in an unbalanced or semi-balanced hand. After the one-diamond response, opener would typically rebid one no-trump with a balanced hand, even one with a four-card major. This is because responder would introduce a four-card major before diamonds, unless he has at least invitational values.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ 10 4
 K 8 3
 K Q J 4
♣ Q 9 6 2
South West North East
1♣ Pass
1 Pass 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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, December 19th, 2011

Waldo is one of those people who would be enormously improved by death.

Saki


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

It is particularly satisfying to discover when looking at a deal played or defended by experts that you can do better than the participants . Today's deal is one such example.

It is easy to relax when you are looking at two and a half tricks in your own hand and your partner doubles a game contract before you get the chance to bid at all. As the field discovered, relaxation at the table can prove very expensive.

The point is that at six of the seven tables from a major event where South played four spades doubled, West led a heart, which allowed declarer to get rid of his losing club and wrap up 10 tricks.

Geir Helgemo, who led a club at trick one, must have been surprised to find it earned him a game swing. However, while I elieve the heart lead deserved the loss of IMPs that it generated, the club lead is by no means cast-iron, though it seems preferable to any other of the side-suits.

In my opinion the lead of the spade ace stands out if one considers all the options. West is essentially uninterested in ruffs, but it may, for example, be necessary to sacrifice a trump trick to stop a crossruff. More to the point, retaining the lead preserves a valuable tempo. The sight of dummy will frequently make the defense easier — on this occasion the shift to clubs becomes obvious, but on a different day another play might be necessary.


Your partner's double just shows a good hand, so declarer's best chance of taking tricks here is on a crossruff. A low trump lead seems to keep most of your options for preventing declarer from scoring small trumps in one hand or the other. The ace of hearts and a second trump is also a viable option.

LEAD WITH THE ACES

♠ 10 6 3
 A 9 7 6
 Q 4 3
♣ K 8 4
South West North East
1♣ 1
1 NT 2 Dbl. 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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, December 18th, 2011

After using Blackwood and finding one ace is missing, should I bid slam or should I settle for the five-level?

Playing the Odds, Saint John's, Newfoundland

The simple answer is that you should not use Blackwood if you don't know what to do over the response that shows an ace is missing. However, Keycard Blackwood (which focuses on the four aces and the king and queen of trumps) will generally tell you if two vital cards are missing. If they are not, you will generally want to be in slam (all things being equal).

You recently explained that when a player holds ♠ —,  A-K-Q-5-4,  Q-3-2, ♣ A-K-9-7-6, he must open one heart, not two clubs. I view this as a four-loser hand, which meets the requirements of a two-club opening and best describes the values contained in this hand.

Flaunt It, Orlando, Fla.

The reason why opening one heart is unlikely to miss a game is that even if your partner is too weak to bid, your RHO will surely balance with one spade so you will get your chance to come back into the auction. A jump to three clubs will then show the hand nicely. But the real reason why opening two clubs may backfire is the problem of describing your two-suiter if the opponents pre-empt.

If you make a Jacoby transfer and the opponents intervene, what should your bids mean at your next turn to speak? Specifically, what does rebidding your suit mean –invitational or competitive? And is a double for takeout, for penalties, or is it optional?

Planning Ahead, Mitchell, S.D.

If you rebid your suit, it should not be invitational, because you can double to show values (optional is probably the best word for it). So a suit-rebid suggests six cards and a weak hand. With game-going values, bid game or start with a double and bid on.

Holding ♠ K-7-4,  Q-J-9-5-4-2,  A-4, ♣ K-2, I assume you would open one heart and rebid two hearts when your partner bids two clubs. Now over a bid of two spades from your partner, how should you describe your hand? Would you prefer two no-trump, three clubs or three hearts? Would a bid of three diamonds be asking or telling?

Spoiled for Choice, Spokane, Wash.

I think three diamonds suggests weak diamond length, three hearts suggests a good six-carder, three clubs suggests three-card support, and two no-trump suggests a good diamond stop. So no action is perfect, but three clubs looks like the least committal bid to me as well as being quite economical.

Can you discuss responses to partner's opening bid of a minor in third seat? I thought jumps to the two-level as a passed hand would let my partner know I had 10-plus HCP, but I understand this is not the standard interpretation of the call.

Christmas Carol, Jackson, Miss.

I understand your position but I think there is no real need to jump to show 10-plus. If your hand is unbalanced with 10 or11, you don't need to bounce around. You find out more if you stay low. Partner won't pass a cheap response with or without a fit (for fear of letting the opponents in if she does) if she has a real opening. And you won't make game unless she does.


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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Speak softly — the sacred cows may hear.
Speak easy — the sacred cows must be fed.

Carl Sandburg


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

♣6

Patrick Jourdain has been secretary or president of the International Bridge Press Association for 30 years. He is also a player: his team won the Crockford's Plate in England earlier this year, and he presented the following deal from the event as an example of clear thinking.

Against three no-trump the lead of the club six went to East’s king. When the club two came back, South had a choice of hands in which to win it. Before you read on, you might care to consider how you would advance.

At the table declarer took dummy’s ace, preserving the queen as a later entry to hand. He then cashed his top spades in hand and dummy’s two top diamonds. On the second of these, West pitched a heart rather than a club. Declarer now decided to cash the spade ace, cross to hand with the diamond king, and exit with the fourth round of diamonds to East to force a heart play. Alas, with spades 5-3, East had two spades to cash and the heart ace was the setting trick.

If you judge that clubs are likely to be 5-2, you can avoid having to rely on the heart suit. You need to win the second club in hand and play four rounds of diamonds. With no club to return, East can do no better than exit with a spade. Having taken your spade and diamond winners in hand, the two black aces in dummy will give you nine tricks.


Your partner's sequence does NOT promise extras — he could have been planning to rebid one spade over a red suit with a minimum hand and a little shape. So you certainly need do no more than bid three clubs now and let partner decide where to go next.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ K Q
 7 5 4
 Q 7 5 3 2
♣ Q J 3
South West North East
1♣ 1
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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, December 16th, 2011

Another such victory over the Romans, and we are undone.

Pyrrhus


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

Today's deal from a recent junior championship was one of the coups of the year. It arose in the Norway-Portugal match, and it was somewhat ironic that all it did was hold declarer's losses on the board.

Three no-trump by South looks to be a fair spot, but you will see that it is very hard work for declarer to establish a ninth trick. Say you win the lead of the heart 10, cross to dummy, and successfully run the diamond 10. West wins and plays a second heart, and the defense has the tempo to establish hearts before you get a diamond trick.

All right: back to the drawing board. Win the second heart and play on diamonds. That is no good either; the defense still has the necessary communications to get hearts going.

Roderigo Soares varied the script when he found the excellent play of ducking two rounds of hearts! West naturally enough played a third heart, and now Soares crossed to dummy in clubs to run the diamond 10 to the king. (Yes, East would have done better to cover the diamond 10 with the jack, but this play is not so easy to spot at the table, and he did not find it.) As West had no heart left, declarer came to his ninth trick in comfort.

Alas for him, his teammates had been doubled in three hearts with the East-West cards and had gone for 800, so Soares’s coup only limited the damage. Still, it was a very well-played hand.


You have enough to invite game, and the obvious trump suit is diamonds, so jump to three diamonds to show precisely these values. If no-trump is the correct resting place, let partner suggest it. Without an honor-card in spades, you should not probe for no-trump here unless you have game-forcing values.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ 10 6 3
 A Q 7 6
 Q 4 3
♣ K 8 4
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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, December 15th, 2011

A nice man is a man of nasty ideas.

Jonathan Swift


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

3

Bridge is as full of cliches and aphorisms as any sporting activity. A phrase that gets quite a lot of usage is the "power of the closed hand." It means that declarer, by leading toward his own hand, the unknown quantity, can put the defenders under a lot of pressure.

Consider today’s deal, which arose at Board-a-Match, which is a strange hybrid form of scoring. Each team takes on another at pairs scoring, and whoever does better on the board gets a point, regardless of the margin of victory. This leads to attempting to justify nonbridge decisions — which was my excuse for opening one no-trump with the South cards.

After a transfer and a mildly aggressive invitational raise by my partner, I declared four spades. Of course this auction has protected all the side suits, but the 4-1 trump split and the heart-honor location made the game contract extremely tough on the third-and-fifth lead of the heart three. A full point was at stake, since in the other room two spades had produced nine tricks.

Having won the heart queen at trick one, I decided to put East under pressure by playing the diamond ace, ruffing a diamond in dummy, then leading back a small heart. Falling for the bait, East rose with the ace, then shifted to a club. I put in the 10, and when it won, only the bad trump break held me to 10 tricks.


This is a takeout double. Your partner rates to have a singleton heart and at least three cards in both spades and diamonds. While the 6-2 club fit might be a possible contract, playing two spades looks equally attractive, given your good spade spots. So I would bid two spades now.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ A 10 9 2
 J 9 3 2
 J 7 3
♣ 9 2
South West North East
1 2♣ 2
Pass Pass 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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

I toss my head, and so does he;
What tricks he dares to play on me!

Michael Field


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

♠Q

Imagine that you are West defending against two diamonds doubled. You elect to lead the spade queen. Declarer crosses to the club ace, ruffs a club, and advances the spade two. Over to you.

In this deal from a recent invitational pairs event, Zia had the South cards and must have been surprised to be doubled in two diamonds with such a good hand. When Marcin Lesniewski left his partner’s double in and led the spade queen, Zia won, cashed the club ace, ruffed a club and sneakily led a low spade toward dummy’s 10! When Lesniewski ducked this (and we’ve all made worse plays than that), Zia could put up the spade 10, ruff another club, cash the spade king, and exit with the heart nine.

This traveled around to the five, king and ace. East could lead trump once, but Zia simply ducked this to West. Lesniewski could cash his heart queen but then had to exit with his last spade. Zia scored his third low trump and exited with a low trump. West won, and had to concede the last two trump tricks to South for a doubled overtrick.

At another table South found himself in three diamonds doubled. On the lead of the spade queen, declarer crossed to the club ace and rather naively took the diamond finesse. From that point on, declarer could not avoid going down two for a penalty of 500.


Your partner has shown both minors and a really good hand. Thus in context your additional club length looks very useful. Rather than going overboard, make a quiet call of two no-trump to suggest a heart stop and a hand you are not ashamed of. The alternative would be to jump to four clubs (I might do that with the heart ace and club king, where I knew my honors were pulling their weight).

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ 10 5 4
 K 4 3 2
 4
♣ A 9 7 6 4
South West North East
1♣ 1
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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.